We begin this week with a welcome wagon breakdown.
When it was announced last year that West Virginia football coach Rick Rodriguez was leaving his alma-mater for the greener ($) pastures of the “Big House” in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a firestorm of vitriol was unleashed toward the coach by the Mountaineer nation. The feelings of abandonment were so strong, that Mayor Robert Riggs, of Rodriguez’ home of Grant Town (pop. 650) in Marin County, ordered the two signs that read: “Home of WVU Head Football Coach Rich Rodriguez,” be taken down. What would John Denver think of this country road?
This weekend, let’s see which teams give it faithful a positive sign, and which look like they’ve already signed out.
No. 5 Ohio State at No.1 USC (Ch.5, 8 p.m.) In order to win a game of this magnitude, a team must be able to toe the line. In the Buckeyes case – it’s the injured toe of its leader, All-America tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells. If OSU is to have a chance against the Trojans, Wells must be well. Absent his talent, the task becomes very difficult, but the Ohio State cupboard is hardly bare. Coach Jim Tressell takes great comfort in the ability, and game management of senior quarterback Todd Boeckman, but the coach will also find some time for Boeckman’s heir apparent, dual-threat freshman sensation Terrelle Pryor. The QB’s have a pair of quality targets in wideouts Brian Hartline and his All-America counterpart Brian Robiskie. Unfortunately, if Wells can’t go, the running back by committee is very pedestrian. The D punishes, behind a pair of All-Americas in corner Michael Jenkins and 2-time All-America backer James Laurinaitis, and must pressure the quarterback, if the Buckeyes are to have a chance.
USC has won 71 of its last 79. To put that another way, if The Men of Troy were to lose its next 21 consecutive games, old friend Pete Carroll would still have compiled a .710 winning percentage. That is Bryant-esque. The golden boys of L.A. may have also discovered its next Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in junior Mark Sanchez. If that isn’t enough, Tailback U has been reawakened, with Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford leading the charge. The wideouts aren’t jaw dropping, but are of vintage quality. As for the D, the specialists at Brinks should study the Trojan blueprint. This impenetrable bunch is tougher than a $2 steak, and attacks from all sides behind a threesome of All-Americas in backers Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and safety Taylor Mays. Dating back to the 1974 Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes have lost five straight to USC. In another schedule quirk, this is the fifth consecutive season that the Trojans have had a week off after starting the season. In the previous four, when they play the next game, USC has outscored its opponents by the combined score of 196-58. Hello. Make it a pick-six for USC, as the Pete Carroll legend continues to grow.
No.10 Wisconsin at No.21 Fresno State (ESPN2, 10:30 p.m.) This is a dangerous game for the Badgers. The identity for the boys from Madison eleven remains its pounding ground attack, supported by its elephantine offensive line. The engine behind this assault is All-America tailback P.J. Hill with big assists from fellow travelers John Clay and Zach Brown. This cheese infused trio, who averages nearly five yards a carry, has combined for nine touchdowns. The offensive triggerman is senior quarterback Allan Evridge, who despite not having All-America tight end Travis Beckum (hamstring) healthy, has utilized wideout Kyle Jefferson and tight end Garret Graham with great effectiveness. The D’s strength lays in the front seven, featuring backers Jaevery McFadden, DeAndre Levy and disruptive end Matt Shaughnessey.
Fresno coach Pat Hill lives for these games. The Bulldog football philosophy of: “Anybody, Anywhere, Anytime,” certainly applies with this game. As Hill enters his twelfth season in the Valley, he may have his best and most experienced team. Fresno returns ten starters on offense, directed by senior quarterback Tom Brandstater, and a pair of quality receivers in Ajir Ofutu, and tight end Bear Pasoe. The Bulldogs can also hurt teams with its running game, which features tailback Ryan Matthews. The D is solid led by a threesome of active backers in Kyle Knox, Chris Carter and Nico Herron.
It’s difficult to go against the “cheese-heads,” but this is Fresno’s super bowl – so we’ll take the boys from the fertile valley of San Fernando.
UCLA at No.18 BYU (VERSUS, 3:30 p.m.) The “other” football team from the City of Angels has found its leader. UCLA quarterback Ken Craft isn’t flashy, but represents the grittiness that his first year coach, Rick Neuheisel is trying to re-establish into the program. The offensive talent level is thin, and Craft will rely on tailback Raymond Carter and the receiving of Ray Moya and Terrence Austin to move the ball. The physical defense backbones these UCLA surfers, and is led by the Bosworth brothers, Korey at end, and Kyle at linebacker, with an added assist from tackle Brian Price.
The Cougars have quietly run off the nation’s longest (12) winning streak. BYU prowls behind a three-pack of game changers in starry quarterback Max Hall, tailback Harvey Unga and tight end Dennis Pitta, has the ability to score quicker than Pamela Anderson. The D plays aggressively, and is led by backers Marr Bauman and Coleby Clauson. The Cougs maintain its BCS mission and jack the winning streak to a baker’s dozen.
Michigan at Notre Dame (Ch.7, 3:30 p.m.) This reminds one of the philosophical question; If a tree falls in the forest …, does it make a sound? With both teams unranked, if these weren’t the two winningest programs in college football history, would anybody care?
But in reality there are a bunch of stories swirling around this game. Coach Rich “Rod” Rodriguez is finding it harder to find the end zone, than a friend in the state of West Virginia. He also continues to search for a starting quarterback, alternating between Steve Threet and Nick Sheridan. Unfortunately, the Wolverines ground attack, (less than 3 yards a carry), remains weaker than the journalism credentials of Keith Olbermann, while the receiving corps won’t send shivers through the opposition. The strength of Big Blue is its defense, and features a stellar group that includes backer Obi Ezeh, and ends Brandon Graham and Tim Jamison.
Even the strongest supporters of Irish coach Charlie Weis, and those numbers are now smaller than the number of republicans living on Brattle Street, must be concerned. Things are off kilter in South Bend. The Domers offense looks as fractured as the annunciated words in a Tom Menino speech. The jury also remains unconvinced, about the ability of “stud” quarterback Jimmy Clauson, who continues to make mistakes. The ground attack is similar to the Wolverines and has been just as ineffective. The speed -challenged D, is pedestrian, and when the secondary leads in tackles, the front seven isn’t doing its job. In a game that might need a defibulator to get an offensive pulse, we’ll take the winged helmets of mighty “Meechigan.”
No.16 Oregon at Purdue (Ch.5, 3:30 p.m.) It looks like coach Mike Bellotti has the Ducks flying (110 points in two games) once again. Gang Green has overcome some serious injuries, and is now under the direction of quarterback Justin Roper, with a big assist from a pair of tailbacks in Jeremiah Johnson (shoulder, will play) and his counterpart LaGarrette Blount. The QB has a pair of field stretching targets in Terrence Scott and Jeff Maehl. The D, swarms behind its All-America safety Patrick Chung and ends Will Tukuafu and Nick Reed.
The Boilermakers chief mechanic Joe Tiller needs one more victory to become the winningest coach in West Lafayette. Purdue, aka Quarterback U, has another good one in senior Curtis Painter. The QB has a reliable back in Kory Sheets and can choose from a three glue-fingered wideouts in Keith Smith, Greg Orton, and Desmond Tardy. The D, led by tackle Alex Magee and end Gerald Gooden should be its best since the conference leading squad of 2003. Unfortunately, for the faithful, Teller must wait at least another week to capture the record, as the Ducks throw a wrench at the Boilermakers.
Last week’s record: 5-0 Record for the season: 7-3