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September 18, 2004. That's the last time the scoreboard read in Tennessee's favor in the Third Saturday in October. Butch Jones was still an offensive coordinator at Central Michigan, yet to begin his head coaching stints at CMU, Cincinnati and Tennessee. After several disappointing seasons with Derek Dooley at the helm, Jones appears to have righted the ship with Tennessee starting the season with a 4-3 record. After falling short against Georgia in overtime, the Volunteers came back with an impressive 23-21 victory over South Carolina. Things don't get any easier for Tennessee in what has been a brutal three-game stretch. This week they get the nation's top team in Alabama. The Crimson Tide is not only undefeated but has rolled teams this year with an average margin of victory of 31 points. Tune in to CBS at 3:30 pm ET to see if Tennessee can turn the tide on Nick Saban and Alabama.
Three Things to Watch
Can Alabama's defense be scored on?
The Crimson Tide defense has been stellar this year. They allow an NCAA-best 9.7 points per game. Outside of the outlier of 42 points Johnny Manziel and A&M put up on Alabama, the Tide have only allowed 26 points in six games. Tennessee has struggled at times this season with offensive consistency and it's hard to imagine a scenario where they put up big numbers. The Crimson Tide's defense has struggled at times with a dual-threat quarterback. That is not Justin Worley's strong suit.
Yards after contact
The Vols defense missed 15 tackles last week, as their issues with tackling in space have continued. The Tide has a bevy of talented receivers that are excellent at running after the catch. DeAndrew White, Amari Cooper and Kenny Bell have been especially adept at turning into great runners after the reception. Tennessee really can't afford to give the Tide extra yardage and easier first downs. Let's not forget the surprisingly powerful T.J. Yeldon, who does a great job of keeping his feet churning through traffic.
Both teams are third in the SEC with +4 turnover differential, which has been a key reason for each program's success this year. However, Tennessee got five of those turnovers in a six-play span against Western Kentucky. Justin Worley is much more likely to make mistakes as he has thrown six interceptions. On the other hand, AJ McCarron has been nearly flawless this season. He has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions. It will surely be hard for Tennessee to create any turnovers, while just one giveaway by the Vols could be enough to bury them.
Key Player: Pig Howard, WR, Tennessee
With safety Vinnie Sunseri out for the season, Howard should be able to roam the middle of the field with freedom. Sunseri was a smart, veteran presence who was always in the right spot. Alabama is much more susceptible to a blown coverage or two without the defensive captain. Howard amassed 116 yards on 10 touches against Georgia and caught a career-high eight passes for 33 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina. With Deion Belue locked up on Marquez North, Howard seems poised for a big game.
Tennessee has make huge strides this year; however, this is still Alabama. The line on this game is 28.5 and that doesn't seem far off from what reality will bring. Tennessee is improved, but Alabama is the nation's best team. This should be another throttling as the Crimson Tide will surely grab their 10th straight victory in the rivalry. Nick Saban's teams just don't lose to inferior talent.
Prediction: Alabama 42, Tennessee 10
Two teams that are 4-3 in the NFC and more known for offense will go toe-to-toe on Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys matchup with the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m. ET on FOX. Strap in and get ready for this one because the points should come in bunches. What we have here is two of the NFL's most explosive passing attacks, as both rank in the top 10 in points per game and passing yards per contest. In fact, both of these teams average over 26 points per game. Tony Romo has already proven he can keep up in a scoring bonanza-type of game as he threw for 506 yards and five touchdowns when his Cowboys put up 48 points on the Broncos earlier this month. The Lions could use a win as they are in a tight, NFC North battle with the Packers and Bears, while the Cowboys look to create separation in a very weak NFC East. This will be the 25th all-time meeting between the two franchises, with the Cowboys leading the head-to-head series 13-11.
3 Things to Watch
On display for NFL fans will be two of the most statistically productive quarterbacks of 2013 thus far. Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo are tied for second in the NFL with 15 touchdown passes each. Stafford has completed 61.4 percent of his throws for 2,129 yards, which is third-most in the league. Tony Romo is no slouch either as he has completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 2,010. Romo has more passing yards in his first 100 starts than any player in NFL history. Romo and Stafford are third and fourth in the league, respectively, in passing completions. Expect the ball to be thrown all over the field as these two signal-callers combine to average almost 80 passes per game. These quarterbacks should feast off of a Cowboys defense that ranks 30th in the league in passing defense and a Lions defense that comes in just one spot better, 29th.
Can Dez Bryant walk the walk?
Earlier this week Bryant was quoted as saying that he believes he can do anything on the football field that Calvin Johnson can. It's time for Bryant to back his talk up as he faces off against Johnson and the Lions this week. Bryant's claim may not be as far-fetched as many think, as he has been quite impressive this season. His 42 catches trail just Brandon Marshall among NFC receivers and his six touchdown receptions are third in the NFL. The other receiver that is tied with Bryant with six scores is Johnson. The man known as Megatron, despite missing some action this year has 33 catches and is averaging nearly fifteen yards per grab. As mentioned earlier, neither team's secondary has been strong this year. The Lions don't have a top-level cornerback; however, while the Cowboys do have Brandon Carr.
Dallas was without starting running back DeMarco Murray and linebacker DeMarcus Ware last week. Murray appears to be on track to return this week after being held out with a knee sprain. He practiced for the second straight day on Thursday and should be ready to go come Sunday. On the other hand, Ware seems to be much less likely to play. The All-Pro sat out of practice on Thursday as he continues to rest his injured quad. The initial prognosis on the injury said it would take him three to four weeks to recover; however, Ware said he aimed to be back sooner. The Cowboys could really use him to pressure Stafford and keep him from tearing up the Dallas secondary.
Key Player for Detroit: DeAndre Levy, LB
Levy leads the NFL in interceptions. Sitting in the middle of the Lions defense, he could be the recipient of a Tony Romo mistake as the Dallas quarterback has a tendency to force the ball over the middle to tight end Jason Witten from time to time. As big interception could swing what is sure to be an offensive shootout.
Key Player for Dallas: Dwayne Harris, KR/PRA
Harris is second in the NFL in yards per kick return and yards per punt return. He returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown two weeks ago against the Redskins. Harris will definitely give the Cowboys a leg up when it comes to field position. Both offenses are sure to be clicking so it could be a special teams play that turns the tide in this one.
I like the Detroit Lions in this one. A key factor to consider is that the Lions have given up just nine sacks this season, tied for the lowest in the NFL. The offensive line's ability to keep Matthew Stafford unscathed will prove to be a major advantage in this one. Without De Marcus Ware I don't expect the Cowboys to mount any sort of intimidating pass rush. On the other end, the Lions' fierce defensive line should get in Tony Romo's face early and often. For me, the versatility and explosiveness of Reggie Bush swings this one, as the Lions are masterful at creating mismatches for him with linebackers and safeties.
Detroit 35, Dallas 31
Locks of the Week
Continue to ride this year’s lone undefeated in the league and anticipate a bounce back from a team that once went unbeaten.
Chiefs (-7) vs. Browns
The Marty Schottenheimer Bowl pits an undefeated K.C. squad against a Brown-bag club whose four losses have come by an average of nearly 14 points.
Patriots (-4.5) vs. Dolphins
The P-Men have not lost to the Fins since a 22–21 letdown on Dec. 6, 2009. Expect Rob Gronkowski to earn respect with a dominant Gronk performance.
Two of the best teams in the NFL take on a two of the most embarrassing — one winless and one hoping to lure Brett Favre out of retirement.
49ers (-13.5) vs. Jaguars (at London)
London’s “home” team will be beaten by San Fran hooligans in the first year of Jacksonville’s four-year commitment in England.
Seahawks (-10) at Rams
This Monday nighter will coincide with Game 5 of the World Series in St. Louis. No one in the Gateway to the West will watch this blowout.
Peyton Manning will bounce back from the unexpected loss at Indianapolis last Sunday night, but it won’t be easy.
Redskins (+13) at Broncos
Mike Shanahan’s Mile High homecoming may or may not end in a win, but it won’t be a landslide, either.
Stay away from these games unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action on every game, every week.
Saints (-12.5) vs. Bills
Don’t know why, but Buffalo continues to roam into covers and/or straight up upsets with Thad Lewis under center.
Bengals (-7) vs. Jets
Cincinnati avoided a local blackout. But the fact that there was some debate for the AFC North leaders is not a good sign.
Eagles (-6.5) vs. Giants
Neither of these NFC East squads is reliable in anything but their unreliability.
Packers (-6) at Vikings
Adrian Peterson rushed for a combined 508 yards and scored three total TDs in three games (including playoffs) against Green Bay last season.
Lions (-3) vs. Cowboys
Shockingly the Dez Bryant vs. Calvin Johnson debate has taken flight, which both these teams are capable of.
Cardinals (-2.5) vs. Falcons
Carson Palmer has a five-game multi-INT streak; Matt Ryan has thrown two picks in one game since a five-INT dud vs. Zona in 2012.
Steelers (-1.5) at Raiders
NFL Films “Voice of God” John Facenda should voiceover the highlights/lowlights of this throwback rivalry, if only for old times’ sake.
10. Matt Holliday misses home, 2007 NL West Play-In
This Wild Card tie-breaker isn't really a playoff game, but we're including this game 163 in our countdown since it came after the regular season. In the bottom of the 13th inning, the Rockies' Matt Holliday was at third when Jamey Carroll then hit a line drive to right fielder Brian Giles. Holliday tagged up at third and slid headfirst on a close play at home plate. Home plate umpire Tim McClelland ruled Holliday safe on the sacrifice fly, and the Rockies won the game 9–8. Controversy arose after the game as to whether Holliday had actually touched home plate or if catcher Michael Barrett had successfully blocked him. Upon further review it does appear that Holliday never touched home. The Rockies went on to win the National League pennant thanks in part to this play.
9. Joe Mauer fair ball, 2009 ALDS (Game 2)
The Yankees and the Twins were in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the ALDS. Joe Mauer of the Twins led off the inning with a hit deep into left field. The ball bounced off right fielder Melky Cabrera's glove in fair territory, and then bounced out of play, which should have resulted in a ground rule double — but umpire Phil Cuzzi called the ball foul. Mauer ended up with a single later in the at bat. The two batters following him also hit singles, but the inning ended with Mauer on third. The Yankees went on to win the game and sweep the series.
8. Infield-Fly Rule, 2012 NL WC Game
The Cardinals were leading the Braves 6-3 when a fly ball by the Braves' Andeltron Simmons fell in between Matt Holliday and Pete Kozma. Left-field umpire Sam Holbrook had made what appeared to be a late infield fly ruling, calling Simmons out and leaving runners at second and third. Braves fans began throwing bottles, cups and other items on the field in protest, creating a 19-minute delay. The Braves went on to make an early exit from the playoffs in what would be Chipper Jones' last game.
7. Reggie Jackson's hip, 1978 WS (Game 4)
The Dodgers had a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning and the Yankees had runners on first and second when Lou Piniella hit a line drive at Los Angeles shortstop Bill Russell. Russell dropped the ball, picked it up and stepped on second for the force out. He attempted to turn the double play with a throw to first, but the ball wound up in right field when Jackson, standing in the base line, appeared to stick his hip out to deflect the throw. A run scored on the play, and the Yankees tied it with a run in the eighth before winning it in the 10th on Piniella's RBI single to even the series at 2-2.
6. Chuck Knoblach's phantom tag, 1999 ALCS (Game 4)
What is now known as the phantom tag happened in the 1999 ALCS between the Yankees and the Red Sox was one of the worst calls in playoffs history. In game 4 of the ALCS, Red Sox' Jose Offerman was running between first base and second base. Chuck Knoblauch reached out to tag Offerman and then threw to first for the double play. The umpire called Offerman out, but it was clear that Knoblauch had missed the tag. The Yankees went on to win the pennant on their way to winning their second consecutive World Series.
5. Eric Gregg's strike zone, 1997 NLCS (Game 5)
This isn't a call as much as a game-long nightmare for the Atlanta Braves. In game 5 of the 1997 NLCS between the Braves and the Florida Marlins, Eric Gregg was the home plate umpire, and for the game's duration, he gave Livan Hernandez a monstrous and expansive strike zone. Gregg called several of Hernandez's pitches that were clearly balls as strikes, some of which looked to be almost a foot off the plate. With two out in the top of the ninth and the Marlins leading 2-1, Fred McGriff came to bat as the last chance for the Braves in game 5. With two strikes, Hernandez through a pitch up and outside to McGriff, and Gregg punched him out to end the game and give the Marlins a 3-2 series lead. Florida closed out the series the next game and advanced to the World Series.
