Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The College Football Blog: Week 6 Betting Lines

Last Week: Vs. Spread (2-7-1); Moneyline Upsets (0-1)
Season: Vs. Spread (22-27-1); Moneyline Upsets (5-4)

Week 5 Review: Well after 4 straight weeks of going 5-5 against the spread, something had to give eventually. Something did give in week 5, and not surprisingly what it gave way to was me having my first really awful week of the season. I only won 2 games against the spread and even my moneyline upset pick turned out bad, as Purdue lost to ND by 17. I picked USC to cover the 25.5 point spread against Oregon State and they ended up losing by 6. I also picked Wake to cover the 15.5 point spread against Navy and they lost by 7. In short, I found out mediocrity is way better than sucking.

Week 6 Preview: After 4 weeks of mediocrity and then one terrible week, I figure I’m due for a big week. I’m going with my first instincts this week with no real strategy in mind. My only real theory at this point is that trying to find additional logic to base my predictions on has no positive impact on how well I do, and if anything only makes my predictions less likely to be accurate.

Game 1: Louisiana Tech (+22.5) @ Boise State
Pick: Boise State covers
Comment: Both teams are coming off bye weeks. The Broncos have won 6 straight over LT and won the last 2 in Boise by 41. Boise State has gone 15-5 against the spread in their last 20 games as home favorites. Meanwhile, LT is 3-11 against the spread in its last 14 games as road underdogs.

Game 2: Pittsburgh (+13.5) @ South Florida
Pick: South Florida covers
Comment: I’m sorry but Pitt’s performance against Syracuse last week has led me to believe that they are just as mediocre as their loss at home to Bowling Green in week 1 suggested. South Florida finally bullied an opponent the way that they should have last week, beating NC State by 31 on the road. That gives me enough confidence in them to believe that they’ll whip Pitt at home on Thursday night.

Game 3: Memphis (-4) @ UAB
Pick: Memphis covers
Comment: I got almost nothing here other than that I thought Memphis would be better than they have been so far this year and I expected UAB to be as bad as they’ve looked this season. UAB had won 7 straight over Memphis before losing on the road last season and the Tigers are just 1-5 ATS in their last 6 as road favorites (and they haven’t been favored on the road since 2005). And yet, I’m going with Memphis to cover just because.

Game 4: Oregon State (+12) @ Utah
Pick: Oregon State beats the spread
Comment: Okay, I know that Oregon State is coming off perhaps the biggest win in their program’s history, and I know that they aren’t going to catch Utah sleeping. I also know that Utah is very tough at home and that so far this season the Beavers have lost to Stanford and gotten pummeled by Penn State in their only 2 games on the road. Still, I think Oregon State will hang around long enough to stay within 12 points of the Utes.

Game 5: Cincinnati (-3) @ Marshall
Pick: Cincinnati covers
Comment: Marshall is 2-0 at home this season and is 4-1-1 ATS as a home underdog since 2005 but the Bearcats beat the Herd 40-14 at home last season and they have won 7 of their last 9 on the road. Plus, Cincinnati just ought to beat Marshall by more than 3 regardless of location.

Game 6: BYU (-28) @ Utah State
Pick: BYU covers
Comment: The Cougars are coming off a bye week and they won their last 2 games by a combined score of 103-0. BYU has won 8 straight over Utah State which is only 125 miles or so from Provo. The Aggies just snapped an 8 game home losing skid by beating Idaho in week 4 but they are just 2-8 ATS in their last 10 as home underdogs. The Cougs have won 5 straight on the road. But the biggest thing is that Utah State lost by 48 at home to Utah in week 3, so I have to think that BYU can beat them by more than 28.

Game 7: BC (-8.5) @ NC State
Pick: NC State beats the spread
Comment: Mostly just a hunch here. BC has played a very light early schedule as usual, going 3-1 in 4 games at home where they are 20-2 in their last 22 games. Their 3 wins have been lopsided but they haven’t beaten anyone of consequence and they lost to GT at home. They are only 7-6 in their last 13 games away from home. NC State has looked awful this season in every game except for week 4 when they beat ECU in OT. The Wolfpack is normally decent at home and Tom O’Brien will be looking to beat his former team after they drubbed him 37-17 last year. I think NC State will keep within a TD.

Game 8: Penn State (-12.5) @ Purdue
Pick: Penn State covers
Comment: I said that I would go with PSU until they let me down and last week they pushed with a 14 point win over Illinois at home. I think it’s worth giving them the benefit of the doubt and this week it will be impossible for them to push. PSU has struggled on the road in recent years but they have won 3 straight against Purdue, including the last one on the road. The Boilermakers are normally tough at home and they’ve played well at home so far this season but they’ve dropped 9 of 11 to PSU. I don’t think 12.5 is too big of a spread for PSU to cover.

Game 9: Florida (-24.5) @ Arkansas
Pick: Florida covers
Comment: Well Florida’s loss at home to Ole Miss last week was stunning and they have not been anywhere close to as good as advertised so far this season. However, I think the Hogs are as good of a team for the Gators to get well against as any in college football right now. 24.5 points is a lot when you consider the offensive problems that the Gators have had and the fact that they allowed 31 points last week. But before last week Florida had scored at least 26 points in each of their first 3 games and hadn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 10 points in any game. This week they face an Arkansas team that won 28-24 over Western Illinois at home and 28-27 over ULM in Little Rock, and then lost 49-14 at home against Bama and 52-10 on the road against Texas. Florida should win this one by a similar score regardless of the location, especially given the added motivation of wanting to show that last week’s loss was a fluke.

Game 10: Oklahoma (-27) @ Baylor
Pick: Oklahoma covers
Comment: The new #1 team in the country is 17-0 all-time vs. Baylor and under Bob Stoops the Sooners are 9-0 against the Bears, winning by an average score of 42-12. Baylor is a much more competitive team at home usually and this season they are 2-1 in Waco but they lost their opener to WF at home, 41-13. Baylor has been much better the last 3 weeks but I think that even if they play well against Oklahoma they could easily still lose 38-10 or something.

Moneyline Specials

I don’t feel like there is a greater amount of good moneyline games this week than usual but staying with the theory that I’m due for some great luck, I decided to go with 4 moneyline upsets this week.

FAU over MTS: Florida Atlantic is a 3 point underdog on the road against Middle Tennessee State this Tuesday. Yes, that’s right, Tuesday Night Football. I’m mostly just playing a hunch here, as FAU has looked much weaker than expected and MTS has looked surprisingly strong. However, while MTS played the big boys tough (beating Maryland at home and nearly upsetting Kentucky on the road) they have lost by double digits in each of their 2 games against SBC competition. FAU on the other hand has been unable to compete in any of their 3 games against teams from BCS conferences, but they won their only game so far against lesser competition. I think FAU will be great in conference just like they were last season.

FSU over Miami: FSU is a 1.5 point underdog on the road against archrival Miami this weekend. Just a hunch here. Regardless of how good these teams are this game is always close. I don’t think the Canes have as much of a homefield advantage at Dolphin Stadium and they are just 6-5 in their last 11 home games (5-5 in their last 10 against FBS teams). Miami took a step back last week with their loss at home to UNC, while the Noles managed their first win of the season over an FBS team, beating Colorado by 18 in Jacksonville. I think this one will go down to the wire and I just have a hunch that the Seminoles will end up on top.

Illinois over Michigan: Illinois is a 2.5 point underdog at Michigan this week. I didn’t expect Michigan to beat Wisconsin at home last week but they came from behind and pulled off the upset. Illinois is 2-2 and their 2 most impressive games have been their 2 defeats, losing by 10 against Missouri in St. Louis and losing at PSU by 14 last week. I don’t think the Wolverines will make it back to back wins over decent teams.

Vandy over Auburn: Vandy is a 4 point underdog at home against Auburn this Saturday. I’m going completely against my gut reaction here. Going into the season I thought Vandy would go 0-8 in the SEC and Auburn would go 7-1 and win the West. Plus, I still have to believe that Auburn is much more talented than Vandy. Also, it’s not like Nashville is an intimidating place to play. Still, so far this season Vandy has beaten a team from the MAC by 21 on the road; beaten a team from Conference USA by 17 at home; beaten South Carolina by 7 at home; and beaten Ole Miss by 6 on the road. Auburn has won by 34 over a team from the SBC at home; beaten a team from Conference USA by 14 at home; beaten Mississippi State, 3-2, on the road; lost by 6 at home to LSU; and beaten Tennessee by 2 at home. Knowing what we do about Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Mississippi State, I would say that to this point Vandy has been much more impressive. So I’m going to call for the Dores’ magical season to continue.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Falcons Blog: A Second Big Win

Falcons 38, Chiefs 14

A second happy day at the Dome

Doing something once is nice but there’s always a thought that it might be a complete fluke until you do it a second time. Sure, the Falcons looked like a very capable team in their week 1 blowout of the Lions, but that might easily have been just one random good game against a bad team in the opening week of the season. On Sunday, the Falcons gave credibility to that first impressive win by throttling another bad team, crushing the Chiefs, 38-14 inside the Georgia Dome.

Yes, this win also came against one of the worst teams in the NFL. Yes, this win also came at home. And yes, the Falcons might not win another game until November. But it was still a win; it was still a blowout; and it still was further proof that the Falcons might be on the right path.

This was an important game for the Falcons. They were expected to win, favored by 5.5 at home over a team that had lost by 15 at home to the Raiders the week before. But the Falcons needed to prove again that they could not only win against lesser competition, but could thoroughly beat weak teams. Winning the games that you’re supposed to win is very important, and something Falcons teams have often struggled to do. The Falcons needed to win this game to regain some confidence after being manhandled in Tampa. And they needed to win to get back the momentum they had following their win over the Lions in week 1. They needed to validate that win with a similar performance on Sunday.

Game Recap

As you would expect, the Chiefs came into the game intent on stopping the Falcons rushing attack and forcing Matt Ryan to beat them with his arm. When the Chiefs had the ball, they were going to protect inexperienced QB Tyler Thigpen and try and wear down the Falcons defense with the run. They hoped to play it safe and keep it close and wait for Ryan and the Falcons to make mistakes and get themselves in trouble. Early on, the Chiefs looked to be on their way to executing their plan. The Falcons got the ball first to start the game, ran twice for a yard, threw incomplete on 3rd down, and punted. The Chiefs defense would have success like this against the Falcons early. But on the other side of the ball, the Falcons defense set the tone right away. On KC’s first play from scrimmage, they tried to catch the Falcons off guard with a passing play, but big John Abraham came around and sacked Thigpen for a 7 yard loss. The Atlanta defense forced a 3 and out and a punt on KC’s first possession. Adam Jennings took the punt from the 10 to the 28 to save the Falcons from being pinned near their own end zone, but the Falcons’ second possession didn’t go any better. A short completion, a 2 yard run, and an incompletion on 3rd down meant another 3 and out and a punt. The Falcons defense again matched KC, forcing the Chiefs to go 3 and out. But Atlanta got just a 1 yard run, 5 yards on an offsides penalty on KC, a run for no gain, and an incompletion for another 3 and out and a punt. KC tried 3 straight passes and threw 3 straight incompletions on their 3rd possession, going 3 and out again, and punting back to the Birds. This time the Falcons put themselves in awful field position due to a personal foul penalty. Drive number four would start at the Atlanta 8.

