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The SEC never disappoints for intriguing matchups. Even though Week 5 isn’t the best slate of games, Georgia-Tennessee is a contest with national title and SEC Championship implications. The Bulldogs can keep their national title hopes alive with a victory over the Volunteers, but they can’t afford to take Derek Dooley’s team lightly. Georgia has a road date against South Carolina next week, so there’s always a look-ahead factor. The Volunteers are 3-1, but Dooley still has plenty of work to do. Tennessee struggled against Akron last week, while the defense is far from a dominating unit.

The Bulldogs have won three out of the last four games in this series, including a 41-14 blowout victory in 2010. Tennessee has struggled to find success in the SEC recently, winning only one game in conference play last season and three contests in 2010. This matchup won’t make-or-break Dooley’s future, but the Volunteers need to show that the gap between this team and the rest of the SEC is closing.

Four Storylines to Watch in Georgia vs. Tennessee

Suspended players?
Georgia has allowed at least 20 points three times this season but held Vanderbilt to a field goal in last week’s victory. The Bulldogs should have one of college football’s top defenses, but this unit ranks 43rd nationally in yards allowed after four weeks. However, this defense should have a few reinforcements on the way, as linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Bacarri Rambo are expected to return after missing the first four games due to a suspension. The return of Rambo is especially important for the Bulldogs’ secondary, as it looks to slow down Tennessee’s passing attack, which is ranked No. 1 in the SEC.

Tennessee’s passing offense against Georgia’s defense
While getting Rambo back in the mix is a key part of Georgia’s defensive plan to stop Tennessee, the Bulldogs will need a little extra help. The Volunteers have two dynamic playmakers at receiver – Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson – and a dependable tight end in Mychal Rivera. Bray is completing 63.5 percent of his throws and has tossed only three picks this year. Georgia needs to counter with pressure, especially from All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones. The Bulldogs are averaging two sacks per game but need to get more pressure on Bray to throw off the timing of the offense. If the Volunteers can protect the junior quarterback, they will have opportunities to hit big plays. However, if Georgia gets to Bray, it should force a few sacks and turnovers.

Aaron Murray against Tennessee’s secondary
Murray is off to a fast start this season, throwing for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns through the first four weeks. The junior has been one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, and Tennessee’s secondary will have its hands full trying to stop Georgia’s passing attack. The Volunteers rank 66th nationally against the pass, but Akron had some success moving the ball through the air last week. Not only will Tennessee’s secondary have to step up, the pass rush has to be more active. The Volunteers are averaging only 1.3 sacks per game, which won’t get it done on Saturday. If Murray has enough time, he will burn Tennessee’s secondary for 275-300 yards.

Can Tennessee establish its rushing attack?
In order to win games in the SEC, you have to be able to run the ball. So far, that’s been an issue for Tennessee. The Volunteers rank eighth nationally in passing offense but struggled to find any production on the ground against Florida. Putting up numbers against Akron and Georgia State is one thing, but it’s tough sledding to run the ball against Florida and Georgia in the SEC. Running back Rajion Neal is off to a good start, rushing for 356 yards on 80 carries. Neal doesn’t need 150 yards, but he has to help Tennessee’s offense find some balance. 

Final Analysis

With a huge game against South Carolina next week, Georgia has to be careful not to overlook Tennessee. However, all of the matchups in this game suggest the Bulldogs should win comfortably. Quarterback Aaron Murray is off to a great start, while freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall should pound away at the Volunteers’ defense. With Rambo and Ogletree likely returning for the defense, the Bulldogs should be able to cut their averages on points and yards allowed.

While Tennessee may be able to move the ball, the lack of a consistent running game and difference makers on defense will allow Georgia to pull away in the second half.

Prediction: Georgia 34, Tennessee 20 
 

by Steven Lassan

@athlonsteven
 

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Teaser:
<p> Georgia Bulldogs vs. Tennessee Volunteers Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:25
Path: /college-football/nebraska-cornhuskers-vs-wisconsin-badgers-preview-and-prediction
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With Ohio State ineligible to win the Big Ten title, it’s not crazy to think Saturday’s matchup between Wisconsin and Nebraska could be a preview of the conference’s title game in early December. The Badgers dominated last season’s matchup, winning 48-17 in Madison. In last year’s game, Russell Wilson threw for 255 yards, while Wisconsin gashed Nebraska for 231 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

There’s plenty of differences for both teams since last season’s meeting, and both have experienced some early turmoil. Wisconsin fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson after a slow start, while Nebraska coach Bo Pelini left the game against Arkansas State due to illness and its defense isn't playing at a high level. However, the Cornhuskers are in a more stable situation going into Big Ten play, especially since the Badgers are still adjusting to the changes on the coaching staff.

Four Storylines to Watch in Nebraska vs. Wisconsin

Can Wisconsin get its ground game on track?
Was last week’s performance against UTEP a sign of things to come for the Badgers’ rushing attack? Wisconsin recorded a season high of 213 yards against the Miners, with Melvin Gordon and James White leading the way with Montee Ball sidelined due to a concussion. Ball is expected to return this Saturday, and the senior should be able to find some rushing lanes against a Nebraska defense that ranks 86th nationally against the run. Although quarterback Joel Stave played well in his first start last week, Nebraska would like to load up the box and force the young quarterback to win. It will be important for Ball, Gordon and White to get yardage on the early downs to keep Stave out of third-and-long situations. Which brings us to the next question…

How much can the Badgers ask of Stave?
Wisconsin was looking for a spark when it decided to bench Danny O’Brien in favor of Stave. O’Brien never seemed to find his rhythm in the Badgers’ offense, which opened the door for Stave to start against UTEP. The redshirt freshman came to Madison as a walk-on but played well against the Miners and should give the coaching staff confidence for Saturday night’s game. Another good sign for Wisconsin’s offense was the return of Jared Abbrederis last week, who caught six passes against UTEP and is one of the Big Ten’s best receivers. Stave won’t be asked to throw for 300 yards, but he needs to get off to a good start. The Cornhuskers rank 20th nationally in pass defense but are averaging four sacks per game. Nebraska wants to force the Badgers to lean on Stave to win, which is why Wisconsin needs to establish balance will be critical on Saturday night.

Can Wisconsin slow down Taylor Martinez?
The competition hasn’t been overwhelmingly strong, but the Cornhuskers lead the Big Ten in total and scoring offense, while ranking in the top 10 nationally for both categories. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is off to a hot start, throwing for 878 yards and nine touchdowns, while adding 191 yards and two scores on the ground. The junior quarterback is a much-improved passer and should test a Wisconsin secondary that is allowing 245.3 yards per game. In last year’s matchup, Martinez threw three interceptions and completed 50 just percent of his throws. Big Ten teams considered Martinez more of a threat on the ground in recent years, but that’s no longer the case. Wisconsin hasn’t generated much of a pass rush this season, and if Martinez gets time, the junior will have a chance to pick apart this secondary.

The turnover battle
It seems cliché to say it, but the turnover battle will be crucial in this game. The Badgers have lost only five turnovers but have forced only one this year. Nebraska is tied for ninth in the Big Ten with nine turnovers lost but has forced seven on defense. Although Stave wasn’t bad in his first start last week, Nebraska’s defense will have chances to add to their turnover total.

Final Analysis

Expect revenge to be on Nebraska’s mind on Saturday night. The Cornhuskers were thoroughly embarrassed in last year’s game against Wisconsin, but the tables are turned in 2012. Nebraska is the better team, and running back Rex Burkhead showed no ill-effects in his return from a knee injury in last week’s game against Idaho State. The Badgers should be able to run the ball against the Cornhuskers’ front seven, but Stave will have to make plays in order to give his team a chance to win.

Wisconsin seems to have things going back in the right direction, but it’s a lot to ask Stave in his second career start to win in Lincoln.

Prediction: Nebraska 31, Wisconsin 20


by Steven Lassan

@athlonsteven
 

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Teaser:
<p> Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Wisconsin Badgers Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:15
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-mountaineers-vs-baylor-bears-preview-and-prediction
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Saturday marks a new era in West Virginia football. The Mountaineers technically joined the Big 12 in July, but reality will sink in with Baylor visiting Morgantown. West Virginia is off to a hot 3-0 start, which includes wins over Marshall, James Madison and Maryland. Although the schedule hasn’t been that difficult, the Mountaineers’ offense looks to be in midseason form, and the defense is making progress under new co-coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson.

Replacing Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III was no easy task, but Baylor remains a threat to win the Big 12 title. New quarterback Nick Florence is off to a good start, and the talent level has been on the rise during Art Briles’ tenure. The Bears dodged a bullet the last two weeks, as they trailed FCS opponent Sam Houston State in Week 3 and held off a pesky Louisiana-Monroe team for a 47-42 victory in Week 4.

Five Storylines to Watch in Baylor vs. West Virginia

1. Can West Virginia establish its ground attack?
With quarterback Geno Smith and one of the nation’s top receiving corps, the rushing attack is almost an afterthought. However, with running back Shawne Alston dealing with a thigh injury against Maryland, the Mountaineers managed only 25 rushing yards on 25 attempts. Alston is expected to play, and Andrew Buie (144 yards, one touchdown) is having a nice season so far. Dustin Garrison suffered a significant knee injury in Orange Bowl workouts last year but had two carries in the win over Maryland. It’s not critical for West Virginia to rush for 200 yards, however, Baylor is allowing 177.7 yards per game on the ground, and the Mountaineers need to establish some balance to reduce the pressure on Smith.

2. Will Baylor be able to get stops on defense?
Veteran coordinator Phil Bennett is a well-respected defensive coach, but the numbers haven’t been pretty under his watch. Baylor ranked 116th nationally in total defense last season and allowed 37.2 points per game. So far this year, the Bears are allowing 492.7 yards and 29.7 points per game. West Virginia’s passing attack has been on fire through the first three games of the season, and it will be impossible for Baylor to completely slow down Geno Smith and his receivers. However, the Bears need to generate a pass rush, as well as force a few turnovers. Baylor ranks second in the Big 12 with 10 turnovers gained through three weeks, but the pass rush has been relatively quiet (1.7 sacks per game).

3. What should we expect from West Virginia’s defense?
As mentioned previously, the Mountaineers’ defense is still a work in progress. West Virginia has allowed more than 20 points twice this season, which will only climb now that the heart of the Big 12 schedule has arrived. The Mountaineers rank 103rd nationally against the pass and have yet to be tested against some of the top offenses in college football. Marshall’s Rakeem Cato threw for 413 yards in the opener, while Maryland freshman quarterback completed 20 of 29 throws for 305 yards in last week’s game. Baylor’s Nick Florence will be toughest test for West Virginia’s secondary, especially with two All-Big 12 candidates at receiver in Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese. Both players are averaging over 20 yards per catch, while Levi Norwood and Lanear Sampson shouldn’t be overlooked.

4. Will Baylor quarterback Nick Florence get off to a slow start once again?
Although the Bears won last week’s game against Louisiana-Monroe, Florence’s slow start has to be a concern for the coaching staff going into Saturday’s game. The senior threw two picks in the first quarter, and even though Baylor has a lot of firepower on its sideline, it cannot afford to fall too far behind West Virginia. Florence doesn’t have Griffin’s athleticism, but he’s not a statue either. In last week’s game, the senior rushed for 55 yards and has 159 on the season. Don’t be surprised if Baylor gets Florence into the game with a few runs, especially if the passing game stalls out early in the first quarter.

5. How many times will West Virginia WR Tavon Austin touch the ball?
In last week’s win over Maryland, Austin was the team’s top playmaker, catching 13 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns. He also recorded two carries for four yards and had four overall returns for 42 yards. There’s no question Austin is one of the nation’s most dynamic playmakers with the ball in its hands, and Baylor can expect a few reverses or handoffs to the senior. Austin is as dangerous as anyone in the nation with the ball in the open field, but junior Stedman Bailey shouldn’t be overlooked on the outside. The Bears need to find a way to keep Austin in check but also not allow Bailey to surpass the 13 catches for 173 yards and three scores he recorded against James Madison.

Final Analysis

Is this the start of a special season for West Virginia? The Mountaineers are a legitimate contender for the national championship, and their road to a potential spot in the BCS title game begins on Saturday against Baylor. West Virginia’s offense is deadly, but it won’t sneak up on any Big 12 teams this year, especially considering Oklahoma State and Texas Tech run similar variations.

If you like offense, this will be the game to watch this Saturday. Both teams should have no trouble moving the ball, but it’s hard to pick against West Virginia at home. The Mountaineers’ defense will give up a lot of yards but finds a way to force a turnover or key play late to seal the victory, while quarterback Geno Smith pads his Heisman stats with another game of 300+ passing yards.

Prediction: West Virginia 41, Baylor 31
 

by Steven Lassan

@athlonsteven
 

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Teaser:
<p> West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Baylor Bears Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:03
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-buckeyes-vs-michigan-state-spartans-game-preview-and-prediction
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The Big Ten has an easy target for criticism through the first four weeks of the season. The conference doesn’t have a team ranked inside of the top 10 and the lack of a marquee win in non-conference play has been a black eye. However, Week 5 brings a much-needed change of scenery for all 12 teams. Conference play begins this Saturday and there are a few games that will draw national interest, which should help stop the bleeding from the awful start to the season.

Ohio State is the Big Ten’s only undefeated ranked team and is arguably the best team in the conference. Michigan State is off to a 3-1 start, with the only defeat coming to Notre dame. However, the Spartans looked sluggish in wins over Boise State and Eastern Michigan.

Five Things to Watch in Ohio State vs. Michigan State

1. Will Ohio State stop Le’Veon Bell?
Expect the Buckeyes to employ a simple gameplan on defense this Saturday. Ohio State will load the box to stop Bell, which will force Michigan State to lean on quarterback Andrew Maxwell. Bell rushed for 210 yards in the win over Boise State and 253 against Eastern Michigan but was held in check against Notre Dame (77 yards). The Buckeyes rank 33rd nationally against the run and only one opponent has managed more than 150 rushing yards against them this year (California, 224). Ohio State’s defensive line is one of the toughest in college football, especially with 322-pound tackle Johnathan Hankins in the middle. If the Buckeyes stop Bell, Michigan State will have a hard time moving the ball on Saturday afternoon. Which brings us to our next question…

2. Is this the game Andrew Maxwell steps up for Michigan State?
Replacing Kirk Cousins was no easy task, but most expected Maxwell would play better through the first four games of the season. The junior is completing 56.6 percent of his throws and has failed to eclipse more than 200 yards in each of his last two starts. Maxwell hasn’t thrown an interception since the season opener, but his performances have been uninspiring so far. He can’t be blamed for all of the woes in the passing game, especially with a revamped receiving corps that could feature two sophomore starters on Saturday. With the Buckeyes loading up to stop Bell, Maxwell will need to have the best game of 2012 in order to lead Michigan State to victory.

3. Can the Buckeyes take some of the workload off Braxton Miller?
As expected, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has been a perfect fit in Urban Meyer’s spread offense. The sophomore has rushed for 441 yards and seven touchdowns while throwing for 754 yards and seven scores this year. Despite his strong start, the Buckeyes want to reduce his workload. Miller is averaging 17 rushes a game and may not last a full season at this pace. The sophomore is still developing as a passer but has thrown for 754 yards and seven touchdowns. Michigan State’s defense leads the Big Ten in total, scoring and rush defense so far this year and ranks 13th nationally against the pass. Miller needs to make a few big plays with his legs, but he also has to have some help from the supporting cast. Running back Jordan Hall has been steady in his first two games back from a foot injury, recording 192 yards and two receptions. Hall’s emergence should be a huge positive for Ohio State’s offense, and Carlos Hyde could return from injury this week. With Michigan State’s defense looking to stop Miller, it’s up to Hyde and Hall to step up on the ground.

4. Who will win the battle in the trenches?
Although Braxton Miller needs his supporting cast to step up, and Le’Veon Bell has to have more help from Andrew Maxwell, neither player will have much of an opportunity to succeed if the offensive lines don’t perform. Ohio State’s line entered the year as a question mark and has allowed nearly two sacks a game. Michigan State’s front five is allowing just one a game, but four came against Notre Dame. Although senior Nathan Williams has been dealing with the effects from knee surgery, the Buckeyes still have plenty of talent up front, including Johnathan Hankins at tackle and John Simon at end. Both players will have opportunities to take over the game this Saturday. Michigan State’s defensive line is stocked with talent, including All-American candidate William Gholston. End Marcus Rush is another player to watch (three tackles for a loss), while there’s plenty of size on the interior. This will be the toughest challenge for Ohio State’s offensive line and could be the perfect opportunity for Gholston to get on track this year.

5. Special teams
With Saturday’s matchup is expected to be a close one, a play on special teams could decide the outcome. Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy has connected on 7 of 11 attempts but is just 3 of 7 from 30-49 yards. Ohio State kicker Drew Basil hit his only attempt of the season, while punter Ben Buchanan is averaging 41.3 yards per punt. In last week’s win over UAB, the Buckeyes had a punt that was blocked and returned for a score. Can Michigan State find something on tape that UAB was able to exploit? Considering this game probably won’t be decided until deep in the fourth quarter, one mistake on special teams could be very costly.

