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Saturday night in Gainesville, we witnessed a statistical anomaly when Missouri somehow scored 42 points despite gaining only 119 yards of offense in a 29-point win at The Swamp.
Earlier that day in Tuscaloosa, Alabama also won in convincing fashion, but the Crimson Tide scored their points in a more conventional fashion — by matriculating the ball down the field (to steal a phrase from the great Hank Stram) with stunning ease. On the heels of a sluggish performance in a one-point win at Arkansas the previous week, the Alabama offense rolled up a staggering 602 total yards in a 59–0 win over Texas A&M.
The Crimson Tide opened the game with a field goal (after a 71-yard drive) and then proceeded to score a touchdown on their next seven possessions, with all but one drive covering at least 57 yards. For the game, Alabama averaged 7.5 yards on its 80 snaps and came two rushing yards shy of accumulating 300 yards on the ground and 300 yards through the air.
Quarterback Blake Sims averaged 9.9 yards per passing attempt, and the top two running backs, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, combined to average 8.0 yards on their 23 carries. Amari Cooper, the team’s best offensive weapon, averaged 17.5 yards on eight catches and scored two touchdowns.
The skill players were responsible for the flashy highlights, but the key — according to coach Nick Saban — was the play of the Alabama offensive line.
“We had a little gathering with the offensive line this week and said, ‘Look guys, you guys are starting to feel pressure and you’re being criticized. You’re not being the sergeant-at-arms that we need you to be in terms of how you control the line of scrimmage and how you dominate the line of scrimmage. Really, our guys aren’t going to make plays unless you do that. I believe in you, and I trust in you.’”
Alabama has now topped the 600-yard mark on three occasions this season, something that happened only three times total in the first seven years of the Nick Saban era. The Tide have also run at least 80 plays from scrimmage in three games under first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Previously, that happened only once — last year vs. Kentucky — under Saban.
Excuse the double negative, but it’s not easy not to be good at Florida.
Somehow that is what has happened in three of Will Muschamp’s four seasons as the head coach of the Gators. Florida did not have a losing record in the SEC one time from 1987 through 2010. Muschamp has managed to accomplish this difficult feat in two of his three full seasons as the boss, with a 3–5 mark in both 2011 and 2013. And through five league games in ’14, the Gators are 2–3, with the wins coming over Kentucky in triple-overtime and Tennessee by one point.
And even when Florida was “good” under Muschamp — the Gators went 11–2 overall and 7–1 in the SEC in 2012 — it was far from a satisfying season for the locals. That year, Florida ranked 12th in the SEC in total offense (334.0 ppg), lost to rival Georgia for the second straight season (for the first time since the late ‘80s) and was dominated as a heavy favorite in a Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville — a team coached by former Gator defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. Give that Florida team credit for winning close games, but there was a bit of smoke and mirrors with the ’12 Gators.
Florida fans can debate which season has been the worst. Was it last fall, when the Gators lost seven straight to end the season, including losses at home to Vanderbilt by 17 points and FCS foe Georgia Southern? Or has it been this year, when the offense has continued to be “abysmal” — that’s Muschamp’s word — despite another change at offensive coordinator? What was worse: Giving up 600-plus yards in a 42–21 loss at Alabama in September, or Saturday’s debacle in which Florida lost to Missouri at home, 42–13, despite giving up only 119 yards?
One thing isn’t up for debate: This is the most underachieving program in college football. Most fan bases believe their school should contend for national titles on a consistent basis. Most fan bases are wrong. The folks in Gainesville, however, are not.
There is no excuse for Florida football to be irrelevant on the national scene.
The losers of the past two Super Bowls will take the next step in their quest to get back to that stage when the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos face off tonight on NBC. Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers (4-2) have won three in a row while John Fox’s Broncos (4-1) have won both of their games since their Week 4 bye.
These two franchises have spilt their previous 12 regular-season meetings, but it’s the one postseason affair that will always be remembered. San Francisco destroyed Denver 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV, a title game rout that still holds the record for largest margin of victory.
San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Denver -6.5
Three Things to Watch
|San Francisco 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||@ DAL||W 28 - 17||Recap|
|9/14||vs CHI||L 20 - 28||Recap|
|9/21||@ ARI||L 14 - 23||Recap|
|9/28||vs PHI||W 26 - 21||Recap|
|10/5||vs KC||W 22 - 17||Recap|
|10/13||@ STL||W 31 - 17||Recap|
|10/19||@ DEN||L 17 - 42||Recap|
|11/2||vs STL||L 10 - 13||Recap|
1. Manning Makes More History?
After throwing three touchdown passes last week against the Jets, Peyton Manning has 506 in his career. He needs just three more to pass Brett Favre for No. 1 on the all-time list. Even though Manning is well off of his record-setting pace from last season, he’s still tied for second in the NFL in touchdown passes (15) and is third in passer rating (110.5). He’s thrown just three interceptions while completing 67 percent of his passes. Manning is averaging three touchdowns per game, so he just needs an “average” game against San Francisco to get the record. Will it come tonight? While Manning is focused more on winning than breaking records, it should be pointed out that the 49ers are just one of two teams (Browns the other) Manning has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns against in his career. In four regular-season games, Manning is 2-2 versus San Francisco with six picks compared to five touchdowns and an 81.8 passer rating. Based on his past history, it will take a career-best showing against this 49ers defense for Manning to stake his claim to yet another record.
|Denver 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs IND||W 31 - 24||Recap|
|9/14||vs KC||W 24 - 17||Recap|
|9/21||@ SEA||L 20 - 26||Recap|
|10/5||vs ARI||W 41 - 20||Recap|
|10/12||@ NYJ||W 31 - 17||Recap|
|10/19||vs SF||W 42 - 17||Recap|
|10/23||vs SD||W 35 - 21||Recap|
|11/2||@ NE||L 21 - 43||Recap|
2. San Francisco’s Spilt Personality on Offense
A signature of John Harbaugh’s teams has been an offense built around running the football. In each of his three seasons as the 49ers head coach, the team has ranked eighth or better in the NFL in rushing offense. San Francisco currently ranks seventh in that category, averaging 135.7 yards rushing per game and trails only Dallas in rushing attempts (192). The formula for the 49ers thus far has been pretty simple – run the ball 30 or more times and win. In four wins, Harbaugh’s team has averaged nearly 36 carries and 151.3 yards rushing per game. In the two losses those numbers drop to 25 and 104.5. While that seems pretty straightforward, San Francisco flipped the script on Monday night when the 49ers had more passing attempts (36) than rushing attempts (30) in the win in St. Louis. To be fair, Colin Kaepernick was more than effective throwing against the Rams’ defense, finishing with a season-high 343 yards and three touchdowns, while the team gained just 89 yards on the ground. The issue is that prior to Monday night, the 49ers had lost the two previous games in which they threw the ball more than they ran it. So as tempting as it may be to let Kaepernick throw it all over the field, the more effective strategy for San Francisco has been to establish the run and use it to wear down the opposition. However, this may be easier said than done tonight. For one, Denver’s offense is certainly capable of striking early and often, putting teams in a position where they are forced to throw to try and keep up. Secondly, the Broncos’ remade defense has been very effective against the run, checking in at No. 4 in the league at 76.8 yards per game. In fact, they are just ahead of the 49ers (79.8) in that category. So while good things tend to happen when San Francisco runs the ball, the question becomes will tonight’s opponent and/or game flow allow the 49ers to do just that?
3. Broncos Finding Balance?
Everyone knows about Peyton Manning and Denver’s potent passing attack. And even though the Broncos’ offense is not piling up the yards or points at the record-setting pace it did last season, it’s still been highly effective. Denver is averaging 389 yards (9th in the NFL) and 29.4 points per game (3rd), while wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both rank in the top 10 in the league in yards receiving and tight end Julius Thomas leads the NFL in touchdowns (nine). But everyone also remembers how Seattle manhandled the AFC champions in Super Bowl XLVIII, which made it painfully clear to Broncos general manager John Elway that he needed to beef up his defense and develop a more balanced offense. Elway spent a lot of money in free agency on the defensive side of the ball, while pinning his hopes of a more effective ground game on second-year running back Montee Ball. Even though Ball suffered a groin strain two weeks ago and wasn’t that productive when he was on the field, Elway’s master plan is starting to bear some fruit. Denver’s defense currently ranks fourth in the league in yards allowed, which is better than the offense. The Broncos are giving up less than 21 points per game and also have been very solid against the run (76.8 ypg, 4th). And while the rushing offense is well back in the pack (91.2 ypg, 26th), Denver has averaged 115 yards per game since its Week 4 bye and has done this against two pretty decent defenses (Arizona and the New York Jets). Ronnie Hillman rushed for 100 last week in his first start as Ball’s replacement and the more success he and the other backs have moving forward will only make things easier on Manning and the passing game. But again, if the defense continues to play as well as it has, the offense won’t need to carry this team by itself. In other words, the Broncos are sticking to the blueprint that Elway laid out in the offseason.
