Articles By All
Backup quarterbacks will get their chance in Week 6, as several teams have already ruled out their starters. Here’s the latest information on who will be under center today.
Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It was only a matter of time, right? Vick pulled up with a hamstring injury last week against the Giants and wasn’t able to finish the game. Nick Foles came in and put the finishing touches on the 36-21 victory by throwing two TD passes in the fourth quarter. Vick practiced fully on Friday, but he is listed as Questionable and is not expected to play today. Foles will get his first start of the season, but it’s probably too risky to use him right off the bat in your lineup. If anything, this game against the Buccaneers will be a good gauge of his fantasy potential in Chip Kelly’s offense. Foles isn’t anywhere near as mobile as Vick, so most of his damage will have to come in the pocket. Plus with Vick already making progress in his recovery, chances are Foles could be back to clipboard duty as soon as next week.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars at Denver Broncos
Gabbert missed two games earlier because of a thumb injury and in his first game back last week, he sustained a hamstring injury against St. Louis. He has already been ruled Out for today’s game, which means Chad Henne will get the start. Even though Jacksonville is a historic underdog on the road against Denver, that doesn’t mean that Henne and other Jaguars can’t provide valuable fantasy points. In fact, based on the likely outcome of this game and the 347 yards passing per game the Broncos are giving up, I have no problem if you want to take a chance on Henne as your bye week, fill-in starter this week or if you play in a 2-QB league.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings vs. Carolina Panthers
Ponder is listed as Probable, as he’s recovered enough from the rib injury that caused him to miss the Vikings’ last game, but he will not start. The team will stick with Matt Cassel against the Panthers. At this point, neither Ponder nor Cassel merit any fantasy consideration, especially against a Panthers’ defense that has given up the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. The Vikings’ quarterback situation is just one jumbled mess right now, as the team recently signed Tampa Bay cast-off Josh Freeman to add to the circus.
Other Notable Quarterback Injuries:
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans – Locker remains out because of the hip/knee injury he suffered in Week 4. Ryan Fitzpatrick will serve as the Titans’ starting quarterback and has a tough assignment today, playing in Seattle against the league’s sixth-ranked defense (third against the pass).
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills – The Bills’ first-round pick will miss a few weeks after hurting his knee (LCL sprain) last week against Cleveland. Thad Lewis will start today in Manuel’s place.
Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns – Hoyer’s season is over after tearing his ACL last week against Buffalo. Brandon Weeden will resume the starting role.
Barring a last-minute change, it appears that one elite tight end will miss his sixth straight game, while two other top options appear to be ready to go for Week 6. Here’s the latest information on the tight end injury front.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints
Just when it looked like “Gronk Watch” was going to finally come to an end, the latest twist in this soap opera occurred. Despite being a full go in practice and reports earlier in the week that said he would play, Gronkowski has not been medically cleared by his own doctors. Any early optimism regarding his playing status has been replaced a general belief that he will not make his season debut against the Saints. He is officially listed as Questionable, so there’s always a chance of a last-second reversal, but you have to decide if it’s worth the risk to put Gronk in your lineup or not.
Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers vs. Arizona Cardinals
His hamstring has been an issue in recent weeks, but he was a full go at practice this week and is Probable to face the Cardinals. Since sitting out Week 3, Davis has been in there for every game and looked rather explosive last week on a 64-yard touchdown reception against the Texans. This is a good matchup on paper, as the Cardinals are giving up the third-most fantasy points to TEs, so there’s no reason to sit Davis this week.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings
Olsen is the Panthers’ leading receiver and a top-15 fantasy TE. He also was spotted in a walking boot earlier this week, which obviously cut into his practice time. The issue, however, appears to be minor as he was back at it on Thursday and Friday, sans boot. He is Probable for today’s game and considering the Vikings are allowing the second-most fantasy points to TEs this season, you need to play Olsen.
Tight Ends in Deeper Leagues:
Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars – Lewis has only played in part of one game this season because of a calf injury. He’s out again this week and has basically dropped clear off of the fantasy radar, if he hadn’t already.
Zach Miller, Seattle Seahawks – Miller missed last week’s game because of a hamstring injury and wasn’t able to practice at all this week. Not really sure why he’s listed as questionable, as there’s no question in my mind you should just steer clear away.
Jordan Reed and Fred Davis, Washington Redskins – Reed missed last week’s game in Oakland because of a thigh injury, while Davis has been hobbled by an ankle injury. Both are probable to play tonight, but that doesn’t mean either will have any sort of fantasy impact. Reed has been more productive than Davis to this point, but any snaps Davis gets takes away from Reed’s opportunities. While I don’t think this is a timeshare, per se, there’s also not enough potential right now for Reed to provide enough fantasy value to merit much consideration.
Kellen Winslow, New York Jets – Winslow has been dealing with knee pain, but it doesn’t matter, as the tight end has been suspended for four games by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. In Winslow’s absence, Jeff Cumberland will become the starter with former New England Patriot Zach Sudfeld also expected to see time this week. Cumberland could be an option in deeper leagues down the road, but don’t bother this week.
Missouri staked its claim in the SEC East on Saturday with a huge road victory over Georgia.
However, the win was costly for the Tigers, as quarterback James Franklin suffered a separated shoulder in the second half and is out indefinitely. The school has not released how long Franklin will be sidelined, but various reports indicate the senior will likely miss six weeks.
Franklin was injured throughout the 2012 season, which was a big reason why Missouri finished 5-7. However, Franklin looked 100 percent this season and had 14 touchdowns and only three picks prior to his injury.
With Franklin sidelined, redshirt freshman Maty Mauk will start under center. Prior to the game against Georgia, Mauk had thrown only three passes in his career.
Mauk will have his hands full the next few weeks, as Missouri hosts Florida, South Carolina in back-to-back games. The redshirt freshman has a tough assignment, but the experience will be valuable as he should be the Tigers’ quarterback in 2014.
There’s no question Franklin will be missed, and his injury is a huge setback for a Missouri team off to a 6-0 start.
#Mizzou QB James Franklin is expected to be out for at least the next 6 wks, probably longer w a Grade 2 shoulder separation, per source.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) October 12, 2013
Texas quarterback Case McCoy was destroyed by Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker in the first half of the Red River Rivalry.
Check out this hit, which might be one of the biggest of the 2013 season:
American League Championship Series – Game 1
Detroit at Boston
8:30 ET Fox
Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57) vs. Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75)
Jon Lester beat the Tigers twice this season. In one of the games, he was very sharp in a 2-1 win. But in his previous start he was aided with 10 runs of support in the 10-6 win in which he was not on his game. Anibal Sanchez’s only appearance against Boston in his eight-year career came at Dolphin Stadium way back in 2006. It was Sanchez’s second career game and a relief appearance in the first inning. He gave up seven earned runs in 4.1 innings. But that’s old history now. Few of the current Red Sox hitters have faced Sanchez, the American League ERA leader this season, which should be an advantage for the pitcher.
Keys for Detroit
Sanchez has faced the Red Sox just once in his career, and it wasn’t at Fenway Park. Having never pitched in the quirky ballpark can be a bit unsettling initially. Being right-handed certainly helps though. So much hinges on Miguel Cabrera, that the Red Sox may opt to never pitch to him. In order to do that, the Sox must keep runners off base in front of him, and be prepared to deal with Prince Fielder. So if Detroit can get Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter hot at the top of the lineup, it will be difficult to pitch around Cabrera. Since joining the Tigers, Fielder has yet to show what he can do in the postseason. Now would be a good time to break out of that funk.
Keys for Boston
The Red Sox expect to score runs. Offense shouldn’t be the problem. Lester must be sharper than he’s been against this team, and the relievers can’t let this game get away. Boston’s bullpen should be a distinct advantage in this series, so keeping the game close and turning it over to both bullpens is a positive for the Red Sox.
Tigers to Watch
The Tigers can’t win without Cabrera having a good series. Can they win a game or two without a contribution from the best hitter in the game? Sure. But not four. This lineup is deep and has a terrific history against Lester, even though the Sox won his two starts against Detroit this season. Former Red Sox Victor Martinez has been in a groove since the All-Star break. That should continue tonight. If the Tigers are to make any win easy, it must start with Jackson and Hunter at the top of the order. Jackson, in particular, was an easy target for Oakland pitchers.
Red Sox to Watch
Nothing in his history against Detroit suggests that Lester will get deep into this game. Koji Uehara — one Jose Lobaton home run aside — has been nasty this season, especially over the final four months. But to bridge the gap between Lester and Uehara, the Red Sox rely heavily on lefty Craig Breslow and righthander Junichi Tazawa. Breslow should become very well-acquainted with Fielder during this series.
The Tigers held Oakland hitters to .132 average with runners in scoring position…Detroit won four of the seven meetings between the Tigers and Red Sox this season, but only one of three in Boston…Detroit’s projected lineup is batting .383 vs. Lester in 133 at-bats…Cabrera is 2-for-4 with two home runs and a walk in five career plate appearances against Boston closer Uehara…Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks’ only plate appearance against Detroit reliever Al Alburquerque resulted in a grand slam…Detroit was only 7-8 in Sanchez’s 15 road starts this season.
Series Prediction: Boston in 6
National League Championship Series – Game 2
Los Angeles at St. Louis
3:07 ET TBS
Clayton Kershaw (16-9, 1.83) vs. Michael Wacha (4-1, 2.78)
The Dodgers and Cardinals played 13 innings for more than five hours before Carlos Beltran lined a shot to right field that scored pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso from second. Now the teams must turn around for a first pitch of Game 2 just 13 and half hours after the final pitch of Game 1. St. Louis Game 2 starter Michael Wacha followed a near no-hitter in his final start of the regular season by allowing just one hit over 7.1 innings to the Pirates. The lone hit was a long home run by Pedro Alvarez. Clayton Kershaw shut down the Braves in both Game 1 and 4. So we have two outstanding pitchers throwing well facing exhausted lineups. Yep, could be another epic, gut-wrenching affair this afternoon.
Keys for Los Angeles
The Dodgers must put last night behind them and quickly. That’s much easier to do with Kershaw on the hill. But Hanley Ramirez, who was hit in the ribs in the first inning, is likely sore, and the Dodgers can’t afford to lose his bat. Closer Kenley Jansen entered the game in the 13th inning and the first batter he faced in the series lined a walk-off single to right. He must forget that and move on to this afternoon.
Keys for St. Louis
Who will close tonight? Trevor Rosenthal threw 33 pitches Friday night. He topped 30 pitches just four times during the regular season and did not pitch the following night on any of those occasions. But this is the postseason. If he isn’t available, Kevin Siegrist or deposed closer Edward Mujica will be called on for the final outs. Even though the Cardinals beat Kershaw twice this season, they are susceptible to lefthanders.
Dodgers to Watch
None of the Dodgers have seen Wacha, so it may take a time through the order for any of the hitters to be comfortable. So much hinges on Kershaw. The lefthander lost two starts to St. Louis this season, and has a spotty postseason record prior to this season. Kershaw must get deep into this game given how taxed the bullpen was last night. In the two losses to the Cardinals, Kershaw wasn’t bad allowing a .265 average with a 4.15 ERA over 13 innings.
Cardinals to Watch
All eyes better be on Beltran. The man is calm and collected in pressure situations in the postseason. After a win in Game 1, there’s slightly less pressure on Wacha, but the Cardinals don’t want to allow Los Angeles to split the first two games. And, realistically, the Cardinals can’t expect too many runs off of Kershaw, so Wacha needs to be sharp. The youngster has been especially good at home and equally tough on lefty and righty hitters. Mike Matheny handed the 22-year-old the ball for one of the most important games of the season on Monday, and responded by taking a no-hitter into the late innings.
Beltran now has nine RBIs in this postseason, as many as his teammates have combined…In his career, Kershaw in 4-5 with a 3.75 ERA against the Cardinals…In 43 plate appearances vs. Kershaw, Matt Holliday is batting .303 with a .465 on-base percentage…Pete Kozma has three doubles and a single in his five plate appearances against Kershaw…Five Dodger regulars are hitting at a .348 clip or better this postseason (Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig)…Six St. Louis relievers — Rosenthal, Seth Maness, John Axford, Siegrist, Randy Choate and Mujica — have logged 12 innings this postseason with a 1.00 WHIP and 0.00 ERA.
Missouri versus Georgia is suddenly a big game in the SEC. The Tigers are clearly improved in their second season in the SEC, and a win over the Bulldogs would put coach Gary Pinkel’s team in the mix with Florida and South Carolina for the top spot in the East Division.
The Tigers haven’t played the most challenging schedule but are 5-0 and handled Vanderbilt in their SEC opener. Missouri also has a solid road win at Indiana and has scored at least 38 points in every game this season.
Georgia’s path to a 4-1 record featured one of the most difficult slates in the nation. The Bulldogs lost at Clemson in the opener but rebounded with four consecutive wins. In addition to a victory over North Texas, Georgia defeated South Carolina 41-30 and LSU 44-41 and survived an upset bid by Tennessee 34-31 in overtime last week.