So far the Falcons had run 9 plays and gained a total of 8 yards, rushing 5 times for 4 yards, and completing 1 of 4 passes for 4 yards. But on 1st and 10 from their own 8, the Falcons rushing attack finally broke through on the first play of their fourth possession. Michael Turner busted off left tackle and down the sideline for 38 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the Atlanta 46 with the first 1st down of the game for either team. On the next 3 plays, Jerious Norwood ran for 11, ran for 4, and then took a pass 30 yards to the KC 9 for a 1st and goal. Turner finished the drive off, banging for 5 and then up the middle and into the end zone from 4 yards out for a Falcons touchdown and the opening score of the game. The Falcons’ 6 play, 92 yard drive took just 3:24 and put them ahead 7-0.

While the Falcons 4th possession was drastically different from their first 3, the Chiefs 4th possession was just like their first 3. They went 3 and out and punted. The Falcons took over at their own 31, but this drive started very poorly, as a direct snap to Harry Douglas resulted in an 8 yard loss on first down. On 2nd and 18, Ryan threw to Laurent Robinson for 7 yards to bring up a 3rd and 11 from the Atlanta 30. Ryan dropped back on 3rd and long and went deep down the middle of the field for Roddy White, who made the catch and beat the defense to the end zone for a 70 yard TD strike. The first quarter ended with the Falcons up 14-0.

The Chiefs 5th possession resulted in their 5th straight 3 and out and punt. The Falcons offense went 3 and out this time but they were able to turn the field position over, pinning the Chiefs at their own 13. On 3rd and 5 from the KC 18, Thigpen threw a pass downfield to his left and Erik Coleman intercepted it at the 34 and returned it 18 yards to the 16. The Falcons advanced the ball on their next 3 plays but came up with a 4th and 1 at the 9. Mike Smith wisely chose to kick the FG, and Jason Elam hit the 27 yard chip shot to give the Falcons a 17-0 advantage.

On the first play of the Chiefs 6th possession, Jamaal Charles took a handoff and ran left for 11 yards to the KC 33 to give the Chiefs their first 1st down of the game with 9 minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter. Moments later the Chiefs had a 1st and 10 inside Atlanta territory when Thigpen dropped back and fired a pass to his right that was intercepted by Brent Grimes at the 35. Grimes returned it 25 yards all the way to the KC 40. The Falcons then trudged 40 yards on 10 plays, converting 3 different 3rd downs, and taking 5 minutes and 44 seconds off the clock, with Turner finishing it off by banging right up the middle into the end zone from the 1 for his second TD of the game. That gave the Falcons a 24-0 lead with just over 2 minutes to go in the half.

In week 1, the Falcons got off to a roaring start, then saw the Lions make a bit of a comeback to get back in the game before the Falcons took the game back over and put it away. A similar thing occurred in this game. One of the only truly discouraging points of the game for the Falcons came next, as they had a major letup defensively just before halftime. The Chiefs took over at their own 26, down 24-0 with just 2:03 to go in the half, and Thigpen threw incomplete on 1st down to bring the two minute warning. To this point, the Chiefs had a total of 35 yards of offense, but on 2nd down, Thigpen completed a pass for 11 yards and a first down. Then after an incompletion, Thigpen scrambled for 18 yards to the Atlanta 45 for another first down. After an incompletion, Thigpen completed a pass for 8 yards, and then on 3rd and 2 from the Atlanta 37, Kolby Smith ran up the middle for 7 yards and a first down at the 30. With 59 seconds left in the half, the Chiefs had only 1 timeout left. Thigpen threw incomplete on the next two plays but on 3rd and 10 from the 30, Thigpen connected with Tony Gonzalez on a 12 yard pass for a first down at the 18. Thigpen went for the end zone on the next play and missed, and then Gonzalez caught a pass for 3 yards and was tackled in bounds at the 15 and the Chiefs called their final timeout with 8 seconds remaining. It was 3rd and 7 from the Atlanta 15. The Chiefs had one more shot at a TD and if they didn’t get in the end zone on this next play they would have to settle for a FG. But Thigpen found Dwayne Bowe for a 15 yard TD pass to get the Chiefs on the board with just 3 seconds left in the half. The Falcons would go to halftime up 24-7, but with a sour taste in their mouths, after allowing the Chiefs to go 74 yards on 13 plays in just 2 minutes and 8 seconds, converting three 3rd downs along the way.

The Chiefs got the ball first in the second half and their comeback continued. On the first play from scrimmage in the 3rd quarter, Larry Johnson finally got loose, busting off right tackle for 48 yards, before fumbling the ball out of bounds, and the Chiefs had a 1st down at the Falcons 34. KC converted a pair of 3rd downs and then Johnson got in the end zone from a yard out to cap off a 9 play, 82 yard drive to open the second half and cut the Atlanta lead to 10 points, at 24-14.

The pressure was now on the Falcons offense to answer KC’s drive, if not with a score of their own, at least with a few first downs to take time off the clock. Norwood gave the team a big boost with a nice return on the ensuing kickoff, taking the ball out to the Atlanta 40 with a 36 yard return. On 3rd and 4 from the 46, Matty Ryan took off and scrambled up the middle for a first down and more, making it all the way to the KC 39 for a 15 yard run. Ryan hooked up with White on a 17 yard completion and then on a 12 yarder. Turner ran for 7 yards down to the 2 and then busted up the middle and into the end zone for his 3rd TD of the game to put the Falcons back up by 17 points, 31-14.

With their TD to open the second half negated, the Chiefs were now down by 3 scores again, but they got an immediate lift on the ensuing kickoff, when BJ Sams went 36 yards to bring the ball all the way out to the 42. KC marched into Atlanta territory and had a 1st and 10 at the 17. Two plays later they were 3rd and 3 at the 10 with time winding down in the 3rd quarter. Thigpen dropped back to pass and Abraham got to him for a sack that jarred the ball lose. KC fell on it at the 14 but they would now have to settle for a FG try. This was huge. Nick Novak had a 32 yard try to bring the Chiefs within 14 on the first play of the 4th quarter but he missed wide right. The Chiefs had come away with no points and the Falcons were up 3 scores and essentially had the game in the bag.

The Falcons then took 4 minutes off the clock and moved into KC territory before the drive stalled but Michael Koenen pinned the Chiefs at the 7 with a nice punt. The Falcons held the Chiefs and forced a 4th and 3 from the 14 and KC decided to punt the ball away, down 17, with less than 9 minutes remaining. The Chiefs appeared to be conceding the game but Adam Jennings kept the door open, muffing the punt at the 43, and KC recovered at the Atlanta 41. The Chiefs advanced the ball towards the end zone and had a 1st and goal at the 8 but the Falcons defense bowed up and forced a 4th down at the 2. The Chiefs gave it to Johnson, running to the right, but the Falcons stopped him a yard short of the goal line to end the drive and clinch the victory.

The Falcons took over and on 3rd and 6 from the 5, Norwood took the ball to the right and got free for a 44 yard ramble all the way to midfield. The Falcons moved into KC territory before punting to give the Chiefs the ball deep in their own territory with just over a minute to go. KC kept trying to move the ball and Chris Houston put the finishing touches on the win for the Falcons, intercepting a pass from Thigpen at the KC 10 and taking it into the end zone for a TD to make it 38-14. That would be the final score of the day.

The Numbers

The Falcons outgained the Chiefs by 77 yards, 378-301, although they had 1 less first down than KC (17-16). The Falcons running game got off like it did in week 1, as Atlanta rushed for 186 yards, averaging 5.2 yards a carry. On the negative side, the defense allowed KC to rush for 184 yards, averaging 5.6 yards a carry. The Falcons lost a fumble for their only TO of the game, while intercepting Thigpen 3 times, returning 1 for a TD. The Falcons went 6 for 13 on 3rd down conversions, but unfortunately they allowed the Chiefs to convert 8 of 18 third downs, and 1 of 2 4th downs. Matt Ryan had another steady game like he had in week 1, going 12 for 18 for 192 yards, 1 TD, and no interceptions. He was never sacked and he scrambled once for 15 yards. Turner ran 23 times for 104 yards and 3 TD, averaging 4.5 yards a carry. Norwood ran 11 times for 75 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per carry; caught 1 pass for 30 yards; and had a 36 yard kick return. Roddy White hauled in 5 passes for 119 yards and a TD. Abraham had a pair of sacks and a forced fumble. Elam converted on his only field goal attempt and Michael Koenen had an excellent day, averaging 43.2 yards a punt over 6 kicks, and putting 3 inside the 20. The Falcons scored the first 24 points of the game, led 14-0 after the 1st quarter, 24-7 at the half, and outscored KC 14-7 in the second half.

Positive Signs

Matt Ryan recovered from his rough and tough outing in Tampa to have a solid game. The Falcons running game got going again and the OL protected Ryan well. Defensively, Abraham continues to look as good as he has at any time for the Falcons and Atlanta intercepted 3 passes and scored its first defensive TD of the season. Roddy White had another nice game. It’s important to play well and win at home in order to keep spirits up in Atlanta and begin to establish a real homefield advantage.

This Sunday’s Game

We’ve learned a lot about the Falcons each week and I believe we will know much more about them following this Sunday’s game in Charlotte. In the Falcons 2 home games against bad teams they have had blowout wins, but in their one road game against a solid opponent they were beaten soundly. Perhaps they will take the next step this week and at least be competitive for 60 minutes on the road against a good team. I think they are very capable of staying in the game on Sunday but I’m not sure it’s realistic to think that they will come away with a win.

I will say that I don’t think playing the Panthers in Charlotte is anything like playing the Bucs in Tampa. The Panthers really don’t have that great of a homefield advantage and the Falcons have played Carolina tough over the years, regardless of the location. The Falcons have gone 5-5 against the Panthers over the last 5 years and they’ve won the last 2 games in Carolina and 3 of the last 4 there. Carolina is just 30-35 at home this decade.

The Panthers are favored by 6.5. Carolina is 2-1 so far this year. They pulled out wins in extremely tight games in each of the first two weeks of the season, stunning the Chargers on the road in week 1, and then outlasting the Bears at home in week 2. Last week they went up to Minnesota and got stopped, 20-10. It will be interesting to see how well Matt Ryan plays in his second road game.

A win next week would be huge, not just because it would be this team’s first win on the road and their first win over a good team, but also because if the Falcons lose it could be the start of an extended losing skid. Following this Sunday’s game in Carolina, the Falcons must go to Green Bay to play a good Packers team at Lambeau Field. They then come home to play a Bears team that looks to be pretty solid and is always tough on the Birds. After a bye week, the Falcons travel to Philly to play the Eagles in what would seem to be an almost unwinnable game. The next game the Falcons figure to have a good chance of winning is not until November 2nd when they go to Oakland. And even that will not be easy, as the Raiders are not nearly as bad as they looked in week one, and Oakland is far from an easy place to play. After that, the schedule gets tougher again. So it would be pretty big for the Falcons to win this game, to get their first win on the road and first win over a good team, to get to 2-2, and get another win under their belts before things get tougher in October.

The NFL Blog: Week 3 Review

Just when you thought you had things pretty much figured out…the NFL happened again.

The NFL just never stops being unpredictable. Each week something occurs that makes you scratch your head and wonder “how in the hell did that happen?” In week 3, there were several head scratchers and one stupefyer. Along the way there were a number of excellent, super competitive games once again. In the end, some teams moved on to 3-0, while other teams felt defeat for the first time. Some teams reached that unfriendly 0-3 that almost always spells doom, while other teams won for the first time to avoid facing all of that history.

