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Week 10 marks the return of Calvin Johnson to the Lions’ starting lineup, but the outlook isn’t as promising for some other key wide receivers. Athlon Sports has the latest information on whether some teams will be without their top target today or not.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Questionable – Knee
Jackson cant’ seem to get over the hump. First hampered by a rib injury, Jackson appears on this week’s injury report with a knee issue. He didn’t practice at all on Wednesday, but increased his participation over the next two days, so even though he’s Questionable, it appears that Jackson will play. The bigger development, however, is the fact the Buccaneers are going back to Josh McCown as their starting quarterback. Jackson and Mike Glennon were really starting to click, so it will be interesting to see if the QB change ends up hurting Jackson fantasy-wise. The Bucs are playing the Falcons, so the matchup is certainly in Jackson’s favor, which is why he maintains his WR2 status.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions vs. Miami Dolphins
Probable - Ankle
If anyone needed a bye, it was Johnson and it looks like the extra time did him plenty of good. Forget Questionable, game-time decisions and all of that, Johnson practiced in full every day this week and is listed as Probable. The man known as Megatron will be back out there today and it should only be a matter of time before he’s producing like the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver he was drafted as. Johnson’s return will impact Golden Tate, but it shouldn’t make him fantasy irrelevant either. Matthew Stafford will be happy to get his No. 1 target back that’s for sure.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Questionable – Groin
A quartet of Bills wide receivers appear on the injury report this week, but Watkins is the only one worth paying close attention to. The first-round pick has posted back-to-back strong games, but he left practice early on Wednesday after aggravating a groin injury. He underwent an MRI, but the key here is that Watkins didn’t return to practice on Thursday or Friday. Watkins is officially listed as Questionable, but there is definitely reason to be concerned here. He will most likely be a game-time decision, but I wouldn’t keep my hopes up. Even if Watkins plays, he will most likely be limited by the injury.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks vs. New York Giants
Probable – Groin
Baldwin missed practice time earlier this week because of a groin injury, but he was able to increase his participation each passing day. He finished his prep work with a full session on Friday, which was enough to earn him a Probable designation. Baldwin is the Seahawks’ No. 1 target, but the production just hasn’t been there (11 rec., 99 yds.) over the last two weeks. The targets (14 total) have been, however, which is one reason why Baldwin still checks in as a top-25 fantasy option this week.
Marqise Lee and Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Dallas Cowboys (London)
Probable – Ankle; Probable – Hamstring
It should come as no surprise that multiple Jaguar wide receivers appear on this week’s injury report. Fortunately, it looks like Lee and Shorts are both in pretty good shape to play against the Cowboys, as they are listed as Probable. Shorts is the biggest question mark, as he didn’t practice at all on Thursday because of a hamstring issue. He was back on the field Friday and has said he fully intends to be out there. The Jaguars don’t lack for wide receivers, which makes it very hard to rely on any of them as a starting fantasy option. Couple that with a rookie QB (Blake Bortles), who has several more interceptions (13) compared to touchdowns (8). Unless you are desperate to fill out your lineup, any and all Jaguar wideouts, including big-play option Allen Hurns (16.1 ypr, 5 TDs) and top target Allen Robinson (43 rec.), should be viewed primarily as deeper league options.
New Orleans’ All-Pro tight end is ready to roll in Week 10, but the same can’t be said of Chicago’s big target. Athlon Sports gets you up to date on the key tight ends that appeared on this week’s injury report.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers
Probable – Shoulder
Graham was a full practice participant every day this week and unlike last week, he’s listed as Probable. This “upgrade” alone should pretty much remove any doubt from the equation. Graham has caught a touchdown pass in each of his past two games, so he’s looking more like his old self with each passing week. Rob Gronkowski is on bye, which is why Graham is our No. 1 TE this week, and he should have another productive day at the office against a 49ers defense that’s pretty banged up in the middle.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Questionable – Ribs
Bennett just can’t seem to shake the injury bug. After dealing with a hamstring issue the past several weeks, Bennett injured his ribs during practice a few days ago. He didn’t practice at all on Friday, which is typically not a good sign, and is listed as Questionable. Head coach Marc Trestman didn’t sound overly optimistic when asked about his tight end’s availability, so it’s likely Bennett will wind up being a game-time decision. The Bears don’t play until tonight, which complicates matters some, especially considering Bennett’s role in the passing game and the fact he is a top-five fantasy TE. Bennett is a guy you definitely want in your lineup, but just keep in mind that if you wait until kickoff (8:30 p.m. ET) and he ends up not playing, your options will be limited to the likes of Bennett’s replacement, Dante Rosario, and Green Bay’s Andrew Quarless, because chances are neither Greg Olsen or Zach Ertz, who play Monday, are available. Are you willing to take a chance on Bennett not playing and be shut out at TE?
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills
Probable – Ribs
Kelce was a full go at practice this week, so even though he’s on the injury report all you need to worry about is the Probable designation. Kelce has been a top-10 fantasy TE for most of the season and it’s certainly how he should be treated this week with the aforementioned Gronkowski, as well as Antonio Gates and Dwayne Allen all on bye. Anthony Fasano will get his share of playing time, but the Chiefs employ enough two-tight end sets and also will make a point to get Kelce, their leading receiver, involved so it shouldn’t impact your decision about whether to start him or not.
Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions
Probable – Knee
Clay missed some practice time, as he has pretty much every week this season, but he’s listed as Probable, so expect him to be out there today. Clay has been the epitome of an up-and-down player this season, as he’s gone from four catches in Week 7 to one the following week to five last week. He did catch a touchdown pass in two of the past three games, but if his cycle holds true, he’s due for a poor showing today. The point is, Clay has been hard to figure out and even more difficult to trust on a weekly basis this season, but once again the bye-week situation may leave you with no choice but to stick with him.
Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew, TEs, Detroit Lions vs. Miami Dolphins
Doubtful – Hamstring; Questionable – Ankle; Questionable – Foot
Unlike teammates Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson, the bye did not seem to benefit the Lions’ banged-up tight end trio that much. No one has been ruled out yet, but the best shot any of the three have of playing today is 50-50, if even that. Ebron is the least likely to suit up, based on his Doubtful tag. He and Pettigrew, who is Questionable, practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday. Fauria on the other hand, got in a little bit of work every day, so he’s the least Questionable of this group, for what that’s worth. The bottom line is this – with Johnson and Bush both expected back, there’s no reason to pay any Lion tight end much attention this week, if any of them even make it on the field.
Arizona State bolstered its playoff hopes with a huge 55-31 win over Notre Dame on Saturday.
The Sun Devils had plenty of help from their defense, but receiver Jaelen Strong made one of the best plays of the day with a touchdown grab in the first half.
Strong finished with five catches for 58 yards, and this first-half touchdown reception was his best grab of the day:
Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams had a huge performance in the Golden Gophers’ game against Iowa.
With Minnesota leading 14-7 midway through the second quarter, Williams made one of the catches of the year in the Big Ten. The tight end kept the foot in bounds and snagged a pass from quarterback Mitch Leidner.
Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight went airborne to gain critical yardage in the first half of Saturday’s game against Baylor.
Knight had the first down without the hurdle, but the jump over cornerback Terrell Burt gave the offense a few more yards.
Check out Knight’s awesome hurdle over a Baylor defender:
For the last few years, NASCAR fans have bemoaned the 1.5-mile “cookie-cutter” tri-oval tracks for dominating the Chase for the Sprint Cup’s 10-race docket. “It favors the No. 48 team,” they say. “The tracks looks the same, things are boring, NASCAR needs a road course (it does), add another short track, revive North Wilkesboro, race at Eldora, blah, blah, blah …”
Which races have provided the best action in the 2014 Chase?
Chicagoland Speedway. Charlotte Motor Speedway. Texas Motor Speedway. All of the “cookie cutter” ilk.
Granted, the last two have been due to the post-race antics on pit road and in the garage. With scenes straight out of the WWE Attitude Era, the only thing missing has been Stone Cold’s monster truck driving over cars on pit road or Alan Gustafson landing The People’s Elbow on Paul Wolfe. While Talladega and Martinsville are often identified as the two tracks that would have the most impact in determining the 2014 Sprint Cup champion under the new elimination format, it’s been Kansas and Texas that ultimately will dictate who goes into Homestead for a shot at the title.
Speaking of Texas and shootings, after this weekend’s events they might want to find different trophies besides a lever action .30-.30 and a pair of Colt SAA .45s. Maybe nunchucks and a steel chair? With Jeff Gordon (and half of Hendrick Motorsports) taking on Brad Keselowski and his engine tuner, it ignited a firestorm of tweets, memes, and angry clenched-fist responses from the Nos. 24 and 2 townsfolk alike. Whatever your take on the matter, it’s a moot point as the series moves onto Phoenix for the final cutoff before next week’s final four matchup at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Gentleman, to your corners …
I remember back in 1990 prior to the Pyroil 500k at Phoenix, ESPN did a promo for the race with Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin in an old west saloon, pounding beers and pointing guns at each other. While the first shots were fired back in Charlotte between Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, hostilities came to a crescendo in Fort Worth last Sunday. Will any of that spill over into this weekend’s penultimate race?
While I doubt you will see anything as deliberate as Gordon’s ambush on Clint Bowyer in 2012 (that nearly collected Keselowski in the process), I think you’ll see a little something from somebody with one race to go. NASCAR did set a precedent at Richmond in 2013 that it would take unilateral action if it deemed the outcome was being manipulated, but since there have been two rumbles in three weeks with no driver penalty, “Boys Have at It” appears to be alive and well — and accepted as fair play.
Who will be the ones to watch this weekend? To be honest, everyone still alive in the Chase. And a few that no longer are.
In February at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick had the field covered from the time they unloaded. He won every practice session, sat on the pole and by Happy Hour, the field had pretty much conceded the win to his No. 4 team. Harvick’s record at PIR is impressive to say the least: five wins, the most in the Cup Series (ever). He’s won three of the last five events here; the other finishes being second and 13th. He’s eighth in points right now, just six away from Gordon in the fourth and final cut off spot.
Speaking of Gordon, if we were using season-long cumulative points, he’d be headed for his fifth championship right now. Well, actually it’d be his sixth, since he would have won it in 2007, as well. No matter, since this is a new era and year one of elimination points racing, but this track should provide some solace. It was at Phoenix in 2011 that heralded his return to relevance after flying under the radar for a few seasons. Alan Gustafson has a win here with both Gordon and Martin, and with Rick Hendrick covering his fine from last weekend, has nothing to fret over. The No. 24 team finished fifth here in the spring, and if they can lead a lap early and manage that same sort of performance, it should be enough to get him onto Homestead, in spite of last week’s late race flat tire.
Joey Logano has been lights out since the Chase started. Currently tied for the lead, he would still be second behind Gordon if a season-long points standing was the order of the day. Logano and the Todd Gordon-led Team Penske No. 22 narrowly avoided disaster when it suffered a flat tire and spin with 29 laps to go last week. With the flurry of late restarts they rallied back to 12th – a championship-salvaging caliber performance if there ever was one. Since the Chase began, Logano has finished outside of the top 5 just twice – last Sunday and an 11th at Talladega. They finished fourth here in February, and if they don’t advance to Homestead it would be a very Peyton Manning-esque tank job — and a crying shame, as they have played this one to perfection. Logano won at Loudon, the second race of the Chase, which is also a one-mile flat track.
