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Here’s the terrifying part of Tuesday night: This is only the early season form for Kentucky and Duke.
November is supposed to be a time when teams are working through lineups and combinations, when freshmen are figuring out their place in the college game.
On Tuesday, Kentucky delivered a dominant team against another top five team, and Duke delivered three freshmen who look ready to roll through the ACC. If what we saw out of Kentucky two lineups and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor on Tuesday is a sign of things to come, we may see both of them again, this time in the same game on another neutral court.
These early games may end up as notches on NCAA Tournament profiles, but they do have a way of setting a tone for the season.
Here’s what we learned from the Champions Classic:
1. Kentucky is perhaps better than we expected
The Wildcats were Athlon’s No. 1 team in the preseason and a near-unanimous No. 1 pick just about everywhere else. On Tuesday, the same people who picked Kentucky No. 1 had their jaws on the ground. Kentucky defeated Kansas, a Big 12 favorite and a top-five team, 72-40. A 32-point win over a team with talent, experience and a shot at the Final Four. We can laugh at the platoon plans for a team that runs 11 and 12 deep, but when it works like it did Tuesday, Kentucky can’t be stopped. All 10 players on the Blue and White platoons scored in each of the first and second half. Think about how wild this is: Kentucky clobbered Kansas with only two players scoring in double figures and none more than 11 points.
2. Kentucky can be a ridiculous defensive team
The absurd stat of the night, of course, goes to Kentucky. The Wildcats had 11 blocks. Kansas had 11 field goals. Kentucky’s length was impenetrable Tuesday as Karl-Anthony Towns and Marcus Lee had four blocks apiece. Not that Kansas was much better on the perimeter. Starting point guard Frank Mason went 1-of-10 from the field, and the Jayhawks shot 3-of-15 from 3-point range. If Kentucky can do this to Kansas, what will it do to the SEC?
3. Jahlil Okafor is living up to his Player of the Year potential
Okafor’s first test against a quality opponent couldn’t have gone much better. Duke’s freshman center did the same to Michigan State has he did to Presbyterian and Fairfield. Okafor was 8-of-10 with 17 points against the Spartans. Michigan State had no answer for Okafor’s rare and elite talent as a low-post big man, not that there’s any shame there. Okafor is an 85-percent shooter this season.
4. Okafor is not alone
Besides Okafor’s 17 points, Duke freshmen Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones combined for 32 points against Michigan State. Winslow was all over the place on the way to 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and a three-pointer. Perhaps more important, Jones at point guard allowed veteran Quinn Cook to play at the two. The pair was expected to compete for time to a degree, so seeing them play together was a good sight for Mike Krzyzewski. Jones and Cook combined for no turnovers and 10 assists.
5. Michigan State has a long way to go
This isn’t a typical Michigan State team. With this roster, the Spartans appeared headed to short-lived NCAA Tournament appearance and a middling finish in the Big Ten. Tuesday only reinforced this. Michigan State got an outstanding effort from Branden Dawson (18 points, 8-of-10 shooting). The Spartans shot 50 percent from the field and got 13 offensive rebounds. And yet, Michigan State never really challenged Duke in a 10-point loss.
The college football playoff selection committee gave us a new catch phrase Tuesday: Game control
That’s why Alabama moved to No. 1 from No. 5. That’s why undefeated Florida State is No. 3. And that’s why TCU won a game and fell from in the bracket to out.
“Game control” is taking the place of what we once would have called style points or margin of victory.
Let committee chair Jeff Long explain:
"It might be considered somewhat subjective," he said. "The committee looks at the game, how the game was played, how close the game was played, whether there were lead changes back and forth, or whether a team was in control from the opening kickoff, or whether they gained control say in the second half and finished out the game.
"It's an evaluation of how the game was played between two teams."
Perhaps this phrase should lend credibility to the selection process even if it can be too much in the eye of the beholder and selectively applied.
Margin of victory can be deceiving. Alabama beat Mississippi State by five Saturday but led 19-0 in the second quarter and by 12 until the final 15 seconds.
Florida State is No. 3 in part because, presumably, it lacks game control. The Seminoles trailed Miami 23-10 at halftime, the fifth time this season FSU needed a second-half comeback to win this season.
TCU, also, lacked game control in a 34-30 win over a three-win Kansas team. The Horned Frogs trailed until late in the third quarter.
In a 12- or 13-game schedule, how a team asserts its dominance matters. Slip ups in what should be easy wins matter.
Yet here’s the problem with a subjective measure described on a weekly basis: While we learned about the concept of game control, Long also cited Mississippi State’s close loss to Alabama and never being out of the game as to why the Bulldogs fell to No. 4 and knocking TCU out of a playoff scenario.
Of course, Week 12 of the season didn’t occur in a vacuum. Mississippi State controlled enough games to be ranked No. 1 last week, and TCU lost game control in the fourth quarter against Baylor for its only loss of the season.
Alabama’s game control for most of the season — save for a 14-13 win over Arkansas and the loss to Ole Miss — is why the Crimson Tide are No. 1.
“While we would say that Alabama controlled that game, it did end up a 5-point game,” selection committe chari Jeff Long said during the ESPN broadcast. “While Alabama controlled it, Mississippi State was in striking distance.”
Despite its close games, Florida State has a flawless record of game control. Couldn’t Ohio State claim game control as it has defeated nearly every Big Ten team on its schedule comfortably? What about Baylor, which exhibited the most game control of any opponent this season against Oklahoma and snatched it away from TCU?
The selection committee is not supposed to reward running up a score, notable because TCU started taking knees on first down from the Kansas 12 rather than adding a second score to a four-point game against a three-win team.
"We don't think controlling the game means adding touchdowns," Long said.
While the idea of game control may make sense on a small scale, the selection committee has stumbled into an area it may have difficulty explaining by the first week of December.
Here’s how the second top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Nov. 18|
|1. Alabama||10. Georgia||18. Georgia Tech|
|2. Oregon||11. Michigan State||19. USC|
|3. Florida State||12. Kansas State||20. Missouri|
|4. Mississippi State||13. Arizona State||21. Oklahoma|
|5. TCU||14. Auburn||22. Clemson|
|6. Ohio State||15. Arizona||23. Nebraska|
|7. Baylor||16. Wisconsin||24. Louisville|
|8. Ole Miss||17. Utah||25. Minnesota|
Alabama moves from No. 5 to No. 1
The Crimson Tide made quite the leap from outside of a potential bracket to the top seed. Long said Alabama was the most complete team on offense, defense and special teams and cracked the top four after “what we consider to be a decisive win over Mississippi State.” The metrics must be especially impressive to the committee: With LSU falling out of the rankings with a loss to Arkansas, Alabama has only one top 25 win (Mississippi State).
Ohio State over Baylor
Ohio State defeated Minnesota 31-24 on the road to move from No. 8 to No. 6 (the Gophers remained at No. 25). Can Ohio State get into the playoff? That remains to be seen. The Buckeyes face Indiana and Michigan and would draw no better than Wisconsin, ranked 16th this week, in the Big Ten title game. What’s notable is Ohio State’s move ahead of stationary No. 7 Baylor.
Who Should Worry:
Long described the margin between Nos. 4-7 (Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State and Baylor) as “narrow, very narrow.” That’s not great news for the only team in that group without a ranked opponent left on it schedule, assuming Ohio State faces Wisconsin. Baylor, the only team to beat TCU this season, also has played one fewer game than the Horned Frogs.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:
The Bulldogs’ loss to Alabama, game control or not, wasn’t the end of the Mississippi State. The optimist for Mississippi State is that if the Bulldogs beat No. 8 Ole Miss, they stay in the playoff even if Alabama goes to the SEC title game. Yet the committee has repeatedly indicated that conference championships would play a role. That gives hope to the Big Ten and Big 12 teams on the outside looking in.
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Ole Miss
Fiesta: No. 9 UCLA vs. No. 11 Michigan State
Orange: No. 18 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 6 Ohio State
Peach: Marshall* vs. No. 10 Georgia
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
The NBA — like televised sports in general — is racing toward technological perfection. With wide-ranging replay capabilities and an off-site video review center, the league is working to make sure everything is called correctly.
That doesn’t mean they can solve the timeless issue of dissatisfaction. When you lose by a hair, you’re bound to take issue with whatever the referee’s calling — regardless of how precisely officials can zoom in and analyze that hair. That’s what the Sacramento Kings are showing us in their formal protest of a 111-110 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on November 13.
The game ended with a series of shocking plays, ultimately culminating in this game-winning shot by Courtney Lee, drawn up and executed with just 0.3 seconds left in the game:
Was the shot good, or did it come too late? It appears that Lee got the shot off before the backboard went red, and officials concurred by calling it Memphis’ way Thursday night, giving the Grizzlies the win. The Kings' organization is not content to accept this ruling, however, and they’re officially asking the league to take the eraser end of their pencil to that page of recent history.
The NBA says it will make a decision by December 2. Regardless of what they announce, the game will go down as one of the highlights of this season’s first month. The Grizzlies and Kings have been stirring up the already ridiculously difficult Western Conference, leaving contemporary powerhouses like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers near the wrong end of playoff perspectives for now. This thrilling game was a celebration of off-the-radar brilliance.
Assuming the call from the night stands, it’s hard to recall a more scintillatingly tight buzzer-beater. One has to hearken back to Derek Fisher’s stunning shot to beat the San Antonio Spurs in a 2004 playoff game:
— John Wilmes
The Adrian Peterson saga returned to the national spotlight with the NFL announcing early Tuesday that the Minnesota Vikings’ All-Pro running back has been suspended without pay for at least the remainder of the 2014 season. The league suspended Peterson for violating the league’s personal conduct policy and said he will not even be considered for reinstatement before April 15, 2015.
Peterson’s suspension is the latest development from his September indictment on a felony charge of injury to a child stemming from an incident involving his four-year-old son. Peterson was placed on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List shortly after the indictment was handed down. While on the exempt list, Peterson was not allowed to be with the Vikings, but he was still paid.
On Nov. 4, Peterson pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of misdemeanor reckless assault, seemingly paving the way for his removal from the exempt list and eventual return to the field. However, the NFL kept Peterson on the exempt list while reviewing his case, a decision that prompted the NFL Players Association (NLFPA) last week to file a grievance for immediate reinstatement on his behalf.
A hearing on the grievance was held on Monday and the arbitrator is expected to announce a decision soon, but the NFL decided to act first, suspending Peterson without pay for a personal conduct violation. From a legal perspective, Peterson’s case is far from being over, but it appears that he will not play again this season.
But what about next year? Peterson can apply for reinstatement in April and provided he adheres to the conditions (including counseling and treatment) laid out by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, there’s no reason to think his professional career is over.
