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One of the few places Scooby Wright will find his given name is on his high school diploma.
So ingrained is the nickname Scooby that when he was announced at his graduation ceremony at Cardinal Newman in Santa Rosa, Calif., many of his friends were taken aback to see him rise when “Phillip Wright III” was called to receive his diploma.
“And these were friends from fourth or fifth grade,” Wright told Athlon Sports.
Wright almost never goes by the name Phillip. Not even his parents — even when frustrated or trying to get his attention — use his full name.
He’s had his nickname since he was a baby when his father called his son his “little Scooby Doo.”
By season’s end, he’ll be the first Scooby to earn All-Pac-12 honors and perhaps other awards. Earlier this week, Wright was named a finalist for the Nagurski and Lombardi awards.
Wright ranks first nationally in tackles for a loss per game (2.2), third in sacks per game (1.2), fourth in tackles per game (11.8) and tied for first in forced fumbles (five).
With numbers like that, Wright may be on the verge of rare rise from recruiting obscurity to national prominence.
If Wright is a consensus All-American this season, he’ll be the sixth defensive freshman or sophomore since 2009 to earn that honor.
The others on the list are a who’s who of college and NFL stars: South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Boston College’s Luke Kuechly and Texas’ Earl Thomas.
If Wright joins that group, he’ll complete a meteoric two-year rise. He wears the Scooby nickname with pride but also his recruiting rating. On Twitter, Wright is @TwoStarScoob.
Though he’ll be decorated at the end of his sophomore college season, Wright nearly finished his junior high school season without a scholarship offer. He participated in camps but received only the cursory two-star rating by the recruiting services.
“He kind of was baffled why he wasn’t being recruited more,” Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin said. “There was one coach who said, ‘Hey, go check out Sacramento State or check out UC Davis.’ Those are good schools, but it was an insult to him because he thought he was better than the guys they were recruiting.”
The longtime coach at Cardinal Newman, Cronin remembers Wright around the school for several years before he was a freshman. Wright’s father is the softball coach at Santa Rosa Junior College, and his sister, six years older, played college softball at Illinois.
Confidence was never an issue for Wright, as he promised as a freshman that he’d be a Division I linebacker.
That was tested, though, in his junior year. His classmates in other sports were starting to receive scholarship offers, but Wright was not among them.
Cardinal Newman was not a football hotbed, so recruiters weren’t in the area consistently. Before Wright, the last alum to play high school football at a high level was offensive lineman Al Netter, who went to Northwestern and now plays for the San Francisco 49ers.
Though he was a productive high school player, Wright didn’t exactly look the part. Cronin estimates Wright weighed about 195-205 pounds at the time. His recruiting profiles listed him at 6-1, 225 pounds. As a junior, he barely had a 30-inch vertical. By the time he was a senior, that improved to 38 inches.
His Arizona profile lists him now at 246 pounds.
“Everyone always questioned my athleticism,” Wright said. “(But) I went to the Nike training camp with supposedly the best guys in the West Coast. I went and competed with the best of them and stood out but never really heard anything back.”
Wright was so far removed from recruiting that when the first offer came, he was nowhere to be found. While Wright was “probably at the beach that day,” Cronin was the first to learn that Arizona stumbled upon his highlights and couldn’t let him slip away.
The first contact came at the end of his junior year when he spoke to then-Arizona assistant Tony Gibson, who is now defensive coordinator at West Virginia.
“The first time I talked to them was when coach Gibson said, ‘we’re going to offer you,’” Wright said.
The scholarship offer wasn’t without risk, though. As happens in recruiting, secrets don’t stay secret for long. Once reports of an Arizona offer hit recruiting news sites, other schools might have taken a closer look — and not just Sacramento State and UC Davis.
“I thought this guy looks like a really good player,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “We thought, if we offer him, it’s going to bring attention to him and we’re going to have to fight a bunch of folks.”
Other schools started to pay attention, but Arizona made sure Wright didn’t feel forgotten. And Wright didn’t forget that out of the hundreds of highlights he sent, Arizona was one of the few to respond and the only one that didn’t hedge.
“Other schools said we’ll get back to you or send us film from your senior year,” Wright said. “But there was none of that with Arizona. They said we’re going to offer you now. We want you.”
The flyer on Wright paid quick dividends for Arizona. He started as freshman, picking up 83 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss and earning Athlon Sports second-team Freshman All-America honors.
If any school wishes it would have pounced on Wright early, it’s probably Oregon. Anything that would have kept Wright out of an Arizona uniform.
In Oregon’s two losses to Arizona in the last two seasons, Wright has been the pivotal player. Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota has been one of the most sure-handed quarterbacks in the country the last two seasons, but Wright has plucked two turnovers in two seasons from the Heisman contender.
Last season, Wright intercepted a Mariota pass, plucking the ball out of the air after teammate Shaq Richardson, falling out of bounds, deflected the ball to keep it in play. The first-quarter interception set the tone as Arizona upset the fifth-ranked Ducks 42-16.
In a Thursday night game on Oct. 2, Wright sacked Mariota, stripped the ball and recovered the fumble as Oregon drove down the field for the game-tying score. Arizona upset the No. 2 Ducks 31-24.
Wright, who two years earlier had gone ignored by colleges, couldn’t go to the student rec center the following Saturday without being noticed by other students.
“Once he got on campus, we found that he could handle a lot physically and mentally,” Rodriguez said. “He’s just a football player whether you put him at defensive end or linebacker. We could put him at fullback because he’s great there, too.”
For some teams, it’s always about next year and it’s never too early to think about the next draft. It’s not a position they particularly want to be in. It’s just the reality of where they are.
And for a handful of NFL teams, that’s the reality as the league steamrolls toward Week 12. The playoff chase is over. The race for the first overall draft pick is now all that matters to them.
So with that in mind, here’s a look at the bottom five teams in the NFL standings – the teams with the best chance at the golden ticket in the 2015 draft. It’s going to be hard to beat out the winless Oakland Raiders. But hey, you never know …
1. Oakland Raiders (0-10)
Owners of the worst offense in the NFL and scoring at a paltry clip of 15.2 points per game, they’re not a threat to beat anybody. Worse for them, five of their last six games are against playoff contenders, and the sixth is against the rapidly improving St. Louis Rams. It’s always hard to project an 0-16 record, but 1-15 certainly seems to be well within their sights.
Needs: Well, they don’t need a quarterback since they just drafted Derek Carr in the first round, which puts them in great position to trade the pick to whomever wants Oregon QB Marcus Mariota. They could use a pass rusher (USC DE Leonard Williams would be a possible pick). It might be a reach in the Top 5 to get the receiver help they need, though.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
The last few years they’ve seemed to live within range of the No. 1 pick. They are starting to assemble some talent, though. QB Blake Bortles looks like their future and they have talent at receiver (Allen Robinson) and (Denard Robinson). The schedule isn’t terrible down the stretch and if they come together quickly they have a shot to win a game or two, but will not likely fall out of the Top 5.
Needs: If they end up at the top they’re another team that could trade down and benefit from other teams’ desire for Mariota or Florida State QB Jameis Winston. What they need more than anything is help along the offensive line. Maybe Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi or Iowa’s Brandon Scherff. If they drop down far enough a CB could be in play.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8)
If the return of QB Josh McCown to a starting role gives them the lift they’re expecting, they might find themselves with a couple of unwanted wins, too. But if they can somehow sit right around 3, they could be in prime position either for the top pick or for a reasonably priced trade-up. Their best chances for wins are on the road, at Chicago and at Carolina, and neither one will be easy for this battered team.
Needs: They may be desperate to be in the Mariota/Winston range because McCown is nothing more than a stop-gap and it’s clear that new coach Lovie Smith doesn’t view Mike Glennon as his quarterback of the future. Yes, they could use help on both lines too, but without a quarterback they’ve got nothing. So they need to get to the 1 or 2 pick or be prepared to move up.
4. Tennessee Titans (2-8)
The Titans hang in a lot of games, which always makes them a threat to win. Worse for them – if getting a top pick is the goal – they have games remaining against the Giants, Jets and Jaguars. Those three alone might be enough to get them out of the race, and maybe out of the Top 5. And if QB Zach Mettenberger becomes more than they expected, they could fall even farther than that.
Needs: Well, if Mettenberger isn’t their long-term answer – and there’s no indication that the end of this season is anything more than a big audition for him – then quarterback becomes their biggest need and Mariota certainly could be in play. Maybe Winston, too. If they slip, though, they certainly need some help on defense, which puts the pass rushers in play – either an end or an LB like Clemson’s Vic Beasley. Florida State CB P.J. Williams would figure to be in play if they fall closer to pick No. 10.
5. New York Jets (2-8)
They got a surprising boost last week when they beat the Steelers and they have a few winnable games down the stretch (two vs. Miami, at Buffalo, at Minnesota, at Tennessee). Plus, there’s always the possibility this team will fight for coach Rex Ryan, who is probably on his way out regardless. The point is, for all the Jets fans counting on a Top 5 draft pick, don’t rule out an unwanted late-season run.
Needs: They benched Geno Smith, so it’s safe to assume they’re not sold on him as their future, which means that if they land in the Top 5 then Mariota has to be in play. Winston is a complicated case, though, because of all his off-field baggage. That won’t play well in New York for a team that really needs to find a way to be distraction free. If they don’t go quarterback they’d be crazy if they don’t draft an offensive lineman or a cornerback, which besides quarterback might be the two biggest of their many glaring needs.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
Making an impression as an NBA rookie is a tall task. The game gets considerably more complicated when you make the jump from college to the pros, and most first-year players — even if they’re talented — flounder for a while as they try to grasp the intricacies of NBA playbooks and psyches.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to wow the roundball world in a debut season. Magic Johnson, for instance, was the Finals MVP as he led his Los Angeles Lakers to a title alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a rookie. And the San Antonio Spurs’ still-active legend Tim Duncan arrived to the NBA as his team’s best player in 1997-98. It was only one season later that he led his team to their first of many championships as they defeated the New York Knicks in the 1999 NBA Finals.
