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St. Louis just missed making Athlon Sports' fantasy football Week 7 defense/special teams rankings, but that doesn't mean we can't applaud the Rams for their performance last week. The Rams added to the Texans' woes after racking up five quarterback sacks and holding them to just 13 points. The 38-13 convincing win also featured a total of four takeaways and two defensive scores, including a record 98-yard interception return by St. Louis rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree. The main reason the Rams did not make our rankings this week is that they have been inconsistent as a fantasy DST, although they do have a total of 48 points in their last two games. Maybe the unit will play more up to preseason expectations from here out?
Instead, the No. 1 team in our rankings this week is Kansas City, who will host the aforementioned Texans this Sunday. The Chiefs padded their lead as the top-scoring fantasy DST by racking up an eye-opening 10 sacks in a win over the Raiders. If that wasn't enough, KC added three INTs and a defensive score. Now the Chiefs get a reeling Texans offense that is allowing the most fantasy points to opposing DSTs. Talk about good timing, or bad if you are going up against the KC DST this week.
Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Web site can give you.
2013 NFL Week 7 Fantasy Football Rankings — Defense/Special Teams
Teams on bye this week: New Orleans, Oakland
|1||Kansas City Chiefs||vs. HOU||Chiefs racked up 10 sacks and three INTs last week.|
|2||Seattle Seahawks||at ARI (Thurs.)||Carson Palmer has at least 2 INTs in each of last 4 games.|
|3||San Francisco 49ers||at TEN||49ers have forced 10 turnovers in last four games.|
|4||Carolina Panthers||vs. STL||Panthers are third in yards allowed, second in points.|
|5||Baltimore Ravens||at PIT||Big Ben vs. BAL: 56.7% passing, 18 TDs, 15 INTs in 12 G.|
|6||Chicago Bears||at WAS||Bears' DL has been decimated by injuries.|
|7||New England Patriots||at NYJ||Pats' D now w/o Mayo and Wilfork, Talib also hurting.|
|8||Cincinnati Bengals||at DET||Bengals sacked Thad Lewis five times last week.|
|9||Green Bay Packers||vs. CLE||Packers' D up to task last week w/o Matthews.|
|10||San Diego Chargers||at JAC||Chargers held Luck, Colts to 3 FGs on MNF.|
|11||Minnesota Vikings||at NYG (Mon.)||Giants have 23 turnovers and have given up 5 DST TDs.|
|12||Houston Texans||at KC||Texans' offensive woes taking toll on defense too.|
|13||Miami Dolphins||vs. BUF||If Thad Lewis (foot) can't go, 'Fins get Matt Flynn.|
|14||Denver Broncos||at IND||Broncos got Champ Bailey back last week, now Von Miller.|
|15||Pittsburgh Steelers||vs. BAL||Steelers' D gets in Geno Smith's head, get first 2 INTs.|
|16||New York Jets||vs. NE||Jets held Pats to 232 yards, 13 points in Week 2 road loss.|
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points
Additional Week 7 Positional Rankings
American League Championship Series – Game 4
Boston at Detroit
8:07 ET Fox
Jake Peavy (12-5, 4.17) vs. Doug Fister (14-9, 3.67)
With a win yesterday, the Red Sox have assured themselves that in order for the Tigers to advance to the World Series, they must take this series back to Boston. The Tigers must feel as if both Games 4 and 5 in Detroit are must-wins. Pitching has certainly ruled the day in this series, and with Doug Fister and Jake Peavy toeing the rubber tonight, that won’t likely change.
Keys for Detroit
Fister must go at least six innings in order to keep the pressure off the bullpen. The Tigers won three of his final five starts, while getting shut out in one loss and scoring just two runs in the other. Run support has been scarce against the Red Sox, so Fister can’t expect much help. For the Tigers, tonight would be a terrific time for Prince Fielder to find his groove. The big first baseman, sandwiched between Miguel Cabrera and the Victor Martinez-Jhonny Peralta combo, may hold the key to Detroit’s offense exploding.
Keys for Boston
Can Boston continue to win with a termite-infested bat rack? At some point, the Red Sox have to start hitting in order to win the series. Peavy must stick with the pitching game plan that has been so successful to this point. Manager John Farrell is confident going to his pen early, so Peavy can attack with his complete arsenal early in the game.
Tigers to Watch
Fister will try to continue the Tigers’ dominance over Boston hitters, and he has had mixed results this season. In a June start at home, the righthander couldn’t get out of the fourth inning before giving up 11 hits and six runs in a loss. Then in September at Fenway Park, he tossed seven shutout innings in a win. Cabrera has three home runs among his 13 hits in 45 at-bats off of Peavy.
Red Sox to Watch
Peavy hasn’t faced the Tigers since he was dealt to Boston, but his final start as a member of the White Sox came against Detroit. He threw seven strong innings allowing just four hits and two walks, but he surrendered four runs all coming off the three home runs he gave up. Cabrera was not in the lineup that day. Jacoby Ellsbury has had good success reaching base off Fister (.545 OBP). Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is 5-for-11 (.455) off of Fister with two doubles and a homer. In an even smaller sample, Shane Victorino is 4-for-5 with a home run, and an HBP, of course.
In the 2000s, the Red Sox are now 16-15 in ALCS games. The Tigers are now 11-6…The Red Sox have yet to score in the first five innings…There have been 35 hits and 68 strikeouts in this series…The Red Sox have 12 hits, 10 walks and 43 punchouts…Detroit’s Peralta and Martinez are batting a combined .391…Their teammates are hitting .177…The Tigers have lost two of Justin Verlander’s three starts this postseason, despite his 0.565 WHIP and 0.39 ERA over 23 innings.
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 nine-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: Camping World RV Sales 500 (Talladega Superspeedway)
Race: 500 miles, 188 laps (2.66-mile Tri-oval)
May 2013 Winner: David Ragan
A-List (Pick two, start one)
Ah, Talladega Superspeedway, the home of the much-anticipated unofficial wild card round destined to shuffle the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup. That's what most fans are hoping for after the sterling start to the Chase by Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, right?
While the shake up could most certainly happen thanks to the very nature of restrictor plate racing, know this: in 2013's three previous restrictor plate races, Kenseth and Johnson have combined to lead 65 percent of the laps. Things look particularly good for Kenseth as the points leader. He boasts the best average Talladega running position (14.1) and highest percentage of laps in the top 15 (65.2) of A-List drivers.
Brad Keselowski has just over half the starts of most A-List drivers in NASCAR's loop data era (stretching 17 races to 2005), so his results are slightly more skewed to the positive. There's no getting around the fact, however, that Keselowski is a two-time Talladega winner and has been in the right position to finish worse than 15th only once since his 2009 walk-off debut.
Keselowski is also one of just three A-List drivers to finish every lap of restrictor plate racing in 2013 (553 laps), earning him the third-best average finish among the group. Only June winner David Ragan has a better career lead lap finish average (.846) at Talladega than Keselowski (.778).
Also consider: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer
B-List (Pick four, start two)
Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. has finished less than half of his last 17 starts at Talladega. He's led in the same amount. Why, then, would Truex might have an edge in Sunday's four-hour festival of race-car gambling? Easy: No other driver in the B-List has raced more laps inside the top 15 in 2013. That's important because of how the current rules package tends to boost the importance of track position.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
If this were 2004 or so, the fantasy preview of Talladega would simply have Dale Earnhardt Jr. listed repeatedly. In that period, you just knew Earnhardt was going to fare well. But now, Earnhardt is in his ninth year of a Talladega win drought (his last one came in Oct. 2004) and not the threat he once was on restrictor plate tracks. The good news for Earnhardt as he tries to snap that streak is the fact that he's just behind Truex in total top-15 laps in 2013 (66.9 percent) and boasts an average restrictor plate finish this season of ninth. Only teammate Johnson has been better at the checkered flag — but that's no surprise, right?
The Biff has never won at Talladega and scored the only restrictor plate win of his career during a finish based on fuel mileage at Daytona in 2003. Biffle, though, might be a worthy start based on recent Talladega consistency. While he did finish 36th in the May race, the poor run snapped Biffle's run of nine races with a finish of 19th or better — including five top-10 finishes. He's also the B-List leader in average finish of the last 11 races.
Undoubtedly, Talladega will serve as a wasted start for someone in the B-List. Crashes happen, engines blow and unrecoverable losses of position in the final laps of a race can destroy even the best days. Knowing that, riding in to Sunday with Marcos Ambrose as a starter could prove beneficial. He's one of just eight drivers to finish every restrictor plate lap this season and had a car capable of winning at Daytona in July before he was sideswiped and crashed by Jimmie Johnson. At the best, you'll score an expectedly good finish. At the worst, you'll expend a start on a driver you don't need for the final races of 2013.
Also consider: Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton
C-List (Pick two, start one)
Embattled Sprint Cup team owner Michael Waltrip returns to the seat in Sunday's race in the No. 55 Toyota that he's already had moderate success driving in the first three restrictor plate races in 2013. Waltrip is one of three C-List drivers (with Bobby Labonte and Scott Speed) to finish every lap in those races this year, and he's certainly fared the best. Waltrip was 22nd in the Daytona 500, fourth at Talladega in May and fifth in the summer Daytona race. Sunday's race will be his 106th start on restrictor plate tracks and there's little question that he'll be in play to record his 32nd top-10 finish at Daytona and Talladega — just as long as he doesn't notch his 25th career DNF.
Thanks to a late dash to the lead after restarting near 10th in the spring, Ragan shocked the NASCAR world by winning in his Front Row Racing No. 38 Ford after leading just four laps. Unexpectedly, it marked the third consecutive top-10 finish for Ragan and the FRR team at Talladega. Credit some luck for the finish, sure, but also credit Ragan's ability to finish on the lead lap at the track. In 13 starts, he's done so 11 times. Finishing consistency like that at an unpredictable track can lead to positive results. For Ragan, it did.
Also consider: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica Patrick
Counting down the days until Clemson-Florida State.
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, October 16th
Maryland linebacker Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil is out for the rest of the season.
The Sporting News takes a look at the 10 best moments of the BCS era. And a look at the unbeatens so far this year.
Saturday Down South takes a look back at what happened in the SEC during Week 7.
Check out this Alabama Volkswagen Beetle...is it street legal?
Oklahoma receiver Trey Metoyer has been suspended indefinitely after being charged with two felony counts.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has the support of his athletic director.
The Tennessee-Virginia Tech game at Bristol Motor Speedway could equal a lot of cash for both teams.
Will Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota enter the NFL Draft this spring? He won't talk about it until after the season.
Is former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith a candidate at USC?
Arkansas defensive tackle Robert Thomas is out for the rest of the year with a leg injury.
Lost Lettermen has a good read on Michigan and whether the Wolverines are truly "back."
When will Missouri quarterback James Franklin return to the lineup?
A good story on the ACL rehab of Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum.
Who is the favorite in the Big Ten Legends Division?
Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips is out for the rest of the year with a back injury.
TCU quarterback Casey Pachall is getting closer to a return to action after suffering a broken arm earlier this year.
Rutgers cornerback Ian Thomas (a starter) has quit the team to play baseball.
Michigan is considering more changes for its struggling offensive line.
A film review of Florida State QB Jameis Winston's passing plays this season.
