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The best and worst of college football was on display Saturday from thrilling upsets (Stanford over Oregon, Baylor over Kansas State), newfound hope in the national title race (Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia) and unexpected results (Baylor has a defense?).
A thrilling day of college football shook up the national title race, perhaps paved the way for a freshman to win the Heisman and left uncertainty in Eugene and Manhattan. Only a week ago, Kansas State and Oregon were favorites to win the national title, and now neither may win their own conference. Meanwhile, Notre Dame moved from the outside looking in to the clear No. 1 team in the BCS standings. And the SEC, left out a week ago, suddenly has a de facto national championship semifinal in Atlanta once again.
But reports of another conference shift, this time with Maryland and Rutgers in negotiations with the Big Ten, signaled that the off-field machinations never seem to stop.
We’ll save conference realignment for another time, here’s a look at what happened on the field this week.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 12 RECAP: THREE AND OUT
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM STANFORD 17, OREGON 14 (OT)
Stanford’s run defense was undervalued. Stanford entered the game leading the nation in run defense, but that didn’t seem to be a major talking point before the game at Autzen Stadium. Granted, Oregon didn’t have much trouble running on Stanford in the past two seasons. But Stanford responded by holding Oregon to 195 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry, both the second lowest totals for the Ducks since their 2011 opener against LSU. Led by linebacker Shayne Skov, Stanford made Kenjon Barner (66 yards, 3.1 yards per carry) and Marcus Mariota (21 of 37, INT) look mortal. Oregon’s 14 points were the fewest for the Ducks since a 19-8 loss to Boise State in Chip Kelly’s first game as head coach in 2009.
Taylor/Hogan was the top backfield. The best duo of veteran running back and redshirt freshman quarterback turned out not to be Barner/Mariota, but Stepfan Taylor and Kevin Hogan. Taylor continued to do yeoman’s work by grinding out yards (161 on 33 carries), but the move to Hogan at quarterback sparked Stanford’s season. Hogan had two turnovers, but his poise in his first road start and mobility (37 rushing yards) turned out to be a major asset. With its only losses by 4 to Washington and in overtime to Notre Dame, Stanford has to wonder how the season would have gone if its quarterback played like this all season.
Oregon’s defensive playmakers kept it close. Injuries have cut into the Ducks’ secondary, and their defensive line is young. But defensive plays kept Oregon in the game while the offense sputtered. If not for three Stanford turnovers, including two in Oregon territory, the Ducks may not have even had the game in reach to force overtime. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu forced two fumbles recovered by Oregon, but in the end, Stanford recovering its own bouncing fumble in overtime helped seal the win.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM BAYLOR 52, KANSAS STATE 24
Collin Klein’s not the same, is his shot at the Heisman gone? In one game, Klein doubled his interception total on the season with three against Baylor. The national championship is gone for Kansas State, the Big 12 could be gone, and so could a Heisman for Klein. Since leaving the Oklahoma State game with a possible concussion, Klein is 38 of 71 for 431 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s also rushed for three touchdowns in that span.
Baylor has a defense. In the most shocking development Saturday, Baylor found a defense to match its prolific offense. Entering the game, the Bears ranked 120th of 124 in total defense, 118th in pass defense and 96th in rush defense, yet Baylor’s defense was the best unit on the field in Waco. Kansas State rushed for merely 76 yards. Every other Baylor opponent in the Big 12 had rushed for at least 151.
Lache Seastrunk was a factor in the title race. The five-star recruit who couldn’t crack the running back rotation at Oregon and was a key figure of the Willie Lyles controversy ended up impacting the national title race, just not in the way anyone imagined. The Baylor running back rushed for 185 yards against Kansas State, including an 80-yard touchdown that put Kansas State away for good.
MOVING THE CHAINS
UCLA’s future. UCLA has been in the Pac-12 title game before, and the Bruins have upset USC in recent years. That much is true, but the Bruins’ 38-28 win over USC to clinch the Pac-12 South is a signature win for Jim L. Mora and the program. UCLA’s last win over USC, a 13-9 victory in 2006, was a fluke. UCLA’s second win over its rival since 1999 signals a shift in momentum for both Los Angeles schools. As rare as a rainy day at the Rose Bowl -- which occurred Saturday, by the way -- UCLA is L.A.’s top team. The Bruins took a 24-0 lead on USC, and only a fumble of a slippery ball into the end zone for a USC touchdown kept the the Trojans in striking distance late. And redshirt freshman Brett Hundley didn’t wait until Matt Barkley left town to become the city’s top quarterback. Against USC on Saturday, he was 22 of 30 for 234 yards with three total touchdowns (two rushing, three passing).
Oklahoma State. The Cowboys had a handful of reasons this year could have gone the wrong way -- a rebuilding year without Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, a struggling defense early in the season, injuries to two starting quarterbacks. But Oklahoma State showed staying power this season with a 59-21 win over Texas Tech for a 7-3 record and 5-2 in the Big 12. Clint Chelf, the third starting quarterback of the season, got the call against Texas Tech despite a healthy J.W. Walsh. Chelf was 11 of 21 for 229 yards with three touchdowns, and Walsh entered the game on a handful of plays to account for a passing score and rushing TD. Keep in mind neither of these two quarterbacks began the season as the starter. Quarterback depth is in strong supply in Stillwater.
Oklahoma. Fourth-quarter wins have been rare for Oklahoma recently. Before Saturday, the Sooners hadn’t had a fourth-quarter comeback since 2007. On Saturday, Oklahoma waited until the final minutes to defeat West Virginia and keep the Sooners’ BCS hopes alive. That’s no thanks to the Oklahoma defense, which allowed 458 rushing yards and 320 passing to West Virginia. Landry Jones passed for 554 yards and six touchdowns including a six-yard TD to Kenny Stills with 24 seconds remaining for a 50-49 win.
Lane Kiffin, USC. How disastrous was USC’s loss to UCLA? Reports asked both Kiffin and his athletic director, Pat Haden, if the could would return next season (the answer from both was yes). The Trojans fell behind by 24 points in the first quarter, turned the ball over three times and had a field goal and a punt blocked. It’s been a fall of historic proportions for the preseason No. 1 (by Athlon and Associated Press). Since the first AP poll in 1936, only four other teams have started No. 1 and lost four games. Before USC dropped to 7-4, the last team to do so was Auburn in 1984. With a game against undefeated USC and a bowl game looming, USC could be the second preseason No. 1 team to lose five games or the first to lose six.
Louisiana Tech. Even with a 59-57 loss to Texas A&M, Louisiana Tech could still cling to a slim hope of a BCS bid if it finished in the top 16 and and ahead of an BCS automatic-qualifying conference champion in the rankings. Now, Louisiana Tech doesn’t seem likely to win the WAC. The Bulldogs battled back from a 41-17 deficit late in the fourth quarter to take Utah State to overtime, but the Bulldogs couldn’t finish the job with a 48-41 loss. Utah State, which entered the season with little fanfare, is a win over lowly Idaho away from an undefeated conference season.
Ole Miss’ fourth quarters.. The Rebels are among the most improved teams in the country under first-year coach Hugh Freeze, but the last two weeks have been excruciating anyway. Ole Miss let a 17-point fourth quarter lead evaporate to a 27-26 loss to Vanderbilt last week. In Baton Rouge, Ole Miss led for the entire third quarter and then with 11:11 remaining before Odell Beckham returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown to tie. In a classic case of whether or not to allow the other team to score, Ole Miss elected to play defense in the final seconds in the red zone against LSU in a tie game. The Rebels stopped Jeremy Hill at the 2-yard line, which allowed LSU to run down the clock and then score the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds left. At least the LSU win brought another classic moment from Les Miles:
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. By virtue of Collin Klein throwing throwing three interceptions in Kansas State’s loss to Baylor, Manziel may be in position to be the first freshman to win the Heisman. Even though Texas A&M faced Sam Houston State, Manziel managed to add to his resume. With 267 passing yards and 100 rushing yards, he became the fifth quarterback and first freshman to top 3,000 passing and 1,000 rushing in a season. And with 1,029 rushing yards this season, Manziel also set a record for most rushing yards by a freshman quarterback. .
Marqise Lee, USC. Few are better playmakers than Lee, but the odds of a receiver on a four-loss team finishing high on the list seem slim. Lee caught nine passes for 158 yards with a touchdown in the loss to UCLA, but he also lost a fumble when lined up a tailback.
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. The Huskies quarterback isn’t going to be a Heisman finalist, but he may show up in the No. 6-10 range in the balloting. On Wednesday night, Lynch didn’t disappoint with 407 passing yards and 162 rushing yards to clinch the MAC West and a 10-win season in a 31-24 win over Toledo.
CONFERENCE TITLE GAMES CLINCHED
• Kent State/Northern Illinois (MAC)
• Tulsa (Conference USA)
• UCLA (Pac-12)
NAMES YOU’LL SEE IN COACHING RUMORS
• Gary Andersen, Utah State
• Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois
• Darrell Hazell, Kent State
CRAZY FINAL SCORES
• South Carolina 24, Wofford 7
• Vanderbilt 41, Tennessee 18
• Virginia Tech 30, Boston College 23 (OT)
8.Touchdowns for Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. In a 62-48 win over NC State, Boyd passed for five touchdowns and ran for three to account for an ACC-record eight. The Wolfpack took a seven-point lead in the second quarter when Boyd accounted for Clemson’s next six unanswered TDs.
351. Rushing yards for Temple running back Montel Harris. The Boston College transfer was in position to set the ACC’s career rushing record, but he’ll have to settle for the Big East single-game record with 351 and seven touchdowns against Army. Harris was held out of practice for most of the week after leaving last week’s loss to Cincinnati with a knee injury.
21, 45. Two records that seem out of place in this high-flying era of college football: Alabama’s A.J. McCarron set a school record with 21 touchdown passes this season. And Penn State’s Matt McGloin set a career record for the Nittany Lions with 45 touchdown passes.
BURIED ON THE DEPTH CHART
Sean Mannion’s return. The return of Oregon State starting quarterback Sean Mannion was easy to overlook late Saturday night, but certainly not for Cal. Mannion was 24 of 34 for 325 yards with four touchdowns in the 62-14 rout of the Bears. Mannion was at full strength for the first time since Oregon State’ fourth game of the season, an interesting development for the Oregon-Oregon State game this week.
Kent State clinches division. Kent State’s best season since Don James was the coach could end with a conference championship. The Golden Flashes clinched a MAC title game appearance thanks to two late defensive stands and 241 rushing yards from Dri Archer in a 31-24 win over Bowling Green. At 10-1 Kent State has to wonder what might have been if not for a 47-17 loss to Kentucky in September. The same could be said for MAC West champion Northern Illinois, whose only loss was by one point to Iowa.
Houston, Southern Miss futility. It’s been apparent for several weeks that Houston and Southern Miss wouldn’t sniff the postseason, but things got worse for last year’s Conference USA division winners. Houston was eliminated from bowl contention in a wild 44-41 loss to Marshall. And defending C-USA champion Southern Miss continued a bid for a winless season by losing 34-33 at home to 3-8 UTEP.
THREE DEFENSIVE STANDS
Ohio State. At the time, it seemed like Ohio State’s stop of Montee Ball at the goal line merely denied Ball a chance to set the FBS career touchdown record. It may have cost Wisconsin the game and legitimacy in the Big Ten Leaders race. Ohio State remained undefeated and won the division (at least as far as the actual standings are concerned) when linebacker Ryan Shazier forced a Montee Ball fumble on a fourth-and-1 at the goal line. Wisconsin wouldn’t denied the second time the Badgers attempted to tie from the goal line, but Ohio State won the game 21-14 in overtime.
Northwestern. Finally, the Wildcats didn’t fold. Northwestern flopped in the second half against Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State this season but not against Michigan State. Northwestern held against Michigan State, including a third-quarter interception to clinch the 23-20 win for an 8-3 season.
Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights offense played with fire with red zone turnovers, but the defense held to keep Rutgers’ Big East title hopes intact in a 10-3 win over Cincinnati. Rutgers had two interceptions and held Cincinnati’s George Winn to a 35 rushing yards, 40 fewer yards than Winn had in any game this season. If Rutgers defeats Louisville in the final game of the season, the Scarlet Knights will win their first Big East title.
• Arizona State
• Georgia Tech
BEST GAMES NEXT WEEK
• Michigan at Ohio State
• Florida at Florida State
• Notre Dame at USC
Tavon Austin’s record day -- rushing. West Virginia has had trouble running the ball under Dana Holgorsen, so the coach turned to his best offensive threat to take over. Austin, a Biletnikoff Award-contending receiver, rushed for 344 yards on 21 carries in the 50-49 loss to Oklahoma. Austin’s 572 all-purpose yards (including 82 receiving and 146 on kickoff returns) was only six yards short of an FBS record.
Manziel’s extra point attempt. In a game where the outcome was never in doubt, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin shuffled things up by sending his star quarterback out for an extra point attempt in the 47-28 win over Sam Houston State. Manziel can set SEC and freshman offense records, but he’s not going to play special teams -- the attempt sailed wide right.
Michigan starts Gardner and Robinson. Denard Robinson made his return to the starting lineup against Iowa, but as a tailback to Devin Gardner. Nerve damage in his elbow rendered the former quarterback a non-factor in the passing game, but he could still run, leading the Wolverines with 98 rushing yards. However, Gardner was the star of the day by completing 18 of 23 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns. Robinson lined up at running back, receiver and quarterback, but his rushing yards will still add to his Big Ten record for rushing yards as a quarterback, according to ESPN’s Michael Rothstein.
This is the last of the bye weeks. It’s all up to health and strategy from here on out to get you to a fantasy football championship. Here are some updates on injured players, their status for the Week 11 games or the outlook for their replacements.
Owen Daniels, TE, Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Ther Texans have made Owen Daniels active for today's game. So you have plenty of time to make adjustments — unless you're in a Yahoo league. After missing last week with his hip injury, Daniels was limited in practice this week. You really have to wonder if one of this season's top-five tight ends will be needed much against a Jacksonville team that has lost its last six and has only scored in double digits once in those six losses. Maybe look for someone like Oakland's Brandon Myers, fantasy's ninth-best TE who is owned in just 38 percent of Yahoo leagues, going against a Saints defense that is ranked 21st against the position. Myers was listed on the injury report with a concussion and shoulder, but is active as well and practiced in full on Thursday and Friday.
DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones, RBs, Dallas Cowboys vs. Cleveland Browns
DeMarco Murray teased us early in the week when he said "this week is the best I've felt." He was listed as doubtful with the foot injury that continues to bother him and is now inactive today. The Cowboys turn around and play on Thanksgiving later this week, so perhaps we will see him back on the field then. Felix Jones finally had a decent fantasy week for those in all scoring formats, hitting 18.3 in PPR and 15.3 in standard scoring. That was Jones' highest output of the season against an Eagles defense ranked 29th against fantasy backs the last five weeks. Now Jones draws a Browns defense that is ranked 25th against his position the last five weeks. Jones doubled the carries of his two backups combined and is at least a high RB2/flex play today.
Michael Vick, Nick Foles, QBs, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins
The concussion that knocked Michael Vick out of last week's game against Dallas will keep him out of today's game against Washington. Rookie Nick Foles will get his first start. Foles was 22-of-32 for 219 yards with one TD, one interception and a fumble against Dallas, and now he draws a Redskins defense that is ranked 31st against fantasy QBs (25.4 PPG). No quarterback has thrown for under 200 yards (the first eight hit at least 299), no quarterback has left without a TD and the Redskins are 0-8 against the rookie QBs they've faced since 2006, to boot. Foles has LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, with a back strain, at his disposal. You can't assume that Andy Reid is going to lean on the run game to take pressure off of the rookie QB; he hasn't leaned on the run game in the past. If there was ever a time to take a flier on a QB with high upside, this is the week.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
This is the last of the bye weeks. It’s all up to health and strategy from here on out to get you to a fantasy football championship. Here are some updates on injured players, their status for the Week 11 games or the outlook for their replacements.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders vs. New Orleans Saints
Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson are out again this week with their high ankle sprains, and while Marcel Reece (hamstring) is on the injury report, he did practice this week and is expected to start. And there are a lot of factors that point toward Reece being a very, very solid start this week. First and foremost, he is all but last-man standing in the Raiders' backfield. Starting WR Darrius Heyward-Bey is highly questionable (hamstring) and TE Brandon Myers is dealing with a concussion. Add to all of those factors that the Saints are the second-worst team in the league against fantasy running backs and this should be a stars align kind of matchup. Reece can run and catch and will need to do both for Oakland to keep pace with the Saints.
Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots
Donald Brown returned last week from his knee injury to split carries with Vick Ballard in the team's 27-10 win at Jacksonville. Two things disconcerting about the timeshare is that neither backs reached 50 yards with the 12 and 14 carries they got, and they won by 17. It is unlikely the Colts are winning by 17 today against New England. Yes, they might run the ball more to try and control the clock against the Patriots, but will one back emerge if that's the route the Colts go? This, of course, is the state of fantasy football with RBBC, but there is nothing dynamic about Brown that makes him a worthy start today. Add in that he is still dealing with the knee and I'd rather take my chances with Marcel Reece or Jacquizz Rodgers.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons vs. Arizona Cardinals
The every other week philosophy is in place with Julio Jones and Roddy White this season. Almost every other week one of the two has gotten theirs and the other simply has not. Only once this season have the two scored above 14 points each in the same game in PPR scoring. Jones started the trend in Week 1 and it turned out to be road games were his forte as the schedule fell. Last week was supposed to be his week in New Orleans and for the first time on the road he failed to reach at least 17.7 points in PPR scoring. Trends say this should not be his week as it is White's turn and the Falcons are at home. Add in the ankle injury for Jones and perhaps the fantasy football gods are telling us something. He did not practice at all this week due to the injury but is active. Arizona is 15th against fantasy receivers in PPR scoring and eighth over the last five weeks. The Cardinals have not surrendered over 80 yards to a receiver since Week 6 but they have allowed seven TDs to the position since then. Tough to sit Jones, but the Falcons do have other weapons to get the job done against an Arizona team which is 1-3 on the road and has not scored more than 17 points away from its house since the 20 it had in Week 2.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
This is the last of the bye weeks. It’s all up to health and strategy from here on out to get you to a fantasy football championship. Here are some updates on injured players, their status for the Week 11 games or the outlook for their replacements.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions
A hamstring shelved Jordy Nelson in Week 8 and as soon as he comes back he goes out early with an ankle injury in Week 9, receiving just one target and no catches. Coming off of the bye, Nelson waslisted as probable with the hamstring and not the ankle, but is active. Today he draws a Lions secondary that has been depleted all season long. Despite their injuries, the Lions are still middle of the road against fantasy receivers. Only Percy Harvin (Week 6) and Nate Washington (Week 3 thanks to a circus grab) have gone over 100 yards. Brandon Marshall's 6-for-81 and a TD in Week 7 is the third-best day against Detroit. The numbers might be a bit skewed over the last three weeks having faced Seattle, Jacksonville and Minnesota, but no receiver has gone over 65 yards. The Lions have allowed four TDs to four different receivers over that time, however. Bottom line: Coming off a bye, if Nelson is active, he's active in your lineup. The aforementioned numbers are just fair warning. But, speaking of numbers, Nelson was 14-for-253 with four scores in two games against Detroit last season.
Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts
Wes Welker practiced for the first time this week on Friday and is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. Welker, along with fellow receiver Brandon Lloyd and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, are all listed as questionable. Is this just the typical Patriots injury report or are we looking at an offensive epidemic? For Gronk and Lloyd, they are much better bets to go in today's late game. For Hernandez, he is likely out, and Welker will be a game-time decision. Welker's injury seems a little more concerning than usual. He's had his three lowest scoring outputs the last three weeks since the 2.9 he opened the season with against Tennessee. There's no guarantee whether it will be Julian Edelman or Deion Branch that would see increased targets were Welker and Hernandez not to play. It's looking like the Pats' receiving corps might be like its RB corps — you don't know which one to count on.
Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons vs. Arizona Cardinals
There has been a lot of talk lately about how Michael Turner fits, or doesn't fit, in the up-tempo offense the Falcons are running these days. A lot is still dependent upon the in-game situation. For example, the Falcons trailed the Saints last week and Turner had just 13 carries for 15 yards. It is the seventh time in nine games Turner has been at 18 or less carries this season, however. It is not so much that the role is shifting to the speedy Jacquizz Rodgers as it is just simply Turner will not be the 300-plus carry, 1,200-yard back anymore. He is listed on the injury report this week as questionable with a groin injury. And the Falcons, coming off their first loss, draw a Cardinals team that was gashed by Adrian Peterson (153-1) and C.J. Spiller (110 total yards and a TD) in Weeks 6 and 7 but followed by slowing down San Francisco and Green Bay's running games in losses by 18 and 14 points. Today's Falcons-Cards game is an early start; so monitor Turner's status. If he is out, Rodgers is a must-start.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington Redskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Well, Pierre Garcon is back apparently. A season that began with an 88-yard screen pass for a TD from Robert Griffin III in Week 1 was also cut short because of that TD. Garcon injured his foot on the play and has seen just two more games of action since — garnering eight targets for four catches and 44 yards. Garcon is listed as questionable for today's game against the Eagles and their 13th ranked fantasy defense against receivers in PPR scoring. But all signs point to him returning to action today. Then the question becomes: how much action will he see? It is not likely it will be enough to make a fantasy dent, but keep in mind the only dent he has made thus far in 2012 is one screen pass taken 88 yards for a score. If you are super desperate, give it a shot against an Eagles defense that has given up five TDs to receivers in the last four games.
Brandon Myers, TE, Oakland Raiders vs. New Orleans Saints
Brandon Myers is dealing with a shoulder and a concussion that have him listed as probable on the injury report. But the game's ninth-best tight end was back at practice on Thursday and Friday in full. There is no Darren McFadden or Mike Goodson in the backfield. There might not be a Darrius Heyward-Bey in the receiving corps, but there is a Saints defense susceptible to giving up yards and points. Enter Myers. A week ago, New Orleans allowed Tony Gonzalez to catch 11 balls on 15 targets for 122 yards and two TDs. Now that is a Hall of Famer, but even half that day is 18 points in a PPR. I'd even take the 9.5 Myers is averaging.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts
Brandon Lloyd has been limited all week at practice with his knee injury and joins Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez as Patriots that have a legitimate chance of being inactive for today's late game. Of course Lloyd has been low boom or bust this season already. He was likely providing a good value early on with four straight double-digit PPR days to start the season, but he has had three games under 10 points in his last five outings; the other two have been 14- and 16.8-point games. But he has played with this lingering knee injury and the Pats draw a Colts defense today that is fourth-worst in the league against receivers in PPR scoring.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Jay Cutler, Jason Campbell, QBs, Chicago Bears vs. San Francisco 49ers (Monday night)
Jay Cutler has been ruled out of Monday night's game at San Francisco after the concussion he received in the first half of last week's game. Jason Campbell, who stepped under center in the second half last week, will get the starting nod. And the team he draws is fourth-best against fantasy QBs. Granted, here is who the 49ers have faced since Matthew Stafford in Week 2: Christian Ponder, Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, John Skelton and Sam Bradford. However, three of the last four starters have had double-digit days. Now Campbell steps in and takes over for a Bears' offense that was already ranked 24th amongst fantasy QBs with three games above 24 fantasy points at the position, and four games below 15 points. If Cutler couldn't do it, why would Campbell, whose had plenty of chances bouncing around the league, be any better for the Bears? Go grab Nick Foles off the wire if he's still out there (in 84 percent of Yahoo leagues he is) and take your chances with him vs. a Redskins defense ranked 31st against fantasy QBs instead of relying on Campbell.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos
A neck injury suffered last week vs. Tampa Bay kept Ryan Mathews off the practice field until he returned in a limited capacity on Friday. Injuries are making this quite an interesting matchup on both sides. If Mathews plays he will likely not have left tackle Jared Gaither (groin) helping block for him. On the other side of the line is injured defensive end Elvis Dumervil (shoulder), who will be a game-time decision and cornerback Tracy Porter (illness), who is out. Denver currently ranked 14th against fantasy RBs and have not allowed a back to reach 20 points in fantasy since Week 5. Mathews had 13.3 points in PPR scoring in their Week 6 matchup. Mathews has only eclipsed 20 points once this season (Week 5 - 25.9). It is unlikely you have a better back out there and have been dealing with the Mathews situation all season. But I would take a chance with guys like Alfred Morris and Marcel Reece over Mathews this week; as a matter of fact, I am.
Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, WRs, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens (Sunday night)
Antonio Brown (ankle) will miss his second straight game with the injury that knocked him out two weeks ago. Emmanuel Sanders will get his second start in place of Brown. The good news: the Steelers face a Ravens team that is ranked 22nd against fantasy receivers in PPR scoring and the secondary, already besieged by injuries earlier in the season, has corner Jimmy Smith out with a groin and safety Ed Reed dealing with a stinger in his shoulder. The bad news: Byron Leftwich is at quarterback for the Steelers and Pittsburgh has a full stable of running backs now that might make depending on a particular receiver a little troublesome. Sanders drew seven targets and caught two of them for 30 yards last week with Brown out. That was with both Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich at QB. I think I'd pass on Sanders tonight as the Steelers run on the Ravens.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Dwayne Bowe is listed as probable on the injury report with a thigh. He is coming off of a 4-for-55 performance on nine targets vs. Pittsburgh. He had a 22-yard TD called back by a ho-hum holding call against the Steelers. Bowe has Matt Cassel at QB again. Cassel has targeted Bowe 19 times in the last two games, but 12-for-134 (12.7 PPG in PPR 6.7 in standard scoring) and no scores is all Bowe has to show for it. Cassel has just one TD to three interceptions in the last three games. Bowe will likely draw coverage from Leon Hall, Pro Football Focus' 38th-ranked cornerback currently. Hall has been targeted 16 times, allowing 13 catches for 126 yards and no scores the last three games. So Bowe should be par for the course average this week.
Darren Sproles, RB, New Orleans Saints vs. Oakland Raiders
Darren Sproles is listed as questionable with the hand injury he has. The good news: He could be active today and if active should handle a full workload if the swelling in his hand is not a problem. The bad news: He will likely be part of four active running backs against the Raiders, and counting on a back with a swollen hand in a crowded backfield his first time back from the injury is a pretty scary fantasy prospect. Call me conservative, but I will use this as an exploratory game with Sproles to see how he fares when the game is over. If anyone was silly enough to drop him in your league, then by all means go and grab him now. In eight percent of the Yahoo leagues that is the case.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland Raiders vs. New Orleans Saints
Isn't this just always the way? Coming off of his best game of the season, Darrius Heyward-Bey is questionable for today's game with a hamstring injury. DHB caught five balls for 82 yards and a score against Baltimore last week and was primed for back-to-back weeks with the Saints on tap today. He strained his hamstring in practice Wednesday and did not practice on Thursday or Friday. No practice. Bad hamstring. Late start. No thanks. The Raiders have other options and are certainly used to playing without Heyward-Bey over his career. If you're a DHB owner, hope he doesn't play so he comes back 100 percent against the Bengals in Week 12.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, QBs, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens (Sunday night)
Ben Roethlisberger is on the shelf with a scary rib injury and when fantasy's ninth-best quarterback will returns no one knows. We do know that there is no way you can go to his backup, Byron Leftwich, for your fantasy lineup. He never threw more than 15 TD passes in a season, never threw for more than 2,900 yards in a season and might not even be a good fit for the Steelers under Todd Haley. An article from ESPN AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley certainly caught my attention early in the week, and it did not spell good news for either Leftwich or Charlie Batch as positive replacements. Here's to hoping for a speedy recovery for Big Ben and that no fantasy owner has to rely on either of his backups.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts
He's in. He's out. His ankle injury from earlier in the year continues to be a problem and it seems likely Aaron Hernandez will be out for today's late start against the Colts. Hernandez missed Weeks 2-5 with the injury, returned in Weeks 6 (6-30-1) and 7 (5-54-0) but missed the last two games with a bye week sandwiched in between. Surely you've moved on and have been filling your roster with either or more reliable replacement or are living week to week with a new guy, hoping Hernandez comes back, Well, hope for one more week. And it's a short week at that as the Patriots travel to the Jets for a Thanksgiving night game. That is the last team Hernandez faced, catching the five balls for 54 yards in Week 7.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday night)
A chest injury has Torrey Smith listed as probable on the injury report. He practiced in a limited capacity on Friday and is expected to get the start tonight against the Steelers. Pittsburgh, banged up defense and all, has allowed just one TD to a receiver in the last three weeks, three the last five weeks and seven all season. Outside of Demaryius Thomas' 110 yards in Week 1, no receiver has gone over Titans rookie Kendall Wright's 71 in Week 6. Smith enters the game on the heels of just his second set of consecutive double-digit weeks in PPR scoring; Smith had 5-for-71 and a score on nine targets when the teams last met in Week 9 last season. But with Joe Flacco's struggles on the road — his four lowest outputs are away from home this season — and Smith having just one double-digit fantasy day away from Baltimore this season, you better have no other options.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers vs. Chicago Bears (Monday night)
Limited in practice all week and questionable on the injury report with a concussion, Alex Smith is still expected to start at quarterback on Monday night. Great. Now go face the Chicago Bears, ranked third in fantasy against the QB position, Mr. Smith. The Bears have allowed just seven TD passes this season — no more than one per game, picked off 19 passes and six QBs have thrown for less than 219 yards. Even if this game was Sunday at 1 p.m. and Smith was healthy, I would look for another option.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens (Sunday night)
Rashard Mendenhall is expected to get the start tonight against the Ravens and the Steelers sure could use him. They are without their starting QB. They are without their No. 2 receiver and their defense is banged up. Enter Mendenhall and ball control. The running back is listed as probable with the Achilles injury that he suffered early in Week 6. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer will still be in the mix, making it tough to depend on just Mendenhall. But the stars do seem to be aligning for him to be called on to help a Pittsburgh offense without Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. Mendenhall had 25 carries for 97 yards and one TD in two games against the Ravens last year. But these are not the same Ravens and Sunday night will not be the same Steelers.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins
A 44-yard TD pass from rookie Nick Foles to Jeremy Maclin in the third quarter last week certainly did nothing to dampen our hopes of what these two could possibly do today against a terrible Redskins pass defense. A back strain has Maclin listed as probable on the injury report, but the receiver said he expects to start. He practiced in full on Friday and his health should not be a concern in Week 11. Washington is ranked 31st against fantasy receivers this season. Seven receivers have eclipsed 100 yards; three more have had at least 71 and 11 have caught a TD.
— By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 11.
Locks of the Week
Some fans in Kansas City plan on wearing funeral black to Arrowhead on Sunday, while Detroit fans may be close to breaking out their brown paper bags from the early 2000s.
Bengals (-3.5) at Chiefs
“The fans are frustrated,” said Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel. “Hopefully… we can change the atmosphere and environment around here.” Not this week.
Packers (-4) at Lions
Green Bay is fresh off its bye week and Aaron Rodgers carries a 7–1 record against Detroit, with five of those wins by five or more points.
The Keystone State’s quarterbacks — Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick — are banged up, making teams from the Beltway a better bet this weekend.
Ravens (-3.5) at Steelers
Byron Leftwich will start in place of Big Ben (right shoulder). Baltimore will look to make it three straight in Pittsburgh, after a pair of three-point wins in 2010 and ’11.
Redskins (-4) vs. Eagles
Rookie Nick Foles makes his first career start in place of Vick (concussion). Skins coach Mike Shanahan puts his 10–6 record after a bye on the line.
Big numbers were a big letdown last week, but these three high-powered home teams should be able to take care of business against traditional losers this week.
Cowboys (-8) vs. Browns
If Big D can’t put the smack down on Cleveland, heads will roll. Expect to see Jerry Jones on the sidelines celebrating late in this blowout win.
Falcons (-10) vs. Cardinals
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has an 8–0 record in games immediately after a loss over the last two years and a 14–3 career mark after being defeated.
Texans (-15.5) vs. Jaguars
Houston beat J-Ville 27–7 in Week 2. Five of the Jags’ eight losses have been by 16 or more points, with a pair of 17-point losses to the Lions and Colts the past two weeks.
These may not be straight up upsets, but keeping it close is not out of the question.
Raiders (+6) vs. Saints
New Orleans needs to march to victory, no doubt. But the West Coast bias at the Black Hole might not lend itself to a Big Easy blowout.
Chargers (+8) at Broncos
The Bolts were blitzed 35–24 by the Broncs in Week 6. But that week, Philip Rivers threw four INTs and coughed up two fumbles.
Steer clear of these bad boys, unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action.
Buccaneers (-2) at Panthers
Cam Newton may have lost every press conference and all but two games this year, but this smells like a divisional upset for the Cats.
Rams (-3.5) vs. Jets
Jeff Fisher will play for the tie, unless you consider near-60-yard FG attempts as playing for the win. But it’s hard to push on a 3.5-point line.
Patriots (-9) vs. Colts
New England failed to cover against lowly Buffalo last week. But the stats show that Indy either wins or gets blown out — with three losses of 24, 20 and five points.
Off the Board
The big board in Vegas has a headache with the Monday night party between San Fran and Chi-town.
49ers (n/a) vs. Bears
Both Alex Smith and Jay Cutler suffered concussions last week. Let’s wager on what the line will be — take the Niners (-2.5) to cover.
Bitter rivalries are typically associated with the college game. But if you've ever sat in a pro stadium and wondered where all those Terrible Towels came from, then you realize that NFL rivalries and allegiances can run just as deep. Here are the 10 bitterest and best.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers - Baltimore Ravens
Physical, intense and filled with old-fashioned hatred, this rivalry stands at the apex of NFL grudge matches. It's not for the faint-of-heart, nor is it for alligator-armed receivers afraid to go over the middle.
The rivalry, which began in 1997, had a slightly unfair advantage from the start, in that it was a natural successor to the longstanding Steelers-Browns blood feud. Plus, when the Colts moved to Indianapolis, many fans in Baltimore turned their affections to the Steelers, adding local flavor when pro football returned to Maryland.
Whatever the source, the mutual disregard gives this game between bitter AFC North rivals extra spice, as if it needed any.
