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For a day, Kansas football took center stage in Lawrence as the Jayhawks ended three years of Big 12 futility with their first conference win since Nov. 6, 2010.
Kansas had been in close games during the 0-27 stretch before, but the Jayhawks finally found a game they could close out against a wounded and lackluster West Virginia team.
James Sims led the way with 211 rushing yards, earning Athlon’s Big 12 offensive player of the week honors, but he wasn’t the only standout in key games this week.
Offensive numbers were huge this week in the league, but key defensive performances earned mention for Baylor and Oklahoma State.
Big 12 Week 12 Awards and Power Rankings
Offensive player of the week: James Sims, Kansas
For the first time in a long time, Kansas gets a tip in on the football side with an easy choice for Big 12 offensive player of the week. Sims rushed for 211 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries in the 31-19 win over West Virginia, a victory that ended the Jayhawks’ 27-game Big 12 losing streak. Powered by a 68-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, Sims’ effort was the best rushing day by a Kansas player since 2001.
Defensive player of the week: K.J. Morton, Baylor
Last week, Baylor’s run defense was the key to the victory over Oklahoma. Against Texas Tech, a defensive back was the key defender. The dreadlocked Morton finished with a wild stat line of nine tackles, three tackles for a loss, a forced fumble, a sack and an interception. His athletic, leaping pick of Baker Mayfield on a corner blitz was one of the highlights of the game and a key turning point.
Freshman of the week: Shock Linwood, Baylor
Linwood stepped in last week for an injured Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin last week against Oklahoma, but against Texas Tech, he carried the load from the start. The redshirt freshman rushed for 187 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries against a regressing Texas Tech run defense. Linwood has rushed for 100 yards in three consecutive games and has only 76 fewer rushing yards than Seastrunk.
Team of the week: Oklahoma State
The question last week was how did Stanford lose to Utah. The question this week is how did Oklahoma State lose to West Virginia. The Cowboys needed two months to round into form, but that loss on 30-21 in Morgantown robs the Big 12 of an undefeated team and an even juicier matchup this week against Baylor. In any event, Oklahoma State looked every bit the part of a Big 12 championship contender by taking care of Texas before halftime in Austin. Clint Chelf suddenly made the Texas defense look vulnerable against mobile quarterbacks again with 95 rushing yards, and the Oklahoma State D held the Longhorns to 4.5 yards per play.
Coordinator of the week: Glenn Spencer, Oklahoma State
The moving parts on Oklahoma State’s offense have been the key storyline for the Cowboys’ season, but the one constant has been the defense and its ability to force turnovers. Against Texas, Oklahoma State extended its streak of 18 consecutive games with a takeaway. The Cowboys’ three interceptions led Oklahoma State in the 38-13 win over Texas that kept the Pokes in Big 12 contention. Star cornerback Justin Gilbert was the star for Spencer’s D Saturday with two interceptions, including a 48-yard pick six.
|1||1||9-0, 6-0||W, Texas Tech 63-34||at Oklahoma State|
|2||3||9-1, 6-1||W, at Texas 38-13||Baylor|
|3||2||7-3, 6-1||L, Oklahoma State 38-13||Off|
|4||4||8-2, 5-2||W, Iowa State 48-10||at Kansas State|
|5||5||6-4, 4-3||W, TCU 33-31||Oklahoma|
|6||5||7-4, 4-4||L, Baylor 63-34||Off|
|7||8||4-7, 2-6||L, at Kansas State 33-31||Off|
|8||7||4-7, 2-6||L, at Kansas 31-19||Off|
|9||10||3-7, 1-6||W, West Virginia 31-19||at Iowa State|
|10||9||1-9, 0-7||L, at Oklahoma 48-10||Kansas|
Fans in the Big Ten need to start getting used to — and excited about — the idea of a Michigan State and Ohio State showdown in the Big Ten title game. Both teams stayed unbeaten in conference play with key road victories over division foes. The nation's best defense against a team that hasn't lost a game in two years coached by a two-time BCS national champion?
Here are the Big Ten's Week 12 Superlatives:
Offensive Player of the Week: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Ohio State scored 60 points but the road win against Illinois was tougher than expected. Hyde was the star of the day for the Buckeyes. He rushed 24 times for 246 yards and four touchdowns, including two fourth-quarter scoring runs of more than 50 yards (51, 55). He also caught two passes for 26 yards and a fifth touchdown through the air. Braxton Miller had a huge day as well (150 passing yards, 2 TD, 184 rushing yards, TD), but Hyde was once again the workhorse of the offense. His 246 yards tied Archie Griffin for the third-highest rushing total in school history (Eddie George, 314; Keith Byars, 274).
Defensive Player of the Week: Kurtis Drummond, S, Michigan State
The Spartans remain on a path headed for Indianapolis with another excellent defensive performance on the road by forcing five turnovers against Nebraska. Drummond was responsible for two of them with an interception and forced fumble in a key Legends Division game. The junior defensive back and team's leading tackler collected 10 total tackles. With a win in either of its last two games or a Minnesota loss in either of its games (they face each other in the season finale), the Spartans will clinch the division.
The Spartans haven't officially clinched the Legends Division title — they need one more win in either of their last two games (or a Minnesota loss) — but the 41-28 win in Lincoln all but sealed a trip to Indianapolis for Mark Dantonio's bunch. The defense forced five turnovers, Connor Cook provided timely passing for the offense (193 yards, TD, 0 INT) and tailback Jeremy Langford went over 100 yards for the fifth straight time (32 carries, 151 yards, 3 TD). It was a thorough, across the board win for the Spartans and it keeps Michigan State on track to meet Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game — what would be Dantonio's second division title in three seasons.
The Indiana Hoosiers came into Madison knowing it had to win to make a bowl game. And with an offense averaging 527.1 yards and 43.1 points per game — both second to only Ohio State in the Big Ten — Kevin Wilson thought he had a chance. Aranda's unit made sure that wasn't the case. The Badgers defense held Indiana to just a season-low 224 yards and season-low three points. Indiana had scored no fewer than 13 points in any half all season but were shutout in the first half and kicked just the lone field goal in the second. Wisconsin now boasts the sixth-rated total defense (287.8 ypg) and fifth-rated scoring defense (14.0 ppg) in the nation.
Freshman of the Week: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
|Team||LW||Record||This Week||Next Week|
|1.||(1)||10-0, 6-0||W, Illinois, 60-35||Indiana|
|2.||(2)||9-1, 6-0||W, Nebraska, 41-28||at Northwestern|
|3.||(3)||8-2, 5-1||W, Indiana, 51-3||at Minnesota|
|5.||(4)||7-3, 4-2||L, Michigan St, 41-28||at Penn St|
|6.||(6)||7-3, 3-3||W, Northwestern, 27-19 (OT)||at Iowa|
|8.||(9)||6-4, 3-3||W, Purdue, 45-21||Nebraska|
|9.||(8)||4-6, 2-4||L, Wisconsin, 51-3||at Ohio St|
|10.||(10)||4-6, 0-6||L, Michigan, 27-19 (OT)||Michigan St|
|11.||(11)||3-7, 0-6||L, Ohio St, 60-35||at Purdue|
|12.||(12)||1-9, 0-6||L, Penn St, 45-21||Illinois|
One week after Oregon thought its title hopes were dashed, Coach O provided hope for more than just his USC Trojans. Ed Orgeron is quickly becoming the story of the conference after an upset win over Stanford at home in dramatic fashion. And it puts the Ducks back into the Pac-12 driver's seat.
Meanwhile, the South Division race got even more interesting with Arizona State and Washington holding serve while USC has officially tossed its name in the championship hat. With two weeks to play, this league is still completely wide open and its why it might be the best league in the nation.
There will be an obvious theme in this week's Pac-12 superlatives.
Offensive Player of the Week: Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State
Don't look now, but the Cougars are one win away from the postseason after winning their third Pac-12 game of the year — all on the road. Halliday completed 36 of his 53 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns. He methodically worked his team down the field late in the fourth quarter and connected with Isiah Myers with 2:15 left in the game for a 25-yard game-winning touchdown strike. Halliday led his offense to 27 first downs and has his team poised to not only make a bowl game but potentially a winning record if Wazzu can top Utah at home and Washington on the road to end the year. Only Oregon State's Sean Mannion has more passing yards in the league than Halliday's 3,417.
Defensive Player of the Week: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
USC's Dion Bailey made the defensive play of the weekend with his late red zone interception of Kevin Hogan, but the legend of Myles Jack is growing in Westwood after another two-way performance in a critical home win over Washington. The freshman linebacker collected five tackles and a pass broken up on defense to go with 13 rushing attempts, 59 yards rushing and four offensive touchdowns. He has 179 yards rushing and five scores in two games as a two-way player. This is the team's No. 2 tackler we are talking here. He has vaulted himself to the top of the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year conversation with his last two games and has a chance for another signature moment against Arizona State with the division title on the line next weekend.
Team of the Week: USC
The Trojans have done it again, moving to 5-0 in the Pac-12 since switching coaches after a gutsy 20-17 win over Stanford at home. It was as physical a game as fans will see in the league all season and the much-depleted Men of Troy traded blows with the top ranked team in the conference for 60 minutes and came out victorious. USC allowed just two sacks, Stanford's lowest total in four games, and passed for more yards than the Cardinal had allowed in six weeks. The Trojans defense got big stops in its own territory on defense in the second half and forced two critical second-half Kevin Hogan interceptions. The Trojans are now tied with UCLA for second play in the South and still have an outside chance at playing for a Pac-12 title.
Coordinator of the Week: Ed Orgeron, USC
No, he technically isn't a coordinator. But the elevated defensive assistant-turned-interim head coach deserves to be credited with the remarkable turn around at USC. The Trojans topped Stanford for their fifth straight league win since Orgeron was named head coach and his late-game fourth-down gamble led to USC's first win over Stanford in five tries. His offense has been averaging over 30 points per game and his defense is one of the Pac-12's best. Orgeron doesn't deserve mention as a candidate to get the USC job full-time but he has done an excellent job and his players would "run through a wall for that man," as Cody Kessler said after the game. Colonel Reb is no longer crying.
Freshman of the Week: Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado
The freshman quarterback from Tacoma, Wash., got Colorado into the Pac-12 win column for the first time in 2013. Liufau had the best game of his young career, by completing 23-of-36 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns in the blowout 41-24 win over Cal. He set a career high for yards and touchdowns while tying his career high for pass attempts. Only Cal quarterback Jared Goff has more yards of total offense in the league this year among freshman than Liufau — and the Buffs just beat Goff head to head.