How did Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and his staff grade in evaluations?
New Mexico is dealing with some injuries at quarterback.
Boston College running back Andre Williams was highlighted for his performance against Army.
Texas A&M and Arizona State are in discussions to play a game in Houston in 2015.
National League Championship Series – Game 5
St. Louis at Los Angeles
3:07 ET TBS
Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69) vs. Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63)
There’s no question that pitching has outshone hitting in this series. And there’s no reason to believe that trend will not continue in Game 5. Facing elimination, the Dodgers now must win three in a row. But they have to look no further for inspiration than to their fiercest rival, the San Francisco Giants. Last year at this point, the Cardinals led the Giants three-games-to-one, only to see the Giants rally to win three straight. There is one major difference: the Dodgers must win two in St. Louis, while the Giants had the luxury of playing Games 6 and 7 in San Francisco. In tight games, there is no margin for error in the field or on the bases, and both teams have had costly lapses. On the mound, this is a rematch of Game 1. Both Zack Greinke and Joe Kelly gave up three runs in the third inning, but neither figured in the decision in the 13-inning St. Louis win.
Keys for Los Angeles
Aside from the fact that Greinke must continue to pitch well, the Dodgers must replace the production of shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who left last night’s game in the seventh inning with discomfort from a cracked rib. If he plays in Game 5, he will not be 100 percent, so his teammates must take up the slack of not having their cleanup hitter.
Keys for St. Louis
Somehow the Redbirds keep winning despite not getting off the ground offensively. The bats have been silenced by the Dodgers’ pitching staff. The inept offensive stats are staggering. The Cardinals have only 19 hits, 13 walks and have whiffed 35 times. They are batting .148 with a .231 slugging percentage, yet they are up three-games-to-one. There’s no doubt the Cardinals remember the pain of losing three straight to the Giants last season, so that sting should serve as added incentive to end the series quickly. The bullpen continues to perform well and creates a security blanket for the starting pitchers. They know they don’t have to go deep into games and can ramp up their intensity early in the game.
Dodgers to Watch
Greinke must be up to the task of getting this series back to St. Louis for Game 6 so the Dodgers will live to fight another day. Two years ago, he lost Game 5 of the NLCS to the Cardinals as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. This St. Louis lineup is a bit different without Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman.
Cardinals to Watch
Look for manager Mike Matheny to try to jump start his offense with the running game. The Cardinals don’t steal bases, but they have some excellent hit-and-run guys in Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso. Runs will be tough to come by against Greinke, so tonight’s offense could come from unexpected sources like Jay and Descalso.
The Dodgers have outhit the Cardinals 31 to 19. In four games, the Cardinals have outscored the Dodgers just eight to seven…Combined, the teams have attempted just two stolen bases. When these teams met in the 1985 NLCS, they combined for 16 attempts in the six-game series…Shane Robinson, who homered last night, has more RBIs (1) than the Cardinals’ 4-5-6 hitters (Matt Adams, Molina and David Freese) combined…The Dodgers haven’t homered in the first four games. They had only three stretches as long as four games in the regular season without a home run, only once — a six-game stretch — in the second half.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Oct. 16.
• I can't believe I missed Canadian Thanksgiving Day (Oct. 14). To make amends, here's a gallery of Canadian beauties that we're all thankful for, including actress Malin Ackerman (pictured).
• How's this for a collaboration: Michael Bloomberg, Donald Trump and Jack Nicklaus are working together on a new golf course in the Bronx.
• Bad night for Justin Verlander. He pitched his butt off, lost 1-0, and then Erin Andrews briefly confused him with Justin Bieber.
• Remind me never to hang out with Cal Ripken's mom. She's been held up at gunpoint for the second time.
• Here's a fun game: Guess the athlete tattoo.
• An OU receiver is on indefinite leave after two incidents of public masturbation. His position coach actually said this: "He's trying to get his hands around it."
• I'm a sucker for gratutious displays of sheer athleticism, so this is my kind of list: the top 20 dunkers in college basketball.
• In other college hoops news, here's the time that Marshall Henderson, the Johnny Manziel of hoops, met with the Texas A&M president.
• Yikes. Monsters still lurk in the ocean depths.
• The SEC is suddenly a quarterback's conference. Here are the league's top 10 signal-callers.
• Enjoy this surreal video of Raiders superfan Dr. Death giving an impassioned speech before the Oakland City Council. This is local government in action.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The first half of the 2013 college football season is officially in the books. And at the midpoint of 2013, it’s time to look back at the first seven weeks, examine preseason predictions and take a glimpse at what the second half of the season has to offer.
Alabama is still the favorite to win the national championship, but Oregon, Ohio State, Clemson, Florida State and LSU are in the mix. The Ducks still need to navigate a tough road date at Stanford before thinking about an unbeaten season. Ohio State won’t have the strength of schedule of Oregon, so the Buckeyes need some help in order to get to the No. 2 spot. The winner of Florida State-Clemson will remain in the national title mix, but both teams face key tests against SEC rivals in late November.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is our pick as the midseason Heisman winner, while Missouri’s Gary Pinkel takes coach of the year honors.
Much will change in the second half of the year, but here’s our first-half awards for 2013.
2013 College Football First-Half Awards
Heisman frontrunner/Offensive POY: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
A strong case could be made for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel here, but the edge for now goes to Mariota. The sophomore has simply been flawless through the first six games, guiding the Ducks to a 6-0 start and easing the transition from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich. Mariota has thrown for 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 426 yards and eight scores. The sophomore has not thrown an interception in 165 attempts this year and ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency at 182.4.
Next Three Candidates After Seven Weeks:
2. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
3. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
4. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Barr is a lock to be a first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft, and the senior continues to wreck havoc on opposing Pac-12 offenses. In five games, Barr has 26 tackles (10 for a loss), four sacks and three forced fumbles. The senior’s best performance of the year came against Nebraska, forcing three fumbles and recording 11 tackles. Barr’s explosive ability off the edge is a big reason why UCLA ranks third in the Pac-12 in total defense and is holding opponents to just 18.2 points a game.
Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
Coach of the Year: Gary Pinkel, Missouri
From the hot seat to coach of the year. That’s the season it has been for Pinkel. Missouri finished 5-7 in its first year in the SEC but is off to a 6-0 start, which includes road wins over Vanderbilt and Georgia. The Tigers are clearly improved in 2013, and Pinkel has pushed the right buttons on both sides of the ball. Missouri’s schedule will get tougher, and it will be difficult to win the East Division without quarterback James Franklin. However, even if the Tigers finish 7-5 or 8-4, it would be quite a turnaround after Missouri’s offseason was filled with questions about whether or not 2013 could be Pinkel’s last in Columbia.
Art Briles, Baylor
Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
Randy Edsall, Maryland
Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Curtis Johnson, Tulane
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Best Coaching Hire: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn has made quite a difference in just six games. Auburn finished 3-9 last year and failed to win a SEC game. However, the Tigers are clearly improved, sporting a 5-1 record heading into a showdown at Texas A&M. The win column isn’t the only place where Auburn has showed marked improvement, as the Tigers are drastically better on the stat sheet. After averaging just 305 yards and 18.7 points a game last season, the Tigers average 474.2 yards and 34.3 points a game in 2013. The defense has improved under coordinator Ellis Johnson and leads the SEC with 49 tackles for a loss. Games against Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama will provide a better barometer of how far this team has come since last season. But even if Auburn loses those three games, an 8-4 record would be a solid finish in Malzahn’s first season.
Steve Addazio, Boston College
Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Biggest surprise: Tulane
Missouri is certainly a worthy candidate here, but let’s give this honor to Tulane. The Green Wave is quietly 5-2, with one of their losses coming by just two points against South Alabama. Beating Jackson State, ULM and North Texas may not have raised too many eyebrows, but Tulane’s victory over East Carolina last Saturday showed this team has made considerable progress under second-year coach Curtis Johnson. And at 3-0 in conference play, it’s not unreasonable to think this team can make a run at the Conference USA West Division title, especially with winnable games against Tulsa, FAU, UTSA and UTEP remaining. With one more victory, Tulane will be bowl eligible and should play in its first postseason game since 2002. The Green Wave won’t overwhelm on the stat sheet but are +9 in turnover margin and are holding conference opponents to 23 points a game.
Most-Improved Player: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Under the direction of new coordinator Cam Cameron, Mettenberger looks like a completely different player than the one that finished 2012. Through seven games, the senior has thrown for 1,890 yards, 15 touchdowns and just two picks. Mettenberger is completing 66.7 percent of his passes and averages 16.3 yards per completion. And Mettenberger has been sharp in some of LSU’s biggest tests, as he completed 39 of 69 for 623 yards and four touchdowns against Georgia and TCU combined. Mettenberger’s continued growth at quarterback should allow LSU to push Alabama for the SEC West title in November.
Biggest disappointment: North Carolina
The Tar Heels have faced a difficult schedule (South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech), but this isn’t the same team that finished in a three-way tie atop the Coastal Division in 2012. Both sides of the ball have been problematic for coach Larry Fedora. The offense, which was expected to be one of the best in the ACC, is ranked ninth in the conference in total yards per game. Replacing three starters on the offensive line and running back Giovani Bernard has been a challenge, as the Tar Heels rank last in the ACC in rushing offense. The defense has allowed at least 20 points in every game this season, and opponents are averaging 5.6 yards per play. An easier schedule in the second half will allow North Carolina to make up some ground on the rest of the Coastal. However, the Tar Heels – as some predicted in the preseason – won’t challenge for the division title in 2013.
Top Freshman: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
After five games, it’s clear Winston is already one of the best quarterbacks in college football. The redshirt freshman opened his career with an impressive performance at Pittsburgh, completing 25 of 27 throws for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Since then, Winston’s play hasn’t slipped any, as he has only two picks this year and has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in four out of Florida State’s five games. Winston ranks fourth nationally in yards per play (9.9) and second in passing efficiency (213.9).
Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech
Addison Gillam, LB, Colorado
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
Coach on the Hot Seat: Ron English, Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan might be the toughest job in college football. The Eagles have just one winning season since 1990 and one bowl appearance in program history. English guided Eastern Michigan to a 6-6 mark in 2011, but the program has regressed, as the Eagles are just 3-15 over their last 18 games. Despite the difficulty of coaching in Ypsilanti, Eastern Michigan should be more competitive, and unless the Eagles make progress over the second half, it’s hard to envision English returning for 2014.
Mack Brown, Texas
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest
Mike London, Virginia
Top JUCO Transfer: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
The Arizona State coaching staff was counting on Strong to be a significant contributor in the passing attack, and so far, the junior hasn’t disappointed. Through six games, Strong has 42 receptions for 678 yards and four scores. Strong has five consecutive 100-yard games, including a standout performance against Stanford, catching 12 passes for 168 yards and one touchdown. Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory deserves a mention in this space too.
Head Coach on the Rise: Pete Lembo, Ball State
If you are looking for a coach that could be quite popular this offseason, take a look in Muncie, Ind. Lembo is in his third season at Ball State and has guided the Cardinals to a 21-11 mark during that span. Ball State stumbled on the road against North Texas earlier this year but defeated Virginia 48-27 on Oct. 5. Under Lembo, the Cardinals have four wins over BCS teams and with a favorable schedule the rest of the way, could finish 11-1 or 10-2. Lembo’s success isn’t limited to Ball State, as he went 44-14 at Lehigh and 35-22 at Elon.
