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With the World Series in the rear-view mirror and the hot stove just beginning to heat up, it's time to hand out some awards to this year's best performers on the diamond. The Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) has already named its AL and NL Rookies of the Year, AL and NL Managers of the Year, AL and NL Cy Young award winners, and the AL MVP. And while no Athlon editors are members of the BBWAA, here's how four of us — Charlie Miller, Braden Gall, Patrick Snow and Mark Ross — would have voted if we did have a ballot to cast.
Unlike the crowded race in the AL, the NL MVP will most likely come down to one of two outfielders, either Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers or Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both posted 30-30 seasons and finished in the NL's top five in six key offensive categories — batting average, runs, RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Who ends up winning could be determined by voters' perception of "most valuable" in relation to team's success (Braun's Brewers won the NL Central, Dodgers didn't make playoffs) and/or their respective supporting cast.
To that end, Braun's teammate, Prince Fielder, will receive his share of MVP votes, as will two former winners — Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals (2005, 2008, 2009) and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds (2010). Other legitimate contenders include NL batting champ and New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton.
Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers: .332, 109 R, 187 H, 38 2B, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 33 SB, .397 OBP, .597 SLG, .994 OPS
Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers: .299, 95 R, 170 H, 36 2B, 38 HR, 120 RBI, .415 OBP, .566 SLG, .981 OPS
Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: .324, 115 R, 195 H, 33 2B, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 SB, .399 OBP, .586 SLG, .986 OPS
Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals: .299, 105 R, 173 H, 29 2B, 37 HR, 99 RBI, .366 OBP, .541 SLG, .906 OPS
Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets: .337, 101 R, 181 H, 31 2B, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 39 SB, .384 OBP, .493 SLG, .877 OPS
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies: .302, 81 R, 162 H, 36 2B, 30 HR, 105 RBI, .372 OBP, .544 SLG, .916 OPS
Justin Upton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks: .289, 105 R, 171 H, 39 2B, 31 HR, 88 RBI, 21 SB, .369 OBP, .529 SLG, .898 OPS
Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: .309, 101 R, 185 H, 40 2B, 29 HR, 103 RBI, .416 OBP, .531 SLG, .947 OPS
Athlon's Winner: Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kemp beats out Braun as he receives three first-place votes to Braun's one. Pujols comes in third followed by Fielder as they split the third-place votes among them, with Tulowitzki and Votto tying for fifth. Besides Upton and Reyes, others receiving MVP consideration among the Athlon voting contingency included Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Hunter Pence of the Philadelphia Phillies, Yadier Molina of the Cardinals and NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.
Here's how the Athlon editors voted
Charlie Miller's ballot:
1. Ryan Braun
Braun lost his battle for the batting title with Jose Reyes of the Mets, but he joined Matt Kemp as the only players ranked in the top 10 in all three triple crown categories in the NL. Braun edges Kemp by a whisker based on being the No. 3 hitter on a division winner and having a higher OPS.
2. Matt Kemp
The Dodgers’ centerfielder fell just short of the first triple crown in the NL in more than 70 years. And he accomplished that while playing Gold Glove caliber defense and swiping 40 bags.
3. Albert Pujols
This ranking may surprise you if you’re judging Pujols’ season based on the Pujols Scale. But if you’re evaluating his 2011 season on a reasonable scale, it is worthy of a top-3 ranking. After all, he hit 37 home runs and did the heavy lifting during the Cardinals’ late surge.
4. Troy Tulowitzki
The shortstop struggling with nagging injuries this season, but was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing season in Denver. Even with some missed time, he hit .302 with 30 bombs and more than 100 ribbies.
5. Joey Votto
The reigning MVP finished fifth in the league in average and OPS.
6. Justin Upton
7. Prince Fielder
8. Jose Reyes
9. Roy Halladay
10. Yadier Molina
Braden Gall's ballot:
1. Matt Kemp
The Dodgers had Kemp on offense and that was about it. Kemp led the league in runs (115), home runs (39) and RBI (126) while finishing third in hitting (.324), third in stolen bases (40), second in hits (195) and second in extra-base hits (76). If it wasn't for an untimely divorce, the Cy Young/MVP-led boys in Blue likely would have pushed St. Louis for the Wild Card (finished 7.5 back and three games over .500).
2. Ryan Braun
Braun is Kemp-lite with three major differences. He gets plenty of credit for getting his team to the postseason, however, he did it surrounded by elite level hitters, a lock-down bullpen and deep starting rotation. He is also an adventure in the outfield. Kemp is a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder while Braun makes the routine look difficult at times. His offensive numbers alone get him to No. 2 on my ballot.
3. Albert Pujols
Pujols had arguably the worst season of his career and he still proved to be virtually indispensable. He still finished third in the league with 37 big flies and 105 runs scored while driving in the seventh most runs (99). He finished seventh in slugging and 10th in OPS with a .299 average for the Wild Card winners. And he consistently plays one of the best first bases in the game.
4. Justin Upton
This uber-talent is only beginning to blossom into the player we all think he can become. He smacked 31 home runs, scored 105 times, stole 21 basses and unexpectedly led the Arizona Diamondbacks to an NL West title. They were picked last in the division in the preseason.
5. Prince Fielder
The big daddy first baseman finished second in the NL in home runs (38), second in RBI (126) and second in walks (107). He posted a third-best OPS of .981 and helped lead his team to the NL Central crown. Too bad he won't be in a Brewer uniform any longer.
6. Jose Reyes
Reyes captured the Mets first-ever batting title with a ridiculous .337 mark. And .877 OPS from the lead-off spot isn't bad either. Playing on a bad team hurts his value, but he is the unquestioned spark plug for the Mets and he is one of the most dynamic base runners and slickest fielding shortstops in the game.
7. Joey Votto
The reigning NL MVP posted a pretty nasty 2011 line: 101 runs, 29 homers, 103 RBI, 110 walks and a .309/.947 set of ratios. Unfortunately, the Reds couldn't carry any of that 2010 magic with them into 2011.
8. Troy Tulowitzki
Not too many shortstops hit 30 home runs, drive in 105 and top the .300 mark all while playing arguably the game’s most important position. Tulo is not only the best offensive shortstop in the game, but is argubaly the game's best defensive shortstop as well.
9. Yadier Molina
He is the best player at his position in all of baseball. And with his second ring, he is slowly working his way up the all-time ranks. He led the World Champs in hitting (.305) and molded an Adam Wainwright-less pitching staff into a playoff team.
10. Clayton Kershaw
But a pitcher can't win MVP, right?
Patrick Snow's ballot:
1. Matt Kemp
He led the National League in both home runs (39) and RBIs (126), all while batting .324, stealing 40 bases and playing center field. The Dodgers were a winning team despite missing the postseason, and Kemp was the main reason. He was a one-man show in L.A., as the next-highest Dodger in RBIs was James Loney with 65 and the second-highest home run total was 16 by Rod Barajas. Matt Kemp had an amazing year and flirted with a triple crown for most of the season.
2. Ryan Braun
3. Prince Fielder
4. Albert Pujols
5. Troy Tulowitzki
6. Joey Votto
7. Ryan Howard
8. Justin Upton
9. Jose Reyes
10. Yadier Molina
Mark Ross' ballot:
1. Matt Kemp
The Dodgers’ center fielder just missed a 40-40 season (39 home runs, 40 stolen bases) and flirted with a Triple Crown until the very end, finishing tops in the NL in home runs and RBIs (126) and third in average (.324). With runners in scoring position, Kemp led all of baseball with 13 home runs, and led the NL with 87 RBIs while batting .335 in those situations.
2. Ryan Braun
Braun posted a 30-30 season (33 home runs, 33 stolen bases) for the NL Central champion Brewers, led the NL in both slugging percentage (.597) and OPS (.994), while finishing second in batting average at .332.
3. Prince Fielder
Fielder posted his fifth straight 30-home run season, finishing second to Kemp in both home runs (38) and RBIs (120). The Brewers’ first baseman also batted .299 on the year and finished second the NL in on-base percentage (.415), as he walked more (107) than he stuck out (106).
4. Albert Pujols
The Cardinals’ first baseman and three-time MVP got off to a slow start, but finished strong, just missing out on posting an 11th-straight .300-30-100 season as he finished with a .299 average, 37 home runs and 99 RBIs, while leading his team to the postseason and eventually the World Series title.
5. Joey Votto
Last year’s MVP didn’t quite match his numbers from last season, but had a fine season nonetheless leading the NL in doubles (40), walks (110) and on-base percentage (.416). The Reds’ first baseman also won his first Gold Glove.
6. Troy Tulowitzki
7. Jose Reyes
8. Justin Upton
9. Clayton Kershaw
10. Hunter Pence
Other Baseball awards-related content:
This profile of the Ole Miss and Mississippi State college football rivalry originally appeared in Athlon's 2008 Southeastern college football magazine. As the two in-state rivals prepare for the 108th "Egg Bowl," we thought it would be relevant to take a look back at the history of the biggest game played every year in Mississippi.
The Egg Bowl
By Michael Bradley
Because he grew up listening to both Ole Miss and Mississippi State radio broadcasts with his daddy in tiny Drew, a rural hamlet in the northwest part of the state, Archie Manning never did develop much of a hatred for MSU, even though he ended up playing quarterback for the Rebels. The way his father figured it, the Mannings were Mississippians and therefore supported both schools.
“My daddy was a sports fan, but more than anything, he was a Mississippi sports fan,” Manning says. “He rooted for the home schools and the pro teams that had Mississippi natives on them. He liked the New York Giants because of (former Ole Miss quarterback) Charlie Connerly and the St. Louis Cardinals because of (second baseman) Don Blasingame, who was from Corinth.”
Manning’s father never had a strong rooting interest when the Rebels and Bulldogs squared off. As for Archie, he leaned toward Ole Miss, “because they won more.”
Now, during his three years as a starter for Ole Miss, Manning wanted to beat the Bulldogs. Anybody who played for John Vaught did. The venerable coach lost only twice to MSU during his 24 years in Oxford and went undefeated over the first 17 games his teams played against the people from Starkville. But Manning never felt anything “nasty” about the rivalry. OK, he did catch some grief from the MSU fans when he played baseball against the Bulldogs, but things never got too out of hand.
In 1969, however, the rivalry went to a different level for Manning. The Ole Miss junior was enjoying a great season, as were the Rebels, who came to Starkville with a 6–3 record. Vaught promised his team that a win over the Bulldogs would lead to a Sugar Bowl berth. (Back then, bowl invitations were the result of politics as much as performance.) That added some motivation for Manning, but when he came out to warm up before the game, a sign that ran the length of the wall behind the Ole Miss bench fired him up even more.
Because of his strong play, Manning had been receiving considerable attention in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and Jackson Daily News, two papers that circulated statewide and were owned by the Hederman brothers. The MSU crowd didn’t take too kindly to the publicity, which it considered excessive. Thus the sign: “Archie Hederman.”
“That inspired me,” Manning says with a laugh.
Over the past century, players on both sides of the rivalry have been similarly “inspired” to conquer the other side. Some, like Manning, have used their incentive to fashion great victories, like the 48–22 beating that he and the Rebels laid on the Bulldogs that Thanksgiving afternoon. Others have taken it a little far, like when the teams staged brawls during the first quarter of the 1990 game and prior to the ’97 meeting.
No matter whether the fighting was real or a metaphor for the effort required to earn a victory, the Ole Miss-Mississippi State Egg Bowl game is one of the nation’s finest, if somewhat underrated, rivalries. Because neither team is a perennial national powerhouse or even SEC contender (the teams have combined for only eight titles in the league’s 74 years), thanks to their modest athletic budgets, the contest doesn’t generate the same interest as Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Georgia or even Georgia-Auburn, the Deep South’s oldest rivalry. Add in the fact that the state is largely rural and has a population of only around three million, and you get the sense that the battle for the Egg Bowl is a parochial concern. Maybe, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of history and tradition behind it.
“In the state of Mississippi, people understand that for Mississippi and Mississippi State to compete against Tennessee and Florida with their large budgets is a handicap,” says MSU athletic director Larry Templeton, who grew up in Starkville, went to MSU and has been AD for 21 years. “When we stand up against each other, all things are equal.”
College football in the Deep South was 12 years old when Mississippi entertained Southwestern Baptist University (now Union University) in 1893. MSU (known then as Mississippi A&M, a land-grant school), meanwhile, didn’t begin intercollegiate football until 1895, when it broke away from its intramural roots. Once the Aggies began playing ball, it didn’t take too long for someone to decide the two schools should get together on the gridiron.
Yellow fever stopped football at both institutions in 1897, and MSU didn’t resume play until 1901. And that occasion was deemed worthy of a matchup between the two in-state rivals.
The contest was played Oct. 28 on the Oktibbeha State Fairgrounds in Starkville and featured some pregame wrangling over eligibility issues. That was hardly news, since teams from all over the country were rather elastic in their requirements for inclusion on football teams. Once the dispute was settled, the game began, and the Maroon and White prevailed, 17–0. In his fine book on the game, The Egg Bowl, William G. Barner reprints accounts of the contest from the A&M student newspaper, The College Reflector, and from the University of Mississippi Magazine about the game. It was clear that a rivalry had been born.
First, The Reflector: “The University boys…played the dirtiest game of ball that we have seen. They would do anything to put our men out so long as the referee was not looking.”
Then, The Magazine: “’To one who has never indulged in any exercise more violent than…the milking of a patient cow, football seems a brutal sport. Our bucolic friend of the Agricultural College should confine himself to mumble-peg and townball.”