Pac-12 Post-Week 12 Power Rankings:
|Rank||Team||LW||Record||This Week||Next Week|
|1||(2)||9-1, 6-1||W, Utah, 44-21||at Arizona|
|2||(1)||8-2, 6-2||L, USC, 20-17||Cal|
|3||(3)||8-2, 6-1||W, Oregon St, 30-17||at UCLA|
|4||(4)||8-2, 5-2||W, Washington, 41-31||Arizona St|
|5||(6)||8-3, 5-2||W, Stanford, 20-17||at Colorado|
|6||(5)||6-4, 3-4||L, UCLA, 41-31||at Oregon St|
|7||(7)||6-4, 4-3||L, Arizona St, 30-17||Washington|
|8||(9)||5-5, 3-4||W, Arizona, 24-17||Utah|
|9||(8)||6-4, 3-4||L, Washington St, 24-17||Oregon|
|10||(10)||4-6, 1-6||L, Oregon, 44-21||at Washington St|
|11||(11)||4-6, 1-6||W, Cal, 41-24||USC|
|12||(12)||1-10, 0-8||L, Colorado, 41-24||at Stanford|
The game of the day in the SEC — and the nation — took place at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Auburn beat Georgia in a game that will be talked about for decades. Elsewhere, Vanderbilt reached bowl-eligibility for the third straight season with a 22-6 win over Kentucky; Alabama remained perfect with a sluggish 20-7 victory over Mississippi State; and South Carolina edged Florida 19-14 in a closer-than-expected battle in Columbia.
SEC Week 12 Awards and Power Rankings
Offensive Player of the Week: Aaron Murray, Georgia
Murray engineered a comeback for the ages … that was thwarted by one of the most amazing endings in recent college football history. Playing rival Auburn for the final time, the senior quarterback led Georgia on three fourth-quarter scoring drives that turned a 20-point deficit into a 38-37 lead. The final Georgia touchdown came on a 5-yard run from Murray on 4th-and-goal with 1:49 remaining. Murray ended the game with 33 completions for 415 yards and two touchdowns but was on the painful end of a legendary finish.
Defensive Player of the Week: C.J. Mosley, Alabama
His stats weren’t overwhelming — eight tackles and one forced fumble — but Mosley led an Alabama defense that limited Mississippi State to 197 total yards in a 20-7 win over the Bulldogs in Starkville. Mosley, a senior linebacker, is the overwhelming favorite to earn SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Team of the Week: Auburn
The dream Iron Bowl matchup is now a reality thanks to a miracle ending that gave Auburn a 43-38 win over Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium. For a few anxious moments — when Georgia grabbed a 38-37 lead with under two minutes to play — it appeared as though Auburn had let it all (as in 20-point fourth-quarter lead) slip away. But angst turned into delirium shortly thereafter when Nick Marshall hooked up with Ricardo Louis for a 73-yard score on what might be the most memorable touchdown pass in the history of Auburn football. The Tigers are now 10-1 overall and 6-1 in the SEC, and they host No. 1 Alabama in two weeks. Last year at this point, Auburn was 2-8 overall and 0-7 in the SEC after losing at home to Georgia 38-0.
Coordinator of the Week: Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt
Kentucky marched 75 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown on its first possession but managed only 187 yards on 51 snaps — and no points — the rest of the game. The Wildcats did not have a drive that went for more than 40 yards in the final three and a half quarters, and they did not penetrate the red zone after their initial possession. The Commodores have held three of their last four SEC opponents to under 350 yards.
Freshman of the Week: Kelvin Taylor, Florida
With a redshirt freshman (Skyler Mornhinweg) making his first career start at quarterback, Florida leaned heavily on its running game. And Taylor, a true freshman and the son of Gator legend Fred Taylor, delivered with career highs of 96 yards and two touchdowns to lead a Florida rushing attack that netted 200 yards on 41 attempts in a 19-14 loss at South Carolina. Taylor has 345 in his last five games.
|Rank||Team||LW||Record||Last Week||Next Week|
|1||2||10-0, 7-0||W, Miss. State 20-7||Chattanooga|
|2||2||10-1, 6-1||W, Georgia 43-38||Bye|
|3||3||8-2, 4-2||Bye||at LSU|
|4||4||8-2, 6-2||W, Florida 19-14||Coastal Caro.|
|5||5||9-1, 5-1||Bye||at Ole Miss|
|6||7||7-3, 3-3||W, Troy 51-21||Missouri|
|7||6||6-4, 4-3||L, Auburn 43-38||Kentucky|
|8||8||7-3, 3-3||Bye||Texas A&M|
|9||9||6-4, 3-4||W, Kentucky 22-6||at Tennessee|
|10||10||4-6, 3-5||L, S. Carolina 19-14||Ga. Southern|
|11||12||4-6, 1-5||L, Alabama 20-7||at Arkansas|
|13||13||2-8, 0-6||L, Vanderbilt 22-6||at Georgia|
|14||14||3-7, 0-6||Bye||Miss. State|
The ACC lacked a marquee game for Week 12, but there was plenty of intrigue in the six-game slate.
Duke defeated Miami 48-30 to assume sole possession of first place in the Coastal Division. The Blue Devils still have to play Wake Forest and North Carolina, but coach David Cutcliffe’s team is in the driver’s seat to play Florida State in Charlotte in early December.
North Carolina moved one step closer to bowl eligibility with a 34-27 win at Pittsburgh, while Boston College earned the all-important sixth victory by knocking off NC State 38-21.
Florida State and Clemson handled their opponents with ease, and Maryland got bowl eligible with a 27-24 upset of Virginia Tech.
The ACC had plenty of highlights from individual players in Week 12, including Duke quarterback Brandon Connette and Clemson signal-caller Tajh Boyd, but here are Athlon’s picks for the award winners in the conference from Saturday’s action.
ACC Week 12 Awards and Recap
Offensive Player of the Week: Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
Boston College continued its impressive first season under new coach Steve Addazio, as the Eagles defeated NC State to 38-21 to improve to 6-4 overall. Williams has carried the offense this season, and the senior gashed the Wolfpack defense for 339 yards and two touchdowns. The 339 yards were an ACC single-game record. Williams has 634 yards in his last two games and has rushed for at least 166 in each of his last four contests. Even though Williams is considered a power back, he has at least one run of 56 yards or longer in each of his last four games. The senior has 1,810 yards in 2013, which is a Boston College single-season record. With three games left, Williams has a chance to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark.
Defensive Player of the Week: Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
The Tar Heels’ defense has struggled at times this season, but this unit has played better in recent weeks, and Martin delivered the ACC’s top defensive performance in the 34-27 win at Pittsburgh. The senior wrecked havoc on the Panthers’ young offensive line, recording eight tackles (three tackles for a loss), 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Martin recovered one fumble, picked up two quarterback hurries and broke up one pass. After 10 games, Martin has 10 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss and ranks second among Tar Heel defenders in tackles.
Team of the Week: Duke
After 12 weeks, Duke is stands alone atop the ACC Coastal standings. No, that’s not a misprint. Under coach David Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils have made significant improvement over the last two seasons, and after a 48-30 victory over Miami, Duke is on the doorstep of its first ACC Championship appearance. The Blue Devils rallied from a 17-7 deficit after the first quarter to lead 21-20 at halftime. Miami led 30-28 late in the third quarter, but Duke owned the final quarter, scoring 17 unanswered points to close out the victory. With a struggling passing attack, the Blue Devils turned to their ground game. Four players recorded at least seven carries, including quarterback Brandon Connette (37 yards, four touchdowns), and Shaquille Powell, who scored on a 33-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. By beating Miami, Duke earned its 14 win in its last two years, which is more than the program recorded from 1999-2007.
Coordinator of the Week: Kurt Roper, Duke
Largely due to the play of their offense, the Blue Devils assumed control of the Coastal Division with a 48-30 win over Miami on Saturday. With Anthony Boone struggling in recent weeks, Roper and coach David Cutcliffe turned to a two-quarterback system and the ground attack to beat the Hurricanes. Boone completed 11 of 15 passes (with no interceptions), while backup Brandon Connette threw for 81 yards and one touchdown and added four touchdowns on 11 rushing attempts. The Blue Devils gashed Miami for 358 yards, with Josh Snead (15.3 ypc) leading the way. The 358 yards were the most under Cutcliffe, while the five rushing touchdowns were the most since 2010.
Freshman of the Week: Ryan Switzer, WR, UNC
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was solid once again in the blowout win over Syracuse, but North Carolina receiver Ryan Switzer edges Winston for the freshman of the week honor. The freshman didn’t make much of an impact on offense, catching just two passes for 21 yards. However, Switzer returned two punts for touchdowns, including one for 61 yards with less than five minutes remaining, which proved to be the game-winning score for North Carolina.
ACC Post-Week 12 Power Rankings
|Rank||Team||Record||This Week||Next Week|
|1||10-0, 8-0||W, Syracuse 59-3||Idaho|
|2||9-1, 7-1||W, Georgia Tech 55-31||Citadel|
|3||8-2, 4-2||W, Miami 48-30||at Wake Forest|
|4||7-3, 3-3||L, Duke 48-30||Virginia|
|5||7-4, 4-3||L, Maryland 27-24||Bye Week|
|6||6-4, 5-3||L, Clemson 55-31||Alabama A&M|
|7||5-5, 4-3||W, Pittsubrgh 34-27||Old Dominion|
|8||6-4, 3-3||W, NC State 38-21||at Maryland|
|9||5-5, 2-4||L, North Carolina 34-27||at Syracuse|
|10||5-5, 3-3||L, Florida State 59-3||Pittsburgh|
|11||6-4, 2-4||W, Virginia Tech 27-24||Boston College|
|12||4-6, 2-5||Bye Week||Duke|
|13||3-7, 0-7||L, Boston College 38-21||East Carolina|
|14||2-8, 0-6||Bye Week||at Miami|
The AFC’s top two teams go head-to-head when the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos get together tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The Chiefs (9-0) are coming off of a bye looking to go two games up on the Broncos (8-1) in the AFC West. This is the first of two meetings between the division rivals, with the rematch set for Dec. 1 in Kansas City.
First-year head coach Andy Reid has directed a remarkable turnaround of a Chiefs team that went 2-14 last season. The Chiefs’ defense is largely responsible for this, as linebacker Derrick Johnson and his running mates rank first in the league in points allowed. For the Broncos, interim head coach Jack Del Rio is filling in for a recovering John Fox, as the Peyton Manning-led offense is putting up more than 40 points per game and has yet to really be stopped by any team.
