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The beauty of sports, in particular college football, lies in their complete unpredictability and reality TV-like drama. And Week 7 was the first upset-filled Saturday of action as Stanford, Oklahoma and Michigan fell from the ranks of unbeatens despite being favored by a combined 26 points. Things are only getting cranked up on the college gridiron, however, as huge showdowns this weekend highlight what should be a fantastic next month of action. Here's what might happen in Week 8.
Note: The point of this column is to have some fun and make some outlandish predictions. Please react accordingly.
Sean Mannion will set the single-game Pac-12 passing record
Arizona State’s Andrew Walter set the single-game passing record with 536 yards against No. 6 Oregon on Oct. 19, 2002. Mannion is lapping the nation when it comes to passing after 493 yards against Washington State — his fourth 400-yard game of the season. He is leading the nation at 418.5 yards per game and six more TD passes (25) than anyone else in the country. Against the 123rd ranked defense in the nation, Cal (518.0 ypg), there is a good chance Mannion sets the conference single-game passing record.
Texas A&M will score 60 points
Auburn is dramatically improved on both sides of the ball. It’s allowing just 18.8 points per game after allowing 28.3 last year. The offense is much better as well and should be able to move the ball against a porous Texas A&M defense. However, Auburn is still allowing roughly 400 yards per game on defense and Johnny Manziel still plays quarterback for the Aggies. Ole Miss did everything but win the game last week against TAMU but, still, Manziel won the day. The Aggies have scored at least 40 points in nine straight games and hung 63 on Auburn last year… on the road. Take the over, folks.
Three ranked SEC teams will lose on the road
No. 24 Auburn isn’t the only ranked SEC team playing on the road this weekend. No. 6 LSU visits Ole Miss, No. 11 South Carolina heads to Tennessee, No. 22 Florida goes to No. 14 Mizzou and No. 15 Georgia visits Vanderbilt. The Dawgs and Gators have been decimated by injuries and could easily fall to Eastern Division foes. The Gamecocks and Vols always play tough and Ole Miss might be the best home team of the bunch. Look for at least two upsets on the road this weekend to go with Auburn’s loss.
No one will watch the Big Ten
I don’t know what the TV ratings look like for an entire conference week-by-week, but I am willing to bet the viewership for the Big Ten this weekend will be as low as it’s ever been. Two major brands, Penn State and Nebraska, are on bye this week and not one of the five games in the league features a single-digit point spread. Indiana is a 10-point dog to Michigan and that might be the best game of the weekend in the Midwest. Or is it Wisconsin’s road trip to Illinois? Minnesota at Northwestern? Iowa at Ohio State? Purdue at Michigan State? I rest my case.
Stanford will lose back-to-back games for the first time since 2009
The Cardinal haven’t lost back-to-back games since losing at Oregon State and Arizona in October 2009. Stanford is 44-8 since that time and hasn’t lost two games in a row over that span. After falling to a quality Utah team on the road last weekend, Stanford hosts No. 9 UCLA and Heisman candidates Brett Hundley and Anthony Barr. The Cardinal’s offense hasn’t been nearly as strong as anticipated and UCLA has quickly rebuilt its skill positions. Look for UCLA to avenge both 2012 losses to Stanford by toppling the mighty Cardinal this weekend.
Ed Orgeron will get in a fight with The Leprechaun
Let’s be honest, everybody wants their mascot to fight the Notre Dame Leprechaun. But few would want their head coach to come to blows with the other team’s mascot. USC might be the exception. The infamously short-tempered Orgeron watched his team nearly cough up a 21-point fourth-quarter lead last Thursday against Arizona and one can only imagine what the locker room was like following the win. The excitable and bizarre defensive coordinator-turned-head coach doesn’t take too kindly to losing and/or taunting. In a heated rivalry game with Notre Dame, fans should expect the unexpected from Coach O. Or, at least, a guy can hope.
The State of Texas won’t lose
There are 12 FBS programs in Texas. Texas-San Antonio, UTEP and Texas are not playing this weekend, but the other nine will go unbeaten. Texas A&M and Baylor are heavy home favorites over Auburn and Iowa State. Texas Tech visits West Virginia. Rice plays at 0-6 New Mexico State, SMU visits 1-4 Memphis, Texas State hosts winless Georgia State and North Texas visits 2-4 Louisiana Tech. If TCU can somehow pull the upset over a beatable Oklahoma State team and unbeaten Houston can hold serve at home against an improving BYU team, the Lone Star State could go 9-0 this weekend.
Baylor and Oregon have been putting on quite a show this season.
The Bears and Ducks own the top two spots in terms of total offense rankings after seven weeks, and the numbers are quite mind-boggling.
Baylor is averaging 9.4 yards per play, while the Ducks reel off 8.1 yards a play. Considering both teams are averaging nearly a first down every time they touch the ball, it shows just how dynamic these offenses are.
Those numbers are just a small sample of how dynamic both offenses have been this season. And with those numbers in mind, it’s not easy to pick the best offense in the nation.
However, that’s the question Athlon’s editors were tasked with answering, as the Bears and Ducks look to continue their current pace in Week 8.
Baylor or Oregon: Which Team has the Best Offense in College Football?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I’m tempted to say Baylor here, but I have to stick with Oregon. And before I explain my position, I think it’s worth pointing out there’s no wrong answer here. Both teams are two of the best offenses in the nation and will continue to post ridiculous numbers. The Bears have the better coach and have a slight advantage in the trenches. However, the Ducks take the edge largely due to quarterback Marcus Mariota. The sophomore should be the frontrunner to win the Heisman after Week 7 and has a year of experience on Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty. The Bears can match Oregon’s depth at running back, and the receivers might be more explosive, but again, it’s hard to pick against a quarterback like Mariota. Also, I think we have to give the Ducks some credit so far this season, as they have played a tougher schedule, with matchups against BCS teams like Tennessee, Virginia, Colorado, California and Washington. Baylor gashed West Virginia, but I’m curious to see if this offense can continue its current pace against teams like Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State.
Coach Fisher DeBerry, former head coach of Air Force and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
I would hate play either one because they put so much pressure on your defense. They don't give your defensive team time to catch their breath. Your defense is scrambling to keep up with their pace. Both have had incredible quarterback play. I would say Oregon has a little bit of an edge over Baylor just for the fact they have played a little tougher schedule to date.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Baylor is running plays at an unprecedented rate — both in yards and time. The Bears’ offensive line is the unheralded unit, as the hog mollies in Waco might be the best collection in the Big 12 and is making all of this production possible. However, we saw how human the Bears can be in Manhattan, Kansas. Oregon has been scoring in the 60s before Art Briles moved to Waco, it has better overall talent and has been doing it against better competition. Marcus Mariota is, for my money, is the best player in college football — he's 18-1 as a starter with 63 career touchdowns and six career interceptions — and once De'Anthony Thomas is healthy, there is no better offense in the nation than the Oregon Ducks. These are both elite offenses operating at historic clips. You can't go wrong with either, but I'll take the one from Eugene.
That's kind of like asking which luxury car is better or, more appropriate here, which high-end sports car is faster? OK, I'll bite. Baylor has more yards and points, but I'll take Oregon. Chip Kelly may have left Eugene for Philadelphia, but new head Duck Mark Helfrich has made the transition, just like Kelly did in 2009, from offensive coordinator to head coach seamlessly.
Last season, Oregon finished fifth in the nation in total offense with 537.4 yards and 49.5 points per game. Through six games this season, these Ducks sit in second place (behind Baylor) in both categories with 630.5 yards and 56.8 points per contest. Last week, Oregon piled up 631 total yards in its convincing 45-24 win over then-No. 16 Washington. The Huskies came into this game allowing 3.9 yards per play, the Ducks doubled that.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is a Heisman contender who had 454 total yards and four touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush) against Washington. He's taking efficient quarterbacking to another level, as his last interception came nine games ago. His versatility is one of the signatures of this offense, which has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to explosive, dynamic skill players. Case in point, five different Ducks have carried the ball at least 20 times this season and all five are averaging well over five yards per carry, including Mariota (10.4).
No disrespect to what Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk, Tevin Reese and company are accomplishing at Baylor, but when it comes to offensive firepower I'll take the dynamic Ducks over Art Briles' Bears. We still have a long ways to go, but would anyone care to guess what the over/under would be should Baylor and Oregon end up playing each other in a bowl game? Now that would be must-see TV.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I had gone back and forth on this until last week, but Saturday probably erased any doubt. Part of me wants to say Baylor — out of respect for Art Briles, out of the possibilities of an underdog and out of interest in what is new and shiny (with those helmets last week, quite literally shiny). But the answer is Oregon right now. The Ducks are simply more proven this season and have more options on offense, as they proved at Washington without De’Anthony Thomas and Colt Lyerla. Marcus Mariota is one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, if not the best. Bryce Petty will have a fine season and may end up a Heisman finalist, but Mariota is magical. Lache Seastrunk may be better than any individual Oregon back, scary considering he was once there for a time, but the Ducks are too deep at that position from Thomas to Byron Marshall to Thomas Tyner. The receivers may be a wash, and both teams have impressive offensive lines. But until I see Baylor tested through the course of the season, we all have to defer to Oregon.
This preview and more on Purdue and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Purdue Facts & Figures
Last season: 16-18 (8-10 Big Ten)
Postseason: CBI quarterfinals
Coach: Matt Painter (176-95 at Purdue)
Big Ten projection: Seventh
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
The Boilermakers will again be a young team — they don’t have a scholarship junior on the roster, for instance — but look to be back among the better teams in the Big Ten. Center A.J. Hammons has the talent to be one of the conference’s best players, and the Johnson brothers — Terone and Ronnie — could be an explosive backcourt. Just as important: Painter believes ingredients have arrived to bolster Purdue’s defensive play and outside shooting, two areas the Boilermakers struggled in last season.
“Our talent is better,” Painter says. “Our depth is better.”
In an era in which true post players are hard to find, the 7-0, 256-pound Hammons will provide Purdue with quite a weapon. He’s got soft hands, a deft touch and tremendous strength underneath the basket both offensively and defensively. Now, he needs to develop some maturity after an inconsistent freshman season during which Painter often sent him to the bench because of a perceived lack of effort.
"The sky is the limit for him,” Painter says. “We need to get his production to meet his talent. When it does, we're going to be a pretty good basketball team."
Painter also has high hopes for redshirt freshman Jay Simpson, who missed most of last season with a lingering foot injury. Simpson also has battled asthma issues during his career.
Incoming freshman Basil Smotherman also will challenge for playing time. Senior Travis Carroll provides an experienced backup behind Hammons, and Donnie Hale will be counted on to help out with the rebounding off the bench. Errick Peck transferred to Purdue from Cornell for his final season of eligibility. He averaged 9.7 points for the Big Red last season.
Painter had few options to run the point last year other than freshman Ronnie Johnson. All that responsibility was sometimes overwhelming, but Painter believes it will pay off this season.