4. Jeffrey Maier, 1996 ALCS (Game 1)
This is one call nearly everyone is familiar with. In the first game of the ALCS, the Yankees were losing 4-3 when Derek Jeter drove the ball toward the right field wall. Baltimore Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco went back for the catch at the wall, but 12-year-old Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier reached out and pulled the ball into the stands. The right-field umpire, Rich Garcia, missed the fan interference, giving Jeter a home run that tied the game. The Yankees would ultimately win on a home run in the 11th inning and later take the series four games to one.
3. Armbrister-Fisk collison, 1975 WS (Game 3)
In game three of the 1975 World Series, the Reds were leading Boston 5-1. The Red Sox made a comeback and tied it up, sending the game into extra innings. With a runner on first in the bottom of the 10th inning, Ed Armbrister laid down a bunt that Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk went to field. Armbrister collided with him, forcing a wild throw to second. Armbrister wasn't charged with interference as the runners moved to second and third. Thanks to the no-call, the Reds scored on a sacrifice fly. Cincinnati went on the win the series in seven games, solidifying their status as the Big Red Machine.
2. Ron Gant's leg, 1991 WS (Game 2)
In Game 2 of the 1991 World Series series, the Twins were up 2-1 when Ron Gant came to the plate in the top of the third inning with two outs. With a runner on base, Gant was looking to even up the score, and he ripped a single into left field, taking a long turn around first before returning to the base. The Twins relayed the ball to first baseman Kent Hrbek. As Gant stepped back on first, Hrbek seemingly pulled Gant's leg off the base. The umpire called Gant out. This was the last real threat the Braves were able to mount all game. Minnesota went on to win the series in seven games.
1. Don Denkinger, 1985 WS (Game 6)
This is the undisputed worst call in playoff history. In fact, it may just be the worst in MLB history. The Cardinals had a 3-2 lead in the series with a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. Jorge Orta hit a ground ball to Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark. Clark threw to pitcher Todd Worrell, who was covering first. Worrell beat Orta to the base, but first base umpire Don Denkinger called him safe. Replays clearly show that Orta was out by at least a step. Denkinger's blown call led to the Royals scoring two in the ninth to win game 6. They closed the series out the next night for their first championship in team history.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Oct. 25.
• This is exercise-related, so I'm counting it as sports: 25 sexy yoga poses. Depending on where you're employed, they might not all be entirely SFW.
• So there's another World Series with the Red Sox involved. What's a Yankees fan to do?
• I've seen fire, and I've seen rain, but I've never seen a dude launch into America, The Beautiful at national anthem time.
• Anatomy of a de-cleating: Pat McAfee takes us through his destruction of Trindon Holliday.
• Humiliating own-goals never fail to be funny. The Lightning had a good one last night.
• The best sports pranks caught on video. I like the one where Billy Donovan drops a replica national championship crystal.
• Turns out Vodka Samm's a person, not a punchline. Oh, well, we'll always have .341.
• A Vikings fan who vowed in 1975 not to shave his beard until his team won the Super Bowl has died. Beard very much intact.
• Watch Cam Newton and Steve Mariucci get the bejeezus scared out of them by a cannon at Raymond James Stadium.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
1. When will Jimmie Johnson’s Martinsville fortune run out?
I’ve been writing and talking this week about the shared topic of many others tasked with putting words together about Sunday’s race. That topic? Jimmie Johnson’s magical Martinsville touch.
It’s almost unfathomable how good he has been on the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway over the last decade or so. With eight wins total (seven in his last 14 starts) and enough top-5 finishes to turn the place into his personal playground, Johnson can only be expected to continue the trend in Sunday’s race. He did, after all, average the first-place position back in the spring.
But a good portion of racing always includes luck. In fact, Johnson found a lot of the bad version of luck in the late summer stretch of the regular season.
When will his Martinsville luck take a brief break or a three-day vacation from the friendly venue that is Martinsville Speedway? When will Johnson catch a flat tire, broken part or a lapped car at the wrong moment?
After last week when most everyone expected a wild Chase mix-up at Talladega and it never really materialized, it’s not wise to say Johnson should be nervous this weekend about losing his slim points lead.
But it’s interesting to think about when Johnson will actually face the necessary demons, ills and worthless luck that so often pervades many-a-driver’s career at a short track. Knowing Johnson, of course, it’ll happen in the regular season spring race.
2. NASCAR finally implements concussion testingA year after the sport’s most prominent driver — Dale Earnhardt Jr. — sat out four races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup thanks to a concussion; a year after four-time series champion Jeff Gordon made it abundantly clear that he would never voluntarily sit himself (without doctor’s orders) in case of concussion-like symptoms; and a year after Denny Hamlin walloped the wall during a Kansas practice session and stated later that the demands of the Chase probably got him back in the car too quickly, NASCAR has finally implemented an accountable system for checking concussions in the sport.
The sanctioning body announced Thursday that drivers would be subject to a concussion baseline screening before the 2014 season (and, expectantly, every season beyond that) to help officials better identify if a hard crash had caused a brain injury.
It’s a slow step, sure, but it’s also the right step. However, be wary of how stringent NASCAR’s standards for participation will be. Say Jimmie Johnson is leading the points by 25 with a race to go in 2014 and knocks the wall down in the season-finale practice while suffering a potential concussion.
What are the odds NASCAR actually prohibits his participation? Who knows. NASCAR is now in a smart territory by checking for the injuries, but also in a messy one in case it needs to sit a driver for a few weeks.
For what it’s worth, should NASCAR build a point system more focused on high finishes and wins, it’d reduce the effect of sitting a driver who needs to sit. That is, of course, a whole other discussion.
3. Front Row Motorsports looking for two in a row
David Ragan didn’t leave Talladega holding his defending winner status. Teammate David Gilliland didn’t get his retribution for finishing second to Ragan in the spring, either.
But both Front Row Motorsports teammates had to leave the behemoth racetrack pretty enamored with the pair of top 10s scored by the underfunded team. They took home a better prize purse, earned some much needed points and even kept the body shop from performing a substantial rebuild on either car. Making matters better, they get to a Martinsville track where mid-season testing may be an advantage.
“We took a brand new car, one that was one of the first few of an improved build done at Front Row Motorsports,” Ragan said of the Martinsville test.
Testing is a premium for the small-budget team, so seeing if Ragan or Gilliland fare in Sunday’s race will be an interesting footnote.
“You have to worry about your brakes and handling and getting off the corner,” Ragan said. “It just makes for good racing. I think it goes back to your old-school days when you had a ton of race cars on a short track.”
4. Matt Kenseth can’t afford late-race Martinsville fadeMatt Kenseth raced the best of his career at Martinsville Speedway back in April. But there was just one problem: He still finished 14th.
Kenseth suited up for the April event knowing plenty well that Martinsville had long ranked as one of the worst tracks in his career. It’s not often, after all, that a driver of Kenseth’s caliber stakes a claim to a top-10 percentage of 30.7 at any racetrack after 25 starts.
It was Kenseth’s move to Joe Gibbs Racing that stands as the most obvious answer as to why he led a career-high 96 laps and tallied the third-best average running position of all drivers in the spring race. JGR has long been successful with Kenseth’s teammate Denny Hamlin at the short track.
But it’s still a head-scratcher as to why his No. 20 Toyota faded so quickly down the stretch. With 80 percent of the race completed, Kenseth stood sixth. By the checkered flag, he was down to 14th.
Such a perilous drop during Sunday’s race if, as expected, Jimmie Johnson runs and finishes up front could be a disaster to Kenseth’s title hopes. There are simply too few races remaining for hopeful expectations of large points swings to be a reality for title underdogs.
5. Pit stall selection will play huge role in late-race track position
Teams will breathe a sigh of relief Friday at Martinsville thanks to the chilly but clear weather forecast that will provide maximum track time and the opportunity to qualify for Sunday’s race. That’s because of Martinsville’s pit road layout that tends to lend a strong advantage to drivers who qualify well.
Martinsville, like its short track cousin Bristol Motor Speedway, is old enough to be a part of the tracks in NASCAR that used to have two pit roads. In fact, look closely enough at the Martinsville backstretch this weekend and you can see how the old pit road wall remains.
Now that Martinsville has one pit road, however, the confined area and lengthy travel (pit road wraps from the entrance of Turn 3 to the exit of Turn 2) make pit selection critical for teams looking to score good finishes. The best spots are at the end of pit road in Turn 2 thanks to the heavy congestion that can build up along the frontstretch and the clear shot back to the track offered by a pit stall near the end of the speed-limited zone.
Teams, like always, will pick stalls based on where the driver has qualified. In the spring, no one other than Jimmie Johnson won the pole, giving the No. 48 the best pit stall at the end of pit road. He wound up using it masterfully, as he took the lead from Matt Kenseth during a caution and pit road sequence with 137 laps to go and never looked back on his way to the win.
In the preseason, Missouri and Auburn were picked as borderline bowl teams. Missouri was coming off a 5-7 record last year, while Auburn went 3-9 in 2012 and had an offseason coaching change.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was also tabbed for the hot seat after last year, but the Tigers are a surprising 7-0 and are the favorite to win the SEC East in 2013. Even though quarterback James Franklin was sidelined due to a shoulder injury, the offense hasn’t missed a beat under redshirt freshman Maty Mauk.
New Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has made an immediate impact on the offense, as the Tigers average 494.3 yards per game and have scored at least 20 points in every contest this year.
With both teams poised to contend for a double-digit win total, Missouri and Auburn are two of the biggest surprise teams in college football for 2013.
Missouri or Auburn: Which Team is the Biggest Surprise in the SEC in 2013?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is a tough call, but I’d give a slight edge to Missouri. I thought Auburn had the talent in place to rebound back to a six or seven-win season. With Gus Malzahn returning to campus, and both sides of the ball possessing a ton of talent from top-15 recruiting classes, a bowl game and finishing fourth or fifth in the SEC West wasn’t out of the question. Missouri was a tougher team to get a read on in the preseason. Coach Gary Pinkel was tabbed for the hot seat, and the Tigers had a handful of key injuries that played a role in the 5-7 record from 2012. Although I expected Missouri to be better, I thought the projected win ceiling was lower than it was at Auburn. Regardless of how this season ends for Missouri, Pinkel deserves a lot of credit for getting the program back on track and showing Missouri can compete (and win) in the SEC.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I’d still have to say Missouri. The Tigers are a win over South Carolina away from all but clinching the SEC East. That says as much about the SEC East and its injury issues than anything. But when Missouri entered the SEC, the Tigers never looked like a program that could win an SEC division at any time in the foreseeable future, much less in Year 2. This was a program that had to wait until it beat Kentucky to sell T-shirts celebrating its first SEC win. Missouri is not only sailing past the field in the SEC East, it’s doing so convincingly. The Tigers have a defense this season that is as good as any in the league. And it’s offense, with or without James Franklin, has been prolific. Auburn, more often than not, was going to have a competitive team in the SEC, even if this year’s turnaround is a surprise. I had misgivings about Missouri being able to say the same. At least this season, Missouri has proven doubters like me wrong.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Both teams control their own destiny in their respective divisions and could meet in the SEC title game. And while it is shocking to see the Mizzou defensive line play so well without NFL star and first-round pick Sheldon Richardson, it's the Yellowhammer Tigers that have to be considered the bigger surprise. Historic injuries have only weakened the already inferior SEC East and Gary Pinkel is an established coach with an established program. Gus Malzahn is a first-year coach with a first-year quarterback in much tougher division taking over a program that was winless in the SEC last year. Both may lose games down the stretch but Auburn has been and likely will continue to be the much bigger surprise. At least, until the Iron Bowl.
Josh Ward, (@Josh_Ward), Mr. SEC
It has to be Missouri. The Tigers entered the season picked by the media to finish sixth in the SEC East. Reaching a bowl game would have been considered a successful season by most outsiders. Instead, Missouri has an undefeated record and two-game lead in the division after its first seven games. The Tigers have proven many doubters wrong. Just four weeks ago, several participants on an Athlon Sports roundtable – this writer included – denied Missouri was a contender in the SEC. The Tigers might not win their division, but they are certainly a contender to do so. Missouri’s offense has legitimate playmakers and its defense is disruptive. That doesn’t take away from Auburn’s 6-1 start. The Tigers have been terrific under first-year head coach Gus Malzahn, and last week’s win at Texas A&M provided a huge boost for the program. But Auburn was a popular pick to take a step forward this season. No one predicted Missouri would be ranked in the top five of the initial BCS standings. That’s where the Tigers find themselves heading into a big game against South Carolina.
