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This preview and more on Wichita State and the Missouri Valley Conference are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 25 Wichita State Facts & Figures
Last season: 30-9 (12-6 Missouri Valley)
Postseason: NCAA Final Four
Coach: Gregg Marshall (139-70 at Wichita State)
Missouri Valley projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
That should be enough to get them back in the NCAA Tournament. There, they will take their chances with another tough team loaded with experience and confidence. The Shockers are 9–2 in the postseason with an NIT title and two NCAA appearances the past three seasons. They know how to win against good teams.
“This team has to make some new footprints,” sophomore guard Fred VanVleet says. “It’s nice to look back (on the Final Four), but we lost key guys from that group and it’s time to reload and go right back to war with a new group of guys.”
A year ago, few people outside Wichita knew about forward Cleanthony Early. During summer workouts, Marshall said that Early had miles to go to understand defense and the need to play hard all the time. Early, then a junior transfer from a Division III junior college, figured it out quickly, especially on offense. In the Final Four, he caught the nation’s attention with 24 points and 10 rebounds against Louisville. He went to the Kevin Durant Nike Skills Academy over the summer, and NBA scouts will stalk WSU games this season. He worked on ball-handling and defense in the offseason.
The rest of the frontcourt is inexperienced. Carl Hall, the team’s best post scorer, and Ehimen Orukpe, a shot-blocker, are gone. Kadeem Coleby is a transfer from Louisana-Lafayette, where he averaged 9.5 points and 4.9 rebounds. Forward Darius Carter earned NJCAA All-American honors at Vincennes (Ind.) University after averaging 15.8 points and 8.3 rebounds. Freshman Shaq Morris is a skilled post player. Senior Chadrack played in 30 games last season.
2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC
VanVleet takes over for Malcolm Armstead as the on-court leader. As a freshman, he enjoyed the luxury of learning from seniors Armstead and Demetric Williams. As a sophomore, VanVleet takes on greater responsibilities.
He’ll get plenty of help from the wings. There are not many years of experience in this group, but there is plenty of quality time played big games. Junior Tekele Cotton is a defensive stopper who turned himself into a good outside shooter. Sophomore Ron Baker missed most of the regular season with a stress fracture in his left foot but returned for the postseason and started all five NCAA Tournament games.
“The majority of us are young, but at the same we’ve got a lot of minutes under our belt,” Baker says. “I feel pretty confident in our team. We’re just going to have to get our chemistry right so that we can be successful.”
Sophomore Evan Wessel started eight games before a broken finger ended his season. He made 11-of-24 3-pointers and is one of WSU’s best defenders. Senior Nick Wiggins (41.9 percent from three last year) is an excellent shooter off the bench. He is the brother of Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s top newcomer.
The Shockers grabbed forward Darius Carter during their Final Four run, and he is expected to help up front. He is an outstanding athlete with good offensive skills. Center Kadeem Coleby, who practiced with the team last season, is a shot-blocker and rebounder who can score around the rim. Center Shaq Morris knows he needs to get in better shape, but he is a prized recruit. It’s not often WSU gets a physically developed big man with four seasons to develop.
Factoid: 30. Wichita State set a school record for wins with its 30–9 record and has averaged 27.8 wins the past four seasons. Four straight seasons with 20-plus victories are a first for the program.
The Shockers defeated Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, La Salle and Ohio State last season on the way to Atlanta. They didn’t win the MVC, going 12–6 and losing twice to Evansville. That’s both a credit to the Valley and a reminder to the Shockers that they can’t cruise into another memorable March.
With Creighton’s departure for the Big East, Wichita State is the MVC’s clear favorite. A challenging non-conference schedule includes games against Alabama, Saint Louis, Tennessee and Davidson. The potential issues are interior scoring and depth behind VanVleet. Early should develop into a star who can carry WSU with his scoring, and VanVleet, Baker and Cotton are youngsters who play with great composure. Don’t underestimate the return of Wessel, who will add another good shooter and a smart player who knows how to run the offense.
The Shockers’ talent and depth should send them into March with 20 wins and a chance for more. As long as Marshall is the coach, that will be the expectation for Shocker fans every season.
*Photo courtesty of Jeff Tuttle, Wichita State
2013-14 Preseason Top 25
25. Wichita State
This preview and more on Baylor and the Big 12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 24 Baylor Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-14 (9-9 Big 12)
Postseason: NIT champion
Coach: Scott Drew (180-138 at Baylor)
Big 12 projection: Third
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
Granted, an NIT title hardly compares to a NCAA trophy — or even a Big 12 championship. Still, for a program that nearly received the death penalty following the Patrick Dennehy murder scandal in 2003, winning any sort of trophy is considered a monumental feat in Waco.
“We were disappointed we didn’t make the NCAA Tournament,” Drew says. “But what happened in the NIT was great for this program. It brought a lot of pride to our school and our community. Now we’re ready to take that next step.”
Even with the loss of Big 12 scoring and assists leader Pierre Jackson, Drew and his players are optimistic about the upcoming season. Kansas may be the clear-cut favorite to win its 10th straight conference title, but sleeping on the Bears would be a mistake.
Not many teams in the country will be as strong in the paint as Baylor. The Bears caught a break when 7-foot-1 center Isaiah Austin was forced to return for his sophomore season after tearing his right labrum in April. Austin was projected as a mid-to-late-first-round NBA Draft pick and had all but decided to leave school after one season, but the injury would’ve kept him from conducting individual workouts with prospective teams and would’ve hurt his draft stock. Austin averaged 13.0 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds as a freshman, but he was often manhandled on the defensive end. He needs to add some bulk to his wiry, 225-pound frame.
Joining Austin down low is senior Cory Jefferson, a freakishly athletic forward who keyed the Bears’ postseason success. The 6-9 Jefferson averaged 21.2 points in five NIT games and enhanced his skills during the summer as a member of the United States squad that competed in the World University Games in Russia.
Also figuring prominently into the rotation will be Ricardo Gathers, a 270-pound bruiser who averaged 5.7 points and 5.7 boards last season despite playing just 17 minutes a game.
2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC
The Bears took a massive hit with the graduation of Jackson, a second-round NBA Draft pick who led the Big 12 in scoring (19.8 ppg) and assists (7.1 apg). His likely replacement will be Kenny Chery, who averaged 16.4 points and shot 45 percent from 3-point range in junior college last season. Chery is known as a “scoring guard,” but Drew wants to make sure he also focuses on feeding the Bears’ standout post players as well as long-range specialist Brady Heslip, a senior shooting guard who is looking to bounce back from a mediocre junior year.
Combo guard Gary Franklin, who has been a staple in the Bears’ backcourt rotation the past two seasons, could challenge Heslip for a starting spot. Also contending for minutes will be freshman Allerick Freeman, a top-100 recruit who signed with the Bears in the spring after decommitting from UCLA. Freeman is a shooting guard, but he’s told Drew that he wants to play point guard as well.
The biggest area of improvement for Baylor in 2013-14 will likely be on the wing, where the Bears have three “inside-outside” players who are capable of playing both on the perimeter and in the paint. Freshman Ishmael Wainwright was the highest-ranked member of the program’s 2013 recruiting class and should contend for a starting spot with the versatile Royce O’Neale, who averaged 11.4 points and 5.5 rebounds for the University of Denver last season. Sophomore Taurean Prince will also be in the mix for playing time.
Although they are both natural small forwards, Ishmael Wainwright and Royce O’Neale can play any position except center. The long and athletic Wainwright is known for his leadership and defensive fire — two things Baylor has lacked. O’Neale was one of the better players in the WAC last season for Denver. His experience may give him an edge. Allerick Freeman is a highly ranked combo guard who initially committed to UCLA.
Factoid: 15–4. Scott Drew since has an 15–4 record in the postseason at Baylor. Under Drew, the Bears have earned three NCAA Tournament bids and made two appearances in the NIT.
Most teams that lose a player of Jackson’s ilk tend to take a step back the following season — especially considering he played the most important position on the court. Baylor, though, returns virtually every other key piece of its roster. The keys for Baylor will be how quickly Chery adapts to the Division I level, the improvement Austin makes on the defensive end and the impact on the wing from Wainwright and/or O’Neale. If those things turn into positives for Baylor, the Bears will be contending for championships much more prestigious than the one they won in 2013.
2013-14 Preseason Top 25
25. Wichita State
Before everyone freaks out, this seems to be a good time to remind people that the top two teams in the first BCS standings have met in the championship just twice since 1998.
That doesn’t mean the odds are in the favor of Oregon and Ohio State, two teams that would like to stake a claim on the final BCS championship game. It just means an Alabama-Florida State matchup, historically speaking, is not likely.
Only in 2011 (Alabama-LSU) and 2005 (Texas-USC) did the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the first BCS rankings play for a title, and only the Longhorns and Trojans went wire to wire.
The Seminoles’ appearance in the top two was a bit of a surprise, especially given Oregon’s steadfast spot at No. 2 in the coaches’ and Harris polls. Florida State drilled Clemson 51-14 on the road, but ironically the computer rankings — which aren’t permitted to put weight on margin of victory — gave the Noles the boost they needed.
|2. Florida State||3||3||1|
|4. Ohio State||4||4||5|
|10. Texas Tech||9||9||11|
|14. Virginia Tech||19||19||8|
|16. Texas A&M||15||13||18|
Florida State. The Seminoles were the big winners in the first BCS standings. Florida State’s 51-14 win over Clemson was not enough to put the Seminoles into the top two in the coaches’ and Harris’ polls, but they were ranked No. 1 in the computer average. Four of the six BCS computers had Florida State No. 1.
The Seminoles’ lead isn’t particularly strong, though. Florida State is .0028 points ahead of Oregon (.9348 to .9320). Contrast that to the gulf between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida State of 0.493.
Missouri. The Tigers opened strong at No. 5 in the BCS standings, thanks largely to a boost in the computer rankings. The Tigers were ranked seventh in the coaches’ poll and sixth in the Harris poll, but averaged a No. 3 ranking in the computer average.
Oregon. The No. 2 team in the human polls was fourth in the computers, leaving the Ducks out of the championship game scenario for the time being. The Ducks, however, will face No. 6 Stanford, No. 12 UCLA and No. 25 Oregon State during the regular season. The only BCS top 25 team remaining on the regular season schedule for Florida State is No. 7 Miami.
Ohio State. The Buckeyes are securely out of the top three, falling 0.0767 points behind No. 3 Oregon. While the Ducks will have plenty of opportunities to make up ground on FSU, Ohio State can’t say the same. No. 22 Michigan is the only top-25 remaining on Ohio State’s regular season schedule. The Buckeyes would need two of the top three teams to lose to get into a national championship scenario.
Key Games This Week
No. 10 Texas Tech at No. 15 Oklahoma. The Red Raiders’ computer ranking is lagging behind (11th) their ranking the human polls (ninth) thanks to strength of schedule. The game at Oklahoma will be Tech’s first game against a ranked foe this year. The Red Raiders might not catch up to Baylor with a win, but they’d be in the conversation with other undefeated teams from the five major conferences.
No. 12 UCLA at No. 3 Oregon. Could the Ducks leapfrog Ohio State as quickly as next week? It would seem that way as Ohio State hosts unranked Penn State.
No. 17 Fresno State at San Diego State. The Bulldogs opened the BCS rankings one spot ahead of Northern Illinois, but that gulf could widen if both remain undefeated. San Diego State has won three in a row, including two in the Mountain West. Northern Illinois is amidst a stretch against the worst of the worst in FBS (Akron, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, UMass). The Huskies will have midweek games against Ball State and Toledo to impress voters, but Fresno State is the clear frontrunner among the non-AQs.
• No teams from outside the six automatic-qualifying conferences are in position for an automatic bid in the first BCS standings, but Fresno State and Northern Illinois have reason to be optimistic even if neither meet automatic-qualifying criteria just yet. They’d need to be in the top 12 or in the top 16 provided they finish ahead of a major conference champion. That includes the American this season.
