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Upset Saturday was in full effect in the Pac-12, but it didn't come from Husky Stadium as some believed. No, Oregon controlled Washington with relative ease, putting them away in the final quarter in impressive fashion. It was the Stanford Cardinal who came crashing down from the ranks of the unbeaten at the hands of the Utah Utes.
In what feels like a small sidenote, UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon State and USC all won too.
Here are your Pac-12 Week 7 Awards and Superlatives:
Offensive Player of the Week: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
The Ducks quarterback was brilliant again, this time on the road against a ranked divisional foe and rival. Mariota led the Ducks to an easy 45-24 win over Washington by completing 24-of-31 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He added 88 yards rushing on 13 carries and another touchdown on the ground. He is now 18-1 as a starter with 63 career total touchdowns and just six interceptions. Mariota hasn't thrown a pick in 233 attempts.
Defensive Player of the Week: Nate Orchard, LB, Utah
Fellow defensive linemates Trevor Reilly and Tenny Palepoi have made more plays and garnered more headlines through five games, but Saturday night's upset of Stanford was Orchard's coming out party. He registered his second and third sack of the season and forced two huge fumbles for a Utah defense that simply outplayed the Cardinal for most of the game. He finished with five total tackles on the night and was a big part of the final minute goal-line stand that won the game for the Utes.
Team of the Week: Utah
The Utes shocked the college football world by handling the Stanford Cardinal with relative ease. The 27-21 win over the No. 5 team in the nation wasn't a fluke as Utah outgained Stanford, won the turnover battle, were penalized just four times and won the time of possession game. Travis Wilson was solid (234 yards, two touchdowns, interception, 33 rush yards) at quarterback and the running game carried the offense (39 carries, 176 yards) while the defense capitalized on two critical fumbles. It was the first win for Utah in Rice-Eccles Stadium over a top-five team.
Playing hurt is just part of life in the NFL. These running backs are dealing with different injuries and ailments. Can you count on them in Week 6?
C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Spiller’s status was somewhat in doubt for Week 5 against Cleveland, as he was dealing with an ankle injury that kept him from practicing and the Bills had to deal with the short turnaround that comes with playing on a Thursday. Spiller did suit up, and he produced his longest run of the year, a 56-yard TD scamper, in the loss. He also was held to just eight carries and once again was limited in practice this week. He is Questionable to face the Bengals, although head coach Doug Marrone said his back was making better progress this week compared to last week. The Bengals figure to be a tough matchup, but as Spiller showed last week, he is still capable of doing some damage, even if he’s not 100 percent. I would wait as long as you possibly can, but unless his status changes prior to kickoff, I would keep Spiller in my lineup.
Arian Foster and Ben Tate, RBs, Houston Texans vs. St. Louis Rams
Foster (right) has been dealing with some sort of injury since OTAs back in May and that trend has carried over to the regular season. His thumb and chest have been bothering him for the past few weeks, and these issues have limited him during practice. However, the All-Pro is Probable for today’s game and it would be surprising if he wasn’t out there against the Rams. Foster, of course is a must-start whenever he plays, and in a matchup like this his backup, Ben Tate, is definitely in the flex discussion. Tate, who has been dealing with an elbow injury, has seen at least seven carries in each game. Today, the Texans get a Rams rushing defense that has allowed more than 126 yards on the ground per game. Given Matt Schaub’s interception woes, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Texans run the ball between 40-50 times today.
Bernard Pierce, RB, Baltimore Ravens vs. Green Bay Packers
Pierce has a thigh injury which has limited him in practice this week. Even though he is Questionable, he should play considering he and Ray Rice are the only running backs on the Ravens’ roster. Pierce is one of the more appealing handcuff options out there and he has already had to fill in for Rice because of injury. However, Rice saw a season-high 33 touches last week and I would expect more of the same against the Packers today. Pierce is still worth rostering, especially if you own Rice, but he probably won’t get enough touches to even merit flex consideration for the time being.
Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams at Houston Texans
The Rams have struggled to run the ball to start the season, but Stacy turned in a respectable performance last week against Jacksonville. The rookie, a fifth-round pick, got his first career start and finished it with 78 yards rushing on 14 carries (5.6 ypc), which is the most by any Ram this season. Stacy sustained some sort of chest injury during that game, but he was able to practice fully on Friday and is listed as Questionable for today’s game. He looks like a fairly safe bet to play, but unless you have no other options, there’s really no reason to take your chances with any Ram running back against Houston’s defense.
Oakland’s backfield isn’t anywhere close to being at 100 percent, while Kansas City’s workhorse is playing with sore feet. Here’s the latest on their status as well as the Jets’ situation for today’s games.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders
Charles is still dealing with blisters on his feet, but he practiced fully on Friday and is Probable for the AFC West clash with Oakland. The blisters didn’t prevent him from picking up 108 yards rushing and a touchdown last week against Tennessee, so the Raiders should expect to see plenty of Charles, the top scoring fantasy RB, today.
Darren McFadden, Rashad Jennings and Marcel Reece, RBs, Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
The injury woes for Oakland’s backfield don’t seem to be getting any better. McFadden (right) and Jennings are both dealing with hamstring injuries and are considered Questionable to play against Kansas City. Both were able to practice on a limited basis and the final say on their availability against the Chiefs probably won’t be made until prior to kickoff. Meanwhile, Reece also was limited this week in practiced, but he is listed as Probable. Unless you have no other options, there’s really no reason to even consider using McFadden or Jennings this week. Reece, on the other hand, could be flex-worthy, especially if McFadden and Jennings are ruled out before game time.
Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson, RB, New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Ivory returned from a hamstring injury for the Monday night game against Atlanta and picked up four rushing attempts. His hamstring is not 100 percent, but he is listed as Probable for today’s game. Goodson made his season debut against the Falcons after serving a four-game suspension and got four total touches. He was sick earlier in the week, but also is Probable. The issue here is that the Jets’ backfield is suddenly quite crowded with Bilal Powell still getting the bulk of the carries. Honestly, Powell is probably the only one with any real fantasy value right now, as there’s no telling how Ivory and Goodson will be used. With a tough matchup against a rested Steelers defense, it may be best to just stay away from the J-E-T-S backs altogether.
Running backs that have already been ruled OUT this week:
Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis Colts – Bradshaw will miss the rest of the season after being placed on injured reserve. Bradshaw hadn’t played since injuring his neck in Week 3, and he has decided to undergo season-ending surgery to repair the damage. Trent Richardson will serve as the Colts’ lead back, but he has struggled with his production, which has resulted in more work for Donald Brown. Richardson remains the Colt back to own, and perhaps the Monday night game against San Diego will be what gets him going. Unless something happens to guarantee Brown a steady diet of touches, he really doesn’t have much fantasy value going forward.
James Starks, RB Green Bay Packers – Starks will miss a second straight game because of a knee injury and there’s really no timetable on his return. The Packers have moved on with rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin and at this point, Starks will probably need an injury to one of them to get back into the fantasy conversation.
When it comes to the later games, sometimes the decision on whether you start a certain player or not has to be made well before kickoff. Here’s the latest on the Week 6 injury situations for some ailing running backs who don’t play until later this afternoon, tonight or on Monday.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks vs. Tennessee Titans
Lynch is dealing with some sort of hip injury and missed one day of practice for a non-injury-related reason. The end result is that he is considered Questionable to face the Titans. Even with this designation, there doesn’t appear to be any serious concern that he will not suit up today. Lynch is coming off of his best game of the season, 102 yards rushing against the Colts, and has been productive despite the numerous injuries to his offensive line. Lynch may see fewer carries than usual, especially if this game becomes a blowout, but he still needs to be in your lineup.
Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden, RBs, New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints
Ridley missed last week’s loss in Cincinnati because of a thigh injury, which continued to limit him during practice. He is considered Questionable, but the expectation is that he will back out there. Ridley could end up stepping right back into the lead back role, as LeGarrette Blount didn’t exactly go off last week and he also had a costly fumble. Still Ridley has not been near as productive this season as he was last, so Ridley should be viewed as nothing more than a RB2/flex type of option right now. Blount may have blown his best chance and it will be interesting to see how long he stays in Bill Belichick’s doghouse. Meanwhile, Bolden’s knee continues to be an issue for him, and he also is Questionable. Bolden hasn’t had much of an impact since Week 2 and between Ridley’s apparent return and Blount’s presence, Bolden probably won’t see enough touches against the Saints to even be in the flex discussion.
Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys
Morris has been dealing with bruised ribs, but he practiced fully all week and is Probable for tonight’s primetime showdown in Dallas. The Cowboys have been tough against the run, but you have to start Morris if you own him. Don’t forget that last season, as a rookie, Morris gashed the Cowboys for 313 yards rushing and four touchdowns in two games.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers vs. Indianapolis Colts (Mon.)
Even though he was dealing with a hamstring injury late last week, it was a concussion that knocked him out of the game in Oakland in the first quarter. This week, Mathews was finally cleared to practice on Friday, and is Probable to play Monday night against Indianapolis. Still, Danny Woodhead did the heavy lifting against the Raiders, so don't be surprised if the two share/split the touches again this week. In fact, at this point, Woodhead is probably the safer option, as once again, Mathews is doing nothing but frustrate his owners.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots
Ingram hasn’t played since Week 2 because of a toe injury. He returned to practice on a limited basis this week and is listed as Questionable to face the Patriots. Even if he does return, his role figures to be limited. That same word can be used to describe his current fantasy appeal too.
If you are a wide receiver in the NFL and your last name is Johnson, you are probably dealing with some sort of injury entering Week 6. Here’s the latest information on whether Calvin, Andre or Stevie will play today, as well as two other guys not named Johnson.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions at Cleveland Browns
Johnson was a late surprise scratch last week after it was revealed he was dealing with a knee injury. This week, reports came out that he is experiencing swelling in the knee, which limited his practice time. He did participate on Thursday and Friday, but did so with a brace on his right knee. Johnson’s official designation is Questionable and he is expected to be a game-time decision. Because of what happened last week, caution is certainly merited here. Megatron is one of the best in the business and probably doesn’t need to be 100 percent to contribute to your lineup. Matthew Stafford sure missed his No. 1 target last week against Green Bay. That said, monitor Johnson’s status carefully up until kickoff (1 p.m. ET) and be prepared to act accordingly.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans vs. St. Louis Rams
Johnson is still dealing with his shin injury, but it has yet to keep him off of the field. Texans head coach Gary Kubiak did say his All-Pro wideout would probably be a game-time decision, so Johnson’s Questionable designation shouldn’t be taken lightly. I suppose there’s a chance the team could decide to give him a rest if he appears limited or favoring that leg in warm ups, especially given the matchup against a Rams’ defense that is allowing more than 120 yards rushing. There’s also the matter of quarterback Matt Schaub’s accuracy/interception issues right now. Even when he’s less than 100 percent, Johnson usually produces, but it may be best to wait as long as possible before plugging him into your lineup for this one, especially if you have another legitimate option.
Stevie Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Johnson was excused from practice due to a death in his family earlier in the week, but he also is dealing with a back issue. He is listed as Questionable and is probably going to be a game-time decision. When it comes to Johnson, however, the real question mark revolves around Thad Lewis, who has been elevated from the practice squad to the starter following EJ Manuel’s knee injury last week. Lewis has started an NFL game before, but there’s a reason he was on the Bills’ practice squad too. The Bengals held Tom Brady and the Patriots to six points last week, so let the Bills’ coaches worry about Johnson’s status for their game. As far as his fantasy status is concerned, Johnson can enjoy the view from the bench this week.
Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Buccaneers are coming off of a bye, yet Williams is listed as Questionable for today’s game because of a hamstring injury. That’s not a great sign considering the extra rest he should have gotten last week. Williams is the Bucs’ No. 2 wide receiver, but with rookie Mike Glennon making just his second career start, expectations should be limited. Tampa Bay’s offense has a good matchup against Philadelphia, and Williams did catch a TD from Glennon two weeks ago. Still, Williams is clearly not at 100 percent and could end up not playing at all. The safest course of action for this week regarding Williams probably would be to look elsewhere to fill out your receiving corps.
Donnie Avery, WR, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders
Avery is dealing with a shoulder injury, but he is Probable to play today and the Chiefs are fully expecting him to be out there. Avery is the team’s leading receiver thus far, with 16 catches for 304 yards and a touchdown. Dwayne Bowe probably offers more upside, but quarterback Alex Smith seems to prefer Avery, who merits WR3 consideration.
The Patriots’ wide receiving corps is almost back to full strength for Week 6, while the Cardinals may be without their No. 1 guy this afternoon. Here’s the latest information on those teams and some other injury situations.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
Fitzgerald’s good health lasted about a week, as he suffered some sort of setback with his hamstring and is Questionable to play this afternoon. He was limited Wednesday and Thursday, but was able to practice fully on Friday. The team said it’s the same left hamstring, but this injury is in a different place. Fitzgerald could be a game-time decision, but with him being in a late afternoon game, you may not be able to wait that long. Fitzgerald’s numbers have disappointed to start the season, as he’s had no more than 80 yards in any game. He also has just three touchdown receptions and two of those came in Week 1. The 49ers’ defense has been playing really well lately, so it may be worth at least considering keeping Fitzgerald on your bench this week.
Danny Amendola, WR, New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints
Amendola returned to the lineup last week, catching four passes (out of nine targets) for 55 yards in the loss to Cincinnati. His groin is not completely healed, as he was limited in practice this week. So once again, Amendola is officially listed as Questionable, but barring a setback during warm ups, he is expected to play. Even though he may be more of a WR2/WR3 right now, Amendola needs to be in your lineup, especially in PPR leagues. Although it was just one game, Amendola’s return had an immediate impact on the target distribution, as Julian Edelman (right), Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson all saw fewer looks from Tom Brady. This will be something to monitor moving forward, but Edelman and Thompkins are probably more on the WR2/WR3 level now, with Dobson slipping to flex consideration.
Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars at Denver Broncos
Shorts is not completely over his groin injury yet, which was still limiting him in practice on Friday. However, he is listed as Probable to play, and the matchup/game situation alone is enough reason to plug him in and see what happens. The Broncos should win this game rather handily, which means the Jaguars will more than likely be forced to throw because they will be playing catch up most of the game. There’s also the opportunity for garbage yards/points later in the game. Plus, Chad Henne will be starting for Jacksonville, and he and Shorts have been successful in the past. Shorts is averaging more than 12 targets per game and even with Justin Blackmon back, Shorts should see more than enough to provide WR2/WR3 production, with a chance of even better numbers.
Miles Austin, WR, Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins
After missing the past two games because of a hamstring injury, Austin is listed as Probable and expected to play in tonight’s big NFC East showdown. If he plays, Austin is expected to resume his role as the Cowboys’ No. 2 receiver, which means rookie Terrance Williams will go back to being No. 3. Williams exploded for 151 yards and a touchdown on just four catches last week against Denver, but could be in line for fewer targets against the Redskins. Austin has been mostly ineffective this season and even though the ‘Skins are giving up a bunch of passing yards and points, he’s no sure thing to break out in this game. Austin is at best a WR3 option tonight, which is probably the best-case scenario for Williams. No contest who offers more explosiveness and upside though.
Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones, WRs, Baltimore Ravens vs. Green Bay Packers
Jones injured his knee in the season opener in Denver, giving the undrafted rookie Brown a chance to start opposite of Torrey Smith. Brown has made the most of this opportunity, as he has three touchdown receptions in four games. He injured his hamstring two weeks ago against Buffalo, an injury that held him out of last week’s game in Miami. Jones is back practicing, albeit on a limited basis, and he and Brown are listed as Questionable for today’s home date with the Packers. Both will probably be game-time decisions, but I wouldn’t bother with either. Smith is the only Raven wideout worth owning, as he has nearly twice as many targets as anyone else on the roster. Brown or Jones could become more fantasy relevant once they are back to full health, but some of that will depend on if either seizes the starting gig or if it ends up being more of a timeshare.
Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Holmes remains Out this week because of a hamstring injury. Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill will serve as the starters, and with a rested Pittsburgh defense ready to face rookie Geno Smith, both wideouts are probably WR3 options at best this week.
Backup quarterbacks will get their chance in Week 6, as several teams have already ruled out their starters. Here’s the latest information on who will be under center today.
Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It was only a matter of time, right? Vick pulled up with a hamstring injury last week against the Giants and wasn’t able to finish the game. Nick Foles came in and put the finishing touches on the 36-21 victory by throwing two TD passes in the fourth quarter. Vick practiced fully on Friday, but he is listed as Questionable and is not expected to play today. Foles will get his first start of the season, but it’s probably too risky to use him right off the bat in your lineup. If anything, this game against the Buccaneers will be a good gauge of his fantasy potential in Chip Kelly’s offense. Foles isn’t anywhere near as mobile as Vick, so most of his damage will have to come in the pocket. Plus with Vick already making progress in his recovery, chances are Foles could be back to clipboard duty as soon as next week.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars at Denver Broncos
Gabbert missed two games earlier because of a thumb injury and in his first game back last week, he sustained a hamstring injury against St. Louis. He has already been ruled Out for today’s game, which means Chad Henne will get the start. Even though Jacksonville is a historic underdog on the road against Denver, that doesn’t mean that Henne and other Jaguars can’t provide valuable fantasy points. In fact, based on the likely outcome of this game and the 347 yards passing per game the Broncos are giving up, I have no problem if you want to take a chance on Henne as your bye week, fill-in starter this week or if you play in a 2-QB league.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings vs. Carolina Panthers
Ponder is listed as Probable, as he’s recovered enough from the rib injury that caused him to miss the Vikings’ last game, but he will not start. The team will stick with Matt Cassel against the Panthers. At this point, neither Ponder nor Cassel merit any fantasy consideration, especially against a Panthers’ defense that has given up the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. The Vikings’ quarterback situation is just one jumbled mess right now, as the team recently signed Tampa Bay cast-off Josh Freeman to add to the circus.
Other Notable Quarterback Injuries:
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans – Locker remains out because of the hip/knee injury he suffered in Week 4. Ryan Fitzpatrick will serve as the Titans’ starting quarterback and has a tough assignment today, playing in Seattle against the league’s sixth-ranked defense (third against the pass).
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills – The Bills’ first-round pick will miss a few weeks after hurting his knee (LCL sprain) last week against Cleveland. Thad Lewis will start today in Manuel’s place.
Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns – Hoyer’s season is over after tearing his ACL last week against Buffalo. Brandon Weeden will resume the starting role.
Barring a last-minute change, it appears that one elite tight end will miss his sixth straight game, while two other top options appear to be ready to go for Week 6. Here’s the latest information on the tight end injury front.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints
Just when it looked like “Gronk Watch” was going to finally come to an end, the latest twist in this soap opera occurred. Despite being a full go in practice and reports earlier in the week that said he would play, Gronkowski has not been medically cleared by his own doctors. Any early optimism regarding his playing status has been replaced a general belief that he will not make his season debut against the Saints. He is officially listed as Questionable, so there’s always a chance of a last-second reversal, but you have to decide if it’s worth the risk to put Gronk in your lineup or not.
Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers vs. Arizona Cardinals
His hamstring has been an issue in recent weeks, but he was a full go at practice this week and is Probable to face the Cardinals. Since sitting out Week 3, Davis has been in there for every game and looked rather explosive last week on a 64-yard touchdown reception against the Texans. This is a good matchup on paper, as the Cardinals are giving up the third-most fantasy points to TEs, so there’s no reason to sit Davis this week.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings
Olsen is the Panthers’ leading receiver and a top-15 fantasy TE. He also was spotted in a walking boot earlier this week, which obviously cut into his practice time. The issue, however, appears to be minor as he was back at it on Thursday and Friday, sans boot. He is Probable for today’s game and considering the Vikings are allowing the second-most fantasy points to TEs this season, you need to play Olsen.
Tight Ends in Deeper Leagues:
Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars – Lewis has only played in part of one game this season because of a calf injury. He’s out again this week and has basically dropped clear off of the fantasy radar, if he hadn’t already.
Zach Miller, Seattle Seahawks – Miller missed last week’s game because of a hamstring injury and wasn’t able to practice at all this week. Not really sure why he’s listed as questionable, as there’s no question in my mind you should just steer clear away.
Jordan Reed and Fred Davis, Washington Redskins – Reed missed last week’s game in Oakland because of a thigh injury, while Davis has been hobbled by an ankle injury. Both are probable to play tonight, but that doesn’t mean either will have any sort of fantasy impact. Reed has been more productive than Davis to this point, but any snaps Davis gets takes away from Reed’s opportunities. While I don’t think this is a timeshare, per se, there’s also not enough potential right now for Reed to provide enough fantasy value to merit much consideration.
Kellen Winslow, New York Jets – Winslow has been dealing with knee pain, but it doesn’t matter, as the tight end has been suspended for four games by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. In Winslow’s absence, Jeff Cumberland will become the starter with former New England Patriot Zach Sudfeld also expected to see time this week. Cumberland could be an option in deeper leagues down the road, but don’t bother this week.
Missouri staked its claim in the SEC East on Saturday with a huge road victory over Georgia.
However, the win was costly for the Tigers, as quarterback James Franklin suffered a separated shoulder in the second half and is out indefinitely. The school has not released how long Franklin will be sidelined, but various reports indicate the senior will likely miss six weeks.
Franklin was injured throughout the 2012 season, which was a big reason why Missouri finished 5-7. However, Franklin looked 100 percent this season and had 14 touchdowns and only three picks prior to his injury.
With Franklin sidelined, redshirt freshman Maty Mauk will start under center. Prior to the game against Georgia, Mauk had thrown only three passes in his career.
Mauk will have his hands full the next few weeks, as Missouri hosts Florida, South Carolina in back-to-back games. The redshirt freshman has a tough assignment, but the experience will be valuable as he should be the Tigers’ quarterback in 2014.
There’s no question Franklin will be missed, and his injury is a huge setback for a Missouri team off to a 6-0 start.
#Mizzou QB James Franklin is expected to be out for at least the next 6 wks, probably longer w a Grade 2 shoulder separation, per source.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) October 12, 2013
Texas quarterback Case McCoy was destroyed by Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker in the first half of the Red River Rivalry.
Check out this hit, which might be one of the biggest of the 2013 season:
American League Championship Series – Game 1
Detroit at Boston
8:30 ET Fox
Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57) vs. Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75)
Jon Lester beat the Tigers twice this season. In one of the games, he was very sharp in a 2-1 win. But in his previous start he was aided with 10 runs of support in the 10-6 win in which he was not on his game. Anibal Sanchez’s only appearance against Boston in his eight-year career came at Dolphin Stadium way back in 2006. It was Sanchez’s second career game and a relief appearance in the first inning. He gave up seven earned runs in 4.1 innings. But that’s old history now. Few of the current Red Sox hitters have faced Sanchez, the American League ERA leader this season, which should be an advantage for the pitcher.
