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We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.
These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.
2011 NFL Week 12 — Quarterback Rankings
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points
|1||Aaron Rodgers||GB||at DET (Thursday)|
|2||Cam Newton||CAR||at IND|
|3||Drew Brees||NO||vs. NYG|
|4||Matthew Stafford||DET||vs. GB (Thursday)|
|5||Tom Brady||NE||at PHI|
|6||Eli Manning||NYG||at NO|
|7||Tony Romo||DAL||vs. MIA (Thursday)|
|8||Ben Roethlisberger||PIT||at KC|
|9||Matt Ryan||ATL||vs. MIN|
|10||Philip Rivers||SD||vs. DEN|
|11||Tim Tebow||DEN||at SD|
|12||Carson Palmer||OAK||vs. CHI|
|13||Mark Sanchez||NYJ||vs. BUF|
|14||Josh Freeman||TB||at TEN|
|15||Matt Moore||MIA||at DAL (Thursday)|
|16||Joe Flacco||BAL||vs. SF (Thursday)|
|17||Matt Hasselbeck||TEN||vs. TB|
|18||Andy Dalton||CIN||vs. CLE|
|19||Vince Young||PHI||vs. NE|
|20||Alex Smith||SF||at BAL (Thursday)|
|21||Sam Bradford||STL||vs. ARI|
|22||Tarvaris Jackson||SEA||vs. WAS|
|23||Ryan Fitzpatrick||BUF||at NYJ|
|24||Rex Grossman||WAS||at SEA|
|25||Christian Ponder||MIN||at ATL|
|26||Matt Leinart||HOU||at JAC|
In our piece on Gary Patterson, we focused on the extremely fickle nature of college football fan bases. No longer are fans looking from year-to-year to analyze the state of their football program. In today's college football world, fans are now looking week-to-week.
For a case in point, let's turn to Nebraska and Bo Pelini. Nebraska is coming off a somewhat embarrassing 45-17 loss to Michigan. Combine this with a loss to Northwestern and a 48-17 blowout loss to Wisconsin, and you can almost start to hear those whispers of discontent that turn into screams before you can blink.
Here a few things to keep in mind about Nebraska football and about Coach Pelini:
1. From 1941-1961, the Cornhuskers had 17 losing seasons.
2. In steps Bob Devaney in 1962. In 1969, Bob Devaney hires Tom Osborne as his offensive coordinator. In 1973, Coach Osborne takes over from Coach Devaney. All-in-all, from 1962-1997, Nebraska won 356 of the 430 games it played, didn't have a single losing season, and won 75% of its games 33 of the 36 seasons.
3. Tom Osborne retires in 1997 and from 1998 - 2007, Nebraska won 67.72% of its games and had two losing seasons.
4. In the five years prior to Pelini being hired, the Cornhuskers won 59.68% of their games and only had two seasons with nine or more wins.
5. In 2008, Nebraska hires Bo Pelini. Let's dig into some numbers on Pelini's tenure at Nebraska:
|Years||Overall WP%||Conf. WP%||Non-Conf. WP%||Against Top 25 (Time of Game)||Against Over .500 Teams||9+ Win Seasons|
|2008-Present||71.15% (37-15)||63.64% (21-12)||84.21% (16-3)||40.00% (6-9)||47.62% (10-11)||3 (on pace for 4 with one win in last two games of 2011)|
Let's consider one other set of numbers:
|Years||WP% w/ Superior Talent||WP% w/ Equivalent Talent||WP% w/ Inferior Talent|
|2008-Present||81.82% (27-6)||54.55% (6-5)||33.33% (2-4)|
So, what's the verdict so far on Pelini? One thing we know for sure is that Coach Pelini knows defense. Of the nine seasons Pelini has been either a defensive coordinator (5 years) or a head coach (4 years), he has had top 25 nationally ranked scoring defenses in seven of the nine years. In fact, he has had top 10 nationally ranked scoring defenses in five of the nine years.
Furthermore, Pelini seems to have elevated Nebraska from having to worry about 5+ loss seasons (Bill Callahan lost 5 or more games in three of his four seasons as head coach at Nebraska). Pelini has not won less than nine games in his four years as head coach at Nebraska and barring two straight losses to end the 2011 season, he will once again win 9+ games.
On the somewhat negative side of the numbers is Pelini's winning percentage against Top 25 teams (40.00%) and winning percentage against teams finishing the season over .500 (47.62%). We have seen these numbers play out this year for Pelini. All three of Nebraska's losses this year have come against over .500 teams and two of their three losses have come against Top 25 teams. All three of their losses this year have also come against guys that can flat out coach (Brady Hoke, Bret Bielema, and Pat Fitzgerald).
With Pelini, you pretty much know what you are going to get. You are going to get a coach whose teams play great defense and who beat the teams they should beat around 80% of the time. You are getting a coach that will more than likely win 8+ games every year and keep Nebraska relevant in college football. Can Bo Pelini take Nebraska back to competing for National Championships and winning 12+ games a la the Osborne era? Given the fact that Nebraska is today in a far more competitive conference than years past, we would bet no. However, like with most things in life, let's wait and see how things play out on the field.
by Tom Bowles
Since NASCAR’s Chase was introduced in 2004, only three drivers have won a title under its playoff format: Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. Not surprisingly, this trio doubles as the only Cup Series drivers to win at least one race every season since 2002. Johnson and Stewart, with eight championships and star power, are names expected to be on that list … but Busch? That might be a bit of a surprise. Typically, younger brother Kyle grabs more of the attention — recently for all the wrong reasons — yet it’s Kurt who occupies this rarified air. Since pairing with Penske Racing in 2006, he’s won a respectable 10 times, captured six poles and gone four-for-six in postseason appearances.
But that success, impressive as it may be, has come at a cost to his current employer, Roger Penske. Indeed, one of the sport’s best drivers of the past decade has acted like a high school dropout when it comes to the school of public relations. The latest incident is perhaps his most vile; a YouTube video going viral shows Busch mouthing off at a 30-year veteran of the racing business, ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch, for simply requesting a post-transmission failure interview. Busch’s transmission was supposedly run over by championship contender Tony Stewart, but when watching the video, you fear Punch is the one about to get run over by Busch.
In response to the incident, Busch issued a brief statement Tuesday, apologizing for his behavior to race fans, Penske Racing, his sponsors and Punch himself. Usually, that’s step one in controlling the damage; the problem is, we’ve read this statement before, to the point those words are meaningful in a boy-who-cried-wolf way. This type of incident, in particular, is the fourth for Busch this year involving a media corps member. His divorce announcement from soon-to-be-ex-wife Eva over Independence Day sparked one; contact with Jimmie Johnson, and the resulting stories written about it by the press corps left him dancing around several others. At Richmond, he nearly came to blows with one reporter over questions surrounding (again) Johnson, and then ripped up the paper another was holding and stormed out of a post-race press conference. Let’s just say Busch’s anger management skills could qualify under the category “needs improvement” — as in improvement through a crisis session with Dr. Phil.
Just ask former crew chief Steve Addington, who endured weekly radio sessions that bordered on outright verbal assault about Busch’s antics. The driver’s feedback arsenal consists of team putdowns, swear words and threatening surrender over the car’s horrific handling — and that’s just in the first 50 laps of this weekly horror film. Amazingly enough, Addington lasted two years under the constant tirades before packing his bags and marching out on Monday. The replacement (if they can find one brave enough) will be Busch’s fifth crew chief since 2006, not exactly the consistency you’d expect with a driver that has skins on the wall that he does.
The truth is Busch has been cantankerous, rude and obnoxious in both private and public over the last few years. That won’t win you friends, although it doesn’t send you to jail either; in fact, in sports where you compete as an individual, rage might fuel success at times. But the difference in the world of family-friendly NASCAR is twofold. First, and most important, is that racing is a team sport. Busch doesn’t go anywhere without crewmen setting up his racecar, then pitting it over a 500-mile event where their focus could mean the difference between fifth and 35th. And why would these people, working for a man who revels in berating them, want to put their best foot forward for him every week?
In hindsight, some of Busch’s late-season issues, with the team being consistently late to pre-race inspection, may have come from crewmembers sending a silent message: “No more.” Even the transmission failure in the season finale, dropping Busch to 11th in points, could have been carelessness caused from people whose motivation has been stripped by being mortified by the driver they’re partnered with.
And that brings us to the second key difference for racers that may soon tip against Busch’s favor: sponsorship. The big companies that pay the big bucks don’t like to see internet postings from fans saying they’ll no longer buy their product. After this latest incident, you could go to every type of racing site and find dozens, if not hundreds, of postings saying “Pennzoil is off the shopping list.” Younger brother Kyle’s behavior may have hurt here — after a one-race parking for bad behavior, Mars/M&M’s responded by pulling its backing for the rest of the year although Kyle’s suspension was never extended – a bitter taste in the mouths of many people who wanted him fired.
Kurt’s rant comes as a case of bad, brotherly timing for those fans tired of this kind of behavior.
Ultimately, in Kyle’s case, Joe Gibbs Racing and the M&M’s brand knew where the bread was buttered. The younger Busch remains the winningest, most marketable driver on JGR’s roster and the long-term choice — as I said a few weeks ago — was not to damage the product. The elder Busch has been able to use that leverage in the past; time and again — as recently as this spring at Richmond — he’s been able to use verbal tirades to make personnel changes and command the type of cars he wants. That’s because for years, Busch was the only successful driver at Penske — whose marketability and overall success ultimately meant more than responding to consistent cases of abuse.
But a sponsor change in 2011, from Miller Lite to Pennzoil, no longer gives Busch that type of security blanket. Owner Penske has his backer involved in several side deals, to the point what driver they have in the car won’t change the millions they’re making outside of NASCAR. More importantly, Busch has some friendly competition within the team for the first time since ’06. Brad Keselowski, who boasts three victories, a fifth-place finish in the final standings and a swear-free record with the media outclassed Busch on the racetrack and in the garage area this season.
Busch, 33, is now six years older than his contemporary, yet finds himself the second-best driver in the two-car Penske shop. His owner, who’s won more Indy 500s than anyone else and is one of the most respected people in the motorsports industry, no longer feels backed into a corner. Sam Hornish Jr., a step below in the Nationwide Series, is winning and thought to be a possible title contender next season. Parker Kligerman, a young prospect, is also just a year or two away from possibly breaking out. Add it all up, and it’s an ugly total threat to Busch: the man whose success had once defined this race team is now easily expendable.
So for Kurt, this offseason needs to be a quick study in learning how to socially interact. Kevin Harvick — once no angel himself — likes to relate what he learned from his own one-race suspension in 2002. When brought into the NASCAR hauler, Harvick said officials made it clear that no matter how successful a driver is, this sport could survive without him. For years, it has. It has survived without many a driver. Even past-champions.
It seems Kurt Busch may feel entitled, but NASCAR Nation knows he’s one step away from ending a career. Let’s see if the driver realizes what everyone else does before it’s too late.
Agree with Tom? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Tom on Twitter @NASCARBowles
The LSU Tigers clearly have the best resume in college football and of course are ranked No. 1. But after watching top team after top team fall over the last month, you have to wonder if Les Miles’ bunch can finish the season with a perfect record and head to the BCS Championship Game. It seems like most of the college football world is already assuming the Tigers will cruise to the national title game, but they face the No. 3 (Arkansas) and — potentially in the SEC Championship Game — the No. 13 (Georgia) teams in the BCS rankings over the next two Saturdays. After watching college football get an O-face (Oklahoma State, Oregon, Ohio State and Oklahoma all lost) last weekend, another upset seems very possible.
Does LSU beat both Arkansas and Georgia?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
My first thought was that LSU will not beat both Arkansas and Georgia. But after thinking it over — and taking another look at the Tigers’ stats — I changed my mind. LSU is simply playing at such a high level right now, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Amazingly, the Tigers have allowed 11 points or less in all seven of their SEC games to date. I realize that this league isn’t loaded with top-flight offenses, but that is still an incredible accomplishment. Arkansas, with one of the nation’s top passing attacks, will test the LSU defense, but the Hogs have yet to prove that they can be as formidable on the road. Georgia is playing well, but keep in mind that the seven SEC teams the Dawgs have defeated have a combined record of 12–39 in league play. LSU is too good to stub its toe before the BCS title game.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
First up, the Arkansas Razorbacks. While I do think that they have the formula to challenge an LSU defense — incredibly deep receiving corps, mad genius designing plays and a capable quarterback who can get the ball down the field — I am not sure I have seen anything from the Hogs to suggest that they are not the exact same team that didn't belong on the field with Alabama. Especially since they would have to go into Baton Rouge and beat the Tigers with the entire college football world focused on Death Valley. Thus, your LSU Tigers are SEC West champs and have the unenviable task of facing one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Georgia Bulldogs, if they can topple rival Georgia Tech, will have won 10 straight games since losing to two teams ranked in the Top 12 of the BCS. Quick, who is the No. 2 rushing defense in the nation? Nope, it's not LSU, it is Georgia. Quick, who leads the SEC in sacks and tackles for a loss? Not LSU or Alabama, but Georgia. The Dawgs have the best quarterback in the league and will get a slight home-field advantage in the Georgia Dome. So if UGA beats Tech, I will be the first to stand up and call for the upset in the SEC title game. If they stumble against the Jackets, I will say that the Bayou Bengals will be taking the short trip south to the Superdome in early January.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
It will be difficult to get past both Arkansas and Georgia on successive Saturdays, but I think LSU does it. There’s just something about this bunch of Bengal Tigers — besides being talented and well-coached — that seems to have them destined for a BCS Championship Game berth. The Razorbacks present a big concern with their passing game, especially after West Virginia threw for a ton of yards against LSU. However, the Mountaineers only scored 21 points in that game. Oregon had to score a touchdown with 13 seconds to go just to cut it to 40-27 against the Tigers. Every other team on the LSU schedule has scored 11 or fewer points against a defense that ranks No. 2 in the country. I think the top threat to LSU’s perfection is the team with the nation’s No. 1 ranked defense, Alabama, and the country’s two best teams seem to be on a collision course for a rematch in January.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Considering the chaos that college football provided last weekend, nothing would surprise me over the next two weeks. I’ve gone back and forth on this question. No one is invincible this year and LSU could certainly lose to Arkansas or Georgia. Out of those two games, I think the Bulldogs are the bigger obstacle to an undefeated season. The defense is capable of shutting down the Tigers’ rushing attack, while Aaron Murray and Isaiah Crowell would be a challenge for LSU’s defense. Despite the upset possibilities in the SEC title game or against Arkansas, I’m going to guess the Tigers will find a way to win both games and play for the national title with a 13-0 record.
-by Braden Gall (follow him @AthlonBraden)
LSU and Alabama are probably the best two teams in the nation.
And when you play in a league that boasts the last five National Champions, you are going to get the benefit of the doubt.
That doesn’t make it right, however, for LSU and Alabama to play in the BCS title game. The top two teams in the nation played an undefeated, tightly contested, late-season game in which the No. 1 team beat the No. 2 team by three points.
Shouldn’t that game mean something?
If you are wondering why that scenario sounds so familiar, it’s because it is exactly what happened in 2006, when an unbeaten No. 1 Ohio State topped an unbeaten No. 2 Michigan 42-39 on November 18. The screams against a rematch echoing from around the nation — and from Gainesville in particular — were deafening.
And they were right.
Michigan easily handled a 12-1 Wisconsin team, outlasted a 9-4 Penn State on the road and dismantled a 10-3 Notre Dame team that played in the Sugar Bowl before losing by three on the road to the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation. Sounds awfully similar to an Alabama team that, assuming both LSU and Bama take care of business over the final two weeks, won at Penn State, handily beat a 10-2 Arkansas team at home, beat its Iron Bowl rival and lost to the No. 1 team in the nation by three points. A very simple, and very subjective, case could be made that the 2006 Wolverines deserved the right to play in the national championship game —precisely the identical case Crimson Tide fans are making today.
Through the joy of hindsight, we now know that Florida did, in fact, deserve to play in the BCS National Championship game against the Buckeyes. Obviously. But the 10.5-point spread favoring Ohio State certainly didn’t indicate that was the case before the game was played. Very few experts were picking the Gators to win that game.
And this is where my long-time personal sports philosophies and what I have seen on the college football gridiron this season decisively diverge.
Teams that do not win their division or conference are allowed to win championships in every other major sport. The Green Bay Packers or the St. Louis Cardinals wouldn’t be World Champions if “Wild Cards” were not allowed to participate in the championship format. Yet, the Packers and Cardinals had to prove their mettle by maneuvering an incredibly treacherous postseason path to the title game(s). These teams were rewarded for establishing themselves as “worthy” during the regular season, earning a chance to play for a championship against the sport's best competition.
And they capitalized with epic and unexpected performances.
The Packers had to win three straight road games against the Eagles, Falcons and Bears before defeating the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. The Cardinals had to defeat the mighty Phillies, Brewers and Rangers in order to capture their 11th World Series title.
Herein lies the rub. I believe that Alabama and LSU (for now, Arkansas fans) are the two best teams in the nation. But that is, by definition, just a guess. There is no factual proof that Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Boise State or Stanford wouldn’t beat the Bayou Bengals or the Crimson Tide. Hypothetically, let’s assume each of those teams wins their conference championship, leaving them a combined 57-6. They would easily have established themselves as the best of the rest.
Did anyone pick the Cardinals to win the World Series? Or the Packers to win three road games and the Super Bowl? Assuming that LSU and Alabama would automatically defeat every one of those other teams is prognostication hubris.
In the non-playoff BCS format that is currently employed, the point is to try to objectively select the two best teams in the nation for a one-game playoff scenario. This makes college football’s regular season the most powerful and meaningful in all of sports – as every anti-playoff advocate will so readily point out.
So the 9-6 win by LSU over Alabama in Tuscaloosa on November 5 has to mean something, right? I may have watched that game and still felt that Alabama was the “better” team, but the better team doesn’t always win and LSU has to receive some sort of credit for winning that game.
If Alabama and LSU meet in the BCS National Title game, my eyes will agree that they are likely the two best teams in the nation. But if Alabama beats LSU, then what did that November 6 meeting mean?
Absolutely nothing. And my sports insides would be in a post-Turkey Day knot.
In a system that values the regular season at an unprecedented level, that contest at the Captsone has to have a cost associated with it. Alabama lost its division, its conference and the chance at a national championship that night — even if I still think they are the best team in the nation.
The point of athletic competition is having the opportunity to accomplish greatness against all odds. Joe Namath and John Elway pulled off two of the greatest upsets in football history on sports’ grandest stage. Jimmy V or Villanova would never have had the chance to cut down the nets if it weren't for the tournament. The Florida Marlins and Josh Beckett would never have ruined Steve Bartman’s life if not for the Wild Card. The 2007 Oregon State Beavers baseball team was one of the final at-large bids into the postseason and they captured the College World Series championship. None of which would have happened had we let our subjective hypotheses do the work for us.
The list goes on and on, full of Shining Moments that allow fans to dream big and then witness those fantasies unfold in front of them through the beauty of on-the-field competition. So if Alabama and LSU land in a four-team playoff, for example, and each wins its way to the title game, my inner sports-chi would be totally aligned and comfortable with a rematch. But in the current system, a team that doesn’t even win its own division simply does not deserve the right to play for a National Championship, even if we think it might be the second-best team in the nation.
Because if the BCS is such a perfect format, why is it the most heavily criticized postseason system in all of major American sports?
By Mitch Light
I don’t vote in the two polls that make up two-thirds of the BCS standings — the coaches poll and the Harris poll. But I do a weekly ranking, of all 120 FBS teams, on our website. And it is something I take seriously. It’s not rocket science, but it does take some time to sort through every team and determine where they should be ranked based on which teams they beat (and when they beat them) and which teams they lost to (and when they lost).
It can get pretty confusing, especially in a league like the Big East, which has five teams with two losses in league play. For example, Louisville beat Rutgers. Rutgers beat Cincinnati. Cincinnati beat Louisville. Here’s another one: Syracuse beat West Virginia. West Virginia beat Rutgers. Rutgers beat Syracuse. In each of these cases, it is very difficult to figure out which teams should be ranked higher in the 120 poll. But at least in these examples, the teams involved each lost other games, which allows the voter to get a better read on the teams.
That, however, will not be the case among SEC superpowers if Arkansas defeats LSU this Friday afternoon in Baton Rouge. If this happens, we will be facing — in my opinion — the most difficult dilemma in the history of the college football poll. If the Hogs do manage to pull off the upset and Alabama takes care of business at Auburn, I have absolutely no idea who should be ranked No. 1 in the nation. In this hypothetical scenario, all three teams would be 11–1 with no losses to any team outside of the Big Three in the SEC West.
• Should it be Arkansas, which would be coming off a win against the No. 1 team in the nation on the road? Makes sense. Until you consider that Arkansas lost, 38–14, at Alabama on Sept. 24.
• Should it be Alabama, which handled Arkansas with ease in September? Makes sense. Until you consider that Alabama lost at home to LSU on Nov. 5.
