Sweet 16 - West
What is this?
Since NCAA Football desperately needs a playoff, why not create one? 16 teams were chosen (11 conference winners and five at-large bids) and placed into brackets. Dan Biggio, Chad McCleary and I will take a look at each game and decide who we think will win the game. The team that moves on to the next round will be the team that gets two votes to win out of the three predictions. The predictions for each game will be posted during the time listed for each contest (i.e. USC-North Texas will be posted 10:30 Saturday).

#1 USC (12-0) vs. #8 North Texas (7-4).
Saturday, 10:30 ET

Walt's Take:
This game might be close...in the first quarter. North Texas actually has one of the best running backs in the nation. Freshman Jamario Thomas has gained 1,709 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns this season. USC showed some vulnerability against the run when playing Notre Dame, but North Texas does not have a potent passing threat to keep the Trojans from placing eight men in the box. Consequently, the Mean Green will have trouble scoring.

North Texas has the worst defense in this tournament. If USC wanted to, they could probably score 100 points in this game. Since running up the score doesn't matter in the tournament, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and company will be drinking Gatorade on the bench by the third quarter.

USC 63, North Texas 10

NCAA Dan's Take:
What else is there to say about the USC Trojans? They won out in the Pac 10, although they had a scare every now and then. Stanford gave USC a very tough game, Cal nearly knocked them off in Los Angeles, and the rivalry game with UCLA was a hard fought 29-24 win. Many people believe that this year's team is not quite as strong as last year's team, even though the 2003 Trojans were robbed of playing in the national championship game.

The Trojans certainly have tons of talent on offense. Matt Leinart had another great season, throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. Reggie Bush, a Heisman candidate, was valuable out of the backfield as both a runner and a receiver. The Trojans put a hurting on Notre Dame this year, as well as many of the other teams in the Pac 10.

As for North Texas, well, not much to say about this team. The won the Sun Belt Conference, that is about the only selling point here. They lost their first four games of the season, including getting stomped 65-0 by the Texas Longhorns in their opening game. Unfortunately for North Texas, Southern Cal is even better than Texas. This game will not even be competitive. The Trojans are thinking of avenging their BCS snub from last year, and North Texas cannot compete with these guys. In fact USC might possibly shut this team out. Trojans cover the spread if it is less than 45.

USC 48, North Texas 3

Chad's Take:
The Mean Green have dominated the Sunbelt in recent years. This ainít the Sunbelt.

North Texas has a sensational freshman tailback in Jamario Thomas, who was forced into service in the seasonís third game when senior Patrick Cobbs (last years NCAA leading rusher with 1,680yds) left in the second game with a sprained knee and never returned. Thomas has an astounding 1,709 yards and 17 touchdowns in only 9 games. The Mean Green in recent years have been known for outstanding defense. Not now as they have given up 39 touchdowns and 415 yards per game.

I donít care for the Pac 10 or USC. I also donít think they are all that and a bag of chips, as most think. For all their talent-Matt Leinhart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Dwayne Jarret-they donít really dominate as it seems they should. In fact, for all their great recruiting classes they havenít really put near as many kids in the pros as most of the other high powered teams.

Alas, this isnít the NFL and USC gives up about 76 yards a game on the ground and 16 total touchdowns. This will be an unpleasant contest. USC can be beat but not by North Texas.

USC 59, North Texas 3

Winner: #1 USC

#4 Louisville (10-1) vs. #5 Michigan (9-2).
Friday, 7:00 ET

Walt's Take:
This will probably be the highest scoring game all weekend. Both offenses are prolific; Louisville averages 50.3 points per game, while Michigan scores 30.3 per.

Louisville matches up well against Michigan, because the Wolverines have extreme difficulty stopping the pass. Even Troy Smith registered 241 yards in a 37-21 loss at Ohio State. The Cardinals throw the ball very frequently with star quarterback Stefan LeFors, who has accumulated 2,403 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions this season. LeFors will torch Michigan's secondary by connecting with his trio of talented receivers-J.R. Russell, Josh Tinch and Montrell Jones.