These two teams have met only twice, with Georgia winning both matchups. Prior to last season’s game, the only previous matchup between these two schools was in the 1960 Orange Bowl.
Missouri vs. Georgia
Kickoff: 12 ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Georgia -8
Three Things to Watch
How will Georgia stop Missouri QB James Franklin?
What a difference a year makes. After battling various ailments and recovering from offseason shoulder surgery last season, Franklin looks like a different quarterback in 2013. The senior has thrown for 1,407 yards and 13 touchdowns and is completing 67.9 percent of his throws. Franklin has also rushed for 278 yards and two scores and has already surpassed his total offense total (1,684) from last season. Georgia’s defense returned only three starters this season, and this unit is still a work in progress after five games. The Bulldogs rank 10th in the SEC in yards allowed 12th in pass defense. In addition to stopping Franklin, Missouri has a strong supporting cast, led by receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and running backs Russell Hansbrough and Henry Josey. Franklin’s dual-threat ability will be a huge test for Georgia’s defense, especially after the Bulldogs allowed Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd to record 312 yards and five scores in the opener.
Aaron Murray’s supporting cast
Injuries have decimated Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray’s supporting cast. Running back Todd Gurley did not play in last week’s win over Tennessee due to a sprained ankle and is not expected to play against Missouri. The Bulldogs also lost running back Keith Marshall for the season with a torn ACL last week, which means freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas will shoulder the workload on the ground. Green has been a capable option in limited action (8.8 ypc), and the coaching staff may pull the redshirt off of A.J. Turman this week. As if the injuries at running back weren’t enough, Georgia is shorthanded at receiver. Malcolm Mitchell was lost for the year in the opener due to a torn ACL, and Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley were injured against Tennessee last week. Bennett is out indefinitely, while Scott-Wesley will miss the rest of the season. Senior Rhett McGowan and junior Chris Conley are capable options at receiver, but depth is a concern. Expect the Bulldogs to involve tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome more in the passing game this week. Murray is one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, but how much transition time will it require with the changes in his supporting cast?
Missouri’s DL vs. Georgia’s OL
Missouri’s defensive line was considered by most to be a weakness this preseason. But the Tigers have been strong in the trenches so far, as end Michael Sam is tied for the SEC lead with six sacks, and opponents are managing just 118.6 rushing yards per game this season. Sam isn’t the only player off to a good start on the line, as end Kony Ealy has two sacks and tackles Lucas Vincent and Matt Hoch have combined for 19 stops. Only one player (Toledo’s David Fluellen) has rushed for more than 100 yards on Missouri’s defense so far this season. Georgia’s offensive line allowed four sacks in the opener against Clemson but allowed just three in the other four games. Will Sam continue his hot start to the season? Or will Georgia’s offensive line control the line of scrimmage? This battle will be a matchup to watch on Saturday.
Key Player: J.J. Green, RB, Georgia
With Gurley not expected to play and Keith Marshall out for the season, Green has to carry the ground attack against Missouri. The Tigers rank third in the SEC against the run, holding opponents to 118.6 yards per game. Prior to last week’s game against Tennessee, the freshman had only five carries in his career. Against the Volunteers, Green stepped up with the game on the line, recording 129 yards on 17 attempts. Considering the depth issues here, Green will be needed for 25-30 rushes on Saturday, which will surpass the 22 he has through five appearances this year. Quarterback Aaron Murray is one of the best in the nation, but he can’t win this game on his own. Will Green give the Bulldogs 100 yards on Saturday?
With all of its injuries, Georgia will have its hands full with a much-improved Missouri team. The Tigers shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball against the Bulldogs, but Georgia’s athletic and fast defense will be the best the Tigers have faced this season. The Bulldogs pass-rush duo of Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd should be able to exploit Missouri’s offensive line, which has allowed 11 sacks through five games. Quarterback James Franklin threw for 269 yards against the Bulldogs last year and will need over 300 total yards for the Tigers to win on Saturday.
Missouri shows its 5-0 start is no fluke with a strong performance in Athens. However, Georgia is the better team and once again, will find a way to win.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Missouri 27
Locks of the Week
It’s always savvy to make the rounds betting against bad teams with backup quarterbacks.
Bengals (-7) at Bills
Undrafted free-agent rookie Thad Lewis is under center in Buffalo. Light speed, Thaddeus.
Lions (-3) at Browns
Franchise savior Brian Hoyer is out for the year, leaving leftover reject Brandon Weeden in charge.
Eagles (-2.5) at Buccaneers
Rookie Mike Glennon will look to improve upon his two-INT, 55.7-passer-rating debut at QB in TB.
Straight Up Upset
Two home teams and a road squad with a chip on its shoulder could pull off upsets.
Patriots (+2.5) vs. Saints
Last week, Tom Brady failed to throw a TD pass for the first time since Jan. 3, 2010. That will change this week.
Steelers (+2) at Jets
Winless Pittsburgh takes on bipolar New York, a team that lost to Tennessee by 25 before shocking Atlanta by two on MNF.
Chargers (+1.5) vs. Colts (-1.5)
Stanford alum Andrew Luck is going for the California sweep, having already defeated both the 49ers and Raiders.
The two biggest numbers of the week are too big, even for the league’s two best teams.
Broncos (-27) vs. Jaguars
Eight of the previous nine teams favored by 20 or more points have failed to cover. It’s not about Peyton Manning, this is Brock Osweiler’s time to shine.
Seahawks (-13.5) vs. Titans
Gregg Williams’ Tennessee defense has been taking out the head so far, but Ryan Fitzpatrick’s five straight three-and-outs TKO’d the Titans last week.
Cowboys (-5.5) vs. Redskins
Tony Romo vs. Robert Griffin III probably won’t be a Peyton Manning-style shootout, but it could be just as close.
Stay away from these unless you’re a degenerate or a homer who has to have action.
49ers (-10.5) vs. Cardinals
Jim Harbaugh has a 3–1 record against Zona, with a 21–19 loss in 2011 and three victories by a combined score of 74–23.
Chiefs (-8.5) vs. Raiders
Oakland swept K.C. last year, winning 26–16 at Arrowhead and 15–0 at the Black Hole. But these are Andy Reid’s Chiefs now.
Texans (-7.5) vs. Rams
Houston is the better team on paper, but Matt Schaub has thrown a pick-six in a record four straight games — on the field.
Packers (-3) at Ravens
These two playoff teams from last year are playing up-and-down mediocre football; flip a coin on this one.
Vikings (-2.5) vs. Panthers
Hopefully Adrian Peterson will run wild after a tragic week. Good luck, A.D.
Two of the last three Super Bowl champions will get together when the Green Bay Packers take on the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on FOX. Despite their past successes, these two franchises have incurred some struggles early in 2013.The Packers got off to a rocky 1-2 start before the bye week. They did manage to improve to 2-2 with a win over Detroit last week, yet the Lions were without All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Meanwhile, the Ravens are certainly seeing the effects of all their offseason departures. Their defense looked far from the Ravens defense of past years as Peyton Manning carved it up for seven touchdown passes. Despite this, the Ravens have rallied to win three of their past four games. However, Baltimore looked extremely poor in the 23-20 loss against Buffalo, turning the ball over a season-high five times.
This is the fifth overall meeting between the two teams, who first played in 1998. The Packers lead the all-time series 3-1, last beating the Ravens 27-14 in 2009. Joe Flacco, who threw three interceptions in that game, and Aaron Rodgers, who threw two picks, both look to have better performances this time around.
3 Things to Watch
Ravens’ rushing offense
With the names Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, one would expect the Ravens to boast one of the league’s top running attacks. In fact, Baltimore is tied for 26th in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging a mere 77.8 yards per game. This low output can’t be blamed on a lack of opportunities, as the Ravens average just 2.8 yards per rush. This ranks them second to last in the league in yards per rush, just above the Jaguars’ 2.7 average. Rice, held to just 89 yards in his first three games, rushed for a season-high 74 yards and scored two touchdowns last week against Miami. Before he got 33 touches last week, he had seen just 41 total for the season. The Packers have been stout against the run this year, but a revived workload should make Rice more of a factor moving forward. Rice needs to do a better job holding on to the football. He has fumbled the ball five times in his past eight games, dating to last season's playoffs.
Packers’ defense without Clay Matthews
Green Bay was dealt a big blow this past week when news came out that Matthews, the Packers’ Pro Bowl linebacker, would be out nearly a month with a broken right thumb. The Packers will start two backup linebackers on Sunday as linebacker Brad Jones also will be out with a hamstring injury. The Packers rank fifth in the NFL against the run and Matthews has played a central role in this. Matthews has three tackles for a loss on rushing plays this year and leads the Packers with 15 tackles for loss on rushing plays over the past three years. They also will miss Matthews’ pass-rushing ability, which would come in handy versus a very poor Ravens offensive line. Matthews has racked up one-fourth of the Packers’ 12 sacks on the season. Other than Matthews, only Nick Perry (two) has multiple sacks for Green Bay. Joe Flacco needs to take advantage of the extra time he is sure to have with Matthews on the sidelines.
Good Joe or Bad Joe?
Just which Joe Flacco will show up on Sunday? Will we see the one who threw five interceptions against the Bills or the one from last year’s Super Bowl run? Since cashing in with a giant contract, Flacco has had a rather forgettable first five games. Currently, he has completed just 57.7 percent of his passes for 1,360 yards, five touchdowns and eight interceptions. Entering Week 6, he only trails Eli Manning, Carson Palmer and Matt Schaub in interceptions thrown this season. Of quarterbacks that have started the first five games, Manning and Palmer have lower quarterback ratings than Flacco’s 70.1. He does still have a good connection with Torrey Smith, who is averaging a staggering 20.1 yards per catch, but Flacco appears uncomfortable with the rest of his receiving options. In fact, after Smith’s 52 targets, no Raven has more than 29. Smith has three times the receiving yards of anyone else on the team. Rice, who has long been a top target for Flacco, has just 17 receptions thus far.
Key Player for Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers, QB
This may seem like an obvious choice, but it can’t be argued. Rodgers is the key for Green Bay. While he struggled a bit against Cincinnati, the signal-caller has been near the top of his game in 2013. He is completing 66.4 percent of his passes, has a touchdown to interception ratio of three to one and has posted three games with a passer rating over 100. Rodgers will need to watch out for Terrell Suggs, who already has seven sacks.
Key Players for Baltimore: Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, CBs
Webb is the leader for a secondary that is likely to have its hands full with a bevy of talented Packers receivers. James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb pose matchup problems for nearly every secondary they face. Webb will team with fellow corner Smith in an attempt to bottle up Rodgers’ playmakers. Webb looks to be fully recovered from a nagging thigh injury. Webb and Smith both have the size to be physical with Jones and Nelson, but might not be quick enough for the shifty Cobb. Corey Graham will probably be the player Rodgers will target, as he has struggled mightily in coverage this season and already has given up four touchdown catches.
Clay Matthews' injury certainly hurts Green Bay’s defense, as do the injuries to Casey Hayward and Morgan Burnett in the secondary. The good news for the Packers is that I don’t see the type of play from Joe Flacco that he displayed in the playoffs a year ago. He is struggling mightily and there is no reason to believe he will turn it around this week. I’ll take the more dependable Aaron Rodgers, as the Ravens won’t be able to cover his trio of receivers. The Ravens will try and win by keeping Rodgers off of the field with their running game and pressuring him when he is on the field with the trio of Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Elvis Dumervil.
Green Bay 31, Baltimore 17
1. Travis Kvapil’s domestic violence arrest another NASCAR mess
The controversies for NASCAR in 2013 have often taken a turn far from on-track action. Instead, the cavalcade of driver romance, drivers making asinine statements, fans getting injured and the whole Chase field fiasco has buffeted the sport’s news cycle between often so-so racing.
Enter Travis Kvapil.
The 2003 Truck Series champion, Kvapil was arrested this week on domestic violence charges that, according to a police report obtained by The Sporting News, resulted from Kvapil grabbing his wife by her hair and striking her in the head. He was released on bond.
Thursday, both his BK Racing team and NASCAR declined to pursue any punitive action related to his role as a NASCAR driver and instead insisted on gathering more facts and letting the case play out. He practiced and qualified the car Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
For NASCAR specifically, that leaves a lot of questions. Notably: what’s the line for NASCAR to suspend a driver who is arrested of a serious crime and is awaiting the next phase of the legal process? NASCAR has recently handled initial charges of DUI and even theft with either a slap-on-the-wrist probation or no recourse at all. Kvapil’s case is different, though, in that he stands accused of physical violence against another person. He is also yet to issue an explicit denial of the charges.
Of course it’s never right to assume guilt in criminal cases based on a lack of public statements. Sometimes charges do get dropped. That said, NASCAR has now crossed the line of allowing competitors accused of violence remain in the sport without recourse. Where does that stop? If a driver is accused of assault, manslaughter or even a grievous murder charge, does NASCAR let them take the track if legally free while waiting for trial?
