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EDGE Breakdown
Maryland vs. Notre Dame
Clemson at Georgia

INSIDE99: (1-0 overall)

Georgia -9 over Clemson
Florida State -26 over Virginia
Oklahoma -36 over Tulsa
Auburn +7 over Southern Cal
Ricky Sixx: (3-0 overall)
Oklahoma -36 over Tulsa
Illinois -7.5 over Missouri
East Carolina -14.5 over Duke
Nebraska -35 over Troy State

ARCHIVES: Preseason Classics Picks


EDGE Breakdown

Edge: Notre Dame

Who will start at QB for Maryland? Head Coach Ralph Friedgen has kept the decision close to the vest. Friedgen said it will be a game-time decision. Look for Scott McBrien, the WVU transfer, to get the nod while Chris Kelley also gets plenty of reps in a rotation of sorts. In a nutshell, you will see both on the field. The duel signal callers are both sophomores with little to no experience, especially playing in the Terp’s difficult scheme. It will be natural for them to struggle early, until their nerves settle. The Terps have a stellar group of receivers, including last year’s returning leaders Scooter Monroe and Jafar Williams. However, the player to keep an eye on is ex-QB Latrez Harrison- he was your playmaker in the spring. The Irish pass defense has suffered disappointment over the past decade, but last year we saw a little resurgence out of this group. Experience will be evident with three of four DB starters back, including Duff, Sapp, and Walton - amongst the best at their respected positions. Too much inexperience exists at quarterback in Terrapin Country for a first game against a storied program in the headlights of prime time TV.

Edge: Even

Carlyle Holiday was handed the reigns as the starting quarterback for the Irish in the third week of last season and kept a firm grip on his job throughout the 2001 campaign. Unfortunately, he really only fits well within the Irish option scheme with his great running ability. Winning big games with his arm isn’t his strength, which could prove quite interesting in new Head Coach Ty Willingham’s ‘West Coast’ dimension. After Holiday, there is nobody to come in off the bench since Matt LoVecchio transferred. The Irish receivers are hurting badly for experience and top-level talent. This combination will not bode well for air-intensive purposes in 2002. On the other side, the Maryland DBs have had their share of problems as well, ranked 82nd in the country in pass defense last year. The Terp’s only hope rests in the new names and faces which dot the Terrapin defensive backfield. This overall situation is sour for both sides and will boil down to weakness versus weakness. This battle could be decisive to the final result.

Edge: Maryland

The big news in College Park has been the ailments of Bruce Perry all spring and into the fall. The bottom line: he is out. The big surprise most fans will discover Saturday is the loss may not be as bad as it appears. A trio of Terp RBs have the ability to provide similar success like the 2001 Terps got on the ground. The deep group of alternating TBs starts with Jason Crawford and Mario Merrills. But don’t forget the big load at FB either as James Lynch does most of the plowing for these young backs. The Irish have to replace much of the defensive talent up front from a year ago. The way the Maryland OL came on last year makes one believe the Terps could have an edge here. You can never really tell with a team like Notre Dame, as you can be sure they have the talent. It is just unproven talent with all of the newcomers stepping in at DE and LB.

Slight Edge: Notre Dame

Just like at Maryland, the star TB has been lost as Julius Jones became academically ineligible for this fall. Just like at Maryland, fans will see that Notre Dame has another capable replacement in young Ryan Grant, who had a MVP performance in the spring game. For as bad as Maryland’s pass defense was last season, the run defense was just as good, finishing at the top of the ACC and ninth in the nation. Obviously, MLB E.J. Henderson plays a big role here. E.J. has been hampered by back problems the entire off-season. He will start and play - the huge question is how much time will he be able to give? This category is close; the Notre Dame offensive line is massive, strong, and experienced and may give the Irish a slight edge.

Edge: Maryland

No contest here, on paper at least. What was a weak link at Maryland just two seasons ago revived itself into a major force last year and was responsible for much of the Terp’s rushing success. Notre Dame counters with inexperience, and unproven-but-talented names. The inside tackles for the Irish are well stocked, though. The outside people leave room for concern.

Edge: Notre Dame

Up front in this comparison, the Irish hold a literal edge in strength and size. This Notre Dame unit averages over 300 pounds per man and is bolstered by four returning upperclassmen. The gap may not be so big, simply due to the E.J. Henderson factor, but E.J. is not a down linemen. This is another safe call, regardless of the fact that the Terrapin defensive front is not exactly chopped liver.

Edge: Even

The kicking edge goes to Notre Dame, as senior Nicholas Setta is a leading Lou Groza Award Candidate. Inversely, the punting edge goes to Maryland, as Brooks Barnard is a leading Ray Guy Award Candidate. How more even can you get? No more Julius Jones as a return threat. This one could really hurt the Irish in the long run of the season. Vontez Duff made some small contributions last year as a return specialist. The bottom line is that Notre Dame lacks a game breaker at this juncture. South of the Mason-Dixon Line, Maryland has a few question marks of their own. Last year’s return man Guilian Gary has moved on, opening the doors for a promising young local talent named Steve Suter, who is now questionable with a quad strain. The backups leave room for concern. Neither one of these schools should frighten opponents with touchdown threats at the return position(s).