After an early rough patch, San Francisco has turned things around in large part by doing what it does best – run the football. Denver meanwhile has started to change its image, as the defense has kept up with the offense in terms of statistical success. The 49ers’ defense is still pretty good in its own right, but its depth has been tested constantly due to injuries and Aldon Smith’s nine-game suspension. Even with Peyton Manning on the verge of breaking Brett Favre’s record for career touchdown passes, the key to this game is the other side of the ball. In that respect, I think Jim Harbaugh’s defense is just too banged up and will eventually wear down in the thin air at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Manning may not break Favre’s record tonight, but he’ll still get the chance to celebrate after the game.
Prediction: Denver 27, San Francisco 20
The New York Giants hope to bounce back from one of their worst performances in years, while the Dallas Cowboys hope to continue their unexpected ascent to the top of the NFC mountain, as these two classic NFC East rivals collide this afternoon on FOX. Dallas won both of last season's meetings, with Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray rushing for 86 yards in both games — a respectable number, but one that would disappoint Murray this season as he chases history.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Dallas -6.5
Three Things to Watch
|New York (NFC) 2014 Schedule|
|9/8||@ DET||L 14 - 35||Recap|
|9/14||vs ARI||L 14 - 25||Recap|
|9/21||vs HOU||W 30 - 17||Recap|
|9/25||@ WAS||W 45 - 14||Recap|
|10/5||vs ATL||W 30 - 20||Recap|
|10/12||@ PHI||L 0 - 27||Recap|
|10/19||@ DAL||L 21 - 31||Recap|
|11/3||vs IND||L 24 - 40||Recap|
1. Romo's Roll
Don't look now, but Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has played like a Hall of Famer during this five-game winning streak. Since a three-interception performance in the opening loss to San Francisco, Romo has thrown 10 touchdowns to only two interceptions in the ensuing five games, without a passer rating below 93.5. Making Romo's life easier? A running game that relieves much of the pressure that has so often forced Romo into critical mistakes. Dallas is averaging a league-leading 33.3 rushes per game, and Romo's 191 pass attempts are the fewest of his starting career through Dallas' first six games. "We've had good running games in the past before -- probably not as many in a row — but my job is to obviously get us into good plays and get the ball to DeMarco and run the ball to the right looks," Romo said. "On third down, the running game doesn't help you as much — you've got to go out and execute it." So far, that execution has been nearly flawless.
|Dallas 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs SF||L 17 - 28||Recap|
|9/14||@ TEN||W 26 - 10||Recap|
|9/21||@ STL||W 34 - 31||Recap|
|9/28||vs NO||W 38 - 17||Recap|
|10/5||vs HOU||W 20 - 17||Recap|
|10/12||@ SEA||W 30 - 23||Recap|
|10/19||vs NYG||W 31 - 21||Recap|
|10/27||vs WAS||L 17 - 20||Recap|
2. Good Eli or Bad Eli?
Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a popular whipping boy, but it's still a bit unfair to lay all of New York's struggles at his feet. In the Giants' 27–0 loss to the Eagles, which snapped a three-game winning streak for the G-men, Manning was pummeled, getting sacked eight times and hit seven more. But it is fair to say that Manning's production is an accurate bellwether for the Giants. In the three-game winning streak that preceded the Philly loss, Manning threw eight touchdowns and only one interception, completing 70.1 percent of his passes. In the Giants' three losses this season, Manning has thrown three touchdowns and four interceptions, completing 60 percent of his throws. Now, the Giants hope that good Eli makes an appearance, even without star wideout Victor Cruz, lost for the season to a torn patellar tendon. "You just hate it happened to Victor because he loves playing this game," Manning said. "He has a great attitude, and so to see him get injured and be out for the season, I feel for him."
3. When will the mileage catch up with DeMarco Murray?
Dallas running back DeMarco Murray has been remarkable this season, leading the NFL in rushing by a wide margin with 785 yards and joining Jim Brown as the only two players to rush for 100 yards or more in each of a team's first six games of the season. But production like that has to come at a price. Murray has the fourth-most rushing attempts in NFL history through six games, having toted the rock 159 times, an average of 26.5 carries per game. Over a full 16-game season, that extrapolates to 424 carries, which would set an NFL record. It's a sad fact of life as an NFL running back that there are only so many carries a body can take. Will the Cowboys start to taper Murray's carries a bit to save him for the stretch run? Look for Joseph Randle (fresh off a shoplifting scandal) to get a few more relief carries, starting this week — especially when (and if) Murray cracks the 100-yard barrier for the seventh time. Randle can't outrun the mall cops, but he is averaging 7.1 yards per carry this season.
Combine the Cowboys' positive mojo, their eye-opening win at NFC kingpin Seattle and their two wins over the Giants last season, and this has the makings of another Dallas statement win. Anything's possible in a division rivalry like this one, but the Cowboys appear poised to keep the magic going.
Prediction: Dallas 31, New York 17
Behind a solid defense and a timely offense, Utah has emerged as a contender in the Pac-12 South. The Utes took a step forward in the division race with an overtime victory over Oregon State on Thursday night, improving to 2-1 in conference play with a huge showdown against USC ahead next Saturday.
Leading the way in Utah’s victory was running back Devontae Booker, who earns Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors for Week 8. The junior college transfer gained 229 of Utah’s 315 yards in the win, averaging 7.2 yards per rush on 32 attempts.
Booker scored three times on Thursday night, including twice in overtime. The junior’s 19-yard run in the second overtime gave the Utes a 29-23 victory and put coach Kyle Whittingham’s team just one win away from earning bowl eligibility.
But with Booker’s tough running and a defense holding opponents to just 21.7 points per game, Utah has its sights set on something bigger – a Pac-12 South title – than just bowl eligibility over the next few weeks.
Defensive Player of the Week: Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Missouri’s defense was simply dominant on Saturday night in the Swamp. The Tigers held the Gators to 13 points and 283 total yards, while forcing six turnovers in a 42-13 rout. Ray was the headliner for Missouri’s defense, recording six tackles (1.5 for a loss), one forced fumble and two sacks. Ray’s forced fumble resulted in a touchdown return by Markus Golden, which gave the Tigers a commanding 35-0 lead in the second half. In seven games this year, Ray has recorded 10 sacks and forced two fumbles.
Coordinator of the Week: Tony Gibson, West Virginia
Gibson and West Virginia’s defense had the right answers to stop Baylor’s high-powered offense in Saturday’s 41-27 upset victory. The Mountaineers held the Bears to just 318 yards (lowest mark for a Baylor offense since 2010), and Gibson’s defense limited Baylor to 4.0 yards per play (lowest since 2009). West Virginia also recorded four sacks and pressured quarterback Bryce Petty throughout the second half. The Mountaineers allowed only one touchdown in the final two quarters, while five of Baylor’s seven second-half drives traveled just 32 yards or less. The performance on defense was a big reason why West Virginia knocked off the Bears on Saturday.
Freshman of the Week: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Chubb is the Athlon Sports’ freshman of the week for the second week in a row. With Todd Gurley sidelined once again, Chubb handled the bulk of the workload in Georgia’s backfield and rushed for 202 yards and two scores on 30 attempts in the 45-32 win over Arkansas. In two games as the Bulldogs’ No. 1 back, Chubb has 345 yards and three scores.
Week 8 of college football’s 2014 season is officially in the books. And as expected with every Saturday, there was plenty of excitement, big plays and last-minute wins among the FBS action.
In case you missed any action, we tried to capture the big moments of Saturday in one article. The viral wrap-up features key plays, interesting quotes/comments in tweets, uniform unveilings and any major injuries.
College Football's Most Viral Moments from Week 8
At 250 pounds, Pitt running back James Conner isn't easy to bring down. Here's his 15-yard TD run. GIF: http://t.co/3XFBjvoq4P— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) October 17, 2014
Our quarterback's heads are falling off. http://t.co/8liNX6nVgl— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) October 18, 2014
Haven't seen a crowd this sparse since West Lafayette. pic.twitter.com/zIAimsdZG9— Nate Mink (@MinkNate) October 18, 2014
The USC “crowd” pic.twitter.com/WG5TKePwtK— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 18, 2014
This one-handed TD grab by Ohio State's Evan Spencer might be today's best. GIF: http://t.co/wphThatbB1— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) October 18, 2014
Not what you want to see, Mauldin leaving the field pic.twitter.com/cEDgx451pT— Spencer Kietzman (@SKietz680) October 18, 2014
Just to confirm, A-Rod is in Tuscaloosa. pic.twitter.com/H3f9352nCB— Matt Scalici (@MattScalici) October 18, 2014
Alright, alright, alright. pic.twitter.com/BLplw1rE5N— Cork Gaines (@CorkGaines) October 18, 2014
Textbook: https://t.co/CUTUSY5XPG— LostLettermen.com (@LostLettermen) October 19, 2014
Smokey looks sad in this pic: pic.twitter.com/GcGDTOnYoo— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 19, 2014
Kenyan Drake had Oatmeal Creme Pies in the basket of his scooter during the game today. Can we be friends? pic.twitter.com/jMwvryea25— Anna Montgomery (@annaelizabeth12) October 19, 2014
With 5:57 left in the third after two Mizzou defensive scores fans started chanting, "Fire Muschamp.'' #Gators— David Jones (@DaveJonesUFbeat) October 19, 2014
Not a face you want to see your quarterback make... https://t.co/fbeyLMokAu— LostLettermen.com (@LostLettermen) October 19, 2014
BREAKING: Police in riot gear in Morgantown, WV. People rioting after WVU win vs Baylor. Pic from twitter pic.twitter.com/jrK8MQvlCD— Dave Bondy (@WPXI_DaveBondy) October 19, 2014
Fresno St and Boise St playing for a large milk jug pic.twitter.com/Y3X6YiKBVb— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) October 18, 2014
Arizona’s offense should be close to full strength for Week 7 while Carolina is ready to welcome back one of its top running backs. Here are some QB and RB injury updates from around the NFL to help with your fantasy preparations.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals at Oakland Raiders
Probable – Foot
Yes, Ellington practiced on only a limited basis this week. Yes, he’s listed as Probable for this afternoon’s game. Yes, he should be in your starting lineup, as he’s averaging 20 touches per game and is facing a Raiders defense that’s 10th in the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs. And yes, he’s a top-10 RB again this week. Any more questions?
