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Hosts Mitch Light and Braden Gall break down another weekend of college football.
The American Athletic Conference takes center stage with a huge showdown between Houston and Memphis. Alabama and Oklahoma must go on the road against Mississippi State and Baylor respectively while Stanford and North Carolina look to hold serve at home against Oregon and Miami.
Are any of the the big dogs in the Big Ten in trouble this weekend? And the undercards in both the SEC and Pac-12 bring plenty of intrigue to the table this weekend.
The guys pick every Top 25 game and offer locks of the week against the spread.
The full ramifications of the crazy finishes to the Arkansas-Ole Miss and Nebraska-Michigan State games last weekend have yet to be seen. What we do know is that those two outrageous finishes and outcomes created some alternate paths to the College Football Playoff. Week 11 has a couple of obvious matchups — and some not so obvious — that could do the same.
Here are the Outrageous Predictions for Week 11 of the 2015 season.
Miami upsets North Carolina
The Tar Heels are quietly sneaking around with a lone loss, waiting to jump up and throw wrench into the Playoff selection process. That ends this week. Miami comes to Chapel Hill as winners of its last two games — unbeaten in the post-Al Golden era. The Hurricanes are flying high with "upset" on their minds, while North Carolina eyes the ACC Championship Game a little too early. Miami shocks the Tar Heels and keeps the winning streak alive.
Arkansas knocks off a reeling LSU
LSU was man-handled last weekend against Alabama in a physical beatdown. Now the Tigers will need to shift gears and get ready for a high-octane Arkansas attack. Look for the Razorbacks to jump out to a couple of quick scores and not look back, as LSU isn't built to keep pace in a shootout. Arkansas rolls and LSU is eliminated from Playoff contention.
South Carolina catches Florida snoozing
The Gators clinched the SEC East division last weekend in a close win over Vanderbilt. This weekend, they'll travel to another SEC foe's house and find a team that is now playing for pride. Look for a raucous crowd in Columbia to welcome the Gators, who now have dreams of a College Football Playoff berth floating around in their heads. That dream is about to turn into a nightmare. Look for Perry Orth to pick up where the Gamecocks left off — nearly leading an underrated offense to a win over Tennessee in Knoxville last weekend.
Illinois stuns Ohio State
This reminds me of the Nebraska-Michigan State matchup from last weekend. The Illini are 3-1 at home this season, with their only loss coming to Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago. All four of their losses have come to ranked teams, but with Josh Ferguson back and looking near 100 percent, they won't add a fifth. This will arguably be the second-best offense Ohio State has seen all season — the first being Indiana. In that game, the Buckeyes escaped Bloomington with a one-score win. Illinois matches up better with Ohio State than Indiana did. The early start on the road combined with the distraction of the two biggest games of the season on the horizon complete the perfect recipe for the Buckeyes to be the victims of the biggest upset of 2015.
Mason Rudolph drops 500 yards on Iowa State
It's that time of the year — regardless of what the College Football Playoff committee members say — when style points matter. The Cowboys made a lot of noise last weekend when they knocked off TCU. In order to stay in the spotlight and fresh in the minds of the committee, they are going to need to put up a video game-like performance in Ames. Look for Rudolph to unleash an aerial attack like few we've seen this season against a bad Iowa State team, en route to a score you'll see scroll across the ticker that makes you say "YIKES!"
Nebraska football fans don’t ask for much as a blue blood program after tasting the success had during the '90s because once you get even a whiff of the best stuff, you always want more.
They’d like to visit a nice bowl venue, see their team have a shot at a conference championship and in the modern age of college football, a Playoff appearance once in a while.
The Big Red won’t have that shot at a Big Ten championship this year and the closest they’ll get to the College Football Playoff is ruining the hopes of those who want to get in (hello, Sparty).
That said, Mike Riley may finish his initial year at Nebraska with a ho-hum record on the surface, but with its blotches could be some massive gains that looked impossible only a few short weeks ago. Stay with me here.
The Big Red finally sees a bye week after 11 games, but if the Huskers are going to reach a bowl, Rutgers must ultimately leave the field the lesser Scarlet Knights of the day this weekend.
With a 5-6 record, Nebraska goes up against a likely undefeated (and maybe top 5) Iowa squad after the Huskers finally let their muscles and joints rest for a week. Much like Michigan State, Iowa comes to Lincoln, but the trophy that the Big Ten tried to shoehorn into this contest won’t be the true prize.
It’s certain bowl eligibility for the Big Red versus a potential spot in the College Football Playoff for Iowa.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong said something noteworthy regarding Michigan State during Monday’s press conference. "We knew exactly what we were going to run, how we were going to run it, who we were attacking before we even entered the game.” That mentality can take Nebraska to the 7-6 finish line.
If that’s the case, yes Nebraska lost to Illinois and Purdue. However, they’d also have had to get by two of the Big Ten’s best to get into the postseason. Even I had Michigan State down as a surefire loss and this was with the thought that Nebraska would be relatively healthy.
Look at the front end of the season then add that potential back. Wouldn't that be an incredible adjustment by a coaching staff? It appeared that everyone was learning versus the Illini and Boilermakers. It was depressing.
By the same token, would you not argue lessons were learned if “Let Me Clear My Throat” rang through the Memorial Stadium sound system for a second time on Black Friday?
It certainly sounds like often-maligned offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf has picked up a thing or two when you listen to his quarterback.
"This is the play we're going to win it off of," Armstrong said he was told. "It was. It was crazy. We got to the locker room and he was like, 'I told you, I told you. This is the play we're going to win off and it happened twice in a row.'
He's a great coach. He prepared us well, we studied as much as we could. We dissected their defense as much as we could for that situation, and it was kind of funny, because we got into that same situation of what we thought we were going to get into."
I’ve mentioned Riley’s recruits being on board because it’s important for the new players under his regime to back their guy 100 percent. However, you’d be hard-pressed to say that Riley wasn’t able to at least tinker with what wasn’t working and turn it into something fun and more importantly win while doing so.
Should the Huskers find themselves in the postseason (let alone with a 7-6 record after all they’ve suffered), some crow needs to be ingested. Just a little.
The start of college football’s 2015-16 bowl season is less than two months away, but it’s never too early to take a peek at the potential matchups this postseason.
The bowl season is bigger and better than ever with 41 matchups, starting on Dec. 19 with five games. The postseason concludes on Jan. 11 with the national championship, while the playoff semifinals are on Dec. 31 this year.
The post-Week 10 bowl projections are a mixture between picks for the next few weeks, how things would look if the season ended today, and the results from the first 10 weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks.
College Football's Post-Week 10 Bowl Projections
|AutoNation Cure||Dec. 19||Sun Belt vs.|
|Gildan New Mexico||Dec. 19||C-USA vs.|
|Dec. 19||MW/BYU vs.|
Boise State vs.
|Dec. 19||MAC vs.|
Appalachian State vs.
|Dec. 19||C-USA vs.|
Southern Miss vs.
|Miami Beach||Dec. 21||American vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 22||MAC vs.|
Utah State vs.
|Boca Raton||Dec. 22||American vs.|
|SDCCU Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
San Diego State vs.
Arkansas State vs.
|Popeyes Bahamas||Dec. 24|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||American vs.|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||C-USA vs. |
|Hyundai Sun||Dec. 26||ACC/ND vs.|
|Zaxby's Heart of|
|Dec. 26||Big 12 vs.|
Louisiana Tech vs.
|New Era Pinstripe||Dec. 26||ACC/ND vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 26||ACC/ND vs.|
Virginia Tech vs.
|Foster Farms||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs.|
|Military||Dec. 28||ACC/ND vs.|
NC State vs.
|Quick Lane||Dec. 28||ACC/ND vs.|
|Dec. 29||MW vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC/ND vs.|
Florida State vs.
|Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
Texas Tech vs.
|Birmingham||Dec. 30||American vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC/ND vs.|
Miss. State vs.
|Dec. 30||ACC/ND/Big Ten vs.|
|Dec. 30||Big Ten vs.|
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs. |
|Buffalo Wild Wings|
|Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
|TaxSlayer||Jan. 2||ACC/ND/Big Ten vs.|
|AutoZone Liberty||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs. |
|Valero Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
Oklahoma State vs.
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs. |
Kansas State vs.
|Chick-fil-A Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
|Fiesta||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
|Rose||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
|Sugar||Jan. 1||SEC vs.|
Ohio State vs.
|National Championship||Jan. 11||Cotton Bowl Winner vs.|
Orange Bowl Winner
Ohio State vs.
In playing Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas over the next four weeks, Baylor is entering its toughest stretch of the season. If the Bears win all four games, they will be playing in the College Football Playoff. If they lose just one of them, they likely won’t be.
Ten years ago, Baylor having a shot at the national championship in November seemed unfathomable and nowhere was this clearer than in its annual contest with the Sooners. While the worm has turned in the past two seasons of this “rivalry,” it has been one-sided and full of blowouts. Here are five games that were close.
5. Oklahoma 42, Baylor 34
Norman, Okla. — Nov. 10, 2012
After losing to Baylor for the first time in the school’s history the year before, Oklahoma entered the game on a mission. The Sooners shut down Baylor’s top-ranked passing attack and took a 28-17 halftime lead. Baylor kicked a field goal on its opening possession and then intercepted a Landry Jones pass on the OU 28-yard line. With their passing game neutralized, the Bears took to the ground to score a touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed and OU led 28-26. The Sooners then added a pair of touchdowns, including a 55-yard run by Blake Bell, to take a commanding 42-26 lead with 14 minutes remaining in the game. Baylor was able to put together an 80-yard drive in the final minutes of the game that ended with a Lache Seastrunk touchdown run. The Bears converted the two-point play, but did not recover the onside kick, allowing OU to run out the clock. With the victory, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops passed Bud Wilkinson to move into second place on the school’s career wins list.
4. Oklahoma 28, Baylor 24
Waco, Texas — Oct. 19, 1996
Both schools had previously played each other five times, but this game marked the first annual contest in the inaugural season of the Big 12 conference. The Bears were leading 21-7 in the second quarter, but then imploded. First, they allowed Oklahoma to score on a 65-yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half. Then in the second half, they turned the ball over twice and the Sooners converted both mistakes into touchdowns. The Bears were only able to muster a field goal as the game slipped through their fingers. Each team would only win one more game the entire season, as Baylor finished 4-7 and OU finished 3-8.