Final Analysis

With a light week of games this Saturday, Ohio State-Michigan State has a chance to be the best game on the slate. The Buckeyes have won seven out of the last eight contests in this series, with the Spartans winning 10-7 in Columbus last year. Points should be at a premium in this matchup, with Braxton Miller outdueling Anddrew Maxwell to earn a hard-fought win for Ohio State.

Ohio State 23, Michigan State 20


by Steven Lassan

@athlonsteven
 

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Teaser:
<p> Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan State Spartans Game Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/college-football-betting-against-spread-week-5
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Every Friday for entertainment purposes only, I will bring you my top college football picks against the spread. I do not condone, approve or encourage gambling on sports in any way. But if you are a fan of football — college or pro — and you don't think gambling has played a huge role in the growth and popularity of the sport, then you are simply being ignorant. And behind closed doors, the powers that be understand the impact betting has had on the game of football.

2012 Record Against The Spread: 17-14
Last Week: 2-4

Note: All lines are as of date of publication

Clemson (-9.5) at Boston College
The Tigers had two double-digit leads in the second half over Florida State on the road, so the only reason this line is so small has to be the “letdown” factor. The Tigers crushed the Eagles 36-14 last fall as Dabo Swinney’s team is vastly superior at basically every position. Boston College has allowed 502 yards rushing in two games against FBS opponents so Andre Ellington and Tajh Boyd should find plenty of space in this one. Prediction: Clemson (-9.5)

Minnesota (+7) at Iowa
The Gophers haven’t won in Iowa City since 1999, but have won the last two in this series. In fact, the one-point win over the Hawkeyes last season kick-started the Jerry Kill era in the Twin Cities. Minnesota has won five straight games and, while the Gophers may not win, they will certainly keep it close against a team that is teetering on the brink of self-destruction. Quarterback play for Iowa has been atrocious as the league’s worst scoring offense has accounted for one passing touchdown all season. Iowa may win, but it will be close — like the four total points separating these two since 2010. Prediction: Minnesota (+7)

Nevada (-19.5) at Texas State
The Wolfpack has scored at least 31 points in all four games and has put up 104 points in the last two games. They are averaging 317.8 yards rushing per game and destroyed Hawaii by 45 points last weekend. While Texas State has been sneaky good, like beating Houston in Week 1, they are still getting acclimated with big boy football. Good luck stopping the Pistol. Prediction: Nevada (-19.5)

Ohio State (+3) at Michigan State
These might be the best two teams in the Big Ten. These might be the best two coaches in the Big Ten. And these might be the best two defenses in the Big Ten. But there is one huge difference between these two teams: Quarterbacks. Braxton Miller has been special, accounting for 14 total TDs and 1,195 yards of offense. Andrew Maxwell has been a liability, accounting for 3 total TDs and 851 yards of offense. Miller is the difference. Prediction: Ohio State (+3)

Texas (-1.5) at Oklahoma State
The Longhorns appear to be motivated this season and the offensive statistics play that out. Texas averaged 28.1 points and 392.5 yards per game on offense last season. This season the 'Horns have posted 49.3 points and 514.3 yards per game through three contests thus far. The play of quarterback David Ash has been the difference. Oklahoma State, while still potent on offense, will be asking a freshman — either JW Walsh or Wes Lunt — to defeat one of the most talented defenses in the land. After two losses at home to Brandon Weeden, the Burnt Orange will be fired up for revenge on Saturday. Prediction: Texas (-1.5)

Indiana (+11) at Northwestern
The Wildcats are 4-0 in the standings and 4-0 against the spread in 2012. This offense is beginning to round into form with a power rushing game now at its disposal. And since Week 1, the defense has shown marked improvement — from 596 total yards allowed in a Week 1 to less than 318 in each of the last three games. Against the Hoosiers last fall, Northwestern won by 21 while scoring 59 points. This fall should feature a similar outcome. Prediction: Northwestern (-11)

Baylor (+11.5) at West Virginia
The Mountaineers have been great on offense and not so great on defense. West Virginia is ranked 74th in total defense and is 52nd in scoring defense — against Marshall, James Madison and Maryland. Meanwhile, Baylor has been just as electric on offense — try 51.3 points per game and 568.7 yards per game — in three games. Look for a high-scoring, close game that WVU wins by one score. After all, this is the Mounties first-ever taste of Big 12 action. Prediction: Baylor (+11.5)

Texas Tech (-3) at Iowa State
The Red Raiders claim the nation’s No. 1 defense at an absurd 160.3 total yards allowed per game. But these numbers are a mirage — they did it against Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico — for a team that allowed 39.3 points per game last season. Iowa State has a salty defense that destroyed Tech 41-7 last year in Lubbock and returns largely intact. This unlikely battle of unbeatens should go the way of the home team. Prediction: Iowa State (+3)

Others I like: 

South Carolina (-20.5) at Kentucky
NC State (+3) at Miami
Wisconsin (+11.5) at Nebraska
Central Michigan (+11.5) at Northern Illinois
San Diego State (+7) at Fresno State

2012 Trends Against the Spread:

4-0 ATS 3-1 ATS 1-3 ATS 0-4 ATS
Arizona St (3-0-1) Akron Auburn Arkansas
Ball St Duke Bowling Green Houston (0-3)
Fresno St Florida Cal Iowa
UL-Monroe (3-0) Georgia Tech Colorado Miami (Ohio)
Northwestern Kansas St Colorado St Southern Miss (0-3)
Oregon St (2-0) Minnesota E. Michigan Virginia (0-3-1)
Purdue (3-0) Ole Miss Idaho Washington St
San Jose St Nebraska Kentucky Wisconsin
Texas Tech (3-0) Notre Dame UMass  
UT-San Antonio (2-0) Ohio Memphis  
Utah St Penn St Michigan  
Western Kentucky South Carolina Michigan St  
  Toledo South Florida  
  Troy USC  
  UCLA Syracuse  
  UNLV Tennessee  
    Utah  
    Virginia Tech  

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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Teaser:
<p> College Football Betting Against the Spread: Week 5</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /nfl/nfl-week-4-under-pressure-michael-vick-chris-johnson-drew-brees
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Each week, Athlon Sports will highlight the three most important names in the NFL. Our editors debate which player must play his best this weekend.

Who needs to step up the most in Week 4: Michael Vick, Chris Johnson or Drew Brees?

Mark Ross, Athlon Sports: Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia
The Eagles are 2-1, so everyone’s happy in The City of Brotherly Love, right? Not so much. The Eagles have been out-scored by 19 points. After posting consecutive one-point victories over the Browns and Ravens to start the season, they got thoroughly out-played by the Cardinals last week, losing 27-6.

What’s more Andy Reid has spent part of this week backtracking/clarifying statements he has made regarding Vick and his job security. That’s what happens when you are currently sporting a 2.3-to-1 turnover-to-touchdown ratio.

At first glance, it appears that Vick, who is third in the NFL in passing yards with 905, is off to a good start throwing the ball. That is until you find out he’s completing just 55.2 percent of his passes (25th in the league), and he’s thrown twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdown passes (three). Add in his three fumbles lost, and he’s responsible for nine of the team’s NFL-worst 12 turnovers. Put it all together and he’s 29th in the league in passer rating at 66.3. Not exactly the type of production you want from your $100-million man, right?

That said, the Eagles can make a huge statement this Sunday when they host the Giants, their division rival and the defending Super Bowl champions. Vick has had his share of success in his career against the G-Men. He holds a 5-2 record, has completed better than 60 percent of his passes and thrown for five touchdowns versus just three interceptions. He’s also rushed for 381 yards (6.8 ypc) and four touchdowns in those games.

To be fair, the offensive line, which has given up nine sacks already, needs to do a better job protecting Vick. Also wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson have both either missed games or been limited by injuries early on, so you could say Vick has yet to have his full complement of weapons. Still in the NFL, it all comes down to the quarterback and it’s up to Vick to silence the critics and put an end to any doubts about his status as the starter. Otherwise, it won’t just be his job security that becomes a hot topic of discussion, right Andy?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
Saints quarterback Drew Brees set a new NFL all-time record with 5,476 passing yards last season to go 46 touchdowns passes, and New Orleans finished with a 13-3 record and an NFC South title. However after an offseason bounty scandal that resulted in the suspension of head coach Sean Payton and others, the Saints have shockingly equaled their loss total of last year. Brees’ 904 passing yards and seven scores are solid numbers through three games, but he has already thrown five interceptions and been sacked seven times. The New Orleans defense and offensive line have had major issues this season, but it will have to be the All-Pro signal caller that leads the team out of its current hole if the Saints are going to salvage the 2012 campaign.

The grind gets tougher this week, as the Saints travel to Lambeau Field to meet the 1-2 Packers. The two NFC stalwarts combined for only four losses during the 2011 regular season but have five defeats this year. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is also under pressure this week, but Brees and the Saints offense must find a way to recapture some of last year’s magic in Wisconsin on Sunday. With weapons like Marques Colston and Lance Moore on the outside and elite tight end Jimmy Graham, New Orleans still has a shot to outscore its opponents. But since 1990, only three teams that started the NFL season 0-3 have made the playoffs. That’s a daunting statistic for Brees and company as they head to Green Bay this weekend.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall): Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee
On Sept. 1, 2011, the Tennessee Titans made Chris Johnson the highest paid running back on the planet by paying him $53.5 million over four years with $30 million guaranteed. Since being drafted in 2008, Johnson rushed for an NFL-best 4,598 yards on 925 carries, caught 137 passes for 1,008 yards receiving and scored 38 total touchdowns in 47 games. That is 5.0 yards per carry and 119.2 yards from scrimmage per game. The Titans went 13-3 in his rookie season and went 27-21 overall in that span.

In 19 games since the contract was signed, Johnson has rushed for 1,092 yards on 295 carries for an average of 3.7 yards per attempt and has scored four total touchdowns. Clearly, the $50-million man has mailed it in since signing his big contract.

The Titans tailback has been completely uninspired this fall, averaging 1.4 yards per carry (33 att., 45 yards) with nary a trip to paydirt in three games. Jake Locker is the team’s leading rusher currently.

After starting 1-2, the Titans go on the road to face the unbeaten Houston Texans in a huge divisional contest this weekend and Johnson needs to revert to his CJ2K form ASAP. In fact, the Titans will play three of the next four on the road with Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Minnesota coming up after the trip to Texas.

Locker appears to be the long-term solution at quarterback for the Titans, but if this team wants to challenge the Texans in the AFC South, it has to get production from its rushing attack.

@bradengall

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Teaser:
<p> NFL Week 4 Under Pressure: Michael Vick, Chris Johnson, Drew Brees</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/kansas-state-football-where-does-bill-snyder-rank-among-all-time-coaches
Body:

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has to be considered one of college football's best coaches. Snyder is credited with a "Miracle in Manhattan," turning the Wildcats into a consistent winner and a top-10 team in some seasons. After three years in retirement, Snyder has returned to the sidelines and has Kansas State back in contention for a Big 12 title. 

Where does Bill Snyder rank among all-time coaches? 

Coach Bobby Ross, former head coach of Maryland, Georgia Tech and Army and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
I got to know Bill some years back when I was an NFL head coach for the Chargers.  He brought his coaching staff to study what we were doing in San Diego and exchanged ideas with him and his staff.  I was very impressed by him and have followed his career since that time. Bill is a no-nonsense type of coach and a great communicator. He built the program from the bottom up.  They were at ground zero when he got there in Manhattan.  And not only did he do it once, he went back a few years ago and has Kansas State playing like a top ten team again. On our Legends Poll weekly conference call, R.C. Slocum said, "I think Bill Snyder ought to be Coach of the Century!"   I would rank him up near the top as well.

David Fox (@DavidFox615): 
Snyder hasn’t had the national championship breakthrough. He doesn’t run the most exciting schemes. And he doesn’t have the public persona of a Steve Spurrier, Bobby Bowden or even Nick Saban. But the results warrant mentioning him among the greats. Maybe he’s in a second tier after Bear Bryant, Bowden and the like, but he needs to be mentioned among the top 10 or so. Snyder has swooped in to rescue the Kansas State program twice. Say what you want about the light non-conference schedules over the years, but given its history and perennial talent gap with Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska over the years, Kansas State doesn’t have a whole lot of business being consistently competitive against those schools. Yet it’s happened. I’m not a fan of the “they just find ways to win” cliche, but it’s true for Snyder’s teams and it’s been true over the course of two decades.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall): 
It is virtually impossible to rank Bill Snyder all-time against coaches from 100 years worth of football. But against active coaches? He is easily top ten if not top five. Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Bob Stoops and Urban Meyer are likely the only coaches I would definitively rank ahead of Snyder. He would be on par with Frank Beamer, Chris Peterson, Chip Kelly and (gasp) Bobby Petrino. The Kansas State coach does more with less than possibly any other head coach in the nation, but at the end of the day, the resume isn't the same as those who have won national championships. Stoops has dominated the head-to-head record with Snyder and has seven Big 12 titles. Spurrier has seven conference championships. Meyer and Saban claim five of the last nine national titles. Snyder is a truly great football coach, and an extremely interesting man, who is entirely responsible for all that Kansas State football is today. But one conference championship in 21 seasons, despite the disadvantages at KSU, keeps him from the top tier of coaches in my opinion. 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): 
There are few coaches who could do what Snyder has done at Kansas State. When he arrived in Manhattan, Kansas State was one of the worst programs in the nation. The Wildcats were coming off back-to-back winless seasons and had just three victories over the last four years. Since Snyder’s arrival at Kansas State, the program has become a consistent winner and nearly played for the national title in 1998. As if his first tenure wasn’t good enough, Snyder returned out of retirement and has Kansas State in the mix to win the Big 12 title this year. It’s always difficult to place where coaches rank among their counterparts, as each job presents different challenges. However, it’s clear Snyder is currently one of the best coaches in college football and has to rank among the best of all-time. I wouldn’t put Snyder in the same class as Bobby Bowden, Nick Saban or Bear Bryant, but he wouldn’t be far behind in the next group.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): 
He’s clearly an all-time great. He has to be considered one of the great program builders of all-time for what he did during his first stint at Kansas State. He inherited a program that was perceived by many to be the worst in the nation — and rightfully so. The Wildcats went winless in the two previous seasons prior to his arrival. They won one game in his first season, five the next and then broke through with a 7–4 record in Year 3. After a step back in 1992, K-State began a stretch in which it won at least nine games in 10 of 11 seasons. That, alone, is an incredible accomplishment. But Snyder rebuilt the program once again, returning to the sidelines in 2009 after a three-year retirement. Last season, the Cats won 10 games — for the first time since 2003 — with a roster that was probably middle of the pack (at best) in the Big 12. And he has the Cats off to a 4–0 start in ’12, highlighted by last week’s upset win at Oklahoma. As I Tweeted late Saturday night: “Kansas State is amazing. Never picking against the Cats again.”

Mark Ross: 
Snyder is without a doubt the greatest head coach in Kansas State's history. Not only is the football stadium named after him, but he also has more than 120 career wins than any other coach in the program's history. Snyder deserves a lot of credit and a great deal of respect for turning what was a moribund football program into a consistent winner, not once, but twice as he first retired following the 2005 season only to return three seasons later. Snyder has 163 wins and counting in his K-State tenure, which is now in its 21st season, and has a career winning percentage of nearly 66 percent. He has won only one conference title in his career, however, and is 6-7 in bowl games. Snyder is still several good years away from reaching the 200-victory milestone, and considering he will turn 73 in two weeks, you wonder how much longer he will keep going. I don't think he measures up to the all-time greats, but there's certainly no shame in leaving your lasting mark and legacy on a program and university, which is what he has done in Manhattan, Kan.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): 
Before Coach Snyder arrived in Manhattan, Kansas State had played over 90 years of football and never won a bowl game. In fact, a 1982 loss in the Independence Bowl was the lone postseason appearance in the history of the Wildcats program. The job that Snyder and his staff did in building KSU in to a consistent winner has to rank as the best ever in taking a moribund program and making it relevant. It’s difficult for me to rank Snyder among the top 20 all-time coaches because of a lack of conference or national titles (one Big 12 crown in 2003), but he definitely belongs in the next tier of great coaches and in the College Football Hall of Fame. 

 

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Teaser:
<p> Kansas State Football: Where does Bill Snyder rank among all-time coaches?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 05:51
Path: /college-football/college-football-award-watch-post-week-4-0
Body:

The Heisman Trophy isn’t the only award worth watching on a weekly basis. The Lombardi, Outland, Davey O’Brien and Biletnikoff races are all worth watching and debating as the season goes along.

Throughout the season, we’ll keep an eye on all the prominent position trophies through college football in addition to the Heisman.

If you’re looking for our thoughts on that other trophy, check our weekly Heisman poll.