We’re not going to hold the new crop of NBA first-timers up to the lofty standards set by Duncan, Magic, and the rest of the game’s greatest players. That would just be unfair. But there is plenty to be excited about in 2014-15’s new collection of stars.
5. Nikola Mirotic
Chicago Bulls fans have been twiddling their thumbs over this guy for years. Acquired in a 2011 trade after he was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Mirotic has seen his myth only grow in the years he spent playing through contracts in the Spanish League, where he was the 2013 MVP.
Mirotic finally signed with the Bulls this summer, a full three years after they got their man, and through limited time on the floor, Mirotic has made good on a lot of the hype. The 6’10” forward is shockingly mobile for his size, a deadly shooter, and incredibly clever and quick with his hands. Although his game is rough, raw, and sloppy in the expected fashion of a rookie, there appear to be very few NBA skills he doesn’t have.
“Niko,” as he prefers to be called, is not going to garner any rookie awards. The Bulls have perhaps the deepest backcourt in the league, and it will be hard for Mirotic to find minutes behind Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, and Taj Gibson. But if he were on a team without such an embarrassment of big man riches, he’d be in the running for Rookie of the Year honors.
4. Andrew Wiggins
It’s going to take Andrew Wiggins a while to outgrow the story that started his NBA career. Initially drafted No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wiggins was subsequently traded to Minnesota in a deal that assembled the sport’s next juggernaut by moving Kevin Love over to Ohio, alongside LeBron James.
But “Maple Jordan,” as the Canada native is fondly called, has the hops and coordination to eventually turn into one of the most devastating perimeter athletes around. Moments like this terrific block of superstar James Harden remind us of what Wiggins might become:
Wiggins doesn’t yet have the confidence, fluidity, or knowledge needed to more regularly stand up to players of Harden’s stature. In time, he could. But for now, one thing we can be sure of is that the ‘Wolves' young stud is liable to explode for can’t-miss highlight clips any night you watch him.
3. Jabari Parker
Widely touted as the most NBA-ready prospect of his class, Jabari Parker is helping to restore life to the basketball community in Milwaukee. The Duke University alum and Chicago native (he played at Simeon Academy, the same school that brought up Derrick Rose) was a first-team All American in the NCAA last year, and the consensus high school player of the year as a senior.
The peak of Parker’s upside has him looking like the next Carmelo Anthony; A beefy, creative, sweet-shooting wingman who’s an offense unto himself. Parker can get buckets with the best of them. So while he’s only averaging 10.6 points per game through ten Bucks contests, you can comfortably expect that number to rise as coach Jason Kidd figures out how to best use his 19-year-old star.
2. Marcus Smart
When it comes to defense, Marcus Smart already looks like he’s got years and years of experience under his belt. A ravenous, lockdown guard, Smart is all over the floor for his Boston Celtics, chasing ball-handlers like a bad dream that doesn’t end.
His awareness and energy have even occasionally translated to the other side of the ball in the early going, like when he made this shrewd, dazzling behind-the-back pass in an eye-catching performance against the Dallas Mavericks:
Smart’s already got the moxie and aggression of a veteran. It’s only a matter of time until he has the rest of the picture complete, and he’s one of the most fearsome guards in the game.
1. Elfrid Payton
Elfrid Payton is the undisputed champion of hairstyles in his class. What’s even more enticing than Payton’s ‘do, though, is how it’s an emblem of his unchained playing style. Payton is a hard-charging, physical point guard with speed to spare and incredible vision for the floor.
Like Smart, Payton is also a relentless pest as a defender, often approaching wrestling tactics in his coverage. His infectious energy is unlearned for now, but Payton’s already looked like a fierce leader for his young Orlando Magic team, and like a player who can spark his team into great performances down the road. Watch these highlights of Elfrid’s November 7 outing against Minnesota for a preview of one of the NBA’s most watchable point guards:
— John Wilmes
Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe doesn’t think much of the tanking, winless Philadelphia 76ers. They’re 0-11, and they’re very bad. In a recent appearance on Sirius XM NBA Radio, Bledsoe was asked whether his NCAA team, the University of Kentucky Wildcats, could beat the Sixers, and he said: "I'll definitely take Kentucky. I think Philly would probably get maybe one game. I know they're going to be mad [in Philadelphia], but I love my Wildcats.”
One game? Hey, well … it’s hard to disagree with Mr. Bledsoe. Kentucky has a handful of studs destined to be NBA rotation players, while the Sixers are a rag-tag crew of broken contracts and bodies assembled by general manager Sam Hinkie specifically to lose. As Deadspin’s Tom Ley puts it, “They aren't so much a basketball team as a monument to the cold, dead-eyed cynicism that so often makes pro sports a huge bummer. They are the bastard children of an Excel spreadsheet, born for the purposes of minimizing risk and maximizing odds.”
It’s hard to remember an NBA tanker that’s inspired so many inspired criticisms and impassioned arguments about the nature of the sport, winning, losing, and loads of other emotional and economic concerns. Beyond being historically terrible, the Sixers’ front office is breaking ground in how blatant they are about doing it on purpose, to climb up the NBA draft boards. Hinkie is unabashed in his quest for colossal short-term failure, and it rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
The argument about whether great college teams can beat anemic pro teams is not so new, of course. It seems every year we go through this debate, and every year we’re less certain about the truth. Like the time-machine debates about current superstars versus past legends (M.J. and LeBron being the most tread-over of the lot), this conversation exists in a vacuum of impossible circumstances. What can’t be proven will always cause disagreements.
But one thing I’m sure that you, me, Eric Bledsoe, and Sam Hinkie can all agree upon is that we don’t want to watch the Sixers play basketball.
— John Wilmes
We all would like to budget wisely, and it's no different in daily or weekly fantasy football.
If you are playing in a salary-capped game at either FanDuel or DraftKings, here are a few value plays and bargains at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions for Week 11 of the NFL season that should allow you to hold on to some of that money to spend on the big-name studs.
Only two more weeks of byes. We lose four teams this week, two the next and then you have a full slate the rest of the way. Gone from your lineups this week are players from Baltimore, Dallas, Jacksonville, and the New York Jets.
VALUE PLAYS (salaries in parenthesis are that of FanDuel's and DraftKings)
1.) Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee vs. Philadelphia ($6500/5300)
The Eagles are the second-friendliest team to quarterbacks over the last five weeks. They have allowed four starters in that span to average 295 yards per game with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Mettenberger has been relatively efficient for a rookie, completing 63 percent of his passes for 247 yards per game, including three scores and three interceptions in his three starts.
2.) Blake Bortles, Jacksonville vs. Indianapolis ($7700/5600)
Bortles had his touchdown-a-game streak stopped two weeks ago against Dallas, but draws an Indianapolis team that has allowed 10 over the last four games. The Colts are surrendering 316 yards per game through the air with just two interceptions during this four-game run. Bortles had thrown for five TDs and seven interceptions in the four games leading up to the Dallas blanking. Bank on Bortles playing catchup and having at least another 20-point day like he did against Indy in Week 3 (223 yards, two TDs, two interceptions).
3.) Josh McNown, Tampa Bay vs. Chicago ($7500/6600)
The Bears have allowed the most TD passes over the last five weeks (four games) by surrendering 14 against just one interception. The 282.5 passing yards per game given up in this span is not too shabby either. McNown takes on his former team having thrown for 589 yards, four scores, and two interceptions in his last two starts.
1.) Tre Mason, St. Louis vs. San Diego ($5600/4200)
Mason has been a bell cow during his three starts, carrying 62 times the last three weeks. That is fourth most amongst RBs during that span. He has turned it into 75 yards per game on the ground. Mason draws a San Diego team this week that has faced two 20-carry backs this season - both coming in the last four games - and allowed 204 yards, a rushing touchdown, and 41 yards receiving to them.
2.) Bishop Sankey, Tennessee vs. Philadelphia ($5800/4900)
Like their passing defense, the Eagles' run defense has been pretty generous the last five weeks. Philadelphia is allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game at 79.3 yards on the ground with three scores and 49 yards through the air with two scores in its last four games. Sankey has received the bulk of the carries the last six games, and has also added eight catches for 51 yards over the last three games. We are still waiting on the breakout game from the first running back selected in the most recent draft, and perhaps this is the week for it to happen.
3.) Jonas Gray, New England vs. Detroit ($6700/5600)
He is most certainly the hottest free agent pick up in most fantasy leagues this week after he torched Indianapolis for 199 yards and four scores. His 38 carries were ridiculous and old school, but he had averaged 14.5 touches on the ground in the two games prior. So Gray is there to be the workhorse. A repeat is certainly unlikely and Detroit is tough, but three of the five backs to hit the teens in rushing attempts against the Lions this season have scored TDs, and the group averaged 53.8 YPG.
1.) Kenny Britt, St. Louis vs. San Diego ($6400/4600)
Do we believe in the Shaun Hill-to-Kenny Britt connection or was it a one-week wonder? The seven targets Britt received on his way to a 4-128-1 day was the third time he has received at least six targets in a game this season. The other two came in Weeks 3 and 5 when he turned 13 targets into eight catches for 137 yards and a score. The Chargers have allowed six receivers to hit at least that 68-yard average Britt had in his last two-game stretch. Four of those six have scored double-digit fantasy points.
2.) Kendall Wright, Tennessee vs. Philadelphia ($6400/4900)
Here are those Eagles again. If they are allowing solid passing days they must be allowing solid receiving days. Like they are to QBs over the last five weeks, Philadelphia is second friendliest to receivers in that span. Over the four games, the Eagles have seen five receivers go over 100 yards (average of 126.4 ypg) with four of them catching a TD. Wright is coming off a season-high 70 yards and went over eight targets for the fifth time this season.