3. Oklahoma 24, Baylor 23
Norman, Okla. — Oct. 18, 1997
The rematch the following year produced more of the same. Both schools were in the midst of losing seasons. Once again, Baylor led at halftime, and once again, the Sooners came back to take the lead in the fourth quarter. This time, however, Baylor scored a touchdown in the game’s final minutes to pull within one point of Oklahoma. Instead of kicking the extra point to send the game into overtime, Baylor head coach Dave Roberts opted to go for two and the win. Quarterback Jeff Watson took the snap and threw a pass to Derrius Thompson, but the Sooners’ Terry White intercepted it. Baylor attempted the onside kick, but Oklahoma recovered and secured the win.
2. Oklahoma 37, Baylor 30 (2 OT)
Norman, Okla. — Oct. 22, 2005
After playing for the national title the year before, Oklahoma started the season with three losses in its first five games. Meanwhile, Baylor started the season 4-2 and, with the Sooners missing its top two running backs in Adrian Peterson (sprained ankle) and Kejuan Jones (suspended), its first win over OU seemed possible. The Bears scored first but missed the extra point. The Sooners then scored 17 points in the second quarter, with touchdown runs by Jacob Gutierrez and Rhett Bomar and a 32-yard field goal from Garrett Hartley. On the ensuing kickoff, Baylor’s Shaun Rochon broke free for a 98-yard return to make the score 17-13. The Sooners then added another touchdown to take a 24-13 lead at halftime. Baylor quarterback Shawn Bell hit Rochon with a seven-yard touchdown pass to close the gap to 24-19, but the Bears failed on the two-point conversion. OU extended its lead with another field goal in the fourth and were driving deep into Baylor territory when Gutierrez fumbled and the Bears recovered on their 18-yard line with 2:39 to go. Bell then hit Dominique Zeigler with a 55-yard touchdown pass and then ran into the end zone for the two-point conversion to tie the game. The two teams traded field goals in the first overtime, but in the second, Bomar hit Juaquin Iglesias with a 21-yard touchdown pass to put the Sooners up 37-30. Baylor was unable to convert on its next possession and the Oklahoma faithful breathed a sigh of relief.
1. Baylor 45, Oklahoma 38
Waco, Texas — Nov. 19, 2011Baylor had never beaten Oklahoma – having lost 20 straight games to the Sooners –but Robert Griffin III and the rest of the Bears finally ended that streak. RGIII amassed 551 yards in a game that saw five lead changes and produced more than 1,200 yards of total offense. In the second quarter, RGIII hit Tevin Reese with a 69-yard touchdown pass to put Baylor up 17-10 at halftime. However, Oklahoma — as it had done many times during this series — roared back in the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns to take a 24-17 lead. Then it was Baylor’s turn. RGIII threw two more scores, including an 87-yard touchdown pass that was tipped into Kendall Wright’s hands, and Terrance Ganaway ran for another as the Bears scored 21 unanswered points to take a 38-24 lead in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma responded with two rushing touchdowns by Blake Bell, including the tying score with 51 seconds left. Baylor got the ball back on its own 20-yard line and moved the ball to Oklahoma’s 34 in four plays. With 16 seconds left, RGIII took the snap, scrambled to his left and found Terrance Williams in the end zone for the game-winning score. In addition to breaking the streak, the win over fifth-ranked Oklahoma was Baylor’s first victory over a top-five team since 1985.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
Athlon Sports would be the first to tell you to sit back and enjoy the college basketball regular season from start to finish.
But let’s face it: The big prize — the only prize, it seems — is the NCAA Tournament. And that’s part of the excitement of the season. Essentially every team has a chance to play in the championship event. Finish in last place in your conference? You’ve got the conference tournament to remedy a lost season.
For us, bracketology starts early. Here’s our first projection of the field of 68.
NCAA bids by conference
ACC (9): Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville, Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami, NC State
American (2): UConn, Cincinnati
Atlantic 10 (2): Dayton, Rhode Island
Big 12 (6): Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, West Virginia
Big East (5): Villanova, Butler, Xavier, Georgetown, Providence
Big Ten (7): Maryland, Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa
Mountain West (2): San Diego State, Boise State
Pac-12 (6): Arizona, Cal, Oregon, UCLA, Utah, Oregon State
SEC (6): Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, LSU, Florida, Georgia
America East (Stony Brook), Atlantic Sun (North Florida), Big Sky (Eastern Washington), Big Sky (Coastal Carolina), Big West (UC Irvine), Colonial (Hofstra), Conference USA (UAB), Horizon (Valparaiso), Ivy (Yale), MAAC (Iona), MAC (Central Michigan), MEAC (Hampton), Missouri Valley (Wichita State), Northeast (Mount St. Mary's), Ohio Valley (Belmont), Patriot (Lehigh), Southern (Chattanooga), Southland (Stephen F. Austin), Summit (South Dakota State), Sun Belt (UL Lafayette), SWAC (Texas Southern), WAC (New Mexico State), West Coast (Gonzaga)
Since the selection committee last met, five undefeated teams took their first loss of the season. In theory, this should give greater clarity to the weekly proceedings, but the week-to-week horse race is never short on surprises.
This week, the new top four of Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame separated themselves from the competition in the eyes of the committee. That’s not too far off popular sentiment.
But the committee also jumped Iowa into its top eight, seemingly giving the Hawkeyes a shot at the playoff if they can win out. The committee also continued to punt on making any strong statements about the Big 12.
Oklahoma State jumped from No. 14 to No. 8, a sizable move in a vacuum, but this is also an undefeated Power 5 team that just beat the No. 8 team by 20 points.
1. Iowa’s not in as much trouble as we thought
The Hawkeyes moved up from No. 9 to No. 5 and one spot out of the Playoff scenario. The snarky response is that Iowa’s 35-27 win over Indiana must have been impressive for the committee. Perhaps. More than likely, the committee reevaluated wins over No. 18 Northwestern and No. 25 Wisconsin, both on the road. Committee chair Jeff Long stated that Iowa had a better strength of schedule to date than Baylor, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Houston. A week after Long mentioned Baylor’s “explosive” offense as part of the reason the Bears were ranked sixth last week despite a weaker schedule, Long said Iowa is “not flashy (but) they’ve been solid on both sides of the ball.”
2. The Big 12’s backloaded schedule gamble is indeed a gamble
Long called Oklahoma State’s 49-29 win over TCU to be the "first piece of real strength" the committee had seen out of the undefeated Cowboys. Long also has stressed for two weeks in a row the difficulty of evaluating a Baylor team that hasn’t faced a team with a winning record. Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma all will face each other in the final month of the season. And it may not help that the league is top heavy — Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Kansas State and Kansas are a combined 11-24 in the league, and only one of those wins (Texas over OU) is over the top four teams in the conference. Long also let slip that Ohio State is ranked in the top three in part on the eye test. The Buckeyes haven’t played a significantly tougher schedule than Baylor, TCU or Oklahoma State, yet they’re securely in the top four.
3. Notre Dame-Stanford is setting up to be a CFP elimination game
Other than Iowa, the two biggest beneficiaries from two top 10 teams losing last week were Notre Dame and Stanford. Notre Dame moved into the top four — and Long said the top four was clearly better than teams ranked fifth through eighth. Stanford moved from No. 11 to No. 7 with a 42–10 win over a bad Colorado team. The Cardinal face Oregon and Cal at home, so Stanford’s schedule before a Nov. 28 matchup with Notre Dame (which faces Wake Forest and Boston College). If both teams win their next two games before that meeting in Palo Alto, that could be a play-in game for Notre Dame and erase any doubt that a one-loss Pac-12 champion Stanford gets into the Playoff.
4. Speaking of Stanford...
This week’s top 25 confirmed what we kind of suspected: Stanford is getting a bit of a pass for its 16-6 loss at Northwestern in Week 1. Long noted that Stanford played that game at 9 a.m. Pacific time with an 11 a.m. kickoff in Evanston. The toll on Stanford’s body clocks was “significant,” Long said, though individual committee members weighed it differently. It probably doesn’t hurt Stanford’s case that the Cardinal have been dominant for most of their ensuing eight-game winning streak.
5. Navy’s win over Memphis must have been mighty impressive
Four Group of Five teams were ranked last week, but the highest-ranked a week later was one that wasn’t in the top 25. Navy debuted at No. 20, ahead of No. 21 Memphis, No. 22 Temple and No. 24 Houston. The Cougars, curiously, are the only undefeated team of the bunch. Navy defeated the former No. 13 team, Memphis, 45-20.
CFP Bowl Projections
Orange: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Notre Dame
Cotton: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State
CFP Host Bowls
Rose: Iowa vs. Stanford
Sugar: Baylor vs. LSU
Fiesta: Oklahoma State vs. Utah
Peach: Navy vs. Florida
The College Football Playoff Committee released its second top 25 rankings of the 2015 season on Tuesday night. Clemson remained at No. 1 for the second week in a row, followed by Alabama at No. 2, Ohio State at No. 3 and Notre Dame at No. 4.
The committee will meet each week until the end of the season, releasing rankings on Tuesday night until the final reveal on Dec. 6 for the last top 25 and playoff announcements.
While the weekly rankings are critical in gauging where teams stand in early November, it’s important to remember last year’s top 25 featured Mississippi State at No. 1 and Ohio State – the team that won it all in 2014 – ranked No. 16.
Needless to say, this poll will look significantly different in early December.
College Football Playoff Committee Top 25 Rankings (Nov. 10 Edition)
The NFL is in full swing, and the competition off the field among fans is nearly as heated as the competition on the field on game day.
The Athlon Sports Pro Football Experts Club presented by New Era gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.
Here are this week’s picks from Athlon Sports senior editor John Gworek:
Buffalo at N.Y. Jets
Rex Ryan returns to his old home for a game that will start to shape the AFC Wild Card race. The Bills are 4–2 when QB Tyrod Taylor is healthy.
Gworek's Pick: Buffalo, 24–20.
Detroit at Green Bay
Green Bay has lost two in a row — both against undefeated teams on the road. This one is back at Lambeau, and the Lions are far from undefeated.
