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We're all for tradition, and honoring your region with your team nickname, but some of these are just plain weird. Here they are in no particular order of weirdness. And yes, these are real.
1. Jordan (Utah) Beetdiggers
This nickname inspires fear. If you're a beet.
2. Conway (Ark.) Wampus Cats
A Wampus cat is a fearsome creature from folklore. Doesn't stop it from sounding stupid.
3. Camas (Wash.) Papermakers
4. Kimberly (Wis.) Papermakers
Maybe they can get Dunder-Mifflin to sponsor their uniforms.
5. Badger (Wis.) Badgers
The Badger Badgers? Too bad Duany Duany, Longar Longar and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje didn't play there.
6. Newburgh Free Academy (NY) Goldbacks
Anything with "backs" attached to the end seems like a slur.
7. Butte (Idaho) Pirates
8. Grafton/St. Thomas (ND) Spoilers
Isn't the nickname "Spoilers" a concession that you suck and can only hope to spoil a good team's season?
9. Mt. Pleasant (RI) Kilties
They've managed to take the word "kilt" and make it even more effeminate.
10. Bellows Free Academy (Vt.) Bobwhites
A bobwhite is a quail that is commonly killed and consumed. Doesn't even have much meat on it.
11. Cairo (Ga.) Syrupmakers
Sweet and sticky are not adjectives I want applied to my football team.
12. Red Bank Catholic (NJ) Caseys
The school took its nickname from a former Monsignor. It makes me think of Casey Anthony. Or Kasey Kasem.
13. Glenville (Ohio) Tarblooders
A tarblooder was apparently a railroad worker who laid ties and cemented them with tar. When you have to explain it, it loses some impact.
14. Austin Westlake (Texas) Chaparrals
They're called the "Chaps" for short. Wonder if they're assless.
15. Dunbar (Md.) Poets
It's a nod to the school's namesake, but Poets? Aren't they the guys the football players should be pummeling?
16. Mt. Clemens (Mich.) Battling Bathers
Not sure you want to combine football and bath time in your nickname.
17. St. Mary's Prep (Mich.) Eaglets
18. Rockhurst (Mo.) Hawklets
Baby birds, even eagles and hawks, don't exactly inspire fear. Hell, they can't even fly.
19. North Little Rock Charging Wildcats
Adding "Charging" seems like overkill. And is a Wildcat really known for charging?
20. Salesianum School (Del.) Sallies
This simply can't be real, can it? Was Nancies already taken?
21. Punahou (Hawaii) Buffanblu
It's not some native Hawaiian bird of prey or anything. Believe it or not, this nickname comes from the school's colors: buff and blue.
22. Shelley (Idaho) Russets
Yes, Idaho is known for potatoes. Doesn't mean you have to incorporate it into your nickname. Would be like calling a Chicago team "the Gang-Related Murders."
23. Watersmeet (Mich.) Nimrods
In the Bible, Nimrod was a mighty hunter. Nobody knows their Bible anymore. Today, a nimrod is merely a moron.
24. Orofino (Idaho) Maniacs
Many think that the team was named for the local mental hospital. Unfortunately, that's not true. It was merely the frenetic style of play the hoops team used to be known for.
25. Teutopolis (Ill.) Wooden Shoes
They're particularly loud on the basketball court. But slow.
26. Chattanooga (Tenn.) Central Purple Pounders
Sounds like a prison team.
27. Mars Area (Pa.) Fighting Planets
Sort of a "War of the Worlds" theme.
28. Beaver (Okla.) Dusters
A Beaver Duster sounds like something you'd order online. On a secure site.
29. Yuma (Ariz.) Criminals
I hope this isn't truth in advertising.
30. Freeburg (Ill.) Midgets
Surprised that the little people lobby hasn’t gotten hold of this one.
31. Webster University Gorloks
The students at Webster came up with this one. Sounds like a Lord of the Rings character.
32. UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs
Big, slimy and disgusting. Kind of like a pregnant Kardashian sister.
33. Columbia College Fighting Koalas
Putting "fighting" in front of an adorable, cuddly creature like a koala doesn't make it any scarier.
34. Presbyterian Blue Hose
I guess it's better than the Presbyterian Depressed Prostitutes.
35. Scottsdale Community College Fighting Artichokes
Ridiculous. Everyone knows artichokes are peaceful vegetables.
36. Rhode Island School of Design Nads
Yes, it's a joke, right down to the anatomically correct mascot and the "Go, Nads!" cheer.
37. Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs
I'd avoid the hot dogs at the ballpark.
38. Savannah Sand Gnats
Annoying sand-based insects are an overlooked genre for mascots.
39. Montgomery Biscuits
Hot, buttery and delicious. Paula Deen's favorite team.
40. Hillhouse (Conn.) Academics
I guess it's one way to flip the saying, "They're known for academics."
Predicting how the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase will pan out has always been a shot in the dark with one in the cylinder and no night sights. This year things get even more muddled with a new elimination format among the (Sweet) 16 teams that make up the 2014 Chase grid.
Round 1 of the Chase — deemed the “Challenger Round” — begins on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Dates at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway follow. After the those three, drivers with a win automatically advance to the second of three rounds while the bottom four drivers are eliminated and points reset. And the cycle continues. Races seven through nine chop the remaining eight participants down to a final four, with those drivers entering Homestead with a clean slate of points and a shot at the championship.
A little hokey? Contrived? Gimmicky? Eh, maybe. But so is instant replay, interleague play and wild card playoff teams. That said, let’s take a look at who will prosper and who will suffer in Race No. 1 in the Chase.
Not exactly the most awe-inspiring track on the circuit from an action standpoint, but Chicagoland Speedway is just outside of a major media market and the Bears are in San Francisco this Sunday, so there’s little else in town competing (aside from television sets tuning in to said game). Anyway, kielbasa cooks up just as good in a racetrack’s infield as it does in a parking lot filled with shattered glass on Lakeshore Drive.
Well let’s just be brief here: anything with a Hendrick engine or anything built by Penske and — this may come as a shock — the Roush Fenway Fords of Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. (Yes, those latter two I feel could actually be sleeper picks for the weekend.)
Talk about peaking at just the right time — OK, talk about figuring out what’s been wrong with the cars for the last eight months at just the right time. Either by Edsel’s decree or the engineering equivalent of wrestling Excalibur from the stone, a test session at Michigan may have opened the eyes of those at Roush Fenway, revealing what their Penske counterparts have known all year. Suddenly, Biffle and Edwards are showing a spark on the intermediate tracks, of which Chicago is one.
Make no mistake, they are still a step or two behind their corporate cousins, but they are in a position now to legitimately challenge for wins at these types of tracks. I don’t believe they will actually win — yet. However, by the time the series hits Kansas in a month, I think RFR will be on par with Penske once again.
In the meantime, the usual Hendrick-supported suspects — the Nos. 5, 24, 48 and 88 — will be strong, as well as Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 4 entry of Kevin Harvick (a Hendrick quasi-team). Tony Stewart won a title three years ago using these HMS loaners, and Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, has proven to have a little something cooked up in the lab that is every bit as potent as what Chad Knaus, Alan Gustafson and Steve Letarte have mustered.
The guys who slid in over the last two months are clearly most vulnerable here. I’m looking at you, AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola. The two feel-good stories of the summer are about to experience a big-time reality check. Chicagoland is a high-downforce track that places a premium on engineering and, God bless ’em, these two got into the Chase with wins on road courses (Allmendinger) and a plate track (Almirola). Sure, they could squeak through and delay their sentencing should some of the prominent contenders stumble early, but these underdogs are using rentals from teams that haven’t exactly been lighting the world on fire.
Describing Ryan Newman as a “pretender” may be a bit harsh, but don’t expect his Richard Childress Racing team to do anything remarkable this weekend. RCR has not been on par with the other Chevrolets power-wise as evidenced by Newman’s heated discussion with Jimmie Johnson at Michigan when he confessed, “If I had your engine, I wouldn’t have to drive like that!”
Newman’s Chicago record is nothing to sneeze at: he’s averaged a finish of 9.8 with top 10s in every race since 2007, save for one. A win is unlikely, but emerging unscathed is really his goal this Sunday. All the No. 31 team needs to do is not crash, blow up, speed on pit road or do any major self-inflicted damage. Easy enough, right?
A top 15 in Joliet will do nicely before the series rolls into Loudon, N.H., where Newman’s past performances — three wins, seven top 5s, 16 top 10s and seven poles — bodes well.
It’s no secret that Kyle Busch and his No. 18 team have fallen on hard times. Perpetual bickering with crew chief Dave Rogers, calling out TRD engines (as he has since 2010 before being forced to toe the company line) and general recklessness have seen him average a 31.1-place finish in the six races since a runner-up showing at Indianapolis.
Busch’s assertion that the performance issue lies “between the frame rails” won’t help at a horsepower honker like Chicago, though it should prove less of a problem at Dover and Loudon. I think this is one team that falls out early.
I fear Kurt Busch may also stumble. A new team and a crew chief with no Chase experience might prove dangerous if the car isn’t up to snuff. The elder Busch still has a tendency to try to carry the car when it isn’t quite capable — no doubt the result of driving Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing rides the last two seasons. This one could get ugly for Busch if the car isn’t right early — but maybe being so close to his spiritual home of Wrigley Field might do him some good.
Wait, the Cubs are terrible. Nevermind.
Chicagoland Winner: Kevin Harvick
With the news that Harvick will inherit Tony Stewart’s 2011 championship-winning over-the-wall gang, it’s suddenly hard to bet against the car that has shown the most pure speed weekly since February. It’s no secret that the downfall of the No. 4 has been the pit crew — and Harvick has never been known to suffer through poor pit performance. If not for pit miscues, could this team have won six races by now? That’s a popular statement making the rounds these days, but who knows for sure.
The Chase gets off on the good foot for SHR, an organization that has certainly had its mettle tested in recent weeks, as Harvick, Childers and a title-worthy pit crew make a statement and punch their ticket to Round 2.
Follow Vito Pugliese on Twitter: @VitoPugliese
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 10:
• It seems pretty clear that the NFL did see the Ray Rice video it says it didn't see. Here, LBS assesses the instances where the Commish bumped into the truth during his CBS interview.
• Watch Miggy-to-Megatron at Comerica Park.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Athlon Sports has formed a Heisman Trophy committee. Each week, we will ask 13 members of the national college football media to rank their top candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
Each voter will rank their top five candidates, with each first-place vote getting five points and each last-place vote getting one point.
Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports
Dave Revsine, Big Ten Network
Adam Zucker, CBS Sports
Steven Godfrey, SBNation
Zac Ellis, Sports Illustrated
Bryan Fischer, NFL.com
Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Network
Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report, B/R Radio
Josh Ward, MrSEC.com
Mitch Light, Athlon Sports
David Fox, Athlon Sports
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports, SiriusXM
Dropped out: Christian Hackenberg, Melvin Gordon, Brett Hundley, Tyreek Hill
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
The Top 3:
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Saturday’s game against Michigan State cannot be understated. The Ducks' quarterback turned in arguably his most brilliant performance of his career, whirling in and around Spartan defenders for 318 yards passing, 42 yards rushing and three total touchdowns. He is only the second quarterback (Dayne Crist, 2010) since 2010 to throw for over 300 yards against a Pat Narduzzi-coached team. Mariota put his team on his back, surrounded by freshmen, and carried Oregon to the biggest win of the non-conference season.
2. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
The Dawgs were off in Week 2 but will play in arguably the biggest game of the Week 3 slate. Look for Gurley to post another big statline in a critical SEC East showdown against South Carolina in Columbia. In two games against the Gamecocks, Gurley has been dominant (30 att., 132 yds, TD) in a win and stymied (13 att., 39 yds) in an ugly 35-7 loss.
3. Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M
Hill has one of the biggest wins of the season under his belt when he set records in front of a national audience against South Carolina. After 511 yards in 60 attempts in a real game, Hill attempted just 26 passes (completing 17) for 283 yards and four touchdowns against Lamar in Week 2. That’s 794 yards, seven TDs and no interceptions on 70.9 percent passing in two starts for Hill.
BYU crossed a major hurdle in its quest for an unbeaten record by defeating Texas 41-7 in Week 2. The Cougars handled the Longhorns with ease, scoring 28 points in the third quarter to pull away after a 6-0 halftime lead over Charlie Strong’s team. Running back Jamaal Williams returned from a one-game suspension to record 89 yards on 19 carries, but quarterback Taysom Hill carried the offense with 280 total yards and three scores.
Hill has launched himself into Heisman discussion after throwing for 489 yards and three scores (73% completion percentage) and rushing for 196 yards and five touchdowns.
But Hill isn’t a one-man show. Williams is a 1,000-yard rusher, and the defense is allowing just 4.2 yards per play this year.
Going into the season, the road trip to Texas was considered one of the toughest games on BYU’s 2014 slate. After the Cougars victory in Austin, the schedule suddenly becomes more favorable to an unbeaten record. And with an unbeaten record comes the discussion about BYU’s spot in the playoff mix.
As with any college football opinion in September, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s early and a lot is going to change over the next few weeks.
But looking at BYU’s schedule – assuming quarterback Taysom Hill stays healthy – where are the losses going to come from?
Let’s rank the Cougars’ 10 remaining games, with No. 1 the most likely loss to No. 10 being the least likely. Will BYU be favored to win all 10 remaining games?
Ranking BYU’s Toughest Remaining Games for 2014
1. at Boise State (Friday, Oct. 24)
This year’s matchup will be the third consecutive season these two teams have played. Boise State won 7-6 in 2012, but the Cougars got revenge by winning 37-20 in Provo last year. The Broncos are always tough to beat at home, and running back Jay Ajayi will challenge a BYU defense that held Texas to 82 yards on 35 attempts in Week 2. Quarterback Grant Hedrick bounced back from a rough opener against Ole Miss to throw for 352 yards and two scores against Colorado State. Boise State’s defense will also improve as the season progresses, especially with a veteran secondary and solid pass rush (four sacks in two games). It’s a close call for this spot, but winning in Boise is never easy, and this game takes place at the end of a challenging October for Bronco Mendenhall’s team.
2. at California (Saturday, Nov. 29)
The Golden Bears have made strides in coach Sonny Dykes’ second season, winning on the road at Northwestern to open the year, followed by an easy win over Sacramento State in Week 2. California is the regular season finale, so there could be a lot on the line for BYU. The Golden Bears are a work in progress on defense, but the offense is explosive (five plays of 40 or more yards in two games).
3. at UCF (Thursday, Oct. 9)
These two teams have met only once, with BYU scoring a 24-17 victory over UCF in 2011. The Knights started slow in the opener against Penn State, but the offense rallied when Justin Holman was inserted into the lineup in the second half. Depending on how Holman plays this Saturday against Missouri, UCF could rank higher on this list. The Knights return eight starters from a defense that allowed 21.3 points per game last season.
4. Virginia (Saturday, Sept. 20)
The Cavaliers knocked off BYU in a rain-soaked opener last year (19-16). Virginia’s personnel hasn’t changed much with 15 returning starters, but the offense still has uncertainty at quarterback and a questionable offensive line.
5. Nevada (Saturday, Oct. 18)
The Wolf Pack appears to be on the right track in coach Brian Polian’s second year. A healthy Cody Fajardo at quarterback certainly helps, but the defense – allowed 505.3 yards per game in 2013 – held Washington State to 13 points in Week 2. Nevada also catches BYU after a road trip to UCF.
6. Utah State (Friday, Oct. 3)
Is Chuckie Keeton back to full strength by Oct. 3? If he is, the senior quarterback is enough to give Utah State a shot at an upset. A bigger problem for the Aggies is an offensive line that lost four starters is still trying to find the right mix after two weeks. The defense also lost standout linebacker Kyler Fackrell for the season.
7. at MTSU (Saturday, Nov. 1)
The Cougars won last season’s matchup 37-10 in Provo, and the Blue Raiders return only three starters on offense from 2013. However, MTSU has a bye before playing BYU, and the defense has held opponents to a respectable 4.6 yards per play through two games.
8. Houston (Thursday, Sept. 11)
BYU and Houston played an entertaining 47-46 shootout last season, so this is no guaranteed victory. However, it’s a short week for both teams, and Houston struggled in its Week 1 loss to UTSA. Houston quarterback John O’Korn tossed four picks in the opener against the Roadrunners.
9. UNLV (Saturday, Nov. 15)
Rebels took a step forward under coach Bobby Hauck last year, making a bowl for the first time since 2000. However, the Rebels lost 58-13 to Arizona in Week 1 and barely defeated FCS opponent Northern Colorado (13-12) in Week 2.
10. Savannah State (Saturday, Nov. 22)
BYU shouldn’t have much trouble with the Tigers. Savannah State lost 61-7 to MTSU in Week 1 and was outscored by a combined score of 143-10 by Miami and Troy in 2013.
The original reality TV show is sports. No contrived setting where seven strangers living in a house or one bachelor searching for love can match the excitement the Iron Bowl delivered last fall.
The beauty of college football lies in its complete unpredictability and drama. Here are some outrageous predictions for Week 3.
Note: The point of this column is to have some fun and make some outlandish predictions. Please react accordingly.
Todd Gurley will rush for less than 40 yards
The Georgia running back is a freak of nature and ran all over the Gamecocks last year (132 yds). But he was held to just 39 yards on 13 carries in a 35-7 loss the last time UGA visited South Carolina. Look for Steve Spurrier to focus on Gurley, forcing Hutson Mason to make plays (and the Dawgs will still win).
Only one Top 25 team will lose
And the only reason one Top 25 team will lose is because both Georgia and South Carolina are ranked. This week’s slate is extremely lacking in anything juicy as Florida State, Auburn, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Kansas State and Clemson are off and only one game features two ranked teams. Only UCLA (Texas), Virginia Tech (ECU) and Mizzou (UCF) should even be worried in the slightest in what should be a weekend full of blowouts.
Tennessee won’t gain positive rushing yards
The Vols rank 91st in the nation in rushing (139.0 ypg) and are 11th in the SEC. However, Tennessee has struggled mightily to get any push against Utah State and Arkansas State and will be without its starting left tackle. Against an Oklahoma Sooners defense that has allowed 148 yards on 63 carries (2.4 ypg) and no touchdowns in two games, there is a chance the Vols have a negative rushing total in Week 3.
Twitter will break when Maryland takes the field
Whether you like or hate the new wave of alternate uniforms, I am willing to bet you will have something to say when Maryland takes the field against West Virginia this weekend. Not only has it turned into an interesting game, but Maryland also will be dressed like this:
Our Jerseys for this Saturdays West Virginia game in honor of the 200 year anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner pic.twitter.com/F8J84dEWjU— Jesse Aniebonam (@JesseBona_Bonam) September 9, 2014
Every AAC team will have a loss
The AAC was the only league to have a worse Week 2 than the Big Ten. The league went 2-7 with its only wins coming courtesy of Stony Brook and Grambling State. Cincinnati is the only team left in the league without a loss and the Bearcats open the season (that’s right) on Friday against a very solid Toledo squad. A Rockets win means every team in the AAC will have already lost.
Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers and more.
Today, David attempts to isolate each rookie from his team and equipment and properly rank the driving chops of each member of this year’s rookie class.
It takes no talent to poke holes in a young driver’s maturation process. It’s something I’m guilty of doing, and while I’m sure it’s alienated fans of the driver in question, discussing weak spots can be a proactive exercise, especially if any and all proposed changes are made.
It’s also easy to harp on things that might be true and fail to draw out the entire story. In many cases, when a weakness or black-mark stat pertaining to a driver appears, there’s a “Yeah, but” item that should also be considered. In this week’s edition of the Rookie Report rankings, I delve into the “Yeah, buts” for each driver in this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie crop.
1. Kyle Larson, No. 42 (previous ranking: 1)
The crash and the consequential last-place finish at Michigan was the deathblow to Larson’s Chase hopes. With the Michigan race omitted, his average finish in the seven races prior to the Chase was eighth, which was also the exact spot he finished at Michigan in the spring. So say he finished eighth — it’d guarantee him 36 points, 35 more than what he earned with his last-place finish, and place him in the 16th and final Chase spot earned by Greg Biffle.
Yeah, but … Larson finished 38th in his first Daytona 500 (after crashing three times), 27th in his first time ever competing at Martinsville, 28th at Sonoma, 40th at Kentucky and 36th in the July Daytona race.
Biffle had just three finishes of 28th or worse compared to Larson’s six. Ryan Newman, one of two other drivers to qualify for the Chase on points, had just one finish under those parameters. Since Larson couldn’t contend with the frantic top-5 finish pace of Matt Kenseth, who had five finishes of 28th or worse, but doubled Larson’s top-5 finish frequency (10, compared to five), the only way for Larson to crack the playoffs was to not defeat himself as much as his counterparts. Larson’s failure was a cumulative result, not due to one last-place showing, and the teams of Biffle and Newman made less race-killing mistakes than Ganassi’s No. 42 bunch.
