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By the time Missouri took a 17-14 lead in the second quarter, Saturday’s SEC Championship Game was already was one of the wildest title games in league history.

Then Tre Mason happened.

On Auburn’s next drive, Mason rushed for 49 yards on five carries and took the lead on a 7-yard touchdown run. He topped that with a 52-yard run on his next carry and another touchdown four attempts later.

With Bo Jackson on the sideline, Mason put up Bo Jackson-like numbers and a running performance never seen in the previous 21 SEC title games.

Mason rushed for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries to give Auburn a 59-42 win and a chance to play for the national championship. The record-setting performance earned Mason Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors and an outside shot to become a Heisman finalist.

“It was always a dream growing up, wanting to win the Heisman,” Mason said. “I’m sure that every kid that played football, that’s one of their dreams. It’s hard to describe, the feelings that I’m having right now.”

Athlon Sports Week 15 National Awards

National Player of the Week: Tre Mason, Auburn
Mason put on the best rushing performance in SEC history, setting records for carries (46), rushing yards (304), all-purpose yards (312) and touchdowns (four). Mason’s 304 rushing yards was tied for the fifth-highest total in 2013, and he did it against a Missouri defense that hadn’t allowed 200 rushing yards in a game all year.

National Defensive Player of the Week: Telvin Smith, Florida State
Even the ACC Championship Game became routine for Florida State. Telvin Smith led the defensive effort in a 38-7 win over Duke as the senior linebacker picked up eight tackles, a sack, two tackles for a loss and an interception. His pick early in the second quarter set up a quick drive to give FSU a 24-0 lead.

National Freshman of the Week: Ronnie Moore, Bowling Green
Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson spread the ball around in knocking Northern Illinois out of BCS contention, completing five touchdown passes to five different receivers in the 47-27 win in the MAC Championship Game. Freshman Ronnie Moore was one of the beneficiaries, catching four passes for 165 and a touchdown. He had a 61-yard catch to set up a field goal in the first quarter and added 36-yard TD catch on the following drive.

National Coordinator of the Week: Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State
Ohio State got its rushing yards in the Big Ten Championship Game, but that was about it. Michigan State allowed a season-high 273 rushing yards, but the defense dominated just about every other facet of the 34-24 win over the Buckeyes to clinch the Big Ten title. Narduzzi’s defense held Ohio State to 8 of 23 passes for 101 yards and 1 of 12 on third and fourth downs. The Spartans tightened up even more in the fourth quarter, allowing Ohio State to amass only 25 yards on the final three possessions.

Teaser:
Auburn's Tre Mason is Athlon's National Player of the Week
Post date: Sunday, December 8, 2013 - 14:00
Path: /nfl/indianapolis-colts-vs-cincinnati-bengals-preview-and-prediction
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AFC division leaders are set to face off when the Indianapolis Colts take on the Cincinnati Bengals at 1 p.m. ET on CBS. Andrew Luck and the Colts (8-4) currently hold a commanding three-game lead over the Titans in the AFC South, while Andy Dalton and the Bengals (8-4) are two games ahead of the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens for first place in the AFC North.

Even though the teams are tied at 8-4, Indianapolis currently is the third seed in the AFC playoffs due to a better winning percentage in conference games (6-2, .750) compared to Cincinnati (6-3, .666).

3 Things to Watch

Indianapolis’ First Half Struggles
Indianapolis has gone 3-2 since its Week 8 bye and one of the biggest reasons why has been the Colts’ slow starts. In their last five games, the Colts have managed a total of three field goals in the first quarter while their opponents have scored six touchdowns. That 42-9 scoring margin in the first quarter balloons to 100-24 by halftime. Prior to last week’s slim 12-7 lead at the half, Indianapolis had trailed by at least 11 points after the first 30 minutes of play in its previous four games. The Colts haven’t scored a touchdown in the first half since their Week 7 victory over Denver at home back on Oct. 20. Chuck Pagano’s team should get plenty of credit for going 3-2 during this span, despite trailing at halftime by an average of 15.2 points per game, but that’s only due to a remarkable comeback against lowly Houston in Week 9 and two wins against a Tennessee team that’s starting its backup quarterback. On the other hand, the losses to St. Louis at home and on the road against Arizona have not been pretty. The Colts were outscored 55-3 in the first half and 78-19 overall by the Rams and Cardinals. Indianapolis can ill afford another slow start this afternoon, especially on the road against a Cincinnati team that is a perfect 5-0 at Paul Brown Stadium this season.

Protecting the Quarterback
Both Indianapolis and Cincinnati rank near the bottom of the NFL in sacks allowed this season. However, both teams have had issues keeping their quarterback upright recently. The Colts currently are tied for 23rd in the league with 29 sacks allowed. Andrew Luck’s pocket presence and dual-threat capabilities certainly make his offensive line’s job easier, but this unit has struggled since the bye in Week 8. In the past five games, Luck has gone down 14 times or roughly half of his season total (29). To make matters worse, Cincinnati is ninth in the league in sacks with 36, with the defense producing  three or more sacks in four of its past five outings. The Bengals have fared even better than the Colts in keeping their quarterback’s jersey clean. Andy Dalton has been sacked 26 times, which places the team 27th in the league in sacks allowed. Ten of these came in Weeks 9 and 10 when the Bengals lost to the Dolphins and Ravens in back-to-back games. In fact, Miami beat Cincinnati thanks to a sack, a rare walk-off safety courtesy of the Dolphins’ Cameron Wake. The losses to the Dolphins and Ravens are the only two the Bengals have suffered over their last eight games. On the whole, the Colts’ and Bengals’ offensive lines have done a solid job of protecting their quarterbacks. Luck and Dalton both hope this trend, and not the recent hiccups in this area, continues this afternoon.

Which Offense Gets a Passing Grade?
While neither Indianapolis nor Cincinnati will ever be mistaken for Denver, New Orleans or Detroit when it comes to passing offenses, both the Colts and Bengals have really struggled in this area recently. Since the Week 8 bye, Andrew Luck has averaged 243.8 yards passing per game. His 353-yard effort in Week 10 greatly inflates this average, and that was a game in which the Colts were forced to pass because the Rams were up 28-0 at halftime. This span of five games also coincides with the number of games leading receiver Reggie Wayne has missed. The veteran tore his ACL in the Week 7 win over Denver and without him, Luck hasn’t been as near productive when he drops back to pass. The second-year signal-caller has completed just 55.2 percent of his passes and has as many touchdowns as interceptions (five apiece) in five games without Wayne. T.Y. Hilton has stepped into Wayne’s role as the No. 1 receiver, but other than a 121-yard, three-touchdown performance against Houston, Hilton has totaled 258 yards receiving and no scores since the bye. Part of the problem has been no one has emerged behind Hilton as a reliable secondary option for Luck. Pass protection (14 sacks in the last five games), also has been an issue, but the bottom line is that Luck and the Colts must figure out a way to “fix” a passing attack that has netted a total of 319 yards in the last two games combined. On the other side is Andy Dalton, who went through a three-game stretch in October during which he averaged 344.7 yards passing per game with a total of 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Since then, however, he has averaged less than 225 yards passing and has posted a 9:6 interception-to-touchdown ratio over his past four outings. Unlike Luck, Dalton has the luxury of a premier wide receiver at his disposal in A.J. Green. The All-Pro is tied for sixth in the NFL with 1,103 yards receiving and has hauled in seven touchdowns. Green has totaled just 90 yards in his last two games, but that was preceded by a three-game stretch in which he averaged 131.3, so he’s capable of breaking out at any moment. The Colts (238.7 ypg) have been a little more generous than the Bengals (213.8 ypg) in terms of pass defense this season, but it remains to be seen if either struggling aerial attack will be able to make much of an impact this afternoon.

Indianapolis Key Player: Coby Fleener, TE
The Colts’ offense hasn’t been the same since Reggie Wayne tore his ACL in the Week 7 win against Denver. T.Y. Hilton has replaced Wayne as Andrew Luck’s No. 1 target, but the second-year wide receiver can’t do it alone. The coaching staff was hoping that Darrius Heyward-Bey would step up in Wayne’s absence, but that has not materialized and the free agent acquisition is basically an afterthought in the Colts’ offensive game plans at this point. That’s where Fleener comes in. With a relationship that goes back to their days at Stanford, Luck obviously trusts Fleeer, as he’s averaged nearly eight targets per game in the five games the Colts have been without Wayne. Fleener has turned all of these looks into 22 catches for 309 yards and one touchdown. While productive, the Colts need even more out of Fleener, especially if no other wide receiver emerges behind Hilton.

Cincinnati Key Player: Giovani Bernard, RB
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is getting the most carries and may lead the Bengals in rushing (614 yards), but Bernard is the difference-maker out of the backfield. The first running back drafted in April (second round, 37th overall), the former North Carolina star has had his moments as both a rusher and receiver this season. He’s averaging 4.4 yards per carry, compared to Green-Ellis’ 3.5 and has the same number of rushing touchdowns (four) as the veteran. As a receiver, he’s second to All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green in receptions on the team with 43 and of Bernard’s 354 yards receiving, 346 of them have come after the catch. Bernard’s speed and explosiveness have already produced several highlight-reel plays, and his role in the offense only figures to grow in the Bengals’ final four games.

Final Analysis

Indianapolis is a win away from clinching the AFC South, but the Colts have been the beneficiary of a lackluster division and have not been the same team since Reggie Wayne tore his ACL back in Week 7. The offense has struggled to find its rhythm and the defense hasn’t been able to figure out how to consistently stop the run.

Cincinnati is in the driver’s seat in the AFC North, thanks to Baltimore and Pittsburgh’s slow starts, but this is not a Bengals team without its own flaws either. Outside of one ridiculous three-game stretch in October, quarterback Andy Dalton has been average at best, while the defense has lost some key personnel, most notably All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins, to injuries.

Since Wayne went down, the Colts have put themselves into big holes early in games, which is something they can ill afford to do on the road against Cincinnati. Quarterback Andrew Luck and his running mates have struggled against good defenses recently, as both Arizona and Tennessee have held the Colts’ offense in check over the past two weeks.

Like the Cardinals and Titans, the Bengals have a pretty good defense of their own and in the end, this will be the difference this afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati’s pass rush prevents Luck from getting comfortable in the pocket and finding his rhythm, while the Bengals’ offense uses playmakers A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard to attack a susceptible Colts’ secondary. The Bengals maintain serve at home in a game that will impact how the AFC playoffs shake out when all is said and done.

Cincinnati 27, Indianapolis 20

Teaser:
Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 8, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/seattle-seahawks-vs-san-francisco-49ers-preview-and-prediction-2013
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One of the NFL’s best rivalries going right now will take center stage this afternoon when the Seattle Seahawks take on the San Francisco 49ers at 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks (11-1) have already clinched a playoff spot and can sew up the NFC West title and a first-round bye with a win. Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers (8-4) currently possess the NFC’s final Wild Card spot, but they would like to improve their postseason chances with a victory at home and snap a two-game losing streak to their division rivals in the process.

3 Things to Watch

Seahawks Flying High
Winners of seven in a row after a dominating, 34-7 victory over New Orleans on Monday night, Seattle appears to come into this one with all of the momentum. The Seahawks haven’t lost since a 34-28 defeat at Indianapolis back on Oct. 6 and have outscored the opposition by nearly 100 points (203-105) during their winning streak. In their last three games alone, the offense has averaged 414 yards and has not turned the ball over once. The No. 1 defense in the NFL, the Seahawks have held their last three opponents – Falcons, Vikings and Saints – to an average of 250 yards per game and have forced six turnovers. New Orleans, one of the top offenses in the league, managed a season-low 188 yards of offense and one lone touchdown against the Seahawks’ defense on Monday night. Seattle also has been successful against San Francisco lately, winning the last two games against the 49ers by a combined score of 71-16. In these contests, the Seahawks outgained the 49ers 348-182 on the ground and won the turnover battle 7-2. Seattle seems to be peaking at just the right time, which means San Francisco has its work cut out for it this afternoon.

