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A typical season this was not for Oklahoma.
The Sooners started the year outside of the Associated Press top 10 for the first time since 2000. They fell out of Big 12 contention, in essence, when they lost to Texas for the first time in four years. Bob Stoops had a rare quarterback competition that lasted, due to injury, until the final weeks of the season.
By Dec. 7, Oklahoma had its two typical results: 10 wins and control of the Bedlam rivalry.
Oklahoma won 10 games for the 12th time in 14 seasons and defeated Oklahoma State for the 10th time in 11 years thanks to an improbable touchdown drive from quarterback Blake Bell on the road in the fourth quarter.
The Sooners don’t want to admit it, but they are spoilers for the Cowboys. Oklahoma’s Bedlam win knocked Oklahoma State out of the Fiesta Bowl and out of contention for an outright BCS title.
The Cowboys are enjoying their best era in program history, but they remain under the thumb of rival Oklahoma after a game-winning drive in the final 24 seconds (the final OU touchdown was a fumble recovery from desperation laterals).
Similar to John Cooper's Ohio State teams against Michigan and Mark Richt's early squads against Florida, Mike Gundy's teams are conference and national contenders, but rivalry games continue to vex them.
Three Things We Learned from Oklahoma 33, Oklahoma State 24
Blake Bell redeemed himself in a wacky season. The Belldozer may as well be the name of a roller coaster in Norman. That’s the kind of season Blake Bell had. The junior was the assumed heir to Landry Jones at quarterback until the final weeks of training camp when Trevor Knight was named the opening day starter. Knight’s injury issues put Bell back into the starting job when he led the Sooners to a win at Notre Dame before a concussion gave the job back to Knight. Bell had been struggling enough this season to be the third guy in against Oklahoma State. With Knight out in the second half, Bob Stoops went to sophomore Kendal Thompson rather than Bell. The quarterback who had been passed over, though, was brilliant on the final drive. In a game in which every quarterback struggled, Bell got made the final statement, completing 5 of 8 passes for 57 yards with a beautiful touchdown pass to Jalen Saunders to win the game. Even if he made a risky throw in the direction of Thorpe Award finalist Justin Gilbert, who dropped a potential interception, Bell can once against claim the role of fan favorite.
How did Oklahoma win this game again? Take a look at those quarterback numbers for Oklahoma. First, one of the guys who threw a touchdown pass is the holder. The other entered the game third string. Oklahoma needed three quarterbacks to beat Oklahoma State, and none of them looked that great until the final drive. With an ineffective offense, the Sooners were in a position of desperation when holder Grant Bothun completed a touchdown pass to kicker Michael Hunnicutt on a fake field goal in the third quarter. A play earlier, a potential touchdown catch was erased on when defensive back Daytawion Lowe knocked the ball out of the hands of Brannon Green in the end zone. Before the final drive, Oklahoma’s scoring included a punt return for a touchdown, a fake field goal and two extended drives ending in field goals. The Sooners were a mere 2 of 15 on third down (but 3 of 3 on fourth) and were outgained on a per play basis 6.2 yards to 4.9. The Sooners got to their 10th win of the season in the way they got to a handful of their first nine: By winning ugly. Still, the Sooners won 10 games for the 12th time under Bob Stoops despite injuries in the front seven and to fullback Trey Millard and a rotating cast at quarterback.
Oklahoma State can’t get over Oklahoma. How did Oklahoma win? Well, the Cowboys helped. The tone was set on the first play of the game when Desmond Roland’s 75-yard touchdown run was called back on a holding call on wide receiver Charlie Moore. Moore dropped two more passes, including a third down pass in OU territory in the fourth quarter. Moore wasn’t alone as a the goat, though. Even though the Cowboys could move the ball on the ground, Clint Chelf struggled with accuracy until Oklahoma State’s fourth-quarter go-ahead drive. The Cowboys also went for a touchdown on fourth down from the Oklahoma 2 in the first quarter. Oklahoma stuffed it for the Sooners’ first red zone stop since the second game of the season. This era remains the best in Oklahoma State history, but the Cowboys remain under the thumb of their in-state rival.
The inaugural Mountain West title game is the nightcap to Championship Saturday, with Utah State traveling to Fresno State for the first meeting between these two schools since 2011.
Much has changed since the last meeting between these two programs. Both teams have different head coaches (Matt Wells, Utah State and Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State) and are back in the same conference after the Aggies joined the Mountain West prior to the 2013 season.
Fresno State was considered a heavy favorite to win the West Division in the preseason, but Utah State’s berth in the championship game is a bit of a surprise, especially after the Aggies lost quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a season-ending knee injury against BYU. Utah State also had a little help from San Diego State, who knocked off Boise State late in the year to give the Aggies the edge in the division battle.
Fresno State holds a 16-10-1 series edge over Utah State. The Bulldogs have won five in a row over the Aggies. Utah State’s last win over the Bulldogs was in 2006, and its last victory in Fresno occurred in 1980.
Utah State at Fresno State
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Fresno State -3.5
Fresno State’s Key to Victory: Control the offensive tempo
Although Utah State freshman quarterback Darell Garretson has played well in limited action, the Aggies don’t want to turn this game into a shootout. On the other hand, Fresno State leads the Mountain West with an average of 47.3 points a game. The Bulldogs have scored 70 touchdowns this year, largely on the right arm of quarterback Derek Carr. The senior has tossed 45 touchdowns to only five picks on 552 pass attempts. Fresno State also has a deep receiving corps, led by Davante Adams (113 receptions) and Josh Harper (79 grabs). Harper is questionable for Saturday’s game due to a groin injury. Utah State leads the Mountain West in pass defense, holding opponents to just 217.5 yards per game and only seven passing touchdowns in eight conference contests. The Aggies have played their best against some of the top competition in the conference, as they held San Jose State’s David Fales to no touchdown passes and 314 yards earlier this year. Fresno State’s offensive gameplan should be simple: Control the tempo and force the Aggies out of their comfort zone. Utah State has recorded 29 sacks this year, so protecting Carr and hitting Adams, Harper and Isaiah Burse on quick passes will be critical. If the Bulldogs get ahead early, it could spell trouble for Utah State.
Utah State’s Key to Victory: Establish the run
It’s not a secret Fresno State would prefer to jump out to an early lead and force Utah State to play from behind on offense. But the Aggies need to play their game and to their strengths, which is establishing the run and solid defense. In Mountain West games, Fresno State ranks fifth in the conference against the run, allowing 157.3 yards per game. Utah State’s line features four senior starters, while running back Joey DeMartino has recorded four 100-yard efforts in five games. If DeMartino and Robert Marshall find running room, it will allow the Aggies to keep Fresno State’s offense on the sideline and limit the possessions for Carr. Also, keeping the down and distance in manageable situations for quarterback Darell Garretson will be crucial for Utah State’s hopes of winning.
Key Player: Darell Garretson, QB, Utah State
Garretson was slated to redshirt this season, but the freshman was forced into action after Chuckie Keeton suffered a knee injury against BYU. As expected with a true freshman, Garretson has experienced his share of ups and downs. However, he has played relatively well, throwing for 1,127 yards and nine touchdowns, while completing 63 percent of his passes. Fresno State ranks 10th in the Mountain West against the pass, with opposing quarterbacks completing 63.4 percent of their throws. The Bulldogs have played with big leads in some games, so the pass defense numbers are slightly skewed. Garretson doesn't have to win this game with his arm, but he needs to be efficient and eliminate any mistakes.
Fresno State’s offense has been on fire this season, with only two teams holding the Bulldogs under 40 points. Utah State’s defense ranks as the best in the Mountain West, and the front seven and secondary will present a challenge for Derek Carr and his receivers. The Aggies need to control the clock with their rushing attack and ease quarterback Darell Garretson into the game. Utah State will give Fresno State a battle, but the Bulldogs are at home and hungry to bounce back after losing to San Jose State last Friday.
Prediction: Fresno State 34, Utah State 27
Big 12 title implications are potentially on the line when Baylor and Texas meet on Saturday afternoon. If Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma earlier in the day, this game won’t factor in into the conference championship discussion, but the Bears still need a win to keep their BCS bowl hopes alive.
In addition to the potential Big 12 title implications, this is the final game at Baylor’s Floyd Casey Stadium. The Bears have won nine straight at home and can set a school record of 10 in a row with a victory over Texas. Baylor is set to move into a new stadium in 2014, which is set on the edge of the Brazos River. The new stadium will seat 45,000.
Texas has dealt with several obstacles this season, including injuries and ongoing coaching rumors about the status of Mack Brown. The Longhorns started 1-2 but rebounded by winning six in a row. Texas lost 38-13 to Oklahoma State for its only Big 12 loss.
Baylor started 9-0 and was in the conversation for the national title until a 49-17 loss to Oklahoma State. The Bears rebounded from the loss against the Cowboys by defeating TCU 41-38 last Saturday.
Texas owns a decided 74-24-4 series edge against Baylor. The Longhorns won last season’s meeting 56-50, but the Bears won two in a row from 2010-11.
Texas at Baylor
Kickoff: 3:30 ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Baylor – 15
Texas’ Key to Victory: Establish the run
The Longhorns rank third in the Big 12 in rushing offense, averaging 200.7 yards per game. Depth in the backfield has been depleted due to an injury to Johnathan Gray, but Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are a capable one-two punch. Brown is averaging only 3.9 yards per carry on 163 attempts this season. However, the junior leads the team with nine rushing scores, while Bergeron has 342 yards this year. Texas is averaging only 223.4 passing yards per game in Big 12 games and isn’t built to win a shootout against Baylor. The Longhorns’ best hope at victory is a ground-based approach on offense, which eats up the clock and keeps Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and running back Lache Seastrunk on the sidelines.
Baylor’s Key to Victory: Protect quarterback Bryce Petty
It sounds simple, but Baylor’s victory hopes could reside on its offensive line. The Bears have allowed five sacks over the last two games and have posted two of their lowest offensive outputs of the season with left tackle Spencer Drango out. The offensive line will be tested once again, especially since Texas recorded nine sacks against Texas Tech. The Longhorns moved defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat around the line of scrimmage against the Red Raiders, allowing the senior to record seven tackles and three sacks. Protecting Petty and opening rushing lanes for Lache Seastrunk will be critical against a Texas defense that has allowed less than 110 rushing yards in two out of their last three games.
