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Darren Sproles has been putting on a show for PPR fantasy football teams the first two weeks of the season, but no one seems to be taking notice.
Sure, the New Orleans Saints' all-purpose player not a top-5 back, but Sproles, a guy who was going in the 10-15th rounds in most leagues has been an amazing value for PPR teams so far this year.
Other teams probably snickered and giggled when you drafted him in your league, but you're the one who's laughing now.
But, still, he doesn't seem to be getting the love in weekly rankings. So far he has 15 receptions in the first two games and has found the end zone twice as well. He's been putting up 18-20 points per game in PPR leagues. That's more than 95% of other backs in the league. Including ones that went in the first round (cough, Arian Foster, cough).
Sure, if you look at his classic running back line, he looks terrible. He's only got 6 rushing attempts for 24 yards. A great average per carry, but his rushing numbers aren't what's going to bring home any championship trophies, but it's his receiving that will make him a Top-10 back when the season is said and done.
Right now, Sproles is on pace for 112 receptions. That's up there with the top receivers in the game. The ones that were drafted in the first and second rounds. Sure, he won't have the same yards and touchdowns to show for it, but the way PPR leagues work out, the reception is a much more efficient way to get points.
One reception for no gain, is basically worth the same as one reception for 8 yards. And even if Sproles reception pace trails off (which it probably will), getting a guy with 75 catches in your flex or RB2 spot then you will have a much better chance of walking away with a championship this year.
It seems like guys like Sproles are the ones that are the secret to winning your leagues. He's not the sexy pick, but you can skip going after a second running back in the 3rd and 4th rounds, allowing you to beef up on another wide receiver or top QB, only to pounce on his value in the later rounds. It's time we gave this guy some more fantasy football love.
by Sam Bernstein
Two coaches with more than 225 combined wins find themselves fighting for their jobs this weekend. It is not because they ignored the fact that their players gave away merchandise for tattoos, or that they slipped their players cash when nobody was looking. Mark Richt and Houston Nutt find their jobs in jeopardy for one reason; not winning enough football games.
Mark Richt began his tenure as Georgia’s head coach with a bang. In his second season (2002), the Bulldogs finished as SEC champs with an overall record of 13-1. After several successful seasons and another SEC Championship to his name, Richt was hailed by many as the next Vince Dooley. So why has he found himself under the gun recently? Georgia has seen its win total decline for three consecutive seasons, and a 10-6 defeat to the University of Central Florida in last years’ Liberty Bowl did little to stop the criticism from mounting in Athens.
Despite the program’s struggles, Richt was given the full support of the University and returned to coach the Bulldogs this year. However, Georgia’s schedule has not made Richt’s job any easier. After getting beaten by national title contender Boise State in their opening game, Georgia had to turn around and face SEC East favorites South Carolina. Georgia displayed a much livelier brand of football against the Gamecocks, but still found themselves on the losing end of a 45-42 score. Richt was able to buy himself a week’s grace with a 59-0 win over Coastal Carolina last weekend, but his real judgment day comes this Saturday when he takes his Bulldogs to Oxford.
Similarly to Richt at Georgia, Houston Nutt experienced early success at Ole Miss after taking over for Ed Orgeron in 2008. The Rebels posted matching 9-4 records in Nutt’s first two seasons, and brought two Cotton Bowl trophies back to campus. However, experts did not have to wait very long to realize Nutt’s luck at Ole Miss was ephemeral. In the opening game of the 2010 season, the Rebels suffered a shocking home loss to Division I-AA Jacksonville State. Ole Miss never fully recovered from this game, and went on to finish the season with an ugly 4-8 record.
Nutt faced rumors about his job security in the off-season, but he retained his position for the 2011 season. When Ole Miss lost their season opener to BYU, Nutt began hearing the boo-birds. However, the game that drew the ire of the Ole Miss fans was last weekend’s drubbing at Vanderbilt. The Rebels had won the previous week against Southern Illinois, but failed to bring both their playbooks and effort with them to Nashville. Ole Miss didn’t just lose to James Franklin’s squad, they were thrashed. Vanderbilt, long thought of as the joke of the SEC, intercepted five Ole Miss passes, and dominated the Rebels in every facet of the game. Following the defeat, Nutt said “There hasn't been much sleep lately.” If Ole Miss loses again this weekend, you can bet that Nutt will be having plenty more nights of tossing and turning.'
Despite their recent struggles, both Bulldog and Rebel fans must remember that their teams only have one conference loss. A win for Richt and Nutt will have them dreaming again about titles in their respective divisions. However, a loss will leave both coaches with a far darker thought; unemployment.
Jerome Simpson apparently really loves smoking weed. Or maybe he's a pot dealer on the side. It's really hard to tell with Bengals players these days.
Cincinnati police intercepted a package that was sent from California to Simpson's house that contained two and a half pounds of marijuana. When the cops showed up to search the house they found six more pounds of pot inside the house along with Bengals fourth-year tackle Anthony Collins and an unamed woman.
So why would Jerome Simpson, an up-and-coming star receiver in the NFL have this much weed in his house? Well, the obvious reasons are simple: He loves smoking pot. Or, he loves the money he makes from selling pot.
But there's only one true answer to the question of "why would an NFL receiver (even if he's on the Bengals) take the risk of selling pot?"
And that answer is: Because Jerome Simpson is an idiot.
Does he know how hard it is to get into the NFL? And is he also aware of how much money NFL players make? Maybe someone should show him one of his paychecks. Because the one big score he would get from selling 9 pounds of pot would be somewhere in the vicinity of $50-60 thousand dollars. And he has to split that with Collins and all the other participants, so his share will be what, $10,000. How does this make remotely any sense?
Jerome Simpson could make that much money with a few endorsements. And one of the major upsides of doing a few commercials is that the police won't come to your house and arrest you after you do them. And the NFL won't fine and suspend you, either. It's pretty much win-win.
The other upside of the whole "endorsements-instead-of-illegal-drug-running" is that you don't have the stress and worry of wondering when you're going to get caught (because most of the time, you're going to get caught).
Simpson was an up-and-coming star. He finished last year very strong and had continued his great play this season. Maybe it's a Bengals issue, since Cinci leads the league's locker rooms in arrests. Maybe this is how they go about hazing young players. Instead of taping them to a goal post, they make them get arrested for doing something extremely stupid and reckless.
Either way, a young player with a bright future is now a young player who might go to jail.
After three weeks of the college football season, we haven’t seen much movement in the Top 25. Oregon and Florida State have a loss, but both of those defeats were to other Top 10 teams. Notre Dame losing twice in games the Irish should have won was interesting, and TCU losing at Baylor was not shocking. However there have been some great stories a little below the radar.
Most surprising 3-0 start?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Iowa State is the most surprising 3–0 team in the nation in large part because the Cyclones have faced so much adversity in each game. They have trailed on 10 different occasions in their three games — three times in a 20–19 win over Northern Iowa, five times in a triple-overtime win over Iowa and twice in last Friday’s night’s 24–20 victory at UConn. Iowa State could easily have lost any (or even all) of the three games, but Paul Rhoads’ team has had a knack for making the big play at the key moment. And it’s important to note that ISU is one of the few 3–0 teams that has already defeated two BCS conference opponents, joining North Carolina, USC, Vanderbilt, Stanford and LSU. We obviously don’t know what is in store for this team as the season progresses, but Steele Jantz and the Cyclones are showing signs early that they could surprise in the Big 12.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I’m going to go a little off the national radar with my pick and take FIU. I thought the Golden Panthers would be Sun Belt title contenders, but did not expect them to start the year 3-0. FIU has an impressive road win over Louisville and beat UCF 17-10 last Saturday. The Golden Panthers have been solid on defense this season, holding opponents to 14 points a game. The offense is led by receiver T.Y. Hilton – one of the top all-purpose threats in college football – and former Mississippi State quarterback Wesley Carroll. The schedule sets up favorably for FIU in the next couple of weeks and there’s another chance for a BCS conference win with Duke on Oct. 1. The Sun Belt doesn’t get much attention, but coach Mario Cristobal has done a great job building the program and they could finish in the bottom half of the top 25 at the end of the season.
The Vanderbilt Commodores are 3-0? With a first-year coach? That’s impressive. Coach James Franklin talked the talk all offseason, then went out and walked the walk — with a statement SEC win over Ole Miss, a BCS conference win over Connecticut and a cupcake win over Elon in the opener. The 'Dores defense has been especially impressive, scoring a TD in each of the first three games and logging an SEC-best 10 INTs — led by cornerback Trey Wilson’s three picks and two TDs. Back-to-back road trips at South Carolina and Alabama will bring VU back down to Earth. But after the first three games, there’s already bowl talk in Nashville. I didn’t see that coming.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Iowa State is probably the most surprising 3-0, but I wanted to give a tip of the cap to San Diego State. It’s not shocking that Ronnie Hillman and crew won their first three games individually, but the surprise is in the fact that the Aztecs’ program just does not do this very often. The last time SDSU started 3-0 was 1981, when coach Doug Scovil led the Aztecs to a sixth-place finish in the WAC. New coach Rocky Long and his defense had to face completely different challenges in running quarterback Trent Steelman of Army (in an early east coast game) and then the passing game of Marshall Lobbestael and Washington State. It will get tougher this week when the Aztecs face former coach Brady Hoke and Michigan, but SDSU deserves some credit for the solid start.
The only thing worse than Ole Miss replacing the famed Colonel with the new and more politically correct “Rebel Black Bear” is their on-field performance against Vanderbilt this past weekend.
When Ole Miss decided to replace the Ragin’ Cajun Ed Orgeron with Houston Nutt, it appeared they made the right hire. At the very least, Nutt helped Ole Miss win the press conference.
From 2001-2007 as the head coach at Arkansas, Nutt won nine or more games three different times and competed for an SEC Championship. Coach Nutt is extremely familiar with the SEC and is a four star coach in our system. What is there not to like, right?
Today, a group known as Forward Rebels put out a full page color ad in several Mississippi newspapers calling for a change at Ole Miss. This group is focusing on changes at the administrative level and not the coaching staff, but obviously the Ole Miss fan base realizes that something is amiss in Oxford.
Here at CBTN we like to keep things focused on the coaching level, so let’s take a closer look at Coach Nutt to see if the change the Rebels need is a new head coach.
Let’s dig into Houston Nutt’s numbers since 2001;
From 05-07 Nutt had Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis in the backfield (three NFL starting running backs) and from 08-09, Nutt had Jevon Snead at quarterback (one of the nation’s top QB’s from 08-09).
Every coach is better when they have superstars, but good coaches don’t just win when they have special talent. Given the talent level of McFadden and Jones alone, you could argue that Nutt didn’t win nearly big enough.
So, what do the above numbers tell us about Houston Nutt?
From our perspective, they tell us if you hire Houston Nutt, you better be prepared for the roller coaster ride he likes to take programs on. If he gets the right talent and the right offensive coordinator (see here for more on the Malzahn effect), he is bound to put up a good year or two. However, if he doesn’t have the right talent or the right offensive coordinator, he is bound to have some rough years.
For example, in his first two years at Ole Miss, Houston Nutt was 18-8 with Jevon Snead at the quarterback position. Since Snead graduated, Nutt is 5-10 with some really embarrassing losses (see Jacksonville State 2010 and Vanderbilt 2010 & 2011).
