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The University of Southern California unveiled plans last week to remodel the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and reduce the overall capacity of the stadium to 77,500 overall, a sizeable decrease from the previous capacity of 93,607. The detailed plans also include restoring the iconic Peristyle, improvements to luxury and press boxes, better Wi-Fi throughout the stadium, and enhanced amenities to the stadium's audio and visual equipment. In all, the Coliseum is finally moving into the modern era of football.
While some fans and boosters have pushed back on this plan, school administrators are never going to please everyone and this is a move that makes a ton of sense for USC. The dirty, not-so-secret secret among those around Los Angeles is that the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, as iconic as she may be, is one of the biggest structural eyesores in college football. If you've never been inside the stadium, it's as old as it looks, perhaps even older. The fact that it seats so many people and is often less than full at the start of games has further compounded USC's issues with the Coliseum in recent years.
The Trojans have long prided themselves on their NFL connections. Whether it is the continuous stream of athletes into the professional ranks, players like J.J. Watt and Tim Tebow working out and filming segments there, or constant references to the Trojans being Los Angeles' "true NFL team," the school has proud and notable ties to the professional football community. Their stadium size and feel used to reflect that, but now the Trojans are truly embracing what it means to be a college team.
While there can be no doubt that stadiums like Texas A&M's Kyle Field or Michigan's Big House are more than capable of actually holding 100,000-plud people, USC has never been the type of environment where that many people show up for football games. In the past USC fans have unfairly been tabbed with the fair-weather tag, but the reality is that Los Angeles plays host to a ridiculous number of professional sports and entertainment icons.
There is only so much money to go around and so many hours in the day to make that happen. When the Kings, Dodgers, Angles, Ducks, Trojans, Bruins, Lakers, Clippers, and Galaxy all play within a reasonable drive of one another, you're going to end up with empty seats. That doesn't even include the frequency with which L.A. plays host to award shows, galas, dinners, concert events, conferences, and movie premieres.
As a result of all of this, the Coliseum has become a template for the "empty stadium [x] minutes before kickoff" photos that are far too common and cliché on social media. These photos usually start making their way around Twitter at about 5:30 p.m. PT and always right before a Thursday kickoff. Invariably, these same cognoscenti of stadia arrival patterns never tweet photos of that same stadium when halftime rolls around and it's relatively full. It's also like they never read the academic study, "Get Me to the Ball Game on Time" by Sigurd Grava and Fred Nangle. They discuss many of these factors in their paper.
The qualitative measurable effect on USC’s recruiting has been negligible, but the narrative persists and it has worked against the program for the better part of this current decade. It's curious few have ever mentioned the fact that while USC might not have necessarily been hurt by this narrative, addressing the issue and increasing the college nature of the school might actually help recruiting. As weird as that is to imagine, the pressure of producing at a school like USC will scare some away from playing under Los Angeles' bright lights. The usual fallback for fans is to say that these kids wouldn't have succeeded anyhow, but that is foolish logic.
To borrow from another Los Angeles team, Zack Greinke was peppered with similar comments when he opted to test out the big-market, bright lights Dodgers as a fit. Greinke was known for having social anxiety and it was often thought that a smaller market team would be a better fit because of the pressure and obligations of a big market. When Greinke signed with the Dodgers over other potential suitors, many fans of those clubs satisfied their displeasure by predicting he would fail in Los Angeles and their team would be proven right for not spending the money on him that the Dodgers were offering. Instead Greinke would go on to partner with Clayton Kershaw as one of the most dominant one-two punches in all of baseball. Greinke didn't fail in a big environment, he found success in the right one and that's something USC now has the chance to control moving forward.
While a reduction in capacity does not remove the expectation and pressure for athletes to perform, it does make the environment more intimate and that can go a long way in college football, especially when you talk about the Trojan Family. One of the things schools sacrifice when they go big is an ability to keep things intimate. Some of the most raucous sporting venues in the world seat around 60,000-80,000 people. But even in their limited capacity, these fans are able to create noise and an environment famous for its ability to generate ear-shattering volume levels. Heck, a Turkish stadium with a capacity of 50,000 held the world record until the Kansas City Chiefs broke it in 2013, so these noise levels and environments aren't just limited to Europe.
Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, Germany, home to the Bundesliga's Borussia Dortmund, is the largest European soccer stadium specifically used by one team. There are larger venues, but they are often the site of championships rather than regular season play. Signal Iduna Park seats 81,359 people for league matches and reduces that capacity to 65,829 for international matches. German juggernaut Bayern Munich only play in front of 75,000 for league matches, such numbers would put Bayern on par with Michigan State.
Los Angeles has always been about fame, stars, entertainment, and success. The one thing you almost never hear associated with Los Angeles is the "family environment." The Trojan Family will soon have an environment that matches the intimate nature one expects upon hearing the word family. The reduced stadium capacity will bring players that much closer to fans and fans that much closer to the team they love. The improvements to the facilities will finally allow USC to showcase an iconic venue with a modern twist. In its structural capacity, the Coliseum did not reflect the advanced nature of USC's academic programs, instead it just served as a reminder that USC did not own its facilities outright like many of the best programs in college football. Those days are now over.
Aside from what this means for the players, this now gives USC something that its chief rival does not have. UCLA plays in one of the most historic venues in all of American sports, but they have only played at the Rose Bowl since 1982 and the Bruins do not have the master lease on the property. The Coliseum is but a short distance away from the actual campus and now it will finally reflect ownership by the Trojans. The Rose Bowl is 43 minutes away from UCLA and will always be more than just UCLA's home field. Such may also be the case for the Coliseum, but the Trojans may now completely turn the venue into an extension of the university, UCLA cannot do this at the present time.
The Trojans gaining control of the master lease was one of the best possible things that could have happened to the school. For far too long, USC was a team living in a home it hadn't completely unpacked. Now the Trojans have the ability to decorate their house any which way they please and they will most assuredly do so with the flash and flair that we have come to expect from USC facilities. It will be the perfect blend of tradition, excellence, modernization and intimacy. The Trojans finally have a home to call their own and they've set about giving it their personal touch.
Other schools have always had a difficult time recruiting against USC's location and tradition. Can you imagine the terror of recruiting against facilities, tradition, and location when USC finally hangs its name on the door and roll out its own cardinal and gold welcome mat?
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Webb is a recruiting analyst for BarkBoard, Scout’s Fresno State affiliate. A contributor to USCFootball.com, Scout’s USC affiliate. He is also a regular guest and contributor for Reign Of Troy, USC’s FanSided affiliate. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.
(Top photo courtesy of coliseumrenovation.com)
If we thought Week 7 was bad with fantasy owners losing Arian Foster, Week 8 was a nightmare. The NFL lost one of its most dynamic running backs in Le’Veon Bell for the season, and Bears stable back Matt Forte got dinged up as well. Forte will likely be ok, but may miss a game or two.
Reggie Bush, who wasn’t contributing to anyone this season, also will miss the season after colliding with a wall. Steve Smith Sr. tore his Achilles, which may mean he has played his last game since he said he was retiring after this season. And on Monday, San Diego announced that wide receiver Keenan Allen is out indefinitely because of a kidney injury. That’s not only a blow for Allen owners, but also those who have Philip Rivers as their quarterback.
Finally, Andrew Luck is reportedly playing with cracked ribs. Something certainly seemed to be “off” with him in the first half of the Monday night game in Carolina. He rebounded strongly in the second half, but the fact remains Luck owners are probably still on edge and thinking strongly about their backup options, especially if they don’t already have one in place.
Unlike last week, a few more new names will climb the wire and hopefully quench your desires to spend some of your imaginary FAAB as well as fill some holes in your rosters. Or, at worst snag a player from your opponents!
As always, good luck this week everyone. If you are having issues with who to drop, or hold from your fantasy teams, be sure to check out my latest series called Patience or Panic where I analyze players who are under-performing and whether you need to cut bait or hold.
I will be here to guide you each and every week with some players who are owned less than 40 percent in ESPN.com leagues and could have an impact on your squad for this particular week or the rest of the season.
1. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (27.2 percent owned in ESPN.com leagues)
Williams did a more than serviceable job those first few weeks Le’Veon Bell was serving his suspension. Once Bell came back Williams became disposable and was likely kicked to the curb once again in fantasy leagues.
Well, guess what? He is back in the No. 1 role and racked up 71 yards on nine carries after Bell was hurt last Sunday.
Williams will be the top target this week, so if you want him you will need to spend Charcandrick West-type money. What Williams has shown this season when he plays is he should be worth it.
2. Vernon Davis, TE, Denver Broncos (15.2 percent owned)
This trade came mid-afternoon Monday and made some noise for sure. Davis who has shown he can be unstoppable in games has been all but non-existent this season. The 49ers trading him to the Broncos should definitely increase his value, and hopefully rekindle that desire to dominate defenses like he used to. If you have some wishy-washy tight ends each week, Davis becomes an intriguing target to say the least on a new team with real talent.
3. Jeremy Langford, RB, Chicago Bears (2.8 percent owned)
Langford will step into more work in Week 9, if not the entire workload depending on Forte’s injury status. At this point it looks like he will be the guy and he faces a relatively soft Chargers rushing defense so he has immediate appeal for fantasy owners as well as a flex play, or worst case RB2.
4. Malcom Floyd, WR San Diego Chargers (27.6 percent owned)
Floyd will be a top-targeted receiver with the terrible news about Keenan Allen being out indefinitely. Floyd had been relatively useless all season, but now he should be forced into being a weapon and targeted far more often, starting this week. Floyd had a big Week 8, so if that gets repeated he will be worth the add.
DST Streamer(s) of the Week
I am a part of the streaming DST movement. I don’t typically waste a draft pick, unless I need to, in my drafts and instead cut someone and add a DST. Clearly the top defenses will be owned and not available, but streaming is always an option when it comes to DSTs. So each week I will be providing a DST that is owned in less than 30 percent of ESPN.com leagues and can be useful.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New York Jets (5.8 owned in ESPN.com leagues)
This defense is coming off of a bye, but had 24 points in Week 7. I am not expecting that sort of performance again. However, if Ryan Fitzpatrick is out again Geno Smith will get the nod and I will take any DST facing him no matter what!
— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.
Now that Week 8 of the NFL/fantasy season is in the books, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief that they got through it. Week 8 may have been the busiest week in recent memory in terms of injuries. It seemed like there was at least one player in every game that was getting carted off, which is never a good sign.
While we obviously wish the best for all of the players that are injured, the focus of fantasy owners is usually "now what?" Waiver wires will be busy, and fantasy teams will have to prepare for a week with the most teams on bye (six) plus the massive amount of injuries in Week 8. But until then, let's look back at the bloodbath and the questions it raised:
Malcom Floyd: Top WR waiver priority this week?
Floyd has four games with more than 50 receiving yards and four games with less than 50. He has three touchdowns on the season, which includes two in Week 8. With Keenan Allen out indefinitely because of a kidney injury, Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green banged up, someone has to fill in. While there are running backs (DeAngelo Williams) that will likely be a higher waiver priority, Floyd should be on the list, especially for wide receivers.