Speaking of tank jobs, Hamlin has become synonymous with them in the Chase since things fell apart at Phoenix for him back in 2010. To be fair, it wasn’t really Hamlin’s fault; a late race fuel strategy by then crew chief Mike Ford didn’t pay off, and it seems Hamlin has been trying to exorcise those demons ever since. Hamlin and the 11 bunch have gone about things dramatically different than Logano and the No. 22 team. Instead of top 5-ing the competition into the ground, they’ve done just enough to squeak by, and avoid the trouble that has plagued the Chase favorites in the Eliminator round. Eighth- and 10th-place runs at Martinsville and Texas has been enough to have them tied for the points lead heading into this weekend. His last two finishes here have been 28th and 19th. That won’t get the job done Sunday, but his previous runs of third, second and a win (2012) would do nicely.
Going to throw a nod to Dale Earnhardt Jr. here as well. The No. 88 was the only car capable of hanging with Harvick here in February and swept both Pocono races and won at Martinsville two weeks ago – flat tracks all three. Can Junior close out the year in style? He last won here during his six-win season of 2004.
The only reason Kenseth is in this grouping is because he’s fifth in points and only four get to go to Homestead. Somehow, he remains winless in 2014, yet has 20 top-10 finishes. His record at Phoenix lately has been “meh” at best with zero top 5s since 2007 (in a Gen-5 Roush Ford) and only one Top-10 finish in the last seven races. If there’s any irony to Brian France’s comments Tuesday that he has no problem if the eventual champion has no wins this year, it is that Kenseth’s 2003 championship campaign that helped serve as the catalyst to the Chase format to begin with. He’ll need to make something happen this weekend or hope for the worst for those in front of him – and behind him in points.
Chief among those contenders to Kenseth is his former Roush Fenway – and future JGR teammate – Carl Edwards. Proving that the only lame duck in this camp is the one sporting AFLAC on his uniform, Edwards is still in position to go out on top, having lost the 2011 title on a tie breaker. The No. 99 experienced the same struggles they have on the majority of downforce tracks this year, and were as low as 24th at point during the AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Late-race pit strategy (keep throwing tires at it) and the frantic restarts saw them eek out a ninth-place run heading into one of Edwards best tracks. In 20 starts at PIR he has three poles – important since leading a lap still gets you one bonus point, and he’s just one point out of fourth at the moment. He has wins in 2010 and 2013, and was eighth here in the spring. Don’t expect any pit road foul-ups or bone head calls from crew chief Jimmy Fennig on the pit box – but a top-5 finish is still easier said than done.
If there’s one guy who should have been throwing leather at the end of the race Sunday it was Ryan Newman. He suffered a cut tire at the hands of Marcos Ambrose while having worked his way up as high as fifth late in the going, and ended up with a 15th-place finish. Then again, Ambrose laid out Casey Mears with a right hook at Richmond in May, so even with his formidable forehead, he probably played that one right.
Newman is a master at flat tracks, and stole a win at PIR in 2010 during a green-white-checker finish. In fact, Newman’s last four wins – Indy, Martinsville, Loudon and Phoenix – have all come on flat tracks. That has to count for something, and RCR has notched five wins here; four with Kevin Harvick, and one with Dale Earnhardt in that 1990 title showdown. You’d be hard pressed to find many who had Newman going this deep in the Chase. He led six laps here in February and finished seventh; he’s third in points with no wins, and only one top 5 until the Chase started. Not one to back down from a fight and known for being virtually impossible to pass, it’s a coin toss as to whether they’ll have the pure speed to hold off the competition Sunday.
Chase Hope Enders
Going to go out on a limb here and saying that Keselowski doesn’t make it into the next round. Not because his team isn’t fast or talented enough – I simply have a hard time believing that somebody will have an incident near him this weekend. Phoenix is fast, but guys seem to treat it like a short track lately. That frontstretch is awfully narrow with that inside pit wall, and if there is an accident can become a track blocker quickly. Oh yeah, after the events of the last few weeks he has a target on his back, as well.
Phoenix International Raceway Winner: Kevin Harvick
He took over for “The Intimidator” in The No. 3, but after last weekend at Texas, you can call the No. 4 driver “The Instigator.” Lighting the fuse by assisting Keselowski towards the angry mob at Texas, it was a bit of a chess move, acting as an antagonist to a driver that was already on probation, one point ahead of him in the standings, and has the one car that can match the No. 4 in pure speed virtually every weekend.
Don’t expect these guys to ride and wait for things to play out; they had the baddest horse in the field a few months ago here, and their driver simply dominates. The best place to avoid trouble here is out front, and if the pit crew can avoid any foul ups, Harvick won’t have to push anyone after the race; as in, under the bus as he has been known to do this year.
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Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, NASCAR rolls west to Phoenix International Raceway where the final four drivers will be set for a one-race, winner-take-all showdown in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
1. Kurt Busch investigated after domestic assault claim
Potential trouble is looming once again for NASCAR’s 2004 champion.
Police in Dover, Del., announced Friday that an active investigation has started into NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch after a report filed Wednesday in the city accused him of domestic assault. The Associated Press reported that the assault report was filed by Busch’s ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.
“At this time, the department is still investigating the victim’s claims and will not have any further comment on this matter in order to preserve the integrity of the case,” read a release from the Dover Police Department.
Driscoll, once very active on Twitter about her relationship with Busch, hasn’t posted a tweet mentioning the driver since Sept. 29 — one day after the Dover race. Busch, likewise, hasn’t mentioned Driscoll on the popular social media network since Sept. 18. The two had grown very close in recent years and Busch had even folded his personal charity in favor of promoting the Armed Forces Foundation — the organization Driscoll operates.
Friday afternoon, the AFF announced it was suspending Busch’s role from the organization. Both NASCAR and Busch’s race team, Stewart-Haas Racing, issued statements Friday announcing awareness of the issue but said that no action would be taken at the current juncture as they await further news from DPD.
Busch also released a statement through lawyer Rusty Hardin denying the claim and saying it was the product of Driscoll not wanting a relationship to end. Out of NASCAR’s championship contention, Busch practiced and qualified his No. 41 Chevrolet on Friday in preparation of Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway. He’ll start 10th on Sunday.
Kevin Harvick regrets role in Texas fight
Kevin Harvick started somewhat of an internet meme last week when he casually shoved Brad Keselowski from behind and stepped back as the brawl between Keselowski and Jeff Gordon ignited. Friday, he admitted that he regretted his role in the fracas — despite the virality of the #Harvicking hashtag.
“The competitor in me loves the controversy and loves the situations that it puts the competitors in,” Harvick said. “The Dad in me doesn’t really enjoy the hashtag, and doesn’t really enjoy the circumstances of the situation. But, live and learn, and you move on.”
Harvick has never been shy of a confrontation on track or in the garage, but he says he realizes since the birth of son Keelan in 2012 that his actions carry a bit more weight.
“I think in the end the difficult part for me is to go home and realize that one day you are going to have to answer those questions to your son,” Harvick said. “It’s definitely two different sides and how you have to look at it and how you have to approach it.”
All of that said, Harvick said he still thinks someone needed to approach Keselowski after the Texas race, if only to get a word in.
“I think that the problem that I have with it I have been in that situation with (Keselowski) before and have him turn his back on me and just walk off,” Harvick said. “I don’t think that is the appropriate way to handle those types of situations. It just kind of rubbed me the wrong way and I reacted and obviously didn’t really realize that it was going to ignite that.”
Will payback play out on Sunday at Phoenix?
On-track payback with championship considerations on the line is a real possibility this weekend after the fireworks between Gordon and Keselowski at Texas. But it won’t be the first time Phoenix has played host to such antics.
It was just two seasons ago that Clint Bowyer was on the receiving end of an abrupt right turn from Gordon that ultimately eliminated his No. 15 team from championship contention. The intentional crash was the product of Gordon feeling Bowyer had cut his tire earlier in the race, and the frustration manifested in a multi-car crash in Turn 4.
Gordon was penalized for the incident that prompted a pit-crew brawl and sent Bowyer sprinting through the PIR garage in an attempt to confront the four-time champion.
But will it happen this weekend? Well, more times than not these things tend to not be settled on-track as cooler heads — and larger aspirations — prevail. However, this version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup has seen a lot of unexpected outbreaks of anger issues. Combine that with Keselowski’s hard driving and the recipe this weekend may include ruffled fenders and dashed title hopes.
Gordon’s crew chief miffed at team penalties
NASCAR avoided penalizing any of the drivers involved in the fight on pit road after last week’s race at Texas, but dropped the hammer on several Hendrick Motorsports crewmen. No crewmen from Team Penske were penalized, likely because NASCAR couldn’t identify who exactly did what in the chaotic fight scene that included lots and lots of thrown punches.
The penalties, totally $185,000 for the Hendrick group and several weeks of suspension, left Gordon’s crew chief Alan Gustafson feeling like the sanctioning body unnecessarily delivered most of the discipline on crew members.
“I personally feel a little bit like a second-class citizen, and I think a lot of our team members do, too,” Gustafson told FOXSports.com’s Jared Turner. “I hate (that) those guys took the brunt of it, which I don't really feel like they were responsible for, in my opinion. I don't think they went and initiated any of this, nor had that intention."
Hendrick Motorsports didn’t appeal the penalties and announced they would cover the cost of its employees’ fines.
Gustafson lamented that it seemed NASCAR wanted drivers to fight but not shoulder the price.
"I think NASCAR's making a concerted effort to illustrate they want the drivers to be able to do what they want to do on the racetrack and have no repercussion for it, and have no accountability for it.,” he said. “I think that generates the most drama on the track, and that's what they're looking for.”
Elimination again at stake in Phoenix
Following Sunday’s race at Phoenix, four drivers will be left to fight for the championship next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Thanks to the latest version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the Ford 400 will be the first time in NASCAR’s history that four drivers will enter the final race with exactly the same amount of points.
But as it stands, eight drivers — Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick — are still eligible for the final four. None are locked-in, either, because drivers now outside of the Chase (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson) won the first two races of the Chase’s third round.
The results leave the third round of this Chase as the closest yet, with first-place Hamlin leading eighth-place Harvick by just 18 points. Harvick, who crashed after contact with Kenseth at Martinsville two weeks ago, thinks a win is his best chance at continuing on.
“That would be the easiest way to do it,” said Harvick.
A win Sunday for Harvick would be his fourth in five tries at Phoenix. Only Hamlin, Logano and Newman can guarantee an advance to the Homestead finale by not winning Sunday.
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Death Valley will be rocking when the No. 16 LSU Tigers take on the No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide in prime time on CBS (8 p.m. ET) Saturday night. National title-winning coaches Les Miles and Nick Saban go toe-to-toe with five-star-stuffed, NFL-talent-laden rosters. Although Alabama (-6.5) is favored, LSU is capable of pulling off the upset and shaking up the SEC West standings and College Football Playoff picture. Here are four reasons the Bayou Bengals will beat Bama:
1. Death Valley
Tiger Stadium is “Where opponents dreams come to die,” according to Coach Miles, who has a 45–4 record in Saturday night home games at Death Valley since taking over the top spot in Baton Rouge back in 2005. There is an indescribable force surrounding the 102,321 purple-and-gold rowdy crowd that comprises arguably the best home field advantage in all of college football.
