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With 10 weeks in the books, college football’s bowl and national title picture is starting to clear. The playoff committee will release its second set of rankings on Tuesday this week, which should give fans, coaches and players a better idea of what the committee values heading into the last few weeks of the season.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
With 10 weeks are in the books, it’s never too early to start looking at what the bowl picture might hold for each conference and team this year. The post-Week 10 bowl projections are a mixture between picks for the next few weeks, how things would look if the season ended today, and the results from the first nine weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks.
Teams on the projection bubble: Oregon State, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Wyoming, Texas State, Arkansas, Kentucky, Texas, San Jose State and Northwestern. Remember: It’s only Week 10. Several changes are coming, and it’s impossible to project all of the wins and losses the rest of the way considering how much changes week-to-week in college football.
College Football's Post-Week 10 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| UL Lafayette vs. |
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs. |
| UTEP vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
| Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Bowling Green vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs. |
| Akron vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs. |
| East Carolina vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs.|
| UAB vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
|Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs. |
| MTSU vs.|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| Western Kentucky vs.|
San Diego State
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs.|
| Rutgers vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| Virginia Tech vs.|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| California* vs.|
| Pittsburgh vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| NC State vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Boston College vs. |
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs. |
| Tennessee vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs.|
| Duke vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
| Oklahoma State vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs. |
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs.|
| Maryland vs.|
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
| Nebraska vs.|
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Ohio State vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American vs.|
| Houston vs.|
|Taxslayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Miami vs.|
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Baylor vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Memphis* vs.|
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs.|
| Toledo vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Marshall vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Kansas State vs.|
|Orange||Dec. 31||ACC vs. |
| Clemson vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
| TCU vs. |
|Related: Projecting the Playoff Teams After Week 10|
| Florida State vs.|
| Mississippi State vs.|
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
Mississippi State vs.
* Indicates an at-large selection. Conference not projected to have enough bowl-eligible teams to fulfill the conference alignment.
Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Pac-12 football action:
68: Brett Hundley career TD passes
Up by just three points late in the third quarter, Brett Hundley found Jordan Payton streaking down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown that put the game on ice for UCLA. It was Hundley’s 68th career touchdown pass, tying Cade McNown’s all-time school record. More impressively (or concerning), other than that throw, Hundley was 18-of-25 for 119 yards against Arizona.
Nov. 3, 2012: Last time UCLA allowed less than 300 yards or 4.0 yards per play
Maybe Jim Mora just has Rich Rodriguez’s number? Hundley was solid but it was the Bruins' defense that deserves the headlines after the win over Arizona. It allowed just 255 yards and 3.2 yards per play to the usually productive Wildcats. It marks the first time UCLA has allowed fewer than 300 yards of offense or less than 4.0 yards per play since a 66-10 win over the same Wildcats on Nov. 3, 2012 (257 and 3.7). Both the 255 and 3.2 were low-water marks for RichRod since coming to Tucson.
30: Anu Solomon incompletions
Coming into the UCLA game, Anu Solomon was likely leading the National Freshman of the Year race by averaging 347.1 yards per game. A big part of how UCLA took Arizona down was confusing the young Wildcats quarterback. Solomon had been completing more than 63 percent of his passes this year until facing the Bruins. He completed just 18 of his 48 passes — or just 37.5 percent — in the loss to UCLA.
205: Oregon yards rushing improvement from last year
In the 26-20 upset in Palo Alto last season, Stanford held Oregon to just 62 yards rushing. In the easy and impressive 45-16 win over the Cardinal in Week 10, the Ducks rushed for 267 yards — or 205 more than they did last year. The 525 yards of total offense and 45 points allowed are the most allowed by Stanford since Arizona rolled up 617 and 48 on Oct. 6, 2012. It sets up Oregon for a Pac-12 North Division crown and a potential College Football Playoff berth.
123.23: Taylor Kelly’s passer rating since returning
Arizona State is in control of the Pac-12 South and 2-0 since Kelly returned. However, Kelly is still clearly knocking the dust off after missing three games. He’s completed 32-of-57 passes (56 percent) for 385 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in two wins for a passer rating of 123.23. For the record, the 123.23 rating would be 13th in the Pac-12 this season.
Listen to the Week 10 recap podcast:
273: Arizona St yards per game allowed in last three
After allowing 62 points, 580 yards and 10.0 yards per play in a home loss to UCLA, Arizona State has put the clamps down. Over the last three games — all wins over Stanford, Washington and Utah — Arizona State has allowed just 273 yards per game and just 3.9 yards per play. A defense that was totally rebuilt to start the year has blossomed into one of the more improved units from Week 1 until today. The Sun Devils held Utah to 241 yards on 74 offensive snaps (3.3 ypp).
12.6: Shaq Thompson's yards per touch against Colorado
Chris Petersen needs some offense and Thompson has been the answer. The star linebacker rushed 15 times for 174 yards and a touchdown while catching two passes for 41 yards in the road win over Colorado. For the game, Thompson touched the ball 17 times for 215 yards for a per touch average of 12.6 yards. For the year, he has 412 yards from scrimmage on 49 touches for 8.4 yards per touch.
323.1: Connor Halliday's career yards per game
In one of the sadder stories in college football this weekend, Washington State lost quarterback Connor Halliday for the season and his career with a broken leg. He was averaging 479.1 yards per game entering Week 10 and, had he kept that up, he would have surpassed B.J. Symons for the NCAA single-season passing record. For his career, Halliday will finish with 11,308 yards passing and 90 touchdowns in just 35 games for a per game career average of 323.1 yards passing per game.
12,454: Sean Mannion's Pac-12-best career passing yards
Move over Matt Barkley, there is a new all-time leading passer in Pac-12 history and his team lost to Cal by two touchdowns on Saturday. Sean Mannion has had a difficult season but his 320 yards against the Golden Bears gives him 12,454 yards passing for his career. That number is the best in Pac-12 history, edging Barkley’s record of 12,327.
23-12: Pac-12 road record in league games
This stat might just sit at the bottom of this column for the rest of the season, as the number is starting to become more and more impressive with each passing week. Road teams in the league went 3-3 in Week 10, as Washington (Colorado), Cal (Oregon State) and USC (Washington State) all won as the visiting team. It’s going to be a fascinating metric to track until the end of the year.
CNN. ESPN. Good Morning America. Everywhere you turn this month, NASCAR has jumped to the front page of the news cycle as emotional outbursts have produced two-minute YouTube clips that cause millions of potential fans to pay attention. Don’t confuse it with the Jerry Springer Show; these men were clearly meant to drive, not box, as evidenced by 42-year-old Matt Kenseth’s recent headlock that looked more like playground roughhousing than grown men attempting Friday Night Fights. However, the way in which drivers have gone busy pulling their hair out has been enough to make waves, with catfights crawling NASCAR to at least a temporary share of the sports news cycle with that elephant otherwise known as the NFL.
Up to now those incidents, like the Charlotte pushing-and-shoving between Brad Keselowski and Kenseth, have had limited impact. But Sunday night’s post-race brawl at Texas, where 43-year-old Jeff Gordon left with a bruised upper lip and Keselowski can be seen taking punches, have resulted in high-end visuals posted everywhere from Instagram to some random dude’s Twitter account is causing a whole lot of water cooler talk. A lot of people are busy shaking their heads, gathering information while wondering, “What’s going on? Why is everyone in this sport going crazy … and should I turn on the television to watch the madness?”
Gordon and Keselowski will tell you it’s idiotic emotion runneth over in no uncertain terms, with each driver blaming the other, Judge Judy style. Calling Keselowski a “dipshit” on national television is out of character for Gordon, a four-time champ, but after all it was his car sitting 29th after contact on the penultimate restart that sent him tumbling from the front row into a Texas tailspin. In contrast, Keselowski kept his cool after the race, playing the role of punching bag before calmly explaining his style of racing is derived from role models Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Ayrton Senna, each one of the world’s best. Both, he claimed, did whatever it took to win — and to take this Chase title, you’ve got to make the most of any opening, even if it means bumping fenders and grinding sheet metal, which in this case turned Gordon’s tire into junk.
“A little bit of rubbing is how this sport was created,” he said, using a third-place finish to climb his way back into the title conversation. “And probably how it should move forward. The sport, specifically the driving corps, is stuck in the year 1999, 2000. They race differently than that. That’s their right. But what they want me to be is a loser, and I’m not here to lose.
“I am doing everything I can to win this championship, racing at 100 percent, and that is something I am not going to be ashamed for.”
Quick summary from Keselowski: I need to be aggressive, Gordon wants everyone to play nice, that’s not what the fans want (read: it’s driving them away) nor is it a method where I wind up in Victory Lane. So I’m going to bump the living daylights out of you. Understood? Great. Now let me rough you up on track and hope your own “play nice” moral code keeps you from wrecking me back. Hey, it worked for Earnhardt …
So is Keselowski’s philosophy right? Is slamming sheet metal — regardless of outcome — what’s needed to bring NASCAR a brand new fan base? Depends on who you ask; 43 teams are quickly developing 43 versions of how to treat each other during this Chase. With how you cross the line a moving target, drivers and crewmembers can only agree on just one running theme: NASCAR’s new playoff format has driven the title contenders crazy.
“It’s being played rough,” said Sunday’s runner-up finisher, Kevin Harvick, who also earned the title of “riot instigator” after a simple shove to get Keselowski’s attention after the race. “It’s one of those deals where everybody is trying to get everything they can.”
“There wasn’t a lot of respect out there,” added Chaser Ryan Newman, who survived his own four-wide contact with Kenseth, a tire rub and near-wrecking in traffic to come home 15th. “We saw that before, during, and after the race.”
Clearly, no one’s playing nice anymore, a philosophy that will invoke some sort of emotion from the fans after far too many races this decade have left them falling asleep. How that’ll impact ratings — whether it will cause more hysteria then hatred — is a bit of a mystery. All you can say for certain is with more emotion during this Chase than any other and the final outcome in doubt every lap, it tells me NASCAR will keep this format, clinging to it stubbornly no matter how much the actual ratings decline.
Honestly, with an explosive ending on tap in Homestead, Fla., I think things are poised to get better, not worse. Sports are entertainment after all, and the drama of “good vs. evil” is a much better storyline to hook people than “nice vs. politically correct.” Just ask the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, one of sport’s most righteous yet least popular champions; the NFL, whose sport is derived from people knocking the crap out of one another; or Jimmie Johnson, whose clean-cut image has been synonymous with stock car racing’s decline. It’s a pattern sports fans struggle to admit to but whose cycle clearly repeats itself. Isn’t the NFL doing just fine despite ignorance regarding both domestic violence and on-field head trauma?
NASCAR, whose product and politics have combined to put the sport in peril, is simply saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” To earn the loyalty of the ADD generation, the sanctioning body don’t care about professional respect inside the garage, it just needs to grab peoples’ attention. A four-hour, mostly awful 500-mile race at Texas looks awesome if you see the final 50 laps, two minutes of madness post-race, and the perfect mix of sound bites.
It’s enough to make anyone stop and look. Will the final two weeks of competition, (hopefully) leading to a deserving champion, be enough to have them taking a seat? The future of the sport, gambled heavily on this latest iteration of the Chase, likely depends on it. For better or worse, Brian France’s legacy stands before us: frantic double-file restarts, engineered “Game 7” moments and a ripoff of the Jerry Springer Show.
Wonder what Earnhardt and Senna would think of that?
“Through the Gears” we go …
FIRST GEAR: What happens now?
Take a deep breath and let the dust settle from NASCAR’s biggest brawl in ages. Here’s what we have on paper now heading to Phoenix: the difference between first and eighth in the Cup Series standings is just 18 points. Harvick and Keselowski, once thought to be in “must-win” situations could easily make the final cut, leaping from eighth to fourth with solid, top-5 performances. Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin, tied for the top spot, could slip out with one bad pit stop. It’s a jumbled mess, with no guarantees and a lot of drivers breathing new life.
“A lot happened at the end of this race,” said Harvick, “And we were able to put ourselves back in the hunt.”
A lot? That would be the understatement of the year. Consider that at Texas’ halfway point, Gordon, Kenseth, Logano, Ryan Newman and Harvick were sitting pretty in second through sixth on the pylon. Had the race ended that way — without a record 13 caution flags — there would be a clear separation between top and bottom four. Gordon, Kenseth, Newman and Logano would be on cruise control this week while Hamlin, Harvick, Keselowski and Carl Edwards could have been forced into “win-at-all-costs” mode.
