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Years before Bruce Pearl took the Auburn job, the coach had already secured the approval of the most important face of Tigers basketball.
Pearl was midway through his tenure at Tennessee, and he had the Volunteers humming. The program's return to relevance in the SEC and the national stage was enough to draw the attention of Charles Barkley.
The Hall of Famer and Auburn legend reached out to Pearl and left the coach a voicemail.
“You don’t need to call me back,” Pearl recalls Barkley saying. “I know you don’t know me, but I’ve watched you coach. I like how hard your kids play. I like the swagger. It seems like you’re passionate. I just want to let you know I’m a fan.”
Pearl took this as the ultimate compliment. At the time, when he had Tennessee in the same stratosphere as Florida and Kentucky, Pearl had no way of knowing that this was a sign of his future in coaching.
Still, he followed Barkley’s request and went about his day.
“I did not call him back,” Pearl says. “I saved the message. It was special.”
Pearl and Barkley have crossed paths more often in recent months, since Pearl began a twofold resurrection process — that of his coaching career and that of Barkley’s alma mater.
Three years after he was fired at Tennessee and slapped with an NCAA penalty that essentially made him unhirable in the college ranks, Pearl has returned to the SEC, where he’ll try to accomplish what no one has been able to do for more than a decade. He’s looking to make Auburn relevant in basketball, not just in wins and losses but also to the school’s fan base.
“If anyone can do it, he has what it takes to do it,” says Tom Davis, the former Iowa coach who was the first to give Pearl a job in basketball at Boston College.
Indeed, Auburn has good reason to believe it scored a coup by hiring a coach with Pearl’s track record. Tennessee reached the NCAA Tournament all six seasons under Pearl, three times won at least a share of the SEC title, and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2010. He had opportunities to make the jump to higher-profile programs — Indiana was reportedly interested before hiring Kelvin Sampson — but he found a home in Knoxville. He had no plans to leave Tennessee.
What happened next is well documented. A cookout at his home with high school junior recruits led to a lie to the NCAA, which eventually led to his dismissal at Tennessee. Slapped with a three-year show-cause — which among other things bans a coach from recruiting — Pearl was basically unemployable by any other college.
Pearl embarked on a broadcasting career at ESPN and SiriusXM and served as a vice president for marketing for a wholesale grocery distribution company in Knoxville. He knew he wanted back on the sidelines but figured his next job would have to wait until the ’15-16 season at the earliest since his show-cause wasn’t scheduled to expire until Aug. 23. What school would hire a coach who couldn’t recruit for the first five months on the job?
How about a school that averaged 4.8 SEC wins in the previous five seasons and hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003?
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs fired Tony Barbee, the coach he hired in 2010, hours after the Tigers bowed out of the 2014 SEC Tournament with an 18-point loss to South Carolina. Shortly after, Jacobs began his pursuit of the popular, but potentially toxic, former Tennessee head coach.
Jacobs admits he had reservations about Pearl before speaking with former Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton among other references. Jacobs then met with Pearl in Bristol, Conn., where Pearl was serving as a college basketball analyst for ESPN.
“He was remorseful and repentant (about his NCAA transgressions),” Jacobs says. “I was as thorough as I had been with anyone because of the history. I was convinced he was the right guy at the right time for Auburn.”
The timing, though, wasn’t perfect.
Rather than using energy to fight and appeal the show-cause, Auburn and Pearl devised plans to navigate the sanctions for the first five months of his tenure as required by the show-cause order. When recruits visited Auburn on official or unofficial visits, Pearl left campus or left town altogether to avoid any possibility of violating his show-cause. Instead of meeting with Pearl, recruits met football coach Gus Malzahn in addition to the Tigers’ assistant basketball coaches.
When Pearl hit the road for speaking or booster engagements, a compliance officer accompanied him in case a prospect would be present. Although he was barred from any contact with recruits or in-person evaluation or prospects, Pearl was not barred from evaluating prospects on film or keeping in contact with his assistants on the recruiting trail.
When his staff was on the road evaluating prospects, Pearl kept in touch every few days for updates. Pearl brought in Tony Jones, who coached with him dating back to his Milwaukee days, and former Auburn great Chuck Person. Jones served his own show-cause for a year before coaching two seasons at Alcoa (Tenn.) High School outside of Knoxville.
Pearl’s son, Steven, also was listed as a full-time assistant to help in recruiting before moving into an off-court role after the show-cause expired. In other words, Pearl has filled his staff with people who know him and know the terrain of the SEC.
Recruiting limitations, though, didn’t mean Pearl could take the summer off. The NCAA now allows basketball coaches to work with players up to two hours a day and eight hours a week during the summer. Pearl took full advantage of this time.
“Him not being able to recruit doesn’t necessarily lessen his workload,” Jones says. “He’s got a head start on Xs and Os.”
The time away from recruiting also gave Pearl time to do what he does best (aside from coaching) — build enthusiasm for a program.
For all of Auburn’s passion for football, Tiger fans have good reason to be apathetic about the basketball product. Auburn has had nine losing seasons in the last 11 years — quite the feat considering how light non-conference schedules can make even a .500 record attainable for a major-conference program.
Barbee was not able to capitalize on the opening of a new $92 million arena and was fired after an 18–50 SEC record in four seasons.
Attendance dropped nearly seven percent during Barbee’s final season at Auburn, according to AL.com. Auburn’s average home crowd of 5,823 ranked 13th in the SEC and was the worst since Auburn’s new arena opened in 2010.
“Auburn wanted more than just a guy that blows a whistle in a gym,” Pearl says. “They wanted somebody who would reenergize and educate a fan base about what college basketball can look like.”
Pearl sets lofty goals. He wants to have more home sellouts than 75 percent of the teams in the SEC. Auburn didn’t sell out a home game all of last year and may not be improved on the court in terms of wins and losses. Pearl returns only two players who averaged more than 20 minutes per game last season. He is filling the gaps with two graduate transfers (guards K.C. Ross-Miller from New Mexico State and Antoine Mason from Niagara) and the top junior college prospect in the country (forward Cinmeon Bowers).
The 2015 class, though, is where Pearl will make a major impact. He has four four-star commitments, according to the 247 Composite. The class is ranked 10th nationally and second in the SEC, behind only Texas A&M.
Pearl is essentially selling an experience, selling the up-tempo style of play and aggressive defense, selling the future and selling himself until tangible progress can be made. Jacobs has called him a “one-man marketing machine.” Pearl has visited students on campus, visited classrooms, visited dining halls and assisted with fundraisers.
“I try not to say no,” Pearl says. “I’d say five nights out of seven I’m somewhere visiting.”
That’s what the dean of admissions at Boston College saw when he recommended Pearl to then-coach Tom Davis in the late 1970s for a similar role — drumming up interest in a program.
“It was his ability to coordinate and get people to join him,” Davis says. “He had students painting signs and posters, knocking on dorm room doors, getting fans to dress up in costumes.”
But it’s another trait that may help Pearl rebuild at Auburn. Davis gave Pearl his first full-time coaching job and brought his protege to Iowa as an assistant in the late '80s. After a heated recruiting battle over Deon Thomas, Pearl reported Illinois to the NCAA for violations in 1989. The incident and the stigma of reporting another program likely cost Pearl a shot at more high-profile jobs. He settled for a head-coaching gig at Division II Southern Indiana, where he went 231–46 and won one national title in nine seasons.
“He’s a tough-minded guy,” Davis says. “He’s got mental toughness, which you need to bounce back.”
The reclamation project Pearl is now singularly focused on is the one at Auburn, where he says all the resources are in place for a turnaround.
The arena is new. The facilities are on par with other programs in the league. And while the SEC produced three teams in the Sweet 16 in 2014, the league’s pecking order after Kentucky and Florida is wide open.
“If I don’t get this done, it’s on me,” Pearl says. “It’s not on Auburn.”
Kentucky and Florida are the clear giants in this league while everyone else is just trying to claw their way into that second tier. The Wildcats and Gators finished last season in the Final Four, but Kentucky didn’t look the part of a title contender until the SEC Tournament.
There were signs of the rest of the SEC pulling out of its doldrums, though. Tennessee went 11-7 in the league but advanced from the First Four to the Sweet 16. Arkansas swept the season series with Kentucky, LSU and South Carolina both defeated the Wildcats at home, and Georgia finished 12-6 in the league.
The question is if any of those programs can maintain that momentum. LSU and Arkansas are under pressure to end NCAA Tournament droughts while Tennessee will be in a rebuilding year under first-year coach Donnie Tyndall.
Aside from Kentucky and Florida, though, the main storyline in the SEC may be the return of Bruce Pearl. He’s taking over one of the toughest jobs in the conference at Auburn, and progress is sure to be slow in Year One. But he’s a proven winner in this league. Sooner rather than later, he could have the Tigers in rare position to challenge for an NCAA bid.
Previews of every SEC team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
SEC 2014-15 Preseason Picks
1. Kentucky (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA champion
The return of the Harrison twins and the arrival of another elite recruiting class makes Kentucky the easy choice in the SEC.
2. Florida (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
Michael Frazier II, Kasey Hill and Chris Walker are the next wave of Gator stars.
3. Arkansas (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
There’s no excuse for this Arkansas team not to make the NCAA Tournament. Mike Anderson has the right pieces in place.
4. LSU (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
Johnny Jones has stocked his roster with high-level talent; it’s now time to breakthrough with an NCAA Tournament bid.
Postseason projection: NIT
The Dawgs boast one of the league’s top backcourts but remain very thin on the front line.
6. Texas A&M
Postseason projection: NIT
The Billy Kennedy era has not gone as planned, but the Aggies have a roster that’s could enough to flirt with an NCAA Tournament bid.
7. Ole Miss
Postseason projection: NIT
Sideshow Marshall has moved on — which might not be a bad thing. The Rebels will lean on Jarvis Summers and some quality young bigs.
Postseason projection: NIT
Guards Levi Randolph and Ricky Tarrant (transfer from Tulane) and forward Shannon Hale form a solid nucleus in Tuscaloosa.
Frank Haith bolted for the more secure waters of Tulsa — and left new Mizzou boss Kim Anderson with a rebuilding project.
Kevin Stallings will surround talented big man Damian Jones with three freshmen on the perimeter.
Donnie Tyndall’s rebuilt roster will be strong on the perimeter but woefully thin in the paint.
Bruce Pearl’s first Auburn team will feature two of the league’s best scorers — KT Harrell and Niagara transfer Antoine Mason.
13. South Carolina
Sindarius Thornwell is a top-level talent, but the Gamecocks still lack the talent to make a big move in the SEC.
14. Mississippi State
Rick Ray continues to recruit well, but this program is at least a year way from thinking about the postseason.
2014 SEC Superlatives
Player of the Year: Jordan Mickey, LSU
LSU expects Mickey to take a more active role in the offense with Johnny O’Bryant III gone. He’s already a defensive force, joining Shaquille O’Neal as the only players in LSU’s 100-block club.
Best Defensive Player: Josh Richardson, Tennessee
Richardson will go from being a lockdown defender on a Sweet 16 team to the focal point of the team. He’s the Vols’ only returning starter and the only player who has scored more than 10 points in a league game.
Most Underrated Player: Josh Gray, LSU
Gray won’t be the most highly touted new face in the league or even the most highly touted transfer. But he will be the point guard of a potential NCAA Tournament team. Arriving from Texas Tech via junior college, Gray takes over for Anthony Hickey after averaging 33.8 points per game in JUCO.
Newcomer of the Year: Karl Towns, Kentucky
Kentucky will have a crowd in the frontcourt, but Towns is a likely pick to be a regular. The 6-11 forward is a potential top-five draft pick who can do a little bit of everything.
Top Coach: John Calipari (full SEC coach rankings)
G Michael Frazier II, Florida
G Charles Mann, Georgia
G Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
F Jordan Mickey, LSU
F Bobby Portis, Arkansas
G Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
F Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
F Chris Walker, Florida
C Karl Towns, Kentucky
C Damian Jones, Vanderbilt
G Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss
G Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
G Josh Richardson, Tennessee
F Jarell Martin, LSU
F Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
The NBA season begins tonight when the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs tip off at 8:00 PM Eastern Time. Simultaneously the New Orleans Pelicans, starring Anthony Davis — the best young player in the game, and a potential MVP candidate — will take on the rookie-rich Orlando Magic.