Location, Location, Location
As well as Seattle is playing right now, San Francisco does have one thing in its favor – the 49ers are the home team. The Seahawks enjoy one of the greatest home-field advantages in the NFL at CenturyLink Field, which is manifested by the deafening support of their fans, collectively known as the “12th Man.” These fans have been so loud as to register on the Richter scale, and it’s apparent the home team feeds off of this energy, especially the defense. At home, the Seahawks are giving up 261.5 yards per game and just 14 points per game. On the road, those numbers grow to 316.5 and 17. At a league-best 11-1, it’s not like Seattle has played poorly on the road this season. In fact, the Seahawks could set a single-season franchise record with their sixth road win this afternoon. To do that, however, they will have to do something they haven’t done since 2008 – win in San Francisco. The Seahawks have won the last two meetings against the 49ers, but both of those games were in Seattle. San Francisco has won the past four games at Candlestick Park, including last season’s 13-6 victory in Week 7. Last year’s Seahawks team went 3-5 during the regular season on the road, won at Washington in the NFC Wild Card game before losing in Atlanta in the Divisional Round. This year’s Seahawks squad is 5-1 on the road and would be one step closer to securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory this afternoon. San Francisco made it to the Super Bowl last season by beating the Falcons on the road in the NFC title game. Can the Seahawks show the defending NFC Champions that they are a team to be feared, no matter where the game is played?

Putting the “O” in San Francisco
For the season, the 49ers are 28th in the NFL in total offense at 311 yards per game. The rushing attack is seventh at 130.8 yards per contest, but the passing game lags well behind. Only the Jets, who are starting a rookie quarterback in Geno Smith, have thrown for fewer yards this season than the 49ers (180.3 ypg). In San Francisco’s eight wins, the 49ers are averaging 365.5 yards and 32.3 points per game. In their four losses, including a 29-3 defeat to the Seahawks back in Week 2, those numbers plummet to 202 yards and just 9.8 points per game. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s play has been inconsistent to say the least this season, and he’s fared even worse against Seattle in his career. In two games against the Seahawks, Kaepernick has accounted for one touchdown pass and five (4 INTs, fumble) total turnovers, as the 49ers have been outscored 71-16 in those contests. Earlier this season, Kaepernick had arguably the worst game of his young career up in Seattle. In the Week 2 loss, Kaepernick completed just 13 of 28 passes for 127 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. He did rush for a season-high 87 yards, but he lost a fumble and also was sacked three times, as the 49ers finished with 207 yards of offense. While Kaepernick certainly needs to play better, the San Francisco offense really revolves around running the ball. After starting the season with nine straight performances of at least 90 yards rushing, the 49ers have averaged just 80 yards on the ground over their last three games. If there’s been any weak spot in Seattle’s defense this season, it’s been against the run. The Seahawks are 13th in the league in rushing defense at 107.2 yards per game, but have given up 150 or more to three different teams (Houston, St. Louis and Tampa Bay). Running back Frank Gore has had success in his career against Seattle, posting a 5.3 yards per carry average in 15 games, but he gained just 16 yards rushing against the Seahawks earlier this season and hasn’t gone over 82 yards on the ground since Week 6. Whether it’s Kaepernick or Gore or someone else, San Francisco needs to find some offense this afternoon if the 49ers have any hope of ending Seattle’s seven-game winning streak.

Seattle Key Player: Russell Wilson, QB
The Seahawks have the best record in the NFL at 11-1 and the league’s No. 1 defense. They also have a pretty good quarterback in Wilson, who has gone from an afterthought as a third-round draft pick in 2012 to a legitimate MVP candidate this season. All Wilson did as a rookie was win the starting job in the preseason and then go on to post a 26:10 touchdown-to-interception ratio while completing 64.1 percent of his passes and help lead the Seahawks to the playoffs with an 11-5 record. This season Wilson has been even better. His completion percentage is up (64.9), he’s on pace to post a 29:8 TD:INT ratio and he’s averaging 5.7 yards per carry. With four games left, Wilson has already won 22 games and has 48 touchdown passes in his first two seasons. The only quarterbacks with more touchdown passes in their first two campaigns are Dan Marino (68) and Peyton Manning (52). While Wilson may have a chance of catching Manning, what is first and foremost on his mind is securing the NFC West title and a first-round bye in the playoffs with a win over San Francisco. Wilson is 2-1 against his division rivals, with both victories coming at home. In fact his only game at Candlestick Park, a 13-6 defeat in Week 7 last season, was the worst performance of his young career. In that game, Wilson completed just 9-of-23 passes for 122 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He has been solid on the road this season (10:2 TD:INT ratio in six games), but has struggled away from home against some of the better passing defenses. A strong performance by Wilson at Candlestick Park this afternoon may not only result in a division title and first-round bye in the playoffs, it could go a long ways towards bolstering his MVP candidacy.

San Francisco Key Player: Michael Crabtree, WR
The 49ers’ leading receiver last season, Crabtree has played in a grand total of one game in 2013. He missed the first 11 after tearing his Achilles tendon in late March. Colin Kaepernick looked Crabtree’s way early and often after he became the starter midway through last season, as the duo become one of the most productive quarterback-wide receiver combinations in the NFL. In the 10 starts Kaepernick made in 2012, including playoffs, Crabtree recorded 61 receptions for 880 yards (14.4 ypr) and eight touchdowns. It’s no stretch to say that Kaepernick has missed his favorite target, as he’s thrown for just 15 touchdowns with seven interceptions this season. In his first game back, Crabtree caught two passes for 68 yards, but the 275 yards passing by Kaepernick were the most since 412 against Green Bay all the back in Week 1. While it’s expected that Crabtree will be rusty as he works his way back, it’s not out of the question for him to have an impact this afternoon. Especially considering Seattle’s vaunted “Legion of Boom” secondary will most likely be without heavy-hitting cornerback Brandon Browner, who is dealing with a groin injury.

Final Analysis

Seattle is on a roll right now. The Seahawks have won seven in a row, have the NFL’s No. 1 defense and a legitimate MVP candidate in quarterback Russell Wilson. While they have been pretty much unbeatable at home under Pete Carroll, this year’s Seahawks team has played very well away from home too, posting a 5-1 record.

San Francisco has a tentative grasp on the final Wild Card berth in the NFL, but the 49ers know they need to keep winning if they want to have a shot at getting back to the Super Bowl. The offense continues to be a mystery, as Colin Kaepernick hasn’t thrown for more than 300 yards in a game since the season opener.

These two teams clearly don’t like each other, so don’t be surprised if things get heated this afternoon at Candlestick Park. The last time they played, back in Week 2, they combined for 22 penalties for 205 yards. In fact, whichever team does a better job of controlling its emotions, if you will, will probably be better positioned to win.

That said, Seattle is peaking at the right time and appears to be a team on a mission. Wilson is playing exceptional football right now, while Kaepernick has yet to find his stride. In the end, the Seahawks make enough plays early on offense and late on defense to earn the season sweep of the 49ers, along with the NFC West division title and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Seattle 24, San Francisco 20

Teaser:
Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 8, 2013 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/carolina-panthers-vs-new-orleans-saints-game-preview-and-prediction
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First place in the NFC South and a potential first-round bye in the playoffs are on the line tonight when the Carolina Panthers travel to the Crescent City to take on the New Orleans Saints on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" at 8:30 p.m. ET. The Saints and Panthers are currently deadlocked at the top of the division with 9-3 records. This game will be the first of two matchups between the two teams over a span of three games.

New Orleans is coming off of a brutal 34-7 loss at Seattle in front of a national television audience on "Monday Night Football." Carolina's 27-6 win against Tampa Bay last Sunday was its eighth in a row. The Panthers will look to keep rolling, while the Saints hope to bounce back from a nightmarish performance and take a big step toward claiming their second division title in three years.

3 Things to Watch

Can the Saints' offense rebound?

Last week was not a good one for the New Orleans offense. The Saints' seven points scored against Seattle matched the fewest since Sean Payton (above) became coach in 2006, and the 188 total yards also were the fewest in his tenure. Drew Brees finished 23-of-38 with a season-low 147 yards passing. In fact, it's his lowest passing yardage in a game since 132 in 2006. Brees has thrown for under 200 yards just eight times in his nearly eight seasons as a Saint. Jimmy Graham, despite hauling in a franchise-record 12th touchdown pass, was held in check with just three catches for 42 yards. Graham was able to bring in just three of his nine targets Monday night. That 33 percent catch rate is the second-lowest of his career. New Orleans will have its hands full with the Carolina defense, which ranks sixth in passing defense and second against the run.

Turnovers

Carolina has won eight consecutive games thanks in large part to game-changing plays by its defense. The Panthers rank second in the NFC in takeaways and third with a +10 turnover ratio. Carolina has tallied 16 interceptions and recovered 10 fumbles. Carolina should be well equipped to face Drew Brees, who enjoys stretching the field vertically. The Panthers have the highest rate of interceptions per attempt on throws at least 15 yards downfield at 11 percent. They’ve picked off nine throws of that length this season, including at least one in four of the last five games. And they’ve only allowed a total of nine touchdown passes all season. The Saints have forced just two turnovers over the past five games. They had 15 takeaways in their first seven contests. Since that strong start, the Saints have dropped from ninth to 20th in the NFL in that category. If Carolina can force Brees into some mistakes then the Panthers' chances to pull the road upset will be vastly improved.

Home-Field Advantage

The Saints have outscored opponents by an average of 17.3 points per game at home, second only to the Broncos. Brees has been excellent in the comforts of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as he's thrown 19 touchdowns to just three interceptions on the way to compiling a 6-0 record. Additionally, the Saints announced that an official from the Guinness Book of World Records will be present to record the crowd noise at key points during tonight's game. The Saints are aiming to set the record for loudest crowd roar at an indoor sports stadium by peaking at over 126 decibels. This is something the Superdome is definitely capable of, so look for the Panthers to use a lot of silent counts to combat the possible communication issues.

Key Player for Carolina: Luke Kuechly, LB

If the Panthers are to stop Sean Payton's offensive attack, it's going to start and end with the future Pro Bowler and reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year. Kuechly has 102 tackles this season after leading the NFL with 164 last year. He also has three interceptions and a sack. New Orleans hasn't seen Kuechly since his 13-tackle, two-pass breakup game in Week 17 of last season.

Key Player for New Orleans: Jimmy Graham, TE

Graham needs to rebound from a game that was clearly an aberration. Carolina has had trouble covering tight ends this year. In fact, the Panthers' opponents have completed 68 percent of their passes when targeting tight ends, which ranks as the 10th-highest against any team in the NFL. Tony Gonzalez and Rob Gronkowski each hauled in five or more passes with a touchdown in the past three weeks against the Panthers.

Final Analysis

The Panthers have been playing well and have a tough defense, but don't bet on the Saints to have back-to-back down weeks. Sean Payton and Drew Brees should get things fixed as Jimmy Graham seems ready to have a monster performance. The Saints are simply too tough at home, especially with the crowd juiced for a primetime game, in which the fans are vying for a noise record.

New Orleans 30, Carolina 17

Teaser:
Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints Game Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 8, 2013 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/college-football-championship-recap-fsu-auburn-ready-title-game
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Say this for the BCS era: Many of the controversies that seem to be possibilities during the season play themselves out by the end of the season.

The final week of the season began with the possibility of either Auburn or Ohio State being left out of the national championship game. A month ago, we had four undefeated teams with national championship aspirations, plus two undefeated outsiders vying for one spot in the BCS.

Saturday ended with only Florida State without a blemish on the record.

An unstoppable offense in the SEC and an uncrackable defense in the Big Ten on championship Saturday wrapped up a final BCS season without controversy.

But it also hinted at what the playoff selection committee may have to decide. Florida State vs. Auburn will be the championship pick, but which teams would fill out a four-team bracket in the 2014 system?