Floyd is about 20 percent owned in fantasy leagues, and with Philip Rivers throwing the ball as much as he's been throwing it, can easily slide in to a solid WR2 role. The schedule for the Chargers is favorable, with Chicago, Kansas City and Jacksonville as the next three games (with a bye week in there as well). While your leaguemates may be blowing their FAAB dollars on running backs, try to sneak in and grab Floyd for cheap. He should pay dividends.
Is Bad Andy Dalton here for the next few weeks?
While you can't say that Bad Andy is here after one so-so game, the schedule has to make fantasy owners nervous. In Week 9, the Bengals play the Browns on Thursday night; in Week 10, the Bengals play the Texans on Monday night. Primetime games and Dalton don't always go well. In 2014, the Bengals had one Thursday night game, one Sunday night game and one Monday night game. His stats:
Week 5, Sunday night at New England: 15-for-24, 204 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions
Week 10, Thursday night vs. Cleveland: 10-for-33, 86 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions
Week 16, Monday night vs. Denver: 17-for-25, 146 yards, two touchdowns, one interception
While some quarterbacks typically shine in prime time, Dalton isn't one of them. With the short week, the tough matchup and his track record, Dalton isn't a recommended fantasy option this week. It may not be the beginning of Bad Andy, but don't look for Superstar Andy to show up in Week 9.
Does Antonio Andrews have fantasy value as a RB2?
Andrews was a recommended waiver add about four weeks ago and he has yet to have a breakout game. The Tennessee Titans' running game has struggled all year. Andrews actually had his best game, statistically, in Week 8. However, those stats — 16 rushes for 64 yards, three receptions for 18 yards — don't exactly scream "pick me up!" He has two touchdowns on the year, but those were in Weeks 3 and 5. He has two games with more than 50 yards, and he doesn't have more than three receptions in a game.
The Titans play New Orleans in Week 9, which is a good matchup. The fear with believing in Andrews is that David Cobb is eligible to come off the injured reserved/designated for return list. However, reports out of Tennessee said that Cobb showed up at practice overweight, which doesn't bode well for Cobb taking over the running back role immediately. Bishop Sankey isn't the answer, so the Titans may continue to use Andrews until Cobb is ready to get on the field. Andrews may not be a RB2, but he is a RB3 with upside.
More Burning Questions:
Is Stefon Diggs a legit WR1 for the rest of the season?
Jeremy Langford or DeAngelo Williams?
Which Lamar Miller will show up in Week 9?
What on earth is going on with the Detroit Lions?
Charandrick West: worth all the FAAB money now?
Is Jacob Tamme the next Tony Gonzalez?
When is Mike Evans going to string together good games from week to week?
Is Carson Palmer in the discussion for top 3 quarterback this year?
Is Gary Barnidge in the discussion for top 3 tight end this year?
Todd Gurley: No. 1 overall for 2016 fantasy drafts?
How many people lost this week because they faced Eli Manning or Drew Brees?
Did we just see Steve Smith Sr.'s final NFL play?
Did anyone listen when I didn't recommend Ben Roethlisberger this week?
Does anyone really want to start a Houston running back?
Did the 49ers really bench Colin Kaepernick so they can start Blaine Gabbert?
What happened to the Jets defense?
Does Dallas really believe Matt Cassel, who threw for less than 100 yards on Sunday, is the answer?
Is Peyton Manning back?
Is Aaron Rodgers OK or is Denver's defense really that good?
Can we look at Monday night and learn this is why we don't start pass-catchers in a downpour if we have the option to sit them?
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
How does the NFL determine what team will be featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks?
Over 10 seasons, eight different teams have appeared on the behind-the-scenes reality show that documents life in NFL training camp. That means 24 teams have not participated in the Sports Emmy Award-winning show narrated by Ray Donovan star Liev Schreiber. There are three exemptions for teams to avoid the NFL infomercial — having appeared on Hard Knocks in the past 10 years, having a first-year head coach or having made the playoffs in the past two seasons. The Browns, Buccaneers, Giants, Jaguars, Rams, Redskins, Texans, Titans and Vikings all qualified for mandatory inclusion this year, with Houston ultimately getting the nod. Teams are also eligible to “volunteer” for a chance to join the show.
What a terrible week in the NFL, and likewise fantasy, for injuries. Just take a look at these names — Le’Veon Bell, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Steve Smith Sr. — all got hurt and weren’t able to finish their game.
Bell (MCL) and Smith (Achilles) are both done for the year, the severity of Forte’s knee injury isn’t know, and Keenan Allen, one of the NFL’s leading wide receivers thus far, is out indefinitely because of a kidney injury. Bell and Forte will join Jamaal Charles and Arian Foster as elite running backs that are now relegated to the sidelines. That’s crazy.
Anyways, now onto the business at hand. Let’s take a look at Week 8’s studs and duds and as always I hope you had more of the former rather than the latter.
Drew Brees, NO (vs. NYG) – 47.54 fantasy points
As if there was any doubt and hopefully you didn’t play against Brees this week. Eli Manning had one heck of a game too, but anytime a quarterback ties the NFL record for touchdown passes in a single game with seven, they’re a stud. Brees had the game of his life, throwing for 511 yards and those seven scores. That’s unbelievable.
Todd Gurley, STL (vs. SF) – 20.60 FP
It seems like Gurley is going to be on this list every week. He’s now had 100 yards rushing or more in four straight games and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down or that Jeff Fisher is going to stop giving him the ball and it doesn’t matter what the game script says. He had another 133 yards and a touchdown this week against the 49ers.
Charcandarick West, KC (vs. DET) – 18.2 FP
It looks like all those lucky folks who blew their FAAB budget on West might have been on to something. For the second week in a row West had a huge game. This time he ran for 97 yards and a score and added four catches for 25 yards out of the backfield. Moving forward it appears that West is creeping his way into the RB1 discussion.
Odell Beckham Jr., NYG (vs. NO) – 31 FP
Finally Beckham had the game that his fantasy owners has been waiting all season for. He caught eight of nine targets for 130 yards and an outstanding three touchdowns. This comes after a week where Beckham had only four catches for 25 yards against the Cowboys. If Eli Manning can stay hot, Beckham could challenge Julio Jones to be fantasy’s No. 1 wide receiver by year’s end.
Tavon Austin, STL (vs. SF) – 21.9 FP
Never in my life did I ever think that I would write Austin’s name in the stud section, but here he is. With defenses doing everything they can (and failing) to stop Todd Gurley, there is plenty of room out there for Austin to use his out-of-this world athleticism. It was on full display this week as he had 98 receiving yards and a touchdown, plus 21 rushing yards and another touchdown. It will be interesting to see if he can keep this up moving forward.
Benjamin Watson, NO (vs. NYG) – 20.7 FP
For the second time in three weeks, Watson looked like he might be able to replace Jimmy Graham in the Saints’ offense. Watson caught eight of nine targets for 147 yards and a touchdown. Now you can’t expect Drew Brees to throw for over 500 yards and seven touchdowns every game, but it is looking more and more like Watson is becoming one of Brees’ favorite targets, especially at home.
Aaron Rodgers, GB (vs. DEN) – 6.18 FP
We all knew that Denver’s defense was good, but who knew they would completely shut down Rodgers? You might have to read this twice, but Rodgers only threw for 77 total yards in the entire game. Sometimes he does that in less than five minutes. Rodgers was so bad that even Colin Kaepernick, who has been benched and replaced by Blaine Gabbert, had more fantasy points this week. Enough said.
Ameer Abdullah, DET (vs. KC) – 0.30 FP
It looks like all that preseason hype surrounding Abdullah was for not. He rushed the ball once for three yards and failed to bring in either of his two targets. He didn’t see a snap on the first offensive drive and played sparingly the rest of the game. If Abdullah isn’t in the doghouse in Detroit, I don’t know where the doghouse is.
Chris Ivory, NYJ (at OAK) – 4.1 FP
It appears that not only does Oakland have an underrated offense; the Raiders have a very underrated defensive line too. Ivory was only able to gain 17 yards on 15 carries and basically ruined any chance you had of winning this week if you started him, unless you also had Drew Brees of course.
James Jones, GB (vs. DEN) – 0.2 FP
See what happens when Jones doesn’t score a touchdown? It’s not as if Jones has been a target monster anyways, but he has scored a touchdown in five of his seven games this season. Not this week. He caught one ball for two yards and watched as Davante Adams returned from injury and started as Green Bay’s WR2. It should be interesting to see where Jones fits in Green Bay’s offense moving forward.
Dez Bryant, DAL (vs. SEA) – 1.2 FP
I debated whether or not to include Bryant as a dud seeing that he was just coming off of injury and that he was playing against the Seahawks, which meant that he should have stayed on your bench this week. But in talking to several people, they were pissed at how Bryant “screwed” them this week. So thanks to Bryant’s two catches on six targets and a whopping 12 receiving yards, he’s a dud this week.
Jason Witten, DAL (vs. SEA) – 1.6 FP
Heading into this week it looked like Witten was going to have his best game of the season since Dez Bryant was going to be back to force defenses to shade his way and the fact that Seattle had given up the second-most fantasy points to tight ends this season. I guess Matt Cassel didn’t know that as he only targeted Witten four times. Witten caught two of those passes for 16 yards. A lot more was expected of Witten this week.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.
Yao Ming helped transform the NBA into a truly global league by giving it a firm link to China during his career with the Houston Rockets. Injuries forced the 7’6” eight-time All-Star to call it quits in 2011. But he has remained quite active in retirement, starting Yao Family Wines in Napa Valley.
And the resulting reds have received high scores from wine critics. We caught up with Yao to discuss wine — which is both his business and pleasure.
[Q] How did you first develop a passion for wine?
When I was playing for the Houston Rockets, I used to go to dinner with my teammate, Dikembe Mutombo. When you live in Houston, you go to a Texas steakhouse. Deke loves to have a nice bottle of red wine with his steak, so we would share a bottle of wine and he began to teach me about it. I learned that the best Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Napa Valley, so that’s what we would often drink. Later I visited Napa Valley and loved the beauty and quiet there.
[Q] What’s one thing you know about wine now that you didn’t know when you got into the business?
I now understand everything that goes into making great wine. Selecting the best grapes, making the right blend of juice, aging in French oak barrels, how long you age, designing the bottle and getting it to market. I can’t just list one thing, because when I got into the business I didn’t know very much.
[Q] What are some of your favorite food and wine pairings?
I drink what I am in the mood for, regardless of what I am eating. I think our wine pairs well with steak, pasta and chicken, really almost anything. Except for breakfast. I don’t think we pair well with pancakes.
[Q] What’s the proper way to taste a glass of wine?
My winemaker Tom Hinde has taught me well. You should swirl the glass to let the wine breathe. After you swirl, hold it up to the light and enjoy the beautiful color. Our wines are a deep and rich purple. I love to look at the color. Then you should lift the glass up to your nose and enjoy the scent of the wine in the glass. Let it fill your nose. Anticipate the flavor before you taste it. Finally, sip it slow and take time to enjoy.
By Matt McCue
Is Serena Williams the best women's tennis player ever?