The Cardinals are not known for their defense, but they are capable of stopping other teams. They allow just 17.8 points per game and only 3.2 yards per rush. Michael Hart will be contained to minimal yardage, forcing Chad Henne to convert obvious passing situations. Henne is talented, but merely a freshman. He has tallied 2,516 yards and 21 touchdowns, but you cannot ignore the 12 interceptions. In the first-ever NCAA football playoff shootout, it's only natural that the senior outduels the freshman.

Louisville 59, Michigan 31

NCAA Dan's Take:
This is a most intriguing matchup. Michigan won the Big Ten this season, but earned this status only after Wisconsin lost consecutive games in conference to make them conference champions. Michigan did finish up their season against arch-rival Ohio State in Columbus, and got waxed by the Buckeyes. It is my belief that the Big Ten was full of some very good teams this season, but lacked a really great team as they so often have. Michigan is included in this list of very good teams. Credit Lloyd Carr for starting a freshman quarterback this season. The Wolverines are a young squad, and figure to see the benefits of Carr's move in future years of the program.

For Louisville, the future is now. The Cardinals have a genuinely good team this year. They destroyed each and every one of their opponents this season, with the exception of the Miami Hurricanes. They had Miami on the ropes, but fell victim to a Huricanes comeback and lost 41-38. Louisville steamrolled over Cincinatti by a tune of 70-7. That's right. They put up 70 on the Bearcats. Cincinatti is a program that has played Ohio State very tough in past seasons, so we know the Cardinals can flat out score. Say what you want about the competiton they played in Conference USA, but I believe this Louisville team is for real. And Michigan will find that out. This figures to be a good game, and a high scoring one at that. I am going with the upset here though. Louisville simply outscores the Wolverines.

Louisville 41, Michigan 31

Chad's Take:
Michigan has a dynamic young quarterback and running back tandem who have really exploded on the scene, and their defense is covered with high-caliber talent and Llyod Carr is a solid coach. However, their despite the talent they possess on defense, their stop unit isn't as dominant as it should be, and Chad Henne and Michael Hart are still true freshmen. They do have a fantastic kick returner in Steve Breaston-yet other than that their Special teams rarely excel and sometimes stink to the tune of costing them a game. They have surrendered 28 touchdowns defensively, which is hardly dominant.

Louisville's Bobby Petrino is one of the 10 best coaches in college football, and it would be nice to see him stay and try to turn them into a national power. I doubt he will but it would be neat. The Cardinals have won nine or more games in four of the last five years. Theyíre 10-1 this season on the strength of great coaching and terrific quarterback play. Stefan Leflors has thrown for 2,400 yards and completed 74% of his passes for 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He has also garnered 257 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns.

The defense has given up 24 touchdowns and have had a few games in which they sleep-walked, but as a whole have played very aggressively.

If you believe that Miami is really as good as they have been in recent years, then you have to take Louisville seriously. Michigan is extremely talented but they are also Very young on offense and will not give Louisville the respect they deserve.

Louisville 28, Michigan 27

Winner: #4 Louisville

#3 Utah (11-0) vs. #6 Iowa (9-2).
Saturday, 7:00 ET

Walt's Take:
This is the best match-up in the sweet sixteen. Utah has a high-powered offense, facilitated by Alex Smith, who should be the Heisman winner. The Utes have scored 46.3 points per game this season. Meanwhile, Iowa wins with defense. Their superb stop unit surrenders just 2.8 yards per carry and 16 points per game.

In a battle of offense versus the defense, the latter usually prevails, but the Hawkeyes may be vulnerable to the pass. Whenever Iowa has encountered a team with a high-profile signal caller, they have struggled. Andrew Walter threw for 435 yards against the Hawkeye defense on Sept. 18. Chad Henne torched Iowa's secondary the following week for 236 yards. Despite winning against Purdue, the Hawkeyes secondary was shredded once again for 305 yards. Alex Smith will continue the trend.

If Iowa wants to win this game, they must prevail in a shoot-out. They have some weapons on offense like quarterback Drew Tate and running back Marques Simmons, but not enough. The Hawkeyes have not scored more than 40 points this season. Utah? They average 46.