• Should it be LSU, which won on the road against Alabama? Makes sense. Until you consider that LSU would be coming off a loss at home to Arkansas.
There truly is no right answer. Every argument that you come up with can be shot down with sound reasoning. But at some point, every voter — whether it’s for the AP, Harris Poll, Coaches poll or a website like ours — will have to make a decision. So, for arguments sake, if Arkansas beats LSU Friday afternoon by a score of 24–20, I likely will keep LSU No. 1 in the Athlon Sports poll.
From watching these three teams all season, I believe that Alabama and LSU are the two best teams in the nation. Arkansas is obviously very good, but this team has flirted with disaster too many times — vs. Texas A&M, at Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt. LSU has played a slightly more difficult schedule than Alabama, and the Tigers, of course, beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
So while it does seem strange to vote a team No. 1 in the nation even though it lost at home in its most recent game, I believe putting LSU atop the poll is the best decision at this point of the season.
AROUND THE SEC
• LSU has allowed 11 points or less in all seven SEC games. Let that sink in.
• Ole Miss ranks 11th or 12th in the SEC in 15 of the 17 stat categories maintained by the NCAA.
• The seven SEC teams that Georgia has defeated have a combined record of 12–39 in league play. Auburn, at 4–3, is the only team in that group with a winning SEC record.
• Tennessee’s Tauren Poole rushed for a season-high 107 yards in the Vols’ win over Vanderbilt. It was Poole’s first 100-yard game in SEC play since he rushed for 107 yards against Ole Miss last November.
• Alabama’s Trent Richardson has as many rushing touchdowns (20) as the next two players on the SEC leaders list combined —Auburn’s Michael Dyer (10) and Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy (10).
• Vanderbilt has only hit two of eight field goal attempts in SEC games.
• Alabama and Georgia are the only two teams in the league with over 2,000 yards rushing and 2,000 yards receiving.
• Kentucky ranks 118th in the nation with a 4.13 yards-per-play average.
• Alabama has almost 1,000 more rushing yards in SEC play than Tennessee. The Crimson Tide lead the league with 1,427 yards in seven games; the Vols are last with 447 in seven games.
• South Carolina has only allowed one pass play of at least 40 yards, tied with South Florida for fewest in the nation.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
When Arizona decided to part ways with Mike Stoops, it desperately needed to make a splash with its next head coach. It’s easy to throw around the phrase “home-run hire” during coaching changes, but I feel confident using that term with the Wildcats’ hire of Rich Rodriguez.
Stoops didn’t do a terrible job at Arizona. He led the Wildcats to three consecutive bowl games from 2008-10 and finished with 41 overall victories. However, a 1-5 start and his antics on the sideline were enough for athletic director Greg Byrne to make a change midway through 2011.
Byrne was looking for a coach that can help elevate Arizona football to the next level. Success on the gridiron is something that has eluded the Wildcats. Arizona has only two seasons of double-digit wins since 1899. Also, they have never made an appearance in the Rose Bowl or claimed an outright Pac-10 (now Pac-12) championship.
With the addition of Utah and Colorado and a title game, the road to a conference championship became more difficult. Finishing 6-6 or 7-5 just wasn’t going to cut it anymore in Tucson.
That’s where Rodriguez comes in. Humble and eager to get back to work after a disappointing tenure at Michigan, Rodriguez is the perfect fit at Arizona.
You can’t judge Rodriguez by the 15-22 record at Michigan. From the start, the hire had a negative buzz, and he never seemed to mesh with the culture in Ann Arbor. And of course, he wasn’t a Michigan man, which didn’t sit well with the fanbase from the opening moment of his press conference. The Wolverines had an awful 3-9 record in 2008, but improved their win total by two in 2009 and 2010. Also, the players Rodriguez recruited have Michigan on the door step of earning a BCS at-large bid this season. His three seasons with the Wolverines can be summed up in just a few words: Good coach, bad fit.
While the Michigan tenure was not a success, Rodriguez led West Virginia to a 60-26 record and two BCS games from 2001-07. Also, six of his seven seasons in Morgantown resulted in at least eight victories.
A coaching change is rarely flawless, so there will be a transition period from Stoops to Rodriguez. His first year at West Virginia resulted in a 3-8 finish, followed by a 9-4 record the following year.
With the personnel currently in place, Rodriguez’s spread offense is going to require an adjustment period. However, there’s no question his offense will work in the Pac-12 (see Oregon) and is a scheme that should have no trouble luring recruits to Tucson.
Looking ahead to 2012, Arizona has some pieces in place, including quarterback Matt Scott and promising freshman running back Ka’Deem Carey. The defense has some rebuilding to do in the front seven, but the secondary could be among the best in the conference next season, especially with hard-hitting safety Adam Hall returning from a knee injury.
Although 2013 is a long time away, with USC getting hit by scholarship sanctions, the South Division will be up for grabs. Rodriguez’s teams have always shown big improvement in year two, and it would not be a shock to see Arizona in the conference title mix by then.
Hiring a defensive coordinator is also going to be important to Rodriguez’s success at Arizona. The defense was atrocious during his three seasons at Michigan, which largely led to his downfall in Ann Arbor.
Rodriguez has never coached in the Pac-12 or held a coaching job west of Michigan. And he will probably need to hire a few assistants with experience on the West Coast and who can help recruit Texas and California.
Attendance was an issue at Arizona Stadium as the Stoops’ era was nearing an end. That won’t be the case over the next few seasons, as the Wildcats should become one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the Pac-12.
Arizona was the first BCS school to make a head coaching change during the season and it paid big dividends by landing Rodriguez. Had Byrne waited to fire Stoops until the end of the season, Rodriguez might have landed with North Carolina or Ole Miss.
Considering the change in schemes on both sides of the ball, Arizona might struggle to get into a bowl game next season. However, after a year on the sidelines, Rodriguez has to be eager to erase the bad memories from Michigan. And he should be a great fit in Tucson, and will have the Wildcats in contention for the Pac-12 South Division crown sooner rather than later.
The Recruiting Impact of Rich Rodriguez
- by Tracy McDannald, GoAZCats.com (follow him @TracyGoAzCats)
There may not be a happier current Arizona football player than the one being saved for next season at the announcement of the hiring of Rich Rodriguez on Monday night. Senior quarterback Matt Scott, who is redshirting this season, is a dual-threat quarterback and has potential to be “Pat White 2.0” next season under Rodriguez. Overall, Rodriguez is inheriting talent that would seem to work well in his style of offense – running back Ka’Deem Carey and receivers Dan Buckner and Juron Criner among others. As for recruiting, the 2012 commitment reaction has been mixed so far – receiver commit Jarrell Bennett told GOAZCATS.com that he was excited about Rodriguez, while quarterback commit Nathan Sudfeld says he’s uncertain right now. So, it appears that Rodriguez at least has pieces to work with at UA. And the Wildcats just plugged in a big piece to their own puzzle.
For more Arizona team and recruiting news complete with prospect rankings and message boards, visit www.GoAZCats.com
This profile of the Alabama and Auburn college football rivalry originally appeared in Athlon's 1995 college football annuals. As the rivalry is renewed this week, we thought it was relevant to take a look back at the history of the single-most important game played in the state of Alabama each year, the "Iron Bowl."
Great Rivalries — Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Auburn Tigers
By Clyde Bolton, The Birmingham News
You're playing golf with a fellow who usually beats you. But today is your day to win.
Do you trounce him? Or would you rather slice the ball into the woods, listen as it ricochets from tree to tree, then watch in delight as it caroms onto the green and stops beside the cup, enabling you to make the deciding putt while your opponent screams about the injustice of it all?
The football equivalent of the second option happened in the 1972 Auburn-Alabama game, and Tiger fans still delight in needling their Crimson Tide friends with "Punt, Bama, Punt."
"When are you folks going to quit talking about those blocked punts?" an Alabama man demanded of Terry Henley years later. Henley, who was Auburn's tailback that day, smiled and said, "When you folks stop singing about playing in the Rose Bowl."
The Alabama-Auburn rivalry has been called everything from the nation's greatest to a sickness, but that game almost a quarter of a century ago in which an overmatched Auburn team blocked two consecutive punts in the final minutes and returned them for touchdowns to win 17-16 is indisputably its most famous edition.
Bill Cromartie, author of Braggin' Rights, the definitive history of the Auburn-Alabama series, didn't hesitate to pronounce it "the most incredible football game ever played."
Cromartie, who has written histories of Georgia-Georgia Tech, Michigan-Ohio State, Texas-Oklahoma, Notre Dame-Southern California and Duke-North Carolina, also says, "This is by far, I think, the nastiest rivalry in the country. I doubt if anything else touches it. I don't know if it's because the game of football is so intense in the state and they've both had good teams. But even when one team is real good and the other is real bad, it's still nasty."
This is what happened at Birmingham's Legion Field on Dec. 2, 1972: Alabama was undefeated, untied and ranked second in the nation. Auburn, having lost quarterback in Pat Sullivan, the 1971 Heisman Trophy winner, and consensus All-America receiver Terry Beasley to graduation, had been picked to finish in the lower reaches of the Southeastern Conference. But the Tigers had forged a surprising 8-1 record and were ranked ninth nationally. Still, a 35-7 loss to LSU marred their record, and they were 16-point underdogs to the Tide.
Auburn amassed a grand total of eight yards of offense in the first half. Largely forgotten, because it seemed of no importance at the tim, was Tiger defensive back Roger Mitchell's extra-point block after Alabama's first touchdown. And Auburn further demonstrated its inability to move the ball when coach Shug Jordan had Gardner Jett kick a 42-yard field goal with 9:15 left in the game and the Tide ahead 16-0. As Tiger fans booed Jordan's decision, he turned to trainer Kenny Howard and said, "They don't think we're going to win, do they?"
With 5:30 to play, the score 16-3 and the ball at midfield, Auburn linebacker Bill Newton rushed through unchecked and blocked Greg Grant's punt. The ball took a perfect hop into the arms of defensive back David Langner, who sped 25 yards into the end zone. Jett's extra point made it 16-10.
Then, with 1:34 remaining Grant prepared to punt again. The line of scrimmage was the Alabama 43. And again, Newton blocked Grant's punt. It bounded as if by design into Langner's arms, and he returned it 20 yards for the touchdown with 1:24 remaining. Jett's PAT gave Auburn a most improbable 17-16 victory.
Or at least I'm told Newton blocked another punt and Langner scored another touchdown. I covered the game for The Birmingham News. I was making my way to the sidelines before going to the dressing room to interview Jordan, the man I thought would be the losing coach. I didn't see the second block because my 5-7 frame was behind Auburn fans who were standing at the end-zone fence. I've always regretted that.
"What happened?" I asked when they went insane.
"The same thing that happened before," a fellow screamed. I had to work my way out of the crowd before I could deduce that I had missed one of the most amazing plays in football history.
Nobody was more amazed than Alabama's players. John Croyle, an all-star defensive end who went on to establish Big Oak Ranch for underprivileged, abused boys and girls, remembers the surreal qualities of the game.
The night before, some 20 players gathered in Croyle's room to pray.
"God, should we lose, make us men," one said.
"Should we lose?" Croyle thought. "No way."
For most of the game, nothing happened to change his mind.
"We could have given them the ball on the 10-yard line five times, and they would have never scored," Croyle recalls. "You know when you're beating somebody's eyes out, and we were beating their eyes out."
Not quite out.
"The score was 16-3 in the fourth quarter," Croyle says. "We were on the sidelines, and we knew the game was in the bag. We were so cocky we were even taking the tape off our hands. One of the guys said, 'Why don't we thank the Lord for the win?'
"It came time for me to pray, and I said, 'Lord, thank you for letting us be here, and I just want to praise your name for this ball game.'
"We jumped up, and here goes a guy running into the end zone with our ball. We all sat back down in a state of shock. I said, 'God, let's don't let this get out of hand.'"
But it did get out of hand. Jordan, who had avoided calling any victory his greatest or any team his favorite, affirmed both in the dressing room that afternoon. Alabama coach Bear Bryant, whose Tide teams won 19 of their 25 games against Auburn, never got over it.
In the late 1970s, I had fun with Bryant by asking when he was going to retire. During an Iron Bowl (Auburn vs. Alabama) week, he snapped, "When I block two punts against Auburn, I'll retire."
Doug Barfield, who would go 0-5 against Alabama and Bryant, was Auburn's coach from 1976-1980. I visited him the day after I spoke with Bryan, and he asked hopefully, "When is that old man going to retire?"
"He told me just yesterday that he'll retire when he blocks two punts against Auburn," I answered.
Barfield grinned and said, "Well, how about telling him I'll let him block two Saturday if he'll retire?"
Bryant, whose Tide was headed for a Cotton Bowl match with Texas, angered Auburn fans before the 1972 Iron Bowl when he told the Birmingham Monday Morning Quarterback Club, "I'd rather beat that cow college once than beat Texas 10 times."
The irrepressible Henley was never one to run away from a headline. In print, he said Bryant should be ashamed of himself.
After Auburn upset Alabama, Henley said, "When those cows get mad, they kick. There won't be enough people going back to Auburn to milk them tonight."
Henley, now a Birmingham insurance man, remembers a story from that game. "It was not against the rules for the players to sell tickets. I came up with the ingenious idea of buying all the other players' tickets, and I'd be the only one to have any.
"The game came around and I ended up with all the tickets in the XX, YY and ZZ temporary bleachers at the end of the field. People would call, and I'd tell them I had 50-yard-line tickets. They'd send me $100, and I'd send them a couple of end-zone tickets, I was making the money.
"We got off the bus at the stadium, and a lot of players walked around the field in their dress clothes to stretch their legs. I never cared about that. I liked to sit in the dressing room and try to find my name in the program.
"Johnny Simmons, our safety, came in the dressing room, and he said, 'Terry, there's a bunch of people out there cussing you and screaming for you.'
"I said, 'Are they Alabama fans?'
"He said, 'No, they are our fans.'
"Well, I had long hair, and I liked to lead the team out on the field with my helmet under my arm, letting my hair blow. But this time I tried to get lost in the middle of the team when we ran out. I could hear the fans yelling, 'Where is he? Where is he?' We were doing our exercises, and they were yelling, 'You scumbag, you put us in the end zone.'
"But you know where all 33 points were scored? In that end zone. After the game, people were coming up to me and saying, 'Terry, our seats were just great.' They loved me again."
The first Alabama-Auburn game was played on Feb. 22, 1893, in Birmingham. Auburn won 32-22. Disagreement between the sides dates all the way back to that day. Alabama considers it the last game of the 1982 season. Auburn considers it the first game of the 1893 season.
There's something strange about this series, though, something that sets it apart from other rivalries rooted in antiquity. After the rivals tied 6-6 in 1907, they didn't meet on the gridiron again until; 1948, when Alabama won 55-0. Talk about a timeout.
Some consider the break in relations as fascinating as the games themselves. Over the years, two myths gained currency, neither of which is true. According to one, there was a riot at the 1907 game, and that was why the schools stopped playing each other. According to the other, the state legislature forced the two teams to get back together. Cromartie was surprised to learn just how mundane were the details of the split.
"I had always heard there was a killing in the 1907 game," he told me. "I went to the Birmingham paper thinking there would be some big headlines about the killing. I was going to the courthouse to get the records.
"But there was nothing about a fight. I thought maybe it was too late to get in the Sunday paper. So I looked in Monday's paper. Nothing there, either."
Cromartie's research into the origin of the 41-year break revealed a startling truth: "It was over $34."
The teams couldn't reach an agreement on the terms of the contract for the next year, so they didn't meet. It's an instructive example of how a rift can expand to chasm, whether between spouses, nations or institutions.
Over the years, efforts were made by various parties to bring the schools together, but it didn't happen until 1948. Mike Donahue, Auburn coach from 1904 to 1922 with a year off in 1907, was director of intramurals at LSU by then. When relations were resumed, he was interviewed by The Birmingham News.
"It would be a very fine thing for football if they will accept the game like any other game," Donahue said. "I tried to bring the schools together several times after relations were broken in the spring of 1908. The game was always very cleanly played during the time I was coaching at Auburn, beginning with the 1904 game. I have heard that riots and the conduct of the players were responsible for the severance of relations. I want to tell you this is not true. Failure to agree on details, where the teams would stay, expenses, how many players each squad would be permitted to have and officials caused the break in relations."
When Alabama and Auburn met again, it wasn't because the legislature required it but because two reasonable men, Alabama president Dr. John Galalee and Auburn president Dr. Ralph Draughon, decided it was time.
The legislature occasionally approved resolutions asking that they play each other, but they carried no official weight.
"It used to come up in the legislature, but both schools absolutely turned their backs on that," says Jeff Beard, retired Auburn athletic director.
Finally, Beard attended a get-together at which representatives of both schools reached an agreement to resume the series.
"Dr. Draughon and Dr. Galalee had been to a meeting at the old Tutwiler Hotel in Birmingham, and when it was over, they were walking to their cars," Beard recalls. "They started talking about it and decided there should be a game. The went home and talked on the phone about it some more. We met later at the Anne Jordan Farm near Sylacauga and had a nice dinner and got all the details worked out."
It has not been "like any other game," as Donahue suggested it should be. College football television analyst Beano Cook said ti well: "Alabama-Auburn is not just a rivalry. It's Gettysburg South."
Former Alabama coach Ray Perkins called it the most important football game in the world. More people in Alabama care passionately about it than about the Super Bowl, he said. He was right.
I have covered college football throughout the nation for 40 seasons, and I can say with assurance that the sport is embraced more enthusiastically in the state of Alabama than anywhere else.
I have a theory as to why college football is so important to the people of Alabama. The state traditionally has been ranked near the bottom in meaningful categories such as education and health. It is perceived by many as redneck and racist. But, by golly, we can be No.1 in football. We can be at or near the top in The Associated Press poll. Bear Bryant raised Alabama to the pinnacle in something, even if it is a game. Auburn responded to the challenge and we have a unique rivalry.
In recent years, the state's status has improved in many significant respects. It is frequently mentioned in those "best places to live" articles that appear in magazines. Meanwhile, our passion for football hasn't diminished.
A poll in 1989 asked residents of the state to name their most admired Alabamian, living or dead. Former governor George Wallace and Bryant were 1-2 in a landslide. Surely the third spot must have gone to Martin Luther King Jr. or Hugo Black or Booker T. Washington or Helen Keller or Julia Tutwiler, you say? No, it went to Bo Jackson, Auburn's 1985 Heisman Trophy winner and pro football and baseball player.
Even the color of money changes from orange and blue to crimson and white during Iron Bowl week. A scalper on a talk radio show offered two tickets for sale, adding, "Auburn fans need not call me. I don't want their money." (Scalping, incidentally, is legal in Alabama, and pairs of tickets to the 1994 Iron Bowl routinely fetched $400.)
Losers can expect to be seriously razzed for year. When fans say the game is for bragging rights, they aren't kidding.
"Talk about the Texas-Texas A&M game will start a week before the game and continue for a week after," says Alabama coach Gene Stallings, an ex-Aggie player and head coach, "but talk about the Alabama-Auburn game never stops. They're talking about it on the Fourth of July. That's what makes this one different from all others."
In one of the state's small towns, police arrested an Alabama fan and charged him with the shotgun death of an Auburn supporter a few hours after the 1994 game at Birmingham's Legion Field, won by Alabama 21-14. The Auburn fan watched the game on TV at a friend's house and returned home to find his car had been egged and his trees covered with toilet paper. Police said he apparently suspected an Alabama devotee. When the man went to the Bama fan's house trailer to confront him, he was shot.
Former Alabama coach Bill Curry said some of his players received death threats before the 1989 game with Auburn, the first to be played at Auburn. They would be protected from the time they left Tuscaloosa until they returned, he stressed. "Our players will virtually be surrounded by security," Curry said.
"It's one of the nastiest rivalries there is," says Siran Stacy, who was Alabama's star runner that year. Stacy says he received a threatening phone call.
"The caller said something about I would never set foot in Jordan-Hare Stadium. There was no name, no reason. Just a mean call. I guess the thought by threatening me I'd get all stirred up. I guess they thought it would affect me and it would hurt the team. They thought wrong."
Stallings and Auburn coach Terry Bowden appear to be making an effort to turn the rivalry into something a little less mean-spirited. Neither is likely to make a gratuitous statement such as one Perkins made about Pat Dye when they were coaching Alabama and Auburn respectively. Dye, said Perkins, couldn't have the same feelings about the rivalry that he (Perkins) had because Dye hadn't played at either school. Ridiculous, said Dye, a former Georgia All-American.
"We don't spend any more time getting ready for Auburn than we do for Chattanooga," Stallings said. "There's more pressure on me personally to play somebody you're supposed to beat than to play a good strong rival."
After Auburn lost the 1994 game, which gave the Tide a 34-24-1 series lead, Bowden said, "I guess I'll go back to being Buster Brown now," a self-deprecating reference to his lack of height.
More humor and common sense and less rancor are welcomed in the Alabama-Auburn series, but neither coach has any illusions about it being just a game.
