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This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 19:
• Buyer beware: Jim Harbaugh is insane.
• For some reason, Claude Giroux bit his opponent's jersey during a stoppage.
• Watch Dwight Howard take out the Nuggets mascot with a playful kick.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
With two weeks to go there are four division races down and four more to go, and the four remaining are far from sewn up. There are 10 teams involved in the chase for those divisions – which is a problem since there are only eight remaining playoff berths.
The wild-card race this year, in fact, is so strong that it’s possible there’ll be at least one 10-win team in each conference that doesn’t make the playoffs. In the NFC there’s a possibility that an 11-5 team will be left out. That’s why winning the division seems more important than ever.
So here’s a look at those all-important races in the four divisions that are up for grabs:
AFC NORTH: Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1), Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5), Baltimore Ravens (9-5)
There was a time earlier this season when the flawed Cleveland Browns were sitting atop the standings that this didn’t look like one of the better divisions in football. But these three teams have made a strong, late-season push. And it could all come down to the Bengals game in Pittsburgh in Week 17.
The Bengals play against the Denver Broncos this week, which makes that finale almost a must-win for them, especially since the Steelers warm up for that game by playing host to the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s the Ravens, though, who might be in the drivers’ seat. Winners of four of the last five, they have a soft, season-ending schedule with a game at Houston and home against the Browns. They haven’t looked great the last few weeks, and it’s worth noting that they lost back-to-back games to the Bengals and Steelers before this streak began.
The Steelers own the tie-breaker over the Ravens, but they might be forced to win both of their last two games.
Forecast: 1. Steelers 11-5, 2. Ravens 11-5, 3. Bengals 9-6-1
NFC EAST: Dallas Cowboys (10-4), Philadelphia Eagles (9-5)
The Cowboys’ Week 15 win over Philly was absolutely huge, because their tie-breaker scenarios meant they were going to be in danger of not only losing the division, but maybe even missing the playoffs had they lost. Instead, they looked terrific, as they have for much of the season. They may be hampered by the broken hand to RB DeMarco Murray, but early indications are that it's not serious, which could be a boost to get them on a roll.
Their only problem, though, is they have a very difficult game against the Indianapolis Colts this weekend, while the Eagles have an incredibly easy season-ending stretch against Washington and the Giants, the two worst teams in the NFC East.
So while it looks like the bubble sure has burst on QB Mark Sanchez, which doesn’t bode well for the playoffs, they still can win the division by winning their final two games and hoping the Cowboys lose once. If the Cowboys beat the Colts on Sunday, though, the division race is all but over.
Forecast: 1. Eagles 11-5, 2. Cowboys 11-5
NFC NORTH: Detroit Lions (10-4), Green Bay Packers (10-4)
Until the Packers’ shocking loss to the Bills last weekend they looked to be on the Polar Express toward Super Bowl XLIX. And they might still be, especially if it’s the flawed Lions standing between them and at least one, maybe two, playoff games in Lambeau Field.
The Lions, though, have a real chance to win the division. It’s game over for the Packers with one Lions win and one Packers loss. If the Packers beat Tampa Bay on Sunday, though, then no matter what it all comes down to the season finale in Green Bay. Since the Lions play at Chicago this weekend, it’s a good bet they’ll both be 11-4 heading into that winner-take-all game.
Forecast: 1. Packers 12-4, Lions 11-5
NFC SOUTH: New Orleans Saints (6-8), Carolina Panthers (5-8-1), Atlanta Falcons (5-9)
The worst division in the NFL doesn’t deserve a winner, but at least it’s only going to get one playoff berth. The Saints have the easiest path and can clinch by beating the Falcons on Sunday if the Panthers lose. They also have the safety net of a game against the Bucs in their finale – as if anything is really “safe” in this miserable division.
The Falcons can win their last two games and do some damage in the division, since they play the Saints and Panthers. A win over the Saints this weekend would be huge, since it would give them a season sweep and the tiebreaker advantage.
None of them have played particularly well lately and all of them have their issues, so really this division is “anything goes”. They’d be lucky to get a team into the playoffs with a .500 record. It’s hard to see whoever represents them being anything but one and done.
Forecast: 1. Saints 8-8, 2. Panthers 7-9-1, 3. Falcons 6-10
The Boston Celtics are in transition. That's why they just made the tough decision not to hold onto their last vestige of past glory. All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo was the only remaining member of their 2008 championship team that featured Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen — until last night. Now he's a Dallas Maverick.
Rondo seemed out of place with the current, rebuilding Celtics, led by Brad Stevens — the youngest coach in the league. He makes a lot more sense fighting for a championship in the intense, competitive Western Conference with Dirk Nowitzki and coach Rick Carlisle.
Basketball fans come out winners with Rondo heading to Texas. While the gap between the Eastern and Western conferences only grows larger with this move, the popcorn bucket for the playoffs only gets bigger and more buttery with another elite competitor in the fray. In past playoffs, Rondo has regularly been one of the most watchable players alive.
To get Rondo, Dallas is giving up backup big man Brandan Wright along with Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson, and two future draft picks — as reported by ESPN's Marc Stein.
It'll be interesting to see how the blockbuster trade plays out on the floor. Dallas already has the best offense in the league, and adding a new general will change a lot of what they do fundamentally. One is tempted to say it will change for the better — Rondo has better passing vision than just about anyone in the NBA — but how can you improve upon No. 1?
Rondo has been a ferocious defender in the past, but the malaise of a rebuild in Boston seems to have changed that. If his drop in effectiveness is all about motivation, then Dallas should rejoice. Because their team just got one of the biggest primetime gamers in the sport.
— John Wilmes
The first-ever Raycom Media Camellia Bowl between Bowling Green and South Alabama also represents the first-ever postseason appearance for one of FBS’ newest programs. Played in the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., this is the newest iteration of the Camellia Bowl, a postseason game whose ties go back to Louisiana and California.
For Bowling Green (7-6), this is the Falcons’ third straight postseason invite and 12th overall. Last season, Bowling Green won the Mid-American Conference championship under Dave Clawson, who departed for Wake Forest prior to the bowl game. Clawson was replaced by Dino Babers, who was the head coach at FCS member Eastern Illinois.
Babers’ first season in Bowling Green featured a home win over Big Ten member Indiana and a second straight MAC East Division title. However, the Falcons ended their regular season with back-to-back losses to Toledo and Ball State before getting demolished 51-17 by Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game.
A win over South Alabama would not only put an end to Bowling Green’s losing streak, it also would be the school’s first bowl victory since 2004. The Falcons have lost their past four bowl games, including last season’s 30-27 setback to Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Bowl.
For South Alabama (6-6), this will be the program’s first-ever bowl game, which is pretty impressive considering the Jaguars are in their sixth season of existence and just their second as a full-fledged FBS member. Joey Jones led his team to a 6-6 mark last season, but South Alabama was passed over for a bowl game.
This season the Jaguars opened up with a road win over MAC member Kent State, held their own in losses to Mississippi State and South Carolina, and nearly took down Navy at home to close out their slate. South Alabama finished 5-3 in the Sun Belt, part of a three-way tie for fourth place, and is one victory away from capping off the program’s most successful season.
Although a new bowl game to the FBS ranks, the Camellia Bowl has a shared history that dates all the way back to 1948. Hardin-Simmons defeated Wichita (now Wichita State University) 49-12 in the Camellia Bowl in Lafayette, La., on Dec. 30, 1948. The Camellia Bowl also was the name of the NAIA championship game (1961-64), as well as one of the four season-ending games from 1962-75 for what is now known as Division II. All of these games were played in Hughes Stadium in Sacramento, Calif.
Prior to the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, the last game called by this name was the Division I-AA (now FCS) Championship Game played between Boise State and Eastern Kentucky in Sacramento on Dec. 20, 1980. The Broncos won that game 31-29.
Bowling Green vs. South Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 20 at 9:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: South Alabama -3
Bowling Green’s Key to Victory: Get Off the Field on 3rd Down
Last season, the Falcons were 10th in the nation in total defense, a big reason why they won 10 games and their first MAC title since 1992. Unfortunately, Bowling Green’s defense has taken several steps back this season, as the Falcons are ranked 122nd out of 128 FBS teams in yards allowed per game (499.6). After holding opponents to a 35.3 percent conversion rate (29th) on third downs in 2013, the Falcons have allowed teams to convert 43.5 percent of their attempts this fall. That number jumps to well over 50 percent (54.9) in their six losses. Another byproduct of their struggles in this category is time of possession. In their last three games – losses to Toledo, Ball State and to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game – Bowling Green’s defense has been on the field for more than 109 minutes or 61 percent of total game time. Fortunately for Dino Babers’ team, South Alabama’s offense has had their own issues converting on third down. The Jaguars have converted just 36.4 percent of their third down conversions and haven’t fared that better in wins (38.3). The Falcons’ defense needs to minimize the amount of time it’s on the field. Stopping South Alabama on third down would be a huge first step in that direction.
South Alabama’s Key to Victory: Take Care of the Football
On the season, the Jaguars’ turnover margin isn’t that bad. They have committed just four more (24) than they have forced (20). However, a closer look at the numbers shows that South Alabama has regressed drastically in this category over the second half of its schedule, which has carried over to its results. In their first seven games the Jaguars turned the ball over a total of eight times. They went 5-2 during this stretch. Since that point, however, South Alabama has coughed it up 16 times in five games, a big reason why the Jaguars are in the midst of a 1-4 slump. Joey Jones’ team doesn’t jump out at you statistically in any one category, which means South Alabama plays with a rather thin margin for error. This is especially the case against a team like Bowling Green, whose plus-seven turnover margin is tied for the seventh-best mark nationally. The Jaguars need to keep both hands on the ball if they want to increase their chances of making the most of their first-ever bowl appearance.
Bowling Green won a division title, but it got trounced in the conference championship game and didn’t beat a single team that finished with a winning record. South Alabama won’t qualify in that respect either, but the Jaguars are hoping to make the most of their first-ever bowl appearance. Joey Jones’ team is new to FCS competition, but not necessarily success. The Jaguars technically were bowl-eligible last season at 6-6; they just weren’t selected to fill one of the Sun Belt’s bids. The Falcons are more established as a program, but the Jaguars are the ones motivated to make their first big splash on the FCS level. And playing a de facto home game in Montgomery certainly doesn’t hurt their chances of accomplishing this goal either.
Prediction: South Alabama 27, Bowling Green 24
My advice for picking bowls?
Don't do it. Stay as far away from these exhibitions as you can. Trying to pinpoint motivation, focus and the holidays at the end of a long, grueling season is virtually impossible.
I finished the regular season 56-53-1 against the spread. Unimpressive but in the black nonetheless during the most unpredictable season since '07. This isn't the regular season though, so these are more like suggestions than iron-clad locks.
