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All taxonomy terms: Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-vs-houston-texans-preview-and-prediction-2015

After Week 1, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like the worst team in the NFL. Jameis Winston looked confused and overmatched against a decent-at-best Titans defense. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota put up Madden-like numbers against the Bucs' revamped defense, throwing for four first-half touchdowns. 


Week 2 was the perfect storm for the Bucs to get rolled for the second straight week, traveling to New Orleans to face a Saints team coming off a big loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Bucs spoiled the bayou party with a 26-19 win in hostile territory. The Bucs defense looked nothing like the team that surrendered 35 first-half points to the Titans the week before, as the D only allowed seven points through three quarters, and held Drew Brees to 255 yards passing and a 29.4 QBR. Offensively, Winston improved from his Week 1 performance drastically, completing over 66 percent of his passes, throwing and running for a touchdown with no picks. Lovie Smith’s Bucs were showing signs of life. 


The Texans were back to square one after a second straight loss, this time to the Carolina Panthers. Quarterback Ryan Mallett made just his third career start last week and the inexperience showed. Mallett was put in a no-win situation as the Texans were without All-Pro running back Arian Foster and stuck with an injury riddled offensive line. The Texans lack of a running game was obvious as the team rushed for just 61 total yards and Mallett was forced to throw 58 times in the 24-17 loss to Carolina. 


To compound the offensive woes, the Texans defense, which was supposed to carry this Houston team, surrendered 172 rushing yards to Carolina, and for the second straight week allowed the opposing team’s tight end to burn them. In Week 1 the Chiefs' Travis Kelce torched the Houston D for two first-half touchdowns and over 100 yards receiving, last week it was Carolina’s only receiving threat, Greg Olsen who led the way with six catches for 70 yards. The Texans cannot only not stop opposing tight ends, but they aren’t putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks either. Last week the Texans hit Cam Newton just six times, and sacked him only once. The underperforming Texans defense is only making things worse for a Texans offense that is in desperate need of relief. 


Tampa Bay at Houston


Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)


Spread: Houston -6.5


Three Things To Watch


1. Establishing The Running Game

Things keep getting worse for Texans head coach Bill O’Brien. He is already without his leading running back, star Arian Foster, and now will likely be without current NFL leading receiver, DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has been sidelined from practice this week with a concussion and is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game. With no offensive firepower to speak of, establishing a running game for the Texans is imperative, because forcing Mallett to sling the ball 58 times is not the formula to success — although it may be the only option for the time being.


With no Foster, back up running back Alfred Blue was expected to make the most of the opportunity. Blue rushed for six yards on five carries last week and consequently found himself on the bench, replaced by fourth year undrafted free agent Chris Polk. Polk wasn't any better than his predecessor, rushing for 38 yards on 14 carries. Granted, it is hard to run the ball behind an offensive line that is completely beat up and out of position. 


First year Tampa Bay offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, did a much better job of putting Jameis Winston in more manageable situations, throwing just 21 times for a 9.9 yard average. The Bucs ran the ball a little-more efficiently between running backs Doug Martin and Charles Sims against the Saints last week than they did Week 1 against the Titans. Initiating a run game, even if it means utilizing Winston’s legs, is going to be of upmost importance this week against a Texans defense looking to reestablish itself as one of the league’s best. 


2. Winning Third Down

Both of these squads are two of the worst in the league when it comes to converting third downs on offense. The Texans only convert third downs 24.2 percent of the time and now are at even more of a disadvantage without their two biggest offensive weapons in Foster and Hopkins. Establishing a run game is going to be vital in order to protect Mallett and keep him from too many third-and-long situations. Mallett must, must, must utilize his tight ends. Last week Mallett spread the ball around to nine different receivers, but tight ends Garrett Graham and C.J. Fiedorwicz were only targeted six times for two catches. 


The Bucs aren’t much better when it comes to third downs, converting just 28.6 percent of the time. Winston does have a better running game behind him than that of Mallett, but he also has his best receiving target in Mike Evans back and ready to contribute full-time after being limited last week thanks to a troublesome hamstring. Look for a heavy dose of running back Doug Martin on third and short situations in order to keep the number of throws Winston attempts in check against the Texans pass rush. 


3. Pressuring The Quarterback

The Texans defense has under performed so far this season — which is weird saying. How does a defense with JJ Watt, Brian Cushing, Vince Wilfork, and Jadeveon Clowney underachieve? It is baffling, yet true. The Texans are 30th in getting off the field on 3rd downs, stopping offenses just 27 percent of the time. The Texans have a great opportunity this week to get back on the right track against the Bucs. Winston has shown though that his decision making on drop backs can be shaky, often throwing into double coverage or holding on to the ball too long. Winston also has trouble hanging on to the football as he has fumbled three times in the first two weeks. In addition to Winston’s early learning curve, the Bucs offensive line has allowed seven sacks so far this season. Expect Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to dial up plenty of blitzes, forcing Winston into more hurried decisions. 


On the other sideline, Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has to be licking his chops. The Texans offensive line is a mess, and with no running attack, Mallett is going to be forced to throw the ball too many times as is. The lack of viable targets and Mallett’s limited ability could inspire the Bucs defense to a second straight week of dominant play.


Final Analysis


The Texans are approaching desperation time after just two weeks, as they’ve gotten off to their worst start since 2008 when they started the season 0-4. In order for the Texans to avoid 0-3 the defense is going to have to make plays and force Jameis Winston into turnovers — which they can. If the D plays as poorly as it has the past two weeks, the Texans have little chance. 


The key for the Buccaneers is to control the clock by running the ball and putting Winston in the most manageable situations possible on passing downs. Even though WR Mike Evans is expected to be more useful this week, I wouldn't presume that he will be more productive, as Winston may not have the time to find him against the Texans pass rush. 


Prediction: Texans 17, Buccaneers 14


— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Houston Texans Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 13:00
Path: /nfl/jacksonville-jaguars-vs-new-england-patriots-preview-and-prediction-2015

The 1-1 Jacksonville Jaguars travel to the 2-0 New England Patriots on Sunday with the daunting task of defeating Tom Brady at home. The Jags are coming off an impressive win over the Miami Dolphins last week, as Blake Bortles took a significant step forward in his development, throwing for 273 yards, two touchdown and no interceptions. Second-year receiver Allen Robinson hauled in six catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns, giving the Jags a big and explosive outside receiving threat they've long lacked.


The Patriots are coming off an equally impressive win in hostile Buffalo, against a Bills team that thought they were ready to finally turn the tide against Brady and Belichick. Instead they nearly got blown off the field before putting together a late comeback that made things interesting.


On paper (and in Vegas) this one might appear to be a mismatch, but the Patriots aren't always a lock at home in September. In 2012 they lost to the Arizona Cardinals in Foxborough, a team en route to a 5-11 season, and it was the Cardinals' only road win of the season. The Patriots were flat that day and always seem to have a game early in the season where they just can't do anything right.


With the Jags looking to make a statement and nothing to lose, they should put it all on the line and play aggressive. That could make for a far more entertaining game than most might expect.


Jacksonville at New England


Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET

Channel: CBS

Line: New England -14


Three Things to Watch


1. How do you solve a problem like Gronk?

Each week teams have a plan to stop Rob Gronkowski and each week he seems nearly unstoppable. The Patriots are masters of scheming their big tight end open, but he's so talented he often has no trouble doing that on his own. Eventually a team will over-commit their resources to take Gronk out of the game, but until that day the monstrous tight end will continue putting up numbers and setting records. Gus Bradley certainly saw what Gronkowski did to his old Seattle team in the Super Bowl, and will have some adjustments for him. Bradley does have the size throughout his defense to give the big tight end some problems, but if they can't slow him down at all it will be a long day for the Jags.


2. Can Bortles stack success?

The biggest key to beating the Patriots is to not turn the ball over. Blake Bortles played perhaps the best game of his career against a very aggressive Dolphins front seven and he'll need to have the same exact clean game to give the Jags a chance in this one. Of course, doing it at home is one thing, doing it in the stadium of the defending Super Bowl champs is another. The Patriots will mix-and-match their front seven, forcing Bortles to identify who's coming and who's dropping. If confusion arises from those pre-snap reads, Bortles will fall into the traps that Bill Belichick and Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are setting for him. Bortles can't force anything, but he also cannot play too conservative. A big part of that will be trusting his big receivers to win the jump balls on New England's smaller defensive backs.


3. Can the Jags run?

The Patriots currently have the 31st-ranked run defense according to the Football Outsider's DVOA metric. Part of this is having leads in two games and focusing more on stopping the pass, but another part of it is New England's evolution toward putting more athletes on the field. In most situations the Patriots will have just two big defensive linemen on the field, and the rest of the front seven will be rounded out with hybrid linebacker types. The Jags should attack the Patriots with their running game and force them to play a grind-it-out type game. If Jacksonville can put together long drives on the ground they'll eat up clock and keep Tom Brady off the field. Forcing the Patriots to put three defensive tackles on the field will also tire them out as there's limited depth behind Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch and Malcom Brown.


Final Analysis


The Patriots' run defense could be a significant team flaw, but in today's NFL will it be a critical one? Expect the Jags to attack it and find out, but they cannot afford to get behind early. Things have to break extremely right for teams to get an upset in New England — you can't turn the ball over, you need an early lead or an early mistake from the Patriots offense, and you must compete for the entire sixty minutes. Despite their mystique, the Patriots have had plenty of close games with lesser teams in Foxborough over the years, but even then they usually were able to pull them out late. If the Jags don't have a near-flawless game in them, it could get out of hand.


Prediction: Patriots 37, Jaguars 13


— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 12:45
Path: /nfl/indianapolis-colts-vs-tennessee-titans-preview-and-prediction-2015

The Indianapolis Colts have been here before — sort of. The Colts started 0-2 in 2014 as well. But this 0-2 feels different, very different. The 2015 Colts have been thoroughly manhandled by teams quarterbacked by Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Fitzpatrick — it's that bad. 


But these Colts are mostly struggling because of their own shortcomings, starting with the atrocious offensive line that has been tragically overwhelmed since Andrew Luck’s rookie season. Since Luck’s rookie season, he has been hit more than any other quarterback in the league. The failure to address this faux pas falls on one man, Colts GM Ryan Grigson. Grigson’s idea of shoring up a leaky offensive live is signing guard and 10-year vet Todd Herremans after he was cut by the Eagles and drafting guard Denzelle Good from Mars Hill University in the seventh round. I had to Google “Mars Hill University” to make sure it was —ya know, a real school with a real football team. 


But the offensive line and Grigson aren’t the only ones worthy of blame. A lot of blame belongs to Luck, whose 58.9 QBR is dead last in the NFL. Five of the Colts’ eight turnovers have been Luck interceptions, which are the products of a soft front line and Luck trying to force the ball down field into heavy coverage.


On the opposite end of the QBR spectrum is Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota’s 129.9 QBR is tops in the league and is the highest in history for any starting rookie quarterback after two weeks. Mariota’s debut was something to behold as he threw for four first-half touchdowns against the Buccaneers in Week 1. 


Week 2 was a reality check for both Mariota and the Titans as the rookie was sacked seven times and lost two fumbles. The Titans' offensive line was thought to be a building block for the franchise, but underperforming top draft picks are leaving Titan coaches and fans frustrated. Even though the offensive line is a work in progress, Mariota —albeit after only two games, seems like he could be the real deal, giving Titans fans a legitimate reason to be excited for their football future.