So, should Houston Nutt be on the hot seat at Ole Miss?
From our perspective, it depends?
If Ole Miss fans and alumni are content with a few good years mixed in with a few bad, than Nutt is your man. If Ole Miss fans want a little more out of their program, they are going to have to look beyond Houston Nutt. At this point, the numbers on Houston Nutt do a pretty solid job of telling his story as a head coach.
Before we make any specific recommendations for who might be worth considering, we want to define the Ole Miss job.
Looking at our proprietary CBTN Job Ranking, Ole Miss is the 26th best head coaching job in the country. The bad news about this number is that there are eight other SEC jobs ahead of Ole Miss and four are in the SEC West.
So, this is a good job in a great conference, but it certainly comes with its challenges. There are only three teams in the SEC (Kentucky, Mississippi St., and Vanderbilt) that have had lower average recruiting rankings over the last decade than Ole Miss. This isn’t saying Ole Miss doesn’t have talent. They just don’t have talent like Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, and Florida have talent.
Let’s consider this as well:
For some comparison, since 2004, Alabama has only played 13.33% of its game with inferior talent (only 2 since Saban arrived).
This is all to say that while Ole Miss is an attractive job it is not attractive enough to lure a Gary Patterson or Chris Petersen from their current jobs or an Urban Meyer from the ESPN booth.
So, what kind of coach does Ole Miss need? Looking at the data and information above, Ole Miss is not going to win by lining up and trying to out-physical the rest of the SEC. They simply don’t have the horses to do this. They need a coach who can out-think his peers and take a solid talent base and help it overachieve, not through “motivation” or “energy” (see failed attempt with Ed Orgeron) but through better schemes and preparation.
With this in mind, we are going to give the Rebels three names to consider: Gus Malzahn, Mike Leach, and Paul Petrino.
Malzahn: This guy is the extremely obvious choice. He knows the conference, region, and has put up video game numbers as an OC at Arkansas, Tulsa, and Auburn. Additionally, he wants to become a head coach. You always take a risk with a coordinator, but given his numbers, Malzahn is well worth the risk.
Leach: Does Mike Leach come with some baggage (read his book to find out how ridiculous the baggage is)? Yes he does. This “baggage” is the reason Mike Leach would consider taking the Ole Miss job. Since 2004, Ole Miss has won 55.88% of its games with superior talent and 27.27% of its games with equivalent talent. These numbers are the reason the program has been so mediocre. They don’t win enough of the games they should win. From 2004-2009 at Texas Tech, Mike Leach won 78.38% of his games with superior talent and 72.73% of his games with equivalent talent. This guy can flat out coach, and Ole Miss would be a perfect venue for him to reenter college football and resurrect the Rebel program.
Paul Petrino: If you are wondering why Illinois is looking like a respectable program once again, look right past Head Coach Ron Zook to Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino. Since arriving in Champagne last year, the fighting Illini have improved their scoring offense by 10 points and have once again become a relevant Big Ten program. Like his brother Bobby, Paul is not going to win any beauty contests or PR awards, but he is going to help you win football games. Hiring a coordinator brings a certain amount of risk with it, but like with Malzahn, we believe the numbers make the risk one worth taking.
We don’t know anything about the Ole Miss AD, board, or administration. Maybe they are the problem. However, from looking at the numbers, they also have a little bit of a coaching problem if they are looking to have an elite-level program. Houston Nutt is a good coach in a lot of ways, but he is not the guy to take Ole Miss beyond mediocrity.
Other CBTN Content:
Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall made waves by saying he was going to target Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s injured ribs and running back Felix Jones’ sore shoulder when the Redskins play the Cowboys on Monday night:
“I want a chance to put my helmet on whatever’s hurt,” Hall said. “Romo’s ribs, I’m going to be asking for some corner blitzes. If I know Felix Jones’ shoulder’s hurt, I’m not going to cut him. I’m definitely going to try to hit him up high, so that’s just part of it.
“If you know something’s wrong with an opponent, you’re going to try to target in on that. We’re going to try to definitely get as many hats on that team as possible.”
Was Hall wrong in saying that? Athlon Sports editors weigh in.
DeAngelo's trash talking is refreshing because the Redskins and Cowboys are supposed to hate each other. And in this day and age of vanilla soundbites and press conferences full of the same trite cliches (I'm looking at you Eli Manning), it's nice to hear a little truth before a big game against division rivals. I don't think we need to go all the way back to the days when Bronco Nagurski would poke someone's eye out underneath a pile of players, but a little hatred within a division just makes for a better football. Hall's quotes serve one real purpose: To make Romo hesitate for just a split second longer than normal or make him a little more apt to throw a ball away if he's hearing footsteps. Hall has one sack in his career (and it's actually just two half sacks put together), so he's trying to get into his head much more than he's trying to go for his ribs. But in the end, it makes this match-up much more fun for the fans.
DeAngelo Hall is not going to hit anybody. Those quotes will be the hardest hits he lays on the Cowboys all week. Now if the late, great Sean Taylor threatened to go after Tony Romo and Felix Jones, then I’d be concerned. Hall was stating the obvious. It’s like a boxer opening up a cut above the eye of his opponent and then hitting that eye the rest of the night. Obvious weakness will be exploited in the NFL. But one thing Hall forgot is that hitting isn’t a part of the new NFL; Roger Goodell will be watching and the refs will be quick with their whistles and flags. What Hall really did was bring unnecessary scrutiny to his Redskins teammates who will actually be hitting — because it won’t be DeAngelo putting his “hat” on any Cowboys.
I have no problem with DeAngelo Hall’s comments that he plans to go after not only Tony Romo’s ribs but also Felix Jones’ shoulder when the Redskins and Cowboys meet on Monday night. Hall is simply playing mind games with his opponent, trying to give the injured Cowboys something extra to think about. It will be up to the officials to determine if Hall does something malicious; they can’t and shouldn’t penalize him for a legal hit to Romo’s ribs or Jones’ shoulder. Football is a very rough sport. If players choose to play injured, they have to realize that their opponents will try to take advantage of those injuries in any way possible.
It is morally, ethically and professionally reprehensible. But you are simply being ignorant if you think these types things aren't heavily talked about and possibly even rewarded in meeting and locker rooms on a regular basis. Hall is just dumb enough to let it go public — which still actually wouldn't be that big of a deal if he was more than just a mediocre NFL cornerback. It must be a lot easier to run your mouth when Dez Bryant and/or Miles Austin might not be on the field.
Conceptually, I have no problem with what Hall said. Finding weakness and exploiting it? That’s Football 101. It’s a harsh NFL reality that fans may prefer not to think about, but injured players are vulnerable to extra attention from their opponents. My problem is that he was dumb enough to come out and say it. The league is hyper-sensitive to injuries, particularly to its star players, and Hall’s comments make the Skins vulnerable to personal foul flags that might not otherwise fly. After putting the refs on notice that he’s gunning for Romo, Hall had better tread extra lightly around the Dallas QB, or he’ll find his wallet a little lighter come Monday.
I have no problem whatsoever with DeAngelo Hall’s comments on going after injured Cowboys. He did not advocate anything dirty. The controversial Redskins’ cornerback just said he would hit Dallas quarterback Tony Romo in his injured ribs – that’s football. Hall also said that he would not “cut” running back Felix Jones, instead wanting to hit him high in his injured shoulder. Once again, that’s football. As long as he is not chopping anyone’s knees or going to the head, I applaud Hall for being honest. If he thinks he’s tough enough to go roughing up opponents — while also making himself a target for Dallas blockers — then more power to DeAngelo Hall.
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
The question posed recently whether Derek Jeter should be considered as part of the Yankees’ Mt. Rushmore piqued my interest. Not really the Jeter-Yankees part, but the idea that teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
Houston Astros Mt. Rushmore
The franchise was born in Houston in 1962 as the Colt 45s. The name change to the Astros coincided with the move into the nation’s first indoor stadium, the Astrodome, in 1965. The team’s attendance floundered in old Colt Stadium — last in the National League — but fans immediately fell in love with the comforts of the Astrodome as Houston was second in the NL in attendance in 1965 despite a ninth-place team. In this the 50th season for the Astros, they are already assured of the worst finish in team history. But for 24 seasons, the Astros have finished above .500 with another four seasons at the breakeven mark. Houston won its first division title in 1980 thanks to a playoff game win versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team won its first postseason series in 2004 and reached the World Series for the only time in 2005. From 1994-2006, the Astros finished in first or second place in every season save a fourth-place hiccup in 2000. The Houston Mt. Rushmore may not be as star-studded as many teams, but Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio stack up with most teams’ top two. After the two Killer Bs, the choosing gets rather dicey.
Houston fans love that Larry Andersen trade. Back in August of 1990, the Boston Red Sox were so stoked to get to the playoffs and thought Andersen provided the missing piece. So much so, they were willing to trade a prospect named Jeff Bagwell. Smooth. About 15 years later, the stocky first baseman was concluding his stellar career in Houston. Bagwell is first or second on just about every major offensive category in team history. He was Rookie of the Year in 1991, MVP in 1994 and had four other top-10 MVP finishes, including second in 1999. Having spent his entire career in Houston, Bags has 449 home runs and more than 1,500 runs and RBIs. Excluding the shortened 1994 and 1995 seasons, for 14 years Bagwell averaged more than 157 games per season. His number was retired in August of 2007.
Along with Bagwell, Biggio was the face of the franchise during its most successful era. Biggio arrived in Houston as an undersized, athletic catcher. He was converted to second base, and made back-to-back All-Star teams as a catcher and second baseman. He earned four Gold Gloves at his new position and made seven All-Star teams total. The second baseman finished fourth and fifth in MVP voting in 1997 and ’98. Biggio is one of 15 players with 3,000 hits with one team, and one of 10 of them to accomplish it while spending his entire career in one place. He ranks fifth all-time — in all of baseball — in doubles with 668, and has the most of all right-handed hitters. He started more than 250 games at catcher, second base and centerfield for the Astros.
Dierker made his debut with the Colt 45s at age 17 in 1964 and by May of the next season had joined the rotation where he would stay through the 1976 season. Dierker won 137 games for Houston and tossed 25 shutouts. He was the franchise’s first 20-game winner in 1969 and made two All-Star teams. His effect on the baseball community goes far beyond his playing career. First as a broadcaster, then as manager, Dierker was a part of the franchise for more than 35 years. He managed the team for just five seasons (1997-2001), but won four division titles. He couldn’t get over the postseason hump as his teams won just two of 14 postseason games in those four years.
The Big Puma may be enjoying a resurgence with division rival St. Louis in 2011, but he established himself among Houston greats over a 12-year career. He ranks first in on-base percentage, second in slugging and is in the top 3 in runs, total bases, home runs and RBIs. A popular member of the Astros, who along with Bagwell and Biggio, formed a trio known as the Killer Bs. Berkman was vital to the team’s postseason success in 2004-05. Over those two seasons, he batted .340 in 26 postseason games — including .385 in the 2005 World Series — with six home runs and 26 RBIs.
Having spent his first 12 seasons in Houston, Cesar Cedeno made four All-Star teams and won five Gold Gloves from 1972-76.
After an outstanding 13-year playing career in Houston, Jose Cruz spent another 13 years as first base coach. With 1,937 hits for Houston, Cruz had his number retired by the club in 1992.