Nevada (-1) vs. UL Lafayette
New Orleans Bowl
Dec. 20, 11 a.m., New Orleans
The Cajuns are extremely familiar with this situation and have been very successful. ULL has is 3-0 under Mark Hudspeth with each win coming in the New Orleans Bowl. Stopping Cody Fajardo isn't easy but Lafayette will find a way. The Pick: ULL +1
Utah St (-10.5) vs. UTEP
New Mexico Bowl
Dec. 20, 2:20 p.m., Albuquerque
This is one of the largest spreads in any bowl game and that should give you pause. The Miners have been excellent against the number all season (8-3-1) and should be motivated in their first bowl appearance since 2010. Utah State is getting healthier but got smoked by Boise State 50-19 its last time out. The Pick: UTEP +10
Utah (-2.5) vs. Colorado St
Las Vegas Bowl
Dec. 20, 3:30 p.m., Las Vegas
Both teams have been excellent against the spread, going 8-4 this year. Colorado State has lots of weapons but no head coach. This will be close but Utah's front seven should make enough plays to slow down the Rams' talented offensive trio. The Pick: Utah -2.5
W. Michigan (-1) vs. Air Force
Dec. 20, 5:45 p.m., Boise
It should come as no surprise that this game is a total crap shoot. On one side there's a unique offense that is much tougher to stop at the mid-major levels. On the other is one of the best teams in the nation against the spread (10-2) and three weeks to prepare. Good luck. The Pick: Air Force +1
South Alabama (-2.5) vs. Bowling Green
Dec. 20, 9:15 p.m., Montgomery
Bowling Green is 4-8-1 against the spread this season and has lost three straight. Meanwhile, South Alabama has lost four out of five. Both teams are well coached and are evenly matched, so I'll take the team playing in its first-ever bowl game. The Pick: South Alabama -2.5
BYU (+1.5) vs. Memphis
Miami Beach Bowl
Dec. 22, 2 p.m., Miami
This is the most intriguing early bowl matchup of the year. Both teams are very well coached and play physical defense. BYU would be the pick if Taysom Hill was playing but the Stormin' Mormon won't be back until 2015. Take Memphis to be motivated to get its first bowl win since 2005 in its first bowl appearance since 2008. The Pick: Memphis -1.5
Marshall (-10) vs. N. Illinois
Boca Raton Bowl
Dec. 23, 6 p.m., Boca Raton
Just like the New Mexico Bowl, big spreads in bowl games should be played with caution. Frankly, the Huskies are good enough to win the game outright. The Herd will be tough to beat but that is too many points for a program that knows all about the postseason and has been challenged this year. The Pick: N. Illinois +10
Navy (+2.5) vs. San Diego St
Dec. 23, 9:30 p.m., San Diego
This is a solid Navy team that has won three straight and rolled up efficient offensive numbers all season long. The Aztecs are playing well but won't be able to stop the Middies' triple-option attack. The Pick: Navy +2.5
C. Michigan (+3) vs. W. Kentucky
Dec. 24, Noon, Nassau
Finally, a pre-Christmas bowl game I'd like to cover. The Hilltoppers have played a much tougher slate and have won four straight, including scoring 67 points on previously unbeaten Marshall. In its last five wins (six games), WKY has scored at least 45 points four times. The Pick: Western Kentucky -3
Fresno St (+2) vs. Rice
Dec. 24, 8 p.m., Honolulu
The competition got stiff in the final few weeks for Rice and it gave up huge numbers to Marshall (41) and Louisiana Tech (76) in losses. Fresno State wants to get back to .500 and played very well in a loss to Boise State in the MWC title game. The Pick: Fresno St +2
Here are the 30 best, most entertaining, most dramatic and most important Power 5 football games of the 2014 season:
1. (2) Florida St 31, (5) Notre Dame 27
It’s hard to make an entire nation root for the usually hated Fighting Irish but that is what the Seminoles were able to do in this battle of top-five teams. An evenly matched bout most of the way, Jameis Winston led the Noles on a game-winning touchdown drive with just under eight minutes to go. Not to be outdone, Everett Golson moved the Irish to the FSU two-yard line before the infamous pick penalty erased the game-winning score and pushed ND back to the 18-yard line on fourth down. Winston was star of the show again, going 15-of-16 in the second half.
2. (5) Baylor 61, (9) TCU 58
One of the highest-scoring games in league history eventually decided the Big 12 championship for the Bears. Trailing 58-37 with less than 11 minutes to play, Bryce Petty orchestrated one of the most miraculous comebacks in college football history. He led Baylor on four scoring drives and 24 points in the final quarter with the final three points coming on a 28-yard field goal as time expired. This game might have cost the Big 12 a spot in the Playoff.
3. (11) Ole Miss 23, (3) Alabama 17
For about seven minutes, Bo Wallace was downright brilliant and Alabama's special teams were not. Two Wallace touchdown passes and two 'Bama turnovers led to a historic and memorable victory over the Tide in "College GameDay’s" first-ever visit to The Grove.
4. (1) Alabama 55, (15) Auburn 44
While there was no SEC West or SEC title hanging in the balance, the intensity still delivered for these two hated rivals. Neither team played much defense in this record-setting Iron Bowl, as Alabama outscored Auburn 34-10 over the following 23 minutes after trailing by 12 in the third quarter. The win kept 'Bama in the Playoff picture.
5. Arizona 31, (2) Oregon 24
The upset heard ‘round the world started an unforgettable weekend in the Pac-12. Arizona stunned the Ducks by forcing turnovers, pressuring Marcus Mariota and running the ball. Scooby Wright III became a household name when he stripped Mariota and recovered the fumble to win the game in front of a shocked Autzen Stadium crowd.
6. (5) Alabama 20, (16) LSU 13 (OT)
Always physical and always intense, the heavily-favored Crimson Tide needed a historic drive from Blake Sims to defeat the Tigers. Sims led 'Bama 55 yards over the final 50 seconds to tie the game before going on to win in overtime.
7. (3) Auburn 35, (4) Ole Miss 31
Literally and figuratively, the Rebels' home loss to Auburn might be one of the most painful in school or SEC history. No one on either side of the ledger will forget when Laquon Treadwell fumbled and broke his leg with 1:30 to go, as he was falling into the end zone for the game-winning score. The back-and-forth affair never featured a lead of more than seven points.
8. (25) TCU 37, (4) Oklahoma 33
Barely ranked, TCU entered the national conversation by outscoring the Sooners at home. Trevone Boykin and Trevor Knight both topped 300 yards in the dramatic affair. The game was tied at the end of the first quarter and was never more than a one-score game after that. Paul Dawson’s 41-yard interception return early in the fourth quarter was the game-winning touchdown.
9. (3) Oregon 46, (7) Michigan St 27
Few gave the Spartans a chance to go to Autzen Stadium and win. But through three quarters, everyone in Eugene had respect for Michigan State. The Spartans gave the Ducks all they could handle until a late tipped interception landed in the hands of All-American corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The Ducks surged over the final few minutes.
10. (24) LSU 10, (3) Ole Miss 7
It wasn’t always pretty but it was extremely memorable. The physical units beat each other up for 60 minutes before Ole Miss had a chance to win in the final moments. But a bizarre decision by Bo Wallace (and, to some extent, Hugh Freeze) in the final moments of the game began a tough final month for the Rebs.
11. (16) Georgia Tech 30, (9) Georgia 24 (OT)
It didn’t really mean much in the standings or rankings but the 109th edition of Clean, Old Fashioned Hate won’t ever be forgotten by either side. Georgia scored with 18 seconds to go to seemingly win a sixth straight over its in-state rival but somehow Justin Thomas ran his team into field goal range on the ensuing possession. Harrison Butker drilled a 53-yarder to tie the game as time expired and the Jackets' defense kept the Dawgs out of the end zone for the win.
12. Arizona St 38, (16) USC 34
It was the wildest weekend of the season, as four of the top 10 games of the year took place in Week 6. The wildest of finishes happened in Los Angeles when backup quarterback Mike Bercovici connected with Jaelen Strong on the final play of the game from 46 yards out. Arizona State and USC combined for 34 points in the final quarter.
13. (1) Florida St 23, (22) Clemson 17 (OT)
The day before the big Atlantic Division showdown, Jimbo Fisher suspended Jameis Winston for the entire game. Clemson, buoyed by a confident defense and the emergence of true freshman DeShaun Watson at quarterback, played mostly excellent football for 58 minutes. But a gut-wrenching fumble deep in Florida State territory with two minutes to play and a questionable fourth-down decision in overtime left the Tigers dumbstruck when the final whistle blew.
14. (19) Utah 24, (20) USC 21
It was arguably the biggest win for Utah since moving to the Pac-12 and it happened because Travis Wilson threw a game-winning touchdown pass with eight seconds left. The final drive may be Wilson’s finest of his career, moving the Utes 73 yards on 11 plays with just 2:08 to play. The score was the game’s fifth lead change.
15. (3) Florida State 30, Miami 26
FSU started out slowly, trailing both 16-0 and 23-7 in the second quarter. But Jameis Winston and tailback Dalvin Cook flipped a switch in the second half, as Florida State went on a 23-3 run. Cook sprinted 26 yards with 3:05 left in the game to give the Noles their 26th straight win and fifth in a row over the archrival Hurricanes.
16. Utah 30, (8) UCLA 28
The Bruins lived on the edge for most of the first month and it finally caught up with them at home against the underdog Utes. After UCLA allowed the eighth, ninth and tenth sacks of the game against Brett Hundley, Kendal Thompson led the game-winning drive to give Utah a win on the road over a to-10 foe. Andy Phillips nailed a 29-yard field goal with 34 seconds left to give Utah the lead. UCLA then missed not one, but two 50-plus-yard field goal attempts as time expired.
17. Arizona 49, Cal 45
It didn’t feature a ranked team at the time and no one realized at the time how important it would become in the Pac-12 South Division race. Arizona’s successful Hail Mary on the game’s final play capped a 36-point fourth quarter. The record-setting comeback would help propel the Wildcats into the Pac-12 title game and put Anu Solomon on the nation’s radar.
18. (14) Ohio St 49, (8) Michigan St 37
There wasn’t a Hail Mary or last-second field goal, but this was easily the most important Big Ten game of the year. Ohio State went on the road and matched the Spartans punch for punch. In the end, J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott were too much for the defending champs. The win eventually gave the Buckeyes the division crown, the league title and a Playoff berth.
19. (24) South Carolina 38, (6) Georgia 35
This SEC East rivalry has become one of the most important and entertaining in the league and this year’s version didn’t disappoint. Todd Gurley and Dylan Thompson went back and forth all game while special teams and a goal-line stand played critical roles in the second half.
20. (13) Ohio St 31, Penn St 24 (2OT)
J.T. Barrett played one of the worst games of his season while Penn State played arguably its best as a team, coming from 17 points back to force overtime. Yet, after two overtimes and four turnovers, Penn State’s offensive line woes eventually cost the Lions the game. Joey Bosa capped a remarkable evening with a game-ending sack on fourth down in double overtime.
21. (2) Florida St 42, (25) Louisville 31
(Stop me when you’ve heard this before?) Florida State stumbled out of the gate in primetime on a Thursday night in Papa John’s Stadium. Michael Dyer led a surging Cardinals squad to a 21-0 second-quarter lead before a fortunate bounce helped FSU get into the end zone with just 33 seconds left before halftime. The second half was the James Winston and Dalvin Cook show, as the duo combined for five touchdowns — all of which came from at least 35 yards away. The Noles finished on a 42-10 run over the final 31 minutes of play.
22. Texas A&M 41, (3) Auburn 38
The thrilling road upset by the Aggies was highlighted by two of the most bizarre fumbles the SEC has ever seen. After a furious second-half rally, Auburn appeared to have the game won or at least tied at two different times in the final moments. But a tangled exchanged at the two-yard line and a bizarre center snap on the 28 cost Auburn the game. Texas A&M was a 23-point underdog and this win also helped christen Kyle Allen as the future in College Station
23. (14) Kansas St 31, (11) Oklahoma 30
It wasn’t Michael Hunnicutt’s day to say the least. Several miscues and a late missed field goal cost the Sooners the game. That said, Oklahoma couldn’t stop Jake Waters and company all day, as the two offenses went back and forth for 60 minutes. Two old-school Hall of Fame coaches did battle and everyone who watched was a winner.
24. (14) Arizona St 19, (17) Utah 16 (OT)
The low-scoring affair featured plenty of special teams action, as two of the best kickers in the game went toe-to-toe. Zane Gonzalez made four field goals, including the game-tying kick from 30 yards out with 5:47 to play and the game-winner in overtime from 36 yards out. Utah’s Andy Phillips also made three FGs during the game, but missed twice from 35 yards out (timeout was called negating the first attempt) on the first possession of overtime.
25. (6) Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 28 (OT)
The Hogs appeared to be poised for their first SEC win under Bret Bielema until Kenny Hill snatched victory away from Arkansas. Trailing by two touchdowns in the final frame, Hill connected on two long touchdown throws and added the game-winner on the first play of overtime to score 21 unanswered points and give Texas A&M the win.
26. Oklahoma St 38, (20) Oklahoma 35
The Bedlam Series has never seen an ending quite like this and it couldn’t make Mike Gundy any happier. A heavy underdog, the Pokes faced certain defeat with just under a minute to play. But Tyreek Hill delivered a 92-yard, game-tying punt return to send the game into overtime.
