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Which bowls should you tune into? Athlon ranks and previews all of the matchups from the must-see to the ones you can avoid. Although Alabama and Notre Dame is clearly the biggest bowl game, with 34 other contests, there are plenty of other quality pairings to watch this postseason.
Ranking the 35 Bowl Games: Must-Watch to Must-Miss
1. BCS National Title – Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0) – Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
With the history and tradition between Alabama and Notre Dame, this season's national title matchup is the most-anticipated championship game of the BCS era. With a Crimson Tide victory, the SEC will claim its seventh consecutive national championship, while Alabama is looking for its third BCS title in four seasons. This is the Fighting Irish’s first BCS bowl appearance under coach Brian Kelly and their first overall since 2007. Both teams rank among the best in defense, but the Crimson Tide have a slight edge on offense, largely due to the continued improvement of quarterback AJ McCarron. These two teams have met six times, with Notre Dame owning a 5-1 edge in the series. Interestingly enough, Alabama and the Fighting Irish are tied with eight Associated Press national titles apiece.
2. Fiesta Bowl – Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1) – Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
If you like offense, the Fiesta Bowl should be the game to watch. The Ducks rank second nationally in scoring offense with an average of 50.8 points per game, while Kansas State is 10th nationally at 40.7 points per game. Oregon is loaded with playmakers, starting with redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Kenjon Barner. Although Kansas State’s offense is averaging over 400 yards per game, its success is largely due to the play of one man — quarterback Collin Klein. The senior carried the offense with 3,380 total yards and 37 touchdowns. These two teams were scheduled to meet in the regular season, but the series was canceled in 2010. One key question surrounding this one: Will Chip Kelly still be Oregon’s coach when this game kicks off?
3. Chick-fil-A Bowl – LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2) – Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is usually one of the best matchups outside of the BCS and 2012 certainly lives up to that hype. LSU was one defensive stop against Alabama from playing for the SEC Championship and won at least 10 games for the sixth time in eight seasons. Clemson is 1-1 against SEC opponents this year, beating Auburn in the season opener and losing to South Carolina on Nov. 24. The Tigers own one of college football’s top offenses, averaging 42.3 points a game. The chess match between Clemson’s offense against LSU’s defense should be one of the top O's vs. X's battles this bowl season.
4. Rose Bowl – Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5) – Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
After watching Oregon and Wisconsin trade scores in last season’s Rose Bowl, points could be a premium in the 2013 edition. Stanford and Wisconsin will be a war in the trenches, as the Cardinal hope to hold the Badgers’ powerful rushing attack in check. Stanford’s offense improved in the second half of the season, largely due to the emergence of quarterback Kevin Hogan. Considering both teams are strong on defense and on the ground, a key play by Hogan or Wisconsin’s Curt Phillips could be just enough to win. The Badgers have lost back-to-back Rose Bowl games.
5. Cotton Bowl – Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2) – Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Even though the Cotton Bowl was pressured not to setup a Texas-Texas A&M matchup, it ended up with a solid game between two former Big 12 rivals. Oklahoma also just missed out on a BCS bowl, even though its only losses came against Kansas State (Fiesta Bowl) and Notre Dame (BCS title). The Sooners’ defense allowed at least 30 points in three out of their final four games, which has to be a concern against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman and ranks second nationally with 383.3 yards of total offense per game. Oklahoma has won eight out of the last nine matchups against Texas A&M, including a 41-25 game last season.
6. Capital One Bowl – Nebraska (10-3) vs. Georgia (11-2) – Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Considering how the conference championship games turned out for both teams, there certainly has to be a feeling of disappointment by having to play in Orlando. However, if Nebraska and Georgia are motivated, this should be one of the best bowl matchups outside of the BCS. After the Cornhuskers were shredded for 539 rushing yards against Wisconsin, the Bulldogs have to be licking their chops. Freshmen backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 1,983 yards and 24 touchdowns this year. This matchup also features an exciting quarterback duel between Georgia’s Aaron Murray (34 TDs) and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez (31 TDs).
7. Sugar Bowl – Louisville (10-2) vs. Florida (11-1) – Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Florida has one of the nation’s best resumes but also has some puzzling results, including close victories over Louisiana-Lafayette and Missouri. The Gators knocked off Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State, but a loss to Georgia prevented Will Muschamp’s team from having a chance to play for the national title. Louisville won the Big East title with a 20-17 win over Rutgers, which featured a gutsy performance from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, playing with a broken wrist and sprained ankle. With over a month to heal, Bridgewater should be close to 100 percent, which should give the Cardinals a chance to hang around in this matchup. There’s also an underlying coaching theme, as Louisville’s Charlie Strong worked at Florida from 2002-09.
8. Holiday Bowl – Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4) – Dec. 27 at 9:45 p.m. ET
The Holiday Bowl seems to bring out the best in offense, so expect plenty of fireworks when Baylor and UCLA meet on Dec. 27. The Bears were one of the hottest teams in the Big 12 to finish 2012, winning four out of their final five games, with the only loss coming to Oklahoma. Baylor leads the nation in total offense, while quarterback Nick Florence kept the passing attack going without Robert Griffin, throwing for 4,121 yards and 31 scores. UCLA won the Pac-12 South in coach Jim Mora’s first season and fell just short of a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Bruins have a dynamic offense and the combination of quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin should test a shaky Baylor defense.
9. Outback Bowl – South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4) – Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Even though both teams had its sights set on a bigger bowl game this year, the Outback Bowl should be another entertaining Big Ten-SEC matchup. The time off from the season finale is good news for both teams, as South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw missed the game against Clemson with a foot injury and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is also banged up. Michigan could use the month off to find a fix for its rushing attack, which sputtered when Fitzgerald Toussaint was lost for the year with a leg injury. Expect Florida native Denard Robinson to play a quarterback/running back hybrid role for Michigan in his final game in a Wolverine uniform.
10. Orange Bowl – Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1) – Jan. 1
For the first time in the BCS era, a MAC team will make an appearance in a BCS bowl. The Huskies aren’t the strongest non-BCS squad to play in a big-time bowl, as they lost to Iowa in Week 1 and scored a one-point victory over a 2-9 Army team in Week 3. Also, coach Dave Doeren left for NC State after the MAC Championship victory over Kent State. However, Northern Illinois features one of the nation’s most exciting players in quarterback Jordan Lynch and an offense that averages 40.8 points per game. The Huskies’ high-powered attack will be tested by a Florida State defense that ranks second nationally in yards allowed and is giving up just 15.1 points per game. The Seminoles will be without coordinator Mark Stoops in this game, who left to take the head coaching job at Kentucky. If Florida State is motivated, the Seminoles should overwhelm Northern Illinois with its speed and depth.
11. Alamo Bowl – Texas (8-4) vs. Oregon State (9-3) – Dec. 29 at 6:45 p.m. ET
Last season’s Alamo Bowl was the highest-scoring game in bowl history. Although Texas and Oregon State are each averaging over 30 points a game, it’s unlikely these two teams will match last year’s ridiculous totals set by Baylor and Washington. The Longhorns are dealing with more quarterback uncertainty, as David Ash was banged up in the loss to TCU and Case McCoy tossed two picks in a 42-24 defeat to Kansas State on Dec. 1. While the passing attack has been inconsistent, Texas has a talented trio of backs, which will test an Oregon State defense ranked 28th against the run. The Beavers have also dealt with some quarterback issues, but Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz have each had their moments. Both quarterbacks have plenty of targets to choose from, as Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks each topped 1,000 receiving yards. This is the first meeting between these two teams since 1987, with Texas owning a 2-0 edge in the series.
12. Gator Bowl – Northwestern (9-3) vs. Mississippi State (8-4) – Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
It may not mean much to the players, but this game is a crucial one in the ongoing Big Ten-SEC battle for bragging rights. And this matchup features teams headed in the opposite direction at the end of the year. Northwestern won three out of its final four games, while Mississippi State closed out 2012 by losing four out its last five contests. The Wildcats have not won a bowl game since 1949 but have lost two out of their last three postseason contests by seven points or less. Mississippi State’s defense struggled late in the year and drew a tough matchup against Northwestern, which features running back Venric Mark (109.2 ypg) and dynamic dual-threat quarterback Kain Colter.
13. Buffalo Wild Wings – TCU (7-5) vs. Michigan State (6-6) – Dec. 29 at 10:15 p.m. ET
With both teams returning a solid core of talent next season, this bowl could be a springboard to a big 2013. Despite losing quarterback Casey Pachall and moving to the Big 12, the Horned Frogs finished with a 7-5 record and are making their eighth consecutive bowl game. Michigan State was expected to be one of the frontrunners for the Big Ten title this year but needed a victory over Minnesota in the regular season finale just to get bowl eligible. This could be the final game for Spartans running back Le’Veon Bell, who could be entering the NFL Draft. Points could be at a premium with both teams ranked in the top 20 of total defense.
14. New Mexico Bowl – Nevada (7-5) vs. Arizona (7-5) – Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. ET
The 2012-13 bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque, N.M., featuring an exciting matchup between the Wolf Pack and Wildcats. There should be no shortage of points between these two teams, as both teams averaged over 500 yards a game during the regular season. Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey led the nation with an average of 146.4 yards per game, while Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson was second at 141.9 yards per contest. A matchup of 7-5 teams is usually a game to miss, but this one has all of the makings for an entertaining shootout.
15. Famous Idaho Potato – Utah State (10-2) vs. Toledo (9-3) – Dec. 15 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Utah State makes its second consecutive appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and it hopes for a different result after losing a heartbreaker to Ohio in 2011. The Aggies had a 6-0 record in conference games and lost by two points to Big Ten champion Wisconsin. Utah State’s offense is led by dynamic quarterback Chuckie Keeton, but the defense allowed just 15.4 points a game. All three of Toledo’s losses were by a touchdown or less and one of its nine victories came against Cincinnati. The Rockets allowed 464.1 yards per game but countered that with an offense that averaged 32.9 points a contest. Running back David Fluellen missed the season finale with a sprained ankle but should be close to 100 percent for the bowl.
16. Las Vegas Bowl – Boise State (10-2) vs. Washington (7-5) – Dec. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Boise State is making its third consecutive trip to the Las Vegas Bowl and interestingly enough, these two teams will meet in the season opener next year. Despite heavy personnel losses on both sides of the ball, the Broncos won 10 games for the seventh consecutive season and their two losses were by four points or less. Washington is making progress under coach Steve Sarkisian, winning four out of its final five games. The Huskies showed improvement on defense but took a step back on offense this year. A young offensive line is to blame for some of the offensive woes, but quarterback Keith Price also took a step back in performance.
17. Music City Bowl – Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. NC State (7-5) – Dec. 31 at 12 p.m. ET
After winning eight games for the first time since 1982, Vanderbilt probably deserves to be headed to a bigger bowl game. However, the Commodores will be making the short trip to LP Field with a chance to earn their first bowl victory under coach James Franklin. And Franklin has some history with NC State, as its athletic director (Debbie Yow) picked him to be the head-coach-in-waiting at Maryland. Motivation is a concern for the Wolfpack, especially after coach Tom O’Brien was released after the season finale against Boston College. Although new coach Dave Doeren won’t be on the sideline for this game, the NC State players want to make a good impression. Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon is one of the ACC’s top signal-callers and will test a Vanderbilt secondary that ranks 10th nationally against the pass.
18. GoDaddy.com Bowl – Arkansas State (9-3) vs. Kent State (11-2) – Jan. 6 at 9 p.m. ET
Arkansas State is making its second consecutive trip to Mobile, while Kent State is in a bowl game for the first time since 1972. The Red Wolves closed out the regular season by winning seven consecutive games and seemed to find their offensive rhythm late in the year under first-year coach Gus Malzahn. Kent State will counter Arkansas State’s offense with a defense that forced 38 turnovers and averaged 2.5 sacks per game. The Golden Flashes have struggled to establish a passing attack this year but are led on offense by a dangerous one-two punch at running back with Trayion Durham and Dri Archer.
19. Poinsettia Bowl – BYU (7-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3) – Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. ET
The first mid-week bowl game of the season is an intriguing battle between two former WAC and Mountain West rivals. Despite having to replace quarterback Ryan Lindley and running back Ronnie Hillman, the Aztecs topped last season’s victory total and enter the bowl game on a seven-game winning streak. BYU lost four of its five games by six points or less, but closed out the year by scoring 50 points in two out of its final three games. The Cougars have dominated San Diego State in the series history, owning a 27-7-1 record. The Aztecs last win against BYU occurred in 2005 and have lost nine out of the last 10 matchups in this series.
20. Pinstripe Bowl – West Virginia (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5) – Dec. 29 at 3:15 p.m. ET
Two old Big East rivals will meet in Yankee Stadium for what should be a high-scoring affair. The Mountaineers rank sixth nationally in passing offense, led by senior quarterback Geno Smith and two of the nation’s best receivers – Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. The Orange closed out the year on a high note, winning five out of their last six games, including a victory against eventual Big East champion Louisville. Quarterback Ryan Nassib ranked 13th nationally in total offense at 312.3 yards per game but an improved rushing attack was critical during the second half of the season. Syracuse leads the overall series 32-27 between these two teams and won the last two meetings as Big East conference foes.
21. Military Bowl – Bowling Green (8-4) vs. San Jose State (10-2) - Dec. 27 at 3 p.m. ET
This will be the first meeting between the Falcons and the Spartans, two teams separated by over 2,000 miles. Led by an offense averaging 35.3 points per game, San Jose State recorded its first season of double-digit wins since 1987. Coach Mike MacIntyre is also one of the rising stars in the non-BCS ranks, providing a quick turnaround for one of the nation’s worst teams just a few seasons ago. Bowling Green is making its first bowl appearance since 2009 and finished 2012 by winning seven out of its last eight games. San Jose State’s firepower on offense will be tested by a Falcons’ defense allowing just 15.8 points per game.
22. BBVA Compass Bowl – Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Ole Miss (6-6) – Jan. 5 at 1 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh will be making its third consecutive trip to Birmingham, while the Rebels return to the postseason after a two-year absence. New Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze engineered a quick turnaround, taking the Rebels from 2-10 last season to 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC. In Pittsburgh’s last two BBVA Compass Bowl appearances, it was forced to play with an interim coach. Don’t expect that to happen this time around, as Paul Chryst isn’t leaving the Steel City this year. This game features an intriguing quarterback matchup, as Pittsburgh’s Tino Sunseri had a much-improved season, while Bo Wallace threw for 2,843 yards in his first year at Ole Miss.
23. Liberty Bowl – Tulsa (10-3) vs. Iowa State (6-6) – Dec. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET
The only rematch from the regular season features Conference USA’s champ (Tulsa) and an Iowa State team that played much better than its 6-6 record indicates. The Cyclones won the first matchup 38-23, but the Golden Hurricane is a much-improved team since the season opener. Tulsa’s offense is led by three players with at least 700 rushing yards, while quarterback Cody Green has 2,499 passing yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Iowa State found a spark on offense late in the year, as quarterback Sam Richardson threw for seven touchdowns over the final two contests. This is the Cyclones’ first trip to the Liberty Bowl since 1972.