While Missouri has certainly earned my respect in getting off to a 7-0 start, I'm going to pick the Tigers that call the SEC West home, and no I don't mean LSU. What Gus Malzahn has done in his first season back on the Plains is nothing short of miraculous. Auburn won three games in 2012, and one of those was against a FCS team. Last season's Tigers barely managed 300 yards of offense a game. This season, with pretty much the same roster, they are averaging that many on the ground alone (300.5 rushing yards per game). The offense has done a complete 180, while the defense has played very well in its own right. The end result, bowl eligibility before the final game of October with a realistic shot at reversing 2012's 3-9 mark. In fact, if Auburn maintains its level of play it could enter the Iron Bowl against Alabama the final Saturday in November with a spot in the SEC Championship game on the line. While Missouri has just about clinched the SEC East title and has looked quite impressive in the process, those Tigers went 2-6 in conference play last season. The fact that Auburn could possibly go from 0-8 in the nation's toughest conference one season to dethroning Alabama the next is something that no one, including the most die-hard of Tiger fans, probably even dreamed of this year
Stephen Schindler (@SteveSchindler)
Auburn has the biggest surprise win, beating Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M at Kyle Field last week; however, the Missouri Tigers are the surprise team in the SEC. Last year, the Tigers finished 5-7, with just two SEC victories over Kentucky and Tennessee. They appeared overmatched in a superior conference, and Gary Pinkel was firmly on the hot seat coming into this year. While I didn’t think it would happen so fast, I knew the hiring of Gus Malzahn would lead to large improvements for Auburn. I don’t think many people thought a big improvement was in the cards for Missouri this year. James Franklin has had a resurgent year after a down 2012, and the defense looks fierce with Michael Sam terrorizing quarterbacks. Perhaps even more shocking is Missouri’s success without Franklin, as they look impressive with freshman Maty Mauk under center. If the Tigers can take down South Carolina on Saturday, the 8-0 start would best Pinkel’s 7-0 start with his 2010 Missouri team.
National Signing Day 2012 was supposed to be a watershed day for Missouri football.
The Tigers won a recruiting battle that day with Arkansas for Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation’s No. 1 prospect. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound receiver from Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest would give quarterback James Franklin a big target in Missouri’s prolific spread offense.
More important, the signing showed Missouri would be able to grab recruits on par with their opponents in the SEC, the league the Tigers joined less than three months earlier.
That assumption was wrong.
Green-Beckham has been excellent as a sophomore, one of the key members of a standout receiving corps. But receivers aren’t always the foundation for SEC champions. Defensive linemen are.
In that way, Missouri’s key recruit for the surprising 2013 run was a lightly recruited defensive end who signed three recruiting cycles before Green-Beckham. Fifth-year senior Michael Sam, from Hitchcock, Texas, is a more typical example of how Missouri builds contenders. Green-Beckham is the outlier.
Now the SEC’s leader in sacks and tackles for loss, Sam was an undersized end in high school, playing on the mainland across from Galveston, Texas. Hitchcock High rarely produced Division I talent, and when it did, prospects went to Houston or Sam Houston State.
Recruited by Arizona State, Iowa State, Colorado State and Houston before signing with Mizzou, Sam has become one of the frontrunners for SEC defensive player of the year on the surprise team in the league. On Saturday, the 7-0 Tigers can all but seal the SEC East with a win over South Carolina.
With a defensive line comprised mostly of players passed on by Big 12 powers, Missouri has improved from 5-7 in the Tigers’ first season in the SEC to No. 5 in the initial BCS rankings.
“Missouri’s made a living off finding those guys that bigger programs didn’t want to waste their time on and turn them in prospects,” said Barton Simmons, national recruiting analyst for 247Sports.
The top six players on Missouri’s defensive line include five recruits who were three-star prospects in the 247 Composite. Only one, Kony Ealy, was a four-star recruit out of high school.
Those kinds of recruiting numbers, for what they’re worth, is rare for an SEC contender.
“We have an evaluation system and we don’t have stars on it,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “We have a system and we believe in our system. That’s how we make our decisions.”
The system, at least this season, is to play zone and led pass rushers like Sam and Ealy work against the pass, Georgia coach Mark Richt said. His quarterback, Aaron Murray, threw two interceptions and took two sacks in the loss to the Tigers two weeks ago.
Missouri leads the SEC in sacks per game at 3.3. The next best teams, Auburn and Georgia, average 2.7. Only Alabama is allowing fewer than Missouri’s 3.6 yards per carry, and only Auburn averages more tackles for a loss per game.
“They play a lot of zone coverage and cover 2,” Richt said. “It’s difficult to throw the ball down the field against that look. They force you to be patient. They force you to try to get an eight-, nine-, 10-, 11-play drive and they figure someone will self-destruct along the way.”
Missouri’s secret weapon, for years, has been defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski. Kuligowski, who played one season under Nick Saban at Toledo in 1990, has been the line coach for Pinkel since 1996 at Toledo and on Pinkel’s staff since 1992.
Kuligowski helped develop some of these unearthed recruits into prized NFL prospects, including end Aldon Smith (seventh overall pick in 2011) and tackle Ziggy Hood (No. 32 pick in 2009).
“Craig Kuligowski is one of the best defensive line coaches in the country and he deserves recognition for how he develops players,” Pinkel said. “We develop kids as good or better than anyone in the country.”
Granted, Missouri may be benefitting from a league-wide drain on defensive talent as well. In the last two NFL drafts, a total of 16 defensive players from the SEC have been selected in the first round. But one of those 16 was Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Linebacker Zavier Gooden also followed in the third round.
Meanwhile, the SEC East has become injury central. This season, Missouri has caught a break as one of the healthiest teams in the division, even after starting quarterback James Franklin went down with a separated shoulder Oct. 12.
Georgia has played most, if not all, of the conference season without running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin-Scott Wesley. Missouri defeated the Bulldogs 41-26 in Athens.
By the time Missouri played Florida, the Gators were down five starters to injury and lost a sixth, defensive back Cody Riggs, to a targeting ejection on the first play of the game. Missouri won 36-17.
"Craig Kuligowski is one of the best defensive line coaches in the country and he deserves recognition for how he develops players. We develop kids as good or better than anyone in the country.”
-Missouri coach Gary Pinkel
Put an asterisk on Missouri’s 7-0 start if you must, but the Tigers could wrap up a sweep of SEC East powers this week.
The question then becomes if a peculiar geographic fit in the SEC can become a consistent player.
When Missouri grabbed high-level recruits like Green-Beckham or Richardson, they tended to be within state lines. Missouri built a winner in the Big 12 by doing what most teams not named Oklahoma or Texas do — dip into the Lone Star State find under-recruited prospects or developmental projects.
Now in the SEC, Missouri is trying to do the same with a Southeastern approach.
For example, Missouri’s 2014 class includes six commitments from the state of Florida virtually ignored by Florida, Florida State, Miami and even UCF. Missouri’s two commitments from Nashville, Tenn., did not have offers from Tennessee or Vanderbilt. Three-star receiver commit Nate Brown was offered by Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt but not Georgia or Auburn.
“They’re getting good players, but they’re getting guys that the other SEC powers didn’t want,” Simmons said. “That’s a cause for concern if you’re any other program, but because of the track record Missouri has had there’s every reason to think they know what they’re doing.”
Like it or not, Las Vegas rarely gets it wrong, so tracking betting lines should always be a big part of each football weekend — even if there are no bets on the line. Last week, I played my hand at the big game and missed in a big way — by taking Clemson. So, as you will see below, I haven't learned my lesson. (Is there such a thing as Rebound Alert?) I was all over two of the big SEC upsets, however, as I advised taking both Auburn and Vanderbilt. My 3-3 week kept me six games above .500 for the season, and therefore, am still making money (if I gambled).
This week, I am going after five road teams — three favorites and two dogs. Enjoy...
2013 Record Against the Spread: 25-19-1 (3-3 last week)
Week 9 Picks of the Week:
Clemson (-14) at Maryland
Three weeks ago the Terrapins were unbeaten and ranked in the top 25. After a 63-0 drubbing by Florida State, a one-point win over Virginia and a 24-point defeat at the hands of Wake Forest, Maryland has fallen apart. Quarterback C.J. Brown is banged up and both of his star wideouts — Stefon Diggs and Deon Long — are out for the season. Clemson, meanwhile, should be extremely upset about how it played last weekend against the Seminoles. Tajh Boyd wins big. Prediction: Clemson -14
Utah (+7) at USC
Depth is starting to hurt the Trojans in a big way on both sides of the ball and across all positions. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson was injured last weekend but is back in the lineup for this road trip to L.A. Southern Cal is 2-5 against the spread and still has a glorified defensive line coach in Ed Orgeron leading the way on the sidelines. I’ll take the road dog to cover — and possibly win outright. Predictions: Utah +7
Baylor (-34.5) at Kansas
Normally, any number over 30 is dangerous and should be avoided, but Baylor is a different story. The Bears are averaging over 700 yards of offense and Kansas threw the ball for 16 yards last week against Oklahoma. Baylor has reached 70 points in four games this year and 69 in another, so the odds of the lowly Jayhawks stopping this offense in any way would be shocking. The Bears are 5-1 against the spread in 2013. Prediction: Baylor -34.5
Fresno State (-8) at San Diego State
The Bulldogs haven’t scored less than 38 points all season long while the Aztecs have topped 30 points this year only once (Nevada). San Diego State also needed big late comebacks to beat New Mexico State and Air Force — who are a combined 1-13 this year. Fresno knows this win likely clinches the Mountain West Conference's West Division and will be focused. SDSU is 99th nationally in scoring defense and has little chance to stop Derek Carr and company. Prediction: Fresno State -8
Texas (+2.5) at TCU
The Horned Frogs haven’t topped 380 yards of offense in four straight weeks and haven’t scored more than 27 points in any of their last three. Meanwhile, Texas is playing its best ball of the season on both sides, having won three straight by scoring at least 31 points in each game. More importantly, new coordinator Greg Robinson and his defense have had two weeks to prepare for TCU’s reeling offense after playing their best game of the year against Oklahoma. TCU is 2-5 against the spread this year. Prediction: Texas +2.5
Top 25 Picks Against the Spread:
Note: games with FCS opponents won't be included each week
|Top 25 Games||Mitch Light||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Tennessee (+28) at No. 1 Alabama|
|NC State (+32) at No. 2 Florida St|
|No. 12 UCLA (-22.5) at No. 3 Oregon|
|Penn St (+14.5) at No. 4 Ohio St|
|No. 21 South Carolina (+3) at No. 5 Mizzou|
|No. 6 Stanford (-4.5) at No. 25 Oregon St|
|Wake Forest (+23.5) at No. 7 Miami|
|No. 8 Baylor (-34.5) at Kansas|
|No. 9 Clemson (-14) at Maryland|
|No. 10 Texas Tech (+7) at No. 15 Oklahoma|
|FAU (+24) at No. 11 Auburn|
|Duke (+13.5) at No. 14 Virginia Tech|
|Vanderbilt (+17) at No. 16 Texas A&M|
|No. 17 Fresno St (-8.5) at San Diego St|
|E. Michigan (+30) at N. Illinois|
|No. 19 Oklahoma St (-12.5) at Iowa St|
|No. 20 Louisville (-20) at USF|
|UConn (+22.5) at No. 23 UCF|
|No. 24 Nebraska (-10.5) at Minnesota|
The 2013 college football season features an awkward 15 week schedule, which creates a few scheduling headaches for some teams.
Some programs – Florida State and Baylor – have played just six games. However, Missouri, Oregon, Alabama, Texas Tech and Ohio State have all played seven games. And winless Western Michigan has already played in eight contests.
So with no clear midpoint of the season, Athlon Sports waited a week after most midseason All-America teams circulated to give all teams a chance to play six games.
As expected, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is the top quarterback, but Florida State redshirt freshman Jameis Winston closed the gap with an impressive performance against Clemson.
While Mariota was a clear No. 1 selection at quarterback, some positions – wide receiver, defensive end, linebacker and safety – were more difficult to select the top players from.