"It's important to win," Stallings says, "and if the coach at either school can't take that, he shouldn't be working there."
Following are 11 (appropriately) memorable Auburn-Alabama games in chronological order:
*(1948) Alabama 55, Auburn 0. "They'll take the bandages off a 41-yeard-old football wound tomorrow and see if the scar is healed," Sterling Slappey wrote in The Montgomery Advertiser. The presidents of both student bodies actually buried a hatchet in a park in Birmingham, but everyone was uneasy, wondering just what would happen at the renewal. There were no unusual problems with fans, but Alabama halfback Ed Salem did lead the worst mugging Auburn had suffered since 1917.
*(1949) Auburn 14, Alabama 13. It remains the greatest upset in a series that has had precious few upsets. The 6-2-1 Tide was a 19-point favorite over the Tigers, who had won only one game. Billy Tucker, who later would be crippled by polio, kicked the winning extra point.
*(1957) Auburn 40, Alabama 0. It wasn't much of a game, which is precisely why it was notable. It was the last building block in Auburn's national championship season. The Tigers led 34-0 at intermission, Jordan called them the best team, for a half, he had ever coached.
*(1961) Alabama 34, Auburn 0. Bryant returned to his alma mater in 1958 after coaching stints at Maryland, Kentucky and Texas A&M, and Auburn's dominance in the series ended. This victory was the centerpiece in Bryant's first of six national titles. Quarterback Pat Trammell, Bryant's favorite of all the players he coached, a man who would die young, led the win.
*(1971) Alabama 31, Auburn 7. Only once have the teams met when both were undefeated and untied, and this was it. On Thursday, Sullivan was named winner of the Heisman Trophy, and the Tigers weren't down off their cloud on Saturday. Tide All-American Johnny Musso and company brought them back to earth, though.
*(1972) Punt, Bama, Punt.
*(1981) Alabama 28, Auburn 17. Bryant's 315th victory this day made him the all-time winningest coach in Division I-A college football history. He would win 323 games, lose 85 and tie 17 in 38 years as a head coach, 25 at Alabama. His Tide came from behind in the fourth period on a pass from Walter Lewis to Jesse Bendross to beat its No. 1 rival in 1981.
*(1982) Auburn 23, Alabama 22. Bo Jackson scored over the top to score the winning touchdown with 2:26 to play in Bryant's last Iron Bowl. It was the Tigers' first victory over the Tide since 1972. Dye, in his second year at the Auburn helm, became the first Bryant pupil to beat the master in 31 games over 12 years. Two months later, Bryant was dead of heart failure.
*(1985) Alabama 25, Auburn 23. This was perhaps the most breathtaking game of the series. The lead changed hands four times in the fourth period. Van Tiffin kicked a 52-yard field goal on the last play to win it.
*(1989) Auburn 30, Alabama 20. Despite protestations by Alabama that it would never happen, Auburn moved its home games with the Tide to its campus. This was the first one, and Dye likened it to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
*(1993) Auburn 22, Alabama 14. Auburn's new coach, the boyish-looking Bowden, closed an unprecedented 11-0 rookie season in Division 1-A with a victory on the Plain. Backup quarterback Patrick Nix helped him get it with a spectacular touchdown pass to Frank Sanders.
Pep bands, cheerleaders, tailgating, student sections, cornhole and especially rivalries. All of which makes college football the greatest sport on the planet. The Athlon Sports editorial staff put its collective heads together and ranked the Top 25 rivalries in college football:
1. Michigan-Ohio State (Michigan leads 57-44-6)
Some think the story is a tall tale, but others swear it’s true. After his Ohio State team scored its final touchdown late in a 50–14 rout of Michigan at the end of the 1968 season, Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes elected to go for two points, instead of kicking the PAT. When asked afterward why he did that, Hayes reportedly said, “Because they wouldn’t let me go for three.” Hayes’ hatred for “that team up north,” as he referred to Michigan, was legendary. Rest assured that Wolverine fans harbor no affection for the Buckeyes, either. The schools have met every year but five (1913-17) since 1900 — the teams’ first game was in 1897 — and their contests have become appointment viewing for much of the country, late in November, usually under gun-metal gray skies with a hint of winter in the air. More important, Big Ten primacy is usually at stake, especially since Bo Schembechler took over in Ann Arbor in 1969 to turn the U-M fortunes around and provide an irascible counterbalance to the cantankerous Hayes. Since that point, Michigan-Ohio State has been the nation’s most consistently competitive and heated rivalry. Because the games have so much significance and occur at season’s end, a loss can be doubly haunting. Not only does the vanquished team lose to a hated foe, but its season can be destroyed also. For that reason, Michigan-Ohio State tops the rivalry list. There may be games that match these schools’ animosity for each other, and there may be contests that are as consistently important. But none combines the two into such a volatile package.
2. Alabama-Auburn (Alabama leads 40-34-1)
When Bill Curry was coaching at Alabama, he went to a Birmingham elementary school one day to speak with children about football and life. Upon entering the classroom, he saw a boy standing in the corner, sobbing. Curry wondered what was going on, and a student told him, “Jason is an Auburn fan, and we took care of him.” Curry brought Jason out of the corner and told him it was all right to root for the Tigers, no doubt angering the young Crimson Tide supporters in the room. Truth be told, it isn’t all right to be an Auburn fan — if you follow the Tide. Tiger fans feel the same way about Bama. If you live in the state of Alabama, you have to choose; you either yell “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle.” You’re either a fan of the big-brother Crimson Tide, or Auburn, which has its roots in agricultural education and resents the perceived arrogance of its rival. In a state with no major professional sports team, Auburn-Alabama football is a religion. Curry’s minister once told him it was more important. It has been that way from the game’s earliest days, which proved to be so contentious that the schools stopped playing each other for 41 years. Once they resumed hostilities, they did so at a geographically neutral site, in Birmingham, but Auburn fans groused for decades because Legion Field was the Tide’s home away from home. That changed when the game moved to campus, but the vitriol has not abated. Fans of both teams crave victory, and a loss means a full year of misery from friends, co-workers and even family members. It’s enough to make someone want to stand in a corner and cry.
3. Army-Navy (Navy leads 55-49-7)
Go ahead and try to attend this game without experiencing a surge of patriotism. If the Super Hornets’ flyover doesn’t get you, the Army paratroopers will. If you miss the parades of Cadets and Midshipmen, then the non-stop spirit videos on the big board will stir your senses. By game’s end, no matter what the score, America wins. That may seem hokey to some, but they haven’t been there. Trust us, Army-Navy is college football in its purest state. Today, that’s something worth celebrating. Fans of the teams thirst for victory, and so do the players, who are truly playing for their fellow students. Afterward, they rejoin their classmates in preparation for military service, not an NFL career. For 364 days of the year, Army and Navy are on the same team. For three hours on a chilled December afternoon, they represent every soldier or sailor who has ever donned a uniform, walked a post or sailed into the dark of night. The football has been pretty good over the years, too. Five Heisman winners have participated in the rivalry, and dozens of Hall of Famers have taken the field representing the academies. Though Navy has dominated the scoreboard over the past decade, the game remains a huge draw and a still thrills fans across the country. Most important, it pits future military and government leaders against each other as they fight for their Academies and provide the country with an afternoon of prideful competition.
4. Oklahoma-Texas (Texas leads 59-41-5)
One of the most unique characteristics about Dallas’ Cotton Bowl is that the teams’ locker rooms empty into a common corridor, so that players take the field through the same tunnel. On more than one occasion, as Texas and Oklahoma have prepared to charge onto the hallowed stadium’s turf, they have encountered each other in a highly charged, emotional moment that could have ignited an inferno. Instead, they decided to enjoin the fight on the gridiron, in front of 95,000-plus fans divided evenly into crimson and burnt orange enclaves. Rarely has the flame from the ensuing collision failed to heat the passions of all in attendance. While the Texas State Fair rollicks on around them, and vendors offer to fry anything that doesn’t move — and some things that do — the Longhorns and Sooners offer a mid-season football feast that dates back to 1900, when Oklahoma wasn’t even a state and Texas was just beginning to tap into the huge oil reserves deep below its surface. The neighbors harbor a significant dislike for each other, and tempers have boiled over many times on nights before the game. It doesn’t help that many OU grads now live in Texas, lured south by jobs in the petroleum industry. And plenty of Lone Star football talent has headed north to Norman, especially when Barry Switzer was pillaging the state’s top programs for all-stars. The action on the field rarely disappoints. Although there have been several blowouts over the years, including 2011’s 55–17 Sooner wipeout, the action is usually taut and has national implications. Though the game is played in October, several championship runs have been spawned by a victory in Dallas, and several high hopes have been dashed.
5. USC-Notre Dame (Notre Dame leads 43-22-5)
The nation’s top intersectional rivalry owes a debt of gratitude to some unfriendly residents of Lincoln, Neb., and Bonnie Rockne’s love of warm California weather. At a time when traditional gridiron matchups are being torn asunder by the whirling conference kaleidoscope, Notre Dame and USC continue their annual hostilities, treating the nation to a classic matchup of iconic programs. The schools almost didn’t get together. But in 1925, after ND dropped a 17–0 decision at Nebraska, before an inhospitable crowd of Cornhusker fans, coach Knute Rockne and his wife were joined on the train back to Chicago by USC athletic director Gwynn Wilson and his wife, Marion. While Wilson tried to convince Rockne to ditch the burgeoning rivalry with Nebraska for an annual trip west, Marion Wilson and Bonnie Rockne became fast friends in another train compartment. Rockne resisted Wilson’s entreaties, but his wife was enthralled with the idea of Los Angeles in the late fall. She later convinced her husband to play the Trojans. The resulting rivalry has lasted 85 years and has filled the college football history books with dozens of classic tales. More Heisman winners have played in the Notre Dame-USC game than in any other rivalry, and many a national championship hope has been validated with a victory in the game. Though the teams alternate between their home sites, playing in late November in L.A. and mid-October in South Bend, the game retains a glamour that defines it and is a product of two of college football’s most storied programs.
6. Georgia-Florida (Georgia leads 46-40-2)
The party begins at “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” around Tuesday, when the big boats start cruising up the St. John’s River in Jacksonville. By gametime, everybody is in a festive mood – except the players. The Bulldogs and Gators have engaged in some classics over the years, from Georgia’s thrilling comeback in 1980 to Florida’s soggy 1993 triumph. Cheers!
7. Miami-Florida State (Miami leads 31-24)
For a while there during the 1990s, there was more talent on the field when the ‘Canes and ‘Noles met up than in some NFL stadiums. And everybody wanted to put on a show. This matchup lacks the tradition and history of other rivalries, but the hostility is just as high. And there have been some classics. FSU fans still wince when they hear the words “Wide Right,” while Miami backers still cringe at the 34-3 beating their heroes absorbed in ’84.
8. Harvard-Yale (Yale leads 65-54-8)
The Crimson and Bulldogs may not have played the first-ever college football game, but both schools had hands in how the game developed into what we have today. The late-November meeting between the schools is a history lesson wrapped in a high-class tailgate party. Harvard and Yale no longer compete at college football’s highest level, but they remain forever linked to the sport’s earliest days.
9. Florida-Florida State (Florida leads 33-20-2)
For years, this was a big brother/little brother battle, with the establishment Gators looking down on the upstart Seminoles. Then, FSU started to win games – a lot of games – and things changed. This may lack the in-state hate of Auburn-Alabama, but don’t worry; the two sides harbor plenty of dislike for each other. During the past three decades, as both have competed for national laurels, their games have become more than just neighborhood brawls.
10. Cal-Stanford (Stanford leads 51-43-10)
To some, The Big Game is the province of the wine-and-cheese crowd, and the schools’ NoCal addresses reinforce that. But there can be no denying that these schools thirst to defeat each other. It’s a classic battle of private (Stanford) against public (Cal), and bragging rights go well beyond which side brings the best pinot to the pre-game party. Plus, what other rivalry can boast a game with a crazy ending as the 1982 contest: “The band is on the field!”
11. Pittsburgh-West Virginia (Pitt leads 61-39-3)
Only 75 miles separates the two combatants in the Backyard Brawl. And this rivalry is also helped by the fact that Dana Holgorsen and Todd Graham don't like each other.
12. Texas-Texas A&M (Texas leads 75-37-5)
This Thanksgiving weekend tradition is in jeopardy with the Aggies’ move to the SEC.
13. Oregon-Oregon State (Oregon leads 58-46-10)
The Civil War has come a long way since the Ducks and Beavers played to a 0–0 tie in 1983.
14. BYU-Utah (Utah leads 51-31-4)
The Holy War might be the best name for any rivalry in the nation.
15. UCLA-USC (USC leads 43-28-7)
The Southern California showdown was dominated by UCLA from 1991-98, but the Bruins have only won once since, in 2006.
16. Alabama-Tennessee (Alabama leads 47-38-7)
The Third Saturday in October means only one thing to people in the South: Alabama vs. Tennessee.
17. Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (Oklahoma leads 81-17-7)
T. Boone Pickens’ interest in the Oklahoma State program was piqued after the Pokes, 3–7 at the time, knocked OU out of the 2001 national title game with a 16–13 win.
18. Clemson-South Carolina (Clemson leads 65-39-4)
These two schools were bitter rivals well before they started playing football in the 1890s. South Carolina has won two straight, but Clemson holds a 65–39–4 advantage in the all-time series.
19. Mississippi State-Ole Miss (Ole Miss leads 60-41-6)
The Egg Bowl is often the only way to salvage a season for these two programs that have struggled to win consistently in the SEC.
20. Michigan-Michigan State (Michigan leads 67-31-5)
It pains MSU fans that Michigan’s biggest rival is Ohio State, but the “Little Brothers” from East Lansing have won the last four in the series.
21. Auburn-Georgia (Auburn leads 54-52-8)
It’s the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry and it dates back to 1892. Auburn holds the slimmest of margins, with a 54–52–8 edge in the series.
22. Michigan-Notre Dame (Michigan leads 22-15-1)
These two traditional powers have only played regularly for the past three decades, but they produced a ton of memorable moments. Strike a pose, Desmond!
23. Georgia-Georgia Tech (Georgia leads 61-39-5)
You know it’s a good rivalry when the book about the series is called Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.
24. Minnesota-Wisconsin (Minnesota leads 59-53-8)
The winner of the Gophers vs. Badgers showdown takes home the prized Paul Bunyan Axe. It’s the most played rivalry in FBS football, dating back to 1890.
25. Lafayette-Lehigh (Lafayette leads 76-65-5)
The Rivalry, as it’s called, pits two small private schools located 17 miles apart in Eastern Pennsylvania. Lafayette and Lehigh have met 146 times, including every year since 1897.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 12 SEC Power Rankings
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1. LSU (11-0) – Four plays into Saturday’s game against Ole Miss and there was never a doubt about the outcome. Defensive back Ron Brooks picked off Zack Stoudt and returned it 46 yards for a score, effectively ending any chance the Rebels had of pulling the upset. The Tigers are two wins away from playing for the national title. However, the road isn’t going to be easy, as LSU hosts Arkansas this Saturday and assuming it beats the Razorbacks, will take on Georgia in the SEC Championship. Considering the chaos that happened last weekend, a loss to the Razorbacks wouldn’t necessarily knock the Tigers out of national title contention.
2. Alabama (10-1) – Georgia Southern’s option attack was a handful for the Crimson Tide to prepare for in just one week and the results showed. Alabama’s defense allowed a season-high of 21 points and 341 yards to the Eagles. Although the Crimson Tide got a tougher challenge than some may have expected, that wasn’t the biggest news coming out of Tuscaloosa this weekend. With losses by Oregon, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Alabama is back in the national title mix. The Crimson Tide play at Auburn this Saturday and a win could lock in a finish in the top two of the BCS and setup a potential rematch against LSU.
3. Arkansas (10-1) – The Razorbacks have flown under the radar most of the year, but thanks to a shakeup in the BCS standings after Week 12, they are squarely in the mix for the national title. Saturday’s convincing 44-17 victory over Mississippi State moved Arkansas to 10-1, with its only loss coming to Alabama on Sept. 24. While the Razorbacks a riding a seven-game winning streak coming into Friday’s game against LSU, this will easily be their toughest challenge since losing to the Crimson Tide. Needless to say, Arkansas will have to have its best effort of the year to knock off the Tigers in Baton Rouge.
4. Georgia (9-2) – It wasn’t the blowout some predicted, but the Bulldogs defeated Kentucky 19-10 to clinch the SEC East title. Georgia’s offense never seemed to get on track, especially after an injury to running back Isaiah Crowell. However, the defense suffocated Kentucky’s offense in the second half, which was more than enough to clinch the victory. Crowell’s ankle could be an issue for Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech, but his health figures to be more important for the Dec. 3 SEC title game. The Bulldogs have won nine out of the last 10 meetings against the Yellow Jackets.
5. South Carolina (9-2) – It was a weekend of mixed feelings in Columbia. The good: Saturday’s 41-20 win over The Citadel. The bad: Georgia’s victory over Kentucky eliminated the Gamecocks from winning the SEC East. Although South Carolina can’t play for the conference title, there’s still a chance to win 10 games this season. The Gamecocks host rival Clemson this Saturday and will play in likely one of three bowl games: Cotton, Capital One or Outback.
6. Auburn (7-4) – Samford was probably a little too close for comfort for Auburn fans, but the 35-16 victory helped to erase some of the bad memories of the 45-7 loss to Georgia two weeks ago. Running back Michael Dyer carried the offense, rushing for 157 yards and one touchdown on 30 attempts. The passing attack continues to be a struggle, as Clint Moseley threw for 167 yards and one touchdown on 13 completions. The Tigers have a chance to play spoiler this Saturday in the annual Iron Bowl matchup against Alabama. The Crimson Tide need a win to stay alive in the national title picture, and a loss to Auburn would eliminate any hope of getting a rematch against LSU on Jan. 9.
7. Florida (6-5) – For one quarter, it looked like the Gators were going to fall victim to Furman’s upset bid. However, Florida rallied from a 22-7 deficit with 20 points in the second quarter and eventually won 54-32. Quarterback John Brantley had a solid afternoon, throwing for 329 yards and four scores on 28 attempts. While the offense seemed to click after the first quarter, the effort on defense left a lot to be desired. Florida hosts rival Florida State this Saturday.
8. Tennessee (5-6) – The Volunteers kept their bowl hopes alive with a 27-21 overtime victory over Vanderbilt in Week 12. Quarterback Tyler Bray had missed the five previous games due to a broken thumb, but shook off the rust to complete 16 of 33 throws for 189 yards and two touchdowns. The sophomore also tossed two picks, with one returned for a touchdown. Although Bray’s performance was critical to Tennessee's win, the rushing attack finally came alive. Senior Tauren Poole rushed for 107 yards and a score on 19 attempts. The Volunteers need to beat Kentucky this Saturday to get win No. 6 and a trip to a bowl game.
9. Vanderbilt (5-6) – Coach James Franklin certainly has this program on the right track, but once again, the Commodores cannot get past Tennessee. With Saturday’s 27-21 defeat in overtime, Vanderbilt has lost 28 out of the last 29 meetings to the Volunteers. The Commodores still have a chance to get bowl eligible, but face a difficult challenge on the road at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons defeated Vanderbilt 34-13 last season in Nashville and the 2011 version is a much-improved team.
10. Mississippi State (5-6) – Arkansas simply had too much firepower for the Bulldogs in Saturday’s 44-17 loss. Mississippi State’s offense never seemed to find a rhythm behind the quarterback carousel of Tyler Russell and Dylan Favre, while running back Vick Ballard was held to 54 yards on 13 attempts. The Bulldogs head into the final week of action with bowl eligibility on the line in the matchup against rival Ole Miss. Mississippi State has won the last two meetings in this series and is a heavy favorite for Saturday’s game.
11. Kentucky (4-7) – The Wildcats gave Georgia a tougher test than some may have expected, leading 10-6 in the second quarter, before losing 19-10. The loss was Kentucky’s seventh of the year, which has eliminated it from bowl contention. This will be the first season since 2005 that the Wildcats will not play in the postseason. Kentucky now turns its attention to Tennessee this Saturday. The Wildcats have not defeated the Volunteers since 1984, and the odds are not in their favor of snapping that streak this season.
12. Ole Miss (2-9) – The final chapter in the disappointing Houston Nutt era at Ole Miss provides a chance to play spoiler. The Rebels are heavy underdogs in the annual Egg Bowl matchup against rival Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have won three out of the last four in this series and need a win to get bowl eligible. While the Rebels have a six-game losing streak and have not won in SEC play this year, a rivalry like the Egg Bowl can bring out the best in a losing team.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 12 ACC Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Virginia Tech (10-1) – The Hokies had to withstand a late rally by North Carolina, but held on for a 24-21 victory on Thursday night. Quarterback Logan Thomas continues to make progress in his first season as the starter, throwing for 195 yards and two scores, while adding 32 yards and a touchdown on the ground. His development has been crucial for Virginia Tech and its chances of winning the ACC title game on Dec. 3. However, there’s one more hurdle to cross. The Hokies have to play in-state rival Virginia for the division crown. Virginia Tech has claimed the last seven games in this series, but winning in Charlottesville against a much-improved Virginia team won’t be easy.