Keys for Detroit
Sanchez has faced the Red Sox just once in his career, and it wasn’t at Fenway Park. Having never pitched in the quirky ballpark can be a bit unsettling initially. Being right-handed certainly helps though. So much hinges on Miguel Cabrera, that the Red Sox may opt to never pitch to him. In order to do that, the Sox must keep runners off base in front of him, and be prepared to deal with Prince Fielder. So if Detroit can get Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter hot at the top of the lineup, it will be difficult to pitch around Cabrera. Since joining the Tigers, Fielder has yet to show what he can do in the postseason. Now would be a good time to break out of that funk.
Keys for Boston
The Red Sox expect to score runs. Offense shouldn’t be the problem. Lester must be sharper than he’s been against this team, and the relievers can’t let this game get away. Boston’s bullpen should be a distinct advantage in this series, so keeping the game close and turning it over to both bullpens is a positive for the Red Sox.
Tigers to Watch
The Tigers can’t win without Cabrera having a good series. Can they win a game or two without a contribution from the best hitter in the game? Sure. But not four. This lineup is deep and has a terrific history against Lester, even though the Sox won his two starts against Detroit this season. Former Red Sox Victor Martinez has been in a groove since the All-Star break. That should continue tonight. If the Tigers are to make any win easy, it must start with Jackson and Hunter at the top of the order. Jackson, in particular, was an easy target for Oakland pitchers.
Red Sox to Watch
Nothing in his history against Detroit suggests that Lester will get deep into this game. Koji Uehara — one Jose Lobaton home run aside — has been nasty this season, especially over the final four months. But to bridge the gap between Lester and Uehara, the Red Sox rely heavily on lefty Craig Breslow and righthander Junichi Tazawa. Breslow should become very well-acquainted with Fielder during this series.
The Tigers held Oakland hitters to .132 average with runners in scoring position…Detroit won four of the seven meetings between the Tigers and Red Sox this season, but only one of three in Boston…Detroit’s projected lineup is batting .383 vs. Lester in 133 at-bats…Cabrera is 2-for-4 with two home runs and a walk in five career plate appearances against Boston closer Uehara…Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks’ only plate appearance against Detroit reliever Al Alburquerque resulted in a grand slam…Detroit was only 7-8 in Sanchez’s 15 road starts this season.
Series Prediction: Boston in 6
National League Championship Series – Game 2
Los Angeles at St. Louis
3:07 ET TBS
Clayton Kershaw (16-9, 1.83) vs. Michael Wacha (4-1, 2.78)
The Dodgers and Cardinals played 13 innings for more than five hours before Carlos Beltran lined a shot to right field that scored pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso from second. Now the teams must turn around for a first pitch of Game 2 just 13 and half hours after the final pitch of Game 1. St. Louis Game 2 starter Michael Wacha followed a near no-hitter in his final start of the regular season by allowing just one hit over 7.1 innings to the Pirates. The lone hit was a long home run by Pedro Alvarez. Clayton Kershaw shut down the Braves in both Game 1 and 4. So we have two outstanding pitchers throwing well facing exhausted lineups. Yep, could be another epic, gut-wrenching affair this afternoon.
Keys for Los Angeles
The Dodgers must put last night behind them and quickly. That’s much easier to do with Kershaw on the hill. But Hanley Ramirez, who was hit in the ribs in the first inning, is likely sore, and the Dodgers can’t afford to lose his bat. Closer Kenley Jansen entered the game in the 13th inning and the first batter he faced in the series lined a walk-off single to right. He must forget that and move on to this afternoon.
Keys for St. Louis
Who will close tonight? Trevor Rosenthal threw 33 pitches Friday night. He topped 30 pitches just four times during the regular season and did not pitch the following night on any of those occasions. But this is the postseason. If he isn’t available, Kevin Siegrist or deposed closer Edward Mujica will be called on for the final outs. Even though the Cardinals beat Kershaw twice this season, they are susceptible to lefthanders.
Dodgers to Watch
None of the Dodgers have seen Wacha, so it may take a time through the order for any of the hitters to be comfortable. So much hinges on Kershaw. The lefthander lost two starts to St. Louis this season, and has a spotty postseason record prior to this season. Kershaw must get deep into this game given how taxed the bullpen was last night. In the two losses to the Cardinals, Kershaw wasn’t bad allowing a .265 average with a 4.15 ERA over 13 innings.
Cardinals to Watch
All eyes better be on Beltran. The man is calm and collected in pressure situations in the postseason. After a win in Game 1, there’s slightly less pressure on Wacha, but the Cardinals don’t want to allow Los Angeles to split the first two games. And, realistically, the Cardinals can’t expect too many runs off of Kershaw, so Wacha needs to be sharp. The youngster has been especially good at home and equally tough on lefty and righty hitters. Mike Matheny handed the 22-year-old the ball for one of the most important games of the season on Monday, and responded by taking a no-hitter into the late innings.
Beltran now has nine RBIs in this postseason, as many as his teammates have combined…In his career, Kershaw in 4-5 with a 3.75 ERA against the Cardinals…In 43 plate appearances vs. Kershaw, Matt Holliday is batting .303 with a .465 on-base percentage…Pete Kozma has three doubles and a single in his five plate appearances against Kershaw…Five Dodger regulars are hitting at a .348 clip or better this postseason (Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig)…Six St. Louis relievers — Rosenthal, Seth Maness, John Axford, Siegrist, Randy Choate and Mujica — have logged 12 innings this postseason with a 1.00 WHIP and 0.00 ERA.
Missouri versus Georgia is suddenly a big game in the SEC. The Tigers are clearly improved in their second season in the SEC, and a win over the Bulldogs would put coach Gary Pinkel’s team in the mix with Florida and South Carolina for the top spot in the East Division.
The Tigers haven’t played the most challenging schedule but are 5-0 and handled Vanderbilt in their SEC opener. Missouri also has a solid road win at Indiana and has scored at least 38 points in every game this season.
Georgia’s path to a 4-1 record featured one of the most difficult slates in the nation. The Bulldogs lost at Clemson in the opener but rebounded with four consecutive wins. In addition to a victory over North Texas, Georgia defeated South Carolina 41-30 and LSU 44-41 and survived an upset bid by Tennessee 34-31 in overtime last week.
These two teams have met only twice, with Georgia winning both matchups. Prior to last season’s game, the only previous matchup between these two schools was in the 1960 Orange Bowl.
Missouri vs. Georgia
Kickoff: 12 ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Georgia -8
Three Things to Watch
How will Georgia stop Missouri QB James Franklin?
What a difference a year makes. After battling various ailments and recovering from offseason shoulder surgery last season, Franklin looks like a different quarterback in 2013. The senior has thrown for 1,407 yards and 13 touchdowns and is completing 67.9 percent of his throws. Franklin has also rushed for 278 yards and two scores and has already surpassed his total offense total (1,684) from last season. Georgia’s defense returned only three starters this season, and this unit is still a work in progress after five games. The Bulldogs rank 10th in the SEC in yards allowed 12th in pass defense. In addition to stopping Franklin, Missouri has a strong supporting cast, led by receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and running backs Russell Hansbrough and Henry Josey. Franklin’s dual-threat ability will be a huge test for Georgia’s defense, especially after the Bulldogs allowed Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd to record 312 yards and five scores in the opener.
Aaron Murray’s supporting cast
Injuries have decimated Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray’s supporting cast. Running back Todd Gurley did not play in last week’s win over Tennessee due to a sprained ankle and is not expected to play against Missouri. The Bulldogs also lost running back Keith Marshall for the season with a torn ACL last week, which means freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas will shoulder the workload on the ground. Green has been a capable option in limited action (8.8 ypc), and the coaching staff may pull the redshirt off of A.J. Turman this week. As if the injuries at running back weren’t enough, Georgia is shorthanded at receiver. Malcolm Mitchell was lost for the year in the opener due to a torn ACL, and Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley were injured against Tennessee last week. Bennett is out indefinitely, while Scott-Wesley will miss the rest of the season. Senior Rhett McGowan and junior Chris Conley are capable options at receiver, but depth is a concern. Expect the Bulldogs to involve tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome more in the passing game this week. Murray is one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, but how much transition time will it require with the changes in his supporting cast?
Missouri’s DL vs. Georgia’s OL
Missouri’s defensive line was considered by most to be a weakness this preseason. But the Tigers have been strong in the trenches so far, as end Michael Sam is tied for the SEC lead with six sacks, and opponents are managing just 118.6 rushing yards per game this season. Sam isn’t the only player off to a good start on the line, as end Kony Ealy has two sacks and tackles Lucas Vincent and Matt Hoch have combined for 19 stops. Only one player (Toledo’s David Fluellen) has rushed for more than 100 yards on Missouri’s defense so far this season. Georgia’s offensive line allowed four sacks in the opener against Clemson but allowed just three in the other four games. Will Sam continue his hot start to the season? Or will Georgia’s offensive line control the line of scrimmage? This battle will be a matchup to watch on Saturday.
Key Player: J.J. Green, RB, Georgia
With Gurley not expected to play and Keith Marshall out for the season, Green has to carry the ground attack against Missouri. The Tigers rank third in the SEC against the run, holding opponents to 118.6 yards per game. Prior to last week’s game against Tennessee, the freshman had only five carries in his career. Against the Volunteers, Green stepped up with the game on the line, recording 129 yards on 17 attempts. Considering the depth issues here, Green will be needed for 25-30 rushes on Saturday, which will surpass the 22 he has through five appearances this year. Quarterback Aaron Murray is one of the best in the nation, but he can’t win this game on his own. Will Green give the Bulldogs 100 yards on Saturday?
With all of its injuries, Georgia will have its hands full with a much-improved Missouri team. The Tigers shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball against the Bulldogs, but Georgia’s athletic and fast defense will be the best the Tigers have faced this season. The Bulldogs pass-rush duo of Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd should be able to exploit Missouri’s offensive line, which has allowed 11 sacks through five games. Quarterback James Franklin threw for 269 yards against the Bulldogs last year and will need over 300 total yards for the Tigers to win on Saturday.
Missouri shows its 5-0 start is no fluke with a strong performance in Athens. However, Georgia is the better team and once again, will find a way to win.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Missouri 27
Locks of the Week
It’s always savvy to make the rounds betting against bad teams with backup quarterbacks.
Bengals (-7) at Bills
Undrafted free-agent rookie Thad Lewis is under center in Buffalo. Light speed, Thaddeus.
Lions (-3) at Browns
Franchise savior Brian Hoyer is out for the year, leaving leftover reject Brandon Weeden in charge.
Eagles (-2.5) at Buccaneers
Rookie Mike Glennon will look to improve upon his two-INT, 55.7-passer-rating debut at QB in TB.
Straight Up Upset
Two home teams and a road squad with a chip on its shoulder could pull off upsets.
Patriots (+2.5) vs. Saints
Last week, Tom Brady failed to throw a TD pass for the first time since Jan. 3, 2010. That will change this week.
Steelers (+2) at Jets
Winless Pittsburgh takes on bipolar New York, a team that lost to Tennessee by 25 before shocking Atlanta by two on MNF.
Chargers (+1.5) vs. Colts (-1.5)
Stanford alum Andrew Luck is going for the California sweep, having already defeated both the 49ers and Raiders.
The two biggest numbers of the week are too big, even for the league’s two best teams.
