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October may be the most important month of the college football season in terms of shaping the Playoff.
Don’t believe us? September losses can almost be forgiven ... or at least that was the old way. And by November, the field for the four spots in the semifinal may be whittled to a dozen or so.
In between is October, when plenty of teams still feel like they have a shot. Besides the 16 teams still undefeated at the end of September, a handful of one-loss teams still have good reason to be optimistic given what could be a wild and wacky year.
Oct. 4 is just the beginning, the most important Saturday of the most important month. But it won’t be alone in shaping what the selection committee will have to consider by the time it meets in Dallas for the first time on Dec. 28.
12 Games in October that will Shape the Playoff
Alabama at Ole Miss
Both teams opened the season with non-conference wins in Atlanta, and now they open October with their most important SEC games to date. Neither team looked ready to contend for the playoff back then. Since Week 1, Alabama’s Blake Sims has established himself as the shepherd of a high-powered offense, and Ole Miss discovered it has a top-flight SEC defense.
What more can we learn about Oklahoma after an impressive first month of the season? This may be OU’s toughest Big 12 road game. Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State all visit Norman, making this the Sooners’ only visit to face a ranked team. Since joining the Big 12, TCU has lost by three points and seven points to the Sooners. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin won’t be intimidated — he has two career starts and fared well despite losses to OU.
LSU at Auburn
The SEC West is so good that it may be difficult to write a team off this early in the season, but LSU may be on a razor’s edge it loses in Jordan-Hare. Lose this game, and LSU falls to 0-2 in the division. The only thing separating LSU from contender or spoiler status? A freshman quarterback.
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Early upsets of set in motion one of the most unlikely SEC games to carry weight in the Playoff race. The Aggies have handled South Carolina and Arkansas as first-year starter Kenny Hill has become a Heisman contender — despite an uneven performance Saturday against the Hogs. Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott, though, can continue to build his resume after a showcase against LSU two weeks ago.
Even though both teams have picked up key wins early in the season, Stanford and Notre Dame still need to prove their wares as national contenders. Stanford’s defense has been lights out this season — opponents have scored a red zone touchdown just once in three chances against the Cardinal all season. At the same time, Stanford’s offense has been dismal in converting scoring chances to points. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s signature 31-0 performance against Michigan doesn’t seem quite so special.
The Big Ten’s reputation has been bruised this season, but the reality is that the league still has an outside shot at a Playoff spot. Nebraska has a win over Miami on the resume and has clobbered enough other opponents to show the close call with McNeese State was an aberration. The Cornhuskers are a legit Playoff contender with a win in East Lansing. Meanwhile, Michigan State is clinging to the hope that breezing through the Big Ten will be impressive enough to excuse a 19-point loss to Oregon in Eugene.
BYU at UCF
BYU is probably a Playoff longshot with its three games against Power 5 teams coming against teams that may struggle to reach bowl games (Texas, Virginia and Cal). An undefeated season may be the only way BYU gets in. An at-large bid for one of the major bowl games in the “New Year’s Six” may be more likely. That said, the notion of “impressing voters” in a Thursday night ESPN game on the East Coast is a relic of the BCS era. The only eyes that matter are those of the 13 selection committee. Still, we say any exposure helps.
Oregon at UCLA
Provided Oregon can beat Arizona at home and UCLA can do the same to Utah — neither are guarantees — the Ducks and Bruins will be undefeated for this monster Pac-12 matchup. The favorites in the North and South might have to beat each other twice to get to the Playoff. Oh, and the quarterback showdown will be a bit entertaining.
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Only a week after Ole Miss hosts Alabama and Texas A&M visits Mississippi State, the Rebels and Aggies meet in College Station. The two teams could conceivably go from undefeated to out of contention for the SEC West within two weeks.
Notre Dame at Florida State
As we said earlier, Notre Dame’s Playoff credentials aren’t clear, though beating Stanford would make the Irish an instant contender. Either way, Notre Dame may end up being the highest-ranked team Florida State plays all season.
Think October is a big month for the Aggies? Texas A&M plays three ranked teams in a row during the month. And that’s before the Aggies face Auburn, Missouri and LSU to round out the regular season. Even if Texas A&M enters the game with a pair of losses, Alabama may need this game to prove it can contain the hurry-up no huddle.
Baylor faces TCU on Oct. 11, which may be the tougher opponent for the Bears, but this may be the tougher game. Baylor catches TCU at home while having to make a road trip to the furthest outpost in the Big 12. The likelihood of a shootout remains high. The Bears and Mountaineers have combined for 248 total points in the last two meetings.
This isn’t the most compelling game of the month, and it might not be all that competitive if Florida State starts to play to its potential. But it is the last major game of the month, and its one with a history of upsets. Louisville defeated fourth-ranked Florida State 26-20 in a classic upset in 2002. The Cardinals coach at the time, Bobby Petrino, is the same this time around.
Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith evaluates the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report includes twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with drivers and more.
Today, David ponders the relationship between young drivers and crashing.
Too often in auto racing, young drivers are haplessly deemed too reckless, chronic wadders of equipment that they don’t appreciate because they’ve been handed everything on a silver platter up until this point. It causes team owners, trigger-happy in every other aspect of the industry, to place their hiring gun gently on the table and slowly back away. They got into racing to race and win, after all, not wreck.
In some regards, this notion is true. Even this year with a talented rookie class far beyond anything we’ve seen in recent seasons, four of these whiny whippersnappers rank among the top 10 most frequent crashers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, while two others in that category are in their second full season. It’s probably not a coincidence that the two rookies with the highest per-race crash frequency, Parker Kligerman and Ryan Truex, are the two rookies that now without rides for the remaining seven races.
|DRIVER||RACES||CRASHES||CRASHES PER RACE||RANK|
|Kyle Larson||29||11||0.38||9 (Tie)|
|Alex Bowman||29||11||0.38||9 (Tie)|
|Michael Annett||29||10||0.34||12 (Tie)|
|Justin Allgaier||29||9||0.31||16 (Tie)|
|Cole Whitt||29||8||0.28||20 (Tie)|
|Austin Dillon||29||4||0.14||39 (Tie)|
Not every young driver crashes, but most certainly do. Crashing is used an excuse to part ways with fresh-faced gas-mashers when other elements of the driver-team relationship aren’t going swimmingly. When these drivers demonstrate something to offset their high crash totals, reprieves are awarded. Consider the following:
- Greg Biffle crashed nine times in his first 11 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts. Because Biffle showed such unbridled aggression and came highly recommended by fellow Michigan man Benny Parsons, Jack Roush didn’t pull the plug on this young driver experiment in 1998. Biffle, who has crashed only 13 times in his last 101 Cup Series starts (a three-year crash frequency of 0.13), is now the longest-tenured Roush Fenway Racing driver and starting in 2015, will be the team’s bell cow.
- In Kyle Busch’s initial six-race Cup Series schedule in 2004, he crashed out of three races in Hendrick Motorsports equipment, never finishing higher than 24th. To this day, his aggression precedes him and he may or may not have transformed into a serial crasher for Joe Gibbs Racing, as he holds a 0.41 crash frequency this season, accounting for 12 crashes in a 29-race span. He crashed 15 times last season, for a per-race frequency of 0.42 (the second-highest rate among series regulars). Somehow, his accident-prone ways have never been a problem, at least publicly.
- Kyle Larson’s 0.38 crash frequency is one of the 10 highest in the series, but it’s doubtful that the show this runaway Rookie of the Year favorite is putting on is off-putting. Chip Ganassi Racing lacked the kind of spark Larson provides since Sterling Marlin came within a fractured vertebra of winning the 2002 Cup Series championship. As long as he keeps producing top-10 finishes with historic regularity, the fab shop won’t grumble too much about Yung Money’s crash damage.
Crashing, contrary to what’s said on telecasts or in team-issued press releases, isn’t solely due to poor luck. The ability to avoid crashes is a characteristic that teams covet. Biffle, a free agent up until this summer when he extended his stay at Roush Fenway, was an intriguing item on the market solely because of his crash avoidance. Aggression can be calculated or reckless. Most of the time, drivers learn the difference; however, the learning process might be born anew every time a driver is dropped into a new, more competitive situation.
Ricky Stenhouse’s learning process is still in progress. His flirtation with the walls of every speedway in America began (and ended) in his first USAC pavement start at Iowa Speedway. He was nicknamed “Wrecky” during his lone ARCA Series season, still showcasing enough talent to go into the year’s final race as a championship contender. His crashing was so rampant in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2010 that Roush Fenway benched him for a race, but he ultimately ended the season with a 0.44 crash frequency – innocuous compared to that of fellow Roush driver Colin Braun’s 0.63 – and earned identical 0.18 frequencies in 2011 and 2012 en route to consecutive series titles.
