Sunday, January 01, 2006
SMQ BOWL BLITZ: NEW YEAR'S PICKS EDITION
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Happy New Year!
SMQ Will Be Watching...
Due to work constraints, only about half of the premiere matchup, the Fiesta Bowl...West Virginia's best shot against a BCS big boy, after the first one didn't go so well...Glowing in-game retrospectives, followed by sideline interviews with the coaches as play ensues, during the Orange Bowl.
Finally, We'll Learn About...
Not only is WEST VIRGINIA looking to show everybody they themselves belong in a roped-off, big money affair after beating all of one top 25 team - in overtime, on a questionable call - and getting trounced by the only other high quality opponent it faced; the Mountaineers are playing to prove the Big East deserves an automatic BCS spot. The league's offering in 2004 was smacked around and run right out of the Fiesta Bowl by a Mountain West team. If the same happens to 10-1, undisputed champ WVU, the entire Big East will suffer the consequences.
PUT UP OR SHUT UP
On the Spot This Week
NOTRE DAME doesn't necessarily have to win the Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State is very good, after all - but the Irish do need to be very competitive, which definitely does not describe ND's last two New Year's performances. The assumption is that Charlie Weis has Notre Dame back on the level to compete with anyone - certainly good enough to win this game - and nothing would prove that assumption correct better than a strong showing on the big stage where Weis' predecessors fell so far short.
Most to Gain
There are not many TEXAS TECH believers around, it seems, which tends to be the result when you play one ranked team all season. Throwing for 400 against the best scoring defense in the country on the way to a tenth win could silence SMQ and Air Leach's other, numerous doubters.
Most to Lose
AUBURN spent the whole season living down its opening loss to Georgia Tech, and finally convinced everyone by beating Georgia and whipping Alabama in its last two games, setting itself up for a possible top five finish and major preseason hype next summer. All that good work can be undone with a bad effort against slumping Wisconsin.
I CAN HEAR THE CONCESSION STAND POPCORN POPPING FROM MY SEAT...
Lame Game of the Week
New Year's DayJan. 2! There are no bad games! Only jobs that prevent you from watching all the great ones!
WE CAN REBUILD. WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY...
Bouncing Back From Dismal Endings
Alabama: Brodie Croyle needed the month off after being run over by the equivalent of a black rhino. Texas Tech? Not so rhino-like.
Virginia Tech: Major opportunity for a letdown against a dangerous, overlook-able opponent following such a poor ACC title game showing. And yet, SMQ is not willing to forsake this defense.
THE PICKS (ranking are SMQ's)
Non-Mythical Championship Game of the Century of the Week
#4 OHIO STATE vs. #8 NOTRE DAME
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What's at Stake: Only bragging rights, but pretty big ones. Winner probably earns title of "Team Most Likely to Beat Mythical Champion," which should logically be followed by "Plus-One" postseason format booster Kirk Herbstreit arguing for a game between the unofficial champ of the Midwest and the Rose Bowl winner. SMQ will be waiting and watching closely for such a demand to be born from Mr. Herbstreit's commitment to consistency.
Ohio State Wants: Shorten the game and keep the ball out of Brady Quinn's hands. We think of OSU's offense as more explosive - with Smith, Pittman, Ginn and Holmes, it's certainly faster than ND's - but the Buckeyes, unlike the Irish, are a run-first unit that benefits in a game against a more high-octane unit by controlling the clock by grinding Pittman and Smith and picking its spots with big plays to the track guys. Make ND one-dimensional; the defense is just about unmatched in its front seven and probably not all that concerned with the Irish running game, but the longer it has to pay attention to the threat of Darius Walker, rather than focusing on getting to Quinn and blanketing Jeff Samardijsaizasa, Maurice Stovall and Anthony Fasano, the better for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame Wants: To throw it up! At least early, in an attempt to get on top and then foster some balance as the game progresses. Forget the old option and cloud of dust attacks from the start, though; this is the most potent passing attack in ND history, and Ohio State's front seven is a brick wall. Charlie Weis has done a good job of getting Walker involved to keep things balanced (he averages right at 100 yards), but that's largely from workhorse duty (ho hum 4.7 ypc) and OSU yields only 2.36 per rush, best in the country. The best Irish run game here may be screens and short, keep-away passes, both of which have been employed with success this season (Walker has 36 catches). If they fall behind and handing off becomes an afterthought, it could be a long night for Brady Quinn: tOSU has 39 sacks on the season.
