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The final weekend of college football action in September once again features several non-conference matchups, but more competitive games are coming soon.
Conference play for nearly all 10 leagues is starting to pop up more on the schedule each Saturday, with the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 featuring a handful of key games in Week 5.
Wisconsin-Ohio State, Ole Miss-Alabama, LSU-Georgia, Notre Dame-Oklahoma and Arizona State-USC are just a few of the key games on the schedule this Saturday. This weekend’s slate is a huge improvement over Week 4’s schedule, which was very light in terms of quality games.
The favorites can't win every game each week, so it's no surprise one of the most popular discussion points every Saturday is upset picks. Each week on AthlonSports.com, the editors will give an upset pick for the upcoming week of action.
College Football Week 5 Upset Predictions
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): Buffalo (+1) over Connecticut
I realize this isn’t much of an upset, but I’m also not seeing many games the underdog will win on Saturday. Connecticut played Michigan tough last week, but the Huskies gained only 206 yards, and quarterback Chandler Whitmer was sacked four times. Buffalo’s defense features one of the nation’s most underrated players in linebacker Khalil Mack, and six other starters from a unit that held opponents to 363.7 yards per game last year. The Bulls’ rank last in the MAC in total defense this season, but the competition played so far – Ohio State and Baylor – have a lot to do with that number. Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni desperately needs a win to cool some of the hot seat talk in Storrs. However, Buffalo’s defense, and running back Branden Oliver prevent the Huskies from getting a much-needed victory.
David Fox (@DavidFox615): Colorado (-11) over Oregon State
The Buffaloes are a much improved team. I don’t expect them to go to a bowl, but this team went from absolutely dreadful to 2-0. In this game, Oregon State’s defense will give the Buffs a chance. Oregon State needed late surges to beat San Diego State and Utah. I wonder how much the Beavers will be able to hold up. Colorado can move the ball thanks to Connor Wood completing passes to the nation’s most underrated receiver Paul Richardson (though the Beavers’ Brandin Cooks is in the same class). With the way Oregon State’s D has been playing, it’s tough to envision the Beavers as an 11-point favorite over anyone.
Mark Ross: Western Kentucky (+3) over Navy
Navy is leading the nation in rushing at nearly 400 yards per game and already has a win over a Big Ten team (Indiana) on its resume. However, Western Kentucky can match up with the Midshipmen when it comes to running the ball, as the Hilltoppers are gaining nearly 230 yards on the ground per contest themselves. New WKU coach Bobby Petrino has this offense clicking, and I think the combination of all-purpose threat Antonio Andrews (222.2 total yards per game) and the passing ability of Brandon Doughty will be too much for the Mids to overcome in Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Ky. Don't be surprised if this game features close to 600 yards rushing and more than 80 points combined.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall): USC (+7) at Arizona State
This is a huge game for both teams as the loser will be sitting at 0-2 in the Pac-12 after just one month of play. USC's defense is the real deal, and Arizona State has struggled in a big way along the line of scrimmage against Stanford. Historically, the Trojans have owned the Sun Devils, winning 12 of the last 13 meetings. Lane Kiffin will take the air out of the football by running Tre Madden and playing great defense. Don't be surprised if the desperate Men of Troy return to Los Angeles with a big leg up in the South Division.
Stephen Schindler (@SteveSchindler): Virginia (+5) over Pittsburgh
Mike London knows the key to taking down the Panthers is limiting the big play. Last week, 17 of Pittsburgh's plays accounted for 423 yards of their 598 total yards. The Panthers do an excellent job of running the ball to open up their play action passing game, in order to take advantage of their two top-notch receivers Devin Street and Tyler Boyd. Despite this, I like Virginia’s new aggressive approach under defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta. While they struggled against Oregon (who doesn’t?), the Cavaliers defense looked dominant in wins over BYU and VMI. In fact, Virginia registered six sacks, 12.5 tackles for a loss and five turnovers in the two games. They have held all three of their opponents under their season scoring average. I like what the Cavaliers rushing attacks will be able to do against a Panthers defense that allows an average of 443 yards and 41 points per game, ranking 120th in the FBS. The Panthers have allowed their last two opponents, New Mexico and Duke, to each rush for 213 yards. Look for a big game from Cavaliers RB Kevin Parks, who rushed for a career-high 135 yards last week. I like the Cavaliers defense and running game over the high-flying Pittsburgh offense in this one.
Week 5 starts tonight...
Contact us on twitter with a link or a tip we should include each day. (@AthlonSteven)
College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Thursday, September 26th
The selection committee for college football's 2014-15 playoff could be decided by the end of the regular season.
All signs point to quarterback Braxton Miller returning to the starting lineup this Saturday for Ohio State.
Lost Lettermen takes a look at the most successful former high school coaches in college football.
The Sporting News' Matt Hayes spent a Saturday watching games with SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
Is Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo the best quarterback you never heard of?
Duke quarterback Anthony Boone is making progress in his return from a broken collarbone.
Alabama has canceled a future series with Michigan State.
SMU could have running back Traylon Shead back against TCU.
Air Force will be down to its third starting quarterback this season, as Jaleel Awini is suspended indefinitely from the team.
How can Oklahoma's offense exploit Notre Dame's defense?
Rutgers running back Paul James is nursing a leg injury but expects to return later this season.
Playmakers have helped to key Iowa's offensive improvement.
Each week, Athlon Sports will highlight some of the best one-on-one matchups to watch in college football. Here are the most important games within the game to watch this weekend:
QB Zach Mettenberger vs. FS Tray Matthews (LSU at Georgia)
Mettenberger’s ties to Georgia run deep. He grew up in nearby Watkinsville. His mother, Tammy, is an administrative assistant in the Georgia football offense. And he spent the first two years of his career as a Georgia Bulldog. This is not just another game for Mettenberger, who is in his second season as the starter at LSU. So far, he has thrived under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, but this will be his toughest test — in a very difficult environment — of his senior season. With two elite wide receivers and a solid offensive line, it falls to Mettenberger to accurately attack the Bulldogs' young, but talented secondary. Matthews, a true freshman, will be responsible for handling the top of the defense against two great vertical threats in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.
RB Melvin Gordon vs. LB Ryan Shazier (Wisconsin at Ohio State)
The hard-hitting Ohio State linebacker was all over the field for the Buckeyes last year against Wisconsin. He registered 12 tackles, 3.0 tackles for a loss and forced a fumble in last year’s win over the Badgers. He’s right back at it again this season, topping the team in tackles (30). It will fall to the explosive junior to stop the three-headed monster in Wisconsin's backfield, led by Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon. The Badgers' star tailback is leading the nation in rushing (156.0 ypg) with an absurd 11.8 yards per carry average and seven rushing touchdowns.
WR LaQuon Treadwell vs. CB Deion Belue (Ole Miss at Alabama)
Treadwell was a difference-maker in the Rebels’ win over Vanderbilt in Week 1, catching nine passes for 82 yards in addition to a key 2-point conversion in the third quarter. He has teamed with Donte Moncrief to give Ole Miss two big-time targets in the passing game. Alabama’s secondary is talented, but it’s difficult for any team to take away two elite wide receivers. Treadwell, a 5-star recruit from Illinois, could have an opportunity to play a key role in the Rebels' attack against one area of the Alabama defense that can be exploited. Belue (toe) and Jarrick Williams (eye) both missed last week’s game with Colorado State but have returned to the practice field and are expected to play a big role in this weekend’s contest.
C Gabe Ikard vs. DT Louis Nix III (Oklahoma at Notre Dame)
The Sooners’ star center will match up once again with Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III, who got the better of Ikard last season. Ikard may be one of the Big 12’s best linemen, but the OU veteran called Nix one of the best in the country in controlling the line of scrimmage. The Sooners rushed for only 15 yards on 23 carries in last season’s game. The Sooners trail only Baylor in the Big 12 in rushing and sit at 16th nationally with over 270 yards rushing per game in three games thus far.
RB Tre Madden vs. DT Will Sutton (USC at Arizona State)
The best way to help out a struggling passing attack is with a quality running game. And Madden has been just that for Lane Kiffin over the first four weeks. He has topped 100 yards in all but one game and has scored in each of the last two contests. His 90 carries are second only to Iowa’s Mark Weisman nationally and his 455 yards are eighth in the nation. Cody Kessler needs No. 23 to come up big on the road. Sutton has been fairly quiet this season so far, registering just 9.0 tackles and no big plays yet. The All-American defensive lineman needs to play well this weekend to avoid an 0-2 start to the Pac-12 season.
LB Chris Borland vs. QB Braxton Miller or QB Kenny Guiton (Wisconsin at Ohio State)
Wisconsin’s All-American linebacker has been making big plays for the Badgers for years but stopping the Buckeyes' versatile offensive attack might be his tallest order — no matter who plays quarterback. Borland constantly disrupts opposing backfields and makes big special teams plays — he even completed a 23-yard pass on a fake punt against Arizona State — but has missed two of the last three meetings with Ohio State. That said, he went head-to-head with Miller in 2011, posting 10 tackles in the historic Hail Mary game. Keeping Miller or Guiton contained within the pocket will go a long way to giving UW a chance at the win.
LB Lamin Barrow vs. RB Todd Gurley (LSU at Georgia)
Few teams in the country are as balanced offensively as Georgia, which has the personnel to throw for over 400 yards or run for 300 on any given Saturday. Barrow, one of the leaders of this new-look LSU defense, will have to be at his best from his weak-side linebacker position on Saturday. When Georgia gets its play-action attack going, the Bulldogs are very difficult to slow down. Gurley, who is averaging 125.7 yards per game, is arguably the nation's most talented running back and will be asked to pound the very physical Tigers front seven.
RB Ka'Deem Carey vs. LB Shaq Thompson (Arizona at Washington)
Stopping one of the nation’s best running backs in one of the nation’s most explosive offensive schemes falls to Thompson and his running mates John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono. The top three tacklers on the Huskies' squad must contain Carey (149.5 yards per game) and Daniel Jenkins (80.7 yards per game) at home. This will force Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker to throw the ball — something he hasn’t proven he can do in a hostile environment yet.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard grew up in our living rooms, first as lovable Opie Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show” and then as Richie Cunningham on the equally iconic sitcom “Happy Days.” But Howard’s true calling was behind the camera, and with his latest movie, he’s returned to his roots as a director by putting his audience behind the wheel.
Howard cut his filmmaking teeth with 1977’s “Grand Theft Auto,” a low-budget, high-octane action comedy that featured more crashes than a season on the Sprint Cup circuit. Fast forward 36 years, and Howard’s latest big-budget epic features cars of a sleeker, faster but equally dangerous variety.
“Rush,” which hits theaters this week, chronicles the 1976 Formula 1 season, including Austrian driver Niki Lauda’s near-fatal crash and subsequent comeback. Howard deftly captures an era of fast cars and European playboys who set the standard for high-level racing from Monaco to the Orient, along with the danger, speed and precision of open-wheel competition. But at its heart, the story’s focus is the rivalry between the confident Lauda and flashy British driver James Hunt, and how their on-track clashes came to define a go-for-broke sport.
Athlon Sports caught up Howard and had no trouble persuading the entertainment icon to share his infectious passion for his latest film.
What attracted you to this story?
Ron Howard: It’s the fact that in one movie there are all these elements, so to me, as a director, that means a lot. That means that different audience members can glean different things from it and enjoy it for different reasons. I love working with actors on interesting characters and emotional scenes. You know, there’s a lot of that in this story. But I also love trying to create something for the audience that’s a ride, that’s visceral, that’s intense, and kind of an experience. So I thought, “Here’s a movie that combines both those things.” And it’s all too rare that you can make a movie that has a chance to be a big-screen experience, but it’s not a fantasy. You know, there are no superheroes. They’re real people. It’s a real story. And yet it’s kind of cinematic and intense in that big movie way.