Key Player: Case McCoy, QB, Texas
Texas faces an uphill battle at victory if this game turns into a shootout. However, it’s unlikely the Longhorns can simply rely on their rushing attack to win. McCoy has thrown for 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions this year, while completing 60.1 percent of his throws. The senior has not topped 300 passing yards in a game this season and has tossed at least one interception in five out of the last six contests. Expect Texas to lean on Brown and Bergeron to control the clock, but McCoy has to make plays in the passing game when called upon. And turnovers will be critical, especially since the Longhorns cannot afford to give Baylor a short field or any easy scores.
With this game the final one in Floyd Casey Stadium and a chance to add another loss to Texas’ resume, Baylor should have plenty of motivation – even if Oklahoma State wins earlier in the day. The Longhorns will have success playing keep away and will move the ball on the ground. However, Baylor simply has too much firepower, and quarterback Bryce Petty guides a big second half to close out the Bears’ time at Floyd Casey Stadium with a victory.
Prediction: Baylor 41, Texas 31
Locks of the Week
‘Tis the season for waistlines and game lines to get bigger, fatter and jollier. Go big and go home teams.
Broncos (-12) vs. Titans
What could have been a Peyton Manning homecoming in Tennessee will instead be a stomping at Mile High.
Patriots (-11.5) vs. Browns
New England has a 48–8 record in December under Bill Belichick. Cleveland has an 0–2 record when Josh Gordon goes for 200-plus yards.
Bengals (-6.5) vs. Colts
Cincy is 5–0 at home, with only one of those victories coming by fewer than a TD margin — a 34–30 victory in Week 3 vs. Aaron Rodgers’ Packers.
Ravens (-6.5) vs. Vikings
Baltimore has been mediocre but it has taken care of business against bad teams like the Browns (14–6), Texans (30–9) and Jets (19–3).
Straight Up Upsets
Heavyweight divisional fights in the NFC West and South will be won by the red hot underdogs and road dogs at that.
Seahawks (+3) at 49ers
Colin Kaepernick is 0–2 against Seattle, losing by a combined score of 71–16.
Panthers (+3) at Saints
Carolina is on an eight-game winning streak, including wins over the Niners and Pats.
Monday Night Moolah
Monday nighttime is the right time to double down (or double back) on this week’s winnings (or losses).
Bears (-1) vs. Cowboys
The last time Tony Romo played Chicago on Monday Night Football, he threw five INTs in a 34–18 loss.
Stay away from these games unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action on all the action.
Cardinals (-6.5) vs. Rams
Zona let an 11-point lead fade away en route to a 27–24 loss at St. Louis back in Week 1.
Packers (-3) vs. Falcons
Double-check: Title Town is 0–4–1 without its mustachioed star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Chiefs (-3) at Redskins
What’s in a name?
Jets (-3) vs. Raiders
Get ready to hear at least one story about the infamous 1968 “Heidi Game.”
Eagles (-3) vs. Lions
Throw the ball in the air and watch it come down in the end zone when the 26th- and 32nd-ranked pass defenses play.
Chargers (-3) vs. Giants
Archie Manning may not let Eli play in San Diego. He wouldn’t back in 2004. Why now?
Steelers (-3) vs. Dolphins
Mike Tomlin’s wallet is $100K lighter AND Pittsburgh lost on Thanksgiving? Good grief.
Buccaneers (-2.5) vs. Bills
Is this a Big East game between Rutgers and Syracuse or is that just Greg Schiano and Doug Marrone?
The award for the most bizarre start to the season undoubtedly goes to North Carolina.
The Tar Heels lost at home to a team Athlon picked second in its division in the Ohio Valley (Belmont) and a week later defeated our preseason No. 2 team (Louisville). That turned out to be a mirage as Carolina lost on the road to a team picked fifth in Conference USA (UAB). Or did it? Three days later, Carolina defeated the preseason No. 3 team (Michigan State) that had already defeated our preseason No. 1 (Kentucky).
Belmont and UAB are both top 100 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s team rankings, and North Carolina sits at No. 8. But the results hint at a team that can beat anyone and lose to anyone on any given night.
How might that shape up for North Carolina on Selection Sunday. Here’s the case for both sides.
The case for North Carolina as an NCAA Tournament team
There’s one word to describe North Carolina’s season to date — schizophrenic. How else do you describe a team that was good enough to beat Louisville on a neutral court and Michigan State in East Lansing yet lost at home to Belmont and to UAB on the road? Clearly this is a team with some issues — the Heels as currently constructed do not have enough outside shooting and they struggle mightily at the foul line — but it’s foolish to suggest this team won’t make the NCAA Tournament, even if guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald do not return.
First of all, North Carolina already has two elite wins on its resume. There likely won’t be another team in the nation that will have two wins as good as Louisville and Michigan State — both away from home — throughout the entire season. So if North Carolina finds itself on the bubble in March, these two wins should be more than enough to earn the Tar Heels a bid in the Field of 68.
That being said, it’s unlikely that North Carolina will be on the bubble. Any team that is good enough to beat Michigan State and Louisville is good enough to at least break even in the ACC. Even with two losses in their first seven games, the Tar Heels are still ranked No. 8 nationally by Kenpom.com, checking in with the 17th-most efficient offense and 12th-most efficient defense. Those numbers suggest this team should have no problem winning games in the tough ACC — and no problem receiving a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The case against North Carolina as an NCAA Tournament team
Wins against Louisville and Michigan State present a great resume for any team. I tend to agree that North Carolina will cobble something together in the ACC season to augment these two wins for an NCAA Tournament bid. But look beyond the names for those two big wins and remember that Carolina’s wins were as much of a product of Louisville and Michigan State playing poorly in the early part of the season. On Wednesday, Michigan State’s lineup was not in a good spot. Adreian Payne was in and out late with cramping (though he still finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. Gary Harris and Keith Appling were hobbled through the course of the game and struggled down the stretch. And Carolina shot 54.2 percent against Louisville. The Cardinals aren’t going to give that up very often. Louisville and Michigan State might not have games that bad for the rest of the season.
North Carolina has plenty of major issues though. P.J. Hairston’s return seems unlikely, and his development helped turn the Tar Heels around a year ago. Marcus Paige can look like an All-America guard, but that doesn’t always happen. And when it does, he’s still the only major outside shooting threat for Carolina. James Michael McAdoo still hasn’t developed, and the big guys aren’t exactly Tyler Zeller or Tyler Hansbrough. Beyond that, this isn't a team that can afford another major absence from a key player.
The ACC’s going to be strong enough to where Carolina will struggle against Duke and Syracuse and deep enough where Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Virginia will cause problems. Given the way the Tar Heels were outworked against UAB and lost to Belmont, Roy Williams team can’t count on any ACC opponent as a sure thing. I worry about North Carolina like I worried about Virginia last season. The Cavaliers beat teams like Duke and NC State, but in the end they had too many bad losses to overcome to put them in the Tourney.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 6.
• Today is the 27th birthday of adorably freckled swimsuit model Cintia Dicker. Hope it's a happy one.
• Teddy Bridgewater made an insane Johnny Football-style play against Cincy, although I'm calling luck on the outcome.
• Many in the sports world are reacting to Nelson Mandela's death. Tiger Woods is one who actually met him.
• Speaking of Mr. Mandela, a Detroit news station somehow confused a dead hero with a living villain. How does that happen?
• The storied quarterback class of 2004 is losing its sheen. In other QB news, here's how each team's quarterback would look bald. Warning: Some of this is nightmare fuel.
• Somebody has finally pried Chris Petersen out of Boise. Watch out for Washington.
• Microsoft has developed a "smart bra." Still waiting for the "smart bro."
• I'm normally not a fan of cheesy wedding proposals at sporting events, but this is okay.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington lost coach Steve Sarkisian to USC on Monday, but the Huskies upgraded with the hire of Boise State’s Chris Petersen. And it’s not a cliché, but Washington truly hit a home run by pulling Petersen to Seattle.
Many programs have tried and failed to lure Petersen away from Boise State during his eight years with the Broncos. But this time, the opportunity to stay in the Pacific Northwest, along with a new challenge at a solid program like Washington was too much for Petersen to pass on.
Every college football head coach hire will have its question marks, but on the surface, there are few negatives for Washington. Petersen has been ultra-successful at Boise State and is no stranger to life and what it takes to win in the Pacific Northwest.
Before we give our final grade on Petersen, let’s take a look at the positives and negatives for this hire.
Positives for Washington’s Hire of Chris Petersen
Stellar track record
Petersen’s record at Boise State is a stellar 92-12. During his eight-year tenure with the Broncos, Petersen lost more than two games in only two seasons and won four consecutive bowl appearances from 2009-12. Boise State also finished in the final top 10 of the Associated Press poll four times under Petersen’s watch. It’s easier to maintain success at the non-BCS level, and the Pac-12 is going to be an increased challenge for Petersen. However, he’s winning at an elite level and guided the program to new heights. It’s not often a coach with a 92-12 record is available for hire, but Washington is the right fit for Petersen.
Offensive background and the right fit
Petersen played quarterback during his collegiate days, and prior to working as the Broncos’ head coach, he worked as an offensive assistant at UC Davis, Pittsburgh, Portland State, Oregon and Boise State. Petersen wasn’t calling the plays as head coach, but the Broncos had some of the nation’s most-prolific offenses under his watch. That style should translate well in the Pac-12, especially in a division that features Washington State and Oregon. This job also seems like the right fit for Petersen. It’s no secret the pressure at Boise State is considerably less than it is at USC. Outside of Oregon, this is the job that makes the most sense for Petersen: Pacific Northwest location, and even though Seattle is a big city, there’s considerably less pressure to coach at Washington than in Los Angeles.
Staff and facilities at Washington
Steve Sarkisian had an excellent staff at Washington, which included defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox – a former Boise State assistant under Petersen – and line coach and heralded recruiter Tosh Lupoi. The Huskies should be able to pay big for a new crop of assistants, and the upgraded Husky Stadium can only add to the appeal of playing in Seattle. Petersen pushed for facility upgrades and increased pay for his assistants at Boise State, and the California native should have no trouble filling both of those demands at a program like Washington.
Negatives for Washington’s Hire of Chris Petersen
Former Boise State coaches
As we mentioned above, every hire is different and will have its own set of question marks. However, is it the program that makes the coach or the coach that makes the program? That’s what Washington is about to find out. Dirk Koetter (Arizona State) and Dan Hawkins (Colorado) were hired away from Boise State to Pac-12 programs and neither hire panned out. Petersen was on staff during the Koetter and Hawkins tenures, so it’s easy to wonder if he was the true brains behind the operation. However, considering Koetter and Hawkins were both canned at their next jobs, there has to be a little doubt about how Petersen will do away from Boise State.
