Articles By All
Georgia running back Todd Gurley will be eligible to return to the lineup on Nov. 15, after the NCAA handed down its ruling into his reinstatement case. Gurley was suspended from the team prior to the Oct. 11 contest against Missouri due to autographed memorabilia and has missed the Bulldogs’ last two games. In addition to a four-game suspension, Gurley was ordered to repay a portion of the received money and must complete 40 hours of community service.
The announcement from the NCAA indicated Gurley accepted more than $3,000 from multiple individuals over the last two years in exchange for autographing memorabilia.
Gurley has already missed two games due to suspension, leaving the junior with two more contests to sit out until he is eligible to return. Gurley is slated to return to the Georgia lineup on Nov. 15 against Auburn.
Until Gurley returns, the Bulldogs will rely heavily on freshman running back Nick Chubb. Over the last two games, Chubb has rushed for 345 yards and three scores and will continue to handle the bulk of the workload with Nick Marshall and Sony Michel expected to miss Saturday’s game against Florida.
Georgia ranked No. 11 in the first release of the college football playoff committee standings. If the Bulldogs win the rest of their regular season games, coach Mark Richt's team should have a shot to rank just outside of the top four before the SEC Championship. Gurley's return would be a huge boost for Georgia's SEC title hopes, and the junior would be returning at a critical time against Auburn on Nov. 15.
According to the NCAA release, Georgia plans to appeal the decision.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for October 29:
• Have to say this is cool: Texas A&M's throwback unis include "leather" helmets.
• Presented without comment: Jose Canseco shot off his middle finger while cleaning his gun.
• That didn't take long: Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard got into it in the season opener.
• Here's video of a dog getting his owner a beer. That's a good doggie.
• Anthony Davis started the NBA season with an Olajuwon-esque statline.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Texas A&M hopes to rebound from a 59-0 loss to Alabama with an easy win over ULM this Saturday.
And to help the Aggies win in style, the program has unveiled throwback uniforms for Saturday’s game against the Warhawks.
These uniforms are a tribute to the 1939 Texas A&M team and feature an awesome leather-like helmet design.
Check out Texas A&M’s uniforms for this Saturday:
So long, Donald Sterling. The exiled, former Los Angeles Clippers owner has left his seat open as basketball’s worst holder of a franchise. And the Sacramento Kings’ Vivek Ranadive seems eager to claim Sterling’s old title.
Ranadive, who purchased the Kings in the spring of 2013, has quickly developed a reputation as a meddlesome owner. Recent leaks, via Grantland’s Zach Lowe, suggest he has tried to influence his team’s on-court strategy. It’s almost never a good thing when an owner tries to double down as a coach, and it’s especially bad when he wants the implementation of a zany novelty like cherry-picking. According to Lowe, “Ranadive has pitched the idea to the team’s brain trust of playing 4-on-5 defense and leaving one player to cherry-pick, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.”
It doesn’t take a roundball genius to see the flaws in this strategy. NBA teams—even the bad ones—are all capable of exploiting a literally undermanned defense, on virtually every possession. It takes only a cursory understanding of ball movement to consistently find the unaccounted-for man. And while the 2014-15 Kings don’t have a lot of promise defensively, they would end up right in the league’s basement if they went this route with any regularity.
Previously, a Grantland mini-documentary about the Kings’ war room during this past June’s NBA Draft showed Ranadive as a man with questionable ideas. In the clip below, Ranadive urges his front office to draft Nik Stauskas at No. 8 overall, not point guard Elfrid Payton. The Kings went Ranadive’s way, drafting an iffy shooting prospect for the second straight summer (after picking Ben McLemore in 2013) and passing on Payton, a passing visionary who would fit right into what’s perhaps Sacramento’s biggest hole.
As you can see, Ranadive has a way of getting what he wants. With billionaire entrepreneurs, that tends to be the case. Kings fans just better be hoping that Vivek learns the lessons of overzealous ownership fast, and enables shrewder basketball minds to do their work.
— John Wilmes
The initial College Football Playoff rankings were released amid a sea of anti-SEC sentiment and swirling ESPN conspiracy theories. Gasp, four of the top six teams hail from the SEC.
Why did this happen? Because the SEC and ESPN have a business relationship? For the angry mob, that means ESPN is propping up a bunch of phony SEC teams with talking head rhetoric. At the same time, the Mothership undermines every other quality team in the nation with negative publicity while turning a blind eye to the SEC's problems.
There is so much wrong with these theories that it's almost difficult to pick a place to begin.
Unlike ESPN, I have zero financial ties or obligations to the Southeastern Conference.
Athlon Sports doesn't sell any more magazines if we pick the SEC to win the national title or rank their teams in our Top 25. There is no evidence to suggest we make more of a profit by picking one team or league over another.
The beauty of working for SiriusXM College Sports Nation is that there are no ratings. Not one host on our channel is beholden to any one league or another because it drives or doesn’t drive listenership.
At both companies, our conversations are driven by the love of the college game. I’ve been taught to have anything but an SEC bias.
But only the truly irrational and blindly ignorant would argue against the SEC as the best college football has to offer right now.
First, the concept that ESPN benefits somehow from more SEC teams landing in the four-team playoff is comical. Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida State would pull bigger TV ratings than Ole Miss or Mississippi State.
In fact, the most-watched college football game of the season was the Seminoles' narrow victory over the Irish two weeks ago (8.5 overnight). As ESPN College GameDay anchor and ABC broadcaster Chris Fowler said, the entirety of the sport and its financial partners, benefit the most when more regions of the country are represented. ESPN would benefit the most from a dominant Big Ten in particular.
B1G fans convinced SEC coverage traced to company business: NOTHING would boost abc/ESPN CFB biz more than a dominant B1G. Nothing. Trust me— Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) October 22, 2014
Maybe Ohio State is No. 16 and Notre Dame is No. 10 because they just aren’t as good. Isn't it possible that the SEC Network's ratings would actually go up if the SEC gets left out of the Playoff?
Second, ESPN carries nearly every ACC game, most Big Ten games and shares the Big 12 and Pac-12 with FOX. So ESPN is in bed with those leagues as well to varying degrees.
A direct competitor, CBS, is the top SEC broadcaster every Saturday. So we're now suggesting that ESPN is intentionally propping up a direct competitor? College GameDay has been to three Florida State games this year, more than any other team in the nation.
Listen to the Week 9 recap podcast:
Third, the idea that Florida State's current publicity nightmare has somehow been fabricated because of a media witch hunt is myopic and silly. I've just shown you how valuable Florida State to the Mothership.
No, Jameis Winston, Jimbo Fisher, Karlos Williams, the Tallahassee Police Department and the powers that be at Florida State have only themselves to blame for their current PR predicament. The New York Times and FOX Sports have done an excellent job proving this point.
Yet Seminoles fans everywhere claim that the SEC hasn't gotten the same treatment. Are you kidding? Last I checked, Johnny Manziel received comparable airtime for less significant allegations or improprieties just one season ago.
Fourth, no outside influence — not even a powerful broadcast network — should be able to sway the College Football Playoff committee in any way. If a committee member is making decisions in that Dallas hotel based on what Jesse Palmer or Danny Kanell have poured into the ether, then they have far less integrity than previously believed and should no longer be working on the panel.
Lastly, and most important, has anyone outside of the South considered that maybe four of the best six teams in the nation are from the SEC?
Kansas State had a shot at Auburn at home and lost. Wisconsin had LSU beat and couldn't finish. Clemson tried to stop Georgia but failed. West Virginia played well against Alabama and still lost by double digits. Arkansas, a team that has lost 16 consecutive SEC games, went on the road and crushed Texas Tech.
Quality lower-tiered teams like East Carolina, UCF, Utah State and Boise State had Goliath on a big stage and got beat as well. These are all good teams (well, except Texas Tech) and all of them wilted against the SEC.
Oklahoma topped a bad Tennessee team at home and Missouri inexplicably lost to Indiana. That's it.
From the most powerful booster to the guy sitting in the top row, from the athletic director to the guy who laces the cleats, the SEC is simply more committed to winning than any other league. Sometimes that means it breaks more rules and crosses more lines, but that's because the SEC wants it more.
The SEC has won all but one national title since 2006, it puts more players into the NFL than any other league and has anyone found a poll or ranking from anyone with any credibility that suggests the SEC isn't the best? In fact, the top four teams in the nation according to both Football Outsiders and Sagarin Ratings all play in the SEC.
Stop making excuses, creating confounded conspiracies and pointing fingers.
The reason four of the top six — and six of the top 19 — teams in the initial playoff rankings are from the SEC is because they deserve to be there.
It's not any more complicated than that.
Tampa, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made their second trade of the day during Tuesday's deadline by sending linebacker Jonathan Casillas to the New England Patriots for an undisclosed swap of 2015 draft choices.
According to ESPN.com, the Patriots will give the Buccaneers their fifth-round pick in exchange for Tampa Bay's sixth rounder and Casillas, a five-year veteran who started the first three games of this season before being displaced by Danny Lansanah.
Tampa Bay also traded another defensive player on Tuesday, shipping safety and 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron to St. Louis for reported fourth and sixth- round selections in 2015.
As for the Patriots, they acquired their second linebacker through a trade in less than a week. The AFC East leaders obtained Akeem Ayers from Tennessee last Wednesday in another exchange of 2015 draft picks.
Casillas was in his second season with Tampa Bay after a three-year stint with New Orleans. The 27-year-old has recorded 138 tackles and three sacks while starting 15 out of 55 career games.
Atlanta, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - Twelve-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey has decided to call an end to an illustrious 15-year playing career, his agent announced Tuesday.
Jack Reale, Bailey's longtime representative, said his client has received offers from teams following his release from the New Orleans Saints in August but has instead chosen to explore other options.
"At this time, Champ has decided not to accept on-field opportunities and pursue another career path," Reale told ESPN.com. "To play the end of this season and maybe next season, given his opportunities, he could have done that. But he decided it was best to move on to those other areas. I think everybody on his team agreed that was a good approach."
Bailey was one of the league's most dominant defensive players of the 2000s, earning All-Pro honors for five consecutive seasons from 2003-07 and leading the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2006. His 12 Pro Bowl selections is tied with Hall of Famer Ken Houston for the most in NFL history by a defensive back.
The seventh overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft by Washington, Bailey played five seasons with the Redskins before being sent to Denver in a blockbuster 2004 trade for running back Clinton Portis.
Bailey spent the next 10 seasons with the Broncos and finished his career among the franchise's all-time leaders in interceptions (34) and passes defensed (102). He was released by Denver shortly after Super Bowl XLVIII following an injury-plagued 2013 campaign.
"Congratulations to 12-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey on an outstanding career," the Broncos tweeted Tuesday.
The 36-year-old had signed with the Saints in April but was released during final cuts.
Over 215 career regular season games with Denver and Washington, Bailey amassed 52 interceptions -- four of which were returned for touchdowns — and 235 pass breakups.
The original reality TV show is sports. No contrived setting where seven strangers living in a house or one bachelor searching for love can match the excitement the Iron Bowl delivered last fall.
The beauty of college football lies in its complete unpredictability and drama. Here are some outrageous predictions for Week 10.
Note: The point of this column is to have some fun and make some outlandish predictions. Please react accordingly.
Florida State will take the blame for something
That’s right, I said it. Jimbo Fisher and Florida State will have to accept responsibility for losing to Louisville on Thursday night. It won’t be the SEC’s fault. It won’t be ESPN’s fault. It won’t even be Kirk Herbstreit’s fault. No, if and when the Seminoles score fewer points than the Cardinals, Fisher will have to take the podium and acknowledge that it was his team that lost the game.
Stanford will lose to Oregon
Just picking an upset normally doesn’t warrant “outrageous” consideration. However, Stanford has dominated Oregon of late and has cost the Ducks a couple of trips to the Pac-12 title game (or more). This season will be Marcus Mariota’s breakthrough performance and his first win over archrival and two-time defending Pac-12 champ Stanford. Although, Oregon will likely lose to Utah next weekend if it beats the Cardinal this Saturday.