Broncos (-27) vs. Jaguars
Eight of the previous nine teams favored by 20 or more points have failed to cover. It’s not about Peyton Manning, this is Brock Osweiler’s time to shine.
Seahawks (-13.5) vs. Titans
Gregg Williams’ Tennessee defense has been taking out the head so far, but Ryan Fitzpatrick’s five straight three-and-outs TKO’d the Titans last week.
Cowboys (-5.5) vs. Redskins
Tony Romo vs. Robert Griffin III probably won’t be a Peyton Manning-style shootout, but it could be just as close.
Stay away from these unless you’re a degenerate or a homer who has to have action.
49ers (-10.5) vs. Cardinals
Jim Harbaugh has a 3–1 record against Zona, with a 21–19 loss in 2011 and three victories by a combined score of 74–23.
Chiefs (-8.5) vs. Raiders
Oakland swept K.C. last year, winning 26–16 at Arrowhead and 15–0 at the Black Hole. But these are Andy Reid’s Chiefs now.
Texans (-7.5) vs. Rams
Houston is the better team on paper, but Matt Schaub has thrown a pick-six in a record four straight games — on the field.
Packers (-3) at Ravens
These two playoff teams from last year are playing up-and-down mediocre football; flip a coin on this one.
Vikings (-2.5) vs. Panthers
Hopefully Adrian Peterson will run wild after a tragic week. Good luck, A.D.
Two of the last three Super Bowl champions will get together when the Green Bay Packers take on the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on FOX. Despite their past successes, these two franchises have incurred some struggles early in 2013.The Packers got off to a rocky 1-2 start before the bye week. They did manage to improve to 2-2 with a win over Detroit last week, yet the Lions were without All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Meanwhile, the Ravens are certainly seeing the effects of all their offseason departures. Their defense looked far from the Ravens defense of past years as Peyton Manning carved it up for seven touchdown passes. Despite this, the Ravens have rallied to win three of their past four games. However, Baltimore looked extremely poor in the 23-20 loss against Buffalo, turning the ball over a season-high five times.
This is the fifth overall meeting between the two teams, who first played in 1998. The Packers lead the all-time series 3-1, last beating the Ravens 27-14 in 2009. Joe Flacco, who threw three interceptions in that game, and Aaron Rodgers, who threw two picks, both look to have better performances this time around.
3 Things to Watch
Ravens’ rushing offense
With the names Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, one would expect the Ravens to boast one of the league’s top running attacks. In fact, Baltimore is tied for 26th in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging a mere 77.8 yards per game. This low output can’t be blamed on a lack of opportunities, as the Ravens average just 2.8 yards per rush. This ranks them second to last in the league in yards per rush, just above the Jaguars’ 2.7 average. Rice, held to just 89 yards in his first three games, rushed for a season-high 74 yards and scored two touchdowns last week against Miami. Before he got 33 touches last week, he had seen just 41 total for the season. The Packers have been stout against the run this year, but a revived workload should make Rice more of a factor moving forward. Rice needs to do a better job holding on to the football. He has fumbled the ball five times in his past eight games, dating to last season's playoffs.
Packers’ defense without Clay Matthews
Green Bay was dealt a big blow this past week when news came out that Matthews, the Packers’ Pro Bowl linebacker, would be out nearly a month with a broken right thumb. The Packers will start two backup linebackers on Sunday as linebacker Brad Jones also will be out with a hamstring injury. The Packers rank fifth in the NFL against the run and Matthews has played a central role in this. Matthews has three tackles for a loss on rushing plays this year and leads the Packers with 15 tackles for loss on rushing plays over the past three years. They also will miss Matthews’ pass-rushing ability, which would come in handy versus a very poor Ravens offensive line. Matthews has racked up one-fourth of the Packers’ 12 sacks on the season. Other than Matthews, only Nick Perry (two) has multiple sacks for Green Bay. Joe Flacco needs to take advantage of the extra time he is sure to have with Matthews on the sidelines.
Good Joe or Bad Joe?
Just which Joe Flacco will show up on Sunday? Will we see the one who threw five interceptions against the Bills or the one from last year’s Super Bowl run? Since cashing in with a giant contract, Flacco has had a rather forgettable first five games. Currently, he has completed just 57.7 percent of his passes for 1,360 yards, five touchdowns and eight interceptions. Entering Week 6, he only trails Eli Manning, Carson Palmer and Matt Schaub in interceptions thrown this season. Of quarterbacks that have started the first five games, Manning and Palmer have lower quarterback ratings than Flacco’s 70.1. He does still have a good connection with Torrey Smith, who is averaging a staggering 20.1 yards per catch, but Flacco appears uncomfortable with the rest of his receiving options. In fact, after Smith’s 52 targets, no Raven has more than 29. Smith has three times the receiving yards of anyone else on the team. Rice, who has long been a top target for Flacco, has just 17 receptions thus far.
Key Player for Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers, QB
This may seem like an obvious choice, but it can’t be argued. Rodgers is the key for Green Bay. While he struggled a bit against Cincinnati, the signal-caller has been near the top of his game in 2013. He is completing 66.4 percent of his passes, has a touchdown to interception ratio of three to one and has posted three games with a passer rating over 100. Rodgers will need to watch out for Terrell Suggs, who already has seven sacks.
Key Players for Baltimore: Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, CBs
Webb is the leader for a secondary that is likely to have its hands full with a bevy of talented Packers receivers. James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb pose matchup problems for nearly every secondary they face. Webb will team with fellow corner Smith in an attempt to bottle up Rodgers’ playmakers. Webb looks to be fully recovered from a nagging thigh injury. Webb and Smith both have the size to be physical with Jones and Nelson, but might not be quick enough for the shifty Cobb. Corey Graham will probably be the player Rodgers will target, as he has struggled mightily in coverage this season and already has given up four touchdown catches.
Clay Matthews' injury certainly hurts Green Bay’s defense, as do the injuries to Casey Hayward and Morgan Burnett in the secondary. The good news for the Packers is that I don’t see the type of play from Joe Flacco that he displayed in the playoffs a year ago. He is struggling mightily and there is no reason to believe he will turn it around this week. I’ll take the more dependable Aaron Rodgers, as the Ravens won’t be able to cover his trio of receivers. The Ravens will try and win by keeping Rodgers off of the field with their running game and pressuring him when he is on the field with the trio of Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Elvis Dumervil.
Green Bay 31, Baltimore 17
1. Travis Kvapil’s domestic violence arrest another NASCAR mess
The controversies for NASCAR in 2013 have often taken a turn far from on-track action. Instead, the cavalcade of driver romance, drivers making asinine statements, fans getting injured and the whole Chase field fiasco has buffeted the sport’s news cycle between often so-so racing.
Enter Travis Kvapil.
The 2003 Truck Series champion, Kvapil was arrested this week on domestic violence charges that, according to a police report obtained by The Sporting News, resulted from Kvapil grabbing his wife by her hair and striking her in the head. He was released on bond.
Thursday, both his BK Racing team and NASCAR declined to pursue any punitive action related to his role as a NASCAR driver and instead insisted on gathering more facts and letting the case play out. He practiced and qualified the car Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
For NASCAR specifically, that leaves a lot of questions. Notably: what’s the line for NASCAR to suspend a driver who is arrested of a serious crime and is awaiting the next phase of the legal process? NASCAR has recently handled initial charges of DUI and even theft with either a slap-on-the-wrist probation or no recourse at all. Kvapil’s case is different, though, in that he stands accused of physical violence against another person. He is also yet to issue an explicit denial of the charges.
Of course it’s never right to assume guilt in criminal cases based on a lack of public statements. Sometimes charges do get dropped. That said, NASCAR has now crossed the line of allowing competitors accused of violence remain in the sport without recourse. Where does that stop? If a driver is accused of assault, manslaughter or even a grievous murder charge, does NASCAR let them take the track if legally free while waiting for trial?
It’s undoubtedly a slippery slope in both directions for NASCAR. However, it might not be for the key cogs of this sport: sponsors and fans. The Kvapil situation is a black eye for all involved and the lack of action on the matter in any fashion rings hollow.
What’s the best answer for Kvapil and NASCAR going forward? It’s hard to say. But it’s easy to note that Thursday the entire sport didn’t escape the inexorable feeling that it tried to coolly shove a very serious issue just out of view.
2. Jeff Gordon’s pole run a sign of improved performance Jeff Gordon shocked the ESPN booth Thursday night when, as the last qualifier for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte, he knocked Kevin Harvick off the pole with a late charge exiting Turn 4. The television network’s live scoring of Gordon’s lap showed he gained nearly a 1/10th of a second on Harvick’s posted time in the last segment.
The lap could almost be an allegory of Gordon’s season to this point: decent to good early, struggling in the middle and a surge near the end. He notched just five top-10 finishes in the season’s first 16 races and 10 of them in the 14 races since. Just once since August 18, thanks to a blown pit stop at Loudon, has he finished worse than eighth.
The four-time champion still sits fourth in the point standings heading in to Charlotte thanks to a steady dose of both consistency and improved results in the first four rounds of the Chase. He’s 32 points behind leader Matt Kenseth, which is far enough to be in need of help from those ahead of him over the final six races yet close enough to pounce.
With the prime starting spot at Charlotte, Gordon is in position to increase the heat on Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson just like Kevin Harvick did a week ago. It’s an opportunity he’ll need to take advantage of if the championship dreams he talks about are to become reality.
3. Charlotte an opportune point for Harvick to continue ascent Kevin Harvick, that so-called lame duck of the 2013 season, has been soaring in three of the four Chase races to this point. A commanding performance last week at Kansas that produced a win and 138 laps led shoved him to third and 25 points out of the Chase lead.
Things should only get better at Charlotte.
Harvick schooled Kasey Kahne on a late restart with 10 laps left in May to take the win in the Coca-Cola 600, his second in the prestigious event. It wasn’t an unusual finish for Harvick at Charlotte — he’s finished worse than 11th just once in his last seven CMS starts — but it was unusual that Harvick was up front. The 28 laps he led in the May race pushed Harvick’s career total to 34 of the 8,918 laps he’s raced at the track.
He lines up second for Saturday night’s 500-miler driving the same car he won with at Kansas. If the car is up for an encore performance Harvick could go a long way to improving his career numbers at CMS and, more importantly, positively improving his title chances.
4. Jimmie Johnson seeks a return to his ‘house’The domination that Jimmie Johnson laid on his Cup Series competitors during the most of the last decade at Charlotte was staggering. The No. 48 led more than 100 laps in three of five races from 2002-04, notched four consecutive wins from 2004-05 and finished third or better in seven straight races from 2003-06.
But in 2010, the pendulum of luck at the track started swinging away from NASCAR’s five-time champion when he crashed and finished 37th in the May race. It briefly returned when he led 15 laps and finished third in the fall race, but it reversed completely with two DNFs courtesy of a crash and an engine failure in 2011.
Johnson was average, by his standards, last year when an 11th-place finish and a third-place finish and followed those runs with a crash-filled journey this past May with a 22nd-place run.
Those results make it all but impossible to know where Johnson will wind up Saturday night. He’ll roll off fourth.
5. Crazy Coca-Cola 600 results left many Chase contenders outJust looking at the results of the May race at Charlotte would lead you to believe Gordon, Kenseth, Johnson Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. may be in for a challenge to stay in contention on Saturday night.
But don’t forget how crazy NASCAR’s last trip to Charlotte actually was, and how those Chase competitors didn’t finish where they could have.