"The coaches hate each other, the players hate each other," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2006. "There's no calling each other after the game and inviting each other out to dinner. But the feeling's mutual: They don't like us, and we don't like them. There's no need to hide it, they know it, and we know it. It's going to be one of those black and blue games."
AFC Championship Game
Jan. 18, 2009
Steelers 23, Ravens 14
In their third meeting of the season, the two teams continued their regular-season tradition of trading haymakers until one team was left standing. In this one, the Steelers held the Ravens to 184 total yards and forced five turnovers, the most important a Troy Polamalu pick-six that gave the Steelers their final 9-point margin. Two more forced turnovers followed, clinching the Steelers' spot in Super Bowl XLIII.
Rivalry at a Glance
Pittsburgh leads all-time series 21-14 (8-8 in Baltimore, 13-6 in Pittsburgh, 3-0 in the postseason)
Current streak: Baltimore, 2
Longest Baltimore win streak: 3 (2005-06)
Longest Pittsburgh win streak: 5 (1997-99; 2001-03
Most lopsided game: Pittsburgh 37, Baltimore 0, 1997
2002 - Pittsburgh 27, Baltimore 10
2009 - Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 14
2011 - Pittsburgh 31, Baltimore 24
2. New England Patriots - Indianapolis Colts
The media has personalized this rivalry over the years, focusing a laser-like spotlight on the respective quarterbacks. That's only natural, given that they're possibly the two greatest ever to play the position. But the continuation of the rivalry in the post-Peyton Manning era in Indy indicates that there's always been more to it than Manning vs. Tom Brady.
To be fair, the rivalry's ascension did coincide with the emergence of Brady and Manning as elite NFL face-of-the-franchise types. Brady and Manning have combined for six MVP awards and four Super Bowl crowns, putting their respective teams on their shoulders for a combined record of 271-105, 25-11 in the postseason.
Brady leads Manning 3-1 in Super Bowl wins, and that edge is reflected in their head-to-head results — during the Brady era, New England holds a 9-5 edge over Indy head-to-head. The Patriots have won three of the last four, but the arrival of Andrew Luck in Indy portends continuing relevance for this rivalry.
AFC Championship Game
Jan. 21, 2007
Indianapolis 38, New England 34
This one was an all-time classic, as the Colts overcame a 21-3 deficit and a run of futility against Brady and the Patriots by scoring 32 second-half points and taking their final lead on a Joseph Addai touchdown with only a minute remaining. Still, the Colts needed an interception with 17 seconds left to thwart the Patriots' final last-ditch drive, which reached the Indy 45-yard line.
Manning stood tall in orchestrating the biggest comeback in NFL championship game history, leading the Colts to 455 total yards and earning some personal vindication after the Patriots had ended two Indy playoff runs in the previous three seasons. In fact, the game earned the nickname "Peyton's Revenge."
Rivalry at a Glance
New England leads all-time series 46-29 (2-1 in the postseason)
Current streak: New England, 2
Most lopsided game: New England 42, Colts 3, 1974
2004 - New England 24, Indianapolis 14
2005 - New England 20, Indianapolis 3
2007 - Indianapolis 38, New England 34
3. Chicago Bears - Green Bay Packers
The oldest, most tradition-laden rivalry in the NFL is entering a golden phase when both teams are competitive and attempting to win the NFC North at the other's expense. The rivalry began in 1921, and its history features Mt. Rushmore names like Lambeau, Halas, Lombardi and Lovie. Okay, some are better than others, although Lovie Smith has his Bears at a competitive peak this season. The teams have met 185 times, with Chicago holding a 92-87-6 lead.
Dampening the tradition only slightly is the fact that these two teams have made the postseason in the same year only four times, meeting in the playoffs twice in nearly a century of competition.
In a series of ebbs and flows, the Packers have won seven of the last eight between the two teams. The Bears dominated the 1940s and '50s (40-9-2) while not surprisingly, the Pack dominated the Lombardi years, going 15-5 in the 1960s.
NFC Championship Game
Jan. 23, 2011
Green Bay 21, Chicago 14
The Pack stung the Bears early, jumping out to a 14-0 lead at Soldier Field and holding on for the win and a spot in Super Bowl XLV. The game is largely remembered for the controversial exit of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who left with a sprained knee and watched as Caleb Hanie attempted to lead a rally. B.J. Raji returned a Hanie interception for the clinching touchdown.
Rivalry at a Glance
Chicago leads all-time series 92-87-6 (1-1 in the postseason)
Current streak: Green Bay, 5
Most lopsided game: Chicago 61, Green Bay 7, 1980
1941 - Chicago 33, Green Bay 14
2011 - Green Bay 21, Chicago 14
4. Dallas Cowboys - Washington Redskins
Ask average fans on the street to name an NFL rivalry, and this is the one they'll likely come up with. And it goes beyond the natural rivalry contained in the teams' respective nicknames. The two franchises have shared a division since 1961 and have often contested with each other for division supremacy. They've combined for a staggering 31 division titles, eight Super Bowl wins and 14 Super Bowl appearances, in the process boasting some of the greatest players (Staubach, Riggins, et al), coaches (Tom Landry, George Allen, Joe Gibbs, Jimmy Johnson) and teams in NFL history. Even when one of the teams is terrible, the matchups have significance; in Dallas' 1-15 season in 1989, the lone win came against the Redskins and cost Washington a playoff spot.
Sadly, the rivalry has taken a dip of late, coinciding with the Dan Snyder regime in D.C., but the tradition can withstand occasional lapses in quality. If both teams find themselves contending simultaneously, the bitterness will come out of hibernation.
Thanksgiving Day 1974
Dallas 24, Washington 23
The Cowboys were facing elimination from the playoffs as Thanksgiving Day dawned, and things weren't looking good when the Cowboys fell behind 16-3 with quarterback Roger Staubach sidelined by injury. Their hopes fading, the Cowboys turned to unheralded rookie Clint Longley, who led an unlikely comeback with two touchdown passes, including the game-winner to Drew Pearson with 50 seconds left. Longley ended up getting traded after sucker-punching Staubach in the locker room during the 1976 preseason, and he was out of football soon thereafter. But his legacy as a one-hit (okay, maybe two-hit if you count the punch) wonder is secure.
Rivalry at a Glance
Dallas leads all-time series 62-40-2 (Redskins lead 2-0 in the postseason)
Current streak: Dallas, 3
Most lopsided game: Dallas 38, Washington 3, 1993
1972 - Washington 26, Dallas 3
1983 - Washington 31, Dallas 17
5. Dallas Cowboys -New York Giants
These two storied franchises are linked by one legendary figure: Tom Landry, who coached Dallas from the franchise's inception in 1960 until 1988 after having been a Pro Bowl player and assistant coach for the Giants. The teams tied 31-31 in Yankee Stadium in their first meeting, and the rivalry was off to the races. Landry dominated the G-men during his tenure in Big D, but the arrival of a brash young coach named Bill Parcells in New York evened things out. Since Parcell's first Super Bowl season in 1986, the franchises have combined for seven Lombardi Trophies.
The bitterness of this NFC East blood feud was on full display during a 1994 Monday Night game, when Cowboys receiver Alvin Harper was on the receiving end of a jackhammer hit from Tito Wooten, unleashing a full-scale brawl that involved players and coaches and included Cowboy James Washington wielding a camera stand like a sword.
Regular-season finale, Jan. 2, 1994
Dallas 16, New York 13 (ot)
The Cowboys and Giants entered the final game of the regular season tied at 11-4 with a playoff bye at stake. In one of the most courageous performances in NFL history, Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith shook off a separated right shoulder in the first half to rush for 168 yards, including 41 on the winning drive in overtime, as the Cowboys beat the Giants 16-13. Broadcaster John Madden was so moved by Smith's show of guts that he paid a visit to the winning locker room after the game to offer Smith his congratulations, the only time he ever did so as a broadcaster. The ensuing bye gave the Cowboys and Smith time to nurse their wounds, and they ultimately won Super Bowl XXVIII over the Bills 30-13.
Rivalry at a Glance
Dallas leads all-time series 57-43-2 (Giants lead 1-0 in the postseason)
Current streak: Giants, 1
Most lopsided game: Dallas 52, New York 7, 1966
2008 - New York 21, Dallas 17
6. Dallas Cowboys - Philadelphia Eagles
Cowboys lead 57-46
This rivalry reached a zenith (or a new low, if you prefer) with Bounty Bowls I and II, when Jimmy Johnson accused the Eagles of placing bounties on Cowboy players, specifically Troy Aikman and kicker Luis Zendejas. Years later, when Michael Irvin suffered a career-ending spinal injury, Eagles partisans in Veterans Stadium cheered.
7. New York Giants - New England Patriots
Giants lead 6-5
These teams are not in the same conference and play somewhat infrequent regular-season games. This "rivalry" makes the list for one simple reason: The two franchises have played in two classic Super Bowls, both of them won by the Giants on historic drives featuring improbable catches. Tom Coughlin is riding a personal three-game winning streak over Bill Belichick, with two of those coming on the game's biggest stage.
8. Oakland Raiders - Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs lead 56-49-2
Familiarity has bred contempt in this rivalry. The two have shared a division since the AFL's inception in 1960 (when the Chiefs were the Dallas Texans), and KC is one of two teams with a winning record against the Raiders (minimum of 10 matchups). A shocking stat in this feud: The Chiefs dominated the series during the 1990s, winning 18 of 21.
9. Tennessee Titans - Houston Texans
Titans lead 14-7
This rivalry had its inception when Bud Adams packed up Houston's beloved Oilers and moved them to Tennessee, giving Houstonians a special level of bile directed at their former spiritual brethren in the Volunteer State. One memorable moment came courtesy of Houston native Vince Young during his 2006 rookie season, when he broke off a 39-yard touchdown run in overtime in Reliant Stadium to give the Titans a 26-20 win. The teams have split every season series since 2009.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers - Cleveland Browns
Steelers lead 64-56
The ineptitude of the new-era Browns almost knocked this one off the list, but history and heatedness keep it in the top 10. The teams have combined for 10 NFL championships; of course, the Browns' last title came in 1964. If Cleveland ever climbs back to respectability, look for this rivalry to climb back to its accustomed spot near the top.
Week 12 isn’t the strongest slate in the 2012 college football season, but the Pac-12 features a couple of matchups that could have national title implications. Thanks to Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M, Oregon ascended to the No. 1 spot in the human polls and ranks No. 2 in the BCS behind Kansas State. If the Ducks win out, there’s no question they will play for the national title in early January.
Although Oregon is a heavy favorite in Saturday’s matchup, Stanford is a team built to give the Ducks problems. If the Cardinal can win in Eugene, they will have an opportunity to clinch the Pac-12 North title with a victory over UCLA on Nov. 24. Despite the departure of Andrew Luck to the NFL, Stanford has remained a factor in the Pac-12 title race, with its only two losses coming by four points against Washington and by seven in overtime against Notre Dame.
Oregon has won nine out of the last 10 meetings in this series. Stanford won 51-42 in 2009 but has lost by at least 20 points in each of the last two matchups.
When the Oregon Ducks have the ball:
Speed versus power. That’s the main battle in this game. Oregon is one of college football’s fastest teams, while Stanford is arguably the Pac-12’s most physical team. The Ducks have scored at least 50 points in each of the last two meetings against the Cardinal, and the 2012 version of Chip Kelly’s offense could be even deadlier than the one Stanford played last season.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota has emerged as a Heisman contender this season, throwing for 2,164 yards and 28 touchdowns, while adding 516 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. The redshirt freshman has thrown only five interceptions. Mariota was banged up in the win over California but is not expected to be limited in any way against Stanford. Mariota doesn’t have a standout No. 1 receiver, but he’s surrounded by plenty of capable targets, including Josh Huff, Colt Lyerla, Bralon Addison and Keanon Lowe.
Mariota isn’t the only weapon in the backfield for Kelly, as running back Kenjon Barner ranks among the nation’s best with 1,360 yards and 19 touchdowns so far this year. The senior injured his wrist in last week’s win but is not expected to miss any snaps. Sophomore De’Anthony Thomas isn’t going to match Barner’s 20-25 carries a game but is the team’s top breakaway threat on offense.
Stopping Oregon is no easy task. The Ducks have scored at least 30 points in 23 consecutive games and rank first nationally with an average of 54.8 points per contest so far this season. The Cardinal has to find a way to slow down Barner on early downs, while limiting Mariota’s big plays through the air. Not only is stopping Oregon difficult, but Stanford has to find a way to keep up with the Ducks’ quick pace.
Stanford’s rush defense ranks as the best in college football, allowing just 58.6 points per game. The Cardinal also lead the way in sacks per game, averaging 4.2 each week. Linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas are two of the best in the nation and have to be active around the line of scrimmage in order for Stanford to slow down Oregon’s rushing attack. If the Ducks struggle to get their running game on track, there should be plays to be made in the passing game, especially since the Cardinal ranks 99th nationally against the pass. Although Stanford’s physical approach works well against most of the teams on its schedule, the speed of Oregon will be very difficult to match up against.
When the Stanford Cardinal have the ball:
Replacing Andrew Luck has been no easy task for coach David Shaw. The Cardinal turned to Josh Nunes for the first nine games, and he threw for 1,643 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, Nunes was benched in the win over Colorado, and Shaw elevated Kevin Hogan to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. The freshman responded well in his first start, throwing for 254 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 49 yards on the ground against Oregon State. Hogan’s emergence should give Stanford more balance on offense over the final few games.
The biggest problem for the Cardinal offense is a lack of playmakers at receiver. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo are two steady options but there’s not much at receiver to help Hogan. Drew Terrell, Jamal-Rashad Patterson and Ty Montgomery are the team’s top three options and this trio needs to step up this week, especially with a banged up Oregon secondary.
When Stanford has the ball, expect to see a lot of Stepfan Taylor. The senior ranks 22nd nationally with 106.1 yards per game and has to have a big game for the Cardinal to have any shot at a victory. The offensive line isn’t as good as last season’s group, but this unit is physical and can clear plenty of lanes for Taylor and Hogan.
The matchup in the trenches favors Stanford, especially considering the injuries to Oregon’s front seven. The Ducks allowed 236 rushing yards to California last week but expect a couple of contributors to return. Linemen Dion Jordan, Isaac Remington, Ricky Heimuli and Taylor Hart are all nursing injuries but all could play on Saturday. If the Ducks are shorthanded, stopping the run will be a real challenge against Stanford’s physical offense.
Even though the Ducks have some injuries on defense, it’s going to be a tall task for Stanford to win in Eugene. The Cardinal has to control the tempo and keep Oregon’s on the sidelines. If Taylor and Hogan are able to chew up the clock, expect this game to be decided late in the fourth quarter. However, Stanford manages to keep it close for a half, but the Ducks make the right adjustments at halftime and pull away in the final two quarters.
Prediction: Oregon 45, Stanford 27
by Steven Lassan
Related College Football Content
College football's Week 12 schedule is highlighted by two huge battles in the Pac-12. Stanford visits Oregon in a game that likely will decide the South Division champion, while USC makes the short trip to UCLA for the game of the year in the South.
No. 109 FIU at No. 17 FAU
FAU is showing signs of life late in Carl Pelini’s first season as the head coach. The Owls have won two of three, highlighted by a 37–28 win at Western Kentucky last weekend. The offense, which scored 20 points or fewer in each of the first six games, has scored 34 or more in three of the past four.
No. 121 Hawaii at No. 95 Air Force
Five years ago, Hawaii played in a BCS bowl. Two years ago, the Warriors won 10 games. Now, under first-year coach Norm Chow, this is one of the worst teams in the nation.
Air Force 38–3
No. 14 Stanford at No. 1 Oregon
It’s a testament to Oregon’s dominance that the Ducks are favored by nearly three touchdowns against the second-best team in the Pac-12 North — and maybe the second-best team in the entire league.
No. 2 Kansas State at No. 42 Baylor
Kansas State has given up 16 touchdowns in seven Big 12 games. Baylor has given up 38 in six games. Go with the team that allows fewer touchdowns.
Kansas State 44–28
No. 84 Wake Forest at No. 3 Notre Dame
Wake Forest was held to 185 total yards in a 37–6 loss at NC State last week. That same NC State team gave up 446 yards to Virginia the previous week. The Notre Dame defense should dominate.
Notre Dame 24–6
No. 4 Ohio State at No. 25 Wisconsin
Ohio State has a two-game lead on Wisconsin in the Leaders Division but is not eligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions. The Badgers will go in their stead after clinching a spot with an emphatic 62–14 win at Indiana on Saturday.
Ohio State 24–20
Western Carolina at No. 5 Alabama
The biggest mismatch of the weekend has to be Western Carolina vs. Alabama. The Catamounts are 1–9 and are allowing 519.8 yards and 40.0 points per game. It’s a safe bet that Alabama will bounce back from its only loss of the season with a comfortable win.
Georgia Southern at No. 6 Georgia
Georgia true freshman Todd Gurley is closing in on 1,000 yards. He has 973 yards while sharing time with fellow rookie Keith Marshall, and is only 41 yards behind SEC leader Johnny Manziel.
Jacksonville State at No. 7 Florida
Jacksonville State is the last school from the FCS ranks to beat an SEC school. The Gamecocks defeated Ole Miss in Oxford 49–48 on the opening week of the 2010 season.