It’s undoubtedly a slippery slope in both directions for NASCAR. However, it might not be for the key cogs of this sport: sponsors and fans. The Kvapil situation is a black eye for all involved and the lack of action on the matter in any fashion rings hollow.
What’s the best answer for Kvapil and NASCAR going forward? It’s hard to say. But it’s easy to note that Thursday the entire sport didn’t escape the inexorable feeling that it tried to coolly shove a very serious issue just out of view.
2. Jeff Gordon’s pole run a sign of improved performance Jeff Gordon shocked the ESPN booth Thursday night when, as the last qualifier for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte, he knocked Kevin Harvick off the pole with a late charge exiting Turn 4. The television network’s live scoring of Gordon’s lap showed he gained nearly a 1/10th of a second on Harvick’s posted time in the last segment.
The lap could almost be an allegory of Gordon’s season to this point: decent to good early, struggling in the middle and a surge near the end. He notched just five top-10 finishes in the season’s first 16 races and 10 of them in the 14 races since. Just once since August 18, thanks to a blown pit stop at Loudon, has he finished worse than eighth.
The four-time champion still sits fourth in the point standings heading in to Charlotte thanks to a steady dose of both consistency and improved results in the first four rounds of the Chase. He’s 32 points behind leader Matt Kenseth, which is far enough to be in need of help from those ahead of him over the final six races yet close enough to pounce.
With the prime starting spot at Charlotte, Gordon is in position to increase the heat on Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson just like Kevin Harvick did a week ago. It’s an opportunity he’ll need to take advantage of if the championship dreams he talks about are to become reality.
3. Charlotte an opportune point for Harvick to continue ascent Kevin Harvick, that so-called lame duck of the 2013 season, has been soaring in three of the four Chase races to this point. A commanding performance last week at Kansas that produced a win and 138 laps led shoved him to third and 25 points out of the Chase lead.
Things should only get better at Charlotte.
Harvick schooled Kasey Kahne on a late restart with 10 laps left in May to take the win in the Coca-Cola 600, his second in the prestigious event. It wasn’t an unusual finish for Harvick at Charlotte — he’s finished worse than 11th just once in his last seven CMS starts — but it was unusual that Harvick was up front. The 28 laps he led in the May race pushed Harvick’s career total to 34 of the 8,918 laps he’s raced at the track.
He lines up second for Saturday night’s 500-miler driving the same car he won with at Kansas. If the car is up for an encore performance Harvick could go a long way to improving his career numbers at CMS and, more importantly, positively improving his title chances.
4. Jimmie Johnson seeks a return to his ‘house’The domination that Jimmie Johnson laid on his Cup Series competitors during the most of the last decade at Charlotte was staggering. The No. 48 led more than 100 laps in three of five races from 2002-04, notched four consecutive wins from 2004-05 and finished third or better in seven straight races from 2003-06.
But in 2010, the pendulum of luck at the track started swinging away from NASCAR’s five-time champion when he crashed and finished 37th in the May race. It briefly returned when he led 15 laps and finished third in the fall race, but it reversed completely with two DNFs courtesy of a crash and an engine failure in 2011.
Johnson was average, by his standards, last year when an 11th-place finish and a third-place finish and followed those runs with a crash-filled journey this past May with a 22nd-place run.
Those results make it all but impossible to know where Johnson will wind up Saturday night. He’ll roll off fourth.
5. Crazy Coca-Cola 600 results left many Chase contenders outJust looking at the results of the May race at Charlotte would lead you to believe Gordon, Kenseth, Johnson Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. may be in for a challenge to stay in contention on Saturday night.
But don’t forget how crazy NASCAR’s last trip to Charlotte actually was, and how those Chase competitors didn’t finish where they could have.
First, there was the television camera cable that broke loose and fell on the track during green flag conditions and caused significant damage to Busch’s car while he was leading. Busch, of course, ultimately got the damage fixed and would lead 65 laps before he lost an engine during the heat of Toyota’s early season engine woes. He finished 38th.
Earnhardt Jr. also lost an engine during the event.
Kenseth (112 laps led) and Gordon ran in the top 5 before both were hurt by a caution flag late in the going as they pitted under green flag conditions. Gordon crashed out in the ensuing scramble to get back to the front and Kenseth destroyed the handling of his Toyota when he later bounced off the wall when Johnson spun by himself. Johnson would hit the wall again and require five laps of repairs.
Each of the drivers had a realistic shot at a top-10 finish in the May race but instead wound up 15th or much worse. Seeing a repeat of those results would be a pretty large surprise.
National League Championship Series – Game 1
Los Angeles at St. Louis
8:30 ET TBS
Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63) vs. Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69)
The Cardinals won a hard-fought battle with NL Central rival Pittsburgh to advance to the NLCS for the third consecutive year. The Dodgers didn’t exactly breeze by the Braves, but there was less resistance from Atlanta than expected. With Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw pitching the first two games in St. Louis, the Dodgers have an excellent opportunity to steal a road game. However, with Adam Wainwright scheduled to pitch Game 3 in Los Angeles, the Cardinals can easily return the favor. This series certainly shapes up for St. Louis to have Wainwright on the hill for game 7.
Keys for Los Angeles
The Dodgers need to get to Game 1 starter Joe Kelly early and not allow him to settle in. That can be said for most starting pitchers, but forcing Mike Matheny’s hand going to the bullpen early is not a good sign for St. Louis. The Cardinals, with Yadier Molina behind the plate, are not friendly toward an offense built around stolen bases. But the Dodgers can take extra bases on the St. Louis outfield. Of course, if they continue to get extra-base hits at a torrid pace, scoring runs will not be a problem.
Keys for St. Louis
Some good news from the NLDS with Pittsburgh is that Cardinals pitchers held the Pirates to a .201 batting average. The bad news? St. Louis hit just .209. Pittsburgh hitters’ primary problems were Wainwright and Michael Wacha. The Cardinals must hit better than .209 in order to win when those two don’t pitch. The Cardinals rolled to 97 wins during the regular season due to their uncanny hitting with runners in scoring position. The .330 average in those situations blew away previous records for any team. But St. Louis hit just .192 (5-for-26) against the Pirates in those situations, which made the Redbirds’ work much more difficult. Without their leading man in that role, Allen Craig, the Cardinals need to find that regular-season magic.
Dodgers to Watch
The Dodgers were wearing their hitting shoes in the series against Atlanta and jumping on Kelly early would set a nice tone for the series for the men in blue. Carl Crawford and Hanley Ramirez trigger the Dodgers’ offense. The Cardinals will probably find a way to hold Yasiel Puig in check, but getting Crawford on base and Ramirez hitting with runners in scoring position is a nice formula for the Dodgers. Skip Schumaker is a name to remember. The former Cardinal, very popular in St. Louis with many friends on the team, will be in position to haunt the Redbirds. He’ll likely be up to the task.
Cardinals to Watch
Matt Carpenter, who sparked the Cardinals’ offense all season, must be the happiest player in the big leagues right now to see Pittsburgh pitchers leave town. The Pirates kept the NL hits and runs leader off base and made him a non-factor. The Cardinals expect Carlos Beltran and David Freese to come up big this time of year, but producing runs becomes so much easier with Carpenter leading the way.
Greinke has more career wins (8) against the Cardinals than any team other than the Tigers (13)…In two starts vs. St. Louis in the 2011 NLCS while with Milwaukee, Greinke gave up 15 hits and eight earned runs in 11.2 innings…Freese, Matt Holliday and Molina are batting a combined .333 against Greinke with 10 RBIs in 66 at-bats…Six of the Dodgers’ regular eight position players hit .333 or better in the NLDS against Atlanta…The Dodgers had 18 extra-base hits, including seven home runs in the four games…This is the Cardinals’ eighth appearance in the NLCS in the 2000s, more than twice as many as any other National League team. St. Louis has played in 43 NLCS games since 2000, winning 19…This is the Dodgers’ third NLCS appearance since 2008…Los Angeles won just two of eight games vs. the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008-09…The anticipated starting eight for L.A. is batting .278 against Kelly, albeit from a small sample. If Mattingly decides to play Nick Punto, a former Cardinal, at second base rather than Mark Ellis, the average goes up to .418.
Series Prediction: St. Louis in 7
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Oct. 11.
• It's time for College Football Week 7 Showdowns: Cheerleader Edition.
• Oakland fans attempted to mock Justin Verlander with images of Kate Upton. All that did was remind people that Justin Verlander once dated Kate Upton. That's something I'd want people to remember.
• Eight hilarious moments from the Tigers' celebration. And by the way, when did we start celebrating Division Series wins with champagne?
• The derpiest year of Eli Manning's career marches on unabated. He has 15 interceptions through six games, all losses. Meanwhile, Brandon Marshall described Jay Cutler as "the smartest man in any room." In his defense, Marshall spends a lot of time outdoors.
• TBS tried to write "If Necessary" at the bottom of a screen graphic. It failed, miserably.
• This is clever, and pretty accurate: the 29 stages of a Twitterstorm.
• They teach 'em young in Detroit: this diminutive Red Wings fan gives the double bird like a pro.
• The Wall Street Journal dubs the Dodgers "the Yankees of the West." Apparently the Wall Street Journal wants people to hate the Dodgers.
• The headline on this Michael Beasley story is my favorite headline of the day. See if you don't agree.
• A reporter got a little personal with Mike Tyson.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Week 7 is here already and now it is time to make a push for the fantasy playoffs. If your team is in the middle of the pack, every roster move you make from this point on can propel you up in the standings or bring your team closer to irrelevancy.
James Franklin, QB-Missouri at Georgia
Franklin leads the undefeated Tigers into Athens to face a Georgia defense that is allowing 32.2 points per game and over 260 yards in the air.
Bo Wallace, QB-Ole Miss vs Texas A&M
The Aggies defense is allowing nearly 30 points per game, and Wallace should post a solid stat line if the Rebels reach the 30-point mark.
Keenan Reynolds, QB-Navy at Duke
When the Blue Devils faced Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack in Week 3, they surrendered 344 rushing yards.
Paul Perkins, RB-UCLA vs California
Perkins was solid in relief of injured running back Jordan James last Thursday at Utah and should post nice numbers against a Bears defense that is allowing 219 rushing yards per game.
Larry Dixon, RB-Army vs Eastern Michigan
Dixon has topped 100 yards in a game three times this season and faces an Eagles defense that has allowed 19 rushing touchdowns in 2013, third-most in the FBS.
David Oku, RB-Arkansas State vs Idaho
Oku and the Red Wolves offense host a Vandals defense that is allowing 224.8 rushing yards per game and 6.0 yards per carry.
Trayion Durham, RB-Kent State at Ball State
Durham has only topped the 100-yard mark once this season, but he should make a push to reach that plateau this week when the Golden Flashes face a Ball State defense that gives up over 200 rushing yards per game.
Albert Wilson, WR-Georgia State vs Troy
Wilson is averaging 30 receiving yards per game against FBS opponents this season, but that number should rise significantly this week when he faces a Troy defense that allows over 315 passing yards per game.
C.J. Brown, QB-Maryland vs Virginia
There has not been any information concerning the availability of Brown for Saturday when the Terps host Virginia. For those that have early lineup deadlines, be prepared to leave the senior signal-caller on the bench this week.
Nate Sudfeld, QB-Indiana at Michigan State
If the Hoosiers offense struggles to move the ball against Sparty’s defense, do not be surprised if Tre Roberson receives significant snaps.
Baker Mayfield, QB-Texas Tech vs Iowa State
Fantasy owners were relieved to hear that there was no structural damage to Mayfield’s knee after his injury last weekend, but he may be extremely limited or unavailable Saturday when the undefeated Red Raiders host the Cyclones.
Vad Lee, QB, Georgia Tech at BYU
This week, the Yellow Jackets travel cross country to face a BYU defense that is allowing a respectable 132 yards per game on the ground. More importantly for owners of Lee, the Cougars defense has only allowed two rushing touchdowns so far this season.
James Sims, RB-Kansas at TCU
Facing his toughest test of the season last week, Sims ran for a season-low 28 yards on nine carries against Texas Tech. It won’t get any easier for the Jayhawks offense this week when they travel to TCU.
Travis Greene, RB-Bowling Green at Mississippi State
The Falcons have only played two non-MAC FBS schools this season (Tulsa and Indiana), and in those two games, Greene has rushed for a total of 131 yards and zero touchdowns on 33 carries.
James Conner, RB-Pitt at Virginia Tech
Conner exploded for 292 yards in back-to-back games against New Mexico and Duke, but was held in-check when the Panthers hosted Virginia two weeks ago. This may be the toughest test remaining on the schedule for the Panthers offense.
Donnel Pumphrey, RB-San Diego State at Air Force
Three points to consider: Adam Muema rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against Nevada, 72 of Pumphrey’s 112 rushing yards last week were gained in a single play, and the Aztecs offense turned to Muema once they reached the red zone.
Conference play is officially underway across all 10 college football leagues.
And with conference play starting, the potential for upsets has increased. Teams in the same league have a certain level of familiarity and recruit a lot of the same players.