Now, a jumbled series of results leaves everyone with a potential path into the Chase. Add in some ugly emotions from Sunday night’s fight and Phoenix just got more unpredictable than ever.
“We are just going to take this fire that’s inside of us and this momentum,” claimed Gordon. “And we are going to take to Phoenix and win that race.”
What’s unknown is whether Gordon will be fined or docked points for his post-race cuss word on national television along with his role in sparking Sunday’s brouhaha. Penalties won’t be announced until Tuesday at the earliest and could involve anyone from Keselowski to Harvick to even a crewman from Kasey Kahne’s team who was not involved yet inexplicably jumped in the fracas to throw some sucker punches. The last few weeks, NASCAR has been letting most of the post-race fireworks slide, refusing to take away points and resorting to nothing more than fines and probations. My gut says that’s what it’ll do this time, siding with national attention rather than regulating emotions that are bordering on out of control. The sport’s VP on rules, Robin Pemberton, said they’ll look over everything and that “throwing a punch” is what’s over the line. But there’s ways around that definition and it’s unlikely they’ll let a title spot be decided over fisticuffs and/or swearing, like the 25-point deduction for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Victory Lane interview at Talladega a decade ago.
SECOND GEAR: The other side of NASCAR gone crazy: Debris.
Lost in the madness of Sunday’s finish was an inexplicable seven straight cautions for nothing more than debris on the racetrack. While a few of those could be condoned — with drivers like Josh Wise and Kyle Busch smacking the wall shortly before each yellow was thrown — it seemed to be a whole lot of bunching up the field for, well, nothing. Texas had high speeds but a high amount of single-file racing, tires not falling off enough to the point NASCAR officials were seeking any excuse to bunch up the field. The double-file restarts in the end caused their intended chaos but also wreaked of a little manipulation, while teams ran out of tires because of so many yellow-flag stoppages. The endgame scramble resulted in mistakes, like Logano’s team missing lugnuts during a pit stop and several teams switching to scuffs (i.e., used tires) with disastrous results.
“It’s kind of a sad situation when you run out of tires like that,” explained Newman after the race. “I wish NASCAR had given us more tires. When they keep throwing cautions like that that were totally unnecessary, and there’s not debris on the racetrack and no reason to throw it … we need to keep racing. It’s sad to see but that’s the way they’ve been playing it.”
Such outward criticism of NASCAR officials is rare these days and could result in a fine for Newman. But a lot of drivers and fans feel the same way which makes you wonder how Homestead will be handled in two weeks. Could a late, unnecessary “judgment caution” be called for a hot dog wrapper sitting in the middle of the backstretch? Will 36 races and nine months come down to which lane you choose on a green-white-checker finish on a restart? That doesn’t sound like the right way to decide a title, but it’s entirely possible the way things are heading under this format.
THIRD GEAR: Oh, and Jimmie won the race
In the midst of all the chaos, a familiar face straightened out a Chase gone wrong. Jimmie Johnson simply dominated, leading 191 of 341 laps in earning his third straight Texas victory in the fall race. The No. 48 was simply unstoppable, credited to a Homestead test this week where the duo of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus finally found the speed they’d been lacking.
“We really got our car under me like I look for and what I need,” said Johnson. “We brought all those things here, qualified third and won the race. We are back on track. Unfortunately, we didn’t find this stuff a month or two ago but that is the way racing goes.”
Johnson, with a stellar track record at Phoenix could now be counted on to play spoiler down the stretch. If anything, their sudden burst of speed could be helpful to the lone Hendrick Motorsports driver remaining in the Chase, Gordon, who’s earned an average finish of 25.3 in the last three Phoenix fall events.
FOURTH GEAR: A future force to be reckoned with?
Sunday marked the debut of Tony Gibson on top of the pit box for Kurt Busch. After serving as Danica Patrick’s mastermind, for the better part of two years in Cup the head wrench, who has years of valuable experience, immediately brought a spark to the No. 41. Busch qualified fourth, was competitive all day (leading 15 laps) and finished a strong eighth.
“A great first day,” said Busch. “I love the team; I love the guys. We are going to be good. We just have to work out the details.”
Compare that to Danica Patrick who is now paired with Busch’s former crew chief Daniel Knost. The No. 10 team suffered through a Texas nightmare. Outside the top 30 for much of the event, she eventually wrecked the car, losing nine laps and struggled to 36th. It’s the third straight crash for a driver who’s suddenly forced to take a step back while Stewart-Haas Racing refocuses on Busch, sponsored by co-owner Gene Haas’ company Haas Automation. Looks like it pays to get backed by the right people.
Kyle Busch, who was fourth Sunday, nearly pulled off a Texas trifecta after winning both the Truck and Nationwide series races over the course of the weekend. Busch now has a NASCAR record 70 Nationwide Series victories and earned the 100th for parent company Joe Gibbs Racing. … Elliott Sadler’s move to Roush Fenway Racing in the Nationwide Series beginning in 2015 has some Sprint Cup implications. RFR would eventually like to expand back to four cars at the premier level and sponsor OneMain Financial has the cash reserves to move up over time. It was the right move for Sadler, whose tenure at JGR never resulted in a promotion to its new Cup ride. That goes to Carl Edwards beginning in 2015. … Qualifying speeds of over 200 mph at Texas are a clear indicator that these cars are simply running too fast. NASCAR is looking to slow them down with a new rules package, hoping slower speeds might lead to sustained side-by-side competition.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
“We love the guys we have in the program,” Kruger says. “They’re a group that is easy to watch and fun to cheer for from a Sooner fan perspective.”
And it’s a group that’s contributed to steady progress, with four starters returning, including leading scorer Buddy Hield, from last season’s 23–10 squad that finished second in the Big 12.
Still, true progress is measured in NCAA Tournament wins. And while OU has earned its way into the bracket the past two years, they’ve exited quickly, sticking around for just one game each time.
“I like where we’re at,” Kruger says. “Always like to be further along and further ahead. We’ve got to keep working at it. We’ve got to keep making progress. I think we’ve got young guys in the program now that understand that.”
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Ryan Spangler needs help. And whether or not he gets it could swing the Sooners ahead — or hold them back. At 6-8, Spangler is best suited for a power forward role, as a face-up shooter with versatile skills. Forced to play center a year ago, he faced a grind that took a physical toll and frequently landed him in foul trouble. Still, he averaged 9.6 points and a team-high 9.3 rebounds, shooting 58.4 percent from the floor — numbers that could easily expand under less stress.
The ideal hope for help lies with the NCAA’s ruling on transfer TaShawn Thomas, who is seeking a waiver in the wake of a coaching change at his former school, Houston. Thomas, a 6-8, 240-pounder with the body to play the post, led the Cougars with 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game and ranked No. 14 nationally with a 59.1 field goal percentage. A tandem of Spangler and Thomas would be formidable.
If Thomas fails in his appeal, the Sooners could be scrambling. Veteran D.J. Bennett is a solid defender and shot-blocker, but is limited offensively. C.J. Cole is a sophomore who has been slow to assert himself. Dante Buford is the most advanced of a promising group of freshmen, yet packs just 208 pounds on his 6-7 frame.
Oklahoma Sooners Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-10, 12-6 Big 12
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 2
Coach: Lon Kruger (58-38 at Oklahoma, 28-26 Big 12)
Big 12 Projection: Fourth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
The Sooners are loaded at the guard spots, despite Je’lon Hornbeak’s exit in search of more playing time at Monmouth.
Hield emerged as one of the Big 12’s best, averaging 16.5 points and leading the team with 90 3-pointers in his sophomore season. And Kruger believes Hield can do even more by meshing the attacking style he displayed as a freshman with the catch-and-shoot skills seen in his second season.
“That combination of the two years, where he’s attacking more, although we want him to keep shooting it well,” Kruger says. “We’d want him to get back to attacking the paint and finishing at the free throw line, if not the rim.”
Jordan Woodard seized the point guard spot as a freshman a year ago, starting every game and leading the team in assists (4.6 apg) while scoring at a 10.3 clip. He also proved fearless, taking and making several big shots late in games.
Isaiah Cousins also returns as a starter, having survived a scary situation after an errant gunshot lodged in the back of his shoulder. A full recovery is expected.
Junior college transfer Dinjiyl Walker can play either guard spot and is being counted on to backup Woodard at the point after Hornbeak’s departure. Frank Booker gave the Sooners a boost off the bench a year ago, when he hit 36.8 percent from 3-point range. He could see his role increase.
After consecutive seasons of going one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament, last season as a favorite, the Sooners are yearning for more — much more. The reality of taking the next step is tied to beefing up production in the paint.
The guards are good, among the league’s best as a group. Yet if the Sooners can’t find balance, and Spangler remains out of position, their postseason potential will be limited again.
“We’ve been to the tournament now a couple of years,” Kruger says. “Now we want to go farther in the tournament and win games in the tournament. That’s the challenge that lies ahead.”
TaShawn Thomas started 96 career games at Houston, averaging 14.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots over three seasons. He’ll be a major addition to the frontcourt if he’s granted immediate eligibility. Dante Buford could be asked to contribute immediately up front. A home school star in Houston, Khadeem Lattin is a skilled big man who could be a future star. Jamuni McNeace is a bit of a project who needs to bulk up.
For a coach who promotes daily competition, the end of last season was difficult on Bruce Weber. Though Kansas State made it back to the NCAA Tournament, its roster wasn’t healthy enough to properly prepare for the postseason.
“We couldn’t go five-on-five that last month because we didn’t have any of our big guys,” Weber says. “They played in games, but they didn’t practice. Our scout squad got a lot of action.”
The result: A 20-win season that exceeded most expectations ended with a whimper. The Wildcats lost their final four games, including a 56–49 setback to Kentucky in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament.
A better fate is expected this season. Marcus Foster, Wesley Iwundu, Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams form a talented nucleus. And a group of promising newcomers, led by Maine transfer Justin Edwards and freshman Malek Harris, appears poised to replace the loss of only one full-time starter.
“The best thing is the competitiveness of it all,” Weber says. “They have to come every day and earn minutes. If they aren’t working in practice, there is somebody else there. We didn’t have that last year.”
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K-State will have a new — and bigger — look inside. Instead of spreading the floor with four guards with Gipson down on the block all by himself, the Wildcats will use multiple big men this season. Gipson, who averaged 11.7 points and led the team in both rebounding (6.5 rpg) and field goal shooting (.562), will remain the leader of the group, but he will have much more support and the freedom to play both power forward and center.
Stephen Hurt, a highly regarded junior college transfer, and Georgetown transfer Brandon Bolden will add much-needed size. Hurt had a promising start to his college career at Lipscomb, and the 6-11, 260-pounder is eager to return to Division I action after a stop at Northwestern Florida State College. Bolden hasn’t scored in a live game since high school, but the 6-11 shot-blocker will bring both athleticism and defense to the floor.
Williams, an undersized power forward, had some big moments last year, including 15 points in a win over Oklahoma State and 20 points in an overtime loss to Baylor. Reserve forward/center D.J. Johnson will also try to build on his promising finish to his sophomore season.
Kansas State Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-13, 10-8 Big 12
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 5
Coach: Bruce Weber (47-21 at Kansas State, 10-8 Big 12)
Big 12 Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
Foster was one of the biggest surprises in college basketball last season. A lightly regarded recruit, the Texas native emerged as Kansas State’s No. 1 option on offense as a freshman and led the team with a 15.5-point average.
Don’t be surprised, however, if Edwards becomes the Wildcats’ leading scorer this season. The 6-4 Canadian, regarded as an outstanding athlete and a prodigious dunker, averaged 16.7 points as a sophomore at Maine two years ago. On the flip side, he only shot 27.3 percent from 3-point range and averaged 4.0 turnovers.
Foster and Edwards are natural shooting guards, which could make it tough to play them both at the same time for long stretches without a true point guard on the court. Foster has worked hard on his ball-handling in the offseason in an effort to help Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas at the point.
Iwundu and Harris, both 6-7, will both play significant minutes. Iwundu started in 32 games as a freshman and scored in double figures on eight occasions. Harris was a top-100 national recruit who might also see time at the 4.
Kansas State hasn’t advanced past the NCAA Tournament’s round of 64 since 2012 and hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2010. Both those streaks could come to an end this season if things fall into place. The Wildcats have talent, depth and versatility. That combination doesn’t always add up to success. Team chemistry is never a given, and adjusting to new lineups can be difficult.
Still, K-State has a roster ready to compete for a Big 12 championship and to win in March.
“It’s going to be about coming together,” Foster says. “Everybody is so good. All of these guys have already played college basketball before. We won’t be going through a learning experience like we did last year. It will just be about meshing as a team.”