“As I said last year, the best thing that could happen to us would be for Ronnie Johnson to play 30 minutes a game,” Painter says, “and the worst thing that could happen to us would be for Ronnie Johnson to play 30 minutes a game.”
Johnson gets from one end of the court to the other with the ball as fast as any player in the country. He averaged 10.3 points and 4.1 assists in his first season but shot only 38.5 percent from the field and made a total of six 3-pointers.
“We’re going to have more depth (this season), more experience, more competition,” Painter says. “He’s not just going to get the basketball and that’s that. But if he makes strides, and he plays up to his ability, he can be one of the best point guards in the league.”
Older brother Terone Johnson led the Boilermakers in scoring last season with a 13.5-point average, including a 32-point performance against eventual national runner-up Michigan. But Painter thought Johnson sometimes let his emotions get the better of him.
“We have to get him to be a good leader for this team,” Painter says. “We not only need him to play like it, but he also has to act like it. He has to always be out there and lead by example.”
There are some intriguing backcourt possibilities beyond the two Johnsons, too. Incoming freshman Bryson Scott can play both on and off the ball and has an edge the Boilermakers sorely missed last season.
Fellow freshman Kendall Stephens is expected to shore up Purdue’s poor outside shooting. So is senior Sterling Carter, who transfers in for his final season from the University of Seattle. Don’t count out Rapheal Davis, who started 17 games as a freshman and was impressive on the defensive end.
The Boilermakers have five new faces, including three freshmen and two seniors who already graduated from their former schools. Some Purdue fans took it personally when Bryson Scott finished fourth in Indiana’s Mr. Basketball voting after a stellar career at Fort Wayne Northrop High School. He’s considered one of the best incoming combo guards in the nation and should contribute immediately. Kendall Stephens, the son of former Boilermaker standout Everette Stephens, will be counted on to stretch the defense. Basil Smotherman has shown he can play a variety of roles up front. Painter expects Errick Peck and Sterling Carter to add some needed maturity and toughness.
Factoid: 291. Purdue ranked 291st in the nation in free throw percentage, hitting only 65.3 percent. That is the lowest percentage by a Matt Painter-coached Purdue team.
The Boilermakers should return to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence. Anything less would be a major disappointment. If the Johnson brothers and Hammons are as good as Painter expects, and the small but talented freshman class develops quickly, Purdue could be a surprise contender in the Big Ten.
This preview and more on Iowa and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Iowa Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-13 (9-9 Big Ten)
Postseason: NIT runner up
Coach: Fran McCaffery (54-50 at Iowa)
Big Ten projection: Sixth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Now it’s just a matter of living up to the hype, a challenge that’s been rare for Iowa during most of the past decade.
“We expected to build something special,” says McCaffery, who also rebuilt programs at Lehigh, UNC-Greensboro and Siena before coming to Iowa.
Iowa’s victory total has increased in each of McCaffery’s first three seasons — from 11 to 18 to 25 last season, which tied for the second most wins in school history.
The thought of Iowa having the deepest frontline in the Big Ten was hard to envision when McCaffery took over a depleted and deflated Hawkeye program in 2010. Player defections from the previous coaching regime had gutted the program and caused a serious shortage of talent.
Now however, the front line is a position of strength, bolstered by the addition of Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff, who has the versatility to play both forward positions. Uthoff, an Iowa native, spent the 2010-11 season redshirting at Wisconsin and then sat out last year at Iowa due to transfer rules.
Aaron White and sophomore center Adam Woodbury both started all 38 games last season. White played his best ball in Big Ten play, averaging 13.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in 18 league games. He was named third-team all-conference. The 7-1 Woodbury, a former top recruit, didn’t make a huge impact as a freshman (4.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg), but he is poised for a big leap forward. Woodbury worked during the offseason to improve his free throw shooting and his ability to attack the basket.
“I’m more explosive,” Woodbury says. “I’m stronger around the rim. I’m able to step out further on my jump shot. I’m just trying to improve my all-around game.”
Another player to watch is 6-10 Gabe Olaseni, who is still raw on offense but a force at times on defense thanks to his athleticism and length.
There is also depth on the perimeter, along with a potential star in Devyn Marble.
McCaffery has three point guards on scholarship if you include Marble. The other two are sophomores Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons. Gesell started 30 of the 34 games that he played in last season, shifting between point and shooting guard. He became the only Hawkeye freshman to finish with at least 295 points, 85 rebounds and 85 assists in a single season despite missing four games with a foot injury. Clemmons played in all 38 games and started 13 times. He ranked second on the team and third among Big Ten rookies with 105 assists last season. He also excels as an on-the-ball defender.
Marble established himself as Iowa’s go-to player on offense last season. He plays both guard positions and was instrumental in Iowa advancing to the NIT title game, averaging 20.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 steals in the five postseason games. Marble enters this season ranked 28th on the school’s scoring list with 1,134 points. His father, Roy Marble Sr., is Iowa’s career-scoring leader with 2,116 points. Roy and Devyn are the only father-son duo in Big Ten history to eclipse 1,000 points in a career.
Junior Josh Oglesby and incoming freshman Peter Jok will compete for playing time at shooting guard. The hope is that at least one of them will develop into a consistent 3-point shooter. Oglesby suffered through a season-long slump last season, shooting just 26.9 percent from 3-point range. Jok was once considered one of the top freshmen in the nation, but his high school career was derailed by a knee injury. He is now healthy.
Playing time will be tough to come by with so many returning players, but Jarrod Uthoff should make an immediate impact after sitting out the last two seasons. He is a versatile scorer and a defender. The hope is that Peter Jok will help solve the perimeter shooting woes that plagued the Hawkeyes throughout last season. Kyle Meyer will add depth to an already deep frontline.
Factoid: 4. Six of Iowa’s nine regular-season Big Ten losses last season came by four points or less, including one in overtime and another in double-overtime.
Everybody associated with the Iowa program will consider it a huge disappointment if this team doesn’t finish in the upper-half of the conference and make the NCAA Tournament. Playing in the NIT in each of the past two seasons was beneficial, but now it’s time to take the next step. And the pieces are in place for that to happen, barring a rash of injuries.
Derided for its low-scoring games and slow pace of play, Big Ten basketball enjoyed a long-awaited return to must-see college basketball TV last season.
While the sport as a whole fell into a scoring slump, two of the best offensive teams in the nation resided in the Big Ten in conference champion Indiana and national runner-up Michigan. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers, Ohio State and Michigan State all ended up in the top 10 of the RPI.
The follow-up to 2012-13 might not be as exciting as last season when every week brought a game of national importance, but there’s still a lot to like about the Big Ten. Indiana lost its top two players to the NBA Draft, but Michigan and Michigan State bring back key players who could have declared to the NBA Draft. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are back for the Wolverines after starring during the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State loses another star player (Deshaun Thomas) and hopes another scorer (Laquinton Ross) will take his place.
Will the Big Ten have the depth it did last season? Well, that’s up to teams like Iowa, Purdue and Illinois.
Big Ten predicted order of finish
G Aaron Craft, Ohio State
G Gary Harris, Michigan State
F LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State
F Mitch McGary, Michigan
C Adreian Payne, Michigan State
All-Big Ten Second Team
G Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
G Tim Frazier, Penn State
F Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
F Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
F Aaron White, Iowa
All-Big Ten Third Team
G Andre Hollins, Minnesota
G Noah Vonleh, Indiana
G Branden Dawson, Michigan State
G/F Drew Crawford, Northwestern
C A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Postseason projection: NCAA Final Four
Gary Harris and Adreian Payne bypassed the NBA Draft to win the Big Ten title — and perhaps another title in April.
2. OHIO STATE (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The Buckeyes will replace Deshaun Thomas with a deeper bench and a more balanced attack. They always defend.
3. MICHIGAN (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The Wolverines made a great NCAA run, but they lost two great guards — Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
4. WISCONSIN (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
The Badgers have finished no worse than tied for fourth for 12 straight seasons. Sam Dekker and Ben Brust will keep the streak alive.
5. INDIANA (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
Replacing four 1,000-point scorers won’t be easy, but Tom Crean has a veteran point guard (Yogi Ferrell) and a dazzling group of freshmen.
6. IOWA (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
This is the year the Hawkeyes return to the NCAA Tournament — and with five starters back they’re a threat to make a nice run.
7. PURDUE (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
If A.J. Hammons reaches his potential as the league’s best big man, the Boilermakers will be much improved.
Postseason projection: NIT
John Groce is upgrading the talent and competing for better recruits, but the Illini are a year away from returning to the first division.
Postseason projection: NIT
The Big Ten can be an unforgiving place for a rookie coach (Richard Pitino) at a program that lost its only two rebounders.
10. PENN STATE
Looking for a sleeper? Here is your team. With a healthy Tim Frazier and solid D.J. Newbill, the Nittany Lions have a top backcourt.
A healthy Drew Crawford will help Chris Collins establish his system, but the Wildcats lost 11 of their last 12 games.
12. NEBRASKA (bonus team preview)
The new Pinnacle Bank Arena should help Tim Miles build momentum but he still needs more talent.
Big Ten Awards
Player of the Year: Gary Harris, Michigan State
Harris could be an NBA lottery pick when he elects to leave for the Draft, but for now he’ll try to lead Michigan State back to the Final Four. The Big Ten freshman of the year will aim to be a more formidable threat around the basket after shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range last season.
Best Defensive Player: Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Craft has been one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders since his freshman year. He’s already the nation’s top floor general. Now, his offensive game is gaining more consistency.
Most Underrated Player: Aaron White, Iowa
White’s numbers in Big Ten play went up as the junior forward averaged 13.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in conference games. He’ll look to average a double-double per game in a breakout season for the Hawkeyes.
Newcomer of the Year: Noah Vonleh, Indiana (full list of key newcomers around the Big Ten)
Vonleh steps into the shoes of big man Cody Zeller, and he may be up to the task sometime down the line. Unlike Zeller, Vonleh is only 6-foot-9, but he is an athlete forward 7-4 wingspan.
Top coach: Tom Izzo (full rankings of Big Ten coaches)
This preview and more on Nebraska and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Nebraska Facts & Figures
Last season: 15-18 (5-13 Big Ten)
Coach: Tim Miles (15-18 at Nebraska)
Big Ten projection: 12th
Postseason projection: None
Selling out a new arena helps. So does the coach, Tim Miles, poaching an assistant coach from Georgetown and paying him $230,000 — the highest salary ever for a Nebraska assistant basketball coach.
Then there’s the Huskers’ schedule, which will include Florida Gulf Coast and Miami among five teams visiting Lincoln that advanced to last year’s Sweet 16.
Yes, folks are talking hoops in Lincoln, which usually isn’t the case when there’s a defensive line to fret about or a budding backup quarterback battle to dissect.
Miles, entering his second season, deserves much of the credit for injecting some life and hope into a program that’s never won an NCAA Tournament game and hasn’t earned an NCAA berth since 1998.