Here's a guide to the best games of the week. Let’s take a look at how we see things unfolding from there.
Eastern Conference Predictions
1. Chicago Bulls, 61-21
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t take anything lightly. Whether the Bulls are title contenders might be up for debate, but there’s little question that Chicago will be disciplined, driven, studied-up and talented enough to collect tons of wins as a well-oiled machine in the regular season.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers, 60-24
The Cavs have plenty of questions to answer about experience, rim protection and rotation issues. But there’s arguably more offensive firepower on this squad than any other in league history. Most teams will watch Cleveland sprint past them.
3. Washington Wizards, 54-28
Paul Pierce joins the nasty young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal to make for a daunting Eastern foe, now as capable of breaking down your will with head games as they are with pure speed. Add in the biggest, meanest front court rotation in the conference, and you’ve got a team that nobody wants to deal with.
4. Toronto Raptors, 53-29
The Raptors, low key, have built perhaps the deepest rotation in basketball. Led by Kyle Lowry, and Team USA guard DeMar DeRozan, Toronto also has two youngsters — in big man Jonas Valanciunas and former Slam Dunk Contest champion Terrence Ross — who are both ready to take the jump.
5. Charlotte Hornets, 51-32
6. Atlanta Hawks, 43-41
7. Miami Heat, 39-43
8. New York Knicks, 39-43
The phrase “playoff team” is made somewhat misleading by the huge discrepancy in competitive quality between the Eastern and Western conferences. But the Knicks, who now have some much-longed-for direction under new executive Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher, will now technically fit that bill.
9. Brooklyn Nets, 38-44
10. Detroit Pistons, 36-46
11. Milwaukee Bucks, 28-54
12. Orlando Magic, 27-55
The crown for most watchable Eastern Conference losers goes to the Magic. Rookie point guard Elfrid Payton is a visionary passer, while his first-year associate Aaron Gordon is a couple of months of development away from being one of the game’s most exciting aerial acrobats.
13. Indiana Pacers, 28-54
14. Boston Celtics, 21-60
15. Philadelphia 76ers, 14-68
Western Conference Predictions
1. San Antonio Spurs, 61-22
The Spurs, like the Bulls, are simply run too well not to gallop easily through the regular season. Don’t expect a motivational hangover after their triumphant, era-destroying championship takedown of the Miami Heat. Gregg Popovich and Co. simply don’t do “lowering the bar.”
2. Los Angeles Clippers, 59-25
In their second year under coach Doc Rivers, title expectations are an undeniable part of today’s Clippers. We know we’ll get MVP-worthy seasons from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but if DeAndre Jordan can make the jump offensively — in addition to his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy — it will make L.A. scary to everyone.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder, 55-28
The Thunder start the season with injuries to not only reigning MVP Kevin Durant, but also to guards Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow and Jeremy Lamb. They’ll hobble a bit at first, but there’s too much winning continuity (and too much Russell Westbrook) for them to ever fall too far in the standings.
4. Memphis Grizzlies, 53-29
The Grizzlies won 50 games last year, despite a 23-game absence from their best player Marc Gasol. Expect them to fight to a slightly better record as they rest Gasol and Zach Randolph more and face an improved conference.
5. Golden State Warriors, 52-30
New coach Steve Kerr is implementing smart new strategies in Oakland, including giving Andrew Bogut more range in the offense and turning Andre Iguodala into the indisputable best Sixth Man in the league — a move that also gets the most out of the shaky Harrison Barnes, who will start in Iggy’s place.
6. Houston Rockets, 51-31
The Rockets lost depth over the summer, but they also added some very needed defensive edge on the perimeter by acquiring Trevor Ariza from the Wizards. They should take only a small step back from last year’s 54-win run.
7. Dallas Mavericks, 49-34
8. Phoenix Suns, 48-35
9. New Orleans Pelicans, 44-38
10. Portland Trailblazers, 43-37
Portland was shockingly healthy last year, running out their integral starting five for all but 12 games of the season. They also won a number of coin-toss games, making clutch shots deep. Expect both patterns to slow a bit and for the Blazers to regress to the mean as they just miss the postseason.
11. Denver Nuggets, 38-44
12. Sacramento Kings, 37-46
13. Los Angeles Lakers 32-51
14. Minnesota Timberwolves 27-55
15. Utah Jazz 28-60
Most Improved Player: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Drummond showed good stuff with Team USA over the summer, and he’ll thrive to Dwight Howard-esque levels of paint-owning under the tutelage of new coach Stan Van Gundy.
Sixth Man of the Year: Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
So long as coach Kerr sticks to his decision to bring Mr. Iguodala off the bench, he’s a lock for these honors. Many don’t know it — since Andre’s impact happens so much in the non-box-score margins — but this man is one of the best players in the league.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Dwight Howard’s been written off as a weak-willed, fart-loving nincompoop, and the basketball world is all the worse for it. Superman’s 2014-15 return to unspeakable dominance of the restricted area, however, will be undeniable.
Rookie of the Year: Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
Jabari Parker gets to the rim with the authority of a veteran, and easily finds space for his shots away from the basket too. He has that rare, hard-to-explain quality best dubbed as “getting a lot of buckets.” He’ll be ahead of his class for at least a season.
Coach of the Year: Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors
Juggling the many members of the Raptors’ ensemble is tough, complex work, and Casey will get his respect this year creating the best possible monster out of Toronto’s diverse crew.
MVP: Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
With LeBron James set to coast on limited minutes in Cleveland and Kevin Durant out with a Jones fracture, this honor opens up for last year’s third-highest vote-getter to grab the cup.
Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions
Chicago Bulls vs. (8) New York Knicks
Bulls in five.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Miami Heat
This dramatically rich showdown will revolve around Cleveland’s inability to stop Chris Bosh on the block — assuming he gets back to his backdown ways in 2014-15. But even exploiting that hole won’t be enough for the Heat to take down this juggernaut.
Cavaliers in six.
(3) Washington Wizards vs. (6) Atlanta Hawks
Wizards in five.
(4) Toronto Raptors vs. (5) Charlotte Hornets
The Raptors have too many earholes for new Hornet Lance Stephenson to get his spittle into.
Raptors in six.
Chicago Bulls vs. (4) Toronto Raptors
Bulls in five.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Washington Wizards
The Wizards’ bruising big men will again bring the Cavs’ weak interior into question, but LeBron should be able to revive his inside game enough to push things Cleveland’s way.
Cavaliers in six.
Chicago Bulls vs. (2) Cleveland Cavaliers
This could be the series of the year. But expect the Bulls to finally take LeBron’s cake as Derrick Rose has, in Pau Gasol, his first teammate who can bear more of the offensive burden and open up the floor for Chicago.
Bulls in seven.
Western Conference Playoff Predictions
San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Phoenix Suns
Spurs in five.
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
Clippers in six.
(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (6) Houston Rockets
A healthy Thunder team will still struggle to get to Dwight Howard’s rim, but they ultimately have too much shooting and open-court brilliance for Houston to handle.
Rockets in six.
(4) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (5) Golden State Warriors
The Grizzlies are always the bridesmaids, never the brides. Were they the other conference, they might make the Finals. But here they’ll fall to one of the best teams in basketball.
Warriors in six.
San Antonio Spurs vs. (5) Golden State Warriors
The Warriors lost a frenzied, thrilling six-game series to the Spurs in 2013. The young, über-talented team won’t let it happen again, and will have enough to send the champs home packing.
Warriors in six
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (3) Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder in six.
(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Golden State Warriors
The Thunder aren’t letting their title window close like this. Westbrook and Durant will turn it up to an unmatchable level to make sure of it.
Thunder in six.
Chicago Bulls vs. (3) Oklahoma City Thunder
Peak Derrick Rose was never equalized by anyone as well as he was by Russell Westbrook. And as ferocious a defender as Jimmy Butler is, he can’t pack a punch tough enough to knock out Durant.
Thunder in six.
— John Wilmes
Johnny Jones entered his second season in Baton Rouge with a once-dormant fanbase buzzing at the return of All-SEC junior forward Johnny O’Bryant III and the addition of coveted in-state recruit Jarell Martin, a McDonald’s All-American in 2013.
Add in high-flying freshman Jordan Mickey in the post with diminutive guards Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer manning the outside, many pundits pegged 2013 as the year the Tigers would return to the NCAA Tournament after a four-year absence.
But shoddy road defense coupled with the expected growing pains for its freshman duo limited the Tigers as they limped to a 9–9 record in a mediocre SEC, including a 2–7 mark on the road.
A marquee 87–82 home win against eventual national runner-up Kentucky gave fans parched for success a quick glimpse of what Jones’ team could have been, but a second round exit in the NIT showed the Tigers’ shortcomings.
Jones heads into 2014 without O’Bryant, who was selected by the Bucks in the second round of the NBA Draft and Hickey, a three-year starter at point guard who transferred to Oklahoma State after being suspended several times during Jones’ first two seasons.
The LSU edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
Without O’Bryant bullying in the paint, Jones speculates many teams will deploy defenses tailored to stopping his sophomore duo of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin.
Martin had his progress hindered by an early season ankle injury, but he rebounded to become a consistent force at both power forward and on the wing. Twelve of his 18 double-figure scoring games came down the stretch in the SEC and he garnered a spot alongside Mickey on the All-SEC Freshman Team. Mickey became only the second player in LSU history to block 100 shots in a season — joining Shaquille O’Neal. With O’Bryant no longer around, Mickey will be a much larger part of the Tigers’ offense as a sophomore.
Jones added 7-1 freshman Elbert Robinson III, who has trimmed to a svelte 288 pounds after playing at 300 in high school. He looks to be a promising addition inside to take attention away from Mickey and Martin.
LSU Tigers Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-14, 9-9 SEC
Last NCAA Tournament: 2009
Coach: Johnny Jones (39-26 overall at LSU, 18-18 SEC)
SEC Projection: Fourth
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 64
With Hickey out of the fold, Jones will turn to two transfers to stabilize the perimeter and complement his potent inside game. Josh Gray, who averaged 33.8 points per game in 2013 at Odessa (Texas) College after starting his career at Texas Tech, appears to be Hickey’s heir apparent at point guard.
“Josh has the ability to create off the dribble, score from outside, and he can get to the rim because of his ball handling skills,” Jones says. “He would certainly be the quarterback for our team. I was very impressed with his ability to lead his team (at Odessa), and I think he can bring those same qualities to our program.”
Alongside Gray is UNC-Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby, who practiced with the Tigers last season. Hornsby made quite the impression on Jones, who called the son of legendary jazz musician Bruce Hornsby the hardest worker he’d ever been around in 30 years. Hornsby, a bruising 210-pounder, fits into Jones’ style as a wing.
“He just happens to be bigger and stronger than what we’ve had at that position the last few years,” Jones says. “He’s one of those guys that can really elevate, get in the paint area and score. Great catch-and-shoot guy off ball screens as well.”
Sophomore Tim Quarterman, a lanky 6-6 guard who served as Hickey’s backup last season, returns as one of the team’s best full court defenders. Freshmen Aaron Epps and Jalyn Patterson will also jockey for time.
LSU was clearly a disappointment last season, but the Tigers still boast one of the most talented rosters in the league. The frontcourt features two emerging stars in Mickey and Martin, and the backcourt has been bolstered by the two veteran transfers. There is, however, a lack of proven depth.
Jones, who played for Dale Brown at LSU in the early 1980s, has recruited very well in his two years at his alma mater — the No. 1 player in the Class of 2015, Ben Simmons, has committed to LSU — but the Tigers have yet to break the .500 mark in the SEC during his tenure. That needs to change if LSU hopes to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008-09.
Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby will anchor the Tigers’ scoring on the perimeter, replacing two veteran guards who had been in Johnny Jones’ system for two years. Elbert Robinson III and Brian Bridgewater will provide support inside while freshmen Jalyn Patterson and Aaron Epps will contend for playing time in the backcourt.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for October 28:
• Jimmy Fallon can get anybody to do anything. He got Charles Barkley, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Tweedy to play Charades.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The SEC West intra-division carnage continued this past weekend as Ole Miss fell to LSU in Baton Rouge Saturday night.
The loss dropped the Rebels five spots to No. 8 in the Legends Poll. And their consolation prize? Auburn comes to town next week.
Rival Mississippi State passed another test at Kentucky this weekend, 38-24, and retained its No. 1 ranking.
No. 2 Florida State was idle.
Third-ranked Alabama picked up two first-place votes, gaining ground on both Mississippi State and Florida State, following its win at Tennessee.
Auburn and Oregon rounded out the top 5.
No. 6 Michigan State knocked off archival Michigan and moved up two spots.
Notre Dame remained at No. 7, followed by Ole Miss.
|1||Mississippi State (10)||7-0||101||1|
|2||Florida State (1)||7-0||86||2|
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. ET. Typically the quietest of the four major sports’ deadline days, it’s possible that the biggest deal that will be made this season has already occurred. Seattle sent wide receiver Percy Harvin to the Jets for a conditional 2015 draft pick on Oct. 18. While the complete ramifications of this deal are still to be determined, in-season trades involving Pro Bowl-caliber players are the exception rather than the norm in today’s NFL.
This lack of perceived blockbuster trades, however, does not prevent any fan or knowledgeable follower of the sport from playing armchair general manager. To that end, here are some NFL trades we would love to see happen, but fully acknowledge the reality that these proposals will never come to fruition. Again, the point of this exercise is to have some fun at the expense of ignoring things such as current health, contracts, teams’ salary cap situations, roster makeup and, most importantly, what it would take to acquire these players in the first place.
Ndamukong Suh to Dallas
Of all the ideas proposed here, this one may actually make the most sense. For starters, Suh will be a free agent after this season and he’s already expressed an interest in playing elsewhere. While Dallas doesn’t appear to be the city atop his wish list (New York), do you think Suh would say no to a chance to play for the most recognized franchise in the NFL and one that, just like the Lions, is sitting at 6-2 atop its division?
For the Cowboys this makes total sense, as Suh is an All-Pro defensive tackle that would give Rod Marinelli’s defense the impact player it is sorely missing. Dallas’ success thus far is largely a byproduct of a clock-chewing, run-heavy offense that has kept a patchwork defense from getting too exposed. The Cowboys lack star power and playmakers on defense and Suh would fit both bills. A defensive tackle, Suh has 3.5 sacks while Dallas' entire defense has nine in eight games. This also would give Suh eight games to showcase his abilities to potential suitors around the league, including one particular owner who has very deep pockets and also serves as the general manager.
Vincent Jackson to New England
Tampa Bay is 1-6, pretty much already eliminating the Buccaneers from playoff contention even with nine games left. Again, not knowing what New England would be willing to give up to acquire a Pro Bowl-caliber wide receiver like Jackson, it’s certainly fun to picture him with the Patriots, no? After stumbling some out of the gates, Bill Belichick’s team has won four in a row and is considered a pretty safe bet to win its 11th AFC East title in the last 12 seasons.
However, in New England the goal isn’t just to win division crowns. And for these Patriots to get back to the Super Bowl, Tom Brady sure could use an established vertical threat like Jackson. Right now the closest thing Brady has is Brandon LaFell, who is averaging 15.4 yards per catch. But LaFell has never caught more than 49 passes in a season while Jackson has five 1,000-yard seasons on his resume, along with 448 career receptions and 54 touchdowns. Jackson is averaging 17.2 yards per catch in his career and his best seasons came when he was in San Diego and had Philip Rivers as his quarterback. You don’t think Jackson and Brady couldn’t do some damage together?
Jay Cutler to Tennessee
Chicago signed Cutler to a seven-year, $126 million contract extension in January. So clearly money is a big factor when it comes to Cutler changing teams anytime soon. But for the moment, let’s say that contract doesn’t exist. Cutler first made a name for himself when he earned SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2005 as a senior at Vanderbilt. After three seasons in Denver, Cutler was traded to Chicago and has had his shares of highs and lows in both uniforms.
Despite Cutler’s struggles, there’s no denying his athletic ability and strong arm, tools that Tennessee head coach Ken Whisenhunt would probably love to get his hands on. In his first season leading the Titans, Whisenhunt has used three different quarterbacks – Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst and this past Sunday rookie Zach Mettenberger – and of this trio only Mettenberger seems to have a realistic shot of an extended stay with the team. Prior to coming to Tennessee, Whisenhunt served as San Diego’s offensive coordinator. In one season, he helped Philip Rivers go from a turnover-prone (NFL-high 22 in 2012) quarterback to a Pro Bowl signal-caller (4,478-32-11) on a playoff team. Cutler’s no stranger to Nashville and Whisenhunt’s got a pretty good track record when it comes to coaching signal-callers. Would this duo be a hit in Music City? There’s only one way to find out.
C.J. Spiller to Indianapolis
Spiller broke his collarbone a week ago and won’t be eligible to return until Week 16, but for the sake of this argument, he’s completely healthy and still playing. The No. 9 overall pick of the 2010 draft, Spiller rushed for 1,244 yards two seasons ago, but has really yet to live up to the hype surrounding him after a record-setting collegiate career at Clemson. Spiller has breakaway speed and more than enough athleticism to make him a legitimate big-play threat, but he’s also been nicked up by various injuries throughout his career.
For whatever reason, it just hasn’t completely worked out in Buffalo, so perhaps a change of scenery would do the pending free agent some good. Enter Indianapolis, a team that could desperately use a change-of-pace running back like Spiller. Trent Richardson has been better in his first full season with the Colts, but he certainly hasn’t lived up to his lofty draft status (No. 3 overall, 2012), and as productive as Ahmad Bradshaw has been (8 total TDs), he doesn’t possess the speed and explosiveness that Spiller does. Andrew Luck is already one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Just imagine how much more dangerous Luck and Indianapolis’ offense could be if it were to add a versatile, all-purpose dynamo like Spiller.
Johnny Manziel to Houston
To this point, Manziel’s playing time during his rookie season has consisted of one token appearance on a trick play where he caught a pass, which was nullified by a penalty. For better or worse, head coach Mike Pettine seems committed to sticking with Brian Hoyer as his quarterback. That means, for our purposes, that Manziel is available for relocation.
There are several teams out there that need a quarterback and as appealing as some of those options are for different reasons (Johnny Football in the Silver and Black!), the one that makes the most sense is Houston. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the long-term answer at quarterback for the Texans and no one knows if former New England backup Ryan Mallett or fourth-round pick Tom Savage are either. Bill O’Brien has had some pretty good success with quarterbacks during his coaching career, including some guy named Tom Brady, so why not make Manziel his newest project. Manziel’s already enjoyed a fair amount of success in Texas, why can’t history repeat itself? And how ironic would it be if Manziel were to accomplish this with the Texans instead of the Cowboys?
And one more to chew on…
Robert Griffin III to Philadelphia
So do I have your attention now? RG3 has yet to get back on the field since dislocating his ankle in Week 2, but it’s also safe to say that the honeymoon is over for the second pick of the 2012 draft. Since winning AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and leading Washington to the NFC East title his first season, Griffin has gone 4-11 as a starter with more turnovers (17 total) than touchdowns (16). Rookie head coach Jay Gruden has yet to fully endorse Griffin as his quarterback, so why not speculate where he could wind up should he become available?
After taking the NFL by storm in his first season, Chip Kelly’s Eagles have not been near as productive on offense to this point. Some of this can be attributed to the erratic play of Nick Foles. In his first full season as the starter, Foles has already thrown more interceptions (nine) in seven games than the two picks he had in 13 contests last season. Foles doesn’t exactly fit the mold of the dual-threat quarterbacks that ran Kelly’s offense so successfully at Oregon. While everyone has already opined about Marcus Mariota reuniting with Kelly in the NFL next season, the reality is that the Eagles probably won’t be positioned high enough in the draft to take a guy who is among this season’s leading Heisman Trophy contenders.
That’s where Griffin comes in. RG3 didn’t play for Kelly in college, but he did excel in a similar offensive system at Baylor, one that let him fully showcase his throwing and running abilities. As a rookie in the NFL, Griffin also was highly successful running an offense that used a lot of zone-read option looks, as evidenced by his 815 yards rushing to go along with 3,200 yards passing. Griffin hasn’t been the same quarterback since tearing the ACL and LCL in his right knee for a second time in the Jan. 2013 playoff loss to Seattle. While he may never be as dynamic and explosive as he was in his prime at Baylor and as a rookie; one can’t help but wonder how Griffin would fare running Kelly’s offense, a system that on paper appears to be tailor-made for RG3’s skill set. Besides, it’s not like the Eagles and Redskins haven’t “traded” players recently, right? At least this time, Kelly probably wouldn’t have to worry about this ex-Redskin not being a team player.
Week 9 may represent the halfway point of the NFL season, but in fantasy football it’s where things really start to get interesting. For starters, the fantasy playoffs are creeping closer with every passing week, which means every game is critical. Add to this the fact that six teams are on bye in Weeks 9 and 10 and it’s shaping up to be one busy week of moves and maneuvers.
Roster depth and management skills will certainly be put to the test this week not only because of injuries but also due to the fact that guys like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Forté, Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and many others are not available.
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.
Teams on bye: Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Tennessee
Week 8 Recap: Carson Palmer threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns in Arizona’s come-from-behind win against Philadelphia. Both of Palmer’s touchdown passes were 75 yards or longer, with the game-winner to John Brown coming with 1:21 left in the game. Palmer has appealing matchups (at Dallas, St. Louis) on tap for those who have bye-week issues to deal with.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton has been mentioned in this space before, but with 12 teams on bye over the next two weeks, quarterback help may be a little harder to come by. While his numbers are down compared to last season, Dalton is still a top-20 fantasy QB in terms of points and he’s got pretty decent matchups the next two weeks – home against Jacksonville and Cleveland. Dalton also should get All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green back pretty soon, perhaps as early as this week. Remember, of the 19 QBs currently ahead of Dalton in fantasy points, eight of them will be going on bye in the next two weeks.
Michael Vick, New York Jets
Geno Smith was awful, to say the least, on Sunday against the Bills. Before getting pulled, Smith had more interceptions (three) than completions (two). Vick took over and while his numbers left much to be desired (18-of-36, 153 yards, INT, 49.9 passer rating), he led the team in rushing (69 yards on eight carries) and got the Jets to within a touchdown at halftime. Vick also lost two fumbles, but Rex Ryan has already named Vick as his starter for this week’s game in Kansas City. So with several sure-fire fantasy starting QBs (Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler) on bye, you have to at least consider Vick over some of the other fill-in options, right? For example, are you really going to rely on rookies Derek Carr (at SEA), Blake Bortles (at CIN) or even Teddy Bridgewater (vs. WAS)?
Other possible fill-in options*: Joe Flacco, Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill
Week 8 Recap: Denard Robinson posted his second straight 100-yard rushing game (16 att., 108 yds.), as one of the few bright spots for the Jaguars. Robinson fared considerably better than either Tre Mason (7 att., 32 yds.), Anthony Dixon (22 att., 44 yds.) or Bryce Brown (7 att., 15 yds.), who struggled to get anything going on Sunday.
Travaris Cadet and Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Ingram (right) was highlighted in this space last week and that was before he gashed Green Bay for 172 yards (7.2 ypc) and a touchdown. If Ingram is still available, he should be added immediately. Cadet meanwhile could prove to be a sneaky pickup, as Pierre Thomas (shoulder) is out for at least another game or two and the short turnaround for Thursday’s game against Carolina doesn’t appear to benefit Khiry Robinson’s (foot) injury situation. Cadet got just one carry (7 yards) Sunday night, but he was targeted five times, finishing with four catches for 40 yards. With so many running backs on bye, Cadet could be an intriguing flex fill-in option, especially in PPR leagues.