Regardless of what took place in the late games on Sunday, or on Sunday night, or even on Monday night, there was no question what the story of the weekend was going to be. That’s because one of the more stunning developments in recent history had already taken place by the time the 4:00 PM games got underway. The Miami Dolphins went into Gillette Stadium on Sunday and put a whooping on the Patriots that no NFL fan will soon forget, blasting them 38-13, behind a gimmicky, high school football like offense that the New England defense simply couldn’t stop.

The New England Patriots obviously became a very different team the moment they lost Tom Brady for the season early in week 1. They went from Super Bowl favorites to a team that people weren’t sure could even make the playoffs. But after looking so steady and confident in their convincing win over the Jets on the road in week 2, most people assumed that the Patriots were still going to be a tough team to beat. Certainly at home against weak competition no one expected the Patriots to struggle much. And the Dolphins appeared to be extremely weak competition. After winning only 1 game in 2007, the Dolphins began this season by losing at home to the Jets (the team the Patriots smacked 19-10 on the road in week 2) and then getting smoked 31-10 by the Cardinals in Arizona. They entered this game with LB Joey Porter spouting his mouth off about how it shouldn’t be too hard to beat the Patriots, considering they had a backup QB starting for them, and he even said it would be nice to get the first win. To a man, the entire population of America thought that Porter was being a clown, and that his words would only bring a worse beating down upon himself and his teammates.

But nothing about Sunday went according to plan. Unless you’re talking about the Dolphins plan, in which case everything went accordingly. The Dolphins came in as 12.5 point underdogs, and they left having covered by 37.5. The Dolphins hadn’t scored more than 14 points in their first two games, but they scored 38 on Sunday. They had allowed at least 20 points in each of their first two games, but they held the Patriots to just 13 on Sunday. New England had scored 19 points or less in each of their first two games, but they had also held their opponents to just 10 points in each of their first two games. On Sunday, they scored just 13 points while allowing 38. The loss snapped New England’s 21 game regular season win streak that stretched back to December of 2006. Their last regular season loss prior to this: week 14 of 2006, at Miami, 21-0. During the time between that loss and the loss on Sunday, the Patriots went 21-0, while the Dolphins went 1-20. The 38 points allowed by New England was the most they had allowed in a regular season game since the Colts scored 40 against them in week 9 of 2005. The 13 points scored by the Pats was their lowest offensive total in a regular season game since they were shutout by the Fins in that game in Miami back in 2006.

Adding to the surprising outcome and the shocking score was the bizarre way in which the Dolphins carried out their beating of the mighty Pats. Using a formation in which RB Ronnie Brown lined up in the shotgun, the Dolphins snapped the ball directly to Brown 6 times, and 4 of those plays resulted in Miami touchdowns. Brown ran for 4 TD’s and threw for another. The Dolphins outgained New England 461-216, rushing for 216 yards, and holding the Pats to 137 yards passing. Patriots QB Matt Cassel was just 19 of 31 for 131 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. He was also sacked 3 times and lost a fumble. The Dolphins got out to a 14-3 lead, led 21-6 at halftime, and outscored the Pats 10-0 in the 4th quarter, scoring the final 17 points of the game. New England fans booed on several occasions.

While it’s unlikely that the Dolphins will play as well as they did on Sunday during the remainder of the season, especially now that teams will be looking for that “Wildcat” formation, they have at least gained a huge bit of momentum heading into their bye week. On the other hand, the Patriots go into the bye week in need of doing some serious soul searching. At this point, I really have no idea whether the Pats will end up 10-6 or 6-10.

There were two other final scores that were quite surprising last week, but in both games the favored team ended up getting a W. Oakland was a 10 point underdog on the road at 2-0 Buffalo, and nearly sprung an upset before falling by a point. Cincinnati was a 13.5 point underdog on the road against the 2-0 Giants, but they took the G-Men into OT before losing on a FG.

The Bills outgained the Raiders by 131 yards (378-247) and had 15 more first downs than Oakland (25-10), but they turned the ball over 3 times and needed a furious 4th quarter comeback to avoid defeat. The Raiders led 16-7 at halftime and had a 23-14 lead with 6:23 remaining in the game, but the Bills scored 10 points in the final 4 minutes, and got a 38 yard FG by Rian Lindell at the buzzer to win, 24-23. With the win, the Bills moved to 3-0, while the Raiders fell to 1-2.

The game between New York and Cincinnati was a very well played contest that was back and forth throughout. Neither team committed a turnover, the Giants had an edge in total yards of just 59, and both teams got 24 first downs. Cinci led 13-10 at the half but the Giants tied it with a FG in the 3rd and then took the lead on another FG early in the 4th quarter. The Bengals came back to take the lead on a TD pass from Palmer to TJ Houshmandzadeh with 4:39 to play. Eli then lead the Giants on a march down the field that resulted in a 4 yard TD pass to Kevin Boss that gave New York a 23-20 advantage with 1:50 left. Cinci answered with a last ditch drive of their own, and Shayne Graham knocked a 21 yard field goal through the uprights to tie the game as time expired to send it into OT. Both teams got the ball in overtime, but the Giants eventually won on their second possession, with John Carney booting a 22 yard field goal through to give New York a 26-23 win. With the victory, the Giants moved to 3-0, while the Bengals fell to 0-3.

Three other teams improved to 3-0 on Sunday. Tennessee whipped up on Houston at home, winning 31-12 to stay undefeated. They have outscored opponents by a total of 46 points this year. The Broncos escaped with another close victory, this time over the Saints at Mile High. The two teams combined for 871 yards and 66 points, but the Broncos eked out a 34-32 win. Denver survived to get to 3-0, stopping the Saints on a two point conversion try that would have tied the game with 10 minutes to play, and benefiting from a 43 yard field goal attempt missed by Martin Gramatica with 2 minutes to go. Dallas won convincingly over the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday to get to 3-0. The Boys won 27-16, again confirming that they are the best team in the League at this moment.

Along with the Bengals, 4 other teams fell to 0-3 on Sunday. Kansas City was horrible again, getting blown out 38-14 by the Falcons in Atlanta. The Lions were equally as bad, getting smoked 31-13 by the Niners in San Francisco. This week GM Matt Millen was finally relieved of his duties. The Rams weren’t any better than Detroit or KC, getting hammered by the Seahawks, 37-13, in Seattle. It was the first win of the season for the Hawks, who have been crippled by injuries. The Rams will now go with Trent Green at quarterback instead of Marc Bulger. I’ll be shocked if that move has a positive impact on the Rams’ season. Finally, the Browns got pummeled by the Ravens, 28-10, in Baltimore. There is now talk of Brady Quinn taking over at QB for Derek Anderson some time soon. Anderson isn’t a great QB, but there’s much more going wrong for Cleveland this year than just bad quarterback play.

Aside from the Patriots, 4 other teams lost for the first time on Sunday. The Cardinals began the season 2-0 for the first time in ages, but they were unable to survive a road trip to Washington last week, losing 24-17 to fall to 2-1. The Panthers had come out of tight games with wins in each of the first two weeks of the season, but they ran into a wall in Minnesota on Sunday and lost 20-10. For Minnesota it was the first win of the year after a pair of tough losses, and they are now 1-0 with Gus Frerotte at QB. The Steelers lost running back Willie Parker for some time and lost their first game of the season, falling in a hard hitting matchup against the Eagles in Philly, 15-6. And the Packers suffered their first defeat with Aaron Rodgers at QB, losing by 11 at home to the Cowboys.

The Vikings, Dolphins, and Seahawks were 3 of 5 teams that won for the first time this past weekend. Jacksonville avoided an 0-3 start by beating the Colts in one of the best games of the weekend. The Jaguars were picked by many to get back to the playoffs and were thought by some to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders. But after losing games they were favored to win in each of the first two weeks of the season, the Jags were in serious jeopardy of seeing their season go down the drains, 0-2 and facing the Colts in Indianapolis. Jacksonville dominated the game in many ways, outgaining the Colts by 78 yards (403-325), achieving 6 more first downs than the Colts (25-19), intercepting Peyton Manning twice, and holding an outrageous edge in time of possession, 41:35 to 18:25! Yet the Jags needed some late game heroics to pull out the win. The Jags trailed 7-0 after the first quarter and 14-10 at the half, but they took a 17-14 lead late in the 3rd quarter and led 20-14 with just over 2 and half minutes to go in the game. The Jags appeared to be in good shape but they had left enough time on the clock for Manning to lead another one of his late game drives. After the 2 minute warning, the Colts had a 4th and 2 at their own 31 when Manning hit his old partner Marvin Harrison for 27 yards and a first down at the Jax 42. 7 plays and 44 seconds later, the Colts tied the game on a 2 yard TD run by Joseph Addai, and then took a 1 point lead on the extra point by Adam Vinatieri. The Colts kicked the ball deep for a touchback and the Jags had just 67 seconds to try and kick a field goal and avoid falling to 0-3. One thing on their side was that they had all 3 timeouts. The other thing on their side was that tremendous advantage in time of possession, which had kept the Indy defense on the field for over 70 plays. Things didn’t start well on the drive for the Jags. They had already used 38 seconds and a timeout while gaining just 9 yards when they came to the line for a 4th and 1 at their own 29 with 29 seconds to play. David Garrard threw a pass to his right incomplete and it looked as if the Colts had won. Tony Dungy even took off his headset on the Colts sideline but that was before he saw a late flag appear. The refs called the Colts for pass interference, giving Jacksonville new life and a first down at their own 40 with 25 seconds remaining. In the next 11 seconds, Garrard got off 3 plays, throwing for 10 yards, running for 9, and throwing again for 8 yards to move the ball to the Indy 33 with 8 seconds left. The Colts tried to freeze Jacksonville kicker Josh Scobee with a couple of timeouts, but eventually he drilled a 51 yard field goal to give the Jags a 23-21 win, their first victory of the season.

The Chargers also got their first win of the season last week, but their victory over the Jets on Monday Night Football came in a far less competitive game. San Diego forced 4 turnovers, returned 1 for a TD, went 9 for 13 on 3rd down conversions while holding the Jets to just 1 for 8 on 3rd down, and outscored New York 38-14 through the first 3 quarters in route to a 45-29 shellacking that was much worse than the final score indicated. Things didn’t start out that well for SD, as Philip Rivers threw a pick 6 in the first quarter that put the Chargers in an early 7-0 hole, but they scored the next 17 points in the game, and 38 of the next 45 to put the game away. Rivers’ excellent play continued and LT scored his first 2 TD’s of the season. The Chargers join the Jags, Colts, Vikings, Seahawks, and Saints as teams favored to reach the postseason that are 1-2 after 3 weeks. But for San Diego, 1-2 feels oh so much better than it does for Favre and the Jets.