For one Peterson won’t turn 30 until March and he played just one game prior to being placed on the exempt list, so in essence, he has one less year of wear and tear than would be expected. Second, this is a player who is just two seasons removed from a MVP campaign during which he ran for 2,097 yards. He has rushed for 10,190 yards in 104 career games and is not just one of the top players at his position, but also in the entire league.
As a player, there’s no NFL team that wouldn’t want Peterson on its roster. But we all know that talent and ability are no longer the only factors when it comes to personnel decisions. Even if he’s reinstated, Peterson will join the growing list of players who come with plenty of baggage.
However, Peterson’s case is unique in that no player, not even fellow running back Ray Rice whose career was put on hold this season because of a disturbing incident involving his then-fiancée, now wife, with perceived “baggage” is of the same caliber as it relates to on-field production and accomplishments. So with that in mind, here is a look at which NFL team Peterson could wind up playing for in 2015.
Why Not Minnesota?
Peterson is under contract with the Vikings through 2017, so he is their property until they decide otherwise. However, given everything that’s transpired this season, it’s certainly not out of the question that the team decides to part ways with Peterson, either by trade or simply releasing him. Minnesota would obviously save cap space by getting rid of Peterson and the dead money ($2.4 million in 2015) amount it would absorb should the Vikings release him is certainly manageable. The Vikings saw one major sponsor cut ties with them as soon as Peterson was indicted, so no one would be surprised if the team decides it’s time to turn the page and move on.
The Best Fits:
New England – Stevan Ridley tore his ACL in Week 6 and the Patriots right now are relying on third-year journeyman Jonas Gray to carry the load. Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger and depending on whom you ask, New England’s championship window with him is getting narrower. What better way to help an aging quarterback than give him an All-Pro running back? Besides, it’s not like Bill Belichick hasn’t gone down this road before. Do the names Corey Dillon or Randy Moss ring a bell?
Indianapolis – The Colts have a franchise quarterback in place in Andrew Luck. They thought they traded for the running back they needed last season when they acquired Trent Richardson. It has not worked out that way, to say the least, and Indianapolis just lost reliable veteran Ahmad Bradshaw to a broken leg. Luck is much younger than Brady and Peterson could be the missing piece the Colts need to become a perennial Super Bowl contender.
Seattle – The Seahawks’ defense of their Super Bowl title has not gone smoothly. The team has already traded Percy Harvin and now it appears that Marshawn Lynch is not a happy camper. Lynch was a late report to training camp due to a contract dispute, and he will be a free agent after next season. He’s a year younger than Peterson, but chemistry seems to be a rather important factor when it comes to Pete Carroll’s team. If the Seahawks were to cut ties with Lynch what better way to replace him than by bringing Peterson on board?
Oakland – This one’s pretty simple. The Raiders need all of the offensive playmakers they can get. It looks like Oakland has a building block in rookie quarterback Derek Carr, but there’s been no semblance of a running game this season. The Raiders also have a reputation for attracting “bad boys,” if you will, and I have little doubt that the Black Hole wouldn’t welcome Peterson with open arms should he end up on the West Coast.
Dallas/Houston – Peterson is a Texas native who was a star for three seasons at Oklahoma. The Cowboys connection is not only obvious, it’s also already apparently been discussed by Peterson and Jerry Jones. Tampering allegations aside, I think Jones will sign DeMarco Murray to a long-term contract before Peterson’s even eligible for reinstatement. But there’s more than one team in the Lone Star State and Houston may decide it’s time to move on from injury-prone Arian Foster. Foster is under contract for two more seasons, but most of the guaranteed money has already been paid out, limiting the hit the Texans would take if they decided to release him. Both teams are probably a long shot, but Peterson would certainly consider any opportunity to play in his home state.
Other Possible Options:
Atlanta – Steven Jackson has not aged well since joining the Falcons, so Peterson would be a definite upgrade to an offense that already has a potent passing attack.
Carolina – The Panthers like to run the ball and need to run the ball to make life easier for Cam Newton, but haven’t had a 1,000-yard back since 2009. Injuries and ineffectiveness have been the main products of Carolina’s backfield since Newton was drafted in 2012.
Denver – Peyton Manning paired with Adrian Peterson. Who wouldn’t want to see that? Putting Peterson in the Broncos’ high-powered offense would only help extend Manning’s career in his quest for another Super Bowl ring. Financial resources and offensive system could be possible obstacles, but it’s still fun to dream, right?
Jacksonville – Just like Oakland, the Jaguars need superstar players like Peterson to help speed up the development of a young team led by a rookie quarterback. Peterson also would be a coup for Jacksonville in terms of marketability and a reason for the fan base to get engaged. And if there were one team where financial resources shouldn’t be an issue it would be the Jags and their billionaire owner Shad Khan.
New York teams – The Jets are probably more likely than the Giants, given the former’s current running back situation and uncertainty surrounding the coaching staff, but what better place for Peterson to rebuild his image off of the field and reputation on it than the media capital of the world?
Rest of the NFC North – If Peterson were a vengeful guy, he would want a situation that would present him with the most chances to exact some payback on his former team. That’s where the NFC North enters the picture, since joining one of Minnesota’s division rivals would guarantee two games against the Vikings every season. Green Bay’s been down both sides of this path recently, first with Brett Favre then Greg Jennings, but the Packers have Eddie Lacy so I don’t see a “need’ there. Chicago added former Viking Jared Allen this season, but the Bears have Matt Forté and let’s face it, offense is the least of this team’s problems right now. That leaves Detroit where Peterson would easily become the best running back the Lions have had since Barry Sanders tormented defenses in the 1990s. The only difference is that Sanders never had a supporting cast that included the likes of Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Could Peterson be the final piece that helps the Lions finally reach the Super Bowl?
Alabama is back in the driver’s seat in the SEC West and has moved back into a familiar spot atop the Legends Poll Top 8.
Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide knocked off Mississippi State this weekend, 25-20, vaulting No. 2 Florida State on the way to replacing Mississippi State at No. 1.
Florida State found itself down two scores in the first half yet again — this time against Miami — but managed to come all the way back and notch another road win, 30-26.
Idle Oregon moved up a spot to No. 3.
No. 4 Mississippi State fell three spots, followed by No. 5 TCU, which struggled on the road against Kansas.
No. 6 Ohio State moved up another spot in the rankings, swapping places with Baylor.
And Georgia made its first Top 8 appearance after a resounding 34-7 win over Auburn. The Bulldogs still need a Missouri loss to find their way into the SEC championship game.
Arizona State fell out of the rankings this week following its loss at Oregon State.
|2||Florida State (2)||10-0||90||2|
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
Will Muschamp is out as the Florida head coach.
Braden Gall, David Fox, Mitch Light and Steven Lassan debate the Florida Gators head coaching vacancy in an Athlon Sports roundtable.
How good is the Florida job? Where does it rank nationally? What are the weaknesses?
In a PSA to Gators fans, we offer up the list the names they need to forget about... because they have no chance. Like, say, Steve Spurrier or Chip Kelly.
Who are the coaches with Florida ties and are any of them worthy candidates? Who among them would be interested in the job? Is this the time for Bob Stoops to jump? Are Larry Fedora or Doc Holliday even qualified?
Who are the top Mid-Major (Group of 5) head coaches who are viable candidates? Is Jim McElwain or Justin Fuente ready? Who are the top coordinators: Chad Morris or Pat Narduzzi? Is this the direction Jeremy Foley wants to go?
What Power 5 current head coaches make sense at Florida and which ones would actually be interested, including Mike Gundy, Dan Mullen, Hugh Freeze and many more. Who is the a home run?
And finally, our hosts give their top three dream candidates and their predictions for the job. They do not necessarily overlap. Each panelist makes a bold prediction as to who will be the next head football coach at Florida.
Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch or @DavidFox615 or email [email protected]. The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes, Stitcher and our podcast RSS feed.
The Denver Nuggets might be turning the page.
It hasn’t been a good start to the 2014-15 season for them. So far, the stumbling squad has looked unanchored, directionless and, well, bad. They allowed 84 points — at home — to the Portland Trail Blazers last week in the first half, and coach Brian Shaw refused to even take questions from reporters afterward. It looked like the end of an era (an era that no one would remember) in Denver. ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz had this to say about the state of malaise and failure:
“Denver is getting smoked nightly. It's a 2-7 team with no discernible identity, redundancies all over its roster and a morose, first-time coach who has expressed frustration with the fortitude of his team. Several sources around the league, a few close to the Nuggets, say the organization is ‘rudderless.’”
But now optimism suddenly seems possible again in the Rockies. The Nuggets not only took down the Indiana Pacers on Friday, but last night they startled the NBA community by taking down LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Ohio. Nuggets general Ty Lawson led the team with 24 points and 12 assists, refusing to accept the grumbles around the league about his team’s demise.
Of course, the Cavaliers aren’t exactly unbeatable right now. Despite having James, the sport’s best player, and massive talent beside him, they’re a young team sucked into some serious growing pains. Turnovers, lack of sharing the ball, and general confusion have been the themes to a lackluster 5-4 start in Cleveland.
Silver linings come seldom for a team as down as Denver, though, and a win like this could potentially reverse the morale for the group. Snagging a victory against the NBA’s celebrity team is a good start to a winning streak — now let’s see if the Nuggets can keep up their strong play at home, Wednesday, against the Oklahoma City Thunder at 9:00 PM ET.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 18:
• Blake Bortles' girlfriend Lindsey Duke has been strangely absent from Instagram, forcing us to relive her past glory.
• In case you were wondering, here's what the NBA on TNT crew would look like with Joakim Noah's hair.
• It was an exciting Monday Night game, but LeGarrette Blount didn't hang around for the end.
• Most popular music acts for each NFL team's fanbase, based on concert ticket sales.
• Charles Manson is engaged. Mazel tov! Let's hope those crazy kids can make it work.
• Dion Waiters' refusal to pass to LeBron led to a priceless reaction from the King.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Just two teams on bye in Week 12, but Carolina and Pittsburgh aren’t the only teams whose players may not be available. Denver, Indianapolis and New Orleans are among the teams who may have to dig a little deeper into their depth charts this week. And the same can no doubt be said for a number of fantasy owners. The flip side to this coin is that injuries always present an opportunity for someone else on a roster to emerge, as was the case for a New England running back this past week. And don’t forget about the impending return of a certain wide receiver in Cleveland either.
Athlon Sports is here to help you sort through some of the potential free agent options. The players listed in our weekly fantasy football waiver wire may be one-week adds, some may be worth holding on to all season long and some are of the “sleeper” variety that you may simply want to keep an eye on.
Teams on bye: Carolina, Pittsburgh
Week 11 Recap: Josh McCown made it back-to-back strong outings with 288 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a victory over Washington. Drew Stanton helped his Cardinals beat the Lions and threw for 306 yards, but his two touchdowns were offset by two interceptions. Teddy Bridgewater could not get much going against the Bears, finishing with just 158 yards passing with a touchdown and a pick and only two yards rushing.
