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Another week, another Hail Mary in the Pac-12. Arizona State used a Hail Mary touchdown pass from backup quarterback Mike Bercovici to receiver Jaelen Strong to defeat USC on Saturday night.
Last week, USC used a Hail Mary pass before halftime to help defeat Oregon State, but the Trojans were on the wrong end of pass defense this week.
Check out Strong’s touchdown catch (along with some bad pass defense from USC):
With the game clock running out, junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong catches a Hail Mary! Pic by: Rob Schumacher pic.twitter.com/vkCseTvTdL— 12News (@12News) October 5, 2014
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is one of the ACC’s rising stars, and the true freshman delivered a huge performance in Saturday’s win over NC State.
Watson completed 17 of 29 passes for 267 yards and two scores and added a highlight-reel touchdown run in the second quarter.
Check out Watson going airborne to score a touchdown in the second quarter of Saturday’s win over NC State:
Texas A&M suffered its first loss of the year on Saturday, dropping a 48-31 matchup in Starkville to the Bulldogs.
Receiver Speedy Noil was one of the team’s bright spots, catching three passes for 50 yards and two scores.
Noil’s touchdown catch in the third quarter was one of the weekend’s best receptions, as the freshman caught the ball just short of the goal-line and stretched to reach into the endzone:
BYU’s loss to Utah State on Friday night was costly, as the Cougars lost quarterback Taysom Hill due to a leg injury for the rest of the season, and its hopes of an unbeaten record and a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff are finished.
Hill was tackled and landed awkwardly on his leg at the end of the second quarter, and the junior was carted to the locker room just prior to halftime.
The junior suffered a fractured leg on the tackle and won’t return in 2014. Hill was a darkhorse Heisman candidate in the preseason and started to gain consideration for a spot among the top 5-10 in most rankings after a hot start to the year.
In five games, Hill threw for 975 yards and seven touchdowns this year and rushed for 463 yards and eight scores on the ground.
With Hill sidelined for the remainder of 2014, Christian Stewart will assume the No. 1 job under center. Stewart has completed 10 of 29 passes for 172 yards but also tossed three picks so far this year.
Hill wasn’t the only key injury suffered for BYU on Friday night, as safety Dallin Leavitt, offensive lineman Brayden Kearsley and linebacker Alani Fui left the game due to ankle ailments.
After a 4-0 start, BYU appeared to be on its way to an unbeaten season, as the schedule was favorable and there were few tossup games remaining on the schedule.
But the Cougars are a different team without Hill, and a loss to Utah State effectively ends any hope Bronco Mendenhall’s team had of making a run at college football’s four-team playoff.
It was a longshot for BYU to make the playoff, but an unbeaten season would have allowed the Cougars to at least push for a spot in one of college football’s elite bowl games.
Hill’s absence changes BYU’s outlook for the rest of the year, as games against UCF, Nevada, Boise State and California move into the tossup category or the Cougars even more to slight underdog status in a few. BYU still has enough on both sides of the ball to push for a 10-2 or 9-3 record, especially with running back Jamaal Williams capable of carrying the offense on the ground.
With Friday night’s loss, BYU is likely headed to the Miami Beach Bowl to take on an opponent from the American Athletic Conference on Dec. 22.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill left the first half of Friday night’s game against Utah State with a significant ankle injury. Hill landed awkwardly on his ankle on a tackle against the Aggies, and the Heisman candidate was carted to the locker room prior to halftime.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall did not have an update at halftime, but BYU's Twitter account indicated Hill suffered a fractured leg and is out indefinitely.
Before the injury, Hill completed 8 of 11 passes for 99 yards and one score. He also added 35 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
Coming into the Friday night matchup against Utah State, Hill had 876 yards and six touchdowns through the air and rushed for 428 yards and seven scores.
Hill was considered among the top 10-15 candidates for the Heisman Trophy after a strong start to the season.
Hill’s backup is senior Christian Stewart. The Utah native has very little experience in his career, and BYU’s offense would clearly take a step back without Hill in the lineup.
Here’s the play where Hill was injured against Utah State:
Here's the play where BYU QB Taysom Hill injured his left leg. He was carted off the field. http://t.co/o7ihOhEAiZ— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) October 4, 2014
Ugly scene for Cougars as QB Taysom Hill suffering what appears to be a serious left leg injury http://t.co/35Y6uzOwwI— Vanquish The Foe (@VanquishTheFoe) October 4, 2014
BYU QB Taysom Hill has a left leg fracture. He will not return. Further evaluations will be carried out later.— BYU Game Notes (@BYUGameNotes) October 4, 2014
Each week, Geoffrey Miller's "Five Things to Watch" will help you catch up on the biggest stories on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' upcoming race weekend.
Kyle Busch has to continue Kansas improvement
Kyle Busch never made it to lap 400 in his first three Sprint Cup starts on the new pavement Kansas Speedway laid down in mid-2012. The car never handled well and he wound up wrecking in all three races.
"The racetrack is the worst racetrack I've ever driven on," Busch said after his crash at the track a year ago. "The tire is the worst tire I've ever driven on.”
After the track didn’t change and Goodyear’s only made a slight change on the right side tires for Kansas’ May race, Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers brought a new mindset to the 1.5-miler.
“Dave and I worked together to start over, from how we set up the car to how I approached it,” Busch said of the spring preparation. “We didn’t get the finish we wanted, but we ended up 15th, I think, with a clean racecar.”
It was a marked improvement – the 15th even came after a pit road speeding penalty – and has Busch set up for a weekend at Kansas that might not derail his championship bid like the crash a year ago.
“I’ve been terrible at places like Martinsville, Pocono, Michigan and others, but we’ve had some solid finishes at those places by trying different things,” Busch said. “So we’re hoping we can build on what we learned there in the spring and improve our finish and run a smart race.”
Winless since April, Kevin Harvick has to be Kansas favorite
Kevin Harvick knows he’s given up a lot of chances at victory this season thanks to myriad issues. It’s plenty fresh on his mind after stumbling again at Dover just last week with a win in reach – a disappointment that continued a winning drought from April 12.
Sunday, he could expect to change that.
Harvick has been the best driver at Kansas in the last three races run at the track. He won at the track a year ago and has two poles in the span. His average finish of fifth is the best in the series, just like his average laps led – 65.5.
“We expect to be fast and just have to have some good luck,” Harvick said. “That is really what it’s all about for us. The car will be fast, it’s just about getting it all to come together.”
Kansas and Charlotte carry mighty Chase advancement weight
The second round of the Chase may feature the third and second-most important races of this new championship format, all because of the one that looms as the round finale.
At least six of the eight drivers who will advance to the third round will have to race in via the second round culmination at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 19. For those eligible drivers, Talladega will be 500 miles at a nerve-wracking level well above the typical craziness that is Sprint Cup restrictor plate racing because advancement will seemingly depend on not getting a car torn up in a big crash.
The odds of a clean Talladega race for any driver just aren’t very good. Last week, Jeff Gordon estimated 80 percent of races for drivers at the 2.66-mile superspeedway include involvement in a crash. It’s hard to dispute that number after recent Cup restrictor plate races have featured crashes with car counts nearing half of the field.
And so that unpredictability will greatly impact decision-making and strategy calls both Sunday at Kansas and next Saturday night at Charlotte. A win in either of those races equals a Get Out of Jail Free card for eligible Chase drivers at Talladega.
Expect that to mean more teams will be willing to risk it with fuel mileage or tire strategy calls for two reasons. First, wins are more valuable in this round than in the first one when conservative strategy was a strong way of advancing. And second, the craziness of a Talladega could also work inversely to the looming elimination danger by letting a team who somehow emerges from the wreckage unscathed to hit the Chase lottery.
Edwards plans to play role of hometown risk-taker
One driver who fully intends to participate in Chase risk-taking is Carl Edwards – both because he really, really wants a hometown win at Kansas and because he knows his Roush Fenway Racing No. 99 will need a bounce of good fortune to keep advancing.
Edwards didn’t get that bounce, per se, at Kansas in 2008 when he literally drove his car into the wall after a dive-bomb attempt on the final lap to pass Jimmie Johnson for the win. Johnson passed Edwards as he lost speed and still won the race.
“Yeah that was fun. I was really upset we didn't win,” Edwards said Friday. “That is how bad I want to win (at Kansas). Looking back that was probably a stupid move. We were racing for a championship and I intentionally ran the thing into the wall.”
Edwards advanced to the second round of the Chase with non-descript finishes of 20th, 17th and 11th while teammate Greg Biffle was eliminated. Chase or not, Edwards is going for broke on Sunday.
“I guarantee you the last run if we have a shot to win I won't be thinking about points or anything like that – which I probably should be – but this place is just special,” Edwards said.