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
Giovani Bernard left yesterday’s win over Baltimore with a hip injury. Bernard is pretty banged up right now so even if he doesn’t miss any time, he may see a decrease in his touches. To that end, Hill’s 10 carries Sunday were only the second time he had topped double digits this season (15 in Week 2). He’s averaging less than four yards per carry, but does have three rushing touchdowns. Hill’s numbers should go up with more opportunities, which is certainly possible given Bernard’s growing list of bumps and bruises.
Bobby Rainey and Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin hurt his ankle in the third quarter of Sunday’s overtime loss to Minnesota, adding yet another bump in the second-year player’s road. Even when he’s managed to stay on the field, Martin has been ineffective at best, averaging less than three yards per carry with one touchdown. Rainey figures to be next man up, as he’s leading the team in rushing with 287 yards (4.6 ypc) and is third in receptions (22). Sims, however, is the potential wild card. The Buccaneers’ third-round pick, Sims fractured his ankle during the preseason and has been out since. He returned to practice last week and with Martin’s uncertain status, Sims could get some touches sooner rather than later. Described as a Matt Forté clone when he was drafted, Sims was touted coming out of West Virginia (started collegiate career at Houston) for his pass-catching ability. If anything, Sims is worth a stash, especially if your league has an injured reserve (IR) slot.
Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
Carolina hosts New Orleans on Thursday and for the first time in a while, the Panthers may have a crowded backfield. Williams, who has missed all but two games because of ankle injuries, is expected to return to action this week. This muddies the outlook for Stewart, who missed three games because of a sprained knee but has rushed for 129 yards since his Week 7 return. Carolina loves to run the ball and would prefer to have its backs carry the load rather than quarterback Cam Newton. Even though Stewart and Williams figure to split the carries (as long as the other doesn’t get hurt again), they still could provide RB2/flex-worthy production, especially considering the Panthers’ upcoming matchups (NO, at PHI).
Other possible fill-in options*: Andre Williams, Darren McFadden, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Carlos Hyde
Week 8 Recap: Doug Baldwin led the Seahawks with six catches for 61 yards while Jermaine Kearse was limited to just two grabs for 15 yards. Mike Evans paced the Buccaneers with 78 yards on four receptions, while Jarvis Landry caught three balls for 23 yards.
John Brown, Arizona Cardinals
A third-round pick from Division II Pittsburg State, Brown leads the Cardinals with four touchdown receptions, which is as many as Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd have combined. On Sunday, Brown caught five passes for 119 yards, including the game-winning, 75-yard touchdown strike from Carson Palmer, to help Arizona get by Philadelphia on Sunday. Even with Fitzgerald and Floyd around, Brown has averaged seven targets and 67.7 yards receiving over the last three games. The big-play ability is clearly there, as well as a developing chemistry between the young Cardinal wideout and his quarterback. With a steady diet of targets, Brown could develop into a second-half fantasy surprise.
Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown is an absolute stud, and Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller (see below) have to be accounted for, but Bryant has made quite the first impression as a rookie. Held out of the first six games because of a preseason hamstring injury, Bryant now has three touchdowns in his first two career games. Two of those came on Sunday, as Bryant (5-83-2) played a big part in Ben Roethlisberger’s record-setting (522, 6 TDs) performance against Indianapolis. Wheaton has struggled to produce consistently, which helped open the door for Bryant to get involved right away. The speedy fourth-round pick from Clemson has already shown what he brings to the table, and it’s highly likely there’s more big plays to come.
Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts
Reggie Wayne missed Sunday’s game because of an elbow injury and it’s possible he could be out again this week. Hakeem Nicks got the start in place of Wayne, but it was Moncrief who shined with more playing time. The Colts’ third-round pick, Moncrief’s contributions were minimal to start, but he busted out in a big way on Sunday. He was targeted a team-high 12 times, catching seven of those for 113 yards and a touchdown. Even when Wayne returns, Moncrief could replace Nicks as Indianapolis’ No. 3 wide receiver, as the rookie boasts more big-play ability and athleticism than the veteran. And being the third wideout in the league’s most pass-happy offense is not exactly the worst situation to be in fantasy-wise.
Other possible fill-in options*: Brandon LaFell, Odell Beckham Jr., Andre Holmes, Cecil Shorts, Dwayne Bowe, Malcolm Floyd, James Jones
Week 8 Recap: Charles Clay followed up the best game of the season with his worst effort – one catch for one yard.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers
The wily old veteran had a nice outing on Sunday – season-high 112 yards with a touchdown. While he may not be as productive as in years past, Miller is still one of Ben Roethlisberger’s most trusted targets. And the more looks Miller gets, the better his numbers have been. In the three games where’s he gotten at least seven targets, Miller has averaged seven receptions for 77.3 yards and both of his touchdowns. He’s still a top-10 fantasy TE, which is an asset that will be in short supply these next two weeks with so many teams on bye.
Other possible fill-in options*: Larry Donnell, Austin Seferian- Jenkins, Jace Amaro, Coby Fleener
Week 8 Recap: Indianapolis’ DST did recover two fumbles and blocked a poorly executed punt by Ben Roethlisberger. Unfortunately, the Colts also gave up 522 yards passing and six touchdowns to Big Ben, as the Steelers piled up 639 total yards and put up 51 points (43 allowed by the DST) on Sunday.
The Bengals’ DST has been a fantasy disappointment in many ways (total of -1 points in Weeks 5 and 6 combined), but there’s still plenty of time for this unit to redeem itself. For starters, this DST did post double-digit fantasy points in each of the first three weeks and has forced four turnovers over the last two games. Then there’s the matter of this week’s matchup with Jacksonville. The Jaguars are giving up the most fantasy points (17 per game) to opposing DSTs, including 30 on Sunday to the Dolphins. Blake Bortles leads the NFL in interceptions (12) even though he’s played in just six games and he has had four of them returned for touchdowns. Forget bye-week fill-in, I could make an argument that the Bengals are a must-start DST this week.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs had a sack party Sunday against the Rams, bringing Austin Davis down seven times. They also picked off one pass and got a 99-yard kickoff return from Knile Davis to finish with 21 fantasy points, tied for second behind Miami (30 pts). For the season, the Chiefs are tied for fourth in the NFL with 24 sacks and with a few more turnovers (5 total) would be a more productive fantasy DST. The good news is that next up is a Jets team that coughed it up six times (4 INTs, 2 fumbles) and gave up four sacks to the Bills on Sunday. After the Jets, Kansas City draws Buffalo in Week 10. Given the Bills’ backfield woes, the Chiefs’ DST may be worth keeping around for a few weeks.
Other possible fill-in options*: Baltimore, Arizona, Miami, Cleveland
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.
*Players owned in less than 70% of Yahoo! leagues.
College football’s playoff committee will release its first set of rankings on Tuesday, Oct. 28. After months of intrigue and waiting, this release should give the college football world some insight into what the committee values in its first season.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. This poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey), SBNation.com
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 9 Playoff Projection
Takeaways From Expert Poll Results
* Mississippi State and Florida State are the clear frontrunners in this week’s playoff vote. The Seminoles are 42 points ahead of No. 3 Alabama.
* Mississippi State received 17 first-place votes to just four to Florida State.
* Alabama received three second-place votes and received 107 total points. That’s a significant advantage in comparison to Ole Miss – the team the Crimson Tide lost to earlier this year.
* Oregon rejoins the top four after dropping out following a loss to Arizona.
* Five SEC teams received votes, with four of those programs ranking inside of the top six.
* Mississippi State and Florida State did not rank lower than third in this week’s poll.
Group of 5 Rankings
One team from the Group of 5 conferences - American Athletic, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt - will play in one of college football's premier (New Year's Bowls) each season.
1. East Carolina
Despite a sluggish showing against UConn, the Pirates remain in the driver’s seat for the Group of 5 spot. East Carolina defeated the Huskies 31-21 last Thursday and play three of its next five games on the road. The Pirates play at Temple on Saturday, followed by a date at Cincinnati on Nov. 13.
The Thundering Herd used 21 unanswered points in the second half to defeat FAU 35-16 on Saturday. Marshall is on bye this Saturday and ends the year with matchups against Southern Miss, Rice, UAB and Western Kentucky. Expect the Thundering Herd to be a double-digit favorite in all four of their remaining games.
3. Boise State
Colorado State might be the hottest team in the Mountain West, but let’s give Boise State an edge for the No. 3 spot in the Group 5 of rankings due to its head-to-head victory on Sept. 6. The Broncos won their third consecutive game by defeating BYU 55-30 on Friday night and have a bye this Saturday before taking on New Mexico on Nov. 8.
4. Colorado State
The Rams have not lost since their Sept. 6 trip to Boise State, and coach Jim McElwain’s team is on the cusp of being ranked in the Associated Press poll (No. 26 – 29 votes). Colorado State plays at San Jose State this Saturday, followed by games against Hawaii, New Mexico and Air Force to close out 2014. The Rams need a little help to reach the Mountain West title game, as a Week 2 loss to Boise State is the tiebreaker for the top spot in the Mountain Division.
Key Games With Playoff Implications in Week 9
Florida State at Louisville
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Remember Florida State’s last trip to Louisville? The Cardinals won 26-20 in 2002. The chess match between the Seminoles’ offense and Louisville’s defense should be an intriguing affair. The Cardinals also seem to be finding their stride on offense, especially with a healthy Michael Dyer at running back and DeVante Parker at receiver.
East Carolina at Temple
Noon ET, ESPNEWS
Can the Owls slow down East Carolina’s high-powered offense? Temple has allowed only seven passing touchdowns this year, but its offense has lost 17 turnovers.
Duke at Pittsburgh
Noon ET, ESPNU
Are the Blue Devils the frontrunner in the Coastal Division? Pittsburgh needs to win this one to stay alive in the division after struggling with turnovers against Georgia Tech last week.
North Carolina at Miami
12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3
Believe it or not, North Carolina controls its destiny in the Coastal Division.
Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
3:30 p.m. ET
The Bulldogs hope to add to the Gators’ misery with a win in the annual neutral site matchup in Jacksonville. Georgia also hopes to add running back Todd Gurley back into the mix after he missed the last two games due to a suspension.
TCU at West Virginia
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
The Big 12’s newest members meet in a critical matchup for positioning within the conference. The Mountaineers and Horned Frogs are a combined 12-3 after finishing 8-16 last year.
Auburn at Ole Miss
7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ole Miss’ rush defense was pounded by LSU for 264 yards in last week’s loss. This defense will be pressured again on the ground by Auburn’s offense (281 yards per game) and won’t have standout linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche (fractured ankle). Is it possible this game is an elimination match for playoff hopes?
Arkansas at Mississippi State
7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2
With a matchup against Arkansas, followed by a home date against Tennessee-Martin on Nov. 8, Mississippi State should be 9-0 headed into a Nov. 15 road trip to Alabama.
Notre Dame at Navy
8 p.m. ET, CBS
The Fighting Irish won by just four points last season, but Brian Kelly’s team should benefit from having two weeks to prepare for the Midshipmen.
Oklahoma State at Kansas State
8 p.m. ET, ABC
Wildcats emerging as favorite in wide-open Big 12 race? Oklahoma State has lost its last two games by a combined score of 76-19.
Arizona at UCLA
10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
An elimination game in the Pac-12 South? Expect plenty of points between two offenses averaging over 35 points a game.
Utah at Arizona State
11 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
The Utes nearly knocked off Arizona State (20-19) last season but it won’t be easy going into Tempe and winning on Saturday night. A rebuilt Sun Devils’ defense has allowed only 20 points over the last two games.
With nine weeks in the books, college football’s bowl and national title picture is starting to clear. The playoff committee will release its first projection on Tuesday this week, which should give fans, coaches and players a better idea of what the committee values heading into the final full month of the season.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
With nine weeks are in the books, it’s never too early to start looking at what the bowl picture might hold for each conference and team this year. The post-Week 9 bowl projections are a mixture between picks for the next few weeks, how things would look if the season ended today, and the results from the first nine weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks.