Dave Clawson, Bowling Green
Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette
Curtis Johnson, Tulane
Top-10 Must-See Games
Florida State at Clemson (Oct. 19)
Miami at Florida State (Nov. 2)
Oregon at Stanford (Nov. 7)
Virginia Tech at Miami (Nov. 9)
LSU at Alabama (Nov. 9)
Florida at South Carolina (Nov. 16)
Texas A&M at LSU (Nov. 23)
Florida State at Florida (Nov. 30)
Clemson at South Carolina (Nov. 30)
Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 30)
The Next Group:
Florida at Missouri (Oct. 19)
UCLA at Stanford (Oct. 19)
Michigan State at Nebraska (Nov. 16)
Michigan at Michigan State (Nov. 2)
UCLA at Oregon (Oct. 26)
South Carolina at Missouri (Nov. 16)
Florida vs. Georgia (Nov. 2)
Oklahoma at Baylor (Nov. 7)
Louisville at Cincinnati (Dec. 5)
Texas at Baylor (Dec. 7)
Non-BCS Games to Watch:
Toledo at Bowling Green (Oct. 26)
Fresno State at Wyoming (Nov. 9)
Ohio at Bowling Green (Nov. 12)
Ball State at Northern Illinois (Nov. 13)
Wyoming at Boise State (Nov. 16)
Northern Illinois at Toledo (Nov. 20)
East Carolina at Marshall (Nov. 29)
Bowling Green at Buffalo (Nov. 29)
Tulane at Rice (Nov. 30)
Army vs. Navy (Dec. 14)
Only in college football does an NFL general manager, a Heisman winner, a handful of retired sportswriters, disgraced athletic directors and United States Olympic Committee and PGA staffers have a voice in the postseason pairings.
With all the handwringing about the new College Football Playoff selection committee, fans may forget there’s one more year of the BCS picking the teams that will play for the national championship and eligible for major bowl games.
The first Harris Interactive top 25 was released Sunday, bringing the sport one step closer to the first BCS standings of the season. The voting results from the 105-member Harris panel have the same weight as the coaches’ poll or the average of the six computers, but few are familiar with the voters.
Part of the BCS since 2005 when the Associated Press pulled its rankings out of the formula, the Harris poll is comprised of 105 current and former media members and former college players, coaches and administrators. Originally, each of the then-11 FBS conference submitted a pool of potential voters to Harris Interactive, who then randomly selected 10 voters from each. The independents received three voters from their submitted candidates.
The number has fluctuated over the years, and with the disintegration of the WAC, the 2013 panel is the smallest at 105 voters. Since last season, 22 voters left the poll, replaced by 13 new voters for 2013.
Harris Interactive releases the names of each voter on the panel a week before the first top 25, and the organization will release all 105 final ballots after the BCS standings are released in December. However, Harris has never released any biographical information about panelists, their connection to college football or which conference “nominated” the voters in the first place.
We have collected and confirmed the biographical information here.
Among the new voters are two former athletic directors who lost their jobs under less than ideal circumstances. Keith Tribble resigned from UCF in 2011 amid an NCAA investigation into recruiting practices in the schools football and men’s basketball programs. He is under an NCAA show cause penalty.
Damon Evans resigned from Georgia after he was arrested on charges of driving under the influence. His situation worsened when it was revealed he was in the car with a woman who was not his wife and he attempted to use his position to garner favor with authorities. Evans now works with IMG College assisting schools with fundraising.
Also among the new voters is recently retired Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips. Phillips’ inclusion gives the Tigers a visible presence among the 105 ballots with former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden also voting in the poll.
Perhaps the most intriguing voter in the panel is not a new addition, but his new job description is worth a mention. John Dorsey was hired this season as the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs. Dorsey, a former player at Connecticut, joined the panel when he was the director of college scouting for the Green Bay Packers.
The breakdown of voters includes:
32 former players. This includes 1958 Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins.
30 former administrators. Among them is former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, who is considered one of the founders of the BCS.
28 current and former media members, not including the former players and coaches who entered broadcasting careers after retirement. Some of the media members include members of school’s official broadcasting teams, such as Rutgers’ Chris Carlin, Baylor’s J.J. Joe, Navy’s Pete Medhurst and Notre Dame’s Allen Pinkett.
11 former coaches. Notable former coaches include Tommy Bowden (Clemson), Rich Brooks (Oregon, Kentucky), Lloyd Carr (Michigan), Joe Novak (Northern Illinois) and Jackie Sherrill (Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and Mississippi State).
4 in the “other category.” This includes Bob Condron (a former director of media services for the United States Olympic Committee for 28 years), Tim Millis (the former executive director of the NFL Referees Association and former Big 12 supervisor of officials) and Jack White (a former player for Bear Bryant at Alabama who works with the PGA).
Here is every voter in the 2013 Harris poll and their desciption:
|*Denny Aldridge||Texas player 1966-68|
|Bob Anderson||Army player 1956-60|
|James Bates||Florida player 1993-96, Fox Sports South broadcaster|
|Sammy Batten||Reporter, The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer|
|*Joe Biddle||Former columnist, The Nashville Tennessean|
|*Blaine Bishop||Ball State player 1990-92, Radio host, WGFX in Nashville|
|Tommy Bowden||Tulane coach 1997-98, Clemson coach 1999-2008|
|Dave Braine||Georgia Tech AD 1997-2006, Virginia Tech AD 1988-97, Marshall AD 1985-87|
|Gil Brandt||NFL.com analyst, Former Cowboys director of player personnel|
|Rich Brooks||Oregon coach 1977-94, Kentucky coach 2003-09|
|Chip Brown||Reporter, Orangebloods.com|
|Grant Burget||Oklahoma player 1970-74|
|Chris Carlin||Oklahoma player 1970-74|
|Lloyd Carr||Michigan coach 1995-2007|
|*Charlie Cavagnaro||UNLV AD 1995-2001, Memphis AD 1982-95|
|Pete Cavender||Boise State player 2003-07, radio analyst BSU Sports Radio Network|
|Angelique Chengelis||Reporter, The Detroit News|
|Tony Collins||East Carolina player 1977-80|
|Bob Condron||USOC dir. of media services 1984-2012, former SID at Texas Tech and SMU|
|Gene Corrigan||Notre Dame AD 1981-87, Virginia AD 1971-80, ACC commissioner 1987-97|
|Dick Crum||North Carolina coach 1978-87, Kent State coach 1988-90|
|Fran Curci||Miami coach 1971-72, Kentucky coach 1973-81|
|*Pete Dawkins||1958 Heisman winner at Army|
|Gene DeFilippo||Villanova AD 1997-97, Boston College AD 1998-2010|
|Mark Dienhart||Minnesota AD 1995-2000|
|John Dorsey||Kansas City Chiefs general manager, Connecticut player 1980-83|
|Herb Dromedi||Central Michigan coach 1978-93|
|Bob Dunlevy||West Virginia player 1963-65|
|Chuck Ealey||Toledo player 1969-71|
|Jack Ebling||Radio host WVFN in Lansing, Mich.|
|Damon Evans||Georgia AD 2003-10|
|Rondo Fehlberg||BYU AD 1995-99|
|Robert Gagliardi||Reporter, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle|
|Richard Giannini||Southern Miss AD 1999-2011|
|Bob Goin||Cincinnati AD 1997-2005, Florida State AD 1990-94|
|Joe Gottfried||South Alabama AD 1984-2009|
|Doug Graber||Rutgers coach 1990-95|
|*Bob Grim||Oregon State player 1964-66|
|Lee Grosscup||Utah player 1957-58|
|Mark Hermann||Purdue player 1977-80|
|*Tommy Hicks||Columnist, Mobile (Ala.) Press-Register|
|Ron Higgins||Columnist, New Orleans Times-Picayune|
|Mike Hogewood||Broadcaster, ACC Digital Network|
|David Horning||N.C. State administrator 1984-2010|
|*David Housel||Auburn AD 1990-2004|
|Todd Husak||Stanford player 1996-99|
|J.J. Joe||Baylor player 1990-93; Radio analyst, Baylor|
|Scott Johnson||Fresno State AD 2001-05|
|Adam Jude||Reporter, Seattle Times|
|*Blair Kerkhoff||Reporter, The Kansas City Star|
|*Mike Kern||Reporter, The Philadelphia Daily News|
|Shaun King||Tulane player 1995-98|
|*Roy Kramer||SEC Commissioner 1990-2002|
|Nate Kreckman||Radio host, KXDP in Denver|
|*Bobby Leach||SMU player 1981-84|
|Jeff Logan||Ohio State player 1974-77|
|*Mike Lude||Auburn AD 1992-93, Washington AD 1975-91|
|*Tom Luicci||Reporter, Newark (N.J.) Star Ledger|
|Kelly Lyell||Reporter, Fort Collins (Colo.) Coloradoan|
|John Mallory||West Virginia player 1965-67|
|Bob Marcum||Kansas AD 1978-82, South Carolina AD 1982-88, Marshall AD 2002-09|
|Derrick Mayes||Notre Dame player 1992-95|
|*Mike McGee||Duke coach 1971-78, Cincinnati AD 1979-84, USC AD 1984-93|
|Pete Medhurst||Radio reporter and host, Navy Radio Network|
|Tim Millis||Former NFL Referees Association exec. director, former Big 12 supervisor of officials|
|Eric Mizell||Troy player 1990-91|
|*Craig Morton||Cal player 1962-64|
|Joe Novak||Northern Illinois coach 1996-2007|
|Jim Oakes||Louisiana Tech AD 1994-2008|
|Denny O'Brien||Reporter on East Carolina for Bonesville.net|
|Steve Orsini||UCF AD 2002-06, SMU AD 2006-12|
|David Paschall||Reporter, Chattanooga (Tenn.) Free-Press|
|Terry Don Phillips||Clemson AD, 2003-13, Oklahoma State AD 1995-2002|
|Allen Pinkett||Notre Dame player 1982-85; Radio analyst, Notre Dame|
|Doug Plank||Ohio State player 1972-74|
|*Steve Preece||Oregon State player 1966-68|
|Michael Reghi||Former host, WKNR in Cleveland, Ohio|
|*Pat Richter||Wisconsin AD 1989-2004|
|*Kenny Roda||Former host WKNR 850 in Cleveland, Ohio|
|Gary Sanders||Former radio broadcaster, UAB|
|*Terry R. Schmidt||Ball State player 1971-73|
|Jackie Sherrill||Pitt coach 1977-81, Texas A&M coach 1982-88, Mississippi St coach 1991-2003|
|Corky Simpson||Former columnist, The Tucson (Ariz.) Citizen|
|Riley Skinner||Wake Forest player 2006-09|
|Joe Smigiel||Arizona player 1992-94|
|Adam Sparks||Reporter, The Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Daily News Journal|
|Fred Stabley||Former Central Michigan sports information director|
|Don Strock||Florida International coach 2002-06|
|David Teel||Reporter, Newport News (Va.) Daily Press|
|Mel Thomas||Former TCU administrator and assistant coach|
|Darrell Thompson||Minnesota player 1986-89|
|Keith Tribble||UCF AD 2006-11|
|Charlie Trotman||Auburn player 1977-79|
|*Max Urick||Iowa State AD 1983-93, Kansas State AD 1993-2001|
|*Roger Valdiserri||Former Notre Dame sports information director|
|Jeff Van Note||Kentucky player 1966-68|
|Tommy Vardell||Stanford player 1988-91|
|Jim Vruggink||Former Purdue sports information director|
|Jim Walden||Iowa State coach 1987-94, Washington State coach 1978-86|
|Jay Walker||Radio host, KPEL in Lafayette, La.|
|John Walters||Writer, MediumHappy.com|
|Jack White||Alabama player 1971, former director for PGA Tour's Shotlink|
|Dwayne Woodruff||Louisville player 1976-78|
|Rick Wright||Reporter, Albuquerque (N.M.) Journal|
|*Hugh Yoshida||Hawaii AD 1992-2002|
|Bold indicates new voters for 2013|
|* indicates voters who have participated in every Harris poll since 2005|
Each week of the college football season, Athlon Sports will poll some of the nation's best college football people from every region of the country. Each voter offers up a top five and each first-place vote is worth five points. A second-place vote is worth four points, so on and so forth. With 13 voters, a perfect ballot — i.e., 13 first-place votes — would give a player 65 total points.