Gworek's Pick: Packers, 30–17.
Dallas at Tampa Bay
The Cowboys are winless since Tony Romo got hurt, but it’s not all on the offense: The Dallas defense has forced one turnover during a six-game losing streak.
Gworek's Pick: Tampa Bay, 26–23.
Carolina at Tennessee
Marcus Mariota and the Titans lit up the Saints for nearly 500 yards last week, but the Panthers defense is quite a bit tougher and leads the NFL in interceptions.
Gworek's Pick: Panthers, 23–14.
Chicago at St. Louis
Last week’s OT loss in Minnesota could come back to haunt the Rams. Since starting 0–3, Chicago has played five straight games decided by three points or less (3–2).
Gworek's Pick: St. Louis, 20–16.
New Orleans at Washington
The Saints were rolling before stumbling at home against Tennessee. Washington has allowed more than 400 yards in four straight games.
Gworek's Pick: New Orleans, 30–24.
Miami at Philadelphia
Philadelphia has averaged 173 yards rushing over its last four games. Miami got gashed by Buffalo for 266 yards on the ground last week.
Gworek's Pick: Philadelphia, 27–20.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh
Cleveland ranks last in the NFL against the run. Pittsburgh’s DeAngelo Williams is averaging 125 yards per game in his three starts.
Gworek's Pick: Pittsburgh, 24–17.
Jacksonville at Baltimore
The Jaguars moved the ball on the Jets last week but were done in by four turnovers. Every one of Baltimore’s games has been decided by eight points or less.
Gworek's Pick: Baltimore, 26–24.
Minnesota at Oakland
The Raiders offense is clicking, averaging over 430 yards over the last three games. Can the Vikings (30th in passing) exploit the NFL’s worst pass defense?
Gworek's Pick: Oakland, 29–27.
New England at N.Y. Giants
The Giants have survived ranking last in total defense thanks to a league-best plus-12 turnover differential, but the Patriots sit tied for second at plus-7.
Gworek's Pick: New England, 31–21.
Kansas City at Denver
Denver has not forced a turnover in its last two games after 17 takeaways in its first six. Five of those came at the Chiefs expense in Week 2.
Gworek's Pick: Denver, 27–21.
Arizona at Seattle
Without Carson Palmer last season, the Cards did not score a touchdown against Seattle. The NFC West is far from over.
Gworek's Pick: Seattle, 17–13.
Houston at Cincinnati
The Texans may have life in the AFC South with Andrew Luck injured, but their next six games are against teams with legitimate playoff hopes.
Gworek's Pick: Bengals, 31–16.
Week 9 Record: 6–7
Overall Record: 80–52
Bowling Green brings its high-powered “Falcon Fast” offense to Kalamazoo on Wednesday night for a key conference matchup against Western Michigan. This contest features two of the best teams in the MAC, as the Broncos and Falcons are the only remaining unbeatens in league play entering Week 11. While both teams have a lot of work remaining, this Wednesday night showdown is a potential preview of the MAC Championship in Detroit in early December.
The two coaches in this game – Bowling Green’s Dino Babers and Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck – are widely regarded as rising stars. Babers is 15-8 in two seasons with the Falcons, while Fleck is 15-19 in his third season with the Broncos. Both coaches are on track to have their best overall team of their tenure in 2015. Western Michigan has a five-game winning streak, which includes a 54-7 blowout win over Ball State last Thursday. Bowling Green scored wins over Maryland and Purdue earlier this year, with its only losses coming at the hands of Tennessee (59-30) and Memphis (44-41).
Bowling Green holds a 31-18-3 series edge over Western Michigan. The Broncos defeated the Falcons 26-14 in last season’s matchup.
Bowling Green at Western Michigan
Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Bowling Green -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Bowling Green’s “Falcon Fast” Offense
Bowling Green’s high-powered offense is one of the best in the nation, averaging 45.9 points a game this season. Can Western Michigan find a way to slow down prolific quarterback Matt Johnson and a deep group of skill players? No team has managed to hold the Falcons under 30 points in a game this season, and this offense has scored at least 48 points in each of the last four contests. Johnson is the catalyst for the attack, passing for 3,686 yards and 33 scores in nine games. The senior is efficient (70.5 completion percentage) and doesn’t make mistakes (three interceptions). Johnson has plenty of help at receiver in the form of Roger Lewis (64 catches), Ronnie Moore (54), Gehrig Dieter (49) and Ryan Burbrink (43). While Bowling Green’s offense loves to throw (fourth nationally with 401 attempts in 2015), there’s balance on the ground with Travis Greene and Fred Coppet. Western Michigan will have its hands full against the Falcons, but Fleck’s defense has limited MAC opponents to 20.2 points a game this season. However, there are signs of concern for the Broncos. This unit is giving up 5.7 yards per play and has surrendered 17 passing plays of 30 yards or more. Additionally, the Broncos have recorded only 10 sacks in nine games. Bowling Green’s offensive line has struggled at times (25 sacks allowed), which should create opportunities for Western Michigan to get pressure on Johnson. But if the Broncos struggle to generate a pass rush and give up big plays in the secondary, Bowling Green will have no trouble equaling its season average in points per game (45.9).
Related: 10 Stats to Know from Week 10
2. Western Michigan’s Ground Attack
Bowling Green’s offense is the best in the MAC, but Western Michigan is also capable of lighting up the scoreboard. The Broncos rank second in the MAC with an average of 38 points per game, headlined by the steady play of quarterback Zach Terrell and a trio of talented running backs. Jarvion Franklin (660 yards) leads the team in rushing, but Jamauri Bogan and LeVante Bellamy have seen an increased workload in recent weeks. Bogan leads the team with nine rushing scores, while Bellamy (40 carries) averages 8.2 yards per rush. Bowling Green has experienced its share of issues against the run, giving up 164.6 yards per game. In last week’s victory over Ohio, the Falcons surrendered 299 yards and three scores on the ground. Time of possession is a meaningless statistic to most coaches. However, that total could be critical on Wednesday night. Western Michigan has the offensive line and talent at running back to control the pace of the game, limiting the opportunities for the Bowling Green offense. And when the ground attack has success, it sets up opportunities for Terrell to attack downfield on throws to Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis.
3. Turnover Margin
Even if Western Michigan establishes its ground attack and wins the time of possession battle, it still needs a few breaks to slow down Bowling Green’s offense. With that in mind, the turnover battle will be critical to monitor. The Falcons have the MAC’s best turnover margin at +11, while the Broncos are minus-two. However, in conference-only games, the totals look better for Western Michigan at plus-seven. Bowling Green has lost only five turnovers all season, which only adds to the difficulty of slowing down the “Falcon Fast” attack. The Broncos need to win this statistical category on Wednesday night.
Expect plenty of fireworks in Kalamazoo on Wednesday night. Bowling Green and Western Michigan own the MAC’s top scoring offenses, and there’s no shortage of skill talent in this matchup. Starting fast and establishing the flow of the game is critical for both teams. The Broncos want to establish the run and control the time of possession to limit the plays and opportunities for the Falcons. On the other sideline, Bowling Green would prefer to start fast and force Western Michigan to go away from its ground attack. Both teams will land their share of big plays in this game. This one goes back-and-forth until the fourth quarter, but Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson seals the victory with a late scoring drive.
Prediction: Bowling Green 41, Western Michigan 38
Thanks to a one-point win on the road at Kent State last Thursday night, the Buffalo Bulls are on the brink of bowl eligibility one season removed from a 5-6 campaign in 2014. Much of the credit for the turnaround can be attributed to their new head coach Lance Leipold, who brought his winning ways from Div. III Wisconsin-Whitewater and instilled a new culture in Western New York.
The Bulls welcome in a Northern Illinois team that has won four straight, including last week's upset win over Toledo. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they lost starting quarterback Drew Hare for the rest of the season due to an Achilles injury in that game. As a result, freshman Ryan Graham will make the first start of his collegiate career on the road during a Buffalo Blackout.
Northern Illinois at Buffalo
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Wednesday)
Spread: Northern Illinois -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Ryan Graham's poise
Graham didn't have time for nerves to kick in last week on the road in Toledo. The starter went down and the freshman was thrown into the fire, leading a fourth-quarter rally over a ranked and previously unbeaten team. This time around, he's had a whole week to prepare as the starter. That can be a good thing, but it's also a chance for anxiety and doubt to creep in, especially in a hostile environment. How Graham handles his first start early will be key.
2. Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata vs. the Northern Illinois secondary
The Bulls like to toss the ball around and struggle to run it. Licata will be passing against a Northern Illinois defense that is tied for sixth nationally in interceptions with 14. If he doesn't have success early, an already fairly one-dimensional Buffalo offense is going to be pretty easy to shut down. Ideally, Licata wants to be able to get into a shootout with a freshman quarterback in front of a raucous home crowd.
3. Can Buffalo get a consistent pass rush?
The Bulls have 21 sacks as a team on the year -- good, not great. Leipold is going to need to dial up some exotic blitz packages to confuse Graham and get extra pressure on the young gun all night. Toledo was not able to do the same a week ago and it cost them, as Graham has little trouble finding receivers downfield and eluding defenders on designed runs. If the Bulls can't get to and keep Graham in the pocket, it could be a long night for Buffalo.
The crowd will be rocking about as much as a MAC crowd can rock. Look for Northern Illinois to come out and run the ball early to settle down its young signal-caller. Once the Huskies have accomplished that, you'll see them open the playbook and put the game in the hands (and feet) of Ryan Graham and a talented corps of skill players. When Buffalo has the ball, I have a tough time seeing them move it consistently against an ever-improving Husky defense. The end result will be a hard-fought road win for Northern Illinois.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 31, Buffalo 13
Aside from the Dion Lewis injury there were no earth-shattering fantasy performances in Week 9 from waiver wire players. There are still some targets you can pursue as flyers, but this week it looks as if we are talking bench stash players, or desperation moves.
Good luck this week everyone. If you are having issues with who to drop, or hold from your fantasy teams, be sure to check out my latest series called Patience or Panic where I analyze players who are under-performing and whether you need to cut bait or hold.