Serena Williams is certainly in the conversation, with 36 Grand Slam titles and four Olympic gold medals. Having turned 34 years old on Sept. 26, there is still time for her to add to that incredible résumé. As for her place in history, we recently spoke with International Tennis Hall of Famer and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Billie Jean King about the short list of candidates for greatest of all-time. “I think Serena will be the best ever,” says King, a 39-time Grand Slam champion in her own right. As for the best of the rest? “Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Chris Evert,” she says. “The No. 1 from each generation.”
Why did the NHL change its overtime rules?
Overtime games in the NHL are now 3-on-3 (not including goalies), down from the 4-on-4 extra periods of years past and the 5-on-5 regulation-time lineups. In theory, fewer hockey players on the ice will create more space and more scoring opportunities. The NHL would like more sudden-death goals and fewer shootouts, so it introduced this rule change this season. Only time will tell if the drastic step has the desired impact.
Utah was not flashy in beating Oregon State 27-12 to remain atop the Pac-12 South. The Utes had to survive an offensive drought lasting two quarters before pulling away from the Beavers in the fourth quarter. Once again, it fell on the shoulders of Utah's defense to keep the team moving forward.
Now the Utes move onto a larger challenge this week in traveling to Seattle to face Washington. Utah has never beaten the Huskies, going 0-8 all-time. Washington has beaten the Utes twice in Pac-12 play since Utah joined the league in 2011, winning by an average margin of 18 points.
Here are three things we observed about Utah from its win over Oregon State:
1. Utah's offense can't sustain quick starts
For the second consecutive week, Utah's offense showed it was capable of big things in the first quarter before sputtering in later quarters. The Utes scored on their first two drives and had 176 yards of total offense in the first quarter compared to 39 yards for Oregon State. It was a much different story over the second and third quarters. Utah generated 92 total yards in those 30 minutes combined. The Utes punted on three of their next four drives after taking a 14-0 lead before finally scoring again on a 49-yard field goal from Andy Phillips in the fourth quarter. Utah can't afford to endure such offensive lulls and remain in first place in the Pac-12 South.
2. Impact plays have diminished for Utah's defense
Ultimately, the Ute defense did what it needed to do against Oregon State. The Utes kept points off the board. Still, for the second straight game, Utah did not force any turnovers. This is an odd development for a team that has led the Pac-12 in interceptions for the bulk of the season and is one of the best teams nationally in turnover margin. Utah also registered a single sack from sophomore safety Chase Hansen in the fourth quarter. It was Hansen's first career sack. Forcing turnovers and creating short fields will go a long way to helping Utah's offense become more potent again.
3. Lack of vertical throws is making Utah's offense predictable
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson had a productive evening statistically against Oregon State. Wilson threw for 198 yards and a touchdown on 14-of-17 passing. His .824 completion percentage was the sixth best in a single game by a Utah quarterback. Utah's top receiver in yardage, Kenneth Scott, gained just 44 yards on two catches. Many of Wilson's throws were screen passes behind the line of scrimmage or short throws into the flat that went for modest gains. The Utes seemed unwilling to take risks down field. Playing it safe offensively isn't going to cut it. When teams are able to contain running back Devontae Booker for stretches, not stretching the field through the air has made it tough for Utah to move the chains and put teams away early when they have a chance.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
On Tuesday night, the College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first rankings of the season. From now until the end of the regular season, these are the only rankings that truly matter.
One aspect that the committee members should consider is the strength of the conferences for each of the team in consideration. If one or two members of a conference are still undefeated yet they belong to a conference whose other members struggle to win against anyone else, how really valuable is being undefeated?
Therefore, I have applied the results of non-conference games through October to a formula that I created. The criteria include:
*Wins by each member of every conference when facing non-conference foes.
*Games on the road are worth more than those at neutral sites or at home.
*Victories versus other conferences’ previous season champions or second-place teams/divisional winners count for more points.
*Wins against FBS opponents have much more value than those against FCS members.
Below, is how the 10 FBS conferences are ranked at the end of October. Each conference’s score is in parenthesis. For those curious about the scale of my formula, a perfect score for a conference is 3.188.
1. Big Ten (.704)
The Big Ten moved into the top ranking primarily on the strength of its three remaining undefeated teams - Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa. There was just one non-conference game played by a Big Ten member last month (Penn State beat Army).
2. SEC (.651)
The SEC's rating dropped in part due to losses in both games versus the American Athletic Conference (Ole Miss to Memphis, Vanderbilt to Houston). Also, two of nine non-conference wins in October occurred versus FCS members. Three wins over Conference USA and two against the Sun Belt could not offset those.
3. Big 12 (.567)
Since every member completed its non-conference games in September, the Big 12's score remains the same.
4. Pac-12 (.535)
The Pac-12 confines its non-conference games to September other than those versus Notre Dame. The conference has very few opportunities to alter its score before the bowl games.
5. ACC (.448)
On the downside, the ACC is behind the other Power 5 conferences. On the bright side, there are still four in-state, rivalry games against SEC teams and three games remaining against Notre Dame. There is still a chance that the ACC's score could catapult over those currently rated higher.
6. American Athletic Conference (.398)
The AAC noticeably boosted its score over the course of October. Two victories over the SEC and ACC respectively garnered some headlines. However, losing all three games against BYU and both contests versus Notre Dame kept the AAC in the same relative position as it was at the end of September.
7. MAC (.304)
The MAC increased its score by a measly .002 from what it was in September. Even if Toledo wins the conference title with an undefeated record, the overall weakness of the MAC seemingly would hurt the Rockets in the College Football Playoff committee's ranking. That would most likely mean no New Year's Six bowl for Toledo.
8. Conference USA (.245)
This group plummeted in October. The only chances to increase its position will occur in three road games versus opponents from the SEC.
9. Sun Belt (.107)
This collection of multiple recent arrivals from the FCS saw its meager total drop from what it was in September. Two more road games at SEC sites should drop the score even more.
10. Mountain West (.089)
The MW did manage to increase slightly its dreadful total from September. However, that was not enough to lift this conference out of the FBS cellar. With two games left against BYU and another against Army, the Mountain West is not necessarily condemned to the basement at the end of the regular season.
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.
Joey Logano, NASCAR’s youngest title contender at 25 years old is entering his prime. Earning a season-high six victories this year, he was on the verge of a seventh at Martinsville, a fourth straight triumph that would propel him to the Chase’s final four and a shot at his first Cup championship. Even if that doesn’t happen this year Logano, armed with the powerful partnership of Team Penske, should be set to deliver multiple race wins and title opportunities for years to come.
Compare that to Matt Kenseth, age 43 and now 12 years removed from his last and only Cup Series trophy. The great Dale Earnhardt Sr. won the last of his seven championships at 43; Martinsville winner and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon will be calling it quits altogether at age 44. Not since Bobby Allison in 1983 has someone won the coveted series championship as old as Kenseth will be in 2016. Next season could even be the veteran’s last full-time drive in the series; young Erik Jones has been signed by Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth’s employer, to run for Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series beginning in 2017. With Carl Edwards signed long term along with Kyle Busch at JGR it could mean Kenseth or Denny Hamlin will need to be pushed aside.
This year was an opportunity lost for Kenseth, a five-time winner this year who was a popular title pick both inside the garage and amongst the media until Logano spun him out in the waning laps at Kansas. Whether Logano did it intentionally is debatable; both drivers were racing hard for the win. However, you can’t debate the end result of Kenseth failing to make the Eliminator Round (final eight drivers) now left to “play out the string” these final four weeks of the season. It gives context as to why, in the waning laps Sunday, Kenseth’s wounded Toyota slammed into Logano. The contact sent both cars careening hard into the outside wall, making the rumors of payback a reality while robbing Logano of his win and perhaps a shot at the 2015 title.
“You never like to be in these situations,” said Kenseth, whose maneuver while several laps off the pace sent the crowd into a frenzy. “They really stink, to be honest with you but sometimes you get put in these spots and you’ve got to try to keep respect in the garage area.”
Kenseth was clearly fed up with both the Kansas incident and a crash Sunday in which Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski, lost control and slid into Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota. The resulting damage made it the fourth time in four weeks Kenseth was wrecked. That type of track record will frustrate any driver; Logano became the epicenter of unstoppable anger. But did Kenseth’s move designed to knock a fellow competitor out of the Chase cross a line?
“Just a complete coward move,” Logano said. “I don’t have anything else to say. It’s a chicken-you-know-what move to completely take out the leader when your race is over.”
Part of the problem here is Kenseth, now out of the title hunt has little if anything to lose. A consolation prize of fifth in points means little in NASCAR’s new playoff format. Even a suspension, as unlikely as one appears to be coming, is possible, but in the wake of this incident that would do little to change the outcome of Kenseth’s year. Five victories is an outstanding resume; sitting out the next few weeks won’t change that. Sponsors won’t balk, either especially considering the buzz and positive reinforcement coming from fans believing Kenseth took “an eye for an eye.”
In some ways, the Kenseth-Logano conflict is actually a result of the new Chase and NASCAR CEO Brian France’s idea of “Boys, have at it.” If you’re going to set up a system where wrecking a driver can cost him the title, ramping up the pressure in this three-race mini-series, that’s exactly what you’re going to get. Winning at all costs can lead to wrecks and hurt feelings; when faced with the same situation, what would you do considering millions of dollars are on the line?
“The structure we have around us is not very strong as far as an authority figure saying, ‘No, you cannot do that anymore,’” Hamlin said Sunday. “It’s just tough for us because this [system] is what’s been created. I love Brian France but when he says drivers are doing what they have to do, it seems like it’s promoting this type of racing so that’s tough to crown a true champion when things go like this.”
Can NASCAR rein in this type of behavior? Not unless they change a system automatically designed to produce a “Game 7” moment every year. That’s the downside of injected drama; creating an environment of constant stress will cause desperate drivers to do desperate things. The behavior we saw Sunday, coming from a former champ with two decades of experience is a classic example of how it can all spiral out of control.
Through The Gears we go...
FIRST GEAR: A Legendary Victory for a NASCAR Legend
Logano’s wreck, combined with the resulting crash between Kenseth and Keselowski put the Martinsville race squarely in Jeff Gordon’s lap. Suddenly, a driver who had struggled to put together top-5 finishes this year came away with a victory at the best possible time, guaranteeing a chance to fight for a championship in the series finale.
“It’s the sweetest, most amazing feeling,” said Gordon, whose last Cup title came back in 2001. “I am so proud of this team.”
Gordon’s energy was a throwback to better days, his prime in the 1990s when he took no prisoners and dominated the Cup circuit to the tune of three titles and a modern-era record 13 victories in 1998. Running around like a kid on Christmas, Gordon mingled with fans in the stands after the win and jumped up and down, screaming wildly while acknowledging the teamwork it took to drag this team out of a season-long slump and in position to challenge for a title.
“I knew that if we could just get in this position, we could do something special,” Gordon said. “Man, this has turned into a fairytale year. I cannot believe it.”
Gordon now has the full resources of four-car Hendrick Motorsports at his disposal – he’s the only one of them left in title contention – and was arguably the fastest car at Homestead last November. Yes, he would be the series’ most surprising title winner since Benny Parsons in 1973 but don’t count Gordon out.