OFFENSIVE AWARDS
Davey O’Brien (Top quarterback)
Our leader: Geno Smith, West Virginia
Smith was 30-of-43 for 338 yards with three touchdowns against Maryland last week, reminding us that even his season lows in completed passes, completion rate, touchdown passes and yards per attempt are still pretty darn good. Other quarterbacks are gaining, though, after Collin Klein and EJ Manuel had signature games last week. USC’s Matt Barkley, who has four interceptions in his last two games, is fading a bit.
Others: ULM’s Kolton Browning, Kansas State’s Collin Klein, Florida State’s EJ Manuel, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Georgia’s Aaron Murray

Doak Walker (Top running back)
Our leader: Chris Thompson, Florida State
The field for the nation’s top running back has been an interesting one -- UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin struggled against Oregon State, Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell has been streaky, Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas was solid yet unspectacular against Arizona. Let’s shine the spotlight on Florida State’s Chris Thompson, who has rushed for 300 yards and four touchdowns on only 24 carries in Florida State’s two ACC wins.
Others: Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin, Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson, South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, Fresno State’s Robbie Rouse, Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor, Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas

Biletnikoff Award (Top wide receiver)
Our leader: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
One of the byproducts of playing for Dana Holgorsen and with quarterback Geno Smith is the chance to stand out at receiver. Austin, however, made Smith look pretty good against Maryland with 13 catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Austin has nine touchdown catches and 46 catches in his last four games dating back to the Orange Bowl.
Others: West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey, USC’s Marqise Lee, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton, USC’s Robert Woods

Mackey Award (Top tight end)
Our leader: Chris Coyle, Arizona State
Coyle leads the nation’s tight ends in receptions (22) and receiving yards (301) for surprising Arizona State. The junior who had six career receptions coming into the season now has twice as many catches as anyone on the Sun Devils’ roster.
Others: Oregon’s Colt Lyerla, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins

Outland Trophy (Top interior lineman)
Our leader: Barrett Jones, Alabama
Another week with Jones looking like the player to beat for the lineman awards. Jones also was named a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, whcih is awarded to a player with notable on-field and academic accomplishments.
Others: Virginia’s Oday Aboushi, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Utah’s Star Lotulelei

Rimington Trophy (Top center)
Our leader: Alabama’s Jones
Others: Clemson’s Dalton Freeman

 

 


DEFENSIVE AWARDS
Bednarik Award/Nagurski Award (Defensive Player of the Year)
Our leader: Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
The play up front has been outstanding for Notre Dame, allowing Te’o to reap the benefits. Te’o had two interceptions against Michigan to go with eight tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Notre Dame has allowed three field goals and no touchdowns in the last two games.
Others: Mississippi State’s Johnathan Banks, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Utah’s Star Lotulelei, Florida State’s Bjoern Werner

Lombardi Award (Top lineman or linebacker)
Our leader: Te’o, Notre Dame
Others: Stanford’s Ben Gardner, UCLA’s Datone Jones, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Utah’s Star Lotulelei, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore, Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy, Maryland’s Joe Vellano, Florida State’s Bjeorn Werner

Butkus Award (Top linebacker)
Our leader: Te’o, Notre Dame
Others: USC’s Dion Bailey, Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Iowa State’s Jake Knott, Alabama’s C.J. Mosely, Connecticut’s Yawin Smallwood

Thorpe Award (Top defensive back)
Our leader: Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Mississippi State hasn’t faced the toughest schedule yet, meaning the Bulldogs could be bowl eligible before a difficult stretch against Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU in late October and early November. Banks has led the way for the Mississippi State defense the entire season. Against South Alabama last week, he picked up this highlight-reel interception. Banks has three picks on a team that leads the nation in turnover margin.
Others: NC State’s David Amerson, Texas’ Quandre Diggs, Oregon’s Iko Ekpre-Olomu, Alabama’s Dee Milliner, Stanford’s Jordan Richards, Texas’ Kenny Vacarro


SPECIAL TEAMS AWARDS
Groza Award (Top kicker)

Our leader: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
Budzien is 8 of 8 on field goal attempts this season, including a 5 for 5 mark against Boston College in a 22-13 win two weeks ago.
Others: Iowa’s Mike Meyer, Florida’s Caleb Sturgis

Ray Guy Award (Top punter)
Our leader: Texas A&M’s Ryan Epperson
Epperson has been one of the nation’s most consistent punters, ranking third at 47.6 yards per kick and at least 44 yards per kick in each game this season. The Aggies are also second in the nation in net punting.
Others: Louisiana Tech’s Ryan Allen, Utah’s Sean Sellwood, LSU’s Brad Wing


OTHER NATIONAL AWARDS
Freshman of the Year
Our leader: Duke Johnson, Miami
Miami’s comeback against Georgia Tech last week was primarily on the shoulders of quarterback Stephen Morris, but Johnson still finished with 110 yards from scrimmage and 200 total yards. Though Johnson averaged a season-low 9.5 yards per play against Georgia Tech, he remains the national leader in all-purpose yards per game (209.5).
Others: Georgia’s Todd Gurley, UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon

Coach of the Year
Our leader: Mike Riley, Oregon State
Even in successful seasons at Oregon State, the Beavers often stumbled out of the gate in September. Riley has navigated an odd early schedule with a canceled season opener and an open date in Week 3 for an impressive pair of wins this season over Wisconsin and a hot UCLA team. Oregon State ranks second in the nation in rush defense.
Others: Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, Minnesota’s Jerry Kill, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, UCLA’s Jim L. Mora, Stanford’s David Shaw

by David Fox

@davidfox615

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Teaser:
<p> College Football Award Watch: Post-Week 4</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 05:06
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fantasy, News
Path: /college-football/college-fantasy-football-week-5-emergency-starters
Body:

This piece is intended to assist those college fantasy loyalists who have stuck with us the entire week.  Whether you have an injury to a key player, a tough matchup at a particular position, or play in a deep league, this one is for you.  Good luck!  

Joe DiSalvo (@theCFFsite)

Quarterback

Taysom Hill, BYU vs Hawaii

Tyler Van Tubbergen, Western Michigan vs Toledo

Driphus Jackson, Rice vs Houston

Trent Steelman, Army v Stony Brook

Trey Miler, Navy vs San Jose St
 

Running Backs

Kenneth Dixon, LA Tech at Virginia

Jyruss Edwards, ULM at Tulane

DJ Foster, Arizona St at Colorado

Alonzo Harris, Louisiana vs FIU

Antoine Jimmerson, North Texas at FAU

Dri Archer, Kent St vs Ball St

Zach Laskey, GA Tech vs MTSU
 

Receivers

Willie Snead, Ball St at Kent St

Marcus Lucas, Missouri at Central Florida

Keyarris Garrett, Tulsa at UAB

Ty MacArthur, Air Force vs Colorado St

For Start/Bench advice from Joe DiSalvo, send an email tojoe@thecffsite.com
 

Steven Lassan(@AthlonSteven)

Quarterback

David Fales, San Jose St at Navy

Kawaun Jakes, Western Kentucky at Arkansas St

Tanner Price, Wake Forest vs Duke
 

Running Backs

Shawne Alston, West Virginia vs Baylor

Dri Archer, Kent St vs Ball St

JaTerian Douglas, Tulsa at UAB
 

Receivers

Brelan Chancellor, North Texas at FAU

Brandin Cooks, Oregon St at Arizona

Brent Leonard, UL-Monroe at Tulane

Martel Moore, Northern Illinois vs Central Michigan

Teaser:
<p> College Fantasy Football: Week 5 Emergency Starters</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 03:45
All taxonomy terms: Pac-12, UCLA Bruins, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-uclas-makeover-0
Body:
This feature appears in all editions of the Athlon Sports 2012-13 College Basketball annual.

Ben Howland was dead and buried. After a three consecutive Final Four appearances and 30-win campaigns from 2005-06 through 2007-08, UCLA had become mediocre in what had quickly become a downtrodden Pac-12.

Speculation regarding his job security was in ample supply. Then, a national story surfaced about how he’d apparently lost control of his program and one of his star players. Former players took shots at his style of play and skeptics even poked fun at him for hiring an AAU coach from across the country on his staff.

“It was tough,” Howland says. “Probably as difficult a year as I’ve ever had in coaching.”

With all the off-court issues, though, one glaring issue in Westwood stood out above everything else over the last few years — the talent level. It just wasn’t up to UCLA standards.

The dropoff began with the Class of 2008, one that was lauded by just about every recruiting guru. Jrue Holiday, J’Mison Morgan, Drew Gordon, Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee. All were considered top-50 players nationally and, as a group, were supposed to help Howland and the program sustain its recent excellence.

Holiday averaged 8.5 points per game before leaving for the NBA after his freshman season. Morgan transferred to Baylor and has been a bust. Gordon bolted six games into his sophomore season after clashing with Howland. Anderson graduated this past season after a disappointing four-year college career. Lee left following his junior campaign and was a second-round pick in the NBA Draft.

The next group was nearly as heralded, with five more players holding a ranking in the top 100. The class was as disappointing as its predecessor.

Tyler Honeycutt underachieved for the majority of two seasons before, like Lee, leaving to become a second-round pick in the NBA Draft. Mike Moser left after logging just 4.7 minutes per contest as a freshman and has turned into a bona fide star and potential first-round pick at UNLV. Brendan Lane started eight games in three seasons before transferring to Pepperdine. Anthony Stover was a complete non-factor before being kicked off the team for academics this past offseason.

Reeves Nelson

And then there’s Reeves Nelson.

Nelson was different. The tough, hard-playing forward was plenty talented enough, but he was a disaster off the court who killed team chemistry. After multiple chances from Howland — probably a few too many — Nelson was finally jettisoned from the program early in the 2011-12. But it didn’t come quick enough as Nelson’s issues became a public embarrassment to Howland and his once-tight grip on this program.

There have been other misses since the vaunted 2008 and 2009 classes. The four-man 2010 group included Matt Carlino, who left and is thriving at BYU. De’End Parker and Norman Powell arrived in 2011, and Parker is already history, leaving for San Francisco. The list seemingly goes on and on with players who didn’t plan out for one reason or another.

But now everything appears to have changed.

The 14–18 record in 2009-10 has become a distant memory. So is last season’s disaster, one in which UCLA failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the past three seasons. Moreover, UCLA’s struggles have coincided with a conference-wide slump during the last three seasons. There’s a new chapter in UCLA basketball, at least that’s what Howland and Bruins fans hope. Optimism is high the Bruins can return to their glory days, not the ones when they were hanging banners in the John Wooden Era, but the ones when they were competing for national titles shortly after Howland arrived from Pittsburgh.

Howland has added arguably the nation’s top recruiting class, one that stacks up with John Calipari’s haul in Lexington and Sean Miller’s group at Arizona. Simply, that’s what has changed the expectations in Westwood.

Josh Smith

Now Josh Smith’s weight will no longer be the primary focus at UCLA. The Wear twins — David and Travis — won’t have to be anything more than they truly are, which is perform as solid players. North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II can be a role player, maybe even a bench guy. That’s because UCLA has added arguably the two best freshmen in the country.

Shabazz Muhammad comes in as the consensus top-ranked player in the nation. He’s a big, strong and athletic wing from Las Vegas who brings a much-needed toughness mentality to the program. Muhammad had long been considered a favorite to land at UCLA — with the aid of adidas — but Kentucky and other top programs made strong pushes for his services. Muhammad could well wind up being the top pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and should be Howland’s go-to guy from the moment he first takes the court at Pauley Pavilion whenever that may be. The NCAA’s eligibility review of Muhammad was ongoing into late August.

“He’s a great player,” Howland says. “He can do a lot of different things for us and will do a lot of different things for us that we haven’t had recently.”

Then there’s Kyle Anderson, a 6-9 point forward who passes the ball in a similar manner former North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall exhibited in his two years in Chapel Hill. Anderson, no matter what position he plays in Howland’s offense, will have the ball in his hands often because his best asset is his ability to make those around him better.

“He facilitates,” Howland says. “That’s what he does best, but his perimeter shot has improved over the past year.”

These two guys, Muhammad and Anderson, changed the complexion of the entire program. They will give Howland new life, a second chance to get this storied program back on track.

Howland still has pressure on him now, though, maybe even more so with the influx of talent. He can’t swing and miss at the NCAA Tournament again, especially with the addition of Muhammad, Anderson and another top-25 player, Georgia big man Tony Parker.

“It’s all about expectation level here,” Howland says. “That’s what happens when you have the history of UCLA and when you go to three Final Fours in a row.”

“It’s all about expectation level here, That’s what happens when you have the history of UCLA and when you go to three Final Fours in a row.”

-UCLA coach Ben Howland

Muhammad will be the centerpiece of the team. Anderson should make teammates like the Wear twins and Smith more effective with crisp passes that will be converted into easy layups. And Parker has the natural ability to push Smith for playing time in the middle. There’s a second talented freshman out of Georgia, 6-5 wing Jordan Adams, as well as junior guard Tyler Lamb and sophomore Norman Powell.

There are reasons for the lack of success over the past three seasons. Sure, the talent on the West Coast — and specifically California — has been down. But UCLA is also guilty of misevaluating some key players. The Bruins also have had chemistry issues and untimely defections to the NBA Draft.

 “We’ve had so many guys leave early,” Howland says. “It’s not easy to reload every year.”

Holiday, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo all left early. But more recently, the departures of Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, who bolted despite being sure-fire second round picks, hampered the Bruins a year ago.

But premature defections, even to the NBA,  haven’t been worthy of a free pass for Howland & Co. Not for the elite program out West.

The preseason polls are likely have UCLA in the top 25, perhaps in the top five. Howland is full of smiles these days, knowing he’ll have enough to compete with anyone in the league and nearly anyone in the entire country.

Related: College Basketball Countdown: No. 12 UCLA Preview

“I’m excited about this season,” he says. “But we need to go out and prove it. Rankings don’t mean anything. People can project all they want, but it’s about performance. I think we have a chance to be a really good team, but we need to go out and win games.”

Howland loses his starting backcourt of Lazeric Jones, who was the team’s leading scorer a year ago at 13.5 points per game, and Jerime Anderson, who never came close to fulfilling the potential he brought with him to UCLA. While Jones did have a solid season last year, the duo of Muhammad and Kyle Anderson will be instant upgrades — even with their youth and inexperience.

The Wear twins combined to average 21.7 points and more than a dozen boards per game last season. It’s unlikely they’ll ever be college stars, as many pegged throughout their high school careers before they landed at North Carolina. But they can be solid frontcourt players now that they are surrounded with top-tier talent.

Then there’s the rotund, ultra-talented big man, Smith, who can’t seem to get his weight issues under control — something that could end up costing him a career at the next level. Smith averaged a mediocre 9.9 points and 4.9 rebounds last season and enters his junior season as a forgotten man of sorts due to his uninspiring play and lack of consistent production.

The 6-5 Lamb had a solid sophomore campaign, averaging 9.0 points per game. He certainly fill a role, whether it be starting on the wing or coming off the bench.

The Wears aren’t the only ex-North Carolina players in L.A. Drew II is another local kid who left Chapel Hill and wound up back close to home. But his role is uncertain now with the arrival of Anderson.

Ben Howland

“They’ll definitely be playing together at times,” Howland says of a potential Anderson-Drew backcourt. “Larry can facilitate pretty well himself.”

But the Drew Experiment down in the ACC didn’t work well. Then-freshman Kendall Marshall supplanted him midway through the 2010-11 season, prompting Drew to abruptly leave Chapel Hill instead of accepting his role as a backup. Plenty of observers say Drew and his talent level are better-suited as a reserve, but Howland could wind up going with him as a starter, especially early in the season.

Roles will be important for Howland to establish — as will leadership and a defensive philosophy.

The holdovers will need to allow Muhammad and Anderson to come in and not only be the focal points on the court, but also leaders. These guys bring in a much-needed attitude, as well as a physical (Muhammad) and mental (Anderson) toughness that has sorely been lacking in the last few years.

Howland, over the years, has been known as a guy who won’t alter his system. Tough, hard-nosed man-to-man defense has been a staple throughout most of his career as well as an offensive system with limited freedom — something that caused several of his former players to complain.

Howland admits that he’ll likely stick with man-to-man defense, although he understands that his guards, who aren’t overly athletic, won’t be able to pressure the ball as he was able to do in the past.

With the recent struggles, it’s easy to forget what Howland has done over the past nine seasons at UCLA. There have been three Final Four appearances, more than 200 victories and no shortage of pros who have come though the program. He’s brought in heralded guys like Love and Holiday and also developed under-the-radar ones such as Westbrook and Darren Collison.

The program has had stellar seasons in 2006, ’07 and ’08. Then disappointing ones in 2010 and ’12.

“It’s all about expectations,” Howland says. “And I’m OK with that.”

Now we’ll see if this recruiting class, unlike the ones a few years ago, can help the Bruins live up to the hype.