The race for the Heisman Trophy should get extremely interesting over the next few weekends. UCLA will play both Stanford and Oregon. Clemson hosts Florida State. LSU has to play Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M. Baylor still has battles with Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma State. But for now, the award is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's to lose. He got 11 first-place votes (of 13) this week for the highest point total of the season in Athlon's voting.
Post-Week 7 Voting Results:
|2.||(3)||Johnny Manziel||QB||Texas A&M||48||2||8||1||1||1|
|4.||(5)||Jameis Winston||QB||Florida St||22||-||-||3||6||1|
|5t.||(9)||Sean Mannion||QB||Oregon St||6||-||-||1||-||3|
More Mariota, Please. After seven touchdowns against Colorado and four touchdowns with over 450 yards of offense on the road against Washington, the nation has finally acknowledged Mariota might be the best player in the country. Having said that, he will have a chance to prove it. Washington State, UCLA and Stanford are Oregon’s next three opponents and there is a chance that every one of the Ducks’ final six games could feature a team heading to a bowl game.
Boyd vs. Winston. Tajh Boyd was excellent in the final quarter against Boston College, as the Tigers' signal-caller finished with nearly 400 yards of offense and two critical touchdowns. While Boyd and Clemson struggled with BC, Florida State and Jameis Winston sat at home and rested. It sets up the next Game of the Century as the Seminoles head down to Death Valley on Saturday. Both QBs are good enough for this not to be a Heisman elimination game, but it will be hard for either player to lose this game and still win the stiff-armed trophy.
Manziel’s Magic. He made a few bad throws throughout the course of the game in Oxford. But the Ole Miss Rebels had no answer for the reigning Heisman winner in the final quarter. Manziel led three long scoring drives to bring his team from behind twice, and ultimately, set up the game-winning field goal. He posted his sixth career 300-yard game, ninth career 100-yard rushing game and ninth game with at least 400 yards of total offense. Watch out for Manziel as A&M gets four very winnable games at home in a row before finally visiting Baton Rouge. Auburn this weekend might be the best of the bunch actually.
Who is Sean Mannion? The Oregon State Beavers were supposed to have had a QB battle this summer but Mannion is making a mockery of that basic premise. Other than a bizarre opening weekend loss to Eastern Washington, Mannion’s Beavers have been perfect. He leads the nation in passing (418.5 ypg) and passing TDs (25) by a wide margin and is poised to set school and Pac-12 records in short order. That said, his Heisman candidacy hinges on marquee showdowns (and wins). Oregon State faces Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon in the final five weeks of the year. Stay tuned.
Bruins Dynamic Duo. The leader of the Bruins offense is quarterback Brett Hundley. The leader of the Bruins defense is Anthony Barr. They might be the best offensive-defense tandem in the nation and both entered the Heisman mix this weekend. Will it last? Voters won’t have to wait long as UCLA travels to Stanford and Oregon over the next two weeks. Barr might be the best defensive player in the nation but he will have his work cut out for him over the next two weekends.
Dropped Out. Only Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk dropped from the Heisman ranks this week. He failed to reach 100 yards for the first time in nine games in what was Baylor’s worst performance (and still a win) against Kansas State.
What to Watch. Florida State at Clemson? UCLA at Stanford? Auburn at Texas A&M? LSU at Ole Miss? Those are all electric games to watch, but keep an eye on UCF at Louisville Friday evening. It might be Teddy Bridgewater’s toughest test of the year. Some Heisman contenders could fall this weekend.
The Voting Panel:
|Tom Dienhart||Big Ten Network||BigTenNetwork.com||Marcus Mariota|
|Bryan Fischer||Pac-12 Network||Pac-12.com||Marcus Mariota|
|David Fox||Athlon Sports||AthlonSports.com||Marcus Mariota|
|Braden Gall||Athlon Sports||AthlonSports.com||Marcus Mariota|
|Steven Godfrey||SB Nation||SBNation.com||Johnny Manziel|
|Chris Huston||Heisman Pundit||HeismanPundit.com||Marcus Mariota|
|Steven Lassan||Athlon Sports||AthlonSports.com||Marcus Mariota|
|Chris Level||Red Raider Sports||RedRaiderSports.com||Marcus Mariota|
|Mitch Light||Athlon Sports||AthlonSports.com||Marcus Mariota|
|Billy Liucci||TexAgs||TexAgs.com||Johnny Manziel|
|Dan Rubenstein||SB Nation/Solid Verbal||SolidVerbal.com||Marcus Mariota|
|Josh Ward||Mr. SEC/WNML||MrSEC.com||Marcus Mariota|
|Jim Young||ACC Sports Journal||ACCSports.com||Marcus Mariota|
The beauty of sports, in particular college football, lies in their complete unpredictability and reality TV-like drama. And Week 7 was the first upset-filled Saturday of action as Stanford, Oklahoma and Michigan fell from the ranks of unbeatens despite being favored by a combined 26 points. Things are only getting cranked up on the college gridiron, however, as huge showdowns this weekend highlight what should be a fantastic next month of action. Here's what might happen in Week 8.
Note: The point of this column is to have some fun and make some outlandish predictions. Please react accordingly.
Sean Mannion will set the single-game Pac-12 passing record
Arizona State’s Andrew Walter set the single-game passing record with 536 yards against No. 6 Oregon on Oct. 19, 2002. Mannion is lapping the nation when it comes to passing after 493 yards against Washington State — his fourth 400-yard game of the season. He is leading the nation at 418.5 yards per game and six more TD passes (25) than anyone else in the country. Against the 123rd ranked defense in the nation, Cal (518.0 ypg), there is a good chance Mannion sets the conference single-game passing record.
Texas A&M will score 60 points
Auburn is dramatically improved on both sides of the ball. It’s allowing just 18.8 points per game after allowing 28.3 last year. The offense is much better as well and should be able to move the ball against a porous Texas A&M defense. However, Auburn is still allowing roughly 400 yards per game on defense and Johnny Manziel still plays quarterback for the Aggies. Ole Miss did everything but win the game last week against TAMU but, still, Manziel won the day. The Aggies have scored at least 40 points in nine straight games and hung 63 on Auburn last year… on the road. Take the over, folks.
Three ranked SEC teams will lose on the road
No. 24 Auburn isn’t the only ranked SEC team playing on the road this weekend. No. 6 LSU visits Ole Miss, No. 11 South Carolina heads to Tennessee, No. 22 Florida goes to No. 14 Mizzou and No. 15 Georgia visits Vanderbilt. The Dawgs and Gators have been decimated by injuries and could easily fall to Eastern Division foes. The Gamecocks and Vols always play tough and Ole Miss might be the best home team of the bunch. Look for at least two upsets on the road this weekend to go with Auburn’s loss.
No one will watch the Big Ten
I don’t know what the TV ratings look like for an entire conference week-by-week, but I am willing to bet the viewership for the Big Ten this weekend will be as low as it’s ever been. Two major brands, Penn State and Nebraska, are on bye this week and not one of the five games in the league features a single-digit point spread. Indiana is a 10-point dog to Michigan and that might be the best game of the weekend in the Midwest. Or is it Wisconsin’s road trip to Illinois? Minnesota at Northwestern? Iowa at Ohio State? Purdue at Michigan State? I rest my case.
Stanford will lose back-to-back games for the first time since 2009
The Cardinal haven’t lost back-to-back games since losing at Oregon State and Arizona in October 2009. Stanford is 44-8 since that time and hasn’t lost two games in a row over that span. After falling to a quality Utah team on the road last weekend, Stanford hosts No. 9 UCLA and Heisman candidates Brett Hundley and Anthony Barr. The Cardinal’s offense hasn’t been nearly as strong as anticipated and UCLA has quickly rebuilt its skill positions. Look for UCLA to avenge both 2012 losses to Stanford by toppling the mighty Cardinal this weekend.
Ed Orgeron will get in a fight with The Leprechaun
Let’s be honest, everybody wants their mascot to fight the Notre Dame Leprechaun. But few would want their head coach to come to blows with the other team’s mascot. USC might be the exception. The infamously short-tempered Orgeron watched his team nearly cough up a 21-point fourth-quarter lead last Thursday against Arizona and one can only imagine what the locker room was like following the win. The excitable and bizarre defensive coordinator-turned-head coach doesn’t take too kindly to losing and/or taunting. In a heated rivalry game with Notre Dame, fans should expect the unexpected from Coach O. Or, at least, a guy can hope.
The State of Texas won’t lose
There are 12 FBS programs in Texas. Texas-San Antonio, UTEP and Texas are not playing this weekend, but the other nine will go unbeaten. Texas A&M and Baylor are heavy home favorites over Auburn and Iowa State. Texas Tech visits West Virginia. Rice plays at 0-6 New Mexico State, SMU visits 1-4 Memphis, Texas State hosts winless Georgia State and North Texas visits 2-4 Louisiana Tech. If TCU can somehow pull the upset over a beatable Oklahoma State team and unbeaten Houston can hold serve at home against an improving BYU team, the Lone Star State could go 9-0 this weekend.
Baylor and Oregon have been putting on quite a show this season.
The Bears and Ducks own the top two spots in terms of total offense rankings after seven weeks, and the numbers are quite mind-boggling.
Baylor is averaging 9.4 yards per play, while the Ducks reel off 8.1 yards a play. Considering both teams are averaging nearly a first down every time they touch the ball, it shows just how dynamic these offenses are.
Those numbers are just a small sample of how dynamic both offenses have been this season. And with those numbers in mind, it’s not easy to pick the best offense in the nation.
However, that’s the question Athlon’s editors were tasked with answering, as the Bears and Ducks look to continue their current pace in Week 8.