27. (17) Missouri 21, Arkansas 14
The Hogs played extremely well for three quarters before a road-grading, old-school touchdown drive gave Missouri the SEC East championship. The Tigers ran 12 plays for 85 yards to score the game-winner with just six minutes left in the game. A turnover forced by Markus Golden eventually sealed the win in what should develop into an underrated border rivalry.
28. Virginia Tech 35, (8) Ohio St 21
This was one of the biggest upsets of the year regardless of conference. The Hokies rattled and tormented J.T. Barrett all night in a shocking two-touchdown win in Columbus. It was a memorable night for college football and VT quarterback Michael Brewer.
29. (14) USC 13, (13) Stanford 10
It wasn’t a well-played game, but it sure was fun to watch. Stanford’s inability to score in the red zone coupled with some big plays from Cody Kessler and the USC defense gave the Trojans yet another upset win over Stanford. The game was highlighted by bizarre sideline behavior from Steve Sarkisian and Pat Haden.
30. (9) Notre Dame 17, (14) Stanford 14
It wasn’t pretty but the finish lived up to the rich history between these two cross-country foes. From the 23-yard line, Everett Golson found Ben Koyack in the end zone on fourth down trailing 14-10 with just 1:01 left on the clock. The defensive battle finished with three lead changes in the final eight minutes.
The Best of the Rest:
(4) Florida St 37, (11) Georgia Tech 35
After allowing boatloads of yards in the first half, it looked like Tech would be up to the task. However, the Seminoles' defense tightened in the second half and Jameis Winston, like always, led multiple scoring drives in the final 20 minutes of play. It was just enough for Florida State to win its third consecutive ACC title.
USC 28, (10) Arizona 26
Arizona led after the first quarter and USC led after the second and third. In fact, the Trojans entered the final frame up 28-13 before Anu Solomon led another furious rally. A failed two-point conversion with 1:07 to play left the Cats down by two, but a successful onside kick gave Zona new life. Solomon then raced his offense into field goal range but a last-second, 36-yard attempt sailed wide right and USC escaped Tucson with a critical win.
(25) Minnesota 28, (23) Nebraska 24
With just minutes left in the game and trailing, it appeared that Nebraska had made the game-winning play. But Jerry Kill’s Gophers, without running back David Cobb no less, once again made an unexpected play. Briean Boddy-Calhoun capped an epic road comeback for Minnesota when he ripped the ball away from Nebraska on his own goal line with 1:19 left in the game. It was Minnesota’s first win in Nebraska since 1960.
Nebraska 37, Iowa 34 (OT)
The Huskers had lost two straight and were trailing 24-7 late in the third quarter when Tommy Armstrong led one of the most improbable comebacks in school history. Armstrong led three touchdown drives over the final 20 minutes, capped off by the game-tying drive that ended with eight seconds left in the game and then threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Kenny Bell in overtime — his fourth of the game.
Florida 36, Kentucky 30 (3OT)
Kentucky fans will only remember what happened before the play and certainly won’t ever forget what happened at the end. After the play clock appeared to hit zero, Jeff Driskel connected with Demarcus Robinson on 4th-and-7 in overtime to tie the game and keep Florida alive. Two overtimes later, Matt Jones scored the game-winning touchdown.
Indiana 31, (18) Missouri 27
The biggest non-conference win and biggest upset of the year — regardless of conference — came from Kevin Wilson’s bunch in Columbia, Mo. Tevin Coleman rushed for 132 yards, Nate Sudfeld was excellent and D’Angelo Roberts scored the game-winning touchdown with just 22 seconds left. The SEC East champs lost just twice in the regular season.
(5) Auburn 42, South Carolina 35
South Carolina came to Auburn as a heavy underdog but proved to be anything but an easy out. The two high-powered offenses traded scores for the better part of 60 minutes before Auburn’s defense finally got a few stops in the fourth quarter. The two teams combined for 1,086 yards of offense and three total punts.
(14) Arizona 27, Washington 26
The star of this wild game was a kicker. One week after missing a kick that cost Arizona a win over USC, Casey Skowron not only made the game-winning field goal as time expired, but scored every point in the fourth quarter for either team and scored a touchdown on a fake field goal in the second quarter. Washington dominated the third quarter but RichRod’s bunch owned the final frame in this wild interdivisional game.
(11) Arizona 42, (13) Arizona St 35
Despite Rich Rodriguez’ best efforts, about midway through the game, both teams realized that The Territorial Cup had become the Pac-12 South championship game. Anu Solomon played solid football all game, as did the Cats defense, regardless of which Arizona State quarterback was in the game. The Sun Devils simply couldn’t close the touchdown gap that existed for most of the game. An early defensive TD was the difference.
(5) Auburn 20, (20) Kansas St 14
It wasn’t pretty and wasn’t well played but it was hard-hitting and dramatic. Jake Waters and Nick Marshall battled to the final moments in Manhattan but red zone and special teams mistakes kept the Cats from the win.
In an honest moment, UCLA coach Steve Alford might roll his eyes at Kentucky’s current dilemma heading into Saturday’s CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.
The Wildcats lost junior forward Alex Poythress for the remainder of the season a week ago to a torn ACL. The injury means Kentucky coach John Calipari must either find a 10th man to play in his unconventional platoon system or simply deal with a nine-man rotation filled with McDonald’s All-Americans and NBA prospects.
Alford only wishes he could sympathize with that problem.
Kentucky’s opponent Saturday has a five-man rotation and little else. In UCLA’s last game, an 87-74 loss to Gonzaga, Alford played four of his starters for at least 35 minutes. The fifth starter played 25 minutes, and only one other player logged more than six minutes.
Meanwhile, Kentucky could still conceivably change its entire lineup wholesale. Since this is Kentucky, the No. 1 team in the country, the Wildcats’ substitution patterns in the face of the Poythress injury are noteworthy.
“We'll platoon nine, and we're going to have time to see if (sophomore forward) Derek Willis or (sophomore guard) Dom Hawkins deserve to be in the rotation of 10,” Calipari said. “I'm not going to take minutes away from any player just to platoon. That's not the idea. We were platooning for one reason — to try to take care of 10 players.”
Kentucky vs. UCLA
Site: United Center, Chicago
Time: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
David Fox: Kentucky 74-58
Braden Gall: Kentucky 83-68
Mitch Light: Kentucky 78-54
Jake Rose: Kentucky 82-64
The Poythress injury is the first major test of Calipari’s unorthodox platoon system in which he has white and blue squads for liberal and sometime wholesale substitutions.
While the loss of a starter — and an experienced and versatile defender at that — Calipari has to find a way to fill the minutes. Certainly, he has the bodies to do it, but he’ll have to juggle the egos of talented players along the way.
The truth is, the true platoon system has faded a bit in recent games. In a 58-38 win over Providence on Nov. 30, Kentucky made eight five-man substitutions, including the first four substitutions of the game.
That may have been the end of Kentucky's platoon system.
In the following four games, Calipari has subbed all five on the court only six times. That said, the first substitutions against Texas, Eastern Kentucky and Columbia was a five-man change.
Against North Carolina, Kentucky’s first game without Poythress, the Wildcats subbed four at the first timeout and followed more conventional substitution patterns for the remainder of the game. Calipari subbed four seven times against the Tar Heels and never subbed an entire lineup.
The Poythress injury is a curve ball, but the kind of change that was bound to happen to Kentucky’s best-laid plans. An injury, a player or two not keeping up with the pack or anything else could have turned a 10-man platoon into a more conventional, yet still deep, rotation.
“We did talk in terms of, 'Hey, if we get to the point where eight of those guys or seven have separated from the rest, it'll be pretty cut-and-dried that it's done on the court and it's proven on the court and those guys will play.'” Calipari said. “So I'm not married to anything.”
Two of the nation’s most improved teams – Air Force and Western Michigan – meet for the first time in program history in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Falcons and Broncos each improved their win total by seven games last season and scored some impressive wins in the process. Air Force beat Colorado State and Boise State – arguably the top two teams in the Mountain West – this year and claimed the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy after beating Army and Navy. The Broncos went 0-2 against Power 5 opponents but lost by one to Toledo and defeated MAC East champion Bowling Green 26-14 in mid-October.
Improvement on defense has spurred the seven-game jump in wins by Air Force this season. The Falcons allowed 40 points per game in 2013 but lowered that number to 24.2 in 2014. Western Michigan experienced a similar turnaround on defense, limiting opponents to 23.8 points per game after giving up 35.4 per contest last season. But the Broncos also took a step forward on offense, as the emergence of running back Jarvion Franklin and quarterback Zach Terrell propelled Western Michigan to lead the MAC with an average of 34.6 points per game.
This will be the 18th bowl matchup of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The bowl name has changed a couple of times since its inception in 1997, but the last two meetings in Boise were blowouts. Utah State dominated Toledo 41-15 in 2012, while San Diego State defeated Buffalo 49-24 last season.
Air Force vs. Western Michigan
Kickoff: 5:45 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Air Force -1.5
Air Force’s Key to Victory: Stop the Run
In Air Force’s 3-4 alignment, its three listed starters on the depth chart for the defensive line average 262 pounds. That’s a light defensive front compared to some of the other teams Western Michigan has played this year. The Broncos lean on their ground attack to setup the pass, and running back Jarvion Franklin emerged as one of the top freshmen in college football this season. Franklin recorded 1,525 yards and 24 scores on 294 attempts and earned MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors for his performance. Air Force may not measure up in terms of overall size up front, but the Falcons are active around the line of scrimmage and ranked second in the Mountain West against the run in 2014. Under the direction of coordinator Steve Russ, Air Force ranks third in the Mountain West with 77 tackles for a loss and finished the season on a high note by containing Colorado State’s offense to just 106 rushing yards on 32 attempts. The Broncos will try to establish the run from the opening snap, and it’s critical the Falcons win the battle on first and second down to force Western Michigan into third-and-long situations. Quarterback Zach Terrell completed 70 percent of his throws this season and tossed only 10 picks on 330 attempts. But how important is it for Franklin to have success? In all four of Western Michigan’s losses, Terrell attempted over 30 passes. In eight wins by the Broncos, Terrell attempted less than 30.
Western Michigan’s Key to Victory: Third-down Defense and Turnovers
Regardless of the time to prepare, playing a team that runs an option offense is no easy assignment. Western Michigan faces a tough task trying to slow down an Air Force offense that averages 272.2 yards per game and led the nation with 732 rushing attempts. The Falcons use a variety of rushers, with Jacobi Owens and quarterback Kale Pearson leading the team in yardage this year. However, Owens is out for the rest of the season due to injury, and Pearson did not play in the regular season finale. Pearson is expected to go against Western Michigan, while Devin Rushing, D.J. Johnson and Shayne Daveren will be counted upon more out of the backfield with Owens sidelined. Despite the injury to Owens, Air Force’s ground attack will test the Broncos rush defense, which ranks fourth in the MAC by allowing 142.7 yards per game. Western Michigan held six opponents under 100 rushing yards this season, but Northern Illinois gashed the defense for 196 yards, while Toledo recorded 234 yards on 36 attempts. Teams that had the right pieces up front and in the backfield had success against the Broncos. However, stopping the run isn’t necessarily the only task for Western Michigan, as this defense needs to get off the field on third downs and force turnovers. Pearson has been efficient when he’s asked to throw, but this offense isn’t built to rally from 14 or 17 points down on a consistent basis. When Air Force gets its ground attack established and continues to eat up the clock on third downs, it’s difficult for a defense to get off the field and get the ball back to its offense.
This matchup could be one of the better pre-Christmas bowls. Both teams have plenty of motivation to cap a season of significant improvement with a win in Boise, while the overall matchup is fairly even between the Broncos and Falcons. Western Michigan should benefit from the extra time to prepare for Air Force’s option attack. However, it may take some time to adjust in game speed. Pearson and the Falcons’ rushers should have success, but the Broncos will also land a few punches behind the one-two punch of Franklin on the ground and Terrell through the air. Limiting big plays in the passing has been a challenge for Air Force this year, and Terrell has a dangerous outside threat in receiver Corey Davis (17.6 ypc). Expect a back-and-forth affair, with Air Force edging Western Michigan for the win in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Air Force 31, Western Michigan 27
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 18:
• Kate Upton and Justin Verlander have sent out their Christmas card. Not what we're used to from Ms. Upton, is it?