The Pick: This is not Notre Dame via 2000 or 2002, when fast starts and a great regular season record ended in New Year's Day humiliation. Good as Ohio State's defense is, Quinn and Co. haven't been held under 31 since Game Two at Michigan, and they will score. But OSU has given up 30 only once, while racking up at least 35 in five of its last six games (including 40 or more in four straight). A win could mean a kind of, ahem, ascension for the Irish, which is going to be hyped to the hilt next preseason regardless, but more likely the Buckeyes take a close, entertaining affair, spurred by their special teams advantage, if nothing else.
OHIO STATE 30, NOTRE DAME 24
#7 GEORGIA vs. #12 WEST VIRGINIA
What's at Stake: The Big East's rep as a BCS conference. As SMQ indicated above, the Mountaineers aren't just playing for themselves: they're playing, potentially, for the postseason future of their whole league.
Georgia Wants: The Bulldogs come in as the bigger, faster favorites here, blue chip, big league conference champs against what was supposed to be a fringe bowl team in a fringe "major" conference, and a fast start could lead to all sorts of momentum and inferiority complexes from West Virginia; think Boise State at the start of the year. Look for big play tries early, a la the SEC Championship win over LSU. On defense, load up to put everything on Pat White. The kid can run, but so can Georgia's D, and the latter is in much better any time White has to put it up.
West Virginia Wants: Best case, WVU will make the UGA defense look like Pittsburgh's on Thanksgiving, when the Mountaineers rolled up way over 400 yards rushing from the Rodriguez spread option attack, and leave doubters (like SMQ) choking on their skepticism. More realistically, if it can consistently make first downs, slow the faster 'Dogs down by forcing them to play disciplined, responsibility defense and have enough to success to draw the safeties up (Greg Blue, for one, likes to stick his nose in like a linebacker) and hit a stray big play downfield, the Mountaineers can score enough. Like Georgia's defense, the Mountaineers' highly-touted run defense (WVU is 11th vs. the run) wants to contain D.J. Shockley and the bevy of backs and force Shockley to make plays with his arm - he's more equipped to do this, both with his own talent and experience and his receiving options, than White is, but take it from Georgia Tech (which, even in a loss, had the most success against a Shockley-led offense, holding UGA to 68 yards rushing): it's much easier to get the 'Dogs off the field when D.J. is looking at third and seven.
The Pick: It's tempting to get carried away by West Virginia's November piledriver routine, but Georgia ain't Pittsburgh or UConn. One of SMQ's early live football memories is the 1994 Sugar Bowl (at the end of the '93 season), when undefeated West Virginia came strolling into the Superdome to face ascending but far from peaking Florida, and left humbled, 41-7 losers (meanwhile, we had to gauge the cheers and groans of luxury box patrons above watching the end of the classic FSU-Nebraska Orange Bowl to learn who would be mythical champion). These Mountaineers aren't as good as that team, either. WVU is very well-coached and quite a bit better than the sum of its parts, but Georgia wins with superior muscle and athleticism on its defense.
GEORGIA 23, WEST VIRGINIA 15
#23 FLORIDA STATE vs. #3 PENN STATE
What's at Stake: Word is, St. Bobby and JoPa bet February's Social Security checks on the outcome. Lee Corso is also scheduled to blow the winner, though this is a fairly meaningless prize as Corso routinely fellates both coaches anyway, win or lose.
Florida State Wants: Mainly, to see the team that showed up against Virginia Tech instead of the one that royally sucked the three weeks prior. The defense, especially, has to recreate its most recent performance, because there is no pretense of a running game (even against Tech, the' Noles ran for all of 47 yards...not that Jeff Bowden is all that interested in blocking and stuff, anyway), which means Drew Weatherford is going to have face full of Tamba Hali all night. This isn't what could happend; it's a given. The 'Noles are too athletic to just dismiss outright - as SMQ did, wrongly, before the ACC Championship - need outstanding defense, sans A.J. Nicholson, a couple turnovers and maybe another big return from Willie Reid to have a legitimate shot here.
Penn State Wants: To keep it par for the course. The Lions can match up with Florida State athletically, but the main goal should be to hang on to the ball and not put the defense in a bad spot. The defense, for its part, should work to make FSU run the ball, which the 'Noles have been entirely incapable of doing over the second half of the season.
The Pick: This one just feels like a kind of culmination/coronation for the young Lions. Penn State will dominate without breaking away, FSU will make a play here or there to prevent you from flipping over to Futurama, and finally, around 11:24 EST, Michael Robinson will finally, mercifully score a clinching touchdown moments before Weatherford is sacked and killed or tosses a terrible interception that's run in for a cherry-on-top score and Paterno is dumped and keels over from pulmonary shock on the numbers. You've seen this one before.