I will be here to guide you each and every week with some players who are owned less than 40 percent in ESPN.com leagues and could have an impact on your squad for this particular week or the rest of the season.
1. James White, RB, New England Patriots (1.7 percent owned in ESPN.com leagues)
Dion Lewis was as awesome and as unexpected as they come but unfortunately he is out for the season after tearing his ACL in Week 9. Lewis had stability and had been one of the first consistently used running backs in a Patriots offense in a very long time.
The debate is who will take those receptions going forward. White or Brandon Bolden? I take the White side as he has many of the same qualities as Lewis did. It is New England and no one should feel comfortable with any of the three backs there going forward.
2. Shaun Draughn, RB, San Francisco 49ers (3.4 percent owned)
Draughn is not a spectacular back by any means but he may be the only option on the wire in many cases. Carlos Hyde’s stress fracture in his foot will likely keep him sidelined for a while, and in Week 9 Draughn handled the workload and was serviceable with 9.6 points.
The catch is the 49ers have a bye this week, so if you need someone for Week 10 you need to look elsewhere.
3. Dorial Green-Beckham (9.1 percent owned)
Green-Beckham’s workload has steadily increased and it is becoming obvious he is one of the best weapons in the Titans’ offense going forward. He had five catches for 77 yards in Week 9 and his targets are steadily increasing. He could be worth a flyer for a bench spot going forward.
DST Streamer(s) of the Week
I am a part of the streaming DST movement. I don’t typically waste a draft pick, unless I need to, in my drafts and instead cut someone and add a DST. Clearly the top defenses will be owned and not available, but streaming is always an option when it comes to DSTs. So each week I will be providing a DST that is owned in less than 40 percent of ESPN.com leagues and can be useful.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns (37.6 percent owned in ESPN.com leagues)
The Browns haven’t been the kings of ball control, and with Johnny Manziel at the helm the Steelers’ defense could be in for a nice game as a DST streamer in Week 10. They have managed to produce seven- and eight-point performances over the last two weeks.
— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.
While Week 9 wasn't quite as injury filled as Week 8, it still was tough for fantasy owners. Ben Roethlisberger went down (again), although he did put in almost a full game for his owners before leaving. Dion Lewis tore his ACL and is done for the season, adding to the list of running backs that are down and out.
The waiver wire won't be as active as it was following Week 8, but with four teams on bye in Week 10, fantasy owners are going to need to put together a roster that likely looks quite different than it did in Week 1. Let's look at some questions coming out of Week 9.
Who's next up at pass-catching running back for New England?
Other than LeGarrette Blount, is there a New England running back to own? Blount has been the between-the-tackles back and Dion Lewis has been used in the passing game. However, Blount has put together five solid games out of seven that he's played this season (and two clunkers — Week 2, his first game back and Week 7 vs. the New York Jets). When he's had at least 13 carries, he's had at least 74 yards, which is good enough for solid RB2 numbers. He has five touchdowns on the year, but only two receptions. With Tom Brady throwing the ball at least 30 times a game (except for one week), New England is a passing team.
James White is the likely fill-in for Lewis, although he hasn't shown that he can be a solid fill-in for fantasy owners. He was a healthy scratch for Week 9, but he did play when Brandon Bolden was out in Week 7 (three receptions for 26 yards). Bolden took over a bit in Week 9, with three receptions for 27 yards and a touchdown. But the reality is: this is the Patriots backfield. Besides Blount, neither White nor Bolden is worth rostering unless you are truly desperate. The Pats won't tip their hand at which back will get the carries, and it will just be frustrating for fantasy owners.
Is Dorial Green-Beckham going to have fantasy value?
All season, fantasy owners have been waiting for the Dorial Green-Beckham breakout game. The closest thing we saw to that was Week 9. With Kendall Wright injured, DGB finally got an opportunity to play and he looked good. He ended the day with five receptions for 77 yards, although he did have 10 targets.
It's unclear what his role will once Wright returns, but until he is back, consider DGB a WR3 with upside. Sure, he had three of games with zero receptions, but he also has two touchdowns on the year. Before Week 9, he had seven receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns. It's not impressive by any means, but the Titans ought to see what they have in the rookie. They've gone back and forth by saying that he needs to get more involved to he needs to learn more of the playbook, but it appears with the changes in the coaching staff, that DGB will be a part of the Titans’ passing game moving forward.
With so many injuries and unknowns, DGB is worth a wavier add this week and a start if Wright is out again in Week 10. The Titans play Carolina in Week 10, which is a tough matchup, but Marcus Mariota has to throw it to someone other than tight end Delanie Walker.
Is Derek Carr a borderline QB1?
Don't look now, but Carr is 10th in total fantasy points among quarterbacks through nine weeks. Sure, some of that is because of injuries and bye weeks, but he's had double-digit fantasy points in every game he's played since Week 1 (where he got injured). Oakland's offense has been scoffed at in previous years in terms of fantasy, but between Carr and Amari Cooper, there is fantasy value to be found here.
In the past three games, Carr has thrown at least three touchdowns for at least 289 yards in each with a total of just one interception. He faces the Vikings next week, and is a clear QB1. He's had at least one touchdown in every game except Week 1, and he's even made Michael Crabtree fantasy relevant again. After Minnesota, the Raiders play the Lions, Titans and Chiefs before facing Denver in Week 14. It's a pretty good schedule until the beginning of the fantasy playoffs (Week 15 and 16 is Green Bay and San Diego). If he is still available in your league (still is in about a third of leagues), pick him up.
Other burning questions:
Can Antonio Brown (17 rec., 284 yds.) owners REALLY complain about the lack of a TD in Week 9?
Will Karlos Williams score a touchdown in every game he plays?
Is either Denver running back going to have fantasy value this year?
When can you start Shane Vereen?
Is Andy Dalton really that good?
Is Lamar Miller really that good?
How is Cam Newton being so successful (and can you imagine if Kelvin Benjamin was there)?
Is Eddie Lacy going to be passed on the depth chart by James Starks?
How happy are Todd Gurley owners?
Do you want to own any Washington running back?
Will Eric Decker continue to score a touchdown a game in Week 10?
Is Allen Robinson matchup-proof?
Why can't Mike Evans catch the ball?
I thought T.Y. Hilton was hurt and not likely to play?
How are fantasy owners that held on to Dez Bryant feeling now?
Do you ever feel good about starting Jay Cutler?
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
Aphonso Thomas (Van, Texas) committed to Mike Riley’s Nebraska football program so early that it still had that new car smell. Whether the talented running back will actually be part of the Cornhuskers’ 2016 class is still up in the air.
The Big Red flipped former Kansas State commitment Tre Bryant this past week. Bryant is listed as the No. 7 running back overall by 247Sports, while the 247Sports Composite Index has him ranked as No. 41 overall. Regardless, he’s one of Missouri’s best athletes.
Nebraska also hosted current Michigan commit Kingston Davis for its whirlwind victory over Michigan State. Davis is a beast of a back already (6-1, 225). Surely he had to like what he saw as the Huskers used a similarly built Imani Cross to get the job done against the Spartans.
Long story short: it appears that the Huskers are attempting to woo other running backs. Whether or not Thomas is okay with this has yet to be made official, but it’s safe to say that the Big Red’s doing everything it can to make sure that should he decommit, they have other options (enter Bryant).
Bryant and Davis appear to be the only backs that Nebraska has been putting the most work into getting into the fold right now.
The good news is that they look to bring in a very large class, so there will be room for Thomas if he wants to stick around, but communication between the two sides seems infrequent as of late.
What an interesting week we just witnessed in the NFL and fantasy! Who had the Falcons losing to the 49ers and who had Devonta Freeman only getting 12 yards on 12 carries? Thank goodness he caught a touchdown!
And what about the Titans beating the Saints? Who had Marcus Mariota coming back from an MCL injury to throw four touchdown passes? Man, the Saints’ defense is terrible!
Now let’s see who the Week 9 fantasy studs and duds were.
Cam Newton, CAR (vs. GB) – 34.58 fantasy points
Newton barely beat out Aaron Rodgers this week (by 0.5 fantasy points to be exact). Anyone who had Newton in the MVP conversation this late in the NFL season would have been called crazy back in the preseason after he lost is No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the year. The Panthers are undefeated at 8-0 and it’s all because of Newton. He’s easily a top-5 QB in fantasy moving forward.
DeAngelo Williams, PIT (vs. OAK) – 36.5 FP
There were some huge fantasy numbers put up this week and nobody was more pleasantly surprising than Williams. It’s not as if the Raiders are a bad defense, they actually have one of the better run-stopping units in the league, but that didn’t matter last week. Anyone who blew their entire FAAB budget on Williams is surely pleased with the initial return on their investment. Then again, 170 yards rushing and two touchdowns will do that for you.
Lamar Miller, MIA (at BUF) – 26.1 FP
Another pleasant surprise was Miller this week against the Buffalo Bills. Miller was basically the entire Dolphins’ offense and while he only ran for 44 yards, he did score two rushing touchdowns and added seven catches for 97 yards to boot, which is fantasy gold if you had him in a PPR league this week. The Dolphins still might be a mess offensively, but it looks like week in and week out, you are going to be able to trust Miller to put up RB1 numbers.
Antonio Brown, PIT (vs. OAK) – 28.6 FP
You just knew that Brown was going to have a big game this week against the Raiders. Big Ben was back and as close to 100 percent as he could be and you knew that the Steelers were going to air it out against the Raiders’ weak secondary. You probably didn’t expect 17 catches for 284 yards, along with 22 yards on the ground. How heart breaking is it for Brown owners to see that Big Ben is out again for the next few weeks, this time with a foot sprain. Can Brown keep it up with Landry Jones under center?
Cole Beasley, DAL (vs. PHI) – 23.2 FP
Just kidding. No one started Beasley this week unless you’re in a league with 14 or more teams. He’s only 4 percent owned on Yahoo!.
Michael Crabtree, OAK (at PIT) – 22.8 FP
It was a slugfest on Sunday in Pittsburgh between the Steelers and the Raiders and it looks as if the Raiders have really found themselves a cornerstone quarterback in Derek Carr. Crabtree must be thanking his lucky stars that he ended up with Carr as his QB after signing with the Raiders as a free agent on just a one-year deal. Crabtree is on pace to have his best year ever, thanks to another strong showing – 7 rec., 108 yards, 2 TDs. He’s a must-start WR2 for the rest of the season.