3.) DeAndre Hopkins, Houston vs. Cincinnati ($6800/5000)
Hopkins’ consistent run did not slow much with the addition of Ryan Mallett under center for the Texans. He received at least eight targets for the fourth straight game. Hopkins is the eighth-most targeted receiver over the last five weeks (of those who have played four games). He has turned those 39 targets into 398 yards receiving and a score. Ride the hot hand.
1.) Charles Clay, Miami vs. Denver ($5200/4000)
Clay leads tight ends over the last five weeks with 12 red-zone targets, double what the next closest player has. He has turned that into one touchdown, and is averaging 4.4 catches for 40 yards in that span. The Broncos have allowed five TDs to the position over the last six games, and four TEs hit at least 54 receiving yards.
2.) Larry Donnell, New York Giants vs. Dallas ($5500/3900)
Streaking down the middle of the field, Donnell caught his sixth touchdown of the season in Week 11. He continues to be a popular target for Eli Manning. Donnell has 27 targets over the last four games. The Cowboys are the ninth friendliest to tight ends over the last five weeks (four games).
3.) Jacob Tamme, Denver vs. Miami ($5300/3400)
If Julius Thomas cannot go due to his ankle sprain, Tamme will get the bulk of the tight end work. Thomas is listed as day-to-day and sat out Wednesday's practice. Tamme had a season-high 10 targets last week, a number he had not seen since 2012. He got double-digit targets three games that season, averaging six catches and 56.6 yards. No team has thrown more TDs to the tight end than Denver (14). While that is mostly Thomas' supreme talent it also is a testament to looking for the position in the red zone.
@Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Hosts Braden Gall and Steven Lassan preview an interesting weekend of games in college football. USC visits UCLA, two potential SEC title contenders are on the road, some Big Ten games with coaching implications and much more on this Week 13 podcast. We also offer up some locks of the week against the spread.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 20:
• I'm not one to question James Harden's fashion choices. Actually, yes I am.
• When greedy family members are around, an athlete and his money are soon parted.
• Bizarre story of the day: A woman is claiming to be Michael Phelps girlfriend. She was also born a man.
• Amanda Dufner went topless in Thailand. Do I have your attention now?
• The Cavs game ended on a LeBron James turnover.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at firstname.lastname@example.org
Two teams that are streaking rapidly in opposite directions will get Week 12 in the NFL started when the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders square off tonight on the NFL Network. The surging Chiefs (7-3) have won five straight games to move into a tie with the Broncos for the AFC West lead, while the Raiders (0-10) have sunk into a seemingly bottomless black hole of despair, losing a staggering 16 consecutive games and counting. The Chiefs swept the season series in 2013 in decisive fashion, beating the Raiders 56–31 in Oakland in December after pounding them 24–7 at Arrowhead in October.
Any hope for a competitive game rests with rookie Oakland quarterback Derek Carr, who has shown flashes of skill while taking far less of a beating than big brother David did during his ill-fated rookie season back in 2002. In three games against division foes, Carr has thrown six touchdowns to only three interceptions. For a team that's playing out the string, the rest of the season will focus on Carr's continued development.
Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Spread: Kansas City -7.5
|Kansas City 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||@ SF||L 17 - 22||Recap|
|10/19||@ SD||W 23 - 20||Recap|
|10/26||vs STL||W 34 - 7||Recap|
|11/2||vs NYJ||W 24 - 10||Recap|
|11/9||@ BUF||W 17 - 13||Recap|
|11/16||vs SEA||W 24 - 20||Recap|
|11/20||@ OAK||L 20 - 24||Recap|
|11/30||vs DEN||8:30 pm||Buy Tickets|
Kansas City's Key to Victory: Focus on This Week
We're talking about professionals here, so pitfalls that plague teams at lower levels — like overlooking an inferior opponent — are less of a danger. But it's only human nature for the Chiefs to be mentally chalking up a win and looking ahead to next week's showdown with Denver for AFC West supremacy. Fortunately, the short week offers less time for complacency. "You don't have quite as much time to think over things," coach Andy Reid told the team's official website. "Sometimes that could be a good thing, sometimes it could be bad. We have to get ourselves back and ready to go quickly, so we understand that." If Kansas City merely sticks to what they do well, it should be fine. For instance, the Chiefs average 141 yards rushing per game, while Oakland is surrendering 130. In other words, the matchups all favor the visitors.
|Oakland 2014 Schedule|
|10/12||vs SD||L 28 - 31||Recap|
|10/19||vs ARI||L 13 - 24||Recap|
|10/26||@ CLE||L 13 - 23||Recap|
|11/2||@ SEA||L 24 - 30||Recap|
|11/9||vs DEN||L 17 - 41||Recap|
|11/16||@ SD||L 6 - 13||Recap|
|11/20||vs KC||W 24 - 20||Recap|
|11/30||@ STL||1:00 pm||Buy Tickets|
Oakland's Key to Victory: Keeping Carr Upright
The Oakland offensive line has done a more-than-respectable job of protecting Carr. The Raiders have allowed only 12 sacks on the season, second-fewest in the league behind Denver. But they're facing a fearsome pass rush led by NFL sack leader Justin Houston, who hasn't added to his total of 12 in the last two games and would love nothing more than to create misery for Carr and the Raiders’ passing offense. KC's pass rush, which has produced 30 sacks, keys the league's top-ranked pass defense (only 202 yards allowed per game). "There's a lot for every quarterback to get ready for, especially with a talented defense like Kansas City has," said Carr. "It just puts more on your plate and you just knock it out in the time that we do have."
The winless Raiders have no shortage of motivation; they certainly don't want to join the Detroit Lions as the only franchises with 0–16 seasons. And a team that's playing out the string, with nothing to lose except draft position, can often show up loose and relaxed and spring an upset. But the Chiefs look too balanced and too physically superior on both sides of the ball to stumble in this one. Look for Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, who caught eight passes for a career-high 195 yards and four touchdowns in last December's win in Oakland, to be a big part of the game plan. If he gets 25 touches, it means that the Chiefs are clicking, and it's bad news for the Raiders.
Prediction: Kansas City 27, Oakland 17
The B storylines of the Big Ten are just starting to heat up.
The A storyline seems to be the same since the second week of the season: This is a league whose College Football Playoff hopes are continually hanging by the thread.
The other stories, though, may be more interesting. Chief among them Melvin Gordon’s chase for history, both as a realistic candidate to break Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record and a running back who could win the Heisman.
The other story is the November round robin to determine the Big Ten West. Ohio State should wrap up the East official this week against Indiana even if the Buckeyes’ division title seemed inevitable after a win over Michigan State on Nov. 8.
After the win over Nebraska last week, Wisconsin can clinch the West with a win over Iowa and a Minnesota loss, but the possibility remains that Wisconsin and Minnesota will face each other in the finale with the division on the line.
Week 13 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Big Ten Week 13 Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
1. Wisconsin at Iowa
3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
All eyes are on the Melvin Gordon show as the Wisconsin running back makes a run at the Heisman and Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record. Thanks to last week’s record-breaking 408-yard rushing effort, Gordon can pass Sanders even if he falls below his season average of 191 yards per game. Of course, that’s assuming Wisconsin reaches the Big Ten title game. The Badgers can clinch the West division with a win over Iowa and a Minnesota loss to Nebraska. Perhaps lost watching Gordon is the play of the Wisconsin defense. In the last four games, the Badgers have allowed 181 yards per game and three yards per play. Two opponents in that span (Rutgers and Nebraska) have passed for fewer than 100 yards and three (Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue) have rushed for fewer than 100 yards. Iowa will find out which version of its offense will show up — the balanced efforts against Northwestern and Illinois or the inept passing game against Minnesota.
Listen to the Week 13 preview podcast:
2. Minnesota at Nebraska
Nebraska is in an interesting spot. One week has unraveled many of the goals this season. This time last week, Nebraska still had a chance the Big Ten title game, and if the one-loss Cornhuskers could beat Wisconsin and potentially Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, Nebraska could at least make a case for the playoff. Melvin Gordon ended those plans in a 59-24 loss. The division is gone and probably a major bowl game. Nebraska hopes to have running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory, who were both injured during the course of the Wisconsin loss, back healthy this week. Even so, facing the run-oriented Gophers might not be a welcome sight after the Cornhuskers gave up 581 total rushing yards a week ago. Despite a loss to Ohio State, Minnesota has a chance to win the Big Ten West with a win in Lincoln setting up a winner-take-all game against Wisconsin next week.
3. Maryland at Michigan
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
For all the tumult this season, Michigan is still hoping for a bowl game. The Wolverines are 5-5 with a finale against Ohio State, meaning Michigan may need to win this one play in the postseason. Meanwhile, the problems continue for Brady Hoke, who may be coaching in his final home game in Ann Arbor. Defensive end Frank Clark, a player chosen in the preseason to represent Michigan at media day, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and was dismissed. Michigan will have to hope an off week and Maryland’s lackluster defense will put the Wolverines into a good position Saturday. Maryland, meanwhile, has been a better team away from College Park. The Terrapins are 4-1 on the road compared to 2-3 at home.
4. Indiana at Ohio State
Big Ten, Big Ten Network
Before Ohio State improved its stock to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday, Urban Meyer was already touting his team’s improvement from the Virginia Tech loss in Columbus to a team that has won back-to-back conference games over ranked teams on the road (Michigan State and Minnesota). “There’s no question this is the most improved team from Game 1 to Game 10 that I’ve ever been around,” Meyer said. That improvement has made the College Football Playoff a possibility and has made redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett a viable candidate to go to New York has a Heisman finalist. This week, Ohio State need only to flex its muscles like it can against Indiana. The Buckeyes need only look at TCU, which beat its conference bottom-feeder Kansas by 4, to learn that wins alone aren’t enough for the selection committee. Ohio State can clinch the Big Ten East with a win or a Michigan State loss.
