Wednesday, November 30, 2005
THURSDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK
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A weekly primer.
It's Championship Week, most disappointing time of the year! Rarely do these match-ups live up to their potential, and too often dogs like Colorado and Florida State wind up in the mix against a powerhouse freight train on its way to January destiny. Then again, we are talking championship games based on actual win-loss records here, so excitement should be automatic regardless.
SMQ Will Be Watching: Anti-climax: Tulsa-UCF, Virginia Tech-Florida State; Satisfying Slugfest: LSU-Georgia; Coronation: USC-UCLA, Texas-Colorado. Prepare for the most hyped football game in history, with media salivation exceeding even most recent Super Bowls.
Finally, We'll Learn About:
For a one-loss team in a major conference, the jury remains out on exactly what we'll see from UCLA Saturday. Nine wins + a slew of wild comebacks + one horriffic loss to a terrible team = ? All we can say with any certainty is that there will be many, many points scored.
Most to Gain
COLORADO and UCLA can not only upset the INEVITABLE DO NOT TRY TO STAND IN THE WAY OF GREATEST ROSE BOWL OF THIS OR ANY TIME, they can win conference titles - in UCLA's case, only a share, but still - in the process. A long shot, but a serious boon in the polls, and the bowl money, is in store for either who can ruin the great big postseason show ABC/ESPN has been prepping the promos for since Spring practice.
Most to Lose
Corrollary: SOUTHERN CAL and TEXAS are only one game apiece away from said glorified showdown; these two behemoths are collectively 66-5 over the past three seasons and mean mucho, mucho dinero to anyone who can bring them together and display it to a large audience. The addition of Penn State or LSU would be less prestigious or lucrative...but still worth rooting for if, like SMQ, your playoff wishes and tournament dreams lie with the chaotic failure and collapse of the BCS. Anyway, a tremendous amount of preparation, speculation and money - in addition to all the, you know, mythical title stuff - is invested in both finishing the deal, preferrably in impressive fashion.
Let's just get on with it already.
Inevitable Blowout of the Week
Texas already beat Colorado by 25 in mid-October; the Buffs were apparently so wary of a rematch they completely blew the final games of the season in a failed attempt to slip unnoticed into the Alamo Bowl. Iowa State says: no dice. Nobody's played Texas within three scores since early September (Ohio State).
Lame Game of the Week
Yeah, there's Middle Tennessee State at Florida Atlantic, one of the hurricane make-ups, but is the MAC Championship really 6-5 Akron at 7-4 Northern Illinois? At least one of the old Marshall-Toledo-Miami rotation was usually at 10-1 or 9-2 and on the fringes of the polls; neither of these two even has the best overall record in its own division. Name a player on Akron's roster - go ahead. Hint: Charlie Frye graduated last year. The league can't be happy about this.
THE PICKS (rankings are SMQ's)
Game of the Century of the Week
#10 GEORGIA vs. #6 LSU
What's at Stake: The all-important SEC Championship. LSU has puny hopes at bigger things, but has to play lights out and get some unlikely help.
Georgia Wants: D.J. Shockley offers the X-factor LSU hasn't seen all season: a legit running threat at quarterback. The Tigers are fast enough on defense to keep Shockley under wraps, but they're also big, frequent blitzers, and that can mean big, gaping holes from which Shockley can escape pressure into the open field; it would be worth testing the waters early to see how LSU plans to handle it when he takes off. Leonard Pope's increased involvement helped open things up against Auburn, but he's been rather quiet otherwise. Primarily, it's the Tennessee-Florida-Georgia Tech format: don't get too fancy, don't turn it over and play a grinding game of keep away as long as the defense allows. Defensively, JaMarcus Russell seems to be better while on the fly, escaping pressure; moving up to stuff the run while making the sophomore sit in the pocket and read a zone would require Russell to be consistent enough to string together several long drives without quick strikes - and consistency has not been Russell's strong suit. Also, kick away from Skyler Green.
LSU Wants: To bank on the cloud of dust format, too. Like UGA, the offensive prowess against good defenses - Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and Alabama - has been up and down. Joseph Addai was starting to get the first teamer carries he deserved before he was hurt, and should get the bulk Saturday after easing back into heavier rotation the past two weeks. Russell won't get much done if Addai - or Justin Vincent - can't produce and the Tigers are stuck in a bunch of third and long traps. Hit Green - well over nine yards per carry on nine carries this year - on an end around at least once. The defense will be fine - more so if it picks its blitzes in spots to keep Shockley off-balance; he burned Georgia Tech last week for the winning score when he knew what was coming.
The Pick: Collectively, these teams are giving up about two touchdowns per game each (UGA is fifth nationally in scoring defense, LSU fourth), and neither has shown the tendency to open things up on offense as long as the game is close. The talent differences here are pretty much nil, even position to position, so much will determined by the sidelines; in that case, SMQ prefers the GeorgiaDome vet, Mark Richt, to the new guy, Les Miles, who hasn't always been the epitome of a cool leader this season. Either way, it will be the sort of World War I style trench warfare chess match (how's that for a mixed metaphor) SMQ enjoys above all.
GEORGIA 20, LSU 16
5-3 ATS, 4-2 AS A DD HOME DOG, IT'S SMQ'S DOUBLE BARRELL GOLDEN ROCK SOLID BARKING DOG OF THE WEEK!
