Handicapping week 11

We begin this week with the play of the year – maybe the play of all-time.

It occurred a couple of weeks ago during the Mississippi State-Auburn game, when Auburn safety Zac Etheridge collided headfirst with teammate Antonio Coleman, as they tackled MSU’s tailback Rodney Scott.

After the collision, Etheridge fell unconscious on top of Scott.  Somehow Scott sensed that the player lying on top of him was seriously hurt and didn’t move.  “I just had a sense that something was seriously wrong, and that if I moved he could have been paralyzed,” said Scott.  Auburn Coach Gene Chizik said, “I don’t know how he knew, but he (Scott) sat as still as the night right underneath him.  It was one of the most phenomenal things I’ve witnessed.”  Etheridge’s doctors said that despite cracking the fifth vertebra and tearing neck ligaments, he could in fact play again.  “I’ve got to take my hat off to Rodney Scott,” said Etheridge.  “It was a blessing that he didn’t move.”  This weekend let’s see which teams best tackle adversity, and which is up to its neck in losses. 

No. 16 Utah at No.4 TCU (CBS college sports, 7:30 p.m.) A Utah victory not only crushes TCU’s dream of a BCS invite, it vaults the mighty Utes to the top of the Mountain West heap.  The Men of Salt Lake are directed by the steady hand of quarterback Terrance Cain (11 touchdown passes – 5 interceptions), with assists from tailback Eddie Wide and wideouts David Reed and Jereme Brooks.  These guys are solid, but won’t cause any sleepless nights for opposing defensive coordinators.  The pizzazz and anchor of the team’s success, is the nation’s fifteenth stingiest D.  This group led by bookend ends Koa Musi, Derrick Shelby, and backer Mike Wright attacks from all angles, but is vulnerable against the pass, which is not a good recipe against the Boys from Fort Worth.

Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs have jumped to new heights.  Heisman Trophy candidate, quarterback Andy Dalton (16 touchdown passes – 3 interceptions) is the commander of the nation’s sixth highest scoring (37 points) offense.  The country’s fourth most efficient passer gets a big boost from the tailback tandem of Joseph Turner (9TDs), and Ed Wesley, who comprise America’s sixth best (242 yards a game) rushing attack.  The QB also has the luxury of choosing between a pair of starry wideouts; Jeremy Kerley and Bart Johnson.  The D, the nation’s fifth (11 points) toughest team to score upon, is deserving of equal marquee billing.   The third best total defense in the land, is led by its All-America end, sack master Jerry Hughes, fellow end Wayne Daniels, and backer Daryl Washington, who are equally efficient suffocating both the run and the pass.   The BCS invite is in the mail, and stamped TCU as the Frogs jump over the Boys from Salt Lake City.   

No.15 Iowa at No. 10 Ohio State (Ch.5, 3:30 p.m.) Last week Iowa’s rose colored carriage reverted back into a pumpkin, as the Hawkeye faithful saw its undefeated season disappear on the ankle injury of its starting quarterback, Ricky Stanzi.  Now, if the “I” is to receive its first Rose Bowl invite in 19 years, it will be with little tested backup QB James Vandenberg.  The QB is saddled with the daunting task of going into Columbus to face a nasty bunch of revitalized Buckeyes.  “November is for contenders,” said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.  Unfortunately, the offense of the Boys of the Corn is more identifiable with a desolate mid-January stalk of corn – lifeless and brittle.  This group led by tailback Brandon Wegher and wideouts Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, is more point challenged than the credit rating of a homeowner teetering on bankruptcy.  They rank 94th in rushing and 86th in scoring, which is not a good recipe against a bunch of hungry Buckeyes.  The fertile soil is on the opportunistic defensive side.  The nation’s thirteenth stingiest D, led by backer Pat Angerer, and ends Adrian Clayborn and Broderick Binns attacks in waves, and is tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions (19) and second in turnovers gained. 

The Buckeyes have new life.  It’s almost as if they got a clemency call from the Governor.  The Scarlet and Grey controls its destiny, and with a victory, the Bucks should cruise to its fifth consecutive Big Ten Championship.  Dual threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor (15 touchdown passes – 9 interceptions), who has more critics than Sarah Palin, leads the team in rushing and is the Buckeye’s offensive director. The QB is assisted by a pair of hard charging tailbacks in Brandon Saine and Dan Herron, along with receivers DeVier Posey (7TDs) and Dane Sanzenbacher (6TDs), who is averaging an eye-popping 20 yards a catch.  The D is Columbus vintage.  The nation’s fourth stingiest eleven led by end Thaddeus Gibson, tackle Cameron Heyward, and backer Ross Homan is sixth overall, third in interceptions (16) and equally destructive defending the pass and the run.  The Iowan Pasadena express is permanently derailed, as Columbus says goodbye and sends the Boys from Iowa City back to the pumpkin patch.    