• Tis the season: Mandatory's passive-aggressive holiday insult generator.
• Somebody strapped a GoPro to an eagle before the Eagles game. Enjoy.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Not many bowl games feature two teams that have met 79 previous times but that is the case when former conference rivals Utah and Colorado State meet on Saturday in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Utes own the series over Rams (55-22-2) and is 6-1 against the Colorado State under Kyle Whittingham — the only loss came in Whittingham’s first season in Salt Lake City.
After missing the postseason four straight years, Jim McElwain led the Rams to their second straight bowl game and a 10-win season. However, Dave Baldwin will be running the ship after McElwain departed Fort Collins for Gainesville, Fla.
Opposite Baldwin, Whittingham has led a resurgent Utah program back to the postseason after two years without a bowl bid.
Utah is making its fourth appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl while Colorado State is making its postseason debut in Sin City.
Utah vs. Colorado State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Dec. 20)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Utah -3.5
Utah’s Key to Victory: Efficient and balanced offense
Utah has arguably the best special teams in the nation and has more than held its own along the defensive front. So it falls to the offense to find balance and not turn the ball over. Travis Wilson has had his share of impressive moments this fall but has also made plenty of mistakes. He needs to rely on All-Pac-12 running back Devontae Booker (1,350 yds, 9 TDs) to make plays and not be afraid to throw the ball away. If Wilson protects the football and plays it conservatively, the Utes are good enough to win with defense and special teams.
Colorado State's Key to Victory: Protect the QB
Few teams in the nation have as talented an offensive trio as Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson, Rashard Higgins and Dee Hart. Grayson has been sterling under center (32 TDs, 6 INTs) while Higgins is leading the nation with 17 touchdown catches. Hart brings balance to the offense (1,254 yds, 16 TDs). Needless to say, the trio has been tough to stop this year, but the Utes led the nation in sacks (52) and Baldwin can bet on plenty of pressure from Utah. Keeping Grayson upright and protected on passing downs (while giving Hart some space to work with on the ground) will give CSU its only chance at the upset. If the Rams can’t block Nate Orchard and a healthy Hunter Dimick, it could be a long day for Grayson and company.
Colorado State has an advantage with its talented trio on offense but they haven’t faced too many defensive fronts like what the Utes bring to the table. And Wilson hasn’t been consistent enough for the Utes to lean on him on offense. Instead, Utah will focus heavily on getting Booker the football on offense — he has carried the ball at least 23 times in a game seven times this year — and allowing the nation’s best special teams to win the field position battle. With the nation’s top punter (Tom Hackett), one of the best kickers (Andy Phillips) and an elite return man (Kaelin Clay), Whittingham’s bunch should outlast the Rams for his seventh bowl win in eight tries at Utah.
Prediction: Utah 27, Colorado State 23
“Underrated” means a lot of things to a lot of people, but this is a collection of men who simply don’t get mentioned nearly enough. While players like Marc Gasol, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis aren’t often properly credited on NBA fan radars — small market size will do that — this, here, is a team of ballers who simply can’t even get on that radar, but should be on yours.
7. Robin Lopez
The Portland Trail Blazers were hit hard this week when they learned of starting center Robin Lopez’s broken hand. Next to LaMarcus Aldridge, he provides just about the perfect complement of dirty work. His rim-protection, rebounding and general banging around in the lane free up Aldridge to be the futuristic, deep-shooting big that so often kills defenses.
As far as role players go, it’s hard to find a better one than the affable Lopez. His good humor and attitude are essential to the Blazers’ locker room, too, and Portland (a stealth Western Conference contender) will receive a terrific shot in the arm when he returns later this winter.
6. Andrew Bogut
Open your ears, and you’re sure to hear about Steph Curry and Klay Thompson — better known as the Splash Brothers. The Golden State Warriors hum along with one of the best offenses of the year in large part due to having the league’s best shooting combo. Thompson and Curry are also, for many fans, what makes GSW fun to watch.
But the wins and losses wouldn’t be the same without their linchpin back-line defender, Andrew Bogut, who's also insanely skilled on the perimeter for a 7-footer. The Warriors’ offense truly leaves the stratosphere when Bogut's passing outside the paint enters the playbook. If you like to watch big men behave like guards, Andrew’s your man.
5. Ty Lawson
Ty Lawson hasn’t let his undersized frame stop him from NBA ascension. The tiny dynamo goes unnoticed on a mismatched Denver Nuggets roster in the loaded Western Conference, but he’s secretly one of the very best pick-and-roll players in basketball. Lawson only needs an inch to kill you with his speed, and a screen can usually give him a few.
And when Denver is tight with their opponents down the stretch, there’s no doubt about who they’ll be calling the play for. Ty is high on the moxie rankings and can usually cross you over to get room for a clutch jumper that you’ll not soon forget.
4. Serge Ibaka
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that last year’s NBA title hung on the tendons of Serge Ibaka’s calf. When Ibaka got injured and missed Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, his Oklahoma City Thunder struggled to do anything right defensively.
Having Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is always nice, but you’ve got to perform exquisite team defense to get past the game-planning of the reigning NBA champs. With a healthy Ibaka keeping the restricted area on lockdown, the currently streaking Thunder won’t have to advance too far up the standings to make noise in this year’s playoffs. With home-court advantage or without it, they’ll be able to beat anybody.
3. Trevor Ariza
Going into free agency this past summer, Trevor Ariza was plagued by one season of his career. Because his production dipped in 2009-10 when he signed a new deal, Ariza was widely cited as a “contract-year player,” who wouldn’t play up to standards once money wasn’t on the table.
But after signing a four-year, $32 million sheet with the Houston Rockets in July, Ariza has thoroughly disproved that notion. He’s been an essential piece of the surging Rockets, who look much more fearsome than last year with a defense loaded with real teeth. Ariza’s a premier perimeter stopper who brings conviction and elite 3-point shooting to Houston, too.
2. Jeff Teague
Don’t look now, but the Eastern Conference is growing their own version of the Spurs. Under the direction of former Gregg Popovich assistant Mike Budenholzer, point guard Jeff Teague has become the motor to an offense with an uncanny amount of selfless passers and potent three-point shooters.
The Hawks’ motion-heavy offense is a thrill to watch, even if almost no one sees it. Teague’s penetration into the lane keys defensive breakdowns that often end in the enemy’s nightmare: Kyle Korver draining an open three. But the fifth-year Wake Forest alum can also finish the play himself, as a 47 percent shooter with a fierce finishing touch at the rim.
1. Kyle Lowry
The Toronto Raptors are the No. 1 team in the East, and no one deserves more credit for that than Kyle Lowry. One of the league’s best game managers in crunch time, Lowry is a pugnacious point guard who can kill you with force as much as he can touch.
An excellent, aggressive defender as well, Lowry is the soul at the middle of a Canadian basketball renaissance. Don’t be surprised if you see him smiling this springtime, while his dark horse Toronto squad emerges out of the Eastern Conference and fights in the Finals behind his stellar, steady play.
— John Wilmes
If you’re looking forward to watching tonight’s matchup between the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars on the NFL Network, you’re either a Draftnik who wants to see who’ll have a shot at the top pick; you have a son on one of the teams; or you have a serious gambling problem.
It’s hard to imagine any other motivation for tuning in for a pairing of the two of the NFL’s worst franchises, who sport matching 2–12 records. Of course, we are talking about professional football players (of a sort), so some small measure of pride and athleticism will still be on display at EverBank Field. We hope.
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguarss
Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Spread: Jacksonville -3.5
|Tennessee 2014 Schedule|
|11/23||@ PHI||L 24 - 43||Recap|
|11/30||@ HOU||L 21 - 45||Recap|
|12/7||vs NYG||L 7 - 36||Recap|
|12/14||vs NYJ||L 11 - 16||Recap|
|12/18||@ JAC||L 13 - 21||Recap|
|12/28||vs IND||L 10 - 27||Recap|
Tennessee’s Key to Victory: A Mistake-Free Game from Clipboard Charlie
Third-string quarterback Charlie Whitehurst is being forced back into action for the Titans following injuries to Zach Mettenberger and Jake Locker, but the news isn’t all bad on the Titans QB front. Whitehurst led the Titans to victory in the last meeting between these two teams, completing 17-of-28 passes for 233 yards in Tennessee’s 16–14 Week 6 win over Jacksonville in Nashville. If the Titans are to snap an NFL-worst eight-game losing streak, Whitehurst needs to protect the football and make some plays in the passing game. Whitehurst’s 89.1 passer rating actually leads the team (albeit in limited action), and his 5-to-2 TD-to-INT ratio is respectable. “I feel good about Charlie and what he's done. ... He started against Jacksonville the last time and played a pretty good game,” said coach Ken Whisenhunt. “He’s been a great support in the room, and we have confidence in him that when he plays he’s going to be successful.”
|Jacksonville 2014 Schedule|
|11/23||@ IND||L 3 - 23||Recap|
|11/30||vs NYG||W 25 - 24||Recap|
|12/7||vs HOU||L 13 - 27||Recap|
|12/14||@ BAL||L 12 - 20||Recap|
|12/18||vs TEN||W 21 - 13||Recap|
|12/28||@ HOU||L 17 - 23||Recap|
Jacksonville’s Key to Victory: Protect Blake Bortles
When Jags rookie Blake Bortles has had time to throw, he’s looked like a competent quarterback. Sadly, though, he’s had virtually no time to throw at any point this season. Bortles has been sacked an NFL-worst 41 times since Oct. 9 alone, and that punishment has to be adding up and putting a dent in his confidence when he drops back to pass. Bortles has 15 interceptions and a meager 70.9 passer rating, learning the hard way how tough life in the NFL can be. “In college, you can run around and do more stuff, but in the NFL guys are a lot faster and stronger,” he said. “So it’s a little more difficult. You want to be able to get rid of the ball and live another down, not lose 5, 10 yards on third down and create longer field-goal situations. Those are definitely things I’m working on.” The Jags would gladly take a repeat of Bortles’ Nov. 30 showing against the Giants, when he threw for 194 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in a 25–24 Jags win. If given time, he can easily produce similar numbers against a struggling Titans defense.
The stats say that these teams are in the NFL’s bottom five in both offense and defense, and the stats don’t lie. The Jags have managed to force 18 turnovers, two more than the Titans, so we’ll go with that as our tiebreaker.
Prediction: Jacksonville 17, Tennessee 13
The last two New Mexico Bowls featured over 90 points in each game, but this year’s meeting between Utah State and UTEP is expected to have a decidedly different outlook. The Aggies own one of the top defenses in the Mountain West by limiting opponents to 20.8 points per game, while the Miners led Conference USA in time of possession and averaged 26.6 points in league play this year. After watching the offenses light up the scoreboard at University Stadium in recent bowl matchups, defense and running the ball should take center stage on Saturday.
For the second year in a row, Utah State coach Matt Wells has navigated significant injuries at the quarterback position. Chuckie Keeton suffered a torn ACL last season but returned in time for the opener against Tennessee. However, Keeton was later ruled out for the remainder of 2014 due to knee issues. Sophomore Darell Garretson replaced Keeton, but he suffered a season-ending wrist injury. Third-stringer Craig Harrison suffered a knee injury against UNLV, leaving true freshman Kent Myers as the No. 1 quarterback. Myers has performed well in six appearances, throwing for 798 yards and five scores. Despite the injuries at quarterback, Utah State won nine games for the second consecutive season in a row.
UTEP has experienced a quick turnaround under second-year coach Sean Kugler. The Miners went 2-10 in 2013 but improved to 7-5 and are back in a bowl for the first time since 2010. Kugler – a former UTEP offensive lineman – has built this program on a run-first offense. The Miners started 2-3 but finished the season by winning five out of their last seven games.