Delaine Walker, TEN (vs. NO) – 23.5 FP
Walker beats out Tyler Eifert by 0.2 fantasy points. Eifert scored an outstanding three touchdowns on Thursday night, but he only caught five passes for 53 yards. Walker on the other hand had seven catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns. It’s really like splitting hairs here. Of course if you had either of these stud tight ends this week you’re extremely happy because if your tight end can score over 20 fantasy points the odds of you winning is pretty good. Unless of course you went up against DeAngelo Williams and/or Antonio Brown this week.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA (at BUF) – 11.56 FP
It wasn’t a terrible week for starting quarterbacks, as only Nick Foles scored fewer fantasy points than Tannehill and no one started Nick Foles. It’s not as if Tannehill was terrible on Sunday in Buffalo. He did throw for 309 yards and no interceptions, which is saying something for Tannehill. But he didn’t toss any touchdown passes and he lost a fumble. Tannehill will continue to be Mr. Inconsistent for the rest of the season.
C.J. Spiller, NO (vs. TEN) - 1 FP
You would have figured that since Khiry Robinson was not playing and the fact that the Saints keep saying that they want to get Spiller more involved in the offense that he would have had more than two carries for eight yards and one catch for two yards. He just wasn’t a factor in the game plan at all, and that’s with the Saints trying to score to win the game in the entire second half. Beware of Spiller for the rest of the season.
Doug Martin, TB (vs. NYG) – 2.3 FP
Would the real Doug Martin please stand up? Is he the back who ran for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns in Weeks 5, 7 and 8? Or is he more like the player he’s been the last two years, where he struggled mightily to produce anything fantasy-relevant like he did this week when he got 11 carries for 31 yards and was benched because of a lost fumble. Look for a 50/50 split between him and Charles Sims moving forward.
DeSean Jackson, WAS (vs. NE) – 1.5 FP
Anyone who gambled and started Jackson this week in his first game back since suffering a hamstring injury in Week 1, sure got burned. It was conventional wisdom thinking that Jackson should contribute seeing that the odds of Jackson putting up some decent fantasy points in garbage time was pretty good. But Kirk Cousins and the whole Redskins’ offense were terrible against the Patriots. It will be interesting to see what happens with this offense in the coming weeks.
Demaryius Thomas, DEN (at IND) - 5 FP
There were a lot of big-name wide receivers that put up bad fantasy numbers this week, including the likes of A.J. Green, Stefon Diggs and Travis Benjamin. But Thomas takes the cake because in a game where the Broncos had to play catch up and Peyton Manning threw for nearly 300 yards, he was targeted only seven times, catching five of them for 50 yards. For a first-round or early second-round fantasy draft choice, you are expecting more than that.
Jordan Cameron, MIA (at BUF) – 0.6 FP
On a week where six teams were on a bye lots of people had no choice but to start Cameron, and they went to sleep sobbing in their pillows because of it. Cameron was a complete afterthought in a game where Ryan Tannehill threw for more than 300 yards. Cameron was targeted just once, making the catch for six yards. Cameron has been a complete bust this season and if he’s the only tight end you have on your roster, time to go shopping this week.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.
Athlon has teamed up with college fantasy veterans CollegeFootballGeek.com to help you dominate in 2015! Over the course of the season, CFG will be providing insight into their weekly value plays, as well as helping you identify the top waiver wire candidates to bolster your lineups.
Whether you play daily or season-long college fantasy football, CollegeFootballGeek.com (@CFFGeek) prepares you to win with the best advice, tools and customer service in the industry — they've been doing it since 2008. Click here to learn how you can subscribe to CFG for FREE.
Below, you will find AthlonSports.com contributor and CFG writer Mike Bainbridge's five best waiver wire pickups for Week 11. To see the full in-depth article of over 40-plus players, make sure to check out CollegeFootballGeek.com.
Ryan Graham (QB, Northern Illinois)
Chandler Harnish, Jordan Lynch, Drew Hare. NIU is a quarterback fantasy factory as proven by those past names, and now Graham has a chance to have his name added to the list. Hare, the current starting quarterback, suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon last week in the win over Toledo and is now done for the season. The numbers were not overwhelming, but the poise Graham displayed was impressive in his first extended collegiate action. The redshirt freshman led two scoring fourth-quarter drives to secure a comeback victory over then-No. 20 Toledo and knock the Rockets from the ranks of the remaining unbeaten teams in college football. Graham finished 9-of-12 for 132 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 41 yards.
Brandon Silvers (QB, Troy)
Silvers had a rough start to the 2015 season but had much to do with the strength of Troy’s non-conference schedule that included road trips to Wisconsin, Mississippi State and NC State. Through six games, the Trojans were averaging just 17 points per game. The last three games you ask? How about 48 ppg? Silvers has played some of his best football the past three weeks with 10 touchdown passes, including four in the 51-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe. Want another reason why Silvers is a must-add to your roster? Troy’s final three opponents rank 54th, 108th and 91st respectively in scoring defense.
Gerald Holmes (RB, Michigan State)
Sophomore running back Holmes rushed for a career-best 117 yards on 22 carries in the Spartans’ 39-38 loss to Nebraska. Injuries have hurt the Spartans of late at the position with both Madre London and L.J. Scott ailing the past month, though Holmes certainly put his name in the hat to be the starter going forward with how he ran on Saturday. On Sunday, head coach Mark Dantonio cautioned those anointing him the starter, stating that there is no clear-cut guy atop the depth chart, but most believe Holmes will get the nod next week against Maryland even if London and Scott are at full strength.
Jovon Robinson (RB, Auburn)
This is the Jovon Robinson that we were expecting to see all year long! The former No. 1 junior college recruit in the country is finally healthy and becoming the lead back that many believed he would be since he committed to the Tigers this offseason. Robinson rushed for 159 yards on 27 carries in the victory over Texas A&M, 14 more attempts than a healthy Peyton Barber. Head coach Gus Malzahn said after the game that the plan was to split the workload, but rode the hot hand in Robinson who had more than 100 yards in the first half alone. We look for Robinson to be the “hot hand” for Auburn the rest of the season.
Dominique Reed (WR, Arkansas)
Who would have thought at the start of the season that Arkansas would have not one, but two fantasy-relevant wide receivers in 2015 and none of which are Keon Hatcher? After making minimal impact the first month of the year, Reed, the junior college transfer, has been the big-play wideout in the Arkansas offense, accounting for at least one touchdown each of the last five weeks. This past week against Ole Miss was his breakout performance with 107 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Trust me when I say Reed will still be available in most leagues despite the recent success – I just picked him up in my league this week.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.
After a week in which five previously unbeaten teams lost, the season is getting more clarity and yet championships and playoff spots are as hotly contested as they've been all year. This is a season of crazy outcomes and heated competition on and off the field.
The Athlon Sports College Football Experts Club presented by Nexium & Advil gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.
Here are this week’s top picks from Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox:
College Football Podcast: Week 10 Recap
Michigan at Indiana
Michigan is among the nation’s best defensive teams because of a physical approach and plenty of talent, but the Wolverines also haven’t faced a ton of fully functioning offenses, particularly an effective spread offense. BYU and Michigan State are the only top-50 offenses Michigan has faced this season. Indiana ranks 30th, but the Hoosiers have played stretches this year without quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard. If anything this might give UM a barometer of how it will fare against Ohio State. Indiana is winless in the Big Ten, but the Hoosiers have proven they can play with anyone for three quarters. Unfortunately for Indiana, those fourth quarters have been problematic — to put it lightly.
Fox’s pick: Michigan 38–24
Arkansas at LSU
The loss to Alabama was humbling for all around for LSU. Fournette had his worst game of the season. Brandon Harris threw his first interception of the year and completed only 6-of-19 passes. The defense also gave up a season-high 250 rushing yards. Arkansas is playing with the most confidence it has had all season. The Razorbacks are getting hot at the end of the season just as they did last season when the Hogs shut out LSU and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks in November. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has suddenly fallen in love with the passing game, mainly because he has a quarterback who can do some damage. Brandon Allen has completed 52-of-76 passes for 975 yards with nine touchdowns and an interception in his last two SEC games, wins over Auburn and Ole Miss. Will Allen put up similar numbers against LSU on the road? Probably not, but it will be interesting to see Arkansas try.
Fox’s pick: LSU 28–24
Memphis at Houston
Memphis’ loss to Navy exposed what we’ve known for a few weeks: The Tigers were only going to go as far as their defense would carry them. Navy was the perfect team to exploit Memphis’ weakness, rushing for 374 yards and controlling the clock with the option. Three turnovers by Memphis didn’t help. Houston’s offense could be even more effective against the Tigers. The Cougars and Baylor are the only teams in the country that rank in the top 10 in both rushing and passing offense — and Houston has played a more challenging schedule relative to its talent level. This is an entertaining game that should end in Houston’s favor.
Fox’s pick: Houston 56–42
Utah at Arizona
In a game that flew under the radar because of its time slot and teams involved, Utah put up an impressive performance by scoring 34 points on an above-average Washington defense on the road. The Utes got back to what they do best, forcing turnovers and playing solid defense. Arizona has few answers this season. The Wildcats pressed USC last week, but Arizona’s defense can’t get off the field, and the quarterback situation has been uncertain for most of the season.
Fox’s pick: Utah 35–21
Clemson at Syracuse
The only risk for Clemson is that spending two weeks at No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, clinching the ACC Atlantic and beating their chief competition before the postseason results in some kind of emotional letdown. Syracuse has lost six in a row and ranks 13th in the ACC in total offense and 14th defense.
Fox’s pick: Clemson 42–10
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
The Wildcats’ season has come unraveled. Kentucky has lost four in a row, the last three by an average of 27 points. If the Wildcats are going to rebound and get to six wins, the next two weeks (Vanderbilt and Charlotte) are their best chance to do it. The Wildcats expect running back Stanley “Boom” Williams to return, but they’re also mulling a quarterback change after Patrick Towles had one of the worst starts of his career against Georgia last week. Despite a 3–6 record, Vanderbilt has one of the SEC’s better defenses, and head coach/defensive coordinator Derek Mason has been able to devise schemes to keep opposing quarterbacks off balance.