Notre Dame at No.8 Pittsburgh (Ch.5, 8 p.m.)  The BCS payday is gone, and ND coach $Charlie Weis could be the next to go.  The Irish catalyst is quarterback Jimmy Clausen (20 touchdown passes – 3 interceptions) who, with surgical precision, operates as the nation’s third most efficient passer.  The QB gets a huge assist from one of the country’s most dynamic receiving tandems in All-America Golden Tate, and Michael Floyd, as well as the solid running of tailback Armando Allen.  Unfortunately, as the Domer faithful are well aware, the “defense” ranked 79th overall, is as weak as the latest US employment figures.  This group led by safety Kyle McCarthy, and backers Manti TE’O, and Darius Fleming, defends the pass (88th) the same way Congress defends American consumers from the predatory practices of the credit card companies. 

The last time Pitt (who has won 18 of 23) stood 8-1, Ronald Regan was counting jelly beans in the Oval office, and a guy named Dan Marino was under center for the Panthers.  The Sons of the “Stache,” Coach Dave Wannstedt, attack behind the two-headed monster of quarterback Bill Stull (17 touchdown passes – 4 interceptions, 67 percent completions) and his running partner, true freshman Dion Lewis, (12 touchdowns) the nation’s seventh leading rusher.  The sixteenth highest scoring team is also assisted by its play-making tight end Dorin Dickerson (10 TDs) and wideout Jonathan Baldwin.  The country’s 19th stingiest D, led by end Greg Romeus, tackle Myles Caragein and backer Adam Gunn leads the nation in sacks, but shows some vulnerability defending the run.  The noose gets tighter for Weis, as Pitt moves a step closer toward its season ending showdown against Cincinnati. 

No.12 Miami at North Carolina (Ch.5, 3:30 p.m.)  The Hurricanes are once again beginning to storm.  The Canes Sinatra-cool QB Jacory Harris (18 touchdown passes – 12 interceptions) has blossomed under the guidance of old friend, former UMass head man, Mark Whipple.  The quarterback with the reptilian heart beat is assisted by a trio of targets; Leonard Hawkerson, Byrd LaRon and Travis Benjamin, as well as a pair of “keep-em honest” tailbacks, Graig Cooper and James Javarris.  The D behind backers Colin McCarthy, and Darryl Sharpton, and lineman Allen Bailey is pedestrian, and at times, can be as placid as Biscayne Bay at sunrise. 

If the Carolina tobacco crop was as anemic as the Tar Heels offense – smoking in America would disappear overnight.  The last time an offense was this bad, it was called: Syracuse University.  This frozen in neutral eleven is directed by quarterback T.J. Yates, who has thrown one more interception than touchdown.  These tar-pitters are 93rd in scoring, seventh from the bottom in total offense, and eleventh from last in passing.  It’s the D, the specialty of Coach Butch Davis, which has carried the Carolina Blue banner.  This smoking crew led by end Robert Quinn, and backer Quan Sturdivant is the nation’s eleventh stingiest (15 points), stones runners, swats passes, and is fifth best overall.  In what should be a very tight game, we think the smoking light goes out for Carolina.

No. 25 Stanford at No.11 USC (FSN, 3:30 p.m.) Outside of Nobel Prize winners, the last time the Farm has such a dynamic duo, Jim Plunkett was throwing touchdown passes to Randy Vataha.  The 2009 version consists of the nation’s second ranked rusher Toby Gerhart (16 TDs) and the country’s ninth most efficient passer in Andrew (11 touchdowns- 3 interceptions) Luck.  This Batman-Robin combo is assisted by field stretching wideouts Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu. Unfortunately, for the Cardinal faithful, the D is in need of a serious tutorial.   End Thomas Keiser and backer Clinton Snyder lead a bunch that is 82nd overall and eighteenth from the bottom in defending the pass. 

USC lives!  The critics panned the season of the Men of Troy, but the Trojans remain very much alive in its quest for its eight consecutive PAC-10 title.  But make no mistake; these are not your father’s Trojans.  True freshman quarterback Matt Barkley (10 touchdown passes – 7 interceptions) is experiencing some growing pains, and the running game behind tailbacks Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford has been erratic, as USC ranking as the fifty-third best scoring team in the land would attest.  Even its much vaunted D, behind All-America safety Taylor Mays, ends Everson Griffin, Nick Perry and Chris Galippo, has shown some shockingly unexpected fissures.  Despite all that, we think a wounded, but recovering Southern Cal, will be too much for the Cardinal to fly over. 

 

Last week’s record: 2-3                                       Season record: 34-16.   

Remember to check in on our weekend recap – Sunday afternoon.

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