College Football's 2013 Midseason All-America Team
|First Team||Second Team|
|QB||Marcus Mariota, Oregon||Jameis Winston, Florida State|
|RB||Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin||Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona|
|RB||Lache Seastrunk, Baylor||Mike Davis, South Carolina|
|WR||Brandin Cooks, Oregon State||Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt|
|WR||Mike Evans, Texas A&M||Allen Robinson, Penn State|
|TE||Jace Amaro, Texas Tech||Eric Ebron, North Carolina|
|C||Hroniss Grasu, Oregon||Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma|
|G||Cyril Richardson, Baylor||Gabe Jackson, Miss. State|
|G||David Yankey, Stanford||Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA|
|T||Jake Matthews, Texas A&M||Tyler Johnstone, Oregon|
|T||Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama||Jack Mewhort, Ohio State|
|DE||Vic Beasley, Clemson||Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State|
|DE||Michael Sam, Missouri||Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville|
|DT||Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh||Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech|
|DT||Leonard Williams, USC||Timmy Jernigan, Florida State|
|LB||Anthony Barr, UCLA||Chris Borland, Wisconsin|
|LB||C.J. Mosley, Alabama||Khalil Mack, Buffalo|
|LB||Kyle Van Noy, BYU||Ryan Shazier, Ohio State|
|CB||Jason Verrett, TCU||Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech|
|CB||Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon||Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State|
|S||Deone Bucannon, Wash. State||Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois|
|S||Calvin Pryor, Louisville||Ed Reynolds, Stanford|
|K||Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma||Andy Phillips, Utah|
|P||Kirby Van Der Camp, Iowa State||Zac Murphy, Miami (Ohio)|
|KR||Ty Montgomery, Stanford||Duke Johnson, Miami|
|PR||Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa||Bralon Addison, Oregon|
This preview and more on Memphis and the American are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 20 Memphis Facts & Figures
Last season: 31-5 (16-0 Conference USA)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 32
Coach: Josh Pastner (106-34 at Memphis)
American projection: Second
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
But Pastner couldn’t have possibly really believed it. The proof was in the seeds his Tigers received. “We had 30 wins on Selection Sunday last season, and we were a six seed,” Pastner says. “We won 26 the year before, and we were an eight seed. Year before that, we had 25 wins and were a 12 seed. So hopefully that’ll change with the move to the American Athletic Conference.”
Truth is, it should.
Conference games against East Carolina, Marshall, Rice and Tulane have been replaced with games against Louisville, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Temple. That alone will increase the Tigers’ strength of schedule and give them a chance to accumulate more quality victories than normal. And the good news is that Pastner has the roster to win big in this transitional year.
The Tigers’ top three frontcourt rebounders from last season — D.J. Stephens, Tarik Black and Adonis Thomas — are gone, meaning Shaq Goodwin will be asked to have a breakthrough year in which he looks more like the McDonald’s All-American he was in high school than the inconsistent freshman he was last season. Might a better body help? Pastner believes so and is thus thrilled that Goodwin has lost 20 pounds to become a leaner and more athletic version of himself.
“Shaq is playing above the rim now,” Pastner says. “Last year he played at the rim. But I want him above the rim, and that’s where he’s going to be.”
Freshman Austin Nichols, a highly touted local product who chose Memphis over Duke, is expected to start next to Goodwin. George Washington transfer David Pellom should provide experienced depth up front, and freshman Dominic Woodson will serves as an emergency post player. Freshmen Nick King and Kuran Iverson could emerge as stars on the wing. They might actually be the Tigers’ top two NBA prospects.
2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC
Whether Memphis exceeds or falls short of expectations will largely be determined by the performance of the guards. It all starts with Joe Jackson, the reigning C-USA Player of the Year who shot 51.9 percent from the field and 44.7 percent from 3-point range last season while averaging a team-best 13.6 points and 4.8 assists per game. He was, in a word, terrific. And the Memphis native is now on pace to go down as one of the most accomplished players in school history.
“Just look at his hardware,” Pastner says “He’s been the MVP of two conference tournaments. He was the C-USA Player of the Year last season, and he has a chance to be one of the top five scorers in Memphis history.”
The rest of the backcourt isn’t bad, either.
Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson give Pastner two more senior guards who have started at the Division I level, and Missouri transfer Michael Dixon, provided he gets a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately, will give Memphis a total of four senior guards who have averaged double-figures in points at the high-major level. Then there’s sophomore Damien Wilson, freshman Markel Crawford and freshman Pookie Powell. All three are capable of contributing, though Crawford is recovering from ACL surgery and Powell could be an academic casualty.
Nick King and Austin Nichols are the prizes of the recruiting class. Nichols is a 6-8 power forward. King is a 6-6 small forward. Both are expected to play major minutes, along with power forward Kuran Iverson. Markel Crawford is a hard-nosed guard who has a chance to be good in time. But he’s recovering from ACL surgery and might have trouble cracking the rotation as a freshman. David Pellom is a fifth-year transfer from George Washington who projects as the Tigers’ first post player off the bench.
Factoid: 2.65. Memphis signed Josh Pastner to a contract worth $2.65 million annually after last season in an attempt to prevent schools from trying to lure its young coach. The salary ranks top-10 nationally.
The quality of the veteran backcourt combined with the depth throughout the roster is why the Tigers should finish in the top three of the AAC. But they still have to do it, and skeptics will remain until they do so because Pastner only has one victory over a top-25 opponent through four years, and he’s never advanced past the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. In other words, he’s recruited brilliantly and won lots of games, but very few of those wins have come against quality competition. Such can be attributed, on some level, to the lack of opportunities C-USA provided. But this move to the American leaves Pastner with no excuses to approach Selection Sunday with anything other than a resume that ensures Memphis receives its highest seed since the John Calipari era.
2013-14 Preseason Top 25
25. Wichita State
The Heisman is but one award, and one award isn’t enough to contain the best of college football.
While we love prognosticating who will win college football’s most coveted individual trophy, we also love the glut of postseason awards that go to each position, each with a nod to the game’s history from Davey O’Brien and Doak Walker to Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe to Ray Guy and Lou Groza.
Everyone tracks the progress in the Heisman race, but Athlon Sports will try to keep an eye on who will take home college football’s positional awards.
Here’s our look at the “other” trophies through the eighth week of the season.
Davey O’Brien (Top quarterback)
Our leader: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota
Mariota had his first two turnovers since late last season with a pair of fumbles against Washington State. He still passed for 327 yards and two touchdowns in an easy win and remains in interception-free this season. Mariota completed 47 of 63 passes with five touchdowns against the Washington schools.
Others: Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Baylor’s Bryce Petty
Doak Walker (Top running back)
Our leader: Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon
Gordon recovered from his 74-yard day against Ohio State by rushing for a combined 314 yards and four touchdowns on 39 carries against Northwestern and Illinois. Ohio State is the only opponent to hold him to fewer than 140 rushing yards.
Others: Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk
Biletnikoff (Top wide receiver)
Our leader: Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks
Cooks will face some heat from Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, but Cooks remains the leader here. Evans has the second-most receiving yards in the country to Cooks with 23 fewer receptions. Evans also has the advantage of playing in high-profile Aggies games while Cooks is more likely buried in the late-night portion of the schedule or on the Pac-12 Networks.
Others: Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, Baylor’s Antwan Goodley, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, Baylor’s Tevin Reese, Colorado’s Paul Richardson, Penn State’s Allen Robinson
Mackey (Top tight end)
Our leader: Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro
Amaro is conspicuously absent from the official list of Mackey Award semifinalists. That’s due to Texas Tech’s previous coaching staff classifying him as a wide receiver with the Mackey folks, according to Fox Sports Southwest’s David Ubben. He doesn’t play in a three-point stance as much as other tight ends, but he’s far and away the most productive with 56 catches for 742 yards.
Others: North Carolina’s Eric Ebron
Outland (Top interior lineman)
Our leader: Baylor’s Cyril Richardson
Given stiff competition at quarterback, running back and receiver, Richardson may be Baylor’s best best for an individual award on offense despite the prolific numbers.
Others: Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu, Oklahoma’s Gabe Ikard, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, Georgia Tech’s Shaq Mason, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Stanford’s David Yankey
Nagurski/Bednarik (Defensive player of the year)
Our leader: UCLA’s Anthony Barr
Barr did not have his greatest game against Stanford, who were able to run the ball to seal a 24-10 win. Barr finished with eight tackles and a tackle for a loss. A big showing against Oregon could be his moment for postseason award contention.
Others: Clemson’s Vic Beasley, Missouri’s Michael Sam, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, Stanford’s Shayne Skov
Lombardi Award (Top lineman or linebacker)
Our leader: Barr
Others: Clemson’s Vic Beasley, Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Missouri’s Michael Sam, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy
Butkus (Top linebacker)
Our leader: Barr
Others: Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, Stanford’s Trent Murphy, Boston College’s Kevin Pierre-Louis, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, Stanford’s Shayne Skov
Thorpe (Top defensive back)
Our leader: Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner
Joyner anchored Florida State in a defensive showcase against Clemson. Joyner had an interception, a sack and two forced fumbles as Clemson had its worst offensive game in more than a year
Others: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, TCU’s Jason Verrett
Lou Groza (Top kicker)
Our leader: Oklahoma’s Michael Hunnicutt
The Sooners’ offense hasn’t been overwhelming, but Hunnicutt has been there to pick up field goals, converting 15 of 16 this season. Hunnicutt has made all 10 attempts in the last three games but missed an extra point against Kansas.
Others: Texas Tech’s Ryan Bustin, Maryland’s Brad Craddock, Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez
Ray Guy (Top punter)
Our leader: Miami (Ohio)’s Zac Murphy
Murphy leads the nation at 47.4 yards per kick on 6.7 punts per game.
Others: Ole Miss’ Tyler Campbell, Alabama’s Cody Mandell, Tennessee’s Michael Palardy
Freshman of the year
Our leader: Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Winston may have to play himself out of being a Heisman finalist, much less then nation’s top freshman. His 201.41 pass efficiency rating is less than 21 points behind Baylor’s Bryce Petty, but it would nonetheless break Russell Wilson’s record at Wisconsin.
Others: Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III
Coach of the year
Our leader: Missouri’s Gary Pinkel
Without starting quarterback James Franklin, Missouri still crushed Florida for its most embarrassing loss, statistically, in quite some time. Missouri has one of the best defensive lines in the SEC and is the odds-on favorite to win the East. Who saw that one coming?
Others: Baylor’s Art Briles, Northern Illinois’ Rod Carey, Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter, Tulane’s Curtis Johnson, Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham
Broyles Award (Top assistant)
Our leader: Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi
Hard to believe Narduzzi hasn’t won the award before as the architect of some of the nation’s top defenses at Michigan State. The Spartans are allowing only 228 yards per game and 3.6 yards per play, which puts Michigan State in a class with 2011 Alabama, 2010 TCU, 2008 TCU and 2008 USC.
Others: Baylor’s Phil Bennett, LSU’s Cam Cameron, Utah’s Dennis Erickson, Maryland’s Mike Locksley, Texas’ Greg Robinson
Gearing up for another busy week of college football action...
Contact us on twitter with a link or a tip we should include each day. (@AthlonSteven)
College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Thursday, October 24th
Vanderbilt will turn to Patton Robinette at quarterback against Texas A&M with Austyn Carta-Samuels injured.
Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner gets highlighted for his standout performance against Clemson.
The injuries are beginning to add up at USC: Linebacker Lamar Dawson and running back Justin Davis are done for the year.
A good read from Lost Lettermen: The Miami scandal is the NCAA's O.J. trial.
What makes Florida State's offense so dangerous? Here's a good breakdown from SB Nation's Football Study Hall.
Good reads from Eric Crawford and Rick Bozich on Louisville's decision to keep assistant Clint Hurtt.
LSU freshman running back Jeryl Brazil has been suspended indefinitely.
Pittsburgh linebacker Ejuan Price is out indefinitely with a back injury.
Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum is slated to return to the lineup against Duke.
West Virginia conducted an internal review into assistant Joe DeForest after Sports Illustrated's story detailed possible infractions during his tenure at Oklahoma State.
Why is Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro not on the Mackey Award watchlist?
Here's a breakdown of Syracuse's play calling against Georgia Tech - and it's not pretty.
UNLV running back Tim Cornett is doubtful to play in Saturday's game against Nevada.
Indiana safety Antonio Allen is out for the year after suffering an ACL tear against Michigan.
Ed Orgeron announced two season-ending injuries on Wednesday. Freshman tailback Justin Davis is out for the rest of the season after undergoing ankle surgery, while linebacker Lamar Dawson is out after suffering a severe knee injury in Tuesday's practice. Dawson has registered 1.5 sacks this year and ranks fourth on the team with 35 tackles. Davis leads the Trojans in rushing touchdowns with six and is averaging just under seven yards per carry. Silas Redd and Javorius Allen will fill the void left by Davis and Tre Madden, who is questionable for Saturday.
USC loses LB Lamar Dawson and RB Justin Davis for season - http://t.co/wursBtj7wB— Eye on College FBall (@EyeOnCFB) October 24, 2013
Due to a glut of injuries this year, the Trojans are down to just three halfbacks, three wide receivers and three tight ends. USC will suit up one healthy scholarship tight end in Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, a sophomore with one career catch. It's possible that, among the 22 players who started against Notre Dame, at least seven will be unavailable to play against Utah.
Each week, Athlon Sports will highlight some of the best one-on-one matchups to watch in college football. Here are the most important games within the game to watch this weekend:
Ed Reynolds, S vs. Brandin Cooks, WR (Stanford vs. Oregon State)
“Wow” is all Stanford coach David Shaw had to say about Cooks’ play this season. The Beavers wide receiver has been uncoverable all season and is leading the nation in receptions (76), yards (1,176) and touchdowns (12). He has a comfort level with quarterback Sean Mannion and will be called upon to play his best this weekend against a front seven that will likely shutdown the Oregon State rushing attack. It falls to All-American safety Ed Reynolds to play physical but disciplined football on the backend of the Cardinal defense.
