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Path: /college-football/previewing-10-best-college-football-games-monster-week-6

Welcome to the Week of Doom.


The College Football Playoff selection committee will meet for the first time in less than a month, and this week almost certainly will shape the conversations for that group.


Every league will have powerhouse matchups between favorites and ranked teams, so much that our usual preview of the top five games of the week has been expanded to 10. And we still feel like we left out some important matchups.


The gauntlet starts Thursday with Oregon and Arizona and lasts through Nebraska and Michigan State in primetime on Saturday.


Title hopes will be crushed. Teams will have setbacks in conference races. And perhaps the postseason and Heisman pictures will start to take shape.


Get ready. This week will shape the rest of the year.


The Week Ahead: Week 6

All times Eastern, all games Saturday, unless noted


Arizona at Oregon

When and where: Thursday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN

We’re watching because... games between Arizona and Oregon get weird. The Wildcats defeated Arizona 42-16 last season, effectively eliminating the Ducks from the Pac-12 and national title chase, and in 2007, they ended Oregon’s bid for a title. The Ducks are in contention again — with another Heisman favorite in Marcus Mariota — but their offensive line is in trouble. Behind redshirt quarterback Anu Solomon, Arizona has enough of an offense to put pressure on Mariota to perform on every possession.

Vegas says: Oregon by 22 1/2


Texas A&M at Mississippi State

When and where: Noon, ESPN

We’re watching because... the Aggies and Bulldogs keep proving their SEC West credentials. Texas A&M were able to take advantage of Arkansas’ fourth quarter miscues to stay alive, but the Aggies’ defense remains a liability. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott is an emerging Heisman contender coming off his career game against LSU. Prescott has rushed for more than 100 yards in three consecutive games while improving as a passer. Could be trouble for the Aggies.

Vegas says: Mississippi State by 1


Ohio State at Maryland

When and where: Noon, ABC

We’re watching because... Ohio State may or may not be starting to putting its season together. J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott combined for 591 yards of total offense against Cincinnati, but Maryland’s defense has held its own despite mounting injuries. The Buckeyes pass defense remains vulnerable to long pass plays. Terrapins receiver Stefon Diggs, once a top recruiting target of Ohio State, can exploit that weakness.

Vegas says: Ohio State by 8


Alabama at Ole Miss

When and where: 3:30 p.m., CBS

We’re watching because... Ole Miss is playing its biggest home game in decades. The Rebels are 4-0 for the first time since Archie Manning was a senior, and they’re hosing ESPN College GameDay for the first time. Alabama is a week removed from 672 yards against Florida while Ole Miss has risen — surprisingly — to fourth in the country in fewest yards allowed per game (248) and yards per play (3.74). Ole Miss can’t afford another two-interception game from quarterback Bo Wallace.

Vegas says: Alabama by 5


Stanford at Notre Dame

When and where: 3:30 p.m., NBC

We’re watching because... Oct. 4 seems a little early for a Stanford-Notre Dame game, but the timing is right to sort out which team is for real. Stanford’s defense is masking the Cardinal’s inept offense inside the 40-yard line. The Cardinal is allowing 108.5 yards per game fewer than any other team in the Pac-12. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s offense might not be as good as Everett Golson’s 25 consecutive completions against Syracuse indicate. Otherwise, Golson was responsible for two fumbles and two interceptions, one for a pick six.

Vegas says: Stanford by 1


Oklahoma at TCU

When and where: 3:30 p.m., Fox

We’re watching because... Oklahoma can further show why it’s the most complete team in the country. The Sooners have handled every opponent they’ve faced, including Tennessee and West Virginia, the latter on the road. TCU may be the toughest test. The Horned Frogs are stout defensively as usual with a Big 12-best 218.7 yards per game and 3.04 yards per play. But with Air Raid and spread concepts brought in by Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meachem, TCU is fourth in the Big 12 in yards per play.

Vegas says: Oklahoma by 4 1/2


Baylor at Texas

When and where: 3:30 p.m., ABC

We’re watching because... Baylor’s eventually going to start playing tougher games, right? Texas might not be that much better than Iowa State, but the Bears will try to improve their stock with a third consecutive lopsided win on the road.

Vegas says: Baylor by 14 1/2


LSU at Auburn

When and where: 7 p.m., ESPN

We’re watching because... this SEC West rivalry may be LSU’s last chance to prove it belongs among league contenders. Auburn’s defense may be the real deal after allowing only 4.56 yards per play after giving up nearly six per play in each of the last four seasons. Facing New Mexico State may have masked some of LSU’s offensive issues, but freshman Brandon Harris established himself as Les Miles’ quarterback (11-of-14, 178 yards, three touchdowns).

Vegas says: Auburn by 8 1/2


Miami at Georgia Tech

When and where: 7:30 p.m., ESPN2

We’re watching because... neither team can be written off in the ACC Coastal race. The division separated by a razor-thin margin, and Miami and Georgia Tech each have a leg up for the time being. Georgia Tech defeated Virginia Tech two weeks ago, and Miami is coming off a 22-10 win over Duke. Hurricanes freshman Brad Kaaya gets better every week, but he’s 0-2 on the road. That needs to change if UM is a realistic ACC contender.

Vegas says: Pick 'em


Nebraska at Michigan State

When and where: 8 p.m., ABC

We’re watching because... it’s safe to resume paying attention to the Big Ten now. The top two teams in the league rolled last week by a combined score of 101-28. Michigan State can regain ground lost by the loss to Oregon in Week 2 while Nebraska can establish itself as a Playoff contender. Ameer Abdullah enters a game against a stout Michigan State defense with momentum after rushing for of 437 yards in the last two games.

Vegas says: Michigan State by 9 1/2

Previewing the 10 Best College Football Games in a Monster Week 6
Post date: Monday, September 29, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/usc-fixes-defense-rebounds-big-against-oregon-state

Oregon State may not be a Pac-12 title contender but that didn't keep people like me from picking the Beavers to upset the Trojans this weekend. At the very least, most were taking Mike Riley's bunch to cover the 9.5-point spread.


The response from the Men of Troy after an extremely trying last two weeks was resounding. USC used stifling defense and a big play offense to cut through a solid Oregon State team with surprising ease.


The Beavers mustered only 181 yards of total offense on a putrid 3.2 yards per play, converted just 1-of-10 on third down chances, turned the ball over twice and allowed a Hail Mary touchdown on the final play of the first half. 


This from a USC defense that allowed 452 yards rushing to Boston College — a team that lost at home to Colorado State this weekend.


Again, Oregon State isn't a team on par with league championship contenders but Sean Mannion is the all-time leading passer in OSU history and this team had yet to lose. USC totally slammed the door.


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Despite the horrendous showing in Chestnutt Hill and longterm questions about depth hanging over the entire roster, this defense proved that it has the talent and ability to be dominant on any given night. The Trojans lead the Pac-12 in interceptions (seven) and are seventh nationally in turnover margin (plus-1.75 per game), good for second in the league behind Washington (plus-2.20). It's also getting off the field on the most critical down, leading the league in third-down defense (25.5 percent).


The defense even got the scoring started this weekend as Su'a Cravens' 31-yard interception return for a touchdown posted the Trojans to an early first quarter lead.


The offense took advantage. Steve Sarkisian and Cody Kessler rolled up 461 yards of offense — rushing and passing for over 200 yards — and scored on plays of 48, 21, 17 and 16 yards. Kessler was brilliant once again, throwing for 261 yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-32 passing while protecting the football.


In fact, Kessler has been this perfect all season, but he often gets overlooked in a league with huge numbers and high-profile dual-threat players. The USC quarterback is 16th in the nation in pass efficiency (167.41) but is sixth in the Pac-12 in the same category. He's fifth in the nation in completion percentage by connecting on a crisp 72 percent of his passes — third in the Pac-12. He's throw 10 touchdowns and not one interception while averaging nearly 300 yards per game but is sixth in the league in both yards (1,107) and touchdowns.


The quarterback position cannot be executed much better than Kessler is playing it right now and, statistically, he's not even a top five player at his position in the league. It's a testament to the depth, talent and coaching that's under center in the Pac-12. 


With Arizona State and Utah losing critical games in painful fashion, Sarkisian might have been the biggest winner in the Pac-12 South in Week 5. UCLA and Brett Hundley looked outstanding but have long been considered the favorite. And Arizona should figure heavily in the mix as well. But it feels like this will be a Los Angeles-centered battle for the right to represent the division in the Pac-12 title game.


The country has seen how ugly it can get when things start to go haywire for USC, but when the Trojans get balance on offense and are healthy on defense, this team is capable of beating anyone in the nation.


Coach Sark just needs to hope that anyone is the Bruins.

USC fixes defense, rebounds big against Oregon State
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 16:30
Path: /college-football/usc-ucla-wins-bring-pac-12-south-race-focus

The Pac-12 South race got a little clearer in Week 5.


UCLA took a two-game lead on Arizona State. USC fixed its defensive issues and sits atop the South at 2-0. Utah missed a huge opportunity to enter the fray by choking away a big lead at home against Washington State.


UCLA's impressive victory over Arizona State on the road cannot be overstated. Brett Hundley returned to the field and destroyed the defending division champs totally reworked defense. He looked as good as he has looked at any point during this season.


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The win gives Jim Mora the first big leg up on the race to Levi's Stadium. Arizona State, without Taylor Kelly, is essentially two games behind UCLA and doesn't look like a team that will be capable of jumping back into first place. The Sun Devils next three games are road trips to USC and Washington sandwiched around a home game with Stanford.