The NFL Blog: Power Rankings (After Week 3)

Power Rankings After Week 3

1. Dallas 3-0 (1st)
2. Philadelphia 2-1 (3rd)
3. San Diego 1-2 (4th)
4. Pittsburgh 2-1 (2nd)
5. Denver 3-0 (8th)
6. Green Bay 2-1 (5th)
7. Indianapolis 1-2 (6th)
8. New York Giants 3-0 (7th)

-Previous week’s ranking in parenthesis;

Out: none;

Explanation: For the first time this season no team fell out of my top 8. The Cowboys are again my top team after their convincing win over the Packers at Lambeau. I moved the Eagles up a slot to 2nd after their win at home over the Steelers, who had previously been ranked 2nd. Even though the Steelers merely lost on the road to the team then ranked 3rd in my power rankings, I dropped them to 4th due to the apparent significant injury to Willie Parker and the continuous pounding that Ben Roethlisberger’s already injured shoulder is taking. I moved the Chargers up to #3 after they finally broke out with a real good showing, destroying the Packers on Monday night. Although I still have some serious reservations about the Denver defense, I moved the Broncos all the way up to 5th from the number 8 spot because of the performances of the 3 teams ranked directly in front of them. I dropped the Packers a spot to 6th because while their loss did come to the best team in the NFL right now, they lost by double digits at home. I dropped the Colts a spot to 7th after their last second loss to the Jags. They played well enough to win and the Jags are a good team, but the Colts are now 0-2 at home, and Jacksonville came into the game winless on the year. I still think the Colts are going to find themselves at some point, however, so I only dropped them a spot. I dropped the Giants a spot from 7th to 8th because they needed overtime to beat an 0-2 Bengals team at home. And now some of the old character issues are resurfacing, with stud WR Plaxico Burress being suspended by the team for insubordination.

The NFL Blog: Week 4 Betting Lines

Last Week: Vs. Spread (6-10); Straight Up (12-4)
Season: Vs. Spread (20-25-2); Straight Up (32-15)

Week 3 Review: Last week was my worst week yet against the spread. On the positive side, I had my best week of the year predicting winners. I did not do a good job predicting the games with large spreads. Buffalo and the Giants won but didn’t come close to covering as big favorites, the Chargers easily covered a big spread against the Packers, and the Patriots…well, let’s just say that they did not quite cover the 12.5 point spread against the Dolphins.

Week 4 Preview: One thing I like about this week is that the 2 teams that I’m most confused about in the entire NFL (New England and Miami) do not play. On the other hand, there are a number of tricky games this week between teams that have been inconsistent so far. And there are some real question marks this week due to some injuries that could significantly influence things. I’m playing things pretty cautiously this week. In 6 different games I have favorites winning the game but not covering.

Sunday’s Early Games

Atlanta (+6.5) @ Carolina
Pick: Panthers win but Falcons beat the spread.
Comment: Perhaps I’m going too much with my heart on this one. The Falcons hammered the Lions and Chiefs but both of those games were at home and the Lions and Chiefs may be the two worst teams in the NFL. In their one road game against a decent team, the Falcons lost by 15 and it could have been worse. But to me, there’s a big difference between the Falcons playing the Bucs in Tampa, and the Falcons playing the Panthers in Charlotte. The Falcons are 5-5 against the Panthers over the last 5 years and they have gone 3-2 against the Panthers in Charlotte. The Falcons have won their last 2 games in Charlotte. The Panthers won tight games at San Diego and against the Bears in the first two weeks of the season, but last week they got beat 20-10 by a previously winless Vikings team. Carolina is just 30-35 at home this decade, and 14-26-2 against the spread when favored at home. The Falcs are 27-23-2 against the spread as road underdogs this decade. I’m not hopeful enough to call for a Falcons win but I think they’ll keep it close.

Denver (-9.5) @ Kansas City
Pick: Broncos cover.
Comment: The Broncos are 3-0 and they have been perhaps the most impressive team offensively during the first 3 weeks of the season, scoring at least 34 points each week. However, in their last 2 games, both at home, they have surrendered at least 32 points. They won their last 2 games by a total of 3 points, and didn’t cover in either contest. 9.5 points is a lot to cover on the road and the Broncos are due for some bad luck. But I just can’t go with the Chiefs to stay within 10 points of Denver, regardless of where the game is. Arrowhead Stadium is usually one of the most difficult places for a visiting team to win in the entire NFL, but the Chiefs have lost 6 straight at home, including a 23-8 drubbing at the hands of the Raiders a couple of weeks ago. KC has scored a total of 32 points this year while allowing 78 to the offenses of the Brady-less Patriots, the Raiders, and the Falcons. Last year the Broncos were down, but they still managed to win at Arrowhead for the first time in years. I think the Herm Edwards train wreck continues in earnest this week.

San Francisco (+5) @ New Orleans
Pick: Saints win but Niners beat the spread.
Comment: I have been impressed by the Niners so far this season. I have been less impressed by the Saints. New Orleans will be back at home this week but they’re just 27-37 at home this decade, and 15-28-1 against the spread as home favorites. The Niners have already won at Seattle this year, and Mike Martz’s offense has put up point totals of 33 and 31 in the last two games respectively. The Saints have allowed point totals of 29 and 34 in their last two games respectively. I think the Saints will win because they are a better team but I think it’ll be close.

Arizona (+1) @ New York Jets
Pick: Cardinals pull off the upset.
Comment: To me, the Jets have been one of the most disappointing teams over the last 2 weeks, if not the absolute most disappointing team over the last 2 weeks. After eking out a win in Miami the first week, they have been completely handled at home by the Brady-less Pats, and been unable to compete on MNF in San Diego. Favre looks depressed and he’s hobbling on a gimpy ankle. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have won big over the Niners and Dolphins, and then lost by 7 on the road at Washington last week. They’ve been competitive each week and have scored at least 17 points in each game while never allowing more than 24 points in any game. Traditionally the Cards are horrendous away from home, but I just have a feeling that this might be the year that Arizona finally overcomes some of their history. Plus, I have zero faith in the Jets right now.

Minnesota (+3) @ Tennessee
Pick: Titans cover.
Comment: These teams are similar in many ways. They both have strong defenses, solid running games, good kickers, and good offensive lines. They have also both made recent QB changes for the better. Minnesota got off the schnide last week with a solid home win over Carolina, but the Titans have been impressive all 3 weeks so far this year. They are 3-0 and 3-0 against the spread. Actually, they’ve beaten the spread easily each week, winning by 7 as a 3 point underdog in week 1, winning by 17 as a 1 point favorite in week 2, and winning by 19 as a 4.5 point favorite last week. I like the Titans to take care of the spread again this week.

Green Bay (+1) @ Tampa Bay
Pick: Packers pull off the upset.
Comment: The Bucs have been a significantly better team at home this decade while the Packers have been a significantly weaker team on the road this decade. The Packers were handled by the Cowboys at home last week but I still think they are one of the better teams in the NFC. Tampa pulled out an overtime win in Chicago last week but I think the Pack will come into Raymond James Stadium and beat the Bucs this week.

Houston (+7) @ Jacksonville
Pick: Jags cover.
Comment: In my opinion, this is one of the tougher games on this week’s slate to predict. For one thing, the Texans have only played 2 games. Also, the Jags have not lived up to expectations so far this season and they could very easily be 0-3. Jax lost as a favorite against the Titans and Bills, but those teams have been surprisingly good this year, while the Texans have been surprisingly bad. Houston has lost to good teams on the road by 21 and by 19, and they play another good team on the road this week. They’re also 12-38 on the road this decade. I’ll call for the Jags to finally take care of business as a favorite.

Cleveland (+3.5) @ Cincinnati
Pick: Browns pull off the upset.
Comment: This is a hard one for me because I don’t really have much of a reason to pick the Browns; I just have a strong gut feeling. I know that the Browns have been dismal this year, while the Bengals took the Giants to OT in New York last week. Plus the Bengals are at home, where they have been a much better team historically, and the Browns have been awful on the road. For some reason I just have a feeling that the Browns will win and I can’t really say why.

Sunday’s Late Games

San Diego (-9) @ Oakland
Pick: Chargers win but Raiders beat the spread.
Comment: After losing in the final seconds of each of their first two games, the Chargers finally played like the Super Bowl contenders many expected them to be this year, blowing out the Jets last Monday night. The Raiders looked dreadful in their opening game and they continue to act in a very dysfunctional way off the field, but in the last 2 weeks they have blown out the Chiefs at Arrowhead and lost by a point in Buffalo. The Raiders have been awful over the last 6 years but they’ve been slightly less awful at home. The Chargers, on the other hand, are 26-40 on the road this decade. They have won 9 straight over the Raiders, 4 of 5 in Oakland, and they’ve beaten the spread in their last 5 trips to the Black Hole. But for some reason I just feel like the Raiders will keep this game within a TD. Again, I’ve got no real reason for this, just a hunch.

Buffalo (-9) @ St. Louis
Pick: Bills cover.
Comment: The Bills were 9 point favorites over the Raiders at home last week and they needed a furious 4th quarter comeback just to pull out a 1 point win. However, the Rams have been disgustingly bad in each week of the season so far, and now they are turning to Trent Green. And let me say that I have some serious concerns about Trent Green playing in this game. I think he makes the Rams an even worse team, but I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about his health. He’s not going to play the game in fear of getting hit and there’s no reason to think that the Bills will play any differently against him simply because he has a history of concussions. I see an ugly scene on the horizon. As for the game itself, the Rams have been 9.5 or 9 point underdogs in all 3 of their games so far, and they’ve lost by at least 24 points each time. With that in mind, how can you possibly pick them to beat a 9 point spread against the 3-0 Bills?

Washington (+11) @ Dallas
Pick: Cowboys win but Skins beat the spread.
Comment: Through the first 3 weeks of the season the Cowboys have been the best team in the League and I expect them to have more than enough against the Redskins at home this Sunday. However, 11 points is a lot, especially in this rivalry. The Skins looked pathetic on opening night but they’ve looked much better since, winning their last two games. They’ve won 4 of their last 6 against the Cowboys, though they’ve lost 4 of 5 in Dallas. I don’t see them winning this Sunday either but they normally keep it close and I think they’ll keep it within 10 points.

Sunday Night’s Game

Philadelphia (-3) @ Chicago
Pick: Eagles win but Bears beat the spread.
Comment: This one is really tough. The Eagles have been great this season but they are severely banged up on offense. If either McNabb or Westbrook are rendered ineffective due to their injuries, the Eagles offense will be far less potent. The Bears have suffered tough losses in the last 2 weeks after blowing out the Colts in week 1, and I see them keeping this game very close as well. I’m going to take the Eagles to win simply because I think they’re a better team but I believe it will be extremely close.

Monday Night’s Game

Baltimore (+5.5) @ Pittsburgh
Pick: Steelers win but Ravens beat the spread.
Comment: This one is also very hard to call because of Pittsburgh’s injury issues. Willie Parker is out for this game and Ben Roethlisberger has one shoulder and a shoddy offensive line. If there’s any team that you would expect to take advantage of an injured QB and a rookie RB, it’s Baltimore. We don’t know that much about the Ravens yet, as they’ve played only 2 games, both at home, and both against 0-3 teams. This will be by far the best defense that Joe Flacco has faced and it will be his first road game. And the Ravens’ home/road records have been as drastically different as any team in the League in recent years. Baltimore is 30 games over .500 at home this decade and 12 games under .500 on the road, going just 1-7 on the road last season. Last year the Ravens played in Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football in week 9 and got lambasted 38-7. However, that game was significantly affected by the weather and the ridiculously poor condition of the field. The Ravens have lost 4 of 5 in Pittsburgh but they usually play the Steelers tough. I think they’ll keep it close but in the end I see the Steelers pulling out the victory.

The Bulldawg Blog: Week 4 Review/Week 5 Preview

Last Week’s Game: #3 Georgia @ Arizona State, Win, 27-10

General Comments: I was worried there for a while but in the end I was pretty content with Georgia’s performance in their big win on the road at Arizona State last Saturday. I assume most Dawg fans were as satisfied as I was when it was all said and done. This game had so much of the unknown that it was hard to know what to expect. Going into the game I was concerned about the travel and the heat, but it seemed like the Dawgs handled all of that about as well as anyone could have hoped for. As for the ASU crowd, I was not impressed. Not only were they not very loud, they were taken out of the game easily. And how about all of those Dawg people that showed up and made their presence felt in the desert?!! A big “Hell Yeah!” to all of those UGA supporters in attendance.