Currently en route to finishing his second full season in the Cup Series, Stenhouse is back to the crashing phase of his assimilation. His per-race crash count has doubled this season — he crashed eight times in 36 races last year (for a 0.22 frequency) — having crashed 13 times in 2014’s first 29 races, 0.45 times per race. He’s slated to return to Roush Fenway next season.
Of course, some rookies just have a penchant for avoiding collision. Of all of Austin Dillon’s faults, crashing isn’t one of them. His 0.14 crash frequency is pristine compared to the average Cup Series driver (0.27 for a driver with at least six starts this season). He scored low frequencies in his two full Nationwide Series seasons (0.15 in both 2012 and 2013), crashing 10 times in the span of 66 races. His brother Ty has a similar knack, having crashed just once in 2014, resulting in top-20 finishes in all 28 of his Nationwide Series starts.
Crashing acting as a detriment to a young driver’s career is merely a convenient excuse. Good teams with the tendency of being sound talent evaluators don’t home in on crash totals. Being a talented, speedy racer outside of the crashing is enough to earn leeway that tentative team owners don’t readily make available.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
Oregon is no stranger to alternate uniforms and designs, and the Ducks have unveiled a different look for Thursday night’s game against Arizona.
The uniforms feature pink accents, which are designed to help support breast cancer awareness.
Oregon also wore a similar design last season.
So, NASCAR Nation, were the first three races of NASCAR’s reformatted Chase for the Sprint Cup more exciting than last year? Here’s a few statistics to help you decide.
2013: 21.0 per event
2014: 12.7 per event
Lead Changes in the Last 10 Laps
Debris Cautions (Typically thrown when the field is spread out)
2013: 7 of 20 (35%)
2014: 11 of 26 (42.3%)
I start this way not because I want the sport to fail but to provide sobering reality to the unrelenting marketing excitement of NASCAR’s “new Chase format.” CEO Brian France, in pushing to change the playoff system, has emphasized the need for “Game 7” moments for the crowning of a champion to rival the slow build we see in stick ‘n’ ball sports. To do so, the format was changed more radically this year than we’ve seen since a “playoff” was introduced in 2004. There’s been an emphasis on winning (automatic qualifier), an expansion of the field to 16 and elimination stages to the point only four drivers will be eligible to race for the title at Homestead in November.
The moves early on in the season led to more exciting competition, especially at tracks where driver skill, not team money/engineering expertise provides a decided advantage (see: Watkins Glen, short tracks, restrictor plate racing). However, over the long run you can’t put lipstick on a pig. The four drivers we saw eliminated in this round of the Chase were nowhere near in position to compete for a title. The three drivers we saw win to start the postseason is a trio that, along with Jimmie Johnson, would be no surprise to see inside the “Final Four” at Homestead. This Sunday, with eliminations on the line, all those titlists came in with a clear mentality: “winning” meant not fighting for the trophy but advancing to the next round. Honestly, New Hampshire would have been just as monotonous if not for some nicely-timed debris cautions that bunched up the field and upped the anxiety for the final 125 laps.
What Dover became was a lot of conservative competition, along the lines of a Week 17 NFL matchup with little on the line. A postseason event over the course of the day somehow wound up with less meaning, at times, than a regular-season race. And a larger-than-expected crowd at Dover — their interest piqued in NASCAR’s new Chase elimination — instead saw the fun eliminated out of competition at what used to be one of the sport’s trickier, exciting tracks.
There’s still seven races left to go in NASCAR’s playoff, so certainly anything can happen. But there’s few, if any, underdogs left in the field of 12; nine of them come from just three teams (Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing). Carl Edwards, the 2008 title runner-up, and the always-contending Kevin Harvick from Stewart-Haas Racing are numbers 10 and 11, respectively. Underrated Ryan Newman, known more for earning poles than fighting for titles, is the closest thing you get to a “David vs. Goliath” story, and even then he’s driving for well-funded Richard Childress Racing.
If I’m missing something, please, comment below and tell me why you’re more excited about NASCAR three races into the new format. I’m hopeful the tide turns, but right now I see a whole lot of changes … and, after early optimism, I also see a very similar end result. Falling flat.
Through the Gears we go…
FIRST GEAR: Gordon steps up
After two races of Penske dominance, threatening to take the “favorite” label away from Hendrick Motorsports, the regular season championship leader stepped up. Jeff Gordon waited patiently for his turn at Dover, an event dominated by Harvick until a broken valve stem on a tire left the No. 4 car limping to the pits with a roughed-up splitter. Harvick’s track position gone — despite a timely caution to save him from going a lap down — left the victory battle between the two other cars head and shoulders above the pack: Gordon and Brad Keselowski. Combined, that trio of drivers led 395 of Dover’s 400 laps.
“I felt like we had a shot at the 2 car,” Gordon said. “We had kind of stayed with [Keselowski] throughout the day. He really would fade after about 30 laps, and so I was able to run him down on one of those restarts on the longer run and get by him.”
This race favored Gordon, whose car has been at its best this season on long, green-flag runs where traffic spreads out. The No. 24 car, in those situations has been one of the few able to pass without being slowed significantly by NASCAR’s “aero push” phenomenon. And with “long run” types of tracks ahead, including the Kansas facility where Gordon won this spring, this four-time champ remains in strong contention to bring home a fifth come Homestead.
SECOND GEAR: Clearing up the Chase grid
NASCAR’s first elimination race became a battle down the stretch between Hendrick’s Kasey Kahne and SHR’s Kurt Busch. Kahne, who had a top-10 car, lost two laps when a loose left-rear tire forced a green-flag stop. He spent the rest of the day clawing back, catching a lucky break on another yellow to regain a lap on the leaders. Kahne wound up 20th, one lap behind, jumping eight spots over the last 160 laps of the race. Busch, meanwhile, saw his car turn evil handling-wise, dropping seven spots during that same stretch, from 11th to 18th. That ultimately made up the difference, Kahne the one recovering from adversity during a season where he’s drowned in it far too often.
“We just had to race, race, race,” he said. “I never really got nervous at all. I’m glad NASCAR just let it go and let us race for it.”
The long green-flag run at the end doomed Busch, whose car just couldn’t keep it together over the last 40 laps, losing the five spots that dropped the 2004 champ out of contention for good.
“It was just tight,” he explained. “I felt like we were in good position to advance, but you just can’t expect to advance by running 18th. I just chalk it up to me not getting the job done.”
Others left behind, dropped from the 16-driver Chase field could see it coming. AJ Allmendinger put up a valiant effort, coming the closest, but could not overcome the limits of a JTG-Daugherty single-car operation in its first full year together as driver, crew chief and manufacturer. Simply making the Chase was an achievement for them, as well as fellow first-time Cup winner Aric Almirola, who was doomed by a faulty engine at Chicagoland. Greg Biffle, driving for struggling Roush Fenway Racing has been down on speed all season, collecting just three top-5 finishes and was arguably the worst-performing of these Chase drivers during the regular season.
THIRD GEAR: Is the 48/88 shop a step behind?
Dover, where Jimmie Johnson has a record nine career victories, is the closest thing the sport has to an “automatic.” Johnson, who’s won the Chase race at Dover three of the last five years, was supposed to rubber-stamp his effort for a record-tying seventh championship here, pounding the field and reminding us all how the No. 48 owns NASCAR’s postseason era. Instead? There was an A-minus, third-place result — a race where Johnson didn’t lead a lap at the Monster Mile for the first time in seven-and-a-half years. Does that mean Johnson is in trouble?
Yes and no. Certainly, crew chief Chad Knaus has made a career out of building this team to peak at the right time. A victory here, as opposed to a third-place, did little for Johnson under this new format, as no one enters the next round with an advantage (all points for the 12 contenders have been reset). Knaus constantly reemphasized the strategy of “survive and advance” on the radio, urging Johnson not to push too hard with a car that was ever-so-slightly behind the top two.
At the same time, you’d like to see Johnson run up front more; he hasn’t led a lap in any race since Michigan in August, and is now winless since the first Michigan race in June. The performance of Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose cars are built in the same shop, is even more concerning. The No. 88 car came into the Chase with momentum but has run 11th, ninth and 17th, also failing to lead a lap. Without a past history of bouncing back, running consistently throughout all 10 races of the Chase, you have to wonder if Earnhardt could be vulnerable in this next round. He was a ho-hum 19th at Charlotte in the spring; a similar finish leaves him wide open to suffer bad luck at Talladega and miss out.
“Trust me, we’re going to go to work and try to find everything we can to get better,” he said after Sunday’s race. “But we’re concerned. It’s not been a good couple of weeks. We need to find something quick.”
FOURTH GEAR: A monstrous mess
Dover’s Monster Mile once again turned into a dull parade of too many cars running in place Sunday. A track known for survival had not a single car suffer a serious wreck, as 40 of 43 cars finished the race and virtually all cautions occur because of debris. Had NASCAR wanted, letting some subjective calls go the other way, this entire event could have run caution free.