Kyle Orton, Buffalo Bills
Orton threw for as many touchdowns (zero) as you or I last week, but things should be better this Sunday. The Bills host the Jets, who are giving up the most fantasy points to opposing QBs this season. Yes, the Jets are coming off of their bye and Orton is apparently dealing with a minor toe injury, but he also put up by far his best numbers (238-4-0) against New York just three weeks ago. It’s a bit of leap of faith to trust Orton in a week where only Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger are on bye, but his matchup against the J-E-T-S certainly looks appealing.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Tannehill’s roller-coaster season continued Thursday night with 240 yards passing and two touchdowns (one fumble) against Buffalo. Here is Tannehill’s fantasy output (Athlon scoring) the past five games: 27.9, 16.6, 34.2, 13.3, and 22.3. If this trend were to continue, Tannehill would be in for a down week. However, the Dolphins will be in Denver Sunday to take on a Broncos defense that is allowing the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing QBs. Perhaps this is the week Tannehill breaks his pattern?
Week 11 Recap: C.J. Anderson didn’t score and had just 29 yards rushing, but he caught eight passes for 86 yards in the Broncos’ loss to the Rams. Anderson also escaped unscathed; something Montee Ball was unable to do, re-aggravating a groin injury. With Ball and Ronnie Hillman ailing, Anderson should see a heavy workload Sunday against a solid Dolphins defense. Alfred Blue filled in admirably for an injured Arian Foster (groin), rushing for 156 yards on 36 carries in the Texans’ win over the Browns. Blue could remain in the RB2 picture should Foster miss another game. Fred Jackson apparently returned too soon, as he was held out of the Bills’ Thursday night loss in Miami, somewhat because of the quick turnaround from the previous week.
Jonas Gray, New England Patriots
When Stevan Ridley tore his ACL, the thought was that Shane Vereen or Brandon Bolden or even rookie James White would get the majority of the carries. That was until Gray made his presence known with an 86-yard effort against the Bears a couple of weeks ago. And that’s definitely the case following his monster 201-yard, four-touchdown breakout performance Sunday night against the Colts. The Patriots fed Gray early and often (38 att.) and the third-year pro answered with an impressive and record-setting (rushing TDs in a game by a Patriot) showing. I wouldn’t expect 35-plus carries moving forward, especially Sunday against a stout Lions run defense, but there’s no reason to think Gray won’t get his fair share of touches either.
Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams
Mason picked up 113 yards on 29 carries on Sunday against Denver’s No. 1-ranked rushing defense. It was the first 100-yard game for the Rams’ third-round pick, who has averaged 21 carries over the last three games. Mason seems to have grabbed hold of the No. 1 job in St. Louis’ backfield and Jeff Fisher has a reputation for running the ball. The Rams’ next two games are against the Chargers and Raiders, which are 14th and eighth, respectively, in terms of most fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs.
Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts
Richardson is averaging a woeful 3.4 yards per carry and has scored a total of two touchdowns. But with Ahmad Bradshaw now sidelined, likely for the rest of the season, with a fracture in his fibula, Richardson is now the Colts’ No. 1 back. This doesn’t mean Richardson will turn into a fantasy monster, but touches shouldn’t be an issue. That is unless Daniel Herron seizes the opportunity and emerges.
Week 11 Recap: Jordan Matthews posted his second straight 100-yard game against the Packers and now has four touchdowns in his last three contests. It certainly looks like he and Mark Sanchez are on the same page. James Jones caught just two passes for 35 yards, but that was better than either Dwayne Bowe (2 rec., 18 yds.) or Preston Parker (1, 9).
Taylor Gabriel and Andrew Hawkins, Cleveland Browns
Yes, Josh Gordon is back on the active roster and will immediately become the Browns No. 1 wide receiver. However, Gordon’s addition also could benefit his fellow wideouts, especially if tight end Jordan Cameron continues to be sidelined by a concussion. Hawkins has the better statistics (45-601-2) and more experience, while Gabriel is an undrafted rookie who is averaging 18.2 ypc and has posted four games with at least 81 yards receiving. Hawkins is probably the safer flyer option between the two, but it all depends on how Brian Hoyer distributes the targets with Gordon back in the fold.
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars were on bye last week and still suffered a loss. This time it was on their roster, as rookie Allen Robinson, who was leading the team in catches (48) and yards (548) was put on injured reserve because of a broken right foot. Robinson’s loss should be Shorts’ gain. Shorts has been the Jags’ top target in each of the past two seasons and he was second only to Robinson this season, despite missing three games. Allen Hurns leads the team with five touchdown catches, but Shorts should be the one who replaces Robinson as Blake Bortles’ top target.
Kenny Stills, New Orleans Saints
The Saints will be without first-round pick Brandin Cooks for at least a month because of a broken thumb, which means more snaps for Stills. Drew Brees still has tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Marques Colston to throw to, but as the No. 3 wideout Stills has managed three fewer catches than Colston (31 to 34), despite 18 fewer targets (42 to 60). Stills should replace Cooks, who was second only to Graham in all three receiving categories, as the No. 2 wide receiver, and it’s safe to expect the explosive Stills to be used in a similar manner. It’s now up to Stills to take advantage of this golden opportunity.
Week 11 Recap: Jared Cook got five targets (3 rec., 19 yds.) in Shaun Hill’s first game back as the Rams’ starting quarterback. Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the rest of the Buccaneers took a back seat to the Mike Evans (7-209-2) show, as the big target caught just one pass for seven yards in the win over Washington.
Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts
Dwayne Allen left the Sunday night game early with an ankle injury and Fleener took full advantage. With the Colts trailing the Patriots the entire game, Fleener caught a season-best seven passes for 144 yards. And this comes on the heels of a four-catch, 77-yard effort (on a season-high 11 targets) two weeks ago before Indianapolis went on bye. It’s also possible that Fleener will be able to maintain this level of production moving forward, especially with Allen’s health up in the air and the added loss of running back Ahmad Bradshaw (broken ankle). And don’t forget Andrew Luck and Fleener were teammates at Stanford, so chemistry isn’t an issue either.
Week 11 Recap: Cleveland not only let a rookie, backup running back gash them for 156 yards on the ground (213 total), the Browns’ defense also managed just one takeaway (INT) against an offense that featured a quarterback making his first career NFL start.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers have scored 108 points in the last two games, and while Aaron Rodgers certainly had a big part in this, let’s not overlook the defense. Green Bay’s DST has put up 51 fantasy points (Athlon scoring) in dominating wins over Chicago and Philadelphia, including 32 on Sunday against the Eagles. While Rodgers and company filled up the stat sheet against the Bears and Eagles, the defense and special teams got into the act as well: seven sacks, seven takeaways (4 INTs, 3 fumbles) and four touchdowns (2 INT returns, fumble return, punt return). Next up is a Minnesota offense that managed 243 yards of offense against a Bears defense that had given up 106 points in its previous two games. The Vikings also are sixth in the league in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing DSTs, including the 24 (6 sacks, 3 TOs, INT returned for TD) they yielded to the Packers back in Week 5.
Scoring is based on Athlon Sports default scoring which is 6 points for all TDs, .5 points per reception and 1 point PER 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving and 40 return yards.
College football’s playoff committee has released three sets of rankings, and the debate about the top four teams will continue every week until the final matchups are released. While the top 25 rankings are expected to change each week and will look drastically different from the release of the first poll to the last one, the playoff committee's poll provided some insight into the process.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. This poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey), SBNation.com
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 12 Playoff Projection
Takeaways From Expert Poll Results
* After a seven-week departure from No. 1 in the playoff committee projection, Alabama is back at the top of this week’s ranking. The Crimson Tide received 13 of the 21 first-place votes.
* Florida State trails Alabama by just 10 points in this week’s poll. The Seminoles received seven first-place votes.
* Oregon was a clear No. 3 in this week’s voting, but No. 4 is where the intrigue starts. Despite a loss to Alabama last Saturday, Mississippi State remained in the playoff picture at No. 4. But Baylor and TCU tied for No. 5 at 73 points, and Ohio State is a distant seventh at 54 points. Needless to say, the Buckeyes are going to need a lot of help to reach the top four (if this vote mirrors the committee's rankings).
* Ole Miss is the highest two-loss team in the rankings, but Georgia ranks one spot behind the Rebels in this week’s poll. If the Bulldogs defeat Georgia Tech and win the SEC East, would a win in the conference championship vault this team into consideration among the top four?
* Arizona State and Auburn dropped out of this week’s committee vote after losses in Week 12.
Group of 5 Rankings
Remaining Games: at UAB (Nov. 22), Western Kentucky (Nov. 28)
The Thundering Herd got revenge for last year’s 41-24 loss to Rice in the Conference USA Championship by defeating the Owls 41-14 on Saturday. Marshall has defeated all 10 of its opponents by at least 15 points this year. Coach Doc Holliday’s team may not have a marquee win, but the Thundering Herd is dominating their competition.
2. Boise State
Remaining Games: at Wyoming (Nov. 22), Utah State (Nov. 29)
Boise State rallied from a 20-0 deficit to win 38-29 and end a two-game losing streak over San Diego State. Unless Colorado State loses one of its last two games, the Broncos still need two wins to clinch the Mountain Division title. Boise State has an edge over Marshall in strength of schedule, but coach Bryan Harsin’s team has two losses. How will the committee weigh competition versus an unbeaten with a weak strength of schedule?
3. Colorado State
Remaining Games: New Mexico (Nov. 22), at Air Force (Nov. 28)
The Rams had a timely bye on Saturday, which should help quarterback Garrett Grayson and receiver Rashard Higgins return to full strength after injuries limited both players in previous weeks. Colorado State has a better record and ranks ahead of Boise State in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. However, the Rams need a loss by the Broncos in their next two games to have a shot at the Group of 5 bowl spot.
Remaining Games: USF (Nov. 22), UConn (Nov. 29)
There’s a three-way tie atop the American Athletic Conference, and Memphis has the easiest path to the league title. The Tigers, Cincinnati and UCF each have one defeat in conference play, and Memphis has remaining matchups against USF and UConn. UCF has to play at USF and East Carolina, while Cincinnati has trips to UConn and Temple and a home date against Houston upcoming. The Tigers have won four in a row, and coach Justin Fuente’s team owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Cincinnati.
Remaining Games: at UConn (Nov. 22), at Temple (Nov. 29), Houston (Dec. 6)
The Bearcats remained in the mix for the Group of 5 bowl spot with a huge 54-46 win over East Carolina on Thursday night. Cincinnati has four wins in a row and is one of three teams (Memphis and UCF are the other two) tied at the top of the American Athletic Conference with one loss in league play.