Kyle Larson getting closer to first win with seven rookie races left
If it seems like Kyle Larson has had his name near the front of the first three Chase races a lot, you’re not being deceived.
Larson, in his first Cup season driving Chip Ganassi’s No. 42, has scored the third-most points of any driver in the series since the Chase began. Only Brad Keselowski (128 total points) and Joey Logano (127) have more than Larson’s 122. Larson, of course, narrowly missed Chase eligibility.
Still it’s been a heck of a summer and early fall for the rookie. Dating to New Hamsphire in July, Larson has only one finish worse than 12th from when he blew a tire at Michigan and finished 43rd. In the three Chase races at Chicago, New Hampshire and Dover, Larson has finished third, second and sixth.
A win can’t be far behind. If you’re wondering about this weekend, know that Larson started fifth and finished 12th at Kansas in the spring.
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
No NBA player has ever graced the imagery of U.S. postage. But that all changes this December, when Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain — perhaps the most dominant baller to ever hit the floor — has a couple dedicated to him. One of the stamps has him in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform, and in the other he’s with the long-defunct Philadelphia Warriors.
Chamberlain is of course famous for scoring 100 points in one game in 1962, and for being the league’s all-time leading scorer until Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke his record in 1984. His all-time record of 23,924 rebounds has not been surpassed, however. The 7’1” big man was in a league of his own through multiple eras of basketball — save for when he played against Bill Russell, his close friend who always thwarted him with his Boston Celtics dynasties.
But perhaps you’ve heard of Chamberlain for another reason. Namely, his claim to have slept with over 20,000 women in his lifetime. Consider that number an early bar for these stamps to clear: Can they adorn that many envelopes?
The oblong stickers are taller than most, just as Wilt was. They’ll be officially unveiled at a ceremony in Chamberlain’s hometown of Phladelphia, during halftime of a 76ers game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not a lot of professional athletes have graced postage before — the honor is usually reserved for players from America’s oldest favorite sport, baseball. Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio are among those previously commemorated, as well as boxer Joe Louis.
The crusade to get Chamberlain as the face of your rent checks and letters to grandma was begun by sportswriter Donald Hunt of the Philadelphia Tribune, back in 2008. The wheels of U.S. postage apparently spin as slowly as those of most bureaucracies, so if you’re planning to mount your own stamp campaign, you’d better get started.
— John Wilmes
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for Week 6, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Jacoby Brissett, North Carolina State vs. Clemson ($6100)
Brissett threw for 359 yards and three scores last week against Florida State. He has been very consistent this year and could find success against Clemson in what could be a shootout.
1) RB Marshawn Williams, Va Tech vs. North Carolina ($3700)
Williams appears to be coming on and could see even more carries with Shai McKenzie out for the season. The UNC defense is terrible and could give up plenty of chunk plays to William this week. Look for Williams to find pay dirt this week.
2) RB Rushel Shell, West Virginia vs. Kansas ($4100)
Shell has scored in three straight games and looks to have locked up the starting RB job for the Mountaineers. He could have a very big day against a putrid Kansas defense. Expect Shell to easily hit value this week.
3) RB Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State vs. Iowa State ($4200)
Roland has scored three rushing touchdowns in the last two games and appears to be rounding into form. He has a juicy match up with the Cyclones 111th ranked rush defense. Look for Roland to find his way into the end zone for the third straight week.
1) WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss vs. Alabama ($4300)
Treadwell finally awoke from his slumber last week with 123 yards and two scores against Memphis. He has a tough match up this week with Alabama, but could be leaned on heavily. His price is enticing, so be sure to look his way.
2) WR Mike Williams, Clemson vs. NC State ($4600)
Willams recorded 122 yards and two scores last week against North Carolina. He comes in at a great price this week and has huge potential against NC State. He could be a nice plug and play option this week.
1) TE Steven Walker, Colorado State vs. Tulsa ($3000)
Walker has been productive in filling in for Kivon Cartwright. He could find plenty of open space against a miserable Tulsa defense. He looks like a nice punt option.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Mike Bercovici, Arizona State vs. USC ($5200)
Bercovici threw for 488 yards and three scores against UCLA last week while filling in for Taylor Kelly. He likely won’t hit those numbers this week, but could post solid numbers and hit value against the Trojans.
1) RB Jordan Howard, UAB vs. Western Kentucky ($4300)
Howard ran for 100 yards last week and could easily hit that mark this week against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers rush defense ranks 116th in the nation and routinely gets gashed. Look for Howard to break a couple of long runs this week.
2) RB Jeremy Langford, Michigan State vs. Nebraska ($4700)
Langford has been plagued by blow out games this year and has not got into any type of rhythm as of yet. He could see a ton of carries this week against Nebraska and could easily find the end zone a couple of times.
1) WR D’haquille Williams, Auburn vs. LSU ($4700)
Williams has scored in three of four games this season and is the top option in the Tigers passing game. He has a tough match up this week against LSU, but could easily hit value in this SEC showdown.
- By Todd DeVries and Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
Learn how to SUBSCRIBE to CollegeFootballGeek.com for FREE! Our members earn REAL CASH MONEY playing Daily Fantasy on DraftKings. Features include:
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This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for October 3:
• A great weekend in college football is yielding some great cheerleader showdowns.
• Tomorrow, Mississippi is the center of the college football universe. Given that the Rebs and Bulldogs play in one of the SEC's least populous states, their ascendancy is impressive.
• The helmet worn by Auburn's Chris Davis on the immortal kick-six is going up for auction. Harvey Updyke may buy it to use as a bedpan.
• The Royals flashed serious leather in their win over the Angels.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
|Game 1||Oct. 3||6:30||Los Angeles|
|Game 2||Oct. 4||9:30||Los Angeles|
|Game 3||Oct. 6||TBA||St. Louis|
|Game 4*||Oct. 7||TBA||St. Louis|
|Game 5*||Oct. 9||TBA||Los Angeles|
Perhaps the marquee pitching matchup this postseason will be Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers vs. Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals in Game 1. Should the series go five games, the two aces will likely face off once again in a rematch in Game 5. But when these two teams met in the NLCS a year ago, the two Cy Young candidates combined for three losses, as St. Louis won in six games. The Cardinals won the first game, 3-2 in 13 innings and Game 2, 1-0, as NLCS MVP Michael Wacha pitched a gem, outdueling Kershaw. We can expect another series of close games that likely won’t be decided until Game 5. The Dodgers won four of the seven regular season matchups, winning three of four in Los Angeles in late June.
There are threats up and down the Dodgers’ lineup. There is very little margin for error for the St. Louis pitchers…The Dodgers will also be playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. In Game 1 of last year’s NLCS, Hanley Ramirez was hit by a pitch and suffered a rib injury that severely limited his effectiveness the rest of the series. He was 0-for-9 with four strikeouts over the final three games.
Beyond the Wainwright-Kershaw matchup, the Redbirds have an advantage in starting pitching given the questionable availability of Hyun-Jin Ryu. Dan Haren is the Dodgers’ likely fourth starter…St. Louis also has a deeper bullpen than Los Angeles. If the Cardinals get to the Dodgers’ pen early, that could spell doom for the men in blue…With Seth Maness and Sam Freeman in front of Carlos Martinez, Pat Neshek and Trevor Rosenthal, manager Mike Matheny may have a quick hook this series.
Adam Wainwright won his final four starts of the season with a 0.55 ERA over 33 innings. Opponents batted just .197 over those four games…Meanwhile, Kershaw’s numbers are off the charts. In 17 of his 27 starts this season, he allowed one run or less. He gave up more than three runs just once…The eight projected starters are batting .200 off of Wainwright in their careers; .292 off of Lance Lynn; .358 off of John Lackey; and .452 off of Shelby Miller…Dodgers’ second baseman Dee Gordon led the National League with 64 stolen bases this season. The combination of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina has allowed just six stolen bases over the past three seasons. During that time, seven runners have been nailed.
Hyun-Jin Ryu hasn’t pitched since leaving his start on Sept. 12 after one inning due to shoulder issues. In Game 3 of the 2013 NLCS with the Dodgers down two games, Ryu shut out the Cardinals over seven innings on three hits and a walk. His availability for this series would be a huge boost for Los Angeles…Relievers Carlos Martinez and Pat Heshek will likely be used in high-leverage situations, possibly even in the ninth inning. Other than Wainwright, the Cardinals’ starters — Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Shelby Miller — don’t pitch deep into games, which will put Martinez and Neshek in key roles.