Many claim the problem at Dover is the tire compound; that it doesn’t create enough fall-off over the course of a green-flag run. What you get is too much parity, about 20 cars up front running the same speed an entire run while the rest become meaningless lapped traffic. Watching the leaders dice through those backmarkers at a place where passing has become virtually impossible, provided the only interesting moments for fans frustrated over the racing here. One would think, considering the importance of this track on the schedule, that NASCAR, Dover executives and Goodyear would get together in the offseason and hammer toward a solution so the track’s aggressive, rough-around-the-edges personality can return. Dover’s marketing push in and around Philadelphia (my hometown) has been admirable but there’s only so much you can showcase to potential new fans from Sunday. Are you going to make a 30-second commercial based on Chase elimination mathematics? Come on.
How many races has Harvick given away due to poor pit stops, penalties or some type of tire problem? We’ve got to be up to half-a-dozen at this point as Harvick, who led a NASCAR-high 406 laps in the first three races of this Chase, went 0-for-3 on victory lane. … Quietly, local favorite Martin Truex Jr. came home seventh for single-car Furniture Row Racing. A disappointing Truex, who has yet to lead a lap this season in the No. 78, has just four top-10 finishes, with two of them occurring at the Monster Mile. … Three Chase races, three top-6 finishes for rookie Kyle Larson. While not in the postseason field, the kid continues to impress each and every week. … Someone needs to explain to me how Almirola, Biffle, Allmendinger or Kurt Busch could still finish “as high as fifth in points.” The new NASCAR Chase format resets everyone’s point total to 3,000, leaving 13th through 16th behind in the 2,000-point range. So isn’t it mathematically impossible to move up beyond 13th? If so, NASCAR better explain that to a whole host of other media members, drivers and crewmen, who were all chirping about “the push to finish as high as 5th in points” after getting eliminated.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 30:
• Now that we've reached the end of September, here's the month in sports-related ladies.
• Not surprisingly, the Cardinals lead the Wall Street Journal's MLB Hateability Index.
• Yesterday's headline of the day: "Mike Leach Predicts Human Extinction." Is that click bait or what?
• Salacious gossip of the day: It's gotten ugly in Johnny Weir's split from his husband.
• A fix for you NBA fans: a Rubio-to-Wiggins alley-oop slam.
• Some reporter had the stones to ask Bill Belichick if he was evaluating the Patriots' quarterback situation. His reply was priceless.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Alabama strengthened its grip on the No. 1 spot in the Legends Poll Top 8. Despite not playing, the Crimson Tide received 11 of the 14 first place votes.
Idle Oklahoma moved up a spot to No. 2 and faces a tough road test at Texas Christian this upcoming weekend.
Florida State dropped another spot to No. 3 after a lackluster performance at NC State. The Seminoles’ defense struggled at times, but Florida State managed to hold on against a team they typically struggle with on the road. Oregon and Auburn rounded out the Top 5.
No. 6, Texas A&M kept its spot after grasping a 35-28, come from behind, victory over Arkansas in Dallas. The Aggies were followed by Baylor and Michigan State. Notre Dame dropped out of the Top 8 despite a 31-15 victory over Syracuse. Mississippi State and UCLA also received votes.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
|3||Florida State (1)||4-0||79||2|
It’s Week 5 and hopefully your team survived the first bye of the season. It was certainly a big one with Denver, Seattle, Cincinnati, Arizona, Cleveland and St. Louis all taking a breather. The good news is that this week the only two teams on bye are Miami and Oakland, who need the extra rest to recover from their trip to London. There are still injuries and other circumstances to deal with, however, and new names continue to pop up on the fantasy radar.
Athlon Sports is here to help you sort through some of the potential free agent options. The players listed in our weekly fantasy football waiver wire may be one-week adds, some may be worth holding on to all season long and some are of the “sleeper” variety that you may simply want to keep an eye on.
Teams on bye: Miami, Oakland
Week 4 Recap: Eli Manning was the week’s leading fantasy scorer after his five-touchdown (4 passing, 1 rushing) showing in a Thursday night rout of Washington. Alex Smith tossed three more touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over a single time as the Chiefs routed the Patriots on Monday night. Smith, who is owned in less than half of all Yahoo! leagues, has more fantasy points through four games than Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Tony Romo or Nick Foles.
Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
Bridgewater’s first NFL start went about as well as it possibly could (317 yards passing, rush TD, 2-point conversion), leading his team to an impressive win over Atlanta, until he left in the fourth quarter on a cart because of an ankle injury. The good news is that x-rays came back negative, so it appears to be some sort of sprain. The bad news, however, is that the Vikings have a short turnaround before paying a visit to Green Bay on Thursday night, so it’s possible Bridgewater may not get the start or even play this week. Regardless, the rookie’s first impression shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if you are looking for a bye-week replacement down the road or need to beef up your QB depth.
Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Let’s give Glennon his due. In his first start in place of an injured Josh McCown, all he did was lead his team to a comeback win in Pittsburgh in thrilling fashion. Glennon’s numbers (302-2-1) may not jump out at you, but his 22.1 fantasy points (Athlon scoring) were more than McCown had put up in any of the three previous games. Glennon started 13 games as a rookie last season and finished with respectable stats (2,608-19-9), so it’s not like he’s new to this role. Reports are that McCown could be facing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb, so there’s a chance this will be Glennon’s job for the immediate future. Depending on matchup, your bye-week situation or if you are in a 2-QB league, Glennon could be someone to keep on your radar.
Week 4 Recap: Another week, another receiving touchdown for Ahmad Bradshaw, who has four on the season already. He totaled just 52 yards against Tennessee, but it’s his status as one of Andrew Luck’s most trusted targets that’s driving his value. Lorenzo Taliaferro took advantage of an “inactive” Bernard Pierce and carried the ball a team-high 15 times for 58 yards and a touchdown in Baltimore’s victory over Carolina. With Pierce, Taliaferro and Justin Forsett (97 total yards, TD vs. Panthers) all in the picture, this is quickly becoming a crowded backfield. Roy Helu led Washington with five catches for 78 yards (also had two carries for eight yards) as one of the few offensive bright spots in the blowout home loss to the Giants. Donald Brown (10 att., 19 yds.) couldn’t get anything going on the ground against Jacksonville, but he should remain the primary ball-carrier for the Chargers moving forward with Ryan Mathews (MCL) injured and Danny Woodhead (broken leg) on IR.
Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings
Matt Asiata was certainly busy (20 att., 78 yds., 3 TDs) against Atlanta, but McKinnon also got 18 carries and turned those into 135 yards rushing. The rookie showed his explosiveness in one 55-yard run and he also caught one pass for 17 yards. Adrian Peterson’s future with the team is uncertain at best, so Asiata and McKinnon will be the backfield until something changes. Asiata may be No. 1 on the depth chart, but it looks like McKinnon will get his fair share of opportunities too.
Khiry Robinson, New Orleans Saints
The Saints did not look very good in a discouraging loss Sunday night to Dallas, but one positive takeaway could be the emergence of Robinson. Mark Ingram will miss a few more games after breaking his hand, so the opportunity is there for Robinson to replace Ingram’s rushing production. After falling behind early, New Orleans abandoned the run, but Robinson still finished with 87 yards on just eight carries. Granted, 62 of those came on one run when the game was pretty well decided, but it’s important for Robinson to take advantage of the opportunities he gets. Case in point: Ingram picked up three rushing touchdowns before getting hurt, so the assumption is that those goal-line looks will now go to Robinson.
Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans
After getting just eight carries in the first two games combined, Sankey has received a total of 19 touches (16 rushing, 3 receiving) over the past two games. It’s taken some time, but it looks like the Titans’ second-round pick is starting to settle in. Sankey’s progress in the box score may still leave more to be desired from a fantasy standpoint, but his numbers should only go up if the coaching staff continues to give him consistent touches.
Antone Smith, Atlanta Falcons
Steven Jackson is the leading rusher and has received nearly half (50) of the team’s 102 carries, but Smith’s impact shouldn’t be overlooked. Despite getting just 10 rushing attempts so far, Smith is second on the team with 119 yards (11.9 ypc) and he leads with two scores on the ground. On Sunday against Minnesota, Smith ripped off a 48-yard touchdown run, the Falcons’ longest play on the ground this season. He will need to see consistent carries moving forward to merit serious consideration as even a flex option; but it looks like Smith may be passing rookie Devonta Freeman and Jacquzz Rodgers (3 att., 10 yds. rushing comined vs. Vikings) in the pecking order in Atlanta’s backfield.