Frankly, the only hope ASU had of repeating was a win over UCLA at home and it wasn't even competitive. Todd Graham's bunch could be out of Pac-12 contention by the first week of October if it can't beat the Trojans this weekend.


Speaking of the Men of Troy, USC against a team it should defeat if it wants to contend with the Bruins. Against Oregon State, the Trojans defense was suffocating, and Cody Kessler was masterful. When this team is healthy on defense and balanced on offense, it's capable of beating anyone in the nation.


Meanwhile, Kyle Whittingham missed a major opportunity to get his team into the conversation. Utah hasn't been to the postseason in either of its first two Pac-12 campaigns and a bowl game would quiet a lot of Whittingham doubters in Salt Lake City. With a 21-0 lead after one quarter, a 24-7 halftime lead and a 13-point fourth quarter advantage at home, the Utes should have entered Week 6 with a perfect record. However, Utah's bowl hopes may have disappeared as Connor Halliday threw two touchdowns in the final nine minutes to complete the shocking comeback.


Arizona, which was off this weekend, should figure into the mix as it has yet to play a divisional game yet. Rich Rodriguez won't have to wait long to find out if his young team can contender in the South, however. The Wildcats will face Oregon, USC, Washington State and UCLA in the next four weeks with all but the Cougars coming on the road. Odds are Arizona will pull an upset somewhere along the line but likely won't be capable of contending week in and week out in the South just yet.


No, after five weeks of play, all signs point to USC and UCLA duking it out for the Pac-12 South championship over the next eight weeks. The two will meet on Nov. 22 in Pasadena. UCLA has a heavy depth advantage and gets the key late season game at home but the Trojans have a significant schedule advantage. UCLA still has to face Oregon, Stanford, USC, Washington and Arizona.


After hosting the Kelly-less Sun Devils this weekend, USC faces just one ranked opponent in league play the rest of the season and that's the Bruins.

USC, UCLA wins bring Pac-12 South race into focus
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 16:15
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-ready-contend-big-ten-results-are-mixed

After Ohio State arguably lost ground during a bye week, the Buckeyes gained some of it back against Cincinnati.


Where that leaves Ohio State for the Big Ten season, which starts Saturday at Maryland, remains in question.


While Ohio State had last week off, the Buckeyes' lone loss of the season started look more and more embarrassing as Virginia Tech lost to Georgia Tech, its second consecutive loss since the win in Columbus.


As for the Buckeyes, they defeated Cincinnati 50-28 on Saturday, answering some questions about the offense’s ability to win in the Big Ten, but the defense may remain a liability.


First the good:


For a team that couldn’t move the ball consistently against Virginia Tech, the 50 points is a welcome sight.


Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett was magnificent, completing 26-of-36 passes for 330 yards with four touchdowns and no turnovers to go with 79 rushing yards.


That said, the biggest development may have been running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 182 yards and a touchdown in 28 carries. Before that breakout by the sophomore, none of Ohio State’s tailbacks had rushed for more than 171 yards total this season.


Ohio State's 710 total yards also approached a school record.


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Now the bad: Aided by a leaky secondary, Ohio State needed nearly all of that production. 


Ohio State jumped to a 23-7 lead early in the second quarter, but that devolved into a five-point lead in the third.


The pass defense that prevented Ohio State from playing for a national title a year ago made this game more interesting than it needed to be. The Buckeyes allowed touchdown passes or 60, 83 and 78 yards, the last two in the second half.


How many Big Ten teams will be able to challenge Ohio State like Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel did? Perhaps a few.


Maryland passed for 361 yards and three touchdowns against Indiana and has averaged better than 10 yards per attempt in each of the last two games.


To boot, the Terrapins gave up a mere 126 yards through the air against a high-powered Indiana offense.


With that kind of matchup arriving Saturday, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer talked of a “hard conversation” with defensive coaches coming this week.


“You don't give up 200 yards passing and be able to look you in the eye say that's a championship level football team out there,” Meyer told the media. “I see certain units playing at a very, very high level, not nine."

Is Ohio State Ready to Win in the Big Ten? Results are Mixed
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 16:00
Path: /college-football/penn-state-reaches-its-ceiling-behind-troubled-offensive-line

After a month of the season and a few close calls, Penn State learned a little bit about its ceiling.


The Nittany Lions can’t survive an off game by quarterback Christian Hackenberg, and the offensive line continues to be the team’s Achilles' heel.


Starting with a disastrous first quarter, Penn State lost 29-6 at home to Northwestern. On paper, this may be a shocking result with one of the Big Ten’s two undefeated teams losing in a rout to a team that entered the game on a 2-9 skid.


In reality, though, this moment was coming. Penn State had been playing with fire all season, and the flaws brought about in part by injuries and scholarship limitations are finally starting to impact the record. 


Maybe this was a market correction.


Penn State lucked out in the opener when UCF didn’t start the better of its two quarterbacks that day as a field goal from Sam Ficken helped Penn State win 26-24 in Dublin. The Nittany Lions started slow against Akron but won convincingly by a 21-3 margin. And two weeks ago, Penn State got help from five Rutgers interceptions to score 13 unanswered points in the second half of a 13-10 win.


All the while, Penn State’s offensive line couldn’t open holes for the running backs, and Hackenberg was forced into mistakes.


Northwestern was the first team to take advantage when the floodgates opened.


“I actually think you look how we've played all year long and we've started some games slow and we've been able to come back and rally late in games,” Penn State coach James Franklin told the media. “You can only do that so many times. You can only do that so many times before it comes back to haunt you.”


That moment happened Saturday.


Penn State punted on its first five possessions, four of which ending without a first down. That was better than the alternative, which included a blocked field goal, a Hackenberg fumble and the first pick six of Hackenberg’s career.


By the end of the second quarter, Penn State abandoned the run altogether. Hackenberg finished with 45 pass attempts. Tailbacks Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak carried 12 times.


The frustration was palpable.



Hackenberg and Belton put the moment behind them in the postgame interviews and on Twitter, but but the struggles of the offense won’t solve themselves as easily.


Penn State is averaging 3.1 yards per carry this season. Throw out a 226-yard outburst against UMass, and the Nittany Lions are averaging 2.1 yards per rush.


There are no easy solutions here. Penn State entered the season with a top-flight quarterback and established that its defensive front seven will be among the best in the country.


The offensive line, though, returned only one starter. The unit, especially after the spring injury to Miles Dieffenbach, was panned during the preseason.


That Penn State made it to Week 5 without a loss is probably something of a miracle and a sign the Nittany Lions are getting the most they possibly can out of a shorthanded group.


Saturday, though, showed how far resilience alone can go.

Penn State Reaches its Ceiling Behind Troubled Offensive Line
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 15:45
Path: /college-football/stanfords-defense-makes-statement-against-washington

A finished product Stanford is not, but David Shaw in the fourth quarter watched a defense that re-established the Cardinal’s Pac-12 credentials.


As the offense sputtered at times, the Stanford defense picked up two critical stops in the fourth quarter to pick up a 20-13 road win to keep alive the Cardinal’s opportunity to repeat as conference champs.


A loss to Washington would have eliminated Stanford from the College Football Playoff and would have made winning the North or the Pac-12 unlikely. Avoiding 0-2 was a must for Shaw's bunch to remain relevant in the national conversation.


The nation's top defense wasn't brilliant only in the final few minutes, though. Stanford held Washington to 179 total yards of offense and six offensive points — all in the second quarter. The Huskies offense averaged just 2.1 yards per carry and passed for merely 98 yards. Four of Washington's seven second-half possessions ended in punts while the other three ended on failed fourth down conversions. This came against a team that had scored at least 44 points in three consecutive games. It's why the Cardinal were able to overcome three costly turnovers.


In four games this season, Stanford's defense has allowed 19 total offensive points.


However, if Stanford is going to repeat as Pac-12 champs, quarterback Kevin Hogan needs to take the next step in his development process. While Stanford's dismal red zone statistics indicate that maybe hasn't happened fully, Hogan led the game-winning drive in the final minutes of play.


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With the help of a facemask penalty, the veteran quarterback marched his offense 47 yards on six plays to take the lead with 5:14 left in the game. Hogan ran the ball four times for 21 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown. He got the job done when Shaw needed him most and the offensive line was adequate (one sack allowed) against a defensive line that entered Saturday leading the nation in sacks.


For what it's worth, Hogan is on pace to blow past his 2013 numbers. As a passer, he's increased his production (220.8 ypg vs. 188.2) and efficiency — improving on both his completion percentage (71 percent vs. 61 percent) and efficiency rating (167.57 vs. 151.64). Those are significant improvements since he's already faced two of the better Pac-12 defenses.


While Hogan is clearly taking the right steps forward, finishing drives is still a big problem for the Cardinal. Hogan was solid against Washington, getting points on four of his five trips into scoring territory. But even after that strong showing, Shaw's offense ranks dead last in the Pac-12 with a 63.2 percent red zone scoring percentage (12-of-19). This must improve as the schedule continues to get tougher.


While this Cardinal team is still searching for itself on offense to some extent, the gaping holes left by departures to the NFL and a defensive coordinator leaving for the SEC appear to have been filled. This team leads the nation in total defense (198.0 ypg), passing defense (74.0 ypg), scoring defense (6.5 ppg) and has allowed an opponent to drive into its red zone only three times all season — which, of course, leads the nation. 