Indianapolis at Tennessee


Time: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)


Line: Tennessee +3


Three Things To Watch


1. Rebounding Quarterbacks

Both starting quarterbacks are in similar situations. Both Luck and Mariota have shoddy offensive lines and are facing defenses that struggle to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Mariota showed last week against the Browns that he is going to struggle against blitzing defenses. Lucky for him the Colts don’t have anyone that can pressure the quarterback. Blitz specialist, OLB/DE Bjoern Werner has been the complete opposite of special in his two-plus seasons as a Colt and actual blitz specialist Robert Mathis is still recovering from a torn achilles that sidelined him for all of 2014. Mariota will look to throw to whomever Colts shutdown corner Vontae Davis isn’t covering. Davis, who suffered a shoulder injury on Monday night against the Jets, is the only healthy-ish starting cornerback on the Colts' depth chart as fellow CBs Greg Toler and Darius Butler are still questionable for Sunday’s game. The banged up Colts secondary could mean big days for Titans receivers Harry Douglas, Kendall Wright and Dorial Green-Beckham.  


Andrew Luck has to look at what Browns QB Johnny Manziel did last week against the Titans secondary and be licking his chops. Manziel hit wideout Travis Benjamin on two long scoring passes that shut down any chance of a Titans comeback. Luck loves stretching the field, but his willingness to go down field so quickly has gotten him in turnover trouble early this year. Look for Luck to finally use his tight end tandem of Colby Fleener and Dwight Allen frequently. Also, this week would be a perfect opportunity to get free agent signee, WR Andre Johnson, and budding star Donte Moncrief going with routes underneath zone coverage. 


2. Titans' Offensive Line vs. Colts' Defensive Line

No young quarterback can be successful unless the big bodies in front of him can protect him. Marcus Mariota is learning this the hard way. In Week Two, Mariota had his “welcome to the NFL, rook” moments: having trouble reading coverages, struggling to check down to second options, getting sacked seven times, and losing two fumbles. The bottom line from the Browns game was that the offensive line played very poorly. Too many times Mariota would take a three or five step drop and have a Browns defender in his face before he was set to throw. 


Titans head coach Ken Wisenhunt should be willing to test the banged up Colts secondary, especially since the Colts defensive front has been playing so well against the run. The three man front consisting of vet Kendall Langford and rookies David Parry and Henry Anderson have played exceptionally well, especially for a defense that lacks playmakers in the linebacking core. The Colts kept both the Jets’ Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory under 60 yards rushing on Monday night and stuffed the Bills’ LeSean McCoy for 41 yards on 17 carries two weeks ago. The Titans will surely look to run the ball to keep Mariota from throwing too many times, and that is exactly what the Colts front line is hoping for.


3. Something To Play For

The Titans finally have a spark, a hope for a brighter future with Mariota at quarterback. The days of less than half-full home games could be over forever if momentum keeps rolling in the Titans favor. And what a way to turn the next page in the franchise’s history than beating the division bully at home for the first time in seven tries? If the Titans beat the Colts this Sunday there won’t be a Mariota jersey available within Nashville city limits for months.


It seems the past three years the Colts have over-achieved in a sense, from just making the playoffs, to coming from behind to win playoff games, to winning on the road in playoff games — only to get rocked in the end by New England. But this season was supposed to be different. The Colts were no longer the dark horse, but one of the favorites in what was supposed to be a wide open AFC. Indy made the playoffs last season after starting 0-2, thanks in large part to a very bad AFC South. Lucky for the Colts, the AFC South is still bad, or at least very unproven. The Colts have the opportunity to come into a division opponent's house on Sunday and prove they are still the leader of the pack in the AFC South.


Final Analysis


Marcus Mariota has been a great story thus far, and I have no doubt that he will be a fantastic NFL player for many years. But I believe that Andrew Luck and the Colts have too much to play for. The Titans are still figuring out their identity as a team and as a franchise, while the Colts know that they belong at the top of the AFC mountain. The question is, can the Colts offense make the necessary adjustment schematically to be a successful team with a bad offensive line? My gut tells me that Andrew Luck exploits a weak Titans secondary, and establishes a running game with Frank Gore to find a way to get the job done in Nashville on Sunday. 


Prediction: Colts 28, Titans 21


— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 12:30
Path: /nfl/cincinnati-bengals-vs-baltimore-ravens-preview-and-prediction-2015

The Cincinnati Bengals visit the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, with the Ravens still looking for their first win of the season after losing their first two games out west. The Ravens were surprisingly shredded by Derek Carr and the Raiders, as the loss of Terrell Suggs for the season loomed large over their defense, which gave up almost 500 total yards.


The Bengals meanwhile are off to a strong start, posting convincing victories over those same Raiders (33-13) and the always-tough San Diego Chargers (24-19). Andy Dalton has thrown for 493 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions so far, as the Bengals offense has welcomed tight end Tyler Eifert into the mix and he's rounded out their attack. 


The Bengals beat the Ravens twice last season, including a season-opening 23-16 win in Baltimore, but both teams still made the playoffs. It's still early, but the Ravens' backs are against the wall as falling to 0-3 in the competitive AFC North could be a playoff death sentence.


Expect a hard-hitting affair between two teams that know each other well and dislike each other equally well.


Cincinnati at Baltimore


Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

Channel: CBS

Line: Baltimore -2.5


Three Things to Watch


1. Can the Ravens D Find Their Mojo?

Last week was the first time since the 1990s that the Ravens defense didn't have at least Ed Reed, Ray Lewis or Terrell Suggs and they looked like a defense that was lost against the Raiders. Their secondary is still much-improved over last year's squad that came within two 14-point leads on the Patriots from going to the AFC Championship, but the front seven faces are no longer as recognizable as the days of Lewis, Suggs, Haloti Ngata and the rest. Baltimore is still a talented group and they're well coached, but they'll have their work cut out for them against the Bengals' assortment of weapons.


2. Is the Bengal Offense Really That Good?

The Bengals are sixth in the NFL in points and have done it with A.J. Green only grabbing eight catches for 108 yards and a single touchdown. Does that signal a downward trend for the receiver, or is it a good sign that you can no longer stop Cincinnati by simply taking him out of the game? Starting running back Jeremy Hill was benched after two fumbles last week, but Giovanni Bernard stepped right in and picked up 123 yards on 20 carries. Eifert leads the team with 13 catches for 153 yards and three touchdowns on the season and is sure to get more and more attention each week. Divisional opponents always give the toughest defensive tests and this week, on the road, will prove just how good the Bengals offense really is.


3. Is Joe Flacco Elite?

Yes, that's an old joke, but as the Baltimore defense turns over, along with the numerous departures at the weapons positions, more and more pressure is being put on Flacco to carry this team. The Bengals defense is ranked 4th in points and 6th in yards through two weeks and will give Flacco everything he can handle. Flacco's top target has been 36-year-old Steve Smith, who has has 12 catches for 163 yards, but after Smith there isn't a lot for Flacco to work with. This could be a defining game for Flacco going forward, but he'll need some new faces like Crockett Gilmore and Kamar Aiken to step up.


Final Analysis


The Bengals are surging and the Ravens are floundering at the moment, but often a team's performance out of the gate to start a new season can be misleading. Nowhere is this more true than in division games because more often than not you can throw out what you think you know and just expect a hard-fought close game. That's even more accurate when talking about the AFC North, where three teams made the playoffs last season. Baltimore finished third in the division last year and it's hard to say this year's version is better in any aspect. The Bengals will be looking to make an early claim on divisional dominance over one of their biggest foes, and they looked primed to do so.


Prediction: Bengals 27, Ravens 17


— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 12:15
All taxonomy terms: New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, NFL
Path: /nfl/philadelphia-eagles-vs-new-york-jets-preview-and-prediction-2015

People always say that it’s too early in the season to deem a game a must-win in the third week. However, for the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s not outrageous to deem Sunday’s visit to the Meadowlands practically Armageddon. An 0-2 start has left the team reeling. All of a sudden, dreams of post-season glory have been buried under questions about talent, commitment and coach/GM/Maximum Leader Chip Kelly.


Related: Looking for A Reason the Philadelphia Eagles are 0-2? Start at the Top


While the Birds try to overcome their horrific start — and anyone who watched them stagger about against Dallas last week knows that it is horrific — the Jets are reveling in a 2-0 break from the gate, which was highlighted by a win Monday night in Indianapolis. Despite the pre-season turmoil that resulted in QB Geno Smith ending up with a broken jaw, the Jets have rewarded new coach Todd Bowles with solid play on both sides of the ball, and reserve passer Ryan Fitzpatrick has been steady at the helm. A win over Philadelphia will lift the Jets to 3-0 for the first time since 2009 and make them an early playoff contender in the AFC


Philadelphia at New York


Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: Fox

Spread: Eagles -2.5


Three Things to Watch


1. Running on Empty

The Eagles ran for seven yards on 17 carries in last week’s loss to Dallas, and heralded free agent DeMarco Murray was limited to two on 13 totes. But don’t blame the backs for this one. Philadelphia’s offensive line was the culprit against the Cowboys and must block better — or at least some — against the Jets, or the 2015 disaster will continue.


“We didn’t do a great job on our down blocks and sweep game,” Kelly said. “There was obviously too much penetration, whether it was from the defensive end or defensive tackle.” New York won’t be easy to push around since its formidable front wall, led by Muhammad Wilkerson, has surrendered just 3.8 yards/carry this year.


2. Good Fitz

While Smith continues his recovery, Fitzpatrick will try to remain an undefeated starter for the Jets. He hasn’t been perfect, but Fitzpatrick has completed 63.8 percent of his throws and has four touchdowns passes. Fitzpatrick has been aided by a pair of outstanding targets, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, who have combined for 23 receptions. But Decker injured his knee against the Colts and could miss Sunday’s game as a precaution.


3. Secondary Concerns

The Eagles committed six years and $62 million to Byron Maxwell during the off-season, and the former Seattle corner has been horrible to date. The most egregious example of his ineffectiveness was the TD pass Terrance Williams caught in front of Maxwell during the fourth quarter of Dallas’ win last Sunday. It’s bad enough that the Eagles’ other corner, Nolan Carroll, is a Miami castaway, or that safety Malcolm Jenkins has had to play corner in nickel situations. But Maxwell was supposed to be a stopper, and he hasn’t come close. If Maxwell doesn’t improve, it won’t matter whether Decker plays or not. The Eagles won’t be able to stop anybody.


Final Analysis


Throughout NFL history only two percent of teams that started the season 0-3 have made the playoffs. If that doesn’t create a sense of desperation in the Eagles, nothing will. This is an absolute must, got-to-have-it, win-or-die game for Philadelphia, which will be trying to see whether the Jets are for real, or if their two wins came over a mediocre Cleveland team and a struggling Indianapolis outfit.


New York has the ability to be extremely disruptive along the front four, not the best news for an Eagles offensive line that has stumbled this year. And Marshall has the potential to create significant problems for a secondary that hasn’t stopped anybody yet. Still, the hunch here is that Philadelphia will get its running game started, helping out QB Sam Bradford. Meanwhile, the secondary gives Fitzpatrick (two interceptions in ’15) some trouble and creates easy scoring opportunities with turnovers.


Prediction: Eagles 27, Jets 21


— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.


(Sam Bradford photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Weekly DFS Lineups and Picks, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/daily-fantasy-football-week-3-picks-and-lineups-draftday-and-draftkings

Last week's daily fantasy football picks and lineups fared well for DraftDay and DraftKings. This week I am hoping for more of the same, and if you are following and using my lineups best of luck to you!


Either way, each week is different, the NFL remains completely unpredictable, but using value picks, matchups and Vegas odds are all ways to minimize your risk, or know which risks you should feel comfortable taking.


Several quarterbacks are injured this week and their statuses are in the air. Needless to say that thins the herd a bit, so going with a QB who has been as reliable as they come, and then taking a risk (If you want to call it that) with Tyrod Taylor is certainly in the cards for me this week.


Each week I will be listing players at each position I am targeting and likely using in many lineups. I will also be sharing my actual lineup(s), perhaps not all of them, but at least one cash game (50/50 & H2H leagues) and one GPP game (Tournaments/Guaranteed contests.)