6. Northern Illinois
Remaining Games: at Ohio (Nov. 18), at Western Michigan (Nov. 28)
No Jordan Lynch? No problem for Northern Illinois. The Huskies are the favorite to win the MAC West behind a rushing attack that’s averaging 261.7 yards per game. Northern Illinois may not be as strong as it was last year, but coach Rod Carey’s team can work its way in the mix to earn the Group of 5 spot as a conference champ.
Games With Playoff/Bowl Implications in Week 13
Kansas State at West Virginia
7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1 (Thursday)
The Wildcats are still alive for the Big 12 title with a trip to Baylor ahead on Dec. 6. However, a Thursday night matchup in Morgantown won’t be easy. West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett and receiver Kevin White will test a K-State pass defense that has allowed just eight passing scores in Big 12 play.
North Carolina at Duke
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Thursday)
Despite last week’s loss to Virginia Tech, Duke still controls its destiny in the Coastal Division. The Tar Heels need one more win to get bowl eligible.
Minnesota at Nebraska
Noon ET, ESPN
After getting torched by Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Nebraska’s rush defense has to regroup with a matchup against Minnesota’s David Cobb. The winner of this game keeps pace with the Badgers in the Big Ten’s West Division.
Boston College at Florida State
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
The Eagles should be rested after a bye, while the Seminoles have to avoid a letdown after a comeback victory at Miami and a lookahead game to rival Florida. Boston College’s 14-point defeat to Florida State last year was the closest game against the Seminoles prior to the BCS title matchup against Auburn.
Ole Miss at Arkansas
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Ole Miss still has a chance to win the SEC West, but it needs a little help from Auburn against Alabama in two weeks. Arkansas is coming off its first SEC win under coach Bret Bielema and needs a victory to reach bowl eligibility. Is this a lookahead spot for Ole Miss with the Egg Bowl next week?
Arizona at Utah
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
This matchup in Salt Lake City features one of the Pac-12’s top offenses (Arizona) against one of the league’s top defenses (Utah). The Utes’ aggressive defense (47 sacks) should be a handful for quarterback Anu Solomon, who has tossed just two interceptions in four road games this year.
Louisville at Notre Dame
3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
The Fighting Irish has lost three out of its last four games and is no longer in position to earn a spot in one of the top bowl games. Louisville quarterback Will Gardner is out for the rest of the year, but true freshman Reggie Bonnafon has played well in limited action (51 of 92 for 662 yards and four scores). Bonnafon’s job is made easier with the return of receiver DeVante Parker, who has recorded three consecutive 100-yard efforts since returning from a foot injury.
Wisconsin at Iowa
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
Can the Hawkeyes find an answer for Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon? Iowa still has West Division title aspirations but needs to win its final two games and have Minnesota lose to Wisconsin or Nebraska.
Missouri at Tennessee
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Missouri still controls its destiny in the SEC East, and the Tigers will clinch a spot in Atlanta if they win their last two games. However, that’s not an easy task, as coach Gary Pinkel’s team heads to Knoxville to play an improving Tennessee squad this week, followed by a matchup against Arkansas next Friday.
USC at UCLA
8 p.m. ET, ABC
Will UCLA continue its recent edge in this series? The Bruins have won two in a row over the Trojans, including a 35-14 blowout in the Los Angeles Coliseum last year. UCLA controls its destiny in the Pac-12 South title race and can take another step closer to San Francisco with a win over USC.
College football’s 2014 season has reached its final stretch run, and the bowl and national title picture is starting to clear. The playoff committee will release its fourth set of rankings on Tuesday this week, which should give fans, coaches and players a better idea of what the committee values heading into the last few weeks of the season.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
With 12 weeks in the books, it’s time to take a look at what the bowl picture might hold for each conference and team this year. The post-Week 12 bowl projections are a mixture between picks for the next few weeks, how things would look if the season ended today, and the results from the first 12 weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks.
Teams on the projection bubble and missing our projections this week: Oklahoma State, Akron, Buffalo, Ohio, Wyoming, Fresno State, Kentucky, Oregon State, Michigan, Temple, USF, Texas State, Virginia, and Pittsburgh. Remember: It’s only Week 12. Several changes are coming, and it’s impossible to project all of the wins and losses the rest of the way considering how much changes week-to-week in college football.
College Football's Post-Week 12 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| UL Lafayette vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs.|
| UTEP vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
|Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs. |
| Bowling Green vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Central Michigan vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs. |
| East Carolina vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs.|
| UAB vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
|Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| MTSU vs.|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| Western Kentucky vs.|
San Diego State
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs.|
| Maryland vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| Boston College vs.|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs. |
| North Carolina vs.|
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Virginia Tech vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Miami vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| NC State vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Nebraska vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs.|
| LSU vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs. |
| Duke vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
| Texas vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs. |
| Notre Dame vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs.|
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Michigan State vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American vs.|
| Houston vs.|
|Taxslayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Clemson vs.|
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Kansas State vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Northwestern* vs.|
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
| Memphis vs.|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs.|
| Toledo vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Marshall vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
|Orange||Dec. 31||ACC vs.|
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
| Baylor vs.|
|Related: Projecting the Playoff Teams After Week 12|
| Florida State vs.|
| Alabama vs.|
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Alabama vs.|
* Indicates an at-large selection. Conference not projected to have enough bowl-eligible teams to fulfill the conference alignment.
** Bold indicates team has accepted bid to bowl.
Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Pac-12 football action:
0: Arizona State TDs scored in the third quarter since the UCLA game
Ironically, the last time Arizona State scored a point in the third quarter, it was against the Bruins. In the disappointing loss to Oregon State, the Beavers held the Sun Devils scoreless in the third quarter en route to outscoring ASU 21-3 in the second half. In the last six games since UCLA, Arizona State has been outscored 37-6 in the third quarter.
1: Active players with 1,500 career yards rushing and receiving
This stat comes to Athlon Sports from College Football Talk’s Fifth Quarter rewind. It was too good not to mention. Arizona State’s D.J. Foster is the only active player in the nation with more than 1,500 yards rushing and 1,500 yards receiving in his career. Foster has 1,866 yards rushing and 1,713 yards as a receiver and 25 total touchdowns. Illinois’ Josh Ferguson is the only other player in the nation with at least 1,500 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving.
1: Two-game losing streaks for David Shaw
Under David Shaw, Stanford had never lost back-to-back games before. In fact, Shaw was 10-0 following a loss in his 50-game head coaching career until Week 12. The 20-17 double-overtime loss to Utah at home marked the first time under Shaw that Stanford lost consecutive games.
1: Possessions in regulation that didn’t end in a punt for Utah
Utah had 11 possessions in regulation (not counting the kneel-down at the end of the fourth quarter) and 10 of them ended in a punt. The lone drive that didn’t end in a punt was a nine-play, 66-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. Stanford wasn’t much better, punting on eight of its 11 possessions in regulation. That’s 18 punts in 22 possessions in 60 minutes of action.
1: Touchdowns scored by USC seniors
Thirteen players have scored a touchdown for USC this fall and tight end Randall Telfer is one of them. He caught a Cody Kessler touchdown this weekend against Cal, becoming just the first senior on the Trojans' roster to reach paydirt all season. In fact, more defensive players (2) have scored for USC than seniors. Nelson Agholor, who became the first Trojan to go for at least 200 yards receiving in back-to-back games, leads the team with 12 total touchdowns.
1: Times Chris Petersen has lost five games in a season
In his worst season at Boise State — last year — Chris Petersen lost four times in 12 tries. With the painful loss to Arizona this weekend, Petersen has lost five times in the same season for the first time in his career. His five conference losses are three worse than his worst conference record of his career as well — which was 6-2 last year.
Listen to the Week 12 recap podcast:
3: Times Cody Kessler has thrown for 300 yards and 4 TDs while completing 70% of his passes
I have no idea if this is a record or not, but it has to be close. Kessler completed 31-of-42 passes (73.8 percent) for 371 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Cal. It marked the third time this year that he threw for at least 300 yards and at least four touchdowns while completing at least 73 percent of his passes. The other two happened against Colorado and Boston College.
16.5: Nate Orchard and Hau’oli Kikaha nation’s-leading sack total
Orchard posted 3.5 sacks against Stanford in the double overtime win and now has 16.5 sacks on the season. He pulled into a dead heat with Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha for the Pac-12 lead in QB takedowns. It just so happens that these two are also tied for the national lead as well. Who is in third place? Arizona’s Scooby Wright with 12.0, giving the Pac-12 the top three sack masters in the nation this fall.
34: Pac-12 games decided by one score or less
Last year, 28 Pac-12 games were decided by one score (eight points) or less. All four games in Week 12 were decided by eight points or less. With two full weeks left in the 2014 season, the league has flown past last year’s number and is approaching the 2012 benchmark of 36.
27-16: Road teams record in Pac-12 games
This one has been on the Amazing Stats column more than a few times this season due to the increased success of road teams out West. The home teams got off the mat this weekend and won three out of four games but are still well behind the road teams. With two weeks left, visiting teams have won nearly 63 percent of the time (62.8) in the Pac-12.
The Champions Classic finale between Kentucky and Kansas is sure to be a scouting bonanza even if John Calipari and Bill Self are trying to figure out how the pieces fit together.
Dozens of NBA scouts are expected to be Indianapolis for a game that may contain the most pro prospects on one floor this season — Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and the Harrison twins for Kentucky, Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Wayne Selden for Kansas.
Many of them will end up draft picks, including a handful in the lottery, but their ceiling as teams in college, expectedly, remains a work in progress.
During the weekend, Self had plenty of criticisms of a team that beat UC Santa Barbara, a solid mid-major, 69-59 in the opener. Calipari could say the same of watching his talented team needing a second-half rally to beat Buffalo.
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Site: Indianapolis, Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Time: 9 p.m., Eastern
What’s on the line for Kansas
Freshmen making their mark. Kansas’ top two freshmen — Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre — are as highly regarded as any group of rookies in the country. Both can further establish themselves with strong performances against the No.1 team in the country. In Chicago a year ago, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins outdueled Duke’s Jabari Parker late in a 94-83 win. Joel Embiid came off the bench for only two points (with seven rebounds and five assists). Wiggins and Embiid were top three picks in the NBA draft — while Parker was No. 2.
What’s on the line for Kentucky
A break from last season. Kentucky fans must have had a fair amount of trepidation watching the Wildcats trail Buffalo by five at halftime. The Wildcats came back to win 71-52, but there has to be a sense of “here we go again” with a team that struggles to play like a team loaded with talent. Kentucky lost to Michigan State in this event last season, a harbinger for a non-conference season that included losses to Baylor and North Carolina. A win over a fellow top-five team would ease some of the nerves for Big Blue Nation.