2. Les Miles
The Mad Hatter has been known to eat grass, let ’er rip in interviews and just say F it — meaning Fake punts and Fourth-down conversions — in big games. In the season-opener against Wisconsin, special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto dialed up a successful third-quarter fake punt that shifted momentum and started a run of 21 unanswered points in a 28–24 win at AT&T Stadium. Miles has a 5–4 record vs. Alabama in regular season games. And he will pull out all the stops to take down the Tide this time around.
3. Alabama Injuries
At this point in the season, every team is banged up. But Alabama is in particularly bad shape this weekend. Left tackle Cameron Robinson — a Louisiana native who spurned the Tigers in favor of the Tide — has a gimpy ankle that will make him a game-time decision. Even if Robinson does play, LSU’s D-line could take advantage of the true freshman playing with a bum wheel. Stud tailback T.J. Yeldon is also struggling with a foot issue; this on the heels of a season-ending gruesome leg injury suffered by big back Kenyan Drake earlier this year.
4. Leonard Fournette
The 6’1”, 230-pound 19-year-old from New Orleans is arguably the best freshman running back since Adrian Peterson. Fournette has 131 carries for 657 yards (5.0 ypc) and seven TDs, along with seven catches for 127 yards (18.1 ypc). LSU is 5–0 when Fournette has topped 11 carries. LSU is No. 7 nationally is rushing attempts and No. 1 in the SEC (439) — with 50 more attempts than No. 2 Arkansas (389). In a 10–7 win over Ole Miss earlier this year, LSU had 55 rushes for 264 yards compared to 16 pass attempts for 142 yards. Expect a similar gameplan featuring Fournette, whose only official visits were to LSU and Alabama.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 7:
• Ever wonder what Big Red would look like in a pair of daisy dukes? Enjoy mascots wearing pants.
• Devon and Leah Still shared a moment last night, and it just got dusty in my office.
• Charles Barkley is fasting until the Lakers win. I'm seriously concerned for his survival.
• As halfcourt shots go, this Blazers fan's attempt made for a nice entry pass at best.
• According to Andy Richter, Mike Ditka once used a rental car as an ashtray.
• In the process of setting quarterback play back decades, Andy Dalton forgot the rules, too.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, 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 Luke Falk, Washington State vs. Oregon State ($6600)
Falk came in for an injured Connor Halliday last week against USC and looked very good considering the situation. The Cougars offense won’t change and Falk will be throwing the ball all over the field against Oregon State. He looks like a great play this week.
1) RB Synjyn Days, Georgia Tech vs. NC State ($4300)
Days has gone over 100 yards rushing in the last two games and also added two scores last week against Virginia. Look for him to make it three in a row with a suspect NC State on the docket. He appears to be an awesome punt option this week.
2) RB Ryan Jackson, Houston vs. Tulane ($4800)
Jackson is averaging 20.30 DK fantasy points over the last two games and could top that against Tulane this week. The Green Wave run defense comes in ranked 85th in the country and gives up plenty of big plays.
3) RB Tarean Folston, Notre Dame vs. Arizona State ($5400)
Folston is averaging 28.20 DK fantasy points over the past three games and has a nice match up with Arizona State. The Sun Devils are ranked 88th against the run and may have a hard time containing Folston. He looks like a nice value play in Week 11.
1) WR Jamison Crowder, Duke vs. Syracuse ($5900)
Crowder looked unstoppable last week with 165 yards and two scores against Pitt. He appears to finally be in rhythym with Anthony Boone and looks to be way under priced this week. Expect more fantasy goodness out of this Blue Devil.
2) WR Victor Bolden ($4900) & Jordan Villamin ($4700), Oregon State vs. Washington State
Both Bolden and Villamin had big games against Cal last week and could post huge numbers against Washington State. The Cougars pass defense is ranked 119thand is allowing 295 yards per game. Play both of these Beavers.
3) WR Deshon Foxx, UCONN vs. Army ($4100)
Fox had 11 carries for 102 yards and a score last week against Central Florida. He carries big upside this week with the potential for plenty of carries. Foxx may be hard for a bad Army defense to contain.
1) TE Blake Bell, Oklahoma vs. Baylor ($2500)
Bell scored twice last week and somehow his price came down $100. He could find the end zone again in a potential shoot out with Baylor.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Connor Cook, Michigan State vs. Ohio State ($5500)
Connor has a difficult match up against Ohio State, but could throw a couple of touchdowns and reach value. Cook seems to save his best games for the biggest games and this certainly qualifies.
1) RB Michael Dyer, Louisville vs. Boston College ($5200)
Dyer ran for 134 yards and three scores against Florida State last week. He is running like the Michael Dyer of old and could tear through the BC defense this week. Put Mr. Dyer in your lineups.
2) RB Jhurell Pressley, New Mexico vs. Boise State ($4900)
Pressley has scored five rushing touchdowns in the last two games and comes in at a solid price this week. He could add to his touchdown total this week and prove to be an excellent punt option.
3) RB Matt Jones ($4800) & Kelvin Taylor ($4600), Florida vs. Vanderbilt
Jones and Taylor went ballistic last week against Georgia with a combined 389 rushing yards and four touchdowns. They both received 25 carries and both look like great plays against a weak Commodores defense.
1) WR Curry Sexton, Kansas State vs. TCU ($5100)
DFS owners may be shocked to learn that Sexton and Tyler Lockett have the same number of receptions on the season (49). He could have a very nice game in what could be a high scoring affair with TCU. Sexton looks like a nice punt option in this BIG 12 showdown.
2) WR Jordan Payton, UCLA vs. Washington ($4800)
Payton’s price makes absolutely no sense this week. He averages 20.3 DK fantasy points on the season and will be facing the 109th ranked pass defense of Washington. He could easily blow out his price this week.
3) WR Tyler Winston, San Jose State vs. Fresno State ($5200)
Winston is the Spartans top receiving target and could blow right past Fresno State this week. The Bulldogs ranked 101st in pass defense and are very suseptable to big plays.
1) TE Steven Scheu, Vanderbilt vs. Florida ($3300)
Scheu has scored double-digit fantasy points in the last two games.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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The Cleveland Cavaliers look rocky right now. But unless the Lord has reached into this roster’s mostly young bodies and snatched the immense talent out of them, LeBron James and Co. won’t appear so fragile later. Despite their surprising 1-3 start, the Cavs are still title contenders and the most likely to emerge from the Eastern Conference. Once they figure out their chemistry woes, we’ll start fearing them again.
The Chicago Bulls, of course, are the greatest potential caveat to this truth. The defense-heavy monsters of the Midwest, led by taskmaster coach Tom Thibodeau, can’t truly challenge the King without their own prodigal son, however, and Derrick Rose’s health continues to be a source of major worry in Chicago, after two seasons of Rose missing all but ten games due to dual knee injuries.
Rose sprained both of his ankles against Cleveland on October 31 — the second game of the season. He subsequently sat as his team took care of two inferior opponents in the Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic. More recently, Rose returned on November 5, and although the Bulls got the win over the Milwaukee Bucks to improve to 4-1 while the point guard put up an efficient, 13-point, seven-assist line, he didn’t look exactly like himself.
Rose moved with hesitation in the contest, clearly not 100 percent on those ankles. He still knows how to utilize his hefty court mythos to beguile defenders and get his way in the halfcourt, but Rose will need need to be nothing short of the lane-penetrating destroyer his city loves if Chicago is going to compete for a championship in earnest.
The heavy question here is whether that’s even possible anymore. Fretful Chicagoans wonder whether Rose’s body can ever withstand the pressure he puts on it with his torque-driven style. And until Rose strings together something like a month or two of unbroken, top-notch play, his health will remain the biggest question mark of the 2014-15 championship outlook.
— John Wilmes
The first year of college football’s playoff committee rankings has added new intrigue to the season, and one look at the latest top 25 release shows just how important Saturday’s game is between Arizona State and Notre Dame. The Sun Devils and Fighting Irish are ranked back-to-back (No. 9 and No. 10) following the Week 10 games. Saturday’s winner should keep their playoff hopes alive while dealing a significant (and likely eliminating) loss to the other team.
Arizona State has won four games in a row since a 62-27 loss to UCLA. The Sun Devils defeated three ranked teams in that stretch, including a 19-16 overtime win against Utah and a 38-34 last-second victory over USC on Oct. 4. Notre Dame’s only loss this year came at the hands of Florida State, but the Fighting Irish rank behind Arizona State due to the Sun Devils’ strength of schedule and bigger margin of victory against a common opponent (Stanford).
Arizona State and Notre Dame have only three previous meetings. The Fighting Irish are 3-0 against the Sun Devils, including a 37-34 victory in last season’s matchup in Arlington.
Notre Dame at Arizona State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Arizona State -2.5
Notre Dame’s Key to Victory: QB Everett Golson
Coming off a tough matchup against Navy, combined with the loss of linebacker Joe Schmidt, Notre Dame needs its offense to carry the team on Saturday. As evidenced by his 22 passing touchdowns to just seven interceptions, Golson is capable of doing so. Arizona State ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense, but this unit has played three average offenses over the last three weeks. Golson could be the best quarterback the Sun Devils have played this season, and his mobility will keep plays alive if the defense is able to get pressure and collapse the pocket. But most importantly for Notre Dame, Golson has to have a mistake-free effort. The junior has seven picks this season and two came in the loss to Florida State. A tight game is expected on Saturday, and a turnover or two by either team could be costly. One other area to watch is the emergence of running back Tarean Folston. The sophomore has 169 yards over the last two games.
Arizona State’s Key to Victory: Balance on Offense
Quarterback Taylor Kelly is still knocking off the rust from a foot injury that forced him to miss three games earlier this year. But Kelly has passed for 385 yards and three scores over the last two contests and has 62 rushing yards in that span. Despite being a little rusty, Kelly guided Arizona State to wins over Washington and Utah. Considering Kelly probably needs another week or two to get fully acclimated to the offense once again, the Sun Devils need to take the pressure off him by establishing balance. Running back D.J. Foster leads the team with 701 yards and freshman Demario Richard has 280 – including 170 over the last two weeks. Receiver Jaelen Strong is one of the best in the Pac-12, catching 57 passes for 821 yards and eight scores. Notre Dame won’t have standout linebacker Joe Schmidt for the rest of the year due to an injury suffered against Navy. Without Schmidt, the Fighting Irish will turn to true freshman Nyles Morgan in the starting lineup. Notre Dame’s defense is giving up 5.2 yards per play in 2014 but has allowed at least 5.6 yards per play in three consecutive weeks. With Schmidt’s injury, combined with the Fighting Irish’s recent performance on defense, Arizona State should be able to push 30 points on Saturday night. Balance for the Sun Devils will be critical, especially as Kelly continues to knock the rust off from a significant foot injury.