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers (Mon.)
Probable – Groin
Foster was limited on Thursday, but he practiced fully both Friday and Saturday. The Texans are trying to limit the wear and tear on their workhorse by resting him earlier in the week. He’s listed as Probable and will be aiming for his fifth 100-yard game of the season on Monday night against the Steelers. Outside of a six-yard effort in Week 4, Foster has averaged 126.8 yards rushing in his four other games.
Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks
Probable – Ankle
Just like last week, Stacy sat out the first day of practice to rest, but was a full go the rest of the week. He’s listed as Probable and should see the bulk of the work against the Seahawks. Stacy had just 17 yards rushing in the Monday night loss to San Francisco, but still wound up with the most carries (eight) on the team. The production just hasn’t been there this season for Stacy, who has seen his stock drop from RB1 to flex territory.
Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals at Oakland Raiders
Probable – Shoulder
Despite being Questionable last week, Palmer not only got the start, he also led his Cardinals to a win over Washington. The bruised nerve in Palmer’s shoulder remains an issue and continues to limit him in practice, but apparently it’s being managed enough considering he is listed as Probable. While the risk of relying on Palmer is obvious, he’s also produced an average of 23.9 fantasy points in the two games he has played. Today’s matchup against Oakland shouldn’t scare anyone away if they had thoughts of using Palmer in a 2-QB league or were looking for another option at the position.
Darrin Reaves, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, RBs, Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers
Questionable – Calf; Probable – Knee; Out – Ankle
The big takeaway from the Panthers’ injury report is that Stewart should be back after missing the past two games. He was able to practice fully and is listed as Probable. With Williams already ruled Out and Reaves Questionable, Stewart figures to be the Panthers’ top ball carrier today. However, don’t forget that Cam Newton actually paced the team in rushing (17 att.,107 yds., TD) last week while Reaves and Fozzy Whittaker combined for 42 yards on 17 carries (2.5 ypc). Stewart is somewhat appealing, but he doesn’t have the strongest track record and it appears that Ron Rivera doesn’t have any concerns about Newton’s surgically repaired ankle. I’m fine if you want to take a flyer on Stewart today, just be sure to temper your expectations.
Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders vs. Arizona Cardinals
Probable – Ankle/Knee
Carr was Questionable last week yet still played and posted the best numbers (282-4-1) of his brief NFL career. He got in two full days of practice and is listed as Probable. Carr’s potential is intriguing, and the Cardinals are sixth in fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs. There’s plenty of risk if you decide to take a flyer on Carr this week, but the payoff could be worth it, especially in 2-QB leagues.
Already Ruled Out:
Rashad Jennings, New York Giants – Jennings will miss a second straight game due to a sprained MCL, but the hope is he will be able to return following the Giants’ Week 8 bye. Andre Williams and Peyton Hillis will handle the workload in Jennings’ absence. Williams remains the more appealing fantasy option, even though he struggled in his first career start (17 att., 59 yds.) last week in Philadelphia. Williams should not be viewed as anything more than a RB2/flex option until he produces on the field.
Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos – Ball will miss his second straight game due to a groin strain. Ronnie Hillman was a workhorse for the Broncos last week, rushing 24 times for 100 yards against the Jets. Hillman is no worse than a RB2, as he also is capable of making plays as a receiver. Juwan Thompson (Probable, Knee) picked up 38 yards on eight carries last week and should remain somewhat active today. Thompson should be monitored, but he’s probably a target in deeper leagues only for the time being.
Donald Brown and Ryan Mathews, RBs, San Diego Chargers – Neither Brown (concussion) nor Mathews (MCL sprain) practiced this week, meaning Branden Oliver will get at least one more start. Oliver has been fantasy gold these past two weeks, rushing for a total of 215 yards and two touchdowns with eight catches for 91 yards and another score. The Chiefs’ defense figures to be a tough test for the undrafted rookie, but Oliver is still a top-10 option because of the likelihood he will see 20-30 touches.
Detroit’s and New Orleans’ backfields should be close to full strength for their Week 7 matchup while injuries have caused some shuffling in Denver and Jacksonville. Here some key backfield injuries to track before today’s games kickoff.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions
Probable – Hand
The Saints are coming off of their bye and should be back to full strength in their backfield. Ingram broke his hand back in Week 2 and has been sidelined since. He returned to practice this week and is listed as Probable. Before the injury, Ingram was off to a great start, averaging six yards per carry with three touchdowns. Ingram’s return means fewer carries for Khiry Robinson, while Pierre Thomas (right, who also is Probable even though an illness limited his practice time) will remain the primary receiving threat out of the backfield. Ingram should be a viable RB2 moving forward, although today’s matchup against Detroit won’t be easy. Thomas’ use has been inconsistent, but he did score two touchdowns in Week 5 against Tampa Bay. RB2 potential also is there for Thomas, but right now he’s no more than a flex option.
Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints
Probable – Ankle
Bush was present for parts of Wednesday and Thursday’s practices and was a full go on Friday. He is listed as Probable and it sounds like he will be back after missing last week’s game. And Bush also has some extra motivation based on today’s matchup against the team that drafted him. Joique Bell could end up with more carries, but Bush should be involved enough as a receiver, especially with Calvin Johnson not expected to play, to provide RB2/flex production.
Ben Tate, RB, Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars
Probable – Finger
Tate picked up two rushing touchdowns last week against Pittsburgh, as the Browns continued their strong play. He’s still listed on the injury report with a finger issue, but he was a full practice participant all week and is Probable to face the Jaguars. The Browns are making a point of running the ball, so Tate should get plenty of touches against a generous Jacksonville defense. Tate checks in as a top-10 option this week and it’s possible that backup Isaiah Crowell winds up with enough carries to merit flex consideration.
Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans at Washington Redskins
Questionable – Hand
Locker did return to practice this week, but he was limited every day. Locker is listed as Questionable, but even if he plays it looks like he won’t be 100 percent healthy. It’s also not like Locker was lighting it up when he was playing. Whether it’s Locker or Charlie Whitehurst getting the start today, there’s enough uncertainty present to push the two Titan QBs way down the board in terms of starting options for this week.
Already Ruled Out:
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Miami Dolphins – After missing three games with a dislocated elbow, Moreno returned last week only to suffer a season-ending knee injury (torn ACL). Moreno’s loss means the workload belongs solely to Lamar Miller, who is now locked in as a RB2.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redksins – RG3 took the next step in his recovery from the dislocated ankle he suffered in Week 2 by returning to practice this week. He was limited and has already been ruled out, but it may not be too long before Jay Gruden has a decision to make at QB. Kirk Cousins has had his chances, but turnovers continue to haunt him. If Cousins can’t put together a strong game against the Titans’ defense, he may make Gruden’s decision that much easier. Despite Cousins’ struggles, this matchup with Tennessee is appealing enough to keep him on the QB-2 radar.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars – Gerhart will miss a second straight game because of a foot injury that won’t even let him practice. Storm Johnson led the team with 10 carries last week, but he totaled just 21 yards while Denard Robinson and Jordan Todman combined for 23 yards on eight carries. With all of the Jaguars’ struggles on offense, this backfield should be monitored and not utilized until further notice.
Shonn Greene, RB, Tennessee Titans – Greene went from Doubtful on Friday to Out on Saturday, so it will be the Bishop Sankey show for a second straight game. Sankey is worthy of RB2 consideration although it should be pointed out that Washington has done a pretty good against the run. The Redskins are 24th in terms of fantasy points allowed to RBs.
Cincinnati and the New York Giants will both be without their top wide receivers in Week 7. Find out who will fill in and whether or not they should be on your fantasy radar this week.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers
Probable – Ankle
A nagging ankle issue limited Johnson early on this week, but he got in a full session on Saturday. He is listed as Probable, so Johnson is safe to start against the Steelers. Johnson does have three touchdown catches, which is good considering he has topped six targets in a game just once this season. Still, the potential for a breakout game is every present, which is why Johnson is pretty much locked in as a top-15 WR.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts
Doubtful – Toe
The Bengals’ injury situation at wide receiver only got worse this week. First, Marvin Jones was put on injured reserve due to an ankle injury, ending his season. Green meanwhile did not practice. After initially expressing some optimism on Green’s possible availability, Marvin Lewis changed his tune and said there’s “no time table” on when the All-Pro will be able to return from this toe injury. Green may be listed as Doubtful, but there’s no doubt in my mind – Green will not play. Mohamed Sanu filled in admirably (10-120-1) last week and should be another solid play today.
Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals at Oakland Raiders
Probable – Groin
Floyd was limited in practice on Wednesday due to a groin injury, but was able to participate fully Thursday and Friday. He’s listed as Probable and even though his numbers haven’t been that impressive (16-306-1), the potential is still there, especially as long as Carson Palmer is under center. Floyd is a pretty safe WR2 with upside and he’s ranked among Athlon’s top 20 WRs this week.
Mike Wallace, WR, Miami Dolphins at Chicago Bears
Probable – Foot
A foot issue continues to limit Wallace’s practice participation, but he doesn’t appear to be in any danger of not playing. He’s listed as Probable and needs to be your lineup as a WR2 based on him being the Dolphins’ most consistent and productive (25 rec., 4 TDs) target thus far.
Already Ruled Out:
Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants – Cruz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in the Sunday night loss in Philadelphia. He underwent surgery earlier this week and is out for the rest of the season. In Cruz’ absence, Rueben Randle takes over as the Giants’ No. 1 wide receiver with rookie Odell Beckham Jr. sliding into the other starting spot. Randle is now in WR2 territory while Beckham is more of a WR3/flex option for now, but there’s plenty of upside too, especially in Beckham’s case.
Detroit figures to be without its No. 1 wide receiver in Week 7, while Carolina is hoping its top wideout will be cleared to play. Here are some key WR injuries to read up on before setting your starting lineup.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers
Questionable – Concussion
The Panthers’ first-round pick suffered a concussion last week against the Bengals. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday while going through the league-mandated concussion protocols, but was a full go on Friday. He’s listed as Questionable, and did make the trip with the team to Green Bay, which is a good sign he's at least on track to play. Benjamin has been as good as advertised in his first season, currently just outside of the top 10 in fantasy points at his position. All indications are that Benjamin will be cleared to play, and if he's out there, he needs to be in your lineup.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints
Questionable - Ankle
While the mere fact that Johnson has gone from Doubtful last week to Questionable is a good sign, I wouldn’t get my hopes up too much. He missed all of practice for the second straight week, and Jim Caldwell went as far to say “miracles have happened” when asked about Johnson’s chances to play. Johnson himself said he doesn’t intend to return until he’s confident he’s 100 percent, so it seems highly unlikely Megatron will be out there today. Reggie Bush’s expected return also takes off some of the pressure in rushing Johnson back. Once again, Golden Tate should serve as Matthew Stafford’s primary target, putting him in WR2 territory.
Harry Douglas, Devin Hester and Julio Jones, WRs, Atlanta Falcons at Baltimore Ravens
Out – Foot; Probable – Hamstring; Probable – Ankle
Douglas’ foot injury continues to be an issue, keeping Douglas out of yet another game. Hester and Jones are both expected to play, as each practiced in full on Friday and are listed as Probable. Jones, as always is a must-start WR1 with Hester measuring up as a slightly risky WR3/flex option.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills
Probable – Hip
Patterson was a full go at practice this week and is listed as Probable, so his health seems to be the least of his issues. Instead, it’s the four catches for 23 measly yards that he’s provided over the last two games combined. Patterson has gone from a disappointment to an outright bust and fantasy owners aren’t the only ones who are frustrated with him. Mike Zimmer, Patterson’s head coach, said his talented, but maddeningly inconsistent wide receiver needs to do a better job of getting open. Patterson posted a strong second half last season and at this point that’s probably the best his owners can hope for. Until he does something meaningful on the field, I wouldn’t have Patterson in my starting lineup.
At tight end, the biggest injury-related question for Week 7 is will Jimmy Graham play or not? But Graham’s not the only prominent TE that appears on the injury report that you need to know about.
Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos
Probable – Back
The good news is that after not playing in Week 5, Davis was back in there on Monday night against St. Louis. The better news is that even with a short turnaround, Davis was a full practice participant every day and is listed as Probable. Now Davis’ owners hope he gets back to the player he was in Week 1 when he caught two touchdown passes. Since then, Davis has seven catches for 77 yards in three games. That said, unless you have a better option, you’re starting Davis and hope this is the week he breaks out again.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions
Questionable – Shoulder
Graham injured his shoulder two weeks ago against Tampa Bay and even though the Saints were on bye last week, reports were that the Saints’ All-Pro tight end would miss up to three more weeks because of the injury. Graham may prove a lot of people wrong, as he did enough in practice on Thursday and Friday to merit a Questionable tag, leaving open the possibility of him playing today. Graham will be a game-time decision, so the 1 p.m. ET kickoff should help in that respect. Even if he does play, Graham figures to be limited, but considering who we are talking about, it’s certainly worth waiting until the last minute to see if he can give it a go or not. Besides, you’re not going to really rely on Benjamin Watson are you?
Related: 5 Tight Ends to Replace Jimmy Graham
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers
Probable – Ankle
After being listed as Questionable a week ago because of his ankle, Olsen got in full practices on both Thursday and Friday. He’s listed as Probable, so the No. 2 scoring TE in fantasy is perfectly safe to employ today.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars
Probable – Ankle/Shoulder
Cameron caught just three passes last week, but they went for 102 yards and a touchdown (51-yard catch), as he showed why he was one of the first TEs off of the board in fantasy drafts. Cameron’s still listed with ankle and shoulder injuries, but he was a full practice participant this week and is Probable once again. At this point, there seems to be no reason to worry about whether to plug Cameron into your lineup or not.
Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints
Doubtful - Hamstring
Ebron, the Lions’ first-round pick, suffered a hamstring injury in practice on Wednesday, which sidelined him for the rest of the week. He’s listed as Doubtful, but there’s really no reason to expect him to play today. Ebron wasn’t even among the top 30 fantasy scorers at his position prior to the injury, so it shouldn’t be that hard to find a replacement if you were using him. Brandon Pettigrew will see more playing time in Ebron’s absence, but there are probably better options available.
Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins at Chicago Bears
Probable – Knee
Clay is coming off his best game yet in terms of yardage, but it was only 35 yards, underlining the fantasy disappointment he’s been this season. His knee still seems to be bothering him since he went from full practice participation on Wednesday and Thursday to being limited on Friday. That said, he is listed as Probable, so the expectation is that he will play. The real question is though should Clay even be in your lineup as a TE2?
Already Ruled Out:
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings – Rudolph underwent surgery for a sports hernia on Sept. 23. The projected time frame for his recovery is a minimum of six weeks, which would put a potential return around mid-November. If you have room, I would keep Rudolph; just understand this will be a prolonged absence.
Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars – Lewis is on the injured reserve/designated for return list because of a high ankle sprain. Unless you have an IR spot and/or are smitten with Lewis, there’s no reason to hold onto him or even stash him away.
California has significantly improved in Sonny Dykes’ second year, and the offense behind quarterback Jared Goff is one of the best in the Pac-12.
Goff and Chris Harper have developed a nice rapport over the last two years, and Harper kept California’s offense on track against UCLA by catching this ridiculous one-handed touchdown pass in the first half.
Check out Harper’s touchdown catch from Week 8:
West Virginia shook up the Big 12 standings by defeating Baylor 41-27 on Saturday. The Mountaineers knocked off the Bears thanks to the prolific combination of quarterback Clint Trickett and receiver Kevin White.
Trickett threw for 322 yards, while White caught eight passes for 132 yards and two scores.
White has topped 100 receiving yards in every game this year and is clearly one of the nation’s top receivers.
Check out the senior’s awesome one-handed grab to give West Virginia a 34-27 lead in the fourth quarter:
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for Week 8, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Garrett Krstich, SMU vs. Cincinnati ($5100)
Krstich threw for 339 yards and two scores in his last game against ECU and now he gets to face an awful Cincinnati defense that ranks 118th against the pass. He appears to be an excellent punt option this week.
1) RB Mark Weisman, Iowa vs. Maryland ($4100)
Weisman has rumbled for two touchdowns in each of the last three games and gets to face a Maryland defense that ranks 104th in the country. Look for this Hawkeye to find pay dirt again this week.
2) RB Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State vs. TCU ($4200)
Roland has scored six rushing touchdowns over the past four games and still carries a very appealing price tag. Look for Roland to make another trip across the goal line and provide huge value this week.
3) RB Nick Chubb, Georgia vs. Arkansas ($4600)
All Chubb did last week was carry the ball 38 times and accumulate 174 total yards against Missouri. Expect Chubb to see plenty of carries this week and post a solid stat line.
1) WR Darius Joseph, SMU vs. Cincinnati ($4200)
Joseph is coming off his best game of the season and will be facing a Bearcats pass defense that ranks 118th in the country. He is a PPR machine and hold excellent value on Draft Kings.
2) WR Kolby Listenbee, TCU vs. Oklahoma State ($4400)
Listenbee has gone over 100 yards receiving in the last two games and could make it three in a row against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys pass defense is ranked 101st in the country.