-By Jeff Goodman, CBSSports.com

@AthlonSports

Athlon College Basketball Countdown So Far:
20. Florida

19. Notre Dame

18. Memphis
17. Baylor
16. Missouri

15. San Diego State

14. North Carolina

13. UNLV

12. UCLA

Teaser:
<p> College Basketball: UCLA's Makeover</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 17:07
All taxonomy terms: Pac-12, UCLA Bruins, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-uclas-makeover
Body:
This feature appears in all editions of the Athlon Sports 2012-13 College Basketball annual.

Ben Howland was dead and buried. After a three consecutive Final Four appearances and 30-win campaigns from 2005-06 through 2007-08, UCLA had become mediocre in what had quickly become a downtrodden Pac-12.

Speculation regarding his job security was in ample supply. Then, a national story surfaced about how he’d apparently lost control of his program and one of his star players. Former players took shots at his style of play and skeptics even poked fun at him for hiring an AAU coach from across the country on his staff.

“It was tough,” Howland says. “Probably as difficult a year as I’ve ever had in coaching.”

With all the off-court issues, though, one glaring issue in Westwood stood out above everything else over the last few years — the talent level. It just wasn’t up to UCLA standards.

The dropoff began with the Class of 2008, one that was lauded by just about every recruiting guru. Jrue Holiday, J’Mison Morgan, Drew Gordon, Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee. All were considered top-50 players nationally and, as a group, were supposed to help Howland and the program sustain its recent excellence.

Holiday averaged 8.5 points per game before leaving for the NBA after his freshman season. Morgan transferred to Baylor and has been a bust. Gordon bolted six games into his sophomore season after clashing with Howland. Anderson graduated this past season after a disappointing four-year college career. Lee left following his junior campaign and was a second-round pick in the NBA Draft.

The next group was nearly as heralded, with five more players holding a ranking in the top 100. The class was as disappointing as its predecessor.

Tyler Honeycutt underachieved for the majority of two seasons before, like Lee, leaving to become a second-round pick in the NBA Draft. Mike Moser left after logging just 4.7 minutes per contest as a freshman and has turned into a bona fide star and potential first-round pick at UNLV. Brendan Lane started eight games in three seasons before transferring to Pepperdine. Anthony Stover was a complete non-factor before being kicked off the team for academics this past offseason.

And then there’s Reeves Nelson.

Nelson was different. The tough, hard-playing forward was plenty talented enough, but he was a disaster off the court who killed team chemistry. After multiple chances from Howland — probably a few too many — Nelson was finally jettisoned from the program early in the 2011-12. But it didn’t come quick enough as Nelson’s issues became a public embarrassment to Howland and his once-tight grip on this program.

There have been other misses since the vaunted 2008 and 2009 classes. The four-man 2010 group included Matt Carlino, who left and is thriving at BYU. De’End Parker and Norman Powell arrived in 2011, and Parker is already history, leaving for San Francisco. The list seemingly goes on and on with players who didn’t plan out for one reason or another.

But now everything appears to have changed.

The 14–18 record in 2009-10 has become a distant memory. So is last season’s disaster, one in which UCLA failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the past three seasons. Moreover, UCLA’s struggles have coincided with a conference-wide slump during the last three seasons. There’s a new chapter in UCLA basketball, at least that’s what Howland and Bruins fans hope. Optimism is high the Bruins can return to their glory days, not the ones when they were hanging banners in the John Wooden Era, but the ones when they were competing for national titles shortly after Howland arrived from Pittsburgh.

Howland has added arguably the nation’s top recruiting class, one that stacks up with John Calipari’s haul in Lexington and Sean Miller’s group at Arizona. Simply, that’s what has changed the expectations in Westwood.

Now Josh Smith’s weight will no longer be the primary focus at UCLA. The Wear twins — David and Travis — won’t have to be anything more than they truly are, which is perform as solid players. North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II can be a role player, maybe even a bench guy. That’s because UCLA has added arguably the two best freshmen in the country.

Shabazz Muhammad comes in as the consensus top-ranked player in the nation. He’s a big, strong and athletic wing from Las Vegas who brings a much-needed toughness mentality to the program. Muhammad had long been considered a favorite to land at UCLA — with the aid of adidas — but Kentucky and other top programs made strong pushes for his services. Muhammad could well wind up being the top pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and should be Howland’s go-to guy from the moment he first takes the court at Pauley Pavilion whenever that may be. The NCAA’s eligibility review of Muhammad was ongoing into late August.

“He’s a great player,” Howland says. “He can do a lot of different things for us and will do a lot of different things for us that we haven’t had recently.”

Then there’s Kyle Anderson, a 6-9 point forward who passes the ball in a similar manner former North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall exhibited in his two years in Chapel Hill. Anderson, no matter what position he plays in Howland’s offense, will have the ball in his hands often because his best asset is his ability to make those around him better.

“He facilitates,” Howland says. “That’s what he does best, but his perimeter shot has improved over the past year.”

These two guys, Muhammad and Anderson, changed the complexion of the entire program. They will give Howland new life, a second chance to get this storied program back on track.

Howland still has pressure on him now, though, maybe even more so with the influx of talent. He can’t swing and miss at the NCAA Tournament again, especially with the addition of Muhammad, Anderson and another top-25 player, Georgia big man Tony Parker.

“It’s all about expectation level here,” Howland says. “That’s what happens when you have the history of UCLA and when you go to three Final Fours in a row.”

Muhammad will be the centerpiece of the team. Anderson should make teammates like the Wear twins and Smith more effective with crisp passes that will be converted into easy layups. And Parker has the natural ability to push Smith for playing time in the middle. There’s a second talented freshman out of Georgia, 6-5 wing Jordan Adams, as well as junior guard Tyler Lamb and sophomore Norman Powell.

There are reasons for the lack of success over the past three seasons. Sure, the talent on the West Coast — and specifically California — has been down. But UCLA is also guilty of misevaluating some key players. The Bruins also have had chemistry issues and untimely defections to the NBA Draft.

 “We’ve had so many guys leave early,” Howland says. “It’s not easy to reload every year.”

Holiday, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo all left early. But more recently, the departures of Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, who bolted despite being sure-fire second round picks, hampered the Bruins a year ago.

But premature defections, even to the NBA,  haven’t been worthy of a free pass for Howland & Co. Not for the elite program out West.

The preseason polls are likely have UCLA in the top 25, perhaps in the top five. Howland is full of smiles these days, knowing he’ll have enough to compete with anyone in the league and nearly anyone in the entire country.

“I’m excited about this season,” he says. “But we need to go out and prove it. Rankings don’t mean anything. People can project all they want, but it’s about performance. I think we have a chance to be a really good team, but we need to go out and win games.”

Howland loses his starting backcourt of Lazeric Jones, who was the team’s leading scorer a year ago at 13.5 points per game, and Jerime Anderson, who never came close to fulfilling the potential he brought with him to UCLA. While Jones did have a solid season last year, the duo of Muhammad and Kyle Anderson will be instant upgrades — even with their youth and inexperience.

The Wear twins combined to average 21.7 points and more than a dozen boards per game last season. It’s unlikely they’ll ever be college stars, as many pegged throughout their high school careers before they landed at North Carolina. But they can be solid frontcourt players now that they are surrounded with top-tier talent.

Then there’s the rotund, ultra-talented big man, Smith, who can’t seem to get his weight issues under control — something that could end up costing him a career at the next level. Smith averaged a mediocre 9.9 points and 4.9 rebounds last season and enters his junior season as a forgotten man of sorts due to his uninspiring play and lack of consistent production.

The 6-5 Lamb had a solid sophomore campaign, averaging 9.0 points per game. He certainly fill a role, whether it be starting on the wing or coming off the bench.

The Wears aren’t the only ex-North Carolina players in L.A. Drew II is another local kid who left Chapel Hill and wound up back close to home. But his role is uncertain now with the arrival of Anderson.
 
“They’ll definitely be playing together at times,” Howland says of a potential Anderson-Drew backcourt. “Larry can facilitate pretty well himself.”

But the Drew Experiment down in the ACC didn’t work well. Then-freshman Kendall Marshall supplanted him midway through the 2010-11 season, prompting Drew to abruptly leave Chapel Hill instead of accepting his role as a backup. Plenty of observers say Drew and his talent level are better-suited as a reserve, but Howland could wind up going with him as a starter, especially early in the season.

Roles will be important for Howland to establish — as will leadership and a defensive philosophy.

The holdovers will need to allow Muhammad and Anderson to come in and not only be the focal points on the court, but also leaders. These guys bring in a much-needed attitude, as well as a physical (Muhammad) and mental (Anderson) toughness that has sorely been lacking in the last few years.

Howland, over the years, has been known as a guy who won’t alter his system. Tough, hard-nosed man-to-man defense has been a staple throughout most of his career as well as an offensive system with limited freedom — something that caused several of his former players to complain.

Howland admits that he’ll likely stick with man-to-man defense, although he understands that his guards, who aren’t overly athletic, won’t be able to pressure the ball as he was able to do in the past.

With the recent struggles, it’s easy to forget what Howland has done over the past nine seasons at UCLA. There have been three Final Four appearances, more than 200 victories and no shortage of pros who have come though the program. He’s brought in heralded guys like Love and Holiday and also developed under-the-radar ones such as Westbrook and Darren Collison.

The program has had stellar seasons in 2006, ’07 and ’08. Then disappointing ones in 2010 and ’12.

“It’s all about expectations,” Howland says. “And I’m OK with that.”

Now we’ll see if this recruiting class, unlike the ones a few years ago, can help the Bruins live up to the hype.

-By Jeff Goodman, CBSSports.com

@AthlonSports

Athlon College Basketball Countdown So Far:
20. Florida

19. Notre Dame

18. Memphis
17. Baylor
16. Missouri

15. San Diego State

14. North Carolina

13. UNLV

12. UCLA

Teaser:
<p> College Basketball: UCLA's Makeover</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 17:06
Path: /college-football/lsu-alabama%E2%80%99s-biggest-threat-national-title
Body:

The college football season is only four weeks old, but the general feeling from most of the nation is there is a clear No. 1 team - Alabama. A lot will happen and plenty can change between now and the end of the season, but is LSU the biggest obstacle to another title by the Crimson Tide?

Is LSU Alabama's Biggest Threat to a National Title?

David Fox (@DavidFox615): 
Although LSU did not look great in a 12-10 win over Auburn on Saturday, the Tigers still appear to be the biggest threat to another Alabama national title. Any team that’s going to defeat Alabama needs to have an elite defense, and that’s still the Tigers. The road trip to LSU may be the only threat to Alabama during the regular season, but Georgia or South Carolina could be problematic as well in a potential SEC championship game. Either way, Alabama’s biggest threat would seem to come from the SEC rather than any potential foe in the title game -- assuming that opponent isn’t an SEC team again.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall): 
A road trip to LSU on Nov. 3 is the toughest current game left on the schedule, but I am not ready to say that it will be the toughest challenge. Georgia, Florida and South Carolina all have defensive lines that match-up well Bama in a potential SEC title game with the Bulldogs also offering an offense that could put the Tide defense to the test as well. Florida State could provide an equally tricky match-ups should they all get to the national title game. But my pick for the national title game was Alabama and Oregon this summer, so the Ducks are in the mix as well. If I had to rank "biggest threats" to Alabama's third national title in four years: 1) Georgia in SEC title game 2) Oregon or Florida State in the BCS title game 3) LSU.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): 
LSU was unimpressive in a 12-10 win against Auburn, but I still believe the Tigers are Alabama’s toughest obstacle to a national championship. Outside of LSU, Florida State and Oregon seem to be the most likely candidates for the No. 2 spot in the polls. The Seminoles’ defense is one of the best in the nation, and quarterback EJ Manuel appears to be peaking at the right time. However, is the offensive line up to the task? Oregon has the offense to win a title, but how well would its defense matchup against a physical team like Alabama in the trenches? LSU gets a shot against Alabama in Baton Rouge, and it has defeated the Crimson Tide the last two times during the regular season.  The Tigers are a perfect match for Alabama in the trenches, and their offense should be better by early November. I still think the Crimson Tide wins the national championship, but LSU will be their toughest test in 2012.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): 
LSU hasn’t looked quite as dominant as we expected — though the Tigers are 4–0 with an average margin of victory of 29 points — but I’d still call the Tigers the biggest threat to Alabama’s quest for a second straight national title. The reason? Alabama must beat LSU in Baton Rouge to continue its perfect season. (And yes, I realize that Bama could lose this game and still play in the national title game). There might be some teams who have looked better to date — Oregon, Georgia and Florida State come to mind — but Alabama won’t have to play any of those teams on their home field. That’s a big difference. 

Mark Ross: 
Not if they play the same LSU team that eked out a two-point victory at Auburn last Saturday. That said, the Tigers are the biggest threat to Alabama's repeat national title hopes in that the two will meet on Nov. 3 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in a game that will more than likely determine who wins the SEC West. It's still early, but I don't see a repeat of last season happening, meaning the best way for either the Crimson Tide or the Tigers to be in the best position to earn a berth in the BCS Championship Game is by winning the SEC Championship Game. So in my mind, that first Saturday in November is essentially an elimination game. Lose and your title dreams, both SEC and national, are pretty much dashed. But getting into the SEC title game is just the first step, winning it is the second. To that end, I think Alabama's biggest threat, assuming they win the West, to a national title is whoever makes it out of the East. Right now I give the edge to Georgia, but South Carolina is just as capable, and who knows, Florida could be there in the end if the offense continues to develop and can complement an already stout defense. It may not seem like it at this point, but I think that either the Bulldogs or the Gamecocks can match up pretty well against the Crimson Tide, provided they are healthy and clicking on all cylinders come Dec. 1. So while it does seem highly likely at this point that the SEC will be represented in the BCS title game for the seventh straight season, don't be surprised if the team that plays in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Jan. 13, 2013, comes from the East and not the West.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):
Absolutely. I would not discount LSU chances of beating Alabama once again in the regular season just because the Tigers had to win a 12-10 slugfest at Auburn. Wild things happen in SEC night games, and coming into last Saturday the visitor in the LSU-Auburn series had gone 1-11 in the last 12 matchups. Plus, Les Miles’ crew has battled multiple injuries (Alfred Blue, Spencer Ware, P.J. Lonergan and Josh Dworaczyk) to key players. Alabama looks like the better team, but LSU has proven it can play in a defensive battle with the Tide. Additionally, this year’s much-anticipated contest is in Baton Rouge. If the Tide makes it to Atlanta, there will a tough and tested East opponent to beat. But a talented LSU bunch is still the biggest obstacle to the Tide repeating as national champions. 

Related College Football Content

ACC Week 5 Preview and Predictions
Big East Week 5 Preview and Predictions

Big Ten Week 5 Preview and Predictions

Big 12 Week 5 Preview and Predictions

Pac-12 Week 5 Preview and Predictions

SEC Week 5 Preview and Predictions

Teaser:
<p> Is LSU Alabama’s Biggest Threat to a National Title?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 15:49
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/10-twitter-accounts-every-golf-fan-should-follow
Body:

Twitter is a powerful medium in today's sports landscape, and golf is no exception. Golfers, and the journalists who cover them, have taken to Twitter to freely share their wit, their insights, their gripes, their expectations and their dinner plans and workout regimens.

As the Ryder Cup kicks off Sept. 28, be sure to add these timelines to your follow list. You'll notice that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are missing; Tiger's tweets are kinda bland, and Lefty's not on Twitter. They both would be well served to emulate these 10 master Tweeters.
 

@Luke Donald
The former World No. 1 recently learned that social media has a dark side when he took to Twitter to rip the TPC Boston redesign during the Deutsche Bank Championship. He followed that rant with another tweet calling designer Gil Hanse a word that, in polite company, is reserved for a rooster. Apparently, he had intended the tweets to be private messages. The first offending tweet is displayed here; the second isn't fit for our family website. Luke backpedaled and apologized; don't hold his mistake against him. He's worth a follow.


 

@ThePCreamer
Paula Creamer's just so dang adorable. Her current avatar features her snuggling with her impossibly cute puppy; just having that pop up on your feed brightens your day and makes her worth a follow. Paula freely shares her on-course struggles and successes. We're hoping for more of the latter.


 

@JasonSobelGC
Sobel recently took his talents from ESPN to Golf Channel. He's a master tweeter who drops one witty bon mot after another, many of them straight from the course.


 

@stewartcink
Cink's game has suffered lately, but his Tweeting hasn't. This summer, he offered this gem: "Our cat has chlamydia. There goes the reputation." Here's another:


 

@DJohnsonPGA
Dustin Johnson's a big fan of the exclamation point. I'm a big fan of Dustin Johnson, so I can forgive his overuse of punctuation. His enthusiasm is infectious.


 

@Fehertwit
The name says it all. David Feherty doesn't take himself seriously, and that lack of seriousness makes him perfect for Twitter. Golf's clown prince describes his Golf Channel show as "interesting, yet oddly moronic." Kinda captures the man himself, and his Twitter timeline.