That type of back-and-forth prevails today and is somewhat typical of the relationship between any state university and its land-grant counterpart. Michigan students and alums refer to Michigan State as Moo U, and a similar arrogance can be found in the relationship between Mississippi’s two largest schools.
“This is a fact: the Ole Miss people seem to think they are the upper crust of the state,” maintains Jack Cristal, who has done play-by-play of State football games for 54 years. “They look down on the Mississippi State people.
“Ole Miss people think they’re better than most.”
The Ole Miss crowd doesn’t refute that assessment. “People like to tease them about the cowbells (rung by Bulldog fans at home games), and they get real mad about that,” says Mississippi chancellor Robert Khayat, who played for the Rebels from 1957-59. “It has always been a rural-against-city rivalry. It’s funny, though. Mississippi is mostly rural. There isn’t too much that’s cosmopolitan about the state.”
The two sides do respect each other, though, even if Warner Alford, who played at Ole Miss from ’58-60, says, “We are THE university of Mississippi.” From 1911-25, the Aggies had little reason to consider the Red and Blue anything but a doormat. Mississippi State was 11–0 in the rivalry during that stretch (no games were played from 1912-14) and outscored its overmatched foe 327–33 in those games. What began as Ole Miss dominance had swung to an iron-fisted Maroon and White rule.
That changed in 1926, when Ole Miss broke through with a 7–6 win in Starkville. The win was huge, but the postgame mayhem changed the rivalry forever. The Rebel contingent celebrated the end of its heroes’ drought by storming the soggy field and deciding to take the goalposts as spoils of victory. As one might imagine, this didn’t sit too well with the Aggie students, who defended their turf vehemently. The resulting melee, which was wisely avoided by the players, surprised and upset officials from both sides. By the next year, some changes had been made.
The biggest was the introduction of a real trophy for the game’s winner. The award, a solid-gold football, was agreed upon by students from both schools and was thought to be a deterrent to future goalpost abuse and subsequent violence. What a difference a trophy could make! After Ole Miss’ 20–12 win, accomplished before an overflow crowd of 14,000 in Oxford, there was a dignified presentation of the Golden Egg and an unparalleled spirit of cooperation. There were even calls, echoed by the new governor two months later, for combining the two institutions in order to create one fine university — and a heckuva football team.
Fortunately for Egg Bowl fans, that didn’t happen, and the teams continued to play each Thanksgiving Day. Not that State (the school was renamed Mississippi State College in 1932) got too much out of it. The “Flood,” a nickname given the Mississippi team in 1929, was undefeated in the series from 1926-35, winning nine and tying one (7–7 in 1929). When the Maroons finally did break through, in 1936 with a 26–6 win in Starkville, there were no riots, just an enthusiastic celebration and the beginning of some prosperity. Over the next six years, Mississippi State won five of six, including a 6–0 decision in 1941 (eight days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor) that clinched its first SEC title.
The arrival of John Vaught in Oxford in 1947 changed everything for the Rebels, who embarked on a dominance of the Bulldogs (Mississippi State adopted the nickname in the early ’40s) over the next two-plus decades, as the Rebels became an SEC and national power. “(Vaught) always said, ‘Never forget that Mississippi State is your rival,’” Alford says. “And he wanted to beat them.”
Khayat can speak to the pressure on the Rebels when they met Mississippi State. In 1957, he was a sophomore charged with kicking the point-after that would forge a late 7–7 tie. He had tried dozens of such kicks before, but none so important. “If I had missed it, I might have been hanged,” he says.
There wasn’t too much drama during the period. There were some moments, like in 1964, when a strong MSU ended 17 years of winless desperation with a 20–17 triumph that triggered a huge celebration that included canceling of classes the following Monday and presentation of the key to the city by the Starkville mayor.
One of the more controversial aspects of the rivalry surrounded the decision in 1973 to move the games from their campus homes to Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. The decision was made to accommodate the growing number of people who wished to watch the game live, and the first year in Jackson brought a record throng of 43,556. Over the next 17 years, upwards of 62,000 fans would pack the joint for the game. In 1991, Templeton made a decision that was unpopular in some corners but made good business sense for his school. Even though Jackson’s business community made a spirited — and lucrative — bid to keep the game, Templeton brought it home to Starkville.
“Moving the game back helped us raise the funds to build skyboxes and club seating,” Templeton says. “It’s a cornerstone game on which you can hold down your base of season ticket holders. Both schools have doubled the size of their stadiums since bringing the game back on campus.
“But when I moved it, I wasn’t very popular, because the majority of the state’s population is around Jackson.”
The following year, Ole Miss did the same thing, bringing the game to Oxford. Alford, then the Ole Miss AD, caught much of the same flak Templeton did. Not that he apologizes for the move. “We added to our stadium and renovated it because of the move,” Alford says. “We put lights in. It’s a big thing to play the (MSU) game in Oxford.”
Safely at home, the rivalry has delivered plenty of excitement over the past 10 years. The ’97 edition featured plenty of drama, from the pregame fight that brought state troopers onto the field to restore order, to the last-minute TD and two-point conversion pass from Stewart Partridge to Cory Peterson that gave Ole Miss a 15–14 win. The ’99 game was even crazier. There was no brawl but fireworks nonetheless.
The Bulldogs had staggered into the game on a two-game losing streak — after winning their first eight. Through three quarters, it appeared as if the losing streak would continue. Ole Miss held a 20–6 advantage and looked pretty safe. But a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes by Wayne Madkin, the last with 0:27 remaining, knotted the score at 20.
Ole Miss could have played for overtime. Should have played for overtime. Didn’t play for overtime. Because he felt his team was completely gassed, coach David Cutcliffe directed quarterback Romaro Miller to throw downfield, even though the Rebels had the ball at their own 27. Miller’s first pass was deflected by MSU’s Robert Bean and collected by teammate Eugene Clinton, who returned the ball to the Rebel 26 with 0:08 left. From there, Scott Westerfield drilled a 43-yard field goal that won the game.
Last year, the Bulldogs staged similar dramatics in a contest that appeared to be lost heading into the final period. Ole Miss held a 14–0 lead and a total offensive edge of 290 yards to 144. The futility extended another few minutes before MSU awoke. The Bulldogs stuffed a 4th-and-1 run by Rebels star BenJarvus Green-Ellis with 12:44 remaining. MSU took over on the Ole Miss 46 and drove for a TD, with Wesley Carroll hitting Anthony Dixon from four yards out to make it 14–7, with 7:51 to go. Five minutes later, MSU’s Anthony Pegues scooped up a short punt and galloped 75 yards for a game-tying score. The comeback was completed with 0:12 left when Adam Carlson drilled a 48-yard field goal — the longest of his career — giving the Bulldogs a 17–14 win and their seventh win of the year, which cemented the team’s bowl résumé. A month later, the Bulldogs played in the postseason for the first time under coach Sylvester Croom.
“For what it meant to Mississippi State, it was obviously one of the more important ballgames we’ve played,” Cristal says.
Of course it was; the game was against Ole Miss. All of those games are important.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
With 12 weeks in the book, it's time to take a look at how teams project to the postseason. There's going to be a lot of changes over the next couple of weeks, especially as teams battle just to get to six wins.
|New Mexico||Dec. 17||MWC vs. Pac-12||San Diego State vs. Temple*|
|Idaho Potato||Dec. 17||MAC vs. MWC||Ohio vs. Louisiana Tech|
|New Orleans||Dec. 17||C-USA vs. Sun Belt||UL Lafayette vs. Illinois*|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 20||Big East vs. C-USA||South Florida vs. East Carolina|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 21||MWC vs. WAC||Nevada vs. TCU|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 22||MWC vs. Pac-12||Boise State vs. California|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs. WAC||Utah State vs. SMU|
|Independence||Dec. 26||ACC vs. MWC||Wyoming vs. Wake Forest|
|Little Caesars||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs. MAC||Toledo vs. Northwestern|
|Belk||Dec. 27||ACC vs. Big East||Cincinnati vs. Virginia|
|Military||Dec. 28||ACC vs. Navy||North Carolina vs. Air Force|
|Holiday||Dec. 28||Big 12 vs. Pac-12||Texas A&M vs. Arizona State|
|Champs Sports||Dec. 29||ACC vs. Big East||Notre Dame vs. Florida State|
|Alamo||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs. Pac-12||Kansas State vs. Utah|
|Armed Forces||Dec. 30||BYU vs. C-USA||BYU vs. Tulsa|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 30||Big 12 vs. Big East||Rutgers vs. Missouri|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC vs. SEC||NC State vs. Mississippi State|
|Insight||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs. Big 12||Penn State vs. Baylor|
|Car Care||Dec. 31||Big Ten vs. Big 12||Iowa vs. Texas|
|Sun||Dec. 31||ACC vs. Pac-12||Georgia Tech vs. Washington|
|Liberty||Dec. 31||C-USA vs. SEC||Southern Miss vs. Vanderbilt|
|Fight Hunger||Dec. 31||Army vs. Pac-12||UCLA vs. Western Michigan*|
|Chick-fil-A||Dec. 31||ACC vs. SEC||Clemson vs. Florida|
|TicketCity||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. C-USA||Purdue vs. Iowa State*|
|Outback||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. SEC||South Carolina vs. Nebraska|
|Capital One||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. SEC||Georgia vs. Michigan State|
|TaxSlayer.com Gator||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. SEC||Auburn vs. Ohio State|
|Rose||Jan. 2||BCS vs. BCS||Wisconsin vs. Oregon|
|Fiesta||Jan. 2||BCS vs. BCS||Oklahoma State vs. Stanford|
|Sugar||Jan. 3||BCS vs. BCS||Michigan vs. Houston|
|Orange||Jan. 4||BCS vs. BCS||Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia|
|Cotton||Jan. 6||Big 12 vs. SEC||Arkansas vs. Oklahoma|
|BBVA Compass||Jan. 7||Big East vs. SEC||Tennessee vs. Louisville|
|GoDaddy.com||Jan. 8||MAC vs. Sun Belt||Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois|
|National Title||Jan. 9||BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2||LSU vs. Alabama|
* Current standings and projections indicate some conferences may fail to fulfill their tie-ins for 2011.
Bold indicates team has accepted bid to bowl.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 12 Big East Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. West Virginia (7-3) – The Mountaineers had a bye in Week 12 and will return to action this Friday in the Backyard Brawl against rival Pittsburgh. With West Virginia moving to the Big 12 and Pittsburgh off to the ACC, will this be the final matchup between these two schools for a couple of seasons? Thanks to Cincinnati’s loss to Rutgers, the Mountaineers have to be considered the favorite to win the conference and claim the BCS berth. Along with winning its final two games, West Virginia needs a little help in the form of a Louisville loss to take the Big East title outright.
2. Louisville (6-5) – Considering the Cardinals got off to a 2-4 start with losses to Marshall and FIU, coach Charlie Strong has to be pleased with where his team stands going into the final game of the regular season. Louisville handled Connecticut 34-20 to keep pace in the Big East title race. With Cincinnati’s loss to Rutgers, the Cardinals are now in a five-way tie for the No. 1 spot in the conference. If Louisville knocks off South Florida and gets help in the form of losses by Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, it will claim the conference title and a spot in the BCS.
3. Rutgers (8-3) – Thanks to their 20-3 victory over Cincinnati, the Scarlet Knights have completely changed the outlook of the Big East race. The Bearcats had full control of the conference, but the loss to Rutgers has created a five-way tie atop the conference. Running back Jawan Jamison gashed Cincinnati for 200 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries, while quarterback Chas Dodd threw for 173 yards and no picks. The defense came up big for Rutgers, limiting running back Isaiah Pead to 28 yards and holding Cincinnati to its lowest point total this year. The Scarlet Knights play their final regular season game this Saturday at Connecticut.
4. Cincinnati (7-3) – The Bearcats commanding lead in the conference standings is no more. With Saturday’s 20-3 loss to Rutgers, the race to win the Big East is wide open with five teams tied with two conference losses. With Zach Collaros out, sophomore Munchie Legaux made his first start against the Scarlet Knights and completed only 12 of 31 throws for 158 yards and one interception. Running back Isaiah Pead never managed to get on track, recording 28 yards on 14 carries. Cincinnati plays at Syracuse this Saturday and finishes the year with a home game against Connecticut on Dec. 3.
5. Pittsburgh (5-5) – With two games remaining, the Panthers are still alive in the Big East title mix. Thanks to Rutgers’ win over Cincinnati, the door is open for Pittsburgh, Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia once again. The Panthers had a bye on Saturday and return to action on Nov. 25 at West Virginia. Pittsburgh has not defeated West Virginia since 2008 and has not won in Morgantown since 2007.
6. South Florida (5-5) – The Bulls have been on the wrong end of some close games this season. South Florida dropped back to .500 with a 6-3 loss to Miami on Saturday. The Bulls managed only 247 yards on offense, largely due to an injury to quarterback B.J. Daniels. The junior suffered a sprained shoulder and will be questionable to play in next week’s game against Louisville. In games decided by a touchdown or less, South Florida is 1-4 this season.
7. Connecticut (4-6) – Any hope the Huskies had of repeating as Big East champs ended with Saturday’s 34-20 loss to Louisville. Connecticut’s offense struggled all day to find its rhythm, as quarterback Johnny McEntee completed only 18 of 45 throws for 265 yards and two interceptions. Running back Lyle McCombs rushed for only 33 yards, but that pushed his total over 1,000 for the season. The Huskies can still get bowl eligible, but they need to beat Rutgers and Cincinnati to get to six wins.