Your first movie as a director was “Grand Theft Auto.” Did you think your next “car” movie would be 36 years later?
I learned a lot about cars during “Grand Theft Auto.” Most of what I learned I couldn’t apply to this (“Rush”) because we couldn’t afford to crash these cars, and when we did we had to do it very, very carefully. “Grand Theft Auto” was all about them T-bones, and it was fun. And nobody got hurt, thankfully.
What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?
When I was preparing for “Rush,” I drove a Formula 1 training car and probably got up around 100 (mph). The straightaway was short enough that it wouldn’t allow you to get much quicker than that. But it was a great experience. I also spun out. Thank God nobody was too close behind me when that happened. One person described it as though you’re trying to ride a thoroughbred race horse. An F1 car sort of feels like it has a mind of its own.
Did the actors do any of the driving?
The actors did some of the driving. Nothing harrowing. We didn’t put them into close proximity to other cars going over 100 miles an hour or anything like that, but they did drive over 100 miles an hour. And we put cameras on them and did a lot of laps with them that we could build into the movie. But we also did old-fashioned green screen stuff to put them into the right tracks at the right moment. More important than driving fast on the track, they also had to be good enough that they could speed into the pits, because that was my chance to have a steady-cam move in, see them lift the visor and just, in a subliminal way, convince the audience that they’re driving — they can drive a car. And then also, go through the whole pit change, lower the visor and speed off, and that’s with a lot of people around. So that was a safety factor that they had to really, really train for. The first day that we really tested the guys in the cars, (Niki Lauda actor) Daniel Brühl’s front tire came off his Ferrari and bounded off, and he went into a spin. So right away on Day 1, we realized that we could never relax around these cars.
You chose not to use original footage of Niki Lauda’s crash. What was your method for determining when to use original footage and when not to?
In many places in the movie, we discovered we could sort of do a “Forrest Gump” kind of trick. Only instead of putting Tom Hanks next to Richard Nixon, we could put Lauda’s car or Hunt’s car into a particularly good, say, aerial helicopter shot from Monaco or someplace and make that shot, which was great, tell the story we needed to tell. So it was 99 percent the archival footage, but somehow by changing the cars around a little bit, we could make it our story. We did a good deal of that. With the crash, I wanted to break it down for the audience on a little bit more of a micro level. And so the archival shot that exists is 8 millimeter — very, very grainy — and it’s a single shot that a 12-year-old kid took. In fact, I sort of … I do a cutaway to a kid shooting the accident. We actually do use that footage later on television just out of respect to the original footage.
In “Rush,” Niki Lauda exhibits extreme attention to detail. Did you encounter that facet working with him?
He sanctioned the project. He had no editorial controls; he trusted Peter Morgan, the writer. He trusted me as the director, and he made himself available for any questions. And he was very meticulous and very, very helpful. And especially to Daniel Brühl, who was playing him in the movie. He literally had him on speed dial and could call him up at any moment and could ask him about the particulars of racing or his behavior. But he’s a powerful guy, a brilliant guy, a great businessman. He’s back in Formula 1 in a competitive way as one of the principal owners of the Mercedes race team. They’re having an unexpectedly good year in his first year back. I can see that he enjoys that competition, but with Niki, mostly it’s all about productivity. For him, every waking hour is supposed to be directed towards something. He’s making things happen that matter all that time, and that’s what’s important to him. I think he keeps score that way.
A rival can be a great source of motivation. Have you ever had that situation in your own life?
I don’t feel that kind of personal rivalry. I have a lot of respect for people. But it’s not that kind of competition where somebody can literally beat you. There are times when different directors and producers are vying for the same project and you’re trying to get the rights. That’s the closest thing to a competition like that, I suppose. But I think filmmaking is a little more … you sort of have to be in competition with yourself and with what the possibilities of the project are. And I think that you’re not really fueled by rivals, although you can see movies that you respect and they can fuel you.
Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley suffered a torn ACL in practice this week and will be out for the remainder of the season.
Easley’s torn ACL is the second major injury suffered by Florida in the last few days, as quarterback Jeff Driskel is also out for the year after a leg injury against Tennessee.
In three games this year, Easley had five tackles (two for a loss) and four quarterback hurries.
Although his stat line wasn’t overwhelming, Easley is one of the top defensive tackles in the nation, and his presence on the interior helps to open up opportunities for Dante Fowler, Ronald Powell and Jonathan Bullard off the edge.
The Gators will miss Easley's presence on the interior, but juniors Darious Cummings and Leon Orr, along with senior Damien Jacobs should be able to keep the rush defense performing at a high level.
This is the second ACL tear in Easley’s career, and the senior is eligible for a medical redshirt. However, considering he was a potential first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Easley may decide to pass on a redshirt and start his career at the next level.
Bye weeks litter the college landscape this week, so expect league scoring averages to drop drastically. Second-guessing a couple of guys on your roster this week? Hopefully, this week’s Start/Bench helps in your decision-making process.
College Fantasy Football: Week 5 Start or Sit Report
Connor Wood, QB-Colorado at Oregon State
Wood should find receiver Paul Richardson early and often as the Buffaloes face an Oregon State defense that is allowing over 287 passing yards per game.
Keith Wenning, QB-Ball State vs Toledo
Wenning is averaging over 330 yards passing and may top that number this week when the Cardinals host Toledo.
Keenan Reynolds, QB-Navy at Western Kentucky
Through two games, Navy leads the nation in rushing at 398 yards per game and Reynolds has topped 100 yards on the ground in both contests.
Storm Johnson, RB-Central Florida vs South Carolina
We’re not expecting Johnson to run wild against the South Carolina defense, but the junior running back should post respectable numbers for fantasy owners that play in deep leagues.
Rajion Neal, RB-Tennessee vs South Alabama
Neal should bounce back after two tough outings against Oregon and Florida in back-to-back weeks.
Shaun Wick, RB-Wyoming at Texas State
Wick is only averaging about 15 carries per game, but he has either scored multiple touchdowns or topped 100 yards in every game this season.
Jay Ajayi and Aaron Baltazar, RBs-Boise State vs Southern Mississippi
Ajayi’s fumbling woes may lead to more playing time for the freshman Baltazar, and there is a good chance that both backs top the century mark at home against USM.
Josh Huff, WR-Oregon vs California
After watching the Buckeyes torch the Bears’ secondary two weeks ago, we feel that Huff has to be good for a couple of big receptions Saturday night.
Chandler Jones, WR-San Jose State vs Utah State
Last week at Minnesota, Jones picked up the slack in the passing game with the loss of teammate Noel Grigsby. Expect more of the same this week when the Spartans host Utah State.
Connor Halliday, Washington State vs Stanford
We expected Halliday to light up the scoreboard against Idaho, but Stanford is an entirely different beast. Just ask the Sun Devils.
Darrin Reaves, RB-UAB @ Vanderbilt
Reaves has the potential for a big play, but we see far too many 2- to 3-yard carries against the Commodores.
Charles Sims, RB-West Virginia vs Oklahoma State
The only thing we were able to take away from the Mountaineers’ game against Maryland last week was that the West Virginia offense does not have a safe fantasy play on its roster.
David Oku, RB-Arkansas State at Missouri
Oku’s rushing stats at home: 37-198-4 Oku’s rushing stats on the road: 28-93-0
This is the toughest part of the schedule for owners of Oku because after Missouri the Red Wolves have a bye in two of the next three weeks.
Jeff Scott, RB-Ole Miss at Alabama
Remember our formula: Opposing player (excluding anyone named Johnny Manziel) + Alabama defense = Bench
Jordan Parker, RB-Middle Tennessee at BYU
Junior running back Reggie Whatley may be cutting into Parker’s carries, but the biggest obstacle for fantasy owners this week is the BYU defense.
Quinshad Davis, WR-North Carolina vs East Carolina
We are not patient enough to have a guy on our roster that only has eight receptions through three games, but if are not ready to throw in the towel, keep Davis on the bench until he proves himself on the field.
Titus Davis, WR-Central Michigan at North Carolina State
Believe it or not, but the Wolfpack are one of the better defensive plays in Week 5.
Two heavyweight battles highlight the Week 5 slate in the SEC. LSU, off to a 4-0 start, travels to Georgia in a potential preview of the SEC Championship Game. Ole Miss, which already has won two road games, heads to Tuscaloosa to take on the mighty Crimson Tide.
SEC Week 5 Game Power Rankings
1. LSU (+3) at Georgia (3:30 ET, CBS)
LSU has emerged as a legitimate national title contender through the first quarter of the 2013 season. The offense has made significant improvements under new coordinator Cam Cameron, and the defense has been solid despite the loss of key personnel at every level. That defense, however, will face by far its toughest test this Saturday. Georgia puts tremendous pressure on a defense with its ability to move the ball through the air and on the ground. In two games vs. BCS conference opponents (Clemson and South Carolina), the Bulldogs are averaging 540.5 yards and 38.0 points per game. For LSU, Jeremy Hill has been spectacular running the ball — he’s averaging 8.36 yards per carry and has six TDs in three games — but the spotlight will be on quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The fifth-year senior is a Georgia native who spent the first two years of his career with the Bulldogs. How he handles the pressure of his homecoming to Athens could go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.
2. Ole Miss (+16) at Alabama (6:30 ET, ESPN)
Ole Miss has already proven itself on the road with wins at Vanderbilt and Texas. Winning at Alabama, however, is an entirely different animal. The Crimson Tide have only lost three times in Tuscaloosa in the past five seasons — once to a team that won the national title (Auburn, 2010), once to a team that lost in the national title game (LSU, 2011) and once to a team that won 11 games and featured the Heisman Trophy winner (Texas A&M, 2012). Still, don’t expect Ole Miss to be intimidated. Hugh Freeze’s young team is playing with a ton of confidence and truly believes it can contend for the SEC West title. The Rebels will score some points, but the key will be their ability to slow down Alabama’s balanced attack.
3. Texas A&M (-7) at Arkansas (7 ET, ESPN2)
At first glance, it’s a bit surprising that Texas A&M, a top-10 team, is only a touchdown favorite at Arkansas, a team that lost to Rutgers last week. But look at one key stat: Texas A&M ranks 105th nationally in rushing defense, giving up an average of 218.3 yards per game — and it’s even worse when you look at yards per carry allowed (5.94, 118th). And those numbers have come against one great team (Alabama), one decent team (Rice), one bad team (SMU) and one FCS team (Sam Houston State). Arkansas doesn’t do a ton of things well, but the Razorbacks have the ability to expose A&M’s rush defense. The Hogs feature the SEC’s No. 2 rusher (Alex Collins, 120.3 ypg) and No. 6 rusher (Jonathan Williams, 104.5 ypg). Stopping this duo will be the focus for the Aggies’ defense.
4. South Carolina (-7) at UCF (12 ET ABC)
This will not be easy for South Carolina. UCF is 3-0 with wins at home vs. Akron (38-7), at FIU (38-0) and at Penn State (34-31). The Knights feature an experienced quarterback in junior Blake Bortles, who is completing over 70 percent of his passes and averaging 11.7 yards per attempt (third best in the nation). The UCF ground game is led by Storm Johnson, a former 4-star recruit who began his career at Miami. Through three games, Johnson has rushed for 308 yards on a 5.6-yard average. South Carolina will obviously be the toughest defense UCF has faced to date, but keep in mind that the Knights rolled up over 500 yards of offense in their win at Penn State. This is a solid team.