It may be impossible to find two more evenly matched teams this weekend. I thought after breaking down each category, some light could be shed on who might be victorious. Forget about it…the more one examines the facts, the more the outcomes seems uncertain. So much parity exists with these two teams. The similarities are almost uncanny. You have two star TBs out with solid untested backups, two very good OLs, a top notch kicker and punter on opposite sides, no fabulous return men, Notre Dame is low on the receiving end while Maryland is low on defensive back coverage, the game is at a neutral site…and the list goes on. Intangibles will play a big role in this tussle and are just too difficult to predict. Cutting down on turnovers, penalties, and missed assignments will be the possible difference. Head Coach Ralph Friedgen will be the first to tell you his Terps are a young ball club, especially at the offensive skill positions where intangibles can play a big factor. If the game comes down to a field goal, Nick Setta is who you want on your side in most situations. This, too, could be the difference at the closing moments. Of course that is if Notre Dame has the ball last. Toss this one up in the air, say three Hail Mary’s, close your eyes and pick. Notre Dame wins by three just like Vegas said.(?)


Edge: Clemson

The Tigers have so many weapons at WR that no one else in the nation can even compare in terms of depth and quality. Junior QB Willie Simmons has as much athletic talent as his predecessor Woodrow Dantzler. Still, the question remains, can this QB deliver the accuracy required to hit open targets? If the Dawgs of Athens have a concern, it is in the DB department. The edge here goes to Clemson due to their uncanny amount of quality receivers. The gap would be larger with a drop-back passer dressed in Tiger orange.

Edge: Georgia

Pass and catch combinations will not be a problem for Georgia, either. With Green and Shockley on the field throwing darts to extremely talented receivers, preseason prognosticators are sure to take notice. Wait, they already did. Unfortunately, Clemson isn’t very strong at covering the pass or providing even a semblance of a defense - period. The Tiger pass defense finished around the middle of the pack in last season’s pass-happy ACC, which actually isn’t so horrible. The odds in this category are just too overwhelming for Richt’s airmen.

Edge: Georgia

The Tigers are reeling in this category. The front wall has been decimated, as have the tailbacks, and the feet of Dantzler are gone. On paper this looks disastrous. Clemson fans just have to hold out and hope that games are not won on paper – maybe (and that is a big maybe) the newcomers can prove their worth. Georgia looks to be fairly staunch in the middle. If Clemson is to take any advantage away here, it will have to be with speed on the outside and Simmons breaking open on busted pass plays.

Edge: Georgia

Is Georgia TB Musa Smith ready to explode onto the scene yet? He sure has a steady group up front blocking and creating holes to run through. Not pulling any punches, but the Clemson defense was borderline anemic last year. They simply could not stop anyone. Once again, you have to give the edge here to Georgia due to the massive advantage their line creates.

Edge: Georgia

Clemson has one returning starter back on the OL. Simmons has a quick set of feet. Can anyone ‘free Willie’? Unless there are some, even any capable players (that no one has ever seen up front) for the Tigers, no way can you give them any advantage in this comparison. No need exists to even get into who plays up front for Georgia.

Edge: Georgia

The Dawg’s OL ranks fifth nationally in the NationalChamps.net unit rankings. Led by team captain Jon Stinchcomb, this unit has all the makings of an old school SEC smash mouth program, ala Hershel Walker. Another huge disadvantage here for the Tigers; half of the front defensive wall disappeared from a year ago.

Slight Open Edge: Clemson

Clemson should have better than descent special teams this season while returning its starting punter (Wynn Kopp) and place kicker (Aaron Hunt) from last year, the first time that has been the case since Tommy Bowden has been the head coach. Clemson should also be outstanding in the return game. Two returning players, senior Brian Mance, and sophomore Derrick Hamilton, have ranked in the top 30 in the nation in the return game. Last year Clemson ranked 10th in the nation in kickoff returns. The bad news is that it looks like Hamilton will be questionable in this one with an injured ankle, which hurts not only on special teams, but at receiving as well. Georgia is just as even in the kicking and punting department with Bennett and Kilgo. The slight edge here goes to the Clemson return men. Since Hamilton is questionable, we will leave the slot open until his fate is decided.

On paper, the differences are extremely glaring in favor of the Bulldogs. How this game could be anything less than a two-touchdown point spread differential is difficult to understand. Even the home-field advantage gets shoved “between the hedges”. But that is why they play the game. The Tiger’s only hope(s) seems to dwell in three key areas: 1. ) QB Willie Simmons hype is proven true and he can get the ball to his receivers 2. ) the OL is full of talent nobody is familiar with 3. ) and the defense, led by LB John Leake, does a complete 180. An easy call, barring a total turnover-fest by the Georgia offense - only then could this game be a reachable Tiger win in the closing moments. I have stated before that Clemson Head Coach Tommy Bowden will be squirming a bit more after this season, as the Tiger faithful begins to wonder just how long they have to wait to see the promised land under his esteemed ‘Bowden’ name. Georgia is a highly ranked team this preseason following a lack-luster bowl loss to Boston College last season. In years past, this Bulldog team would have been lucky to crack the Top 10. But due to a heap of evenly-matched teams at this poll spot, Georgia has made out like the big dawg they are. How will they handle the pressure and accolades, for there seems nowhere to go but down. Their SEC games are sure to test this theory, but Clemson doesn’t look like it has the horses to pose a tough exam in Athens. Take Georgia and give the nine points.




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Week 15 (Dec. 7)

Editor: David Hershorin