Dodgers in 4
|Game 1||Oct. 3||3:00||Washington|
|Game 2||Oct. 4||5:30||Washington|
|Game 3||Oct. 6||TBA||San Francisco|
|Game 4*||Oct. 7||TBA||San Francisco|
|Game 5*||Oct. 9||TBA||Washington|
The Nationals stormed through the second half and finished with the league’s best record. Much of their success was due to pitching. The starting pitching down the stretch was tremendous, and having a deep bullpen took pressure off of the starters to get deep into games. The lineup core is the same as took the field two seasons ago as favorites against St. Louis in the NLDS. Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth no doubt still feel that sting and are determined not to drop this series. The Giants, led by the calm Bruce Bochy, methodically and quietly go about the business of winning. The Giants exercised tremendous patience at the plate in their wild card win over Pittsburgh. If they become the free swingers we are accustomed to seeing, this could be an easy series win for the Nats. Washington won five of the seven meetings this season, including three of four at San Francisco.
Pitching, pitching, pitching. When Gio Gonzalez is the forgotten man in the starting rotation, it must be pretty good. Stephen Strasburg ended the season with three scoreless outings, Jordan Zimmermann tossed a 10-strikeout, one-walk no-hitter in his final start, and Doug Fister won 16 games after missing the first month of the season.
This team has had success in the postseason before, winning two of the previous four World Series. The manager and the players know how to win big games. At home, or on the road, this team will not be rattled. This team can be streaky offensively, especially Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and even Buster Posey to some degree. If that trio gets hot, this will be a tough lineup to get through.
Gregor Blanco, who will lead off for the Giants, carries a low .251 OBP leading off games this season…Pablo Sandoval’s batting average off of the Nats’ first three starters is .424 in 33 at-bats…Stephen Strasburg ended the season with 20.1 scoreless innings…San Francisco’s Game 2 starter Tim Hudson made two starts against Washington this season, winning both with a 0.73 ERA in 12.1 innings. The righthander is 18-5 with a 2.35 ERA in 31 career starts vs. the Nats…Washington pitchers were 19-8 in September with a 2.55 ERA, and that includes a 22-hit, 15-run debacle in the second game of doubleheader against Miami on the final Friday of the season…Over his last seven starts, Gio Gonzalez owns a 4-1 mark with a 2.36 ERA and .191 batting average against. And he’s the Nats’ Game 4 starter.
San Francisco’s Game 1 starter Jake Peavy gives the Giants an excellent opportunity to steal a game in Washington. The Giants won eight of Peavy’s 12 starts after coming over from Boston, including his last six. Over his last nine outings, Peavy has a 1.35 ERA and opponents are batting .218…It will be interesting to see what kind of memory Washington reliever Drew Storen has. After saving 43 games in 2011, he missed significant time in 2012, making just 37 appearances, all after the All-Star break. He entered the deciding Game 5 in the ninth with a two-run lead before a couple of walks and hits by Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma wrecked the Nats’ season. He did not regain the closer’s role until last month when he had 10 saves in September. Will the 2012 NLDS memory haunt him in this series?
Nationals in 4
Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has quickly gained a reputation in the NBA. In his huge thirst for a championship, the Russian tycoon has thrown enough bad money at a middling roster to make one of the hippest brands in the league crater financially. The roughly $80 million he paid in the luxury tax this summer (barely less than the approximate $100 million his roster cost) was easily an NBA record.
Prokhorov gave general manager Billy King a light so green that he drove the Nets into a state of guaranteed, prolonged mediocrity. The NBA’s salary cap is dense with punitive measures for teams that spend recklessly, and Brooklyn is going to be paying extra for years, just for the right to field a team. Prokhorov may be a billionaire, but his money only goes so far here.
So now, faced with the prospect of little-to-no glory and all those extra fees, Prokhorov wants to sell. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez have all been terrific players at one time or another, but they’re all injury-prone, past their peaks, and ultimately never amounted to a team tough enough to compete with LeBron James.
The $2 billion price tag that new Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer paid couldn’t have hurt, either. Prokhorov is a businessman, and as much as he’d love for his toy to work, he’s not going to let the opportunity to flip it for massive gain go to waste. NBA franchises are selling for a ton right now — so much, in fact, that any reasonable economist should expect their prices to hit a point of diminishing returns in coming years.
As of now, there is one reported serious suitor for the Nets: Guggenheim Sports and Entertainment Assets, owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nets Daily — who broke the story — claims that current valuations have the team package (which doesn't include the brand-new, state-of-the-art Barclays Center in Park Slope) worth around $1.7 billion. The arena itself is said to be in the ballpark of $1.1 billion. Stay tuned.
— John Wilmes
Oregon’s playoff and national title hopes suffered a significant setback in Thursday’s night’s surprise 31-24 loss to Arizona. The Ducks were unable to slow the Wildcats rushing attack in critical moments, and the offensive line once again showed major protection issues.
The win in Eugene is another huge moment in coach Rich Rodriguez’s rebuilding effort at Arizona. Dating back to last season, the Wildcats have won six in a row and followed up last year’s 42-16 thumping of Oregon with a win on the road this year.
Make no mistake: Arizona’s win on Thursday night was no fluke. The Wildcats were more efficient on third down (9 of 17, 4 of 14 for the Ducks), had more total yards (505 to 445) and held Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to one rushing yard on nine attempts.
With the loss to Arizona, Oregon drops to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in Pac-12 play. Losing is never ideal in the national title picture, but the Ducks lost early enough to climb back into the playoff race.
What’s Wrong at Oregon?
The primary culprit in Thursday night’s loss is the offensive line. The Ducks suffered a couple of critical injuries at tackle this season, including Jake Fisher, Andre Yruretagoyena and Tyler Johnstone. With its top three tackles sidelined, Oregon has been forced to start Tyrell Crosby (a true freshman) and Matt Pierson (a walk-on) at tackle. Crosby and Pierson have struggled to protect Mariota from the edge rushers, but the line as a whole has not played up to its preseason expectation. Washington State recorded seven sacks on Sept. 20, and Arizona sacked Mariota five times – with two resulting in forced fumbles – and generated consistent pressure throughout Thursday night’s game. In addition to the pass rush allowed by the offensive line, this unit failed to open many holes for the ground attack. Oregon averaged just 3.4 yards per carry against the Wildcats. That’s the lowest mark by the Ducks’ rushing attack since a 2.6 mark against Stanford last season.
Oregon’s defense gave up 5.9 yards per play and allowed Arizona to score 31 points, but the Wildcats had plenty of success at the point of attack. Terris Jones-Grigsby rushed for 115 yards on 27 attempts, while Nick Wilson added 92 yards on 13 carries. The Ducks were unable to stop Arizona’s ground attack late in the fourth quarter, which would have allowed Mariota to have one more shot at getting a game-tying touchdown. The defensive front was shorthanded due to an injury to end Arik Armstead, but the Wildcats attacked the middle and had success.
Since replacing Chip Kelly, Mark Helfrich is 15-3 as Oregon’s head coach. Following a coach like Kelly isn’t easy, and Helfrich had to deal with an injury to quarterback Marcus Mariota last year that prevented the Ducks from contending for the national championship. But Thursday’s loss feels like the program has reached a critical juncture under Helfrich. The program has a huge win over Michigan State this season, and injuries are once again taking a toll on the offense. However, can Helfrich and this staff make the necessary adjustments to get Oregon back in the Pac-12 title picture? There’s no question the Ducks are a flawed team after five games. With matchups upcoming against UCLA, Stanford and Washington, Helfrich and his staff need to quickly regroup and find answers on both sides of the ball.
Depth of the Pac-12
Arizona’s win on Thursday night showcased the Pac-12’s depth. The Wildcats should be ranked after this victory, and their emergence adds to a brutal South Division, featuring UCLA, USC, Arizona State and Utah.
Simply, the top teams like Oregon, UCLA and Stanford have to show up with its “A” effort each week. The league’s depth has improved, and as a result, the Pac-12 may have too many good teams, which hurts the chances of getting a team into the playoffs.
Oregon’s Playoff Hopes
While Thursday night’s loss is a huge blow to Oregon, the Ducks aren’t totally out of the playoff race just yet. Certainly, Oregon’s playoff outlook is significantly less promising than it was on Wednesday. However, with remaining games against UCLA, Washington and Stanford in the regular season, if the Ducks can run the table the rest of the year and win the conference title game, Helfrich’s team will have strength of schedule on its side. Winning the rest of the way largely depends on an offensive line that has struggled mightily over the last two weeks and may be without tackle Jake Fisher for a couple more games.
It’s not going to be easy with the schedule and personnel concerns, but don’t write off Oregon out of the playoff picture just yet. If the Ducks lose at UCLA next week, then their hopes of making the playoffs will be finished. Again, it’s not over in Eugene. But it’s also not going to be easy to get back into the top four.