5. Florida (-13) at Kentucky (7 ET, ESPNU)
Tyler Murphy exceeded expectations in his first appearance as the Gators’ quarterback. Now, however, the junior must prove he is not a one-hit wonder and that he can take his show on the road. Kentucky is far from an elite defensive team, but the Wildcats played well for a half against Louisville and are solid on the defensive line. Still, it will be a bad sign for Florida if Murphy does not play well in Lexington. The Gators’ defense is elite, but the offense will have to at least be mediocre for this team to be a factor in the SEC East race.
6. Arkansas State (+21) at Missouri (7:30 ET, CSS)
A few weeks ago, this looked like a decent matchup on paper. That was before Missouri went to Indiana and posted an impressive 45-28 win over the Hoosiers, and Arkansas State was gashed for 505 yards (329 on the ground) in a surprisingly lopsided 31-7 loss at Memphis. Arkansas State, which won 10 games in each of the past two seasons, is showing signs of slippage under first-year coach Bryan Harsin. This one could get out of hand unless the Red Wolves can find a way to stop the run.
7. UAB (+21) at Vanderbilt (7:30 ET, FSN)
Vanderbilt has allowed an average of 37.0 points in its two SEC games (Ole Miss and South Carolina) and 5.0 points in its two non-conference games (Austin Peay and UMass). So how many will UAB score this weekend? Well, it’s safe to say the Blazers aren’t nearly as potent as the Dores’ two SEC opponents, but they are also quite a bit better than both Austin Peay and UMass. Vanderbilt will have to put some points on the board to win this game, and the Commodores figure to have success attacking UAB through the air. The Blazers are allowing 268.7 passing yards per game and rank 117th in the nation in passing efficiency defense.
8. South Alabama (+20) at Tennessee (12:21 ET, SEC Network)
South Alabama opened the season with a 21-20 loss at home to Southern Utah, but the Jags have bounced back with two solid wins, 41-39 at Tulane and 31-24 vs. Western Kentucky. Joey Jones is doing a nice job in Mobile. Tennessee wraps ups its non-conference schedule before diving back into the SEC with a brutal three-game stretch that includes home games against Georgia and South Carolina followed by a visit to Alabama. Justin Worley will get the start at quarterback for the Vols, but don’t be surprised if one of the true freshmen — Joshua Dobbs or Riley Ferguson — sees significant action.
5 Pivotal Players for Week 5
Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Mettenberger’s ties to Georgia run deep. He grew up in nearby Watkinsville. His mother, Tammy, is an administrative assistant in the Georgia football offense. And he spent the first two years of his career as a Georgia Bulldog. This is not just another game for Mettenberger, who is in his second season as the starter at LSU. So far, he has thrived under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, but this will be his toughest test — in a very difficult environment — of his senior season. He needs to play well to give his team a chance to win the game.
Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU
Few teams in the country are as balanced offensively as Georgia, which has the personnel to throw for over 400 yards or run for 300 on any given Saturday. Barrow, one of the leaders of this new-look LSU defense, will have to be at his best from his weak-side linebacker position on Saturday. When Georgia gets its play-action attack going, the Bulldogs are very difficult to slow down.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Murray delivered on the big stage in Week 2, throwing for 309 yards and four touchdowns in a pivotal 41-30 win over South Carolina. Now, he must do it again — or hear from his critics how he can’t win the big game. Murray doesn’t have to post gaudy numbers for Georgia to beat LSU, but he must avoid the big mistakes — something that has plagued him in previous seasons.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Treadwell was a difference-maker in the Rebels’ win over Vanderbilt in Week 1, catching nine passes for 82 yards in addition to a key 2-point conversion in the third quarter. He has teamed with Donte Moncrief to give Ole Miss two big-time targets in the passing game. Alabama’s secondary is talented, but it’s difficult for any team to take away two elite wide receivers. Treadwell, a 5-star recruit from Illinois, could have an opportunity to play a key role in the Rebel attack.
The Arkansas defense
Arkansas’ defensive numbers look good — 17th nationally in total defense and 25th in scoring defense — but the schedule has been relatively soft. The Hogs’ D will be stressed at every level on Saturday by a Texas A&M offense that is among the best in the nation. Last year, the Aggies torched Arkansas for an astounding 716 yards in a 58-10 win in College Station. The Hogs will need to lop about 250 yards off of that total to have a chance to beat A&M this time around.
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
South Carolina at UCF
|S. Carolina 28-24||S. Carolina 35-21||S. Carolina 30-20||S. Carolina 31-17|
S. Alabama at Tennessee
|Tennessee 31-14||Tennessee 38-13||Tennesssee 34-17|
LSU at Georgia
|LSU 24-21||Georgia 34-31||Georgia 31-24|
|Ole Miss at Alabama|
|Alabama 38-20||Alabama 34-24||Alabama 31-28|
Texas A&M at Arkansas
Texas A&M 42-21
|Texas A&M 49-31||Texas A&M 45-24||Texas A&M 44-21|
Florida at Kentucky
|Florida 24-10||Florida 31-13||Florida 21-3|
UAB at Vanderbilt
|Vanderbilt 38-14||Vanderbilt 41-17||Vanderbilt 31-14|
Arkansas St. at Missouri
|Missouri 28-10||Missouri 34-13||Missouri 45-20||Missouri 41-17|
The Big 12 needs to pick up some signature moments, but it’s running out of chances to do so.
The league is 2-4 against teams from the other five BCS automatic-qualifying conferences, with those wins coming against Mississippi State and SMU. That doesn’t include Texas’ loss to BYU, nor the league’s two losses to FCS teams in the first week of the season.
The first full Saturday of Big 12 play is a week away, and the fifth week of the season will feature more action that will impact the league’s perception.
The most important game will be Oklahoma’s trip to Notre Dame, a key game to prove if one of the Big 12’s frontrunners can go toe-to-toe with a nationally ranked team. A road conference game for Oklahoma State to West Virginia shouldn’t be taken lightly, but if the Cowboys — the preseason league favorite — struggle to put the Mountaineers away a week after they were shut out by Maryland.
Week 5 Previews and Predictions: ACC | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
Big 12 Week 5 Game Power Rankings
All games Eastern, all games on Saturday unless noted.
1. Oklahoma at Notre Dame (3:30, NBC)
A rematch of a 30-13 Notre Dame win in Norman last season, this will be a key game for national perception. The Sooners are one of three teams well-positioned to make a run at the Big 12 title along with Oklahoma State and Baylor, but none are ranked in the AP top 10 (OU is ranked 14th). This will be Oklahoma’s first game against a ranked team and potentially the Sooners’ only one until at least Oct. 26 against Texas Tech. New Oklahoma starting quarterback Blake Bell flourished against Tulsa two weeks ago, but this will be his first extended action on the road.
2. Oklahoma State at West Virginia (noon, ESPN)
This matchup between Mike Gundy and Dana Holgorsen couldn’t be much more different from the last time Holgorsen was on the Oklahoma State staff in 2010. That season, Oklahoma State is a little more balanced than in 2010, taking advantage of quarterback J.W. Walsh’s running ability. West Virginia, though, may have the worst offense of any team Dana Holgorsen has coached at the FBS level. Quarterback Ford Childress struggled in a shutout to Maryland last week, completing only 11 of 22 passes with two interceptions.
3. SMU at TCU (noon, Fox Sports 1)
The Horned Frogs return from an off week after an uninspiring offensive performance against Texas Tech. A return to Fort Worth against SMU would be a good opportunity for running backs B.J. Catalon and Waymon James to continue to show they can establish the run. TCU topped 200 yards against Texas Tech but finished 3 of 16 on third downs. Against the pass-oriented SMU offense, cornerback Jason Verrett could have another chance to shine. Verrett held Texas Tech’s Eric Ward to without a catch, but the Mustangs’ receiver group has been much more balanced.
4. Iowa State at Tulsa (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Iowa State will face Tulsa for the second time in four games going back to the Golden Hurricane’s 31-17 win in the Liberty Bowl. With narrow losses to Northern Iowa and Iowa, the Cyclones look like they’re going to have trouble picking up wins this season as the conference schedule begins next week against Texas. This will be a key game for momentum.
Big 12 Week 5 Pivotal Players
Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
The Sooners’ center will reunite with Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III, who got the better of Ikard last season. Ikard may be one of the Big 12’s best linemen, but the OU veteran called Nix one of the best in the country in controlling the line of scrimmage. The Sooners rushed for only 15 yards on 23 carries in last season’s game.
Oklahoma’s defensive line
Michigan State proved what defensive line pressure could do to the Notre Dame passing game. Against the Spartans, Notre Dame set season lows in passing yards (142), yards per passing attempt (4.2) and completion percentage (41.2). The Sooners have faced three spread teams so far this season, utilizing a three-man front. OU may try more four-man looks in this game, but either way, this could put Mike Stoops’ improved defense to the test.
West Virginia’s ball carriers
The Mountaineers have lost eight fumbles this season. Only Idaho has lost more this season. There’s no easy answer for West Virginia as seven different players have accounted for the eight lost fumbles. Moreover, West Virginia has thrown four interceptions. With eight takeaways, the Mountaineers have a minus-four turnover margin. Running back Dreamius Smith is the only regular skill position player without a fumble lost this season.
Trevone Boykin, TCU
The Horned Frogs need to have a balanced offense to thrive in the Big 12, but SMU is a team that can be defeated in the passing game. The Mustangs have allowed six touchdown passes to one interception and 7.8 yards per pass this season, but two of those games were against Texas Tech and Texas A&M. TCU is the only team in the Big 12 without a play from 40 yards this season. If Boykin and the Frogs can’t break a big play against SMU, then which opponent could they do it to?
Tom Farniok, Iowa State
The veteran is one of the best centers in the Big 12. The hope is that he’ll jumpstart a running game that has averaged 3.3 yards per carry with no touchdowns. Tulsa’s run defense isn’t much better, allowing 605 yards in three games against Bowling Green, Colorado State and Oklahoma.
Off: Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, Texas Tech
Big 12 Week 5 Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Iowa St. (+2.5) at Tulsa||Tulsa 28-21||ISU 28-24||ISU 27-24||ISU 28-20|
|OK State (-19) at West Va.||OSU 35-14||OSU 31-13||OSU 38-17||OSU 34-14|
|SMU (+19.5) at TCU||TCU 24-14||TCU 27-14||TCU 30-20||TCU 31-21|
|Okla. (-3.5) at Notre Dame||OU 31-21||OU 24-20||OU 27-24||OU 28-27|
There are two non-conference games left on the Pac-12 schedule. Notre Dame will face Arizona State next week and Stanford in the season finale. But otherwise, starting this weekend, every game out West will carry major Pac-12 championship implication.
The North Division will host four of the five Pac-12 contests this weekend while a massive South Division game in Tempe could eliminate one team from the race before the calendar even flips to October.
Pac-12 Week 5 Game Power Rankings
1. USC (+6) at Arizona State (10:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Win or go home. That is what is at stake in Sun Devil Stadium this weekend when USC comes to town as neither team can afford to start the season in an 0-2 conference hole. The Trojans boast one of the nation’s elite defenses as it leads the Pac-12 in total defense (230.5 ypg), rushing defense (59.3 ypg), red zone defense (40.0 percent), sacks (16.0) and tackles for a loss (38.0). This means Taylor Kelly, who was sacked three times last week, has to get his offense into quality situations before the snap. His offense has struggled to run the ball, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry on the season (110 att., 324 yards), and it will have to prove it can control the line of scrimmage to get the win. USC has won 12 of the last 13 meetings with ASU’s lone win coming the last time these two played in the desert in 2011. Being at home should be a huge help but the Devils have to play much better on offense to avoid the upset.