8. Syracuse (5-5) – The Orange had a bye in Week 12 and will return to action this Saturday against Cincinnati. The off week came at a good time for coach Doug Marrone, as Syracuse has lost its last three games. The Orange has had an up and down season, but can still get bowl eligible with a win over Cincinnati or Pittsburgh in the final two weeks of the regular season. Syracuse had Big East title hopes in the preseason, so a 1-4 conference record going into Week 13 has to be considered a disappointment.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 12 Big 12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Oklahoma State (10-1) – The Cowboys watched their national title hopes likely end with a 37-31 overtime loss to Iowa State. However, thanks to Oklahoma’s loss to Baylor, the Pokes keep the top spot in Athlon’s Big 12 power rankings. Quarterback Brandon Weeden threw for 476 yards and three scores against the Cyclones, but also tossed three picks, including a costly one in the second overtime. The rushing attack was virtually invisible, as Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith combined for just 60 yards. With losses by several teams in the top 10 in Week 12, the Cowboys can’t be counted out of the race for the national championship. However, they no longer control their destiny and will need a lot of help.
2. Oklahoma (8-2) – Coming into Week 12, the Sooners still held slim national title hopes. However, any dreams of getting to New Orleans ended on Saturday night with a 45-38 loss to Baylor. The Sooners recorded 605 yards of offense against the Bears, but three turnovers proved to be costly. Also, after scoring to pull within one (38-37) with less than a minute remaining, Oklahoma planned on going for two and the win, but a false start forced coach Bob Stoops to kick the extra point. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin was a handful for the Sooners’ defense all night, as he tossed the game-winning score with less than 30 seconds left. Oklahoma hosts Iowa State next Saturday.
3. Kansas State (9-2) – The Wildcats won their fourth straight game over Texas, holding on for a 17-13 victory on Saturday night. Quarterback Collin Klein has been a one-man machine on offense this season, but he was held mostly in check by the Longhorns’ defense. Klein threw for only 72 yards and one touchdown, while mustering only three yards on 26 rushing attempts. With the offense struggling, it was up to Kansas State’s defense to deliver. The Wildcats forced two turnovers and never allowed Texas’ rushing game to get on track. Kansas State still has a shot to earn a BCS bowl, but will need a victory against Iowa State in the season finale to keep those hopes alive.
4. Baylor (7-3) – Behind quarterback Robert Griffin and coach Art Briles, the Bears continue to elevate the program. Saturday’s 45-38 win over Oklahoma was the first in school history against the Sooners and with games against Texas Tech and Texas remaining, the Bears could finish the year 9-3. Baylor's defense gave up 605 yards to Oklahoma, but forced three turnovers. Griffin’s Heisman hopes are on the rise after the victory, as he posted 551 overall yards and four scores. The Bears take on Texas Tech in a neutral site affair in Cowboys Stadium this Saturday.
5. Missouri (6-5) – A late defensive stand kept Texas Tech out of the endzone and preserved the Tigers’ 31-27 victory for an all-important sixth win for bowl eligibility. With running back Henry Josey out for the year due to a knee injury, Kendial Lawrence has to pickup the slack on the ground and he finished with 94 yards on 15 attempts. Quarterback James Franklin also pitched in, rushing for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Missouri played Saturday’s game without coach Gary Pinkel, who was suspended due to an arrest earlier in the week. Pinkel will rejoin the team for next week’s game against Kansas.
6. Texas (6-4) – Mack Brown made significant staff changes after a disappointing 2010 season, largely designed to help spark a struggling offense. Although the Longhorns will go bowling, question marks still exist about the offense. In Saturday’s 17-13 loss to Kansas State, quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy combined to complete 15 of 32 passes for 119 yards and one touchdown, while also tossing two picks. Also, Texas has managed only 18 points in its last two games. There’s a lot of youth, so there is reason to expect more production in 2012. However, with games against Texas A&M and Baylor remaining, the Longhorns are going to need to find some production to prevent a 6-6 finish.
7. Texas A&M (6-5) – The Aggies snapped a three-game losing streak, blasting Kansas 61-7 to get bowl eligible with a 6-5 record with one game remaining. Running back Cyrus Gray had a short afternoon of work (94 yards and three scores), but suffered a shoulder injury and his status for Thursday night’s game against Texas is uncertain. Texas A&M has been one of the most disappointing teams in college football, beginning the year with preseason top 10 expectations. However, the Aggies are going to limp into the postseason with a 6-6 or 7-5 record. With the move to the SEC, Thursday night’s Thanksgiving matchup against Texas could be the final game between these two schools for a while.
8. Iowa State (6-4) – An unpredictable college football weekend kicked off with the Cyclones’ 37-31 upset over Oklahoma State. Iowa State was a heavy underdog, but battled back after a 24-7 deficit early in the third quarter. Jared Barnett is 3-0 as the Cyclones’ starting quarterback and was the star of the game for the offense, throwing for 376 yards and two scores, while adding 84 on the ground. The victory over the Cowboys should allow Iowa State to make its second bowl appearance in the last three seasons. The Cyclones play at Oklahoma next Saturday.
9. Texas Tech (5-6) – The Red Raiders continued their slide with a 31-27 loss to Missouri. Texas Tech had a chance to score the winning touchdown with less than a minute remaining, but quarterback Seth Doege’s pass was tipped and intercepted. The 27 points scored by the Red Raiders were the most since the Oct. 22 upset win over Oklahoma. However, the defense was unable to find an answer for Missouri quarterback James Franklin, who finished with 312 overall yards and four touchdowns. Texas Tech has to win next week against Baylor to get bowl eligible.
10. Kansas (2-9) – A week after a near upset against Baylor, the Jayhawks are headed back in the wrong direction. Saturday’s 61-7 loss to Texas A&M extended Kansas’ losing streak to nine games and was easily the most lopsided defeat of the season. The Jayhawks collected only 197 yards, turned the ball over three times and allowed six sacks of quarterback Jordan Webb. Kansas closes out the 2011 season next Saturday against Missouri. With the Tigers moving to the SEC, this could be the final meeting between these two schools for the foreseeable future. There’s also a lot of uncertainty surrounding coach Turner Gill. The Jayhawks have been awful this season and while there’s some promising young talent, they may not be much better in 2012.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the most important things to take away from this weekend.
Alabama – The Crimson Tide making this section of the column has nothing to do with their victory over Georgia Southern. Losses by Oregon, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have cleared the way for Alabama to rematch against LSU in the national title game – provided both teams win out. The Crimson Tide still has to play rival Auburn this Saturday, but is back in the picture for the national title.
Arizona – The Wildcats have had to overcome a lot of obstacles this season. A brutal schedule got Arizona off to a 1-5 start, which also cost coach Mike Stoops his job. The Wildcats could have packed in for the year, but destroyed UCLA 48-12 in Tim Kish's first game as interim coach and beat rival Arizona State 31-27 for their third win of this season.
Arkansas State – Under the direction of first-year coach Hugh Freeze, the Red Wolves clinched a share of the Sun Belt title with their win over MTSU in Week 12. And they will be bowling for the first time since 2005, as they accepted a bid to play in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in early January. Freeze is a hot commodity in coaching searches and may not return to Jonesboro in 2012.
Baylor – Under coach Art Briles and quarterback Robert Griffin, the Bears have made a lot of progress in raising the program over the last few seasons. Baylor earned its first victory over Oklahoma in school history, led by Griffin’s 479 passing yards and four touchdowns on Saturday night. The junior quarterback vaulted back into the Heisman discussion with that performance and should be a lock for a trip to New York. The Bears have not won more than seven games since 1991. But with winnable contests against Texas and Texas Tech remaining, Baylor should have a chance to get to eight or nine victories before its bowl game.
Houston – The Cougars’ offense gets all of the credit for the team’s 11-0 start, but the defense delivered in Saturday’s 37-7 victory over SMU. The Mustangs were without running back Zach Line and have struggled to get consistent quarterback play most of the year, but Houston’s defense did not allow a touchdown until the fourth quarter. The Cougars are going to need both sides to come through on Friday, as they play at Tulsa for Conference USA’s West Division title.
Iowa State – The Cyclones kicked off a crazy college football weekend with a 37-31 upset win over Oklahoma State. The victory likely knocked the Cowboys out of the national title game, but gets Iowa State bowl eligible for the second time in three seasons under coach Paul Rhoads. Lost in the upset talk is a bright future for this team. The Cyclones have two talented playmakers on offense (quarterback Jared Barnett and running back James White), along with a defense that should be solid next season. Rhoads is one of the nation’s most underrated coaches and will continue to pull off upsets like the nation saw on Friday night as long as he stays in Ames.
Louisiana Tech – As the regular season winds down, it’s time to dish out some credit to some of the teams outside of the BCS conferences. The Bulldogs scored three touchdowns in the second half to upset Nevada 24-20 and take control of the WAC title race. Louisiana Tech is 7-4 entering its last regular season game (New Mexico State), and head coach Sonny Dykes has done a good job of turning this program around in just two years.
Michigan – With losses by Oregon, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, combined with the Wolverines’ blowout victory over Nebraska, Michigan is inching closer to earning a spot in a BCS bowl. It was a complete performance by the Wolverines in the victory over the Cornhuskers. The defense never allowed Nebraska’s rushing attack to get on track, while Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint provided more than enough offense for the victory. Coach Brady Hoke has done a great job in his first season and hopes to lead the Wolverines to a victory over Ohio State this Saturday.
Michigan State – Thanks to Michigan’s win over Nebraska and the Spartans’ 55-3 win over Indiana, the first Legends Division trophy will have a spot in East Lansing. Michigan State took no chances with an upset-minded Hoosiers’ team, pulling away for a 34-3 lead at halftime. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was terrific in his final home game, throwing for 272 yards and three touchdowns on 16 completions. Michigan State will play in the first Big Ten title game on Dec. 3 against Wisconsin or Penn State.
NC State – It has certainly been an up and down season in Raleigh. The drama started after spring practice, as coach Tom O’Brien decided Mike Glennon – not Russell Wilson – would be his starting quarterback for 2011. The Wolfpack have wins over Virginia and rival North Carolina, but also own a head-scratching loss to Boston College. NC State crushed Clemson 37-13 on Saturday, moving it within one win of reaching a bowl game. Getting seven wins and into the postseason would certainly ease the pressure on O’Brien.
Penn State – With a world of off-the-field distractions surrounding them, the Nittany Lions went into Columbus and pulled off a 20-14 upset over Ohio State. In an effort to spark a struggling offense, the Penn State coaches dusted off the Wildcat formation, which ended up being a key component to the offensive attack on Saturday afternoon. Interim coach Tom Bradley has done a good job of keeping the team focused, but can the Nittany Lions win the division title in Madison next Saturday? It certainly won’t be easy, but then again, no one expected Penn State to go into Columbus and win.
Rutgers – Coaching staffs at Louisville, Pittsburgh and West Virginia are certainly going to be thanking Greg Schiano this week. With the Scarlet Knights’ 20-3 win over Cincinnati, the race to win the Big East is wide open. Five teams, including Rutgers, have two conference losses entering Week 13. The Scarlet Knight offense has been inconsistent throughout the year, but running back Jawan Jamison gashed the Bearcats for 200 yards, while quarterback Chas Dodd completed 21 of 35 throws for 182 yards. Rutgers need to beat Connecticut this Saturday, while getting a loss by West Virginia and Louisville to win the conference outright.
USC – It’s really a shame the Trojans are ineligible for a bowl game this season. After pushing Stanford and beating Oregon, USC is one of the top 10-15 teams in the nation. The 38-35 victory over the Ducks has to be coach Lane Kiffin’s best win at USC and sets the table for what could be a big season in 2012. If quarterback Matt Barkley and tackle Matt Kalil return, the Trojans could be picked among the top five in the preseason.
Utah – Despite losing quarterback Jordan Wynn to a season-ending shoulder injury in October, the Utes haven’t quit in the Pac-12 title race. Utah has won four games in a row, largely due to the play of running back John White and a defense that is allowing only 19.1 points a game. The Utes need losses by Arizona State and UCLA to play for the conference title, but a win over Colorado this Friday could land Utah in the Alamo Bowl. Not bad for a team in its first season of Pac-12 play.
Virginia – With Virginia Tech winning on Thursday night against North Carolina, the Cavaliers knew they had to knock off Florida State to keep their ACC Coastal hopes alive. Mission accomplished. Virginia shocked Florida State 14-13, setting up a de-facto playoff game next Saturday against the Hokies. Head coach Mike London has done a great job in just two seasons, and the victory in Tallahassee likely earned him the ACC Coach of the Year award.
Wyoming – Let’s give a little credit to a team that has flown under the radar this year. The Cowboys got bowl eligible with a 31-10 victory over New Mexico, which also improved their record to 7-3. Wyoming has quality conference wins over San Diego State and Air Force and lost a close game to TCU (31-20). Freshman quarterback Brett Smith is having a solid season, throwing for 2,226 yards and 15 scores, while adding 518 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Arizona State – What in the world is going on in Tempe? The Sun Devils appeared to have complete control of the South Division entering the final month of the season. Since a 48-14 victory over Colorado, Arizona State has lost three straight games. And none of the opponents were elite competition – UCLA, Washington State and Arizona. Despite the lackluster finish, the Sun Devils still have a chance to make the Pac-12 title game if they beat California and UCLA loses this Saturday against USC. Coach Dennis Erickson has denied rumors he will be leaving at the end of the year, but questions still exist about whether he will be on the sidelines next season.