5. Rutgers at Michigan State
Noon, Big Ten Network
With two games left against Rutgers and at Penn State, Michigan State is looking to secure a spot in a major bowl — i.e., the Cotton, Fiesta, Peach or Orange. Rutgers is a bowl team but has been outclasssed by the upper tier of the Big Ten, losing by a combined score of 135-41 to Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Most important for Michigan State is to get Connor Cook into a groove before he faces Penn State’s defense in the finale. Throw out a start against Indiana, and Cook is completing only 49.4 percent of his passes in October and November.
6. Penn State at Illinois
Penn State has corrected its course after a four-game losing streak and gained bowl eligibility thanks to back-to-back wins over Indiana and Temple. A win over Illinois would clinch not only a winning season for James Franklin in his first year at Penn State but also a winning regular season in all three years under NCAA sanctions (Penn State finishes the season at Michigan State). In the modeset two-game win streak, Penn State has enjoyed a revival of its run game. After failing to run for 100 yards in six of the first eight games, Penn State ran for 162 against Indiana and 254 against Temple. The Nittany Lions also didn’t allow a sack against the Owls. Time may be ticking on Illinois coach Tim Beckman, but his rosy evaluations of the season are true on one front: Illinois still has a shot at a bowl game. Illinois (4-6) finishes with Penn State and Northwestern but hasn’t won back-to-back Big Ten games since 2011.
7. Northwestern at Purdue
Northwestern will find out in a hurry how much the comeback win at Notre Dame helped turn the season. The Wildcats ended a four-game losing streak and scored only seven points fewer in a single game (43 points against Notre Dame) than they had in the previous four games combined (50). The upset in South Bend puts Northwestern (4-6) in bowl contention with its final two games against Purdue and Illinois. The Wildcats were an improved team against Notre Dame — Justin Jackson returned to form at running back, and Trevor Siemian passed for 284 yards and was sacked only twice. But Northwestern also got gifts from Notre Dame in the form of three second-half fumbles. Earlier in the season, Purdue started to look like a tougher out than the Boilermakers were a year ago, but Darrell Hazell’s team is exiting a brutal stretch of losses against Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Week 13 Big Ten Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Northwestern (-1.5) at Purdue
|NW 31-21||NW 14-13||NW 27-24||NW 34-20|
Penn State at Illinois (-6.5)
|PSU 24-14||PSU 24-21||PSU 27-20||PSU 20-10|
Indiana at Ohio State (-34.5)
|OSU 49-17||OSU 49-13||OSU 45-13||OSU 41-10|
Minnesota at Nebraska (-10.5)
|Neb 24-17||Neb 34-27||Neb 31-20||Neb 23-20|
Rutgers at Michigan State (-22.5)
|MSU 35-14||MSU 40-20||MSU 38-13||MSU 27-13|
Wisconsin (-10) at Iowa
|Wisc 41-21||Wisc 31-27||Wisc 30-20||Wisc 27-13|
Maryland at Michigan (-5)
|Mich 17-14||Mich 21-17||Mich 23-20||Md 17-10|
The Week 13 slate across the country is pretty sad, but the Pac-12 Conference is here to save college football.
Four of the six Pac-12 games feature point spreads that are less than a touchdown and the other two feature teams that need to hold serve at home to keep their respective Pac-12 championship game hopes alive.
Pac-12 Week 13 Game Power Rankings
1. USC (+3.5) at UCLA
8 p.m., ABC
You gotta love when a plan comes together, right? On what might be the worst weekend for college football nationally, the Pac-12 South Division title could hang in the balance between two powerful SoCal rivals. The Bruins control their own destiny and are two wins away from returning to the conference title game. A USC wins opens the door for a head-spinning number of outcomes. What’s even more exciting is the way both teams are playing currently. Over the last month, both Cody Kessler and Brett Hundley have been unstoppable. Hundley has been dynamic on the ground and has taken care of the football through the air while Kessler has methodically dissected every defense he’s faced with a plethora of talented weaponry. Both against the run and on the scoreboard, the Trojans' defense has been tougher and more consistent but UCLA’s unit is rounding into form after holding Arizona and Washington’s passing games in check. Jim Mora is 2-0 against USC and a third straight win could keep the Bruins' College Football Playoff hopes alive.
Listen to the Week 13 preview podcast:
2. Arizona (+4) at Utah
3:30 p.m., ESPN
Both teams were lucky to walk away with wins in Week 12 and both still cling to slim Pac-12 South Division title hopes (yes, a five-way tie is still possible). Utah will use a stingy defense, near-perfect special teams and home-field advantage to attempt to rattle Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon. After a blistering start, the depth and grind of a nine-game Pac-12 schedule is starting to take its toll on the young starter. He posted his worst showing of the season three weeks ago against UCLA and wasn’t much better last week against Washington — both of which bear similarities to Utah defensively. Look for another low-scoring game in which a late mistake by a flustered quarterback makes the difference. And if it goes to overtime, Kyle Whittingham’s bunch would be very comfortable.
3. Stanford (-5.5) at Cal
4 p.m., FS1
As wild as it sounds, The Big Game could decide bowl eligibility for both teams. Stanford visits UCLA next week while Cal hosts BYU, so the only guarantee for either team is the winner of the 117th meeting will go to the postseason. Stanford has won the last four meetings (David Shaw has never been defeated by Cal) but the Bears had their own run of dominance in the series, taking seven out of eight from 2002-09. A loss would punctuate a very disappointing season for Shaw while a win for Cal could earn Sonny Dykes Pac-12 Coach of the Year votes. It’s a classic offense vs. defense matchup between two long-standing rivals. Sit back and enjoy.
4. Colorado (off) at Oregon
4:30 p.m., P12 Net
The Ducks are two wins away from playing for a Playoff berth and possible Heisman Trophy. Which might be just the right amount of time to get the oft-injured offensive line healthy. Center Hroniss Grasu won’t play this weekend but Andre Yruretagoyena could return to action. Marcus Mariota — who has 10 touchdowns in two career games against Colorado — is playing as well as anybody in the nation and should have no issues with the 106th-ranked defense. Unfortunately for Colorado, rising star quarterback Sefo Liufau may be limited after suffering a concussion two weeks ago. Jordan Gehrke is ready if needed.
5. Washington St (+16) at Arizona St
1 p.m., P12 Net
Todd Graham’s team is down but not out of the Pac-12 South race as the Sun Devils will be rooting hard for USC this weekend. The Sun Devils gave up a season-high 247 yards rushing to Oregon State in the upset last weekend and will be facing a totally different offense Saturday. Led by backup QB Luke Falk, the Cougars have had two weeks to prepare since their own, much more successful trip to Corvallis two weeks ago. Falk threw for 471 yards and five touchdowns in his first career start, a win over the aforementioned Beavers.
6. Oregon St (+6.5) at Washington
10:30 p.m., P12 Net
The Beavers played easily their best and most complete game of the year in the win over then-No. 6 Arizona State. Sean Mannion was efficient and the running game posted a season-high 247 yards. Washington continues its downward fall, losing for the fourth time in five games, the latest in painful fashion in Tucson. In the preseason, this game was thought to determine second or third place in the North Division. Now, the loser is likely to finish in last.
|Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|USC (+3.5) at UCLA||USC, 34-31||USC, 38-35||UCLA, 28-24||UCLA, 31-27|
|Zona (+4) at Utah||Utah, 30-25||Utah, 30-27||Utah, 27-21||AZ, 27-24|
|Stan. (-5.5) at Cal||Stan., 30-28||Cal, 34-20||Cal, 28-14||Stan., 31-30|
|Colo. at Ore.||Ore., 49-17||Ore., 47-17||Ore., 49-21||Ore., 50-17|
|WSU (+16) at ASU||ASU, 34-27||ASU, 37-27||ASU, 35-17||ASU, 41-27|
|OSU (+6.5) at Wash.||UW, 24-23||UW, 23-20||OSU, 28-21||UW, 31-24|
TCU is still ahead of Baylor in the playoff rankings (for better or for worse) and will sit at home and watch this weekend.
But Baylor still controls its own destiny and has a chance to earn some style points against Oklahoma State. Not to be left out, Kansas State is still in the Big 12 title mix but has to win in Morgantown.
And when Kliff Kingsbury and Paul Rhoads get together in Ames, who knows what could happen.
Big 12 Week 13 Game Power Rankings
1. Kansas St (+2) at West Virginia
Thur., 7 p.m., FS1
Still with just one conference loss, Kansas State is very much in the Big 12 championship race. Visiting Morgantown has been extremely difficult this season for everyone but Oklahoma and Bill Snyder’s bunch needs to win to keep pace with Baylor and TCU. Snyder is 2-0 against Dana Holgorsen since joining the Big 12 and his offense posted 55 points and 7.7 yards per play the last time the Wildcats visited Milan Puskar Stadium. Both offenses need to shake off some recent rust, as Kansas State managed just 34 yards rushing against TCU while WVU's Clint Trickett has posted his three worst passing totals in the last three games. Both have had two weeks to prepare and the chess match between Holgo’s offense and Snyder’s defense should be fun to watch.
Listen to the Week 13 preview podcast:
2. Oklahoma St (+28) at Baylor
7:30 p.m., FOX
Many believe that Baylor should be ranked ahead of TCU, especially considering the outcome of the head-to-head meeting. But the Bears are still two spots behind the Horned Frogs. Art Briles knows that if his team can win its final three games — and look good doing it — that his Bears are likely to be the Big 12’s representative in the inaugural Playoff. TCU missed a shot to look good last weekend against Kansas and Baylor cannot afford to do the same against Oklahoma State. The Pokes have lost four straight and scored a total of 40 points in those losses and may be without starting quarterback Daxx Garman (concussion). Mason Rudolph would have to burn his redshirt to start in his place. The Bears have scored 108 points in their last two and have had two weeks to prepare for a team that embarrassed them in Stillwater last year in their only loss of the regular season.