I will be focusing on DraftKings and DraftDay for this post, and will be sharing other lineups over on as well as Twitter for FanDuel. If you are new to the game have fun, don’t go overboard, and hopefully we will win some moolah together this season.


Week 3 DFS Targets (Sunday and Monday Games)

Remember a Starting DFS Lineup on DraftKings and DraftDay consists of

DraftKings: 1 QB; 2 RB; 3 WR; 1 TE; 1 FLEX; 1 DST

DraftDay: 1 QB; 2 RB; 2 WR; 1 TE, 2 FLEX; 1 DST



Much like pitching in DFS Baseball, quarterbacks are an important and vital part to your lineup each week. However, you do not always need to spend up on quarterbacks. In cash games it is recommended to target a top-5 QB.


Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Mon.) (DD $20,550    DK: $8,000)

Rodgers is elite, matchup-proof and therefore he costs a very pretty penny. It should be worth it this week though. Last week I spent up for Drew Brees, who played hurt and didn’t fare well at all. This week I think Rodgers should be able to shred the Chiefs defense and if Eddie Lacy is in fact out Rodgers will have more on his shoulders. That isn’t a bad thing for this quarterback.

Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (DD: $15,300   DK: $5,800)

Taylor has been surprisingly good, and last week he was very, very good. I am not expecting the same production this week, but in a few GPP lineups and even a few cash games Taylor’s feet, accuracy (so far) and weapons make him more than serviceable.

Running Backs


Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys (DD: $10,350    DK: $4,600)

Freeman is poised to be the primary back this week with Tevin Coleman having some sore ribs. Freeman has been productive in reduced carries as it is but this week could be very productive for his price. I am using Freeman in almost every one of my lineups. He actually should have cracked into my 3 Value Running Backs post this week.


Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders at Cleveland Browns (DD: $11,150   DK: $5,800)

Murray has a favorable matchup and as we saw last season can have a breakout run and game at any point. I am thinking this week is the week.


LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (DD: $14,000   DK: $6,100)

McCoy hasn’t had a big time game yet this season but he may be leaned on more this week facing a stout defense in Miami. His ability to make plays and catch passes out of the backfield should also be in play this week.


Wide Receivers


Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys (DD: $21,350   DK: $9,000)

Jones is definitely an expensive buy this week. He is however 300 bucks less than Antonio Brown and in a matchup that should lead to another typical big game from Jones. The Cowboys have been surprising this season, but there is rarely a cornerback in the game who can contain this Falcon.


Julian Edelman, New England Patriots vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (DD: $14,750    DK: $7,000)

Edelman is like the anti-wide receiver in the NFL. He simply makes himself open anywhere on the field and Tom Brady finds him. What happens is you get a consistent and productive player each week. I love this matchup and if you can pair Edelman with Jones you are sitting pretty in either format.


Brandon Marshall, New York Jets vs. Philadelphia Eagles (DD: $12,000   DK: $6,200)

Marshall should be in a good matchup this week no matter what, but if Eric Decker is unable to go Marshall should bear the brunt of most the targets from Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Eagles have looked discombobulated this season, and if it continues one more week, Marshall is sure to capitalize.


Tight End (If you can’t afford Rob Gronkowski)


Crockett Gilmore, Baltimore vs. Cincinnati (DD: $10,550   DK: $3,300)

Gilmore has become favorite target of Joe Flacco and making the best of his opportunities so far. This week I like his price and his matchup enough to roll him out there.


The Cash Lineups (I would play this in some GPP Games as well)









The GPP Lineup (I would play this in a few Cash Games as well)






— 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 Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.

Daily Fantasy Football Week 3: Picks and Lineups for DraftDay and DraftKings
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 11:45
Path: /college-football/utah-utes-vs-oregon-ducks-preview-and-prediction-2015

The Pac-12 Conference has a pair of top-20 matchups kicking off within half-an-hour of each other. But while Arizona-UCLA draws national attention via ESPN's "College GameDay," the Oregon-Utah matchup flies somewhat under the radar.


Related: UCLA Bruins vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview and Prediction


That could be because Oregon has won the last two encounters by at least three touchdowns. Don't put too much stock in past scores, however. Utah plays precisely the brand of football that traditionally gives the potent Oregon offense fits.


With the Ducks facing some question marks due to injury, the Utes just might be drawing the defending conference champions at the right time to score a monumental upset — maybe the biggest since Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2011.


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Utah at Oregon


Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV: Fox
Spread: Oregon -11


Three Things to Watch


1. Quarterback Situations

Both Oregon and Utah find themselves with quarterback conundrums ahead of Week 4. Oregon's late-arriving transfer and initial starter, Vernon Adams, sustained a finger injury that forced Jeff Lockie into the lineup last week vs. Georgia State.


Utah's Travis Wilson came out of the first half of the Utes' Week 2 defeat of Utah State with a shoulder injury. Kendal Thompson was steady, if not unspectacular, in Utah's 45-24 win at Fresno State. He finished 19-of-25 with a touchdown and interception, primarily throwing short-to-intermediate routes.


Thompson has yet to demonstrate an arm capable of attacking a young Oregon secondary, which has sputtered in all three of the Ducks' initial contests. Wilson is practicing, but beat reporters in Salt Lake City write Kyle Whittingham has his lips sealed on the situation.



Likewise, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich never discusses injuries, and he certainly isn't divulging any information on the Adams-Lockie situation.


2. Explosive Special Teams

Utah and Oregon feature arguably the two best special teams in the Pac-12, if not the nation. The Utes' return game surprisingly has not missed a beat without electrifying Kaelin Clay, as Britain Covey and Corey Butler-Byrd have filled the void expertly.


Kicker Andy Phillips gives Utah a great chance to notch three points the moment it crosses the 50-yard line, and punter Tom Hackett serves the extraordinary Ute defense well by pinning offenses deep in their own territory.


Were the quick-strike Oregon offense not enough of a headache, the Ducks have two dynamic returners who can set that offense up on short fields. Charles Nelson manned return duties nicely a year ago, and this season is rejoined by Bralon Addison.


Special teams play should be an interesting chess match Saturday, particularly when Hackett boots to either Addison or Nelson.


3. The Oregon Mid-Quarter Squeeze

In both 2013 and 2014, Utah was victim of a phenomenon most teams in the conference know all-too-well when playing Oregon. The Ducks have a knack for squeezing the life out of an opponent in either the second or third quarters, hitting them with a dizzying deluge that puts the game out of reach before the opponent can respond.


It's happened to Michigan State. It's happened to Florida State. In 2013, Utah saw a four-point gap erupt to 23 in a little more than nine minutes. Last season, the Ducks piled on 24 straight in 12 minutes after Utah led 7-0.


If the Utes can withstand a similar attempted barrage in the second and third quarters and go into the fourth with a chance to win, an upset is a very real possibility. The Ducks rarely lose multiple-score games; it's the close ones that trip them up.


If it's within a score in the final period, advantage Utah.


Final Analysis


Utah's been able to hang with Oregon early, and in short bursts. Ultimately, though, the Utes have lacked the firepower to keep pace, failing to sustain drives and keep the Ducks offense off the field.


Without long scoring drives, a defense facing Oregon is doomed to wear down. Though the Utes feature one of the conference's best running backs in Devontae Booker, the passing game is not consistent enough to take advantage of Oregon's secondary deficiencies.


Utah may keep it closer than years past, by virtue of both this being Whittingham's best team since moving to the Pac-12 and Oregon still finding its identity. Ultimately, however, the Ducks should successfully defend Autzen Stadium.


Prediction: Oregon 35, Utah 24


— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Utah Utes vs. Oregon Ducks Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 11:35
Path: /college-football/usc-trojans-vs-arizona-state-sun-devils-preview-and-prediction-2015

USC begins divisional play Saturday against Pac-12 South counterpart Arizona State in a game both of these teams very much need if they’re to have any hope of challenging for a conference title.


"This game is about getting our first win in conference play against a really quality opponent," USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said.


Sarkisian stressed that Arizona State was a quality opponent, regardless of how things had played out early. On their end, the Trojans will be coming off a loss, the Sun Devils are always ready for this game, it’s a night contest, and the Trojans will need to be laser focused. There is no time to mourn following the loss to Stanford because the Sun Devils will be ready to play.


"Well, they played two triple-option teams the last two week in Cal Poly and New Mexico, so they saw a lot of run game. Like anything early in the year, some of those stats that everybody has [on them] are a little skewed. The reality of it is that Coach [Todd] Graham is a heck of a defensive coach." Sarkisian said.


With Washington, Notre Dame, and Utah on the horizon, a simple loss to Stanford could turn into a nightmare of a season really quickly if the Trojans lose focus because of one game. Now it’s up to Steve Sarkisian to do something he has not done since becoming a head coach - beat Arizona State.


USC at Arizona State


Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET


Spread: USC -5.5


Three Things to Watch


1. USC's Ability To Protect Kessler

After an awful showing in Week 1 against Arkansas State where the Trojans allowed five sacks, the offensive line has rebounded nicely to only allow one in the past two weeks. That will be put to the test this week.


"They’re very aggressive,” Sarkisian said. “We’re gonna see probably every blitz known to mankind here Saturday night and we’re going to have to be really, really tight up front with our protections. We have to do a really good job communicating in the run game, picking up all the pressures, stunts, and blitzes because they’re going to be coming. That’s their M.O., that’s what they do.”


Offensive line coach Bob Connelly will need to have this young group ready for a Sun Devil defense that was able to get to Kessler three times last year. The offensive line will need to be able to create holes or the Trojan running game will not be able to keep Sparky’s defense honest. Arizona State are at their best when they can create havoc up front and enforce their physical brand of football on their opponents. If the Trojan offensive line can provide quarterback Cody Kessler with ample time to distribute the football, unlike previous seasons, the Sun Devils do not have the talent across the board to match USC.


If the Trojans cannot get out of their own, however, Arizona State won’t need what what don’t have.


Related: Pac-12 Week 4 Predictions


2. Avoiding Costly Self-Inflicted Mistakes

Countless times this week, Steve Sarkisian mentioned USC’s self-inflicted mistakes against Stanford. While the offensive line was responsible for their share against the Cardinal and will need to stop negating Trojan big plays with dumb mental mistakes, the entire team needs to address this issue when playing the Sun Devils.


For whatever reason, USC can’t get out of their own way when they play Arizona State. The Trojans committed nine penalties against the Sun Devils last year. So far this year, USC are No. 75 in the nation in penalty yards. The difference between the Trojans and the last-ranked Indiana Hoosiers? 24 yards of penalties and five fewer flags.


3. Pressuring Arizona State QB Mike Bercovici Into Mistakes

Speaking of mistakes, the Trojans haven’t forced nearly enough of them so far in 2015.


Last year, backup quarterback Mike Bercovici was able to go out and pick apart the Trojan secondary. At the end of the evening, Bercovici had thrown for 510 yards, five touchdowns, and only one interception. Most teams aren’t going to win a game giving up those kind up numbers, USC somehow found themselves in a position to win it prior to Bercovici’s final touchdown pass, a 46-yard Hail Mary to Jaelen Strong as time expired.


Steve Sarkisian repeatedly stressed turnovers this week, often times adding that the Trojan defense is at its best when they create turnovers and limit red zone opportunities.


“It’s been a little frustrating that we haven’t gotten the turnovers,” Sarkisian said. “Part of that is because we had such a good training camp of getting our hands on balls, tipped balls, overthrows, forced fumbles, and we came out the first game like gangbusters, creating four of them right off the bat. Now we have gone eight straight quarters without creating a turnover and so there is some level of frustration there because I know we can do it. I’ve seen us do it and for us to become the team that we want to become, creating turnovers has to be a piece of that puzzle. So, we’re emphasizing it and it’s going to be a really big factor. The really good teams create turnovers and take care of the ball, we’ve just gotta try to get back to that and do it with confidence.”