With 11 seasons in Houston, Joe Niekro leads in all-time wins with 144 and finished second and fourth in Cy Young voting in 1979-80.
During the first eight seasons of Roy Oswalt’s tenure in Houston, the righthander averaged 16 wins and only eight losses while finishing in the top 5 in Cy Young voting five times.
A tragic stroke during the season in 1980 sidelined J.R. Richard at the height of his prime.
Nolan Ryan became the game’s first million dollar player with the Astros, but was with the team just nine years. He had two ERA titles and two strikeout titles with Houston. In six postseason starts, the Ryan Express had a 0.898 WHIP.
In nine full seasons from 1965-73, Jim Wynn, aka the Toy Cannon, averaged 24 homers, 75 RBIs and 87 runs in the very unfriendly (for hitters) Astrodome.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com
Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:
It’s only Week 3 of the fantasy football season and there have already been a ton of huge injuries and potential busts. Yet every Sunday morning when you check in before kickoff, all you get from your fantasy site is a bunch of bland match-up projections and quotes from that player’s local paper. Forget that. Your site should tell the truth about your highly drafted players. Here’s what we think it would look like if you got honest evaluations on your best players.
1. Chris Johnson
Honest Fantasy Advice: "Smart move drafting a guy who just inked a huge contract extension. That 2,000 yard season is still in play as long as there are 2,000 games left on this year's Titans schedule.
2. Arian Foster
Honest Fantasy Advice: "Was he coming off a flukey year? Check. Did he battle lingering hamstring issues all pre-season? Check. Are you a moron for taking him first overall and expecting him to replicate last season? Check."
3. Aaron Hernandez
Honest Fantasy Advice: "Remember when you were like, 'Should I take Gronkowski or Hernandez?' during your draft? Well, you chose wrong.
4. Peyton Hillis
Honest Fantasy Advice: "The Madden Curse strikes again. Also, the Curse of the Running Back Who Needs 37 Carries to Get 100 Yards strikes again."
5. Peyton Manning
Honest Fantasy Advice: "You really impressed yourself on draft day, huh? 'Look at me, I'm getting a top five quarterback in the 9th round! He'll never miss a start!' Now you're alternating between Tarvaris Jackson and Alex Smith while waiting on Terrelle Pryor's eligibility.
6. Michael Vick
Honest Fantasy Advice: We totally get why you'd take him so high. Nothing's more exciting than figuring out when Vick will take off next on a wild scramble and which type of injury it will result in.
7. Jamaal Charles
Honest Fantasy Advice: "Sure hope that league entry fee wasn't over 50 bucks.
8. Frank Gore
Honest Fantasy Advice: So far, so good. We'll just leave this here for now so it's ready for you when you need it: Gore will be sidelined for 2 to 4 weeks with inflammation in his knee.
9. Dez Bryant
Honest Fantasy Advice: He's unstoppable when he's on the field. No other wide receiver in the league possesses his rare combination of size, speed and injuries.
10. Marshawn Lynch
Honest Fantasy Football Advice: "Come on, dude, he plays for the Seahawks."
--By Saul Hutson
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Here are previews and predictions for the 10 best college football games this weekend.
Oklahoma State (+4) at Texas A&M
The winner of Saturday’s showdown between the Cowboys and Aggies will emerge as serious threat to challenge Oklahoma for supremacy in the Big 12. Oklahoma State, which edged A&M last season, 38–35, in Stillwater, has been nearly unstoppable on offense. The Pokes rank first in the nation in passing offense, second in total offense and third in scoring offense. Texas A&M’s numbers aren’t quite as gaudy through two games, but this team is also loaded on the offensive side of the ball, with a veteran quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) and a deep set of skill position players. The key to game will be on defense: The team that comes up with a key stop in the fourth quarter will have a great chance to win. This could be one of the most entertaining games of the 2011 season.
Texas A&M 44, Oklahoma State 37
LSU (-5.5) at West Virginia
ESPN’s College GameDay will make its first-ever trip to West Virginia for what figures to be a wild night in Morgantown. Both teams are 3–0 and both are coming off impressive wins; WVU held on to beat Maryland, 37–31, on the road, while LSU was dominant on the defensive end in its 19–6 win over Mississippi State in Starkville. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is putting up outstanding numbers operating Dana Holgorsen’s Texas Tech-inspired attack, but he will be facing by far his stiffest test. LSU boasts a ferocious defensive line and arguably the best set of cornerbacks in the nation in Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne. This won’t be easy, but LSU should prevail as long as it doesn’t turn the ball over too many times.
LSU 24, West Virginia 17
Arkansas (+11.5) at Alabama
We’ll find out if a great defense (Alabama) can stop a great offense (Arkansas) Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Last year, the Razorbacks threw for 357 yards vs. Bama in Fayetteville but lost the game, 24–20, due to two fourth quarter Ryan Mallet interceptions. Taking care of the ball will be of paramount importance for Bobby Petrino’s club. Alabama, as expected, is putting up great numbers on defense and has allowed only two touchdowns in three games. Offensively, Bama is leaning on its one-two punch at tailback of Trent Richardson (105.0 ypg) and Eddie Lacy (101.3 ypg). To beat Arkansas, however, the Tide will have to make some plays in the passing game. AJ McCarron was solid in his only true test this season, completing 19-of-31 for 163 yards without an interception at Penn State in Week 2. If he can duplicate that performance, Alabama should win the game.
Alabama 31, Arkansas 24
Florida State (+2) at Clemson
It’s always dangerous to jump on the Clemson bandwagon, but the Tigers looked very good against Auburn Saturday afternoon (though who hasn’t looked good against Auburn?). The offense is loaded with speed, and sophomore Tajh Boyd looks to be an ideal triggerman for Chad Morris’ attack. Florida State must regroup after the 23–13 loss to Oklahoma. The Seminoles still have a lot to play for — they remain the team to beat in the ACC — but their national title hopes took a huge hit. Quarterback EJ Manuel is questionable this weekend after being forced out of the OU game with a shoulder injury. If he is able to play, the Seminoles should get back on the winning track.
Florida State 28, Clemson 21
USC (+2.5) at Arizona State
USC, the only team in the nation with three wins vs. BCS conference opponents, hits the road for the first time this season in a game that figures to go a long way in determining the winner of the first-ever Pac-12 South Division title. USC’s probation will prevent it from playing in the league title game, but you know Lane Kiffin’s club would still love to claim a division crown. Arizona State let a great opportunity slip away Saturday night at Illinois, losing a tough 17–14 game to the Illini despite giving up only 240 yards of offense. The Sun Devils, who beat Missouri in overtime the previous week, must now turn their attention to league play; this date with USC begins a string of nine straight Pac-12 games. The key for ASU will be to slow down the Trojans’ outstanding pass-catch duo of Matt Barkley and Robert Woods, the nation’s leader with 11 receptions per game.
Arizona State 27, USC 24
North Carolina (+6) at Georgia Tech
It’s only been three games, but Georgia Tech has been one of the more impressive teams in the nation in 2011. The Yellow Jackets are 3–0 and are putting up insane numbers on offense. They lead the nation in rushing offense, total offense and scoring offense, thanks in large part to their 66-point, 768-yard effort against Kansas last weekend. Georgia Tech’s option attack worked to near perfection, producing 604 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 50 carries. North Carolina, too, is 3–0, with wins at home over James Madison, Rutgers and Virginia. Bryn Renner, the Tar Heels’ first-year starter at quarterback, is completing an amazing 81.4 percent of his passes, but his TD-to-INT ratio of 5-to-4 must improve. UNC’s rushing defense, as usual, is stout, but Tech’s option will be very tough to slow down.
Georgia Tech 31, North Carolina 24
Notre Dame (-6.5) at Pittsburgh
The Irish are 0–2 in games in which they have totaled over 500 yards of offense and 1–0 in games in which they have less than 300 yards. The key: Limiting turnovers. In the losses to South Florida and Michigan, the Irish had a combined 10 turnovers, several in the red zone and several at inopportune times. They still turned it over three times in the win against Michigan State, but two of three were around midfield and the third was in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand. Pittsburgh is in a fragile state emotionally after collapsing last week at Iowa. The Panthers led 27–10 in the fourth quarter but Iowa scored three times in the final 10 minutes to claim a 31–27 win.
Notre Dame 31, Pittsburgh 20
Vanderbilt (+16) at South Carolina
Vanderbilt’s 3–0 start has been fueled by its defense. Neither UConn nor Ole Miss — Vanderbilt’s last two victims — are very skilled on offense, but the Dores were downright dominant in both games. Those two teams averaged only 213.5 yards of offense and combined to score one offensive touchdown against Vanderbilt. The Commodores lead the nation with 10 interceptions and have scored on a pick-six in each of their first three games. The key against South Carolina is trying to find a way to keep Marcus Lattimore in check. He has been a beast in 2011, with an average of 29 carries and 178 yards in the Gamecocks’ three wins. Vanderbilt’s run defense has been stout, but the Dores have yet to see a back like Lattimore.
South Carolina 28, Vanderbilt 13
California (+1.5) at Washington
The Golden Bears are quietly off to a nice start in 2011, with wins over Fresno State, Colorado (on the road) and Presbyterian. Cal is getting solid play from quarterback Zach Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, and the Bears feature one of the best unknown big-play threats in the nation in sophomore receiver Keenan Allen. Jeff Tedford’s club will look to attack a Washington defense that has really struggled in ’11. The Huskies rank 108th in total defense and 107th in scoring defense after giving up 27 points to Eastern Washington, 32 to Hawaii and 51 to Nebraska. The UW pass defense has been especially bad, allowing well over 300 yards per game. Look for Maynard and Allen to shine.
California 31, Washington 27
NC State (+7.5) at Cincinnati (Thu)
These two teams are both 2–1, with three of the four victims coming from the FCS ranks and the fourth, Akron, among the worst teams in the FBS. Both teams failed their only test, with Cincinnati losing at Tennessee, 45–23, and NC State losing at Wake Forest, 34–27. There is still a lot of football to be played, but with NC State struggling and Russell Wilson thriving at Wisconsin, Tom O’Brien’s decision to let Wilson walk isn’t going to sit well with most of the Wolfpack faithful.
Cincinnati 30, NC State 20
Last week — 5–5 (5–5 vs. spread)
Season — 18–12 (14–15–1 vs. spread)
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The Big East was dealt a surprising blow to the stability of the conference when Pittsburgh and Syracuse applied and was accepted as a member of the ACC. Although both schools would like to join the ACC sooner rather than later, the Big East plans on holding them to the league’s withdrawal policy and in the conference until 2014.
Although the Big East isn’t on its deathbed, there are concerns about its future and long-term stability. With the departure of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, seven teams remain in the conference – West Virginia, South Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Rutgers, Louisville and TCU (joining next year).
Rutgers and Connecticut are reportedly very interested in joining the ACC and after adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh, it seems to be only a matter of time before the conference expands to 16. Additionally, West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati and TCU are rumored targets of Big 12 expansion.
Although there are concerns about the future of the league, the Big East can’t continue as a seven-team conference forever. Expect the conference to pursue expansion over the next couple of months to get back to a 10 or 12-team league.
With the Big East needing to invite teams to secure its future, which teams could be targets of expansion?
Air Force: The conference is reportedly considering inviting the Falcons as a football-only member. Air Force has a national following and would be a solid addition to the conference. However, it’s an odd geographic fit and doesn’t substantially increase the Big East’s standing nationally.