Fox’s pick: Vanderbilt 14-10
Oklahoma at Baylor
Buying into Oklahoma is a tricky proposition. The Sooners have a way of showing well for a few weeks and then collapsing soon after — look no further than the loss to Texas earlier this season. Despite our better judgment, we’re back on the Sooners’ bandwagon. The Sooners have been dominant on both sides of the ball, albeit against Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State. Here’s what’s to like about OU right now: A balanced offense that can play in a shootout behind quarterback Baker Mayfield or slow the pace of the game with Samaje Perine in the run game. Jarrett Stidham looks like he’ll be fine as Baylor’s quarterback of the future, but he’ll be asked to take on the Sooners in a game with Playoff implications in only his second start.
Fox’s pick: Oklahoma 41-38
Oregon at Stanford
The marquee game in the Pac-12 the last few years won’t have the same luster it’s had in the past. Oregon’s three losses are to blame, but the Ducks are getting better. This is clearly a different team with a healthy Vernon Adams at quarterback. The Ducks put up 777 yards against Cal last week and 501 two weeks ago against Arizona State in overtime. This game will be more competitive than many will expect, but Stanford had Oregon’s number when both were at their best in 2012-13.
Fox’s pick: Stanford 41–28
Pittsburgh at Duke
These teams were once in front of the pack for the ACC Coastal, but both have lost two in a row. Duke has lost in more spectacular fashion, first on the wild kickoff return against Miami and then in a rout against rival (and current Coastal leader) North Carolina. Pitt lost to Carolina and Notre Dame, making this a de facto elimination game in the Coastal. Neither team is particularly great. Trust the team with more overall balance and may be less susceptible to an emotional hangover.
Fox’s pick: Pittsburgh 28–21
Miami at North Carolina
The Tar Heels are rolling now, mainly behind the play of Marquise Williams. He’s accounted for seven touchdowns in the Heels’ pair of wins over their chief competition for the ACC Coastal, Pitt and Duke. The defense has been the turnaround story of the year. Brad Kaaya has returned for Miami, but even with their star quarterback, the Hurricanes limped to a home win over Virginia. A let down might be a concern for the Heels, but this is also the last home game of the season for UNC.
Fox’s pick: North Carolina 38–24
Georgia at Auburn
The question heading into the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” is which team will be able to extend its momentum. Georgia ditched the Fauton Bauta experiment at quarterback and installed a plan in which Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey shared QB duties and running backs Sony Michel and wide receiver Terry Godwin took direct snaps. The result was 5.5 yards per play and 390 yards of total offense in a 27–3 win over Kentucky. At the same time, Auburn had its best rushing day of the season with 311 yards behind the emergence of Jovon Robinson, but the Tigers quarterback position will be in question. Starter-turned-backup Jeremy Johnson stepped in to completed 13-of-17 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown in place of an injured Sean White.
Fox’s pick: Auburn 28–21
Oklahoma State at Iowa State
Oklahoma State has a few more believers after the Cowboys intercepted TCU’s Trevone Boykin four times in the Pokes’ breakout game. What will Oklahoma State do with their newfound attention? The Cowboys have one last road game before Oklahoma and Baylor and it’s against the same team and coach who ruined their national championship hopes in 2011. The Cowboys played close games with lesser competition earlier this year, so they’d be advised to leave no doubts in Ames.
Fox’s pick: Oklahoma State 42–20
NC State at Florida State
Jacoby Brissett may have unfinished business after playing the best game of his career in a loss to Florida State last season. The Seminoles won’t be caught off guard this time around, but they will be facing a rare bit of adversity for the first time in several years. The Seminoles lost earlier this year to Georgia Tech, but they haven’t had to play many seasons under Jimbo Fisher where their major goals — the national title and ACC championship — are out of reach.
Fox’s pick: Florida State 38-31
Washington State at UCLA
UCLA remains one of college football’s great mystery teams: Look like title contender one week, a dud the next. Meanwhile, we know what Wazzu is: an Air Raid team with questionable defense. That’s not enough to win every game, but it will win many. UCLA has faced a similar scheme an flourished in a 40-24 win over Cal on Oct. 22. UCLA has every reason to win this game, but we simply have a hunch. Washington State has won three of four, the only loss by two to Stanford.
Fox’s pick: Washington State 49–42
Florida at South Carolina
Florida is coming off a dismal offensive performance against Vanderbilt in a 9–7 win. South Carolina has been more competitive under interim coach Shawn Elliott, beating Vanderbilt and playing one-score games at Texas A&M and at Tennessee. That said, facing the South Carolina defense has been a nice confidence booster for SEC offenses. The Gamecocks are allowing a league-worst 454.6 yards per game in conference play. If there’s any upset potential it’s because Florida’s offense picks up where it left off against Vanderbilt and the absence of defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard — Florida’s top player in the front seven — allows quarterback Perry Orth and running back Brandon Wilds to pick up yards on the ground.
Fox’s pick: Florida 21–10
Maryland at Michigan State
The Spartans shouldn’t have too much trouble with a Maryland team that has lost six in a row and whose only victories are over Richmond and USF. If anything, this game could be a confidence builder for the Michigan State secondary that has been burned for 628 yards and five touchdowns the last two weeks. Maryland has thrown 25 interceptions in nine games this season, five more than any other team and 10 more than any other Power 5 team. The Terrapins thrown an interception every 11 passes — an astounding rate for a major team.
Fox’s pick: Michigan State 31–13
Alabama at Mississippi State
Alabama’s 25–20 win last year was the closest game the last six meetings, but Alabama led 19–0 at one point and intercepted Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott three times. Prescott has been far more secure with the football during his senior season, throwing only one interception to 18 touchdown passes. Prescott has proven he is the top quarterback in the SEC, but the Bulldogs don’t have much else. Prescott leads MSU with 418 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground; no one else on the roster has more than 220 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Alabama is coming off arguably the best defensive performance of any team this season, considering the opponent. Heisman frontrunner Leonard Fournette managed only 1.6 yards per carry against the Crimson Tide. Prescott presents a different challenge, but with the exception of the Ole Miss game, Alabama’s defense has been arguably the best in the country.
Fox’s pick: Alabama 31–14
Wake Forest at Notre Dame
Wake Forest has a decent defense, but the Demon Deacons’ offense is dismal. This is a team whose high point was beating Boston College 3-0 because the Eagles were even more inept on the goal line. Notre Dame will have to try hard to lose this one.
Fox’s pick: Notre Dame 38–10
Minnesota at Iowa
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard is battling through bumps and bruises, but he’s about to get some help. Leading rusher Jordan Canzeri is on track to return this week from a ankle injury, joining a running back corps that returned LeShun Daniels Jr. two weeks ago. The run game that was down to a third-stringer could be healthy for the stretch run. Minnesota has lost three in a row and four of the last five games, but included in that mix are games against three ranked teams (Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State) and one close call with the Wolverines. Minnesota has put more on the arm of quarterback Mitch Leidner in recent games, and it’s easy to see why: Three of Minnesota’s last five opponents have held the Gophers to fewer than 100 yards rushing. Leidner is averaging 299.7 passing yards per game in the last three with mixed results.
Fox’s pick: Iowa 35–21
Last week: 16-4
Season to date: 151-22
With only three weeks left in the regular season, Tuesday night’s matchup between Toledo and Central Michigan should play a key role in shaping the final MAC West standings. Four teams have a shot at winning the West Division, with Toledo, Northern Illinois and Central Michigan each having one loss in conference play. Western Michigan is unbeaten in league action. Considering the Rockets and Chippewas already have one loss within the MAC, Tuesday night’s matchup could be an elimination game to stay alive for a trip to Detroit in early December.
Toledo is coming off its first loss of the season after a 32-27 defeat at the hands of Northern Illinois. While the loss knocked the Rockets out of the top 25 rankings, coach Matt Campbell’s team has compiled a solid resume. Toledo scored two huge non-conference wins, defeating Arkansas in Little Rock and Iowa State in the Glass Bowl in September. Additionally, the Rockets defeated the favorite (Arkansas State) to win the Sun Belt title. Central Michigan is off to a 5-4 start under new coach John Bonamego. The Chippewas enter Tuesday night’s matchup with wins in four out of their last five games. Additionally, Bonamego’s team played well in losses against Oklahoma State (24-13), Syracuse (30-27) and Michigan State (30-10).
Toledo owns a 22-18-3 series edge over Central Michigan. The Rockets have won five in a row against the Chippewas.
Toledo at Central Michigan
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Toledo -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Toledo’s Rushing Attack
Toledo recorded 291 rushing yards and two scores in last week’s loss against Northern Illinois. Kareem Hunt appears to be over an early-season injury, gashing the Huskies for 140 yards and two touchdowns. While Hunt could be the MAC’s best overall running back, he has plenty of help in the form of Terry Swanson (7.5 ypc), Damion Jones-Moore and Marc Remy. Central Michigan’s rush defense ranks fourth in the MAC by limiting opponents to 135.1 yards per game. However, the Chippewas struggled to stop Western Michigan (215 yards) and Northern Illinois (211) earlier this season. The Rockets have rushed for at least 238 yards in each of their last five games. Can Central Michigan find a way to slow down the Toledo rushing attack?
2. Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush
Overall pass defense numbers isn’t the best indicator of how well a team’s secondary is performing. With that in mind, let’s note Toledo ranks 10th in the MAC in pass defense but is second in pass efficiency defense. A deeper look at those totals shows some signs of concern for coach Matt Campbell. The Rockets have allowed six passing scores in the last two games and gave up 17.3 yards per completion in last week’s loss to Northern Illinois. Additionally, Toledo’s pass defense numbers are skewed. The Rockets faced Ball State, Kent State and Eastern Michigan – all ranked ninth or worse in the MAC in passing offense. This unit will be challenged once again on Tuesday night, as Central Michigan’s passing attack averages 296.2 yards per game behind quarterback Cooper Rush. The junior is completing 69 percent of his passes, has only eight interceptions on 335 attempts and has passed for 300 yards in three out of his last four games. Rush likes to spread the ball to a deep group of skill players, with Jesse Kroll (43 catches) as the top option. However, expect to see Anthony Rice (41 catches), Mark Chapman, Corey Willis and tight end Ben McCord targeted frequently on Tuesday night. The Chippewas rank last in the MAC in rushing offense, so it’s up to Rush and the passing attack to keep the chains moving against Toledo.