Final Analysis


Arizona State seem to save their finest moments for the Trojans and this is a game both coaches know they need to win if they’re going to have any chance of reaching the College Football Playoff. Over the last five years, the Sun Devils have averaged 38.6 points per game against USC. That is their highest average against any opponent that they have played during the same window. The point: Arizona State is prepared for USC.


Ultimately, Sarkisian’s record against the Sun Devils (0-4) and Todd Graham’s record against USC (2-1) are too much to safely bet against. USC could very well win this game going away, but recent history has been kind to the Sun Devils and they’ll be sure to make a mental note of the fact that securing wins over the next two weeks would give the Arizona State a near insurmountable lead in the Pac-12 South as they travel to UCLA next Saturday.

If they can’t do it now, they may never clear that hurdle.


Prediction: Arizona State 39, USC 37


— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Webb is a recruiting analyst for BarkBoard, Scout’s Fresno State affiliate. A contributor to, Scout’s USC affiliate. He is also a regular guest and contributor for Reign Of Troy, USC’s FanSided affiliate. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.

USC Trojans vs. Arizona State Sun Devils Preview and Prediction 2015
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/hawaii-rainbow-warriors-vs-wisconsin-badgers-preview-prediction-2015

Paul Chryst and the 22nd-ranked Wisconsin Badgers host the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Saturday for what will be their final non-conference matchup before beginning their Big Ten season schedule in what hopes to end in an appearance in their fourth conference title game in five years.


Quarterback Joel Stave has been remarkably impressive this season, throwing six touchdowns and zero interceptions when the Badgers are in enemy territory. Tailback Corey Clement has been far from the player many hyped him to be during the preseason, as he continues to battle injuries early this year. On Thursday it was announced that Clement would be having sports hernia surgery, which will sideline him for another month or so. 


Max Wittek, former USC quarterback, threw for a career-high 272 yards at home against UC-Davis before throwing up a goose egg against Ohio State last week, but recently said that he feels 'extremely comfortable' in head coach Norm Chow's offense. Wittek will certainly have his work cut out for him on Saturday, facing a Badgers defense that has allowed just 20 points in 12 total quarters this season. 


Hawaii at Wisconsin


Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Big Ten Network 

Odds: Wisconsin -24.5, o/u 50.5


Three Things To Watch For


1. Quarterback Joel Stave

As mentioned prior, Stave has been extremely efficient in the first three games of the season this year, and has exceeded early expectations as to how he would be able to lead this Badgers team down the stretch. Stave has been accurate and poised in his decision-making and it's shown, going 19-for-27 with 227 yards and six touchdowns in enemy territory this year, a mark no other quarterback in the conference can attest to. 


2. Badgers' offensive line

Having offensive line concerns with a new tailback was a big issue for Chryst to resolve as he embarked on his first season as the new head coach of the Badgers, and he's done a fantastic job of turning a makeshift offensive line into a strong point for Wisconsin. The Badgers offensive line has only given up four sacks so far this season, a credit to Chryst's ability to maintain consistency with an inexperienced group. Stave's heavy load as a passer should be lightened in the weeks moving forward as a potent running game is nearly a prerequisite for success in the Big Ten. 


3. Hawaii passing game 

Wittek's career-high 272 passing yards in their last home win against UC-Davis was impressive. Wittek connected with wide receiver Marcus Kemp five times for 119 yards and also with receiver Devan Stubblefield six times for 108 yards, both of whom scored touchdowns. While Hawaii's passing attack isn't a daunting one, it's their bread and butter, and one they hope to see put into early use with effectiveness against the Badgers.


Final Analysis


Wisconsin looks like the same team that's been to three of the last four Big Ten title games, and it doesn't look as though Hawaii is in any position to knock them off that path. While Wittek does have the ability to open games up with big-time throws, Wisconsin's defense has allowed just three points in their last two games, both at home. 


Prediction: Wisconsin 44, Hawaii 13


— Written by Chris Dougherty, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Dougherty also serves as a National Recruiting Analyst for and has written for other sites, including and Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @warontheweekend.

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors vs. Wisconsin Badgers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 11:25
Path: /college-football/ucla-bruins-vs-arizona-wildcats-preview-and-prediction-2015

Rich Rodriguez has accomplished much in his time as Arizona's head coach, winning 29 games since 2012, two bowl games and a Pac-12 South divisional championship. But one thing eludes him heading into Saturday's top-20 matchup with conference rival UCLA  a win over the Bruins.


Rodriguez and UCLA head coach Jim Mora arrived on the Pac-12 scene at the same time, and both instantly turned around the fortunes of their respective programs. For context on how far the Wildcats and Bruins have come, consider when they met in Arizona Stadium in 2011, the night's highlight was a streaker running onto the field during a sideline-clearing brawl.


This time around, ESPN's "College GameDay " will be in Tucson, as Saturday's installment is the national game of the week. There isn't a game featuring two more highly ranked teams, and the winner gains an important, early advantage in the Pac-12 South championship race.


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UCLA at Arizona


Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: Arizona +3


Three Things to Watch


1. The Injury Bug

UCLA scored a huge win last week over BYU, but the toll since has been astronomical. Mora told reporters Wednesday the Bruins will be without star linebacker Myles Jack for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Just two days prior, Mora announced cornerback Fabian Moreau was scratched for the season with a foot injury.


Add Jack and Moreau to a disconcertingly growing injury bug, which claimed defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes in Week 1.


Related: Decimated UCLA Defense Faces Uphill Climb in Pac-12


Both Jack and Vanderdoes had monster games against Arizona the last two years. Jack made his memorable move to running back in 2013, scorching the Wildcats defense for 120 yards on just six carries and a touchdown, while Vanderdoes's eight tackles a season ago stifled the Arizona offense.


The Wildcats haven't been immune to the injury epidemic themselves. Star linebacker Scooby Wright went down early in Week 1, only returning to practice this week. His status is uncertain.


Wide receivers Cayleb Jones and Samajie Grant will also be two to watch. Jones scored Arizona's lone touchdown at UCLA a season ago.



2. Rosen on the Road

Celebrated UCLA freshman quarterback Josh Rosen came back down to Earth from his stellar debut, throwing three interceptions last week against BYU. Mora attributed Rosen's Week 3 struggles to “just being a freshman. It’s fighting through some difficult times and adjusting to the speed of the game and the size of the players,” per


Saturday, the speed and size Arizona brings won't change. Moreover, Rosen plays in both his first Pac-12 Conference game, as well as his first meaningful road contest. The always-raucous Zona Zoo — Arizona's student section — guarantees a noisy atmosphere that will make Rosen's communication at the line of scrimmage difficult. The quarterback will also see a talented defense, which already has five interceptions on the year.


3. Running Back Rotation

UCLA's leading rushers against Arizona the last two seasons were a linebacker and quarterback. As mentioned, Jack is out of the lineup and quarterback Brett Hundley is now in the NFL.


Establishing the rush will be critical for this UCLA offense to alleviate some of the pressure on Rosen, but rising Heisman candidate running back Paul Perkins took off so much of the pressure against BYU that he needed a partner.


Nate Starks stepped up with a masterful performance in the fourth quarter, going for 60 of his 81 yards on the game-winning drive and scoring the decisive touchdown.


Starks was big in UCLA's win over Arizona last season, picking up 41 yards on just five carries. He'll provide a necessary counter-punch with Perkins to give the Bruins offense a dangerous rushing attack against a linebacker-depleted Arizona defense. 


Final Analysis


Saturday is a great opportunity for the Arizona football program to continue building the impressive portfolio established thus far under Rodriguez. GameDay's presence and a broadcast on ABC are both exposure for the program it hasn't had since 2009.


Of course, that game was the second in a five-game losing streak to Oregon that Arizona only snapped in 2013. It's longest losing streak against a Pac-12 opponent is now the three-game skid it rides into Saturday against UCLA.


The Bruin defense has had the antidote for the potent Arizona offense, and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's diverse approach has exposed holes in the 3-3-5 stack defense. This year's Arizona team might be Rodriguez's best in his four seasons on the Old Pueblo, but this is Mora's best UCLA bunch, even with the injuries.


Prediction: UCLA 30, Arizona 28


— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

UCLA Bruins vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 11:20
Path: /college-football/missouri-tigers-vs-kentucky-wildcats-preview-and-prediction-2015

Along with Texas A&M, Missouri joined the SEC in 2012 not knowing what would be in store. Since that time, both programs have been remarkably successful. Mizzou, especially, has turned some heads. After going 5-7 in year one, head coach Gary Pinkel's Tigers then reeled off back-to-back SEC East titles and back-to-back major bowl wins.


Over the past two regular seasons, Mizzou has only two losses against the SEC. The same can't be said for Kentucky. The Wildcats have a record of 9-18 under third-year head coach Mark Stoops. However, it feels like the culture has changed in Lexington.


The 'Cats are coming off an emotional, close loss to Florida, in a game that many expected them to win. They have momentum. Missouri, on the other hand, just beat Connecticut, 9-6, and despite being 3-0, haven't looked stellar in any of their wins against lesser opponents. This matchup is intriguing because of the opposite directions in which these programs are trending.


Mizzou leads the all-time series against the Wildcats, 3-2, after having won the previous three meetings by significant margins. Kentucky beat the Tigers twice in the 1960s.


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Missouri at Kentucky


Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: SEC Network

Spread: Kentucky -2.5


Three Things to Watch


1. Will either quarterback look at least above average?

It has become a common occurrence over the past couple years for Mauk to throw interceptions. He needs to rewrite this narrative for Mizzou to earn any respect this season. Though it's not completely on him, Mauk has already thrown four interceptions this year. Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles, who looks elite throwing the ball at times, has also tossed four picks. Mauk's completion percentage is just over 50 percent. Towles's looks about the same. If either of these quarterbacks can get some movement flowing in the passing game, there is a good chance their team will be victorious. 

Related: Grading the Panic Level at Quarterback for Every Team in the SEC


2. Which running game will establish the pace?

Despite the lackluster quarterback play, Kentucky has been able to rely on their running backs, especially Stanley "Boom" Williams. Williams has rushed 40 times for 322 yards and a touchdown so far in 2015. If that pace continues, he will eclipse 1,200 yards this season. For Missouri, a team averaging only 105.7 yards on the ground thus far, it looks like they might find a spark this week. Senior running back Russell Hansbrough, who rushed for nearly 1,100 yards a year ago, is listed as 'probable' for Saturday's game. 


3. Can either team pressure the other quarterback?

Both Mizzou and Kentucky have looked decent defensively through through the first three games. The Tigers are allowing fewer than 10 points per game at this point and Kentucky allowed only 14 points to a revamped Florida offense last week. But with each team's quarterback play as a question mark, will either defense be able to get after the passer? Both teams had to replace exceptional pass rushers from a year ago. Mizzou lost Shane Ray and Markus Golden, while the 'Cats lost Za'Darius Smith and Bud Dupree. All four players are now in the NFL. In this game, it will be interesting to see whether either team's ends can get the best of veteran offensive lines.


Final Analysis


Mizzou has won 11 straight road games, but this could be one of their toughest yet. The story behind this game is momentum. Kentucky is trending up, while Missouri, at least early on, appears to be trending down. This game has a make or break feel for these teams' abilities to compete in the SEC East this year. The winner will take a huge step forward, while the loser will take a step back. If Mizzou loses, everyone will have seen it coming after their performances to open the season. If Kentucky loses, everyone will know they aren't for real after back-to-back losses in the division. This game will go down to the wire, but in the end Missouri will pull out another ugly SEC road win.