2. Austin Dillon, No. 3 (previous: 2)
Dillon failed to make the Chase driving for a team that finished third in points three times in the last four years.
Yeah, but … Dillon began the season as a relatively raw Cup Series driver and is now demonstrating discernible improvement. In fact, he’s bucking a rookie trend by performing better in second runs at tracks that he visited previously this season with his current team. For the exception of Bristol — he finished 28th in the August race after finishing 11th in the spring — he improved at every facility. He finished fifth at Daytona in July (he finished ninth in the 500), 15th at Pocono (17th previously), 22nd at Michigan (30th previously) and 20th at Richmond (27th previously). It amounts to a 0.8-position improvement from first visits to second visits
3. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 (previous: 3)
Allgaier is averaging a 26.4-place finish this year.
Yeah, but … let’s omit his series-worst five races in which he earned a crashed-caused DNF. Then, let’s split up all the races in the season’s first half (the first 18 races) and second half (all races following the July race in Daytona). His average result in the races he finished was 25.7 through the first half. Thus far through the second half, his DNF-omitted average is 21.8, almost four full positions better. The improvement depicts a driver and a team growing as one. Allgaier heads to his home track of Chicagoland Speedway, where he won a NASCAR Nationwide Series race in 2011, this Sunday.
4. Cole Whitt, No. 26 (previous: 4)
Whitt is averaging a 31.3-place running position this season.
Yeah, but … that number is tops among the trio of BK Racing drivers. He was the best-running BK driver in four of the last six races. Even though that effort netted just one finish inside the top half of fields, in a world predicated by getting everything possible out of given equipment, Whitt is better at it than any other current BK driver (both of the normal and start-and-park flavor of the week variety). Too bad NASCAR isn’t Formula One. If it were, he’d be a media darling.
5. Michael Annett, No. 7 (previous: 5)
Annett has a minus-0.44 percent surplus passing value at normal tracks — tracks that aren’t plate tracks or road courses — this season.
Yeah, but … beginning with Memorial Day weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, Annett has scored positive single-race surplus passing values (SPVs) in nine of 12 starts on normal tracks, averaging a plus-0.89 percent SPV during the span. This means that after a particularly brutal start to the season that saw him earn negative SPVs — which measures passing efficiency relative to a running position’s expected efficiency — in seven of his first nine normal-track starts, Annett has acclimated well to running against competitors near his average whereabouts, which hovers around 29th place.
6. Alex Bowman, No. 23 (previous: 6)
Bowman is averaging a 33.4-place running position this season.
Yeah, but … he is averaging a finish of 31.8, primarily due to his No. 23 team being such a strong-closing unit. Granted, when cars are off of the lead lap, and Bowman has just three lead-lap finishes this season, it’s easier to retain position late in a race. Still, a 95.45 percent red zone retention rate is worthy of applause and, more often than not, he is moving in a forward direction, evident by his 1.3-position-per-race gain in the final 10 percent of races.
7. Ryan Truex, No. 83 (previous: 7)
Truex and crew chief Joe Williams drop 1.7 positions, on average, in the final 10 percent of races.
Yeah, but … that movement down the grid only comes when Truex is in the garage, evident by a 100 percent base retention in races the No. 83 car was running at the finish. Truex and Williams have made serious efforts in improving track position. Just as Truex has improved on his pass efficiency, Williams is beginning to ensure that positions aren’t being lost on pit road. Across green-flag pit cycles in the last four races, Williams earned Truex six extra positions.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
The Big Ten already has losses to the Pac-12 (twice), SEC, ACC and Notre Dame — not to mention two losses to the MAC.
Many, including myself, are writing the Big Ten off as a playoff contender. It’s not that there won’t be some good teams in the league but more that so many things would have to fall into place for a Big Ten team to get into the four-team tournament.
Here is what would have to happen for the Big Ten to reach the postseason:
1. Either Nebraska goes unbeaten or a one-loss Michigan State or Ohio State wins the Big Ten. First and foremost, this has to happen above all else. It’s possible an unbeaten Penn State or Maryland could face an unbeaten Iowa but those schedules and rosters aren’t good enough to earn a playoff spot. No, the Big Ten champ would have to be a 13-0 Cornhuskers team with wins over Michigan State, Miami, Wisconsin and Iowa or a 12-1 East Division squad with two wins over an otherwise unbeaten Nebraska as well as Ohio State/Michigan State, Penn State and Maryland.
2. Notre Dame and BYU need to lose somewhere along the way. The margin for error in the Big Ten is minuscule and a perfect Irish (definitely) or Cougars (maybe) squad might get the nod over a one-loss Big Ten champ.
3. Jameis Winston gets suspended by Florida State due to a Title IX investigation. The Noles — two years too late — have finally opened a Title IX investigation into the Winston sexual assault investigation. Should any complications arise, Winston could easily find himself suspended and standing on the sidelines. That would give Clemson, Louisville, Notre Dame, Florida or the ACC Coastal Division champion a shot at knocking FSU from the ranks of the unbeatens. Winston would have to miss significant time because Florida State would have to lose twice.
4. A multiple-loss team from the state of Mississippi has to win the SEC. Should Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M, Mizzou or South Carolina win the SEC with two losses, that champion is still going to get the nod into the playoffs over a one-loss Big Ten champ. But a two- or three-loss champion that isn’t a traditional power — Ole Miss, Mississippi State — might not have the same clout as a one-loss Big Ten champ. A two-loss Rebels team would likely still earn a bid over the Big Ten but since the Bulldogs don’t play anyone in the non-conference and crossover play is with Vanderbilt and Kentucky, the B1G needs Hail State to win the SEC.
5. Stanford beats Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA. UCLA beats USC and Oregon. Arizona State beats UCLA and Stanford. Arizona beats Arizona State. Most importantly out West, however, Oregon has to lose three times. So in addition to losing to UCLA and Stanford, Oregon would also have to lose again — likely at Oregon State. The schedules in the Pac-12 are nasty but a two-loss champ is a must for the Big Ten to get into the playoff. Unless that champ is Oregon, in which case, it likely has to lose three times.
6. Bryce Petty never returns to the field and Trevor Knight misses significant time with an injury. Petty didn’t play in Week 2 and Knight was constantly banged up a year ago. Baylor and Oklahoma are the clear-cut title contenders in the Big 12 and the only way one of those two doesn’t win the crown with one or fewer losses will be the loss of a star QB for an extended period of time.
By this point, the words running through your head right now should be “yeah, right.” That is the point of this exercise. The Big Ten is a solid league with some great coaches and solid teams but a lot of unlikely things have to happen for its champion to earn a spot in the playoff.
All hope is not lost, however. The Big Ten has a better shot at the playoff than the best team from the American Athletic Conference. So there's that.
There was only one game involving two SEC teams in Week 2, but there were still plenty of noteworthy — good and bad — accomplishments. A certain receiver at Alabama is off to a great start; Florida's offense (finally) produced some big plays; Missouri continued its winning ways on the road; and much more.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 2 in the SEC
Receptions for Amari Cooper through two games, more than Alabama’s leading receiver had for the season in all but one of the Crimson Tide’s national title teams from 1961-92. The leading receivers for those teams are as follows: 1961, Tommy Booker (12); 1964, Tommy Tolleson (22); 1965, Tommy Tolleson (32); 1973, Wayne Wheeler (19); 1978, Keith Pugh (20); 1979, Keith Pugh (25); 1992, David Palmer (24).
Pass plays by the Florida offense that went for at least 60 yards in the Gators’ win over Eastern Michigan. Florida had only one pass play of 60-plus yards in 12 games in 2013.
Punts by Ole Miss in its 41–3 win over Vanderbilt. The Rebels scored four touchdowns, kicked three field goals, had one drive end on downs at the Vanderbilt 30-yard line, had one drive end after one play on a lost fumble, had one drive end due to the end of the first half and another end due to the end of the game.
Yards per play averaged by Vanderbilt in its loss to Ole Miss on Saturday. The Commodores averaged fewer yards per play in a single game twice in the last two seasons and won both games — 3.27 vs. Florida in 2013 (won 34–17) and 3.31 vs. NC State in the 2012 Music City Bowl (won 38–24).
Consecutive wins on the road by Missouri, all by at least 14 points, dating back to the beginning of the 2013 season. The Tigers rolled past Toledo, 49–24, last weekend and picked up wins at Ole Miss, Kentucky, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Indiana in ’13.
Completion percentage allowed by the South Carolina defense, the highest in the nation. The Gamecocks have allowed 76 completions, tied with Bowling Green for the most in the nation, and opponents have attempted 106 passes against South Carolina, second-most in the nation.
Consecutive games of at least 500 yards by the Mississippi State offense, the first time this has happened in school history. The Bulldogs had 516 in Saturday’s win vs. UAB, 550 in the opener against Southern Miss and 533 against Rice in the Liberty Bowl last season.
Offensive plays per game averaged by Tennessee through two games, up from an average of 67 per game in 2013, Butch Jones’ first season at Tennessee. The Vols had 79 plays vs. Utah State and 83 vs. Arkansas State; their highest total last year was 77 in the win vs. South Carolina.
Average yards per passing attempt for Jeremy Johnson in his two years at Auburn. (As a reference point, Jameison Winston led the nation with a 10.6 yards-per-attempt average in 2013). Johnson, in spot duty, has thrown for a total of 699 yards on 61 attempts and has eight touchdowns and two interceptions.
Touchdowns scored by Texas A&M in 2014, the most in the nation.
Maryland is going patriotic for Saturday’s matchup against West Virginia. The Terrapins unveiled on Tuesday a new patriotic uniform, which features the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner on the shoulder pads and helmet.
Check out the Terrapins new uniforms for Week 3:
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 9:
• Maryland's unis will feature the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner to honor the 200th anniversary of its writing. Both stylish and educational, although the star on the helmet looks like a ninja star.
• A day with the Oregon Duck, the current king of college mascots.
• As Clayton Kershaw continues to out-Koufax Sandy Koufax, it might be time for pitcher MVPs in both leagues.
• So apparently Roger Goodell was the See No Evil monkey with his hands over his eyes in the Ray Rice situation.
• LeSean McCoy blames his 20-cent tip on bad service. Today's reminder that the way we pay waiters is stupid.
• Watch the Dodgers support Clayton Kershaw's efforts with three throwing errors.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The first week of the 2014 NFL regular season is in the books and already many fantasy football general managers are probably experiencing drafter’s remorse. While it’s way too early to give up on superstars or highly drafted players who didn’t produce in their season openers, that doesn’t mean that help or temporary relief can’t be found on your league’s waiver wire.