Although college football has yet to see a huge upset among the top-10 teams, it’s still likely to happen at some point this season.
Athlon’s experts are back with another week of upset predictions. South Florida, Michigan and Miami (Ohio) are popular picks as underdogs this week.
The favorites can't win every game each week, so it's no surprise one of the most popular discussion points every Saturday is upset picks. Each week on AthlonSports.com, the editors will give an upset pick for the upcoming week of action.
College Football Week 7 Upset Predictions
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): South Florida (+5.5) over Connecticut
The Huskies may find a spark under interim coach TJ Weist, but I think the Bulls are the better team and have momentum after last week’s win over Cincinnati. Connecticut made a quarterback change during the bye week, as freshman Tim Boyle has replaced Chandler Whitmer in the starting lineup. However, the Huskies still have major problems on the offensive line and average just 1.4 yards per rush. South Florida’s offense hasn’t been much better, but the Bulls are coming off a season-high 26 points against Cincinnati last week. Quarterback Steven Bench and running back Michael Shaw are questionable due to injuries, but South Florida’s defense should be enough to win a close, ugly affair in Storrs this week.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall): Penn State (+3) over Michigan
The Nittany Lions are coming off a horrendous showing at Indiana, losing to the Hoosiers for the first time in 17 tries. Michigan has had its issues (see UConn and Akron) and simply isn't as good as their perfect record and top 20 ranking indicate. Brady Hoke's group played a near perfect game against Minnesota last week and cannot be expected to play that cleanly every week. The Maize and Blue haven't beaten Penn State since 2007 and have lost three straight in the series. A home game against a brand like Michigan would begin to create the legend of Christian Hackenberg in Happy Valley. And no one has proven to have an answer for Penn State receiver Allen Robinson this season.
Mark Ross: Miami (Ohio) (+3.5) over UMass
This is the farthest thing from a marquee matchup on this week's slate, and not just because this is a Mid-American Conference (MAC) game. Don't get me wrong, the MAC has some strong teams, led by No. 23-ranked Northern Illinois. It also has some not-so-great teams, which is where the RedHawks and Minutemen come in. Neither has yet to win a game, with the closest defeat being a 10-point loss by UMass to FCS member Maine. Miami (Ohio) has already fired its head coach, and combined these two teams have scored 79 points in 10 games. Baylor is averaging more than 70 points PER game. But the Bears aren't playing in this game, and either the RedHawks or the Minutemen are going to finally get in the win column, if anything because there are no ties in college football. For no reason other than entertainment purposes, I'll pick Miami to pull the road upset. After all, what would be more fitting than RedHawks interim head coach Mike Bath getting one (the Gatorade variety) in his first game?
David Fox (@DavidFox615): Missouri (+8) over Georgia
Not a lot of obvious upset bait this week. I thought of picking Bowling Green over Mississippi State, but it’s tough to forget Indiana’s rout of the Falcons. Missouri may not be a realistic SEC East contender, but the Tigers may be good enough to beat a wounded Georgia team on the road. This may be the week for Georgia to stumble, if it wasn’t last week. Too many injuries on the offensive side of the ball mean a lot of new players working with the offense, not to mention the emotional toll by all those injuries. Mizzou may sense a chance to pounce. With all the great quarterbacks in the SEC this season, James Franklin is overlooked. He could change that a major performance in Athens.
TCU’s defense suffered a blow on Wednesday, as end Devonte Fields will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury.
Fields was the Big 12’s Defensive Freshman of the Year last season and was selected as the Associated Press Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
In 13 games last year, Fields recorded 53 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks.
However, Fields never got on track in 2013, as he was suspended for the first two games and only recorded four tackles (two for a loss) in his limited snaps.
Although Fields will be missed, TCU’s defense is still one of the best in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs rank fourth in the conference in total defense after five games and shouldn’t slip too far with Fields sidelined for the year.
Losing Devonte Fields for the year hurts. But let's be honest. TCU had been playing without him pretty much all season.— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) October 9, 2013
We’ll find out if a great defense (Florida) can stop a great offense (LSU) on Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium. Elsewhere, undefeated Missouri heads to Athens to face banged up — but still talented — Georgia in a key SEC East battle, and Texas A&M takes its road show to Ole Miss to take on the struggling Rebels.
SEC Week 7 Game Power Rankings
1. Florida (+7.5) at LSU (3:30 ET, CBS)
Two of the hottest quarterbacks in the SEC will be on display Saturday at Tiger Stadium. Florida’s Tyler Murphy, a third-year sophomore who had not thrown a pass in college until three weeks ago, has been terrific in relief of injured starter Jeff Driskel. He is completing 72.2 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and only one interception. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger is thriving under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, leading the SEC in touchdown passes (15) and yards per attempt (11.1) while ranking third in yards per game (289.7) and fourth in completion percentage (68.2). This week, however, Mettenberger will be facing one of the nation’s elite secondaries. The Gators are allowing a league-low 152.0 passing yards per game, and opposing quarterbacks are averaging only 4.6 yards per attempt, third-lowest in the nation. Florida also excels at stopping the run, allowing a league-low 65.0 yards per game and 2.78 yards per attempt. This will be a huge challenge for the much-improved LSU offense.
2. Missouri (+8) at Georgia (12:00 ET, ESPN)
Missouri was extremely sharp on offense Saturday, scoring on its first eight possessions en route to a 51-28 win in Nashville. The Tigers feature one of the nation’s more underrated quarterbacks in James Franklin and have talent and depth at both running back and wide receiver. Going forward, this team’s challenge will be on defense. Are the Tigers good enough on that side of the ball to challenge in the SEC East? The guess right now is no, but that doesn’t mean this team can’t win nine or 10 games. This week, Mizzou heads to Athens to face a wounded Georgia team that will be without some of its key playmakers on offense. The Bulldogs will have to find a way to score some points, because the defense, to this point, has not proven it can slow down a quality offense.
3. Texas A&M (-6.5) at Ole Miss (8:30 ET ESPN)
The Rebels have been humbled the past two weeks, losing 25–0 at Alabama and 30–22 at Auburn. The offense, so efficient in the first three weeks of the season, has scored only two touchdowns in the last eight quarters. Bo Wallace, who did not throw an interception in the first two games, was picked off twice on Saturday. Hugh Freeze must get things fixed on offense in a hurry with Texas A&M rolling into town. The Aggies have some issues on defense, but this team has no trouble scoring points. Ole Miss will have to score at least 40 points to win this game.
4. South Carolina (-5.5) at Arkansas (12:21 ET SEC TV)
South Carolina bounced back from its loss at Georgia by winning three straight. But none of the three wins was particularly satisfying. The Gamecocks lost big leads in home wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky and had to overcome a slow start and poor finish to beat UCF by three points in Orlando. Steve Spurrier is eager to see his team play a complete game. Arkansas has struggled against the better teams on its schedule, with losses to Rutgers, Texas A&M and Florida the past three weeks. The Hogs are built to run the ball but only netted 101 yards against Rutgers and 111 against Florida. They were productive against a suspect Texas A&M defense but still lost by 12 points at home. Despite the Hogs’ deficiencies, this is a tough spot for South Carolina — with or without Jadeveon Clowney. The Gamecocks are 2-8 at Arkansas since the two schools joined the SEC in 1991.
5. Bowling Green (+10.5) at Mississippi State (7:30 ET FSN)
Bowling Green is one of the top teams in the MAC, but the Falcons struggled in their only game to date against a team from an AQ conference, losing 42-10 at Indiana in mid-September. Mississippi State has played relatively well since laying an egg vs. Oklahoma State in Week 1 but doesn’t have much to show for it. The Bulldogs lost a late lead in a 24-20 loss at Auburn and battled LSU for three quarters on Saturday night before collapsing in the fourth. In between, MSU pounded Troy 62-7 in Starkville. This is a decent team that is going to have a tough time finding six wins against a very difficult schedule.
6. Alabama (-27.5) at Kentucky (7 ET ESPN2)
Kentucky has played three straight top-15 teams, and the results have been better than many Wildcats fans might have expected — a 14-point loss to Louisville, a 17-point loss to Florida and a seven-point loss to South Carolina. Now, however, the competition gets ramped up another notch as No. 1 Alabama comes to town. The Crimson Tide struggled to stop Texas A&M’s high-powered attack but have given up only one touchdown — on a 77-yard run in the opener vs. Virginia Tech — in its other four games. Kentucky will be fortunate to score more than 10 points in this game.
7. Western Carolina (+43.5) at Auburn (2 ET, PPV)
Auburn should have little trouble picking up win No. 6 this Saturday. Western Carolina is 1-5 overall, with its only win by seven points over Mars Hill, a Division II school. In fact, the Catamounts are 3-31 in their last 34 games with all three wins coming against Mars Hill.
5 Pivotal Players
The nation’s best set of cornerbacks will be tasked with slowing down arguably the top wide receiver duo in the nation. Florida lists Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson as its starters at corner, but true freshman Vernon Hargreaves III plays a ton and is considered by many to be the best in the bunch. LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are both averaging over 100 yards per game and have combined to catch 13 touchdown passes. It will be fun to watch these two elite units battle on Saturday afternoon.
Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Johnson has been a beast on the interior of the line for an LSU defense that is experiencing some growing pains in a year of transition. Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has been a pleasant surprise since taking over for Jeff Driskel, but the Gators’ first priority will be to establish the run. Johnson and the rest of the LSU defensive front will try to take that away and force Murphy to make plays with his arm in one of the most hostile environments in college football.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
With his cast of healthy skill position players dwindling each week, Murray is being asked to play nearly flawless football to keep Georgia in the national title hunt. This week, he will have to be at his best because Georgia will have to score a bunch of points to beat red-hot Missouri. The Bulldogs have listed Todd Gurley atop the depth chart, but Mark Richt didn’t sound confident on Tuesday that his star tailback would be ready to play. That would leave true freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas to carry the rushing load. At receiver, the Dawgs will be without three of their top players, with Malcom Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett all sidelined with injuries.
James Franklin is grabbing the headlines for resurgent Missouri, but the Tigers boast a quality group of wideouts — all with good size — that puts a lot of pressure on the defense. This week, Dorial Green-Beckham, Marcus Lucas, L’Damian Washington & Co. will face a Georgia defense that has struggled to stop the pass (against some very good offenses). Georgia ranks 12th in the SEC in pass defense (264.6 ypg) and is allowing a league-high 8.1 yards per passing attempt. If Mizzou’s wideouts can make plays down the field, the Tigers’ trio of smallish tailbacks will have plenty of room to operate.
Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss
For the first four games of his junior season, Bo Wallace did not throw an interception. But last week, the Bad Bo Wallace — the one who led the nation with 17 interceptions in 2012 — resurfaced in a 30-22 loss at Auburn. Wallace threw for a season-high 336 yards but completed only 52.1 percent of his passes and was intercepted twice. He will have to play very well on Saturday against a Texas A&M team that is averaging just under seven touchdowns per game.
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Missouri at Georgia|
|Georgia 34-31||Georgia 34-27||Georgia 47-40|
|S. Carolina at Arkansas||S. Carolina 35-24||S. Carolina 28-20||S. Carolina 31-27||Arkansas 28-20|
|W. Carolina at Auburn|
|Auburn 44-7||Auburn 52-3||Auburn 54-0|
|Florida at LSU|
|LSU 27-21||LSU 27-24||Florida 24-21|
|Alabama at Kentucky|
|Alabama 44-11||Alabama 45-10||Alabama 34-14|
|Bowling Green at Miss. St.||Miss. St. 35-21||Miss. St. 34-20||Miss. St. 38-24||Miss. St. 27-10|
|Texas A&M at Ole Miss|
|A&M 44-40||A&M 45-38||A&M 37-27|
There isn't a huge game with national interest in the ACC this Saturday, but there is no shortage of intrigue.
Pittsburgh has quietly improved to 3-1 after losing its opener, and the Panthers have a chance to stake their claim in the Coastal Division race with a win at Virginia Tech this week.
Georgia Tech is reeling just a bit after back-to-back losses, and the Yellow Jackets won’t get a break with a trip to BYU this Saturday. Georgia Tech’s offense will have its hands full against the Cougars’ active front seven.
Virginia-Maryland, Syracuse-NC State and Boston College-Clemson are the other contests within conference play this week. Due to realignment, this is the last scheduled matchup between the Terrapins and Cavaliers. The Wolfpack and Orange are both searching for a win after losing last week, while the Tigers are a heavy favorite against Boston College.
Duke steps out of conference play for a tough matchup against Navy this Saturday. The Blue Devils will be fighting just to get bowl eligible this year, so beating the Midshipmen is a must if this team wants to get to six wins.
