First, the Pick around: ESPN - Bill Simmons - Peter King - PFBW - Yahoo - CBS - Vinny Iyer - Gil Brandt.
I'm live from New York this weekend, so this will come by piece mail. That said, I have a feeling that this is the week everything goes wrong for everyone picking favorites.
The Orangemen finished their season very strong, winning three of their last four games to finish with a record of 6-5. They were especially good inside the Carrier Dome, losing only one game all year and that was a near miss against FSU on October 9th. A month later, Syracuse rallied to beat Pitt in double OT.
Their best win of the season, however, came in their finale against Boston College. Syracuse played a strong game on the road against a BC team that could have taken the Big East's BCS birth with a win. Instead, the Orangemen earned their first bowl appearance since 2001 there and may have also saved the job of their head coach, Paul Pasqualoni.
One of the reasons their coach's job was on the hot-seat all year is because this Syracuse team has shown it can play with teams like FSU, BC, and Pitt but can also lose to a 2-9 Temple team, can fall to West Virginia by a score of 6-27, and can get blown out by Purdue 0-51.
Their strength is on offense where they have the size on their line to compete with anyone. The Orangemen also have great depth at running back, but their quarterback is a sophomore and Syracuse plays to protect the ball. Defensively, they look for turnovers and mistakes to change field position in their favor. They're not a team that can play catchup, so getting ahead early will be an important to their success.
Georgia Tech has struggled to find consistency this season as well. Like Syracuse, the Yellow Jackets are a team that struggles when they fall behind early. Tech has fallen to all four of the ranked teams they've played this season, but did defeat Clemson when the Tigers were ranked #20, and Maryland when the Terps were ranked #23. Both of those games were on the road, too. But after they became bowl eligible in mid-November, the Yellow Jackets finished their season with back to back loses to Virginia and Georgia.
So we've basically got two bipolar teams here in an early week bowl game. Syracuse did not play a match south of Virginia this season and will be traveling to central Florida for this one. That shouldn't matter too much since the weather in Orlando this time of year is usually in the upper 60s and sunny. I imagine both teams' fans will travel well for this game as well.
The Orangemen didn't have much of a defense this season, even when things were going well for them, but they did create key turnovers in their big wins. Yellow Jacket QB Reggie Ball may be auditioning for the GT 2005 QB job, and a lot of his success in this game and into next season will depend on his ability to make good choices with the football. Ball has a lot of heart and a great deal of talent, but he hasn't really put things together in his head yet.
This is really a battle between a bigger, more physical Syracuse team against a muck quicker, defense-first Georgia Tech squad. The consequences of turnovers and penalties will be magnified in this game since neither side has a true game-breaker on offense.
Great job by Eric at Off Wing keeping today's NHL CBA news to a manageable serving portion. Thank you.
Will North Texas come prepared even though they are in the same bowl game for the fourth year in a row? And will the extended time off benefit or hurt them? How will the lack of time off affect Southern Miss? Going into the first bowl game of the 2004 season, there are indeed many questions to be answered.
UNT started the season 0-4, but by far their biggest loss came during the preseason when junior quarterback Andrew Smith died in an auto accident. North Texas then lost their first game of the season 0-65 to Texas, and dropped their home opener to Florida Atlantic 13-20. Defeats in Colorado and Baylor piled on to the end of a terrible month of September for this group that calls itself the Mean Green.
October brought better fortune for North Texas. They began their current string of seven straight wins on 10/2 with a 30-21 win over Middle Tennessee State. A month and a half later, they wrapped up their fourth straight Sun Belt Conference Championship with a win against Arkansas State.
So here they are in New Orleans again. But if you believe what they're saying, that's definitely a good thing.
"New Orleans is such a fun city to have a bowl game, we really look forward to this every year," North Texas receiver T.J. Culberson said.
Mean Green coach Darrell Dickey has some further encouraging thoughts.
It's great to be back in New Orleans. This is a great reward for this team... We probably had more adversity to overcome this year than in any of the other years,.. To these kids' credit, we just did what we needed to do and we're fortunate to be back in New Orleans.
So here they are. And while North Texas has had almost a month to prepare for this one, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles were in action just last weekend.