Allen Robinson, WR vs. Bradley Roby, CB (Penn State at Ohio State)
Robinson is the best wideout in the Big Ten and Roby might be the best coverman in the nation. So a head-to-head duel should be a sight to see for 60 minutes in the Horseshoe on Saturday night. Robinson is leading the Big Ten in receptions per game (7.2) and is 10th nationally in yards per game (117.5). Roby will be tasked with guarding A-Rob all game long and fans can bets NFL scouts will be watching.
Anthony Barr/Myles Jack vs. Marcus Mariota/De’Anthony Thomas (UCLA at Oregon)
UCLA’s linebackers are extremely talented and versatile. Jack, a freshman, has starred in open space and in pass coverage while Barr is an elite pass-rusher and disruptive force. Thomas returns to the field after missing the last four games and will be tested by Jack’s raw athletic ability. Meanwhile, Mariota and Oregon’s zone-read will be focused on No. 11 in blue all game long. Sit back and enjoy.
Victor Hampton, CB vs. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR (South Carolina vs. Missouri)
Missouri’s outstanding crop of big, physical and athletic receivers has been instrumental in the Tigers’ 7-0 start. This week, Green-Beckham (and L’Damian Washington) will face a South Carolina secondary that has held four of six opponents under 200 yards passing but gave up 300-plus to both Georgia and UCF. Hampton is the most physically talented of the group and gets matched up with the opposing team’s best pass-catcher usually. He is leading Carolina in interceptions and will be guarding either Green-Beckham or Washington all game long.
Jace Amaro, TE vs. Gabe Lynn, DB (Texas Tech at Oklahoma)
Amaro is enough of a matchup problem that it’s going to take a handful of Oklahoma defenders to limit his catches, something only a first-half suspension against SMU has done this season. Some of the focus will be on Lynn, a hard-hitting safety, but expect outside linebacker Dominique Alexander, safety Quentin Hayes and nickel back Julian Wilson to all play roles in trying to handle the 6-5, 260-pound junior.
Jay Ajayi, RB vs. Kyle Van Noy, LB (Boise State at BYU)
The Broncos' back is quietly having one of the best seasons in the nation at his position. He is third nationally with 12 total touchdowns and is coming off a career-high 222 yards against Nevada. Van Noy is a well-known commodity for his disruptive and big-play ability. He is second on the Cougars with 43 tackles, is 10th nationally with 10.5 tackles for a loss and has 4.0 sacks on the year. This should be a good matchup.
Jeremy Langford, RB vs. Jonathan Brown, LB (Michigan State at Illinois)
The Spartans tailback is seventh in the Big Ten in rushing at 78.7 yards per game, but has quickly developed into one of the league’s best backs. He has back-to-back 100-yard games against Indiana and Purdue with four total touchdowns in the two wins. Jonathan Brown is leading the Big Ten in tackling (11.0 pg) and is seventh nationally. He and Langford will go head-to-head all game long.
The final weekend of college football action in October is upon us, which means the 2013 season is about to enter the home stretch.
Conference play is in full swing, and as last week in the SEC showed, upsets can happen at any moment.
Athlon’s editors are back with another edition of the upset picks, and there are plenty of teams on alert this week.
Utah, Oregon State and Texas are underdogs this week, but are three popular upset selections.
The favorites can't win every game each week, so it's no surprise one of the most popular discussion points every Saturday is upset picks. Each week on AthlonSports.com, the editors will give an upset pick for the upcoming week of action.
College Football Week 9 Upset Predictions
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): Utah (+6.5) over USC
Both teams enter this matchup with key injuries, so a low-scoring, ugly game isn't out of the question on Saturday. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson suffered a hand injury against Arizona last week but is expected to play against the Trojans. But the picture isn’t so promising in Los Angeles. USC’s injury report is lengthy, and the roster is simply depleted this week. Receiver Marqise Lee is nursing a knee injury and is questionable to play. Running back Justin Davis and linebacker Lamar Dawson are out for the year, while all three scholarship tight ends are injured and may not suit up against Utah. While both teams are dealing with injuries, USC’s problems are clearly more severe than the Utes. Even though Utah is 1-5 in its last six Pac-12 road games, with the Trojans dealing with a myriad of injuries and a struggling offense, the Utes’ defense should do just enough for Kyle Whittingham’s team to earn their fifth win of the season.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall): Oregon State (+4.5) over Stanford
The Beavers lost an emotion, physical battle with the Cardinal 27-23 in Palo Alto last season. Sean Mannion didn't play in that game other than one late fourth-quarter pass attempt, so this bout should look much different. The Cardinal are coming off a dominating performance over the UCLA Bruins at home, but Mannion is playing at an elite level and is at home. The Beavers have won six straight and have been blowing teams out by 30 and 40 points. Without a bizarre first week loss to Eastern Washington, this game might be viewed totally differently by the Vegas oddsmakers. This will be a test of strength (Stanford's front seven) on strength (Oregon State's dynamic passing attack) and the Corvallis crowd might play the deciding factor. Give me the Beavers.
David Fox (@DavidFox615): Texas (+2) over TCU
Case McCoy joked this week that Texas is a favorite of TCU because of him. At least the younger McCoy has a self-deprecating sense of humor. As bad as Texas was early in the season, TCU has been almost as bad this year, only TCU’s offense has been as ineffective as the Longhorns’ defense was in September. TCU is averaging 4.5 points in the first half against FBS teams in 2013. The only teams worse? UMass and Georgia State, teams that have one win between them. The Horned Frogs’ defense is about where it was the last two seasons (but nowhere near where it was during the BCS runs). Still, Texas has improved enough since early in the season I’m willing to trust the Longhorns on the road against a halfway decent defense.
Mark Ross: Wyoming (+7) over San Jose State
These two teams are similar in many ways, as both have the same conference record (2-1) and are very close in several different statistical categories. Two departments in which Wyoming does have the edge over San Jose State, however, is scoring (35.4 to 24.0 ppg) and running the ball (202.7 to 119.7 ypg). The Spartans have fared better in stopping the run, but the Cowboys boast the Mountain West Conference's top pass defense. Wyoming is coming off a bad home loss to Colorado State last week, while San Jose State was on bye, but I still like the Cowboys on the road. Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith is among the most productive dual threats in the country, and I think he will be too much for the Spartans to handle, while the Cowboys' defense is able to limit the damage SJSU quarterback David Fales does through the air.
Stephen Schindler (@SteveSchindler): Boston College (+7) over North Carolina
It’s hard to see how a 3-3 Boston College team is an underdog to a 1-5 Tar Heels squad that has only beaten Middle Tennessee. The Golden Eagles’ three losses are against USC, Clemson and Florida State. They only lost to the Seminoles and Tigers by an average of just 11 points. The North Carolina defense allows over 30 points per game, while the offense has struggled to consistently run the ball. In a matchup of senior quarterbacks, I actually like Chase Rettig to play a cleaner game than Bryn Renner thanks to a superior rushing attack. Boston College RB Andre Williams, who is eighth in the country with 838 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the season, is the key to this game. Steve Addazio has brought a fresh energy to Chestnut Hill and should improve to 2-2 in ACC play.
World Series – Game 2
St. Louis at Boston
8:07 ET Fox
Michael Wacha (4-1, 2.78) vs. John Lackey (10-13, 3.52)
Last night quickly turned into the dream or nightmare from 2004, depending on which dugout you’re in. The Cardinals made multiple miscues in the field and the Red Sox mixed in a few good at-bats around the mistakes taking St. Louis out of the game early. There were no positives for St. Louis in Game 1 — unless you consider John Axford’s 1-2-3 strikeout performance — and there were few negatives for Boston. The Red Sox won handily without any contribution from Shane Victorino and nothing from leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury after the first inning. The Cardinals must turn the page quickly and once again lean heavily on rookie Michael Wacha. The young righthander took the ball in a do-or-die game in a hostile environment at Pittsburgh and was brilliant. This isn’t technically a do-or-die game for St. Louis, but it’s close. The Red Sox counter with John Lackey, the starter and winner for the Angels in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series (but that was 11 years ago).
Keys for Boston
Keep the pressure on St. Louis. One way they can do that is to force the Cardinals to make plays defensively. Put the ball in play and be aggressive on the bases. It won’t take a long outing by Lackey, but winning will require a quality outing, even if it ends after five innings. Last night the Red Sox took the first two pitches the first time through the order. Expect a more aggressive approach tonight as Wacha will pound the strike zone. Taking too many pitches could leave Boston batters battling from behind in the count all night.
Keys for St. Louis
They must get back to the “Cardinal Way,” whatever that is exactly. It should start with playing a clean game defensively. Last night’s slow delivery to second by Matt Carpenter that resulted in the Pete Kozma error (and minor controversy), and the pop that dropped between Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina appeared to be the result of playing not to lose rather than playing to win. That mindset must change dramatically overnight. Getting yet another super-human effort from Wacha may be too much to ask of the rookie with just nine regular-season starts in his career. But that’s exactly what the Cardinals need.
Red Sox to Watch
Lackey twirled a gem his last time out. He shut out the Tigers over 6.2 innings, allowing only four hits in Boston’s 1-0 win. Ortiz, who homered last night and had a grand slam turned into a sac fly by right fielder Carlos Beltran, remains the focal point for St. Louis. They were forced to pitch to him with runners on last night. If that’s the case again tonight for Wacha, it will be another banner night for the BoSox. Mike Napoli, a member of the Texas Rangers whom the Cardinals defeated in the 2011 World Series, is swinging the bat extremely well and focused on beating St. Louis.
Cardinals to Watch
Wacha is the man of the hour for the St. Louis faithful. In three postseason starts and 21 innings, the lone run he’s allowed was a solo homer by Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates. Carpenter and Matt Adams must provide some offense tonight. Carpenter by getting on base, and Adams by driving in runs. Of course, Beltran, the top run producer for St. Louis in the postseason, is questionable to play after injuring his ribs and leaving last night’s game in the third inning.
The Red Sox were 9-4 in Lackey’s 13 home starts this season, 9-1 when scoring three runs or more…Opponents batted just .232 off of Lackey at Fenway Park this season…Wacha is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in his three postseason starts…Matt Holliday swung at the first pitch in his first three at-bats before taking a pitch prior to his homer in the ninth inning…Both teams threw 141 pitches in Game 1…Boston came to bat three times with the bases loaded. Napoli doubled, Pedoria singled and Ortiz hit a sac fly that was headed over the fence for a grand slam…St. Louis came to bat once with the bases loaded. David Freese grounded into a 1-2-3 double play.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Oct. 24.
• NFL action cranks back up tonight. Here's a power ranking of NFL cheeleaders according to their social media usage.
• This could spice up the World Series: A Cardinals minor leaguer took to Twitter to accuse Jon Lester of using Vaseline during last night's gem. And not without cause.
• Carlos Beltran waited 16 years to make a World Series appearance. That appearance lasted two innings.
• An umpire blew a call last night. Instant replay overturned it and got it right fairly quickly. Take that, purists.
• Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel proved to be ready for his close-up, giving the Notre Dame-USC game a GQ moment.
• The Rams called Brett Favre. Brett Favre said no. I guess when his agent floated that Favre was in the best shape of his life, it just meant that Brett wanted an ego-stroking call from a team. Mission accomplished. Of course, the whole episode simply points to the utter lack of decent quarterbacks on this little planet of ours.
• We don't link to much soccer, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic ripped a laser past the goalkeeper that is worth a click.
• Today's dose of Schiano-freude: Greg Schiano is 1-11 in his last 12 games, and not surprisingly, his autocratic style is wearing thin on his players.
• The SEC is asking the NCAA to review the targeting rule that is ruining games. Let's hope the NCAA listens.
• A great moment last night: Greg Oden returned to the court and dunked on his first touch. We're rooting for you, big fella.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The Carolina Panthers will aim for their third straight win when they face the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a matchup of NFC South teams tonight at 8:25 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. The Panthers limped to a 1-3 start to the season. That seems like a long time ago now that Ron Rivera's team has won two in a row, averaging 33.5 points and 320 total yards in these games. Cam Newton is completing 81 percent of his passes during this stretch. Perhaps even more importantly, the defense has allowed just 30 points and 138 rushing yards during the win streak. No NFL team has allowed fewer total yards this year. With a win tonight, the Panthers also will be above .500 for the first time in Newton's three seasons with the team.
