Thursday, November 24, 2005
THURSDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK
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A weekly primer.
First of all, let SMQ say:
Now, on to more serious business at hand:
SMQ Will Be Watching: Weekend work duty means not much. Not much at all. Potentially Pitt-West Virginia tonight...but hopefully not.
Finally, We'll Learn About:
Young up-and-comer, flash in the pan on a minor, short-lived streak? ARIZONA was out of bowl contention in a hurry by losing its first six games against I-A opponents. But it was building something strong towards next season with tough losses to Stanford and Oregon, an upset of Oregon State and that unbelievable wipeout of UCLA before Washington smacked the 'Cats back down two weeks ago, 38-14. So what will Mike Stoops have to build on heading into '06? That depends on whether his team can knock Arizona State out of a bowl game Friday.
Most to Gain
Very little was expected of STANFORD in the preseason - most had the Cardinal tabbed ninth or tenth out of ten in the league - but it can slip into a bowl game with an unlikely upset of Notre Dame, which could vault Walt Harris into Coach of the Year contention.
Most to Lose
With one regular season game and the SEC Championship remaining to leap past Penn State and into mythical national title contention with an unlikely slip by Texas or SC, LSU can't afford to throw it away against Arkansas - it's happened, albeit with slightly less on the line, before.
Inevitable Blowout of the Week
With Texas, the blowouts have been inevitable just about all year. But when the nation's top scoring offense goes up against a defense that's allowed 41, 23, 28, 42, 56 and 36 over its last six games - and also gave up 31 to a I-AA team in September - the rivalry stuff won't stop the ugliness.
Lame Game of the Week
The Big West- er, WAC, that is, offers its usual miserable matchups - Utah State at winless New Mexico State, Idaho at San Jose State - but SMQ is not one to pass up an opportunity for a little in-state schadenfreude: Mississippi State and Ole Miss have five wins between them, only one in the SEC, and, over the past two weeks, have combined for three rushing totals of 26 yards or less in four games; UM totalled 17 rushing yards altogether in consecutive games against Arkansas and LSU. Loser is officially the worst team in the league, winner is Number 11. And no matter what, the really big winner is ESPN, which wisely dropped this turkey from its annual Thanksgiving night slot.
We suck only slightly less!
THE PICKS (rankings are SMQ's)
Game of the Century of the Week
#10 GEORGIA at #18 GEORGIA TECH
What's at Stake: Georgia's won its division and is headed to the SEC Championship; Georgia Tech has a solid hold on third place with a chance to finish second, with help, in the ACC Coastal. Neither is sniffing mythical title territory. But Golden Tornado and Paul Westerdawg, appropriately, aren't forgetting in-state pride and "Yer 'Skool' is Dum!" comment posts, which is what Bobby Dodd would agree this has always been about.
Georgia Wants: Blitz-happy Tech hasn't had the easiest time against mobile quarterbacks - see Marcus Vick and Marques Haggans - but has crushed statue types, so Mark Richt might be sending D.J. Shockley out of the pocket more or asking him to exploit some of the lanes created by blitzers with draws (or does Richt only run draws in crucial long-yardage plays with big, slow white quarterbacks? Sorry). Establish some balance and stay out of have-to-throw situations, the kind Tech has exploited to pound and pick quarterbacks all year; the Jackets are 1oth nationally in turnover margin, but minus four in three losses. Since running into the 13th-ranked rush defense may not produce immediate results, the defense has to keep things under control. It's tempting to try to sell out to cover Calvin Johnson, but SMQ would only go blanket-crazy on the guy in clutch situations; more often, P.J. Daniels and Damarius Bilbo are dangerous enough to burn inattention. Rather, force Tech to go to Johnson, make him the only functional option, and adjust accordingly.
Georgia Tech Wants: Contain Shockley - that means less big-blitzing, more spying and staying home with responsibility - and make him throw. The better UGA runs, the less pressure the undersized front seven can bring on Shockley, and the more passes Tech fans are praying to be dropped. Make the defense respect Calvin Johnson out of the gate - get No. 21 in UGA's head; opportunities open up elsewhere if the Bulldogs are forced to abandon normal responsibilities to throw the house at Johnson.