2. Arizona (+10) at Washington (7 p.m., FOX)
A sneaky good matchup of undefeateds will give one team a perfect slate in September with the other starting league play with a loss. The offensive skill talent should be on full display as the Huskies' Bishop Sankey and Wildcats' Ka’Deem Carey should star in the backfield for each team. Washington gets a huge advantage under center as Keith Price finally appears to be delivering on his big-time upside while B.J. Denker makes just his fifth career start. A key battle to watch will come on third down. Washington’s offense is third nationally on the critical down while Arizona is allowing opponents to convert a paltry 32 percent (16-of-50). Washington is at home and is looking for revenge after the 52-17 drubbing it took at the hands of Rich Rodriguez last season.
3. Stanford (+10) at Washington State (10 p.m., ESPN, Seattle)
The Cardinal made a big statement at home last weekend against Arizona State and a letdown alert may be in effect for the trip North to Seattle. Despite rushing for minus-18 yards and being sacked 10 times against Stanford last year, the Cougars managed to keep the game tight until the end. The Cardinal allowed 403 yards through the air in that game and will be without All-American safety Ed Reynolds for the first half after being ejected for a targeting penalty last weekend. Kevin Hogan, who entered the starting lineup the week after the WSU game last year, needs to have his team prepared from the opening kickoff or Mike Leach’s squad will put a scare into the No. 5-ranked team in the nation.
4. Colorado (+10.5) at Oregon State (3 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
This should be one of the more entertaining games of the weekend. With star power at wide receiver and two very capable quarterbacks running two prolific offensive systems, defense will be an afterthought in Corvallis. Sean Mannion and Connor Wood are two of the top four passers in the nation as both average more than 370 yards per game and each has an elite target in Brandin Cooks and Paul Richardson. The Beavers' defense has been putrid but has played some solid competition while the Buffaloes unit has been surprisingly stingy — against Colorado State and Central Arkansas. Someone has to make a stop in the fourth quarter, right?
5. Cal (+36.5) at Oregon (10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
In 2010, the closest game the Ducks played en route to the BCS National Championship game was a 15-13 nail-biter in Berkeley. Three years later, 28 points could be the over/under for each quarter between these two up-tempo offenses. Sonny Dykes’ offense is running 94.6 plays per game (No. 2 nationally) while the Ducks are running a measly 72.0 per game. Cal isn’t ready to compete at this level but fans in Eugene should get a long look at Cal’s budding star quarterback Jared Goff.
Pac-12 Week 5 Pivotal Players:
1. Arizona State’s offensive line
As Todd Graham well knows, the ASU offensive line hasn’t gotten much of a push this season. The Devils are averaging less than three yards per carry and have allowed six sacks in three games. Now they face Morgan Breslin, George Uko and Leonard Williams among others along a defensive line that is tops in the Pac-12 in sacks and tackles for a loss. This unit must play solid football for Arizona State to avoid the upset.
2. B.J. Denker, QB, Arizona
There is tons of star power on both offenses but Arizona’s chances at an upset in Husky Stadium hinges on Denker’s play. He has yet to throw an interception and has been excellent in the running game (39 att., 221 yards, 5 TD) in RichRod’s zone-read option attack. He has plenty of backfield support in the form of Ka’Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins, however, his ability to make plays in the air will be critical on the road. He has yet to reach 200 yards passing in a game and is completing just 56.4 percent of his passes on the year.
3. Tre Madden, RB, USC
The best way to help out a struggling passing attack is with a quality running game. And Madden has been just that for Lane Kiffin over the first four weeks. He has topped 100 yards in all but one game and has scored in each of the last two contests. His 90 carries are second only to Iowa’s Mark Weisman nationally and his 455 yards are eighth in the nation. Cody Kessler needs No. 23 to come up big on the road.
4. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
Since the Beavers' defense doesn’t appear capable of stopping air, it once again will fall to Mannion and the offense to keep pace. Arguably the most underrated passer in the nation, no one in the country has completed as many passes (133) for as many yards (1,604) or touchdowns (15) as OSU's signal-caller. With the defense allowing 432 yards and more than 35 points per game, Mannion probably feels the need to score every time he steps on the field.
5. Devon Carrington, S, Stanford
Star safety Ed Reynolds will have to sit out the first half after being ejected from last weekend’s contest due a targeting penalty. So it falls to the senior reserve to step in and provide stability against one of the better passing attacks in the nation. Mike Leach’s team torched this group for 403 yards last year and is averaging 328.8 yards per game through air this season.
Pac-12 Week 5 Predictions:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|USC (+6) at Arizona St||Arizona St, 21-17||Arizona St, 27-20||Arizona St, 27-20||Arizona St, 21-14|
|Arizona (+10) at Washington||Wash., 38-20||Wash., 34-27||Wash., 38-27||Wash., 41-14|
|Stanford (-10) at Washington St||Stanford, 34-13||Stanford, 38-17||Stanford, 34-17||Stanford, 38-10|
|Colorado (+10.5) at Oregon St||Ore. St, 41-35||Ore. St, 37-21||Ore. St, 41-27||Ore. St, 41-35|
|Cal (+36.5) at Oregon||Oregon, 51-27||Oregon, 51-30||Oregon, 58-24||Oregon, 56-21|
Jim Delany knows what he’s doing.
Half of his conference won’t play football this weekend, including most of his highest profile programs. Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Indiana are all off this weekend and will be sitting at home focused on The Horseshoe like the rest of the nation.
With all due respect to a sneaky good Iowa-Minnesota contest, Delany wants no excuses as the entire conference is focused on what could be the biggest divisional game of the season for the Big Ten. All eyes nationally should be centered on Wisconsin at Ohio State Saturday night.
Big Ten Week 5 Game Power Rankings:
1. Wisconsin (+7) at Ohio State (8 p.m., ABC)
This is the biggest Leaders Division game of the year and could end up being the second biggest Big Ten game of the year (Ohio State at Michigan). Wisconsin’s defense has been a pleasant surprise through four games, ranking sixth nationally in total defense (243.3 ypg), fourth nationally in yards allowed per play (3.8 ypp) and 10th nationally in scoring defense (10.5 ppg). And Gary Andersen hasn’t changed the offense all that much — the Badgers already have had nine 100-yard games from their talented backfield trio. But facing the Buckeyes with Braxton Miller under center in Columbus is a totally different beast. Ohio State has owned UW of late, winning five of the last six overall and three straight in The Shoe. Even if Miller isn’t 100 percent, Kenny Guiton has proven to be not only capable of filling in, but extremely gifted in his own right. To pull the upset, Wisconsin’s front seven will have to play perfectly disciplined football and quarterback Joel Stave will have to complement the running game. Both of which would be considered unlikely on the road.
2. Iowa (+1.5) at Minnesota (3:30 p.m., ABC)
The Hawkeyes won just four games last year and just twice in the Big Ten, but one was a surprising 31-13 win over the Gophers. However, Iowa has lost its last two trips to the Twin Cities at the hands of two 3-9 Minnesota teams. Something has to give for two teams desperately trying to get to the postseason. Both teams feature dedicated and reinvigorated rushing attacks as both teams rank in the top 25 nationally at over 240 yards on the ground per game. So, as usual, the outcome hinges on quarterback play. Jake Rudock has had his good and bad moments for Iowa, failing to top 200 yards in three straight games but tossing four touchdowns and no interceptions over the last two. Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week Mitch Leidner — and his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame — likely will get his second start of his career after a monster performance last week against San Jose State.
3. Northern Illinois (+3.5) at Purdue (Noon, BTN)
The Boilermakers have serious issues on offense, ranking last among BCS (automatic qualifying) conference teams and 123rd overall with just 246.0 yards per game. So for a team struggling to score points, stopping NIU’s star quarterback Jordan Lynch becomes imperative. The Huskies are averaging 516 yards per game and 6.4 yards per play on offense behind the dual-threat abilities of Lynch. After the Boilers allowed nearly 400 yards rushing last week to Wisconsin, signs aren’t pointing towards the upset. This would be a devastating Homecoming loss to the MAC for Darrell Hazell.
4. Miami-Ohio (+24.5) at Illinois (Noon, BTN)
A game with the winless Redhawks is a perfect spot for Illinois’ star power to shine. The Big Ten’s leading passer is quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (294.7 yards per game) and he should get back on track after completing just 36.0 percent of his passes in the loss to Washington. On defense, the league’s top tackler is linebacker Jonathan Brown (12.7 tackles per game) and he should be able to lead a unit capable of shutting down the worst offense in the FBS (149.3 yards per game, 125th).
Big Ten Week 5 Pivotal Players
1. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
The All-American linebacker has been making big plays for the Badgers for years but stopping the Buckeyes' versatile offensive attack might be his tallest order. He constantly disrupts opposing backfields and makes big special teams plays — he even completed a 23-yard pass on a fake punt against Arizona State. Borland has missed two of the last three meetings with Ohio State but he posted 10 tackles in the historic 2011 Hail Mary game. Fans can bet the original Honey Badger will be fired up for this trip to Columbus.
2. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
The hard-hitting linebacker was all over the field for the Buckeyes last year against Wisconsin. He registered 12 tackles, 3.0 tackles for a loss and forced a fumble in last year’s win over the Badgers. He’s right back at it again this season, topping the team in tackles (30). It will fall to the explosive junior to stop the three-headed monster in Wisconsin's backfield.
3. Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin
The lanky Badger signal-caller was excellent in the first two games of the year against lowly UMass and Tennessee Tech (6 total TD, 72.0 percent passing). But Stave hasn’t been nearly as sharp in the last two games, completing just 50 percent of his passes against Arizona State and failing to throw a TD against Purdue. Now, he wasn’t needed against the Boilermakers but will be needed in a hostile road environment. The Buckeyes' secondary is loaded with talent and fans can bet Urban Meyer will be loading up to stop the run. Stave’s ability to make clutch second-half throws on third downs will determine the outcome of this showdown.
4. Iowa’s linebackers
Regardless of who plays quarterback for Minnesota (all signs point to Mitch Leidner), the talented Hawkeye linebackers will be asked to play well on the road. Gopher signal-callers Mitch Leidner and Philip Nelson have combined for 472 yards rushing and eight touchdowns this season. Anthony Hitchens (9.3 tackles per game), Christian Kirksey (7.5) and James Morris (5.8) are all top-25 tacklers in the Big Ten and will be asked to contain the much-improved Gopher running game.
5. Ra’Shede Hageman, DL, Minnesota
The star defensive lineman has been stellar for the Gophers this season. In four games, Hageman has 16 total tackles, is leading the Big Ten with 5.5 for a loss, registered one sack, and has two blocked kicks. He had an extremely quiet game against the Hawkeyes last fall and will need to be ready to star against the burly and physical Iowa rushing attack.
Big Ten Week 5 Prediction Grid:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Wisconsin (+7) at Ohio St||Ohio St, 31-21||Ohio St, 34-24||Ohio St, 34-27||Ohio St, 35-28|
|Iowa (+1.5) at Minnesota||Minn., 31-27||Iowa, 24-20||Iowa, 27-24||Minn., 21-17|
|N. Illinois (-3.5) at Purdue||N. Illinois, 30-21||N. Illinois, 33-24||N. Illinois, 34-24||N. Illinois, 28-24|
|Miami-OH (+24.5) at Illinois||Illinois, 34-17||Illinois, 41-10||Illinois, 38-13||Illinois, 35-10|
It’s another light slate of games in the ACC for Week 5.
Six of the seven Saturday games in the conference feature a team favored by at least 10 points, with Virginia-Pittsburgh the only matchup in single digits.
The spotlight for Week 5 in the ACC will be on Thursday night. Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech is one of the key matchups every year in the Coastal Division, and this season’s game should have ACC title implications.
Outside of Thursday night’s game, it’s up to heavy underdogs like Boston College and Wake Forest to make this an interesting weekend in the conference.