1) Maxx Williams, Minnesota vs. Purdue ($3200)
Williams is healthy and has been posting consistent numbers at the TE position. Look for him to exploit a porous Purdue secondary.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Tyrone Swoopes, Texas vs. Iowa State ($5300)
Swoopes exploded for 384 total yards and three total scores against Oklahoma last week. He could have another big performance against Iowa State and looks to be a nice punt option.
1) RB Royce Freeman, Oregon vs. Washington ($4600)
Freeman has seized control of the Oregon backfield and is priced well this week. He could easily hit 80 yards and a score and hit value this week.
2) RB Zach Laskey, Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina ($4700)
Laskey could find plenty of open holes to run through this week against North Carolina. The Tar Heels defense is atrocious and could struggle to stop the powerful Yellow Jackets running game.
1) WR John Harris, Texas vs. Iowa State ($5200)
Harris has scored four touchdowns over his past three games and may find his way into the end zone against Iowa State. There does not appear to be a ton of value at WR in the late slate, so use Harris freely.
1) TE Pharaoh Brown, Oregon vs. Washington ($3200)
Brown had 84 yards and a score last week against UCLA and looks to have a decent upside this week. He can be very inconsistent, so be careful.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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Quarterback Nick Montana and the Tulane coaching staff had a massive fail in the first half of Saturday’s game against UCF.
The Green Wave were attempting to get a field goal before the end of the quarter, and with time winding down, Montana spiked the ball to give his team a chance for points. However, there's just one problem: Montana spiked the ball on fourth down, ending any hope Tulane had of getting points.
Remember FAU doing this last year against Miami?
Running back Mike Davis helped to lead an easy win for South Carolina against Furman on Saturday, and the junior topped 100 yards and reached the endzone twice in the first half.
Davis also delivered a highlight-reel run in the first half, which included a monster stiff arm to a Furman defender.
Several top targets are missing in action as it relates to Athlon Sports’ Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings for Week 7. Victor Cruz is out for the rest of the season with a torn patellar tendon, while Calvin Johnson appears to be a week or two away from returning from the sprained ankle he initially tried to play through. It’s also looking like the Bengals will be without All-Pro A.J. Green another week, as his toe injury continues to bother him. Mohamed Sanu filled in admirably last week in Green’s absence, catching 10 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown, and he remains a solid play this week. Meanwhile for the Giants, Rueben Randle will move into Cruz’ No. 1 spot, increasing his fantasy potential, with rookie Odell Beckham Jr. also receiving a boost as the new starter opposite Randle. Will either or both flourish on Sunday in their new roles against what has been a surprisingly stingy Dallas defense?
Each week during the NFL season, we will 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 Web site can give you.
2014 NFL Week 7 Fantasy Football Rankings — Wide Receivers
Teams on bye: Philadelphia, Tampa Bay
Updated at 8:45 p.m. ET on 10/17/14 to reflect Percy Harvin being traded to Jets. Harvin removed from rankings because Jets played on Thursday night. Seattle's Doug Baldwin (No. 27) and Jermaine Kearse (No. 45) added.
|1||Jordy Nelson||GB||vs. CAR|
|2||Demaryius Thomas||DEN||vs. SF|
|3||Antonio Brown||PIT||vs. HOU (Mon.)|
|4||Julio Jones||ATL||at BAL|
|5||Dez Bryant||DAL||vs. NYG|
|6||Brandon Marshall||CHI||vs. MIA|
|7||Steve Smith||BAL||vs. ATL|
|8||Alshon Jeffery||CHI||vs. MIA|
|9||Randall Cobb||GB||vs. CAR|
|10||Emmanuel Sanders||DEN||vs. SF|
|11||T.Y. Hilton||IND||vs. CIN|
|12||Mike Wallace||MIA||at CHI|
|13||Andre Johnson||HOU||at PIT (Mon.)|
|14||DeSean Jackson||WAS||vs. TEN|
|15||Golden Tate||DET||vs. NO|
|16||Kelvin Benjamin||CAR||at GB|
|17||Julian Edelman||NE||vs. NYJ (Thurs.)|
|18||Michael Floyd||ARI||at OAK|
|19||Mohamed Sanu||CIN||at IND|
|20||Pierre Garcon||WAS||vs. TEN|
|21||Reggie Wayne||IND||vs. CIN|
|22||Rueben Randle||NYG||at DAL|
|23||Larry Fitzgerald||ARI||at OAK|
|24||DeAndre Hopkins||HOU||at PIT (Mon.)|
|25||Keenan Allen||SD||vs. KC|
|26||Terrance Williams||DAL||vs. NYG|
|27||Doug Baldwin||SEA||at STL|
|28||Roddy White||ATL||at BAL|
|29||Torrey Smith||BAL||vs. ATL|
|30||Andre Holmes||OAK||vs. ARI|
|31||Marques Colston||NO||at DET|
|32||Brandin Cooks||NO||at DET|
|33||Sammy Watkins||BUF||vs. MIN|
|34||James Jones||OAK||vs. ARI|
|35||Michael Crabtree||SF||at DEN|
|36||Odell Beckham Jr.||NYG||at DAL|
|37||Brian Quick||STL||vs. SEA|
|38||Cecil Shorts||JAC||vs. CLE|
|39||Kendall Wright||TEN||at WAS|
|40||Eric Decker||NYJ||at NE (Thurs.)|
|41||Justin Hunter||TEN||at WAS|
|42||Wes Welker||DEN||vs. SF|
|43||Anquan Boldin||SF||at DEN|
|44||Andrew Hawkins||CLE||at JAC|
|45||Jermaine Kearse||SEA||at STL|
|46||Dwayne Bowe||KC||at SD|
|47||Malcom Floyd||SD||vs. KC|
|48||Cordarrelle Patterson||MIN||at BUF|
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
Need more fantasy help? Visit www.FantasyRundown.com.
Talladega’s eternal question: offense or defense?
Conventional wisdom says Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway will be a non-stop battle of lead changes and side-by-side racing thanks to the building pressure of Chase for the Sprint Cup eliminations. And at Talladega, those prognostic words are really code for lots of wrecked race cars.
But recent stats at Talladega during Chase races don’t illustrate competition laden with crashes and mistakes, at least for the first 180 laps of the scheduled 188. In fact, each 20-lap segment of the first 180 laps averages less than one caution per race.
The real issue comes in that final stretch to the checkered flag, with or without a green-white-checker finish. In that span, the last five Talladega Chase races are averaging a ballooned rate of 1.6 caution flags.
The reason for that is obvious: when the checkered flag nears — and the points are getting ready to be paid — aggression in the field ratchets up several notches. Suddenly the middle of the pack is jammed with drivers who know it’s go-time after playing a very conservative, safe game for most of the race.
But a funny thing happens in those last eight or so laps: the field struggles to overtake the leader. Talladega has had 325 lead changes in the last five Chase races and only seven of them have come after Lap 179.
The reasons for that aren’t completely clear. It could be due to more pronounced blocking at the front, or even that the increased number of cautions reduces passing opportunities.
But the implication of that stat may change how some drivers who are in a win-or-else scenario gravitate toward the front on Sunday. If they can’t pass late in the race, they better start moving to the front sooner.
Drivers facing must-win weekend
Four drivers — and probably a fifth — will be among that group who see Sunday’s race with one goal: get the win. And those drivers aren’t exactly slouches, either.
Kasey Kahne (eighth in Sprint Cup points with a single-point margin on the ninth-place cutoff), Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson all face a reality where the only way they can guarantee Chase advancement is by beating everyone else to the checkered flag. It’s undoubtedly a tenuous position for each but winning at the 2.66-mile track isn’t out of the question.
Among the five drivers are 12 Talladega wins and 27 top-5 finishes. Only Kasey Kahne hasn’t won at the superspeedway.
But regardless of the outcome, we still face a Chase scenario where several big names are going to be gone from contention when the Sunday sun sets.
Earnhardt has a lot to overcome this weekend
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is fully cognizant of what this year has meant to his career, and that it marks the end of — with or without continued Chase advancement after Sunday. And he also knows that soon-to-be-gone crew chief Steve Letarte played a big role in making all of that — Daytona, two more wins and the routine top-5s — happen.
With that in mind, it’s hard to see a scenario where Earnhardt isn’t feeling strong internal pressure to re-assert his restrictor-plate dominance from the mid-2000s in a big way on Sunday. Despite all of the good he’s accomplished in 2014, falling out of the Chase after Talladega would feel like its too soon, as if something went unaccomplished.
Earnhardt was resolute about that fact after a nightmare of a race at Charlotte last week.
“Go out there and win it," Earnhardt said of Talladega. "We can do it; we have won there a lot of times. I know what we need to do.”
A win would be a remarkable change in fortune for Earnhardt. He hasn’t won at the Alabama track in a decade and left the spring Talladega race in low spirits. In a point of honesty after the race, he told fans he felt he hadn’t appropriately raced at the end for a win.
"In the last 10 laps, I didn't do what I was supposed to do,” Earnhardt said on a podcast days after the spring race. “I know a lot of people are disappointed, and I'm disappointed that they're disappointed. I feel like I should have put on a better effort just for the people who come to watch us race. I feel I let a lot of people down. I'll have to live with that. I learned some pretty good lessons, some pretty hard lessons. Hopefully, we won't have a repeat of that again."