Baylor or Oregon: Which Team has the Best Offense in College Football?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I’m tempted to say Baylor here, but I have to stick with Oregon. And before I explain my position, I think it’s worth pointing out there’s no wrong answer here. Both teams are two of the best offenses in the nation and will continue to post ridiculous numbers. The Bears have the better coach and have a slight advantage in the trenches. However, the Ducks take the edge largely due to quarterback Marcus Mariota. The sophomore should be the frontrunner to win the Heisman after Week 7 and has a year of experience on Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty. The Bears can match Oregon’s depth at running back, and the receivers might be more explosive, but again, it’s hard to pick against a quarterback like Mariota. Also, I think we have to give the Ducks some credit so far this season, as they have played a tougher schedule, with matchups against BCS teams like Tennessee, Virginia, Colorado, California and Washington. Baylor gashed West Virginia, but I’m curious to see if this offense can continue its current pace against teams like Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State.
Coach Fisher DeBerry, former head coach of Air Force and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
I would hate play either one because they put so much pressure on your defense. They don't give your defensive team time to catch their breath. Your defense is scrambling to keep up with their pace. Both have had incredible quarterback play. I would say Oregon has a little bit of an edge over Baylor just for the fact they have played a little tougher schedule to date.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Baylor is running plays at an unprecedented rate — both in yards and time. The Bears’ offensive line is the unheralded unit, as the hog mollies in Waco might be the best collection in the Big 12 and is making all of this production possible. However, we saw how human the Bears can be in Manhattan, Kansas. Oregon has been scoring in the 60s before Art Briles moved to Waco, it has better overall talent and has been doing it against better competition. Marcus Mariota is, for my money, is the best player in college football — he's 18-1 as a starter with 63 career touchdowns and six career interceptions — and once De'Anthony Thomas is healthy, there is no better offense in the nation than the Oregon Ducks. These are both elite offenses operating at historic clips. You can't go wrong with either, but I'll take the one from Eugene.
That's kind of like asking which luxury car is better or, more appropriate here, which high-end sports car is faster? OK, I'll bite. Baylor has more yards and points, but I'll take Oregon. Chip Kelly may have left Eugene for Philadelphia, but new head Duck Mark Helfrich has made the transition, just like Kelly did in 2009, from offensive coordinator to head coach seamlessly.
Last season, Oregon finished fifth in the nation in total offense with 537.4 yards and 49.5 points per game. Through six games this season, these Ducks sit in second place (behind Baylor) in both categories with 630.5 yards and 56.8 points per contest. Last week, Oregon piled up 631 total yards in its convincing 45-24 win over then-No. 16 Washington. The Huskies came into this game allowing 3.9 yards per play, the Ducks doubled that.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is a Heisman contender who had 454 total yards and four touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush) against Washington. He's taking efficient quarterbacking to another level, as his last interception came nine games ago. His versatility is one of the signatures of this offense, which has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to explosive, dynamic skill players. Case in point, five different Ducks have carried the ball at least 20 times this season and all five are averaging well over five yards per carry, including Mariota (10.4).
No disrespect to what Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk, Tevin Reese and company are accomplishing at Baylor, but when it comes to offensive firepower I'll take the dynamic Ducks over Art Briles' Bears. We still have a long ways to go, but would anyone care to guess what the over/under would be should Baylor and Oregon end up playing each other in a bowl game? Now that would be must-see TV.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I had gone back and forth on this until last week, but Saturday probably erased any doubt. Part of me wants to say Baylor — out of respect for Art Briles, out of the possibilities of an underdog and out of interest in what is new and shiny (with those helmets last week, quite literally shiny). But the answer is Oregon right now. The Ducks are simply more proven this season and have more options on offense, as they proved at Washington without De’Anthony Thomas and Colt Lyerla. Marcus Mariota is one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, if not the best. Bryce Petty will have a fine season and may end up a Heisman finalist, but Mariota is magical. Lache Seastrunk may be better than any individual Oregon back, scary considering he was once there for a time, but the Ducks are too deep at that position from Thomas to Byron Marshall to Thomas Tyner. The receivers may be a wash, and both teams have impressive offensive lines. But until I see Baylor tested through the course of the season, we all have to defer to Oregon.
This preview and more on Purdue and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Purdue Facts & Figures
Last season: 16-18 (8-10 Big Ten)
Postseason: CBI quarterfinals
Coach: Matt Painter (176-95 at Purdue)
Big Ten projection: Seventh
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
The Boilermakers will again be a young team — they don’t have a scholarship junior on the roster, for instance — but look to be back among the better teams in the Big Ten. Center A.J. Hammons has the talent to be one of the conference’s best players, and the Johnson brothers — Terone and Ronnie — could be an explosive backcourt. Just as important: Painter believes ingredients have arrived to bolster Purdue’s defensive play and outside shooting, two areas the Boilermakers struggled in last season.
“Our talent is better,” Painter says. “Our depth is better.”
In an era in which true post players are hard to find, the 7-0, 256-pound Hammons will provide Purdue with quite a weapon. He’s got soft hands, a deft touch and tremendous strength underneath the basket both offensively and defensively. Now, he needs to develop some maturity after an inconsistent freshman season during which Painter often sent him to the bench because of a perceived lack of effort.
"The sky is the limit for him,” Painter says. “We need to get his production to meet his talent. When it does, we're going to be a pretty good basketball team."
Painter also has high hopes for redshirt freshman Jay Simpson, who missed most of last season with a lingering foot injury. Simpson also has battled asthma issues during his career.
Incoming freshman Basil Smotherman also will challenge for playing time. Senior Travis Carroll provides an experienced backup behind Hammons, and Donnie Hale will be counted on to help out with the rebounding off the bench. Errick Peck transferred to Purdue from Cornell for his final season of eligibility. He averaged 9.7 points for the Big Red last season.
Painter had few options to run the point last year other than freshman Ronnie Johnson. All that responsibility was sometimes overwhelming, but Painter believes it will pay off this season.
“As I said last year, the best thing that could happen to us would be for Ronnie Johnson to play 30 minutes a game,” Painter says, “and the worst thing that could happen to us would be for Ronnie Johnson to play 30 minutes a game.”
Johnson gets from one end of the court to the other with the ball as fast as any player in the country. He averaged 10.3 points and 4.1 assists in his first season but shot only 38.5 percent from the field and made a total of six 3-pointers.
“We’re going to have more depth (this season), more experience, more competition,” Painter says. “He’s not just going to get the basketball and that’s that. But if he makes strides, and he plays up to his ability, he can be one of the best point guards in the league.”
Older brother Terone Johnson led the Boilermakers in scoring last season with a 13.5-point average, including a 32-point performance against eventual national runner-up Michigan. But Painter thought Johnson sometimes let his emotions get the better of him.
“We have to get him to be a good leader for this team,” Painter says. “We not only need him to play like it, but he also has to act like it. He has to always be out there and lead by example.”
There are some intriguing backcourt possibilities beyond the two Johnsons, too. Incoming freshman Bryson Scott can play both on and off the ball and has an edge the Boilermakers sorely missed last season.
Fellow freshman Kendall Stephens is expected to shore up Purdue’s poor outside shooting. So is senior Sterling Carter, who transfers in for his final season from the University of Seattle. Don’t count out Rapheal Davis, who started 17 games as a freshman and was impressive on the defensive end.
The Boilermakers have five new faces, including three freshmen and two seniors who already graduated from their former schools. Some Purdue fans took it personally when Bryson Scott finished fourth in Indiana’s Mr. Basketball voting after a stellar career at Fort Wayne Northrop High School. He’s considered one of the best incoming combo guards in the nation and should contribute immediately. Kendall Stephens, the son of former Boilermaker standout Everette Stephens, will be counted on to stretch the defense. Basil Smotherman has shown he can play a variety of roles up front. Painter expects Errick Peck and Sterling Carter to add some needed maturity and toughness.
Factoid: 291. Purdue ranked 291st in the nation in free throw percentage, hitting only 65.3 percent. That is the lowest percentage by a Matt Painter-coached Purdue team.
The Boilermakers should return to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence. Anything less would be a major disappointment. If the Johnson brothers and Hammons are as good as Painter expects, and the small but talented freshman class develops quickly, Purdue could be a surprise contender in the Big Ten.
This preview and more on Iowa and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Iowa Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-13 (9-9 Big Ten)
Postseason: NIT runner up
Coach: Fran McCaffery (54-50 at Iowa)
Big Ten projection: Sixth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Now it’s just a matter of living up to the hype, a challenge that’s been rare for Iowa during most of the past decade.
“We expected to build something special,” says McCaffery, who also rebuilt programs at Lehigh, UNC-Greensboro and Siena before coming to Iowa.
Iowa’s victory total has increased in each of McCaffery’s first three seasons — from 11 to 18 to 25 last season, which tied for the second most wins in school history.
The thought of Iowa having the deepest frontline in the Big Ten was hard to envision when McCaffery took over a depleted and deflated Hawkeye program in 2010. Player defections from the previous coaching regime had gutted the program and caused a serious shortage of talent.
Now however, the front line is a position of strength, bolstered by the addition of Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff, who has the versatility to play both forward positions. Uthoff, an Iowa native, spent the 2010-11 season redshirting at Wisconsin and then sat out last year at Iowa due to transfer rules.
Aaron White and sophomore center Adam Woodbury both started all 38 games last season. White played his best ball in Big Ten play, averaging 13.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in 18 league games. He was named third-team all-conference. The 7-1 Woodbury, a former top recruit, didn’t make a huge impact as a freshman (4.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg), but he is poised for a big leap forward. Woodbury worked during the offseason to improve his free throw shooting and his ability to attack the basket.
“I’m more explosive,” Woodbury says. “I’m stronger around the rim. I’m able to step out further on my jump shot. I’m just trying to improve my all-around game.”
Another player to watch is 6-10 Gabe Olaseni, who is still raw on offense but a force at times on defense thanks to his athleticism and length.
There is also depth on the perimeter, along with a potential star in Devyn Marble.
McCaffery has three point guards on scholarship if you include Marble. The other two are sophomores Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons. Gesell started 30 of the 34 games that he played in last season, shifting between point and shooting guard. He became the only Hawkeye freshman to finish with at least 295 points, 85 rebounds and 85 assists in a single season despite missing four games with a foot injury. Clemmons played in all 38 games and started 13 times. He ranked second on the team and third among Big Ten rookies with 105 assists last season. He also excels as an on-the-ball defender.
Marble established himself as Iowa’s go-to player on offense last season. He plays both guard positions and was instrumental in Iowa advancing to the NIT title game, averaging 20.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 steals in the five postseason games. Marble enters this season ranked 28th on the school’s scoring list with 1,134 points. His father, Roy Marble Sr., is Iowa’s career-scoring leader with 2,116 points. Roy and Devyn are the only father-son duo in Big Ten history to eclipse 1,000 points in a career.
Junior Josh Oglesby and incoming freshman Peter Jok will compete for playing time at shooting guard. The hope is that at least one of them will develop into a consistent 3-point shooter. Oglesby suffered through a season-long slump last season, shooting just 26.9 percent from 3-point range. Jok was once considered one of the top freshmen in the nation, but his high school career was derailed by a knee injury. He is now healthy.
Playing time will be tough to come by with so many returning players, but Jarrod Uthoff should make an immediate impact after sitting out the last two seasons. He is a versatile scorer and a defender. The hope is that Peter Jok will help solve the perimeter shooting woes that plagued the Hawkeyes throughout last season. Kyle Meyer will add depth to an already deep frontline.