First, there was the television camera cable that broke loose and fell on the track during green flag conditions and caused significant damage to Busch’s car while he was leading. Busch, of course, ultimately got the damage fixed and would lead 65 laps before he lost an engine during the heat of Toyota’s early season engine woes. He finished 38th.
Earnhardt Jr. also lost an engine during the event.
Kenseth (112 laps led) and Gordon ran in the top 5 before both were hurt by a caution flag late in the going as they pitted under green flag conditions. Gordon crashed out in the ensuing scramble to get back to the front and Kenseth destroyed the handling of his Toyota when he later bounced off the wall when Johnson spun by himself. Johnson would hit the wall again and require five laps of repairs.
Each of the drivers had a realistic shot at a top-10 finish in the May race but instead wound up 15th or much worse. Seeing a repeat of those results would be a pretty large surprise.
National League Championship Series – Game 1
Los Angeles at St. Louis
8:30 ET TBS
Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63) vs. Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69)
The Cardinals won a hard-fought battle with NL Central rival Pittsburgh to advance to the NLCS for the third consecutive year. The Dodgers didn’t exactly breeze by the Braves, but there was less resistance from Atlanta than expected. With Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw pitching the first two games in St. Louis, the Dodgers have an excellent opportunity to steal a road game. However, with Adam Wainwright scheduled to pitch Game 3 in Los Angeles, the Cardinals can easily return the favor. This series certainly shapes up for St. Louis to have Wainwright on the hill for game 7.
Keys for Los Angeles
The Dodgers need to get to Game 1 starter Joe Kelly early and not allow him to settle in. That can be said for most starting pitchers, but forcing Mike Matheny’s hand going to the bullpen early is not a good sign for St. Louis. The Cardinals, with Yadier Molina behind the plate, are not friendly toward an offense built around stolen bases. But the Dodgers can take extra bases on the St. Louis outfield. Of course, if they continue to get extra-base hits at a torrid pace, scoring runs will not be a problem.
Keys for St. Louis
Some good news from the NLDS with Pittsburgh is that Cardinals pitchers held the Pirates to a .201 batting average. The bad news? St. Louis hit just .209. Pittsburgh hitters’ primary problems were Wainwright and Michael Wacha. The Cardinals must hit better than .209 in order to win when those two don’t pitch. The Cardinals rolled to 97 wins during the regular season due to their uncanny hitting with runners in scoring position. The .330 average in those situations blew away previous records for any team. But St. Louis hit just .192 (5-for-26) against the Pirates in those situations, which made the Redbirds’ work much more difficult. Without their leading man in that role, Allen Craig, the Cardinals need to find that regular-season magic.
Dodgers to Watch
The Dodgers were wearing their hitting shoes in the series against Atlanta and jumping on Kelly early would set a nice tone for the series for the men in blue. Carl Crawford and Hanley Ramirez trigger the Dodgers’ offense. The Cardinals will probably find a way to hold Yasiel Puig in check, but getting Crawford on base and Ramirez hitting with runners in scoring position is a nice formula for the Dodgers. Skip Schumaker is a name to remember. The former Cardinal, very popular in St. Louis with many friends on the team, will be in position to haunt the Redbirds. He’ll likely be up to the task.
Cardinals to Watch
Matt Carpenter, who sparked the Cardinals’ offense all season, must be the happiest player in the big leagues right now to see Pittsburgh pitchers leave town. The Pirates kept the NL hits and runs leader off base and made him a non-factor. The Cardinals expect Carlos Beltran and David Freese to come up big this time of year, but producing runs becomes so much easier with Carpenter leading the way.
Greinke has more career wins (8) against the Cardinals than any team other than the Tigers (13)…In two starts vs. St. Louis in the 2011 NLCS while with Milwaukee, Greinke gave up 15 hits and eight earned runs in 11.2 innings…Freese, Matt Holliday and Molina are batting a combined .333 against Greinke with 10 RBIs in 66 at-bats…Six of the Dodgers’ regular eight position players hit .333 or better in the NLDS against Atlanta…The Dodgers had 18 extra-base hits, including seven home runs in the four games…This is the Cardinals’ eighth appearance in the NLCS in the 2000s, more than twice as many as any other National League team. St. Louis has played in 43 NLCS games since 2000, winning 19…This is the Dodgers’ third NLCS appearance since 2008…Los Angeles won just two of eight games vs. the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008-09…The anticipated starting eight for L.A. is batting .278 against Kelly, albeit from a small sample. If Mattingly decides to play Nick Punto, a former Cardinal, at second base rather than Mark Ellis, the average goes up to .418.
Series Prediction: St. Louis in 7
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Oct. 11.
• It's time for College Football Week 7 Showdowns: Cheerleader Edition.
• Oakland fans attempted to mock Justin Verlander with images of Kate Upton. All that did was remind people that Justin Verlander once dated Kate Upton. That's something I'd want people to remember.
• Eight hilarious moments from the Tigers' celebration. And by the way, when did we start celebrating Division Series wins with champagne?
• The derpiest year of Eli Manning's career marches on unabated. He has 15 interceptions through six games, all losses. Meanwhile, Brandon Marshall described Jay Cutler as "the smartest man in any room." In his defense, Marshall spends a lot of time outdoors.
• TBS tried to write "If Necessary" at the bottom of a screen graphic. It failed, miserably.
• This is clever, and pretty accurate: the 29 stages of a Twitterstorm.
• They teach 'em young in Detroit: this diminutive Red Wings fan gives the double bird like a pro.
• The Wall Street Journal dubs the Dodgers "the Yankees of the West." Apparently the Wall Street Journal wants people to hate the Dodgers.
• The headline on this Michael Beasley story is my favorite headline of the day. See if you don't agree.
• A reporter got a little personal with Mike Tyson.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Week 7 is here already and now it is time to make a push for the fantasy playoffs. If your team is in the middle of the pack, every roster move you make from this point on can propel you up in the standings or bring your team closer to irrelevancy.
James Franklin, QB-Missouri at Georgia
Franklin leads the undefeated Tigers into Athens to face a Georgia defense that is allowing 32.2 points per game and over 260 yards in the air.
Bo Wallace, QB-Ole Miss vs Texas A&M
The Aggies defense is allowing nearly 30 points per game, and Wallace should post a solid stat line if the Rebels reach the 30-point mark.
Keenan Reynolds, QB-Navy at Duke
When the Blue Devils faced Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack in Week 3, they surrendered 344 rushing yards.
Paul Perkins, RB-UCLA vs California
Perkins was solid in relief of injured running back Jordan James last Thursday at Utah and should post nice numbers against a Bears defense that is allowing 219 rushing yards per game.
Larry Dixon, RB-Army vs Eastern Michigan
Dixon has topped 100 yards in a game three times this season and faces an Eagles defense that has allowed 19 rushing touchdowns in 2013, third-most in the FBS.
David Oku, RB-Arkansas State vs Idaho
Oku and the Red Wolves offense host a Vandals defense that is allowing 224.8 rushing yards per game and 6.0 yards per carry.
Trayion Durham, RB-Kent State at Ball State
Durham has only topped the 100-yard mark once this season, but he should make a push to reach that plateau this week when the Golden Flashes face a Ball State defense that gives up over 200 rushing yards per game.
Albert Wilson, WR-Georgia State vs Troy
Wilson is averaging 30 receiving yards per game against FBS opponents this season, but that number should rise significantly this week when he faces a Troy defense that allows over 315 passing yards per game.
C.J. Brown, QB-Maryland vs Virginia
There has not been any information concerning the availability of Brown for Saturday when the Terps host Virginia. For those that have early lineup deadlines, be prepared to leave the senior signal-caller on the bench this week.
Nate Sudfeld, QB-Indiana at Michigan State
If the Hoosiers offense struggles to move the ball against Sparty’s defense, do not be surprised if Tre Roberson receives significant snaps.
Baker Mayfield, QB-Texas Tech vs Iowa State
Fantasy owners were relieved to hear that there was no structural damage to Mayfield’s knee after his injury last weekend, but he may be extremely limited or unavailable Saturday when the undefeated Red Raiders host the Cyclones.
Vad Lee, QB, Georgia Tech at BYU
This week, the Yellow Jackets travel cross country to face a BYU defense that is allowing a respectable 132 yards per game on the ground. More importantly for owners of Lee, the Cougars defense has only allowed two rushing touchdowns so far this season.
James Sims, RB-Kansas at TCU
Facing his toughest test of the season last week, Sims ran for a season-low 28 yards on nine carries against Texas Tech. It won’t get any easier for the Jayhawks offense this week when they travel to TCU.
Travis Greene, RB-Bowling Green at Mississippi State
The Falcons have only played two non-MAC FBS schools this season (Tulsa and Indiana), and in those two games, Greene has rushed for a total of 131 yards and zero touchdowns on 33 carries.
James Conner, RB-Pitt at Virginia Tech
Conner exploded for 292 yards in back-to-back games against New Mexico and Duke, but was held in-check when the Panthers hosted Virginia two weeks ago. This may be the toughest test remaining on the schedule for the Panthers offense.
Donnel Pumphrey, RB-San Diego State at Air Force
Three points to consider: Adam Muema rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against Nevada, 72 of Pumphrey’s 112 rushing yards last week were gained in a single play, and the Aztecs offense turned to Muema once they reached the red zone.
Conference play is officially underway across all 10 college football leagues.
And with conference play starting, the potential for upsets has increased. Teams in the same league have a certain level of familiarity and recruit a lot of the same players.
Although college football has yet to see a huge upset among the top-10 teams, it’s still likely to happen at some point this season.
Athlon’s experts are back with another week of upset predictions. South Florida, Michigan and Miami (Ohio) are popular picks as underdogs this week.
The favorites can't win every game each week, so it's no surprise one of the most popular discussion points every Saturday is upset picks. Each week on AthlonSports.com, the editors will give an upset pick for the upcoming week of action.
College Football Week 7 Upset Predictions
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): South Florida (+5.5) over Connecticut
The Huskies may find a spark under interim coach TJ Weist, but I think the Bulls are the better team and have momentum after last week’s win over Cincinnati. Connecticut made a quarterback change during the bye week, as freshman Tim Boyle has replaced Chandler Whitmer in the starting lineup. However, the Huskies still have major problems on the offensive line and average just 1.4 yards per rush. South Florida’s offense hasn’t been much better, but the Bulls are coming off a season-high 26 points against Cincinnati last week. Quarterback Steven Bench and running back Michael Shaw are questionable due to injuries, but South Florida’s defense should be enough to win a close, ugly affair in Storrs this week.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall): Penn State (+3) over Michigan
The Nittany Lions are coming off a horrendous showing at Indiana, losing to the Hoosiers for the first time in 17 tries. Michigan has had its issues (see UConn and Akron) and simply isn't as good as their perfect record and top 20 ranking indicate. Brady Hoke's group played a near perfect game against Minnesota last week and cannot be expected to play that cleanly every week. The Maize and Blue haven't beaten Penn State since 2007 and have lost three straight in the series. A home game against a brand like Michigan would begin to create the legend of Christian Hackenberg in Happy Valley. And no one has proven to have an answer for Penn State receiver Allen Robinson this season.
Mark Ross: Miami (Ohio) (+3.5) over UMass
This is the farthest thing from a marquee matchup on this week's slate, and not just because this is a Mid-American Conference (MAC) game. Don't get me wrong, the MAC has some strong teams, led by No. 23-ranked Northern Illinois. It also has some not-so-great teams, which is where the RedHawks and Minutemen come in. Neither has yet to win a game, with the closest defeat being a 10-point loss by UMass to FCS member Maine. Miami (Ohio) has already fired its head coach, and combined these two teams have scored 79 points in 10 games. Baylor is averaging more than 70 points PER game. But the Bears aren't playing in this game, and either the RedHawks or the Minutemen are going to finally get in the win column, if anything because there are no ties in college football. For no reason other than entertainment purposes, I'll pick Miami to pull the road upset. After all, what would be more fitting than RedHawks interim head coach Mike Bath getting one (the Gatorade variety) in his first game?