Teams just missing the projections: ULM, Texas State, Oregon State, Akron, USF, Arkansas, San Jose State and California. Remember: It’s only Week 9. Several changes are coming, and it’s impossible to project all of the wins and losses the rest of the way considering how much changes week-to-week in college football.
College Football's Post-Week 9 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| UL Lafayette vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
| Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs. |
| Bowling Green vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Central Michigan vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs. |
| UAB vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
| Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs. |
| Marshall vs.|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs. |
| MTSU vs.|
San Diego State
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs. |
| Rutgers vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| Virginia Tech vs.|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs. |
| Boston College vs.|
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Virginia vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs. |
| North Carolina vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Pittsburgh vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs.|
| Tennessee vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs.|
| Duke vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs.|
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Ohio State vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American vs.|
| Houston vs.|
|Taxslayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Miami vs.|
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Baylor vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Stanford vs.|
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
| Memphis vs.|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs.|
| Toledo vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| East Carolina vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Kansas State vs.|
|Orange||Dec. 31||ACC vs.|
| Clemson vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
|Related: Projecting the Playoff Teams After Week 9|
| Florida State vs.|
| Mississippi State vs.|
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Mississippi State vs.|
* Indicates an at-large selection. Conference not projected to have enough bowl-eligible teams to fulfill the conference alignment.
Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Pac-12 football action:
59: Arizona school record for points in a Pac-12 game
The Wildcats scored 59 points behind five touchdown strikes from Anu Solomon in an easy win over Washington State. That tied a school record for points in a conference game — which first occurred in 2008 against, you guessed it, Washington State. Arizona’s all-time single-game scoring record is 74 points (1921) and the Pac-12’s all-time scoring record for a league game was USC’s 74-0 win over Cal in 1930.
192.18: Marcus Mariota's passer rating
Mariota is leading the nation in passing efficiency with a 192.18 rating after torching Cal for 326 yards and five touchdowns. Russell Wilson owns the single-season NCAA record with a 191.78 mark in 2011 when he led Wisconsin to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl bid. Mariota’s current pace would be a new NCAA record should he maintain his high level of play. His current 170.85 career passer rating mark is No. 2 all-time behind only Sam Bradford (175.62).
8,625: Career passing yards for Mariota
He isn’t just one of the most efficient players in NCAA, Pac-12 or Oregon history, he is now the most productive passer in school history. Bill Musgrave has been the school’s all-time leading passer since departing Eugene in 1990. He had 8,343 career passing yards in 39 games. Mariota has 8,625 passing yards in 34 games.
5-7: Washington State’s record when Connor Halliday throws for 400 yards
The Cougars quarterback threw for 489 yards and four touchdowns on 79 attempts in the loss to Arizona. It was the sixth time he has topped 400 yards passing this season and the 12th time in his career. The problem is that reaching this benchmark hasn’t translated into wins. The Cougs are 2-4 this season in six such games and 5-7 overall during Halliday’s four-year career. Washington State is 4-8 when he throws at least 60 passes in a game.
Listen to the Week 9 recap podcast:
20-9: Road record of Pac-12 teams in league games
Oregon (Cal), Arizona (Washington State), Arizona State (Washington) and UCLA (Colorado) each won its Pac-12 road game in Week 9. Stanford (Oregon State) and Utah (USC) were the only two home teams to hold serve. That brings the road teams' record to 20-9 in conference play this season.
15: Consecutive USC losses when trailing entering the fourth quarter
According to ESPN, the Trojans lost their 15th straight game when entering the fourth quarter behind. USC scored with 10:18 left in the game to take a lead but Travis Wilson led his Utes down the field on an 11-play, 73-yard touchdown march that ended with the quarterback throwing the game-winning pass with only eight seconds left.
Nov. 6, 2010: Last time two ranked teams played in Rice-Eccles Stadium
No. 4 TCU beat No. 6 Utah 47-7 in Salt Lake City on November 6, 2010. It was the last time two ranked opponents have met in Rice-Eccles Stadium until No. 20 USC lost to No. 19 Utah this past weekend.
10-0: David Shaw’s record after a loss
In three and a half years as the head coach at Stanford, David Shaw is 39-10 overall. He has yet to lose back-to-back games as the Cardinal head coach. Even in his toughest season to date, Shaw’s squad bounced back from an ugly loss to Arizona State in Week 8 to topple Oregon State with relative ease, 38-14. More importantly, Shaw's offense showed signs of life with 438 yards and 38 points.
75: Yards on Arizona State’s final drive
Taylor Kelly returned to the starting lineup and had to deal with nasty winds and poor overall conditions against Washington in Seattle. With 7:14 left in a tie game, Kelly marched his squad 75 yards on nine plays over 4:14 of game time to score the game-winning touchdown. Kelly completed all three of his passes for 36 yards, including the game-winning TD strike to Gary Chambers, and ran the ball once for 12 yards.
23: Touches Shaq Thompson got on offense
A depleted Huskies offense turned to a linebacker for help. Shaq Thompson, who has scored five total touchdowns this season, led the Huskies with 98 yards rushing on 21 carries while catching two passes for 15 yards.
The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first rankings today, and no one really knows what to expect.
Will the selection committee’s top 25 be a carbon copy of the AP or coaches polls? Will it be wildly different?
How much change will we see from week to week as the committee goes through its made-for-TV rankings process every Tuesday?
How will the committee of 12 — the 13th member, Archie Manning, took a leave due to medical reasons — justify the teams in and out of the top four from week to week?
Indeed, this is a new era, but how much of a break the playoff will be from the BCS remains to be seen. Maybe we’ll find out Tuesday night. Maybe we’ll find out on selection Sunday on Dec. 7.
Either way, these are among the most heady issues the committee must face starting this week.
Dilemmas the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will Face
The SEC West question
The architects of the playoff have been clear that no limits will be placed on the amount of teams a conference can send to the playoff. That may be put to the test immediately within one division. In three of the last four weeks, three SEC West teams have been ranked in the top four of the Associated Press poll. Whether that’s an indication of what the selection committee might do isn’t clear. What’s certain is that the SEC West has the most playoff contenders of any conference as a whole in Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. That field will be narrowed to two or one in the final month of the season, but the SEC West may put immediate pressure on the committee to set some sort of precedent on league representation in the Football Four.
The case for Oregon
We’re told one of the advantages here is that a committee of 12 experts will be able to better gauge teams impacted by injury. There’s no better example than Oregon. With left tackle Jake Fisher, the Ducks defeated Michigan State, UCLA and Washington by an average of 18.7 points per game. Without their starting tackle, the Ducks lost at home to Arizona and survived a scare on the road against Washington State. Of the top playoff contenders, Oregon’s loss to Arizona is one of the worst losses. Will the committee overlook this glaring flaw on the resume as long as the Ducks continue to look like a contender when its offensive line is intact?
The case for Ohio State
Again, one of the advantages of the committee is that it’s supposed to recognize when a team improves as the season goes along. Look no further than Ohio State, whose lone loss to Virginia Tech looks worse with each passing week. The Buckeyes faced Virginia Tech in the second week of the season when J.T. Barrett, pressed into starting duty only 10 days before the season, was making his second career start. Since that loss, Barrett has looked more and more like an elite Big Ten quarterback, and Ohio State rolled over its subsequent four opponents. If Ohio State can defeat Michigan State on Nov. 8 and wins the Big Ten, the Buckeyes may have a playoff-worthy resume provided that loss to 4-4 Virginia Tech doesn’t become an albatross.
The head-to-head question
Ole Miss suffered its first loss of the season Saturday and dropped to No. 7 in the AP poll. That’s four spots behind Alabama, a team the Rebels beat 23-17 on Oct. 7. The reasons for the Tide to be ranked ahead of Ole Miss are reasonable — the Tide lost a close game in Oxford, defeated a Big 12 contender on a neutral field (West Virginia) and showed dominance on both sides of the ball in wins over Texas A&M and Florida. But one school of thought will maintain that as long as both have one loss apiece, Ole Miss should have an edge over Alabama in the rankings. The same dilemma could arise if Mississippi State and Auburn each end up with one loss — the Bulldogs defeated Auburn 38-23 on Oct. 4, but the Tigers may end up with a better resume with wins over Kansas State, South Carolina and potentially Georgia compared to Mississippi State’s East wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
The rematch question
The seeding of the final playoff pairings could present a handful of rematches from the Iron Bowl to the Egg Bowl to Michigan State-Oregon to any other SEC West matchup. Will the committee artfully try to avoid rematches in the semifinals?
Marshall or East Carolina?
Remember: The playoff selection committee isn’t just seeding the semifinals; it’s also filling the Orange, Cotton, Peach and Fiesta bowls. One of those spots is guaranteed to go to the highest ranked team in the so-called Group of Five (the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt). The two most likely teams right now to fill that slot are East Carolina and Marshall. East Carolina defeated Virginia Tech and North Carolina but lost by 10 to South Carolina.
Ten years. That’s how long since the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash, near Martinsville, which took the lives of 10 innocent victims. Among them were owner Rick Hendrick’s son, Ricky, and brother John; nieces Kimberly and Jennifer, engine builder Randy Dorton, Hendrick GM Jeff Turner, a DuPont executive and three pilots, two of which were at the controls. It was a tragedy that devastated the four-car organization, whose driver Jimmie Johnson won the race without knowing the darkness that unfolded in the hills behind the racetrack.
Thirteen years. That’s how long since NASCAR’s biggest draw of the last generation, Dale Earnhardt Sr., had something go so terribly wrong on the last lap of the Daytona 500. As the No. 3 headed toward the wall, a sport lost its leader, the man whose legend — both on the track and after his death — led to NASCAR’s unprecedented growth. But most importantly, a family, including a son crowned the successor to the throne, lost a patriarch.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t with Hendrick Motorsports when that fateful crash occurred. But he didn’t need to be. Human tragedy, while occurring at different times and in different places, has a way of bonding people forever, fusing them in ways few common experiences ever can.
“The 10th anniversary sort of has you reflecting and remembering,” Earnhardt said. “On other anniversaries, you really don’t have to remember or reflect as much. But when it sort of hits these particular anniversaries, like the 10th, you feel like you need to stand up and recognize and acknowledge. You do. You want to. There’s a part of you that loves to celebrate these people’s lives. But there’s the other half of you that can’t forget the loss.
“Losing my dad was difficult. I can’t imagine that loss that he (Hendrick) went through, his family went through, the whole organization. All those people at one time. It just has to be unbelievable to have to deal with that.”
Sunday was a day of great joy for HMS, as it should have been. Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon led a 1-2 finish for the company and the former quickly led a raucous celebration. The team was drinking in Victory Lane, talking over kegstands and party planning shortly after the checkered flag flew.
But underneath it all, the excitement and their success story were subtle remembrances of who was lost. Hats were worn backwards in Victory Lane, just like Ricky used to do. All who interviewed paused for a second, changed their tone, and paid their respects. After all, tragedy allows us to heal but never forget.
“Martinsville is a high conversation at our company,” said Earnhardt’s crew chief Steve Letarte. “We prepare for this race like most people prepare for the Brickyard.
“I’m blessed to have a great family with two healthy children. Those are the lessons that people that work for Rick learn. The great things he does very few people write about because they’re hard to write about, they’re hard to understand.”
Everyone understood on Sunday. And as an HMS car entered Victory Lane, every fan at Martinsville Speedway stood up and cheered — no matter what team they rooted for.
This sport doesn’t work any other way.
“Through the Gears” we go …
FIRST GEAR: Earnhardt erases bad Chase memories
For Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 2014 Chase has been difficult. In his last season paired with crew chief Steve Letarte and entering the playoffs with three victories, it seemed like the stars were aligned for a championship run. Just three races ago, the No. 88 team entered in as a title favorite. But a blown tire,while leading started a three-week nightmare that included a broken shifter, another wreck, and getting kicked out of the playoffs far too early. Without the postseason reset, this team would be third in points; instead, it’s currently sitting outside the top 10.