And in that respect Athlon Sports is here to help you sort through some of the potential free agent options. The players listed in our weekly fantasy football waiver wire may be one-week adds, some may be worth holding on to all season long and some are of the “sleeper” variety that you may simply want to keep an eye on.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Quarterback is a pretty deep position this season, so expect plenty of fluctuation with weekly scoring leaders. And while it’s likely Flacco won’t repeat his 62 pass attempts again this season, he did finish with 345 yards. He had just one touchdown to go with one interception, but the big takeaway is how much more comfortable Flacco looked in Gary Kubiak’s system as the game went on. This is definitely something to keep an eye on Thursday against Pittsburgh, as Flacco has enough weapons to emerge as a legitimate starting fantasy option.
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
Entering what is a make-or-break season for Locker as Tennessee’s starting quarterback, the sleeper buzz on him continued to build as the preseason progressed. One game into the Ken Whisenhunt era with the Titans and the early returns for both the head coach and the quarterback are promising. Not only did Tennessee beat Kansas City rather easily on the road, Locker was efficient (22 of 33 passing), productive (266 yards, 2 TDs) and mistake-free (no turnovers). It may still be too early to trust Locker on a weekly basis, but how he fares in his upcoming matchups against Dallas, Cincinnati and Indianapolis could sway this sentiment.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Would you believe that Palmer has more rushing yards (29) after Week 1 than Jamaal Charles or Doug Martin? While that comparison may be a bit extreme, there’s nothing wrong with the 304 yards through the air and two touchdowns Palmer tossed in the Cardinals’ Monday night win over San Diego. He did lose a fumble, but over his last eight games he has twice as many TD passes (14) as interceptions (7). The veteran has plenty of weapons at his disposal, an improved offensive line protecting him and Week 2 matchup against a Giants’ defense that gave up 341 yards passing to the Lions.
Justin Forsett and Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens
With the Ravens reversing course and deciding to release Ray Rice, the question becomes who’s the new No. 1? The assumption entering this season was that Pierce was next in line. However, that was before journeyman Justin Forsett dominated Pierce in both yards (84 total vs. just 14 rushing) and touches (16 to 6) in the loss to Cincinnati. Forsett also provided the Ravens’ first points of the 2014 season on a 13-yard TD run in the third quarter. For his career, Forsett has averaged a respectable 4.9 yards per carry and if anything has made a strong statement that he should get the starting nod this week. Pierce is still younger and conceivably carries more upside than Forsett, and Rice’s release also could present an opportunity for fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro at some point. If I was handicapping this race, I would say Forsett is the short-term guy to target with Pierce eventually seizing control of the job.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
It’s just one game, but the fact the Saints ran the ball 28 times (versus 42 pass attempts) is a good sign, especially if you have one of their backs on your roster. Further, that Ingram got as many carries (13) as Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson combined is another positive development for those who still believe in the former Alabama All-American. If New Orleans stays committed to the run and Ingram continues to be effective around the goal line (2 three-yard TD runs), he may finally be worth not only rostering, but also starting in your lineup.
Chris Ivory, New York Jets
Yes the Jets signed former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson as a free agent. But the man once known as CJ2K is no longer a workhorse back, as evidenced by the 10 carries Ivory got against Oakland. And while Ivory did most of his damage on a 71-yard TD run in the fourth quarter, it was still 60 yards longer than Johnson picked up on any of his 13 carries. If Ivory can keep producing big plays this apparent timeshare situation could start to tilt more in his favor.
Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, Cleveland Browns
Free-agent acquisition Ben Tate was off to a solid start in his Browns’ debut, but he injured his knee on a 25-yard run in the second quarter and didn’t return. From there rookies West and Crowell took over, combining for 132 yards on 21 carries (6.3 ypc) and two touchdowns. West, a third-round draft pick, got most of the work (100 yards on 16 carries) and figures to be first in line should Tate be sidelined, but don’t discount Crowell (2 TDs on just five carries) just yet. The Browns have a solid enough offensive line that whomever gets the ball could be fantasy relevant, depending on the number of touches.
Andrew Hakwins, Cleveland Browns
As long as Josh Gordon remains suspended, the Browns don’t have a No. 1 wide receiver. That doesn’t mean, however, that someone won’t emerge as Brian Hoyer’s (and eventually, Johnny Manziel) favorite target, which is where Hawkins comes in. The former Bengal wideout saw twice as many targets (10) as any other Brown pass-catcher on his way to recording eight grabs for 87 yards. He will need to score occasionally to merit serious starting consideration, but this is a QB-WR duo to keep an eye on, especially considering tight end Jordan Cameron apparently aggravated a shoulder injury in the loss to Pittsburgh.
Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee, Jacksonville Jaguars
After the end of the first quarter against Philadelphia, Hurns had three catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns. However, a closer look reveals that the undrafted rookie out of Miami went to on to catch just one pass for nine yards on six additional targets over the remaining three quarters. Hurns’ record-setting quarter also was a byproduct of Cecil Shorts being sidelined due to a hamstring injury. Once Shorts returns to the starting lineup, Hurns will presumably go back to his WR3 role. And even if Shorts misses more time, Lee is the young Jaguar receiver you want to invest in. The first of the Jags’ two second-round picks in May’s draft, Lee led the way with 10 targets, which he turned into six receptions for 62 yards. Hurns had better numbers in Week 1, but Lee’s role in the offense moving forward seems more secure.
Steve Smith, Baltimore Ravens
He may the senior Smith wide receiver on the Ravens, but don’t call him “old.” Not after the former Carolina Panther Pro Bowler exploded for 118 yards on seven catches against Cincinnati, highlighted by his 80-yard touchdown grab that briefly gave Baltimore a fourth-quarter lead. And while the general belief is that Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta will be Joe Flacco’s preferred targets moving forward, the fact that Steve Smith tied Pitta with 15 targets apiece may indicate Senior Smith’s best fantasy days aren’t behind him just yet.
Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers
This is probably your last chance, if the opportunity hasn’t passed already, to add a potential breakout candidate to your receiving corps. Even though Antonio Brown (5-116-1) finished with better numbers, Wheaton’s six catches for 97 yards on seven targets should not be overlooked. No longer dealing with a hand injury that wrecked his rookie season, Wheaton’s deep-threat ability (16.2 ypr, including a 40-yarder) and Ben Roethlisberger’s big arm appear to be a fantasy match made in heaven. Invest now before it’s too late.
Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts
Reggie Wayne wasn’t the only big weapon Andrew Luck welcomed back in Week 1. Allen, who injured his hip in 2013’s opener and proceeded to miss the entire season, made this triumphant return as well, catching four passes for 64 yards, including a nifty 41-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter. Coby Fleener (8 targets, 3 catches, 21 yards) is the more popular tight end on this team, but Allen is widely believed to be the better receiver. Given the Colts’ frequent use of two-tight end sets, it’s not out of the question that Allen ends up with better numbers than Fleener.
The Texans may have lost No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney for more than a month due to a torn meniscus, but this defense still has enough playmakers to be a fantasy force. With J.J. Watt (sack, blocked extra point) leading the way, Houston held Washington to just six points, collected three sacks, recovered two fumbles and blocked two kicks, including a punt that resulted in a touchdown, in a dominating Week 1 performance that resulted in 25 fantasy points. And next up? A matchup against Oakland and rookie quarterback Derek Carr. It’s early, but Houston’s D looks like it will be a fantasy factor once again in 2014.
Scoring is based on Athlon Sports default scoring which is 6 points for all TDs, .5 points per reception and 1 point PER 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving and 40 return yards.
Big Ten teams experienced one of the worst weekends in Big Ten history overall, so sifting through the box scores to find 10 interesting stats was a bit of a chore. As you might suspect, most of the stats are alarming in detail and take a deeper look at
just how this weekend went so poorly, but not everything is bad. But most of it is. Proceed with caution, Big Ten fans.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 2 in the Big Ten
7: Third and longs converted by Virginia Tech against Ohio State
The average distance Virginia Tech had to go to pick up a first down against the Buckeyes on Saturday night was 10.2 yards per third down, and the Hokies picked up 10 first downs on 18 third-down situations. Ohio State’s defense failed to get off the field the first five times they put Virginia Tech in a third down situation, all but one coming from five yards or more. On the flip side, Ohio State was just 4-of-16 on third down against the Hokies.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
0: Times Michigan reached the red zone against Notre Dame
To say it was a rough evening for the Wolverines in South Bend would be an understatement. Michigan managed to cross the 50-yard line on just four possessions, and the deepest Michigan would get on the field was to the Notre Dame 22-yard line. A sack on fourth down ended that late scoring threat in the fourth quarter, when it was already 31-0. Four of Michigan’s final five possessions ended with some form of turnover, with two Devin Gardner passes being intercepted, a Gardner fumble being recovered by the Irish and a turnover on downs.
0: Seconds Ohio State held a lead against Virginia Tech
It has been a little while since Ohio State last went through a full game without holding the lead. The last time Ohio State played a game without holding a lead at any point came in the 2012 Gator Bowl against Florida. Urban Meyer watched from the sidelines as his former program held off his future team that day. The last time Ohio State played a regular season game without holding a lead at any point was earlier that same season, at home against Michigan State.
1: Seconds it took for Wisconsin to score against Western Illinois
It was the fastest score in Big Ten history, and it happened in bizarre fashion. The opening kickoff to Western Illinois was mishandled by Kyle Hammonds. Hammonds let the ball leave the end zone before he got his hands on it and took a knee in the end zone for what he thought would be a touchback. That was how the game officials initially ruled it, but following a timeout and video review the play was overturned for a safety one second into the game.
20: Shutouts Michigan had pitched since last being shut out
By now you may be well aware Michigan was shut out for the first time by Notre Dame and for the first time by anyone since 1984. What you may not have realized is that Michigan had shut out opponents 20 times in between shutouts by Iowa in 1984 and this weekend’s game at Notre Dame. Included in that bath of shutouts is a pair of shutouts of the Irish, in 2007 and 2003. Notre Dame snapped a streak of 365 games for Michigan without being shut out. Florida now owns the longest active streak without being shut out, with 323 games and counting. Yes, even with that offense the Gators had last year.
10th: Christian Hackenberg’s all-time passing rank at Penn State
It took just 14 games for Penn State sophomore Christian Hackenberg to crack the school’s all-time list for career passing yards. A week after becoming the first quarterback in Penn State history to pass for 400 yards in a game, Hackenberg moved into the top 10 on the school’s passing list while also setting a new school record for most yards in back-to-back games (773 yards, edging the previous mark of 686 yards by Zack Mills in 2002 against Iowa and Wisconsin). On top of that, Hackenberg tied the school record for most career 300-yard passing games with his sixth such performance. One more and he will break the tie with Matt McGloin.