Army: The Black Knights tried conference membership before and it didn’t go so well. Army was a dreadful 13-67 in Conference USA from 1998-2004. If Navy and Air Force joined, perhaps the Black Knights could be enticed. Also, coach Rich Ellerson has upgraded the football program during his tenure and it’s very likely Army would be a lot more competitive in a conference this time around.
East Carolina: The Pirates have already expressed their interest in making a conference shift, applying to join the Big East on Tuesday. Although some reports have already nixed East Carolina as an expansion candidate, the Pirates should be high on the priority list. East Carolina ranked No. 50 in attendance last year, which is higher than Rutgers, Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida and Syracuse. With BCS conference money flowing into the program, the Pirates could be a solid long-term solution.
Houston: The Cougars are under consideration for Big 12 expansion, but the Big East may end up being the more likely destination. Houston would be an attractive market for the conference to tap into and would give TCU a Big East rival. Very few cons for the conference to invite the Cougars and would be a good pick to help rebuild the Big East.
Memphis: The Tigers have long been interested in joining the Big East. This would be an invite to strengthen the conference for basketball purposes, as the football team is currently one of the worst in college football and the facilities are in need of repair.
Navy: Similar to Air Force, the Big East may invite the Midshipmen as a football-only member. Navy would be a good geographic fit and has a national following. The Midshipmen have been very competitive in recent years, winning at least eight games a season since 2003. Would the Midshipmen want to give up their football independence? If Air Force and Army say no to the Big East, Navy might not be interested.
Notre Dame: An extreme longshot. The Irish aren’t giving up independence, but the Big East can at least try. Would be a huge upset if Notre Dame joined the Big East for football.
SMU: If the Big 12 doesn’t call, would the Mustangs be interested in a spot in the Big East? If the conference has to turn outside of the BCS conferences for expansion candidates, a team in the Dallas market makes a lot of sense.
Temple: The Big East kicked out the Owls after the 2004 season, but Temple has improved its football product in recent years. The Owls would get the Big East into the Philadelphia market, but has struggled to fill Lincoln Financial Field on Saturdays.
UCF: Unless the Big East invites Boise State or BYU, the Knights are probably the most competitive and capable team for contending Big East title right now. Would South Florida block UCF from joining? Although the Bulls may not like the idea of having another Florida school in the conference, the Big East could run out of options.
Villanova: The Wildcats appeared close to joining the Big East earlier this year and are already a member in basketball. The football program is competing at the FCS level, but would help the conference get into the Philadelphia market. Villanova would likely need some time to build its program if it makes the move from the FCS level, and would not help the Big East from a national perspective much right now.
The long-running soap opera "All My Children" came to an end after 40 years of being on the air. Which reminded us of this classic video of the New York Jets Antonio Cromartie trying to remember all his children.
I know nothing about this over-the-top soap, other than it was probably poorly written and overly dramatized up until the very end. It was sappy drama for people who had nothing to do during the day. Which is fine, because football is sappy drama (if you don't think football can be sappy, check out the Super Bowl pre-game show) for guys who have nothing to do on Sundays.
It's clear that these two things have nothing to do with each other, but does anyone need a reason to watch this video? Have a happy Friday.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a fantasy star. Who would've expected to read that after two weeks of football? (Not me. And if you say you did, you're either a liar, or the biggest Buffalo Bills homer in the universe.) (Or you're Ryan's mom.)
But this is where we are. The Harvard grad who all the pundits love seems to be the real deal--for now, anyway.
And while I am not coming out and saying that Fitzpatrick will rival Tom Brady in 2011. But for this one week, he is a top-3 fantasy football quarterback. Here's why:
First, let's make it clear that both Tom Brady and Drew Brees are ranked ahead of Fitz. Brady is a monster who you should never sit ever. Even if he's in a coma, you should still consider starting him.
And this week Drew Brees is a must-start in what looks to be a shootout against Houston. Brees should be the second-ranked quarterback in week 3.
But guess who's next: Ryan Fitzpatrick. Before you think this is fantasy insanity, let's look at his situation and dive into the numbers.
What's the best situation a fantasy football quarterback can be in? In an ideal world, he's a good QB on a bad team, with just enough of a running game to not take away from his numbers, but just enough to keep the defense honest--who also happens to be playing a team with a great offense and a porous defense. And that's what you have with Ryan Fitzpatrick in week 3.
So far this season, the Pats have given up to 416 yards to the lowly Chad Henne of the Dolphins, and 378 yards in the air to the Chargers Philip Rivers. Those are numbers that even a Harvard Elementary grad would be able to surmise as "bad."
The Pats and Brady will be putting up numbers at will against the Bills defense, which means Fitzpatrick will be throwing all day long against a suspect Pats D.
Fred Davis proved last week that he still has a little left in the tank, which means the Pats won't be able to just defend the pass, leaving Fitzpatrick with a chance to do some damage.
Could it get any better from a fantasy perspective? The only negatives are that Stevie Johnson has a bum groin and Roscoe Parrish is out for the season. But Fitzpatrick's repore with David Nelson gives me confidence that the offense won't miss a beat.
I have him ranked ahead of these fantasy stalwarts with the reason in parenthesis:
Aaron Rodgers (The Packers-Bears game is one of those rivalries that is too hard to predict)
Philip Rivers (The Chargers will be ahead fromt he getgo, and will go run-heavy in the second half)
Matthew Stafford (He'll have a good game, but not as good as Fitzpatrick)
Cam Newton (One Sunday he won't throw for 400 yards, right? Right?)
Matt Schaub (Another solid play, but emergence of Ben Tate will eat into his numbers)
Michael Vick and Tony Romo (Injuries too much of a concern to play them this week)
Ryan Fitzpatrick Very Optimistic Prediction for Week 3: 355 Yards Passing, 3 Touchdowns, 1 INT (Hey, I said I was optimistic.)
Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.
--By Pete Thomas
Dale Earnhardt Jr. unveiled his 2012 Diet Mountain Dew paint scheme — pictured top right — on Wednesday via Facebook, rolling out a predominantly silver Chevy with Mountain Dew’s familiar green, red and black accents.
AMP Energy, co-primary sponsor of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 car following the 2007 season, will take on a reduced branding role next season. PepsiCo, whose contract with Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 88 teams runs through 2012, is the parent company of both AMP and Mountain Dew.
“The story is really about opportunity,” George Cox, Mountain Dew brand manager, told the Sports Business Journal. “With Dew, Dale and NASCAR there’s this awesome marriage. Dale is the embodiment of the person we’re trying to target with Diet Dew. We wanted to tap into that equity Dew has in NASCAR and put it into overdrive with Dale.”
The National Guard is expected to return for 18 races on Earnhardt’s car next season.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
Jaguars' fans won’t have to wait long for the Blaine Gabbert era to begin in Jacksonville as head coach Jack Del Rio has named the rookie quarterback as the starter for the Carolina Panthers game this weekend.
The move should come as no shock after Del Rio jettisoned former starter David Garrard just days before the 2011 NFL regular season began. Veteran signal caller Luke McCown gave it an admirable try, but after four interceptions and no touchdowns in two games, the reins have been handed over to the rookie from Missouri.
McCown owns a career 2-7 starting record with nine total touchdowns and 14 interceptions in six seasons and simply does not have the talent needed to win in the NFL.
Gabbert, on the other hand, is dripping with talent. So much so that the Jags decided to select him with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. At 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, Gabbert has all the skill needed to swim in the deep end of the NFL pool. He has above average mobility, a strong arm and was coached by quarterback guru Gary Pinkel in college.
Thus far in his brief two-game career, Gabbert is 5-of-6 passing for 52 yards. Interestingly enough, when the Jaguars take the field on Sunday, Gabbert will be staring at another rookie quarterback under center as Cam Newton has quickly established himself as an NFL star. Newton’s 854 yards shattered an NFL rookie passing record for the first two games of a career.
The last time two rookie first-round NFL quarterbacks squared-off was 2006 when Jay Cutler and Matt Leinart went head-to-head for Arizona and Denver. Neither passer is with the team that drafted him currently.
There will be another rookie meeting when Jacksonville, should Gabbert survive, welcomes the Cincinnati Bengals to town in two weeks. Andy Dalton has proven his mettle quickly by winning his first career start and throwing for 413 yards, three touchdowns, and most importantly, no interceptions in his first two games.
If Gabbert can experience a fraction of the same success as Dalton or Newton, Del Rio will probably get to keep his job as head coach of the Jaguars.
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Jimmie Johnson Looked like the typical Chase race for Johnson ... until he was bit by the fuel bug. Still, how many teams do you know can run out of fuel on the final lap and still finish 10th?
2. Kevin Harvick True to form, “The Closer” was running down Tony Stewart in the closing laps at Chicago. However, this time he came up short. Still your championship leader, though.
3. Jeff Gordon We’ll give Gordon a mulligan for being so far off at Chicagoland. The way he was running, you know he was thinking, “Where’s Menard when you need him?”
4. Carl Edwards Edwards was one of a few Chase drivers who benefited when gas tanks started running dry. Mainly because his did not.
5. Brad Keselowski Keselowski’s unlikely run continues. Like Edwards, he was the beneficiary of a race finishing on fumes. Were he allowed to use his 30 bonus points, he’d be the points leader.
6. Tony Stewart Smoke finally nabbed his first victory of 2011. And give him credit — his pit crew was solid, the car was fast and it got good mileage. This one was no fuel mileage fluke.
7. Ryan Newman Newman finds himself sixth, just 14 points out of the Chase lead, after an eighth in Chicago. Odds are he’ll be one of the drivers to beat this weekend.
With the Pac-12’s decision not to expand and the Big 12 surviving for now, BYU will be a team in high demand. The Big 12 is currently at nine teams with Texas A&M’s departure to the SEC and the conference is expected to explore expansion to provide stability.
The Cougars are in their first season of football independence, but will that last? BYU should be target No. 1 for any Big 12 expansion and an invite to join for 2012 could be coming in the next couple of months.
In addition to BYU, the conference is rumored to be interested in West Virginia, Louisville and Cincinnati from the Big East. SMU, Houston and Air Force have also been mentioned. However, considering the Big East teams recently met to commit to the conference and SMU, Houston and Air Force don’t add much to the conference, BYU stands out as the clear option for any Big 12 expansion.
Not only is BYU a great fit geographically, but it would be competitive right away in the Big 12. Competing in the Big 12 is a step up from the Mountain West, but the Cougars would have the opportunity to play for an automatic bid into the BCS every year.
There’s no question BYU should accept a bid to the Big 12 if it’s offered. Although the Cougars would be ditching Independence after one year, it’s the smart thing to do.
The Cougars can schedule nationally as an Independent, but the Big 12 can provide just as much exposure with its new television contract. Playing on ESPN, ABC, FX and Fox will be a solid showcase for any program.
The Big 12 had some issues with Texas’ Longhorn Network, but BYU’s television network – BYUtv – wouldn’t be an issue. BYUtv won’t be televising any high school games or highlights and the network is geared mostly for educational purposes.
If the Big 12 calls – and it should – BYU would be foolish to say no.
Consider this: If the Big 12 breaks apart in 10 years, BYU can always go back to being an Independent.
What’s BYU got to lose? Joining the Big 12 (if offered) is a no-brainer for the Cougars.