Recruiting in the Pac-12
With a good facilities, location and potential, Washington should be able to reel in consistent top-25 classes. At Boise State, Petersen and his staff did a good job of landing diamond-in-the-rough recruits and developed those players into all-conference talent. But recruiting to Boise State and Washington are different tasks. According to Rivals.com, from 2009-13, Petersen never recruited a top-50 class at Boise State. Can he go toe-to-toe in the Pac-12 for elite talent? This is where Petersen needs to do everything he can to keep Lupoi, as well as bring in assistants that are familiar with coaching in the Pac-12 and can recruit at a high level.
In a coaching change, it’s rare for a program to lose a coach and find an immediate upgrade. But that’s the scenario Washington has found itself in. Sarkisian was a good coach and helped to resurrect the program after the failed Tyrone Willingham tenure. However, Petersen is an upgrade and is one of the top hires for a BCS program in recent years. The California native has been one of the nation’s top-10 coaches during his tenure at Boise State, and there’s no reason to expect much to change at a program like Washington. Petersen will have to adapt to recruiting at a higher level and a new set of opponents, but he will have more resources at his disposal. Washington claimed a share of the 1991 national title, so the program is capable of winning at a high level. With a renovated Husky Stadium and good facilities, this is the type of hire that can help Washington close the gap on Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North.
Grading Washington's Hire of Chris Petersen: A+
Washington lost coach Steve Sarkisian to USC earlier this week, but the Huskies moved quickly in finding his replacement.
Boise State coach Chris Petersen has been hired by Washington to replace Sarkisian, ending an eight-year run with the Broncos.
During his tenure with Boise State, Petersen went 92-12 and won 57 conference games. The Broncos also played in two BCS bowls under Petersen’s watch.
Have confirmed ESPN's reports that Chris Petersen is leaving Boise State for Washington. Our evolving story: http://t.co/J68YHj3zlp— Brian Murphy (@murphsturph) December 6, 2013
Heisman contender Jordan Lynch and the No. 16 Northern Illinois Huskies face off against Travis Greene and the Bowling Green Falcons in the MAC Championship Game from Ford Field at 8 pm ET on Friday. Joining Florida State and Ohio State as the only undefeated teams in the FBS, the Huskies are 14th in the BCS standings, and as a member of a non-automatic qualifying conference could earn a BCS bid by finishing in the top 12 of Sunday's final standings. Bowling Green, making its first appearance in the MAC title game since 2003, has had an impressive season. They are 7-1 in conference play, with their two non-conference losses coming to bowl-bound teams in Mississippi State and Indiana. Despite their success, the Falcons have lost three straight to the Northern Illinois, while the Huskies have won 26 consecutive conference games and are looking for their third conference title in a row.
Three Things to Watch
Bowling Green Rushing Offense
Sophomore RB Travis Greene's 1,422 rushing yards ranks him second in the MAC to Jordan Lynch (1,755). Over the last four games, Greene has averaged 129 yards per game and 6.4 per carry while scoring five touchdowns. He's posted seven 100-yard games, has three multi-touchdown games and has rushed for under 88 yards just once this season. After carrying the ball once all of his freshman campaign, Greene has turned into a key piece of a Falcons' offense that averages 209.6 rushing yards per game and 34.4 points per game.
Jordan Lynch for Heisman
As many Heisman frontrunners continue to fall by the wayside, Jordan Lynch's stock continues to rise. He's the fifth QB in FBS history with 20 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns in the same season joining Manziel, Newton, Kaepernick and Tebow. His 1,755 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns rival numbers put up by former Heisman-winning halfbacks. In fact, both are more than Mark Ingram had when he won his Heisman Trophy in 2009. Last week, he rushed for 321 yards against Western Michigan, breaking his own record for most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback. He has seven 100-yard games and two 300-yard rushing performances to his credit this year. Additionally, he has accounted for four or more touchdowns in seven different contests and hasn't thrown an interception since October 19. Lynch trails only Boston College RB Andre Williams in rushing yards, with the next quarterback on the FBS rushing list slated at 18th in the country in rushing. Lynch can throw the ball a bit as well, with 2,457 passing yards and 22 touchdowns. For those who point to the weakness of the MAC conference as a major reason for Lynch's success, it's worth pointing out Lynch's combined 482 yards and six touchdowns in the air plus 91 yards and one touchdown on the ground against two Big Ten schools this year.
The key to stopping Jordan Lynch could lie with the Falcons defense. Bowling Green boasts a defense ranked fifth in the nation, giving up 13.8 points per game and 28th with an average of 134.8 rushing yards allowed. In fact, they've allowed over 28 points just once in 2013. Over the Falcons' current four-game winning streak, the defense has allowed a total of just 17 points. They are just one of seven defenses, along with teams like Alabama and Michigan State, that allows under 300 offensive yards per game. They have the nation's best red zone defense, allowing points only 57% of the time for just fifteen red zone scores all season. Additionally, they rank in the top 25 in third-down defense, allowing a conversion on just 34% of third downs. The Falcons are tough against ball carriers, recovering an FBS 9th-best 13 fumbles, for an average of over one per game.
Key Player: Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green
If the Falcons are going to have any chance to take down Jordan Lynch and the No. 9 scoring offense, their own offense will need to put up some points. Sophomore Matt Johnson will need to continue to improve and avoid turnovers. He's thrown an interception in four straight games as he prepares to face a Huskies' defense that has interception 17 passes, good for 12th in the nation. Johnson will look for help from his leading receiver Shaun Joplin, who has three 100-yard games on his 2013 resume.
The three reasons Northern Illinois will win another MAC Championship? Jordan Lynch. Jordan Lynch. Jordan Lynch. Despite their strong defensive rankings, his level of talent and playmaking ability is so far above anything Bowling Green has seen this year. The only things to decide now are who the Huskies will face in their second-straight BCS bowl and whether Lynch's darkhorse Heisman candidacy will overcome frontrunner Jameis Winston.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 34, Bowling Green 28
The intrigue surrounding the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis is more intense than ever before. Michigan State and Wisconsin in the inaugural bout was one of the better, more exciting conference title games in any league of recent memory. But there wasn’t a trip to the BCS National Championship game on the line in that tilt like there is at Lucas Oil Stadium this Saturday.
The dust has settled on the Big Ten regular season, and the two teams that survived unscathed will appropriately battle for the league crown and a guaranteed trip to the Rose Bowl. Michigan State boasts the nation’s best statistical defense after giving up a paltry 237.7 yards per game this season. This physical, experienced unit has seven seniors starting dotting the depth chart and it allowed a nation’s low 11.0 points per game in conference play. In fact, the Spartans have held its opponent out of the endzone in five of the last six games (Nebraska).
This is the challenge that faces Ohio State’s dynamic backfield duo of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. Urban Meyer deploys a power zone-read with his 235-pound tailback and versatile and explosive quarterback to the tune of 321.3 yards rushing per game — good for second nationally to only Army. Hyde has been huge in the second half of important games against Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan. Miller, however, has been downright brilliant in conference play, leading the Big Ten in total offense (295.0 ypg) and passing efficiency (164.51) in conference play.
When the Buckeyes offense is on the field it will be a match of strengths. But the other half of the game could end up being more critical and entertaining. Ohio State’s defense has given up plenty of yards and points this season, culminating in a 603-yard performance by a Michigan offense ranked 96th in the nation in total offense. Michigan State’s offense, also considered the weaker Spartan unit, is vastly underrated. Tailback Jeremy Langford has seven consecutive 100-yard games and led the Big Ten with 16 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Connor Cook takes care of the ball (only four interceptions) and the receivers have made big plays all season.
Be it a shootout or a defensive struggle, fans in Indy should expect a close game. Despite Ohio State winning eight of the last nine meetings, these two have split the last two games by a grand total of four points. Ohio State owns a 28-12 all-time record in the series.
Michigan State vs. Ohio State
Kickoff: 8:17 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Ohio State -5.5
Three Things to Watch
Can Connor Cook make plays?
Michigan State’s gameplan on offense is pretty clear: Run, run and run some more. Jeremy Langford has been a star for this team with seven straight 100-yard games. But Connor Cook will be called upon to be the difference maker when OSU stacks the box. Cook passed for just 176.6 yards per game this year but was much better over the final month, averaging 217.8 per game with a couple of elite performances. He completed 93.8-percent of his passes and three touchdowns against Illinois, he threw for 252 yards and scored twice over Michigan and posted a career-high 293 yards and two TDs in the division clinching road win over Northwestern. Ohio State is ninth in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense and the banged-up secondary will provide chances for Cook to make plays with his arm.
Protecting the quarterback
Michigan State leads the nation in pass efficiency defense (91.79), leads the Big Ten in passing defense (172.9) yards per game and is third in the Big Ten in both interceptions (16) and sacks (29.0). This will give Braxton Miller a huge challenge in the passing game. On the flip side, Cook could be running for his life as the Buckeyes boast the nation’s No. 1 pass-rush (39.0 sacks). Obviously, both teams want to run the ball and the defenses know it. So with two defenses geared up to stop the ground game, the outcome may hinge on whichever quarterback has the time to complete critical third-and-longs late in the game. Additionally, both defenses will look to punish the quarterback so survival might be the name of the game.
Special teams battle
The all-important third phase of the game will be huge this weekend for both teams, especially if it becomes a low-scoring, tightly played affair. Ohio State leads the Big Ten in punting (43.5 ypp) and has blocked three kicks or punts this season. And while Ohio State has made 8-of-9 field goals, the Buckeyes haven’t asked Drew Basil to make key kicks as OSU has attempted the fewest number of field goals in the Big Ten. Conversely, the Spartans Michael Geiger has made 12-of-13 kicks and MSU is 16-of-19 overall. The Buckeyes should have a big advantage in the return game as well. Michigan State is dead last in the league in kickoff returns while Ohio State is No. 2 in the league. Both coaches love to use the fake punt at unexpected times, so don’t take any bathroom breaks on special teams as they are sure to be critical this weekend.
Key Player: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Star quarterbacks are always the most important players but even more so for Ohio State. Miller will be the most dynamic and important player on the field for either team on Saturday. Michigan State has the talent and experience to stop the Buckeyes' offense in its tracks but no amount of discipline or physicality can overcome the improve skills of a player like Miller. The Spartans will look to hit the Ohio State quarterback as hard and as often as possible as Miller has demonstrated an issue with injuries. So if No. 5 can survive the entire game, he will likely do something that drops jaws and pops eyes. This is what keeps great coordinators like Pat Narduzzi up late at night.