24. Russell Athletic Bowl – Rutgers (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6) – Dec. 28 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Two old Big East foes meet for the first time since 2003. The Scarlet Knights have not defeated Virginia Tech since 1992 and trail 11-3 in the overall series. The Hokies had high expectations in the preseason but slumped to a 6-6 record. Quarterback Logan Thomas did not take the next step in his development, but the offense also dealt with inconsistency on the offensive line and in the rushing attack. Rutgers was just a couple of plays away from a BCS bowl and its top-10 defense drew a favorable matchup against the Hokies.
25. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl – (Navy 8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5) – Dec. 29 at 4 p.m. ET
Navy is back in the postseason after a one-year absence and drew a tough matchup against Arizona State. The Sun Devils closed out the regular season with a key 41-34 win over rival Arizona, which gave it more than six victories for the first time since 2007. Arizona State’s offense is loaded with playmakers, and quarterback Taylor Kelly finished the season with 25 touchdown tosses to nine interceptions. The Midshipmen are always a difficult opponent due to their style of play and should have a homefield advantage in San Francisco. Navy’s last win over a Pac-12 team came in 2006 against Stanford.
26. Independence Bowl – Ohio (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Monroe (8-4) – Dec. 28 at 2 p.m. ET
With not enough ACC or SEC teams bowl eligible, the Independence Bowl landed an intriguing matchup between two non-BCS teams. Ohio started the year with a bang, winning on the road at Penn State and opened 7-0 before a loss to Miami (Ohio). The Bobcats suffered a handful of season-ending injuries, which played a key role in the team’s struggles in the second half of the year. Louisiana-Monroe is making its first bowl appearance in program history and it also started the year off with a huge upset, beating Arkansas 34-31 in Week 2. Warhawks’ quarterback Kolton Browning had an outstanding season, throwing for 2,830 yards and 27 touchdowns on 389 attempts. Both teams average over 30 points a game, so expect plenty of fireworks on Dec. 28 in Shreveport, La.
27. New Orleans – Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. East Carolina (8-4) – Dec. 22 at 12 p.m. ET
There should be no shortage of points when the Pirates and Ragin’ Cajuns meet in New Orleans on Dec. 22. Both teams are averaging over 30 points a game and each finished the year with a three-game winning streak. Louisiana-Lafayette won a 32-30 thriller over San Diego State in last season’s New Orleans Bowl and with its campus less than 200 miles away from the Superdome, should have a significant homefield advantage over East Carolina. Pirates quarterback Shane Carden finished the year by throwing nine touchdowns over his last three games and should be able to take advantage of a Ragin’ Cajuns’ secondary that ranked near the bottom of the Sun Belt.
28. Belk Bowl – Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6) – Dec. 27 at 6:30 p.m. ET
The last three matchups in the Belk Bowl have each been decided by seven points or less. And this season’s game should be just as competitive, especially after Cincinnati found its rhythm on offense with the switch to Brendon Kay at quarterback. Kay replaced Munchie Legaux as the team’s No. 1 passer and finished with six touchdowns over the final four games. The Bearcats allow 373.8 yards per game on defense but are holding opponents to 17.2 points a contest. Duke is making its first bowl appearance since 1994 but closed out the year by losing its final four games. The Blue Devils have made solid progress under coach David Cutcliffe and will test Cincinnati’s secondary with quarterback Sean Renfree and record-setting receiver Conner Vernon.
29. Sun Bowl – USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7) – Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. ET
From preseason No. 1 to the Sun Bowl. That’s the kind of year it has been for USC. The Trojans lost four out of their final five games to slip out of contention in the Pac-12 South, while quarterback Matt Barkley suffered a shoulder injury in the loss to UCLA. The good news for USC is Barkley is expected to play against Georgia Tech, who limps into the bowl season as the only team with a losing record. The Yellow Jackets lost in the Sun Bowl against Utah last season and will give the Trojans’ defense a challenge with its option attack. If Barkley and a deep USC receiving corps get on track early, it could be an uphill battle for Georgia Tech to keep this one close.
30. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl – UCF (9-4) vs. Ball State (9-3) - Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Looking for something to do on the Friday before Christmas? How about this MAC vs. C-USA matchup? These two teams have met three times, with Ball State owning a 2-1 edge. The Cardinals finished the regular season with six consecutive victories but head into the bowl game with some uncertainty surrounding their quarterback Keith Wenning, who suffered an Achilles injury against Ohio. UCF fell just short of a Conference USA title and three of its losses came by five points or less, with its only other loss coming to Ohio State in Week 2. Ball State’s rush defense has struggled this year, which is bad news against a UCF team with running backs Latavius Murray and Miami transfer Storm Johnson.
31. Heart of Dallas Bowl – Oklahoma State (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6) – Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
In a bit of a surprise, Oklahoma State ended up in the final allotted Big 12 bowl. The Cowboys were 7-5 but lost three games by a touchdown or less and were forced to start three quarterbacks due to injuries this year. Despite making back-to-back bowl games, Purdue fired coach Danny Hope after the season finale. The Boilermakers found a spark on offense from quarterback Robert Marve late in the year but will have a tough time keeping pace with the Cowboys on Jan. 1.
32. Meineke Car Care – Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5) – Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. ET
Considering Minnesota lost six out of its last eight games, this game has potential to be a blowout victory by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders didn’t exactly close out the year on a high note either, losing four out of their final five games. However, the Golden Gophers will need a huge effort on defense to stop Texas Tech’s passing attack (No. 2 nationally). Minnesota’s offense never managed more than 17 points in each of its final four contests, which won’t be good enough against the high-scoring Red Raider attack.
33. Hawaii Bowl – SMU (6-6) vs. Fresno State (9-3) – Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET
Former Hawaii coach June Jones makes his first appearance in Aloha Stadium since a 35-28 victory over Washington in Dec. 1, 2007. Despite leaving Hawaii after the 2007 season, Jones is still a popular figure and should help build the local interest in this game. SMU has made four consecutive bowl games but needed a victory over Tulsa in its final game just to get eligible this year. Former Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw for 2,720 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first season with the Mustangs. New coach Tim DeRuyter led the Bulldogs to a share of the Mountain West title in his first season and brings a high-powered offense to Hawaii. Quarterback Derek Carr threw for 3,742 yards and 36 touchdowns this year, while running back Robbie Rouse topped 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season. These two teams were once conference mates in the WAC, and Fresno State holds a 5-1 edge over SMU in the all-time series.
34. Little Caesars – W. Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6) - Dec. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
This matchup in Detroit might not be one of the most intriguing games, but there are some interesting aspects surrounding both teams. After getting passed in the bowl selection process last year, Western Kentucky is making its first trip to a postseason game. The Hilltoppers have one of the nation’s top up-and-coming coaches in Willie Taggart, along with running back Antonio Andrews, who leads the nation with 248.1 all-purpose yards per game. Central Michigan returns to the postseason after a two-year absence and had a road win over Iowa this year but failed to beat a team with a winning record.
35. Armed Forces Bowl – Air Force (6-6) vs. Rice (6-6) – Dec. 29 at 11:45 a.m. ET
The Armed Forces Bowl is just one of two of postseason games with both teams sporting a 6-6 record. Air Force is making its fifth consecutive bowl trip under coach Troy Calhoun and its third game in the Armed Force Bowl in the last five years. Rice was picked by most to finish near the bottom of Conference USA’s West Division but won its final four games to get bowl eligible. The Owls are playing in a postseason game for the first time since 2008 but will have their hands full trying to stop Air Force’s offense, which averages 328.8 rushing yards per game.
For another year, the Big East football season almost seemed to be a sidenote.
In 2011, charter football members Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia announced their departures as did never-was member TCU. In 2012, Louisville and Rutgers bolted.
To put it in further perspective: Three of the four teams that shared the Big East title in 2012 will be out of the league in two seasons.
The conference realignment soap opera masked an interesting season for the Big East, which went down to the final weekend of the season when Louisville defeated Rutgers 20-17 to seal a BCS bid and deny the Scarlet Knights their first outright championship.
The intrigue of the league is best reflected in the coach of the year rankings: Charlie Strong completed his rebuild of Louisville in his third year on the job, and it may not have been the best coaching job in the league this season.
First-year coach Kyle Flood, who was a backup option for the job when he was promoted, had Rutgers within a field goal of a conference title. Butch Jones exceeded expectations once again at Cincinnati. Doug Marrone led the best in-season turnaround. And though Temple failed to reach the postseason, Steve Addazio kept his team competitive for most of the year.
Here's a look back at the Big East in 2012.
Other season recaps and awards
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
Offensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville -- No team was more dependent on its quarterback than Louisville. Bridgewater (right) fought through injuries at the end of the season to deliver the Cardinals their first BCS appearance since 2006. The sophomore from Miami led the league in pass efficiency, completion percentage and touchdown passes. He also finished strong with 16 touchdown passes in the last six games.
2. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse -- Nassib led the Big East with 3,619 passing yards and was one of the focal points of the Orange’s 5-1 finish. He’ll leave school as Syracuse’s all-time passing leader and the fourth Big East quarterback with 9,000 career yards.
3. Alec Lemon, Temple -- While it’s tempting to pick Temple’s Montel Harris and his 351-yard effort, we’re sticking with Lemon. The senior was the Big East’s only 1,000-yard receiver in 2012, boosted by his performance in the final six games. Lemon caught 46 passes for 801 yards with seven touchdowns in the 5-1 stretch for Syracuse.
Defensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Sio Moore, Connecticut -- Where to start with the Huskies’ defense? Connecticut could claim a handful of slots on the All-Big East first team defense after finishing in the top 10 nationally in total defense and run defense. The veteran linebacker Moore was in the middle of these efforts, finishing second in the league in sacks and tackles for a loss.
2. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers -- The reigning Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year seems poised for another run at postseason honors, though it seems possible he could share the award again. Greene led the Big East in tackles (125) and forced fumbles (six) while adding two interceptions and 10.5 tackles for a loss.
3. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh -- The Panthers defensive tackle finished the season on a hot streak with 25 tackles and nine tackles for a loss in his final three games. Pitt’s breakout player finished sixth nationally in tackles for a loss with 18.5 and pestered quarterbacks all season.
Coach of the Year Standings
1. Butch Jones, Cincinnati -- We picked Cincinnati to finish fifth in the Big East, so it’s time to give due credit. Despite rebuilding the offense and losing his best player on defense midseason, the Bearcats earned a share of the Big East title. A win in the bowl game will clinch Cincinnati’s fifth 10-win season in the last six. Then again, the Bearcats would have clinched that mark in the regular season if not for a loss to Toledo.
2. Doug Marrone, Syracuse -- It would have been easy for Syracuse to call it a season by mid-October. At that point, the Orange had lost four games and the only wins were over Pittsburgh in a snoozer and Stony Brook. Marrone saved the season and possibly his job by putting the focus on a physical run game and his veteran quarterback. Syracuse finished 5-1 and earned a share of the Big East title.
3. Charlie Strong, Louisville -- Although the season finished with two losses in the final three games, Strong led the Cardinals to their best season (10-2) since the final year under Bobby Petrino. And with a young roster, Louisville is built to last into the ACC. Will Strong join the Cards in the new league?
10 Things We Learned from the Big East in 2012
1. Change is the new normal
By 2014, only one team from the 2003 lineup will be in the Big East, and that team (Temple) was kicked out of the league only to rejoin in 2012. By comparison, the ACC raid that claimed Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech seems tame. Since the start of 2011, six teams have left the Big East, including TCU, which never played a game as a league member. The trend may continue in the next round with Cincinnati and Connecticut ripe to be picked up in the next round. Even Boise State and San Diego State, on a Western island in the Big East, could draw the eye of another league. For 2013, however, the league has its alignment set. The new Western teams may be best equipped to compete right away -- particularly if looming NCAA sanctions render UCF ineligible -- but long road trips may take their toll.
Big East Realignment
Bold indicates teams joining the Big East. Italic indicates teams leaving.
|Cincinnati||Cincinnati||Boise State||Boise State||Boise State|
|Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||Houston||East Carolina||East Carolina|
|USF||Temple||San Diego State||San Diego State||Navy|
|West Virginia||USF||SMU||SMU||San Diego State|
2. Teddy Bridgewater is poised for a 2013 Heisman run
Bridgewater’s final game of 2012 will give him plenty of momentum for player of the year awards going into 2013. Despite a broken non-throwing wrist and injured ankle, Bridgewater battled through a 20-of-28 performance for 263 yards with two touchdowns to clinch Louisville’s BCS bid. Beyond guts, he showed accuracy, too. A perfectly threaded pass to Andrell Smith in the fourth quarter helped seal the game for Louisville. He’ll enter next season with as much preseason fanfare of any Cardinals quarterback since Brian Brohm.
3. Louisville is only getting started
With Bridgewater only a junior next season, the Cardinals will be the frontrunner in the Big East in 2013 and perhaps the ACC a year later. As Charlie Strong rebuilt the roster, Louisville has been one of the nation’s youngest teams for the last two years. That youth will all grow up at the same time next year. The Cardinals lose only a handful of seniors including center Mario Benavides, offensive tackle Alex Kupper and cornerback Adrian Bushell. A young Louisville team went 15-3 since Oct. 21, 2011. What’s in store for a veteran team over the next two seasons?
Week 14 recap: Alabama wins SEC classic, Bridgewater shines
4. Gary Nova will be under pressure in the bowl game and into 2013
Credit Kyle Flood for sticking to his plan to stay with one quarterback for an entire season. He had an experienced backup on hand (Chas Dodd), but he never wavered on Nova. That means pressure on the Rutgers quarterback into the bowl game and next season. Nova threw 13 interceptions in the final six games of the season, including six against Kent State and another pick on a ghastly miscommunication to seal the loss to Louisville. With Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins returning, Rutgers’ power run game will be the focus of the offense, but Nova must be more consistent if the Scarlet Knights are going to win a bowl game and contend in 2013.
5. USF is starting from scratch
The Bulls made the move formal Sunday afternoon by firing Skip Holtz after a dismal 3-9 season. Beyond changing the head coach, USF will have to start from scratch in a number of areas. The Bulls played the final three games without B.J. Daniels, an exercise that only proved the Bulls had no one ready to replace their senior quarterback. Beyond Daniels, the Bulls will lose senior lineman Mark Popek, cornerback Kayvon Webster and linebacker Sam Barrington, all of whom played critical roles the last three years. Beyond the obvious personnel issues, USF has a broke psyche to mend. The rash of fourth quarter losses from last season eventually turned into blowouts at the end of 2012. And the injury bug continued to play a major role for another season. This job is a sleeping giant of sorts -- a big public school sitting in a fertile talent base -- but whether it was Jim Leavitt or Holtz in charge, it has yet to break through.
6. Butch Jones enjoyed the best coaching job of his career
At Central Michigan, Jones inherited a program built up by Brian Kelly along with quarterback Dan LeFevour. At Cincinnati, Jones also stepped into Kelly’s shoes. The last two seasons, though, have proven that Jones is not in Kelly’s shadow. Jones started with a new starting quarterback and no clear replacement for Isaiah Pead. As the season went along, Jones made a quarterback switch and lost his best defensive player, Walter Stewart, to injury. The Bearcats still finished 9-3 and with a share of the Big East title. The loss to Toledo should sting, but Cincinnati’s only conference losses were by a combined 10 points to Louisville and Rutgers.