ACC Week 7 Game Power Rankings
1. Pittsburgh (+9) at Virginia Tech (12 ET, ESPNU)
After six weeks, the Coastal Division looks like a two-team race between Virginia Tech and Miami. But is it time to add Pittsburgh to the top tier of the division? Saturday’s game in Blacksburg is a good measuring stick for the Panthers, as coach Paul Chryst’s team has rebounded with three wins in a row after losing to Florida State in the opener. Led by their defense, the Hokies have won five in a row, but the offense is starting to show some signs of life. Quarterback Logan Thomas isn’t putting up huge numbers. However, the senior hasn’t thrown an interception in two games and has completed at least 67 percent of his passes in the last two contests. Without a consistent running game, much of Virginia Tech’s offensive success will rest on No. 3’s shoulders. Despite returning eight starters, Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled this year. The Panthers rank 10th in the ACC in total defense and have forced just seven turnovers and nine sacks in four games. While the defense has struggled, Pittsburgh’s offense averages 6.4 yards per play and freshmen Tyler Boyd (WR) and James Conner (RB) have provided a boost for this unit. But the big concern for the Panthers against Virginia Tech will be an offensive line that has allowed 13 sacks this season. The Hokies lead the ACC in total defense (263.7 ypg) and have generated 19 sacks and 16 turnovers. Pittsburgh beat Virginia Tech last season, but the Panthers will have their hands full against the Hokies’ defense.
2. Georgia Tech (+7) at BYU (7 ET, ESPN2)
After back-to-back games against Virginia Tech and Miami, the schedule doesn’t get any easier for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets travel to Provo, Utah on Saturday to play BYU – a team they lost 41-17 to last season. The Cougars have lost both of their games this season by a combined 10 points and have won two in a row after a 1-2 start. Winning the battle in the trenches is crucial for both teams on Saturday. Georgia Tech’s rushing attack averages 300 yards per game, but BYU’s front seven is loaded with talent, including senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who has seven tackles for a loss this year. The Yellow Jackets could be shorthanded on the offensive line, as tackles Ray Beno and Morgan Bailey may not play due to injury. The Cougars are holding opponents to just 3.5 yards per rush this year, so it’s critical for Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee to loosen up the front seven with the passing game. Lee has struggled in the last two games after a fast start, completing just 10 of 37 passes for 207 yards and two interceptions in the last two games. Georgia Tech’s defense allowed 45 points to Miami last week but ranks fourth in the ACC in total defense (330.6 ypg). BYU’s offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill, but running back Jamaal Williams and receiver Cody Hoffman are also dangerous options.
3. Virginia (+7) at Maryland (3:30 ET, ESPNU)
Due to realignment, this is the last scheduled meeting between these two programs. Maryland and Virginia have met every year since 1957, with the Terrapins owning a 43-32-2 series edge. Both teams enter Saturday’s game reeling after disappointing losses last week. The Cavaliers were upset 48-27 by Ball State, while Maryland was dominated in a 63-0 defeat at Florida State. Terrapins’ quarterback C.J. Brown suffered a concussion against the Seminoles, and his status for Saturday’s game is uncertain. If Brown doesn’t start, Maryland’s offense is in good hands with Caleb Rowe, who started one game last season. The Cavaliers’ defense struggled to stop Ball State and Oregon, but in its other three games, Virginia’s opponents combined for just 30 points. While the Cavaliers’ defense is capable of keeping this one close, the offense remains a huge concern. Virginia showed some signs of life against Ball State (5.5 yards per play) but ranks 12th in the ACC in total offense and is last in the conference in yards per play (4.3). With injuries knocking out its top two cornerbacks, Maryland likes to bring pressure to protect its secondary, recording 18 sacks in five games. The Cavaliers have won three in a row in College Park, but will have trouble earning the victory in this one if the offense doesn’t play better.
4. Navy (+3) at Duke (12:30 ET, ACC Network)
Getting back to a bowl game isn’t an easy task for Duke, which is why this week’s game against Navy is a must-win matchup. The Blue Devils trail in the overall series to the Midshipmen (20-14-5) but have won the last two meetings. There should be no shortage of points on Saturday, and Duke could have quarterback Anthony Boone back in the lineup after missing the last three games with a collarbone injury. If Boone can’t play, the Blue Devils’ offense is in good hands with backup Brandon Connette, who ranks sixth in the ACC in total offense (249.2). Duke will need all of the points it can get on Saturday, especially since its defense ranks 10th in the ACC against the run and 12th in scoring defense. Navy averages 403.5 yards per game on the ground, with quarterback Keenan Reynolds the catalyst for the option attack. Preparing for a triple-option offense is never easy, but the Blue Devils have had two weeks to get ready. A bad sign for Duke: Georgia Tech rushed for 344 yards against the Blue Devils in their matchup earlier this season.
5. Syracuse (+6.5) at NC State (3:30 ET, RSN)
Syracuse and NC State are looking to get back in the win column after both teams suffered losses last week. The Orange was simply overmatched in a 49-14 loss against Clemson, while NC State was upset 28-13 by Wake Forest. The Wolfpack are hoping to get quarterback Brandon Mitchell back in the lineup this Saturday, but the senior’s status is likely a gametime decision after suffering a broken foot in the season opener. Syracuse is also looking for answers at quarterback, as Terrel Hunt played well against Wagner and Tulane but completed just 8 of 24 throws (with three interceptions) against Clemson last Saturday. With both teams dealing with some uncertainty at quarterback, the ground attack will be crucial on this week. Syracuse ranks fifth in the ACC in rushing offense, while NC State is sixth. Jerome Smith leads the way for the Orange (342 yards), while the Wolfpack has seven players with at least 100 rushing yards this season. NC State holds an edge on defense, limiting opponents to five yards a play and ranks second in the ACC against the run. NC State owns a 6-0 series edge against Syracuse, but these two teams have not played since 1998.
6. Boston College (+24.5) at Clemson (3:30 ET, ESPN2/ABC)
With a huge showdown against Florida State next Saturday, this matchup has to be designated as a potential trap game for Clemson. Boston College has improved significantly under new coach Steve Addazio, already surpassing its win total from 2012 after five games. Running back Andre Williams leads the ACC with 153.6 rushing yards per game and faces a Clemson defense ranked 12th in the conference against the run. Opponents are averaging 4.2 yards per rush against the Tigers, so Williams should expect to see a heavy workload on Saturday, especially as Boston College looks to keep Clemson’s offense on the sideline. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has been sharp for the Tigers this year, completing 66 percent of his throws and averaging 289.8 yards per game. Boston College’s defense will have its hands full against Clemson’s offense, as this unit has allowed at least 27 points in each of its last three games, including 48 to Florida State. Coordinator Don Brown loves to blitz, but the Eagles could be vulnerable to the big play against the Tigers’ receiving corps. If Boston College gets Williams on track, it has a chance to shorten this game and hang around until the fourth quarter. But the Eagles’ biggest nightmare would be an early 17-0 or 21-0 lead by Clemson, as they just aren’t built to rally from a huge deficit.
ACC Week 7 Pivotal Players
Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh
The Panthers are tied for the most sacks allowed in the ACC with 13 after four games. Quarterback Tom Savage is a talented drop-back passer, but the senior doesn’t have much mobility. Virginia Tech’s defensive line is deep and talented, recording 19 sacks in six games and limiting opponents to just 263.7 yards per game. Bisnowaty will be matched against ends James Gayle or J.R. Collins, and the freshman will have a tough time trying to slow down the Hokies’ dynamic pass-rush duo.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
If Pittsburgh can protect quarterback Tom Savage, the Panthers will have a chance to make plays downfield with receivers Tyler Boyd and Devin Street. The Hokies will counter with a deep secondary, with senior Kyle Fuller (21 tackles, 2 INT, 7 PBU) and freshmen Kyle Fuller and Brandon Facyson also in the mix. Virginia Tech’s secondary could get even deeper this week, as senior Antone Exum is close to returning from a knee injury. The matchup between Boyd/Street and the Hokies’ pass defense will be one of the top individual battles in the ACC this year.
Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson
Boston College would like to control the clock and limit the possessions by Clemson’s offense this Saturday. In order for the Eagles to accomplish that, running back Andre Williams needs to have another big game. The senior is averaging 153.6 yards per game this season and faces a Clemson defense allowing 171.2 yards per game. Jarrett is crucial to slowing down Williams, as the junior needs to win the battle on the line of scrimmage.
Vad Lee, QB, Georgia Tech
After starting the year 22 of 39 for 418 yards and seven touchdowns, Lee has completed just 12 of 37 passes for 207 yards and three interceptions in his last two games. And the sophomore is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry with only three touchdowns this season. BYU’s secondary hasn’t played the strongest group of quarterbacks this year, but this unit was hit hard by injuries in the preseason. Lee needs to execute the option better and has to hit a few plays in the passing game against the Cougars. However, BYU’s front seven is stout, led by senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy and 305-pound nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna.
Kevin Parks, RB, Virginia
With quarterback David Watford struggling to get on track this year, the Cavaliers need more production from the rushing attack. Parks is averaging 79.6 yards per game but rushed for only 34 yards in Virginia’s only ACC contest this year. Maryland ranks third in the ACC against the run (115.4 ypg) and features underrated nose tackle Darius Kilgo anchoring the line. Parks needs to have at least 100 yards for the Cavaliers to win on Saturday.
ACC Week 7 Predictions
|Game||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Pittsburgh (+9) at Va. Tech||Va. Tech 28-21||Va. Tech 34-30||Va. Tech 27-20||Va. Tech 24-17|
|Navy (+3) at Duke||Navy 35-28||Navy 24-23||Navy 34-30||Duke 27-17|
|Syracuse (+6.5) at NC State||NC State 24-21||NC State 31-28||NC State 31-24||NC State 24-17|
|Virginia (+7) at Maryland||Maryland 35-10||Maryland 34-13||Maryland 31-17||Maryland 34-20|
|Boston College (+24.5) at Clemson||Clemson 35-10||Clemson 44-17||Clemson 45-20||Clemson 41-17|
|Georgia Tech (+7) at BYU||BYU 38-31||BYU 34-31||BYU 27-24||BYU 28-20|
The Red River Rivalry is a rite of passage of sorts in the college football season.
The weather is beginning to turn. The championship races are starting to take shape. And traditionally, this is when the Big 12 finds its frontrunner.
Although both teams are 2-0 in the league, this is the third time in the last 10 seasons either Texas or Oklahoma has entered the game unranked. The Longhorns have been the bigger offender, arriving to the State Fair of Texas unranked in two of the last three years.
After the last two seasons, a checkered start to 2013 and a leadership change at Texas, Longhorns coach Mack Brown will be under the microscope. If there’s an opportunity for Brown to remain the Texas coach, this would be the time to seize it.
Oklahoma fans, though, couldn’t be blamed for looking forward to the other major Big 12 contender in Baylor as the Bears make their first road trip of the season to Kansas State. The Bears have struggled on the road, so this week will be a key test for the nation's top offense.
Big 12 Week 7 Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday, All times Eastern
1. Baylor at Kansas State (3:30 p.m, Fox Sports 1)
The Baylor offense is the talk of college football, but there are a few questions for the Bears before they get into the toughest portion of the schedule in November. Baylor built its 70-point offense against Wofford, Buffalo, ULM and West Virginia. All fringe bowl candidates at best (or, in Wofford’s case, an FCS team). All were also in Waco. Baylor has lost seven of its last eight Big 12 road games. Kansas State, meanwhile, is looking for any kind of answers. Daniel Sams earned his first start at quarterback last week, but Jake Waters will remain in the rotation. Making matters worse, top receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson remain questionable after missing last week’s game with injuries.
2. Oklahoma vs. Texas (noon, ABC, in Dallas)
The Red River Rivalry will be another referendum on Mack Brown, though it’s tough to see anything but an easy win helping to turn the tide back in Brown’s favor. The Sooners have won the last two meetings by a combined score of 118-38. Both teams are 2-0 in the Big 12, but OU has looked much more like a conference contender than the Longhorns, who eked out a sloppy win over Iowa State last week. With quarterback David Ash out again, Texas will turn to Case McCoy, who has thrown 36 and 45 passes in his two starts this season (he’s averaging a Big 12-worst 5.6 yards per attempt). Led by corner Aaron Colvin, safety Gabe Lynn and surprising redshirt freshman Zach Sanchez, Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense (with nine interceptions) and has the best third-down defense in the league (19 of 70). Unless something has changed in the last week, Texas has shown a good deal of confidence in the passing game.
3. Iowa State at Texas Tech (noon, Fox Sports 1)
Both teams need to answer to some adversity this week. Iowa State must respond to the heartbreaking loss to Texas on Thursday while Texas Tech has questions at quarterback after an injury to knee starting quarterback Baker Mayfield. Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury did not rule out starting Mayfield against the Cyclones. In the last two weeks, Iowa State has found a clear bread and butter in its offense with Aaron Wimberly taking hold of the run game. Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in fewest rushing yards per game (107.6), but the Red Raiders have not faced a stout running team yet this season.