He’s had an assist in this surge of momentum, too, thanks to Nebraska’s move this season to Pinnacle Bank Arena, located in Lincoln’s West Haymarket district. Fans are ecstatic about the move — Nebraska sold out of season tickets in May — but are just as intrigued by a team that will play seven new faces.
There’s one on the bench, too; Miles hired Kenya Hunter, the longest-tenured assistant coach at Georgetown, to replace Ben Johnson, who left for the same job at his alma mater, Minnesota.
Let’s just put it this way: When Miles hit the recruiting trail in July, he made no bones about his biggest need. “We need size in our program,” Miles said. “We need size and athleticism.”
Nebraska’s frontcourt was lacking in depth and athleticism last season, and the two main players from that group — 6-10 Brandon Ubel and 6-11 Andre Almeida — graduated.
What’s a little perplexing is that Miles, who will enter this season with a vacant scholarship, had such a difficult time landing bigs during the late spring period. He did sign junior college forward Leslee Smith, but other recruits went elsewhere, bypassing what surely would’ve been immediate playing time in Lincoln.
Florida transfer Walter Pitchford, a 6-10 forward who sat out last season, greatly improves Nebraska’s athleticism and has decent shooting range. The same can be said of Smith, a 6-8, 250-pound forward and former SMU player. Miles likes Smith’s strength, poise and maturity, and Smith is quick and agile enough to play out of the high post.
Nebraska’s tallest player is 7-1 sophomore Sergej Vucetic, but at only 236 pounds, he still lacks strength.
Nebraska will have plenty more scoring options, which means Ray Gallegos shouldn’t have to carry as much of a scoring burden. He’s the leading returning scorer (12.5 ppg) and led the Big Ten last season in 3-point attempts (271) while shooting them at a mere 30.6-percent clip.
Among the newcomers is Terran Petteway, a 6-6 wing who sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech. Petteway is athletic, can get to the rim and will be a factor on the boards. He can also play a variety of positions, including point guard.
True freshmen Nick Fuller and Nate Hawkins could provide a scoring punch off the bench. Fuller, in particular, is a 6-6 lefty with a smooth long-range shot. Another true freshman, New Zealand native Tai Webster, could fill Nebraska’s void at point guard.
Sophomore Shavon Shields, perhaps among only one or two locks in the starting lineup, blossomed over the second half of his freshman season.
Most of the hype has centered on Tai Webster, a true freshman point guard from New Zealand, although Terran Petteway, a 6-6 transfer from Texas Tech, could be the biggest difference-maker. Florida transfer Walter Pitchford and junior college transfer Leslee Smith are key frontcourt pieces, and true freshmen Nick Fuller and Nate Hawkins should provide a scoring boost. Redshirt Deverell Biggs will challenge for the starting job at point guard.
Factoid: 9.8. Nebraska averaged only 9.8 assists per game, ranking 332nd in the nation in the category. No NU player averaged more than 2.5 per game.
Nebraska will have vastly improved athleticism, increased depth and considerably more scoring options. That’s reason enough to believe that the Huskers, in their second season under Miles, can improve on last year’s 15–18 record. But can they make a run at postseason play? That depends on how well a group of new, young players can mesh. Miles may have a more athletic squad, but Nebraska still lacks the size and strength needed to compete day-in and day-out in the bruising Big Ten. That’s why the Huskers will finish in the lower half of the league again — although they’ll be a far cry from the pushover many Big Ten teams have come to expect.
This preview and more on Indiana and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Indiana Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-7 (14-4 Big Ten)
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Coach: Tom Crean (84-82 at Indiana)
Big Ten projection: Fifth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
Seven veterans have departed Tom Crean’s Indiana basketball team, including four 1,000-point scorers, two taken in the first four picks of the NBA Draft. Nobody will pick the Hoosiers to finish in the top three in the Big Ten, but nobody should expect Indiana to disappear from the league race by early February.
Veterans Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey played their way onto the U.S. World University Games team. Crean’s six-player freshman class is a consensus top-10 group that is lifted by the addition of fifth-year transfer Evan Gordon. Sophomore Jeremy Hollowell intends to become the Big Ten’s most improved player.
“You can look at it (as) the glass is half empty because we lost a lot of people,” Crean says. “The glass half full is we’ve got such a young team, and they’re going to have that much more of a chance for growth.
“I think it will be fun to coach them. I really do. There will be some trying days. We’re in a veteran league. I don’t think that’s changed much. But I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to coach these guys.”
Cody Zeller was the recruit Crean had to sign to make Indiana relevant again. Crean signed him, coached him for two seasons, utilized Zeller to win a Big Ten championship and sent him to the NBA as the fourth overall pick.
Now Zeller is gone, and Crean must create new ways to score inside. Noah Vonleh arrives as Indiana’s next great player. Although he’s only 6-9, Vonleh plays bigger than that because he’s an explosive athlete with a 7-4 wingspan. Vonleh can make a 3-point shot or attack the basket. He should play power forward, but only if another freshman, Luke Fischer, delivers at center. Like Zeller, Fischer won multiple high school state titles. He’s not as athletic as Zeller but is considered a better shooter.
Crean praised Hollowell over the summer for embracing the work ethic that drove Victor Oladipo to greatness when he transformed himself from a top-150 recruit to the second pick in the 2013 draft. Hollowell has a chance to become Indiana’s top scorer because he can make 3-point shots, get to the rim and pass. The fourth frontcourt regular will be Sheehey, a superb defender and instant energy guy who was the Big Ten’s top sixth man. Sophomore Hanner Mosquera-Perea is the team’s best athlete, but must prove he can contribute in the half-court.
Ferrell had a tough job last season, playing point guard as a freshman for a veteran group that had won 27 games the previous season. He handled it well, deferring to teammates and averaging nearly two assists for every turnover. His role must change. Ferrell must make the 15-footer. He failed to score in IU’s final two NCAA Tournament games. In fact, the Hoosiers’ starting guards were outscored 38–0 in the 61–50 Sweet Sixteen loss to Syracuse.
Crean has a critical decision at the other guard spot — go with a veteran (Gordon) or a freshman. Gordon, the younger brother of former IU star Eric, arrives after playing two seasons at Liberty and one at Arizona State. He’s a solid 3-point shooter who showed he was capable of scoring when he dropped 28 against USC. But he’s 6-1, and Crean might prefer a bigger defender.
He has two candidates — Troy Williams, who played in the Jordan Brand Classic, and Stanford Robinson, a top-75 recruit who arrives from the same D.C. area AAU program that produced Oladipo. Both need work on their jumpers, but they’re long, athletic and capable of forcing the tempo.
Evan Gordon is a fifth-year transfer who was Arizona State’s third-leading scorer last season. Noah Vonleh made the McDonald’s All-American game because he can score and rebound. Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson are wings in the Victor Oladipo mold. Luke Fischer is talented, but the Cody Zeller comparisons are unfair. Devin Davis and Collin Hartman are Indianapolis guys who committed to IU as sophomores. Davis is fearless, and Hartman can shoot.
Factoid: 198. Indiana has been one of the nation’s top 3-point teams the last two seasons, but the Hoosiers must replace seven guys who combined to make 198 of IU’s 257 threes last season.
Indiana has been ready to go in November the last two seasons. This team won’t be. The Hoosiers are replacing their top four scorers, top three rebounders and top three 3-point shooters. After winning the Big Ten outright last season, IU fits in the middle of the pack.
This group will play without the expectations that appeared to suffocate last season’s team i19n March. The bench will be deeper, and Crean will have the depth to extend the defense with a taller and more athletic backcourt.
Hollowell and Vonleh must develop as inside scorers and defenders, because that’s what wins in the Big Ten. Several proven 3-point shooters must also emerge.
A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 7, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports' editors.
Seahawks (5-1) at Cardinals (3-3)
Seattle second-year signal-caller Russell Wilson returns to the site of his NFL debut, which he lost 20–16 at Arizona as the Hawks’ surprise starter in Week 1 last season. Wilson has since become an established quarterback, with a road playoff win under his belt and a 16–6 regular season record as a starter. All six of Wilson’s losses, however, have come on the road — including a 34–28 loss at Indianapolis this year. Seahawks by 9
Buccaneers (0-5) at Atlanta (1-4)
The Falcons have lost four games by a grand total of 15 points to teams with a combined 16–7 record. The sky may not be falling. But fresh off a bye week, Matt Ryan will need to adjust to life without stud wideout Julio Jones, who was lost for the season with a foot injury. Falcons by 9
Bears (4-2) at Redskins (1-4)
By all accounts Robert Griffin III has not been the same superhero RG3 from his rookie season. And Jay Cutler has not been the same scowling villain from yesteryear, either. What kind of bizarro world is this season’s NFL? Bears by 1
Cowboys (3-3) at Eagles (3-3)
The balance of power has swung back and forth in this NFC East rivalry. Dallas swept the season series last year with a 38–23 victory at Philly in Week 10 and a 38–33 win in Week 13. In 2011, the Eagles soared to a 34–7 home triumph in Week 8 and a 20–7 road win in Week 16. Eagles by 1
Patriots (5-1) at Jets (3-3)
New England struggled to a 13–10 ugly win in the rain on Thursday night in Week 2 this year. Tom Brady completed only 48.7 percent of his passes for just 185 yards and one TD in the win. The Patriots have now won six straight against the Jets with an 18–5 record with Brady at QB. Patriots by 8
Bills (2-4) at Dolphins (3-2)
Last season, Ryan Tannehill threw two TDs in a 24–10 win over the Bills at home in Week 16 after tossing two INTs in a 19–14 loss on the road at Buffalo in Week 11. The Bills are just hoping undrafted former scout team ace Thad Lewis (foot) is healthy after losing rookie starter EJ Manuel and rookie backup Jeff Tuel. Dolphins by 5
Chargers (3-3) at Jaguars (0-6)
The split stats are actually in Jacksonville’s favor — playing a West Coast team at 1 p.m. Eastern after that team played on Monday night. Chargers by 7
Rams (3-3) at Panthers (2-3)
As Cam Newton goes, so go the Panthers. Cam has scored eight of his 11 total TDs in wins and committed five of his six turnovers in losses. Panthers by 3
Bengals (4-2) at Lions (4-2)
Arguably the top two young wideouts in the NFL — Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (6'5", 236) and Cincy’s A.J. Green (6'4", 207) — will put on a show at Ford Field. As long as Megatron’s sore knee holds up, this big catfight should be a pass-happy affair in the Motor City. Lions by 2
49ers (4-2) at Titans (3-3)
San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick is 3–3 on the road as a starter, throwing a combined eight TDs and six INTs away from the Bay. 49ers by 9
Texans (2-4) at Chiefs (6-0)
The expansion Houston Texans (2002-present) ride out to face the old school Dallas Texans (1960-62), who left the Lone Star State to become the Kansas City Chiefs (1963-present). These clubs are heading in different directions, with Houston’s stale coach-QB combo of Gary Kubiak and Matt Schaub (nine INTs with four pick-sixes) taking on the fresh approach of Kansas City’s Andy Reid and Alex Smith. Chiefs by 8
Ravens (3-3) at Steelers (1-4)
Eight of the last 10 Baltimore-Pittsburgh meetings have been decided by exactly three points, either way — with four 23–20 games and two 13–10 contests. The two games not decided by a field goal? One was a four-point difference and the other was a 28-point blowout. Outliers have been few and far between in this series. Steelers by 1
Browns (3-3) at Packers (3-2)
The last time these two teams played, Aaron Rodgers threw three TDs and zero INTs in a 31–3 win at Cleveland. Déjà vu all over again? Packers by 10
Broncos (6-0) at Colts (4-2)
Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis, where he was the No. 1 overall pick in 1998, won four league MVP awards and a Super Bowl XLI title over 13 incredible seasons and one inactive year from 1998-2011. This Sunday night party will double as a horseshoe homecoming. Broncos by 7
Vikings (1-4) at Giants (0-6)
The Super Bowl will be in New York this year. But Monday night will not be a Super preview. Giants by 3
Last week: 11–4 // Season: 57–35
Peyton Manning wanted to retire as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. He just didn’t want to retire following the 2011 season. As a result, the four-time MVP and Super Bowl XLI winner is returning to Indianapolis this week — as a member of the Denver Broncos.