If the Cougars turn down a spot in the Big 12, they would be making a big mistake.
Who knows what conferences could look like in 10 years? If super conferences are really around the corner, BYU would be on the inside, rather than the outside if they are an Independent.
by Matt Taliaferro
Just days ago, Tony Stewart called himself an underdog in the Chase for the Championship. Two weeks prior, he wondered aloud whether his No. 14 team even deserved a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs. On Monday, Stewart proved he’s no underdog — and he surely belongs in the company of title contenders — as the two-time Cup champion kicked off the Sprint Cup Series’ Chase by saving enough fuel to outlast the field in the GEICO 400 from Chicagoland Speedway.
Stewart, who co-owns the Chevrolet-backed Stewart-Haas Racing organization, entered the Chase in a four-way tie for last in the 12-driver field. However, his No. 14 team had shown encouraging signs of competitiveness since a head-scratching 28th-place run at Bristol on August 27, with a third at Atlanta and a seventh in last weekend’s regular season finale in Richmond.
“I’m not sure one weekend can do that,” Stewart said in reference to a change of outlook. “But I feel better about it, obviously. We’ve had three good weekends in a row. Today doesn’t change my mind, but the last three weeks definitely make me feel better about it.
“We’ve still got nine hard weeks to go. And we have some tracks that have been a struggle this year, so we’ve got a long way to go but this gets us off to the right start.”
Stewart’s No. 14 crew did not get off to a good start at Chicago. Although he said the car felt good in practice, they only qualified 26th. A methodical march through the field found him at the front after a restart with 62 laps remaining. But a long green-flag run over the event’s final 50 laps had every crew chief on pit road calculating fuel mileage to the last drop.
Stewart, Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth swapped the lead numerous times over the final run, but when Truex pitted for fuel, Stewart only had to feather the throttle and hold a pretty wheel — even with Kevin Harvick in hot pursuit.
A number of Chase contenders — including Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch — ran out of gas on the last lap, while others — Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch — had just enough to bring it home.
As such, Harvick, Earnhardt, Edwards and Keselowski rounded out the top 5.
“I felt like we had saved a fair amount of gas under caution in the first 15, 18 laps, and (I) never really had to push my car very hard and just kind of maintained the pace that I was running,” Harvick said. “And as we got a couple of gaps we were able to shut it off five or six times. And when Gil said ‘Go,’ I guessed it about right, (because I) ran out off pit road there after we took the checkered flag. Good calculation by the guys and good solid day.”
Like Stewart, it was Harvick’s third consecutive top 10. He capped off the regular season with a win in last weekend’s Richmond race and entered the Chase tied for the No. 1 seed with Kyle Busch.
Harvick maintained the position with his second-place finish, and sits seven points in front of Stewart in the standings.
Denny Hamlin took the biggest points hit in the Chase. After squeaking in as a wild card entry, Hamlin’s day quickly deteriorated when he was forced to pit on lap 86 with a vibration, falling two laps off the pace. After earning one lap back, a shredded left front tire dropped last season’s Chase runner-up three laps off the pace. He finished 31st and finds himself 41 points out of the Chase lead — almost one full race worth of points.
The other Chasers finishes included Kurt Busch (sixth), Newman (eighth), Johnson (10th), Kenseth (21st), Kyle Busch (22nd) and Jeff Gordon (24th).
West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen and Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino are known for their high-octane offenses, but both coaches will face difficult tests on Saturday. Alabama and LSU have arguably the best two defenses in the nation, and no one would be surprised if both teams were undefeated when the Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa on November 5 in what could be the college football game of the year. However, this weekend should be challenging for both Nick Saban and Les Miles. Alabama had a major scare last year against the Hogs, while the atmosphere in Morgantown and Holgorsen’s offense could be a lethal combination for LSU.
Better shot at an upset: West Virginia or Arkansas?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I'll go with West Virginia, mainly because the Mountaineers are at home. I really like Arkansas, even without Knile Davis, but it's too tall of an order to think that the Razorbacks can win in Tuscaloosa. West Virginia, on the other hand, will have the advantage of the home crowd, which should be at a fever pitch after prepping all day long. After two sluggish performances, WVU played its best game of the season last week en route to a 37–31 win at Maryland. Quarterback Geno Smith was fantastic, throwing for 388 yards against a solid Terrapin defense. He will have to be at his best on Saturday against a ferocious LSU defense. The key to the game, in my opinion, will be red zone scoring. West Virginia will have to score touchdowns when (and if) they get into the red zone and will have to limit LSU to field goals. The Mountaineers will have a hard time winning this game if LSU scores at least three touchdowns.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I believe Arkansas could keep it close against Alabama and possibly pull off the upset in Tuscaloosa. The Razorbacks had a 20-7 lead in the middle of the third quarter of last year’s game, but two Ryan Mallett fourth-quarter picks let the Tide come back for a 24-20 victory. New quarterback Tyler Wilson must avoid the turnovers (Mallett had three picks) that killed Arkansas in that loss to Bama. The improved Hogs defense should be able to contain the Tide’s conservative offense fairly well, unless Jerry Franklin and crew are dealing with short fields resulting from turnovers. As far as LSU, I think Miles’ bunch will handle the crazy atmosphere in Morgantown and grind out another win. While I see the big boys – Alabama and LSU – both winning, Petrino’s bunch has a good chance if they take care of the football.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I’d be very surprised if Arkansas or West Virginia won this Saturday, so I’m going to say neither. The Razorbacks had a good chance to knock off Alabama last season, but couldn’t close the deal in the second half. Although Tyler Wilson is a capable replacement at quarterback, the rebuilt offensive line will be tested by a very good Alabama defense. If I had to give an edge between West Virginia or Arkansas, I think the Mountaineers’ have a slightly better chance. However, considering the struggles of West Virginia’s offensive line, I’m not sure they will be able to get on track offensively. Additionally, LSU’s secondary is one of the best in college football, which will be a difficult test for quarterback Geno Smith.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Frankly, I don't like either one to get the win, but I will go with West Virginia as the more likely candidate. The Mountaineers have yet to play an entire game of football as it stumbled out of the gates against both Marshall and Norfolk State before flipping the switch at halftime. It finally put together an electric first half against Maryland, but slowed to a grinding halt in the second, allowing the Terps to make a big comeback. The game is in Morgantown and the atmosphere will be downright nasty, so if the Mountaineers can put two couch-igniting halves together, LSU could find itself returning to Baton Rouge with an L.
This article on college football realignment originally appeared in our 1998 college football annual. As the college football landscape continues to go through realignment and the whispers of superconferences are still heard (despite the PAC-12's decision to not expand right now), we can learn about the current state of college football by looking back at its history.
The Future of College Football
--by Tony Barnhart
As we peek over the horizon toward the 1998 football season, college football is not unlike the California coast. It is beautiful. It is calm. It is peaceful. All is well.
But just when we’ve finally become comfortable with the fact that it’s okay for the Big Ten to have 11 teams, or that, logistically, it’s easier for Miami to play a home-and-home with Cuba than with any of their comrades in the Big East, there are sign that yet another significant shift is on the way. It is no longer a question of if, but of when this monumental change to the layout of college football’s landscape will take place.
“I’ve said for a while now that I think there will be another reorganization among conferences but when it will is anyone’s guess,” says SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer, who is also the boss of the College Bowl Alliance. “My sense is that people are just biding their time, trying to get prepared to make a move when things start happening.”
If the conferences learned only one thing in the last mad scramble of the early ’90, it is this: You snooze, you lose.
Driving the Business
From this core philosophy there have emerged two undeniable truths which have driven the business of college football in the 1990s:
• There are a finite number of television dollars out there and, like it or not, the majority of them will go to those conferences that can deliver the largest number of viewers on any given Saturday. So when your competition for those dollars-i.e., another conference-expands to strengthen those numbers, you stand pat at your own peril.
• Conferences expand not only to improve television number, but also to increase their power base. That power can be used to impact NCAA legislation pertaining not only to football, but to other sports and even the ultimate structure of college athletics. It’s the athletic equivalent of the Cold War as conferences feel they must continually build up their arsenals to assure their survival.
“Sometimes expansion makes more sense politically than it does economically,” says Jim Delaney, Commissioner of the Big Ten. “You have to be aware of those things and take the appropriate action.”
No one knows exactly when the next round of athletic arms buildups will occur. But rest assured, the conferences will be ready to jump into action at the first rumble.
“My wish is that the structure of college football could remain stable a while longer,” says Mike Tranghese, the Commissioner of the imperiled Big East.
“But I’m not naïve enough to believe that it will. There are some powerful forces at work here.”
To understand what is about to transpire, it is beneficial to go back to December 1989, when the entire landscape of college football was changed forever with only one move.
The Big Ten, for so long the big boy on the block when it came to TV, took a bold step by extending an invitation to Penn State, second only to Notre Dame as a successful football Independent. Penn State accepted, and six months later it became official. The Big Ten had added an 11th member in a development that would make the rest of college football world sit up and take notice.
Suddenly, the Big Ten not only had the large Midwestern television markets of Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland, but it could also now deliver eastern markets like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Penn State would not begin Big Ten play until the 1993 season, but the reaction to the move was immediate and ramifications could be felt from coast to coast.
“That was the first domino to fall,” says Kramer. “There was no stopping what was about to happen next.”
The other major players in college football, afraid that the Big Ten had now become too powerful, quickly scrambled to improve their own positions:
• Penn State’s decision to seek the shelter of a conference was a sobering signal to a number of Eastern Independents. Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers, Temple, Virginia Tech, and Boston College all banded together-and convinced Miami to join them-to form the Big East. They couldn’t play a conference schedule in 1991, but Miami won the championship because it had the highest national ranking.
• By 1992, the SEC had added two teams (South Carolina and Arkansas) to form the first 12-team league that would be split in two divisions. Then, to the derision of many skeptics, the SEC launched the idea of a conference championship game. Those skeptics quickly changed their turn upon learning that the conference championship game generated an extra $4.5 million each year for the SEC.
• That same year, the ACC, over the protests from the traditionalists in its ranks, added Florida State and immediately improved its television clout.
That was the first wave of change. Then came another watershed event in February of 1994. The CFA television package with ABC and ESPN, which included all the major conferences except the Big Ten and Pac-10, fell apart when the SEC bolted and signed its own five-year $125 million deal that would begin in 1996.
After that, it became every man for himself as the conferences scrambled for their share of the pie.
• The Southwest Conference, which was formed in 1914, had to face reality. With eight schools all in the same state, it just didn’t have the muscle to compete in this brave new world. So its four most powerful members (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor) joined the Big Eight to form the Big 12.
• Three other SWC members (SMU, Rice, TCU) joined the WAC, which took the expansion idea to another level. Along with the three SWC teams, it added Independent Tulsa and Big West defectors San Jose State and Nevada-Las Vegas.
Beginning in 1996, the WAC was a 16-team league which covered nine states and four time zones.
Since all this shuffling, each of the conferences has cut its own television deals. The conferences banded together to form the Bowl Coalition, which begat the Bowl Alliance, which this season begat the Super Alliance.
For the first time this season, all the major conferences will work together in the postseason to put together a 1 vs. 2 game for the national championship. Each season, it seems, both the product and process become more refined.
What Happens Next?