No. 38 Ole Miss at No. 8 LSU
Ole Miss has played well in recent trips to Baton Rouge: The Rebels are 4–4 in their last eight at Tiger Stadium with three of the losses coming by three points or fewer and the other by seven points.
Sam Houston State at No. 9 Texas A&M
This should be a fun game. Sam Houston State leads the FCS in scoring offense (46.2 ppg) and ranks sixth in total offense (490.3 ypg).
Texas A&M 48–20
Wofford at No. 10 South Carolina
South Carolina takes on a solid Wofford team that is 8–2 overall and 6–2 in the SoCon. The schools have met twice in the past seven years, with Carolina winning 27–20 in 2006 and 23–13 in ’08.
South Carolina 31–13
No. 11 Florida State at No. 83 Maryland
Maryland’s season has been derailed by injuries, most notably at the quarterback position. The Terps have averaged 14.5 points during their four-game losing streak.
Florida State 41–0
No. 56 NC State at No. 12 Clemson
In case you haven’t been paying attention, Clemson has been on quite a roll. Since losing at Florida State in late September, the Tigers have won six straight by an average margin of 25.2 points.
No. 13 Oklahoma at No. 35 West Virginia
This was expected to be one of the marquee games in the Big 12 this season. But that was before we knew just how bad West Virginia would be at preventing their opponents from gaining yards and scoring points. In league play, the Mountaineers are giving up an average of 517.8 yards and 51.0 points per game.
No. 80 California at No. 15 Oregon State
Cal’s season will come to an end this Saturday in Corvallis. The question is: Will this also be the end of the Jeff Tedford era?
Oregon State 31–17
No. 21 USC at No. 16 UCLA
USC has been arguably the most disappointing team in the nation in 2012. UCLA has been one of the biggest surprises. The result: UCLA is one-half game up on its cross-town rival in the Pac-12 South and controls its own destiny to play in the league title game.
No. 65 Minnesota at No. 17 Nebraska
Here’s an odd stat about Minnesota. The Gophers have scored either 13 points or 17 points in six of their last seven games. The exception was in a 44–28 win over Purdue three weeks ago.
No. 74 Iowa at No. 19 Michigan
Iowa is trying to avoid its first five-game losing streak since 2000, when Kirk Ferentz’s second Hawkeye team opened the season 0–5 en route to a 3–9 season.
No. 48 Utah State at No. 20 Louisiana Tech
It’s the game of the year in the WAC. Louisiana Tech has received more national pub, but Utah State is having an outstanding season as well. The Aggies are 8–2, with a two-point loss to Wisconsin and a three-point loss to BYU.
Utah State 31–27
No. 22 Texas Tech at No. 27 Oklahoma State
These two teams have something in common: They both struggled to beat Kansas. The Cowboys topped KU 20–14 in Lawrence in mid-October. Last week, Texas Tech needed double-overtime to beat Kansas 41–34 in Lubbock.
Oklahoma State 34–30
No. 23 Arizona at No. 63 Utah
This is a huge game for a Utah program that needs two wins to become bowl-eligible for a 10th-straight season. The Utes are 4–1 at home with the only loss coming by 10 points to USC. Arizona, however, has too much firepower.
No. 26 Rutgers at No. 37 Cincinnati
Rutgers coach Kyle Flood has to be a bit concerned about his team’s performance of late. The Knights lost at home to Kent State two weeks ago and then struggled with Army this past weekend. Rutgers was outgained 337-to-252 and didn’t hold its first lead until midway through the fourth quarter.
No. 46 Arkansas at No. 28 Mississippi State
There’s one stat that best illustrates Arkansas’ struggles in 2012. And it’s quite simple: The Razorbacks aren’t scoring enough touchdowns. Last year, with Bobby Petrino calling the plays, Arkansas scored 32 touchdowns in eight SEC games. This year, the Hogs have scored 16 touchdowns in six league games.
Mississippi State 31–24
No. 29 Washington at No. 100 Colorado
Colorado’s defense has been unbelievably bad over the past five games. The Buffs have given up 51, 50, 70, 48 and 56 points in consecutive weeks.
No. 71 Indiana at No. 31 Penn State
Indiana must bounce back from a sobering 62–14 loss at home to Wisconsin. The Hoosiers can still become bowl-eligible but must beat Penn State and Purdue on the road. That’s not likely to happen.
Penn State 37–27
No. 32 Northwestern at No. 33 Michigan State
Northwestern is 7–3 overall and has had double-digit leads in the second half of all three losses — at Penn State, vs. Nebraska and at Michigan. This team could easily be in the thick of the Legends Division race.
No. 52 Tennessee at No. 34 Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt, 4–3 in the SEC, has won more than two league games for only the third time since the league expanded to 12 teams in 1992. With a win on Saturday, the Commodores will have a winning SEC record for the first time since 1982.
No. 36 Iowa State at No. 87 Kansas
Kansas has yet to beat an FBS team in 2012, but the Jayhawks have been relatively competitive — at least for a bad team. They lost by 14 to TCU, by seven at Northern Illinois, by six to Oklahoma State, by four to Texas and by seven in double-overtime at Texas Tech.
No. 101 Washington State at 39 Arizona State
Arizona State was once 3–0 in the Pac-12. Now, the Sun Devils are 3–4. The problem? Defense. ASU gave up 17 points or fewer in its first three league games but has allowed 36 or more in each of its four losses.
Arizona State 34–17
No. 41 Syracuse at No. 51 Missouri
Missouri won its first SEC road game last week — 51–48 in four overtimes at Tennessee — despite giving up 432 passing yards. That has to be a concern for Gary Pinkel and his staff. Syracuse has been on a roll offensively.
No. 112 Colorado State at No. 43 Boise State
Boise State can secure no worse than a tie for the Mountain West title in its last season in the league by beating Colorado State this week and struggling Nevada in Reno the following week. For the Broncos to win the title outright, San Diego State will have to lose at Wyoming next week.
Boise State 38–10
No. 55 Duke at No. 60 Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets rushed for 380 yards and seven touchdowns and threw for 208 yards and one score (on only seven completions) in a 68–50 win at North Carolina on Saturday. This is not a good matchup for a Duke team that ranks 85th in the nation in rushing defense and has given up an average of 43.8 points in its last four games.
Georgia Tech 44–30
No. 77 South Florida at No. 45 Miami (Fla.)
South Florida snapped a six-game losing streak by beating UConn 13–6 last week at home. The Bulls need to win their final three games to become bowl eligible. Not going to happen.
No. 59 UCF at 47 Tulsa
These two teams likely will meet again in the Conference USA title game in a few weeks, with the winner serving as the host. Neither team has lost to a non-AQ conference opponent in 2012.
No. 50 Kent State at No. 76 Bowling Green
It’s a huge game in the MAC East between 6–0 Kent State and 5–1 Bowling Green. Kent will clinch a spot in the league title game with a win; Bowling Green would still need to beat Buffalo next week to secure a trip to Detroit.
Kent State 34–24
No. 54 Virginia Tech at No. 93 Boston College
This figures to be the final home game for Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani, who has been on the Eagles’ staff since 1997. BC is 2¬–8 overall and 1–5 in the ACC.
Virginia Tech 23–13
No. 57 BYU at No. 64 San Jose State
San Jose State is 8–2 overall and ranks second or third in the WAC in every key offensive and defensive statistic. It’s a bit of a surprise that the Spartans are a 3-point underdog at home.
San Jose State 28–21
No. 66 Arkansas State at No. 82 Troy
Things are clicking for Gus Malzahn’s offense in the latter half of the season. The Red Wolves have won five straight and are averaging 40.4 points during that span.
Arkansas State 47–30
No. 105 North Texas at No. 67 ULM
ULM played its way into the national spotlight in September by beating Arkansas and losing by three to Auburn and by five to Baylor. But the Warhawks have fallen on hard times, with consecutive losses to UL Lafayette and Arkansas State. The once-explosive offense has struggled since quarterback Kolton Browning went down with an injury against UL Lafayette.
No. 69 Middle Tennessee at No. 122 South Alabama
Middle Tennessee needs to win its next two games — at South Alabama and vs. Troy — to set up a winner-take-all Sun Belt showdown at Arkansas State on Dec. 1.
Middle Tennessee 37–10
No. 111 Texas State at No. 70 Navy
Texas State scored 55 points and rolled up 577 yards of offense last week in a seven-point loss to Louisiana Tech. Not bad for a team in its first season in the FBS ranks.
No. 72 Purdue at No. 99 Illinois
Illinois ranks last in the Big Ten in total offense in league play, averaging only 267.0 yards per game and 4.07 yards per play. Last week, the Fighting Illinois lost at home to Minnesota 17–3.
No. 85 Western Kentucky at No. 75 UL-Lafayette
Western Kentucky has played its way out of the Sun Belt race. After opening the conference slate with quality wins at Arkansas State and Troy, the Hilltoppers have lost three of four, including two at home (Middle Tennessee and FAU).
Alabama A&M at No. 78 Auburn
Alabama A&M is 7–3 overall but plays in one of the weakest FCS leagues (SWAC). Auburn should roll with ease.
No. 81 East Carolina at No. 115 Tulane
East Carolina still has an outside shot at the MAC East title. The Pirates must beat Tulane and Marshall and hope UCF loses at Tulsa (possible) and at home vs. UAB (not likely).
East Carolina 41–24
No. 86 Temple at No. 110 Army
Temple’s offensive woes continued last week at home vs. Cincinnati. The Owls recorded only 267 yards of offense in a 34–10 loss. They have failed to score more than 17 points in each of their last five games.
No. 88 SMU at No. 96 Rice
Garrett Gilbert, the former Texas Longhorn and one-time prep All-American, has thrown 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions
in his first season at SMU. He ranks 10th in C-USA in passing efficiency.
No. 89 Nevada at No. 108 New Mexico
Nevada’s slump continues. The Wolf Pack lost their third-straight game last weekend, dropping a 52–36 decision at home to Fresno State. The offense has done its part, scoring 31 points or more in all three losses. The defense, however, has not cooperated. The Pack rank 91st nationally in total defense and 101st in scoring defense.
No. 118 Eastern Michigan at No. 90 Western Michigan
After breaking through with a 4–4 record last fall, Eastern Michigan is staring at a winless MAC season. The Eagles are 0–6 with a trip to Western Michigan and a home date with Northern Illinois. Ron English could be in trouble.
Western Michigan 31–20
Samford at No. 91 Kentucky
Joker Phillips will coach his last game in Lexington on Saturday against Samford. It will be an emotional day for a man who has spent the majority of his adult life at the University of Kentucky. The Franklin, Ky., native played for the Cats from 1981-84 and served on the UK staff in some capacity for 19 of his 25 years in coaching.
No. 94 Houston at No. 92 Marshall
It’s safe to say that Tony Levine’s first season as a head coach has not gone well. Houston is 4–6 overall and 3–3 in C-USA — one season after winning 13 games.
No. 114 Memphis at No. 97 UAB
Neither team has won many games this season, but it’s clear that both UAB and Memphis have improved under the direction of their first-year coaches — Garrick McGee (UAB) and Justin Fuente (Memphis).
No. 102 Buffalo at No. 119 UMass
UMass broke through with its first victory of the season last week, holding on to beat Akron 22–14 on the road. With home games remaining against Buffalo and Central Michgan, the Minutemen have an opportunity to end the season on a three-game winning streak.
No. 98 Miami (Ohio) at No. 106 Central Michigan
Central Michigan tailback Zurlon Tipton has rushed for 100 yards or more in four straight games, highlighted by a 243-yard, three-touchdown effort against Akron three weeks ago.
Central Michigan 34–28
No. 103 Wyoming at No. 113 UNLV
Wyoming is 2–0 since Dave Christensen’s return from his one-game suspension for calling Air Force coach Troy Calhoun a “flyboy” — among (many) other things.
No. 104 UTEP at No. 117 Southern Miss
Southern Miss has two more opportunities to pick up its first win of the Ellis Johnson era. The Golden Eagles are a 3.5-point dog at home this week and then travel to Memphis for the finale next weekend.
No. 116 UTSA at No. 123 Idaho
Idaho is limping to the finish line under interim head coach Jason Gesser. The Vandals rank last in the nation in scoring offense (15.4 ppg) and 118th in scoring defense (43.0 ppg).
Last week: 41–12
Bragging rights in Los Angeles and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship will be on the line when USC and UCLA meet on Saturday afternoon. This season has not gone according to plan for the Trojans, as most expected USC to contend for the national title and for quarterback Matt Barkley to rank among the top Heisman contenders. However, USC has slipped to a 7-3 record and with the Bruins and a date against Notre Dame coming up, a 7-5 final mark isn’t out of the question.
While USC has been a disappointment, UCLA has been one of the top surprises in the Pac-12. Although there was a lot of returning talent, it was uncertain how it would mesh with the new coaching staff. New coach Jim Mora has done a good job of blending the talent with the new schemes on both sides of the ball and has the Bruins poised to make a return trip to the Pac-12 title game.
USC has dominated this series in recent years, as UCLA’s last victory came in 2006 in Pasadena. The Trojans have won 12 out of the last 13 games against the Bruins, including a 50-0 shutout last season.
When the USC Trojans have the ball:
Even though USC quarterback Matt Barkley hasn’t had the year most expected, he has still thrown for 2,972 yards and 33 touchdowns. That’s the positive. The bad news? Barkley has already exceeded his interception total from last year (7) with 13 so far this season. The senior has thrown seven picks over the last three games, which has led some to wonder if he’s pressing too much with the Trojans struggling to reach expectations.
Despite the turnovers and not meeting preseason expectations, the USC passing attack is one of the toughest to stop in college football. Sophomore receiver Marqise Lee has played his way into the Heisman mix over the last few weeks and ranks second nationally with 9.8 receptions per game. Lee has at least 10 receptions in each of his last three games and torched Arizona for 345 yards and two touchdowns. While Lee has thrived, Robert Woods has taken a step back this season. The junior has only 61 receptions and has failed to record at least 100 yards in each of his last three contests. Even though Woods’ numbers have dropped, he remains one of the Pac-12’s top targets. The Trojans also have capable weapons in tight end Xavier Grimble and freshman receiver Nelson Agholor.
UCLA’s secondary has been under fire this year, allowing 266.4 yards per game. Although the Bruins will give up some yards against the pass, this defense can get after the quarterback (averaging 3.7 sacks per game) and has held opponents to just 24.7 points per game.
USC running back Silas Redd did not play in last week’s win over Arizona State but expects to see snaps against UCLA. The junior leads the Trojans with 732 yards and nine touchdowns, while backup Curtis McNeal rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns in Redd’s absence last week. The Bruins are allowing 144.6 yards per game on the ground, but USC has a tendency to rely too much on the pass, which has limited the opportunities for Redd and McNeal this year.
The best way for the Bruins to slow down USC’s offense will be to get pressure on Barkley. Stanford’s 3-4 attack gave the Trojans fits earlier this year, and UCLA should be able to use a similar approach on Saturday.
When the UCLA Bruins have the ball:
The key to UCLA’s improvement on offense in 2012 has been the play of quarterback Brett Hundley. The redshirt freshman is completing 69 percent of his throws and has tossed only nine picks on 329 attempts. In addition to Hundley’s emergence, coordinator Noel Mazzone has been the perfect hire to run the Bruins’ offense. Hundley’s favorite target has been Shaquelle Evans (39 receptions), but Joseph Fauria, Steven Manfro and freshman Jordan Payton have been key players in UCLA’s arsenal.
Although running back Johnathan Franklin has yet to match his back-to-back 100-yard efforts since the first two weeks of the season, the senior has 1,270 yards and eight touchdowns and has 24 receptions for 276 yards and two scores. Franklin has two 100-yard games in his last three contests and ranks sixth nationally with an average of 127 yards per game.
Outside of giving up 426 yards and five touchdowns to Oregon’s rushing attack, USC’s run defense has played well this season. Take out the defensive debacle against the Ducks, and the Trojans have allowed only six rushing scores through nine contests. USC’s defensive line has also been active in getting to the quarterback, recording 37 sacks this year. In UCLA’s two losses this year, Franklin combined to rush for 147 yards. If the Trojans can slow down Franklin and keep him under 100 yards, they should win this game.
Spread offenses have given USC’s defense the most trouble in 2012, and this is another tricky matchup for the Trojans. Hundley isn’t as dynamic of a runner as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, but he has 272 yards and six touchdowns on 111 carries this season. Combine Hundley’s mobility and Franklin’s big-play ability and USC will have its hands full trying to stop this offense. The Trojans allowed 43 points to Mazzone’s offense last year at Arizona State but should have a better idea of what to expect in 2012.
Expect plenty of points in this matchup. With the Pac-12 South title on the line, both teams will get their best shot from the other squad. Even though USC has been a disappointment this year, this is its last chance to rally and erase some of the bad feelings from 2012. UCLA is clearly on the right track under Jim Mora but will fall just short of making a return trip to the Pac-12 title game.
Prediction: USC 38, UCLA 34
by Steven Lassan
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In any other season, a matchup between the top two teams in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division would draw some national interest. With Ohio State ineligible to win the division title and the conference struggling as a whole, this game has lost some of its appeal.