It’s probably fair to call this game an elimination matchup in terms of playoff seeding. The loser of this matchup is likely out of the picture for one of the four-team spots, but is still in the mix for one of the New Year’s Bowls. The winner of this game will be on the doorstep of the top eight once again next week and in position to earn a spot in the playoffs. Notre Dame’s defense is a concern. But it’s also fair to wonder whether Arizona State’s recent improvement on that side of the ball was due to offenses that ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12. Expect plenty of points in this back-and-forth affair. Notre Dame keeps its playoff hopes alive for another week by finding a way to win this one in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Arizona State 31
At the beginning of the season, not many circled Kansas State-TCU as the biggest game of the year in the Big 12. But Saturday’s matchup between the Horned Frogs and Wildcats could be the biggest game of the year in the conference, as TCU and Kansas State rank No. 7 and No. 8 in the latest playoff committee rankings.
TCU finished 4-8 last season but has experienced a quick turnaround on the strength of an improved offense. The Horned Frogs averaged only 25.1 points per game in 2013 but have recorded 48 points per contest through eight matchups this year. Quarterback Trevone Boykin has thrived under new co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie.
With a victory over TCU on Saturday, Kansas State will match its win total from 2013. The Wildcats’ biggest win in 2014 took place in Norman, defeating Oklahoma 31-30 in mid-October. Coach Bill Snyder’s team suffered its only loss at the hands of Auburn – a game that was summed up by missed opportunities for Kansas State.
Kansas State owns a 4-3 series edge over TCU. The Wildcats have won the last two meetings over the Horned Frogs. The last meeting between these two teams in Fort Worth was a 23-10 win by Kansas State.
And here’s a small storyline to note about this matchup: TCU coach Gary Patterson played at Kansas State from 1980-81 and is a Kansas native.
Kansas State at TCU
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: TCU -6
Kansas State’s Key to Victory: Win the Turnover Battle
It sounds simple, but Kansas State’s mistake-free ways will be tested against TCU. The Horned Frogs lead the nation with a +15 turnover margin and has forced nine takeaways in their last two games. On the flipside, the Wildcats have lost only seven turnovers and commit only 3.4 penalties per game. Bill Snyder’s team simply won’t beat itself on Saturday night. With little separating Kansas State and TCU, it’s the small things that could swing this game in favor of a particular team. The Wildcats need to continue what they have done all season and limit their mistakes. Quarterback Jake Waters is a big part of that storyline, as the senior has yet to throw a pick in a Big 12 game. If Waters completes over 60 percent of his throws, doesn’t toss a pick, and Kansas State wins the turnover battle, that might be enough for the Wildcats to win in Fort Worth.
TCU’s Key to Victory: Establish the Tempo on Offense
Kansas State averages 35.8 points per game in Big 12 action this year, but the Wildcats prefer to move at a methodical pace (32:50 time of possession). TCU is going with an up-tempo approach this year, and the switch in schemes has made a huge impact on the offense. Quarterback Trevone Boykin is a Heisman contender, and the Horned Frogs have 25 plays of 30 yards or more this year. Kansas State is capable of scoring 40 points, but the Wildcats would prefer to move a little slower and use their ground attack to eat up the clock on lengthy drives. TCU should look to jump out to an early lead and force K-State to play at a quicker pace. If Boykin can rebound from his worst start of the season (166 yards against West Virginia), there will be opportunities to make plays against a secondary that ranks seventh in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense.
This is the only top-10 matchup for Week 11 and is relatively even across the board. Both defenses allow less than five yards per play, while Kansas State ranks as the Big 12’s best in scoring defense (18.6 ppg). TCU is more explosive on offense, but the Wildcats – using a different style – aren’t far behind on the stat sheet. Expect a tight game well into the fourth quarter, with both teams landing a few big plays in the process. Kansas State is one of the best in the nation at not beating itself. However, with this game in Fort Worth and quarterback Trevone Boykin due for a rebound effort, TCU gets a slight edge – but there’s not much separating these two teams.
Prediction: TCU 31, Kansas State 30
The Big Ten has spent most of 2014 out of the national spotlight, but the Michigan State-Ohio State showdown on Saturday night carries significant playoff implications. This matchup is easily the biggest game of the year in the conference and is a rematch of last year’s Big Ten title game. In last season’s contest, the Spartans won 34-24 and eliminated the Buckeyes from earning a spot in the BCS title game.
Both teams enter Saturday night’s matchup with one loss. However, there’s a different narrative following each team’s defeat. Michigan State’s defeat came at the hands of Oregon – ranked as the No. 4 team in the college football playoff standings after Week 10. Ohio State’s loss was to a Virginia Tech team that is struggling just to get bowl eligible. And the Buckeyes’ loss to the Hokies is clearly hurting coach Urban Meyer’s team in the playoff poll, as Ohio State ranks No. 14 and needs a lot of help to get into the top four.
Ohio State owns a 28-13 series edge over Michigan State. The Buckeyes are just 1-2 in their last three matchups against the Spartans. Two out of the last three meetings were decided by three points or less. From 1987-2008, Ohio State went 12-2 against Michigan State.
Ohio State at Michigan State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan State -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Ohio State’s Offensive Line
Outside of J.T. Barrett’s development, this unit was the biggest concern for Ohio State in 2014. The Buckeyes gave up seven sacks in the loss to Virginia Tech but has allowed just 10 in the other seven contests. However, the line has rarely been tested over the last few weeks, and Michigan State’s defensive front is likely the best Ohio State will play this year. How far as the Buckeyes’ offensive line developed in recent weeks? Left tackle Taylor Decker will have his hands full with ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush, as the duo headlines a Spartans’ defensive front that leads the Big Ten with 28 sacks. While pass protection is a concern, Barrett has the mobility to make plays outside of the pocket (second on the team with 496 rushing yards), and the offense is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Are the Buckeyes up to the challenge in the trenches? Or will Calhoun and Rush win the battle at the point of attack?
2. Quarterback Play
Through 10 weeks of the 2014 season, it’s clear Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Michigan State’s Connor Cook are the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Barrett stepped into a difficult situation with ease, leading the conference with 294 total yards per game. Cook doesn’t have Barrett’s mobility, but the junior is completing 60.6 percent of his throws and has only five picks on 198 attempts this year. In the Big Ten Championship last year, Cook easily outdueled Braxton Miller, completing 24 of 40 passes for 340 yards and one score. Miller completed just 8 of 21 throws and was held to 101 yards and a score. Michigan State doesn’t need Cook to throw for 300 yards on Saturday night, but the junior needs to be efficient and limit his mistakes. Despite completing 61.7 percent of his throws against Oregon, Cook tossed two picks. Ohio State’s defense is holding opponents to 19.8 points per game in Big Ten action and has allowed only seven passing plays of 30 yards or more. That’s an improvement off last season, and Cook will be facing the best pass rush he has played in 2014. Both quarterbacks are going against elite defensive lines and pass defenses that have been stingy. With a tight game expected, the play of Cook and Barrett will be under the microscope. Cook torched Ohio State’s secondary for 304 yards and three scores last year. However, the Buckeyes have showed improvement on defense in 2014. For Barrett, this is his toughest road test of the year. With an offensive line that’s still developing, can Barrett avoid the rush and make plays against a secondary that has allowed 11 passing plays of 40 yards or more – nearly as many (17) as last year?
3. Style of Play
It’s no secret Michigan State wants to control the pace of the game with a vicious defense and a methodical, yet very successful offense. The Spartans lead the Big Ten by averaging 36:02 in time of possession, while Ohio State is third with a 32:24 mark. The Buckeyes’ rush defense has been solid this year, limiting opponents to just 3.4 yards per carry and 118.6 yards per contest. Expect Michigan State to challenge that total with a heavy dose of Jeremy Langford. The senior has five consecutive 100-yard efforts and gashed Michigan for 177 yards and three scores two weeks ago. If Langford has success on early downs, the Spartans will have a chance to control the tempo and later hit on play-action passes to standout receiver Tony Lippett. When Ohio State has the ball, expect Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman to push the tempo. The Buckeyes want to speed up the tempo, which should allow Barrett to get some easy (and quick passes) against the Michigan State defensive front. If the Buckeyes control the pace of the game and jump to an early lead, they will force the Spartans out of their comfort level on offense.
The roles are reversed in 2014. Last season, Michigan State played spoiler, eliminating Ohio State from the national title conversation with a 34-24 win in the Big Ten Championship. The Buckeyes have a chance to do something similar on Saturday night, as a win by Urban Meyer’s team would eliminate Michigan State from the playoff picture. If Ohio State wins, it should get a bump in next week’s rankings. However, even if the Buckeyes win in East Lansing, they need some help to reach the top four. Regardless of the playoff implications, these two teams are the best in the Big Ten. So what’s the difference in the game? Michigan State’s defense and quarterback Connor Cook. The Spartans aren’t as dominant on defense as they were last season, but this unit is still capable of carrying this team to a playoff spot. Barrett has performed well in relief of Miller. However, a road trip to East Lansing against Michigan State’s defense will be too much to overcome.
Prediction: Michigan State 30, Ohio State 20
The annual matchup between Alabama and LSU is one of the SEC’s must-see games every year, and 2014 is no different, as both teams rank among the top 15 nationally. There’s more at stake on Saturday night for the Crimson Tide after ranking No. 5 in the second release of college football’s playoff committee standings. The Tigers ranked No. 16 and are a longshot to make the final four. However, coach Les Miles’ team still has plenty to play for, including a spot in one of college football’s premier bowl games.
LSU has rebounded from an 0-2 start in SEC play to win its last three conference games. The Tigers had a bye last Saturday but defeated Ole Miss 10-7 on Oct. 25. Alabama suffered its only defeat at the hands of the Rebels but has won three in a row, including a 59-0 destruction of Texas A&M.
Alabama owns a 48-24-5 series edge over LSU. The Crimson Tide has won five out of the last seven meetings against the Tigers. However, Alabama is 1-1 in its last two trips to Baton Rouge. LSU coach Les Miles is 5-5 in 10 career games against the Crimson Tide.
Alabama at LSU
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback Play
The basic approach by both teams is pretty simple: Run the ball and play defense. That statement might be too simplistic, but both offenses want to establish the run to take the pressure of their quarterback. Both signal-callers in this game are under the microscope, as both have experienced their share of ups and downs this season. Alabama’s Blake Sims won a battle with Jacob Coker for the starting job in the fall, and Sims opened the year by throwing for 250 yards in the opener against West Virginia. Sims has played well at times this year but tossed a costly interception against Ole Miss and completed 52.4 percent of his throws in an ugly 14-13 win against Arkansas. While Sims hasn’t been overly prolific, he’s been more successful than LSU’s Anthony Jennings. The sophomore made his first career start in the Outback Bowl last year and carried that momentum into the fall to claim the job over touted freshman Brandon Harris. Jennings is completing only 50 percent of his passes and went just 8 of 16 for 142 yards and two interceptions in a 10-7 win over Ole Miss two weeks ago. Against Power 5 opponents, Jennings has not completed more than 50 percent of his passes in a single contest. However, Jennings is tied for third in the SEC with seven passing plays of 40 yards or more. On paper, the edge should go to Sims. For LSU to win on Saturday night, Jennings needs to have his best game of 2014.