4 Things to Watch
No. 1 Offense vs. No. 1 Defense – Something’s Got to Give
Denver is far and away No. 1 in the NFL in scoring offense at 41.2 points per game. The Broncos have scored 40 or more points five times and their season low is 28, which came last week against San Diego. Kansas City is tops in scoring defense, giving up just 12.3 points per game. The Chiefs have held three opponents to seven points or fewer and the most they have allowed are 17 (twice). This is the head-to-head matchup everyone will be watching, as no defense has been able to hold Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense to less than 397 yards of offense. The Chiefs have allowed that many in a game just twice and also lead the league in sacks (36) and takeaways (23). Denver has made a habit of running away with games, as its 371 points through nine games is a NFL record and it has outscored teams by 133 points or 14.8 per game. Even though Kansas City is averaging nearly 18 points fewer per game (23.9) than Denver, the Chiefs have still outscored the opposition by 104 because of their stingy defense. The Broncos have been able to control the tempo and direction of games all season with their offense. The Chiefs have done the same, but with their defense. Whichever unit handles its toughest challenge yet will more than likely be well positioned to win tonight.
It’s no secret. The key to Denver’s prolific offense is No. 18. A surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famer, the four-time MVP has raised his production to another level this season. In nine games, Manning has thrown for 3,249 yards, 33 touchdowns and just six interceptions. To put it another way, Manning is averaging more yards passing per game (361) than 20 NFL teams are in total offense and his 33 touchdown passes alone account for more points (198) than 12 teams have scored this season. While it’s certainly true that Manning has the benefit of throwing to some talented pass-catchers like wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker and tight end Julius Thomas, the running game led by Knowshon Moreno and the offensive line deserve a fair share of credit too. According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Broncos’ offensive line ranks as the top unit in the league, which is impressive considering the team is without All-Pro starting left tackle Ryan Clady and have employed Manny Ramirez, normally a guard, at center all season. As a whole this unit has allowed just 13 sacks, which is the second-fewest in the league, although eight of these have come in the past three games. Manning is not known for being a mobile quarterback, especially now at 37 years old, and he has taken some pretty big hits recently. He sustained a sprained ankle a few games ago, and re-aggravated the injury last week against the Chargers. While the ankle injury won’t prevent him from playing, it has had a noticeable effect on his mobility as well as the crispness and velocity of his intermediate and deep passes. Kansas City leads the league with 36 sacks, as linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston have combined for 20. Denver’s offensive line already has its work cut out for them, but Manning’s ankle injury only makes it even more critical that the front line finds a way to hold the Chiefs’ pass rush at bay and keep Manning’s jersey clean. The Broncos can ill afford to lose their lead horse.
The Von Miller Effect
Kansas City’s defense has far better statistics than Denver, but that doesn’t mean the Broncos’ unit should be overlooked. While Denver is giving up nearly 50 yards more (374.9 ypg to 326.9) per game and more than twice as many points (26.4 ppg to 12.3) per contest compared to Kansas City, a big reason for this is the success of the Broncos’ offense and the fact that most of the games have been blowouts. To put it simply, Denver has given up a lot of yards and a fair amount of points in what is known as “garbage time.” That said, the Broncos’ defense has had its issues, especially against the pass, but it’s been a different unit over the past three games. In its first six games, Denver yielded more than 400 yards per game. In their last three contests, the Broncos have given up less than 310 yards per game. So what has changed over the last month? How about the return of All-Pro linebacker Von Miller? After missing the first six games due to suspension, Miller has picked up right where he left off last season when he finished second to Houston’s J.J. Watt in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year. Miller’s presence has recharged the entire Denver defense, which is playing its best football of the season. This defense has produced eight sacks and six takeaways over its last three games and also is holding teams to fewer than 190 yards passing per game during this span. The statistics may not match up but the Broncos’ defense is just as capable of taking over a game as its counterpart, and no doubt it would certainly like to prove just as much tonight.
Charles in Charge
While Kansas City’s defense has been outstanding in preventing other teams from scoring, the Chiefs’ offense has had to do its part as well. Head coach Andy Reid may have had the most to do with the team’s turnaround in 2013, but another new Chief shouldn’t be overlooked. Quarterback Alex Smith has made the most of his fresh start, as the former San Francisco starter has done just what the coaching staff has asked him to do since trading for him in the offseason. Smith’s statistics pale in comparison to Peyton Manning’s, but the two quarterbacks run entirely different offenses. Smith deserves plenty of credit for his steady play, as he has accounted for 10 total touchdowns (9 pass, 1 rush) with just four interceptions. However, Kansas City’s offense begins and ends with running back Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs’ most productive offensive weapon, Charles ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing with 725 yards. He is fourth in the league in carries (170) and also has posted a team-leading 47 receptions for 389 yards. Charles is second only to LeSean McCoy in both yards from scrimmage (1,114) and total touches (217). All told, Charles is accounting for 37.2 percent of the Chiefs’ total offense this season, so he will need to find a way to do some damage when he gets the ball tonight. His task won’t be easy, however, as Denver is fourth in the league in rushing defense (87.0 ypg). The most yards on the ground the Broncos have given up to any player this season is 93 (Alfred Morris), so that would be a good number for Charles to aim for tonight. In fact, if Charles is able to run the ball successfully not only will he be doing his offense a favor, he also will be helping his defense by keeping the ball out of Manning’s hands.
Kansas City Key Player: Dwayne Bowe, WR
Even before Sunday, Bowe’s season could only be labeled as disappointing. After signing a five-year, $56 million contract extension, Bowe has struggled to develop any sort of consistent chemistry with new quarterback Alex Smith. Bowe is second to running back Jamaal Charles in receptions with 33, but he has totaled just 369 yards (11.2 ypr) and two touchdowns. Supposedly the Chiefs’ best vertical threat, Bowe has three catches of 20 yards or more. Things only got worse for Bowe when he was arrested early Sunday, during the team’s bye week, for marijuana possession and speeding. Bowe has already been suspended once by the NFL, four games in 2009 for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, but his latest legal matter is covered by a different policy. That is the main reason why Bowe will be on the field tonight, as both the Chiefs and the NFL are prohibited, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), from disciplining Bowe until the matter is resolved by the police and the legal system. The bottom line is Bowe’s arrest is an off-the-field matter and distraction the Chiefs didn’t want to have to deal with, especially this week. As it relates to his legal issues, it doesn’t matter one way or the other how well he plays. As it relates to his teammates, however, tonight would be the perfect time for Bowe’s production to start matching up with his paycheck.
Denver Key Player: Knowshon Moreno, RB
Kansas City has Jamaal Charles, but Denver has its own productive running back in Moreno. Largely an afterthought after the Broncos selected Wisconsin’s Montee Ball in the second round of April’s draft; Moreno has earned the starting job due in large part to his pass-protection skills, and has certainly made the most of his opportunities. Moreno enters this week 17th in the NFL with 521 yards rushing, but his eight rushing touchdowns are second only to Adrian Peterson. Moreno is not a workhorse, averaging 14 carries per game, but he’s also been a presence in the passing attack (37 rec., TD) and has yet to lose a fumble in 160 total touches. More importantly, he’s one of the reasons why Peyton Manning has been sacked just 13 times, as he’s adept at picking up the blitz and taking care of his assignments in pass blocking. Kansas City leads the league in sacks (36), but the Chiefs have been somewhat susceptible to the run this season, giving up 118.6 yards rushing per game. With Manning dealing with a lingering ankle injury, Moreno’s dual role as rusher and pass protector bears even more importance tonight. For once, it may be in Denver’s best interests to keep the ball out of Manning’s hands and instead let Moreno carry the load.
It’s not often that you have two NFL teams that have lost a total of one game face off in the middle of November. Other than the records, however, Denver and Kansas City have little in common. The Broncos have been doing it with offense, the Chiefs defense. Denver has a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback, while Kansas City has a signal-caller who fits the mold of “game manager” to a tee. Even the head coaches are opposites, as Andy Reid hails from an offensive background and Broncos’ interim head coach Jack Del Rio is the team’s defensive coordinator.
It’s easy to understand why the focus for this game has been on Denver’s offense vs. Kansas City’s defense and that would be the case even if Peyton Manning wasn’t walking around on a gimpy right ankle. However, I think the deciding factor will be which of the unheralded units, the Broncos’ defense or the Chiefs’ offense, makes the bigger contribution.
In the end, I think Manning and company are able to put together enough scoring drives and the defense makes the game-saving play late in the fourth quarter to earn the narrow victory. And whether this matchup plays out like a classic confrontation or not just remember, these two teams will do it all again in just two weeks.
Denver 23, Kansas City 20
The New Orleans Saints host the San Francisco 49ers this afternoon at 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX in a game that could carry significant playoff implications as the NFC postseason picture continues to develop. The Saints (7-2) are in first place in the NFC South looking to maintain their winning ways at home and stay at least a game ahead of the surging Carolina Panthers. The 49ers (6-3) are trying to keep pace with the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks and also bounce back from last week’s disappointing home loss to the Panthers.
Head coach Sean Payton’s Saints have yet to lose in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this season and are coming off of their best performance of the season last week in which they posted 49 points and an NFL-record 40 first downs against Dallas. Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers have played very well on the road (3-1), but the offense led by quarterback Colin Kaepernick has struggled on more than one occasion. The 49ers managed just nine points and 151 yards of offense in last week’s 10-9 loss at home to Carolina.
3 Things to Watch
Saints’ Home Cooking
New Orleans is one of five teams undefeated at home (5-0) this season, joining Denver, Kansas City, New England and Seattle in this distinction. The Saints’ dominance in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, however, goes far beyond their perfect record. In five home games, the Saints are averaging 35.2 points and 463.6 yards per game on offense, including the 49 points and 625 yards they put up on Dallas last Sunday night. It hasn’t just been the offense flexing its muscles in front of the raucous home crowd either. The defense, which has gone from the NFL’s worst to one of the top units under first-year coordinator Rob Ryan, is allowing just 15 points and 287.4 yards per home contest. The Saints are an entirely different team in the Big Easy than on the road, as the Superdome has become one of the loudest and most intimidating home environments in the NFL. San Francisco is somewhat familiar with this, although the 49ers were the ones who came out victorious in a 31-21 decision last season in the Superdome. There’s one rather large caveat when it comes to that game however. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended all of the 2012 season for his role in the Saints’ Bountygate scandal, and his absence clearly showed as the team stumbled to a 7-9 record. With Payton on the sidelines, the Saints have won 13 in a row at home. It’s safe to say that Cajun food isn’t the only type of home cooking happening down in the Big Easy.
“Dome Sweet Dome” for Kaepernick?