Cincinnati – The loss of quarterback Zach Collaros is likely going to cost the Bearcats a shot at the Big East title. Backup Munchie Legaux was unable to generate much offense in the 20-3 loss to Rutgers, allowing the defense to focus on stopping running back Isaiah Pead. Cincinnati’s two-game losing streak has erased its commanding lead in the conference. The season isn't over for the Bearcats, but they need a lot of help to get back into the No. 1 spot in the Big East.
Clemson – A week after clinching a spot in the ACC title game, the Tigers came out flat in a 37-13 loss to NC State. Receiver Sammy Watkins did not play with a shoulder injury, but the offense struggled to generate anything on the ground, while quarterback Tajh Boyd looked out of rhythm and tossed two picks. Clemson’s defense allowed the Wolfpack to dominate the time of possession, while allowing nearly 400 yards of offense. The Tigers play at rival South Carolina this Saturday, before the ACC title game against Virginia or Virginia Tech on Dec. 3.
Florida State – The Seminoles and Virginia combined for one of the strangest endings to an ACC game in recent memory. Florida State had a last-second opportunity to win, but kicker Dustin Hopkins missed the kick, giving the Cavaliers a 14-13 victory. The loss snapped the Seminoles’ five-game winning streak and only added to a disappointing season in Tallahassee. Florida State has the talent to be a national title contender, but will everything come together in 2012?
Oklahoma – Oklahoma State’s loss to Iowa State spoiled some of the anticipation for the Bedlam matchup on Dec. 3, but the Sooners still had a chance to enter that matchup with a lot on the line. However, Oklahoma’s 45-38 loss to Baylor has knocked it out of the national title picture for good. The Sooners had no trouble moving the ball, but their defense had no answer for stopping Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin. If Oklahoma beats the Cowboys on in two weeks, they will win the Big 12 and make another trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
Oklahoma State – Everything seemed to be falling into place for the Cowboys to play for the national title. However, Oklahoma State fell victim to an upset-minded Iowa State team and lost in the second overtime 37-31. The Cowboys still have a chance to get to the national championship, but need a lot of help. Despite the setback, Oklahoma State still has a lot to play for with a Dec. 3 date against Oklahoma in the Bedlam series. If the Cowboys beat the Sooners, they will claim the Big 12 title and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
Oregon – After watching Oklahoma State fall to Iowa State on Friday night, the Ducks had to know the opportunity at hand on Saturday night. Despite the opening to inch closer back to the national title game, Oregon fell 38-35 to USC. The Ducks were down 38-14 in the third quarter before rallying within a field goal. Oregon can still win the Pac-12, but any hope of playing for the national championship again is over.
Southern Miss – The Golden Eagles had their eight-game winning streak snapped with a 34-31 loss to UAB. Although the Blazers are a rival to Southern Miss, there’s no excuse to lose to a 2-8 team. The loss dropped the Golden Eagles from the top 25 and ended any outside hopes they had of making an at-large spot in one of the BCS games.
Texas – The Longhorns are better than they were last season, but still not close to contending for the Big 12 title. Developing any consistency on offense has been an issue all season and that was showcased in Saturday’s 17-13 defeat to Kansas State. Quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash combined for only 119 yards and tossed two picks on 32 attempts. Getting running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron back to 100 percent will help the offense, but the Longhorns still need a lot of work.
The SEC’s non-conference games – Georgia Southern, Citadel, Furman and Samford. That’s the competition scheduled by South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn and Florida in Week 12 of the season. Considering the upcoming rivalry games and SEC Championship, it’s understandable teams would want a bye week this late. However, Week 12 was a mostly unwatchable week of games in the SEC.
Looking Ahead to Week 13
A small sample of what's ahead
Texas at Texas A&M (Thursday)
With the Aggies moving to the SEC, this is the final matchup between these two schools for the foreseeable future.
Iowa at Nebraska (Friday)
The first matchup between these two border states since 2000.
Houston at Tulsa (Friday)
The stakes are high for the Cougars, as a loss to the Golden Hurricane will eliminate any shot of making a BCS game.
Pittsburgh at West Virginia (Friday)
The loser of this game is likely eliminated for the Big East title.
Arkansas at LSU (Friday)
The Tigers will clinch the SEC West with a win over the Razorbacks.
California at Arizona State (Friday)
Despite their recent slide, the Sun Devils are still very much in the mix for the South Division crown.
Clemson at South Carolina
Gamecocks need a big effort from their defense to knock off in-state rivals.
Georgia at Georgia Tech
Will the Bulldogs get caught looking ahead to the SEC title game?
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest
Can the Commodores knock off the Demon Deacons and get bowl eligible?
Virginia Tech at Virginia
The winner of this one will clinch a spot in the ACC title game against Clemson.
Florida State at Florida
Usually a big game, but both teams have been a disappointment this season.
Ohio State at Michigan
Wolverines look to snap a seven-game losing streak in this series.
Penn State at Wisconsin
Can the Nittany Lions find a way to slow down Wisconsin’s offense?
Alabama at Auburn
A win by the Crimson Tide likely secures a spot in the national championship.
Oregon State at Oregon
With a win over the Beavers, Ducks will claim the Pac-12 North title.
Notre Dame at Stanford
The Irish can derail the Cardinal’s BCS at-large hopes with a win on Saturday night.
UCLA at USC
Don’t adjust your vision: With a win over the Trojans, the Bruins clinch a spot in the Pac-12 title game.
Injuries from Week 12
Georgia RB Isaiah Crowell (ankle) - probable for Week 13
Kentucky QB Maxwell Smith (shoulder) - questionable for Week 13
Miami OT Seantrel Henderson (knee) - doubtful for Week 13
North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard (concussion) - questionable for Week 13
Notre Dame RB Jonas Gray (knee) - out for the remainder of season
Oklahoma WR Jaz Reynolds (shoulder) - questionable for Week 13
Oklahoma DE Ronnell Lewis (knee) - out for Week 13
Oregon State WR James Rodgers (ankle) - questionable for Week 13
South Carolina DE Jadevon Clowney (concussion) - questionable for Week 13
South Florida QB B.J. Daniels (shoulder) - questionable for Week 13
Texas A&M RB Cyrus Gray (shoulder) - questionable for Week 13
Texas Tech WR Alex Torres (knee) - questionable for Week 13
Washington State QB Connor Halliday (lacerated liver) - out Week 13
Legendary Georgia play-by-play man Larry Munson was once a game-day fixture for Dawgs fans, and with the sad news of his passing, he’s left Bulldog Nation with countless memories.
Before he came to Athens, Munson called the shots for Vanderbilt football and basketball for 16 years, and he was the radio voice of the Nashville Vols of the Southern Baseball Association. He also served as play-by-play man for Wyoming Cowboys football and basketball. But his immortal calls for the Bulldogs — “Run, Lindsay!”, “We stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose!” — are his most lasting legacy.
Munson shared his thoughts on Georgia football in the foreword he wrote in 2005 for Athlon’s book, “Game Day: Georgia Football.” As a tribute to Munson, we present it here.
By Larry Munson
So, how do you introduce a book on the history of Georgia football?
Oddly enough, I’ll start in Colorado.
In the fall of 1945, I was broadcasting my first home game with the Second Air Force football team from Colorado Springs. It was a typical Service football game between two powerhouse teams that were both covered up with All-America football players who had spent their war years playing an exceptionally high brand of college football. In the very first quarter of that game, they carried a Second Air Force running back off the field on a stretcher. His name was Frank Sinkwich.
It was a bad moment for Sinkwich, because the knee injury kept him from a pro football career. But at that time, I wasn’t familiar with him and had no idea that many years later I would be working the broadcasts for Georgia, where Sinkwich had made quite a name for himself before enlisting in the Air Force.
We really shouldn’t even mention Georgia football without going back into the memory banks and finding all the names that meant so much to you and me both. From Trippi to Rauch, Butts, Tarkenton, Sapp, McClendon, Arnold, Butler, Bennett, Herschel, Zeier, Etter, Moore, Patton, Stanfill, Lawrence, Greene, Pollack, Dooley, etc. … See how easy it is to start writing about Georgia football and find yourself literally covered up with hundreds of names from the past? Some of them from the very recent past?
I grew up in a Big Ten house; everybody followed the University of Minnesota, and everybody always cursed the University of Michigan. They also threw a few words out there against Iowa, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Purdue. Never did I dream that I would wind up in the south directing my hatred against General Bob Neyland, Steve Spurrier, Pat Dye and Danny Ford — not to mention any jersey that was covered with orange. As my 40 years of working Georgia football unfolded, many of the Big Ten teams were starting to decline, while the SEC was flying high and continues to climb even higher.
I’ve had 56 years in the SEC now, and I have no way of knowing all the great teams and where they should be ranked. But I do know this: Georgia football fans are as rabid and passionate as they come. I’ve been here so long now, I can’t even remember when tailgating started! That goes back to the ’60s. I think; however, the food now is much better, and there is much more of it.
We’ve turned the century mark now, and with it all the stadiums have grown twice as big, and the press boxes are also spread out all over the place. Unfortunately, the radio booths are now seven miles from the field. At least, it seems that way.
And now, here comes my 40th year of working Georgia football; the old names and games should be distant memories, but they continue to leap to my mind. With all the major names that left us a few months ago, how are we going to remember the 2004 team, I wonder? I also can’t help but wonder if Buck and Lindsay and a fullback named Haynes are also overwhelmed by the great memories flooding their memory banks.
As we look forward to making more memories together, I have a thought: Wouldn’t it be great to play Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl? Would we all walk away satisfied then?
— Larry Munson
June 1, 2005
You can't spell victory without VY. Of course, you can't spell hypersensitive, either, but that's another story.
Vince Young joined Tim Tebow in spicing up Week 11 of the NFL season with late-game heroics. The two most polarizing players in pro football had remarkably similar, remarkably successful weekends, much to the chagrin of their many detractors. Three days after Tebow led the Broncos on a defining, game-winning 95-yard drive in a 17–13 win over the Jets, Young reprised Tebow's performance with an 80-yard march of his own as the Philadelphia Eagles kept the Dream alive in MetLife Stadium with a 17–10 win over the Giants.
If there's one guy who can divide a room more quickly and decisively than Tebow, it's Young, who wore out his welcome in Nashville with his emotional fragility despite winning 30 games and salvaging two lost seasons with strong stretch drives. He departed for Philly and promptly put the target on his team's back by applying the Dream Team label.
Entering last night's game, his only pass of the season had been intercepted, and for much of last night, Young was his typically maddening self. He tacked on three more ill-timed picks against the Giants, the most painful coming on an end zone jump ball that ended a Philly threat with the Eagles clinging to a 10–3 lead. And when the Giants tied the game at 10 a few minutes later, it looked as if another late Eagles collapse was in the offing.
But turn on the lights and ratchet up the pressure, and it's VY's time to shine. If by some miracle the Eagles find a way to make the playoffs, they'll look back and credit The Drive — an 18-play, 80-yard, nine-minute odyssey that might have salvaged a lost season.
Young did something that Michael Vick has been unable to do all year: He stood tall in the fourth quarter, calmly leading his team on a game-winning march that was as clutch a series as you'll see in 2011. The Eagles converted six third downs on the drive, the last one an eight-yard strike from Young to Riley Cooper for the go-ahead touchdown.
"We knew we had to dig deep," said Cooper. "Everybody contributed. It was not just one player, not just one long play. We pieced that last drive together piece by piece."
Young's final numbers — 23-of-36, 258 yards, two touchdowns — were marred by those three interceptions, which gave him a passer rating of 69.0. But Young's most important number has always resided on the scoreboard, and he's been on the right side more often than not, with a career starting record of 31–17. Much like his Denver counterpart, Young is more about results than style points, which is a good thing, since Vince's sidearmed slings aren't going to win many converts.
Of course, both quarterbacks owe their defenses a steak dinner or two. Like the Broncos, who harassed Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez into a forgettable evening, the Eagles' much-maligned stop unit shut down the Giants running game and held Eli Manning in check all night, forcing a Manning fumble on the final possession after a Victor Cruz catch-and-run had put the Giants into scoring territory.
But this weekend was a tale of two quarterbacks, who shook off their obvious shortcomings to post key wins.
"Vince, stepping in for the great Michael Vick, that's a tough thing to do and he did it and the guys rallied around him," said relieved Eagles coach Andy Reid. "The offensive line and defensive line played well, the offensive line had a huge challenge when it counted and they were able to put some things together."
• The other NFC East showdown was just as compelling, as Dallas outlasted Washington 27–24 in overtime. When Tony Romo is on, as he was in throwing for three scores, he's impressive. He's also 18–2 in his career in November, matching Hall of Famer Otto Graham for best record over his first 20 November starts. Of course, January wins are better, and Romo doesn’t have many of those.
• The best game of the day? Baltimore's nailbiting win over the Bengals, who built credibility despite another painful division loss. Andy Dalton continues to make believers; the gunslinging ginger threw for 373 yards and led a desperation drive into the Red Zone. But Joe Flacco was just a little better, throwing for 270 yards and two scores as the Ravens picked up a key win heading into their Thanksgiving showdown with the Niners.
• What now, Bears? Chicago won its fifth straight, beating San Diego 31–20, but lost starting quarterback Jay Cutler to a broken thumb. Unless the Bears go out and get a quarterback — Marc Bulger, anyone? — they'll turn to Caleb Hanie to keep their playoff hopes alive.
• Green Bay and Detroit enter their Thanksgiving showdown at a combined 17–3. The Packers were far from dominant in their 35–26 win over the Bucs, surrendering big days to Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount, but they did enough to win their 10th. Meanwhile, the Lions used five Matthew Stafford TD passes and four Cam Newton interceptions to outlast the Panthers 49–35.