2. Stopping the Run
In last year’s matchup, Alabama drastically outperformed LSU on the ground (193 to 43). And taking the advantage on the ground a step further, the team that has an edge in rushing yardage has won the last six matchups. See why this area is important on Saturday night? Both backfields are among the best in the nation, but running room could be limited. Alabama is allowing only 2.7 yards per carry and opponents have managed only two rushing scores through eight games. LSU will attempt to test the defense with four talented running backs, headlined by Leonard Fournette. The true freshman has rushed for 657 yards and seven scores this year, but he averages only 14.6 carries per game. Fournette will share time with Terrence Magee (6.1 ypc), Kenny Hilliard (six scores) and Darrel Williams (250 yards). On the other sideline, Alabama counters with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry – arguably the nation’s best backfield duo – and both players average 5.2 yards per carry. After five SEC contests, LSU’s rush defense ranks ninth in the league, giving up 186.2 yards per game. The Tigers have played some of the league’s best running teams – Mississippi State and Auburn – and have not allowed a rushing touchdown in two games. This is LSU’s toughest challenge on defense since a 41-7 loss against Auburn. Has this defense found the right answers? Or was the improvement on defense due to playing offenses at Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss? Either way, the battle in the trenches is critical to the outcome on Saturday night.
3. Alabama WR Amari Cooper
Cooper has been the best receiver in college football through the first 10 weeks of the season. The junior ranks second nationally in receiving yards (1,132) and averages 15.9 yards per catch. Cooper was injured in the win over Arkansas on Oct. 11 but has rebounded with 17 catches for 364 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games. Cooper faces one of his toughest assignments of the season on Saturday night, as LSU’s secondary is one of the best in the SEC. Opposing teams have had success running the ball against the Tigers, so coordinator John Chavis’ defense has faced only 259 attempts this year. LSU has allowed only six passing scores and has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 49.4 completion percentage. Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White are one of the nation’s top duos at cornerback and limited Cooper to just three catches for 46 yards last season. This matchup between Cooper and Robinson/White should draw plenty of interest from NFL scouts. But if Cooper is limited by LSU, who steps up at receiver for Alabama? Is it senior DeAndrew White? Or will tight end O.J. Howard get more involved after a slow start (six catches) to the season?
This game has all of the makings of a physical, 60-minute battle in the trenches. Alabama and LSU have similar styles on offense, and two out of the last three meetings in this series were decided by four points or less. Winning at night in Baton Rouge is never easy, but the advantages in this game are in favor of the Crimson Tide. Blake Sims has performed better at quarterback, and Alabama’s defense has been more dominant this year. LSU needs quarterback Anthony Jennings to have success through the air early to open rushing lanes on the ground. If Jennings struggles, the Tigers are in trouble. LSU always finds a way to keep it close at night in Baton Rouge, and Alabama’s struggles in the turnover department (13 lost in 2014) provide a blueprint on how to win. The Tigers need a few breaks to win this one, and Les Miles’ team falls short against a better Crimson Tide squad on Saturday night.
Prediction: Alabama 27, LSU 17
A 5-4 record last week got me into the black for the season and I am going to screw it all up this week by picking the six massive national showdowns.
I will toss in a few top picks, as usual, but this week is too big not to take a shot at greatness by trying to beat the best.
Additionally, I've taken a small lead among Athlon Sports editors picking every Top 25 game against the spread. (I am very proud.)
Last Week: 5-4
Ohio St (+3.5) at Michigan St
Of all of the biggest games this weekend, I like the Spartans more than anyone else. JT Barrett has struggled against the two best defenses he’s faced this year (Va. Tech, PSU) and will do the same against Michigan State. Both teams are strong against the number but this seems like a small number. Prediction: Michigan State -3.5
Kansas St (+6) at TCU
This is actually a bad matchup for the Horned Frogs. Kansas State is physical and tough and will run downhill on both sides of the ball while TCU plays more of a finesse game these days. The Wildcats are 6-2 against the number and could win outright. Prediction: Kansas State +6
Alabama (-6.5) at LSU
Where on the field does LSU have better personnel than Alabama? Kicker? Punter? Maybe a few O-linemen? Other than being played in Baton Rouge, nothing about this game says LSU can win. Being just under seven points gives me the confidence to take the Tide to roll. Prediction: Alabama -6.5
Listen to the Week 11 predictions podcast:
Notre Dame (+2.5) at Arizona St
The Irish may be a touch underrated and the Sun Devils appear to be overrated in the rankings. Notre Dame won this meeting last year against a better ASU team with Tommy Rees under center. Everett Golson is the difference maker. Take the Irish to win outright. Prediction: Notre Dame +2.5
Oregon (-8) at Utah
This feels like a big number, Utah is among the nation’s best teams against the spread (7-1) and they are at home. And the Utes' defensive line is one of the best in the nation. So why am I taking the Ducks? Call it a gut feeling about the team that might be playing the best football in the nation. Prediction: Oregon -8
Baylor (+5.5) at Oklahoma
Oklahoma has never lost at home to Baylor (0-11) and is looking for revenge after getting embarrassed last season. Look for the Sooners to blitz like crazy and put as much pressure on Bryce Petty as possible and Oklahoma should have the upper hand against a depleted Bears’ offensive line. Prediction: Oklahoma -5.5
Other, real-er top picks:
Duke (-3.5) at Syracuse
The Blue Devils are rolling right now and the Cuse is struggling. Duke is 6-2 against the number and has back-to-back ACC Coastal Division crowns squarely in its sights. Take the lowest ranked one-loss Big 5 team in the nation to win big in the Carrier Dome. Prediction: Duke -3.5
Penn St (-6.5) at Indiana
The Hoosiers' offensive has come to a screeching halt since losing QB Nate Sudfeld and PSU is one of the best defenses in the nation. And the Penn State offense might actually be able to move the ball against the lowly Indiana defense. Prediction: Penn State -6.5
Iowa (pk) at Minnesota
Iowa's offensive balance gives the Hawkeyes a slight edge despite being the visiting team. The Golden Gophers might be too one-dimensional for an Iowa team that played arguably its best game of the year last weekend. Prediction: Iowa
Top 25 Picks ATS:
|Top 25||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|Virginia (+19) at FSU|
|Texas A&M (+21.5) at Auburn|
|Oregon (-8) at Utah|
|Alabama (-6.5) at LSU|
|Kansas St (+6) at TCU|
|Ohio St (+3.5) at Mich. St|
|N. Dame (+2.5) at Arizona St|
|Baylor (+5.5) at Oklahoma|
|UCLA (-4.5) at Washington|
|Colorado (+17) at Arizona|
|Georgia (-10.5) at Kentucky|
|Duke (-3.5) at Syracuse|
|W. Virginia (-4) at Texas|
|Georgia Tech (-3.5) at NC State|
College basketball is down one superstar freshman, but the game, as usual these days, won’t lack for electrifying first-year talent.
Point guard Emmanuel Mudiay opted to play professionally in China rather than navigate the NCAA eligibility waters at SMU. That’s unfortunate for SMU coach Larry Brown, who would have given the Mustangs a rare NBA lottery pick talent to play at that level.
As usual, the bluebloods have their share of stud freshmen. Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, UConn and, of course, Kentucky make the list of impact freshmen, but there are a few appearances by the likes of UNLV and Seton Hall this season.
Cliff Alexander, F, Kansas
Kansas replaces Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, with another highly rated big man to team with Perry Ellis. Alexander was the third-ranked prospect in the 247Sports Composite. The 6-8, 240-pound big man will provide KU with a physical presence in the paint.
Daniel Hamilton, G/F, UConn
Shabazz Napier is gone, but hopes are high for Hamilton to be UConn’s next star. He’s a lanky, athletic wing with a multi-faceted game who should give the Huskies a scoring boost.
Justin Jackson, G/F, North Carolina
North Carolina’s signing class contains three top-30 prospects, all at positions where they will have to fight for playing time at point guard (Joel Berry) and small forward (Jackson, Theo Pinson). Jackson is the highest ranked (No. 9) in the 247Sports Composite and may be the best shooter of the group, giving him a leg up on a team that shot 33.6 percent from 3-point range last season.
Stanley Johnson, G/F, Arizona
Arizona trades out one star freshman (Aaron Gordon) for another in Johnson, who was the No. 4 prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Johnson figures to be more of an offensive threat than Gordon. The 6-5, 225-pound swingman will be a threat to score from all over the court.
Kaleb Joseph, G, Syracuse
Joseph will be Syracuse’s fourth point guard in four seasons and its second freshman in a row. Expectations are high after the run of Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis. Joseph, though, won’t have the supporting cast his predecessors enjoyed.
Tyus Jones, G, Duke
The other half of a package deal with Jahlil Okafor, Jones gives Duke a point guard to compete with Quinn Cook. The senior didn’t start the final 10 games of the season, so Jones could play alongside Cook or supplant him at times during the season. Jones is known for his court vision, and he already has chemistry with Duke’s standout freshman center.
Kevon Looney, F, UCLA
UCLA was thin in the frontcourt last season, but that may not be the case anymore with the arrival of Looney, a 6-9, 208-pound power forward. Of course, without Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine, the Bruins will need help everywhere. UCLA is counting on Looney, the No. 11 prospect in the 247Sports Composite, to contribute on the boards and in the post.
Trey Lyles, F, Kentucky
John Calipari may need to get creative to keep Lyles, Karl Towns and the rest of his big men happy. Lyles’ natural position may be power forward, but he can also play small forward. Lyles, though, may be off to a slower start as he missed Kentucky’s tour of the Bahamas in early August while recovering form a procedure on his left leg.
Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
Duke has not had a ton of great big men in recent years, Mason Plumlee’s senior season notwithstanding. Now, Duke will have not only one of the top freshmen in the country at center, but also an elite player with a skill set that has become increasingly rare. The 6-11, 270-pound freshman from Chicago already has a well-developed post game that could make him one of the top true centers in quite some time.
Kansas figures to have plenty of able bodies at the 2 and 3 in the 2014-15 season, but Oubre should have plenty of opportunity to shine. The 6-7, 190-pound McDonald’s All-American has a varied offensive game. He can hit the 3 and get to the rim. He’ll be an All-Big 12 contender.
Kentucky may have been loaded in the frontcourt even without this freshman class. Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee all return, meaning perhaps Towns won’t be quite as prolific as recent Kentucky freshman big men. Still, he’s a 6-11, 250-pound forward who can stretch a defense.
Myles Turner, F, Texas
Texas already returned every key player from one of the surprise teams in the country. The Longhorns bolstered their chances to contend for the Big 12 title by adding the Turner in the spring. He gives the Longhorns a 6-11, 240-pound skilled big man, but more important, the Euless (Texas) Trinity product gives Rick Barnes a sorely needed in-state recruiting victory.
Tyler Ulis, G, Kentucky
With guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison back, Ulis won’t be asked to score from the backcourt. That’s no problem. He’s much better as a distributor, and his vision will be an asset to another loaded Kentucky team.
Rashad Vaughn, G, UNLV
Vaughn, one of the final big-name prospects to sign last year, elected to stay close to where he played in high school at Findlay (Nev.) Prep. He’ll be part of a new starting five at UNLV and will have plenty of opportunities to flourish at the 2 or the 3.
Isaiah Whitehead, G, Seton Hall
Seton Hall’s first McDonald’s All-American since 2000, Whitehead joins a backcourt that already includes Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina. Whitehead, at 6-4 and 210 pounds, should add scoring punch to a team that ranked 123rd nationally in offensive efficiency on KenPom.
Whether it’s football or basketball, recruiting is a wild game. So much so that we wouldn’t mind listening to a basketball assistant and a football assistant swap stories from the road.
Certainly, both would have their share.