2. Clemson (9-2) – Thanks to losses in two out of their last three games, the Tigers have slipped from the top spot in the ACC power rankings. Even though Clemson has a victory over Virginia Tech, its 37-13 loss to NC State is enough to drop it to the No. 2 spot. The Tigers had their worst offensive showing of the year against the Wolfpack, recording a season-low 13 points and only 337 total yards. Receiver Sammy Watkins was sidelined with a shoulder injury, but Clemson never got its rushing game on track, and quarterback Tajh Boyd tossed two picks. After throwing only three interceptions in his first eight games, Boyd has tossed six in his last three contests. The Tigers look to finish the regular season on a high note, taking on rival South Carolina this Saturday in Columbia.
3. Virginia (8-3) – The Cavaliers rise to No. 3 in the power rankings, thanks to their 14-13 upset victory over Florida State. The win also kept alive Virginia’s ACC Coastal title hopes, which will be decided this Saturday against Virginia Tech. Coach Mike London has done a terrific job in just two seasons, and it’s not like Virginia is beating a bunch of weak teams. The Cavaliers have wins over Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami this season. London should be the ACC’s Coach of the Year, regardless of the outcome on Saturday.
4. Georgia Tech (8-3) – The Yellow Jackets finished conference play with a 38-31 victory over Duke. Quarterback Tevin Washington led the Georgia Tech offense against the Blue Devils, throwing for 185 yards and adding 136 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Considering most expected the Yellow Jackets to only get six or seven wins this season, a chance at a 9-3 record is a solid season for coach Paul Johnson. Georgia Tech gets a shot at rival Georgia this Saturday. The Yellow Jackets have only win over the Bulldogs in the last 10 meetings.
5. Florida State (7-4) – A disappointing season in Tallahassee continued with a 14-13 defeat to Virginia on Saturday night. The Seminoles began the year with national title hopes, but will finish with a 5-3 ACC record. Florida State won’t be able to match last season’s 10 victories, but if it beats Florida on Saturday and wins the bowl game, it will have at least nine wins in three out of the past four seasons. There is plenty of talent coming back in 2012, but can the Seminoles put everything together and make a run at the national title? Much of the title hopes next season rest with improving the offensive line and rushing attack.
6. Miami (6-5) – Saturday’s 6-3 win over South Florida certainly wasn’t pretty, but the victory assures the Hurricanes of at least a .500 season. However, the news wasn’t all positive over the weekend for Miami. Due to the pending NCAA investigation surrounding the program, the Hurricanes won’t play in a bowl game this season, which means their final game of 2011 will be on Saturday against Boston College. There’s also a lot of uncertainty surrounding coach Al Golden for 2012. Although he has stated he is happy at Miami, the pending NCAA investigation and an opening at his alma mater (Penn State), could be enough for him to leave after one season.
7. North Carolina (6-5) – A late rally wasn’t enough for the Tar Heels to score an upset victory over Virginia Tech last Thursday night. North Carolina’s 24-21 loss to the Hokies dropped its record to 6-5 with one regular season game to go. The Tar Heels host Duke this Saturday, a series they have dominated with seven wins in a row. Although Miami has decided not to play in a bowl this season, there have been no indications North Carolina plans to do the same. The Tar Heels are still waiting to hear from the NCAA on penalties from an investigation surrounding the program and former assistant coach John Blake. With the Hurricanes bowing out of the postseason, North Carolina will likely play in the Independence or Military Bowl.
8. Wake Forest (6-5) – After last season’s 3-9 record, getting to a bowl game is quite a turnaround for the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest earned its sixth victory of 2011 with a convincing 31-10 victory over Maryland on Saturday. Quarterback Tanner Price carved up the Terrapins’ secondary for 320 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Brandon Pendergrass rushed for 125 yards and one score on 26 attempts. Wake Forest closes out the regular season with a home date against Vanderbilt this Saturday.
9. NC State (6-5) – The roller coaster ride that has been the 2011 season for Wolfpack fans continued with a surprising 37-13 victory over Clemson. NC State’s defense held the Tigers to a season-low of 13 points, while picking off quarterback Tajh Boyd twice. The Wolfpack offense was able to control the clock and keep Clemson’s high-powered attack on the sideline, while also getting a solid performance from quarterback Mike Glennon – 19 of 29 for 253 yards and three scores. NC State needs one more win to get bowl eligible and has a favorable matchup against Maryland this Saturday.
10. Duke (3-8) – The Blue Devils gave Georgia Tech all it could handle, but the upset bid fell just short. Duke’s 38-31 loss to the Yellow Jackets was its fourth defeat by a touchdown or less this season. Quarterback Sean Renfree's play has been up and down this year, but tossed a season-high four touchdowns against Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils close out the 2011 season against North Carolina this Saturday. Duke has lost the last seven matchups in this series.
11. Boston College (3-8) – One of the ACC’s most surprising performances from Week 12 occurred in a loss. The Eagles were big underdogs, but lost only 16-14 to Notre Dame. The defense gave up 417 yards to the Irish, but allowed only one touchdown. Boston College looks to close out its season on a high note, playing at Miami this Friday. Coach Frank Spaziani is on the hot seat, but the team has played better over the last four weeks, which might be enough to keep him around for 2012.
12. Maryland (2-9) – The Terrapins remain at the bottom of the power rankings, thanks to a 31-10 defeat to Wake Forest. Quarterback C.J. Brown threw for 186 yards and a score, along with adding 110 yards on the ground. While his dual-threat ability has helped to provide a spark for the offense at times, the Terrapins need more big plays from the passing game. Unless Maryland knocks off NC State this Saturday, it will finish with a 2-10 record – its worst since finishing with that mark in 2009. Coach Randy Edsall was brought in to elevate the program, but it looks like a slow climb back to contention in the ACC.
By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 12 Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) – The Spartans had a pretty good weekend. Michigan State grabbed the Old Brass Spittoon from the Indiana Hoosiers in the not-so competitive rivalry. More importantly, the 55-3 drubbing of Indiana (and eventual Nebraska loss) clinched a spot in the first-ever Big Ten Championship game for Mark Dantonio. The game against Indiana was merely a formality, as MSU outgained IU 470 to 236 and had a 48-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins needed just over one half of action to throw for 272 yards and three touchdowns — bringing him to 60 for his career. With one more scoring strike, Cousins will tie Jeff Smoker for the career TD pass lead in East Lansing. Michigan State now heads to Northwestern for the regular-season finale before heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game on December 3.
2. Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2) – Wisconsin, as it has all season, struggled to get started on the road against Illinois. But an impassioned halftime speech by head coach Bret Bielema trailing 17-7 lit an appropriate fire under the Badgers offense. Montee Ball and the Badgers scored 21 unanswered points to pull off the 28-17 come-from-behind victory. Ball finished with 224 yards (164 in the second half) and three total touchdowns on 40 touches. He is third in the nation in rushing and became only the fifth player in NCAA history to score 30 touchdowns. Wisconsin's defense also played inspired football in the second half, forcing three of its four turnovers on the day. Wisconsin now welcomes Penn State to Camp Randall in what has become a Big Ten Championship semifinal. The winner of the game at 3:30 PM ET on Saturday in Madison, Wisc., will head to Indianapolis for the debut of the Big Ten title game.
3. Penn State (9-2, 6-1) – Technically, the outcome of the Penn State-Ohio State game had little impact on the Nittany Lions' search for a Big Ten title. Either way, Penn State was going to have to beat the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison this weekend. But the 20-14 win was nonetheless very impressive — and it marked the beginning of a new era. It was the first time PSU won a football without Joe Paterno stalking the sidelines since December 1965 (1950 if you count his years as an assistant). Penn State rushed for 239 yards against the league's No. 3 rush defense (119.3 ypg entering Saturday). The diminuative but speedy Stephfon Green, not Silas Redd, led the way with 93 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Niether team scored a point in the second half as both quarterbacks struggled mightily to produce big plays in the passing game. Matt McGloin will have to play better than his 10-of-18, 88 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT line indicates if he expects to keep pace with the Badgers.
4. Michigan (9-2, 5-2) – In one of the most impressive performances by any team this season, Michigan dominated the line of scrimmage in a 45-17 win over new divisional rival Nebraska. The Wolverines rushed for 238 yards while holding Rex Burkhead to only 36 yards on 10 carries. The Maize and Blue set the tone for the second half when, leading only 17-10, Michigan scored two touchdowns in six minutes to blow the game open in the third quarter. Denard Robinson finished a tidy 11-of-18 for 180 yards and two scores to go with his 23 carries, 83 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. His 33 career rushing touchdowns are sixth all-time in UM history. All the momentum points to Michigan finally snapping its seven-game losing streak to that school from down south this weekend in the best rivalry game in college football.
5. Nebraska (8-3, 4-3) – The wheels are starting to come off the Huskers' 2011 campaign. Losing two out of three isn't all that bad in the modern Big Ten, but how it happened is a bit concerning. Getting upset at home by Northwestern and then getting smoked along the line of scrimmage 45-17 at Michigan is borderline unacceptable. Michigan nearly doubled the Huskers' rushing output (238 to 138) and failed to play inspired football in the second half, getting outscored 28-7 in the latter segment of the game. Taylor Martinez completed only 9-of-23 passes, Rex Burkhead totalled 36 yards from scrimmage and the Huskers lost three of four fumbles. The battle for the whole ear of corn against Iowa should've carried more weight than their combined six Big Ten losses indicate. That said, if Nebraska can beat Iowa in the newly minted season-ending rivalry and then win its bowl game, it will have reached ten wins in its maiden voyage through the Big Ten.
6. Ohio State (6-5, 3-4) – The future is very bright for the Buckeyes, but the end of 2011 could be tough to swallow for The Ohio State University. After losing to Purdue, Ohio State came out flat on defense and got beat 20-14 against Penn State. With a trip to Ann Arbor against a hungry, hot and prepared Michigan team looming this weekend, the Bucks are staring at a 6-6 season. That said, it appears that Urban Meyer will be leading the Scarlet and Gray ship next fall, and he will have a developing star at quarteback in Braxton Miller and a talent-laden defense. Miller has rushed for 352 yards and four touchdowns over the last four games.
7. Iowa (7-4, 4-3) – Iowa got its first road win of the 2011 season by defeating Purdue 31-21 in West Lafayette on Saturday. James Vandenberg continued his impressive development by throwing three touchdowns passes and 273 yards on 22-of-32 passing. Vandenberg is now No. 2 in the Big Ten in passing efficiency at 149.02. Two of his scoring strikes hit Marvin McNutt, who finished with nine catches and 151 yards. Marcus Coker continued his hot play as well, spearheading the Hawkeyes' ground game with 139 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Kirk Ferentz's defense forced four turnovers and held the Boilermakers to 282 yards of offense. Iowa enters the season finale at Nebraska aiming for an eight-win season.
8. Northwestern (6-5, 3-4) – Pat Fitzgerald's bunch stayed hot by winning their fourth straight game, 28-13 over Minnesota. Special teams set the tone early for Northwestern with two big kickoff returns by Venric Mark, allowing the Wildcats to score touchdowns on each of their first three possessions. Dan Persa played wire-to-wire, completing 22-of-31 passes with two scoring throws, and the ground game offered a nice complement by producing 152 yards. After losing five straight, the Cats are now bow-eligbile with a home game against Legends Division Champion Michigan State waiting this Saturday.
9. Illinois (6-5, 2-5) – The 2011 campaign for Illinois has been a tale of two halves. And never was this theme more evident than in the 28-17 home loss to the Wisconsin Badgers this weekend. Ron Zook carried a 17-7 lead into halftime before getting outscored 21-0 over the final 30 minutes. Three second-half turnovers aided the Badgers' Montee Ball, who rushed for 164 yards against Illinois in the second half alone. It was the fifth straight loss for the Illini, who will visit a two-win Minnesota team this weekend. A loss to the Gophers would likely be the final straw for Zook as the head coach in Champaign-Urbana.
10. Purdue (5-6, 3-4) – Senior Day in West Lafayette didn't exactly play out like the Boilermakers hoped. Purdue got outgained 408 to 282 yards, out-possessed 33:30 to 26:30 and turned the ball over four times in a 31-21 loss to Iowa. Three of those turnovers came at the hands of quarterback Roberts Marve, who completed 7-of-18 passes for 95 yards and no touchdowns. Caleb TerBush was the better of the two signal-callers, completing 10-of-16 passes and throwing a first-quarter touchdown to Gabe Holmes. Ralph Bolden rushed for 71 yards and a garbage-time touchdown on 14 carries in a game that was never really in doubt for the Hawkeyes. Purdue now will battle for the Old Oaken Bucket when it visits rival Indiana, which is winless in Big Ten play.
11. Minnesota (2-9, 1-6) – The Gophers managed to roll up 269 yards rushing behind 100-yard performances from quarterback MarQueis Gray (26 att., 147 yards, TD) and Duane Bennett (23 att., 127 yards). Yet the defense and special teams could not overcome the electric start by Northwestern. The Wildcats scored on their first three possessions, and the Gophers managed only two field goals over the final 45 minutes. The Gophers host the Illini in the season finale with a chance to end Ron Zook's coaching career at Illinois.
12. Indiana (1-10, 0-7) – The Hoosiers were on bye last week and enter the final weekend of play with their best shot at a Big Ten win to date. Purdue comes to town in the Hoosier State battle for the Old Oaken Bucket. Indiana's lone win this season came against South Carolina State, and it is safe to say that the Hoosiers are the worst team in the conference.
The 25 Greatest College Football Rivalries
This article originally appeared in Athlon's 2008 Big Ten edition. In light of Rich Rodriguez's hire at Arizona, we feel it's important to look back when he took over at Michigan and some of the feelings surrounding the program.
The Old Guard in Ann Arbor and the other University of Michigan outposts don’t care to admit this, or even consider it, but it was time. The Schembechler Dynasty had lasted nearly four decades, hardly a blip on the timeline of history, but a ridiculously long time in the college football world. What began with a much-needed injection of fire and discipline back in 1969 had begun to fizzle and, yes, die. What Bo began continued with Mo and Lloyd. Four decades. Three men. One philosophy.
An honorable maxim and the cornerstone of success. In the 21st century world of college sport, it wasn’t enough. There had to be something else, something with a little modern edge to it.
Responsibility, hard work, dedication and sacrifice will always be components of victory, until the robots finally take over and rule the planet. Today, there has to be more, something fresh and hot. That’s the culture. More important, it’s what 18-year-olds want. And like it or not, the target market for a college football coach is a hormone-infested young adult for whom tradition is what he had for lunch two days ago.
So, when Lloyd Carr decided that his health — and probably sanity —
couldn’t take another season at the helm of the Michigan football ship,
Athletic director Bill Martin didn’t merely dip into the next generation of the Schembechler football family and prolong the line. He looked outside.
Rich Rodriguez has no ties to Michigan, other than the fact that the man he followed at West Virginia, Don Nehlen, was once a Wolverine assistant (under Schembechler) and was rumored to be the coach who would take over in the mid-1980s, had Bo accepted the bag of money Texas A&M threw at him. Besides that, nothing. Until the man starts to coach. That’s when it hits you: He fits in perfectly. Not because he’s part of the lineage or a former assistant come home to carry on the Old Way. Rodriguez belongs because his hard-nosed approach to football has been part of the Michigan equation since Fielding Yost — a West Virginian, by the way — was exhorting his turn-of-the-century charges. “Hurry Up! Ye think ye got all day?” the high-strung Mountaineer would say. Add to that Rodriguez’s state-of-the-art spread offense, the best of its kind in the country, and you have the perfect blend of old and new.
It’s the perfect combination for Michigan. Now, don’t be mistaken. There is a lot more that goes into satisfying the Wolverine constituents than a nod back and a gaze forward. U-M doesn’t do NCAA investigations, at least not in football. It will always revere the school’s Holy Trinity of coaches: Yost, Crisler, Schembechler. And don’t mess with the helmets. Oh, yeah. That Rose Bowl game? It’s pretty important, too.
That’s why on an April afternoon, new Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee was reading What It Means To Be A Wolverine, by among others, Schembechler. Rodriguez isn’t dumb. He knows this isn’t some reclamation project with fans hungry for wins and ready to grab hold of anything that will get them out of the mire. This is Michigan, and despite its current inability to defeat Ohio State (six losses in the last seven years), there had better be a reverence for what has come before. “We’re embracing the program,” Rodriguez says. “That’s easy to do.”
And a pretty good idea.
He left trailing accusations of abuse. Of a radical departure from the “family atmosphere” that had been present before. Justin Boren was so upset when he left Michigan that he actually transferred to OSU. This wasn’t some scrub or half-hearted Wolverine; Boren started every game last year on the offensive line. His father, Mike, played four years for Schembechler. His mother, Hope, ran track at U-M. Who cares if he grew up in Ohio? This was that rare and coveted species: a Michigan Man. And before Rodriguez’s first full spring practice was over, Boren was gone. To Columbus. It was an unprecedented move in the history of the school’s rivalry. Sure, some people who played at Michigan before World War II went to OSU after their service obligation was over. Since then, nothing. What could possibly move someone to execute the football equivalent of a Hamas general’s joining the Mossad? Of a devoted IRA soldier’s defecting to the Ulster Loyalist Central Committee? Magee asks people to look beyond the headlines. “With players that fall by the wayside, they have reasons more than just tempo (of practice) or style of coaching,” he says. “But we don’t worry about that.”
That’s Rodriguez’s line, too. “I don’t spend time talking about people who don’t play for Michigan,” he says. “There has been more made about the one who left than the 99 who stayed to play.”
If you’re looking for a parallel, although not to Boren’s decision to abet the enemy, look no further than Ann Arbor, 1969. When Schembechler took over for Bump Elliott in the wake of the Wolverines’ humiliating 50–14 season-ending loss to the hated Buckeyes the previous November, he made few friends. His spring practices were highly physical, and his coaching style was demanding to the point that so many players quit people were worried whether the Wolverines would have enough bodies to field a representative team. Schembechler didn’t care at all. Those who stay will be champions. So it is with Rodriguez. He and his staff have a confrontational, often profane style of motivating players. Rodriguez calls it “taking them where they can’t take themselves.” Others refer to it as “hard-core.” They say you had better love football, really love football, if you want to play for Rodriguez, because he’s going to push and shove and work and curse and hammer you into a better player. That style is not for everyone. And it wasn’t for Boren, who was used to Carr’s more paternal approach.
As he moved toward the end of his tenure, Carr became more protective of his players and therefore less prone to punitive approaches to coaching. Rodriguez has none of that. So, while Michigan wasn’t a floundering program in need of a sizeable jolt, Rodriguez applied it anyway.
“After the first couple of practices, guys who had been around here an awfully long time told me it was just like what it was under Bo,” Martin says.
Rodriguez’s offseason conditioning program was unlike anything seen in Ann Arbor. Strength coach Mike Barwis (who takes the term “hard-core” to new heights) asked for — and received — $1 million in improvements to the school’s weight training facility. And then he went to work draining fat from players and re-casting them as quicker, stronger athletes. When they hit the field, they played with a tempo that had never been seen at Michigan. The spread offense Rodriguez favors is a no-huddle variety that emphasizes preventing defenses from changing personnel groups and getting comfortable in their attacking schemes. “Our whole motto is ‘Spot the ball so we can play,’” Magee says. “Officials spot the ball so we can run plays. I love it, and the guys love it.”
Not only was Rodriguez asking the Michigan players to learn an entirely new approach to offensive football, but he was also insisting their lessons happen at top speed. When there were mistakes — and there were hundreds of them this spring — the response was not one of careful prodding or gentle teaching. It was a high-decibel, manhood-challenging criticism — just like what Wolverines of the ’70s and ’80s heard from Bo. Anybody who saw a practice or scrimmage back then was taken aback by the constant haranguing from coaches. So it was with Rodriguez and his staff. It stung. And Boren didn’t like it. Some others were upset by it. Gradually, however, the players began to understand they were being challenged, not demeaned — even if the language and its tone had that feel. Rodriguez did it before, first at Glenville State, a Division II school in the northwest part of West Virginia, and through his stops as a coordinator at Tulane and Clemson and certainly at WVU. Rodriguez insists he and his staff care for their players, and that the hard-nosed coaching is designed to extract maximum effort, not belittle or crush self-esteem. Rodriguez reports players he coached 10-15 years ago still contact him, evidence he presents that he is no ogre.
“After the individual meetings I had following spring practice, I could see the players understand why we’re so demanding,” Rodriguez says. “We did the same thing we did at three or four other places. We didn’t come in and say we’re going to send a message. We installed our system so we could play our scheme. We needed the players to be in great shape, so we stressed conditioning.”