Factoid: 4. Six of Iowa’s nine regular-season Big Ten losses last season came by four points or less, including one in overtime and another in double-overtime.
Everybody associated with the Iowa program will consider it a huge disappointment if this team doesn’t finish in the upper-half of the conference and make the NCAA Tournament. Playing in the NIT in each of the past two seasons was beneficial, but now it’s time to take the next step. And the pieces are in place for that to happen, barring a rash of injuries.
Derided for its low-scoring games and slow pace of play, Big Ten basketball enjoyed a long-awaited return to must-see college basketball TV last season.
While the sport as a whole fell into a scoring slump, two of the best offensive teams in the nation resided in the Big Ten in conference champion Indiana and national runner-up Michigan. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers, Ohio State and Michigan State all ended up in the top 10 of the RPI.
The follow-up to 2012-13 might not be as exciting as last season when every week brought a game of national importance, but there’s still a lot to like about the Big Ten. Indiana lost its top two players to the NBA Draft, but Michigan and Michigan State bring back key players who could have declared to the NBA Draft. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are back for the Wolverines after starring during the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State loses another star player (Deshaun Thomas) and hopes another scorer (Laquinton Ross) will take his place.
Will the Big Ten have the depth it did last season? Well, that’s up to teams like Iowa, Purdue and Illinois.
Big Ten predicted order of finish
G Aaron Craft, Ohio State
G Gary Harris, Michigan State
F LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State
F Mitch McGary, Michigan
C Adreian Payne, Michigan State
All-Big Ten Second Team
G Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
G Tim Frazier, Penn State
F Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
F Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
F Aaron White, Iowa
All-Big Ten Third Team
G Andre Hollins, Minnesota
G Noah Vonleh, Indiana
G Branden Dawson, Michigan State
G/F Drew Crawford, Northwestern
C A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Postseason projection: NCAA Final Four
Gary Harris and Adreian Payne bypassed the NBA Draft to win the Big Ten title — and perhaps another title in April.
2. OHIO STATE (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The Buckeyes will replace Deshaun Thomas with a deeper bench and a more balanced attack. They always defend.
3. MICHIGAN (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The Wolverines made a great NCAA run, but they lost two great guards — Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
4. WISCONSIN (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
The Badgers have finished no worse than tied for fourth for 12 straight seasons. Sam Dekker and Ben Brust will keep the streak alive.
5. INDIANA (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
Replacing four 1,000-point scorers won’t be easy, but Tom Crean has a veteran point guard (Yogi Ferrell) and a dazzling group of freshmen.
6. IOWA (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
This is the year the Hawkeyes return to the NCAA Tournament — and with five starters back they’re a threat to make a nice run.
7. PURDUE (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
If A.J. Hammons reaches his potential as the league’s best big man, the Boilermakers will be much improved.
Postseason projection: NIT
John Groce is upgrading the talent and competing for better recruits, but the Illini are a year away from returning to the first division.
Postseason projection: NIT
The Big Ten can be an unforgiving place for a rookie coach (Richard Pitino) at a program that lost its only two rebounders.
10. PENN STATE
Looking for a sleeper? Here is your team. With a healthy Tim Frazier and solid D.J. Newbill, the Nittany Lions have a top backcourt.
A healthy Drew Crawford will help Chris Collins establish his system, but the Wildcats lost 11 of their last 12 games.
12. NEBRASKA (bonus team preview)
The new Pinnacle Bank Arena should help Tim Miles build momentum but he still needs more talent.
Big Ten Awards
Player of the Year: Gary Harris, Michigan State
Harris could be an NBA lottery pick when he elects to leave for the Draft, but for now he’ll try to lead Michigan State back to the Final Four. The Big Ten freshman of the year will aim to be a more formidable threat around the basket after shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range last season.
Best Defensive Player: Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Craft has been one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders since his freshman year. He’s already the nation’s top floor general. Now, his offensive game is gaining more consistency.
Most Underrated Player: Aaron White, Iowa
White’s numbers in Big Ten play went up as the junior forward averaged 13.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in conference games. He’ll look to average a double-double per game in a breakout season for the Hawkeyes.
Newcomer of the Year: Noah Vonleh, Indiana (full list of key newcomers around the Big Ten)
Vonleh steps into the shoes of big man Cody Zeller, and he may be up to the task sometime down the line. Unlike Zeller, Vonleh is only 6-foot-9, but he is an athlete forward 7-4 wingspan.
Top coach: Tom Izzo (full rankings of Big Ten coaches)
This preview and more on Nebraska and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Nebraska Facts & Figures
Last season: 15-18 (5-13 Big Ten)
Coach: Tim Miles (15-18 at Nebraska)
Big Ten projection: 12th
Postseason projection: None
Selling out a new arena helps. So does the coach, Tim Miles, poaching an assistant coach from Georgetown and paying him $230,000 — the highest salary ever for a Nebraska assistant basketball coach.
Then there’s the Huskers’ schedule, which will include Florida Gulf Coast and Miami among five teams visiting Lincoln that advanced to last year’s Sweet 16.
Yes, folks are talking hoops in Lincoln, which usually isn’t the case when there’s a defensive line to fret about or a budding backup quarterback battle to dissect.
Miles, entering his second season, deserves much of the credit for injecting some life and hope into a program that’s never won an NCAA Tournament game and hasn’t earned an NCAA berth since 1998.
He’s had an assist in this surge of momentum, too, thanks to Nebraska’s move this season to Pinnacle Bank Arena, located in Lincoln’s West Haymarket district. Fans are ecstatic about the move — Nebraska sold out of season tickets in May — but are just as intrigued by a team that will play seven new faces.
There’s one on the bench, too; Miles hired Kenya Hunter, the longest-tenured assistant coach at Georgetown, to replace Ben Johnson, who left for the same job at his alma mater, Minnesota.
Let’s just put it this way: When Miles hit the recruiting trail in July, he made no bones about his biggest need. “We need size in our program,” Miles said. “We need size and athleticism.”
Nebraska’s frontcourt was lacking in depth and athleticism last season, and the two main players from that group — 6-10 Brandon Ubel and 6-11 Andre Almeida — graduated.
What’s a little perplexing is that Miles, who will enter this season with a vacant scholarship, had such a difficult time landing bigs during the late spring period. He did sign junior college forward Leslee Smith, but other recruits went elsewhere, bypassing what surely would’ve been immediate playing time in Lincoln.
Florida transfer Walter Pitchford, a 6-10 forward who sat out last season, greatly improves Nebraska’s athleticism and has decent shooting range. The same can be said of Smith, a 6-8, 250-pound forward and former SMU player. Miles likes Smith’s strength, poise and maturity, and Smith is quick and agile enough to play out of the high post.
Nebraska’s tallest player is 7-1 sophomore Sergej Vucetic, but at only 236 pounds, he still lacks strength.
Nebraska will have plenty more scoring options, which means Ray Gallegos shouldn’t have to carry as much of a scoring burden. He’s the leading returning scorer (12.5 ppg) and led the Big Ten last season in 3-point attempts (271) while shooting them at a mere 30.6-percent clip.
Among the newcomers is Terran Petteway, a 6-6 wing who sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech. Petteway is athletic, can get to the rim and will be a factor on the boards. He can also play a variety of positions, including point guard.
True freshmen Nick Fuller and Nate Hawkins could provide a scoring punch off the bench. Fuller, in particular, is a 6-6 lefty with a smooth long-range shot. Another true freshman, New Zealand native Tai Webster, could fill Nebraska’s void at point guard.
Sophomore Shavon Shields, perhaps among only one or two locks in the starting lineup, blossomed over the second half of his freshman season.
Most of the hype has centered on Tai Webster, a true freshman point guard from New Zealand, although Terran Petteway, a 6-6 transfer from Texas Tech, could be the biggest difference-maker. Florida transfer Walter Pitchford and junior college transfer Leslee Smith are key frontcourt pieces, and true freshmen Nick Fuller and Nate Hawkins should provide a scoring boost. Redshirt Deverell Biggs will challenge for the starting job at point guard.
Factoid: 9.8. Nebraska averaged only 9.8 assists per game, ranking 332nd in the nation in the category. No NU player averaged more than 2.5 per game.
Nebraska will have vastly improved athleticism, increased depth and considerably more scoring options. That’s reason enough to believe that the Huskers, in their second season under Miles, can improve on last year’s 15–18 record. But can they make a run at postseason play? That depends on how well a group of new, young players can mesh. Miles may have a more athletic squad, but Nebraska still lacks the size and strength needed to compete day-in and day-out in the bruising Big Ten. That’s why the Huskers will finish in the lower half of the league again — although they’ll be a far cry from the pushover many Big Ten teams have come to expect.
This preview and more on Indiana and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Indiana Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-7 (14-4 Big Ten)
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Coach: Tom Crean (84-82 at Indiana)
Big Ten projection: Fifth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
Seven veterans have departed Tom Crean’s Indiana basketball team, including four 1,000-point scorers, two taken in the first four picks of the NBA Draft. Nobody will pick the Hoosiers to finish in the top three in the Big Ten, but nobody should expect Indiana to disappear from the league race by early February.
Veterans Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey played their way onto the U.S. World University Games team. Crean’s six-player freshman class is a consensus top-10 group that is lifted by the addition of fifth-year transfer Evan Gordon. Sophomore Jeremy Hollowell intends to become the Big Ten’s most improved player.
“You can look at it (as) the glass is half empty because we lost a lot of people,” Crean says. “The glass half full is we’ve got such a young team, and they’re going to have that much more of a chance for growth.
“I think it will be fun to coach them. I really do. There will be some trying days. We’re in a veteran league. I don’t think that’s changed much. But I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to coach these guys.”
Cody Zeller was the recruit Crean had to sign to make Indiana relevant again. Crean signed him, coached him for two seasons, utilized Zeller to win a Big Ten championship and sent him to the NBA as the fourth overall pick.
Now Zeller is gone, and Crean must create new ways to score inside. Noah Vonleh arrives as Indiana’s next great player. Although he’s only 6-9, Vonleh plays bigger than that because he’s an explosive athlete with a 7-4 wingspan. Vonleh can make a 3-point shot or attack the basket. He should play power forward, but only if another freshman, Luke Fischer, delivers at center. Like Zeller, Fischer won multiple high school state titles. He’s not as athletic as Zeller but is considered a better shooter.
Crean praised Hollowell over the summer for embracing the work ethic that drove Victor Oladipo to greatness when he transformed himself from a top-150 recruit to the second pick in the 2013 draft. Hollowell has a chance to become Indiana’s top scorer because he can make 3-point shots, get to the rim and pass. The fourth frontcourt regular will be Sheehey, a superb defender and instant energy guy who was the Big Ten’s top sixth man. Sophomore Hanner Mosquera-Perea is the team’s best athlete, but must prove he can contribute in the half-court.
Ferrell had a tough job last season, playing point guard as a freshman for a veteran group that had won 27 games the previous season. He handled it well, deferring to teammates and averaging nearly two assists for every turnover. His role must change. Ferrell must make the 15-footer. He failed to score in IU’s final two NCAA Tournament games. In fact, the Hoosiers’ starting guards were outscored 38–0 in the 61–50 Sweet Sixteen loss to Syracuse.