Thankfully, that debate is a year away.

Three and Out: College Football Championship Week Recap

Three Things We Learned from Auburn 59, Missouri 42


Gus Malzahn is already one of the nation’s elite coaches. Regardless of the outcome in the Big Ten that put Auburn in the title game, Malzahn in two seasons has already put himself into the discussion of one of the nation’s elite coaches. It’s tough not to make a big deal of the one-year turnaround Malzahn has had at Auburn. The Tigers went 0-8 in the SEC and were outgained by more than 200 yards per game in league games. Auburn averaged 235 yards in SEC games last season, a mark the Tigers exceeded in the first half against Missouri. And this was not a Mizzou team accustomed to giving up chunks of points. Missouri had been allowing 3.6 yards per carry this season and hadn’t allowed 28 points in a game all season. Auburn won the most unlikely of SEC championships, but Malzahn has been a part of three conference champions in four seasons. With one season at Arkansas State and one at Auburn, Malzahn’s ability to sustain a program will be the only remaining question, but many of the players who picked up nearly 700 yards on Missouri were recruited to play for Malzahn as an offensive coordinator.

Tre Mason may find his way to New York. Jameis Winston has all but sealed the Heisman Trophy, but Mason is a perfect example of why the unofficial field shouldn’t be set in October. Not that Mason should beat out Winston, but the Auburn tailback was nowhere to be found in the conversation entering Saturday. He wasn’t even a finalist for the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s top running back. Mason should be a contender for a host of postseason awards after rushing for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri hadn’t even allowed 200 yards rushing to any team in a game this season. Over the course of the season, perhaps Mason and Nick Marshall are equally as responsible for the success of the Auburn offense. But Marshall’s SEC Championship Game breakout gave him an average of 156.9 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in his last eight SEC games. While voters were reaching for Andre Williams and Ka’Deem Carey in recent weeks, maybe Mason was the running back they were seeking.

Special teams were Auburn’s secret weapon. This is still worth reiterating even after Chris Davis’ miracle missed field goal return to beat Alabama. No one would have confused the SEC Championship Game as one where field position was a key, but Auburn can do that, too. Auburn punter Steven Clark pinned Missouri inside its own 10-yard line three times, including twice in the second half. Chris Davis had 22-yard punt return, and Cody Parkey split his two field goal attempts outside of 50 yards. In a game where defensive stops were at a premium these little things made major difference.

Three Things We Learned From Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24

Michigan State’s defense comes up huge yet again. The unexpected is a major part of Mark Dantonio’s playbook with a handful of fake field goals and fake punts in his arsenal. In the fourth quarter against Ohio State, it was an onside kick. Michigan State failed to gain possession, but Dantonio can afford to take risks with this defense. The nation’s top defense proved it against Ohio State, especially in the second half. Thorpe Award finalist Darqueze Dennard shut down the passing game as Braxton Miller was 8 of 21 for 101 yards and a touchdown. After Ohio State blocked a punt, linebacker Denicos Allen stopped Miller on a run toward the sideline on fourth and 2 at the Spartans’ 39. The two-headed run game of Miller and Carlos Hyde had its moments, but Ohio State overall was 1 of 9 on third down.

Michigan State doesn't need to kick itself for Notre Dame loss. Auburn is the one-loss team heading to the national championship game rather than the team that actually knocked out Ohio State. The Big Ten schedule is a big reason for Michigan State missing a chance at the national championship game, but the Spartans’ 17-13 loss to an 8-4 Notre Dame is now the only blemish on the schedule. Michigan State was called for four critical pass interference calls in the game, but the Spartans also amassed only 135 passing yards and 119 rushing against the Irish on Sept. 21. Flash forward to Saturday, and Connor Cook completed 24 of 40 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns and an interception against Ohio State. As much as Michigan State’s defense has been dominant all season, the Spartans’ offense has improved progressively during the season, helping Michigan State outscore nine Big Ten opponents by an average of 17.8 points per game. A year from now, Michigan State might be a good candidate for one of four playoff spots. Even in the current system, an undefeated Michigan State would have to answer for facing only one ranked team all year.

This isn’t a totally awful development for the Big Ten. The Big Ten lost a chance to play for the national title, and Michigan State may have gone to the Rose Bowl win or lose. In the end, though, this may end up being a net gain for the league. Ohio State likely would have gone to the BCS Championship Game as a major underdog to Florida State. Instead, the Buckeyes could face Clemson in the Orange Bowl while Michigan State faces Stanford in the Rose Bowl. No, it’s not the stage the Big Ten craves, but both teams will be evenly matched in their bowl games. And consider this: Before the season started, one narrative was that Ohio State and Michigan were poised to take a commanding lead in the league. The Wolverines’ struggles mean that won’t happen this year, but Michigan State isn’t going away.

Three Things We Learned from Oklahoma 33, Oklahoma State 24

Blake Bell redeemed himself in a wacky season. The Belldozer may as well be the name of a roller coaster in Norman. That’s the kind of season Blake Bell had. The junior was the assumed heir to Landry Jones at quarterback until the final weeks of training camp when Trevor Knight was named the opening day starter. Knight’s injury issues put Bell back into the starting job when he led the Sooners to a win at Notre Dame before a concussion gave the job back to Knight. Bell had been struggling enough this season to be the third guy in against Oklahoma State. With Knight out in the second half, Bob Stoops went to sophomore Kendal Thompson rather than Bell. The quarterback who had been passed over, though, was brilliant on the final drive. In a game in which every quarterback struggled, Bell got made the final statement, completing 5 of 8 passes for 57 yards with a beautiful touchdown pass to Jalen Saunders to win the game. Even if he made a risky throw in the direction of Thorpe Award finalist Justin Gilbert, who dropped a potential interception, Bell can once against claim the role of fan favorite.

How did Oklahoma win this game again? Take a look at those quarterback numbers for Oklahoma. First, one of the guys who threw a touchdown pass is the holder. The other entered the game third string. Oklahoma needed three quarterbacks to beat Oklahoma State, and none of them looked that great until the final drive. With an ineffective offense, the Sooners were in a position of desperation when holder Grant Bothun completed a touchdown pass to kicker Michael Hunnicutt on a fake field goal in the third quarter. A play earlier, a potential touchdown catch was erased on when defensive back Daytawion Lowe knocked the ball out of the hands of Brannon Green in the end zone. Before the final drive, Oklahoma’s scoring included a punt return for a touchdown, a fake field goal and two extended drives ending in field goals. The Sooners were a mere 2 of 15 on third down (but 3 of 3 on fourth) and were outgained on a per play basis 6.2 yards to 4.9. The Sooners got to their 10th win of the season in the way they got to a handful of their first nine: By winning ugly. Still, the Sooners won 10 games for the 12th time under Bob Stoops despite injuries in the front seven and to fullback Trey Millard and a rotating cast at quarterback.


Oklahoma State can’t get over Oklahoma.
How did Oklahoma win? Well, the Cowboys helped. The tone was set on the first play of the game when Desmond Roland’s 75-yard touchdown run was called back on a holding call on wide receiver Charlie Moore. Moore dropped two more passes, including a third down pass in OU territory in the fourth quarter. Moore wasn’t alone as a the goat, though. Even though the Cowboys could move the ball on the ground, Clint Chelf struggled with accuracy until Oklahoma State’s fourth-quarter go-ahead drive. The Cowboys also went for a touchdown on fourth down from the Oklahoma 2 in the first quarter. Oklahoma stuffed it for the Sooners’ first red zone stop since the second game of the season. This era remains the best in Oklahoma State history, but the Cowboys remain under the thumb of their in-state rival.

Moving the Chains

Baylor. Maybe Baylor never was as good as the team that started 9-0 and averaged 61 points per game into mid-November. That shouldn’t diminish the season. Baylor won an outright Big 12 and reached the Fiesta Bowl, a remarkable feat. This is a program that won more than four games only once from 1996 to 2009, a bottom feeder for most of the existence of the Big 12. Baylor didn’t heat up until the second half against Texas, thanks in part to the return of safety Ahmad Dixon, who was suspended for the first half. When Baylor returned to form, the Bears made easy work of the Texas defense for 523 yards and 27 second-half points. With Robert Griffin’s Heisman in 2011, a Big 12 title in 2013 and a new stadium in 2014, Baylor looks like a program with staying power ... especially if Art Briles hangs around.

Kevin Hogan, Stanford. The Cardinal quarterback is rarely the first person mentioned on the Stanford offense. That usually goes to the offensive line or running back Tyler Gaffney. Hogan, though, finished the season on a hot streak, going 12 of 18 for 277 yards with a touchdown against Arizona State. Hogan hadn’t completed 60 percent of his passes in three consecutive games games before completing 66.1 percent of his passes in the final three games.

David Bailiff, Rice. No one will mistake Rice for a Conference USA power, but with the way the league has thinned during conference expansion, maybe the Owls can be a consistent winner. Rice defeated Marshall 41-23 for the C-USA title, the first league title of any kind since Rice won the Southwest Conference in 1957. Bailiff rarely gets much national notoriety, but he’s led Rice to two 10-win seasons. The Owls are in bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1960-61.

False Starts

Texas. If this was indeed the final regular season game for Mack Brown at Texas, it wasn’t a great sendoff beyond the loss. Quarterback play was again the undoing for the Longhorns as Case McCoy was 12 of 34 for a mere 53 yards. McCoy escaped a rush for a highlight reel two-yard touchdown pass, but he also threw two interceptions against the Bears as Texas finished 3 of 17 on third down. No single game is the reason Brown may retire earlier that he’d like, but it’s hard not to look at this Baylor loss as emblematic of Texas’ recent years.

Arizona State. Most teams have difficulty cracking Stanford, but the Cardinal have been Arizona State’s nemesis this season. The Sun Devils fell behind 29-0 to Stanford in the first matchup. Home field advantage and a season’s worth of improvement was little help as the Sun Devils fell behind 28-7 in the first half in a 38-14 loss. The Sun Devils’ defense finally broke, allowing 517 yards and a season-high 8.3 yards per play.

Fresno State on fourth down. The Bulldogs won the Mountain West with a 24-17 win over Utah State, but they didn’t mind giving the Aggies chances. Fresno State 24-7 in the third quarter before surrendering 10 fourth-quarter points, but the Bulldogs twice failed to convert fourth down attempts. The last was an inexplicable fourth and 3 from inside the Utah State 30 when a field goal would have clinched the win. Fresno State needed an interception inside its own territory to end the Utah State threat.

Heisman Movers

Quick BCS projections
BCS Championship: Florida State vs. Auburn
Rose: Stanford vs. Michigan State
Orange: Clemson vs. Ohio State
Sugar: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Fiesta: UCF vs. Baylor

Quick Heisman projections
Jameis Winston, Florida State
AJ McCarron, Alabama
Tre Mason, Auburn
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Tre Mason, Auburn. It would take an uncommon effort to being on almost no ballots to ending up in the top 10 in the voting or perhaps a finalist. Rushing for 304 yards and four yards in the SEC Championship Game would qualify.

Jameis Winston, Florida State. Winston finished this week with his off-field issues resolved and an above-average performance in the ACC title game. Winston was 19 of 32 for 320 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions against Duke. Despite a healthy 38-point lead, Jimbo Fisher kept his starters in the game into the fourth quarter.

Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. Lynch was never going to overtake Winston for the lead, but he had done enough to look like a finalist. That looks less likely after championship week. Auburn’s Tre Mason and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller impressed in conference championship games as Northern Illinois lost 47-27 to Bowling Green in the MAC title game. Lynch was 21 of 40 for 219 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions and rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. In a field that has no certainties beyond Winston at No. 1, Lynch will probably land on plenty of ballots, but maybe not enough to get to New York.

Stat Watch

7-1. UCF’s record in games decided by a touchdown or less. The Knights wrapped up their season like they played most games this season, on the razor’s edge. UCF needed two third-quarter touchdowns to beat SMU 17-13 before crowd that would generously be described as sparse. UCF is heading to the Fiesta Bowl as the American Athletic Conference champions, but the season included one-score wins over Memphis (3-8), Temple (2-10), USF (2-9) and SMU (5-6).