Winning Martinsville, a place Earnhardt has openly targeted for years, helped heal that wound. At age 40, he finally broke through by earning a Grandfather clock — one of the sport’s most coveted trophies. It was some masterful driving down the stretch, charging from fifth with five laps to go after giving up the lead for fresh tires.
“It wasn’t hard to make,” Letarte said of the call. “But it was nerve-wracking to watch.”
Luckily for him, Earnhardt took less than two laps to push his way back to the front. Rolling by Tony Stewart, who took a chance on old tires, the No. 88 breezed to victory over Gordon. It was a good moment for NASCAR, as team orders never came into play; a victory here would have given the No. 24 team an automatic ticket to the Final Four in Homestead.
“He was fast enough all day that he could run us down if the race continued,” claimed Earnhardt. “I would have been pissed.”
Instead, he’ll wind up 2014 with four victories, his most in a decade, and feel pleased about all the success he’s had this season … as he should be.
SECOND GEAR: Kevin Harvick is maaaad
Kevin Harvick, perhaps the most dominant car up front this season, saw his title hopes turn desperate at Martinsville. It was fellow Chaser Matt Kenseth who caused the crisis, wheel-hopping into Turn 1 and inciting a wreck that turned the No. 4 car into a pile of mush. Harvick lost 40 laps despite virtually half of Stewart-Haas Racing working on the car. A 33rd-place finish left him eighth in points, 28 behind fourth-place Kenseth and a virtual lock to miss the Chase unless the team can win at Texas or Phoenix.
“(Kenseth) will not win this championship,” said Harvick afterward. “I can promise you that.”
Even crew chief Rodney Childers talked a little trash after the race, venting frustration on a season that’s been this type of roller coaster for the No. 4 bunch. If it had any luck at all — and fewer self-induced mistakes — the team would be sitting with eight, potentially nine victories this season.
Instead, it’s a crew in desperation mode once again, causing an anger Kenseth claimed he understood.
“I don't blame (Harvick) for feeling that way, honestly," he said. "It was a mistake — he was an innocent bystander and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I totally understand how he feels and I totally understand why he would say that. I totally get it. He knows it was a mistake, too, but that doesn't really help him. I don't really blame him.”
The only question for Kenseth is whether that blame from Harvick turns into outright revenge, the type that will keep the No. 20 car on the sidelines for Homestead.
THIRD GEAR: Hello, Newman
What do Earnhardt and Ryan Newman have in common? The number four. Earnhardt has four victories and is eliminated from title contention. Newman? After a third at Martinsville, he has four top-5 finishes this season but is second in points and could be your champion after Homestead.
“It’s played to our advantage the entire time as far as not having a win, not having bonus points,” he said about the new format. “Even if you’re eight of 12 or 16, you’re still getting caught up, making free points that they’re giving you to be tied to the next bracket.”
That means Newman, who was tied for the lowest seed entering the playoffs, is riding consistency all the way to a title shot. With five straight finishes of eighth or better, the team is on a roll, positioned well enough to advance even if it doesn’t win a race. It would be NASCAR’s title nightmare: a winless driver with less than 50 laps led all season taking the championship. But it’s one small step closer to reality.
FOURTH GEAR: Keselowski digs another hole
Joining Harvick in the desperation department is Brad Keselowski, who’s used to it after winning Talladega in order to advance. This time, it was a broken gear that left the No. 2 team scrambling, causing a sudden slowdown on track and a wreck that involved Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears and Carl Edwards, among others.
“It’s not the day we want by any means, but the guys did a great job,” Keselowski said. “They put a gear in this car in 28 laps at Martinsville, that’s pretty phenomenal but it was just unfortunate the way the day played out.”
Past experience should help Keselowski, and Team Penske has been the strongest organization across the board during this postseason. But walking the plank once is hard enough. Twice? That’s going to be a very tough task; keep in mind he has no career wins at Texas or Phoenix.
Martinsville, with 15 caution flags over 105 laps, had its share of wrecks, including two red flags. But it also featured consistent, hard racing, 24 lead changes, and easily one of the most exciting finishes all season. Why the sport doesn’t drop a 1.5-mile oval, or at least a race from one in favor of another short track — think Iowa — is beyond me. … Underdog David Ragan snuck away with a 10th-place finish, using old tires and pit strategy to pull through. In a decade of competition, it’s the first top-10 result for his Front Row Motorsports team outside of Daytona and Talladega. … Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers had an on-track feud in which both drivers spun the other out and then played the blame game before NASCAR put a stop to it all. Vickers has a history of losing it at Martinsville, including a crazy series of incidents in the fall of 2011. But rewinding the tape shows it’s Kahne who appeared to be the culprit. With both drivers having little at stake, the rest of the season it’s possible their bad blood will resurface at Phoenix.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
The NBA season is here. Well, tomorrow it will be, anyway — and we’re here to guide you through the year’s most exciting appetizer contests.
Houston Rockets @ Los Angeles Lakers - Tuesday, October 28, 10:30 PM ET, TNT
There’ll be no shortage of grudges at play when the Rockets stroll into Tinseltown tomorrow night. Kobe Bryant — the subject of much recent scrutiny — and Dwight Howard never got along as fellow Lakers, and many fans of the purple-and-gold took it as a sign of their franchise turning the page and starting over when Howard took his talents to Texas. Bryant has always been one to make statement performances, and he never got the chance to do so against Howard last season, when he missed all but six games with injury.
Now, Kobe’s back, and he’s got Rockets castoff Jeremy Lin as his backcourt partner. The two should be looking for redemptive blood on opening night.
Chicago Bulls @ New York Knicks - Wednesday, October 29, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN
The basketball world, outside of New York, all wanted to see Carmelo Anthony leave the Knicks to fight for titles with the Bulls in Chicago this summer. He didn’t.
But with the resurgence of point guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls look like a fiery team on a mission nonetheless. They’ll roll into Madison Square Garden with their trademark intensity Wednesday, eager to show Anthony and the new-look Knicks (now managed by Phil Jackson and coached by Derek Fisher) just what he walked away from.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Los Angeles Clippers - Thursday, October 30, 10:30 PM ET, TNT
Perhaps the most exciting series of the 2014 postseason took place between these two teams. With both the Clippers and Thunder (maybe the two most stylistically thrilling teams in basketball) facing the fork in the road between championship contention and mere playoff relevance, the stakes never felt higher.
Behind the overwhelming combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder won that series four games to two. But after Durant was sidelined for up to two months with a Jones fracture this month, the Clippers may have an edge in the standings on OKC through the winter. Not if the ferocious Westbrook has his way, though — Thursday marks the beginning of the mercurial guard’s compelling quest to prove his winning skills without the world’s best scorer next to him.
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Chicago Bulls - Friday, October 31, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN
And we arrive at the main event. LeBron James’ home city team versus Rose’s. The two titans of the East square off in Chicago for what many see as a preview of the 2015 Conference Finals.
The Bulls have consistently held the league’s most impenetrable defense since coach Tom Thibodeau came to town in 2010. But Cleveland’s offense — featuring James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and a slew of deadly shooters — just might be the best the NBA has seen this millenium. Tune in Friday to see who gives first in this epic, season-long tug of war.
— John Wilmes
By Saturday, the release of the first College Football Playoff top 25 may feel like an afterthought.
True, the playoff is one of the defining features of the season, but the first weekend of November is a clear indication of the other major storyline for 2014 — unpredictability.
On Nov. 1, teams like TCU, West Virginia, Utah and Arizona State will be playing in games relevant to conference title chases, if not the playoff.
Remember, this is a week in which Stanford-Oregon is a featured game, and games like TCU-West Virginia and Utah-Arizona State are nearly as important.
The SEC West, as usual, is a centerpiece of attention, too, as Ole Miss tries to recover from its first loss of the season while Auburn attempts to solidify its spot among the top contenders in its division.
The Week Ahead: Oct. 30-Nov. 1
All times Eastern. All games Saturday, unless noted.
Florida State at Louisville
When and where: Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... Florida State is on upset alert. Despite being 7-0, the Seminoles rarely have looked like the dominant team they were a year ago. This could be a chance for FSU to flex its muscles or it could be a tricky game against one of the top defenses in the country. Louisville is second in yards allowed per play and first in total defense. The Cardinals have allowed more than 100 rushing yards twice all season and more than 200 passing yards three times.
Vegas says: Florida State by 6
Listen to the Week 9 recap podcast:
Auburn at Ole Miss
When and where: 7 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... this may be a crossroads for both teams in the SEC West. Auburn responded to its 38-23 loss to Mississippi State with a 42-35 win over South Carolina. The Tigers’ offense is clicking after they rushed for a season-high 395 yards against South Carolina. Ole Miss, meanwhile, may have its season hanging in the balance after a 10-7 loss to LSU. The Rebels have a handful of injuries (linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil) and shades of internal dissension between quarterback Bo Wallace and coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels may need to take care that a banner season doesn’t crumble in short order.
Vegas says: Ole Miss by 2 1/2
TCU at West Virginia
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
We’re watching because... no two teams improved more since the end of last season. Big 12 newcomers TCU and West Virginia both went 4-8 a year ago and now will play in a game that will factor in the league title race. Besides, given these two offenses, this matchup could be a shootout. TCU is the only team in the country averaging more than 50 points per game, while West Virginia has quietly put together a balanced offense ranked in the top four in the Big 12 in both rushing and passing.
Vegas says: TCU by 5 1/2
Stanford at Oregon
When and where: 7:30 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... the matchup of the year in the Pac-12 now has Stanford playing the role of spoiler. Stanford has all but dropped out of the playoff race, but that doesn’t mean the Cardinal can’t give Oregon trouble. Stanford has won the last two meetings and still has a dominant and physical defense that can give the Ducks fits. The only question is if Kevin Hogan and the embattled Stanford offense can keep up.
Vegas says: Oregon by 9 1/2
Utah at Arizona State
When and where: 11 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... two of the biggest surprises in the Pac-12 will meet for at least a share of the lead in the South. Arizona State has overcome the loss of nine starters on defense since last season and an injury to starting quarterback Taylor Kelly (who returned last week) to beat USC, Stanford and Washington. Utah has been living on the edge in Pac-12 play with each league game decided by less than touchdown. Utah’s game-winning scores in the last three wins have come with 34 seconds left, 8 seconds left and in double overtime.
Vegas says: Arizona State by 5
Talk Back on U-verse Game of the Week
Each week, AT&T U-verse and Athlon Sports will host a live interactive experience for an SEC game in which two greats from each school will take fan questions live throughout the game.
This week, former Kentucky coach Rich Brooks and former Missouri quarterback James Franklin will join Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta for the fun.
Visit att.com/talkback during Kentucky-Missouri to watch the game with us.
Kentucky at Missouri
When and where: 4 p.m., SEC Network
We’re watching because... Missouri has quietly kept itself alive in the SEC East race. Given the way the season has gone, though, that might not be a good omen for the Tigers. Either way, Missouri is 3-1 in the league but needs Georgia to falter to return to the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers also need more from quarterback Maty Mauk, who is completing less than 40 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and five interceptions in SEC play.
Vegas says: Missouri by 6 1/2
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:
Miami running back Duke Johnson ran for 249 yards in a 30-6 win over Virginia Tech. That is the first time a Hurricane running back surpassed 200 yards since Willis McGahee's 205 against Virginia Tech on Dec. 7, 2002. Johnson became just the fourth player in school history to run for 200+ yards.
While Johnson was running all over the Hokies, Virginia Tech needed nearly the entire 60 minutes to extend its streak of games without being shut out. A 14-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-10 with 1:30 remaining in the fourth quarter extended VT's streak to 251 games without being shutout.
Georgia Tech played its first game in the state of Pennsylvania since 1931 and posted its first-ever win in the Keystone State after a 56-28 rout of Pittsburgh. Georgia Tech set a Heinz Field record for points by an opponent, besting Rutgers' old mark of 54 (Oct. 25, 2008). It was the Yellow Jackets' first game at Pitt since 1920 when they suffered a three-year losing streak to the host Panthers (1918, 1919, 1920).