Urban Meyer’s tenure in Columbus is off to a great start. The Buckeyes are 10-0 for the first time since 2007. And despite a trip to Madison and the huge rivalry game against Michigan on Nov. 24, this team has a good shot at finishing 12-0. Even though Ohio State can’t play in the Big Ten title game, Meyer has done a good job of navigating through this season and keeping the team motivated to play each week.
With Ohio State out of the picture, Wisconsin was a heavy favorite to win the Leaders Division in the preseason. The Badgers started off slow with a 3-2 record but have won four out of their last five games.
Ohio State has won four out of the last five in this series, with Wisconsin’s only victory during that stretch coming in 2010. The Badgers lost last season’s matchup 33-29 in Columbus.
When the Ohio State Buckeyes have the ball:
The Badgers are quietly one of the nation’s best defenses. Wisconsin is allowing just 17.2 points a game, while ranking 15th nationally in yards allowed. The Badgers have not allowed their last five opponents to score more than 16 points a game and only one team has managed more than 27 points this season.
Those numbers will be put to the test against Ohio State’s offense, especially as Wisconsin tries to find a way to slow down Braxton Miller. The sophomore has carried the Buckeyes’ offense this year, recording 2,919 yards and 27 overall scores. Miller is still developing as a passer but is a dangerous runner and will have 15-20 carries on Saturday night.
Although Miller is one of college football’s top quarterbacks, he needs help from his supporting cast. Running back Carlos Hyde has three 100-yard efforts over his last five games and has 11 scores during that stretch. Corey Brown leads the way at receiver, catching 48 passes for 526 yards and two touchdowns. The Buckeyes are looking for more playmakers to step up in the passing game but that figures to come over time, especially with only one senior (Jake Stoneburner) in the two-deep at receiver.
Even though the Buckeyes are finding more help for Miller, the key to beating Ohio State remains stopping the sophomore quarterback. The Badgers have two of the Big Ten’s top linebackers (Mike Taylor, Chris Borland) who will be very active around the line of scrimmage. It’s important for Wisconsin to make Ohio State drive the field, rather than hit on a few big plays for short scoring drives. The Badgers haven’t had many matchups against dual-threat quarterbacks this year, but they allowed 288 total yards against Taylor Martinez and 256 to Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton.
When the Wisconsin Badgers have the ball:
Just as the Badgers appeared to be finding their rhythm in the passing attack, quarterback Joel Stave was lost for the season with a collarbone injury. With Stave sidelined and Danny O’Brien struggling earlier this year, the Wisconsin coaching staff turned to Curt Phillips under center. The senior has battled knee injuries throughout his career but turned in a solid performance against Indiana, throwing for 41 yards and adding 68 on the ground.
With Phillips still getting comfortable under center, expect a run-heavy approach from Wisconsin. The Badgers have a deep collection of running backs, led by Montee Ball. The senior has 1,226 yards and 16 touchdowns this season and will be spelled by James White (7.3 ypc) and Melvin Gordon (8.2 ypc).
Ohio State’s defense has allowed at least 20 or more points in five Big Ten games this season. This unit has struggled to stop the pass (259.7 ypg), but the rush defense has been steady most of the year. Only two opponents have managed more than 150 yards, and Ohio State has held its last two opponents to less than 75 rushing yards. The Buckeyes have struggled to stop teams that run the spread, but Wisconsin should be an easier matchup with its limited passing game.
Expect the Buckeyes to load up against Wisconsin’s rushing attack and force Philips to win this game through the air. The Badgers don’t need to throw it 30 times, but they need to hit on a few passes early on to keep Ohio State from loading up the box against Ball, White and Gordon.
Establishing the rushing attack is crucial to Wisconsin’s chances at winning. The Badgers don’t want to put the game on Curt Phillips’ shoulders, but he has to throw for more than 41 yards this week. If Wisconsin struggles to establish the run, it will be an uphill battle to win on Saturday. The Badgers defense will keep Braxton Miller in check for a half, but the Buckeyes’ offense eventually gets on track, which is just enough to escape Madison with an 11-0 record.
Prediction: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 20
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The Heisman Trophy isn’t the only award worth watching on a weekly basis. The Lombardi, Outland, Davey O’Brien and Biletnikoff races are all worth watching and debating as the season goes along.
Throughout the season, we’ll keep an eye on all the prominent position trophies through college football in addition to the Heisman.
If you’re looking for our thoughts on that other trophy, check our weekly Heisman poll.
Week 12 Previews and Predictions
Davey O’Brien (Top quarterback)
Our leader: Collin Klein, Kansas State
Klein remains the presumptive Heisman frontrunner, but perhaps the gap is closing for the Heisman and for top quarterback honors. As Johnny Manziel worked his magic against the Alabama offense, Klein amassed a season-low 195 yards of total offense against TCU. Klein still rushed for two touchdowns but threw an interception for the first time since Sept. 15.
Others: Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron, Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller
Doak Walker (Top running back)
Our leader: Kenjon Barner, Oregon
An apparent wrist/hand injury limited Barner’s production against Cal last week, as he ran for 65 yards on 20 carries. Before that, Barner had rushed for at least 100 yards in five consecutive games and 10 total touchdowns in the last three.
Others: North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, Kansas State’s John Hubert, Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson
Biletnikoff Award (Top wide receiver)
Our leader: Marqise Lee, USC
Lee leads the nation in catches (98) and receiving yards (1,448) and is third in receiving touchdowns (13). He also averages 29.4 yards per kick return and spent time on defense last week against Arizona State.
Others: West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey, Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins, Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton, Baylor’s Terrance Williams
Mackey Award (Top tight end)
Our leader: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
Seferian-Jenkins is starting to distance himself in a crowded field of Pac-12 tight ends. In addition to catching seven passes for 99 yards last week against Utah, Seferian-Jenkins also lined up at defensive end.
Others: Arizona State’s Chris Coyle, North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert, Stanford’s Zach Ertz
Outland Trophy (Top interior lineman)
Our leader: Barrett Jones, Alabama
Jones remains the strongest candidate for line awards in part by reputation. Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews are strong candidates and remain a major reason A&M is a BCS candidate.
Others: North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Utah’s Star Lotulelei, Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt, Alabama’s Chance Warmack
Rimington Trophy (Top center)
Our leader: Jones, Alabama
Others: Kansas State’s B.J. Finney, Clemson’s Dalton Freeman, USC’s Khaled Holmes
Bednarik Award/Nagurski Award (Defensive Player of the Year)
Our leader: Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
Against Boston College, Te’o picked up his sixth interception of the season and third in the last four games. Te’o didn’t have any interceptions in his career before this season..
Others: Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones
Lombardi Award (Top lineman or linebacker)
Our leader: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Clowney had two tackles for a loss and a forced fumble in the win over Arkansas. Clowney has five tackles for a loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles in his last three games.
Others: Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt
Butkus Award (Top linebacker)
Our leader: Te’o, Notre Dame
Others: Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene, Penn State's Michael Mauti, LSU’s Kevin Minter, Alabama’s C.J. Mosely
Thorpe Award (Top defensive back)
Our leader: Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
Poyer returned from a one-game absence to record five tackles and a tackle for a loss in the loss to Stanford. He has five interceptions this season, but they came in a three-game span from Sept. 20-Oct. 13.
Others: Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, Florida’s Matt Elam, Oklahoma’s Tony Jefferson, Alabama’s Dee Milliner
SPECIAL TEAMS AWARDS
Groza Award (Top kicker)
Our leader: Steven Schott, Ball State
Schott leads the nation in field goals made (23) and is tied for most attempts (28). Schott has made two of three attempts from at least 50 yards out.
Others:Michigan State’s Dan Conroy, Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins, Oklahoma State’s Quinn Sharp
Ray Guy Award (Top punter)
Our leader: Louisiana Tech’s Ryan Allen
The defending Ray Guy winner leads the nation in yards per punt (48.2), and Louisiana Tech leads the nation in net punting (43.1 yards per kick).
Others: Florida’s Kyle Christy, Texas A&M’s Ryan Epperson
OTHER NATIONAL AWARDS
Freshman of the Year
Our leader: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Manziel’s season is shaping up to be one of the best seasons for a quarterback in SEC history, not just the best freshman quarterbacks in league history. At 379.4 yards per game, Manziel is second in the nation in total offense behind Baylor’s Nick Florence. No SEC player is within 50 yards per game of Manziel.
Others: Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon, TCU’s Devonte Fields, UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota
Coach of the Year
Our leader: Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Snyder has taken Kansas State from overlooked in the preseason to No. 1 in the BCS standings. And for the final two games of the season, Snyder has a rare task at Kansas State: Coaching a BCS frontrunner.
Others: Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly
Broyles Award (top assistant)
Our leader: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas A&M
The Aggies’ 33-year-old offensive coordinator was a quarterback in the Canadian Football League just five years ago. After coaching A&M’s high-flying offense, Kingsbury has quickly become an intriguing head coaching candidate.
Others: Oregon State’s Mark Banker, Notre Dame’s Bob Diaco, Texas Tech’s Art Kaufman, Alabama’s Kirby Smart
Every Friday for entertainment purposes only, I will bring you my top college football picks against the spread. I do not condone, approve or encourage gambling on sports in any way. But if you are a fan of football — college or pro — and you don't think gambling has played a huge role in the growth and popularity of the sport, then you are simply being ignorant. And behind closed doors, the powers that be understand the impact betting has had on the game of football.
2012 Record Against The Spread: 49-29
Last Week: 4-1
Note: All lines are as of date of publication
Washington (-20) at Colorado
The Huskies have turned a corner after a dominant win over Utah. Washington has won three straight games on the road and Bishop Sankey is turning into a bona fide workhorse with career highs in carries in each of the last three games. Colorado is statistically one of the worst BCS conference teams in recent memory. The Buffaloes are dead last nationally in scoring defense at 47.2 points allowed per game and last in the Pac-12 in rushing, passing efficiency defense and total defense. The Buffs are 2-8 against the spread this fall as well. Prediction: Washington -20
Ole Miss (+19) at LSU
The LSU Tigers have won four SEC games by a combined 29 points this year. And Ole Miss might have the second-best offense of any of the Tigers' opponents behind only Texas A&M. The Rebels are coming off of a heart-breaking defeat to Vandy and should be able to keep it close. Remember, Ole Miss has played very well in Baton Rouge of late. Prediction: Ole Miss +19
Virginia Tech (-10) at Boston College
Other than a strange home win over a decimated Maryland team, Boston College hasn’t even been competitive since a 34-3 win over Maine in Week 2. The Eagles have lost by an average of 23.3 points in their last four defeats — to Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and Florida State. The Hokies played great against the Noles last week and have to win their final two to get to a bowl game. Frank Beamer will have his team ready to face a BC team that is 2-8 against the spread this season. Prediction: Virginia Tech -10
Kansas State (-12.5) at Baylor
Baylor's defense has been horrible this fall, ranking last in the Big 12 in total defense, 96th nationally against the run and 115th in scoring defense. How will Art Briles stop Collin Klein and that KSU rushing attack? Bill Snyder’s bunch is playing for a national championship, and while Baylor might score a few points, they won’t be able to keep pace. Prediction: Kansas State -12.5
Kent State (+3) at Bowling Green
Both of these teams are on a roll. Kent State has won eight straight games and Bowling Green has won six straight. The Falcons bring the top-rated defense in the league while the Flashes boast the No. 2-rated offense, scoring over 35 points per game. This was a 12-point win for Kent State last season and BG could be in for a letdown after the big win over Ohio two Wednesdays ago. Look for Kent, who is 8-2 against the spread this fall, to win outright. Prediction: Kent State +3
2012 Trends Against the Spread:
Undefeated ATS: Utah St (10-0)
Winless ATS: None
One Loss ATS: Fresno St (10-1), Kansas St (8-1-1), Northwestern (9-1)
One Win ATS: Virginia (1-7-2)
Two Losses ATS: Ball St (8-2), Clemson (8-2), FAU (8-2), Kent St (8-2), N. Illinois (8-2), Penn St (7-2-1), San Jose St (8-2)
Two Wins ATS: Arkansas (2-8), Colorado (2-8), Hawaii (2-7), Idaho (2-8), Illinois (2-8), Iowa (2-8), Kentucky (2-8), Miami-OH (2-7-1), Nevada (2-7), Southern Miss (2-8), West Virginia (2-7)
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Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat Post-Week 11 Rankings
Post-Week 11 Bowl Projections
The end of the fantasy football regular season is coming into focus as we enter Week 11 of the NFL season. The good news is this is the last bye week that owners will have to deal with. The bad news is Week 11 is a pretty big one in terms of fantasy firepower that’s unavailable, especially at running back and wide receiver. No Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Chris Johnson, Percy Harvin, or Victor Cruz, to name a few, presents one more challenging week when it comes to roster management for many owners.
Athlon Sports is here to help you make all of those important lineup decisions for your Yahoo!, NFL.com or ESPN fantasy football league with our weekly Start and Sit suggestions. Keep in mind these are merely our suggestions as the ultimate decision comes down to you, the owner.
Bye week teams: Minnesota, New York Giants, Seattle, Tennessee
Sneaky Start of the Week
Marcel Reece, RB, Oakland vs. New Orleans
Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson continue to be hampered by the high ankle sprains they suffered two weeks ago, presenting Reece with another opportunity to do the heavy lifting.
Last week against Baltimore, Reece led the Raiders in both carries and receptions and turned those 20 touches into 104 total yards. A fullback by trade, Reece was already a reliable target for Carson Palmer, as he has 33 receptions on the season and he’s averaging nearly 10 yards per catch.
Now with McFadden and Goodson most likely out for a second straight game, the Raiders seem to be content with Reece running the ball as well. Taiwan Jones, who is much more explosive and appears to possess more playmaking ability as a rusher, received only two carries last week against the Ravens, compared to 13 for Reece.
In fact, both Reece and Jones could end up with decent numbers this Sunday against New Orleans. The Saints are allowing the third-most fantasy points to running backs and chances are this game will end up fairly high-scoring in general. I like Reece’s chances of putting up big numbers better than Jones because he’s getting the bulk of the opportunities and due to his versatility. Reece isn’t the only Raiders skill-position player I like this week either (see Carson Palmer and Denarius Moore below).
Surprise Sit of the Week
Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco vs. Chicago (Monday)
Yes I know that it’s really hard to sit Gore, who is eighth in the league in rushing yards (753) and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry. I also know that Chicago has allowed back-to-back 100-yard games.
However, I also know that both of these 100-yard games, one by Chris Johnson and last week by Arian Foster, can be largely attributed to game conditions. Johnson did most of his damage on one 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter when the Bears were already up by nearly 40 points, while Foster’s effort came in a rainy, sloppy affair in which he needed 29 carries to get to the century mark.
You take the last two games out and the Bears have allowed 437 yards on the ground and not a single rushing touchdown in their seven other contests to runinng backs. Gore may be on the same level as Johnson and/or Foster, but I’m not expecting a blowout nor do I think the two teams will be playing in a quagmire out in San Francisco come Monday night.
In addition, Gore has taken some pretty decent shots to his ribs lately and while he has been able to play through the pain and discomfort, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Kendall Hunter get a few more carries to try to lighten the wear and tear on the 49ers’ lead back. Especially considering how physical this matchup figures to be.
There’s also the matter of who ends up under center for the 49ers. Alex Smith (see below) is on track to start despite sustaining a concussion last week, but that doesn’t mean he will be the only one taking snaps against the Bears. Colin Kaepernick, who is more of a running threat than a passer, will more than likely see the field, whether that is due to game plan or out of necessity. Regardless, I just don’t think Gore will get enough touches or be productive with the ones he receives against this Bears defense.
Carson Palmer (OAK) vs. New Orleans
All Palmer has done in the past two games is throw for 782 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. He may not be racking up the touchdown passes (15), but he’s had fewer than 33 pass attempts in a game only once this season. Don’t be surprised to see him eclipse that number this week as not only is New Orleans giving up the most fantasy points to quarterbacks, the Saints' defense fares even worse on the road. In four road games this season, the Saints have yielded an average of 32.6 fantasy points to opposing signal callers. Drew Brees may have his way with the Raiders’ pass defense, but I expect Palmer to enjoy more than his share of success when it’s his turn.
Tony Romo (DAL) vs. Cleveland
Don’t look now, but Romo has gone two straight games without throwing a single interception! For as much criticism as Romo has received this season (not to mention every season he has played) for his lack of ball security, keep this in mind. Of his 13 picks, nine of them came in two games. You take those two games away and he has a respectable 10:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his seven other games. I also would like to point out that those nine interceptions in two games came against the league’s two top ball-hawking teams – the Bears and the Giants. That said, this week Romo gets his shot at a Cleveland pass defense that ranks 21st in the league and is 10th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. The Browns have 10 interceptions on the season, but only three of those have come on the road. Can Romo make it three pick-free games in a row? Even if he doesn’t, I still think he’s a safe starting option this week.
Andy Dalton (CIN) at Kansas City
Well, Dalton certainly proved me wrong last week. After tabbing him as a Sit against the Giants, all he did was torch their secondary for four touchdowns. Yes, he only threw for 199 yards, but when you toss four scoring strikes that has a tendency to help the fantasy point production. In Dalton’s case that turned out to be 31.8 points last week, his fifth game of 26 or more. He could produce his sixth such effort this Sunday as the Chiefs have given up an average of 20.4 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks at home and are sporting a 9:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in four games at Arrowhead Stadium.