7. Doug Marrone worked magic in the second half
Syracuse played the toughest schedule in the Big East with non-conference games against Northwestern (9-3), USC (7-5), Minnesota (6-6) and Missouri (5-7). It’s a fair question to wonder where Syracuse may have finished if it played a more manageable non-conference slate. But perhaps the Orange needed a few lessons in winning and losing. The Northwestern game was lost on turnovers and poor defense, and the Minnesota game was lost on sloppy effort. Those problems rarely manifested themselves late in the season for Syracuse. The Orange averaged 216 rushing yards in the final six games and improved a turnover margin from minus-10 in the first half of the season to plus-nine in the second. Marrone deserve a fair amount of credit for turning a lost season into Syracuse’s second postseason trip in three years.
8. Pittsburgh got its man in Paul Chryst
Finally, the Panthers will reach a bowl game with a coach who doesn’t have the word “interim” in front of his title. The season was a wild one for Pitt, starting with a loss to Youngstown State, continue with a triple overtime loss to No. 1 Notre Dame and a win over Rutgers. It was a messy trip to 6-6, but coach Paul Chryst may have settled the scene in a tumultuous program. He inherited a fractured locker room that came together as the season went along. And, meanwhile, quarterback Tino Sunseri became one of the league's most improved players, running back Ray Graham regained his 2011 form, and the defense finished in the top three in the league. Next season will bring new challenges, including an ACC schedule and a new backfield of highly touted 2012 signees Rushel Shell and Chad Voytik. But the program his finally in steady hands.
9. Was this the last hurrah for defenses at Rutgers and Connecticut?
Rutgers and Connecticut finished the season with the top two defenses in the Big East, and both ranked in the top 10 nationally. For Rutgers, this group will have one more game after a standout two-year run. Linebackers Khaseem Greene, Steve Beauharnais and Ka’lial Glaud, defensive tackle Scott Vallone and safety Duron Harmon are all seniors, and cornerback Logan Ryan may be an NFL early entry candidate. Rutgers has had little trouble rebuilding its defense over the years, but that was with Greg Schiano at head coach. That will be a key storyline this spring. As for Connecticut, the Huskies’ defense was good enough they only needed the offense to be barely average to compete. This, however, did not always happen. In 2013, Connecticut will undergo its own changing of the guard with linebackers Sio Moore and Jory Johnson, cornerbacks Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz and defensive end Trevardo Williams gone.
10. Temple is going to be competitive
The Owls never topped their early season moment in the sun when they defeated USF and Connecticut in back-to-back weeks, but Temple still showed potential. Temple was competitive for the first half against Rutgers, Louisville and Syracuse -- a good sign for a rebuilding program that was in the MAC a year ago. Montel Harris will be gone, but Steve Addazio may have found his 2013 quarterback in Juice Granger.
|2||Notre Dame (10)||12-0||413||1|
The most drama in the BCS selection was settled by the most dramatic game of the season when Alabama defeated Georgia 32-28 in the SEC Championship Game.
While the Notre Dame-Alabama championship game was clear from the final seconds in Atlanta, the most unlikely BCS crasher wasn’t revealed until Sunday afternoon.
Northern Illinois became an automatic bid, giving the Huskies a series of firsts in MAC and BCS history: Northern Illinois is the first MAC team to play in the BCS and the first team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to reach the BCS despite a loss. NIU reached the Orange Bowl by a BCS rule triggering an automatic bid for a non-AQ conference to play in BCS game as long as it finished in the top 16 and finished ahead of a champion of an AQ conference.
By rule, Northern Illinois is an automatic bid to the BCS, but the snubs -- Oklahoma, Clemson and a slew of SEC teams -- have gripes for being left out of the five major bowl games. The bowls themselves, however, had little choice as the BCS rulebook won over the eye test.
Here are a few more observations from the final release of the BCS standings:
|Coaches' Poll||Harris Poll||Comp. Avg.||Last Wk.|
|1. Notre Dame||1||1||1||1|
|5. Kansas St.||6||6||T-4||6|
|9. Texas A&M||9||9||10||9|
|10. S. Carolina||10||10||9||10|
|12. Florida St.||12||12||16||13|
|13. Oregon St.||14||14||12||15|
|15. N. Illinois||16||16||19||21|
Northern Illinois. Clearly, the first MAC team in a BCS game is the big winner. But a series of events had to occur to put Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl as the Huskies weren’t one of the top two candidates for a BCS bid going into the final week of the season. Kent State and Boise State were considered more likely possibilities at the time. But Northern Illinois defeated Kent State 44-37 in overtime for the MAC, moving the Huskies from No. 21 to No. 15 in the BCS. Aiding NIU’s move was a rout by then-No. 12 Nebraska in the Big Ten title game and losses by Nos. 16-18 in the rankings in the final week of the season. With the Wisconsin win over the Cornhuskers, Northern Illinois ended up ranked ahead of two AQ conference champions.
Oklahoma and Georgia. Georgia lost the SEC title on the final play, and Oklahoma lost an outright Big 12 title with a loss on Sept. 22 to Kansas State. With all automatic bids exhausted, Oklahoma was left to the Cotton Bowl. Despite stumping by Alabama coach Nick Saban, Georgia had no place to go in the BCS. At No. 7, the Bulldogs were the highest ranked team to be left out in the BCS as No. 15 Northern Illinois, No. 21 Louisville and unranked Wisconsin will all play BCS games.
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME (JAN. 7): No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama. A ratings bonanza will pit the Alabama run game against Manti Te’o and the formidable Irish run defense.
ROSE BOWL (JAN. 1): No. 6 Stanford vs. Wisconsin. This is a rematch of the 2000 Rose Bowl, in which Wisconsin defeated an 8-3 Stanford team. This team, the Badgers are the team with the mediocre record at 8-5.
ORANGE BOWL (JAN. 1): No. 12 Florida State vs. No. 15 Northern Illinois. The MAC champs have every reason to have a chip on their shoulders after being derided as undeserving of their automatic bid. Florida State has ample talent, but after the Noles allowed NC State and Georgia Tech to hang around, does NIU have a shot?
SUGAR BOWL (JAN. 2): No. 3 Florida vs. No. 21 Louisville. Louisville coach Charlie Strong was the defensive coordinator for both of Florida’s titles under Urban Meyer. This is an intriguing matchup against another defensive stud in Will Muschamp.
FIESTA BOWL (JAN. 4): No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State. Whose tempo will win out? Chip Kelly wants to run as many plays as possible. Bill Snyder is methodical. An interesting chess match.
Disagreement among the human polls and computers pushed Northern Illinois into the BCS. How did NIU end up at No. 15 when none of the elements ranked the Huskies that high? Northern Illinois ranked 16h in the Harris and coaches’ polls and 19th in the computers, yet ranked 15th in the BCS. Meanwhile, the Harris and the coaches both ranked Boise State ahead of Northern Illinois. The answer is the havoc in the title games - Big Ten title game loser Nebraska ranked 13th in the computers, 21st in the coaches and 18th in the Harris; UCLA ranked 17th in the Harris and computers and 19th in the coaches. And even though the human voters favored Boise State, the computers hammered the Broncos with a No. 22 ranking. That mess allowed NIU to ascend to No. 15.
All 10 BCS slots went to automatic qualifiers. The six champions of Big Six leagues were automatic qualifiers, as was Notre Dame. Northern Illinois earned its bid by finishing better than 16th and ahead of the Big East and Big Ten champions. Florida and Oregon also earned automatic bids by BCS rules. The Gators earned an automatic bid by finishing third, and Oregon followed suite by finishing fourth. In terms of selection, the Sugar selected Florida, followed by Kansas State to the Fiesta, Louisville to the Sugar and Northern Illinois to the Orange.
Seven SEC teams in the top 10. A sign of SEC dominance or a sign that no other conference could supply top flight teams? The SEC had seven teams in the top 10 -- No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Florida, No. 7 Georgia, No. 8 LSU, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 10 South Carolina.
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 Big East’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, WAC 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 Fiesta Bowl, 4. The Sugar, 5. The Orange.
The SEC Championship matchup between Alabama and Georgia might have been the best played game in 2012. The Bulldogs had a chance to win late, but the Crimson Tide defense held on the final drive to clinch a spot in the national title.
And considering this game matched two of the best defenses in the nation, it was no surprise there were plenty of hard hits. At the end of the first half, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray tossed an interception and was leveled by Alabama defensive lineman Quinton Dial. Considering how important protecting the quarterback is, it's a surprise there wasn't a penalty called on Alabama.
Nebraska didn't have many highlights from Saturday night's loss to Wisconsin, but there were a few noteable plays for the Cornhuskers.
In addition to Taylor Martinez's ridiculous touchdown run, receiver Kenny Bell destroyed Wisconsin defensive back Devin Smith on a third-quarter pass, which was called back due to a penalty. However, the block on Smith might be one of the most vicious hits in college football this season.
Nebraska had a horrible showing in Saturday's Big Ten Championship, but quarterback Taylor Martinez had a ridiculous touchdown dash in the first half, which might be one of the best runs in recent memory.
Wisconsin was able to bring a rusher that was virtually untouched by Nebraska's offensive line, which forced Martinez to retreat back to the eight-yard line. From there, it was a series of moves and then nothing but pure speed to give Martinez the 76-yard touchdown run.
This is not a sentiment often noted with the BCS: Good thing the championship game is more than a month away.
Otherwise, good luck topping the game of the year in Atlanta. Every play and every decision was magnified in the SEC Championship Game. Every time a running back fought for an extra yard (and it happened a lot) a national championship seemed it was at stake.
The championship bout in Atlanta ended with Nick Saban relieved, it seemed, and Mark Richt frustrated.
The SEC title game wasn’t the only one with drama. Other than the Big Ten championship game, every conference title game was closely contested. Even non-title games with championship implications -- Louisville over Rutgers on Thursday, Oklahoma over TCU -- came down to the final minutes.
WEEK 14 RECAP: THREE AND OUT
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM ALABAMA 32, GEORGIA 28
A classic national championship game is in the making. Alabama’s Eddie Lacy (181 yards, two touchdowns) and T.J. Yeldon (153 yards, one touchdown) were interchangeable in their ability to slice through and punish the Georgia defense. Now, both will run into Notre Dame’s likely Heisman finalist Manti Te’o and the No. 5 rush defense. Beyond the backs vs. the linebacker, the battle will be just as fascinating in the trenches. The Alabama offensive line took control in the second half against Georgia. It will have to do the same against tackle Stephon Tuitt and the Irish front. And if Georgia proved anything, it’s that Alabama’s run defense may be vulnerable, too.
Amari Cooper may be the difference maker again on Jan. 7. It may be too much to call Alabama’s leading receiver a secret weapon, but he seemed to be that against Georgia. The first sign was a 44-yard grab on first down contested by Georgia’s star safety Bacarri Rambo in the first quarter. The second sign was the game-winning touchdown. After Alabama went almost exclusively to the run game, the Tide stunned Georgia’s defense with a play-action pass on first down for a 45-yarder to Yeldon for the game-winning touchdown. Other than Oklahoma, Miami and USC (minus Matt Barkley), Notre Dame hasn’t played many consistent passing threats.
Second guessing is easy. The most second-guessed decision in the SEC Championship Game will be Georgia’s decision to run a play from the Alabama 8-yard line in the final seconds rather than spiking the ball to stop the clock. The decision set off a series of unfortuntate events for Georgia: Alabama’s C.J. Mosley tipped Aaron Murray’s pass at the line, and a reserve receiver caught the pass in bounds as time expired. Georgia coaches will hear about that decision for years to come, but before that, Nick Saban was second-guessed, too. Alabama elected to go for a two-point conversion with 4:19 to go in the third quarter. The extra two points meant Georgia couldn’t settle for a field goal, setting in motion the costly blunder at the end of the game. Then again, the game may not have been as dramatic if not for Saban’s timeout blunder at the end of his first half, a mishap that resulted in a 22-yard field goal as time expired. The takeaway: The margin was razor-thin in Atlanta.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM STANFORD 27, UCLA 24
This is only the beginning for both teams. Stanford will head to the Rose Bowl after scoring 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter against UCLA, but both programs can expect to remain among the leaders of the Pac-12 for years to come. Both lose their star running backs -- Johnathan Franklin and Stepfan Taylor -- but reached the title game with redshirt freshman quarterbacks. Stanford’s mobile and composed Kevin Hogan defeated the Oregon schools and UCLA twice in his first four career starts, and he should be behind one of the Pac-12’s best offensive lines for years to come. Stanford’s major defensive losses are huge in linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas, but the Cardinal have most of the defense intact for 2013. UCLA is in good shape, too, with Hundley’s dynamic talent reversing field on the Bruins’ quarterback woes. The Bruins had a young offensive line this season and look to return linebackers Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt on defense. USC’s doing some soul-searching after a disappointing season, and the NFL may be able to lure Chip Kelly from Oregon. That leaves the door open for UCLA and Stanford to take over.
UCLA learned something from the first meeting. Whether or not UCLA put in full effort in last week’s meeting with Stanford, the Bruins adjusted to Stanford’s defense in the rematch. The Cardinal never allowed a team to rush for 200 yards in a game all season and held eight (including UCLA the first time around) to fewer than 100. But with the Rose Bowl on the line, UCLA rushed for 284 yards against Stanford. The Bruins ran away from the aggressive Stanford defense, enabling Johnathan Franklin to rush for 194 yards and two touchdowns (he ran for 65 a week earlier). Hundley had twice as many carries as he did in the first meeting, rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts.
Stanford is in rare company. Making three consecutive BCS games isn’t all that uncommon. Eight teams have done so, but it’s still jarring to list Stanford in a cast of college football powers that includes USC, Ohio State, Oregon, Oklahoma, Florida State, Miami and Wisconsin considering Stanford never went to the postseason from 2002-08. With Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw, however, Stanford is one of two to make its run despite a coaching change. Butch Davis and Larry Coker combined for four consecutive BCS bids at Miami.
MOVING THE CHAINS
Oklahoma in the clutch. No one can say the Sooners didn’t earn a share of the Big 12 title. The Sooners finished the season winning four consecutive one-score games, including the last three going down to the wire. Unlike the West Virginia and Oklahoma State games, though, the Sooners’ 24-17 win over TCU ended on a defensive stand. After Oklahoma missed field goal that knuckled wide left, TCU drove to the Oklahoma 12-yard line. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin had a touchdown run called back on a hold and then failed to convert on a pass into the end zone from the 15 to seal the Sooners’ win.
Wisconsin. At least if Wisconsin is going to be the first five-loss team to play in the Rose Bowl, the Badgers will take a 70-point effort to Pasadena. Montee Ball and freshman Melvin Gordon both topped 200 yards for Wisconsin’s 539 rushing yards in the 70-31 win over Nebraska. True, the Cornhuskers are one of only two teams with winning records Wisconsin defeated this season (Utah State was the other), but Wisconsin’s five losses came either by a field goal or in overtime or both. The Badgers bring an 8-5 record to the Rose Bowl, but also enough game film to concern Stanford.