3. Protecting the Passer
The previous sections highlighted the importance of Toledo running back Kareem Hunt and Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush, but neither player will have any success on Tuesday night if the offensive line struggles to win the battle at the point of attack. The Chippewas have allowed 20 sacks (eighth in the MAC), while the Rockets have allowed only two sacks this season – both against Northern Illinois. Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely has tossed five picks over the last two games, and if the Chippewas can get pressure, the secondary will have opportunities to create turnovers. However, generating a pass rush has been an issue for Central Michigan. Through nine games, the Chippewas have recorded only 10 sacks. By comparison, Toledo has 19 in eight contests. After allowing two sacks last week, can the Rockets tighten their pass protection on Tuesday night? Keep an eye on how well the offensive lines perform in this key conference matchup.
As mentioned above, it’s fair to count this contest as an elimination game in the MAC West standings. There are plenty of scenarios still in play, but the loser of this matchup is going to have a tough time finishing No. 1 in the West Division. Plenty of fireworks should be expected in Mount Pleasant. The winning team in this series has recorded at least 38 points in each of the last six matchups. Toledo didn’t take care of the small things in last week’s game. The small errors led to the Rockets’ first loss of the season. How will they rebound on the road? The guess here is Campbell’s team gets back on track. Central Michigan keeps this one close well into the fourth quarter, but the Rockets have better balance on offense and a slight edge on defense. Toledo wins and keeps its MAC West title hopes alive.
Prediction: Toledo 34, Central Michigan 27
It's hard rooting for the away team during a football game. It's even harder when the star quarterback for the home team has a problem with your sign.
During warm-ups of Packers-Panthers game, Cam Newton spotted a fan's sign with the map of North Carolina on and it read, "North Carolina Cheesehead." Apparently Newton wasn't a fan so he took it down.
Here's the banner Cam Newton ripped down before the game pic.twitter.com/j4P8dEqz5c— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) November 9, 2015
Mike Dobs, a resident of North Carolina, reportedly paid $500 to have the sign made. The Panthers organization talked with the family, hoping to reach some sort of solution, but the family filed a complaint with the police over the missing sign. Here's Newton with the sign in question before the game.
It'll be hard to get the police in the city of an undefeated team to go after the starting quarterback, but Dobs is passionate about the sign.
Dobs' son-in-law David Sessoms called Newton "evil" and "ghetto," and posted this to his Facebook page.
Due to the public reaction, especially because they live in North Carolina, Sessoms said he had to block two so-called friends and isn't answering any messages on social media.
After beginning the 2015 season 5-1, the Ohio Bobcats have now dropped three consecutive games. They currently sit at 5-4 (2-3 MAC), needing one more win to become bowl eligible.
Kent State (3-6, 2-3 MAC) comes into this Tuesday night tilt with a two-game losing streak of its own. The Golden Flashes' season has been a disappointing one so far, losing both close games and blowouts while recording wins over only MAC bottom-feeders and one FCS school. They too would like to get bowl eligible to salvage their season, but will need to win out in order to do so.
Kent State at Ohio
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Tuesday)
Spread: Ohio -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Kent State move the ball?
The Golden Flashes have had a difficult time scoring pointing and gaining yards all season, whether through the air or on the ground. Their best bet will be to set the tempo early on the road with a consistent run game. The issue will be finding the one guy who will step up and be the bell cow. Trayion Durham had slightly more success than Raekwon James in the close loss to Buffalo. One of them needs to step up and grind out the tough yards early to keep Ohio off the field.
2. Can Derrius Vick take charge?
He took care of the football against Bowling Green, but Ohio needs its leader to make plays in order to win this game. Vick is going to need to open things up and force some throws to put points on the board. Ohio's best chance is to get an early lead, as Kent State does not have the firepower to play from behind and win a shootout. Vick is listed as questionable on the injury report with an ankle injury. If for some reason, he's unable to go, J.D. Sprague would get the start.
3. Bobcats WR Sebastian Smith
Smith had 10 catches in a losing effort against Bowling Green and has been Vick's primary target all season. His 6-foot-3 frame is going to be an asset when Ohio gets in the red zone against a fairly weak Kent State secondary. Smith has decent hands and deceptive speed, which could translate into landing on an NFL roster in a couple of years.
When push comes to shove, Kent State is just a bad offensive team. The Golden Flashes are not going to be able to stay on the field long enough for their defense to gather themselves and put up a fight against Vick, Smith and a stable of capable Ohio running backs. Look for the Bobcats to get their sixth win of the season and keep their bowl hopes alive on Tuesday night.
Prediction: Ohio 27, Kent State 3
Missouri president Tim Wolfe has resigned amid racial allegations around campus.
The latest push was made by the Tigers football players who said they would not play unless Wolfe resigned. Once the coaches and staff, including head coach Gary Pinkel, backed the players there was really no choice. There have been a series of racial events happening to students on the campus and based on Wolfe's lack of action against them, many students felt it best if he would step down.
Understand other pressures on Wolfe, but hard to believe this happens without football players (and coach) leveraging change. #Mizzou— Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) November 9, 2015
Missouri is set to play BYU on Nov. 14.
No. 1 in the country has a nice ring to it and Clemson wants to keep hearing that sweet sound all the way through the evening of Jan. 11. Step one is to win the ACC and make the College Football Playoff, and head coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers inched closer to that goal on Saturday by clinching the Atlantic Division with a 23-13 win over Florida State.
With Syracuse, Wake Forest, and South Carolina remaining on the schedule, there don’t appear to be many dangerous landmines in front of the Tigers before the ACC Championship Game, though the match up with the Gamecocks is always a heated affair. The quality of those opponents will hurt Clemson’s strength of schedule, but whether or not they are No. 1 going into the Playoff is irrelevant. If the Tigers win out, they will be part of the four-team party on New Year’s Eve.
Here are five thoughts on Clemson’s win over the Seminoles.
1. The Atmosphere Again
At many stadiums, there is not as much electricity in the building during afternoon games. Many talk about how difficult it is to play at that other Death Valley – the one in Baton Rouge – at night but it is a bit easier during the day. That was not the case at Clemson on Saturday. The crowd was loud right from jump street. The crowd really became a factor in the third quarter when Florida State had a delay of game penalty and a false start on successive plays. On the day, FSU had three delay of game penalties and the noise was a factor. Florida State, like Notre Dame before them, is used to playing in hostile territory. But neither was ready for Clemson.
2. Holding Dalvin Cook to 194 Yards
It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Florida State’s Heisman contender had a huge day on the stat sheet with those 194 yards on 21 carries. But a look inside the numbers is very revealing. Cook had 111 yards on his first two carries and 125 at the end of the first quarter. He only had 40 yards in the second half and 28 of those came on two carries. Seven times Cook was stopped for no gain or lost yardage and 48 percent of his carries went for two yards or less. The Tigers were especially tough on Cook on...
3. Third (and Fourth) Downs
Clemson was 7-of-17 on third-down conversions while Florida State was just 2-of-12. That only tells part of the story. The timing of the Clemson conversions and stops were the difference in the game. Down 10-6 early in the third quarter, Clemson faced a 3rd-and-2 on the Florida State 38-yard line. The Tigers ran a little slip screen that Deon Cain took to the house. On the ensuing FSU drive, the Noles had a 3rd-and-1 at the Clemson 24. The Tigers stuffed Cook and the Seminoles settled for a tying field goal. In the fourth quarter, up 16-13 Clemson stopped Cook on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 to end a Florida State drive. Less than four minutes later Clemson had scored and the game was over. Championship teams win the third-down battle.
4. B.J. Goodson
When analysts talk about the Clemson defense, they usually start with Shaq Lawson, Ben Boulwar, and Mackensie Alexander. And honestly, those are good places to start. But the senior from Lamar, S.C. has been a solid contributor for a long time and is tied with Boulware for the team lead in tackles. Saturday may have been the best game of his career. Goodson led the team with nine tackles, had two sacks and another 1.5 tackles for lost yardage, and his recovery of a fumble caused by Boulware ended any Florida State hope. On a team with a number of big-time defenders, Goodson is someone that should not be overlooked.
5. Getting the Florida State Monkey Off Their Backs
The Tigers have been one of the most consistent teams over the past few years. They have taken care of business so well that the word that all Tigers hate has been put to rest. The thorn in their side, though, has been Florida State. The Seminoles had won the last three meetings and four of the last six. Last year’s game was especially painful because Clemson believed they were the better team but gave the game to FSU... and they were probably right. All of that’s behind them now. With so much on the line, Clemson came through and vanquished its ACC archrival.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
Illinois went public with what it found in its internal investigation into former coach Tim Beckman's firing.
In the document, which you can read in full here, there are allegations of Beckman encouraging players to minimize reports of injuries so they could continue playing. It is a total disregard for the players' safety and could have ended up making the situations worse.
Here are Illinois investigators' findings on Tim Beckman's alleged physical altercations: pic.twitter.com/fch2tw13PZ— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) November 9, 2015
Along with these allegations, we learn that Beckman doesn't believe in "hamstring injuries" and would routinely call his players names when they were being treated by the training staff. Names like "soft" and even worse were Beckman's way of getting the player back on the field as soon as possible.
As a result of the reports, Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas has also been fired.
"I understand the chancellor's viewpoint that my continued presence may create an ongoing distraction for our students, coaches, and staff, and I accept the situation," Thomas said in a statement. "It has been my privilege to be part of this storied program and this great university. I will always cherish my time at this institution and in this community."
Someone better figure out where to hide the Sprint Cup championship trophy. The second year of NASCAR’s new Chase continues to be characterized by its own type of Ponzi scheme: first-degree theft.
Left and right, the last three weeks have been littered with people stealing lines on a racing resume from somebody else. Talladega? New green-white-checkered finish rules collided with a bizarre finish to steal a victory out of the hands of Dale Earnhardt Jr. A chance at the title was taken along with it, the same opportunity Kevin Harvick earned when he stole a Chase ticket into the next round by causing a caution courtesy of a hard-right turn into Trevor Bayne.