Week 5 Previews and Predictions: Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
ACC Week 5 Game Power Rankings
1. Virginia Tech (+7) at Georgia Tech (Thursday, 7:30 ET, ESPN)
Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are the only two teams to represent the Coastal Division in the eight-year history of the ACC Championship. The winner of Thursday night’s game will have plenty of hurdles still to navigate in the next two months, but either the Yellow Jackets or Hokies will take an early lead for the Coastal title. The Yellow Jackets are already 2-0 in ACC play, scoring a key victory over North Carolina last week. Georgia Tech always has a solid rushing attack under coach Paul Johnson, but the defense and passing game have made progress this year. The Yellow Jackets are holding opponents to 11.3 points a game, while quarterback Vad Lee is tied for third in the ACC with seven touchdown tosses. Although Georgia Tech’s offense is generating 484.7 yards per game, Virginia Tech will be its toughest challenge. The Hokies are allowing just 3.6 yards per play and are limiting opponents to 233.3 yards per game. Virginia Tech’s defense might be the best in the ACC, but its offense continues to struggle. The Hokies are averaging only 4.7 yards per play and are scoring just 18 points a game against FBS competition. Quarterback Logan Thomas is off to a slow start, completing just 48.5 percent of his throws and tossing six picks. However, the Hokies have struggled to find the right mix on the offensive line and lack a No. 1 receiver.
2. Virginia (+6) at Pittsburgh (12:30 ET, Root Sports)
This game might not draw much interest nationally, but there’s some intrigue around the ACC on what happens Saturday in the Steel City. Pittsburgh lost its opener to Florida State but has rebounded with solid showings against Duke and New Mexico. Virginia played one of the toughest two-game stretches in the nation to start the year (BYU, Oregon) and easily handled VMI last Saturday. Neither team is expected to win the ACC, but this is an important game for positioning in the middle of the division. And it's a relatively even contest, as both teams matchup well in terms of strengths and weaknesses. The Panthers’ passing attack leads the ACC with an average of 289.7 yards per game, while Virginia’s secondary is holding opponents to 140 yards a contest. Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled in all three matchups this year, and the Cavaliers will hope to take the pressure off of quarterback David Watford with a strong effort on the ground. Despite just over 300 miles separating these two campuses, Pittsburgh and Virginia have played only five times, with the last matchup occurring in 2007.
3. East Carolina (+12) at North Carolina (12:30 ET, ACC Network)
In a bit of a surprise, North Carolina’s offense is off to a slow start this year. The Tar Heels averaged 485.6 yards per game in 2012 but rank 10th in the ACC in total offense after three games. Personnel losses on the offensive line and the departure of running back Giovani Bernard to the NFL have slowed the progress of this unit in 2013. Getting the offense back on track is the top priority for coach Larry Fedora this Saturday. The Tar Heels play at Virginia Tech next week, and after losing to Georgia Tech last Saturday, Fedora’s team needs to win to stay alive in the Coastal title picture. Even though the Pirates rank third in Conference USA in total defense, FAU and Virginia Tech’s offenses have struggled, and nose tackle Terry Williams has been suspended for this game. East Carolina gave Virginia Tech all it could handle two weeks ago, and the Pirates’ passing offense (269 ypg) will test a North Carolina secondary that is allowing 12.2 yards per completion. Quarterback Shane Carden is completing 74.5 percent of his throws, and running back Vintavious Cooper gives the offense some balance, averaging four yards per carry on 40 attempts this year. East Carolina should move the ball, but North Carolina has too much firepower on offense.
4. Florida State (-21.5) at Boston College (3:30 ET, ABC/ESPN2)
Since Boston College’s 28-21 victory in 2009, Florida State has won three in a row in this series by a combined score of 113-33. Despite improvement under first-year coach Steve Addazio, the Eagles will be challenged to keep Saturday’s game competitive. Behind redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, the Seminoles are averaging 52.3 points a game and defeated Pittsburgh by 28 points in the opener. Winston is completing 78.1 percent of his throws and should be able to take advantage of a Boston College secondary that ranks 10th in the ACC against the pass. The Eagles rank last in the ACC in total offense (5.1 yards per play) but are helped by an aggressive defense that has forced seven turnovers and eight sacks in three games. In order for Boston College to keep this one close into the fourth quarter, running back Andre Williams needs to have a big day against a Florida State run defense that ranks seventh in the ACC (3.4 yards per carry). Even if Williams has success, the Eagles need a perfect effort on both sides of the ball to knock off the Seminoles.
5. Wake Forest (+29) at Clemson (3:30 ET, ESPNU)
If the Demon Deacons can’t find a spark on offense, this matchup against Clemson could get ugly in a hurry. Wake Forest is averaging just 18 points a game against FBS opponents, largely due to an offensive line that has struggled to find continuity over the last two years. To help with the struggles up front, the Demon Deacons have implemented more option looks, but the rushing attack is still managing only 3.2 yards per carry. The Tigers were held to 26 points against NC State last Thursday, which was their fewest in an ACC contest since Nov. 19, 2011. The Demon Deacons are holding opponents to 15.8 points a game this season and rank second in the ACC with 11 forced turnovers. Clemson’s offense is too explosive to keep in check for all four quarters, but Wake Forest’s defense can help a struggling offense by continuing with its success forcing turnovers, as well as generating pressure on quarterback Tajh Boyd.
6. Miami (-19) at South Florida (12 ET, ESPNU)
In the first year under coach Willie Taggart, South Florida is off to a disappointing 0-3 start. The Bulls lost to FCS opponent McNeese State in the opener and have managed only 16 points in their last two games. Although South Florida is off to a rough start, the Bulls will be motivated to play their in-state rival. In last week’s scrimmage against Savannah State, the Hurricanes cruised to an easy 77-7 win, but quarterback Stephen Morris suffered an ankle injury and has been limited in practice. Morris is expected to play on Saturday. However, Miami may not need a huge performance from Morris, especially with USF allowing 160.3 yards per game on the ground. The Bulls have struggled on offense, committing eight turnovers and averaging only 12.3 points per game. If the Hurricanes can get ahead early, it should allow coach Al Golden to rest Morris and running back Duke Johnson, especially with back-to-back ACC showdowns against Georgia Tech and North Carolina up next.
7. Troy (+10.5) at Duke (3 ET, ESPN3)
It’s only Week 5, but Duke’s bowl hopes have faded after back-to-back losses. The Blue Devils don’t have many guaranteed victories on the remaining schedule, which makes Saturday’s non-conference affair against Troy a must-win situation. The Trojans will be a pesky opponent for coach David Cutcliffe’s team, as Troy averages 457 yards per game on offense and ranks 20th nationally with 310.5 passing yards per game. The Blue Devils are allowing 200 passing yards per game, but opponents are averaging 7.6 yards per pass and have scored 10 touchdowns against this secondary. The Trojans employ a two-quarterback system, which features Corey Robinson (the passer), and Deon Anthony (a runner). Troy has enough weapons to keep this game close, but its defense has to find a way to slow down Duke’s offense. The Trojans are allowing 421 yards per game and gave up 62 points in a loss to Mississippi State last Saturday. Duke quarterback Brandon Connette has filled in admirably for Anthony Boone, but he threw four picks in last week’s game against Pittsburgh. Troy’s struggling defense should help Connette get back on track.
8. Central Michigan (+23.5) at NC State (3:30 ET, ESPN3)
Saturday’s game against Central Michigan will be NC State’s fourth consecutive home contest to start the season. The Wolfpack hung tough against Clemson last Thursday but lacked the offensive firepower to pull off the upset. The Chippewas could be the perfect medicine for NC State’s offense, as they are allowing 37.2 points a game and 6.1 yards per play. The Wolfpack won’t have Brandon Mitchell back under center this week, and the matchup with Central Michigan should give quarterbacks Pete Thomas and Bryant Shirreffs a chance to build some confidence before next week’s ACC road test at Wake Forest. These two teams have met only once, with NC State winning 38-24 in 2011.
ACC Week 5 Pivotal Players
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Panthers held opponents to only 136.4 rushing yards per game last season, but this unit has struggled in 2013. After three opponents, Pittsburgh ranks 13th in the ACC against the run, allowing 194 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry. Virginia’s offense relies heavily on its rushing attack, which will test the Panthers’ front seven on Saturday. Donald is one of college football’s top defensive tackles, and he needs to dominate the line of scrimmage against the Cavaliers.
Steven Chase/Dylan Intemann, OT, Wake Forest
It’s a tall order to ask Wake Forest’s defense to keep Clemson in check for all four quarters. The Demon Deacons will have to play their best game of the season to knock off the Tigers, which means the offense has to step up after generating only 54 points in three games against FBS competition. Clemson’s front four has been active this year, ranking third in the ACC with 12 sacks. Wake Forest’s line has allowed nine through four games. In order for the Demon Deacons to move the ball on offense, Chase and Intemann have to keep Clemson defensive ends Vic Beasley and Corey Crawford away from quarterback Tanner Price.
Vad Lee, QB, Georgia Tech
The success of Georgia Tech’s offense rests heavily on Lee’s shoulders. In his first year as a starter, the sophomore has rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns, while passing for seven touchdowns and 418 yards. Virginia Tech owns one of the top defenses in the nation, forcing 10 turnovers and 16 sacks through the first four weeks. The Yellow Jackets won’t have much margin for error against this defense, and Lee needs to get the option offense on track, while not turning the ball over to an opportunistic Hokie defense.
Jack Tyler, LB, Virginia Tech
In last year’s meeting between Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, Tyler was all over the field, recording 17 tackles, with one going for a loss. His performance was a big reason why the Yellow Jackets managed only 192 rushing yards and mustered only 17 points. The senior is one of the ACC’s top linebackers and whether he’s spying Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee or stuffing the inside running plays against David Sims or Zach Laskey, Tyler will play a key role in Virginia Tech’s defensive gameplan on Thursday night.
Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
If Boston College has any hope of beating Florida State, Williams needs to have a big game. The senior leads the ACC with an average of 118.7 rushing yards per game. Florida State ranks seventh in the ACC against the run, with opponents managing 3.4 yards per rush. Nevada and Pittsburgh had some success early on the ground against the Seminoles, and the Eagles need at least 120 yards from Williams on Saturday.
ACC Week 5 Predictions
|Game||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Va. Tech (+7) at Ga. Tech||Ga. Tech 28-14||Ga. Tech 27-13||Ga. Tech 24-20||Ga. Tech 31-21|
|Miami (-19) at South Florida||Miami 35-7||Miami 31-13||Miami 38-10||Miami 41-17|
|Virginia (+6) at Pittsburgh||Pitt 28-10||Pitt 34-24||Pitt 31-24||Pitt 28-20|
|East Carolina (+12) at North Carolina||UNC 35-24||UNC 40-24||UNC 38-24||UNC 29-13|
|Troy (+10.5) at Duke||Duke 35-14||Duke 31-24||Duke 41-27||Duke 37-20|
|Florida State (-21.5) at Boston College||FSU 42-10||FSU 45-17||FSU 41-13||FSU 31-7|
|Wake Forest (+29) at Clemson||Clemson 38-10||Clemson 38-13||Clemson 45-17||Clemson 38-14|
|Central Michigan (+23.5) at NC State||NC State 35-13||NC State 30-10||NC State 34-13||NC State 41-10|
Great scorers find a way to get the job done.
These aren’t one-dimensional players who take 3-pointers or jump shots. These are the players you want to have the ball in their hands when the game is on the line.
They’ll create their own shot, they’ll take a jumper, they’ll drive to the basket or they’ll get to free throw line.
Leading the way in our superlatives in this category is Russ Smith. The Louisville guard still plays wild at times on both ends of the court, but those tendencies have been channeled to make him one of the most dynamic and entertaining players in the country for 2013-14. A player not normally linked with efficiency, he was named the kenpom.com Player of the Year for his offensive metrics and role in the Cardinals’ defense.