“Nobody loves their job more than I do. Nobody loves playing quarterback more than I do. I still want to play. But there is no other team I wanted to play for,” Manning said, after being released by the Colts in March of 2012. “We all know that nothing lasts forever. Times change, circumstances change, and that’s the reality of playing in the NFL.”
After (at least) four major neck surgeries by Manning and a 2–14 record in 2011 — with the clown car quarterback crew of Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins — Indianapolis decided to use the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft on the heir to Manning, who was the No. 1 overall pick of the Colts in 1998.
After all, Manning was a soon-to-be 36-year-old fresh off a year-long injury recovery. More important, the top quarterback prospect in decades was available. Stanford’s Andrew Luck was the son of an NFL quarterback and had been coached by an NFL quarterback, former Cardinal and current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Even Manning thought the move to Luck was a no-brainer.
“He said, ‘You’ve got to take Andrew,’” Colts owner Jim Irsay told USA Today Sports. “‘You have to. You’re crazy if you don’t.’”
While the Colts were thrilled to transition from Manning to Luck, the Broncos were even more excited to add a future Hall of Famer to a roster that Tim Tebow had led to a playoff win the year before.
“I don’t consider it much of a risk, knowing Peyton Manning,” said Denver decider John Elway, after signing Manning. “I asked him, ‘Is there any doubt in your mind that you can’t get back to the Peyton Manning we know of?’ And he said, ‘There’s no doubt in my mind.’”
After 22 games in Denver, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind. Manning has thrown for 6,838 yards, 59 TDs and 13 INTs wearing orange crush.
The first 22 games of Luck’s career in Indianapolis has not been half bad, either. The mobile 24-year-old has thrown for 5,720 yards, 30 TDs and 21 INTs, while rushing for 409 yards and seven TDs in true blue.
All’s well that ends well. And the Manning-Luck swap is going well.
“I think it’s perfect,” Irsay told USA Today Sports. “What’s happened is what Peyton and I hoped would happen. The desire was for him to get well and get to a team that has a chance to win another Super Bowl before his career ended.
“And our desire was to be able to transition to Andrew. To be so good so soon is stunning.”
1. Broncos (6-0) Peyton Manning loses two fumbles, throws pick-six.
2. Chiefs (6-0) Beat Raiders at Arrowhead for first time since 2006.
3. Patriots (5-1) Tom Brady throws winning TD with five seconds left.
4. Saints (5-1) Jimmy Graham (leg) exits in fourth quarter of loss.
5. Seahawks (5-1) Russell Wilson improves to 11–0 at home in Seattle.
6. 49ers (4-2) Big players make big plays in third straight victory.
7. Packers (3-2) Earn first road win after losses at San Fran, Cincy.
8. Colts (4-2) Chuck Pagano loses to Chargers DC brother, John.
9. Lions (4-2) Outscored Browns 24–0 in second half of victory.
10. Bears (4-2) Brandon Marshall fined $10,500 for green shoes.
11. Bengals (4-2) Mike Nugent bounces back with game-winning FG.
12. Cowboys (3-3) Give owner Jerry Jones a win on his 71st birthday.
13. Eagles (3-3) Nick Foles shines as Mike Vick watches from sideline.
14. Ravens (3-3) Lost to NFC team at home for first time in 14 games.
15. Dolphins (3-2) Ryan Tannehill has “plenty of arm,” few deep throws.
16. Rams (3-3) Defense, special teams score TDs in blowout win.
17. Texans (2-4) Home crowd cheers injured Matt Schaub on ground.
18. Falcons (1-4) Tony Gonzalez to K.C. trade rumors continue to swirl.
19. Titans (3-3) Unable to stop “Beast Mode” in loss at Seahawks.
20. Chargers (3-3) Philip Rivers outplays Andrew Luck in MNF victory.
21. Cardinals (3-3) Calais Campbell carted off field, but hopes to play.
22. Panthers (2-3) Cam Newton’s four scores lead Cats past Vikings.
23. Redskins (1-4) RG3 has three multi-turnover efforts in five games.
24. Jets (3-3) Marty Lyons inducted into Ring of Honor at halftime.
25. Browns (3-3) Brandon Weeden “bone-headed play” seals loss.
26. Bills (2-4) Thad Lewis scores three TDs in overtime defeat.
27. Raiders (2-4) Terrelle Pryor says team will “get to the playoffs.”
28. Vikings (1-4) Adrian Peterson plays after 2-year-old son’s death.
29. Steelers (1-4) Fourth team to reach 600 wins (including playoffs).
30. Giants (0-6) Worst start for Big Blue since 0–9 record in 1976.
31. Buccaneers (0-5) Third player diagnosed with MRSA staph infection.
32. Jaguars (0-6) Record underdogs (+28) only lost by 16 points.
Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers
What is this, the playoffs? Historic postseason overachiever Davis — who has 22 catches for 546 yards (24.8 ypc) and five TDs in five career playoff games — was dominant in a 32–20 win over Arizona. The 6'3", 250-pound physical freak had eight receptions for 180 yards (22.5 ypc) and a pair of second-quarter TDs covering 61 and 35 yards, respectively. Despite missing one game to injury, Davis has 22 catches for 404 yards (18.4 ypc) and six TDs in five games. With the Niners starved for pass-catchers, Davis’ play has been solid gold.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Jaguars
The most lopsided matchup in NFL history — at least on paper pregame — had the winless Jaguars as 28-point underdogs on the road against the unbeaten Broncos. And while Jacksonville did lose 35–19, there were a few bright spots to take away from the Mile High defeat. Blackmon hauled in 14 catches for 190 yards in a career effort for the second-year wideout out of Oklahoma State. Following a four-game suspension, Blackmon has 19 receptions for 326 yards (17.2 ypc) and a 67-yard TD in the two games he has played this season. The clawless Jaguars also scored a defensive TD and forced the Broncos’ first punt of October.
Tamba Hali, LB, Chiefs
Undefeated Kansas City continued to steamroll through all comers, crushing AFC West rival Oakland, 24–7, to improve to 6–0 this year. The Chiefs defense led the way with 10 sacks and three INTs of Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Hali paced the pass-rushers with 3.5 sacks for 30.5 lost yards. He was joined in the sack party by Derrick Johnson (2.0 sacks), Eric Berry (1), Tyson Jackson (1), Justin Houston (1), Mike Catapano (1) and Husain Abdullah (0.5).
LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense was off and running during a 31–20 road win at Tampa Bay. McCoy had 25 carries for 116 yards (4.6 ypc) to go along with two catches for 55 yards. The league’s leading rusher, McCoy has 630 yards and a 99-yard cushion over second-leading rusher Arian Foster (531 yards). “Shady” was not Philly’s only big playmaker on Sunday, however. Backup quarterback Nick Foles threw for 296 yards with three scoring strikes — two to DeSean Jackson and another to Riley Cooper — while subbing for the injured Michael Vick.
The Fifth of May was a day for underdogs everywhere. The little guy won. The Davids beat Goliath.
Front Row Motorsports’ taming of Talladega Superspeedway, the 2.66-mile track that is home to more action and unexpected turns of events than a pro wrestling cage match, might be the best feel-good story of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. A former start-and-park team conquered the day. It made many fans feel all warm and fuzzy.
Unfortunately, the moment for fuzzy feelings is likely over. Statistically, David Ragan and David Gilliland, the first- and second-place finishers of the May race at Talladega, overcame long odds and bucked tried-and-true strategy. It doesn’t mean their performance wasn’t spectacular; on the contrary, their end-of-race march carried all the flair of a storybook ending come to life.
+6 and +4 Ragan and Gilliland gained six and four positions, respectively, on the first lap following the green-white-checker restart.
Ragan’s win was, sorry to say, a bit fluky. He averaged a 20th-place running position on the day and went from 10th to first in two laps, taking advantage of plum positioning on the race’s deciding restart. He might not get an opportunity to duplicate the effort — restarts aren’t guaranteed — so, to solidify his giant-killer status, he’ll have to perform far better than his other restrictor plate race outings (finishes of 35th and 22nd) this season.
Gilliland was just one of four drivers (Kurt Busch, Michael Waltrip and Jamie McMurray were the others) to score a net gain of positions from the non-preferred groove during the race. The non-preferred line, especially specific positions within it, is no-man’s land.
33.3% Drivers lining up in the fifth- and seventh-place positions on restarts in the spring race retained those positions just 33.3 percent of the time.
In a late-race situation at Talladega, if a driver comes down pit road in eighth place and gains one spot after a fantastic stop, it’s a death wish. Seriously. The reward for one spot gained (from an even-numbered position) on a final stop is about a 67 percent chance that the recipient will cough up that spot (and then some) on a pivotal restart. When it comes to double-file restarting, especially at Talladega, it’s better to be lucky than good.
Restarts, though, come with cautions. Even though this is a close-proximity race, cautions aren’t guaranteed and caution “trends” are unreliable. The best way to score a win in a restrictor plate race is by running up front.
76.9% Dating back to the 2012 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, restrictor plate race winners were running either first or second with 10 percent of the race to go 76.9 percent of the time (10 races out of 13).
Additionally, the eventual winner led over 10 percent of the race 11 times (84.6 percent). Ragan’s victory, while cool for his race team and completely unexpected, is an outlier. The best bet to win this type of race starts with a team controlling its own fate. In 2013, one championship driver and team have been better at it than the rest …
4.43 Jimmie Johnson’s average running position across the last three point-paying restrictor plate races is 4.43-place.
The No. 48 team won two of those races, both at Daytona, and enjoyed its highest average running position at Talladega (3.52) en route to a fifth-place finish. Ironically, in a race where track position is reshuffled every lap, average running position is at its highest importance. Avoiding mid-pack crashes and taking advantage of clean air in the lead draft can go a long way for keeping a car unscathed. Johnson’s Chad Knaus-led team, one of the smartest entries in the Cup Series garage area, knows this and the driver executes accordingly. It’s a big reason why Johnson is the top-ranked plate racer per MotorsportsAnalytics.com’s Production in Equal Equipment Ratings (PEER).