Next there was Martinsville, which saw Matt Kenseth stealing Joey Logano’s shot at the championship by taking a shot straight into his left-side door. A two-race suspension and a day’s worth of shenanigans ensued (none of which appear to be calming down anytime soon). Their little squabble caused Jeff Gordon to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, rescuing an otherwise winless season and earning himself a bid at a fifth championship during a year where racking up even five top-5 finishes has been a struggle.
They say these trends come in threes, which is why it’s no surprise Texas followed suit. Sunday’s race was a one-man affair, Brad Keselowski dominating to the tune of 312 out of 334 laps led. But a late debris caution bunched up the field, breathing new life into rivals and giving Jimmie Johnson a fighting chance at a sweep. Both drivers put on an exceptional show, dashing all over the racetrack before Johnson shocked the crowd, stuck his Chevy out in front and led the final six laps of a race he stole right under Keselowski’s nose.
It’s only fitting Johnson finished this three-race chapter off, the No. 48 team winning races in unconventional ways. The six-time champ has led the fewest laps of any season in his 14-year career, is on track for his worst points finish and second straight outside the top 10. Yet somehow, looking at the stats sheet he has five victories, one short of the series lead (Logano) and has done so on the strength of late-race surges.
Take Kansas in the spring. Johnson took a back seat to Harvick until pit strategy late snuck him out front. Ditto for Dover, a place where Johnson was surprisingly behind the curve in May until a final restart shot him by Harvick. Atlanta? Yet a third duel where Johnson outlasted Harvick and Kenseth over the final portion of the race. Only at Texas this spring was J.J. dominant throughout, leading a race-high 128 laps (a total blown away by Keselowski Sunday).
Then again, Johnson might say his bid for this year’s title was stolen by a $5 part breaking at Dover. The resulting rear end repair left him 41st, knocked out of the Chase after just the first round and left to ponder what might have been. Sunday gave him a chance to commit the crime and not be the victim.
By the way, who was the first person to greet Johnson in Victory Lane? Teammate Gordon, who some might say had his own title bid stolen by Keselowski back in 2014.
Perhaps karma does come back around after all. Let’s just hope, especially with the aggression we’ve seen these past few weeks no one winds up arrested by Homestead.
Through the gears we go….
FIRST GEAR: As the Keselowski Crumbles
Texas was Keselowski’s race to lose, a place among the final four at Homestead ready and waiting for him. Instead, the Chaser fell short, handling the runner-up result with dignity but facing the reality of another failed title attempt. Barring a miracle at Phoenix, a track where neither he nor teammate Joey Logano has won, Team Penske will be shut out of the final four at Homestead a second straight year.
“I can certainly feel for Brad,” said rival Kyle Busch. “That’s heartbreaking. To be that fast, to lead that many laps, to get beat that late in the game like that, I know the pain.”
“Clearly, Brad had a lot on the line,” added Johnson. “Thankful he ran as hard and as clean as he did.”
Keselowski, optimistic after the race, has nothing to be ashamed of; the past two seasons he and Logano have combined for 18 victories. But the big prize has continued to elude them, their impressive effort as a two-car team falling short since Logano came on board in 2013. Keselowski’s title in 2012 continues to be the only Cup title owner Roger Penske has won despite 88 victories since rejoining the sport full-time in 1991.
SECOND GEAR: Harvick’s Make-or-Break Moment Ahead
What hasn’t happened to Kevin Harvick during this Chase? A broken shifter combined with two flat tires to make life difficult Sunday for the reigning champ. Lesser drivers would have wrecked; lesser teams would have been unable to stick together through several slow stops on pit road. Yet despite a day of mayhem, once again the reigning champ found himself inside the top 3 at race’s end (third). It’s the 18th podium effort for Harvick this season and one that now has him on the precipice of a second final four appearance.
“I guess those are character-building moments,” he said. “But we’ve managed to survive and advance and that’s what we’ve got to do next week.”
“Survive and advance” is right as next week will be a test in the face of NASCAR CEO Brian France’s push to discipline Kenseth. After that intentional Martinsville wreck we head to Phoenix, a track where Harvick dominates and is the heavy favorite to win once again. However, much of the NASCAR garage remains incensed over the Talladega affair and several drivers want to prevent Harvick from being title-eligible come Homestead.
Will someone step outside the lines and dump the No. 4 car if it’s in contention to win? That’s probably the only obstacle standing in Harvick’s way of more success in the desert and a shot at defending his title.
THIRD GEAR: Three Unexpected Faces Round Out Chase Race
Keselowski’s loss left the Chase well-defined. Both he and Logano need to win Phoenix to advance, as does Kurt Busch, who didn’t even race there in the spring (he was under suspension). None of that trio is likely to do so which leaves four drivers fighting for three spots (Jeff Gordon is already in after clinching his spot at Martinsville).
The group besides Harvick is a rather unlikely list of candidates. You have Carl Edwards, virtually invisible with his new team until winning Charlotte in May. No one would have expected after his struggles the first half of the season the No. 19 team would ever make it this far. Then there’s Martin Truex Jr., driving for single-car Furniture Row Racing, who’s put together a Cinderella season. It’s the first time the No. 78 team has been in title contention this late; it’s just the third time ever Truex has made his way inside the Chase. Both of them looked better off divorcing after a miserable 2014 season but what’s transpired instead is a miraculous turnaround.
The biggest surprise, though is Kyle Busch, who didn’t even step into a Cup car for a points race this season until May. A devastating leg injury sidelined him at Daytona and could have sidetracked his title bid until NASCAR green-lighted an exception to their “start every race” rule to qualify. A frantic four wins in five races ensured, clawing Busch into title eligibility and he’s ridden this wave high enough to change his ugly Chase past. Once one of the most temperamental drivers, Busch has put himself in final four contention despite being winless throughout the postseason. Could 30 years old be the year of maturity, one where the new dad finally gets over the hump?
FOURTH GEAR: Suspension Looms Over Texas
Yes, Texas had its moments, tire problems early affecting several drivers and a fantastic ending between Johnson and Keselowski. Still, the spectre of the Kenseth incident the week before overshadowed Sunday’s proceedings. Signs of “#FreeMatt” could be found all over the grandstands and there was an outpouring of support for replacement rookie Erik Jones, an impressive talent who put together a respectable 12th-place finish in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota.
But it was Kenseth stealing the show, saying early in the weekend he had “no regrets” and “absolutely would not” change the way he races. Then, there was Sunday’s gem of a Tweet after Johnson and Keselowski battled cleanly for the win, a situation where the No. 2 car could have taken out the No. 48 to earn its spot in Homestead.
It was a nicely couched shot at both rival Logano, whose wreck caused the suspension, and NASCAR CEO Brian France. One might say it was a 140-character “quintessential” performance…
Boy, has Kyle Larson suffered through a sophomore slump-type of year. The second-year Cup driver was running top 5 Sunday before a flat tire ruined his race. The day before? He was leading the XFINITY Series event before a similar problem led to him wrecking out. The much-hyped “future of the sport” now will spend the last two races battling to simply finish the year 20th in points... Some nice runs were had by non-Chasers like Austin Dillon (11th) and Brian Scott (14th). Both drive Richard Childress Racing chassis as that organization looks to build momentum for 2016... Danica Patrick had a solid weekend, qualifying 11th and running a clean, quiet race. Her 16th-place result one week after getting fined for contact with David Gilliland marked the best result for the No. 10 team since early August... Gordon received two Shetland ponies from Texas Motor Speedway, perhaps the most bizarre gift yet in his 2015 retirement tour.
(Photos by ASP Inc.)
Talk about a turn of events. First a loud portion of Nebraska football fans didn’t see the Huskers winning another game and ending the season with a horrifying 2-10 record. But now the Big Red finds itself fresh off toppling then-No. 7 Michigan State and tainting its perfect 8-0 record.
Not only did Mike Riley’s Huskers take down a top-10 team, they also snapped one of the longest winning streaks in the country and dealt the Spartans their first Big Ten road loss since 2012.
The atmosphere was electric, fans that left early have been rightfully shamed and suddenly Nebraska finds itself sitting at 4-6 with a chance to head to a bowl game and end the season on a winning note.
However to do that, Riley’s going to have to take Tommy Armstrong, Jordan Westerkamp, Maliek Collins and this band of mentally weary Cornhuskers through a tough stretch.
Rutgers shouldn’t be viewed as an easy win. Even if the Big Red have more quality depth, coming off of a major victory sets them up for a trap game nestled in New Jersey.
Should Nebraska slip out of Piscataway winners, it’s possible that an undefeated, top-10 Iowa squad comes into Lincoln with College Football Playoff hopes. The Hawkeyes will be doing so after Nebraska finally sees its only bye week after playing 11 straight games.
If Riley’s squad wins such a contest, he’ll have tied the number of top-10 teams his predecessor Bo Pelini conquered during his seven-year tenure.
More importantly, Nebraska will get invaluable practices that come with any bowl game. Should the Huskers rattle off a three-game winning streak, fans may flock to the East Coast if the Big Red wind up playing in Yankee Stadium for this year’s Pinstripe Bowl.
It would’ve been easy for Riley and crew to lie down after the loss to Purdue, for public opinion to fry them over the course of an offseason. That clearly won’t be tolerated. Not by Riley, not from his staff and certainly not from his players.
If (and it’s still a big if) the Big Red goes bowling, it may not redeem losses to Illinois or the Boilermakers, but the opportunity should speak volumes regarding Riley’s ability to teach his kids about battling severe adversity.
Speaking of the loss to Purdue, following the game Riley said, “We're just going to keep coaching them. That's what we need to do. You'd be naive to know that this is not a good thing. We've got to just keep going with them. I think that's what they need the most right now, is more coaching.”
That sounds cliché, but you saw the results Saturday night. Nebraska won’t win the Big Ten this year, but this team can do something no one saw even a couple of weeks ago: go to a bowl, have a winning record and take down two highly-ranked teams in the process.
In the meantime, it’s time to focus on Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights will surely be happy to knock the Huskers back down into the depths of depression if they don’t give their all as the Big Red did against Sparty.