As long as this defense continues to thrive, there will always be time for the offense to play catch up in September. However, October is here and the final two months bring road games against Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA. There is no more time for catch up.


Things don't get any easier for Washington, either. The Huskies will face road games in three of their next four, including a trip to Oregon. Home tilts with Arizona State and UCLA loom over the next few weeks as well. After 179 yards, six points and not one trip into the Stanford red zone, Chris Petersen must acknowledge his program may not be ready to compete in the North yet.


Stanford is back in control of its own destiny in the North after a huge road win in Seattle. Its defense looks as good as ever and its quarterback appears to be coming into his own as the leader of the offense. 


Mark Helfrich and his woefully thin offensive line have been warned.

Stanford's defense makes statement against Washington
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 15:20
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Miami Hurricanes, News
Path: /college-football/miamis-improving-defense-keeps-coastal-division-title-hopes-alive-win-over-duke

Defense hasn’t necessarily been a strength for Miami under Al Golden, but the Hurricanes delivered with a clutch performance in Saturday night’s 22-10 win over Duke.

Miami held the Blue Devils to its lowest output of the 2014 season, allowed just 3.5 yards per play and forced three turnovers. The 3.5 mark is the fewest yards per play allowed in an ACC game by the Hurricanes since 2011 (Georgia Tech).


Improving the defense was a priority for Golden after an embarrassing effort in 2013. Miami allowed 26.8 points per game (10th in the ACC) and 5.7 yards per play (12th in ACC).

The early returns were positive, as the Hurricanes held their first three opponents to 4.7 yards or fewer per play.


However, in last week’s 41-31 loss to Nebraska, Miami was dominated at the line of scrimmage, allowing the Cornhuskers to rush for 343 yards and score 41 points.

Shades of last year’s defense against Nebraska prompted criticism once again for Miami coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, and the matchup against Duke was critical to establish the direction of this unit in the heart of ACC play.

In addition to holding the Blue Devils to just 10 points and 3.5 yards per play, Miami forced punts on seven of Duke’s first eight possessions and held David Cutcliffe’s offense to just two third-down conversions on 16 attempts. Only two drives for the Blue Devils lasted longer than 50 yards, and the rushing attack was limited to 3.4 yards per carry.

Perhaps Duke isn’t as good on offense as it showcased through the first four games, and the Hurricanes still have to play Georgia Tech, Cincinnati, North Carolina and Florida State, so the defense doesn’t have an easy path the rest of the year.

D’Onofrio entered 2014 on the hot seat, and if this coaching staff is going to succeed in Coral Gables, the defense has to take a step forward. So far, so good. But the upcoming schedule is certainly going to test the defense, especially against Florida State and Cincinnati.

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Week 5 wrapped up the first month of the college football season, but Saturday night’s

game against Duke was a critical one for Miami. The Hurricanes already lost to Louisville and an 0-2 hole in the Coastal Division is tough to rebound from.

There’s very little margin for error among the Coastal Division teams, and Miami’s improving defense is a good sign for its hopes of finally winning the division and playing for the conference title in December.

Miami's Improving Defense Keeps Coastal Division Title Hopes Alive in Win Over Duke
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 15:05
Path: /college-football/florida-state%E2%80%99s-defense-shows-flaws-still-delivers-critical-time-against-nc-state

After Saturday’s win in Raleigh against NC State, it’s clear Florida State is not as dominant of a squad as coach Jimbo Fisher’s national championship winning team from 2013. However, in a season that’s lacking a clear No. 1 team, the Seminoles are still very much in the mix to factor into college football’s new four-team playoff.

And this is a team poised to improve as the season progresses, especially on defense where Florida State needed the most help on Saturday against NC State.


After a slow start against the Wolfpack, the Seminoles’ defense stepped up when it mattered.

After allowing 24 points in the first quarter, Florida State held NC State scoreless in the second quarter and limited the Wolfpack to just three points in the final period.

First-year coordinator Charles Kelly dialed up the right adjustments after the first quarter, holding the Wolfpack to three consecutive punts before the end of the first half. After NC State converted 5 of 9 third-down attempts in the first two quarters, the Wolfpack went just 2 of 7 over the final two periods.

NC State averaged 6.9 yards per play during the first half, but Florida State held Jacoby Brissett and the red-hot Wolfpack offense to just 4.4 yards per touch in the second half.

In addition to tightening the defensive scheme, the Seminoles forced three second-half turnovers, resulting in 14 points for the offense.


The defense certainly didn’t play its best game for Florida State, but in a matchup that was decided by a 15-point margin of victory, the Seminoles got two key turnovers that resulted in 14 points. Not bad.


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Some of Florida State’s defensive struggles have to be shared by the offense, as the Seminoles committed four turnovers and gave NC State a short field on drives that resulted in 13 points.

While winning a national championship has raised the expectation level for Fisher and this team in 2014, it’s important to consider this defense did not have a senior starter in Saturday’s win. And standout defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. did not play due to a concussion.

Sure, depth at defensive tackle and tackling are concerns, but Florida State picked up key performance from freshman defensive lineman Lorenzo Featherston (1.5 TFL, 1 FF), freshman linebacker Jacob Pugh (three tackles, 1 FR) and sophomore safety Jalen Ramsey (two forced fumbles).

Clearly, the youth and depth in certain positions are two issues to watch as the season progresses, but the talent is there to improve over the course of 2014. And with an explosive offense, Florida State’s defense doesn’t necessarily have to be a shutdown unit – at least right now.


Fisher’s team has delivered in the clutch in its three games against Power 5 opponents, starting with a defensive stand against Oklahoma State, a win without Jameis Winston versus Clemson and rallying from a 24-7 deficit against NC State.


The final numbers on defense won’t be pretty, but the second half performance against the Wolfpack is something Fisher and Kelly can build on over the next few weeks. 

Florida State’s Defense Shows Flaws, But Delivers at Critical Time Against NC State
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 14:45
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/even-defeat-arkansas-makes-statement-sec-bret-bielema

The goal is to win the game, which Arkansas failed to do Saturday afternoon against Texas A&M. But the Razorbacks, even in defeat, proved to the nation that they are once again relevant in college football.


We saw some signs in Week 1, when Arkansas battled Auburn, the defending SEC champs, to a 21–21 tie in the first two quarters before wilting in the second half. Then, two weeks later, the Hogs bludgeoned Texas Tech with 438 rushing yards in a 49–28 win in Lubbock. That win, though extremely impressive, came against a Red Raider team that had defeated Central Arkansas and UTEP by an average of 6.5 points.


On Saturday, the Hogs missed an opportunity to record a program-changing win against a top-10 (for now) opponent. They held a lead for the majority of the game and had a two-touchdown edge heading into the fourth quarter. But some self-inflicted wounds — including a bad snap which led to a missed field goal that likely would have clinched the game — prevented the Hogs from snapping their SEC losing streak, which now stands at 14. But again, we can’t lose sight of just how much progress this program has made in a short period of time.


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A year ago, Arkansas was outgained by an average of 138.3 yards per game en route to an 0–8 record in the SEC. This year, the Hogs have yet to record a league win, but they have found an offensive identity. They rank first in the SEC in rushing offense (316.6 ypg) and are averaging 6.1 yards per offensive in their two league games. It’s becoming evident that Bret Beliema’s preferred method of offensive football — a power-running game — can be successful at an SEC school not named Alabama or LSU.


Close losses and impressive stats, however, won’t make Arkansas a contender in the brutal SEC West. This team needs to find a way to break through and prove it can beat a good team. On Saturday, they came painfully close.


“Our guys did several things throughout the course of the game to get excited about,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. “But obviously, not enough to close (out the game).”

Even in defeat, Arkansas makes a statement
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 14:30
Path: /college-football/sec-east-division-title-georgia-missouri

The SEC West has emerged as the best collection of teams — in a division or league — that we have seen in college football in quite a long time. The SEC East? Not so much. But that doesn’t mean the race to represent the division in the league’s title game won’t be interesting.


As we head into October, you can make a case that six of the seven teams have a legitimate opportunity to win the division. Vanderbilt, at 0–3, is clearly out of the race. After that, it’s wide open.


Georgia is the most talented team in the division, but the Bulldogs, 1–1, have not played like a championship-caliber team in either league game — a three-point loss at South Carolina and a three-point win vs. Tennessee at home. Mark Richt’s team got a big break on Saturday night when South Carolina lost at home to Missouri.


Speaking of Missouri, the Tigers are the only team in the division without a league loss, and they have a key win at South Carolina. Still, Mizzou hasn’t exactly looked great in recent weeks. The Tigers lost at home to Indiana and were inept offensively until the final two drives Saturday night.


South Carolina is in a tough spot. The Gamecocks are already two games behind Missouri in the loss column and would lose a head-to-head tie-breaker with the Tigers.


Florida has issues on both sides of the ball — as we saw against Alabama two weeks ago. Still, the Gators, 1–1, have possibly the most favorable remaining schedule. They only have two more true road games — at Tennessee and at Vanderbilt — and they play LSU, Missouri and South Carolina in Gainesville. There is a difficult neutral site game against Georgia, but if Florida wins its home games and splits its two road games, that would give it at least five wins — which might be enough to tie for the division title.


Tennessee is much-improved, but the Vols aren’t good enough on the offensive line and have perhaps the most difficult schedule — including trips to Ole Miss and South Carolina sandwiched around a home date with Alabama — to be considered a serious threat. Still, I wouldn’t rule them out just yet.