That system probably won’t look too much like what WVU ran under Rodriguez. Or what Clemson during his two years there. Or what Tulane ran. The basic principles of the attack will prevail, but WVU has been primarily a running spread team, while Clemson had great balance, and the Green Wave were more pass-oriented. The overriding theme is that Rodriguez can make this thing work with any kind of personnel. If the quarterback can throw, the ball will be in the air. If he has great feet, look for enough running to please a wishbone aficionado. “When you’ve only been coaching one thing your whole career, you get pretty good at it,” says Rick Trickett, who coached with Rodriguez for six years at WVU before moving on to Florida State.
As for Michigan, 2008, who knows? Once Boren bolted, the Wolverines had lost eight starters from last year’s team, including standouts Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart and Mario Manningham. It would have been fun to see what that bunch would have done with the attack. Instead, U-M fans must worry about how well quarterbacks Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan will fare, after each grappled with his responsibilities in the spring. Rodriguez, who experienced growing pains his first year at WVU before he could insert the proper personnel, doesn’t sound too worried. In fact, he says experience helped him realize there is a need for patience. He didn’t show too much of that in the spring, but he was perhaps more realistic in his expectations.
“No matter who came in, there was going to be a difficult transition,” Rodriguez says. “You’re talking about losing a bunch of guys who started three or four years. That’s added to the difficulty. Instead of just teaching the offense, you have to teach fundamentals.”
When Rodriguez turned down the chance to coach Alabama in December of ’07, he said he wanted to finish his career at West Virginia. “West Virginia is a Hall of Fame job,” Trickett says. “Rich could have stayed there and kept winning.”
Yes, he could have done that. He planned to do that. But then some things started happening. Nothing big, mind you. Rodriguez already had a great contract, and the school had made a substantial commitment to its facilities. Nope, this was little stuff, like some more sideline passes. The feeling within the school was that Rodriguez, for all of his success and ever-growing salary, had grown too powerful. Some joked that the state’s hierarchy went Rodriguez, followed by athletic director Ed Pastilong, school president Mike Garrison and state governor Joe Manchin. Grievances weren’t aired. The public had no idea, but there was friction. So, when Michigan expressed an interest, Rodriguez was willing to listen. And when the offer and terms were to his liking, he decided to leave. West Virginia is a great college coaching job, but Michigan has won more games than any other football program and has the highest I-A winning percentage. He wasn’t taking a step down.
Trouble was, the people in West Virginia felt they had been betrayed, by one of their own, no less. Rodriguez grew up in the state. He played for the Mountaineers. He coached under Nehlen. And now, he was leaving the school? It was a traitorous move of the highest order, punishable by the most drastic methods. The people who had been such allies for Rodriguez turned on him quickly and viciously.
“West Virginians are people who are going to fly off and get mad,” Trickett says. “They’ll raise some hell. The dust needs to settle a little bit. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the business we’ve chosen.”
Rodriguez has even bigger problems. The contract he signed in late ’06 included a $4 million buyout, quite the poison pill. After leaving West Virginia, Rodriguez announced he had no intention of paying up, at least at full value, claiming Garrison had assured him he would knock down — or even eliminate — the clause. Rodriguez and his attorneys interpret that as a contract itself. Depositions, negotiations and more nastiness are scheduled.
“The thing that bothers me is that I planned on staying at West Virginia,” Rodriguez says. “I take that approach everywhere I have worked. When I started at Glenville State in 1990, I planned on staying there. Every job I take is the best job I ever had.”
Right now, “the best job” is Michigan, even if there are those out there forecasting doom for the ’08 Wolverines. Some have gone so far as to set the over-under on wins at six. Rodriguez, for all his troubles back in his home state — including abuse heaped on family members — has been able to compartmentalize his life and forge ahead. He followed up spring practice with a glad-hand tour of alumni in other cities, has been speaking ceaselessly to fan groups and is in the midst of recruiting. He’s doing it with a genuine appreciation for the Michigan tradition but a clear sense of certainty in his abilities.
“He’ll get it done,” Trickett says. “They’ve got to be patient, because he’s got to do it his way. He’ll put the Frank Sinatra on it, I guarantee you that.”
Yes, he’ll do it his way. Just like another demanding coach did nearly 40 years ago.
The bye weeks are finally over and now we can just roll with what we’ve got. But what if injuries and poor play from your roster means you don’t have enough? Well, in an effort to guide you through the playoff push, here’s a look at who will be some of the hot commodities off the fantasy football waiver wire in Week 12. Some of them I think are decent plays for this week and maybe beyond, but most of the wire has players that should probably stay right there.
Caleb Hanie, Chicago
Hanie gets the starting nod and will replace Jay Cutler after his broken thumb will sideline him for the rest of the fantasy season. Hanie, a fourth-year player, has completed 8-of-14 regular-seaosn passes for 66 yards and an interception and a 157-yards, one-TD, two-pick NFC Championship performance during his career. It’s hard to say what you do with such an inexperienced, veteran backup. The Bears travel to Oakland this week, a team that allows the fifth-most points to fantasy QBs, but also allows the fourth-most points to fantasy RBs. So this could be a good day for Hanie or it could be an even better day for RB Matt Forte.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota
He was fantasy’s seventh-best QB in Week 11 after throwing for 211 yards, two scores, three interceptions and rushing for 71 yards. Now the Vikings travel to play an Atlanta team that allows the 10th-most points to fantasy RBs and will do so with an ailing Adrian Peterson (high ankle sprain). The Vikings allow fantasy QBs and RBs to have success against them with ease, and Ponder should have plenty of opportunity to try and get the Vikings back in the game.
Rex Grossman, Washington
Of course he was fantasy’s fourth-best QB in Week 11; just like we all expected. After throwing for 289 yards, two TDs and an interception, Grossman scored 25.56 fantasy points, almost has many as he had combined to score the last seven weeks (27.84) as a starter and then benched player. Jump on the Redskins’ flavor of the week if you’d like but I’m holding off. Washington travels sto Seattle this week, and the Seahawks have limited opposing fantasy QBs to under 200 yards passing in three of the last five games and has allowed just one QB to score above 14 points once in that time. Seattle also has surrendered five touchdowns and picked off opposing QBs five times in four home games this season.
Vince Young, Philadelphia
If Michael Vick (ribs) can’t suit up against the Patriots in Week 12, then Young would get the start again. New England is still the worst team in the league against fantasy QBs, and Young threw for 258 yards, two scores and three picks in his starting debut against the Giants in Week 11. He did complete 63.8 percent of his passes against New York, which is 5.8 percentage points above his career average. If he can keep that up, he could be a consistent fantasy play. The Patriots are allowing opponents to complete 63.6 percent of their passes.
Tim Tebow, Denver
He is still available in 40 percent of Yahoo leagues and he is a guaranteed 14 fantasy points every week and averages 18.71 as a starter over the last six games. I still say just read the box score to see how he did as watching it live is hair-pulling; but if you’re cool with 18.71 points each week, go get him.
Matt Leinart, Houston
Lienart gets the start for the injured Matt Schaub. Wide receiver Andre Johnson is expected to be back and Leinart will be part of a run-heavy offense. But with Johnson at his disposal, TE Owen Daniels and RB Arian Foster as a helluva pass catcher out of the backfield. Those are three targets that can make Leinart a decent play in this kind of offense.
Jake Locker, Tennessee
The rookie came on in relief of Matt Hasselbeck (elbow) and scored 14.7 fantasy points by throwing for 140 yards and two scores. If Hasselbeck can’t go in Week 12 against Tampa Bay, he has a matchup against a Buccaneers defense that allows the seventh-most points to fantasy QBs. It also might be time to consider Locker as a late pickup and stash to help you in the playoff run, as he might get his chance to start as the Titans fall out of the reality playoff run.
Alex Smith, San Francisco
It’s a short week for the 49ers as they prepare to play Baltimore on Thursday night. Smith is coming off a 267-yard, two-TD, one-interception game against visiting Arizona in Week 11. However he completed just 52-percent of his passes and it was Arizona. The Ravens have surrendered no more than one touchdown pass in 10 games and didn’t allow any in three games. They also have intercepted a QB at least one in seven of 10 games. Play at your own risk if you’re looking for a starter this week.
Matt Moore, Miami
Two three-TD pass games alternate with two zero-TD, one-interception games the last four weeks for Moore. Those games also included yardage totals of 138, 244, 209 and 160. So you are really, really dependent on TDs from Moore. Dallas has surrendered 279, 221, 146, 289 yards, five TDs and picked off QBs seven times in the same four-game span. Like Smith, Moore is a play-at-your-own-risk fantasy quarterback.
Kevin Smith, Detroit
Call me a skeptic, but I’m not buying in on Smith. He rushed for 140 yards and two scores on 16 carries and caught four balls for 61 yards and a TD against a Carolina team that had the 28th-ranked rush defense in the league (123.8 YPG). Remember a week ago when Chris Johnson had his breakout against the Panthers. CJ struggled the nine weeks before and was terrible against in Week 11. Detroit entered the game ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing at 84.2 yards per game. The Lions play host to Green Bay on Thursday, and will need to lean on their run game to try and slow down the high-powered Packer offense. Green Bay allows 101.6 yards per game rushing, but has surrendered just five rushing TDs to backs and no receiving TDs to backs. I don’t trust the Lions commitment to the run enough to play Smith, and the fact Maurice Morris was supposed to be the lead with Smith just being signed off the street. Also, Jahvid Best should be back soon. However, if you have space, go ahead and grab him if for no other reason than to hoard him from other owners.
Ben Tate, Houston
With Matt Leinart in at QB for the Texans and the team already leaning rush heavy, Tate is a good play the rest of the way as a flex. The Jaguars have allowed three 100-yard rushers in the last five games; Tate has three double-digit fantasy days in the last four games.
Donald Brown and Delone Carter, Indianapolis
The Colts are playing the Panthers. Enough said. They’ve made struggling backs look like studs the last two weeks in Chris Johnson and Kevin Smith. Prior to that, Adrian Peterson, Tim Hightower, Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, Matt Forte, Maurice Jones-Drew, James Starks and Beanie Wells all had success. That list takes you all the way back to Week 1. I don’t like either backs, but the track record for the Panthers says pick up both and give it a run.
Joe McKnight, New York Jets
If Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson are both healthy in Week 11, then McKnight’s one-week boost nosedives in Week 12 against the Bills. He had 59 yards rushing and 62 yards receiving on six catches in Week 11 in relief of Greene and LT. Keep and eye on the status of the aforementioned and McKnight could be a decent play against Buffalo.
Toby Gerhart, Minnesota
Adrian Peterson has a high ankle sprain and now Gerhart, who is far from dynamic and certainly a massive drop off from the Vikings’ No. 1 RB. Gerhart is in line to get plenty of touches, but he faces an Atlanta team this week that has seen three 12-carry games from lead backs and a 16-carry game over the last six games. After two 20-point games from RBs in Weeks 1 and 2, no fantasy back has scored over 14.7 points and only two have scored double digits against the Falcons.
Ryan Grant, Green Bay
James Starks was separating himself from Grant, but a knee injury suffered in Week 11 has derailed that for the near future. The Packers are on a short week due to the Thanksgiving game, and with rookie Alex Green already on IR, the lead-back role goes back to Grant. The Lions have been decent against the run the last three games –no rusher above 73 yards — but were terrible the three games prior with RBs collecting 116, 141 and 122 yards. Due to the Grant-Starks duo, no back has been ultra productive, but Starks had at least 11 carries the last eight games. He’s worth a shot as a flex this week due to the offense the Packer offense alone.
Harry Douglas, Atlanta
He came off the 8-for-133 performance with a 4-for-51 performance against Tennessee as Cortland Finnegan kept an eye on him. Roddy White ended up going off (7-for-117), as Finnegan was not assigned to cover the Falcons’ top receiver. Douglas and the Falcons now play the Vikings and face a situation that the Raiders faced in Week 11. A matchup that was very pass-friendly and run-friendly, went to the run side as Michael Bush (17.9 points) went off and the Oakland receivers did not. The Falcons could do the same with Michael Turner this week. Plus, the Vikings not having Adrian Peterson at their disposal, this could get ugly quick. I think Douglas is a good play for the rest of the fantasy schedule, including in Week 12, but the RB might win the day this week.
Riley Cooper, Philadelphia
Backup QB Vince Young comes in and connects with backup WR Riley Cooper five times for 75 yards and a score in Week 11. Cooper was in there for the injured Jeremy Maclin, and may serve in the same capacity in Week 12. If Maclin is out, the Eagles have a great matchup against a Patriots team that is the worst against fantasy receivers and allows opposing QBs to complete 63.6 percent of their passes.
Nate Burleson, Detroit
A model of inconsistency as always, Burleson may be a decent play this week as a flex. He has scored double-digit fantasy days the last two weeks and now plays against a Green Bay team that is friendly against receivers. If you are looking for a flex play, Burleson could be a decent one for the remainder of the fantasy season. After Green Bay, the Lions play the Saints, Vikings, Raiders and Chargers.
Damian Williams, Tennessee
He is the perfect example of why you can never trust a receiver out of Tennessee over the years. After back-to-back double-digit fantasy weeks, Williams was limited to one catch for 16 yards on a team-high 11 targets in a game the Titans trailed for the duration. Now Tennessee plays host to Tampa Bay, 10th-worst against fantasy receivers, but when you produce one catch off 11 targets; there’s a chance of a QB change (albeit slight) and the history of trusting receivers not named Kenny Britt in this run-based offense being a bad move, this has me leaving Williams on the wire.
Johnny Knox, Chicago
Remember when he was demoted in the preseason? Will the work with new Bears QB Caleb Hanie in practice pay off at all on the field? He had three catches for 97 yards and his first TD of the season in Week 11 — all passes caught from Jay Cutler. The Bears get Oakland in a favorable matchup to receivers and quarterbacks, but with Hanie at the helm and Matt Forte in the backfield against a suspect Raiders rush defense, it’d be pretty risky to lean on a Chicago receiver.
Earl Bennett, Chicago
He caught three passes for 75 yards — the third straight game of at least 75 yards — but now his Vanderbilt connection is gone with Cutler on the shelf. Like Knox, I need to see it before I believe it with Hanie. The only appealing thing with both Bennett and Knox is that the Oakland matchup is so favorable that you’d hate to be waiting a week while they are out there racking up fantasy points.
Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati
Here we go again. Simpson goes bonkers for 152 yards on eight catches and a team-high 13 targets with A.J. Green (knee) on the shelf. Simpson has gone 13.9, 7.9, 11.8, 0 and 19.2 in the last five games. So he’s been extremely inconsistent. And now the Bengals play host to a Cleveland team in Week 11 that is the best in the league against fantasy receivers and held Simpson to 6.4 points in the Week 1 meeting.
Andre Caldwell, Cincinnati
He had a double-digit, 13.8-point day as a starter in A.J. Green’s place. It was his third double-digit day, but in six of the other seven games he was held under 5.2 points. Caldwell is too inconsistent for me, and I point back to the Browns being the best against fantasy receivers. They’ve allowed just four TDs to the position this season and a receiver hasn’t posted more than 54 yards since Week 6.
Jabar Gaffney, Washington
He was targeted a team-high 11 times by Rex Grossman. So he certainly enjoys having his former Florida teammate in at QB rather than John Beck. Gaffney caught seven of the targets for 115 yards and a score in the OT loss to Dallas. However, he has had six single-digit days this season and now the Redskins travel to Seattle to play a Seahawk team that’s 12th-best against fantasy receivers.
Jacob Tamme, Indianapolis
In Dallas Clark’s first game out of the lineup, Tamme did as he did last year in Clark’s sted: he scored fantasy points. Tamme was targeted a season-high and team-high eight times, catching six of them for 75 yards. He was targeted seven times a week earlier against Atlanta and Clark was targeted 10 times in Week 8, The Colts play host to Carolina in Week 12. The Panthers have seen their LB corps ravaged by injuries this season, thus their terrible numbers against opposing running backs. Six TEs have collected at least 40 yards receiving against the Panthers, and three TDs have been surrendered to the position in the last four games.
Brent Celek, Philadelphia
He still hasn’t hit double digits the last three weeks after doing so in Weeks 6 and 8, but Celek is still productive. He caught six balls for 60 yards in Week 11. While the Patriots are a terrible pass defense as a whole, they are actually quite tough against fantasy TEs; they’ve allowed just three scores to the position, but have given up 48 or more yards five times.
Scott Chandler, Buffalo
Chandler was the infrequent target that caught the TDs early on and then became an afterthought, and certainly was not consistent enough to consider a weekly fantasy starter. That could change starting in Week 12. With news that WR Donald Jones (ankle) could miss the rest of the season, Steve Johnson not having scored in double digits but one time since Week 3, Chandler’s in line for more targets. He caught five of six targets for 71 yards in Buffalo’s terrible offensive performance against Miami. It was a season high in targets for Chandler. He has a tough matchup this week against a Jets team that has allowed just three TDs to tight ends, but has seen the position get at least 40 yards receiving seven times.
Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville
His targets have risen in seven of the last eight weeks — 2, 7, 8, 3, 9 and 11 last week. Lewis, a fantasy bust this season after a stellar 2010 season, caught seven of the 11 targets for 64 yards in Week 11 against Cleveland. The Jags play host to Houston in Week 12, and the Texans have allowed just two TDs to the position and just two have eclipsed 45 yards receiving this season — Lewis had the 45 in Week 8. He is not consistent enough to start, which is sad considering he was the No. 4 fantasy TE last season and is currently 35th.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
Tom Brady’s favorite target hauled in four catches for 96 yards and two memorable trips to the end zone — a 52-yard sprint down the sideline that put the 6'6", 265-pounder’s speed on display and a 19-yard dive over the goal line that flipped Gronkowski onto his neck before the second-year star staggered to his feet and spiked the ball. Gronkowski now has 20 TDs in his first 26 games, breaking Bears Hall of Famer Mike Ditka’s record (31) for fewest games by a tight end to score 20 TDs.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
This season, even when Rodgers is “frustrated” with his performance on Sunday, he’s still one of the best in the business. The frontrunner for MVP completed 23-of-34 passes for 299 yards, three TDs and one INT in a 35–26 victory over the Buccaneers, as the Packers improved to 10–0. Rodgers has passed for 3,168 yards, a career-high 31 TDs and only four INTs for a 128.8 passer rating, adding another two TDs on the ground on Green Bay’s run of perfection.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions
In a battle of former No. 1 overall picks, 2009’s numero uno outplayed 2011’s top selection, as Detroit rallied to beat Carolina and Cam Newton, 49–35. The Lions outscored the Panthers 35–8 in the second half, becoming the first team since 1950 to earn three come-from-behind wins of at least 17 points in the same season. Stafford threw a career-best five TDs, while Newton tossed a career-worst four INTs.
Ray Rice, RB, Ravens
In a battle for AFC North supremacy, Baltimore outlasted Cincinnati, 31–24 — despite playing without middle linebacker and leader Ray Lewis for the first time in 58 games. The “other Ray” was in tip-top shape, however, as Rice ran by the Bengals with 20 carries for 104 rush yards and two short-yardage TDs, while adding five catches for 43 yards through the air. The Ravens have now won 15 of their last 16 home games.
Von Miller, LB, Broncos
Although Tim Tebow scored the game-winning TD with 58 seconds left in the Broncos’ 17–13 win over the Jets on Thursday night, Denver’s defense deserves as much or more credit for the dramatic come-from-behind victory. Miller led the charge with 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble, wreaking havoc off the edge and energizing the crowd, as the Broncos held the Jets to just 3-of-14 third-down conversions, forced six punts and created two turnovers.
Multiple reports surfaced last week that former Florida coach Urban Meyer had agreed in principle to take over at Ohio State after the regular season concludes. The current college football commentator, who left the Gators last year after citing health and family reasons, has denied the reports and said that he and the Buckeyes’ administration have not talked. Is Meyer to be believed? Many around the game think not, and that he is already working on a potential OSU coaching staff. The controversial coach is an Ohio native, and he has been the favorite to be the next permanent Buckeyes’ boss since Jim Tressel resigned amid a cheating and coverup scandal. The NCAA punishment should come soon for Ohio State, and then heavy speculation has Meyer moving to Columbus shortly thereafter.