Our list of the nation’s best scorers is one in a series of superlatives to prepare you for the 2013-14 season. Each list and more can be found in the the Athlon Sports College Basketball 2013-14 Preseason Annual . The magazine hits newsstands this week with previews for every team in every conference, plus exclusive Q&As with Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Louisville’s Russ Smith and UCLA’s Kyle Anderson.
Previous: Shooters | Next: Slashers
|2013-14 Superlatives: Top Scorers|
|1||Russ Smith, Louisville|
Smith could make the case as the nation’s most valuable players last season and one of the most improved. He became more involved in the offense yet his shooting efficiency numbers went up. He’s also adept at getting to the free throw line, shooting 80.4 percent.
|2||Tyler Haws, BYU|
Haws returned from an LDS mission to average 21.7 points per game. He may need to put up Jimmer-like numbers this season as BYU will have a depleted roster. A scary thought: This is the first time he’s gone through a full offseason program.
|3||Semaj Christon, Xavier|
Christon is primed to break out on the national scene after playing through an elbow injury for a subpar Xavier team last season. He still averaged 15.2 points and 4.6 assists. You’ll get to know him thanks to a year of experience and Big East exposure.
|4||Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati|
Kilpatrick is a rarity in college basketball: The fifth-year senior. His experience will be an asset for the Bearcats, as will his scoring touch. He averaged 17 points per game, but they weren’t terribly efficient (14.4 field goal attempts per game).
|5||Jordan Adams, UCLA|
His injury late in the season was considered devastating to the Bruins’ postseason hopes. Despite Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson on the roster, Adams may have been the most valuable freshman, averaging 15.3 points per game.
|6||Markel Brown, Oklahoma State|
Brown started out as a dunker, but he made major strides last season to become a more complete scorer. The senior averaged 15.3 points, raising his efficiency numbers across the board.
|7||Bryce Cotton, Providence|
A good enough scorer to give a dogged defender like Russ Smith fits, Cotton led the Big East at 19.7 points per game. He started his season as the point guard but was too valuable a scorer to be a distributor.
|8||C.J. Wilcox, Washington|
Wilcox may be the best pure shooter in the Pac-12 and will be the key player on a team looking to return to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. More consistent point guard play will help.
|9||Shabazz Napier, Connecticut|
Napier is the most valuable member of one of the nation’s best backcourts. A bit player on UConn’s 2011 national championship team, Napier showed plenty of clutch play as a junior when he averaged 17.1 points per game.
|10||Tim Frazier, Penn State|
Winning basketball games isn’t easy for Penn State, particularly when the Nittany Lions’ best player goes down with a Achilles’ injury in November. Frazier returns this season after averaging 18.8 points and 6.2 assists in his last healthy season.
OTHER SCORER SUPERLATIVES
Key veteran: Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Super sophomore: Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
Breakout to watch: D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
NIT to the big time: Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
The great start to the 2013 season continues for the Miami Hurricanes. During Miami's 77-7 win against Savannah State, the Hurricane faithful showed they can be just off their creative side by parodying Ylvis's "The Fox", which has become the internet's newest viral music video. The song was tweaked to include references to each of the ACC teams' mascots, as well as, Miami's Sebastian the Ibis.
The Buckeyes will bring back their Nike Rivalry uniforms, which featured chrome helmets and green buckeye stickers. Ohio State first showcased the Rivalry jerseys last year against Michigan where the clinched a perfect 12-0 season with a 26-21 victory. It has been announced that the Buckeyes will go with the rivalry look at home once more this season. Thoughts are that it will be Penn State.
It was also revealed that the Rivalry uniforms will be worn once again versus the Michigan Wolverines, athough Nike has made the Buckeyes a white road version of the Rivalry jersey for their trek up north.
Can confirm that Ohio State will be wearing Nike Rivalry uniforms against Wisconsin and Michigan.— Andrew Lind (@LindLGHL) September 25, 2013
One more day until Week 5 starts.
Contact us on twitter with a link or a tip we should include each day. (@AthlonSteven)
College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Wednesday, September 25th
Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is off to a fast start this year - and there was no guarantee he would be the starter after fall practice.
Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage gets highlighted for his Week 4 performance against Duke.
This story isn't college football related, but check out Lost Lettermen's story of an Auburn lacrosse player who reenacted Grand Theft Auto.
Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche could return to the lineup against Alabama.
Alabama's secondary remains a work in progress.
Florida State safety Tyler Hunter suffered a neck injury against Bethune-Cookman.
Here are five tough questions and five answers for Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio.
Ole Miss is expected to pickup a transfer from UCLA.
Is Zach Mettenberger or Aaron Murray a better pro prospect?
Minnesota is not expected to have quarterback Philip Nelson back from injury this Saturday.
Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum is close to returning.
USC coach Lane Kiffin expects quarterback Cody Kessler and receiver Marqise Lee to play on Saturday, after both players suffered injuries in Week 4.
TCU coach Gary Patterson has made a few moves to spark the offense.
Even though FIU coach Ron Turner is struggling, it doesn't appear the first-year coach is in any danger.
Kent State running back Dri Archer is expected to return to action against Western Michigan.
UCLA is ready to begin fundraising for a new football facility.
To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its Sprint Cup Series driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s 9-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned drivers strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.
Next: AAA 400 (Dover International Speedway)
Race: 400 laps, 400 miles (1-mile oval)
June 2013 Winner: Tony Stewart
Jimmie Johnson Look at that No. 48 Chevrolet, with driver Jimmie Johnson, silently waiting in the wings of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. After two races, he's third behind Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch and ready to pounce, just 18 points back after the front two have stolen all of the playoff headlines. Don't be surprised when it's Johnson up front late in the going Sunday afternoon at Dover International Speedway. Remember, it was Johnson in June who looked destined to notch another win at Dover before NASCAR ruled he jumped a late restart. The cost? Johnson finished 17th after leading 143 laps and missed out on his eighth career Dover win.
Why fight it? Matt Kenseth is two-for-two in the Chase. Heck, he's Jimmie Johnson-ing this thing. You have to expect that to continue at Dover — a track where Kenseth's statistics far outrank those at Chicagoland Speedway or New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Kenseth is a two-time Dover winner and has 13 top-5 finishes in 29 starts. Kenseth's average running position at Dover in the last 17 races ranks as the second-best in the series (we've already listed the top performer) and he's returning to a track where he led 29 laps in June before his engine expired.
Also consider: Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick
Kyle Busch blew an engine at Dover in the spring 2012 race, and that was significant for more than just being another in a long list of Toyota-built issues. That 29th-place finish in 2012 marked the first time since the fall of 2009 that Busch had finished worse than sixth at Dover. In the two Dover races since, Busch has gotten back on track. He was seventh last fall (and would have won without a finish determined by fuel mileage) and ran fourth in June. Oh, and Busch has led 452 of the last 800 laps at Dover. He's a no-brainer start for Sunday.
Greg BiffleThe most unheralded finish in Sunday's race in Loudon was Greg Biffle's third-place run. Biffle had the second fewest top-5 finishes among Chase-eligible drivers before the playoffs began, and used the run to jump to fifth in the standings. He may be able to pair the solid finish with another at Dover where he's been a consistent performer. By career average finish, the Monster Mile is Biffle's fourth-best track — a measure he's proven with two wins and six top-5s. Biffle hasn't been as solid at Dover of late, finishing 15th in June. But he was also 15th in the first NHMS race of the season before his third-place run in the return.
Carl Edwards, like most Roush-Fenway Racing drivers, likes Dover. Like his teammate Biffle, the one-mile track counts as Edwards' fourth best in terms of career average finish. Edwards is also a former winner at Dover, and during his near-miss season in 2011 he led 233 laps in the two Dover races. Edwards was an average 14th at Dover back in June, but he's hard to pass up for Sunday's race among B-list drivers thanks to a career average running position at the track of 10.3. That's good enough for third-best among all active drivers.
Juan Pablo MontoyaUndoubtedly, Juan Pablo Montoya doesn't seem like much of a favorite at Dover. His average running position at the track is quite low among the B-list types (19.7). He's finished worse than 22nd at Dover in five of the last seven races at the track. But Montoya, destined for a return to IndyCar next season after his contract with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing wasn't renewed, was just a couple of laps from winning at Dover earlier this season. A lot went right to get him a second-place finish in July, but it didn't happen with a poor handling car. Combine that result with his third-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway just five weeks ago, and Montoya may be the lucky pick for a team scrapping the barrel for results from drivers with plenty of fantasy starts left.
Also consider: Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Stenhouse quietly ended his two-race burst of top-10 finishes last week with a 24th-place run at NHMS, but that shouldn't leave you wondering if he's back to the often-struggling Stenhouse of early 2013. If you've got starts left for the rookie at this point, he's still the best bet available among C-list competitors. Consider, too, that Stenhouse is making his third-career Dover start this weekend after successful outings of 12th and 13th in his first two. If Stenhouse can work out a similar finish on Sunday, that'll be plenty good for the toughest list to pick in 2013.
The June Dover race brought an unusual number of C-list drivers into the race's top 25 (five in all) and the second-best among them was Casey Mears. Mears was 16th that day, and was actually statistically better throughout the race than Stenhouse who finished just ahead of him. Mears' average running position was 17th, one spot ahead of Stenhouse. That average position number was also Mears' second best of the season (he averaged 16th at the July Daytona race) to date.
Also consider: David Ragan, Ryan Truex
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
No. 6 LSU visits No. 9 Georgia on Saturday in what is the biggest game of college football's Week 5 slate. Each team has national championship aspirations, and this is a critical game for both teams moving towards Atlanta. Les Miles and Mark Richt are two of the winningest active SEC coaches, and this weekend their paths will cross in a big way.
Here are the 10 stats you need to know about the matchup:
2-2: Les Miles and Mark Richt head-to-head record
Miles and Richt have faced each other just four times in their esteemed careers, all four of which coming in the SEC. The two have met twice in the regular season with Richt winning a shootout 52-38 in Baton Rouge in 2008 and LSU returning the favor 20-13 in Athens in '09. The other two meetings took place in Atlanta in the SEC Championship game. Richt and the Dawgs won the 2005 SEC title with ease 34-14 while Miles’ Tigers dominated 42-10 to win the conference title in '11. This is clearly a rubber match of sorts for these two quality coaches.
9-7: Les Miles' record against the SEC East
Miles is 48-17 all-time in SEC play, including the win over Auburn last weekend. Seven of those 17 losses have come against the SEC East. Under Miles, LSU is 4-4 against the Florida Gators, split with Kentucky and Georgia (1-1), beat South Carolina once and is 2-1 against the Tennessee Volunteers. On top of his 9-7 record with the East in the regular season, Miles is 2-1 in SEC Championship Games against the East (2005, '07, '11).
16-12-1: LSU’s all-time series lead over Georgia
LSU leads the all-time series with Georgia, winning 16 times to the Bulldogs 12 with one 13-13 tie in 1950. These two have played just six times in the regular season since the divisional split in 1992 with UGA winning four of those six. Strangely, these two played just twice (1978-79) between 1953 and 1986 — a void that will never happen again between two conference foes.
55th: Highest-rated offense LSU has faced this year
The LSU defense has always been salty under Miles and John Chavis’ leadership. The Tigers are ranked 24th nationally with 310.0 yards allowed per game at a tidy 4.6 yards per play. That said, Auburn’s 55th-ranked offense is the best unit the Bayou Bengals have faced in 2013. UAB currently ranks 69th in total offense, TCU is 94th and Kent State is 120th. It is safe to say that Aaron Murray and Georgia will easily be the toughest offense LSU has faced all season. More on that in a second…
7.8: Offensive yards per play by Georgia
The Dawgs are sixth in the nation — trailing only Texas A&M in the SEC — with 574 yards of offense per game. They rank seventh nationally at 7.8 yards per play this season after leading the nation in yards per play in 2012 (7.1 ypp). Georgia averaged 7.8 yards per play against Clemson (70 plays, 545 yards) and 7.1 yards per play against South Carolina (76 plays, 536 yards). Both of those would have led the nation a year ago.