 

@IanJamesPoulter
They don't come much more confident than Poulter. In fact, if you're an American looking for a villain to root against in the Ryder Cup, he's your guy. He's heading to Medinah to chew bubble gum and kick butt, and he's all out of bubble gum.


 

@bubbawatson
What you see with Bubba is what you get. The guy wears his heart on his sleeve, whether he's on the Letterman Show, at The Masters or on Twitter. He's apt to share Biblical passages that mark milestones in his spiritual journey, so if you're not into that, he might not be for you. Otherwise, dive in. Almost 700,000 other people have.


 

@McIlroyRory
The kid's getting the hang of this media thing. This week, he killed it on Jimmy Fallon, proving that he's getting more and more comfortable as the face of golf. Some of his 1.3 million Twitter followers may be looking for Caroline Wozniacki updates and photos — she's one of golf's better WAGs — but they get a lot more than that.


 

@PGA_JohnDaly
Golf's rotund everyman in the insanely loud and hideous slacks has mounted a serious comeback from drunkeness and general disgrace, and he's chronicling his journey back to respectability on Twitter. We're rooting for ya, John.


 

I don't always tweet about golf, but if you'd like to add me, I'm @AthlonDoster.

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 13:31
All taxonomy terms: Purdue Boilermakers, Big Ten, News
Path: /news/purdues-punter-cody-webster-throws-behind-back-touchdown-pass
Body:

Purdue has experienced some bad luck with quarterback injuries over the last couple of seasons, but the Boilermakers might have a secret weapon in punter Cody Webster.

Webster is one of the Big Ten's top punters but made quite an impression at quarterback during a flag football game at Purdue.

The punter tossed an impressive behind-the-back 30-yard touchdown pass, which was a key play in leading his team to a 30-7 victory. 

Who says punters can't be weapons on offense?

Teaser:
<p> Purdue's Punter Cody Webster Throws Behind-the-Back Touchdown Pass</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 07:24
Path: /nfl/baltimore-ravens-vs-cleveland-browns-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Two teams on the opposite end of the NFL spectrum will clash tonight when the Baltimore Ravens host the Cleveland Browns at 8:20 pm EST on the NFL Network. The Ravens have the difficult task of a short recovery from an emotional 31-30 Sunday night win over the Patriots, but Ray Lewis and company have beaten Cleveland eight straight times. The Browns are looking for anything positive after an 0-3 start, and Baltimore is a tough place to get well. At least this game will feature the regular NFL referees after an agreement was reached Wednesday night.

When the Baltimore Ravens have the ball:
Quarterback Joe Flacco is off to a great start, leading the AFC with 913 passing yards. His favorite target has been tight end Dennis Pitta, who already has 18 receptions on the season. Second-year wideout Torrey Smith leads Baltimore in receiving yards with 235. And then there is All-Pro tailback Ray Rice, who has compiled over 2,000 total yards in two of the last three seasons and already has three scores this year.

The Browns defense has played decently at times this season, but there must be improvement on the 1,175 yards allowed in three games. Cleveland has been able to pressure opposing passers, totaling nine sacks and an AFC-leading five interceptions this year. Frustrating Flacco and getting some takeaways will be a key for the Browns, but they must be able limit Rice’s production on the ground to do so.

When the Cleveland Browns have the ball:
The rookie tandem of quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson will try to lead a Browns offense that currently ranks 26th in the league in yardage. Cleveland cannot afford to turn the ball over against the Ravens, and Weeden already has six interceptions and has been sacked eight times this year. Finding a way to get the dynamic Richardson more touches will be a key tonight. The Browns challenge becomes even more difficult with receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring) and tight end Alex Smith (concussion) out for this game.

The Ravens defense has plenty of veteran stars like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but the usually-elite unit has given up over 400 yards per game this year. Weeden should pose less of a threat than signal callers like Michael Vick and Tom Brady, so the key for Baltimore will be stopping Richardson. As long as the rookie runner never gets into a rhythm, the Ravens should be able to stifle the Browns offense.

Key Factor:
This one looks like a mismatch on paper, with Baltimore heavily favored to make it nine consecutive wins over Cleveland. The Browns must win the turnover battle to stay in this game, and they have shown a penchant for harassing opposing signal callers. If the Ravens protect the ball, an easy home win should follow.

Prediction:
Ravens 27, Browns 13


---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

Teaser:
<p> Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/5-biggest-surprising-nfl-season-so-far
Body:

The Arizona Cardinals spent the summer locked in a quarterback controversy, which is usually a death knell for NFL teams. When it was over, they settled on a player who played collegiate ball at Fordham. And then he got hurt.

So, of course, they are one of only three 3-0 teams left in the NFL, right? Makes perfect sense.

It’s hard to believe anybody outside the Cardinals offices even imagined such a hot start was possible – especially since their first three games included a trip to New England and a home game against the supposedly dangerous Philadelphia Eagles. But after they hammered Philly 27-6 on Sunday, the NFL and its fans have no choice but to take notice. The Cardinals are the biggest surprise in the NFL, and they have everyone wondering if they’re for real.

We’ll all find that out soon enough, just like we’ll find out if any of the other surprises have staying power through the next 14 weeks. And there have been plenty of surprises in this wacky opening to the season. Here are the biggest five:

1. The 3-0 Arizona Cardinals After barely beating the Seattle Seahawks in their opener they shocked everyone with a win at New England and that thumping on Philly. Kevin Kolb, filling in for the injured John Skelton, has been everything the Cardinals thought he’d be when they acquired him from Philadelphia. And that’s really the key, because everyone knew he had weapons in receiver Larry Fitzgerald and a diverse rushing attack with Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells.

The real surprise? Their young defense has grown up and they play a hard-hitting, stingy style, much like the San Francisco 49ers did when they shocked everyone last season. Through three games they are ranked seventh in the NFL and are giving up a tiny 13.3 points per game.

 

2. Vikings QB Christian Ponder Seriously, if you were going to bet on one quarterback from last year’s rookie class to be ranked fifth in the NFL through the first three games, how many would you have guessed before you got to Ponder? His 104.9 rating has him ahead of the likes of Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

OK, sure it’s only three games and his rating is largely on the strength of his no interceptions. But he’s still been an impressive 68 of 97 (70.1 percent) for 713 yards and four touchdowns. The Vikings are also a somewhat surprising 2-1.

 

3. The 0-3 New Orleans Saints Maybe because of Bounty-Gate this shouldn’t have been such a surprise, but for all the Saints lost they still had a dangerous offense and a Top 5 quarterback in Drew Brees. But Brees has been uncharacteristically inaccurate this season, completing just 54.7 percent of his passes and throwing five interceptions to go with his seven touchdowns. Add in a terrible defense and the Saints are a bigger mess than anyone could have imagined.

 

4. Titans RB Chris Johnson Last year was a terrible one for Chris Johnson, and he still managed to top 1,000 rushing yards and catch 57 passes. It made it look like just a blip on his radar and that he’d be primed for a bounce back year. Instead, he smacked into rock bottom, rushing 33 times for 45 yards in the first three games. That’s not a misprint, it’s actually 1.4 yards per carry. He has no touchdowns either. That makes him the biggest fantasy football bust on the planet and one of the biggest busts of any kind in the entire league. Even if someone thought Johnson was on the downslope at age 27, no one thought his decline would be this steep.

 

5. The 1-2 Green Bay Packers Forget about the replacement ref fiasco at the end of their game Monday night. They should never have been so close to the Seahawks anyway. No, 1-2 is not a disaster for this team, but it’s certainly a surprise considering they were 15-1 last season. Heading into this season, dating back to Christmas 2010 and including the postseason, the Packers had been on a 21-2 tear. Now they’ve lost two of three and their high-powered offense is ranked 25th in the league? Maybe they should be 2-1, but either way they don’t look like themselves at all.

—By RALPH VACCHIANO

Teaser:
<p> From Chris Johnson to the Arizona Cardinals, we never saw these coming</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 06:13
Path: /college-basketball/college-football-predictions-10-key-games-week-5
Body:

College football’s Week 5 action features a key showdown in the Big Ten, West Virginia’s first-ever Big 12 game and Texas’ trip to Stillwater to battle Oklahoma State.

10 Biggest Games of Week 5

Ohio State (+3) at Michigan State
After opening the Urban Meyer era with four straight wins at home — some closer than the natives would have liked — the Buckeyes make the short trip to East Lansing for the Big Ten opener for both schools. Ohio State has struggled on defense the past two weeks, giving up 512 and 403 yards to California and UAB, respectively. The major issue has been stopping the pass; the Bucks currently rank 104th in the nation in pass defense, allowing 277.3 yards per game. Good thing for Ohio State that Michigan State has so much trouble with the forward pass. Andrew Maxwell’s numbers aren’t horrible, but MSU ranks 108th as a team in passing efficiency and doesn’t really have many proven downfield threats. Le’Veon Bell has been the primary weapon for the Spartans’ offense, but he hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency. The junior has two games with over 200 yards and two games with under 100. Slowing down Bell will be the key for the Ohio State defense.
Ohio State 17, Michigan State 13

Baylor (+12.5) at West Virginia
Baylor is proving there is life after Robert Griffin III. The Bears improved to 3–0 with a 47–42 win at ULM last Friday night. Nick Florence, RG3’s backup the past three seasons, completed 25-of-39 passes for 351 yards and four touchdowns, to lead Baylor past a solid ULM club that opened the season with an overtime win at Arkansas and an OT loss at Auburn. West Virginia, meanwhile, has cruised to a 3–0 start with home wins over Marshall, James Madison and Maryland. The Mountaineers are putting up gaudy numbers in the passing game: Quarterback Geno Smith ranks second nationally in total offense, and WVU has two players (Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey) ranked among the top 10 nationally in receiving yards per game. This is an underrated matchup on a rather ordinary slate of games.
West Virginia 44, Baylor 34

Tennessee (+13) at Georgia
Georgia looks more and more like a legitimate national championship contender with each passing week. The Bulldogs were sharp on both sides of the ball in an easier-than-expected 48-3 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday night. Aaron Murray has been spectacular at quarterback, and the Bulldogs are getting great production from true freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Tennessee is 3–1, but all is not well in the land of the Volunteers. Derek Dooley’s club struggled with Akron last weekend for the first three-plus quarters before pulling away late. The defense, under the tutelage of Nick Saban disciple Sal Sunseri, is making too many mistakes. A secondary that was exposed during the 37–20 loss to Florida two weeks ago will have a very difficult time against the balanced Georgia attack.
Georgia 38, Tennessee 17

Texas (-2.5) at Oklahoma State
Is Texas back? That has been a popular question early in the 2012 season. Our answer: We think. The Longhorns, as expected, have been very good on defense. The offense, specifically the passing attack, has been better than expected — though the competition hasn’t been great. Sophomore David Ash ranks third in the nation in passing efficiency thanks in large part to his 7-to-0 TD-to-INT ratio. Oklahoma State has sandwiched lopsided wins vs. inferior opponents (Savannah State and UL Lafayette) around a 59–38 loss at Arizona. The Pokes are allowing 438.5 yards per game vs. FBS foes. Look for the outstanding Texas defensive line to make life difficult for the Oklahoma State quarterback — either true freshman Wes Lunt (if healthy) or redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh.
Texas 31, Oklahoma State 17

Stanford (-6) at Washington (Thu)
This is an intriguing game between one program eager to prove it has staying power (Stanford) and one program attempting to climb the food chain in the Pac-12 (Washington). Stanford is 3–0 and has one of the best wins by team in college football this season, a 21–14 victory over USC in Week 2. Washington is 2–1 but played poorly in its only true test this season. The Huskies managed just 157 yards of offense in a 41–3 loss at LSU. The offense, which was a strength a year ago, has scored only 24 points in two games vs. FBS opponents. Junior Keith Price will have to be at his best to give Washington a chance to win.
Stanford 28, Washington 23

Arkansas (+13) at Texas A&M
There are so many words we can use to describe Arkansas’ season to date — debacle, train wreck, dumpster fire, nightmare, etc. One word that can’t be used? Success. Virtually nothing has gone right for the Razorbacks. They are 0–3 vs. FBS opponents, and all three losses have come in the state of Arkansas. There are many culprits, but enemy No. 1 has to the pass defense. Saturday night, Rutgers sophomore Gary Nova threw for 398 yards — 99 more than his previous career high — and five touchdowns in the Scarlet Knights’ win in Fayetteville. This week, Arkansas’ challenge will be even greater as they leave the state for the first time this season. Texas A&M redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel has emerged as one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the nation. Manziel has rushed for 262 yards and five touchdowns and also thrown seven touchdowns without an interception in 86 attempts. This one could get ugly.
Texas A&M 41, Arkansas 20

Oregon State (+3) at Arizona
Expectations were low at Oregon State this season. So naturally, Mike Riley has the Beavers off to a 2–0 start that includes wins against Wisconsin and UCLA. The Beavers are getting it done by passing the football and playing outstanding defense. Sean Mannion, the strong-armed sophomore, has completed 53-of-82 passes for 655 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The defense, a weakness a year ago, held Wisconsin to seven points (the Badgers’ lowest total since October 2008) — and UCLA to 20 (20.7 below its average heading into the game). Arizona suffered its first defeat of the Rich Rodriguez era on Saturday night, a humbling 49–0 shutout at Oregon. The Wildcats hung around into the second half — they only trailed 13–0 midway through the third — but gave up five touchdowns in the final 22 minutes of the game. Matt Scott, who had played so well in his first three games under RichRod, completed only 50 percent of his passes and was intercepted three times.
Oregon State 23, Arizona 17

Wisconsin (+12) at Nebraska
Wisconsin has been one of the most disappointing teams in the nation through the early part of the season. Yes, the Badgers are 3–1, but they beat Northern Iowa by five, Utah State by two (when USU missed a 37-yard field goal in the final seconds) and UTEP by 11. But there is still plenty of time to turn things around. Wisconsin is 0–0 in the Big Ten and plays in a division (the Leaders) in which two teams are ineligible for the Big Ten Championship Game. Bottom line: Wisconsin doesn’t need to be very good to reach the league title game; the Badgers just need to be better than Illinois and Purdue. We still don’t know much about Nebraska. The Huskers have defeated three overmatched teams in Lincoln and lost to UCLA in their only game vs. a school from an AQ conference. Even against this soft schedule, Nebraska is having trouble stopping the run. The Huskers have given up 185 yards on the ground to Southern Miss, 355 to UCLA and 148 to Arkansas State. Wisconsin hasn’t been productive on the ground to date, but this a team that is still capable of running the ball well (we think).
Nebraska 27, Wisconsin 20

Virginia Tech (-7) vs. Cincinnati (Landover, Md.)
We are four weeks into the college football season, yet Cincinnati has only played two games — and only one vs. an FBS opponent. The Bearcats did well in that one game, beating Pittsburgh 34¬–10, but this team is still a mystery. George Winn has stepped in for Isaiah Pead at tailback and has 242 yards in two games. Munchie Legaux has been a playmaker at quarterback (142 yards rushing, 413 yards passing), but he threw two interceptions against Delaware State two weeks ago. Virginia Tech bounced back from its troubling loss at Pittsburgh to beat a decent Bowling Green team 37–0 in Blacksburg. Logan Thomas wasn’t sharp at quarterback (he completed only 11-of-26 attempts), but the Hokies ran the ball well, with 246 yards on 43 carries. It’s tempting to compare these teams’ common opponent (Cincinnati beat Pitt by 24 points and Pitt beat Virginia Tech by 18 points), but applying the transitive property in college football can be dangerous.
Virginia Tech 27, Cincinnati 24

NC State (+2.5) at Miami (Fla.)
The first thing that comes to mind about Miami football in 2012 is the Canes’ no-show in a 52–13 loss at Kansas State in Week 2. But that’s far from the complete story. Al Golden’s team is 3–1 overall and 2–0 in the ACC with both wins coming on the road. The Canes showed tremendous resolve at Georgia Tech last weekend, rallying from a 36–19 deficit in the second half to defeat the Yellow Jackets in overtime. NC State has won three straight after opening the season with a 35–21 loss to Tennessee in Atlanta. The schedule, however, hasn’t been too taxing. The Wolfpack won at UConn, which is mildly impressive, before beating South Alabama and The Citadel with ease. Mike Glennon has looked good at times — he was brilliant for a stretch vs. Tennessee — but needs to play well on a consistent basis to give this team a chance at being relevant in the ACC Coastal race.
Miami (Fla.) 27, NC State 20

Last week: 6–4 overall (5–5 against the spread)
Season: 27–13 overall (21–19 against the spread)

By Mitch Light

@AthlonMitch

Teaser:
<p>  </p> <p> College football’s Week 5 action features a key battle in the Big Ten, West Virginia’s first-ever Big 12 game and Texas’ trip to Stillwater to battle Oklahoma State.</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 06:02
Path: /college-football/sec-week-5-preview-and-predictions
Body:

The SEC slate in Week 5 of the college football season is highlighted by the Arkansas-Texas A&M matchup in College Station and Tennessee’s trip to Georgia. On paper, neither game is expected to be too close — both home teams are favored by about two touchdowns, but these are still compelling matchups.