Is Urban Meyer the next coach at Ohio State?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I would be very shocked if Urban Meyer is not coaching at Ohio State in 2012. All signs seem to point to Meyer taking the job and it makes sense from both sides. The only holdup could be any sanctions the NCAA hands down to Ohio State. If the Buckeyes are slapped with significant scholarship reductions and a bowl ban, the two-time national championship coach may not take the job. Meyer grew up in Ohio and coached in Columbus from 1986-87, so there’s plenty of familiarity on both sides. Also, the Buckeyes should be able to spend big-time bucks on building a staff, which will help reduce some of the workload on Meyer. Although he has denied it, barring a last-minute change of heart or significant NCAA sanctions, Meyer will be the next head coach at Ohio State.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Barring a last minute change of mind or heavier NCAA sanctions than expected, all signs point to Urban Meyer taking over at Ohio State. I certainly believe the multiple reports more than Meyer’s denials. From recruiting to the way he left Florida, the truth and Urban Meyer do not always seem to agree. After a year off, it makes sense that Meyer would return to another big-time job. Although he was successful at the highest level of college football, the SEC meat-grinder wore Meyer down physically and mentally. Now recharged, he should be successful back in his home state. As for the Buckeyes, it’s a chance to get a coach with a big name who can win games quickly — a factor that seems to be the only goal of the Ohio State administration. As for Florida players and fans, I imagine they will feel a little betrayed to watch Meyer take over the program that the Gators crushed in the 2006 BCS Championship Game.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
In the modern era of social media and message boards, very little can be kept secret in the arena of sports. So trying to conceal that Urban Meyer has potentially accepted the Ohio State job would be like, well, trying to cover-up the digital fingerprint of a state university email chain. It cannot be done. Multiple unnamed sources have confirmed to a variety of outlets that early in December (say, perhaps shortly after a late November conference call with the NCAA?), Meyer will formally accept the OSU head coaching position. His official denials carry about as much weight as Nick Saban's "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" refutation. It appears that he is building his staff already and that it won't be long before the Ohio native is the boss of the best job in the Big Ten. This is a huge coup for Buckeyes fans, but a word of caution, as there is some level of uncertainty to hiring the prodigal son. He did just walk away from arguably the second-best job in the nation after only six years of coaching. But I suppose Buck-Nuts everywhere would take three division titles, a Heisman Trophy and two BCS national championships if it meant he were to retire in 2018, right?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I do believe Urban Meyer will be the head coach of the Buckeyes in 2012. While he may enjoy broadcasting and he may have wanted to take a longer break from coaching, this opportunity will be too good to pass up. He is an Ohio native who has dreamed of coaching at Ohio State. Even with potential NCAA sanctions looming, this is still one of the very top jobs in all of coaching. At this stage of his career, he simply cannot say no to the Buckeyes.
By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 12 Pac-12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Oregon (9-2, 7-1) – The three-way round robin between this league's three best teams has gone the way of the road team in all three contests. Two weeks ago, Oregon went on the road and toppled the Cardinal — a team that beat USC in Los Angeles back on the last Saturday in October — with relative ease. But A plus B does not equal C, as the Ducks fell 38-35 at home to the Trojans Saturday night. The Ducks came out flat and never had the lead — they were down 24-7 early in the third and 38-20 heading into the fourth. After Oregon fought valiantly to get into a position to win the game, Chip Kelly mismanaged his offense and settled for what appeared to be an easy 37-yard game-tying field goal with only seconds remaining. As the Alejandro Maldonado kick sailed wide left, so too did Oregon's BCS national title hopes. The loss snapped a 21-game winning streak in Autzen Stadium for the Ducks. Oregon will clinch the North with a win in the Civil War this weekend.
2. Stanford (10-1, 8-1) – The rain-drenched Big Game featured multiple first-half lead changes and a 15-point fourth quarter rally that came up just short. Andrew Luck and the Cardinal survived a slow start to win their second straight against arch-rival Cal 31-28. The Heisman front-runner completed 20-of-30 passes for 257 yards and two scores to keep The Axe in Palo Alto for one more season. Stanford outgained Cal 149 to 81 on the ground while holding the Bears to 2.4 yards per carry. It was the 114th meeting between the two West Coast rivals. If the Ducks slip up against the Beavers, Stanford will represent the North. If Stanford beats Notre Dame, it will likely land an at-large BCS bowl bid.
3. USC (9-2, 6-2) – Trojan fans need to sit back this weekend and enjoy Matt Barkley play in what should be his final game at USC agianst the rival UCLA Bruins. Barkley continued his stellar play by completing 26-of-34 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns to outlast Oregon 38-35. It was his fifth 300-yard game and seventh game with at least three touchdown throws. Without a bowl game or Pac-12 title to play for, Barkley and the Men of Troy have a chance to foil their rivals' dreams with a win over the Bruins — who, with a win over USC, would play in the Pac-12 title game.
4. Utah (7-4, 4-4) – Utah and Washington State scored 14 total points in the first half of their snowy, below-freezing meeting this weekend. But a furious fourth quarter of action that featured 34 total points and a 10-point Wazzu rally with less than seven minutes to play sent the game into overtime. Junior defensive back Mo Lee was the hero for Utah as he intercepted his second pass of the game during the first overtime possession for the Cougars. All Kyle Whittingham needed then was a 38-yard field goal from Coleman Petersen to clinch the 30-27 win. John White IV carried the ball 42 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns to pace the offense. Utah continues its great second half as the win was the fourth straight Pac-12 victory. With Colorado coming up on Friday, the Utes still have an outside chance at the conference title game. Utah owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over UCLA, who faces USC, but lost earlier to Arizona State, who faces Cal. If both ASU (who has lost four of five) and UCLA lose, a win would push Utah into the Pac-12 championship game.
5. Washington (6-5, 4-4) – The 5-1 start seems like a distant memory for Huskies fans. Nick Montana made his first career start and completed only 11 of his 21 pass attempts in the 38-21 road loss to Oregon State. Washington allowed 484 yards of offense and turned the ball over three times — including a key Montana fumble deep in his own territory. The Beavers immediately put the game out of reach with their second of three fourth quarter touchdowns, going up 17 with 11:27 left on the clock. Keith Price took over under center and led a scoring drive, but was intercepted on the next possession. Washington has lost seven of eight to the Beavers and now has the Apple Cup in the regular season finale.
6. UCLA (6-5, 5-3) – The UCLA Bruins are one win away from playing in the first annual Pac-12 championship game. After beating up Colorado 45-6 this weekend, Rick Neuheisel is staring at a conference crown (and 2012 employment checks) if he can beat cross-town rival USC this weekend. Kevin Prince threw for 225 yards and a career-high four touchdowns while Johnathan Franklin rushed for 162 yards and a score in the lopsided home win over the lowly Buffaloes. The Bruins outgained Colorado 553 yards to 229 and forced three turnovers. The game was over by the end of the first quarter, as UCLA took a 21-0 lead into the second frame. Beating the Trojans on the road will be a tall order, however. If the Bruins lose, they can still clinch the divison with either an Arizona State win or Utah loss.
7. Arizona State (6-5, 4-4) – The Sun Devils are reeling heading into what could be the most important game of the year. The Devils had a late lead in the battle for the Territorial Cup, but couldn't stop anyone who played quarterback for Arizona. Nick Foles threw for 370 yards and back-up Bryson Bernie tossed the game-winning strike with just over five minutes left in the game. Brock Osweiler, who attempted 63 passes for 487 yards, led ASU into the Wildcats' red zone, but couldn't complete the rally. The 31-27 loss was the third straight and fourth in five games for the still-hopeful Sun Devils. If Arizona State beats Cal at home, UCLA loses to USC on the road and Utah beats Colorado, the Devils will clinch the Pac-12 South title.
8. California (6-5, 3-5) – Quarterback Zach Maynard completed 20-of-30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. But the Cal signal-caller got zero help from his ground game in the 31-28 loss to Stanford in the Big Game. Cal rushed for 81 yards on 34 carries for an ugly 2.4-yard clip. The Bears lost The Axe to crosstown rival Stanford for the second straight season but now have a chance to ruin Arizona State's season in the desert this Friday.
9. Washington State (4-7, 2-6) – The Cougars missed a great chance to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2006. Third-string quarteback Connor Halliday, fresh off his 494-yard effort a week ago, threw for 290 yards and two scores in the 30-27 overtime loss to Utah. However, Halliday also threw four interceptions, including his costly fourth pick on the first possession of overtime. Utah kicked a field goal shortly thereafter and gave Wazzu its seventh loss of the year. Winning the Apple Cup in the season finale would give the Cougars five wins and might save Paul Wulff's job.
10. Oregon State (3-8, 3-5) – Sean Mannion is giving Beavers' fans a good reason for hope in Corvallis. The freshman quarterback threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns in the big 38-21 win over Washington. Mike Riley, who could be fighting for his job, led Oregon State to its seventh win in eight games against the Huskies. A 21-point fourth quarter gave OSU its third Pac-12 win on the season. Riley and company now have a chance to spoil arch-rival Oregon's conference title hopes in the Civil War this weekend.
11. Arizona (3-8, 2-7) – The battle in the desert is one of the more underrated rivalries in the nation, and Arizona made a winner of Tim Kish in the 31-27 Territorial Cup win over Arizona State. Nick Foles was the game's MVP, throwing for 370 yards and two touchdowns on 35 completions. Yet, the game's most important pass came from back-up Bryson Berine when he connected with Juron Criner on a 23-yard touchdown pass with just over five minutes to play. It turned out to be the game winner when the Cats defense stopped Arizona State on the Arizona 15-yard line with no time remaining. Despite being banged up and leaving the game, Foles set a single-season school record for yards (3,982) and completions (354). The Wildcats finish with UL Lafayette this weekend (what?).
12. Colorado (2-10, 1-7) – Fresh off its first-ever Pac-12 victory over Arizona, Colorado returned to normalcy this weekend with a 45-6 loss to UCLA. Tyler Hansen threw three interceptions and Rodney Stewart carried 21 times for only 77 yards. The Buffs allowed 328 yards rushing to the Bruins and are ranked 12th in the league in scoring offense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense and kickoff returns. Jon Embree finishes off his first season in Boulder with a trip to Utah, which is fighting for a division title, on Friday.
With the World Series in the rear-view mirror and the hot stove just beginning to heat up, it's time to hand out some awards to this year's best performers on the diamond. The Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) has already named its AL and NL Rookies of the Year, AL and NL Managers of the Year, AL and NL Cy Young award winners, and the AL MVP. And while no Athlon editors are members of the BBWAA, here's how four of us — Charlie Miller, Braden Gall, Patrick Snow and Mark Ross — would have voted if we did have a ballot to cast.
Unlike the crowded race in the AL, the NL MVP will most likely come down to one of two outfielders, either Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers or Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both posted 30-30 seasons and finished in the NL's top five in six key offensive categories — batting average, runs, RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Who ends up winning could be determined by voters' perception of "most valuable" in relation to team's success (Braun's Brewers won the NL Central, Dodgers didn't make playoffs) and/or their respective supporting cast.
To that end, Braun's teammate, Prince Fielder, will receive his share of MVP votes, as will two former winners — Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals (2005, 2008, 2009) and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds (2010). Other legitimate contenders include NL batting champ and New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton.
Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers: .332, 109 R, 187 H, 38 2B, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 33 SB, .397 OBP, .597 SLG, .994 OPS
Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers: .299, 95 R, 170 H, 36 2B, 38 HR, 120 RBI, .415 OBP, .566 SLG, .981 OPS
Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: .324, 115 R, 195 H, 33 2B, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 SB, .399 OBP, .586 SLG, .986 OPS
Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals: .299, 105 R, 173 H, 29 2B, 37 HR, 99 RBI, .366 OBP, .541 SLG, .906 OPS
Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets: .337, 101 R, 181 H, 31 2B, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 39 SB, .384 OBP, .493 SLG, .877 OPS
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies: .302, 81 R, 162 H, 36 2B, 30 HR, 105 RBI, .372 OBP, .544 SLG, .916 OPS
Justin Upton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks: .289, 105 R, 171 H, 39 2B, 31 HR, 88 RBI, 21 SB, .369 OBP, .529 SLG, .898 OPS
Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: .309, 101 R, 185 H, 40 2B, 29 HR, 103 RBI, .416 OBP, .531 SLG, .947 OPS
Athlon's Winner: Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kemp beats out Braun as he receives three first-place votes to Braun's one. Pujols comes in third followed by Fielder as they split the third-place votes among them, with Tulowitzki and Votto tying for fifth. Besides Upton and Reyes, others receiving MVP consideration among the Athlon voting contingency included Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Hunter Pence of the Philadelphia Phillies, Yadier Molina of the Cardinals and NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.
Here's how the Athlon editors voted
Charlie Miller's ballot:
1. Ryan Braun
Braun lost his battle for the batting title with Jose Reyes of the Mets, but he joined Matt Kemp as the only players ranked in the top 10 in all three triple crown categories in the NL. Braun edges Kemp by a whisker based on being the No. 3 hitter on a division winner and having a higher OPS.
2. Matt Kemp
The Dodgers’ centerfielder fell just short of the first triple crown in the NL in more than 70 years. And he accomplished that while playing Gold Glove caliber defense and swiping 40 bags.
3. Albert Pujols
This ranking may surprise you if you’re judging Pujols’ season based on the Pujols Scale. But if you’re evaluating his 2011 season on a reasonable scale, it is worthy of a top-3 ranking. After all, he hit 37 home runs and did the heavy lifting during the Cardinals’ late surge.
4. Troy Tulowitzki
The shortstop struggling with nagging injuries this season, but was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing season in Denver. Even with some missed time, he hit .302 with 30 bombs and more than 100 ribbies.
5. Joey Votto
The reigning MVP finished fifth in the league in average and OPS.
6. Justin Upton
7. Prince Fielder
8. Jose Reyes
9. Roy Halladay
10. Yadier Molina
Braden Gall's ballot:
1. Matt Kemp
The Dodgers had Kemp on offense and that was about it. Kemp led the league in runs (115), home runs (39) and RBI (126) while finishing third in hitting (.324), third in stolen bases (40), second in hits (195) and second in extra-base hits (76). If it wasn't for an untimely divorce, the Cy Young/MVP-led boys in Blue likely would have pushed St. Louis for the Wild Card (finished 7.5 back and three games over .500).
2. Ryan Braun
Braun is Kemp-lite with three major differences. He gets plenty of credit for getting his team to the postseason, however, he did it surrounded by elite level hitters, a lock-down bullpen and deep starting rotation. He is also an adventure in the outfield. Kemp is a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder while Braun makes the routine look difficult at times. His offensive numbers alone get him to No. 2 on my ballot.
3. Albert Pujols
Pujols had arguably the worst season of his career and he still proved to be virtually indispensable. He still finished third in the league with 37 big flies and 105 runs scored while driving in the seventh most runs (99). He finished seventh in slugging and 10th in OPS with a .299 average for the Wild Card winners. And he consistently plays one of the best first bases in the game.
4. Justin Upton
This uber-talent is only beginning to blossom into the player we all think he can become. He smacked 31 home runs, scored 105 times, stole 21 basses and unexpectedly led the Arizona Diamondbacks to an NL West title. They were picked last in the division in the preseason.
5. Prince Fielder
The big daddy first baseman finished second in the NL in home runs (38), second in RBI (126) and second in walks (107). He posted a third-best OPS of .981 and helped lead his team to the NL Central crown. Too bad he won't be in a Brewer uniform any longer.
6. Jose Reyes
Reyes captured the Mets first-ever batting title with a ridiculous .337 mark. And .877 OPS from the lead-off spot isn't bad either. Playing on a bad team hurts his value, but he is the unquestioned spark plug for the Mets and he is one of the most dynamic base runners and slickest fielding shortstops in the game.
7. Joey Votto
The reigning NL MVP posted a pretty nasty 2011 line: 101 runs, 29 homers, 103 RBI, 110 walks and a .309/.947 set of ratios. Unfortunately, the Reds couldn't carry any of that 2010 magic with them into 2011.
8. Troy Tulowitzki
Not too many shortstops hit 30 home runs, drive in 105 and top the .300 mark all while playing arguably the game’s most important position. Tulo is not only the best offensive shortstop in the game, but is argubaly the game's best defensive shortstop as well.
9. Yadier Molina
He is the best player at his position in all of baseball. And with his second ring, he is slowly working his way up the all-time ranks. He led the World Champs in hitting (.305) and molded an Adam Wainwright-less pitching staff into a playoff team.
10. Clayton Kershaw
But a pitcher can't win MVP, right?
Patrick Snow's ballot:
1. Matt Kemp
He led the National League in both home runs (39) and RBIs (126), all while batting .324, stealing 40 bases and playing center field. The Dodgers were a winning team despite missing the postseason, and Kemp was the main reason. He was a one-man show in L.A., as the next-highest Dodger in RBIs was James Loney with 65 and the second-highest home run total was 16 by Rod Barajas. Matt Kemp had an amazing year and flirted with a triple crown for most of the season.
2. Ryan Braun
3. Prince Fielder
4. Albert Pujols
5. Troy Tulowitzki
6. Joey Votto
7. Ryan Howard
8. Justin Upton
9. Jose Reyes
10. Yadier Molina
Mark Ross' ballot:
1. Matt Kemp
The Dodgers’ center fielder just missed a 40-40 season (39 home runs, 40 stolen bases) and flirted with a Triple Crown until the very end, finishing tops in the NL in home runs and RBIs (126) and third in average (.324). With runners in scoring position, Kemp led all of baseball with 13 home runs, and led the NL with 87 RBIs while batting .335 in those situations.
2. Ryan Braun
Braun posted a 30-30 season (33 home runs, 33 stolen bases) for the NL Central champion Brewers, led the NL in both slugging percentage (.597) and OPS (.994), while finishing second in batting average at .332.
3. Prince Fielder
Fielder posted his fifth straight 30-home run season, finishing second to Kemp in both home runs (38) and RBIs (120). The Brewers’ first baseman also batted .299 on the year and finished second the NL in on-base percentage (.415), as he walked more (107) than he stuck out (106).
4. Albert Pujols
The Cardinals’ first baseman and three-time MVP got off to a slow start, but finished strong, just missing out on posting an 11th-straight .300-30-100 season as he finished with a .299 average, 37 home runs and 99 RBIs, while leading his team to the postseason and eventually the World Series title.
5. Joey Votto
Last year’s MVP didn’t quite match his numbers from last season, but had a fine season nonetheless leading the NL in doubles (40), walks (110) and on-base percentage (.416). The Reds’ first baseman also won his first Gold Glove.
6. Troy Tulowitzki
7. Jose Reyes
8. Justin Upton
9. Clayton Kershaw
10. Hunter Pence
Other Baseball awards-related content:
This profile of the Ole Miss and Mississippi State college football rivalry originally appeared in Athlon's 2008 Southeastern college football magazine. As the two in-state rivals prepare for the 108th "Egg Bowl," we thought it would be relevant to take a look back at the history of the biggest game played every year in Mississippi.
The Egg Bowl
By Michael Bradley
Because he grew up listening to both Ole Miss and Mississippi State radio broadcasts with his daddy in tiny Drew, a rural hamlet in the northwest part of the state, Archie Manning never did develop much of a hatred for MSU, even though he ended up playing quarterback for the Rebels. The way his father figured it, the Mannings were Mississippians and therefore supported both schools.
“My daddy was a sports fan, but more than anything, he was a Mississippi sports fan,” Manning says. “He rooted for the home schools and the pro teams that had Mississippi natives on them. He liked the New York Giants because of (former Ole Miss quarterback) Charlie Connerly and the St. Louis Cardinals because of (second baseman) Don Blasingame, who was from Corinth.”
Manning’s father never had a strong rooting interest when the Rebels and Bulldogs squared off. As for Archie, he leaned toward Ole Miss, “because they won more.”
Now, during his three years as a starter for Ole Miss, Manning wanted to beat the Bulldogs. Anybody who played for John Vaught did. The venerable coach lost only twice to MSU during his 24 years in Oxford and went undefeated over the first 17 games his teams played against the people from Starkville. But Manning never felt anything “nasty” about the rivalry. OK, he did catch some grief from the MSU fans when he played baseball against the Bulldogs, but things never got too out of hand.
In 1969, however, the rivalry went to a different level for Manning. The Ole Miss junior was enjoying a great season, as were the Rebels, who came to Starkville with a 6–3 record. Vaught promised his team that a win over the Bulldogs would lead to a Sugar Bowl berth. (Back then, bowl invitations were the result of politics as much as performance.) That added some motivation for Manning, but when he came out to warm up before the game, a sign that ran the length of the wall behind the Ole Miss bench fired him up even more.
Because of his strong play, Manning had been receiving considerable attention in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and Jackson Daily News, two papers that circulated statewide and were owned by the Hederman brothers. The MSU crowd didn’t take too kindly to the publicity, which it considered excessive. Thus the sign: “Archie Hederman.”
“That inspired me,” Manning says with a laugh.
Over the past century, players on both sides of the rivalry have been similarly “inspired” to conquer the other side. Some, like Manning, have used their incentive to fashion great victories, like the 48–22 beating that he and the Rebels laid on the Bulldogs that Thanksgiving afternoon. Others have taken it a little far, like when the teams staged brawls during the first quarter of the 1990 game and prior to the ’97 meeting.
No matter whether the fighting was real or a metaphor for the effort required to earn a victory, the Ole Miss-Mississippi State Egg Bowl game is one of the nation’s finest, if somewhat underrated, rivalries. Because neither team is a perennial national powerhouse or even SEC contender (the teams have combined for only eight titles in the league’s 74 years), thanks to their modest athletic budgets, the contest doesn’t generate the same interest as Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Georgia or even Georgia-Auburn, the Deep South’s oldest rivalry. Add in the fact that the state is largely rural and has a population of only around three million, and you get the sense that the battle for the Egg Bowl is a parochial concern. Maybe, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of history and tradition behind it.