Up until the fourth quarter of yesterday's game, the Chicago Bears were being called one of the best teams in football. Their defense was playing great. Their special teams were extra special. And their offense had developed a rhythm.
But all that is up in the air now as the Bears lost Jay Cutler for the rest of the regular season with a broken thumb, forcing them to turn to not-so-tested rookie Caleb Hanie to come in and continue the team's playoff run.
What does this mean for Bears fans?
Cutler, who always seems to be maligned, no matter what he does, had been playing very good football. He'd had time to actually drop back and go through his progressions once the Bears equally-maligned offensive line had gotten their collective act together. And Jay was making the most of it. He wasn't turning the ball over (especially in the red zone, where hed had trouble the last few years).
So what can Caleb Hanie do?
Most Bears fans remember Hanie coming in to relieve the horrific Todd Collins in last year's NFC Championship game against the Packers. And despite being the third string guy who'd had almost no reps with the first team, he actually made it a game. Well, until he tossed a pick-6 to the Packers B.J. Raji, a 300 pounder not knowing for having good hands.
But in fairness, while that's what most people will remember, Hanie actually kept the Bears in it by tossing a 35-yard touchdown to Earl Bennett. And a lot of people thought that if the Bears had put him in first and left Todd Collins on the bench, they would have possibly been able to pull it out.
Now that Hanie has a week with the first team, he should perform even better. Hanie and Cutler have a close relationship, which can also be a huge help.
To have a realistic shot at making the playoffs, the Bears are going to probably have to go 4-2 in their six remaining games.
Here's a breakdown of who they play and a prediction for each:
Nov. 27: at Oakland Raiders
This will be Hanie's first game as a starter this year. So we'll cut him some slack and assume this will be his worst game of the season. The Bears have to travel west and the Raiders have an explosive offense that's playing well right now.
Dec. 4: against Kansas City
The Bears need to win this game. It's at home against a team whose also lost their starting quarterback as this will be a Hanie vs Tyler Palko match-up. The Bears have better defense and special teams and should come out on top.
December 11: at Denver Broncos
This is another game the Bears should win. Where the Jets couldn't stop Tim Tebow's fourth quarter drive, the Bears defense wouldn't let him run down the field as Urlacher and Briggs should shut Tebow down. This will most likely be a low scoring game, with the Bears turning to Robbie Gould to outkick Matt Prater.
December 18: against Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks are the B-version of the Bears. Questionable quarterback, good running back mediocre wide receivers and a good running defense. The Bears have better corners and should shut down Tarvaris Jackson enough to pull out a home victory.
December 25: against Green Bay Packers
If the Packers are still undefeated in week 16, many pundits were pointing to this game as the one that they were most likely to lose. But that was when Cutler had two working thumbs. The way the Packers are playing right now, I don't give the Hanie-lead Bears a chance to pull this one out.
January 1: at Minnesota Vikings
If the Bears are still in the playoff hunt this will be one of those games where the Bears have everything to play for, while the Vikings will already have their tee times ready. The Bears could start no one at quarterback and win this game.
So there you have it. If Caleb Hanie can manage the Bears offense, and if Matt Forte can keep moving the chains, the Bears have a strong enough defense and Devin Hester's more-than-capable special teams play to play their way into the playoffs, where anything can happen. And if he leads them to a 6-0 run, would there be a quarterback controversy? Bears fans can only hope.
As a fantasy football side note: Go pick up Hanie right now. He won't be Tom Brady, but he's a guy who will be underappreciated. He knows the offense, and he should put up more than capable points if you're struggling to find someone to slot in at QB (or if you're in a two quarterback league.) We'll have more on Caleb's fantasy predictions in our weekly waiver wire.
by Matt Taliaferro
With apologies to Bill Elliott and the late, great Alan Kulwicki, the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season finale may be the best the sport has ever seen.
Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards entered the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway separated by a scant three points in the championship standings, and each man’s clutch performance over the 10-race Chase almost guaranteed a showdown unlike any other in Homestead.
They did not disappoint. In fact, they somehow found a way to elevate their performance.
Edwards sat on the pole and led a commanding 119 laps while Stewart was forced to sacrifice valuable track position on two separate occasions, but in the end, Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb had the car to beat. Running first and second throughout much of the second half of the race, Stewart led the final 36 laps over Edwards to win the Ford 400, creating a tie at the top of the standings. A tie-breaking scenario then came into play, and Stewart’s five victories bested Edwards’ one, and he was awarded his third career Cup championship.
“I would have lost every bet in the world if people would have said when you got in the Chase, that we were going to win a race or we were going to win five races and win this thing,” Stewart said. “I would have bet against us. And I learned a big lesson with our organization and how strong a program we have people-wise. I mean, everybody has good cars and good equipment, but I’m sure Darian’s mentioned it, it’s the people you have that make the difference.”
Edwards, who finished second in then race and in the standings, handled the outcome with a level of class not often seen in professional sports.
“This night is about Tony Stewart,” Edwards said after exiting his car. “Those guys rose to the occasion and beat us fair and square — that was all I had at the end. We came here and sat on the pole, led the most laps and Tony still managed — him and Darian — to do a good job with their strategy, come out in front of us … and that’s it, that’s all I got at the end. That’s as hard as I can drive.
“I told my wife, ‘If I can’t win, I’m going to be the best loser NASCAR’s ever had.’ So I’m gonna try really hard to keep my head up and know that we’ll just go next year, and we’ll just be as hard to beat next year.”
Stewart had his fair share of adversity to overcome in the season’s final 400 miles. While running 10th, he had a hole punched in the grille due to a piece of debris early in the going. A quick repair job under caution found him 40th when the green waved, while Edwards coolly paced the field. An additional stop under the next caution to complete service on the nose saw him 35th when racing resumed.
He drove through the pack to the lead by lap 123 of 267, but as darkness fell a slow pit stop on lap 136 dropped him to ninth. Twelve laps later, though, Stewart was back in the lead, having dodged and weaved his way through a wild restart. Almost as quickly as he found the front, Stewart was again snakebit under caution and while on pit road when, as before, a hung lug nut dropped him from the lead to ninth on lap 157.
Undeterred, Stewart drove his Chevy back to second behind Edwards when green flag stops cycled through with roughly 77 laps to go. Stewart and Grubb, planning on the potential of a long green run to end the race, pushed their fuel mileage, staying out 10 laps longer than Edwards. By the time Stewart finally pitted for four tires and fuel, Edwards and his two fresh tires had nearly lapped the No. 14 machine.
Then Stewart’s big break materialized — the one that gave him the track position he could keep and, in the process, win a championship: it started to rain one lap after his stop.
As the shower hit the track and NASCAR waved the caution flag, Stewart found himself over 23 seconds behind the leader, Edwards. However, knowing he needed one more stop to complete the distance, Edwards — along with a host of others — ducked to pit road as NASCAR dried the track. As they did, Stewart advanced from 15th to third and, for all intents and purposes, that was the ballgame.
On the restart with 37 laps remaining, Stewart pushed Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski three-wide into Turn 1, taking the lead one lap later, and scampered away from Edwards — who restarted fifth but quickly made his way to second. It looked like pole day from there, as both championship contenders hung it out on every lap, but Stewart’s four tires trumped Edwards’ two, and he led the rest of the way, winning by 1.3 seconds.
“I didn't question what the plan was or why the plan was,” Stewart said of the fuel mileage decision. “I just stuck to what he (Grubb) told me, and you know, the lap that he called us in, he called us in going into Turn 1, and when I came off Turn 2, the fuel pressure dropped, the motor laid down a little bit but was still running.
When I got to Turn 3, I shut it off, coasted around to Turn 4, kicked the switch, kicked the clutch (and) drove down pit road. We did the stop and he’s like, ‘Keep it revving, keep it running,’ and I’m staring at a fuel pressure gauge that’s not building.
“We dropped the jack, leave, get 50 feet from the last time line and it dies — I mean, it’s dead; it’s out. And I’m like, ‘We just lost this thing,’ and we roll about a hundred feed and it takes off and the needle goes up and it’s like, ‘Wow, that is the call of the race, the call of the Chase,’ and it gave me the opportunity to do what I love doing best: letting it all hang out and putting it all on the line with the restart.”
It was Stewart’s fifth win of the season, all of which came in the Chase. Edwards’ lone 2011 victory came at Las Vegas in March.
Most cite the 1992 finale as the greatest race and championship conclusion in NASCAR’s modern era. Kulwicki and Elliott settled that title in Atlanta, with the former winning his only Cup championship by leading more laps than the latter (despite running second to Elliott) to win by 10 points.
History will certainly mention the 2011 version in the same breath as, for the first time ever, the championship standings went to the number-of-race-wins tie-breaker. The two contenders finishing first and second in the all-important final race only added to the comparisons to ’92, as did Stewart’s status – like Kulwicki’s — as an owner/driver.
“Tony has taken on a hat of being an owner, and unfortunately there’s a lot of responsibilities that come with that as far as personnel changes and personnel problems, human resources and paying paychecks and all that stuff,” team co-owner Gene Haas said. “Tony takes that to heart and I think it can upset the way he races. So myself and Joe (Custer, co-owner) and all of the management at Stewart-Haas Racing, what we really tried to do in the last year or so was just isolate him from that; make sure that Tony just concentrated on the driving part.”
As the 2011 season wound down in Homestead, Fla., Tony Stewart was all driver, putting on what was arguably the greatest single performance of pure wheelmanship NASCAR has ever seen.
Update: A.J. Green has been ruled officially out for today's game against the Ravens. Ray Lewis has also been ruled out.
A.J. Green has been a fantasy stud all season, but he's listed as doubtful for today's game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Not only does he have a hyperextended knee, but he also has a deep bone bruise to go along with it.
Oh, and did we mention that the Bengals and Green are going up against the Baltimore Ravens monster defense?
For those reasons alone, A.J. Green should be on your bench today, as much as it probably pains you to do so. And I know your response, "Well if he does suit up, it looks like Ray Lewis won't play. So he could have success right?"
Wrong. The Ravens are a complete defense who would give Green trouble even if Ray Lewis was in a wheelchair and Green was 110%.
And with Green hurting, it looks like Andre Caldwell will get put in at flanker, with Jerome Simpson and Andre Hawkins both getting even more playing time.
But since the Ravens are currently ranked 6th in pas defense, it is going to be a long day for whoever the Bengals put in at wideout (or running back, or quarterback for that matter). If you have any Bengals, I'd keep them all on the bench today. It's not worth the headache.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones missed three straight days of practice this week with the injured hamstring that forced the rookie out of the Falcons’ Week 10 game against New Orleans. It was the same hamstring injury that had made Jones a questionable play leading up to the Saints game. And now his availability today against the Tennessee Titans is highly in doubt.
Last week it was Harry Douglas that stepped in and up in place of Jones, having success at his normal slot receiver position and on the outside. Expect much of the same for Douglas today against Tennessee
Even if Jones were to be out there, how safe of a play is he? How much will they push the young receiver as the Falcons continue to make a playoff push themselves.
With Jones ailing in Week 10, Douglas was targeted a team-high 14 times against New Orleans. He caught nine of them for 133 yards — both career highs — and registered 17.6 fantasy points. Similar numbers are certainly capable against the Titans today.
Cortland Finnegan has done a fantastic job this season shutting down opposing team’s No. 1 receivers; the same cannot be said for opposing team’s No. 2 receivers. The Titans have allowed an average of 5.4 catches for 49.3 yards per game against opposing team’s No. 2 receivers.
And the Falcons will certainly need to lean on the play of their receivers to have success against the Titans.
After allowing double-digit fantasy days to the five of the first six feature backs they faced this season — Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones Drew 97 rushing yards and a score, Baltimore’s Ray Rice 96 total yards, eight catches and a score, Denver’s Willis McGahee 52 rushing yards, three catches and a score, Cleveland’s duo of Peyton Hillis/Montario Hardesty combining for 140 total yards, 10 catches and Houston’s Arian Foster 234 total yards, five catches and three scores — Tennessee has allowed none in the last three weeks. The Titans surrendered 81 total yards and a score from Indianapolis’s duo of Delone Carter and Donald Brown, 78 yards to Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson and 80 total yards and four catches to Carolina’s duo of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.
Atlanta’s Michael Turner will pound away at the Titans, but it will be through the air where the fantasy success will be had. Turner has been a top-12 back in fantasy points per game this year (15.24 PPG), but has not gone above his average in three games.
The 14 targets last week were certainly well above Douglas’s average of 4.7 per game, but he has been targeted seven or more times in three games this season and walked away with fantasy days of 6, 8.2 and last week’s 17.6. He also has two games where he wasn’t targeted at all, including two weeks ago in Indianapolis when Jones had his breakout game and the Falcons routed the Colts.
There is obviously pause for cause with the two zero-target games, but with Jones’s injury the matchup is too appealing to sit Douglas this week against the Titans. Consider Douglas a decent WR2 and a confident flex play.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
So Cleveland Browns running back Montatrio Hardesty is a game-time decision today against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Take nothing from it, however, in regards to your fantasy lineups for Week 11.
The second-year player, whose rookie season was lost last year after an ACL injury, has missed the last two games with a calf injury. Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur called him a game-time decision after Hardesty returned to practice for the first time on Friday. But it was a limited practice, one in which he did only individual work and no team drills.