You’ll tune in to watch: Kentucky’s front line
Calipari’s plans to rotate his forwards like a hockey line change will be put to the test. Against Buffalo, Karl-Anthony Towns started but played 10 minutes. Trey Lyles (20 minutes) and Dakari Johnson (26) came off the bench to play more than twice that. Kansas, meanwhile, is coming of a game in which it picked up 13 offensive rebounds against UCSB, six from Perry Ellis alone.
Pivotal player: Frank Mason, Kansas
Kansas’ backcourt has thinned with the departures of Naadir Tharpe and Conner Frankamp, leaving Mason as one of the only point guards on the roster. That said, freshman Devonte Graham came off the bench for 14 points against UCSB. For a program that’s enjoyed so much success as Kansas, it’s a surprise to see point guard not be a dominant position for several seasons.
Biggest question: Who hits the big shots on the perimeter?
Self was displeased with Kansas’ play on the perimeter against UCSB, and who can blame him at 2-of-10 from 3-point range. Wayne Selden alone was 2-of-8 from the field. Kansas will need balance if Kentucky’s frontline is balanced as expected. Kentucky’s Harrisons, of course, know a bit about hitting big long-range shots.
David Fox: Kentucky 78-71
Mitch Light: Kansas 74-72
Nathan Rush: Kentucky 76-72
Duke and Michigan State may look familiar to the untrained eye when the two teams meet Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
Mike Krzyzewski is here. So is Tom Izzo. Duke has talent. Michigan State has plenty of upperclassmen.
A deeper look, though, reveals just how strange these teams are for Krzyzewski and Izzo.
Duke is likely to start three freshmen. Perhaps that’s not odd for many teams, especially top teams that gobble up McDonald’s All-Americans. Duke's not always one of them. Consider this: Krzyzewski has coached 1,159 games at Duke. Only 37 times including this season has he started three freshmen and 27 of those lineups came during the 1982-83 season.
Meanwhile, the steady national contender Michigan State enters the season without any major expectations for a Big Ten title or Final Four run. The departures of Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling have left the Spartans with a changing of the guard.
Duke vs. Michigan State
Site: Indianapolis, Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Time: 7 p.m. Eastern
What’s on the line for Duke
The Blue Devils handled Presbyterian and Fairfield by a combined score of 222-103 in the first two games, but this could be a key moment for Duke to establish itself as one of the nation’s dominant teams early in the season. The Blue Devils also face Wisconsin at Madison and defending national champion Connecticut on a neutral court before Dec. 18 for an interesting first five weeks of the season.
What’s on the line for Michigan State
The Spartans will see where they stand against a national contender. The Big Ten may have only one elite team this season (Wisconsin), but the Spartans figure to be right in the mix. A lopsided loss in Indianapolis combined with the Spartans’ sloppy 64-59 win over Navy on Friday will allow some doubt to creep in.
You’ll tune in to watch: Jahlil Okafor
Duke’s freshman center is the projected No. 1 overall pick and an All-America contender. So far, Okafor has done nothing to counter that reputation. He’s shot 17-of-20 from the field overall this season with 17 points and 19 points in his first two games. If there’s any nitpicking to do, Okafor had five turnovers against Fairfield.
Pivotal player: Justise Winslow
Duke’s freshmen include Okafor, whose credentials have been established, and Tyus Jones, a freshman expected to challenge veteran Quinn Cook for the point guard job. Winslow is “simply” the other great freshman in this class. Winslow has been nearly as effective as Okafor, shooting 12-of-22 from the floor in two games and countering the argument that he’s everything but a shooter.
Biggest question: Does Michigan State’s experience help keep this close?
A veteran Michigan State team beat preseason No. 1 Kentucky in last year’s Champions Classic, but this game doesn’t have the same cliche of youth vs. experience. True, Michigan State has upperclassmen Branden Dawson, Travis Trice, Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine, but all but Dawson were role players on last year’s Elite Eight team. Beyond its three starting freshmen, Duke has plenty of experience as well. The key veteran will be Dawson, whom Izzo said needs to be Superman in this game with his versatility.
David Fox: Duke 68-58
Mitch Light: Duke 81-69
Nathan Rush: Duke 64-58
The knock on the No. 4 team this year with driver Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers was simple. Entering Homestead, they had clearly proven themselves as one of the fastest — if not the fastest — on the NASCAR Sprint Cup grid each week: four wins, including a Phoenix sweep and leading the most laps out in the series was their proof on paper. But for all the victories they’d tallied, this bunch still had a hard time finishing races. You can spend 10,000 laps up front over the course of a year but if you don’t perform in crunch time, in the final laps, all that number amounts to is a pretty stat.
On Sunday, Harvick and Childers proved that over nine months, in just their first season together, they’ve been able to overcome their deficiencies. Charging from 12th to first in the final 20 laps of the race, Harvick rocketed to the front in a winner-take-all Chase format that cemented his logic to move from Richard Childress Racing, where he’d spent his entire Cup career, to Stewart-Haas Racing.
“It really changed my life in a new direction,” he said after earning his first Cup title the way it should be earned — in Victory Lane. “(Wife) Delana and I looked at things and said, ‘What’s going to make us happy?’ Because in the end, if you’re not happy, nothing is going to work like it should.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my whole life than I have been this year. I have no idea how much money I make or what I do. I love showing up to work. And it’s been a long, long time since I can sit up here and honestly tell you that I love the experience of everything that’s been around me — it just makes it fun.”
So is that what pushed Harvick to the front — that and a gutsy call by Childers to give him four fresh tires while other contenders stayed out or took two? Was it pure emotion that made the difference? With athletes, we often forget that at the highest level, what separates the most talented individuals is smaller than the width of a fingernail. In Happy Hour practice Saturday, the top speeds of the final four contenders were separated by less than .07 seconds. And throughout most of Homestead’s 400 miles on Sunday, each driver ran within the top 5.
Considering that little separation, combined with a week’s worth of grueling media attention, mental health does play a bigger role. Harvick’s enjoyment of this process this time around was clearly better than the other times he’s entered the final weekend with a shot: 2006, ’10, ’13. In all those cases, he was clearly an underdog rather than the favorite but the pressure appeared to get to him.
Not this time. This year, Harvick turned to co-owner Tony Stewart and six-time champ Jimmie Johnson, both of whom have been in this position before and offered time and advice. It’s a resource he never quite had at RCR, a place where he was expected to be the unquestioned leader as opposed to SHR, a place where he can just … fit in.
“Tony was a big part of giving me the heads up and saying, ‘All right, bud, this is not going to be like [anything you’ve been through],’” Harvick said. “He was a big help to helping Delana and I just get through the week and keeping it low key. And Johnson was a huge help in just helping — he’d show up in the trailer after every practice and called (and) texted to Rodney and myself.”
Everyone in this top tier of NASCAR has talent. Just to make it to the 43-car grid says something about your level of stock car achievement. They can all put in a good qualifying lap, capture lightning out of a bottle in just one day. To put together a full season, reach the peak over 36 races they need the right combination of people.
Harvick spent 13 years trying to find that combo at RCR. Elsewhere, it took him just one year. That’s how close he’s been all this time.
“Through the Gears” we go, one final time in 2014 …
FIRST GEAR: Harvick made the right move
Harvick’s race at Homestead was the perfect mix of both strategy and speed. For much of the day, he actually found himself stuck behind Denny Hamlin, the 2013 Homestead winner, in position to capitalize and sneak away with a title. But Hamlin, during a late caution, chose to stay out on old tires while Harvick ducked down pit road for four. With a number of yellows that came after that, constantly bunching the field up on restarts, it gave Harvick the ability to sneak by traffic, get up to Hamlin and ultimately speed right past him.
“I have no idea how I got the lead,” he said afterwards. “I have no clue.”
Hamlin, though, knew exactly how he did it, claiming crew chief Darian Grubb made a bad call to keep him out on old tires.
“We were sitting ducks as long as cautions kept coming out,” he said. “The breaks didn’t quite work out for us.”
So Harvick takes the title, the best possible outcome for NASCAR and its new playoff format. In past years, this team would be dead in the water, strong on speed all year but crushed by inconsistency. But in using the “win and keep going” portion of the new rules, it was able to peak down the stretch, winning three of the final six races and establishing itself atop NASCAR’s hierarchy.
SECOND GEAR: Second is the first … winner?
Hamlin’s fall to third happened when Ryan Newman, bidding to become the sport’s first winless champion, worked himself to second place. It was the best finish for the No. 31 car all season, produced in the finale, as they finished off the Chase as one of the sport’s most unlikely underdogs. His Richard Childress Racing team now enters 2015 with plenty of momentum, lifting up what had been a disappointing year with its three-car program.
“Just a lot of fight,” Newman said. “I’m just so proud of our team.”
With a call for two fresh tires, Newman actually had track position on Harvick down the stretch but couldn’t hold on as the No. 4 car came streaming past. Clearing Hamlin for second, Newman had a chance but never really had the speed to get out front. Ending without a single lap led, his stat line for the season will read as one of the most surprising for a second-place finisher in points: 0 wins, five top 5s, and just 41 laps led in 36 starts.
Surely, Newman and RCR made the most of this new format, working the system and top 10-ing it to death to give themselves a chance. But don’t hate the players, hate the game … and remember that in the end, it was still the faster car that won out.
THIRD GEAR: Oh, what could have been
It was a small thing, nearly unnoticeable, but none of Hendrick Motorsports’ four drivers were in the Chevy post-race “Notes and Quotes” release from Homestead-Miami. That’s in large part because all four were eliminated from title contention, the first time that’s happened for HMS since 2011 and just the second time in the 11-year history of the Chase.
Jeff Gordon, who wound up sixth in the points, has to be the most frustrated in the camp. At Homestead, he led the most laps (161) and seemed predestined to spoil the title party until an inexplicable late pit stop for tires. While Gordon charged back to run 10th, salvaging a decent day, it was a head-scratcher that made you wonder if HMS, aligned strongly with Stewart-Haas Racing, wanted to get one less car out of the way for Harvick to pass en route to the title.
Of course, some might say this championship should be Gordon’s anyway. His regular-season points tally was higher than everyone else and without a Chase, he takes the trophy by 37 over Joey Logano. Logano, in his own right, was also feeling the pain; his point total earns him a championship under the 2004-13 Chase format. But that’s not the way the game is played and both had their chances throughout the postseason to get the job done.
“Unfortunately, a great season like that makes this overall finish fourth because of one mistake, but that's what the rules are,” Logano said. “We understand that. This team did a great job of consistently being fast. In previous years, that would have been perfect but coming into this race and the way the points go, it doesn't pay any more, obviously. We still feel like we did a lot better than fourth this season.”
There were many still unsatisfied because of NASCAR’s new playoff format. However, the ratings over the last two races, combined with energetic interest and a sold-out crowd the last two events (Phoenix and Homestead) will create a perception difficult to break. I’ve got news for you, longtime traditionalists: this playoff isn’t going away.
