Handicapping week 9

We begin this week with a finger salute.

No, not the one that is recognized globally, this one involves a pinkie finger.  It is, or was, attacked to the right hand of Trevor Wirke, a 280 pound senior right guard, for Division II Mesa State College.  Wirke shattered the finger on the jersey of a teammate, leaving a shard of bone, where, there was once a finger. 

The orthopedic surgeon, wanted to insert some pins, which meant a six-month recovery, and the end of the senior’s football career.  “Cut it off,” was Wirke’s response.  And cut it off they did, allowing guard to return to the football team.  It also brought about a slew of new nicknames from his teammates.  Gems like: give me a high four, you ought to have 10 percent fewer holding calls, stubs, and fantastic-four.  This weekend, let’s see which teams point the way, and play with surgical precision, and which, when you cut to the bone, are given the bone, by its disgruntled faithful.

No.7 Oklahoma State at No. 1 Texas (Ch.5, 3:30 p.m.)  The Cowboys are riding into Austin, with the intent of riding out, with the title of: “the new sheriff in town.”  The Pokes, who gallop on the nation’s fourth highest scoring offense, are directed by the country’s third most efficient passer in quarterback Zac (14 touchdowns – 4 interceptions) Robinson.  The QB earns his spurs, on the hands of one of the best wideouts on the Plains, Dez White, who has corralled eleven touchdown passes, and is second in the nation in receiving yards.  The QB also has the luxury of changing up, with the running of the one of the nation’s best, in tailback Kendall Hunter.  The D, led by backers Andre Sexton, Orie Lemon, and tackle Jeremiah Price, struggle at times defending the pass, but overall have a deceiving ability to rise up for the big play.

The eyes of the nation are now upon Texas, and the Horns have no intention of surrendering its hard earned badge.  The chief sharpshooter of the country’s second highest scoring team, is its Heisman Trophy leading quarterback Colt McCoy (19 touchdowns – 3 interceptions), who is completing a Wyatt Earp-ian eighty-one percent of his passes.  The QB has attained his lofty reputation, courtesy of his seven-eleven (open all the time) glue fingered wideouts, Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley, who have combined for twelve touchdowns.  McCoy still leads the team in rushing, but senior power back Chris Ogbonnaya, is emerging as a force.  The D, led by end Brian Orakpo, who is performing at an All-America level, along with linebacker Sergio Kindle and tackle Roy Miller, is fourth in sacks, stones runners, but like Dennis Kucinich’s presidential campaign, is eighth from the bottom in defending the pass.  They’ll be no, new, swearing in ceremony in Austin, as the Longhorns lasso another opponent, and tell OK State, “We don’t need no stinking badges.”

No. 3 Penn State at No.10 Ohio State (Ch.5, 8 p.m.)  The only thing that is creaking on the Happy Valley band wagon is the arthritic hip of its 81 year old coach, Joe Paterno. Senior quarterback Daryl Clark (11 touchdowns – 2 interceptions) directs the nation’s seventh highest scoring team, with help from its game breaking tailback Evan Royster, and its Musketeer trio of wideouts in Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams.  One of the keys to the Penn State success has been its efficiency in converting (8th) third down conversions.  The nation’s sixth stingiest eleven, led by end Aaron Maybin (10 sacks), and backers Navarro Bowman and Tyrell Sales, are quarterback disruptors, and defend the pass and the run with equal fervor.

In Columbus the last time the faithful saw a better one man show, other than its freshman dual-threat sensation, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, someone by the name of; Elvis, was in his prime. 

In the Horseshoe, the offensive formula could be a campaign slogan, so goes Pryor, so go the Buckeyes. Teams must respect his tone setting Fred Astir elegance, which allows starry breakaway tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells, and the receiving ability of the two Brians, receivers Hartline, and Robiskie, to find the open spaces.  But as always with Tressel-led teams, the backbone of the 2008 OSU eleven is its defense, led by its threesome of linebackers in All-America James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman and Ross Homan.  This group, is fourth in takeaways, has captured twelve interceptions, and is America’s twelfth toughest team to score upon.  Since joining the Big Ten, a visit to Columbus, for JoePa and his Nittany Lions, has been like a visit to the dentist for a root canal, his seven visits, all losses, have been painful.  But, if in fact, this is the Lion of Happy Valley’s last hurrah, creaky hip and all, Joe says, “Goodbye Columbus” with a victory, and likely punches his ticket to the national title game.