Justin Edwards, a Maine transfer, was a star in practice last year. Brandon Bolden, a 6-11 Georgetown transfer, is already ready to contribute after a year off. Junior college transfer Stephen Hurt will provide much-needed size, while freshman guard Tre Harris should help as a shooter. Malek Harris, a late addition, is the highest-rated recruit Bruce Weber has signed since coming to K-State.
Kansas has won at least a share of 10 consecutive Big 12 titles, but the league is anything but dull even if the Jayhawks manage to win the conference title every season.
The 10-team league produced seven NCAA Tournament teams last season, and every team in the league besides TCU was a threat on a nightly basis.
Asking the Big 12 to replicate that kind of balance and consistent entertainment will be tough, but this league will try.
At the top, Kansas reloads as usual with freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre stepping in for Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. The Jayhawks should have a bona fide challenger in Texas, which adds five-star freshman Myles Turner to a core that saved Rick Barnes’ job a year ago.
Iowa State brings in a handful of impact transfers as again, and Oklahoma and Kansas State figure to be factors under veteran coaches Lon Kruger and Bruce Weber.
The league’s depth from last season will be tested, though, as Baylor and Oklahoma State figure to take steps back after losing key personnel.
Previews of every Big 12 team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
2014-15 Big 12 Predictions
1. Kansas (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
Even without Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, the Jayhawks are Big 12 favorites … again. It’s Perry Ellis’ time to shine.
2. Texas (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Only a year removed from the hot seat, Rick Barnes has a contender in Austin. Isaiah Taylor is a star.
3. Iowa State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The Cyclones lost two of the Big 12’s top five players in DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim but welcome back Georges Niang.
4. Oklahoma (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
Buddy Hield emerged as a star during his sophomore season and should be even better this year.
5. Kansas State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
When Marcus Foster is on, the Wildcats are good enough to beat anyone in the league.
Postseason projection: NIT
Redshirt freshman Johnathan Motley has to come up big for the Bears down low.
7. Oklahoma State
Postseason projection: NIT
Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte are studs, but will that be enough to make the NCAA Tournament?
8. West Virginia
Postseason projection: NIT
A rash of offseason defections will hurt the Mountaineers, but Bob Huggins did a nice job reloading.
The Horned Frogs were winless in the Big 12 last season; they won’t be in 2014-15.
10. Texas Tech
Getting players to Lubbock — and keeping them there — has been tough for Tubby Smith.
2014-15 Big 12 Superlatives
2014-15 Big 12 Superlatives
Player of the Year: Perry Ellis, Kansas
Lost in the talk of two of the top three NBA draft picks (Wiggins and Embiid) was the play of Ellis, who delivered on a breakout season. Ellis averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds last season and should be in position to pace the Jayhawks again.
Best Defensive Player: Cameron Ridley, Texas
The 6-9, 285-pound Ridley enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore, averaging 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds. He’s been a force around the rim with 2.2 blocks per game.
Most Underrated Player: Monté Morris, Iowa State
Morris finished last season with 134 assists to only 28 turnovers. Not bad for a freshman.
Newcomer of the Year: Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Ellis has offensive versatility. Alexander will team with him in the Kansas frontcourt with a physical presence in the paint.
Top Coach: Bill Self, Kansas (full Big 12 coach rankings)
First-team All-Big 12
G Juwan Staten, West Virginia
G Marcus Foster, Kansas State
G Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
F Georges Niang, Iowa State
F Perry Ellis, Kansas
Second-team All-Big 12
G Isaiah Taylor, Texas
G Kenny Chery, Baylor
G/F Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
F Cliff Alexander, Kansas
F Jonathan Holmes, Texas
Third-team All-Big 12
G Kelly Oubre, Kansas
G Phil Forte, Oklahoma State
G Wayne Selden, Kansas
F Thomas Gipson, Kansas State
C Cameron Ridley, Texas
Tuesday marks the beginning of the MLB Free Agency signing period. Here is a list of the most interesting available free agents that are on the baseball market and where they might end up for the 2015 season.
Ever since Lester was traded to the A’s in July, the talk of him being on the North side of Chicago immediately began to gain traction — and it makes sense. Lester is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and he’s never shown signs of fatigue or had a significant injury, which makes him all but guaranteed to get a well-deserved big pay day this winter. The Cubs definitely make sense. Theo Epstein has been very forthcoming acknowledging that the Cubs are in the market for a number one pitcher after dealing away 40 percent of their rotation the past couple of seasons for top prospects. The Cubs are in a position to make a splash, and Lester is a heck of a good fit in Cubby blue. Long shots could include the Red Sox and maybe the Mets and Tigers. Boston has already acknowledged they plan to meet with Lester, while the Mets are looking to build upon the return of Matt Harvey, and the Tigers could be bracing themselves for the loss of Max Scherzer.
Possible teams: Cubs, Red Sox, Mets, Tigers
Shields is the third-best available starting pitcher on the market following Lester and Max Scherzer, but will still command a large contract for more than three years. If Shields plays his cards right, sees where Lester or Scherzer go first, he could end up in a fantastic spot with a fat amount of cash in his pocket. Shields has the same possible suitors as Lester and Scherzer with maybe a few lesser teams in the mix, assuming his contract will be worth less than the other aces. Shields is 33, two and three years older than Lester and Scherzer, so his contract will be less in terms of years. Look for the Rangers, Dodgers, and Braves to be in the mix for Big Game James.
Possible teams: Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Braves, Mets, Rangers, Tigers
Cuddyer spent the past three seasons in Colorado, where he put up career numbers in 2013 (.331/.389/.530 20 HR, 84 RBI, .919 OPS). The issue is that Cuddyer will be 36 going into next season, and he has had a history of injuries that limited him to just 49 games this past season in Colorado. He is a very solid bat and can play outfield, third or first base. But since he is creeping up in age, look for him to sign a deal in the two- to three-year range being a DH in the American or playing first, with an outside shot at playing outfield.
Possible teams: Mets, Oakland, Rangers, Mariners
The Tigers have already made a $15.3 million qualifying offer to Martinez, who had a career year in 2014 (.335/.409/.565 32 HR, 103 RBI, 33 2B, 42 SO,.979 OPS). The 35-year-old very well could make more on the open market, but my gut says Detroit will pony up a few extra mil a year to keep the switch-hitting Swiss army knife defender. Martinez will be probably be offered a three-year deal worth almost $18 mil per year.
Possible teams: Tigers
Morse very well could end up staying in San Francisco, but I kind of doubt it. Morse spent most of last season in left field for the Giants but also saw time playing first base. Morse has pop but also is a little strikeout-prone. He is the kind of player the Yankees love to overpay for, but in that tiny ballpark, Morse could be a monster. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Giants or go to the Bronx, Morse would be a welcome fit for other AL East teams like the Red Sox or Orioles, who are both looking for more pop in their lineup. If the O’s aren't able to resign Nelson Cruz, look for them to make a serious run at Morse.
Possible teams: Giants, Yankees, Red Sox, Mariners, Orioles
The Nationals declined their team option on LaRoche after it became pretty clear that Ryan Zimmerman was going to be the club’s first baseman for the foreseeable future. LaRoche is a decent enough bat that he could stay in the NL, maybe with the Pirates or Marlins, who may want to upgrade at first base. I think he would be a great fit for the Mariners as a DH, not too expensive, probably $10 million a year for two or three years, and decent protection for Robinson Cano.
Possible teams: Mariners, Pirates, Marlins
Weeks still hasn't blossomed into the player that many thought he could become, a perennial All-Star. The Brewers declined his $11.3 million club option this past week, making Weeks a free agent. It is safe to say that Weeks will not get anything near the $11 mil he was making in Milwaukee, especially since he saw his role diminish over the course of the season. Weeks needs a new scene with a team that doesn't have the pressure to make the postseason, and where he isn’t a main lineup option.
Possible teams: Rockies, Rays, Diamondbacks
When Hanley is healthy, he is one of the best shortstops in the game. The problem is, Hanley is hardly ever healthy. Hanley is very likely to be overpaid this coming season by a team looking to make a splash, and if he is healthy, he could be absolutely worth it. My best guess is that teams would be willing to offer him a short-term deal north of $12 mil per season with the option of signing him long term if he produces. Hanley has shown in the past that he is capable of hitting well over .300 with some pop, hitting at least 20 homers in six seasons, all while playing fairly solid defense. Hanley very well could stay in LA, but I think it is a long shot. There is a team on the other side of the country looking to replace its long-time shortstop, and it's a team in desperate need of offense. Could Hanley end up in pinstripes?
Possible teams: Yankees, Dodgers, Mets
McGehee, the NL Comeback Player of the Year, is in line for a nice contract after his 2014 career year. The 32-year-old McGehee would be a nice, not-too-expensive fit for the Mariners to knock in the runs they so desperately need to compete in the AL West. McGehee might actually be the third baseman that the Yankees have been longing for, assuming A-Rod and Chase Headley won’t be on the roster come 2015. If the Miami Marlins were smart (they aren’t), they would make McGehee an offer he couldn't refuse, keeping him at the hot corner for the next several years while the team continues to improve.
Possible teams: Mariners, Yankees, Marlins
The Panda has said that he wants to stay in San Francisco where he has made his home and earned three World Series titles in five seasons. But Sandoval is said to be seeking a $100 million contract, something he may find somewhere other than the City by the Bay. Sandoval is a very capable switch-hitting third baseman who always shows up in the postseason. In the past, there have been questions involving his physical conditioning and physique, but there hasn’t been a single negative report about his attitude. His teammates love playing with him. We’ve mentioned how the Yankees love to over pay their free agents, and Panda might just find himself playing in the Bronx next summer. Pablo could also end up playing third for the Yank’s biggest rival, the Boston Red Sox or other AL contenders such as the Tigers or Mariners. The off the wall idea of Sandoval in a Rangers uniform isn't all that crazy, assuming that Prince Fielder will be strictly a DH next season, as long as Sandoval is willing to switch positions to play first. If the Marlins want to make a significant push towards next October, they very well may make a run at Sandoval as well.
Possible teams: Giants, Rangers, Marlins, Yankees, Red Sox
Martin will be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market come Tuesday. Billy Beane and the A’s have hinted that they may be in the market for a more well-rounded bat to add to their sink-or-swim lineup and may go after Martin. The Cubs seem to be the consensus as Martin’s top option as it is very unlikely that the Pirates will re-sign the catcher. Martin would be the veteran bat the Cubs need to guide younger hitters and also be a clubhouse leader under new manager Joe Maddon. Also, the Dodgers, not afraid to write checks, could make a run for their former backstop to bring up the .181 batting average their catchers posted this past season.
Possible teams: Cubs, A’s, Dodgers
The other catcher who will be on teams’ radars in the coming days is former NL Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto. Soto finished up last season with the Oakland As and is likely to go elsewhere. Originally seen as a solid hitter with higher than average power for a catcher, Soto could find himself replacing Russell Martin in Pittsburgh or Miguel Montero in Arizona. Either would be a nice fit for Soto if he can sign a deal north of two years.
Possible teams: Pirates, Diamondbacks
The World Series runners-up, the Kansas City Royals have denied the $12.5 million dollar option on their longest-tenured player, Billy Butler. It is highly improbable that Butler finds a long term deal with a team willing to pay him north of $10 mil a season. He may have to settle for a one- or two-year deal coming in around $8 mil. The other question is whether teams will want Butler to play first or DH? Due to the emergence of Eric Hosmer the past few seasons, Butler saw his play at first diminish, only seeing the field 37 times this past season. Butler could be a cheaper DH option for the A’s, White Sox and Mariners, or a first base option for the Rangers. Butler, only 28 years old, could see himself in the National League, playing in Pittsburgh or Miami as both teams look to improve upon their first base conundrums.
Possible teams: A’s, White Sox, Mariners, Rangers, Pirates, Marlins
Cruz was the steal of free agency last winter as he signed with the Orioles for just $8 million on a one-year deal. This offseason will see the price for Cruz’s services increase after he led all of baseball with 40 home runs. The Orioles are in a position where they can offer Cruz just enough money to be their DH for the long term, especially since teams may be wary of Cruz’s age (34), his inability to stay healthy for long stretches, and the thought of losing a top draft pick because of his potential qualifying offer. On the flip side, teams are desperate for power and will be happy to overpay for 35-plus homers a season for the next three to four years.