The Big Ten’s Playoff Hopes
Oregon’s loss indirectly hurts the Big Ten’s playoff hopes. Michigan State lost at Oregon in Week 2 and needed the Ducks to remain unbeaten and in the top four to have a shot at the playoffs. With Oregon slipping in the polls, it’s a setback to the Spartans’ strength of schedule and opportunity to claim a loss against one of the top teams in the nation. Even if the Ducks slip in the standings with another loss, Michigan State or the Big Ten champion isn’t completely out of the picture. However, the Spartans desperately needed Oregon to keep winning to improve its own playoff outlook.
The epicenter of college football is focused on the state of Mississippi on Saturday, as Alabama travels to Oxford to take on Ole Miss in a huge SEC West showdown. The Magnolia State features two key SEC West showdowns, but the Rebels-Crimson Tide matchup is arguably the game of the day in college football for Week 6.
Ole Miss has made steady gains under coach Hugh Freeze, and the momentum for the program is trending up. This preseason, the SEC West race was considered more open than in previous years, and a win over Alabama would place the Rebels squarely in the mix for the conference title and a spot in college football’s playoff. For Alabama, this game is the start of a difficult road stretch with four away games in their next five contests. The Crimson Tide has played like the best team in the nation at times this year. A huge win over Ole Miss would be enough for most to rank Alabama No. 1 on Sunday.
Alabama has won 10 in a row over Ole Miss. The Rebels’ last victory over the Crimson Tide was a 43-28 matchup in 2003. Alabama has won its last two meetings in Oxford by at least 19 points, including a 52-7 blowout in 2011.
Alabama at Ole Miss
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace
Which Bo Wallace will Ole Miss have on Saturday? Is it the good Dr. Bo? Or will the Rebels get the quarterback that tossed five interceptions in games against Memphis and Boise State? In his only SEC game this year, Wallace threw for 320 yards and one touchdown against Vanderbilt. Ole Miss needs a similar effort on Saturday, especially when it comes to keeping the zero in the turnover column. Wallace has no shortage of options in the passing game, starting with sophomore Laquon Treadwell (15.4 ypc) and continuing with Cody Core (16.3 ypc), Vince Sanders and a matchup nightmare at tight end Evan Engram. If Wallace can limit his mistakes, there will be opportunities to throw on Alabama. The biggest “question mark” on the Crimson Tide defense is the secondary, which allowed 365 yards to West Virginia in the opener. Eddie Jackson’s return adds more depth and talent to the defensive backfield, which held Florida to just 93 yards on nine completions in Week 4. Ole Miss will likely replicate West Virginia and Oklahoma’s gameplan for attacking the Crimson Tide’s secondary with tempo and quick passes, but Wallace has to avoid the big mistake and take his chances downfield when there are opportunities.
2. Alabama’s Rushing Offense
Ole Miss is allowing just 3.5 yards per carry and only one opponent (ULL) has recorded more than 135 yards on the ground this season. The Rebels have improved their depth and overall talent each year under coach Hugh Freeze, and the front seven is loaded with talent, depth and speed. Alabama’s offense will throw a lot of formations and different looks at Ole Miss, but the ground attack is still the focal point for coordinator Lane Kiffin. The Crimson Tide has recorded at least 190 rushing yards in every game this year. Running backs Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon have combined for 604 yards and four scores this season, while quarterback Blake Sims has pitched in 141. In last year’s meeting, Alabama recorded 254 yards on 40 attempts. Stopping the Crimson Tide is more than just slowing the ground game, but Ole Miss needs to get Alabama’s offense in third-and-long situations. The Crimson Tide leads the SEC by converting 61.8 percent of their third-down attempts. The Rebels have to get Alabama out of its comfort zone on offense and force the Crimson Tide to throw to open up the ground game.
3. Stopping Amari Cooper
It’s clear Cooper has greatly benefited from the arrival of Lane Kiffin as Alabama’s play-caller. In four games, Cooper has 43 catches – almost as many as he had in 2013 (45). The junior is averaging 15.2 yards per catch and has five receiving scores over the last three games. The Ole Miss secondary will have its hands full against Cooper, but the Rebels have allowed only one passing score against 135 pass attempts this year. The secondary is also limiting opponents to a completion percentage of just 51.9. Senior Senquez Golson and junior Mike Hilton are tasked with slowing Cooper, but safety Cody Prewitt is also one of the league’s best and has 10 picks over the last four years. How will Ole Miss defend Cooper? Will the defense shade extra coverage in his direction? The Crimson Tide has other weapons in the passing game in Christion Jones and DeAndrew White, while tight end O.J. Howard has largely been absent in the stat column. If the Rebels cheat too much coverage in Cooper’s direction, Howard could have a huge day.
This is arguably the biggest game for Ole Miss under Hugh Freeze. The SEC West is for the taking for the Rebels, as LSU is reloading, Auburn and Alabama suffered key personnel losses from 2013, and Texas A&M lost three first-round picks. Freeze has been slowly building Ole Miss into a West Division contender, and this team is worthy of a ranking among the top 10-15 teams in the nation. However, Alabama might be the No. 1 team in college football. Quarterback play is huge in this one, as Ole Miss needs a flawless effort from Bo Wallace, while Blake Sims will be pressed to continue his hot start to the season. If the Rebels slow the Crimson Tide’s rushing attack and win the turnover battle – combined with a raucous home crowd – the upset is there for Ole Miss to take. But beating Alabama requires a flawless effort in turnovers and penalties. The guess here is the Crimson Tide controls the pace of the game and wins in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Alabama 30, Ole Miss 20
Break out the band, because two straight winning weeks has me surging into the black.
I was 4-0-1 in top picks digging deep into C-USA and the Sun Belt for winners. And in the big games, the road dogs went 3-2.
Overall, Mitch Light is still leading the way in Top 25 picks with a very sturdy 43-30-2 season mark. That said, both myself (41-32-2) and Steven Lassan (38-35-2) are above the break-even line for Top 25 picks as well. So if the three of us agree on something, it might be time to make a phone call.
My advice this weekend would be to stay away from the huge games in the SEC. If you are desperate to jump on the big games in the Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12, I’d take the favorites.
Last Week: 7-2-1
Ohio State (-8.5) at Maryland
Ohio State is a significantly better and more talented team than Maryland. While the Terps bounced back nicely on both sides of the ball last weekend, Randy Edsall's bunch won't be able to keep up with a Buckeyes team that is rounding into form on offense. Prediction: Ohio State -8.5
Purdue (+8.5) at Illinois
The Illini are at home and Purdue is simply awful. Wes Lunt is back under center for Illinois and that should be enough to roll through what is statistically one of the worst Big 5 teams in the nation. Tim Beckman won one Big Ten game last year and, you guessed it, it came against the Boilermakers. Prediction: Illinois -8.5
If you have to go after the big games…
Oklahoma (-5) at TCU
TCU scored late in last year's game to make it look closer than it was in Norman but this Sooners team is much better. Trevone Boykin has been great this fall but hasn't faced anything like this OU team. Take the Sooners.
Baylor (-14.5) at Texas
Texas will likely have to score 35-40 points to win this game and I'm not sure Tyrone Swoopes has led Texas to 40 points in his three starts combined (okay, it's 47). Baylor rolls big and should cover easily.
Nebraska (+7) at Michigan St
Nebraska has one elite player. Michigan State has an elite team. I'll take Sparty to win what is normally a very feisty game in the Big Ten. Mark Dantonio knows he needs style points to reach the playoffs and this is one of the few chances he has left.
Arizona State (+11.5) at USC
The Sun Devils defense is still a long way from being rebuilt and the offense is still without star quarterback Taylor Kelly. USC proved last week they are legit on defense (when at home) and Cody Kessler has been brilliant at QB.
LSU (+7.5) at Auburn
I don't like the hook but I like this LSU team even less. Auburn lost only once in the regular season last fall and that was in Baton Rouge. Auburn might be better on both sides of the ball and LSU is significantly worse. This is the only SEC game I feel good about. War Eagle.
Top 25 Picks ATS:
|Top 25||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|Wake Forest (+38) at Florida St|
|Alabama (-6.5) at Ole Miss|
|Oklahoma (-5) at TCU|
|LSU (+7.5) at Auburn|
|Texas A&M (+2) at Miss. St|
|Baylor (-14.5) at Texas|
|Utah (+13) at UCLA|
|Stanford (-1.5) at N. Dame|
|Nebraska (+7) at Mich. St|
|Vanderbilt (+33.5) at Georgia|
|Arizona St (+11.5) at USC|
|Wisconsin (-8) at Northwestern|
|Utah St (+20.5) at BYU|
|Ohio St (-8.5) at Maryland|
|Iowa St (+17) at Oklahoma St|
|SMU (+40.5) at E. Carolina|
|T. Tech (+12.5) at Kansas St|
The SEC owns the spotlight in Week 6, but the marquee night matchup on Saturday resides in the Big Ten, as Nebraska travels to Michigan State. Considering how both teams have performed this year, this could be an early preview of the Big Ten Championship and an elimination game for playoff purposes.