Other Week 5 Previews and Predictions

 ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 

SEC Top Storylines to Watch in Week 5:

1. Can James Franklin get it going on the ground
James Franklin emerged as one of the top young quarterbacks in the nation last season because of his ability to hurt defenses with his arm and his legs. In his first season as the starter, Franklin threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns and added 981 yards and 15 scores on the ground. Nationally, only four quarterbacks rushed for more yards than Franklin in 2011. This year, however, the running element has been missing from his game. He has netted only 70 yards and has failed to rush for a touchdown in three games. Part of this can be blamed on his lingering shoulder injury (though he has 35 rushing attempts in his two games vs. FBS competition) and part can be attributed to the quality of competition he has faced. Franklin picked up 39 yards on six carries in the opener against Southeastern Louisiana but gained a combined 31 yards on 35 carries in SEC games vs. Georgia and South Carolina, two of the elite defensive teams in the nation. Both the Bulldogs and Gamecocks were able to get pressure on Franklin without blitzing too often, which allowed the defenses to drop seven players in coverage, and thus limited Franklin’s ability to find openings in the secondary when he was flushed out of the pocket. The question moving forward: Will he enjoy success running the ball against teams not named Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama? The next two games will serve as a barometer. The Tigers head to UCF this week and then host Vanderbilt on Oct. 6.

2. Can Knile Davis return to form?
You might not have noticed — because there are so many other problems with the Arkansas football program — but Knile Davis has been alarmingly unproductive in 2012. A first-team All-SEC back in 2010, Davis missed the entire ’11 season due to an ankle injury. But he was declared 100 percent healthy over the summer and was expected to be a key cog in the Razorbacks’ attack. Hasn’t happened. In four games, Davis has rushed for 208 yards on 64 carries for an average of only 3.3 yards per carry. There are 26 players in the SEC (with at least 30 carries) who have a better yards-per-attempt average than Davis. This week, Davis and the Hogs face a Texas A&M defense that gave up only 106 yards rushing to Florida in its only game vs. an AQ conference opponent.

3. Can the Aggies kill a wounded Hog?
This appears to be a great time to play Arkansas. The Razorbacks, a preseason top-15 team, have lost three straight games and are under the “leadership” of a lame-duck coach who has no chance of being retained once his 10-month contract expires. So, easy win for the Aggies? Maybe not. Arkansas is still a talented team that might actually benefit from leaving the Natural State for the first time this season. There are no distractions on the road. The Hogs can take an “us against the world” mentality into Kyle Field and play with nothing to lose. Meanwhile, there is considerable pressure on Texas A&M to win this game. Beginning with next week’s trip to Ole Miss, the Aggies play five of their next six on the road, and the one home game is against LSU. A&M cannot afford to drop to 0–2 at home in SEC play if it hopes to remain relevant throughout the 2012 season. 

4. Can Tennessee limit the big play?
We were told not to be surprised if the Tennessee defense gave up some big plays while making the transition to Sal Sunseri’s 3–4 scheme. Well, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. Through four games, the Volunteers have allowed 20 plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more, which is tied with Arkansas for the most in the SEC. Included in those 20 “big plays” are three that went for at least 70 yards. Only Washington State has allowed more nationally. This could spell trouble this weekend in Athens. Guess who leads the nation in offensive plays of 20 yards or more? That’s right, Georgia with 35. The Bulldogs currently rank 13th in the nation in total offense (530 ypg) and have scored 41 points or more in all four games. Tennessee is a 13-point underdog at Sanford Stadium. The Vols must find a way to limit Georgia’s big plays to keep things close.

5. Can Marlon Brown contribute on a consistent basis?
Marlon Brown arrived at Georgia as one of the elite recruits from the Class of 2009. The Memphis native was ranked as the No. 2 wide receiver and the No. 14 overall prospect by Athlon Sports. Through three seasons, Brown was largely considered a bust. He had a total of 18 catches for 291 yards against SEC opponents, with 121 of those yards coming in one game (at Vanderbilt last season). This season, however, Brown has emerged as one of Aaron Murray’s favorite targets. The senior has 16 catches for 264 yards, including 13 for 222 and three touchdowns in the Dawgs’ two SEC games. The key now will be for Brown to maintain this level of production as the season progresses.

6. Can South Carolina continue its dominance against Kentucky?
We all remember the Saturday night in Lexington two years ago when Kentucky stormed back from a 28–10 deficit in the third quarter to steal a 31–28 victory from South Carolina, ranked No. 10 at the time. That, however, is the only time the Gamecocks have lost to Kentucky since the turn of the century. Carolina has won 11 of the past 12 vs. the Wildcats, highlighted by last season’s 54–3 beatdown in Columbia. The Gamecocks outgained UK 639-to-97 and limited the Cats to five total first downs. Following the game, Steve Spurrier offered the following assessment of his opponent: “Kentucky has a heck of a punter, I know that.” There was a time, however, when Kentucky had the upper hand in this rivalry. UK won five of the first eight after South Carolina joined the league in 1992.

7. Who will take snaps for the Wildcats?
Entering last weekend, Kentucky ranked 13th in the nation and first in the SEC in passing with 322 yards per game. But with starter Maxwell Smith sidelined with a shoulder injury, the Wildcats’ offense struggled mightily. Morgan Newton, a senior who stepped in for Smith, had a nightmarish stat line: 7-of-21 for 48 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. The Wildcats are optimistic that Smith will be back, but one thing is clear: Newton, a former 4-star recruit, will not be receiving meaningful snaps. True freshman Jalen Whitlow received all of the work with the second team this week and will get the start if Smith has a setback. Whitlow had been receiving a lot of work with the second team in practice since the season-opening loss to Louisville, but the coaching staff felt more comfortable sending Newton, who has 17 career starts, to play against Florida at the Swamp. “When Max went down, we just felt like he (Jalen) wasn’t ready, wasn’t quite ready to go in (and play) in that type of environment,” UK coach Joker Phillips said earlier this week. “I’ve been down there when we put a freshman quarterback in there, and it’s pretty tough. And we just felt like we wanted to start Morgan. And we did. Didn’t work out. Didn’t play as well as we would have liked. But we still think that that was the right decision.”

8. Can LSU develop a consistent passing attack for the upcoming stretch of games?
There has been some consternation in Baton Rouge about LSU’s offense — specifically the passing attack. Zach Mettenberger, expected by many (including me!) to be the missing piece at quarterback, has been rather ordinary through three games. He has by no means been bad; he just hasn’t been a difference-maker. The Tigers rank 98th in the nation in passing with 194.5 yard per game, but that is a bit misleading. When you run the ball as well as LSU does — and when you are so often nursing a big lead — there isn’t much of a need to fling the ball all over the field. This week, LSU should have no problem moving the ball — either on the ground or through the air — against the mighty Towson Tigers, the alma mater of former New York Giant Dave Meggett. But take a look at the Tigers’ upcoming schedule, a five-game stretch that features road trips to Florida and Texas A&M and home dates with South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi State. LSU will have to be balanced on offense to navigate that brutal stretch without a loss.

9. Can the Ole Miss defense stop the run?
At first glance, it would appear Ole Miss has done a decent job stopping the run. The Rebels rank 40th in the nation and seventh in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 125.3 yards per game. That, however, doesn’t really tell the story. In its only game vs. a quality opponent (Texas in Oxford), Ole Miss gave up 350 yards on the round. That’s an alarming number for a team that is preparing to visit Tuscaloosa to take on the mighty Crimson Tide. The Alabama offense is quite capable of throwing the forward pass with efficiency, but the Tide are at their best when running the ball with their stable of outstanding tailbacks. It will be considered a victory for the Ole Miss defense if Alabama rushes for less than 250 yards on Saturday night.

10. Can Bama stay perfect in the red zone?
The Alabama offense has entered the red zone 18 times this season. And 18 times the Crimson Tide have put points on the board. Eleven other teams in the nation have been perfect in the red zone, but only Oklahoma State, with 20, has more trips inside the 20-yard line. Prior to last week, Alabama had scored a touchdown on all but one of its 12 red zone opportunities, but the Crimson Tide were forced to settle for field goals on three of their six trips inside the 20 in a 40–7 win vs. Florida Atlantic.

By Mitch Light

  David Fox Braden Gall Steven Lassan Mitch Light
Missouri (+3) at UCF Missouri 28-17 Missouri 27-21 Missouri 27-24 Missouri 30-28
Arkansas (+13.5) at Texas A&M Texas A&M 35-28 Texas A&M 34-28 Texas A&M 34-27 Texas A&M 41-20
Tennessee (+13) at Georgia Georgia 31-17 Georgia 34-21 Georgia 34-20 Georgia 38-17
South Carolina (-20.5) at Kentucky South Carolina 42-7 South Carolina 37-10 South Carolina 38-10 South Caroina 27-6
Towson at LSU LSU 56-3 LSU 49-3 LSU 62-3 LSU 41-0
Ole Miss (+31) at Alabama Alabama 49-7 Alabama 41-14 Alabama 45-7 Alabama 38-17
Last Week 9-1 9-1 9-1 9-1
Season Record 37-8 40-5 40-5 39-6

Teaser:
<p> The SEC slate in Week 5 of the college football season is highlighted by the Arkansas-Texas A&amp;M matchup in College Station and Tennessee’s trip to Georgia. On paper, neither game is expected to be too close — both home teams are favored by about two touchdowns, but these are still compelling matchups.</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 05:50
All taxonomy terms: Ryder Cup, Golf, Monthly
Path: /golf/ryder-cup-numbers
Body:

The 2012 Ryder Cup begins Friday at famous Medinah Country Club outside Chicago, and the United States will try to regain the title from the European squad. In 2008, the U.S. team reclaimed the Cup at Valhalla after three consecutive Euro victories. However in 2010, Europe won it back at Celtic Manor in Wales. Davis Love will captain the U.S. squad at Medinah, while Spaniard José María Olazábal will lead the European contingent. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk are the veterans on an American team that has four Ryder rookies, while Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy lead a dynamic Euro squad. Here’s a statistical look at golf’s top team competition:

1: Number of winning Ryder Cup teams on which Tiger Woods has played. Woods has played in the Ryder Cup six times, but the U.S. won only one of those — in 1999. He missed the 2008 U.S. victory due to injury.
 
45: The number of feet Justin Leonard’s birdie putt traveled on the 17th green at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., clinching the half-point necessary for the U.S. to come back from 4 points down and win the Ryder Cup in 1999.
 
9: Appearances, including this year, by Phil Mickelson in the Ryder Cup. In fact, he has also played on nine U.S. Presidents Cup teams and has never required an at-large selection.
 
0: Times 2010 European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie lost in singles during his career, going
6-0-2 for a total of 7 points.
 
7: Major championships won by Jack Nicklaus before he played in his first Ryder Cup. Nicklaus was not eligible to compete until 1969, due to restrictions no longer in place having to do with status as a PGA professional.
 
11: Ryder Cup veterans on the 2012 European team.
Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts is the only Ryder Cup rookie on the European squad.
 
1979: The year the Ryder Cup added players from continental Europe to Great Britain & Ireland.
 
18-8-5: European captain Jose Maria Olazabal’s Ryder Cup record in seven appearances.
 
9-12-5: U.S. captain Davis Love III’s Ryder Cup record in six appearances.
 
8-7-1: Record, in favor of Europe, since 1979, when the matches began to include all of Europe.
 
1993: The year when the U.S. last won a Ryder Cup on foreign soil.
 
Ryder Cup Career Records

Most Appearances
Nick Faldo      11


Most Career Points
Nick Faldo      25


Most Singles Points
Five Players tied with 7:
Colin Montgomerie      (6-0-2)
Billy Casper      (6-2-2)
Lee Trevino      (6-2-2)
Arnold Palmer      (6-3-2)
Neil Coles      (5-6-4)


Most Foursome Points
Bernhard Langer      11½


Most Four-Ball Points
Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal      10½


Best Match Winning Percentages
(Min. three matches)
Jimmy Demaret      100% (6-0-0)
Jack Burke     87.5% (7-1)
Horton Smith     87.5% (3-0-1)
Walter Hagen     83% (7-1-1)
J.C. Snead     81.8% (9-2)


Youngest Player
Sergio Garcia     1999 (19 yrs., 258 days)


Oldest Player
Ray Floyd     1993 (51 yrs., 20 days)
 
The last 12 Ryder Cups
 
Year     Venue     Winning Team     Score
2010     Celtic Manor     Europe     14½ to 13½
2008     Valhalla     United States     16½ to 11½
2006     The K Club     Europe     18½ to 9½
2004     Oakland Hills     Europe     18½ to 9½
2002     The Belfry     Europe     15½ to 12½
1999     The Country Club     United States     14½ to 13½
1997     Valderrama     Europe     14½ to 13½
1995     Oak Hill     Europe     14½ to 13½
1993     The Belfry     United States     15 to 13
1991     Kiawah Island     United States     14½ to 13½
1989     The Belfry     Europe *     14 to 14
1987     Muirfield Village     Europe     15 to 13
*retained Cup with tie
 

Teaser:
<p> Ryder Cup: By the Numbers</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/big-12-week-5-preview-and-predictions
Body:

With only four games involving Big 12 teams, this is a light week in the schedule. But what the Big 12 lacks in quantity, it may make up for it in early signpost games for conference contenders.

A week after Kansas State’s upset of Oklahoma in Norman reset the picture at the top of the conference, teams like Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Baylor will have key games setting the tone for October.

Other Week 5 Previews and Predictions

ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Big 12 Week 5 Preview and Predictions:

Which defense will make the most important big play in Morgantown?
West Virginia’s first Big 12 opponent isn’t Texas or Oklahoma, but this matchup with Baylor in Morgantown could be one of the week’s best thanks to two top-10 pass offenses. We know West Virginia can throw the ball. Geno Smith passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns against Maryland last week. His completion percentage of 69.8 percent was great, but it was his lowest of the season by nearly 20 points. Nick Florence isn’t Robert Griffin III, but he’s topped 300 passing yards in each game this season with 11 total touchdowns. This game may come down to a defensive play or two with both teams ranking eighth or lower in the Big 12 in total defense. Which defense makes that play, though, is anyone’s guess. Baylor second in the Big 12 in takeaways (West Virginia is sixth) while West Virginia leads the league in sacks and tackles for a loss (Baylor is seventh and sixth in those categories, respectively).

Is David Ash a Big 12 title-winning quarterback?
With the Longhorns’ defense and run game, Texas doesn’t need quarterback David Ash to be Colt McCoy or Vince Young. He just can’t be the David Ash of last season. So far, Ash has been much improved from 2011, and Texas’ offense is humming along at seventh in scoring and 16th in yards per game. Ash, who threw an interception every 21.6 attempts last season, has yet to throw a pick in 72 attempts in 2012. He’s already passed for 703 yards and seven touchdowns and notched a road win. But the schedule hasn’t been overly challenging, and the road win was over Ole Miss. Ash went 22 of 40 with 139 yards and two interceptions against Oklahoma State in Austin last season.

Where has Oklahoma State’s ballhawking defense gone?
Oklahoma State isn’t sure if Wes Lunt or J.W. Walsh will play quarterback Saturday, but either way, the Cowboys will be going with a freshman. A bigger question might be on the Oklahoma State defense. A year after leading the nation in takeaways -- and being among the Big 12 leaders each season under defensive coordinator Bill Young -- the Cowboys have forced only three turnovers this season. Two of those came against a woefully overmatched Savannah State team in the opener. Oklahoma State forced three turnovers or more in nine individual games last season. No matter the quarterback, Oklahoma State might need a key play on defense to overcome Texas.

Is Texas Tech’s defense for real?
Even Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville conceded the Red Raiders’ defense is probably more in between where it was last season on defense (114th of 120) and where it is now (first in total defense and pass efficiency defense). Where on that scale this defense falls might be answered against Iowa State. The Cyclones aren’t in the mold of an up-and-down offensive team like many in the Big 12, but Iowa State is a tougher opponent than any of Texas Tech’s foes so far, Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico. Iowa State will present a test for the Texas Tech defense against a balanced offense on the road.

Can Iowa State’s defense limit Texas Tech’s Seth Doege?
The Cyclones rank second in the nation in pass efficiency defense through their first three games, frustrating above-average quarterbacks in the process. Both Tulsa quarterback Cody Green and Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg completed fewer than half their passes against Iowa State while throwing two interceptions apiece. Now here comes Texas Tech’s Seth Doege. The senior is 52 of 67 for 659 yards with 11 interceptions in his last two games.

How much stat-padding can Casey Pachall do against SMU?
Statistically, SMU is one of the nation’s worst defensive teams -- despite a shutout and 10 takeaways against Stephen F. Austin. Allowing 59 points to Baylor and 48 to Texas A&M will do such things. Despite TCU’s inauspicious start in the red zone (9 of 16 with only six touchdowns), Pachall leads the nation in pass efficiency. SMU should provide the Horned Frogs opportunities to build confidence after a few shaking outings in scoring range against Kansas and Virginia.