1.8: Average rushing yards per play for Illinois
Illinois managed to pull away from Western Kentucky at home thanks to a big day through the air by quarterback Wes Lunt (456 yards and three touchdowns), but the running game never got on track against the Hilltoppers. Illinois tried to run the football 35 times against Western Kentucky, and mustered just 64 yards in the game (Lunt took a loss of 17 yards). The Illini were not alone in their running ineptitude in the Big Ten this weekend, though. Northwestern managed to rush for just 1.9 yards per rushing attempt.
1: Big Ten running back who rushed for more than 87 yards
It was a bit of a strange week for the Big Ten. Just one running back managed to rush for more than 87 yards in a game this weekend. Minnesota’s David Cobb was responsible for raising the bar as best he could with a 220-yard performance against Middle Tennessee, but after Jeremy Langford’s 86 yards against Oregon, it was not a standout day for the Big Ten running backs. Cobb and Langford aside, the average rushing total for the leading running backs this weekend was 47.5 rushing yards. Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armsrong rushed for 131 yards, more than doubling the output of Huskers running back Ameer Abdullah (54 yards). Quarterbacks were the leading rushers for three Big Ten teams (Nebraska, Purdue and Ohio State).
-14: Big Ten’s collective turnover margin in Week 2
It really was an ugly week for the Big Ten. Across the conference, the Big Ten combined for a turnover margin of -18 with 31 combined turnovers to their opponents. Maryland was the most atrocious with six turnovers on the road at USF for a -5, and Michigan had a -4 at Notre Dame. Ohio State broke even with Virginia Tech but had three turnovers in the process. Penn State was a -3 at home against Akron. The only teams to record a plus turnover margin were Minnesota (+2), Wisconsin (+1), and Rutgers (+1).
-45: Scoring differential for the Big Ten vs FBS teams in Week 2
Perhaps no other stat is more telling to just how bad this weekend was for the Big Ten. Throw out the FCS opponents (which actually nets a +9 scoring differential for the Big Ten) and the Big Ten was hammered. Four Big Ten teams took double digit losses in week two (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue). Penn State and Minnesota scored double-digit victories but the damage done elsewhere was too much to overcome for the Big Ten against FBS opponents this weekend. The Big Ten was 5-5 against FBS competition in week two.
Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Pac-12 football action:
9: Stanford drives inside the USC 35-yard line
The Cardinal took all nine of their drives to at least the USC 32-yard line but managed only 10 points for an ugly 1.1 points per trip inside the 40. Stanford missed two field goals, lost two fumbles, punted twice and was stopped on a fourth down conversion. Stanford outgained USC 413-291 but simply couldn’t finish drives.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
59: Plays run by USC
A week after setting a Pac-12 record with 105 offensive plays, USC set a Pac-12 season-low with just 59 offensive snaps against Stanford. The Trojans averaged 4.9 yards per play for 291 yards of offense and still managed to win on the road. For what it’s worth, USC (164) now trails Arizona for total offensive plays run in 2014 (170).
2: Number of 300-yard passers allowed by Michigan State since 2010
Marcus Mariota was Athlon Sports’ Player of the Week for a reason. He was outstanding against a defense that normally never allows anything outstanding to take place. He threw for 318 yards and only Dayne Crist of Notre Dame (369) has thrown for more yards on a Michigan State defense since 2010.
287: Yards of offense for Oregon freshmen
Oregon totaled 491 yards of total offense. Of that 491 yards of offense, three freshmen — Royce Freeman, Devon Allen and Darren Carrington — accounted for 287 of it. Freeman (89 rush, 22 rec), Allen (110 rec) and Carrington (66 rec) scored four of the team’s six touchdowns, as the trio of first-year athletes have established themselves quickly as go-to talents for Mark Helfrich.
19: Combined losses for Virginia and Memphis in 2013
UCLA has won two games in two totally different ways in 2014 by a grand total of 15 points. The Bruins' margin of victory over 'Virginia and Memphis is less than the total number of combined losses the Cavaliers (10) and the Tigers (9) experienced last fall. Both teams are improved in 2014 but UCLA hasn’t looked anything like a Playoff contender in two weeks.
11: Combined TDs from QBs in the Washington game
Chris Petersen and Washington welcomed Cyler Miles back to the huddle in Week 2 and they needed him. Miles ran for three touchdowns and threw for another as Washington outlasted Eastern Washington 59-52 in Seattle. That’s because EWU quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. threw for 475 yards and seven touchdowns. The two QBs combined for 729 yards of total offense and 11 total touchdowns in the shootout.
73: Combined rushing yards for Shaq Thompson and Myles Jack
Washington and UCLA both have superstar linebackers in Shaq Thompson and Myles Jack. Both rank in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in tackles (18 and 19 respectively) but both got into the action on offense this weekend. Jack (3 att., 7 yards, TD) and Thompson (3 att., 66 yards, TD) combined for 73 yards rushing on six carries and each scored a touchdown. Heisman voters love this stuff.
2008: Last time a Utah QB threw 5 TDs
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson threw five touchdowns in Saturday’s win over Fresno State. The last time the Utes had five passing scores in a game was 2008 (Brian Johnson). Utah is 2-0 and has scored 115 points in two games after averaging 29.2 ppg a season ago.
26: Oregon State penalties in two games
Through two weeks, the Beavers are leading the nation in breaking the rules. Oregon State has been penalized 26 times for 218 yards in two narrow wins over lowly foes Portland State and Hawaii.
2: Wins for Cal
This one is pretty simple but deserves to be mentioned. Cal won just one time in Sonny Dykes' first season last fall and, after just two weeks, has already improved that total after beating Sacramento State 55-14 this weekend. Quarterback Jared Goff threw for 229 yards and four touchdowns and has seven scoring strikes and just one interception on the young season.
Utah made slight changes to its uniforms for 2014, and the Utes continued with the tweaks by unveiling a new white helmet.
It’s uncertain when Utah will wear these white helmets, but it’s a pretty sharp look for Kyle Whittingham’s Utes.
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of college football. Every Sunday, reading updated box scores and stats is like Christmas for fans and media members. Some stats like total offense and total defense are overrated but each help paint a picture for a team or particular game.
Whether the stats are historic, advanced or just an observation from a box score, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Atlantic Coast Conference football action:
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 2 in the ACC
1: Virginia Tech's first regular-season meeting against a current Big Ten opponent results in 1-0
In front of the largest crowd ever to watch a game at Ohio Stadium (107,517), Virginia Tech made its first-ever regular-season meeting against a current Big Ten opponent a memorable one. The Hokies' 35-21 win ended the No. 8 Buckeyes' 64-game winning streak at home against non-conference competition, and it was Ohio State's first loss to an unranked non-conference opponent since 1982. Virginia Tech is 30-21 all-time against current Big Ten teams, but has played just two against Big Ten teams when they were a member of the conference. Those games were against Indiana (1992 Independence Bowl) and Michigan (2012 Sugar Bowl).
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
92: Florida State has scored on 92 percent of its red zone trips
On the way to 2-0 and outscoring its first two opponents by a combined score of 74-43, Florida State has only missed out on one scoring opportunity inside the red zone. The Seminoles are 11-of-12 this season, including five touchdowns. The only drive to stall was the fourth of the season against Oklahoma State with an interception on a play that began at the Cowboys' 13.
24: Wake Forest collected 24 first downs — one more than the number of points it scored
The Demon Deacons collected more first downs than they did points in a 23-7 win over Gardner-Webb. On the way to posting 24 first downs, Wake Forest needed just 96 net rushing yards to do so. True freshman QB John Wolford did most of the work, completing 30-of-38 passes for 291 yards and two scores, and rushing for 29 of the 96 yards.
9: Duke Johnson one of nine Miami players to reach 2,000 yards rushing
In a 41-7 win against Florida A&M, Johnson’s 55-yard second-quarter carry made him one of nine Hurricanes with 2,000 or more career rushing yards. He moved into ninth place on Miami’s all-time rushing list (2,054), passing Frank Gore in the first quarter. He trails No. 8 Willis McGahee (2,067), No. 7 Javarris James (2,162) and No. 6 Danyell Ferguson (2,214).
41: NC State's average starting field position was its own 41
The Wolfpack scored a second-half 46-34 comeback win against an Old Dominion team that ran 87 plays. NC State benefited from an average starting field position of its own 41. The Wolfpack scored touchdowns on five of their final six drives before a kneel-down to end the game.
24:15: Louisville possessed the ball for all but 5:45 of the second half
In its 66-21 dismantling of Murray State, Louisville controlled possession for 42:09 of the 60 minutes, including 24:15 in the second half. The Cardinals ran 88 plays, converted 11-of-19 third downs, and amassed 603 yards of total offense.
31-3: Duke outscores Troy 31-3 after falling behind 14-3
The Blue Devils traveled to Alabama and saw the host Troy Trojans jump out to a 14-3 lead after the game's first four possessions. Duke turned it around quickly with touchdowns on its next three drives, and scored 31 points altogether over its next seven drives after trailing 14-3. The Blue Devils outgained the Trojans 290-158 during the seven-series surge.
15: A week after attempting 15 passes in a win, Georgia Tech throws for 15 yards in a win
Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas completed 11-of-15 passes for 282 yards and two scores a week ago in a 38-19 win against Wofford. In Saturday's 38-21 win against Tulane, Thomas was 3-for-8 for 15 yards. The team rushed for 344 yards, including 70 from Thomas. The 15 yards are not the fewest in Georgia Tech history. The team has had 13 games since 1953 in which it failed to register any passing yards. Tech's fewest-ever in an ACC game is 24 against Virginia (Oct. 24, 2011).
31: Virginia's nine takeaways have already produced 31 points
The Cavaliers' 45-13 win against Richmond Saturday included seven takeaways — the most for UVa since Sept. 7, 2002 — and gives the team nine on the season. Virginia collected 21 points off of the seven turnovers Saturday. With those nine for the season, UVa has already produced 31 points compared to the 13 points it scored 21 takeaways a season ago.
50: Pittsburgh held Boston College to 50 yards after its first drive of the second half
On Boston College’s first drive of the first half, the Eagles went 77 yards for a touchdown. For the rest of the half, the Pitt defense only allowed 50 yards and zero points.