By now, many college fans follow the recruiting process in football and basketball to some degree, but how much do you really know.
For one, football and basketball recruiting are two completely different beasts with their own rules, written and unwritten.
If your a basketball fan, here’s what you need to know about how your team landed — or lost — that coveted recruit.
Athlon Sports contributor John Martin is a columnist and host with 92.9 FM covering the University of Memphis and the Memphis Grizzlies. Martin also contributed “13 Things you Need to Know about Football Recruiting” for Athlon Sports’ College Football preview.
1. This isn’t football: A commitment means something
When a prep football player commits to a college, it doesn’t necessarily signal the end of his recruitment. Opposing coaches still call and write and fight to get the prospect on campus. The commitment of a basketball player carries more weight; among the top-100 prospects in the Class of 2014, only seven decommitted from their original choices.
Two of those players — James Blackmon Jr. and Quentin Snider — ended up going back to their first choices. One — Ahmed Hill — changed his mind due to a coaching change. Another yet — Elijah Stewart — had a strong senior year and moved up a level, from Loyola Marymount to USC.
So why does a basketball player’s commitment hold more often? The numbers game, most times, kill off the competition when a player makes his decision.
“It goes like this: We may have only two scholarships. And so if you commit to my scholarship, the other teams — they gotta keep moving,” Wichita State assistant coach Steve Forbes said. “They gotta get somebody. In football, you have so many numbers, you just keep recruiting.”
On the other hand, when a decommit does take place in hoops, it might indicate a deeper issue than just a simple change of heart. And it can even cost an assistant coach his job — like one SEC assistant, who requested anonymity.
“So I’m recruiting a kid. He’s a top-level kid — a top-25 guy,” the assistant said. “I become the point contact on the guy. I’m putting out a whole lot of energy and effort. I’m going to his games, watching him play, I’m communicating with him and his family. I’m going from recruiting to now relationship-building.
“And when you get a commitment in hoops, you don’t keep recruiting the position. It’s in place. I got the one guy. Guy ends up coming in (for a visit), and then he decides he wanted to open it up. I’ve been talking to my boss about the landscape of our program with him in the fold. Then the kid decommits on me, and now I don’t have an explanation for my boss on who’s next. There is no next, because I haven’t done anything with anybody else. That led me to changing jobs. I knew I was expected to deliver, and I didn’t.”
2. Midnight Madness: It’s all about recruiting
In college basketball, there are two types of madness. There’s the one that comes in March, with fairy tale upsets and countless office brackets. And then there’s the madness that comes before the season starts — in the form of a glorified practice.
Schools all over, from Kentucky to Memphis, kick off the college basketball season with a preseason practice in their home venues, giving fans a free and early look at the upcoming season’s team. But Big Blue Madness, Memphis Madness, and events like them aren’t just for fans; typically, that weekend serves as the program’s biggest recruiting event of the year.
Memphis, for example, hosts anywhere from 20 to 25 recruits on both official and unofficial visits every year for Memphis Madness. Which is why Memphis coach Josh Pastner does whatever he can to make sure FedExForum is packed out.
“It’s been a great tool for us,” Pastner says. “It works because of the crowd support we get. The place is sold out. It’s an overflowing crowd. It’s a fire hazard in the FedExForum (because of the crowd). That’s why it works. We’re so fortunate to have that support and passion from the fan base.”
It’s little more than a pep rally, but for recruits visiting that weekend, it’s a perfect window into what he can expect if he enrolls at the school.
3. You can’t pay the recruit ... but you can hire his dad
Stephen Thompson is a former Syracuse basketball player who coached at the Division II level for over a decade. The head coach of Cal State-Los Angeles for nine years, he’d never had a chance to coach at the Division I level — until earlier this summer.
Oregon State hired Thompson as an assistant coach, which, on the surface, seemed random. But it wasn’t at all. Thompson has a son — Stephen Thompson Jr. — who is a top-60 recruit in the Class of 2015.
Indeed, the “package deal” in college basketball is the latest layer in an already complicated recruiting world.
“It’s a reality of the game right now,” Cal assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel says. “I don’t think you’ll see a reversion. If you can make a hire where you get a guy on the court, coaches will do it.”
It happened most recently at Memphis. Keelon Lawson, a high school coach in the Memphis area, made it known that he was interested in coaching at the college level. He wasn’t just any old high school coach, however; he has four sons between ages 10 and 17 who are all considered high-level recruits. Whichever school hired him, despite his lack of college coaching experience, automatically landed his talented sons.
Ultimately, Memphis made the decision to hire him. A week later, Class of 2016 five-star recruit Dedric Lawson made public his commitment to the Tigers.
4. Mid-majors understand their spot on the food chain
Generally, the bluebloods of college basketball have their pick of players. Kentucky, Duke, and North Carolina don’t tend to lose out when they zero in on a prospect, most of which is due to tradition and reputation.
But what about the smaller schools? It’s easy for top programs to recruit; just identify the five-star recruits and work your way down. But what about the schools that have to look beyond that pool?
Chattanooga coach Will Wade says he doesn’t necessarily evaluate prospects; he evaluates situations around them when prioritizing who to recruit.
If a player has a scholarship offer from a team within a multiple-bid league, Wade usually doesn’t waste his time.
“If it’s all one-bid leagues recruiting the kid, we’ll take our shot at him,” Wade says. “If it’s a multi-bid league, that’s gonna be really tough for us to beat most of the time. We’d likely just cut bait, move on and go to someone else and rely on our evaluations.”
Wade isn’t naive; he knows that the best players don’t go to Chattanooga. If a good player chooses his program, he likely has what Wade calls “warts.” His job is to determine which warts are worth living with.
“He’s gonna either be too short, too skinny, maybe too fat,” Wade says. “You just have to figure out which one fits your program.”
5. It’s all about AAU
Though the AAU circuit might make your stomach churn, what with its shoe company affiliations and the omnipresence of “handlers,” there’s no denying its influence in recruiting.
Unlike in football, high school coaches — other than in specific cases — have little or no say in the recruitment of basketball players. AAU coaches reign. The reasoning is simple: AAU coaches are with the players in the formative stages of their recruitment. College coaches rarely evaluate prospects during the high school season, simply because they have their current teams to worry about.
The evaluation gets done in the summer on the AAU circuit, which gives AAU coaches a certain level of authority on the kids who play for them.
“A high school coach is going to have relationships with one player,” Missouri associate head coach Tim Fuller says. “An AAU coach is gonna have relationships with 10 or 15 in the course of that year.”
But Fuller said his approach to recruiting, even with the heavy involvement of AAU coaches in recruiting, is slightly different than others’. He said if he were to chart his time spent with the adults around a prospect, 50 percent of his time would be devoted to the player’s family. Thirty percent would go to the AAU coach. The remaining 20 percent of the time goes to the high school coach.
Fuller’s best example was Johnathan Williams III, a sophomore forward from Memphis who led the team in rebounding as a freshman last season. Whenever the recruiting calendar allowed, Fuller shot down to Memphis and joined Williams’ mother for a jog around her local community center’s running track. That extra time paid off, obviously, when Williams chose the Tigers.
“A lot of AAU coaches and high school coaches have relationships (with other coaches) that outdate me,” Fuller says. “When I can get in front of a parent and spend time with a parent, they see the genuine approach with me.”
6. Recruiting never stops
Many moons ago, Josh Pastner’s girlfriend broke up with him because he chose to take a recruiting call during a movie date. On the line was Ndudi Ebi, a stud forward who was at the time considering Arizona. He ultimately committed but never made it on campus, instead opting for the NBA Draft.
It’s a story that perfectly illustrates the non-stop nature of recruiting in 2014, especially with the unlimited text messaging rule. Coaches can begin texting prospects starting June 15 upon the completion of their sophomore years.
“I would say the knot in your stomach never goes away about recruiting,” Hufnagel says. “You’re always connected, always on your phone, always talking to kids. It’s a high-stress game.”
Pastner notoriously has called prospects from the delivery room as his wife was in labor. It’s the most time-consuming and demanding part of the job, but it’s part of the job. And any coach that doesn’t understand that won’t last very long.
Hufnagel, for example, hasn’t turned off his cell phone in a year — other than while being on a flight.
“And even then, you get stressed if the airplane doesn’t have WiFi so that you can check texts,” he says. “It never ends.”
7. Spring Signees are in High Demand
Before the winter of 2004, Tyrese Rice was a little-known, smallish point guard at Bird High School in Richmond, Va. At 6-0, he didn’t possess imposing height, and at 165 pounds, he wasn’t exactly a profile in brute strength.
A lightly recruited prospect, he opted to wait to sign until the late period of his senior year. What did he have to lose? He could go through his senior year, put up big numbers, and hope a bigger school noticed.
That year, as fate would have it, Rice’s high school team was set to play Oak Hill, a powerhouse prep school in Virginia that boasts alumni from Jerry Stackhouse to Carmelo Anthony. In that game, as one coach remembers, the unsigned, barely recruited Rice destroyed North Carolina signee Ty Lawson. College coaches, predictably, noticed, and Rice was soon fielding phone calls from Maryland, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, and Boston College. He committed to Boston College and went on to have a prestigious career there.
Rice’s story is the primary piece of evidence for prospects who are considered low- to mid-major to wait out their recruitments. The bigger schools may have a spot come open after a player declares for the NBA Draft. A player may transfer.
In the numbers game that is college basketball recruiting, it makes sense to wait if the situation is right. Sometimes, a prospect can go from having one or two offers to being the most coveted recruit that spring.
“It’s all cyclical,” one SEC assistant coach says. “It’s a domino effect. One thing leads to another. If we have a guy transfer, or declare for the draft, you circle back around. There’s guys you would’ve never recruited that have high-major offers in the spring because you have three guys declare for the draft. In the end, you gotta have bodies.”
8. International players can be tough to scout
Basketball is a global sport in 2014, and there are players everywhere from Montana to Australia. A college coach’s job today is not just to monitor the players that reside in the nearest region or even in the United States; it’s imperative to keep watch internationally.
Under coach Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s has built a reputation as one school that scours the world for prospects with a concentration on Australia. Bennett’s biggest success internationally was landing Patty Mills, who played a big role on the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs this season.
But it can be a tough task evaluating players across the pond, especially considering that the level of competition overseas is considerably weaker than in America. The players are coached differently, they develop different habits, and the American and European styles of basketball aren’t exactly one in the same.
“It’s all about your contacts,” one American Athletic Conference assistant coach says. “You have to have a network of people who can give you the lead on some kids you may not be aware of. Once you do that, you can look at film and some other things like that.”
In recent years, Canada has become part of the firmament of college basketball. Anthony Bennett, Tyler Ennis, and Andrew Wiggins — three first-round NBA Draft picks — all hail from Toronto. In 2014-15, Canadian-born Trey Lyles figures to play significant minutes for Kentucky.
There’s an undeniable international influence on college basketball today. When deciding which prospects to bring over, however, a coach’s basketball instincts are most important.
“If a guy won’t rebound internationally, he won’t collegiately,” the AAC assistant says. “If he can knock it down from the international 3, he can do it from the collegiate 3. A lot of people make this more than what it is. Yes, there’s an art to it, a science to it, but it just comes down to you have to have a vast knowledge of the game.”