5. Teams to be win Big 12 titles in five seasons. The Big 12 has lost a championship game and four teams in the last three years, but it’s gained a bit of unpredictability. Baylor became the fifth team to win a Big 12 title in the last three seasons, joining Kansas State and Oklahoma in 2012 (K-State earned the BCS bid), Oklahoma State in 2011, Oklahoma in 2010 and Texas in 2009.

15. SEC Championship Games outscored by Auburn alone. Auburn set a number of SEC Championship Game records, including rushing yards and total offense, but it’s tough not to be most impressed with the scoring record. Auburn’s 59 points alone outscored 15 of the 21 SEC title games before Saturday.

 

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Weather and injuries are two things that could factor into today’s games. Here is the latest information on some banged-up wide receivers entering Week 14’s 1 p.m. ET kickoffs.

A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Indianapolis Colts
Green was limited earlier this week because of a groin issue, but he practiced fully on Thursday and Friday and is listed as Probable. Green will be out there against the Colts, and while he’s a top-10 fantasy wide receiver, the weather (wintry mix) could be a factor for today’s game. What that means is the passing game may take a back seat to the running game this afternoon and Green may not perform in accordance to his WR1 status.

Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Buffalo Bills
Jackson did not practice at all on Wednesday because of a hamstring injury, and only participated in a limited capacity on Thursday and Friday. He is considered Questionable for today’s game (1 p.m. ET) against Buffalo and will most likely be a game-time decision. Greg Schiano has said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about Jackson’s availability, but this is certainly a situation worth watching. Jackson is a WR1-caliber player, but only if he’s on the field.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals
Hilton was limited at practice on Wednesday because of a shoulder injury, but he was a full participant on both Thursday and Friday. He is considered Probable for today’s game in Cincinnati and should play. After Reggie Wayne (ACL) was lost for the season, Hilton became Andrew Luck’s No. 1 target. Unfortunately, Luck and the passing game have struggled recently, as Hilton hasn’t topped 50 receiving yards in any of the last three games. Between the weather forecast (wintry mix) in Cincinnati and the matchup with a tough Bengals defense (213.8 passing ypg, 8th in the NFL), Hilton should probably be viewed as nothing more than a WR3 with upside this week.

Denarius Moore, WR, Oakland Raiders at New York Jets
Moore will miss his third straight game because of a shoulder injury, which means Rod Streater and Andre Holmes will serve as the Raiders’ top receiving threats. Between the Jets’ susceptible pass defense and the state of flux that is Oakland’s backfield, Streater and/or Holmes could be worth a look if you are in need of rounding out your receiving corps or a flex option this week.

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Even though it’s a light Sunday afternoon/night slate in Week 14 that doesn’t mean there aren’t any important games on the schedule, especially when it comes to fantasy implications. Here are some key wide receivers playing later today or on Monday that you need to keep an eye on.

Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears vs. Dallas Cowboys (Mon.)
Marshall’s quad strain is a minor issue at this point, as he practiced in full on Friday and Saturday. He is listed as Probable for Monday night’s game against Dallas and should be worth the wait. The Cowboys are second to last in the NFL in passing defense and are tied for the fifth-most yards allowed to wide receivers this season. Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are indisputable must-starts this week.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos vs. Tennessee Titans
Thomas injured his shoulder last week against Kansas City, which limited him during practice for most of the week. He was able to participate fully on Friday, however, and is considered Probable for this afternoon’s game. The chilly conditions expected at game time (4:05 p.m. ET) in Denver could dictate the Broncos’ offensive game plan, but Thomas still needs to be in your lineup.

Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams
After initially injuring his shoulder, Floyd was limited some in practice this week because of an ankle injury. Regardless, Floyd is considered Probable for this afternoon’s game and this red-hot Cardinal needs to be in your lineup. Over his last three games, Floyd has caught 18 passes for 396 yards and two touchdowns.

Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos
Wright was limited on Wednesday because of an ankle injury, but he practiced fully on Thursday and Friday and is considered Probable for this afternoon’s game in Denver. Wright has just two touchdown receptions on the season, but his 71 catches are seventh among wide receivers and he’s averaged nearly 10 targets over his last four games. Even with the expected cold/wintry conditions, Wright should catch enough passes to provide WR2 production with a shot at even bigger numbers.

Eddie Royal, WR, San Diego Chargers vs. New York Giants
Royal missed last week’s game because of a chest injury and didn’t practice at all this week. He is officially listed as Questionable and will be a game-time decision to suit up against the Giants. The Chargers have gone to more two-tight end sets lately with Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green, which has diminished the use of a No. 3 wideout like Royal. At this point, it would be wise to move on from Royal, as Keenan Allen is really the only Charger wide receiver worth paying attention to.

Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Harvin’s road to recovery has experienced more than its fair share of bumps recently, as he recently underwent a minor procedure to try and alleviate soreness in his surgically repaired hip. He has been declared Out for this afternoon’s game against San Francisco and it’s very likely he won’t return until the playoffs, if even then. At this point, it’s looking like Harvin will be a no-show for the entire 2013 fantasy season.

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Peyton Manning should have his top tight end back this afternoon while Arizona’s quarterback is dealing with an elbow injury entering Week 14. Here’s the latest injury information on those and others at these two positions as the fantasy playoffs heat up.

Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos vs. Tennessee Titans
Thomas has missed the last two games because of a knee injury, but he practiced fully on Thursday and Friday and is listed as Probable to play against the Titans. The Probable designation is a pretty good indicator he will play, but there’s nothing wrong with confirming Thomas’ status prior to the 4:05 p.m. ET kickoff, provided you have another option waiting in the wings just in case.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots vs. Cleveland Browns
Just like last week, Gronkowski is listed as Questionable, but this appears to be more procedural than anything on the Patriots’ part. Gronk has recorded a touchdown catch in four straight games, making him the most productive fantasy TE during this span. This production is why you waited so long for him to return, so there’s no reason to not stick with Gronkowski at this point.

Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers
Gonzalez is listed as Questionable yet again because of his toe injury, but the future Hall of Famer has yet to miss a game and he practiced all week in some capacity. He recorded his fifth touchdown catch of the season last week and even with Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offensive struggles, Gonzalez is worthy of TE1 consideration.

Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos
Walker sustained a concussion in last week’s loss to Indianapolis and didn’t practice this week. He is listed as Questionable to play against Denver, but the good news is his status should be known well before the late afternoon (4:05 p.m. ET) kickoff. Even if he’s cleared to play, I would be very hesitant to take my chances with Walker, despite how productive (45 rec., 5 TDs) he has been.

Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams
Palmer is Questionable with an elbow injury, but head coach Bruce Arians said he expects him to play against the Rams. Palmer did participate in the team’s walkthrough on Saturday, so he’s looking like a fairly safe bet. He has thrown at least two touchdown passes in five straight games with just four interceptions during this span. Provided his offensive holds up against a fierce Rams pass rush (37 sacks), Palmer should put up decent numbers once again. He’s definitely in the 2-QB conversation and could work his way into starter status, depending on your options.

Jason Campbell, QB, Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots
Campbell missed last week’s game because of a concussion, but he returned to practice this week, passed the necessary tests and has been cleared to return. He is listed as Probable and will get the start against New England. Brandon Weeden, who sustained a concussion in last week’s loss to Jacksonville, has already been declared Out. Campbell could merit consideration in 2-QB leagues against a Patriots secondary that is somewhat banged up and also considering the possibility that he may be forced to throw the ball quite a bit because of the game circumstances.

QBs Already Declared Out

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears – Cutler will miss his fourth game in a row because of an ankle injury, but he appears close to returning. Until then, Josh McCown will get the call and he has forced himself into the fantasy starter discussion this week against a Dallas defense that is second-to-last in the NFL in passing yards allowed and giving up the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. McCown has put together back-to-back 350-yard performances and has posted a 9:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season.

Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings – Ponder will miss today’s game against Baltimore because of a concussion. Matt Cassel will get the start, but that only should matter to Vikings fans and the Ravens because otherwise Cassel shouldn’t be anywhere near your starting lineup.

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers – Rodgers will miss a fifth game because of his broken collarbone and could end up being shelved for the remainder of the season as a precaution. Matt Flynn will get the start today against Atlanta and maybe the Falcons’ 20th-ranked passing defense will be just what he and the Packers need following a disastrous showing (139-0-1) on Thanksgiving Day against the Lions. The forecast for Lambeau Field will be chilly and snowy, so it’s up to you if you want to pin your fantasy hopes on Flynn.

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Week 14 means the start of the fantasy playoffs for many leagues. Here’s the rundown on all of the running back injuries you need to know about before setting your lineup.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens
Peterson is listed as Questionable with a groin injury, but there’s no indication he’s not going to play. The groin has been an issue for several weeks now and all the reigning MVP has done in his past two games is record 67 carries for 357 yards and a touchdown. Baltimore has been pretty good against the run (100.1 ypg), but unless he’s out, you’re not sitting Peterson.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos vs. Tennessee Titans
Although he was limited in practice on Wednesday, Moreno is listed as Probable and will get the start against Tennessee this afternoon. Despite rushing for just 18 yards on 15 carries last week against Kansas City, Moreno still paid dividends to his fantasy owners with four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. The more important development, however, was that Moreno finished the game no worse for the wear after sustaining a bone bruise to his right ankle two weeks ago. Moreno and Monte Ball both figure to be quite busy this afternoon, as the wintry conditions in Denver could result in the Broncos running the ball more than they usually do.

Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles
Bush’s only practice appearance this week was a limited one on Friday, as he’s Questionable with a calf injury. He’s been held back in practice before and still played, but that was to rest his sore knee. The fact that this is his calf and his last game was on Thanksgiving Day is somewhat concerning. Bush rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Packers and he has an appealing matchup against the Eagles. However, with everything that’s at stake, you probably want to make sure Bush is playing today before setting your starting lineup.

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Miami Dolphins
Bell sustained a concussion late in the Steelers’ loss to the Ravens on Thanksgiving night, but he practiced fully all week and is considered Probable for today’s game. Barring a setback and provided he has passed the necessary league-mandated concussion protocols, Bell should be out there against a Dolphins defense that is 25th in the NFL against the run (121.8 ypg). The Steelers and Dolphins kick off at 1 p.m. ET, so that should give you plenty of time to see if this Bell will toll for you this week or not.

Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, RBs, Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers
Miller was limited earlier this week because of a pectoral injury, but he was a full go on Friday and is listed as Probable. He should be in for a similar workload today as last week (22 carries vs. the Jets) against a Steelers defense that has struggled to stop the run at times. Meanwhile after initially believed to be out for the rest of the season due to a torn ligament in his ankle, Thomas returned to practice on Friday for the first time since suffering the injury. He is officially listed as Questionable, but it would be somewhat of a surprise to see Thomas return today. Miller remains the Dolphin back to start, but it looks Thomas could still be heard from before the season is over.

Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams
Questionable headed into last week’s game, Ellington was ruled inactive prior to kickoff against the Eagles because of a knee injury. He remained limited on Thursday, but participated in Friday’s practice and is considered Probable to return today against the Rams. Even with his speed and big-play ability, Ellington is probably no more than a boom-or-bust flex option, as he has taken somewhat of a backseat to Rashard Mendenhall in the Cardinals backfield.

Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert and DeAngelo Williams, RBs, Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
After entering last week’s game as Questionable, Carolina’s top three running backs are considered Probable for tonight’s pivotal NFC South showdown with New Orleans. Williams (right) missed last week’s win against Tampa Bay because of a quadriceps injury, but has been declared the starter against the Saints. Stewart (ankle) and Tolbert (knee) both missed some practice time, but they will play as well. Even with a matchup against a rushing defense that’s allowing 4.6 yards per carry, all three Panther backs are risky fantasy options. Including Cam Newton, there are four mouths to feed in the Carolina backfield and the Panthers run the ball less than 32 times a game. As it relates to the backs, Williams is probably the best option because he’s the starter, but he’s probably no better than a flex candidate. Tolbert is probably a shade ahead of Stewart because of his goal-line and short yardage usage. Tolbert also is the most likely of the three to score a touchdown (4 rush, 2 receiving).

Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden, RBs, Oakland Raiders at New York Jets
McFadden has already been ruled Out because of an ankle injury, while Jennings is Questionable due to a concussion. Jennings has yet to be cleared by the league to return to the field, although he did travel with the team to New York. Jennings’ status should be known well before game time (1 p.m. ET), but between his uncertainty and the matchup with the NFL’s No. 1 rushing defense, I would just steer clear of the Raiders’ backfield as a whole this week.

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Week 14 means the start of the fantasy playoffs for many leagues. Here’s the rundown on all of the running back injuries you need to know about before setting your lineup.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens
Peterson is listed as Questionable with a groin injury, but there’s no indication he’s not going to play. The groin has been an issue for several weeks now and all the reigning MVP has done in his past two games is record 67 carries for 357 yards and a touchdown. Baltimore has been pretty good against the run (100.1 ypg), but unless he’s out, you’re not sitting Peterson.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos vs. Tennessee Titans
Although he was limited in practice on Wednesday, Moreno is listed as Probable and will get the start against Tennessee this afternoon. Despite rushing for just 18 yards on 15 carries last week against Kansas City, Moreno still paid dividends to his fantasy owners with four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. The more important development, however, was that Moreno finished the game no worse for the wear after sustaining a bone bruise to his right ankle two weeks ago. Moreno and Monte Ball both figure to be quite busy this afternoon, as the wintry conditions in Denver could result in the Broncos running the ball more than they usually do.

Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles
Bush’s only practice appearance this week was a limited one on Friday, as he’s Questionable with a calf injury. He’s been held back in practice before and still played, but that was to rest his sore knee. The fact that this is his calf and his last game was on Thanksgiving Day is somewhat concerning. Bush rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Packers and he has an appealing matchup against the Eagles. However, with everything that’s at stake, you probably want to make sure Bush is playing today before setting your starting lineup.

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Miami Dolphins
Bell sustained a concussion late in the Steelers’ loss to the Ravens on Thanksgiving night, but he practiced fully all week and is considered Probable for today’s game. Barring a setback and provided he has passed the necessary league-mandated concussion protocols, Bell should be out there against a Dolphins defense that is 25th in the NFL against the run (121.8 ypg). The Steelers and Dolphins kick off at 1 p.m. ET, so that should give you plenty of time to see if this Bell will toll for you this week or not.

Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, RBs, Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers
Miller was limited earlier this week because of a pectoral injury, but he was a full go on Friday and is listed as Probable. He should be in for a similar workload today as last week (22 carries vs. the Jets) against a Steelers defense that has struggled to stop the run at times. Meanwhile after initially believed to be out for the rest of the season due to a torn ligament in his ankle, Thomas returned to practice on Friday for the first time since suffering the injury. He is officially listed as Questionable, but it would be somewhat of a surprise to see Thomas return today. Miller remains the Dolphin back to start, but it looks Thomas could still be heard from before the season is over.

Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams
Questionable headed into last week’s game, Ellington was ruled inactive prior to kickoff against the Eagles because of a knee injury. He remained limited on Thursday, but participated in Friday’s practice and is considered Probable to return today against the Rams. Even with his speed and big-play ability, Ellington is probably no more than a boom-or-bust flex option, as he has taken somewhat of a backseat to Rashard Mendenhall in the Cardinals backfield.

Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert and DeAngelo Williams, RBs, Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
After entering last week’s game as Questionable, Carolina’s top three running backs are considered Probable for tonight’s pivotal NFC South showdown with New Orleans. Williams (right) missed last week’s win against Tampa Bay because of a quadriceps injury, but has been declared the starter against the Saints. Stewart (ankle) and Tolbert (knee) both missed some practice time, but they will play as well. Even with a matchup against a rushing defense that’s allowing 4.6 yards per carry, all three Panther backs are risky fantasy options. Including Cam Newton, there are four mouths to feed in the Carolina backfield and the Panthers run the ball less than 32 times a game. As it relates to the backs, Williams is probably the best option because he’s the starter, but he’s probably no better than a flex candidate. Tolbert is probably a shade ahead of Stewart because of his goal-line and short yardage usage. Tolbert also is the most likely of the three to score a touchdown (4 rush, 2 receiving).

Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden, RBs, Oakland Raiders at New York Jets
McFadden has already been ruled Out because of an ankle injury, while Jennings is Questionable due to a concussion. Jennings has yet to be cleared by the league to return to the field, although he did travel with the team to New York. Jennings’ status should be known well before game time (1 p.m. ET), but between his uncertainty and the matchup with the NFL’s No. 1 rushing defense, I would just steer clear of the Raiders’ backfield as a whole this week.

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Week 14 means the start of the fantasy playoffs for many leagues. Here’s the rundown on all of the running back injuries you need to know about before setting your lineup.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens
Peterson is listed as Questionable with a groin injury, but there’s no indication he’s not going to play. The groin has been an issue for several weeks now and all the reigning MVP has done in his past two games is record 67 carries for 357 yards and a touchdown. Baltimore has been pretty good against the run (100.1 ypg), but unless he’s out, you’re not sitting Peterson.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos vs. Tennessee Titans
Although he was limited in practice on Wednesday, Moreno is listed as Probable and will get the start against Tennessee this afternoon. Despite rushing for just 18 yards on 15 carries last week against Kansas City, Moreno still paid dividends to his fantasy owners with four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. The more important development, however, was that Moreno finished the game no worse for the wear after sustaining a bone bruise to his right ankle two weeks ago. Moreno and Monte Ball both figure to be quite busy this afternoon, as the wintry conditions in Denver could result in the Broncos running the ball more than they usually do.

Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles
Bush’s only practice appearance this week was a limited one on Friday, as he’s Questionable with a calf injury. He’s been held back in practice before and still played, but that was to rest his sore knee. The fact that this is his calf and his last game was on Thanksgiving Day is somewhat concerning. Bush rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Packers and he has an appealing matchup against the Eagles. However, with everything that’s at stake, you probably want to make sure Bush is playing today before setting your starting lineup.

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Miami Dolphins
Bell sustained a concussion late in the Steelers’ loss to the Ravens on Thanksgiving night, but he practiced fully all week and is considered Probable for today’s game. Barring a setback and provided he has passed the necessary league-mandated concussion protocols, Bell should be out there against a Dolphins defense that is 25th in the NFL against the run (121.8 ypg). The Steelers and Dolphins kick off at 1 p.m. ET, so that should give you plenty of time to see if this Bell will toll for you this week or not.

Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, RBs, Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers
Miller was limited earlier this week because of a pectoral injury, but he was a full go on Friday and is listed as Probable. He should be in for a similar workload today as last week (22 carries vs. the Jets) against a Steelers defense that has struggled to stop the run at times. Meanwhile after initially believed to be out for the rest of the season due to a torn ligament in his ankle, Thomas returned to practice on Friday for the first time since suffering the injury. He is officially listed as Questionable, but it would be somewhat of a surprise to see Thomas return today. Miller remains the Dolphin back to start, but it looks Thomas could still be heard from before the season is over.

Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams
Questionable headed into last week’s game, Ellington was ruled inactive prior to kickoff against the Eagles because of a knee injury. He remained limited on Thursday, but participated in Friday’s practice and is considered Probable to return today against the Rams. Even with his speed and big-play ability, Ellington is probably no more than a boom-or-bust flex option, as he has taken somewhat of a backseat to Rashard Mendenhall in the Cardinals backfield.

Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert and DeAngelo Williams, RBs, Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
After entering last week’s game as Questionable, Carolina’s top three running backs are considered Probable for tonight’s pivotal NFC South showdown with New Orleans. Williams (right) missed last week’s win against Tampa Bay because of a quadriceps injury, but has been declared the starter against the Saints. Stewart (ankle) and Tolbert (knee) both missed some practice time, but they will play as well. Even with a matchup against a rushing defense that’s allowing 4.6 yards per carry, all three Panther backs are risky fantasy options. Including Cam Newton, there are four mouths to feed in the Carolina backfield and the Panthers run the ball less than 32 times a game. As it relates to the backs, Williams is probably the best option because he’s the starter, but he’s probably no better than a flex candidate. Tolbert is probably a shade ahead of Stewart because of his goal-line and short yardage usage. Tolbert also is the most likely of the three to score a touchdown (4 rush, 2 receiving).

Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden, RBs, Oakland Raiders at New York Jets
McFadden has already been ruled Out because of an ankle injury, while Jennings is Questionable due to a concussion. Jennings has yet to be cleared by the league to return to the field, although he did travel with the team to New York. Jennings’ status should be known well before game time (1 p.m. ET), but between his uncertainty and the matchup with the NFL’s No. 1 rushing defense, I would just steer clear of the Raiders’ backfield as a whole this week.

Teaser:
Week 14 Injury Updates: Adrian Peterson, Reggie Bush, Knowshon Moreno, DeAngelo Williams
Post date: Sunday, December 8, 2013 - 06:30
Path: /college-football/three-things-we-learned-michigan-states-big-ten-title
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Michigan State ensured the BCS will go out with a whimper.

The final season of a two-team competition for the national title will end again with a simple two-team decision. With Ohio State’s loss, there will be no debate between an undefeated team against a weaker schedule and a one-loss team against a stronger schedule.

That’s the headline as Ohio State is eliminated from the national championship race and along with Urban Meyer’s first loss as the coach for the Buckeyes.

Michigan State can’t be overlooked, though. The Spartans clinched their first outright conference title and Rose Bowl appearance since 1987.

The Spartans relied on a stifling defense in the second half against Ohio State, but an consistently improving offense has been the difference between a good Big Ten season and a conference title. And a contingent of new fans from Auburn.

Three Things We Learned From Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24

Michigan State’s defense comes up huge yet again. The unexpected is a major part of Mark Dantonio’s playbook with a handful of fake field goals and fake punts in his arsenal. In the fourth quarter against Ohio State, it was an onside kick. Michigan State failed to gain possession, but Dantonio can afford to take risks with this defense. The nation’s top defense proved it against Ohio State, especially in the second half. Thorpe Award finalist Darqueze Dennard shut down the passing game as Braxton Miller was 8 of 21 for 101 yards and a touchdown. After Ohio State blocked a punt, linebacker Denicos Allen stopped Miller on a run toward the sideline on fourth and 2 at the Spartans’ 39. The two-headed run game of Miller and Carlos Hyde had its moments, but Ohio State overall was 1 of 9 on third down.

Michigan State doesn't need to kick itself for Notre Dame loss. Auburn is the one-loss team heading to the national championship game rather than the team that actually knocked out Ohio State. The Big Ten schedule is a big reason for Michigan State missing a chance at the national championship game, but the Spartans’ 17-13 loss to an 8-4 Notre Dame is now the only blemish on the schedule. Michigan State was called for four critical pass interference calls in the game, but the Spartans also amassed only 135 passing yards and 119 rushing against the Irish on Sept. 21. Flash forward to Saturday, and Connor Cook completed 24 of 40 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns and an interception against Ohio State. As much as Michigan State’s defense has been dominant all season, the Spartans’ offense has improved progressively during the season, helping Michigan State outscore nine Big Ten opponents by an average of 17.8 points per game. A year from now, Michigan State might be a good candidate for one of four playoff spots. Even in the current system, an undefeated Michigan State would have to answer for facing only one ranked team all year.