7.5: Offensive yards per play by LSU
Georgia’s offense is outstanding but LSU’s unit has been nearly as effective through the first month of the season. LSU ranks just 33rd in total offense (480.3 ypg) but is nearly as efficient as the Bulldogs per play, averaging 7.5 yards per snap this fall. That is ninth nationally and well ahead of offensive teams like UCLA, Ohio State, and Oklahoma State.
116.6: Zach Mettenberger's passer rating in conference play in 2012
The biggest turn around for LSU this season will be the development of quarterback Zach Mettenberger. He was 84th nationally among all quarterbacks in conference play with a 116.6 rating last season. He was ahead of only Missouri’s James Franklin in SEC play with a 54.9-percent completion rate, 205.3 yards passing per game and just five touchdowns in eight SEC games. After four games (one SEC) under the tutelage of Cam Cameron, Mettenberger is sixth nationally in passing efficiency (193.6) with a 64.8 completion percentage and 256.5 yards per game. That said, his only interception of the season came last week against Auburn and he posted his lowest yardage total (229) of the year.
197.5: All-purpose yards per game by Odell Beckham Jr.
A big reason why Mettenberger and Cameron have been successful through the air has been the play of LSU’s wide receivers. Odell Beckham Jr., in particular, has been dynamic for the Tigers by leading the SEC in all-purpose yards with nearly 200 yards per game. He has 389 receiving yards, 33 rushing yards, 78 punt return yards and 190 kick return yards with five total touchdowns in four games. Packaged with Jarvis Landry, who has 24 catches for 364 yards and six touchdowns, the Bayou Bengals may boast the best WR tandem in the SEC. No one else on the team has more than three catches.
242.7: Rushing yards per game for Todd Gurley and Jeremy Hill
Todd Gurley ranks first in the SEC and 11th nationally with 125.7 yards rushing per game. Jeremy Hill ranks third in the SEC and 18th nationally with 117.0 yards rushing per game. Even more impressive, Gurley is averaging a healthy 6.0 yards per carry while Hill is posting an astounding 8.4-yard clip. The duo might be the two of the most physically gifted runners in the nation and have combined for 11 total touchdowns in 2013.
39.2%: Georgia’s third-down conversion rate
For all of their offensive prowess and one big play to Justin Scott-Wesley, the Bulldogs have not been very good on third downs this fall. Georgia has converted just 16-of-41 attempts, ranking 76th nationally and 11th in the SEC — the 16 third-down conversions rank 96th nationally. LSU has been much better on the critical down, ranking 10th nationally with a 56.6-percent rate on third downs (26-of-46).
The beauty of sports, in particular college football, lies in their complete unpredictability and reality TV-like drama.
With a horrid week of action behind us, college football fans can look forward to a Week 5 that features a dozen great matchups. Huge divisional games in the Pac-12 South, Big Ten Leaders, SEC West and ACC Coastal highlight what could be the best weekend of the year. And then there's that exciting (maybe, too exciting) game going down in Athens, Ga. Kick back and enjoy, folks.
Note: The point of this column is to have some fun and make some outlandish predictions. Please react accordingly.
Ole Miss will lose by more than three touchdowns
The Rebels have beaten Alabama only twice since 1988 and are 16.5-point underdogs to the Crimson Tide. Suggesting that the No. 1 team in the nation will win at home over a team barely ranked in the top 25 isn’t close to outrageous. However, Ole Miss is much improved and appears better suited to battle with Nick Saban than ever before. That said, the Rebels have lost the last four meetings — since Saban won his first BCS title at Bama — by an average of 24 points per game (130-34).
Arkansas will rush for 300 yards and lose
Under Bret Bielema, the Razorbacks have quickly become one of the nation’s best running teams. The Hogs rank third in the SEC and 24th nationally at 246.0 yards per game,and feature the SEC’s No. 2 rusher in freshman Alex Collins. Meanwhile, Texas A&M is dead last in the league in total defense after allowing 475.3 yards per game over the first four contests. Arkansas will run the ball effectively this weekend but it won’t matter because it won’t be able to stop Johnny Manziel. He torched the Hogs defense for 453 yards passing and 104 yards rushing in last year’s 58-10 loss.
Cal and Oregon will run 200 offensive plays
Sonny Dykes’ Golden Bears are No. 2 in the nation in offensive plays per game with 94.6 snaps per game. The Ducks have been in the top 11 nationally in total plays run in each of the last three seasons. In 2013, Oregon has run 72.0 plays per game without being tested in three games. This game features two of the nation's most productive quarterbacks in Jared Goff (428.0 ypg, No. 1) and Marcus Mariota (383.7 ypg, No. 5). Needless to say, both defenses better be in shape.
Zach Mettenberger will be more efficient than Aaron Murray
The former teammates in Athens will face each other for the first time since standing on the same Georgia practice field in 2009. Murray, as expected, has been excellent this season, ranking first in the SEC in passer rating (201.78). But the LSU signal-caller has been a huge surprise as the SEC’s No. 2 (193.61) passer. Mettenberger, who transferred to LSU from UGA by way of junior college, has fewer interceptions and more touchdowns in roughly the same amount of pass attempts (91 to Murray’s 82). And it’s the Bulldogs defense that has some question marks, not LSU’s.
Jameis Winston will not throw an incompletion
Through three career games, Winston has tossed just 14 incompletions and accounted for 10 total touchdowns. On the road against a Boston College defense that made USC's Cody Kessler look like Joe Montana, Winston may not see any of his passes hit the ground. The Seminoles' signal-caller is second nationally in passing efficiency (210.49) while the Eagles sit at 91st in pass efficiency defense.
Washington State will rush for negative yards
If you are a Cougars fan, you have heard those words entirely too much. Sixteen times an FBS team rushed for negative yardage last year and Wazzu was responsible for four of them (and one other game in which it gained one yard). Meanwhile, the two best defensive performances against the run last year came from Stanford — minus-21 yards against Colorado and minus-18 yards against, you guessed it, Washington State. Mike Leach’s team has improved only mildly from last year, ranking 121st nationally in rushing offense thus far in 2013 (63.0 yards per game). Three weeks ago, Washington State rushed for seven yards on 22 carries against USC.
Paul Richardson and Brandin Cooks will catch 30 passes
Four players in the nation are averaging more than 10 receptions per game, and two will be on the same field in Corvallis on Saturday. Oregon State’s Cooks is leading the nation by a wide margin with 43 receptions (10.8/game) while Colorado’s Richardson is No. 2 with 10.5 receptions per game. Only Fresno State’s Devante Adams (10.3) and SMU’s Darius Joseph (10.3) top the double-digit reception mark each game. To top it all off, Richardson and Cooks are No. 1 (208.5 ypg) and No. 2 (159.8 ypg) in receiving yards per game as well. Both quarterbacks should have a field day in this one, so take the over (60.5).
Even though Virginia Tech has been one of the ACC’s most consistent programs over the last 10 years, there’s some uneasiness surrounding Frank Beamer’s team in 2013.
The Hokies finished 7-6 last season, which was the program’s first year under eight wins since 1997. Under Beamer, Virginia Tech has recorded a winning record in every season since 1993. Prior to 1993, the Hokies were just 24-40-2 under Beamer’s watch.
Virginia Tech has played in 26 bowl games during its program history, with 20 coming during Beamer’s tenure. Of course, there are more bowl games in 2013 than there were in 1993, but that statistic shows how much of an impact Beamer has had for Virginia Tech.
Is this program in decline or was 2012 just a one-year blip? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Analyzing Frank Beamer's Tenure at Virginia Tech
Win/Loss Record over the last 11 seasons
|2002||10-4||3-4||4th Big East|
|2003||8-5||4-3||4th Big East|
Virginia Tech’s win-loss record over the last 10 years has been solid. The Hokies have just two seasons under 10 wins during that span and played in five BCS bowls.
Virginia Tech also has finished in the top 25 of the Associated Press poll eight out of the last nine years, including a 10th place finish in 2009.
Something else to consider during Virginia Tech’s run in the Coastal: Miami. The Hurricanes have yet to win the Coastal Division and have not won more than nine games since 2003. Miami has significantly underachieved based on its program potential, which has helped the Hokies dominate the Coastal in recent years.
There’s room for both programs at the top of the Coastal, but Miami’s recent improvement under third-year coach Al Golden will have an impact on the rest of the teams in the division.
The win total history shows the program is trending down slightly, as the 7-6 mark featured three victories in overtime.
* Ranks using 247sports.com
|Year||National Rank||Conference Rank||5* Signed||4* Signed|
|2014||21st (as of Sept. 24)||5th||0||3|
So far, Virginia Tech’s 7-6 record isn’t having a huge impact on recruiting. Of course, it’s only September, so it’s hard to judge where the Hokies will finish by signing day. However, the program’s recruiting classes ranked 21st in 2012 and '13, which was the second-highest ranking in the last seven years.
The amount of five-star and four-star prospects signed by Beamer and his staff has stayed about the same, as Virginia Tech has reeled in two five-star prospects in 2012-13, compared to one from 2009-11.
Has Virginia and fourth-year coach Mike London had any impact on Virginia Tech’s recruiting? In terms of top-10 prospects in the state of Virginia, the Hokies signed three in the 2010, '12 and '13 class. In that span, the Cavaliers signed five in 2011, four in '12 and two in '13. Virginia has a slight edge within the state’s top-10 prospects, but the bigger issue for Virginia Tech is the 2011 class, which included zero of the state’s top-10 prospects.
What to make of the recruiting data? Virginia Tech hasn’t slipped in the national ranks and has finished in the top four or five of the ACC in five out of the last six years. The Hokies aren’t bringing in elite talent, but Beamer and his staff continue to maintain a solid pace on the recruiting trail.
Performance on Offense
|Year||Rush||Pass||Total||Scoring||Yards Per Play|
The offensive numbers for Virginia Tech are not particularly impressive. The Hokies finished 35th nationally in total offense in 2011 but have regressed to 82nd in '12 and 102nd so far in '13. The offense has also watched its yards per play decline for three straight years, including a 4.7 mark thus far in 2013.
The rushing attack has been up and down, but nowhere near as bad as the passing offense. Virginia Tech has not finished higher than 64th nationally in passing offense since 2001, and the Hokies have five finishes of 90th or worse.
Offensive style is a big part of Virginia Tech’s statistics, but it’s clear this offense needs to be more aggressive and can use more help from its passing attack.
Beamer has tried to jumpstart the offense by changing coordinators, but Bryan Stinespring and Mike O’Cain had similar success. And new play-caller Scot Loeffler? Needless to say, that hire didn’t inspire much confidence the offense can turn things around in 2013.
Virginia Tech isn’t the best job in the ACC, but it’s among the top 25-30 in the nation. The Hokies have experienced a tremendous amount of success under Beamer, and the program is only one season removed from a BCS bowl.
As long as Beamer is on the sidelines at Virginia Tech, the formula for success will rely heavily on a strong defense, while the offense does just enough to win games. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is one of the best in the nation, and the Hokies have one of the best defenses in the ACC in 2013.
However, a struggling offense isn’t getting much better, and the Coastal Division is improving. Miami is back in the top 25, and North Carolina seems to be trending in the right direction under Larry Fedora. The addition of Pittsburgh only adds to the competition in the Coastal.