3. Texas Tech (+1.5) at Iowa St
3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net
There is no reason for anyone outside of Ames and Lubbock to pay attention to anything that happens in Jack Trice Stadium this weekend. However, both head coach’s respective futures could hang in the balance. Amidst signal-gate, Kingsbury’s team has lost seven out of eight overall and have been victorious just once in its last 11 Big 12 games. Rhoads has lost six straight in the Big 12 and 14 of the last 16. Both are well-liked within their respective programs and neither is likely to get fired this season but both are in desperate need of a league win.
4. Kansas (+25) at Oklahoma
Bob Stoops has his team back in the Top 25 after a 35-point second half gave the Sooners a road win over Texas Tech. Without Trevor Knight, Samaje Perine reemerged with 213 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the win. With Cody Thomas likely under center once again, look for Perine and company to exploit a Jayhawks rushing defense that has allowed a Big 12 opponent to rush for more than 200 yards three times this season. The good news for Kansas is Michael Cummings is beginning to blossom. He’s averaged 299.3 yards per game passing with seven total touchdowns and just one interception in his last three games.
Off: TCU, Texas
Big 12 Predictions:
|Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|KSU (+2) at WVU||KSU, 34-31||WVU, 34-30||KSU, 31-28||KSU, 30-27|
|OSU (+28) at Baylor||BU, 41-17||BU, 41-17||BU, 42-14||BU, 45-17|
|TT (+1.5) at ISU||ISU, 25-24||ISU, 30-23||TT, 28-17||TT, 34-31|
|Kansas (+25) at Okla.||OU, 45-17||OU, 41-10||OU, 38-10||OU, 38-13|
It’s the week before rivalry week in the SEC. Translation: There aren’t a ton of compelling games. That said, Missouri vs. Tennessee is an intriguing matchup between two teams playing very well of late. Elsewhere, Arkansas looks to extend its SEC winning streak to two games against Ole Miss; Mississippi State hopes to get back on track against winless (in the SEC) Vanderbilt; and then … not much to get excited about.
Week 13 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
SEC Week 13 Game Power Rankings
1. Missouri at Tennessee (7:30 ET, ESPN)
There’s plenty at stake for both teams. Missouri remains on top of the SEC East with a 5–1 league record and must beat Tennessee in Knoxville and Arkansas at home to make a second straight trip to Atlanta. Tennessee is one win away from becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010. The Vols’ resurgence has coincided with quarterback Joshua Dobbs’ insertion into the lineup. In two-plus games, Dobbs has thrown for 790 yards and seven touchdowns and added 289 yards and four scores on the ground. His ability to make plays with his feet has negated one of Tennessee’s primary weaknesses; the Vols allowed 32 sacks in their first eight games but only one in Dobbs’ two starts. That takes on added significance with Missouri coming to town. Led by defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden, the Tigers rank second in the SEC with 32 sacks. The Vols have a ton of momentum, but Missouri just keeps on finding ways to win.
Listen to the Week 13 preview podcast:
2. Ole Miss (-3.5) at Arkansas (3:30 ET, CBS)
Arkansas finally broke through with its first SEC win since October 2012, shutting out LSU 17–0 before a delirious crowd in Fayetteville that was starved for a victory. Can the Hogs make it two in a row? It’s possible. After opening the season with seven straight wins, highlighted by a rare victory over Alabama, Ole Miss has lost its last two league games — both in excruciating fashion. The most troubling part for the Rebels, other than the losses, has been the decline of the rushing defense. After allowing no more than 168 yards on the ground in their first four SEC games, they gave up 264 to LSU and 248 to Auburn. Injuries have no doubt contributed, but there are very few healthy teams at this point of the year. Arkansas has been better than expected throwing the ball this season, but this is still a team that prefers to run the ball. Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in the SEC in rushing, and both will end the season with over 1,000 yards — barring injury. Slowing down this duo will be key for Ole Miss.
3. Vanderbilt (+29.5) at Mississippi State (7:30 SEC Network)
When these two teams last met in Starkville — in October 2008 — Vanderbilt was 5–0 and ranked No. 13 in the nation while Mississippi State was 1–4 and playing out the string in the final season of the Sylvester Croom era. Vanderbilt lost that game 17–14, the first of a four-game losing streak that finally ended with a win at Kentucky that made the Commodores bowl-eligible for the first time since 1982. Both programs have had their ups and downs in the last six years. Clearly Mississippi State is on the uptick — the Bulldogs are No. xx in the most recent CFB Playoff rankings — while Vanderbilt is struggling through a difficult season under first-year coach Derek Mason. Hence, the nearly 30-point spread. The main issue for Mississippi State will be focus; this game is sandwiched between last week’s emotional loss at Alabama and next week’s trip to Oxford for the Egg Bowl.
4. South Alabama at South Carolina (12 ET Fox SportsSouth)
South Alabama is 6–4 overall and 5–3 in the Sun Belt but lost badly in its only previous game against an SEC opponent. In Week 2, the Jags dropped a 35–3 decision at home to Mississippi State — long before we knew Mississippi State was going to be one of the top teams in the country. USA has been solid on defense — it ranks third in the Sun Belt in yards allowed — but should be no match for South Carolina. The Gamecocks have some new life after rallying to beat Florida in overtime last week. Steve Spurrier’s team needs one more win to become bowl-eligible. They will get it this weekend.
5. Eastern Kentucky at Florida (12 ET, SEC Network+)
Playing for the first time since the school announced Will Muschamp will not be back next season, the Gators will be out to snap a one-game losing streak to FCS opponents. Eastern Kentucky arrives in Gainesville with a 9–2 overall record with losses to Tennessee Tech (by eight) and Jacksonville State (by 14). The Colonels beat the only FBS team they have played, topping Miami (Ohio) 17–10 in Week 2. If the Gators are focused — which might be an issue after an emotional week for the players — they should win this game with ease.
6. Charleston Southern at Georgia (12 ET, SEC Network)
After closing out its SEC season with an impressive 34–7 win over Auburn, Georgia hosts Charleston Southern in a tune-up for next week’s visit from surging Georgia Tech. Charleston Southern runs the triple-option but is also averaging 186.7 passing yards per game. In their one game against an FBS opponent, the Buccaneers had 190 yards passing and 199 yards rushing in a 21–20 loss at Vanderbilt. CSU has done a poor job stopping the run, allowing an average of 252.2 rushing yards per game. Georgia could win this game easily without attempting a pass.
7. Western Carolina at Alabama (4 ET, SEC Network)
This is the sixth straight season Alabama has played an FCS opponent the week prior to the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide has won the previous five, including the last two by identical scores of 49–0. Western Carolina won six of its first eight games but has since lost two of three, including a 51–0 defeat at home to Chattanooga. The Catamounts lost in Week 1 to South Florida, 36–31. This journey into the FBS ranks will not be as close.
8. Samford at Auburn (7 ET, ESPNU)
Auburn has lost two straight games for the first time in the Gus Malzahn era. In Saturday’s loss at Georgia, the Tigers managed only 292 total yards and seven points — by far their least productive offensive performance of the season. With hopes of an SEC West title dashed, Auburn must now focus on the Iron Bowl in two weeks. Samford is 7–3 overall and has won four straight game. The Bulldogs opened the season with a 48–14 loss at TCU.
Week 13 SEC Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|E. Kentucky at Florida||UF 35-7||UF 37-10||UF 34-13||UF 34-10|
|S. Alabama at S. Carolina||USC 42-10||USC 44-10||USC 41-17||USC 44-13|
|Charleston So. at Georgia||UGa 49-14||UGa 51-10||UGa 48-7||UGa 47-14|
|Ole Miss at Arkansas||UA 31-28||UM 27-17||UM 27-20||UM 27-20|
|W. Carolina at Alabama||UA 49-17||UA 41-0||UA 51-3||UA 48-0|
|Samford at Auburn||AU 48-14||AU 38-3||AU 51-10||AU 47-10|
|Mizzou at Tennessee||UT 21-17||MU, 31-27||MU 27-24||MU 27-23|
|Vanderbilt at Miss. State||MSU 35-10||MSU 37-13||MSU 38-13||MSU 30-17|
Florida State clinched the Atlantic Division title last Saturday, and there’s a possibility for clarity in the Coastal depending on what happens on Thursday night in Durham. If Duke beats North Carolina, the Blue Devils need to win their regular season finale to claim the division title. But if Duke loses to the Tar Heels, Georgia Tech would clinch a spot in the championship game.
North Carolina-Duke is the game with the most impact on the conference standings this week in the ACC, but Notre Dame-Louisville should be most intriguing matchup to watch. The Fighting Irish has struggled in recent weeks, while the Cardinals are hoping to win out and have a shot at the Orange Bowl.
Outside of those two games, it’s a light slate of action in the ACC. Florida State hopes to earn a few style points against Boston College, Miami travels to Virginia, Pittsburgh needs a win over Syracuse to keep its bowl hopes alive, while Clemson should have an easy win over Georgia State.