Both No. 17 Fresno State and No. 18 Northern Illinois are ranked ahead of American frontrunner No. 23 UCF.
• One of the biggest disparities between the human polls and the computer average was Baylor, not surprisingly. Baylor ranked fifth in both human polls and 12th in the computer average. Between the Bears’ light schedule and the computers eliminating the importance of lopsided final scores, Baylor’s resume right now is BCS poison.
• The other disparity is just the opposite: Auburn is at No. 11 in the BCS standings thanks to placing seventh in the computer polls. In a cruel repeat of history for Tigers fans, Auburn started the season unranked after going 3-9, contributing to a No. 17 rank in the coaches’ poll and No. 15 in the Harris. The Tigers’ only loss is to BCS No. 13 LSU on the road.
• The conference tally for the top 25 is as follows: SEC (6), ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 (4 each), Big Ten (3), American (2), Mountain West and MAC (2 each).
Notes on BCS selection:
• Automatic BCS bids go to the top two for the title game, the champions of the ACC (Orange Bowl), Big 12 (Fiesta), Big Ten (Rose), Pac-12 (Rose) and SEC (Sugar). The American’s automatic bid is not tied to a particular bowl.
• Notre Dame receives an automatic bid if it finishes in the top eight.
• A champion from a non-automatic qualifying league (Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt and non-Notre Dame independents) receive an automatic bid if it finishes in the top 12 of the standings or if it finishes in the top 16 and ahead of a champion from a non-AQ conference.
• To be eligible for an at-large BCS bid, a team must have nine or more wins and finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings.
• Once automatic tie-ins are placed, the selection order for BCS bids goes as follows: 1. The bowl losing the BCS No. 1 team to the championship game, 2. The bowl losing the BCS No. 2 team, 3. The Orange Bowl, 4. The Sugar, 5. The Fiesta.
Jameis Winston’s performance against Clemson was nearly flawless. Just ask Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.
Even one of the few miscues for Winston — a first-quarter interception — wasn’t totally on the Florida State freshman quarterback.
“The interception was our fault,” Fisher said. “The headset went out. We signaled the route to the receiver and they ran the double move. The coach who signaled to Winston signaled for the single move. We had to throw away the headset. That could have cost you the ballgame. It cost us a huge turnover in the game. He didn't make that mistake, but he handled it well."
Winston’s poise has been the theme of the season for Florida State as much as the Seminoles’ return to the national championship stage. Against Clemson on the road, Winston displayed both by passing for 444 yards in a 51-14 rout of the Tigers.
Winston’s performance against the then-No. 3 Tigers earned him his second sweep of Athlon Sports National Player of the Week and National Freshman of the Week awards.
Athlon Sports Week 8 National Awards
National Offensive Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week: Jameis Winston, Florida State
A crowd of more 83,000 and a top-five showdown on the road was nothing to Winston. The freshman completed 22 of 34 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns in the 51-14 blowout over Clemson. Winston also rushed for a four-yard score in the third quarter and had a 94-yard toss to tight end Nick O’Leary that nearly resulted in a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The freshman’s only interception was the result of a miscommunication by the coaching staff, which is just his third pick on the season.
National Defensive Player of the Week: Michael Sam, Missouri
Missouri beat Florida 36-17 in Maty Mauk’s first start at quarterback, but the story of the day was the Tigers’ surprisingly dominant defense. Defensive end Michael Sam recorded three sacks — to increase his SEC-leading total to 9.0 — to spearhead a Mizzou defense that limited Florida to 151 yards of offense. Sam also leads the SEC with 13.0 tackles for a loss.
National Coordinator of the Week: Derek Mason, Stanford
UCLA's Heisman-contending quarterback Brett Hundley came into the game 11th in the nation in passing efficiency (165.0) and eighth nationally in total offense (345.8 yards per game). The Bruins were fifth nationally in total offense (547.0 yards per game) and seventh in scoring offense (45.8). Mason's physical defense held UCLA to just 10 points and 266 yards of offense, and, in particular, made life miserable for Hundley. The Bruins quarterback threw two interceptions, was sacked four times and mustered just 219 yards of offense.
Athlon Week 8 Conference Awards
Offense: Jameis Winston, Florida State
Defense: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
Freshman: Jameis Winston, Florida State
Coordinator: Jeremy Pruitt, Florida State
Offense: Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
Defense: Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
Freshman: Davis Webb, Texas Tech
Coordinator: Phil Bennett, Baylor
Offense: Devin Gardner/Jeremy Gallon, Michigan
Defense: Max Bullough/Denicos Allen, Michigan State
Freshman: T.J. Simmons, Indiana
Coordinator: Tracy Claeys, Minnesota
Offense: Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
Defense: Jordan Richards, Stanford
Freshman: Michael Adkins II, Colorado
Coordinator: Derek Mason, Stanford
Offense: Tre Mason, Auburn
Defense: Michael Sam, Missouri
Freshman: Marquez North, Tennessee
Coordinator: Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt
The much-hyped showdown in ACC turned out to be a one-sided affair.
Florida State and Clemson was only the fourth meeting with two ACC teams ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll, but the Seminoles simply dominated the Tigers in a 51-14 rout.
Florida State sweeps the Athlon awards this week, as quarterback Jameis Winston gashed Clemson for 444 passing yards and three touchdowns to earn offensive and freshman of the week honors. The Seminoles held the Tigers to 14 points – the lowest scored by Clemson since a 34-13 defeat to South Carolina in 2011.
Elsewhere in the ACC, Wake Forest stunned Maryland, Georgia Tech blew out Syracuse and Duke picked up a key road win at Virginia.
Miami escaped Chapel Hill with a narrow win over North Carolina on Thursday night to stay among the ranks of the unbeaten.
ACC Week 8 Recap and Awards
Offensive Player of the Week: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
A crowd of over 83,000 and a top-five showdown on the road was nothing to Winston. The freshman completed 22 of 34 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns in the 51-14 blowout over Clemson. Winston also rushed for a four-yard score in the third quarter and had a 94-yard toss to tight end Nick O’Leary that nearly resulted in a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The freshman’s only interception was the result of a miscommunication by the coaching staff, which is just his third pick on the season.
Defensive Player of the Week: Lamarcus Joyner, DB, Florida State
Florida State’s entire defense had a strong effort against Clemson, but Joyner gets the nod as the ACC’s top defensive player of the week. The senior switched from safety to cornerback in the offseason and is having an All-American-caliber year. Joyner set the tone for the Seminoles’ defense on Saturday, as he forced a fumble on Clemson’s first play and later forced another turnover that was returned for a touchdown by Mario Edwards Jr. Joyner finished the night with eight tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and one sack.
Coordinator of the Week: Jeremy Pruitt, Florida State
Pruitt was a bit of a mystery coming into the season. After serving as Alabama’s secondary coach for three seasons, Pruitt was hired to replace Mark Stoops as Florida State’s defensive coordinator. In his first year calling the defense, Pruitt has been a big reason why the Seminoles haven’t missed much of a beat, despite returning only four starters. Clemson came into Saturday’s showdown against Florida State averaging 514.5 yards and 40.8 points a game. The Seminoles held the Tigers to 14 points and 326 yards, with Clemson’s offense managing just 3.8 yards per play. And with all of the new faces stepping into key roles this year, Florida State’s defense will only get better the rest of the season.
Team of the Week: Florida State
The question of whether or not Florida State is truly back was answered on Saturday night. The Seminoles thoroughly dominated Clemson 51-14 (ranked No. 3 nationally in Week 8) in Death Valley. The victory snapped a five-game losing streak in Death Valley and moved Florida State into the national title conversation. The Seminoles outgained Clemson 565 to 326, punted only twice and committed just one turnover. The 51-14 was arguably the biggest of Jimbo Fisher’s tenure and has the Seminoles positioned to play for the ACC Championship for the third time in four seasons.
Freshman of the Week: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
For this season, it’s almost time to rename the ACC Freshman of the Week honor in favor of Winston. The Florida State signal-caller threw for a career-high 444 yards and added four overall scores in the 51-14 victory over Clemson. In every game against BCS competition this season, Winston has completed at least 63 percent of his throws. The Alabama native ranks second nationally with a quarterback rating of 210.4 and sixth nationally in completion percentage (71.3).
• Miami quarterback Stephen Morris threw seven interceptions on 421 attempts last season but already has eight on 129 attempts in 2013.
• Pittsburgh running back rushed for a career high 240 yards against Old Dominion.
• Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price is only the second player in ACC history to throw, run and catch a touchdown in a game.
• Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett suffered a MCL injury against North Carolina and will miss four to six weeks. Dorsett ranks third on the team with 13 catches for 272 yards and two touchdowns.
• Georgia Tech linebacker Quayshawn Nealy recorded only two tackles against Syracuse but recovered one fumble and picked off a pass.
• North Carolina’s Eric Ebron set a school record by a tight end with 199 receiving yards against Miami.
• After running for 100 yards in back-to-back games, Virginia running back Kevin Parks was held to just 50 on 15 attempts against Duke.
• Georgia Tech completed only three passes in its 56-0 win over Syracuse.
• Wake Forest receiver Michael Campanaro caught 11 passes against Maryland, which gave him the school record for career receptions with 217.
Week 8 was another typical week in an atypical year for the Big 12.
Baylor scored 70. Texas Tech kept winning. Oklahoma couldn’t stop the run. TCU couldn’t find an offense. Oklahoma State couldn’t find a quarterback. And Kansas took an early lead before losing decisively.
That about sums up the Big 12 in 2013, especially in a week when unpredictable Texas and scrappy Kansas State stayed at home.
Big 12 Week 8 Recap and Awards
Offensive Player of the Week: Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
With a quarterback change in Stillwater, Josh Stewart remained the constant. The Cowboys struggled with passers again this season, but no matter who is taking snaps, the goal should be to get the ball to Stewart. The junior caught 10 passes for 141 yards, including a 27-yard pass from receiver Charlie Moore that set up a touchdown. Stewart flourished in his matchup with Jason Verrett and the standout TCU secondary, but he found the end zone on a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Defensive Player of the Week: Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
With starters Jordan Phillips and Corey Nelson out, Oklahoma has struggled at times to stop the run. Thanks to defensive end Charles Tapper, OU clamped down on Kansas after falling behind 13-0. Tapper finished with six tackles, two sacks and three tackles for a loss in a 34-19 win. With 15 yards passing and three sacks, Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps accounted for minus-3 yards of total offense.
Freshman of the Week: Davis Webb, Texas Tech
At this point, the Big 12 freshman of the week should be renamed the Baker Mayfield/Davis Webb freshman of the week award. Red Raiders quarterbacks have owned this spot this season. Webb completed 35 of 50 passes for 462 yards with two touchdowns in a 37-27 road win over West Virginia. Webb had a potentially game-turning fumble at the 1-yard line in the second quarter, but he rebounded to lead three unanswered scoring drives in the final 17:26.
Team of the Week: Texas Tech
The meat of Texas Tech’s schedule begins next week with a road trip to Norman, but the Red Raiders continue to answer the call. West Virginia led by 11 at home, but Tech scored the final 21 points to preserve a 7-0 start. In his first season, coach Kliff Kingsbury has matched Tommy Tuberville’s best regular season and has brought Texas Tech into the top 10 for the first time since the magical 2008 season.
Coordinator of the Week: Phil Bennett, Baylor
The Baylor offense had its fourth 70-point day of the season, a milestone that is quickly becoming routine in Waco. What wasn’t routine was Baylor’s defense. The Bears had their best defensive game of the season, holding Iowa State to 174 total yards and 2.9 yards per play. Both were season-bests for the Baylor defense. Iowa State didn’t find the end zone until the final 47 seconds.
• Baylor’s 64-point win over Iowa State was the largest margin of victory for the Bears in a conference game, Big 12 or Southwest Conference.
• If Baylor defeats Kansas next week, it will have the longest win streak in school history at 11 games.
• Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty picked up his first red zone touchdown of the season with a four-yard score to Antwan Goodley in the first quarter.
• Texas Tech’s 7-0 start overall and 4-0 start in the Big 12 are both the best for the Red Raiders since 2008. Kliff Kingsbury is the first Big 12 coach to start his career 7-0.
• Texas Tech was ranked ninth in the coaches’ poll and 10th in the AP poll Sunday, the first time the Red Raiders have been in the top 10 since the 2008 season.
• TCU forced four turnovers and lost. The Horned Frogs are 35-2 in the last 37 when forcing at least three turnovers.
• Oklahoma allowed Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps to complete only 5 of 13 passes. The Sooners hadn’t allowed five or fewer passes since Chattanooga went 3 of 17 on Aug. 30, 2008. OU has allowed single-digit pass completions twice this season, giving up nine to Notre Dame.
Stanford lost in an un-Stanford-like performance against Utah two weeks ago, but the Cardinal returned to form Saturday against UCLA. Stanford may have trouble getting back into the national title race, but David Shaw's team went back to relying on a stellar defense and power run game in defeating the upstart Bruins.
The Cardinal are outliers in the league, though, as we saw late in the evening as Washington State set one passing record and Oregon State continued to march to its own season-long quest to rewrite the record book.
Here are your Pac-12 Week 8 Awards and Superlatives:
Offensive Player of the Week: Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
In a time of need, Stanford coach David Shaw turned to his power rushing attack to get his team back on track against No. 9 UCLA. And the senior tailback rewarded his coach in a big way by rushing 36 times for 171 yards and two critical second-half touchdowns. Stanford is still in control of its own destiny, and Kevin Hogan got excellent production from his entire supporting cast on offense against the Bruins.
Defensive Player of the Week: Jordan Richards, Stanford
The Cardinal defense was physical and disruptive all afternoon against Brett Hundley and the Bruins. The junior defensive back intercepted the all-everything quarterback twice to help lead Stanford to a big win. Richards added 10 tackles and another pass break up to his stat sheet as well.
Team of the Week: Stanford
The Cardinal bounced back in a big way after falling to Utah last weekend by getting back to basics against previously unbeaten UCLA. The defense was suffocating and the offense ran the football with aggressiveness and physicality. It was a typical Cardinal performance and the in re-establishes Oregon and Stanford are still the top two teams out West.
Coordinator of the Week: Derek Mason, Stanford
UCLA's Heisman-contending quarterback Brett Hundley came into the game 11th in the nation in passing efficiency (165.0) and eighth nationally in total offense (345.8 yards per game). The Bruins were fifth nationally in total offense (547.0 yards per game) and seventh in scoring offense (45.8). Mason's physical defense held UCLA to just 10 points and 266 yards of offense, and, in particular, made life miserable for Hundley. The Bruins quarterback threw two interceptions, was sacked four times and mustered just 219 yards of offense.
Freshman of the Week: Michael Adkins II, Colorado
The Buffaloes haven't had many chances at wins, but Mike MacIntyre's bunch took advantage by topping an unbeaten Charleston Southern with relative ease. Adkins has seen his work load increase over the last few weeks and he had his best performance against the Buccaneers. He rushed for 137 yards and four touchdowns in Colorado's third win of the season.
It wasn't supposed to be a big weekend of action in the Big Ten. No team was favored by single digits and only Wisconsin was a road favorite. That, however, didn't stop the league from generating plenty of excitement.
Iowa put quite a scare into the Buckeyes on the road. Michigan and Indiana set all types of records. Wisconsin cruised in a traditionally difficult rivalry game. And Minnesota won a game in Evanston that changed the complexion of the Legends Division race.
Here are the Big Ten's Week 8 Superlatives:
Offensive Players of the Week: Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon, Michigan
Gardner set Michigan records with 584 yards of total offense, 503 yards passing and five total touchdowns in the win over Indiana. Jeremy Gallon set a Big Ten record with 369 yards receiving on 14 catches, two of which went for touchdowns. His 369 yards are No. 2 in FBS history behind Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards 405 yards in 1998. Michigan rolled up a school-record 751 yards of offense and scored nine touchdowns. Gardner came up two yards shy of a Big Ten record for total offense (Illinois' David Wilson, 585, 1980).
Defensive Players of the Week: Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, Michigan State
The other school in Michigan wins games in a completely different style and fashion than the Wolverines. The Spartans linebackers played well all afternoon and combined on one huge play to give the Spartans the lead for good early in the tigher-than-expected win over Purdue. Bullough finished with 10 tackles, two for a loss and a forced a fumble on a sack that was scooped up by Allen and returned 45 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. Allen finished with eight tackles and the Spartans fifth defensive touchdown on the season.
Team of the Week: Minnesota
Without their head coach, the Gophers were a near two-touchdown underdog on the road against Northwestern. But with Jerry Kill watching from a private suite at Ryan Field, Minnesota proceeded to knock off the division rival Wildcats with an excellent defensive performance. The Gophers controlled time of possession, won the turnover battle (3-0), registered three sacks and held on for the three-point win. The victory was Minnesota's first conference win of the season and puts the Gophers one win away from getting bowl eligible.
Coordinator of the Week: Tracy Claeys, Minnesota
The defensive coordinator-turned-interim head coach deserves a ton of credit for what the Gophers accomplished on Saturday. Minnesota allowed just 328 yards of offense to Northwestern and forced three huge turnovers, including an interception that was returned for a touchdown late in the third quarter that gave the Gophers the lead for good. Everyone is rooting for head coach Jerry Kill to get healthy and a win like this on the road over a good Wildcats team is something this fan base dearly needed.
Freshman of the Week: T.J. Simmons, Indiana
The freshman linebacker from Lakeland (Fla.) posted his fifth game of his career with at least seven tackles by making eight stops, two for a loss, a sack and a QB hurry against Michigan. Simmons is tied for 13th in the Big Ten in tackles and is leading all Big Ten freshman (49 total tackles, seven per game).
• Ohio State pushed the nation's longest winning streak to 19 games with the win over Iowa.
• Brady Hoke has yet to lose a home game as the head coach at Michigan, winning his 19th straight in the Big House this weekend. It was also Michigan's 18th straight victory over Indiana.
• Northwestern's Lou Groza candidate Jeff Budzien set a Big Ten record with his 127th consecutive converted extra point.
• Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns in the road win over Illinois. Gordon is third nationally with 144.6 yards rushing per game, second with 1,012 yards rushing and trails only Arizona State's Marion Grice and Boise State's Jay Ajayi for the nation's lead in rushing TDs (12).
• The Badgers rushed for 289 yards on 46 carries against the Illini. It was the fifth time UW topped 280 yards rushing this year and the fifth time it rushed for more than 6.0 yards per carry in a game (6.3). As a team, it leads the Big Ten with 24 rushing touchdowns.
• Dueces were wild for Ohio State's Braxton Miller. He completed 22 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns. He also carried 18 times for 102 yards on the ground. He had just five incomplete passes and didn't turn the ball over.
• Carlos Hyde chipped in with 149 yards and two rushing touchdowns for Ohio State on 24 carries in the win over Iowa.
• Iowa entered the weekend as the only team in the nation to have yet to allow a rushing TD. It gave up two to Ohio State in second half.
It was one of the craziest weeks in years in the SEC. The favorite lost in five of the six league games, with only Alabama holding serve with a 52-0 win over Arkansas. Elsewhere, Vanderbilt beat Georgia in Nashville, Auburn stunned Texas A&M in College Station, Tennessee rallied to defeat South Carolina in Knoxville, and Ole Miss topped LSU with a late field goal in Oxford.
SEC Week 8 Recap and Awards
Offensive Player of the Week: Tre Mason, Auburn
Mason was one of the bright spots for Auburn during a dismal 2012 season, rushing for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns on a healthy 5.9-yard average. Mason is once again having a fine season, but his play is being overshadowed by his team’s first-year coach (Gus Malzahn) and starting quarterback (Nick Marshall). On Saturday, Mason rushed for a career-high 178 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries to lead Auburn to a thrilling 45-41 win at Texas A&M. Mason’s lone touchdown, on a 5-yard run, put Auburn on top for good with 1:48 remaining.
Defensive Player of the Week: Michael Sam, Missouri
Missouri beat Florida 36-17 in Maty Mauk’s first start at quarterback, but the story of the day was the Tigers’ surprisingly dominant defense. Defensive end Michael Sam recorded three sacks — to increase his SEC-leading total to 9.0 — to spearhead a Mizzou defense that limited Florida to 151 yards of offense. Sam also leads the SEC with 13.0 tackles for a loss.
Team of the Week: Tennessee
After flirting with a breakthrough win two weeks against Georgia, Tennessee rallied to beat South Carolina in Knoxville, giving first-year coach Butch Jones his first signature win. The Vols’ offense struggled for much of the day — UT only averaged 4.2 yards per play — but they made a big play at the right time (see MarQuez North below) to win the game. Tennessee’s defense held South Carolina to 384 yards and three touchdowns, one week after the Gamecocks had 537 yards in a 52-7 win at Arkansas.
Coordinator of the Week: Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt
Yes, Georgia was short-handed due to injury, but Vanderbilt deserves credit for holding the Bulldogs to 221 yards of offense — their fewest since gaining 200 in a loss to Virginia Tech in the 2006 Chik-fil-A Bowl — and two offensive touchdowns in a 31-27 win in Nashville. The Commodores had allowed an average of 530.3 yards in their previous three SEC games. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who averaged 287.7 yards in his first three games against Vanderbilt, was held to 114 yards — the second-fewest of his career — on 28 attempts.
Freshman of the Week: Marquez North, Tennessee
Sometimes a game comes down to one player making a great play. And that’s what North did in Tennessee’s 23-21 win over South Carolina. With the Vols trailing 21-20 and facing a 3rd-and-10 from their own 35-yard line with under three minutes to go, North made a spectacular 48-yard catch (with one hand) down the sideline that set Tennessee up for the game-winning field goal. North, a true freshman, caught three passes for 102 yards — the first 100-yard game of his career.
• Alabama has allowed one touchdown or less in five of seven games this season and in 40 of 61 games dating back to the beginning of the 2009 season.
• Last year, Auburn had a total of 1,881 yards in eight SEC games (235.5 ypg). This season, under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, the Tigers have 1,886 yards in four SEC games (471.5 ypg).
• LSU’s Zach Mettenberger threw three interceptions in the first half against Ole Miss; he had thrown a total of two in his first seven games.
• Florida averaged 2.5 yards per snap in its 36–17 loss at Missouri. The Gators have had seven games with under 4.0 yards per snap in Will Muschamp’s two-plus seasons as the head coach. They had three such games in 2010, Urban Meyer’s final season, and none from 2007-09.
• Bo Wallace threw for 346 yards in Ole Miss’ 27-24 win over LSU, and, more important, did not throw an interception in 39 attempts. Last year, Wallace threw for 310 yards but was intercepted three times in the Rebels’ 41-35 loss in Baton Rouge.
There’s nothing like the first reveal of the BCS standings to remind us that half a dozen teams are worthy of playing for two spots in the national title game.
Saturday evening ended with Florida State demolishing Clemson 51-14 on the road in a matchup of top five teams, putting FSU in a similar class as Alabama and Oregon. The Seminoles’ win was as complete as anything a national title contender has done to another top team this seasons, but FSU may have trouble getting into the coveted 1-2 scenario when the BCS is revealed Sunday night.
Alabama and Oregon have done nothing to be left out of the top two, but they were ranked higher earlier, so FSU may have to wait its turn.
If the eighth week of the season is any indication, though, the pecking order of top teams is anything but settled. Besides Clemson, top 10 teams Louisville and UCLA lost their first games of the season.
And that doesn’t touch on the carnage in the SEC. LSU, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Georgia all lost unranked teams, showcasing either the weakness of top teams or the depth of the conference, depending on your perspective.