- Corby A. Yarbrough
@Corby_Yarbrough on Twiter
Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Big 12 football action:
81-28: Texas-BYU score the last two years
Fans in Austin were appalled (rightly so) when its team allowed nearly 700 yards of offense in a 40-21 loss to BYU in Provo, Utah, a year ago. It wasn’t supposed to get worse in 2014 with Charlie Strong running the ship but it did. Texas lost 41-7 on Saturday night and gave up 429 yards of offense in the worst home defeat since 1997 (UCLA, 66-3). If you’re counting at home, that’s 1,108 yards of offense and 81 points in two losses to BYU.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
58.2: Baylor's yards per TD pass
No Bryce Petty? No problem. Baylor’s offense maintained its big-play ability with Seth Russell at the controls, as the sophomore completed 16 of 25 passes for 438 yards and five scores. Russell’s five touchdown tosses averaged 58.2 yards per completion, with three of those going to freshman standout KD Cannon. The Bears averaged 9.2 yards per play overall on offense.
0.82: Yards per carry allowed by Baylor
The Bears are leading the nation in yards per carry allowed at 0.82 yards per carry. Most of this is helped by their nation’s best 11 sacks in two games. Baylor’s opposition has rushed 66 times for 54 yards in two games.
51: Jake Waters yards rushing the final drive
Kansas State got the ball with 3:01 remaining in the game against Iowa State and trailing on the road by two points. Wildcats quarterback Jake Waters then took over the game and willed his team to victory. He led a seven-play, 80-yard drive in which he rushed four times for 51 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He also completed a 23-yard pass to Tyler Lockett. It was tremendous performance from the Iowa native.
3: Ways Jarvis West scored a TD
Iowa State receiver Jarvis West had a standout all-around performance against Kansas State. He threw a 29-yard touchdown, caught eight passes for 77 yards and one score and returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown. According to STATS LCC, he’s only the fourth player since 1996 to score on a pass, catch and punt return in a single game.
Sept. 4, 2010: Last time West Virginia pitched a shutout
The Mountaineers surrendered 33.3 points per game last year and 38.1 points per game in 2012. Playing Towson isn’t anything special but West Virginia pitched its first shutout since Sept. 4, 2010 when it blanked Coastal Carolina 31-0.
15.3: Yards per completion for Daxx Garman
J.W. Walsh injured his foot against Southwest Missouri State on Saturday night but Daxx Garman played well in his absence. He completed 16-of-26 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns for an average of 15.3 yards per completion. Garman may be a better fit as a passer for Mike Gundy’s offense than Walsh and Garman may have a chance to prove it.
25: Texas Tech penalties in two games
The Red Raiders are 2-0 but have struggled mightily against lowly foes Central Arkansas and UTEP. Tech has won both games by a combined 11 points and has committed 25 penalties for 204 yards. Only Oregon State (26) has been more penalized in two weeks thus far.
300: Sterling Shepard yards in two games against Tulsa
Shepard set career highs with eight receptions, 123 yards and two touchdowns against Tulsa last season. He broke those benchmarks this weekend by catching eight passes for 177 yards and a touchdown. That’s 16 receptions, 300 yards and three scores in two games against the Hurricane.
3: Career TDs for Geneo Grissom
Oklahoma’s outside linebacker Geneo Grissom snatched a Dane Evans pass midway through the third quarter and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. According to ESPN, Grissom became the first Sooners defensive lineman or linebacker to score three defensive touchdowns — all of which have happened in the last 10 games.
Texas Tech plans to turn back the clock when Arkansas visits Lubbock on Saturday.
The Red Raiders will wear throwback uniforms in Week 3, and the overall look for Saturday is pretty sharp. The design is similar to the uniforms and helmets Texas Tech had when coach Kliff Kingsbury was playing quarterback for Mike Leach.
Check out Texas Tech’s throwback uniforms below and visit the official school site for a full gallery:
Two weeks in and the Big Ten is finished.
Okay, that might be a touch dramatic but it’s not too far from the reality.
The Big Ten entered 2014 in desperate need of some brand equity — i.e., regular season wins against quality non-conference opponents. But after two weeks, every major contender in this league — with the possible exception of Penn State — have already lost critical showcase games against high-level competition.
Michigan State played well but was Oregon-ed in Autzen Stadium in the fourth quarter. Michigan looked as bad as Michigan has ever looked. And Ohio State was pushed around at home by a Hokies team that lost five times last year.
Not only did the Big Ten miss out on an opportunity to prove it’s worth on a national stage, it was embarrassed as Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State lost by a combined 64 points. In fact, it was the first time since Sept. 17, 1988 that the Buckeyes, Spartans and Wolverines each lost on the same day.
This is to say nothing of Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Rutgers and Purdue. All of which have either lost already or looked bad in wins.
So is it really that farfetched to suggest that the Big Ten has already been eliminated from the College Football Playoff?
Maybe, we should ask Pat Haden?
His USC Trojans won on Saturday in ugly fashion against a really good Stanford team in Palo Alto. No one, however, is talking about the gutty play of quarterback Cody Kessler one week after surgery or the Trojans' suffocating red-zone defense. No, the conversation has centered around Haden’s bizarre behavior on Saturday when the USC AD, prompted by a text message from a staffer, left his suite, jogged to the sideline and had an emotional exchange with the officials.
It was inappropriate and should never happen again. Is a discussion about active members of the college football community being on the committee that decides which teams get into the playoffs a legitimate one? Yes. But the Pac-12 has fined Haden $25,000 so talk of Haden being removed from the Playoff Committee for his actions this weekend is simply absurd.
Unfortunately for Mark Helfrich and Marcus Mariota, the conversation centering on Haden is so loud that the Oregon Ducks' performance in the fourth quarter against Michigan State is almost being overlooked.
The Spartans were leading deep into the third quarter in Eugene before Mariota turned in what might have been the most brilliant performance of his career. He consistently escaped pressure and executed to near perfection leading Oregon to 28 unanswered points to cap the big win. In what might have been a playoff elimination game, Oregon did what Oregon normally does to teams who appear to be competitive in the third quarter. It rolled to a relatively easy fourth quarter win.
For all of the depression running rampant through Big Ten territory and the large withdrawal from Haden’s bank account there is good news for fans in East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Palo Alto or Columbus.
At least they’re not Texas Longhorns fans.
Taysom Hill should be in Heisman conversations and is one of the most entertaining players in the nation. BYU is extremely well coached and could run the table unbeaten, forcing the Committee to look outside of the Big 5 for its four-team bracket.
But losing at home by 34 points is completely unacceptable at Texas. Charlie Strong’s rebuilding project looks like it will be much more difficult and slower moving than originally anticipated and he appears to be cleaning house with a morale compass pointed in the right direction. But this team looked worse against the Cougars at home on Saturday than it did in the record-breaking loss in Provo last fall.
Clearly, Strong has a lot of work to do and things don’t get any easier with UCLA coming to the Lone Star State this weekend.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
The Ducks' cornerback made a signature All-American play to help seal the deal for Oregon this weekend. When asked about the atmosphere in Autzen Stadium, Ekpre-Olomu put the win over Michigan State in "the top three" of his career.
Michael Brewer, QB, Virginia Tech
The Tech quarterback led an impressive road win over Ohio State in Columbus. Brewer credited the great fans from Blacksburg for showing up and staying loud the entire game.
Cody Riggs, DB, Notre Dame
Riggs was only playing in his second game for the Irish, but he knew all about how big the rivalry was between Notre Dame and Michigan.
Andre Heidari, K, USC
After kicking his second game-winner against Stanford, the humble Heidari gave all of the credit to his offense, defense and fellow special teamers for the big win against Stanford.
Even in years before conference realignment, the charter members of the ACC more often than not could boast the best roster of coaches in the country.
Now that the league has ballooned to 15 basketball members, this is almost an unfair contest.
The ACC coaching roster includes four Hall of Fame coaches, two 900-win coaches, 31 Final Four appearances and nine national championships. When Buzz Williams, arguably the top coach in last year’s version of the Big East, comes in at No. 8 in this league, that should be a startling reminder of the coaching power in the ACC.
In that case, it’s fitting Athlon Sports will begin its series counting down the top basketball coaches of 2014-15 with the ACC.
As usual, a handful of factors go into ranking the coaches — career accomplishments, career momentum, gameday acumen, player development, recruiting, conference records and postseason success.
Want to tell us how wrong we are? Tweet us at @AthlonSports or talk to us on Facebook.
1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
Record at Duke: 910-247 (.787)
NCAA Tournament: 82-26, 11 Final Fours, four championships
Number to note: The Blue Devils ended a streak of 121 consecutive weeks in the AP top 10 last season.
Why he’s ranked here: Forget about a loss to Mercer in the NCAA Tournament, Krzyzewski will reach 1,000 career wins this season.
2. Rick Pitino, Louisville
Record at Louisville: 341-117 (.745)
NCAA Tournament: 50-17, seven Final Fours, two championships
Number to note: The Cardinals are 22-2 in conference and NCAA Tournament games the last three years.
Why he’s ranked here: Pitino’s teams are consistently among the toughest defensive squads in the country.
3. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Record at Syracuse: 948-320 (.748)
NCAA Tournament: 53-30, four Final Fours, one championship
Number to note: Syracuse has declined in adjusted tempo in each of the last seven seasons. The Orange were the ninth-slowest team in the country in KenPom last season.
Why he’s ranked here: Syracuse has six 30-win seasons all time. Half have come in the last five seasons.
4. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Record at Virginia: 106-60 (.639)
NCAA Tournament: 5-4
Number to note: Bennett led Virginia to its first sweep of the ACC regular season and tournament titles in 2013-14.
Why he’s ranked here: In eight seasons as a head coach, Bennett ended a 19-year Sweet 16 drought at Virginia and gave Washington State its deepest Tourney run in 67 years.
5. Roy Williams, North Carolina
Record at North Carolina: 306-89 (.775)
NCAA Tournament: 63-22, seven Final Fours, two championships
Number to note: The Tar Heels are 25-11 in the ACC, 12-11 on the road and 1-3 against Duke in the last two seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: The career achievements may demand a higher ranking, but schools like Virginia and Miami have been closer to Carolina territory than Carolina during the last two seasons.
6. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
Record at Pittsburgh: 288-96 (.750)
NCAA Tournament: 12-10
Number to note: Pitt has never ranked lower than 45th in adjusted offensive efficeincy on KenPom in 11 seasons under Dixon. The Panthers have been ranked in the top 20 in that category six times in the last eight years.
Why he’s ranked here: The 2011-12 season marked the only time in Dixon’s career he failed to reach the NCAA Tournament or win 10 conference games.