This isn’t a totally awful development for the Big Ten. The Big Ten lost a chance to play for the national title, and Michigan State may have gone to the Rose Bowl win or lose. In the end, though, this may end up being a net gain for the league. Ohio State likely would have gone to the BCS Championship Game as a major underdog to Florida State. Instead, the Buckeyes could face Clemson in the Orange Bowl while Michigan State faces Stanford in the Rose Bowl. No, it’s not the stage the Big Ten craves, but both teams will be evenly matched in their bowl games. And consider this: Before the season started, one narrative was that Ohio State and Michigan were poised to take a commanding lead in the league. The Wolverines’ struggles mean that won’t happen this year, but Michigan State isn’t going away.

Teaser:
Three Things We Learned from Michigan State's Big Ten title
Post date: Sunday, December 8, 2013 - 00:59
Path: /college-football/jimbo-fisher-agrees-contract-extension-florida-state
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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher isn’t leaving Tallahassee anytime soon. Fisher has agreed to a new contract with the Seminoles, raising his salary to $4.1 million a year.

The length of Fisher’s contract is speculated to be five to seven years. Although Fisher wasn’t likely to leave Florida State for another job, his name has popped up in connection with a potential opening at Texas. However, this deal should end any speculation about Fisher’s future with Florida State.

Fisher’s updated salary should rank among the top 10 coaches in the nation. 

Prior to the ACC Championship, Fisher was 43-10 in four years with the Seminoles.
 

Teaser:
Jimbo Fisher Agrees to Contract Extension at Florida State
Post date: Saturday, December 7, 2013 - 21:39
Path: /college-football/three-things-we-learned-auburns-sec-championship
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The SEC season could end no other way.

Starting with the second week of the season when Georgia beat South Carolina 41-30, the SEC hasn’t been the old defense-wins-championships league all year. It continued when Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron matched each other drive for drive in College Station. Auburn, as it did in 2010, has become the center of offenses running wild and teams producing crazy finishes in the SEC this season.

The Tigers wrapped up one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history with a wild 59-42 win over Missouri for the SEC championship, only a year after going winless in the league.

The Auburn run game has been a machine all year, but on Saturday it was unstoppable. With 59 points, Auburn alone outscored 15 SEC Championship Games. Combined, Auburn and Missouri scored 101 points, 26 more than the previous highest scoring SEC Championship Game in 1996.

Among records broken in Atlanta on Saturday:

Carries: Auburn’s Tre Mason, 46
Previous record: 31, Jamal Lewis, Tennessee (1997)

Rushing yards: Mason, 304
Previous record: 201, Justin Vincent, LSU (2003)

All-purpose yards: Mason, 312
Previous record: 227, Darvin Adams, Auburn (2010)

Touchdowns: Mason, 4
Previous record: Three, three different players

Scoring: Mason, 24
Previous record: 18, three different players

Longest field goal: Auburn’s Cody Parkey, 52 yards
Previous record: 51, three different players

Most rushes: Auburn, 74
Previous record: 53, Alabama (2009)

Rushing yards: Auburn, 545
Previous record: 350, Alabama (2012)

Rushing touchdowns: Auburn, 7
Previous record: Three, six different teams

Total offense: Auburn, 677
Previous record: 589, Auburn (2010)

Most points: Auburn, 59
Previous record: 56, Auburn (2010)

Most combined points: Auburn and Missouri, 101
Previous record: 75, Florida and Alabama (1996)

First downs rushing: 26, Auburn
Previous record: 18, Alabama (2012)

Total plays: 85, Auburn (tie)

Three Things We Learned from Auburn 59, Missouri 42

Gus Malzahn is already one of the nation’s elite coaches. No matter what happens with Ohio State and the BCS standings, Malzahn in two seasons has already put himself into the discussion of one of the nation’s elite coaches. It’s tough not to make a big deal of the one-year turnaround Malzahn has had at Auburn. The Tigers went 0-8 in the SEC and were outgained by more than 200 yards per game in league games. Auburn averaged 235 yards in SEC games last season, a mark the Tigers exceeded in the first half against Missouri. And this was not a Mizzou team accustomed to giving up chunks of points. Missouri had been allowing 3.6 yards per carry this season and hadn’t allowed 28 points in a game all season. Auburn won the most unlikely of SEC championships, but Malzahn has been a part of three conference champions in four seasons. With one season at Arkansas State and one at Auburn, Malzahn’s ability to sustain a program will be the only remaining question, but many of the players who picked up nearly 700 yards on Missouri were recruited to play for Malzahn as an offensive coordinator.

Tre Mason may find his way to New York. Jameis Winston has all but sealed the Heisman Trophy, but Mason is a perfect example of why the unofficial field shouldn’t be set in October. Not that Mason should beat out Winston, but the Auburn tailback was nowhere to be found in the conversation entering Saturday. He wasn’t even a finalist for the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s top running back. Mason should be a contender for a host of postseason awards after rushing for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri hadn’t even allowed 200 yards rushing to any team in a game this season. Over the course of the season, perhaps Mason and Nick Marshall are equally as responsible for the success of the Auburn offense. But Marshall’s SEC Championship Game breakout gave him an average of 156.9 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in his last eight SEC games. While voters were reaching for Andre Williams and Ka’Deem Carey in recent weeks, maybe Mason was the running back they were seeking.

Special teams were Auburn’s secret weapon. This is still worth reiterating even after Chris Davis’ miracle missed field goal return to beat Alabama. No one would have confused the SEC Championship Game as one where field position was a key, but Auburn can do that, too. Auburn punter Steven Clark pinned Missouri inside its own 10-yard line three times, including twice in the second half. Chris Davis had 22-yard punt return, and Cody Parkey split his two field goal attempts outside of 50 yards. In a game where defensive stops were at a premium these little things made major difference.
 

Teaser:
Three Things We Learned from Auburn's SEC Championship
Post date: Saturday, December 7, 2013 - 21:29
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/gus-malzahn-agrees-contract-extension-auburn
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Auburn coach Gus Malzahn won’t be pursuing any other jobs this offseason, as the Tigers’ first-year coach agreed to a new six-year contract prior to the SEC Championship. Malzahn will make $3.85 million in 2014 and will receive a $250,000 raise in each of the following years.

Malzahn guided Auburn to a 12-1 regular season record, which includes a SEC Championship victory over Missouri.

Malzahn was a key reason in Auburn’s turnaround this year, as the Tigers improved their win total by nine games from 2012.

Teaser:
Gus Malzahn Agrees to Contract Extension at Auburn
Post date: Saturday, December 7, 2013 - 20:30
Path: /college-football/northern-illinois-wr-juwan-brescacin-makes-one-handed-td-grab-against-bgsu
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Northern Illinois’ BCS bowl hopes ended with a loss to Bowling Green on Friday night, but the Huskies’ offense provided one of the highlights for Week 15, as receiver Juwan Brescacin made a one-handed touchdown catch on a pass from quarterback Jordan Lynch.

Check out Brescacin’s catch in the first quarter of Friday night’s MAC title game:
 

Teaser:
Northern Illinois WR Juwan Brescacin Makes One-Handed TD Grab Against BGSU
Post date: Saturday, December 7, 2013 - 20:11
Path: /college-football/three-things-we-learned-oklahomas-bedlam-win
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A typical season this was not for Oklahoma.

The Sooners started the year outside of the Associated Press top 10 for the first time since 2000. They fell out of Big 12 contention, in essence, when they lost to Texas for the first time in four years. Bob Stoops had a rare quarterback competition that lasted, due to injury, until the final weeks of the season.

By Dec. 7, Oklahoma had its two typical results: 10 wins and control of the Bedlam rivalry.

Oklahoma won 10 games for the 12th time in 14 seasons and defeated Oklahoma State for the 10th time in 11 years thanks to an improbable touchdown drive from quarterback Blake Bell on the road in the fourth quarter.

The Sooners don’t want to admit it, but they are spoilers for the Cowboys. Oklahoma’s Bedlam win knocked Oklahoma State out of the Fiesta Bowl and out of contention for an outright BCS title.

The Cowboys are enjoying their best era in program history, but they remain under the thumb of rival Oklahoma after a game-winning drive in the final 24 seconds (the final OU touchdown was a fumble recovery from desperation laterals).

Similar to John Cooper's Ohio State teams against Michigan and Mark Richt's early squads against Florida, Mike Gundy's teams are conference and national contenders, but rivalry games continue to vex them.

Three Things We Learned from Oklahoma 33, Oklahoma State 24

Blake Bell redeemed himself in a wacky season. The Belldozer may as well be the name of a roller coaster in Norman. That’s the kind of season Blake Bell had. The junior was the assumed heir to Landry Jones at quarterback until the final weeks of training camp when Trevor Knight was named the opening day starter. Knight’s injury issues put Bell back into the starting job when he led the Sooners to a win at Notre Dame before a concussion gave the job back to Knight. Bell had been struggling enough this season to be the third guy in against Oklahoma State. With Knight out in the second half, Bob Stoops went to sophomore Kendal Thompson rather than Bell. The quarterback who had been passed over, though, was brilliant on the final drive. In a game in which every quarterback struggled, Bell got made the final statement, completing 5 of 8 passes for 57 yards with a beautiful touchdown pass to Jalen Saunders to win the game. Even if he made a risky throw in the direction of Thorpe Award finalist Justin Gilbert, who dropped a potential interception, Bell can once against claim the role of fan favorite.

How did Oklahoma win this game again? Take a look at those quarterback numbers for Oklahoma. First, one of the guys who threw a touchdown pass is the holder. The other entered the game third string. Oklahoma needed three quarterbacks to beat Oklahoma State, and none of them looked that great until the final drive. With an ineffective offense, the Sooners were in a position of desperation when holder Grant Bothun completed a touchdown pass to kicker Michael Hunnicutt on a fake field goal in the third quarter. A play earlier, a potential touchdown catch was erased on when defensive back Daytawion Lowe knocked the ball out of the hands of Brannon Green in the end zone. Before the final drive, Oklahoma’s scoring included a punt return for a touchdown, a fake field goal and two extended drives ending in field goals. The Sooners were a mere 2 of 15 on third down (but 3 of 3 on fourth) and were outgained on a per play basis 6.2 yards to 4.9. The Sooners got to their 10th win of the season in the way they got to a handful of their first nine: By winning ugly. Still, the Sooners won 10 games for the 12th time under Bob Stoops despite injuries in the front seven and to fullback Trey Millard and a rotating cast at quarterback.


Oklahoma State can’t get over Oklahoma.
How did Oklahoma win? Well, the Cowboys helped. The tone was set on the first play of the game when Desmond Roland’s 75-yard touchdown run was called back on a holding call on wide receiver Charlie Moore. Moore dropped two more passes, including a third down pass in OU territory in the fourth quarter. Moore wasn’t alone as a the goat, though. Even though the Cowboys could move the ball on the ground, Clint Chelf struggled with accuracy until Oklahoma State’s fourth-quarter go-ahead drive. The Cowboys also went for a touchdown on fourth down from the Oklahoma 2 in the first quarter. Oklahoma stuffed it for the Sooners’ first red zone stop since the second game of the season. This era remains the best in Oklahoma State history, but the Cowboys remain under the thumb of their in-state rival.

Teaser:
Three Things We Learned from Oklahoma's Bedlam win
Post date: Saturday, December 7, 2013 - 16:59
Path: /college-football/2013-mountain-west-championship-preview-and-prediction-fresno-state-vs-utah-state
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The inaugural Mountain West title game is the nightcap to Championship Saturday, with Utah State traveling to Fresno State for the first meeting between these two schools since 2011.

Much has changed since the last meeting between these two programs. Both teams have different head coaches (Matt Wells, Utah State and Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State) and are back in the same conference after the Aggies joined the Mountain West prior to the 2013 season.  

Fresno State was considered a heavy favorite to win the West Division in the preseason, but Utah State’s berth in the championship game is a bit of a surprise, especially after the Aggies lost quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a season-ending knee injury against BYU. Utah State also had a little help from San Diego State, who knocked off Boise State late in the year to give the Aggies the edge in the division battle.