Joe Flacco (BAL) at Pittsburgh
The last time I suggested sitting the top fantasy scorer at his position the previous week was in Week 9 with Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin. That decision certainly didn’t pan out for me (to put it mildly), so why am I revisiting this strategy this week with Flacco you ask? For one, I am fairly confident he won’t score 35.7 points, which is how many he had against the Raiders last week, against the league’s top defense. The Steelers also are No. 1 against the pass and in eight career games versus the Steel Curtain, Flacco has a total of 10 touchdown passes. Points are generally hard to come by when the Ravens and Steelers get together and I expect more of the same on Sunday.
Alex Smith (SF) vs. Chicago (Monday)
Despite sustaining a concussion last week against St. Louis, Smith has reportedly cleared the mandatory baseline tests and is on track to start Monday night against Chicago. While I applaud and admire his toughness and desire to be out there with his teammates, I can’t help but wonder if discretion would be the more prudent path here. That said, I don’t expect Smith to be 100 percent, which could be even more magnified against a Chicago defense that has given up the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. The Bears have 26 sacks and 19 interceptions, and have surrendered a total of seven touchdown passes by quarterbacks. You don’t want your quarterback facing this defense, let alone one that’s recovering from a concussion.
Jay Cutler/Jason Campbell (CHI) vs. San Francisco (Monday)
Speaking of concussions, Cutler has had to go through the same things Alex Smith has this week, as the Bears’ signal caller left last week’s game against Houston after taking a big hit. Cutler has yet to be cleared for practice, which certainly puts his playing status for this week into doubt. I would be surprised to see Cutler in there on Monday night against the 49ers, as the Bears need a 100 percent healthy Cutler if they have any hopes of making a deep playoff run. That said, it doesn’t matter if it’s Cutler or Campbell, there’s no reason to start a Bear quarterback this week. The 49ers are fourth in the league in pass defense and have given up four touchdown passes in five home games. I think this game is going to be won in the trenches and by the team that is more successful running the ball or capitalizes on turnovers. Quarterbacks don’t get points for handoffs.
Jamaal Charles (KC) vs. Cincinnati
With a total of 83 yards rushing in his previous three games combined, expectations for Charles last Monday night against Pittsburgh were understandably low. Apparently someone forgot to tell Charles, however, as he hung only the second 100-yard game on the Steelers this season. Pittsburgh’s rush defense is still ranked sixth overall, while Cincinnati’s is a little further down at No. 18. The Bengals are surrendering the sixth-most fantasy points to running backs, so as long as Charles gets the chance, he could post decent numbers this week.
Steven Jackson (STL) vs. New York Jets
Jackson got a season-high 29 carries last week against San Francisco and turned those into his first 100-yard game of 2012. This coming against a 49ers defense that ranks seventh against the run and is giving up the fewest fantasy points to running backs. The Jets have had trouble all season stopping the run, as they are giving up 145 yards on the ground per game. Jackson has been a disappointment for much of the season, but last week showed he can still get the job done, and this week’s matchup certainly bodes well for a potential encore performance.
Felix Jones (DAL) vs. Cleveland
There is a chance that DeMarco Murray will return this week against Cleveland. However, with the Cowboys set to take on the Redskins in their traditional Thanksgiving spot, it makes more sense to give Murray one more week of rest. Another reason to go this route, is the fact that I think Jones can more than handle the load this week against the Browns. Besides putting together his best game (93 total yards, TD) in a month last week against the Eagles, the Browns are 27th in the league in rush defense. There’s no reason for the Cowboys to risk Murray this week since it appears Jones, and the other backs, should be able to get the job done.
Willis McGahee (DEN) vs. San Diego
McGahee ran for a season-high 122 yards in Week 8 against New Orleans. In the two games before and the two games since, he has not had more than 66 yards rushing in any one game. Included in this span is a Week 6 win in San Diego in which he only had 56 yards on the ground. The Chargers are second in the league against the run (82.9 ypg), and held Jamaal Charles and Doug Martin, both of whom have more rushing yards than McGahee, to a combined 107 yards. The Broncos have already shown they can beat the Chargers without getting much from McGahee and I expect a similar scenario to play out this Sunday.
Jonathan Stewart (CAR) vs. Tampa Bay
Stewart was presented with a golden opportunity when he was named the Panthers’ lead back several weeks ago. Unfortunately for Stewart, not to mention his owners, he has yet to capitalize on it. Stewart has rushed for 51 yards or fewer in each of the past four games, including just 31 last week against Denver. Tampa Bay is tops in the league in rush defense, so there’s little reason to expect anything to change Sunday when it comes to Stewart’s fantasy production.
Rashad Jennings (JAC) at Houston
Maurice Jones-Drew is still at least a week away from returning, which means Jennings is the man yet again. His position on the Jaguars' depth chart, however, seems to be going for him when it comes to this week’s outlook against Houston. For starters Jennings has yet to eclipse the 60-yard mark in the four games since Jones-Drew got injured. In fact, Jennings is averaging only 2.8 yards per carry and has one total touchdown in that span. As ugly as that looks, keep in mind that’s still one more touchdown than the Texans have allowed on the ground to a running back all season. Houston hasn’t given up more than 65 yards to any back since Week 4 and only two have eclipsed that mark all season. Unless it’s a blowout early, don’t expect Jennings to fare much better this week.
Denarius Moore (OAK) vs. New Orleans
If I like Carson Palmer’s (see above) chances of putting up big numbers this week, it only stands to reason that one of his receivers could be in line to benefit as well, right? In this case, I’ll go with Moore over Darrius Heyward-Bey and the other Raider wideouts. First, the Saints' struggles on defense have certainly carried over to the fantasy world. Besides allowing the most fantasy points to quarterbacks, they also have given up the most to wide receivers too. The Saints’ defense has yielded 14 touchdown receptions to wide receivers and considering Moore is Palmer’s favorite target, you have to like his chances of adding to his season total of five this Sunday. Moore has seen no fewer than eight targets in any game he has played this season and has topped 90 yards receiving in two of his last three. Heyward-Bey tweaked his hamstring in practice on Wednesday, so there’s a chance he could be limited, or possibly not play at all. That's just another reason why I think Moore is the better choice this week.
Dez Bryant (DAL) vs. Cleveland
Bryant caught just three passes last week against Philadelphia, but he averaged 29 yards per catch and scored his third touchdown. This was against an Eagles defense that had been pretty good holding opposing wide receivers in check. The same cannot be said of this week’s opponent, Cleveland. The Browns are allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to receivers, including 13 touchdown receptions. They have been even more susceptible on the road, so perhaps Bryant can collect his first home score this Sunday too.
Danny Amendola (STL) vs. New York Jets
The Rams’ top target picked up right where he left off before getting injured, as he hauled in 11 passes for 102 yards in the tie against San Francisco. Sam Bradford clearly looks Amendola’s way often, as he has averaged more than 11 targets in the five games he was able to complete. The Jets are allowing the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, but that doesn’t deter me one bit when it comes to using Amendola, especially if you play in a ppr league.
Michael Crabtree (SF) vs. Chicago (Monday)
Crabtree has three touchdown catches in his last two games, but that was without Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings or any other Bear defensive back covering him. As was covered above in regards to Alex Smith’s not-so-promising outlook this Monday night, the same applies to Crabtree. The Bears have given up only five touchdown catches to opposing wide receivers. Crabtree’s best games have come when he’s scored, as he’s only had more than six receptions in a game once this season. I’ll be surprised if he even gets that many against the Bears.
Cecil Shorts (JAC) at Houston
Shorts has been a pleasant surprise for the Jaguars this season, averaging more than 19 yards per catch. He’s also scored four touchdowns, but none of those were against Houston, who the Jags lost to in Week 2. In fact, Shorts didn’t catch a single pass the first time he faced the Texans. Then again with the exception of Week 6 against Green Bay, the Texans have given up a total of three touchdowns to opposing wide receivers and just two 100-yard efforts. Don’t be at all surprised to see Shorts come up short this week.
Danario Alexander (SD) at Denver
Alexander has acclimated himself with his new team rather quickly, as he’s averaging more than 24 yards per catch since joining the Chargers in October. He exploded for 134 yards and a touchdown last week against Tampa Bay, which is not all that surprising considering the Buccaneers are last in the league in pass defense. The going will probably be a little tougher this week against Denver. The Broncos are 11th against the pass and have only given up 100 yards to Wes Welker and Roddy White. Unlike Welker and White, Alexander relies on the big play for his production, something I am sure the Broncos’ defensive backs are well aware of and are game planning to stop, or at least limit. Given their track record this season, the chances of them being successful in this effort appear to be pretty good. And that’s bad news as it applies to Alexander’s outlook for Sunday.
Antonio Gates (SD) at Denver
While Denver has done a good job of limiting the damage done by wide receivers, which hinders the potential of Chargers like Danario Alexander (see above) this week, the same does not hold true for tight ends. The Broncos are allowing the most fantasy points to tight ends and Gates has already victimized them once. In Week 6, Gates posted his best numbers of the season – six catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns. A repeat performance this Sunday doesn’t appear to be out of the question.
Greg Olsen (CAR) vs. Tampa Bay
Just like Antonio Gates did in Week 6, Olsen took advantage of Denver’s struggles defending the tight end last week. Olsen enjoyed season highs across the board as he put up 9-102-2 against the Broncos. Tampa Bay hasn’t allowed near as many yards or touchdowns to tight ends compared to Denver, but the Buccaneers are ranked 11th in terms of fantasy points yielded to the position. He may not repeat last week’s gaudy numbers, but I still think Olsen will put forth another start-worthy effort on Sunday.
Vernon Davis (SF) vs. Chicago (Monday)
Let’s see, between Frank Gore, Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree (see above), it’s pretty clear that I am not expecting much of anything from the 49ers’ offense this Monday night. While that may be true, Davis’ inclusion here is more than just simple “guilt by association.” Davis hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 3, and his overall statistics show that he’s becoming less and less a focus of the 49ers’ offensive game plan. He has no more than four catches and 37 yards receiving in any of his past four games, including not catching a single pass in Week 7 against Seattle. Take your pick – his declining production or the matchup with the Bears – either way; this may be a good week to try your chances with someone other than Davis as your tight end.
Owen Daniels (HOU) vs. Jacksonville
Daniels missed last week’s game against Chicago with a hip injury, but has returned to practice this week. There’s a good chance he will return this Sunday, but you can’t help but wonder if he will be limited, physically and/or in terms of playing time. Also, in Week 2 against the Jaguars, Daniels only had 47 yards receiving (on 6 receptions) and didn’t score a touchdown. The Texans shouldn’t need to throw the ball a lot to beat the Jags, so that’s just another reason for you to give Daniels another week of rest, on your bench.
Atlanta vs. Arizona
The Falcons’ DST is averaging 10.5 fantasy points per home game and three of the unit’s five double-digit efforts have come in the Georgia Dome. What’s more, Arizona has allowed a league-worst 41 sacks, with 19 of those coming in the four road games the Cardinals have played. Put it together and you get a recipe for a double-digit performance from the Falcons’ DST this Sunday.
Cincinnati at Kansas City
The Bengals’ defense stepped up big last week, sacking Eli Manning four times and forcing four turnovers in their impressive 31-13 home win. The unit will take its act on the road this week, but Cincinnati couldn’t have asked for a more willing opponent than Kansas City. The Chiefs have turned the ball over a league-worst 30 times and have given up a total of five defensive/special teams touchdowns. Every DST the Chiefs have faced this season has scored at least 10 fantasy points against them. If you are looking for a DST this week or don’t like the matchup for yours, there’s no reason to not give the Bengals a try.
Arizona at Atlanta
The Cardinals are second in the league in passing defense and have been a reliable fantasy DST this season. However, the challenge that awaits them in the Georgia Dome against Matt Ryan and company is something different. Ryan is king of his domain (30-4 in his career at home), and he has thrown only four interceptions in four home contests. The Falcons don’t beat themselves with turnovers and are at their best, and most dangerous, when they are home in the dome. When it comes to this battle, it’s best to stick with the birds of prey and not the redbirds.
San Diego at Denver
The Chargers are sixth in fantasy scoring among DSTs and are averaging 9.4 points per road game. On the other hand, the Broncos have given up a total of 13 points to opposing DSTs in their four home games. Peyton Manning has yet to throw an interception at home and he’s only been sacked five times. With the exception of a six-point loss to Houston in Week 3, the Broncos have been dominant at home. Given the Broncos’ success at home, if the Chargers’ DST were even to match its road average of 9.4 fantasy points this Sunday that would be impressive. Still not start-worthy, but nonetheless impressive.
Connor Barth (TB) at Carolina
Tampa Bay is averaging nearly 36 points per game over its last five. Carolina gave up 36 in its home loss to Denver last week. Coincidence? Probably, but I still like Barth’s chances of scoring a good number of points. The Panthers are allowing the most fantasy points to kickers, including a league-high 25 field goals.
Shayne Graham (HOU) vs. Jacksonville
Graham scored 10 fantasy points (3 PATs, 2 FGs) the first time the Texans played the Jaguars back in Week 2. I’m not really expecting anything different this Sunday, except that maybe the Texans score more than the 27 points they did in Jacksonville.
Jay Feely (ARI) at Atlanta
The Falcons have yielded four field goals in four home games. Only one kicker (Sebastian Janikowski) has scored double-digit fantasy points on them. Given that I like the Falcons’ DST this week (see above); I’m not expecting Feely to make it two kickers with 10+ points against the home team.
Josh Scobee (JAC) at Houston
Houston has yielded a total of six field goals in five home games. Even though Scobee has made three field goals in each of the Jaguars’ four road games, they only managed one touchdown the first time they faced the Texans back in Week 2. And that game was at home. This game isn’t.
LSU and Ole Miss will meet for the 102nd time on Saturday, when the Tigers hosts the Rebels in Baton Rouge. Les Miles’ crew bounced back from the heartbreaking loss to Alabama and defeated Mississippi State last week, 37-17. Ole Miss has dropped two in a row but could make the postseason for the first time since 2009 with a victory over the Tigers. In honor of its famous Halloween game, here are 13 statistical highlights focusing on the history between these two longtime rivals that first played in 1894.
1959: This Halloween night game was one of the best in SEC history. Both teams were 6-0 with amazing defenses. LSU had outscored its opponents 103-6 on the year, while Ole Miss had bested its foes by a whopping 189-7 differential. The game’s only touchdown would come on one of the most famous plays in all of college football, Billy Cannon’s 89-yard punt return to beat Ole Miss 7-3. Cannon would go on to win the Heisman Trophy that season.
1: Bowl meeting between Ole Miss and LSU. It took place on January 1, 1960, at the Sugar Bowl. Johnny Vaught’s Rebels got revenge for the aforementioned 7-3 loss earlier in the season, beating the Tigers in dominant fashion by the score of 21-0.
3: National Championships for each school. LSU won it all in 1958, 2003 and 2007, while Ole Miss claimed titles in 1959, 1960 and 1962.
4: Games in this series since it was termed the “Magnolia Bowl”. Ole Miss won the trophy in 2008-09, while LSU has prevailed in the last two meetings.
101: Meetings in this series, with LSU leading 57-39-4.
13: Consecutive seasons with at least eight wins for LSU. That mark is an all-time school record.
1: Player in Ole Miss history to score a passing, rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game. Quarterback Bo Wallace achieved the feat earlier this season against Auburn.
1998: LSU’s first-ever overtime game, a 37-31 loss to Ole Miss. The Rebels held a 28-10 halftime lead, but the Tigers would storm back with 21 fourth-quarter points. Romaro Miller hit Cory Peterson for a 25-yard TD pass to start OT, and the Ole Miss defense held LSU’s Herb Tyler and Kevin Faulk-led attack out of the end zone for the win.
1: Day game at Tiger Stadium this season. That will be Saturday’s matchup at 2:30 pm CST.
5: Tigers with over 50 yards rushing in last year’s 52-3 win over the Rebels. The five LSU ball carriers were Alfred Blue, Spencer Ware, Kenny Hilliard, Terrence Magee and Michael Ford.
38: Uniform number at Ole Miss of the late Chucky Mullins, who was paralyzed in 1989 after making a tackle against Vanderbilt. A Rebels player is honored each year with the Chucky Mullins Courage Award, and this season No. 38 is senior defensive end Jason Jones.
26: Total points allowed by LSU in the first quarter this season (10 games).
33: Times that Ole Miss has scored in 35 red zone trips this season. That 94.3-percernt mark tops the SEC.
This past Sunday, San Francisco and St. Louis finished their divisional tilt in a tie, much to the surprise of the participants, meaning there was no memorable, game-winning play that took place. NFL history is full of just such moments, but it’s those endings that make you stand up, shake your head in disbelief and in your best Jack Buck impression shout “I don’t believe what I just saw!” that really stand out. Here are our choices for the craziest, most improbable, have-to-be-seen-to-be-believed game-ending moments in NFL history.