Trevone Boykin, Clint Trickett will throw for 1,000 yards
Trickett is sixth nationally at 345.4 passing yards per game this season. Boykin is eighth at 329.4. The Frogs defense ranks 116th nationally in passing yards allowed in conference play at 324.0 yards per game. West Virginia is 50th nationally in the same category. Look for both QBs to air it out in an old-fashioned Big (East) 12 shootout.
Will Muschamp won’t make it back to Gainesville
We all know that Muschamp isn’t likely to return as the Gators coach in 2015 but many Florida fans have pointed to the Cocktail Party matchup against rival Georgia as the last straw. A fourth consecutive loss to Mark Richt would force Jeremy Foley’s hand and would likely be the last loss for Muschamp on the Gators' sideline.
Utah will be alone in first place in the Pac-12 South
The Utes are a 5.5-point underdog to Arizona State this weekend but defensively match up very well with a team that struggled to score last weekend against Washington. A win for Utah gives ASU a second league loss and pushes the Utes to 4-1. When Arizona loses to UCLA in the Rose Bowl, Utah will find itself alone in first place of the Pac-12 South entering Week 11.
Irving, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett did not reveal any details regarding Tony Romo's injury in Tuesday's press conference, but he did confirm linebacker Justin Durant has a torn biceps.
Garrett hesitated to rule out Durant for the rest of the season, but said "it's a serious injury" and the team will make a decision based on "how much time is left in the season and what the options are."
Durant suffered the injury during the second half of Monday's 20-17 overtime loss to the Redskins. The weakside linebacker has emerged as a solid contributor to an already depleted defense and leads the team in tackles (49) despite missing two games.
The Cowboys are already without star linebacker Sean Lee and will likely have to find a replacement for Durant given the nature of the injury.
Romo, meanwhile, suffered what the team called a back contusion on Monday and there was no additional information at the time of Garrett's presser.
"We did X-rays at the stadium (on Monday) and that allowed us to say he could go back in (Monday's game)," Garrett said. "We are doing additional scans to make sure if there's anything else going on."
Romo exited early in the third quarter after taking a knee to his surgically repaired back. He returned for the final possession of regulation and overtime but was clearly limited in his abilities.
Athlon Sports has formed a Heisman Trophy committee. Each week, we will ask 13 members of the national college football media to rank their top candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
Each voter will rank their top five candidates, with each first-place vote getting five points and each last-place vote getting one point.
Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports
Dave Revsine, Big Ten Network
Adam Zucker, CBS Sports
Steven Godfrey, SBNation
Zac Ellis, Sports Illustrated
Bryan Fischer, NFL.com
Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Network
Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report, B/R Radio
Josh Ward, MrSEC.com
Mitch Light, Athlon Sports
David Fox, Athlon Sports
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports, SiriusXM
Dropped out: Kevin White, Bo Wallace
Listen to the Week 9 recap podcast:
The Top 3:
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Late on Friday night, Marcus Mariota watched a double deflection end his interception-less streak. Otherwise, he was perfect once again in a critical road win against Cal. He became Oregon’s all-time leading passer by throwing for 326 yards and five touchdowns, passing Bill Musgrave, while adding 36 yards rushing on six carries. Mariota will face Stanford and Utah over the next two weeks.
Season Stats: 2,283 yards, 68.82%, 24 TDs, 1 INTs, 325 rush yards, 5 TDs
2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi St
With a struggling defense, Prescott is being asked to carry his team to victory each week. He got plenty of help from Josh Robinson (198 yards, 2 TD) but still delivered in a big way on the road against Kentucky. The Bulldogs' QB threw for 216 yards, one touchdown and one interception while rushing 18 times for 88 yards and two touchdowns. He is just the fifth player in the last decade to account for at least three touchdowns in each of his team’s first seven games.
Season Stats: 1,694 yards, 60.3%, 15 TDs, 5 INTs, 664 rush yards, 10 TDs
3. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
The star Huskers tailback set a school record with 341 all-purpose yards in the win over Rutgers. He rushed for 225 yards, topping 200 yards on the ground in a game for the fourth time this season. He added 26 yards receiving and 90 on kick returns while scoring three more touchdowns. His 1,249 yards are leading the nation and his 17 TDs are second.
Season Stats: 180 att., 1,249 yards, 6.9 ypc, 17 TDs, 13 rec., 169 yards, 2 TD
Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers and more.
Today, David looks toward the future with a menu of potential Cup Series drivers for which you may want to start rooting.
At some point, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver roster will get an infusion of young talent, drivers that aren’t rookies now and might not be in 2015. Some of those names you might already know, especially if you make NASCAR Nationwide Series races appointment viewing every Saturday. You might already have a favorite or two out of the latest litter, but in case you don’t, I’ve compiled this handy fan’s guide to the future Cup Series rookies:
Are you a fan of nostalgia, strong family ties and easy championships? Chase Elliott is your driver.
A frustrating sight at short tracks is when a young driver fails to succeed despite having the best car and crew and deepest resources. Elliott had all of that, plus a famous dad, but capitalized on the opportunities given to him, smoking fields at hallowed grounds across the nation, collecting trophies from such notable events like the All American 400, the Snowball Derby and the Winchester 400.
Bill Elliott, the 1988 Cup Series champion and a 16-time winner of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver award, helped make sure his son Chase, now 19, had everything at his competitive disposal. That Chase was able to take advantage was a good sign — one seen by Rick Hendrick, who signed the younger Elliott to a development contract over three years ago.
Now in the Nationwide Series, Elliott, the top-ranked Cup Series prospect per MotorsportsAnalytics.com, is poised for a series title in his rookie year, having collected wins at Texas, Darlington and Chicagoland. His aggression level is high, and a weapon he used to pick off the win at Darlington, easily his year’s best highlight. He’ll fit into the system already in place at Hendrick Motorsports, which amplifies the talents of drivers who utilize intelligence and aggression. He’s the closest thing to a sure thing among a deep crop of rising talent.
Are you a motorsports snob and appreciate refined race craft? Ryan Blaney is your driver.
While Blaney was still acclimating to life in high school, he was displaying a veteran-like presence on short tracks around the Carolinas.
Unlike his father Dave, who is a Dirt Sprint Car legend, Ryan was nurtured on pavement and learned pace and conservation early enough — my best memory of him was a conservative ride at Hickory Motor Speedway that resulted in a savvy up-front finish as other gas-happy kids wore their equipment out — to have it translate to higher-mileage contests in NASCAR. His assimilation has been quick. He has a win for each year he’s raced in a NASCAR division, none more impressive than his score this summer at Bristol when he stymied Kyle Busch on a final restart in a Nationwide Series race.
Team Penske, a ubiquitous presence in practically all forms of racing, employs Blaney and has so much belief in him that they crammed his 2014 season full of races across three divisions and are loaning him out to Wood Brothers Racing for a partial Cup Series season in 2015.
Are you a blue-collar worker with dirt under your nails and might have rooted for a black No. 3 car back in the day? Corey LaJoie is your driver.
Richard Petty Motorsports holds contractual rights to LaJoie, but didn’t bend over backwards for him until recently, placing him into four Nationwide Series races with fellow Ford team Biagi-DenBeste Racing. Up until that, LaJoie went at it alone, essentially acting as his own crew chief in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, where he ran neck-and-neck with Kyle Larson in 2012, scoring more victories (five) than Larson (two), but falling short in the title battle.
LaJoie’s outspoken nature could prove polarizing in the Dale Earnhardt sense or entertaining in the Clint Bowyer sense; however, he has enough talent — he’s a bit of a chameleon, an aggressive driver with a high Race IQ while also an ace equipment and tire conservationist — to back up whatever statements he chooses to make. And despite having family ties to the sport — father Randy is a two-time Nationwide Series champion — LaJoie created much of his heightened prospect status with his work ethic, a relatable trait to even the most old-school of NASCAR fans.
Do you seldom watch racing, choosing only to watch the Daytona 500, the finale at Homestead and the occasional driver appearance on a late-night talk show? Darrell Wallace is your driver.
This isn’t a knock on Wallace, who became the first African-American winner in NASCAR’s three major divisions in 50 years with his Truck Series triumph at Martinsville last season. This season in the Truck Series, he has already tripled his 2013 win total and has an outside shot at the series title with three races remaining. He’s got driving chops.
He also oozes star power, reaching to both African Americans and millennials. To the latter group, Wallace is inherently relatable, displaying a style not familiar with the Wrangler-wearing crowd and poise beyond his years that today’s kids should aim to emulate. Already firmly entrenched at Joe Gibbs Racing and with manufacturer Toyota, Wallace’s ticket is already punched for the big time. Becoming a personality that transcends the sport of racing is only a matter of when. He’ll be playing egg roulette with Jimmy Fallon in no time.
Do you root for the Cinderella team every year during March Madness? Chris Buescher is your driver.
There isn’t a single driver among the next batch of NASCAR stars that has transformed themselves more than Buescher, a rookie for Roush Fenway Racing in the Nationwide Series. Once a wild-driving kid in Legend Cars, Buescher’s aggressiveness, once enrolled in the Roush School of Driving Like Matt Kenseth Does, balanced out and he emerged as a textbook racecar driver, one who conserves equipment yet finds unmatched speed. This resulted in an ARCA Series championship in 2012. That season he became the first driver in series history to complete every lap of competition during a calendar year while also winning four races, tying for the season’s most.
Buescher is already a Nationwide Series race winner and, with the organization promoting Trevor Bayne to the seat of its new No. 6 team in 2015, is in the on-deck circle once a Cup ride opens up at Roush Fenway. He might be an underdog, though, if he remains at Roush, which has lacked title-worthy pop the last three years. Buescher is a quiet kid, one who might not attract a large number of fans or the ritziest of sponsors. Fans that do latch on to Buescher will be a part of group cheering on something special and when one of his seasons breaks the right way, they’ll have a plum seat on the bandwagon ride to the top.
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak is not interested in celebrating any checkpoints or milestones in his rebuilding of the program. The Utes clearly are making progress as Krystkowiak enters his fourth season, but he’s not declaring the project ahead of schedule.
“We’re in the middle of the process, showing steady improvement,” Krystkowiak says.
That’s his only gauge of where the Utes are, having gone from 3–15 in Pac-12 play in his first season to 5–13 and then 9–9 (with a bunch of close losses) last year. The growth was sufficient for the school to award Krystkowiak a new five-year contract, and his recruiting success suggests that the upward trend will continue in 2014-15 and beyond.
The Utah edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
The best illustration of how far the Utes have come may be reflected in junior forward Jordan Loveridge’s role this season. After averaging 36.3 minutes in Pac-12 games last season, Loveridge will have much more help up front, which means he’s unlikely to play nearly as many minutes.
Much is expected from Kyle Kuzma, who should create matchup issues. Another freshman, Brekkott Chapman, also is multidimensional, and junior college transfer Chris Reyes also should help.
Loveridge led the Utes with 7.0 rebounds per game, and Krystkowiak is seeking a better effort on the boards from his entire team. In conference games, the Utes ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding, grabbing only 68.4 percent of their opponents’ misses. That deficiency hurt them at the end of some tight games, but it could fixed by the Utes having bigger players at every position in 2014-15.
During a summer workout, Krystkowiak was thrilled to look at one end of the court and see six quality big men doing drills, a sign that Utah would have much more depth up front.
Dallin Bachynski and Jeremy Olsen are steady, solid players who complement one another at center. Olsen joined Loveridge on the Pac-12 all-star team, coached by Krystkowiak, that toured China. The Utes continued to upgrade their athletic ability by signing Austrian 7-footer Jakob Poeltl.
When he arrived at Utah, Krystkowiak’s recruiting was designed mainly to fill the roster. His staff now can be much more selective in targeting players, and the results are impressive. The Utes will be able to put different lineups on the court and take advantage of certain matchups.