Nebraska is off to a solid 5-0 start, scoring at least 40 points in four out of its five games. The Cornhuskers needed a last-minute escape to beat McNeese State, but Bo Pelini’s team defeated Miami by 10 and Illinois by 31 last Saturday.
Michigan State suffered a loss to Oregon in Week 2, but the Spartans have won by at least 38 points in their other three games. Saturday night’s game against Nebraska is the first Big Ten contest of the year for Mark Dantonio’s team.
Nebraska owns a 5-1 series edge over Michigan State, but the Cornhuskers lost last year’s meeting 41-28 in Lincoln. Nebraska won its last trip to East Lansing, a 28-24 matchup in 2012.
Nebraska at Michigan State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan State -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Michigan State’s Run Defense Against Ameer Abdullah
There are few players in the nation performing at a higher level than Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. The senior ranks second nationally by averaging 166.6 yards per game and is tied with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon for the Big Ten lead in rushing scores (eight). Abdullah has three 200-yard games, including 208 in last week’s 45-14 win over Illinois last Saturday. The senior also leads the nation with 29 rushes of 10 yards or more. But will Abdullah have success against Michigan State’s front seven? The Spartans rank second in the Big Ten against the run, limiting opponents to only 80.8 yards per game. Pat Narduzzi’s defense is allowing only 2.9 yards per rush, with Oregon (4.3 ypc) having the most success so far this year. Despite Michigan State’s strength in the trenches, Abdullah has posted back-to-back 100-yard games against the Spartans and averaged over five yards per carry in his two previous meetings. That’s a good sign for Abdullah on Saturday.
2. Michigan State’s Offense
After five games, Nebraska’s defense ranks seventh in the Big Ten in yards per play allowed. The Cornhuskers are giving up just 4.8 yards per play, but this unit allowed 6.7 to Miami and 5.5 to Illinois last week. Is this the week everything falls into place for Nebraska’s defense? Or will Michigan State’s offense score 40 points in a game for the third time this year? The Spartans’ offensive attack is headlined by quarterback Connor Cook (9 TDs, 2 INTs, 69.2%) and running back Jeremy Langford (340 yards). Langford gashed Nebraska for 151 yards (4.7 ypc) last season and appears to be healthy after battling an early-season ankle injury in 2014. If Langford has success on the ground, it will open up the pass for big plays from Cook and receiver Tony Lippett. How will the Cornhuskers defend the Spartans? Will Nebraska load the box to stop Langford? The Cornhuskers need to make Michigan State one-dimensional and put Cook in third-and-long situations. If Nebraska can get the Spartans off sequence, Nebraska’s pass rush (12 sacks) will have opportunities to get to Cook on passing downs.
3. The Turnover Battle
Nebraska lost five turnovers in last year’s meeting. With this season’s matchup in East Lansing, the Cornhuskers have little margin for error and a negative turnover margin would be too much to overcome. Michigan State leads the Big Ten with a +9 turnover margin and has forced 12 turnovers through four games. Nebraska is just +1 through five games and lost two turnovers in each of the last two contests. So far, quarterback Tommy Armstrong has limited his mistakes (just three interceptions on 115 attempts) for the Cornhuskers. Armstrong only completed 9 of 21 throws in last year’s matchup, and his development – and ability to limit his mistakes in the passing game – are critical for Nebraska’s hopes of winning. If the Spartans dominate the turnover department and finish with a +2 or +3 margin, Nebraska will have a hard time going into East Lansing and earning the victory.
Turnovers and the play of quarterback Tommy Armstrong are critical for Nebraska’s upset hopes. For Michigan State, it has to find a way to stop running back Ameer Abdullah. Had the Cornhuskers not recorded a negative turnover margin (-5) last year, the outcome would have been much closer (41-28). While Armstrong is better equipped to handle the challenge of playing the Spartans’ defense, and Abdullah is playing at a high level, this is a tough task for Nebraska to win in East Lansing against a top-10 team. Michigan State’s balance on offense, along with its stout defensive line, will be just enough for the Spartans to pull out the victory.
Prediction: Michigan State 30, Nebraska 20
The Week 6 slate is filled with marquee games in the SEC, and the action begins in Starkville with a matchup between Texas A&M and Mississippi State with major West Division title implications on Saturday morning. Both teams have passed their major tests so far, as Texas A&M defeated South Carolina in Columbia in its opener and rallied to beat Arkansas 35-28 in overtime last week. Mississippi State won its first three non-conference games with relative ease and won 34-29 at LSU on Sept. 20. While the final score was close, the Bulldogs dominated the Tigers and should have won by more than five points.
These two teams have played only seven times, with Texas A&M owning a 4-3 edge in the series. The Aggies have won the only two matchups with both teams as SEC members. Mississippi State’s last win over Texas A&M was in the 2000 Independence Bowl.
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Kickoff: Noon ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Mississippi State -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Mississippi State’s Pass Defense
It’s tough to read too much into non-conference games as a clear indicator of what to expect in league action. But is Mississippi State susceptible to opposing teams through the air? The Bulldogs rank last in the SEC against the pass but are ninth in pass efficiency defense. Mississippi State has also allowed 10 passing plays of 30 yards or more (worst in the SEC) and seven of 40 yards or more. That’s not exactly the best news for a defense to read going into a matchup against Texas A&M. The Aggies lead the nation with 21 plays of 30 yards or more, and the big-play ability of the passing game could add to that total against Mississippi State’s pass defense. Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill isn’t as explosive on the ground as former signal-caller Johnny Manziel, but the sophomore leads the SEC with an average of 349 passing yards per game. Hill also has just two interceptions and is completing 65.6 percent of his passes.
2. Stopping Dak Prescott
Texas A&M’s defense has showed progress through the first five games of this season after a brutal 2013. Last year, the Aggies gave up 32.2 points a game and allowed 6.7 yards per play in SEC games. Texas A&M held South Carolina to 28 points in the opener and limited Arkansas to seven points in the second half of last week’s game. The Aggies are still allowing 6.7 yards per play, but opposing rushing attacks are managing just 3.8 yards per carry, a clear decrease from the 5.4 mark last year. The depth and overall talent is better for Kevin Sumlin’s defense, but Mississippi State is its biggest challenge so far this year. The Bulldogs feature a diverse attack, averaging 270.8 yards per game on the ground and 266.8 per contest through the air. Quarterback Dak Prescott gashed LSU for 373 yards on Sept. 20 and presents a unique challenge for Texas A&M. The Aggies showed last week they are better and have the talent necessary to compete in the trenches in the SEC. Prescott is the best quarterback this defense has played so far. With an ability to rush for 100 yards on the ground and throw for 300 through the air, Prescott won’t be easy to stop. Is the Texas A&M defense up to the challenge?
3. Offensive Standouts at RB and WR
With no shortage of points expected, keep a close watch on the playmakers outside of the two quarterbacks (Hill and Prescott). Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson is quietly averaging 7.8 yards per carry and leads the team with 485 yards on the ground. The Aggies feature three running backs with at least 158 rushing yards, with Trey Williams (234 yards) leading the way. Both teams are deep and talented at receiver, as Texas A&M has five players with at least 13 receptions, including standout freshmen Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones. On the Bulldogs’ sideline, Jameon Lewis is the clear favorite of quarterback Dak Prescott (15 receptions, 223 yards), but De’Runnya Wilson has provided big plays in 2014 (17.5 ypc) and Fred Brown (17.3 ypc) is also in the mix. A tight game is expected in Starkville. Which set of skill players will provide their quarterback with the most help?
Prepare for offensive fireworks. Vegas set the over/under at 70.5 and that total could be higher. While the offenses will have their way, it’s all about timely stops on defense. Both teams have had success getting after the quarterback (combined 30 sacks so far), while Mississippi State has been better at forcing turnovers (9 to Texas A&M’s 4). The Bulldogs won’t have center Dillon Day due to suspension, which is a significant loss for the offense. If Prescott can overcome Day’s absence, and Mississippi State’s rushing offense controls the flow of the game, the Bulldogs will score another huge SEC win this year. An up-tempo, high-scoring game would favor Texas A&M, especially if it can jump out to an early two-score lead and limit Prescott’s ability to have success on the ground. This one is tough to predict, but the home team gets a slight edge.
Prediction: Mississippi State 38, Texas A&M 34
The SEC West is home to three huge showdowns on Saturday, and after Ole Miss-Alabama and Texas A&M-Mississippi State carry the spotlight early in the day, LSU-Auburn is set to close out the SEC’s monster slate with a meeting at Jordan-Hare Stadium at night.