Week 4 Recap: Eddie Royal lived up to his reputation as a streaky player with two more touchdown catches against Jacksonville. Malcom Floyd got into the act too with his second scoring grab of the season, as the Chargers attacked the Jaguars through the air with much success. Allen Robinson was fairly active (7 targets, 5 rec., 38 yds.) against San Diego and could see even more looks considering Cecil Shorts left early after apparently re-aggravating a hamstring injury that cost him the first two games. Devin Hester took advantage of Harry Douglas’ absence and filled in nicely as the Falcons’ No. 3 wide receiver – 5 catches for 70 yards, including a 36-yard scoring strike. Hakeem Nicks (2 rec., 12 yds.) was one of the few Colts who didn’t take advantage of a generous Titans’ passing defense (393 yds., 4 TDs allowed) on Sunday.
Marvin Jones, Cincinnati Bengals
Remember me? Jones broke his foot early in the preseason, but the expectation is he will be back this week. The Bengals went 3-0 without him, but Jones’ return will only help Andy Dalton and the passing game. Jones caught a total of 51 passes last season, but 10 of those went for touchdowns, a big reason why he finished 25th in fantasy points at his position. He’s not the big-play threat that A.J. Green or even Giovani Bernard is, but he’s a legitimate red-zone target, something Dalton could use with tight end Tyler Eifert (dislocated elbow) on short-term IR. Jones could be a nice boost to a team with bye week issues or needing some depth at receiver.
Brian Quick, St. Louis Rams
St. Louis is already on its third quarterback this season, but one constant for the Rams at wide receiver has been Quick. The third-year pro entered this season with just 29 career receptions and four touchdowns and in the shadows of teammates Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt and Chris Givens. All Quick has done however, is record 16 grabs for 235 yards and a touchdown in the team’s first three games. The Rams’ offense is still a work in progress, but they are coming off of a bye and it looks like Quick is the preferred target of whomever lines up under center.
Jarius Wright, Minnesota Vikings
Cordarelle Patterson and Greg Jennings are the more popular options and remain ahead of Wright on the depth chart, but it was Wright who made the most noise on Sunday. In Teddy Bridgewater’s first career start, Wright hooked up with the rookie quarterback eight times for 132 yards in the win over Atlanta. Wright saw twice as many targets (10) as Patterson and Jennings combined (8). Over the long haul, Patterson still offers the most upside because of his athleticism and explosiveness – don’t forget he had 102 yards rushing in Week 1 – but it’s possible that Wright supplants Jennings’ as the Vikings’ No. 2 option. Something worth keeping an eye on, especially if Bridgewater (depending on his ankle injury) continues to produce in the pocket.
Week 4 Recap: Travis Kelce showed up in a big way on Monday night, catching eight passes for 93 yards and a late touchdown that probably saved some people’s fantasy teams while ruining the chances of others. Steve Smith stole the show against his former team, but Owen Daniels was the second-most targeted Raven against Carolina with six. He finished the day with four catches for 43 yards and remains a borderline TE1 moving forward with Dennis Pitta (dislocated hip) on IR.
Larry Donnell, New York Giants
Donnell was mentioned in this space before (Week 3) and to be honest, I’m pretty much shocked his ownership rate (55% in Yahoo! leagues as of Tuesday morning) is as low as it is. All this guy has done is come out of nowhere to emerge as a top-five fantasy TE after four weeks. He’s coming off of a three-touchdown performance against Washington and has averaged nearly eight targets per game. Any questions about whether he’s legit or not should have been answered by now. Really at this point it’s a matter of where does he rank moving forward? Top 10 seems pretty safe and it’s not that far-fetched to make an argument for him as a borderline top-five option the rest of the season. Need I say any more?
Week 4 Recap: San Diego had some trouble with Jacksonville early, but settled in and held the Jaguars scoreless for pretty much the last two and a half quarters. The Chargers finished with three sacks and three takeaways (2 INTs, 1 fumble) for a solid 12 fantasy points. Next up on the schedule: home to the Jets, at Oakland and home against the Chiefs.
Not to pick on the aforementioned Jaguars, but the reality is this is a team that ranks next to last in total offense (279.3 ypg) and scoring (14.5 ppg) and the only offense faring worse (Oakland) is on bye this week. Jacksonville also is 30th in rushing (69.8 ypg), has allowed a whopping 20 sacks in four games and is starting a rookie quarterback. The Steelers didn’t exactly look that impressive, especially late, against the Buccaneers, but this is a defense that has shown it can dominate an opponent (3 sacks, 2 takeaways, TD in Week 3 vs. Carolina) and let’s face it – the matchup doesn’t get any better than this.
Scoring is based on Athlon Sports default scoring which is 6 points for all TDs, .5 points per reception and 1 point PER 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving and 40 return yards.
The new college football playoff format has added even more intrigue to the 2014 season. Instead of figuring out the top two teams in early December, the focus has shifted to finding four teams to play in the first FBS postseason playoff format.
To help select the four playoff teams, a 13-person committee was picked, which includes names like Barry Alvarez, Oliver Luck, Pat Haden and Jeff Long, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former coach Tyrone Willingham.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. The official playoff committee will release its rankings starting on Oct. 28, but this poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 5 Playoff Projection Results
Takeaways from Expert Poll Results
* According to the voting panel, the top four teams are clear. Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon and Florida State are a step above Auburn at No. 5. And there’s a 30-point gap from the Tigers to Texas A&M at No. 6.
* Alabama received eight of the 19 first-place votes. Oklahoma ranked second with seven first-place votes.
* Oregon has one of the best wins of the 2014 season (Michigan State) and accumulated only one first-place vote. The Ducks recorded three votes for No. 2 and nine for No. 3.
* Five of the 14 teams receiving votes are from the SEC. Three come from the Pac-12.
Related: Everything You Need to Know About the CFB Playoff
Group of 5 Rankings
(One team from the Group of 5 conferences - American Athletic, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt - will play in one of college football's premier (New Year's Bowls) each season.
1. East Carolina
Key Wins: at Virginia Tech, North Carolina
Pirates are the clear frontrunner for the Group of 5 spot in one of college football’s premier bowl games. East Carolina may not be tested over the next three weeks (SMU, at USF and UConn), but October matchups against Cincinnati and Temple will be the toughest remaining games on the schedule – until the finale against UCF.
2. Cincinnati (2-1)
Key Wins: Toledo
Bearcats lost to Ohio State on Saturday and rank behind East Carolina due to its lack of wins against Power 5 teams. Has opportunity to climb with remaining games against Miami and East Carolina.
Related: Post-Week 5 Bowl Projections
3. Marshall (4-0)
Key Wins: at Akron
Thundering Herd has favorable path to 12-0 regular season mark, but weak strength of schedule will hurt this team.
Key Results from Week 5
UCLA 62, Arizona State 27 (Thursday)
Best performance of the year by the Bruins.
Northwestern 29, Penn State 6
Longshot playoff hopes by Nittany Lions ended by Wildcats.
Georgia 35, Tennessee 32
Bulldogs avoid upset. SEC East title hopes improve with South Carolina loss.
Florida State 56, NC State 41
Seminoles avoid upset in Raleigh to remain unbeaten.
Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 28 (OT)
Aggies keep pace with Alabama and Auburn in SEC West.
Stanford 20, Washington 13
Cardinal avoids second Pac-12 loss with road win in Seattle.
Missouri 21, South Carolina 20
Tigers take a step forward in SEC East title race.
Air Force 28, Boise State 14
Broncos eliminated from contention for Group of 5 bowl spot?
Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 15
Fighting Irish remain unbeaten before showdown against Stanford.
Key Games With Playoff Implications in Week 6
Arizona at Oregon (Thursday)
One more tune-up for Ducks before showdown against UCLA next Saturday.
LSU at Auburn
An 0-2 hole won’t be easy to overcome in the SEC West for LSU.
Nebraska at Michigan State
Ameer Abdullah versus Michigan State’s defense is a must-see matchup.
Alabama at Ole Miss
Can the Rebels score a breakthrough win in the SEC West?
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Another test for Texas A&M’s defense. Can it stop Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott?
Baylor at Texas
Can the Longhorns find a way to slow down Baylor’s high-scoring offense?
Oklahoma at TCU
Horned Frogs lost by only three points to Oklahoma last season. This year’s matchup is in Fort Worth.
Stanford at Notre Dame
Last two meetings have been decided by a touchdown.
Utah at UCLA
Bruins can’t afford to look past Utes.
With five weeks in the books, college football’s bowl and national title picture is surrounded in uncertainty.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
While only five weeks are in the books, it’s never too early to start looking at what the bowl picture might hold for each conference and team this year. The post-Week 5 bowl projections are a mixture between picks for the next few weeks, how things would look if the season ended today, and the results from the first five weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks, especially as the heart of conference play arrives in October.