USM faced off against Southern Cal on December 4th in a game that had been originally scheduled for mid-September. So while most bowl teams get at least two weeks off to get ready, the Golden Eagles are playing this like any regular week. There is, however, one small wrinkle to that. Following this game, USM will travel back to their campus so they can make the school's exam schedule that begins on Wendesday. North Texas' experience with the New Orleans bowl allowed them to anticipate this conflict, and before the semester they rescheduled their exams.
"It's been a whirlwind for us as coaches, with recruiting and preparation, and our players with exams," USM Coach Jeff Bower said. "There's been a lot going on. We haven't experienced a bowl preparation like this. We're excited about being in a bowl game, with another chance to play."
So even though North Texas may come into the game with a little rust, in comparison to their opposition, the Mean Green should be fresh and prepared. UNT features a strong running attack with freshman Jamario Thomas (1709 yards, 17 TDs) and an experienced offensive line that was able to lead backup RB James Mitchell to 166 yards in the regular season finale.
The New Orleans Bowl is the reward for the Sun Belt Conference champs, so it's not like North Texas was planning on being anywhere else. There is nothing disappointing about a free week in New Orleans. But if you're Southern Miss, you've got to be a little upset that all the benefits of bowl week (especially bowl week in the Big Easy) are unavailable because exams and the short turnaround.
"This year has drained him,'' Jones told me before the game. "He had much higher expectations, as we all did. And as he's been drained, it's taken away some of what he does best off the field, which is his bluster. He's just pulled back a little. The other day, I saw some of that bluster again after our back-to-back wins."
One of your other scouts made mention of (Bengals wide receiver T.J.) Houshmandzadeh last week, and, wow, that guy is making himself some money in the free agency market. He had 12 catches (for 145 yards) on Sunday and that's 26 catches for 395 yards in the last three games. Teams looking for an intermediate-range possession guy are taking note of him, believe me. They might not be able to pronounce his name but they know who he is.
I was serious on the pregame show about Edgerrin James being the most valuable player on this team. If you don't have a running game, then every defense in the league would be playing pure pass defense against Manning. But because they have Edge, and he does make a ton of yards, the Colts go against the norm, controlling the flow of the game with their passing offense.Pretty much everyone has noted now that Indy will most likely have to go through New England and Pittsburgh to get to the super bowl. I'd like to see an article on The Onion about fans in Indianapolis burning coal in their front yards so that they can speed up the effects of global warming.
They have so much talent on offense. They are so good at every skilled position. I personally have never seen an offensive team this good in all my years in football. Only two things will stop the Colts — their questionable defense and the weather. The weather will come closer to slowing that offense than any defense in the league.
Carson Palmer did not return to Sunday's game after he strained his knee following a Richard Seymour hit. The play was a bit awkward looking, but it didn't look like Carson was hurt too bad.
Jeff Garcia is probably out for the season after injuring his knee yesterday.
Jamal Lewis was limited and I don't think he played at all in the second half. The game log doesn't have him down for anything.
Tatum Bell is probably gone for the season after he separated his shoulder. He looked real good running the ball, but shaky in all other aspects.
Marshall Faulk didn't get any chances yesterday and Steven Jackson was inactive. It was all Arlen Harris yesterday.
Keenan McCardell left the game against the Bucs in the first half after sustaining a hamstring injury. He later came out in street clothes to watch.
Maurice Hicks started in place of Kevan Barlow but Hicks had to play through a rib injury. The Niners play Saturday.
The Falcons have suffered a major blow as FB Justin Griffith is out for the year. I would speculate that the Falcons will try to see what TJ Duckett can do in the FB role, ala Mike Alstott.
Eli Manning is still starting.
Brian Ulracher injured his hamstring yesterday. The rest of his season is in doubt.
David Givens was inactive on Sunday for an unknown reason.
It's not so safe to rely on NE and Indy to make your 10 point teaser work this week. But I still like the idea of teasing these massive line downs. So my first 10 point lock is taking Buffalo at -1.5. Lee Suggs is out and William Green is in the doghouse. And I think the feels like temp in Buffalo is like 15 degrees. For game number two, give me the Ravens at even. No explanation really needed. So with those two locks of the day, it's time to start picking other games and hoping that the Ravens and Bills both win. Broncos -1.5, Bucs +15, Atlanta +2, Bears +17, and the Colts -0.5.
I also don't really see how both Pittsburgh and Jacksonville are going to win their games today. After that brutal Sunday Night game they played. They each have a tough matchup regardless of the Sunday Night thing.
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