College Football Week 8 Recap: Three and Out
Three Things We Learned from Florida State 51, Clemson 14
This Florida State team is different. Feel free to file that statement away for when the Seminoles lose to NC State, Syracuse or Wake Forest. But Florida State looked like it’s finally ready to carry the weight of a team to bring the Seminoles back to glory. A good portion of the credit falls on Jameis Winston, who leads the team with a charisma rare in college football and even rarer for a redshirt freshman. It doesn’t hurt that Winston finished 22 of 34 for 444 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Florida State won every quarter and never showed a lapse that could have sparked an explosive offense like Clemson’s playing at home.
Florida State’s defense is nasty. Winston is a Heisman contender, for sure, but Florida State’s defense held Clemson down all night. First-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt with two first-year defensive assistants held Clemson and hotshot offensive coordinator Chad Morris to 326 yards of total offense and 3.8 yards per play. Clemson didn’t have a play of 20 yards, and Tajh Boyd wasn’t much of a factor with 164 yards of total offense with a touchdown and two interceptions. FSU defensive back Lamarcus Joyner finished with eight tackles, two forced fumbles, an interception and a sack.
Clemson still has hope. The Tigers don’t have much to salvage here. Clemson needed a touchdown in the final 30 seconds to avoid the first 40-point loss in the history of Death Valley to say nothing of a top-three team losing by 37 at home. This is a demoralizing loss that could wreck an entire season, especially with road trips against Maryland and Virginia in the next two weeks. But if Clemson returns to form through the remainder of the year, the Tigers can still be a strong candidate for at-large consideration in the BCS with a game at South Carolina to end the regular season. A top-10 finish for the first time since 1990 is still possible even if an ACC title and more are slim.
Three Signature SEC Moments
Butch’s big win. The Volunteers missed out on their big breakthrough under Butch Jones against Georgia when Pig Howard’s fumble at the goal line went out of the end zone for a critical touchback. When the second chance came, Tennessee pounced. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier burned his final two timeouts prior to a punt in the final three minutes, and Tennessee drove the ball 63 yards for the game-winning 19-yard field goal for a 23-21 win. Marquez North, a star in the making, had a one-handed 39-yard catch through tight coverage to set up the winning field goal. The victory was both Tennessee’s first win over a ranked team and first SEC win in October since a 31-13 defeat of South Carolina on Oct. 31, 2009 under Lane Kiffin.
SEC West offenses. The idea of Auburn going back and forth with the Texas A&M offense would have been unthinkable a year ago. Then, the Tigers lost 63-21 to the Aggies in 2012 and then went scoreless in final next two SEC games. On Saturday, the Aggies’ defense did its part in helping Auburn to a 45-41 win, but the turnaround is staggering. Auburn’s 251 points this season is 27 more than the Tigers scored all of 2012. Not a bad seven games for first-year coach Gus Malzahn. Auburn wasn't alone. Malzahn's pal Hugh Freeze led Ole Miss to 525 yards in a 27-24 upset of LSU. The Tigers hadn't allowed 500 yards in a game since giving up 533 in a win over a Geno Smith-led West Virginia in 2011. Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace had his best game of the season, completing 30 of 39 passes for 346 yards. LSU's Zach Mettenberger reverted to his 2012 form, completing 19 of 33 passes with three interceptions.
Vanderbilt’s win over a ranked team. James Franklin has done many things to make Vanderbilt relevant in football from reaching bowl games and recruiting at an SEC level. But until Saturday, he’d never earned a win over a ranked team. The Commodores. Vanderbilt used a 17-point fourth quarter to upset No. 15 Georgia 31-17. The win ended the Commodores’ 17-game losing streak to ranked teams, going back to a win over No. 13 Auburn on Oct. 4, 2008. Georgia’s offense has been riddled with injuries, but so was Vanderbilt on Saturday. Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels left the game on crutches in the second quarter, but backup Patton Robinette led three scoring drives, going 9 of 15 for 107 yards with an interception and a rushing touchdown. Georgia helped Vanderbilt as two fumbles and a snap over the head of punter Colin Barber gave the Commodores the ball in Georgia territory three times in the fourth quarter.
Three Seasons Gone Awry
Florida. By Saturday afternoon, it was tough to believe Florida was an AP top 10 team in the preseason and a legitimate SEC East contender two weeks ago. The Gators had their worst all-around games in decades in the 36-17 loss to Missouri. The 151 yards on offense was the fewest in a game for the Gators since 1999, and the 500 yards was the most since the 2007 season against Michigan in the Capital One Bowl. For the second consecutive week, Florida's injury-riddled offensive line was mauled, contributing to 92 passing yards and six sacks. Making matters worse, Florida’s secondary, considered one of the best in the SEC, gave up long pass plays all day. Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk, who ascended to the starter’s job after an injury to James Franklin, averaged 8.2 yards per pass. With games remaining against Georgia, Vanderbilt, at South Carolina, Georgia Southern and Florida State, the Gators may have trouble getting the two wins they need to be bowl eligible.
Northwestern. On Oct. 5, Northwestern was 4-0 and preparing for the biggest game in Evanston in years. Now, the Wildcats are wondering when they might find their first Big Ten win of the season. With Venric Mark and Kain Colter out, Northwestern lost to Minnesota 20-17, its third loss in a row. Northwestern’s offense was lost without its two starts, averaging 4.6 per play and turning the ball over three times. The Wildcats, once considered a Big Ten Legends contender, has no easy picks for a Big Ten win. The remaining schedule is at Iowa, at Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State and at Illinois.
Maryland. The Terrapins spent one week at No. 25 in the AP poll after starting 4-0. The good feelings were dashed in a 63-0 wake-up call to Florida State that including a thundering hit on C.J. Brown that kept the quarterback out for a week. The Terrapins escaped Virginia 27-26 a week later, but Maryland’s prospects for the remainder of the season are considerably dimmer. Brown has returned, but his standout receiving duo of Stefon Diggs and Deon Long were lost to season-ending injuries in a shocking 34-10 loss to Wake Forest. Diggs and Long had combined for 66 receptions for 1,078 yards. No one else for Maryland has more than 14 catches. Maryland (5-2) faces Clemson next week, but should be able to get a bowl game with home games against Syracuse and Boston College.
Moving the Chains
Stanford’s defense. The Cardinal may have a tough time getting back into the national championship race with a loss to Utah on the resume, but Stanford still has a defense good enough to win a title. The Cardinal held UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley to a career-low 219 yards of total offense, and the Bruins averaged 4.5 yards per play, down from 6.7 entering the game. Safety Jordan Richards had 10 tackles, two interceptions and a pass breakup while linebacker Shayne Skov corralled the UCLA run game.
South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney. The soap opera surrounding Clowney’s injuries and Steve Spurrier’s postgame frustration with the defensive end’s decision not to play against Kentucky has been a hot topic for talking heads. It should be put to rest after Saturday. Despite the loss to Tennessee, Clowney had his finest game of the season. In a matchup with one of the best tackles in the country in Antonio Richardson, Clowney finished with 2.5 tackles for a loss and two quarterback hurries.
Ohio State’s backfield. The Buckeyes got a complete game from its starting backfield duo of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde just when they needed it. Miller missed three games with injury and struggled two weeks ago against Northwestern, a game in which Hyde lifted Ohio State with 168 rushing yards and three touchdowns. On Saturday, Hyde again displayed the physical run game and balance by running for 149 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries in a 34-24 win over Iowa. Miller also had his best game of the season, completing 22 of 27 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns to go with 102 rushing yards. Ohio State needed every bit of it as Iowa flourished early in the passing game. The Buckeyes had already lost safety Christian Bryant to a season-ending injury, and cornerback Bradley Roby was ejected early due to a targeting penalty.
Texas A&M’s defense. The defense finally put the Aggies into a position where Johnny Manziel couldn’t come to the rescue. The Aggies offense kept giving A&M leads, including as much as 10 points in the fourth quarter, but the defense continuously opened the door for Auburn to answer. Even when field position was good, Auburn was able to drive down the field for four touchdown drives of 75 yards or more. Texas A&M gave up 379 rushing yards and 6.3 yards per carry in the 45-41 home loss. The Aggies gave up a total of 615 yards and have allowed at least 434 yards against each FBS opponent this season.
Washington. Is the top of the Pac-12 this good or is Washington drifting back into 7-6 territory? The Huskies will find out in the second half of the season, but after a 53-24 loss to Arizona State, it looks more like the latter. Washington played respectably in a loss to Stanford two weeks ago, but the Huskies have lost three in a row, the last two decisively. Arizona State outrushed Washington 314 to minus-5, thanks in part to six sacks of Huskies quarterback Keith Price and seven sacks overall. The Huskies already lost a chance at the Pac-12 North, but they’ll probably need to beat Colorado and Cal in the next two games to reach the elusive eight-win mark in the regular season.
SEC East injuries. The SEC East injury bug struck again. South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw left the loss to Tennessee with what was described as a strained left knee, and Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels jogged to to the locker room in the second quarter but returned on crutches. Kentucky’s Jalen Withlow joined the injured list with an ankle injury earlier this week, and Missouri’s James Franklin missed his first start of the season. Georgia, already having lost No. 2 running back Keith Marshall and top two receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley, didn’t have Todd Gurley for the third consecutive week. And Florida has lost five starters to injury this season. The West wasn’t total immune either as Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri may be out for a significant amount of time with a knee injury.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. Manziel’s place in the Heisman race may be unmoved despite a 45-41 loss to Auburn. Manziel completed 28 of 38 pass for 454 yards with four touchdowns, and for the second consecutive week, he returned from an injury scare to lead a touchdown drive. With 48 rushing yards, Manziel had the fifth game of at least 500 yards in his career. If there is any knock on Manziel, it’s his two interceptions against Auburn.
Bryce Petty, Baylor. Brett Hundley, Tajh Boyd and Teddy Bridgewater all slipped in the Heisman race after this week’s action. Expect Petty to take their place. Petty had another ridiculous stat line in a 71-7 win over Iowa State: He completed 23 of 31 passes for 343 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 14 yards per pass attempt this season.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Mariota probably remains the frontrunner, but it's worth noting Mariota had his first turnovers of the season with two fumbles against Washington State. Mariota hadn’t had a turnover since throwing an interception in a loss to Stanford on Nov. 17, 2012. Mariota still finished 23-of-32 for 327 yards with two touchdowns in a 62-38 win over the Cougars.
Michigan State against Purdue
Oklahoma against Kansas
Pittsburgh against Old Dominion
Three More Ridiculously Good Receivers
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Marquez North, Tennessee
Three Scary Good Tight Ends
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Nick O’Leary, Florida State
Interim coach records
Mike Bath, Miami (Ohio) (0-2)
Ed Orgeron, USC (1-1)
T.J. Weist, Connecticut (0-2)
Dang, They’re Good
Dang, They’re Bad
Best Games Next Week
Texas Tech at Oklahoma
South Carolina at Missouri
Stanford at Oregon State
115. Plays run by BYU in a 47-46 win over Houston. It was easy to overlook as the ranked SEC teams self-destructed Saturday afternoon, but BYU defeated previously unbeaten Houston in a wild 47-46 game. The Cougars ran 113 plays in a game decided in regulation. Bronco Mendenhall installed an up-tempo offense this season, running at least 90 plays against Virginia, Texas and Utah. BYU quarterback Taysom Hill accounted for 564 yards of total offense himself (421 passing, 143 rushing). Hill, who failed complete 40 percent of his passes in each of the first three games, is 79 of 121 (65.2 percent) in his last four.
751. Total yards for Michigan, a school record. The Wolverines needed every school record they set in a 63-47 win over Indiana. Jeremy Gallon set a Big Ten record with 369 receiving yards, the second-highest total in FBS history. Devin Gardner also set school records with 503 passing yards and 584 yards of total offense.
Buried on the Depth Chart
Connor Halliday’s record. Washington State’s quarterback set a dubious record with 89 pass attempts against Oregon, breaking Drew Brees’ record of 83 passes for Purdue in 1998. In a game settled early the third quarter, Halliday finished 58 of 89 for 557 yards with four touchdowns and four picks.