Possible teams: Orioles, White Sox, Mariners, Yankees
The Baltimore Orioles declined Markakis’ $17.5 mutual option for 2015, and probably rightfully so. Rumors have been swirling around the past couple of days that the Orioles are working on a deal to retain their long term right fielder, which is a good idea for both parties. The O’s would have trouble finding an outfielder that can play good enough defense while also chipping in offensively, maybe Nori Aoki, but he doesn't fit in with the power-first approach of Buck Showalter’s offense. If Baltimore and Markakis can’t reach a deal for the 30-year-old’s services, he may find himself on a less talented team that is looking for a veteran to help younger players develop.
Possible teams: Orioles, White Sox, Twins, Royals, Mets,
The Texas Rangers declined Rios' $13.5 million option, making the veteran outfielder a free agent. Rios responded by hiring baseball super agent Scott Boras to be his representative. Early rumors have the Mets as the frontrunners to sign Rios, but after last year’s signing of Curtis Granderson, I doubt that they Mets will be willing to sign another veteran outfielder with declining numbers. The Cincinnati Reds may be a nice fit for Rios on a one- or two-year deal. The Reds struggled to put up runs with the long term losses of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips, and Rios may find another power surge in Great American Ball Park, where everyone is a power threat.
Possible teams: Mets, Reds, Tigers
Max Scherzer could very well end up in right where he is at, in Detroit. Scherzer may have the best chance of winning a World Series in the next couple of seasons if he stays in the Motor City, as long as he gets some help in the bullpen. Mad Max could sign a two-year contract, see how things pan out in Detroit, and be a free agent again in two seasons at the age of 32, or be traded before hand to a contender if things aren't going to plan. Really, the baseball world is Scherzer’s oyster, but he stands to make the most money if he hits the open market.
Possible teams: Tigers, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, Rangers
No doubt about it, Jake Peavy can still pitch. Peavy didn't have his best stuff in the Giants' last World Series title run, but he was a big reason why the Giants were even in the postseason after he was traded during Ben Cherington’s July housecleaning-slash-rebuilding project in Boston. The 33-year-old hurler will command at least a two-year deal as a top-of-the-rotation-type guy, but it won't be to be anyone’s ace. Much like previous pitchers mentioned on this list, Peavy could be a nice fit for the Cubs or Red Sox pitching staff. Or, Peavy could find himself in Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Oakland, Miami, or LA, as a very solid number two pitcher. The Yankees have been pretty adamant that they aren’t going to go after a top-of-the-line ace, but I think Peavy could be a target as a number two or three man in their rotation after Tanaka and Pineda. A wild card team could be the Blue Jays after their starting pitching was so lackluster this past season.
Possible teams: Blue Jays, Giants, Yankees, Cubs, Rangers, Marlins, Braves, Pirates, Reds, Royals, A’s
Justin Masterson, Edinson Volquez, Brandon Morrow
Much like Jake Peavy, Masterson, Volquez, and Morrow should wind up a contending team’s roster as at least a mid-rotation starting pitcher.
If Cleveland was smart, they would lock up Masterson to a multi-year contract. They are just a few pieces away from really putting together a contending team for the next couple of seasons. But potential suitors will be looking to sign Masterson, who is only 29, to a long-term deal to make him a possible number two starter.
Volquez will be looking for big money after resurrecting his career in Pittsburgh. Volquez could sign for more than he is worth to a team looking to make a big move. Volquez’s winter will be one of the more interesting ones in terms of available free agents. I can definitely see a team like the Braves or the Yankees forking over $90 million to Volquez to be a shutdown pitcher, and it completely backfiring. Buyer beware with Edinson Volquez.
Brandon Morrow was supposed to be the Blue Jays ace that never was. After several impressive seasons north of the border, the Jays have decided to pick up the vet’s $10 million option. Morrow’s winter will be another intersting one, as many teams will be timid to offer the 30-year-old a long-term deal after he made just 16 starts in the past two seasons due to injury.
All three of these pitchers will be in contact with many of the same clubs.
Possible teams for all three: Brewers, Cubs, Red Sox, A’s, Braves, Dodgers, Angels, Yankees, Indians, Royals, Rangers, Marlins, Mets
By Jake Rose
Teams on opposite sides of a bye will wrap up Week 9 in the NFL when the Indianapolis Colts take on the New York Giants on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The Colts (5-3) are looking to bounce back from last week’s 51-34 thrashing to the Steelers and head into their Week 10 bye on a winning note. The Giants (3-4) are coming off of their bye in search of a strong start, as they prepare for the toughest stretch of their schedule. After tonight’s game, Tom Coughlin’s team will travel to Seattle followed by home games against San Francisco and NFC East foe Dallas.
Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Indianapolis -3.5
Three Things to Watch
|Indianapolis 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||vs BAL||W 20 - 13||Recap|
|10/9||@ HOU||W 33 - 28||Recap|
|10/19||vs CIN||W 27 - 0||Recap|
|10/26||@ PIT||L 34 - 51||Recap|
|11/3||@ NYG||W 40 - 24||Recap|
|11/16||vs NE||L 20 - 42||Recap|
|11/23||vs JAC||W 23 - 3||Recap|
|11/30||vs WAS||W 49 - 27||Recap|
1. Andrew Luck Takes a Bite Out of the Big Apple?
In his third season as Indianapolis’ starting quarterback, Luck has established himself as not only one of the best signal-callers in the NFL, but also a likely MVP contender for years to come. The No.1 overall pick of the 2012 draft, Luck has taken the mantle of Colts QB from Peyton Manning and run with it. Luck enter this game just two touchdown passes behind his predecessor for the league lead (24) and he’s No. 1 by himself in passing yards (2,731). This will be his first game against the Giants, but his second time playing in New York. In his rookie season, Luck and the Colts lost 35-9 to the Jets in a game in which he completed half of his passes (22-of-44) for 280 yards, no scores and two interceptions. Luck obviously has come a long way since that game, as the Colts went on to make the playoffs that season and won the AFC South in 2013. And even though this will be Luck’s second game on the biggest regular-season stage the NFL has to offer, he will be more focused on helping his team bounce back from last week’s rather than what’s going on around him. Still, it should be a post-Halloween treat of sorts for a national primetime audience get to see one of the game’s brightest stars ply his trade tonight.
|New York (NFC) 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||vs ATL||W 30 - 20||Recap|
|10/12||@ PHI||L 0 - 27||Recap|
|10/19||@ DAL||L 21 - 31||Recap|
|11/3||vs IND||L 24 - 40||Recap|
|11/9||@ SEA||L 17 - 38||Recap|
|11/16||vs SF||L 10 - 16||Recap|
|11/23||vs DAL||L 28 - 31||Recap|
|11/30||@ JAC||L 24 - 25||Recap|
2. Giant-sized Effort from New York’s O-line?
New York opened its season with two straight losses before winning three straight. The Giants then dropped their next two and are now hoping to end that streak coming out of their bye. For that to happen tonight, the offensive line will need do its job, not only in pass protection, but also in opening up holes for the running game. Eli Manning has been sacked 13 times this season, with 10 of those coming in the team’s four losses. What’s more, in the four losses the Giants have averaged just 3.3 yards per carry compared to 4.1 in their three wins. To be fair, it’s not just on the offensive line alone, as it did not give up a single sack to Dallas in New York’s last game after coughing up eight in a 27-0 loss to Philadelphia in Week 6. The ground attack took a big hit when Rashad Jennings injured his knee against Atlanta in Week 5. He won’t play tonight, meaning it will be up to fourth-round pick Andre Williams and Peyton Hillis to carry the load. Combined this duo is averaging 3.4 yards per carry. But it all starts up front, as the offensive line needs to give the backs space to run and Manning time to throw, especially against an Indianapolis defense that gave up 522 yards passing and six touchdowns to Ben Roethlisberger last week.
3. Week 8 Hangover Effect for Colts’ D?
Indianapolis’ defense is coming off of by far its worst showing of the season and then some. The Colts gave up 51 points and 639 yards of offense to Pittsburgh last week. Before then the most points they had allowed were 31 to Denver in the season opener and the most yards were 458 to Philadelphia the following week. What’s more surprising about what took place in Pittsburgh last week was the fact Indianapolis had just shut out Cincinnati and held the Bengals to 135 total yards the previous game. Whether it’s the difference between playing at home or on the road is up for debate, but if the Colts want to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender they know they need to tighten up things defensively. The good news is that some help is on the way in the form of starting free safety LaRon Landry, who is set to return after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Landry’s return means Indianapolis’ secondary should be back to full strength as Vontae Davis, who left last week’s game early with a knee injury, is expected to be out there tonight too. As well as the Colts have played, passing defense (252.9 ypg) has been a bit of an issue. Granted, Big Ben and the Steelers are responsible for quite a bit of the damage, but Indianapolis’ defense can’t dwell on the past and must focus on the task that lies ahead of them tonight. Will Eli Manning and the Giants find similar success through the air or will the Colts’ D rise to the occasion in the “Monday Night Football” spotlight?
Indianapolis is still reeling from last week’s beatdown in Pittsburgh, while New York is rested coming off of its bye. However, the Giants won’t be at full strength with running back Rashad Jennings sidelined with a knee injury, which already puts them at a disadvantage against the NFL’s No. 1 offense. Even in the Colts’ three losses, Andrew Luck has played well and has shown he’s capable of carrying his team on his shoulders. Eli Manning has done that in the past, but he just hasn’t been able to perform that same kind of magic this season, as the Giants’ best games have come when they have run the ball successfully. Jennings’ absence has taken the starch out of this running game and I think it makes New York’s offense too one-dimensional. The Giants put up a fight at home, but the Colts still have Luck on their side and that will be enough to win tonight.
Prediction: Indianapolis 27, New York 24
Time to sort through the contenders and the pretenders in the College Football Playoff race.
Certainly, the top teams in the mix have challenges ahead of them for the remainder of the season, but this will be a critical week for teams ranked fifth and lower.
Start with the Big Ten: Michigan State and Ohio State have recovered from Week 2 losses to set up the game of the year in the Big Ten in East Lansing.
Kansas State and TCU meet in a matchup to become the Big 12’s best representative for the playoff while Baylor and Oklahoma are fighting for survival.
Arizona State and Notre Dame will meet in Tempe in a matchup of one-loss teams looking for a signature win to boost themselves into the playoff conversation.
Not that Alabama needs much help to get attention, but the Crimson Tide begin a critical stretch that includes LSU on the road and Mississippi State and Auburn at home.
The Week Ahead: Nov. 8
All times Eastern. All games Saturday.
Kansas State at TCU
When and where: 7:30 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... we’re happy to be along for the ride in potentially magical seasons for Kansas State and TCU. The winner of this game is in position to crash the SEC/Florida State/Oregon playoff party. TCU is two weeks removed from hanging 82 on Texas Tech, but the Horned Frogs can still win on defense. The D saved an inconsistent performance in Morgantown by forcing five West Virginia turnovers and holding the Mountaineers’ offense to 162 passing yards. TCU’s offense will be tested by a Kansas State defense that clamped down on Texas and Oklahoma State for a total of one offensive touchdown in the last two weeks. Neither opponent topped 200 yards passing.
Vegas says: TCU by 5
Listen to the Week 10 recap podcast:
Baylor at Oklahoma
When and where: Noon, Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... the preseason Big 12 favorites are relegated to undercard status. The two teams won their Week 10 matchups by combined scores of 119-28 over a pair of teams winless in conference (Iowa State and Kansas). The question is if any of this is too little too late for a two-loss Oklahoma and a one-loss Baylor with few major non-conference wins. Beyond the playoff, the loser of this game may find itself relegated to a second-tier bowl game.
Vegas says: Oklahoma by 4 1/2
Notre Dame at Arizona State
When and where: 3:30 p.m., NBC
We’re watching because... Arizona State may be the Pac-12 South favorite, and Notre Dame has yet to prove playoff-worthy. The Sun Devils have defied the odds all season: First, starting quarterback Taylor Kelly was lost for three games due to injury. And second, a rebuilt defense has become one of the best in the league. Heading into the game against Notre Dame, Kelly has returned to action (though he’s been unspectacular), and the Sun Devils’ defense has allowed two offensive touchdowns in the last three games against Stanford, Washington and Utah. Notre Dame’s Everett Golson will lead the best offense ASU has seen in a month. The selection committee isn’t convinced Notre Dame is playoff worthy yet, but this would be the perfect time to prove it.