Prediction: Missouri 20, Kentucky 17


— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for Three Point Stance Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.

Missouri Tigers vs. Kentucky Wildcats Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 11:15
Path: /college-football/california-golden-bears-vs-washington-huskies-prediction-and-preview-2015

Washington and California will be looking to get off to a great start in Pac-12 Conference play as both teams bring highly talented quarterbacks in young freshman Jake Browning for the Huskies and Jared Goff for the Golden Bears. Goff is viewed nationwide as one of if not the best pure pro-style passers in college football.

Washington came into the 2015 season with plenty of questions along the offensive line due to the lack of experience throughout the unit. However, this unit at least from a pass blocking perspective has done a nice job giving Browning an opportunity to make plays in the passing game. California held on for dear life after nearly blowing a 45-24 lead against Texas down in Austin as they needed a missed extra point by Longhorns place kicker Nick Rose in order to escape with a 45-44 win to move to 3-0 on the young season. 


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These two teams have a long history with each other going back to the 1904 season as the Huskies lead the series 52-38-4. The Huskies won the last meeting over the Golden Bears 31-7 last October in Berkeley as they had little trouble containing Goff and the high-flying California offense.


California at Washington


Kickoff: 5 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: California -4.5


Three Things to Watch


1. Washington running game
The next step for the young offensive line is to create a consistent running game against a quality like California. The Huskies have only run for 29 yards against Boise State and 74 yards on 35 carries against Utah State. The opportunities are going to be there against this Golden Bear defense as they allowed 286 yards on the ground with 163 of them by Texas quarterback Jarrod Heard. It will be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith mixes in some fly sweeps with Chico McClatcher to get him out on the perimeter to create some explosive plays. Then countering with Dwayne Washington and Myles Gaskin up the middle and getting to the outside as well. If Smith can stay patient with the run early Washington should be able to get close to 200-225 yards on the ground against this California defense.


2. Can the defense pressure Jared Goff
The Huskies were able to get plenty of pressure a year ago as they limited Goff to 304 yards and made the Golden Bears work for everything that they got in last year’s matchup. The pressure also created three fumbles by Goff and kept him on his heels all game long. There is also the factor of Goff not quite at 100 percent health wise as his ankle was rolled up upon during the Texas game. With Goff’s limited mobility look for defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to turn his front seven loose a bit to pressure Goff enough to get him off of his spot even if it does not result in sacks.


3. Jake Browning taking on one of his hometown schools
Browning, a product of Folsom High School out of the Sacramento area should have a little extra juice on Saturday going up against the Golden Bears. So far Browning is showing that the moment of playing big time college football as a freshman is not too big for him to deal with. As far as the game itself Browning should have plenty of opportunity to make big plays as long as the offensive package continues to open up for him on Saturday. Browning completed 22 of 31 passes for 368 yards for three touchdowns, and one interception to which he responded very well to. Look for Browning to throw for over 300 yards again even as the California defense still has a lot to prove after giving up 650 yards to a struggling Texas offense.

Final Analysis

This will be a game that goes well into the fourth quarter before the outcome is decided as both teams should be able to make big plays offensively. However, in evenly matched games where the home team has the better defense that more often than not ends up being the difference maker. Washington has the better defense and look for Azeem Victor and Kieshawn Bierria at linebacker to wreak plenty of havoc in the backfield to slow down the Golden Bears running game. Also, look for the defensive line to get just enough pressure to get Goff off of his spot and out of rhythm to cause a key fumble or interception by the secondary. Finally, look for Washington to get a narrow victory to move to 3-1 and give them some confidence before heading down on Oct. 8 to deal with USC and the chance to battle former head coach Steve Sarkisian.


Prediction: Washington 34, California 30


— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow him on Twitter @scottwhittum.

California Golden Bears vs. Washington Huskies Prediction and Preview
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 11:10
Path: /college-football/tcu-horned-frogs-vs-texas-tech-red-raiders-preview-and-prediction-2015

This is a matchup of two Big 12 offenses that are already firing at all cylinders. Texas Tech enters this weekend averaging 54.3 points per game while TCU comes in at 49.7. Both teams enter the game coming off clean sweeps in their non-conference schedule. 


If you enjoy high-scoring games this is a must watch on Saturday. Both defenses will have their work cut out for them as TCU will have to deal with Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes while the Raiders will be up against Heisman hopeful Trevone Boykin.


College Football Podcast: Week 4 Preview with Jill Savage

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TCU at Texas Tech


Kickoff: 4:45 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Fox
Spread: TCU -7.5


Three Things to Watch


1. TCU’s Defense

The Frogs have been devastated by injuries and off the field trouble that has yielded the loss of seven players. While TCU has been able to weather the storm to this point this weekend will be the first true test for the Frogs defensively.


Expect Texas Tech to test every aspect of this decimated TCU defense and test it often. The Frogs secondary has taken the brunt of the losses which could spell trouble facing a quarterback who is coming off a 26-30 243 yard performance against Arkansas just a week ago.


2. Trevone Boykin vs. Patrick Mahomes
This should be fun to watch. Both quarterbacks are near or have already surpassed 1,000 yards passing this season with Boykin at 985 yards and Mahomes at 1029 yards. Both also have a completion percentage over 65% so far this season.


While Boykin arguably has more weapons at his disposal Mahomes has found his go-to receiver in Senior Jakeem Grant who has 21 receptions for 287 yards this season. And the similarities don’t stop at the passing attack. Both quarterbacks have already pushed for over 100 yards this season. Mahomes is averaging 6.1 yards per carry compared to Boykins 4.6. Mahomes also boasts 4 rushing touchdowns this season compared to Boykins 2.


Simply put, this game could be a showcase of the best two quarterbacks in the Big 12 Conference.


3. Can Texas Tech Keep it Close?

The simple answer is yes. While TCU should be able to put points on the board so will Texas Tech. Every facet of offensive firepower will be on display in Lubbock this weekend. There probably isn’t a defense in the country that can hold TCU under 30 points right now. The catch is TCU’s defense may not be able to contain Texas Tech either.


Final Analysis


Defensive stops may be at a premium in Lubbock this weekend. The possibility of seeing over 100 total points is probably better than average. TCU has proven to be one of the best teams in the country although their defensive concerns are real as they enter Big 12 play. Texas Tech has arguably overachieved already this year with the emergence of Patrick Mahomes and an offense that is top 10 in the country in scoring.


Despite Texas Tech’s best effort though, the Frogs simply have more weapons on the offensive side of the ball. Wide receiver Josh Doctson and running back Aaron Green complement Boykin very well. Add wide receiver Kolby Listenbee’s 22.4 yard per catch average and it is simply too much for the Raiders to handle. The Raiders will make it a game, although I expect the Frogs to cover the 7.5-point spread in a high-scoring affair.


Prediction: TCU 56, Texas Tech 45


— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.

TCU Horned Frogs vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 11:05
Path: /college-football/ulm-warhawks-vs-alabama-crimson-tide-preview-and-prediction-2015

Ole Miss, for the second time in as many years, handed Alabama its first loss of the season Saturday, defeating the Crimson Tide 43-37 in Tuscaloosa. The loss snapped Alabama’s NCAA-leading 17-game home win streak and knocked the Tide out of the top 10 in the polls. ULM gets the fun task of facing the Tide Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Warhawks enter at 1-1 and off of a bye week. Their last outing resulted in a 47-0 shutout of Nicholls State, two weeks ago.


As soon as time expired in Tuscaloosa Saturday, fans and pundits began questioning ‘Bama head coach Nick Saban’s decision to start Cooper Bateman — who made his first start — over Jake Coker, as Coker started the Tide’s first two games of the season. The Tide were also dealt a blow against Ole Miss when they lost wide receiver Robert Foster for the year to injury.


College Football Podcast: Week 4 Preview with Jill Savage

Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher


ULM at Alabama


Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: SEC Network

Spread: Alabama -38


Three Things to Watch


1. Will Alabama’s Offense Find its Identity?

After Saturday’s loss, Nick Saban stated that Cooper Bateman’s presence as a dual-threat quarterback made him the more attractive option behind center against Ole Miss, explaining in the postgame press conference, “We had some things in the game plan early that the quarterback was going to pull the ball on and do some things, so we thought that Cooper’s speed would be a change of pace for them." Bateman wouldn’t last past the second quarter as Coker replaced him after an interception. Coker ended the evening with 201 yards and three touchdown passes on 45 attempts and gained 58 yards rushing and a running score. He also had three turnovers on interceptions.


While neither quarterback has been perfect, both have had three games to audition for the job. In those three games, Bateman is 29-of-39 for 236 yards and a touchdown. He has also thrown an interception. Coker is 51-of-92 for 628 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions. Alabama must remain committed to one.


2. Calvin Ridley’s Increased Workload

In August, Kiffin gave perhaps the best endorsement a player could receive when he said that Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley “showed elite talent” when compared to players he’s coached in the past. Ridley will get the chance to prove Kiffin right as he will assume an increased workload due to Foster’s season-ending rotator cuff injury. Ridley, a 6-foot-1, 188-pound freshman, had six receptions for 28 yards in the loss to Ole Miss and has seen action in all three games this season. Ridley is a physical receiver who runs crisp routes. Saturday’s game against ULM will be an ideal one for Saban and Kiffin to ease him into the offense ahead of the team’s SEC slate of games.


Related: Hurdling, Highlight-Reel TD Ignites Buzz Around New Alabama WR Richard Mullaney


3. Can Alabama Avoid a Mental Lapse?

Nick Saban is 8-1 against Sun Belt Conference opponents, the conference from which ULM hails. His one loss? It came in 2007 against ULM. There really isn’t such a thing as a let-down game if you’re coached by Saban, but this is a relatively young team. And while Alabama was able to rebound from its loss to Ole Miss and win the SEC last season, one wonders if this year’s team will be able to do the same.


Final Analysis


While anything can happen on any given Saturday, it’s highly unlikely that ULM stuns Alabama and gives the Crimson Tide its second loss of the season. What’s more likely to happen is that Alabama fixes its turnover woes (five against Ole Miss) and takes out its frustrations on an overmatched ULM football team. This one could get ugly.


Prediction: Alabama 42, ULM 14


— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

ULM Warhawks vs. Alabama Crimson Tide Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/san-diego-state-aztecs-vs-penn-state-nittany-lions-preview-and-prediction-2015

Penn State looks to keep what could be a revitalized running game going strong this week as the Nittany Lions go for their third straight win. Their opponent, San Diego State, is a team that tends to thrive on the run. Will the Aztecs have enough offense to leave Happy Valley with a win in the first all-time meeting between the programs, or will the Nittany Lions once again flex some muscle with their offensive line to continue the momentum heading into October?


San Diego State at Penn State


Kickoff:  3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: Big Ten Network

Spread: Penn State -15


Three Things to Watch


1. Can Penn State's offensive line keep it going?

Penn State's offensive line was atrocious in 2014 and got off to as bad a start as you could imagine in the season-opening loss to the Temple Owls. Penn State allowed Christian Hackenberg to be sacked 10 times and the running game produced just 80 yards in the loss. Since then things have turned around for the offensive line. Hackenberg has not been sacked in either of the last two games and the running game has amassed 5030 rushing yards and six touchdowns. It is not quite time to suggest Penn State has solved all of its problems in the trenches, but it has been encouraging to see from Penn State's biggest weak spot on the roster. Herb Hand has done a splendid job of regaining the confidence of the offensive line, but there is still plenty of football to be played.


2. Say hello to Saquon Barkley

One of the bust-out players for Penn State the last two weeks has been Class of 2015 running back Saquon Barkley. After getting just one rushing attempt in the season opener (for a gain of one yard), Barkley has quickly become one of Penn State's more impressive offensive players with back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances against Buffalo and Rutgers. Last week Barkley rushed for 195 yards and two touchdowns, showing off some nice moves along the way against a beleaguered Rutgers defense. He now leads the team in rushing and is receiving tips from and being compared to another former Penn State standout running back, Ki-Jana Carter. That is some mighty high praise for a player entering just his fourth career game, but Barkley came to Penn State with high expectations.