Joe Southwick’s broken ankle. Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick suffered a broken ankle on his first snap against Nevada. Once backup Grant Hendrick settled in, Boise State was just fine. The junior completed 18 of 21 passes for 150 yards with an interception and gave the Broncos a different dimension at the quarterback position with 115 rushing yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. Boise State will need more of that as Southwick probably won’t return anytime soon.
Kent State’s 2-6 start. The Golden Flashes were on the verge of an automatic BCS bid last year before losing to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game last season. Now Kent State is on the verge of missing a bowl game. Kent State lost 38-21 to South Alabama to start 2-6 in Paul Haynes’ first season. South Alabama, though, is having a nice season for a second-year FBS program. The Panthers, who gave Tennessee fits three weeks ago, are 3-3 with the bulk of the Sun Belt schedule remaining. South Alabama went 2-11 in its first FBS season last year.
Three Surprise Undefeated Teams
Missouri (7-0). Texas A&M proved it would be a factor in the SEC last season, and now it’s Missouri’s turn. The Tigers moved to 3-0 in the SEC East after defeating Florida and Georgia in back-to-back weeks. Granted, the Bulldogs and Gators are beset by injuries, but Missouri knows as well as any team how injuries can derail a season. The Tigers had their own issues in a 5-7 season in 2012, including quarterback James Franklin’s shoulder injury. Franklin is hurt again, but that didn’t stop Missouri from starting 7-0 for the first time since 2010 when the Tigers upset a top-ranked Oklahoma team in Columbia. The reason for the start this season has been defense led by end Michael Sam, who’s had nine sacks the last four games.
Texas Tech (7-0). For a moment, Texas Tech looked like it would finally fall back to earth. About to go up by 17, the Red Raiders fumbled at West Virginia’s 1-yard line. The Mountaineers scored off the turnover and rallied to a 27-16 lead in the third quarter. But freshman Davis Webb, Texas Tech’s second rookie starting quarterback this season, led the way back for a 37-27 win. Webb was 36 of 50 for 462 yards with two touchdowns, and Jace Amaro, a matchup nightmare at 6-5 and 260 pounds, caught nine passes for 136 yards with three touchdowns. Texas Tech faces Oklahoma next week.
Miami (6-0). The moment the ACC has been seeking since expansion has finally happened. Miami and Florida State are both unbeaten and in the top 10 deep in to October. To say Miami deserves more skepticism than Florida State would be an understatement. The Hurricanes endured injuries to Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett and four interceptions from Stephen Morris to defeat North Carolina 27-23 on Thursday. The UM defense surrendered 500 yards to a 1-5 North Carolina team, but the bigger issue is turnovers. The Hurricanes have coughed the ball up 12 times in the last three games and have been minus-four in turnover margin during that span.
One of the NFL’s top current rivalries will renew acquaintances when the Baltimore Ravens take on the Pittsburgh Steelers this afternoon at 4 p.m. ET on CBS. Both teams have gotten off to disappointing starts, as John Harbaugh’s defending Super Bowl champion Ravens are just 3-3 and Mike Tomlin’s Steelers finally picked up their first win of the season last week.
These two teams are certainly no strangers to each other, as they have been in the same division since the Ravens’ first season in 1996. Pittsburgh leads the all-time series 19-15 during the regular season and also has won all three playoff matchups. Baltimore has won three of the last four regular-season meetings as well as the last three played at Heinz Field.
4 Things to Watch
Even though several of the names have changed, especially for the Ravens, this is still one of the NFL’s best rivalries going. Since the creation of the AFC North in 2002, Baltimore and Pittsburgh have combined to win 10 of the 11 division titles during that span. Five different times the Ravens and Steelers were either first or second in the same season and these two teams have combined to win three of the past eight Super Bowls. These are two of the most successful franchises over the past decade, so it should be no surprise that their head-to-head meetings have been so competitive and, more often than not, close. Eight of the last 10 regular-season games have been decided by three points. So don’t let the records fool you, both of these teams have a lot of pride and would like nothing more than to add to the others’ loss column. Cleveland may be in first place in the division right now, but everyone is within shouting distance, even Pittsburgh at 1-4. A win for the Steelers would not only pull them closer, it would mean a victory over the defending Super Bowl champions, while the Ravens would like nothing more than to put their arch rival in an even bigger hole. It may only be October, but don’t be surprised if this one feels like a playoff game.
Getting Back to the Basics
These two teams are similar in several ways – they have Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, solid defenses who are usually among the best units in the league, and they pride themselves on being physical on both sides of the ball. Both teams usually are able to run the ball consistently too, but that has not been the case this season. Entering Week 7, Baltimore was 27th in the NFL in rushing offense and Pittsburgh was second to last. Both the Ravens and Steelers are averaging less than 73 yards rushing per game and are gaining no more than 3.1 yards per carry. Baltimore’s Ray Rice, who has averaged more than 1,260 yards rushing per season over his last four, is currently on pace for 591 yards and has yet to post a rush of more than 20 yards. The Steelers’ season high for rushing yards in a game by any player thus far is 57 by rookie Le’Veon Bell and the team has a total of two rushing touchdowns. The lack of success running the ball has put more pressure on the quarterbacks and is a big reason why these offenses aren’t scoring a bunch of points and the teams are a collective 4-7. The Ravens’ defense has done a better job than the Steelers’ of stopping the run, but both offenses have to figure out some way to get something going on the ground, even if it’s just to help set up the play-action game. It’s a cliché, but chances are whichever team wins the battle in the trenches on offense, will probably come out on top on the scoreboard too.
Joe Cool vs. Big Ben
Both Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger have won a Super Bowl, have risen to the occasion more than once and also come up short numerous times in their careers. While each quarterback’s running game, defense and special teams will play an important role in this game, there’s no question that the spotlight will largely fall on them. Each has already had to carry their offense early this season because of the struggles on the ground, and their numbers to this point are somewhat of a mixed bag. Although Flacco’s Ravens are 3-3, last year’s Super Bowl MVP hasn’t been at his best. Through six games Flacco is seventh in the NFL in yards passing (1,702), but he has more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (7), and he is just 26th in completion percentage (57.9) and passer rating (76.2). Meanwhile, Roethlisberger’s Steelers have just one win despite him being seventh in completion percentage (65.6) and 15th in passer rating (88.8). Some of Flacco’s issues can be attributed to the offseason trade of wide receiver Anquan Boldin and the season-long absence of tight end Dennis Pitta (dislocated his hip in training camp), leaving wideout Torrey Smith as his most established, not to mention familiar, target. Roethlisberger has gotten even less support than Flacco from the running game, and the Steelers’ offense as a whole has struggled on third down and in the red zone. The Steelers are scoring a touchdown when they are in red zone less than 40 percent of the time. The only team in the NFL that has a lower percentage right now is the 0-6 Jaguars. Both teams’ offensive issues are well documented and go well beyond the quarterback, but fair or not, in the NFL the buck stops with the guy under center.
Who Wins on Third Down?
Another way in which Baltimore and Pittsburgh are similar, especially this season, is how they have performed on both sides of the ball on third down. While each offense may be struggling to convert its opportunities, both defenses rank among the best when it comes to preventing opponents from picking up the first down. On offense, the Ravens and Steelers have both been successful less than 36 percent of the time on third down. On defense, the Ravens entered this week ranked fourth in the NFL (31.2 percent) in third down prevention, while the Steelers were tied for ninth (36.2). While this trend could likely continue this afternoon, the offense that is able to get the job done on third down should be well positioned to get the win. As has already been documented, the majority of these games have been close in recent years, meaning one prolonged drive that includes a third down pickup or two could be the difference between victory and defeat.
Baltimore Key Player: Terrell Suggs, LB
Ray Lewis has retired, Ed Reed is in Houston and several other defenders from last year’s Super Bowl team are no longer with the Ravens. In fact, six of the starters from February’s title game in New Orleans left after winning the Lombardi Trophy. With all of the changes on Baltimore’s defense, one of the few constants that remain is Suggs. The unit’s unquestioned leader, Suggs has made his presence known both on and off the field. He already has seven sacks on the season, which was good for fourth in the NFL entering Week 7 and accounted for nearly a third of the team’s total of 22. The Ravens have the second most sacks of any team, and no doubt getting to Ben Roethlisberger will be important in this game. Roethlisberger has a reputation for being able to move in the pocket and then make something out of nothing when it breaks down, but he’s also been sacked 19 times already. The Steelers have had trouble running the ball, which only makes Roethlisberger’s job more difficult. As one of the longest-tenured Ravens on the roster, Suggs is very familiar with this rivalry. That’s why you know his focus when he’s on the field will be making sure that Big Ben doesn’t get too comfortable in the pocket.
Pittsburgh Key Unit: Offensive Line
Similar to last season, the Steelers’ offensive line has been plagued by injuries. This season it started when Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee in the Steelers’ first possession in the season opener at Tennessee. Pouncey’s loss has had a domino effect along the entirety of the line, as a replacement at center had to be added and the depth chart has seen changes on almost a weekly basis. The end result has been a line that has yet to play a game at 100 percent and is struggling to open holes in the running game and giving Ben Roethlisberger enough time in the pocket. Baltimore’s defense is fourth in the league in sacks and has held up fairly well against both the run and pass. It’s up to Pittsburgh’s patch-work line of tackles Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum, guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, and center Fernando Velasco to come together and put forth its best collaborative effort of the season, or else the Steelers are in real danger of falling to 1-5.
When it comes to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, you can pretty much throw the records out and count on both teams leaving it all out on the field. That said, there is quite a bit riding on this game, as the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens are trying to avoid falling below .500 through their first seven games for the first time since 2005. The Steelers are already off to their worst start in 45 years, yet a win tonight would keep them in striking distance in a crowded AFC North.
Both teams haven’t been able to run the ball consistently, which has put even more pressure on Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger. Consequently, each quarterback’s production has suffered somewhat, and while the defenses have been solid, they haven’t been as dominant as in years past.
The difference this afternoon will be a combination of capitalizing on opportunities and experience. Roethlisberger will get just enough time to make some big, critical plays in the passing game, as the Steelers’ pass-catchers win more of the one-on-one battles against the Ravens’ “new” secondary and linebacking corps. The experience factor also shows up in that many of these Ravens are “new” to this rivalry with the Steelers, so I think they will have a hard time adjusting to the increased intensity that comes with this game. Like most of the recent matchups, this one will be close, but in the end the “old” Steelers knock off their arch rival for their second win in a row.
Pittsburgh 17, Baltimore 13
Peyton Manning’s much-anticipated homecoming will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind when he leads his Denver Broncos against the Indianapolis Colts tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC. This also is a matchup of first-place teams as the Broncos (6-0) look to stay undefeated and atop the AFC West, while the Colts (4-2) will try to maintain their lead in the AFC South.
Manning has 160 regular-season victories in his career, but this will be his first game against the team that drafted him and he spent 14 seasons with. Andrew Luck, who like Manning was a No. 1 overall pick in the draft, put together one of the most productive rookie seasons by a quarterback in 2012 and has already shown improvement through the first six games of his sophomore campaign.
3 Things to Watch
Colts’ Quarterback Lineage on Display
Even before Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay stirred the pot with some surprising and ill-timed comments earlier this week, everyone knew that this game was going to be all about the quarterbacks. Peyton Manning went from the No. 1 overall pick of the 1998 draft to a four-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion during the 13 seasons he played for the Colts. He is largely responsible for the 141 regular-season victories the Colts enjoyed during his tenure, along with the eight division titles and 11 total playoff appearances. Despite the circumstances surrounding the end of his relationship with the Colts, Manning’s place among the greatest to ever play for the franchise is secure. Indianapolis was very fortunate in that it was able to move on from Manning by finding its next franchise quarterback a little more than a month after releasing its previous one. Luck was taken with the first pick of the 2012 draft and immediately proved his worth by leading the Colts to a nine-game turnaround (2-14 in 2011 to 11-5 in ’12) and a playoff berth. Luck also broke the NFL record for passing yards (4,374) by a rookie and earned an invite to the Pro Bowl. Manning and Luck have repeatedly said they are friends and not rivals, but the comparisons between the two are inevitable and pretty much unavoidable. Manning went 7-15 in his first 22 career games with the Colts, Luck is 15-7. Luck is considerably more mobile than Manning, but No. 18 has considerably more experience under his belt and is off to the greatest statistical start of his Hall of Fame career this season. There’s no argument that both are critical to the success of their teams’ offenses, although they go about their business in different ways. Regardless of which quarterback finishes with better numbers tonight, we should just sit back and enjoy watching a Hall of Famer and one of the league’s brightest young stars ply their craft on national TV.