Vegas says: Arizona State by 1
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... this will have the feel of a Big Ten championship game. The Spartans and Buckeyes are the top two teams in the conference (thought Nebraska may attempt to object). Michigan State swiped Big Ten dominance from Ohio State last season with a 34-24 championship game win and a victory in the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes could get revenge by knocking the Spartans out of the Big Ten East and playoff races in a single game. This game has all the signs for a powerhouse matchup as neither team has faltered since their Week 2 losses.
Vegas says: Michigan State by 1 1/2
Alabama at LSU
When and where: 8 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... Alabama takes its final road trip of the season. That’s right, the Crimson Tide won’t play a road game after Nov. 8 after not playing on the road until Oct. 4. That’s some fortunate scheduling, but LSU is better in November than it was at the start of October. After a loss to Ole Miss and a scare against Arkansas, Alabama’s offense is back to its early season form, albeit against Texas A&M and Tennessee. Meanwhile, LSU is starting to look like LSU. In wins over Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss, the Tigers are allowing 4.4 yards per play with three total offensive touchdowns. LSU also is averaging 254 rushing yards on 52 carries per game during that span.
Vegas says: Alabama by 6 1/2
Talk Back on U-verse Game of the Week: Florida at Vanderbilt
Each week, AT&T U-verse and Athlon Sports will host a live interactive experience for an SEC game in which two greats from each school will take fan questions live throughout the game.
This week, former Florida quarterback Rex Grossman and former Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson will join Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta for the fun.
Visit att.com/talkback during Florida-Vanderbilt to watch the game with us.
When and where: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
We’re watching because... Florida may be worth watching again. The Gators’ 38-20 win over Georgia might not be enough to save Will Muschamp’s job, but it at least makes the Gators a more interesting team down the stretch. The Gators rushed for 445 yards against Georgia in the first start for freshman quarterback Treon Harris. For all of Florida’s struggles, the Gators should be a bowl team this season a year after finishing 4-8. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is just looking to pick up any kind of meaningful win. The Commodores’ victories this year are over UMass, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion.
Vegas says: Florida by 14 1/2
Monday: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies, 8:00 PM ET
Anthony Davis is the future of NBA big men — an insanely long, multi-skilled player with enough athleticism and speed to both protect your rim and slash to it to score from deep on the perimeter. But the Grizzlies’ bashing interior of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol know more than enough tricks to slow the third-year sensation down, along with his new front court partner Omer Asik. Tune in for the showdown between two of the best big man combos in basketball.
Tuesday: Cleveland Cavaliers at Portland Trail Blazers, 10:00 PM ET
LeBron’s traveling circus continues Tuesday as he and his Cavs travel to take on one of last year’s surprise playoff contenders in the West. Buried beneath the constant hype of James will be a couple of compelling match-ups — those between Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving, two of the most dynamic point guards around, and Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge, two devastating stretch-four power forwards.
Wednesday: Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors, 10:30 PM ET
These teams don’t like each other. They brawled last Christmas, and there’s usually some sort of altercation between the squads when they play. The Warriors will be out for revenge after a bitter seven-game series loss to the Clippers in last year’s postseason.
Thursday: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets, 7:30 PM ET
Texas supremacy will hang in the balance Thursday as Dwight Howard, James Harden and Co. continue their chip-on-your-shoulder campaign against the defending champions. San Antonio’s high-powered motion offense should put the Rockets’ new-look defense to the test.
Friday: Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors, 7:30 PM ET
Paul Pierce loves to put down the young ones, as he did in last year’s seven-game series defeat of the Toronto Raptors, in the postseason’s first round. Now Pierce is a Wizard, not a Net, and he looks to be cherishing the role of sage, trash-talking enforcer for young point guard John Wall. Look for Pierce to play vicious Raptor head games in this telling Eastern Conference battle.
— John Wilmes
Hosts Braden Gall and David Fox recap all of Week 10's action in college football. This week's edition features press conference conflict, poorly timed tweets, upsets in the SEC, isuses at Florida and Michigan as well as lots of Big 12 and SEC West talk. The fellas also give you their post-Week 10 playoff poll as well.
With Mike Leach at the helm of the Washington State program, a few things are sure to be certain. The Cougars will be a pass-heavy offensive team with little to work with on defense. With the nation’s number one passing offense piling up huge numbers this season off the arm of Connor Halliday, Leach will have to find a way to keep moving forward without his starting quarterback. Halliday was injured in a 44-17 loss to USC this weekend, and the senior will miss the rest of the season with a broken leg. The injury brings the senior’s season and collegiate career to an end with 3,873 passing yards and 32 touchdowns this season, and 11,308 career passing yards and 90 touchdowns.
So, where does Leach have to turn in hopes of keeping the aerial attacks coming for Washington State’s final three games of the 2014 season? Freshman Luke Falk replaced Halliday against USC, and Leach did not hesitate to let him use his arm either. Falk attempted 57 pass attempts off the bench, completing 38 of them for 370 yards and a pair of touchdowns (and one interception). It was just the second appearance of the season for Falk, who completed each of his two attempts for 86 yards in a game against Portland State earlier in the year. Running the offense will now be the responsibility of this relatively unknown quarterback out of Utah for the rest of the season.
Falk enrolled at Washington State as a recruit without much hype or praise out of high school, despite at one point having an early offer from Florida State. Once receiving an early offer from Florida State, Falk’s stock dropped following a high school transfer. By the time he was ready to choose a school, the only programs looking for his services came from the Ivy League or Idaho, for the most part. The Utah product was a two-star prospect according to Rivals. He had originally committed to Cornell before a coaching change at the program left Falk to re-evaluate his options. This ended with Falk heading to Washington State to walk-on for a spot on the roster.
With some roster changes along the way at Washington State since Falk’s enrollment, Falk has seen increased reps in practice in the event Halliday was roughed up. Considering the state of the offensive line protection provided to Halliday, giving Falk as many snaps as possible in practice was wise for Leach. Now, Washington State may be trotting out a quarterback without much game experience, but it will not be using a player that has not been properly prepared for this situation.
If nothing else, Washington State has a quarterback that has shown glimpses of being able to lead the Washington State offense without losing much of a step off the bench. Perhaps it is the Leach system, and Falk has fit into it well enough. Falk certainly has worked hard to earn a chance to lead the offense, and it is not one likely to be taken lightly for the redshirt freshman. This also serves as an opportunity to prove why he should be the leading candidate for the starting job at Washington State in 2015.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Michigan State claimed a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory on the strength of its defense last season. Penn State is wasting a perfectly good defensive effort this season. When discussing the best defenses in the Big Ten, Wisconsin tends to fly under the radar, but it is the defense that could lead the Badgers back to Indianapolis for a shot at a Big Ten championship this season.
The Badgers have just allowed a total of seven points against Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers the past two weeks, helping the Wisconsin defense move into third in the nation in defensive scoring. The most recent defensive effort turned in a shutout victory on the road against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have played tough at home (ask Penn State and Michigan), but the Badgers defensive effort helped make it easy for the offense to run away with a victory in New Jersey.
Wisconsin has allowed just 14.1 points per game this season. The Badgers, not Michigan State, currently have the Big Ten’s best total defense as well, allowing an average of just 253.8 yards per game through eight games. Penn State has allowed 273.4 yards per game, and Michigan State has allowed 279.4 yards per game. If Wisconsin keeps on this pace, the Badgers will successfully improve on their total defensive average for a second straight season.
Wisconsin starts making things difficult for opposing teams by aiming to take away the running game. The Badgers have held five opponents under 100 rushing yards this season, and Wisconsin has allowed just seven rushing touchdowns in eight games. On top of that, Wisconsin is the best team in the Big Ten against the pass, perhaps making a claim to having their own no-fly zone this season. The Badgers may not get their hands on a ton of passes (just five interceptions in eight games), but they have allowed just six passing touchdowns this season. No team in the Big Ten has allowed a lower completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks than Wisconsin (46.3 percent). Michael Caputo has been one of the leaders of the Wisconsin secondary, and he also leads the Badgers with 57 tackles this season.
Wisconsin was written off by some with a season-opening loss to LSU in Houston, and again after a tough loss at Northwestern. The defense came up small against LSU in the first game of the season while failing to protect a lead, and the Northwestern game was doomed more by losing four turnovers on offense, but Wisconsin’s defense has been a big reason why the Badgers are still in the race for the Big Ten West Division (having Melvin Gordon running the football certainly helps too, of course).
The formula for winning at Wisconsin remains similar to when Bret Bielema was coaching the program. Being solid on the ground on offense and dependable on defense has worked well for Wisconsin over the more recent seasons, and it could be what keeps them in the Big Ten championship mix. Michigan State and Ohio State are receiving most of the attention right now, and Nebraska has been heralded as the next best threat, but it would be silly to forget Wisconsin the way the defense has been playing.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
The Rust Belt and California both got good looks at the new tilt of the NBA’s power balance this weekend.
Friday night featured perhaps the premier matchup of the young season, when LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers armada visited the Chicago Bulls at the United Center. Coming into the game on the heels of a big letdown on opening night — when, behind James’ eight turnovers and overall stiff play, they lost 95-90 to the New York Knicks at home — the Cavs were focused like a laser Friday. James scored 36 and Tristan Thompson added 12 offensive rebounds as Cleveland overcame the Bulls in overtime, 114-108.
More significant than the game’s result was the fact that Bulls’ point guard Derrick Rose left the contest with a sprained ankle. Rose traveled and warmed up with the team Saturday, but did not play as the Bulls beat the Minnesota Timberwolves. The injury appears to be minor, and if Rose’s scintillating play on Friday is any indication, we’re all lucky for that; the Bulls and Cavs could be embarking upon the league’s new top rivalry.
Out West by the bay on Saturday night, Kobe Bryant and his thin Los Angeles Lakers roster couldn’t find such feverish competition against the Golden State Warriors; the Warriors are of a higher class than the Lakers now, and they let them know it. Klay Thompson went off for 41 points and combined with Steph Curry to total 72, as the Warriors beat L.A. 127-104. Thompson’s performance was taken as something of a statement game — a proving ground for his new four-year, $70 million contract extension, inked over the weekend. Klay wanted the world to see that he’s worth all that paper.
Bryant and the Lakers have started the season 0-4. When asked by a reporter about the skid — the worst Lakers’ start of Kobe’s career — Bryant sarcastically chided his questioner, saying “No, it doesn't bother me. I’m festive and jovial about it."
Adjusting to the status of mere basketball mortal clearly isn't easy on Bryant. But at least he turned back the clock for a moment or two toward 28 points, and got in one of the plays of the year during the loss:
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 3:
• While you work off your Halloween hangover, here's a barely safe for work slideshow of Arizona State students enjoying the Halloween weekend as only college students can.
• I can't imagine a more tragic ending to a football game than what happened to Ole Miss on Saturday.
• Has the Dallas collapse begun? Seems like they're already panicking in Big D.
• Years after giving us the Buttfumble, the Jets allowed a Butt Touchdown.
• Everything's coming up Steelers right now. They turned a botched PAT into a two-point conversion.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of measuring performance and marking milestones in the NFL. With that in mind, Athlon Sports rounded up the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Week 9 of the NFL season.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for six touchdown passes in a 42-23 win over Baltimore, marking the second straight week he has thrown six TDs for an NFL record 12 touchdowns over a two-game span. Roethlisberger had 10 TD passes in the first seven games of the season.
New England's Tom Brady surpassed John Elway for fifth-most passing yards all-time. He threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Denver. The win was Brady's 155th victory, the most of any starting QB through his first 200 regular-season starts.
When Brady and Denver's Peyton Manning met in Week 9 it marked the first game in NFL history to feature opposing starting quarterbacks with at least 150 career regular-season wins each.
Peyton Manning threw for two touchdowns in the 43-21 loss to New England, and now has 2+ TD passes in 14 consecutive games. That is the longest streak in NFL history. It marked the 47th consecutive game with at least one touchdown pass, tying Johnny Unitas for the third-longest streak in NFL history.
Peyton Manning also set the NFL record with his 14th game of at least 400 passing yards, besting Dan Marino's 13. Manning threw for 438 yards in the New England loss.
New England tight end Rob Gronkowksi recorded his 50th career touchdown in his 59th game, tying Randy Moss as the second-fastest players in NFL history to reach 50 career TD receptions. Lance Alworth (54 games) is the only player to reach the milestone in fewer games.
The Patriots are now 59-0 all-time when leading by 20 or more points at halftime (regular and postseason combined). They led 27-7 at the intermission. The 27 points allowed by Denver at the break was more points than it had allowed in any game this season.