LSU and Auburn have experienced mixed success in SEC games in 2014. Auburn won its only conference matchup, defeating Arkansas 45-21, while LSU lost 34-29 to Mississippi State on Sept. 20. Considering the depth of the SEC West, there has to be some urgency on LSU’s part this weekend. An 0-2 deficit will not be easy to overcome in the West, and Saturday’s game against Auburn is a must-win situation for coach Les Miles.
LSU has won six out of the last seven meetings against Auburn. LSU’s defeated Auburn 35-21 last year, with Auburn’s last victory in the series coming in 2010 (24-17). LSU owns a 27-19-1 overall series lead over Auburn.
LSU at Auburn
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Auburn -8
Three Things to Watch
1. LSU’s Rush Defense
In LSU’s loss to Mississippi State, the Tigers allowed 302 yards on 49 attempts (6.2 ypc). And LSU’s struggles on the ground aren’t a one-game fluke. The Tigers gave up 268 yards to Wisconsin and 172 to New Mexico State. Total yardage can be a misnomer, but LSU’s defensive front is a significant concern. Youth is largely to blame for the Tigers’ problems against the run, as seven freshmen are listed as contributors up front. LSU has to be tougher and more aggressive at the point of attack to stop Auburn. Gus Malzahn’s offense averages 260.5 yards per game on the ground, averaging 5.5 yards per touch. Malzahn has multiple weapons to choose from, starting with Cameron-Artis-Payne (5.4 ypc, 468 yards), Corey Grant (216 yards) and quarterback Nick Marshall (273 yards). Auburn’s offensive line isn’t as dominant as it was last year, but this unit is still one of the better groups in the SEC.
2. LSU QB Brandon Harris
Anthony Jennings started LSU’s first five games, but true freshman Brandon Harris is slated to take the first snap against Auburn. In last week’s win over New Mexico State, Harris led LSU to seven touchdowns on seven drives. The true freshman has been significantly more efficient than Jennings (smaller sample size of course), completing 73.3 percent of his passes and tossing six touchdowns on 30 attempts. Harris is the better quarterback and should spark a passing attack that was inconsistent under Jennings’ direction. Making your first start on the road in the SEC is no easy assignment, so while Harris has played well, this is by far his toughest opponent. Auburn’s secondary has limited its opponents to just three touchdowns on 138 attempts, and opposing quarterbacks are completing 58.7 percent of their throws. This is a tough spot for Harris, but the limited sample size suggests he is capable of rising to the occasion. Can Auburn’s defense give the young quarterback a few different looks to confuse him on Saturday night?
3. Auburn’s Defense
In Ellis Johnson’s second year as Auburn’s defensive play-caller, the Tigers – at least so far – are performing better on the stat sheet. Auburn is allowing just 4.6 yards per play, an improvement after giving up 6.0 last season. Johnson’s defense is also limiting opponents to 16.3 points per game. With Harris starting his first game for LSU, expect coordinator Cam Cameron to utilize the rushing attack to decrease the pressure on his freshman quarterback. So far, Auburn has been steady against the run, holding opponents to just 90.8 yards per game. Can that success continue on Saturday? LSU’s strength on offense is its rushing attack, and Auburn needs to stop the ground game and force Harris to win this one through the air. So far, the stats say Auburn’s defense is improving. Will that theme continue on Saturday night?
LSU’s backs are against the wall. An 0-2 deficit in SEC play is difficult to overcome for any team in the West, so Les Miles’ team should be motivated. LSU defensive play-caller John Chavis has coordinated successful efforts against Auburn, limiting Auburn to 24 points or less in all four meetings against Gus Malzahn’s offense. Despite Chavis’ past success, it’s tough to see LSU containing Auburn for all four quarters. Harris should provide a spark on offense, and the rushing attack will have success, but LSU’s defensive struggles against the ground show up once again in the second half. The development of Auburn’s passing attack (and quarterback Nick Marshall) only adds to the difficulty of defending Malzahn’s offense. LSU hangs around early, but Auburn pulls away in the second half.
Prediction: Auburn 34, LSU 24
No. 11 Nebraska ended a 16-year NCAA Tournament drought last season, but the Cornhuskers return enough firepower to contend for more. Tim Miles has built a program ready to contend in the Big Ten — a league in which many of the usual contenders are in a state of transition.
The Nebraska edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
Never mind that Nebraska, led by co-Big Ten Coach of the Year Tim Miles, is coming off its most celebrated season in more than 20 years. Junior guard Terran Petteway, who averaged 18.1 points to lead the Big Ten in scoring, wants more after the Huskers fizzled with first-round losses in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament.
“The way we finished last year, we don’t want that taste in our mouth,” says Petteway, one of four returning starters for a Nebraska team that finished 19–13. “This year, we’re trying to win the Big Ten. We’re not trying to come in fourth, we’re not trying to come in third. We want to win it.”
That’s with all due respect to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State, teams Petteway says “are going to be pretty good.”
Unlike previous seasons, those teams won’t be looking past Nebraska. Not after the Huskers, picked to finish last in the Big Ten, pulled a few upsets, gained steam late and finished a surprising 11–7 — good for fourth place.
“The little stretch we went on last year, I think everybody took notice of that,” Petteway says. “This year, it’s not going to be, ‘Oh, Nebraska’s coming, whoopty-doo.’ People are going to be preparing for us. We can’t be no one-hit wonder. We got to make a name for ourselves. This second year is going to be big, because we’re not going to sneak up on nobody. Everybody’s going to be ready for us now.”
No. 11 Nebraska Cornhuskers Facts & Figures
Last season: 18-13 overall, 11-7 Big Ten
Postseason: Round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Coach: Tim Miles (34-32 overall at Nebraska, 16-20 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Second
Postseason Projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Void of depth in the post last season, Nebraska signed fifth-year senior transfer Moses Abraham (who went by Moses Ayegba during his career at Georgetown). The 6-9, 247-pound Abraham is a physical veteran presence inside who may not add much offensively but can rebound, block shots and, in general, be that rim protector the Huskers have sorely missed.
Only now, Abraham, who averaged a mere 13.1 minutes last season, will need to prepare himself for a heavier workload as Nebraska deals with the loss of senior forward Leslee Smith, who suffered an ACL tear July 3 playing for his native British Virgin Islands team in the FIBA Caribbean Championships. It’s uncertain when or if Smith, the Huskers’ first post player off the bench, will return, but it could mean true freshman center Jake Hammond may have to nix plans to redshirt.
Nebraska does return 6-10 junior Walter Pitchford, who started inside last season but is anything but a traditional big man. More of a stretch-4, Pitchford shot a team-best 41 percent on 3-pointers last season. Redshirt freshman Nick Fuller, a 6-6 forward, is a left-handed shooter with range who could also crack the rotation.
Petteway figures to become Nebraska’s first NBA Draft pick since Venson Hamilton in 1999. Whether that happens this season or next isn’t of concern now to Petteway, who’s concentrating more on improving his game and helping the Huskers win their first NCAA Tournament game in school history. Petteway made a living getting to the rim and scoring in transition, but he needs to shore up his perimeter shooting and, most important, reverse a rather unsightly 52-to-88 assist-to-turnover stat line.
Junior Shavon Shields, with a game very similar to Petteway’s, gives Nebraska a strong one-two punch on the wing. Coaches are counting on a much-improved Tai Webster at guard after the sophomore lost confidence and tailed off down the stretch of a freshman season that didn’t meet lofty expectations. And don’t underestimate the importance of junior Benny Parker off the bench. The diminutive Parker, while not known for his offense, can spark his team with defensive intensity and his ability to move the ball in transition.
Nebraska ended its NCAA Tournament drought — which had dated to 1998 — when many least expected it. The Huskers lose only one main contributor, guard Ray Gallegos, and boast a headline player in Petteway. While these Huskers won’t sneak up on Big Ten teams like they did last season, they have enough scoring options, a salty enough defense and a savvy enough coach to continue their momentum in a league dotted with question marks after the first four or five teams. Anything less than an upper-half finish would be a disappointing step backward, with another top-four finish the ultimate goal in Miles’ third season.
Georgetown fifth-year transfer Moses Abraham and his 7-4 wing span should help improve Nebraska’s rim protection. True freshman Jake Hammond, a 6-10, 227-pound center, had planned on redshirting to increase his weight and strength, but the injury to Leslee Smith may change those plans. True freshman Tarin Smith could vie for a starting job at point guard, allowing Tai Webster to play more minutes at the off guard.
Optimism abounds every preseason. Every move is going to work and every team is going to get better.
Logically, we know this won’t be the case. Not every hire or quarterback change or transfer is a stroke of genius.