2.46 The day’s best average running position in the spring Talladega race belonged to Matt Kenseth, who led a race-high 142 laps and cruised around the high-banked tri-oval with a 2.46-place running position.
Kenseth hasn’t scored a restrictor plate win in 2013, but that doesn’t mean you should expect anything less than immaculate performance. The point leader is a smart drafter, proving this in 2012 when he captured wins in the Daytona 500 and the fall race at Talladega.
4.375 Michael Waltrip ranks fourth in restrictor plate track PEER with a 4.375 rating.
He’s a goofy, polarizing entertainer on television, but that isn’t indicative of his drafting ability. Waltrip is a reliably productive plate racer, demonstrated with his last two outings — top-5 finishes at Talladega and Daytona — with the latter race acting as the site of a ferocious 34th-to-fifth-place run to the checkered flag in the closing laps. He returns to the seat of his own No. 55 car this weekend. With a cloud of negativity and a recent batch of layoffs announced amid his organization’s downward spiral, an attention-shifting victory, not outside the realm of possibility, would provide some relief.
David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
It's Midseason Madness on this week's podcast. Our hosts tackle big second-half questions for the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC before offering up picks for the midseason coach of the year. Here are the key storylines Braden Gall and David Fox tackled for each conference:
• ACC: Who blinks first, Florida State and Clemson? The Seminoles have the freshman quarterback, but the Tigers have needed to be bailed out by the defense recently. And why should or shouldn’t Miami have a bandwagon for the Coastal.
• Big 12: Yep, we’re arguing who has a better chance to go undefeated in the Big 12. One team is Texas. One is Baylor.
• Big Ten: The Legends Division round robin is a madhouse between wildly flawed teams. Is it fascinating or just ugly?
• Pac-12: Can UCLA do what Washington failed to do? The Bruins schedule is brutal down the stretch.
• SEC: Where to start in the East? South Carolina has emerged more and more as the injury bug has decimated the division. And does anyone stand to challenge Alabama in the West?
• And finally, Braden and David go through their coach of the year picks for Art Briles, Gary Pinkel and Curtis Johnson.
National League Championship Series – Game 4
St. Louis at Los Angeles
7:07 ET TBS
Ricky Nolasco (13-11, 3.70) vs. Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97)
The Cardinals were about to have the Dodgers by the throat on the cusp of a three-games-to-none lead, but Hyun-Jin Ryu was up to the task and the Cardinals weren’t. St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright deserved much better than what his teammates gave him last night. Defensively, the Redbirds didn’t make plays, and offensively they were stymied by Ryu. Ricky Nolasco, the Dodgers’ starter, will be making the first postseason start of his career. His counterpart, Lance Lynn, didn’t fare well in his start against Pittsburgh, but he pitched two scoreless innings to earn the win in Game 1. Through three games, this series has featured an aggregate .176 batting average. Perhaps, with Nolasco and Lynn on the hill, the hitters may have a fighting chance.
Keys for Los Angeles
Dodger pitching must continue to keep the St. Louis hitters off balance. Los Angeles hitting coach Mark McGwire, who spent the past three seasons with the same job in St. Louis, no doubt has offered some insight to the Dodgers’ pitchers as to some Cardinals’ weaknesses. The pitchers must continue to exploit those weaknesses. Good health is a key for the Dodgers as well. Center fielder Andre Ethier continues to be hindered by an ankle problem and shortstop Hanley Ramirez is playing with a cracked rib.
Keys for St. Louis
The bats must get going. It’s difficult to believe that the Cardinals have won two games with a batting average of .134 in this series. But that’s not likely to last. It all starts with Matt Carpenter at the top, and he’s shown a few signs that he may be coming out of his funk. Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina need to start chipping in with some run production as well. Lynn must be sharper than he was in his lone start against Pittsburgh in the NLDS. He gave up five earned runs in 4.1 innings.
Dodgers to Watch
Nolasco made two starts against St. Louis this season, one in Miami as a member of the Marlins and one in St. Louis as a Dodger. Nolasco won both games. The Dodgers won 11 of Nolasco’s 15 starts after they acquired him from Miami. However, in his final three starts, he allowed 17 earned runs in 12 innings (12.75 ERA) and opponents batted .393. That may be why Don Mattingly chose to skip him in the NLDS in favor of bringing Clayton Kershaw back on short rest. J.P. Howell will once again be a key piece of the Dodgers’ bullpen. He’s the lone lefty, and he’ll likely be asked to face the teeth of the Cardinals’ lineup once in the late innings. Offensively, Yasiel Puig has awakened and has been a thorn in the Cardinals’ side in more ways than one.
Cardinals to Watch
David Freese, who injured his calf last night, is questionable. Without him in the lineup, the Cardinals are fine defensively with Daniel Descalso, but Freese has a history of rising in October when the Cardinals need him most. Carlos Beltran and Jon Jay must shore up the Cardinals’ outfield defense. Jay, once regarded as a top center fielder, has struggled recently.
The projected Dodgers’ lineup is batting a combined .216 off Lynn with only two extra-base hits in 37 at-bats…The Cardinals were just 7-10 in Lynn’s 17 road starts this season, but he tossed six shutout innings in a win in May at Dodger Stadium…The projected Cardinals’ lineup is batting .371 off Nolasco…Hanley Ramirez is batting .455 this postseason with seven RBIs in six games…Against Atlanta and St. Louis in October, Dodgers pitchers have 66 strikeouts and have allowed just 41 hits and 21 walks…Yadier Molina (.286) is the only Cardinal regular hitting above .241 this postseason…Four regulars — David Freese (.192), Matt Holliday (.188), Jon Jay (.154) and Matt Carpenter (.100) — are hitting below the Mendoza Line.
The wheels are already in motion following the recent announcement that Tennessee and Virginia Tech will play a football game at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 10, 2016. The game is expected to set single-game football attendance record as the 52-year-old racetrack has a seating capacity of 150,000. Bristol’s proximity to both campuses made this event a rumored possibility since the 1990s. Bristol Motor Speedway released a promo video to get two already ecstatic fan bases even more primed about the event.
Nebraska guard Spencer Long is expected to miss the remainder of the season due to a knee injury suffered in Saturday’s win over Purdue.
Long was one of the best linemen in the Big Ten and was a preseason All-American selection by Athlon Sports.
The senior had 33 career starts prior to Saturday’s injury.
Junior Mike Moudy is listed as Long’s backup at right guard, but with a bye week, Nebraska may evaluate the entire line and shuffle this group before playing at Minnesota on Oct. 26.
Spencer Long will have surgery Thursday. "It looks like he'll be out for the year," Bo Pelini said on Big Ten teleconference. #Huskers— Steven M. Sipple (@HuskerExtraSip) October 15, 2013
Oregon and Nebraska haven't met since 1986. That will soon change. Oregon will travel to Lincoln for a game on Sept. 16, 2016, with Nebraska visiting Eugene for the first time on Sept. 9, 2017.
Huskers to visit Ducks in 2016 and host them in 2017. Great move.— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) October 14, 2013
The athletic departments will exchange $1 million payouts to the visiting team in each year of this series. This is a big win for playoff-era scheduling, as the agreement should pave the way for other big programs to seek top competition.
On Sunday, Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday halfback Todd Gurley is "real close" to returning from a sprained left ankle.
Richt: Todd Gurley 'real close' to returning http://t.co/DmCnQhtLrb— CollegeFootballTalk (@CFTalk) October 14, 2013
This appears to be the case as Gurley, who sat out Monday's practice session, made his long-awaited return to the practice field on Tuesday.
It's official — Todd Gurley is back at practice for the Bulldogs, http://t.co/GCCdVSPLFo— Red and Black (@redandblack) October 15, 2013
Gurley has missed two straight games with a high ankle sprain as the Bulldogs dropped eight spots in the top 25 in his absence. The sophomore hasn't played since the September 28 game against LSU, in which the injury occured. Gurley's return is even more important with the season-ending injury to backup running back Keith Marshall.
American League Championship Series – Game 3
Boston at Detroit
3:07 ET Fox
John Lackey (10-13, 3.52) vs. Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46)
Just when the Tigers thought they had a firm grip on this series as they were about to take a commanding 2-0 lead back home to Detroit for three games, a typical Red Sox game at Fenway Park broke out. Typical for the 2000s, anyway. Detroit’s pitchers were toying with Boston batters and had a 5-0 lead going into the bottom of the sixth inning. But a double here, a walk there, a pitching change here, a pitching change there, a ground ball single here and a Big Papi grand slam there suddenly turned a dreary old ballpark into a vibrant baseball palace again. So onto Detroit we go with the series knotted at one game apiece.
Keys for Detroit
Forget about Sunday night. Justin Verlander must continue the dominance that the staff has shown over the Red Sox and the success that the righthander has enjoyed this postseason. As good as Verlander has been, the Tigers must be able to close out games when their starting pitching dominates. The Detroit bullpen has been the elephant in the room all season, and has once again become a problem for manager Jim Leyland. Last season, he turned to Phil Coke to close out games. He may resort to the lefty again. Of course, getting the series to Detroit is key in that Boston magic is less likely to happen outside of Fenway.
Keys for Boston
The Red Sox must get their offense going. They have yet to record a hit in the first through fifth innings. Leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury and No. 2 hitter Shane Victorino must jump-start this offense. Dustin Pedroia, hitting in front of David Ortiz, is a key to forcing the Tigers to pitch to Boston’s big slugger. If the Tigers are allowed to pitch around Ortiz, it could be another long night for the Boston bats. Starter John Lackey must be up to the task, expecting little run support. Manager John Farrell will be quick to go to the bullpen, but the Red Sox can’t afford to tax the pen too much and leave nothing for Games 4 and 5.
Tigers to Watch
As Leyland searches for answers in the bullpen, Joaquin Benoit may not have many opportunities left. Lefthanders Drew Smyly and Coke will likely get chances in high-leverage situations. Lackey may be able to keep Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter at bay, but expect the righthander to have trouble negotiating the Miguel Cabrera-Prince Fielder-Victor Martinez-Jhonny Peralta gauntlet.
Red Sox to Watch
Big Papi will be the center of attention for the Sox. He is the one hitter the Tigers can’t allow to beat them. Obviously, a key will be getting outs in front him. The big designated hitter has had success against Verlander and he truly loves to hit in the postseason.