SECOND GEAR: Will Kevin Harvick be Next?
With Logano down for the count after Martinsville all eyes turn to not only NASCAR’s reaction but Kevin Harvick. Sources in the garage area claim there are at least half a dozen drivers angry over the way last week’s race at Talladega ended, believing Harvick wrecked intentionally and manipulated the outcome of the Chase. While the veteran ran decently at Martinsville, evading any payback and running eighth, he’s not out of the woods quite yet.
Phoenix, a track Harvick has been dominant at for much of the past two years, is a place he’s expected to win and lock himself inside the Homestead final four. That race in two weeks would almost certainly be where any angry rival would attempt to take him out; it gives more importance to NASCAR’s decision surrounding the Kenseth-Logano incident. If Kenseth gets suspended for say six races, an unlikely outcome but one that could have an effect on 2016, it scares others off from attempting the same move on someone else.
THIRD GEAR: Martinsville Makes It Better
Last week it seemed the sport hit rock bottom with its controversial ending at Talladega. Sunday, though was NASCAR at its best, short track racing that resulted in plenty of side-by-side action, 21 lead changes and the type of parity that led to the sport’s explosive growth in the first place.
Two non-Chasers, Jamie McMurray and A.J. Allmendinger,factored into the battle for the win. Other underdogs like Justin Allgaier and Cole Whitt earned top-20 results and much-needed TV time. Drivers who were knocked back in the pack, a result of various circumstances could drive up through the field naturally (Hamlin, winding up third after a wreck and multiple pit road penalties wound up third as an example).
With this type of racing, leading to a standing ovation by the crowd when Gordon crossed the checkered flag, it’s amazing NASCAR has chosen to stick to its schedule and not add more short track races in 2016 and beyond. Only six of the 36 races are held on tracks a mile or less, a number I feel must change for NASCAR to start rebuilding its audience.
FOURTH GEAR: Logano Not the Only Chase TKO
Five of the eight Chasers were involved in wrecks at Martinsville. Logano was joined by Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Keselowski and Kurt Busch as drivers getting themselves in trouble.
Edwards made the most impressive comeback of the quintet. Sustaining damage in a mid-race spin involving his own teammate, the No. 19 Toyota fell a lap down at one point but earned it back during a series of late cautions. A drive up to 14th kept them within striking distance of the top 4 in points with two races left to close the gap.
Kyle Busch, climbing back to a strong fifth also was cool, calm and collected Sunday. The “old Kyle” from a few years ago would have lost it after spinning out; instead, a more mature 30-year-old buckled down and busted his way forward. The No. 18 Toyota team cleared a very important hurdle and may be in the best position to make the final four among the remaining seven title contenders.
Clint Bowyer, dead last after wrecking at Martinsville, is clearly a “lame duck” driver at this point for Michael Waltrip Racing. Knocked out after the first round of the playoffs, he’s sitting a distant 16th in points and has just one top-10 finish in the postseason... Tony Stewart ran a quiet 10th on Sunday, avoiding most of the Martinsville mayhem while perhaps building towards a better team for 2016. Some last-minute changes, some of which Stewart credited to himself changed the car around after Happy Hour and left the No. 14 car running strong... Martin Truex Jr. led 27 laps Sunday and is now just short of setting a new career high in laps led (563). Sixth on Sunday, the consistency of 21 top-10 finishes is the reason he and single-car outfit Furniture Row Racing have been able to run step-for-step with the big dogs.
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Below, you will find AthlonSports.com contributor and CFG writer Mike Bainbridge's five best waiver wire pickups for Week 6. To see the full in-depth article of over 50+ players, make sure to check out CollegeFootballGeek.com.
Callen Hightower (WR, Idaho)
Hightower made the most of his opportunities on Saturday against New Mexico State, catching 10 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown in the loss. Hightower got the start in place of leading receiver Dezmon Epps, who was suspended indefinitely by the school last week for an alleged domestic violence incident – his second suspension this season. With Epps unlikely to return this season, Hightower looks to be the guy who will fill the void, and that means plenty of passes coming in his direction. Before the suspension, Epps ranked in the top 20 nationally in targets amongst receivers.
Trey Rodriguez (RB, Florida Atlantic)
After being suspended for the first four games of the season due to a violation of team rules, Rodriguez now has a stranglehold on the FAU starting running back position. Rodriguez had his highest carry total of the year Saturday against FIU en route to 140 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in the win. The freshman now has accounted for a touchdown in every game he has played in this season and looks to be the focal point of the Owls’ offense moving forward.
Jamari Staples (WR, Louisville)
Staples missed the first four games of the season due to a knee injury, but has been the Cardinals’ top receiver since his return to the lineup. The former UAB transfer had his breakout performance on Friday against Wake Forest with a career-high 10 catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Staples transferred in this offseason after nearly 500 receiving yards as a freshman, and he has plenty of familiarity with offensive coordinator and then-UAB head coach Garrick McGee. If quarterback Lamar Jackson can continue to improve as a passer, Staples has a chance to keep this run of production going for the remainder of the season.
Mikel Horton (RB, Kentucky)
Starting running back Stanley “Boom” Williams left the game against Tennessee midway through the second quarter with an elbow injury the kept him out the remainder of the contest. Horton replaced Williams and the sophomore ran well, finishing the game with 109 yards on just 14 carries. As of now the timetable is unknown for the extent of Williams’ injury, but if he is to miss any time, go ahead and snatch up Horton as a backup alternative. He looks to be the first option off of the bench ahead of JoJo Kemp.
Jamauri Bogan (RB, Western Michigan)
Before the season, the spotlight for Western Michigan was centered on star running back Jarvion Franklin, who rushed for 1,550 yards as a true freshman. Now, Franklin has seemingly taken a backseat to another freshman running back in Bogan. In the matchup against in-state rival Eastern Michigan, Bogan rushed for 61 yards and four touchdowns, giving him seven scores in the last three games alone. CFG hinted prior to the season that Franklin could see a decrease in reps in 2015 after his 300-plus attempts in his first year, but we did not expect there to be a better option on the roster. Bogan looks to be a better play at this point over Franklin.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)
For the first time since the Notre Dame game, Clemson gave its opponent some hope. NC State scored quickly on its opening possession and just before halftime the Wolfpack was up 20-19 and threatening to score again.
But NC State missed a field goal and in the blink of an eye, Charone Peake was in the end zone and Clemson was back on top for good. The Tigers held control in the second half and won 56-41.
The 8-0 Tigers are No. 3 in the AP Poll and No. 5 in the Coaches Poll. Here are five thoughts on the high-flying Clemson Tigers.
1. How Do You Stop This Offense?
When Mike Williams was lost in the season’s first game, many wondered who the Clemson deep threat would be. For a few weeks the Tigers got by on Deshaun Watson runs and wide receiver screens. But Clemson now has an answer to the deep threat question. It’s everyone. Watson can still beat you with his legs and Artavis Scott is dangerous on short passes. But against NC State, Clemson showed that Peake, Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud, Hunter Renfrow, and others can make plays downfield. Oh yeah, and...
2. Wayne Gallman Ran HARD
Take away the fumble in the third quarter and Gallman’s day was pretty much ideal with 31 carries for 172 yards and a touchdown. With a long run of 24 yards, Gallman was gaining his yardage with consistent, powerful runs each time he carried the ball. The NC State defense that was giving up 107 rushing yards a game coming in was abused for 240 by Gallman and the rest of the Tigers. His early success also opened up the passing game for Watson, who was sensational with 383 yards passing and five scoring throws.
3. The Special Teams Were Not So Special
Nyheim Hines’s 100-yard kickoff return was the start of a bad day on special teams. On a pooch kick to avoid kicking to Hines, Bra’Lon Cherry returned a kick 47 yards to the Clemson 33 and a Jayron Kearse offsides penalty on the kick gave the Pack five more yards. There were also two extra points blocked by NC State. By the end of the game, head coach Dabo Swinney was shaking his head over the special teams play.
4. Allowing Big Plays
This is something that has not happened much all year and defensive coordinator Brent Venables cannot be pleased. First, while not defensive responsibilities, the Hines and Cherry returns were huge plays. On the second play of the game, Matt Dayes set up the first touchdown with a 41-yard run. After Dayes left the game with an injury, his replacement Jaylen Samuels hit the Tigers with two large chunk plays. His 40-yard TD reception put NC State up 20-19 in the second quarter and his 66-yard run in the third quarter led to a one-yard score on the following play. The 389 yards allowed by the Clemson defense was not horrible, but how the Wolfpack got those yards is not what the Tigers want.
5. They Survived a Tough Environment With the Seminoles Looming
NC State has stung teams in this situation before. Clemson has Florida State coming to town next week and it would have been very easy to look ahead. But like they have all season long, the Tigers maintained their focus and delivered a double-digit win over a good opponent on the road. It was not a perfect performance, but it was a solid win before this weekend's big clash.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
Another season, another gaudy record, another impressive NCAA Tournament seed — and another disappointing early exit in March. That has become the narrative surrounding Georgetown basketball the past few years, and the Hoyas will enter the season looking to erase that perception.
Since John Thompson III took Georgetown to the Final Four in 2007, the Hoyas have been to the NCAA Tournament on six occasions — with a four-seed or better in five of those appearances. Yet the Hoyas haven’t reached the second weekend of the tournament since that Final Four run.
Despite the departure of three starters, Thompson III still has plenty of talent with which to work — and the biggest goal will be ending the NCAA Tournament trend of the last several seasons.
All Big East predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
Georgetown loses both of its post starters from last season in Mikael Hopkins and Joshua Smith, but the Hoyas will be deeper, more talented and more versatile.
Freshman center Jessie Govan has everyone in the program excited. He wasn’t a five-star recruit in high school, but he could be poised to make as big an immediate impact as any freshman in the Big East. Govan was one of the best back-to-the-basket scorers in the 2015 class.
Sophomore Isaac Copeland should be on every list of national breakout players. The 6'9" forward came on strong in the second half of the season, scoring in double figures in nine of the team’s final 17 games — including 14 points in the NCAA Tournament against Utah. He’s long and athletic and can make shots from the perimeter. He has an NBA future.
Sophomore forward Paul White was essentially the opposite of Copeland; White hit double figures in seven of his first 16 games but did it just once the rest of the season. He’s another versatile forward who can score around the rim, but he is capable of stepping out and knocking down 3-pointers (37.7 percent).
Thompson III has plenty of depth to use in the frontcourt. Four-star freshman Marcus Derrickson is extremely skilled and will fit in perfectly with the Georgetown offense due to his ability to pass and knock down face-up jumpers. Louisville transfer Akoy Agau will become eligible after the first semester, and the Hoyas believe 7-foot senior Bradley Hayes will find minutes off the bench as well.
Georgetown Hoyas Facts & Figures
Last season: 22-11, 12-6 Big East
Postseason: Second round
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Big East Projection: 4
Postseason Projection: First round
Georgetown’s prospects for the season changed dramatically in the course of a week in early April. On March 31, then-junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera announced he was leaving school and entering the NBA Draft — but one week later, he changed his mind and decided to return for his final season.