It’s Miller Time
With his six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy finally over, Denver’s defense is closer to being whole with the return of Von Miller. The All-Pro linebacker finished second to Houston’s J.J. Watt in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year last season after registering 68 total tackles, 18.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, an interception and a touchdown. Miller is the Broncos’ most dangerous pass-rusher and he has the ability to make a game-changing play on every down. His mere presence on the field brings a different dynamic to this defense and also helps deepen a linebacking corps that is dealing with a neck injury to starter Wesley Woodyard. Because of the piles of points the offense is scoring, the defense hasn’t had to shut out anyone, which is why the unit’s statistics are somewhat skewed. While the Broncos are allowing the most passing yards of any team in the NFL, the defense is No. 1 against the rush. Miller’s return will help both aspects, but it’s his ability to put pressure on the quarterback that could have the most impact, starting tonight. Miller’s been waiting six long weeks for this game, so don’t be surprised if he makes his presence felt early and often against the Colts.
No Lack of Talent on Offense
While all the attention will be on the quarterbacks, neither Manning nor Luck is winning this game all by themselves. For one, Manning needs his teammates to catch his passes, while the Colts aren’t one to just let Luck drop back and sling it all over the field. Denver’s passing offense, with wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker and tight end Julius Thomas sharing the wealth, is far and away tops in the league, averaging nearly 50 yards more per game than the No. 2 team (Atlanta), but the Broncos also are averaging 115 yards rushing per game. Knowshon Moreno has staked his claim as Denver’s No. 1 running back, and he has made the most of his opportunities. He’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry and leads the NFL with seven rushing touchdowns. The Colts are eighth in the league in rushing at 130.7 yards per game, but have dangerous pass-catchers of their own in wideouts Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton and tight end Coby Fleener. Running back Trent Richardson has gotten off to a slow start with his new team, but he’s capable of breaking off a big play at any point. There’s no doubt that Manning and Luck will play huge parts in deciding the outcome of tonight’s game, but they won’t be alone. There are talented playmakers at each skill position on both offenses. It’s entirely possible that one of them, and not Manning or Luck, ends up being the biggest star in this game.
Denver Key Player: Champ Bailey, CB
As important as linebacker Von Miller’s return (see above) to the starting lineup is for the Broncos’ defense, Bailey’s season debut last week shouldn’t be overlooked. After missing the first five games because of a foot injury, Bailey picked up six tackles and three passes defended last week against Jacksonville. Denver’s defense is last in the NFL in passing yards allowed (337.7 ypg), but it’s sure to get better with the return of the seven-time All-Pro cornerback. Last season, Bailey had two interceptions as the Broncos finished third in the league in passing defense. They clearly have a long ways to go if they want to repeat that success this season, but getting Bailey back in the secondary is a good start.
Indianapolis Key Player: LaRon Landry, S
Landry is a linebacker who plays safety, as evidenced by the 26 total tackles he racked up in the first two games of the season. Those also are the only tackles he collected in his first season with the Colts, as Landry has missed the past four games because of an ankle injury. He practiced fully this week and will be back out there tonight, just in time to add his physical presence to the Colts’ secondary. Indianapolis defensive backs know they have their work cut out for him going up against Peyton Manning and his stable of pass-catchers. But rest assured that wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, and tight end Julius Thomas, as well as running back Knowshon Moreno will be well aware that Landry is on the field. Any Bronco that has the ball will have their head on a swivel, knowing that Landry is ready, willing and able to lower the boom.
Despite his curious comments earlier in the week, Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay said that Peyton Manning would be honored by the Colts before the game begins. All Manning really cares about, however, is what happens after kickoff. Manning is 82-32 in his career in Indianapolis, but this will be his first game at Lucas Oil Stadium as a visitor. He may not come out and say it, but you have to think that he really wants to win this one.
Andrew Luck and the Colts have grabbed the lead in the AFC South thanks to a renewed commitment to running the football and a stingy defense. Both the offense and defense will be tested tonight, as the Colts just don’t have the firepower that the Broncos have on offense, while Denver’s defense has been the best in the NFL in stopping the run and it is getting another key piece back in All-Pro linebacker Von Miller.
Manning and the Broncos won’t blow the Colts out in this one, but No. 18 turns in another memorable performance in front of his former fan base and wins his first game against the only NFL team he has yet to defeat. What other outcome were you expecting from his homecoming?
Denver 34, Indianapolis 24
Arian Foster, C.J. Spiller and Zac Stacy are all listed on their respective team’s injury report for Week 7, but are expected to play. Here’s the latest on their situations and what their fantasy owners should expect from them today.
Arian Foster and Ben Tate, RBs, Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs
Foster keeps adding to his list of ailments, as the Texans’ workhorse did not practice on Thursday because of a hamstring injury. However, the official injury report lists him with a thumb injury and Probable to face Kansas City. So while the hamstring may not appear to be a big deal, the matchup with the Chiefs is another matter entirely. KC has the No. 1 DST in fantasy and the Texans are starting Case Keenum in place of Matt Schaub at quarterback. Foster is sure to get plenty of touches and he’s coming off of 198 total yards against the Rams, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t put up RB1 numbers today. His backup, Ben Tate, is still dealing with an elbow injury, but he too is Probable and should be out there. Tate’s bigger problem is that he has struggled lately, losing a fumble in Week 4 and 5 and picking up a total of 12 yards on 10 carries last week, although he did have a touchdown. The Texans figure to run the ball plenty with Keenum making his first career start against a nasty Chiefs pass rush and secondary, but Tate may not even see enough touches, because of his ball-security issues and recent lack of production, to enter into the flex discussion this week.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins
Despite being listed as Questionable last week, Spiller (right) suited up against the Bengals and finished with 55 yards on 10 carries. He is Probable for today’s game against Miami and head coach Doug Marrone on Friday said Spiller will be on the field. So while Spiller’s ankle should be even closer to 100 percent this week, it doesn’t change the fact that he has been splitting carries with Fred Jackson. If the ankle is getting better, the big-play potential should be a factor against the Dolphins, but that also could be what it takes to get Spiller to RB1 production this week rather than RB2/flex.
Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams at Carolina Panthers
After averaging 78 yards rushing over the past two games, it looks like Stacy will get the majority of the carries for the Rams from here out. Stacy has also showed some of his toughness, as he has played last week with a chest/ribs injury. The injury still shows up on the team’s report, but Stacy practiced fully both Thursday and Friday and is Probable to face the Panthers. Carolina is fourth in the NFL in rushing defense, so this could be a tough matchup for the Rams’ rookie, but with Benny Cunningham already ruled out because of an ankle injury, Stacy shouldn’t have much competition for carries. Stacy is averaging nearly five yards per carry over the last two games, so even with him going up against the Panthers DST, he should still be able to gain enough yards to merit RB3/flex consideration.
Willis McGahee, RB, Cleveland Browns at Green Bay Packers
McGahee was held out of practice some this week, but the team said it was to allow him to rest his surgically repaired right knee. He is Probable for today’s game, but let’s not forget he will turn 32 on Monday and joined the Browns after the start of the season. He’s never been the model of health during his career, and hasn’t exactly torn it up on the field since his return. He’s averaging 2.8 yards per carry and his longest run has been 16 yards. Green Bay is third in the NFL in rushing defense, so if you own McGahee or are thinking of picking him up, I hope you set your expectations no higher than RB3/flex.
Joique Bell, RB, Detroit Lions vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Bell has a rib injury that is not believed to be serious or a long-term thing. It has limited him practice, however, which is why he’s Questionable this week. The bigger issue with Bell, however, is how he has not been nearly as involved in the Lions’ offense since Reggie Bush’s return from a knee injury. Through the first four games, Bell was averaging 10 rushing attempts and about five receptions per game. In his last two he has run the ball a total of 12 times and caught just five passes. Once a legitimate every-week flex option, Bell now is probably more of a matchup or bye-week fill-in candidate.
Even though today is Sunday, you can’t forget about the game that will happen on Monday night, especially if you are an Adrian Peterson owner or just recently added Brandon Jacobs. Here’s the latest information on their outlooks, along with some other key running backs entering Week 7 action.
DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar, RBs, Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
Murray (right) left last week’s win over Washington with a sprained left knee. He was considered a longshot to face Philadelphia, which is why his Doubtful designation should come as no surprise. Rookie Joseph Randle is expected to get his first career NFL start and is an intriguing fantasy option against the Eagles defense. One person Randle doesn’t have to worry about in terms of stealing touches is Lance Dunbar. Dunbar will miss his second straight game because of hamstring injury. That leaves Phillip Tanner as the only other running back on Dallas’ roster. There’s no question Randle is the Cowboy back you want to own/use this week.
Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets vs. New England Patriots
Powell left last week’s game against Pittsburgh with a shoulder injury, but insisted to reporters after the game that he was not hurt. Turns out he was telling the truth, sort of. Powell is listed on the injury report with a shoulder injury, but it must not be too serious as he is Probable to face New England. Powell hasn’t done a lot over his last three games, but he’s catching the Patriots at the best time possible. New England will be without four of its defensive starters (Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Aqib Talib and Tommy Kelly), so there’s a chance the Patriots’ run defense could be vulnerable. Powell also doesn’t have to worry about sharing touches with Mike Goodson, who tore his ACL last week and is done for the season. Powell busted out for 149 yards rushing in Week 3 against the Bills, so it’s possible he has another RB2/flex effort in him, especially against a depleted Patriots defense.
Steven Jackson and Jason Snelling, RBs, Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Apparently three games and the bye week were not enough time for Jackson’s hamstring to heal, as the veteran has already been ruled Out and will miss his fourth straight game. Snelling, who has been sharing the backfield duties with Jacquizz Rodgers since Jackson’s injury, sustained a concussion in the Falcons’ last game, a Week 5 home to loss to the Jets. But the bye came at just the right time for him, as he returned to practice this week and is Probable for today’s game. Rodgers is probably the better fantasy option, but Snelling is capable of doing things as both a rusher and receiver. The caveat for both Atlanta backs, however, is that the Bucs are 29th in fantasy points allowed to RBs this season. If you are going to fly with either Rodgers or Snelling, it probably should only be as a flex in deeper leagues.
Looking Ahead to Monday Night:
Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson didn’t practice on Friday because of tightness in his hamstring, but he was back at it on Saturday. Peterson is Probable for the Monday night matchup with the Giants and there’s no reason to not expect him to play. The Giants are 26th in the league in rushing defense, but it’s not like you are ever sitting Peterson in the first place.
Meanwhile, the Giants will be without David Wilson, who has already been ruled Out because of a neck injury. Brandon Jacobs, who gashed the Bears last week for 106 yards and two touchdowns, is officially listed as Questionable because of a hamstring injury. The Vikings have allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing running backs, but the Monday night time slot adds more risk when it comes to waiting on Jacobs. Unless something more definitive comes out before today’s 1 p.m. ET kickoffs, it may be best to avoid Jacobs altogether and put someone else in your lineup. After all, it’s not like you are going to wait on Jacobs and then turn to newest Giant Peyton Hillis instead, are you?
Calvin Johnson appears to be on the mend, while the Packers, Jaguars and Patriots are dealing with injuries among their wide receiving corps. Which targets can you count on in Week 7?