“You know, what I wanted to do is grow the sport, put us in a stronger position for years to come,” Brad Keselowski said after becoming the epicenter for how it found emotions spilling over. “I think sometimes we get caught up in too much of the rhetoric around what a champion should reward, whether it's consistency or wins and those things. And I think I might be a little bit too close to the fire to provide an objective answer. But really all I care about with the format is that it takes the sport to another level for years to come. I think the jury is still out on that, but it looks like it's going to be good.”
FOURTH GEAR: Wrapping up odds ‘n’ ends
While the championship drama defined Sunday’s race, there were plenty of other storylines to follow. Kyle Larson, while running a disappointing 13th, easily defeated Austin Dillon among others for the 2014 Rookie of the Year title. Larson’s eight top-5 finishes left him 17th in points, the highest of any non-Chaser and he totaled more laps led (53) than all other freshman contenders combined.
“I felt like we would be the top contender once we got halfway through the season, and we definitely were,” Larson said. “(I’m) eally proud of that, proud of the effort everybody has put in on these race cars.”
Meanwhile, Chevrolet finished with victories in six of the final eight races, clinching the manufacturers’ title for a 12th straight year. Ford finished second, producing a healthy 14 victories while Toyota drivers managed just two en route to last place.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who gave Chevy something to cheer about much of the year, wrapped up his final race with crew chief Steve Letarte. The duo didn’t succeed in the postseason but still produced a respectable four-win season, Earnhardt’s best in a decade, during their final year together.
Finally, defending champion Jimmie Johnson wrapped up the year 11th in points. It’s the worst performance of his 13-year career in Cup and coincided with crew chief Chad Knaus getting called to the NASCAR hauler after the race. Knaus wanted to add a wheel spacer on a hub, preventing a loose wheel during the Homestead event but was told not to by a NASCAR official. Why is unclear, since the move isn’t exactly illegal but Knaus ignored the directive, exclaiming the sport holds a special set of rules for the No. 48 team. That angered many.
“We were just trying to clarify what went on,” said NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton after the race, trying to downplay it although adding Hendrick GM Doug Duchardt to the hauler raised eyebrows. “It's fine. We just wanted to clear the air and clarify everything. It's really not an issue."
Tony Stewart’s streak of 15 straight seasons with a win came to an end early Sunday. A bashed front end grille caused the No. 14 car to overheat and left Stewart sitting inside the garage dead last. “All streaks come to an end at one point,” he told the press earlier this week, holding firm that crew chief Chad Johnston and the other major players working on his car would keep their jobs heading into next year. … It was a rough day for Roush Fenway Racing as two of three cars were involved in wrecks while the third of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could only muster 22nd. With Carl Edwards leaving for Joe Gibbs Racing next season, the three drivers that remain – Stenhouse, Greg Biffle, and incoming Trevor Bayne – had a total of one top-5 finish between them in the second half of this season. … Marcos Ambrose ran 27th in his NASCAR finale with Richard Petty Motorsports. The Australian, heading back to his home country, finishes his Cup career with two victories in 227 starts (both at Watkins Glen) but no Chase appearances and a disappointing zero in the win column on oval tracks. … Among the early offseason talk on rule changes: fixing sideskirts, so sheet metal doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb on the side of the cars and getting better adhesion on grille pieces to cut down on debris. The amount of metal coming off has been alarming, with “real” debris causing five of the 13 cautions at Homestead Sunday.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
You may have mistaken the 38-year-old edition of Kevin Garnett for Skeletor — but the former MVP and NBA champion is still in the league. KG is on the final year of his last big NBA contract, a deal that was signed with the Boston Celtics but eventually traded to Garnett’s current squad, the Brooklyn Nets.
Garnett’s minutes and productivity have shrunk considerably since he landed in New York, but he’s still a valuable personality. Often cited as the league’s best trash talker and a prodigious defensive communicator, he makes every locker room better by his presence. The man was simply born to be around basketball teams, helping them win — and that’s why his latest sentiments come as no surprise. "I want to buy the Timberwolves. Put a group together and perhaps some day try to buy the team. That's what I want,” Garnett told Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports.
Obviously, Garnett is a ways away from making this dream a reality. He’ll probably have to finish his playing career first. But the tiny cluster of NBA players wealthy enough to enter this discussion does include The Big Ticket. In fact, Garnett’s 20-year career has seen him earn more money than any player in league history. He’s made approximately $329 million from player contracts.
It’s hard to imagine an owner who would make the Wolves’ fanbase any happier. Garnett’s 12 years in Minnesota saw him put his team on the map in a way no one had before. And not a soul, including mega-talent Kevin Love, has matched Garnett’s impact on the franchise since. KG stayed loyal to his city much longer than many believed he should, consistently deflecting interest from other teams as he tried to lift the Wolves from mediocrity to the promised land; even as his best teammates were Ricky Davis and Wally Szczerbiak. Garnett bled T'Wolves blue like no one else.
And despite a championship, huge national exposure and an endless list of other accolades with the Boston Celtics, KG had always left a huge hunk of his heart back in Minneapolis. Now, he’s looking to reclaim it.
— John Wilmes
Time for a bit of a breather for a handful of teams.
Last week was plenty eventful with Alabama’s win over No. 1 Mississippi State, another Florida State comeback, a TCU scare, a Georgia rout of Auburn and an Arizona State flop in Corvallis.
This week may not be nearly as dramatic.
For starters, this week is the annual SEC-FCS challenge. SEC teams will face Eastern Kentucky, Charleston Southern, Western Carolina and Samford this week.
Even though we’re a little light on on games this week, there are a few highlights, chiefly the hotly contested Pac-12 South. UCLA faces USC this week, but Arizona State’s loss to Oregon State has opened the door for Arizona, provided the Wildcats beat Utah and catch some breaks.
The SEC has two key games, one in each division. Arkansas and Tennessee are more competitive this season, and they’ll look to keep up momentum against Ole Miss and Missouri, respectively.
The Week Ahead: Nov. 22
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
Listen to the Week 12 recap podcast:
Arizona at Utah
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... Arizona is clinging to life in the Pac-12 South. The Wildcats, who defeated Cal on a Hail Mary earlier this season, capitalized on a Washington turnover to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired against the Huskies. Arizona must solve Utah’s stifling defense on the road and defeat rival Arizona State for a chance at the South — while getting help from USC and UCLA (with a win over USC and a loss to Stanford).
Vegas says: Utah by 3 1/2
Ole Miss at Arkansas
When and where: 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... one team in this game has an SEC losing streak, and it’s not Arkansas. Despite back-to-back conferences losses to LSU and Auburn, Ole Miss still has a shot at the SEC West and, thus, the playoff. The Rebels have a win over Alabama in hand and a shot at Mississippi State at home, but they’ll need to handle a rejuvenated Arkansas first. Ole Miss’ offense regrouped in the loss to Auburn, but the Rebels are working through injuries, chiefly to receiver Laquon Treadwell. Arkansas picked up its first SEC win under Bret Bielema, but it’s a debate what made this win more unlikely: A shutout against a ranked LSU team or that ground-and-pound Arkansas needed only 95 rushing yards to win.
Vegas says: Ole Miss by 3
Wisconsin at Iowa
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
We’re watching because... Melvin Gordon is can’t miss-viewing. The Wisconsin tailback was appointment viewing before last week’s record 408 rushing yards, but do you want to miss a single carry from now on? Not only did Gordon break LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-game rushing record, he’s within reach of Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record that has stood since 1988. Gordon needs 719 yards to catch Sanders’ 2,628 yards. Including a potential Big Ten title game and a bowl, Gordon has to average 180 yards per game to pass Sanders. Gordon averages 191.
Vegas says: Wisconsin by 9 1/2
Missouri at Tennessee
When and where: 7:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... Missouri’s bizarre season always deserves attention. The Tigers lost at home to an Indiana team that’s now winless in the Big Ten, beat Florida on the road with 119 yards of offense and four return touchdowns and now sits at 8-2 after a 34-27 win at a Texas A&M that just upset Auburn on the road. A team that lost to the Hoosiers at home could win 10 games during the regular season. To do so, Missouri will have to defeat Tennessee in Oxford as the Volunteers are seeking their first bowl bid since 2010.
Vegas says: Tennessee by 3 1/2
USC at UCLA
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... this game has potential for some late-night Pac-12 unpredictability, and we don’t have to stay up after midnight Eastern to see it. With a win in hand against Arizona State, UCLA can take one step closer to a third consecutive trip to the Pac-12 title game with a win over rival USC. The game points to a quarterback showdown. Brett Hundley has completed 72 percent of his passes with 1,374 total yards and nine total touchdowns during UCLA’s four-game win streak. USC quarterback Cody Kessler’s season has been under the radar, but he’s completing 70.2 percent of his passes with 29 touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s doing most his heavy lifting against weaker teams, so this is a chance to remedy that reputation.
Vegas says: UCLA by 3
Hosts Braden Gall and David Fox breakdown how a wild Week 12 in college football. Alabama takes control of the West, Mizzou and Georgia battle for the East and Florida is looking for a new coach. Melvin Gordon and JT Barrett star in the Big Ten, TCU struggles in the Big 12 and Arizona State opens up the Pac-12 South race. And Florida State survives yet another halftime deficit. We debate it all and much more this week's edition of the Cover 2 Podcast.
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of football. With that in mind, Athlon Sports rounded up the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Week 11 of the NFL season.
With Arizona's win over Detroit Sunday, the Cardinals are 9-1 this season and owners of the best record in the NFL. They are 9-1 for just the second time in franchise history, joining the 1948 Chicago Cardinals. Arizona is 6-0 at home this season for the first time since 1970.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown 322 consecutive passes at home without an interception, which is the longest streak in NFL history. His 29 consecutive touchdowns at home without an interception is also the longest streak in NFL history. He threw three more without a pick in the 53-20 win against Philadelphia in Week 11.
The Packers scored 30 points in the first half of their win against the Eagles, and are the first team in league history to score at least 28 points in the first half of four consecutive home games.
Green Bay is just the fifth team in NFL history to score 50+ points in consecutive games. That has happened three straight seasons in the NFL as the Packers join the 2013 Broncos and 2012 Seahawks. However, it has never happened in three straight games. Up next for the Packers are the Vikings, a team they beat 42-10 at home in Week 5 and a team that allows an average of 22 PPG.
The 53 points allowed by Philadelphia is the most the Eagles surrendered since a 62-10 loss to the Giants on Nov. 26, 1972.
Green Bay's Julius Peppers became the first player in NFL history with 100+ sacks and four interceptions returned for touchdowns. He picked off Mark Sanchez and returned it 52 yards for a score in the Packers' rout of the Eagles. Peppers joined J.J. Watt and Danny Lansanah as the only players with multiple defensive touchdowns this season.
New England undrafted running back Jonas Gray finished with 199 rushing yards and four scores in the Patriots' 42-20 win at Indianapolis and became the first NFL player since 1921 to record four rushing touchdowns in a game he entered with zero career rushing TDs. Evansville's Herb Henderson was the last to do so. Gray joined Priest Holmes as the only undrafted players to rush for four TDs in a game since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Gray's four rushing touchdowns against the Colts matched the entire NFL's rushing total for Week 11 (entering the Monday night game). Kansas City's Jamaal Charles had two, teammate Kniles Davis one, and Green Bay's Eddie Lacy one.
Tampa Bay rookie wide receiver Mike Evans had seven catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns in the Buccaneers’ 27-7 win at Washington. At 21 years, 87 days old, Evans is the youngest player in NFL history with a 200-yard receiving game. The performance marked Evans’ third consecutive game with at least seven catches, 100 receiving yards and a touchdown catch. He is the first rookie in NFL history to accomplish the feat.
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt had five tackles, one sack, a forced fumbled, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown catch in the Texans’ 23-7 win at Cleveland. Watt is the second player in NFL history with two touchdown catches, an interception-return touchdown and a fumble-return touchdown in a season, joining Philadelphia’s Jay Arnold in 1938. He is the only NFL player to register a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and touchdown reception in the same game since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
San Francisco rookie linebacker Chris Borland had 12 tackles and two interceptions in the 49ers’ 16-10 win against the New York Giants. Borland is the first rookie linebacker in franchise history with two interceptions in a game. He also joins Ken Norton Jr. (October 22, 1995) as the only 49ers linebackers with two interceptions in a game over the past 40 years.
St. Louis' 22-7 win over Denver in Week 11, coupled with its 28-26 win over Seattle in Week 7 make the Rams the first team with wins against each of the previous season's Super Bowl contestants since Green Bay did so in 2003.
Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas had seven catches for 103 yards in the Broncos’ loss at St. Louis. Thomas now has at least 100 receiving yards in seven consecutive games, tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history with Charley Hennigan (1961) and Michael Irvin (1995). Detroit's Calvin Johnson holds the NFL record with eight consecutive 100-yard receiving games in 2012.
Peyton Manning (2) and Eli Manning (5) combined for seven interceptions in Week 11. That is their second-highest one-day total. They had eight on Nov. 11, 2007 (Peyton 6, Eli 2). Peyton had his NFL record of 15 straight games with at least two TD passes snapped against the Rams. Eli joins Tony Romo as the only active QBs to throw five interceptions in a game twice.
Cincinnati rookie running back Jeremy Hill rushed for 152 yards in the Bengals’ 27-10 win at New Orleans. Hill, who rushed for 154 yards in Week 9 against Jacksonville, is the second rookie in franchise history with two 150-yard rushing games, joining Paul Robinson (1968).
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 17:
• One for the thumb: Eli Manning derped his way to five interceptions yesterday.
• His name is Jonas: The Patriots' Jonas Gray had a career game in his first start.
• Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee noticed that ESPN was pushing a narrative on Saturday. He didn't like it.
• Fat-guy touchdown celebrations are pretty enjoyable.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Rudy Gay’s reputation has been on quite the roller coaster ride. The Sacramento Kings’ 28-year-old forward has been a revered scorer and a FIBA gold medalist, but he’s also been an easy target for many analysts of the game, who eagerly underline his offensive inefficiency and bloated contract, which expires this season and pays him $19.3 million for the year.
Now, Gay looks like a bit of a bargain on his upcoming deal, reached November 16 and worth a reported $40 million over three seasons. Behind dark horse MVP candidate DeMarcus Cousins, Gay has been a sharp number two man on a surging 6-4 Kings squad, poised to make the Western Conference playoff outlook scarier yet.
Rudy has scaled back on ball-stopping and bad isolation shooting, as he’s worked smarter to get shots closer to the rim, and found his points within the potent Sacramento offense. Gay’s current 22.5 points per game, on a 22.1 player efficiency rating, come from only a 10-game sample size, but those figures are far better than any line he’s put up in recent years. It’s still early, but 2014-15 is shaping up to be Gay’s best season as a pro.
Like the rest of his Sacramento roster, the University of Connecticut alum has seen enough criticism and doubt to earn something of an underdog mentality. The Kings’ success out of the gates has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the early season, and Gay’s extension means that at least he and Cousins will be around for years more to continue making basketball — dead in Sac-town for nearly decade — a cornerstone of their city yet again.
Watch as they take on Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans at the edge of the Western postseason landscape, tomorrow night at 9 PM ET at the Sleep Train Arena.
— John Wilmes
The Pittsburgh Steelers will try and get back on track when they take on the Tennessee Titans on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The Steelers (6-4) had won three in a row before losing to the Jets last week, while the Titans (2-7) have dropped their past three games.
Pittsburgh is in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt, thanks to the NFL’s fourth-ranked offense, but the Steelers can ill afford to lose to a team they are expected to beat. Tennessee is playing more for pride and draft position than anything, but first-year head coach Ken Whisenhunt would no doubt love to see improvement and signs of growth, especially from rookies like quarterback Zach Mettenberger and running back Bishop Sankey.
The Titans have won two in a row against the Steelers, including last season’s 16-9 victory in Pittsburgh in the season opener. That game was dominated by both defenses, as Jake Locker and Ben Roethlisberger combined for just 316 yards passing and were sacked six times. Besides starting out 0-1, this game also was costly for the Steelers in that they lost starting center Maurkice Pouncey and linebacker Larry Foote to season-ending injuries. Pittsburgh would go on to finish 8-8, missing the playoffs for the second straight season while the Titans would win just six more games, resulting in the firing of head coach Mike Munchak.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Pittsburgh -6.5
|Pittsburgh 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||@ JAC||W 17 - 9||Recap|
|10/12||@ CLE||L 10 - 31||Recap|
|10/20||vs HOU||W 30 - 23||Recap|
|10/26||vs IND||W 51 - 34||Recap|
|11/2||vs BAL||W 43 - 23||Recap|
|11/9||@ NYJ||L 13 - 20||Recap|
|11/17||@ TEN||W 27 - 24||Recap|
|11/30||vs NO||L 32 - 35||Recap|
Pittsburgh’s Key to Victory: Don’t Play Down to the Competition
The Steelers are 6-4, including wins over AFC South division leader Indianapolis and AFC North foes Baltimore and Cleveland. Pittsburgh’s four losses have come against the aforementioned Browns and Ravens, the Buccaneers at home and the Jets on the road. There’s no shame in losing divisional games, especially in the AFC North, the only division in the NFL that has four teams with winning records. Tampa Bay and New York on the other hand are a combined 4-16. Besides the Steelers, the only teams the Buccaneers and Jets have defeated this season are the winless (0-10) Raiders and a 3-7 Redskins squad. That’s not exactly the resume of a playoff team is it? Fortunately for Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, his team’s postseason hopes are very much alive, but the Steelers need to treat every game from here out as a must win. To be fair, it’s not like Pittsburgh was blown out by either Tampa Bay or New York. The Bucs won on a last-second touchdown pass while the Jets took full advantage of four Steeler turnovers, but a loss is still a loss and either could end up costing Pittsburgh a playoff berth. If there’s anything that stands out, statistically speaking, in the four losses it is turnovers (minus-seven) and a lack of a running game (89.5 rushing ypg compared to 125 in the six wins). However, it also should be pointed out that for whatever reason, the Steelers have had a tendency under Tomlin to not show up against what is perceived to be lesser competition. This pattern needs to end tonight, especially if Pittsburgh wants any chance of ending its longest playoff drought since the late ‘90s.
|Tennessee 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||vs CLE||L 28 - 29||Recap|
|10/12||vs JAC||W 16 - 14||Recap|
|10/19||@ WAS||L 17 - 19||Recap|
|10/26||vs HOU||L 16 - 30||Recap|
|11/9||@ BAL||L 7 - 21||Recap|
|11/17||vs PIT||L 24 - 27||Recap|
|11/23||@ PHI||L 24 - 43||Recap|
|11/30||@ HOU||L 21 - 45||Recap|
Tennessee’s Key to Victory: Embrace the Spotlight
The Titans have just one win since beating the Chiefs in Kansas City in their season opener. And that was of the two-point variety against 1-9 Jacksonville. There have been some close calls for Ken Whisenhunt’s bunch, namely a one-point loss at home to AFC North leader Cleveland and a two-point loss in Washington. But the reason Tennessee lost to the Browns was because the Titans coughed up a 15-point fourth-quarter lead while also allowing the Redskins to go 76 yards in the final 3:14 to set up the game-winning, chip shot field goal. There also have been some blowout losses (33-7 vs. CIN, 41-17 vs. IND), which should be expected from a team that entered Week 11 ranked second to last in the NFL in both total (308.7 ypg) and scoring (16.0 ppg) offense and 26th in point differential (-8.8 ppg). Other than draft position, the only thing the Titans really have to play for at this point is pride. Tonight is the first of two primetime games for Tennessee (at JAC for the Thursday night game in Week 16), something not typically afforded teams who are already out of the playoff picture. So why not embrace the national spotlight and the chance to play spoiler? Honestly, what do the Titans have to lose at this point?
On paper, this is a complete mismatch. Pittsburgh has one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses while Tennessee has struggled to score any points of its own as well as slow down the opposition. However, the Steelers have been in this situation before, including twice this season, and have come out on the losing end. That said, there’s also some history between these two teams, and while it’s been nearly six years since the Terrible Towel stomp in Nashville, there are still a few players who were standing on Pittsburgh’s sideline when said incident occurred. One of those was Ben Roethlisberger and whether he will admit it or not, I expect Big Ben to make a statement or two of his own in the Music City tonight.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 31, Tennessee 20
ATLANTA — To the outside, Ron Hunter shouldn’t feel queasy when he sees the leading figures of his Georgia State basketball team.
On a team that went 17-1 in the Sun Belt last season, Hunter has a five-star, top-20 recruit at point guard. He has guard who played on a national championship team. He has an NBA Draft prospect at shooting guard.
For a program that’s had two winning seasons in the last decade and one NCAA Tournament berth since 2001, Georgia State should like its odds with that lot.
A team that rolled through its conference last year should do so again with that kind of team. At the same time, the foundation of that team knows nothing is certain, nothing is easy.
Another way to describe those three is the following: A washout who was the point guard of the worst Kentucky team the last five years, a guard recovering from the most publicly horrific college basketball injury in recent memory and, not least of which, the coach’s son.
Georgia State has talent and experience in Ryan Harrow, Kevin Ware and R.J. Hunter but also a group that’s taken the long road to find a spot it can thrive.