Terry Labonte making final Sprint Cup start
Two-time NASCAR champion Terry Labonte might cause a few double takes this weekend with the graphics placed on his No. 32 Ford. The right side of the car is designed to look like his Billy Hagan-owned, Piedmont Airlines-sponsored No. 44 from 1984 and the left side looks like his 1996 Hendrick Motorsports Kellogg’s No. 5.
It’s a neat tribute for Labonte, 57, and celebrates the two cars he drove en route to winning two Cup series championships. The unique design will also be the final car he’ll strap in to after announcing Friday on NASCAR’s satellite radio channel that he’s retiring full-time after Sunday’s race.
Labonte stepped down from full-time driving after the 2004 season and has raced with decreasing regularity since. With 22 career wins and a one-time holder of NASCAR’s all-time consecutive starts record, Labonte is destined for a spot in the sport’s Hall of Fame.
Should he not make it to victory lane on Sunday, Labonte’s last Cup win the (2004 Southern 500 at Darlington) will remain a fitting one — an old-school driver winning an old-school race.
Keselowski, Kenseth still at odds
If you thought Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski had smoothed over their disagreement that ended in a headlock last week at Charlotte, think again. Friday at Talladega, Kenseth continued to voice his displeasure with Keselowski’s in-race and post-race actions.
“Brad clearly saw me roll outside,” Kenseth said of a late restart that started the feud, “And he hung a right on purpose and ran me right in the wall and ruined my night and possibly took us out of Chase contention.
“I was mad enough about that and to come down afterward and have your stuff off and your net down and pull those high school stunts playing car wars after the race was just absolutely unacceptable.”
Kenseth also said that Keselowski “greatly exaggerated” contact Kenseth made with Keselowski’s right-front during a late-race caution, and that camera evidence proved it.
Keselowski was fined $50,000 by NASCAR after the incident for his aggressive driving in the garage area while sparring with Kenseth’s teammate, Denny Hamlin. Kenseth later emerged on the scene to surprise Keselowski, grabbing him around the neck and starting a melee between Penske Racing haulers that was quickly ended without any punches thrown.
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
Donald Sterling’s a household name by now, and for all the wrong reasons. The disgraced, recently dismissed Los Angeles Clippers owner and L.A. area real estate tycoon has become a punchline. And perhaps no funnier term has been applied to Sterling than the Clippers star and 2014-15 MVP candidate Blake Griffin’s latest “weird uncle” tag.
In a piece written by Griffin and published via The Players’ Tribune, the dunk master tells the story of being led hand-in-hand by Sterling through a strange, surreal “White Party” in Malibu. Griffin paints the man as living in his own, self-created stratosphere, blind to the feelings of Blake and his other guests as he parades the uncomfortable star around like a prize.
More highlights from the story:
—Griffin recalls Sterling heckling Baron Davis at the free-throw line in a quiet Staples Center:
“Baron didn’t even react. He walked to the line and sank the free throw as Sterling carried on his rant. After the game, I don’t even think we talked about it in the locker room. Everyone was just used to it. It was both funny and sad. The guy was off his rocker.”
—Griffin tells the story of him Chris Paul watching Sterling on Anderson Cooper:
“Sterling looked at Cooper with no irony whatsoever and said, ‘Ask the players. My players love me!’ CP and I looked at one another from across the room and just tried our best not to laugh.”
—Blake likes new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer:
“Personally, I love that kind of crazy… It’s little bit ironic to me that the media has tried to turn Ballmer into a meme when they turned a blind eye to Sterling for years. Steve is a good dude. He’s like a cool dad who gives you candy. Donald was like a weird uncle.”
—Griffin ends his piece with quite the aphorism:
“Someone asked me the other day if I’m mad that he made out with $2 billion for selling the team. Maybe a little bit. But in the end, I’m just happy he’s gone. I think about him pulling me around the White Party in Malibu, and a saying comes to mind: ‘Some people are so poor, all they have is their money.’”
— John Wilmes
When Florida State and Notre Dame played "The Game of the Century" on Nov. 13, 1993, Jameis Winston (b. Jan. 6, 1994) had not been born and Everett Golson (b. Jan. 2, 1993) was not yet one-year old. The '93 epic showdown ended with No. 1 Florida State falling at No. 2 Notre Dame, 31–24, before bouncing back to claim the National Championship.
This year's version also features two undefeated top-5 teams, with No. 2 Florida State (6–0) hosting No. 5 Notre Dame (6–0) in one of the season's classic matchups. Although the defending-champion Seminoles are heavy favorites, the Fighting Irish have more than a puncher's chance to win on the road in Tallahassee. Here's why:
1. Quarterback Play
This is a heavyweight showdown between two quarterbacks with a combined 35–1 record as a starter. Winston is a perfect 19–0 with a national title win over Auburn, while Golson is 16–1 with a national title loss to Alabama. Golson will have to outplay Winston, protect the football and control the clock — coach Brian Kelly is 26–2 at ND when winning time-of-possession — in order for Notre Dame to pull off the win at Florida State.
If Winston were unable to play or finish the game for some reason (suspension, fake injury, real injury, etc.), the Seminoles are in trouble at quarterback. Backup Sean Maguire, who subbed for Winston in an overtime win over Clemson earlier this year, is out with a hand injury. Third-stringer John Franklin III is a redshirt freshman who has yet to take a snap at FSU.
2. Undefeated vs. History
The 90th anniversary of the "Four Horsemen" is on Saturday. The Oct. 18, 1924, Notre Dame 13–7 win over Army inspired New York Herald-Tribune scribe Grantland Rice — the godfather inspiration of Bill Simmons' Grantland website — to write the famous poetic recap:
"Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: (Harry) Stuhldreher, (Don) Miller, (Jim) Crowley and (Elmer) Layden."
Those aren't the only echoes waking. Notre Dame is 5–0–1 on Oct. 18 when ranked in the AP poll, 9–0–1 in games involving two teams with a record of 6–0 or better and 4–0–2 in games when the Irish are undefeated playing the defending national champions in the regular season.
3. No Homefield Advantage
Oh yeah, Notre Dame also carries a 1–0 record in Tallahassee, with Ty Willingham taking down Bobby Bowden's Noles in 2002. The other split stats show this to be a coin-toss contest. Jimbo Fisher is 3–3 at FSU in home games against top-10 teams, beating No. 7 Miami last year and No. 10 Clemson in 2012, while losing to No. 1 Oklahoma in 2011 and No. 6 Florida in 2012. On the other side, Kelly is 2–2 at ND in regular-season road games against top-10 teams, winning at No. 8 Oklahoma and No. 10 Michigan State in 2012, while losing to a top-10 Stanford twice (2011, '13).
This will be Notre Dame's first true road test, having played neutral site games at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (vs. Purdue) and at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (vs. Syracuse). "I think playing in two NFL venues there is a kind of glamour and big-time atmosphere associated with those sites," said Kelly. "We were playing in an environment that kind of evokes that kind of feel that we'll get in a similar fashion at Florida State."
Thousands of authenticated autographs and a reopened Title IX rape investigation have put Winston's status in doubt on a day-to-day basis — so much so that Las Vegas has taken ND at FSU off the books until further notice.
With or without Winston, the Seminoles will need to play better than they did in closer-than-expected games against Oklahoma State, Clemson and NC State. In those three games, mental mistakes — the on-field equivalent of Jameis yelling "F--- her right in the ... !" on campus — resulted in a combined 25 penalties for 170 lost yards, negative-three turnover differential and minus-3:07 time-of-possession.
But hey, even the great Charlie Ward, a two-sport star (Heisman Trophy winner and NBA first-round pick) just like Winston (Heisman winner and FSU baseball closer), lost to the Irish. Ward had a 19–1 record heading into South Bend in '93 and finished the year with a 23–2 all-time mark and a national title.
The loser of this game still has a shot at making the College Football Playoff.
With the WWE Attitude-Era finale to last weekend’s Bank of America 500 in Charlotte, you’d be hard pressed to remember how the first 25 laps were obscured by either a college football game or (of all things) a preseason NBA game. No chance of that happening this weekend, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup race runs on Sunday — and, of course, it’s Talladega. With what is essentially a national holiday for NASCAR fans, the track that brought you the first 200 mph lap, the fastest qualifying lap established over 25 years ago, and some of the most harrowing moments in the sport’s history, this race will dictate which eight drivers advance into the Eliminator Round (can we just ditch the marketing gimmicks and refer to it as the Third Round already?).
Last week I picked Kyle Larson to win for the second straight race and he was looking pretty solid, having run in the top three most of the night — until he knocked the body off the car with less than 30 laps to go. Kevin Harvick went on to win, propelling him into the Eliminator Round and with no worries about wadding it up in this weekend’s coming carpocalypse at Talladega.
It was much-needed medicine for the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team and crew chief Rodney Childers; they’ve had the fastest car in virtually every race this year only to be undone by pit miscues, mechanical failures and … well, more pit miscues. With that win in the bag they are free to race for the win to prevent four formidable foes from advancing into the next round — or just drive around a half-lap behind the pack and escape potential injury or having to build another car prior to Speedweeks.