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Johnson played last week, sore knee and all, but he clearly wasn’t himself. He was targeted eight times, but caught just three for 25 yards against the Browns. Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden also should get some of the credit for Johnson’s slow day, as Matthew Stafford finished with four touchdown passes in the Lions’ win. But as far as Johnson goes, the best news for his owners is that he was able to practice in a limited capacity all week and is Probable for today’s game. Considering he was Questionable the past two weeks, this seems to indicate that he is making progress with his knee. The Bengals’ secondary is pretty banged up in its own right, so maybe this is just what Johnson needs to get rolling again. Besides, as long as he’s on the field, you’re playing Megatron, right?
Randall Cobb and James Jones, WRs, Green Bay Packers vs. Cleveland Browns
Last week’s win over Baltimore was a costly one for the Packers. Both Cobb and Jones (right) left the game early with injuries, and Cobb will be out for at least eight weeks after breaking his fibula. Jones sustained a less serious knee injury, but he did not practice all week and is listed as Questionable. Because he didn’t practice, it seems highly unlikely that Jones will play against the Browns. With a late afternoon (4:25 p.m. ET) start, it would be best to leave Jones on your bench and look elsewhere for help. Jordy Nelson will move into the No. 1 spot in Cobb and Jones’ absence, while Jarret Boykin is expected to start alongside Nelson and serve as the Packers’ No. 3 WR once Jones returns. Boykin is unproven, but Aaron Rodgers targeted him six times last week, so the opportunity and potential is there.
Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, WRs, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. San Diego Chargers
Few, if any, wide receivers have been hotter than Blackmon over the past two weeks. Since returning from his four-game suspension in Week 5, all Blackmon has done is post 19 catches for 326 yards and a touchdown – in two games. Last week, Blackmon hauled in 14 passes for 190 yards in the Jaguars’ loss in Denver. Blackmon injured his hamstring during the game, which kept him out of practice on Friday and is why he is listed as Questionable. However, head coach Gus Bradley said he fully expects Blackmon to play, which is all you need to know to put him in your lineup. The only thing keeping Blackmon from every-week WR1 status is the Jags’ quarterback play, and even that may not be an issue some weeks. Some of Blackmon’s heavy workload last week can be attributed to Shorts injuring his shoulder on the Jags’ first possession. The diagnosis is a sprained shoulder and it wasn’t serious enough to keep Shorts from practicing on a limited basis. Some reports have described it as a pain tolerance situation for Shorts, but the official Questionable designation should be enough to cast doubt on him being able to get on the field. As productive as Shorts has been, Blackmon’s emergence has cut into his value somewhat. Shorts is still a legitimate WR2/WR3, but there’s definitely a risk associated with starting him this week. This game kicks off at 1 p.m. ET so there should be plenty of time to make a final decision on Shorts before then. Just don’t short-change yourself on time or options should you decide to leave this Jaguar in his cage.
Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots at New York Jets
Amendola just can’t catch a break. After missing three games because of a groin injury, he finally returned in Week 5 against Cincinnati. Then last week against New Orleans, Amendola took a big hit, resulting in a concussion. Prior to the hit, he had caught two passes for one yard and got one carry for one yard, much to the chagrin of his owners. He didn’t practice all week and was ruled Out by the team on Friday. His frustrating season continues for him, not to mention those who have him on their roster. Edelman figures to be the primary beneficiary, as he was Tom Brady’s favorite target when Amendola was sidelined earlier, but he is dealing with his own thigh injury. Edelman is listed as Questionable, but there has been nothing to come out to suggest he’s in serious danger of missing today’s game against the Jets. You probably just want to make sure he’s in the Patriots’ lineup before the game kicks off at 1 p.m. ET, but otherwise I would use Edelman as you did earlier this season. Other than the thigh injury limiting him, something else that could impact Edelman’s usage this afternoon is the apparent return of tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Donnie Avery, WR, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Houston Texans
Avery’s shoulder isn’t back to 100 percent, as he is listed on the injury report, but he is considered Probable and should be out there against the Texans. The timing of this matchup isn’t ideal, however, as Avery caught just two passes for a paltry six yards last week and Houston’s defense has given up the fewest yards to opposing wide receivers. Alex Smith has shown a preference to throwing to Avery over Dwayne Bowe early on, but given Smith’s conservative decision-making in the pocket and the matchup with the Texans, both appear to be risky plays this week.
All of these wide receivers are dealing with some sort of injury according to the Week 7 official team reports. However, in some cases, their injury may not be the biggest obstacle they face this week. Here’s the latest on several wide receiver injury situations across the NFL.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs
Johnson practiced fully and is Probable for today’s game in Kansas City, so it appears his shin injury isn’t that big of a deal at this point. Unfortunately, Johnson can’t seem to catch a break, as he will have Case Keenum and not Matt Schaub as his quarterback. Keenum is making his first career NFL start, against the Chiefs, the top-scoring fantasy DST. Johnson is a bona fide WR1, even with Schaub’s struggles, but no one has any idea of what to expect with Keenum pulling the trigger. Brace yourselves Johnson owners; it could be a bumpy ride.
Julio Jones and Roddy White, WRs, Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jones’ (right) season is over after being placed on injured reserve during the Falcons’ bye week due to a foot injury he sustained in the Week 5 loss to the Jets. White, who has been basically invisible this season because of a high-ankle sprain, injured his hamstring in his last game. White has already been ruled Out this week, which will snap his streak of consecutive games played at 133. It also means that Matt Ryan will have as his starting wide receivers against the Bucs Harry Douglas and, most likely, Drew Davis. The Falcons signed free agent Brian Robiskie and added practice squad member Darius Johnson to the active roster this week to fill out its depth at the position. While it’s possible any one of these guys could burst on the scene and become an immediate, impact fantasy option, the guess here is that Douglas may become a legitimate WR2/WR3, as he and tight end Tony Gonzalez are clearly Ryan’s most established weapons. Unfortunately for Ryan owners, these two also may be his only weapons.
Stevie Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins
Johnson’s back injury prevented him from taking the field last week, but he is expected to return this week. His Probable designation on the injury report only reinforces this belief. Thad Lewis threw two touchdown passes in his Bills debut against Cincinnati, so perhaps Johnson can get some productive looks from his new quarterback against the Dolphins. That would be a welcome change, as Johnson has totaled three catches for 18 yards in his last two games. Hopefully you are not relying on Johnson as anything more than a WR3/flex.
Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
Williams is still dealing with a hamstring issue, but he was able to practice fully on Friday and is listed as Questionable. However, that’s the same designation he had before he was a late scratch last week against Philadelphia. At best, Williams is probably a WR3, so he’s probably not going to make or break your lineup. Still, rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has put up decent numbers in his first two starts and gets a Falcons defense that has struggled stopping the pass. It’s an early game, so you should have plenty of time before deciding to stick with Williams or not this week.
Miles Austin, WR, Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
Austin returned from a two-game absence last week and proceeded to catch nary a pass against Washington. Austin’s hamstring isn’t completely healed, as he missed practice on Friday, but he is Probable and is fully expected to suit up against the Eagles. While I would much rather have Terrance Williams than Austin at this point, this could be one of those weeks it doesn’t matter which Cowboy wide receiver you use. After all, the Eagles are allowing the most fantasy points to opposing wideouts, so there could be enough to go around for Dez Bryant, Austin and Williams to post fantasy-relevant numbers. This also is good news for Tony Romo owners obviously.
Eddie Royal, WR, San Diego Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars
Royal injured his toe this past Monday night against Indianapolis. He was spotted wearing a protective boot this week and didn’t practice at all. Even though he is listed as Questionable, he seems to be a longshot at best for this week. In fact, longshot may be the best word to describe his fantasy outlook as well. Rookie Keenan Allen has become the Chargers’ top wide receiver with Vincent Brown slotting in behind him. Royal got off to a ridiculous start, with 10 catches and five touchdowns in his first two games, but he’s had a total of eight receptions since then, including none against the Colts. I’m pretty sure Royal started on the waiver wire this season before catching fire. It’s probably time to return him there.
While Philadelphia and Houston are a few of the teams that won’t have their starting quarterback under center in Week 7, Tennessee could get theirs back sooner than expected. Here’s the latest on the QB injury front.
Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys
Vick is officially Questionable, but he has already come out and said he needs another week for his hamstring to fully heal. While the final decision rests with Chip Kelly and his staff, for all intents and purposes it looks like it is Nick Foles’ gig for a second straight week. He was among the top fantasy scorers at his position last week after totaling four touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush) against the Buccaneers, so I have no issue with throwing Foles out there against the Cowboys this week.
Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans vs. San Francisco 49ers
After injuring his hip in Week 4, Locker was expected to be out anywhere between four to six weeks. Well, apparently someone didn’t tell Locker this, as he returned to practice and although he is listed as Questionable, reports have come out indicating he will start this afternoon’s game. Some of Locker’s speedy recovery can be attributed to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s poor play. Fitzpatrick has accounted for two touchdowns and four interceptions in his two starts, both losses. Still, even if Locker does play, he probably will be a dreaded game-time decision for a 4:05 p.m. ET kickoff, and let’s not forget the Titans play the 49ers. San Francisco’s defense has been dominant over the past three games, taking its early-season frustrations out on Sam Bradford, Matt Schaub and Carson Palmer. If you are a Locker owner, you are no doubt very happy to hear that he’s coming back, but all you really want out of him in this game is to finish it healthy. Locker should be nowhere near your starting lineup this week.
Quarterbacks Already Ruled Out:
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars – Gabbert will miss his second straight game because of a hamstring injury. Chad Henne will get the start against the Chargers and could be an option for 2-QB leagues. He threw for 303 yards against Denver last week, but tossed two interceptions and no touchdowns. Still with, Justin Blackmon (Probable, hamstring) and Cecil Shorts (Questionable, shoulder) at his disposal, Henne’s capable of posting some decent numbers.
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills – The Bills’ first-round pick remains out with a LCL sprain in his knee. Thad Lewis (Probable, foot) is expected to start against Miami. Lewis wasn’t horrible (216-2-0, rushing TD) against the Bengals last week, but he’s probably still too risky and unproven to rely on in fantasy.
Matt Schaub, Houston Texans – Schaub won’t have to worry about being booed by the fans this week, as the Texans have ruled him out against Kansas City with an ankle injury. Case Keenum will make his first career NFL start on the road against the Chiefs, fantasy’s No. 1 DST. And that’s all you need to know about Keenum for this week.
Tom Brady may finally have his favorite tight end back on the field in Week 7. Here are some of the other key injury situations at the position.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots at New York Jets
Could it be? Is our national nightmare finally over? And no, I’m not talking about the federal government shutdown. Gronkowski has finally (and I emphasize FINALLY) been medically cleared to return to the field by his doctors. Gronk is listed as Questionable, but with Danny Amendola (concussion) already ruled out and Julian Edelman (thigh) officially Questionable, surely Tom Brady can convince his big target to be out there, right? With all of the media attention this soap opera has generated, I would be very surprised if No. 87 doesn’t make an appearance at MetLife Stadium this afternoon. If you have held on to Gronk for this long, you may as well start him and see what happens.
Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers at Tennessee Titans
Davis is still listed here for two reasons. One, it’s to report that his hamstring injury is pretty much a non-issue at this point, as he is Probable for this afternoon’s game against Tennessee. Second, it’s to acknowledge his performance over the past two games. He has 11 catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the past two weeks. In case you didn’t have a calculator handy, that’s 24.4 yards per reception. Davis has vaulted himself into the top five at his position, so just sit back and enjoy this ride as long as it lasts.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Chicago Bears at Washington Redskins
Bennett has been playing through a knee injury for a while, so I wouldn’t let his Questionable designation this week worry you too much. He’s been a top-10 fantasy TE for his new team and caught six passes for 68 yards last week against the Giants. If you have him, I see no reason why you shouldn’t start Bennett against the Redskins, who have allowed four TD catches to opposing TEs.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers vs. St. Louis Rams
Olsen’s foot injury didn’t keep him from playing last week, but it should be noted that he had his worst game of the season. Olsen caught just two passes for 19 yards against the Vikings in a game that Cam Newton tossed a season-best three touchdowns. Olsen practiced fully on Friday and is Probable, so it appears that his foot injury may just about be a thing in the past. Olsen still is a top-15 fantasy TE, so if you own him, you roll him out against the Rams and hope for better results this week.