“In the state of Mississippi, people understand that for Mississippi and Mississippi State to compete against Tennessee and Florida with their large budgets is a handicap,” says MSU athletic director Larry Templeton, who grew up in Starkville, went to MSU and has been AD for 21 years. “When we stand up against each other, all things are equal.”
College football in the Deep South was 12 years old when Mississippi entertained Southwestern Baptist University (now Union University) in 1893. MSU (known then as Mississippi A&M, a land-grant school), meanwhile, didn’t begin intercollegiate football until 1895, when it broke away from its intramural roots. Once the Aggies began playing ball, it didn’t take too long for someone to decide the two schools should get together on the gridiron.
Yellow fever stopped football at both institutions in 1897, and MSU didn’t resume play until 1901. And that occasion was deemed worthy of a matchup between the two in-state rivals.
The contest was played Oct. 28 on the Oktibbeha State Fairgrounds in Starkville and featured some pregame wrangling over eligibility issues. That was hardly news, since teams from all over the country were rather elastic in their requirements for inclusion on football teams. Once the dispute was settled, the game began, and the Maroon and White prevailed, 17–0. In his fine book on the game, The Egg Bowl, William G. Barner reprints accounts of the contest from the A&M student newspaper, The College Reflector, and from the University of Mississippi Magazine about the game. It was clear that a rivalry had been born.
First, The Reflector: “The University boys…played the dirtiest game of ball that we have seen. They would do anything to put our men out so long as the referee was not looking.”
Then, The Magazine: “’To one who has never indulged in any exercise more violent than…the milking of a patient cow, football seems a brutal sport. Our bucolic friend of the Agricultural College should confine himself to mumble-peg and townball.”
That type of back-and-forth prevails today and is somewhat typical of the relationship between any state university and its land-grant counterpart. Michigan students and alums refer to Michigan State as Moo U, and a similar arrogance can be found in the relationship between Mississippi’s two largest schools.
“This is a fact: the Ole Miss people seem to think they are the upper crust of the state,” maintains Jack Cristal, who has done play-by-play of State football games for 54 years. “They look down on the Mississippi State people.
“Ole Miss people think they’re better than most.”
The Ole Miss crowd doesn’t refute that assessment. “People like to tease them about the cowbells (rung by Bulldog fans at home games), and they get real mad about that,” says Mississippi chancellor Robert Khayat, who played for the Rebels from 1957-59. “It has always been a rural-against-city rivalry. It’s funny, though. Mississippi is mostly rural. There isn’t too much that’s cosmopolitan about the state.”
The two sides do respect each other, though, even if Warner Alford, who played at Ole Miss from ’58-60, says, “We are THE university of Mississippi.” From 1911-25, the Aggies had little reason to consider the Red and Blue anything but a doormat. Mississippi State was 11–0 in the rivalry during that stretch (no games were played from 1912-14) and outscored its overmatched foe 327–33 in those games. What began as Ole Miss dominance had swung to an iron-fisted Maroon and White rule.
That changed in 1926, when Ole Miss broke through with a 7–6 win in Starkville. The win was huge, but the postgame mayhem changed the rivalry forever. The Rebel contingent celebrated the end of its heroes’ drought by storming the soggy field and deciding to take the goalposts as spoils of victory. As one might imagine, this didn’t sit too well with the Aggie students, who defended their turf vehemently. The resulting melee, which was wisely avoided by the players, surprised and upset officials from both sides. By the next year, some changes had been made.
The biggest was the introduction of a real trophy for the game’s winner. The award, a solid-gold football, was agreed upon by students from both schools and was thought to be a deterrent to future goalpost abuse and subsequent violence. What a difference a trophy could make! After Ole Miss’ 20–12 win, accomplished before an overflow crowd of 14,000 in Oxford, there was a dignified presentation of the Golden Egg and an unparalleled spirit of cooperation. There were even calls, echoed by the new governor two months later, for combining the two institutions in order to create one fine university — and a heckuva football team.
Fortunately for Egg Bowl fans, that didn’t happen, and the teams continued to play each Thanksgiving Day. Not that State (the school was renamed Mississippi State College in 1932) got too much out of it. The “Flood,” a nickname given the Mississippi team in 1929, was undefeated in the series from 1926-35, winning nine and tying one (7–7 in 1929). When the Maroons finally did break through, in 1936 with a 26–6 win in Starkville, there were no riots, just an enthusiastic celebration and the beginning of some prosperity. Over the next six years, Mississippi State won five of six, including a 6–0 decision in 1941 (eight days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor) that clinched its first SEC title.
The arrival of John Vaught in Oxford in 1947 changed everything for the Rebels, who embarked on a dominance of the Bulldogs (Mississippi State adopted the nickname in the early ’40s) over the next two-plus decades, as the Rebels became an SEC and national power. “(Vaught) always said, ‘Never forget that Mississippi State is your rival,’” Alford says. “And he wanted to beat them.”
Khayat can speak to the pressure on the Rebels when they met Mississippi State. In 1957, he was a sophomore charged with kicking the point-after that would forge a late 7–7 tie. He had tried dozens of such kicks before, but none so important. “If I had missed it, I might have been hanged,” he says.
There wasn’t too much drama during the period. There were some moments, like in 1964, when a strong MSU ended 17 years of winless desperation with a 20–17 triumph that triggered a huge celebration that included canceling of classes the following Monday and presentation of the key to the city by the Starkville mayor.
One of the more controversial aspects of the rivalry surrounded the decision in 1973 to move the games from their campus homes to Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. The decision was made to accommodate the growing number of people who wished to watch the game live, and the first year in Jackson brought a record throng of 43,556. Over the next 17 years, upwards of 62,000 fans would pack the joint for the game. In 1991, Templeton made a decision that was unpopular in some corners but made good business sense for his school. Even though Jackson’s business community made a spirited — and lucrative — bid to keep the game, Templeton brought it home to Starkville.
“Moving the game back helped us raise the funds to build skyboxes and club seating,” Templeton says. “It’s a cornerstone game on which you can hold down your base of season ticket holders. Both schools have doubled the size of their stadiums since bringing the game back on campus.
“But when I moved it, I wasn’t very popular, because the majority of the state’s population is around Jackson.”
The following year, Ole Miss did the same thing, bringing the game to Oxford. Alford, then the Ole Miss AD, caught much of the same flak Templeton did. Not that he apologizes for the move. “We added to our stadium and renovated it because of the move,” Alford says. “We put lights in. It’s a big thing to play the (MSU) game in Oxford.”
Safely at home, the rivalry has delivered plenty of excitement over the past 10 years. The ’97 edition featured plenty of drama, from the pregame fight that brought state troopers onto the field to restore order, to the last-minute TD and two-point conversion pass from Stewart Partridge to Cory Peterson that gave Ole Miss a 15–14 win. The ’99 game was even crazier. There was no brawl but fireworks nonetheless.
The Bulldogs had staggered into the game on a two-game losing streak — after winning their first eight. Through three quarters, it appeared as if the losing streak would continue. Ole Miss held a 20–6 advantage and looked pretty safe. But a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes by Wayne Madkin, the last with 0:27 remaining, knotted the score at 20.
Ole Miss could have played for overtime. Should have played for overtime. Didn’t play for overtime. Because he felt his team was completely gassed, coach David Cutcliffe directed quarterback Romaro Miller to throw downfield, even though the Rebels had the ball at their own 27. Miller’s first pass was deflected by MSU’s Robert Bean and collected by teammate Eugene Clinton, who returned the ball to the Rebel 26 with 0:08 left. From there, Scott Westerfield drilled a 43-yard field goal that won the game.
Last year, the Bulldogs staged similar dramatics in a contest that appeared to be lost heading into the final period. Ole Miss held a 14–0 lead and a total offensive edge of 290 yards to 144. The futility extended another few minutes before MSU awoke. The Bulldogs stuffed a 4th-and-1 run by Rebels star BenJarvus Green-Ellis with 12:44 remaining. MSU took over on the Ole Miss 46 and drove for a TD, with Wesley Carroll hitting Anthony Dixon from four yards out to make it 14–7, with 7:51 to go. Five minutes later, MSU’s Anthony Pegues scooped up a short punt and galloped 75 yards for a game-tying score. The comeback was completed with 0:12 left when Adam Carlson drilled a 48-yard field goal — the longest of his career — giving the Bulldogs a 17–14 win and their seventh win of the year, which cemented the team’s bowl résumé. A month later, the Bulldogs played in the postseason for the first time under coach Sylvester Croom.
“For what it meant to Mississippi State, it was obviously one of the more important ballgames we’ve played,” Cristal says.
Of course it was; the game was against Ole Miss. All of those games are important.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
With 12 weeks in the book, it's time to take a look at how teams project to the postseason. There's going to be a lot of changes over the next couple of weeks, especially as teams battle just to get to six wins.
|New Mexico||Dec. 17||MWC vs. Pac-12||San Diego State vs. Temple*|
|Idaho Potato||Dec. 17||MAC vs. MWC||Ohio vs. Louisiana Tech|
|New Orleans||Dec. 17||C-USA vs. Sun Belt||UL Lafayette vs. Illinois*|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 20||Big East vs. C-USA||South Florida vs. East Carolina|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 21||MWC vs. WAC||Nevada vs. TCU|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 22||MWC vs. Pac-12||Boise State vs. California|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs. WAC||Utah State vs. SMU|
|Independence||Dec. 26||ACC vs. MWC||Wyoming vs. Wake Forest|
|Little Caesars||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs. MAC||Toledo vs. Northwestern|
|Belk||Dec. 27||ACC vs. Big East||Cincinnati vs. Virginia|
|Military||Dec. 28||ACC vs. Navy||North Carolina vs. Air Force|
|Holiday||Dec. 28||Big 12 vs. Pac-12||Texas A&M vs. Arizona State|
|Champs Sports||Dec. 29||ACC vs. Big East||Notre Dame vs. Florida State|
|Alamo||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs. Pac-12||Kansas State vs. Utah|
|Armed Forces||Dec. 30||BYU vs. C-USA||BYU vs. Tulsa|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 30||Big 12 vs. Big East||Rutgers vs. Missouri|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC vs. SEC||NC State vs. Mississippi State|
|Insight||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs. Big 12||Penn State vs. Baylor|
|Car Care||Dec. 31||Big Ten vs. Big 12||Iowa vs. Texas|
|Sun||Dec. 31||ACC vs. Pac-12||Georgia Tech vs. Washington|
|Liberty||Dec. 31||C-USA vs. SEC||Southern Miss vs. Vanderbilt|
|Fight Hunger||Dec. 31||Army vs. Pac-12||UCLA vs. Western Michigan*|
|Chick-fil-A||Dec. 31||ACC vs. SEC||Clemson vs. Florida|
|TicketCity||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. C-USA||Purdue vs. Iowa State*|
|Outback||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. SEC||South Carolina vs. Nebraska|
|Capital One||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. SEC||Georgia vs. Michigan State|
|TaxSlayer.com Gator||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. SEC||Auburn vs. Ohio State|
|Rose||Jan. 2||BCS vs. BCS||Wisconsin vs. Oregon|
|Fiesta||Jan. 2||BCS vs. BCS||Oklahoma State vs. Stanford|
|Sugar||Jan. 3||BCS vs. BCS||Michigan vs. Houston|
|Orange||Jan. 4||BCS vs. BCS||Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia|
|Cotton||Jan. 6||Big 12 vs. SEC||Arkansas vs. Oklahoma|
|BBVA Compass||Jan. 7||Big East vs. SEC||Tennessee vs. Louisville|
|GoDaddy.com||Jan. 8||MAC vs. Sun Belt||Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois|
|National Title||Jan. 9||BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2||LSU vs. Alabama|
* Current standings and projections indicate some conferences may fail to fulfill their tie-ins for 2011.
Bold indicates team has accepted bid to bowl.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 12 Big East Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. West Virginia (7-3) – The Mountaineers had a bye in Week 12 and will return to action this Friday in the Backyard Brawl against rival Pittsburgh. With West Virginia moving to the Big 12 and Pittsburgh off to the ACC, will this be the final matchup between these two schools for a couple of seasons? Thanks to Cincinnati’s loss to Rutgers, the Mountaineers have to be considered the favorite to win the conference and claim the BCS berth. Along with winning its final two games, West Virginia needs a little help in the form of a Louisville loss to take the Big East title outright.
2. Louisville (6-5) – Considering the Cardinals got off to a 2-4 start with losses to Marshall and FIU, coach Charlie Strong has to be pleased with where his team stands going into the final game of the regular season. Louisville handled Connecticut 34-20 to keep pace in the Big East title race. With Cincinnati’s loss to Rutgers, the Cardinals are now in a five-way tie for the No. 1 spot in the conference. If Louisville knocks off South Florida and gets help in the form of losses by Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, it will claim the conference title and a spot in the BCS.
3. Rutgers (8-3) – Thanks to their 20-3 victory over Cincinnati, the Scarlet Knights have completely changed the outlook of the Big East race. The Bearcats had full control of the conference, but the loss to Rutgers has created a five-way tie atop the conference. Running back Jawan Jamison gashed Cincinnati for 200 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries, while quarterback Chas Dodd threw for 173 yards and no picks. The defense came up big for Rutgers, limiting running back Isaiah Pead to 28 yards and holding Cincinnati to its lowest point total this year. The Scarlet Knights play their final regular season game this Saturday at Connecticut.
4. Cincinnati (7-3) – The Bearcats commanding lead in the conference standings is no more. With Saturday’s 20-3 loss to Rutgers, the race to win the Big East is wide open with five teams tied with two conference losses. With Zach Collaros out, sophomore Munchie Legaux made his first start against the Scarlet Knights and completed only 12 of 31 throws for 158 yards and one interception. Running back Isaiah Pead never managed to get on track, recording 28 yards on 14 carries. Cincinnati plays at Syracuse this Saturday and finishes the year with a home game against Connecticut on Dec. 3.
5. Pittsburgh (5-5) – With two games remaining, the Panthers are still alive in the Big East title mix. Thanks to Rutgers’ win over Cincinnati, the door is open for Pittsburgh, Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia once again. The Panthers had a bye on Saturday and return to action on Nov. 25 at West Virginia. Pittsburgh has not defeated West Virginia since 2008 and has not won in Morgantown since 2007.
6. South Florida (5-5) – The Bulls have been on the wrong end of some close games this season. South Florida dropped back to .500 with a 6-3 loss to Miami on Saturday. The Bulls managed only 247 yards on offense, largely due to an injury to quarterback B.J. Daniels. The junior suffered a sprained shoulder and will be questionable to play in next week’s game against Louisville. In games decided by a touchdown or less, South Florida is 1-4 this season.
7. Connecticut (4-6) – Any hope the Huskies had of repeating as Big East champs ended with Saturday’s 34-20 loss to Louisville. Connecticut’s offense struggled all day to find its rhythm, as quarterback Johnny McEntee completed only 18 of 45 throws for 265 yards and two interceptions. Running back Lyle McCombs rushed for only 33 yards, but that pushed his total over 1,000 for the season. The Huskies can still get bowl eligible, but they need to beat Rutgers and Cincinnati to get to six wins.
8. Syracuse (5-5) – The Orange had a bye in Week 12 and will return to action this Saturday against Cincinnati. The off week came at a good time for coach Doug Marrone, as Syracuse has lost its last three games. The Orange has had an up and down season, but can still get bowl eligible with a win over Cincinnati or Pittsburgh in the final two weeks of the regular season. Syracuse had Big East title hopes in the preseason, so a 1-4 conference record going into Week 13 has to be considered a disappointment.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 12 Big 12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Oklahoma State (10-1) – The Cowboys watched their national title hopes likely end with a 37-31 overtime loss to Iowa State. However, thanks to Oklahoma’s loss to Baylor, the Pokes keep the top spot in Athlon’s Big 12 power rankings. Quarterback Brandon Weeden threw for 476 yards and three scores against the Cyclones, but also tossed three picks, including a costly one in the second overtime. The rushing attack was virtually invisible, as Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith combined for just 60 yards. With losses by several teams in the top 10 in Week 12, the Cowboys can’t be counted out of the race for the national championship. However, they no longer control their destiny and will need a lot of help.
2. Oklahoma (8-2) – Coming into Week 12, the Sooners still held slim national title hopes. However, any dreams of getting to New Orleans ended on Saturday night with a 45-38 loss to Baylor. The Sooners recorded 605 yards of offense against the Bears, but three turnovers proved to be costly. Also, after scoring to pull within one (38-37) with less than a minute remaining, Oklahoma planned on going for two and the win, but a false start forced coach Bob Stoops to kick the extra point. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin was a handful for the Sooners’ defense all night, as he tossed the game-winning score with less than 30 seconds left. Oklahoma hosts Iowa State next Saturday.
3. Kansas State (9-2) – The Wildcats won their fourth straight game over Texas, holding on for a 17-13 victory on Saturday night. Quarterback Collin Klein has been a one-man machine on offense this season, but he was held mostly in check by the Longhorns’ defense. Klein threw for only 72 yards and one touchdown, while mustering only three yards on 26 rushing attempts. With the offense struggling, it was up to Kansas State’s defense to deliver. The Wildcats forced two turnovers and never allowed Texas’ rushing game to get on track. Kansas State still has a shot to earn a BCS bowl, but will need a victory against Iowa State in the season finale to keep those hopes alive.
4. Baylor (7-3) – Behind quarterback Robert Griffin and coach Art Briles, the Bears continue to elevate the program. Saturday’s 45-38 win over Oklahoma was the first in school history against the Sooners and with games against Texas Tech and Texas remaining, the Bears could finish the year 9-3. Baylor's defense gave up 605 yards to Oklahoma, but forced three turnovers. Griffin’s Heisman hopes are on the rise after the victory, as he posted 551 overall yards and four scores. The Bears take on Texas Tech in a neutral site affair in Cowboys Stadium this Saturday.
5. Missouri (6-5) – A late defensive stand kept Texas Tech out of the endzone and preserved the Tigers’ 31-27 victory for an all-important sixth win for bowl eligibility. With running back Henry Josey out for the year due to a knee injury, Kendial Lawrence has to pickup the slack on the ground and he finished with 94 yards on 15 attempts. Quarterback James Franklin also pitched in, rushing for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Missouri played Saturday’s game without coach Gary Pinkel, who was suspended due to an arrest earlier in the week. Pinkel will rejoin the team for next week’s game against Kansas.
6. Texas (6-4) – Mack Brown made significant staff changes after a disappointing 2010 season, largely designed to help spark a struggling offense. Although the Longhorns will go bowling, question marks still exist about the offense. In Saturday’s 17-13 loss to Kansas State, quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy combined to complete 15 of 32 passes for 119 yards and one touchdown, while also tossing two picks. Also, Texas has managed only 18 points in its last two games. There’s a lot of youth, so there is reason to expect more production in 2012. However, with games against Texas A&M and Baylor remaining, the Longhorns are going to need to find some production to prevent a 6-6 finish.
7. Texas A&M (6-5) – The Aggies snapped a three-game losing streak, blasting Kansas 61-7 to get bowl eligible with a 6-5 record with one game remaining. Running back Cyrus Gray had a short afternoon of work (94 yards and three scores), but suffered a shoulder injury and his status for Thursday night’s game against Texas is uncertain. Texas A&M has been one of the most disappointing teams in college football, beginning the year with preseason top 10 expectations. However, the Aggies are going to limp into the postseason with a 6-6 or 7-5 record. With the move to the SEC, Thursday night’s Thanksgiving matchup against Texas could be the final game between these two schools for a while.
8. Iowa State (6-4) – An unpredictable college football weekend kicked off with the Cyclones’ 37-31 upset over Oklahoma State. Iowa State was a heavy underdog, but battled back after a 24-7 deficit early in the third quarter. Jared Barnett is 3-0 as the Cyclones’ starting quarterback and was the star of the game for the offense, throwing for 376 yards and two scores, while adding 84 on the ground. The victory over the Cowboys should allow Iowa State to make its second bowl appearance in the last three seasons. The Cyclones play at Oklahoma next Saturday.
9. Texas Tech (5-6) – The Red Raiders continued their slide with a 31-27 loss to Missouri. Texas Tech had a chance to score the winning touchdown with less than a minute remaining, but quarterback Seth Doege’s pass was tipped and intercepted. The 27 points scored by the Red Raiders were the most since the Oct. 22 upset win over Oklahoma. However, the defense was unable to find an answer for Missouri quarterback James Franklin, who finished with 312 overall yards and four touchdowns. Texas Tech has to win next week against Baylor to get bowl eligible.
10. Kansas (2-9) – A week after a near upset against Baylor, the Jayhawks are headed back in the wrong direction. Saturday’s 61-7 loss to Texas A&M extended Kansas’ losing streak to nine games and was easily the most lopsided defeat of the season. The Jayhawks collected only 197 yards, turned the ball over three times and allowed six sacks of quarterback Jordan Webb. Kansas closes out the 2011 season next Saturday against Missouri. With the Tigers moving to the SEC, this could be the final meeting between these two schools for the foreseeable future. There’s also a lot of uncertainty surrounding coach Turner Gill. The Jayhawks have been awful this season and while there’s some promising young talent, they may not be much better in 2012.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the most important things to take away from this weekend.