PENN STATE 26, FLORIDA STATE 9
5-3 ATS, 60 PERCENT WHEN COMING OFF A LOSS AS DD HOME FAVE, IT'S SMQ's FIVE-STAR GOLDEN GUARANTEE BARKING DOG LOCK OF THE WEEK!
#24 IOWA vs. #15 FLORIDA
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Florida is a three-point favorite to avenge its 2004 Outback Bowl loss, and not without good reason, given the Gators' wipeout of Florida State the last time we saw them. The last time we saw Iowa, though, they were throttling Minnesota only a week after thoroughly handling Wisconsin; in all, the Hawkeyes are four points and two narrowly blown efforts against Michigan and Northwestern (both games that SMQ watched and Iowa should have won) from a seven-game winning streak and a share of Penn State's conference title. Oddly, against these teams' identities in the recent past, it will be the Hawkeyes who want to pick up the pace a bit; the conservative Gators averaged 257 yards and 17.7 points against winning teams and Tennessee, topping 300 only once and 30 only once (and not in the same game) in those six games. Iowa, on the other hand, since getting whomped by Ohio State, is averaging 32 points and giving up only 19. In four bowl trips, Kirk Ferentz is 3-1, including one already over an eight-win, Chris Leak-led Florida team; make it 4-1.
IOWA 26, FLORIDA 23
#21 TEXAS TECH vs. #13 ALABAMA
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The obvious winner of this year's "Opposites Attract" Award, pitting gunslinging, cupcake-devouring, caution-to-the-wind points machine Texas Tech against defensiveminded, cloud-of-dust thumper Alabama. SMQ's instincts immediately give the nod to Alabama, which boasts the nation's best defense across the board: seventh vs. the run, fourth in pass efficiency, first in scoring. In his dreams, the Tide sacks Cody Hodes 12 times, picks him off six more, pitches a shutout a plants a flag with the "D-Fence" symbol at midfield. Yet even against the only two respectable defenses Tech saw - Texas and Oklahoma - the Raiders tossed up 444 and 376 in total yards, respectively. Of course, they lost one of those badly and needed -a horrendous call on the final play to escape the other. Alabama will suffer a bit from the loss of unsung but consistently around-the-ball cornerback Simeon Castille, but not enough to allow SMQ's conscience to permit a predicting the Lubbock flyboys over one of the best overall defenses of the past two decades.
ALABAMA 24, TEXAS TECH 16
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This year's Cotton Bowl is Paula Abdul's favorite postseason stop.
#9 VIRGINIA TECH vs. #14 LOUISVILLE
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Possibly Monday's most intriguing match-up: the Cardinals, flying under the radar despite a 9-2 season whose boxscores look a lot like last year's balleyhooed stats making its first January appearance since 1991 against a potentially deflated Tech group that limps in after blowing a taken-for-granted BCS slot. If the Hokies show up, they're the better team based purely on their athleticism. If they don't show up, though - it wouldn't be the first time - it's no fluke the Cardinals are putting up crazy, 45-point per game stats again. Again, SMQ defers to defense - badass Tech ranks first in yardage and third in scoring - but it's much less certain than in the Cotton Bowl, because the Cardinals are more balanced and better on defense than Texas Tech (VA Tech,conversely, is better on offense than 'Bama). This version of U of Hell is still looking for its big, "We've arrived!" win, and this is as good as an opportunity as they'll get.
VIRGINIA TECH 34, LOUISVILLE 30
CitrusCapital One Bowl
#6 AUBURN vs. #17 WISCONSIN
It's tough to take Wisconsin seriously here. The success that propelled the Badgers came early in the season, before the team hit a hitch at Northwestern and eventually lost two of its last three, scoring just 24 combined points against Penn State and Iowa. And then there's Auburn, which has won nine of ten and four straight, closing its season by beating two top ten teams after barely falling in overtime to the eventual division champion in late October. If momentum counts for anything, the Tigers have it in spades. Even if it doesn't, Wisconsin's 100th-ranked (really!) defense is going to have major trouble with Kenny Irons and Auburn's massive line pushing around the Badgers' undersized front seven, and with the play-action attack AU uses to such good effect off of that rushing success. To have any chance of sending Barry Alvarez off with a win, one-time All-America lock Brian Calhoun will have to top the 56 combined yards he managed in the PSU and Iowa losses against the country's ninth-ranked total defense. SMQ, for one, doesn't like his chances.
AUBURN 35, WISCONSIN 18
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