Smith-Rivera led Georgetown in scoring (16.3 ppg) and assists (3.2 apg), while shooting 38.7 percent from 3-point range. One of the frontrunners for Big East Player of the Year, Smith-Rivera hit the 25-point mark six different times.
Sophomore L.J. Peak was a pleasant surprise last season, grabbing one of the starting wing spots and keeping it all season. Peak is a power wing who can really finish in transition, but he was a streaky shooter during most of Big East play.
It’s unclear what role sophomore Tre Campbell will play, but expect to see him on the court more often. He had his moments during conference play and is the lone pure point guard on the team. Campbell allows the Hoyas to move Smith-Rivera off the ball or to play three guards with Peak on the other wing.
Key Losses: F Mikael Hopkins, C Joshua Smith, G Jabril Trawick
Top Players: G D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, G/F L.J. Peak, F Paul White, F Isaac Copeland, C Jessie Govan
John Thompson III needed some frontcourt reinforcements in the 2015 class, and he certainly succeeded in getting some. Jessie Govan is one of the best low-post scorers in the class and can be counted on as a go-to-guy from Day 1. Marcus Derrickson is very skilled and is tailor-made for the Hoyas’ offensive system. Wing Kaleb Johnson saw his stock rise as a senior and can score from all over the court.
Villanova is the Big East favorite again, but there’s a clear-cut top four — and Georgetown is among that group. Where exactly the Hoyas fit into the pecking order is up for debate and will likely come down to how quickly the freshmen acclimate to the college game, as well as how big a leap the sophomores take.
Thompson III is counting heavily upon Govan to make an immediate impact, and he needs Copeland or White to have a breakout season up front. If that happens, Georgetown suddenly has one of the league’s most talented frontcourts to go with one of the best guards in the Big East.
Is this the year Georgetown finally breaks its NCAA Tournament second-weekend slump? The talent is there, the depth is there, the experience and versatility are there — the Hoyas just need their young players to grow up quickly.
The College Football Playoff picture is starting to get some clarity, and the competition off the field among fans is nearly as heated as the competition on the field on game day.
The Athlon Sports College Football Experts Club presented by Nexium & Advil gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.
Here are this week’s top picks from Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox:
Rutgers at Michigan
Was the Minnesota game a fluke for Michigan or a sign of the Wolverines regressing to the mean? After a dominating defense carried the way for Michigan through he first half of the season, Minnesota outgained the Wolverines 461–296. The lackluster offense can be attributed in part to an injury to starting quarterback Jake Rudock and a shaky performance by backup Wilton Speight, but 461 yards to Minnesota? That’s a concern. First and foremost, Michigan needs to jumpstart its run game. Two of the Wolverines’ worst three performances on the ground this season have come in the last two games. Rutgers’ offense is in even worse shape. Quarterback Chris Laviano has led one offensive touchdown drive in the last two games against Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Fox’s pick: Michigan 28–10
Florida State at Clemson
The most important game of the ACC season in shrouded in mystery. Florida State hasn’t committed to either Everett Golson or Sean Maguire as the starting quarterback, and running back Dalvin Cook has been hobbled with an ankle injury. Both Golson and Cook missed the Seminoles’ last game against Syracuse. Clemson gave up 41 points to NC State, including one touchdown on a kickoff return and two others on short fields. The Tigers, though, answered each time. Clemson has demonstrated time and time again that it’s ready for the stretch run while Florida State may be starting over.
Fox’s pick: Clemson 41–28
Utah at Washington
Washington made a statement with a 49–3 rout of Arizona last week, perhaps giving us some reservations about picking Utah. The Huskies have a solid defense, and freshman quarterback Jake Browning is coming into his own. Even though Arizona was without running back Nick Wilson, Washington still impressed by holding a Rich Rod offense to 2.9 yards per carry. Both teams will try to ugly the game up with turnovers. The advantage goes to the team with the veteran quarterback.
Fox’s pick: Utah 27–14
Kentucky at Georgia
Georgia’s move to start Faton Bauta against Florida proved to be disastrous, and it remains to be seen if he’ll get another shot at the job. Kentucky had two tough losses through the first six games of the season, but those close losses have turned into blowouts the last two weeks. The Wildcats lost by a combined score of 94–37 to Mississippi State and Tennessee, and now Kentucky will be without starting running back Stanley “Boom” Williams.
Fox’s pick: Georgia 24–17
Navy at Memphis
Navy is not getting the attention of undefeated Temple, Houston and Memphis, but the Midshipmen — whose only loss is to Notre Dame — is every bit the American Athletic Conference contender as the other three. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds’ next touchdown, his 78th, will break the career record, not for quarterbacks, but for everyone who has played major college football. Navy will look to control the clock with the option and keep Memphis QB Paxton Lynch off the field, and we’ve seen little out of the Tigers’ defense that shows Memphis can slow Reynolds. Then again, Navy has played only two top-50 offenses and one of them, Air Force, was another service academy.
Fox’s pick: Memphis 41–35
Arizona at USC
Arizona is going back to the drawing board on offense. Nick Wilson has been hurt, and Anu Solomon is coming off the worst performance of his career in a 49–3 loss to Washington. Rich Rodriguez said he’s changing his approach with Solomon after two sub-par performances. USC has played its best football of the season under interim coach Clay Helton, but the Trojans need to overcome a hand injury to one of their best playmakers, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Fox’s pick: USC 42–28
LSU at Alabama
As usual, this game should be a tense, physical matchup that will be determined by which team can run successfully and which team puts the pressure on a first-year starting quarterback to make a play in a pressure situation. Alabama and LSU rank first and second in the SEC in rush defense, each holding opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards. Yet neither has faced an elite running back like they’ll see on Saturday between Heisman contenders Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry.
Fox’s pick: Alabama 24–20
TCU at Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State scored 70 points on the road against a not-terrible Big 12 opponent, and the Cowboys still have doubters. That’s with good reason. Wins over Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia were all by a touchdown or less, and Texas Tech put up 53 points against the Pokes. The Cowboys are good, but they haven’t shown exactly what separates this team from the other three Big 12 contenders. TCU, though, can stake a claim on having the best quarterback and wide receiver in the Big 12 (though Baylor’s Corey Coleman may object to the latter). All signs point to this being another Big 12 shootout, but the team with Trevone Boykin will have the advantage.
Fox’s pick: TCU 56–42
Vanderbilt at Florida
The Commodores’ defense can’t be overlooked. Vanderbilt held Western Kentucky and Houston to their lowest scoring and yardage totals all season. Trouble is, Florida did the same against Ole Miss and Georgia. The Gators aren’t getting world-beating quarterback play from Treon Harris, but the Commodores duo of Johnny McCrary and Kyle Shurmur have been turnover prone all season.
Fox’s pick: Florida 31–7
Arkansas at Ole Miss
For the first time this season, the Rebels ran the ball well against two SEC opponents, albeit against two of the three worst run defenses in the league. And despite three takeaways against Texas A&M two weeks ago, Ole Miss has been on the wrong end of the turnover margin in each of the last six games and at minus-10 overall since the Alabama win. Arkansas beat UT Martin last week as expected, but the Hogs gave up a season-high 519 yards in the process.
Fox’s pick: Ole Miss 31–21
South Carolina at Tennessee
After weeks of frustration, Tennessee finally got the lopsided win it needed with a 52–21 win at Kentucky. Now, the Volunteers will try to extend a modest two-game win streak against South Carolina. The Gamecocks have their issues, but Perry Orth (192 passing yards, 90 pre-sack rushing yards) gave their offense a spark against Texas A&M. The overall talent for the Vols should be too much.
Fox’s pick: Tennessee 37–20
Cal at Oregon
Cal’s momentum has come to a halt with three consecutive losses in the Pac-12 South to Utah, UCLA and USC. Is Oregon better than any of those teams? Perhaps not. The Ducks look awfully ordinary on offense and just plain awful on defense. That might help Cal quarterback Jared Goff get back on track, but after two close road wins over Washington and Arizona State, Oregon may be ready to reboot its season when it returns to Autzen.
Fox’s pick: Oregon 38–30
Penn State at Northwestern
Northwestern and Penn State both have nice records and stout defenses, but neither bas been a sure commodity. Northwestern’s offense failed to reach 200 yards against Michigan and Iowa, so it will be looking to acquit itself against Penn State. Behind a strong defensive front, the Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in tackles for a loss by a wide margin and rank fifth in total defense. The offense has been a work in progress, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been on a hot streak of late, averaging 9.9 yards per attempt the last three weeks. Not surprisingly, this trend coincides with freshman running back Saquon Barkley’s return to the lineup.
Fox’s pick: Northwestern 24–21
Duke at North Carolina
Miami’s improbable win over Duke means this won’t be the ranked Duke-North Carolina game Tobacco Road would have hoped to see, but it’s no less meaningful. North Carolina is undefeated in ACC play, and Duke can lead the Coastal with a win over the Tar Heels. North Carolina has been under the radar, especially after an inexplicable season-opening loss to South Carolina, but the Heels have been stout on both sides of the ball. Coordinator Gene Chizik has turned around the offense, and quarterback Marquise Williams has responded to a near-benching with three straight weeks of standout play.
Fox’s pick: North Carolina 31–27
Iowa at Indiana
When quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard are healthy — as they are now — Indiana’s offense is among the best in the country. Iowa counters with cornerback Desmond King, who is tied for the national lead with seven interceptions. The big question will be if Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard, who has been hobbled with a groin injury, is healthy enough to answer punch for punch if this turns into a back-and-forth affair.
Fox’s pick: Iowa 35–24
Arizona State at Washington State
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk passed for 601 yards against Arizona State in only his second career start. The Sun Devils’ pressure, though, contributed to four interceptions. Falk will be a different quarterback this time around. He’s thrown only six picks in 448 attempts after throwing seven in 243 attempts last year. Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici can match Wazzu’s Air Raid, especially against that vulnerable Cougars defense.
Fox’s pick: Washington State 49–42
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
This game might not be pretty with Notre Dame coming off a slugfest with Temple and Pittsburgh coming off a loss to North Carolina. Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer continues to acquit himself as the Irish’s No. 1 QB and not just a sub for Malik Zaire. Meanwhile, Pitt’s vulnerability on both sides of the ball finally caught up with the Panthers against North Carolina.
Fox’s pick: Notre Dame 31–21
Auburn at Texas A&M
Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin benched Kyle Allen last week and turned to his freshman — a freshman who has the benefit for playing the two worst defenses in the league in his first two starts. Murray flourished against South Carolina, passing for 223 yards and running for 156. Auburn finally got defensive end Carl Lawson back last week, and while he was disruptive (three QB hurries), Ole Miss still put up 558 total yards in the Tigers’ loss.
Fox’s pick: Texas A&M 42–28
Michigan State at Nebraska
Purdue was supposed to be the type of opponent that would help Nebraska turn its season around. Instead, the Cornhuskers lost 55–45 to the Boilermakers and are in a state of disarray just before facing a rested and undefeated Michigan State team. Nebraska’s run game has gone cold the last two weeks with 82 yards against Northwestern and 77 against Purdue. Michigan State’s defense isn’t as stout as it has been in recent years, but the Spartans still rank in the top 30 against the run. On the bright side for the Huskers, Nebraska expects to get Tommy Armstrong Jr. back at quarterback after backup Ryker Fyfe turned the ball over five times in his first career start.