David Fox (@DavidFox615): Missouri (+8) over Georgia
Not a lot of obvious upset bait this week. I thought of picking Bowling Green over Mississippi State, but it’s tough to forget Indiana’s rout of the Falcons. Missouri may not be a realistic SEC East contender, but the Tigers may be good enough to beat a wounded Georgia team on the road. This may be the week for Georgia to stumble, if it wasn’t last week. Too many injuries on the offensive side of the ball mean a lot of new players working with the offense, not to mention the emotional toll by all those injuries. Mizzou may sense a chance to pounce. With all the great quarterbacks in the SEC this season, James Franklin is overlooked. He could change that a major performance in Athens.
TCU’s defense suffered a blow on Wednesday, as end Devonte Fields will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury.
Fields was the Big 12’s Defensive Freshman of the Year last season and was selected as the Associated Press Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
In 13 games last year, Fields recorded 53 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks.
However, Fields never got on track in 2013, as he was suspended for the first two games and only recorded four tackles (two for a loss) in his limited snaps.
Although Fields will be missed, TCU’s defense is still one of the best in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs rank fourth in the conference in total defense after five games and shouldn’t slip too far with Fields sidelined for the year.
Losing Devonte Fields for the year hurts. But let's be honest. TCU had been playing without him pretty much all season.— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) October 9, 2013
We’ll find out if a great defense (Florida) can stop a great offense (LSU) on Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium. Elsewhere, undefeated Missouri heads to Athens to face banged up — but still talented — Georgia in a key SEC East battle, and Texas A&M takes its road show to Ole Miss to take on the struggling Rebels.
SEC Week 7 Game Power Rankings
1. Florida (+7.5) at LSU (3:30 ET, CBS)
Two of the hottest quarterbacks in the SEC will be on display Saturday at Tiger Stadium. Florida’s Tyler Murphy, a third-year sophomore who had not thrown a pass in college until three weeks ago, has been terrific in relief of injured starter Jeff Driskel. He is completing 72.2 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and only one interception. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger is thriving under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, leading the SEC in touchdown passes (15) and yards per attempt (11.1) while ranking third in yards per game (289.7) and fourth in completion percentage (68.2). This week, however, Mettenberger will be facing one of the nation’s elite secondaries. The Gators are allowing a league-low 152.0 passing yards per game, and opposing quarterbacks are averaging only 4.6 yards per attempt, third-lowest in the nation. Florida also excels at stopping the run, allowing a league-low 65.0 yards per game and 2.78 yards per attempt. This will be a huge challenge for the much-improved LSU offense.
2. Missouri (+8) at Georgia (12:00 ET, ESPN)
Missouri was extremely sharp on offense Saturday, scoring on its first eight possessions en route to a 51-28 win in Nashville. The Tigers feature one of the nation’s more underrated quarterbacks in James Franklin and have talent and depth at both running back and wide receiver. Going forward, this team’s challenge will be on defense. Are the Tigers good enough on that side of the ball to challenge in the SEC East? The guess right now is no, but that doesn’t mean this team can’t win nine or 10 games. This week, Mizzou heads to Athens to face a wounded Georgia team that will be without some of its key playmakers on offense. The Bulldogs will have to find a way to score some points, because the defense, to this point, has not proven it can slow down a quality offense.
3. Texas A&M (-6.5) at Ole Miss (8:30 ET ESPN)
The Rebels have been humbled the past two weeks, losing 25–0 at Alabama and 30–22 at Auburn. The offense, so efficient in the first three weeks of the season, has scored only two touchdowns in the last eight quarters. Bo Wallace, who did not throw an interception in the first two games, was picked off twice on Saturday. Hugh Freeze must get things fixed on offense in a hurry with Texas A&M rolling into town. The Aggies have some issues on defense, but this team has no trouble scoring points. Ole Miss will have to score at least 40 points to win this game.
4. South Carolina (-5.5) at Arkansas (12:21 ET SEC TV)
South Carolina bounced back from its loss at Georgia by winning three straight. But none of the three wins was particularly satisfying. The Gamecocks lost big leads in home wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky and had to overcome a slow start and poor finish to beat UCF by three points in Orlando. Steve Spurrier is eager to see his team play a complete game. Arkansas has struggled against the better teams on its schedule, with losses to Rutgers, Texas A&M and Florida the past three weeks. The Hogs are built to run the ball but only netted 101 yards against Rutgers and 111 against Florida. They were productive against a suspect Texas A&M defense but still lost by 12 points at home. Despite the Hogs’ deficiencies, this is a tough spot for South Carolina — with or without Jadeveon Clowney. The Gamecocks are 2-8 at Arkansas since the two schools joined the SEC in 1991.
5. Bowling Green (+10.5) at Mississippi State (7:30 ET FSN)
Bowling Green is one of the top teams in the MAC, but the Falcons struggled in their only game to date against a team from an AQ conference, losing 42-10 at Indiana in mid-September. Mississippi State has played relatively well since laying an egg vs. Oklahoma State in Week 1 but doesn’t have much to show for it. The Bulldogs lost a late lead in a 24-20 loss at Auburn and battled LSU for three quarters on Saturday night before collapsing in the fourth. In between, MSU pounded Troy 62-7 in Starkville. This is a decent team that is going to have a tough time finding six wins against a very difficult schedule.
6. Alabama (-27.5) at Kentucky (7 ET ESPN2)
Kentucky has played three straight top-15 teams, and the results have been better than many Wildcats fans might have expected — a 14-point loss to Louisville, a 17-point loss to Florida and a seven-point loss to South Carolina. Now, however, the competition gets ramped up another notch as No. 1 Alabama comes to town. The Crimson Tide struggled to stop Texas A&M’s high-powered attack but have given up only one touchdown — on a 77-yard run in the opener vs. Virginia Tech — in its other four games. Kentucky will be fortunate to score more than 10 points in this game.
7. Western Carolina (+43.5) at Auburn (2 ET, PPV)
Auburn should have little trouble picking up win No. 6 this Saturday. Western Carolina is 1-5 overall, with its only win by seven points over Mars Hill, a Division II school. In fact, the Catamounts are 3-31 in their last 34 games with all three wins coming against Mars Hill.
5 Pivotal Players
The nation’s best set of cornerbacks will be tasked with slowing down arguably the top wide receiver duo in the nation. Florida lists Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson as its starters at corner, but true freshman Vernon Hargreaves III plays a ton and is considered by many to be the best in the bunch. LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are both averaging over 100 yards per game and have combined to catch 13 touchdown passes. It will be fun to watch these two elite units battle on Saturday afternoon.
Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Johnson has been a beast on the interior of the line for an LSU defense that is experiencing some growing pains in a year of transition. Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has been a pleasant surprise since taking over for Jeff Driskel, but the Gators’ first priority will be to establish the run. Johnson and the rest of the LSU defensive front will try to take that away and force Murphy to make plays with his arm in one of the most hostile environments in college football.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
With his cast of healthy skill position players dwindling each week, Murray is being asked to play nearly flawless football to keep Georgia in the national title hunt. This week, he will have to be at his best because Georgia will have to score a bunch of points to beat red-hot Missouri. The Bulldogs have listed Todd Gurley atop the depth chart, but Mark Richt didn’t sound confident on Tuesday that his star tailback would be ready to play. That would leave true freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas to carry the rushing load. At receiver, the Dawgs will be without three of their top players, with Malcom Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett all sidelined with injuries.
James Franklin is grabbing the headlines for resurgent Missouri, but the Tigers boast a quality group of wideouts — all with good size — that puts a lot of pressure on the defense. This week, Dorial Green-Beckham, Marcus Lucas, L’Damian Washington & Co. will face a Georgia defense that has struggled to stop the pass (against some very good offenses). Georgia ranks 12th in the SEC in pass defense (264.6 ypg) and is allowing a league-high 8.1 yards per passing attempt. If Mizzou’s wideouts can make plays down the field, the Tigers’ trio of smallish tailbacks will have plenty of room to operate.
Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss
For the first four games of his junior season, Bo Wallace did not throw an interception. But last week, the Bad Bo Wallace — the one who led the nation with 17 interceptions in 2012 — resurfaced in a 30-22 loss at Auburn. Wallace threw for a season-high 336 yards but completed only 52.1 percent of his passes and was intercepted twice. He will have to play very well on Saturday against a Texas A&M team that is averaging just under seven touchdowns per game.
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Missouri at Georgia|
|Georgia 34-31||Georgia 34-27||Georgia 47-40|
|S. Carolina at Arkansas||S. Carolina 35-24||S. Carolina 28-20||S. Carolina 31-27||Arkansas 28-20|
|W. Carolina at Auburn|
|Auburn 44-7||Auburn 52-3||Auburn 54-0|
|Florida at LSU|
|LSU 27-21||LSU 27-24||Florida 24-21|
|Alabama at Kentucky|
|Alabama 44-11||Alabama 45-10||Alabama 34-14|
|Bowling Green at Miss. St.||Miss. St. 35-21||Miss. St. 34-20||Miss. St. 38-24||Miss. St. 27-10|
|Texas A&M at Ole Miss|
|A&M 44-40||A&M 45-38||A&M 37-27|
There isn't a huge game with national interest in the ACC this Saturday, but there is no shortage of intrigue.
Pittsburgh has quietly improved to 3-1 after losing its opener, and the Panthers have a chance to stake their claim in the Coastal Division race with a win at Virginia Tech this week.
Georgia Tech is reeling just a bit after back-to-back losses, and the Yellow Jackets won’t get a break with a trip to BYU this Saturday. Georgia Tech’s offense will have its hands full against the Cougars’ active front seven.
Virginia-Maryland, Syracuse-NC State and Boston College-Clemson are the other contests within conference play this week. Due to realignment, this is the last scheduled matchup between the Terrapins and Cavaliers. The Wolfpack and Orange are both searching for a win after losing last week, while the Tigers are a heavy favorite against Boston College.
Duke steps out of conference play for a tough matchup against Navy this Saturday. The Blue Devils will be fighting just to get bowl eligible this year, so beating the Midshipmen is a must if this team wants to get to six wins.
ACC Week 7 Game Power Rankings
1. Pittsburgh (+9) at Virginia Tech (12 ET, ESPNU)
After six weeks, the Coastal Division looks like a two-team race between Virginia Tech and Miami. But is it time to add Pittsburgh to the top tier of the division? Saturday’s game in Blacksburg is a good measuring stick for the Panthers, as coach Paul Chryst’s team has rebounded with three wins in a row after losing to Florida State in the opener. Led by their defense, the Hokies have won five in a row, but the offense is starting to show some signs of life. Quarterback Logan Thomas isn’t putting up huge numbers. However, the senior hasn’t thrown an interception in two games and has completed at least 67 percent of his passes in the last two contests. Without a consistent running game, much of Virginia Tech’s offensive success will rest on No. 3’s shoulders. Despite returning eight starters, Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled this year. The Panthers rank 10th in the ACC in total defense and have forced just seven turnovers and nine sacks in four games. While the defense has struggled, Pittsburgh’s offense averages 6.4 yards per play and freshmen Tyler Boyd (WR) and James Conner (RB) have provided a boost for this unit. But the big concern for the Panthers against Virginia Tech will be an offensive line that has allowed 13 sacks this season. The Hokies lead the ACC in total defense (263.7 ypg) and have generated 19 sacks and 16 turnovers. Pittsburgh beat Virginia Tech last season, but the Panthers will have their hands full against the Hokies’ defense.