4. Kansas at TCU (noon, Fox Sports Network local)
TCU’s first-half offense has been dismal and never worse than it was against Oklahoma last week. The Horned Frogs have scored three points total in the first quarter against FBS teams this season. TCU’s has also been outscored 49-17 in the first half against FBS teams. If Kansas pounces on an early lead against TCU like it did against Texas Tech, the Jayhawks must respond better than they did last week when a 10-0 lead turned into a 54-16 defeat. Quarterback Jake Heaps had perhaps his best half of the season, completing 13 of 20 passes for 139 yards with a touchdown to start against Texas Tech.
Off: Oklahoma State, West Virginia
Big 12 Week 7 Pivotal Players
Johnathan Gray, Texas
Texas’ offense has been most effective this season when the Longhorns have been running the ball, particularly when Gray is the one getting carries. Gray rushed for 141 yards on 28 carries against Kansas State, but carried only 16 times in the following game against Iowa State. Oklahoma’s run defense is tough to crack, but both West Virginia and Notre Dame had success on the ground against the Sooners.
Dominique Alexander and Aaron Franklin, Oklahoma
Outside linebacker Corey Nelson was one of the few name players on the Oklahoma defense entering the season, and now he’s out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. The Sooners have found plenty of difference-makers on a defense that’s the best in the Big 12, but they’ll have to find a new starter to replace Nelson. Alexander is a freshman who has logged 10 tackles this season, including four against Notre Dame. Franklin has been a reserve linebacker for the last three years. Nelson was also in charge of calling defensive signals. That task will fall to leading tackler Frank Shannon and others.
Daniel Sams, Kansas State
Sams’ first task in his second start will be to cut turnovers after giving the ball away four times against Oklahoma State last week (three interceptions, one fumble). The Wildcats are minus-nine in turnovers this season. Kansas State hasn’t been in the red in turnover margin for a season since 2008, Ron Prince’s final year as head coach. Sams is a dangerous runner, who rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries last week, but he’ll encounter a Baylor defense that is allowing only 2.5 carry.
Jacques Washington, Iowa State
A number of players will probably draw the assignment to defend 6-5, 260-pound tight end Jace Amaro, a mismatch for linebackers and safeties. At 6-1, 220 pounds, Washington is the bigger of Iowa State’s two starting safeties, but Amaro still has him beat by four inches and 40 pounds. Amaro has caught at least eight passes in each of the last four games (he was suspended for the first half of the opener against SMU).
Ben Heeney, Kansas
The Jayhawks’ senior linebacker is one of the nation’s most underrated players, recording 41 tackles, six tackles for a loss and two interceptions this season. TCU would probably prefer to set the tone with the run game, but that’s been tough the last two weeks. Heeney will be one of the key players try to force Trevone Boykin to win the game with his arm.
Big 12 Week 7 Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Oklahoma (-14) vs. Texas||OU 42-21||OU 42-20||OU 38-17||OU 34-17|
|Iowa St (+14) at Texas Tech||ISU 28-21||Tech 41-20||Tech 34-20||Tech 37-21|
|Kansas (+25) at TCU||TCU 24-10||TCU 31-10||TCU 38-13||TCU 48-10|
|Baylor (-17) at K-State||Baylor 56-14||Baylor 42-28||Baylor 48-24||Baylor 51-27|
Stanford snuck past Washington last weekend and neither team has time to dwell on what happened in Palo Alto. The Huskies return home and get to try to stop the Oregon Ducks while the Cardinal have a testy road trip to Salt Lake City.
While those two tilts are easily the league’s top showdowns in Week 7, there is plenty else to keep an eye on in the Pac-12. The Beavers-Cougars North Division matchup is basically a pick 'em with large bowl implications and Ed Orgeron makes his USC coaching debut against Rich Rodriguez on Thursday night.
Arizona State and UCLA aren’t technically on bye this week but both should steamroll their inferior competition.
Pac-12 Week 7 Game Power Rankings
1. Oregon (-14) at Washington (4 p.m. ET, FS1)
Steve Sarkisian’s team proved it belonged on the field with Stanford last weekend by nearly doubling the Cardinal in total offense. The Huskies get no breaks as they return home and prepare for a Ducks offense operating on unprecedented levels. Marcus Mariota has played flawless football all season long and he picked up the slack for the injured De’Anthony Thomas last week in a big way by accounting for seven touchdowns. Thomas isn’t likely to be back this weekend but that might not mean much for Washington, as it will still have to deal with Byron Marshall (448 yards, 4 TDS) and Thomas Tyner (204 yards, 5 TDS). So it falls to Keith Price to put up points in a big way, something he’s struggled to do in each of his two meetings against Oregon as the starter. The U of W quarterback hasn’t topped 145 yards in either game and has four interceptions and just two scores in the last two meetings. If Coach Sark wants to compete in the Pac-12 North, he can’t go 0-2 against the Cardinal and Ducks on back-to-back weeks.
2. Stanford (-9) at Utah (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
After taking care of business last weekend against Washington at home, Stanford must avoid a major letdown when it travels to Salt Lake City for just the first time since 1995 and the second time since 1902. The home team has never won in this series and if that trend is to change Utes quarterback Travis Wilson, who threw six interceptions last week, must protect the football against arguably the nation’s most vicious front seven. On the flip side, it will fall to Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, who has yet to lose as a starter (10-0), to keep his team focused and driven in an obvious upset alert situation on the road. This will be a battle of strength-on-strength all game long and should be as physical as any game in the Pac-12 all season.
3. Oregon State (+1) at Washington State (ESPNU)
The 98th meeting between the Beavers and Cougars should feature plenty of excitement. Led by quarterback Sean Mannion, Oregon State is second only to Baylor in passing offense nationally (420.6 ypg). Mike Leach’s Cougars aren’t far behind, ranked eighth nationally at 359.7 yards per game. And with the way these defenses have been playing, four figures worth of passing yardage isn’t out of the question. Washington State gave up 521 yards to Cal through the air last week while Oregon State allowed 625 yards to Eastern Washington and 539 to Utah. These two teams are No. 1 and No. 2 in the Pac-12 in interceptions, so one of these secondaries will make a big second half stop, right?
4. Arizona (+6) at USC (Thurs., 10:30 p.m., FS1)
The Coliseum’s first-ever non-Thanksgiving/non-bowl Thursday game will also be interim head coach Ed Orgeron’s first in charge of the Trojans. So very little is known about what this USC team will look like after an abrupt coaching change and fans on both sides should expect the unexpected. Ka’Deem Carey is one of the few proven commodities on either side and the Wildcats star tailback will be leaned on to loosen up the talented and aggressive Trojans defense. These two have split their last four, including a split in the last two in L.A. Either way, this should be a close contest as each of the last six meetings have been decided by seven points or fewer.
5. Colorado (+25) at Arizona State (10 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The Sun Devils are in dire need of a tune-up game. Consistency has been a huge issue in their last four games — three of which ASU basically lost. Taylor Kelly has thrown for over 300 yards in every game this fall but couldn’t deliver on key fourth-quarter drives against Notre Dame. That type of clutch play shouldn’t be necessary this week, however, as Arizona State has never lost to Colorado (4-0). The Sun Devils have outscored the Buffaloes 99-31 in two years as division foes. Mike MacIntyre’s team hasn’t been competitive since Week 2.
6. Cal (+25) at UCLA (10:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Brett Hundley and UCLA survived Salt Lake City last Thursday night but it wasn’t pretty. The Bruins committed 13 penalties and two turnovers and needed 10 fourth-quarter points to topple the mistake-prone Utes. Should UCLA get back to playing fundamentally sound football, Cal should pose no threat in the Rose Bowl. The Bears threw the ball 63 times for 521 yards last weekend and lost by 22 at home to Washington State.
Pac-12 Week 7 Pivotal Players:
1. Washington’s front seven
The Huskies allowed 299 yards rushing on 52 attempts in the 52-21 blowout at the hands of Oregon last season. Additionally, Washington has allowed 199 yards and 179 yards rushing and four total rushing touchdowns to Arizona and Stanford respectively in its last two games. Even without DAT, stopping Oregon’s running game is virtually impossible. Washington's defense needs to slow the Ducks down on the ground just enough to give its offense a chance to put together some long drives.
2. Keith Price, QB, Washington
In two games as the starter against Oregon, Price has been anything but productive. He threw for 145 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions last year and totaled 143 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in 2011. His 87.68 rating against Oregon last year was his second-worst efficiency mark of the season while his 110.32 rating was his worst game of the ’11 season. This is a legacy-defining game for a long-term starter like Price.
3. Trevor Reilly and Tenny Palepoi, DL, Utah
The Utes are leading the Pac-12 in sacks (3.6 per game) and are No. 2 in tackles for a loss per game (7.6). Reilly and Palepoi have combined for 4.5 sacks and 10.0 TFL thus far, but the duo was held nearly completely off the board last weekend against UCLA (0.0 sacks, 0.5 TFL). Stanford boasts arguably the best offensive line in the nation and will be the toughest test Utah’s defensive front will face all season long. These two must play well to pull the upset.
4. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
The star tailback is averaging 143.7 yards per game in three games in 2013, good for fifth nationally. He carried 28 times for 119 yards and a TD in last year’s win over USC at home. Only one other time last year did Carey carry the ball more (29, Washington) and he has had two weeks to recover from his career-high 30 carries against the Huskies. He will need to be fresh as the Trojans boast the Pac-12’s No. 1 rushing defense (99.6 ypg) and are allowing just 3.5 yards per carry this season.
5. Oregon State’s secondary
The Beavers (8) rank behind only Washington State (9) in interceptions this season in the Pac-12 and Mike Riley will needs his defensive backfield to be prepared this weekend against Leach’s Air Raid. Steven Nelson is tied for the nation’s lead in picks (4) while Tyrequek Zimmerman is the team’s leading tackler. Along with Ryan Murphy and Rashaad Reynolds, the Oregon State secondary must continue its solid play from last game. Riley’s bunch allowed just 146 yards on 41.2 percent passing to Colorado the last time OSU was on the field.
Pac-12 Week 7 Predictions:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Oregon (-14) at Washington||Oregon, 41-28||Oregon, 48-28||Oregon, 38-31||Oregon, 42-21|
|Stanford (-9) at Utah||Stanford, 34-20||Stanford, 38-24||Stanford, 34-13||Stanford, 35-17|
|Oregon St (+1) at Washington St||Wazzu, 38-34||Oregon St, 37-34||Oregon St, 34-31||Oregon St, 49-38|
|Arizona (+6) at USC||Arizona, 30-27||USC, 28-20||USC, 27-24||USC, 21-14|
|Colorado (+25) at Arizona St||Arizona St, 41-20||Arizona St, 38-13||Arizona St, 48-24||Arizona St, 38-21|
|Cal (+25) at UCLA||UCLA, 51-17||UCLA, 41-17||UCLA, 55-24||UCLA, 49-17|
After taking Ohio State to the wire last weekend at home, Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern Wildcats have the unenviable task of traveling to Wisconsin. The Cats need a breakthrough win against the big boys of the Big Ten and this weekend offers that opportunity.
However, there are two other sneaky good contests to keep an eye on. Michigan visits Penn State in a blue-blooded matchup of NCAA powerhouses while both Indiana and Michigan State look to build upon quality victories last weekend.
Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois are off this weekend.
Big Ten Week 7 Game Power Rankings:
1. Northwestern (+10) at Wisconsin (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
One look at the point spread should tell fans in Evanston all they need to know about what Northwestern is facing this weekend in Madison. Ohio State turned to a power rushing attack to put the Wildcats away last weekend and Pat Fitzgerald’s squad has an even harder task this weekend on the road. The Badgers boast the No. 1 (Melvin Gordon), No. 5 (James White) and No. 8 (Corey Clement) rushers in the Big Ten and Gary Andersen isn’t afraid to lean on them — especially, after an extra week of rest. The Cats are consistently a thorn in Wisconsin’s side (4-3 in the last seven meetings) but hasn’t won in Camp Randall since 2000. This should once again be a fierce battle of Brains vs. Brawn. Look for Fitzgerald to get his star running back Venric Mark even more involved after 21 touches against the Buckeyes in his return to action.
2. Michigan (-3) at Penn State (5 p.m., ESPN)
From a historical and chromatic standpoint, it doesn’t really get any better than the Wolverines and Nittany Lions. After nine straight wins for Michigan from 1997-07, Penn State has owned the Maize and Blue of late, winning three straight since. Brady Hoke and Bill O’Brien have never met before as head coaches and this likely means a feeling out process. Especially, when you add a tentative Devin Gardner and inexperienced Christian Hackenberg into the equation. Michigan played an extremely clean game against Minnesota by converting on third down (10-of-13), staying out of the penalty box (two penalties) and taking care of the football (no turnovers). The Lions, meanwhile, couldn’t run the ball (38 att., 70 yards) or stop the Hoosiers in the second half. The wild card is PSU’s superstar wide receiver Allen Robinson, who is torching opposing defenses for 124.2 yards and more than seven catches per game in 2013. This should be an epic blue-collar showdown — both literally and figuratively.