With Peyton Hillis (hamstring) still on the shelf, Chris Ogbonnaya will get his third straight start when the Browns line up against the Jaguars today. Ogbonnaya was a dud against the league’s top defense when he scored 2.6 fantasy points against Houston in Week 9. However, he did have a nice bounce back game with 90 yards rushing and two catches for 19 yards against St. Louis for an 11.9-point day. It wasn’t the greatest of performances, but as a flex his performance served its purpose.
What do you really expect from the Browns offense at this point? Their backfield is a mess. Quarterback Colt McCoy can’t push the ball downfield. And the receivers, already limited in their abilities, are handcuffed even more by the play of McCoy.
If you are looking for a Brown to do something for you this week, then rookie WR Greg Little could be an OK flex play against the Jaguars. He is coming off his best game of the season when he caught all six of his targets for 84 yards against the Rams and 12.4 fantasy points. Little is still scoreless this season, but goes against a Jacksonville team that just lost cornerback Rashean Mathis for the season with a knee injury.
Ogbonnaya could also move the needle a bit if he can match last week’s performance against St. Louis and certainly would be a great flex play if he could just punch one into the end zone. The Jaguars are allowing opposing team’s No. 1 RB an average of 12.1 points per game in Athlon’s half-PPR scoring format.
But back to Hardesty, and Hills as well, I don’t think I would touch either for the rest of the 2011 season. There is just too much that has gone wrong with both players. Hardesty has eclipsed double-digit fantasy points twice this season, maxing out at 13.2; Hillis scored 11.7 and 23.7 fantasy points the first two weeks of the season, but has scored 10.8 points combined the rest of the way.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson is listed as questionable with a sore shoulder for the team’s Week 11 game against the Miami Dolphins. He has been given the “decent chance to play” status by Buffalo coach Chan Gailey, but Johnson’s decent is not enough for him to be in your starting lineup this week. Johnson injured the shoulder last week against Dallas.
After starting with fantasy games of 14.6, 19.6 and 19.4 over the first three weeks of the 2011 season, Johnson has fallen off the map for a majority of the season. He has scored in double digits just once since Week 3 — a 12.4-point day in Week 6 against the Giants. Weeks of 8.7, 9.9 and 1.8 points make one of the feel-good stories of 2010 a fantasy sit in Week 11 of the 2011 season.
Johnson’s production, or lack thereof, coincides with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick also seeing his torrid pace come to a screeching halt. After he scored 20-plus fantasy points in the first three weeks of the season, Fitzpatrick has gone above 16 just once and below 13 three times.
Johnson had this same sort of nosedive last season. After three games in six weeks of eight catches, 158 yards and a score, 11 catches, 145 yards and eight catches, 137 yards and three scores, Johnson fell off as a lead fantasy receiver. He never topped more than 69 yards and had just one score over the final six weeks of the 2010 season.
Johnson is the Bills’ leader this season in targets (71) and catches (44) and yards (531) but has done little with them in the last six games. He averages 12.1 yards per catch and has just four scores as a team’s No. 1 receiver. Last season, he averaged 13.1 yards per catch with 10 scores.
And it stinks this week in particular that Johnson’s production has declined … depending on which Miami team we see, of course.
The Bills take on a Dolphins team today that is seventh worst in the NFL against fantasy receivers. Miami has allowed opposing team’s No. 1 receivers to average 14.7 fantasy points per game. No. 1s caught at least one touchdown in the first six games of the season and averaged 4.5 catches for 79.2 yards and 1.2 TDs (27-475-7).
So that’s the good news about playing against the Dolphins. The bad news for No. 1 receivers is that over the last three weeks they have averaged five catches for 64 yards and have not scored. The last three weeks have produced an average of 8.9 fantasy points per game against opposing team’s No. 1s, which included Hakeem Nicks, Dwayne Bowe and Jabar Gaffney.
The Fitzpatrick-Johnson combo has not paid off for weeks now, add in the questionable, iffy, sore shoulder status of Johnson and the play of the Dolphins against No. 1 receivers over the last few games and there is no way I am touching Johnson in Week 11.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Reports of Wes Welker’s injury are sounding like moves in ‘Operation’ week after week after week, but he says he feels “all right” and should be a go for the New England Patriots against the Kansas City Chiefs Monday night.
And with the consistency he provides your fantasy team points, if he feels all right, then I feel all right starting him in Week 11.
Welker has battled neck, rib and knee injuries each of the past three weeks, and has gone out there and batted 33 percent for you as a fantasy receiver. He has been a dud in two of the three, scoring 6.93 fantasy points against Pittsburgh, 19.4 against the Giants and 7.6 last week against the Jets.
But how the Patriots use Welker and how he manages to find the empty spot on the field and get to it means you can never sit Welker unless an injury report says he is out. The games he’s had in two of the last three weeks are outliers of a season in which he had NEVER previously dipped below double digits in Athlon’s half-PPR scoring format, and only gone below 12 once before the latest stretch.
So is the latest stretch a sign of things to come for Welker or just a bump in the road? The production you consistently get from Welker means you must treat this as a bump in the road.
There are a few things you need to take into account for his Week 11 matchup in particular.
• The game is not until Monday night, which gives Welker an extra day to get healthy.
• The game is at home, so there’s no travel in preparation to get ready.
• And most importantly, the game is against a Chiefs team that allows the fourth-fewest pass attempts per game (29.8) in the NFL but is ranked 16th in passing yards allowed per game (230.3), 27th in yard per completion (8.0), and 24th in TDs allowed (16).
It stinks that you have probably your top receiver in an injury situation, having not performed well in two of the last three weeks and playing on a Monday night. But the matchup, Welker saying he feels all right and him being a must-start every week means you have to grin and bear it.
But this should be a week where your anxiety will pay off in a WR1 kind of way when Week 11 comes to a close.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick broke two ribs in Sunday’s loss to Arizona, leaving him out for tonight’s game against the New York Giants in doubt. Next up is Vince Young.
The man whose last three most notable contributions to the NFL are throwing his shoulder pads in the stands and storming out of the Tennessee Titans’ locker room, coining the now 3-6 Eagles as the Dream Team in the preseason and throwing an interception in his only regular-season pass attempt this season.
Now you may have gone to get Young off the waiver wire to replace Vick. Now do you start him?
Will you? Probably. Should you? No. But hey, if Tim Tebow is getting it done in the NFL this season why can’t Young?
I never felt comfortable starting Young when he was with the Titans, and I’m not sure in a shortened off-season if Andy Reid has been able to work his magic with the quarterback in their brief time together.
I do know that Young, in a more conservative offense in Tennessee, averaged 156.6 yards passing, 23.4 yards rushing and .75 turnovers per game over 15 games in 2009 and 139.4 passing yards per game with 13.8 rushing yards per game and .77 turnovers per game in nine games in 2010. I do know he averaged just 13.4 and 12.9 fantasy points per game in those two seasons.
Young certainly has a great weapon out of the backfield in do-it-all RB LeSean McCoy, who could certainly take a few swing passes to the house and boost Young’s numbers. Young has a nice deep ball and WR DeSean Jackson is one of the best deep-ball guys in the league. He has a capable TE in Brent Celek, and a slew of possession receivers like Steve Smith, Riley Cooper and Jason Avant at his disposal.
Young had that deep threat in Tennessee in Kenny Britt and had the speed threat out of the backfield in Chris Johnson, who was not used as a screen back at all like McCoy is. All it takes is one side step of a pass rush and a deep ball to Jackson for a score or one dump off to McCoy in the backfield and let him do the work. Either way, Young reaps the rewards as a fantasy QB.
The Giants have allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for at least 237 yards in six of nine games this season and have allowed at least one passing touchdown in six of nine games. Overall, New York is the 14th-best defense against fantasy QBs. The Giants held Vick to 176 yards, 31 rushing yards, no scores and an interception when the two teams met in Week 3.
Young has faced the Giants twice in his career, winning in 2006 and 2010. He is 34-of-51- for 367 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in those two games.
I would NEVER start Young with confidence, but all of the skill players he has around him makes it hard to screw up. Even in what some are calling a bad season for Vick, he’s still fantasy’s eighth-best quarterback.
I’d rather start a waiver-wire pickup like Carson, but you could certainly do a lot worse than Vince Young.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
You can move the ball down the field, through the air against the Chicago Bears. And that is exactly what San Diego Chargers Antonio Gates and Vincent Brown should be able to do today in the Windy City.
The Chargers face a Bears defense that is friendly to opposing tight ends, allowing the most fantasy points per game in the league by 1.6 against 31st-ranked Dallas, and friendly to opposing team’s No. 2 receivers, allowing an average of 4.5 catches for 49.1 yards per game with two scores.
Of course, you will probably be starting Gates and San Diego No. 1 WR Vincent Jackson, so this is more about what Brown can do for you today.
The rookie from San Diego State has been a nice option for the Chargers and QB Philip Rivers over the last two weeks. Brown has been filling in for Malcom Floyd as he battles a hip injury. That hip injury will keep the Chargers’ No. 2 receiver out of today’s game, leaving the door open for Brown to step in once again.
Brown has 11 catches for 202 yards and two scores this season and is coming off a game against Oakland in which he set career highs in catches (5) and yards (97). In Athlon’s half-PPR scoring format, Brown has scored 9.9 and 18.2 fantasy points the last two weeks.
And now the Chargers are facing a Bears team that has allowed an average of 11.7 fantasy points to opposing team’s No. 2 receivers over the last four games — 24 catches, 228 yards and one TD.
If injured receivers have you in a bind, then Brown would be a good option as a WR2 or flex play for your team and a Chargers team that should certainly be trailing on the road against the Bears for a majority of the game. Brown is still available in over 80 percent of Yahoo leagues.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Career paths cross Sunday in Atlanta when Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan and Falcons receiver Roddy White meet in the Georgia Dome. Finnegan’s 2011 path has him on the way up, while White’s looks like it is going down.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Titans are the seventh best team in the league in the Website’s pass coverage rankings. Finnegan, Tennessee’s top corner, is allowing 6.3 points per game to fantasy receivers in Athlon’s half-PPR scoring format.
The feisty corner has been thrown at 49 times, given up 31 catches for 296 yards and just two scores. That line per game comes out to 3.4 catches, 32.8 yards and .2 TDs for the 6.3 fantasy points receivers playing against Finnegan are producing.
It’s hard to justify, as a fantasy player, sending out your No. 1 receiver and knowing he will get you just 6.3 points. If Julio Jones is out with the hamstring that knocked him out of last week’s game, then the focus will certainly be on shutting down White, making life even tougher on the Falcon receiver.
The best production Finnegan has allowed against a team’s receivers is 14.9 fantasy points when Houston had a five-target, five-catch, 64-yard, one-TD game.
For comparison’s sake, here’s how Finnegan stacks up against the likes of Darrelle Revis, Nnamdi Asomugha and Ike Taylor this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Finnegan 49 targets, 31 catches, 296 yards, long of 33, two TDs (14.9 fantasy points the worst day)
Taylor — 58 targets, 20 catches, 211 yards, long of 31, one TD (9.1 the worst day)
Revis — 44 targets, 15 catches, 271 yards, long of 53, no scores (9.9 the worst day)
Asomugha — 26 targets, 14 catches, 217 yards, long of 38, one TD (10.7 the worst day)
The addition of Jones to the team, the emergence of Harry Douglas and QB Matt Ryan’s dependency on TE Tony Gonzalez has brought White down from the elite class quickly. He was fantasy’s No. 1 WR at the end of last year, its No. 9 at the end of 2009 and currently sits as its No. 20.
White has been held to 78 yards or less in all but one game this season — a 17-target, nine-catch, 140-yard, no-TD day against Tampa Bay in Week 3. He had nine games of 78 yards or more last season. White has scored above 14 fantasy points just once (Week 3) and has been held to single digits in three of the last four games.
White is no longer the deep threat he once was as his yards per catch have dropped to a career-low 12.0 through nine games season. The Titans are 18th in the NFL in passing yards per game allowed (224.2), but are ranked fourth in yards per catch (6.2).
Between Finnegan’s play this season going up, White’s going down, this certainly looks like it will be advantage Finnegan and disadvantage you if White is in your starting lineup.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
So here’s the deal: If you’re a quarterback who can throw a forward pass then you’re all but assured 18 fantasy points against the New England Patriots.
Tyler Palko, meet the New England Patriots. Fantasy players, meet Tyler Palko, the Kansas City Chiefs’ new starting quarterback. Palko, an undrafted free agent out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2007, gets his first career start when the Chiefs take on the Patriots Monday night in Foxboro.
The previous nine quarterbacks that have started this season against New England have all recorded at least 18-point fantasy days, and that 18-pointer only threw for 166 yards in doing so. The Patriots have allowed six 300-plus yard games, one 400-plus, a 250 and Mark Sanchez threw for 166 in Week 5 and then came back with 306 last week.
Houston, Pittsburgh and New Orleans are all on bye weeks, Michael Vick (ribs) is not looking available Sunday night and there are some other bad matchups out there in Week 11. If you’re in a two-quarterback league, Palko’s certainly a play in Week 11, and if you are looking for a deep sleeper or just wanting to jump in on the action against New England, starting Palko isn’t a bad idea in standard 12-team, one-QB leagues.
The 6-1, left-handed Palko is getting start No. 1 after Matt Cassel suffered a hand injury in Week 10 that will likely end his 2011 season. Once cut by the UFL’s California Redwoods, Palko has thrown a total of 13 NFL passes — completing nine of them for 82 yards — in four stops. He came into last week’s game in relief of Cassel, completing five of six passes for 47 yards on a drive that ended with a field goal.