(Listed in chronological order, most recent to earliest)
Sept. 24, 2012 – Green Bay at Seattle
Replacement Refs Leave Lasting Impression in Their Final Game
In what ended up being the final game officiated by the replacement referees, the final play of this Monday night game in Seattle provided one of the strangest endings to an NFL game ever. From the determination and subsequent debate of “simultaneous possession” to the bizarre scene of a needless extra point taking place some 10 minutes after the final play, the ending to this game featured many sights never seen before. It also represented the last time the replacement referees would be seen, as the “real” officials were back on the job that Thursday following this debacle that played out in front of a national primetime audience.
Dec. 19, 2010 – Philadelphia at New York Giants
DeSean Jackson’s Punt Return Caps Eagles’ Furious Comeback Against Giants
The Eagles trailed the Giants 24-3 at halftime, but scored three touchdowns in a little more than a six-minute span in the fourth quarter to draw even. Then with just 14 seconds left, the Giants were forced to punt, and rookie punter Matt Dodge was instructed by Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin to punt the ball away from DeSean Jackson. Dodge didn’t follow through on those orders and Jackson ended up taking the punt back 65 yards for the game-winning score. Not only was that the longest game-winning touchdown on the final play of regulation since 1960, it also ended up being the deciding game in the NFC East race. Both teams were 9-4 entering this game, but thanks to this improbable, last-second victory, the Eagles grabbed a one-game lead over the Giants. That was all the difference as both finished with identical 10-6 records, but the Eagles won the NFC East title by virtue of their 4-2 divisional record. Even though they won 10 games, the Giants didn’t even make it into the playoffs that season.
Dec. 21, 2003 – New Orleans at Jacksonville
Saints Execute (Almost) Everything to Perfection
Trailing Jacksonville 20-13 with just six seconds left, New Orleans had the ball on their own 25. Aaron Brooks threw a pass downfield to Donte’ Stallworth, who caught the ball at the 50, broke a few tackles and then flipped the ball to fellow wide receiver Michael Lewis. Lewis pitched it to running back Deuce McAllister, who then lateraled it to wideout Jerome Pathon. Pathon took it the final 21 yards for the score. After just having pulled off the seemingly impossible, the Saints lined up for what figured to be the easiest part of this miraculous comeback attempt, the PAT. Alas, that was not to be, as the normally reliable John Carney missed the potential game-tying kick wide right. Besides going from the ecstasy of victory to the agony of defeat in a matter of moments, the 20-19 loss also eliminated the Saints from playoff contention. Talk about your kick in the you-know-where.
Nov. 6, 2000 – Minnesota at Green Bay
Antonio Freeman - “He did what?”
This Monday Night Football matchup in 2000 between division rivals Minnesota and Green Bay went into overtime. The Packers got the ball first in the extra period and Brett Favre proceeded to drive his team to the Vikings’ 43-yard line. From there, Favre dropped back and threw the ball in the direction of Antonio Freeman, who was covered pretty well by a Vikings defender who actually got his hands on the pass. The ball seemed to fall incomplete next to Freeman’s body, but he got up off the ground with it and ran towards the end zone, much to the surprise of the Vikings’ defense. As Freeman celebrated with a “Lambeau Leap,” replays showed that Freeman somehow managed to keep the ball off of the ground the entire time it bounced around his body. After a lengthy review, the play stood, giving the Packers the win. Widely recognized as one of the most incredible catches in NFL history, play-by-play announcer Al Michaels summed up everyone’s reaction best when he said, “He did what?”
Jan. 8, 2000 - Buffalo at Tennessee
“The Music City Miracle”
The 1999 season was a memorable one for the Tennessee Titans and their fans in many ways, highlighted by what took place in the 2000 AFC Wild Card game. The playoff game between the Titans and Buffalo Bills was a close-knit affair, one that featured three lead changes in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. The Bills took a 16-15 lead on a field goal with 16 seconds left. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, all that did was set the stage for one of the greatest all-time finishes to a football game. Fullback Lorenzo Neal fielded the kick off at the 25 and then immediately handed it to tight end Frank Wychek. Wychek started running toward the right sideline, and then turned around and lateraled the ball across the field to wide receiver Kevin Dyson. Dyson did the rest, sprinting down the left sideline 75 yards for the score. A lengthy review upheld the play, and thus “The Music City Miracle” was born.
Nov. 25, 1993 – Miami at Dallas
Leon Lett’s Thanksgiving to Forget
Even though this Thanksgiving Day game between the Cowboys and Dolphins was already memorable in that it was being played in a rare snow and sleet storm, Lett made sure this one would never be forgotten. Trailing 14-13 with 15 seconds remaining, the Dolphins attempted a 41-yard field goal to take the lead, but the kick was blocked. For reasons known only to him, Lett attempted to recover the ball, but instead slipped on the snow-covered field. If he had just left the ball alone, the Cowboys would have taken over possession and been able to run out the remaining time on the clock. Instead, his “muff” offfered the Dolphins a second chance, as they fell on the ball at the one-yard line and the clock was stopped with three seconds remaining. The shorter field goal attempt was successful, allowing the Dolphins to snatch victory from the seeming jaws of defeat and handing Cowboys' fans a bitter pill to swallow on a day known for eating.
Nov. 19, 1978 – Philadelphia at New York Giants
Herm Edwards and “The Miracle at the Meadowlands”
It’s a play that’s been immortalized by NFL Films and is the indisputable highlight of Herm Edwards’ playing career. The Giants led the Eagles 17-12 with 31 seconds to play. The home team also had the ball and needed to run just one more play to seal the victory. After receiving the snap, instead of taking a knee, Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik tried to hand the ball to his fullback, Larry Csonka. Csonka never got it, however, as the ball hit his hip and bounced away. Edwards, who played cornerback for the Eagles, picked it up and ran it back 26 yards for the game-winning score that stunned the Giants team and fans in the stands.
Sept. 10, 1978 – Oakland at San Diego
Whether you call it the “Holy Roller” or “Immaculate Deception,” the play that ended this game between the Raiders and Chargers is also one of the most controversial in NFL history. The Chargers led the Raiders 20-14 with 10 seconds left in the game, but the Raiders had the ball on the San Diego 14-yard line looking to tie the score. Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler dropped back to pass, but a Charger defender hit him, causing him to lose the football. Running back Pete Banaszak recovered the ball and flipped it forward to tight end Dave Casper. Casper, seemingly unable to get a firm grip, proceeded to roll the ball toward the end zone, eventually falling on it in the end zone as time expired. The Raiders kicked the extra point to win 21-20 thanks to a play that forced the NFL to change the rules regarding fumbles.
Dec. 28, 1975 – Dallas at Minnesota
The NFL’s Original “Hail Mary”
A staple of the modern day lexicon when it comes to game-winning touchdown passes, the origins of the “Hail Mary” in NFL lore go back to a NFC playoff game in 1975 between the Cowboys and Vikings. Trailing 14-10 on the road with just 1:50 left, Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach and the offense began what turned out to be the game-winning drive from their own 15. A spectacular sideline catch by wide receiver Drew Pearson on fourth and long got the Cowboys to midfield with just 37 seconds left. Following an incompletion, Staubach dropped back to pass with 32 ticks left on the clock and threw a desperation heave in the direction of Pearson, who made the catch at the five and backed his way into the end zone with 24 seconds left on the clock. The Cowboys would win the game 17-14. Afterwards during a post-game interview, Staubach, a devoted Catholic, said of the play, “I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.”
Dec. 23, 1972 – Oakland at Pittsburgh
The “Immaculate Reception”
One of the most iconic plays in football history, the “Immaculate Reception” has stood the test of time despite having occurred almost 40 years ago. Besides being known for its greatness, the play also is recognized as being one of the most controversial ones in NFL history. Following a 30-yard touchdown run by Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, the Steelers found themselves trailing the Raiders 7-6 at home with just 1:17 left. Facing a fourth-and-10 on their own 40-yard line with 22 seconds remaining, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a pass to halfback John Fuqua around the Raiders’ 35. Raiders safety Jack Tatum collided with Fuqua, jarring the ball loose, sending it backwards and setting the stage for fullback Franco Harris. Harris, who was initially blocking on the play, scooped up the tumbling ball before it hit the ground, stiff-armed a Raiders defender and rambled into the end zone to give the Steelers the improbable win. The rest, as they say, is history.
— Published on Nov. 14, 2012
Two AFC East teams in need of a win will meet on Thursday Night Football, when the Buffalo Bills host the Miami Dolphins tonight at 8:20 pm EST on the NFL Network. The Bills have lost three in a row and five of their last six games to fall to 3-6 on the season. Two weeks ago the Dolphins had won three in a row to get to 4-3 on the year, but losses to the Colts and Titans have Miami back under the .500 mark.
When the Buffalo Bills have the ball:
Buffalo has been fairly solid on offense this season, ranking sixth in the league with 143.1 rushing yards per game. Both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have been productive backs, although Jackson has missed time with a knee injury and will be out for this game with a concussion suffered in last week’s loss at New England. Spiller has been excellent with 632 rushing yards and an NFL-best 7.3 yards per carry. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has 17 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions this season, but seven of those picks have come in two games.
The Miami defense has played decent football overall, but this unit has struggled in recent weeks. The Dolphins gave up a rookie-record 433 passing yards to Andrew Luck of the Colts two weeks ago and an easy 126 rushing yards to Tennessee’s Chris Johnson in last Sunday’s blowout loss. Even with that subpar performance, Miami still ranks fifth in the NFL against the run. The Dolphins will key on Spiller tonight, while also trying to improve on their paltry total of 11 takeaways in nine games.
When the Miami Dolphins have the ball:
The Miami offense ranks 26th in the league in yardage (323.9 per contest), but there were bound to be some issues with a new system and a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins ran the ball well early but have not produced on the ground lately. Reggie Bush was benched after a first-quarter fumble last week, and Miami must find a way to get him going again. This would be the game for Bush to up his production, and a solid rushing performance would greatly help Tannehill. The rookie threw three interceptions versus Tennessee last Sunday, and he has only one touchdown pass over the last three games.
The Buffalo defense has simply been terrible this season, ranking 31st in the league with 410 yards allowed per contest and dead-last in scoring at 31.7 points per game. Dave Wannstedt’s crew is also the worst run unit in the NFL, giving up a staggering 163.7 yards per game on the ground. That obviously must stop if the Bills are going to get back near .500, and limiting Bush will be the focus tonight. Much like Miami, the Bills have struggled to cause turnovers with only 11 on the season.
Both teams should play desperate football in the one, and the quarterback that is most effective should lead his team to victory. Fitzpatrick can be really bad at times, but he gives Buffalo a chance to win in most weeks. Tannehill must avoid interceptions against the Bills and let the running game be effective. The Dolphins have won six of the last eight in this series, but we’ll take the Bills with the home crowd to win a close ball game tonight.
Bills 23 Dolphins 20
All 14 SEC teams are in action this weekend, but there are only three games involving two league teams. And all three feature at least one team that needs to win to keep its bowl hopes alive. Tennessee is 4–6 and needs to beat Vanderbilt this week and Kentucky next week to get to the six-win mark. Arkansas, also 4–6, has a tougher road. The Hogs need to win at Mississippi State and beat LSU in Fayetteville on the Friday after Thanksgiving. And Ole Miss, at 5–5, needs to win one more game, either at LSU this weekend or vs. Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
Other Week 12 Previews and Predictions
SEC’s Top Storylines to Watch in Week 12:
1. Can Ole Miss pick up win No. 6 in Baton Rouge?
After losing at Georgia and at home to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss is down to two more opportunities to pick up that elusive sixth win. Conventional wisdom suggests the Rebels have a better chance of beating Mississippi State at home than LSU in Baton Rouge. And while that is probably true, the Rebels do have a history of playing very well at Tiger Stadium. Ole Miss is 4–4 in their last eight games in Baton Rouge with three of the losses coming by three points or fewer and the other by seven points. One of the most noteworthy wins in the series came in 2008, when Houston Nutt’s first Rebel team won 31–13 at Tiger Stadium. That is the last time LSU has lost by more than 10 points at home. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, a Mississippi native who was a member of Ed Orgeron’s staff from 2005-07, knows the history of this series quite well. “One of the earliest memories I have is sitting in the stands and hearing exactly how the Ole Miss fans felt about LSU in almost any game,” Freeze says. “You always remember the Billy Cannons and all of those things. It's quite clear to me the rivalry that this is and how well Ole Miss usually plays LSU.”
2. Can we now call LSU a passing offense?
Something strange is happening in Baton Rouge. For the first time since November 2010, LSU has had more yards passing than rushing in two consecutive games (against FBS opponents). Two weeks ago, the Tigers threw for 296 yards and rushed for 139 in a 21–17 loss to Alabama. Last Saturday, they threw for 273 and rushed for 119 in a 37–17 win against Mississippi State. The reason for this new-found success in the passing game has been the improved play of quarterback Zach Mettenberger. In his first four SEC games, Mettenberger completed 46.2 percent of his passes with one touchdown and two interceptions; in his last two games, he has completed 66.2 percent with three touchdowns and no picks. It’s not likely we will ever see a Les Miles-coached team fling the ball all over the field on a consistent basis, but it’s a positive sign that the Tigers are able to throw the ball down the field when needed.
3. Can Mississippi State slow down the Arkansas passing attack?
Mississippi State’s secondary has taken a beating in recent weeks. The Bulldogs have given up an average of 280 passing yards during their three-game losing streak. After seven games, all wins, MSU ranked 21st nationally in pass defense, allowing an average of 188.6 yards per game. After losses to Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU, the Dogs have dropped to 43rd (216.0 ypg). This week, Arkansas comes calling. The Razorbacks have been one of the biggest disappointments in the nation, but they still do one thing very well — throw the ball down the field. The Hogs ranks 19th nationally in passing offense (302.6 ypg) and lead the SEC with eight passing plays of 50 yards or more. Arkansas isn’t as balanced as State’s three previous opponents, but this offense is more than capable of putting up a bunch of points on what has become a suspect Mississippi State defense.
4. Can Arkansas score some touchdowns?
There’s one stat that best illustrates Arkansas’ struggles in 2012. And it’s quite simple: The Razorbacks aren’t scoring enough touchdowns. Last year, with Bobby Petrino calling the plays, Arkansas scored 32 touchdowns in eight SEC games. This year, the Hogs have scored 16 touchdowns in six league games. There are mitigating factors — injuries to some key personnel, losses to graduation at wide receiver, etc. — but this is still a significant decrease in production. As a result, a team that was hoping to contend for an SEC West title is now fighting for bowl-eligibility.
5. Which SEC team is most at risk to losing to a FCS opponent this week?
No SEC team has lost to a member of the FCS ranks since Ole Miss opened the 2010 season with a 49–48 loss to Jacksonville State. This week, there are an unprecedented seven games featuring an SEC team vs. an FCS opponent. The league figures to win all seven, but there are a few teams that should be on upset alert. Kentucky, which is 1–9, hosts Samford (7–3) in the final home game of the Joker Phillips era. South Carolina takes on a solid Wofford team that is 8–2 overall and 6–2 in the SoCon. The schools have met twice in the past seven years, with Carolina winning 27–20 in 2006 and 23–13 in ’08. Struggling Auburn hosts Alabama A&M, which has a gaudy 7–3 record but plays in the weak SWAC. The biggest mismatch has to be Western Carolina vs. Alabama. The Catamounts are 1–9 and are allowing 519.8 yards and 40.0 points per game. It’s a safe bet that Alabama will bounce back from its only loss of the season with a comfortable win.
6. Can Vanderbilt do the unthinkable — end the season with a winning SEC record?
There have been a lot of firsts at Vanderbilt this season. Among the highlights: The Commodores have become bowl-eligibile for the second-straight season for the first time in school history; they recorded their first SEC shutout since 1968; and they have won three straight on the road in the SEC for the first time ever. Another significant milestone can be reached with a victory over Tennessee on Saturday — a winning record in the SEC. This has happened only one time since 1959, when Whit Taylor led the Dores to a 4–2 mark in league play in 1982. Since the SEC expanded in 1992, Vanderbilt has won more than two conference games only twice, 2005 (3–5) and 2008 (4–4).
7. Can the Tennessee defense step up?
Tennessee is allowing an average of 511.2 yards and 43.7 points in SEC games — staggering numbers for a program that has produced so many great defensive players over the past two decades. This weekend, the Vols face a Vanderbilt team that has some nice weapons but is far from an offensive juggernaut. The Commodores have scored 67 points over the last two weeks (in wins at Kentucky and Ole Miss) but had scored 19 or fewer in their first five SEC games. Tennessee’s suspect secondary will be challenged by the league’s most productive wide receiver duo — Jordan Matthews (1,003 yards) and Chris Boyd (686 yards). Historically, the Vols have made life very difficult on the Commodores. Tennessee has only lost to Vanderbilt once since 1982 and has only allowed the Dores to score more than 28 points once (in 2004) since 1987. This season, however, has defied history — for both schools.
8. Can Dorial Green-Beckham finish strong?
He’s had some big catches, but it’s fair to say that Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation’s top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2012, hasn’t been quite as productive as most expected. In nine games, DGB has caught 22 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. His most productive game was against Florida two weeks ago, when he caught six passes for 73 yards, but his biggest catch came last week in the overtime win at Tennessee. Facing 4th-and-12 from the 25-yard line with under one minute to play, Mizzou quarterback James Franklin found Green-Beckham alone in the corner of the end zone for a game-tying touchdown. DGB added a 10-yard touchdown reception in the third overtime. With two regular-season games remaining, plus a potential bowl game, Missouri would love to see Green-Beckham close his rookie campaign on a strong note.