3. Indiana (+9.5) at Michigan State (Noon, ESPN2)
Both the Hoosiers and Spartans are surging into this game based on huge wins last weekend over Penn State and Iowa respectively. Historically, the Spartans own the series, winning 13 of the last 15 meetings with Indiana’s last win coming in 2006. More relevant to 2013 is a matchup of the Big Ten’s top offense and the Big Ten’s top defense. Indiana averages 535.0 yards per game and hung 44 points on Penn State last weekend while Michigan State allows just 203.8 yards per game on defense and held Iowa to 23 yards rushing last week. A 2-0 start in Big Ten play is on the line for both and the Hoosiers need to prove they can match the physicality of the Spartans in the trenches to have any shot at pulling the unlikely road upset.
4. Nebraska (-14) at Purdue (Noon, BTN)
The Huskers and Boilermakers have met only once in history — a 28-0 Purdue win in 1958. The score could be similar this time around but odds are Nebraska will be the winner. Quarterback Taylor Martinez, who hasn’t played since the debacle against UCLA at home in Week 3, is still questionable to play this weekend. With a bye coming next week, it makes sense for Bo Pelini to rest his star signal-caller, especially considering how Tommy Armstong and his running game have played of late. Look for one of the best third-down offenses in the nation (Nebraska, 49.2 percent) to take advantage of one of the nation’s worst third-down defenses (Purdue, 46.4).
Big Ten Week 7 Pivotal Players
1. Kain Colter, AP, Northwestern
The Wildcats' do-everything talent might be the most dynamic player on the field for either team this weekend against Wisconsin. He was on full display last weekend by completing all 12 of his passes and scoring as both a runner and receiver. Colter will need to play that type of triple-threat game out in space against a Badgers defense that prefers physical interior football.
2. Northwestern’s linebackers
The Wildcats' top three tacklers are Pat Fitzgerald’s trio of experienced linebackers. Chi Chi Ariguzo (8.2 tackles per game), Damien Proby (7.2) and Collin Ellis (7.0) got pushed around last weekend by Carlos Hyde, and Wisconsin’s running game is even more powerful. The Badgers have a long track record of massive offensive lines and talented runners and the 2013 version might be one of the deepest and most talented running games ever seen at UW. Northwestern’s backers will need to play better than it did last week to get a win in Madtown.
3. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Hackenberg broke his own freshman passing record last week with 340 yards (and 3 TDs) in a loss to Indiana. His running game gave him zero support against Indiana and it may fall to the young signal-caller to once again carry his offense against rival Michigan. Wide receiver Allen Robinson is virtually uncoverable and will feature heavily into PSU's game plan. Hackenberg will be asked to play flawless football — which he is capable of doing — to defeat the Wolverines at home.
4. Indiana’s offensive line
The Spartans' front seven is one of the best in the nation with big run-stuffers (Tyler Hoover), edge pass-rushers (Shilique Calhoun), physical linebackers (Max Bullough) and general playmakers (Denicos Allen). And if the Hoosiers can neutralize this group, there is a lockdown cover corner to deal with (Darqueze Dennard). The Hoosiers' offensive line will face its toughest test of the season this weekend and will have to play near perfect football if IU wants to pull the upset.
5. DaQuan Jones, DL, Penn State
The Nittany Lions defensive lineman will have his hands full this weekend against the physical Spartans offensive line. Jones is leading the team in tackles for a loss and sacks and is No. 2 in tackles — from his interior line position. Holding his ground against the run and disrupting Connor Cook in the passing game should give the rest of the talented PSU front seven a chance to make plays.
Big Ten Week 7 Prediction Grid:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Northwestern (+9.5) at Wisconsin||Wisconsin, 31-27||Wisconsin, 31-27||Wisconsin, 34-31||Wisconsin, 38-24|
|Michigan St (+3) at Penn St||Penn St, 28-27||Michigan, 30-17||Michigan, 34-27||Michigan, 35-10|
|Indiana (+9.5) at Michigan St||Mich. St, 24-21||Mich. St, 24-17||Mich. St, 34-27||Mich. St, 21-17|
|Nebraska (-14) at Purdue||Nebraska, 42-17||Nebraska, 48-17||Nebraska, 45-13||Nebraska, 49-14|
Two teams featuring embattled, high-profile quarterbacks and struggling defenses are on tap tonight when the New York Giants square off against the Chicago Bears at 8:25 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. The Giants are in desperate need of a win following a disastrous 0-5 start while the Bears are looking to put an end to their two-game losing streak.
Although there’s plenty of blame to go around for the Giants’ horrendous start to the season, Eli Manning is bearing the brunt of it, unfairly or not. Following a near-flawless opening stretch in his first season under new Bears head coach Marc Trestman, Jay Cutler has been anything but perfect and the offense has gotten off to slow starts in each of the past two games, both losses.
4 Things to Watch
Controlling the Clock
The Giants are last in the NFL in time of possession, keeping the ball for less than 26 minutes per game. The Bears aren’t too much better, coming in at 29:10, which places them 21st in the league. What this means is that each team’s defense has spent more than 30 minutes, or half, of every game on the field. Considering both units have had to deal with numerous injuries that have taken their toll on their respective depth charts, it’s really no surprise that both are in the bottom third of the total defense rankings. The Giants’ and Bears’ offenses are equally capable of moving the chains and putting some points on the board. Chances are whichever team has the ball longest tonight will do just that, and probably win.
Collapsing the Pocket
Eli Manning and Jay Cutler have been sacked a collective 24 times and have turned the ball over 23 times (18 INTs, 5 fumbles) through five games. Needless to say, they have made their share of mistakes in the early going. Getting pressure on the quarterback is the easiest, and often most effective, way to rattle a quarterback, but this has not been a strong suit for either defense thus far. The Giants have the second-fewest sacks in the NFL with five and the Bears are just one spot ahead of them with eight. The Giants’ defensive line has been surprisingly ineffective, as the trio of Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka have combined for three sacks. The Bears’ D-line has been beset by injuries, first losing All-Pro tackle Henry Melton and most recently Nate Collins to torn ACLs, and their main pass rusher, Julius Peppers, has just one sack. Someone from either the Big Blue Wrecking Crew or one of the Monsters of the Midway will need to bring the heat tonight, otherwise the quarterbacks will dictate the outcome of this game.
Can’t Be a One-Man(ning) Show
Eli will be the first to admit that he’s simply not getting the job done. No NFL quarterback can expect to win if he throws more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (8) week in and week out. That said, no quarterback can do it alone either, including big brother Peyton. While the older Manning is re-writing the record books with every game, he’s getting 117 yards rushing per contest and also has the support of the top defense against the run. Cutler has Matt Forté, one of the most versatile and productive running backs, at his disposal. Eli meanwhile is getting 57 yards rushing per game and the backing of a defense that’s allowing nearly 400 yards and more than 36 points per game. Granted, his turnovers (14 total) have certainly not helped, but the bottom line is the Giants have to figure out something on the ground so that Manning doesn’t have to throw the ball 40 times every game. That’s easier said than done, however, as the Giants will be without leading rusher David Wilson, who will miss tonight’s game because of a neck injury. That leaves Brandon Jacobs (2.2 ypc) and Da’Rel Scott (3.5 ypc), re-signed this week, to get the job done. Manning may want to make sure his arm stays loose.
Hurry Up, Offense
Chicago got off to a 3-0 start thanks to two fourth-quarterback comebacks in the first two games and then putting 40 points on the board against Pittsburgh in Week 3. Two of the keys to these victories were a fast start by the offense and keeping the score close early. The Bears scored at least a touchdown in the first quarter of each game and trailed by no more than seven at the half. In the past two games, both losses, the Bears scored a total of three points in the first quarter of both games and were outscored 50-20 by the Lions and Saints in the first half. Last week the Bears had just two first downs more than halfway through the second quarter and dug themselves into a 20-7 halftime hole they couldn’t get out of. The time of possession disparity has already been documented (see above), so a quick, and productive, start by Cutler and company would not only get the Bears off on the right foot, but also would prevent the Giants from building any much-needed momentum.
New York Key Player: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE
To be fair, the Giants’ defensive line as whole isn’t getting the job done, as evidenced by their collective four sacks. The star of the show, however, is Pierre-Paul, and he hasn’t been anywhere near the disruptive force he was two seasons ago. In 2011, JPP staked his claim as one of the NFL’s rising stars following an All-Pro season highlighted by 16.5 sacks. He managed just 6.5 sacks last season, as the Giants’ defense dropped all the way to 31st in the league. He underwent back surgery in June to repair a herniated disc, but was back on the field for the season opener. He’s also been dealing with a knee issue and it’s apparent he hasn’t been the same player that he was just two seasons ago. Pierre-Paul has one sack, which came in Week 1, and a total of 13 tackles in five games. Without a consistent pass rush or the threat of Pierre-Paul coming in and making the big play, offenses have gashed the Giants on both the ground (126 ypg) and through the air (269.2 ypg). Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler is not known for his ball security (3 lost fumbles) in the pocket and the Bears have struggled some with pass protection over the last two games. With the Giants desperately needing a win, this is the perfect time for the 2011 JPP to make an appearance.
Chicago Key Player: Julius Peppers, DE
Just as Jason Pierre-Paul is for the Giants, Peppers is the key component to the Bears’ defensive line. The highest-paid player on Chicago’s roster, Peppers has amassed 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, he is on pace for about three this season, as he has just one through five games. Peppers didn’t even register a single tackle last week against New Orleans, his second such no-show this season. The Bears’ defensive line has been hit hard by injuries with All-Pro tackle Henry Melton and his replacement, Nate Collins, both lost for the season because of torn ACLs. Chicago’s defense has fared pretty well against the rush (98.2 ypg), but is giving up about 280 yards per game. A more consistent pass rush would make the linebackers’ and defensive backs’ jobs easier in coverage, and Peppers needs to lead the way in that department. Halloween is still three weeks away, but Bears fans would love to see a monstrous effort from Peppers tonight.
The Giants aren’t the only winless team left in the NFL, but other than the Steelers, no one needs a victory more than Tom Coughlin’s battered and frustrated bunch. Although the Bears have dropped two in a row and the defense has allowed at least 340 yards in each game, Chicago hast two new things New York doesn’t – a more productive running game and three wins under its belt.
With Matt Forté leading the charge, Jay Cutler doesn’t have to carry the load, while Eli Manning once again is forced to try and keep the Giants in the game by throwing on nearly every play. It won’t look pretty, but the Bears take care of business at home and Coughlin’s squad becomes the first Giant team since 1976 to start 0-6.
Chicago 27, New York 17
This preview and more on Villanova and the Big East are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Villanova Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-14 (10-8 Big East)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64
Coach: Jay Wright (257-144 at Villanova)
Big East projection: Fourth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Jay Wright knew last season’s team was talented, but most people had their eyes focused on the 2013-14 season as the year when Villanova could really make noise.
That all changed during one week in late January, when the Wildcats knocked off Louisville and Syracuse in back-to-back games. They quickly went from a team struggling with consistency to one that could beat anyone.
“I didn’t know if we would become a good team in February or in March, but then in January we won those games,” Wright says. “I thought, we have the ability to do this right now. I think we all recognized that week that we can do it right now.”
Villanova ended up riding those two wins to an NCAA Tournament berth, falling to North Carolina in the Round of 64. The Wildcats lose just one (Mouphtaou Yarou) of their top six players, and an additional season of experience is only going to help.
“I think we have a chance to be a better team,” Wright says. “We’re going to miss Mouph, but we’re bringing back the whole team. That year of playing together is more valuable than bringing in a great player.”
The loss of Yarou, who started 107 games in his career, will impact the Wildcats’ post play. The center responsibilities will now fall to Daniel Ochefu, a sophomore who came to Villanova as a 4-star recruit. Ochefu has shown flashes of his potential, but his numbers dwindled as the season progressed. He needs to be more aggressive, especially in a relatively small Villanova lineup.
“We’re really excited about him,” Wright says. “He’s a completely different player than Mouph. More perimeter-oriented, finesse. We’re hoping he can be the biggest factor in making up for Mouph’s rebounding and defense.”
Jayvaughn Pinkston has continued to improve after a rocky start to his Nova career. He knows what he is — an undersized power forward who simply outworks and overpowers opponents. And it’s effective. The 6-7 Pinkston was the team’s leading scorer and second-leading rebounder last season.
Depth will come from two freshmen — Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds. Jenkins came up through the famed Gonzaga (D.C.) College High School program, while Reynolds was a late signee with a good frame.
Wright is known to fill his lineups with aggressive, attack-minded perimeter players. This year’s backcourt is a little different, but it’s still a deep, experienced group.
Ryan Arcidiacono burst onto the scene as a freshman, scoring in double-figures in the first five games of the season. He showed some inconsistency, but finished strong — hitting double digits in eight of his last nine contests. Expect his efficiency to improve as a sophomore.
Backcourt mate Darrun Hilliard averaged 11.4 points last season though he shot only 40.3 percent from the field. On the wing, James Bell is arguably the team’s best 3-point threat. He has a strong build and can help out on the glass and defend bigger small forwards. When Bell and Hilliard can keep defenses honest from the perimeter, the Wildcats’ offense becomes difficult to defend.