Lache Seastrunk, Baylor. An Art Briles offense centered around a running back may be a strange sight, but the Baylor coach will have the personnel suited for it next season with quarterback Nick Florence gone. The Oregon transfer Seastrunk rushed for 178 yards in the 41-34 win over Oklahoma State, giving him 693 yards and five touchdowns in the final five games. The most remarkable feat, though, was his 76-yard touchdown run in which he pulled up with a quadricep injury -- more than 40 yards short of the goal line.
Nebraska’s defense. The Cornhuskers used to be renowned for their defense, right? Bo Pelini is a defensive-minded coach, right? Then explain what happened in Indianapolis. By the time Wisconsin asked running back James White to take a direct snap at the goal line, fake a run and throw to a wide open Sam Arneson in the end zone, the Badgers had no need to try to fool the hapless Nebraska defense. That Arneson touchdown catch made the score 42-10. At the end of the first half. Nebraska gave up more rushing yards (539) than any game in school history against Wisconsin. Thanks to a touchdown in the final minute, the 70-31 loss remained in a tie for third for the most lopsided championship game loss in FBS history.
Florida State’s complacency. The reason Florida State fell out of the BCS title race in early October was a loss to NC State when the Seminoles let the Wolfpack hang around to score the final 17 points The same nearly happened against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. Florida State jumped to a 21-3 lead in the second quarter but did little after that. The Seminoles needed a late interception to finally put Georgia Tech away in a 21-15 win.
Texas’ run game. The Longhorns faced the top two run defenses in the Big 12 in the final two weeks of the season, but the numbers are still are still tough to fathom. Texas rushed for 86 yards against TCU and then 99 yards against Kansas State -- both lower than the averages for the two defenses. With Malcolm Brown and stud freshman Johnathan Gray in the backfield, those totals may be tough for Texas to swallow.
Collin Klein, Kansas State. The only top Heisman contender playing this weekend, Klein kept pace. He got one cheap chance at a touchdown on a one-yard touchdown -- when defensive back Nigel Malone dropped the ball short of the goal line after an interception -- but didn’t need it to pad his stats by the end of the game. Klein didn’t have a career game, but he had his best game in the last three weeks. Klein was 8 of 14 for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception and rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns. A solid outing, but perhaps not enough to sway voters.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville. The Heisman field for 2012 is pretty much set, so Bridgewater’s moment does more to build his case into next season. The sophomore turned in one of the most gutty performances of the season as he went for 20 for 28 for 263 yards with two touchdowns an an interception in the 20-17 win over Rutgers to seal a BCS bid Thursday. A broken wrist on his non-throwing hand prevented him from taking snaps under center and an ankle injury from a week earlier hobbled him all game. Yet he turned in the play of the night with a perfectly threaded 30-yard throw to Andrell Smith to set up the game-winning field goal.
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. The first-year Huskies quarterback entered the season with no fanfare. That will change going into 2013. In the MAC Championship Game win over Kent State on Friday, Lynch passed for 200 yards and rushed for 100 for the eighth time this season.
BCS BIDS CLINCHED
• Stanford and Wisconsin (Rose)
• Kansas State (Fiesta)
• Florida State (Orange)
NERVOUSLY AWAITING BCS RANKINGS
• Boise State
• Northern Illinois
SWEATING A BOWL BID
• Bowling Green
• Central Michigan
• Western Kentucky
4. SEC championships for Nick Saban. Only five coaches have more SEC titles -- Bear Bryant, Johnny Vaught, Vince Dooley, Steve Spurrier and Gen. Robert Neyland -- than Saban. He’s going to have a hard time catching Bryant’s record of 14, but Saban is the first SEC coach to win multiple conference titles at two schools (LSU in 2001 and ’03, Alabama in 2009 and ’12).
23 of 24. Geno Smith’s season ended where it began -- with more touchdown passes than incomplete passes. The West Virginia quarterback completed 23 of 24 passes for 407 yards with three touchdowns in a 59-10 win over Kansas. His completion percentage (95.8) matched the single-game FBS mark. Tennessee’s Tee Martin also went 23 of 24 in a game against South Carolina in 1998.
1,771. Rushing yards by Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch this season. Lynch’s total broke the record for a quarterback set by Michigan’s Denard Robinson (1,702) in 2010.
BURIED ON THE DEPTH CHART
Arkansas State’s Sun Belt title. The Red Wolves won their second consecutive Sun Belt title under a first-year coach and made it look easy. The Red Wolves defeated Middle Tennessee 45-0 in a de facto Sun Belt title game. Whether he’s been playing for Hugh Freeze or Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin continued to flourish. He completed 19 of 21 passes for 238 yards with two touchdowns against the Blue Raiders.
Oregon State’s rout. They don’t call them guarantee games for nothing. Making up for an opener (and paycheck) scheduled with Nicholls State, Oregon State defeated the 1-10 Southland team 77-3. The original kickoff was set for the first week of the season but was rescheduled due to Hurricane Isaac. The game continued, allowing Oregon State to break its record of 76 points scored against Williamette in 1931.
Close the door on the WAC. The final WAC football game went out with a whimper as Texas State defeated New Mexico State 66-28. Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and Utah State were among the success stories in the final year of football in the WAC, which was established in 1962. But the final game featured a team in its first year in the FBS (Texas State) defeating on one of the least successful teams (New Mexico State) in conference history.
THREE UNPREDICTABLE QUARTERBACKS
Landry Jones, Oklahoma. As has been a trademark for most of his career, Jones balanced a costly bad play with a few standout ones. Jones gave TCU one of its few early scoring opportunities with a poor decision throwing into coverage for an interception to set up a short touchdown in the second quarter. Jones immediately made up for it on the ensuing drive, going 6 of 7 with a 24-yard touchdown pass.
Anyone lining up for Texas. The Longhorns’ quarterback roller coaster continues. Case McCoy started against Kansas State in place of David Ash and handled himself well, completing 26 of 34 passes for 314 yards with two touchdowns. But he also threw two interceptions in the loss. For the second consecutive season, the Longhorns’ bowl game may be a game for a Texas quarterback to either win or lose the job.
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska. Before the Big Ten Championship Game got out of hand in the second quarter, Martinez showed the best and worst of what he has to offer. First came an interception returned 29 yards for a touchdown and then the top offensive play of the game -- yes, including Wisconsin. Martinez scrambled 90-something yards for a 76-yard touchdown on a run reminiscent of Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick or Iowa State’s Seneca Wallace.
THREE PEOPLE NOT GETTING THEIR DUE
Butch Jones, Cincinnati. The Bearcats coach may get his due in the coaching carousel soon enough, but he led Cincinnati to a share of the Big East title with a 34-17 win over Connecticut. In the last five seasons, the Bearcats have won two outright Big East titles (2008-09 under Brian Kelly) and two shared titles (2011-12 under Jones). With a rebuilding effort on offense, not much was expected of Cincinnati this season, but it may have been one of the better coaching jobs in the country.
Bill Blankenship, Tulsa. Perhaps his ascendency from a longtime high school coach in Tulsa to the Golden Hurricane’s head coach cuts into his notoriety. In any event, Blankenship deserves his due for leading Tulsa to its first Conference USA title since 2005 and a 14-2 record in the league in two seasons. A heads-up play by Tulsa’s Trey Watts, son of former Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts, sent the game to overtime when Watts picked up a rolling ball after a punt to return it 54 yards for a touchdown.
Trevone Boykin, TCU. The Horned Frogs freshman only went 3-5 as a starter, but the position is in good hands. Considering Boykin became a surprise starter only when Casey Pachall left the team after the first month of the season, that’s high praise. Boykin came within a holding penalty of sending Saturday’s game with Oklahoma to overtime, only a week after a win over Texas. Next season, Boykin will have a full season to prepare as the primary quarterback, and he’ll suddenly be one of the only returning starters in the Big 12.
Depending upon your fantasy league setup, this is likely the last week of the regular season for you. If not, then you have a two-week push left to get into the postseason. Here are some updates on injured players, their status for the Week 13 games or the outlook for their replacements.
Brandon Weeden, QB, Cleveland Browns vs. Oakland Raiders
The concussion Brandon Weeden suffered in Week 12 will not keep him out of the Browns' game in Oakland today. He was cleared to practice from the beginning of the week and took all the first-team snaps this week. Weeden draws an Oakland team that is ranked 28th against fantasy QBs. The Raiders have given up three touchdowns to quarterbacks each of the last three games (Andy Dalton, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco). Josh Freeman had two in Week 9. That's 11 TDs to QBs in four weeks. Overall, the Raiders have allowed mutli-TD games to quarterbacks on six of 11 games. Weeden is certainly a starter in two-QB leagues and keep in mind he has had eight double-digit games, including six of 16 points or greater, as a rookie this season.
Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, WRs, Detroit Lions vs. Indianapolis Colts
Sent home from the team facility in preparation for the Week 12 game, Titus Young did not play in the Thanksgiving game against visiting Houston. A week earlier against Green Bay, he had one catch for 24 yards on six targets and was benched late in the game. Young, who was sent home from the facility once before this year, was back at practice this week to get ready for the Colts, but how much can you trust a guy deactivated for a game just a week earlier? Ryan Broyles stepped in to grab six balls for 126 yards on 12 targets. That is just the second time a receiver not named Calvin Johnson has garnered double-digit targets this season. Unless Young has a dramatic and unlikely turnaround, Broyles is here to stay. If you have not already, you probably should snag Broyles for the fantasy playoff run.
Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon, WRs, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Buffalo Bills
Chad Henne has come in and breathed life into the Jaguars offense from his QB position. Rookie Justin Blackmon and second-year man Cecil Shorts have been both the reason and the benefactors of the improved play. Both receivers are listed as probable today — Blackmon with a groin and Shorts with a hamstring. They saw limited practice on Friday but should be good to go against a Bills defense that is ranked 23rd against fantasy receivers in PPR scoring. It is disconcerting to see two receivers on the rise, playing against a fantasy defense on the decline, and both have injury issues. I would not play either as WR2s but would consider them as flex plays.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Depending upon your fantasy league setup, this is likely the last week of the regular season for you. If not, then you have a two-week push left to get into the postseason. Here are some updates on injured players, their status for the Week 13 games or the outlook for their replacements.
LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, RBs, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday night)
That's how you step into a key fantasy position as a rookie, Nick Foles. Bryce Brown did not disappoint in the least as he replaced LeSean McCoy (concussion) in the lineup and ripped of 178 yards and two scores on 19 carries. He added four catches for 11 yards. Brown will get another crack at it this week when as McCoy is still out with his concussion. Brown draws a Cowboys defense that is ranked eighth against RBs in PPR scoring. However, rookie Alfred Morris just went for 113 and a score on 24 carries against Dallas last week. It is the seventh time a back has scored double digits against the Cowboys this season and the fourth straight game it has happened. Brown is a high RB2 this week.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday night)
Is the tease over? Remember two weeks ago when DeMarco Murray was so close to returning and the next week? Here we are in Week 13 and it looks like we will finally see Murray for the first time since the foot injury he suffered in Week 6. Felix Jones did an admirable job in Murray's sted, scoring in double digits in PPR in five of the six games Murray has missed. Jones has done it with catches and four scores but little yardage. There might be some fear in a time share, but Jones is questionable himself with his sore knees. Beware, however, as the Eagles are 11th against fantasy RBs in PPR and only Alfred Morris (18.3) has scored over 13 points against them since Week 5.
UPDATE: ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sunday morning Murray could be relegated to a limite role upon his return.
FANTASY UPDATE: You'd be hard pressed to use a guy coming off such a long lay off and said to be in a limited role when he does return. If you have been playing Felix Jones as a flex, keep it that way and don't expect much more than flex points from either back.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
Ben Roethlisberger was ruled out of today's game against Baltimore on Friday due to rib and shoulder injuries. This will be the third straight game he will miss, but all signs point to Big Ben making his return in Week 14 against San Diego. As fantasy players depending upon Roethlisberger to help lead us to a title, him missing Week 13 is good news so he hopefully does not miss Weeks 14-16. Roethlisberger has scored no less than 16 points in any game (outside of Week 10 Kansas City game he was injured in) and has scored 20 or more in five of eight full games.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Depending upon your fantasy league setup, this is likely the last week of the regular season for you. If not, then you have a two-week push left to get into the postseason. Here are some updates on injured players, their status for the Week 13 games or the outlook for their replacements.
Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings
Greg Jennings (sports hernia) has been practicing this week and is expected to play for the first time since Week 4. Whether he will start or not then becomes the question. And that worries a fantasy owner that he can be counted on for four quarters. As we found out last week, Jordy Nelson made his bones in just one play (a 61-yard TD on one of two catches). Coach Mike McCarthy said Jennings will be used as dictated by "flow of the game." Last we heard that from a stud fantasy receiver's coach was last week when Mike Smith said it about Julio Jones on his bum ankle. Jones's flow was a 6-for-145 with one-TD day. Play Jennings with caution but a stud is a stud, and much needed in a NFC North where the top three teams are separated by two games.
Michael Vick, Nick Foles, QBs, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday night)
Michael Vick will miss his second full game after he failed to pass concussion tests this week. Rookie Nick Foles will step under center again and try to generate an offense once again without LeSean McCoy (concussion) and now without DeSean Jackson (broken ribs, now on IR). Jason Avant, Jackson's replacement, is probable with a hamstring injury. The Cowboys are ranked ninth against fantasy QBs despite allowing six TDs to one interception and 521 yards from the position the last two weeks against rookies. Foles stepped in against Dallas in Week 10 and threw for 219 yards with a score and two turnovers. It's hard to trust Foles when he's thrown for 204 and 119 with no TDs and two interceptions in his last two starts (Carolina and Washington).
Andre Brown, David Wilson, RBs, New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins (Monday night)
Andre Brown's fantasy usage is over as he was placed on IR (designated for return) after suffering a broken fibula last week. In steps David Wilson to see if he can revitalize what has been a disappointing rookie season to this point. It began with a fumble on his second carry in Week 1 and as Week 13 arrives, Wilson has 24 carries for 102 yards with one score and two catches for eight yards. So Wilson's role will increase by attrition with Brown out and Ahmad Bradshaw seemingly always iffy. The Redskins are ranked 12th against fantasy RBs in PPR scoring only because they are ranked 31st against receivers and quarterbacks. Wilson will likely have some success, but that's a big risk to take on a bench player on the final game of Week 13.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Rashad Jennings, Maurice Jones-Drew, Jalen Parmele, RBs, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Buffalo Bills
Jalen Parmele's one week of mediocre fantasy relevance lasted just that long as the Jaguars' third-string running back suffered a groin injury last week. The injury, the fourth to a Jacksonville starting running back this season, landed Parmele on injured reserve. There is still no sign of Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) returning. Fullback Greg Jones has missed the last four games (hip). So Rashad Jennings gets another crack at this starting running back thing. Jennings, who dealt with a knee injury himself this year, has only reached double digits three times this season. He is only considered flex worthy this week because Chad Henne has sparked the offense stepping in at quarterback for Blaine Gabbert. The Jags draw a Bills team that is 31st against fantasy RBs, so Jennings is worth a shot, but the expectations just cannot be that high.
DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, WRs, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday night)
With DeSean Jackson now on injured reserve with broken ribs, is there anyone in the Eagles' receiving corps that is worth replacing him with in your fantasy lineup? In a word, no. Jason Avant is listed as his back up on the depth chart and now slides to the top of the receiving corps with Jeremy Maclin on the other side. Jackson had 45 catches for 700 yards and two scores this season; Avant has 27 catches for 283 yards and no scores on 38 targets. However, he has not played since a Week 11 loss to Dallas due to a hamstring injury. Avant is expected back this week, but you would have to be pretty desperate to insert him into your lineup for a Sunday night game. Nick Foles has been unimpressive in stepping in for an injured Michael Vick. Outside of Bryce Brown and when LeSean McCoy returns, there are really no other viable Eagle options for the remainder of the fantasy season.
Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman, RBs, Denver Broncos vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is exactly how we thought the Broncos would replace Willis McGahee, right? Knowshon Moreno goes from inactive for eight games to starting running back in a week, while third-round draft pick Ronnie Hillman goes from 14 touches in the game McGahee goes down to three touches and seven snaps the next week against the Chiefs and their bottom-10 fantasy defense against RBs. Moreno will remain the team's starter "right now," coach John Fox said this week. So consider Hillman irrelevant. But can we trust that Moreno will get the bulk of the snaps against Tampa Bay today? The Buccaneers are 18th against fantasy RBs in PPR scoring and have surrendered double-digit days to the position in nine games. Moreno has the potential to be an RB1 with what the Bucs are allowing, but is at least an RB2 as long as the Broncos continue to relegate Hillman to being just a situational player.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Percy Harvin, Jarius Wright, WRs, Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
No Percy Harvin again as he will miss his third straight game with an ankle injury. Rookie Jarius Wright will get the start. He has led the Vikings' receivers in targets each of the last two weeks, including a season-high 10 in last week's 28-10 loss at Chicago. Wright caught seven of them for 49 yards. A week earlier, he caught three of five targets for 65 yards, including a 54-yard catch on the team's fifth play to set up his 3-yard TD. The Packers are allowing the seventh-most points to fantasy receivers in PPR scoring this season and are banged up all across the defense. Adrian Peterson should be able to have a solid day and open up opportunities for Wright. He might not be as much of a desperation start as you think. I would play him as a WR3.
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit Lions vs. Indianapolis Colts
An ankle injury kept Mikel Leshoure out of practice on Wednesday and limited him on Thursday and Friday. He is listed as probable and the Lions have been idle since Thanksgiving. If he's active, he's in your lineup. The Colts are ranked 17th against fantasy RBs in PPR scoring but are tied for third in most TDs allowed (11) to the position. The Lions are ranked ninth in points scored from the RB position thanks in part to six TDs from Leshoure and seven double-digit fantasy days. He's a high-end RB2 if he's playing in their early-game matchup against visiting Indianapolis.
Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers
Danny Amendola exited the Week 12 game early with a foot/heel injury after catching his only target for 38 yards in 12 snaps played. He missed three days of practice this week and is doubtful for today's game against the 49ers. A clavicle injury, followed by an ankle injury and now the foot/heel injury has hindered a receiver already coming back from a missed 2011 with an elbow injury. The last time he faced San Francisco was upon his return from the clavicle injury in Week 10, and he finished with 11 catches for 102 yards on 12 targets. But two more injuries have occurred since, he only made it 12 snaps last week and did not practice this week. The guy that seemingly gets it done with the deck stacked against him might see that stack a little too high this week.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears vs. Seattle Seahawks
The ankle injury that knocked Matt Forte out of last week's game in the third quarter has limited the Bears' running back this week in practice. He is listed as questionable and has practiced on a limited basis this week. He practiced on Friday, which is a good sign, and he told reporters on Thursday, "I'm feeling pretty good." The Seahawks allowed three Miami backs to have double-digit days last week; Adrian Peterson was 17-for-182 with two scores and three catches in Week 9 and Frank Gore was 16-for-131 with five catches for 51 yards against Seattle in Week 7. Today's game is in Chicago and it's an early start so you should have ample time to make your decision. If Forte is active, you play him.
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
Antonio Brown, listed as probable with his high ankle sprain, appears ready to return to action for the first time since Week 9. However, the Steelers are still without Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback as they will roll out third stringer Charlie Batch for the second straight week. Batch threw for 199 yards on 34 attempts last week with three interceptions against Cleveland. The Steelers, sans Roethlisberger in Week 11 with Byron Leftwich at QB, lost 13-10 to the Ravens. It is hard to start any Steeler until Roethlisberger returns. Emmanuel Sanders' 12.5 and Chris Rainey's 13.2 points are the most any Pittsburgh non-QB skill player has had since Big Ben's injury.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams
A Brandon Jacobs mention only occurs because the same game that sent Kendall Hunter to injured reserve with an ankle injury is the same game Jacobs finally made his 49er debut. Jacobs finished with one carries for one yard. Outside of Hunter's 11.6- and 10-point days in Weeks 4 and 11, only Frank Gore has had double-digit days in the 49ers' backfield. Jacobs has the potential to be a goal line vulture, but could also share carries with LaMichael James, who is set to make his NFL debut this week. If they are not named Gore, it is way too risky to insert another San Francisco RB into your lineup.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
The Philadelphia Eagles will try to get their first win since late September when they square off against the Dallas Cowboys tonight at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC. The Eagles (3-8) have lost seven games in a row, including a 38-23 loss to the Cowboys on Nov. 11. Meanwhile the Cowboys (5-6) would like nothing more than to get back to .500 by handing their NFC East rivals a second defeat in less than a month. As bad as things have been going for the Eagles this season, they have won the past two meetings played on the Cowboys’ home turf, including last season’s 20-7 victory in Week 16.
When the Philadelphia Eagles have the ball:
Philadelphia’s offense will be without three key playmakers tonight, as Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy (concussions) are both inactive and DeSean Jackson landed on injured reserve after suffering fractured ribs in last week’s loss to Carolina. The Eagles have been respectable on offense, averaging 357.1 yards per game (14th in the NFL), but have struggled to put points on the board. They are averaging less than 17 per contest, which ranks them two from the bottom (30th) of the league in that category. Without their leading passer, running back and wide receiver, yards and points both could be hard to come by against Dallas’ eighth-ranked defense. Rookie quarterback Nick Foles has struggled in his first two career starts under center, while fellow first-year pro Bryce Brown made a lasting initial impression this past Monday. In his first career start, Brown rushed for an Eagles’ rookie record 178 yards and two touchdowns in the 30-22 loss to the Panthers on “Monday Night Football.” Brown also fumbled twice, which somewhat sums up how the Eagles’ season has gone. Philadelphia has turned the ball over 27 times, the second-highest total in the NFL, and also has allowed 34 sacks. These mistakes combined with the injuries are big reasons why the Eagles have lost seven in a row, and have been out-scored 199-118 in the process.
For the most part, the Dallas defense has done its job all season. The Cowboys are eighth in the league in total defense (328.8 ypg), eighth in pass defense (218.4 ypg) and 13th against the run (110.5 ypg). They have allowed 23.8 points per game, but are coming off of last week’s Thanksgiving Day performance in which they gave up 38 points to Robert Griffin III and the Redskins. An inconsistent pass rush (23 sacks, tied for 20th) and inability to generate many turnovers (12 total, only five INTs), have not helped, especially considering the offense’s problems holding onto the ball (23 turnovers, second only to Eagles in NFC).
When the Dallas Cowboys have the ball:
On offense, Dallas’ problem hasn’t been gaining yards, it’s been finishing drives with points. The Cowboys are ninth in the league in total offense, generating 376 yards per game, but only 18th in scoring at 18 points per game. The last four games they have lost have been by seven points or fewer. Quarterback Tony Romo is third in the league in passing yards (3,357), but is 18th in passer rating because of his league-leading 15 interceptions. Romo has attempted the second-most passes in the NFL due to the Cowboys’ inability to run the ball. They rank last in the league in rushing offense at 78.7 yards per game, but that could change once DeMarco Murray returns from his foot injury. Murray has missed the last six games with the ailment, but there’s a decent chance he may be back on the field tonight against the Eagles. If not, the offensive burden will fall yet again to Romo and wide receivers Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. In particular Bryant has been on a roll of late, with 23 catches, 377 yards and four touchdowns in his last three games combined. Regardless of who is making plays on offense for the Cowboys, one thing is clear — they must do a better job of protecting the football. In addition to Romo’s 15 picks, the Cowboys have fumbled it away eight times, mistakes which have short-circuited many a drive for a team that is a game below .500.
Similar to Dallas, Philadelphia’s defense hasn’t gotten a lot of help from its turnover-prone offense. The Eagles are 15th in yards allowed (345.5 ypg), but only 24th in points allowed (25.6 ppg). They also rank in the middle of the pack when it comes to passing (228.1 ypg, 15th) and rushing (117.5 ypg) defense. Unlike last season, the Eagles have not been able to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. The team’s 18 sacks (28th in NFL) this season are the same number that Jason Babin, who was released by the team earlier this week, alone had in 2011. The Eagles also have just 10 takeaways so far, the fewest in the NFL.
The Eagles won't have Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy tonight against the Cowboys and DeSean Jackson won't see the field again this season. The coaching staff has turned the offense over to rookies Nick Foles at quarterback and Bryce Brown at running back. Foles has yet to look real comfortable in the pocket and that’s likely not to change against Dallas’ defense. And even though Brown gashed Carolina for 178 yards rushing in his NFL debut, the Cowboys figure to be a tougher test. Both teams are under .500 and have had their share of issues, especially when it comes to turnovers. But this is an Eagles team that has lost seven in a row and, for all intents and purposes, has basically packed it in. After all, they have given up an average of 31.4 points per game over their last five defeats. Just two games behind the Giants, the Cowboys are still alive in the NFC East hunt, while all the Eagles’ fans have left to look forward to is what additional personnel changes will take place in the offseason (if not sooner) and how high will they be picking in the first round of next year’s draft.
Cowboys 34, Eagles 17
Kansas City, MO (Sports Network) - Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed himself Saturday morning at the team's facility, moments after allegedly killing his girlfriend.
Belcher was 25 years old.
According to Kansas City police, Belcher shot his girlfriend multiple times after the two had been engaged in an argument at home. She was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.
Minutes after the first shooting, police said Belcher drove to the Chiefs' training facility at Arrowhead Stadium and spoke with team personnel, including head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli, before taking his own life with a gunshot.
"When officers arrived (at Arrowhead Stadium), they observed a black male who had a gun to his head and he was talking to a couple of coaches out in the parking lot," police spokesman Darrin Snapp told reporters outside Arrowhead Stadium. "As officers pulled up and began to park, that's when they heard the gunshot and it appears the individual took his own life."
A report from the Kansas City Star said Belcher and his girlfriend had a daughter, who was only a few months old.
"The entire Chiefs family is deeply saddened by today's events, and our collective hearts are heavy with sympathy, thoughts and prayers for the families and friends affected by this unthinkable tragedy," said Chiefs owner Clark Hunt in a statement. "We sincerely appreciate the expressions of sympathy and support we have received from so many in the Kansas City and NFL communities, and ask for continued prayers for the loved ones of those impacted."
Belcher was in his fourth year with the Chiefs after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Maine. He started 10 of the 11 games he had played this season, registered 38 tackles.
The Chiefs will play Carolina on Sunday at Arrowhead and the game will go on as scheduled.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Chiefs and the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy," the NFL said in a statement. "We have connected the Chiefs with our national team of professional counselors to support both the team and the families of those affected. We will continue to provide assistance in any way that we can."
DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, RBs, Carolina Panthers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Jonathan Stewart did not make the trip to Kansas City and is out for today's game with an ankle injury he suffered last week. This gives DeAngelo Williams a bigger load. Keep in mind that the Panthers are ranked 28th as a team in PPR points scored by the running back position. DeAgelo Williams had 11 carries — a number he has maxed out at four times since Week 3 — and collected 21 yards last week against the Eagles. The Chiefs have allowed 11 double-digit days to fantasy RBs this season, including 111 total yards on 24 touches to Knowshon Moreno last week — the same Knowshon Moreno who was inactive for eight weeks prior to last week's game. Give Williams a look as a low-end RB2 designation, that should be a worst-case scenario.
Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece, RBs, Oakland Raiders vs. Cleveland Browns
Darren McFadden (ankle) is set to be back today and Marcel Reece is expected to remain in the running back role, instead of resuming fullback duties, as the Raiders work McFadden back into game shape. There are so many downsides to the Oakland RB situation this week. One: McFadden is coming back for the first time since Week 9 but is not expected to take over the workhorse role. Two: Reece has been a great, late-season, waiver wire pickup, and what is he going to be now? Three: It's a late start, and you have to make your call on both McFadden and Reece in the next couple of hours. It takes Reece from a clear upper RB2, to a questionable flex and furthers the frustration for McFadden owners this season. And all of this comes when the Raiders are playing host to a Browns team that is ranked 25th against fantasy RBs in PPR. I am taking my chances with Reece as a flex and keeping McFadden on the bench.
UPDATE: ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting on Sunday morning that McFadden is unlikely to play today, tweeting: "After optimism he would play this week, Raiders RB Darren McFadden unlikely to play today vs Cleveland."
FANTASY UPDATE: Reece returns to a clear RB2 role if McFadden is out. The Browns have allowed 14 double-digit outings to RBs,
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 13.
Locks of the Week
Three quarterbacks with chips on their shoulders take on two of the most inconsistent teams in the league and the worst squad.
Panthers (-3) at Chiefs
Eight of Kansas City’s 10 losses have come by four or more points; Cam and Co. are riding a wave of momentum into Arrowhead.
Texans (-6.5) at Titans
Despite a 141-yard effort from Chris Johnson, Tennessee lost at Houston, 38–14, in Week 4. Now, it’s coming off a loss at Jacksonville.
Broncos (-7) vs. Buccaneers
Three of Denver’s four wins at Mile High have been by 10 or more points; the other win was by exactly seven points. The one loss was to 10–1 Houston in Week 3.
Straight Up Upsets
Measuring stick games for two teams with pride to play for against a pair of playoff squads that have been up-and-down this year.
Chargers (+2) vs. Bengals
It will be obvious this week whether the Bolts have already turned off the lights on 2012 or if there is still juice flowing through the powder blue roster.
Redskins (+3) vs. Giants
If RG3’s Thanksgiving debut is any foreshadowing of his Monday Night Football debut, there may not be much Big Blue can do about Bob.
Big numbers have not been kind this season, but there’s a good chance these three division contests get ugly.
Patriots (-9) at Dolphins
In the old days, Tom Brady had trouble in Miami. But that’s back when Jason Taylor was a sack champ and Ricky Williams was taking rushing crowns.
Packers (-9) vs. Vikings
Green Bay discount-double-checker Aaron Rodgers is 4–0 against Minnesota since his good buddy Brett Favre beat him twice back in 2009.
Cowboys (-10.5) vs. Eagles
Betting against Philly rookie Nick Foles is always a good bet; the Eagles lost 38–23 at home to the Cowboys in Week 10, Foles’ first NFL game action.
Stay away from these games completely unless you are a hometown homer or a degenerate who has to have action at all times.