College Football's Post-Week 5 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| Nevada vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs.|
| UTSA vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
|Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Air Force vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| ULL vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs.|
| FAU vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
|Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| Marshall vs.|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs.|
| Rice vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs. |
| North Carolina vs. |
|Bitcoin St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| UCF vs. |
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs. |
| Temple vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Duke vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Virginia vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs.|
| Tennessee vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs.|
|West Virginia vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
| TCU vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs.|
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
| Nebraska vs.|
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Ohio State vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American/Army vs.|
|TaxSlayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Miami vs. |
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
|Kansas State vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs. |
|Texas vs. |
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
| Florida vs. |
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs.|
| Arkansas State vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Auburn vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| UCLA vs. |
|Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
|Rose||Jan. 1||Playoff |
| Florida State vs. |
| Alabama vs. |
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Alabama vs.|
* Indicates conference not projected to have enough bowl-eligible teams.
The Pac-12 has reversed its fortunes among the major conferences, but there remains an area where the league is lagging.
Remember, this is a league that is two years removed from sending only two teams to the NCAA Tournament, its regular season champion not among them.
That has changed with 11 NCAA Tournament teams during the last two seasons, three more than the previous three seasons combined.
Getting to the Tournament is one thing. Advancing is another. No active Pac-12 coach has a Final Four appearance. Every other major basketball conference (the Power 5, plus the American and Big East) have at least two Final Four coaches. The ACC alone has 30 Final Four appearances spread among five coaches.
That figures to change eventually, as Arizona’s Sean Miller has twice reached the Elite Eight since arriving in the Pac-12.
Even without a ton of trophies, the Pac-12 cast of coaches is interesting: Miller is the star here, but Tad Boyle and Larry Krystkowiak have proven themselves program-builders in the last four years. Johnny Dawkins and Herb Sendek resurrected their tenures with NCAA appearances last year.
As usual, a handful of factors go into ranking the coaches — career accomplishments, career momentum, gameday acumen, player development, recruiting, conference records and postseason success.
1. Sean Miller, Arizona
Record at Arizona: 129-48 (.729)
NCAA Tournament: 14-7
Number to note: Miller has reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in each of his last five trips at Arizona and Xavier. The only two times he’s failed to reach the Sweet 16 were his first two NCAA appearances with Musketeers.
Why he’s ranked here: Miller has restored Arizona to national prominence and has the No. 4 signing class this year and the No. 1 class for 2015. The best coach without a Final Four appearance won’t carry that title for much longer.
2. Tad Boyle, Colorado
Record at Colorado: 92-50 (.648)
NCAA Tournament: 1-3
Number to note: The Buffaloes have ranked in the top 50 of adjusted defensive efficiency in each of the last three seasons, according to KenPom.
Why he’s ranked here: This is the golden age of Colorado basketball. Colorado has as many NCAA appearances under Boyle in the last three seasons as it did from 1969-2011.
3. Steve Alford, UCLA
Record at UCLA: 28-9 (.757)
NCAA Tournament: 7-8
Number to note: In Alford’s first season, UCLA reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008 ... with the help of a No. 13 seed (Tulsa) and No. 12 seed (Stephen F. Austin). That shouldn’t be ignored — two of Alford’s New Mexico teams were eliminated by double-digit seeds.
Why he’s ranked here: Alford’s hire wasn’t met with much excitement, but the jolt of energy seems to be working. UCLA had arguably its best team since the 2008 Final Four squad.
4. Dana Altman, Oregon
Record at Oregon: 97-47 (.674)
NCAA Tournament: 5-10
Number to note: A streaky program has stability. Oregon has winning conference seasons in three consecutive years for the first time in school history.
Why he’s ranked here: An offseason scandal casts a shadow over his tenure at Oregon. His career, though, has been marked by building consistent winners at Creighton and now Oregon.
5. Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
Record at Utah: 42-55 (.433)
NCAA Tournament: 1-2
Number to note: Utah won more Pac-12 games in his third season (nine) than the Utes won total games in his first year (six).
Why he’s ranked here: Krystkowiak brought Utah back from irrelevance, and now the Utes will contend for their first NCAA spot since 2009.
6. Johnny Dawkins, Stanford
Record at Stanford: 117-87 (.575)
NCAA Tournament: 2-1
Number to note: Entering 2014, Stanford hadn’t defeated a higher-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament since 1998. Dawkins did it twice in his first trip. No. 10 Stanford upset No. 7 New Mexico and No. 2 Kansas. The Cardinal still managed to lose to a lower-seeded team in the Sweet 16 (No. 11 Dayton).
Why he’s ranked here: After missing the NCAA Tournament in his first five seasons, Dawkins saved his job with a trip to the Sweet 16.
7. Lorenzo Romar, Washington
Record at Washington: 254-144 (.838)
NCAA Tournament: 8-7
Number to note: Washington’s ranking on KenPom.com has decreased in each of the last four seasons from No. 20 in 2011 to No. 57 to No. 76 to No. 95 in 2014. The latter is Washington’s worst since Romar’s first season in 2002-03.
Why he’s ranked here: Romar has led Washington to the Sweet 16 three times, won the conference tournament three times and won the league twice. Still, he’ll be under pressure to reverse the decline.
8. Cuonzo Martin, Cal
Record at Cal: First season
NCAA Tournament: 3-1
Number to note: After NCAA Tournament snubs at Missouri State and Tennessee, Martin made up for lost time by winning three games in his first NCAA appearance, starting in the First Four and ending the Sweet 16.
Why he’s ranked here: Martin hopes he’s landed where he’s more appreciated at Cal.
9. Herb Sendek, Arizona State
Record at Arizona State: 141-121 (.538)
NCAA Tournament: 7-8
Number to note: Sendek’s last two teams, led by guard Jahii Carson, were the first two of his eight-year tenure to average better than 70 points per game.
Why he’s ranked here: Sendek is a survivor, that’s for sure. His second NCAA bid at Arizona State keeps him in Tempe.
10. Andy Enfield, USC
Record at USC: 11-21 (.344)
NCAA Tournament: 2-1
Number to note: USC at least played fast for Enfield, ranking 26th in adjusted tempo by KenPom.
Why he’s ranked here: Enfield is the only coach to take a No. 15 seed to the Sweet 16. Rebuilding USC will take more than one weekend.
11. Wayne Tinkle, Oregon State
Record at Oregon State: First season
NCAA Tournament: 0-3
Number to note: Montana won regular season and Big Sky Tournament titles two of the last three seasons under Tinkle.
Why he’s ranked here: Montana has a nice tradition of producing coaches who thrive on the next level — Jud Heathcote, Mike Montgomery, Stew Morrill, Blaine Taylor and Larry Krystkowiak. Tinkle may have an impossible situation at Oregon State, though.
12. Ernie Kent, Washington State
Record at Washington State: First season
NCAA Tournament: 6-6
Number to note: Kent is Oregon’s all-time wins leader with 235 victories from 1998-2010.
Why he’s ranked here: Kent has been out of coaching since 2010, and his last 20-win season came in 2007.
No. 14 Michigan State is riding its longest Final Four drought under Tom Izzo, but don’t pity the poor Spartans who last reached the national semifinals in 2010. Izzo, though, has a challenge with Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Gary Harris gone from a team that won 29 games and reached the Elite Eight. As usual, he’ll have veterans ready to step into lead roles.
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Tom Izzo has built Michigan State to the point where last year’s run to the Elite Eight after a Big Ten Tournament Championship was considered to be an unsatisfying campaign.
Izzo wants to feel good about last year’s injury-strained accomplishments, but wonders if his second national title might have been in store if former point guard Keith Appling hadn’t wrecked his wrist and if former power forward Adreian Payne hadn’t been weighed down by mononucleosis.
Now, the Spartans will need paybacks from the basketball gods in the health category and rapid development from freshmen if they are going to contend for a conference title.
“I like the direction we’re heading right now,” Izzo says. “I think that we could be really good (this) year and then really, really good down the road.”
No. 14 Michigan State Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-9, 12-6 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Consecutive NCAAs: 17
Coach: Tom Izzo (468-187, 221-101 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Third
Postseason Projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The Branden Dawson who averaged 17.5 points during a six-game postseason hot streak is the Dawson that Michigan State desperately needs on a consistent basis. Dawson has honed his perimeter shooting skills to the point of becoming capable of playing the 3. But Michigan State will need him to attack opponents as a mismatch 4, as he did last March when he was Big Ten Tournament MOP.
Dawson has been a transition-and-garbage scorer in the past. But his improved jump shot, coupled with solid ball-handling skills and explosive finishing ability, may allow him to take his game to the next level. It’s rare to find a senior with Dawson’s raw talent. Injuries have kept him in the college ranks. His focus and effort have fluctuated in the past. Now he is driven to have the type of senior year Payne enjoyed last season.
When properly charged, Dawson is one of the most dynamic players in the conference. However, with Payne and Gary Harris gone to the NBA, Dawson will experience defenses designed to contain him for the first time in his college career.
Junior center Matt Costello has added a layer of muscle and appears ready to blossom after a pair of seasons diminished by injury and illness. He has become a quality face-up shooter during the offseason, but his back-to-the-basket skills are average. He is strong enough to command respect on defense and the glass. He has been in the shadow of Payne and former Spartan Derrick Nix for two years. Now Michigan State needs Costello to emerge as a plus pivot, but that might be a year away from coming to fruition.