The Buccaneers are in a free fall at 0-6; however, Mike Glennon has offered improved results at the quarterback position. The rookie has improved every game, posting a season-high 90.7 passer rating against Atlanta. Greg Schiano's seat is still scalding hot and it remains to be seen whether he finishes out the season in Tampa Bay.
3 Things to Watch
Steve Smith vs. Darrelle Revis
The is a premier receiver-cornerback matchup. Smith is likely still fired up from his run in with Janoris Jenkins last week, while defensive coordintor Bill Sheridan sarcastically asked Buccaneers fans for help in better utilizing Revis. Revis has been used predominantly in zone coverage, while he is unquestionably the best man-to-man defender in the NFL. Revis is still a force to be reckoned with as he has one interception and two forced fumbles on the year. It will be interesting to see the schemes Tampa Bay uses on the speedy Smith. Revis may have success jamming Smith at the line as he is bigger than Smith and has the makeup speed to keep up with him.
Bucs' Offense Without Doug Martin
The young Glennon must be devastated with the news that he will be unable to lean on his top running back when it was announced Doug Martin will be out indefinitely with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Mike James and Brian Leonard will take over his workload going forward. While Martin was averaging 3.6 yards per carry and had only one touchdown this season, he still rushed for over 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns last year and remains one of Tampa's most talented offensive weapons. James has only 17 career carries, while Leonard has been used mostly as a third-down receiving option throughout his career. Expect Glennon to struggle against Carolina's fifth-ranked pass defense without the threat of Martin to keep the Panthers honest. Carolina's defense is extremely tough against the run. With defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short along with Luke Kuechly up the middle, the Panthers have been near impossible to run on this year. They boast the NFL's fourth-ranked rush defense, allowing only 84.5 yards per game on the ground. None of this bodes well for a Tampa Bay offense entering this game 31st in both total yards (297.8 per game) and scoring (14.5 points per game).
Panthers' Rush Offense vs. Bucs' Rush Defense
The Bucs' rush defense is just as good as Carolina's. They have the league's fifth-ranked rushing defense, allowing only 88.8 yards per game. The Panthers will prove to be a good test for a front line featuring Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn. Carolina certainly has a devastating one-two punch in DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton, both averaging over four yards a carry. Newton has two rushing touchdowns, while Williams rushed for 291 yards in Carolina's first three contests. He has regressed a bit lately; however, his style of running matches up well against Tampa Bay.
Key Player for Tampa Bay: Vincent Jackson, WR
Glennon has targeted Vincent Jackson 36 times in the last two weeks, with Jackson catching 19 balls for 252 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson had 10 receptions for 138 with no scores in the three games prior to that stretch. He had six catches for 94 yards and a TD during Tampa Bay's 27-21 overtime win at Carolina last Nov. 18 to sweep the 2012 season series.
Key Player for Carolina: Brandon LaFell, WR
LaFell is tied for the team lead with three touchdown catches and provides Newton an option if Smith is plastered by Revis. LaFell has been a surprisingly effective big-play option this year, including a 79-yard touchdown reception earlier in the season.
Short of Jacksonville, Tampa Bay looks to be the NFL's worst team. It is worth noting that the Bucs have lost by an average of just over seven points per game. Mike Glennon is still young and the Panthers' defensive backs should feast on his inexperience. Without Doug Martin I don't think Tampa has a chance here.
Carolina 27, Tampa Bay 15
The Big 12 needed some chaos in the SEC to help, but the league landed two teams in the first BCS standings.
The knock on the Big 12 this season has been a lack of elite teams, but that’s not the case this week in terms of ranking and record. With Baylor at No. 8 and Texas Tech at No. 10, the league has two top-10 BCS teams for the first time since Oct. 21, 2012 when Oklahoma and Kansas State were ranked that high.
Whether the Big 12 leaders Baylor and Texas Tech are products of weaker schedules will be determined soon. Baylor’s toughest games start in November, but Texas Tech’s moment is right now when the Red Raiders visit BCS No. 15 Oklahoma.
It’s a marquee game that’s going to either be a signature moment for Texas Tech or a statement that Oklahoma is still in the thick of the conference title race.
Week 9 Previews and Predictions: ACC | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
Big 12 Week 9 Game Power Rankings
All games Eastern, all games on Saturday unless noted.
1. Texas Tech at Oklahoma (3:30, Fox)
The Red Raiders opened the first BCS standings ranked 10th. That alone is a major victory for first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, but Texas Tech is the lowest ranked undefeated team from an automatic-qualifying conference. The culprit is a lackluster schedule. That changes this weekend when Tech tries to win in Norman on the second consecutive trip. Everything is breaking right for Texas Tech, but Oklahoma has struggled on both sides of the ball. That said, the Sooners remain 6-1 and ranked in the top 15 of the BCS. Oklahoma has been caught out of position on defense at times and struggled defending the run in three of the last four games. Tech may test OU’s wounded front seven, which is missing two starters, but the Sooners also haven’t faced a quality passing game like the Red Raiders’ all season. Oklahoma needs a strong defensive performance to reassert itself in the Big 12 race.
2. Texas at TCU (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Casey Pachall in inching his way back to playing quarterback for TCU, but it’s not likely to happen this week. TCU needs its former starting QB in the worst way as the offense has struggled mightily this season, especially early. TCU has averaged 4.5 points in the first half against FBS teams this season. The run game hasn’t been much better, averaging 121 yards and 3.5 yards per carry in the last four games. Texas quarterback Case McCoy is coming off the best game of the season, completing 13 of 21 passes for 191 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against Oklahoma. This week, he and his top receiver Mike Davis will face the top cover corner in the Big 12 and potential first-round draft pick Jason Verrett.
3. West Virginia at Kansas State (3:45 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Despite their 1-6 combined record in the Big 12, West Virginia and Kansas State have proven to be tough outs. But both need wins if they’re going to reach bowl games. Both offenses are starting to find their way after dismal starts to the season. Quarterback Clint Trickett continues to improve for West Virginia, and the run game was steady last week against Texas Tech thanks to the duo of Dreamius Smith and Charles Sims. For Kansas State, Daniel Sams, a dangerous runner, is splitting duties with Jake Waters. If Sams can limit turnovers, he may be K-State's best option.
4. Oklahoma State at Iowa State (noon, Fox Sports local)
The main thing worth watching for Oklahoma State will be moving parts on the Cowboys’ offense. Oklahoma State replaced starting quarterback J.W. Walsh with Clint Chelf after a pair of interceptions last week, reopening the competition for the job. Freshman running back Rennie Childs also gave the lackluster Oklahoma State run game a boost. For Iowa State, the Cyclones are trying to rebound from a 71-7 loss to Baylor and to rediscover some of the magic from the 2011 upset of Oklahoma State in Ames. For his part, Cowboys coach Mike Gundy a bit of an edge hopes his team has. “A lot of seniors made that trip,” Gundy told reporters. “As much as I tell them that doesn't play into it, I hope, deep down, they go up there feeling that something was taken from them last time.”
5. Baylor at Kansas (7 p.m., ESPNU)
The only game in which Baylor starters played into the fourth quarter occurred away from Waco. Playing on the road about the only question mark facing Baylor this season, but Kansas has shown little ability to slow down a team like Baylor this season. Even when the Jayhawks took early leads against Texas Tech and Oklahoma, they managed to lose each game decisively. Kansas’ defense has not been awful this season ranking sixth in the Big 12 in yards per play allowed. Expect that to change.
Big 12 Week 9 Pivotal Players
Listen to Athlon Sports writers Braden Gall and David Fox talk Miami sanctions, the BCS standings and preview Week 9 in this week's Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast.
Davis Webb has topped 400 yards in two Big 12 wins, but he’s still questionable as a starter if Baker Mayfield returns healthy this week. Either way, Texas Tech will be taking a freshman quarterback into Norman looking for an upset to preserve an undefeated season. Kliff Kingsbury has shown plenty of confidence in his quarterbacks this season. Expect that continue. The Mayfield/Webb duo leads the in passing attempts and completions per game this season and is second in yards per game only to Oregon State.
Blake Bell, Oklahoma
Oklahoma is averaging 22.5 points per game in Big 12 play this season, but it probably will take more than that to beat Texas Tech. Bell has been in a three-game slump, completing 57.3 percent of his passes and averaging 5.1 yards per attempt during that span. OU’s longest play against Kansas was a 49-yard pass from receiver LaColtan Bester to Sterling Shepard.
Gabe Lynn, Oklahoma
Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro is enough of a matchup problem that it’s going to take a handful of Oklahoma defenders to limit his catches, something only a first-half suspension against SMU has done this season. Some of the focus will be on Lynn, a hard-hitting safety, but expect outside linebacker Dominique Alexander, safety Quentin Hayes and nickel back Julian Wilson to all play roles in trying to handle the 6-5, 260-pound junior.
Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, Kansas State
The pair of Kansas State receivers have missed nearly all of the last two games for the Wildcats, but they are expected to return against West Virginia. The K-State passing game has been lacking all season, but the return of these two should give the Wildcats a boost. Perhaps more of a concern for West Virginia is their contributions in the return game. The Mountaineers’ special teams have been suspect for most of the season.
B.J. Catalon, TCU
Catalon is the Horned Frogs’ most explosive offensive player. If TCU is going to make the Texas defense look like it did back in September, a big game from Catalon would help. The sophomore tailback is become the primary running back getting carries with Waymon James accounting for only 13 carries in the last three games.
Big 12 Week 9 Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Okla St (-13) at Iowa St||OSU 42-17||OSU 31-20||OSU 34-20||ISU 27-24|
|Texas Tech (+6.5) at Okla.||Tech 35-28||OU 34-30||OU 30-27||OU 31-28|
|West Va. (+10.5) at KState||KSU 28-24||KSU 31-27||KSU 31-24||KSU 28-14|
|Baylor (+35) at Kansas||Baylor 49-7||Baylor 63-20||Baylor 55-17||Baylor 65-17|
|Texas (+2) at TCU||Texas 28-10||Texas 34-21||Texas 24-20||Texas 24-20|
The coaching, level of athlete, commitment from athletic departments and, frankly, Larry Scott, have turned the Pac-12 into must-see TV every weekend and Week 9 is no different.
In fact, the two most important games in college football will likely take place in the Pac-12. And the North Division to be exact.
Arizona State and Washington State are on bye this weekend.
Pac-12 Week 9 Game Power Rankings
1. UCLA (+22.5) at Oregon (8 pm. ET, ESPN)
The Bruins are trying to avoid finding out what Washington has just learned the hard way — that Stanford and Oregon are really, really good. The Bruins posted their worst offensive output of the season by a wide margin with just 266 yards and 10 points in the physical loss to the Cardinal last weekend. What was worse was the season-high 419 yards allowed by the UCLA defense. This unit now has to face the best offense in college football, one that is averaging 643.1 yards per game, 8.3 yards per play and 57.6 points per game. If stopping the Heisman Trophy frontrunner isn’t already enough, Oregon is welcoming back all-purpose dynamo De’Anthony Thomas, who has missed the last three games with an ankle issue. A loss could send the Bruins from unbeaten top-10 team to second place in the Pac-12 South in just two weeks, so the stakes are painfully obvious for Jim Mora.
2. Stanford (-4.5) at Oregon State (10:30 p.m., ESPN)
Oregon and Stanford still control their own destiny in the Pac-12 (and maybe more) but so does Oregon State after winning six straight games (4-0 Pac-12) since a bizarre opening weekend loss to Eastern Washington. Hosting the Cardinal will be the toughest test to date for Mike Riley’s bunch, however, after Stanford posted its most complete game of the year by shutting down UCLA’s star quarterback Brett Hundley. Shayne Skov and company now set their sights on another record-setting quarterback in Sean Mannion. The Beavers starter threw only one pass in the emotional 27-23 loss to Stanford in Palo Alto last year and will look to find Brandin Cooks, the nation’s leading receiver, early and often on Saturday. The ability to get pressure on Mannion and limit the big plays from Cooks will be paramount for David Shaw’s team. On defense, Oregon State should expect a similar game plan for the second straight week from Stanford — a smash-mouth, ground and pound approach that netted Tyler Gaffney his best game of the year (171 yards, 2 TD). It’s just the second home game since Sept. 7 for the Beavers, so the crowd at Reser Stadium should play a factor.
3. Utah (+7) at USC (4 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
These new Pac-12 South rivals have met just seven times total with USC winning all but one meeting — the Utes’ Las Vegas Bowl victory in 2001. As divisional foes, the Trojans have won both contests over the last two years by at least two scores. Both offenses are coming off brutal performances in painful defeats last week as USC totaled 10 points and 330 yards of offense against Notre Dame while Utah posted its lowest yardage output of the year (329) against Arizona. Utah’s developing star quarterback Travis Wilson injured his throwing hand in the loss but has vowed to be on the field for this critical game. The coaching battle between former head coaches Ed Orgeron and Dennis Erickson should be fun to watch.