And finally, Kentucky, which is a questionable non-call in Gainesville away from being 2–0 in the league with a win at Florida on its résumé. The Wildcats, at 3–1 overall, are halfway to bowl eligibility and still have home games against ULM (non-conference), South Carolina, Mississippi State and Georgia.


The West will continue to grab the national headlines — and deservedly so — but for pure drama, the East might be more interesting to watch. Stay tuned.

SEC East Title Picture Remains Wide Open After Week 5
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 14:10
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Kansas Jayhawks, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/12-coaching-candidates-replace-charlie-weis-kansas

After a disastrous 6-22 record in three seasons, Charlie Weis was fired as Kansas’ head coach on Sunday. Weis went 1-18 in three years during Big 12 play in Lawrence, and the Jayhawks finished last in the conference in back-to-back years. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen will serve as the interim coach for the final eight games of the year.

Kansas is not an easy job, and the last two coaches only got less than three years to show on-field progress.

And looking at the candidates, there’s not a natural fit for arguably the No. 10 job in the Big 12.

12 Coaching Candidates to Replace Fired Charlie Weis at Kansas


David Beaty, wide receivers coach, Texas A&M

Beaty has never worked as a head coach on the collegiate level, but he’s regarded as an excellent recruiter and worked as an assistant at Kansas from 2008-09 and in the 2011 season. Beaty’s ties to the Texas area would be huge for recruiting purposes, but he would need a strong staff to offset his lack of head coaching experience.


Willie Fritz, head coach, Georgia Southern

Fritz was a home-run hire by Georgia Southern. The Eagles are just 3-2 in 2014, but both losses came at the hands of ACC opponents (NC State and Georgia Tech), and Fritz’s team lost by a combined five points. Prior to taking over at Georgia Southern, Fritz went 40-14 at Sam Houston State and 97-47 at Central Missouri. Fritz was born in Kansas and has experience in the area from his time at Coffeyville College. Is Fritz willing to jump after one year at Georgia Southern? With his ties to the area and being a proven winner at different levels, Fritz would be an excellent fit in Lawrence.

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Scott Frost, offensive coordinator, Oregon
Kansas fans are certainly familiar with Frost from his days as a Nebraska quarterback, but the Nebraska native is a rising star in the coaching ranks. After working as a graduate assistant at Nebraska and Kansas State, Frost landed a job at Northern Iowa for two years (2007-08) and left for Oregon in 2009 to coach receivers. After Chip Kelly left for the NFL, Frost was promoted to offensive coordinator. The Ducks averaged 45.5 points per game last year and lead the Pac-12 with a 48.5 average in 2014. Frost does not have any prior head coaching experience.

Justin Fuente, head coach, Memphis

Don’t be fooled by Fuente’s 9-19 overall record at Memphis. The third-year coach clearly has the Tigers moving in the right direction and would be an excellent fit in Lawrence. The Oklahoma native spent five years in the Big 12 as an assistant at TCU and landed at Memphis to clean up a disaster left by previous coach Larry Porter. In three years, the Tigers have made significant progress. Memphis went 4-8 in 2012 and finished 3-9 in a tougher conference in 2013 (American Athletic Conference). And the Tigers are off to a 2-2 start with losses over Ole Miss and UCLA. Fuente’s experience in rebuilding a program at Memphis could be valuable in Lawrence. Does he want to aim higher than Kansas?

Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
Herman has worked as a play-caller on the collegiate level for 10 years and is a member of Mensa. The Ohio native is a young coach (39) with a lot of energy and is ready to take on the challenge of being a head coach at a Power 5 program. Herman does not have any experience as a head coach, but he’s worked under good coaches in Paul Rhoads and Urban Meyer.

Mark Hudspeth, head coach, ULL
Hudspeth is off to a slow start in his fourth season at ULL, as the Ragin’ Cajuns record stands at 1-3 after four games. But from 2011-13, Hudspeth went 28-15 and and guided ULL to three consecutive bowl games. Hudspeth’s success isn’t just limited to the Ragin’ Cajuns, as he recorded a 66-21 mark at North Alabama from 2002-08. The Mississippi native also has experience as an assistant at Mississippi State and Navy. Kansas seems like an odd fit for Hudspeth, but he’s ready for the opportunity to lead a bigger program.

Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State
Lembo deserves a mention in this space, but he seems more apt to take a job in the Big Ten or in the ACC. In four years at Ball State, Lembo has guided the Cardinals to a 26-16 record. And prior to taking over in Muncie, Lembo went 35-22 with a playoff appearance at Elon. Lembo also went 44-14 from 2001-05 at Lehigh with two playoff trips. It’s only a matter of time before Lembo jumps at an opportunity to coach at a Power 5 conference. Is it Kansas? Or will a five-year contract extension signed in the spring keep him in Muncie another season?


Jim McElwain, head coach, Colorado State
McElwain’s stock continues to rise after Colorado State’s upset win at Boston College in Week 5. The Rams are 15-15 under his watch, with an 11-7 mark after the 2012 season. Prior to taking over in Fort Collins, McElwain worked as the offensive coordinator at Alabama and Fresno State and served as a quarterbacks’ coach with the Raiders in 2006. Whether it means anything or not, McElwain with Colorado State prior to the season.

Ruffin McNeill, head coach, East Carolina
McNeill is a graduate of East Carolina, so leaving his alma mater won’t be easy. McNeill paid his dues for over 20 years as an assistant before landing the head coach job at East Carolina. During his time as an assistant, McNeill worked at Clemson, North Alabama, Appalachian State, UNLV, Fresno State and Texas Tech. In five years at East Carolina, McNeill is 32-23 and guided the Pirates to a 10-3 mark in 2013. Could McNeill and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley be a package deal for Kansas? Unlikely, but worth a shot for the Jayhawks.

Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
It’s only a matter of time before Morris takes a job as a head coach. However, Morris can be patient and choose the right opening, as he’s one of the highest paid assistants in college football. Morris would seem to be the perfect fit for a program like Kansas, as he would provide a much-needed spark on the offensive side and knows how to recruit the Texas area. Morris is a Texas native and worked as a head coach on the high school level from 1994-2009. Under Morris’ direction, Clemson has averaged (including 2014) at least 40 points per game in each of the last three years.

Mike Norvell, offensive coordinator, Arizona State
Norvell is another young assistant primed to take a head-coaching job in the near future. But Norvell isn’t in any hurry to jump from his current position at Arizona State, as he’s compensated well and can have his pick of jobs in the future. Under Novell’s watch, the Sun Devils ranked in the top three of scoring in the Pac-12 in each of the last three years. Norvell has worked for Arizona State coach Todd Graham at three consecutive jobs (Tulsa, Pittsburgh and Arizona State) and spent one year as a graduate assistant at Central Arkansas.


Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson

Venables has ties to the Kansas area and is one of the highest-paid coordinators in the nation. The Kansas native played at Kansas State for two seasons (1991-92) and worked in Manhattan from 1993-98. Venables also has prior Big 12 experience from a stop at Oklahoma (1993-2011) before landing the defensive coordinator job at Clemson. Under Venables’ direction, the Tigers have finished No. 3 in the ACC in scoring defense in back-to-back years.


Tim Beck, offensive coordinator, Nebraska
Beck is a former Kansas assistant and has served under Bo Pelini as Nebraska’s offensive coordinator since 2011. The Ohio native has the Cornhuskers averaging 45.4 points per game through the first five games of 2014. Beck does not have any head coach experience on the collegiate level.

Craig Bohl, head coach, Wyoming
Bohl is the best head coach in the Mountain West, but he’s in Year One at Wyoming. Don’t expect Bohl to leave after 2014, but he’s a name to watch for BCS jobs in the future.

Matt Campbell, head coach, Toledo
Rising star in the coaching ranks is 20-11 entering his third full season with the Rockets. Campbell is one of the youngest head coaches in the nation (34) and is a name to file away for BCS jobs 2015 or 2016.

Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator, Alabama
You never know…

Jim Leavitt, 49ers assistant
Leavitt’s tenure at USF’s head coach did not end on a good note, as there were allegations of player abuse that resulted in his termination at the end of the 2009 season. From 1997-2009, Leavitt recorded a 95-57 mark as the Bulls’ head coach, including five consecutive bowl appearances once the program joined the Big East. Leavitt has ties to the Texas and Kansas areas.

Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi passed on the opportunity to be UConn’s head coach last year. It’s likely he will do the same to Kansas, as he can land a higher-profile job in the future.

Ed Orgeron, former USC interim coach
Orgeron’s name popped up on Sunday in the early rumor mill for the vacancy. Orgeron struggled in his previous stint as a head coach at Ole Miss but rebounded in an interim role at USC last year. Unlikely fit.

Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator, East Carolina
Riley is young (31) and one of the bright offensive minds in the nation. Is it too soon to make a jump to a Power 5 program?


Ed Warinner, Co-OC/OL coach, Ohio State
Warinner is a former Kansas assistant, working from 2003-04 and 2007-09 under Mark Mangino’s staff in Lawrence. The Ohio native has never been a head coach but has 20 years of experience as an assistant. Warinner is regarded as an outstanding recruiter.

12 Coaching Candidates to Replace Charlie Weis at Kansas
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 12:51
Path: /college-football/brady-hoke-must-answer-handling-injured-shane-morris

Brady Hoke has more serious problems than an inept offense on gameday.