#12 WEST VIRGINIA at SOUTH FLORIDA
Yes, SMQ freely admits to being humbled by the Mountaineers' dominant Thanksgiving performance after picking them in this very spot last week. But he refuses to be deterred! USF is 4-0 at home this year, inlcuding that wipeout of Louisville, and it will not be so cold in Tampa as it was in Connecticut - or Morgantown - last week. And, unlike Pitt, the Bulls can reasonably handle the run (128 ypg allowed) and run the ball themselves (215 ypg behind the league's top rusher, Andre Hall). The less West Virginia has the ball, the better. The Mountaineers have displayed a propensity over the years to drop games they shouldn't; USF is always pesky beyond expectations. Both teams rank in the top 15 nationally in scoring defense and the bottom ten in passing offense, so don't expect much fireworks. WVU caught in post-clinch letdown.
SOUTH FLORIDA 18, WEST VIRGINIA 15
#14 UCLA at #2 SOUTHERN CAL
SMQ must admit to missing out on Southern Cal almost entirely this season - he caught the Arizona State game, the end of Notre Dame and a few scattered plays of Reggie Bush's virtuoso performance against Fresno State - and is looking forward to catching up with quite possibly the most dominant offense he will see in many, many years. Normally, he would predict rougher waters ahead with LenDale White out - the guy's scored an amazing 19 touchdowns this year - but normally the opposing defense in question is not ranked 115th against the run. The Bruins have allowed eight 100-yard rushers in eight PAC Ten games and the specifics are uglier than that:Washington: 213 yards on 41 carries; 109 on 18 by Louis RankinSome teams aren't that bad against the rush and the pass. What evidence exists to suggest Reggie Bush won't run for 225 (he had 335 total yards against the Bruins last year, remember)? UCLA will score, but not nearly enough.
California: 330 yards on 41 carries; 135 on 22 by Marshawn Lynch, 153 on 10 by Justin Forsett
Washington State: 330 yards on 42 carries; 260 on 34 by Jerome Harrison
Oregon State: 181 yards on 39 carries; 167 on 31 by Yvenson Bernard
Arizona: 315 yards on 43 carries; 153 on 16 by Mike Bell, 113 on 16 by Gilbert Harris (nearly half Harris' season total)
Arizona State: 181 yards on 45 carries; 129 on 27 by Keegan Herring
SOUTHERN CAL 51, UCLA 33
UCLA practices stopping the run.
#1 TEXAS vs. COLORADO
Last time, Vince Young threw for 336 (58 yards rushing) and two touchdowns while Texas held smashmouth-oriented CU to 44 yards rushing. And the Buffs had a lot more momentum heading into that one.
TEXAS 42, COLORADO 13
FLORIDA STATE vs. #5 VIRGINIA TECH
Never has SMQ experienced a Florida State entering a game he thought it had virtually zero hope of winning. The 'Noles have been lackluster and sloppy, and pretty much packed it in, apparently, against Florida last week after two straight, at least somewhat competitive losses. Things are much tougher this week, with the FSU offense that's averaged a meager 12 points and 263 yards per in this losing streak running into the nastiest unit it's seen since Labor Day. Tech, too, is harboring long, long, looooooooooong mythical title hopes, with some smashing and some help. Circumstances are not looking up for FSU.
VIRGINIA TECH 26, FLORIDA STATE 9
TULSA at CENTRAL FLORIDA
When your league title is being played by conference newbies who combined for four wins the year before entering the league - all by the same team - then, to quote father of SMQ, "that's not too good." All SMQ knows or cares to know about either of these teams is the way each played in Hattiesburg earlier in the year: Tulsa forced four turnovers, held the ball for 42 minutes (really) and won by 17; UCF gave the ball up six times in the first two quarters, allowed a Southern Miss school record for points scored in a single half and went on to lose handily. George O'Leary may be Coach of the Year, but the C-USA Champ will be, oh my God, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. *puke*
TULSA 27, CENTRAL FLORIDA 21
SOUTHERN MISS vs. CONFERENCE USA BOWL CONTRACTS
Super secret SMQ insiders say the Tulsa win could cause chaos in the bowl puzzle; the Liberty Bowl will uphold its contract to take the C-USA champ if Central Florida is it, but apparently wants no part of the Hurricane and could screw everybody and pick hometown Memphis (6-5) if Tulsa is the winner. The problem for USM is this: C-USA has five tie-ins, and six eligible teams (Tulsa, UCF, UTEP, Houston, Memphis, Southern Miss). Tulsa, UCF and UTEP are locks; Memphis and Houston both beat USM late in the year and come from metro areas. That probably means, unless the league can come up with a sixth spot in the Shithole Bowl, Southern is staying home for the second time this decade. *double puke* As SMQ understands it, the most likely scenario is this, given a UCF win:Liberty: Central FloridaIn other words, highly speculative nonsense. And it's much worse if Tulsa wins Saturday. But if the Motor City comes through, that does mean a sixth spot, and that does a mean a symbolic postseason trip. Yay! Or whatever.
Fort Worth: UTEP/Tulsa
New Orleans/Lafayette: Houston
Mobile: Memphis/Southern Miss
Motor City (at-large spot; no tie-in): Memphis/Southern Miss
Also, congratulations to USM middle linebacker Kevis Coley, named Wednesday as Conference USA’s Defensive Player of the Year. Coley received close to zero preseason attention (he was only a part-time starter as a junior) but led the league in total tackles (144) and solo tackles (78) and was first-team all-C-USA along with his twin brother, safety Trevis, anchors of a defense that allowed 400 yards and 23 points per game, at one stretch gave up career-high rushing performances to three consecutive opposing running backs, held but two opponents under 20 points and finished 79th nationally despite facing only two offenses (UAB and Houston) ranked in the top 25 nationally from a watered-down league. Good job guys!
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Uh...Texas A&M last week?