As was referenced above, this will not be Colin Kaepernick’s first game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Besides beating New Orleans in Week 12 of the 2012 regular season, San Francisco returned to the Superdome two months later to play Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII. Now while the 49ers came up short against the Ravens, Kaepernick played pretty well in both of these games and perhaps the somewhat familiar surroundings can help jumpstart what has been a very inconsistent 2013 campaign for the athletic, dual-threat quarterback. In two games at the Superdome last season, Kaepernick was 32-of-53 passing (60.4 percent) for 533 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and he also rushed 13 times for 89 yards (6.8 ypc) and two scores. Those numbers may not jump off of the page, but they are considerably better than what he’s been averaging this season. In nine games, Kaepernick has a total of 12 touchdowns (9 pass, 3 rush) to go along with nine turnovers (5 INTs, 4 fumbles). He is completing 56.4 of his passes for an average of only 186.1 yards per game and his rushing average is down (5.8 ypc compared to 6.6 in 2012) as well. The 49ers are still winning games, but they are dead last in the NFL in passing offense. Can Kaepernick rediscover last season’s form in the dome? It remains to be seen, but two potential obstacles in the way are the absences of wide receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Crabtree is recovering from a torn Achilles he sustained in late March and while he is closer to returning, he is considered a longshot at best to play this afternoon. Meanwhile, Davis sustained a concussion last week and will need to pass the mandatory tests before he is cleared to face the Saints. In the Super Bowl loss to the Ravens in February, Crabtree and Davis combined for 11 catches, 213 yards and a touchdown. So while it may be a familiar scene for Kaepernick this afternoon, he likely won’t see the same faces when he drops back and scans the field for an open target.
Which Defense Stands Tall?
San Francisco is sixth in the NFL in total defense and fourth in scoring defense, which is not a surprise to anyone who closely follows the league. However, it’s New Orleans’ defense that’s opening many people’s eyes in 2013, as the Saints are just behind the 49ers in both categories. First-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has done nothing short of a miracle in turning around a unit that set an NFL record for yards allowed (7,042) last season into one of the league’s stingiest in 2013. Statistically speaking, only seven total yards and eight points separate these two defenses. The 49ers have done a little better job stopping the run, while the Saints are giving up less than 200 yards passing per game. The Saints’ defense has been at its best at home, using its attacking style to create pressure (29 sacks, tied for 8th in the NFL) and force teams to make mistakes (15 takeaways). The 49ers have allowed more than 300 yards passing to a team just once and that was Green Bay back in Week 1. On the road, San Francisco’s defense is yielding 291 yards and less than 17 points per contest. New Orleans’ high-powered offense will no doubt be one of the toughest tests San Francisco has faced this season, but the reality is that even if the 49ers’ defense is able to slow down Drew Brees and company, the Saints’ stop-unit could have just as much say, if not more, in the outcome of this game.
San Francisco Key Player: Frank Gore, RB
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been very inconsistent as a passer this season, putting more pressure on Gore to carry the load on the ground. The veteran workhorse is sixth in the NFL in rushing with 700 yards and tied for third with seven rushing touchdowns. Gore is averaging 4.3 yards per carry this season and, not surprisingly, has been instrumental in the 49ers’ success. In the team’s six wins, Gore is averaging 86.7 yards rushing per game. That drops to 60 yards per contest when the 49ers lose, and all seven of Gore’s rushing touchdowns have come in victories. As well as New Orleans’ defense has played this season, teams have said some success running the ball (117.7 rushing ypg). The 49ers obviously need Kaepernick to be more productive when he drops back to throw, and a strong game from Gore could go a long ways towards making his quarterback’s job easier.
New Orleans Key Player: Mark Ingram, RB
The Saints are more known for their passing attack, but that doesn’t mean head coach Sean Payton totally ignores the ground game. New Orleans is 23rd in the NFL in rushing offense at 97.8 yards per game, but posted a season-high 242 yards in last week’s 49-17 rout of Dallas. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles have been the primary ball carriers this season, but it was Ingram who broke out in a big way against the Cowboys. Prior to this past Sunday night, Ingram had totaled 50 yards rushing on 21 carries (2.4 ypc), as a toe injury and ineffectiveness had limited him to just three games. Against Dallas, Ingram exploded for 145 yards on just 14 carries (10.4 ypc) running over Cowboy defenders and refusing to let the first would-be tackler bring him down, looking every bit of the Heisman Trophy winner he was as a sophomore at Alabama in 2009. The Saints don’t need 100-plus yards out of Ingram every game, although they will gladly take it. They just need their 2011 first-round pick to be the between-the-tackles runner they drafted him to be. When effective, Ingram is the powerful, punishing rusher that rounds out the Saints’ talented backfield trio. In other words, a productive Ingram gives head coach Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael yet another weapon to play with, which is pretty much the last thing an opposing defensive coordinator wants to worry about.
This game could have serious playoff implications by the time the dust settles in the NFC. New Orleans is trying to stay ahead of Carolina in the NFC South, while San Francisco can ill afford another loss with NFC West-leading Seattle already three games up on the 49ers in the win column. San Francisco may be the defending NFC champs, but this is a team still searching for its identity on offense, while the Saints have shown they are much more than just Drew Brees throwing the ball all over the field.
The Saints have been near unstoppable at home this season and while I don’t expect Brees and company to march down the field at will; I do think Sean Payton and his quarterback will be able to find some plays that work against the 49ers’ defense. On the other side of the ball, the Saints’ defense adds to Collin Kaepernick’s woes, as the 49ers lose their second game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in a span of less than 10 months.
New Orleans 24, San Francisco 20
Fortune is strange in college football.
The last time Georgia encountered Nick Marshall, the Bulldogs had dismissed the then-cornerback and two teammates. Marshall went to junior college and reinvented his career as a quarterback before Auburn decided to take another chance on a JUCO signal caller cut loose by an SEC school.
Marshall’s transformation into a top-notch SEC quarterback has been evident for several weeks, but the lucky bounces off the hands of a Georgia defensive back — a member of his former position group, mind you — will set up a winner-take-all Iron Bowl for the SEC West.
On the other side of the country, fortune favored Ed Orgeron in ways also only seen in college football. At Ole Miss in 2007, a failed fourth-and-1 gamble in the fourth quarter of the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State resulted in a loss that ultimately spelled the end for the colorful Orgeron in Oxford.
Six years later, Orgeron only became a head coach again because his boss at USC, Lane Kiffin, had been fired midseason. Orgeron, who was 3-21 in the SEC, reinvented his coaching career with an undefeated start at USC, but, like Marshall, his career came full circle Saturday.
Faced with a fourth-and-2 at Stanford’s 48, Orgeron and USC called for a pass play to the hobbled receiver Marqise Lee. Orgeron’s team, this time, converted, setting up the game-winning field goal attempt that delivered a thrilling win that had become all too rare at USC.
As Auburn’s win set up the most anticipated Iron Bowl since at least the Cam Newton era and probably decades before that, USC’s win changed the national championship race.
Stanford is out of the discussion as the top one-loss team, and Oregon is back in control of the Pac-12 North. Thanks to a coach that a was more or less a cartoon character a month ago.
As we saw yet again in this sport, fortune is strange.
Three and Out: College Football Week 12 Recap
Three Things We Learned from Auburn 43, Georgia 38
This was the play of the year. Marshall’s Miracle. The Prayer on the Plains. Ricardo’s Ricochet. Hail Aubie. Whatever nickname it gets, Ricardo Louis’ 73-yard touchdown catch off the hands of two Georgia defenders will be one of the most memorable plays in Auburn history. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall had thrown 16 passes in the previous three games combined as the Tigers dominated with the ground game. Winning a game on a pass play never seemed likely. But in a year when Auburn went from 3-9 to 10-1, anything his possible.
The Iron Bowl is going to be wild. The state of Alabama has two weeks to contemplate the possibilities of a winner-take-all Iron Bowl for the SEC West with Alabama’s national championship hopes on the line. The win sets up the first Alabama-Auburn game with both teams in the top six since 1994 when No. 4 Alabama defeated No. 6 Auburn 21-14. The two teams haven’t met as top-five opponents since 1971. It’s going to be tough to remember Alabama has a game next week. Sorry, Chattanooga.
Aaron Murray’s career has been heartbreaking. Murray will finish his career as the most productive SEC quarterback in a handful of categories. He’s won his share of games, but he’ll always be tied to this game and other close calls. That’s unfortunate because Murray led a great fourth-quarter performance as the Bulldogs battled from down 20 in the final 9:35 on the road. This season has been marked by a rash of injuries on the Bulldogs' offense that caught up with Georgia in losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt, less than a year after an ill-fated final series on the goal line against Alabama in SEC Championship Game. Murray's career will end with records and the Georgia quarterback on the other end of signature moments for other teams.
Three Things We Learned from Oklahoma State 38, Texas 13
Oklahoma State is still a ball-hawking defense. A sign the Cowboys are indeed back to contending for the Big 12 championship is the ball-hawking defense that led the 2011 team. On Saturday, the back end of Oklahoma State’s defense kept Texas quarterback Case McCoy guessing all afternoon. McCoy threw three interceptions, including two picks to Justin Gilbert. A pro prospect at corner, Gilbert returned one of those for a back-breaking 43-yard touchdown.
Clint Chelf has transformed the offense. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy hasn’t handled quarterback conundrums with the most deft touch with the media over the years, but it’s tough to argue he’s made the wrong decisions. Clint Chelf started the opener for Oklahoma State before he was pulled for J.W. Walsh early in the opener. Walsh handled the job for a bit, then struggled, and Gundy gave it back to Chelf against TCU on Oct. 19. Chelf, declared off limits to the media weeks ago due to constant questions about the quarterback derby, looks like he won’t give up the job for the rest of the senior year. In Chelf, Oklahoma State finally has the dual threat it needs — previously Walsh had been labeled the “runner” and Chelf the “passer.” Against Texas, Chelf completed 16 of 22 passes for 197 yards with two touchdowns and an interception while leading the Pokes in rushing (95 yards, two touchdowns). And he did this without his top receiver, Josh Stewart.
Texas’ found something it couldn’t rebound from. The Longhorns came back from two embarrassing losses to BYU and Ole Miss, questions about Mack Brown’s job status and injuries to linebacker Jordan Hicks and quarterback David Ash. Two injuries, though, caught up to the Longhorns this week. The middle of the field was open for Chelf in the run game, thanks in part to the absence of defensive tackle Chris Whaley. And the Texas run game without Johnathan Gray was pedestrian. Texas rushed for 151 yards and averaged 3.5 yards per carry against the Cowboys.