Conference commissioners and others directly involved in the college football business are reluctant to discuss their issue in great detail. They don’t want to tip their hands on what their potential moves might be once the changes begin. But here, based on a number of interviews with the movers and shakers of college football, is a reasonably clear picture of what the next set of major shakeups in the sport will probably be.
On this point they all agree: The first move will again be made by the Big Ten.
When Penn State became the 11th member back in 1993, everyone knew it was just a matter of time before the Big Ten added a 12th school and, like the SEC and Big 12, went to divisional play and a lucrative conference championship game.
And there is no secret about which school the Big Ten would like to tap as its 12th member. It is, of course, the mother lode of college football properties: The University of Notre Dame.
Conventional wisdom says that Notre Dame will never give up its Independent status as long as it has the lucrative and exclusive television contact with NBC. Chances are that will remain true. While the other Independents were finding safe shelter among the conferences, Notre Dame still has the clout to do it alone.
A key here: In order to remain an Independent, Notre Dame has to eventually come to some understanding with the Bowl Alliance so that in the down years, the Irish don’t get stuck in the Independence Bowl, as they did in 1997. A few more trips to Shreveport and Notre Dame will run screaming into the arms of the Big Ten. The bet here is that ND and the bowls get things worked out and the Irish remain independent.
After taking its best shot at Notre Dame, the Big Ten will return to the strategy which originally brought Penn State into the fold, that of adding to its impressive lineup of powerful television markets. Can you say New York? Can you say Syracuse University? Yes, I thought you could.
In public, the folks at Syracuse will tell you they feel just dandy about being in the Big East. But in their heart of hearts, they know that if the Big Ten calls, they must listen. This Big East, with the competitive demise of Miami and with waning interest among the bowls, has at best a shaky football future.
Even Tranghese, whose job it is to hold the Big East together, has told Syracuse that it must listen to the Big Ten because he can’t guarantee what the future will bring.
So friends, mark it down. Syracuse will jump to the Big Ten and since there’s already a Big 12, what they will call this conference is anybody’s guess.
Oh, by the way. After Syracuse jumps, all hell is going to break loose.
“You hope nothing drastic happens but you can’t live with your head in the sand either.” Says Tom Mickle, the associate commissioner of the ACC. “You have to have some idea of your next move if things start happening.”
There are some disagreements on a few points, but roughly, this will be the sequence of events once Syracuse jumps to the Big Ten:
• The Big East will be out of the football business and Trandhese will begin to scramble, looking for homes for its football-playing members. Some of those schools will find a new home in the ACC.
• The ACC will have another major philosophical battle over expansion. The traditionalists will argue that the ACC doesn’t have to follow the pack, that they can go at it alone with nine members. They will argue that it will only hurt the conferences if it had to further divide the league’s most precious commodity-tickets to the ACC Basketball Tournament.
But the ACC has had significant turnover among its athletic directors since the discussions of 1991, further weakening the power of the traditionalist. The pragmatists will rule the day, and the ACC will bring in three Big East refugees: Miami, Boston College, and Rutgers.
Miami is a no-brainer. Academically, it is in tune with the other ACC members and all indications are that under Butch Davis, the football program is cleaning up its act. It would also give the ACC two of Florida’s big three school and anchors on both ends of the state.
The ACC will pass on Virginia Tech and West Virginia, schools with greater geographical proximity to current members, in favor of strengthening its position in the larger eastern television markets. The Boston and New York markets are too rich to pass up.
• Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh will begrudgingly accept invitations to Conference USA. The remaining Big East member, Temple, should recognize this turmoil as its cue to get out of the football business.
• The Pac-10, never wanting to be outdone by the Big Ten, becomes hot to trot for expansion. It will make another run at Texas and Texas A&M, which it did unsuccessfully several years ago. But once again, the Texas state legislature will remind the schools that it controls the purse strings, and that no Texas team is going to be a member of a left-coast conference.
When that effort fails, the Pac-10 will reach out and finally touch Colorado, which has long wanted to be a member, because the Buffs practically live in California when it comes time to recruit. Plus, the lifestyle and attitude of Boulder is more akin to Seattle and Los Angeles than Lincoln, Neb. And Manhattan, Kan.
For its 12th team, the Pac-10 will look around the West for another school that plays strong football. Bringham Young, which to its considerable anger got left out of the Alliance bowls with a 13-1 record in 1996, will make the jump.
• With Colorado gone, the Big 12 will think long and hard about a replacement and will finally invite Southern Methodist. SMU, which went to the WAS when the Southwest Conference folded, is on the way back in football under second-year coach Mike Cavan. The school is about to build a new, on-campus football facility, and Cavan has been given the financial commitment by the administration to make the Mustangs competitive once more. The Dallas market is one the Big 12 cannot ignore.
• The SEC will stand pat with its 12 teams and high television revenue, unless Arkansas uses this opportunity to get out. The Razorbacks left the Southwest Conference just before it folded and financially, has benefitted enormously from being in the SEC. Competitively, however, the Hogs have struggled in football. They won an SEC West title in 1995, but other than that, it’s been a tough road. Arkansas football is struggling. Back in the days when it was winning Southwest Conference championships, the state of Texas was its most fertile recruiting ground. One of the keys to recruiting Texas is going into that state and winning, which it did. When Arkansas stopped playing in Texas, it stopped getting players from that talent-rich state.
Word from inside Arkansas and inside the SEC is that Arkansas will never leave its current home as long as Frank Broyles is the athletic director. Last year the SEC divided over $58 billion in revenues among its 12 members. The bounty would not be as great in the Big 12.
• The WAC, which turned into an unwieldy 16-team league in the previous round of expansion, will lose three members in the next round, and add a school from the Big West (we guess Nevada over Utah State and New Mexico State). The conference will miss BYU, its most celebrated program, and struggle without any major media markets.
• Conference USA does the most work of all, in hopes of getting a better television contract. In addition to picking up Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and Virginia Tech from the Big East, C-USA will also get Rice and TCU from the WAC, forming a 14-team league that stretches from West Point, NY (Army) in the East, to Fort Worth, TX (TCU) in the Southwest. It truly will be a Conference USA.
• Many independents, particularly in the south, will find life alone in Division I-A difficult at best. Scheduling problems and being completely shut out of bowl money will drive the remaining indies to unify. Middle Tennessee will move from I-AA to I-A in 1999 and join other southern independents Central Florida, Southwestern Louisiana, Northeast Louisiana, Louisiana Tech, and Arkansas State to form a league, and hopefully generate bowl clout.
One scenario would have this league champion playing the Big West champ in the Humanitarian Bowl. Or perhaps the Music City Bowl in Nashville would be a good fit.
The SEC and Mid-America Conferences stand pat. The Big East folds.
Not only does BYU shake the less-revenue-producing schools from the lower division of the WAC, but at last gains a legitimate shot at Bowl Alliance bid.
Although a bit heavy with 14 teams, markets like Pittsburgh, Tampa, and Fort Worth are huge pluses. Garnering an Alliance spot is a must for conference legitimacy and C-USA will get a guaranteed spot. The addition of West Virginia gives the league a ready-made football power and large state school, which the league had been missing.
The Miami-Florida State game is now a conference game that the ACC can claim its own, obviously bringing TV money. The addition of the Boston and New York markets is key, and don’t overlook the fact that Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Guthridge love visiting the basketball-rich Northeast on a regular basis.
Anyone would love the move from the WAC, with conference games in California, Utah, and Hawaii, into a conference with four other teams in-state.
The conference championship game is enough to consider the conference a winner, but the Denver market is a plus.
• Big 10
Again, the conference championship game plus another eastern market with Syracuse
• UAB and South Florida
Two schools that did not even have football programs in 1990 will now be members of a Super Alliance conference
For obvious reasons.
• Big East
• Big 12
The media market of Dallas is nice with the addition of SMU, but losing the state of Colorado and the Nebraska-Colorado rivalry hurts.
Losing BYE practically assures the league to be shut out of the Super Alliance.
• Notre Dame
Slowly but surely, the conferences are squeezing the Irish out.
Peace at Last?
Once everything shakes out, all television contracts between the conferences and the networks will have to be renegotiated to reflect the worth of the new leagues. After that is done, and the multi-year agreements are in place, college football will again be at peace. But for how long?
“I’m hoping that after the next round, things are going to stay in place for a long, long time,” says Kramer. “But I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it. No way.”
The ACC absorbs Miami, Boston College and Rutgers from the Big East. In order to balance the divisions, the four North Carolina schools must be split. North Carolina and Duke for basketball purposes, are separated. North Carolina, as the strongest football program among the four, is placed in the North because the South includes Florida State, Clemson and Miami.
Old Big 10
New Big 10
Syracuse bolts enthusiastically for the Big Ten. The league will still be called the Big Ten even though it has 12 members. Geographically, the split doesn’t make sense, but the two divisions are balanced for both football and hoops.
Old Big 12
New Big 12
When Colorado jumps to the Pac-10, the Big 12 will consider Arkansas, but ask SMU to return from its WAC exile. All five Texas schools will be in the South Division. Missouri agrees to swap to the South because of basketball. The Oklahoma schools are not separated.
San Diego State
San Jose State
San Diego State
San Jose State
The WAC loses BYU, TCU and SMU to expansion. Nevada becomes the newest member.
Old Conference USA
New Conference USA
Colorado eagerly leaves the Big 12 for a conference just one time zone away and the guarantee of at least one home game in California every year. The conference invites BYU instead of Utah, giving the edge to football over basketball. The four California schools are split because of travel. Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah (BYU) are adjacent states and closet to Los Angeles (UCLA, USC).
“...when [Dennis] Franchione bolted in 2000 to coach Alabama, TCU barely considered Patterson. He and his second wife were separated, and he hardly projected the smooth leader-of-men look so beloved of chancellors and players’ moms.”
The above passage is from S.L. Price’s recent SI article on Gary Patterson.
If you have ever read Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink, you are familiar with what Gladwell calls the “Warren Harding Error.”
Warren G. Harding, regarded by many as one of the worst presidents in American history, received 60% of the national vote in the 1920 election, the highest percentage ever recorded in a U.S. presidential election.
So, how did the American people get it so wrong with Harding? According to Gladwell, people simply used the superficial clues to make a snap decision about a job that requires everything but superficial abilities.
As the quote at the beginning of this article indicates, athletic directors and university presidents are just as susceptible to the Warren Harding Error as the American voting populace.
Far too often head college football coaches are chosen because they look the part. In fact, from our observations, college football coaches are far too frequently hired using false and meaningless clues. Some of those clues include:
1. The school in question is their alma mater.
2. They are from the same area of the country.
3. They are fit and attractive.
4. They can “communicate.”
5. They have “energy.”
6. They have NFL experience.
7. They are young.
8. They just had a great year.
9. They have a “plan.”
10. They are a dynamic “recruiter.”
11. They will be able to relate to the fans.
12. Their interview went really well.
13. They have “integrity” (see Jim Tressel).
14. They can “motivate.”
The whole point of Coaches By The Numbers is to help fans, ADs, Chancellors, media, and anyone who pays any attention to college football and college football coaches in particular go beyond the gut and use additional analysis to make better informed decisions.
For a case in point, let’s turn to UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel.
After the 2007 season, the UCLA Bruins hired Rich Neuheisel to replace outgoing coach Karl Dorrell. He appeared to be the perfect candidate. If you asked someone to draw a picture of what UCLA’s head football coach should look like, they would more than likely draw Rick Neuheisel.