Before Hoke coaches another game at Michigan, he’ll need to provide better answers than ignorance for allowing his potentially concussed player to take two more snaps, including one after he had returned to the sideline to be replaced by a backup.


In the fourth quarter of a 30-14 loss to Minnesota, quarterback Shane Morris — already hobbled with a leg injury — took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Minnesota defensive end Thieren Cockran. 


Morris limped to the sideline to get the next play, but he dropped his head and had to be held up by offensive tackle Ben Braden. Morris, making his first start of the season, waved his arm to stay in the game.


Cockran was called for a roughing the passer penalty, though he could have been ejected for targeting. ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham called the officials’ oversight “appalling.”


That level of ignorance pales compared to what transpired later from Hoke. Morris continued for one more snap, an incomplete pass. Only then, did Morris take himself out of the game, wobbling to the sideline.


Do we know with certainty that Morris suffered a concussion? No. But Michigan and the broadcast team saw enough to warrant having Morris on the bench to determine for sure.


Morris didn’t stay on the bench long. Three plays later, replacement quarterback Devin Gardner lost his helmet on a run toward the sideline. By rule, he had to sit out a play.


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While third-string quarterback Russell Bellomy scrambled for a helmet, Morris ended up back in the game for a handoff before returning to the sideline. Cunningham called the player management “atrocious.” Even before the Cockran hit, Cunningham was critical of Hoke’s handling of an obviously injured Morris, who continued to throw passes from the pocket on an injured left leg.


The entire sequence was textbook negligence for the safety of a player, but Hoke’s explanation was so much worse, it's embarrassing.


“Well, I don't know if he might have had a concussion or not,” Hoke told reporters after the game. “I don't know that. Shane's a pretty competitive tough kid. Shane wanted to be the quarterback. So believe me, if he didn't want to be, he would have come to the sideline or stayed down.”


That statement is unacceptable.


I don’t know if he had a concussion or not.


Did Hoke not see what the ESPN cameras picked up? Did he not see a dazed Morris being held up by a lineman? That’s possible, even if Minnesota was flagged for roughing the passer. Did a member of the staff catch it? Also possible, but Hoke is not wearing a headset, so it's plausible that someone in the booth was unable to effectively communicate with the head coach.


But the lack of certainty is enough to pull Morris. And not only did Morris stay in the game for one play after the hit, he returned. Take a timeout. Take a delay of game. Have a running back take a knee It doesn’t matter. Anything that stops Morris from returning to the game.


Shane wanted to be the quarterback. So believe me, if he didn't want to be, he would have come to the sideline or stayed down.


Hoke is deflecting the responsibility onto his 20-year-old quarterback who may or may not have sustained a head injury, not the man in paid in excess of $4 million to make quick decisions that in part concern the safety of his players.


Blame players for poor execution or poor preparation, that’s fine. But deciding which players should and should not be on the field is part of the job, and Hoke was incompetent for a stretch of four minutes in this regard.


Whether Morris sustained a concussion or not, Hoke whiffed, and he may need to answer for it with his job.


Watch the entire sequence:


UPDATE: Michigan coach Brady Hoke released a statement Sunday evening through the school:


“The safety of our student-athletes is always our top priority. We generally never discuss the specifics of a student-athlete's medical care, but Shane Morris was removed from yesterday's game against Minnesota after further aggravating an injury to his leg that he sustained earlier in the contest. He was evaluated by our experienced athletic trainers and team physicians, and we're confident proper medical decisions were made. The University of Michigan has a distinguished group of Certified Athletic Trainers and team physicians who are responsible for determining whether or not a player is physically able to play. Our coaches have no influence or authority to make determinations if or when an injured player returns to competition. The health and welfare of our student-athletes is and will continue to be a top priority.”

Brady Hoke Must Answer for Handling of Injured Shane Morris
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 11:40
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Kansas Jayhawks, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/kansas-fires-coach-charlie-weis

Kansas fired coach Charlie Weis after Saturday’s 23-0 loss to Texas. Weis was just 6-22 in three seasons as the Jayhawks’ head coach and had only one win in Big 12 play.

Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen will serve as the interim head coach. Through four games, Kansas is 2-2 with wins over Central Michigan and SEMO.

Weis was an odd hire for athletic director Sheahon Zenger and was a questionable move for a program that has struggled to show consistent on-field progress in the Big 12.

And in Weis’ three seasons, it was hard to find progress, as Kansas continued to rank as the worst team in the Big 12.

Weis took over at Kansas after serving as Florida’s offensive coordinator for one season (2011), which came on the heels of a one-year stop with the Chiefs.

Prior to the 2011 season in the NFL, Weis went 35-27 as Notre Dame’s head coach, which included two losing seasons over his final three years.

Kansas Fires Coach Charlie Weis
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 10:19
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, NFC, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-vs-dallas-cowboys-game-preview-and-prediction

Dallas will aim to extend its winning streak to three games and erase one of the most painful memories of its 2013 season when it hosts New Orleans tonight on NBC. If recent history between these two teams matters, it favors the Saints in this one. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is 0–3 all time against New Orleans, while Saints coach Sean Payton has a 3–1 ledger against Dallas.


And the teams' most recent meeting was a low point for the Garrett regime. Last season in Week 10, the Saints destroyed the Cowboys 49-17 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as Drew Brees completed 34 of 41 passes for 392 yards and four TDs (passer rating of 139.0), and running back Mark Ingram rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown. In the teams' last meeting in Dallas, in 2012, the game was much closer but still produced a Saints offensive explosion, as Brees threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns and Marques Colston caught 10 passes for 153 yards.


New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys


Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NBC

Spread: New Orleans -3


Three Things to Watch


1. Romo vs. Saints secondary

We've established that Saints quarterback Drew Brees has a stellar history against the Cowboys, but we must also acknowledge that Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has a certain comfort level against the Saints. In his last home start against New Orleans in 2012, Romo passed for 416 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 123.8 QB rating. Wide receiver Dez Bryant had a career game in that matchup, catching nine passes for 224 yards and two 58-yard touchdowns. They'll be facing a Saints defense that has shown an alarming inability to produce big plays. This unit has forced just one turnover and has collected only four sacks in three games while allowing 369 yards per contest. The Saints have been particularly vulnerable on third-and-long. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will need to construct a creative game plan to thwart his former employer on its home field. 


2. Dissension in Big D?

Dallas cornerback Morris Claiborne made headlines earlier in the week when he skipped a walk-through and stormed out of the Cowboys' Valley Ranch headquarters after learning of his demotion. "I think he understood that he made a mistake," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Claiborne, who was called out on the radio by owner Jerry Jones. "Guys are competitors. When they hear news that doesn't go their way, different guys react different ways. He obviously knew that he didn't react the right way, and he had a chance to kind of collect himself. He came by last night and we addressed it, and we addressed it head on. He's back in here this morning and ready to go to work." The drama in Big D seemingly never ends, and although the Cowboys’ miraculous comeback in a Week 3 win over the Rams bought them a little time, they're one ill-timed loss from returning to full-on meltdown mode.


3. The Saints' Search for Consistency

New Orleans has only been consistent in its inconsistency so far this season. The offense has looked unstoppable on occasion but has sputtered at some inopportune times. On paper, the Saints possess one of the NFL's better offenses: fourth in both total yards and red zone touchdown percentage, and first in third-down conversions — but only seventh in scoring. Until the defense finds its footing, the offense has to convert every opportunity presented to it. 


Final Analysis


The Saints are one of the bigger disappointments in this young NFL season. Even in their first win of the season, a fairly comfortable 20-9 victory over the Vikings, there were errors and breakdowns on defense, and once again, the Saints failed to force a turnover, although they didn't turn it over on offense, either. After an offseason focused on takeaways, New Orleans is riding an 11-quarter streak without one and is still searching for a defensive spark. If they can't find one against the turnover-prone Cowboys, it could be a long season.

Prediction: Dallas 35, New Orleans 27
New Orleans Saints vs. Dallas Cowboys Game Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-most-viral-moments-week-5

Week 5 of college football’s 2014 season is officially in the books. And as expected with every Saturday, there was plenty of excitement, big plays and last-minute wins among the FBS action.


In case you missed any action, we tried to capture the big moments of Saturday in one article. The viral wrap-up features key plays, interesting quotes/comments in tweets, uniform unveilings and any major injuries.

College Football's Most Viral Moments from Week 5



College Football's Most Viral Moments from Week 5
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 08:00
Path: /georgias-todd-gurley-athlon-sports-week-5-national-player-week

After his team lost by 3 to Georgia, Tennessee coach Butch Jones likened defending Georgia’s run game to defending the wishbone.


Don't give Georgia any ideas. It's scary what Todd Gurley might do if he played in that kind of offense. Playing in the Bulldogs pro-style is scary enough.


The Georgia tailback rushed for a career-high 208 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns in a 35-32 win over Tennessee to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.


The Bulldogs needed every bit of Gurley’s production, and despite playing the deepest backfield in the country, Gurley may be the nation's most indispensable player.


Gurley rushed for a 51-yard touchdown to boost a fourth-quarter lead, hurdled over a Tennessee defender and picked up a fourth-and-3 conversion with a gutty four-yard gain.  


"Earlier in the year, I said he is at least one of the best players in the country,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Now, I'm saying he's the best player in America. I can't imagine anyone being more talented, a guy who loves his team more, and a guy who means more to his team than he does to us.”