Moving the Chains
Baylor’s depth. Before the last two weeks, Levi Norwood and Shock Linwood were featured players in Baylor’s mop-up efforts in the second half. Now, they are indispensible in Baylor's Big 12 title bid. Norwood entered the game with 19 catches this season, though he did star on punt returns. He did both as Baylor easily erased an early two-touchdown deficit in the 63-34 win over Texas Tech. Linwood, taking a bigger role due to the absence of Tevin Reese, caught seven passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns while adding a punt return for a score. With Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin out for a second game, Linwood rushed for 187 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
Cody Kessler and Marqise Lee, USC. The Trojans offense has been growing to this moment at Stanford, but the transformation from the team that lost to Washington State early in the season remains stark. Then, the passing game was inept, and defending Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee was all but invisible. On Saturday, USC coach Ed Orgeron put the game in their hands, even though Lee was hobbled when he was kicked in the shin earlier in the game. The Stanford run defense was dominant as usual, holding the Trojans to 23 yards on the ground, so it had to come down to the passing game. Kessler was 25 of 37 for 288 yards with a touchdown, including the key fourth-down pass to Lee that set up the game-winning field goal.
Duke’s miracle season. It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving and Duke controls its own fate for the ACC championship game. The Blue Devils defeated Miami for the first time since 1976 with a 48-30 victory that went back-and-forth until the final quarter. David Cutcliffe’s incredible turnaround at Duke is well-established, but here are a few more notables: Duke has won eight games for only the 14th time in school history. And with road trips to Wake Forest and North Carolina to round out the season, Duke could win 10 games during the regular season. The Blue Devils have never won more than nine games in school history. The only coach to win nine games at Duke was Wallace Wade in the 30s and 40s.
Ohio State. No, it might not be fair to be critical of a team that won 60-35, but Urban Meyer has been careful to show us how dominant the Buckeyes can be in routs of Penn State and Purdue. It's time to highlight an Ohio State team that was far from perfect. A better team than Illinois on Saturday may have been able to take advantage of Ohio State’s miscues. Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller opened the game with a 70-yard touchdown run as Ohio State scored the first 28 points. Illinois narrowed the lead to two touchdowns in the third quarter. Ohio State built another big lead, but Illinois again narrowed the game to a two-score game with 8:49 to go. The game turned into a rout, but Ohio State was happy to leave the door open.
Related: Illinois coach Tim Beckman exchanges words with offensive coordinator
Nebraska’s turnovers. The Cornhuskers crawled back in the second quarter against Michigan State, narrowing a 20-7 halftime deficit to 27-21 entering the fourth. The undoing for Nebraska wasn’t its defense, for once. Instead, it was five turnovers (four fumbles and an interception) as Michigan State never gave the ball away in a 41-28 win that kept the Spartans in control of the Big 12 Legends.
The Big 12’s imports. Texas A&M and Missouri have been major success stories in the SEC. Their replacements in the Big 12 have not. West Virginia and TCU went 0-for-the state of Kansas on Saturday, with both ending bowl streaks. The Mountaineers will miss the postseason for the first time since 2001 thanks to an embarrassing loss to Kansas, and TCU lost 33-31 to Kansas State to miss a bowl for the first time since 2004. Both teams have dealt with injuries and key losses, but identical 6-11 records in the Big 12 probably aren’t what they had in mind. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was particularly frank:
Holgo: "This program's not equipped to handle wear and tear of the Big 12."— Allan Taylor (@AllanTaylorWVU) November 16, 2013
Jameis Winston, Florida State. The investigation surrounding a sexual assault complaint against Winston will continue to cast a shadow over the quarterback. On the field, though, Winston had a rebound game of sorts, completing his first 10 passes in the 59-3 rout of Syracuse. Winston completed 19 of 21 passes for 277 yards and was interception-free for the first time in five games.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon. The performance Saturday says Mariota’s knee is still an issue. The Ducks quarterback carried only four times for 11 yards against Utah, but he rebounded from the loss to Stanford with a standout passing day. Mariota completed 19 of 26 passes for 288 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Despite the injury, Mariota is maintaining a ludicrous 25-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ration. Helping his case is the possibility of getting into the Pac-12 championship game thanks to the Stanford loss.
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. When the Huskies faced Ball State on Thursday, Northern Illinois hadn’t faced a bowl-bound team since the opener against Iowa. Lynch answered the call in a marquee game against another MAC contender by completing 26 of 32 passes for 345 yards with two touchdowns and rushing for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Lynch led two unanswered scoring drives to give NIU a 48-27 win. Lynch has completed 80 percent of his passes with 14 total touchdowns in his last three games.
Colorado 41, Cal 24
FAU 41, Southern Miss 7
Memphis 23, USF 10
Three Close Calls
Alabama 20, Mississippi State 7
Louisville 20, Houston 13
South Carolina 19, Florida 14
QB Recruits Who Can’t Arrive Soon Enough
David Blough, Purdue
William Crest, West Virginia
Will Grier, Florida
Three Angry Coaches
Tim Beckman, Illinois
Will Muschamp, Florida
Mark Richt, Georgia
Best Games Next Week
Arizona State at UCLA
Texas A&M at LSU
Baylor at Oklahoma State
1,118. Wisconsin rushing yards against Indiana the last two seasons. The most lopsided series in the Big Ten in recent years? Why not Wisconsin-Indiana. The Badgers rushed for 554 yards in a 51-3 win over Indiana on Saturday, giving the Badgers 1,118 rushing yards against the Hoosiers in the last two meetings. Four different Badgers have had a combined five 100-yard games against Indiana the last two years.
228.3. Nebraska’s rushing average the last three years against Michigan State. For whatever reason, Michigan State’s stifling run defense hasn’t been able to corral Nebraska since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten. Michigan State allowed 182 rushing yards to Nebraska on Saturday, nearly twice as much as the season-high against the Spartans all year. Nebraska is the only opponent in the last 15 games to top 100 yards rushing against the Spartans, and the Cornhuskers have done it twice.
Buried on the Depth Chart
Cincinnati in AAC contention. The Bearcats quietly remain in contention for the American’s BCS bid after demolishing Rutgers 56-17 to move to 5-1 in the league. The Bearcats’ passing game is peaking at the right time as three Cincinnati passers combined to pass for 507 yards and six touchdowns against the Scarlet Knights. Cincinnati finishes the season against Houston and Louisville and does not face UCF this season. The Bearcats would have loved to watch UCF lose to Temple on Saturday, but Cincinnati should kick itself for losing by 6 to lowly USF on Oct. 5. In the event of a two-way tie between UCF and Cincinnati, the highest-ranked team in the BCS would get the automatic bid. That assumes a Bearcats win over Louisville in the season finale.
North Carolina. On balance, the season will be a disappointment for North Carolina after the Tar Heels started 1-5. Still, North Carolina is alive for the postseason after defeating Pittsburgh 34-27 for its fourth consecutive win. The game-winning touchdown came in unorthodox fashion as Ryan Switzer returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown — his second of the game — with 4:46 to go. The Tar Heels will get to six wins if they can beat either Old Dominion or Duke.
Washington State. The Cougars picked up their third Pac-12 road win of the season with a 24-17 victory over Arizona on Saturday, putting Wazzu one win away from bowl eligibility. This season has become, more or less, what a handful of preseason pickers (including Athlon) thought 2012 would be for Mike Leach at Washington State. On Saturday, Arizona was sloppy with two fumbles and two missed field goals, but Washington State finally looked like a competent team on both sides of the ball. The Cougars will need to beat either Utah at home or Washington on the road to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2002.
Three Reasons for Fans to Go Bonkers
Kansas’ long wait for a Big 12 win. After a 31-19 win over West Virginia, Kansas students stormed the field. For many, it was the first time they had seen the Jayhawks beat a Big 12 team. The win ended Kansas’ 27-game losing streak to Big 12 teams and was the first KU win over a team in the current Big 12 lineup since Oct. 10, 2009 against Iowa State. The Jayhawks have watched early leads and competitive games slip away this year, but this one wasn’t even close. Kansas led by 10 at halftime, rushed for 315 yards and led by as much as 24 until the final five minutes.
Maryland in a bowl game. Terrapins coach Randy Edsall jumped around on the field after quarterback C.J. Brown ran in a touchdown in overtime, reveling with good reason. Maryland’s 27-24 win over Virginia Tech makes the Terrapins bowl eligible for the first time during a star-crossed tenure under Edsall. The Terps went 2-10 in his first season and had so many quarterback injuries last year that a linebacker finished the year at the position. The issues continued this year when the productive receiving duo of Stefon Diggs and Deon Long were lost for the season in the same game against Wake Forest against Oct. 19. Maryland probably hoped to be more of a factor in the ACC this season, but an eight-win regular season isn’t out of the question with remaining games against Boston College at home and NC State on the road.
This Catch from UCF. The Knights, who remain in the lead for the American’s automatic BCS bid, really had no business having to fight for a win over a one-win Temple team. But that’s the way it ended up as Temple took a 36-29 lead with 2:04 left. Blake Bortles completed this miracle 30-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Worton to tie the game with 1:06 remaining. After Temple’s quick three-and-out, UCF got the ball back and completed a 64-yard pass play to set up the 24-yard field goal to win 39-36.
Three Big-Time Runners
Andre Williams, Boston College. Williams’ season has been under-the-radar for anyone outside of ACC territory. That should change. Williams rushed for 339 yards and two touchdowns on 42 carries in the 38-21 win over NC State on Saturday, giving him an ACC-record 1,810 rushing yards this season. With three regular season games and a bowl to play, Williams is going to shatter the previous ACC record held by Virginia’s Thomas Jones (1,798 yards in 1999).
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State. Hyde rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries against Illinois, becoming the fifth tailback to top 200 yards against the Illini defense. Hyde joins Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Penn State’s Bill Belton, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Washington’s Bishop Sankey. That list includes 200-yard backs in three consecutive games.
Dominique Brown, Louisville. Teddy Bridgewater didn’t have an overwhelming performance, so it was up to a former Louisville quarterback to carry the day against Houston. Now a running back, Brown rushed for a career-high 137 yards and two touchdowns, including a huge third quarter. The effort kept Louisville among the one-loss ranks with a 20-13 win over Houston.
The Week 11 injury report reads like a “who’s who” when it comes to the tight end position. Here is the latest injury-related information you need to read before setting your lineup.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Gonzalez hasn’t missed a game since the 2006 season, but that streak (111 games) could come to an end today. Gonzalez has a toe injury that kept him out of practice for basically the entire week. He is listed as Questionable and more than likely will be a game-time decision to face the Buccaneers. The Falcons have several banged up weapons, as wide receiver Harry Douglas also is Questionable and fellow wideout Roddy White has been dealing with injuries all season. Even if he plays, Gonzalez will be limited by the toe injury, so if you plan on starting the future Hall of Famer, don’t count on TE1 production from him.
Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints
Davis sustained a concussion last week against Carolina, but he appears on track to play this afternoon. He is listed as Questionable and was limited in practice, but barring a setback, he is expected to be on the field. Davis has emerged as Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target over the past month or so, so the 49ers desperately need him in the lineup. There’s always a risk when it comes to someone who sustained a concussion, and the 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff adds to it in this case, but the potential reward in playing Davis should outweigh the risk, unless you have another viable starting option.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers
Graham’s plantar fasciitis won’t be completely healed until after the season, but unlike the past few weeks, he is listed as Probable for today’s big game against San Francisco. The 49ers’ defense is among the best in the NFL, but Graham has shown that’s he the best at his position and he doesn’t have to be 100 percent to be productive. Start him with confidence.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers (Mon.)
Gronkowski continues to be limited in practice due to several injuries, but the Patriots are coming off of their bye, so in some ways Gronk should be as healthy as he’s been in a while. He is listed as Probable for Monday night’s tilt with Carolina and Gronk will be needed against a Panthers defense that is second in the NFL in both yards and points allowed. There’s no question you start Gronk, just don’t be surprised if he doesn’t put up huge numbers.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Chicago Bears vs. Baltimore Ravens
Bennett was a late add to the injury report after not practicing at all on Thursday and being limited on Friday because of an ankle injury. He is Questionable and most likely will be a game-time decision today. The early game time (1 p.m. ET) will help, but he has just one touchdown in his last seven games, so maybe it would be best to just leave Bennett on the bench this week.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns
Gresham missed the last game because of a groin injury, but he was back at practice this week and is listed as Probable. The interesting thing to see is if he and Tyler Eifert will go back to a timeshare or if Eifert will get the majority of the targets. Last week, Eifert got a season-high nine targets, catching three of them for 55 yards. Eifert probably carries a little more upside than Gresham, but as long as both of them are sharing the targets, they are very hard to trust from a production standpoint.
Already Ruled Out
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings – Rudolph will miss several weeks with a fractured foot and John Carlson has already taken advantage of the additional playing time. Last week against Washington, Carlson led the Vikings with nine catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. Seattle’s defense is tough, especially at home, but that doesn’t mean that Carlson still can’t catch enough balls to produce. He’s certainly a viable replacement option if you own Rudolph and belongs in the TE2 conversation.
A certain sprained ankle may be getting all the attention entering Week 11, but that’s not the only quarterback injury you need to know about. Athlon Sports has the latest on the quarterback injury front around the NFL.
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans
This one is a bit of a surprise. Pryor was listed as Questionable on the Friday injury report with a knee injury, but he was downgraded to Out on Saturday afternoon. Matt McGloin, an undrafted rookie from Penn State, will make his first career NFL start against Houston, which owns the NFL’s No. 1 passing defense. Forget about McGloin’s fantasy outlook, those who own wide receiver Denarius Moore should be concerned about the possibility of minimal fantasy production and may want to consider starting someone else in his place.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs
This is the most-watched ankle in the world. Manning was limited in practice this week because of a high ankle sprain, but he is listed as Probable and there’s no doubt he will take the field tonight against the undefeated Chiefs. The bumps and bruises are starting to pile up somewhat for the 37-year-old quarterback, so it’s critical that he get rid of the ball quickly and the Broncos’ offensive line do its job against the NFL’s most disruptive and productive pass rush.
Jason Campbell, QB, Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Campbell is dealing with some bruised ribs, but Cleveland is coming off of its bye and he was a full practice participant all week. He is Probable and will get the start against the Bengals. Believe it or not, Campbell may be worth a look if you need a replacement or are in a 2-QB league. Cincinnati’s defense is pretty good, but Campbell has five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games, one of which was against Kansas City.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
Ponder dislocated his non-throwing shoulder in last week’s win over Washington, but he is listed as Probable and on track to start today. However, considering today’s matchup with the Seahawks on their home turf, there’s no guarantee that Ponder will finish the game and it’s probably best to steer clear of him this week.
Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins
Vick got in some practice time this week and has actually improved from last week’s Doubtful designation to Questionable. That said, Nick Foles is fully expected to get the start against the Redskins, as he has 10 touchdown passes in his last two games. There’s no reason for the Eagles to risk Vick re-injuring his hamstring (again) with the bye week on tap in Week 12. If anything, Foles has made a pretty strong argument for keeping the starting gig even after Vick is back to 100 percent health, and Foles is definitely a bona fide starting option, even in shallow leagues, against a generous Washington defense.
Also Ruled Out
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears – As expected, Cutler will miss today’s game against Baltimore because of the high ankle sprain he sustained last week. Josh McCown will get the start and he has been impressive in his limited playing time, throwing for 538 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in three games. McCown is definitely in the bye week fill-in or 2-QB league conversation for this week.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers – Rodgers will miss his second game because of a broken collarbone. Seneca Wallace got the start last week, but he suffered a groin injury and was placed on injured reserve, leaving third-stringer Scott Tolzien as the last healthy Packer quarterback standing. Tolzien will make his first career NFL start today against a New York Giants defense that has been playing very well lately. There are only two teams (Dallas, St. Louis) on bye this week, so even with all of the other QB injuries; I still think you should be able to find a “safer” option than Tolzien to use as your starter.
Atlanta, Buffalo and the New York Jets have banged up wide receiving corps entering Week 11. Here’s the latest injury-related information on those wide receivers and a few others to help you get your lineup ready.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Jackson was limited during Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury, but was able to go full speed on both Thursday and Friday. He is listed as Probable and could post some pretty nice numbers against Atlanta. The Falcons have struggled on defense this season and Jackson caught a season-high 10 passes for 138 yards and two scores against them the first time they played. It pretty much goes without saying, but VJax is a legitimate WR1.
Harry Douglas and Roddy White, WRs, Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Injuries have not been kind to the Falcons this season. Already without All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, Matt Ryan’s current favorite targets – Douglas and tight end Tony Gonzalez – are both Questionable. Douglas is dealing with a knee injury and his only practice participation this week was a limited appearance on Friday. He’s probably a game-time decision, although the early kickoff (1 p.m. ET) should allow for enough time to make up your mind on Douglas. White (right), on the other hand, is Probable, so for the first time in many weeks his playing status seems pretty clear. Production is still an issue, but Douglas’ potential absence and Gonzalez’ uncertain availability could mean more targets for White. All in all, this is not shaping up to be a promising situation for anyone who has an Atlanta offensive player in their lineup.
Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks vs. Minnesota Vikings
It took a while, but Harvin is on track to make his much-anticipated season debut for the Seahawks. Harvin is considered Probable and it’s only fitting that his first game will come against his former team. There’s no denying Harvin’s talent and potential, but he’s coming back from offseason hip surgery and hasn’t played in over a year, so if you are planning on starting him this week, be sure to temper your expectations.
Greg Jennings, WR, Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
Jennings was limited in practice this week because of a strained Achilles tendon, but he is listed as Probable and should play today. The bigger concern when it comes to Jennings is his lack of production (34 rec., 2 TDs), the matchup against Seattle’s 2nd-ranked passing defense and the fact that his quarterback, Christian Ponder, is dealing with a dislocated (non-throwing) shoulder. Put it all together and you have one risky fantasy play.
Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill, WRs, New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
The Jets have had to deal with injuries to their wide receiving corps for a good part of the season and this week is no different. The good news is that Holmes, who has missed the last five games because of a hamstring injury, is Probable and expected to return today. Hill is dealing with a foot injury, but he too is Probable, while Kerley has already been ruled Out because of a dislocated elbow. Even with Holmes’ return, it’s very hard for me to endorse any Jets wide receivers right now. For one, the Jets have been employing the committee approach, as David Nelson and Greg Salas have also been factors in recent weeks. Second, quarterback Geno Smith is still trying to get acclimated to the pro game, as the Jets are just 26th in the NFL in passing offense and have a total of eight touchdown passes in nine games.
Already Ruled Out
Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods, WRs, Buffalo Bills – EJ Manuel will be without his top two wide receivers against the Jets, as Johnson (groin) and Woods (ankle) have both been ruled out for today. T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin should get the start in their absence, but both probably carry more risk than reward if you are considering employing them this week.
At this point of the season very few fantasy relevant wide receivers aren’t dealing with some sort of bump or bruise. Are any of these injuries serious enough to prevent them from taking the field in Week 11?
Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, WRs, Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers
Johnson’s knee injury is still enough of an issue that he missed two days of practice this week. Still with a Probable designation, there’s no reason to not expect him to suit up against the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s pass defense has been pretty good this season, but this is Megatron we are taking about. As long he is playing, you are starting Johnson. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Burleson will be lining up alongside him. Despite practicing the past two weeks for the first time since breaking his forearm in September, Burleson is considered Doubtful. Whether he’s still not healthy enough to get back on the field or the coaching staff just doesn’t think he’s ready, don’t count on Burleson this week. This means that Kris Durham will serve as the Lions’ No. 2 wide receiver, making him a possible WR3/WR4/flex option against the Steelers.
Cecil Shorts and Mike Brown, WRs, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Arizona Cardinals
Shorts (right) is still dealing with a lingering groin injury, which is impacting his ability to practice. He is listed as Probable, so there’s no reason to not expect him to play, but he also faces a pretty tough matchup this week in Cardinals’ cornerback Patrick Peterson. Shorts is the Jaguars’ No. 1 target, but quantity may not equal quality this week. Brown is dealing with an ankle injury, but he’s also Probable and should play. He has yet to take full advantage of replacing a suspended Justin Blackmon as the starter opposite Shorts, so it’s hard to expect that to change this week against a solid Arizona passing defense.
Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts, WRs, Arizona Cardinals at Jacksonville Jaguars
Floyd injured his shoulder last week and is listed as Questionable. He was limited in practice both Thursday and Friday, but head coach Bruce Arians said he expects Floyd to play. Roberts is dealing with a knee injury, but he is Probable, making him more of a certainty than Floyd. The Cardinals haven’t exactly thrived in the passing game this season and everyone knows that Larry Fitzgerald is the No. 1 target. Floyd is the No. 2 wideout with Roberts serving as the slot receiver. Floyd and Roberts more or less compete for looks behind Fitzgerald, so unless Floyd is ruled out prior to kickoff (1 p.m. ET), he and Roberts appear to be very risky options this week.