This should be a great chess match battle between two hard-nosed coaches and two hard-nosed teams. Both teams are undefeated in Big Ten play, which sets up a perfect winner-take-all situation in Indianapolis. Michigan State is playing for its first Rose Bowl bid since 1987 and Ohio State is playing for a trip to the BCS National Championship game. It is a battle of strength on strength when Ohio State has the ball and weakness on weakness when Michigan State has the ball. Look for a trick play or fake of some kind to play a huge role in the second half, but No. 5 in Scarlet and Gray is the difference. Braxton Miller will make one or two miraculous plays that no defense can stop, which translates to a victory for the Buckeyes.
Big Ten Championship Predictions:
|Athlon Editor||Championship Prediction||B1G Season Record|
|Braden Gall||Ohio State, 31-30||80-16|
|David Fox||Ohio State, 27-21||80-16|
|Steven Lassan||Ohio State, 27-24||84-12|
|Mitch Light||Ohio State, 24-20||84-12|
Like it or not, Las Vegas rarely gets it wrong, so tracking betting lines should always be a big part of each football weekend — even if there are no bets on the line. Last week was not a happy holiday for my picks. I let you all down in a big way by taking more than a few rivalries to be blowouts. As it turns out, only the Florida Gators were bad enough to give me a cover. Normally, I would stay away from all picks this weekend due to lack of options. But since I know some of you are looking for any and all advice on what should be some great championship games, below are the spread picks for Week 15.
2013 Record Against the Spread: 39-32-1 (1-3 last week)
Week 15 Picks of the Week:
Texas (+14.5) at Baylor
These two teams appear to be heading in opposite directions. Baylor struggled to survive against TCU and needed two defensive touchdowns to beat a team that was supposed to have a tough time scoring points. Texas crushed Texas Tech in extremely impressive fashion. This could be Mack Brown’s final game as the head coach, and the Horns can still win the conference championship. Look for a motivated Texas team to keep it close, if not win outright. Prediction: Texas +14.5
Utah State (+3) at Fresno State
The Aggies enter Saturday's matchup with a five-game winning streak. Fresno State is at home and coming off a loss. To me, this explains why the line seems to be too small this weekend. With the championship on the line in the Mountain West title game, fans can expect both teams to play up to their potential. Fresno State’s Derek Carr is on a tear right now, throwing for 1,041 yards and 12 touchdowns with just one interception in his last two games. Prediction: Fresno State -3
Title Game Picks (if I have to):
Stanford (+3) at Arizona State
Defense wins championships and despite being on the road, I like the Cardinal to smother an ASU offense missing its top playmaker in Marion Grice. Stanford was up 29-0 at halftime and 39-7 after three quarters against ASU back in September. Prediction: Stanford +3
Ohio State (-5.5) vs. Michigan State
This should be a very close game between two excellent coaches and physical football teams. Trick plays will abound, and I like the Spartans' defense to keep them in the game. Braxton Miller makes a big play at the end to win it - but MSU covers. Prediction: Michigan State +5.5
Auburn (-2.5) vs. Missouri
The entire world (and maybe the Almighty above) is picking the Tigers of Auburn. But Mizzou is the more complete team. The Tigers of Missouri have a dramatically better defense and healthy James Franklin. When the entire herd is taking one team, I like to go the other way (especially with the line growing by the day). Missouri has the best record in the nation against the spread this year: 10-1-1. Prediction: Mizzou +2.5
Duke (+29) vs. Florida State
We are all rooting for David Cutcliffe and Duke in general. It's virtually impossible not to love the Blue Devils story this year. But Florida State is operating in a different stratosphere. With Jameis Winston now cleared of any wrong-doing, all eyes are focused on a championship (or two). The Noles are one of four teams with 10 wins against the numbers this year (10-2) Prediction: Florida State -29
Top 25 Picks Against the Spread:
Note: games with FCS opponents won't be included each week
|Top 25 Games||Mitch Light||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|No. 20 Duke (+29) vs. No. 1 Florida State|
|No. 2 Ohio St (-5.5) vs. No. 10 Michigan St|
No. 5 Missouri (+2.5) vs. No. 3 Auburn
|No. 17 Oklahoma (+10) at No. 6 Oklahoma St|
|No. 7 Stanford (+3) at No. 11 Arizona State|
|No. 25 Texas (+14.5) at No. 9 Baylor|
|Bowling Green (+4.5) at No. 14 N. Illinois|
|No. 16 UCF (-7) at SMU|
|Utah St (+3.5) at No. 23 Fresno St|
It’s fair to say that back in the preseason no one predicted these two teams — who went a combined 2–14 in the league in 2012 — to meet in the SEC Championship Game. Auburn completed the unlikely worst-to-first journey with a stunning win over Alabama last Saturday afternoon. The Tigers were outgained by more than 100 yards and did not force a turnover yet somehow found a way to beat the No. 1 team in the nation. The win sent Auburn to the SEC Championship Game for the fifth time.
Missouri, of course, is making its first trip to the title game. The Tigers, 2–6 is the SEC last season, cruised through their non-conference schedule with a 4–0 mark and then established themselves as a legitimate contender by beating Vanderbilt, Georgia and Florida by an average of 19.0 points. The Tigers stubbed their toe in a home loss in overtime to South Carolina — with backup quarterback Maty Mauk running the show — but closed by winning four straight to claim the outright SEC East title. The most surprising aspect of Mizzou’s surprising run has been its dominance at the line of scrimmage, especially on defense. The Tigers allowed only 5.11 yards per play in SEC games — tied for second-fewest with Alabama and behind Florida — and led the league with 37 sacks.
Auburn vs. Missouri
Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Auburn -2
Three Things to Watch
It’s no surprise that Auburn and Missouri, two of the top offensive teams in the league, have the ability to strike quickly. Auburn leads the SEC with 21 plays from scrimmage of at least 40 yards; Missouri ranks second with 20. Auburn also leads in plays of at least 50 yards (13) and is tied for the lead in plays of 60 yards (seven) and 70 yards (four). Missouri isn’t far behind. Auburn, however, has been prone to giving up the big play — like the 99-yard touchdown pass by Alabama in the Iron Bowl — allowing 16 plays of 40-plus yards (13th in the league) and seven plays of 50-plus yards (ninth). So which team can deliver the big play (or plays) on Saturday? And which team gives up the big play (or plays)? The answers to these questions could go a long way in determining the outcome.
Forcing turnovers is a product of solid play on defense and a little bit of luck. For Missouri, this combination has translated into 27 takeaways — tied for most in the SEC — and league-best plus-1.25 turnover margin. The Tigers were either even or on the plus side in turnover margin in all but one game — a lopsided win over Kentucky. Auburn did a solid job protecting the ball in 2013, committing only 16 turnovers (fifth-fewest in the league). Quarterback Nick Marshall, in his first season as a starter at the FBS level, only threw five interceptions in 201 attempts, including only one in his last seven games. A key on Saturday will be Missouri’s ability to pressure Marshall — remember, the Tigers led the league in sacks — on passing downs and force him into making a big mistake.
There won’t be many games played this season with as many productive running backs on the field. Consider the following: Each team has three running backs who have rushed for at least 500 yards — and that does not include the quarterbacks, who have a combined 1,334 yards rushing between them. Missouri’s top three backs are Henry Josey (951 yards, 6.2-yard average), Russell Hansbrough (624, 6.3) and Marcus Murphy (561, 6.9) while Auburn counters with Tre Mason (1,317, 5.6), Corey Grant (585, 9.8) and Cameron Artis-Payne (573, 6.5).
Key Player: James Franklin. QB. Missouri
Nick Marshall has made a tremendous transformation from defensive back at Georgia to junior college quarterback to leader of one of the top offenses in the SEC. But the guy taking snaps for the other team, fifth-year senior James Franklin, is also a dynamic playmaker. Franklin has completed at least 63 percent of his passing attempts in every game in which he’s played, and he has averaged 244 yards passing and 51.5 yards rushing with 16 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. His ability to make plays with his arm and his legs — to go along with an outstanding set of skill players — will put a ton of pressure on an Auburn defense that is allowing 414.3 yards per game.
Auburn went 7–1 in the SEC — no doubt a tremendous accomplishment — but this was far from a dominant team. Five of the Tigers’ seven league wins came by eight points or fewer, and they only outgained their eight SEC opponents by an average of 3.2 yards per game — a very low number for a team that won seven games. Obviously, Auburn deserves a ton of credit for its dramatic turnaround, but the numbers indicate that this team is fortunate to be playing for the SEC Championship.
Missouri, however, was the best team in the SEC East all season long. The Tigers’ only loss came at home to South Carolina in overtime in a game in which they led 17–0 entering the fourth quarter. Mizzou outgained its league opponents by 80.1 yards per game and won its seven SEC games by an average of 19.5 points. The schedule wasn’t as difficult as Auburn’s — Mizzou didn’t play Alabama or LSU — but this team was very good from wire-to-wire.
The key will be Auburn’s play on defense. Auburn will no doubt get its yards and find a way to put points on the board, but the concern for Gus Malzahn’s club will be on defense; can it do enough to slow down the diverse — and often explosive — Mizzou attack?
SEC Championship Game Predictions
|Athlon Editor||Championship Game Prediction||Season Record|
|David Fox||Auburn 31-24||93-19|
|Braden Gall||Missouri 38-34||91-21|
|Steven Lassan||Missouri 34-31||92-20|
|Mitch Light||Missouri 37-30||90-22|
The Heisman ceremony is a week away, and the winner may be all but determined.
Thursday's announcement that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will not be charged following an investigation related to an allegedy sexual battery ends a saga that clouded the second half his season.
Meanwhile, the field for other position awards is starting to narrow as the season-long voting for many of these awards has been whittled to finalists.
While we love prognosticating who will win college football’s most coveted individual trophy, we also love the glut of postseason awards that go to each position, each with a nod to the game’s history from Davey O’Brien and Doak Walker to Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe to Ray Guy and Lou Groza.
Everyone tracks the progress in the Heisman race, but Athlon Sports will try to keep an eye on who will take home college football’s positional awards.
Here’s our look at the “other” trophies through the 14th week of the season.
The majority of winners for college football’s position awards will be announced Dec. 12 on the College Football Awards Show on ESPN.
Maxwell (Player of the Year)
Our leader: Alabama’s AJ McCarron
Those looking at the loss column will unfairly diminish McCarron. His performance in the Iron Bowl was excellent with two scoring drives from his own 1, including a 99-yard touchdown pass. The Maxwell Award recipient tends to differ from the Heisman winner in recent seasons (exceptions: Cam Newton in 2010 and Tim Tebow in 2007), though both technically award the top player in the nation. Voters have tended to pick career achievers for this award.