Bears (-3.5) vs. Seahawks
Over the past two years, Chi-town is 15–5 with Smokin’ Jay Cutler starting and 0–6 without him.
Jets (-4.5) vs. Cardinals
These two flightless clubs both have 4–7 records and their coaches’ jobs to play for. Now that’s motivation.
Bills (-6) vs. Jaguars
Chad Henne has taken the Texans to overtime and taken down the Titans since taking over for Blaine Gabbert.
49ers (-7.5) at Rams
This is a rematch of the 18th overtime tie in NFL history, Week 10’s entertaining 24–24 NFC West stalemate.
Off the Board
The big board in Las Vegas doesn’t want to touch these games until later on, so we’ll wager on what the final line will be.
Steelers at Ravens (n/a)
Seven of the last nine games in this series have been decided by exactly three points, but not this time. Take the Ravens (-4.5)?
Browns at Raiders (n/a)
The race to the bottom — or top of the NFL Draft order, as it were — starts with this brown-or-blackout. Take the Raiders (-2.5)?
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for November 30.
• Yesterday, we featured a slideshow of Bama cheerleaders. Awaiting the Tide should they win tomorrow: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In the interests of equal time, here's a look at the Irish cheerleaders.
• One of the Powerball winners apparently picked his numbers based on jersey numbers of his favorite Royals. This is the first time since 1985 that being a Royals fan has actually paid off.
• One of those former Royals was Bo Jackson. It's his 50th birthday, which officially makes both him and me old. To celebrate, here's a gallery of 50 vintage Bo photos.
• Time Magazine is soliciting votes for its Person of the Year. Candidates include sports figures Gabrielle Douglas, Michael Phelps and Roger Goodell. Wait, what? Roger Goodell? Might as well vote for Kim Jong Un, who, hilariously, is currently leading the voting. I guess they do have Internet in North Korea.
• Speaking of power-mad commissioners, David Stern plans to punish the star-sitting Spurs after their loss to the Heat last night.
• My favorite headline of the day sits atop this Deadspin story.
• The most painful loss in the painful history of Rutgers football happened last night.
• We have a Big Blue crisis on our hands: Last night the Wildcats were held to the lowest point total of the Calipari era, but even more shocking, a senior led Kentucky in scoring. That is not John Calipari basketball, folks.
• Rory McIlroy supports the anchored putter ban, based on his admittedly limited experience with the club.
• God bless the Internet: A column on Colin Kaepernick's tattoos unleashed apparently baseless charges of racism over the interwebs.
• Looks like Jon Gruden has turned down Tennessee. Again. Will the Vols finally drop their embarrassing pursuit of Gruden and accept that they're in the Friend Zone? They're starting to look like Duckie from "Pretty in Pink."
• Forty-one years ago today, "Brian's Song" aired for the first time, and grown men wept openly. Here's Billy Dee Williams delivering Gale Sayers' moving soliloquy from that classic film.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at email@example.com
• As Alabama makes final preparations for its SEC title game showdown with Georgia, enjoy this gallery of Bama cheerleaders through the years.
• Speaking of the SEC, Georgia has a shot at totally remaking its image this Saturday. No pressure or anything.
• Last night in Boston: just your Garden-variety melee. Judging from Kris Humphries' scratches, Rajon Rondo fights like an eight-year-old girl.
• Brandon Marshall says that some players use Viagra to get that extra edge. Comes in handy on fourth-and-inches (h/t Conan O'Brien).
• Michael Jordan was recently banned from a swanky country club for wearing cargo shorts. That brings to mind this amusing Tumblr.
• Missy the Missile will soon be humiliating her fellow high school swimmers. I'm expecting Secretariat-at-the-Belmont type results.
• Shortly after making an honest woman out of soccer star Hope Solo, Jerramy Stevens went and got himself busted for possible parole violation. Early indications are that Hope will be flying solo for much of her married life.
• It's early, but so far, Duke has been college basketball's best team, and Mason Plumlee its best player.
• Check out this bodybuilder's insane biceps. Somebody's bringing howitzers to this year's gun show.
• I somehow missed this story of the drunk-driving Teletubby yesterday. Boy, is hockey desperate to stay in the headlines.
• Fresh off her triumph in "Liz and Dick," Lindsay Lohan celebrated by punching a woman in the meatpacking district. Yes, I know that's a poorly constructed sentence, but it reads funnier, doesn't it?
• Today's video features a disturbing yet strangely hypnotic musical tribute to the Heisman front-runner. As the top commenter says, it's like watching an episode of "Twin Peaks."
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at firstname.lastname@example.org
• College football is winding down, meaning that there are some long, cold, lonely months ahead. Enjoy some of our favorite college cheerleader photos to soften the blow.
• It's anchors away in the golf world as of 2016. Golf's ruling bodies are outlawing anchored putting strokes, although players have some time to adjust, which is a good thing, considering that three of the last four major champions use the long stick. Steve Eubanks offers up a dissenting view on the ruling.
• Athlon's Braden Gall goes deep in comparing the Heisman candidacies of Johnny Manziel and Collin Klein.
• The intrigue mounts in the Jon Gruden-to-Tennessee chatter.
• If you hate it when officials think they're part of the show, then you have to hate the NBA's Joey Crawford. It's the law. Check out his audition for Dancing With the Stars.
• This isn't sports, but it caught our attention. Angus T. Jones, the half-man of TV's "Two and a Half Men," ripped his show for being "filth." He might be right, but that's called biting the hand that feeds you. Naturally, he's started backtracking.
• They've made a 30 for 30 short film on the Arnold Palmer — the drink, not the man. It actually looks pretty good. This link explains, and also features one of my favorite "This Is SportsCenter" spots.
• Ever wonder why athletic departments are so concerned with money? Just ask Maryland.
• When you air 514 episodes, it's tough to remember what you did say, 320 episodes ago. Continuity errors in the Simpsons.
• If, for some reason, you need an excuse not to run, here you go. Good enough for me.
• It hasn't been a very good year for Danica Patrick, whose losses included every race as well as her marriage, but that doesn't mean we don't still care. In today's video, Danica discusses her divorce and other matters.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at email@example.com
• Athlon recently conducted an anonymous survey with college basketball players at top programs. Among the nuggets we uncovered: Players like 'em some Kim Kardashian. Shocking, I know.
• Few people can be said to have transformed sport as we know it. Marvin Miller, who died today at 95, was one of those people. RIP.
• Three years ago today, Tiger Woods hit a tree with his car, and life was never the same. He surely doesn't want to relive that night, but you might. Here's what Deadspin was saying at the time.
• It's the fifth anniversary of another shocking event, this one far more tragic — the death of Sean Taylor. Some thoughts here from a writer who knew him.
• In case you missed it, Colorado football coach Jon Embree was fired yesterday. He didn't take it well. Fans of awkward press conferences should click here.
• No fan base expresses its anger quite as entertainingly as the folks in Philly. Here's a gallery of some ticked-off Philly fanatics.
• There's compelling evidence that Texas coach Mack Brown can identify talent; he just doesn't know what to do with it.
• Jets fans won't have Fireman Ed to heckle any more. He's hanging up the funny hat and Sanchez jersey and slinking off into the sunset.
• I think this is a fair question. Maybe it's time to drop the charade of the student-athlete.
• I know, Twitter is where news is broken these days. But it's also where you go to get gems like these.
• Even with shaved heads, these Colts cheerleaders are strangely hot. And it's for a good cause. Everyone wins.
• Today's video is a couple months old, but it's new to me, so here it is: A Lingerie Football League player goes all Earl Campbell on a hapless defender. I'll leave jokes about her team's name to others.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at firstname.lastname@example.org
• I know it's old, in Internet terms. I know you've probably seen it by now. But I just can't get enough of this GIF of Mark Sanchez's forced fumble at the hands, or rather, the cheeks, of his teammate. It's the Jets' 2012 season, captured in one two-second sequence.
• Today's Girl Gallery of the Day features the ever-fabulous 49ers cheerleaders.
• This FSU fan needs a quick tutorial on how mirrors function. I think the puzzled lady to her left can help.
• This day in unfortunate headline placements. Today's victim, the South Carolina Gamecocks.
• A Thanksgiving leftover: Ndamukong Suh kicking Matt Schaub right in the giblets.
• Speaking of NFL players behaving badly, Brodrick Bunkley delivered a foot to the head of Alex Boone. Matt Schaub called to say Boone got off easy.
• The most aggressive play all season by a Tennessee defender came courtesy of Smokey the mascot.
• Our nominee for the catch of the year in college football, and nominations are closed.
• Okay, fine: One more nomination for catch of the year.
• College football's pecking order in one sentence: Tickets for the SEC Championship game start around $400, while tickets for the ACC Championship game start around $4.00.
• Did Bill O'Brien say what I think he said? You be the judge.
• In today's featured video, superstar ref Ed Hochuli unleashes a debate: Is buttocks a singular or plural word?
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at email@example.com
At the end of college football’s regular season, the focus always shifts to the BCS title and debating the best teams in the nation. However, there’s also the other side of the coin, as the end of the year is a chance to reflect on the worst teams. And when examining the BCS era (1998-2012), there's no shortage of "quality" candidates for this ranking.
Unfortunately for Colorado fans, the Buffaloes have to rank among the top 10 worst BCS teams since 1998. Although Colorado managed to steal a road win at Washington State, it lost to FCS opponent Sacramento State and only one loss in Pac-12 play was by a touchdown. The Buffaloes’ dismal season cost coach Jon Embree his job and adds even more uncertainty to a program that is just 25-61 over the last seven years.
Top 10 Worst BCS Teams Since 1998
1. 2008 Washington State
Final Record: 2-11
Don’t be fooled by the two wins on the resume: Washington State was awful in 2008. The Cougars were outscored by an average of 48-14 each game and its only victories came against a bad FCS team (Portland State) and a Washington team that was without quarterback Jake Locker and finished with a 0-12 record. The Cougars were shutout in three Pac-10 games and scored only a field goal against California and UCLA.
2. 2006 Duke
Final Record: 0-12
One year after posting a 1-10 record, Duke’s struggles on the gridiron continued with an 0-12 season. The Blue Devils lost 13-0 in the opener against Richmond and were outscored 73-0 by Virginia and Virginia Tech. There were signs of progress from 2005, as Ted Roof’s team lost by one to North Carolina and Wake Forest and was defeated by five points to Miami in mid-October.
3. 2003 Temple
Final Record: 1-11
Temple was largely uncompetitive from the moment it joined the Big East in 1991. The Owls won just 15 overall games from 1991-99 and went winless in conference play in 1996. The 2003 season included a loss to FCS opponent Villanova, with the only victory coming on the road at MTSU. Temple did have a close call in Big East play, losing 24-23 to Virginia Tech in mid-November. The Owls were booted from the Big East due to their struggles on the field and low attendance after the 2004 season but returned to the conference in 2012.
4. 2000 Duke
Final Record: 0-11
Finding success on the gridiron hasn’t been easy for Duke. However, the 2000-01 seasons were possibly the worst in school history. The Blue Devils were not only winless but largely uncompetitive. Duke was shutout in the opener against East Carolina and lost by at least 30 points five times. The Blue Devils also managed only 155 points, their lowest offensive output in the BCS era.
5. 2008 Washington
Final Record: 0-12
Tyrone Willingham failed to record a winning record during his four-year tenure at Washington, and 2008 was a rock-bottom point for this program. The Huskies went 0-12, which included a 16-13 loss to rival Washington State in Pullman. Washington was largely uncompetitive in Pac-10 play, with only two games decided by a touchdown or less. Losing quarterback Jake Locker certainly didn’t help Washington’s chances, but the Huskies’ leading rusher had just 338 yards, and the defense allowed 38.6 points a game.
6. 1999 Baylor
Final Record: 1-10
Kevin Steele was brought in to replace Dave Roberts after back-to-back two-win seasons, but his tenure was a major disappointment. The Bears went 1-11 in 1999 and was defeated by an average score of 38-13. Baylor’s only win that season came against North Texas, but the lowlight of the year came in a loss against UNLV. Baylor led 24-21 with less than 20 seconds left and just had to take a knee to seal the victory. Instead of lining up in the victory formation, the Bears ran the ball and fumbled, which was returned 99 yards for a touchdown. Although Steele was trying to set an attitude or mindset for the team, it was a huge error on his part. Baylor won only one Big 12 game during Steele’s four years in Waco.
7. 2001 Duke
Final Record: 0-11
After a disastrous 2000 season, the Carl Franks tenure at Duke didn’t get much better in 2001. The Blue Devils failed to record a win for the second season in a row and suffered blowout losses at the hands of Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and North Carolina. Franks’ 2001 team was a little better but still one of the worst in BCS history.
8. 1999 Rutgers
Final Record: 1-10
After going 0-11 in 1997, Rutgers showed some signs of life with a 5-6 record in 1998. However, the Scarlet Knights regressed to a dismal 1-10 record in 1999. The only win of the season was a surprise 24-21 upset over Syracuse, but Rutgers lost 56-28 to a 2-9 Temple in late October. Outside of the victory against the Orangemen, the Scarlet Knights had only two losses decided by 14 points or less and was defeated by an average score of 39-14.
9. 2012 Colorado
Final Record: 1-11
After closing out 2011 with victories in two out of their final three games, even though Colorado had a young team coming back in 2012, there was some hope Colorado could at least match its win total. However, the Buffaloes took a step in the wrong direction, opening the year with bad losses to Colorado State and FCS opponent Sacramento State. Colorado also had a point differential of -338 and scored 17 or fewer points in six Pac-12 games.
10. 2005 Duke
Final Record: 1-10
After four miserable seasons under Carl Franks, Duke turned to Ted Roof to help turn the program back in the right direction. Roof had some initial momentum, but things quickly went downhill. The Blue Devils went 1-10 in 2005, with the one win coming over a VMI team that finished 3-8. Duke had a point differential of -231 and had only one ACC loss was decided by less than 25 points.
1999 South Carolina (0-11)
2000 Baylor (2-9)
2002 Rutgers (1-11)
2002 Kansas (2-10)
2003 Iowa State (2-10)
2005 Syracuse (1-10)
2006 Stanford (1-11)
2007 Syracuse (2-10)
2007 Baylor (3-9)
2007 Minnesota (1-11)
2009 Washington State (1-11)
2011 Indiana (1-11)
2011 Kansas (2-10)
Related College Football Content
Six conference championship games highlight the Week 14 slate, most notably the Georgia vs. Alabama clash in the SEC. There will also BCS bids on the line in the Big Ten (Nebraska vs. Wisconsin), ACC (Florida State vs. Georgia Tech) and Pac-12 (UCLA at Stanford), and possibly even in the MAC, where the winner of the Kent State vs. Northern Illinois battle could possibly end up in the Orange Bowl.
Georgia (+7) vs. Alabama
We won’t have an official playoff until 2014, but the SEC Championship Game is basically a national semifinal. The winner will punch its ticket to the BCS title game, while the loser is likely out of the mix for a BCS bowl. Alabama is clearly the popular pick, but Georgia is good enough on offense to make the Crimson Tide sweat. Remember, Alabama gave up 435 yards and 418 yards to LSU and Texas A&M, respectively, in consecutive games earlier this month. This is still a great defensive team, but unlike last season, it’s a defense that will give up an occasional first down or two. The concern for Georgia is its defense, specifically against the run. The Bulldogs rank 67th nationally in rushing defense (164.4 ypg) and have given up 190 yards or more in six of their 12 games. Expect to see heavy doses of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.