I was also concerned about Georgia’s struggles getting pressure on the quarterback during the first 3 weeks of the season. I knew that ASU had an experienced, accurate QB and I was worried that Carpenter might have time to just sit back and pick our defense apart. I was also concerned about the deep threat receivers they had. And I knew that Carpenter had been effective against the blitz over his career. However, I also knew that ASU’s offensive line was its major weakness and the Dawgs ended up being able to pressure Carpenter just like every other team that has played the Sun Devils in the last 2 years. Early on I was a little nervous that ASU would be able to move the ball through the air consistently but that never really came about. I wasn’t all that impressed by Carpenter or his receivers, to be honest. And the key to the game was probably ASU’s inability to do anything at all on the ground against the Dawg defense. Georgia made ASU one dimensional from the start and that always helps a great deal.

The other major worry I had going into the game concerned the offensive line. The O-line struggled in the first road contest of the year the week before at South Carolina, and I was concerned about the talent that ASU had on the defensive line. Early in the game I was afraid that the OL was again going to be a major problem and hindrance to the offense. But the line eventually got it together and the protection ended up being pretty strong. For one thing, the ASU crowd had essentially no affect on Stafford and the Georgia offense. The line gave Stafford time to throw and opened up holes for the running game most of the night.

I know that ASU’s stature had been greatly lowered following their loss at home to UNLV, but I still feel that this was a significant victory for Georgia. ASU is a decent opponent and the desert has been a tough place for eastern teams to play in historically. It was Georgia’s first trip west since 1960. And the game was played in 99 degree heat. Also, the Dawgs could have easily won by more than a 27-10 score. For one thing, the game ended with the Dawgs at the ASU 1 yard line. Had they wanted to, the Dawgs could have tried much harder to get in the end zone again, and they could have at least made sure to add a field goal that would have given them 30 points. In addition, the Dawgs were clearly victimized by some questionable officiating by a Pac-10 crew that lived up to that conference’s reputation for having some of the worst referees in college football.

The Good: The Dawgs ended up handing ASU a sound beating. UGA outgained ASU by 249 yards, 461-212, and had 10 more first downs (24-14). You have to start with the job that the Bulldawg defense did against ASU, particularly against the run. UGA held ASU to just 4 yards rushing on 19 attempts, an average of just 0.2 yards per carry, and did not allow a run longer than 11 yards all night. That was ASU’s lowest rushing total since November of 2002. UGA linebacker Rennie Curran essentially took over the game on several occasions. The Dawgs defense forced a fumble, sacked Carpenter 4 times, hurried him countless other times, and limited the senior QB to just 208 yards on 36 attempts. The Sun Devils went just 2 for 11 on 3rd down conversions and were 0 for 1 on 4th down. The Dawgs held ASU to just a FG in the first half, allowed just 1 TD all game, and shutout the Sun Devils in the 4th quarter.

But perhaps the biggest development of the game was the standout performance by highly touted freshman WR AJ Green. This was an absolute coming out party for Green, who caught 8 passes for 159 yards and a TD, averaging 19.9 yards per catch. And of course, the guy throwing the ball was awesome again. For me, the performance of QB Matthew Stafford through 4 games has been the most positive element of the season thus far for Georgia. Stafford’s excellent passing has only been outdone by the job he has done leading the team. Matty was again on his game this past Saturday, going 16 of 28 for a career high 285 yards and a TD. And once again, Stafford did not throw an interception. Knowshon Moreno was impressive as always, running for 149 yards on 23 carries, averaging 6.5 yards per carry, and scoring a pair of TD’s. As a team, the Dawgs outgained ASU 176-4 on the ground. The O-line led the way for that rushing success and allowed just 1 sack for a loss of 7 yards. The Dawgs scored all 5 times that they were in the red zone other than the last possession of the game, and other than that they have gotten points in 15 of 15 trips inside the red zone on the year.

The Dawgs special teams did a pretty good job again last Saturday, getting a blocked punt in the first half. Ramarcus Brown had a 44 yard kick return. Georgia punters did well once again, putting a pair of punts inside the 20, and kicker Brian Walsh went 2 for 3 on FG tries, and had a 54 yard attempt hit off an upright.

The Bad: I honestly can’t complain about much. The Dawgs were fortunate to fall on all three of their fumbles, including 2 by Stafford. And kickoffs continue to be a major problem for the Dawgs. The Dawgs also committed a ton of penalties again, 12 to be exact, for a total of 104 yards. But a lot of those penalties were highly questionable calls by the officials, including a very weak roughing the passer call, a phantom tripping penalty, and a ridiculous 15 yard penalty for landing on a teammate while trying to block a field goal. Defensively, the only real letdown came on the opening drive of the second half, when ASU went 71 yards in 9 plays for a TD that got them back in the game. Offensively, the Dawgs were unable to convert on a few scoring opportunities that could have put the game away earlier or made the final score more lopsided. But again, this is nitpicking, as the Dawgs played their most complete game of the year on Saturday.

Next Week: vs. #8 Alabama

Preview: The level of difficulty continues to escalate this Saturday, as the Dawgs go up against Alabama, one of the hottest teams in the country. Fortunately, the Dawgs will be at home, and they come into the game relatively healthy. For the first time this year, the Dawgs will be going up against an opponent that comes into the game riding a wave of momentum. Georgia faced South Carolina a week after the Gamecocks lost to Vandy, and then went to ASU a week after the Devils fell to UNLV. Georgia’s last two opponents were coming off crippling losses that had dropped them out of the rankings. By contrast, the Tide has been rolling all year long, and comes into this game 4-0 and ranked 8th in the country. Personally, I don’t get the feeling that Alabama comes into this game intimidated in any way. In fact, it seems like the Alabama players and coaches are looking at this game as an opportunity to elevate themselves into National Title contention. They also want to avenge the loss they were handed by the Dawgs at home last season in OT.

As we all know, Alabama’s season was kick started by their convincing win over highly rated Clemson at the Georgia Dome in the first week of the season. That put Bama on the map this year so to speak and they’ve been climbing the rankings ever since. They won 20-6 over Tulane at home in week 2, then blew out Western Kentucky at home in week 3. Last week they hammered Arkansas 49-14 on the road. While their last 3 wins have all come over weak opponents, the way that the Crimson Tide has won these last 3 games has been impressive to me. The Tide has had difficulty at times taking care of business against lesser opponents over the last few years. In the past few years, Bama has struggled against Vandy teams that they should have handled easily and struggled against bad Ole Miss teams. They have struggled against Hawaii, Duke, and Houston at home. Bama has lost to Mississippi State teams that they should have beaten in each of the last two years. And last year they lost to FSU at a neutral site and got beat at home by ULM. My point is that Bama has often underperformed against lesser opponents over the last few years. They were 3-11 against the spread as favorites over the last 2 seasons. This season Alabama has done a better job of taking care of business against weaker teams. Bama didn’t play well against Tulane but they managed to win by 14 points, and then they thrashed WK and Arkansas the last two weeks. To me, Bama looks better right now than they did at any point last year.

Bama has played well in “big games” so far under Nick Saban, blowing out Tennessee last year and nearly upsetting LSU, and then creaming Clemson in the opener this year. You know that Saban, like the players and the other coaches, wants to win this game badly. And the Alabama fans may want this game more than anybody. As everyone knows, Bama has fallen off in the last 15 years and has rarely been relevant during this decade. The Tide faithful believe that Saban will eventually return Bama to its spot among the top college football programs in the land. After a disappointing first year, Bama seems to be ahead of schedule in Saban’s second year in Tuscaloosa, and a win on Saturday would officially mark the Tide’s return to National Championship contention.

When Saban took the job at Alabama I felt certain that he would elevate the program higher than it has been since the early 90’s. Bama will never be as dominant as it was under Bear Bryant, but I thought that Saban would make Bama a force in the SEC and on the national landscape. As far as elevating a program through an on-field system, recruiting, and motivation, I think Saban is among the best coaches in college football. And I have to admit that in terms of strategy and in-game coaching, Saban scares me as much as any coach in the country. I know that he has the ability to get the most out of his players through both motivation and strategy/scheme. He can influence the game as a coach in a way that not all winning coaches can. Bama probably underachieved last year and they have a stronger team this season, but I think Saban’s presence on the sidelines makes them an even more formidable opponent than they otherwise would be.

The thing that worries me the most about this game is the matchup between the offensive and defensive lines. Bama has a very good offensive line, led by standout center Antoine Caldwell, and left tackle Andre Smith, who is perhaps the best in all of college football at his position. Bama’s rushing attack has been so effective this year they have basically been able to dominate defenses without having to throw the ball. John Parker Wilson has completed 59.6% of his passes this year but has thrown for just 542 yards. Bama is 106th in the country in passing. It hasn’t been necessary for the Tide to be that effective in the passing game because they have had so much success on the ground. Bama is 14th in the country in rushing, averaging 236.8 rushing yards a game. They have a stable of good backs, but the standout RB so far for Bama has been Glen Coffee, who has rushed for 404 yards on 47 carries, averaging 8.6 yards a carry. Georgia’s defense has been extremely stout against the run this year, and the Dawgs must contain Bama’s running game enough to force them to pass more. While Bama’s offense has been led almost completely by the run, they do have some good receivers and a decent QB. The Dawgs have had some difficulty at times defending the pass this season and they have struggled to get a pass rush much of the time. The Dawgs are already without DT Jeff Owens for the rest of the year and they may again be without DE Roderick Battle this week. The Dawgs will need to find a way to pressure Wilson on Saturday without giving up big plays or making themselves vulnerable against the run.

I’m concerned about the matchup of the lines on the other side of the ball as well. Georgia has maintained a balanced offensive attack so far this year and they need to be balanced again on Saturday against Bama. Bama has allowed just 55 yards a game on the ground this year, 7th best in the country, so the Georgia O-line will have its work cut out for them this week. The Dawgs O-line is inexperienced and still figuring things out on pass protection. If Georgia is forced to rely more on the passing game and is put into a lot of obvious passing situations, it will make things much more difficult for the offensive line.

One other thing I’m worried about is kicking off. The Dawgs have given opponents great field position much of the time this year due to short kicks and kicks out of bounds. Obviously, giving the opposition good field position is never good, but there is an added danger this week because of the presence of Javier Arenas, a very dangerous return man for the Tide. Georgia has to do a better job on kickoffs this Saturday.

I really have no idea what’s going to happen this Saturday. Obviously nobody really knows the outcome of a game beforehand but I normally have some feeling one way or the other. In this case, I’m not really sure how good either team is. I feel like we’ll know a lot more about both teams after this game. The Dawgs have won 11 straight overall and 5 straight in the SEC going back to last October. UGA has won 7 straight between the hedges and 9 straight non-road games. The Dawgs are 3-0 against Alabama under Mark Richt, 1-0 at home. Under Richt, the Dawgs are 2-2 against Saban coached teams, 1-0 at home. The Dawgs are favored by 7 points, as they were in each of their last two games.