Some moves are duds. Some moves take time to develop. Some decisions require an about face after only a few weeks.
These are the big decisions that didn’t work out as intended or at least haven’t produced the desired results through the first month of the season.
10 Offseason Moves that Flopped
Michigan hires Doug Nussmeier
The Wolverines don’t have Al Borges to kick around anymore, but the offense has still taken a step backward. Michigan is still turnover-prone with 14 giveaways — the Wolverines lost 21 all of last season. The offensive line can’t protect the passer. And neither quarterback, when heathy, can’t sustain a drive. A hire that Brady Hoke hoped would turn the program around may be the end of his tenure.
Jake Coker transfers to Alabama
Blake Sims’ emergence as Alabama’s quarterback has been one of the biggest surprises of the season so far. That surprise comes at the expense at Coker, who was expected to ease right into the starting job. If he doesn’t claim the starting job during the remainder of this season, he’ll have a shot in 2015 when Sims leaves. But had he stayed at Florida State, he’d have at least one start under his belt when Jameis Winston was suspended.
South Carolina tries out the 3-4
Without Jadeveon Clowney and with an excess of linebackers, South Carolina planned to spend more time in the 3-4, especially opening against a team like Texas A&M. Those plans were dashed in an embarrassing Week 1 loss to the Aggies. Coach Steve Spurrier said no defensive scheme would have stopped the Aggies in the opener. That may be true as Texas A&M racked up 511 passing yards, but South Carolina has allowed better than six yards per play in every game this season. The exception was a loss to Missouri.
Clemson starts the season with Cole Stoudt at quarterback
Dabo Swinney probably didn’t want to start his highly touted true freshman in the opener in Athens against Georgia, especially with a senior on the roster. Stoudt struggled against Georgia (16-of-28, one interceptions) before giving way to freshman Deshaun Watson early against Florida State. Watson is 46-of-64 for 701 yards with seven total touchdowns and one interception since becoming the primary quarterback.
LSU starts Anthony Jennings at quarterback
Similar to Clemson, LSU went with a veteran instead of a freshman in an opener against a ranked team. Jennings helped LSU defeat Wisconsin the first game of the season as freshman Brandon Harris didn’t throw a pass, but Jennings wasn't the long-term solution. Les Miles made a change before the end of the first month of the season in time for a road trip to Auburn this week.
Texas Tech runs off backup quarterbacks
Davis Webb took over the starting QB spot, leaving former starter Baker Mayfield and longtime backup Michael Brewer holding clipboards. Mayfield ended up at Oklahoma and Brewer at Virginia Tech, but not until Texas Tech attempted to pose limitations on their transfers. Given that Webb was hurt against Oklahoma State and is uncertain to start this week, Texas Tech could use an extra QB right now.
Wisconsin names Tanner McEvoy quarterback
Neither of the Badgers’ options are Russell Wilson, but quarterback may be a liability for Wisconsin. McEvoy has looked at times like a converted defensive back playing QB, but Gary Andersen may not have had much choice as Stave has been dealing with a “mental block” that has made his throws unpredictable.
Kurt Roper's plans to remake the Florida offense
Roper has a fine track record, but the latest coach to attempt to fix the Florida offense hasn’t made a ton of progress so far. Jeff Driskel continues to struggle against SEC competition, completing only 56 percent of his passes this season for 5.6 yards per attempt.
Jeremy Pruitt's plans to remake the Georgia defense
Like the hire of Roper at Florida, this may be in the “hasn’t worked yet” category rather than the “backfired” category. Georgia’s pass defense remains one of its biggest problems as South Carolina completed 70 percent of its passes for nine yards per attempt. The Bulldogs may have lost last week’s game against Tennessee had quarterback Justin Worley played the entire game.
Assuming Florida State was invincible
Florida State was a near-unanimous pick at No. 1 this season — not that there many other viable candidates — but by the end of the first month, the Seminoles are starting to look vulnerable. Thanks to an ACC schedule, Florida State (and perhaps the Big 12 champion) may have the best chance of navigating a Power 5 conference to go undefeated. But other teams might be more trustworthy in a Playoff situation. The Seminoles’ offensive line has struggled to give FSU a consistent run game, and the pass defense has gone from allowing 14 touchdowns to 26 interceptions to six touchdowns and one interception.
Nobody watches basketball for the free throws. Tedious, tiring and largely unathletic acts, they slow down every NBA game. This is an observation you’ve probably heard at a bar or on a couch before, but recently the notion of free throws as a total snoozefest has also been discussed by NBA brass.
A collection of “the league’s basketball operations folks and rule geeks,” as reported by ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, has discussed the prospect of condensing every trip to the foul strike to just one shot. So: The fouled shooter would take one foul shot, worth two points. This rule, if instituted, would shave an estimated five minutes off of game time.
One might laugh this concept off as mere theory, unlikely to ever take form in reality. But new league commissioner Adam Silver — who took the helms from David Stern this past February — just may be progressive enough to pass a rule so seemingly experimental. His open, forward tenor is largely different from his predecessor’s, and his swift, judicious handling of Donald Sterling’s dismissal as Los Angeles Clippers owner shows he’s a man of action.
Silver has previously said he’d also consider the idea of having one extra referee, off the floor, dedicated solely to video review. This is another measure that could speed up the game — which, truth be told, is not exactly slow as it is. But perhaps the NBA sees an opportunity to become America’s number one sport, as the NFL struggles with repeated PR disasters, and the league is taking any marginal step it can to entice fans ready to jump ship.
Less waiting, more dunking is a pretty good selling point. But a shot of speed to one of the world’s faster team sports should be appealing to fans regardless of whether it helps basketball’s TV ratings. There’s no need to fill space with a redundant, stale skill competition — that’s exactly the kind of boring rubbish we turn towards sports to escape. Let’s make basketball more exciting.
— John Wilmes
This Lone Star State showdown is the fourth meeting all-time between Houston and Dallas and will unfold Sunday on CBS. The Cowboys have won the past two meetings — 27–13 in 2010, 34–6 in ’06 — after an embarrassing 19–10 loss in the Texans’ first-ever game as an expansion franchise in ‘02, a game in which David Carr outdueled Quincy Carter. This time around, both of Texas’ teams are riding high with a 3–1 record.
Houston has a legit MVP candidate (albeit an non-traditional one) in defensive end J.J. Watt, who has two sacks, an 80-yard pick-six and a receiving TD so far this season. The Cowboys ride in on a three-game winning streak that includes last Sunday's 38–17 beatdown of the Saints in what was probably Dallas' most complete performance in years.
Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Dallas -6
Three Things to Watch
|Houston 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs WAS||W 17 - 6||Recap|
|9/14||@ OAK||W 30 - 14||Recap|
|9/21||@ NYG||L 17 - 30||Recap|
|9/28||vs BUF||W 23 - 17||Recap|
|10/5||@ DAL||L 17 - 20||Recap|
|10/9||vs IND||L 28 - 33||Recap|
1. Can the Cowboys Handle Success?
By Week 5, I think we all expected to be speculating about Jason Garrett's replacement in Big D, and whether the 'Boys would cut bait with Tony Romo. Instead, Garrett and Romo are at the helm of one of the best offenses in the NFL, a unit that's averaging 28.8 points and 384 yards per game. "In my time in the NFL this is as complete a unit as I've been a part of, and I think you can almost simplify the game a little bit," Romo said. The Cowboys' 21-point win over New Orleans — a preseason Super Bowl favorite — was the fourth-largest winning margin of the Garrett era and came against a team that retains enough cachet to make the victory significant in terms of confidence. But the obvious question remains: Can the Cowboys build on their hot start, or will things inevitably implode at Valley Ranch? At least Garrett & Co. have bought themselves some time with their hot start, and they should be able to play loose and relaxed.
|Dallas 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs SF||L 17 - 28||Recap|
|9/14||@ TEN||W 26 - 10||Recap|
|9/21||@ STL||W 34 - 31||Recap|
|9/28||vs NO||W 38 - 17||Recap|
|10/5||vs HOU||W 20 - 17||Recap|
|10/12||@ SEA||W 30 - 23||Recap|
2. Staying Grounded
The Cowboys' most significant step forward has come in the running game. They lead the NFL by a wide margin in rushing yardage, averaging 165 yards per game on 32.5 attempts per contest, their most rushing attempts per game since 2005. DeMarco Murray has joined Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson and Emmitt Smith as the only players with at least 100 yards and one TD in each of their first four games of a season. Murray is finding room to run behind a rejuvenated offensive line that was an offseason priority in Dallas, and a punishing ground game could help neutralize pass-rusher extraordinaire J.J. Watt. The Texans haven’t had nearly as much success on the ground — they're averaging 114.8 yards per game — but they remain committed to establishing the run, especially if injury-plagued running back Arian Foster is ready to go. "We have to keep making sure that we stick the run in there. We can't just throw it 55 or 60 times a game and get away with that," coach Bill O'Brien said. "We've got to figure out how to run the ball better from a coaching standpoint and from a playing standpoint."