Crean has a critical decision at the other guard spot — go with a veteran (Gordon) or a freshman. Gordon, the younger brother of former IU star Eric, arrives after playing two seasons at Liberty and one at Arizona State. He’s a solid 3-point shooter who showed he was capable of scoring when he dropped 28 against USC. But he’s 6-1, and Crean might prefer a bigger defender.
He has two candidates — Troy Williams, who played in the Jordan Brand Classic, and Stanford Robinson, a top-75 recruit who arrives from the same D.C. area AAU program that produced Oladipo. Both need work on their jumpers, but they’re long, athletic and capable of forcing the tempo.
Evan Gordon is a fifth-year transfer who was Arizona State’s third-leading scorer last season. Noah Vonleh made the McDonald’s All-American game because he can score and rebound. Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson are wings in the Victor Oladipo mold. Luke Fischer is talented, but the Cody Zeller comparisons are unfair. Devin Davis and Collin Hartman are Indianapolis guys who committed to IU as sophomores. Davis is fearless, and Hartman can shoot.
Factoid: 198. Indiana has been one of the nation’s top 3-point teams the last two seasons, but the Hoosiers must replace seven guys who combined to make 198 of IU’s 257 threes last season.
Indiana has been ready to go in November the last two seasons. This team won’t be. The Hoosiers are replacing their top four scorers, top three rebounders and top three 3-point shooters. After winning the Big Ten outright last season, IU fits in the middle of the pack.
This group will play without the expectations that appeared to suffocate last season’s team i19n March. The bench will be deeper, and Crean will have the depth to extend the defense with a taller and more athletic backcourt.
Hollowell and Vonleh must develop as inside scorers and defenders, because that’s what wins in the Big Ten. Several proven 3-point shooters must also emerge.
A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 7, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports' editors.
Seahawks (5-1) at Cardinals (3-3)
Seattle second-year signal-caller Russell Wilson returns to the site of his NFL debut, which he lost 20–16 at Arizona as the Hawks’ surprise starter in Week 1 last season. Wilson has since become an established quarterback, with a road playoff win under his belt and a 16–6 regular season record as a starter. All six of Wilson’s losses, however, have come on the road — including a 34–28 loss at Indianapolis this year. Seahawks by 9
Buccaneers (0-5) at Atlanta (1-4)
The Falcons have lost four games by a grand total of 15 points to teams with a combined 16–7 record. The sky may not be falling. But fresh off a bye week, Matt Ryan will need to adjust to life without stud wideout Julio Jones, who was lost for the season with a foot injury. Falcons by 9
Bears (4-2) at Redskins (1-4)
By all accounts Robert Griffin III has not been the same superhero RG3 from his rookie season. And Jay Cutler has not been the same scowling villain from yesteryear, either. What kind of bizarro world is this season’s NFL? Bears by 1
Cowboys (3-3) at Eagles (3-3)
The balance of power has swung back and forth in this NFC East rivalry. Dallas swept the season series last year with a 38–23 victory at Philly in Week 10 and a 38–33 win in Week 13. In 2011, the Eagles soared to a 34–7 home triumph in Week 8 and a 20–7 road win in Week 16. Eagles by 1
Patriots (5-1) at Jets (3-3)
New England struggled to a 13–10 ugly win in the rain on Thursday night in Week 2 this year. Tom Brady completed only 48.7 percent of his passes for just 185 yards and one TD in the win. The Patriots have now won six straight against the Jets with an 18–5 record with Brady at QB. Patriots by 8
Bills (2-4) at Dolphins (3-2)
Last season, Ryan Tannehill threw two TDs in a 24–10 win over the Bills at home in Week 16 after tossing two INTs in a 19–14 loss on the road at Buffalo in Week 11. The Bills are just hoping undrafted former scout team ace Thad Lewis (foot) is healthy after losing rookie starter EJ Manuel and rookie backup Jeff Tuel. Dolphins by 5
Chargers (3-3) at Jaguars (0-6)
The split stats are actually in Jacksonville’s favor — playing a West Coast team at 1 p.m. Eastern after that team played on Monday night. Chargers by 7
Rams (3-3) at Panthers (2-3)
As Cam Newton goes, so go the Panthers. Cam has scored eight of his 11 total TDs in wins and committed five of his six turnovers in losses. Panthers by 3
Bengals (4-2) at Lions (4-2)
Arguably the top two young wideouts in the NFL — Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (6'5", 236) and Cincy’s A.J. Green (6'4", 207) — will put on a show at Ford Field. As long as Megatron’s sore knee holds up, this big catfight should be a pass-happy affair in the Motor City. Lions by 2
49ers (4-2) at Titans (3-3)
San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick is 3–3 on the road as a starter, throwing a combined eight TDs and six INTs away from the Bay. 49ers by 9
Texans (2-4) at Chiefs (6-0)
The expansion Houston Texans (2002-present) ride out to face the old school Dallas Texans (1960-62), who left the Lone Star State to become the Kansas City Chiefs (1963-present). These clubs are heading in different directions, with Houston’s stale coach-QB combo of Gary Kubiak and Matt Schaub (nine INTs with four pick-sixes) taking on the fresh approach of Kansas City’s Andy Reid and Alex Smith. Chiefs by 8
Ravens (3-3) at Steelers (1-4)
Eight of the last 10 Baltimore-Pittsburgh meetings have been decided by exactly three points, either way — with four 23–20 games and two 13–10 contests. The two games not decided by a field goal? One was a four-point difference and the other was a 28-point blowout. Outliers have been few and far between in this series. Steelers by 1
Browns (3-3) at Packers (3-2)
The last time these two teams played, Aaron Rodgers threw three TDs and zero INTs in a 31–3 win at Cleveland. Déjà vu all over again? Packers by 10
Broncos (6-0) at Colts (4-2)
Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis, where he was the No. 1 overall pick in 1998, won four league MVP awards and a Super Bowl XLI title over 13 incredible seasons and one inactive year from 1998-2011. This Sunday night party will double as a horseshoe homecoming. Broncos by 7
Vikings (1-4) at Giants (0-6)
The Super Bowl will be in New York this year. But Monday night will not be a Super preview. Giants by 3
Last week: 11–4 // Season: 57–35
Peyton Manning wanted to retire as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. He just didn’t want to retire following the 2011 season. As a result, the four-time MVP and Super Bowl XLI winner is returning to Indianapolis this week — as a member of the Denver Broncos.
“Nobody loves their job more than I do. Nobody loves playing quarterback more than I do. I still want to play. But there is no other team I wanted to play for,” Manning said, after being released by the Colts in March of 2012. “We all know that nothing lasts forever. Times change, circumstances change, and that’s the reality of playing in the NFL.”
After (at least) four major neck surgeries by Manning and a 2–14 record in 2011 — with the clown car quarterback crew of Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins — Indianapolis decided to use the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft on the heir to Manning, who was the No. 1 overall pick of the Colts in 1998.
After all, Manning was a soon-to-be 36-year-old fresh off a year-long injury recovery. More important, the top quarterback prospect in decades was available. Stanford’s Andrew Luck was the son of an NFL quarterback and had been coached by an NFL quarterback, former Cardinal and current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Even Manning thought the move to Luck was a no-brainer.
“He said, ‘You’ve got to take Andrew,’” Colts owner Jim Irsay told USA Today Sports. “‘You have to. You’re crazy if you don’t.’”
While the Colts were thrilled to transition from Manning to Luck, the Broncos were even more excited to add a future Hall of Famer to a roster that Tim Tebow had led to a playoff win the year before.
“I don’t consider it much of a risk, knowing Peyton Manning,” said Denver decider John Elway, after signing Manning. “I asked him, ‘Is there any doubt in your mind that you can’t get back to the Peyton Manning we know of?’ And he said, ‘There’s no doubt in my mind.’”
After 22 games in Denver, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind. Manning has thrown for 6,838 yards, 59 TDs and 13 INTs wearing orange crush.
The first 22 games of Luck’s career in Indianapolis has not been half bad, either. The mobile 24-year-old has thrown for 5,720 yards, 30 TDs and 21 INTs, while rushing for 409 yards and seven TDs in true blue.
All’s well that ends well. And the Manning-Luck swap is going well.
“I think it’s perfect,” Irsay told USA Today Sports. “What’s happened is what Peyton and I hoped would happen. The desire was for him to get well and get to a team that has a chance to win another Super Bowl before his career ended.
“And our desire was to be able to transition to Andrew. To be so good so soon is stunning.”
1. Broncos (6-0) Peyton Manning loses two fumbles, throws pick-six.
2. Chiefs (6-0) Beat Raiders at Arrowhead for first time since 2006.
3. Patriots (5-1) Tom Brady throws winning TD with five seconds left.
4. Saints (5-1) Jimmy Graham (leg) exits in fourth quarter of loss.
5. Seahawks (5-1) Russell Wilson improves to 11–0 at home in Seattle.
6. 49ers (4-2) Big players make big plays in third straight victory.
7. Packers (3-2) Earn first road win after losses at San Fran, Cincy.
8. Colts (4-2) Chuck Pagano loses to Chargers DC brother, John.
9. Lions (4-2) Outscored Browns 24–0 in second half of victory.
10. Bears (4-2) Brandon Marshall fined $10,500 for green shoes.
11. Bengals (4-2) Mike Nugent bounces back with game-winning FG.
12. Cowboys (3-3) Give owner Jerry Jones a win on his 71st birthday.
13. Eagles (3-3) Nick Foles shines as Mike Vick watches from sideline.
14. Ravens (3-3) Lost to NFC team at home for first time in 14 games.
15. Dolphins (3-2) Ryan Tannehill has “plenty of arm,” few deep throws.
16. Rams (3-3) Defense, special teams score TDs in blowout win.
17. Texans (2-4) Home crowd cheers injured Matt Schaub on ground.
18. Falcons (1-4) Tony Gonzalez to K.C. trade rumors continue to swirl.
19. Titans (3-3) Unable to stop “Beast Mode” in loss at Seahawks.
20. Chargers (3-3) Philip Rivers outplays Andrew Luck in MNF victory.
21. Cardinals (3-3) Calais Campbell carted off field, but hopes to play.
22. Panthers (2-3) Cam Newton’s four scores lead Cats past Vikings.
23. Redskins (1-4) RG3 has three multi-turnover efforts in five games.
24. Jets (3-3) Marty Lyons inducted into Ring of Honor at halftime.
25. Browns (3-3) Brandon Weeden “bone-headed play” seals loss.
26. Bills (2-4) Thad Lewis scores three TDs in overtime defeat.
27. Raiders (2-4) Terrelle Pryor says team will “get to the playoffs.”
28. Vikings (1-4) Adrian Peterson plays after 2-year-old son’s death.
29. Steelers (1-4) Fourth team to reach 600 wins (including playoffs).
30. Giants (0-6) Worst start for Big Blue since 0–9 record in 1976.
31. Buccaneers (0-5) Third player diagnosed with MRSA staph infection.
32. Jaguars (0-6) Record underdogs (+28) only lost by 16 points.
Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers
What is this, the playoffs? Historic postseason overachiever Davis — who has 22 catches for 546 yards (24.8 ypc) and five TDs in five career playoff games — was dominant in a 32–20 win over Arizona. The 6'3", 250-pound physical freak had eight receptions for 180 yards (22.5 ypc) and a pair of second-quarter TDs covering 61 and 35 yards, respectively. Despite missing one game to injury, Davis has 22 catches for 404 yards (18.4 ypc) and six TDs in five games. With the Niners starved for pass-catchers, Davis’ play has been solid gold.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Jaguars
The most lopsided matchup in NFL history — at least on paper pregame — had the winless Jaguars as 28-point underdogs on the road against the unbeaten Broncos. And while Jacksonville did lose 35–19, there were a few bright spots to take away from the Mile High defeat. Blackmon hauled in 14 catches for 190 yards in a career effort for the second-year wideout out of Oklahoma State. Following a four-game suspension, Blackmon has 19 receptions for 326 yards (17.2 ypc) and a 67-yard TD in the two games he has played this season. The clawless Jaguars also scored a defensive TD and forced the Broncos’ first punt of October.