3. Can San Diego State's one-dimensional offense mix things up enough?

San Diego State is a team that will rely on the run through thick and thin. The Aztecs come to Happy Valley with the 112th-ranked passing offense with 159.0 passing yards per game, three touchdowns and three interceptions in three games. The running game is San Diego State's strength, although that has gotten off to a slow start this season with the 95th-best running offense in the nation, averaging just 152.67 rushing yards per game. Penn State's defense should be in good form for this matchup with San Diego State's offensive identity struggling early on and the Aztecs continuing to struggle to move the ball through the air. If Penn State takes away the running game, then the Aztecs could quickly be in big trouble.


Final Analysis


The time has come for Penn State to start letting the run game seize control of a game. The last two weeks should show the running game can be trusted against certain opponents, and San Diego State appears to be the kind of opponent that can be run on. The passing game at Penn State is still more of a concern than expected at this point, but having Barkley and Akeel Lynch take some of the pressure off of Hackenberg should work well. San Diego State needs Donnel Pumphrey to have a big day on the ground, but that may not be enough for the visiting Aztecs.


Prediction: Penn State 31, San Diego State 17


— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.

San Diego State Aztecs vs. Penn State Nittany Lions Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 10:55
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-dt-jay-hayes-benched-brian-kelly-sophomore-playing-time

One tweet can change everything.


Jay Hayes is learning that the hard way. The Notre Dame defensive tackle took to Twitter to vent his frustration regarding his lack of playing time, and guess who saw it? The very people who have the most interest in his Twitter account, the Notre Dame football staff.



Brian Kelly announced Hayes wouldn't be playing this weekend because of his tweets. The one thing he was complaining about got worse because he was complaining about it. Go figure.


"You have to think before you hit send, and what you have to do is knock on my door instead of hitting the send button, Kelly said. "If he has a job at Google and talks about his boss that way, he probably is not going to have a job the next day."


Kelly hopes this is a valuable lesson for Hayes going forward.


"You just tell them, 'Look, you need to make a better decision next time or it's going to impact you when you leave here.' He won't be on the travel roster this week for that mistake."


As the kids say, the streets is "twatching."


(h/t ESPN)

Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 10:52
Path: /college-football/western-michigan-broncos-vs-ohio-state-buckeyes-preview-and-prediction-2015

After a poor offensive performance in Ohio Stadium against Hawaii in the second game of the 2015 season, Ohio State fans reassured themselves that the results would be much better in the third game against Northern Illinois. After all, Ohio State's coaches and players would have the benefit of a full week of preparation, and the offensive issues that plagued the Buckeyes against Hawaii would have been corrected.




If not for a pick-six interception by Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee, Ohio State would have been deadlocked with Northern Illinois, playing for the win in overtime. Ohio State escaped against Northern Illinois with a 20-13 victory, based on the strength of strong defensive play and special teams coverage. Ohio State welcomes in the Western Michigan Broncos into Ohio Stadium for the final non-conference contest before B1G conference play begins. This game will mark the first time that Western Michigan and Ohio State have ever played.


Western Michigan enters into Ohio Stadium with a 1-2 record, having lost to Michigan State (37-24) and at Georgia Southern (43-17), before getting a victory over Murray State (52-20). Western Michigan is led by quarterback Zach Terrell, running back Jarvion Franklin, and wide receivers Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis. Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck returns to Ohio Stadium for the first time since the 2006 season. Fleck served as an Ohio State graduate assistant under former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, before moving onto other assistant coaching opportunities with Northern Illinois, Rutgers, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers until finally being named Western Michigan's head coach in 2013. Fleck is considered a rising star in the coaching profession, and nothing would make him a hotter candidate than pulling off the historic upset over the Ohio State Buckeyes.


Western Michigan at Ohio State


Kickoff: 3:30pm ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ABC/ESPN mirror

Spread: Ohio State -31.5


Three Things To Watch


1. A Definitive Starting Quarterback

After starting quarterback Cardale Jones for the first three games of the 2015 season, speculation is swirling that Jones may be the backup, with J.T. Barrett back into the starting role. Barrett has replaced Jones the last two games, with Barrett taking the majority of the snaps versus Northern Illinois. On the B1G teleconference on Sept. 22, Meyer implied that a starter may be named, but not necessarily revealed to the media or fans before kickoff against Western Michigan. Well, he changed his tune and announce the following day that Jones will remain the starter under center. Regardless of who starts, whichever quarterback can provide a much-needed offensive spark wil likely be the one that sees the most snaps.


2. A More Cohesive Offense From Ohio State

The departure of Tom Herman as offensive coordinator to the head coaching job at Houston has led to considerable angst from the Buckeye faithful, as Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer named Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warriner to the offensive coordinator position. With Warriner down on the sideline, fans are questioning if this is contributing to the lackluster offensive performances plaguing the Buckeye offense. New quarterbacks coach Tim Beck, who arrived this offseason from Nebraska, may be called upon to act as the "eye in the sky" to assist Warriner and Meyer with play calling against Western Michigan. Look for Ezekiel Elliott to get more carries that will challenge the interior of the Western Michigan defense, as the Ohio State offensive linemen have been asking for these base plays that served Ohio State well last season.


3. Western Michigan to Use Some Form of a 3-4 Defense

So far this season, Ohio State has struggled offensively against Hawaii and Northern Illinois. Both teams unexpectedly ran a 3-4 defense against the Buckeyes, and Ohio State has not been able to block effectively against it. Why would Western Michigan not try to use something that has worked for the previous Ohio State opponents in 2015?  On the B1G teleconference from September 22, Meyer anticipates Western Michigan running a 3-4 defensive front, saying, “Until we hurt it, yeah. That’s typical. Last year it was that Bear 0 so we put a good scheme together and this seems to be some 3-4 stuff that is just affecting our team so we’re working hard at it.”


Final Analysis


This game is important for the overall psychological health of everyone associated with Ohio State football — coaches, players, and the fans. Urban Meyer has an opportunity to stomp out a possible quarterback controversy by naming a starter and sticking with him, and a decisive win over a feisty Western Michigan team will give a much-needed boost to the Buckeyes before conference play begins.


Prediction: Ohio State 42, Western Michigan 14


— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a diehard Ohio State fan. Minnich also writes and podcasts for, a site dedicated to Ohio sports with a special emphasis on the Buckeyes. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.

Western Michigan Broncos vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 10:50
Path: /college-football/umass-minutemen-vs-notre-dame-fighting-irish-preview-and-prediction-2015

The University of Massachusetts joined the FBS ranks in 2012 and it’s been tough sledding ever since. Former Notre Dame assistant Charley Molnar was the head coach in 2012 and '13 and won just two games during that span.


Then UMass looked to its past and hired Mark Whipple, who guided the Minutemen to a I-AA national championship in 1998. After stints as an assistant in the NFL and with the Miami Hurricanes, Whipple returned to Amherst.


With Whipple’s hiring, an attitude shift has occurred within the program. While they were just 3-9 last year, UMass was much more competitive in many of their games. The Minutemen are 0-2 so far this year after losing to Colorado 48-14 and suffering a heart-breaking, 25-23 loss to Temple. Now they get Notre Dame, which is fresh off a 30-22 win over No. 14 Georgia Tech.


UMass at Notre Dame


Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: NBC

Spread: Notre Dame -28


Three Things to Watch


1. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Notre Dame has done a good job shutting down the run so far this season, but Virginia hurt the Irish with the passing game. That actually sets up pretty well for UMass because throwing the ball is the strength of their offense. Blake Frohnapfel is a big, strong armed quarterback that has put up good numbers during his time at Massachusetts. The Minutemen rank No. 19 in the country in passing, averaging 321.5 yards per game. Wide receiver Tajae Sharpe has 22 catches in the two games and is clearly Frohnapfel’s favorite target. UMass ranks No. 122 in rushing offense so they will be putting the ball in the air a lot, which will be a nice test for a Notre Dame secondary that struggled against UVA.


Related: Five Thoughts on Notre Dame After Week Three


2. Getting More Offensive Skill Players Involved for Notre Dame

The Irish have been very dependent on running back C.J. Prosise and wide outs Will Fuller and Chris Brown early in 2015. Getting freshmen Josh Adams and Dexter Williams acclimated so Prosise can get a break every now and then is something Notre Dame would like to do. Also, another receiving option would open things up for quarterback DeShone Kizer. Whether it’s Torii Hunter or Alize Jones or Corey Robinson — who has just four catches for 45 yards in the three games — doesn’t matter. Another target needs to emerge.


3. No More Notre Dame Injuries

Three games, four important players lost for the season. Add in defensive tackle Jarron Jones who was injured in camp and that is not a good trend. After injuries crippled the team late in 2014, Notre Dame supporters hoped this year would be different. But it’s been more of the same. Goal number one this week is to beat UMass. Goal number two is to stay healthy. Everything else is gravy.


Final Analysis


With Georgia Tech last week and Clemson next week, this is the ultimate trap situation for Notre Dame. They also face a team with a strong passing game that will be sky high on their first trip to South Bend. UMass under Whipple is not the same patsy they were under Molnar.  But still, the talent disparity between the two teams is huge. A sluggish start for Notre Dame would not be surprising and UMass may sting them with the pass on occasion, but this should be an easy Irish win.


Prediction: Notre Dame 42, UMass 17


— 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.

UMass Minutemen vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/virginia-tech-hokies-vs-east-carolina-pirates-preview-and-prediction-2015

The Hokies remember last year. The week after beating Ohio State in Columbus, Virginia Tech came home to an excited Lane Stadium to face East Carolina. It was to be a celebration of what happened the week before and what was to come for the remainder of 2014.


The Pirates didn’t see it that way. Shane Carden threw for 427 yards and three scores, with 224 of those yards going to Cam Worthy, and East Carolina knocked off Virginia Tech 28-21. The Hokies proceeded to lose five of the next eight and barely made a bowl game.


This year, Carden is gone from ECU. So is Worthy and his partner Justin Hardy. This is a different Pirate squad. But don’t tell that to Tech. They have revenge on their minds as they head down to Greenville, N.C.


Virginia Tech at East Carolina


Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ABC/ESPN2

Spread: Virginia Tech -8


Three Things to Watch


1. Is Beamer Ball Back?

After a few seasons of middling special teams play, Beamer Ball returned in full force on Saturday at Purdue. Terrell Edmunds blocked a punt that Anthony Shegog returned for a touchdown and Der’Woun Green took the second half kickoff back 82 yards, setting up a Joey Slye field goal. Defensive scores were also a staple of Beamer Ball and Chuck Clark got one of those off a fumble recovery caused by Kendall Fuller’s hit on Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby. Is this a return to true Beamer Ball or just a blip on the radar?


2. ECU Against the Run

Brendan Motley has been inconsistent as the quarterback for Virginia Tech. As a result, offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler has relied heavily on the running game and the Hokies have rushed for 537 yards in their past two games. On the other side, the Pirates rank No. 122 in rushing defense, giving up 254 yards per game.  Granted, allowing 415 yards rushing in a 45-21 loss to Navy is a big factor in that ranking. But ECU has to slow down the Tech backs to force Motley into passing situations because…


3. Motley Needs to Avoid Mistakes

The quarterback fumbled four times last Saturday though fortunately only one was lost. The junior provides an exciting element with his legs and can make plays outside the pocket. But he has to be more careful with the football. The Virginia Tech defense is very good and Motley does not want to put them in bad spots.  It was only his second start and he is still learning. But with conference play around the corner, he must value the football.