Red Sox batters have struck out 32 times in 59 at-bats in the first two games… Ortiz with four RBIs is the only player for either team with more than one…The Tigers were 7-10 in Verlander’s 17 home starts this season; 0-8 when scoring four runs or less…Ortiz has 10 hits, including six for extra bases, in his 27 at-bats off of Verlander… Pedroia is 1-for-18 with a walk against Verlander…The former AL MVP has held Ellsbury to a .269 OBP…The Red Sox were 14-15 in Lackey’s 29 starts this season, but only 5-11 in 16 starts away from Fenway…The projected starting nine for the Tigers carries a .298 aggregate batting average against Lackey.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Oct. 15.
• It's Tuesday, the start of that dreadful two-day no-man's land with no football. Here's a cheerleader gallery from college football's Week 7 to make the wait a little more bearable.
• The highlights of last night's baseball game: a Yasiel Puig triple that started with a home run pose; and a fan dressed as a bear dancing on the visiting dugout. For their part, the Cardinals were not amused by Puig's antics, nor those of his teammates.
• From Yasiel and the Dancing Bear to Torii and the Cop: Here's the inside story of the sports photo of the year.
• The Tigers could win the World Series while playing terrible defense. I've always contended that defense in baseball is overrated, so I guess I'm rooting for the Tigers to prove me right.
• Yesterday was big for bear news. You probably saw the video of the bear playing tetherball. It gets even better when you learn the bear's backstory.
• The Week 6 edition of Sorry Your Team Lost. I like this line: "The Titans are like that stupid Imagine Dragons song. No one I know actually likes them and neither of them are entertaining, but for some reason you can't get away from them or stop hearing about them."
• A bird attack temporarily derailed the signing of Manu Ginobili's new contract. Bird must've been a Hawks fan, amirite?
• I'm glad somebody noticed this: Young Rob Ryan was a dead ringer for Kenny Powers.
• Another day, another Les Miles video. In this one, our hero wishes us a Happy Columbus Day, as only Les Miles can.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Injuries are taking a toll on the contenders in the SEC East, and Florida suffered another setback this week, as running back Matt Jones was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
Jones missed time in the preseason due to an illness and had 339 yards and two scores on 79 attempts through five games.
However, Jones was Florida’s go-to back, with Mack Brown contributing as a capable No. 2 option.
With Jones sidelined, Brown will return to the No. 1 role, with true freshman Kelvin Taylor expected to see his playing time increase.
Injuries are really starting to have an impact on teams’ depth charts, as rookies and other unproven players are getting their chances to shine. Can any of these help your fantasy team in Week 7 or beyond?
The players listed in Athlon’s weekly fantasy football waiver wire may be one-week adds, some may be worth holding onto all season long and some are of the “sleeper” variety that you may want to keep an eye on. So without further ado, here are some players worth grabbing.
Teams on bye in Week 7: New Orleans, Oakland
Week 6 Recap: Nick Foles threw for 296 yards and three scores and added one on the ground to lead the Eagles to a win in Tampa Bay. Foles’ performance certainly gave head coach Chip Kelly something to think about with Michael Vick recovering from a hamstring injury and NFC East rival Dallas on tap this Sunday. Brandon Weeden (right) returned to the starting role for Cleveland and finished with 292 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Browns’ home loss to Detroit. Jacksonville’s Chad Henne posted 303 yards passing against Denver, but tossed two picks and had no touchdowns in the loss. Blaine Gabbert will miss a second straight game because of his hamstring injury, so Henne will start this Sunday against San Diego.
Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Is it time to invest in Glennon? The rookie turned in a respectable effort against Philadelphia, throwing for 273 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. The Eagles were a good matchup for him, but that may be the case again this week. The Buccaneers go to Atlanta, and while the Falcons are coming off of their bye, they have lost a lot of key personnel to injuries and their defense has certainly had its issues. In their last game, the Falcons allowed another rookie, Geno Smith, to complete 16 of 20 passes for three scores and no picks. Glennon has less experience than Smith, but what he does have that Smith doesn’t is legitimate weapons in wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams as well as running back Doug Martin to help him. This just may be the week to give Glennon a try, especially in 2-QB leagues.
Week 6 Recap: Andre Ellington led the Cardinals with 12 touches and produced 92 yards and a touchdown with them in the loss to the 49ers. If this keeps up, the rookie could develop into a reliable RB2/RB3 option. Fellow first-year back Zac Stacy may have locked up the starting gig for the Rams the rest of the season after posting 79 yards rushing on 18 carries (4.4 ypc) against a pretty solid Texans defense. This week’s matchup with Carolina will be another good measuring stick for the fifth-round pick. Donald Brown had 34 total yards on five touches on Monday night against the Chargers.
Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants
Jacobs has been mentioned in this space before, but any running back that rushes for 100 yards in a game merits a little more coverage. Jacobs gashed the Bears on Thursday night for 106 yards and two touchdowns, as the Giants nearly got into the win column. What’s more important for Jacobs’ fantasy value moving forward is that David Wilson’s season could be over because of a neck injury, leaving the veteran as the team’s primary ball-carrier. Andre Brown could have something to say about this, as he’s eligible to return from his broken leg in Week 10. With the Giants on bye in Week 9 that means Jacobs should get the majority of the carries against Minnesota next Monday night and Philadelphia in Week 8, not the worst matchups for fantasy RBs.
Chris Ogbonnaya, Cleveland Browns
Wide receiver Travis Benjamin led the Browns with 45 yards rushing on Sunday, picking up all of those in one carry. What was more interesting, however, was the number of touches Ogbonnaya got. Willis McGahee doubled him in carries (10 to 5), but Ogbonnaya saw a team-high 12 targets, converting seven of them for 61 yards and a touchdown. Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron are still the top weapons in the Browns’ passing game, but Brandon Weeden appears to throwing to his running backs quite a bit too. This is more for deeper leagues, but if Ogbonnaya continues to see double-digit targets and get his chances to run the ball (24 yards on 5 att. Sunday), he could be a flex option, especially with 16 teams lined up to go on bye from Weeks 8-10.
Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys
DeMarco Murray had 29 yards rushing and a touchdown along with 21 yards receiving against Washington before exiting with a knee injury in the second quarter. He was scheduled to undergo a MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the damage, but the early diagnosis was a sprained LCL and it's highly likely Murray will miss at least one game. Murray has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career, which is why the Cowboys selected Randle in the fifth round. Randle wasn’t even on the field until Week 4 and after not getting any touches in his first two games, he carried the ball 11 times for 17 yards and a score and caught two passes in the win over the Redskins. If Murray is out, the Cowboys will need to increase Randle’s role in the offense, especially with Lance Dunbar dealing with a hamstring injury.
Week 6 Recap: Justin Blackmon (right) led all wide receivers this week with 14 catches and 190 yards against Denver. Denarius Moore caught his fourth touchdown of the season and is now a top-20 fantasy wide receiver. Keenan Allen posted his second straight 100-yard game with nine catches for 107 and a touchdown in San Diego's win over Indianapolis Monday night. Terrance Williams went back to being the Cowboys’ No. 3 wideout with the return of Miles Austin (hamstring), but the rookie still made the most of his chances, as he caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the win over the Redskins.
Jarrett Boykin, Green Bay Packers
The Packers beat the Ravens on Sunday, but also lost wide receivers Randall Cobb (knee) and James Jones (shin) to injuries. Their early exits forced Boykin into action and Aaron Rodgers didn’t shy away from throwing to the second-year wideout. Boykin got six targets from Rodgers and while he only hauled in one of them, it did cover 43 yards. On Monday head coach Mike McCarthy said that there's a chance Jones will be able to play on Sunday, but Cobb could be out up to eight weeks due to a fractured fibula. One way or the other, Boykin should see more playing time, and the opportunity is there for Boykin to put up decent numbers.
Harry Douglas, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons were on bye in Week 6, yet it still feels like the team lost. A disheartening home defeat to the Jets in their last game left them at 1-4, but that wasn’t even the worst of the news to come. Julio Jones is done for the season after sustaining a foot injury against the Jets that will require surgery and Roddy White may have added a hamstring injury to the high-ankle sprain that has severely hampered him this season. With these injuries, the Falcons need Douglas to step up, as he will move into the starting lineup. He could end up being the team’s No. 1 wide receiver if White misses any games. Douglas is third on the team in targets with 27, which should only go up from here.
Kris Durham, Detroit Lions
Nate Burleson will miss a few more weeks because of a broken arm and Calvin Johnson has been hobbled by a knee injury the past two weeks. The Lions were hoping that Ryan Broyles would emerge, but instead it’s been Durham. Last week with Johnson sidelined, Durham led the way with eight targets. On Sunday, with Johnson back but clearly not at 100 percent, Durham got 13 targets and led the team with eight receptions for 83 yards. Broyles just isn’t getting the job done right now (5 rec., 61 yds. in four games), which means Durham is the Lions’ No. 2 option behind Megatron, which is not a bad place to be if you are a wide receiver.
Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald played through a left hamstring injury on Sunday and led the Cardinals with six catches for 117 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, the All-Pro reportedly injured his other hamstring, which could put his availability for Thursday’s game against Seattle in doubt. Floyd is the team’s No. 2 option, but he has been somewhat forgotten in fantasy circles because of his mediocre production. Even though he has recorded at least three catches in every game, Floyd has 345 yards receiving and finally caught his first touchdown pass on Sunday. If Fitzgerald can’t go this week, Floyd moves up to No. 1 and could see double-digit targets, although the matchup with the Seahawks isn’t that appealing. Still, Fitzgerald’s health is something to monitor in the weeks ahead and Floyd is probably someone worth adding to your watch list.
Week 6 Recap: Sean McGrath didn’t catch any of his three targets against Oakland, as Alex Smith completed just 14 of 31 passes for 128 yards.
Joseph Fauria, Detroit Lions
It doesn’t get any more efficient, not to mention productive, than this. Fauria caught three passes against Cleveland on Sunday and all three were for touchdowns. Overall, the UCLA product and undrafted free agent has five touchdowns and seven total catches on the season. It’s hard to trust someone who has not caught a single pass in half of his games, but it’s pretty clear that Matthew Stafford likes throwing to the rookie in the red zone.
Timothy Wright, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Who is Wright? He’s an undrafted rookie from Rutgers (where head coach Greg Schiano came from) and, more importantly, he’s been one of Mike Glennon’s (see above) favorite targets. In Glennon’s two starts, Wright has 12 catches for 132 yards receiving. It’s early, but 12 catches in a two-week span from a tight end is something worth keeping an eye on.
Week 6 Recap: Indianapolis held San Diego to just one touchdown and 19 points total on Monday night, but had no turnovers and sacked Philip Rivers twice. Next up for the Colts is a visit from Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
St. Louis Rams
Can the Rams be trusted again? The defense was at its nastiest on Sunday in a dominating 38-13 victory in Houston. The Rams had five sacks and forced four turnovers, turning their two interceptions into scores. The rushing defense is still a bit of an issue (153 yards vs. Texans), but Rams have 48 fantasy points in their last two games and are back among the top-10 fantasy DSTs on the season.
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.
Certainly, no one expected the Jacksonville Jaguars to be any good in 2013, so their 0-6 record isn't very startling. But four combined wins and 18 combined losses for Houston, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and the Giants? No one saw that coming. This is what makes the NFL so unpredictable... and popular.