Nebraska (-3) vs. Wisconsin
Wisconsin is back in the Big Ten title game despite finishing in third place in the Leaders Division. The two top teams in the division, Ohio State and Penn State, combined for a 14–2 record but are both ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. So we are left with a .500 Wisconsin club that has lost three of its last four games (though all three defeats were in overtime) rather than Ohio State, which is undefeated and ranked in the top five in the AP poll. There is no denying that Nebraska belongs in this game. The Cornhuskers won the Legends with a 7–1 record and have won six straight games. Nebraska is known for its rushing attack — and rightfully so — but Taylor Martinez has improved as a passer in his third season as a starter.
UCLA (+8.5) at Stanford (Fri)
UCLA and Stanford get together for the second time in a week. This time the stakes are quite a bit higher — a trip to the Rose Bowl is on the line. Last Saturday, the Cardinal manhandled UCLA at the line of scrimmage en route to a 35–17 victory in Los Angeles. Stanford rushed for 221 yards on 59 carries, led by 142 yards and two touchdowns from Stepfan Taylor. UCLA, on the other hand, only netted 73 yards on the ground, with All-Pac-12 candidate Johnathan Franklin rushing for 65 yards, his second-lowest total of the season. Some have suggested that Stanford didn’t get UCLA’s best effort — the Bruins had already wrapped up the Pac-12 South title — but it’s hard to believe a team would be lacking motivation in its home-finale, especially with a chance to pick up its 10th win of the season. Take the Cardinal to complete the sweep.
Florida State (-14) vs. Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech finished in a three-way tie with North Carolina and Miami in the Coastal Division with a 5–3 league record (and 6–6 overall). The Yellow Jackets, however, are the only team of the three eligible for postseason play, so they will be making the trip to Charlotte to play Florida State. Georgia Tech has had some decent wins, but this is not a team with an impressive résumé. The Jackets have four losses by 16 points or more, including a 21-point loss to Middle Tennessee and a 24-point loss to BYU — both at home. Florida State features a roster good enough to win a national title, but the Seminoles simply didn’t get it done on the field, losing at NC State, 17–16, and at home to Florida, 37–26. The Noles are likely headed to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2006, but this season has been a disappointment.
Florida State 30–20
Northern Illinois (-6) vs. Kent State (Fri)
It’s arguably the most attractive matchup in the 16-year history of the MAC Championship Game, with both Kent State and Northern Illinois ranked in the top 25 in the BCS standings with identical 11–1 records. Kent State, ranked No. 17, can play in a BCS bowl by finishing in the top 16 of the BCS standings. For that to happen, the Golden Flashes need to win and either for UCLA (No. 16) to lose to Stanford or Florida State (No. 13) to lose to Georgia Tech. Northern Illinois, ranked No. 21, has more hurdles to climb to reach BCS riches.
Northern Illinois 34–27
UCF (+2) at Tulsa
This is one of two rematches on championship weekend. Two weeks ago in Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane edged UCF 23–21 in a game that ultimately decided which team would host the C-USA title game. Tulsa outgained UCF 461–to-235 but had trouble punching the ball into the end zone. Last week, after clinching the West title (as well as home field advantage in the championship game), Tulsa lost at SMU 35–27. Bill Blankenship will have his team refocused and ready to play this weekend.
Louisville (+3) at Rutgers (Thu)
Neither team is playing its best ball of late. Louisville has lost two straight after a 9–0 start, while Rutgers missed an opportunity to clinch the outright Big East title by losing at Pittsburgh 27–6 last weekend. After muscling their way to 234 yards rushing in a key win at Cincinnati two weeks ago, the Scarlet Knights managed only 50 yards on 24 carries against the Panthers. They should get back on track against a Louisville team that has had trouble stopping the run of late. Over the past five games, the Cards have given up an average of 215.0 yards rushing, including 278 to Syracuse two weeks ago and 255 to Temple three weeks ago. That doesn’t bode well for their trip to Jersey on Thursday night. Rutgers should clinch its first-ever Big East title.
Texas (+11.5) at Kansas State
Kansas State can lock up the Big 12 title and a spot in a BCS bowl with a win over Texas or an Oklahoma loss to TCU. The Wildcats have not played since losing at Baylor two weeks ago when they gave up 580 total yards, including a staggering 342 on the ground. K-State dropped from ninth in the nation in rushing defense to 18th after the Baylor game. Speaking of trouble stopping the run, Texas is allowing 201.5 yards rushing per game — an alarmingly high figure for a team with so much talent. The Horns have also struggled on offense of late, but this team has had its moments this season, scoring 66 at Ole Miss, 41 at Oklahoma State, 45 vs. West Virginia and 56 vs. Baylor. Quarterback Case McCoy will make his first start of the season. David Ash, the starter in the first 11 games, is questionable with a rib injury.
Kansas State 27–20
Oklahoma State (-4) at Baylor
Baylor has bounced back from a four-game losing streak by winning three of its last four games. The Bears are now bowl-eligible for the third straight season for the first time since the early 1990s. As usual, Art Briles’ team is getting it done on offense. Baylor has scored 104 points in its last two games and has topped the 40-point mark in eight of its 11 games. It might take 60 points to win this game, however, when you factor in that Oklahoma State boasts an offense that is averaging 45.6 points per game and Baylor is giving up 38.5 per game. The Pokes scored 48 in an overtime loss to Oklahoma last week with a quarterback (Clint Chelf) who began the season third on the depth chart. Chelf, a junior, will get the start again this weekend. Expect him to put up gaudy numbers.
Oklahoma State 60–49
Oklahoma (-6.5) at TCU
TCU has had better teams and bigger wins, but the Horned Frogs’ 20–13 victory on Thanksgiving night at Texas has to rank among the most gratifying in Gary Patterson’s 12 years as the school’s head coach. Now, the Horned Frogs return home and host the mighty Sooners from Oklahoma. OU has won four straight, though the last three have been by eight points over Baylor, one point over West Virginia and three points, in overtime, over Oklahoma State. The Sooners haven’t exactly been dominant during this winning streak. The offense has been great, most notably quarterback Landry Jones (three games of 400-plus yards), but the defense has allowed an average of 564 yards in its last three games. However, don’t expect TCU to put up a big number on OU this weekend. The Frogs are averaging only 26.7 points in regulation (they’ve had two games go to overtime) this season against FBS opponents. To win this game, TCU will have to keep the score in the 20s or low 30s.
Last week: 5–5 overall (4–6 against the spread)
Season: 85–45 overall (70–60 against the spread)
Middle Tennessee at Arkansas State
The Sun Belt title is on the line in Jonesboro this weekend, but the winner of this game will not be going to the New Orleans Bowl. Louisiana-Lafayette, which can finish no higher than a tie for second place, has already accepted an invite.
Arkansas State 30–24
Cincinnati at Connecticut
UL-Lafayette at FAU
As mentioned above, the Ragin’ Cajuns already know their postseason fate — a return trip to the New Orleans Bowl.
South Alabama at Hawaii
Norm Chow’s first season at Hawaii hasn’t gone well, but the Warriors do have an opportunity to close on a two-game winning streak.
Boise State at Nevada
Boise State’s last trip to Reno ended in a shocking overtime loss that cost the Broncos a spot in a BCS bowl. There’s not nearly as much at stake this time around.
Boise State 34–23
Nicholls State at Oregon State
This game was originally scheduled for Week 1 but had to be pushed back due to Hurricane Isaac. Nicholls State is 1–9 with its lone win over Evangel.
Oregon State 51–0
Pittsburgh at South Florida
Pittsburgh has an opportunity to become bowl-eligible with a win this weekend, which could mean a third-straight trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham.
New Mexico State at Texas State
New Mexico State has lost 10 straight and does not have a win over an FBS opponent. This is arguably the worst team in the country.
Texas State 38–20
Kansas at West Virginia
Charlie Weis’ first season at Kansas will end with only one win — over South Dakota State in Week 1 — but the Jayhawks were competitive in many of their losses.
West Virginia 49–30
These two traditional powers—Alabama and Georgia—will play for the first time in the SEC Championship Game and for only the fifth time overall since 1995. The stakes couldn’t be higher: The winner will play Notre Dame for the BCS National Championship and the loser likely will be squeezed out of the BCS mix.
Much has been made about Georgia’s relatively soft SEC schedule, but it’s important to note that both Georgia and Alabama only played two of the other four SEC teams ranked in the top 10 of the latest BCS standings. Georgia beat No. 4 Florida and lost to No. 10 South Carolina, while Alabama beat No. 7 LSU and lost to No. 9 Texas A&M. Alabama did play Michigan out of conference, but the strength of these two teams’ schedules is about the same.
It’s dangerous to compare results, but just for fun: Alabama and Georgia had four common opponents (Missouri, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Auburn); Alabama won all four games by a total score of 168–37, while Georgia won all four by a total score of 167–74.
So who wins on Saturday? Good question.
When the Alabama Crimson Tide have the ball:
Alabama has built a reputation under Nick Saban as a smashmouth team that relies on its defense and running game. While that is true to a large degree, this team is still adept at throwing the ball down the field. In fact, Alabama as a team ranks No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency thanks to the work of quarterback A.J. McCarron. The junior averages 9.46 yards per attempt (second-best in the nation) and has thrown 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
The Tide, however, will be without one of their primary targets for the remainder of the season. Junior Kenny Bell, second on the team with 431 receiving yards, was sidelined with a broken leg in the win over Auburn on Saturday. McCarron still has quality targets at his disposal, most notably Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood, but Bell, who averaged 25.4 yards per reception, was Alabama’s top deep threat.
The running game is powered by true freshman T.J. Yeldon and junior Eddie Lacy, who both rank among the top five in the league (min. 100 carries) in yards per attempt. Lacy leads the team with 1,001 yards and 14 touchdowns; Yeldon is second with 847 yards and 10 TDs. And it’s on the ground where Alabama figures to have the most success attacking the Georgia defense. The Bulldogs rank 67th nationally in rushing defense (164.4 ypg) and have given up 190 yards or more in six of their 12 games.
Alabama is versatile enough to beat Georgia on the ground or through the air, but it would be a surprise if Lacy and Yeldon each don’t get at least 12-to-15 carries.
When the Georgia Bulldogs have the ball:
The Bulldogs are one of the most balanced offensive teams in college football, ranking 39th nationally (and fourth in the SEC) in rushing and 35th (and fourth) in passing. The Dawgs feature one of the top quarterbacks in the country in junior Aaron Murray, who has thrown for 3,201 yards and hasn’t thrown an interception in the past four games. Georgia, like Alabama, is dealing with some injuries at wide receiver. Michael Bennett was off to a strong start to his sophomore season (24 catches for 345 yards in five games) before tearing the ACL in right knee against Tennessee. And senior Marlon Brown, who has 27 receptions for 469 yards, was lost with an ACL tear in his left knee against Ole Miss. With Bennett and Brown out of the lineup, Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell, who began the year playing cornerback, have been the primary weapons down the field. The Dawgs also have two tight ends (Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome) with at least 10 catches.
Georgia’s running game appeared to take a hit when Isaiah Crowell, who rushed for 850 yards as a freshman in 2011, was kicked off the team over the summer. No worries. Georgia plugged in two highly touted true freshmen, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who combined to rush for 1,858 yards and 222 touchdowns. Both had their moments, but Gurley emerged as the primary ball-carrier and finished the regular season as the SEC’s leading rusher in league play by averaging 95.3 yards per game. Gurley averaged 5.8 yards per carry vs. SEC competition, second only to Alabama’s Lacy for players with over 100 carries.
Statistically, Alabama features the nation’s No. 1 defense, but Georgia is good enough on offense to make the Crimson Tide sweat. Remember, Alabama gave up 435 yards and 418 yards to LSU and Texas A&M, respectively, in consecutive games earlier this month. This is still a great defensive team, but unlike last season, it’s a defense that will give up an occasional first down or two.
These teams are quite similar. Georgia’s a bit more explosive on offense, but Alabama’s more formidable on defense and has the edge on special teams. You also have to give the advantage to Alabama in coaching. The bottom line: Georgia is very good. Alabama is great.
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Alabama vs. Georgia||Alabama 35-21||Alabama 24-23||Alabama 27-20||Alabama 27-21|
This week will mark the final chance for award contenders to make their final pitches to voters across the country.
Heisman contenders Johnny Manziel, Manti Te’o and Braxton Miller have finished their seasons, so Collin Klein will have the opportunity to make the final statement. And he’s not just vying for the Heisman.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Finalists: Kansas State’s Collin Klein, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o
Biggest snub: Ohio State’s Braxton Miller
Our leader: Klein
Though the Maxwell and Heisman essentially honor a player of a similar description -- the player or the year or the most outstanding player -- they’ve rarely been in lockstep over the last decade. Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010 and Florida’s Tim Tebow in 2007 are the only players since 2000 to win the Maxwell and the Heisman in the same year. Maxwell winners include Andrew Luck (2011), Colt McCoy (2009), Brady Quinn (2006), Vince Young (2005) and Eli Manning (2003). Since we have Manziel as our Heisman frontrunner and each of the last nine winners were quarterbacks, we select Klein as our Maxwell frontrunner.
Davey O’Brien (Top quarterback)
Finalists: Kansas State’s Collin Klein, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller
Biggest snub: Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch
Our leader: Klein
Klein has one more game to stake his claim on national awards compared to Manziel, but it’s tough to ignore a redshirt freshman playing for a first-year coach setting SEC records in his program’s year in the league. Manziel led the SEC in rushing and set conference records in total offense for a single game and single season.
Doak Walker (Top running back)
Finalists: Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, Oregon’s Kenjon Barner, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin
Biggest snub: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey
Our leader: Carey
Voters can't, but we can still vote for Carey even if he’s not a finalist. The Wildcats running back leads the nation in rushing at 146.4 yards per game. Carey rushed for 742 yards and seven touchdowns in his final three games.
Biletnikoff Award (Top wide receiver)
Finalists: West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey, USC’s Marqise Lee, Baylor’s Terrance Williams
Biggest snub: West Virginia’s Tavon Austin
Our leader: Lee
In a disappointing year for USC, Lee was the bright spot. He caught 112 passes for 1,680 yards with 14 touchdowns. Though he and Robert Woods entered the season as one of the best tandems in the country, Lee finished with twice as many yards.
Mackey Award (Top tight end)
Finalists: Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert, Stanford’s Zach Ertz, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Biggest snub: Arizona State’s Chris Coyle
Our leader: Ertz
Ertz led the nation’s tight ends with 818 receiving yards, a total on which he can build in the Pac-12 title game against UCLA.
Outland Trophy (Top interior lineman)
Finalists: North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper, Alabama’s Barrett Jones, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel
Biggest snub: Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt
Our leader: Jones
Jones has been the frontrunner for offensive line awards all season and has done little to change that perception. Can that continue against Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones?