With its 28-17 win over Dallas, Arizona is 7-1 for the first time since 1974 and also has sole possession of the best record in the NFC this late in the season for the first time since Week 11, 1974. This was the first regular-season win for the Cardinals in Dallas since Oct. 29, 1989.
Philadelphia receiver Jeremy Maclin became the first player in franchise history with at least 150 receiving yards and multiple touchdown catches in back-to-back games in a single season. He was 6-for-158 with two TDs against Houston in Week 9 after going 12-for-187 with two TDs against Arizona last week. Maclin is the first player to go 150+ with two TDs in back-to-back weeks since Miles Austin did it in 2009.
All 21 Houston points in a 31-21 loss to the Eagles came via turnover. It began with an A.J. Bouye 51-yard interception return for a score. Jumal Rolle's interception setup the Texans' next score four plays later (Ryan Fitzpatrick to Arian Foster for 56 yards), and Houston recovered a fumble on a play in which Fitzpatrick was intercepted. Two plays later, Fitzpatrick found DeAndre Hopkins for a 7-yard TD pass.
Minnesota running back Matt Asiata rushed for three touchdowns in the Vikings’ 29-26 win against Washington. Asiata now has three career games with three rushing touchdowns, the most of any undrafted player in his first three seasons in the common draft era (since 1967).
Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill rushed for 47 yards in Week 9, including a long run of 22 yards. He now has a rush of at least 20 yards in each of his past four games. Tannehill joins Steve Young and Michael Vick as the only quarterbacks with a 20+ yard run in at least four consecutive games in the past 25 years.
Miami's 37-0 shutout of San Diego was the Dolphins' first shutout in 123 games and their largest since a 42-0 win over Kansas City on Oct. 11, 1987. The Chargers were shutout for the first time since 1999, having scored in 241 straight games, which was the third-longest active streak.
Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston posted his fourth game with multiple sacks in Week 9. That is the most of any player in the league. Denver LB Von Miller is the next closest with three such games. Houston leads the league with 12 sacks.
Cincinnati rookie running back Jeremy Hill joined Corey Dillon as the only rookies in franchise history to run for at least 150 yards and two rushing TDs in a single game. Hill had 154 yards on 24 carries and two scores in the win at Jacksonville. It was the most rushing yards by a Bengal since Cedric Benson's 189 in 2009.
Kansas City wide receiver Dwayne Bowe had six catches in a 24-10 win against the New York Jets and now has 503 career catches. He joins tight end Tony Gonzalez (916) as the only players in franchise history with 500 career receptions.
Few trends have changed college basketball more in recent years than the wave of transfers each season.
Some teams, like Iowa State and Florida, have made an art for of recruiting transfers as key cogs of their programs. Other teams are just looking to fill holes and don’t always have to look too far to fill gaps on the roster.
The 2014-15 season will feature its fair share of impact transfers. Iowa State and Florida are here as usual, but teams like Gonzaga, Ohio State and Miami picked up key players in the in the transfer market this season as well.
Matt Carlino, Marquette (from BYU)
Steve Wojciechowski will be off to a rough start roster-wise at Marquette. Lucky for the first-year coach, a point guard in the transfer market had an uncle who played at Marquette and a mother who is from Milwaukee. Carlino should step in immediately and play point guard for the Golden Eagles after averaging 12.5 points and 4.6 assists per game in three seasons at BYU.
Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State (from UNLV)
The Iowa State transfer trend continues with Dejean-Jones, who is on his third stop after transferring from USC to UNLV to Ames. Dejean-Jones averaged 13.6 points per game in 31 games in his final season with the Runnin’ Rebels. He’s an effective scorer who will have to integrate himself into a lineup including returning point guard Monté Morris and forward Georges Niang.
Josh Gray, LSU (from junior college)
With point guard Anthony Hickey transferring to Oklahoma State, sophomore forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin need someone to get them the ball. Gray may be the answer. Before heading to Odessa (Texas) College, Gray averaged 9.6 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman at Texas Tech. He’ll be more than a facilitator, though, as Johnny Jones expects his point guard to score in a variety of ways.
Anthony Hickey, Oklahoma State (from LSU)
Oklahoma State will need a number of players to fill the gaps left by Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. At least Travis Ford will have a veteran point guard in the mix in Hickey, who was a three-year starter at LSU. Hickey’s scoring output dropped in his final season in Baton Rouge, but he finished second in the SEC with a 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio and has averaged 3.8 assists per game in his career. He averaged nearly three steals per game as a sophomore two years ago.
Jonathan Holton, West Virginia (from junior college)
Holton averaged 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a freshman at Rhode Island in 2011-12, but he was dismissed from school due to some legal issues. Holton spent a season at junior college and then a redshirt season at West Virginia, where he’ll be a regular double-double threat.
Kedren Johnson, Memphis (from Vanderbilt)
Memphis is in the rare position where it is short on experienced guards this season. That’s why Josh Pastner had to be overjoyed Johnson, who was suspended last season at Vanderbilt, is eligible to play for the Tigers this season. Johnson averaged a team-best 13.5 points with 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds in his last season with the Commodores.
Trevor Lacey, NC State (from Alabama)
Lacey is the latest addition for an NC State program that’s seen its share of roster turnover under Mark Gottfried. Lacey won’t be asked to fill the scoring void left by T.J. Warren, but he will need to be a complement to emerging sophomore point guard Cat Barber in the backcourt. Lacey is a strong guard who can score around the basket.
Anthony Lee, Ohio State (from Temple)
The 6-9, 230-pound Lee will give Ohio State a key player in a thin frontcourt. He has been one of the nation’s most effective rebounders — both offensively and defensively — over the past few years. Lee also averaged a career-high 13.6 points per game last season.
Alex Murphy, Florida (from Duke)
Florida may have to wait until the second semester to add Murphy to the lineup. When he’s eligible, Murphy will be a stretch-4 and another transfer on a roster that includes Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech), Jon Horford (Michigan) and Eli Carter (Rutgers). Murphy is the brother of Erik Murphy, who averaged 12.2 points per game in 2012-13.
Rodney Purvis, UConn (from NC State)
All Purvis has to do is help fill the void left by Shabazz Napier in the backcourt for the defending national champions. OK, so maybe it’s not that drastic. Still, he’s a key cog in a talented backcourt that returns Ryan Boatright and adds freshman swingman Daniel Hamilton. Purvis averaged 8.3 points per game on an NCAA Tournament team that featured five double-digit scorers
Katin Reinhardt, USC (from UNLV)
Andy Enfield needed to replenish the roster in a major way in his first season at USC, a year that yielded only two Pac-12 wins. Reinhardt, who sat out last season after his transfer, will be a major part of that. He started 34 games as a freshman at UNLV, averaging 10.1 points and 2.5 assists per game. The 6-5, 205-pound sophomore will be a combo guard in Enfield’s system in Los Angeles.
Angel Rodriguez, Miami (from Kansas State)
Miami cobbled together 17 wins with depleted roster largely because two of its better players — Rodriguez and fellow Big 12 transfer Sheldon McClellan — were sitting out. Now ready to play, the 5-11 Rodriguez will man the point for Miami. In his last stop at Kansas State, Rodriguez averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists per game for a team that won 27 games.
Ricky Tarrant, Alabama (from Tulane)
Tarrant will compete with freshman Justin Coleman for minutes at point guard, where Trevor Releford departs. Tarrant was a second-team All-Conference USA selection in his last season at Tulane in 2012-13. He averaged 15.3 points and 3.4 assists per game in two seasons at Tulane, needing only 66 games to cross the 1,000-point mark.
Byron Wesley, Gonzaga (from USC)
Wesley led USC in scoring last season at 17.8 points per game, but he bolted a program that finished 11–21. With a handful of veterans and transfers, Wesley won’t shoulder as much of the load in Spokane after averaging 13.6 shots per game in Los Angeles.
Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga (from Kentucky)
Wiltjer was the odd man out on Kentucky’s ultra-talented squads laced with NBA Draft lottery talent. After sitting out for a year, Wiltjer has bulked up to become a more formidable presence in the frontcourt. He’s a 6-10 forward with a perimeter game — and a national championship ring.
Anthony Lee had never been in greater demand as a basketball player than the morning after Temple released him from his scholarship. That day in March, Lee woke up to 40 text messages and dozens of missed calls from people he didn’t know.
“It was like a bum rush, a stampede almost, with so many schools calling as soon as they gave me my release,” Lee said.
Before Temple signed the forward out of high school, teams from the Pac-12, SEC and a handful of prominent mid-majors all pursued Lee, so this was not entirely unfamiliar ground.
He was a veteran power forward who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds last season for the Owls. And more important, he was on track to graduate by the end of the semester. He was the fourth-leading scorer from a bad team, but he was among the most valuable commodities in college basketball in 2014-15 — a proven veteran player ready to transfer and, as a graduate, eligible to play immediately for a new team.
Critics have called the recent transfer trend everything from an epidemic to free agency, but here’s what it is: reality. In 2012-13, 13.3 percent of Division I college basketball players had transferred from another four-year school. Another 14.5 percent were junior college transfers.
Transfer season has become a second recruiting season.
The transfer trend isn’t just for upstarts or mid-majors. Final Four contenders and national powers have made Division I transfers a major plank in their recruiting strategies. Even Duke embraced transfers by adding Rodney Hood from Mississippi State in 2012 and Sean Obi from Rice following the ’13-14 season.
As the trend has become more pronounced, more public and more accepted, coaches and players have to be ready to navigate the transfer recruiting waters.
Ohio State, for example, rarely dives into the transfer market, but the Buckeyes knew they’d enter the 2014-15 season with major holes in their frontcourt. Lee, with the right skill set and the ability to play now, was one of the top targets on their list.
Compared to the typical high school recruiting process, Lee’s transfer moved at lightning speed.
Two days after Lee announced his intent to transfer, Ohio State was upset by Dayton in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament on March 20. By March 29 — the day Dayton lost in the Elite Eight — Lee signed a letter of intent with the Buckeyes. In between, Ohio State coach Thad Matta and associate head coach Dave Dickerson met with Lee in Philadelphia near the Temple campus, and Lee took an official visit to Columbus.
Lee knew other coaches weren’t pleased that he committed to Ohio State before taking the visits he promised to make, but like many transfers, he knew the terrain better than he did as a high schooler.
“I didn’t want to let that opportunity slip by,” Lee says. “At that time, the (McDonald’s) high school All-Americans were making their decisions. I couldn’t wait and enjoy it too much. I was a high-profile athlete, but I was with other high-profile athletes, incoming freshmen and other transfers who were looking to make decisions, too.”
Lee had played through the recruiting game — and waiting game — before. VCU recruited him out of high school, and although Lee liked coach Shaka Smart, he wasn’t thrilled about living in Richmond. Instead, he hoped to land at USC with all that Los Angeles had to offer, but another recruit snatched the last scholarship offer before Lee had a chance to commit. He eventually signed with Temple.
He started 73 games, played in two NCAA Tournaments and helped the Owls win a regular-season Atlantic 10 title before they bottomed out at 9–22 last season. Lee says he enjoyed his time at Temple and parted on good terms with coach Fran Dunphy. But he asks himself, what if he signed with VCU? The Rams reached the Final Four in 2010-11 (a year Lee redshirted at Temple due to injury) and have played in the last four NCAA Tournaments overall.
When he approached recruiting the second time, Lee couldn’t be swayed by the cities or the facilities he considered. He was more interested in developing his game. Temple wanted him to rebound and play close to the basket — an area where he excelled — but Ohio State would allow him to expand his offensive game and play away from the basket.
“The only reason I didn’t go to VCU was because of the city, and when I look back at that now, it’s kind of crazy,” Lee says. “This time around, it wasn’t about the city or how the place looked.”
Experiences like that of Lee are why Florida coach Billy Donovan has been wore willing to seek out transfers in recent years.
Donovan’s team this season will include four players who transferred from major conference programs — Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech), Alex Murphy (Duke), Jon Horford (Michigan) and Eli Carter (Rutgers). Finney-Smith led the team in rebounding last season, and another transfer, Mike Rosario from Rutgers, led Florida in scoring two years ago.
“A lot of times these guys don’t make the best choices in terms of what is going to make them happy,” Donovan says. “When you go out and recruit a kid who is transferring, there’s just a different level of maturity, a different level of understanding because they have more of a foundation of what’s important to them and what’s going to make them happy.”
For Donovan, one of the most important factors in targeting a transfer is learning why a player is looking to change schools. And, yes, more playing time and more opportunities to thrive are valid reasons.
“You always want to get to the core of why a kid is transferring,” Donovan says. “In a lot of ways, the problems that they’re enduring at one institution are not going to go away at another one.”