Utah 45, Iowa 35

NCAA Dan's Take:
This figures to be another terrific matchup. Two very good teams. Utah is another squad that a lot of people question because of the conference they play in. But the Utes are no North Texas-this team finished a perfect 11-0 and beat up on some quality opponents to do it. Utah beat up on the Texas A&M Aggies from the Big XII, The North Carolina Tar Heels from the ACC, and Arizona of the Pac 10, although that one is not overly impressive. Utah also destroyed all of their conference opponents, including BYU, 52-21.

The Utes scored points on everybody, and other schools took notice. Head coach Urban Meyer is heading to Gainesville to coach the Gators next year. But he has some business to attend to first. The Iowa Hawkeyes are also a very good team, and have had a very solid program for several years now under head coach Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeys just locked him up for a long-term deal though, as other colleges and perhaps even the NFL may have come calling for him. Iowa may be the best team in the Big Ten. One could argue they certainly finished the strongest. Iowa's only loss in conference was at the Big House in Ann Arbor, and they won seven straight conference games after that. Not an easy task in the Big Ten. They were involved in some close games, highlighted by a 6-4 pitcher's duel in Happy Valley against Penn State. That game was a defensive slugfest; I cannot remember ever seeing a team with four points in a game before, let alone finishing one with that score. But the Hawkeyes also proved they can score as well, putting up 30 or more points in blowout games against Ohio State and Wisconsin the last game of the season.

I expect this this game to be quite a battle. Utah's offense schemes will be tested against an excellent Hawkeye defense. I look for a fair amount of points in this game, but in the end Utah prevails by a field goal.

Utah 27, Iowa 24

Chad's Take:
Poor Utah. This is easily one of the five best teams in the country. But here is the rub: their coach is leaving for higher pastures and it isnít probable that they will be as focused against two-loss Iowa, as they would be against USC, Auburn and Oklahoma.

Big mistake.

Utah may be an all-around better team than Iowa. They are as good on offense as anyone in the land. Alex Smith is sensational. Smith, a 6-4 junior signal caller has had a Heisman-caliber year. A 175 passer rating, 2,600 yards, 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Thatís pretty good, but wait, he has also rushed for 563 yards and 10 touchdowns. Are you kidding me? Here is your Heisman winner, but alas it is a jaded system. Utah also has a solid defense. Here is the problem though. As any MWC/WAC coach will tell you the toughest position for their teams to fill is cornerback (actually it is probably the toughest position for any team to fill, including the NFL).

Iowa cannot run the ball. At one time at the end of the season they were using a fifth-string walk-on running back and a third-string fullback. The bad news for Utah is that Maques Simmons, a very solid running back, should be healthy enough by this time to make a difference. The line which has also had health issues should be ready as well. Quarterback Drew Tate has had a stellar year and it is here that I expect Iowa will cause Utah a myriad of problems. I donít have issues with Utahís schedule as most, but it is clear they havenít faced a passing attack up to the snuff of Iowaís. They are truly a year away from being great. But Tate, a true sophomore, has thrown for 2,600 yards and 18 touchdowns after a very slow start. Receivers Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkel have combined for 1,475 yards and 15 touchdowns. Tate has completed passes to 19 different receivers and had three-300 yard games in Big Ten play.

It isnít the offense that wins football games for Iowa its their absolutely dominating defense. Iowa will dog Smith and company relentlessly. The Hawkeyes contain the run and rush the passer with the front six or seven better than anyone in the country. They attack and hit with great ferocity. They blitz only occasion and rarely are out of position for the big play. The Big Ten has been wrongly accused of being slow for years, but that just isnít true anymore. And Iowa has more sideline-to-sideline defenders than anyone else in the league. Iowa is also incredibly well coached and has one of the best special teams units from year-to-year. Their corners are vastly underrated and they have forced more than 20 turnovers in the last four games. Utah will be shocked by the athletes that Iowa puts on the field and wonít be able to overcome a blocked punt, two interceptions and a fumble.