While the stats don’t clearly show a decline, it’s clear Virginia Tech is not the same program that went 22-6 from 2010-11.
Beamer isn’t in any danger of being on the hot seat, but the 2013 and '14 seasons will be critical. Can Virginia Tech return to being an ACC power? Or are the Hokies in danger of slipping like Florida State did in the 2000s or what Texas is going through now?
Perhaps traveling a long way is an asset toward becoming a top shooter in college basketball.
That’s the trend for the year, it seems.
Senior Joe Harris arrived at Virginia from Chelan, Wash., to become a 41-percent shooter in his career with the Cavaliers. And Marshall Henderson, provided he plays this season, remains a well-traveled 3-point threat after moving from a Texas high school to Utah to Ole Miss.
Others have a Canadian flair. Four of the top 10 shooters on our list come from our neighbors from the North. Nik Stauskas (Michigan), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga) and Brady Heslip (Baylor) all come from Ontario while Olivier Hanlan (Boston College) is from Quebec.
Our list of the nation’s best shooters is the first in a series of superlatives to prepare you for the 2013-14 season. Each list and more can be found in the the Athlon Sports College Basketball 2013-14 Preseason Annual . The magazine hits newsstands this week with previews for every team in every conference, plus exclusive Q&As with Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Louisville’s Russ Smith and UCLA’s Kyle Anderson.
Previous: Floor Leaders | Next: Scorers
|2013-14 Superlatives: Top Shooters|
|1||Joe Harris, Virginia|
Before tailing off at the end of the season, Harris was shooting 50.3 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range. With extra help this season, that Cavaliers won’t need him to take a dozen shots a game.
|2||Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss|
The combustable Henderson attempted more 3-pointers than five teams and 34 more than any other player. Henderson wasn’t particularly efficient (35 percent), but his shooting helped transform the Rebels’ season. Can he do it again?
|3||Nik Stauskas, Michigan|
Like many 3-point shooters, Stauskas heated up and cooled down through the season, but when he was on, he was dangerous. In the Elite Eight against Florida, Stauskas went 6-of-6 from beyond the arc. The Canadian shot 44 percent from 3 during his freshman season.
|4||Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga|
Pangos (and fellow backcourt mate Gary Bell Jr.) will need to adjust to playing on a team where the offense doesn’t flow through big man Kelly Olynyk. Pangos has been remarkably consistent from 3-point range, averaging 40.8 percent from long range in two seasons.
|5||Gary Harris, Michigan State|
A projected NBA lottery pick, Harris surprised many when he elected to return to school. He shot 41.1 percent from long range, but he should become a more complete guard as sophomore after shoulder troubles limited last season.
|6||Olivier Hanlan, Boston College|
The ACC Freshman of the Year is a perfect fit in what Steve Donahue wants to accomplish at Boston College. He’ll have plenty of momentum heading into the season by going 14 of 18 from the field and 8 of 10 from 3-point range in the ACC Tournament.
|7||Luke Hancock, Louisville|
The hero of the Cardinals’ national championship run, Hancock made 15 of 26 3-pointers in the final eight games. If not for a slow start last season, he easily would have been a 40-percent 3-point shooter for the season.
|8||Jabari Brown, Missouri|
Brown became eligible in December after his transfer from Oregon last season to contribute 13.7 points per game a 36.6-percent shooting from 3-point range.
|9||Anthony Drmic, Boise State|
Drmic helped to lead the Broncos’ prolific backcourt along with Derrick Marks. Drmic can penetrate, but he also made 80 of 204 3-pointers on the way to a team-leading 17.7 points per game.
|10||Brady Heslip, Baylor|
Heslip transferred from Boston College but will be one of the best 3-point shooters in Baylor history. Heslip is a 42.1-percent career shooter on more than 200 attempts each season at Baylor.
OTHER SHOOTER SUPERLATIVES
Breakout to watch: Kellen Dunham, Butler
Mid-major star: Travis Bader, Oakland
Transfer to watch: Coron Williams, Wake Forest (from Robert Morris)
NCAA Tourney hero: Ron Baker, Wichita State
Seventh-year senior: Ben Brust, Wisconsin
The news coming out of Coral Gables is that starting QB Stephen Morris, who left Saturday's game against Savannah State in the first quarter with an ankle injury, will be ready to play this week. Morris described his ankle as feeling good and seemed confident that he would be suiting up for the team's trip to Tampa. Although an ankle sprain was feared, head coach Al Golden called the injury a bone bruise.
UM quarterback Stephen Morris should play Saturday vs. USF http://t.co/Ykb8Nuwm6I— Miami Herald Sports (@HeraldSports) September 23, 2013
For a Miami team that is off to a 3-0 start and in the middle of a program resurgence, the handling of this injury will be crucial. It is unlikely Al Golden will keep Morris in for the entire game against the 0-3 Bulls. Ryan Williams has proved a capable backup and the Hurricanes will want to make sure Morris is completely healthy before they enter conference play for the rest of the season.
At this point, head coach Butch Jones would take volunteers for his starting quarterback position.
Unfortunately, he will have to settle for Volunteers as the Tennessee quarterback carousel continues to spin with Jones' announcement that Nathan Peterman will be out at least a month after he underwent hand surgery.
Peterman's reign at the top of the depth chart was short-lived after he had been promoted to replace the struggling Justin Worley. Peterman injured his hand in his first career start against Florida, a 31-17 game in which he completed four of 11 passes for five yards and two interceptions. Worley came in for Peterman following the injury and didn't fare much better, completing 10 of 23 passes for 149 yards. If the junior Worley struggles, Jones could hand the baton to either one of his two true freshman, Joshua Dobbs or Riley Ferguson. The two will share the backup position will Peterman remains sidelined.
Tennessee should have things easier this week welcoming in South Alabama, but it's quite clear that the uncertainty at quarterback position is far from over in Knoxville.
Mark Martin has competed in 875 races at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series level. He won 40 of those. He turns 55 years old in 2014 and while his seemingly endless production has provided multiple teams — the now-defunct Ginn Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Michael Waltrip Racing and, now, Stewart-Haas Racing — with value, his Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) this season stands at a replacement-level 0.643, the worst season-long mark of his 30-year career.
Is it over? Has the value diminished?
The longevity we’ve seen from him is practically unparalleled in sports, but eventually we will see the day when he can no longer produce admirable results. The good news for Martin fans is that this Sunday’s race at Dover shouldn’t be that day.
3.865 In PEER specific to Dover, Martin ranks fourth (3.865 PEER) among all Cup Series drivers on the concrete speedway.
Though he hasn’t won at the track since 2004 (the Gen-4 era), he has earned eight top-10 finishes in the 13 races since the CoT’s inception. He also happens to be stepping into a No. 14 car for Stewart-Haas that won at Dover with the fast-closing Tony Stewart in the spring. Martin won’t have the win expectancy of, say, Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth, but his past numbers suggest he could be a king among the non-Chasers.
For a driver who is unsure of his 2014 job prospects, it could be a day that extends his stay in the sport. Like Martin, there are other drivers looking at Dover as a potential audition site for a new job next season.
227 Martin Truex’s 227 laps led at Dover ranks as the sixth-most among all drivers dating back to 2007.
A native of nearby Mayetta, N.J., Truex has enjoyed his share of success on the Monster Mile, compiling a 1.923 PEER (ranks 10th out of 52 drivers) and a win, his first in the Cup Series, which came in 2007. It’s a handy track for him to come to, considering his sponsor announced last week it wouldn’t return to Michael Waltrip Racing following the post-Richmond penalties. He has been on something of a tear in the last four races this season, with three top-10 finishes — he led 98 laps last weekend at New Hampshire — and the best PEER (3.875) among non-Chasers in that time frame. With no sponsorship for 2014 and permission to seek other rides, Truex is driving his price up as a potential free agent. His pay grade could rise with another swell run at Dover.
23.9 David Ragan, with two wildly different race teams, has averaged a disappointing 23.9-place finish in 14 Cup Series starts at Dover.
That includes 11 races under the Roush Fenway Racing banner in which the best Monster Mile finish he could muster was a 14th-place effort in 2007. Currently in Year 2 at underfunded Front Row Motorsports, Ragan would undoubtedly like to leap back into a ride with a more relevant race team. His -0.346 PEER at Dover doesn’t exactly bode well for an audition; however, he did finish 22nd in the spring race, about four positions better than his average finish this season (25.8).
14.3% The No. 30 Swan Racing team, with former driver David Stremme and current crew chief Steve Lane, finished in the top half of the field 14.3 percent of the time in 21 races together this season.
This, or their 29.8 average finish, is believed to be the bar in which one of the young whippersnappers — Kevin Swindell was in the car last weekend, while Cole Whitt takes the reins at Dover — are expected to clear in this 10-race tryout period team owner Brandon Davis is giving. Whitt has a good shot of out-producing Stremme at Dover, considering his predecessor’s PEER in nine races on the high-banked mile (-0.583) ranks 51st out of 52 drivers with three or more starts in the Gen-5/Gen-6 era. Only Kyle Petty (-0.667) is a less productive Dover driver than Stremme.
6 of 3+ Dating back to the first NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway this season, Sam Hornish Jr. has amassed six finishes of third or better in the last 10 races.
The Penske Racing driver is both on the hunt for his first Stock Car title and, potentially, a job next season. It seems as if the Penske inn is about to be without vacancies, leaving Hornish to fend for himself in the world of fenders. His recent march to the Nationwide title has been quite impressive; omitting an DNF due to overheating at Indianapolis, his clean average finish in nine of the last 10 races is 4.1. The good fortune could continue this weekend. He qualified on the front row and finished seventh in the Dover Nationwide race in the spring.
David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA.
Photos by Actions Sports, Inc.
The NCAA’s Executive Committee has decided to reduce the scholarship sanctions on Penn State, giving the football program five more scholarships for the 2014-15 academic year. The announcement was made after George Mitchell, former U.S. Senator and independent Athletics Integrity Montior for Penn State, indicated Penn State was making progress in implementing the Athletics Integrity Agreement.
And in another bit of good news for Penn State, there’s a possibility these sanctions can be reduced even more in the future.
The postseason ban will remain in place for now, and coach Bill O’Brien is still dealing with a limited roster for the next few years.
However, Penn State can now offer 20 scholarships for the 2014-15 year, with that number set to increase to 25 by 2015-16. The Nittany Lions will also have a full allotment of scholarship players (85) by 2016-17.
Check out the full release from the NCAA.
In the Week 5 episode of the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast, co-hosts Braden Gall and David Fox take a quick jog around the developments of a deceptively interesting Week 4 while taking a look at key games for Week 5.
In this week’s podcast:
• We quickly run down a few headlines from Week 4: Why Georgia Tech could wrap up its division in the ACC in short order, why or why not Tyler Murphy might be the answer at QB for Florida and how leigitimate is Derek Carr's Heisman candidacy.
• After some disagreement on how good Arizona State is, we look at the upcoming game between the Sun Devils and USC. Todd Graham and Co. need to win this one or we'll lose confidence.
• We don't know what to make of either Oklahoma or Notre Dame. OU's defense has impressed, but the Sooners haven't played a marquee game. Meanwhile, Notre Dame has not fully rebounded from a Michigan loss two weeks ago.
• This week's marquee matchup in the SEC will be in Athens when Georgia hosts LSU. The Tigers have been impressive on both sides of the ball, but this will be a "show-me" moment on the road for Zach Mettenberger and the defense.
• In this week's rapid fire, we ask who is the top quarterback in the state of Utah (yes, that's a thing), surprise 4-0 teams and who is a better Heisman dark horse between Derek Carr and Melvin Gordon.
The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes and our podcast RSS feed.
Thanks to Moon Taxi for sharing their tunes for bumper music. Their new album Mountains Beaches Cities is now available.