Picking contenders this week is a total crapshoot, and that’s not just a cop-out due to the fact that a 30-car wreck could occur at any moment. You have drivers who need to win to advance to the next round of the Chase as well as field-fillers-turned-legit-contenders given the nature of the current superspeedway package and number of rent-a-car and plate-engine programs throughout the field.
There are four drivers who legitimately need to win if they want to advance into the next round; three of those are champions, all have won here, and one’s name is synonymous with Talladega.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson find themselves tied for 12th of the 12 drivers currently eligible in the Chase. The duo has totaled six 2014 wins — including the Daytona 500 — but separate calamities at Kansas coupled with strategy at Charlotte that just didn’t pan out have been their undoing.
Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski are next on the chopping block, with both coincidentally winning at Talladega in 2012. Keselowski won the title that year, while Kenseth escaped the field-blocking pile-up caused when Tony Stewart tried to slam the door on the fast-closing draft duo of Casey Mears and Michael Waltrip.
Interesting how those three happened to be squarely in the middle of the post-race fracas at Charlotte last week, no?
The other principal in Saturday Night’s Main Event was Denny Hamlin, who made his way into the Chase by way of winning at Talladega in May. Word on the street is TRD has some newfound plate power to match its unrestricted engine’s power boost. Hamlin’s seventh-place spot remains tenuous at best, though fairly safe given he is 15 points from first. Hopefully he won’t have to be held back from hurling any towels this weekend.
Two drivers in this group need to be recognized as many — myself included — felt they would have by now been eliminated, but aside from crashes out of their control on Sunday, look to be in good shape to advance.
Ryan Newman’s No. 31 team (and RCR in general) has basically been a non-issue on anything other than a superspeedway or short track this year. Earnhardt-Childress engines and Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets have a bit of a history here, and as Newman sits fourth in points, 11 out of first, he is about to have the ultimate comeback for Jimmie Johnson following their verbal exchange following the race at Michigan in August.
Kyle Busch has continued his Truck and Nationwide series dominance this season, but the Cup side has been left wanting aside from the early-season win at Fontana. Publicized bickering between he and crew chief Dave Rogers now seems long forgotten. Making it through the first round of eliminations — and surviving Kansas — the No 18 team sits second in points, just six back from leader and locked-in transferer Joey Logano.
While I would never considering anything “safe” at Talladega until the checkered flag falls (and even then …) if the aforementioned drivers can avoid what everyone believes to be coming, they have enviable-enough records at the upcoming tracks so that a Final Four berth at Homestead isn’t out of the question.
This section could have well included Brad Keselowski had there been a points penalty associated with his garage-area antics Saturday night. With “just” a $50,000 fine for the incident, the 2012 champion finds himself 10th in points, 50 markers out of first, and 19 points from the final transfer position (eighth). It will take a win or someone else’s wreck for Keselowski to transfer. Keselowski took himself out while leading in the spring here, driving across Danica Patrick’s nose in the early going (or she moved up, your call). Twenty-one cars finished on the lead lap that day so if you factor in the one-point-per-position scoring, three-point bonus for a win, a point for leading a lap, and a point for leading the most laps — the 48-point maximum one can earn — just merely scoring a top-5 or top-10 finish will not be enough without some attrition.
Team Penske is fielding an entry for Ryan Blaney this weekend while Terry Labonte and Michael McDowell will also be in Fords to provide some drafting assistance for Keselowski, who may find himself a few friends short after Charlotte. With Logano already locked into the next round, the Penske braintrust has made it known that the main goal is to get the No. 2 through.
With that in mind, Carl Edwards has been flying under the radar (fifth in points), but has a well-known past with Keselowski. Things here have been smoothed over for the most part, but as Edwards prepares to depart the Ford camp, any sort of Blue Oval brotherhood between the two just may not exist on Sunday.
Keselowski’s new arch-nemesis, Matt “The Cambridge Crippler” Kenseth, sits in ninth place, one position behind the cutoff mark currently held by Kasey Kahne. The No. 5 team whistled by the graveyard at Dover, holding off AJ Allmendinger and the No. 47 JTG Daugherty bunch by two points, allowing them to slip into the second round.
While Hendrick Motorsports got all four of its cars into the Chase, three are on the precipice, with Jeff Gordon seemingly safe, 14 points out of the lead in sixth. Still, he can’t afford to be swept up in a crash this weekend.
Flip a coin, draw straws, blindfold yourself and spin the cylinder. Other than Harvick and Logano, no one is truly safe. There’s a maximum 47-point swing, and with just 26 points from eighth (Kahne) to 12th (Johnson and Earnhardt), everyone is at the mercy of the perils that come with racing at big, bad Talladega.
While many predicted chaos last year, it didn’t really happen. Austin Dillon got punted and sent skyward on the final lap, but only he, Casey Mears (who launched him) and Juan Montoya were taken out in the crash. That could very well happen again — except that there are too many good cars that need to finish well. And when everyone races nice for so long, it just means that there are that many more cars trying to fill the same space on the track with less than 10 laps to go.
So as in life, someone has to win and someone has to lose. Well, technically four people have to lose, and following the GEICO 500, someone's premiums are bound to skyrocket. While this race defines the term SWAG (Silly Wild Ass Guess), here are the leaves as I read them for the weekend:
Jimmie Johnson: Hearing the bicker-banter between driver and crew chief last weekend reminded me of Loudon, 2011, when Johnson told Chad Knaus that “your cheerleading sucks” and asked that he kindly shut up and let him driver the car. Anything can happen here, but given the lack of momentum that typically breeds bad ju-ju, the quest for seven just may end in Eastaboga.
Brad Keselowski: Amid the screams of “you hit me under yella!” the odds-on favorite to make it to the Final Four at Homestead ran aground in the Queen City. Charlotte has proved a pivotal race for the No. 2 squad in recent years, having won there in 2013 and surviving in 2012 when fuel strategy didn’t quite pan out. The blown tire at Kansas a couple weeks back may prove to be their undoing, and with the brouhaha from last weekend, Keselowski’s quest to win two titles in three years looks to be going flat (like his tire at Kansas). The extra Penske car of Blaney may not be enough to keep the 2 in contention. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say they settle in at the back of the pack and attempt a “Dale Jarrett Charge” to the front.
Denny Hamlin: Just a random guess here. Somebody is going to be the victim of the 30-car melee and Hamlin has a way of finding misfortune in the Chase. Honestly, any of them could, but what are the chances it involves he and Keselowski?
Kasey Kahne: At 32 points in arrears, if Kahne does advance to the next round it would give purists, pundits and anyone who’s watched more than three races this year evidence and ammunition as to how this new Chase format does nothing to legitimize the notion of a full-season champion.
Predicted Winner: Jamie McMurray
As much as this race is a toss-up, I think you’ll see the strongest team since the Chase started take this one. Chip Ganassi Racing has been the class of the field almost every week, and Jamie McMurray has established himself as one of the best plate racers of the past decade. Don’t think so? Since 2007 he has two wins at Daytona — including the 2010 Daytona 500 — and a pair of victories at Talladega. Another driver to keep an eye on is Greg Biffle, who finished second here in the spring, and despite the struggles Roush Fenway has faced this season, the Fords always show up to party on plate tracks.
Why am I not picking any Chase contenders? Because I’m having a flashback to that final lap in 2012 when the entire field got collected coming through Turn 4. While I don’t hope for a repeat of that, I can’t shake the feeling that, based on last weekend’s antics at Charlotte coupled with the typically-sedate Kansas suddenly becoming the turning point in the championship battle, it’s going to make Talladega that much more of a freak show.
Follow Vito Pugliese on Twitter: @VitoPugliese
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
Washington and Oregon are technically rivals, as less than five hours and 300 miles separate the two Pacific Northwest campuses. But the recent history of this rivalry has been significantly in favor of the Ducks. Oregon has won 10 in a row over the Huskies, with Washington’s last win in this series coming in 2003.
With the recent series in mind, it’s no surprise Oregon is almost a three-touchdown favorite over Washington. However, Saturday’s game represents an opportunity for both teams to make a statement. The Ducks can solidify their place at the top of the Pac-12 with a convincing win, while the Huskies can score a statement victory in coach Chris Petersen’s first year with an upset in Eugene.
And with a win on Saturday, Washington can bring some spark to a rivalry that has been significantly one-sided in favor of the Ducks.
Washington at Oregon
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Spread: Washington -20.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Oregon’s Offensive Line vs. Washington Front Seven
Did the Ducks fix their issues on the offensive line last week? In the 42-30 win over UCLA, the offensive line was bolstered by the return of tackle Jake Fisher, as the Bruins did not register a sack, and Oregon’s rushers averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Was that a one-game fix or a sign of things to come? Fisher is a valuable addition to the lineup to protect quarterback Marcus Mariota’s blindside, but UCLA’s pass rush ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12. Washington’s defensive front has recorded 24 sacks through six games and is headlined by linebacker Shaq Thompson (46 tackles, 1 INT, 3 FF), defensive tackle Danny Shelton (49 tackles, 7 sacks) and defensive end/linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha (10 sacks). Stopping UCLA’s defensive front is one challenge, but Washington has one of the best defensive line and linebacking corps in the nation. Is Oregon’s improvement up front a one-week mirage or a sign of things to come? This matchup should provide good insight into the Ducks’ offensive line.