Utah State and UTEP have met only two times in previous seasons. The Aggies hold a 2-0 edge over the Miners, but this is the first matchup between these two programs since 1961.
UTEP vs. Utah State
Kickoff: 2:20 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Utah State -10
UTEP’s Key to Victory: Establish the Run and Limit Mistakes
UTEP quarterback Jameill Showers started his career at Texas A&M but transferred to El Paso after losing the starting job to Johnny Manziel. Showers has been efficient for Kugler’s offense in 2014, throwing 12 touchdowns to only five interceptions. The senior has only one passing score in his last four games and has not thrown for more than 210 yards in a contest this year. When Showers throws, his go-to target is Ian Hamilton (21.7 ypc), while tight end Eric Tomlinson (18 catches) is also a valuable threat in the passing game. UTEP ranks last in Conference USA in passing yards per game, but this offense has a clear identity. As a former offensive lineman, Kugler has shaped the Miners into one of the top running teams in C-USA. UTEP averaged 212.7 yards per game on the ground this season, with running back Aaron Jones (1,233 yards) leading the way. Jones will be joined by Nathan Jeffery (513 yards) and Showers (288 yards) as threats on the ground. Despite the success of the Miners on the ground this season, running room will be limited against Utah State’s defense. Anchored by standout linebacker Zach Vigil, the Aggies lead the Mountain West in rush defense. Utah State allows only 3.3 yards per carry and limited opponents to 20.8 points per game. Considering the strength of the Aggies up front, the Miners may need to throw early to help open up lanes for Jones and Jeffery. Another factor in UTEP’s victory hopes will be the turnover margin. The Miners recorded a +8 margin this season and need to be in the positive range on Saturday to have a shot at winning.
Utah State’s Key to Victory: QB Kent Myers
As we mentioned in the intro, Myers is Utah State’s fourth starting quarterback in 2014. The true freshman was expected to redshirt but ended up getting pressed into duty after injuries to Keeton, Harrison and Garretson. Myers hasn’t been overly prolific, but he’s done everything asked by the coaching staff. Myers has yet to top more than 186 passing yards in a game. However, he’s been efficient (only two interceptions on 107 attempts) and is completing 69.2 percent of his passes. Myers also has 235 yards and four scores on the ground. The true freshman isn’t the only weapon on Utah State’s offense, as freshman running back LaJuan Hunt averages five yards per carry and leads the team with 529 yards. Junior JoJo Natson is an all-purpose, dynamic playmaker, averaging 10.2 yards per rush, catching 49 passes and taking two punt returns back for a score. UTEP’s defense is allowing 6.3 yards per play this year and has been prone to allowing big plays (34 plays allowed of 30 yards or more). Myers deserves praise for stepping into a difficult situation and keeping Utah State’s offense performing at a high level. With an extended preparation time before the bowl, he could have his best performance of the season. However, it’s also critical the true freshman doesn’t try to do too much against a UTEP defense that limited C-USA opponents to 26 points per game (fourth in the conference). And with the Miners looking to keep this game a low-scoring affair, Utah State can’t afford to have any turnovers to give UTEP’s offense a short field.
Considering UTEP’s struggles last season, and Utah State’s injuries at quarterback in 2014, it’s a credit to both coaching staffs for their teams landing in the postseason and finishing with a winning record. The Miners need to keep this game a low-scoring affair and force a couple of mistakes from Utah State freshman quarterback Kent Myers to give their offense short fields to work from. UTEP’s rushing attack could be the key to the game. The Aggies were tough all season against the run but gave up 240 yards on the ground over their last three matchups. If Utah State stuffs the run and jumps out to an early lead, the Miners will have their hands full trying to rally. Expect UTEP to have some success on the ground, but the Aggies are the better team and finish the season with a win to post their second double-digit victory total in three years.
Prediction: Utah State 30, UTEP 17
The SEC still might be the best league in college football but no conference had more fun in 2014 than the Pac-12.
Week after week, the Pac-12 delivered with elite talent, high-quality coaching and dramatic finishes — both in conference and out. Not even the powerful SEC West could match the theater that the Pac-12 South had to offer this year. And anytime Oregon took the field, it was must-see TV.
There were more Hail Mary’s and overtime finishes in the Pac-12 than anywhere else in the nation. Here are the most dramatic and memorable Pac-12 games of the year:
1. Arizona 31, (2) Oregon 24
Oct. 2, Eugene
The upset heard ‘round the world started the best weekend of action out West. Arizona stunned the Ducks by forcing turnovers, pressuring Marcus Mariota and running the ball. Scooby Wright III became a household name when he stripped Mariota and recovered the fumble to win the game in front of a shocked Autzen Stadium. (The Ducks would have their revenge, however.)
2. Arizona St 38, (16) USC 34
Oct. 4, Los Angeles
It was the wildest weekend of the season as four of the top 10 games of the year took place in Week 6. The wildest of finishes happened in Los Angeles when backup quarterback Mike Bercovici connected with Jaelen Strong on the final play of the game from 46 yards out. Arizona State and USC combined for 34 points in the final quarter.
3. (3) Oregon 46, (7) Michigan St 27
Sept. 6, Eugene
Few gave the Spartans a chance to go to Autzen Stadium and win. But through three quarters, everyone in Eugene had respect for Michigan State. The Spartans gave the Ducks all they could take until a late tipped interception landed in the hands of All-American corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The Ducks surged over the final few minutes.
4. (19) Utah 24, (20) USC 21
Oct. 25, Salt Lake City
It was arguably the biggest win for Utah since moving to the Pac-12 and it happened because Travis Wilson threw a game-winning touchdown pass with eight seconds left in the game. The final drive may be Wilson’s finest of his career, moving the Utes 73 yards on 11 plays in the final two minutes. The score was the game’s fifth lead change.
5. Utah 30, (8) UCLA 28
Oct. 4, Pasadena
The Bruins lived on the edge for most of the first month and it finally caught up with them at home against the underdog Utes. After UCLA allowed the eighth, ninth and tenth sacks of the game against Brett Hundley, Kendal Thompson led the game-winning drive to give Utah a win on the road over a top 10 foe. Andy Phillips nailed a 29-yard field goal with 34 seconds left to give Utah the lead. UCLA then missed not one but two 50-plus-yard field goal attempts as time expired.
6. Arizona 49, Cal 45
Sept. 20, Tucson
It didn’t feature a ranked team at the time and no one realized how important it would become in the South Division race. Arizona’s successful Hail Mary on the game’s final play eventually would help propel the Wildcats into the Pac-12 title game and first put Anu Solomon on the nation’s radar. The Cats scored 36 points in the final quarter to cap the record-setting comeback.
7. (14) Arizona St 19, (17) Utah 16 (OT)
Nov. 1, Tempe
The low-scoring affair featured plenty of special teams as two of the best kickers in the game went toe-to-toe. Zane Gonzalez made four field goals, including the game-tying kick from 30 yards out with 5:47 to play and the game-winner in overtime from 36 yards out. Utah’s Andy Phillips also made three of his own kicks during the game but missed twice on the first overtime possession from 35 yards after a timeout game him a second chance.
8. (14) USC 13, (13) Stanford 10
Sept. 6, Palo Alto
It wasn’t a well-played game of football but it sure was fun to watch. Stanford’s in ability to score in the redzone coupled with some big plays from Cody Kessler and the USC defense gave the Trojans yet another upset win over Stanford. The game was highlighted by bizarre sideline behavior from Steve Sarkisian and Pat Haden.
9. USC 28, (10) Arizona 26
Oct. 11, Tucson
Arizona led after the first quarter and USC led after the second and third. In fact, the Trojans entered the final frame up 28-13 before Anu Solomon led another furious rally. A failed two-point conversion with 1:07 to play left the Cats down by two, but a successful onside kick gave Zona new life. Solomon then raced his offense into field goal range but a last second 36-yard attempt sailed wide right and USC escaped Tucson with a critical win.
10. (14) Arizona 27, Washington 26
Nov. 15, Tucson
The star of this wild game was a kicker. One week after missing a kick that cost Arizona a win over USC, Casey Skowron not only made the game-winning field goal as time expired but scored every point in the fourth quarter for either team and scored a touchdown on a fake field goal in the second quarter. Washington dominated the third quarter but RichRod’s bunch owned the final frame in this wild interdivisional game.
11. (9) Notre Dame 17, (14) Stanford 14
Oct. 4, South Bend
It wasn’t pretty but the finish lived up to the rich history between these two cross-country foes. From the 23-yard line, Everett Golson found Ben Koyack in the endzone on fourth down trailing 14-10 with just 1:01 left on the clock. The defensive battle finished with three lead changes in the final eight minutes.
12. (11) Arizona 42, (13) Arizona St 35
Nov. 28, Tucson
Despite Rich Rodriguez’ best efforts, about midway through the game, both teams realized that The Territorial Cup had become the Pac-12 South championship game. Anu Solomon played solid football all game, as did the Cats defense, regardless of which Arizona State quarterback was in the game. The Sun Devils simply couldn’t close the touchdown gap that existed for most of the game. An early defensive TD was the difference.
13. (23) Utah 20, Stanford 17 (2OT)
Nov. 15, Palo Alto
Both teams were held under 300 yards of offense and they played two extra periods. Defense won the day as the game was tied 7-7 for most of three quarters. The two teams matched touchdowns in the first overtime before Travis Wilson connected with Kenneth Scott in the second OT to finally win the physical throwdown.
14. (12) UCLA 20, Texas 17
Sept. 13, Arlington
With Brett Hundley on the sideline, UCLA watched Texas’ Tyrone Swoopes lead the Longhorns to what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown with 5:13 left. Down 17-13 with three minutes left in the game, Jerry Neuheisel found Jordan Payton streaking down the sideline for a 33-yard touchdown pass in JerryWorld.
15. Washington St 28, Utah 27
Sept. 27, Salt Lake City
Connor Halliday threw for 267 of his 417 yards in the second half to overcome a 17-point second-half deficit. He finished off the comeback by connected with Vince Mayle for an 81-yard touchdown with less than five minutes left in the game. After starting the game up 21-0 at home, Utah lost the rest of the way 28-6.
The Best of the Rest:
16. (20) Utah 29, Oregon St 23 (2OT)
17. Cal 59, Colorado 56 (2OT)
18. (25) UCLA 40, Colorado 37 (2OT)
19. Cal 60, Washington St 59
20. Oregon St 35, (6) Arizona St 27
21. (22) UCLA 17, (12) Arizona 7
22. (14) Arizona St 24, Washington 10
23. Rutgers 41, Washington St 38
24. (6) Oregon 59, Cal 41
25. (11) UCLA 42, Memphis 35
26. UCLA 36, Cal 34
27. (12) Oregon 42, (18) UCLA 30
28. (4) Oregon 51, (17) Utah 27
29. (16) Stanford 20, Washington 13
30. Washington 59, Eastern Washington 52
The 2014 bowl season will kick off in the Big Easy with UL Lafayette taking on Nevada in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. This marks the fourth straight season UL Lafayette will end its season playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as the Ragin’ Cajuns have won the past three New Orleans Bowls. For Nevada this represents the Wolf Pack’s ninth bowl invite in the past 10 years.
UL Lafayette (8-4) is in search of its fourth straight nine-win season under coach Mark Hudspeth, who is sure to get a look for one of the current openings among the Power 5 schools. The Ragin’ Cajuns are a perfect 3-0 in bowl games under Hudspeth, with all three victories coming in the New Orleans Bowl. UL Lafayette beat Tulane 24-21 last season with its previous two New Orleans Bowl victories coming against East Carolina (43-34, 2012) and San Diego State (32-30, ’11).
Nevada (7-5) is back in a bowl game after last season’s 4-8 record ended a streak of eight consecutive postseason appearances. In his second season as head coach of the Wolf Pack since taking over for Hall of Famer Chris Ault, Brian Polian is hoping to snap the team’s two-game losing streak in bowls. Nevada’s last victory in a bowl game was a 20-13 win over Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2011.