Fox’s pick: Michigan State 38–21
Minnesota at Ohio State
Ohio State will need to return to Cardale Jones at quarterback after J.T. Barrett was suspended for a game due to a DUI citation. Jones was shaky in September, ultimately leading to Barrett taking a larger role as Ohio State’s season went on. Perhaps buoyed by the emotion of a rivalry game with Michigan and the departure of coach Jerry Kill, Minnesota played its best game of the season against Michigan before a clock management snafu at the goal line contributed to a 29–26 loss. Quarterback Mitch Leidner has topped 300 passing yards in back-to-back games for the Gophers, which usually isn’t a great sign for Minnesota, but he came up with a gutsy effort against the Wolverines that gave Minnesota chance for the upset.
Fox’s pick: Ohio State 35–14
Last week: 16–4
Season to date: 135–18
The journey wasn’t always smooth, but Xavier’s 2014-15 season ended in a familiar place — the Sweet 16. The Musketeers, who lost to UTEP and Long Beach State in consecutive games in November and went .500 in Big East play, advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the last eight seasons. Only nine schools can claim such a feat.
Making another deep March run is possible. Chris Mack must replace his starting point guard (Dee Davis) and top big man (Matt Stainbrook), but he welcomes back three of his top four scorers and adds several intriguing newcomers.
All Big East predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
Jalen Reynolds made a big jump in his sophomore season, improving both his production (from 3.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game to 9.9 and 6.1, respectively) and his efficiency (from 53.3 percent shooting to 61.8). A 6'10" forward, Reynolds scored in double figures 17 times, including a career-high 21 in Xavier’s Round of 32 win over Georgia State. The challenge for Reynolds is to improve his defense, which in turn will allow him to stay on the floor longer with fewer fouls.
Senior James Farr doesn’t provide much offense, but he is one of the most effective rebounders in the Big East. He averaged 5.3 boards in only 15.6 minutes per game as a junior and had 13 rebounds against a physical frontline in the Musketeers’ win over Ole Miss in the NCAAs. Sean O’Mara played sparingly as a freshman but could be in position to play a key role up front. The 6'10", 247-pound sophomore is a true back-to-the-basket big man.
Makinde London, a 6'10" redshirt freshman, is one of the most exciting prospects on the roster. A top-100 recruit who played his senior year of high school at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, London is capable — in time — of being a difference-maker on both ends of the court. True freshman Kaiser Gates is a 6'8" small forward who has the versatility to guard four positions. He is a skilled offensive player who has a nice mid-range game.
Xavier Musketeers Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-14, 9-9 Big East
Postseason: Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: 2
Big East Projection: 3
Postseason Projection: First round
Davis was a three-year starter at the point who ranked 14th nationally with 6.0 assists per game. He never developed into a scorer — he averaged a career-high 9.0 points as a senior — but provided leadership and ran the offense effectively.
His heir apparent, sophomore Larry Austin Jr., played more than five minutes in only four Big East games last season. He isn’t known for his outside shooting, but he can get to the rim with ease and has great vision.
Austin will be surrounded by veterans, including senior Remy Abell, junior Myles Davis and sophomore Trevon Bluiett. Abell averaged 8.4 points while shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range in his first season after transferring from Indiana. Davis improved dramatically in his second season in the program thanks in large part to a more aggressive offensive approach. As a freshman, 77.0 percent of his field goal attempts came from 3-point range; last year that number dropped to 59.2 percent. Bluiett was second on the team in scoring (11.0 ppg) as a freshman but slumped from the perimeter late in the season. He is a better shooter than his 32.6 percent mark from 3 would indicate.
Sophomore swingman J.P. Macura is another capable contributor. He never lacks in the hustle department; it’s his shot selection that’s questionable at times. Macura scored 17 points in only 13 minutes in the second game of his career and went on to score in double figures six more times during his freshman season.
The biggest wild card in the backcourt may be redshirt freshman Edmond Sumner. The 6'5" guard averaged 7.2 minutes in six games last season but was shut down because of chronic tendinitis in his knees. He could play significant minutes at the point if Austin struggles.
Key Losses: G Dee Davis, C Matt Stainbrook
Top Players: G Larry Austin Jr., G Myles Davis, G Remy Abell, G Trevone Bluiett, F Jalen Reynolds
Kaiser Gates is an athletic combo forward who excels in the open court but can also step out and hit from 3-point range. The staff opted to redshirt Makinde London last year to give him time to develop. He has the size, skill and athletic ability to be an all-conference player at some point in his career. Edmond Sumner took a medical redshirt after playing sparingly as a true freshman early last season.
Xavier has consistently shown the ability to replace key personnel without taking a step back. And that should be the case once again in ’15-16. There are some concerns — Who will take control of the point? Can the Musketeers replace Stainbrook’s production on the low block? — but Xavier has the talent to contend in the Big East and looks like a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team once again.
The new Big East lineup may never be able to match what previous incarnations have done, but the conference has nonetheless proven to be formidable.
The Big East produced six NCAA Tournament bids last season, more than the Pac-12 and SEC and as many as the SEC. That’s only part of the equation of course. Only one of those six teams (Xavier) made it to the second weekend of the tournament, and the league champion and top-two NCAA seed (Villanova) again failed to reach the Sweet 16.
This conference could be a copy of previous seasons. Villanova is the clear-cut favorite. Teams like Butler, Xavier and Georgetown are nibbling around the end of the top 25. Providence may have the best player in the country (Kris Dunn), but no certainty that it will reach the Tournament.
What may make the future of this conference particularly interesting is the progress of two name programs that have been treading water in recent years. Marquette is starting to hit its stride thanks to strong recruiting under second-year coach Steve Wojciechowski, and St. John’s made one of the most intriguing hires of the offseason when the Red Storm brought in favorite son Chris Mullin.
All Big East predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
|2015-16 Big East Predictions|
|1.||The Wildcats are eager to move past their NCAA Tournament disappointment last season. Freshman Jalen Brunson could be key on team of vets. Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16||Team Preview|
|2.||If everyone stays healthy, the Bulldogs have the pieces to hang around the top 25. NC State transfer Tyler Lewis needs to make an impact. Postseason: NCAA second round||Team Preview|
|3.||It’s officially time for Jalen Reynolds’ breakout season. Myles Davis and Trevon Bluiett will also compete for all-conference honors. Postseason: NCAA first round||Team Preview|
|4.||D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s decision to return keeps the Hoyas in the mix. Freshman big man Jessie Govan is a key addition. Postseason: NCAA first round||Team Preview|
|5.||There’s Kris Dunn ... and well, not much else. However, he’s arguably the best point guard in college basketball, and that might be enough. Postseason: NCAA first round||Team Preview|
|6.||Steve Wojciechowski brings in an excellent recruiting class, highlighted by five-star Henry Ellenson. The Golden Eagles are on the rise. Postseason: NIT|
|7.||Transfers Maurice Watson Jr. (Boston University) and Cole Huff (Nevada) will have to make an immediate impact with the loss of three starters. Postseason: NIT|
|8.||The Pirates lost nine of their final 10 games to fall out of postseason contention, but Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado are both back. Postseason: NIT|
|9.||The Blue Demons finished better than last place for the first time since 2008. Dave Leitao inherits three double-figure scorers.|
Chris Mullin faces a tough task as only 4.0 points per game return from last season. Newcomers will have to play big roles.
Big East Superlatives
Player of the Year: Kris Dunn, Providence
Best Defensive Player: Kris Dunn, Providence
Most Underrated Player: Daniel Ochefu, Villanova
Newcomer of the Year: Henry Ellenson, Marquette
Top Coach: Jay Wright, Villanova (full list)
Coach on the Hot Seat: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall (full list)
Teams in the National Top 25: No. 10 Villanova, No. 20 Butler
All-Big East First Team
G Kris Dunn, Providence
G Kellen Dunham, Butler
G D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
F Roosevelt Jones, Butler
F Daniel Ochefu, Villanova
All-Big East Second Team
G Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
G Billy Garrett, DePaul
G Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
F Henry Ellenson, Marquette
F Jalen Reynolds, Xavier
All-Big East Third Team
G Jalen Brunson, Villanova
G Mo Watson Jr., Creighton
G Myles Davis, Xavier
F Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
C Luke Fischer, Marquette
Big East Recruiting Roundup
1. Marquette: Steve Wojciechowski has a top-15, five-man class led by five-star big man Henry Elllenson.
2. Georgetown: Top-50 ranked post Jessie Govan highlights a top-25 class.
3. Villanova: Jay Wright has a star coming his way in five-star point guard Jalen Brunson.
4. St. John’s: First-year coach Chris Mullin will lean heavily on a quality five-man class that will have to contribute right away.
5. Creighton: The jewel of the Bluejays’ class, Justin Patton is considered one of the top sleepers in the 2015 class.
6. Providence: Physical big man Alex Owens is the top recruit in Ed Cooley’s five-man recruiting class.
7. Seton Hall: The Pirates are hoping for immediate contributions from Amarveer Singh and Myles Carter.
8. DePaul: The Blue Demons have four quality recruits in Dave Leitao’s class.
9. Butler: The Bulldogs are hoping for an immediate impact from the shooting of Sean McDermott.
10. Xavier: Chris Mack only has one recruit in his class, but Kaiser Gates is an athletic forward with intriguing upside.
Chris Holtmann proved to be a pretty good crisis manager last season, leading to a six-year contract extension for a guy who wasn’t the Butler coach on a full-time basis until after Big East play started.
Now comes the tough part — dealing with expectations.
“If our team can have a similar chemistry, a similar toughness about them (as last season), I think we’ll be pleased with how we perform,” says Holtmann, who was named interim head coach when Brandon Miller took a medical leave of absence just before the start of preseason practice.
Many observers expected Butler to struggle after that. The Bulldogs were picked seventh in the Big East coaches’ poll, but they tied for second and returned to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence. Holtmann was named coach on a permanent basis in January and received a contract extension in March after reports surfaced that other schools were pursuing him.
The Bulldogs return two of the Big East’s best players in Roosevelt Jones and sharpshooting Kellen Dunham. But a program that prides itself on defense lost two of the league’s top defenders to graduation and needs contributions from three talented sophomores who were inconsistent last season in order to challenge for the Big East title.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
Andrew Chrabascz isn’t overly athletic at 6'7" and 236 pounds. He doesn’t have the look of a primary post scorer. But he’s a master at using the glass to get the ball over taller defenders and cutting and finding gaps in the lane. His emergence was one of the most important developments in Butler’s 2014-15 season, and he’s being counted on heavily again.
But the Bulldogs will have a hard time making up for the loss of Kameron Woods, a menacing force defensively and on the boards. Tyler Wideman will get a chance to do so. He doesn’t have Woods’ wingspan (few do), but he was the strongest player on the team last year as a freshman. He’s a potential load on the blocks and showed a soft shooting touch around the basket. Wideman has said several times that his biggest problem is he sometimes “struggles with his motor.” That’s something Holtmann doesn’t want to hear this season.