Interior depth is a major concern. Sophomore Gavin Schilling is a stock-rising banger off the bench. Muscular 6-7 freshman Marvin Clark Jr. will need to contribute due to Izzo’s dismissal of stretch-4 Kenny Kaminski in August.
The depth issues mean Costello will need to play hard while avoiding foul trouble — always a terrible conflict of interest in the Izzo program. That could make it difficult for Michigan State to lead the Big Ten in defensive field goal percentage for a second straight year.
Denzel Valentine is a dazzling passer as a point/wing, and a respectable shooter. He has All-Big Ten potential and a triple-double skill set. With last year’s quiet seniors gone, Valentine’s leadership vocals are providing a fresh vibe. He can provide spot duty at the 4 if necessary.
Combo guard Travis Trice has thickened his once-scrawny body and hopes to finally have a full, healthy season. He’s a streak shooter who is ready to take his role to 30 minutes per game, mostly at the point. Trice is being given the keys to the offense for the first time and could emerge as one of the surprise players in the Big Ten. He’s pretty good, not great.
Alvin Ellis can play defense, run the floor and hit the open jumper, making him a rangy, useful role player.
If Cleveland State transfer Bryn Forbes, a deep shooter, gains immediate eligibility, Michigan State’s depth and offensive firepower will receive a substantial boost.
Leadership is on an upswing with Valentine and Trice. With six departed players and a thinned-out roster, this energetic mix of good personalities is similar to the surprising 2012 group that won the Big Ten and advanced to the Sweet 16 with Draymond Green. But the conference is stronger at the top this year than in 2012.
Lourawls Nairn is the fastest point guard Tom Izzo has ever signed. He struggles with his jump shot and finishing at the rim. Marvin Clark has nice shooting touch and a strong build but must play harder in the medium-range game. Javon Bess is an Izzo-style blue collar battler at the wing. Bryn Forbes was second-team All-Horizon League at Cleveland State, averaging 15.6 points while shooting 42 percent from deep.
Miami beat Oakland 38-14 on Sunday in Wembley Stadium in London.
It was a putrid football game between one team that hasn’t won a game in its last 10 tries and another that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2000. It meant very little to the AFC playoff picture or to NFL fans in general.
It mattered to the Dolphins' starting quarterback, the fans in London and, most importantly, to Roger Goodell.
Ryan Tannehill hasn’t played well this season but he put together his best outing of the season against the Raiders after back-to-back losses to the Bills and Chiefs. But that is the only real football-related headline to come from the United Kingdom.
No, the most important headlines lie in the periphery. Wembley Stadium, which began hosting one NFL game per year in 2007, hosted 83,436 fans for the Dolphins' win over Oakland. With two more games scheduled this season — Detroit faces Atlanta on Oct. 26 and Dallas battles Jacksonville on Nov. 9 — the powers that be are excepting nearly 250,000 tickets sold for NFL games in London this fall. And, you’ll notice, none of those six teams made the playoffs last season.
At roughly, 100 pounds per ticket, these three games will net approximately 25 million pounds just at the turnstile alone. That’s more than $40 million.
Goodell is shipping the bottom third of his product to London and the fans are eating it up. There is a reason that rumors indicate the number of games played in London could jump from three to five in the very near future. Clearly, Goodell wants to grow the brand internationally and a vast global reach is the only space left for the NFL to conquer.
Despite the unexpected popularity abroad of the mid-season trip across the pond and the pressure to find new streams of revenue locally, talks of a team calling London home permanently may be premature, however.
Exorbitant travel costs, impossible scheduling, salary cap implications and even things as simple as facilities could keep a team from relocating to London.
It’s nearly 5,000 miles from Seattle to London, so scheduling becomes enormously difficult for every team West of the Mississippi. Players aren’t going to want to live most of the year overseas and that could impact the salary cap in a way that 31 other owners won’t appreciate. And there is no guarantee that there’s even a stadium capable of hosting eight home games a season.
Today, fans are flocking to these games because they get to see something they don’t see every day. They get different teams spaced out over three months for a rare and special experience. London has yet to even prove it can successfully host games in back-to-back weekends.
Once the average European realizes he’s paying $160 per game to see Derek Carr lose, the novelty and interest may dry up quicker than anticipated.
At a combative press conference won’t be enough for Michigan coach Brady Hoke to explain the handing of injured quarterback Shane Morris.
Morris was lifted from the game due to a high ankle sprain and did not sustain a concussion to Hoke’s knowledge, Hoke told the media in a Monday morning press conference. The quarterback would have practiced Sunday if not for the ankle injury, Hoke said.
Hoke said he’d never put a player on the field if there was a risk he sustained a head injury, but assessing that risk is ultimately in the hands of the Michigan medical staff.
"I don't make decisions who plays, who doesn't play, as far as when there's injuries, in particular, if there were any head or head trauma," Hoke told the media. "Those of you who know or don't know, I would never put a kid in that situation. Never have and never will because you get into this to coach kids.”
In a contentious press conference Monday, Hoke fielded questions surrounding his handling of Morris, who sustained a helmet-to-helmet hit against Minnesota and continued for two more non-consecutive plays.
Morris needed help from a lineman to stand after taking a hit from Minnesota’s Theiren Cockran — a stumble Hoke says was brought about by an ankle injury. Morris stayed in for one more play but returned later in the series when Devin Gardner lost his helmet during a play.
The explanations Hoke gave, though, remain dubious.
Hoke says he “assumed” Michigan medical personnel performed the required tests for concussions, though those tests were not administered until after Morris stayed in the game long enough to throw an incomplete pass.
Hoke said he did not see the hit on Morris as the coach was following the ball downfield and attributed Morris’ stumble to his ankle giving out. Given the nature of the hit — the back of Morris’ head also hit the ground — Morris’ motions were consistent with those of a player who had suffered a concussion. Hoke said he did not see the quarterback struggling in real time and ultimately not until he viewed the coaches’ game film.
Hoke also repeatedly referred to a forthcoming statement from the Michigan medical staff, a statement that had not arrived as of four hours since the press conference. Hoke referred to the statement when asked if Morris received a concussion test on the sideline and why Morris still had his helmet after leaving the game for the first time.
Hoke also said he had not communicated with athletic director Dave Brandon since Saturday, though the school released a statement from Hoke on Sunday evening.
The Week 5 SEC slate was highlighted by Missouri’s surprising victory at South Carolina and Texas A&M’s comeback win, in overtime, over Arkansas in Arlington, Texas. Here are some stats from the week that was in the SEC.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 5 in the SEC
Third down conversion percentage rate allowed by the Tennessee defense in 2014, the best in the nation. Opponents have only converted 11 third downs in four games against the Vols. Last year, Tennessee ranked 92nd national in third down defense, allowing a 42.5 percent conversion rate.
Average carries per game by Todd Gurley, the most in his three seasons at Georgia. The Bulldogs entered the season with one of the deepest backfields in the nation, but injuries to some key reserves have forced Mark Richt to lean on Gurley more than he might have planned. Gurley had more than 20 carries seven times in 24 games in his first two seasons.
Consecutive possessions that ended with a punt by Texas A&M in the first quarter of the Aggies’ win against Arkansas on Saturday. It is the first time A&M punted on three straight possessions since the regular-season finale last season, a 28–21 loss at Missouri.
Games in which Arkansas has had at least 400 yards of offense this season — 684 vs. Nicholls State, 499 vs. Texas Tech, 427 vs. Northern Illinois, 484 vs. Texas A&M. Last season, the Hogs only topped the 400-yard mark three times, only one of which came against an SEC opponent (Texas A&M).
Touchdowns by Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims, who has not taken a snap on offense this season. Sims has two scores on kickoff returns and one on an interception return. No other Vanderbilt player has more than one touchdown.
Yards per passing attempt by the Kentucky offense, up from 6.8 last season, 5.5 in 2012 and 4.8 in ’11. The Wildcats rank fourth in the SEC in passing offense with 290.5 yards per game but have only thrown six touchdown passes, tied for second-fewest in the league.
Total yards accumulated by the Missouri offense in the 10 possessions from the middle of the first quarter through the middle of the fourth quarter in Mizzou’s 21–20 win at South Carolina. The Tigers then marched 68 yards and 51 yards, respectively, on their final two possessions, which both ended with touchdowns.
Touchdowns allowed by Ole Miss in four games this season. The Rebels gave up one score to both Boise State and Louisiana-Lafayette and did not allow a touchdown to Vanderbilt or Memphis. Ole Miss ranks No. 3 nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 8.5 points per game.
Losses at home by South Carolina so far this season. It’s the first time since 2008 that the Gamecocks have lost at least two games at Williams-Brice Stadium. That season, Carolina lost at home to Georgia (14–7) and LSU (24–17). The Gamecocks have not lost three home games since 2007.