With that in mind, here are the most important, interesting, historic and bizarre statistics from Week 6 of the NFL:
1934: Last time two teams in the same division started 6-0
Since the expansion of the NFL playoff structure in 1990, 27 of the 29 teams — or 93.1-percent — to start 6-0 in the NFL have made the playoffs. While the Saints went down in historic fashion to the Patriots, the Broncos and Chiefs stayed unbeaten with wins over Jacksonville and Oakland. It marks just the second time since the divisional structure was implemented in 1933 that two teams in the same division started 6-0. In 1934, the Lions and Bears both started 10-0.
1:13: Time left when the Patriots got the ball
Drew Brees led an impressive 10-play, 81-yard touchdown drive that ended with 3:29 left on the clock to take a one-point lead over the Patriots. After two wasted possessions by the Pats, the Saints kicked a field goal to take a four-point lead. Tom Brady finally got the ball back with 1:13 left on the clock on his own 30-yard line. Brady worked deftly down the field on his own 8-play, 70-yard drive that culminated in a brilliant game-winning 17-yard touchdown pass to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins with just five ticks left on the clock. The scoring strike was Brady’s 342nd of his career, tying him with Fran Tarkenton for fourth all-time in NFL history.
24-0: Lions outscored the Browns in the second half
The Lions had seven possessions in the first half against the Browns on Sunday. Five of them ended in punts — three of which were three-and-out — one was a Matthew Stafford kneel down and one was a 58-yard touchdown drive. The Browns had six possessions and scored three times to take a commanding 17-7 halftime lead. Stafford and the Lions made some serious halftime adjustments and went on to outscore the Browns 24-0 in the second half. It was Stafford’s 13th game with at least three touchdown passes, setting a Lions team record (Bobby Layne, 12). Rookie tight end Joseph Fauria was the first player since 2005 to finish a game with three receptions and three touchdown catches.
98: Longest INT returned for a TD by a LB in NFL history
The Houston Texans are amidst one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history. And St. Louis rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree put a stamp on the Rams' 38-13 win by returning a T.J. Yates pass 98 yards for a touchdown. It ties Tampa Bay’s Shelton Quarles for the longest INT return for a TD by a linebacker in NFL history (Oct. 7, 2001). It was the longest such return ever by a rookie linebacker, and Houston has now thrown a pick-six in five consecutive games. The Texans are 2-4 this year and are 3-7 in their last 10 regular season games.
24.1: Chiefs' NFL-leading third-down defense
Kansas City is unbeaten because of its defense. The Chiefs lead the NFL with a +12 turnover margin, rank fifth in the league at 306.3 yards allowed per game and are allowing an NFL-best 10.8 points per game. More importantly, no team in the NFL gets off of the field better than KC. It has allowed just 20-of-83 third-down conversions on defense through six games, leading the league with a sterling 24.1 percent rate.
0: Steelers total takeaways entering Week 6
Pittsburgh was winless and takeaway-less entering a huge Week 6 contest with the Jets. The Steelers were the only team in the league that had yet to force a turnover. Ryan Clark and Lawrence Timmons each intercepted New York rookie quarterback Geno Smith in the Steelers' first win of the season. Longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is now 16-2 against rookie quarterbacks after forcing Smith into an ugly quarterback rating of 48.8.
143.3: Cam Newton's career-high passer rating
Cam Newton played arguably his best game as an NFL passer in the convincing 35-10 road win over the Vikings. He completed 20-of-26 passes (76.9 percent) for 242 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a career-high 143.4 QB rating. It was only the fifth time he has thrown for three scores in a game and fifth time he had completed better than 70 percent of is passes in his 37-game career. Newton also added 30 yards rushing and a TD on the ground.
3.1: Yards per carry for Chris Johnson
There are only five players in the NFL who have gotten more rushing attempts than Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (106). However, the Titans back has no room to run and therefore has been incredibly ineffective. He is averaging a career-worst 3.1 yards per carry and hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown all season. He rushed 12 times for 33 yards (2.8 ypc) in the loss against Seattle this weekend. Through six games in 2013, Johnson has posted the fifth-worst (17 yards against Kansas City), eighth-worst (21 yards against NY Jets) and 15th-worst (33 yards against Seattle) rushing totals of his 85-game career.
23: Turnovers by the Giants
Houston and Arizona have both turned the ball over 15 times in 2013 and are tied for second-to-last in giveaways this season. They’ve lost a combined seven games, but pale in comparison to what the Giants have done in the giveaway category. After three more interceptions from Eli Manning, the Giants dropped to 0-6 after the loss to Chicago on Thursday night. The 23 turnovers lead the league by a wide margin and Manning’s 15 interceptions are as many as he threw in all of 2012. The G-Men are on pace for 61 turnovers this season, which would be two shy of the current NFL record of 63 held by the 1978 San Francisco 49ers.
The ACC has been a little off the national radar for most of this season, but at least for one weekend (Oct. 19), the spotlight will be on this conference. Clemson-Florida State is a huge top-five showdown and should be one of the best games of the second half of the 2013 season.
The winner of Saturday’s showdown in Death Valley should win the Atlantic Division, while Virginia Tech-Miami on Nov. 9 should decide the Coastal. The Hokies have quietly won six in a row after losing to Alabama in the season opener, while the Hurricanes are off to a 5-0 start.
The top four teams in the ACC are clear, but there’s a host of programs vying to working their way into the next tier. Maryland is clearly improved after a 4-8 record last season, while Pittsburgh is 3-2 in its first year in the ACC.
Syracuse, Boston College, Wake Forest and NC State are all 3-3, with Georgia Tech, Duke and North Carolina also in bowl contention. The Yellow Jackets started 3-0 but have lost three straight games.
The ACC has a drop in overall strength after the top four teams, but this league seems to be a little deeper than it has been in recent years.
ACC 2013 Midseason Review and Second-Half Predictions
Coach of the Year: Randy Edsall, Maryland
This award could go to a couple of different coaches, but we’ll give the nod to Edsall at the midpoint of 2013. After winning just six games through his first two years, Maryland is off to a 5-1 start. The Terrapins haven’t faced the nation’s most challenging slate, but Edsall’s team has clearly made progress after a dismal 2-10 campaign in 2011. Injuries have started to take a toll on Maryland’s defense, and quarterback C.J. Brown missed last week’s game against Virginia with a concussion. However, even with a few pieces missing on defense, the Terrapins should make a run at an 8-4 final record. Boston College's Steve Addazio is another name to consider here.
Newcomer of the Year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
After five games, it’s clear Winston is already one of the best quarterbacks in college football. The redshirt freshman opened his career with an impressive performance at Pittsburgh, completing 25 of 27 throws for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Since then, Winston’s play hasn’t slipped any, as he has only two picks this year and has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in four out of Florida State’s five games. Winston ranks fourth nationally in yards per play (9.9) and second in passing efficiency (213.9).
Offensive Player of the Year: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
It’s a close call between Boyd and Winston for this honor, but let’s give the nod to the senior. Boyd has Clemson positioned for its second ACC title in three years, throwing for 1,783 yards, 15 scores and only two interceptions. The senior is completing 66.5 percent of his throws and averages 9.6 yards per attempt, which ranks ninth nationally. Boyd also has 187 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground. In Clemson’s win over Georgia, Boyd threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns and didn’t throw a pick on 30 attempts. Outside of throwing for 169 yards in a blowout win over South Carolina State, Boyd has topped at least 270 yards in every game this year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Beasley has grabbed the headlines in the ACC, but let’s not forget about Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Virginia Tech defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins. Through six games, Beasley has 23 tackles (12 for a loss) and nine sacks. The junior also has five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one defensive touchdown. Beasley’s nine sacks rank first nationally, and his 12 tackles for a loss rank third. And the junior’s play so far this year is a big reason why Clemson ranks fourth in the ACC in total defense (5.1 yards per play).
Midseason Disappointment: North Carolina
The Tar Heels have faced a difficult schedule (South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech), but this isn’t the same team that finished in a three-way tie atop the Coastal Division. Both sides of the ball have been problematic for coach Larry Fedora. The offense, which was expected to be one of the best in the ACC, is ranked ninth in the conference in total yards per game. Replacing three starters on the offensive line and running back Giovani Bernard has been a challenge, as the Tar Heels rank last in the ACC in rushing offense. The defense has allowed at least 20 points in every game this season, and opponents are averaging 5.6 yards per play against this unit. An easier schedule in the second half will allow North Carolina to make up some ground on the rest of the Coastal. However, the Tar Heels – as some predicted in the preseason – won’t challenge for the division title in 2013.
Midseason Surprise: Boston College
Don’t let the 3-3 record fool you: Boston College is a much-improved team. New coach Steve Addazio has brought back a brand of tough football to Chestnut Hill, and the Eagles have leaned on a veteran core of players, which features running back Andre Williams, receiver Alex Amidon and quarterback Chase Rettig. Boston College’s wins – Army, Villanova and Wake Forest – aren’t particularly overwhelming. However, the Eagles lost to a talented USC team and were defeated by 14 points to Florida State and 10 to Clemson – clearly the top-two teams in the ACC. With winnable games against New Mexico State, North Carolina, NC State, Maryland and Syracuse remaining, Boston College should make a bowl in 2013.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
Atlantic and Coastal Division title races
The Atlantic Division could be decided on Saturday in Death Valley, as Clemson hosts Florida State in a battle of two top-five teams. The Coastal Division picture may take a while to clear, at least until Miami and Virginia Tech meet on Nov. 9. Will any of these four teams suffer an upset loss? Or will the top four teams in the ACC at the midpoint finish that way in December? For a conference that has struggled to earn respect at times, the race to win both divisions should be among the top storylines to watch in the national landscape.
The ACC vs. SEC
In terms of the overall ACC title picture, this storyline means nothing. However, the ACC wants national respect and games against the SEC are a perfect opportunity to make a statement. So far, ACC teams are 2-2 against the SEC this year. And four games remain between these two conferences: Florida State-Florida, Wake Forest-Vanderbilt, Clemson-South Carolina and Georgia-Georgia Tech. Can the ACC earn a split in these games? If Florida State beats Florida and Clemson beats South Carolina, it would be a huge boost for the perception of the ACC.
How many bowl teams?
The ACC has eight bowl tie-ins and could have more eligible teams than available spots. Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and Miami are locks for the postseason, while Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech should be in good shape. But how many other teams will get to six wins? Syracuse, Boston College, Wake Forest and NC State all have three wins, and Duke needs two to return to the postseason. Even though North Carolina is 1-4, don’t count out the Tar Heels reaching six wins. And here’s the other wildcard: Can the ACC get two teams into the BCS?