Week 13 Previews and Predictions:
ACC Week 13 Game Power Rankings
1. Louisville at Notre Dame (-3.5)
3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
The ACC’s top game in Week 13 is a non-conference tilt in South Bend between Louisville and Notre Dame. The Cardinals have completed their conference schedule and need wins in their final two games to have a shot at a berth in the Orange Bowl. Notre Dame is reeling after losses in three out of its last four games. The Fighting Irish has struggled with turnovers by losing nine over their last two contests. In addition to the turnover problems, Notre Dame’s defense has struggled since a 6-0 start. The Fighting Irish has allowed at least 31 points in four consecutive games. Both teams are dealing with some uncertainty at quarterback in this matchup. Notre Dame’s Everett Golson is dealing with a sprained shoulder, while Louisville lost starter Will Gardner to a season-ending knee injury against Boston College. Reggie Bonnafon will replace Gardner in the starting lineup, and the true freshman has completed 51 of 92 passes for 662 yards and four scores this year. Bonnafon’s previous experience this season, along with a bye week should help him prepare for this road test in South Bend. And Bonnafon’s job has been made easier with the return of standout receiver DeVante Parker, and Louisville’s defense is holding opponents to just 17.8 points per game. This will be the first meeting between these two programs.
Listen to the Week 13 preview podcast:
2. North Carolina at Duke (-6)
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Thursday)
Duke’s Coastal Division title hopes took a hit by losing to Virginia Tech last Saturday. However, coach David Cutcliffe’s team still controls its destiny within the division and can clinch a repeat trip to the ACC Championship to Charlotte by winning its last two games. This in-state rivalry has been controlled by the Tar Heels, but the Blue Devils have won the last two in this series. Turnovers will be critical to both teams on Thursday night, as Duke lost only six prior to Week 12 and surrendered three against Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils struggle to stop the run (197.6 ypg allowed), but North Carolina ranks near the bottom of the ACC in rush offense. Quarterback Marquise Williams has recorded at least 300 total yards in four out of the last five games and posted in 327 in last year’s matchup between these two teams. Williams needs to have a big day against Duke’s defense, as the Tar Heels rank at the bottom of the ACC in yards per game allowed (6.5 ypp) and will have trouble containing the Blue Devils’ balanced attack. There’s plenty on the line for both teams on Thursday night. Duke needs to win to take the Coastal, while a victory over the Blue Devils would get North Carolina bowl eligible with a game remaining. And if that's not enough, in-state bragging rights and the Victory Bell are up for grabs between these two rivals.
3. Boston College at Florida State (-19)
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
Florida State remained No. 3 in this week’s playoff rankings, and with no ranked opponents remaining (pending what happens in the ACC Championship), style points could matter for coach Jimbo Fisher’s team over the next three weeks. The Seminoles used another second-half rally to defeat Miami 30-26 last Saturday, extending its winning streak to 26 games. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team certainly has its flaws, but one area this team could improve upon over the next few weeks is turnovers lost. Florida State leads the ACC with 22 lost turnovers in 10 games. On the flipside of that stat is Boston College. The Eagles have lost only 12 turnovers this year and played the Seminoles tough in Chestnut Hill last season. Coach Steve Addazio’s team features a rushing attack that ranks second in the ACC with 264 yards per game, with quarterback Tyler Murphy (1,006 rushing yards) leading the way as the catalyst for the offense. The Eagles’ rushing attack will challenge a Florida State defense that has been vulnerable to run (139.7 ypg), but if Addazio’s team falls behind, can Murphy throw well enough to keep Boston College in the game? The Eagles create a lot of havoc around the line of scrimmage (76 tackles for a loss), and the Seminoles shuffled their offensive line prior to the matchup against Miami to solidify the front five. Freshman Rod Johnson is now the starter at left tackle, while Cameron Erving has shifted from tackle to center. If the Eagles can’t get to quarterback Jameis Winston with pressure, Florida State should be able to take advantage of a secondary that ranks near the bottom of the ACC in pass efficiency defense.
4. Miami (-6) at Virginia
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Both teams enter Week 13 coming off losses to Florida State. Miami lost 30-26 to the Seminoles last Saturday, while Virginia was defeated 34-20 in Tallahassee on Nov. 8. The Hurricanes were eliminated from Coastal Division title contention last week, but coach Al Golden’s team has a chance to improve its bowl positioning with wins in their last two games. The Cavaliers need to win their last two games to get bowl eligible, which is no easy task with remaining matchups against Miami and Virginia Tech. Miami has lost three of its last four trips to Charlottesville and hopes to reverse that recent trend by relying heavily on running back Duke Johnson (1,343 yards, 10 TDs in 2014) and quarterback Brad Kaaya (2,403 yards, 22 TDs). The Hurricanes average 32.3 points per game, but this offense will be tested by a Virginia defense limiting opponents to five yards per play. The Cavaliers also rank fourth in the ACC against the run and have recorded 27 sacks through 10 contests. Defense is clearly the strength of Virginia, as its offense has not averaged more than 5.3 yards per play in its last three matchups. Miami coach Al Golden worked at Virginia from 1994-96 and 2001-05.
5. Syracuse at Pittsburgh (-7.5)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
If the last two matchups between these two schools are any indication, this year’s game could be another low-scoring affair with a small margin of victory. Syracuse won 14-13 in 2012, but Pittsburgh claimed a close 17-16 win last season. The Panthers have lost six out of their last seven games this year, including a 40-35 thriller at North Carolina last week. While the losses are piling up for coach Paul Chryst, four of Pittsburgh’s defeats have been by five points or less. Running back James Conner (156.2 ypg) continues to have a standout year for the Panthers, and the sophomore will test a Syracuse defense holding opponents to 127.3 rushing yards per game. And the Orange has not allowed a rushing touchdown in four contests. In addition to the strength in the front seven, Syracuse has forced 18 takeaways, which is a concern for a Pittsburgh team that ranks last in the ACC with a -7 turnover margin. Syracuse’s offense is averaging only 14.8 points per game in conference matchups, with injuries significantly hampering the offensive line. Quarterback has been a revolving door this season, and true freshman AJ Long (727 yards, 4 TDs, 6 INTs) is expected to start on Saturday. Pittsburgh needs to win both of its remaining games to reach bowl eligibility, while Syracuse is looking to build momentum after its first losing record since 2011.
6. Virginia Tech (-15) at Wake Forest
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network/ESPN 3
Offense is expected to be at a premium when Wake Forest and Virginia Tech meet on Saturday for the first time since 2011. The Hokies are averaging 21.3 points per game in ACC contests, while the Demon Deacons rank last in the league at 11.7 per game. Virginia Tech’s win over Duke last week left coach Frank Beamer’s team just one win short of bowl eligibility. The Hokies need to beat Wake Forest or Virginia to extend its bowl streak to 22 consecutive years. Virginia Tech’s offense has been hit hard by injuries this year, and the bad luck continued last Saturday with running back Marshawn Williams suffering a torn ACL against the Blue Devils. With Williams out, J.C. Coleman, Jerome Wright and Joel Caleb will shoulder the workload at running back. The strength of Wake Forest is its defense, and this unit could create a few headaches for quarterback Michael Brewer and the Hokies offense. However, the Demon Deacons have scored more than 17 points only once since Sept. 20. Wake Forest has not defeated Virginia Tech since 1983.
7. Georgia State at Clemson (-41)
3:30 p.m. ET, RSN/ESPN3
Coming off last week’s loss to Georgia Tech and a matchup against South Carolina upcoming on Nov. 29, this game against Georgia State comes at a perfect time for coach Dabo Swinney’s team. Quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a sprained LCL against the Yellow Jackets and will miss this matchup, allowing Cole Stoudt and Nick Schuessler to build confidence against a defense allowing 6.6 yards per play and 43.8 points per game. The Panthers lead the Sun Belt in passing offense behind first-year starter Nick Arbuckle, but coach Trent Miles’ team has lost 24 turnovers and averages just 2.9 yards per rush. Even though Stoudt has struggled in relief of Watson, Clemson shouldn’t have much trouble with Georgia State on Saturday.
Week 13 ACC Predictions
|UL (+3.5) at ND||UL 31-21||UL 30-24||ND 27-24||ND 27-20|
|UNC (+6) at Duke||Duke 35-21||Duke 38-34||Duke 34-31||UNC 28-24|
|BC (+19) at FSU||FSU 38-28||FSU 41-21||FSU 38-20||FSU 34-20|
|Miami (-6) at UVa||UVa 21-17||Miami 30-20||Miami 31-20||Miami 40-17|
|Syracuse (+7.5) at Pitt||Pitt 28-21||Pitt 29-21||Pitt 30-20||Pitt 28-21|
|Va. Tech (-15) at Wake||VT 35-7||VT 40-13||VT 31-10||VT 17-3|
|Georgia State (+41) at Clemson||CU 49-10||CU 41-3||CU 52-7||CU 55-10|
We’ve all heard about the friend of the friend who deep fries a turkey each Thanksgiving, and everyone raves about it. Well, this is your year to be that guy. Here’s our quick guide, along with some great tips from chef Darrell Breaux of Bro’s Cajun Cuisine in Nashville, Tenn., who’s been frying turkeys for 25 years. “Once you’ve had a fried turkey,” he says, “you won’t want it any other way.”
• Wash turkey thoroughly both inside and out and drain. “Your best frying size is between 12 and 14 pounds. That will feed four to six people.”
• Season turkey to taste. “I like to sprinkle seasoning, rub it in, and let it set for a couple of days.”
• Make sure it’s room temperature before putting it into your fryer. “Every year it seems like somebody tries to fry a frozen turkey. Don’t! It’ll explode.”
• Heat the oil in a large outdoor pot to 350 degrees. “I prefer peanut oil.”
• Carefully lower turkey until it’s fully submerged. (Tip: To predetermine the correct oil level, put the turkey in the empty fryer, add water, remove turkey and mark the proper level.)
• Fry for around 3 minutes per pound. “Take into account the weather. The wind can be blowing, or it could be snowing. Use a thermometer to make sure it’s cooked properly. (Remove the turkey and) stick the thermometer into the thigh. It needs to be around 185 degrees.”
• Remove from oil, drain on paper towel and carve. “If you’re planning on using the same pan you had the raw turkey in, make sure you wash the pan. You don’t want any cross contamination.”