9. Letters of Intent aren’t always binding
A National Letter of Intent is, at its core, supposed to be “binding.” When a prospect signs one, whether in November or April, the idea is that he’s locked into the school and the school is locked into him.
But, in reality, that’s not the case at all.
Any time there’s a coaching change at a school, many signees request to be released from their NLIs, even though they’re intended to be binding. There were more than 10 high-level players in the Class of 2014 who requested and were granted releases from their NLI due to a coaching change, free to attend a new school of their choice. One of these players, point guard Devonte Graham, will play a key role for a team with national title aspirations. Graham originally signed with Appalachian State but ended up signing with Kansas, where he will fill a major need. Shelton Mitchell (from Wake Forest to Vanderbilt), Elijah Stewart (Loyola Marymount to USC) and Malek Harris (Marquette to Kansas State) are three other prominent freshmen who were allowed to “walk” after their original school went through a coaching change.
There is one recent high-profile case, however, in which a prospect was not released from his NLI. Isaac Hamilton was a five-star recruit from California in 2012. He signed with Tim Floyd and UTEP, the first five-star high school recruit to choose the Miners perhaps in their history.
But he had a change of heart at the last minute and decided he wanted to be closer to home. When Hamilton asked for a release, Floyd and UTEP refused. Despite going in front of an appeals committee, Hamilton was denied immediate eligibility and was forced to sit out a year at UCLA.
It’s a complicated issue, with both sides obviously prioritizing their own interests. But the NLI itself, in many cases, seems to be an obsolete system.
“The kids do deserve freedom, if there’s a change of coaching or a change of heart,” national college basketball recruiting analyst Evan Daniels said. “That’s real stuff. The NLI doesn’t make much sense to me. There’s not much benefit for the kid, outside of the school giving away the scholarship (if he doesn’t sign). For these elite-level recruits, it’s not doing much for them.”
10. Grad transfers are the ultimate free agents
If you ask most coaches, there’s no better value on the recruiting market than the graduate transfer.
High school players are necessary to build a program, of course, but once you get outside the top 50, it tends to be a crapshoot. Junior college players are stop-gaps, but they often carry baggage with them, whether it be academically, emotionally, or, in the worst cases, criminally.
Graduate transfers are one-year rentals who have been in a college system for at least three years. Last year, Tarik Black of Kansas and Antonio Barton of Tennessee were two of the most prominent grad transfers, helping their respective teams reach the Sweet 16.
Miami (Fla.) has taken a graduate transfer in consecutive years; Joe Thomas of Niagara this year and Donnavan Kirk of DePaul last year.
“It’s a unique scenario,” Miami assistant Chris Caputo said. “Any opportunity for a program to get a little bit older, to get somebody who’s a known commodity because he does have those stats, good or bad, behind his name, and then also to get the scholarship back after a year — it’s a good thing.”
The perception of graduate transfers has changed in recent years, Caputo says. Yes, there tends to be an open market feel to it all. Yes, the NCAA is looking at a way to govern it. But graduate transfers don’t carry the same stigma they once did. In today’s game, it’s considered a luxury.
“It’s another good avenue to build a program,” Caputo says. “To get (a grad transfer) with any sort of numbers behind him, especially a frontcourt player, you’ll see a recruiting frenzy. In terms of priority, those guys become a very big priority.”
We all would like to budget wisely, and it's no different in daily or weekly fantasy football.
If you are playing in a salary capped game at either FanDuel or DraftKings, here are a few value plays and bargains at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions for Week 10 of the NFL season that should allow you to hold on to some of that money to spend on the big-name studs.
This is another big week for byes as we lose six more teams. Gone from your lineups this week are players from Houston, Indianapolis, Minnesota, New England, San Diego, and Washington.
VALUE PLAYS (salaries in parenthesis are that of FanDuel's and DraftKings)
1) Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia vs. Carolina ($6600/5400)
OK. I must admit that typing this just does not seem right. But the Panthers are allowing the sixth-most points to QBs, and have allowed multiple TD passes in six games, including a four-week stretch from Weeks 4-7. Russell Wilson is the only starting QB to dip below 25 points against the Panthers since Week 3, which is normal for the Seattle QB who has five such games this season.
2) Joe Flacco, Baltimore vs. Tennessee ($7200/6900)
Flacco has been OK at home, OK enough to get you through a week with six teams on bye and spend your money elsewhere. He averages 274 yards with eight TDs and three picks in Baltimore. Save for the five-TD torching of Tampa Bay on the road, only three other scores have come away from Baltimore. The Titans have allowed a TD pass in all but one game this season, and have surrendered 257.4 yards passing per game. They allow just as many passing yards away from Nashville as they do at LP Field, and are 10th friendliest against QBs the last five weeks in fantasy PPG.
3) Brian Hoyer, Cleveland vs. Cincinnati ($6300/5900)
Cincinnati has allowed multiple TD passes from the starting QB in four of the last five games, and at least one TD from the starter in all but two games. The yardage has also been decent against Cicny at 265.4 yards per game. Hoyer has a TD pass in all but one game this year, is coming off his second multi-TD game of the season, and has gone 275+ yards in back-to-back games. The Bengals' cornerback situation is a little dicey with Leon Hall suffering a concussion last week and now facing a short week with a Thursday game.
1) Bobby Rainey, Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta ($6700/4400)
He's not fantastic, but he is serviceable on a six-team bye week against the friendliest defense to fantasy running backs. Doug Martin looks to be no threat to Rainey, who has 41 yards on the ground and 64 in the air in the Week 3 meeting in Atlanta. He has since put together two double-digit days, including 121 yards from scrimmage last week at Cleveland. The Falcons have allowed a double-digit day from a RB in all but one game this season, and that was Baltimore's Justin Forsett finishing with 9.5.
2) Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati vs. Cleveland ($6900/5900)
As mentioned, Rainey just put up 121 yards from scrimmage against the Browns, and Hill is coming off a 154-yard rushing day against Jacksonville. He had 24 carries with Giovani Bernard injured, and Bernard is out Thursday night. The Browns are the 11th-friendliest team against fantasy RBs, and have allowed at least 80 yards from a back in six of eight games.
3) Justin Forsett, Baltimore vs. Tennessee ($6500/5000)
It was mix and match once again for Forsett in Pittsburgh last week. He supplemented 38 yards on the ground with 67 through the air. It is the seventh time this season Forsett has posted at least 84 yards from scrimmage. The Titans allow the sixth-most points to running backs, and have already seen three rush for at least 123 yards in eight games.
1) Justin Hunter, Tennessee vs. Baltimore ($5400/4000)
If their connection in his first start was any indication, quarterback Zach Mettenberger loves him some Hunter. The rookie targeted the receiver 10 times in Week 8, and high targets against the Ravens has equated to pretty good results this season. Baltimore allows the second-most points to WRs, and of the 14 receivers that have seen at least eight targets in a game they are averaging 6.5 catches for 86.2 yards with six touchdowns.
2) Roddy White, Atlanta vs. Tampa Bay ($6600/5100)
Seems weird to have to look at White as a value play, but the ups and downs leave him as a great value play this week. He's just inside a WR2 play in both FanDuel and DraftKings and draws a Buccaneers team that allows the most points in the league to receivers. White did not suit up when the teams met in Week 2 and it was Julio Jones hauling in nine balls for 161 yards and two scores on 11 targets. White's targets have fluctuated this season, but he has seen games of 12 and 15 this season with Jones in the lineup. Eleven receivers have seen at least six targets against the Bucs this season and they are averaging 5.5 grabs for 82.2 yards with eight scores. Three receivers have seen double-digit targets, and they average 8.3 catches for 116 yards with four scores.
3) Anquan Boldin, San Francisco vs. New Orleans ($6500/5600)
While it has not been pretty for QB Colin Kaepernick lately, Boldin is doing just fine. He has 90 plus yards receiving in two of his last three games ans has only gone below 60 once since Week 3. The Saints have allowed 11 receivers to post at least 69 yards receiving, and are second friendliest against receivers over the last five weeks.
1) Larry Donnell, New York Giants vs. Seattle ($5300/4400)
The Seahawks have allowed a touchdown to a tight end in five games this season, including Oakland's Mychael Rivera grabbing two last week. Donnell continues to be a volume target for Eli Manning, having garnered at least seven in five games this season along with 12 red zone targets.
2) Owen Daniels, Baltimore vs. Tennessee ($5400/3300)
Tennessee seems to always have a knack for allowing tight ends to succeed, and particularly Owen Daniels in the Gary Kubiak offense. With Kubiak since 2006 and playing the Titans 12 times as a Texan, Daniels averaged 4.1 catches for 52.1 yards and three scores against Tennessee. He's had three games of at least 72 yards and six catches. Daniels is coming off a 6-for-53 game on nine targets. The Titans are fifth friendliest to the position over the last five weeks and 11th for the season.
3) Mychal Rivera, Oakland vs. Denver ($5700/3800)
Ryvera has garnered 19 targets over the last two games after having seen 24 over the first six games combined. He has turned the last two games into 15 catches for 121 yards and two scores. The Broncos have allowed four touchdowns to the tight end position over the last three games have allowing one the first four games. Yardage has been decent against Denver with four TEs going for at least 64 yards, and Antonio Gates added two touchdowns to offset his 54 yards.
@Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Entering Saturday, one of the themes for Michigan State and Ohio State will be the differing character of the two programs.
One program features a classic dropback quarterback while the other runs the spread through a pass-run threat. One program gobbles up five-star recruits while the other finds ways to unearth gems for similar results.
Yet when Michigan State looks across the sideline, the Spartans may see a window into their own recent past.
Ohio State started the 2014 season scrambling for answers on offense due to an August a suspect offensive line and a season-ending injury to Heisman contender Braxton Miller.
In a case of playing the wrong opponent at the wrong time, Ohio State lost 35-21 at home in the second week of the season to a Virginia Tech team that has gone 2-3 since. The Hokies’ pass rush rattled redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett into six sacks and three interceptions.
A year ago, Michigan State was the team with an overwhelmed offense early in the season, losing 17-13 to Notre Dame in Week 4.
If Ohio State can defeat Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday, the Buckeyes could have a chance to do something the Spartans never could — play for a national championship.
One way or another, the winner of Ohio State-Michigan State will present an interesting case for the college football selection committee, an opportunity to show a break for the old system and the flexibility of a more nuanced view of the season.
With the Buckeyes ranked at No. 14, there’s no guarantee this win alone could vault Ohio State into the playoff conversation.
For starters, strength of schedule would not be a winning argument for Ohio State even if the Buckeyes win in East Lansing. Michigan State is the only ranked opponent Ohio State will play until at least the Big Ten championship game.
The counterpoint would be that Ohio State, despite a loss to Virginia Tech that looks worse and worse each week, has improved to one of the top four teams in the country from the start of September to season’s end.
“What we did in August is much different than what we did in November,” Ohio State coach Meyer said. “(Barrett)’s got the full capacity of the entire offense. The first game of the year was nothing close to this.”
That’s where Ohio State is similar to Michigan State. The Spartans broke last season with Andrew Maxwell at quarterback, and Jeremy Langford was settling into the running back position after playing cornerback and wide receiver a spring earlier.
A team still finding its way on offense lost to Notre Dame, but by November, Michigan State was unstoppable in the Big Ten.