Week 5 Big 12 Predictions:

Week 5 Big 12 games David Fox Braden Gall Steven Lassan Mitch Light
Baylor (+12.5) at West Virginia West Virginia 42-28 West Virginia 37-31 West Virginia 41-31 West Virginia 44-34
Texas Tech at Iowa State (+2.5) Iowa State 31-24 Iowa State 21-17 Texas Tech 31-30 Iowa State 27-23
TCU at SMU (+16) TCU 28-10 TCU 31-17 TCU 38-17 TCU 38-13
Texas at Oklahoma State (+3) Texas 35-21 Texas 30-21 Texas 31-27 Texas 31-17
Last week 4-1 4-1 3-2 4-1
Overall 27-3 26-4 25-5 27-3

By David Fox

@DavidFox615

Related College Football Content

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Big Ten Week 5 Previews and Predictions

Big East Week 5 Preview and Predictions

Pac-12 Week 5 Previews and Predictions

SEC Week 5 Previews and Predictions

College Football Week 5 Upset Picks

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Ranking All College Football Teams 1-124

Teaser:
<p> Big 12 Week 5 Preview and Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 05:48
Path: /college-football/pac-12-week-5-preview-and-predictions
Body:

The 2012 season is turning into one of the best fans have seen out West in years and it has a chance to get even better. Oregon State and Arizona State made huge statements last week, but both have huge road tests this weekend that will prove if they belong in conference contention. Otherwise, all eyes across the college football world should be on the Pac-12 this Thursday evening.

Pac-12's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 5:

1. Who wants to challenge Oregon?
Stanford and Washington square-off Thursday evening in a game that will likely decide the No. 2 slot in the Pac-12 North. Both teams have had two weeks to prepare for this one and the winner will be the top challenger to the Oregon Ducks in the North. The Huskies, who have been outscored 106-21 in the last two meetings with the Cardinal, begin a four-week stretch that will determine their entire season. After Stanford, Washington visits Oregon, hosts USC and visits Arizona. Meanwhile, Stanford's run isn't much easier with a home game against 'Zona and a road trip to Notre Dame coming up. As if there wasn't enough already riding on this primetime national TV game. 

2. Oregon State defense vs. Arizona offense
The 2-0 Beavers are likely asking, what about us in the North? Mike Riley's bunch boasts the No. 2 rushing defense in the nation and have allowed a total of 27 points thus far in 2012. Despite what fans saw last week from Arizona, the Matt Scott/Ka'Deem Cary-led Wildcats offense is still one of the nation's best. Scott is still leading the league in total offense and Carey has more than one big play up his sleeve for this weekend. If Oregon State wants to be taken seriously in the North, it will have to come up with its second straight road upset (Arizona is a three-point favorite). This is a classic Letdown Alert situation as the Beavers are coming off of an emotional road upset while 'Zona returns home after being shutout 49-0 against Oregon.

3. Arizona State to face first starting quarterback
Assuming nothing tragic happens to Cal starting quarterback Zach Maynard between now and Saturday afternoon, the Sun Devils will actually have to play against someone else's first-string quarterback. Jordan Wynn was the starting quarterback at Utah but has retired from the game, giving way to Jon Hays. Missouri's James Franklin sat out two weeks ago against Arizona State. Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase didn't play in Week 2 against ASU. And in Week 1, Todd Graham's guys knocked out Lumberjack starter Cary Grossart early in the game. As a result, the Sun Devils have surrendered more than 150 passing yards only once and have yet to allow a 200-yard passer. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging 139.8 yards per game with eight INTs and only three TD passes. Maynard and his talented trio of pass-catchers — Keenan Allen, Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs — will easily present the toughest test to date for the Sun Devils' secondary.

4. Cal's 1-3 record is very deceiving
All that may matter to Cal boosters and administrators is the win-loss record, but the 1-3 mark in Berkeley likely has no effect on Arizona State head coach Todd Graham. Cal lost in a nail-bitter at home to a very good Nevada team and has losses to USC and Ohio State on the road. This team is much better than its record indicates and brings a host of elite play-makers on offense into a must-win situation at home. And Graham knows his team will have to click on all cylinders to win a tough road test over the Bears. 

5. How will injuries affect Arizona-Oregon State?
Matt Scott is dealing with a hip injury he sustained on the first drive against Oregon. He is starting for sure, but how will the bum hip impact his ability to run the zone-read option? The talented Oregon State backfield of Sean Mannion, Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew all missed practice on Monday. Mannion was back on the field after dealing with a sore throwing arm. Woods (ankle) and Agnew (calf) both returned to work on Tuesday as well. Will any of these key players experience any lingering effects? Only time will tell.

6. I wouldn't want to be a Buffalo this weekend
UCLA was flying high when the Oregon State Beavers grounded their 3-0 start last weekend in Los Angeles. Johnathan Franklin rushed for 431 yards in the Bruins first two games but has mustered only 155 yards on 37 carries in the last two. The inability to run the ball cost UCLA the win last week, but didn't slow down star quarterback Brett Hundley. The redshirt freshman has three 300-yard efforts in his first four career games and should have this offense back on track this weekend against the lowly Buffs. The three-touchdown underdog will have to get a huge game once again from Jordan Webb (345 yards passing, four total TD last week) to even have a chance to stay with the angry Bruins.

7. What can we learn from the Ducks visit to Seattle?
There is likely to be a heavy Duck contingent in the semi-road game against Washington State in Seattle this weekend. After Wazzu lost to Colorado at home in heart-breaking fashion, it's hard to see the Cougars keeping pace with Oregon. So what can we learn about the Ducks? Chip Kelly flashed a few wrinkles on offense last week against Arizona, namely a tight end turned power back named Colt Lyerla. He fills the only void on an already explosive unit as a short yardage and goal-line specialist. As usual, fans never know what they will see from the Oregon offense.

8. Athlon's Weekly Player of the Year Watch
One POY awards list this week had De'Anthony Thomas listed as the front-runner with Johnathan Franklin, Taylor Kelly and Matt Barkley listed as the top challengers. While those names are all deserving, others like Matt Scott, Ka'Deem Carey, Marcus Mariota, Kenjon Barner, Stepfan Taylor, Brett Hundley, Keith Price, Marqise Lee, Keenan Allen, Robert Woods, Marquess Wilson, Sean Mannion, Brandin Cooks and even Silas Redd aren't too far behind. The point being, it is impossible to narrow this POY race to three names and the depth of offensive play-making skill in the Pac-12 is second to none (not even the SEC).

Week 5 Pac-12 Predictions:

Week 5 Pac-12 Games Braden Gall Mitch Light Steven Lassan David Fox
Stanford (-7) at Washington Stanford, 27-21 Stanford, 28-23 Stanford, 27-24 Stanford, 35-24
Arizona St (+2.5) at Cal Cal, 28-24 Cal, 27-24 Arizona St, 31-27 Arizona St, 28-21
UCLA (-20.5) at Colorado UCLA, 38-20 UCLA, 35-21 UCLA, 45-17 UCLA, 38-14
Oregon St (+3) at Arizona Arizona, 30-24 Oregon St, 23-17 Arizona, 31-28 Oregon St, 35-28
Oregon (-29) at Washington St Oregon, 49-21 Oregon, 51-10 Oregon, 55-17 Oregon, 56-10
Last Week: 2-3 3-2 3-2 3-2
Yearly Totals: 28-11 28-11 28-11 26-13

Bye: USC, Utah

by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related College Football Content

ACC Week 5 Previews and Predictions
Big East Week 5 Previews and Predictions

Big Ten Week 5 Previews and Predictions

Big 12 Week 5 Previews and Predictions

SEC Week 5 Previews and Predictions

College Football Week 5 Upset Predictions

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Ranking All College Football Teams 1-124

Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Week 5 Preview and Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 05:48
Path: /college-football/acc-week-5-preview-and-predictions
Body:

The ACC was in the spotlight last week, as Florida State and Clemson squared off in Tallahassee for a meeting of top-10 teams. Week 5 doesn't have many marquee matchups in the ACC, but there are enough games to provide some intrigue. Miami hosts NC State in a critical conference game for both teams, while Virginia hopes to hold off an upset bid by Louisiana Tech, and Florida State travels to Tampa to take on South Florida. 

Other Week 5 Previews and Predictions

Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

ACC's Top Storylines for Week 5

Which defense will make enough plays to win: NC State or Miami?
In two ACC games this year, Miami has scored a combined 83 points. NC State scored 21 in the opener against Tennessee and 10 against Connecticut in Week 2 but has recorded at least 31 points in each of its last two games. Both teams have momentum on their side this week, especially as both sport a 3-1 record after last Saturday’s action. The Hurricanes seem to be hitting on all cylinders on offense, as quarterback Stephen Morris threw for a career-high 436 yards against Georgia Tech, while freshman Duke Johnson is averaging eight yards per carry. NC State’s offense isn’t as flashy, but quarterback Mike Glennon is one of the best in the nation, and the rushing attack got a boost with freshman Shadrach Thornton rushing for 145 yards in the win over Citadel. With both offenses capable of scoring over 30 points, this game will be decided by a few stops on defense. The Hurricanes need to get pressure on Glennon, and the Wolfpack’s offensive line is allowing 3.5 sacks per game. If Miami is able to get to Glennon, NC State will have a hard time winning this game. When the Hurricanes have the ball, keep an eye on the matchup of Morris versus the Wolfpack’s secondary. NC State cornerback David Amerson is one of the best in the nation, and Morris has thrown one pick in three out of Miami’s four games this year.

Can Virginia Tech get its rushing game on track?
Throw out games against Austin Peay and Bowling Green, and the Hokies are averaging just 77.5 rushing yards per game and has yet to score a touchdown on the ground. Contributing to the struggles is a reworked offensive line and the lack of a standout running back. In last week’s game against Bowling Green, the running back rotation had a shakeup, with Tony Gregory leading the way with 11 carries. Redshirt freshman Michael Holmes was expected to be the team’s No. 1 back, but he has just 151 yards on 35 attempts so far this season. Saturday’s matchup against Cincinnati will be the final tune-up for Virginia Tech, as the schedule the rest of the way features just ACC matchups. Cincinnati’s defense is allowing 123.5 rushing yards per game but is averaging four sacks a contest. Even though the Bearcats had some key personnel depart from the line, this group isn’t a pushover. Virginia Tech can win this game without a big day from the running backs, but it’s crucial this group develops a pecking order among the running backs and finds some consistency from the offensive line with the rest of the ACC schedule approaching.

Will Florida State avoid a letdown against South Florida?
On paper, everything points to a blowout win by Florida State on Saturday night. The Seminoles clearly showed they are one of the best teams in the nation in last week’s win over Clemson, but there’s that pesky letdown word that always seems to circulate after a big victory. The Seminoles lost to South Florida in their only meeting, dropping a 17-7 game in Tallahassee in 2009. There’s no question the talent level has increased for Florida State since then, while the Bulls enter Saturday’s game with nine losses in their last 12 games. In his first career start, South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels totaled 341 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State, but he’s also failed to fully develop into one of the nation’s top 25 quarterbacks. Another problem for South Florida has been its defense, which is allowing 384.5 yards a game. Florida State is clicking on all cylinders on both sides of the ball right now, and unless the Seminoles turn in an uninspired, flat performance, the Bulls won’t pull off another upset over their in-state foe.

Does Boston College have any answer for Clemson’s offense?
After a 1-2 start and road games against Army, Florida State and Georgia Tech upcoming, Saturday’s game against Clemson is a big one for Boston College. The Eagles still have slim bowl hopes, but a loss to the Tigers would put them at 1-3 with five road games remaining and a late season home date against Notre Dame in mid-November. Boston College’s offense has shown improvement under coordinator Doug Martin, averaging 26.3 points and 412.7 yards per game. Quarterback Chase Rettig has not thrown an interception the last two weeks and ranks first in the ACC in total offense per game. But is that enough to beat Clemson? Probably not. The Tigers scored 37 points on one of the nation’s best defenses last week and face a Boston College defense allowing nearly 400 yards per game. The Eagles should be able to move the ball, but their defense will have a hard time slowing down Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (QB), Andre Ellington (RB) and DeAndre Hopkins (WR). The Tigers suffered a blow to their receiving corps on Thursday night, as receiver Sammy Watkins won't play due to abdominal virus.

Is it time for Virginia to switch quarterbacks?
Throw out the Cavaliers’ performance against FCS opponent Richmond and the statistics for Virginia’s offense are rather pedestrian. The Cavaliers rushed for just 32 yards against Penn State and have thrown just as many interceptions (4) as touchdowns (4) in their last two games. Quarterback Michael Rocco is completing 60.2 percent of his passes but has struggled in back-to-back games. Backup Phillip Sims has played in every game this year, throwing for 174 yards and three touchdowns on 18 completions. Although Rocco has struggled, the offensive line has failed to open rushing lanes for the running backs, and the Cavaliers rank 97th in rushing offense going into Week 5. Rocco will start this Saturday, but Mike London could have a quick hook if the offense is stuck in neutral early in the game. With a high-scoring Louisiana Tech team coming to Charlottesville, the Cavaliers can’t afford to fall behind 20-0 once again.

Can Duke move closer to bowl eligibility?
The Blue Devils are off to a 3-1 start for the first time since 2008 and making a bowl game isn’t too far out of reach. Duke needs to catch a few breaks the rest of the way, beginning this Saturday against Wake Forest. The Blue Devils have not defeated the Demon Deacons since 1999, but there have been close calls along the way, including last year’s 24-23 loss in Durham. Although the rushing attack still needs work, Duke’s defense is showing signs of improvement, ranking 19th nationally with three sacks per game and allowing 106.5 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Sean Renfree is also off to a good start, throwing for nine touchdowns and 1,078 yards. However, the biggest concern for the Blue Devils has to be a secondary that ranks 74th nationally and has yet to face a quarterback/receiver combination like Wake Forest’s Tanner Price and Michael Campanaro. This is David Cutcliffe’s best team in his tenure at Duke, and the pieces are in place to get six wins. However, if the Blue Devils want to go bowling, they have to snap a 12-game losing streak to the Demon Deacons, especially with the schedule only getting tougher the rest of the year.

Easy Wins for North Carolina, Georgia Tech
After back-to-back losses against Wake Forest and Louisville, North Carolina got back into the win column with a solid 27-6 victory over East Carolina. Even more important for the Tar Heels was the return of running back Giovani Bernard, who rushed for 50 yards and chipped in 52 yards on six receptions. North Carolina should have no trouble moving to 3-2 this Saturday, as 0-4 Idaho visits Chapel Hill. The Vandals are coming off a three-point loss to Wyoming in overtime but were handled 63-14 by LSU on Sept. 15. After blowing a 36-19 lead against Miami, MTSU should be the perfect Week 5 opponent for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets should be able to take out their frustrations against the Blue Raiders, while figuring out a few answers on defense. Georgia Tech allowed Miami to throw for 436 yards, while adding 173 on the ground last week. 

Week 5 ACC Predictions

Week 5 ACC Games David Fox Braden Gall Steven Lassan Mitch Light
MTSU at Georgia Tech GT 42-10 GT 37-17 GT 45-13 GT 48-10
NC State at Miami Miami 21-17 NC State 24-21 NC State 27-24 Miami 27-10
Duke at Wake Forest Duke 28-21 Wake 34-31 Wake 30-27 Duke 21-20
Idaho at North Carolina UNC 35-7 UNC 37-14 UNC 48-13 UNC 41-3
Louisiana Tech at Virginia La. Tech 28-14 La. Tech 31-28 La. Tech 38-31 La. Tech 41-23
Clemson at Boston College Clemson 42-21 Clemson 42-20 Clemson 38-17 Clemson 31-14
Virginia Tech vs. Cincy (Landover) VT 28-21 VT 31-21 VT 30-20 VT 27-24
Florida State at South Florida FSU 38-14 FSU 34-14 FSU 38-13 FSU 31-13
Last Week: 8-1 8-1 8-1 8-1
Season Record: 35-5 36-4 35-5 35-5


by Steven Lassan

@athlonsteven

Teaser:
<p> ACC Week 5 Preview and Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 05:46
Path: /college-football/big-ten-week-5-preview-and-predictions
Body:

The Big Ten is having a rough year. Possibly its worst of the BCS era. But that doesn't mean there isn't great football still left on the schedule. Conference play begins this weekend with a trio of unbeaten teams and at least four juicy match-ups (sorry, Purdue and Indiana). With the entire nation fixed on East Lansing this weekend, the Big Ten needs a showcase performance from the league's top two coaches and what could be the top two players (Braxton Miller, Le'Veon Bell).