7. Jim Larranaga, Miami
Record at Miami: 66-36 (.647)
NCAA Tournament: 7-6, one Final Four
Number to note: Masterful coaching job in 2013-14 preserved a streak of 16 consecutive winning seasons. At Bowling Green, George Mason and Miami, he’s had one losing season since 1993.
Why he’s ranked here: Larranaga had a nice career by the time he was 55. Then he took George Mason to the Final Four and swept the ACC regular season and tournament titles at Miami.
8. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Record at Virginia Tech: First season
NCAA Tournament: 8-5
Number to note: From 2011-13, Marquette reached the Sweet 16 twice and the Elite Eight once.
Why he’s ranked here: Williams proved he could go toe to toe with Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh. Can he compete against those three, plus Duke and North Carolina, at Virginia Tech?
9. Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Record at Notre Dame: 300-159 (.654)
NCAA Tournament: 6-11
Number to note: Notre Dame has one NCAA win since 2008.
Why he's ranked here: Notre Dame averaged 11.6 conference wins from 2006 through 2013 before falling to 6-12 in its first season in the ACC.
10. Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Record at Florida State: 241-157 (.606)
NCAA Tournament: 6-7
Number to note: Florida State hasn’t had a losing ACC record since 2006-07, though the Seminoles went 9-9 the last two years.
Why he’s ranked here: The Seminoles have reached the NCAA Tournament four times and the NIT five times in the last nine seasons. Not a bad stretch for FSU.
11. Mark Gottfried, NC State
Record at NC State: 70-38 (.648)
NCAA Tournament: 8-10
Number to note: Gottfried’s first three seasons (70-38, 29-23 ACC) have been remarkably similar to Herb Sendek’s final three (64-34, 28-20 ACC).
Why he’s ranked here: Talented offensive teams have topped out at 11-7 in the league.
12. Brad Brownell, Clemson
Record at Clemson: 74-58 (.561)
NCAA Tournament: 1-4
Number to note: Brownell has had only one losing ACC season in four at Clemson.
Why he’s ranked here: The Tigers quietly improved from 5-13 to 10-8 in the league last season.
13. Danny Manning, Wake Forest
Record at Wake Forest: First season
NCAA Tournament: 0-1
Number to note: Manning ended an 11-year NCAA Tournament drought for a proud Tulsa program.
Why he’s ranked here: After two seasons as a head coach, the former Kansas star gets an ACC job with potential.
14. Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech
Record at Georgia Tech: 43-52 (.454)
NCAA Tournament: 1-2
Number to note: The Yellow Jackets are 16-36 in the ACC under Gregory.
Why he’s ranked here: Gregory’s teams have been capable on defensive end of the court, but struggled to score.
15. Jim Christian, Boston College
Record at Boston College: First season
NCAA Tournament: 0-2
Number to note: Christian went 186-81 at Kent State and Ohio, 56-73 at TCU.
Why he’s ranked here: Christian is a perfectly capable MAC coach. Boston College is not in the MAC.
SMU coach June Jones has resigned after an 0-2 start this year. Jones is the first coach of the season to be fired or resign.
Defensive coordinator Tom Mason will be promoted to interim coach, with Dan Morrison and Jason Phillips sharing play-calling duties on offense.
Jones was a key hire for SMU, as he arrived in Dallas after recording a 76-41 record during his nine-year tenure at Hawaii. The Warriors showed immediate improvement under Jones, going from 0-12 in the year prior to his arrival, to a 9-4 mark and a bowl victory in 1999.
Jones also guided Hawaii to a BCS bowl appearance in 2007.
However, Jones left Hawaii for Dallas after that season and struggled to find early success with the Mustangs.
SMU went 1-11 in Jones’ debut and finished winless in conference play in 2008.
The Mustangs rebounded by playing in four consecutive bowl games from 2009-12 and finished 5-7 in their first season of American Athletic play in 2013.
Despite making four consecutive bowl games for a program that has struggled to maintain success since the death penalty in 1987, there were plenty of rumblings from the SMU fanbase about Jones’ tenure.
And those rumblings only grew louder once the Mustangs started 2014 with an 0-2 record, which included a 45-0 loss to Baylor and a 43-6 defeat at the hands of North Texas.
SMU is a job with plenty of potential, as its located in a fertile recruiting area and has a history of success. With an opportunity to play in the American Athletic Conference, there's also good exposure on key television networks.
Names to watch in SMU’s coaching search:
David Beaty, wide receivers coach, Texas A&M
Philip Montgomery, offensive coordinator, Baylor
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Rick Neuheisel, former UCLA coach
Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator, East Carolina
Jake Spavital, offensive coordinator, Texas A&M
Only two games onto the job and James Franklin will have the tools to return Penn State to full strength.
The NCAA and Big Ten relieved sanctions on Penn State on Monday, allowing the Nittany Lions to play in a bowl and the Big Ten title game in 2014 in addition to allowing the program to return to a full allotment of scholarships for the class of 2015.
The orginial sanctions banned Penn State from the posteason through the 2015 season and restricted scholarships through 2017.
The NCAA’s decision to restore Penn State’s bowl eligibility comes after George Mitchell, the school’s appointed athletics integrity monitor, recommended the changes in his annual report to the NCAA. Mitchell’s report helps the NCAA and Penn State gauge its athletic department and progress from the sanctions after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
This is the second reduction in penalties from the NCAA to Penn State since the sanctions were originally announced. Last year, the NCAA allowed Penn State to sign 20 players and have 75 scholarship athletes on the roster. The original plan after the reduction was to allow the program to sign 25 players for 2015 and have a full allotment of 85 players in 2016.
Read the NCAA’s full release on Penn State’s reduction in sanctions
The Main Takeaway
This is a huge boost for Penn State’s football program. After the penalties and sanctions were announced, most expected the Nittany Lions would take a huge hit in the standings for the next five-to-10 years. The impact of losing scholarship players would limit the team’s depth, and a bowl ban would prevent the program from attracting elite recruiting classes.
But that’s no longer a concern.
Penn State isn’t ready to challenge for a national championship in 2014 or 2015, but the outlook for the program, already buoyed by the hires of Bill O'Brien and James Franklin, have improved thanks to a full allotment of scholarships and the possibility of postseason play.
Here is a look at penalties were originally levied in June 2012 and what they actually turned out to be
|Penalty||As Stated on June 23, 2012||Actual impact|
|Fines/Forfeiture of Bowl Revenue||$60 million (NCAA), $13 million (Big Ten)||Enforced|
|Vacated wins||112 from 1998-2011||Enforced|
|Tranfers||Allowed players to transfer without penalty||Enforced, nine players transferred|
|Postseason bans||Banned from bowls and Big Ten championship game from 2012-15||Banned from bowls and Big Ten championship game from 2012-13|
|Scholarship reductions (by year)|
|2012||85 on roster (25 on NSD)||85 (25)|
|2013||15 on NSD||15 on NSD|
|2014||65 total (15 on NSD)||75 total (20 on NSD)|
|2015||65 (15)||85 (25)|
|2016||65 (15)||85 (25)|
|2017||65 (25)||85 (25)|
|2018||85 (25)||85 (25)|
While this is a boost to Penn State, don’t forget about the impact on the Big Ten as a whole. The conference desperately needs some good news after struggling with its on-field product in recent years. Ohio State and Michigan State have been top-10 programs in recent seasons, and Penn State – with a full roster and an outstanding coach – can join those ranks soon.
What This Means for 2014
Penn State is a contender for the Big Ten title. The Nittany Lions have yet to turn in an overwhelming performance in their two contests, but the rest of the Big Ten hasn’t either.
The strength of the Big Ten lies in the East Division, where the Nittany Lions are battling Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State for the No. 1 spot. The Spartans are the frontrunner, but Penn State hosts Mark Dantonio’s team in on Nov. 29. And here’s another element of intrigue for Penn State’s schedule: Ohio State visits Happy Valley on Oct. 25.
The schedule is in the Nittany Lions’ favor, as the top two teams in the division play at Beaver Stadium. And it’s late enough in the season where Penn State’s offensive line should have some time to develop.
There are potential landmines on the schedule outside of Ohio State and Michigan State, including a road trip to an Indiana team that defeated Penn State 44-24 in 2013. Penn State also travels to Michigan on Oct. 11.
New coach James Franklin inherited plenty of talent from Bill O’Brien, including quarterback Christian Hackenberg who has thrown for 773 yards (No. 4 nationally) and completed 65.1 percent of his passes through two games. Hackenberg’s development — along with the emergence of Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton at receiver — is critical with an offensive line that is thin on depth and proven options. Developing a rushing attack is critical for Penn State to make the jump into conference title contention, as the Nittany Lions are averaging only 2.8 yards per attempt.
Defensively, Penn State ranks among the best in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions are allowing just 13.5 points per contest and 4.3 yards per play. Similar to the offense, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is also dealing with depth issues. However, Penn State’s starting 11 on defense is good enough to push for 10 wins.
It’s not tangible with a stat, but there’s also a natural boost Penn State should get from having something to play for at the end of the year. The Nittany Lions are no longer just about playing for pride. A Big Ten title, a playoff spot and a bowl game are now real possibilities.
With a proven coach like Franklin, a standout quarterback in Hackenberg and an emerging defense, Penn State has the pieces in place to push for a conference title.
Franklin is known as a relentless recruiter, and his pitch has already paid off for the Nittany Lions. Penn State inked the No. 24 class in 2014 and is off to a hot start for 2015, ranking No. 7 nationally with 19 three or four-star prospects committed.
With limited scholarships, Franklin and his staff had to be selective and depth was going to be an issue over the next few years. With a full allotment to use, Penn State will be able to sign a better class with more depth, which especially helps units like the offensive and defensive lines – two areas that are critical in the Big Ten.
With the ability to play in a bowl, it should help Franklin sell the program to more recruits who may have stayed away from the Nittany Lions with the uncertainty surrounding its postseason future.
There’s no question Franklin knows how to recruit. Under his watch, Vanderbilt signed the No. 26 class in 2013.
With the possibility of postseason play, a program on the verge of rebounding, and a young, energetic coach in Franklin, Penn State is poised to emerge as a top 15 program on a consistent basis over the next few seasons.