2. Georgia Tech (+7) at BYU (7 ET, ESPN2)
After back-to-back games against Virginia Tech and Miami, the schedule doesn’t get any easier for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets travel to Provo, Utah on Saturday to play BYU – a team they lost 41-17 to last season. The Cougars have lost both of their games this season by a combined 10 points and have won two in a row after a 1-2 start. Winning the battle in the trenches is crucial for both teams on Saturday. Georgia Tech’s rushing attack averages 300 yards per game, but BYU’s front seven is loaded with talent, including senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who has seven tackles for a loss this year. The Yellow Jackets could be shorthanded on the offensive line, as tackles Ray Beno and Morgan Bailey may not play due to injury. The Cougars are holding opponents to just 3.5 yards per rush this year, so it’s critical for Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee to loosen up the front seven with the passing game. Lee has struggled in the last two games after a fast start, completing just 10 of 37 passes for 207 yards and two interceptions in the last two games. Georgia Tech’s defense allowed 45 points to Miami last week but ranks fourth in the ACC in total defense (330.6 ypg). BYU’s offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill, but running back Jamaal Williams and receiver Cody Hoffman are also dangerous options.
3. Virginia (+7) at Maryland (3:30 ET, ESPNU)
Due to realignment, this is the last scheduled meeting between these two programs. Maryland and Virginia have met every year since 1957, with the Terrapins owning a 43-32-2 series edge. Both teams enter Saturday’s game reeling after disappointing losses last week. The Cavaliers were upset 48-27 by Ball State, while Maryland was dominated in a 63-0 defeat at Florida State. Terrapins’ quarterback C.J. Brown suffered a concussion against the Seminoles, and his status for Saturday’s game is uncertain. If Brown doesn’t start, Maryland’s offense is in good hands with Caleb Rowe, who started one game last season. The Cavaliers’ defense struggled to stop Ball State and Oregon, but in its other three games, Virginia’s opponents combined for just 30 points. While the Cavaliers’ defense is capable of keeping this one close, the offense remains a huge concern. Virginia showed some signs of life against Ball State (5.5 yards per play) but ranks 12th in the ACC in total offense and is last in the conference in yards per play (4.3). With injuries knocking out its top two cornerbacks, Maryland likes to bring pressure to protect its secondary, recording 18 sacks in five games. The Cavaliers have won three in a row in College Park, but will have trouble earning the victory in this one if the offense doesn’t play better.
4. Navy (+3) at Duke (12:30 ET, ACC Network)
Getting back to a bowl game isn’t an easy task for Duke, which is why this week’s game against Navy is a must-win matchup. The Blue Devils trail in the overall series to the Midshipmen (20-14-5) but have won the last two meetings. There should be no shortage of points on Saturday, and Duke could have quarterback Anthony Boone back in the lineup after missing the last three games with a collarbone injury. If Boone can’t play, the Blue Devils’ offense is in good hands with backup Brandon Connette, who ranks sixth in the ACC in total offense (249.2). Duke will need all of the points it can get on Saturday, especially since its defense ranks 10th in the ACC against the run and 12th in scoring defense. Navy averages 403.5 yards per game on the ground, with quarterback Keenan Reynolds the catalyst for the option attack. Preparing for a triple-option offense is never easy, but the Blue Devils have had two weeks to get ready. A bad sign for Duke: Georgia Tech rushed for 344 yards against the Blue Devils in their matchup earlier this season.
5. Syracuse (+6.5) at NC State (3:30 ET, RSN)
Syracuse and NC State are looking to get back in the win column after both teams suffered losses last week. The Orange was simply overmatched in a 49-14 loss against Clemson, while NC State was upset 28-13 by Wake Forest. The Wolfpack are hoping to get quarterback Brandon Mitchell back in the lineup this Saturday, but the senior’s status is likely a gametime decision after suffering a broken foot in the season opener. Syracuse is also looking for answers at quarterback, as Terrel Hunt played well against Wagner and Tulane but completed just 8 of 24 throws (with three interceptions) against Clemson last Saturday. With both teams dealing with some uncertainty at quarterback, the ground attack will be crucial on this week. Syracuse ranks fifth in the ACC in rushing offense, while NC State is sixth. Jerome Smith leads the way for the Orange (342 yards), while the Wolfpack has seven players with at least 100 rushing yards this season. NC State holds an edge on defense, limiting opponents to five yards a play and ranks second in the ACC against the run. NC State owns a 6-0 series edge against Syracuse, but these two teams have not played since 1998.
6. Boston College (+24.5) at Clemson (3:30 ET, ESPN2/ABC)
With a huge showdown against Florida State next Saturday, this matchup has to be designated as a potential trap game for Clemson. Boston College has improved significantly under new coach Steve Addazio, already surpassing its win total from 2012 after five games. Running back Andre Williams leads the ACC with 153.6 rushing yards per game and faces a Clemson defense ranked 12th in the conference against the run. Opponents are averaging 4.2 yards per rush against the Tigers, so Williams should expect to see a heavy workload on Saturday, especially as Boston College looks to keep Clemson’s offense on the sideline. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has been sharp for the Tigers this year, completing 66 percent of his throws and averaging 289.8 yards per game. Boston College’s defense will have its hands full against Clemson’s offense, as this unit has allowed at least 27 points in each of its last three games, including 48 to Florida State. Coordinator Don Brown loves to blitz, but the Eagles could be vulnerable to the big play against the Tigers’ receiving corps. If Boston College gets Williams on track, it has a chance to shorten this game and hang around until the fourth quarter. But the Eagles’ biggest nightmare would be an early 17-0 or 21-0 lead by Clemson, as they just aren’t built to rally from a huge deficit.
ACC Week 7 Pivotal Players
Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh
The Panthers are tied for the most sacks allowed in the ACC with 13 after four games. Quarterback Tom Savage is a talented drop-back passer, but the senior doesn’t have much mobility. Virginia Tech’s defensive line is deep and talented, recording 19 sacks in six games and limiting opponents to just 263.7 yards per game. Bisnowaty will be matched against ends James Gayle or J.R. Collins, and the freshman will have a tough time trying to slow down the Hokies’ dynamic pass-rush duo.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
If Pittsburgh can protect quarterback Tom Savage, the Panthers will have a chance to make plays downfield with receivers Tyler Boyd and Devin Street. The Hokies will counter with a deep secondary, with senior Kyle Fuller (21 tackles, 2 INT, 7 PBU) and freshmen Kyle Fuller and Brandon Facyson also in the mix. Virginia Tech’s secondary could get even deeper this week, as senior Antone Exum is close to returning from a knee injury. The matchup between Boyd/Street and the Hokies’ pass defense will be one of the top individual battles in the ACC this year.
Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson
Boston College would like to control the clock and limit the possessions by Clemson’s offense this Saturday. In order for the Eagles to accomplish that, running back Andre Williams needs to have another big game. The senior is averaging 153.6 yards per game this season and faces a Clemson defense allowing 171.2 yards per game. Jarrett is crucial to slowing down Williams, as the junior needs to win the battle on the line of scrimmage.
Vad Lee, QB, Georgia Tech
After starting the year 22 of 39 for 418 yards and seven touchdowns, Lee has completed just 12 of 37 passes for 207 yards and three interceptions in his last two games. And the sophomore is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry with only three touchdowns this season. BYU’s secondary hasn’t played the strongest group of quarterbacks this year, but this unit was hit hard by injuries in the preseason. Lee needs to execute the option better and has to hit a few plays in the passing game against the Cougars. However, BYU’s front seven is stout, led by senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy and 305-pound nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna.
Kevin Parks, RB, Virginia
With quarterback David Watford struggling to get on track this year, the Cavaliers need more production from the rushing attack. Parks is averaging 79.6 yards per game but rushed for only 34 yards in Virginia’s only ACC contest this year. Maryland ranks third in the ACC against the run (115.4 ypg) and features underrated nose tackle Darius Kilgo anchoring the line. Parks needs to have at least 100 yards for the Cavaliers to win on Saturday.
ACC Week 7 Predictions
|Game||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Pittsburgh (+9) at Va. Tech||Va. Tech 28-21||Va. Tech 34-30||Va. Tech 27-20||Va. Tech 24-17|
|Navy (+3) at Duke||Navy 35-28||Navy 24-23||Navy 34-30||Duke 27-17|
|Syracuse (+6.5) at NC State||NC State 24-21||NC State 31-28||NC State 31-24||NC State 24-17|
|Virginia (+7) at Maryland||Maryland 35-10||Maryland 34-13||Maryland 31-17||Maryland 34-20|
|Boston College (+24.5) at Clemson||Clemson 35-10||Clemson 44-17||Clemson 45-20||Clemson 41-17|
|Georgia Tech (+7) at BYU||BYU 38-31||BYU 34-31||BYU 27-24||BYU 28-20|
The Red River Rivalry is a rite of passage of sorts in the college football season.
The weather is beginning to turn. The championship races are starting to take shape. And traditionally, this is when the Big 12 finds its frontrunner.
Although both teams are 2-0 in the league, this is the third time in the last 10 seasons either Texas or Oklahoma has entered the game unranked. The Longhorns have been the bigger offender, arriving to the State Fair of Texas unranked in two of the last three years.
After the last two seasons, a checkered start to 2013 and a leadership change at Texas, Longhorns coach Mack Brown will be under the microscope. If there’s an opportunity for Brown to remain the Texas coach, this would be the time to seize it.
Oklahoma fans, though, couldn’t be blamed for looking forward to the other major Big 12 contender in Baylor as the Bears make their first road trip of the season to Kansas State. The Bears have struggled on the road, so this week will be a key test for the nation's top offense.
Big 12 Week 7 Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday, All times Eastern
1. Baylor at Kansas State (3:30 p.m, Fox Sports 1)
The Baylor offense is the talk of college football, but there are a few questions for the Bears before they get into the toughest portion of the schedule in November. Baylor built its 70-point offense against Wofford, Buffalo, ULM and West Virginia. All fringe bowl candidates at best (or, in Wofford’s case, an FCS team). All were also in Waco. Baylor has lost seven of its last eight Big 12 road games. Kansas State, meanwhile, is looking for any kind of answers. Daniel Sams earned his first start at quarterback last week, but Jake Waters will remain in the rotation. Making matters worse, top receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson remain questionable after missing last week’s game with injuries.
2. Oklahoma vs. Texas (noon, ABC, in Dallas)
The Red River Rivalry will be another referendum on Mack Brown, though it’s tough to see anything but an easy win helping to turn the tide back in Brown’s favor. The Sooners have won the last two meetings by a combined score of 118-38. Both teams are 2-0 in the Big 12, but OU has looked much more like a conference contender than the Longhorns, who eked out a sloppy win over Iowa State last week. With quarterback David Ash out again, Texas will turn to Case McCoy, who has thrown 36 and 45 passes in his two starts this season (he’s averaging a Big 12-worst 5.6 yards per attempt). Led by corner Aaron Colvin, safety Gabe Lynn and surprising redshirt freshman Zach Sanchez, Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense (with nine interceptions) and has the best third-down defense in the league (19 of 70). Unless something has changed in the last week, Texas has shown a good deal of confidence in the passing game.