Mike Wallace, WR, Miami Dolphins vs. San Diego Chargers
Wallace is listed as Questionable because of a hamstring injury, but he said he fully expects to play, barring a setback. The later kickoff time (4:05 p.m. ET) complicates matters somewhat, especially considering Wallace’s general lack of production. The highly paid vertical threat has two 100-yard games and just one TD catch in his first season in a Dolphins uniform. Already relegated to WR2/WR3 status, it may not be worth the headache to wait long enough to see if Wallace suits up against the Chargers.
Eddie Royal, WR, San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins
Royal is making a habit out of not practicing during the week yet still playing come Sunday. Royal’s toe injury continues to prevent him from practicing and has resulted in a Questionable designation for the fourth straight week. However, Royal has yet to miss a game, so it seems likely this pattern will continue. Royal’s value is clearly tied to his ability to get in the end zone (7 TD catches), so keep that in mind should you decide to roll the dice once again with a “hobbled” Royal.
Several workhorse running backs are nursing injuries entering Week 11. Are any in danger of not playing today?
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
Peterson did not participate in practice on Thursday or Friday, as the Vikings wanted to give him extra time to rest his sore groin. He is Probable and expected to be ready to go for this afternoon. If you own Peterson you’re playing him, even if he is matched up against Seattle’s physical defense. The Seahawks have had some issues with their run defense recently, and there’s no doubt Peterson is capable of taking advantage should these problems continue.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Arizona Cardinals
MJD missed some practice time this week because of a knee injury, but he was a full go on Friday and is considered Probable. It has been a struggle for Jones-Drew this season, averaging just 3.0 yards per carry, but he’s in absolutely no danger of losing any of his touches. The Cardinals are third in the NFL in rushing defense, so don’t be surprised if it’s another disappointing day at the office for MJD.
Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans vs. Oakland Raiders
Tate’s broken ribs still haven’t healed completely, but he is listed as Probable and will get the start today. Dennis Johnson will get a few carries, but Tate is the Texans’ primary back for the rest of the season and is pretty much a must-start.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins
Mathews is on the injury report with a hamstring issue, but he was able to practice fully on Friday and is considered Probable. After posting back-to-back 100-yard games in the two games prior to the Chargers’ Week 8 bye, Mathews has rushed for a total of 93 yards in his last two outings. He has scored a touchdown in two of his last three games, but Danny Woodhead is very much a part of the offensive game plan, so Mathews’ value is no more than a RB2 with upside.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers
Jacobs must be improving, because he is Questionable this week after being Doubtful and missing his third game in a row last week. It really doesn’t matter if Jacobs plays or not, as Andre Brown has replaced Jacobs as the primary ball carrier and Brown is the Giant back you want to own.
Already Ruled Out
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders – McFadden will miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury. This is good news for Rashad Jennings owners, as he has 283 total yards in his last two games. The going may be a little tougher today against Houston, but considering the Raiders will be starting rookie Matt McGloin instead of Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, Jennings is probably the only Raider you would even consider starting.
Done For the Season
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans – Injured reserve (back)
Mike James, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Injured reserve (broken ankle)
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Injured reserve (shoulder)
David Wilson, RB, New York Giants – Injured reserve (neck)
A play that will go down in SEC lore as one of the greatest in college football history. Down by one point and facing a fourth and 18, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall heaved a desperation pass that was deflected by two Georgia defenders into the arms of Tigers receiver Ricardo Lewis for a 73-yard touchdown pass to give Auburn a 43-38 win. The Tigers gave up 21 straight points in the fourth quarter, capped by an Aaron Murray touchdown run that was allowed to stand after video review.
Thanks to Marshall’s Miracle, Auburn will go into the Iron Bowl against Alabama in two weeks with the SEC West on the line. Here’s the play...
And here’s the reaction of the Georgia sideline, courtesy of @BrianMFloyd...
Texas Tech receiver Eric Ward gave the Red Raiders a 21-7 lead over Baylor with this nifty one-handed grab on Saturday:
College football has produced its share of awesome catches in 2013, but UCF’s J.J. Worton might have made the grab of the year against Temple in Week 12.
Worton’s touchdown catch might have saved the Knights’ BCS bowl hopes, as this score allowed UCF to tie the game and eventually kick the game winning field goal on the next drive.
Oklahoma started slow but finished fast in Saturday’s 48-10 win over Iowa State.
The Sooners had a few highlights on the field, but the best play of the day might be a tackle by a state trooper. A fan ran onto the field and was completely blindsided by the state trooper.
Perfect form on the tackle, and most importantly, he avoided the dreaded 15-yard penalty and ejection for targeting.
Illinois’ lost its 20th straight Big Ten game, dropping a 60-35 matchup to Ohio State. As if the losing wasn’t enough, head coach Tim Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit had to be separated following an argument on the sidelines.
Of course, things like this happen all of the time during the season, but Beckman is on the hot seat, and this is another bad moment in his tenure.
ILLINI COACHES HAVING WORDS pic.twitter.com/UEU7gTH8hM— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) November 16, 2013
Washington quarterback Keith Price was forced to exit Friday’s loss to UCLA with a shoulder injury, and his status for next week’s game against Oregon State is uncertain.
Price’s x-ray was negative, but the senior will have a MRI performed to discover the extend of the injury.
Price left during the first half, but prior to his injury, the senior completed 10 of 18 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown.
In his absence, Cyler Miles completed 15 of 22 throws for 149 yards and two touchdowns. If Price cannot play, Miles would get the start next week.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was sharp in Thursday night’s win over Georgia Tech, completing 20 of 26 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns. Boyd also added 43 yards and one score on the ground.
However, Boyd was injured in the third quarter and did not return to the game.
The senior suffered a bruised sternum and collarbone but avoided a significant injury.
Boyd has some extra time to heal before Clemson’s Nov. 23 scrimmage against Citadel.
Even if Boyd isn’t 100 percent, next Saturday is his final home game and should see a handful of snaps before giving way to Chad Kelly and Cole Stoudt.
Clemson has two weeks to get Boyd healthy for the Nov. 30 showdown against South Carolina.
It’s been a long season for Tim Beckman and Illinois, but the Fighting Illini unveiled some sharp alternate helmets for Saturday’s game against Ohio State.
The helmets feature the outline of the state, with 10 stars representing 10 players who died in combat.
Here are the Illinois’ alternate helmets for Saturday’s game against Ohio State:
SMU plans to wear an alternate helmet for Saturday’s game against UConn, as the Mustangs will switch from a white to red scheme.
Here are the SMU helmets for Saturday’s game against the Huskies:
Here's a look at SMU's helmets for Sat pic.twitter.com/0UGV0yLeBj— Bill Nichols (@BillNicholsDMN) November 15, 2013
Will Muschamp and the 4-5 Florida Gators travel to Columbia to take on Steve Spurrier and 7-2 No. 11 South Carolina Gamecocks in an SEC East showdown at 7:00 pm ET on ESPN2. Suffice to say, this season hasn't gone as Florida fans planned. The Gators are currently in the midst of a four-game losing streak, fresh off back-to-back home losses. Things came to a head last week after an ugly 34-17 home loss to SEC East perennial basement-dweller Vanderbilt. While head coach Will Muschamp's seat is getting much warmer, all indications is that the seven season-ending injuries to starters that the team has endured will be taken into account, and he will likely return next year. However, the Gators need to win two of their final three games to qualify for a bowl game. The last time Florida missed a bowl was South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's debut season at his alma mater. While the Gators finished 6-1 in the league they were ineligible for the postseason and SEC title. With their season finale against second-ranked Florida State, this game will likely determine whether Florida will see the postseason. South Carolina, on the other hand, is still within reach of overtaking SEC East leader Missouri as they sit just a half game back. If the Gamecocks win and the Tigers fail to win their final two games, the Gamecocks will head to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. A lot is on the line for both programs in what will be each team's SEC finale in 2013. The Gamecocks have won 15 straight at Williams-Brice Stadium, but Florida has won 19 of the past 22 games with South Carolina and owns the all-time series lead 24-6-3.
Three Things to Watch
QB Connor Shaw vs. Florida defense
Connor Shaw is 23-5 as South Carolina's starting quarterback, one victory away from tying Todd Ellis for the school's wins record. The senior signal caller has turned in a stellar campaign posting 18 touchdown passes against just one interception. Shaw is also the Gamecocks second leading rusher with 484 yards and three TDs. He faces his stiffest defense of the year as the Gators lead the SEC in overall defense, while they boast of a conference rank of first in passing defense and second in rushing defense. After losing defensive lineman Dominique Easley for the season a few weeks ago, the Gators will be without linebacker Antonio Morrison, who was ruled out for the season earlier this week with a knee injury. Despite the numerous injuries, Florida still ranks 15th in the country in points allowed, giving up 19.3 per game. It is worth noting that the Gators have yet to face a dual-threat quarterback this year, much less one of Shaw's talent.
Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has flashed big-play potential at points this season in completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 1,216 yards and six touchdowns. His problem? Turnovers. He has thrown five interceptions and fumbled three times. He threw a season-high three interceptions and four total turnovers against Vanderbilt. Will Muschamp preaches winning the turnover battle. In going 11-2 last season, the Gators were plus-15 with 30 takeaways. After last week, Florida is now at minus-2, with just 15 takeaways. Additionally, its defense's streak of 19 straight games with forcing a turnover came to an end. On the other end of the spectrum, Shaw has only thrown one interception. To be fair, Shaw has four fumbles and halfback Mike Davis has put the ball on the turf three times. A South Carolina defense that has disappointed this year has only produced 16 turnovers, including five they forced two weeks ago against Mississippi State. The Gamecocks have been on the wrong side of the turnover differential in five of their nine games and are 3-2 in such games.
SEC's Leading Rusher
Running back Mike Davis became the Gamecocks first 1,000-yard rusher in three years in the last game against Mississippi State and has his sights set on the 1,149 yards that Marcus Lattimore gained as a freshman in 2010. Davis leads the SEC in rushing with 1,058 yards and has gone over 100 yards rushing in seven of his nine games. While Florida's rush defense has been impressive this season, it didn't look very strong in the red zone last week, as they allowed Vanderbilt to punch in three rushing touchdowns at the goal line.
Player to Watch: Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Taylor's emergence is one of the few positives that have come from the health problems in Gainesville. After the season-ending injury to Matt Jones, Taylor became the team's premier back. He received his first career start two weeks ago against Georgia, rushing for 76 yards on 20 carries, before his two-touchdown performance last week. Taylor is the centerpiece of the ground-heavy attack utilized by Muschamp and will be even more important if Murphy is out. For the Gators to be able to move the ball, Taylor will have to control the clock and grind on a South Carolina defense, which has shown to be vulnerable against the power run.