Iowa 21, Utah 17

Winner: #3 Utah

#2 California (10-1) vs. #7 Boise State (11-0).
Friday, 10:30 ET

Walt's Take:
Boise State might be undefeated, but they nearly lost to BYU at home and went into double-overtime against San Jose State. Yes, San Jose State. The Broncos cannot stop anyone. They allow 24 points per game and more than 250 passing yards per contest. Aaron Rodgers will rip their secondary to shreds, while J.J. Arrington tramples through Boise State's weak defensive front.

California will put the clamps on a Boise State offense that scores 49 points per game. It's pretty easy to score nearly 50 points per contest when your toughest opponent all year is Oregon State. California beat them, 49-7.

California 42, Boise State 17

NCAA Dan's Take:
Hopefully this game will not be played on that hideous blue field. The California Golden Bears had themselves a fabulous season, losing only once. This was in the Los Angeles Memorial Colleseum by 6 points to USC in a game that came down to the final play. Other than the Trojans, the only team to give the Golden Bears any fight in the Pac 10 were the Oregon Ducks. Clearly coach Jeff Tedford, who also just signed a contract extension, has his Cal program headed in the right direction. Some people do not seem sold on the Golden Bears, pointing to only a 10 point win against Southern Miss on a makeup game in early December. But Tedford is not the type of coach to run up the score, as his team had the game under control.

Boise State, on the other hand, went undefeated throughout the regular season. They did beat Oregon State early on in non-conference play, but aside from that game, their schedule was not terribly difficult. This offense scored a lot of points against all of their opponents this season, so look for another shoot-out here. I have to give the edge toward Cal in this one, however. They had a tougher schedule week-in and week-out, and if they are good enough to nearly beat Southern Cal in Los Angeles, I have to believe they are good enough to beat Boise State on any field, blue or not. Look for a high-scoring affair with tons of offense. If you like a lot of points and big plays, this is the game for you.

California 41, Boise State 28

Chad's Take:
These teams score points in bunches so this game will end, 14-13. Seriously though, there are some high octane Offenses being showcased in this game.

If you are a college football fanatic and you catch all the games, then you have seen Boise State play. You either love 'em because theyíre exciting, or you hate 'em because they cannot stop anyone and how they play isnít ďrealĒ football. The Broncos actually played a little better defense this year, but because of the amount of points they score, the other team naturally gets more chances to score themselves. With that said, Boise State wins by outscoring other teams. They can hang 30 on anyone, and 50 on most. They run it and throw equally well, as Dan Hawkins has put a magnificent system in place. Boise is 64-11 over the past 6 years and they are exciting.

Heading into Southern Miss for a makeup game against a decent mid-major team was a recipe for disaster, but Cal circumnavigated it brilliantly with a pretty solid 26-16 win. They may be the most complete team outside of Auburn in the country. They throw it exceedingly well, as Rodgers accumulated 2,300 passing yards, at a 67 percent completion clip, while throwing 23 touchdowns. J.J. Arrington chipped in for 1,845 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, while Geoff McArthur caught 57 balls for 842 yards and seven touchdowns. Few better trifectas in the country. The Golden Bears also play a little defense, as they gave up only 295 yards and 18 touchdowns on the year. They also held a very potent USC attack to 23 points in an early season loss. This team is very good. And theyíll need to be; they are better than Boise State, but Dan Hawkins will have his troops ready. Look for a slug fest throughout ending.

California 34, Boise State 31

Winner: #2 California

NCAA Football Tournament 2007
Championship / Final Four
Elite Eight - East / Elite Eight - West
Sweet Sixteen - East / Sweet Sixteen - West

NCAA Football Tournament 2006
Championship / Final Four
Elite Eight - East / Elite Eight - West
Sweet Sixteen - East / Sweet Sixteen - West

NCAA Football Tournament 2005
Championship / Final Four
Elite Eight - East / Elite Eight - West
Sweet Sixteen - East / Sweet Sixteen - West

NCAA Football Tournament 2004
Championship / Final Four
Elite Eight - East / Elite Eight - West
Sweet Sixteen - East / Sweet Sixteen - West

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