And now he gets his first start against a Patriots team that, like all other NFL teams, has very little to go on about his game since he left Pitt. What we do know is the Patriots are allowing opposing QBs to complete 63.4 percent of their passes for 323.4 yards, 1.6 TDs and 1.3 interceptions a game for a league-worst 25.7 fantasy points per game.
Cassel took a while to get anything going this season, however, in four of his last five full-game starts, he threw for 253-plus yards in each game and had six TDs in those four games (four coming against Indianpolis). Palko does have Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Jonathan Baldwin in his receiving corps and a multi-purpose back in Dexter McCluster, who can help him as a pass catcher.
Whether it’s Palko throwing to try and keep the Chiefs competitive or if it’s Palko throwing to try and catch the Chiefs up, points are there for the taking for the new K.C. QB.
I’m not here to say Palko is going to be a fantasy backup, hell, even a reality backup that is reliable. There is a reason he’s thrown 13 NFL passes since 2007 and was cut by a UFL team in between. But for one night, against one poor defense and you just need a stop gap that will give you a quick 16 points, Palko is a good start.
Plus, it will give you a reason to watch what should otherwise be a terrible game.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
How bad is your running back situation this week?
Are you still waiting on Darren McFadden to come back? Is Ryan Mathews killing the Mike Tolbert vibe you thought would be happening on a consistent basis by now? Did you really think the Carolina backfield situation would ever clear up? Do you just know you will pick the wrong Washington Redskins RB this week? LeGarrette Blount and Cedric Benson taking the role of bell cow and playing more like cow … Well, you get the picture.
On top of all the inconsistent, frustrating running back play we’ve had this season, now we see Arian Foster, Rashard Mendenhall and the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts flavors of the week all hit their bye.
Who’s left for you to turn to in Week 11? It’s deep sleeper time.
I think your savior this week could be playing Sunday night, and he’s not even a starter.
New York Giants running back D.J. Ware has the potential to see plenty of work behind Brandon Jacobs when the team plays host to the Philadelphia Eagles. Ware is seeing his role increase as is Jacobs due to a broken foot that has sidelined Ahmad Bradshaw the last two games and ruled him out for Sunday night.
In San Francisco last week, playing against the league’s top rush defense, Ware carried nine times for 34 yards and added five catches for 34 yards. The catches came as a result of the Giants trying to play catch-up against the 49ers, but Ware looked sharp throughout the game.
Ware has 16 carries for 58 yards and five catches on eight targets for 34 yards over the last two games. That’s an average of 12 potential touches and 46 yards the last two weeks. With all the aforementioned problems the running back position has had this year, and the number of precarious RB situations fantasy players face this week, I will take a back with the potential for 12 touches in a possible shootout game as my flex play.
The Eagles have allowed three five-plus catch games from running backs this season, and allow 4.4 catches for 51.1 yards per games to opposing running backs through the first nine games of the 2011 season. Philadelphia is ranked 17th in yards per game allowed (120.0) and are ranked 27th in yards per carry (4.8).
Vince Young will likely be at QB for the injured Michael Vick (ribs), and while I don’t expect Young to light it up, he does have RB LeSean McCoy, WR DeSean Jackson and a bevy of possession receivers at his disposal that could certainly make for an interesting game.
This week it could go either way against the Eagles. The schizophrenic NFC East could see the Giants trailing late and needing Ware to help them play catch-up again, or they could be leading and he and Jacobs get plenty of opportunities to burn the clock.
Either way, if I’m in a PPR league, which is key if you are going to play him, then I am giving Ware serious consideration as a decent flex play today.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
You’re starting Oakland Raiders receiver Denarius Moore this week against the Minnesota Vikings, right? You’re just reading this because you need confirmation that it’s the right play for one of your fantasy WR spots in Week 11.
I understand. It’s a great play for you to make for a few of reasons before we even get to the he-is-good part.
First, he is the man for the Raiders with fellow receiver Jacoby Ford out with an ankle injury suffered in Week 10 and still with no timetable for his return. Second, the Vikings just lost defensive back Antoine Winfield for the season with a broken clavicle. Third, Oakland signal caller Carson Palmer is a top-10 fantasy QB in his first two games as the team’s starter with weeks of 25.58 and 20.16 points. He’s completing 60 percent of his passes as a starter, including 70 percent last week against San Diego.
Moore became Palmer’s favorite target when Jacoby Ford went down with an ankle injury early in last Thursday’s game. The rookie from Tennessee was targeted seven times to Ford’s second-best two. Moore caught five of the seven targets for 123 yards and two long scores (33, 27).
Moore has been inconsistent this season, but also had an inconsistent QB in Jason Campbell at the helm before Palmer came on board to step in for the injured Campbell. Moore was a stud in the preseason and then opened the 2011 campaign with a goose egg. He bounced back with 25.6 points in Week 2, 14.1 in Week 3, 9.85 in Week 4 and then fell off the map with days of .85, .95 and 1.88 fantasy points. Moore had his resurgence in Palmer’s first start, scoring 10.18 points against Denver and then exploded for the 27.75 points against San Diego.
Yahoo league owners certainly saw the value in Moore as he went from being owned in 56 percent of the leagues on Monday to 81 percent of the leagues by Friday. And it should be more than that with the way Palmer is playing and the pass-friendly schedule the Raiders have over the next month. Including this week’s Minnesota game, the Raiders take on four of the worst fantasy defenses against receivers in the next four weeks — Minnesota (31), Chicago (22), Miami (23) and Green Bay (30).
Since you are looking to input Moore into your starting lineup this week, here’s what he is facing against Minnesota: Winfield had just returned to the lineup last Monday night after a four-game absence due to a neck injury before the clavicle injury. Cornerback Chris Cook is still suspended from playing and safety Husain Abdullah will not play after the suffering a concussion on Monday night.
The Vikings are ranked 30th in the NFL against the pass (272.8 YPG) with 16 touchdowns allowed (31st) and just six interceptions (24th).
The matchup doesn’t get much Moore enticing than that (see what I did there with the Moore thing … oh, just go set him to start in your lineup).
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
After winning nine games in each of Houston Nutt’s first two seasons in Oxford, the Ole Miss program has been in a complete freefall. The Rebels went 4-8 last year, and the 2011 season has actually been worse. Ole Miss has now lost 12 consecutive SEC games and looks to be headed for a 2-10 campaign. The last time the Rebels finished a year with two wins was 1946, a year before the legendary John Vaught took over in Oxford. Nutt was fired on November 7 after a 30-13 loss at Kentucky, which was followed by an embarrassing defeat to Louisiana Tech, at home, 27-7. Having hit rock bottom, the only conversation in The Grove these days concerns the next coach. With the SEC as tough as ever, Ole Miss cannot miss on this hire and cement itself in the cellar of the league.
Who is your favorite to be the next coach at Ole Miss?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is an extremely important hire for Ole Miss. With Mississippi State getting better under Dan Mullen, plus the addition of Texas A&M to the SEC West, the Rebels need to make some progress in 2012 and 2013. I think a proven coach will be sought and that leads me to a couple of names: former Michigan and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, Southern Miss’ Larry Fedora, Arkansas State’s Hugh Freeze and UL Lafayette’s Mark Hudspeth. Rodriguez would be an interesting fit in the SEC and would be my first choice if I was making the hire. However, I don’t think he will get the job. I think it’s much more likely that Freeze or Fedora is the next head coach in Oxford. Between those two, I will take Freeze. He has already coached at Ole Miss under Ed Orgeron and would be a hit on the recruiting trail, as well as with the boosters. In one season at Arkansas State, Freeze has the Red Wolves in position to win the Sun Belt title and was a successful coach at Lambuth. It’s going to take a year or two to make the Rebels into a consistent bowl team, but Freeze is the right man for the job.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
It’s a shame that this question comes right after Southern Miss lost to UAB, but I still believe USM’s Larry Fedora is the hire for Ole Miss. He is in his fourth year in Hattiesburg, and the Golden Eagles will finish 10-2 this season and play for the Conference USA title. Fedora is a bright offensive mind and was an offensive coordinator in the SEC (Florida) and Big 12 (Oklahoma State) before becoming a head coach. He also has extensive ties to Texas prep football, which will serve as a major asset in recruiting. I do think Rich Rodriguez or Mike Leach would fit in Oxford because they can be successful without having to win the major recruiting battles against the superpowers in the SEC. However with Archie Manning co-chairing the search, I don’t expect much ‘drama’ with this hire. Hugh Freeze and Mark Hudspeth are intriguing candidates as well, but Larry Fedora is the best fit for Ole Miss.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I would hire Hugh Freeze, the current head coach at Arkansas State. He has done a terrific job in two seasons in Jonesboro, first as the offensive coordinator (2010) and now as the man in charge. The Red Wolves are 8–2 overall and a perfect 6–0 in the Sun Belt Conference. This is a significant improvement from the last season of the Steve Roberts era, when ASU went 4–8 overall and 4–4 in the league. Freeze was also successful in a previous stint as a head coach, going 20–5 in two seasons at Lambuth College, an NAIA school in Jackson, Tenn. Freeze, best known as Michael Oher’s high school coach in Memphis, has experience at Ole Miss, having served on Ed Orgeron’s staff from 2006-07. He might not be the flashiest name, but Freeze has all the qualities that Ole Miss should be looking for — success as a head coach, ties to the program and a familiarity with the school’s primary recruiting area.
Tell that swashbuckling former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach to grow a Colonel Reb mustache, mix a Hot Toddy and head down to The Grove, because he's my first choice to coach Ole Miss following the firing of Houston Nutt. In 10 seasons as the coach of the Red Raiders, Leach posted an 84–43 overall record, 47–33 mark in the Big 12 and was invited to a bowl game every year he coached in Lubbock. Leach's wide open spread passing attack also worked at Kentucky and Oklahoma, where he was offensive coordinator before being hired by Texas Tech in 2000. Leach would be a controversial hire, but one that would bring immediate excitement to a program that has grown stagnant. Oxford is a great college town and Ole Miss' facilities are better than most fans realize; the right coach should be able to take the Rebels to a bowl every season. I've decided Leach is that coach; now I'm going to The Library.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Who I would hire if I was the new Ole Miss athletic director and who I think will land the job are two totally different questions. I would call Guz Malzahn first, Mike Leach second and Rich Rodriguez third. Those unique offensive schemes are perfect for leveling the playing field against the bigger, more powerful athletic departments of the SEC West. But, for a variety of reasons, I do not see any of those names coaching in Oxford next fall. Larry Fedora of Southern Miss, Mark Hudspeth of UL Lafayette and Hugh Freeze of Arkansas State are the most likely candidates to make the final cut. Fair or not, Freeze is entirely to closely tied to Ed Orgeron for me to offer him the job, but I think he will win the day and land the Ole Miss gig over rising stars Fedora and Hudspeth.
Lee Corso, the outspoken and fun co-host of ESPN's College GameDay pre-game show accidentally (or maybe not so accidentally) dropped an F-Bomb while he was getting ready to put on the University of Houston mascot hat (one of his GameDay traditions.)
He was originally going to yell the name of the winner through one of those cheerleader cones, but when that wasn't working out as well as Corso had hoped, he clearly said "F--- It!", tossed the cone down and pulled out the Houston Cougar mascot hat.
When the f-word came out of his mouth, each one of his ESPN co-hosts jaw's dropped. Kirk Herbstreit immediately had a look of disbelief on his face and Chris Fowler put his head on the table, and then pretended to wash the mascot's mouth out with soap and said "shame on you!" to Corso.
Meanwhile, the celebrity guest Carl Lewis (and Houston grad) just had a huge smile on his face and clapped vigorously through the whole incident. Which is really the best reaction to have in a situation like that.
This isn't the first time Corso has cursed on the air, and quite frankly, we hope it's not the last.
Moments after the show, ESPN GameDay's official site showed a 12-second video of Corso apologizing for his on-air gaffe, where he said he got a little "too excited" and used an expletive he shouldn't have.
Are we wrong for kind of liking the fact that Corso gets so riled up during these broadcasts that his emotions get the better of him. We realize that ESPN can't have their announcers dropping F-bombs all the time (that would get expensive with the FCC), but it's nice to see a little unbridled enthusiasm on the screen from time to time. Isn't that what college football is all about, anyway?
This article on the California vs. Stanford college football rivalry originally appeared in Athlon's 1993 college football annuals. As the rivalry is renewed this week, we thought it was relevant to take a look back at the history of what is commonly known as the "Big Game."
Great Rivalries — California Golden Bears vs. Stanford Cardinal
By David Bush, San Francisco Chronicle
It is simply known as the Big Game. And many times it really is.
The rivalry between the University of California and Stanford has always been one of college football’s most exciting, even when one or both suffer through a mediocre season. The best example is the unforgettable 1982 contest, won on California’s sensational five-lateral kickoff return. Kevin Moen raced through the Stanford band, which had taken the field in premature celebration, to score as time expired.
Known simply as The Play, it has superseded Roy Riegels’ wrong-way run in the 1929 Rose Bowl game as the most famous play in college football history.
The rivals were finishing so-so seasons when they met at Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium on Nov. 20. Stanford, led by senior All-America quarterback John Elway, came in with a 5-5 record and a Hall of Fame Bowl invitation resting on the outcome. California was 6-4 under first-year coach Joe Kapp, an alumnus and the only man to play in the Rose Bowl, Grey Cup game (for the Canadian Football League title) and the Super Bowl.
The amazing climax overshadows the fact that it had been a gripping game throughout.