It’s clear that both teams are looking at this as a special game. ESPN's Game Day will be returning to Athens for the first time since 1998. Georgia’s players persuaded Richt to bring out the black jerseys, and Georgia fans will again be coming to the game wearing all black. To be honest, I feel conflicted over the black jerseys being worn again. On the one hand, it’s really up to the team to decide how often and on what occasions to call for the blackout. I do think this is a game worthy of bringing out the black jerseys and if it gives the team and the fans an extra boost of energy than I’m all for it. But I had been hoping that the blackout would become more of a special tradition, something that occurred very rarely. I don’t think using the black jerseys more often or calling for a blackout more frequently will take away from the original event (last year against Auburn), but I do think that each subsequent time will be less special unless it happens very infrequently and only on very special occasions. In a practical sense, I also think it will be less effective as a motivational tool if used on a regular basis.

Whatever, in the end it won’t be the color of the jerseys or the color worn by the crowd that wins or losses this game. The Dawgs aren’t overmatched in this game and they will have the crowd behind them. If the Dawgs stay balanced offensively, limit the Tide rushing attack and get pressure on the quarterback, and avoid costly turnovers and penalties, I see Georgia winning this game.

The College Football Blog: Week 4 Review/Week 5 Preview

Week 4 Recap: The top 2 teams in the country were off last week but there was nothing missing from week 4 of the College Football schedule. The big matchups lived up to their advanced billing and there were a number of exciting games all across the country. There were some surprises but it was mostly a predictable week. Still, week 4 proved that even without the highest ranked teams in the country in action, College Football is not lacking in excitement and drama.

Surprises: While there was no game last week that qualified as an absolute shocker, there were a few notable surprises around the country. The first one occurred on Thursday night when #21 West Virginia lost in overtime at Colorado, 17-14. After getting worked by East Carolina in week 2, the Mountaineers were only 2.5 point favorites on the road against the Buffs. Still, it was a little surprising to see WV’s offense held down again and to see them fall to another unranked team. And it’s now official: the West Virginia of Rich Rodriguez is dead. Ironically, this second straight defeat for the Mountaineers came less than a week after the surprising announcement that Bill Stewart had signed a 6 year contract. Apparently, the West Virginia people are resigned to the fact that they aren’t going to get back what they had with Rodriguez, so they might as well give Stewart a chance as long as he comes cheap (and he does). Still, WV now has 2 losses just 3 games into the season, after they lost 2 games or less in each of the previous 3 seasons. They’ve now lost consecutive games for the first time since late in the 2004 season, and they’re below .500 for the first time since early in the 2003 season. That was also the last time the Mountaineers scored 14 points or less in consecutive games.

West Virginia’s offense was not totally stopped the way it was against East Carolina, but the Buffs did limit WV to just 43 yards passing. The Mountaineers also committed 7 penalties for 91 yards. Like they did against ECU, the Mountaineers got into trouble right away against Colorado, falling behind 14-0 in the first 5 minutes of the game. WV came back quickly, scoring on a 6 yard TD run by Pat White to cut the deficit in half midway through the 1st quarter. The score remained 14-7 late into the 3rd quarter until White broke off a 39 yard run for a score to tie the game at 14-14. It then appeared that West Virginia would survive after all, as the Mountaineers were moving the ball well, and Colorado hadn’t done anything for a long time. Indeed, West Virginia got into Colorado territory on their final 3 possessions of regulation, but each time the drive stalled without the Mountaineers taking the lead. The game went to overtime tied up at 14-14. West Virginia got the ball first in OT and moved inside the Colorado 10 yard line, but on 3rd and 1 from the 4, they were stopped for a loss of 2, and forced to try a FG. Pat McAfee had a 23 yard chip shot to give WV their first lead of the game, but for some reason he clanked it off the left upright and Colorado had its opportunity. The Buffs ran 4 plays to get inside the WV 10, and then walk-on kicker Aric Goodman booted a 25 yarder through to give his team a 17-14 OT win. The fans rushed the field. After the game, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins awarded Goodman a scholarship.

The next major surprise came early on Saturday, and before I go any farther, a big “thank you” to North Carolina State for ending the East Carolina silliness before it went any farther. #15 ECU fell in OT, 30-24, at the hands of the rival NC State Wolfpack. After coming from behind to save themselves against Tulane a week before, the #15 East Carolina Pirates were 7 point favorites on the road against NC State of the ACC this weekend. As a result of their unimpressive performance against Tulane, the Pirates—who had become the Cinderella darlings of the media and others who love Cinderella’s—didn’t seem invincible going into last week. But it was still surprising to see NC State—a team that earlier this year lost 34-0 to South Carolina and was just 4-16 in its last 20 games against FBS opponents—be the one to knock off ECU. And ECU should have won the game but they couldn’t make a play when they needed to and the Wolfpack did. It started off great for ECU, as they returned an INT 23 yards for a TD to open the scoring at 7-0 in the 1st quarter. NC State tied it but in the second quarter, a 34 yard TD pass by Patrick Pinkney put ECU back up 14-7 and they took that lead into halftime. The Pack tied it again but ECU went on top 21-14 on a 42 yard run that silenced the crowd in the third quarter. State got a FG to make it a 21-17 game late in the 3rd but ECU looked to be on the verge of putting the game away early in the 4th quarter as they drove deep into NC State territory. A 3 yard run on 1st and goal gave ECU a 2nd and goal from the 1 yard line but they were stuffed on consecutive plays and left with a 4th down from the 1 yard line. Instead of settling for a FG that would have put them 7 points up with 10 and a half minutes to play, the Pirates chose to go for a TD that would just about put the game away. The Wolfpack stopped ECU for a 3 yard loss on 4th down and took over on downs. Still, ECU stopped NC State for a 3 and out and moved right back into Wolfpack territory. ECU had a 2nd and goal from the 4 with less than 5 and a half minutes to go, but again the Wolfpack held, and this time ECU settled for a FG to make it 24-17 with less then 4 and a half minutes to play. State got a huge kick return to the 45 and on their final drive the ECU defense appeared tired. The Pack drove down and scored on a 5 yard TD pass to tie the game up at 24-24 with 1:12 to go. The score stayed tied into OT and ECU got the ball first. They had a 2nd and 1 at the 16 when NC State defender Shea McKeen came up with the biggest play of the day, sacking Pinkney from behind and forcing a fumble that State recovered. The Wolfpack now had ECU on the ropes and they went for the kill. On 1st and goal from the 10, Andre Brown ran over and through the Pirate defense and then stretched the ball out across the goal line for the game winning TD. The students poured onto the field to celebrate the 30-24 OT victory.

The final big surprise of the weekend came later in the afternoon on Saturday. The #17 Oregon Ducks mounted a rally but came up short, losing at home, 37-32, to the Broncos of Boise State. After needing a frantic 4th quarter comeback to beat Purdue in OT the weekend before, and losing their starting QB to injury, #17 Oregon looked a little vulnerable as they headed into their home game against Boise State this Saturday. Still they were 10 point favorites over the former BCS Busters from Idaho, and Oregon was 17-4 at home since the start of the 05 season, and had won 15 straight against the WAC. But just like they did on the road at Purdue a week before, the Ducks dug themselves a huge hole against Boise State, and this time it was too much to overcome. Despite what the scoreboard said, the Ducks really didn’t get outplayed that badly. They outgained Boise State 464-424, including outrushing the Broncos by nearly 200 yards, 227-38. Also, Oregon had 13 more first downs than Boise State, getting 29 while holding the Broncos to 16. But the Ducks went just 3 for 14 on 3rd down conversions and turned the ball over 4 times, including 3 interceptions.

Much of the loss for Oregon has to be pinned on their injury problems at QB. First string QB Nate Costa was injured just before the start of the season and then Justin Roper hurt his knee in the Ducks’ OT win over Purdue last Saturday. So Junior College transfer Jeremiah Masoli was given the starting duties against Boise State this past Saturday but Masoli was knocked out of the game due to a mild concussion and did not play in the second half. True freshman Chris Harper struggled so badly that Oregon gave Darrion Thomas a try. They had planned on redshirting Thomas.

The Ducks had fallen in a big hole on the road a week before, and they did so once again this weekend at home. But it didn’t start out that badly for Oregon. They drove into Boise State territory on their first drive but missed a 53 yard field goal to keep the game scoreless. Then on their second drive, the Ducks drove 80 yards on 14 plays for a TD to get on the board first but they went for 2 and failed, leaving the score 6-0. Things started to go badly for Oregon in the second quarter. Boise State kicked a 51 yard field goal on its first drive of the 2nd period to cut the deficit in half, and then after a terrible punt by Oregon, the Broncos scored their first TD of the day to take a 10-6 lead with 11 minutes to go in the half. Oregon drove into Bronco territory on the ensuing drive, but Boise State recovered a fumble at its own 41. Boise State capitalized immediately, going 59 yards on just 3 plays and getting in the end zone for a 17-6 lead midway through the 2nd quarter. On their next drive, the Ducks were forced to punt, and Boise State went down the field and scored yet again to take a 24-6 lead late in the half. Oregon marched down the field and got in position for a late score, but on 2nd and 9 from the Boise State 17, Harper was intercepted at the 1. The Broncos took a 24-6 lead on the road into halftime.

The Ducks got back into the game in the 3rd quarter when the Broncos made a mistake on their first second half possession. Boise State QB Kellen Moore was intercepted at his own 19, and the Ducks punched it in to cut the deficit to 24-13 with more than 10 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. It looked like the Ducks might come back to survive again. But on the ensuing Boise State possession, Moore completed a pass to Vinny Perretta on 3rd and 3 that went for a 73 yard TD to make it 31-13. The Broncos stopped the Ducks on their next possession and Boise State moved right back into Oregon territory on their next drive. This time they settled for a FG to make it a 21 point game with less than 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. When Harper was picked off at his own 20 on the ensuing Oregon drive, it looked like the Ducks had finally had their backs broken. But the Oregon defense held and forced Boise State to settle for a FG that made it 37-13 with less than a minute left in the 3rd.

It seemed like Oregon should have been dead as a doornail, but in reality they were down just 3 scores. They got started on a comeback with a 62 yard kickoff return into Boise State territory. Going to the 4th quarter, the Ducks still trailed by 24 points, but they had the ball at the Boise State 32. On 4th and 6, the Ducks decided to try for a 49 yard field goal rather than go for it, and when that missed it looked like the game was over. The Ducks stopped the Broncos on their next drive and took over down 24 with 12 minutes to play. They scored in less than a minute to cut the deficit to 37-20. Oregon stopped Boise State on the ensuing drive and got the ball back with a little less than 9 minutes to play. They scored in less than a minute and a half to cut the score to 37-26, but Ducks kicker Matt Evensen missed the PAT to keep it an 11 point game. On Boise State’s next possession, the Ducks recovered a fumble at their own 45 and took over down 11 with still 6:47 to play. The Ducks got moving and had a 1st down at the Broncos 31 yard line, but Thomas was sacked for an 8 yard loss and then threw incompletions on the next two downs, bringing up 4th and 18 from the Boise State 39. The Ducks went for it on 4th and 18 and Thomas ran for it but came up 6 yards short and the Broncos took over at their own 27. There was still almost 6 minutes to play. Oregon got the ball right back but Thomas was intercepted on 3rd and 15 and the Broncos took over at the Ducks 25 with 3:47 remaining. Oregon held and forced a 38 yard field goal try which the Broncos missed, giving the Ducks the ball at the 21 with nearly 3 and a half minutes remaining. It took the Ducks less than a minute and a half to go 79 yards on 8 plays for a score that made it 37-32. A 2 point conversion would have brought them within a FG but they missed it and remained 5 points behind with 2:07 left and no timeouts. Forced to try for an onsides kick, the Ducks could not recover it, and Boise State was able to run out the clock and hang on for a 37-32 win.