Fresno State holds a 16-10-1 series edge over Utah State. The Bulldogs have won five in a row over the Aggies. Utah State’s last win over the Bulldogs was in 2006, and its last victory in Fresno occurred in 1980.

Utah State at Fresno State

Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Fresno State -3.5

Fresno State’s Key to Victory: Control the offensive tempo
Although Utah State freshman quarterback Darell Garretson has played well in limited action, the Aggies don’t want to turn this game into a shootout. On the other hand, Fresno State leads the Mountain West with an average of 47.3 points a game. The Bulldogs have scored 70 touchdowns this year, largely on the right arm of quarterback Derek Carr. The senior has tossed 45 touchdowns to only five picks on 552 pass attempts. Fresno State also has a deep receiving corps, led by Davante Adams (113 receptions) and Josh Harper (79 grabs). Harper is questionable for Saturday’s game due to a groin injury. Utah State leads the Mountain West in pass defense, holding opponents to just 217.5 yards per game and only seven passing touchdowns in eight conference contests. The Aggies have played their best against some of the top competition in the conference, as they held San Jose State’s David Fales to no touchdown passes and 314 yards earlier this year. Fresno State’s offensive gameplan should be simple: Control the tempo and force the Aggies out of their comfort zone. Utah State has recorded 29 sacks this year, so protecting Carr and hitting Adams, Harper and Isaiah Burse on quick passes will be critical. If the Bulldogs get ahead early, it could spell trouble for Utah State. 

Utah State’s Key to Victory: Establish the run
It’s not a secret Fresno State would prefer to jump out to an early lead and force Utah State to play from behind on offense. But the Aggies need to play their game and to their strengths, which is establishing the run and solid defense. In Mountain West games, Fresno State ranks fifth in the conference against the run, allowing 157.3 yards per game. Utah State’s line features four senior starters, while running back Joey DeMartino has recorded four 100-yard efforts in five games. If DeMartino and Robert Marshall find running room, it will allow the Aggies to keep Fresno State’s offense on the sideline and limit the possessions for Carr. Also, keeping the down and distance in manageable situations for quarterback Darell Garretson will be crucial for Utah State’s hopes of winning.

Key Player: Darell Garretson, QB, Utah State
Garretson was slated to redshirt this season, but the freshman was forced into action after Chuckie Keeton suffered a knee injury against BYU. As expected with a true freshman, Garretson has experienced his share of ups and downs. However, he has played relatively well, throwing for 1,127 yards and nine touchdowns, while completing 63 percent of his passes. Fresno State ranks 10th in the Mountain West against the pass, with opposing quarterbacks completing 63.4 percent of their throws. The Bulldogs have played with big leads in some games, so the pass defense numbers are slightly skewed. Garretson doesn't have to win this game with his arm, but he needs to be efficient and eliminate any mistakes. 

Final Analysis

Fresno State’s offense has been on fire this season, with only two teams holding the Bulldogs under 40 points. Utah State’s defense ranks as the best in the Mountain West, and the front seven and secondary will present a challenge for Derek Carr and his receivers. The Aggies need to control the clock with their rushing attack and ease quarterback Darell Garretson into the game. Utah State will give Fresno State a battle, but the Bulldogs are at home and hungry to bounce back after losing to San Jose State last Friday.

Prediction: Fresno State 34, Utah State 27

Teaser:
2013 Mountain West Championship Preview and Prediction: Fresno State vs. Utah State
Post date: Saturday, December 7, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/baylor-bears-vs-texas-longhorns-2013-preview-and-prediction
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Big 12 title implications are potentially on the line when Baylor and Texas meet on Saturday afternoon. If Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma earlier in the day, this game won’t factor in into the conference championship discussion, but the Bears still need a win to keep their BCS bowl hopes alive.

In addition to the potential Big 12 title implications, this is the final game at Baylor’s Floyd Casey Stadium. The Bears have won nine straight at home and can set a school record of 10 in a row with a victory over Texas. Baylor is set to move into a new stadium in 2014, which is set on the edge of the Brazos River. The new stadium will seat 45,000.

Texas has dealt with several obstacles this season, including injuries and ongoing coaching rumors about the status of Mack Brown. The Longhorns started 1-2 but rebounded by winning six in a row. Texas lost 38-13 to Oklahoma State for its only Big 12 loss.

Baylor started 9-0 and was in the conversation for the national title until a 49-17 loss to Oklahoma State. The Bears rebounded from the loss against the Cowboys by defeating TCU 41-38 last Saturday.

Texas owns a decided 74-24-4 series edge against Baylor. The Longhorns won last season’s meeting 56-50, but the Bears won two in a row from 2010-11.

Texas at Baylor

Kickoff: 3:30 ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Baylor – 15

Texas’ Key to Victory: Establish the run
The Longhorns rank third in the Big 12 in rushing offense, averaging 200.7 yards per game. Depth in the backfield has been depleted due to an injury to Johnathan Gray, but Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are a capable one-two punch. Brown is averaging only 3.9 yards per carry on 163 attempts this season. However, the junior leads the team with nine rushing scores, while Bergeron has 342 yards this year. Texas is averaging only 223.4 passing yards per game in Big 12 games and isn’t built to win a shootout against Baylor. The Longhorns’ best hope at victory is a ground-based approach on offense, which eats up the clock and keeps Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and running back Lache Seastrunk on the sidelines.

Baylor’s Key to Victory: Protect quarterback Bryce Petty
It sounds simple, but Baylor’s victory hopes could reside on its offensive line. The Bears have allowed five sacks over the last two games and have posted two of their lowest offensive outputs of the season with left tackle Spencer Drango out. The offensive line will be tested once again, especially since Texas recorded nine sacks against Texas Tech. The Longhorns moved defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat around the line of scrimmage against the Red Raiders, allowing the senior to record seven tackles and three sacks. Protecting Petty and opening rushing lanes for Lache Seastrunk will be critical against a Texas defense that has allowed less than 110 rushing yards in two out of their last three games.

Key Player: Case McCoy, QB, Texas

Texas faces an uphill battle at victory if this game turns into a shootout. However, it’s unlikely the Longhorns can simply rely on their rushing attack to win. McCoy has thrown for 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions this year, while completing 60.1 percent of his throws. The senior has not topped 300 passing yards in a game this season and has tossed at least one interception in five out of the last six contests. Expect Texas to lean on Brown and Bergeron to control the clock, but McCoy has to make plays in the passing game when called upon. And turnovers will be critical, especially since the Longhorns cannot afford to give Baylor a short field or any easy scores. 

Final Analysis

With this game the final one in Floyd Casey Stadium and a chance to add another loss to Texas’ resume, Baylor should have plenty of motivation – even if Oklahoma State wins earlier in the day. The Longhorns will have success playing keep away and will move the ball on the ground. However, Baylor simply has too much firepower, and quarterback Bryce Petty guides a big second half to close out the Bears’ time at Floyd Casey Stadium with a victory.

Prediction: Baylor 41, Texas 31

Teaser:
Baylor Bears vs. Texas Longhorns 2013 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Saturday, December 7, 2013 - 08:30
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-picks-against-spread-week-14
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Locks of the Week
‘Tis the season for waistlines and game lines to get bigger, fatter and jollier. Go big and go home teams.

Broncos (-12) vs. Titans
What could have been a Peyton Manning homecoming in Tennessee will instead be a stomping at Mile High.

Patriots (-11.5) vs. Browns
New England has a 48–8 record in December under Bill Belichick. Cleveland has an 0–2 record when Josh Gordon goes for 200-plus yards.

Bengals (-6.5) vs. Colts
Cincy is 5–0 at home, with only one of those victories coming by fewer than a TD margin — a 34–30 victory in Week 3 vs. Aaron Rodgers’ Packers.

Ravens (-6.5) vs. Vikings
Baltimore has been mediocre but it has taken care of business against bad teams like the Browns (14–6), Texans (30–9) and Jets (19–3).

Straight Up Upsets
Heavyweight divisional fights in the NFC West and South will be won by the red hot underdogs and road dogs at that.

Seahawks (+3) at 49ers
Colin Kaepernick is 0–2 against Seattle, losing by a combined score of 71–16.

Panthers (+3) at Saints
Carolina is on an eight-game winning streak, including wins over the Niners and Pats.

Monday Night Moolah
Monday nighttime is the right time to double down (or double back) on this week’s winnings (or losses).

Bears (-1) vs. Cowboys
The last time Tony Romo played Chicago on Monday Night Football, he threw five INTs in a 34–18 loss.

Sucker Bets
Stay away from these games unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action on all the action.

Cardinals (-6.5) vs. Rams
Zona let an 11-point lead fade away en route to a 27–24 loss at St. Louis back in Week 1.

Packers (-3) vs. Falcons
Double-check: Title Town is 0–4–1 without its mustachioed star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Chiefs (-3) at Redskins
What’s in a name?

Jets (-3) vs. Raiders
Get ready to hear at least one story about the infamous 1968 “Heidi Game.”

Eagles (-3) vs. Lions
Throw the ball in the air and watch it come down in the end zone when the 26th- and 32nd-ranked pass defenses play.

Chargers (-3) vs. Giants
Archie Manning may not let Eli play in San Diego. He wouldn’t back in 2004. Why now?

Steelers (-3) vs. Dolphins
Mike Tomlin’s wallet is $100K lighter AND Pittsburgh lost on Thanksgiving? Good grief.

Buccaneers (-2.5) vs. Bills
Is this a Big East game between Rutgers and Syracuse or is that just Greg Schiano and Doug Marrone?
 

Teaser:
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 14.
Post date: Friday, December 6, 2013 - 15:19
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-will-north-carolina-reach-ncaa-tournament
Body:

The award for the most bizarre start to the season undoubtedly goes to North Carolina.

The Tar Heels lost at home to a team Athlon picked second in its division in the Ohio Valley (Belmont) and a week later defeated our preseason No. 2 team (Louisville). That turned out to be a mirage as Carolina lost on the road to a team picked fifth in Conference USA (UAB). Or did it? Three days later, Carolina defeated the preseason No. 3 team (Michigan State) that had already defeated our preseason No. 1 (Kentucky).

Belmont and UAB are both top 100 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s team rankings, and North Carolina sits at No. 8. But the results hint at a team that can beat anyone and lose to anyone on any given night.

How might that shape up for North Carolina on Selection Sunday. Here’s the case for both sides.

The case for North Carolina as an NCAA Tournament team

There’s one word to describe North Carolina’s season to date — schizophrenic. How else do you describe a team that was good enough to beat Louisville on a neutral court and Michigan State in East Lansing yet lost at home to Belmont and to UAB on the road? Clearly this is a team with some issues — the Heels as currently constructed do not have enough outside shooting and they struggle mightily at the foul line — but it’s foolish to suggest this team won’t make the NCAA Tournament, even if guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald do not return.
 
First of all, North Carolina already has two elite wins on its resume. There likely won’t be another team in the nation that will have two wins as good as Louisville and Michigan State — both away from home — throughout the entire season. So if North Carolina finds itself on the bubble in March, these two wins should be more than enough to earn the Tar Heels a bid in the Field of 68.
 
That being said, it’s unlikely that North Carolina will be on the bubble. Any team that is good enough to beat Michigan State and Louisville is good enough to at least break even in the ACC. Even with two losses in their first seven games, the Tar Heels are still ranked No. 8 nationally by Kenpom.com, checking in with the 17th-most efficient offense and 12th-most efficient defense. Those numbers suggest this team should have no problem winning games in the tough ACC — and no problem receiving a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

—Mitch Light

The case against North Carolina as an NCAA Tournament team

Wins against Louisville and Michigan State present a great resume for any team. I tend to agree that North Carolina will cobble something together in the ACC season to augment these two wins for an NCAA Tournament bid. But look beyond the names for those two big wins and remember that Carolina’s wins were as much of a product of Louisville and Michigan State playing poorly in the early part of the season. On Wednesday, Michigan State’s lineup was not in a good spot. Adreian Payne was in and out late with cramping (though he still finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. Gary Harris and Keith Appling were hobbled through the course of the game and struggled down the stretch. And Carolina shot 54.2 percent against Louisville. The Cardinals aren’t going to give that up very often. Louisville and Michigan State might not have games that bad for the rest of the season.