Jackson Davis played sparingly as a freshman, but Holtmann is looking for him to be an energy guy and stretch opposing defenses. He was a prolific scorer in high school, but his defensive play must improve. Expect incoming freshman Nate Fowler to get a long look. He could provide another burly body next to Wideman. Returning senior Austin Etherington adds depth.
No. 20 Butler Bulldogs Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-11, 12-6 Big East
Postseason: Second round
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Big East Projection: 2
Postseason Projection: Second round
Dunham had a reputation as a good shooter before last season. He became a great one, shooting 41 percent from 3-point range despite being the primary defensive focus of most teams. Dunham gets his shot off quickly, and Butler’s offense is at its best when it gets the ball to him on the wing in transition.
With the possible exception of Providence’s Kris Dunn, no Big East player is more valuable to his team than Jones, who bounced back in a big way after missing the 2013-14 season due to a wrist injury. The 6'4" Jones is listed as a forward, but it’s hard to pigeonhole him. He doesn’t shoot particularly well — he didn’t attempt a 3-point shot — but his running floaters in the lane are a nightmare for opposing defenses. He’s an exceptionally strong on-the-ball defender and is one of Butler’s primary ball handlers.
Alex Barlow’s leadership and defensive play at the point will be missed, but Tyler Lewis is an experienced replacement and should be an upgrade offensively. Lewis redshirted last season after transferring from NC State, where he started 18 games during the 2013-14 season.
Kelan Martin got off to a terrific start offensively as a freshman before slowing down during conference play. St. Bonaventure transfer Jordan Gathers is expected to provide needed depth and versatility.
Key Losses: G Alex Barlow, F Kameron Woods
Top Players: G Tyler Lewis, G Kellen Dunham, F Roosevelt Jones, F Andrew Chrabascz, F Tyler Wideman
Nate Fowler is the closest thing to a post player on the roster and has a chance to start. The Bulldogs badly need a replacement for Kameron Woods, especially on the defensive end. Jordan Gathers has one season of eligibility left after transferring from St. Bonaventure and can play both on and off the ball. Sean McDermott went to the same high school as Kellen Dunham and has a similar style and build, but he looks to be reserve player as a freshman.
Butler has all the makings of a solid team, and a return to the NCAA Tournament is likely. Can the Bulldogs be a great team and contend for the Big East title? That might be a stretch. There isn’t much size, and it’s hard to see them being as good defensively without Woods and Barlow. Still, only a fool would underestimate this program considering its run of success. It should be another fun season around Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The entire tenor of the Providence College basketball program changed for the better when Kris Dunn turned down a spot in the first round of the NBA Draft to return for his junior season.
With Dunn leading the way, the Friars have the returning Big East Co-Player of the Year, a National Player of the Year candidate and the type of leader who can carry a team a long way. Can that Dunn-led path lead all the way to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth? That’s certainly the plan for Dunn and coach Ed Cooley’s young team. The Friars won 11 Big East games and finished 22–12 overall, but as Dunn walked off the floor after a bitter NCAA loss to Dayton, he vowed to get back to the big stage and win.
There is talent, but not much size, in these Friars. Dunn could make players such as Ben Bentil, Jalen Lindsey and Rodney Bullock known commodities around the Big East this season as Providence fights to find a way to remain in the mix near the top of the conference.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
The unexpected transfer in mid-May of 7'2" center Paschal Chukwu cemented the fact that no Big East team lost more up front than the Friars. LaDontae Henton’s 2,000 points/1,000 rebounds were already gone, as were the 7-foot defense of Carson Desrosiers and scoring skills of Tyler Harris, who bolted for a one-year transfer to Auburn.
That leaves precious little size up front, but Cooley says he likes his options. The leader will certainly be Bentil, a powerfully built 6'9" bruiser who came on like gangbusters late in his freshman season. He banged his way to five double-doubles in the season’s final dozen games, including 26 points and 23 rebounds in two Big East Tournament games. The problem is that Bentil may just be the team’s center, which will only be a problem on defense. The June addition of wide-body freshman Quadree Smith will turn out to be huge if he can eat up some minutes in the lane.
Bullock was a prep star in Virginia back in 2013 but was suspended as a freshman and then sustained a season-ending knee injury last October. Cooley says that if healthy, Bullock would have played a key role last season attacking the rim and hitting the backboards.
Lindsey and freshmen Ryan Fazekas and Ricky Council will all fight for time at the small forward spot. Cooley would love to play two of them at the same time frequently, especially if they show they can rebound effectively. Lindsey, a top-100 recruit from Tennessee, averaged a disappointing 3.8 points and 1.5 rebounds as a freshman, though he did score 12 points in a season-high 39 minutes in the NCAA loss to Dayton.
Providence Friars Facts & Figures
Last season: 22-12, 11-7 Big East
Postseason: First round
Consecutive NCAAs: 2
Big East Projection: 5
Postseason Projection: First round
First with Bryce Cotton and now with Dunn, Cooley has enjoyed pointing the best guard in the Big East in the right direction and watching him make history. Cotton led the Friars to the Big East title in 2014, and Dunn carried the load in ’15 and now may just be the best point guard in the country. Dunn was third in the country in assists (7.5 apg) and fifth in steals (2.73 spg) a year ago while averaging 15.6 points. If can find a way to cut his turnovers — he led the nation with 138 — and make more than 68.6 percent of his free throws, the results this season will be scary.
“Kris is the best player in the country, in my opinion,” says Cooley. “He can carry us, for sure, but our guys need to learn to play off him. We lost an awful lot, especially the leadership of LaDontae. We need a whole lot of guys to step up to replace him.”
Kyron Cartwright started eight games alongside Dunn as a freshman and will find a way to play major minutes again. Junior Lomomba is a tough defender, and Cooley will find out if redshirt Tyree Chambers or freshman Drew Edwards is ready to help.
Key Losses: C Paschal Chukwu, F Carson Desrosiers, F Tyler Harris, F LaDontae Henton
Top Players: G Kris Dunn, G Junior Lomomba, G Jalen Lindsey, F Ben Bentil, F Rodney Bullock
Indiana sharpshooter Ryan Fazekas committed to the Friars before his junior season and was a Mr. Basketball finalist. Baltimore guard Drew Edwards can play both backcourt spots, and Ricky Council can add needed wing shooting. Late pickup Quadree Smith is 285-pounds big and needs to help right away.
Providence fans are about to find out just how far the best point guard in the country can lead a team. Without Dunn, the Friars would hover near the bottom of the Big East. With their star dominating the ball, and a few young players ready to blossom, the Friars should find a way to stay in the upper half of the conference.
It couldn’t end the same way, right?
It didn’t seem like last season’s version of Villanova would suffer an early exit from the NCAA Tournament after a terrific regular season — like the Wildcats had done in 2014 (and 2010, for that matter). After all, Villanova had won 15 games in a row entering the NCAA Tournament, was ranked in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and was hitting on all cylinders after rolling through the Big East Tournament.
Of course, the Wildcats ran into a hot NC State team, couldn’t defend the paint and couldn’t make shots when it mattered. Suddenly, Villanova was sent home after a 33–3 season.
Jay Wright’s group enters the season as the Big East favorite yet again, but the Wildcats are hoping to reach the second weekend in March this time around.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
Villanova has received far more publicity for its guards than its big men over the past few years, but the key to the Wildcats this season could be Daniel Ochefu. One of the most improved players in the Big East during his career, Ochefu was the team’s leading rebounder (8.5 rpg) and shot 64.4 percent from the field last season. The 6'11" senior had monster performances (19 points and 24 boards against Seton Hall comes to mind), but he needs to do it consistently. If Ochefu can produce double-doubles with regularity, he can provide the inside balance Villanova needs with all its perimeter options — especially with JayVaughn Pinkston graduating after last season.
Starting alongside Ochefu likely will be junior forward Kris Jenkins, who gives Wright an option up front who can step outside and knock down shots from the perimeter or score inside the paint. Jenkins had nine double-figure scoring outings last season.
Junior Darryl Reynolds, who appeared sparingly in 27 games last season, is one of the few options off the bench up front. Freshman Tim Delaney could play some minutes.
No. 10 Villanova Wildcats Facts & Figures
Last season: 33-3, 16-2 Big East
Postseason: Second round
Consecutive NCAAs: 3
Big East Projection: 1
Postseason Projection: Sweet 16
As usual, the perimeter is the strength of Villanova — even without Darrun Hilliard, an all-conference guard and the team’s leading scorer last season.
Ryan Arcidiacono, the co-Big East Player of the Year in 2014-15, is back for his senior season. His production (10.1 ppg, 3.6 apg) and shooting numbers (.394 from the field, .372 from 3) never jump off the page, but “Arch” consistently hits big shots and is the guy who makes Villanova go. It’s not a surprise that two of Villanova’s three losses came in two of Arcidiacono’s worst games of the season.
Expect a bigger role for Josh Hart after the junior wing emerged as one of the best sixth men in the country a year ago. He was the team’s second-leading scorer (10.1 ppg) and was terrific in the Big East Tournament. Hart can score in a variety of ways, and his ability to finish in traffic makes him a tough matchup.
Wright has never been afraid to use two point guards in his starting lineup, and he certainly has options this season. Incoming freshman Jalen Brunson was a five-star prospect and was extremely impressive during the FIBA U19 Championships for Team USA this summer. It wouldn’t come as a shock to see him starting sooner rather than later. Sophomore Phil Booth saw extended minutes during league play last season, and he’s a talented guard who can run an offense or play off the ball.
Delaware native Donte DiVincenzo could play a bench role as a freshman, while former four-star recruit Mikal Bridges will now suit up after redshirting last season. Bridges brings versatility.
Key Losses: G Dylan Ennis, G Darrun Hilliard, F JayVaughn Pinkston
Top Players: G Ryan Arcidiacono, G Jalen Brunson, G Josh Hart, F Kris Jenkins, F Daniel Ochefu
Jalen Brunson could be one of the biggest impact freshmen in the country after being one of the elite point guards in the 2015 class. He’s good enough to start immediately and move Ryan Arcidiacono off the ball. Donte DiVincenzo is a quality local product who can play both guard positions. Tim Delaney brings toughness and a rugged style of play to the paint.
It’s a testament to Wright’s consistency and success that his team can lose an all-conference guard (Hillard), a veteran starter (Pinkston) and a third starter (Dylan Ennis) and still be picked as the clear favorite in the Big East.
Despite the losses, the Wildcats are poised to make national noise again. Arcidiacono and Ochefu bring experience — and could both be all-conference picks — while Hart is primed for a breakout season. The key likely will be Brunson, who brings an added dimension to the lineup and could push Villanova to the next level.
Of course, the team won 62 games the last two seasons, but everyone remembers the early March exits. Villanova should rectify that this year.
Fantasy Football is important to a lot of people. Sometimes a little too important.
Cardinals wide receiver John Brown was "active" for the Browns game, but didn't see a minute of playing time. As you can imagine, those Fantasy owners who started him were a little pissed. Head coach Bruce Arians replied to those upset with him for not playing Brown.