Pittsburgh's six lost fumbles tied the most by a Georgia Tech opponent. The Panthers' five lost fumbles in the first quarter tied the FBS record for most in a single quarter.
When Georgia Tech rushed for 465 yards in the win against a Pitt team allowing 112 yards per game on the ground the Yellow Jackets recorded the seventh-best team rushing total in a game between ACC teams in league history and the 11th-highest total by an ACC team overall.
North Carolina scored a 28-27 win over Virginia, marking just the second time in series history that the Tar Heels defeated Virginia by a single point. The only other one-point win in the series for UNC came in 1927 when it won 14-13 in the first-ever game played in Kenan Stadium.
The 24 points Virginia scored in the first half against UNC tied a season high (Oct. 4 vs. Pittsburgh), but the 21 points allowed by the Cavaliers also tied a season high (Aug. 30 vs. UCLA). This was the first time an opponent trailed UVa after three quarters but rallied to win since Maryland did so in 2010.
Clemson posted a 16-6 victory against Syracuse, scoring just one touchdown in the win. It was the first time since 2009 that the Tigers won a game scoring only one touchdown. They defeated Boston College 25-7 on six Richard Jackson field goals and a C.J. Spiller punt return for a touchdown.
Boston College posted a 23-17 win against Wake Forest, holding the Demon Deacons to 19 yards on the ground. In the Eagles' five wins this season they have outgained their opponents on the ground 1,715-153, a differential of 1,562 yards.
Boston College limited Wake Forest to just six yards of total offense in the first half. The Demon Deacons ran 19 plays to get those six yards — nine through the air and minus-3 on the ground. They finished with 261 yards.
- Corby A. Yarbrough
@Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
All of the offseason’s hullabaloo about the landing spots of free agents LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and other ubiquitous, TV-friendly stars was tempered by a nagging reminder: None of the league’s buzziest names won the most recent NBA title. That claim belongs to the San Antonio Spurs, and their 23-year-old Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard, like all Spurs, got through the regular season without turning too many heads. He missed 16 games despite being largely healthy, and averaged less than 30 minutes per contest. Coach Gregg Popovich and Co. are chiefly concerned with bodily maintenance before they reach the playoffs, going deep into the bench and relying on team efforts as they preserve top talent more than they exploit it.
It’s a principles-first program that works — the team has been a title contender every year since Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997. But now Leonard, the most valuable piece of San Antonio’s future, wants to be paid like a centerpiece. And why wouldn’t he? The relentless, lengthy, hugely skilled forward went toe-to-toe with LeBron two summers in a row and came out shining. He’s every bit the superstar.
But talks about a new Leonard deal, between his agent Brian Elfus and Spurs’ general manager R.C. Buford, have not gained traction, as reported by NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. If the two sides don’t reach an agreement by the first of November, Leonard will become a restricted free agent in July 2015. The Spurs will be able to match any offer other teams give him, so it’s not as if Leonard’s exodus is a foregone conclusion. Far from it.
But if San Antonio wanted to give him max money, wouldn’t they have paid up already? There’s a ton of merit to the team’s no-star ethos, but when Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker retire within a few years, they’ll need a new leader. Will Leonard not be the man for that job?
— John Wilmes
Hosts Braden Gall and David Fox recap all of Week 9's action in college football. This week's edition features a healthy SEC West playoff debate (things get heated), wide open races in the Pac-12 South, Big Ten West and ACC Coastal and some impressive numbers in the Big 12. The fellas also give you their playoff poll as well.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for October 27:
• J.J. Watt called out Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger for taking selfies. Who knew Watt was such a Schiano Man?
• Rex Ryan says Geno Smith will be a good quarterback some day. Too bad Rex won't be there to see it.
• Interesting stat: Steve Nash is tied with Michael Jordan all time in points produced per possession.
• Chucky would coach again, but only for the Raiders. Wait, what?
• So the guy from Staind apparently botched the national anthem. I haven't had the heart to watch it yet, but here it is.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
NFC East archrivals headed in opposite directions will wrap up the Week 8 slate when the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys face off on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The Cowboys (6-1) look to maintain the NFL’s best record with a seventh straight victory, while the Redskins (2-5) will apparently turn to their third-string quarterback in hopes of winning back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Dallas holds a 64-40-2 edge over Washington in this historic rivalry, including last season’s sweep. The Cowboys beat the Redskins 31-16 at AT&T Stadium in Week 6 last season even though the visitors doubled up the home team on offense (433 total yards to 213).
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Dallas -10
Three Things to Watch
|Washington 2014 Schedule|
|10/6||vs SEA||L 17 - 27||Recap|
|10/12||@ ARI||L 20 - 30||Recap|
|10/19||vs TEN||W 19 - 17||Recap|
|10/27||@ DAL||W 20 - 17||Recap|
|11/2||@ MIN||L 26 - 29||Recap|
|11/16||vs TB||L 7 - 27||Recap|
|11/23||@ SF||L 13 - 17||Recap|
|11/30||@ IND||L 27 - 49||Recap|
1. Washington’s Quarterback Carousel
Robert Griffin III is close to returning from the dislocated ankle he suffered in Week 2. So close in fact, that he might be out there tonight, although head coach Jay Gruden has publicly said that third-stringer Colt McCoy would be the starter. If McCoy gets the call, he would be the Redskins’ third starting quarterback through eight games. Griffin’s injury is what started this carousel spinning, as Kirk Cousins replaced RG3 in the team’s second game. But after enjoying some early success, Cousins’ struggles led to Gruden benching him last week. Collectively, Washington’s quarterbacks haven’t exactly filled up the box score. The trio has combined for 2,143 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions, for a passer rating of 91.3. Most of this production belongs to Cousins, who went 1-4 as the starter in relief of Griffin. The ironic thing when it comes to that win-loss record is that the win Cousins gets credit for was last week’s against Tennessee, a game in which McCoy came on in relief and led the second-half comeback. Likewise, Griffin gets credit for the Week 2 win in Jacksonville even though it was Cousins who got the Redskins on the board first after RG3 got hurt in the team’s second offensive series. The bottom line is that Washington enters tonight’s game 2-5 thanks in part to inconsistent quarterback play. Will that change with McCoy at the helm? Or will RG3 make a miraculous comeback and reclaim not only his starting job, but also make a statement that this is still his team?
|Dallas 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||vs HOU||W 20 - 17||Recap|
|10/12||@ SEA||W 30 - 23||Recap|
|10/19||vs NYG||W 31 - 21||Recap|
|10/27||vs WAS||L 17 - 20||Recap|
|11/2||vs ARI||L 17 - 28||Recap|
|11/9||@ JAC||W 31 - 17||Recap|
|11/23||@ NYG||W 31 - 28||Recap|
|11/27||vs PHI||L 10 - 33||Recap|
2. DeMarco Murray’s Historic Run
Murray leads the NFL in rushing by nearly 300 yards and he’s the first player in history to start a season with seven straight 100-yard games. Running behind arguably the league’s best offensive line, Murray is the engine that makes the best rushing offense (159.7 ypg) churn. A legitimate MVP candidate, Murray is on pace for 427 carries and 2,086 yards rushing. As magical as 2,000 yards is for a running back, 400 carries is just as concerning. Murray is averaging 27 carries a game and he entered Week 8 with more rushing attempts than 20 entire teams. Can the Cowboys afford to keep handing it off to Murray at this pace or should they turn to backup Joseph Randle and call a few more pass plays to take some of the load off of their workhorse? On the other side of the field, Washington has done a pretty good job against the run thus far with the exception of one game. Seattle ran for 225 yards in a 27-17 Week 6 victory at FedEx Field. Outside of that game, the Redskins have allowed an average of 83 yards rushing per contest. Of course, it should be pointed out that the Seahawks’ big ground game came on a Monday night. Either way, Washington’s defense will have its work cut out for it as it seeks to do what no other defense (including Seattle’s at home) has been able to yet – prevent Murray from breaking the century mark.
3. Dallas’ Deceiving Defense?
The Cowboys are 6-1 and entered Week 8 with the NFL’s best record. Is Dallas the league’s best team? Perhaps, but as well as the Cowboys have played and looked, Jason Garrett’s team still has its flaws. For one, its turnover margin is only plus-one. The real concern moving forward, however, is can this defense continue to hold up, especially when the offense struggles? Dallas boasts the No. 2 offense thanks in large part to the most productive running game in the league. Besides picking up a bunch of yards, the Cowboys’ ability to effectively run the ball has allowed them to chew up a lot of clock. Entering Week 8, the only offense that has held the ball longer than the Cowboys (average of 34:35 per game) is Andrew Luck and the Colts (36:56). So while Tony Romo and company are running an average of 66 offensive plays per game, the defense has only been on the field for 57. That difference of nine may not seem that big, but consider that Dallas’ defense was on the field last season for 1,094 plays or 68 per game. That’s a big reason why the Cowboys finished dead last in yards allowed in 2013 at 415.3 per game. This season, Dallas’ defense has fared better, but it’s still giving up nearly 344 yards per game, a number that likely would go up if opponents had more opportunities with the ball. So despite their sterling record, the Cowboys’ margin of error still appears to be rather thin. The offense may be championship-caliber, but the jury is still very much out on this defense.
The Cowboys may no longer be “America’s Team,” but there are still plenty of Dallas fans across the world thoroughly enjoying this season. Jerry Jones is smiling and talking Super Bowl, Jason Garrett has gone from the hot seat to leading Coach of the Year contender and Tony Romo is no longer the most talked about player. The Washington Redskins meanwhile are struggling to find their identity, not to mention a starting quarterback, under rookie head coach Jay Gruden. The Cowboys have won six in a row, but this team still has some question marks, most of them on defense. However, Garrett’s team doesn’t have near as many holes as Gruden’s. What happens with Dallas come December and January remains to be seen, but for now, Cowboys fans should just sit back and enjoy this ride.
Prediction: Dallas 34, Washington 20
There’s a good chance the fate of Florida coach Will Muschamp was sealed in Florida’s 42-13 loss to Missouri on Oct. 18. But if it wasn’t, the next five games are a make-or-break stretch in Gainesville for the fourth-year coach.
Realistically, Muschamp has to get to a bowl to save his job. Even then, that might not be enough.
To get to six wins, Florida has to win three out of its next five games: Georgia (Jacksonville), at Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and at Florida State.
The Gators will be favored in two of those games (Vanderbilt and Eastern Kentucky), but where is the third win? Can a struggling Florida offense take advantage of South Carolina’s porous defense? Will the rivalry against Florida State bring out the best in the Gators? Can the same theory hold true against Georgia this week?
Keeping in mind Florida’s quest to get to six wins, don’t forget this team had to cancel a game against Idaho due to weather on Aug. 30. That win would come in handy for Muschamp by the end of November.
In order for Florida to have a shot at a bowl, improvement has to start on offense. The Gators are averaging just 4.3 yards per play in SEC games – that’s lower than the 4.7 mark posted in 2013.
The switch from Jeff Driskel to Treon Harris at quarterback is the right call and should pay dividends for the offense. Harris (a true freshman) is going to make mistakes, but his upside is also higher. It’s a small sample size, but Driskel is averaging just 9.6 yards per completion (97) this year. Through three games and 12 completions, Harris is averaging 21.9. Again, that’s not sustainable over the course of the season, but the true freshman has more talent and already has half (3) of the touchdown passes Driskel (6) has thrown all season.
Fixing the offense would provide more protection for a defense that’s not as dominant as it was in previous years.
Florida’s defense has allowed 30.6 points per game in SEC contests. That’s a bad sign for Muschamp (a defensive coach) with a limited offense.
An area to note in the Gators’ defensive struggles has been the secondary. After allowing just eight passing touchdowns from 2012-13, Florida has allowed nine passing touchdowns in SEC play this season.
Florida’s defense also ranks 11th in the SEC in third-down defense (conference-only games).
Muschamp was squarely on the hot seat entering 2014, and he’s done little to suggest the program is headed in the right direction this year. Yes, the schedule has been difficult. But it’s also hard to ignore Florida just squeaked by Tennessee and Kentucky and could easily be 0-5 in the conference.