After sitting out last season, Rice transfer Dylan Ennis will help shore up the backcourt depth. Ennis, whose younger brother Tyler plays at Syracuse, could ease some of the pressure off of Arcidiacono.
“He’s going to fill a lot of roles,” Wright says. “He’s athletic and strong enough to guard a 3-man at times, and he’s good enough with the ball to play the point. We look at him as a basketball player.”
During the spring, it looked as though Tony Chennault would transfer, but he ultimately decided to return. Freshman Josh Hart can provide assistance on the wing. He’s an aggressive offensive player with size.
Outside of Dylan Ennis, Jay Wright might not need an immediate impact from the newcomers. Josh Hart is an aggressive scorer, while Kris Jenkins should be able to come off the bench and provide some pop. Darryl Reynolds was a spring addition to the group, and he will provide some interior depth. Ennis, though, should be a key asset for Wright on the perimeter after transferring from Rice.
Factoid: 26.1. Villanova led the nation last year by attempting 26.1 free throws per game. The Wildcats also led the nation by making 18.8 free throws per game.
This preview and more on Xavier and the Big East are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Xavier Facts & Figures
Last season: 17-14 (9-7 Atlantic 10)
Coach: Chris Mack (90-44 at Xavier)
Big East projection: Sixth
Postseason projection: NCAA First Four
For the first time since 2005, there was no postseason basketball at Xavier last March.
Don’t get used to it.
Chris Mack, who is 46 games over .500 in four seasons as the head coach at his alma mater, has reloaded his roster and put his program is position for a successful inaugural season in the revamped Big East.
Matt Stainbrook is the biggest addition, at least in stature. The 6-10 center played his first two seasons at Western Michigan, where he averaged 8.8 points and 6.4 rebounds as a freshman and 11.4 and 6.8 as a sophomore. The Ohio native dropped 50-plus pounds while sitting out last season as a transfer, but his progress was slowed by a torn meniscus is his right knee suffered in February. Stainbrook underwent surgery and rehab, and is expected to be a go-to player in the paint this season. His weight loss has improved his mobility and stamina, which should help fill the void left by former rebounding leader Travis Taylor.
The elder statesman of the frontcourt is power forward Isaiah Philmore, a bullish big-bodied Maryland native who came on strong late in his first season at Xavier after transferring from Towson. He averaged 7.5 points and 5.0 rebounds on the season but scored in double figures in seven of his last 11 games. Philmore emerged as a leader who earned his teammates’ respect through his physical play.
Jalen Reynolds, an explosive 6-9 forward who can shoot outside and attack the rim, is in the frontcourt mix after being ineligible last year. He joins freshman Aleksandar Vezenkov, a 6-8 combo forward with a mid-range game and experience against high-level European players. Vezenkov has played on Bulgarian junior national teams and as an amateur member of the Greek pro team Aris.
Sophomore James Farr, a 6-9 forward, remains a question mark. Although he improved last year, Farr struggled defensively and played limited minutes. Erik Stenger is 6-8 local product who provides energy off the bench in limited minutes.
The most intriguing battle could be at the small forward position. Junior Justin Martin has the most experience, but his production decreased as the season progressed. He scored 10 points or more in the first eight games but hit double figures only four times the rest of the way. Vezenkov could slide over to the 3 and create some mismatches for opposing small forwards. Freshman Kamall Richards, who brings physicality to the position, could be a factor as well.
The backcourt is anchored by guard Semaj Christon, who overcame an elbow injury and recurring cramps as a rookie to lead Xavier in scoring (15.2 ppg), assists (4.6 apg) and steals (1.5 spg). Christon was a second-team All-A-10 pick and became Xavier’s first A-10 Rookie of the Year.
Christon’s court awareness and attacking mentality carried Xavier through some tough spots. A former top-40 national recruit, Christon needs to emerge as more of a threat from 3-point range (he made only seven all season) and cut down on his turnovers (team-leading 109), but he has the ability to be one of the better combo guards in the nation as a sophomore.
Dee Davis, a junior, returns as Xavier’s starting point guard. He is an outstanding perimeter defender who will be asked to guard some of the better perimeter players in the Big East. Davis needs to be more efficient inside the arc — he hit only 42.2 percent of his 2-point field goals — but did a nice job keeping defenses honest by shooting 36.8 percent from long range.
Myles Davis and Brandon Randolph are expected to solidify the backcourt. Ineligible last year, Davis begins his Musketeers career with a reputation as an elite-level shooter. Randolph is a top prospect who’s dangerous in the open court.
Matt Stainbrook, who has two years of eligibility after transferring from Western Michigan, will provide a presence inside. Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds, both ineligible last season, weren’t allowed to participate in team activities in ’12-13. Both should contribute right away. Aleksandar Vezenkov, a spring signee, is a skilled big man who can shoot from the outside. Brandon Randolph will see time as a backup point guard. Kamall Richards is a physical wing player.
Factoid: 87.4. Xavier has won 87.4 percent of its games at the Cintas Center. The Musketeers are 173–25 at the on-campus arena that opened for the 2000-01 season.
Xavier possesses what it lacked last season — depth. An influx of talent both in the frontcourt and on the perimeter will allow Mack to employ a variety of different looks.
Christon will once again be the primary weapon on offense, but the Musketeers will have scoring threats at every spot on the court. The defense, always a strength, will be tested on a more consistent basis in the more challenging Big East, but Xavier has the ingredients necessary to a significant player in its new league.
Photo courtesy of Bob Stevens
This preview and more on St. John's and the Big East are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
St. John's Facts & Figures
Last season: 17-16 (8-10 Big East)
Postseason: NIT second round
Coach: Steve Lavin (51-47 at St. John's)
Big East projection: Fifth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
It wasn’t just that St. John’s fourth-year head coach wanted to forget 2012-13 as soon as possible. It was more the promise the coming season holds that has him — and Red Storm fans — feeling that the future, finally, is now.
“I like where we are, and I like where we’re headed,” Lavin says.
Consider that St. John’s returns 91.6 percent of its scoring and 88.3 percent of its rebounding from a 17–16 NIT team. A roster that was dominated by freshmen and sophomores is now a year older and a year more seasoned. And that roster now includes Rysheed Jordan, a top-30 national recruit who is expected to make an immediate contribution.
There is one key unanswered question as St. John’s begins play in the new Big East, the basketball-centric spinoff from the old Big East: How will Lavin deal with the issue of junior guard De’Angelo Harrison, who led the team in scoring last year (17.8 ppg) before he was suspended for the final six games?
JaKarr Sampson, the 2012-13 Big East Rookie of the Year, is ready to add the responsibility of leadership to his other considerable contributions.
“I’m pushing myself to be more of a leader, rather than being in the back row because I’m a freshman,” says Sampson, who averaged 14.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
The 6-8, 204-pound Sampson gives the Johnnies a solid foundation for what could be a top-notch frontcourt, one that also features shot-blocking specialist Chris Obekpa. The 6-9 Obekpa, though raw offensively, led the nation in blocks last year with an average of 4.0 per game.
There’s also some interior depth in the form of God’sgift Achiuwa and junior college transfer Orlando Sanchez, who has finally been cleared academically. Achiuwa averaged 9.4 points and 5.8 rebounds two years ago before redshirting last year. The 6-9 Sanchez will help in the low post with his rebounding ability for a team that struggled on the boards last season.
Sir’Dominic Pointer and Marc-Antoine Bourgault will compete for time on the wing.
Lavin now has options at point guard — with the added bonus of being able to keep Harrison at the shooting guard spot, which is his natural position. Junior Phil Greene IV was solid running the point a year ago, averaging 10.1 points and 2.6 assists. Jordan, one of the nation’s top point guard recruits, will push for some of those minutes immediately. His ability to also play the 2 offers Lavin the luxury of some flexibility in the backcourt.
But the focus will still be on Harrison, who missed the final six games of the ’12-13 season to recurring tardiness and poor behavior, according to published reports. Harrison is a prolific scorer, but he needs to improve his efficiency. At the time of his suspension, he was shooting 34.7 percent overall and 28.6 percent from three in league games. When he’s on his best behavior, Harrison is a legitimate weapon.
Jamal Branch, a 13-game starter, and Felix Balamou, a slasher with some promise, provide depth. There’s also the addition of a much-needed 3-point presence — St. John’s was last in the Big East last year in 3-point shooting at 27.1 percent — with Harvard transfer Max Hooper available after sitting out last season.
Five-star point guard Rysheed Jordan is touted by the school as the highest-rated recruit in Steve Lavin’s four years. Jordan averaged 25 points as a senior. Junior college transfer Orlando Sanchez, ineligible last season, will bring a post presence and some needed rebounding. Harvard transfer Max Hooper, a 6-6 wing, will help improve the league’s worst 3-point shooting offense from a year ago.
Factoid: 7.3. St. John’s led the nation with 7.3 blocked shots per game — 0.6 more than any other team — thanks in large part to a school-record 133 from freshman Chris Obekpa.
Talent isn’t the issue with this team. Pulling it all together is. A lot will depend on how much Harrison has matured — if at all — upon his return to the active roster.
Lavin must also refine his team’s offensive skills. St. John’s was among the nation’s worst offensive teams a year ago, ranking 314th in effective field goal percentage (according to KenPom.com) and 315th in free throw percentage.
But the team’s most pressing needs (rebounding and 3-point shooting) can be filled with the additions of Sanchez and Hooper, who both sat out last season. Point guard depth was addressed as well with Jordan’s arrival.
On paper, this is an NCAA Tournament team with the potential to reach the Sweet 16. Lavin’s task is turn that potential into a reality.
The new Big East has many of the same teams as the old Big East, but the dynamic of the league will be quite different.
First, there’s the sheer size. The Big East has slimmed down from 16 teams at its height to a more manageable 10. The former Big East was marked by as many as three or four realistic Final Four contenders in atop the league and star power and veterans running a dozen teams deep.
The new Big East might not appear to have a obvious national championship contender, but it will have depth. Perhaps only DePaul enters the season with slim hopes of reaching the postseason.
While the new Big East lacks powerhouses like Syracuse, Louisville and Connecticut, there will be plenty of intrigue as teams like Xavier and Butler face Marquette, Georgetown and Villanova. And then there’s Doug McDermott, who will have plenty of prime-time games against the Big East schedule.
Big East predicted order of finish
G Semaj Christon, Xavier
G Bryce Cotton, Providence
G Markel Starks, Georgetown
F Doug McDermott, Creighton
F JaKarr Sampson, St. John's
All-Big East Second Team
G D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
G/F Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
F Kadeem Batts, Providence
F Davante Gardner, Marquette
F JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
All-Big East Third Team
G Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
G D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's
F LaDontae Henton, Providence
F Roosevelt Jones, Butler
F Cleveland Melvin, DePaul
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Buzz Williams consistently gets the most out of his players, and he has a loaded recruiting class entering school.
2. CREIGHTON (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
The return of Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs puts the Bluejays squarely in the mix for a league title.
3. GEORGETOWN (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Greg Whittington's injury sets this team back, especially without Otto Porter. The Hoyas won't fall too far.
4. VILLANOVA (team preview)
Postseason prediction: NCAA Round of 64
With the return of four starters and the addition of key newcomers, Jay Wright has this team ready.
5. ST. JOHN’S (team preview)
Postseason prediction: NCAA Round of 64
The Red Storm might have the most overall talent in the league, and they'll be dangerous if everything comes together.
6. XAVIER (team preview)
Postseason prediction: NCAA First Four
The Musketeers surprised many people in the A-10 last year, and they return plenty of production. Semaj Christon is a stud.
Postseason prediction: NIT
Ed Cooley has turned things around quickly, and this could be the year the Friars take the next step.
8. SETON HALL
Postseason prediction: NIT
With four starters returning, including Fuquan Edwin, the Pirates should be a postseason team.
This might have been a difficult year either way, but Brad Stevens leaving for the NBA means the Bulldogs have question marks.
Oliver Purnell has two high-scoring options in Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin, but it will be a struggle this year.
Big East Awards
Player of the Year: Doug McDermott, Creighton
McDermott returned to school to accomplish two lofty goals: A Big East title for Creighton and the Bluejays’ first trip to the regional semifinal since 1974.
Best Defensive Player: Chris Obekpa, St. John's
The 6-9 center led the nation in blocks as a freshman, averaging four blocks per game.
Most Underrated Player: Grant Gibbs, Creighton
Gibbs got a sixth year of eligibility and will continue to feed McDermott from the wing. Gibbs averaged 8.5 points per game and 5.8 assists.
Newcomer of the Year: JaJuan Johnson, Marquette (full list of key newcomers around the Big East)
One of Marquette’s four freshmen this season, Johnson will give Buzz Williams options at guard. He’ll be a standout scorer with his ability as a shooter and finisher around the basket.
Top coach: Buzz Williams, Marquette (full Big East coach rankings)
Coach on the hot seat: Oliver Purnell, DePaul (full hot seat list)