National Defensive Player of the Week: Ishmael Adams, UCLA

Arizona State may have racked up 626 yards against UCLA but couldn’t stop the Bruins in the big-play department in any phase of the game. Defensive back Ishmael Adams helped changed the momentum twice. First, he recorded a 95-yard pick six as Arizona State was driving for a score to close the first half. Adams then returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown after the Sun Devils cut the lead to two touchdowns in the third quarter.


National Freshman of the Week: Deshaun Watson, Clemson

Deshaun Watson flashed his potential in extended work against Florida State. He delivered against defense-challenged North Carolina in his first career start. Watson completed 27-of-36 passes for 435 yards with six touchdowns and an interception in a 50-35 win over North Carolina. 


National Coordinator of the Week: Brian Stewart, Maryland

Injuries have been mounting for the Maryland defense, and Indiana is fresh off a win at Missouri. All signs would point to a shootout for a Terrapins team that two weeks ago gave up 40 points to West Virginia. The Terrapins, though, keyed the program’s first Big Ten victory, a 37-15 win over Indiana. The high-powered Hoosiers were limited to a season-low 332 total yards. Indiana was 14-of-37 passing with 126 yards and an interception.


Conference players of the week:


ACC: Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya completed 21-of-25 passes for 226 yards with two touchdowns in a 22-10 win over Duke.


Big 12: Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman completed 17-of-31 passes for 370 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in a 45-35 win over Texas Tech on Thursday.


Big Ten: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries in a 45-14 win over Illinois.


Pac-12: UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was 18-of-23 for 355 yards with four touchdowns in a 62-27 win over Arizona State on Thursday. He also rushed for 72 yards on eight carries.


American: Temple quarterback P.J. Walker completed 20-of-29 passes for 231 yards with a touchdown in a 36-10 win over Connecticut. Walker also rushed for a touchdown.


Conference USA: Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky completed 38-of-54 passes for 387 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 36-27 win over Navy. Doughty also rushed for a touchdown.


MAC: Akron linebacker Jatavis Brown had 11 tackles and a sack in a 21-10 win over Pittsburgh. The Zips are the first team to hold James Conner to fewer than 100 yards this season.


Mountain West: Air Force safety Weston Steelhammer had three interceptions, two tackles for a loss a sack and four tackles in a 28-14 win over Boise State.


Sun Belt: Georgia Southern quarterback Kevin Ellison rushed for 151 yards and a  touchdown on 21 carries in a 34-14 win over Appalachian State. He also completed 6-of-10 passes for 73 yards with a touchdown and an interception.


Independents: Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson completed 31-of-39 passes for 362 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in a 31-15 win over Syracuse. Golson completed 25 consecutive passes at one point.

Georgia's Todd Gurley is Athlon Sports Week 5 National Player of the Week
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/week-5-heisman-movers-everett-golson-and-todd-gurley-shine

If Week 5 reinforced anything, it was the role of clutch play for any Heisman contender.


The big play at the right time covers up a ton of miscues or stretches of ineffective play.


That is the theme for this week’s contenders. Kenny Hill and Everett Golson didn’t have the best games of their careers, but they were in charge when the game mattered most. 


Brett Hundley, after missing almost an entire game two weeks ago, showed why he is so valuable during a lopsided stretch for UCLA against Arizona State.


And Gurley remained one of the biggest gamebreakers of the week as the Georgia offense went from very good to great any time he was on the field.


Here is our look at the last week and who moved up or down in the Heisman race.

Todd Gurley

Gurley may be the best hope to end Heisman dominance by quarterbacks. The Bulldogs junior set a career high with 208 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries in a 35-32 win over Tennessee. Georgia coach Mark Richt revised his statement that Gurley is one of the best in the country to making Gurley the best player in the country.

Kenny Hill

The Aggies quarterback didn’t have the best game of his young career. He threw an interception, completed 21-of-41 passes and received help from Arkansas’ defensive breakdowns. But 386 passing yards and four touchdowns — two in the final 2:08 of regulation and overtime — keeps him in the Heisman race and A&M in the hunt in the SEC.

Christian Hackenberg

Hackenberg couldn’t rescue Penn State in this one. Behind a leaky offensive line, Hackenberg had his worst game of the season, completing 22-of-45 passes for 216 yards with the first pick six of his career in a 29-6 home loss to Northwestern. Hackenberg as four TDs and six INTs this season.

Everett Golson

Golson had his official statline corrected, so he didn’t catch the FBS record of 26 consecutive completions as we once believed. And Golson also had three turnovers (two interceptions, fumble). Still, Golson’s 25 consecutive completions is impressive against anyone, anytime. Golson finished 32-of-39 for 362 yards with four touchdowns in a 31-15 win over Syracuse.

Brett Hundley

This guy was supposed to be hurt, right? Hundley came back from his injury against Texas two weeks ago with his best game of the season, leading a 62-27 rout of Arizona State on Thursday. Hundley completed 18-of-23 passes fro 355 yards with four touchdowns. He also rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.

Melvin Gordon

Gordon has picked up the first two fumbles of his career the last two weeks, but the turnovers only seem to make him stronger. Gordon rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries in the second half against USF a week after rushing for 253 yards and five touchdowns on 12 carries after his fumble against Bowling Green.

Ameer Abdullah

Abdullah made sure Gurley and Gordon didn’t remain the only running backs in Heisman contention. Starting with 127 yards in the first quarter alone, Abdullah rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries in a 45-14 win over Illinois. Abdullah rushed for 437 yards in the last two weeks.

James Conner

Iowa stymied Conner in the second half last week. Akron was able to do it through the course of a whole game. Akron held Conner to season lows in yards (92), touchdowns (none, the first time he failed to reach the end zone) and yards per carry (3.7) in a 21-10 win.

Shaq Thompson

Thompson returned a fumble 32 yards for a touchdown and added seven tackles and a tackle for a loss. The linebacker Thompson has scored four touchdowns this season (two fumbles, an interception, one rushing) but Washington needs to win a marquee game to keep him in the running. Washington lost 20-13 to Stanford.


Week 5 Heisman Movers: Everett Golson and Todd Gurley Shine
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-week-4-injury-updates-jamaal-charles-doug-martin-jake-locker-josh-mccown

One All-Pro running back looks ready to return for his Week 4 Monday night matchup, while a couple of struggling starting quarterbacks could end up sitting this one out. Here are some key running back and quarterback injuries you need to pay attention to.


Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Pittsburgh Steelers

Probable – Knee
As was expected, Martin did not play against Atlanta on Thursday night last week due to a knee injury he sustained in the season opener. However, he was back at practice this week and is listed as Probable to start against the Steelers. Bobby Rainey, who started the two games Martin missed, will slide back into his backup role and should be viewed as no more than a flex option this week. Martin meanwhile has been a disappointment dating back to last season when a torn labrum ended his season after just six games. A legitimate RB1 as a rookie, Martin looks more the part of a RB2/flex right now, especially given the Buccaneers’ own offensive struggles.


Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots (Mon.)

Probable – Ankle
Even though he was limited in practice it sure sounds like Charles will be back on the field just two weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain. He’s listed as Probable for the Monday night game and all indications are that he will play. The Monday night game complicates matters a little, but unless something changes between now and prior to kickoff of today’s early games, I think you need to plan on starting Charles. One thing to keep in mind though is considering how effective Knile Davis was during Charles’ absence, there’s a chance the coaching staff may try and limit the All-Pro’s touches in his first game back from injury. That said, as long as Charles doesn’t re-aggravate the ankle injury, I think he’s a safe bet for at least 20 touches against the Patriots.


Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts

Questionable – Wrist
The Titans took their lumps last week against the Bengals and apparently that included their quarterback. Locker injured his wrist at some point in the 33-7 loss and it was sore enough that it prevented him from doing much of anything in practice. Locker is Questionable, but if I had to put odds on him playing, I would place them well below the 50-50 associated with that designation. The other side of the coin is that since a solid Week 1 showing, Locker hasn’t played very well, providing one touchdown compared to four turnovers in the past two games combined. If Locker can’t go Charlie Whitehurst would get the call. Either way, unless you’re desperate or have no other options, I would consider the Titans’ QBs as being on bye this week too.


Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints

Probable – Back
Back tightness continues to be an issue for Romo, who did not practice on Wednesday. But just like last week, he was a full go on both Thursday and Friday and is Probable for tonight’s home date with New Orleans. The Cowboys have depended on the running game early on this season, but the possibility of a high-scoring affair exists with the Saints on tap. Regardless, you are starting Romo, especially this week with six teams on bye.


Josh McCown, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Pittsburgh Steelers

Doubtful - Thumb
McCown got pummeled last week by the Falcons, leaving the game early after suffering a thumb injury. He’s listed as Doubtful for today with the expectation that Mike Glennon will start. The truth is you would have to be pretty desperate to use McCown right now since he’s looked pretty bad thus far. As far as Glennon goes, he was more than respectable (19 TDs, 9 INTs) as the primary starter last season when he was a rookie, so he has a fair amount of experience. The Buccaneers have struggled early on, but with six other teams on bye, I can support someone who wants to take a flyer on Glennon, especially as a QB2.

RBs Already Ruled Out:


Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints – Ingram broke his hand in Week 2 against Cleveland and underwent surgery. He’s expected to miss at least a month. Pierre Thomas will continue to serve as the primary receiving back, while Khiry Robinson will get the bulk of the carries, especially around the goal line.


Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers – Mathews is expected to miss at least a month after spraining his MCL in Week 2 while Woodhead was placed on injured reserve after breaking his leg last week against Buffalo. Donald Brown will carry the load for the time being with undrafted rookie Branden Oliver listed next on the depth chart.


Knowshon Moreno, Miami Dolphins – Moreno is out at least a few weeks after dislocating his elbow in Week 2. He is hoping to return following the team’s Week 5 bye. Lamar Miller will continue to get the starter’s reps while Moreno is out.

Fantasy Football Week 4 Injury Updates: Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin, Jake Locker, Josh McCown
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/week-4-fantasy-football-injury-updates-arian-foster-cj-spiller-bernard-pierce-deangelo

Six teams are on bye in Week 4, which means the depth of many a fantasy team will be tested. Here are some key running back injury situations to keep an eye on before setting your starting lineup.


C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans

Probable – Chest
Spiller was added to the injury report on Thursday with some sort of chest injury, but head coach Doug Marrone said he’s not worried about his running back’s availability. Spiller is Probable and will look to team with Fred Jackson to take advantage of a Texans defense that gave up 176 yards rushing to the Giants’ Rashad Jennings last week. Spiller’s as explosive as they come at running back, but he’s been inconsistent and injury-prone. He needs to be in your starting lineup, but viewed as a RB2 with upside.


Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans vs. Buffalo Bills

Questionable – Hamstring
Foster was somewhat of a surprise late scratch last week and he will be a game-time decision again today. He didn’t play against the Giants after being limited in practice leading up to that game and the same scenario has played out this week. The hope would be that Foster would have increased his practiced participation over the course of this week, but apparently that did not happen. Running back depth is already being tested with six teams on bye, but unless you want to run the risk of him getting scratched again, you will want to check on Foster’s status before kickoff and have a Plan B in place. Don’t forget that rookie Alfred Blue (13 att., 78 yds.) held his own filling in last week.


Bernard Pierce, RB, Baltimore Ravens vs. Carolina Panthers

Probable – Thigh
Pierce missed last week with a thigh injury, but he’ll back in there today. Justin Forsett should remain in his supporting role, in which he has provided flex-worthy production all three weeks. Meanwhile rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro, who opened some eyes last week with 91 yards and a TD and has been a popular pickup since, probably takes a backseat against Carolina. Pierce should see enough carries to employ as a relatively safe RB2/flex option, but his leash may not be as long as it previously was given Taliaferro’s recent success.


Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, RBs, Carolina Panthers at Baltimore Ravens

Questionable – Knee; Probable – Thigh
It has been a rough couple of weeks for Panther running backs. First, Williams missed the past two weeks with a thigh (really hamstring) injury. Then last week, Mike Tolbert (leg fracture) and Stewart both got hurt in the blowout home loss to Pittsburgh. Tolbert was placed on short-term injured reserve and Stewart is looking very iffy for today after not doing much at all during practice this week. The silver lining, however, is the return of Williams, whose Probable designation all but guarantees he’ll be back. Given the other injuries, a quarterback who is still dealing with bruised ribs and a need to run the ball, this is as good a week as any for Williams to finally provide RB2/flex production.

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Oakland Raiders vs. Miami Dolphins (London)

Probable – Hand
Jones-Drew missed the past two games after injuring his hand in the season opener, but he was a full participant in practice this week and will be back out there today. While I wouldn’t rush to get MJD back into your lineup, it does appear that he will reclaim his starting role, so in a week like this, he may not be the worst RB3/flex option. On the other hand this probably downgrades Darren McFadden’s value, as he will go back to a complementary role and is now competing with the likes of Marcel Reece for touches.

Week 4 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Arian Foster, C.J. Spiller, Bernard Pierce, DeAngelo Williams
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-week-4-injury-updates-calvin-johnson-brandon-marshall-eric-decker

Several No. 1 wide receivers for different teams are dealing with varying injuries headed into Week 4. Are any of these targets in danger of not playing?


Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers

Questionable – Ankle
The good news is that Alshon Jeffery doesn’t appear at all on this week’s injury report. Unfortunately, Marshall not only re-aggravated his ankle injury Monday night against the Jets, he did next to nothing in practice this week. He’s Questionable for a third straight week, but I would say there’s more danger this week of him not being able to play than there was last week. Don’t forget that because the Bears played on Monday night, it’s been a short week for them, not giving Marshall much time to recover. Marshall is as tough as they come, but it was obvious he was in a lot of pain on Monday and he finished that game with one catch. It’s very hard to bench a weapon like Marshall, especially with so many other wide receivers on bye, but there’s a good chance that even if he does play, he won’t be able to help your team much. Just be sure you understand the risk when it comes to employing Marshall this week.

Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions at New York Jets

Questionable – Ankle
Many an owner held their collective breaths earlier this week when news came out that Johnson, currently No. 4 in fantasy points at his position, missed not one, but two days of practice because of an ankle injury. Those owners can exhale, somewhat, as Johnson returned to the field on Friday and got some work in. Even though he’s listed as Questionable, Johnson has said he fully expects to play this week. I for one am willing to take him at his word and also would go as far to make the argument that he’s a must-start regardless. Don’t forget Alshon Jeffery also was listed as Questionable headed into the Monday night game with the Jets and he proceeded to exploit an inexperienced and undermanned secondary for 105 yards on eight catches.


Eric Decker, WR, New York Jets vs. Detroit Lions

Questionable – Hamstring
Decker gutted through this hamstring injury on Monday night, only to leave the game after re-aggravating it. He did not return to practice until Friday, but he said he will be out there today, a sentiment head coach Rex Ryan echoed. The risk of counting on him is still very much in play, however, as it’s very likely Decker will be limited once again. Quite a few Week 3 fantasy matchups were probably decided when Decker finished his night with one lone catch for 19 yards. Just make sure you are willing to accept the possibility of the same outcome before inserting Decker into your lineup.


Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints

Probable – Shoulder
Bryant was Questionable last week, but not only did he start, he also rewarded his owners with a 68-yard touchdown reception. He was a limited practice participant throughout the week, but the Probable designation is all his owners need to worry about. Bryant is a must-start WR1 even when he’s not 100 percent healthy.


Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Pittsburgh Steelers

Probable – Wrist
It was revealed this week that Jackson sustained a hairline fracture in his right wrist in the blowout loss in Atlanta. There doesn’t appear to be any real concern regarding the injury at this time, as Jackson took part in practice and he’s listed as Probable. Like every other Buccaneer skill position player, Jackson has gotten off to a slow start, but the WR1 potential still exists. And it’s possible that he could get back to that level of production as soon as this week with Mike Glennon, last season’s primary starting quarterback, slated to start in place of an . Last season, when Glennon made 13 starts as a rookie, Jackson finished with the following numbers: 78 catches, 1,124 yards and seven touchdowns.


Harry Douglas and Roddy White, WRs, Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings

Questionable – Foot; Probable – Hamstring
White missed the Week 3 rout of Tampa Bay because of a bothersome hamstring, while Douglas suited up, caught a touchdown pass and then left early due to a foot injury. White was still limited in practice this week, but both he said he’s “ready to roll” and head coach Mike Smith also declared White a go for today. Douglas’ status seems to be a little more up in the air even though he did more in practice on Friday than White did. But when it comes to the pecking order, White is the clear-cut No. 2 behind Julio Jones, while Douglas is a No. 3 capable of putting up decent numbers of his own. White should be started with no hesitation, but be sure to evaluate your other options before using Douglas.


Already Ruled Out:


Marqise Lee, Jacksonville Jaguars – Lee will miss a second straight game due to a hamstring injury. Cecil Shorts and Allen Hurns (Probable, Ankle) will most likely get the starting nods with Allen Robinson next in line. Shorts is a WR2 with WR1 upside, while Hurns offers the potential of big plays and Robinson’s value is greater in PPR leagues. However, there are two caveats when it comes to the Jaguars’ offense as a whole this week – 1) the cross-country visit to San Diego to face a pretty nasty Chargers’ defense and 2) rookie quarterback Blake Bortles is making his first career NFL start.

Fantasy Football Week 4 Injury Updates: Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/week-4-fantasy-football-injury-updates-vernon-davis-rob-gronkowski-delanie-walker

San Francisco may be without its tight end in Week 4, while New England is hoping to get more from theirs on Monday night. Those aren’t the only tight end injuries you need to know about before setting your lineup.


Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs (Mon.)

Probable – Knee
Pretty much business as usual for Gronkowski – limited in practice, but listed as Probable. What could change, however, is Gronkowski’s snap count. After seeing that number drop in Week 2, Gronk played a season-high 42 of 73 offensive snaps last week in a game in which he caught three passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. The big numbers owners were hoping for haven’t been there yet, but a breakout could be coming if Gronkowski’s time on the field keeps increasing.


Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Questionable – Ankle
Not surprisingly, Davis was held out of last week’s game against Arizona because of an ankle injury. Davis was limited in practice again and said earlier in the week that he would be a “game-time decision.” Davis’ owners could undoubtedly use him this week, especially with fewer replacement options available due to six teams being on bye, but the late kickoff doesn’t help. Most likely a decision on Davis will need to be made by his owners before the 49ers make theirs later this afternoon.