He played quarterback at UCLA.
He is fit and handsome.
He is a motivator.
He is a recruiter.
He looks great in a suit.
He can give one heck of a speech.
He can impress a booster at a cocktail party. He has won 10 or more games three times as a college coach. He won a Rose Bowl in 2000. He has NFL experience. What more analysis do you need?
We could keep going with some of the deeper analysis of Coach Neuheisel, but we think you get the picture: looks can be deceiving.
UCLA went with their gut and a guy that fit every meaningless attribute they considered important in their next head coach. They paid attention to where we went to school, how he looked, how he talked, his NFL experience, and the fact that 10+ years ago he had a decent season or two.
What they didn’t pay attention was the deeper analysis that could be done on Coach Neuheisel. For example, is NFL experience really important for college football coaches (see answer here)?
How do you possibly define or quantify a coach’s ability to “motivate.” Why does it matter if a coach went to the school he is coaching? Why does it matter if he can give a really good speech or dress up and impress a bunch of boosters?
Do soft factors like the ones discussed in this article matter? Of course they matter. The legendary investor Warren Buffett has often stated that he will not purchase a company if he doesn’t trust the character and integrity of its CEO. However, Buffett will not even think to question the character or integrity of the CEO if the balance sheet isn’t appealing. Buffett knows that you have to study the hard factors (the data) before you study the soft.
If you are thinking that analyzing football coaches cannot be done with data, then we humbly welcome you to Coaches By The Numbers: the home of 2+ million pieces of data on coaches and counting. With the information at hand and available for use, why in the world do so many decisions get made at the surface level and based on soft, unmeasurable factors?
Do fans watching a game in 2011 really care if Rick Neuheisel played quarterback for the Bruins in the early 1980′s? Do they care if he can give a rousing speech at the pep rally or after beating a mediocre Tennessee team in 2008? The answer is yes they do. However, they only care about these factors if they are accompanied by winning.
In the world of college sports, for better or for worse, winning covers all.
For example, Georgia Tech’s head coach Paul Johnson is known for his blunt manner, stubbornness, and acerbic wit. When Tech won 21 games, an ACC Championship, and a trip to the Orange Bowl in Johnson’s first two years as the Jackets’ head coach, the fan base was buzzing about how much they loved Johnson’s personality.
When he would stick it to a member of the media after being asked a ridiculously ignorant question about his “high school offense”, the message boards would light up with support for Johnson’s brutally honest personality. However, after last year’s 6-7 season and bowl loss to Air Force, fans were stating that Johnson was too stubborn and that his crabby personality was off-putting to fans, recruits, and the media.
The same could be said for Georgia’s Mark Richt.
In his first five years when the Dawgs were winning 80% of their games and SEC titles, the fans praised Richt’s cool, calm, and collected demeanor. In the last four years, with Georgia winning 64% of its games, fans have started to state that Richt is too calm and passive and not intense enough to win in the vaunted SEC.
Do you think people in Alabama are naming their kids Crimson Tide because of Saban’s shining personality and gentle manner? Or do you think winning SEC and National Championships might be the reason behind such fanatical behavior?
We could go on-and-on with these types of examples, but we think you get the picture.
To come full circle, let’s revisit the quote that started this article: “…..he hardly projected the smooth leader-of-men look so beloved of chancellors and players’ moms.”
There really is nothing smooth about Gary Patterson. In fact, he is outright awkward in just about every way. This being said, he has taken TCU to heights the TCU fan base no longer thought possible, and has done it without being a “motivator”, “recruiter”, “leader”, or “insert meaningless superlative here.” He is more than likely perfectly capable of all of these things, but above all else, Gary Patterson is one heck of a football coach and the hard data is definitely on his side.
Too many AD’s worry about winning the press conference when they should be worried about winning more games. Rick Neuheisel certainly won the press conference, but he hasn’t won much since.
So, the next time your school is in need of a new football coach, be sure the AD, President, and Board don’t treat the decision making process like they are buying an ice cream cone. Demand that they look beyond the surface of how boosters or media will receive him and dig a little deeper to see if the guy can really coach or not.
In the end, if you want to please boosters, fans, and the media, all you have to do is one thing: WIN!
Other CBTN Content:
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
With the Pac-12 holding off on expanding to 16 teams, Oklahoma and Texas will stay in the Big 12 – for now. However, the conference is expected to pursue expansion and likely attempt to get back to 12 teams.
Texas A&M is out the door and won’t be returning to the SEC, which leaves the Big 12 at nine teams for the 2012 season. The conference could choose to expand to only 10, but getting to 12 would provide more stability.
Which schools could be added to the Big 12?
Air Force: The Falcons are a hot commodity in realignment, as the Big East and Big 12 are likely in pursuit. Air Force has a national fanbase and has been a solid program in the Mountain West. Adding the Falcons would get the Big 12 back into Colorado. However, Air Force has struggled to find success in other sports and isn’t a home run target for the Big 12.
Big East: Although the remaining football schools in the conference have pledged to stick together, there’s no guarantee that happens. The Big 12 needs to take a hard look at getting West Virginia, Louisville, or Cincinnati. Maybe the Big East will survive, but it can’t hurt the Big 12 to try.
Boise State: If the Big 12 is serious about adding competitive options, the Broncos are a good fit and should be near the top. However, it's a longshot Boise State gets a call from the Big 12 with an invitation.
BYU: The Cougars are in the first season of Independence, but would be a great fit for the Big 12. BYU is one of the most competitive football options available and has a national fanbase. There are zero cons about adding BYU to the Big 12, but will the Cougars ditch Independence after one year for a conference still on shaky ground? If the Big 12 is serious about securing its future, BYU should be target No. 1.
Houston: With Texas A&M gone, the Cougars are an attractive target for the conference to get back into Houston. The facilities are in the process of an upgrade, and the program could be very competitive in the Big 12 with BCS money. Houston is a very solid choice for the conference, but may also be a target for the Big East. If the Big 12 wants to strengthen its footprint in Texas, Houston is a very good choice.
Notre Dame: A very, very unlikely candidate. However, the Big 12 will at least place a call to South Bend.
SMU: After suffering from the effects of the death penalty, the Mustangs are finally competitive once again. Coach June Jones has SMU on the right track, which certainly helps to make the program more attractive in realignment. Support isn’t great, but is located in Dallas. Would probably be behind Houston in the pecking order.
TCU: Are the Horned Frogs interested in departing the Big East? With the conference dealing with instability, TCU should be a prime target for the Big 12. However, would Texas let the Horned Frogs in?
The Big 12 was on its deathbed earlier this week, but has somehow survived for the second year in a row. Thanks to the Pac-12’s decision not to expand and add Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech, the Big 12 will continue to exist – for now.
Although the Pac-12 decided not to expand, the Big 12 isn’t going to become one harmonious group overnight.
Oklahoma and Texas still have several issues to work out, particularly what happens with the Longhorn Network and establishing equal revenue distribution.
However, the Pac-12’s decision at least buys the conference and its members a little time to work something out. Oklahoma and Texas reportedly wanted the Big 12 to survive, and now the Pac-12’s announcement gives both schools that opportunity.
Expect both sides to attempt to work out the issues over the next couple of weeks, but there may be a new commissioner involved. Reports out of Oklahoma on Tuesday indicated the Sooners want to see Dan Beebe ousted, and it’s likely other schools in the conference share that desire.
Although Beebe doesn’t deserve all of the blame, like anything that goes wrong, someone has to be the fall guy. The Big 12 needs a commissioner that is a strong leader and will strengthen the conference. And someone that isn’t afraid to push back on Texas, Oklahoma or anyone that might threaten the future of the Big 12.
A new commissioner can work wonders for any conference – see Larry Scott in the Pac-12. Again, Beebe can’t be blamed for everything that occurred, but it seemed he was too interested in giving into all of Texas’ demands and forgetting about the conference’s overall health. It’s interesting to note that none of these issues that popped up in the Big 12 do not occur in the SEC or the Big Ten. Both have equal revenue sharing and it’s about helping build a strong conference – not about individual schools.
Ousting Beebe as commissioner could be the first step in what will be an extended rebuilding phase. The Big 12 must explore expansion and target schools that are going to bring stability. BYU is the perfect target for the conference, but its uncertain if the Cougars will join. If BYU turns down the Big 12, then expect the conference to turn to the Big East, Conference USA and Mountain West for replacements.
The Big 12 also has a decision on whether it wants to expand to 10 or 12 teams. Getting back to 12 would bring more stability and a conference title game for more revenue. However, the Big 12 may not see enough viable candidates to expand back to 12.
Although the Big 12 survived for at least another year, can this group hold together for 10-15 years? Considering the instability the last two seasons and the rift between schools right now, it’s uncertain the conference will be around in 2025.
Since last summer, the Big 12 has lost three solid members – Colorado, Nebraska and Texas A&M. The conference cannot afford to lose Oklahoma or Texas, which is why it’s imperative those two work out any differences.
The Big 12 can become a long-term success, but if the issues aren’t resolved, we can expect to see the same type of scenario that played out over the last two weeks happen again. Sure, the differences might be pretty wide in some areas, and Texas may refuse to give in on certain things – namely the concerns over the Longhorn Network. However, if Oklahoma and Texas are serious about keeping the Big 12 as a viable conference, it’s time to resolve the differences.
College football was a big winner on Tuesday night with the Pac-12’s decision not to expand. Super conferences may eventually happen, but the Pac-12’s decision not to expand puts that on hold – for now.
If you want realignment talk to end, hope the Big 12 works out all of its issues. If you want super conferences, hope Oklahoma and Texas become more frustrated with the Big 12 and decide to leave. And who knows, maybe the Pac-12 will come calling once again. If Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott sees an opportunity in a couple of years, expect him to take it.
The Big 12 has lived to see another day, but how long will it survive? The next few months could decide whether Tuesday’s announcement by the Pac-12 is just a band-aid for the Big 12 or if this strengthens the conference and this is the last of realignment talk for the next 10-15 years.
--By Josh Kipnis
With October right around the corner, who are the most feared teams in the MLB? Surprising to most, the Yankees and the Phillies aren’t at the top of my list. In fact, the two hottest teams might not even make the playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals are on fire right now. The Cardinals have won ten of their last twelve games, while the Rays are almost as hot, winning eight of their last eleven. Still, both teams remain in second in their wild-card races. So the question remains, do these two teams have enough magic in their wands to break into the playoff picture?
Tampa Bay Rays
On September 3, the Tampa Bay Rays were nine games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL wild-card race. Amazingly, the Rays have cut that down to a miniscule two; leaving people to wonder what manager Joe Maddon is sneaking into the Gatorade cooler.
Pitching: The Rays pitching staff has been solid all year long, ranked first in the American League in ERA. Right-hander James Shields, 15-11, has been a vital arm in their rotation, throwing an ML-leading eleven complete games. The biggest surprise this year has been rookie Jeremy Helickson, 13-10. The frontrunner for AL-Rookie of the Year, he ranks 5th in the AL with a 2.91 ERA. With three other double-digit winners completing the Rays’ rotation, opponents are lucky to get a hit, let alone a run.