The underdog Golden Bears dominated the first half and led 10-0 before Stanford came back to take a 14-10 lead. A field goal and a sensational touchdown catch by receiver Wes Howell put California up 19-14 midway in the fourth quarter. A field goal pulled the Cardinal within two points, and on a fantastic Elway-led drive, Stanford rallied to take the lead. Faced with a fourth-and-17 situation on his own 13-yard line with 53 seconds remaining, Elway completed a 29-yard pass to Emile Harry. Three plays later, after the Cardinal advanced to the 18, Mark Harmon kicked a 35-yard field goal. Stanford led 20-19. Four seconds remained.
From the Stanford sideline, several players raced onto the field to celebrate their apparent victory. The Cardinal was penalized 15 yards and now had to kick off from the 25-yard line. About the same time, Richard Rodgers, California’s special teams captain, huddled with the kickoff lineup and told the men: “If you get the ball and you’re gonna be tackled, pitch it. Don’t fall with the ball.”
“I was thinking, ‘This guy’s crazy,’” recalls Dwight Garner, a freshman running back that year. He soon learned otherwise.
Seniors Moen and Mariet Ford, the other two players who would handle the ball on the kickoff, did not hear Rodgers. Moen was already on the field, and Ford was looking on the sideline for his shoes, which he had taken off because of cramps in his legs.
It was Moen who scooped up Harmon’s squib kick at the Golden Bears’ 43 and advanced 5 yards before being confronted by several Stanford players. “I saw Richard open on the sideline and yelled, ‘Here you go,’” remembers Moen, who tossed the ball overhanded to Rodgers. Rodgers ran a few yards, lateraled to Garner, then got behind him. As Garner was going down, wrapped up by a bevy of tacklers, he pitched back to Rodgers. Many, including the Stanford band, thought that Garner’s knees touched the turf, and the game was over. Some Stanford partisans still believe it.
At this point, California had managed to keep the ball alive but had not made much progress toward the goal line. As the band was streaming onto the field from Stanford’s end zone, Rodgers broke into the open and crossed the 50-yard line before shoveling the ball back to Ford at the Stanford 47.
“Once I got it, I just took off,” says Ford. “I saw the band in front of me, and I’m confused. I’m thinking about not getting put down by band members.”
With his leg cramping and Stanford defenders looming from the left, Ford knew he couldn’t reach the goal line. In desperation at the 25, he tossed the ball blindly over his right shoulder.
Ford: “I knew I was in front of Kevin but I never saw him.”
Moen: “I grabbed the ball but didn’t really see the goal line. All I saw was the band. As far as I was concerned, they were all Stanford players, and I just busted through them.”
Referee Charles Moffett conferred with the other officials for 43 seconds. None, he said, “thought anybody was down at any time. We could have called a penalty on the Stanford band. But we called one on the Stanford bench.”
Finally, Moffett gave the raised-arms touchdown signal. Thousands outside the stadium had left immediately after Harmon’s field goal and were on their way to their cars. They heard a mighty roar from inside. All they had missed was The Play of the Century.
“It was the right combination of guys and being lucky,” Moen says. “If you were going to try and script that kind of play, it never would have worked. To complete one lateral is hard enough. But four different guys and five different laterals along with everything else that was involved, well, that was unique.”
“Just a typical Cal-Stanford game,” Kapp deadpanned after his team’s 25-20 victory.
As incredible as that ending was, it wasn’t the only sensational windup of recent Big Game vintage. Since 1970, five of the 12 games at Berkeley have been decided on the last play and three others in the last two minutes. Another was in doubt until the final gun.
Stanford is a private school located outside the affluent suburban town of Palo Alto on the San Francisco peninsula. California is a public institution carved out of the cosmopolitan city of Berkeley on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.
What the schools have in common besides geographical proximity are high academic standards, a good-natured dislike for each other in athletics and a particularly intense rivalry in football.
The first of the 95 football games between the northern California schools was played in March 19, 1892 — in San Francisco. According to the off-told story, the game was delayed because the Stanford student manager, a chap named Herbert Hoover, forgot the ball. Actually, according to John T. Sullivan’s 1981 book, The Big Game, Hoover, who in 1929 would become the 31st president of the United States, was only partially to blame. He was just one of several responsible parties who forgot about bringing the ball. The game was finally played, Stanford won 14-10 and the series was launched.
The era between World Wars was the football zenith for both schools. Nicknames fit their success. California had its Wonder Teams (1920-24) and Thunder Team (1937). Stanford had the Vow Boys (1933-35) and the Wow Boys (1940).
Perhaps the greatest Big Game in those years was played in 1924 between Andy Smith’s Wonder Team and Glenn S. “Pop” Warner’s undefeated Stanford squad. Both coaches are in the Hall of Fame. Stanford took a 6-0 lead at halftime, but the Golden Bears came back to go ahead 20-6 in the final quarter. Stanford, however, rallied and scored two touchdowns, the second with less than a minute left, and a dramatic 20-20 tie was in the books. Stanford then went to the Rose Bowl, losing 27-10 to Notre Dame and the Four Horsemen.
The series was discontinued from 1943-45 during World War II because Stanford did not field teams. When the rivalry resumed, it did not take legendary coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf long to build another dynasty at California. Between 1947-50 the Bears were 38-4-1, and played in three Rose Bowl games (losing all) and a memorable Big Game.
Down 18-14 with three minutes left in 1947 at Palo Alto, heavily favored California scored on a stunning 80-yard pass from fullback Jackie Jensen (who went on to hit 199 home runs as an outfielder for the New York Yankees, Washington and the Boston Red Sox) to Paul Keckley. In a series of events a screenwriter would reject as improbable, Keckley, who had injured a shoulder two weeks earlier, pleaded with Waldorf to go into the game. At first reluctant, Waldorf relented and sent in Keckley. Two plays later, he gathered in the toss from Jensen on the Cal 35, got the block he needed at the Stanford 40 and sailed across the goal line. Final score: California 21, Stanford 18.
In 1948 at Berkeley, California tackle Jim “Truck” Cullom kicked an extra point and blocked Stanford’s conversion attempt. The Bears won 7-6.
Fortunes at both schools were on the decline in the 1950s. In 1956 Waldorf ended his coaching career with a victory as sophomore quarterback Kapp led California to a 20-18 upset over Stanford and John Brodie, it’s All-America quarterback.
Kapp would lead the Bears into their last Rose Bowl appearance after the 1958 season, but he had to beat Stanford 16-15 in a controversial Big Game to do it. California took full advantage of the new two-point conversion option. The Bears’ two touchdowns followed by two-point conversions beat two touchdowns and a field goal. Arguments still rage over whether Stanford receiver Irv Nikolai really caught the first conversion out of bounds, as an official ruled.
A year later, the schools staged another hair-raiser. Stanford quarterback Dick Norman completed 34 of 39 passes for 401 yards, rallying his team from a 14-0 deficit to a 17-14 lead. California scored a go-ahead touchdown (20-17) with four minutes remaining and then had to hold off Norman’s last furious rally. Unable to find an open receiver on the game’s final play, Norman was tackled on the Cal 5-yard line, trying in vain to get out of bounds. A field-goal tee to be used for the tying attempt was tucked into the belt of his pants.
The following decade produced few notable games in the 101-year-old series, but the fun resumed in earnest in 1969. An underdog California team fell behind 17-0 midway in the first period. “At that point, I was wondering if I could make it to Rickey’s bar (in Palo Alto) have a drink and get back before the final gun,” says Bob Steiner, California’s Sports Information Director at the time.
The Bears rallied behind Dave Penhall, who had begun the season as third-string quarterback, to go in front 28-23 in the last period. But Stanford moved on the ground for the touchdown that won the game, 29-28.
The next year, the Bears, with Penhall again leading the offense, upset Rose Bowl-bound Stanford with Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett 22-14.
California freshman quarterback Vince Ferragamo drilled a 7-yard touchdown pass to Steve Sweeney on the final play of the 1972 game to defeat the Stanford Cardinal (the nickname Indians was dropped that year) 24-21. Ferragamo completed only eight passes, but four were in the drive that covered 62 yards in 73 seconds. Sweeney lined up at tight end just once: on the last play. It was the only pass he caught as a tight end that year.
All-American Steve Bartkowski passed California to a 10-3 lead after three quarters of the 1974 renewal. Stanford, behind reserve quarterback Guy Benjamin, led 19-13 before Bartkowski brought the Bears back. After Steve Rivera’s one-handed catch on fourth and 10 resulted in a 23-yard gain, the Bears had a first down at the Cardinal 13 in the closing moments. With 23 seconds to play, Bartkowski connected with Rivera for a touchdown that, with Jim Breech’s extra point, put California up by one. But it wasn’t over.
Starting from his own 19, Benjamin completed two long aerials. On the second pass, Brad Williams dragged two defenders out of bounds at the California 33 with two seconds left. The image of Mike Langford’s 50-yard field goal sailing between the uprights on the last play is still remembered by legions of California and Stanford followers.
Two years afterwards, Stanford won the first of three straight games, scoring with 1:13 left to win 27-24 after recovering a fumble on the Bears’ 2-yard line. California won both in 1979 and 1980, but both times Stanford had to be stopped inside the 10-yard line in the final minutes.
In 1982 The Play ended a great game but not the great finishes. The Bears rallied from a 24-0 third-quarter deficit to nearly pull off an upset in 1985 at Stanford. A late-game-field-goal attempt fell short, preserving Stanford’s 24-22 triumph.
The Bears sent Kapp out a winner 17-11 in 1986. A tie, 11th in the series, resulted in 1988 when Stanford’s Tuan Van Le blocked a 20-yard field-goal try as time expired.
And the thrills continued into the 1990s. Three seasons ago, Stanford scored nine points in the final 12 seconds to win 27-25 on John Hopkins’ 39-yard field goal at the final gun.
Each year when the Big Game is played in late November, alumni share memories. The Play is, of course, the hands-down favorite of Golden Bear fans. And of the California players who brought it off.
“Once your football career is over, it’s over,” says Mariet Ford. “But not for me.”
There are contenders and there are pretenders, and sometimes this late in the season it’s impossible to separate the two. One moment a team like the Buffalo Bills can look like the best team in the AFC East. The next their fast start can fall like a house of cards.
Fortunes can change in reverse that quickly, too. Just ask the Green Bay Packers, who at this point last season were in a dogfight for the sixth and final NFC playoff seed which they didn’t lock up until the final week of the season. Then they went on a run for the ages to the Super Bowl championship, and judging by their 9-0 start this year they’ve never looked back.
So we may not know who the frauds and the hidden gems really are until the final chapter of this season has finally been completed. But if you’re looking for teams not to believe in, here are five that seem clearly overrated even though they’re teetering on the brink of contention.
In other words, these are four bandwagons you can avoid riding down the stretch …
Dallas Cowboys (5-4)
They may win the NFC East before this is over, but don’t get excited. If they win it, it’ll only because of a Giants collapse and the complete and utter failure that is the Philadelphia Eagles. This division, which once was an NFL powerhouse, is beginning to look mediocre at best.
This is what you need to know about the Cowboys, though: Tony Romo is good, but prone to bad mistakes and he usually makes them at terrible times. He’s always been on the verge of becoming a top quarterback, but then he finds a way to shoot himself in the foot.
So do you trust him? I don’t. Not this year. Not now. And I’m not impressed by the fact that they’ve won three of their last four games to salvage a 2-3 start either. They beat the Rams, Seahawks and fading Bills – all at home. The one loss was a 34-7 smackdown in Philadelphia against an Eagles team that’s been the biggest disappointment in the league.
Chicago Bears (6-3)
Four straight wins by Da Bears has everyone remembering that they were in the NFC championship game last season and even nearly won it. And that’s true.
The problem is they were a different team last year with a better defense. This year’s Bears defense ranks 25th in the league – 29th against the pass. They’ve won with thanks to turnovers (they are plus-9), great special teams play, and the MVP-like performance of Matt Forte.
Jay Cutler, meanwhile, is running a shockingly low-powered offense. He has 11 touchdown passes through nine games and his leading receiver is Forte, his running back. That’s usually a bad sign. If the defense isn’t strong and the quarterback isn’t strong, how can this team be trusted in a big spot down the stretch?
New York Jets (5-5)
All you needed to see from the Jets was their horrendous loss to Denver on Thursday night, where the two teams turned the NFL’s offensive clock back to the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Broncos ran the wishbone, for crying out loud, and they still had a more explosive offense than the Jets.
The Jets made the AFC championship game the last two seasons thanks mostly to their defense, which is a shell of its former self. Worse, quarterback Mark Sanchez looks like he’s taken a big step back in Year 3. He’s inaccurate, he’s making bad decisions, and it sure looks like his diva receivers (Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress) are getting frustrated.
Add in Rex Ryan’s mouth and the New York media and this could be a disaster in the making.
Oakland Raiders (5-4)
They looked for a while like one of the best stories in the NFL, the revival of a proud franchise that had been a joke for years. But there are few teams that could survive the loss of their starting quarterback (Jason Campbell) and starting running back (Darren McFadden) and continue to thrive.
Surviving the loss of McFadden will be easier, because of Michael Bush (not to mention the fact that McFadden will be back). The loss of Campbell, though, is huge. Yes, they made a bold move for Carson Palmer, but some thought he was on the decline when he last played for Cincinnati. Now, miracles are expected of him despite sitting out half a season and having to pick up a new offense on the fly?
This is a good team that will be a popular pick of many to do some playoff damage in 2012. But Palmer has thrown 7 interceptions in his first 76 attempted passes. That’s not good, and it’s only going to get worse.
By RALPH VACCHIANO