Utah Utes Facts & Figures
Last season: 21-12, 9-9 Pac-12
Last NCAA Tournament: 2009
Coach: Larry Krystkowiak (42-55 at Utah, 17-36 Pac-12)
Pac-12 Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
Delon Wright was a great discovery for Utah as a junior college transfer, and his decision to stay in school for his senior season rather than enter the NBA was a big boost to the Utes. Wright took over at point guard and finished second in the Pac-12 in steals (2.5 spg), third in field-goal shooting (.561) and fourth in assists (5.3 apg), while leading the Utes in scoring (15.5 ppg) and ranking second in rebounding (6.8 rpg).
Wright and his teammates must perform better in the clutch. Dakarai Tucker took a pass from Loveridge and hit a clinching 3-pointer against Washington in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament, but strong finishes were rare for the Utes. They had fewer turnovers than their opponents, but the Utes’ mistakes seem to come at the worst times.
Some combination of Brandon Taylor, Kenneth Ogbe and Tucker will fill the other backcourt roles, while freshman Isaiah Wright also may provide some relief for Delon Wright, who averaged 36.4 minutes per game.
Utah’s 21–12 overall record in 2013-14 was deceiving, and so were some of their statistics, because of a very weak non-conference schedule that included only one road game. The level of competition will be upgraded considerably, with a home game vs. Wichita State, plus matchups against Kansas (in Kansas City) and UNLV on a “neutral court” in Las Vegas.
Krystkowiak hopes that those games will serve as good preparation for Pac-12 play, and that the experience of having competed in so many close battles last year will translate to greater success in pressure situations.
Too many times in 2013-14, the Utes came down the stretch “and were kind of looking over our shoulder, wondering if it’s going to happen again,” Krystkowiak says.
Judging strictly by conference play, the Utes statistically performed better than a .500 team in the Pac-12. With some better finishes, the Utes should be able to continue their climb in the Pac-12 and contend for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Freshman forwards Kyle Kuzma and Brekkott Chapman bring versatility to the frontcourt. Kuzma can execute low-post moves, handle the ball and rebound at both ends of the court. Forward Chris Reyes, a junior college transfer who started his college career at Saint Mary’s, should help with his rebounding ability. Austrian center Jakob Poeltl is a skilled 7-footer with good fundamentals.
When Steve Alford was chosen to replace longtime coach Ben Howland in April 2013, the hire didn’t exactly have UCLA fans jumping for joy. Howland, after all, had taken the Bruins to three straight Final Fours in the past decade and was fresh off a Pac-12 regular-season title. Alford, meanwhile, had reached the Sweet 16 just once as a coach — 14 years prior, with upstart Southwest Missouri State.
But when the dust had settled somewhat and Alford’s first UCLA team actually took the court, winning soothed most of those concerns. His players quickly bought in, and despite a rather uninspiring run through a less-than-intimidating non-conference schedule, the Bruins’ up-tempo, high-powered offense quickly became a force to be reckoned with in March, when it mattered most.
After dropping its worst game of the season to Washington State in the regular-season finale, UCLA burned through the Pac-12 Tournament like it had something to prove, pulling off a fantastic, last-minute victory over Arizona in the title game. That momentum carried the Bruins all the way to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008.
Alford will have to do some serious remodeling to repeat those results during the 2014-15 season, with four of five starters and his top bench option gone. But with a top-flight recruiting class coming in and some talent already in place, Alford might be in position to prove his doubters wrong again in Year 2.
The UCLA edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
Twins Travis and David Wear never quite provided the post presence that UCLA needed to be taken seriously down low, and despite high expectations, one-time top recruit Tony Parker has yet to pan out as the Bruins might’ve hoped.
But after a year of dealing with a paper-thin frontcourt, Alford and his staff made it a point to get bigger and stronger down low. UCLA added four frontcourt players in this year’s recruiting class, highlighted by five-star forward Kevon Looney, and should finally have the versatility to play inside and out.
“You’ve got to be able to adjust to what you have,” Alford says. “Now, we have a lot more size. Going into this year, our hope is that we can play out of the post and still play at a high tempo.”
That should mean a very different-looking offense and, likely, an increased role for Parker, whom Alford says he’s counting on to make the most significant improvement of any player on the roster.
Whoever it is filling the void, though, UCLA will have to find some way to replace the rebounding prowess of point forward Kyle Anderson and wing Jordan Adams, who combined for almost half the Bruins’ rebounding output last season.
UCLA Bruins Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-9, 12-6 Pac-12
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: 2
Coach: Steve Alford (28-9 at UCLA, 12-6 Pac-12
Pac-12 Projection: Fourth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
Losing Anderson, Adams, and enigmatic one-and-done Zach LaVine — all three of whom were first-round NBA Draft picks — could make for an insurmountable blow to UCLA’s backcourt, especially after Alford and his staff missed out on getting guard help in this year’s recruiting class.
But Alford has the utmost confidence in his son, Bryce, to take over Anderson’s spot at point guard, repeatedly referring to him “a coach on the floor” this offseason. And in redshirt freshman Isaac Hamilton, who sat out last season, UCLA will have a consummate five-star talent to play next to him and take on some of the scoring load.
The pair of young guards will have Norman Powell to lean on, at least. The senior guard exploded offensively toward the end of last season, averaging 14 points per game during the postseason.
Losing its talented core from last season will probably hurt UCLA early on in 2014-15, as it tries to find the same rhythm it harnessed during last year’s postseason run. The Bruins will also have a tougher road to travel, with a beefed-up non-conference schedule that includes Kentucky and Gonzaga. But assuming Alford follows through on his promise to adjust to a very different roster, UCLA should have the talent to be a player in the Pac-12 again this season. Unseating a top contender like Arizona might be too much to ask, but if Hamilton and Looney come through on their five-star potential, and the younger Alford can keep UCLA’s up-tempo offense on track, then the Bruins could make a splash come March.
Without much size last season, Steve Alford made it a point to shore up the frontcourt with his first full recruiting haul, adding an impressive four-man class, all of whom stand 6-9 or taller. The gem among them should be Kevon Looney, a five-star talent who dominates the boards. Seven-footer Thomas Welsh and versatile forward Jonah Bolden should help bolster depth, while Gyorgy Goloman will take time to develop.
Those trends figure to continue in 2014-15 with Arizona challenging to end the league’s Final Four drought dating back to UCLA in 2008. The Bruins are rebuilding, but they’re rarely without the talent to challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Shakeups have occurred in this league in recent seasons, but perhaps one of the most surprising developments has been the rise of the two newest members.
Colorado and Utah figured to contribute little to the basketball product of the Pac-12 when they joined in 2011. This season, they could be two of the league's better teams.
Instead, Colorado under Tad Boyle is enjoying its most successful period in program history. Utah has reached the Final Four in its past but has been an afterthought for most of the last decade or so. After winning six total games as recently 2011-12, the Utes are poised to complete a quick rise that could end in the NCAA Tournament this season.
Arizona’s place as the league’s prohibitive favorite along with the emerging programs at Colorado, Utah and Stanford may be the top storylines in a league in a state of flux. Cal, Washington State and Oregon State have new coaches. Oregon and Arizona State have personnel losses that will make returns to the NCAA Tournament difficult.
Previews of every Pac-12 team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
Pac-12 2014-15 Preseason Picks
1. Arizona (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Final Four
Sean Miller has his usual surplus of talent. He might get an upgrade going from Nick Johnson to Stanley Johnson.
2. Colorado (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
Always-underrated Buffs return four starters, including one of league’s better big men in Josh Scott.
3. Stanford (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
Johnny Dawkins got the Cardinal back in the NCAAs. He has enough talent to go again.
4. UCLA (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
NBA early exits cost the Bruins three players and knocked them down a few rungs, but they won’t fall far.
5. Utah (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
Larry Krystkowiak can coach, and he welcomes back four starters to what could be the league’s most improved team.
Postseason projection: NIT
To really flourish, new coach Cuonzo Martin needs to get more out of guard Jabari Bird than his predecessor.
Postseason projection: NIT
The Ducks were gutted by scandal, transfers and graduation. Just four players return. Who are these guys?
Postseason projection: NIT
Andy Enfield has recruited well with his two classes, but he’s a year away from noticeable results.
The talent is down. Attendance is down. The unthinkable is happening: Lorenzo Romar is on the hot seat.
10. Arizona State
The Sun Devils had four players transfer out and another leave early for the NBA. That’s not the look of a winner.
11. Oregon State
New coach Wayne Tinkle doesn’t have any presidential connections. He’ll need help from someone.
12. Washington State
Ernie Kent takes on the toughest job in the Pac-12. He may wonder why he left the broadcast booth.
2014-15 Pac-12 Superlatives
Player of the Year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
The five-star swingman can score from anywhere on the court. His arrival at Arizona further solidifies the Wildcats’ trend as a recruiting powerhouse.
Best Defensive Player: David Kravish, Cal
Cal is hoping Kravish becomes a more well-rounded offensive threat, but for now, he’s a standout interior defender. He averaged 7.7 rebounds a year ago.
Most Underrated Player: DaVonte Lacy, Washington State
Who finished second in the Pac-12 in scoring last season? Unless you were following closely, you may have missed that it was Lacy, who averaged 19.4 points.
Newcomer of the Year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Johnson follows Aaron Gordon as a star California prospect to head to Arizona — and probably go one-and-done.
Top coach: Sean Miller, Arizona (full Pac-12 coach rankings)
G Delon Wright, Utah
G Chasson Randle, Stanford
F Brandon Ashley, Arizona
F Stanley Johnson, Arizona
F Josh Scott, Colorado
G Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
G Askia Booker, Colorado
G Joseph Young, Oregon
F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson , Arizona
F Anthony Brown, Stanford
G T.J. McConnell, Arizona
G DaVonté Lacy, Washington State
G Norman Powell, UCLA
F Kevon Looney, UCLA
F David Kravish, Cal
The first rankings by the College Football Playoff selection committee followed the mainstream sentiment with three SEC West teams in the top four.
The only mild surprise was the three teams included. Auburn debuted at No. 3 despite a single loss to Mississippi State on the road on Oct. 18. Ole Miss landed at No. 4 on the strength of a win over Alabama on Oct. 4.
Here’s how the first top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Oct. 28|
|1. Mississippi State||10. Notre Dame||18. Oklahoma|
|2. Florida State||11. Georgia||19. LSU|
|3. Auburn||12. Arizona||20. West Virginia|
|4. Ole Miss||13. Baylor||21. Clemson|
|5. Oregon||14. Arizona State||22. UCLA|
|6. Alabama||15. Nebraska||23. East Carolina|
|7. TCU||16. Ohio State||24. Duke|
|8. Michigan State||17. Utah||25. Louisville|
|9. Kansas State|
Auburn at No. 3.
The Tigers ended up as the highest-ranked one-loss team ahead of Alabama, Ole Miss and Oregon. The selection committee put significant weight on the Tigers’ 20-14 road win over Kansas State, a team the selection committee ranked ninth. Auburn’s only loss is on the road to No. 1 Mississippi State 38-23
Ole Miss at No. 4
The selection committee showed it wouldn’t follow the lead of the polls by ranking Ole Miss at No. 4, two spots ahead of Alabama. Both polls, which have no role in the playoff process, ranked Alabama No. 3. The AP had Ole Miss at No. 7, the coaches had the Rebels even lower at No. 9. Ole Miss defeated Alabama 23-17 on Oct. 4.
Who Shouldn’t Worry:
The committee placed Oregon at No. 5 despite a loss to Arizona, a team ranked 12th. Committee chair Jeff Long cited a win over Michigan State at home and UCLA on the road as contributing to a strong “body of work” in his interview on ESPN. In interviews with reporters, Long also noted the injury to starting left tackle Jake Fisher in the loss to Arizona. Fisher is now healthy. The Ducks control their own path to the Playoff as the three SEC teams start to weed themselves out.