Hitting: For the majority of the season the Rays have ranked 15th in the MLB in runs scored. In the month of September, however, Tampa Bay has jumped all the way to 6th. After struggling in the first half of the season, Evan Longoria leads the team with 28 HR and 92 RBI. Commenting on his recent performance, “No matter if you’re hitting .300 with 20 home runs, whatever it is at that point, you always want more.” It seems as if the entire team has adopted this attitude.
Upcoming Schedule: While everything, and I mean everything, has been going the Rays’ way lately, the final ten games of the season could very well turn for the worse. They have shifted into the 6th gear in September, but unfortunately there is a towering pinstripe wall just up the road. The Rays will have to face the New York Yankees seven out of their last ten games. The Yankees lead the season series 6-5.
With their hands full in the Bronx, the Rays are also going to need the Red Sox to continue their monumental struggle. Unfortunately for them, of Boston’s final ten games, seven are against the Baltimore Orioles. Sticking with the car analogy, it’s as if the Orioles are a 15-year old driver’s ed student, while the Rays sit in the passenger seat, bracing themselves to hit ongoing traffic.
Prediction: It is going to be too little, too late for the surging Rays. The Rays could very well take five or six games from the Yankees, but at this point it isn’t in their hands. The Red Sox are up 9-4 in their season series with the Orioles. Expect them to continue that success and take some built up stress out on Baltimore. If the schedule were different, I could find a way to say the Rays will do it, but the Orioles just don’t have it in them.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals find themselves just 2.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL wild-card race. The Cardinals have won their last four series’, three of which are against playoff-caliber teams. The Red (Hot) Birds took two of three from the NL-Central leading Brewers, swept a three game series against the Braves, and won three of four against the best team in baseball in the Philadelphia Phillies. Any team that can do that much damage, yikes.
Hitting: Although Albert Pujols had a shaky start to the season, he still has a chance to hit .300, 100 RBI, and 30 HR; it would be the 11th straight season putting up those numbers (Can you say machine?). While Berkman and Holliday have each cooled down, the Cardinals are still ranked in the top 6 in the league in runs scored, average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Not enough for you, check out their past two performances; they scored four runs on both Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels.
Bullpen: The only aspect of their game worth improving upon right now is their bullpen. Still struggling to find the right man to close out their games, the Cardinals are 3rd in the MLB in blown saves with 25.
Upcoming Schedule: With nine remaining games on their schedule, the Cardinals get to play six more in St. Louis. Not only that, but they are against the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals final series of the season is against the Houston Astros who sit at the very bottom of the NL-Central.
The Braves next five games look just as easy as the Cardinals’, but they are all on the road as they face the Florida Marlins two more times and the Washington Nationals in a three game series. The final three games of their season are against the Philadelphia Phillies, who are up on the Braves in the season series 6-9.
Prediction: The Braves seem as if they have forgotten how to play baseball. In last night’s game, the Braves led 5-4 in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs. Emilio Bonifacio of the Marlins hit a high chopper to third base, but the curse hovering over the Braves played a trick on veteran Chipper Jones, who lost the big hop in the lights and allowed it to drop for a base hit. The next batter, Omar Infante, blasted a ball to deep left field, sealing the deal in walk-off fashion. I would not be all that surprised if they drop one more to the Marlins in the final two games of this series.
I’m going to have to say that the Cardinals will complete this comeback and snag the last playoff spot in the National League. The Cardinals have players who know how to win when the pressure in on. With their impressive wins, and the devastating losses the Braves are suffering, I think the Cardinals have what it takes to play ball in October.
Despite all of the rumors and uncertainty involving college football and realignment, Notre Dame has continued to maintain independence is priority No. 1. Although super conferences appeared to be on the horizon earlier this week, the Pac-12 decided not to expand and for now, the Big 12 will survive.
Although Notre Dame could be forced to join a conference in the future, the Irish were a big winner in the latest round of college football realignment. Notre Dame maintained its independence without much of a concern, thanks to what transpired across the conferences earlier this week.
The Big Ten, ACC, Big East and Big 12 have all expressed interest in adding the Irish for football, but those plans will have to wait until the next round of realignment.
Why does Notre Dame want to remain Independent?
National television audience: Although the Irish could make more television money on the Big Ten Network, no team has an advantage with a national audience like Notre Dame. A good chunk of games are on NBC, which gives the Irish an opportunity to be seen by millions of people every Saturday. Great for recruiting.
National Recruiting: Most teams and conferences base a lot of their recruiting in the region they are in. However, since Notre Dame plays a national schedule and is not affiliated with any conference, the Irish have a recruiting base that expands anywhere across the United States.
Scheduling: Playing in the Big Ten could actually be easier on Notre Dame’s schedule. However, the Irish prefer to have a national slate every year, which definitely helps visibility in recruiting. If Notre Dame joined the Big Ten, it could probably continue to schedule USC or Stanford, but some of the flexibility would be gone.
The landscape in college football is due to change in the future. However, the Irish are in a good position to choose their path.
Other sports outside of football will continue to compete in the Big East, barring any collapse of the conference. At least for the next couple of years, Notre Dame is set as an independent in football. And that’s exactly what it wants. While it may not be the most popular decision among college football fans, the Irish continue to maintain their belief independence is the best course of action for Notre Dame.
There’s little doubt the Irish cherish their independence and as each rumor about conference realignment pops up, things start to get a little uneasy in South Bend.
There will come a time where Notre Dame has to consider joining the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC or Big East. But not in 2011.
The Pac-12’s decision not to expand made the Irish a big winner on Tuesday night and barring a drastic change in the college football landscape, Notre Dame plans on remaining independent.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Each week, the Athlon editors will vote on the most prestigious award in all of college football. A nine-man conglomerate of college football gurus from Athlon Sports will vote for their top ten Heisman Trophy candidates. The votes will be tallied and the result will be posted as the Athlon Sports Heisman Watch List every Wednesday of the regular season.
Note: The scoring system is as follows: A first place vote earns a player 10 points. A second place votes earns nine points - so on and so forth until the 10th place player receives one point.
Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles didn't post big numbers this weekend, but both helped lead the Sooners to the biggest win thus far by any team in the nation when Oklahoma left Tallahassee with a W. Both still find themselves in the top ten as Big 12 conference play begins.
The biggest mover has been Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. The nation's No. 2 passer has added a totally new dimension to an already potent Badger offensive attack. Wilson has UW leading the Big Ten in scoring offense (45 ppg) and total offense (505.7 ypg).
And the nation's leading rusher has been inching up the standings each week of the season...
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (85/90 total points, 7/9 first place votes)
Season Stats: 57/85, 786 yards, 8 TD, INT, 8 att., 47 yards, TD
Just another ho-hum late-night performance by the best player in America. In a 37-10 thumping of Pac-12 foe Arizona on the road, Luck completed 20 of his 31 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 36 yards and didn’t turn the ball over – again. It marks the 15th time in his career that he didn’t throw an interception. Next Game: UCLA
|2.||Kellen Moore||QB||Boise St||75||-||5||2||2||-||9|
|3.||Marcus Lattimore||RB||South Carolina||73||1||2||4||1||1||9|
|4.||Robert Griffin III||QB||Baylor||66||-||3||-||4||1||9|
|8.||Justin Blackmon||WR||Oklahoma St||28||-||-||-||1||-||8|
|11.||Michael Floyd||WR||Notre Dame||3||-||-||-||-||-||1|
|13.||Brandon Weeden||QB||Oklahoma St||3||-||-||-||-||-||1|
|16.||David Wilson||RB||Virginia Tech||2||-||-||-||-||-||1|
|17.||Ronnie Hillman||RB||San Diego St||2||-||-||-||-||-||2|
|19.||Lamar Miller||RB||Miami, Fla.||1||-||-||-||-||-||1|
2. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (75 pts)
Season Stats: 60/76, 716 yards, 8 TD, 2 INT, 2 att., 2 yards
What's not to like about 455 yards and five touchdowns on 76-percent passing on the road against Toledo? It was Moore's 40th career victory in 42 career starts, as he finished with his second-highest yardage total of his career (507). This is what he will have to do week in and week out in order to make it to New York as the only test left on the schedule is TCU at home. Next Game: Tulsa
3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (73)
Season Stats: 87 att., 534 yards, 7 TD, 9 rec., 66 yards
Lattimore is the most talented running back in the nation and in a closer than hoped three-point win over Navy, he was the workhorse Cocks fans have grown to love. He carried 37 times for 246 yards and three scores in the win over the Naval Academy. Lattimore now leads the nation in rushing at 178 yards per game. Next Game: Vanderbilt
4. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (66)
Season Stats: 41/49, 624 yards, 8 TD, 0 INT, 18 att., 116 yards
Most quarterbacks would be happy with 300 yards per game, a 2-0 record and a 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. However, RG3 is operating at a 1:1 touchdown-to-INCOMPLETION ratio — which is downright unheard-of. His 244.52 QB-rating is still leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the country. Griffin III is the most dynamic human being playing quarterback in this great country (sorry Michael Vick) and is easily the most valuable college football player in the nation. Baylor's schedule doesn't get hard until October 15: Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Missouri. Next Game: Rice
5. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (48)
Season Stats: 53/74, 574 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 4 att., -8 yards, TD
The numbers might not have been pretty (18-of-27, 199 yards, TD, 2 INT), but the result on the scoreboard is all that matters. Jones led his Sooner team into a rocking Doak Campbell stadium and pulled off the biggest win by any team in all of college football thus far in 2011. The first big conference test awaits this week. Next Game: Missouri
6. Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin (35)
Season Stats: 50/66, 791 yards, 8 TD, INT, 11 att., 110 yards, TD
The Wisconsin Badgers offense has never looked as dynamic as is does when No. 16 is under center. Wilson has led UW to a 3-0 record with an average margin of victory of 37 points. His 213.4 QB-rating trails only Griffin III, and he is averaging over 10 yards per carry on the ground. He produced his first 300-yard game as a Badger this weekend with his 347-yard, 3-TD performance over Northern Illinois. Next Game: South Dakota
7. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (29)
Season Stats: 27/55, 531 yards, 6 TD, 4 INT, 50 att., 352 yards, 2 TD
The most electric player in college football rushed for 198 yards in the 31-3 blowout win over Eastern Michigan. Shoelace has "struggled" throwing the ball this season, but there is clearly nothing wrong with his legs — or win/loss record thus far in 2011. Next Game: San Diego State
8. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (28)
Season Stats: 27 rec., 329 yards, 3 TD
The 2010 Biletnikoff winner posted modest totals of seven catches, 57 yards and a single score in the Pokes' 59-33 win over Tulsa (if anyone stayed up until 4 AM to watch the end of it). Blackmon will be needed in a big way this weekend as the Cowboys head to College Station. Next Game: at Texas A&M
9. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (26)
Season Stats: 50 att., 315 yards, 8 TD, 6 rec., 36 yards
Against lowly North Texas, Richardson had his best game of the season. He carried the ball 11 times for 167 yards (for an unreal 15.1 yards per carry clip) and three touchdowns. T-Rich will be in for his biggest test of the young season as the Razorbacks come to Tuscaloosa this Saturday. Next Game: Arkansas
10. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma (9)
Season Stats: 21 rec., 213 yards, TD
There is a large drop-off in the voting after Richardson. Broyles had a modest performance against Florida State, catching seven passes for 55 yards and returning a couple of punts. But his Sooners left Tallahassee unblemished and are now poised for a national title run. His 10.5 receptions per game are still good for second in the nation. Next Game: Missouri