9. Can Joker Phillips win his last game at Commonwealth Stadium?
Joker Phillips will coach his last game in Lexington on Saturday against Samford. It will be an emotional day for a man who has spent the majority of his adult life at the University of Kentucky. The Franklin, Ky., native played for the Cats from 1981-84 and served on the UK staff in some capacity for 19 of his 25 years in coaching. Phillips has a 12–23 record overall and a 4–19 mark in the SEC in his two-plus seasons as the head coach. The high-water mark of his tenure was a 10–7 win over Tennessee — the program’s first over the Vols since 1984 — in the final week of the 2011 season. The low point had to be a 40–0 loss to Vanderbilt two weeks ago before fewer than 20,000 at Commonwealth Stadium. This Saturday, the Cats host Samford, which is 7–3 in the FBS ranks, and then close the Phillips era with a trip to Knoxville to play Tennessee.
10. Who will win the SEC rushing title?
Two freshmen have separated themselves from the field in the quest for the SEC rushing title. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, with 1,014 yards, leads Georgia true freshman tailback Todd Gurley, who has 973 yards while sharing time with fellow rookie Keith Marshall. Gurley has a slight edge in yards per carry (6.53 to 6.50), but Manziel has more touchdowns (15 to 11). Vanderbilt true freshman Brian Kimbrow leads the league in yards per carry (7.20) but only has 55 attempts. Among players with at least 100 attempts, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon tops the list with 6.61 yards per carry.
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Arkansas at Miss. State
Miss. State 35-21
|Miss. State 31-28||Miss. State 27-24||Miss. State 31-24|
|W. Carolina at Alabama||
|Jacksonville St. at Florida||
|Wofford at South Carolina||S. Carolina 38-10||S. Carolina 31-7||
S. Carolina 41-17
|S. Carolina 31-13|
|Ga. Southern at Georgia||
|Alabama A&M at Auburn||
|Ole Miss at LSU||
|Sam Houston St. at Texas A&M||
Texas A&M 42-13
|Texas A&M 41-10||
Texas A&M 56-20
|Texas A&M 48-10|
|Syracuse at Missouri||
|Tennessee at Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt 28-24||Vanderbilt 31-28||
|Samford at Kentucky||
The Oregon-USC rematch Pac-12 championship game has felt like a foregone conclusion for much of the 2012 calendar year. However, it's very possible both teams could lose this weekend — and that would essentially put Stanford and UCLA into the championship game. What a twist that would be in Week 12, right? Those are two of the best games of the year in the Pac-12 and are two of the marquee showdowns nationally this weekend. Sit back and enjoy.
Pac-12's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 12:
1. Can Kevin Hogan score enough to keep up with Oregon?
The Ducks' defense has allowed some yards this year — 377.7 per game — and some points — 22.3 per game. Now, most of those yards and points have come in the second half with reserves getting a majority of the snaps. However, the Ducks' defense makes big plays. It has forced 29 turnovers, one away from the national lead, and has scored half a dozen defensive and special teams touchdowns. Stanford’s sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan is making just his second career start after throwing two interceptions in his first start last weekend. Needless to say, he will have to play flawless football against the swarming Ducks defense if the Cardinal expect to keep it close, much less win.
2. Will nagging injuries in Oregon’s backfield be a factor?
Both Marcus Mariota (shoulder) and Kenjon Barner (hand/wrist) left the game last weekend with what appeared to be minor injuries. They both returned to the game and, Mariota in particular, finished with a huge performance. There isn’t a more physical defensive front west of the Mississippi and Chip Kelly can bet that David Shaw has instructed his law firm of Murphy, Thomas and Shov to be extra physical with those diminutive Duck ball-handlers. Because if they are fully healthy, there isn't a defense in America than can actually stop Oregon.
3. Has UCLA's offense closed the 50-point gap?
USC crushed the Bruins in the most demoralizing way possible last fall: 50-0. But this UCLA team isn’t the same group that mailed in the last two months of the 2011 season. The Bruins have a new coach, the elite talent in the defensive front is finally developing and redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley has supercharged the offense — an offense that ranked 10th in scoring and 11th in passing in the Pac-12 last year. This fall, Hundley trails only Johnny Manziel nationally for total offense by a freshman (301.1 ypg) and has accounted for 13 touchdowns against only two interceptions during UCLA’s four-game winning streak. This offense, which is scoring 15 more points per game and ranks 3rd overall in the league, will have to be balanced and efficient to keep pace with USC.
4. Can the UCLA front seven get enough pressure on Matt Barkley?
UCLA was 112th nationally and 11th in the Pac-12 in sacks in 2011. It was 11th in rushing defense at 190.7 yards per game. This season, UCLA ranks fourth nationally in sacks at nearly four per game and is fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (144.6 ypg). This is due in large part to Jim Mora’s new staff instilling toughness and physicality in a group of former four- and five-star recruits. Anthony Barr has developed into a premiere pass rusher, Eric Kendricks is playing like his older brother Mychal who won Pac-12 defensive player of the year last fall at Cal and names like Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh are beginning to live up to their lofty recruiting status. This front seven must slow the USC rushing attack and must pressure Matt Barkley to keep the Bruins in the game.
5. The mystery of Matt Scott and what it could mean
The Wildcats' offense scored 56 points and rolled up 574 yards last week without Matt Scott under center. However, that was Colorado. And while Utah has had its struggles at times, it is still a proud team fighting for bowl eligibility at home. The Utes had bounced back to win two straight but were totally stymied last week on offense in Seattle. Moving the football shouldn’t be a problem against the Cats, so Arizona backup B.J. Denker — should Scott not be able to play — will have to be as efficient as he was last weekend (12-14, 136 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT). It would help if record-setting star tailback Ka’Deem Carey gets more than the five total offensive touches he got in last year’s 31-24 home loss to Utah.
6. QB controversy in Corvallis?
It appears that Mike Riley brought Sean Mannion back too quickly two weeks ago when he threw four interceptions in the season’s first loss to Washington. Cody Vaz had proven to be more than capable, and last week, nearly pulled off the win over Stanford. But a late injury at an inopportune time forced Mannion back into action, and now, fans have no clue who will be under center against Cal. Now, it shouldn’t matter who starts this weekend as Cal has all but given up on 2012. But for a top 20 team who still has to play its undefeated archrival, quarterback issues is the worst thing Riley could be dealing with at this stage of the season.
7. Arizona State eyes bowl eligibility
Four weeks ago, the Sun Devils were 5-1 and boasted the league’s No. 1 total defense. After allowing 162 points and 452.8 yards per game (and no fewer than 424), this team is 5-5 and could end up home for the holidays if it cannot win this weekend. A road win at Arizona in the season-ending rivalry game seems unlikely, so allowing a Washington State team entrenched in locker room turmoil win in Sun Devil Stadium would be completely unacceptable. Look for Taylor Kelly and the defense to get back on track against the teetering Cougars.
8. What the hell is happening in Pullman?
Seriously? What is going on? Is Marquess Wilson simply a disgruntled over-pampered baby with an axe to grind after quitting on his team? Or is Mike Leach a hard-nosed, abrasive coach who has a track record of abusing his players in an unprofessional manner? My opinion? The truth lies somewhere in the middle. I have a tough time believing a wide receiver who has quit on his friends and teammates to publicly narc on his coaching staff and university. However, Leach has also dealt with strange doings at Texas Tech as well. Only time will tell about what is taking place in Pullman. One thing I do know, a 0-9 Pac-12 season will fray a lot of nerves.
Week 12 Pac-12 Predictions:
|Week 12 Pac-12 Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Washington at Colorado||Washington, 38-14||Washington, 41-7||Washington, 45-17||Washington, 42-17|
|Washington St at Arizona St||Arizona St, 31-20||Arizona St, 34-17||Arizona St, 44-17||Arizona St, 35-17|
|USC at UCLA||USC, 41-38||USC, 41-34||USC, 38-34||UCLA, 35-31|
|Stanford at Oregon||Oregon, 38-21||Oregon, 48-28||Oregon, 41-24||Stanford, 31-28|
|Arizona at Utah||Arizona, 31-27||Arizona, 31-17||Arizona, 27-24||Arizona, 28-21|
|Cal at Oregon St||Oregon St, 30-13||Oregon St, 31-17||Oregon St, 27-10||Oregon St, 35-14|
by Braden Gall
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Big 12 Week 12 Previews and Predictions
SEC Week 12 Previews and Predictions
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Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections
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With the season winding down, the Week 12 slate in the ACC could bring some much-needed clarity to the conference title game. If Florida State beats Maryland, the Seminoles would clinch the Atlantic Division title. The Coastal Division is still murky, but Duke and Miami would appear to have the inside track. However, Georgia Tech's late-season surge has it in the mix, while there's still uncertainty on whether or not the Hurricanes will be able to play in any postseason game this year.
Other Week 12 Previews and Predictions
ACC's Top Storylines for Week 12
Can Virginia keep the momentum going?
The Oct. 27 bye week seems to have rejuvenated Virginia. The offense scored 74 points in its last two games, which is easily the best two-game stretch in 2012. Quarterback Michael Rocco sparked the passing attack last week, throwing for 300 yards and four scores against Miami. The rushing attack has four touchdowns over the last two weeks, which is nearly as many as the team had through the first eight games (6). While the late-season surge has moved Virginia closer to a winning record, it still needs two wins to get bowl eligible. Thursday night’s matchup with North Carolina is the 117th meeting between these two schools and there’s a lot on the line for both teams. The Cavaliers need a win to stay alive for a bowl game, while the Tar Heels can still win the Coastal Division – even though they are ineligible for the postseason. After allowing 40 points to Miami last week, Virginia’s defense will be under fire once again, especially as it tries to stop North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard. If the Cavaliers knock off the Tar Heels, it would setup a showdown with rival Virginia Tech, with the loser staying home for the postseason.
Duke or Georgia Tech: Which defense will make enough plays to win?
With two weeks remaining, it’s anyone’s guess which team will come out on top in the Coastal Division. Duke controls its destiny in the division but needs to beat Georgia Tech this Saturday and Miami next week to play for the ACC Championship. While getting to 6-4 and their first bowl game since 1994 is a great accomplishment for coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils, this team has lost three out of its last four games and has been outscored 104-27 in its last two matchups. Duke’s defense struggled to contain the playmakers Florida State and Clemson had on offense, but Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech is a different type of problem for co-coordinators Jim Knowles and Jim Collins. The Yellow Jackets average 324.4 yards per game on the ground and have scored at least 30 points in four out of their last five games. Georgia Tech’s offense has also found a spark from backup quarterback Vad Lee, who has four rushing scores over the last two contests. Duke has not defeated the Yellow Jackets since 2003. However, the last two matchups have been decided by 10 points or less, including a 38-31 shootout in Durham last year. There’s no question the Blue Devils should be able to score on Georgia Tech’s defense. However, considering the success the Yellow Jackets have had against Duke’s defense the last few years, the defense needs to step up if the Blue Devils want to earn their seventh win and remain in the driver’s seat for the Coastal Division title.
Does NC State’s defense have an answer for Clemson’s offense?
Even though Florida State is expected to handle Maryland and clinch the ACC Atlantic crown on Saturday, there’s still plenty for Clemson to play for against NC State. If the Tigers win their last two games, they should have a good shot at claiming an at-large spot in one of the BCS bowls. Clemson’s offense has been on fire this season, scoring at least 37 points in every ACC game. Quarterback Tajh Boyd ranks second nationally in passing efficiency and has thrown 13 touchdowns over the last three games. With Boyd and receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins hitting on all cylinders, it’s a tough assignment for NC State’s secondary to slow down Clemson’s passing offense. The Wolfpack rank 95th nationally in pass defense but have allowed just 13 passing touchdowns this year. It may seem like a tired cliché but stopping the Tigers’ offense starts in the trenches. NC State is averaging three sacks a game and has to disrupt Boyd’s timing if it wants to have a shot at the upset. The Wolfpack have been a difficult team to figure out this year. With a win over Florida State and a loss to Virginia, Tom O’Brien’s club has been hard to figure out. Can the Wolfpack make it two in a row over Clemson? It’s unlikely, but you just never know what will happen in the ACC.
Will Virginia Tech snap its three-game losing streak?
Even though the Hokies still have a chance to finish 6-6 and make a bowl game, there’s no question this is one of the most disappointing teams in the nation. Virginia Tech was picked by many to finish in the top 15 and was a heavy favorite to win the Coastal. Instead of setting up a rematch against Florida State or Clemson in the ACC Championship, the Hokies need wins over Boston College and Virginia just to get 6-6. Virginia Tech enters Saturday’s contest with a three-game losing streak but has won the last four matchups against the Eagles. While the Hokies have something to play for, Boston College is just trying to salvage any bit of good news from a 2-8 start this year. Even though the Eagles won their last ACC game at home, it’s hard to see Virginia Tech losing in Chestnut Hill. Quarterback Logan Thomas will be a handful for a Boston College defense allowing 228.4 rushing yards per game, while the Hokies’ shouldn’t have much trouble slowing down an Eagles’ offense that is very one-dimensional.
Who will claim bragging rights in South Florida?
Miami steps out of conference for the final time this season, as it hosts USF on Saturday. These two teams have met four times, with the Hurricanes holding a 3-1 edge in the series. There’s been no shortage of intrigue over the last two matchups, especially with both games decided by three points. The Bulls have been one of the Big East’s top disappointments and lost quarterback B.J. Daniels for the season in their last game against Connecticut. Although Miami is still fighting to get bowl eligible and lost last week at Virginia, it still has a chance to play for the ACC title. With Daniels sidelined, redshirt freshman Matt Floyd or junior Bobby Eveld will get the start for USF. However, the bigger concern for the Bulls could be trying to stop a Miami offense that has scored 70 points in its last two games. The Hurricanes are also struggling on defense, but with a USF offense that’s breaking in a new quarterback and lacks a breakaway threat at running back, Miami shouldn’t allow 30 points this week. Even though the Bulls are shorthanded, don't expect Skip Holtz's team to go quietly on Saturday afternoon. While both teams need a victory, there are two underlying storylines to this matchup - bragging rights in South Florida and as usual, the battle for recruits within the state.
Does Maryland have any shot to beat Florida State?
Anything can happen each Saturday during the college football season, but let’s be realistic: Barring a complete collapse by the Seminoles, the Terrapins aren’t going to beat Florida State. With a matchup against in-state rival Florida next week, there’s a chance the Seminoles could be caught peeking ahead. However, Maryland would need a lot of breaks to go its way, which includes finding an offense after scoring just 23 points the last two weeks. Shawn Petty has stepped into a difficult situation at quarterback, so it’s hard to fault the true freshman for the struggles on offense. And his job could be even more difficult on Saturday, especially if receiver Stefon Diggs and running back Wes Brown are out due to injuries once again. If the Terrapins want to keep this one close, the defense will need its best effort of the season. Maryland ranks 16th nationally in total defense and is allowing 24 points a game. If the defense can force a few turnovers and keep the offense within striking range, there’s a chance for the Terrapins to hang around. However, with the firepower on Florida State’s sideline, Maryland will need the perfect effort to score a huge upset.
Wake Forest’s offense vs. Notre Dame’s defense
With two games remaining, Wake Forest still needs one victory to get bowl eligible. Unfortunately for the Demon Deacons, there’s very little room to breathe on the schedule, as they play at Notre Dame this week and take on Vanderbilt on Nov. 24. The Demon Deacons lost 24-17 to the Fighting Irish last year, so this team should have some confidence going into Saturday’s game in South Bend. However, if Wake Forest wants to have any shot at an upset, it has to find a way to spark the offense. The Demon Deacons rank 106th nationally in scoring and 111th in total offense per game, which also ranks near the bottom of the ACC in both categories. Notre Dame has one of college football’s best defenses, and Wake Forest’s patchwork offensive line will be tested by a talented Irish’ front seven. If the Demon Deacons can protect quarterback Tanner Price, he should have some opportunities to connect with go-to receiver Michael Campanaro. Although the passing game needs to click, the rushing attack is important, especially since Wake Forest needs to find a way to slow down the Notre Dame pass rush and keep the defense off balance.
Week 12 ACC Predictions
|Week 12 ACC Games||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|UNC at Virginia||UNC 32-24||UNC 35-21||UNC 34-30||UNC 37-34|
|Florida State at Maryland||FSU 49-7||FSU 45-10||FSU 38-7||FSU 41-0|
|Virginia Tech at Boston College||Va. Tech 21-14||Va. Tech 38-21||Va. Tech 31-13||Va. Tech 23-13|
|USF at Miami||Miami 35-10||Miami 34-24||Miami 30-20||Miami 27-14|
|Duke at Georgia Tech||Ga. Tech 35-31||Ga. Tech 34-28||GT 45-34||GT 44-30|
|NC State at Clemson||Clemson 31-21||Clemson 41-28||Clemson 38-24||Clemson 37-21|
|Wake Forest at Notre Dame||Notre Dame 28-10||Notre Dame 24-10||Notre Dame 34-10||Notre Dame 24-6|
by Steven Lassan
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