No reason for the Crimson Tide to worry about being No. 6. The Tide still have two of the top three teams on their schedule, both at home. If the committee liked the head-to-head win for Ole Miss over Alabama, it will love a Tide team with wins over Mississippi State and Auburn.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised
TCU and Kansas State
The pair of Big 12 teams that were nowhere to be found in preseason top 15, but both landed in the top 10. The Horned Frogs and Wildcats have wins over Oklahoma and narrow losses to fellow one loss teams (Baylor for TCU, Auburn for Kansas State).
Who Should Worry:
We don’t know what would be considered a major climb from the first playoff poll to the final one, but Ohio State could present an interesting test. The Buckeyes, who lost at home to 4-4 Virginia Tech, started at No. 16. Entering Tuesday, Ohio State knew it needed to beat No. 8 Michigan State for a shot at the playoff. Now, the Buckeyes have to wonder if even that will be enough.
The Irish were ranked sixth in the AP poll but 10th in the playoff poll due to the lack of significant wins. A good showing in a loss in Tallahassee wasn’t enough to move up any further.
East Carolina and Marshall appeared to be the clubhouse leaders for the Group of 5 spot in the New Year’s bowls, but Marshall probably needs one-loss East Carolina to lose again ... at least. Marshall was unranked while ECU landed at No. 23. The Thundering Herd has one of the weakest schedules in the country while East Carolina beat Virginia Tech and North Carolina and lost to South Carolina.
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 4 Ole Miss
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Auburn
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 7 TCU vs. No. 10 Notre Dame
Fiesta: No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 9 Kansas State
Orange: No. 21 Clemson^ vs. No. 6 Alabama
Peach: No. 23 East Carolina* vs. No. 8 Michigan State
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
The race to claim one of college football’s four playoff spots is officially in the home stretch. Week 10 is the first Saturday in November, leaving little time for teams to solidify their case as a playoff contender.
The playoff committee releases its first set of rankings on Tuesday, Oct. 28, but there will be plenty of changes over the next month.
Consider this: There are 16 one-loss teams from the Power 5 conferences. Over the next six weeks, 11 games are scheduled where both teams currently have one loss. And that doesn’t count showdowns between Mississippi State and Alabama and Ole Miss versus Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
Needless to say, much of college football’s rankings and playoff picture is going to be shaped by what happens in November.
With nine weeks in the books, let’s rank the top 15 one-loss teams heading into the first weekend in November. Keep in mind: These rankings reflect what has happened on the field so far and no projection into future weeks.
Ranking College Football’s One-Loss Teams
1. Ole Miss
Pick a team from the SEC as the No. 1 spot in this list. The case for Alabama is strong, as the Crimson Tide may end up as the best team in the SEC by the end of the year. But that’s a month away, and Ole Miss defeated Alabama 23-17 in Oxford on Oct. 4. The strength of coach Hugh Freeze’s team is a defense allowing just 4.4 yards per play. Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche was lost for the year due to an ankle injury, but the defense should remain one of the best in the SEC. With an elite defense, Ole Miss doesn’t necessarily need an explosive offense. However, the Rebels need better production from their ground attack (3.9 ypc) and turnover-free play from quarterback Bo Wallace.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Auburn (Nov. 1)
Games Remaining Against Undefeated Teams: Mississippi State (Nov. 29)
As mentioned above, a compelling case can be made the Crimson Tide is college football’s best one-loss team. The Rebels get the nod over Alabama – for now - since they won the head-to-head matchup. Since losing 23-17 to Ole Miss, Alabama has rebounded by winning three games in a row, including a 59-0 blowout over Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide average 218.6 rushing yards per game, and receiver Amari Cooper has grabbed 71 catches for 1,132 yards. And here’s an interesting stat in Lane Kiffin’s first season calling the plays in Tuscaloosa: Alabama’s offense leads the SEC by averaging 6.96 yards per play. As usual in Tuscaloosa, the defense is strong. Alabama is holding opponents to 4.5 yards per play and 14 points per game. Pass defense is the Crimson Tide’s biggest concern, but this team will have a chance to climb in the playoff poll with remaining matchups against LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Auburn (Nov. 29)
Games Remaining Against Undefeated Teams: Mississippi State (Nov. 15)
Auburn’s ranking here demonstrates just how crowded the SEC West is in 2014. The Tigers rank No. 4 in the latest Associated Press poll, yet rank as the third-best one-loss team. Similar to last season, Auburn is winning games with its offense. The Tigers average 6.91 yards per play and 39.3 points per game. The defense has improved since last year, but there’s plenty of work to do on this side of the ball. Auburn needs better play from its secondary (eight touchdowns allowed in SEC play) and a better pass rush (12 sacks). A daunting schedule is still ahead for the Tigers over the next few weeks, starting with a road trip to Ole Miss this Saturday, followed by a home date against Texas A&M and then road dates at Georgia and Alabama to finish SEC play.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Ole Miss (Nov. 1), at Georgia (Nov. 15), at Alabama (Nov. 29)
If Oregon is going to reach college football’s playoff, it will have to do so on the strength of its offense. The Ducks lead all Power 5 teams by averaging 7.5 yards per play and average 45.5 points per game. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman, and he’s surrounded by a talented group of weapons, along with an offensive line that has benefitted from the return of tackle Jake Fisher. Defensively, Oregon is allowing 5.7 yards per play and ranks last in the Pac-12 in opponent third-down conversions. The Ducks also rank 10th in the Pac-12 against the run, and opposing quarterbacks are completing 62.8 percent of their passes. The remaining schedule for Oregon features a home date against Stanford this Saturday, followed by a road trip against a dangerous Utah team on Nov. 8.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Utah (Nov. 8)
5. Michigan State
The Spartans are the favorite to win the Big Ten, but their position within the rankings could be determined on where Oregon falls at the end of the year. If the Ducks make the playoff, a one-loss Big Ten champion would have to be in the conversation for a spot among the top four. However, if Oregon stumbles to 9-3 and doesn’t win the North, how would the committee view Michigan State? The Spartans have won six in a row and are on bye before a huge showdown against Ohio State on Nov. 8. Pat Narduzzi’s defense isn’t as dominant as it was in 2013, but Michigan State is averaging 40.8 points per game in Big Ten play.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Ohio State (Nov. 8)
6. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish came up just short in their upset bid against Florida State, but an 11-1 final record would give Brian Kelly’s team a chance to make the four-team playoff. Notre Dame has played six Power 5 opponents this season and still has games remaining against Navy, Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC. Quarterback Everett Golson’s return has been huge for the offense, and the Fighting Irish are holding opponents to just 19.1 points a game.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Arizona State (Nov. 8)
The Bulldogs are quietly flying under the radar at 6-1, and coach Mark Richt’s team has the inside track to win the SEC East. Georgia has won its last two games (Arkansas and Missouri) without running back Todd Gurley, but true freshman Nick Chubb has 345 yards and three touchdowns in his absence. Quarterback Hutson Mason has tossed only three picks in SEC play and has been efficient in his last two games (32 of 45). The defense seems to be improving with each snap under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, limiting opponents to 20 points a game and just 4.7 yards per play. Georgia plays rival Florida in Jacksonville this Saturday, with a Nov. 15 home date against Auburn its toughest remaining game this year.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Auburn (Nov. 15)
8. Kansas State
The only blemish on K-State’s resume so far this year is a 20-14 loss to Auburn. The Wildcats knocked off Oklahoma in Norman on Oct. 18 and will have a chance to play their way into the playoff conversation with remaining games - all on the road - against TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. Coach Bill Snyder’s team is holding opponents to 19.3 points a game, while the offense is tied for seventh nationally in third-down conversions and has lost only six turnovers. Quarterback Jake Waters has not thrown an interception since Sept. 18.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at TCU (Nov. 8), at Baylor (Dec. 6)
The Bears’ playoff hopes took a hit in Morgantown with a 41-27 loss to West Virginia. But with only one defeat so far, Baylor still has time to play its way back into the playoff discussion. The Bears play at Oklahoma on Nov. 8 and host Kansas State on Dec. 6. The offense is averaging 49 points a game, but the primary concern for coach Art Briles is the line, which has recently lost two starters to season-ending injuries. Baylor also ranks last in the Big 12 in red zone defense.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Kansas State (Dec. 6)
Much like the Ole Miss-Alabama debate, we have to give the nod to Baylor over TCU since the Bears won on Oct. 11. However, the Horned Frogs are one of the nation’s most-improved teams and can take a step forward in the Big 12 title hunt with a win over West Virginia this Saturday. Quarterback Trevone Boykin has thrived under first-year coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham, throwing for 21 touchdowns to only three interceptions. As expected under coach Gary Patterson, TCU is strong on defense. The Horned Frogs are allowing only 4.9 yards per play and lead the Big 12 in third-down defense.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Kansas State (Nov. 8)
11. Ohio State
Urban Meyer’s team was dealt a significant setback in August, as quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the year due to a shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has filled in admirably for Miller, throwing for 1,689 yards and 21 scores while rushing for 458 yards and six touchdowns. Considering Barrett’s development over the last few weeks, the outcome of the Ohio State-Virginia Tech game would likely be much different if it was played in Week 10. Through seven games, the Buckeyes have showed slight improvement on defense, holding opponents to 20.7 points a game and 4.6 yards per play. While there is plenty of optimism about Ohio State, strength of schedule isn’t on its side. The Buckeyes have wins over Navy, Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State – a combined 23-23.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Michigan State (Nov. 8)
Arizona probably has the best conference win of any Pac-12 team, defeating Oregon 31-24 in Eugene on Oct. 2. But outside of that win, the Wildcats have played a relatively soft schedule and will be tested by a November schedule with trips to UCLA and Utah, along with home games against Washington and Arizona State. Arizona’s offense averages 40.6 points per game behind redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, but the defense ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12 (No. 8) in points allowed per game in conference play (33.5).
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Utah (Nov. 22), Arizona State (Nov. 28)
13. Arizona State
Arizona State has won five of its six games by at least 14 points, with its only loss coming to UCLA (62-27) without quarterback Taylor Kelly. The senior is back in the lineup, and led the Sun Devils to a win over Washington last Saturday, but backup Mike Bercovici is a capable option if Kelly is sidelined again this year. A rebuilt defense was coach Todd Graham’s biggest concern this season. So far, Arizona State's defense has been inconsistent, allowing 62 points to UCLA and 34 to USC but holding Stanford and Washington to just 20 combined points.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Utah (Nov. 1), Notre Dame (Nov. 8), at Arizona (Nov. 28)
The Utes are quietly one of the nation’s most-impressive teams through Week 9. Utah’s only loss was a one-point decision to Washington State, and coach Kyle Whittingham’s team is coming off a huge win over USC. The identity of Whittingham’s team is clear this season, as the rushing attack – led by Devontae Booker – ranks third in the Pac-12. The defense ranks second in the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 21.6 points per game and is first in sacks (35).
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Arizona State (Nov. 1), Oregon (Nov. 8), Arizona (Nov. 22)
The November slate will determine whether or not Nebraska wins the Big Ten West or loses four games for the sixth consecutive season. The Cornhuskers travel to Wisconsin and Iowa - arguably their biggest competition in the West Division - and host Minnesota. Running back Ameer Abdullah is one of the nation’s best, but quarterback Tommy Armstrong is still developing in his first full season as the starter. Nebraska is holding opponents to 20.5 points per game in Big Ten play.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: None
Years before Bruce Pearl took the Auburn job, the coach had already secured the approval of the most important face of Tigers basketball.
Pearl was midway through his tenure at Tennessee, and he had the Volunteers humming. The program's return to relevance in the SEC and the national stage was enough to draw the attention of Charles Barkley.
The Hall of Famer and Auburn legend reached out to Pearl and left the coach a voicemail.