• Breaux’s final safety tip? “Stay sober, and use common sense.”
Paul Pierce is a surefire Hall of Famer. The eighteen-year forward, who played sixteen of those years with the Boston Celtics and won a title in Beantown, has been one of the game’s most devastating scorers for well over a decade. Even in his advanced age of 37, The Truth boasts a deceptive, hypnotic form of isolation basketball that’s a death knell to the opposition in crunch time. That's why the Washington Wizards signed him for two years and about $10 million this past summer.
But in Pierce’s estimation of the league in 2014, none of what he does would particularly matter to NBA executives if he were a rookie. In fact, he thinks he’d have a hard time getting drafted. "I probably wouldn't have got drafted [this year]“ Pierce recently said on Dan Patrick’s radio show.
"A lot of stuff is based on potential, or I probably would've went later in the first round or something. I think a lot of these young talented kids are just rated on their pure length and athleticism, but really no basketball IQ, really no footwork, really can't shoot the ball. When they look at [a] guy and they say he has potential, he's fast, he has long arms, he can jump. And then he gets out there and can't throw a rock in the ocean, or he can't run a play. Or his basketball IQ is low. I think those things sometimes get overrated. A lot of kids get drafted just on that.”
Even though Pierce sounds like a grumpy old man here, he may be right to an extent. Measuring his worth has always been difficult, though — teams have always passed over those whose skills are more metaphysical than quantifiable, and it’s always created many a draft day rabbit hole. Pierce has adaptability, edge, and ethos … none of which are easily projectable qualities. Bodily dimensions and statistics often feel like a safer bet in the draft.
The ten-time All-Star even sunk to No. 10 overall in his own 1998 draft, behind inferior players (but more imposing bodies) Robert Traylor, Raef LaFrentz, Larry Hughes, and forgotten center Michael Olowokandi, who went first overall ahead of not only Pierce, but also Dirk Nowitzki, who was available to the Dallas Mavericks one slot ahead of Paul at No. 9. Yikes. NBA gems are elusive, and drafting is hard.
— John Wilmes
Lake Forest, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - The Chicago Bears signed return man Marc Mariani to a two-year contract on Tuesday.
Mariani averaged 24.8 yards on 92 kickoff returns for Tennessee in 2010 and 2011. He also returned 73 punts for an average of 11.2 yards with two touchdowns during his two years with the Titans.
He earned a Pro Bowl nod after the 2010 season.
To make room for Mariani on the roster, the team waived safety Ahmad Dixon. He had four special teams tackles and a fumble recovery in five games for the Bears this season.
Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Pittsburgh Steelers have released running back LeGarrette Blount, who reportedly left the field before the conclusion of Monday's game against Tennessee.
Multiple media outlets reported that Blount walked off the field before the end of the Steelers' 27-24 win over the Titans, apparently upset over his lack of playing time. He did not receive carry in the contest, as Le'Veon Bell racked up a career-high 204 yards on 33 rushes.
"We believe the decision to release LeGarrette is in the best interest of the organization and wish him the best of luck," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin in a brief statement.
Blount joined the Steelers in March on a two-year contract after a spending the 2013 season with New England. He got into immediate trouble with his new team after being cited for marijuana possession, along with Bell, in August.
In 11 games this season, Blount rushed for 266 yards with two touchdowns. He had 10 carries in Week 9 against Baltimore and just five last Sunday in the loss to the Jets prior to Monday.
The 28-year-old Oregon product spent his first three NFL seasons with Tampa Bay, rushing for 1,007 yards as a rookie in 2010.
Canton, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - Quarterback Kurt Warner and his "Greatest Show on Turf" teammates Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt were among eight first-year eligible candidates named as semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2015.
Late linebacker and San Diego Chargers great Junior Seau was also named as a semifinalist Tuesday night after the selection committee trimmed the list of 113 nominees down 26.
Joining the St. Louis Rams trio of Warner, Bruce and Holt among first-year hopefuls were running back Edgerrin James, offensive linemen Kevin Mawae and Orlando Pace and cornerback back Ty Law.
Tackle Mike Kenn and safety Darren Woodson were named semifinalists for the first time.
Finalists on the ballot again include running back Jerome Bettis, wide receiver Tim Brown, offensive lineman Will Shields, linebacker Kevin Greene, head coach Tony Dungy and wide receiver Marvin Harrison.
Others making the list were: kicker Morten Andersen, safety Steve Atwater, head coach Don Coryell, running backs Roger Craig and Terrell Davis, defensive end Charles Haley, tackle Joe Jacoby, safety John Lynch and linebacker Karl Mecklenburg and head coach Jimmy Johnson.
The announcement of the 15 finalists will come Jan. 8.
The contributor finalists are former longtime general managers and team executives Bill Polian and Ron Wolf. Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff is the 2015 seniors finalist.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 19:
• An NBA cheerleader power ranking. They all look pretty good from here.
• It's early, but it looks like the only team that can beat Kentucky is Kentucky.
• So much for turning off women: Female viewership of the NFL is at record levels.
• The Packers have shaken up the typical NFL work week, with stellar results.
• There's something to this: Twitter has become anti-social media.
• Iman Shumpert threw down a nasty reverse jam.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at email@example.com
"Personally, I just hope they suck forever.”
That was what Mark Cuban said in an L.A. radio interview recently, when asked about the sorry state of basketball’s most famous team.
"As far as the Lakers," Cuban said, "I think there are going to be a lot of teams that are going to be focusing and saying, 'Look, I've got a ton of cap room, free agents A, B and C, why don't you guys come together and come play for me?' And L.A. has always been considered a destination, so maybe they feel there's a valid strategy. … Personally, I just hope they suck forever.”
Cuban must be feeling jolly these days. His 8-3 Mavericks have been soaring behind the league’s best offense, averaging 109.3 points per game with the additions of Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler. Dallas hasn’t won a playoff series since their championship in 2011 — the Western Conference has been that good — but that could easily change this spring.
The team’s roster is now clearly in the best shape its been since that title run. Chandler’s rim protection and pick-and-roll finishing have been an upgrade of nearly unspeakable proportions. Chandler is third in the league in field goal percentage at .703, and his new wingmate Chandler Parsons is helping to spread opposing defenses with his perimeter creativity. The Mavericks are a frightening foe.
That’s a far cry from the patsy Lakers, who do, indeed, suck. Nick “Swaggy P” Young returned to action last night to help L.A. win 114-109 against the struggling Atlanta Hawks, but it was only the Lakers’ second victory of the season. At 2-9, they’re currently in last place in their conference and off to their worst start in franchise history. It may not last forever, but Cuban and other Lakers haters worldwide should enjoy the waft of failure coming from Hollywood for now.
— John Wilmes
Athlon Sports has formed a Heisman Trophy committee. Each week, we will ask 13 members of the national college football media to rank their top candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
Each voter will rank their top five candidates, with each first-place vote getting five points and each last-place vote getting one point.
Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports
Dave Revsine, Big Ten Network
Adam Zucker, CBS Sports
Steven Godfrey, SBNation
Zac Ellis, Sports Illustrated
Bryan Fischer, NFL.com
Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Network
Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report, B/R Radio
Josh Ward, MrSEC.com
Mitch Light, Athlon Sports
David Fox, Athlon Sports
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports, SiriusXM
Dropped out: Duke Johnson, Gerod Holliman, Ameer Abdullah
Listen to the Week 12 recap podcast:
The Top 3:
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Mariota and the Ducks were on bye this weekend as 10 ranked teams, including No. 1 (Mississippi State), No. 6 (Arizona State) and No. 9 (Auburn), lost. With only Colorado and Oregon State remaining on the schedule, Mariota and Oregon are all but locked into the Pac-12 Championship Game. Should Mariota stay healthy and Oregon wins the Pac-12, he will be tough to beat in the Heisman Trophy race.
Season Stats: 2,780 yards, 67.1%, 29 TDs, 2 INTs, 524 rush yards, 8 TDs
2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon had arguably the best single-game performance of any running back in NCAA history. He carried 25 times for an NCAA-record 408 yards and four touchdowns in the Badgers' 59-24 win over Nebraska, arguably UW's biggest game of the Big Ten season. Gordon leads the nation in rushing at 190.9 yards per game and is averaging an astonishing 8.6 yards per carry.
Season Stats: 223 att., 1,909 yds, 23 TDs, 11 rec., 83 yds, 2 TDs
3. Amari Cooper, Alabama
Cooper was excellent in the Tide’s win over No. 1 Mississippi State. He caught eight passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. Cooper is leading the nation in receiving at 1,303 yards, is third with 87 receptions and tied for fourth with 11 touchdowns. Cooper has caught at least eight passes in all but one game and is shattering all of Alabama’s receiving records.
Season Stats: 87 rec., 1,303 yds, 11 TDs, 14 rush yds
The original reality TV show is sports. No contrived setting where seven strangers living in a house or one bachelor searching for love can match the excitement the Iron Bowl delivered last fall.
The beauty of college football lies in its complete unpredictability and drama. Here are some outrageous predictions for Week 13.
Note: The point of this column is to have some fun and make some outlandish predictions. Please react accordingly.
Two ranked teams will lose this weekend
Last weekend, 10 ranked teams lost, including three of the top nine. However, only two ranked teams will lose in Week 13 and that’s only because they are playing against another ranked team. No. 13 Arizona visits No. 23 Utah and No. 25 Minnesota visits No. 16 Nebraska. Other than that, the 17 other ranked teams in action will all win. Mark it down.