Plays from scrimmage by the Texas A&M offense that have gone for 10 yards or more. That’s the most in the SEC and it’s 20 more than any other team in the league. Nationally, only Washington State has more (104).
The future was on full display in Minneapolis and San Diego on Sunday when both the Vikings and Jaguars started rookie quarterbacks.
Teddy Bridgewater made his first NFL start against the Falcons at home while Blake Bortles made his first on the road against the Chargers.
Despite different outcomes, both played exceptionally well in their starting debuts.
Both quarterbacks came out of the gate firing. Bridgewater completed every pass on the Vikings' first two drives (6-of-6), both of which ended in touchdowns. Bortles connected on 13 of his first 15 passes, directing the Jaguars to two touchdowns in the first half.
Bridgewater finished the game 19-of-30 for 317 yards and no turnovers to go along with 27 yards rushing and a touchdown. His last carry was the most costly, as the unflappable rookie hurt his ankle. He was carted off the field, but an MRI taken later showed no fracture. (Luckily, it doesn’t appear like the talented rookie will miss much time.)
More importantly, the Vikings' offense rolled up 588 yards and didn’t turn the ball over in a win over Atlanta, a team many consider to be playoff-caliber. The offense was balanced and Bridgewater looked like he did his entire college career at Louisville – in control and confident.
The outcome for Bortles wasn’t as noteworthy, as the Chargers pulled away in the second half from the overmatched Jaguars. But don’t let that dampen the performance of the young gunslinger.
The former UCF star was also in complete control of the offense and showed poise in a hostile environment. He finished 29-of-37 passing with 253 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and 24 yards rushing on five carries.
Again, look past the numbers to evaluate Bortles in his first career start. This offense looked like it was in sync for the first time all season. Jacksonville was solid on third downs (9 for 14), was perfect in the red zone (2-2) and committed just three penalties all game. In a very tough situation against a quality opponent, Bortles performed more than adequately.
Coming into the 2014 NFL Draft and throughout the summer, Johnny Manziel got all of the headlines. Manziel was the Heisman Trophy winner. Manziel was the draft day story as he dropped down boards. Yet Manziel was still the player thought to have a chance to start in Week 1.
As it turns out, the two forgotten first-rounders — the two guys who actually won conference championships in college — are the two names making headlines just four weeks into the season while Manziel has yet to complete a pass in the NFL.
Fans in both the Twin Cities and Jacksonville should be excited about the future of their team's quarterback position.
Jason Garrett and the Cowboys find themselves in unfamiliar territory after thumping the Saints at home on Sunday night.
Ranked No. 1 in the NFL in rushing and two games above .500.
Dallas ranked 24th in rushing last season, was 31st in rushing in 2012 and 18th in rushing in Garrett’s first season in '11. But after rushing for 190 yards in the surprisingly easy win over New Orleans; the Cowboys are leading the NFL with 165.0 yards rushing per game.
A big part of that has been DeMarco Murray, who ran 24 times for 149 yards and two more touchdowns in Week 4. It was his fourth 100-yard effort to start the season, placing him in rarified NFL air. Murray became just the fourth player in NFL history to rush for at least 100 yards and a TD in each of his team’s first four games. The other three? Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson and Emmitt Smith.
That’s pretty impressive company.
What’s more important for Garrett is the 3-1 record. It’s only the fourth time in Garrett’s coaching career in Dallas that his Cowboys were two games over .500. With a win over Houston at home next weekend, Garrett would move three games over .500 for just the second time in his career and the first time since Week 12 of his first season.
Tony Romo was excellent on Sunday night — 22-of-29, 262 yards, 3 TDs — but he is still a 34-year-old quarterback with a bad back and a tendency to throw interceptions. The defense still has plenty of work to do as well after allowing 438 yards in the win, leaving this unit ranked 24th in the NFL (390.0 ypg). If Dallas is going to make the playoffs, the running game has to continue to take pressure off of Romo.
The next few weeks will be critical for Garrett, Romo and Murray to prove this start isn’t a fluke, however. Four of the next five games will come at home for Dallas, giving the Cowboys an excellent chance to grab a foothold on at least a potential Wild Card berth. An in-state test against Houston at home is very winnable next weekend, as are critical NFC East home tilts with the Giants and Redskins.
Even if the trip to Seattle in two weeks is a guaranteed loss, Dallas is still looking at a glut of winnable games over the next six weeks before going on bye in Week 11. A home game with Arizona and road trip to Jacksonville is how Dallas will head into the off weekend.
A 7-3 record isn’t out of the question heading into the bye and that would put potentially put Dallas on a path to even less charted territory for Garrett. The playoffs.
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of college football. Every Sunday, reading updated box scores and stats is like Christmas for fans and media members. Some stats like total offense and total defense are overrated but each help paint a picture for a team or particular game.
Whether the stats are historic, advanced or just an observation from a box score, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Atlantic Coast Conference football action:
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson became Clemson's first true freshman quarterback to record a win in his first career start after leading the Tigers to a 50-35 win over North Carolina. He threw for six TDs in the win, also becoming the first freshman QB in ACC history to throw for six scores and tied the ACC single-game record for TD passes. Only five ACC players have thrown six TDs in a game. Clemson won for just the fifth time in 17 tries when starting a true freshman QB.
Wake Forest's Tylor Harris set an FBS record by recovering three fumbles in a 20-10 loss at Louisville. No FBS player had ever collected three fumbles in a game since it became an official statistic in 1992. His sack, forced fumble, and recovery in the end zone gave Wake a 10-7 lead in the third quarter before the Cardinals reeled off 10 unanswered points on the way to the win. The nose tackle is one recovery away from Wake's season record of five.
Andrew Motuapuaka handed Virginia Tech its fastest ever touchdown in the Frank Beamer era when he returned a fumble of the opening kickoff 11 yards for a 6-0 lead eight seconds into the Hokies game with Western Michigan. It broke Andre Davis' mark of 18 seconds after his 74-yard TD catch from Michael Vick against Rutgers in 1999.
On the way to its 20-10 win against Wake Forest Saturday, Louisville picked off Demon Deacons QB John Wolford three times. The Cardinal's defense has now forced 13 turnovers in the first five games this season, which is the most through five contests since forcing 14 in 2005. Wolford was also sacked eight times, the most for the UofL defense since eight against Rutgers last October.
Duke quarterback Anthony Boone suffered his first loss in 15 regular season career starts when the Blue Devils fell 22-10 Saturday at Miami. Boone tossed two interceptions, the final one in the fourth quarter helped the Hurricanes ice the game four plays later, and saw Duke's school-record tying 12-game regular season winning streak snapped.
N.C. State became the first-ever opponent to score 24 points in the first quarter against Florida State in school history - a span of 768 first quarters. In three previous games against the nation's No. 1 team, N.C. State had never lead at any point. On Saturday, the Wolfpack led 24-7 after one quarter and 24-21 at halftime. The Seminoles went on to win 56-41.
With its 31-15 win against Syracuse, Notre Dame has scored at least 30 points in each of its first four games. That is a feat that has not been accomplished by the Irish since their 1943 national championship season. And for the fourth consecutive game in 2014, Notre Dame has held its opponent to 17 or less.
Since 2000, Florida State is 56-1 when it scores at least 40 points. The only defeat was 49-44 to Georgia Tech in 2009.
After gaining 64 yards over its first six possessions, resulting in five punts and an interception, Akron collected 280 yards and three touchdowns over its next five drives en route to a 21-10 win over host Pittsburgh. The Zips' seventh drive outgained its previous six alone when they went 75 yards to tie the game at 7 before halftime.
With its 45-13 win and 520 yards of total offense against Kent State, Virginia has registered 500+ yards in total offense in back-to-back games for the first time since 2004. The Cavaliers had a three-game span against Temple (504), North Carolina (549), and Akron (522) where they reached 500 to open the season on the way to an 8-4 season.
- Corby A. Yarbrough
@Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Hosts Braden Gall and David Fox cover all of the action from the college gridiron in Week 5. The Pac-12 races start to heat up, the ACC struggles again and Kansas is looking for a new coach. The guys also have some strong words for Brady Hoke and quarterbacks in the SEC.
You've no doubt read the headlines this morning after another disappointing U.S. Ryder Cup loss:
"Mickelson Unloads on Watson"
"Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson Feud"
"Phil Mickelson Was Wrong to Rip Tom Watson"
How about this: "Phil Asked a Probing Question, Gives Honest Answer"? Because that's what happened.
In an era when whitebread golfers give politically correct, pablum-flavored non-answers, Mickelson's candor concerning what constitutes effective Ryder Cup leadership was refreshing. If the U.S. is ever going to win back the Cup, Watson's failed captaincy needs to be dissected and important lessons extracted.