“You don’t need to call me back,” Pearl recalls Barkley saying. “I know you don’t know me, but I’ve watched you coach. I like how hard your kids play. I like the swagger. It seems like you’re passionate. I just want to let you know I’m a fan.”
Pearl took this as the ultimate compliment. At the time, when he had Tennessee in the same stratosphere as Florida and Kentucky, Pearl had no way of knowing that this was a sign of his future in coaching.
Still, he followed Barkley’s request and went about his day.
“I did not call him back,” Pearl says. “I saved the message. It was special.”
Pearl and Barkley have crossed paths more often in recent months, since Pearl began a twofold resurrection process — that of his coaching career and that of Barkley’s alma mater.
Three years after he was fired at Tennessee and slapped with an NCAA penalty that essentially made him unhirable in the college ranks, Pearl has returned to the SEC, where he’ll try to accomplish what no one has been able to do for more than a decade. He’s looking to make Auburn relevant in basketball, not just in wins and losses but also to the school’s fan base.
“If anyone can do it, he has what it takes to do it,” says Tom Davis, the former Iowa coach who was the first to give Pearl a job in basketball at Boston College.
Indeed, Auburn has good reason to believe it scored a coup by hiring a coach with Pearl’s track record. Tennessee reached the NCAA Tournament all six seasons under Pearl, three times won at least a share of the SEC title, and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2010. He had opportunities to make the jump to higher-profile programs — Indiana was reportedly interested before hiring Kelvin Sampson — but he found a home in Knoxville. He had no plans to leave Tennessee.
What happened next is well documented. A cookout at his home with high school junior recruits led to a lie to the NCAA, which eventually led to his dismissal at Tennessee. Slapped with a three-year show-cause — which among other things bans a coach from recruiting — Pearl was basically unemployable by any other college.
Pearl embarked on a broadcasting career at ESPN and SiriusXM and served as a vice president for marketing for a wholesale grocery distribution company in Knoxville. He knew he wanted back on the sidelines but figured his next job would have to wait until the ’15-16 season at the earliest since his show-cause wasn’t scheduled to expire until Aug. 23. What school would hire a coach who couldn’t recruit for the first five months on the job?
How about a school that averaged 4.8 SEC wins in the previous five seasons and hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003?
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs fired Tony Barbee, the coach he hired in 2010, hours after the Tigers bowed out of the 2014 SEC Tournament with an 18-point loss to South Carolina. Shortly after, Jacobs began his pursuit of the popular, but potentially toxic, former Tennessee head coach.
Jacobs admits he had reservations about Pearl before speaking with former Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton among other references. Jacobs then met with Pearl in Bristol, Conn., where Pearl was serving as a college basketball analyst for ESPN.
“He was remorseful and repentant (about his NCAA transgressions),” Jacobs says. “I was as thorough as I had been with anyone because of the history. I was convinced he was the right guy at the right time for Auburn.”
The timing, though, wasn’t perfect.
Rather than using energy to fight and appeal the show-cause, Auburn and Pearl devised plans to navigate the sanctions for the first five months of his tenure as required by the show-cause order. When recruits visited Auburn on official or unofficial visits, Pearl left campus or left town altogether to avoid any possibility of violating his show-cause. Instead of meeting with Pearl, recruits met football coach Gus Malzahn in addition to the Tigers’ assistant basketball coaches.
When Pearl hit the road for speaking or booster engagements, a compliance officer accompanied him in case a prospect would be present. Although he was barred from any contact with recruits or in-person evaluation or prospects, Pearl was not barred from evaluating prospects on film or keeping in contact with his assistants on the recruiting trail.
When his staff was on the road evaluating prospects, Pearl kept in touch every few days for updates. Pearl brought in Tony Jones, who coached with him dating back to his Milwaukee days, and former Auburn great Chuck Person. Jones served his own show-cause for a year before coaching two seasons at Alcoa (Tenn.) High School outside of Knoxville.
Pearl’s son, Steven, also was listed as a full-time assistant to help in recruiting before moving into an off-court role after the show-cause expired. In other words, Pearl has filled his staff with people who know him and know the terrain of the SEC.
Recruiting limitations, though, didn’t mean Pearl could take the summer off. The NCAA now allows basketball coaches to work with players up to two hours a day and eight hours a week during the summer. Pearl took full advantage of this time.
“Him not being able to recruit doesn’t necessarily lessen his workload,” Jones says. “He’s got a head start on Xs and Os.”
The time away from recruiting also gave Pearl time to do what he does best (aside from coaching) — build enthusiasm for a program.
For all of Auburn’s passion for football, Tiger fans have good reason to be apathetic about the basketball product. Auburn has had nine losing seasons in the last 11 years — quite the feat considering how light non-conference schedules can make even a .500 record attainable for a major-conference program.
Barbee was not able to capitalize on the opening of a new $92 million arena and was fired after an 18–50 SEC record in four seasons.
Attendance dropped nearly seven percent during Barbee’s final season at Auburn, according to AL.com. Auburn’s average home crowd of 5,823 ranked 13th in the SEC and was the worst since Auburn’s new arena opened in 2010.
“Auburn wanted more than just a guy that blows a whistle in a gym,” Pearl says. “They wanted somebody who would reenergize and educate a fan base about what college basketball can look like.”
Pearl sets lofty goals. He wants to have more home sellouts than 75 percent of the teams in the SEC. Auburn didn’t sell out a home game all of last year and may not be improved on the court in terms of wins and losses. Pearl returns only two players who averaged more than 20 minutes per game last season. He is filling the gaps with two graduate transfers (guards K.C. Ross-Miller from New Mexico State and Antoine Mason from Niagara) and the top junior college prospect in the country (forward Cinmeon Bowers).
The 2015 class, though, is where Pearl will make a major impact. He has four four-star commitments, according to the 247 Composite. The class is ranked 10th nationally and second in the SEC, behind only Texas A&M.
Pearl is essentially selling an experience, selling the up-tempo style of play and aggressive defense, selling the future and selling himself until tangible progress can be made. Jacobs has called him a “one-man marketing machine.” Pearl has visited students on campus, visited classrooms, visited dining halls and assisted with fundraisers.
“I try not to say no,” Pearl says. “I’d say five nights out of seven I’m somewhere visiting.”
That’s what the dean of admissions at Boston College saw when he recommended Pearl to then-coach Tom Davis in the late 1970s for a similar role — drumming up interest in a program.
“It was his ability to coordinate and get people to join him,” Davis says. “He had students painting signs and posters, knocking on dorm room doors, getting fans to dress up in costumes.”
But it’s another trait that may help Pearl rebuild at Auburn. Davis gave Pearl his first full-time coaching job and brought his protege to Iowa as an assistant in the late '80s. After a heated recruiting battle over Deon Thomas, Pearl reported Illinois to the NCAA for violations in 1989. The incident and the stigma of reporting another program likely cost Pearl a shot at more high-profile jobs. He settled for a head-coaching gig at Division II Southern Indiana, where he went 231–46 and won one national title in nine seasons.
“He’s a tough-minded guy,” Davis says. “He’s got mental toughness, which you need to bounce back.”
The reclamation project Pearl is now singularly focused on is the one at Auburn, where he says all the resources are in place for a turnaround.
The arena is new. The facilities are on par with other programs in the league. And while the SEC produced three teams in the Sweet 16 in 2014, the league’s pecking order after Kentucky and Florida is wide open.
“If I don’t get this done, it’s on me,” Pearl says. “It’s not on Auburn.”
Kentucky and Florida are the clear giants in this league while everyone else is just trying to claw their way into that second tier. The Wildcats and Gators finished last season in the Final Four, but Kentucky didn’t look the part of a title contender until the SEC Tournament.
There were signs of the rest of the SEC pulling out of its doldrums, though. Tennessee went 11-7 in the league but advanced from the First Four to the Sweet 16. Arkansas swept the season series with Kentucky, LSU and South Carolina both defeated the Wildcats at home, and Georgia finished 12-6 in the league.
The question is if any of those programs can maintain that momentum. LSU and Arkansas are under pressure to end NCAA Tournament droughts while Tennessee will be in a rebuilding year under first-year coach Donnie Tyndall.
Aside from Kentucky and Florida, though, the main storyline in the SEC may be the return of Bruce Pearl. He’s taking over one of the toughest jobs in the conference at Auburn, and progress is sure to be slow in Year One. But he’s a proven winner in this league. Sooner rather than later, he could have the Tigers in rare position to challenge for an NCAA bid.
Previews of every SEC team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
SEC 2014-15 Preseason Picks
1. Kentucky (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA champion
The return of the Harrison twins and the arrival of another elite recruiting class makes Kentucky the easy choice in the SEC.
2. Florida (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
Michael Frazier II, Kasey Hill and Chris Walker are the next wave of Gator stars.
3. Arkansas (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
There’s no excuse for this Arkansas team not to make the NCAA Tournament. Mike Anderson has the right pieces in place.
4. LSU (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
Johnny Jones has stocked his roster with high-level talent; it’s now time to breakthrough with an NCAA Tournament bid.
Postseason projection: NIT
The Dawgs boast one of the league’s top backcourts but remain very thin on the front line.
6. Texas A&M
Postseason projection: NIT
The Billy Kennedy era has not gone as planned, but the Aggies have a roster that’s could enough to flirt with an NCAA Tournament bid.
7. Ole Miss
Postseason projection: NIT
Sideshow Marshall has moved on — which might not be a bad thing. The Rebels will lean on Jarvis Summers and some quality young bigs.
Postseason projection: NIT
Guards Levi Randolph and Ricky Tarrant (transfer from Tulane) and forward Shannon Hale form a solid nucleus in Tuscaloosa.
Frank Haith bolted for the more secure waters of Tulsa — and left new Mizzou boss Kim Anderson with a rebuilding project.
Kevin Stallings will surround talented big man Damian Jones with three freshmen on the perimeter.
Donnie Tyndall’s rebuilt roster will be strong on the perimeter but woefully thin in the paint.
Bruce Pearl’s first Auburn team will feature two of the league’s best scorers — KT Harrell and Niagara transfer Antoine Mason.
13. South Carolina
Sindarius Thornwell is a top-level talent, but the Gamecocks still lack the talent to make a big move in the SEC.
14. Mississippi State
Rick Ray continues to recruit well, but this program is at least a year way from thinking about the postseason.
2014 SEC Superlatives
Player of the Year: Jordan Mickey, LSU
LSU expects Mickey to take a more active role in the offense with Johnny O’Bryant III gone. He’s already a defensive force, joining Shaquille O’Neal as the only players in LSU’s 100-block club.
Best Defensive Player: Josh Richardson, Tennessee
Richardson will go from being a lockdown defender on a Sweet 16 team to the focal point of the team. He’s the Vols’ only returning starter and the only player who has scored more than 10 points in a league game.
Most Underrated Player: Josh Gray, LSU
Gray won’t be the most highly touted new face in the league or even the most highly touted transfer. But he will be the point guard of a potential NCAA Tournament team. Arriving from Texas Tech via junior college, Gray takes over for Anthony Hickey after averaging 33.8 points per game in JUCO.
Newcomer of the Year: Karl Towns, Kentucky
Kentucky will have a crowd in the frontcourt, but Towns is a likely pick to be a regular. The 6-11 forward is a potential top-five draft pick who can do a little bit of everything.
Top Coach: John Calipari (full SEC coach rankings)
G Michael Frazier II, Florida
G Charles Mann, Georgia
G Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
F Jordan Mickey, LSU
F Bobby Portis, Arkansas
G Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
F Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
F Chris Walker, Florida
C Karl Towns, Kentucky
C Damian Jones, Vanderbilt
G Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss
G Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
G Josh Richardson, Tennessee
F Jarell Martin, LSU
F Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
The NBA season begins tonight when the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs tip off at 8:00 PM Eastern Time. Simultaneously the New Orleans Pelicans, starring Anthony Davis — the best young player in the game, and a potential MVP candidate — will take on the rookie-rich Orlando Magic.