Finalists: Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Biggest snub: Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch
Davey O’Brien (Top quarterback)
Our leader: Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Winston heads into the ACC Championship Game with the top credentials for the Davey O'Brien, the Heisman and a host of other preseason awards. The state attorney announced Thursday that Winston would not be charged with a crime after an investigation into an alleged sexual battery incident.
Finalists: Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Biggest snub: Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch
Doak Walker (Top running back)
Our leader: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey
Andre Williams left the loss to Syracuse with injury, but he had rushed for only 29 yards on nine carries. Carey’s team lost big to Arizona State, but he still rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries.
Finalists: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Boston College’s Andre Williams
Biggest snub: Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews
Biletnikoff (Top wide receiver)
Our leader: Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks
Mike Evans’ four catches for eight yards has tilted this back into the favor of Cooks, who had a combined 20 catches for 227 yards against Washington and Oregon.
Others: Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins
Biggest snub: Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews
Mackey (Top tight end)
Our leader: Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro
Amaro remains a snub for the award because he doesn’t always line up as a classic tight end in Texas Tech’s wide open offense. Amaro’s 98 receptions for 1,240 yards with six touchdowns is more than enough to merit attention at a position that’s diminished in prominence in recent years.
Finalists: North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, Florida State’s Nick O’Leary, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Biggest snub: Amaro
Outland (Top interior lineman)
Our leader: Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald
The Outland has tended to favor offensive linemen with the exception of LSU’s Glenn Dorsey and Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh. Donald is in that class. His 26.5 tackles for a loss is 4.5 more than anyone else in the country.
Finalists: Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Baylor’s Cyril Richardson
Biggest snub: Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio
Nagurski (Defensive player of the year)
Our leader: Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald
Finalists: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, Missouri’s Michael Sam
Biggest snub: UCLA’s Anthony Barr
Lombardi Award (Top lineman or linebacker)
Our leader: Donald
Finalists: UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, Missouri’s Michael Sam
Biggest snub: BYU’s Kyle Van Noy
Butkus (Top linebacker)
Our leader: UCLA’s Anthony Barr
Barr has finished the season in a flurry with seven tackles for a loss and four sacks in the final three games, including three TFLs and two sacks in a 35-14 win over USC.
Finalists: UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, Stanford’s Shayne Skov
Biggest snub: Wisconsin’s Chris Borland
Thorpe (Top defensive back)
Our leader: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard
Dennard played closer to the line against run-oriented Minnesota, picking up nine tackles, a forced fumble and a pass breakup in the 14-3 win. Michigan State has five interceptions and has not allowed a passing touchdown in the last two games.
Finalists: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner
Biggest snub: Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
Lou Groza (Top kicker)
Our leader: Texas’ Anthony Fera
With two field goals against Texas Tech, Fera has made 15 kicks in a row and 19 of 20 this season.
Others: Florida State’s Robert Aguayo, Texas’ Anthony Fera, USF’s Marvin Kloss
Biggest snub: Texas Tech’s Ryan Bustin
Ray Guy (Top punter)
Our leader: Memphis’ Tom Hornsey
Memphis is fourth in the nation in net punting, led by Hornsey’s 45.9 yards per kick.
Finalists: Memphis’ Tom Hornsey, Texas A&M’s Drew Kaser, Purdue’s Cody Webster
Biggest snub: Alabama's Cody Mandell
Freshman of the year
Our leader: Florida State’s Jameis Winston
An easy choice for Winston, who remains the frontrunner for the Heisman. Winston should make it back-to-back for redshirt freshmen for the award.
Others: Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, UCLA's Myles Jack
Coach of the year
Our leader: Duke’s David Cutcliffe
Auburn has had top recruiting talent, and Missouri has played in conference championship games before. As remarkable as those turnaround are, David Cutcliffe is the first 10-win coach in Duke history and still has an ACC Championship Game in his future.
Others: Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel
Broyles Award (Top assistant)
Our leader: Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi
The phone for the coordinator of the nation’s top defense is about to to start ringing. He’ll have his pick of head coaching jobs by the end of the season.
Others: Minnesota’s Tracy Claeys, Baylor’s Phillip Montgomery, Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama’s Kirby Smart, Oklahoma State’s Glenn Spencer
Trying to bait Oklahoma into the spoiler role will get you nowhere.
Four Big 12 teams are in action this weekend, and only one of them isn’t in contention for a conference title league’s spot in the BCS. Instead, the Sooners are — in the short term — playing for bowl positioning.
Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard rolled his eyes at reporters who asked if the Sooners relished the spoiler role for Oklahoma State’s bid at an outright Big 12 title.
“The fact that you call us the spoiler against Oklahoma State, I’m not even going to answer that,” Ikard told reporters.
Sooners coach Bob Stoops called the spoiler role “the lowest form of motivation that a competitor can have.”
Fine. So here are a few other things at stake: Oklahoma is seeking its fourth consecutive 10-win season and 12th of the Bob Stoops era. Oklahoma State is seeking its second outright Big 12 championship in three seasons, something the Cowboys haven’t done in either the Big 12 or the Big Eight.
Bedlam has traditionally been one of the most lopsided rivalries in college football in OU’s favor, but it is in danger of tilting toward Oklahoma State in the short term. Oklahoma won eight in a row from 2003-10 and never lost from 1977-94 and 1946-64. The Pokes won the last meeting in Stillwater 44-10 and the last two meetings in Norman have gone the Sooners’ way but by less than seven points each time.
In other words, Oklahoma State has good reason to feel it’s on even footing with Oklahoma these days. The Sooners have another chance to prove otherwise Saturday.
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
Spread: Oklahoma State by 9.5
Oklahoma’s key to victory: Tighten up in the red zone
The Sooners’ defense has been up and down for most of the season, in part due to injuries in the front seven and inexperience. One thing that’s been consistent is Oklahoma’s poor red zone defense. The Sooners are getting better at forcing field goals, but they haven’t recorded a red zone stop since the second game of the season against West Virginia. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State leads the Big 12 in touchdown rate in the red zone, scoring six on 76.8 percent of trips inside the 20. A major part has been Clint Chelf’s mobility and Oklahoma State’s ability to keep him upright, despite a rotating cast on the offensive line.
Oklahoma State’s key to victory: Take the turnover edge to Trevor Knight
The secret to Oklahoma State’s success on defense in recent years, despite changes at defensive coordinator, has been the ability to force turnovers. The Cowboys again lead the Big 12 in takeaways with 29 in 11 games to go with a plus-16 turnover margin. The back end of the Cowboys’ defense is led by Thorpe Award finalist Justin Gilbert, who has six interceptions and two touchdowns this season. The Cowboys’ linebackers also excel in pass coverage. Oklahoma redshirt freshman Trevor Knight will be making his second consecutive start after a good showing against Kansas State. The Sooners would like to use Knight in the run game, and Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said he’s expecting the pistol formation and veer option plays at quarterback. But Knight may need to make some plays in the pass game on the road against an opportunistic defense for the Sooners to win.
Key player: Brennan Clay, Oklahoma
The Sooners played without running back Damian Williams against Kansas State and still rushed for 301 yards and three touchdowns on 52 carries. Williams has since been dismissed, diminishing the Sooners’ running back depth. Now the clear-cut top option, Clay rushed for 200 yards against Kansas State and has been a reliable big-play threat. But he’s facing the top ranked run defense in the Big 12 that has allowed only eight rushing touchdowns all season. Oklahoma State recently held Baylor’s similarly depleted running back group to 94 yards on 36 carries.
Oklahoma State has become one of the most improved teams in the nation largely because of changes on offense. Clint Chelf quickly lost his starting quarterback job and reacquired it as the Cowboys began their hot streak. The Pokes also found a running back rotation that works with Desmond Roland leading the way. Oklahoma hopes it is undergoing a similar transformation with Knight, who like Chelf began the season at quarterback and lost the job. But this is also a matchup of the top two defenses, statistically, in the Big 12. Oklahoma leads the league in total D while Oklahoma State boasts the top run defense and top pass efficiency defense.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 27-17
Willie Meggs, the state attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, announced on Thursday Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will not face charges in regards to a sexual assault investigation.
Winston was never charged in response to the investigation, and the case has been closed according to Meggs.
Winston is the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy and has guided Florida State to a 12-0 record with a berth in the ACC Championship this Saturday.
Meggs: no charges against Jameis Winston.— Ira Schoffel/TDO.com (@IraSchoffel) December 5, 2013
"We do not believe after we examined all the evidence, we came to decision it was not a case we could bring forward," Meggs said— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) December 5, 2013
Willie Meggs said accuser's recollection of events have "moved around a little bit" including some "memory lapse."— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) December 5, 2013
The documents http://t.co/F9m2NcSupB— Stewart Moore (@StewartMoore) December 5, 2013
Meggs said athletes do not receive special treatment in Tallahassee— Brendan Sonnone (@osfsu) December 5, 2013
The freshman power rankings are going to change from week to week. That seemed inevitable before the season started, and it’s been even more clear through a little more than a month.
Andrew Wiggins had his time in the spotlight. Jabari Parker had his. So did Julius Randle. Noah Vonleh turned the big four freshmen into a big five for a bit, and he may again.
This week, Arizona's Aaron Gordon takes the top spot. He’d been given second billing to start the season, despite standout performances against San Diego State and others. The reason was the early showcase for Duke, Kansas and Kentucky in the first days of the season.
But the Thanksgiving week gave Gordon a chance to face Duke and Parker. In proving Arizona’s resume as a top-five teams, Gordon takes the top spot this week.
The only question is if he can stay.
College Basketball Freshman Power Rankings: Dec. 6
1. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Gordon will have an advantage Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh and to a lesser extent Jabari Parker won’t have this season: Playing with an ample supply of veterans. That helped Gordon in the last week or so, especially in the NIT Season Tipoff. In a 72-66 win over Duke, Gordon had 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a balanced effort from the Wildcats. He’s still averaging nearly a double-double at 13 points and 9.1 rebounds.
2. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker is still averaging 22.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, including 19 points in a loss to Arizona and 15 in a win over Duke last week. His torrid pace efficiency-wise has slowed, as was bound to happen. Parker was 11 of 16 from 3-point range in the first three games (including 4 of 7 against Kansas). He’s 3 of 14 since. Duke is still running good deal of its offense through Parker as he shot 14 of 38 from the field against the Wildcats and Wolverines. Parker is second among freshmen and 47th overall in kenpom’s efficiency rating.
3. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Randle’s pace has slowed a bit since the first week of his career, but he’s still had a double-double in all but one game this season. Randle is averaging 18.1 points and 12.5 rebounds and is the the top freshman and 39th nationally in kenpom’s offensive efficiency rating.
4. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Wiggins struggled with illness in the Battle 4 Atlantis, contributing to Kansas’ loss to Villanova and close call with UTEP. Wiggins’ (short) career-low came with six points and seven rebounds against the Miners. With Florida and Colorado coming up, Wiggins will have plenty of opportunities to return to form on the mainland.
5. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Syracuse is looking the part of a national championship contender in the early going thanks in part to the play of its new backcourt. Stepping in for point guard Michael Carter-Williams, Ennis was one of the key cogs in a statement week for Syracuse. The Orange won the Maui Invitational (defeating Minnesota, Cal and Baylor) and defeated Indiana. Ennis averaged 17 points and 6.5 assists in four consecutive games against high-major competition.
6. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Put Harrison onto the free throw line at your own risk. The line doomed Kentucky against Michigan State, but Harrison went 9 of 11 against Eastern Michigan and 10 of 10 against Texas Arlington. The shot will come along, but he hit 7 of 9 against Providence while filling in at point guard for his brother, Andrew, who was on the bench with foul trouble.
7. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh’s early results were slowed in the last two weeks as the Hoosiers’ competition improved. Vonleh played only 10 minutes with four fouls against Connecticut in the 59-58 loss in the Legends Classic. Vonleh acquitted himself with 17 points and six rebounds at Syracuse in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
8. Austin Nichols, Memphis
The Tigers are back to where they’d hope to be after winning the Old Spice Classic. Nichols averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds against Siena, LSU and Oklahoma State.
9. Zach LaVine, UCLA
The Bruins have yet to play a top team this season, but LaVine has been a stud sixth man, averaging 14.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists coming off the bench. His big moment could come this week against Missouri on the road.
10. Joel Embiid, Kansas
Embiid fouled out in the loss to Villanova in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but he finished 12 of 19 from the field with 17 rebounds in the tournament. He added seven blocks in a consolation game against UTEP.
Some NFL franchise — Jacksonville? Houston? Or, shockingly, Atlanta? — will face a future-altering decision in May 2014 when they're faced with the top pick in a pretty loaded NFL Draft. Choose right, and the road back to respectability could be smooth. Choose wrong, and it's another year in the wilderness.
We're here to help, by laying out competing cases for two compelling options for the top pick. Let us know what you think in the comments.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Even without Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, who recently announced his decision to return to school, the 2014 quarterback draft class is drawing comparisons to the storied 1983 class that produced three Hall of Famers in the first round. Is there any chance that the team owning the first pick of the draft — a team that by definition is almost certainly weak at the most important position on the field — won’t use its most precious commodity to fill its most urgent need?
The crown jewel of this year’s treasure trove of quarterbacks has spent this season laboring in the obscurity of the American Athletic Conference, but his relative lack of exposure to the average fan doesn’t mean he’s not a known commodity in war rooms across the league. Louisville Cardinals coach Charlie Strong has given the keys to his pro-style offense to Teddy Bridgewater, and the junior has responded with the kind of season one would expect from the nation’s premier signal-caller. Heading into Louisville’s season finale with Cincinnati, Bridgewater had completed 245-of-345 passes (71%) for 3,268 yards, 25 touchdowns and only three interceptions, for a passer rating of 172.8, third-best in the nation. The Cards are a miracle UCF comeback away from being in the national title picture, and in that game, a contest that inexplicably eliminated Bridgewater from the Heisman race, the quarterback did his part, completing 29-of-38 passes for 341 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Bridgewater excels in the measurables; he’s 6'3" with a rocket arm and good touch to every level of the field. And the intangibles — football IQ, reading defenses, leadership, that elusive quality known as “pocket presence” — are off the charts. He’s ready-made to step in and lead a franchise out of the wilderness, Andrew Luck-style. As with Luck, any struggling franchise would be lucky to have the chance to select the Cardinal ruler of the 2014 draft class.
– Rob Doster
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
What is this? Mario Williams vs. Vince Young: Part Deux? Of course the physically superior, “can’t miss” pass rusher is a better prospect than the fringe franchise quarterback with high boom, high bust potential — just like in 2006, when the Houston Texans controversially picked Super Mario over local legend V.Y. with the No. 1 pick. Williams has 75.5 sacks in 110 games. Young is out of football after 58 total TDs and 63 turnovers over 60 games (50 starts).
There’s no guarantee Clowney is going to be the next Williams or that Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater — the current consensus top quarterback in the 2014 draft class — will follow in Young’s long stride to obscurity. But the signs are all there.
Clowney is a beast of a defensive end, weighing in at 6'6" and 274 pounds, while possessing a skill set not seen since Julius Peppers went No. 2 overall behind Fresno State quarterback David Carr in 2002. How did those careers turn out? That’s right, Peppers has 118.0 sacks in 182 games while Carr is out of the league following 74 total TDs and 93 turnovers in 94 games (79 starts). Another example of a pass rusher with obvious All-Pro talent panning out while his debatable quarterback counterpart flamed out.
While Clowney is best known for his helmet-popping tackle for a loss, forced fumble and fumble recovery against Michigan’s Vincent Smith in last year’s Outback Bowl, the Gamecocks’ premier player is more than a one-hit wonder. The dreaded end tested off the charts before South Carolina spring ball — running a 4.54 in the 40-yard dash.
My advice to the NFL general manager with the No. 1 overall pick is to take the next Williams or Peppers, not the next Young or Carr. Go with Clowney over Bridgewater.
– Nathan Rush
They caused an earthquake in Seattle, and it wasn’t the first time. That’s how loud the crowd at Century Link Field was last Monday night. It set a record for decibels and it shook a nearby Seismometer. It shook the New Orleans Saints pretty good too.
That’s why the general feeling around the NFL is that the Seattle Seahawks, already at 11-1, may be on an unstoppable road to the Super Bowl. It’s because the road will almost certainly go straight through the epicenter of the best homefield advantage in the league.
Here’s the thing, though. The Seahawks (6-0 at home) aren’t the only ones that claim to have one of the best homefield advantages in the league. The Saints are 6-0 in the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The Patriots are 6-0 at Gilette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. The Bengals are 5-0 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati and the Broncos are 6-0 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.
And that doesn’t even count the Ravens, Cowboys, Panthers and Cardinals who all could be playoff-bound and are all 5-1 at home, or the Chiefs at 5-2.
At the moment, though the reigning home kings reside in the Pacific Northwest. But the path to the Super Bowl won’t be easy for any team that has to take a detour through these cities, home to what are currently the five-best home-field advantages in the league:
1. Seattle – The loudest noise ever recorded at an outdoor stadium came at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 15 when the crowd noise was measured at 136.6 decibels. Then they topped it at 137.6 on Monday night. They have probably been louder over the years in a place where the “12th man” takes great pride in causing opposing offenses to false start.
The Seahawks were undefeated there last year and have won 14 straight games overall. It’s not all about the noise, either. A big factor for the Seahawks is their geographic isolation – there’s no harder place for most NFL teams to get to than the Pacific Northwest. And while their weather isn’t huge, it’s often a chilly rain, which the Seahawks are used to, while other teams are not.
2. New Orleans – The Saints have won 18 straight at the Mercedes Benz Superdome and 13 straight at night in what has to be the loudest indoor stadium in the NFL. The dome is huge, and even though it only holds 72,000, it seems like it holds about 100,000. It sounds like it too, especially when the music starts thumping and the fans start dancing along.
Aside from just the audible discomfort, many teams have said they can feel a wave when the Saints get on a roll and the crowd gets behind them. There are few places where things can go from bad to worse faster. When the Saints win there, they usually win in a blowout. And they don’t lose often. The Sean Payton-Drew Brees combo hasn’t lost there since 2010.
3. Kansas City – The stands can be a sea of red, which can be intimidating enough. So can the ride on the bus through the parking lot, where few fans throw a tailgate party like the ones in Kansas City. And when the game gets going, Arrowhead Stadium – an older stadium with architecture not exactly built for great acoustics – can be as loud as any in the league.
In fact, they proved that earlier this season when the Chiefs fans out-did the Seahawks fans and were measured at an ear-splitting 137.5 decibels in a win over the Raiders. Sure, the Seahawks reclaimed the world record a few weeks later, but their stadium was built with sound records in mind.
In Kansas City it’s all natural, and opposing players know it. Outside of Seattle, there’s not a more intimidating outdoor stadium in the league.
4. Denver – Make no mistake, this isn’t the old Mile High Stadium, which used to shake and was intimidating to opponents. What’s more intimidating about a trip to Colorado these days is the thought of Peyton Manning and the most dangerous offense in the league.
The bigger problem is this: The city is actually a mile high, which means the air is thinner and even professional athletes get tired quicker. The Broncos are used to it from practice every day. Opponents get no time to adjust at all. And when they’re huffing and puffing and trying to catch their breath, while chasing the Broncos receivers and trying to figure out what Manning is about to do, the whole thing can turn into a great big mess.
5. Cincinnati – The Bengals once enjoyed a great homefield advantage when they played in “The Jungle” – the nickname for old Riverfront Stadium. But it’s taken them a while to warm up to their new digs. At the moment, they’ve won six straight games overall there for the first time since The Jungle was demolished.
And they’re winning big and big games there, too. They beat the Packers there when Aaron Rodgers was healthy. They beat the Patriots and didn’t allow a touchdown. They also demolished the Jets and Browns, topping 40 points each time. And as the wins pile up, the stadium seems to be getting louder, which makes it a sneaky dangerous place to play.
—By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 5.
• The 49ers face a serious obstacle in the Seahawks, but they'll have Crystal with them every step of the way.
• Kevin Durant told a Blazers fan to shut up. I call that a win for the heckler. But the Thunder shut the fans up with their scintillating play.
• LeBron is going Hollywood. He's making a basketball comedy called "Ballers" with Kevin Hart. My prediction: Massive suck, decent box office.
• Who knew: They talk serious smack in cricket. Of course, they call it sledging.
• On the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, 80 reasons that drinking is great. I don't necessarily endorse this, but I will link to it. And along those same lines, here's a handy holiday spirits gift guide.
• Being a mascot comes with occupational hazards, much to the delight of spectators.
• Two days away from SEC-a-palooza. Here's a preview.