“My first year here, I wasn’t stressed,” Hunter told Athlon Sports. “I’m stressed now. I saw Ryan Harrow, R.J. and Kevin Ware on campus the other day, and my stomach started turning. I can’t mess this thing up.”
Georgia State is not only one of the best mid-majors in the country but also one of the most compelling teams of the 351 playing Division I basketball.
The Panthers start their season tonight at Iowa State, a program known in recent years for its open doors for wayward souls. The Cyclones have nothing on this group.
Let’s start with the newest arrival.
When Kevin Ware returned to Atlanta, he and Hunter didn’t talk much about why he landed at Georgia State after coming off the bench as a sophomore for an eventual national champion at Louisville.
This is a new Kevin Ware, his coach told him. Not the Kevin Ware from Louisville. Not the Kevin Ware whose worst moment was broadcast on television on the largest stage.
Then Paul George happened.
In an August Team USA exhibition, the Indiana Pacers wing chased down James Harden in transition, his right leg landing in the wrong spot in the support beneath the basket. On camera, a break was evident. A hinge where there shouldn’t be one. Bone touching air.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of college basketball could summon two words — Kevin Ware.
Too fresh in our minds was Ware in the 2013 Elite Eight against Duke. Taking a jump shot, Ware landed in a way that produced the same injury, also on national television.
Ware tweeted support for George, but at the same time, he was reliving his own injury. With all the public weight of his injury at Louisville behind him, Ware progressed in his first two months at Georgia State after a year in limbo.
Ware rushed back to play for Louisville the following season, but getting kicked in the leg against Missouri State essentially ended his comeback season. He played 53 minutes in nine games before shutting down and transferring to Georgia State. The parting with Louisville was easy, Ware said.
Louisville regrouped around Ware in 2013 and won a national championship. He’s still close with many of the players on this year’s team, but continuing at Louisville and Rick Pitino in 2013-14 was impossible.
“It was hard for him to coach,” Ware told Athlon Sports. “I honestly felt he couldn’t coach me at that point because he was so concerned about my leg.”
So was the media. Ware not only watched George sustain a similarly gruesome injury, Ware felt an obligation to take media requests to share his own recovery.
Between his injury and the George incident, Ware had connected on Twitter and Instagram with many younger basketball players suffering traumatic injuries since his own, but never this public and never in such a similar situation.
Reliving his experience came at the expense of his own progress.
Georgia State was in a practice period at the same time as George’s injury. Ware, described by his high school friend Harrow as fearless, suddenly was playing free throw line to free throw line.
Ware was in the same frame of mind when Georgia State took an eight-day trip to Costa Rica for four exhibition games.
In the third possession of the first game, Ware had his leg clipped by a Costa Rican player. He fell into a wall. Ron Hunter held back a trainer. The game was still in live play, and Ware sprung back onto the court. From there, Ware was back.
Now, Ron Hunter says Ware is a better athlete than he was in high school at Rockdale County southeast of Atlanta.
“It seemed like he wasn’t thinking; he was just reacting,” teammate R.J. Hunter told Athlon Sports. “I’m sure that dude had 40 steals in those games. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Ware wouldn’t have landed at Georgia State if not for his Atlanta AAU buddy, Ryan Harrow.
That’s a statement in itself. When Harrow landed at NC State as a top-20 recruit for coach Sidney Lowe in 2010, he couldn’t imagine being at his third school. Other point guards in his class included No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving at Duke and NBA Draft lottery picks Kendall Marshall at North Carolina and Brandon Knight at Kentucky.
“I didn’t think I’d be in college this long,” Harrow told Athlon Sports.
After Lowe was fired at NC State, Harrow transferred to Kentucky where he sat out for a season due to NCAA rules. The Wildcats won the 2012 national championship with Harrow on the bench.
When Harrow took over at point guard, Calipari was enjoying an unbroken record of standout point guards from Derrick Rose to Tyreke Evans to John Wall to Brandon Knight to Marquis Teague.
Harrow may have had trouble filling those shoes under ideal circumstances, but outside factors made it impossible. In Georgia, Harrow’s father, Mark Harrow, suffered a stroke in the June before the point guard’s lone season at Kentucky.
The mental toll of his father’s ill health and his struggles on the court were only magnified by the scope of attention at Kentucky. He went scoreless in February home games against Florida and Tennessee. He shot 2-of-14 in a loss to Vanderbilt in an SEC tournament loss that banished Kentucky to the NIT. He scored five points in a loss to Robert Morris.
A season that started in the top three of the AP poll ended with a one-and-done in the NIT against a team from the Northeast Conference.
“It wasn’t as if Ryan came in here and it just worked,” Ron Hunter said. “When you get a kid who was at Kentucky and comes to Georgia State, you’ve got a lot you’ve got work through.
“What Ryan Harrow went through wasn’t injury, but he was beat down at Kentucky. I don’t know if you can be beat down any more.”
Beyond repairing his confidence, Harrow also began to encounter his father’s recovery head on. The stress of being helpless to aid his father was replaced by watching his father’s day-to-day challenges.
Harrow was eligible immediately to play at Georgia State last season, but he wasn’t ready to play at a high level. The Panthers started 3-6, only one win over a Division I team.
Eventually, Harrow returned to the form that was familiar to Ware, his teammate with the Atlanta Celtics. Georgia State won 22 of 23 games, and Harrow averaged 17.8 points per game and earned All-Sun Belt honors.
“When he came home, he came back to life,” Ware said. “I’m not used to seeing the Ryan that was at NC State or at UK. That wasn’t Ryan at all. When he came to Georgia State, coach let him play.”
The toughest challenge for Hunter, though, hasn’t been working to repair the confidence of Harrow and Ware.
“The hardest part of this has been as a father,” Hunter said. “I hope when this is all said and done, I don’t say, ‘Man, what happened with my son?’ That’s what I’m trying to balance a little better.”
With National Player of the Year Doug McDermott gone from his father’s program at Creighton, the Hunters are the most notable father-son duo in college basketball.
Of Georgia State’s top three players this season, R.J. Hunter was the first to arrive in Atlanta. R.J. was a three-star recruit with offers from a handful of mid-tier major conference programs, but he elected to follow his father to Georgia State where he was the Sun Belt player of the year last season.
Ron Hunter never coached his son in a game until Georgia State’s 2012-13 opener at Duke. Growing up, Ron always gave R.J. a choice of getting “coach” or getting “dad.” Most of the time, R.J. chose “dad.” Now, he doesn’t get a say in the matter.
Neither party, though, could say they were unprepared for the father-son/coach-player experience.
Ray McCallum, who coached his son a Detroit, is R.J. Hunter’s godfather. R.J. also spent time talking to Bryce Drew, who played for his father at Valparaiso.
“At one AAU tournament, he pulled me aside and said, ‘look, it’s going to be tough, but it was the best four years of my life playing for my dad,’” R.J. Hunter said. “‘If you can make it work, you can make magic.’”
Magic at Georgia State will take work, though.
Georgia State enjoyed a banner season a year ago before losing to UL Lafayette in the Sun Belt tournament. The Panthers lost their NIT opener to Clemson. The margin of error for a Sun Belt team is slim.
The Panthers are replacing two starters who averaged double figures last season. One new starter, forward Curtis Washington, is a transfer from USC, who also came as a project with “two bad shoulders.” A freshman may end up taking the final spot in the starting lineup.
And Hunter isn’t ruling out another round of Ware reliving his trauma from Louisville as more attention comes to Ware’s season.
The pieces, they hope, are in place — a lights out shooter in Hunter, a floor general in Harrow, a defensive game-changer in Ware.
“I feel like we’ve got the best 1-2-3 punch in the country,” Ware said. “We all have a different game but we all complement each other so well.”
Images courtesy of Georgia State athletics
Few players around college football have grown up as quickly and confidently as Ohio State starting quarterback J.T. Barrett this season. The Buckeyes are fortunate the maturing process has followed an accelerated path. Whatever College Football Playoff hopes may be on the table will be in the hands of the performance of Barrett.
For a moment, take a look back at the beginning of the season. Ohio State went into the season not really knowing just how things would gel after losing Braxton Miller just weeks before the start of the season. Barrett was chosen by head coach Urban Meyer to take control of the offense. It was Meyer’s best possible decision at the time, but one that left many questions to be answered. Ohio State suddenly went form playoff contender to potential Big Ten spoiler without a single game being played. It took time for things to work out. An early home loss to Virginia Tech was a difficult spot for Barrett. Virginia Tech was considered one of the best defensive teams in the ACC, and the Hokies took advantage of a young quarterback making his first big time start in front of a national audience. Since then, however, Barrett has grown up and blossomed to become one of the best players in the Big Ten.
Barrett is now coming off impressive back-to-back road performance in which he passed for 500 yards, six touchdowns and 275 rushing yards and three more rushing touchdowns. He piled up these numbers against teams ranked in the top 25 in cold conditions as well. Against Michigan State a week ago, Barrett had his best game throwing the football. There was never a doubt about whether or not the Buckeyes would go to Minnesota on a hangover. There is too much on the line this season, and Barrett lacks the experience to understand the concept of a letdown at this level. This is not a criticism, just an observation that Barrett is bringing some youthful energy to the offense and is still looking to prove something to any who watch.
Against Minnesota a week later, Barrett had his best day running the football. He did so against a Minnesota defense that has held four opponents under 100 rushing yards and was coming off a dominating performance against Iowa (84 rushing yards allowed to the Hawkeyes). Doing so in the snow is also no small feat.
Barrett’s emergence has coincided with the rise of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the playoff race, and this is not a coincidence. The play of the Ohio State quarterback has not gone unnoticed, and some are even jumping so far as to suggest he should be in the running for the Heisman Trophy. Regardless of where you fall on that debate, there is no denying Ohio State now has a quarterback more than capable of filling in for the injured Miller and Barrett keeps Ohio State one of the legitimate contenders for the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State’s next two games are at home against Indiana (10th in the Big Ten against the run) and rival Michigan (3rd against the run). Barrett and Ohio State look to be on cruise control to the Big Ten championship game, and Barrett is a huge reason why this is even possible this season.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
In his first game back from a four-game suspension, Georgia running back Todd Gurley suffered a torn ACL against Auburn and will miss the remainder of the 2014 season
Gurley rushed for 138 yards against the Tigers and helped to keep the Bulldogs’ East Division title hopes alive in a 34-7 win over the Tigers.
Prior to his suspension, Gurley was one of the leading candidates for the Heisman.
With Gurley sidelined for the rest of the year, true freshman Nick Chubb will carry the workload for Georgia’s offense. Chubb will also have help from Sony Michel and Keith Marshall at running back.
Gurley is expected to enter the NFL Draft this offseason. Despite the injury, the junior should be one of the first running backs off the board in the 2015 draft.