Injuries have destroyed Florida's mojo and with Tyler Murphy unlikely to play, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the Florida offense can put up more than 20 points on Saturday. The Gators haven't missed out on a bowl game in 23 years and haven't had a losing season in 27 years. This will be the year both of those streaks will be broken. The Gamecocks will roll at home behind Shaw and Davis.
Prediction: South Carolina 35, Florida 17
Stanford is fresh off one of the program's biggest wins in recent memory as they defeated the No. 2 Oregon Ducks 26-20. Despite the score, the game wasn't very close, as the Cardinal dominated the double-digit favorites from the opening whistle. Stanford piled up 274 rushing yards while holding Heisman frontrunner Marcus Mariota to 250 yards passing and -16 yards rushing. Meanwhile, USC has quietly played back into top 25 consideration as they are 4-1 under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, having reeled off three straight victories by an average margin of victory of 22.3 points. In the last three seasons, the Stanford-USC matchup has been among the most competitive in the Pac-12. The Cardinal won all three games, though they failed to defeat the Trojans by more than one score. The last time the two programs met at the Coliseum was in 2011, when the game was decided by a USC fumble in the endzone in triple overtime. This is the 92nd overall meeting between these two early members of what was once the Pacific Coast Conference. USC holds a 59-29-3 record over Stanford since they began playing in 1905.
Three Things to Watch
Tre Madden & Company
The Trojans boast a four-headed monster of Madden, Justin Davis, Javorius Allen and Silas Redd. Madden leads the team with 671 rushing yards and four receiving touchdowns. Allen leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns and averages a team-best 7.9 yards per rush. Allen has been serving as the featured back as of late, as he 268 yards on 22 carries with five touchdowns in the Trojans' last two games at Oregon State and California. Davis is no slouch either, with six rushing touchdowns on 6.8 yards a touch. The four backs average a staggering 5.8 yards per carry and account for 70 percent of all USC touchdowns. It's unlikely the Trojans will be able to put up those types of numbers against the stingy, aggressive Stanford defense led by linebacker Shayne Skov. The Cardinal allow a conference-low 98.7 rushing yards per game and held Oregon to 62 rushing yards, which marks the Ducks' lowest total on the ground since September 2009.
Stanford Power Run vs. USC Front Seven
Last week, the Cardinal rushed the ball 66 times for 274 yards. In the fourth quarter, Stanford didn't attempt a single pass and actually ended the game with 21 straight rushing attempts. The Cardinal is unquestionably the best team in the nation at controlling the clock. Against Oregon, they had scoring drives of 5:59, 4:58, 8:26, 7:33, 4:27 and a 7:59 drive that ended in a blocked field goal. All in all, Stanford controlled the ball for 42 of the 60 minutes thanks to two 21-play drives, a 14-play drive, a 12-play drive and two 8-play drives. If the Stanford offensive line is able to push around the USC defense line like they did with Oregon, then expect much of the same from the Cardinal this week. Tyler Gaffney, the undisputed bell-cow of the Cardinal offense, had 45 rushing attempts versus Oregon, breaking the Stanford record for rushes in a single game. The previous record was 39 by Tommy Vardell in 1991 versus California. The senior is third in the Pac-12 with 1,043 yards while averaging 4.9 per carry with 14 total touchdowns. He's reached the end zone seven times in the past four games, including a 2-yard plunge against Oregon. USC has been successful in past years against Stanford due to its strong core of defense lineman. While their defensive front isn't as deep this year, defensive lineman Leonard Williams and outside linebacker Devon Kennard lead a Trojan defense that hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown since September and is capable of causing some trouble for Stanford's offensive line. Still, Stanford is one of the most physical teams in college football, boasting a deep and stout offensive line.
Hogan vs. Kessler
Both quarterbacks have benefitted from the success of their respective running games, as neither signal caller has been asked to do too much the past few weeks. Kessler attempted just 17 passes last week, while Hogan dropped back a mere 13 times. Still, both have played efficient, smart football. While neither has thrown for 300 yards in any one game, each is completing over 60 percent of their passes and have at least a 2 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio. Hogan will look to wide receiver Ty Montgomery early and often, as the junior wideout has caught 35 percent of Hogan's completions. In fact, nobody else on the Stanford offense has more than 21 receptions. Meanwhile, Kessler has been much better about spreading the ball around. Kessler looks deep to either one of his two dynamic receivers in Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, while making smart check-downs to his halfbacks. In fact, Kessler has thrown six touchdowns to running backs, while still having two receivers with multiple 60+ yard touchdown receptions. When the running game stalls, whatever quarterbacks steps up and makes a few plays with his arm will walk out of the Coliseum with a big conference win.
Key Player: Nelson Agholor, WR/PR, USC
Agholor had two of USC's NCAA-record tying three punt returns for touchdowns as he started the scoring for the Trojans with a 75-yard return and added a 93-yarder late in the second quarter. Agholor has always been an explosive weapon in the passing game as he averages 18 yards per catch and has 11 receptions of 30+ yards. Against a team like Stanford who rarely makes mistakes, the mercurial Agholor becomes an x-factor for his ability to turn the momentum of a game at a moment's notice.
While many are quick to point at that Stanford could come out flat after such a big win last week, let's remember that David Shaw led this team a Pac-12 crown and a Rose Bowl win after upsetting Oregon a season ago. Last season's squad, which returns essentially the same core group of players, followed up their big win over the Ducks by going into Los Angeles and taking down a good UCLA Bruins team 35-17. Expect both teams to come into this game playing with a sense of purpose and passion. With a win, Stanford can all but lock up the Pac-12 North title. USC is still smarting for painful losses to Stanford the pass three seasons, and the Trojans still have a chance at winning the Pac-12 South if they win out and Arizona State drops two of its final three games. These games are always close, so I don't expect the Cardinal to run away with this one. Ultimately, I think Stanford is too reliable and fundamentally sound to experience a major letdown at this point in the season.
Prediction: Stanford 30, USC 21
The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry takes center stage on Saturday, as Georgia travels to Auburn in a pivotal SEC contest. The Bulldogs need to win to keep their SEC East title hopes alive, while the Tigers are riding a six-game winning streak and a victory over Georgia would keep their BCS bowl hopes intact.
The Bulldogs have been hit hard by injuries this year, but Mark Richt’s team received some reinforcements in recent weeks. Running back Todd Gurley played against Florida on Nov. 2, and receiver Michael Bennett also returned to the lineup against the Gators. Two more of quarterback Aaron Murray’s targets may also return against Auburn, as receiver Chris Conley and tight end Arthur Lynch are expected to be game-time decisions.
After a miserable 3-9 record last year, Auburn is still alive in the SEC West, largely due to the hire of Gus Malzahn. The Tigers need to beat Georgia on Saturday to setup a one-game showdown with Alabama for the division title.
The all-time series between Auburn and Georgia is tied at 54 with eight ties. The Bulldogs have won six out of the last seven in this series. The Tigers’ last victory against Georgia was in 2010. The last two matchups between these two teams have been a one-sided affair in favor of the Bulldogs (83-7).
Georgia at Auburn
Kickoff: 3:30 ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Auburn -3
Three Things to Watch
Auburn’s rushing offense vs. Georgia’s rush defense
Auburn’s rushing attack is averaging 278.5 yards per game and has recorded over 400 yards in two out of the last three contests. The Tigers barely used the forward pass in wins over Arkansas and Tennessee, combining for just 16 attempts in those two games. Can that continue on Saturday? Auburn likely needs more balance to beat Georgia, especially since the Bulldogs rank fourth in SEC-only games against the run, limiting opponents to 149.7 yards per contest. Georgia has allowed 15 touchdowns in six SEC games but is holding opponents to just 3.9 yards per carry. Running back Tre Mason leads the Tigers with 1,038 yards and 16 touchdowns. But the Auburn backfield isn’t a one-man show, with quarterback Nick Marshall (7.1 ypc), and running backs Cameron Artis-Payne (6.6 ypc) and Corey Grant (10.1 ypc) expected to get involved. Expect the Bulldogs to stack the box and force the Tigers out of their gameplan.
Aaron Murray’s supporting cast
A key element in Georgia’s losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt were the rash of injuries on offense. Over the last few weeks, the Bulldogs’ injury report has shortened, and quarterback Aaron Murray has a few more weapons at his disposal. Running back Todd Gurley is one of the best in the nation when healthy, and the sophomore has rushed for 175 yards on 30 attempts in his last two games. After a light workload against Appalachian State, Gurley should be closer to full strength. Gurley’s return is huge for an offense that is still shorthanded at receiver, but Michael Bennett is back, and receivers Chris Conley and tight end Arthur Lynch are likely to be gametime decisions. Assuming Conley and Lynch can play, the Bulldogs will have a solid group of options for Murray. However, if Conley and Lynch are limited in any way, Auburn’s defense can shade more of its attention in the secondary on Bennett.
Auburn QB Nick Marshall
In his first year as Auburn’s starting quarterback, Marshall hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s the perfect fit to run Gus Malzahn’s offense. Marshall is only averaging 139 passing yards in SEC games and has tossed five picks to six interceptions. However, the junior has been dynamic on the ground, averaging 7.2 yards per carry in conference play. Marshall only completed three passes against Tennessee, but he rushed for 214 yards and two touchdowns on 14 attempts. In Auburn’s only loss this year, Marshall threw 33 times and tossed two picks. The Tigers are clearly at their best on offense when the ground attack is able to lead the way. If Auburn falls behind, can Marshall pass the offense back into the game?
Key Player: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
It’s a small sample size, but Georgia is 4-0 this season when Gurley rushes for at least 73 yards this year. Even if Gurley may not be 100 percent, his presence is a huge boost for the Bulldogs. The sophomore helps provide balance, and caught a 73-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Murray against Florida. In six conference games, Auburn is allowing an average of 189.2 rushing yards per game. Gurley should be able to find space against the Tigers’ defense, and the Bulldogs should plan to give their sophomore back 25-30 carries.
Week 12 isn’t full of elite matchups, but Auburn-Georgia should be one of the best this Saturday. Both teams have a lot on the line, and with the firepower on the sidelines, a high-scoring affair should be expected. Auburn’s rushing offense has been on fire the last few weeks, but quarterback Nick Marshall will have to throw more for the Tigers to win on Saturday. This one is a tossup, with home-field advantage giving Auburn a slight edge.
Prediction: Auburn 34, Georgia 31