“The quarterback position has taken off,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “He’s become much more experienced and proficient, and I think our supporting cast has done the exact same thing. At that time, we had no identity at tailback, wide receiver, quarterback and tight end. Now we have an identity at all those positions. That’s the difference maker.”
In the BCS system, Michigan State last season was never able to generate any buzz as a championship contender despite winning eight games in a row by comfortable margins on the way to a division title.
At this point last season, Michigan State was ranked 17th in the BCS standings. Though the Spartans finished the regular season ranked fourth, they needed an upset of then-undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten title game just to move up from No. 10.
The 2014 Spartans, ranked eighth this week, have a better case than last year’s team or this year’s Ohio State.
Michigan State visited No. 4 Oregon, losing 46-27 in a game that remained competitive until the fourth quarter. Michigan State also defeated No. 13 Nebraska 27-22, again with a bad Spartans fourth quarter denting the final margin.
The Oregon matchup, though, will be key.
The conventional wisdom entering the season is that tougher schedules are supposed to be a factor for the selection committee. Few matchups are more challenging that a true road game to Autzen Stadium against a top-five team.
The question is if Michigan State will be rewarded for such a game even if the Spartans didn’t win. There’s reason for skepticism. Mississippi State has wins over Auburn and LSU on the resume, but the Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule of Southern Miss, UAB and South Alabama offered few tests.
Truth: "Michigan State would be in the top four right now if it had played Central Michigan instead of Oregon." - @slmandel— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) November 5, 2014
And then there’s the conference championship question. The winner of this game will be the frontrunner in the Big Ten East and a likely favorite in the conference championship game.
One of the stated criteria for the selection committee is conference championships.
Yet with the Big Ten’s paltry record against the Power 5 and Notre Dame (5-11), the league may be on the outs with undefeated or one-loss champions in the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.
But what if that doesn’t happen and the committee has to pick between a one-loss Big Ten champion over a one-loss SEC West runner-up?
The selection committee has met to issue rankings twice so far this season only to give us as many questions as answers.
The result of the matchup in East Lansing has enough baggage to keep the questions coming.
It was not a nice summer for the Houston Rockets, and their celebrity general manager Daryl Morey. After Chris Bosh spurned ongoing talks with Houston to return to the Miami Heat on a deal worth around $118 million, the basketball world was ready to the put the Rockets under a headstone. This snippet of Morey whiffing on a ping pong serve seemed telling:
Morey had unloaded Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to free the space for Bosh, Carmelo Anthony or — the dream of dreams — LeBron James. He also let Chandler Parsons sign a deal with the rival Dallas Mavericks (one he chose not to match) and the team looked depleted. Then, James Harden had some fairly graceless things to say to the media.
"Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets," Harden said when asked about his changing roster. "The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We've lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we'll be fine next season.”
Those words cost The Beard some points with his fans, but so far in 2014-15, Harden appears to be right. Parsons has been effectively supplanted by the overlooked Trevor Ariza, an ace defender and knockdown 3-point shooter who fits into Houston’s program a lot more suitably than Parsons ever did. With tenacious point guard Patrick Beverley and a defensively improved Harden, Ariza has become the linchpin to a perimeter stronghold that’s making Dwight Howard’s life protecting the rim much easier.
It’s hard to keep track of in all the debate about Morey’s often-cold style (a common impression Grantland’s Andrew Sharp describes as “treating players like assets instead of humans”) but the Rockets are really good.
They’re off to a 5-0 start, looking vindicated and driven on the heels of a 108-91 statement victory in Miami. And tonight they take on the champion San Antonio Spurs at home, with Texas supremacy at stake, at 8:00 PM ET on TNT.
— John Wilmes
The Philadelphia Eagles were off to their best start in years and sitting atop a surprisingly competitive NFC East when the absolute worst thing happened to them that could happen to a football team. They lost Nick Foles, their starting quarterback, to a broken collarbone for 6-8 weeks.
That is almost always a death blow for teams. There is no more important position in the game — really in all of sports — than the quarterback.
It’s a good thing the Eagles had one of the best backups in the league.
Seriously, say what you want about Mark Sanchez, but few other teams can call on a former starter who twice took a team to a championship game when an emergency arises. A quick look around the NFL shows that most NFL teams employ no-names or has-beens with questionable pedigrees in the backup job. For most teams that doesn’t matter. But when a team looks like a contender and needs a temporary fill in? The backup quarterback suddenly becomes the most important player in the world.
So with that in mind, here’s a quick look at the backup quarterback position on all 32 NFL teams, ranked in order of best to worst …
1. Indianapolis Colts: Matt Hasselbeck — He’s 39 and hasn’t started a game since 2012, but he once led the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl. No other backup QB in football can say they did that.
2. Philadelphia Eagles: Mark Sanchez — He rarely had much talent around him with the Jets, yet he helped them to two AFC championship games. He’s also only 27 with a whole lot to prove.
3. Oakland Raiders: Matt Schaub — The Raiders brought him in to be the starter before they drafted Derek Carr. He’s only two years removed from a pretty good season in Houston.
4. Green Bay Packers: Matt Flynn — Once he was such an accomplished backup he earned a huge contract from the Seahawks. But three teams later, he can’t seem to make it outside of Green Bay.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Campbell — Only 32, he was once a promising starter in Washington. Then his career died in Oakland. But he has started 79 games.
6. Miami Dolphins: Matt Moore — Had a decent year starting for a bad Dolphins team in 2011, then never really got another chance to start.
7 .Washington Redskins: Colt McCoy/Kirk Cousins — Both briefly looked like the best backups in the NFL, and Cousins can be at times, but both have penchant for big mistakes.
8. Carolina Panthers: Derek Anderson — He had a great season in Cleveland in 2007, which was a long, long time ago.
9. Arizona Cardinals: Drew Stanton — A journeyman who hadn’t thrown a pass since 2010, Stanton filled in nicely when Carson Palmer was out for three games. Cards went 2-1 and Stanton didn’t throw an interception.
10. Seattle Seahawks: Tarvaris Jackson — Went from bad starter in Minnesota to mediocre in Seattle, but has a big arm and experience for spot starts.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars: Chad Henne — Has a history of mediocre performances on bad teams. A perfect hold-the-fort guy for a contender, which the Jags are not.
12. Dallas Cowboys: Brandon Weeden — He’d be considered a former first rounder with tons of potential, if he wasn’t already 31 in just his third NFL season.
13. Buffalo Bills: E.J. Manuel — A deposed starter with a future, but after being benched for Kyle Orton he needs to have his confidence rebuilt.
14. Tennessee Titans: Zach Mettenberger — A sixth-round rookie out of LSU, he’s taken over for the benched and disappointing Jake Locker. Threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns in his first start.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh McCown — Threw 13 touchdowns and just one interception in five starts for Chicago last season, but washed out as the Opening Day starter with the Bucs.
16. New Orleans Saints: Luke McCown — A 33-year-old journeyman whose last touchdown pass came in 2007.
17. New York Jets: Geno Smith — Awful as a starter, he lost his job to a shaky Mike Vick, and it’ll be hard for the Jets to go back to him now.
18. St. Louis Rams: Shaun Hill — Their entire quarterback situation is a mess and this 34-year-old career backup doesn’t help.
19. San Diego Chargers: Kellen Clemens — He was once the future of the New York Jets. Now he’s just hanging around at age 31.
20. San Francisco 49ers: Blaine Gabbert — Still only 25 after going bust as Jacksonville’s last franchise quarterback. Trying to revive his career with a better team.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers: Bruce Gradkowski — A backup for almost his entire nine-year career, he’s barely touched the ball in the last four seasons.
22. Minnesota Vikings: Christian Ponder — An awful first-round pick and former starter, he’s just playing out his contract in Minnesota.
23. Atlanta Falcons: T.J. Yates — Played well as a starter for Houston in 2011 until his three-interception playoff meltdown. Hasn’t started a game since.
24. Detroit Lions: Dan Orlovsky — In his ninth NFL season despite only having thrown a pass in four of them.
25. Houston Texans: Ryan Mallett — Acquired from New England in an offseason trade, he’ll make his first start on Sunday. Has completed one pass in four NFL seasons.
26. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel — So much hype and so much potential, but scouts remain split on whether he’s actually got NFL tools. The way Brian Hoyer is playing, we may not find out until next year.
27. New York Giants: Ryan Nassib — Scouts like his arm and IQ, but he’ll never get a shot behind the durable Eli Manning. Couldn’t have landed in a worse spot.
28. New England Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo — Is the second-round pick from Eastern Illinois the heir-apparent to 37-year-old Tom Brady? Depends on when Brady decides he’s done.
29. Kansas City Chiefs – Chase Daniel — Made his first career start in last year’s season finale. Wasn’t bad in narrow loss to Chagers.
30. Baltimore Ravens: Tyrod Taylor — Former sixth-round pick has stuck around behind Joe Flacco mostly because he doesn’t have to play. When he has played a little, he’s been very mediocre.
31. Denver Broncos: Brock Osweiler — Broncos know they’re done if Peyton Manning gets injured, so the backup doesn’t matter. They just hope the 23-year-old picks up some good tips.
32. Chicago Bears: Jimmy Clausen — Was pretty bad as a rookie starter in Carolina in 2010. No reason to think he’d be any different now.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
Hosts Braden Gall and Steven Lassan preview the big games of Week 11. Huge showdowns in East Lansing, Fort Worth, Norman, Salt Lake City, Baton Rouge and Tempe highlight a critical weekend in college football. We pick every big game and also offer up some locks of the week against the spread.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 6:
• The Jets are going to play in London in 2015. This just might kill England's interest in the NFL.
• This is cool: Wheaties made a box for Lauren Hill.
• This is kind of amazing: Tom Brady has a .500 or better record against every NFL team.
• Kacey Musgraves left Tim Tebow hanging at the CMAs. Tom Brady feels his pain.
• Watch Gordon Hayward's game-winning dagger against LeBron and the Cavs.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
It hasn’t been a good start to the most-hyped season of Cleveland Cavaliers history. LeBron James and Co. have won just one game, and lost three. The most recent fall was to one of last season’s worst teams, the Utah Jazz. Forward Gordon Hayward made sure of it with this game-winning shot:
Cleveland’s still got a large mess of issues to resolve before they look like the championship contender everyone anointed them going into the year. Last night’s latest effort at mending their chemistry woes came in the form of a starting lineup change. The much-maligned Dion Waiters was bumped to the bench in favor of veteran wingman Shawn Marion, a one-time champion with the Dallas Mavericks team that thwarted James and the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.
This loss doesn’t fall on LeBron, though. With 31 points, LeBron put in his team’s second-best performance of the night — only Kyrie Irving bested him, racking up an efficient 34. The startling statistic for the Cavs is their assist total: They collected just six as a team. The young Jazz had 26.
There’s a lot of chemistry to be built in Cleveland. Sharing the ball isn’t easy when you’re playing with new teammates; offensive teamwork relies on being able to know where your partners are going to show up on the floor, and when. It’s too soon for this team to have developed that kind of familiarity — and that shows. There’s a bevy of NBA players who average more assists individually than the Cavs were able to tally as a team in this contest.
The Cavs’ daunting Western Conference road trip continues Friday night in Denver, as Cleveland tries to right the ship in the thin air of the Nuggets’ Pepsi Center altitude. Catch the game at 7:00 PM ET on NBA TV.
— John Wilmes