No.8 Texas Tech at No.19 Kansas (Noon, ESPN)  Coach Mike Leach’s Red Raiders light the sky with the most dynamic aerial show this side of the Flying Wallendas.  The nation’s top-rated passing attack is commanded by quarterback Graham Harrell (23 touchdowns – 5 interceptions), whose Linus blanket target, All-America wideout Michael Crabtree, has twelve touchdown receptions, and conjures up images of Jerry Rice.  In addition to this McCain-Palin combination, Tech occasionally changes-up with a pair of solid tailbacks, in Baron Batch, and Shannon Woods.  The D, behind backers Brian Duncan and Marlon Williams, stones runners, but is as weak (103rd) as the excuses to re-elect Diane Wilkerson, in defending the pass.

Kansas, who has won 13 consecutive home games, plays as big as the waist size of its 400 – plus pound coach, Mark Mangino.  The Jayhawks are led by quarterback Todd Reesing, (17 touchdowns – 5 interceptions), who runs the nation’s sixth best passing attack.  The QB has the luxury of choosing between a pair of field stretching wideouts, in former quarterback Kerry Meier, and Dezmon Briscoe.  When KU does run, the bulk of the work is handled by tailback Jake Sharp.  The D, behind backer James Holt, and end Jake Laptad, dines on runners, but is erratic as an Al Davis press conference, in defending the pass.  Unlike that famous Kansan Dorothy, we think TT will finally realize that, they are indeed, in Kansas – Lawrence to be exact.

No.9 Georgia at No.11 LSU (Ch.4, 3:30 p.m.)   It can be debated that the boys from Athens, Georgia, have as much talent as Zeus’ fabled ancient counterparts, who hailed from the Mount called Olympus.  Yet for some reason, the Dawgs continue to sputter.  The leader of this highly acclaimed bunch is quarterback Matt Stafford (10 touchdowns – 5 interceptions), who leans heavily on his All-America tailback Knowshon Moreno (11 touchdowns), and a flashy freshman sensation in wideout, A.J. Green.  The D, led by backers Rennie Curran and Daryl Gamble chomp runners, but is still under double digits (8) in turnovers recovered.

The Tigers engine purrs on the legs of its tailback tandem, Charles Scott and Keiland Williams.  In addition, coach Les Miles has done a David Copperfield type of job, in rotating his two inexperienced quarterbacks, Jarrett Lee (8 touchdowns – 6 interceptions) and his counterpart, the running QB Andrew Hatch.  When Lee is on, he has a pair of quality targets in, Brandon “Drops” Lafell, and Demetrious Byrd.  The D, led by end Tyson Jackson, and backers Perry Riley, and the recently returned stud, Darry Beckwith, crushes runners, but overall, with only seven recovered turnovers, hasn’t been up to recent Tiger quality.  In a classic SEC battle, (Is there any other kind?), with huge national implications, and fully aware that Georgia is 25-4 on the road under the tenure of coach Mark Richt, it’s the Tigers, who bite the Dawgs.

Kentucky at No. 5 Florida   In less time than it takes to age fine aged Kentucky bourbon, coach Rich Brooks has made football in Lexington, relevant again.  The Cats, who are one win away from bowl eligibility, have scratched opponents, utilizing the nation’s seventh stingiest defense, which features a pair of attacking sack masters in Braxton Kelley and Micha Johnson (ankle).  With all its injuries, the Kentucky offense is as hobbled as a broken down still and in the last two weeks, quarterback Mike Hartline (8 touchdowns – 6 interceptions) has seen his two main benefactors, tailback Derrick Locke, and wideout Dicky Lyons, lost for the season, putting even more pressure on the Kentucky defense.

Unlike Ponce DeLeon and his fruitless search, the Gators have finally found a running game in Gainesville.  The jet-fueled duo of Chris Rainey and Jeffrey Demps, has given the Florida offense a youthful spark.  In addition, when tailback/wideout Percy Harvin and wideout Louis Murphy are added to the Gatorade mix, the only place in the Sunshine State with more speed is, Daytona.  It is also easier to find a friendly bus driver, than it is scoring on the Gators D, led by its All-America backer Brandon Spikes, and his partner Joe Haden.  In “The Swamp” on Saturday, the only bourbon to be savored will be swirling in the glasses, of the orange cladded faithful, of Florida.

Last week’s record: 4-1                                             Season record: 27-13.

                                                                     END

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