This will be just the second game ever between UL Lafayette and Nevada. The Wolf Pack defeated the Ragin’ Cajuns 38-14 on their own turf (Reno, Nev.) back on Sept. 2, 1995 when both programs were in the Big West Conference.
Nevada vs. UL Lafayette
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 20 at 11 a.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: UL Lafayette -1
Nevada’s Key to Victory: Unleash Cody Fajardo
A senior, the New Orleans Bowl will represent Fajardo’s 43rd and final career start as the starting quarterback. One of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation; Fajardo is one of two players (Colin Kaepernick) in FBS history with 9,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing in his career. This season, he’s 25th nationally in total offense (280.9 ypg) with 997 yards rushing (most on the team) and 2,374 yards passing, while accounting for 31 total touchdowns (18 passing, 13 rushing). He’s clearly the engine that makes the Wolf Pack’s offense hum and no doubt would like to end his run with the team on a winning note. Fajardo did not perform well in his previous two bowl games, both losses, so he has one final chance to change this part of his collegiate resume. Fajardo may be a California native, but he’s hoping to be a big hit in New Orleans in his final game for the Wolf Pack.
UL Lafayette’s Key to Victory: Stay Grounded
The Ragin’ Cajuns have made plenty of noise on the ground this season. They enter this game ranked 25th in FBS in rushing offense at 229.4 yards rushing per game. The big ground-gainer has been Elijah McGuire. A sophomore, McGuire is averaging 7.7 yards per carry and put up 265 on the ground in a win over Arkansas State. McGuire has been complemented in the running game by senior Alonzo Harris (737 yards, 12 TDs) and quarterback Terrance Broadway (4.9 ypc). Whoever ever carries the ball for UL Lafayette should find success against a Nevada rushing defense that’s given up nearly 180 yards per game. The Wolf Pack have really struggled in this department recently, as each of their past three opponents have run for at least 200 yards, including 342 by Air Force. An effective running game also could help the Ragin’ Cajuns’ defense by eating up clock and also keeping Cody Fajardo and Nevada’s offense off of the field, limiting their opportunities. Sometimes a team’s best defense can be its offense. If that indeed is the case, expect UL Lafayette to stay grounded against the Wolf Pack.
Not surprisingly, UL Lafayette has made itself at home in the New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns have played in and won each of the past three “minor” bowl games played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mark Hudspeth’s team actually has a lot of confidence playing in the Big Easy, but Nevada doesn’t figure to be intimidated. More importantly, the Wolf Pack have Cody Fajardo, one of the nation’s most productive dual-threat quarterbacks, who just needs a bowl victory to polish off his impressive resume. UL Lafayette has home-field advantage and a potent rushing attack, but Nevada has the best player. In his final game for the Wolf Pack, I’ll take Fajardo to overcome the Cajuns’ home cooking and finish his collegiate career on a winning note.
Prediction: Nevada 34, UL Lafayette 31
Pittsburgh is looking for its fourth head coach in five seasons after Paul Chryst was hired to replace Gary Andersen at Wisconsin. Chryst’s move to the Big Ten comes as no surprise, as the third-year coach is a Madison native and worked on the Badgers’ staff in 2002 and again from 2005-11. In three seasons as Pittsburgh’s head coach, Chryst went 19-19 and guided the program to three bowl appearances.
The Panthers should have plenty of interested candidates, perhaps including Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, Ball State coach Pete Lembo and former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.
Who might replace Chryst at Pittsburgh? Here are 11 names to watch.
11 Candidates to Replace Paul Chryst at Pittsburgh
Matt Campbell, Head Coach, Toledo
Campbell is one of the rising stars from coaches outside of a Power 5 conference. In three full seasons at Toledo, the Ohio native is 25-13. He also coached the 2011 Military Bowl after Tim Beckman left for Illinois and guided the Rockets to a 42-41 victory. Under Campbell’s watch, the Rockets are 18-6 in the MAC and claimed a share of the West Division title with a 7-1 mark in conference play this season. Prior to taking over as Toledo’s head coach, Campbell worked as an assistant with the Rockets for two years (2009-11) and at Bowling Green (2006-08). Campbell played at Mount Union and is one of the youngest college football coaches at 35 years old.
Rod Carey, Head Coach, Northern Illinois
Carey has continued to keep Northern Illinois at the top of the MAC with a 23-5 record in two full seasons as the head coach in DeKalb. The Wisconsin native was an assistant under Dave Doeren prior to his promotion to the head coach spot and also spent time working on staffs at North Dakota and Illinois State. Carey also coached the Huskies in the Orange Bowl against Florida State after Doeren left for NC State.
Bud Foster, Defensive Coordinator, Virginia Tech
Foster popped up in the mix during Pittsburgh’s last coaching search. Could the long-time Virginia Tech assistant show interest again in the job? Foster is one of the nation’s highest-paid assistants and has worked under Frank Beamer in Blacksburg since 1987. Under Foster’s direction, the Hokies have consistently ranked among the nation’s top defenses. However, the veteran assistant does not have any experience as a head coach. A longshot but worth mentioning since he was in the mix last time.
Justin Fuente, Head Coach, Memphis
Fuente should be one of the leading candidates for national coach of the year honors after guiding Memphis to a share of the American Athletic Conference title in 2014. The Tigers are 16-20 under Fuente’s watch, but the Oklahoma native inherited a mess after Larry Porter was fired after a 3-21 record in two years at Memphis. The Tigers also transitioned from Conference USA to the tougher American Athletic Conference, and Fuente’s team nearly won at UCLA earlier this season. Prior to taking over at Memphis, Fuente worked under Gary Patterson at TCU from 2007-11.
Doc Holliday, Head Coach, Marshall
Holliday is a native of West Virginia and played with the Mountaineers from 1976-78. Considering his ties to West Virginia, Holliday presents an interesting dynamic in the Pittsburgh coaching search. Would the Panthers want to hire a West Virginia guy? Regardless of his ties to Morgantown, Holliday is known as a good recruiter and was a long-time assistant prior to taking the job at Marshall. In five seasons with the Thundering Herd, Holliday is 39-25 and 22-5 over the last two years.
Pete Lembo, Head Coach, Ball State
Lembo is a native of New York and has been successful at three different stops as a head coach, including a five-year stint at Lehigh from 2001-05. During his five years at Lehigh, Lembo went 44-14 and the Mountain Hawks made two appearances in the FCS playoffs. From 2006-10, Lembo coached at Elon and went 35-22 in five seasons. He also led the Phoenix to a spot in the 2009 FCS playoffs and won at least seven games in three of those years. Lembo’s track record of success has continued at Ball State, guiding the Cardinals to a 19-7 mark from 2012-13 and back-to-back bowl appearances. Despite a 5-7 record this year, Lembo is considered one of the top coaches in the MAC.
Joe Moorhead, Head Coach, Fordham
Moorhead is a name Pittsburgh fans may remember from his stint as an assistant at UConn from 2009-11. And he's also a native of the Steel City. In three years at Fordham, Moorhead has guided the Rams to a 29-10 record and two FCS playoff appearances. Considering Moorhead is working at his alma mater and recently had his contract extended, he may not be interested in leaving Fordham. However, he’s been a successful FCS coach and would be a good fit at Pittsburgh.
Pat Narduzzi, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi is regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in college football and is ready for his opportunity to run a Power 5 program. The Connecticut native has worked at Michigan State under Mark Dantonio since 2007. Under Narduzzi’s guidance, the Spartans have ranked among the nation’s best on defense. Michigan State limited opponents to just four yards per play in 2013 and ranked in the top four of the Big Ten in scoring defense in four consecutive seasons. Narduzzi also has experience as an assistant from stops at Cincinnati, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois and Rhode Island. Narduzzi should be high on Pittsburgh’s list.
Matt Rhule, Head Coach, Temple
Rhule is a coach with several years of experience in the state of Pennsylvania. He’s a native of State College and played under Joe Paterno at Penn State. Rhule’s coaching career started at Albright College in 1998 and continued with stops at Buffalo and UCLA before landing at Western Carolina from 2002-05. After a four-year stint with the Catamounts, Rhule coached under Al Golden at Temple from 2006-10 and remained on staff during Steve Addazio’s first season. Rhule left Philadelphia to coach with the Giants in 2012 but returned to Temple after Addazio was hired by Boston College. In two years with the Owls, Rhule’s record is 8-16, but the program made significant progress from 2013 to 2014. Temple was bowl eligible this season but did not receive a postseason bid after a 6-6 mark.
Greg Schiano, former Rutgers and Tampa Bay head coach
Schiano has been out of work since he was fired at the end of the 2013 NFL season at Tampa Bay. In two years with the Buccaneers, Schiano went 11-21, but he was a successful college coach at Rutgers from 2001-11. Under his watch, the Scarlet Knights went 68-67 and made six bowl appearances over the last seven years in his tenure. Schiano didn’t inherit much to work with when he was hired at Rutgers and needed a few years to build the talent base, which is why the Scarlet Knights went 8-27 through his first three seasons. Schiano’s recruiting connections in New Jersey could be a huge boost for Pittsburgh.
Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State
Shoop has emerged as one of the nation’s top defensive coordinators over the last four years and deserves consideration as one of the top assistant hires in 2014 after Penn State’s defense held opponents to 17.7 points per game this season. Prior to 2014, Shoop worked at Vanderbilt under James Franklin. The Commodores ranked fifth in the SEC in scoring defense in 2012 and sixth in the conference in fewest yards per play in 2013. Shoop also has stops as an assistant at William & Mary, UMass, Boston College, Army, Villanova, Yale and Northeastern. He also spent three years as Columbia’s head coach (2003-05).
Matt Wells, Head Coach, Utah State
Wells’ name has popped up on the radar for jobs at Tulsa and Oregon State this offseason, but he decided to remain at Utah State after interest from both programs. Wells coaches at his alma mater, so it’s not going to be easy for him to leave Utah State. Could a job at a Power 5 program interest the Oklahoma native? Wells spent time as an assistant at Navy, Tulsa, New Mexico and Louisville prior to joining Gary Andersen’s staff at Utah State in 2011. After Andersen left for Wisconsin, Wells was promoted to head coach and the Aggies are 18-9 under his watch. Wells’ record at Utah State is impressive considering the program has been dealing with significant injuries at quarterback the last two years and is starting a true freshman after its top three options were injured in 2014.
Oregon’s hopes of winning the college football national championship took a hit on Wednesday, as reports indicated top cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a significant knee injury in practice.
Yahoo Sports reported Ekpre-Olomu’s injury occurred during Tuesday’s practice and there’s concern the top cornerback suffered a torn ACL. The senior is not expected to play in Oregon’s upcoming game against Florida State.
Ekpre-Olomu was a first-team All-American by Athlon Sports and the Associated Press for 2014. The senior recorded 63 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass breakups in 13 games this season.
Without Ekpre-Olomu, the Ducks are expected to ask more of Dior Mathis and Chris Seisay at cornerback.
Troy Hill is expected to slide into the No. 1 cornerback spot, and the senior has recorded 57 tackles, one interception and 16 pass breakups this season. Hill was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection this season.
Losing Ekpre-Olomu – one of the nation’s top defenders – is a significant loss for Oregon’s defense in the Rose Bowl against Florida State. The matchup between the Ducks and Seminoles was expected to be a high-scoring affair. Now, Oregon coordinator Don Pellum has to regroup with less than a month to prepare.
The Ducks struggled at times on defense this year but held opponents to 23.8 points per game in Pac-12 matchups this year. Pellum’s group also allowed 5.4 yards per play and ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in third-down defense.
Needless to say, those numbers (and struggles) will be magnified in the Rose Bowl without Ekpre-Olomu against Florida State’s explosive offense.
The Seminoles average 34.8 points per game and 6.4 yards per play. Quarterback Jameis Winston won the Heisman in 2013 but tossed 17 picks in 2014. Winston’s increase in interceptions was due to a variety of factors, including new targets at receiver and a struggling offensive line.
However, despite the increase in turnovers, Florida State’s offense has been operating at a high level and became even more dangerous over the second half of 2014 with the emergence of running back Dalvin Cook.