Tamba Hali, LB, Chiefs
Undefeated Kansas City continued to steamroll through all comers, crushing AFC West rival Oakland, 24–7, to improve to 6–0 this year. The Chiefs defense led the way with 10 sacks and three INTs of Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Hali paced the pass-rushers with 3.5 sacks for 30.5 lost yards. He was joined in the sack party by Derrick Johnson (2.0 sacks), Eric Berry (1), Tyson Jackson (1), Justin Houston (1), Mike Catapano (1) and Husain Abdullah (0.5).
LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense was off and running during a 31–20 road win at Tampa Bay. McCoy had 25 carries for 116 yards (4.6 ypc) to go along with two catches for 55 yards. The league’s leading rusher, McCoy has 630 yards and a 99-yard cushion over second-leading rusher Arian Foster (531 yards). “Shady” was not Philly’s only big playmaker on Sunday, however. Backup quarterback Nick Foles threw for 296 yards with three scoring strikes — two to DeSean Jackson and another to Riley Cooper — while subbing for the injured Michael Vick.
The Fifth of May was a day for underdogs everywhere. The little guy won. The Davids beat Goliath.
Front Row Motorsports’ taming of Talladega Superspeedway, the 2.66-mile track that is home to more action and unexpected turns of events than a pro wrestling cage match, might be the best feel-good story of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. A former start-and-park team conquered the day. It made many fans feel all warm and fuzzy.
Unfortunately, the moment for fuzzy feelings is likely over. Statistically, David Ragan and David Gilliland, the first- and second-place finishers of the May race at Talladega, overcame long odds and bucked tried-and-true strategy. It doesn’t mean their performance wasn’t spectacular; on the contrary, their end-of-race march carried all the flair of a storybook ending come to life.
+6 and +4 Ragan and Gilliland gained six and four positions, respectively, on the first lap following the green-white-checker restart.
Ragan’s win was, sorry to say, a bit fluky. He averaged a 20th-place running position on the day and went from 10th to first in two laps, taking advantage of plum positioning on the race’s deciding restart. He might not get an opportunity to duplicate the effort — restarts aren’t guaranteed — so, to solidify his giant-killer status, he’ll have to perform far better than his other restrictor plate race outings (finishes of 35th and 22nd) this season.
Gilliland was just one of four drivers (Kurt Busch, Michael Waltrip and Jamie McMurray were the others) to score a net gain of positions from the non-preferred groove during the race. The non-preferred line, especially specific positions within it, is no-man’s land.
33.3% Drivers lining up in the fifth- and seventh-place positions on restarts in the spring race retained those positions just 33.3 percent of the time.
In a late-race situation at Talladega, if a driver comes down pit road in eighth place and gains one spot after a fantastic stop, it’s a death wish. Seriously. The reward for one spot gained (from an even-numbered position) on a final stop is about a 67 percent chance that the recipient will cough up that spot (and then some) on a pivotal restart. When it comes to double-file restarting, especially at Talladega, it’s better to be lucky than good.
Restarts, though, come with cautions. Even though this is a close-proximity race, cautions aren’t guaranteed and caution “trends” are unreliable. The best way to score a win in a restrictor plate race is by running up front.
76.9% Dating back to the 2012 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, restrictor plate race winners were running either first or second with 10 percent of the race to go 76.9 percent of the time (10 races out of 13).
Additionally, the eventual winner led over 10 percent of the race 11 times (84.6 percent). Ragan’s victory, while cool for his race team and completely unexpected, is an outlier. The best bet to win this type of race starts with a team controlling its own fate. In 2013, one championship driver and team have been better at it than the rest …
4.43 Jimmie Johnson’s average running position across the last three point-paying restrictor plate races is 4.43-place.
The No. 48 team won two of those races, both at Daytona, and enjoyed its highest average running position at Talladega (3.52) en route to a fifth-place finish. Ironically, in a race where track position is reshuffled every lap, average running position is at its highest importance. Avoiding mid-pack crashes and taking advantage of clean air in the lead draft can go a long way for keeping a car unscathed. Johnson’s Chad Knaus-led team, one of the smartest entries in the Cup Series garage area, knows this and the driver executes accordingly. It’s a big reason why Johnson is the top-ranked plate racer per MotorsportsAnalytics.com’s Production in Equal Equipment Ratings (PEER).
2.46 The day’s best average running position in the spring Talladega race belonged to Matt Kenseth, who led a race-high 142 laps and cruised around the high-banked tri-oval with a 2.46-place running position.
Kenseth hasn’t scored a restrictor plate win in 2013, but that doesn’t mean you should expect anything less than immaculate performance. The point leader is a smart drafter, proving this in 2012 when he captured wins in the Daytona 500 and the fall race at Talladega.
4.375 Michael Waltrip ranks fourth in restrictor plate track PEER with a 4.375 rating.
He’s a goofy, polarizing entertainer on television, but that isn’t indicative of his drafting ability. Waltrip is a reliably productive plate racer, demonstrated with his last two outings — top-5 finishes at Talladega and Daytona — with the latter race acting as the site of a ferocious 34th-to-fifth-place run to the checkered flag in the closing laps. He returns to the seat of his own No. 55 car this weekend. With a cloud of negativity and a recent batch of layoffs announced amid his organization’s downward spiral, an attention-shifting victory, not outside the realm of possibility, would provide some relief.
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 Action Sports, Inc.
It's Midseason Madness on this week's podcast. Our hosts tackle big second-half questions for the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC before offering up picks for the midseason coach of the year. Here are the key storylines Braden Gall and David Fox tackled for each conference:
• ACC: Who blinks first, Florida State and Clemson? The Seminoles have the freshman quarterback, but the Tigers have needed to be bailed out by the defense recently. And why should or shouldn’t Miami have a bandwagon for the Coastal.
• Big 12: Yep, we’re arguing who has a better chance to go undefeated in the Big 12. One team is Texas. One is Baylor.
• Big Ten: The Legends Division round robin is a madhouse between wildly flawed teams. Is it fascinating or just ugly?
• Pac-12: Can UCLA do what Washington failed to do? The Bruins schedule is brutal down the stretch.
• SEC: Where to start in the East? South Carolina has emerged more and more as the injury bug has decimated the division. And does anyone stand to challenge Alabama in the West?
• And finally, Braden and David go through their coach of the year picks for Art Briles, Gary Pinkel and Curtis Johnson.
National League Championship Series – Game 4
St. Louis at Los Angeles
7:07 ET TBS
Ricky Nolasco (13-11, 3.70) vs. Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97)
The Cardinals were about to have the Dodgers by the throat on the cusp of a three-games-to-none lead, but Hyun-Jin Ryu was up to the task and the Cardinals weren’t. St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright deserved much better than what his teammates gave him last night. Defensively, the Redbirds didn’t make plays, and offensively they were stymied by Ryu. Ricky Nolasco, the Dodgers’ starter, will be making the first postseason start of his career. His counterpart, Lance Lynn, didn’t fare well in his start against Pittsburgh, but he pitched two scoreless innings to earn the win in Game 1. Through three games, this series has featured an aggregate .176 batting average. Perhaps, with Nolasco and Lynn on the hill, the hitters may have a fighting chance.
Keys for Los Angeles
Dodger pitching must continue to keep the St. Louis hitters off balance. Los Angeles hitting coach Mark McGwire, who spent the past three seasons with the same job in St. Louis, no doubt has offered some insight to the Dodgers’ pitchers as to some Cardinals’ weaknesses. The pitchers must continue to exploit those weaknesses. Good health is a key for the Dodgers as well. Center fielder Andre Ethier continues to be hindered by an ankle problem and shortstop Hanley Ramirez is playing with a cracked rib.
Keys for St. Louis
The bats must get going. It’s difficult to believe that the Cardinals have won two games with a batting average of .134 in this series. But that’s not likely to last. It all starts with Matt Carpenter at the top, and he’s shown a few signs that he may be coming out of his funk. Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina need to start chipping in with some run production as well. Lynn must be sharper than he was in his lone start against Pittsburgh in the NLDS. He gave up five earned runs in 4.1 innings.
Dodgers to Watch
Nolasco made two starts against St. Louis this season, one in Miami as a member of the Marlins and one in St. Louis as a Dodger. Nolasco won both games. The Dodgers won 11 of Nolasco’s 15 starts after they acquired him from Miami. However, in his final three starts, he allowed 17 earned runs in 12 innings (12.75 ERA) and opponents batted .393. That may be why Don Mattingly chose to skip him in the NLDS in favor of bringing Clayton Kershaw back on short rest. J.P. Howell will once again be a key piece of the Dodgers’ bullpen. He’s the lone lefty, and he’ll likely be asked to face the teeth of the Cardinals’ lineup once in the late innings. Offensively, Yasiel Puig has awakened and has been a thorn in the Cardinals’ side in more ways than one.
Cardinals to Watch
David Freese, who injured his calf last night, is questionable. Without him in the lineup, the Cardinals are fine defensively with Daniel Descalso, but Freese has a history of rising in October when the Cardinals need him most. Carlos Beltran and Jon Jay must shore up the Cardinals’ outfield defense. Jay, once regarded as a top center fielder, has struggled recently.
The projected Dodgers’ lineup is batting a combined .216 off Lynn with only two extra-base hits in 37 at-bats…The Cardinals were just 7-10 in Lynn’s 17 road starts this season, but he tossed six shutout innings in a win in May at Dodger Stadium…The projected Cardinals’ lineup is batting .371 off Nolasco…Hanley Ramirez is batting .455 this postseason with seven RBIs in six games…Against Atlanta and St. Louis in October, Dodgers pitchers have 66 strikeouts and have allowed just 41 hits and 21 walks…Yadier Molina (.286) is the only Cardinal regular hitting above .241 this postseason…Four regulars — David Freese (.192), Matt Holliday (.188), Jon Jay (.154) and Matt Carpenter (.100) — are hitting below the Mendoza Line.
The wheels are already in motion following the recent announcement that Tennessee and Virginia Tech will play a football game at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 10, 2016. The game is expected to set single-game football attendance record as the 52-year-old racetrack has a seating capacity of 150,000. Bristol’s proximity to both campuses made this event a rumored possibility since the 1990s. Bristol Motor Speedway released a promo video to get two already ecstatic fan bases even more primed about the event.