Bonus: Brandon Mitchell’s return for NC State
The Wolfpack started 3-1 but has lost back-to-back games against Wake Forest and Syracuse. A big problem for NC State has been the offense, which is averaging just 12.3 points a game in conference play. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell suffered a foot injury in the season opener and has not played in the last five games. The senior is the best fit for NC State’s spread offense and would be an upgrade over Pete Thomas. It’s not too late for the Wolfpack to make a run at bowl eligibility, and Mitchell’s return should be a boost for this offense.
Top Five Games in the Second Half
Florida State at Clemson (Oct. 19)
Jameis Winston vs. Tajh Boyd. Two top-five teams. National spotlight. This game has it all. Virginia Tech and Miami are solid teams, but the winner of this game should win the conference title and will stay alive in the national title conversation. Clemson has won the last five against Florida State in Death Valley.
Miami at Florida State (Nov. 2)
Bragging rights in the Sunshine State are always on the line when these two teams face off. This game is crucial for both in recruiting, and for Miami to show the gap with Florida State is closing. The Seminoles have won four out of the last five in this series, including a 33-20 win at Miami last year. This matchup is important for the Hurricanes, but maybe not as key as the next one…
Virginia Tech at Miami (Nov. 9)
If Florida State-Clemson on Oct. 19 is the defacto ACC Atlantic championship game, this game is the defacto Coastal Division title matchup. This contest features one of the league’s best offenses (Miami), against perhaps the best defense in the nation (Virginia Tech). The Hokies have won five out of the last seven in this series, but the Hurricanes won 30-12 last year.
Clemson at South Carolina (Nov. 30)
This space is usually reserved just for conference games, but it’s hard to ignore how important this matchup is for the ACC. If Clemson beats Florida State, the Tigers should be unbeaten going into this game, and a win over South Carolina would be a huge resume boost for the Tigers in the national title picture. The Gamecocks have dominated this series in recent years, winning four in a row, all by 10 points or more.
Florida State at Florida (Nov. 30)
As we mentioned above, this space is normally reserved for conference games, but Florida-Florida State could have national title implications. The winner of the Clemson-Florida State game should be unbeaten heading into Nov. 30, and a victory over SEC rival Florida wouldn’t hurt the Seminoles’ case for a BCS title bid. The Gators have won seven out of the last nine in this series.
ACC 2013 Second-Half Predictions
(Logos are of projected winner for each game)
|Florida State||at Maryland||at UVA||Ga. Tech||Citadel||at So. Carolina||Final Record|
2. Florida State
|at Clemson||NC State||Miami||at Wake||Syracuse||Idaho||at Florida||Final Record|
|at Wake||Clemson||Syracuse||at Va. Tech||BC||at NC State||Final Record|
4. Boston College
|at UNC||Va. Tech||at NMSU||NC State||at Maryland||at Syracuse||Final Record|
5. NC State
|at FSU||UNC||at Duke||at BC||ECU||Maryland||Final Record|
|at Ga. Tech||Wake||at MD||at FSU||Pittsburgh||BC||Final Record|
7. Wake Forest
|MD||at Miami||at Syracuse||FSU||Duke||at Vandy||Final Record|
|at UNC||Wake||at FSU||Va. Tech||at Duke||UVA||at Pitt||Final Record|
2. Virginia Tech
|Duke||at BC||at Miami||MD||at UVA||Final Record|
3. Georgia Tech
|Syracuse||at UVA||Pittsburgh||at Clemson||Alabama A&M||UGA||Final Record|
|ODU||at Navy||at Ga. Tech||ND||UNC||at Syracuse||Miami||Final Record|
5. North Carolina
|Miami||BC||at NC State||UVA||at Pitt||ODU||Duke||Final Record|
|at UVA||at VT||NC State||Miami||at Wake||at UNC||Final Record|
|Duke||Ga. Tech||Clemson||at UNC||at Miami||Va. Tech||Final Record|
Outside of Missouri and Auburn already having surpassed their win totals from a year ago and starting 6-0 and 5-1 — we all expected that, right? — the SEC has played out as expected through the midway point. Johnny Manziel has been Johnny Manziel. Alabama has been Alabama. And Jadeveon Clowney, who had 25 tackles and 6.5 sacks through six games last season, has two sacks and 13 tackles. There are plenty of interesting matchups left in the SEC East to see who will face SEC West favorite Alabama.
Midseason Awards and Second-Half Picks: ACC | Big 12 |Big Ten | Pac-12
SEC 2013 Midseason Review and Second-Half Predictions
Coach of the Year: Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Who saw this coming? History perhaps. In Pinkel’s 13 years at the helm of Mizzou, the program had not posted back-to-back losing seasons since his first two years. Six wins and no defeats later, that streak looks safe. The Tigers are second in the SEC in scoring (45.7 PPG), sixth in scoring defense (23.0 PPG) and third in total offense (515.7 YPG). They will be without QB James Franklin (shoulder) the remainder of the season, but should be able to make some noise with four of the six remaining games at home.
Newcomer of the Year: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
The USA Today First-Team All-American and Under Armour All-America Game MVP has not disappointed. Hargreaves III is tied for the conference lead in interceptions (3) and passes defended (8). He has helped a Gator defense that is the third in the nation and tops in the SEC in both total defense (235.3 YPG) and passing yards allowed (152), third in the SEC in interceptions (8) and second in the league in points allowed per game (13).
Offensive Player of the Year: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The first-half suspension in the season opener has been the only sophomore slump for Manziel. He is tops in the SEC in passing (305.8 YPG) and total offense (377), second in total offensive touchdowns (19) and passing efficiency (184.1) and 10th in rushing (71.2 YPG). Oh, and he’s helped lead the Aggies to a 5-1 record — accounting for 562 yards and five scores in a 49-42 loss to Alabama — with four straight home games on the horizon before closing out at LSU and Missouri.
Defensive Player of the Year: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
The Athlon Sports’ All-SEC First-Team player is seventh in the conference in tackles per game (8) and quarterbacks a Crimson Tide defense that has limited their last four opponents to 16 points, including a 14-quarter streak without a touchdown. He has helped anchor a defense that — outside of allowing a school-record 628 yards against Texas A&M — has surrendered 208.2 yards and 5.2 points per game on average to the other five opponents.
Midseason Disappointment: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
A preseason Athlon All-SEC First-team receiver, Cooper has just 12 catches for 164 yards and no scores. It is a far cry from the record-setting freshman season of a year ago when he went 59-1,000-11. Cooper had his best game of the season last week (3-64-0 in a blowout of Kentucky), but foot and toe injuries seemed to have derailed his second season with the Crimson Tide.
Midseason Surprise: Missouri
From being picked sixth in the SEC East to being 6-0 at the midpoint of the season, including a road-win at No. 7 Georgia last week, Missouri has already put together a great sophomore SEC campaign. The Tigers are scoring 45.7 points per game, including an average of 46 in their first two SEC games. Four home games with trips to Kentucky and Ole Miss left make for a friendly schedule. Losing QB James Franklin for the remainder of the regular season (shoulder) makes it a lot more difficult.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
Missouri without James Franklin
His shoulder injury suffered against Georgia leaves Mizzou without the SEC’s third-most productive offensive player (311.2 YPG), its fourth-leading passer (262.8) and its sixth-most efficient quarterback (156.2) with 1,577 yards on 67.7 percent passing and just three interceptions. With an often-injured Franklin last season, the Tigers won five games. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, who split reps evenly with Franklin in the spring, will step in. But the trend of the Mizzou offense not turning the ball over and the defense creating turnovers must remain.
SEC East title picture
Well, Missouri defeating Georgia and losing Franklin in the process sure makes it interesting at the top. South Carolina has already lost to Georgia and travels to Missouri Oct. 26. That game and the Nov. 2 Georgia-Florida game will really begin to unfold the story. It will kick off the Gators' three-game gauntlet of games — versus Georgia, at LSU and Missouri. Georgia also still has to travel to Auburn on Nov. 16. Mizzou is the wildcard, sans Franklin, but does play four of its last six at home.
Can Alabama run the table?
With four home games left — three where they will be heavy favorites — and a road trip to Auburn for an Iron Bowl — which they have won five of the last six meetings — there’s no reason to think 11 wins won’t happen. Getting to No. 12 means defeating LSU in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9.
Top Five Games in the Second Half
Florida at Missouri (Oct. 19)
The Tigers already went on the road and put a dent in Georgia’s SEC East plans, and now they return home to try and do the same to Florida. Whether Maty Mauk can lead this high-scoring offense past the high-powered Gator defense is the question.
Florida vs. Georgia (Nov. 2, Jacksonville, FL)
The World’s Largest Cocktail Party will go a long way in deciding the SEC East race. The loser, already having a loss in league play, will likely be out of the race. Both teams will arrive in Jacksonville off of a bye week.
LSU at Alabama (Nov. 9)
Only three of the last nine meetings have been decided by one score, including three overtime games. LSU leads 5-4 during that time. Outside of the Iron Bowl, this should be the only hurdle for Alabama to clear and secure the SEC West title. Already with a loss to Georgia, it’s a must-win for LSU, and then Texas A&M is next.
Florida at South Carolina (Nov. 16)
So, if the Gators survive a trip to Missouri and Jacksonville, and the Gamecocks get out of Fayetteville, Knoxville and Columbia intact, then welcome to the SEC East championship game.
Texas A&M at LSU (Nov. 23)
LSU halted Texas A&M’s run through the schedule — if only briefly — last season in College Station. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies arrived on a five-game winning streak, having averaged 53 points per game during that streak. LSU left with a 24-19 win — the fewest points A&M has scored in the last 12 games.
SEC Second-Half Predictions
(Logos are of projected winner for each game)
1. South Carolina
|at TN||at Mizzou||Miss. State||Florida||Coastal Carolina||Clemson||Final Record|
|at Mizzou||Georgia||Vanderbilt||at SC||Ga. Southern||FSU||Final Record|
|at Vanderbilt||Florida||App. State||at Auburn||Kentucky||at Ga. Tech||Final Record|
|Florida||South Carolina||Tennessee||at UK||at Ole Miss||TAMU||Final Record|
|South Carolina||at Alabama||at Mizzou||Auburn||Vanderbilt||at UK||Final Record|
|Georgia||at TAMU||at Florida||Kentucky||at TN||Wake Forest||Final Record|
|at Miss. State||Alabama State||Missouri||at Vanderbilt||at UGA||Tennessee||Final Record|
|Arkansas||TN||LSU||at Miss. State||Chattanooga||at Auburn||Final Record|
|at Ole Miss||Furman||at Alabama||TAMU||Arkansas||Final Record|
3. Texas A&M
|Auburn||Vandy||UTEP||Miss. State||at LSU||at Mizzou||Final Record|
|at TAMU||FAU||at Arkansas||at TN||Georgia||Alabama||Final Record|
5. Ole Miss
|LSU||Idaho||Arkansas||Troy||Mizzou||at Miss. State||Final Record|
|at Alabama||Auburn||at Ole Miss||Miss. State||at LSU||Final Record|
7. Mississippi State
|Kentucky||at SC||at TAMU||Alabama||Arkansas||Ole Miss||Final Record|