Ekpre-Olomu was expected to be aligned against top receiver Rashad Greene, who caught 93 passes for 1,306 yards and seven scores in 2014. Greene was also an Athlon Sports All-American in 2014 and is clearly the favorite target for Winston.
By no means does Ekpre-Olomu’s injury end Oregon’s national title hopes. With quarterback Marcus Mariota and an array of weapons on offense, the Ducks can outscore any team in the playoff. However, the Ducks are going to need stops at some point to beat Florida State. Can Pellum mix and match the right combinations in the secondary to slow down Winston and Greene? If not, the Ducks are going to be looking at a quick exit in the playoff.
Sources: #Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered what is believed to be a serious knee injury in practice yesterday. Concern it's a torn ACL.— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) December 17, 2014
Jabari Parker is the face of the Milwaukee Bucks’ future. He was, also, set to be the Rookie of the Year by almost all accounts — until something very unfortunate happened.
The former Duke standout and Chicago native has an advanced, veteran-like knack for scoring that goes beyond simple skills like shooting, jumping, and running. He’s got that next-level touch for putting points up; that creative gene we evoke when we so emphatically say “buckets.” Jabari’s got a singular way of finding the hole, and he’s still only 19 years old.
That’s why the latest news about him is so heartbreaking. Parker’s knee buckled in Monday night’s road game against the Phoenix Suns, and late last night the worst was confirmed by ESPN and other outlets: Parker has torn his ACL, and he’ll miss the remainder of his rookie season.
The Bucks were just becoming quite the team to watch, too. Next to the incredibly lengthy 20-year-old Giannis “the Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, Parker had managed to become one of the faces of a new, rising generation of NBA superstardom.
Parker, who was drafted No. 2 overall by Milwaukee in June, still has many bright days ahead of him. Torn ACLs are terrible, but they’re not the end of the world. Chris Paul, a perennial MVP candidate, certainly survived his. But the recovery is rough, as Derrick Rose (who happens to have gone to the same high school as Jabari, Simeon Academy) is proving with his slow climb back to basketball prominence.
Luckily, the man is still young. He still won’t be able to legally drink by the time he hits the floor again, and he’ll have more than a decade of professional balling ahead of him. While Jabari will now definitely miss out on the Rookie of the Year award he was destined for — and we’ll miss the chance to watch him light the screen up for a season — he’ll still have more than ample opportunity to compete for much greater glory.
— John Wilmes
Seahawks (11–3) at Cardinals (10–4)
All that's on the line for both teams is the NFC's top seed at best and the NFC West Division title at worst. Arizona secured its playoff berth in a touchdown-less win against St. Louis. It is the first postseason trip for the Cardinals since 2009, Kurt Warner's last season. And they could use Warner now as they will go into Sunday's game with third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley under center. The defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks won the first meeting 19-3, which kick started their current four-game winning streak. Arizona is 7-0 at home this season, while Seattle is 4-3 on the road.
Falcons (5–9) at Saints (6-8)
OK, this is likely one of the farthest games away from being "can't miss," but who can turn their head away when passing by the train wreck that is the NFC South? Both teams are currently drafting inside the top 12 while at the same time playing for a division title. Back in Week 1, when both teams had optimism for a great season, the Falcons won 37-34 in overtime behind a franchise-record 448 yards passing from Matt Ryan. Atlanta, 4-0 in the division, enters on a two-game losing skid. New Orleans is 3-4 at home.
Chiefs (8–6) at Steelers (9–5)
This is a Wild Card-securing game for Pittsburgh, which still has the AFC North title in its sights with two more wins. The Chiefs need the win to keep their postseason hopes alive, but a number of scenarios have them alive even if they lose out. The Steelers are 7-3 in conference play with a 5-3 home record while the Chiefs are 6-4 against AFC opponents and 3-4 on the road.
Ravens (9–5) at Texans (7–7)
Baltimore enters Week 16 as the third AFC North team holding down a spot in the "if the playoffs ended today" scenario. The Ravens currently have the final Wild Card spot, and will make the playoffs with two more wins; the division title is still within reach as well. Meanwhile, Houston is still in contention as the fourth team on the outside looking in, but will need two wins and some help.
Well, there is nowhere to go but up for Johnny Manziel.
The Cleveland Browns' rookie quarterback made his starting debut in Week 15, and it was certainly forgettable. It was bad enough to lose while still in the playoff hunt and to be shutout 30-0 at home by in-state division rival Cincinnati, but the performance itself left plenty to be desired.
Running just 38 offensive plays, the fewest for Cleveland since its Week 1 return to the league in 1999 (28), the 22-year-old Manziel went 10-of-18 for 80 yards, was sacked three times, intercepted twice, and finished with a quarterback rating of 27.3. He had five carries for 13 yards.
"It’s the first game I’ve ever not scored a point in and been shut out,” he said on Monday. “I’ve played in a lot of games, I feel like, from high school through college and that one and never been shut out until then, so it was definitely tough.”
Cincinnati jumped out to a 20-0 halftime lead as Manziel was 4-of-9 for 22 yards with his two interceptions coming in the first two quarters. Both interceptions came on passes longer than 15 yards, of which Manziel finished 0-for-4 on those attempts.
"I never felt overwhelmed or that it was too much for me," he said.
The No. 22 pick overall in May's NFL Draft, Manziel became the Browns' 21st different starting quarterback since the franchise returned, and the team's fifth to be shut out in his first start. He became the NFL's sixth QB in the last 20 years to be shutout in his first start, the first since 2010.
And while he called the experience "humbling," Manziel certainly was not the first first-round QB to be shutout in his starting debut. But if history is any indicator, bouncing back quickly is a rarity. Four other first-round QBs were shutout in their first starts as rookies. The four combined for zero touchdowns and six interceptions in their debuts. They returned the next week to combine for two TDs and nine interceptions, and all four lost again.
Johnny Football has two more regular-season games to get on track and potentially get his team into the postseason - a feat none of the other four first-round QBs on the shutout list were remotely close to doing as rookies.
FIRST-ROUND QUARTERBACKS SHUTOUT IN FIRST START
TOMMY MADDOX, DENVER, WEEK 12, 1992
Maddox lost 24-0 at the Los Angeles Raiders in his first start as a rookie. He went 11-for-26 for 127 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He lost at Seattle the following week, 16-13, throwing for 127 yards, his first TD, and another two interceptions. Maddox, who was out of the NFL from 1996-2000, did not start again until Week 4, 2002, a 32-29 loss at New Orleans. His first win as a starter came the next week when he completed 16-of-25 passes for 216 yards, one TD, and two interceptions to defeat host Cincinnati 34-7.
TIMM ROSENBACH, PHOENIX, WEEK 15, 1989
Rosenbach lost 37-0 against visiting Denver, going 2-for-8 for 14 yards with no TDs and no interceptions. He did no start again until Week 1 of the following season, a 31-0 loss at Washington where he was 20-of-39 for 228 yards with no TDs and four interceptions. It was not until Rosenbach's third career start, Week 2 of the 1990 season, that he scored a win. He went 11-of-19 for 116 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in a 23-21 win at Philadelphia. He went 5-11 as a starter in 1990, started no games in 1991, lost the first two games of 1992 and was out of football by the end of the season.
TROY AIKMAN, DALLAS, WEEK 1, 1989
Aikman started 11 games of the Cowboys' 1-15, 1989 season. His first came in Week 1 when he lost 28-0 at New Orleans, completing 17-of-35 passes for 180 yards with no TDs and two interceptions. He followed that with a 27-21 loss at Altanta, throwing for 241 yards on 13-of-23 passing with one TD and two interceptions. Aikman did not get a win until his 12th career start, which came in Week 1 of the 1990 season. He scored the game-winning touchdown, a 1-yard run, to defeat visiting San Diego 17-14. Aikman was 13-of-29 for 193 yards with the rushing TD, a passing TD, and an interception.
BOB GRIESE, MIAMI, WEEK 2, 1967
Griese lost 24-0 to visiting Kansas City, completing 11-of-22 passes for 101 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. He followed that with a 29-7 loss at the Jets the next week, connecting on 1-of-3 passes for four yards, no scores, and one interception. Griese did not get his first win until his sixth start of the 1967 season. He had the game-winning, 31-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to defeat visiting Buffalo 17-14, connecting on 17-of-33 attempts for 222 yards, the touchdown, and three interceptions. Griese was the only one of the four first-round QBs shutout in their first start to get a win in his rookie season.
Owings Mills, MD (SportsNetwork.com) - The Baltimore Ravens placed rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, rookie safety Terrence Brooks and cornerback Asa Jackson on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday.
Taliaferro, a fourth-round pick, hurt his foot against the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 7 and didn't play against the Jaguars on Sunday. He carried the ball 68 times for 292 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games this season.
The Ravens now have Bernard Pierce and Fitzgerald Toussaint behind Justin Forsett at running back.
Brooks, a third-round draft pick, and Jackson are dealing with knee injuries.
Baltimore promoted offensive lineman Ryan Jensen from the practice squad to the active roster and signed defensive tackle Casey Walker off the New England Patriots' practice squad.
Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - The Houston Texans placed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on injured reserve Tuesday, officially ending his season.
The move came a day after Fitzpatrick had surgery on his broken left leg, an injury he suffered during Sunday's game against Indianapolis.
Backup Tom Savage was also injured on Sunday and will miss this weekend's game against Baltimore, further depleting Houston at the position.
The Texans bolstered their quarterback depth chart by signing Case Keenum to the active roster and inking Ricky Stanzi to the practice squad. Keenum or Thad Lewis figures to get the start Sunday against the Ravens.
Fitzpatrick was benched for Ryan Mallett earlier this season. He returned to a starting role after Mallett went down with a season-ending pectoral injury last month and ended the season with 2,483 yards passing and 17 touchdowns in 12 games.
Keenum started eight games for the Texans last season, going 0-8 with 1,760 yards passing, nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
Stanzi, 27, was a fifth-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011 out of Iowa. He spent two years on their roster and another on Jacksonville's last season but has never taken an NFL snap.
The Texans placed wide receiver Travis Labhart on the practice squad/injured list.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 16:
• Skill players aren't the only ones who do well with the ladies. Just ask Georgia kicker — yep, kicker — Marshall Morgan.
• Andre Iguodala made fun of Mike Conley's uncalled traveling violation in a most delightful way, although it cost him a technical.
• Well this is awkward: Jets owner Woody Johnson favorited a "Fire John Idzik" tweet. Accidentally, he said.
• This is not a new idea, but it's well executed: A bench warmer made himself a recruiting video.
• There was a "rain delay" at the Nets game.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
College football’s regular season is complete, and all that’s left of the 2014 season is 39 bowl games, including the first four-team playoff format in FBS history. While the season is over and fans for some teams are already planning for next season, it’s never too early (or late) to look back at the year that was and honor some of the top players, teams and coaches.
Athlon concludes its slate of regular season honors with the 2014 national awards, as well as a look ahead at some of the rising stars, coaches on the hot seat and coordinators to watch in 2015.
College Football’s 2014 National Awards
Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Mariota was the best player in college football this season – and it wasn’t close. The junior passed for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns and added 669 yards and 14 scores on the ground. Mariota was incredibly efficient, completing 68.3 percent of his passes and tossing only two interceptions on 372 attempts. The junior led the nation by averaging 10.2 yards per pass attempt in 2014.
2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
4. Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
5. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Defensive Player of the Year: Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona
Wright’s breakout season was a key cog in Arizona’s Pac-12 South title. The sophomore recorded 153 tackles (28 for a loss), 14 sacks and forced six fumbles. Wright’s 28 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles led the nation, and the California native acquired plenty of hardware this offseason, winning the Lombari, Bednarik and Nagurski Awards.
2. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
3. Nate Orchard, DE, Utah
4. Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
5. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Breakout player: Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
Coleman led Indiana with 958 rushing yards last season and was expected to see an increase in production after playing in only nine games in 2013. However, Coleman easily shattered preseason expectations by rushing for 2,036 yards and 15 scores. The junior averaged 7.5 yards per carry and managed his production despite Indiana’s passing offense struggling after an injury to quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
2. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
3. Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville
4. Martrell Spaight, LB, Arkansas
5. William Likely, CB, Maryland
Coach of the Year: Gary Patterson, TCU
Patterson pushed all of the right buttons to get TCU back on track after a 4-8 record in 2013. The hire of Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie as co-offensive coordinators paid big dividends for the offense, while the defense led the Big 12 in fewest points allowed. The Horned Frogs were just a play or two away from making the college football playoff, which is quite a turnaround for a program that went 6-12 in its first two years in the Big 12.
2. Justin Fuente, Memphis
3. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
4. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
5. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Coordinator of the Year: Tom Herman, Offensive Coordinator, Ohio State
Three. That’s how many starting quarterbacks Ohio State has cycled through since August, as Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in fall workouts, and redshirt freshman backup J.T. Barrett was lost for the year with a leg injury against Michigan. But under Herman’s direction, the Buckeyes never missed a beat on offense. Sophomore Cardale Jones made his first start in the Big Ten Championship and completed 12 of 17 passes for 257 yards and three scores, guiding Ohio State to a 59-0 win over Wisconsin. Despite the injuries at quarterback and four new starters on the offensive line, the Buckeyes averaged 45.2 points per game and averaged seven yards per play in 2014.
2. Doug Meacham, Co-Offensive Coordinator, TCU
3. Lane Kiffin, Offensive Coordinator, Alabama
4. Dave Steckel, Defensive Coordinator, Missouri
5. Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State
Best New Coach Hire for 2014: Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern
With Georgia Southern transitioning from the FCS to FBS ranks, the Eagles were unable to play for a bowl. But that shouldn’t diminish Fritz’s first season, as the former Sam Houston State coach guided Georgia Southern to a 9-3 mark and nearly recorded wins over NC State and Georgia Tech. The Eagles were unbeaten in Sun Belt play and led the nation with an average of 379.9 rushing yards per game. Georgia Southern is a program with a strong track record on the FCS level, and under Fritz’s direction, the Eagles will be one of the top programs in the Sun Belt.
2. Bill Clark, UAB
3. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
4. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
5. Charlie Strong, Texas
Best Coordinator Hire for 2014: Doug Meacham, Co-Offensive Coordinator, TCU
Meacham and fellow co-coordinator Sonny Cumbie provide an instant fix for TCU’s offense. The Horned Frogs averaged only 25.1 points per game in 2013 and ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in yards per play. However, in Meacham’s first year, TCU emerged as one of the top offenses in the nation, and quarterback Trevone Boykin showed significant improvement after struggling under center in 2013. The Horned Frogs averaged 6.8 yards per play (ranked No. 1 in the Big 12) and 46.8 points per game. TCU’s improved offense is a big reason why this team had a chance at a playoff spot in 2014.
2. Lane Kiffin, Offensive Coordinator, Alabama
3. Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State
4. Lance Anderson, Defensive Coordinator, Stanford
5. Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator, Georgia
Biggest Surprise: TCU
TCU entered the season with low expectations after a 4-8 mark last season. Combine the losing record with a new offensive coordinator, uncertain quarterback situation and only three starters returning on offense, it’s easy to see why the Horned Frogs were picked outside of the top 25 in most preseason polls. But TCU quickly showed why it was one of the nation’s most-improved squads, beating Oklahoma 37-33 in early October and nearly defeating Baylor (61-58) a week later. The Horned Frogs were expected to show improvement after last season’s 4-8 mark. However, finishing 11-1 with a chance to make the playoffs was quite a surprise for coach Gary Patterson’s team.
2. Mississippi State
4. Western Michigan
Biggest Disappointment: Oklahoma
Everything seemed to suggest Oklahoma was ready to emerge as a national title contender in 2014. The Sooners won 11 games in what most considered a rebuilding year (2013), defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and returned 14 starters with a chunk of those earning all-conference honors this preseason. Instead of building off last year’s 11-win season, Oklahoma slumped to 8-4 and lost three games at home. The Sooners finished fourth in the Big 12 with a 5-4 conference record and lost to rival Oklahoma State in the regular season finale. Oklahoma has the talent to rebound in 2015, but this team will enter next year with lower expectations after underachieving this season.
2. South Carolina
3. Virginia Tech
Best Freshman: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Barrett ensured Ohio State’s offense wouldn’t miss a beat with Braxton Miller sidelined in August with a shoulder injury. The redshirt freshman passed for 2,834 yards and 34 scores and rushed for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns prior to a season-ending leg injury against Michigan. Barrett also earned fourth-team All-America honors by Athlon Sports for 2014.
2. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
3. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
4. Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama
5. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Best All-Around in 2014: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Thompson was the nation’s top two-way player in 2014, and not only was the junior one of Washington’s top defenders, but a case could be made he was also the team’s top offensive threat. Thompson ranked fourth on the team with 71 stops (two tackles for a loss), recorded one sack, one interception and forced three fumbles. On offense, Thompson rushed for 456 yards and two scores and averaged a healthy 7.5 yards per carry.
Most-Improved Player: Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Boykin went into the season as a question mark but exited as a Heisman candidate. The junior thrived under new co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, passing for 3,714 yards and 30 scores. Boykin also completed 60.5 percent of his passes and added 642 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. The junior was named the Big 12’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Five Coaches on the Rise
1. Justin Fuente, Memphis
Fuente inherited a mess from former coach Larry Porter, but the Oklahoma native quickly transformed Memphis into a bowl team. The Tigers went 9-3 this year (Fuente’s third season) and claimed a share of the American Athletic Conference title.
2. Matt Wells, Utah State
Wells navigated a season-ending knee injury to quarterback Chuckie Keeton last year to make the Mountain West Championship and lost his top three passers this season to injuries. However, Utah State finished 9-4 overall and 6-2 in Mountain West play. Wells is 18-9 in two seasons in Logan.
3. Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern
Fritz guided Georgia Southern to a 9-3 mark and a perfect 8-0 record in Sun Belt play this year. Expect Fritz to keep the Eagles near the top of the Sun Belt in the coming seasons.
4. Bill Clark, UAB
Led UAB to a 6-6 mark in 2014, which was a three-game improvement from 2013. Clark is an excellent coach looking for work after UAB’s program was wrongfully discontinued.
5. Dino Babers, Bowling Green
Despite an injury to starting quarterback Matt Johnson, Babers guided Bowling Green to the MAC East title. In three season as a head coach (Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green), Babers has a 26-13 record.
Five Coordinators on the Rise
1. Doug Meacham, Co-Offensive Coordinator, TCU
Meacham’s has provided two programs (Houston and TCU) with a quick turnaround on offense. His next stop should be as a head coach on the FBS level.
2. Mike Norvell, Offensive Coordinator, Arizona State
Under Norvell’s direction, Arizona State’s offense has not finished lower than third in the Pac-12 in scoring.
3. Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin
The Badgers returned only three starters on defense this year, yet held opponents to 20 points per game and 4.8 yards per play.
4. Scott Frost, Offensive Coordinator, Oregon
Frost has continued to build on Chip Kelly’s offense at Oregon, as the Ducks averaged 46.3 points per game in 2014.
5. Mike Elko, Defensive Coordinator, Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons’ offense didn’t give their defense many breaks this season, but Elko developed a group that held opponents to 5.2 yards per play and ranked fifth in the ACC in sacks (conference-only games).
Five Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2015
1. Norm Chow, Hawaii
Hawaii is a tough job, and Chow is a native of Honolulu, so the veteran coach won’t be rushed out the door. However, the Warriors are just 8-29 under Chow’s watch and 4-20 in Mountain West play.
2. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Injuries woes at quarterback hampered the Hoosiers in 2014, but Wilson has made progress during his four seasons in Bloomington. Indiana is one of the toughest jobs in the Big Ten and another 5-7 season could be enough for Wilson to return in 2016.
3. Ron Caragher, San Jose State
The Spartans have been trending in the wrong direction since Mike MacIntyre left for Colorado. Caragher went 6-6 in his debut but regressed to 3-9 in 2014. On a positive note, San Jose State returns a good chunk of its depth chart for 2015. With a good base of talent returning, the Spartans could take a step forward next year.
4. Mike London, Virginia
London saved his job by finishing 5-7 in 2014. The Cavaliers have recruited well, so talent isn’t an issue in Charlottesville. London needs to get Virginia back in the postseason next year.
5. Tim Beckman, Illinois
Similar to Mike London, Beckman saved his job with a successful 2014 campaign. Illinois went 6-6 and finished 3-5 in the Big Ten this year, elevating the program to its first bowl trip since 2011. Despite the 6-6 record, the Fighting Illini is just 12-24 under Beckman’s watch.
Five Players on the Rise in 2015
1. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
True freshman emerged as Florida State’s best running back over the second half of the season. Expect bigger and better things from Cook in 2015.
2. KD Cannon, WR, Baylor
Explosive playmaker averaged 16.7 yards per catch in 2014. The freshman should be an even bigger piece of Baylor’s passing offense next season.
3. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Assuming Jameis Winston leaves for the NFL, Watson will be the top quarterback in the ACC next year.
4. Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
Johnson has impressed in limited action, completing 28 of 37 passes for three touchdowns in 2014. Look for Johnson to assume the controls of coach Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense.
5. Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon is off to the NFL after the Outback Bowl. Clement is Wisconsin’s next standout at running back.
Three Programs on the Rise for 2015
Bret Bielema has Arkansas trending in the right direction after the Razorbacks improved their total by three games from 2013 to 2014. Bielema’s team also lost to Alabama by just one point, by seven to Mississippi State and by seven in overtime against Texas A&M. This team was much closer to 8-4 or even 9-3 than some may realize.
The Volunteers are back in the postseason this year after a three-season absence. Coach Butch Jones is recruiting well and several young players made a significant contribution in 2014. That’s a positive sign for Tennessee in 2015 and beyond, as Jones should have the Volunteers around the top 25-30 teams in the nation next year.
New coach Tom Herman’s background on offense should pay dividends for the Cougars in 2015. Whether it’s Greg Ward or John O’Korn under center, Houston has the pieces to have one of the top offenses in the American Athletic Conference. And it’s not out of the question the Cougars contend for the conference title in 2015.
Kobe Bryant has done it. Now No. 3 all-time in scoring, he’s passed his idol Michael Jordan.
Reggie Miller isn’t impressed, though. “Michael Jordan on his worst day is 10 times better than Kobe Bryant on his best day,” the TNT announcer and three-point shooting legend recently said to Dan Patrick. “That’s not short-changing Kobe at all, because he handed me my lunch pail, too, but I will take that Black Cat (Jordan) all day, any day over Kobe.”
We can’t usually weigh too much into what legends of the past say about their old peers, or current-day players either. They’ve always got a hefty mythological stake in how people perceive their competition in the world of sports rhetoric, where legacy rules all. Every time Miller’s current co-workers Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley aim their crosshairs at men like Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard, it’s not hard to see: These guys don’t want their history to be shown up.
But Miller — as he noted — isn’t defending himself or his era. Bryant and Jordan both waxed him and his otherwise-title-bound Indiana Pacers in the postseason, and he accepts that. Both were superior players to him, but one still stood much taller: Jordan.
Of course, only a time machine can really solve this dispute. And while I don’t see any DeLoreans coming around the corner, we do know that Bryant is in his eighteenth season, and has only just now equaled Jordan’s output over fifteen. Kobe, great as he’s been, can’t compare to the efficient dominance that captured basketball’s imagination so thoroughly in the ’80’s and 90’s.
While the Black Mamba is an impressive 45 percent shooter over his career (almost unheard of for a perimeter player of such high usage) Jordan was positively interstellar with his 50 percent mark.
Bryant’s accomplishment shouldn’t be diminished. He has been more committed to the sport than Jordan — who retired from the NBA three times and swung a baseball bat for a while — and that certainly counts for something. But we shouldn’t be handing Kobe the crown without context, either. So while Miller's math may be off (I'm not sure the sport could survive a player with tenfold the talent as Vino) he's surely right that His Airness still reigns supreme.
— John Wilmes