• My favorite GIF of the day: A lovely lady gets repulsed by the Senators goalie spitting out his Gatorade.
• This amazing golf shot is a little old, but it's new to me. Watch and be amazed.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at email@example.com
The Louisville Cardinals and Cincinnati Bearcats will get together in what could be the final battle for the Keg of Nails for quite some time. It remains unclear when these two programs will meet again with Louisville heading to the ACC and no matchups scheduled for any time in the foreseeable future. Following a devastating 38-35 loss to UCF, Louisville has reeled off four consecutive wins to put themselves in a position to clinch the conference with a win and a UCF loss. Meanwhile, the Bearcats have been nearly as impressive with six straight wins. Each team can earn a share of the American Athletic Conference title with a win and a UCF loss Saturday at SMU. However, only Cincinnati has a chance at the league's automatic BCS berth. Both teams boast offenses that average over 30 points per game and defenses that rank in the top 10 in the country in points allowed. Despite Louisville's recent run of success, the Bearcats have won four of the last five games against the Cardinals. Louisville ended a four-game slump in the series with a 34-31 home win last year on a 30-yard field goal from John Wallace as time expired. Cincinnati owns a 30-21 all-time edge with one tie in a series that first awarded the Keg of Nails trophy to its winner in 1929. The Bearcats will enter Saturday's game as home underdogs for the first time this season.
Three Things to Watch
Battle of the QBs
Teddy Bridgewater remains one of the favorites to be the top selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. He has completed 71 percent of his passes this year for 3,268 yards with 25 touchdowns and three interceptions. Bridgewater is simply putting on a passing clinic this season. He has hung tough to deliver passes in the face of pass rush, showed mobility on rollouts, demonstrated good arm strength and been extremely accurate. It is worth noting that he hasn't looked especially sharp in his past three starts. After throwing for 300+ yards in his first four conference games, Bridgewater has yet to crack that mark in the last three games, as he's averaging just 237 passing yards per game. On the other hand, Brendon Kay is one of the hottest quarterbacks in all of college football right now. Kay is coming off back-to-back offensive outbursts, racking up 811 total passing yards against Rutgers and Houston. In addition for throwing for over 400 yards in both games, Kay accounted for seven total touchdowns in the two wins. Bridgewater is the better quarterback and a top-level pro prospect; however, if Kay can keep up his recent play then the Bearcats may have the edge.
The Cardinals really don't have anything to play for. Because of their loss to UCF, they have no chance of playing for a BCS bid. They could still clinch a share of the American Athletic title; however, they are almost assuredly headed to a lesser bowl game. Currently, it looks like the 10-1 Cardinals are slated for pre-New Year's Russell Athletic Bowl. Charlie Strong is a great motivator, but even he may be in over his head trying to spark a team that had thoughts of another Sugar Bowl appearance in their heads this preseason.
When thinking of Louisville and Cincinnati, strong offenses come to mind with defense more of an afterthought. Despite this, these two programs have two of the best defenses in the country. Louisville ranks second among FBS teams in total defense, limiting teams to 242.5 yards per game, while Cincinnati is eighth, allowing 302.4. The Cardinals rank sixth in red zone defense, while the Bearcats are the No. 10 red zone team in the nation. Even more impressive are their third-down defenses, with Louisville as the best in the country and Cincinnati checking in tied for eighth. The Cardinals are stingy as they allow conversions 26 percent of the time. The Bearcats aren't much worse as they are allowing conversions on just 32 percent of third downs. You can chalk their statistics up to playing in a weak conference; however, these defenses will be put to the test against two of the conference's most prolific offenses this Thursday.
Key Player: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
This guy is a game-breaker supreme. Cincinnati will need to use a variety of coverages to shut down the 6'3" junior. While Parker isn't known for producing a large amount of yardage, his big frame makes him a nightmare in the red zone. Parker leads all Cardinals' receiver with 19 touchdown receptions over the past two seasons.
Cincinnati is the hot team right now. Not to mention, they have won 16 of their last 18 home games while outscoring teams by an average of 23.4 points. Oh, and their playing for a chance at a BCS bowl. I don't expect Louisville to really be 100 percent invested in this game and it should show. Kay will continue his excellent play and the Bearcats will once again take home The Keg of Nails.
Prediction: Cincinnati 32, Louisville 24
Streaks have been the common theme in seasons of these to AFC South foes. Jacksonville began the seaosn 0-8 and were on pace to turn in one of the poorest statistical seasons in NFL history. Remarkably, Gus Bradley turned the Jaguars' season around by registering three wins in four games since the bye.
On the other hand, the Texans began the season at 2-0; however, poor quarterback play and injury troubles have caused them to fall into a 10-game slide. Houston lost 13-6 to the Jaguars at Reliant Stadium just two weeks ago. Houston is 13-10 all-time against Jacksonville, including five straight wins before that Nov. 24 loss.
3 Things to Watch
Can the Texans' offense rebound?
Two weeks ago the Texans turned in a disastrous offensive performance with just 218 total yards. Case Keenum had his worst game as a pro, throwing for just 169 yards and an interception on 18 of 34 passing. He had just 32 yards passing in the first half, which saw the Texans fail to make a first down and accumulate just 20 total yards on four straight possessions until backup running back Dennis Johnson broke off a 29-yard run four minutes before halftime. Andre Johnson posted season lows with two catches for 36 yards. Ben Tate, who had three touchdowns and over 100 yards rushing against the Patriots last week, rushed for just a single yard on seven carries against the Jaguars' defense. He was benched for Johnson midway through the second quarter. Tate will need to be much better this week as he should have plenty of opportunities against the league's 29th-ranked rushing defense.
Is MJD ready for a repeat?
It's been tough sledding for the veteran from UCLA in 2013. Despite Maurice Jones-Drew's (above) struggles in 2013, he had his best game of the season just 11 days ago against Houston. Jones-Drew had 84 rushing yards and 60 receiving yards, averaging 7.2 yards per touch which more than doubled his 3.4 average through his first nine games. He followed up his performance against the Texans by rushing for 77 yards and throwing a touchdown at Cleveland. Jones-Drew appears ready to put together a strong finish to his season. The Jaguars certainly could use him at full strength against a stingy Texans defense.
Houston is 31st in the NFL in turnover differential at -12. Despite losing both games, the Texans only turned the ball over twice in the last two weeks. Keenum has done a nice job protecting the ball, throwing only three interceptions. The defense hasn't done a very good job of forcing turnovers, with only 14 on the season ranking them third-to-last in the AFC. Jacksonville has forced four turnovers the last two weeks, including three takeaways versus the Browns last week. If Jacksonville can force a few turnovers, they should have a huge leg up.
Key Player for Houston: Andre Johnson, WR
Andre Johnson was terrible in his last game against Jacksonville, which was quite out of character. After Josh Gordon's giant game last week it's clear that the Jaguars' secondary is prone to being taken advantage of by talented wide receivers. Johnson should be hungry for revenge and has the talent to take advantage of a young Jacksonville secondary.
Key Player for Jacksonville: Cecil Shorts III, WR
With Justin Blackmon suspended, Shorts has been asked to pick up the slack. Last week he certainly did so, with the game-winning touchdown matched up against Browns' shutdown cornerback Joe Haden. He is Chad Henne's favorite target, as he's seen 11 in each of the Jags' last two games. Shorts, the Jags' leader with 10 catches of more than 20 yards, is listed as questionable with a nagging groin injury. If he can't play Henne will be starved for options to get the ball to.
Neither offense has been particularily explosive this season; however, Houston clearly has more talent with Ben Tate in the backfield and the combo of Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins on the outside. If Case Keenum can do his job and get the ball to his playmakers, while avoiding turnovers, then the Texans' talent should win out. Look for J.J. Watt to be all over Chad Henne as the Jaguars' offensive line has stuggled with power rushers this season.
Houston 20, Jacksonville 17
The Pac-12 North was supposed to be one of, if not the, best division in college football this fall. Certainly, it was supposed to be better than the Pac-12 South. If a team from this league was supposed to earn a berth in the BCS National Championship game it was supposed to be from the North.
As it turns out, Arizona State boasted the best record in the Pac-12 (8-1) and earned the right to host tonight's Pac-12 Championship Game. And because the Sun Devils are at home in Sun Devils Stadium, Arizona State is favored over a Stanford team that abused the Sun Devils back on Sept. 21 in Palo Alto.
In the first meeting, the defending Pac-12 champs posted a 29-0 halftime lead and a 39-7 margin after three quarters. Arizona State made a late charge with three fourth-quarter touchdowns but the 42-28 final score made the lopsided game look a lot closer than reality. Fans of both teams should expect a much closer affair this time around.
Arizona State went on to win its last eight Pac-12 games since the loss to Stanford and has been virtually unstoppable at home all season. The Sun Devils averaged 49.1 points at home in Tempe this season and scored at least 53 points in six of eight home contests. The last time Stanford allowed more than 30 points in a game — much less 50 — was the 48 it allowed to Arizona in early October of last year.
While ASU has surged on offense over the final two months, it's the Sun Devils' defense that may be the deciding factor this weekend. Since losing to Notre Dame on Oct. 5, Arizona State has allowed more than 24 points just once (33, UCLA) and has given up just 85.6 yards rushing per game — which includes 249 in the blowout finale against Arizona. Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and Chris Young have developed into one of the league’s top defensive fronts (more on that soon).
On the flip side, the Cardinal are a different team since boat-racing Arizona State back in September as well. Stanford lost two of its last seven overall — both of which came on the road against teams Arizona State defeated (Utah, USC) — and the offense has topped 400 yards just three times since September (8 games). The 387.6 yards per game during that span would be ranked 82nd nationally.
Stanford has won the last three meetings in fairly convincing fashion, but, needless to say, these are two very different teams today than in any of those Cardinal victories.
Arizona State leads the all-time series 16-11.
Stanford at Arizona State
Kickoff: 7:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Arizona State -3
Three Things to Watch
Arizona State's backfield without Marion Grice
Not having injured starting running back Marion Grice will hurt Todd Graham’s offense in a big way. Grice had 1,434 yards from scrimmage and wasn’t just a running threat as his 50 receptions will attest. But can Graham replace the points? Grice led the Pac-12 and is fifth nationally with 20 total touchdowns despite missing the regular-season finale. Do-everything dynamo D.J. Foster, who spent most of the season playing wide receiver, stepped in last week in a big way. He rushed 23 times for 124 yards and two scores against Arizona and has played running back for most of his career until 2013. Foster is an excellent player but losing Grice is a big blow to Graham’s offense. Can the diminutive Foster carry a full workload against a physical and punishing defense?
