Wow, will the full flower of Coach Toledo and his Toledo-nauts be on display this weekend or what? 2500 literally chillin' in the Dome, a desperate struggle with one of the worst ten teams in the country. The 'nauts asked for this by demanding Scelfo's head. Hope they are enjoying it.
Earlier this week, when the line opened at Tulane -6.5 over Rice, I was pretty sure I would be grabbing the Owls. I was simply going to recite one of my internal handicapping maxims- if you’re getting a touchdown and you think the ‘dog can win outright, grab it- add in some filler, and call it a pick. But the line has now drifted to -4.5- as Vegas gravitates to this “either team can win” idea.
The problem with this game is that Tulane is like Rice- and vice versa. Roster spots 15 through 35 are a problem. By that, I mean the guys that populate the special teams and problem areas on defense are real liabilities capable of shocking let downs. Both teams have enough I-A players that, if they can avoid mistakes, avoid exposing the second tier guys in the return game, etc., they are capable of a decent result: Tulane beat Rutgers, Rice defeated Houston.
But just a regularly, the teams generate a result where a reserve has two fumbles, or the special teams allow repeated, and I mean repeated, big returns. It is seemingly random- up one week versus UTEP, disastrous the next versus Army. Beats me who will melt down more, but the exception is probably your winner.
Tulane probably rates a narrow fave in most minds because the Wave defense has been good in spots while Rice is a 2006 Tulane-style wreck: thirty or more points every single game this season. Also, the Tulane quarterback position is more settled.
In my head, I sort of figure that both outfits have an equal chance to be a mess: Tulane will cover if Rice is a disaster, Rice will win outright if Tulane is terrible and a push probably favors the Wave enough to justify 4.5.
But I’m real concerned about the paper advantage Tulane holds at quarterback. If the first story of the season was Tulane’s semi-rise to defensive competence, the second half has been the utter futility of the receiving corps. Subtract Casey Robottom from the mix, and Tulane has the worst wide receivers corps in C-USA. With no one to throw to, how does Tulane exploit that edge?
DJ Banks is probably the season’s biggest disappointment. By default, he is the number two receiver. But for all the yammering about the triple threat, big play option he is, he doesn’t generate any whatsoever: 2 TDs, his longest reception is 24 yards. Banks seemingly can’t get open (39 catches) which is particularly depressing because, whatever you say about Griffin, he completes passes, he gives guys consistently a chance to make plays at the second level. Kemp has been a bust at receiver (13 catches). Ryan Grant has seen action- but increasingly looks like he is just not that good.
Fortunately, this is the one spot where Tulane might just be able to get away with it. Rice doesn’t bring crazy firepower. So this is a rare League game where the Green Wave does not need to score five TDs to cover, so they will get away with riding Orleans Darkwa.
And the Tulane defense has played well against teams it can control physically. Defensively, they tend to be in it or out- no middle ground. Given a team like Rutgers, playing passively to protect problematic quarterbacks, featuring no dominant running game, Tulane seems to step up more than expected. Last week aside, Sam McGuffie is a very pedestrian League tailback; Rice is featuring multiple quarterbacks not because both can play but due to issues. Tulane controls them.
So barring guys, like Van Hoover and other assorted down roster candidates, having terrible days, this is one the Wave probably should win by a score. Plus, should the game go in to OT, the line under one score keeps you in it. Nervous yet hopeful, we’ll try to take the mark ATS to 6-4 with Tulane -4.5 over Rice.