2. Washington QB Cyler Miles
It’s no secret which quarterback will garner most of the nation’s attention on Saturday night. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman, and the junior has yet to throw an interception on 155 attempts in 2014. But a quick check of the Pac-12 passing stats shows there is one more starter in the Pac-12 with zero interceptions: Washington’s Cyler Miles. The sophomore missed the opener due to suspension but has passed for 896 yards and nine touchdowns over the last five games. Miles has made steady improvement in his first year as a starter and threw for a season-high of 273 yards against California last week. The Golden Bears aren’t one of the Pac-12’s elite defenses, but Miles seems to be getting more comfortable with each snap. Oregon’s defense will bend (470.3 ypg, 5.8 ypp) and ranks last in the Pac-12 in third-down stops. Don Pellum’s defense has also been opportunistic (12 forced turnovers and 18 sacks), but the Ducks will allow opposing offenses to move the ball. Can Miles play another mistake-free game? In a hostile environment, Washington needs Miles to play his best game to win on Saturday night.
3. Oregon’s Explosive Offense
Even if Washington’s front seven has success against Oregon’s offensive line, can the Huskies cover the Ducks’ big-play threats at receiver? Michigan State is the best defense the Ducks played this year, and the Spartans gave up 7.2 yards per play and 46 points. That's concerning for Washington, as Michigan State’s secondary is better than the Huskies and quarterback Marcus Mariota gashed the Spartans for 318 yards. Washington’s secondary features standout corner Marcus Peters, but two freshmen starters (Sidney Jones and Budda Baker) will be tested on Saturday night. The Huskies did not allow a touchdown pass to California last Saturday and gave up seven against Eastern Washington. The numbers are skewed slightly due to one game, but opposing quarterbacks are completing 64.1 percent of their throws against Washington’s defense. Getting pressure on Mariota is step No. 1 in stopping the Oregon offense. However, when he is able to deliver on time, can the Huskies slow down a group of explosive playmakers, starting with running backs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner and at receiver with Devon Allen (19.6 ypc)?
A 21-point spread seems too much for this game. Oregon is tough to beat at home, and a healthy offensive line should bolster Mariota’s Heisman bid over the next two months. The Ducks’ explosive offense sputters early against the Huskies’ defense, but Mariota and his receiving corps eventually makes enough plays to pull away in the fourth quarter. First-year Washington coach Chris Petersen has his team prepared for the challenge, but Oregon simply has too much on offense.
Prediction: Oregon 38, Washington 27
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for October 17:
• Geno Smith played well last night, but his highlight was probably destroying an unsuspecting security guard.
• There's nothing quite like a series-ending walk-off homer. Relive the magic.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Chris Webber never really left the NBA. After retiring and ending his 15-year career (including five All-Star selections and five All-NBA spots), he began moonlighting as an analyst on TNT. Now he’s spewing his wisdom for the game over on NBA TV, and also considering a much loftier perch in the league.
“The Webber Group,” as the former star calls it via Twitter, “contacted the NBA to respectively express our intentions to acquire the majority interest of the Atlanta Hawks.” Here’s Webber’s statement in full:
Webber’s purposeful words about his interest in the team get at the reason the Hawks are on the market in the first place, and the weird history of pro basketball in Atlanta generally.
This summer, just before racist remarks made by general manager Danny Ferry were leaked, about prospective free agent signing Luol Deng — who Ferry said “has a little African in him” — current majority owner Bruce Levenson announced the team was for sale. Levenson himself was caught with his own politically correct pants down, too, in an e-mail that made the rounds.
Through all the Ferry-Levenson controversy, one thing became crystal clear: The Hawks’ organizational incompetence. They’ve simply failed — time and time again — at both appealing to their city culturally and building a team that’s more than first-round playoff fodder in the consistently weak Eastern Conference.
Whether Webber and Co. have the chutzpah and savvy needed to turn things around is unclear — there’s no sort of experience that could compare to the task of running an NBA team. But Atlanta boasts a regional population in the millions and is a proud, fertile place for sports. That they ranked 28th in attendance in 2013-14 is alarming, and tells us that whoever’s next is likely to do much better.
— John Wilmes
College football’s premier matchup for Week 8 takes place in Tallahassee, as Florida State hosts Notre Dame in a meeting of two teams with national title and playoff aspirations. Off-field issues have surrounded both teams since the opener, as quarterback Jameis Winston is under the spotlight once again for the Seminoles, while the Fighting Irish finally learned the fate of the five players suspended due to academic issues earlier this week.
While neither team will be able to completely close the door on discussing the off-field issues over the next two days, the 60-minute matchup should at least turn the attention back to the field and the quest to finish unbeaten and earn a spot in the playoff.
The Seminoles enter Saturday night’s game on a 17-game winning streak, while the Fighting Irish are off to a 6-0 start and defeated their first four opponents by at least 16 points in each contest.
Florida State and Notre Dame have met only seven previous times. The Seminoles own a 5-2 series edge against the Fighting Irish and have won the last two games in this series. Notre Dame’s last win over the Seminoles occurred in 2002.
Notre Dame at Florida State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Stopping Jameis Winston
In the first five games of the year, the Fighting Irish allowed 60 points. In last Saturday’s win over North Carolina, Notre Dame allowed 43 points and gave up 6.1 yards per play. With that in mind, which is the real Fighting Irish defense? The college football world should have a good idea by Saturday night, as Florida State’s offense is the best this defense has played in 2014. The Seminoles are averaging 39 points per game and 6.6 yards per play, and coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has a talented core of skill players, headlined by receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary. At running back, Karlos Williams, Mario Pender (out for Saturday due to injury) and Dalvin Cook are all big-time talents with the threat to score each time they touch the ball. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder likes to be aggressive in his play-calling, which will allow Winston and his receivers to hit on big plays – assuming the offensive line can handle the blitz packages. If Winston has time to throw, that’s a bad sign for a Fighting Irish secondary that was torched for 326 yards against North Carolina last week. But if VanGorder can generate pressure and get Winston out of rhythm, Notre Dame’s defense will have a chance to force three-and-outs, giving the offense good field position early and often.
2. Everett Golson vs. Florida State’s Defense
Everett Golson is 16-0 as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback during the regular season. Golson’s only loss with the Fighting Irish was a loss to Alabama in the 2013 BCS Championship. And after missing all of last season due to academic issues, Golson has showed little rush through the first six games. The junior has passed for 1,683 yards and 16 touchdowns and is completing 62.5 percent of his throws in 2014. While those numbers are impressive, turnovers have been a problem for the junior. Over the last three games, Golson has lost nine turnovers, including an interception in three consecutive contests. Winning in Tallahassee requires a flawless effort from Notre Dame – but there will be plays available against Florida State’s defense. The Seminoles owned one of the top defenses in the nation last year, but injuries and a turnover in personnel in the front seven have contributed to some early-season struggles. But even though Florida State is not as dominant on the defensive side as it was last year, the Seminoles are still holding opponents to 20.7 points a game and rank third in the ACC in red zone defense. Golson has a solid receiving corps at his disposal, including William Fuller (14.4 ypc, 7 TDs) and Corey Robinson (13.7 ypc). Can Golson limit his mistakes and attack a Florida State secondary that has already allowed two teams to throw for 300 yards this year?
3. Which defense steps up?
As we mentioned in the previous sections of the preview, both teams have experienced their share of problems – and success – on defense this season. Florida State’s biggest concern is the defensive tackle spot, as replacing Timmy Jernigan is no easy assignment, and starter Nile Lawrence-Stample was lost for the year due to injury. The Seminoles are eighth in the ACC against the run and are allowing 5.0 yards per play – almost a full yard increase from last season. But Florida State has made stops when it matters, ranking third in the ACC in red zone defense. Notre Dame has options at running back, but Tarean Folston is the team’s leading rusher at just 263 yards. If the Fighting Irish is going to win, quarterback Everett Golson has to have a huge game. Of course, that means Golson also has to limit his mistakes, and Florida State has forced 11 turnovers in six games. Can the Seminoles force a couple of turnovers? When Florida State has the ball, will Notre Dame’s defense hold its own at the point of attack and limit the Seminoles’ ground game? If the Fighting Irish can limit Florida State on early downs on rushing attempts, Winston will have third-and-long situations to navigate on offense, allowing VanGorder to send extra pressure or drop more into coverage to limit the big-play ability of Greene or Jesus Wilson.
Florida State has yet to play a complete game this year. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the teams on the Seminoles’ schedule, starting with Notre Dame on Saturday night. Injuries and suspensions slowed Florida State’s development early in the year, but this team should get better over the second half of 2014. As long as Jameis Winston is in the lineup, the Seminoles should win this matchup. The Fighting Irish need a perfect effort to win on Saturday, including zero turnovers from Golson and better play from a secondary that was torched by North Carolina last week. Notre Dame tacks on a late touchdown to cover the spread, but Florida State controls this one from the opening kick.