North Carolina has plenty of major issues though. P.J. Hairston’s return seems unlikely, and his development helped turn the Tar Heels around a year ago. Marcus Paige can look like an All-America guard, but that doesn’t always happen. And when it does, he’s still the only major outside shooting threat for Carolina. James Michael McAdoo still hasn’t developed, and the big guys aren’t exactly Tyler Zeller or Tyler Hansbrough. Beyond that, this isn't a team that can afford another major absence from a key player.

The ACC’s going to be strong enough to where Carolina will struggle against Duke and Syracuse and deep enough where Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Virginia will cause problems. Given the way the Tar Heels were outworked against UAB and lost to Belmont, Roy Williams team can’t count on any ACC opponent as a sure thing. I worry about North Carolina like I worried about Virginia last season. The Cavaliers beat teams like Duke and NC State, but in the end they had too many bad losses to overcome to put them in the Tourney.

—David Fox

Teaser:
College Basketball: Will North Carolina reach the NCAA Tournament?
Post date: Friday, December 6, 2013 - 12:02
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-december-6-2013
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 6.

 

• Today is the 27th birthday of adorably freckled swimsuit model Cintia Dicker. Hope it's a happy one.

 

Teddy Bridgewater made an insane Johnny Football-style play against Cincy, although I'm calling luck on the outcome.

 

• Many in the sports world are reacting to Nelson Mandela's death. Tiger Woods is one who actually met him.

 

• Speaking of Mr. Mandela, a Detroit news station somehow confused a dead hero with a living villain. How does that happen?

 

The storied quarterback class of 2004 is losing its sheen. In other QB news, here's how each team's quarterback would look bald. Warning: Some of this is nightmare fuel. 

 

Somebody has finally pried Chris Petersen out of Boise. Watch out for Washington.

 

Journalism hit a new low yesterday as Jameis Winston's attorney faced the media.

 

So the Robinson Cano saga has shown Jay Z that agent-in' is hard.

 

Microsoft has developed a "smart bra." Still waiting for the "smart bro."

 

A lady unicyclist wowed the crowd at halftime of an Ohio State basketball game.

 

• I'm normally not a fan of cheesy wedding proposals at sporting events, but this is okay.

 

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, December 6, 2013 - 10:54
Path: /college-football/washington-football-makes-home-run-hire-boise-states-chris-petersen
Body:

Washington lost coach Steve Sarkisian to USC on Monday, but the Huskies upgraded with the hire of Boise State’s Chris Petersen. And it’s not a cliché, but Washington truly hit a home run by pulling Petersen to Seattle.

Many programs have tried and failed to lure Petersen away from Boise State during his eight years with the Broncos. But this time, the opportunity to stay in the Pacific Northwest, along with a new challenge at a solid program like Washington was too much for Petersen to pass on.

Every college football head coach hire will have its question marks, but on the surface, there are few negatives for Washington. Petersen has been ultra-successful at Boise State and is no stranger to life and what it takes to win in the Pacific Northwest.

Before we give our final grade on Petersen, let’s take a look at the positives and negatives for this hire.

Positives for Washington’s Hire of Chris Petersen

Stellar track record
Petersen’s record at Boise State is a stellar 92-12. During his eight-year tenure with the Broncos, Petersen lost more than two games in only two seasons and won four consecutive bowl appearances from 2009-12. Boise State also finished in the final top 10 of the Associated Press poll four times under Petersen’s watch. It’s easier to maintain success at the non-BCS level, and the Pac-12 is going to be an increased challenge for Petersen. However, he’s winning at an elite level and guided the program to new heights. It’s not often a coach with a 92-12 record is available for hire, but Washington is the right fit for Petersen.

Offensive background and the right fit
Petersen played quarterback during his collegiate days, and prior to working as the Broncos’ head coach, he worked as an offensive assistant at UC Davis, Pittsburgh, Portland State, Oregon and Boise State. Petersen wasn’t calling the plays as head coach, but the Broncos had some of the nation’s most-prolific offenses under his watch. That style should translate well in the Pac-12, especially in a division that features Washington State and Oregon. This job also seems like the right fit for Petersen. It’s no secret the pressure at Boise State is considerably less than it is at USC. Outside of Oregon, this is the job that makes the most sense for Petersen: Pacific Northwest location, and even though Seattle is a big city, there’s considerably less pressure to coach at Washington than in Los Angeles.

Staff and facilities at Washington
Steve Sarkisian had an excellent staff at Washington, which included defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox – a former Boise State assistant under Petersen – and line coach and heralded recruiter Tosh Lupoi. The Huskies should be able to pay big for a new crop of assistants, and the upgraded Husky Stadium can only add to the appeal of playing in Seattle. Petersen pushed for facility upgrades and increased pay for his assistants at Boise State, and the California native should have no trouble filling both of those demands at a program like Washington.

Negatives for Washington’s Hire of Chris Petersen

Former Boise State coaches
As we mentioned above, every hire is different and will have its own set of question marks. However, is it the program that makes the coach or the coach that makes the program? That’s what Washington is about to find out. Dirk Koetter (Arizona State) and Dan Hawkins (Colorado) were hired away from Boise State to Pac-12 programs and neither hire panned out. Petersen was on staff during the Koetter and Hawkins tenures, so it’s easy to wonder if he was the true brains behind the operation. However, considering Koetter and Hawkins were both canned at their next jobs, there has to be a little doubt about how Petersen will do away from Boise State.

Recruiting in the Pac-12
With a good facilities, location and potential, Washington should be able to reel in consistent top-25 classes. At Boise State, Petersen and his staff did a good job of landing diamond-in-the-rough recruits and developed those players into all-conference talent. But recruiting to Boise State and Washington are different tasks. According to Rivals.com, from 2009-13, Petersen never recruited a top-50 class at Boise State. Can he go toe-to-toe in the Pac-12 for elite talent? This is where Petersen needs to do everything he can to keep Lupoi, as well as bring in assistants that are familiar with coaching in the Pac-12 and can recruit at a high level.

Final Analysis

In a coaching change, it’s rare for a program to lose a coach and find an immediate upgrade. But that’s the scenario Washington has found itself in. Sarkisian was a good coach and helped to resurrect the program after the failed Tyrone Willingham tenure. However, Petersen is an upgrade and is one of the top hires for a BCS program in recent years. The California native has been one of the nation’s top-10 coaches during his tenure at Boise State, and there’s no reason to expect much to change at a program like Washington. Petersen will have to adapt to recruiting at a higher level and a new set of opponents, but he will have more resources at his disposal. Washington claimed a share of the 1991 national title, so the program is capable of winning at a high level. With a renovated Husky Stadium and good facilities, this is the type of hire that can help Washington close the gap on Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North.

Grading Washington's Hire of Chris Petersen: A+

Teaser:
Washington Football Makes a Home Run Hire in Boise State's Chris Petersen
Post date: Friday, December 6, 2013 - 10:09
Path: /college-football/washington-hires-boise-states-chris-petersen-its-next-head-coach
Body:

Washington lost coach Steve Sarkisian to USC earlier this week, but the Huskies moved quickly in finding his replacement.

Boise State coach Chris Petersen has been hired by Washington to replace Sarkisian, ending an eight-year run with the Broncos.

During his tenure with Boise State, Petersen went 92-12 and won 57 conference games. The Broncos also played in two BCS bowls under Petersen’s watch.

Teaser:
Washington Hires Boise State's Chris Petersen as its Next Head Coach
Post date: Friday, December 6, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/2013-mac-championship-preview-and-prediction-northern-illinois-vs-bowling-green
Body:

Heisman contender Jordan Lynch and the No. 16 Northern Illinois Huskies face off against Travis Greene and the Bowling Green Falcons in the MAC Championship Game from Ford Field at 8 pm ET on Friday.  Joining Florida State and Ohio State as the only undefeated teams in the FBS, the Huskies are 14th in the BCS standings, and as a member of a non-automatic qualifying conference could earn a BCS bid by finishing in the top 12 of Sunday's final standings. Bowling Green, making its first appearance in the MAC title game since 2003, has had an impressive season. They are 7-1 in conference play, with their two non-conference losses coming to bowl-bound teams in Mississippi State and Indiana. Despite their success, the Falcons have lost three straight to the Northern Illinois, while the Huskies have won 26 consecutive conference games and are looking for their third conference title in a row.

Three Things to Watch

Bowling Green Rushing Offense

Sophomore RB Travis Greene's 1,422 rushing yards ranks him second in the MAC to Jordan Lynch (1,755). Over the last four games, Greene has averaged 129 yards per game and 6.4 per carry while scoring five touchdowns. He's posted seven 100-yard games, has three multi-touchdown games and has rushed for under 88 yards just once this season. After carrying the ball once all of his freshman campaign, Greene has turned into a key piece of a Falcons' offense that averages 209.6 rushing yards per game and 34.4 points per game.

Jordan Lynch for Heisman

As many Heisman frontrunners continue to fall by the wayside, Jordan Lynch's stock continues to rise. He's the fifth QB in FBS history with 20 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns in the same season joining Manziel, Newton, Kaepernick and Tebow. His 1,755 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns rival numbers put up by former Heisman-winning halfbacks. In fact, both are more than Mark Ingram had when he won his Heisman Trophy in 2009. Last week, he rushed for 321 yards against Western Michigan, breaking his own record for most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback. He has seven 100-yard games and two 300-yard rushing performances to his credit this year. Additionally, he has accounted for four or more touchdowns in seven different contests and hasn't thrown an interception since October 19. Lynch trails only Boston College RB Andre Williams in rushing yards, with the next quarterback on the FBS rushing list slated at 18th in the country in rushing. Lynch can throw the ball a bit as well, with 2,457 passing yards and 22 touchdowns. For those who point to the weakness of the MAC conference as a major reason for Lynch's success, it's worth pointing out Lynch's combined 482 yards and six touchdowns in the air plus 91 yards and one touchdown on the ground against two Big Ten schools this year.

Falcons' Defense

The key to stopping Jordan Lynch could lie with the Falcons defense. Bowling Green boasts a defense ranked fifth in the nation, giving up 13.8 points per game and 28th with an average of 134.8 rushing yards allowed. In fact, they've allowed over 28 points just once in 2013. Over the Falcons' current four-game winning streak, the defense has allowed a total of just 17 points. They are just one of seven defenses, along with teams like Alabama and Michigan State, that allows under 300 offensive yards per game. They have the nation's best red zone defense, allowing points only 57% of the time for just fifteen red zone scores all season. Additionally, they rank in the top 25 in third-down defense, allowing a conversion on just 34% of third downs. The Falcons are tough against ball carriers, recovering an FBS 9th-best 13 fumbles, for an average of over one per game.
Key Player: Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green

If the Falcons are going to have any chance to take down Jordan Lynch and the No. 9 scoring offense, their own offense will need to put up some points. Sophomore Matt Johnson will need to continue to improve and avoid turnovers. He's thrown an interception in four straight games as he prepares to face a Huskies' defense that has interception 17 passes, good for 12th in the nation. Johnson will look for help from his leading receiver Shaun Joplin, who has three 100-yard games on his 2013 resume.

Final Analysis:

The three reasons Northern Illinois will win another MAC Championship? Jordan Lynch. Jordan Lynch. Jordan Lynch. Despite their strong defensive rankings, his level of talent and playmaking ability is so far above anything Bowling Green has seen this year. The only things to decide now are who the Huskies will face in their second-straight BCS bowl and whether Lynch's darkhorse Heisman candidacy will overcome frontrunner Jameis Winston.

Prediction: Northern Illinois 34, Bowling Green 28

Teaser:
2013 MAC Championship Preview and Prediction: Northern Illinois vs. Bowling Green
Post date: Friday, December 6, 2013 - 09:00

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