Like Florida, Iowa State under coach Fred Hoiberg has become a prime destination for transfers.
The last three Big 12 Newcomers of the Year (there’s a separate award for freshmen) have been Division I transfers at Iowa State. The haul under Hoiberg has included star players like All-Big 12 performers DeAndre Kane (Marshall), Will Clyburn (Utah) and Royce White (Minnesota) and role players like Chris Babb (Penn State), Korie Lucious and Chris Allen (Michigan State) and Scott Christopherson (Marquette).
Iowa State added three more since December in Bryce Dejean-Jones from UNLV (eligible immediately), Jameel McKay from Marquette (eligible in December) and Hallice Cooke from Oregon State (eligible in 2014-15).
Hoiberg’s program isn’t the first or only national power to take a deep dive into the transfer waters, but the competition for these collegiate free agents has become more intense since the former NBA player and executive returned to his alma mater in 2010.
Besides Iowa State and Florida, high-major programs like Gonzaga, Illinois, Maryland, Miami (Fla.), Missouri, Oregon, UNLV and West Virginia have re-stocked their rosters with multiple transfers from Division I programs.
“We weren’t competing against too many schools or so many high-profile schools as we are now,” Hoiberg says. “It’s become difficult, but it is the landscape of college basketball right now.”
The transfer trend is exacerbated by a number of factors, among them the graduate transfer rule allowing players like Lee to be eligible immediately if they’re holding a degree and want to pursue a post-grad program not available at their current school. Undergraduate recruits generally sit out one year by NCAA rules unless granted a waiver.
In addition, many new coaches encounter a wave of transfers after they’re hired or they release signees from a previous staff from their letters of intent. Or both. This transition creates an immediate need to fill some scholarships. There’s no official transaction wire maintained per the NCAA, but Jeff Goodman, a reporter for ESPN, has been tracking Division I transfers since 2006 — a list he updates regularly throughout the season.
Coaches check the list of hundreds of available players on a regular basis.
“Our staff does and I think every staff in America does,” says Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski, who was hired in April after 15 years as a Duke assistant.
After a transfer target is pinpointed, the recruiting process begins.
Coaches and assistants often call their counterparts at other schools to figure out how to track down a transfer. Even though transfers may have been in college for up to four years, the parents, high school coaches and AAU coaches may be gatekeepers to the process.
Point guard Matt Carlino, who signed to play for Wojciechowski at Marquette, used his father as well as BYU assistant coach Mark Pope as intermediaries in his most recent recruitment. During the summer, Carlino was taking two regular classes and an online class while serving as a teaching assistant and finishing papers at BYU so he could finish his undergraduate degree and be eligible immediately. With that workload, Carlino gave his father and Pope the parameters and allowed them to sift through requests so he could finish his class work. Like Lee, Carlino wasn’t interested in finding a sexy locale — he started his career at UCLA and decided it wasn’t for him.
He even considered playing time to be an unnecessary topic to broach.
“They’re not bringing in a guy for a year not to play,” Carlino says.
Carlino took a month to make his decision during a process that included visits with Purdue, Providence and Saint Joseph’s. His final decision came down to another truth in recruiting transfers — the coach matters perhaps even more than with high school prospects.
Strip away the bells and whistles like location and facilities, and what’s left? Coaching, style-of-play and ability to thrive.
“I knew everywhere I was going to go the facilities would be nice, the campus would be nice,” Lee says. “So it wasn’t about the facilities, the area. It was about the coaches.”
The same was true for Carlino.
Marquette wasn’t completely on Carlino’s radar at first. His uncle played there and his family is from the Midwest, but he had little contact with former coach Buzz Williams.
When Wojciechowski arrived — and needed a point guard immediately — that changed. Carlino clicked with the former point guard from Duke and signed in late April.
In other words, recruiters would be well advised to get right to business.
“The fluff is eliminated,” Wojciechowski says. “You talk directly about what the school can offer the player, what the player can offer the school and you really hone in on what I would consider are the most important things of the decision. It’s their last chance or close to it, so you’ve really got to get it right when you decide transfer.”
Bryce Dejean-Jones is another player who knew exactly what he wanted in a school this summer. After starting his career at USC, Dejean-Jones transferred to UNLV, where he averaged 11.8 points per game in two seasons. While Dejean-Jones was at UNLV, the Runnin’ Rebels went one-and-done in the 2013 NCAA Tournament and missed it altogether his second season. With a churn of freshmen — and, yes, other transfers — consistency was tough to find. In the transfer market a second time, Dejean-Jones looked more closely at rosters and where he had a chance to fit.
“Choosing UNLV, I was coming there to sit out, so I wasn’t looking at the players that would be playing with me,” Dejean-Jones says. “This time, I looked at who else would be on the floor with me.”
When Hoiberg recruited Dejean-Jones, he talked about style of play and how the guard could step in for the departure of Kane.
And that’s a completely different conversation Hoiberg had with Cooke, his undergraduate transfer from Oregon State who would redshirt in 2014-15.
“You have a support system for those guys. You talk about skill development in their year off,” Hoiberg says. “When you recruit a kid who’s sitting out, it is more like recruiting a high school kid.”
In other words, the recruiting pitch is different, depending on the player. But as the players are more in tune with what they are seeking when they transfer, coaches have to be ready to prepare. And many times, decisions are closed within a matter of weeks.
If landing a transfer starts to sound like a lot of networking, background research and job interviews, there’s a good reason for that.
“It’s a business for the players, too,” Carlino says.
Ole Miss lost a critical piece of its offense on Saturday night. Receiver Laquon Treadwell suffered a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle on a tackle late in the game by Auburn linebacker Kris Frost.
Just one look at the stat sheet shows how important Treadwell is to the Rebels’ offense.
Through nine games, Treadwell led the team with 48 receptions and 632 yards. He also tied for first with five touchdown catches.
Vince Sanders, Cody Core and tight end Evan Engram are a capable trio for quarterback Bo Wallace, but Treadwell was easily the team’s No. 1 target and likely the best receiver in the SEC outside of Alabama’s Amari Cooper.
True freshman Markell Pack has seven receptions for 70 yards and is listed as a backup to Core in the slot. However, Pack should see a bigger role in the offense moving forward. Redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe was listed as Treadwell’s backup on the depth chart prior to Saturday night’s game against Auburn and will join Pack as a bigger contributor moving forward as well.
While Treadwell can be replaced in terms of another receiver stepping in, his impact is going to be felt in the Rebels’ passing game.
And Treadwell’s absence the rest of the year underscores how critical it will be for Ole Miss to develop a rushing game this offseason. The Rebels don’t have a traditional ground attack and average only 3.9 yards per carry. This is one area coach Hugh Freeze will have to work on in spring practice, which should also improve as the team improves its offensive line.
In Saturday’s game against Auburn, Treadwell was one of the best players on the field, catching 10 passes for 103 yards and a score.
And in Ole Miss’ 23-17 win over Alabama in early October, Treadwell caught five passes for 55 yards and one touchdown.
Despite back-to-back losses, the Rebels still have plenty to play for this year. Ole Miss should have no trouble with Presbyterian next Saturday and has a bye before closing out 2014 with a matchup at Arkansas and then the home finale against Mississippi State.
If Ole Miss manages to finish 10-2, it could be enough to claim a spot in one of college football’s top bowl games. And of course, finishing 10-2 assumes a win over Mississippi State – so the opportunity to play spoiler is out there.
Treadwell will be missed, and Ole Miss will have to regroup on offense. Young players will have to step up, and quarterback Bo Wallace may target tight end Evan Engram more often. Despite the huge absence in the receiving corps and the back-to-back losses, there’s plenty still at stake for the Rebels over the last three regular season matchups and postseason game.
It may be years before we can fairly pinpoint the most extreme low point of Penn State’s sanction era, but there may be a new leader in the clubhouse. Maryland made the trip Beaver Stadium to face its new Big Ten neighbor to the north, mixed things up with Penn State as the teams took the field, refused to shake hands during the coin flip and then went home celebrating a 20-19 victory. Maybe Penn State is down, now losers of four straight for the first time since 2004, but one thing looked to be clear Saturday afternoon. Maryland is ready to consider Penn State a rival.
“Let the rivalry begin now,” Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said after the game. “Let it begin. There should be a trophy for this game. It’s a bordering state. Let’s have some fun. Let’s make it really competitive.”
This was just the second time Maryland has won a game against Penn State. Penn State now leads the all-time series 35-2-1, with the series dating back to 1917 and now revived with Maryland and Penn State in the same division in the same conference for the first time. With Penn State and Maryland now in the same conference, the tensions should continue to boil in the future, and it begins with recruiting.
After being hired to be Penn State’s new head coach, James Franklin went on a bus tour to meet alums all around the northeast. That tour included a notable drive through Maryland and Washington D.C., where Franklin made it clear to the Penn State faithful Penn State would have a strong presence in recruiting in the region. Franklin was so strong about his intentions he indirectly suggested Maryland should just shut down (same as Rutgers). This, of course, did not sit well with some Maryland fans who caught wind of the statements from Franklin.
Penn State and Maryland have been competing for the same recruits in the same territory for generations, so 2014 and beyond is nothing new. But the stakes just got a little higher, and Maryland went all in on Saturday. Maryland’s captains went out to midfield for the pregame coin flip and just stood there, staring blankly as the Penn State captains extended hands for a pregame handshake. The non-handshake resulted in an unsportsmanlike penalty, and Edsall took no responsibility for the incident. This one was on the players, intent to make a statement before the game started.
Of course, the best way to send a message is by putting more points on the scoreboard. Maryland did just that. Time will tell if Maryland can keep this going once Penn State supposedly gets back to full strength, but perhaps this was the start of a new rivalry for years to come.
“We think that we set the tone for the rivalry going forward,” Maryland tight end P.J. Gallo.
You sure did P.J. Let’s see if Maryland decides to shake hands next.
-By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
With a 6-3 overall record and a 3-2 mark in conference play this year, it’s hard to say Miami has made significant progress in coach Al Golden’s fourth year. The Hurricanes are just 16-13 under Golden’s watch in ACC games, but there’s optimism for the program after the last three games.
Miami stayed within striking distance of Duke in the Coastal Division with a convincing 47-20 win over North Carolina on Saturday. The win over the Tar Heels was the Hurricanes’ third in a row and ensured the program would go bowling in 2014.
While the three-game winning streak is a positive sign, there’s a huge showdown looming for Miami on Nov. 15 against Florida State. Forget about the Nov. 22 game against Virginia and the Nov. 29 matchup against Pittsburgh. The true barometer of Golden’s tenure is the upcoming game against the Seminoles.
Miami is 0-4 in its last four matchups against Florida State and has won just one out of the last six matchups in this series. And it’s not just a loss, as the Hurricanes lost by 27 points last season and was easily handled by the Seminoles 45-17 in 2010.
Considering Miami’s three-game winning streak consisted of two fringe bowl teams and a 5-3 Cincinnati team, it’s easy to poke holes in the resume and think another blowout loss to Florida State is coming.
However, there are reasons to believe the Hurricanes are poised to threaten the Seminoles run to the playoff.
Florida State’s rush defense has allowed at least 156 rushing yards in each of its last three games. That’s not awful, but it also represents an opportunity for Miami running back Duke Johnson to control the pace of the game and keep the Seminoles’ explosive offense on the sidelines. Johnson has rushed for 588 yards over his last three games this year.
Quarterback Brad Kaaya has not tossed an interception in three games and completed at least 64 percent of his passes in two out of the last three contests.
Miami’s defense was the target of criticism after giving up 6.8 yards per play against Nebraska and 318 rushing yards in a loss to Georgia Tech.
But over the last three games, the Hurricanes have been stingy against opposing rushing attacks (2.1 ypc), and the defense has recorded 18 tackles for a loss in that span. In Football Outsiders’ Defensive S&P ratings, Miami ranked No. 18 prior to the victory over North Carolina.
Again, the recent play by an injured offensive line, quarterback Brad Kaaya and running back Duke Johnson is an encouraging sign for Miami. And the defense seems to be playing better, albeit against weak competition.
With two weeks to prepare, Miami should be at full strength against Florida State on Nov. 15.
The Seminoles have dominated this rivalry in recent years, continue to out-recruit Miami and are the better team on paper. With that in mind, this might be the biggest game in Golden’s tenure. There’s some positive momentum with a three-game winning streak for the Hurricanes and this year’s matchup is in Coral Gables (with a healthy Florida State contingent expected). Can Miami capitalize off some of Florida State’s weaknesses and make this a competitive game?