4. Arizona (-14.5) at Colorado (8 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
Both teams enter this contest riding high after a win last weekend and both have an outside chance at a bowl game. However, this game is critical for both if either expects to reach the postseason. Rich Rodriguez’ offense ran for 300 yards last week, including Ka’Deem Carey’s ninth straight 100-yard game (172 yards, 3 TD). The Buffaloes, behind the running of freshman tailback Michael Adkins II (137 yards, 4 TD), posted its best rushing game of the season (218 yards, 5 TD). More importantly for Mike MacIntyre, his defense posted its best effort of the year as well. Yes, it was against Charleston Southern, but the Buffs will need all the confidence they can get in a legitimate upset opportunity against Zona.
5. Cal (-24) at Washington (11 p.m., FS1)
Someone has to win this game, right? Two teams with very different expectations and talent levels are both experiencing the perils of playing in what could be the nation’s top conference. Washington has lost three straight in brutal fashion against Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State and has a quarterback who has taken a beating during that span. Cal has lost five straight by allowing nearly 50 points per game (47.4) since a win over Portland State in Week 2. Keith Price should play but he is banged up and Bishop Sankey, formerly the nation’s leading rusher, should get back on track after being totally stuffed last weekend (22 yards). Look for the Huskies to get healthy against the 123rd-rated total defense in the nation.
Pac-12 Week 9 Pivotal Players:
Listen to Athlon Sports writers Braden Gall and David Fox talk Miami sanctions, the BCS standings and preview Week 9 in this week's Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast.
The junior hybrid defensive end has picked up right where former first-round pick Dion Jordan has left off. He has registered at least half of a sack in four straight games and is coming off one of his best career games against Washington State (6.0 tackles. 2.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks). He will be charged with tracking down UCLA star quarterback Brett Hundley this weekend.
2. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
David Shaw turned to his power running game last weekend to outlast UCLA and Tyler Gaffney rewarded him. However, on the road against one of the highest scoring and most productive passing offense in the nation, Hogan will likely have to make more plays. Hogan has topped 200 yards in each of the last two games and completed 72 percent (18-of-25) of his passes last week against the Bruins. He will need to continue his strong play in Corvallis.
3. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
“Wow” is all Stanford coach David Shaw had to say about Cooks’ play this season. The Beavers wide receiver has been uncoverable all season and is leading the nation in receptions (76), yards (1,176) and touchdowns (12). He has a comfort level with quarterback Sean Mannion and will be called upon to play his best this weekend against a front seven that will likely shut down the Oregon State rushing attack.
4. Cody Kessler, QB, USC
The USC passer showed signs of life after setting back-to-back career highs in passing and beating Arizona two weeks ago. However, he returned to mediocrity last weekend against Notre Dame by throwing for just 201 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. The Trojans need the redshirt freshman to return to form quickly at home this weekend against Utah.
5. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
The nation’s leading rusher for the second straight season has posted nine consecutive 100-yard efforts dating back to 2012. He went for 171 yards and three touchdowns in the big win over Utah last weekend and his streak is back on the line this weekend against Colorada. He should have another big day in what should be an easy win — if he is slowed, give the Buffs a chance at the upset.
Pac-12 Week 9 Predictions:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|UCLA (+22.5) at Oregon||Oregon, 45-24||Oregon, 48-20||Oregon, 48-24||Oregon, 49-24|
|Stanford (-4.5) at Oregon St||Stanford, 31-24||Ore. St, 31-28||Stanford, 27-24||Stanford, 28-21|
|Utah (+7) at USC||USC, 34-27||USC, 21-10||Utah, 24-20||Utah, 27-17|
|Arizona (-14.5) at Colorado||Arizona, 41-31||Arizona, 47-17||Arizona, 45-27||Arizona, 31-24|
|Cal (-24) at Washington||Wash., 42-17||Wash., 41-17||Wash., 45-20||Wash., 38-21|
After a week in the spotlight for the anticipated Florida State-Clemson matchup, the ACC lacks a marquee game for Week 9.
Florida State ranks No. 2 in the first release of the BCS standings, and the Seminoles look to stay unbeaten with NC State coming to Tallahassee this Saturday. The Wolfpack upset Florida State last season, but it seems unlikely NC State will make it two in a row.
Clemson looks to get back on track, traveling to College Park to take on Maryland for the final time as an ACC opponent. The Terrapins are reeling after back-to-back losses and have a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball.
In a week without a game drawing national interest, matchups like Boston College-North Carolina and Duke-Virginia Tech get the nod as the top contests for Week 9. While neither will register on the national radar, there is some intrigue within the conference. The Blue Devils’ offense will give the Hokies a battle on defense. And the Boston College-North Carolina game is huge for both program’s bowl hopes.
ACC Week 9 Game Power Rankings
1. Boston College (+7) at North Carolina (3:30 ET, ACC RSN)
With a light week of action in the ACC, there’s not an easy pick for the No. 1 must-see game. However, this battle in Chapel Hill is crucial for both teams, as the jockeying for bowl positioning is underway. Boston College has made significant progress under first-year coach Steve Addazio, already surpassing last year’s win total (2) with three wins, and close losses to Clemson and Florida State. The Eagles have not defeated North Carolina since joining the ACC, and this is only the seventh meeting between these two schools. The Tar Heels nearly upset Miami last week, but coach Larry Fedora’s team is desperately in need of a win, as a 1-5 start has this team in danger of missing out on the postseason. North Carolina’s rush defense ranks last in the ACC (203.3 ypg) and will be challenged by Boston College running back Andre Williams, who leads the ACC with an average of 139.7 yards per game. The Tar Heels aren’t as explosive on offense as they were last season, but the emergence of freshman running back T.J. Logan should help this unit establish more balance. On paper, North Carolina’s offense should move the ball against Boston College’s defense, which is allowing 425.5 yards per game. However, the Eagles’ numbers are slightly skewed on defense after playing the ACC’s best offenses in Clemson and Florida State.
2. Duke (+13.5) at Virginia Tech (3:30 ET, ESPNU)
The Blue Devils enter Saturday’s contest against Virginia Tech riding a three-game winning streak. While Navy, Troy and Virginia certainly isn’t the toughest of schedules, Duke is one win away from securing its sixth win and likely back-to-back bowl trips for the first time in school history. But the Blue Devils may have to wait a week on their sixth victory, especially since they have never won in Blacksburg and five of the last six losses at Virginia Tech have been by 20 or more points. The Hokies aren’t setting the world on fire on offense, but quarterback Logan Thomas has not tossed an interception in three games and is completing 65.5 percent of his passes in ACC contests. Thomas faces a Duke defense allowing 383.1 yards per game (5.3 yards per play) and has held opponents to only 216.3 passing yards a contest. While the yardage totals indicate a struggling defense, the Blue Devils have stepped up in the second half the last two weeks, as they held Navy and Virginia without a point the final two quarters. Duke does most of its damage through the air with quarterback Anthony Boone, but an offensive line that has allowed just nine sacks deserves credit. Virginia Tech’s defense might be the best in the nation, and its secondary is expected to regain the services of cornerback Antone Exum, who has missed all of 2013 recovering from a torn ACL.
3. Pittsburgh (-5.5) at Navy (1 ET, CBS Sports Network)
Playing an option team with a week to prepare is no easy assignment, but Saturday’s trip to Annapolis could work out for Pittsburgh, especially with a conference game against Georgia Tech in Week 10. The Panthers struggled to put away Old Dominion last week, eventually winning 35-24. Injuries to running back James Conner and receiver Devin Street prevented both players from suiting up, but both are expected to return to the lineup against the Midshipmen. Navy already played one ACC opponent this season, losing 35-7 to Duke on Oct. 12. Pittsburgh’s rush defense ranks fifth in the ACC against the run, allowing just 3.8 yards per attempt and 136 yards per game. The Panthers have not played an option team since 2009, so there will be an adjustment period for this defense. Assuming Street and Conner are healthy, the Panthers should have no trouble moving the ball against Navy’s defense. The Midshipmen’s secondary is allowing 204.7 yards per game. However, against BCS competition (Indiana and Duke), Navy allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 63 of 82 throws for 658 yards and seven touchdowns. Pittsburgh’s best strategy is to score early and force the Midshipmen out of their element on offense.
4. Clemson (-14) at Maryland (3:30 ET, ESPN)
A week after a blowout loss to Florida State, Clemson heads to College Park looking to get back on track. Although the Tigers need a lot of help to win the Atlantic Division, a BCS bowl as an at-large selection is still within reach. In order for that to happen, Clemson has to win out. Three weeks ago, Maryland appeared to be the No. 3 team in the Atlantic Division. But injuries have decimated this team on both sides of the ball, with receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long suffering season-ending injuries in last week’s loss to Wake Forest. Quarterback play is also a concern for the Terrapins, as C.J. Brown was pulled last Saturday due to injury, and the junior has struggled in his last two outings (21 of 38, 219 yards and two picks). If Brown struggles or can’t go due to injury, backup Caleb Rowe is a capable option. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is coming off one of the worst performances in his career, as Florida State’s defense held the senior to just 156 passing yards, 45.9 completion percentage and forced two interceptions. Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins should find Maryland’s defense more accommodating, especially with the Terrapins down both starting cornerbacks from their preseason depth chart.
5. NC State (+31.5) at Florida State (3:30 ET, ABC/ESPN2)
After a huge road win over Clemson, it’s easy to pencil Saturday’s matchup against NC State as a trap game for the Seminoles. But there’s a different feeling surrounding Florida State this year. The Seminoles ranked No. 2 in the first release of the BCS standings, and this team is on track to win the Atlantic Division and finish with an unbeaten record in the regular season. Revenge should be on the mind for Florida State against NC State, especially after the Wolfpack won 17-16 in Raleigh last year. NC State has won two out of the last three meetings in this series but has lost three in a row at Tallahassee. The Wolfpack will have some reinforcements for their struggling offense this week, as quarterback Brandon Mitchell is slated to return from a broken foot. Mitchell was injured against Louisiana Tech and has missed the last five games. The senior is the best fit for NC State’s spread attack, but rust is an issue since he has not played since August. While the offense has struggled, the Wolfpack’s defense has been respectable, allowing 17 touchdowns through six games. But Saturday’s game against Florida State will be NC State’s toughest challenge of the season, as stopping quarterback Jameis Winston and the Seminoles’ plethora of skill players is something no defense has been able to do. And as if Florida State needed any extra motivation to have a good showing, former coach Bobby Bowden will make his return to Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday.
6. Wake Forest (+23) at Miami (12 ET, ESPNU)
With a showdown looming against Florida State next week, is Miami on upset alert against an improving Wake Forest team? The Demon Deacons started 2-3 but has rebounded with back-to-back ACC victories, including a 34-10 blowout over Maryland last Saturday. Quarterback Tanner Price has led the turnaround for Wake Forest, throwing for 499 yards and four touchdowns over his last two games, with only one interception. Miami’s defense has improved after a disastrous 2012 campaign, but the Hurricanes are still allowing 5.6 yards per play and have managed only four sacks in ACC games. Price and receiver Michael Campanaro need to have a big game for the Demon Deacons to hang around, especially with Wake Forest’s struggling ground game (69 yards per game in ACC play). Miami quarterback Stephen Morris is off to a slow start and has already surpassed his interception total (seven) from last year with eight picks in six games. The Hurricanes hold a talent edge on the Demon Deacons’ defense, but Wake Forest has allowed only one opponent (Clemson) to score more than 13 points in three out of its last four games. This will be the first meeting between these two teams since 2008, and the last two matchups in this series have been decided by a touchdown or less.
7. Georgia Tech (-10) at Virginia (12:30 ET, ACC)
With four straight losses, Virginia is looking for something positive. Georgia Tech snapped a three-game losing streak last week and needs to beat the Cavaliers to keep its faint ACC Coastal title hopes alive. Virginia has won eight out of the last nine matchups against Georgia Tech in Charlottesville, including a 24-21 victory in 2011. Stopping the run is always critical with a matchup against the Yellow Jackets, and the Cavaliers are allowing just 108 yards per game in ACC contests this season. But the defense is shorthanded this week, as defensive tackle Brent Urban is expected to sit out Saturday’s game due to a lower extremity injury. Without Urban, Virginia will have its hands full against Georgia Tech, who is averaging 305.2 rushing yards per game in conference play. As if the defensive concerns weren’t enough, the Cavaliers have struggled mightily on offense. After three ACC games, Virginia has scored just five touchdowns and ranks 11th in the conference with an average of 17 points a game. Quarterback David Watford has played better recently, but Georgia Tech’s defense has been stingy under the direction of new coordinator Ted Roof, with only one ACC opponent scoring more than 20 points against the Yellow Jackets in 2013.