Injuries took a toll on Maryland’s quarterbacks last year, with converted linebacker Shawn Petty finishing the season as the starting quarterback. The injury bug has continued into 2013 for the Terrapins, this time affecting the receiving corps.
In Saturday’s 34-10 loss to Wake Forest, receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long both suffered leg injuries and will miss the rest of the 2013 season.
Diggs and Long formed one of the top receiving duos in the nation, and their absence will be felt by Maryland’s offense.
With Diggs and Long sidelined, Levern Jacobs, Malcolm Culmer, Nigel King and Amba Etta-Two are the Terrapins’ top receiving options. Needless to say, none of those players are as established a receiving option as Diggs or Long.
Maryland still needs one more win to get bowl eligible, and there’s not a guaranteed victory on the schedule.
And without Diggs and Long, the Terrapins’ will have a tough time just getting to the six-win mark.
#Terps best receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long both lost for the season with leg fractures, will undergo surgery.— Jeff Barker (@sunjeffbarker) October 19, 2013
Stanford freshman receiver Kodi Whtifield might have made one of the top plays of the 2013 season with an unbelievable one-handed touchdown grab against UCLA.
It’s safe to say college football’s new targeting rules aren’t popular among fans, coaches and players. And after Week 8, there should be no doubters about how ridiculous the penalties actually are. There were a couple of questionable ejections, and the 15-yard penalty that still stands even if the ejection is overturned is ridiculous.
In perhaps the worst targeting call of 2013, Georgia defensive end Ray Drew was ejected for this hit on Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels.
Perhaps Drew’s hit was roughing the passer, but in no way should that be a targeting penalty. And the worst part of this play? It was upheld on replay.
We are all for player safety. But a little common sense is needed with this rule. Unfortunately, college football is stuck with this until the end of the season.
Tennessee scored a huge upset victory over South Carolina on Saturday, and freshman receiver Marquez North made a couple of crazy catches to help the offense keep the chains moving throughout the game.
North delivered with his most important catch of the day with just under three minutes remaining, as Tennessee needed to convert a third and 10 with the game on the line. Despite a heavy pass rush, quarterback Justin Worley tossed a perfect pass to North on the sideline, which the freshman reeled in with a nifty one-handed grab.
The ACC is home to college football’s premier matchup for Week 8, as Florida State travels to Clemson for a huge conference showdown with national title implications. With both teams ranked inside of the top five in the latest Associated Press poll, this matchup could be the biggest in the history of the ACC. Prior to Saturday’s game, only three times have two ACC teams met when they were ranked among the top five nationally in the Associated Press poll.
Last season’s meeting between these two schools decided the Atlantic Division champion, and the winner of this game should decide who represents the division in Charlotte this December. But the stakes on Saturday night aren’t limited to just team goals. Quarterbacks Tajh Boyd (Clemson) and Jameis Winston (Florida State) are squarely in the Heisman mix, and both players can inch closer to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel for the No. 1 spot in the early straw polls.
Most of the pregame hype will focus on this year’s matchup, but there’s an underlying theme of program trajectory at work. With a senior quarterback (Boyd), a receiver likely to leave for the NFL (Watkins), and an offensive coordinator (Chad Morris) expected to be in the mix for head coach jobs this offseason, this is Clemson’s best shot to play for the national title, at least for the next couple of seasons. For Florida State, one could argue the program is slightly ahead of schedule. The Seminoles had quite a bit of roster turnover in the offseason, so most expected 2013 would be a rebuilding year, with an eye on 2014. However, Florida State hasn’t suffered a setback this season and is clearly one of the top-10 teams in the nation.
This annual Atlantic Division matchup has blossomed into one of the ACC’s best rivalries. Florida State has won three out of the last five, but Clemson has claimed five in a row in Death Valley. The last time the Seminoles won at Clemson was 2001. Florida State won last year’s contest 49-37, but two out of the last three meetings in this series have been decided by five points or less.
Florida State at Clemson
Kickoff: 8 ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -3
Three Things to Watch
Florida State’s Offensive Line vs. Clemson’s Defensive Line
A classic battle in the trenches is shaping up on Saturday night. Florida State’s offensive line returned four starters this season and has allowed just nine sacks through six games. Clemson’s defensive front is aggressive, as evidenced by its 61 tackles for a loss, which ranks No. 1 nationally. The Tigers rank second nationally in sacks, recording 24 through six contests. End Vic Beasley is the headliner, recording 12 tackles for a loss and nine sacks, as well as a touchdown on a fumble recovery. But Clemson’s defensive line isn’t just limited to Beasley. Tackle Grady Jarrett is an underrated player, and there’s depth at end with junior Corey Crawford and freshman Shaq Lawson. There’s no easy way to slow down Florida State’s offense with Jameis Winston at the helm. However, getting pressure on Winston is crucial, as he is capable of scrambling and hitting big plays downfield when things break down in the pocket. If the Tigers don’t get to Winston, he will hit big plays in the passing game. Coordinator Brent Venables and coach Dabo Swinney have to be concerned about their secondary, especially after Garry Peters was ruled out for this week's game with a foot injury.
Clemson’s Other Playmakers
It’s no secret Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins is one of the best in the nation. But what about Clemson’s No. 2 and No. 3 options? Florida State’s pass defense has allowed only four passing plays of 30 yards or more, which is tied for third nationally. The Seminoles have allowed only six passing scores, and opposing quarterbacks are completing just 53.5 percent of their throws against this defense. Even with the departure of cornerback Xavier Rhodes to the NFL, this unit hasn’t missed a beat. Senior Lamarcus Joyner is the headliner, and freshman Jalen Ramsey is having a standout season, but sophomore P.J. Williams and senior safety Terrence Brooks also deserve plenty of credit for the performance of the secondary. Considering Florida State will devote some extra attention on Watkins, Clemson needs big performances from receivers Adam Humphries and Martavis Bryant. Humphries ranks second on the team in receptions (24), and while Bryant has been inconsistent at times, he’s a big play waiting to happen (18.6 ypc). Watkins will have his opportunities to make plays, but will Bryant and Humphries deliver?
The Quarterback Duel
It’s a little obvious, but we’d be remiss if we don’t highlight the duel between Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Florida State’s Jameis Winston. If you were to make a list of the top 10-20 players in the nation so far, both Boyd and Winston should be on it. Winston doesn’t have an All-American at receiver, but the freshman might have a deeper overall group than Boyd. Kenny Shaw, Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin are averaging at least 17 yards per catch, while tight end Nick O’Leary has five touchdown grabs. Boyd is completing 66.5 percent of his throws and has tossed only two picks in 185 attempts. The senior was sharp against Georgia, completing 18 of 30 passes for 270 yards and three scores. An underrated part of Boyd’s game is his mobility, especially in short-yardage situations. Through six games, Boyd has five touchdowns and 187 yards on 66 attempts. As with any big game, mistakes will be magnified. Which quarterback will blink? Or will both players play a mistake-free game? Either way, the stage is set for one of the best quarterback duels in college football for 2013.
Key Players: Roderick McDowell, RB, Clemson/Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
We usually focus on one player in this section, but this week, let’s highlight the running backs for both teams. Clemson’s Roderick McDowell has only one 100-yard effort (Georgia) but averages 4.9 yards per attempt. Freeman leads Florida State with 54 attempts and 385 yards, but Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. will contribute. Freeman is an underrated pass blocker, and Wilder Jr. should be ready for a bigger role after dealing with a shoulder injury earlier this year. Both teams have been susceptible to the run at times. Can McDowell or Freeman get on track on Saturday night? If they can, it could be the difference in the game.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: This game should live up to the hype. Clemson and Florida State are two of the nation’s top-10 teams, and there’s very little separation between these two programs right now. And despite the small gap between these two teams, the loser of this game is likely done in terms of national title aspirations.
Both offenses will have their share of highlights, with quarterbacks Tajh Boyd and Jameis Winston making a handful of huge plays. But which defense will make the play that turns the game? Clemson’s pass rush has been better, and the Tigers have forced more turnovers than Florida State (15 to 7).
On paper, Florida State is the better team. However, homefield advantage and the aggressive front four on defense is the difference for Clemson.
Prediction: Clemson 38, Florida State 34
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and USC Trojans renew their rivalry amidst disappointing seasons for both programs. Both teams are 4-2, yet expectations were bigger for two teams full of talented players. They will face off on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend on NBC.
The Trojans appeared rejuvenated last week under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, earning a 38-31 victory over Arizona. It's the 85th meeting in the series, with the Irish holding a 44-35-5 edge, including wins in two of the past three games. Last season, the Irish completed a perfect regular season with a 22-13 victory against the Matt Barkley-less Trojans in the Coliseum.
Three Things to Watch
Tre Madden & Company vs. McDaniel-Atkinson III
Both teams like to run the football and both do it well. The Trojans boast a four-headed monster of Madden, Justin Davis, Javorius Allen and Silas Redd. Madden leads the team with 611 yards, while Davis has six touchdowns and Allen averages 5.8 yards per carry. The four backs average a staggering 5.6 yards per carry. Notre Dame's running backs are no slouches either. Atkinson has been a home run threat for the Irish. He has a game-breaking 80-yard touchdown against Oklahoma, a game in which he rushed for 148 yards on 14 carries. Cam McDaniel is the Irish's tough, inside runner. He piled up 82 rushing yards against Arizona State, picking up key first downs all along the way. Whatever rushing attack can dictate tempo and keep pressure of their inconsistent quarterbacks will likely see their team come out victorious.
Health of Marqise Lee and Morgan Breslin
USC was without its best offensive and defensive player last week, as Lee missed due to a knee injury and Breslin sat out due to a hip problem. Both remain questionable for this week, but if they can play, it would be a huge boost for the Trojans. Lee will be able to give Cody Kessler an option opposite Nelson Agholor against a questionable Irish secondary. Breslin is the Trojans' best pass rusher and a key presence to get consistent pressure versus a tough Irish offensive line.
Kessler or Rees?
Both quarterbacks weren't the first option for these programs in the offseason; however, both have been forced into significant action this season. Kessler finally edged out Max Wittek a few weeks into the season, while Rees is playing because of the suspension of Everett Golson. Both quarterbacks have had their troubles with turnovers; however, each has played well at times. Kessler threw for a season-high 297 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. USC will try to lean on its strong running game, which averages five yards a rush, but could struggle against Notre Dame's stingy front seven. This is a major reason that opposing teams throw the ball 57 percent of plays against Notre Dame. If this is the case, Kessler could be asked to make more plays than usual. Rees has been the definition of inconsistent as he has three games with a combined six interceptions and three games without any. He must protect the ball for Notre Dame to stay in control of this game.
Key Players: TJ Jones and Davaris Daniels, WR, Notre Dame
With all the talk about USC's wide receivers, many forgot the talented corps that Notre Dame has. Jones has 33 catches for 481 yards and four touchdowns, while Daniels has 25 catches for 385 yards and four touchdowns. Both are big play threats as Jones averages 14.6 yards per catch and Daniels averages 15.4 yards per reception. Jones is coming off an eight-catch 135-yard game against Arizona State in which he caught an eight-yard touchdown.
Even though USC looked much more loose under Ed Orgeron, they aren't as complete a team as the fighting Irish. The Irish have all the skill players the Trojans do, but Notre Dame also has a talented front seven on defense led by Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix. I think Notre Dame stuffs the USC running game and forces Kessler to beat them, which is bad news for Trojans fans.
Prediction: Notre Dame 24, USC 17