Here's how Penn State has fared before and after sanctions. All figures are from the 247Sports Composite. The 2015, obviously, remains a work-in-progress until commits sign letters of intent.
|National Rank||Big Ten Rank||Coach on NSD|
Bill O'Brien on PSU news: "Penn State is a fantastic place. ... Very happy for Penn State, mostly for the players and the coaching staff."— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) September 8, 2014
Finally a correction. NCAA was wrong about the Penn State football culture and had no business handing down sanctions. Was not their case.— Todd Blackledge (@Todd_Blackledge) September 8, 2014
Today is a memorable day for these young men! The men who stayed together for each other! Today Penn State is back! pic.twitter.com/GoZXRLwL1X— Josh Gattis (@Coach_Gattis) September 8, 2014
Scott Paterno said a family lawsuit against the NCAA and Penn State will continue despite the NCAA's most recent reduction in sanctions.— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) September 8, 2014
Due to Penn State’s progress in ensuring athletics dept functions with integrity, NCAA immediately restores football postseason eligibility.— Inside the NCAA (@InsidetheNCAA) September 8, 2014
James Franklin statement: pic.twitter.com/vVUSG7HZ3y— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) September 8, 2014
Richmond International Raceway hosted 650 laps of racing this weekend within NASCAR’s two major series — Nationwide and Sprint Cup — with 633 of those laps led by just two drivers. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch dominated each event, making the most interesting moment at NASCAR’s “most competitive” short track a drunken guy that climbed to the top of the catchfencing. Busch led all 250 circuits in the Nationwide event — a race that has averaged a whopping two lead changes in the last three NNS events held there.
What a fitting way to end NASCAR’s regular season in a year that started off competitive but appears to have lost its way. Five of the first 12 Cup races featured 30 lead changes or more, including a whopping 35 at former cookie-cutter failure Fontana. Since, the lead changes have maxed out at 25 over the last 14 races, with half those events featuring 15 lead changes or less. In the midst of two upset victories (AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola) we’ve seen two organizations, Hendrick Motorsports and Penske Racing, sweep the other dozen events heading into the postseason. The dreaded “aero push” is back, making passing difficult and putting victories in the hands of engineers and crew chiefs, via pit strategy.
Passing, which had seen an initial improvement this season, has dropped off, with most drivers limiting their movement to frantic, aggressive moves on restarts. Charging forward over long green-flag runs continues to be a problem, hurting the competition as cautions have been fewer and farther between. The only yellow flags at Richmond were for the drunkard, a competition yellow (because of rain cutting into practice time) and two for debris. Matt Kenseth, on a night when several drivers had “win or else” mandates, was the only competitor to hit the wall at a short track … a short track! Saturday night, cars raced so far apart from each other you’d have thought contact was punishable by a stop-and-go penalty.
NASCAR hopes things pick up with its new version of the Chase, a three-round elimination playoff designed to combat the NFL. But football saw seven of its first dozen contests hit overtime, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats. NASCAR can’t do the same if it continues throwing up stinkers like we saw on Saturday night.
“Through the Gears” we go …
FIRST GEAR: Penske Power
It was clear in the midst of so much conservatism at Richmond that Brad Keselowski was out to prove something. The 2012 champ hit rock bottom here last season as a 17th-place result, after leading 142 of the first 268 laps, left him on the outside of the Chase looking in. He was just the second reigning champion, joining Tony Stewart in 2006, to fail at defending that title in NASCAR’s playoff era.
This season, Keselowski has surged back in a big way and he was determined to enter as the Chase’s top seed. Leading 383 of 400 laps, the No. 2 Ford was rarely challenged on a night where the only question was not if he would win but by how much.
“I give him a lot of credit because he's pushing the team, he's pushing Paul (Wolfe, crew chief),” said team owner Roger Penske. “He and Joey together, they're working each other, trying to find the speed in the cars.”
The victory was Penske’s 400th across both his NASCAR and IndyCar programs, and he’s in the best position yet to earn a dual championship after Will Power took care of business at Fontana last week. Keselowski, with four victories, has been on top of his game in the past month and teammate Joey Logano is poised to take the next step after a three-victory, career-year driving the No. 22. Beating the four-car Hendrick juggernaut will be tough, but this organization has done it before when Keselowski outlasted Jimmie Johnson in a punch-for-punch battle down the stretch two years ago. If you’re looking to root for a team with a realistic shot at unseating Hendrick Motorsports, Penske’s your choice.
SECOND GEAR: Clint couldn’t get it done
Despite an expansion to 16 drivers, several high-profile competitors missed the Chase this year. Tony Stewart’s season of problems, culminating with the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy, have been well documented. Highly-touted rookies Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon showed varying degrees of promise but couldn’t reach victory lane. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick, while remaining a couple off the racetrack, have been a couple of slowpokes on it.
But perhaps the most glaring omission is Toyota’s Michael Waltrip Racing, which failed to cash in one year after the “Spingate” scandal that publicized team orders and rocked NASCAR. The end result of Clint Bowyer’s spin, done intentionally to try and get teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase, was Truex missing the field, a 13th driver added (Jeff Gordon) and a loss of sponsorship support that caused MWR to contract to two teams.
Co-owners Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman, who runs the Race Team Alliance (RTA), said a streamlined operation would make them better. But that hasn’t been the case. In a year when Toyota has just two wins, the organization has led just 118 laps combined between its cars driven by Bowyer, Brian Vickers and a third “test alliance” co-owned by Jay Robinson and manned by a handful of retreads or up-and-comers.
Richmond, historically one Bowyer’s best tracks, became the spotlight for recent struggles. In April, the No. 15 5-Hour Energy car was one of the fastest in practice only to end up behind the wall after spinning Kyle Larson on the first turn of the first lap, then losing the handle. They came better prepared this weekend, but a third-place effort wasn’t enough to unseat Greg Biffle and sneak into the Chase on points.
“Every time we take a step ahead, something drags us a couple of steps back,” said Bowyer, whose broken shifter at Atlanta ultimately doomed his playoff hopes. “When you make that Chase, you want to be able to compete for a championship and I’m an optimist but I’m a realist. Right now, realistically, we don’t have a shot at winning that championship against the competition we’re running against.”
As for Vickers, his demise was also due to a handful of DNFs. Ranked 22nd in the standings is a disappointment in his first full season behind the wheel in Cup since 2011 after health problems nearly brought his racing career to a close.
“We’ve had some really bad luck this year,” he said, running 13th at Richmond and never a factor. “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, we made our own mistakes and every team is going to make mistakes throughout the year — we just had too much go wrong out of our control to make up for our turn in the barrel.”
THIRD GEAR: Joe Gibbs Racing short on short tracks
Speaking of Toyotas struggling, what is up with Joe Gibbs Racing’s short track program? It used to dominate Richmond, where it won five in a row from 2009-11. Hometown favorite Denny Hamlin alternated time in the winner’s circle with teammate Kyle Busch. But Saturday night, neither one reached the top 10, while Matt Kenseth slapped the wall and ran 41st. It’s continuing a trend; JGR’s three drivers have failed to find victory lane on a short track , posting a total of three top-5 finishes in those 15 starts. Only Kenseth, who nearly won Bristol last month, has shown an ability to contend on a regular basis.
“We all have to get better as a company and where that comes from, we don’t know,” said Busch, whose confrontations with other drivers, as well as crew chief Dave Rogers, have peaked in the past month. “If we could have figured that out a while ago, trust me, we’d be running better.”
JGR still needs to be considered a player in the Chase — it is, after all, Toyotas flagship program. Kenseth, in particular, owns the consistency to keep moving forward. But “settling” for top-15 performances at their strongest type of facility does not bode well for an extended playoff run.
FOURTH GEAR: Setting up the Chase
The 16-driver field for the Chase is now set, with winless drivers Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman joining the grid on points. The final makeup is heavily weighted toward Ford and Chevrolet. Hendrick Motorsports leads the Bowtie brigade, putting all four drivers in the field (Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.) while Stewart-Haas Racing adds a pair in Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. Richard Childress Racing, with Newman and JTG-Daugherty’s AJ Allmendinger, give the manufacturer a total of eight cars.
Ford responds with five of its own: the Penske Racing duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, along with Roush Fenway’s Biffle, the “lame duck” Carl Edwards and first-timer Chaser Aric Almirola, driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. JGR’s three Toyotas — Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin — round out the field.
Early indications are with the three-round Chase format you’ll see the underdog teams fall by the wayside quickly. Chicagoland, Loudon and Dover aren’t the type of places where big wrecks or bad parts failures muddy the waters. That said, just ask Earnhardt how one tough break can wreck things. His blown engine at Chicagoland last season is the only reason the No. 88 team never contended for a title.
I’ll go with Biffle, Almirola, Allmendinger and Kyle Busch (with a tough break somewhere) to be the first four out in NASCAR’s new format. And the Final Four? Much too early to say, but if it’s anyone outside of Johnson, Gordon, Earnhardt, Logano and Keselowski (the five drivers with three or more victories) I’ll be very surprised. This Chase is one where the favorites come in with a heavy advantage.
Danica Patrick, with a solid 16th Saturday night, has three top-20 finishes in the last four Cup Series races. Up next? Chicagoland, where she had one of her better rookie performances (20th) in 2013. Could things be looking up at the No. 10 camp? At 28th in the standings and 28 points behind boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica still has a long way to go. But you have to start building that foundation somewhere. … The drunken man who climbed the catchfencing at RIR and caused a caution was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Security was shown on fan video with their backs turned as the unidentified man snuck past to climb. … Brad Keselowski’s dominating win gave him 1,278 laps led on the season, tops the Sprint Cup chart. Only Kevin Harvick (1,186) and Jimmie Johnson (1,035) have led more than 1,000.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photo by Richmond International Raceway
Week 2 is in the books and the Big Ten should be worried. Hosts David Fox and Braden Gall recap all of the action from Week 2, including the Big Ten's struggles, the Ducks marquee win, the Hokies huge upset and Pat Haden's behavior. Was the Pac-12 a winner this weekend or a loser? That and much more on this edition of the Cover 2 podcast.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 8:
• The NFL's cheerleaders are already in midseason form, as this gallery reveals.
• Nothing like a kick to a punter's face to signal the return of America's Game. Good to have you back, football. Here are the best Vines and GIFs from a tasty weekend on the gridiron.
• Roger Goodell's having a no good, very bad Monday thanks to the ongoing stench of the Ray Rice situation. If you feel like you need to see the newly available video of the knockout punch, which according to Peter King was in Goodell's possession when he "disciplined" Rice, then click here. It's beyond sickening.
• This is interesting: Kareem defends Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson over his supposedly racist email.
• Here's an interview with ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen on the occasion of the Worldwide Leader's 35th birthday.
• I can endorse this chick-mance (or whatever the chick version of a bromance is called): Serena and Woz partied after their U.S. Open final.
• Dumbass alert: A fan climbed to the top of the catchfence at Richmond. During the race. This won't help class up the image of the typical NASCAR fan.
• Derek Jeter answered a reporter's phone during a presser, like the boss he is.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]