The Pick: Georgia Tech beat Auburn, and Auburn beat Georgia, thus Georgia Tech will beat Georgia, right? Well, uh, no; college football and proven mathematical principles have never coexisted (ask Craig James - but talk slowly). Primarily, this is a pick against Tech's inconsistency: why are the Jackets so up and down? If it had ever followed one big win with another, SMQ might believe differently; but until Chan Gailey breaks the seven-win mark (he's been stuck on it all four seasons in Atlanta), he'll take the program with more proven big game chops. Plus, when you think about it, Georgia is, like, totally close to being undefeated.
GEORGIA 20, GEORGIA TECH 16
OMG UGA(ly) is a bunch of punka$$ cow tipping bubbas! TECH RULZ!
5-3 ATS, 4-2 AS A DD HOME DOG, IT'S SMQ'S DOUBLE BARRELL GOLDEN ROCK SOLID BARKING DOG OF THE WEEK!
PITTSBURGH at #14 WEST VIRGINIA
Forget, for a moment, that Pitt is facing the league's best rushing offense with its seventh-ranked (out of eight) rush defense. Forget that the Panthers can't move the ball in just about any fashion. Forget that they lost to Ohio and to their only other decent competition (Notre Dame, Louisville) by a combined 43 points. This is the Backyard Brawl! Throw the records out! Er, um, yeah...anyway, Pitt has won four of its last five, and did spoil what was supposed to be an obvious coronation into the BCS for the Mountaineers last year (it doesn't matter now, since WVU has locked up a big-money slot). It's not like upset picks are supposed to make sense; if they did, it wouldn't be such an upset.
PITTSBURGH 27, WEST VIRGINIA 21
#1 TEXAS at TEXAS A&M
SMQ has already given his take on this one. Let's make it official:
TEXAS 45, TEXAS A&M 16
NEBRASKA at #25 COLORADO
Read it and weep: Nebraska's rush offense ranks 110th in the country. The Huskers used to rush for 89.6 yards in a quarter! Now they'll be lucky to finish on the plus side against the nation's second-best rush defense. Buffaloes can clinch the Big XII North and inevitable date for a stomping - CU's second of the year - by Texas.
COLORADO 30, NEBRASKA 13
#19 FLORIDA STATE at #23 FLORIDA
Once, these were the offenses of Ward, Wuerffel, Warrick and Weinke, consistently showing up in high-scoring, thrilling contests with championship undertones. Now: blah. The 7-3 Bowl? SMQ has bemoaned Florida's low-octane, just move-the-chains approach to scoring because of the very high margin of error such an attack requires, but the Gators at least mounting a couple long scoring drives last week; FSU has racked up 15 and 14, respectively, in the midst of losing two straight in the ACC for the first time since, um, ever.SMQ will take Chris Leak over Drew Weatherford, but he's disappointed in both.
FLORIDA 18, FLORIDA STATE 13
VIRGINIA at #6 MIAMI
It probably would have been better for Virginia if Miami hadn't gotten sniped by G-Tech last week. It also doesn't help that the Cavs haven't stopped anybody with much of a pulse; even in wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech, UVA gave up 472 and 346 yards, respectively. Miami, meanwhile, remains possibly the best defense in the country.
MIAMI 33, VIRGINIA 14
MARYLAND at N.C. STATE
MPC Computers or Champs Sports? Winner goes to one of them, loser stays at home; SMQ isn't sure who has the better end of the deal. Wolf Pack, winners of three out of four, take one for competition's sake.
NC STATE 28, MARYLAND 23
UL-LAFAYETTE at UL-MONROE
The Sun Belt title and a "trip" to Lafayette for the relocated New Orleans Bowl is on the line. Monroe is the outright champ with a win; a Cajun upset creates a crazy three-way tie SMQ will not seek to untangle if Arkansas State also beats North Texas. Let's hope for the easy way out:
UL-MONROE 31, UL-LAFAYETTE 26
TULANE at SOUTHERN MISS
SMQ is ready to get past the 2005 season with this frustrating team, losers of four of its last five (and very nearly all five, save Marshall's cotton-footed freshman kicker). But a couple of streaks need to be extended here: USM has put together 11 straight winning seasons under Jeff Bower, and seven bowl trips in eight years, both symbolic numbers worth keeping alive. Courageous as Tulane may be, a loss to this overmatched, vagabond whipping boy would be more than SMQ could bear. Please don't go 5-6, please don't go 5-6...
SOUTHERN MISS 27, TULANE 16
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