Final Analysis


Once Virginia Tech got rolling they were way too much for Purdue. Expect more of the same this week. East Carolina is not nearly as good as they were last year. They are No. 126 in rushing offense and struggle stopping the run. That’s a bad combination against Virginia Tech. If the Hokies know the Pirates can’t run the ball, that defense will come charging at the quarterback. The Hokies are also going to run the ball, some with the backs and some with Motley. They will also look for big plays to Isaiah Ford or Cam Phillips. Revenge will be sweet.


Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, East Carolina 13


— 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.

Virginia Tech Hokies vs. East Carolina Pirates Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 10:40
Path: /college-football/oklahoma-state-cowboys-vs-texas-longhorns-preview-and-prediction-2015

Texas (1-2) suffered a heartbreaking loss to the California Golden Bears last Saturday, as the extra point was missed after scoring what seemed to be the game-tying touchdown. Missing that kick cost Texas an opportunity to come back in a game where they were down by 21. Texas lost the opportunity to beat another quality opponent and to push their record to 2-1 going into conference play. Texas lost a very important quality win opportunity on Saturday.


And that may be all that is needed for this team to turn their season around and be great.


The Longhorns will take on another talented, but not unbeatable team this weekend in the Oklahoma State Cowboys (3-0). The Cowboys are ready for a fight, since the Longhorns came into Stillwater and shocked them with a 28-7 dominate performance last year. The Cowboys are circling the wagons, and they are absolutely hunting for Longhorns, and to send a very clear message to the rest of the Big 12 that they have indeed arrived. Texas seems to have found themselves during the course of their battle against the Cal Bears. Quarterback Jerrod Heard played extremely well against the Bears' defense in the fourth quarter and found a nice rhythm that could serve him well going forward. The Longhorns will have their hands full against a much stronger defense than they have faced all season. It will be challenging for this group to rise to the occasion and reproduce the productivity that they were able to achieve in the second half of Saturday's game, but they must in order to get their second win.


College Football Podcast: Week 4 Preview with Jill Savage

Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher


Oklahoma State at Texas


Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Oklahoma State  -3


Three Things To Watch


1. Jerrod Heard Continues to Grow

Texas Quarterback Jerrod Heard seemingly had an epiphany on Saturday. After ending the 3rd quarter down by 21 points and not being able to mount much offense, Heard suddenly realized the difference between running because nothing is there and running because something is there. Heard took full advantage of the opportunities he was given in that 4th quarter, and almost led the Longhorns back in impressive fashion, scoring two rushing TDs. Now, Heard will face an even tougher defense, and he will have to build on his Saturday performance, using the same patience and vision he displayed in their 4th quarter comeback. If he can continue to grow from Saturday's performance, Texas could once again be in position to win.


2. The Texas Defense Must Stop Somebody

While everyone has focused their attention on offensive play-calling and athletic director changes at Texas, The Longhorn defense has quietly given up an average of 36.6 points over three games. They will continue to make their way hard if they cannot stop anybody, and so far they have proven they can't stop anybody. Texas has yielded a total yards average of 512 yards per week, and you simply can't win games giving up so much ground. Texas has to figure out a way to slow down the Cowboys offense and get off the field. One of the biggest problems for this Saturday will be quarterback Mason Rudolph, who has gotten better each week, and shown incredible efficiency and consistency, going 62-of-90, for 947 yards and five touchdowns. If the Longhorns can't get constant pressure on the Cowboys and try and shake Rudolph a little, then they will find themselves once again playing from behind and trying to overcome a scoring deficit and a ticking clock.


3. The Cowboys are Stingy!

The Cowboys' magic number is 11.7, which is the number of points that Oklahoma State currently gives up per game. Now to be fair, they have built their current defensive reputation on the strength of Central Michigan, Central Arkansas, and the UTSA. The Cowboys are giving up a total yards average of 303 yards, but those yards don't seem to be producing points for their opponents. The Longhorns will be faced with the challenge of maximizing every moment they have the ball, because they may not get many chances.


Final Analysis


The Texas offense seemed to discover a nice groove in the 4th quarter Saturday. If they can build on that, then they have a chance. The real problem, however, is not the Texas offense, but the Texas defense. If Texas cannot keep Mason Randolph off balance, then this will be another tough day. The key to the game is the Texas defense and if they can get key stops. 


It will be an enormous challenge, but I think this is the game where Charlie Strong makes his program statement. A win against a Top 25-ranked opponent is just what the doctor ordered, and I believe this is the week Texas defines its season. The Texas defense will play just well enough to pull out the victory they were not able to pull out last week. And this time, the home crowd will push them to a win.


Prediction: Texas 31, Oklahoma State 28


— Written by Lloyd H. Spence, Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence also has written for the Dallas Morning News, Yahoo!'s, and ESPN Louisville. He can be heard on the radio of "Talkin NOIZ" and "The Football Show of Collin County." Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.

Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Texas Longhorns Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 10:35
Path: /college-football/ohio-bobcats-vs-minnesota-golden-gophers-preview-and-prediction-2015

Jerry Kill and his Minnesota Golden Gophers continue to have issues moving the ball on offense. At some point, the Gophers need to figure it out if they are going to be the contender in the Big Ten West they want to be.


The Ohio Bobcats come to Minneapolis with a 3-0 record and a head coach who knows how to win big games on the road. Their offense has just enough versatile playmakers to do enough damage on the scoreboard to make things interesting against Minnesota.


Ohio at Minnesota


Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: Big Ten Network

Spread: Minnesota -10


Three Things to Watch


1. Can Minnesota find a home-run hitter?

The lack of a legitimate big-play threat to go to when nothing else seems to be working is one of the biggest things plaguing the Gopher offense. Rodney Smith, the team's leading rusher, averages exactly four yards a carry. Minnesota's longest offensive play of the season so far is a 38-yard touchdown pass from Mitch Leidner to Drew Wolitarsky. Until Jerry Kill can show opponents that they have a player who can score from anywhere on the field at any time, the Gophers are going to be a fairly easy offense to prepare for.


2. Who wins the battle of X's and O's?

Both Jerry Kill and Ohio head coach Frank Solich have mastered the art of getting the most out of their talent. They do so with solid preparation and scheming — attacking the opponent's weaknesses and limiting the damage done by their strengths. This has the potential to be one of the better chess matches of the weekend from a coaching standpoint, as the final result could very well come down to one key decision by one of them.


3. Can Ohio move the ball against the Minnesota defense?

The Bobcats average over 33 points and 443.7 yards per game on offense so far this season. They put together three scoring drives of over 45 yards against a tough Marshall team. The Gopher defense is much better than Marshall, especially against the pass. That said, there's no evidence right now that says Ohio couldn't pull out a win with a touchdown and a couple of field goals — especially given the struggles Minnesota has had on offense this season. If Ohio is able to somehow find the endzone more than once, this one could be very interesting.


Final Analysis


Minnesota can't continue to win games simply by playing not to lose on offense. At some point, teams are going to crack that defense. My best guess is that it happens this weekend. Frank Solich will find a way for quarterback Derrius Vick and the Bobcat offense to put up just enough points to make Minnesota open up on offense and go for the big play to win the game. When that happens, I expect Ohio's underrated defense — led by defensive end Tarrell Basham — to exploit a sketchy Minnesota offensive line and make a play to seal the upset win.


Prediction: Ohio 16, Minnesota 10


— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the editor-in-chief of, a Big Ten site for Big Ten fans. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Ohio Bobcats vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 10:30
Path: /north-texas-mean-green-vs-iowa-hawkeyes-preview-and-prediction-2015

The North Texas Mean Green arrive in Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes this Saturday in a matchup of former Iowa line coordinators. Before being named head coach at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz spent eight years as offensive line coach for the Hawkeyes, serving opposite then Hawkeye defensive line coach Dan McCarney.


The game will also see a homecoming for another Mean Green player, as North Texas senior QB Andrew McNulty makes his first visit to his hometown Hawkeyes as an opposing player.


This will be the first meeting of Iowa and North Texas in the history of the schools. Overall Iowa is 4-1 all-time against members of Conference USA.


North Texas at Iowa


Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Iowa –24.5


Three Things to Watch


1. Who controls the clock?

Dan McCarney's tenure has seen the Mean Green time of possession lead to a consistent staple of success. But after two games in 2015, North Texas is holding the ball for just 21:10 on average, which is last in FBS football at 127th. Iowa is averaging 32:51 in time of possession this season, which is 22nd in the nation. When Iowa controls the ball, its big and physical play will quickly wear down the North Texas players and create a major concern for McCarney and his staff.


2. What impact will special teams make?

Iowa’s Dillon Kidd is averaging 49.8 yards a punt, which would be the third-highest total in the nation, but Kidd is one punt away from qualifying for the statistics. Five of Kidd’s punts have been for 50 yards or more in 2015. On the other side of the field Eric Keena for North Texas is averaging 43.6 yards a punt, which is 30th in the nation. In addition Iowa's Marshall Koehn kicked a 57-yard field goal as time expired to defeat Pitt last weekend. The game-winning field goal was the second longest in school history and tied the Kinnick Stadium record. But don't look for this game to come down to a final field goal, unless Iowa once again allows turnovers, or another blocked punt like the one that was returned for a score by Pitt in the final quarter.


3. Can McCarney continue his success inside Kinnick?

North Texas is looking to end a seven-game road losing streak and avoid their first 0-3 start to a year since 2011. The Mean Green hasn’t won a non-conference road game since winning at Ball State in 2009 and is an atrocious 1-37 on the road in non-conference games since 2001. But McCarney, a Hawkeye assistant from 1977-89 and Iowa State Head Coach from 1995-2006, will make his seventh appearance on the opposing sideline at Kinnick. While at Iowa State, he more than held his own, finishing his Cyclone tenure 3-3 inside Kinnick against Ferentz-coached teams.


Final Analysis


Iowa's coaching staff will undoubtedly remind their players to focus on this game, and not be looking past North Texas to the Big Ten opener. With that in mind, don't expect much of the “new Kirk Ferentz” razzle-dazzle he's shown opposing teams in the first three games of the season. It'll be more of the good old fashioned, conservative, "old Kirk Ferentz" football as Iowa looks to keep every player healthy and ready to go in Madison next week. But don't be surprised to see some new wrinkles in the offense in the process, as the Hawkeyes try out some new material in preparation for what's possibly the biggest of their Big Ten openers in recent years at Wisconsin on Oct. 3.


Prediction: Iowa 27, North Texas 10


— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network and a native Iowan currently based in Southern California. A University of Iowa graduate, Boleyn is a former contributing writer for The Daily Iowan and a die-hard Hawkeye. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.

North Texas Mean Green vs. Iowa Hawkeyes Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 10:25
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Florida Gators, SEC
Path: /college-football/4-keys-florida-gators-defeat-tennessee-volunteers

Jim McElwain will attempt to get his second SEC win as his Florida Gators will host the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday. Last weekend, McElwain earned his first conference victory (14-9) on the road against the Kentucky Wildcats.


Florida has won 10 straight games over Tennessee in their rivalry. Can the Gators extend their series-best streak to 11 games? Here are four things they’ll likely have to do in order to come out victorious at home in The Swamp.


1. Shut down the run 

Most of Tennessee’s offensive success this season has come on the ground. Through the first three games of the season, the Volunteers have averaged 246 rushing yards per game, which ranks 17th in the FBS.


Florida has had a lot of success stopping the run in their first three games as they have given up an average of 55.3 yards per game. The Gators have a very stout front line and some of the fastest linebackers in the nation. 


If the Gators can contain the two-headed rushing attack of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara and force quarterback Joshua Dobbs to beat them, it could be a very long day for the Volunteers offense.


2. Run the ball

The best friend of a young and inexperienced quarterback is a good running game. This is why Kelvin Taylor and the Gators' stable of running backs need to have their best performance of the season.