ACC Week 9 Pivotal Players
Takoby Cofield/Laken Tomlinson, OL, Duke
The Blue Devils’ offensive line has made significant improvement over the last few years, and this unit is a big reason why Duke is likely headed for another postseason appearance in 2013. Cofield and Tomlinson are two of the key cogs, combining for 54 career starts. Virginia Tech has one of the nation’s best defensive lines, with potential all-conference selections at end (James Gayle and J.R. Collins) and at tackle (Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy). For Duke to have a chance at winning, the front five needs to give quarterback Anthony Boone time to throw, along with opening up lanes for the Blue Devils’ backfield.
Levern Jacobs, WR, Maryland
With Stefon Diggs and Deon Long out for the rest of the season, Jacobs has to assume the No. 1 role in Maryland’s receiving corps. The sophomore ranks fourth on the team with 13 catches for 245 yards and one touchdown, and he will have a chance to improve on those numbers Saturday against Clemson’s secondary that allowed 444 passing yards to Florida State last week. The Tigers are thin on depth in the defensive backfield, and even with some uncertainty at quarterback, Jacobs has a chance to make plays against the Tigers.
Brandon Mitchell, QB, NC State
NC State is a longshot to win at Florida State on Saturday, but there’s hope behind Mitchell’s return under center. In the opener against Louisiana Tech, Mitchell completed all three of his passes for 93 yards and rushed for 19 yards on five attempts. However, the senior suffered a broken foot and missed the Wolfpack’s next five games. If NC State has any shot at winning, Mitchell has to have a mistake-free performance, while providing a spark on offense.
Nikita Whitlock, DT, Wake Forest
Miami’s offensive line has played a big role in the team’s 6-0 start. The front five has helped rushers average 5.7 yards per carry, and Miami quarterbacks have been sacked just five times. Led by Whitlock – one of the nation’s most underrated defenders – Wake Forest’s front seven has held its own this year. Opponents are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry, and the Demon Deacons have allowed only five rushing scores. Controlling the line of scrimmage will be critical to Wake Forest’s upset bid. Whitlock has 13.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks this year and will face a strong interior line for Miami, which features guard Jon Feliciano and center Shane McDermott. If Whitlock has a strong showing, the Demon Deacons will have a chance to keep quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson in check.
Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
The ACC’s leading rusher has to be licking his chops for a chance at North Carolina’s defense. The Tar Heels rank last in the ACC against the run, and opponents are averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Williams leads the ACC in rushing and has at least 140 yards in two out of his last three games. Boston College is 0-2 away from Chestnut Hill, but with a struggling Tar Heel rush defense, Williams has a chance to carry the Eagles to their fourth win of the season.
ACC Week 9 Predictions
|Game||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Wake (+23) at Miami||Miami 35-10||Miami 35-17||Miami 38-17||Miami 27-17|
|Ga. Tech (-10) at Virginia||Ga. Tech 28-10||Ga. Tech 31-21||Ga. Tech 31-20||Ga. Tech 34-21|
|Pittsburgh (-5.5) at Navy||Navy 28-21||Pitt 41-31||Pitt 31-24||Pitt 28-20|
|Clemson (-14) at Maryland||Clemson 42-21||Clemson 42-14||Clemson 41-17||Clemson 34-14|
|Duke (+13.5) at Va. Tech||Va. Tech 38-14||Va. Tech 27-10||Va. Tech 30-13||Va. Tech 27-7|
|NC State (+31.5) at Florida State||FSU 35-14||FSU 34-17||FSU 45-17||FSU 41-17|
|Boston College (+7) at N. Carolina||UNC 24-17||UNC 31-20||UNC 27-24||UNC 21-20|
It’s far from the most exciting slate of games in the SEC this week, but there are still some intriguing matchups. Missouri, the surprise of the nation, can all but clinch the SEC East with a win over South Carolina; Tennessee, fresh off its big win over the Gamecocks, heads to Tuscaloosa to battle the might Crimson Tide; and Mark Stoops takes his Kentucky Wildcats to Starkville for a Thursday night showdown with Mississippi State.
SEC Week 9 Game Power Rankings
1. South Carolina (+3) at Missouri (7:00 ET, ESPN2)
It’s the second annual Battle of Columbia — and it looks as though it might also be the battle of the backup quarterbacks. Missouri will once again go with Maty Mauk under center, and it appears that South Carolina will be without Connor Shaw, who injured his shoulder late in the loss at Tennessee. Shaw’s backup, Dylan Thompson, has plenty of experience, but this is a big blow to the Carolina offense. Shaw is a savvy senior leader who — up until the Tennessee game — had been playing extremely well. Mauk passed his first test, throwing for nearly 300 yards in the Tigers’ surprisingly easy win over Florida. Missouri is already two games up in the loss column in the SEC East; a win on Saturday will basically guarantee the Tigers a trip to Atlanta for the SEC title game.
2. Tennessee (+28.5) at Alabama (3:30 ET, CBS)
Alabama has dominated this great Southern rivalry of late, winning the last six games against Tennessee — all but one by 20 points or more. The Vols have not scored more than 17 points in regulation against Bama since 2001, when they won 35-24 in Tuscaloosa. (They scored 51 in the five-overtime classic in 2003, but had only 20 points at the end of the fourth quarter). Based on the recent play of the Alabama defense, Tennessee will have a hard time scoring more than 10 points on Saturday afternoon. Since its 49-42 win at Texas A&M, Alabama has allowed an average of 212 yards and 3.2 points in five games. Colorado State is the only team during that span that averaged more than 4.0 yards per play. Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley has played relatively well in his last two games, completing 36-of-65 for 394 yards without an interception, but both of those games — vs. Georgia and South Carolina — were at home. This trip to Tuscaloosa will be far more challenging.
3. Kentucky (+10) at Mississippi State (7:30 ET, Thur., ESPN)
This is a pivotal game for Mississippi State, which is 3-3 and searching for three more wins to become bowl-eligible. The Bulldogs have lost to three teams currently ranked in the top 20 of the AP poll — Oklahoma State (19), LSU (13) and Auburn (11) — and defeated three non-AQ conference teams. State is expected to start Tyler Russell at quarterback for the second straight week, but sophomore Dak Prescott will also see significant time. Kentucky announced on Tuesday that Maxwell Smith, a sophomore, will get the start at quarterback. Jalen Whitlow, who injured his ankle in the loss to Alabama two weeks ago, will be available and could play. Kentucky, as expected, is struggling on offense. In SEC games, UK is averaging only 214.7 yards per game; nationally, only Purdue is averaging less yards per game in league play.
4. Vanderbilt (+18) at Texas A&M (12:21 ET, SEC TV)
Vanderbilt and Texas A&M will meet for the first time ever. The Commodores are rejuvenated after rallying to beat Georgia in Nashville. The defense, which had really struggled in three previous SEC games, only gave up 221 yards and two touchdowns. Yes, Georgia was short-handed due to injury, but this was still a big step in the right direction for Vanderbilt. It looks as though the Dores will be without starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who went down with a knee injury in the second quarter against Georgia. Patton Robinette, a redshirt freshman, will make his first career start. Texas A&M must bounce back from a surprising loss at home to Auburn. The Aggie offense, as usual, was fantastic, but the defense continues to be a major concern. A&M ranks last in the league in total defense (494.4 ypg) and yards allowed per play (6.7). In league play, those numbers jump to 532.0 yards per game and 7.3 per play.
5. Florida Atlantic (+24.5) at Auburn (7:30 ET, FSN)
Auburn is perhaps the most improved team in the nation. The Tigers, 0-8 in the SEC last season — and outgained by an average of 214.3 yards in those eight games — are now 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the league after last week’s 45-41 win at Texas A&M. They already have more total yards in four SEC games (1,886) than they had last year in eight league games (1,881). Florida Atlantic is also much-improved, though the Owls only have two wins on their resume. Their last three losses have come by seven points in overtime at Middle Tennessee, by four points at Rice and by one point to Marshall.
6. Idaho (+41) at Ole Miss (7:30 PM, CSS)
The Rebels step out of SEC play this week after an emotional win over rival LSU last Saturday night. This week’s opponent, quite simply, is not very good. Idaho, coached by Bobby Petrino’s brother (Paul), is 1-6 overall, and all but one of its losses have come by 10 points or more. Ole Miss shouldn’t have to break a sweat on Saturday night.
7. Furman (+47) at LSU (7:00 PM, PPV)
LSU must regroup after suffering its second loss of the season — a loss (27-24 at Ole Miss) that knocked the Tigers out of the national title race. The once-potent LSU offense has been held to an average of 357.5 yards and 20.5 points the last two weeks — not awful numbers but definitely down a notch from previous games. Furman is coached by Bruce Fowler, who served as the defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt from 2002-10. While at Vanderbilt, Fowler faced LSU twice in Baton Rouge, holding the Tigers to 24 points in 2004 and 23 points in 2009.
5 Pivotal Players
Dylan Thompson, QB, South Carolina
With Connor Shaw sidelined due to a shoulder injury, Thompson will get his first start of the year. In his only significant action this season, Thompson completed 15-of-32 passes for 261 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in South Carolina’s 28-25 win at UCF. He will be facing a confident Missouri defense that limited Florida to 151 total yards last week in a 36-17 win in Columbia. Led by defensive end Michael Sam — a breakout performer in his senior season — the Tigers lead the SEC with 23 sacks. Thompson and the South Carolina offensive line will have to limit the negative plays (sacks, tackles for a loss) on Saturday night.
Missouri’s wide receivers
Missouri’s outstanding crop of big, physical and athletic receivers has been instrumental in the Tigers’ 7-0 start. This week, L’Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham, Marcus Murphy & Co. will face a South Carolina secondary that has held four of six opponents under 200 yards passing but gave up 300-plus to both Georgia and UCF. If the Tigers are able to stretch the field — they are averaging 8.5 yards per passing attempt in three SEC games — South Carolina could have trouble slowing down Mizzou’s balanced attack.
Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane, Tennessee
So many things will have to go well for Tennessee to hang with Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa — chief among them will be the Vols’ ability to run the ball with consistency. Neal and Lane have combined to rush for 1,028 yards on 189 carries for a solid 5.4-yard average. Yards, however, will be more difficult to come by this weekend. Alabama has been dominant against the run this season, allowing an average of 98.3 yards per game and 3.26 yards per carry. Since losing at Texas A&M, Bama has allowed a total of 371 rushing yards in five games. Tennessee, in its two previous games against top-flight rushing defenses, picked up 178 yards on 38 carries against Oregon and 66 yards on 21 carries against Florida.
Raymond Sanders and Jojo Kemp, Kentucky
With Maxwell Smith starting over Jalen Whitlow, Kentucky loses the threat of the run from the quarterback position. That puts more pressure on the Wildcats’ primary tailbacks, Sanders and Kemp, to be productive. Kentucky’s struggles on offense haven’t allowed either back to get much work — Sanders has 52 carries, Kemp 44 — but they have been effective in limited touches. Mississippi State has been solid against the run, but Kentucky will need to find a way to get Sanders and Kemp involved in the offense. It’s tough to envision Kentucky winning this game if Smith is asked to throw the ball over 30 times.
The Commodores’ linebacking corps struggled in losses to South Carolina and Missouri. The unit played much better last week — thanks in part to Karl Butler’s return from injury — in a 31-27 win over Georgia. Jake Sealand, who is filling in for the injured Chase Garnham in the middle, played his best game of the season, and Darreon Herring, a first-year starter on the outside, led the team with 10 tackles and had three pass break-ups. This group will face the ultimate challenge on Saturday against Johnny Manziel (assuming he plays) and the Texas A&M offense. The entire defense will need to play well, but it’s especially important for the linebackers to be at their best against a quarterback who is equally adept at running and throwing.
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Kentucky (+10) at Miss. St.||Miss. State 21-14||Miss. State 31-23||Miss. State 31-20||Miss. State 21-10|
|Vanderbilt (+18) at Texas A&M|
Texas A&M 49-28
|Texas A&M 44-31||Texas A&M 45-30||Texas A&M 44-31|
|Tennessee (+28.5) at Bama|
|Alabama 31-13||Alabama 38-13||Alabama 38-10|
|S. Carolina (+3) at Missouri|
|S. Carolina 30-24||S. Carolina 24-20||Missouri 27-20|
|Furman (+47) at LSU|
|LSU 52-7||LSU 55-3||LSU 41-0|
|FAU (+24.5) at Auburn|
|Auburn 44-17||Auburn 52-17||Auburn 44-10|
|Idaho (+41) at Ole Miss|
Ole Miss 35-7
|Ole Miss 38-13||Ole Miss 55-10||Ole Miss 48-0|