Big Weekend for the ACC: The ACC had been much maligned over the first few weeks of the season and had been the butt of jokes ever since a disastrous opening week for the conference. While it probably won’t gain back the respect that the ACC lost over the first 3 weeks, the conference did come up with a huge weekend in week 4. The conference went undefeated in its 6 games against opposing conferences, including blowout wins against SEC and Big XII teams. The most impressive non-conference win of the week for an ACC team was probably NC State’s 30-24 overtime win over the 15th ranked ECU Pirates. This was a huge win for North Carolina State and a pretty significant win for a conference reeling from Virginia Tech’s defeat at the hands of these same Pirates. Then there was Miami’s 41-23 thrashing of Texas A&M in College Station. While A&M is definitely down this year, it was big for one of the ACC’s marquee programs to beat a team from the Big XII, a conference many consider to be second only to the SEC in terms of conference strength. And speaking of the SEC, Georgia Tech put a 38-7 ass whooping on Mississippi State this past Saturday. During the week leading up to the game, Georgia Tech players were quoted as saying that they definitely felt like they were playing not just for themselves but for the entire conference this weekend. The Jackets were clearly motivated, as they scored the first 38 points of the game, rolling up 500 yards of offense on the Bulldogs despite losing their starting QB on the opening drive of the game. Mississippi State has been a major black mark for the SEC so far this season. As for the ACC, the conference needed a weekend like this after some major embarrassments in front of the nation during the first 3 weeks of the season.

The non-conference wins may have been big for the ACC, but I have to wonder whether Florida State’s loss at home to fellow ACC team Wake Forrest on national TV didn’t just about negate whatever good the wins in the non-conference games had done. Florida State scored just 3 points against WF and lost to the Deacons for the 3rd consecutive season. Florida State is the ACC’s flagship football program and FSU’s fall from the ranks of the best programs in the country has hurt the ACC’s status more than anything else.

Big Time SEC Battles Waged: Week 4 was really the first big week of conference play in the SEC and some major lines were drawn that will affect the rest of the season. #6 LSU and #10 Auburn squared off in the marquee matchup of the week in college football. LSU came in favored by 3 on the road despite the inexperience of its quarterbacks. Auburn came in still trying to figure out the new offensive scheme after eking out an ugly 3-2 win over Mississippi State on the road the week before. This one lived up to its billing and ended up being much more of a high scoring game than many predicted. Initially it looked like the game would indeed be the type of low scoring, defensive struggle that so many anticipated, as the score was just 3-0 in favor of LSU with less than 10 minutes remaining in the first half. Auburn scored to take the lead, 7-3, and the score remained 7-3 late into the second quarter until LSU QB Jarrett Lee made a major mistake with around a minute and 40 seconds until halftime. Lee’s pass was intercepted by Auburn DB Gabe McKenzie at the 24 and returned for a TD to give Auburn what looked like an almost insurmountable 14-3 halftime lead. It looked like the inexperience of LSU’s QB’s would indeed do them in on the road, as Auburn began the 3rd quarter with an 11 point lead and drove into LSU territory on the opening possession of the 2nd half. Auburn had a 1st and 10 at the LSU 19, but on the next 3 plays, Auburn lost 15 yards and ended up punting rather than trying a 51 yard FG. Ryan Shoemaker’s punt was shanked and LSU took over at their own 27. Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch began the drive at QB for LSU but on the 3rd play he took a massive blow to the head and had to come out of the game with concussion symptoms. He would not return. It was now all in the hands of redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee, who to this point in the game was 0 for 5 with an INT returned for a touchdown. Lee came into the game and faced a 3rd and 4 from the LSU 45. Lee completed his first pass of the night, good for 16 yards and a first down, and 2 plays later Lee threw a 39 yard strike to Chris Mitchell for LSU’s first TD of the game to cut the score to 14-10.

All of the sudden we had a ball game. On the ensuing kickoff, LSU recovered an onside kick but they wasted it, as Auburn forced a 3 and out and a punt. Auburn drove the ball into LSU territory but QB Chris Todd’s pass was intercepted at the 11 and LSU took over down just 4 with a minute and a half left in the 3rd quarter. LSU moved from its own 11 to the Auburn 22 in 3 plays, and then on 1st and 10 from the 22, Les Miles dialed up a halfback pass, and the Bayou Bengals scored to go ahead 17-14. LSU’s momentum carried on into the 4th quarter and they kicked a FG to go up 20-14 with less than 9 minutes to go. Incredibly, LSU had taken complete control of this battle of Tigers. But on 2nd and 10 from the Auburn 26, Todd hooked up with Tim Hawthorne on a 58 yard reception that got Auburn back in it. Two plays later on 3rd and 9, Todd hit Robert Dunn on a 15 yard TD strike to put Auburn back in front, 21-20. When Auburn stopped LSU for a 3 and out and took over with less than 6 minutes to go, it appeared that the home team would come out on top after all. But LSU’s defense stopped Auburn immediately, and again Ryan Shoemaker came up small, getting off just a 25 yard punt that gave LSU the ball near midfield. Lee marched the LSU Tigers right down the field and fired an 18 yard TD pass to Brandon LeFell that gave the Bayou Bengals the lead again. LSU failed on the 2 point conversion and the score stayed at 26-21 with just over a minute remaining. A roughing the passer penalty gave Auburn a first down inside LSU territory but Todd was sacked on the next play and Auburn was eventually left with a 4th and 25 from their own 38. Rodgerigus Smith caught a desperation pass from Todd but came up 2 yards short of the first down and LSU took over with 21 seconds left and ran out the clock to secure the 26-21 win.

On the other side of the SEC, Florida and Tennessee squared off in a game that was once the biggest game of the year in the SEC. This one is still huge for the SEC East, but it is not what it once was. #4 Florida came into Neyland Stadium as 7 point favorites, having won 3 straight over the Vols, including last year’s 59-20 thrashing in Gainesville. Once again the Vols were not able to keep it competitive, as mistake after mistake made it easy for the Gators. Tennessee actually outgained Florida 258-243 in this game, and tied the Gators in first downs with 16, but they turned the ball over 3 times and committed 9 penalties for 95 yards. Florida didn’t turn the ball over once on Saturday, and the Vols gave up a 78 yard punt return for a TD to Brandon James and a 52 yard kick return. Florida led 20-0 at the half and 27-0 after 3 quarters. By the time UT scored early in the 4th quarter tens of thousands had left the stadium. After James ran the opening kickoff back 52 yards to the Tennessee 44, it took Florida 8 plays to get in the end zone for a 7-0 lead. On their first possession the Vols fumbled the ball back to the Gators at their own 23. The Vols defense held Florida to a FG, but on their next drive Tennessee was forced to punt and James took it back 78 yards for a score to make it 17-0, and from that point on the game was never competitive. Tennessee regrouped and drove deep into Gator territory on their next drive and looked to be about to get back in the game early in the 2nd quarter. But on 2nd and goal from the 1, QB Jonathon Crompton fumbled and Florida recovered to keep the shutout going. Florida then took nearly 7 minutes off the clock as they drove for a FG that made it 20-0. UT flew down the field and had 2nd and goal at the 1 again, but this time the Gators stuffed the run on 2nd down, Crompton threw incomplete on 3rd down from the 1, and on 4th down Crompton was intercepted in the end zone with 2 seconds to go in the half. Again the Vols had come away with no points. As badly as the Vols wanted to score a TD right before the half, coming away with nothing essentially ended the game. Florida kept UT scoreless in the 3rd quarter and added a TD to go up 27-0 and the game was out of reach by the start of the 4th.

Oh, Vandy!: Over the last few years, Vanderbilt has been a much more competitive program, pulling off a few upsets while coming up just short in a score of other games. They’ve come very close to bowl eligibility but with just 9 returning starters and just 9 seniors on the roster, this season looked like a rebuilding year. I know I’m not alone when I say that I did not expect Vandy to be as good as they had been over the last few years. And I know I’m not alone in my surprise that Vandy appears to be even better than they have been over the last few years. In fact, Vanderbilt is 4-0 for just the 4th time since World War II and is ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 1984. The Commodores latest surprising win came in Oxford over the improved Ole Miss Rebels. Vandy came in as a 7 point underdog and came away with a thrilling, hard fought 23-17 victory. Vandy won despite turning the ball over twice, going just 3 for 13 on 3rd down conversions, gaining 5 fewer first downs than the Rebels (11-16), and being outgained by 183 yards, 385-202! The Rebs turned the ball over 6 times and committed 7 penalties for 82 yards.

Early on it looked like the Rebs might blowout Vandy, as Ole Miss kicked a FG on its first possession, Vandy QB Chris Nickson’s fumble on the Dores’ second possession was returned 13 yards for a TD, and Vandy’s third possession began with Ole Miss recovering a fumble at the Commodores 20. Leading 10-0 and with the ball at the Vandy 20 barely 10 minutes into the game, Ole Miss appeared headed for a runaway. But after a false start penalty backed the Rebs up to the 25, QB Jevan Snead’s pass on 1st and 15 was intercepted by Ryan Hamilton at the 21 and returned 79 yards for a touchdown to get Vandy back in the game. It was a stunning turn of events, but before anyone could blink, Ole Miss return man Mike Wallace took the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a TD to give the Rebels a 10 point advantage again. Still, though Vandy was down 17-7 on the road, they had managed to avoid going down 3 scores and it would take them just a few minutes to march down the field and get into the end zone again to cut the deficit back to 17-14. The first quarter ended with the two teams combining for 31 points, but just 9 total points would be scored the rest of the way.

In the second quarter, the two teams traded punts until Hamilton picked off Snead again to give the Dores the ball at the Ole Miss 37 with less than 5 minutes to play in the half. Vandy converted the turnover into a game tying field goal and the score was tied 17-17 at the half. The Rebels got the ball first in the 3rd quarter, determined to regain control of the game, and they marched right down the field. The Rebs had a 3 and goal at the Vandy 1 but the Commodore defense stuffed the run for no gain. On 4th down Ole Miss went for it and Vanderbilt’s defense stuffed the run again, with Hamilton coming up to make the big hit at the goal line, and Vandy took over on downs with the score still tied. The Ole Miss defense stopped Vandy immediately and forced them to punt from their own 3, but Rebel return man Marshay Green fumbled at the Ole Miss 43, and that man Hamilton recovered it to give Vandy the ball in Rebel territory. Vandy couldn’t do anything with the field position and gave the ball back to Ole Miss but the Rebels were forced to punt again. This time Vandy drove down the field and kicked a FG to take a 20-17 lead early in the 4th quarter. On the ensuing drive, Ole Miss moved into Vandy territory but Joshua Shene missed a 47 yard field goal try that would have tied the game. The Rebel defense forced a punt but Snead was intercepted again at midfield with less than 7 minutes to play. Mississippi’s defense forced another 3 and out and the Rebels took over at their own 13, down 3 points, with 5:10 to play. On 3rd and 12 from the 11, Snead connected with Dexter McCluster on a 23 yard completion for a first down at the 34. Two plays later Snead found McCluster on a big gainer, 56 yards to the Vandy 7. With just minutes remaining, it appeared that the Rebs were about to go in for the go-ahead score, or at the very least kick the tying field goal. But on the very next play, McCluster fumbled at the 2, and Vandy recovered in the end zone for a touchback. The Dores then broke off a pair of big gainers against a beaten Rebel defense and had a first down at the Ole Miss 23 with 2 minutes to go. But that tired Ole Miss defense forced a field goal attempt, and Vandy kicked a 40 yarder to make the score 23-17 with 31 seconds left. It looked over but Mike Wallace had another good return in him and he took the ensuing kickoff 32 yards to the Mississippi 47. The Rebels had just 23 seconds to try and score a TD. On 3rd down from the Vandy 46, Snead threw up a prayer as the time expired and it was picked off for the 4th time by—you guessed it—Ryan Hamilton at the 14, sealing the win for the Commodores.