3. Tracking the Takeaways
In a game that's relatively evenly matched, turnovers can make the difference, and this is where the Texans might have a slight advantage. They've forced a league-leading nine turnovers, with J.J. Watt's electrifying 80-yard pick-six in the win over Buffalo the highlight. An injury-riddled Dallas defense has also relied on turnovers, forcing eight in the team's first four games. After tossing three interceptions in the opener in San Francisco, Romo has done a great job protecting the football — which means that we might be overdue for a few miscues. His counterpart, Ryan Fitzpatrick, has thrown five interceptions in the last two games, so the Cowboys might be able to pressure him into mistakes as well.
With a punishing, explosive ground game and a quarterback who's playing some of his best football, the Cowboys look like a safe bet to run their record to 4–1 in front of some appreciative, postseason-starved fans. Of course, there's always a chance that the fast start in Big D is merely more tantalizing fool's gold, but there is something a little different about Dallas these days. Until they show us otherwise, we'll continue to be bullish on these Cowboys.
Prediction: Dallas 27, Houston 21
Arizona and Denver are set to get back to the field when the two teams return from their byes to face each other Sunday afternoon on FOX. The Cardinals (3-0) are one of two teams (Cincinnati) still undefeated entering Week 5, while the Broncos (2-1) look continue its recent dominance at home following their overtime loss in Seattle two weeks ago.
On paper, this shapes up as a matchup of contrasting styles and strengths. Arizona ranks among the NFL’s stingiest defenses while Denver boasts one of the most explosive and potent offenses. The Broncos also have the benefit of playing at home, as they are 11-1 (including playoffs) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High since last season.
Arizona Cardinals at Denver Broncos
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Denver -8
Three Things to Watch
|Arizona 2014 Schedule|
|9/8||vs SD||W 18 - 17||Recap|
|9/14||@ NYG||W 25 - 14||Recap|
|9/21||vs SF||W 23 - 14||Recap|
|10/5||@ DEN||L 20 - 41||Recap|
|10/12||vs WAS||W 30 - 20||Recap|
|10/19||@ OAK||W 24 - 13||Recap|
1. Arizona’s QB Controversy?
The Cardinals are 3-0 despite the fact that Carson Palmer has played just one game. Palmer has missed the past two games because of a bruised nerve in his right shoulder. After showing signs of improvement during the bye week, he experienced a setback earlier this week and met with another doctor to get a second opinion. Palmer’s status for this game is uncertain at best, but this situation is nothing new for head coach Bruce Arians. Drew Stanton has started, and won, the past two games in relief of Palmer. While his statistics (32-for-62, 411 yds., 2 TDs) may not jump off of the page, Stanton has taken care of the ball (no turnovers) and done what he’s needed to do to put his team in position to win. Arizona’s early success is due in large part to a defense that’s held the opposition to 71.7 yards rushing and 15 points per game. The Cardinals will certainly have their hands full trying to slow down Denver’s high-powered offense at home, which means the offense will definitely need to do its part. Whether Palmer will be able to play remains to be seen, but Arians and the rest of team are more than comfortable with turning the reins over to Stanton. The question that looms, however, is what happens if Palmer continues to be hampered by his injury, especially if Stanton continues to produce winning results? Arizona’s undefeated record may not be the only thing on the line in this game.
|Denver 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs IND||W 31 - 24||Recap|
|9/14||vs KC||W 24 - 17||Recap|
|9/21||@ SEA||L 20 - 26||Recap|
|10/5||vs ARI||W 41 - 20||Recap|
|10/12||@ NYJ||W 31 - 17||Recap|
|10/19||vs SF||W 42 - 17||Recap|
2. Will the Real Broncos Offense Please Stand Up?
Denver’s offense set numerous records last season, including the mark for scoring (606 points). The Broncos averaged a whopping 37.9 points per game in 2013 and had already scored 127 (42.3 ppg) prior to their fourth game. Through three games this season that number has dropped all the way to 25 points per game. Granted they are coming off of a game in Seattle, one of the toughest places to play in the NFL against the defending Super Bowl champions, but Denver’s season-high thus far is the 31 points scored in its opener against Indianapolis. Contrast that to last season when the Broncos scored at least that many in all but three regular-season games. Some of the faces from last season’s record-setting offense have changed, but capable replacements were brought in. Emmanuel Sanders, who replaced Eric Decker, has not only fit in, he’s thrived as one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets. The running game has stumbled out of the gates though, as Montee Ball has not been able to replace Knowshon Moreno’s production thus far. Still, with Manning as the field general and a wealth of talented and explosive playmakers at his disposal, this remains one of the league’s most feared offenses. Perhaps the Broncos ironed out the kinks during their bye week and will look a lot more like the unit that lit up the scoreboard for most of last season. This matchup against a stingy Cardinals defense that has overcome a rash of injuries will certainly serve as a good measuring stick for Manning and company.
3. Denver’s Defensive Boost
Arizona’s defense has been one of the early surprises this far, as the Cardinals’ stop unit has been successful despite a bunch of injuries to key players. And while Denver’s defense has not enjoyed the same statistical success early on, the Broncos are about to receive a big boost with the return of starting linebacker Danny Trevathan. The team’s leading tackler last season, Trevathan fractured his knee during the preseason, but he finally returned to practice this week and should make his season debut. Trevathan’s return not only stabilizes the linebacker corps, it also means that Denver’s defense will be as close to full strength as it’s been this season. General manager John Elway will be among those paying close attention during this game to see how the unit he envisioned entering this season performs on the field now that Trevathan will line up alongside All-Pro linebacker Von Miller with free-agent additions DeMarcus Ware up front and Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward anchoring the back end. With Trevathan back in the fold, it’s time to see if Denver’s defense can be championship-caliber or is an ineffective collection of expensive pieces.
Arizona, not Denver, is the undefeated team entering this matchup, but there’s a reason the Broncos are a comfortable favorite in Vegas’ eyes. Even though Peyton Manning and the offense haven’t produced the same results early on compared to last season, this unit is still as dangerous any in the NFL, especially at home. The job Bruce Arians’ team has done on defense, especially given the key personnel missing in action, has been impressive, but it’s obvious this will be this unit’s biggest test yet. The Cardinals are too well-coached, disciplined and feisty for this one to get really out of hand, but the home team simply has too much offensive firepower, and I also expect Denver’s defense to make a statement of its own at some point. Arizona puts up a fight, but it’s tough for a visiting team to leave Sports Authority Field at Mile High unscathed.
Prediction: Denver 31, Arizona 20
|Game 1||Oct. 2||9:00||Los Angeles|
|Game 2||Oct. 3||9:30||Los Angeles|
|Game 3||Oct. 5||7:30||Kansas City|
|Game 4*||Oct. 6||TBA||Kansas City|
|Game 5*||Oct. 8||TBA||Los Angeles|
The Kansas City Royals ended the longest current postseason drought in North American Big Four sports, then won a multi-come-from-behind thriller in 12 innings over Oakland to earn the right to play the team with the best record in baseball. Now ace James Shields should be available for only one start in the ALDS. The teams split six games this season, both winning two of three at home.
The Angels have the best player in the game in Mike Trout, two former postseason heroes in Albert Pujols and David Freese, a terrific, deep bullpen and a proven manager. So what’s not to like? Only two things could prevent the Angels from advancing: A disappearing act by Trout in his first postseason experience; or sketchy starting pitching beyond Jered Weaver getting exposed.
Momentum is on the Royals’ side, if that really means anything. The players have been playing under playoff pressure for more than a month now, so there should be no problem finding that edge. The Angels have been on cruise control for about a month. Can they find that extra gear needed to win in October?
The Angels outhomered the Royals 10-1 in their six head-to-head meetings this season…The Royals were seven of eight in stolen base attempts against the Angels. The Royals must generate offense with speed and doubles in the gaps…Shortstop Alcides Escobar had four of the Royals’ seven steals…The Angels kept Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler in check this season. The three combined to bat just .217 with two extra-base hits over the six games this season.
Mike Trout, arguably the best player in the game, batted .409 with three bombs in the six games against Kansas City this season…Kansas City center fielder Lorenzo Cain was in the middle of much of the offensive excitement for the Royals in their wild card win over Oakland. He batted .370 with 16 total bases in the six games vs. Los Angeles this season…The Royals have been so good closing out wins this season. Closer Greg Holland and setup man Wade Davis combined to throw seven scoreless innings against Los Angeles this season without allowing a hit.
Prediction: Angels in 3