Rimington Trophy (Top center)
Finalists: To be named Dec. 1
Our leader: Jones, Alabama
Others: Kansas State’s B.J. Finney, Clemson’s Dalton Freeman
Nagurski Trophy (Defensive Player of the Year)
Finalists: South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Alabama Dee Milliner, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, Florida State’s Bjoern Werner
Biggest snub: Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene
Our leader: Te’o
Te’o’s case for national defensive player of the year is nearly ironclad. He’s the anchor of the nation’s No. 6 defense and No. 5 run defense. His seven interceptions is second in the nation. The next most picks for a linebacker is four.
Bednarik Trophy (Defensive Player of the Year)
Finalists: South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o
Biggest snub: Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene
Our leader: Te’o
Lombardi Award (Top lineman or linebacker)
Finalists: South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, Alabama’s Barrett Jones, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones
Biggest snub: Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore
Our leader: Clowney
Both Joneses will have a chance to build their cases in the SEC Championship Game, but Clowney is our leader for now after recording 4.5 sacks in the upset at Clemson last week. He had 9.5 tackles for a loss in his final four games played (he missed the game against Wofford).
Butkus Award (Top linebacker)
Finalists: Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Oregon’s Dion Jordan, LSU’s Kevin Minter, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o
Biggest snub: Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene
Our leader: Te’o
Thorpe Award (Top defensive back)
Finalists: Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, Alabama’s Dee Milliner, Fresno State’s Phillip Thomas
Biggest snub: Florida’s Matt Elam
Our leader: Thomas
Milliner may walk away with the award, especially if he shines in a in a matchup against Aaron Murray in Atlanta, but Thomas shouldn’t fly under the radar. He’s leading the nation with eight interceptions, including two touchdowns. He also was tied for second in the Mountain West with 12 tackles for a loss.
SPECIAL TEAMS AWARDS
Groza Award (Top kicker)
Finalists: Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins, Tulane’s Cairo Santos, Florida’s Caleb Sturgis
Biggest snub: Ball State’s Steven Schott
Our leader: Santos
Santos in the only kicker with more than 15 attempts who is perfect on field goals. The Green Wave junior is 21 of 21 including 12 made field goals from longer than 40 yards.
Ray Guy Award (Top punter)
Finalists: Louisiana Tech’s Ryan Allen, Florida’s Kyle Christy, Ball State’s Scott Kovanda
Biggest snub: Texas A&M’s Ryan Epperson
Our leader: Allen
The defending Ray Guy winner led the nation with 48 yards per kick as Louisiana Tech led the country in net punting (43.5).
OTHER NATIONAL AWARDS
Freshman of the Year
Our leader: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Breaking SEC records held by Cam Newton and Tim Couch is a good way to start a career. Not to mention defeating then-No. 1 Alabama on the road. Even in a year with standout redshirt freshman quarterbacks, Manziel leads the pack.
Others: Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon, TCU’s Devonte Fields, UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota
Coach of the Year
Our leader: Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly
O’Brien and Meyer overcame more adversity, and Snyder deserves a lifetime achievement awards. But from a standpoint of exceeding expectations and overcoming limitations, Kelly is the leader. The Notre Dame offense is average -- something that has to stick in Kelly’s craw -- but the defense carried the Irish to an unexpected undefeated season and title game appearance.
Others: Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, Kansas State’s Bill Snyder
Broyles Award (top assistant)
Finalists: Georgia’s Mike Bobo, Notre Dame’s Bob Diaco, Texas A&M’s Kliff Kingsbury, Stanford’s Derek Mason, Florida’s Dan Quinn
Biggest snub: Oregon State’s Mark Banker
Our leader: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas A&M
Kingsbury helped set records as Mike Leach’s first quarterback at Texas Tech and did the same as the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M. The Aggies set an SEC record with 552.3 yards per game.
The second annual Big Ten Championship game features two of the Midwest’s football powers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The corn-fed Big Red from Lincoln will battle with the dairy-fed Big Red from Madison, but only one team actually won their division.
These two met back in October in the Big Ten opener at Memorial Stadium — remember those polarizing adidas uniforms? — and Nebraska came away with its first big comeback win of the year. The 30-27 win propelled the Huskers to a 7-1 mark in league play and a Legends Division crown. Dating back to 2009, this is Bo Pelini’s third conference championship game in four seasons, but a win would be the Cornhuskers' first league title since 1999. It would also send Nebraska to Pasadena for the first time since 2002 when it lost to Miami in the BCS National Championship Game.
The Badgers, after losing six assistant coaches, started slowly on offense this fall before finding their stride in mid-season. However, Wisconsin’s schedule toughened up in the final month of play and it lost three of its last four. Bret Bielema’s squad finished 4-4 in the league with losses in the division to Ohio State and Penn State — the two teams that actually finished ahead of the Badgers in the Leaders Division standings. That said, all five of Wisconsin’s losses were by seven points or less this fall, including three overtime defeats. A win for the Badgers would give UW its third consecutive Big Ten championship and third straight trip to the Rose Bowl — the first Big Ten school to do so since Michigan from 1977-79.
Either way this one goes, a historic Big Red program will invade Pasadena. And the best broadcast team in the business, FOX’ Gus Johnson and Charles Davis, will bring fans the call at 8:17 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.
When Wisconsin has the ball
The Badgers' offense lost their renowned offensive coordinator, the best QB in the history of the program and three first-team All-Big Ten lineman from 2011. It showed early on with major struggles coming against Northern Iowa, Oregon State and Utah State. After an offensive line coaching move and quarterback switch, the UW offense flourished. Redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave and Heisman finalist Montee Ball finally gave the Badgers a two-dimensional offense. However, late in the Michigan State game, Stave was lost for the year to a broken collarbone and eventually fifth-year senior Curt Phillips got the nod under center.
Phillips has limitations throwing the football, but has proven to be clutch, throwing game-tying touchdown strikes with seconds left on the clock against both Ohio State and Penn State in his last two games. He is obviously at his best when Ball and the Badgers’ traditional power running game are effective. This team has averaged over 240 yards rushing per game three seasons in a row and Ball has scored seven times in two games against Nebraska. The star tailback is one rushing touchdown from setting the all-time NCAA record (73) and he’s already the all-time total touchdown leader in NCAA history (79).
The Huskers' defense has had its deficiencies over the past few seasons, but first-year coordinator John Papuchis — who is the youngest solo defensive coordinator in the nation — has fostered marked improvement this season. His team leads the nation in passing defense and has been able to pressure the quarterback with more regularity. Linebacker Will Compton and defensive end Eric Martin headline a defense that is much stronger at the point of attack than it was a year ago and coverman Ciante Evans is developing quickly into a star on the back end. Phillips will be tested mightily by the nation’s top passing defense, so the offense will once again run through its deep stable of running backs that features not only Ball but also James White (693 yards, 8 TD) and Melvin Gordon (354 yards, 2 TD).
When Nebraska has the ball
The Nebraska offense starts and ends with Taylor Martinez. The redshirt junior quarterback led the Big Ten in passing efficiency and total offense while steering the league’s No. 1 offense. He has been masterful in the second half, leading his team from behind against Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State and Penn State with big plays on the ground and efficient passing. T-Mart completed 17-of-29 passes for 181 yards, rushed for 107 yards on 13 attempts and scored three times in the 17-point second-half comeback against Wisconsin in October.
The league’s top rushing attack isn’t just Martinez, however. Rex Burkhead returned to the lineup in the season finale after dealing with major knee issues all season to lead his team to victory over Iowa. His valiant performance in the second half pushed the Huskers into the title game and provides the offense with another ball carrier. Ameer Abdullah (1,071 yards, 8 TD) and Imani Cross (289 yards, 6 TD) have filled in admirably throughout the year and now Pelini finds himself with a glut of talent in the backfield.
He might need as many bodies as he can find against the Badgers' No. 12-rated rushing defense (111.3 ypg). Linebackers Mike Taylor, who is the nation’s leading tackler over the last two seasons, and Chris Borland, who missed the last two games with injury, are expected to be at full strength for this title bout. The rest of the non-descript Wisconsin defense is fundamentally sound and well coached but not overtly talented. Look for Martinez’ ability to break contain with his legs to be the deciding factor once again.
One team has better players, has a better record and won the first meeting of the year. The other is missing its starting quarterback and has lost three of its last four. Pelini has won 10 games and played in a conference championship game in three of the last four years. However, his team has also lost four games in each of his four seasons in Lincoln. This weekend’s showdown would end all of those streaks and send the Huskers to Pasadena for only the third time in school history and would give Pelini his first championship. There are no excuses for Nebraska this time around.
|Athlon Editor||Championship Prediction||YTD Big Ten Record|
|Braden Gall||Nebraska 30, Wisconsin 20||80-16|
|Mitch Light||Nebraska 24, Wisconsin 14||76-20|
|Steven Lassan||Nebraska 27, Wisconsin 24||79-17|
|David Fox||Nebraska 28, Wisconsin 14||77-19|
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Big East Week 14 Preview and Predictions
Big 12 Week 14 Preview and Predictions
ACC Championship Game Preview: Florida State vs. Georgia Tech
Pac-12 Championship Game Preview: UCLA vs. Stanford
SEC Championship Game Preview: Alabama vs. Georgia
If the unofficial start of the SEC-Big East Challenge began in the Bahamas on Friday, the Big East is in good shape.
Louisville defeated SEC newcomer Missouri 84-61 in a Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal, but, of course, the game was not part of the official Challenge, which begins Thursday and continues through Saturday. Neither Louisville nor Missouri are taking part in the 12-game event.
The field, though, is filled with interesting matchups, including Kentucky’s first road game of the season, a pairing of two surprise teams in Tennessee and Georgetown, and a meeting of two teams who saw their aircraft carrier-openers canceled in Florida and Marquette.
Some games are must-see events. Others are duds. We hope this helps you sort them out.
SEC-BIG EAST CHALLENGE PREVIEW
Best game: Kentucky at Notre Dame
The Wildcats play their first true road game of the season against a team that’s tough to beat on its home court -- Notre Dame is 34-1 in South Bend the last two-plus seasons. The Irish are a veteran team, starting two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore, so this will also be a key test for the Wildcats’ freshmen. Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have the talent advantage, but Notre Dame’s experience and defensive pressure could cause problems for the Wildcats.
Don’t overlook: Tennessee at Georgetown
The Hoyas seem to perform better when they’re out of the preseason spotlight. Despite playing with a roster of 10 freshmen and sophomores, this season has been no exception. Georgetown defeated UCLA 78-70 in the Legends Classic -- a final that doesn’t look as impressive after the Bruins lost to Cal Poly on Sunday. But Georgetown also took Indiana to overtime thanks to a comeback in the final four minutes. Tennessee has aspirations of making noise in the SEC this season but lost its toughest game thus far to Oklahoma State 62-45. Jarnell Stokes has delivered for the Volunteers with 13.8 points and eight rebounds per game, but he could use help in the frontcourt once Jeronne Maymon is healthy.
Mismatch: Syracuse at Arkansas
Syracuse is doing just fine with assist machine Michael Carter-Williams running the point. Despite sophomore point guard B.J. Young and junior forward Marshawn Powell returning, Arkansas has been one of the biggest disappointments early this season with losses to Pac-12 bottom feeder Arizona State and Wisconsin in the Las Vegas Invitational.
Snoozer: Villanova at Vanderbilt
Viewers may already know Rutgers-Ole Miss and DePaul-Auburn won’t be great games. That’s true. But don’t be fooled by name recognition in Villanova-Vanderbilt. The two teams are a combined 5-6. On Friday, Vanderbilt lost 50-33 to Marist -- yes, that’s a final score -- and Villanova previously lost by 18 to Columbia.
Most to gain: Marquette
The Golden Eagles’ lone loss this season was on a desperation heave at the buzzer against Butler in Maui. After missing out on the winners’ bracket in the Maui Invitational and a season opener against Ohio State due to court conditions on the USS Yorktown, Marquette will have another opportunity for a resume-building game at Florida. Two of the cornerstones for Marquette have been up and down so far -- Jamil Wilson was shut out against Butler but scored 30 total points against Mississippi State and USC while Vander Blue is nursing a knee injury.
Most to lose: Cincinnati
The Bearcats have played well this season, though they won’t be tested by a ranked opponent until Dec. 27 against New Mexico, and after that, not until Big East play. Led by veterans Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati could contend in the Big East, but a loss at home to a mid-level SEC team might change that perception.
Players to watch:
Ryan Harrow, Kentucky. The Wildcats weren’t hurt by Harrow’s absence due to an illness and a family matter. Without Harrow, freshman Archie Goodwin has drawn comparisons to Tyreke Evans and Dwyane Wade since taking over the point, and Jarrod Polson was a pleasant surprise off the bench. Big men Nerlens Noel and Kyle Wiltjer also contributed in the assist column. How John Calipari works Harrow, the projected starter at point guard to open the season, back into the lineup will be worth watching.
Scottie Wilbekin, Florida. The Gators point guard had his best game since missing the first three games, including the Georgetown game canceled at halftime, against UCF last week. Against the Knights, Wilbekin came off the bench to score 17 points with eight assists and five rebounds. Florida coach Billy Donovan has been frustrated with starter Mike Rosario’s turnovers, so the Marquette game could be a chance for Wilbekin to claim the starter’s role.
Otto Porter, Georgetown. Prior to the season, Porter was projected as one of the Big East’s breakout players after a late burst last season. The 6-8 forward has delivered. He doesn’t lead the Hoyas in any major category except blocked shots, but he’s been a contributor across the board. He’ll be matched up against another player, Jarnell Stokes for Tennessee, who transformed his own team late last season.
SEC-Big East Challenge Roundtable picks
|THURSDAY (All times Eastern)||David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Mark Ross||Nathan Rush|
|Kentucky at Notre Dame, 7 p.m., ESPN2||Kentucky||Kentucky||Kentucky||Kentucky||Kentucky|
|S. Carolina at St. John’s, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU||St. John's||St. John's||St. John's||St. John's||St. John's|
|Marquette at Florida, 9 p.m., ESPN2||Florida||Florida||Florida||Florida||Florida|
|Seton Hall at LSU, 9:30 p.m., ESPNU||LSU||LSU||LSU||LSU||LSU|
|Tennessee at Georgetown, 6:30 p.m., ESPN||G'town||G'town||G'town||G'town||G'town|
|Georgia at USF, 7 p.m., ESPNU||USF||USF||USF||USF||Georgia|
|Syracuse at Arkansas, 8:30 p.m., ESPN||Cuse||Cuse||Arkansas||Cuse||Cuse|
|DePaul at Auburn, 9 p.m., ESPNU||DePaul||Auburn||Auburn||DePaul||DePaul|
|Mississippi State at Providence, noon, ESPNU||Prov.||Prov.||Prov.||Prov.||Prov.|
|Rutgers at Ole Miss, 2 p.m., ESPNU||Ole Miss||Ole Miss||Ole Miss||Ole Miss||Ole Miss|
|Alabama at Cincinnati, 3 p.m., ESPN2||Cincy||Cincy||Cincy||Cincy||Cincy|
|Villanova at Vanderbilt, 5 p.m., ESPN2||Nova||Nova||Nova||Vandy||Vandy|