Taylor, who is most known for being on the receiving end of the McElwain tirade against East Carolina, will need to rush for more than his average of 51 yards per game. While Taylor has been inconsistent throughout his career, he has shown that he can take over a game (197 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia last season).


Florida also has Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkite, who can also help the team in the rushing department. The Volunteers defense has given up an average of 158 yards per game this season, so that’s why it is important for the Gators to establish the run.


3. Get pressure on Dobbs

Defensive back Vernon Hargraves III and the Gators' secondary receive a lot of credit for how great Florida's defense is. But Jonathan Bullard and the defensive line equally deserve some credit as well.


Last week against Kentucky, Bullard register two of the Gators’ six sacks. For his effort, he was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week. The Shelby, N.C., native also contributed five tackles, with four of them unassisted.


If Florida’s defensive line can get Dobbs uncomfortable in the pocket, that should create more opportunities for Hargraves and the rest of the Gators' secondary. 


4. Be more disciplined

In Florida's last two games, the team has committed a combined total of 19 penalties for 126 yards. McElwain has been trying to instill some discipline in the Gators, but it hasn’t happened so far.


“The type of penalties I'm getting at are very correctable,” said McElwain in his weekly Monday morning press conference. “I don't think that running into the punter — I'm still scratching my head how he did that — but it ended up not killing us.”


While those penalties haven’t killed the Gators so far, they will eventually. With a tough SEC schedule coming up, it is imperative that Florida limits the mistakes because they aren't good enough to keep overcoming multiple mental mistakes each week.


— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

4 Keys for the Florida Gators to defeat the Tennessee Volunteers
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 10:20
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-five-up-five-down-marshawn-lynch-up-donte-moncrief-down-week-3

After Week 2, we can begin to make some assumptions about certain players and certain teams. We also have a lot more injuries to contend with, which makes ranking players more difficult.


As a result, the weekly fantasy rankings can drastically change from week to week. In this case, we will take a look at five players who are moving up the ranks from Week 2 and five players who are moving down the rankings from Week 2.


Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex


Please note this is not a start/sit column. These are simply guys that are either trending up or down based on their performance last week and their matchup this week.


Five Up


Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

Full disclosure: Brady appeared in the Five Down section of this column last week. Bad call. He went ahead and threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns. On the season he has 754 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He's looked nothing short of great so far this season, and he gets to play Jacksonville in Week 3. Ryan Tannehill just threw for 359 yards and two touchdowns against the Jags; imagine what Brady can do. He's the No. 1 quarterback in the rankings this week, and we can't be wrong two weeks in a row, right?


Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks

Here's a stat for you: Lynch scored 13 rushing touchdowns in 2014. Not impressed? How about the sidebar to that stat which says that 11 of those touchdowns were scored when the Seahawks were at home? The Seahawks are at home for the first time in 2015 and they are facing a terrible Bears team that allowed Eddie Lacy to rush for a touchdown in Week 1 and David Johnson to rush for one in Week 2. Odds are on Lynch scoring. Plus, the Seahawks may end up gaining a lead early, which means running the clock out. Garbage time still counts for points in fantasy. Lynch is the No. 3 running back for Week 3.


Update: Lynch is officially questionable with a calf injury. If he plays, start him in regular leagues, but be careful, as the Seahawks play in the later afternoon games on Sunday. Be sure to monitor his status up through Sunday morning.


Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins

In PPR leagues, Landry is a WR1. He sees a bump this week because of the consistency he's shown. With eight receptions in each of the past two games, he is getting targets (12 and 10 over the past two games) and converting them into receptions and yards. He hasn't scored a receiving touchdown yet this year (he did score a punt return touchdown). The Dolphins play the Bills this week. While Andrew Luck struggled against the Bills, Tom Brady showed they are beatable through the air.


Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders

Cooper had nine targets in Week 1 and 11 in Week 2. He converted those targets into 12 receptions for 156 yards and a touchdown. Derek Carr looks for him and trusts him in the passing game. He can gain yards after the catch and he's fast. The Raiders play the Browns in Week 3, but fantasy owners no longer have to fear Joe Haden. He will likely be matched up with Cooper, but he has shown that he is not one of the elite cornerbacks in the NFL anymore. Look for Cooper to have another good game.


Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle Seahawks

Squeaky wheel gets the grease. That saying applies to Graham this week. He's complained that he's not happy with his role in Seattle. He's had 10 targets over two games, putting up a 1/11/0 stat line in Week 2. He did find the end zone in Week 1, saving his fantasy day, but he still has not put up the numbers of Graham of the Saints. However, typically when a player complains, they get fed the ball. Graham has a great matchup against Chicago, whose defense can't cover anybody, let alone a 6-foot-7 tight end in the red zone. Expect Graham to get the ball often - and in the end zone - in Week 3.


Five Down


Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

Full disclosure, part 2: Brees appeared in the Five Up section of this column last week. Bad call. Brees reportedly has a rotator cuff injury, but claims he will play on Sunday. If that is the case, stay away. His numbers from Week 2 aren't terrible on paper: 24-for-38, 255 yards, one touchdown, one interception. However, knowing that he was at home, against a Tampa Bay defense that just made Marcus Mariota look better than Drew Brees… don't trust him in Week 3. The Saints (like a few other teams in the league) need to figure out how to get their offense back on track. Until they do, only start Brees if you have to (same goes for his pass catchers). Is Jimmy Graham available? Drew Brees misses him.


Update: Brees has been ruled out for Sunday's game. In this case, Brandin Cooks belongs in the Five Down section as he's struggled with Brees. Don't expect him to succeed with a backup quarterback.


Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins

Likely drafted as a RB1, Miller certainly hasn't performed like one so far in 2015. This season, he has 23 carries for 67 yards. He has six receptions for 50 yards as well. In Week 2, he hurt his ankle and even if he does play in Week 3, he faces the Bills. Miller put in a limited practice on Thursday and will likely try to suit up on Sunday, but the Bills' run defense is tough. In Week 1, they held Frank Gore to 31 rushing yards (and the whole team to 61 rushing yards, 20 of which were from Andrew Luck). In Week 2, they held Dion Lewis to 40 yards (and the Patriots as a team to 56), although he did score a touchdown. A banged-up Miller is not elite enough to break through that defense. He's a low-end RB2.


C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos

Anderson, like Miller, was likely drafted as a RB1. He's barely a RB3 for Week 3, coming off two brutal performances. He's had 24 carries for 56 yards, good for 2.3 yards per carry. He's been out-touched by Ronnie Hillman, and his starting gig may be in jeopardy if he puts up another bad game. Anderson claims he is over the toe injury which may have limited him in Week 2, but until he puts up a decent performance, we're not convinced. He's the No. 30 running back for Week 3 against the Lions.


Donte Moncrief, WR, Indianapolis Colts

In Week 1, Moncrief had 11 targets, which he converted in to a 6/46/1 stat line. He had eight targets for seven receptions, 122 yards and a touchdown in Week 2. T.Y. Hilton was injured during Week 1 and somewhat limited in Week 2. The Colts face the Titans in Week 3, and Moncrief has to come down from his high. Many fantasy owners spent a lot of FAAB money on him last week and reaped the benefits in Week 2. However, the Colts' offense needs to figure out a way to get back on track, and Hilton is the key to that offense. Moncrief is the No. 34 wide receiver in the rankings for Week 3 as this appears to be the Hilton show.


Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

Kelce is a must-start tight end, but he should face a tough matchup in Week 3 against Green Bay. The Packers may be able to contain tight ends. They limited Jimmy Graham to one reception for 11 yards and no touchdowns. In Week 1, Martellus Bennett had five receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown. For some reason, Kelce was only targeted five times in Week 2, and he caught four of those passes for 58 yards. Because of the tough matchup and the strange usage in Week 2, Kelce is the No. 10 tight end for Week 3.


— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Fantasy Football Five Up, Five Down: Marshawn Lynch Up, Donte Moncrief Down For Week 3
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/auburn-tigers-vs-mississippi-state-bulldogs-preview-and-prediction-2015

The rugged SEC West doesn’t provide any breaks on the schedule for any of the division’s seven teams, and Saturday night’s matchup between Auburn and Mississippi State is already shaping up to be a critical game for both teams.


Preseason expectations were high for the Tigers, but coach Gus Malzahn’s team is 2-1 and reeling from a blowout defeat at LSU last Saturday. Even though Auburn is 2-1, this team was a play or two away from losing to Jacksonville State and didn’t play particularly well in the opener against Louisville. Malzahn’s high-powered offense hasn’t performed up to its normal level, so the Tigers will make a quarterback change this Saturday. Jeremy Johnson was benched in favor of redshirt freshman Sean White.


Related: SEC Week 4 Predictions


For Mississippi State, the Bulldogs are quietly 2-1 but lost its SEC opener to LSU 21-19 on Sept. 12. Even though coach Dan Mullen’s team won 10 games last season, Mississippi State was picked by most to finish last in the SEC West. A win over Auburn would help the Bulldogs in their quest to contend in this division once again.


Auburn holds a 61-25-2 overall edge in the all-time series against Mississippi State. However, the Bulldogs won last year’s meeting 38-23 in Starkville.


Mississippi State at Auburn


Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: Auburn -3


Three Things to Watch


1. Auburn QB Sean White

After Jeremy Johnson’s struggles against LSU, coach Gus Malzahn and coordinator Rhett Lashlee decided to make a change at quarterback. Johnson was hyped as a preseason Heisman contender, but the junior seems to be dealing with a lack of confidence and struggled with turnovers (six interceptions on 72 pass attempts). Will White provide a spark for this offense? The redshirt freshman has yet to take a snap in his college career but was regarded as a four-star prospect in the 2014 signing class. The priorities for White seem simple for his first start: Take care of the ball and produce a few big plays that have been missing from the offense so far. Mississippi State’s defense is limiting opponents to 4.9 yards per play through the first three games, and coordinator Manny Diaz could throw a lot at the redshirt freshman in his first start.


Related: Predictions for Every College Football Game in Week 4


2. Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott

While Auburn is breaking in a new quarterback, Mississippi State has one of the nation’s top passers on its side. Dak Prescott has started 23 games for the Bulldogs and earned first-team All-SEC honors last season. Even though some of the pieces around Prescott were a concern this preseason, having a senior quarterback can alleviate some of those issues. Auburn’s secondary has allowed only one play of 30 yards or more in 2015, but this defense has had its share of issues stopping mobile quarterbacks. Prescott is averaging eight carries a game, and the senior could push that total closer to 10 on Saturday night.


3. Turnovers and the Supporting Cast

Turnovers are always an important part of any game, but this area is of particular concern on Saturday night with Mississippi State and Auburn both ranked near the bottom of the SEC in turnover margin. Can the Tigers avoid the errors that have plagued this offense in 2015? And considering this is White’s first start for Auburn, Mississippi State cannot afford to give the redshirt freshman any easy opportunities for points. In addition to the turnover battle, the supporting cast for both quarterbacks should be a deciding factor in this game. Mississippi State has produced more big plays on offense so far this season and has a deeper group of skill players. Can Auburn get 100 yards from running back Peyton Barber? Is this the week receiver Duke Williams breaks out?


Final Analysis


This one could go either way. Is Auburn capable of getting its offense back on track with a quarterback change? If White struggles, is Jeremy Johnson ready to ignite the offense off the bench? On defense, the Tigers are going to miss standout end Carl Lawson for the third consecutive game. Mississippi State has a clear advantage at quarterback, and its defense has allowed only three plays of 30 yards or more so far this season. Not much separates these two teams, but the guess here is Auburn rallies behind White at home for a close win.


Prediction: Auburn 31, Mississippi State 27
Auburn Tigers vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs Preview and Prediction 2015
Post date: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 10:10