Alabama – The Crimson Tide making this section of the column has nothing to do with their victory over Georgia Southern. Losses by Oregon, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have cleared the way for Alabama to rematch against LSU in the national title game – provided both teams win out. The Crimson Tide still has to play rival Auburn this Saturday, but is back in the picture for the national title.
Arizona – The Wildcats have had to overcome a lot of obstacles this season. A brutal schedule got Arizona off to a 1-5 start, which also cost coach Mike Stoops his job. The Wildcats could have packed in for the year, but destroyed UCLA 48-12 in Tim Kish's first game as interim coach and beat rival Arizona State 31-27 for their third win of this season.
Arkansas State – Under the direction of first-year coach Hugh Freeze, the Red Wolves clinched a share of the Sun Belt title with their win over MTSU in Week 12. And they will be bowling for the first time since 2005, as they accepted a bid to play in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in early January. Freeze is a hot commodity in coaching searches and may not return to Jonesboro in 2012.
Baylor – Under coach Art Briles and quarterback Robert Griffin, the Bears have made a lot of progress in raising the program over the last few seasons. Baylor earned its first victory over Oklahoma in school history, led by Griffin’s 479 passing yards and four touchdowns on Saturday night. The junior quarterback vaulted back into the Heisman discussion with that performance and should be a lock for a trip to New York. The Bears have not won more than seven games since 1991. But with winnable contests against Texas and Texas Tech remaining, Baylor should have a chance to get to eight or nine victories before its bowl game.
Houston – The Cougars’ offense gets all of the credit for the team’s 11-0 start, but the defense delivered in Saturday’s 37-7 victory over SMU. The Mustangs were without running back Zach Line and have struggled to get consistent quarterback play most of the year, but Houston’s defense did not allow a touchdown until the fourth quarter. The Cougars are going to need both sides to come through on Friday, as they play at Tulsa for Conference USA’s West Division title.
Iowa State – The Cyclones kicked off a crazy college football weekend with a 37-31 upset win over Oklahoma State. The victory likely knocked the Cowboys out of the national title game, but gets Iowa State bowl eligible for the second time in three seasons under coach Paul Rhoads. Lost in the upset talk is a bright future for this team. The Cyclones have two talented playmakers on offense (quarterback Jared Barnett and running back James White), along with a defense that should be solid next season. Rhoads is one of the nation’s most underrated coaches and will continue to pull off upsets like the nation saw on Friday night as long as he stays in Ames.
Louisiana Tech – As the regular season winds down, it’s time to dish out some credit to some of the teams outside of the BCS conferences. The Bulldogs scored three touchdowns in the second half to upset Nevada 24-20 and take control of the WAC title race. Louisiana Tech is 7-4 entering its last regular season game (New Mexico State), and head coach Sonny Dykes has done a good job of turning this program around in just two years.
Michigan – With losses by Oregon, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, combined with the Wolverines’ blowout victory over Nebraska, Michigan is inching closer to earning a spot in a BCS bowl. It was a complete performance by the Wolverines in the victory over the Cornhuskers. The defense never allowed Nebraska’s rushing attack to get on track, while Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint provided more than enough offense for the victory. Coach Brady Hoke has done a great job in his first season and hopes to lead the Wolverines to a victory over Ohio State this Saturday.
Michigan State – Thanks to Michigan’s win over Nebraska and the Spartans’ 55-3 win over Indiana, the first Legends Division trophy will have a spot in East Lansing. Michigan State took no chances with an upset-minded Hoosiers’ team, pulling away for a 34-3 lead at halftime. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was terrific in his final home game, throwing for 272 yards and three touchdowns on 16 completions. Michigan State will play in the first Big Ten title game on Dec. 3 against Wisconsin or Penn State.
NC State – It has certainly been an up and down season in Raleigh. The drama started after spring practice, as coach Tom O’Brien decided Mike Glennon – not Russell Wilson – would be his starting quarterback for 2011. The Wolfpack have wins over Virginia and rival North Carolina, but also own a head-scratching loss to Boston College. NC State crushed Clemson 37-13 on Saturday, moving it within one win of reaching a bowl game. Getting seven wins and into the postseason would certainly ease the pressure on O’Brien.
Penn State – With a world of off-the-field distractions surrounding them, the Nittany Lions went into Columbus and pulled off a 20-14 upset over Ohio State. In an effort to spark a struggling offense, the Penn State coaches dusted off the Wildcat formation, which ended up being a key component to the offensive attack on Saturday afternoon. Interim coach Tom Bradley has done a good job of keeping the team focused, but can the Nittany Lions win the division title in Madison next Saturday? It certainly won’t be easy, but then again, no one expected Penn State to go into Columbus and win.
Rutgers – Coaching staffs at Louisville, Pittsburgh and West Virginia are certainly going to be thanking Greg Schiano this week. With the Scarlet Knights’ 20-3 win over Cincinnati, the race to win the Big East is wide open. Five teams, including Rutgers, have two conference losses entering Week 13. The Scarlet Knight offense has been inconsistent throughout the year, but running back Jawan Jamison gashed the Bearcats for 200 yards, while quarterback Chas Dodd completed 21 of 35 throws for 182 yards. Rutgers need to beat Connecticut this Saturday, while getting a loss by West Virginia and Louisville to win the conference outright.
USC – It’s really a shame the Trojans are ineligible for a bowl game this season. After pushing Stanford and beating Oregon, USC is one of the top 10-15 teams in the nation. The 38-35 victory over the Ducks has to be coach Lane Kiffin’s best win at USC and sets the table for what could be a big season in 2012. If quarterback Matt Barkley and tackle Matt Kalil return, the Trojans could be picked among the top five in the preseason.
Utah – Despite losing quarterback Jordan Wynn to a season-ending shoulder injury in October, the Utes haven’t quit in the Pac-12 title race. Utah has won four games in a row, largely due to the play of running back John White and a defense that is allowing only 19.1 points a game. The Utes need losses by Arizona State and UCLA to play for the conference title, but a win over Colorado this Friday could land Utah in the Alamo Bowl. Not bad for a team in its first season of Pac-12 play.
Virginia – With Virginia Tech winning on Thursday night against North Carolina, the Cavaliers knew they had to knock off Florida State to keep their ACC Coastal hopes alive. Mission accomplished. Virginia shocked Florida State 14-13, setting up a de-facto playoff game next Saturday against the Hokies. Head coach Mike London has done a great job in just two seasons, and the victory in Tallahassee likely earned him the ACC Coach of the Year award.
Wyoming – Let’s give a little credit to a team that has flown under the radar this year. The Cowboys got bowl eligible with a 31-10 victory over New Mexico, which also improved their record to 7-3. Wyoming has quality conference wins over San Diego State and Air Force and lost a close game to TCU (31-20). Freshman quarterback Brett Smith is having a solid season, throwing for 2,226 yards and 15 scores, while adding 518 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Arizona State – What in the world is going on in Tempe? The Sun Devils appeared to have complete control of the South Division entering the final month of the season. Since a 48-14 victory over Colorado, Arizona State has lost three straight games. And none of the opponents were elite competition – UCLA, Washington State and Arizona. Despite the lackluster finish, the Sun Devils still have a chance to make the Pac-12 title game if they beat California and UCLA loses this Saturday against USC. Coach Dennis Erickson has denied rumors he will be leaving at the end of the year, but questions still exist about whether he will be on the sidelines next season.
Cincinnati – The loss of quarterback Zach Collaros is likely going to cost the Bearcats a shot at the Big East title. Backup Munchie Legaux was unable to generate much offense in the 20-3 loss to Rutgers, allowing the defense to focus on stopping running back Isaiah Pead. Cincinnati’s two-game losing streak has erased its commanding lead in the conference. The season isn't over for the Bearcats, but they need a lot of help to get back into the No. 1 spot in the Big East.
Clemson – A week after clinching a spot in the ACC title game, the Tigers came out flat in a 37-13 loss to NC State. Receiver Sammy Watkins did not play with a shoulder injury, but the offense struggled to generate anything on the ground, while quarterback Tajh Boyd looked out of rhythm and tossed two picks. Clemson’s defense allowed the Wolfpack to dominate the time of possession, while allowing nearly 400 yards of offense. The Tigers play at rival South Carolina this Saturday, before the ACC title game against Virginia or Virginia Tech on Dec. 3.
Florida State – The Seminoles and Virginia combined for one of the strangest endings to an ACC game in recent memory. Florida State had a last-second opportunity to win, but kicker Dustin Hopkins missed the kick, giving the Cavaliers a 14-13 victory. The loss snapped the Seminoles’ five-game winning streak and only added to a disappointing season in Tallahassee. Florida State has the talent to be a national title contender, but will everything come together in 2012?
Oklahoma – Oklahoma State’s loss to Iowa State spoiled some of the anticipation for the Bedlam matchup on Dec. 3, but the Sooners still had a chance to enter that matchup with a lot on the line. However, Oklahoma’s 45-38 loss to Baylor has knocked it out of the national title picture for good. The Sooners had no trouble moving the ball, but their defense had no answer for stopping Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin. If Oklahoma beats the Cowboys on in two weeks, they will win the Big 12 and make another trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
Oklahoma State – Everything seemed to be falling into place for the Cowboys to play for the national title. However, Oklahoma State fell victim to an upset-minded Iowa State team and lost in the second overtime 37-31. The Cowboys still have a chance to get to the national championship, but need a lot of help. Despite the setback, Oklahoma State still has a lot to play for with a Dec. 3 date against Oklahoma in the Bedlam series. If the Cowboys beat the Sooners, they will claim the Big 12 title and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
Oregon – After watching Oklahoma State fall to Iowa State on Friday night, the Ducks had to know the opportunity at hand on Saturday night. Despite the opening to inch closer back to the national title game, Oregon fell 38-35 to USC. The Ducks were down 38-14 in the third quarter before rallying within a field goal. Oregon can still win the Pac-12, but any hope of playing for the national championship again is over.
Southern Miss – The Golden Eagles had their eight-game winning streak snapped with a 34-31 loss to UAB. Although the Blazers are a rival to Southern Miss, there’s no excuse to lose to a 2-8 team. The loss dropped the Golden Eagles from the top 25 and ended any outside hopes they had of making an at-large spot in one of the BCS games.
Texas – The Longhorns are better than they were last season, but still not close to contending for the Big 12 title. Developing any consistency on offense has been an issue all season and that was showcased in Saturday’s 17-13 defeat to Kansas State. Quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash combined for only 119 yards and tossed two picks on 32 attempts. Getting running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron back to 100 percent will help the offense, but the Longhorns still need a lot of work.
The SEC’s non-conference games – Georgia Southern, Citadel, Furman and Samford. That’s the competition scheduled by South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn and Florida in Week 12 of the season. Considering the upcoming rivalry games and SEC Championship, it’s understandable teams would want a bye week this late. However, Week 12 was a mostly unwatchable week of games in the SEC.
Looking Ahead to Week 13
A small sample of what's ahead
Texas at Texas A&M (Thursday)
With the Aggies moving to the SEC, this is the final matchup between these two schools for the foreseeable future.
Iowa at Nebraska (Friday)
The first matchup between these two border states since 2000.
Houston at Tulsa (Friday)
The stakes are high for the Cougars, as a loss to the Golden Hurricane will eliminate any shot of making a BCS game.
Pittsburgh at West Virginia (Friday)
The loser of this game is likely eliminated for the Big East title.
Arkansas at LSU (Friday)
The Tigers will clinch the SEC West with a win over the Razorbacks.
California at Arizona State (Friday)
Despite their recent slide, the Sun Devils are still very much in the mix for the South Division crown.
Clemson at South Carolina
Gamecocks need a big effort from their defense to knock off in-state rivals.
Georgia at Georgia Tech
Will the Bulldogs get caught looking ahead to the SEC title game?
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest
Can the Commodores knock off the Demon Deacons and get bowl eligible?
Virginia Tech at Virginia
The winner of this one will clinch a spot in the ACC title game against Clemson.
Florida State at Florida
Usually a big game, but both teams have been a disappointment this season.
Ohio State at Michigan
Wolverines look to snap a seven-game losing streak in this series.
Penn State at Wisconsin
Can the Nittany Lions find a way to slow down Wisconsin’s offense?
Alabama at Auburn
A win by the Crimson Tide likely secures a spot in the national championship.
Oregon State at Oregon
With a win over the Beavers, Ducks will claim the Pac-12 North title.
Notre Dame at Stanford
The Irish can derail the Cardinal’s BCS at-large hopes with a win on Saturday night.
UCLA at USC
Don’t adjust your vision: With a win over the Trojans, the Bruins clinch a spot in the Pac-12 title game.
Injuries from Week 12
Georgia RB Isaiah Crowell (ankle) - probable for Week 13
Kentucky QB Maxwell Smith (shoulder) - questionable for Week 13
Miami OT Seantrel Henderson (knee) - doubtful for Week 13
North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard (concussion) - questionable for Week 13
Notre Dame RB Jonas Gray (knee) - out for the remainder of season
Oklahoma WR Jaz Reynolds (shoulder) - questionable for Week 13
Oklahoma DE Ronnell Lewis (knee) - out for Week 13
Oregon State WR James Rodgers (ankle) - questionable for Week 13
South Carolina DE Jadevon Clowney (concussion) - questionable for Week 13
South Florida QB B.J. Daniels (shoulder) - questionable for Week 13
Texas A&M RB Cyrus Gray (shoulder) - questionable for Week 13
Texas Tech WR Alex Torres (knee) - questionable for Week 13
Washington State QB Connor Halliday (lacerated liver) - out Week 13
Legendary Georgia play-by-play man Larry Munson was once a game-day fixture for Dawgs fans, and with the sad news of his passing, he’s left Bulldog Nation with countless memories.
Before he came to Athens, Munson called the shots for Vanderbilt football and basketball for 16 years, and he was the radio voice of the Nashville Vols of the Southern Baseball Association. He also served as play-by-play man for Wyoming Cowboys football and basketball. But his immortal calls for the Bulldogs — “Run, Lindsay!”, “We stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose!” — are his most lasting legacy.
Munson shared his thoughts on Georgia football in the foreword he wrote in 2005 for Athlon’s book, “Game Day: Georgia Football.” As a tribute to Munson, we present it here.
By Larry Munson
So, how do you introduce a book on the history of Georgia football?
Oddly enough, I’ll start in Colorado.
In the fall of 1945, I was broadcasting my first home game with the Second Air Force football team from Colorado Springs. It was a typical Service football game between two powerhouse teams that were both covered up with All-America football players who had spent their war years playing an exceptionally high brand of college football. In the very first quarter of that game, they carried a Second Air Force running back off the field on a stretcher. His name was Frank Sinkwich.
It was a bad moment for Sinkwich, because the knee injury kept him from a pro football career. But at that time, I wasn’t familiar with him and had no idea that many years later I would be working the broadcasts for Georgia, where Sinkwich had made quite a name for himself before enlisting in the Air Force.
We really shouldn’t even mention Georgia football without going back into the memory banks and finding all the names that meant so much to you and me both. From Trippi to Rauch, Butts, Tarkenton, Sapp, McClendon, Arnold, Butler, Bennett, Herschel, Zeier, Etter, Moore, Patton, Stanfill, Lawrence, Greene, Pollack, Dooley, etc. … See how easy it is to start writing about Georgia football and find yourself literally covered up with hundreds of names from the past? Some of them from the very recent past?
I grew up in a Big Ten house; everybody followed the University of Minnesota, and everybody always cursed the University of Michigan. They also threw a few words out there against Iowa, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Purdue. Never did I dream that I would wind up in the south directing my hatred against General Bob Neyland, Steve Spurrier, Pat Dye and Danny Ford — not to mention any jersey that was covered with orange. As my 40 years of working Georgia football unfolded, many of the Big Ten teams were starting to decline, while the SEC was flying high and continues to climb even higher.
I’ve had 56 years in the SEC now, and I have no way of knowing all the great teams and where they should be ranked. But I do know this: Georgia football fans are as rabid and passionate as they come. I’ve been here so long now, I can’t even remember when tailgating started! That goes back to the ’60s. I think; however, the food now is much better, and there is much more of it.
We’ve turned the century mark now, and with it all the stadiums have grown twice as big, and the press boxes are also spread out all over the place. Unfortunately, the radio booths are now seven miles from the field. At least, it seems that way.
And now, here comes my 40th year of working Georgia football; the old names and games should be distant memories, but they continue to leap to my mind. With all the major names that left us a few months ago, how are we going to remember the 2004 team, I wonder? I also can’t help but wonder if Buck and Lindsay and a fullback named Haynes are also overwhelmed by the great memories flooding their memory banks.
As we look forward to making more memories together, I have a thought: Wouldn’t it be great to play Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl? Would we all walk away satisfied then?
— Larry Munson
June 1, 2005
You can't spell victory without VY. Of course, you can't spell hypersensitive, either, but that's another story.
Vince Young joined Tim Tebow in spicing up Week 11 of the NFL season with late-game heroics. The two most polarizing players in pro football had remarkably similar, remarkably successful weekends, much to the chagrin of their many detractors. Three days after Tebow led the Broncos on a defining, game-winning 95-yard drive in a 17–13 win over the Jets, Young reprised Tebow's performance with an 80-yard march of his own as the Philadelphia Eagles kept the Dream alive in MetLife Stadium with a 17–10 win over the Giants.
If there's one guy who can divide a room more quickly and decisively than Tebow, it's Young, who wore out his welcome in Nashville with his emotional fragility despite winning 30 games and salvaging two lost seasons with strong stretch drives. He departed for Philly and promptly put the target on his team's back by applying the Dream Team label.
Entering last night's game, his only pass of the season had been intercepted, and for much of last night, Young was his typically maddening self. He tacked on three more ill-timed picks against the Giants, the most painful coming on an end zone jump ball that ended a Philly threat with the Eagles clinging to a 10–3 lead. And when the Giants tied the game at 10 a few minutes later, it looked as if another late Eagles collapse was in the offing.
But turn on the lights and ratchet up the pressure, and it's VY's time to shine. If by some miracle the Eagles find a way to make the playoffs, they'll look back and credit The Drive — an 18-play, 80-yard, nine-minute odyssey that might have salvaged a lost season.
Young did something that Michael Vick has been unable to do all year: He stood tall in the fourth quarter, calmly leading his team on a game-winning march that was as clutch a series as you'll see in 2011. The Eagles converted six third downs on the drive, the last one an eight-yard strike from Young to Riley Cooper for the go-ahead touchdown.
"We knew we had to dig deep," said Cooper. "Everybody contributed. It was not just one player, not just one long play. We pieced that last drive together piece by piece."
Young's final numbers — 23-of-36, 258 yards, two touchdowns — were marred by those three interceptions, which gave him a passer rating of 69.0. But Young's most important number has always resided on the scoreboard, and he's been on the right side more often than not, with a career starting record of 31–17. Much like his Denver counterpart, Young is more about results than style points, which is a good thing, since Vince's sidearmed slings aren't going to win many converts.
Of course, both quarterbacks owe their defenses a steak dinner or two. Like the Broncos, who harassed Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez into a forgettable evening, the Eagles' much-maligned stop unit shut down the Giants running game and held Eli Manning in check all night, forcing a Manning fumble on the final possession after a Victor Cruz catch-and-run had put the Giants into scoring territory.
But this weekend was a tale of two quarterbacks, who shook off their obvious shortcomings to post key wins.
"Vince, stepping in for the great Michael Vick, that's a tough thing to do and he did it and the guys rallied around him," said relieved Eagles coach Andy Reid. "The offensive line and defensive line played well, the offensive line had a huge challenge when it counted and they were able to put some things together."
• The other NFC East showdown was just as compelling, as Dallas outlasted Washington 27–24 in overtime. When Tony Romo is on, as he was in throwing for three scores, he's impressive. He's also 18–2 in his career in November, matching Hall of Famer Otto Graham for best record over his first 20 November starts. Of course, January wins are better, and Romo doesn’t have many of those.
• The best game of the day? Baltimore's nailbiting win over the Bengals, who built credibility despite another painful division loss. Andy Dalton continues to make believers; the gunslinging ginger threw for 373 yards and led a desperation drive into the Red Zone. But Joe Flacco was just a little better, throwing for 270 yards and two scores as the Ravens picked up a key win heading into their Thanksgiving showdown with the Niners.
• What now, Bears? Chicago won its fifth straight, beating San Diego 31–20, but lost starting quarterback Jay Cutler to a broken thumb. Unless the Bears go out and get a quarterback — Marc Bulger, anyone? — they'll turn to Caleb Hanie to keep their playoff hopes alive.
• Green Bay and Detroit enter their Thanksgiving showdown at a combined 17–3. The Packers were far from dominant in their 35–26 win over the Bucs, surrendering big days to Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount, but they did enough to win their 10th. Meanwhile, the Lions used five Matthew Stafford TD passes and four Cam Newton interceptions to outlast the Panthers 49–35.