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Several workhorse running backs are nursing injuries entering Week 11. Are any in danger of not playing today?
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
Peterson did not participate in practice on Thursday or Friday, as the Vikings wanted to give him extra time to rest his sore groin. He is Probable and expected to be ready to go for this afternoon. If you own Peterson you’re playing him, even if he is matched up against Seattle’s physical defense. The Seahawks have had some issues with their run defense recently, and there’s no doubt Peterson is capable of taking advantage should these problems continue.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Arizona Cardinals
MJD missed some practice time this week because of a knee injury, but he was a full go on Friday and is considered Probable. It has been a struggle for Jones-Drew this season, averaging just 3.0 yards per carry, but he’s in absolutely no danger of losing any of his touches. The Cardinals are third in the NFL in rushing defense, so don’t be surprised if it’s another disappointing day at the office for MJD.
Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans vs. Oakland Raiders
Tate’s broken ribs still haven’t healed completely, but he is listed as Probable and will get the start today. Dennis Johnson will get a few carries, but Tate is the Texans’ primary back for the rest of the season and is pretty much a must-start.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins
Mathews is on the injury report with a hamstring issue, but he was able to practice fully on Friday and is considered Probable. After posting back-to-back 100-yard games in the two games prior to the Chargers’ Week 8 bye, Mathews has rushed for a total of 93 yards in his last two outings. He has scored a touchdown in two of his last three games, but Danny Woodhead is very much a part of the offensive game plan, so Mathews’ value is no more than a RB2 with upside.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers
Jacobs must be improving, because he is Questionable this week after being Doubtful and missing his third game in a row last week. It really doesn’t matter if Jacobs plays or not, as Andre Brown has replaced Jacobs as the primary ball carrier and Brown is the Giant back you want to own.
Already Ruled Out
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders – McFadden will miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury. This is good news for Rashad Jennings owners, as he has 283 total yards in his last two games. The going may be a little tougher today against Houston, but considering the Raiders will be starting rookie Matt McGloin instead of Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, Jennings is probably the only Raider you would even consider starting.
Done For the Season
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans – Injured reserve (back)
Mike James, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Injured reserve (broken ankle)
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Injured reserve (shoulder)
David Wilson, RB, New York Giants – Injured reserve (neck)
At this point of the season very few fantasy relevant wide receivers aren’t dealing with some sort of bump or bruise. Are any of these injuries serious enough to prevent them from taking the field in Week 11?
Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, WRs, Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers
Johnson’s knee injury is still enough of an issue that he missed two days of practice this week. Still with a Probable designation, there’s no reason to not expect him to suit up against the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s pass defense has been pretty good this season, but this is Megatron we are taking about. As long he is playing, you are starting Johnson. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Burleson will be lining up alongside him. Despite practicing the past two weeks for the first time since breaking his forearm in September, Burleson is considered Doubtful. Whether he’s still not healthy enough to get back on the field or the coaching staff just doesn’t think he’s ready, don’t count on Burleson this week. This means that Kris Durham will serve as the Lions’ No. 2 wide receiver, making him a possible WR3/WR4/flex option against the Steelers.
Cecil Shorts and Mike Brown, WRs, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Arizona Cardinals
Shorts (right) is still dealing with a lingering groin injury, which is impacting his ability to practice. He is listed as Probable, so there’s no reason to not expect him to play, but he also faces a pretty tough matchup this week in Cardinals’ cornerback Patrick Peterson. Shorts is the Jaguars’ No. 1 target, but quantity may not equal quality this week. Brown is dealing with an ankle injury, but he’s also Probable and should play. He has yet to take full advantage of replacing a suspended Justin Blackmon as the starter opposite Shorts, so it’s hard to expect that to change this week against a solid Arizona passing defense.
Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts, WRs, Arizona Cardinals at Jacksonville Jaguars
Floyd injured his shoulder last week and is listed as Questionable. He was limited in practice both Thursday and Friday, but head coach Bruce Arians said he expects Floyd to play. Roberts is dealing with a knee injury, but he is Probable, making him more of a certainty than Floyd. The Cardinals haven’t exactly thrived in the passing game this season and everyone knows that Larry Fitzgerald is the No. 1 target. Floyd is the No. 2 wideout with Roberts serving as the slot receiver. Floyd and Roberts more or less compete for looks behind Fitzgerald, so unless Floyd is ruled out prior to kickoff (1 p.m. ET), he and Roberts appear to be very risky options this week.
Mike Wallace, WR, Miami Dolphins vs. San Diego Chargers
Wallace is listed as Questionable because of a hamstring injury, but he said he fully expects to play, barring a setback. The later kickoff time (4:05 p.m. ET) complicates matters somewhat, especially considering Wallace’s general lack of production. The highly paid vertical threat has two 100-yard games and just one TD catch in his first season in a Dolphins uniform. Already relegated to WR2/WR3 status, it may not be worth the headache to wait long enough to see if Wallace suits up against the Chargers.
Eddie Royal, WR, San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins
Royal is making a habit out of not practicing during the week yet still playing come Sunday. Royal’s toe injury continues to prevent him from practicing and has resulted in a Questionable designation for the fourth straight week. However, Royal has yet to miss a game, so it seems likely this pattern will continue. Royal’s value is clearly tied to his ability to get in the end zone (7 TD catches), so keep that in mind should you decide to roll the dice once again with a “hobbled” Royal.
Atlanta, Buffalo and the New York Jets have banged up wide receiving corps entering Week 11. Here’s the latest injury-related information on those wide receivers and a few others to help you get your lineup ready.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Jackson was limited during Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury, but was able to go full speed on both Thursday and Friday. He is listed as Probable and could post some pretty nice numbers against Atlanta. The Falcons have struggled on defense this season and Jackson caught a season-high 10 passes for 138 yards and two scores against them the first time they played. It pretty much goes without saying, but VJax is a legitimate WR1.
Harry Douglas and Roddy White, WRs, Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Injuries have not been kind to the Falcons this season. Already without All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, Matt Ryan’s current favorite targets – Douglas and tight end Tony Gonzalez – are both Questionable. Douglas is dealing with a knee injury and his only practice participation this week was a limited appearance on Friday. He’s probably a game-time decision, although the early kickoff (1 p.m. ET) should allow for enough time to make up your mind on Douglas. White (right), on the other hand, is Probable, so for the first time in many weeks his playing status seems pretty clear. Production is still an issue, but Douglas’ potential absence and Gonzalez’ uncertain availability could mean more targets for White. All in all, this is not shaping up to be a promising situation for anyone who has an Atlanta offensive player in their lineup.
Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks vs. Minnesota Vikings
It took a while, but Harvin is on track to make his much-anticipated season debut for the Seahawks. Harvin is considered Probable and it’s only fitting that his first game will come against his former team. There’s no denying Harvin’s talent and potential, but he’s coming back from offseason hip surgery and hasn’t played in over a year, so if you are planning on starting him this week, be sure to temper your expectations.
Greg Jennings, WR, Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
Jennings was limited in practice this week because of a strained Achilles tendon, but he is listed as Probable and should play today. The bigger concern when it comes to Jennings is his lack of production (34 rec., 2 TDs), the matchup against Seattle’s 2nd-ranked passing defense and the fact that his quarterback, Christian Ponder, is dealing with a dislocated (non-throwing) shoulder. Put it all together and you have one risky fantasy play.
Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill, WRs, New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
The Jets have had to deal with injuries to their wide receiving corps for a good part of the season and this week is no different. The good news is that Holmes, who has missed the last five games because of a hamstring injury, is Probable and expected to return today. Hill is dealing with a foot injury, but he too is Probable, while Kerley has already been ruled Out because of a dislocated elbow. Even with Holmes’ return, it’s very hard for me to endorse any Jets wide receivers right now. For one, the Jets have been employing the committee approach, as David Nelson and Greg Salas have also been factors in recent weeks. Second, quarterback Geno Smith is still trying to get acclimated to the pro game, as the Jets are just 26th in the NFL in passing offense and have a total of eight touchdown passes in nine games.
Already Ruled Out
Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods, WRs, Buffalo Bills – EJ Manuel will be without his top two wide receivers against the Jets, as Johnson (groin) and Woods (ankle) have both been ruled out for today. T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin should get the start in their absence, but both probably carry more risk than reward if you are considering employing them this week.
A certain sprained ankle may be getting all the attention entering Week 11, but that’s not the only quarterback injury you need to know about. Athlon Sports has the latest on the quarterback injury front around the NFL.
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans
This one is a bit of a surprise. Pryor was listed as Questionable on the Friday injury report with a knee injury, but he was downgraded to Out on Saturday afternoon. Matt McGloin, an undrafted rookie from Penn State, will make his first career NFL start against Houston, which owns the NFL’s No. 1 passing defense. Forget about McGloin’s fantasy outlook, those who own wide receiver Denarius Moore should be concerned about the possibility of minimal fantasy production and may want to consider starting someone else in his place.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs
This is the most-watched ankle in the world. Manning was limited in practice this week because of a high ankle sprain, but he is listed as Probable and there’s no doubt he will take the field tonight against the undefeated Chiefs. The bumps and bruises are starting to pile up somewhat for the 37-year-old quarterback, so it’s critical that he get rid of the ball quickly and the Broncos’ offensive line do its job against the NFL’s most disruptive and productive pass rush.
Jason Campbell, QB, Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Campbell is dealing with some bruised ribs, but Cleveland is coming off of its bye and he was a full practice participant all week. He is Probable and will get the start against the Bengals. Believe it or not, Campbell may be worth a look if you need a replacement or are in a 2-QB league. Cincinnati’s defense is pretty good, but Campbell has five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games, one of which was against Kansas City.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
Ponder dislocated his non-throwing shoulder in last week’s win over Washington, but he is listed as Probable and on track to start today. However, considering today’s matchup with the Seahawks on their home turf, there’s no guarantee that Ponder will finish the game and it’s probably best to steer clear of him this week.
Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins
Vick got in some practice time this week and has actually improved from last week’s Doubtful designation to Questionable. That said, Nick Foles is fully expected to get the start against the Redskins, as he has 10 touchdown passes in his last two games. There’s no reason for the Eagles to risk Vick re-injuring his hamstring (again) with the bye week on tap in Week 12. If anything, Foles has made a pretty strong argument for keeping the starting gig even after Vick is back to 100 percent health, and Foles is definitely a bona fide starting option, even in shallow leagues, against a generous Washington defense.
Also Ruled Out
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears – As expected, Cutler will miss today’s game against Baltimore because of the high ankle sprain he sustained last week. Josh McCown will get the start and he has been impressive in his limited playing time, throwing for 538 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in three games. McCown is definitely in the bye week fill-in or 2-QB league conversation for this week.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers – Rodgers will miss his second game because of a broken collarbone. Seneca Wallace got the start last week, but he suffered a groin injury and was placed on injured reserve, leaving third-stringer Scott Tolzien as the last healthy Packer quarterback standing. Tolzien will make his first career NFL start today against a New York Giants defense that has been playing very well lately. There are only two teams (Dallas, St. Louis) on bye this week, so even with all of the other QB injuries; I still think you should be able to find a “safer” option than Tolzien to use as your starter.
The Week 11 injury report reads like a “who’s who” when it comes to the tight end position. Here is the latest injury-related information you need to read before setting your lineup.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Gonzalez hasn’t missed a game since the 2006 season, but that streak (111 games) could come to an end today. Gonzalez has a toe injury that kept him out of practice for basically the entire week. He is listed as Questionable and more than likely will be a game-time decision to face the Buccaneers. The Falcons have several banged up weapons, as wide receiver Harry Douglas also is Questionable and fellow wideout Roddy White has been dealing with injuries all season. Even if he plays, Gonzalez will be limited by the toe injury, so if you plan on starting the future Hall of Famer, don’t count on TE1 production from him.
Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints
Davis sustained a concussion last week against Carolina, but he appears on track to play this afternoon. He is listed as Questionable and was limited in practice, but barring a setback, he is expected to be on the field. Davis has emerged as Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target over the past month or so, so the 49ers desperately need him in the lineup. There’s always a risk when it comes to someone who sustained a concussion, and the 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff adds to it in this case, but the potential reward in playing Davis should outweigh the risk, unless you have another viable starting option.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers
Graham’s plantar fasciitis won’t be completely healed until after the season, but unlike the past few weeks, he is listed as Probable for today’s big game against San Francisco. The 49ers’ defense is among the best in the NFL, but Graham has shown that’s he the best at his position and he doesn’t have to be 100 percent to be productive. Start him with confidence.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers (Mon.)
Gronkowski continues to be limited in practice due to several injuries, but the Patriots are coming off of their bye, so in some ways Gronk should be as healthy as he’s been in a while. He is listed as Probable for Monday night’s tilt with Carolina and Gronk will be needed against a Panthers defense that is second in the NFL in both yards and points allowed. There’s no question you start Gronk, just don’t be surprised if he doesn’t put up huge numbers.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Chicago Bears vs. Baltimore Ravens
Bennett was a late add to the injury report after not practicing at all on Thursday and being limited on Friday because of an ankle injury. He is Questionable and most likely will be a game-time decision today. The early game time (1 p.m. ET) will help, but he has just one touchdown in his last seven games, so maybe it would be best to just leave Bennett on the bench this week.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns
Gresham missed the last game because of a groin injury, but he was back at practice this week and is listed as Probable. The interesting thing to see is if he and Tyler Eifert will go back to a timeshare or if Eifert will get the majority of the targets. Last week, Eifert got a season-high nine targets, catching three of them for 55 yards. Eifert probably carries a little more upside than Gresham, but as long as both of them are sharing the targets, they are very hard to trust from a production standpoint.
Already Ruled Out
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings – Rudolph will miss several weeks with a fractured foot and John Carlson has already taken advantage of the additional playing time. Last week against Washington, Carlson led the Vikings with nine catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. Seattle’s defense is tough, especially at home, but that doesn’t mean that Carlson still can’t catch enough balls to produce. He’s certainly a viable replacement option if you own Rudolph and belongs in the TE2 conversation.
A play that will go down in SEC lore as one of the greatest in college football history. Down by one point and facing a fourth and 18, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall heaved a desperation pass that was deflected by two Georgia defenders into the arms of Tigers receiver Ricardo Lewis for a 73-yard touchdown pass to give Auburn a 43-38 win. The Tigers gave up 21 straight points in the fourth quarter, capped by an Aaron Murray touchdown run that was allowed to stand after video review.
Thanks to Marshall’s Miracle, Auburn will go into the Iron Bowl against Alabama in two weeks with the SEC West on the line. Here’s the play...
And here’s the reaction of the Georgia sideline, courtesy of @BrianMFloyd...
Texas Tech receiver Eric Ward gave the Red Raiders a 21-7 lead over Baylor with this nifty one-handed grab on Saturday:
College football has produced its share of awesome catches in 2013, but UCF’s J.J. Worton might have made the grab of the year against Temple in Week 12.
Worton’s touchdown catch might have saved the Knights’ BCS bowl hopes, as this score allowed UCF to tie the game and eventually kick the game winning field goal on the next drive.
Oklahoma started slow but finished fast in Saturday’s 48-10 win over Iowa State.
The Sooners had a few highlights on the field, but the best play of the day might be a tackle by a state trooper. A fan ran onto the field and was completely blindsided by the state trooper.
Perfect form on the tackle, and most importantly, he avoided the dreaded 15-yard penalty and ejection for targeting.
Illinois’ lost its 20th straight Big Ten game, dropping a 60-35 matchup to Ohio State. As if the losing wasn’t enough, head coach Tim Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit had to be separated following an argument on the sidelines.
Of course, things like this happen all of the time during the season, but Beckman is on the hot seat, and this is another bad moment in his tenure.
ILLINI COACHES HAVING WORDS pic.twitter.com/UEU7gTH8hM— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) November 16, 2013
Washington quarterback Keith Price was forced to exit Friday’s loss to UCLA with a shoulder injury, and his status for next week’s game against Oregon State is uncertain.
Price’s x-ray was negative, but the senior will have a MRI performed to discover the extend of the injury.
Price left during the first half, but prior to his injury, the senior completed 10 of 18 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown.
In his absence, Cyler Miles completed 15 of 22 throws for 149 yards and two touchdowns. If Price cannot play, Miles would get the start next week.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was sharp in Thursday night’s win over Georgia Tech, completing 20 of 26 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns. Boyd also added 43 yards and one score on the ground.
However, Boyd was injured in the third quarter and did not return to the game.
The senior suffered a bruised sternum and collarbone but avoided a significant injury.
Boyd has some extra time to heal before Clemson’s Nov. 23 scrimmage against Citadel.
Even if Boyd isn’t 100 percent, next Saturday is his final home game and should see a handful of snaps before giving way to Chad Kelly and Cole Stoudt.
Clemson has two weeks to get Boyd healthy for the Nov. 30 showdown against South Carolina.
It’s been a long season for Tim Beckman and Illinois, but the Fighting Illini unveiled some sharp alternate helmets for Saturday’s game against Ohio State.
The helmets feature the outline of the state, with 10 stars representing 10 players who died in combat.
Here are the Illinois’ alternate helmets for Saturday’s game against Ohio State:
SMU plans to wear an alternate helmet for Saturday’s game against UConn, as the Mustangs will switch from a white to red scheme.
Here are the SMU helmets for Saturday’s game against the Huskies:
Here's a look at SMU's helmets for Sat pic.twitter.com/0UGV0yLeBj— Bill Nichols (@BillNicholsDMN) November 15, 2013
The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry takes center stage on Saturday, as Georgia travels to Auburn in a pivotal SEC contest. The Bulldogs need to win to keep their SEC East title hopes alive, while the Tigers are riding a six-game winning streak and a victory over Georgia would keep their BCS bowl hopes intact.
The Bulldogs have been hit hard by injuries this year, but Mark Richt’s team received some reinforcements in recent weeks. Running back Todd Gurley played against Florida on Nov. 2, and receiver Michael Bennett also returned to the lineup against the Gators. Two more of quarterback Aaron Murray’s targets may also return against Auburn, as receiver Chris Conley and tight end Arthur Lynch are expected to be game-time decisions.
After a miserable 3-9 record last year, Auburn is still alive in the SEC West, largely due to the hire of Gus Malzahn. The Tigers need to beat Georgia on Saturday to setup a one-game showdown with Alabama for the division title.
The all-time series between Auburn and Georgia is tied at 54 with eight ties. The Bulldogs have won six out of the last seven in this series. The Tigers’ last victory against Georgia was in 2010. The last two matchups between these two teams have been a one-sided affair in favor of the Bulldogs (83-7).
Georgia at Auburn
Kickoff: 3:30 ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Auburn -3
Three Things to Watch
Auburn’s rushing offense vs. Georgia’s rush defense
Auburn’s rushing attack is averaging 278.5 yards per game and has recorded over 400 yards in two out of the last three contests. The Tigers barely used the forward pass in wins over Arkansas and Tennessee, combining for just 16 attempts in those two games. Can that continue on Saturday? Auburn likely needs more balance to beat Georgia, especially since the Bulldogs rank fourth in SEC-only games against the run, limiting opponents to 149.7 yards per contest. Georgia has allowed 15 touchdowns in six SEC games but is holding opponents to just 3.9 yards per carry. Running back Tre Mason leads the Tigers with 1,038 yards and 16 touchdowns. But the Auburn backfield isn’t a one-man show, with quarterback Nick Marshall (7.1 ypc), and running backs Cameron Artis-Payne (6.6 ypc) and Corey Grant (10.1 ypc) expected to get involved. Expect the Bulldogs to stack the box and force the Tigers out of their gameplan.
Aaron Murray’s supporting cast
A key element in Georgia’s losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt were the rash of injuries on offense. Over the last few weeks, the Bulldogs’ injury report has shortened, and quarterback Aaron Murray has a few more weapons at his disposal. Running back Todd Gurley is one of the best in the nation when healthy, and the sophomore has rushed for 175 yards on 30 attempts in his last two games. After a light workload against Appalachian State, Gurley should be closer to full strength. Gurley’s return is huge for an offense that is still shorthanded at receiver, but Michael Bennett is back, and receivers Chris Conley and tight end Arthur Lynch are likely to be gametime decisions. Assuming Conley and Lynch can play, the Bulldogs will have a solid group of options for Murray. However, if Conley and Lynch are limited in any way, Auburn’s defense can shade more of its attention in the secondary on Bennett.
Auburn QB Nick Marshall
In his first year as Auburn’s starting quarterback, Marshall hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s the perfect fit to run Gus Malzahn’s offense. Marshall is only averaging 139 passing yards in SEC games and has tossed five picks to six interceptions. However, the junior has been dynamic on the ground, averaging 7.2 yards per carry in conference play. Marshall only completed three passes against Tennessee, but he rushed for 214 yards and two touchdowns on 14 attempts. In Auburn’s only loss this year, Marshall threw 33 times and tossed two picks. The Tigers are clearly at their best on offense when the ground attack is able to lead the way. If Auburn falls behind, can Marshall pass the offense back into the game?
Key Player: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
It’s a small sample size, but Georgia is 4-0 this season when Gurley rushes for at least 73 yards this year. Even if Gurley may not be 100 percent, his presence is a huge boost for the Bulldogs. The sophomore helps provide balance, and caught a 73-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Murray against Florida. In six conference games, Auburn is allowing an average of 189.2 rushing yards per game. Gurley should be able to find space against the Tigers’ defense, and the Bulldogs should plan to give their sophomore back 25-30 carries.
Week 12 isn’t full of elite matchups, but Auburn-Georgia should be one of the best this Saturday. Both teams have a lot on the line, and with the firepower on the sidelines, a high-scoring affair should be expected. Auburn’s rushing offense has been on fire the last few weeks, but quarterback Nick Marshall will have to throw more for the Tigers to win on Saturday. This one is a tossup, with home-field advantage giving Auburn a slight edge.
Prediction: Auburn 34, Georgia 31
Stanford is fresh off one of the program's biggest wins in recent memory as they defeated the No. 2 Oregon Ducks 26-20. Despite the score, the game wasn't very close, as the Cardinal dominated the double-digit favorites from the opening whistle. Stanford piled up 274 rushing yards while holding Heisman frontrunner Marcus Mariota to 250 yards passing and -16 yards rushing. Meanwhile, USC has quietly played back into top 25 consideration as they are 4-1 under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, having reeled off three straight victories by an average margin of victory of 22.3 points. In the last three seasons, the Stanford-USC matchup has been among the most competitive in the Pac-12. The Cardinal won all three games, though they failed to defeat the Trojans by more than one score. The last time the two programs met at the Coliseum was in 2011, when the game was decided by a USC fumble in the endzone in triple overtime. This is the 92nd overall meeting between these two early members of what was once the Pacific Coast Conference. USC holds a 59-29-3 record over Stanford since they began playing in 1905.
Three Things to Watch
Tre Madden & Company
The Trojans boast a four-headed monster of Madden, Justin Davis, Javorius Allen and Silas Redd. Madden leads the team with 671 rushing yards and four receiving touchdowns. Allen leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns and averages a team-best 7.9 yards per rush. Allen has been serving as the featured back as of late, as he 268 yards on 22 carries with five touchdowns in the Trojans' last two games at Oregon State and California. Davis is no slouch either, with six rushing touchdowns on 6.8 yards a touch. The four backs average a staggering 5.8 yards per carry and account for 70 percent of all USC touchdowns. It's unlikely the Trojans will be able to put up those types of numbers against the stingy, aggressive Stanford defense led by linebacker Shayne Skov. The Cardinal allow a conference-low 98.7 rushing yards per game and held Oregon to 62 rushing yards, which marks the Ducks' lowest total on the ground since September 2009.
Stanford Power Run vs. USC Front Seven
Last week, the Cardinal rushed the ball 66 times for 274 yards. In the fourth quarter, Stanford didn't attempt a single pass and actually ended the game with 21 straight rushing attempts. The Cardinal is unquestionably the best team in the nation at controlling the clock. Against Oregon, they had scoring drives of 5:59, 4:58, 8:26, 7:33, 4:27 and a 7:59 drive that ended in a blocked field goal. All in all, Stanford controlled the ball for 42 of the 60 minutes thanks to two 21-play drives, a 14-play drive, a 12-play drive and two 8-play drives. If the Stanford offensive line is able to push around the USC defense line like they did with Oregon, then expect much of the same from the Cardinal this week. Tyler Gaffney, the undisputed bell-cow of the Cardinal offense, had 45 rushing attempts versus Oregon, breaking the Stanford record for rushes in a single game. The previous record was 39 by Tommy Vardell in 1991 versus California. The senior is third in the Pac-12 with 1,043 yards while averaging 4.9 per carry with 14 total touchdowns. He's reached the end zone seven times in the past four games, including a 2-yard plunge against Oregon. USC has been successful in past years against Stanford due to its strong core of defense lineman. While their defensive front isn't as deep this year, defensive lineman Leonard Williams and outside linebacker Devon Kennard lead a Trojan defense that hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown since September and is capable of causing some trouble for Stanford's offensive line. Still, Stanford is one of the most physical teams in college football, boasting a deep and stout offensive line.
Hogan vs. Kessler
Both quarterbacks have benefitted from the success of their respective running games, as neither signal caller has been asked to do too much the past few weeks. Kessler attempted just 17 passes last week, while Hogan dropped back a mere 13 times. Still, both have played efficient, smart football. While neither has thrown for 300 yards in any one game, each is completing over 60 percent of their passes and have at least a 2 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio. Hogan will look to wide receiver Ty Montgomery early and often, as the junior wideout has caught 35 percent of Hogan's completions. In fact, nobody else on the Stanford offense has more than 21 receptions. Meanwhile, Kessler has been much better about spreading the ball around. Kessler looks deep to either one of his two dynamic receivers in Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, while making smart check-downs to his halfbacks. In fact, Kessler has thrown six touchdowns to running backs, while still having two receivers with multiple 60+ yard touchdown receptions. When the running game stalls, whatever quarterbacks steps up and makes a few plays with his arm will walk out of the Coliseum with a big conference win.
Key Player: Nelson Agholor, WR/PR, USC
Agholor had two of USC's NCAA-record tying three punt returns for touchdowns as he started the scoring for the Trojans with a 75-yard return and added a 93-yarder late in the second quarter. Agholor has always been an explosive weapon in the passing game as he averages 18 yards per catch and has 11 receptions of 30+ yards. Against a team like Stanford who rarely makes mistakes, the mercurial Agholor becomes an x-factor for his ability to turn the momentum of a game at a moment's notice.
While many are quick to point at that Stanford could come out flat after such a big win last week, let's remember that David Shaw led this team a Pac-12 crown and a Rose Bowl win after upsetting Oregon a season ago. Last season's squad, which returns essentially the same core group of players, followed up their big win over the Ducks by going into Los Angeles and taking down a good UCLA Bruins team 35-17. Expect both teams to come into this game playing with a sense of purpose and passion. With a win, Stanford can all but lock up the Pac-12 North title. USC is still smarting for painful losses to Stanford the pass three seasons, and the Trojans still have a chance at winning the Pac-12 South if they win out and Arizona State drops two of its final three games. These games are always close, so I don't expect the Cardinal to run away with this one. Ultimately, I think Stanford is too reliable and fundamentally sound to experience a major letdown at this point in the season.
Prediction: Stanford 30, USC 21
Will Muschamp and the 4-5 Florida Gators travel to Columbia to take on Steve Spurrier and 7-2 No. 11 South Carolina Gamecocks in an SEC East showdown at 7:00 pm ET on ESPN2. Suffice to say, this season hasn't gone as Florida fans planned. The Gators are currently in the midst of a four-game losing streak, fresh off back-to-back home losses. Things came to a head last week after an ugly 34-17 home loss to SEC East perennial basement-dweller Vanderbilt. While head coach Will Muschamp's seat is getting much warmer, all indications is that the seven season-ending injuries to starters that the team has endured will be taken into account, and he will likely return next year. However, the Gators need to win two of their final three games to qualify for a bowl game. The last time Florida missed a bowl was South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's debut season at his alma mater. While the Gators finished 6-1 in the league they were ineligible for the postseason and SEC title. With their season finale against second-ranked Florida State, this game will likely determine whether Florida will see the postseason. South Carolina, on the other hand, is still within reach of overtaking SEC East leader Missouri as they sit just a half game back. If the Gamecocks win and the Tigers fail to win their final two games, the Gamecocks will head to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. A lot is on the line for both programs in what will be each team's SEC finale in 2013. The Gamecocks have won 15 straight at Williams-Brice Stadium, but Florida has won 19 of the past 22 games with South Carolina and owns the all-time series lead 24-6-3.
Three Things to Watch
QB Connor Shaw vs. Florida defense
Connor Shaw is 23-5 as South Carolina's starting quarterback, one victory away from tying Todd Ellis for the school's wins record. The senior signal caller has turned in a stellar campaign posting 18 touchdown passes against just one interception. Shaw is also the Gamecocks second leading rusher with 484 yards and three TDs. He faces his stiffest defense of the year as the Gators lead the SEC in overall defense, while they boast of a conference rank of first in passing defense and second in rushing defense. After losing defensive lineman Dominique Easley for the season a few weeks ago, the Gators will be without linebacker Antonio Morrison, who was ruled out for the season earlier this week with a knee injury. Despite the numerous injuries, Florida still ranks 15th in the country in points allowed, giving up 19.3 per game. It is worth noting that the Gators have yet to face a dual-threat quarterback this year, much less one of Shaw's talent.
Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy has flashed big-play potential at points this season in completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 1,216 yards and six touchdowns. His problem? Turnovers. He has thrown five interceptions and fumbled three times. He threw a season-high three interceptions and four total turnovers against Vanderbilt. Will Muschamp preaches winning the turnover battle. In going 11-2 last season, the Gators were plus-15 with 30 takeaways. After last week, Florida is now at minus-2, with just 15 takeaways. Additionally, its defense's streak of 19 straight games with forcing a turnover came to an end. On the other end of the spectrum, Shaw has only thrown one interception. To be fair, Shaw has four fumbles and halfback Mike Davis has put the ball on the turf three times. A South Carolina defense that has disappointed this year has only produced 16 turnovers, including five they forced two weeks ago against Mississippi State. The Gamecocks have been on the wrong side of the turnover differential in five of their nine games and are 3-2 in such games.
SEC's Leading Rusher
Running back Mike Davis became the Gamecocks first 1,000-yard rusher in three years in the last game against Mississippi State and has his sights set on the 1,149 yards that Marcus Lattimore gained as a freshman in 2010. Davis leads the SEC in rushing with 1,058 yards and has gone over 100 yards rushing in seven of his nine games. While Florida's rush defense has been impressive this season, it didn't look very strong in the red zone last week, as they allowed Vanderbilt to punch in three rushing touchdowns at the goal line.
Player to Watch: Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Taylor's emergence is one of the few positives that have come from the health problems in Gainesville. After the season-ending injury to Matt Jones, Taylor became the team's premier back. He received his first career start two weeks ago against Georgia, rushing for 76 yards on 20 carries, before his two-touchdown performance last week. Taylor is the centerpiece of the ground-heavy attack utilized by Muschamp and will be even more important if Murphy is out. For the Gators to be able to move the ball, Taylor will have to control the clock and grind on a South Carolina defense, which has shown to be vulnerable against the power run.
Injuries have destroyed Florida's mojo and with Tyler Murphy unlikely to play, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the Florida offense can put up more than 20 points on Saturday. The Gators haven't missed out on a bowl game in 23 years and haven't had a losing season in 27 years. This will be the year both of those streaks will be broken. The Gamecocks will roll at home behind Shaw and Davis.
Prediction: South Carolina 35, Florida 17
Locks of the Week
These two are division showdowns featuring the AFC West’s “haves” and the NFC South’s “have nots.”
Patriots (+2.5) at Panthers
Cam Newton loves the spotlight and Charlotte will be abuzz Monday night, but Bill Belichick has a 10–3 record in New England in games the week following a bye.
Broncos (-8) vs. Chiefs
Kansas City has not allowed more than 17 points in any game this season, while Denver is averaging 41.2 points per game with a season-low of “only” 28 points.
Falcons (-1) at Buccaneers
The Schiano men have a lame duck coach and staph-infected locker room; one win seems like more than enough for this year’s crop of Pewter Pirates.
Continue to bet against Jacksonville — despite its shocking win last week at Tennessee — and bet on Seattle at home.
Seahawks (-12.5) vs. Vikings
Russell Wilson is a perfect 12–0 at home, having outscored opponents by a 364–152 margin (121–57 this season; 243–95 last season).
Cardinals (-8) at Jaguars
Jacksonville has not won back-to-back games — which it will attempt to do this week — since Dec. 12, 2010, when the Jags beat the Titans and Raiders.
Straight Up Upsets
A pair of road warrior clubs will take their best shots in harsh weather cities against backup quarterbacks in what could be sloppy games.
Ravens (+3) at Bears
Baltimore won three games away from home en route to winning the Super Bowl but is just 1–4 on the road this season.
Jets (+1) at Bills
The last time these two AFC East rivals went toe-to-toe they combined for 27 penalties and 255 lost yards.
Stay away from these games unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action on all the action.
Texans (-7) vs. Raiders
Seems like an awfully big number to give a Houston team with more problems than Apollo 13.
Bengals (-6) vs. Browns
Cleveland shocked the world with a 17–6 win over Cincinnati in the Buckeye Bowl in Week 4.
Giants (-5) vs. Packers
Eli Manning should be able to beat this Aaron Rodgers-less team. Eli should be able to do better than 11 TDs and 16 INTs.
Eagles (-4.5) vs. Redskins
The spread option offense showdown pits Chip Kelly against Mike Shanahan in an ego clash of the NFC East’s most-hyped teams.
Saints (-3) vs. 49ers
Turn out the lights, San Fran will be in N’Awlins for the first time since the power outage of Super Bowl XLVII.
Lions (-2.5) at Steelers
This bizarro Rust Belt pits the traditional losers from Detroit against the Super Bowl contenders from Pittsburgh. But in reverse order.
Chargers (-1.5) at Dolphins
With such beautiful women and weather in both cities, who cares about the NFL? Let’s go to the beach.
1. Face the facts: Cup championship is Johnson’s to lose
There’s a good share of NASCAR fans who probably aren’t too happy with what’s coming Sunday afternoon with the sport’s five-time champion, Jimmie Johnson, on the verge of making it six — all in a span of nine years.
Even if Matt Kenseth, Johnson’s closest competitor, can win Sunday’s race by leading every lap, the No. 48 car needs to finish just 23rd.
Of course this is NASCAR, and these are races conducted with machines that have thousands of critical, moving parts that ca fail and human drivers who can make a mistake. Johnson could lose a tire and smack the wall on the first lap, opening the door for Kenseth to capitalize. Even Kevin Harvick, at third in the standings, can’t be ruled out.
History, though, is on Johnson’s side. Each of the four times he’s entered the Homestead season finale with the series points lead (2006-09) he’s held serve and scored the title. Johnson came from behind at Homestead to win his fifth title in 2010 over Denny Hamlin.
Making matters worse for the competition is that Johnson will use the same chassis that dominated at Texas Motor Speedway, won at Dover and led more than 100 laps in Charlotte before a third-place finish.
Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 team. have a long hill to climb. It’s a good bet to think Johnson will make that ascent unscalable.
2. France’s open letter misses on safetyNASCAR CEO Brian France opted to forego his seemingly annual “state of the sport” style address and press conference in Homestead ahead of Sunday’s season finale, and instead authored an open letter directed to NASCAR fans on the sport’s website.
The letter largely focused on France’s version of the sport’s successes over the past season — the Gen-6 car, Darrell Wallace Jr.’s win and the new tracks visited by the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series in 2013 got the most play — and offered broad (and accurate) strokes about where he thinks the sport still needs to improve.
“We want more excitement, more passing, more drama,” France wrote. “We want to give (the fans) more reasons to go to the racetrack and continue to follow our sport week after week. Rest assured that we as an industry are working hard to accomplish this goal.”
However, France’s letter completely missed the issue still brewing underneath the surface of the sport: track safety.
There’s no doubt that the safety devices implemented post-Earnhardt and in the CoT platform have been a rousing success. The low numbers of driver injuries and zero fatalities in the 12 years since Earnhardt’s 2001 death have shown that.
But 2013 featured Kyle Larson’s brutally scary fence-shearing crash at Daytona that injured more than 30 spectators. It also had an incident that ruined a potential championship bid for Denny Hamlin when he crashed into an unprotected wall at Auto Club Speedway in the spring.
Both incidents exposed the sport’s most pressing safety concerns, but neither one produced a sense of urgency for correction from the sport’s leaders.
That lack of priority — both in the incident aftermath and now in France’s proverbial season wrap-up — is disconcerting. We can only hope a meeting with the media will be on the agenda for France in Las Vegas, where he can address such issues, when the sport holds its annual post-season banquet.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has put together an outstanding Chase That Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t won in 2013 will remain the first criticism both his fans and detractors will latch on to should he fail to reach victory lane Sunday night. And while that is a disappointment of Earnhardt’s 2013 campaign, it’s important to realize how good the No. 88 has been for much of the year and in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Earnhardt tied a career-high for top-10 finishes in a season (21) with a fourth-place finish at Phoenix last week and sits just one top-5 finish from his highwater mark of 10 in a season with Hendrick Motorsports.
His Chase performance has been a big improvement on his regular season results — even with a blown engine at Chicagoland Speedway that ruined his title hopes in Week 1 of the 10-race stretch. Earnhardt has averaged a finish of 9.1 during the Chase, and if the Chicago result is excluded his average finish drops to a very competitive 5.9.
In the regular season, Earnhardt averaged a finish of 14.2. Comparatively, teammate Jimmie Johnson has averaged a finish of 4.6 in the Chase.
Earnhardt has been good enough to win often in 2013, and without some key mechanical failures likely would have rolled to victory lane. Still, his improved results bode well for the No. 88 team going in to 2014.
4. Last NASCAR go-round for Jeff Burton, Mark Martin?
Mark Martin seems to be a bit gun shy.
The 54-year-old all but confirmed last weekend at Phoenix that he’ll be stepping away from the competitive driver’s seat in NASCAR after Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But he seemed to stop short of calling it a retirement.
Blame that on his first “retirement” from the sport back in 2005, when a marketing approach that he wasn’t really on-board with was crafted around his planned-for final season at Roush Fenway Racing. He wound up returning the next year, and has taken criticism from fans ever since.
Martin has no confirmed rides in 2014, and plans to do some work with Stewart-Haas Racing as a test driver while Tony Stewart continues to recuperate and potentially serve as a mentor to Danica Patrick.
It’s somewhat a strange bit of fate, too, that Martin’s former Roush teammate Jeff Burton seems to be heading beyond the driver’s seat at the same time. Burton, of course, announced earlier this fall that he’s stepping out of the No. 31 at Richard Childress Racing after he was unable to commit to longer than one year in the ride.
He currently has no spot lined up for 2014, though rumors of a part-time role in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 56 car continue to swirl.
NASCAR’s driver roster is forever in a state of change, a fact not lost on Burton and Martin. Still, it’ll be a bit jarring come February if both are watching the Daytona 500 from the sidelines.
5. Nationwide Series may go to a winless driverKyle Busch has won 12 races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year in just 25 starts. If he were eligible for points — he’s not, due to NASCAR rules permitting drivers to accumulate points in just one series — Busch would stand eighth in the series standings despite missing seven of the 32 races.
Meanwhile, point leader Austin Dillon enters Saturday’s season finale with an eight-point cushion on second-place Sam Hornish Jr. Should Dillon hold on to the advantage and claim his first series title without winning Saturday’s race, NASCAR would have its first series champion without a race win ever. In any series.
That’s indicative of a problem, but not necessarily a travesty for the sport. It just continues the dereliction of the Nationwide Series’ importance and stature to fans.
For years, the sport has wrestled with Cup drivers dominating the support series events. Event promoters like the fact that they can sell the sport’s best drivers racing in an event that requires a smaller sanctioning fee. Drivers like cashing in with extra money and trophies.
What’s the answer? If I had my way, I’d stack the deck against Cup drivers but still allow them to compete. Force Cup drivers to qualify on time for all Nationwide Series events, but send them to the rear during the pace laps.
It’d improve the show and make winning Nationwide events tougher for the more experienced and often better equipped Cup drivers. And hey, the 2014 Nationwide champ may actually have a checkered flag to hang up.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 15.
• Yesterday was the Day of the Colombian Woman, and I was out of town and missed it. To atone, here's a slideshow of beautiful Colombian women, including the wondrous Sofia Vergara (pictured).
• Where's the love for Chiefs-Broncos? It's only the biggest regular-season game of the year. At least one woman appreciates the enormity of the matchup, though; she sold her wedding ring for tickets.
• A Colts fan broke out the moves behind a Titans cheerleader. Check out his embarrassed companion in the VY/Locker jersey.
• Erik Walden got his money's worth: He ripped Delanie Walker's helmet off, then head-butted him. Gotta hand it to him; a head-butt is kinda useless if the helmet is still on.
• Barry Switzer prematurely tweeted his congratulations to Bob Stoops for tying his record against Iowa State. This coming weekend. Bulletin board fodder, but he's probably right.
• Melo almost pulled off a miracle last night, but the best part was the reaction from the Knicks fans.
• The SEC never fails to deliver, but here are five matchups we wish we'd seen in 2013.
• Toronto mayor Rob Ford is the gift that keeps on giving. Gotta feel for the missus, though. Enjoy this inevitable Ford/Chris Farley mash-up.
• The Harlem Globetrotters have been in the news a lot lately. A few days after one ripped down a goal, here's another Trotter making the Guiness Book of World Records.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The Jacksonville Jaguars are 1-8 this season, tied with Tampa Bay for the worst record in the NFL. The only thing Jaguars fans really have to look forward to at this point is next season, and whatever the future holds for this struggling franchise, one important decision will have to be made.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew will be a free agent after this season. A second-round pick (60th overall) in the 2006 NFL Draft, Jones-Drew has 7,700 rushing yards in eight seasons. The league's leading rusher in 2011 with 1,606 yards, injuries limited MJD to just six games last season and he has struggled with his production so far (432 yards in nine games) this season. That said, he will won't turn 29 until next March and figures to draw plenty of interest from other teams looking to add a three-time Pro Bowler to their roster. Should Jacksonville make Jones-Drew an offer he can't refuse to keep him in a Jaguars uniform long term or should the team bid the franchise's all-time No. 2 rusher a fond farewell? Athlon editors Mark Ross and Nathan Rush offer their thoughts on the future of the diminutive running back.
Lest we forget, it wasn't too long ago that Maurice Jones-Drew was one of the NFL's most productive running backs. In 2011, the bowling ball known as MJD led the entire league in rushing with 1,606 yards. A serious foot injury derailed him the following season, and it's not out of the question to say it's still bothering him. However, the real issue for Jacksonville's running game is its offensive line. According to ProFootballFocus.com the Jaguars' O-line is the worst in the NFL when it comes to run blocking. Certainly losing left tackle Luke Joeckel, the second overall pick of April's draft, to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5 doesn't help, but it also sheds some light on what the Jags' main problem is — an overall lack of talent throughout the roster. Jones-Drew is a proven All-Pro-caliber running back who is still less than 30 years old and, in my opinion, has plenty of tread (career average of 214 carries per season) left on his tires. He certainly won't be cheap to re-sign, but money shouldn't be an issue in this instance, especially for billionaire owner Shahid Khan. Besides, who else can you expect the fans to come out and watch. Blaine Gabbert?
— Mark Ross
Re-sign Maurice Jones-Drew? The Jags should've traded him last year or two years ago when he still had some gas in the tank. Mojo's only wasting away in J-Ville. His value to the Jaguars is maximized as a trade asset and minimized as a player for such a pitiful team. Unfortunately, the running back trade market is nonexistent for anyone not named Trent Richardson. MJD has a lengthy injury history and plenty of wear on his tires. His best days were as Fred Taylor's tag team duo partner back when Jack Del Rio was coaching and Jacksonville was a playoff contender. Those days are long gone and Jones-Drew should be too. There's absolutely no reason for the Jags to re-sign their highest profile player.
— Nathan Rush
Like it or not, Las Vegas rarely gets it wrong, so tracking betting lines should always be a big part of each football weekend — even if there are no bets on the line. The Texas Longhorns made me sweat last week but salvaged a .500 record for me with a tremendous fourth quarter and overtime (thanks). Mizzou I felt the best about and sure enough they crushed Kentucky. The Tigers might still be underrated despite all the big SEC wins thus far. BYU and Arizona State didn't help me much last weekend.
2013 Record Against the Spread: 33-25-1 (2-2 last week)
Week 12 Picks of the Week:
TCU (+10.5) at Kansas State
Few teams in the nation are playing better football than the Wildcats right now. Bill Snyder’s team has won three straight by outscoring its opponents 125-45 and is averaging more than 250 yards rushing over its last four games. TCU has scored more than 21 points only twice in its last six games and one of those (27) came against lowly Kansas. The Wildcats are 6-3 against the spread this year and TCU is a miserable 2-8. At home, this could get ugly. Prediction: Kansas State -10.5
Stanford (-3.5) at USC
Both teams play excellent defense, both teams can pressure the quarterback and both teams have elite-level talent. However, Stanford has eyes on the BCS national title and won’t be napping on a surging USC offense. The lack of depth will play a huge roll for the Trojans this weekend in what should be the most physical game of the season. Stanford's Kevin Hogan, Tyler Gaffney and a powerful offensive line shouldn’t have any issues moving the ball while USC's Cody Kessler will likely be running for his life much of the evening. Prediction: Stanford -3.5
Texas Tech (+27) vs. Baylor
The Red Raiders are reeling and the last thing they want to do is try to stop Baylor — neutral field or not. In AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Baylor will keep its BCS and Big 12 title hopes alive by abusing a team that is lacking in confidence and discipline. The Bears are 7-1 against the spread this year and Tech has given up 139 points in its last three games. There is nothing to indicate this team will be competitive against Art Briles — especially, without a true No. 1 starter at quarterback. Prediction: Baylor -27
Florida (-13.5) at South Carolina
Steve Spurrier’s alma mater is circling the drain right now and he would like nothing more than to bury his SEC East brethren. The Gators are coming off one of the worst home losses in school history, can’t score on offense and are on the road against a team with two weeks to prepare. Carolina has its sights set on Atlanta and posting a 6-2 SEC mark puts them in the lead in the clubhouse. The Gators are 3-6 against the number this season and are down to their third quarterback with Tyler Murphy out. Predictions: South Carolina -13.5
Kentucky (+12.5) at Vanderbilt
The Dores have owned Kentucky under head coach James Franklin, beating the Cats 78-8 over the last two seasons. Vandy is riding high after one of the most dominant defensive performances of the season in Gainesville last weekend. The Commodores have covered the spread in each of its last two games with SEC East opponents and should be able to shut down the Wildcats' offense. If Vanderbilt can get to 24 points, it should cover the spread easily — especially, with bowl eligibility on the line on Saturday. Prediction: Vanderbilt -12.5
Top 25 Picks Against the Spread:
Note: games with FCS opponents won't be included each week
|Top 25 Games||Mitch Light||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|No. 1 Alabama (-25.5) at Mississippi St|
|Syracuse (+38) at No. 2 Florida St|
|No. 3 Ohio St (-32) at Illinois|
|No. 4 Stanford (-3.5) at USC|
|Texas Tech (+27) at No. 5 Baylor|
|Utah (+26.5) at No. 6 Oregon|
|No. 25 Georgia (+4.5) at No. 7 Auburn|
|Florida (+13.5) at No. 10 South Carolina|
|No. 12 Oklahoma St (-3) at No. 24 Texas|
|Washington (+2.5) at No. 13 UCLA|
|No. 16 Michigan St (-6.5) at Nebraska|
|No. 17 UCF (-16.5) at Temple|
|Iowa St (+24.5) No. 18 Oklahoma|
|Oregon St (+13) at No. 19 Arizona St|
|Houston (+16) at No. 20 Louisville|
|Indiana (+23) at No. 22 Wisconsin|
|No. 23 Miami (-3) at Duke|
The Big Ten Legends Division title could be decided on Saturday, as Michigan State travels to Lincoln to play Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers have experienced an up and down 2013 season, starting with a 41-21 loss to UCLA. Nebraska rebounded with three consecutive victories but lost at Minnesota 34-23, which prompted more speculation about the future of coach Bo Pelini.
However, Pelini's team has rallied with back-to-back wins, including a 17-13 victory at Michigan last Saturday.
While Nebraska has been on a roller-coaster ride in 2013, Michigan State has flown under the radar for much of the season. The Spartans are 8-1, with the only defeat coming at Notre Dame.
Michigan State has dominated its last three opponents (Purdue, Illinois and Michigan) by a combined score of 85-9.
Nebraska and Michigan State have met seven times, with the Cornhuskers winning every matchup. These two teams have played only twice as Big Ten foes, with last year’s meeting decided by four points.
Michigan State at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan State -6.5
Three Things to Watch
Michigan State’s defensive line vs. Nebraska’s offensive line
Led by sophomore end Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State’s defensive line has been one of the best in the nation. The Spartans are holding opponents to just 227.4 yards per game in Big Ten contests and have allowed only six touchdowns in conference play. Each unit of the defense can be considered a strength, and the line is led by Calhoun and Marcus Rush at end, while Damon Knox and Micajah Reynolds help anchor the interior. Nebraska’s offensive line ranked as one of the best in the Big Ten this preseason, but the Cornhuskers lost guard Spencer Long early in the year due to injury. Mike Moudy has stepped into the lineup in place of Long, but there’s even more questions about the line in Week 12 due to injuries. Tackle Jeremiah Sirles is unlikely to play due to a sprained MCL, which means Zach Sterup is expected to start on the right side. Nebraska has allowed 10 of its 12 sacks in conference play, and Northwestern and Michigan held the Cornhuskers below four yards per carry. With Nebraska’s injuries and Michigan State’s pass rush (25 sacks in nine games), this is shaping up to be a mismatch in the trenches in favor of the Spartans.
Nebraska’s secondary vs. Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Michigan State seems to have found its quarterback in sophomore Connor Cook. After the Spartans failed to throw a touchdown pass in their first two games, Cook has tossed 13 over the last seven games. Although Cook has provided a spark for the passing attack, Nebraska will be the toughest secondary he has faced in 2013. The Cornhuskers have allowed just three passing touchdowns in Big Ten play, and opponents are completing just 48.5 percent of their passes. Senior cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste have combined to start 44 games in their careers, while safety Corey Cooper ranks second on the team with 60 tackles. Michigan State does not have a receiver over 30 catches, but three players have at least 24. The Spartans prefer to lean on their ground attack, so unless they get behind, Cook won’t throw 40 times on Saturday. This matchup favors the Cornhuskers, especially if end Randy Gregory continues to wreck havoc on opposing offensive lines. The junior has 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss this season, which figures to test a Michigan State offensive line that has allowed only four sacks in Big Ten play.
Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.
With Taylor Martinez sidelined indefinitely, Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III will get the nod at quarterback for Nebraska. Armstrong Jr. – a redshirt freshman – has yet to throw for over 200 yards in a game this season but was steady in the Cornhuskers’ 17-13 win over Michigan last week. Michigan State’s defense has intercepted 10 passes this season, which is a concern for the Nebraska coaching staff after Armstrong threw three against Northwestern. The Cornhuskers can’t rely on Armstrong to win this game on his arm, but the freshman’s mobility will be especially valuable when Michigan State’s pass rush collapses the pocket. Considering Nebraska’s defense has played well in its last two games, Armstrong has to limit his mistakes and keep his team in this game until the fourth quarter.
Key Player: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
With an inexperienced quarterback (Tommy Armstrong) starting against one of the Big Ten’s best defense, Nebraska’s offensive gameplan shouldn’t be too aggressive. Armstrong needs some early throws to get into the flow of the game, but the Cornhuskers have to find ways to get Abdullah involved. The junior leads the Big Ten with 149.6 yards per game in conference play and needs another 100-yard effort for Nebraska to earn the victory.
This series has been dominated by Nebraska, but Michigan State is the better team in 2013. Points could be at a premium, and in any close game, turnovers and special teams could play a huge role in the outcome. Michigan State’s defense has allowed only one opponent to score more than 20 points this season (Indiana), and coordinator Pat Narduzzi will throw several different looks at Armstrong. The Cornhuskers won’t ask Armstrong to win the game, but he will have to hit on a few throws early on to keep the Spartans from stacking the box against Abdullah. Nebraska gets this game to the fourth quarter, but the Spartans find just enough offense to win.
Prediction: Michigan State 27, Nebraska 20
The Heisman is but one award, and one award isn’t enough to contain the best of college football.
While we love prognosticating who will win college football’s most coveted individual trophy, we also love the glut of postseason awards that go to each position, each with a nod to the game’s history from Davey O’Brien and Doak Walker to Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe to Ray Guy and Lou Groza.
Everyone tracks the progress in the Heisman race, but Athlon Sports will try to keep an eye on who will take home college football’s positional awards.
Here’s our look at the “other” trophies through the ninth week of the season.
Davey O’Brien (Top quarterback)
Our leader: Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Winston remains in contention for major awards at the end of the season, including the Heisman. While his on-field performance is among the country’s best, the redshirt freshman was revealed this week to be the subject of a sexual battery allegation dating back to late 2012.
Others: Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama's AJ McCarron, Florida State’s Marcus Mariota, Baylor’s Bryce Petty
Doak Walker (Top running back)
Our leader: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey
Carey has rushed for at least 119 yards in every game this season, including a 28-carry, 149-yard mark against UCLA last week.
Others: Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews, South Carolina’s Mike Davis, Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Boston College’s Andre Williams.
Biletnikoff (Top wide receiver)
Our leader: Texas A&M’s Mike Evans
Evans continued to build on his lead for top receiver honors by catching five passes for 116 yards against Mississippi State. Evans is one of two receivers with 50 receptions averaging better 20 yards per catch.
Others: Fresno State’s Davante Adams, Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, Baylor’s Antwan Goodley, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, Penn State’s Allen Robinson
Mackey (Top tight end)
Our leader: Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro
Amaro still wins the Mackey Award on the Athlon ballot even though the award committee considers him a receiver by his 2012 classification.
Others: North Carolina’s Eric Ebron
Outland (Top interior lineman)
Our leader: Stanford’s David Yankey
The Cardinal’s grinding run game took control against Oregon last week as Stanford rushed for 274 yards on 66 carries behind Yankey and the Stanford line.
Others: Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Baylor’s Cyril Richardson
Nagurski/Bednarik (Defensive player of the year)
Our leader: Alabama’s C.J. Mosley
The leader of Alabama’s defense had perhaps his best game of the season with 12 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss and two pass breakups against LSU. Mosley’s 71 tackles is 33 more than anyone else on Alabama’s defense and leads the Tide with seven tackles for a loss.
Others: UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Missouri’s Michael Sam, Stanford’s Shayne Skov, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy
Lombardi Award (Top lineman or linebacker)
Our leader: Mosley
Others: UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Stanford’s Trent Murphy, Missouri’s Michael Sam, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, Stanford’s Shayne Skov, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy
Butkus (Top linebacker)
Our leader: Mosley
Others: UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, Stanford’s Trent Murphy, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, Stanford’s Shayne Skov, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy
Thorpe (Top defensive back)
Our leader: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard
Dennard had an interception and a forced fumble in Michigan State’s dominant defensive performance against Michigan. After an off week, Michigan State faces a Nebraska team without veteran quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Others: Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner
Lou Groza (Top kicker)
Our leader: Niklas Sade, NC State
Sade has converted 19 of 22 field goals this season, the second-highest rate for anyone who has attempted 20. Only one miss was less than 48 yards.
Others: Florida State’s Robert Aguayo, Texas Tech’s Ryan Bustin, Maryland’s Brad Craddock, Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez, Oklahoma’s Michael Hunnicutt
Ray Guy (Top punter)
Our leader: Miami’s Pat O’Donnell
O’Donnell leads the nation at 47.9 yards per kick as Miami is fourth nationally in net punting.
Others: Ole Miss’ Tyler Campbell, Miami (Ohio)‘s Zac Murphy, Tennessee’s Michael Palardy
Freshman of the year
Our leader: Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Winston is coming off a season-low 5.7 yards per attempt in the 59-3 rout of Wake Forest. The Seminoles freshman has five interceptions in his last four games and a new host of distractions.
Others: Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III, UCLA's Myles Jack
Coach of the year
Our leader: Baylor’s Art Briles
Baylor has only won one of its toughest four games down the stretch, but defeating Oklahoma, especially in a game where the offense started slow, signaled Baylor is as much of a national championship contender as Ohio State. Yes, that Baylor.
Others: Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Tulane’s Curtis Johnson, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, North Texas’ Dan McCarney, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel
Broyles Award (Top assistant)
Our leader: Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi
Narduzzi may have one of the best defenses of the BCS era with numbers that stack up with 2011 Alabama, 2008 TCU and 2008 USC. Michigan State pushed Michigan back for minus-48 yards rushing to improve its rush defense to 43.4 per game. Louisville is the only other team that averages fewer than 80 rushing yards per game.
Others: Baylor’s Phil Bennett, LSU’s Cam Cameron, Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt, Texas’ Greg Robinson, Alabama’s Kirby Smart
The SEC East has been Injury Central this season with season-ending injuries derailing seasons for teams like Florida and Georgia. Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky haven’t exactly dodged the injury bug, either.
That division isn’t alone, of course. It’s mid-November and plenty of teams sending players to the training room or worse, the operating room.
A quick look around players who have suffered season-ending injuries reveals a pretty darn good team.
Here are the top players fans won’t have the joy of watching for the remainder of the year.
Athlon Sports 2013 All-Injured Team
QB Chukie Keeton, Utah State (knee)
One of the most dynamic players in the Mountain West saw his season end on Oct. 5 with torn knee ligaments sustained against BYU. Keeton led Utah State to a WAC title last season and had accounted for 20 total touchdowns (18 passing, two rushing) in six games in 2013. The injury not only cuts into the star power of the MWC, but it could also have BCS implications with Fresno State facing Boise State or a Keeton-less Utah State in the conference title game.
Others: David Ash (Texas), Austyn Carta-Samuels (Vanderbilt), Jeff Driskel (Florida), Taylor Martinez (Nebraska), Bryn Renner (North Carolina)
RB Duke Johnson, Miami (ankle)
Miami’s ACC championship hopes weren’t ended with a 41-14 loss to Florida State, but Johnson’s broken right ankle made winning the Coastal much tougher. Johnson had rushed for 960 yards and six touchdowns through seven games. The Hurricanes lost their first game without Johnson 42-24 to Virginia Tech.
Others: Johnathan Gray (Texas), Matt Jones (Florida), Venric Mark (Northwestern), Keith Marshall (Georgia)
FB Trey Millard, Oklahoma (knee)
Millard, an All-Big 12 selection last season, was a do-it-all threat for Oklahoma. He could run, catch and line up in a handful of formations for the Sooners. In the second game without Millard, the Sooners mustered only one offensive touchdown in a 41-12 loss to Baylor.
WR Stefon Diggs, Maryland (leg)
The explosive sophomore receiver was supposed to be one of the key players to turn around the Terrapins this season, but those hopes were dashed after sustaining a broken right leg on Oct. 19. Making matters worse, second-leading receiver Deon Long also sustained a broken leg the same day. Diggs still had 236 more all-purpose yards than anyone else for Maryland.
WR Tevin Reese, Baylor (wrist)
One of Baylor’s two standout receivers, Reese sustained a dislocated wrist in the rout of Oklahoma on Thursday. Antwan Goodley is still leading the receiving corps, but Baylor, for all of its offensive production this season, does not have another receiver with 20 catches.
Others: Deon Long (Maryland), Malcolm Mitchell (Georgia), Justin Scott-Wesley (Georgia), Kasen Williams (Washington)
TE Evan Engram, Ole Miss (ankle)
A member of Ole Miss’ star-studded signing class, Engram saw his season end with an ankle injury on Oct. 19. Engram had caught 20 passes for 265 yards with three touchdowns.
Listen to Athlon Sports writers Braden Gall and David Fox discuss Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron in the Heisman race, where Stanford stands in the title race and make picks for Week 12 in this week's Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast.
A projected starter at left tackle, Davis was lost to a torn ACL before the season. The injury prompted a season-long shuffle on the Oklahoma State offensive line.
OL Chaz Green, Florida (shoulder)
A returning starter, Green was lost for the season due to a torn labrum. The Green injury, among others, cut into the depth of a suspect Gators offensive line.
OL Dan Feeney, Indiana (foot)
Feeney, a freshman All-American last season, was one of two starting linemen lost for Indiana the season, joining tackle Peyton Eckert.
OL Spencer Long, Nebraska (knee)
Nebraska lost its most experienced lineman on Oct. 15 when Long, a three-year starter at guard, suffered a season-ending knee injury.
OL Josh Williford, LSU
The veteran lineman’s career ended before the season started when he sustained his second concussion in a year during an August practice. Williford had started 19 games in his career and was slated to be a full-time starter at left guard.
Others: Kyle Lichtenberg (Iowa State), Ralph Oragwu (Houston)
DL Devonte Fields, TCU (foot)
The Big 12’s defensive freshman of the year started the season under a suspension and attempted to play through a foot injury when he returned. Fields, who had 10 sacks as a rookie, elected to have season-ending foot surgery on Oct. 9.
DL Dominique Easley, Florida (knee)
Easley was in the running for SEC Defensive Player of the Year before he suffered a torn ACL after three games. The junior elected to complete his eligibility and declare for the draft during his recovery.
DL Chris Whaley, Texas (knee)
Whaley had become one of the top defensive linemen for a Texas defense that had turned its fortunes since two early losses. He had five tackles for a loss and two defensive touchdowns when he was lost for the season to a knee injury last week.
DL Ben Gardner, Stanford (pectoral)
A scary thought for Oregon is that Stanford demolished the Ducks’ offense without one of its most experienced players. The fifth-year senior Gardner was lost for the season to a torn pectoral muscle sustained against Oregon State on Oct. 26.
Others: Kirby Ennis (Texas A&M), Junior Onyeali (Texas), Jordan Phillips (Arizona State)
LB Morgan Breslin, USC (hip)
One of the leaders on USC’s defense, Breslin was lost for at least the remainder of the regular season to a hip injury on Nov. 6. The defensive end/outside linebacker had eight tackles for a loss despite missing two games this season.
LB Jordan Hicks, Texas (Achilles)
Once considered the key player in Texas’ run defense, Hicks suffered a season-ending injury for the second time in two seasons.
LB Corey Nelson, Oklahoma (pectoral)
Nelson was the second-leading tackler on the top defense in the Big 12 when he suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle against TCU on Oct. 5.
Others: Michael Doctor (Oregon State), Luke Knott (Iowa State), Antonio Morrison (Florida)
DB Christian Bryant, Ohio State (ankle)
The Buckeyes veteran safety suffered a broken ankle on the second-to-last snap of Ohio State’s biggest win of the season against Wisconsin. Bryant was considered one of the top leaders on the Buckeyes’ defense.
DB Tyler Hunter, Florida State (neck)
Florida State has had one of the top defensive backfields in the country, largely without the services of the starting safety Hunter. The junior suffered a bulging disk Sept. 21 against Bethune-Cookman.
DB Dexter McDougle, Maryland (shoulder)
Maryland’s injury issues started early this season when starting cornerback McDougle suffered a season-ending shoulder injury after recording eight tackles and an interception against Connecticut on Sept. 12
DB Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama (knee)
Sunseri was off to a great start this season with two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the first two games of the season. Sunseri suffered torn knee ligaments against Arkansas on Oct. 19, opening the door for star sophomore Landon Collins.
Others: Stefan McClure (Cal)