3. Iowa State at Texas Tech (noon, Fox Sports 1)
Both teams need to answer to some adversity this week. Iowa State must respond to the heartbreaking loss to Texas on Thursday while Texas Tech has questions at quarterback after an injury to knee starting quarterback Baker Mayfield. Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury did not rule out starting Mayfield against the Cyclones. In the last two weeks, Iowa State has found a clear bread and butter in its offense with Aaron Wimberly taking hold of the run game. Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in fewest rushing yards per game (107.6), but the Red Raiders have not faced a stout running team yet this season.
4. Kansas at TCU (noon, Fox Sports Network local)
TCU’s first-half offense has been dismal and never worse than it was against Oklahoma last week. The Horned Frogs have scored three points total in the first quarter against FBS teams this season. TCU’s has also been outscored 49-17 in the first half against FBS teams. If Kansas pounces on an early lead against TCU like it did against Texas Tech, the Jayhawks must respond better than they did last week when a 10-0 lead turned into a 54-16 defeat. Quarterback Jake Heaps had perhaps his best half of the season, completing 13 of 20 passes for 139 yards with a touchdown to start against Texas Tech.
Off: Oklahoma State, West Virginia
Big 12 Week 7 Pivotal Players
Johnathan Gray, Texas
Texas’ offense has been most effective this season when the Longhorns have been running the ball, particularly when Gray is the one getting carries. Gray rushed for 141 yards on 28 carries against Kansas State, but carried only 16 times in the following game against Iowa State. Oklahoma’s run defense is tough to crack, but both West Virginia and Notre Dame had success on the ground against the Sooners.
Dominique Alexander and Aaron Franklin, Oklahoma
Outside linebacker Corey Nelson was one of the few name players on the Oklahoma defense entering the season, and now he’s out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. The Sooners have found plenty of difference-makers on a defense that’s the best in the Big 12, but they’ll have to find a new starter to replace Nelson. Alexander is a freshman who has logged 10 tackles this season, including four against Notre Dame. Franklin has been a reserve linebacker for the last three years. Nelson was also in charge of calling defensive signals. That task will fall to leading tackler Frank Shannon and others.
Daniel Sams, Kansas State
Sams’ first task in his second start will be to cut turnovers after giving the ball away four times against Oklahoma State last week (three interceptions, one fumble). The Wildcats are minus-nine in turnovers this season. Kansas State hasn’t been in the red in turnover margin for a season since 2008, Ron Prince’s final year as head coach. Sams is a dangerous runner, who rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries last week, but he’ll encounter a Baylor defense that is allowing only 2.5 carry.
Jacques Washington, Iowa State
A number of players will probably draw the assignment to defend 6-5, 260-pound tight end Jace Amaro, a mismatch for linebackers and safeties. At 6-1, 220 pounds, Washington is the bigger of Iowa State’s two starting safeties, but Amaro still has him beat by four inches and 40 pounds. Amaro has caught at least eight passes in each of the last four games (he was suspended for the first half of the opener against SMU).
Ben Heeney, Kansas
The Jayhawks’ senior linebacker is one of the nation’s most underrated players, recording 41 tackles, six tackles for a loss and two interceptions this season. TCU would probably prefer to set the tone with the run game, but that’s been tough the last two weeks. Heeney will be one of the key players try to force Trevone Boykin to win the game with his arm.
Big 12 Week 7 Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Oklahoma (-14) vs. Texas||OU 42-21||OU 42-20||OU 38-17||OU 34-17|
|Iowa St (+14) at Texas Tech||ISU 28-21||Tech 41-20||Tech 34-20||Tech 37-21|
|Kansas (+25) at TCU||TCU 24-10||TCU 31-10||TCU 38-13||TCU 48-10|
|Baylor (-17) at K-State||Baylor 56-14||Baylor 42-28||Baylor 48-24||Baylor 51-27|
Stanford snuck past Washington last weekend and neither team has time to dwell on what happened in Palo Alto. The Huskies return home and get to try to stop the Oregon Ducks while the Cardinal have a testy road trip to Salt Lake City.
While those two tilts are easily the league’s top showdowns in Week 7, there is plenty else to keep an eye on in the Pac-12. The Beavers-Cougars North Division matchup is basically a pick 'em with large bowl implications and Ed Orgeron makes his USC coaching debut against Rich Rodriguez on Thursday night.
Arizona State and UCLA aren’t technically on bye this week but both should steamroll their inferior competition.
Pac-12 Week 7 Game Power Rankings
1. Oregon (-14) at Washington (4 p.m. ET, FS1)
Steve Sarkisian’s team proved it belonged on the field with Stanford last weekend by nearly doubling the Cardinal in total offense. The Huskies get no breaks as they return home and prepare for a Ducks offense operating on unprecedented levels. Marcus Mariota has played flawless football all season long and he picked up the slack for the injured De’Anthony Thomas last week in a big way by accounting for seven touchdowns. Thomas isn’t likely to be back this weekend but that might not mean much for Washington, as it will still have to deal with Byron Marshall (448 yards, 4 TDS) and Thomas Tyner (204 yards, 5 TDS). So it falls to Keith Price to put up points in a big way, something he’s struggled to do in each of his two meetings against Oregon as the starter. The U of W quarterback hasn’t topped 145 yards in either game and has four interceptions and just two scores in the last two meetings. If Coach Sark wants to compete in the Pac-12 North, he can’t go 0-2 against the Cardinal and Ducks on back-to-back weeks.
2. Stanford (-9) at Utah (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
After taking care of business last weekend against Washington at home, Stanford must avoid a major letdown when it travels to Salt Lake City for just the first time since 1995 and the second time since 1902. The home team has never won in this series and if that trend is to change Utes quarterback Travis Wilson, who threw six interceptions last week, must protect the football against arguably the nation’s most vicious front seven. On the flip side, it will fall to Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, who has yet to lose as a starter (10-0), to keep his team focused and driven in an obvious upset alert situation on the road. This will be a battle of strength-on-strength all game long and should be as physical as any game in the Pac-12 all season.
3. Oregon State (+1) at Washington State (ESPNU)
The 98th meeting between the Beavers and Cougars should feature plenty of excitement. Led by quarterback Sean Mannion, Oregon State is second only to Baylor in passing offense nationally (420.6 ypg). Mike Leach’s Cougars aren’t far behind, ranked eighth nationally at 359.7 yards per game. And with the way these defenses have been playing, four figures worth of passing yardage isn’t out of the question. Washington State gave up 521 yards to Cal through the air last week while Oregon State allowed 625 yards to Eastern Washington and 539 to Utah. These two teams are No. 1 and No. 2 in the Pac-12 in interceptions, so one of these secondaries will make a big second half stop, right?
4. Arizona (+6) at USC (Thurs., 10:30 p.m., FS1)
The Coliseum’s first-ever non-Thanksgiving/non-bowl Thursday game will also be interim head coach Ed Orgeron’s first in charge of the Trojans. So very little is known about what this USC team will look like after an abrupt coaching change and fans on both sides should expect the unexpected. Ka’Deem Carey is one of the few proven commodities on either side and the Wildcats star tailback will be leaned on to loosen up the talented and aggressive Trojans defense. These two have split their last four, including a split in the last two in L.A. Either way, this should be a close contest as each of the last six meetings have been decided by seven points or fewer.
5. Colorado (+25) at Arizona State (10 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The Sun Devils are in dire need of a tune-up game. Consistency has been a huge issue in their last four games — three of which ASU basically lost. Taylor Kelly has thrown for over 300 yards in every game this fall but couldn’t deliver on key fourth-quarter drives against Notre Dame. That type of clutch play shouldn’t be necessary this week, however, as Arizona State has never lost to Colorado (4-0). The Sun Devils have outscored the Buffaloes 99-31 in two years as division foes. Mike MacIntyre’s team hasn’t been competitive since Week 2.
6. Cal (+25) at UCLA (10:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Brett Hundley and UCLA survived Salt Lake City last Thursday night but it wasn’t pretty. The Bruins committed 13 penalties and two turnovers and needed 10 fourth-quarter points to topple the mistake-prone Utes. Should UCLA get back to playing fundamentally sound football, Cal should pose no threat in the Rose Bowl. The Bears threw the ball 63 times for 521 yards last weekend and lost by 22 at home to Washington State.
Pac-12 Week 7 Pivotal Players:
1. Washington’s front seven
The Huskies allowed 299 yards rushing on 52 attempts in the 52-21 blowout at the hands of Oregon last season. Additionally, Washington has allowed 199 yards and 179 yards rushing and four total rushing touchdowns to Arizona and Stanford respectively in its last two games. Even without DAT, stopping Oregon’s running game is virtually impossible. Washington's defense needs to slow the Ducks down on the ground just enough to give its offense a chance to put together some long drives.
2. Keith Price, QB, Washington
In two games as the starter against Oregon, Price has been anything but productive. He threw for 145 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions last year and totaled 143 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in 2011. His 87.68 rating against Oregon last year was his second-worst efficiency mark of the season while his 110.32 rating was his worst game of the ’11 season. This is a legacy-defining game for a long-term starter like Price.
3. Trevor Reilly and Tenny Palepoi, DL, Utah
The Utes are leading the Pac-12 in sacks (3.6 per game) and are No. 2 in tackles for a loss per game (7.6). Reilly and Palepoi have combined for 4.5 sacks and 10.0 TFL thus far, but the duo was held nearly completely off the board last weekend against UCLA (0.0 sacks, 0.5 TFL). Stanford boasts arguably the best offensive line in the nation and will be the toughest test Utah’s defensive front will face all season long. These two must play well to pull the upset.
4. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
The star tailback is averaging 143.7 yards per game in three games in 2013, good for fifth nationally. He carried 28 times for 119 yards and a TD in last year’s win over USC at home. Only one other time last year did Carey carry the ball more (29, Washington) and he has had two weeks to recover from his career-high 30 carries against the Huskies. He will need to be fresh as the Trojans boast the Pac-12’s No. 1 rushing defense (99.6 ypg) and are allowing just 3.5 yards per carry this season.
5. Oregon State’s secondary
The Beavers (8) rank behind only Washington State (9) in interceptions this season in the Pac-12 and Mike Riley will needs his defensive backfield to be prepared this weekend against Leach’s Air Raid. Steven Nelson is tied for the nation’s lead in picks (4) while Tyrequek Zimmerman is the team’s leading tackler. Along with Ryan Murphy and Rashaad Reynolds, the Oregon State secondary must continue its solid play from last game. Riley’s bunch allowed just 146 yards on 41.2 percent passing to Colorado the last time OSU was on the field.
Pac-12 Week 7 Predictions:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Oregon (-14) at Washington||Oregon, 41-28||Oregon, 48-28||Oregon, 38-31||Oregon, 42-21|
|Stanford (-9) at Utah||Stanford, 34-20||Stanford, 38-24||Stanford, 34-13||Stanford, 35-17|
|Oregon St (+1) at Washington St||Wazzu, 38-34||Oregon St, 37-34||Oregon St, 34-31||Oregon St, 49-38|
|Arizona (+6) at USC||Arizona, 30-27||USC, 28-20||USC, 27-24||USC, 21-14|
|Colorado (+25) at Arizona St||Arizona St, 41-20||Arizona St, 38-13||Arizona St, 48-24||Arizona St, 38-21|
|Cal (+25) at UCLA||UCLA, 51-17||UCLA, 41-17||UCLA, 55-24||UCLA, 49-17|