Here's a guide to the best games of the week. Let’s take a look at how we see things unfolding from there.
Eastern Conference Predictions
1. Chicago Bulls, 61-21
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t take anything lightly. Whether the Bulls are title contenders might be up for debate, but there’s little question that Chicago will be disciplined, driven, studied-up and talented enough to collect tons of wins as a well-oiled machine in the regular season.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers, 60-24
The Cavs have plenty of questions to answer about experience, rim protection and rotation issues. But there’s arguably more offensive firepower on this squad than any other in league history. Most teams will watch Cleveland sprint past them.
3. Washington Wizards, 54-28
Paul Pierce joins the nasty young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal to make for a daunting Eastern foe, now as capable of breaking down your will with head games as they are with pure speed. Add in the biggest, meanest front court rotation in the conference, and you’ve got a team that nobody wants to deal with.
4. Toronto Raptors, 53-29
The Raptors, low key, have built perhaps the deepest rotation in basketball. Led by Kyle Lowry, and Team USA guard DeMar DeRozan, Toronto also has two youngsters — in big man Jonas Valanciunas and former Slam Dunk Contest champion Terrence Ross — who are both ready to take the jump.
5. Charlotte Hornets, 51-32
6. Atlanta Hawks, 43-41
7. Miami Heat, 39-43
8. New York Knicks, 39-43
The phrase “playoff team” is made somewhat misleading by the huge discrepancy in competitive quality between the Eastern and Western conferences. But the Knicks, who now have some much-longed-for direction under new executive Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher, will now technically fit that bill.
9. Brooklyn Nets, 38-44
10. Detroit Pistons, 36-46
11. Milwaukee Bucks, 28-54
12. Orlando Magic, 27-55
The crown for most watchable Eastern Conference losers goes to the Magic. Rookie point guard Elfrid Payton is a visionary passer, while his first-year associate Aaron Gordon is a couple of months of development away from being one of the game’s most exciting aerial acrobats.
13. Indiana Pacers, 28-54
14. Boston Celtics, 21-60
15. Philadelphia 76ers, 14-68
Western Conference Predictions
1. San Antonio Spurs, 61-22
The Spurs, like the Bulls, are simply run too well not to gallop easily through the regular season. Don’t expect a motivational hangover after their triumphant, era-destroying championship takedown of the Miami Heat. Gregg Popovich and Co. simply don’t do “lowering the bar.”
2. Los Angeles Clippers, 59-25
In their second year under coach Doc Rivers, title expectations are an undeniable part of today’s Clippers. We know we’ll get MVP-worthy seasons from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but if DeAndre Jordan can make the jump offensively — in addition to his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy — it will make L.A. scary to everyone.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder, 55-28
The Thunder start the season with injuries to not only reigning MVP Kevin Durant, but also to guards Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow and Jeremy Lamb. They’ll hobble a bit at first, but there’s too much winning continuity (and too much Russell Westbrook) for them to ever fall too far in the standings.
4. Memphis Grizzlies, 53-29
The Grizzlies won 50 games last year, despite a 23-game absence from their best player Marc Gasol. Expect them to fight to a slightly better record as they rest Gasol and Zach Randolph more and face an improved conference.
5. Golden State Warriors, 52-30
New coach Steve Kerr is implementing smart new strategies in Oakland, including giving Andrew Bogut more range in the offense and turning Andre Iguodala into the indisputable best Sixth Man in the league — a move that also gets the most out of the shaky Harrison Barnes, who will start in Iggy’s place.
6. Houston Rockets, 51-31
The Rockets lost depth over the summer, but they also added some very needed defensive edge on the perimeter by acquiring Trevor Ariza from the Wizards. They should take only a small step back from last year’s 54-win run.
7. Dallas Mavericks, 49-34
8. Phoenix Suns, 48-35
9. New Orleans Pelicans, 44-38
10. Portland Trailblazers, 43-37
Portland was shockingly healthy last year, running out their integral starting five for all but 12 games of the season. They also won a number of coin-toss games, making clutch shots deep. Expect both patterns to slow a bit and for the Blazers to regress to the mean as they just miss the postseason.
11. Denver Nuggets, 38-44
12. Sacramento Kings, 37-46
13. Los Angeles Lakers 32-51
14. Minnesota Timberwolves 27-55
15. Utah Jazz 28-60
Most Improved Player: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Drummond showed good stuff with Team USA over the summer, and he’ll thrive to Dwight Howard-esque levels of paint-owning under the tutelage of new coach Stan Van Gundy.
Sixth Man of the Year: Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
So long as coach Kerr sticks to his decision to bring Mr. Iguodala off the bench, he’s a lock for these honors. Many don’t know it — since Andre’s impact happens so much in the non-box-score margins — but this man is one of the best players in the league.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Dwight Howard’s been written off as a weak-willed, fart-loving nincompoop, and the basketball world is all the worse for it. Superman’s 2014-15 return to unspeakable dominance of the restricted area, however, will be undeniable.
Rookie of the Year: Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
Jabari Parker gets to the rim with the authority of a veteran, and easily finds space for his shots away from the basket too. He has that rare, hard-to-explain quality best dubbed as “getting a lot of buckets.” He’ll be ahead of his class for at least a season.
Coach of the Year: Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors
Juggling the many members of the Raptors’ ensemble is tough, complex work, and Casey will get his respect this year creating the best possible monster out of Toronto’s diverse crew.
MVP: Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
With LeBron James set to coast on limited minutes in Cleveland and Kevin Durant out with a Jones fracture, this honor opens up for last year’s third-highest vote-getter to grab the cup.
Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions
Chicago Bulls vs. (8) New York Knicks
Bulls in five.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Miami Heat
This dramatically rich showdown will revolve around Cleveland’s inability to stop Chris Bosh on the block — assuming he gets back to his backdown ways in 2014-15. But even exploiting that hole won’t be enough for the Heat to take down this juggernaut.
Cavaliers in six.
(3) Washington Wizards vs. (6) Atlanta Hawks
Wizards in five.
(4) Toronto Raptors vs. (5) Charlotte Hornets
The Raptors have too many earholes for new Hornet Lance Stephenson to get his spittle into.
Raptors in six.
Chicago Bulls vs. (4) Toronto Raptors
Bulls in five.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Washington Wizards
The Wizards’ bruising big men will again bring the Cavs’ weak interior into question, but LeBron should be able to revive his inside game enough to push things Cleveland’s way.
Cavaliers in six.
Chicago Bulls vs. (2) Cleveland Cavaliers
This could be the series of the year. But expect the Bulls to finally take LeBron’s cake as Derrick Rose has, in Pau Gasol, his first teammate who can bear more of the offensive burden and open up the floor for Chicago.
Bulls in seven.
Western Conference Playoff Predictions
San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Phoenix Suns
Spurs in five.
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
Clippers in six.
(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (6) Houston Rockets
A healthy Thunder team will still struggle to get to Dwight Howard’s rim, but they ultimately have too much shooting and open-court brilliance for Houston to handle.
Rockets in six.
(4) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (5) Golden State Warriors
The Grizzlies are always the bridesmaids, never the brides. Were they the other conference, they might make the Finals. But here they’ll fall to one of the best teams in basketball.
Warriors in six.
San Antonio Spurs vs. (5) Golden State Warriors
The Warriors lost a frenzied, thrilling six-game series to the Spurs in 2013. The young, über-talented team won’t let it happen again, and will have enough to send the champs home packing.
Warriors in six
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (3) Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder in six.
(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Golden State Warriors
The Thunder aren’t letting their title window close like this. Westbrook and Durant will turn it up to an unmatchable level to make sure of it.
Thunder in six.
Chicago Bulls vs. (3) Oklahoma City Thunder
Peak Derrick Rose was never equalized by anyone as well as he was by Russell Westbrook. And as ferocious a defender as Jimmy Butler is, he can’t pack a punch tough enough to knock out Durant.
Thunder in six.
— John Wilmes
Johnny Jones entered his second season in Baton Rouge with a once-dormant fanbase buzzing at the return of All-SEC junior forward Johnny O’Bryant III and the addition of coveted in-state recruit Jarell Martin, a McDonald’s All-American in 2013.
Add in high-flying freshman Jordan Mickey in the post with diminutive guards Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer manning the outside, many pundits pegged 2013 as the year the Tigers would return to the NCAA Tournament after a four-year absence.
But shoddy road defense coupled with the expected growing pains for its freshman duo limited the Tigers as they limped to a 9–9 record in a mediocre SEC, including a 2–7 mark on the road.
A marquee 87–82 home win against eventual national runner-up Kentucky gave fans parched for success a quick glimpse of what Jones’ team could have been, but a second round exit in the NIT showed the Tigers’ shortcomings.
Jones heads into 2014 without O’Bryant, who was selected by the Bucks in the second round of the NBA Draft and Hickey, a three-year starter at point guard who transferred to Oklahoma State after being suspended several times during Jones’ first two seasons.
The LSU edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
Without O’Bryant bullying in the paint, Jones speculates many teams will deploy defenses tailored to stopping his sophomore duo of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin.
Martin had his progress hindered by an early season ankle injury, but he rebounded to become a consistent force at both power forward and on the wing. Twelve of his 18 double-figure scoring games came down the stretch in the SEC and he garnered a spot alongside Mickey on the All-SEC Freshman Team. Mickey became only the second player in LSU history to block 100 shots in a season — joining Shaquille O’Neal. With O’Bryant no longer around, Mickey will be a much larger part of the Tigers’ offense as a sophomore.
Jones added 7-1 freshman Elbert Robinson III, who has trimmed to a svelte 288 pounds after playing at 300 in high school. He looks to be a promising addition inside to take attention away from Mickey and Martin.
LSU Tigers Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-14, 9-9 SEC
Last NCAA Tournament: 2009
Coach: Johnny Jones (39-26 overall at LSU, 18-18 SEC)
SEC Projection: Fourth
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 64
With Hickey out of the fold, Jones will turn to two transfers to stabilize the perimeter and complement his potent inside game. Josh Gray, who averaged 33.8 points per game in 2013 at Odessa (Texas) College after starting his career at Texas Tech, appears to be Hickey’s heir apparent at point guard.
“Josh has the ability to create off the dribble, score from outside, and he can get to the rim because of his ball handling skills,” Jones says. “He would certainly be the quarterback for our team. I was very impressed with his ability to lead his team (at Odessa), and I think he can bring those same qualities to our program.”
Alongside Gray is UNC-Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby, who practiced with the Tigers last season. Hornsby made quite the impression on Jones, who called the son of legendary jazz musician Bruce Hornsby the hardest worker he’d ever been around in 30 years. Hornsby, a bruising 210-pounder, fits into Jones’ style as a wing.
“He just happens to be bigger and stronger than what we’ve had at that position the last few years,” Jones says. “He’s one of those guys that can really elevate, get in the paint area and score. Great catch-and-shoot guy off ball screens as well.”
Sophomore Tim Quarterman, a lanky 6-6 guard who served as Hickey’s backup last season, returns as one of the team’s best full court defenders. Freshmen Aaron Epps and Jalyn Patterson will also jockey for time.
LSU was clearly a disappointment last season, but the Tigers still boast one of the most talented rosters in the league. The frontcourt features two emerging stars in Mickey and Martin, and the backcourt has been bolstered by the two veteran transfers. There is, however, a lack of proven depth.
Jones, who played for Dale Brown at LSU in the early 1980s, has recruited very well in his two years at his alma mater — the No. 1 player in the Class of 2015, Ben Simmons, has committed to LSU — but the Tigers have yet to break the .500 mark in the SEC during his tenure. That needs to change if LSU hopes to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008-09.
Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby will anchor the Tigers’ scoring on the perimeter, replacing two veteran guards who had been in Johnny Jones’ system for two years. Elbert Robinson III and Brian Bridgewater will provide support inside while freshmen Jalyn Patterson and Aaron Epps will contend for playing time in the backcourt.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for October 28:
• Jimmy Fallon can get anybody to do anything. He got Charles Barkley, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Tweedy to play Charades.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The SEC West intra-division carnage continued this past weekend as Ole Miss fell to LSU in Baton Rouge Saturday night.