Which pass rush is more effective?
Stanford’s experience, versatility, physicality and suffocating front seven is no secret. It posted three sacks, 10.0 tackles for a loss and blocked a punt against Arizona State in the first meeting. The Cardinal finished as the Pac-12's No. 1 scoring defense at just 19.0 points per game allowed. But Arizona States’s front seven is no joke either. The Sun Devils have averaged more than four sacks per game (4.1 pg) in Pac-12 play since losing to Stanford and used nine sacks against UCLA two weeks ago to clinch the South Division. Both quarterbacks are athletic but these are two of the top 10 teams in the nation in creating pressure on the quarterback, so offensive line play will be paramount this weekend.
Stanford's balance on offense
The best way for David Shaw to keep his quarterback upright is to create balance on offense. His offense struggled at times over the final two months — namely against Washington, Utah, Oregon Sate and USC. It couldn’t complete passes against USC or Washington and struggled to run the ball against Utah and Oregon State. Both Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson split carries against Arizona State in September but Gaffney has established himself as the lead back with 29.3 carries per game over his last six. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has shown flashes of being able to create balance but has been below 158 yards passing in four of the last five games. He and big-play wide receiver Ty Montgomery — who scored twice against Arizona State in the first meeting — must be able to create balance to slow down the ASU pass rush.
Key Player: Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
Hogan has had his moments of brilliance this season but has been inconsistent at times this fall. He can go from an 82.67 passer rating one week (USC) to 235.14 the next (Cal). Stanford is unbeaten this year when he completes more than 56 percent of his passes and he will likely have to be much better than that to outscore Arizona State. Hogan needs to get wide receiver Ty Montgomery involved in the game plan right away as one or two big passes down the field to the speedster could really open things up for Tyler Gaffney and the power running attack. Stanford will go as far as Hogan takes them — which could be the Granddaddy of Them All… or the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30.
Stanford was the significantly better team when these two met this year as the Cardinal totally baffled Graham with bizarre formations on offense and disguised blitzes on defense. However, Arizona State is a much better team today than back in September and are also playing in a stadium they haven’t lost in this year (7-0). This should gives fans a back-and-forth chess match in the desert. That said, the Cardinal have played in championship games before and are loaded on defense with senior superstars at every level. How does the old adage go: Offense wins games and defense wins championships? The physicality at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for Stanford is the difference in what should be an extremely entertaining and well-played Pac-12 title tilt.
Pac-12 Championship Predictions:
|Athlon Editor||Championship Prediction||Pac-12 Season Record|
|Braden Gall||Stanford, 34-31||74-17|
|David Fox||Arizona St, 35-28||69-22|
|Steven Lassan||Stanford, 31-27||76-15|
|Mitch Light||Stanford, 28-24||72-19|
The ACC Championship isn’t the marquee game on Saturday, but there’s plenty of intrigue, as Duke (a surprise contender) meets Florida State (the No. 1 team in the nation).
With a win over the Blue Devils, the Seminoles – barring a huge change in the polls on Sunday – would clinch a spot in the national championship. Florida State has been the most dominant team in the nation this season, with an average margin of victory at 42.7 points per game.
Duke was predicted by most to finish at the bottom of the ACC Coastal this year, but the Blue Devils used an eight-game winning streak to claim their first division title. Duke’s 10-win season is the first in program history, while the Blue Devils posted wins at Virginia Tech and North Carolina in route to the Coastal Division title.
David Cutcliffe has brought steady improvement over his six-year tenure in Durham. Duke has won 16 games over the last two seasons, which is the most in a two-year period for the program since winning 16 under Wallace Wade in 1940-41.
This is the first meeting between Florida State and Duke in the ACC Championship. The Seminoles won the conference title 21-15 over Georgia Tech last season and is trying to become the first back-to-back winner of the ACC Championship since Virginia Tech in 2007-08.
In the overall series, Florida State is 18-0 against Duke. The Seminoles won 48-7 in Tallahassee last season and only one matchup between these two teams has been decided by 20 points or less.
Duke vs. Florida State
Kickoff: 8:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -29
Three Things to Watch
Florida State's receivers vs. Duke's secondary
Behind freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, Florida State’s offense is on a record-setting pace this year. The Seminoles have already scored the most points in team history (644), average 7.8 yards per play and recorded at least 40 points in 11 out of the 12 games this season. Winston is the catalyst for the Seminoles’ offense, but the freshman is surrounded by one of the nation’s top supporting casts. Florida State is the only BCS team with three 800-yard receivers, and tight end Nick O’Leary has 509 yards on 30 receptions this year. Rashad Greene leads the team with 61 catches, but Kelvin Benjamin (12 touchdown catches) and Kenny Shaw (17.8 ypc) are key pieces in the passing game. Duke’s secondary features two senior starters at cornerback, including first-team All-ACC member Ross Cockrell. But there’s youth at safety, with one sophomore (Jeremy Cash) and two freshmen (Deondre Singleton and DeVon Edwards) composing the starting trio. In conference games, Duke has limited opponents to 250 yards per contest and has intercepted 13 passes. However, the Blue Devils have played only two FBS teams (North Carolina and Miami) that rank in the top 50 nationally in passing offense. Although the numbers suggest the Blue Devils’ secondary could present some problems for the Seminoles, this is their toughest challenge of the season. With Florida State’s deep group of receivers and weapons out of the backfield, Duke’s senior tandem at cornerback and young talent at safety will be tested.
Duke's rushing attack
When a team is nearly a 30-point underdog, a perfect game is absolutely necessary to pull off the upset. On Saturday night, Duke has to win the turnover battle and find a way to shorten the game. The Blue Devils have six players with at least 45 carries this year, including quarterbacks Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette. Jela Duncan leads the team with 546 yards, while Josh Snead is averaging 6.4 yards per carry (83 attempts). Duncan, Snead, Shaquille Powell and Juwan Thompson will see their share of carries on Saturday night, but the wildcard is Connette. The junior has been a critical piece of Duke’s offense in short-yardage situations and has scored 13 rushing touchdowns this year. After struggling against Boston College, Florida State’s run defense has been rock solid the rest of the year. The Seminoles have allowed just one team to record over 150 rushing yards in the last eight games. And all four of the rushing touchdowns allowed by Florida State have been with the backups in the game and the outcome no longer in doubt. Duke has a veteran offensive line (165 starts among the starting five). Can this group block one of the best defensive fronts in college football to help control the clock for the Blue Devils?
Turnover battle and special teams
As we mentioned above, Duke is a heavy underdog and needs a perfect effort to win on Saturday night. Controlling the clock and limiting Florida State’s possessions is one way the Blue Devils can slow down the Seminoles. But the turnover battle could play a huge role in the outcome. The Seminoles have lost only 14 turnovers this year, while the Blue Devils have lost 20. In terms of turnover margin, Florida State is a +17, and Duke is +3. If the Blue Devils have any hope of scoring the upset, they have to force a couple of turnovers and play a mistake-free game. Special teams will also be critical for Duke’s upset hopes. Punter Will Monday earned third-team All-ACC honors this season, and kicker Ross Martin connected on 11 of 15 field goals – including 2 of 3 from 50 yards or more. The Blue Devils also have a dangerous option on returns, as Jamison Crowder averages 15 yards per punt return, and DeVon Edwards averages 32.7 yards per kickoff return. Duke has to win in these two areas to keep this one close on Saturday night.
Key Player: Kenny Anunike, DE, Duke
Anunike is the elder statesman of Duke’s defense, as he started his career in Durham in 2009 and has played in 52 games. The senior leads the Blue Devils with six sacks this year and has recorded 13.5 tackles for a loss. Duke’s 4-2-5 alignment helps with adding extra athleticism and speed on the field, which should help in defending Florida State’s offense. However, the Blue Devils have a tough assignment in trying to stop a team averaging 53.7 points a game. What will be Duke’s plan of attack on defense? Will the Blue Devils bring extra pressure? Or will Duke be content to let the Seminoles drive the field and try to slow down this offense in the red zone? Either way, it’s critical Anunike gets pressure on Winston, as the Blue Devils need to put Florida State in long-distance situations. However, consider this: Winston is 16 of 18 for 317 yards and four touchdowns in third down opportunities with 10 or more yards to gain.
This is a true David versus Goliath scenario in the ACC Championship. Duke is riding high after an eight-game winning streak and the first 10-win season in school history. But Florida State is simply the better team and poised to return to the national title game for the first time since 200. If the Blue Devils can establish the run and create a couple of turnovers, Cutcliffe’s team can keep this game close at halftime. However, the Seminoles have too much firepower on offense, and the defense has not allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points since Sept. 28.
Cutcliffe clearly has Duke on the right track, but Florida State is the best team in college football.
ACC Championship Predictions
|Athlon Editor||Championship Prediction||Season Record|
|David Fox||Florida State 42-24||88-24|
|Braden Gall||Florida State 42-20||87-25|
|Steven Lassan||Florida State 45-17||86-26|
|Mitch Light||Florida State 44-17||87-25|
Stephen Gostkowski heads up Athlon Sports' fantasy football Week 14 kicker rankings, but no one has been hotter at the position lately than Justin Tucker. The Ravens' kicker has connected on 27 straight field goal attempts, including 13 over the past four weeks.
In his career, Tucker is 59 of 64 (92.2 percent) on field goal attempts, making him the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Tucker could be fairly busy against this week against Minnesota. The Vikings are giving up the sixth-most fantasy points to kickers this season.
Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Web site can give you.
2013 NFL Week 14 Fantasy Football Rankings — Kickers
|1||Stephen Gostkowski||NE||vs. CLE|
|2||Justin Tucker||BAL||vs. MIN|
|3||Steven Hauschka||SEA||at SF|
|4||Matt Prater||DEN||vs. TEN|
|5||Adam Vinatieri||IND||at CIN|
|6||Blair Walsh||MIN||at BAL|
|7||Dan Bailey||DAL||at CHI (Mon.)|
|8||Mason Crosby||GB||vs. ATL|
|9||Robbie Gould||CHI||vs. DAL (Mon.)|
|10||Shaun Suisham||PIT||vs. MIA|
|11||Phil Dawson||SF||vs. SEA|
|12||Caleb Sturgis||MIA||at PIT|
|13||Ryan Succop||KC||at WAS|
|14||Alex Henery||PHI||vs. DET|
|15||Garrett Hartley||NO||vs. CAR|
|16||Nick Folk||NYJ||vs. OAK|
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points
Additional Week 14 Positional Rankings