Vandy is now 4-0 and 2-0 in the SEC. Vandy beat Miami (Ohio) 34-13 on the road in their season opener; outmanned South Carolina for a 24-17 win at home in week 2; smacked Rice, 38-21, the following week at home; and this past week won their SEC road opener over the Rebels, 23-17. While it’s easy to be impressed by Vandy’s performance in 4 games so far, we should proceed with caution. It actually hasn’t been that long since the last time Vandy started the year 4-0, 2-0 in the SEC, and 2-0 on the road. In 2005, Vandy beat Wake Forrest, 24-20, as an 8 point road dog in the season opener. The next week they were 10 point dogs on the road at Arkansas and came away with a 28-24 win. They beat Ole Miss at home 31-23 the next week and then rolled over Richmond, 37-13, the next week at home to go to 4-0. They needed only to beat Middle Tennessee State at home the next week to go to 5-0, and they were favored by 14, but they somehow lost 17-15. That loss would start them on a 6 game losing streak, during which they lost 4 games by 7 points or less, including one in double OT. They ended the season by upsetting Tennessee in Knoxville to finish 5-6 but they would not go to a bowl game.

Six Winless Sob Stories: With so many teams scheduling games against FCS opponents, there are just 6 winless teams remaining in the entire FBS. All 6 of those teams are having extremely rough and tough luck seasons. Ohio has come close in all 4 of their games this year but has yet to finish off a win. The Bobcats began the year on the road in Wyoming and led 20-14 halfway through the 4th quarter but wound up losing by a point, 21-20. The following week they outplayed #3 Ohio State on the road, at one point leading 14-6, and still led 14-12 at the start of the 4th quarter before eventually losing 26-14. They were done in by 5 turnovers, including a muffed punt that gave Ohio State the ball deep in Bobcat territory late in the 3rd, with Ohio clinging to a 14-12 lead. In week 3, the Bobcats hosted defending MAC Champion Central Michigan and took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Ohio went on to outgain CM but lost 31-28. The Bobcats drove the ball inside the CM 10 with around 7 minutes to go, needing a TD to take the lead or a FG to tie. But QB Boo Jackson fumbled the ball on 3rd down and CM ran out the clock. Last week Ohio played on the road against Northwestern. The Bobcats dominated NW in the second half, but 4 turnovers, a missed FG, and a pair of blocked field goals did them in, as they fell 16-8. Luckily for Ohio, the misery seems almost certain to end this week, as they host VMI

Perhaps the best of the 6 winless teams is Washington, which is 0-3 so far. The Huskies got blown away by Oregon at home in week 1 but came back the following week to give visiting BYU all it could handle. Everyone is aware of what happened at the end of the BYU game. Trailing 28-21, Washington QB Jake Locker scored on a run with 2 seconds left to bring the Huskies within an extra point of tying the game up and sending it to OT. But Locker was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on a ridiculous call, forcing the Huskies to try the point from 35 yards out, and the Cougars blocked it to hang on for a 28-27 win. The following week, Washington hosted Oklahoma and got throttled, 55-14. Washington isn’t very good but they are likely the best of the four teams still without a win. Ironically, it may take the Huskies longer than anyone to get a victory. They have nothing but Pac-10 teams and Notre Dame left on the schedule. Fortunately for them, some of their winnable games are at home, including this coming weekend against Stanford. They also have home games against Oregon State, ND, and UCLA.

Of the 6 teams still without a win, the most disappointing has got to be Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights were coming into this season off of 3 consecutive winning seasons and 3 consecutive trips to a bowl. Head coach Greg Schiano had turned down offers to leave for more prestigious schools in order to remain at Rutgers, where he had appeared to have built a program that would remain relevant for years to come. Rutgers success in recent years has resulted in the growth of a passionate fan base and the Knights have emerged as the college football team of the mid-Atlantic Coast. But so far life without Ray Rice has been unbearable. The season began with a 24-7 loss at home to Fresno State of the WAC on national TV. Then on September 11th in front of a national TV audience, the Knights were smashed at home by North Carolina, 44-12. And this past Saturday Rutgers fell to Navy, 23-21, on the road. Luckily for Rutgers, they will almost certainly get off the schnide this week when they host Morgan State.

Two of our six winless teams come out of the Sun Belt Conference. The North Texas Mean Green have lost all 3 of their games by at least 30 points. Last season their only 2 wins came in conference and it looks like that will be their only hope this year. Florida International beat North Texas in the final week of the season last year to avoid a winless season. This year the Golden Panthers have gotten off to an 0-3 start but they nearly left the ranks of the winless this past Saturday, losing just 17-9 against South Florida. That would have been a gigantic upset and it's a very respectable loss for the Panthers. A close loss to the Bulls may not mean all that much in the long run, however. In 2006, the Panthers started off the season with a 1 point loss to Middle Tennessee State and then lost by a point to USF. What followed were 21 consecutive losses. So we'll have to take their latest near win with a grain of salt.

The other winless FBS team and easily the worst of the bunch is (sadly) the Army Black Knights. While Ohio, Washington, and Rutgers are really not among the worst teams in college football, Army most definitely is. In fact, I believe Army to be the absolute worst team in the FBS. Army opened the season with a 35-7 loss at home to Temple; then lost 28-10 at home against New Hampshire of the FCS; and this last week the Black Knights lost 22-3 at home against Akron. While Army’s schedule the rest of the way isn’t really all that bad, there aren’t a lot of winnable games left for the Black Knights. In fact, they don’t have a chance in most of their remaining contests. The only game that really stands out as one that Army might have a chance in is their October 11th home game against Eastern Michigan. At this point I would say that it’s highly likely that Army will be the only winless team in the FBS this season.

Last Week’s Notable Scores

Louisville 38, Kansas State 29 (Big XII takes a rare hit.)
Col 17, WV 14 (OT) (Another stunning loss for the Mountaineers.)
Conn 31, Bay 28 (Baylor hangs tough on the road but UConn wins it.)
Ohio St. 28, Troy 10 (The Terrelle Pryor era begins in Columbus.)
NC St. 30, ECU 24 (OT) (ECU’s dream dies at the hands of the Wolfpack.)
PSU 45, Tem 3 (Another impressive rout by the Nittany Lions.)
GT 38, Miss St. 7 (Bulldogs embarrass the SEC.)
NW 16, Ohio 8 (NW stays undefeated.)
Minnesota 37, FAU 3 (Minnesota stays undefeated!)
Pitt 21, Iowa 20 (Must-win game for Panthers.)
Pur 32, CM 25 (Purdue survives to beat CM for third time in 2 years.)
Bama 49, Ark 14 (Another impressive win for the Tide.)
BC 34, CF 7 (Solid win for BC.)
Missouri 42, Buf 21 (Missouri’s offense is certainly impressive.)
BYU 44, Wyo 0 (Second straight white washing for the Cougs.)
Ariz 31, UCLA 10 (Cats get back on track while UCLA’s reality check continues.)
Fla 30, Tenn 6 (Gators rout Vols again.)
Boise State 37, Ore 32 (Huge win for the Broncos in Eugene.)
Mich St. 23, ND 7 (ND’s enthusiasm quickly curbed.)
VT 20, UNC 17 (Great comeback win for the Hokies.)
Cuse 30, NE 21 (Syracuse manages to beat Northeastern to snap 7 game losing streak.)
Mia 41, A&M 23 (Canes blowout Aggies for second year in a row.)
Navy 23, Rut 21 (Rutgers losses third straight to start season.)
Utah 30, AF 23 (Battle of 3-0 MWC teams goes down to the wire.)
Marsh 34, SMiss 27 (Marsh wins big C-USA battle.)
Utah St. 42, ID 17 (Wow! Idaho has got to be in the bottom 5 in the FBS.)
SF 17, FIU 9 (Unimpressive win for the Bulls over one of the worst teams in the FBS.)
Tex 52, Rice 10 (Texas looks nearly unstoppable offensively.)
WF 12, FSU 3 (Huge win for Wake; their 3rd in a row over the Noles.)
BSU 42, Ind 20 (Ball State remains undefeated with blowout of Hoosiers.)
Vandy 23, Miss 17 (Vandy goes to 4-0!)
Ark St. 31, MTS 14 (Ark St. gets big SBC win.)
SC 23, Woff 13 (Gamecocks struggle against Wofford.)
Tulsa 56, NM 14 (Tulsa destroys NM of the MWC.)
Cin 45, Mia (OH) 20 (Bearcats take this rivalry game easily.)
LSU 26, Aub 21 (LSU survives huge SEC West battle.)
UGA 27, ASU 10 (Dawgs more than up to the task in the desert.)
TCU 48, SMU 7 (June Jones’ rough first season in Dallas continues.)
Fresno St. 55, Tol 54 (OT-II) (Bulldogs survive the wildest game of the weekend.)
UNLV 34, Iowa St. 31 (OT) (UNLV pulls off second straight win over BCS team.)
NMS 34, UTEP 33 (NMS wins the Battle of I-10 by a single point.)

This Week’s Notable Games (Last week featured a few interesting non-conference matchups while conference play really got underway in some conferences. The result was a fantastic week. This week will have a hard time living up to the previous 4 weeks, as many of the matchups look lopsided. However, there are still a few intriguing non-conference games, as well as some big intraconference matchups in the SEC, Big Ten, and ACC.)

USC @ Oregon St. (The Beavers beat USC at home in 2006 but this is a different year.)

Conn @ Louisville (First Big East Friday Nighter of the year.)

Minn @ Ohio St. (Buckeyes begin Big Ten play.)
Mary @ Clem (Clemson looks to keep recovery from Bama loss going.)
UVA @ Duke (Battle to finish out of last in the ACC Costal.)
Kent St. @ BSU (Ball State looks to stay undefeated.)
NW @ Iowa (NW looks to stay undefeated.)
UNC @ Mia (Following heartbreaker against VT, Heels go to Miami without QB Yates.)
Miss @ Fla (Rebels will be looking to save season after loss to Vandy.)
Ark @ Tex (This battle of former SWC rivals won’t be close.)
Wis @ Mich (Huge game for the Badgers.)
Tenn @ Aub (Both teams need this one badly.)
Fresno St. @ UCLA (This one doesn’t look as sexy as it did after week 1.)
Col @ FSU (FSU needs to win convincingly after getting shutdown by Wake.)
Pur @ ND (Can Purdue knock off the Irish in Tiller’s final year?)
TCU @ Okla (Frogs pulled off the upset in Norman back in 2005.)
Troy @ Ok St. (Last year Troy whipped Oklahoma State by 18.)
SF @ NC St. (Can the Wolfpack make it two big upsets in a row?)
Bama @ UGA (We will know much about both teams after this one.)
Ill @ PSU (Penn State begins Big Ten play after 4 impressive non-con wins.)
VT @ Neb (One of the more intriguing non-con games of the week.)
NM @ NMS (The Battle of I-25.)
Stan @ Wash (Wash looks to get off the schnide against Coach Ty’s former team.)
Nev @ UNLV (Nevada has won last 3 battles for the Fremont Cannon.)