The loss dropped the Rebels five spots to No. 8 in the Legends Poll. And their consolation prize? Auburn comes to town next week.
Rival Mississippi State passed another test at Kentucky this weekend, 38-24, and retained its No. 1 ranking.
No. 2 Florida State was idle.
Third-ranked Alabama picked up two first-place votes, gaining ground on both Mississippi State and Florida State, following its win at Tennessee.
Auburn and Oregon rounded out the top 5.
No. 6 Michigan State knocked off archival Michigan and moved up two spots.
Notre Dame remained at No. 7, followed by Ole Miss.
|1||Mississippi State (10)||7-0||101||1|
|2||Florida State (1)||7-0||86||2|
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. ET. Typically the quietest of the four major sports’ deadline days, it’s possible that the biggest deal that will be made this season has already occurred. Seattle sent wide receiver Percy Harvin to the Jets for a conditional 2015 draft pick on Oct. 18. While the complete ramifications of this deal are still to be determined, in-season trades involving Pro Bowl-caliber players are the exception rather than the norm in today’s NFL.
This lack of perceived blockbuster trades, however, does not prevent any fan or knowledgeable follower of the sport from playing armchair general manager. To that end, here are some NFL trades we would love to see happen, but fully acknowledge the reality that these proposals will never come to fruition. Again, the point of this exercise is to have some fun at the expense of ignoring things such as current health, contracts, teams’ salary cap situations, roster makeup and, most importantly, what it would take to acquire these players in the first place.
Ndamukong Suh to Dallas
Of all the ideas proposed here, this one may actually make the most sense. For starters, Suh will be a free agent after this season and he’s already expressed an interest in playing elsewhere. While Dallas doesn’t appear to be the city atop his wish list (New York), do you think Suh would say no to a chance to play for the most recognized franchise in the NFL and one that, just like the Lions, is sitting at 6-2 atop its division?
For the Cowboys this makes total sense, as Suh is an All-Pro defensive tackle that would give Rod Marinelli’s defense the impact player it is sorely missing. Dallas’ success thus far is largely a byproduct of a clock-chewing, run-heavy offense that has kept a patchwork defense from getting too exposed. The Cowboys lack star power and playmakers on defense and Suh would fit both bills. A defensive tackle, Suh has 3.5 sacks while Dallas' entire defense has nine in eight games. This also would give Suh eight games to showcase his abilities to potential suitors around the league, including one particular owner who has very deep pockets and also serves as the general manager.
Vincent Jackson to New England
Tampa Bay is 1-6, pretty much already eliminating the Buccaneers from playoff contention even with nine games left. Again, not knowing what New England would be willing to give up to acquire a Pro Bowl-caliber wide receiver like Jackson, it’s certainly fun to picture him with the Patriots, no? After stumbling some out of the gates, Bill Belichick’s team has won four in a row and is considered a pretty safe bet to win its 11th AFC East title in the last 12 seasons.
However, in New England the goal isn’t just to win division crowns. And for these Patriots to get back to the Super Bowl, Tom Brady sure could use an established vertical threat like Jackson. Right now the closest thing Brady has is Brandon LaFell, who is averaging 15.4 yards per catch. But LaFell has never caught more than 49 passes in a season while Jackson has five 1,000-yard seasons on his resume, along with 448 career receptions and 54 touchdowns. Jackson is averaging 17.2 yards per catch in his career and his best seasons came when he was in San Diego and had Philip Rivers as his quarterback. You don’t think Jackson and Brady couldn’t do some damage together?
Jay Cutler to Tennessee
Chicago signed Cutler to a seven-year, $126 million contract extension in January. So clearly money is a big factor when it comes to Cutler changing teams anytime soon. But for the moment, let’s say that contract doesn’t exist. Cutler first made a name for himself when he earned SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2005 as a senior at Vanderbilt. After three seasons in Denver, Cutler was traded to Chicago and has had his shares of highs and lows in both uniforms.
Despite Cutler’s struggles, there’s no denying his athletic ability and strong arm, tools that Tennessee head coach Ken Whisenhunt would probably love to get his hands on. In his first season leading the Titans, Whisenhunt has used three different quarterbacks – Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst and this past Sunday rookie Zach Mettenberger – and of this trio only Mettenberger seems to have a realistic shot of an extended stay with the team. Prior to coming to Tennessee, Whisenhunt served as San Diego’s offensive coordinator. In one season, he helped Philip Rivers go from a turnover-prone (NFL-high 22 in 2012) quarterback to a Pro Bowl signal-caller (4,478-32-11) on a playoff team. Cutler’s no stranger to Nashville and Whisenhunt’s got a pretty good track record when it comes to coaching signal-callers. Would this duo be a hit in Music City? There’s only one way to find out.
C.J. Spiller to Indianapolis
Spiller broke his collarbone a week ago and won’t be eligible to return until Week 16, but for the sake of this argument, he’s completely healthy and still playing. The No. 9 overall pick of the 2010 draft, Spiller rushed for 1,244 yards two seasons ago, but has really yet to live up to the hype surrounding him after a record-setting collegiate career at Clemson. Spiller has breakaway speed and more than enough athleticism to make him a legitimate big-play threat, but he’s also been nicked up by various injuries throughout his career.
For whatever reason, it just hasn’t completely worked out in Buffalo, so perhaps a change of scenery would do the pending free agent some good. Enter Indianapolis, a team that could desperately use a change-of-pace running back like Spiller. Trent Richardson has been better in his first full season with the Colts, but he certainly hasn’t lived up to his lofty draft status (No. 3 overall, 2012), and as productive as Ahmad Bradshaw has been (8 total TDs), he doesn’t possess the speed and explosiveness that Spiller does. Andrew Luck is already one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Just imagine how much more dangerous Luck and Indianapolis’ offense could be if it were to add a versatile, all-purpose dynamo like Spiller.
Johnny Manziel to Houston
To this point, Manziel’s playing time during his rookie season has consisted of one token appearance on a trick play where he caught a pass, which was nullified by a penalty. For better or worse, head coach Mike Pettine seems committed to sticking with Brian Hoyer as his quarterback. That means, for our purposes, that Manziel is available for relocation.
There are several teams out there that need a quarterback and as appealing as some of those options are for different reasons (Johnny Football in the Silver and Black!), the one that makes the most sense is Houston. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the long-term answer at quarterback for the Texans and no one knows if former New England backup Ryan Mallett or fourth-round pick Tom Savage are either. Bill O’Brien has had some pretty good success with quarterbacks during his coaching career, including some guy named Tom Brady, so why not make Manziel his newest project. Manziel’s already enjoyed a fair amount of success in Texas, why can’t history repeat itself? And how ironic would it be if Manziel were to accomplish this with the Texans instead of the Cowboys?
And one more to chew on…
Robert Griffin III to Philadelphia
So do I have your attention now? RG3 has yet to get back on the field since dislocating his ankle in Week 2, but it’s also safe to say that the honeymoon is over for the second pick of the 2012 draft. Since winning AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and leading Washington to the NFC East title his first season, Griffin has gone 4-11 as a starter with more turnovers (17 total) than touchdowns (16). Rookie head coach Jay Gruden has yet to fully endorse Griffin as his quarterback, so why not speculate where he could wind up should he become available?
After taking the NFL by storm in his first season, Chip Kelly’s Eagles have not been near as productive on offense to this point. Some of this can be attributed to the erratic play of Nick Foles. In his first full season as the starter, Foles has already thrown more interceptions (nine) in seven games than the two picks he had in 13 contests last season. Foles doesn’t exactly fit the mold of the dual-threat quarterbacks that ran Kelly’s offense so successfully at Oregon. While everyone has already opined about Marcus Mariota reuniting with Kelly in the NFL next season, the reality is that the Eagles probably won’t be positioned high enough in the draft to take a guy who is among this season’s leading Heisman Trophy contenders.
That’s where Griffin comes in. RG3 didn’t play for Kelly in college, but he did excel in a similar offensive system at Baylor, one that let him fully showcase his throwing and running abilities. As a rookie in the NFL, Griffin also was highly successful running an offense that used a lot of zone-read option looks, as evidenced by his 815 yards rushing to go along with 3,200 yards passing. Griffin hasn’t been the same quarterback since tearing the ACL and LCL in his right knee for a second time in the Jan. 2013 playoff loss to Seattle. While he may never be as dynamic and explosive as he was in his prime at Baylor and as a rookie; one can’t help but wonder how Griffin would fare running Kelly’s offense, a system that on paper appears to be tailor-made for RG3’s skill set. Besides, it’s not like the Eagles and Redskins haven’t “traded” players recently, right? At least this time, Kelly probably wouldn’t have to worry about this ex-Redskin not being a team player.
Week 9 may represent the halfway point of the NFL season, but in fantasy football it’s where things really start to get interesting. For starters, the fantasy playoffs are creeping closer with every passing week, which means every game is critical. Add to this the fact that six teams are on bye in Weeks 9 and 10 and it’s shaping up to be one busy week of moves and maneuvers.
Roster depth and management skills will certainly be put to the test this week not only because of injuries but also due to the fact that guys like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Forté, Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and many others are not available.
Athlon Sports is here to help you sort through some of the potential free agent options. The players listed in our weekly fantasy football waiver wire may be one-week adds, some may be worth holding on to all season long and some are of the “sleeper” variety that you may simply want to keep an eye on.
Teams on bye: Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Tennessee
Week 8 Recap: Carson Palmer threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns in Arizona’s come-from-behind win against Philadelphia. Both of Palmer’s touchdown passes were 75 yards or longer, with the game-winner to John Brown coming with 1:21 left in the game. Palmer has appealing matchups (at Dallas, St. Louis) on tap for those who have bye-week issues to deal with.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton has been mentioned in this space before, but with 12 teams on bye over the next two weeks, quarterback help may be a little harder to come by. While his numbers are down compared to last season, Dalton is still a top-20 fantasy QB in terms of points and he’s got pretty decent matchups the next two weeks – home against Jacksonville and Cleveland. Dalton also should get All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green back pretty soon, perhaps as early as this week. Remember, of the 19 QBs currently ahead of Dalton in fantasy points, eight of them will be going on bye in the next two weeks.
Michael Vick, New York Jets
Geno Smith was awful, to say the least, on Sunday against the Bills. Before getting pulled, Smith had more interceptions (three) than completions (two). Vick took over and while his numbers left much to be desired (18-of-36, 153 yards, INT, 49.9 passer rating), he led the team in rushing (69 yards on eight carries) and got the Jets to within a touchdown at halftime. Vick also lost two fumbles, but Rex Ryan has already named Vick as his starter for this week’s game in Kansas City. So with several sure-fire fantasy starting QBs (Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler) on bye, you have to at least consider Vick over some of the other fill-in options, right? For example, are you really going to rely on rookies Derek Carr (at SEA), Blake Bortles (at CIN) or even Teddy Bridgewater (vs. WAS)?
Other possible fill-in options*: Joe Flacco, Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill
Week 8 Recap: Denard Robinson posted his second straight 100-yard rushing game (16 att., 108 yds.), as one of the few bright spots for the Jaguars. Robinson fared considerably better than either Tre Mason (7 att., 32 yds.), Anthony Dixon (22 att., 44 yds.) or Bryce Brown (7 att., 15 yds.), who struggled to get anything going on Sunday.
Travaris Cadet and Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Ingram (right) was highlighted in this space last week and that was before he gashed Green Bay for 172 yards (7.2 ypc) and a touchdown. If Ingram is still available, he should be added immediately. Cadet meanwhile could prove to be a sneaky pickup, as Pierre Thomas (shoulder) is out for at least another game or two and the short turnaround for Thursday’s game against Carolina doesn’t appear to benefit Khiry Robinson’s (foot) injury situation. Cadet got just one carry (7 yards) Sunday night, but he was targeted five times, finishing with four catches for 40 yards. With so many running backs on bye, Cadet could be an intriguing flex fill-in option, especially in PPR leagues.