Delaine Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts

Questionable – Shoulder
Walker has been the Titans’ most productive pass-catcher thus far, so his Questionable designation is a little concerning. He injured his shoulder last week and apparently it was barking at him bad enough to limit his practice reps. While it would be somewhat of a mild surprise if Walker didn’t play, his owners need to accept the possibility of that exact scenario happening. At minimum, expectations for the productive tight end need to be lowered, especially considering due to a wrist injury.


Ladarius Green, TE, San Diego Chargers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

Questionable – Hamstring
Antonio Gates is listed as Probable, but it’s his running mate Green who gets the Questionable tag this week. Green went from a limited practice participant on Thursday to merely a spectator on Friday, which is typically not a good sign. While Green’s talent and upside is obvious and certainly appealing, Gates remains the starter and currently is the No. 8 among his position in fantasy points. Even with six teams on bye, the safest course of action may be to just bench Green this week.


Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins vs. Oakland Raiders (London)

Probable – Knee
Clay’s knee continues to be an issue, as is his lack of production, but he’s Probable and will be out there today. With six teams on bye you may be forced to stick with Clay in your lineup, but if you have another option I would certainly consider going that route.


Already Ruled Out:


Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings – Rudolph underwent surgery for a sports hernia and is expected to miss a minimum of six weeks, and there’s a chance he could be placed on season-ending injured reserve. If you have room, I would hold onto Rudolph, but move forward as if he’s going to be out for 6-8 games.


Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars – Lewis is on the injured reserve/designated for return list because of a high ankle sprain. Unless you have an IR spot and/or are smitten with Lewis, there’s no reason to hold onto him or even stash him away.

Week 4 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Vernon Davis, Rob Gronkowski, Delanie Walker
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 06:30
Path: /college-football/missouri-qb-maty-mauk-runs-south-carolina-coach-steve-spurrier-sidelines

Missouri’s offense was stuck in neutral for most of the game, but the Tigers eventually got on track and upset South Carolina 21-20.

The top play of the game had to be Missouri’s late touchdown to go ahead 21-20 on the scoreboard.


However, a close second has to be quarterback Maty Mauk running into South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier in the second half.

Needless to say, Spurrier didn’t look very happy after this one:

Missouri QB Maty Mauk Runs Into South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier on Sidelines
Post date: Saturday, September 27, 2014 - 23:25
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-coach-anthony-schlegel-bodyslams-fan-field-during-cincinnati-game

Ohio State assistant strength and conditioning coach Anthony Schlegel recorded one of the top plays (and hits) of Week 5 by leveling a fan that ran onto the field during Saturday night’s win over Cincinnati.

Schlegel – a former linebacker at Ohio State – bodyslammed the fan that ran onto the field and promptly escorted him off after the hit.

Best tackle of the weekend?

Ohio State Coach Anthony Schlegel Bodyslams Fan on Field During Cincinnati Game
Post date: Saturday, September 27, 2014 - 21:29
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Georgia Bulldogs, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/georgias-todd-gurley-hurdles-tennessee-defender-sets-career-high

The only reason we won’t say Todd Gurley delivered his signature performance of the season against Tennessee is because it’s impossible to put limitations on the Georgia running back.


What can be said is that Gurley delivered a career-high 208 rushing yards on 28 carries in a hotly contested 35-32 win over Tennessee.


Gurley provided plenty of highlights, not least of which this hurdling of a Tennessee defender:





Gurley had plenty of big plays, including a 51-yard touchdown and two other runs of 20-plus yards, but one of his most impressive runs may have been when he fought for extra yards on fourth-and-3 to convert the first down and seal the game with 40 seconds remaining.


For now, let the memes begin:


Georgia's Todd Gurley Hurdles Tennessee Defender, Sets Career High
Post date: Saturday, September 27, 2014 - 16:53
Path: /nascar/will-conservative-race-strategy-pay-nascars-chasers-dover

Each week, Geoffrey Miller's "Five Things to Watch" will help you catch up on the biggest stories on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' upcoming race weekend. This week, the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup hits its first elimination race at Dover International Speedway. Jimmie Johnson's chance to shine, conservative race strategy, Joey Logano's contract extension and Kasey Kahne's season on a brink highlight the storylines heading into the AAA 500.



Dover will welcome Jimmie Johnson to the Chase spotlight

Jimmie Johnson’s social media channels have proudly staked a claim to Dover International Speedway this week. On Facebook and Twitter, they tout that Dover is just another Johnson abode.


They aren’t wrong.


It’s been seven years since Johnson failed to lead a lap at Dover, and he’s won there six times since 2009. Even the pace car is jealous of how often Johnson leads laps at the one-mile track.


And so, after a far-from-spotlight run in the first two races in the Chase, it won’t be surprising for Johnson to break out Sunday with a win that earns him advancement in the Chase and plenty of “Here comes Jimmie” stories.


It should be expected, really. That’s the kind of thing that just happens when Dover, Jimmie Johnson and the Chase are lumped together in the same weekend.



For most teams, conservative race strategy will pay off

Netting a win in the regular season meant automatic advancement to the NASCAR postseason, putting bold strategy in the forefront of every crew chief’s mind if the time was right. But now, in this survive-and-advance Chase process, conservative play calling seems like the best strategy to get past the first round.


That was on display last week at New Hampshire. Joey Logano won the race largely because he had fresher tires than many of competitors down the stretch — a fruit of risking lost track position on a four-tire pit stop. Kurt Busch lost out on at least six and possibly 10-14 points because his team gambled that a fender rub wouldn’t cut a tire.


The tire blew and Busch smacked the wall, finishing 25 laps down in 36th.


Sunday at Dover should largely be the same thing, if only considering averages that four of the 16 drivers eligible to advance will likely hit trouble during the race. You could argue, too, that the drivers that we can expect to struggle are already sitting toward the bottom of the Chase point standings — meaning those in the middle and top have even less to worry about.


Dover should be mostly about scoring safe points, and not maximum points. We’ll see what teams take that strategy — and those who risk boldly.


Maybe even too boldly.



Chase advancement scenarios for all 16 drivers

The majority of drivers in this edition of the Chase stand to leave Dover still alive in this NASCAR championship experiment. But after the tumultuous second half of last Sunday’s 303-lapper at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, many will feel on edge until the Dover checkered flag.


Fortunately, every driver has a way of guaranteeing advancement (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano already have it locked up thanks to Chase race wins) to the Chase’s second round. Here are those scenarios, according to NASCAR:


• Kevin Harvick: Finish 34th or better; or 35th and at least one lap led; or 36th and most laps led

• Jimmie Johnson: 24th or better; or 25th and at least one lap led; or 26th and most laps led

• Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 21st or better; 22nd and at least one lap led; or 23rd and most laps led

• Jeff Gordon: 14th or better; 15th and at least one lap led; 16th and most laps led

• Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards: 2nd; or 3rd and most laps led

• AJ Allmendinger: 2nd

• Kahne Kahne: 2nd and at least one lap led

• Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola only control their own destiny by winning Sunday at Dover.



Kasey Kahne stands to lose the most with failed advance

There probably won’t be tears, but there might be some tossed driving gloves or a hastily disposed helmet when a driver realizes that his run in the 2014 Chase has come to an end. But beyond that fleeting, in-the-moment emotion, only a few drivers stand to lose much for not advancing in the Chase.


The top of that potential disappointment list would have to be Kasey Kahne.


Kahne, only in the Chase thanks to his last-minute win in the regular season’s next-to-last race, has started the NASCAR postseason in a way very similar to his underwhelming 2014 season as a whole. Kahne has just 52 points in the Chase, good for 11th best among Chase competitors and 17th best in the series as a whole.


Should Kahne fail to advance, his looming contract extension discussions with Hendrick Motorsports may take a hit. He’s only signed through next season in the No. 5 car and is already stuck in an environment as the lowest-performing Hendrick driver with Chase Elliott on the rise in Nationwide and other potential Hendrick targets — Kyle Larson, anyone? — looking more and more attractive to NASCAR’s New York Yankees.


Kahne, who has an average finish of 15.8 in his last five Dover races, guarantees a trip to the second round with a second-place finish.



Joey Logano contract extension sets up Penske Racing for long-term success

It’s been a damn good week for Joey Logano.


The New England native methodically picked off his competitors en route to last week’s win at New Hampshire and secured advancement to the Chase’s second round. Wednesday, his Penske Racing team announced that a new multi-year contract extension had been signed by the 24-year-old driver.


Oh, and the win helped earn him Wednesday.


But even among all of the good for Logano, things were even better for Penske Racing. With its Sprint Cup driver lineup presumably set for the next several years, Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski have tremendous stability to continue building the team’s speed.


Logano, in his own right, has arguably shaped into one of the sport’s five best current drivers. Consider that dating to last summer — 45 starts — Logano has five wins, 18 top-5s and 28 top-10 finishes. He’s finished worse than 20th just seven times. Those top-5 and top-10 numbers are, percentage-wise, on par with Jimmie Johnson’s career average.


They are the type of numbers that we were told to expect when Logano emerged on the scene as a raw 18-year-old. And they are the type of numbers that will carry Logano’s career in Cup a long, long way.



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Each week, Geoffrey Miller's "Five Things to Watch" will help you catch up on the biggest stories on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' upcoming race weekend. This week, the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup hits its first elimination race at Dover International Speedway. Jimmie Johnson's chance to shine, conservative race strategy, Joey Logano's contract extension and Kasey Kahne's season on a brink highlight the storylines heading into the AAA 500.
Post date: Friday, September 26, 2014 - 13:44