Arians on those disappointed John Brown was active and didn't play: "Probably had him on their fantasy team. Tough s**t."— Darren Urban (@Cardschatter) November 2, 2015
Brown personally responded to some of those angry owners on Twitter, and they probably wish they hadn't said anything at all.
😊 you welcome https://t.co/QXMBeyqD53— john smokey brown (@Jwalk_back12) November 1, 2015
Anything else boss??? https://t.co/ZagFq3f9LT— john smokey brown (@Jwalk_back12) November 1, 2015
You should be asking yourself that https://t.co/zhiUiXssTN— john smokey brown (@Jwalk_back12) November 1, 2015
The lesson here is that you can start or sit whomever, the Cardinals don't care about your fantasy teams.
Toledo is 7-0 and positioned to contend for the Group of 5 New Year’s Six bowl spot, but the Rockets have four challenging games remaining on their schedule, starting with Tuesday night’s showdown against Northern Illinois. The Huskies have set the standard for the rest of the teams in the MAC West with five consecutive division titles. Northern Illinois has claimed three out of the last four conference championships and won at least 11 games in each of the last five seasons.
The Rockets are 4-0 in league play this season, winning each league contest by at least 14 points. Northern Illinois lost at Central Michigan on Oct. 3, but coach Rod Carey’s team has rallied with three victories in league play. Both teams faced Power 5 opponents in the non-conference portion of their schedule, with Toledo knocking off Iowa State and Arkansas, while the Huskies fell just short (17-14) against Boston College and Ohio State (20-13).
Toledo leads the all-time series 29-13 over Northern Illinois. However, the Huskies have won the last five matchups against the Rockets. Toledo’s last victory in this series came in 2009.
Northern Illinois at Toledo
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Toledo -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Establishing the Run
The Huskies and Rockets are the MAC’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams in rushing offense this season. Northern Illinois leads the way at 217.5 yards per game, with the Rockets a close No. 2 at 213.1 a contest. 226-pound running back Joel Bouagnon is the go-to option for the Huskies and is the MAC’s leading rusher with 863 yards in eight appearances. Bouagnon has plenty of help, starting with quarterback Drew Hare (223 yards) and sophomore running back Jordan Huff (367 yards). The Rockets counter with arguably the deepest backfield in the MAC. Terry Swanson (590 yards) is the leading rusher, but Kareem Hunt (349 yards) is working his way back after missing two games earlier this year due to injury. Both teams have been solid at the point of attack this year, which makes the battle up front even more intriguing with the talent at running back. Toledo is giving up 3.6 yards per carry, but UMass (6.2) and Eastern Michigan (5.5) both had reasonable success in the last two games. Northern Illinois has not allowed more than 157 rushing yards to an opponent in its last three contests and limited Ohio State to 4.4 yards per carry in the 20-13 loss on Sept. 19.
2. Drew Hare vs. Phillip Ely
The MAC has a solid all-around group of quarterbacks in 2015, with most of the spotlight from the conference on Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson through Week 9. However, two other names that shouldn’t be overlooked in the national conversation square off on Tuesday night. Toledo’s Phillip Ely has rebounded from a season-ending injury in 2014 to throw 15 touchdowns and 1,734 yards through the first seven games. The senior has seven interceptions on 246 attempts but three of those came in the Rockets’ 51-35 victory over UMass. While Ely is more of the standard pocket passer, Hare brings mobility and dual-threat presence to the Northern Illinois’ offense. The junior has passed for 1,817 yards and 13 scores in eight games and ranks third on the team with 223 rushing yards. Hare averages 12 carries per game and could be counted upon for that number (or more) on Tuesday night. Even though both defenses have been involved in a couple of blowouts (inviting teams to throw more), the Rockets and Huskies both rank inside of the top three in the MAC in pass efficiency defense. However, this will be a huge test for both defensive backfields. Toledo’s receiving corps is headlined by three players with at least 22 catches, while Northern Illinois boasts one of the top receivers in the MAC this year in North Dakota transfer Kenny Golladay (673 yards, 14.6 ypc).
Three out of the last four matchups in this series were decided by a touchdown or less. One critical stat in Northern Illinois’ five-game winning streak against Toledo is the turnover margin. The Huskies won the turnover battle in three out of the last five games versus the Rockets, with one matchup (2014) ending in an even margin. Additionally, Northern Illinois has forced nine overall turnovers in this span and has lost only four. Toledo is averaging nine penalties a game, while the Huskies are flagged only 5.9 times per contest. If the Huskies can win the turnover battle and limit the penalties, coach Rod Carey’s team will have a good shot to earn win No. 6 in a row against Toledo.
November is one of the best portions of the college football schedule. Midweek MAC games aren’t going to shape the national title race, but as previous years have showed, entertaining and high-scoring games should be expected. Northern Illinois has dominated Toledo in the win column in recent years, but the momentum in this series has shifted to the Rockets’ sideline in 2015. While both teams are solid defensively and limited big plays allowed this season, there’s too much firepower on Tuesday night for this game to be a defensive struggle. Toledo’s balanced attack, timely defense and home-field advantage are enough for the Rockets to move to 8-0 and stay alive for the Group of 5 bowl spot in the New Year’s Six.
Prediction: Toledo 38, Northern Illinois 30
Things aren't always what they seem.
During the Seahawks-Cowboys game, Ricardo Lockette had to be carted off after a vicious, but legal hit.
After the play, the camera panned to Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant to catch him saying something to the effect of "he deserved it." Later it was revealed that Bryant may have said it was a "f*cking clean hit." Marcus Sullivan, a Fox 26 digital reporter, captured it in a vine without context and it blew up on Twitter.
Upon hearing that the Vine had gone viral and people were making a bigger out of it than need be, Bryant fired back at the media. The Cowboys receiver said whoever put the video up like that was dirty because that's not what he said at all.
Nebraska is off to a disappointing 3-6 start under new coach Mike Riley, and the program is coming off a surprising loss at Purdue on Saturday. Needless to say, the losses aren't sitting well in Lincoln.
While some are already calling for a coaching change, athletic director Shawn Eichorst is supporting his new coach. On Monday, Eichorst released a letter in support of Riley and thanking fans for support.
Below is the text of Eichorst’s letter to the Nebraska fan base:
The Royals came into this 2015 Fall Classic, having been here before — last year coming as close as possible to beating the San Francisco Giants. Since the moment the final out landed in Pablo Sandoval’s glove last October and hordes of Giants players mobbed Madison Bumgarner in the infield to celebrate, the Royals knew that they had to make it back to the World Series the following year. They knew their 2014 season wasn't a fluke as many claimed, they knew they belonged with the best in the game.
Fast-forward to present day, and it’s the Royals' turn to celebrate with a champagne shower and the Commissioner’s Trophy, even without so much of the team that came oh-so-close last year. James Shields, Billy Butler and Nori Aoki left as free agents, Omar Infante and Greg Holland were hurt. But it didn't matter. The Royals utilized their superior athleticism, relentless hitting approach, and great base running to win their first World Series title since 1985.
Matt Harvey took the mound for the Mets in Game 5 and was absolutely brilliant. Harvey struck out nine over eight beautiful shutout innings. After an impassioned conversation with manager Terry Collins in the dugout, Harvey was allowed to go back out for the ninth to finish off the game up 2-0, needing just three outs to keep the Mets' series hopes alive for one more game.
In an epic at-bat and pitch sequence, Harvey walked the first batter of the ninth inning, Lorenzo Cain. That should have been it for Harvey. Collins should have pulled his young ace that very instant with a two-run lead intact, but Collins, “going with his heart,” stayed with Harvey.
Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer stepped to the plate hitting just .190 in the series, without a single extra-base hit. Hosmer took the 0-1 pitch from Harvey and sent it the other way towards left field. Cain scored easily from first, as Hosmer's RBI double but the lead in half just like that.
Collins’ questionable decision-making with his pitching staff may be remembered as the worst collection of managing gaffes in a postseason since Dusty Baker in the 2003 NLCS. All series long Collins continuously waited too long to pull his starters, allowing the Royals to score multiple runs in Games 1 and 2 in the middle innings, as the Kansas City lineup turned over for the third time. But he also overused his best bullpen arms needlessly, calling on Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia in Game 3 even though New York had a comfortable six-run lead.
Back to Sunday night. With one out and Hosmer on third, Collins brought in Familia, for the third straight night, with the stakes even higher. Salvador Perez hit a routine grounder to third baseman David Wright. Wright checked Hosmer at third and threw to Lucas Duda at first. But as Wright threw to get Perez at first, Hosmer — right or wrong, insane or brilliant — broke for home. The gutsy (crazy) move caused Duda to toss a hurried throw towards home plate. A good throw and tag would have likely gotten Hosmer by a step, but Duda’s throw went scorching to the backstop. Tie game.
Hosmer’s daring (or stupid) decision to try and, in essence, steal a run was certainly unconventional, but in a game currently overrun with dominating power pitchers and free-swinging sluggers, the Royals would classify as unconventional. The Royals don’t have an ace, nor do they have notable sluggers. They play great defense, they run the bases with vigor, they don't strike out, they don’t let up. From start to finish, the Royals were unrelenting, leading the AL Central for 164 calendar days this season.
Even in the face of elimination, twice in the ALDS against the Astros, the Royals kept clawing their way back, “kept the line moving” at the plate, waiting for their opponent to show a small crack, give an inch, and exploit it. The Royals would win seven times this postseason in games in which they trailed by multiple runs. They would win three games in the World Series that they were losing entering the eighth inning. If that isn’t tenacity, then it just doesn’t exist.
After the Mets failed to answer in the bottom of the ninth, the second game of this World Series went into extra innings. In the top of 12th, Collins called upon Reed, also pitching for a third straight game, to keep the game tied. Perez, who wound up being World Series MVP, started the inning with a leadoff single and was promptly removed for pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson. The entire ballpark knew Dyson was going to try and steal second. The fans knew it, Collins knew it, Reed knew it, catcher Travis d’Arnaud knew it, but it didn't matter as Dyson easily swiped second to move into scoring position with no outs.
After Dyson moved to third on a groundout by Alex Gordon, Royals manager Ned Yost called on Christian Colon to pinch-hit for pitcher Luke Hochevar. Colon hadn’t had an at-bat in the entire postseason, but October has an almost paranormal way of turning the most overlooked and forgotten players into folk heroes. On a 1-2 pitch, Colon hit a line drive into left field. His first base hit, in his first at-bat of the postseason resulted in the World Series-clinching RBI single — a perfect example as to why sports are the best reality television program — no script necessary.
After the Colon RBI single, the flood gates opened and Mets fans departed Citi Field in droves. After another Daniel Murphy error, the Royals tacked on three more runs thanks to RBI doubles from Cain and Alcides Escobar. Wade Davis, arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball, needed just 20 pitches to garner three strikeouts and send the Kansas City Royals into a championship frenzy in the brisk, New York City autumn night.
One calendar year after the they watched in silence as the Giants celebrated on the Kauffman Stadium turf, the Royals had their own championship party at Citi Field as the Mets could only watch in dejected quietness. The Mets kept giving the Royals inches and inches, and Royals took a world championship.
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)