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
Giovani Bernard left yesterday’s win over Baltimore with a hip injury. Bernard is pretty banged up right now so even if he doesn’t miss any time, he may see a decrease in his touches. To that end, Hill’s 10 carries Sunday were only the second time he had topped double digits this season (15 in Week 2). He’s averaging less than four yards per carry, but does have three rushing touchdowns. Hill’s numbers should go up with more opportunities, which is certainly possible given Bernard’s growing list of bumps and bruises.
Bobby Rainey and Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin hurt his ankle in the third quarter of Sunday’s overtime loss to Minnesota, adding yet another bump in the second-year player’s road. Even when he’s managed to stay on the field, Martin has been ineffective at best, averaging less than three yards per carry with one touchdown. Rainey figures to be next man up, as he’s leading the team in rushing with 287 yards (4.6 ypc) and is third in receptions (22). Sims, however, is the potential wild card. The Buccaneers’ third-round pick, Sims fractured his ankle during the preseason and has been out since. He returned to practice last week and with Martin’s uncertain status, Sims could get some touches sooner rather than later. Described as a Matt Forté clone when he was drafted, Sims was touted coming out of West Virginia (started collegiate career at Houston) for his pass-catching ability. If anything, Sims is worth a stash, especially if your league has an injured reserve (IR) slot.
Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
Carolina hosts New Orleans on Thursday and for the first time in a while, the Panthers may have a crowded backfield. Williams, who has missed all but two games because of ankle injuries, is expected to return to action this week. This muddies the outlook for Stewart, who missed three games because of a sprained knee but has rushed for 129 yards since his Week 7 return. Carolina loves to run the ball and would prefer to have its backs carry the load rather than quarterback Cam Newton. Even though Stewart and Williams figure to split the carries (as long as the other doesn’t get hurt again), they still could provide RB2/flex-worthy production, especially considering the Panthers’ upcoming matchups (NO, at PHI).
Other possible fill-in options*: Andre Williams, Darren McFadden, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Carlos Hyde
Week 8 Recap: Doug Baldwin led the Seahawks with six catches for 61 yards while Jermaine Kearse was limited to just two grabs for 15 yards. Mike Evans paced the Buccaneers with 78 yards on four receptions, while Jarvis Landry caught three balls for 23 yards.
John Brown, Arizona Cardinals
A third-round pick from Division II Pittsburg State, Brown leads the Cardinals with four touchdown receptions, which is as many as Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd have combined. On Sunday, Brown caught five passes for 119 yards, including the game-winning, 75-yard touchdown strike from Carson Palmer, to help Arizona get by Philadelphia on Sunday. Even with Fitzgerald and Floyd around, Brown has averaged seven targets and 67.7 yards receiving over the last three games. The big-play ability is clearly there, as well as a developing chemistry between the young Cardinal wideout and his quarterback. With a steady diet of targets, Brown could develop into a second-half fantasy surprise.
Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown is an absolute stud, and Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller (see below) have to be accounted for, but Bryant has made quite the first impression as a rookie. Held out of the first six games because of a preseason hamstring injury, Bryant now has three touchdowns in his first two career games. Two of those came on Sunday, as Bryant (5-83-2) played a big part in Ben Roethlisberger’s record-setting (522, 6 TDs) performance against Indianapolis. Wheaton has struggled to produce consistently, which helped open the door for Bryant to get involved right away. The speedy fourth-round pick from Clemson has already shown what he brings to the table, and it’s highly likely there’s more big plays to come.
Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts
Reggie Wayne missed Sunday’s game because of an elbow injury and it’s possible he could be out again this week. Hakeem Nicks got the start in place of Wayne, but it was Moncrief who shined with more playing time. The Colts’ third-round pick, Moncrief’s contributions were minimal to start, but he busted out in a big way on Sunday. He was targeted a team-high 12 times, catching seven of those for 113 yards and a touchdown. Even when Wayne returns, Moncrief could replace Nicks as Indianapolis’ No. 3 wide receiver, as the rookie boasts more big-play ability and athleticism than the veteran. And being the third wideout in the league’s most pass-happy offense is not exactly the worst situation to be in fantasy-wise.
Other possible fill-in options*: Brandon LaFell, Odell Beckham Jr., Andre Holmes, Cecil Shorts, Dwayne Bowe, Malcolm Floyd, James Jones
Week 8 Recap: Charles Clay followed up the best game of the season with his worst effort – one catch for one yard.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers
The wily old veteran had a nice outing on Sunday – season-high 112 yards with a touchdown. While he may not be as productive as in years past, Miller is still one of Ben Roethlisberger’s most trusted targets. And the more looks Miller gets, the better his numbers have been. In the three games where’s he gotten at least seven targets, Miller has averaged seven receptions for 77.3 yards and both of his touchdowns. He’s still a top-10 fantasy TE, which is an asset that will be in short supply these next two weeks with so many teams on bye.
Other possible fill-in options*: Larry Donnell, Austin Seferian- Jenkins, Jace Amaro, Coby Fleener
Week 8 Recap: Indianapolis’ DST did recover two fumbles and blocked a poorly executed punt by Ben Roethlisberger. Unfortunately, the Colts also gave up 522 yards passing and six touchdowns to Big Ben, as the Steelers piled up 639 total yards and put up 51 points (43 allowed by the DST) on Sunday.
The Bengals’ DST has been a fantasy disappointment in many ways (total of -1 points in Weeks 5 and 6 combined), but there’s still plenty of time for this unit to redeem itself. For starters, this DST did post double-digit fantasy points in each of the first three weeks and has forced four turnovers over the last two games. Then there’s the matter of this week’s matchup with Jacksonville. The Jaguars are giving up the most fantasy points (17 per game) to opposing DSTs, including 30 on Sunday to the Dolphins. Blake Bortles leads the NFL in interceptions (12) even though he’s played in just six games and he has had four of them returned for touchdowns. Forget bye-week fill-in, I could make an argument that the Bengals are a must-start DST this week.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs had a sack party Sunday against the Rams, bringing Austin Davis down seven times. They also picked off one pass and got a 99-yard kickoff return from Knile Davis to finish with 21 fantasy points, tied for second behind Miami (30 pts). For the season, the Chiefs are tied for fourth in the NFL with 24 sacks and with a few more turnovers (5 total) would be a more productive fantasy DST. The good news is that next up is a Jets team that coughed it up six times (4 INTs, 2 fumbles) and gave up four sacks to the Bills on Sunday. After the Jets, Kansas City draws Buffalo in Week 10. Given the Bills’ backfield woes, the Chiefs’ DST may be worth keeping around for a few weeks.
Other possible fill-in options*: Baltimore, Arizona, Miami, Cleveland
Scoring is based on Athlon Sports default scoring which is 6 points for all TDs, .5 points per reception and 1 point PER 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving and 40 return yards.
*Players owned in less than 70% of Yahoo! leagues.
College football’s playoff committee will release its first set of rankings on Tuesday, Oct. 28. After months of intrigue and waiting, this release should give the college football world some insight into what the committee values in its first season.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. This poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey), SBNation.com
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 9 Playoff Projection
Takeaways From Expert Poll Results
* Mississippi State and Florida State are the clear frontrunners in this week’s playoff vote. The Seminoles are 42 points ahead of No. 3 Alabama.
* Mississippi State received 17 first-place votes to just four to Florida State.
* Alabama received three second-place votes and received 107 total points. That’s a significant advantage in comparison to Ole Miss – the team the Crimson Tide lost to earlier this year.
* Oregon rejoins the top four after dropping out following a loss to Arizona.
* Five SEC teams received votes, with four of those programs ranking inside of the top six.
* Mississippi State and Florida State did not rank lower than third in this week’s poll.
Group of 5 Rankings
One team from the Group of 5 conferences - American Athletic, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt - will play in one of college football's premier (New Year's Bowls) each season.
1. East Carolina
Despite a sluggish showing against UConn, the Pirates remain in the driver’s seat for the Group of 5 spot. East Carolina defeated the Huskies 31-21 last Thursday and play three of its next five games on the road. The Pirates play at Temple on Saturday, followed by a date at Cincinnati on Nov. 13.
The Thundering Herd used 21 unanswered points in the second half to defeat FAU 35-16 on Saturday. Marshall is on bye this Saturday and ends the year with matchups against Southern Miss, Rice, UAB and Western Kentucky. Expect the Thundering Herd to be a double-digit favorite in all four of their remaining games.
3. Boise State
Colorado State might be the hottest team in the Mountain West, but let’s give Boise State an edge for the No. 3 spot in the Group 5 of rankings due to its head-to-head victory on Sept. 6. The Broncos won their third consecutive game by defeating BYU 55-30 on Friday night and have a bye this Saturday before taking on New Mexico on Nov. 8.
4. Colorado State
The Rams have not lost since their Sept. 6 trip to Boise State, and coach Jim McElwain’s team is on the cusp of being ranked in the Associated Press poll (No. 26 – 29 votes). Colorado State plays at San Jose State this Saturday, followed by games against Hawaii, New Mexico and Air Force to close out 2014. The Rams need a little help to reach the Mountain West title game, as a Week 2 loss to Boise State is the tiebreaker for the top spot in the Mountain Division.
Key Games With Playoff Implications in Week 9
Florida State at Louisville
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Remember Florida State’s last trip to Louisville? The Cardinals won 26-20 in 2002. The chess match between the Seminoles’ offense and Louisville’s defense should be an intriguing affair. The Cardinals also seem to be finding their stride on offense, especially with a healthy Michael Dyer at running back and DeVante Parker at receiver.
East Carolina at Temple
Noon ET, ESPNEWS
Can the Owls slow down East Carolina’s high-powered offense? Temple has allowed only seven passing touchdowns this year, but its offense has lost 17 turnovers.
Duke at Pittsburgh
Noon ET, ESPNU
Are the Blue Devils the frontrunner in the Coastal Division? Pittsburgh needs to win this one to stay alive in the division after struggling with turnovers against Georgia Tech last week.
North Carolina at Miami
12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3
Believe it or not, North Carolina controls its destiny in the Coastal Division.
Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
3:30 p.m. ET
The Bulldogs hope to add to the Gators’ misery with a win in the annual neutral site matchup in Jacksonville. Georgia also hopes to add running back Todd Gurley back into the mix after he missed the last two games due to a suspension.
TCU at West Virginia
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
The Big 12’s newest members meet in a critical matchup for positioning within the conference. The Mountaineers and Horned Frogs are a combined 12-3 after finishing 8-16 last year.
Auburn at Ole Miss
7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ole Miss’ rush defense was pounded by LSU for 264 yards in last week’s loss. This defense will be pressured again on the ground by Auburn’s offense (281 yards per game) and won’t have standout linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche (fractured ankle). Is it possible this game is an elimination match for playoff hopes?
Arkansas at Mississippi State
7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2
With a matchup against Arkansas, followed by a home date against Tennessee-Martin on Nov. 8, Mississippi State should be 9-0 headed into a Nov. 15 road trip to Alabama.
Notre Dame at Navy
8 p.m. ET, CBS
The Fighting Irish won by just four points last season, but Brian Kelly’s team should benefit from having two weeks to prepare for the Midshipmen.
Oklahoma State at Kansas State
8 p.m. ET, ABC
Wildcats emerging as favorite in wide-open Big 12 race? Oklahoma State has lost its last two games by a combined score of 76-19.
Arizona at UCLA
10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
An elimination game in the Pac-12 South? Expect plenty of points between two offenses averaging over 35 points a game.
Utah at Arizona State
11 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
The Utes nearly knocked off Arizona State (20-19) last season but it won’t be easy going into Tempe and winning on Saturday night. A rebuilt Sun Devils’ defense has allowed only 20 points over the last two games.