Big Ten's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 5:

1. Bring on conference play...please!
The struggles for the Big Ten have been well documented, but a dramatic conference season could make the first four weeks a distant memory. And Week 5 gets Big Ten play kick-started in style. Ohio State and Michigan State could be the best two teams in the league and has the Mark Dantonio, who won a national title at Ohio State, backstory. The corn-fed Big Red will host the dairy-fed Big Red in what should be a fashionable showdown of tailbacks, unique uniforms and revenge. A rivalry trophy is on the line in Iowa City. And two new coaches who don't like each other do battle in Illinois. Let the games begin.

2. Quarterback differential will decide the big game
Braxton Miller has been not only the Big Ten Player of the Year through four weeks but could be considered the top challenger to Geno Smith for the Heisman Trophy (if voting took place today, of course). His ability to complete clutch throws and pick up key first downs with tough runs makes him the best player on the field this weekend in East Lansing. His counterpart is Andrew Maxwell, who ranks 12th in the league in passer efficiency (that's last). Let's compare the numbers:

Miller: 754 yards, 61.2% passing, 14 total TD, 2 INT, 441 yards rushing
Maxwell: 869 yards, 56.6% passing, 3 total TD, 3 INT, minus-18 yards rushing

3. Sparty has to win the battle in the trenches
If it comes down to quarterback play, Ohio State will win. But the Spartans can win if it controls the line of scrimmage. Le'Veon Bell is the Big Ten's top rusher and has single-handedly carried MSU to wins over Boise State and Eastern Michigan. If John Simon and the rest of the Buckeyes' front line of defense can stop Bell, few believe Maxwell can win the game with his arm. Meanwhile, Ohio State's traditional rushing attack has been questionable at best, but it should have its full complement of players for the first time this fall. Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith all expect to see action. William Gholston, who has been underwhelming thus far in 2012, might be the most important player on the field. He has to play better to stop Miller and Company.

4. Recruiting-gate: Bill O'Brien vs. Tim Beckman
During the summer months following the announcement of the Penn State sanctions, Tim Beckman openly and actively recruited current Penn State players to come to Illinois. The result of the questionable tactics? One reserve offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki defected from Happy Valley to Champaign. And one frosty relationship developed between the new Leaders Division coaches. And Penn State players haven't forgotten either — Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate Mike Mauti in particular. Beckman was simply trying to improve his team within the framework of the rules, but in the process, he gave O'Brien and the Lions plenty of extra motivation for this weekend's showdown.

5. Floyd of Rosedale Trophy
From 2001 to 2009, the Golden Gophers defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes just once, claiming the famous pork trophy only in 2006. However, the Gophers have won two straight, including a one-point win last Halloween that seems to have jump-started the Jerry Kill era in the Twin Cities. Minnesota enters this weekend undefeated (4-0) while Iowa has struggled mightily through four games. Quarterback MarQueis Gray won't play according to Kill, so a wounded Hawkeye team is very dangerous — especially, considering Minnesota hasn't won in Iowa City since 1999. The wise guys in Vegas know that the records don't count in this one as Iowa is a touchdown favorite.

6. Keep an eye on that first quarter
Ohio State has been a notorious slow starter this season, trailing and being shutout by Miami (Ohio) and UAB after one quarter. Wisconsin has scored a total of five points (no, and it wasn't even a safety) in the first quarter this season and was shutout by both Utah State and Oregon State. Iowa trailed after one against Northern Iowa and Iowa State while trailing at halftime to all three FBS opponents. Illinois was outscored 35-7 in the first by Louisiana Tech and Arizona State. And Michigan State has been shut out in its last two first quarters. Seemingly bucking the trend, however, is the Nittany Lions. They have outscored four teams 35-0 in the first quarter and 55-9 in the first half. 

7. Revenge a dish best served Big Red
It was a night game in Madison on Oct. 1, 2011. That was the first time Nebraska played a Big Ten football game. And it wasn't pretty. Wisconsin rushed for 231 yards and scored seven offensive touchdowns while Taylor Martinez threw three interceptions in the 48-17 destruction of the Cornhuskers. Welcome to the Big Ten, right? Well, the tables have turned rather quickly. Martinez is the league's best quarterback currently, the offense is the best in the league and a struggling, injured Badgers team limps into one of the most hostile environments in the nation. This one could get ugly quickly — and should make soon-to-be retired Nebraska legend Tom Osbourne smile. 

8. College GameDay comes to Big Ten country
The last time ESPN brought its flagship Saturday morning program to the Big Ten, Michigan State defeated Wisconsin on a Hail Mary in arguably the best game played anywhere last fall. This is the sixth time Gameday has been in East Lansing and Sparty is 2-3 in those games. Each of the last four has been a one-score game with an average margin of 4.3 points. This bodes well for fans of both teams, fans of the Big Ten and the national TV audience that will likely be tuned in.

9. Northwestern could be only team left unbeaten
The Wildcats are a double-digit favorite over Indiana and are at home. So assuming Northwestern begins the year 5-0 with a win, there is a very good chance they are the lone team left unblemished in a down Big Ten. If Iowa and Michigan State can win at home, Pat Fitzgerald's bunch will be the only team in the league left without a loss with road trips to Penn State and Minnesota looming.

10. Unsung tailbacks could turn into heroes
Mark Weisman has rushed for six touchdowns and 334 yards on 51 carries in his last two games. If Iowa wants to hurt the improving Minnesota defense, the walk-on fullback will have to be effective again. Venric Mark has been on a tear for Northwestern and should be heavily involved in Northwestern's quest for 5-0. Giving Mark the ball will keep the league's No. 1 passing attack (yes, that's Indiana) off the field. Rod Smith has been worked back into the Ohio State rotation of late and could be a big factor against the Spartans front seven. In Lincoln, fans can expect five or six running backs to get the ball with third-string names like Melvin Gordon and Imani Cross potentially playing big roles. And Bill Belton could be back for Penn State this weekend.

Week 5 Big Ten Predictions:

Week 5 Games Braden Gall Mitch Light Steven Lassan David Fox
Indiana (+10.5) at Northwestern N'Western, 31-20 N'Western, 28-7 N'Western, 34-17 N'Western, 28-7
Penn State (+2) at Illinois Penn St, 20-14 Penn St, 21-10 Illinois, 24-20 Penn St, 21-10
Minnesota (+7.5) at Iowa Iowa, 24-21 Minnesota, 28-21 Iowa, 27-24 Minnesota, 28-21
Marshall (+17) at Purdue Purdue, 27-14 Purdue, 35-14 Purdue, 31-27 Purdue, 35-14
Ohio St (+3) at Michigan St Ohio St, 24-17 Ohio St, 24-21 Ohio St, 23-20 Ohio St, 24-21
Wisconsin (+12.5) at Nebraska Nebraska, 34-21 Nebraska, 35-17 Nebraska, 27-20 Nebraska, 35-17
Last Week: 6-4 8-2 7-3 8-2
Yearly Totals: 46-12 45-13 49-9 47-11

Bye Week: Michigan

by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related College Football Content

ACC Week 5 Previews and Predictions
Big East Week 5 Previews and Predictions

Big 12 Week 5 Previews and Predictions

Pac-12 Week 5 Previews and Predictions

SEC Week 5 Previews and Predictions

College Football Week 5 Upset Predictions

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Ranking All College Football Teams 1-124

Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Week 5 Preview and Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 05:46
Path: /college-football/big-east-week-5-preview-and-predictions
Body:

Four weeks into the season, and it’s tough to figure what to make of the Big East in 2012. Last week was not good. That much is clear: Big East teams lost to two MAC programs. Syracuse dropped a winnable game against Minnesota and a backup quarterback. Temple’s best chance to upset Penn State in quite a while fizzled with a 24-13 loss.

Yet at the same time, Rutgers defeated Arkansas on the road. Despite the struggles in Fayetteville, this should remain a bragging point for the Scarlet Knights. And just a week ago, Big East teams were 3-0 against ACC programs.

This week, Cincinnati will get its crack at Virginia Tech, which is two weeks removed from a loss to Pittsburgh. That may be the league’s best chance at a statement game this week as USF may be overmatched with Florida State. Louisville and Connecticut will face teams that are a combined 1-5 this season.

Other Week 5 Previews and Predictions

ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC


Big East Top Storylines to Watch in Week 5:

Can Walter Stewart disrupt Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas as much as he disrupted Pitt’s Tino Sunseri?
Defensive end Walter Stewart led a defensive effort against Pittsburgh in Week 2 that included 10 tackles for a loss and six sacks for the Bearcats. Stewart himself accounted for 3.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. Although Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri has been excellent the last two weeks, Cincinnati may have a different test against Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. The Hokies quarterback can escape a pass rush (588 running yards since last season). He’s tough to bring down at 6-foot-6. And he has a NFL arm strength. Thomas bounced back from his three-interception day against Pitt with 144 passing yards, 65 rushing yards and three total touchdowns against Bowling Green (albeit on 11-of-26 passing with an interception). Even if Thomas is struggling, Cincinnati must answer the call against an above average quarterback.

Which Cincinnati offense will show against Virginia Tech?
In the season debut for Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux and running back George Winn against Pitt, the Bearcats looked like a big-play offense. In the second game, Cincinnati’s offense looked more problematic with six turnovers, including four from Legaux. The question is which offense will show up after an open date against Virginia Tech, which is traditionally one of the nation’s stronger defenses.

How will Louisville respond to the last six quarters of football?
For a Big East favorite and a top-25 program, Louisville hasn’t been at its best over the last game and a half. North Carolina outscored Louisville 27-3 in the fourth quarter two weeks ago, and Louisville played close with FIU last week in a 28-21 win on the road. Teddy Bridgewater didn’t have his best game against FIU, and the defense has had its lapses. In another road game (the Cards' second in a span of three consecutive away dates), Louisville should have success against Southern Miss. Although the Eagles went 12-2 and won the Conference USA title last season, Southern Miss is struggling mightily in an 0-3 start in 2012. The Eagles’ closest loss was by 10 at home against East Carolina. Louisville should make easy work of Southern Miss. If not, then Rutgers maybe the clear team to beat in the Big East.

Is there any magic left in the bottle for USF against Florida State?
The only game between Florida State and USF was a 17-7 loss for the Seminoles in B.J. Daniels’ first career start for the Bulls. Since then, USF hasn’t been the program on the rise many predicted it would become. Instead, the Bulls have gone 19-19 since one of the program’s signature wins. The Bulls' inconsistency has continued this season through last week’s 31-27 loss to Ball State. USF’s defense was ineffective against the Cardinals, so what hope is there against a team that has amassed at least 600 yards in three games this season, including 667 against Clemson last week? USF will try to catch Florida State napping again this season, but this probably isn’t the 7-6 FSU team the Bulls beat in 2009.

Hey, UConn, you want to stop the Big East’s losing streak against the MAC?
Big East teams lost twice to MAC programs last week, both on the road (UConn to Western Michigan, USF to Ball State). For a league that has battled a credibility program for several years, that’s not a positive development, to say the least. The Huskies should be able to stop the bleeding against Buffalo, a 1-2 team that has lost by 16 to Kent State and by 22 to Georgia. UConn’s offense has showed some signs of life with 333 passing yards and 92 rushing yards against Western Michigan. Alas, the defense let up, particularly against the pass, in a 30-24 Huskies loss.

Week 5 Big East Predictions:

Week 5 Big East games David Fox Braden Gall Steven Lassan Mitch Light
Buffalo (+16) at Connecticut UConn 21-7 UConn 20-7 UConn 34-7 UConn 30-3
Cincinnati (+6.5) vs. Virginia Tech Va. Tech 28-21 Va. Tech 31-21 Va. Tech 30-20 Va. Tech 27-24
Florida State at USF (+17) FSU 38-14 FSU 34-14 FSU 38-13 FSU 31-13
Louisville at Southern Miss (+10) Louisville 35-14 Louisville 34-21 Louisville 34-10 Louisville 28-7
Last week 4-3 3-4 3-4 4-3
Overall 19-8 19-8 17-10 18-9

By David Fox

@DavidFox615

Related College Football Content

ACC Week 5 Previews and Predictions
Big Ten Week 5 Previews and Predictions

Big 12 Week 5 Previews and Predictions

Pac-12 Week 5 Previews and Predictions

SEC Week 5 Previews and Predictions

College Football Week 5 Upset Picks

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Ranking All College Football Teams 1-124

Teaser:
<p> Big East Week 5 Preview and Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 05:44
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-countdown-no-13-unlv-preview
Body:
Visit the online store for UNLV and other editions of the 2012-13 Athlon Sports College Basketball annual.

The first practices of college basketball season begin in mid-October, and Athlon Sports 2012-13 preview annuals are starting to arrive on newsstands all over the country.

To prepare for the start of college basketball season, we will preview one team each weekday, counting down to the first official day of basketball practice on Oct. 15, or for some teams on Oct. 12.

We continue our countdown with a preview of No. 13 UNLV.

Back in the 1980s and early ‘90s, when Jerry Tarkanian was chomping towels and a great white shark hung from the rafters at the Thomas & Mack Center, there was no hotter ticket in Las Vegas than for UNLV basketball. No, not even Wayne Newton, Engelbert Humperdinck or the Chairman himself, Frank Sinatra, could match the drawing power of the Runnin’ Rebels, who went to three Final Fours over a five-year span and won the 1990 national championship.

That excitement began to dwindle, however, after the popular Tarkanian was forced out following the 1991-92 season after a lengthy and at times ugly NCAA investigation. The Rebels, once one of the premier programs in college hoops, haven’t even won a conference title since sharing the Mountain West championship in 2000.

But entering the 2012-13 campaign under second-year coach Dave Rice, a reserve on Tarkanian’s NCAA title-winning team, it appears that the buzz is finally back for Runnin’ Rebels basketball in Glitter Gulch.

Part of the reason for enthusiasm is the entertaining, run-and-gun dunk-filled play — welcome to “Lob” Vegas — that Rice incorporated during a 26-win debut season that included a 90–80 upset of then-No. 1 North Carolina. Another reason is a highly decorated group of transfers and a recruiting class ranked in the top 10 in the nation by ESPN and No. 12 by Scout.

When some of the newcomers showed up to take part in a summer league game at a local junior high school on a record-breaking 116-degree July afternoon, over 3,000 fans crammed into the gym. And the games were streamed live by a team fan site for those who couldn’t make it.

Yep, you could say the fever is back for Runnin’ Rebel basketball.

FRONTCOURT
On paper this has the makings of the school’s best front line since the Larry Johnson-Stacey Augmon-David Butler era. The big news is that forward Mike Moser, the Mountain West Newcomer of the Year and the school’s first honorable mention AP All-American since Marcus Banks in 2003, decided to return for his junior season after going through the NBA evaluation process. The versatile 6-8 forward had 15 double-doubles while leading the team in scoring (14.0 ppg) and rebounding (10.5 rpg) and also leading the MWC in steals (1.9 spg).

Starting center Brice Massamba and third-team All-MWC forward Chace Stanback, a three-year starter, must be replaced. But Rice has more than his share of options, including a pair of former McDonald’s All-Americans — 6-9 sophomore Khem Birch, a transfer from Pittsburgh who becomes eligible in December, and 6-8 freshman Anthony Bennett from nearby Findlay Prep. Bennett is projected as a first-round pick in some 2013 mock NBA Drafts.

There’s more. Both senior Quintrell Thomas, who began his career at Kansas, and 6-11 junior Carlos Lopez return. After the NCAA denied Connecticut transfer Roscoe Smith’s request to play immediately, the Rebels turn to a pair of highly touted freshman — Savon Goodman and 6-9 shot-blocker Demetris Morant— for depth.

BACKCOURT
Although steady point guard Oscar Bellfield, a four-year starter, departs, the Rebels have good depth and experience at the position. Athletic senior Anthony Marshall, a second-team All-MWC pick and also a member of the league’s all-defensive squad, returns after finishing third on the team in scoring (12.2 ppg) and steals (1.5 spg) and second in rebounding (5.1 rpg) and assists (4.5 apg). Marshall, a local product nicknamed “The Mayor,” is a fan favorite for his acrobatic highlight-reel dunks. Senior Justin Hawkins, arguably the league’s top lockdown defender and sixth man, also returns.

Three newcomers are expected to expected to make major impacts — sophomore Bryce Dejean-Jones, a transfer from USC who starred in practice while redshirting, and true freshmen Katin Reinhardt and Daquan Cook. Reinhardt, the Los Angeles Times’ 2012 Player of the Year, has been compared by Rice, a former BYU assistant, to ex-Cougars’ star Jimmer Fredette for his long-range shooting and playmaking abilities.

FINAL ANALYSIS
There is little doubt that big things are on the horizon for the Runnin’ Rebels under Rice, who guided UNLV to the NCAA Tournament in his first year and followed that up with one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. The big question will be how long it takes for all the new faces to jell. The rebuilt Rebels figure to battle a veteran and talented San Diego State squad for the Mountain West title.

@AthlonSports

Athlon College Basketball Countdown So Far:
20. Florida

19. Notre Dame

18. Memphis
17. Baylor
16. Missouri

15. San Diego State

14. North Carolina

Teaser:
<p> College Basketball Countdown: No. 13 UNLV Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 05:30

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