If Muschamp isn’t toast already in Gainesville, this is final shot. Coming off a bye and having two weeks to prepare for Georgia should bring out the best in Florida. If the Gators defeat the Bulldogs, South Carolina or Florida State and win their other two remaining games, it will be enough to go bowling.
Even if Muschamp finds a way to get Florida back in a bowl, 6-5 is not the standard in Gainesville. With the recruiting area and tradition, this program is capable of competing for national championships on a yearly basis.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why progress over the next five games and a 6-5 final record probably won’t be enough for Muschamp to return in 2015.
When Illinois hired Tim Beckman, the administration did so taking a bit on a gamble on a head coach who managed to take Toledo to one bowl game (which the Rockets lost) and never won more than eight games in a season. Now in year three of the Beckman Era, the Illini have gone 10-22. Yes, Beckman finally hit double digits in the win column at Illinois after his Illini managed to upset Minnesota on Saturday afternoon. It was just the second conference win under Beckman since he was hired. Is it warm in here, or is that just the coaching hot seat?
Success of a college football coach can be evaluated and judged in different ways. In Beckman’s case, it is difficult to see many bright spots anywhere you look. Illinois is ranked 14th in the 14-team Big Ten in total defense and the offensive numbers have slipped a bit this season as well. Despite those minor trends, Illinois sits in a decent position to make a run for a potential bowl trip. That became much more of a realistic opportunity after Illinois overcame nearly blowing a game against Minnesota to get a win.
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Just how did Illinois win that game? The offense was outgained 411-263 and converted just four of 14 third-down conversions. The difference turned out to be turnovers, which have tended to go the other way for Illinois this season. Illinois forced three Minnesota turnovers, a feat in itself considering the Gophers have protected the football well this season. V’Angelo Bentley’s 12-yard fumble return for a touchdown proved to be the game-winning score midway through the fourth quarter.
With the win, Illinois evened its record at 4-4, which is already equal to last season’s win total. Is this a sign of progress being made at Illinois? Beckman took over a program that had plenty of young talent that was quickly victimized by a rash of injuries, and keeping key players on the field has been a struggle beyond Beckman’s control. But this excuse will only have so many legs to stand on for any coach, especially when the program let go of a coach that led it to a Rose Bowl trip and two bowl victories to hire that new coach.
When it comes to the Big Ten coaching hot seat, none may be hotter than Brady Hoke’s at Michigan. Beckman’s seat is not quite as hot following a home victory over the Gophers, who had been undefeated in Big Ten play coming into the week. The question now is whether Beckman can find a way to coach his team to two more victories to become eligible for postseason play. Right now, it may be a toss-up.
Illinois visits Ohio State next weekend. Catching the Buckeyes looking ahead to a road game at Michigan State the following week will likely be off the table after Ohio State escaped Happy Valley with a double overtime victory over Penn State Saturday night. That may have been the worst thing to happen for Illinois, because Ohio State may be in a position to answer back with vigor next weekend. That spells bad news for Illinois, which ranks last in the 14-team Big Ten in total defense.
Illinois may very well fall shy of postseason eligibility in the end. If that proves to be the case, Beckman will have to prove he is making progress some other way and empty seats in the stadium on Saturday tend to speak pretty loudly.
-By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of measuring performance and marking milestones in the NFL. With that in mind, Athlon Sports rounded up the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Week 8 of the NFL season.
Tom Brady made his 100th career regular-season home start Sunday against Chicago, and in leading the team to a 51-23 victory won his 87th of those home starts. That is the most of any starting quarterback in league history in his first 100 home regular-season starts. Brady completed 30-of-35 passes (85.7 percent) for 354 yards, five TDs, and no interceptions. That stat line made him the first player in NFL history with at least 350 passing yards, a completion percentage better than 85, five-plus touchdowns, and no interceptions in a game.
New England tight end Rob Gronkowski tied a career-high with three touchdowns against Chicago. His performance marked the fourth individual game with three touchdown catches by a tight end in 2014, already the most for any season in NFL history. He joins Julius Thomas, Antonio Gates, and Larry Donnell.
Chicago's Jay Cutler is 21-5 as the Bears' quarterback when not throwing an interception, and 21-27 when throwing at least one. He threw one in the loss to New England.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford is now one of three quarterbacks since 1966 to start three games in which his team overcame a deficit of at least 21 points to win. He joins Brady and Drew Bledsoe. Stafford, who led the Lions to a 22-21 win over Atlanta with two passing touchdowns, also surpassed Hall of Fame QB Bobby Layne (118) for the most career TD passes (120) in team history.
Detroit's 22-21 victory against Atlanta in London came on the heels of the Lions overcoming a 21-0 halftime lead the Falcons had. For Detroit, which also overcame a 14-point deficit in a 24-23 win against New Orleans last week, became the fifth team in NFL history to win back-to-back games when trailing by at least 14 points one week and by 21+ points the following week. The Lions' win also marked the sixth time a team overcame a deficit of at least 17 points to win in 2014, the second-most such games through Week 8 of any season in NFL history (2011, eight games).
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for 522 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions against Indianapolis. He is the first player in history with two 500-yard passing games, joining the 503 he threw for against Green Bay in 2009. The 522 passing yards tied Boomer Esiason for the fourth most in a single game, as Norm Van Brocklin's record 554 yards is still safe. He is the second player in league history with 500 passing yards, six passing touchdowns, and zero interceptions since Y.A. Tittle (1962). The Steelers (522) and Colts (385) combined for 907 net passing yards, the second-highest combined total in NFL history behind Detroit and Green Bay's 971 in 2012. Their 76 points combined is the most in an NFL game this season.
With the win, Roethlisberger improved his record to 100-50 as a starter in the regular season. He joins Tom Brady (116), Joe Montana (108), and Terry Bradshaw (102) as the only quarterbacks since 1966 to win at least 100 games in their first 150 starts.
In the loss to Pittsburgh, Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck did separate himself from Peyton Manning in one category. His 26-of-45 effort for 400 yards marked the sixth straight game in which he has thrown for 300+ yards, breaking a tie with Manning for most such games in franchise history.
New Orleans and Green Bay combined for no punts in the Saints' 44-23 home win. It marked the second time in 2014 this season a game has gone without a punt (Green Bay vs. Chicago, Sept. 28), and the third time ever a regular-season game has gone without a punt. Buffalo and San Francisco's punters saw no work in their 1992 meeting.
The Saints' win was their 12th straight prime-time home victory, which is the longest streak since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. New Orleans' 11 straight home wins since the beginning of last season is the longest home winning streak in franchise history.
Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr's forced fumble, fumble recovery, and 27-yard return for a touchdown in overtime marked the fourth overtime contest in NFL history that was decided by a fumble-return touchdown. His score 17 seconds into overtime, which led to a 19-13 win at Tampa Bay, was the quickest of any fumble-return touchdown since regular-season OT was instituted in 1984.
Buffalo quarterback Kyle Orton was 10-of-17 for 238 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in the Bills’ 43-23 win against the New York Jets. Orton is the first player with at least four touchdown passes and 10 or fewer completions in a game since Pittsburgh’s Bubby Brister against Cleveland on December 23, 1990.
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-21 win against San Diego. He now has 13 straight games with two-plus touchdown passes, which ties for the longest streak by any QB since at least 1960. He is tied with Aaron Rodgers, Brady, himself, and Don Meredith.
Houston running back Arian Foster ran for 151 yards and two scores in a 30-16 win at Tennessee. The performance marked Foster's 31st career 100-yard rushing game, tying Priest Holmes for the most in NFL history by an undrafted player.
Kansas City's Knile Davis had a 99-yard kickoff-return touchdown in the Chiefs’ 34-7 win against St. Louis. Davis, who also had a franchise-long 108-yard kickoff return touchdown as a rookie in 2013, is the fifth player in history with a kickoff-return touchdown of at least 99 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons.
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Casual fans may be forgiven for assuming Arizona State is winning games just with its offense. Todd Graham’s up-tempo coaching style is his calling card and the numbers show it. Arizona State ranks 19th in passing offense and 25th in scoring offense. Oh, but have you noticed the Sun Devils are playing defense as well? If not, now is as good a time as any to start paying close attention to what Arizona State is doing on defense, because they will be facing a pair of quality defensive teams in the next couple of weeks.
Arizona State has allowed just 10 points in each of its past two games, against Stanford and on the road at Washington. In those two games, Arizona State’s defense has done a really good job of getting off the field on third down situations. In the past two games, Arizona State has held Stanford and Washington to eight successful third-down conversions out of 30. That’s a pretty good way to go on defense. The defense has also held the Cardinal and Huskies to fewer than 300 yards of total offense. Stanford may not be an offensive juggernaut, and Washington will see better days ahead of it under Chris Petersen, but considering Arizona State gave up nearly 500 yards to USC and 62 points and 580 yards the previous game against UCLA, it seems as though Arizona State has turned something around on defense.
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Arizona State also seems to be finding a way to buckle down earlier. Arizona State led Washington 10-0 at the halftime break. This is important, because Arizona State has now won 21 straight games when leading at the half. In the first four games of the season, Arizona State had allowed 62 first-half points. In the last three games, Arizona State has allowed just 17 first-half points.
After USC and UCLA were a perfect 10-for-10 inside the red zone against Arizona State, the Sun Devils have tightened up when the opponent reaches inside the 20-yard line the past two weeks. Stanford and Washington combined for four total trips to the red zone against Arizona State, and they combined for just 10 points. This is a trend that will have to continue if Arizona State is going to come out on top of what looks to be a competitive and wide-open Pac-12 South Division.
Time will tell if this is the new way to play defense at Arizona State or if this is just a blip on the radar in a conference more commonly known for its offense. The Pac-12 does have plenty of offensive talent stretching up and down the west coast, but Arizona State is making players like Damarious Randall and Jordan Simone and Laiu Moeakiola names worth staying up late to watch.
Arizona State is going to continue to prosper on the strength of its offense under Todd Graham. It is the ability of the defense to rise to the occasion that will help elevate Arizona State from Pac-12 South contender to Pac-12 contender, and perhaps even more after that.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Ohio State’s winning streak since losing at home to Virginia Tech has been fueled by the offense. This has overshadowed the work being done with the Buckeyes on defense this season. On Saturday night in Happy Valley, the defense carried Ohio State in the first half and was a big reason why Ohio State left State College with a double overtime victory over Penn State instead of a loss.
In what turned out to be a tough battle, Ohio State’s defense set the tone early on. It also benefitted from a controversial video review upholding an interception by defensive back Vonn Bell on the opening drive of the game. Regardless of the video replay questions surrounding it, Ohio State took advantage of a turnover just under two minutes into the game. Bell’s interception gave Ohio State’s offense the football on the Penn State 39-yard line. Seven plays later Ohio State was in the end zone. Ohio State’s defense forced Penn State to punt on each of its next five possessions, and followed that with a fumble recovery and another interception in the third quarter.
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While attention may be given to J.T. Barrett’s performance in place of Braxton Miller this season, defensive lineman Joey Bosa has had a coming of age stretch as well. Bosa has been difficult to slow down this season and he had 2.5 sacks Saturday night. The most important one came on the final play of the game when Bosa drove Penn State running back Akeel Lynch into quarterback Christian Hackenberg on fourth down of the second overtime. As Bosa shoved Lynch back into Hackenberg, the Penn State quarterback fell to the ground to seal the victory for the Buckeyes. If Ohio State continues to get more of that level of play on defense moving forward, Ohio State will continue to remain in the Big Ten and College Football Playoff mix moving forward. Michigan State looms in two weeks.
Of course, Penn State’s struggles on offense should not go without comment. Ohio State was not exactly facing Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter behind a massive offensive line. Ohio State was expected to have its way on defense against a Penn State team that managed just 13 points against Michigan two weeks ago.
Penn State managed to get Ohio State’s defense to bend in the second half, but Ohio State proved to be deep enough and strong enough on defense to set a tone and finish on a high note on defense.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)