At least two Big Ten coaches will be fired
When Illinois loses at home to Penn State, Tim Beckman will fall to 2-21 in the Big Ten with one game left in his third season. When Michigan loses at home to Maryland, Brady Hoke will fall to 6-10 in the Big Ten since losing to Ohio State in 2012 — just 12-14 overall since that game. Both won't survive the weekend and will join Will Muschamp in what should be a rapidly growing pool of guys looking for work. This speaks nothing of what could happen at Indiana (slight chance), Purdue (unlikely) or Iowa (way too expensive to make a move).
The Big Game will determine bowl eligibility
Just imagine uttering this statement in July. How outrageous would this have been? After going 1-11 in his first season, you're telling me Sonny Dykes and Cal would be 5-5 going into The Big Game? After winning back-to-back Pac-12 titles, you're also telling me David Shaw and Stanford would be 5-5 going into The Big Game? But it's true. Stanford visits UCLA in the season finale and Cal hosts BYU — both of which figure to be tough matchups — so the winner of The Big Game will likely head to a bowl game while the loser could be sitting at home during the holidays.
There will, in fact, be a meaningful SEC game
In Week 13, the SEC will face Eastern Kentucky (Florida), Charleston Southern (Georgia), South Alabama (South Carolina), Western Carolina (Alabama) and Samford (Auburn). Yet, there's a saving grace that could impact the SEC championship picture. Ole Miss visits Arkansas and Missouri makes the trip to Knoxville to play Tennessee. If the Tigers and Rebels lose, they are both eliminated from the SEC title game. If both win out and Alabama loses to Auburn next week, then Mizzou and Ole Miss would meet in Atlanta, thus making Week 13 one of the most important of the season (despite the complete garbage Mike Slive is putting on the field) for the SEC.
Pat Haden and Jeff Ulbrich will fight
USC at UCLA is arguably the biggest game (and maybe one of the only games worth watching) of the weekend and possibly the biggest game of the Pac-12 South's season. USC Athletic Director Pat Haden and UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich have both had an interesting season on the sidelines and both are intense individuals. Look for fisticuffs between the two passionate rivals in Los Angeles.
Here’s the terrifying part of Tuesday night: This is only the early season form for Kentucky and Duke.
November is supposed to be a time when teams are working through lineups and combinations, when freshmen are figuring out their place in the college game.
On Tuesday, Kentucky delivered a dominant team against another top five team, and Duke delivered three freshmen who look ready to roll through the ACC. If what we saw out of Kentucky two lineups and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor on Tuesday is a sign of things to come, we may see both of them again, this time in the same game on another neutral court.
These early games may end up as notches on NCAA Tournament profiles, but they do have a way of setting a tone for the season.
Here’s what we learned from the Champions Classic:
1. Kentucky is perhaps better than we expected
The Wildcats were Athlon’s No. 1 team in the preseason and a near-unanimous No. 1 pick just about everywhere else. On Tuesday, the same people who picked Kentucky No. 1 had their jaws on the ground. Kentucky defeated Kansas, a Big 12 favorite and a top-five team, 72-40. A 32-point win over a team with talent, experience and a shot at the Final Four. We can laugh at the platoon plans for a team that runs 11 and 12 deep, but when it works like it did Tuesday, Kentucky can’t be stopped. All 10 players on the Blue and White platoons scored in each of the first and second half. Think about how wild this is: Kentucky clobbered Kansas with only two players scoring in double figures and none more than 11 points.
2. Kentucky can be a ridiculous defensive team
The absurd stat of the night, of course, goes to Kentucky. The Wildcats had 11 blocks. Kansas had 11 field goals. Kentucky’s length was impenetrable Tuesday as Karl-Anthony Towns and Marcus Lee had four blocks apiece. Not that Kansas was much better on the perimeter. Starting point guard Frank Mason went 1-of-10 from the field, and the Jayhawks shot 3-of-15 from 3-point range. If Kentucky can do this to Kansas, what will it do to the SEC?
3. Jahlil Okafor is living up to his Player of the Year potential
Okafor’s first test against a quality opponent couldn’t have gone much better. Duke’s freshman center did the same to Michigan State has he did to Presbyterian and Fairfield. Okafor was 8-of-10 with 17 points against the Spartans. Michigan State had no answer for Okafor’s rare and elite talent as a low-post big man, not that there’s any shame there. Okafor is an 85-percent shooter this season.
4. Okafor is not alone
Besides Okafor’s 17 points, Duke freshmen Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones combined for 32 points against Michigan State. Winslow was all over the place on the way to 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and a three-pointer. Perhaps more important, Jones at point guard allowed veteran Quinn Cook to play at the two. The pair was expected to compete for time to a degree, so seeing them play together was a good sight for Mike Krzyzewski. Jones and Cook combined for no turnovers and 10 assists.
5. Michigan State has a long way to go
This isn’t a typical Michigan State team. With this roster, the Spartans appeared headed to short-lived NCAA Tournament appearance and a middling finish in the Big Ten. Tuesday only reinforced this. Michigan State got an outstanding effort from Branden Dawson (18 points, 8-of-10 shooting). The Spartans shot 50 percent from the field and got 13 offensive rebounds. And yet, Michigan State never really challenged Duke in a 10-point loss.
The college football playoff selection committee gave us a new catch phrase Tuesday: Game control
That’s why Alabama moved to No. 1 from No. 5. That’s why undefeated Florida State is No. 3. And that’s why TCU won a game and fell from in the bracket to out.
“Game control” is taking the place of what we once would have called style points or margin of victory.
Let committee chair Jeff Long explain:
"It might be considered somewhat subjective," he said. "The committee looks at the game, how the game was played, how close the game was played, whether there were lead changes back and forth, or whether a team was in control from the opening kickoff, or whether they gained control say in the second half and finished out the game.
"It's an evaluation of how the game was played between two teams."
Perhaps this phrase should lend credibility to the selection process even if it can be too much in the eye of the beholder and selectively applied.
Margin of victory can be deceiving. Alabama beat Mississippi State by five Saturday but led 19-0 in the second quarter and by 12 until the final 15 seconds.
Florida State is No. 3 in part because, presumably, it lacks game control. The Seminoles trailed Miami 23-10 at halftime, the fifth time this season FSU needed a second-half comeback to win this season.
TCU, also, lacked game control in a 34-30 win over a three-win Kansas team. The Horned Frogs trailed until late in the third quarter.
In a 12- or 13-game schedule, how a team asserts its dominance matters. Slip ups in what should be easy wins matter.
Yet here’s the problem with a subjective measure described on a weekly basis: While we learned about the concept of game control, Long also cited Mississippi State’s close loss to Alabama and never being out of the game as to why the Bulldogs fell to No. 4 and knocking TCU out of a playoff scenario.
Of course, Week 12 of the season didn’t occur in a vacuum. Mississippi State controlled enough games to be ranked No. 1 last week, and TCU lost game control in the fourth quarter against Baylor for its only loss of the season.
Alabama’s game control for most of the season — save for a 14-13 win over Arkansas and the loss to Ole Miss — is why the Crimson Tide are No. 1.
“While we would say that Alabama controlled that game, it did end up a 5-point game,” selection committe chari Jeff Long said during the ESPN broadcast. “While Alabama controlled it, Mississippi State was in striking distance.”
Despite its close games, Florida State has a flawless record of game control. Couldn’t Ohio State claim game control as it has defeated nearly every Big Ten team on its schedule comfortably? What about Baylor, which exhibited the most game control of any opponent this season against Oklahoma and snatched it away from TCU?
The selection committee is not supposed to reward running up a score, notable because TCU started taking knees on first down from the Kansas 12 rather than adding a second score to a four-point game against a three-win team.
"We don't think controlling the game means adding touchdowns," Long said.
While the idea of game control may make sense on a small scale, the selection committee has stumbled into an area it may have difficulty explaining by the first week of December.
Here’s how the second top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Nov. 18|
|1. Alabama||10. Georgia||18. Georgia Tech|
|2. Oregon||11. Michigan State||19. USC|
|3. Florida State||12. Kansas State||20. Missouri|
|4. Mississippi State||13. Arizona State||21. Oklahoma|
|5. TCU||14. Auburn||22. Clemson|
|6. Ohio State||15. Arizona||23. Nebraska|
|7. Baylor||16. Wisconsin||24. Louisville|
|8. Ole Miss||17. Utah||25. Minnesota|
Alabama moves from No. 5 to No. 1
The Crimson Tide made quite the leap from outside of a potential bracket to the top seed. Long said Alabama was the most complete team on offense, defense and special teams and cracked the top four after “what we consider to be a decisive win over Mississippi State.” The metrics must be especially impressive to the committee: With LSU falling out of the rankings with a loss to Arkansas, Alabama has only one top 25 win (Mississippi State).
Ohio State over Baylor
Ohio State defeated Minnesota 31-24 on the road to move from No. 8 to No. 6 (the Gophers remained at No. 25). Can Ohio State get into the playoff? That remains to be seen. The Buckeyes face Indiana and Michigan and would draw no better than Wisconsin, ranked 16th this week, in the Big Ten title game. What’s notable is Ohio State’s move ahead of stationary No. 7 Baylor.
Who Should Worry:
Long described the margin between Nos. 4-7 (Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State and Baylor) as “narrow, very narrow.” That’s not great news for the only team in that group without a ranked opponent left on it schedule, assuming Ohio State faces Wisconsin. Baylor, the only team to beat TCU this season, also has played one fewer game than the Horned Frogs.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:
The Bulldogs’ loss to Alabama, game control or not, wasn’t the end of the Mississippi State. The optimist for Mississippi State is that if the Bulldogs beat No. 8 Ole Miss, they stay in the playoff even if Alabama goes to the SEC title game. Yet the committee has repeatedly indicated that conference championships would play a role. That gives hope to the Big Ten and Big 12 teams on the outside looking in.
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Ole Miss
Fiesta: No. 9 UCLA vs. No. 11 Michigan State
Orange: No. 18 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 6 Ohio State
Peach: Marshall* vs. No. 10 Georgia
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl