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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for December 26.
• Soccer star Alex Morgan went to Hawaii for the holidays and donned a bikini. Fortunately, and not surprisingly, photgraphers were there to record the occasion.
• I know many of you aren't all that anxious to celebrate another title game appearance with entitled Bama fans, but this is pretty cool.
• ICYMI, Ed Reed and Bryant McKinnie ushered in the holidays with a memorable rendition of Silent Night.
• Merrill Hoge hates Tim Tebow. I think we knew this, but I'm not sure we knew the true level of disdain.
• Danilo Gallinari was serving knuckle sandwiches for Christmas dinner yesterday.
• While you were sleeping off your Christmas calories, Arizona's Nick Johnson had this sick game-saving block against San Diego State.
• Scottie Pippen portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge on stage to make a little girl's wish come true. Apparently, this is typecasting; waiters have been known to call him "No tippin' Pippen."
• Bowl season's already brought us a few clunkers, but nothing quite like this: The biggest blowouts in sports history.
• Gotta love R.A. Dickey letting his nerd flag fly. He tweeted out a picture of himself in a Star Wars onesie.
• Hulk Hogan is opening a restaurant that he describes as "Hooters times 10." Can't wait.
• In today's video, Santa shows his mad ups.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Only a few years ago, Western Kentucky was a highly successful Division I-AA program under Jack Harbaugh, father to NFL coaches Jim and John. Now, one of Jack Harbaugh’s top former players has taken the Hilltoppers to new heights.
Willie Taggart led Western Kentucky to its first bowl game in program history in only its fourth season as a full member of the Football Bowl Subdivision. In the grand scheme of things, four years separating an FBS debut and a bowl game is quick work, but it’s a year too late for Western Kentucky.
A year ago, the Hilltoppers were a bowl snub despite finishing 7-5 overall and 7-1 in the Sun Belt. Western Kentucky’s chip on its shoulder will be a key storyline in the the bowl against Central Michigan, especially with the momentum the hometown Chippewas bring to Detroit. Taggart won't be on the sideline for this game, as he left to be the new coach at South Florida.
While Western Kentucky lost three of its last four, Central Michigan is on a hot streak entering the bowl game by winning four of its last five and three in a row. The late-season rally landed Central Michigan in its fifth bowl game since 2006 but its first under Dan Enos, who went 6-12 in his first two seasons with the Chippewas.
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl - Central Michigan (6-6) vs. Western Kentucky (7-5)
Date and time: Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Detroit, Mich.
When Central Michigan has the ball:
Central Michigan has a veteran quarterback in Ryan Radcliff, but the Chippewas leaned on all-name team running back Zurlon Tipton late in the season. Tipton rushed for 956 yards and 14 touchdowns during the second half of the season. Creep up too much on Tipton, and Western Kentucky can expect Radcliff to test the Hilltoppers defense down the field. Receiver Titus Davis averaged 20 yards per catch (43 for 860 yards) with eight touchdowns but is suspended for the bowl game. Look for Cody Wilson to be Radcliff's top target against Western Kentucky.
Western Kentucky led the Sun Belt in total defense and placed 23rd nationally at 344.4 yards allowed per game, but the defense took a hit with a season-ending injury to defensive end Quanterus Smith. The 6-foot-5 defensive end led the nation in sacks but was lost for the season Nov. 17 to a torn ACL. Western Kentucky did not record a sack in its final game without Smith. Even without their star pass rusher, the Hilltopers still have a veteran-laden defense. First-team All-Sun Belt selection Andrew Jackson led the league in tackles, and free safety Jonathan Dowling led the league in interceptions (six).
When Western Kentucky has the ball:
Taggart, a disciple of multiple Harbaughs, preferred the power run game. In the 6-foot, 211-pound Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky has great foundation, regardless of who calls the plays in the bowl game. Andrews rushed for 468 yards in the final two games, propelling him to 1,609 yards for the year. He’s also a standout returner (12.8 yards per punt return, 28 yards per kickoff return). Central Michigan’s first task will be to limit the damage from the Hilltoppers’ back. Quarterback Kawaun Jakes can be mistake-prone with eight interceptions in his final six games, including three against FAU. But he has one of the nation’s most productive tight ends in Jack Doyle.
Central Michigan will be hard-pressed to beat Western Kentucky up front as the Chippewas were near the bottom of the MAC in sacks and tackles for a loss. The Chippewas gave up at least 200 rushing yards in five games this season. If Western Kentucky goes to the air, Central Michigan safety Jahleel Addae has been a capable ball hawk with four interceptions in the final six games, including one in each of the last two.
Central Michigan’s finish should be greeted with skepticism. The Chippewas defeated four opponents whose combined record was 8-40, and all of their six losses came by at least 11 points. Behind Andrews, Western Kentucky should be able to run the ball on the Chippewas’ defense, which could be bad news for the local team.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 35, Central Michigan 14
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Two teams that posted impressive turnarounds in the win column this season meet for the first time ever as either San Jose State or Bowling Green will get to unwrap one late Christmas gift – a season-ending victory. The Spartans will be looking to cap their best season since 1987, but will have to do so without Mike MacIntyre, who left on Dec. 10 to become the head coach at Colorado. The Spartans rank top 30 nationally in four major team statistics, and their only two losses have come by three points to Pac-12 champion and Rose Bowl-bound Stanford and a 10-win Utah State team.
Bowling Green is playing in its second bowl game in four years under head coach Dave Clawson thanks in large part to a defense that’s ranked among the top 14 in the nation in the four major categories. With a victory over the Spartans, the Falcons would claim both their first nine-win season and bowl win since 2004.
Both of these teams went 5-7 last season, meaning they have already combined to win five more games in 2012 than they did collectively in 2011.
Military Bowl – Presented by Northrop Grumman – San Jose State (10-2) vs. Bowling Green (8-4)
Date and Time: Dec. 27 at 3 p.m. ET
Location: Washington, D.C.
When the San Jose State Spartans have the ball:
The Spartans are No. 30 in the nation in total offense, but the bulk of their damage is done through the air. They are averaging more than 327 yards passing per game as junior David Fales has impressed in his first season as a starter.
Fales is seventh in the FBS in passing yards with 3,798 and his 31 touchdown passes are tied for eighth. Better still, he has thrown just nine interceptions in 408 pass attempts, placing him third nationally in passing efficiency. Wide receivers Noel Grigsby, Jabari Carr and Chandler Jones have combined to catch 176 passes for 2,380 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Grigsby is the team’s leading receiver (79-1,173-9), while tight end Ryan Otten also has done his part with 44 catches for 706 yards and four scores. Both Grigsby and Otten earned first-team All-Western Athletic Conference (WAC) honors this season.
San Jose State ranks near the bottom (102nd) in rushing offense at less than 125 yards per game, but does have a productive option in senior De’Leon Eskridge. The Minnesota transfer has rushed for 992 yards this season, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and has scored 10 touchdowns.
Bowling Green’s defense is seventh in the nation in total defense (289.7 ypg) and pass defense (173 ypg), ninth in scoring defense (15.8 ppg) and sacks (3.1 spg), and 14th in rushing defense (116.7 ypg). The Falcons held five opponents to 10 points or fewer and only gave up more than 27 twice. The defense is led by senior tackle Chris Jones, the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Defensive Player of the Year. Jones is tied for fourth in the nation with 12.5 sacks and he also has posted 19 tackles for loss. San Jose State’s passing offense versus Bowling Green’s pass defense will be one of the matchups to watch.
When the Bowling Green Falcons have the ball:
The Falcons have had trouble this season producing a consistent offensive attack and putting points on the scoreboard. They rank 85th in total offense with 373.9 yards per game and 91st in scoring offense at 23.1 points per contest.
The running game, led by Anthon Samuel, has fared a little better than the passing game for Bowling Green. The sophomore back has had to deal with some minor injuries, but he’s still been productive, as he’s already eclipsed his rushing yard (966) and touchdown (11) totals this season compared to his 2011 MAC Freshman of the Year campaign.
Unlike Samuel, however, junior quarterback Matt Schilz has taken a step back in his production. Last season Schilz threw for 3,024 yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. This season, Schilz has passed for only 2,426 yards, 14 scores and 12 picks, while also seeing his completion percentage fall from 59.5 to 56.1.
Not surprisingly, no Falcons receiver has more than 47 receptions, 647 yards or six touchdowns this season. Those numbers belong to freshman Chris Gallon, who has come on strong over his last three games.
San Jose State’s defense is top 30 nationally in terms of total yards (351.4, 28th), points (21.4, 25th) and rushing yards (123.7, 19th) allowed, as well as sacks (3.3, 5th). They are only 52nd in passing defense, but the 227.8 yards the Spartans give up through the air per game is still more than the 216.5 the Falcons gain on average per contest via the pass, so don’t expect Bowling Green to exploit this weakness, if you will. Just like the Falcons, the Spartans are led on defense by an all-conference honoree. Senior defensive lineman Travis Johnson took home WAC Defensive Player of the Year honors this season after leading the conference in both sacks (12) and tackles for loss (19). Besides being seventh in the nation in sacks, Johnson also became the WAC’s all-time leader in the category this season with his 31 career quarterback takedowns.
San Jose State may be without Mike MacIntyre, the head coach that led them to its first 10-win season in 25 years, but this is a senior-laden team that wants to finish on a winning note. The Spartans have won six in a row with the closest victory being a six-point margin over BYU. Bowling Green has put together an impressive campaign of its own, which would not have been possible without the huge contributions of its defense. However, the Falcons’ inability to put long drives together and points on the scoreboard catches up to them in our nation’s capital against the Spartans. Even with interim coach Kent Baer calling the shots in place of MacIntyre, San Jose State tacks one more in the win column by controlling both sides of the ball and wearing down the Bowling Green defense in the second half.
Prediction: San Jose State 27, Bowling Green 17
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Self-proclaimed Star Wars nerd and knuckleball pitching sensation R.A. Dickey tweeted out a picture of his favorite Christmas present yesterday. The picture (as seen below) included the tweet: "Maybe my favorite gift all year. Thank you Lucas Film."
Maybe my favorite gift all year. Thank you Lucas Film. twitter.com/RADickey43/sta…— R.A. Dickey (@RADickey43) December 26, 2012
With the holiday season upon us, we started thinking: If Santa can make a list, why can’t Athlon? So we asked dozens of athletes, agents, coaches, journalists and other experts to identify the nicest athletes in sports today. Here’s our roster:
With 347 Division I teams, following college basketball can be overwhelming. Let Athlon Sports start your college hoops week each Monday with a look at some of the most intriguing, most important and most interesting stats from around the sport:
15-for-15: Khalif Wyatt from the free throw line against Syracuse
The biggest win of the weekend came from Temple over undefeated No. 3 Syracuse in the World's Most Famous Arena. The crowd at Madison Square Garden watched the Owls outlast the Orange down the stretch with clutch free throw shooting. Wyatt was the game's top scorer with 33 points, with 15 of those coming from the free-throw line. He didn't miss a freebie all game, including 6-for-6 in the final 56 seconds. The win marked the fifth consecutive season in which Temple has defeated a top-10 team.
25: Career-high points by Derrick Nix in the win over Texas
Michigan State's senior center was the star of the show in Saturday's win over feisty Texas. He scored career-high 25 points on 7-of-10 shooting. He also added 11 rebounds and providing four steals. How much was this game a departure from Nix's career production? This was his 13th game of the season, and he had scored in double figures just twice with a high of 11 against mighty Tuskegee. In 116 career games for Michigan State, he had scored in double figures 16 times before going off against the 'Horns. He averaged 7.5 points per game for the year before the offensive explosion. As a side note, the biggest news of the hoops weekend came when the NCAA announced a 23-game suspension for Texas guard Myck Kabongo. The suspension was reduced from a season-long ban only after the Longhorns appealed. He will return Feb. 13 against Iowa State, giving him eight regular season games of conference play and plenty of time to earn key wins for the Longhorns. In addition to the Cyclones, Texas will play NCAA Tournament contenders Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor after Kabongo's return.
5: Unbeaten teams remaining
Entering Saturday, eight undefeated teams remained in college basketball. Five are left standing. New Mexico lost at home to Nate Wolters-led South Dakota State. Syracuse lost to Temple at the Garden. And Illinois lost to rival Missouri before a raucous crowd in St. Louis. Some of the remaining undefeated teams are not total surprises: Athlon tabbed Duke and Arizona as favorites in their respective conferences, for example. But if you had Cincinnati (Big East), Wyoming (Mountain West) and Michigan (Big Ten) as the last unbeaten teams in their respective leagues at Christmas, then you would have won some serious money. (Note: Arizona tipped at 11:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday against Miami in the Diamond Head Classic.)
1-for-17: Phil Pressey in the first 39:26 against Illinois
Part of the reason the Fighting Illini are no longer unbeaten is because of Missouri guard Phil Pressey, but not his scoring. Pressey did his best John Starks impersonation, starting 1-for-17 from the field against Illinois before making two layups in the final 34 seconds. Yet, in front of a raucous split crowd in St. Louis, the Mizzou floor leader stuffed the stat sheet with 11 assists (against four turnovers), seven rebounds and was 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. And he scored a key layup with 34 seconds left in a five-point game. Laurence Bowers (23 points, 11 rebounds) and Alex Oriakhi (13 points, 14 rebounds) give this team plenty of size — and national championship experience — so if Pressey develops into the nation's best point guard (which he might already be), this Tigers team will make a run at a Final Four.
40: Points per game for UCLA freshmen Jordan Adams and Shabazz Muhammad
In the six power conferences, Muhammad leads freshmen in scoring at 18.8 points per game in nine games with the Bruins. Adams is No. 2 among all power conference freshmen with 18.2 per game. Ben Howland's team has no excuse for what happened against Cal Poly and is still working on developing team chemistry. But losses to Georgetown and San Diego State will be nothing to be ashamed of come Selection Sunday. That said, a huge home game with Missouri kicks off the tough part of the season on Dec. 28. Has the remarkable scoring by the freshmen been a preview of more to come or will conference play and the grind of big-time college hoops slow the dynamic duo down? Additionally, Jahii Carson (17.9 ppg) of Arizona State is third among all power conference freshmen, giving the Pac-12 the three highest-scoring major-conference freshmen in the nation. So they have that going for them.
NFL football is the greatest reality TV program of all time. The Giants and Colts made sure of that back in 1958. Each NFL fall weekend is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers. And new statistics.
Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics from Week 16 of NFL play:
81: Two words: Calvin. Johnson.
Megatron was unstoppable this season. The lone bright spot for the 4-11 Lions has shone brighter than any wide receiver in history. Johnson set the single-season receiving record after catching 10 passes for 204 yards in the loss to the Falcons on Saturday night. He broke Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record (1,848). And at 1,892 yards for the season, Johnson can be the first receiver to reach the 2K mark in the final game. The performance against Atlanta also set an NFL record with eight consecutive games with at least 100 yards and broke the record for most 100-yard games in a season with 11.
4,183: Andrew Luck's NFL rookie passing yards record
Cam Newton set the single-season NFL rookie passing record with 4,051 yards last season with the first 4,000-yard rookie season. The record stood for just one season as Andrew Luck passed for 205 yards and one game-winning touchdown over the Chiefs this Sunday. He has 4,182 yards passing and has accounted for 27 total touchdowns. Most important, Newton lost 10 games during his record-setting first season while Luck's Colts won their 10th game of the year and clinched a playoff spot. Indianapolis is only the second team in NFL history to win 10 or more games one year after losing 14 (Miami, 2008).
14: Seconds left in a tie game when Big Ben was intercepted from his own 29
The Steelers snapped the ball in a game tied at 10 from their own 29-yard line. Facing elimination, Pittsburgh inexplicably called a pass play, and then even more inexplicably, Ben Roethlisberger rolled right, threw across his body and into the waiting arms of Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton then completed one pass to A.J. Green for 19 yards to put the Bengals into a position to clinch a playoff spot. One Josh Brown 43-yard field goal later and the Steelers had been eliminated from the playoffs. It was some of the worst decision making of the year. Not making the postseason continues a bizarre 13-year trend for Pittsburgh of missing the playoffs every three seasons.
6: First- or second-year QBs in playoff spots today
Rookie Russell Wilson and second-year man Colin Kaepernick faced off Sunday night in the game of the week in Seattle. Wilson got the better of Kaepernick behind four passing touchdowns, a 71.4-percent completion rate, one of the best home crowds in football and a tenacious defense. Both young quarterbacks have led their teams into the postseason — with honorable mention going to former Niners starter Alex Smith. If the season ended today, second-year quarterback Christian Ponder and rookie Robert Griffin III also would be playing in postseason games. In the AFC, rookie Andrew Luck and 2011 draft pick Andy Dalton have already secured their spot in the tournament as well. Half of the best 12 teams in the league are being led by guys who haven't finished their second full season yet. Never have three rookie quarterbacks made the playoffs but the Class of 2012 will do it if RG3 wins next weekend against Dallas. The names of the veteran quarterbacks in the playoffs? Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub — or otherwise, Matt Schaub and a bunch of scrubs. Seattle has won its last three games by a combined score of 150-30, and Wilson is two touchdowns away from Peyton Manning's rookie TD record of 26.
9-for-9: Blair Walsh's NFL single-season record for made field goals of 50 yards or more
The rookie for the Vikings has a been a big part of why the Minnesota is 9-6 and poised for a playoff appearance. He connected from 56 yards early in a close game against the Texans to set the NFL single-season record for most made field goals of 50 yards or more. He hasn't missed one yet, either. He made two other field goals (41 yards, 39 yards) to outscore the Texans by himself. He is 7-for-9 from 40 to 49 yards, 7-for-8 from 30 to 39 yards and 9-9 from less than 30 yards. That is 32-for-35 if you are counting at home in his first NFL season. He is 32-for-32 on extra points this year as well.
103: Jason Witten's NFL season record for catches for a tight end
The former Tennessee tight end caught six passes for 60 yards in the crushing overtime loss to the Saints at home. But those six receptions gave Witten 103 this year, breaking Tony Gonzalez's all-time single-season NFL tight end record of 102. As a leader, blocker and pass catcher, few players have ever been as good as the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver (799 catches).
1,456: Yards rushing for Jamaal Charles (has anyone noticed?)
Adrian Peterson is chasing history this season — he is 102 yards from 2,000 after 86 against Houston — but he isn't the only star running back doing amazing things following a torn ACL. Jamaal Charles also ripped apart his knee last season and has returned to electric form, rushing for 226 yards and one long touchdown in Week 16. He has a chance at finishing second in the NFL in rushing after jumping Alfred Morris, Doug Martin and Arian Foster in the standings this Sunday. He is third in the NFL, trailing only Marshawn Lynch's 1,490 yards for second. The Chiefs lost again — for the 13th time in 15 games — making Charles' performance all the more impressive (and quiet).
Fresno State and SMU will be spending Christmas on Christmas Island at the Hawaii Bowl, as the only game on television Christmas Eve.
The game will be a homecoming of sorts for SMU coach June Jones, who guided Hawaii to a 76–41 record over nine seasons from 1999-2007. Jones’ last season on Oahu, he led the Warriors to an undefeated 12–0 regular season and a BCS berth in the Sugar Bowl, where Hawaii lost to Georgia.
Hawaii Bowl — Fresno State (9–3) vs. SMU (6–6)
Date and Time: Dec. 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
When the Fresno State Bulldogs have the ball:
Fresno State fourth-year junior quarterback Derek Carr — the younger brother of the Houston Texans’ No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, current New York Giants backup and former Fresno State star David Carr — has been lights out since taking over as the starter last season. The 6’3”, 210-pounder has threw for 3,742 yards, 36 TDs and five INTs.
Carr’s top target is redshirt freshman Davante Adams, who had 89 catches for 1,168 yards and 13 trips to the end zone. The Bulldogs’ top playmaker is senior running back Robbie Rouse, who had 1,468 yards and 12 TDs on the ground, 58 catches for 406 yards and two TDs, and a one-yard TD pass this season.
SMU’s defense could have trouble containing a Fresno State offense that averges 40.2 points per game. The Mustangs allowed 40 or more points four times this season, going 1–3 in those games — losing to Baylor, Texas A&M and UCF, while beating Houston. SMU will lean heavily on the senior leadership of defensive end Margus Hunt and linebacker Ja’Gared Davis, a pair of first-team All-C-USA defenders. If the game comes down to a field goal, Hunt owns the NCAA career record for blocked kicks (17).
When the SMU Mustangs have the ball:
Jones doesn’t have a record-breaking passer like he did with Hawaii’s Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan, but SMU does have a highly decorated transfer from Texas under center. Garrett Gilbert — who replaced Colt McCoy in the 2010 BCS title game against Alabama — threw for 2,720 yards, 14 TDs and 13 INTs. But the heart and soul of the Mustangs offense is senior Zach Line, who rushed for 1,207 yards and 12 TDs.
First-year Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter was defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and has the luxury of a stop-unit led by senior safety Phillip Thomas — the first player in school history to be a unanimous All-America selection. The Bulldogs ranked 27th in scoring defense (22.3 ppg) and could put the clamps on an inconsistent SMU attack that was held under 20 points five times.
This will be the seventh meeting between Fresno State and SMU, with all six meetings coming between 1999-2004 when both schools were members of the WAC. The Bulldogs hold 5–1 edge in the series. Expect that trend to continue, as Fresno State says “Aloha” — hello and goodbye — to Jones’ Hawaii homecoming.
Prediction: Fresno State 42, SMU 33
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Too often these days, fans and athletes alike focus on the negative side of sports, whether it's a fight that breaks out on the field or trash talk off the field. Still, there are many instances of athletes taking the high road and doing the right thing. Here are five perfect examples of athletes showing us what sportsmanship is all about.
The New York Giants will try and keep their playoff hopes alive by handing the Baltimore Ravens a fourth straight defeat when they meet at 4:25 p.m. ET this afternoon on FOX. The defending Super Bowl champion Giants (8-6) must rebound from last week’s disheartening 34-0 loss in Atlanta if they want to have any chance at a possible repeat, while the Ravens (9-5) would like to turn things around in their quest to win a second straight AFC North crown.
When the New York Giants have the ball:
New York’s offense is sixth in the NFL in scoring at 26.6 points per game and 10th in total offense at 364.6 yards per game. The Giants have been fairly balanced on offense, ranking ninth in passing (249.6 ypg) and 15th in rushing (115 ypg). The ground game has been a collaborative effort, as running back Ahmad Bradshaw leads the way with 869 yards rushing, but his inability to stay on the field has presented opportunities to both Andre Brown and rookie David Wilson. Brown, who has a team-high eight rushing touchdowns, broke his leg in Week 10 and won’t be eligible to return until the Super Bowl, if the Giants even make it that far. Wilson has been productive (155 yards rushing last two games) after finally receiving sustained playing time, and he and Bradshaw could provide a productive one-two punch out of the backfield. That would be a huge help to quarterback Eli Manning, who has struggled at times during the season and has just 20 touchdown passes compared to 15 interceptions. Manning has several legitimate weapons in wide receivers Victor Cruz (79-1,019-9), Hakeem Nicks (53-692-3) and tight end Martellus Bennett (five TD catches). They just haven’t been able to do as much damage this season compared to last year when Manning had nearly 5,000 yards passing, 29 touchdowns and only 16 picks. The offensive line has done its job keeping Manning’s jersey clean, allowing a league-low 16 sacks, and other than the interceptions, the team has fumbled it away just six times. Turnovers have not been a big issue, as the team’s +13 differential between giveaways and takeaways ranks fourth overall.
Baltimore’s defense has not been nearly as stout this season as it has in the past. The Ravens, one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses for years, ranks just 26th in total defense, as the unit has given up nearly 375 yards per game. It has done a good job of mitigating the damage, as they are allowing less than 22 points per contest, which places them 13th in the league in that category. The Ravens have been susceptible to both the run (132.2 ypg, 26th) and pass (242.1 ypg, 22nd), as injuries have resulted in several key players, such as Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Lardarius Webb, missing a significant number of games. They are in the middle of the pack when it comes to sacks (32) and have forced a total of 25 (13 INTs, 12 fumbles) turnovers. One other interesting stat to note: the Ravens are tied for first in the NFL in fewest touchdown passes allowed with 13, but 26th in rushing scores surrendered (14).
When the Baltimore Ravens have the ball:
Baltimore’s offense has had its share of ups and downs throughout the season, one of the reasons why offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was recently relieved of his duties. The Ravens are 21st in the NFL in total offense (339.6 ypg) and 12th in scoring (24.9 ppg). They rank 22nd in rushing offense (105.1 ypg), as Ray Rice has surpassed 1,000 yards for the fourth straight season. Baltimore is 14th in passing offense (234.6 ypg) with quarterback Joe Flacco throwing twice as many touchdowns (20) as interceptions (10). Wide receiver Torrey Smith is the team’s deep threat (17.4 ypc, seven TDs), but he needs to be more consistent on a week in, week out basis. Fellow wideout Anquan Boldin is a reliable target for Flacco, as is Rice out of the backfield, while tight end Dennis Pitta is tied with Smith for the team lead in touchdown catches with seven. The offense has done its part in holding on to the ball, as the team has turned it over just 15 times (third-fewest in AFC) so far.
New York’s defense has been fairly generous this season as it applies to yards allowed, but that hasn’t been the case when it comes to the story on the scoreboard. The Giants rank near the bottom (28th) in total defense at 377.4 yards per game, but are 12th in scoring defense, allowing less than 22 points per contest. Unfortunately, over its last three games, wins over Green Bay and New Orleans and a significant loss to Washington, this unit has seen its yards allowed average to rise to 417 per game. The passing defense (253.7 ypg) has been the biggest culprit and scapegoat this season, but the rushing defense (123.7 ypg, 22nd) has had its own issues. The key for this defense has been in keeping opponents out of the end zone and generating turnovers. Even with all of the yards gained against them, the Giants have yielded just eight rushing touchdowns (tied for sixth-fewest in the NFL) and only 23 touchdown passes. The defense is in the middle of the pack when it comes to sacks (32, tied for 16th), but this unit has forced the third-most turnovers (34) and also is third in the league in interceptions with 20.
Both New York and Baltimore could really use a win here, but for entirely different reasons. The Giants need a victory just to stay alive in the NFC East race, as the defending Super Bowl champions find themselves looking up at both the Redskins and Cowboys with just two games remaining. The Ravens have already clinched a playoff spot, but still have business to take care of to wrap up a second straight AFC North title, and also just need to win to put an end to their current three-game losing streak. The Giants have been in this situation before, as they needed to win their final two games last season just to make the playoffs as the NFC East champions, so this is really nothing new to this veteran team. The Ravens have plenty of experience of their own, but appear to be a team finding its way, especially on offense. That’s never a good sign, but especially this late in the season. So even though the Giants are on the road and have their backs to the wall, I think the reigning champs find a way to get it done against the Ravens, as Eli Manning and the passing attack leads the way to victory. Rookie David Wilson also chips in with a key kickoff return at some point in the second half to set up a critical scoring drive as well.
Giants 27, Ravens 23
The NFC West could be decided when the San Francisco 49ers take on the Seattle Seahawks at 8:20 p.m ET tonight on NBC. A win would clinch a second straight division title for the 49ers (10-3-1), while handing the Seahawks (9-5) their first home loss of the season. The Seahawks are currently seeded fifth in the NFC playoff bracket, but four teams are right behind them at 8-6, so they still have work to do to secure their postseason berth. San Francisco beat Seattle 13-6 back in Week 7, but the 49ers have a different starting quarterback under center this time around.
When the San Francisco 49ers have the ball:
More known for its defense, San Francisco’s offense has more than held its own this season, as they 49ers rank 11th in the NFL in total offense with 361.7 yards per game and eighth in scoring at 25.5 points per game. The 49ers have the league’s second-best rushing attack (162.9 ypg), led by running back Frank Gore. Gore is eighth in rushing yards with 1,118, his sixth 1,000-yard campaign in eight seasons with the team. The passing offense may rank 26th in yards with less than 200 per game, but it’s been more than effective. The 49ers have a total of 20 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions, tying them for the fewest picks in the NFC. Colin Kaepernick initially replaced opening-week starter Alex Smith at quarterback in Week 11 after Smith sustained a concussion the prior week. Kaepernick hit the ground running, leading the 49ers to an impressive win over Chicago on “Monday Night Football,” and hasn’t looked back. In five games as the starting quarterback, Kaepernick has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,083 yards, seven touchdowns with just two interceptions, and has led his team to a 4-1 record. He’s also rushed for 202 yards with two scores during this span and is second on the team for the season with five rushing touchdowns. Michael Crabtree is the team’s leading receiver with 73 catches for 868 yards and seven touchdowns. Tight end Vernon Davis is a dangerous weapon as well, but he and Kaepernick have had trouble developing chemistry to this point. Even with his mobility, Kaepernick has been sacked 13 times since becoming the starter, and overall the 49ers have given up 39 sacks. However, this is a team that doesn’t beat itself, as evidenced by its 14 total turnovers.
Seattle’s defense is ranked among the top 10 in the NFL in each of the four major categories. The Seahawks are third overall in total defense (303.9 ypg) and passing defense (197.6 ypg), second in scoring (15.6 ppg), and tenth in rushing defense (106.3 ypg). The unit has allowed a total of 21 offensive touchdowns this season, including a league-low 13 touchdown passes. The Seahawks do a good job getting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks (35 sacks), and excel at generating turnovers. The defense has forced 28 turnovers thus far, including 16 interceptions. It also has made the most of some of their opponents’ mistakes, as the defense has scored four touchdowns off of turnovers. As good as Seattle’s defense has been overall, it has been at its best at home. The Seahawks are surrendering fewer than 12 points per game and less than 280 yards of offense to the opposition in the six home games they have played. New England (475 yards) is the only team to gain more than 300 yards and score more than 20 points against Seattle at CenturyLink Field to this point.
When the Seattle Seahawks have the ball:
Seattle’s offense is powered by one of the league’s top rushers and a rookie quarterback who has opened many eyes with his play. The Seahawks are 16th in the league in total offense with 350.1 yards per game and 11th in scoring at 25 points per contest. They have the No. 3 rushing offense, thanks to running back Marshawn Lynch, who trails only Adrian Peterson in rushing yards with 1,379. They rank just 27th in passing offense with less than 190 yards per game, but that only tells part of the story when it comes to rookie starting quarterback Russell Wilson. The Seahawks’ third-round pick in April’s draft, Wilson has completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 2,697 yards, 21 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He is the league’s eighth-rated passer (95.5), higher than Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Andrew Luck to name a few, and he is currently tied with Cam Newton for the second-most touchdown passes by a quarterback in his rookie season. Wilson also has produced with his legs, including the three rushing touchdowns he had in last week’s 50-17 rout of Buffalo in Toronto. Wilson has done a good job of staying alive in the pocket and either getting the most yards he can after taking off or throwing it away, as he has been sacked just 26 times. He also loves playing at home, where he has a 12:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has yet to lose (6-0) in his brief career. Wide receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate are the top two leading pass-catchers and have each hauled in seven touchdown passes. The Seahawks as a team have turned the ball over only 17 times, including just eight fumbles.
San Francisco’s defense is No. 1 in the league in scoring defense (15.6 ppg) and second in total defense at 293 yards per game. The 49ers are ranked third against the run (91.1. ypg) and fifth against the pass (201.9 ypg), which is saying something since they have faced Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady already this season. Along those lines, the defense has allowed only 14 touchdowns passes, which is tied for the fourth-fewest in the NFL, and just six rushing touchdowns (third-fewest). The defense has 35 sacks, led by Defensive Player of the Year Aldon Smith’s 19.5. The linebacker is tied with Houston’s J.J. Watt for the league lead, and each is just three away from tying Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5. Besides Smith, the 49ers have All-Pro linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman as the cornerstones of their defense. This defense may not force a lot of turnovers (22 total), but it more than makes up for it with its athleticism, physicality, tackling prowess and nasty disposition.
San Francisco and Seattle are similar in many ways. Both teams’ game plans are built around running the ball and playing strong defense. Statistically they rank either right behind or very close to one another in several categories, both offensive and defensive. And they are both led by young, athletic quarterbacks capable of making plays with both their arm and their legs. It’s not surprising that the first game was a close-knit affair, which was won 13-6 by the 49ers in Week 7 in San Francisco. Now the scene shifts to Seattle, where the Seahawks are unbeaten in six games. They have their last three games overall and have put 50 or more points on the scoreboard the past two Sundays. The 49ers are riding some momentum of their own, however, after beating New England 41-34 last Sunday night to end the Patriots’ December home winning streak at 20 games. It also just so happens that the last team to beat the Seahawks at home was the 49ers, who won 19-17 in Seattle in Week 16 last season. A year later, the biggest change between these two teams is the quarterbacks. As well as Russell Wilson has played for Seattle, he struggled in his first game against his division rival, while Colin Kaepernick had just one carry against the Seahawks back in Week 7. Kaepernick is the starter now and he has been a difference-maker for the 49ers’ offense since taking over. Look no further than his four-touchdown performance on the road against the Patriots. While I don’t think he will repeat the four touchdowns tonight, I do expect Kaepernick to make enough plays and then let the defense do the rest as San Francisco turns out its second straight impressive road showing and wraps up back-to-back NFC West titles in the process.
49ers 20, Seahawks 16
The Cincinnati Bengals can secure a second-straight playoff berth with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers when the two square off Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on CBS. The Bengals (8-6) find themselves in the driver’s seat thanks to last Thursday’s 34-13 dismantling of Philadelphia at home. The Steelers (7-7), losers of four of their last five games, must win to keep their postseason hopes alive and avoid the sight of the rival Bengals celebrating on their home field. Pittsburgh has won the past five matchups with Cincinnati, including a 24-17 win back in Week 7.
When the Cincinnati Bengals have the ball:
Cincinnati’s offense has done a good job of maximizing its possessions into points. Consider that the Bengals rank 18th in the NFL in total offense at 347.6 yards per game, but are ninth in scoring at 25.4 points per game. The running game has picked up lately, as the Bengals are 11th in the league in rushing offense (120.3 ypg) and come in at No. 17 in passing offense (227.4 ypg). Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has already set a personal-best with 1,080 rushing yards this season and has gone over 100 yards in four of his past five outings. Even though quarterback Andy Dalton is just 15th among his peers in passing yards with 3,313, his 26 touchdown passes place him sixth. Wide receiver A.J. Green has caught 11 of these, putting him second in the league in this category, and he’s also among the top eight in both receptions (85) and yards (1,208). Turnovers have been somewhat of an issue for the team, as Dalton has thrown 14 interceptions and the Bengals have fumbled the ball away nine times. Dalton also has been sacked 38 times thus far, the third-most among quarterbacks.
Pittsburgh’s defense leads the NFL in both total (273.3 ypg) and passing (180.6 ypg) defense, and also is among the top eight in rushing (92.7 ypg, fourth) and scoring (20.8 ppg, eighth) defense. Injuries continue to be an issue for this unit, however, as the Steelers are without the services of cornerback ike Taylor and have had to call on several unknown and inexperienced defensive backs throughout the season. This defense hasn’t produced many sacks (27, tied for 23rd in the NFL) or turnovers (13 total), which combined with the numerous injuries makes its statistical production look even more impressive. The bottom line, however, is winning games, and Pittsburgh’s defense hasn’t been able to make that key stop late or force that critical turnover, which is a reason why the Steelers are now in a must-win situation.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers have the ball:
Pittsburgh’s offense has been limited all season by a lack of consistent production from the running game and a revolving door along its offensive line. The Steelers are 19th in the league in total offense at 345.1 yards per game, with nearly 75 percent of the yards gained coming via the pass. They are near the bottom (26th) in rushing offense at 96.5 yards per game, and only managed 69 yards rushing in last week’s overtime loss in Dallas. Jonathan Dwyer has been getting the bulk of the carries recently, but he’s averaging just over four yards per carry for the season and had only 22 on the ground against the Cowboys. The team has other options in Isaac Redman, Chris Rainey and Rashard Mendenhall, but really need someone to step up and offer some consistent gains on the ground. Because of the lack of production from the running game, the Steelers have relied on the pass more, which is why they rank 10th in passing offense (248.6 ypg). Having quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under center certainly helps, as he’s the league’s sixth-rated passer with just six interceptions, and his mobility in the pocket (been sacked just 24 times) has helped an injury-ravaged offensive line. Big Ben, however, also has missed three games because of injuries he sustained after getting sacked in Week 10 against Kansas City, and he is just 21st in passing yards with 2,911, to go along with 22 touchdown passes. The overlying issue for the offense has been scoring points. The Steelers are 20th in scoring at 21.6 points per game and have hurt themselves on more than one occasion with turnovers. Even though Roethlisberger has just six picks, his replacements have thrown six more when they have been under center and the team has 15 fumbles, the third-most among AFC teams. Couple that with the defense’s inability to force a lot of turnovers, and the Steelers have a -14 turnover differential, the third-worst ratio in the AFC.
Cincinnati’s defense has been a pleasant surprise this season, ranking sixth in the league in total defense (320.4 ypg) and 10th in scoring (20.9 ppg) defense. The Bengals are ninth against the run (101 ypg) and 12th against the pass (219.4 ypg), and have produced a league-leading 43 sacks. The unit has yielded just 15 touchdown passes, the sixth-fewest in the league, and has had much more success compared to Pittsburgh’s defense when it comes to forcing turnovers. The Bengals have 26 takeaways so far, including 15 fumbles. In last Thursday’s 34-13 win in Philadelphia, the defense forced five turnovers (four fumbles and an INT) and returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown.
Pittsburgh has been the dominant team in this series lately, having won the past five matchups. However, this is not the same type of Steelers team from recent years, and it’s Cincinnati, not Pittsburgh, who is in the driver’s seat for a wild-card berth. The Steelers did beat the Bengals 24-17 back in Week 7, but even though they dominated the stat sheet (had 431 total yards to Bengals’ 185), they needed a Chris Rainey touchdown with less than a minute remaining to secure the victory. Since that game, Cincinnati has gone 5-2, while Pittsburgh is just 4-4. The Steelers’ defense did a superb job of limiting the Bengals’ offense the first time around, but several players, most notably Ike Taylor, who were a part of that first victory, won’t be playing in this one. Cincinnati’s running game, which managed just 80 yards against the Steelers’ defense in Week 7, has been much more productive as of late as well, which should help open things up for Andy Dalton and the passing attack. Pittsburgh may be playing at home, but the Steelers have dropped their last two games at Heinz Field. In the end, I just think this is a team that’s simply too beat up and not all that together, on the same page. With a second straight playoff berth squarely in their sights, I think the Bengals earn a hard-fought road victory and gain some much-needed confidence headed into the postseason. On the other side, this season-deciding loss for the Steelers shifts the focus to potential changes forthcoming in the offseason amid the questions concerning the team’s outlook for 2013 and beyond.
Bengals 23, Steelers 20
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) in Week 16.
Locks of the Week
Two divisional rivalry showdowns plus another two matchups of the haves and have nots look like good picks in a tough week to call.
49ers (-1) at Seahawks
Seattle is 6–0 at home this season; but New England had won 20 straight at home in December before last week’s San Fran upset.
Bears (-6) at Cardinals
Ken Whisenhunt is probably on his way out anyway, might as go out with a Dennis Green-style rant after a Chicago loss.
Redskins (-6.5) at Eagles
RG3 is set to play against Philly, a team he went 14-of-15 with four TDs against during a 31–6 blowout win in Week 11.
Patriots (-14.5) at Jaguars
The Pats has won by 15 or more points in four of their seven road games — against the Titans (34–13), Bills (52–28), Rams (45–7) and Jets (49–19).
Saturday Night Fever
With no Thursday of Monday night games, the NFL schedule breaks out its first Saturday night prime time affair.
Falcons (-4.5) at Lions
Detroit has lost six straight, with three road games by five or more points and three home games by a combined nine points.
Straight Up Upset
This field goal spreads could come down to just that; but the game-winning kick might just come from the foot of an underdog.
Ravens (+3) vs. Giants
Baltimore has lost three straight contests, while New York has fallen in its last three road games — including a 34–0 whipping at Atlanta last week.
Bad Teams, Worse Opponents
The Ryan brothers have been up and down — mostly down — this year, but the Bolts and Aints have had even harder times.
Jets (-2.5) vs. Chargers
San Diego has gone 7–16 in games played in the Eastern Time Zone under Norv Turner.
Cowboys (-3) vs. Saints
New Orleans is 2–5 on the road, while Dallas has won five of its last six, including three of its last four at home.
Steer clear of these games unless you happen to be a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action on every game, all the time.
Buccaneers (-3) vs. Rams
St. Louis is 2–3–1 on the road, with wins over bottom feeders Arizona and Buffalo the past two weeks.
Steelers (-4) vs. Bengals
Cincinnati is riding a five-game losing streak against the AFC North rivals from Pittsburgh.
Dolphins (-4.5) vs. Bills
Buffalo beat Miami, 19–14, in Week 11 during a game that featured four FGs and a punt return TD.
Colts (-7) at Chiefs
Indy has only one win by eight or more points this season, on the road at Jacksonville.
Panthers (-9) vs. Raiders
Oakland is 0–4 in the Eastern Time Zone this year, but Carolina can’t be trusted.
Texans (-9) vs. Vikings
Adrian Peterson’s quest to join the 2,000-yard club may hit a Watt wall in Houston.
Packers (-12.5) vs. Titans
Tennessee may need CJ2K to break another 90-plus-yard TD run to stay within a Lambeau Leap.
Broncos (-13) vs. Browns
Peyton Manning will pull off the win, but Cleveland is improved with a 3–1 record the last four weeks.
Why isn’t the World Series trophy named after a person, like the Stanley Cup (NHL), Lombardi Trophy (NFL) and Larry O’Brien Trophy (NBA)? I think it should be named the Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson Memorial Cup.
— John Daneluk, Beverly, Mass.
Each year, MLB hands out the rather blandly named Commissioner’s Trophy to its champion. Like you, we think the name could use a little more personality. Your suggestion, while featuring two worthy candidates, is a little too cumbersome, but limiting it to one player is difficult. There’s no executive as worthy as the NBA’s O’Brien; the first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, would be a candidate if he hadn’t been a roadblock to integration. Here’s one thought: Casey Stengel, who managed the Yankees to 10 World Series appearances in his 12 years at the helm (1949-60). He’s baseball’s closest approximation to Lombardi. But we’re open to suggestions.
— Charlie Miller, Editorial Director
Why is it that the NFL is the only major sport that does not induct game officials into its Hall of Fame?
— Dr. Norman Jones, Crystal Lake, Ill.
We kicked this one over to veteran NFL writer Gordon Forbes, who had this to say: “A number of officials have been nominated over the years, but none has made it to the final 25 cut. Dr. Jones should know that fans can nominate players, coaches, contributors, etc., by simply sending a letter to the Hall of Fame, which is why there are usually 100 or more individuals nominated each year. Among today’s officials, the best-known and one of the most respected is Ed Hochuli, but the first official I would name to the Hall of Fame would be former referee Jim Tunney.”
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for December 21.
• If you're reading this, the world didn't end. To celebrate, here's a gift from Athlon Sports to you, our readers: NFL cheerleaders in Christmas costumes. Merry Christmas.
• More pictures: The 100 Most Powerful Sports Photos of 2012.
• Bizarre sports story of the day: Olympic athlete-turned-high-priced Vegas escort.
• Much like Arnold Palmer, John Daly has his own drink now, except, shockingly, it replaces iced tea with booze.
• Today in Being Johnny Football: Steve Kerr spotted Manziel courtside at a Mavs game and unleased the social media world on the unsuspecting Heisman winner.
• Picking things that are underrated or overrated is a nationwide sports obsession. Our friends at Grantland have chosen some superlatives in both categories.
• Apparently, cheerleading is a gateway drug to general celebrity-hood. Here's a gallery of famous people who were once cheerleaders.
• One Baseball Hall of Fame voter included Bonds, Clemens and Piazza on his ballot. He explains himself here.
• It's early, but we have a candidate for MVP of bowl season.
• I know you're getting tired of me picking on the Jets, but I can't help myself. Here's the Jets season set to Yakety Sax (the Benny Hill theme song).
• Tis the season for Bad Santas: 10 Crimes Committed by Santa Claus.
• Blake Griffin has a new Kia ad out. It's pretty funny.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• Tim Tebow's back on the market. And more importantly for some, so is his ex, actress Camilla Belle. Pictured at right, the couple in happier times.
• The most valuable team in college football doesn't reside in the SEC. It does have its own network, though.
• You might want to lock your doors and plug your chimney — Santa Dirk is coming to town.
• Your year-end countdown of the day: the most influential athletes on the Internet in 2012.
• Also influential on the Internet, but occasionally incoherent: baseball scribe and aging hippie Peter Gammons. Here are his best tweets of 2012.
• Mark Sanchez's no good, very bad year, presented in GIF form. The buttfumble's still the best, but there are plenty of gems here.
• Sanchez wasn't the only guy who embarrassed himself this season. Here are 5 humiliating moments (yes, the buttfumble did make this countdown).
• Some unfortunate bowl winners will have to drag some ugly swag back to their trophy cases.
• The front page of today's New York Post, presented without comment. Okay, one comment: Beware of photoshop, guys.
• This one isn't sports-related, but for a grammar and punctuation nerd like me, these are gold.
• Today's video: an early candidate for Assist of the Year.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• Whoa, that didn't take long. Sorry fellas — Christian Ponder has officially taken Samantha Steele off the market.
• Aaron Rodgers sees a kindred spirit in Alex Smith and wants him to go where he's appreciated. Expect Colin Kaepernick to bookmark this article should the Niners meet the Packers in the playoffs.
• Forty years ago this Sunday, the Immaculate Reception happened. A Steelers fan still has the ball. He held on to it, even though he was broke at the time. Now that's a fan.
• Joe Namath weighs in on the Mark Sanchez situation. Money quote: "I think he's going to be around for a long time. I hope for his sake it's not with the Jets."
• Johnny Football is great and all, but he's not the greatest freshman in college football history according to my colleagues at Athlon Sports.
• This is sad (or hilarious, depending on your perspective). The guys at Mandatory bring us a slideshow of athletes who have let themselves go.
• Joe Posnanski makes the case against Jack Morris' Hall of Fame candidacy, while conceding that he'll probably get in this time.
• Merry Christmas from the Concordia College hoopsters, who have made an impressive trick shot video for your holiday enjoyment.
• Not to be outdone, the MMA folks have their own Christmas video. Click only if you like girls in red bikinis.
• 2012 in pictures. If the end of the world is nigh, this was quite a year to go out on, as these pictures prove.
• The POTUS is the POY, according to Time Magazine. The social media world is weighing in.
• Today's video: Your moment of anti-Dwight Howard schadenfreude. Gerald Henderson throws down a monster slam on the embattled Laker.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• One of the many perks of being Johnny Football: You hang out with Megan Fox at The Tonight Show.
• It was not a good night for Mark Sanchez. Not even Jon Gruden could find anything nice to say. "This guy Mark Sanchez... ah, screw it." It was left to Mike Tirico to put the finishing touches on last night's abomination, and on the Jets' season.
• There was one highlight worth celebrating last night: Chris Johnson's 94-yard run, the longest in Titans/Oilers franchise history and the second-longest in Monday Night Football history.
• This poor schlub on the Jets' sideline provides a tidy summary of the evening's ineptitude.
• Watching this pigeon elude capture at the Raiders-Chiefs game was somehow more entertaining than the game itself.
• Jim Boeheim is synonymous with Syracuse basketball. Last night, he earned his 900th win, all of them for the Orange.
• From the archives: Here's some vintage game show footage features a rematch of the 1980 World Series between the Phillies and Royals — this time, playing Family Feud. One nugget: Mike Schmidt pronounces "wash" as "warsh." He also fails to get a single right answer.
• You didn't ask for it, but here it is anyway: Up close and personal with the Jungle Bird guy from the U.S. Open trophy ceremony.
• The Jungle Bird guy provided only one of many odd moments in golf this year. Here are 10 of them.
• Today in historic badassery: During World War II, the late Sen. Daniel Inouye pried a grenade from his own partially detached hand and threw it at the Germans. RIP, Senator.
• In honor of Chris Johnson's 94-yard run on MNF, we bring you the longest run in Monday Night Football and NFL history: Tony Dorsett's 99-yarder.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• Hoops cheerleaders are no less fetching than their gridiron counterparts. We have compiled photographic evidence from the SEC.
• If we're lucky, last night's game between the 49ers and Patriots was a Super Bowl preview. In case you went to bed, Tom Brady erased a 31-3 deficit before the Niners tacked on 10 to win 41-34. So does that make the Niners the best team in football? Grantland says yes.
• NFL players are gonna spike the ball when they score. If they gotta take out an eye, those are the breaks.
• Today's NFL GIF is an instant classic: Knowshon Moreno hurdling Ed Reed. Reed later blamed the stomach flu. I blame the fact that, sadly, the future Hall of Famer is getting old.
• Apparently, Adrian Peterson was serious about challenging Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record. He broke off an epic 82-yard TD run yesterday, and fortunately, Gus Johnson was on the mic.
• There were countless simple, elegant tributes to the Newtown victims over the weekend. Here's one, from Victor Cruz.
• Colin Kaepernick wrote himself a letter in the fourth grade that said he wanted to grow up to play for the 49ers. I wonder if he ever weighed in about the Mayan calendar.
• There was a full moon visible at Cowboys Stadium yesterday. It belonged to DeMarco Murray.
• Today's best headline can be found at this link. Trust me.
• Cy-onara: The Mets trade Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays. A quick round-up of reactions here.
• Ten things you didn't know about classic Christmas songs, like the fact that "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." was written during a summer heat wave, and "Jingle Bells" was originally a Thanksgiving song.
• Bowl season is off to a rousing start. Arizona scored two TDs in the final minute to stun Nevada.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Have you ever wondered which athlete or sports figure is tailor-made for the Christmas season? Well, we’ve made our list and checked it twice, although we’re still working on the naughty or nice part.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
Dionte Christmas (Temple basketball 2005-09, now plays overseas)
Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse basketball)
Matt Holliday (OF, St. Louis Cardinals)
Doug Jolley (former NFL tight end 2002-06)
Nerlens Noel (Kentucky basketball)
Plenty of sports figures have color-coordinated names for the season…
A.J. Green (WR, Cincinnati Bengals)
Shawn Green (former MLB OF/1B 1993-2007)
"Mean Joe" Greene (NFL Hall of Famer)
Red Auerbach (legendary NBA coach)
Red Grange (NFL Hall of Famer)
Michael Redd (former NBA guard 2000-12)
Who’s ready to deck the halls?
Todd Berry (Louisiana-Monroe football head coach)
Jamey Carroll (IF, Minnesota Twins)
Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks head coach)
Jon Garland (MLB pitcher 2000-11)
Royal Ivey (G, Philadelphia 76ers)
Holly Rowe (ESPN reporter)
Mike Tannenbaum (New York Jets general manager)
Walking in a winter wonderland…
David Frost (PGA Champions Tour)
Scott Frost (Oregon WRs coach)
Frostee Rucker (DE, Cleveland Browns)
Ron Slay (Tennessee basketball 1999-2003, now plays overseas)
Garth Snow (NHL goalie 1993-2006, current New York Islanders general manager)
J.T. Snow (MLB first baseman 1992-2006, '08)
Jay Cutler may hail from Santa Claus, Ind., but all these guys are missing is a white beard and a red suit…
Zac Claus (Nevada basketball assistant coach)
Casey Clausen (Tennessee quarterback 2000-03)
Jimmy Clausen (QB, Carolina Panthers)
Ed Kringle (played on the PGA Tour in the 1950s)
Sure they can play football, but can they fly?
Dwight Dasher (Middle Tennessee quarterback 2007-10)
Kyle Rudolph (TE, Minnesota Vikings)
He may be nice, but his last name says otherwise…
Danny Coale (Dallas Cowboys practice squad)
Casting call for the nativity scene…
Ivan DeJesus (OF, Chicago Cubs)
Curtis Joseph (NHL goalie 1988-2009)
Angel Pagan (OF, San Francisco Giants)
Russell Shepard (LSU football)
Mark Weisman (Iowa football)
Now we feast…
Mia Hamm (women's soccer legend)
Felix Pie (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)
Antrel Rolle (DB, New York Giants)
And who better to wrap up our list...
Metta World Peace (F, Los Angeles Lakers)
The merits of recruiting rankings are debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. Athlon continues its look at how each all-conference team ranked as high school recruits with the first-team All-Big East team.
2012 Offensive All-Big East Team as Recruits
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (2011) AC100
The lone Athlon Consensus 100 prospect on the All-Big East team was the star quarterback from Louisville. He was the No. 96-rated overall prospect in the nation hailing from famed Miami (Fla.) Northwestern. He was the No. 6-rated quarterback in the nation and the No. 18-rated player in the state of Florida. He picked the Cards over Florida, LSU, Miami, Rutgers, Tennessee and USF and was given four stars by Rivals.com. Bridgewater goes to show what landing just one elite player can do for a program.
Ray Graham, RB, Pitt (2009) National Recruit
The state of New Jersey has had a great run of producing talented running backs and Graham is the latest. Hailing from Elizabeth (N.J.) High, he signed with the Panthers over offers from Michigan State, Rutgers, NC State, Maryland, UConn and South Carolina. He was a four-star recruit who was ranked by Rivals as the No. 11 running back, the No. 5 player in the state and the No. 243 player in the nation.
Montel Harris, RB, Temple (2008)
The Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian got only three scholarship offers coming out of the prep ranks. Despite playing at a famous high school, Harris was targeted by only Boston College, Duke and Ball State. He was a two-star recruit who nearly became the ACC’s all-time leading rusher at BC before transferring to Temple.
Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse (2009)
The Cuse got a steal in the Gambrils (Md.) Arundel prospect. He had one FBS offer on his sheet and that was from the Orange and his only other option was Delaware. He was a two-star recruit by Rivals and was unrated in the state or positional rankings.
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville (2011)
The play-making wide receiver knew all about the Louisville Cardinals as he played in the city at Ballard High School. Indiana, Kentucky and UCF were his other three offers besides the Cards. Rivals gave him three stars and rated him as the No. 77 wide receiver in the nation and the No. 6 player in the state.
Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati (2008)
The Cleveland Heights (Ohio) High “athlete” was a two-star recruit by Rivals.com. He was unranked in any way but received three BCS offers from Cincinnati, UConn and Pitt. He also had a few MAC offers as well — Akron, Eastern Michigan and Miami (Ohio).
Eric Lefeld, OT, Cincinnati (2010)
Lefeld signed with the Bearcats out of Coldwater (Ohio) High back in 2010. He held one offer to play college football. Rivals rated him as a two-star prospect and he didn’t land in the Ohio state rankings or the national position rankings. He had interest from Ball State, Miami (Ohio) and Toledo but never officially got scholarship offers from any of them.
Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse (2009)
The All-Big East blocker and potential NFL Draft pick slipped under the recruiting radar when he signed in 2009. The Holland (Pa.) Council Rock South prospect held only one offer (Syracuse) and wasn’t ranked in the Keystone State rankings or national positional rankings (Top 100 offensive tackles). Rivals gave him just two stars.
Antwan Lowery, OG, Rutgers (2009) National Recruit
Hailing from Miami (Fla.) Columbus High School, Lowery was only a three-star recruit by Rivals. Yet, he was highly touted by multiple other recruiting services and it nearly landed him in the AC100. He was the No. 170 prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports and was the No. 16 defensive tackle prospect. While Rivals clearly missed on the offensive guard, his offer sheet — and eventual All-Big East honors — matched his Athlon ranking. He picked Rutgers over Auburn, Clemson, Michigan, Miami, Oklahoma, USC, Florida, Florida State, North Carolina and many others.
Austen Bujnoch, OG, Cincinnati (2009)
From famed Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder High School, Bujnoch held quality offers from Louisville, NC State, Indiana, UConn and Cincinnati in the BCS leagues and East Carolina, Miami (Ohio) and Akron on the mid-major level. He was a three-star prospect by Rivals and was rated as the No. 55 offensive tackle and No. 39 player in Ohio.
Mario Benavides, OC, Louisville (2008)
The elder statesman of the Cardinals' offensive line inked with Louisville out of Los Fresnos (Texas) High back in 2008. He was a three-star recruit who was the No. 40-rated offensive guard in the nation by Rivals. His offer sheet was solid, however, as Texas Tech, Arizona, Baylor, Iowa State and Houston were all after the blocker.
Matt Brown, AP, Temple (2009)
The explosive all-purpose runner for Temple was a two-star prospect by Rivals. He was an unranked all-purpose back from New Berlin (N.Y.) Milford Academy who had no other offer to play college football. He clearly made the best of his situation.
Related: The Athlon Consensus 100
Star ranking breakdown of the first-team All-SEC (by Rivals.com):
|Star Ranking||No. of Players|
2012 Defensive All-Big East Team as Recruits
Dan Giordano, DL, Cincinnati (2008)
The Bearcats' talented lineman hails from Frankfort (Ill.) Lincoln Way East. He was a two-star recruit as rated by Rivals.com and had only four chances to play college ball on scholarship. Giordano got two MAC offers from Miami (Ohio) and Eastern Michigan and one BCS offer from the Bearcats. Eastern Illinois also pursued the strongside defensive end prospect. He was unranked by Rivals in anyway.
Trevardo Williams, DL, UConn (2008)
The strongside defensive prospect was ranked as the No. 7 player in the state of Connecticut back in 2008. He had no other offers than UConn to play college ball so the two-star recruit from Bridgeport (Conn.) Central jumped at the chance to play in the Big East. Needless to say, he made the best of his lone opportunity.
Aaron Donald, DL, Pitt (2010)
The Pittsburgh (Pa.) Penn Hills prospect was the No. 14 player in the state by Rivals. He was the No. 37 defensive tackle prospect in the nation and was given three stars by the recruiting website. Rutgers and Pitt were his two best offers with Akron and Toledo also giving the undersized defensive lineman a scholarship.
Scott Vallone, DL, Rutgers (2008) National Recruit
Few players on the All-Big East team were as highly touted as this big defensive lineman from Central Islip (N.Y.) St. Anthony’s. He had an excellent offer sheet that included Rutgers, Maryland, NC State, Syracuse, Virginia, Minnesota, Duke, Boston College and UConn. He was the No. 3 player in the state and the No. 20 defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals — which gave him a four-star rating.
Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers (2008)
The all-everything tackler has vastly outperformed his recruiting stock. The Avon (Conn.) Old Farms product was a two-star recruit by Rivals with a rather uninspiring offer sheet. Akron, UMass and UConn were his only other FBS offers as well as the Scarlet Knights. He also had offers from Hofstra and Rhode Island as well.
Greg Blair, LB, Cincinnati (2011) JUCO
The Panthers' linebacker originally graduated from Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, Pa. He ended up at Scranton (Pa.) Lackawanna Community College before signing his only scholarship offer with the Bearcats.
Sio Moore, LB, UConn (2008)
Moore was just a two-star recruit by Rivals.com coming out of high school and had to go up North to play football. From Apex (N.C.) High, his only offer was from the UConn Huskies.
Yawin Smallwood, LB, UConn (2010)
UMass and UConn were the only two programs to offer Smallwood a scholarship to play college football. Yet, he was a three-star recruit according to Rivals. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound outside linebacker from Worcester, Mass., was the No. 4 player in the state.
Adrian Bushell, CB, Louisville (2008) National Recruit
The DeSoto (Texas) High product was an elite prospect back in 2008 when he signed with Florida. He had offers from major powers like Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma and numerous others. He was a four-star recruit by Rivals which ranked him as the No. 157 overall player in the nation. He was the No. 15 “athlete” and the No. 19 player in the state of Texas. He transferred to Louisville after getting playing time in his first two seasons in Gainesville — including a pair of tackles in 2009 SEC Championship game.
Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers (2009) National Recruit
From Voorhees (N.J.) Eastern High School, Ryan signed with Rutgers over some big-time offers. Michigan State, Iowa, West Virginia, Maryland, Purdue, Virginia and others pursued Ryan heavily. The four-star recruit was the No. 9 player in the Garden State and the No. 32 cornerback in the nation by Rivals.
Duron Harmon, S, Rutgers (2009)
The Rivals three-star safety signed with Rutgers out of Wyoming (Del.) Caesar Rodney. He had quality offers from Pitt, Stanford, Maryland, Virginia, Iowa and UConn as well as Rutgers. He was the No. 5 player in the state and the No. 69 overall “athlete” in the nation in the Class of 2009.
Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse (2009)
Thomas landed in up-state New York from Virginia Beach (Va.) Ocean Lakes High School. He held BCS offers from just Louisville and Syracuse as well as small offers from Richmond and Old Dominion. He was a two-star recruit by Rivals.
Athlon Consensus 100: The Top 100 Recruits in the Nation
The 2012 All-America Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big 12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Pac-12 Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-ACC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big Ten Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-SEC Team as Recruits
The 2012 All-Big East Team as Recruits
With Boise State and Washington returning most of its starting core for 2013, the Las Vegas Bowl is a chance for both teams to establish momentum and use the postseason as a springboard for an improvement in the win column next year.
The Broncos have played in the Las Vegas Bowl in each of the last two seasons, beating Utah and Arizona State by a combined score of 82-27. By reaching 10 victories in 2012, Boise State has achieved seven consecutive seasons of double-digit victories. The Broncos had to replace a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball and its only two losses were by a combined six points.
Washington is making slow progress under coach Steve Sarkisian but most expected the Huskies to finish better than 7-5. Fixing the defense was a top priority for Sarkisian in the offseason, and the hire of coordinator Justin Wilcox has paid big dividends. The Huskies are making back-to-back trips to a bowl game for the first time since 2001-02. Washington played a tough schedule in 2012, losing to two top-10 teams in LSU and Oregon. However, the Huskies lost to Washington State in the season finale and was blown out 52-17 by Arizona in mid-October.
These two teams have met only one time (2007), with Washington beating Boise State 24-10 in Seattle.
Las Vegas Bowl – Boise State (10-2) vs. Washington (7-5)
Date/Time: Dec. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Las Vegas
When the Boise State Broncos have the ball:
The departure of six starters is a lot for any offense to overcome. But try replacing one of college football’s top quarterbacks of the BCS era, a 1,000-yard rusher and a stalwart left tackle. That’s the obstacle Boise State had to overcome this season, and the offense certainly had its share of ups and downs. The Broncos finished 54th nationally in scoring offense and 76th in total offense.
Quarterback Joe Southwick had big shoes to fill in replacing Kellen Moore, and he finished with 2,466 passing yards and 17 touchdowns. The junior completed 66.7 percent of his throws and did not toss a pick in the final three games of the season. Southwick’s favorite target is Matt Miller (60 catches), but five players have at least 20 receptions in 2012.
Helping Southwick along this year has been the steady performance of running back D.J. Harper. The senior has battled knee injuries in his career but stayed healthy for all 12 games and finished with 1,065 yards and 15 scores. When Harper needs a rest, promising redshirt freshman Jay Ajayi is averaging 6.9 yards per carry and has four touchdowns this year.
Thanks to the arrival of Justin Wilcox, Washington has emerged as one of the nation’s most-improved defenses. Wilcox came to Seattle after spending two years as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator. The Huskies allowed 35.9 points a game last season but cut that total to just 23.8 in 2012. Washington also ranks 30th nationally in yards allowed and finished the regular season second in the Pac-12 in pass defense.
While the secondary ranks near the top of the Pac-12, the rush defense has been a bigger issue. The Huskies are allowing 164.3 yards per game on the ground, which should work into Boise State’s favor. Expect Harper and Ajayi to see plenty of carries, as the Broncos use the run to setup the pass.
When the Washington Huskies have the ball:
Although the Huskies took a step forward on defense this year, the offense regressed after averaging 409.9 yards and 33.4 points a game last season. Despite the return of quarterback Keith Price, the Huskies were unable to match last season’s totals, largely due to the offensive line. Injuries and inexperience hindered this unit in 2012, as Washington allowed 2.8 sacks per game. Protecting Price was an issue for most of the year, which was a big reason why the junior quarterback watched his passing yards drop from 3,063 (2011) to 2,486.
When Price has time to throw, he has two of the Pac-12’s rising stars to target. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is one of the nation’s best, catching 63 passes for 791 yards and six scores. Kasen Williams had a breakout year as he emerged as the No. 1 wide receiver and led the team with 71 receptions. Outside of Seferian-Jenkins and Williams, Washington needs more from its receiving corps. Jaydon Mickens is a promising freshman but ranked second among wide receivers with 18 receptions.
The battle between Washington’s passing game and Boise State’s secondary could be the defining matchup on Saturday. The Broncos are generating 2.8 sacks a game and rank fourth nationally against the pass. Senior cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins were both All-Mountain West selections, and safety Jeremy Ioane ranked second on the team with 65 stops. Even if Price has time to throw, the secondary won’t allow for the Huskies to have many chances for big plays.
While the passing attack has struggled, the running game has thrived under first-year starter Bishop Sankey. The sophomore quietly rushed for 1,234 yards and 15 scores and caught 27 passes for 175 yards. Sankey figures to test a Boise State defense that ranks 39th nationally against the run and lost tackle Mike Atkinson for the season with a torn ACL in early November.
Boise State’s defense had to replace 10 starters from last year’s team, so it’s a credit to the work of coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to keep this unit among the best in the nation. Despite the heavy losses from last season’s defense, the Broncos ranked ninth in total defense and allowed just 14.9 points a game.
Both teams could start next year in the top 25, so this is a key opportunity to seize momentum. Interestingly enough, Boise State and Washington will meet in the season opener in 2013, so this is a chance to get some early scouting done for next year. Although both teams are capable of putting points on the scoreboard, expect a low-scoring defensive game. Washington’s defense is one of the nation’s most-improved units, but Boise State should be to find some running room with senior back D.J. Harper. This game should go deep into the fourth quarter, but a slight edge goes to the Broncos over the Huskies.
Prediction: Boise State 24, Washington 20
Related College Football Content
|Kentucky's Anthony Davis|
Kentucky was the nation’s best team for 2012 (at least through April). Anthony Davis was the nation’s best player. And great rivalry games in the Bluegrass State and out churned out some classic moments through the year.
In that sense, Anthony Davis’ performance against Louisville in the Final Four is not a total shock at the top of our list of top individual performances for in 2012. Davis was the best player in the country from beginning to end, and he’ll end up here at the top of our list.
But picking other spots was difficult. Even parsing which Kansas-Missouri performance or which player from March Madness’ biggest upsets should be ahead of the other was a tough call.
As 2012 comes to a close, Athlon will countdown the top individual performances by sport during the year, culminating with a full list of the top 50 performances of the year.
We continue today with the top five individual performances in college basketball for 2012 calendar year:
More Year in Review for 2012:
1. March 31: Anthony Davis’ Big Blue dominance
With one of the best seasons in college basketball history, at least in terms of the trophy case he filled in one year, Anthony Davis may have trouble picking out his own best game of the year. The one Kentucky fans may remember most, though, is his major role in vanquishing rival Louisville in the Final Four. Davis had 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting with 14 rebounds and five blocks against the Cardinals. Kentucky would win the national championship two days later.
2. March 16: O’Quinn stuns Missouri
Missouri was one of the surprise teams of the season in 2011-12, but the Tigers ended the season with a shock of their own. Kyle O’Quinn scored 26 points with 14 rebounds as 15th-seeded Norfolk State of the MEAC upset No. 2-seed Missouri 86-84 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Norfolk State became the fifth No. 15 seed to win an NCAA Tournament game and the first since Hampton in 2001. “We even messed up my bracket,” O’Quinn said.
3. March 16: Speaking of messing up brackets...
Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum has been one of the nation’s highest-scoring players for four seasons, but he’s hardly a household name playing in the Patriot League. A win over Duke in the NCAA Tournament. Lehigh became the second No. 15 seed to win a Tournament game that day and sixth all-time when McCollum scored 30 points in the 75-70 win over Duke. McCollum added six rebounds and six assists.
4. Feb. 4: Denmon’s wild finish
Kansas and Missouri did their best to remind us what we’d miss with this rivalry going away as a casualty of realignment. Both games were classics, but Marcus Denmon’s wild finish in Columbia gets the nod at No. 4. The Missouri guard playing out of position at small forward scored the final 11 points in the 74-71 win. Denmon converted a three-point play and hit two shots from beyond the arc in the final 2:05 for a thrilling finish. He finished with 29 points and nine rebounds.
5. Feb. 8: Rivers’ dramatic game-winner
Austin Rivers made sure his one season at Duke left a lasting impression. Rivers hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in Duke’s 85-84 win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Rivers ended a furious 10-point rally in the final 2:30 in one of the wildest finishes in the the history of the rivalry. The final 3-pointer was his sixth of the game and capped a 29-point effort against North Carolina.
The “sixth man award” goes to...
|Kansas' Thomas Robinson|
6. Feb. 25: Robinson sends the Border War out in style
The Border War shows up twice on our list of top college basketball performances of 2012. The final game in the series for the time being couldn’t be contained in 40 minutes as Kansas won 87-86 in overtime. Thomas Robinson scored 28 points and added 12 rebounds in his signature performance of the season. His three-point play late in regulation capped a 19-point comeback to send the game to overtime.
Feb. 25: Kentucky’s Anthony Davis finished with 28 points on 10 of 11 shots from the field and 8 of 9 free throws in an 83-74 win over Vanderbilt. He also had 11 rebounds and five blocks.
Jan. 10: Illinois’ Brandon Paul hinted at the breakout year to come when he scored 43 points with eight rebounds and four blocks in a 79-74 win over then-No. 5 Ohio State.
March 16: Yep, there’s that date again. On the same day two No. 2 seeds fell, Michigan State’s Draymond Green had a triple double (24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) in an 89-67 win over No. 16-seeded LIU Brooklyn in the NCAA Tournament.
Feb. 11: Kansas’ Jeff Withey signaled what was to come for the rest of the year with 19 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks in an 81-66 win over Oklahoma State.
2012 In Review: Top Five Performances in Golf
1. Bubba's Pine Straw Miracle
Bubba Watson trumped Louis Oosthuizen's double eagle with a miracle shot of his own, curving a wedge approach out of the trees and onto the green at No. 10 to set up a clinching two-putt par in his playoff with Oosthuizen, earning Bubba an emotional Masters win. Watson was spectacular down the stretch of his final-round 68, draining four birdies in a row from 13-16. His short birdie putt on the par-3 16th drew him even with Oosthuizen, who was unable to match Bubba's par on the second playoff hole. Fittingly for Watson and his famously home-made game, it was his heroic, creative recovery from the pine straw that they'll be talking about at the 2050 Champions Dinner. "I was there earlier today in regulation,” Watson said afterwards. “I hooked it 40 yards. I’m pretty good at hooking it."
2. Rory McIlroy at the PGA Championship
Call it the Snore by the Shore. Twenty-one years after the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island brought the world's greatest players to their knees at the 1991 Ryder Cup in the famed "War by the Shore," Rory McIlroy turned the tables on Pete Dye's seaside creation at the PGA Championship, subduing the Ocean Course and an elite field in winning his second major championship in two years. In posting 13-under and winning by eight strokes, McIlroy reprised his eight-shot win at the 2011 U.S. Open, becoming the first player in golf history to earn his first two major wins in such dominant fashion. Glory's Last Shot was Rory's personal showcase, as he destroyed the recent trend of late collapses with a textbook display of major championship golf — fairways, greens and made putts, with a few successful scrambles thrown in.
3. Ernie Els Shocks Adam Scott at Royal Lytham
The agony and the ecstasy of golf were on full display at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and when it was over, Ernie Els had his second Claret Jug and fourth major, and Adam Scott had first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to be Greg Norman. Or Jason Dufner. Els didn't back into it, though, posting a back-9 4-under 32 in the stiffening breezes of Royal Lytham and rolling in a clutch birdie on the 72nd hole before grabbing a sandwich and watching Scott implode with bogeys on the final four holes. It was an utterly shocking turn of events on a day that seemed like a Scott coronation until the heartbreaking conclusion. Els now has major championships in three different decades and four majors for his career, tying Phil Mickelson for second-most of the Woods era.
4. The European Ryder Cup Team Makes History
Miracle at Medinah? Or Medinah Meltdown? Whatever you call it, this 2012 Ryder Cup is going to sting the U.S. for awhile. When Martin Kaymer's 6-foot par putt found the bottom of the cup at 18 for a 1-up win over Steve Stricker in the weekend's penultimate match, Europe had erased a 10-6 deficit and clinched a 14-14 tie and retention of the Cup, no matter the outcome of the Tiger Woods-Francesco Molinari match still on the course. To rub salt into the wound, Woods conceded a putt 18 to fall into a halve with Molinari, giving the Euros a 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 win. And what had once looked like a likely U.S. rout had morphed into a shocking European triumph on American soil. If you're looking for heroes, there were plenty on the Euro side. Any unofficial MVP award would go to Ian Poulter, who arrived at Medinah on a mission and then went 4-0. His birdie binge in Saturday's final fourball match gave Europe a critical point and a glimmer of hope heading into Sunday, and his 2-up singles win over Webb Simpson was a key catalyst in Europe's early singles charge.
5. Brandt Snedeker Pockets $11.44 Million at East Lake
No one else in golf can claim a payday of $11.44 million. That's what Sneds pocketed on a spectacular September Sunday at East Lake. Snedeker simultaneously earned the two biggest trophies of his career, taking the Tour Championship and $1.44 million and clinching the FedExCup with its accompanying $10 million payout. Snedeker continued his playoff putting clinic, missing exactly zero putts from inside eight feet during his 68-70-64-68 four-day performance at East Lake.
The New Orleans Bowl features a matchup of two teams riding a wave of momentum to close out the regular season. East Carolina won five out of its last six games, with the only loss coming to Navy. The Pirates didn’t beat a team with a winning record during that span but recorded two victories by 20 or more points. The Ragin’ Cajuns won four out of their last five games and nearly upset Florida on Nov. 10.
Louisiana-Lafayette is making its second consecutive postseason trip to the New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns won a 32-30 thriller against San Diego State last season and are a slight favorite to win on Saturday. The Pirates are back in a bowl after a one-year absence and will be looking to end a three-game losing streak in postseason appearances.
These two teams have met 10 times, with Louisiana-Lafayette owning a 6-4 series edge. The Pirates and Ragin’ Cajuns last met in 1990, with East Carolina claiming a 20-10 victory.
New Orleans Bowl
Date and Time: Dec. 22 at 12 p.m. ET
Location: New Orleans
When the Ragin’ Cajuns have the ball:
Despite losing quarterback Blaine Gautier to a hand injury early in the year, Louisiana-Lafayette’s offense really hasn’t missed a beat. Houston transfer Terrance Broadway stepped into the starting lineup and finished with 3,192 total yards and 24 scores. The sophomore completed 65.4 percent of his throws and averaged 6.4 yards per rush.
Broadway should have plenty of opportunities to attack an East Carolina defense that allowed 30.7 points a game and ranked 105th nationally against the pass. The Ragin’ Cajuns have a solid group of receivers, which is led by Harry Peoples with 61 receptions, Javone Lawson and all-purpose threat Darryl Surgent.
Louisiana-Lafayette didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher during the regular season, but Alonzo Harris rushed for 761 yards and eight touchdowns. The sophomore finished with two 100-yard efforts to close out the season and will be spelled by Torrey Pierce and Effrem Reed.
East Carolina was better against the run than it was against the pass but still allowed 145.7 rushing yards per game. If there was one bit of good news for the defense, it’s the fact the Pirates were solid in the forced turnover department (20) and averaged 2.1 sacks per game.
Getting pressure on Broadway will be crucial for East Carolina, especially with a secondary that ranked near the bottom of Conference USA in yards allowed. If the Pirates can get pressure on Broadway, they will have a chance to slow down Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns won’t generate a ton of huge gains on the ground, but Broadway’s ability to make plays when things break down in the pocket is a huge bonus for the Louisiana-Lafayette offense.
When the Pirates have the ball:
Sophomore Shane Carden took over the Pirates’ quarterback duties after the second game of the season and got more comfortable as the year progressed. Carden finished the year with 2,838 yards and 21 passing scores and added eight touchdowns on the ground. The sophomore also completed 66.8 percent of his passes.
Carden’s favorite target has been Justin Hardy, but East Carolina has seven players with at least 20 receptions this year. Hardy caught 83 passes for 1,046 yards and 10 scores in 2012, which included 16 receptions in the 65-59 shootout win over Marshall on Nov. 23. Carden to Hardy should be a popular connection on Saturday, especially considering Louisiana-Lafayette is allowing 283.9 passing yards per game.
Protecting Carden is going to be a crucial element for the Pirates on Saturday afternoon. The Ragin’ Cajuns are averaging 2.2 sacks a game, while East Carolina’s front five is allowing 2.3 a contest. Carden is far from a statue in the pocket, but Louisiana-Lafayette’s defense can be active around the line of scrimmage, which helps it in the turnover department.
Although East Carolina leans on the pass, don't overlook running back Vintavious Cooper. The junior college transfer amassed 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns this year, while also catching 24 passes for 226 yards and one score. Cooper doesn’t have to have a huge game, but the Pirates need to establish some balance to keep Louisiana-Lafayette guessing.
With a short trip from Lafayette to New Orleans, expect the Ragin’ Cajuns to have a home crowd advantage. Louisiana-Lafayette fans packed the Superdome for last season’s game and should be out in full force once again on Saturday. Both teams will have plenty of success moving the ball on offense, so it’s up to whichever defense can make a key stop in the fourth quarter. This one is a tossup, but with a home field advantage, a slight edge goes to Louisiana-Lafayette.
Prediction: Louisiana-Lafayette 34, East Carolina 31
Related College Football Content
|Kansas center Jeff Withey|
In the big picture, Kansas’ trip to Ohio State on Saturday is simply a good game against two top-10 teams, a national title contender visiting another title contenders gym.
Kansas, whose only loss was 67-64 to Michigan State in Atlanta, hasn’t played a true road game this season, and the first one’s a toughie. Ohio State hasn’t lost a non-conference home game in nearly four years. Meanwhile, Ohio State is looking to avenge its only loss of the season in which the Buckeyes lost a 10-point second half lead at Duke on Nov. 29.
It’s a no-brainer for viewing.
But the basketball junkies, of course, will have something, too. Kansas’ Jeff Withey and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft are among the best defenders in the country in their own way. Ohio State will have trouble around the basket thanks to Withey’s blocks, and Kansas will have trouble getting around Craft’s man-to-man defense.
On the offensive end, two of the nation’s breakout players, Ben McLemore and Deshaun Thomas will try to crack potential defensive players of the year.
In short, there’s something for everyone in Columbus.
Game of the week
Kansas (9-1) at Ohio State (9-1)
When: Saturday, 4 p.m. Eastern
Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Kansas probable starters
G Elijah Johnson (6-4/195, Sr.)
G Travis Releford (6-6/210, Sr.)
G Ben McLemore (6-5/195, RFr.)
F Kevin Young (6-8/190, Sr.)
C Jeff Withey (7-0/235, Sr.)
Ohio State probable starters
G Aaron Craft (6-2/190, Jr.)
G Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6-4/205, Jr.)
F Sam Thompson (6-7/190, So.)
F Deshaun Thomas (6-7/225, Jr.)
F Evan Ravenel (6-8/260, Sr.)
|Ohio State guard Aaron Craft|
One of the most important matchups will be between Kansas’ emerging star guard Ben McLemore and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. After sitting out last season as a partial qualifier, McLemore has emerged as one of the nation’s most dynamic players. He can drive to the basket and step out from the perimeter. His matchup against a physical and more seasoned defender in Craft will be a key proving moment for McLemore. Lenzelle Smith, who is getting more looks at the basket with William Buford gone, has emerged as Ohio State’s second-leading scorer at 11.5 points per game. Kansas has struggled at the point guard spot with Elijah Johnson taking over this season. In past seasons, Kansas has had multiple starters able to bring the ball up the court, but with McLemore and Travis Releford on the wings, Johnson’s on his own unless Self goes to the bench.
Withey’s momentum from the NCAA Tournament carried into this season. He set a record with 31 blocks in six Tourney games last season, a pace he’s maintained this season. Withey has averaged 5.4 blocks per game and is less than a month removed from a triple-double against San Jose State. He’ll try to stop shots against Deshaun Thomas, who is averaging 20.4 points per game. Thomas is a high-volume shooter from all over the court: Thomas has attempted 159 shots from the floor; no one else for Ohio State has more than 85 attempts. Ohio State has a small frontcourt, especially compared to the 7-footer Withey. The Buckeyes may have to go to the bench to counter his length: The 6-8, 260-pound Evan Ravenel is Ohio State’s biggest starter.
Ohio State is much deeper than its been in past seasons. The Buckeyes can absorb Craft’s absence for a time with Shannon Scott coming off the bench. In fact, Scott has more assists per minute (0.23) than Craft (0.16) this season. One of the key players off the bench for Ohio State may be the 6-11 Amir Williams, who added 30 pounds in the offseason and could be a better size matchup against Withey. Kansas has good depth on the bench, but it’s untested with two freshmen (forwards Perry Ellis and Jamari Taylor) and a sophomore (point guard Naadir Tharpe).
Kansas is looking to prove it can win a road game, but Ohio State may have more on the line: The Buckeyes are looking to avenge two losses to Kansas last season. The first was a 78-67 win at Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 19, 2011 and the second sent Kansas to the national title game with a 64-62 win in the Final Four. Withey had seven blocks and contained Jared Sullinger in the national semifinal. Many of the key players from that game are gone, but enough are left for Ohio State to play with an edge, especially at home.
Prediction: Kansas 72, Ohio State 68
Expect this matchup to be closer than the two Kansas victories last season. That said, few have been better than Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore this season. With the exception of McLemore, the core of the Jayhawks’ lineup is made of veterans, so Kansas should be able to handle a difficult road environment.
The coaching carousel hasn’t come to a complete stop, but it appears Ball State will hold on to Pete Lembo for at least one more season. Lembo built a winner at Lehigh and Elon before jumping to the FBS ranks, where he has compiled a 15–9 record in two seasons at Ball State. This season, he has guided the Cardinals to a 9–3 mark that includes wins over two AQ conference schools, Indiana (for the second straight season) and South Florida. Ball State lost two games in league play, by two points to Kent State and two points to Northern Illinois — the two teams that played for the league title.
Lembo’s counterpart in this game, UCF’s George O’Leary, is on the tail end of a career that has seen him win 111 games in 16 seasons as a head coach (eight at Georgia Tech, eight at UCF). The Knights are 9–4 in 2012, with losses to Tulsa (twice), at Ohio State and vs. Missouri. O’Leary has won six games or more in Conference USA in five of his eight seasons in Orlando.
Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl – UCF (9–4) vs. Ball State (9–3)
Date and Time: Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. EST
Location: St. Petersburg, Fla.
When UCF has the ball:
For a team with some quality skill-position players — most notably quarterback Blake Bortles and tailback Latavius Murray — the Knights struggles at times to move the ball (seventh in the league in total offense). They do a good job, however, converting yards into points. UCF ranks second in the league and 27th nationally in scoring (35.2 ppg) because it does three important things well: win the turnover battle (16th in the nation at 0.85 per game) convert third downs at a high rate (47.1 percent), and score touchdowns in the Red Zone (40 on 56 trips).
Bortles, who won the job last year as a redshirt freshman, gives UCF a dual-threat at the quarterback position. He’s only netted 205 yards rushing, but he had two games with over 60 yards rushing and ran for seven touchdowns. Murray rushed for 1,035 yards and 14 touchdowns despite missing three games early in the season with a shoulder injury.
When Ball State has the ball:
Ball State had little trouble scoring points throughout the 2012 regular season, but the offense is facing some issues in preparation of the bowl game. Most notably: Who is going to play quarterback. Keith Wenning, a second-team All-MAC pick, is still recovering from a broken ankle suffered against Ohio on Nov. 14. Kelly Page replaced Wenning but suffered a concussion in the next game, a win over Miami (Ohio). His status won’t be known until days before the game. The next option is Kyle Kamman, a freshman walk-on. The coaching staff is hopeful Wenning will be ready to play.
With uncertainty at quarterback, expect the Cards to lean heavily on tailback Jahwan Edwards. The bruising sophomore — he’s 5-10 and 230 pounds — has rushed for 1,321 yards and 14 scores and ended the regular season by averaging 148.6 yards in the final six games. Edwards should have success against a UCF defense that struggled to stop the run late in the year. The Knights gave up 200-plus rushing yards three times in their final four games, including 290 to Tulsa in the C-USA Championship Game.
This is far from the sexiest matchup of the bowl season, but this should be a very good game between two teams that haven’t received enough attention nationally. The running game is going to be key for both teams. UCF went 9–0 in games in which it rushed for 150 yards or more and 0–4 when it failed to hit the 150 mark. That’s pretty telling. Ball State needs a big performance from Edwards, who should be able to punish the UCF defense. With issues at quarterback, don’t be surprised if the North Carolina native gets the ball 30 to 35 times. And don’t be surprised if he leads Ball State to the win.
Prediction: Ball State 30, UCF 24
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Maybe nobody really knew Adrian Peterson would be on target to rush for 2,000 yards so soon after a devastating injury. But everyone knew that the talent and his ability were there. Before he got hurt he was the best running back in the league.
And maybe nobody expected Peyton Manning to return from a serious neck injury and play like the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. Then again, that’s exactly what he was before he got hurt.
So yes, in some ways, those were unexpected – but not totally out of nowhere. To find those—the truly unexpected, shocking, surprising, or out-of-nowhere performances of the 2012 season—you have to look a little deeper.
Here are five players who no one was expecting to be major stars prior to the season. Yet with just two weekends to go before the playoffs, they have most definitely arrived.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson – There was no one anywhere who imagined Wilson to have the kind of breakout season he had, mostly because few imagined him as the Seahawks’ starting quarterback. They had bought Matt Flynn in free agency and it was all but certain that he would get the job.
Then Flynn hurt his elbow, Wilson won the job and the Seahawks became one of the biggest team surprises in the league, sitting at 9-5, in control of a wild-card spot, and nipping at the San Francisco 49ers’ heels. Wilson, meanwhile, has been a model of efficiency, completing 62.9 percent of his passes for a pedestrian 2,697 yards so far.
Less pedestrian are his 21 touchdowns against only 9 interceptions – an impressive ratio for a rookie who was never supposed to start.
Green Bay WR Randall Cobb – Everybody knew that Cobb had speed and breakaway ability, but on a team with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, he figured to be a nice fourth option in the passing game – maybe even fifth behind tight end Jermichael Finley.
Instead, thanks to an opportunity presented to him due to injuries by everyone ahead of him on the depth chart, Cobb was able to show he’s a true No. 1 receiver and not just a kick returner with offensive potential. His breakout season has included 77 catches, 892 yards and seven touchdowns so far. The Packers wouldn’t have expected much more from any of the other receivers had they been able to play in Cobb’s place.
Washington RB Alfred Morris – Two things were working against Morris when his rookie season began: The fact that he was buried on the depth chart, and Mike Shanahan’s penchant for playing musical running backs. But Shanahan saw something in Morris early in training camp and never looked back.
The result was the best season for a Redskins rookie running back ever. With two games still to go he’s at 1,322, nine touchdowns and a healthy 4.7 yards per carry. He’s as big of a reason as the more heralded Robert Griffin III for why the Redskins have revived their season and are sitting in first place in the NFC East. And some opponents believe he’s the bigger weapon in the Washington offense.
San Francisco LB Aldon Smith – Houston DE J.J. Watt got a ton of preseason publicity and a lot of early season hype after he recorded 9 ½ sacks in his first six games. Meanwhile, even though Smith was coming off a 14-sack season, he didn’t get nearly as much publicity – in part because with Patrick Willis on the 49ers, Smith wasn’t even considered the best linebacker on his own team.
That proved to be shortsighted because, after a slow start in which he had 4 ½ sacks in the first six games, he’s sitting at 19 ½ with two games to go – tied with Watt in their pursuit of Michael Strahan’s NFL record. Granted he’s been helped by one 5 ½ sack game against the Bears on Nov. 19, but he’s been a consistently disruptive force and has had 4 ½ sacks in the four games since that explosion against the Bears.
Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin – Maybe this should’ve been expected for a first-round pick, but he was no certainty to take the reins from LeGarrette Blount when he was drafted. But he did and has been a steady workhorse ever since. His coming out party, of course, was his 251-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders that had fantasy football owners howling.
And while they haven’t all been like that, he does have four 100-yard games and 1,250 yards for a young and struggling team.
—By RALPH VACCHIANO