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Pregame stretch 09.23.11

September 23, 2011 - Ray Eckenrode

Eastern Michigan vs. Penn State

Noon Saturday, ESPN2

Announcers: Beth Mowins and Mike Bellotti

Annoyance factor: We’re actually very excited to hear Mowins, who’s highly regarded in broadcasting circles, and is in her first year of crashing the old boys stranglehold on college football play-by-play. Of course, the last time most Penn State fans saw Bellotti was the 1995 Rose Bowl, where the Oregon offense he was coordinating for the final time (he took over as the Ducks’ head coach shortly thereafter) paled in comparison to one of all-time great college football machines (sigh) in blue and white across the field.

Line: Penn State -28.5

Smarts say: With an over/under of 44.5, Vegas sees this one in the neighborhood of 35-7 or 38-7 Nits. (Pssssst, since that difference rests on a Penn State field goal, we’d go with the under.)

Quick hits:

+ The Eagles continue their cash-and-carry tour of the Big Ten this week. After getting shellacked 31-3 last week at Michigan, they’ll gladly accept another thumping and accompanying large check this week to help the Lions tune up for their spine-tingling Big Ten opener. For the record, Joe Paterno is 45-1 against Mid American Conference opponents.

+ From where we sit, it’s hard to criticize Paterno or any of the Penn State coaches for how they’ve handled the two-quarterback quagmire since the season began. Both QBs have been given opportunities to take control of the situation and neither has responded. We’re amazed at how many tweets and message board comments we see saying that xxxx is obviously the better quarterback, with half contending Rob Bolden is the man and the other half sure Matt McGloin is clearly superior. The reality is they both have stunk it up and the real issue is not how they’ve been handled this season but rather how Penn State got to a point where it is unable to recruit or coach up and legitimate D-1 signalcaller.

+ In an interview with the Mirror’s Cory Giger this week, Nits’ wideout Derek Moye said the players are tiring of talking about the QB situation, noting that few fans or students even wish him good luck before games anymore before they begin talking Bolden-McGloin. One Internet scamp (alright, it was us) suggested fans might kill two birds with one stone by telling Moye, “Good luck with those quarterbacks.”

The pick: Eastern Michigan is surrendering 153 yards per game on the ground and if Penn State doesn’t get Silas Redd 15 carries in the first half there should be a congressional investigation. If they do, we’re expecting both Bolden and McGloin to have good (though not gaudy) days, ensuring the Nits will enter the Big Ten season with the two-headed monster under center. Defensively, we won’t be surprised if PSU shuts out the Eagles, but we’ll go … Penn State 34-3.

Last week: In one of our most prescient moments ever, we correctly predicted Bolden to play better than McGloin, missed field goals to hurt the Lions and an ugly win and no cover. For the season, we remain spotless straight up and vs. the spread at 3-0 in each category.

Pittsburgh vs. Indianapolis

8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC

Announcers: Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth

Annoyance factor: Michaels remains the most aware play-by-play guy in the business and that’s primarily what we’re looking for: someone who processes information quickly, understands what is happening and conveys it succinctly. A lot of Steelers fans still have a very negative opinion of Collinsworth from his days as an AFC Central adversary and his truly terrible first few years of announcing. But we think he’s worked hard to be fair and insightful and think you should keep an open mind.

Referee: Unknown at press time

Competence factor: But since the NFL seems to have been distracted from its disingenuous violent hits initiative by its disingenuous fake injury initiative, what could possibly go wrong in this game?

Line: Pittsburgh -10.5

Smarts say: This line opened at 11 and has backed off a half point since meaning the Colts got a decent amount of action early. The over/under of 39.5 puts this one in the 24-14 range.

Quick hits:

+ If you’ve followed the Steelers with any amount of regularity in the past decade (and we assume you have if you’re here), then you realize they’ve become a team that is much more dangerous as an underdog than as a favorite. For whatever reason, the team seems to respond to adversity much better than prosperity. It started under Bill Cowher with the home-field playoff failures against the Patriots in the early ‘00s being offset by the team winning the Super Bowl out of the wild-card spot in 2006. It’s continued with another world title under Mike Tomlin as the team’s level of excellence seems to be inversely proportional to the number of injuries that must be overcome. We bring this up because this current season has taken one of the most dramatic and quickest turns ever, with the team going from the preseason penthouse to the post-Ravens outhouse and now floating somewhere in between. History tells us it won’t be the worst thing in the world if Warren Sapp keeps running his mouth about how washed up the Pittsburgh defense is.

+ Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert played “above the bar” last week in their new roles on the offensive line. All we can say is that bar must be fairly low. It looked to us like Gilbert almost got Ben Roethlisberger killed not once, but twice, whiffing on routine moves. Just about the only scenario under which anyone can imagine the Steelers losing this week involves Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis gaining unfettered access to Mr. Roethlisberger with malice aforethought. Do not sleep on that possibility.

The pick: Everyone knew Kerry Collins wasn’t going to be Peyton Manning, but the problem is that he’s hardly been Kerry Collins, managing a meager 5.6 yards per attempt so far this year. Combine the lack of downfield threat with a shaky offensive line and you’ve got a recipe for disaster, which is what the Colts’ offense has been so far in 2011. We’re expecting a better effort from the prideful Collins and Colts in front of a national TV audience, but it’s highly unlikely they can put it together for four quarters against Dick LeBeau’s pressure schemes. On the other side of the ball, the key for the Steelers will be staying out of predictable down-and-distance situations so the Colts dangerous pass rushers are kept guessing. Again, staying out of predictable down-and-distance situations is not the forte of Bruce Arians or the Steelers sometimes scary offensive line. Put that all together and you have a game that’s closer than expected, but still predictable … Steelers 23-16.

Last week: We were correct about the Steelers winning but wrong about them failing to cover (we totally forgot Tavaris Jackson could be that terrible). For the year, we’re 1-1 both straight up and against the spread.

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