Nov. 15 is shaping up to be a huge barometer game for Miami. There are reasons to believe the Hurricanes will be able to be competitive against one of the top teams in the nation, and Golden needs a big win to answer some of the critics.
Despite the positive momentum, it’s also easy to doubt how wins over Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Cincinnati are enough for Miami to breakthrough against the Seminoles.
Only time will tell.
Either way, Nov. 15 should be an interesting moment for Al Golden’s tenure at Miami.
They are the defending SEC champs. They came one defensive stop away from winning the 2013 national title.
Yet the Auburn Tigers are seemingly a forgotten team in the SEC in 2014. The story of the season, until recently, had been the improbable rise of the Mississippi schools. Ole Miss’ recent losses — one to Auburn on Saturday night — has altered script, but Mississippi State is still undefeated and the darling of the college football word. Alabama, despite being ranked below Auburn, is far more-talked about than its in-state rivals from western part of the state. Many people, including the boys in Vegas, consider the Crimson Tide to be the best team in the nation — despite the fact that Alabama lost at Ole Miss, a team that now has two losses.
Auburn, meanwhile, simply goes about its business against an absolutely brutal schedule that features road games at Kansas State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. The Tigers have navigated this slate with only one blemish to date, a 38–23 setback at Mississippi State. This team has proven its worth on many occasions this fall, beginning with a 24-point win over Arkansas in Week 1 and continuing with solid road wins at K-State and Ole Miss and a dominant win at home over LSU.
Auburn will once again be included among the all-important top four when the CFB selection committee releases its top 25 on Tuesday night. The Tigers won’t be among the top two spots — it’s hard to argue that they should be ranked ahead of Mississippi State and Florida State — but they have built a résumé that should leave doubt they are the best one-loss team in the nation.
There were snarky comments on Twitter — imagine that — when some images were posted late Saturday night of students celebrating on the Tennessee campus.
I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of the tweets poked fun at Volunteer fans for making such a big deal about beating a South Carolina team that hasn’t won an SEC game in six weeks and is now 2–5 in the league.
My take: It was a big deal. A huge deal — and a cause for celebration.
Butch Jones has done a terrific job rebuilding the Tennessee program but has had very few tangible results on the field. Before Saturday’s improbable win in Columbia, Jones had won only two of his first 12 SEC games. Sure, the schedule has been tough, but it’s hard to argue that a team with a 2–10 record in league play is making progress.
Jones needed a breakthrough win. And he got it. Yes, South Carolina is struggling right now, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But the Gamecocks, with an 18–6 record in the league from 2011-13, have been one of the elite teams in the SEC in recent seasons. And now Jones and the Vols have recorded wins over Steve Spurrier’s program in consecutive seasons.
Saturday’s win was extra special for two reasons: It came on the road (UT’s first SEC road win against a team other than Vanderbilt or Kentucky since 2007) and it came after the Vols trailed by 14 points with under five minutes to play.
Joshua Dobbs, who was planning to redshirt as recently as nine days ago, threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 166 yards and three scores to lead an offense that rolled up 645 yards. On the final drive in regulation, the Vols went 85 yards on nine plays without a timeout. The defense had it struggles — South Carolina had 625 yards — but flexed its muscles with a dominant series in overtime.
This program is not ready to compete with the elite in the SEC on a consistent basis, but Tennessee took a major step forward on Saturday night.
And it was a cause for celebration.
Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs shined in the Volunteers’ 45-42 overtime win over South Carolina. Dobbs was the catalyst in a furious fourth-quarter rally, guiding Tennessee’s offense 21 points – including the game-tying touchdown with just 11 seconds remaining.
Whether it was on the ground or through the air, South Carolina’s defense simply had no answer for the talented sophomore. Dobbs earned Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors for Week 10 by passing for 301 yards and two scores and leading the team with 166 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
The Volunteers are rebuilding under second-year coach Butch Jones, and the program has found a spark on offense in the last two games with Dobbs under center. Against Alabama, Dobbs rushed for 75 yards and passed for 192 yards. One week later, Dobbs took another step forward in his development, leading Tennessee to an overtime win over South Carolina.
Dobbs played in the final five games of last season but clearly looks more comfortable in Tennessee’s offense after a full offseason to work with the coaching staff. And with an offensive line that’s also rebuilding, Dobbs’ mobility has been a huge asset. The sophomore’s emergence should give Tennessee a chance to win each of its remaining three games and reach a bowl for the first time since 2010.
Defensive Player of the Week: Erick Dargan, S, Oregon
The Ducks snapped a two-game losing streak to Stanford with a 45-16 victory on Saturday night. Both sides of the ball delivered in the win, as the offense posted 45 points and averaged 6.8 yards per play, while the defense held the Cardinal to just three second-half points. Dargan was one of the leaders for Oregon’s defensive effort, pacing the team with 12 tackles (nine solo) and recording one interception. The senior also forced fumble on Stanford’s opening drive for the fourth quarter. Saturday’s game was just another standout performance for the senior, as he leads the team in tackles and has five interceptions through nine games.
Coordinator of the Week: Dave Aranda, Wisconsin
Aranda entered the season with just three returning starters and a host of questions about the defense. But after eight games, Aranda has found plenty of answers to his preseason concerns, and Wisconsin’s defense is performing at a high level over the last two weeks. The Badgers held Maryland to seven points on Oct. 25 and pitched a shutout against Rutgers (37-0) on Saturday. Since allowing 6.5 yards per play against USF on Sept. 27, Wisconsin’s defense has held opponents to a lower per-play mark in four consecutive games. The Terrapins managed only 3.1 yards per play last weekend, while the Badgers held Rutgers to 2.5 mark in Week 10. In just two seasons at Wisconsin, Aranda has emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top coordinators and is a big reason why the Badgers could sweep their final four games (at Purdue, Nebraska, at Iowa and Minnesota) on a path to a West Division title.
Freshman of the Week: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Cook received only nine carries in Thursday night’s 42-31 win over Louisville, but the true freshman made the most of his opportunities. Cook recorded 110 yards and two scores on nine attempts and caught four passes for 40 yards. The true freshman averaged 12.2 yards per carry, with his big-play ability showcased on touchdown runs of 38 and 40 yards. Cook’s 38-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter gave Florida State the lead for good against the Cardinals. After the five-star true freshman delivered in the clutch on Thursday night, it’s a safe bet he will be a bigger part of the offense in future weeks.
The stakes, as usual, will be high when the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers renew their rivalry tonight on NBC. Both teams enter this game 5-3, percentage points behind AFC North-leading Cincinnati (4-2-1). Tonight’s victor will either keep pace with the Bengals or replace them at the top of the standings, while the loser could wind up in last place in the NFL’s most competitive division.
There’s no love lost between John Harbaugh’s and Mike Tomlin’s teams, who have played each other 15 times, including twice in the playoffs, since Harbaugh took over the Ravens in 2008. Tomlin holds an 8-7 edge, but the Ravens have won the last two meetings. Games between these two archrivals have typically been close – 11 contests have been decided by four points or fewer.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Baltimore -1.5
Three Things to Watch
|Baltimore 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||@ IND||L 13 - 20||Recap|
|10/12||@ TB||W 48 - 17||Recap|
|10/19||vs ATL||W 29 - 7||Recap|
|10/26||@ CIN||L 24 - 27||Recap|
|11/2||@ PIT||L 23 - 43||Recap|
|11/9||vs TEN||W 21 - 7||Recap|
|11/24||@ NO||W 34 - 27||Recap|
|11/30||vs SD||L 33 - 34||Recap|
1. Joe Cool vs. Big Ben
They may not have the history or surefire Hall of Fame resumes of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, but Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger have developed their own little rivalry. Since being taken 18th overall in the 2008 draft and thrust into the starting lineup, Flacco has gone 7-8 versus Pittsburgh, but he’s just 4-7 (including 0-2 in the playoffs) head-to-head against Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger has missed four games against Flacco’s Ravens – three due to injury, including both games in 2012, and one due to suspension (2010). In their nine regular-season meetings, neither quarterback has exactly filled up the stat sheet. Flacco has a better passer rating (87.6 to 78.2), more touchdown passes (12 to 9) and fewer interceptions (3 to 8), while Roethlisberger has thrown for more yards (2,193 to 1,895). Even with the edge in yardage, Roethlisberger’s total breaks down to less than 244 per game. The two are also separated by less than a percent (58.8 for Flacco, 58.0 for Roethlisberger) when it comes to accuracy. So while neither quarterback has typically put up big numbers against the other’s team, each is still critical to their team’s success and will no doubt be under Al Michaels’ and Cris Collinsworth’s microscope during NBC’s broadcast. And who knows, perhaps tonight will produce a rare breakout performance from one of these signal-callers in this heated rivalry. After all Flacco did throw a career-high five touchdown passes earlier this season while Roethlisberger set new franchise records with his 522-yard, six-touchdown performance last week against Indianapolis.
|Pittsburgh 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||@ JAC||W 17 - 9||Recap|
|10/12||@ CLE||L 10 - 31||Recap|
|10/20||vs HOU||W 30 - 23||Recap|
|10/26||vs IND||W 51 - 34||Recap|
|11/2||vs BAL||W 43 - 23||Recap|
|11/9||@ NYJ||L 13 - 20||Recap|
|11/17||@ TEN||W 27 - 24||Recap|
|11/30||vs NO||L 32 - 35||Recap|
2. Baltimore’s Beat-up Defense
The Ravens handily beat the Steelers 26-6 when these two first met back in Week 2. Even though the total yardage was close (323-301), Baltimore was much more physical, punishing Pittsburgh on both sides of the ball. The Ravens’ defense set the tone, finishing with three takeaways and two sacks, but this unit will look a little different tonight. Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson, who were the starting cornerbacks in Week 2, won’t play due to injury. Smith, Baltimore’s top cornerback, will certainly be missed against a Steelers wide receiver corps that features All-Pro candidate Antonio Brown, as well as younger weapons Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant. Several other starters, most notably Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs, are also dealing with some injury issues of their own, although both are expected to play tonight. Ngata and Suggs are veteran leaders and linchpins of the Ravens’ defense and will be needed to not only get pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, but also to help contain Le’Veon Bell, who is third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,086). One of the reasons Baltimore defeated Pittsburgh so easily in Week 2 was the Ravens limited the Steelers to just two field goals and two trips in the red zone (0-2). With the secondary already shorthanded and the front seven dealing with some injury issues of its own, Baltimore’s defense will need to dig deep to have similar success tonight against a Pittsburgh offense that put up 639 yards and 51 points last week.
3. Ball Security
In the 26-6 win over Pittsburgh in Week 2, Baltimore’s defense forced three turnovers. Since that game, the Ravens have posted a minus-one (10 giveaways, 9 takeaways) turnover margin. The Steelers meanwhile have recorded at least one takeaway in each of their past six games and are plus-five (6, 11) during that span. Two of Pittsburgh’s three turnovers in the first game against Baltimore occurred in the red zone and the Steelers’ miscues led to 10 points for the Ravens. In a rivalry where so many games (12 of 15 since 2008) have been decided by a touchdown or less, it makes sense that ball security has played a key role in the outcomes. To that end, the Steelers are 7-3 in games against the Ravens in which they have won the turnover battle (4-2) or the teams were even (3-1). Baltimore is 4-1 when it does a better job of taking care of the football. And even though the Ravens are plus-seven overall against the Steelers in their last 15 matchups, it should be pointed out that this discrepancy is primarily due to a forgettable 2011 season opener when Pittsburgh committed seven turnovers, five of those courtesy of Ben Roethlisberger (3 INTs, 2 fumbles). Not surprisingly, that 35-7 Ravens win represented the most lopsided decision in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco vs. Mike Tomlin/Roethlisberger rivalry. So keep two hands on the football at all times tonight fellas, if you want to win.
Both Baltimore and Pittsburgh sit at 5-3 halfway through the season, but tonight’s winner could find itself in first place at the end of this game while the loser could the only last place team in any division with a winning record. What else would you expect when these two teams get together? The Steelers are coming off of their best offensive showing (639 yards and 51 points), while the Ravens are picking up the pieces after watching the Bengals come back and beat them with a late touchdown. In a rivalry that’s know for close games, the smallest break or advantage could be the difference between victory and defeat. To that end, I think Pittsburgh not only has the most momentum entering tonight, but also is catching a depleted and banged-up Ravens defense at the right time. It won’t be a cakewalk, because it never is, but I think the Steelers continue their recent strong play by taking care of business at home.