Mickelson was on the last U.S. team to win the Cup — the underdog 2008 team that posted a stunning win under Paul Azinger at Valhalla — and in yesterday's presser, he was asked what worked that year. What followed has been framed as a scathing condemnation of Watson; in actuality, it was a reasoned assessment of what has worked and what hasn't, from a guy who should know.
Here's the transcript of the offending remarks:
Q. Anyone that was on the team at Valhalla, can you put your finger on what worked in 2008 and what hasn't worked since?
Mickelson: There were two things that allow us to play our best I think that Paul Azinger did, and one was he got everybody invested in the process. He got everybody invested in who they were going to play with, who the picks were going to be, who was going to be in their pod, who -- when they would play, and they had a great leader for each pod. In my case, we had Ray Floyd, and we hung out together and we were all invested in each other's play. We were invested in picking Hunter that week; Anthony Kim and myself and Justin were in a pod, and we were involved on having Hunter be our guy to fill our pod. So we were invested in the process. And the other thing that Paul did really well was he had a great game plan for us, you know, how we were going to go about doing this. How we were going to go about playing together; golf ball, format, what we were going to do, if so-and-so is playing well, if so-and-so is not playing well, we had a real game plan. Those two things helped us bring out our best golf. And I think that, you know, we all do the best that we can and we're all trying our hardest, and I'm just looking back at what gave us the most success. Because we use that same process in The Presidents Cup and we do really well. Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best.
Q. That felt like a pretty brutal destruction of the leadership that's gone on this week.
Mickelson: Oh, I'm sorry you're taking it that way. I'm just talking about what Paul Azinger did to help us play our best. It's certainly -- I don't understand why you would take it that way. You asked me what I thought we should do going toward to bring our best golf out and I go back to when we played our best golf and try to replicate that formula.
Q. That didn't happen this week?
Mickelson: Uh (pausing) no. No, nobody here was in any decision. So, no.
Pardon me for not thinking of that as some sick burn of Watson, whose decision-making and demeanor were clearly questionable even to the most casual observer.
With momentum in hand on Friday, Watson benched the red-hot duo of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed for afternoon foursomes. On Saturday, the captain kept Mickelson and partner Keegan Bradley sidelined all day, despite Lefty's text pleadings that Watson later leaked to the press.
Watson was also quick to deride the players for their failures, and while it's true that the captain doesn't hit a shot, an effective leader deflects blame from players and absorbs the arrows himself.
Mickelson, who went 2-1 at this Ryder Cup and won his singles match against local hero Stephen Gallacher, could be forgiven for a little frustration. And while it was indelicate of him to criticize Watson while sharing the dais with him, that doesn't negate the accuracy of his statements.
Mickelson has earned his stature in the game. He has 42 PGA Tour wins — four more than Watson — and his five majors have come during an era when Tiger Woods has gobbled up major wins like Lefty gobbles In-N-Out burgers. Watson, on the other hand, had his major ascendancy during Jack Nicklaus' twilight years. Mickelson has earned his way onto every Ryder Cup team since 1995 on merits, without a captain's pick in the bunch. Granted, he hasn't always played well, but he's certainly not alone in that fact. Mickelson's all-time Ryder Cup match record of 16-19-6 looks mediocre on its face, but it outshines Woods' record of 13-17-3 and is merely symptomatic of American futility in the event. For comparison's sake, Jim Furyk, whose Cup experience coincides with much of Phil's, has a 10-20-4 ledger.
I'm as big a Watson fan as anyone — his run at the 2009 British Open was one of the most thrilling performances in the game's history — but his captaincy was clearly a disaster. The forum might have made Mickelson's observations a little awkward and hard to digest, but he wasn't wrong.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 29:
• This is interesting: The most popular female athletes according to Google. No. 1 is Maria Sharapova.
• Jerry Jones doesn't look like a man who still regrets missing out on Johnny Football. He looks like a creepy Bond villain.
• One failed captain sticks up for another: Nick Faldo says Phil Mickelson threw Tom Watson under the bus in the Ryder Cup presser.
• All you need to know: Simmons vs. the Worldwide Leader.
• Something to look forward to: This could be the best football Saturday in SEC history.
• Watch Sue Paterno dance to Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off." If you dare.
• Watch Hunter Pence rally Giants fans with a postgame speech.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
New England will try to extend its winning streak to three in a row by defeating Kansas City at home tonight on ESPN. The Patriots (2-1) have turned things around after dropping their season opener in Miami, but Bill Belichick’s team is still trying to figure out things offensively. The Chiefs (1-2) are coming off of an impressive win over those same Dolphins and hope to have their best offensive player back.
Even though he is off to a slow start statistically speaking, Tom Brady has enjoyed quite a bit of success on Monday night. Brady is13-5 in his career on this stage with a 42:15 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a passer rating of 101.5. Kansas City last played on “Monday Night Football” back in 2012 when the Chiefs lost to Pittsburgh on the road in overtime, 16-13.
New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: New England -3.5
Three Things to Watch
|New England 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||@ MIA||L 20 - 33||Recap|
|9/14||@ MIN||W 30 - 7||Recap|
|9/21||vs OAK||W 16 - 9||Recap|
|9/29||@ KC||L 14 - 41||Recap|
1. Kansas City’s Suddenly Crowded Backfield?
After missing last week’s game with a high ankle sprain sustained early in the Week 2 loss in Denver, Jamaal Charles is expected to return to the starting lineup. Charles actually practiced some just a few days after suffering the injury, but the team decided to err on the side of caution and held him out against Miami. Knile Davis has been much more than a mere fill-in during Charles’ absence, rushing for 79 yards and two scores against the Broncos and following that up with 132 on the ground and another score in the 34-15 win over the Dolphins last week. Still, Charles is an All-Pro running back who totaled 1,980 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns last season. As productive as Davis has been, Charles’ return makes the Chiefs’ running game that much more dangerous, which is important considering the passing attack isn’t that explosive (197.7 ypg, 26th in the NFL). And Davis still figures to have some sort of role, considering Charles is coming back from the type of injury that has been known to linger or resurface. Besides, two backs may be better than one since New England has done a good job about the run (104 ypg, 12th) thus far.
|Kansas City 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs TEN||L 10 - 26||Recap|
|9/14||@ DEN||L 17 - 24||Recap|
|9/21||@ MIA||W 34 - 15||Recap|
|9/29||vs NE||W 41 - 14||Recap|
2. The Other 10 Guys on New England’s Offense
When asked earlier about the Patriots’ offensive struggles, Tom Brady was pretty succinct saying there’s been “one guy” playing well. And he wasn’t referring to himself. Instead he was talking about wide receiver Julian Edelman, who is top 10 in the NFL in both receptions (22) and yards (260) entering Week 4. As a team, New England is 26th in the league in total offense (301.3 ypg), which puts them right behind Kansas City (322.3 ypg) in that category. And while the Chiefs’ passing offense (197.7 ypg, 4 TDs) may have a reputation for being pedestrian, it has been more productive than the Patriots’ (196.3, 3). Brady’s slow start (24th in passing yards, 30th in yards per attempt) can be attributed to both a lack of reliable options and a lack of time to throw to them. Outside of Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski (11-116-2), Brady has completed a total of 19 passes to his other wide receivers and tight ends. Gronkowski’s snap counts have been held down as he’s coming back from a serious knee injury and no one outside of Edelman has stepped up to pick up the slack. However, a bigger issue could be an offensive line that’s struggling to open up holes for the running backs (3.5 ypc) and give Brady enough time to look down field for an open target (7 sacks). The running game has had its moments, such as Stevan Ridley’s 101 yards in the Week 2 win at Minnesota, but it too has been characterized by inconsistency (165 yards rushing total in the other two games) and a lack of big plays (longest run by a RB so far is 16 yards). It seems the preseason trade of longtime, reliable left guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay has impacted this unit more than anyone with the team (looking at you Belichick) is willing to admit. Perhaps that’s why Brady was not happy with the move to begin with? Regardless, that’s in the past and what matters now is how the “new” line performs from here out. The same can be said for any other offensive player not named Edelman or Gronkowski.
3. The Defense Rests?
With offenses ranked in the bottom fourth of the NFL, it takes a solid defense to keep your team competitive. And that has certainly been the case for New England and Kansas City. The Patriots enter tonight’s game third in total defense (272.7 ypg) and fourth in scoring (16.3 ppg). Since allowing Miami to run for 191 yards in the season opener, this unit has allowed a total of 121 yards on the ground and has twice as many takeaways (8) as touchdowns allowed (4). The Chiefs meanwhile have held their own despite suffering a rash of injuries that have cost them their All-Pro linebacker (Derrick Johnson), a starting defensive end (Mike DeVito) and impacted several other key players, such as All-Pro safety Eric Berry (ankle). After struggling mightily against Tennessee in Week 1, Kansas City limited Denver at home to just 24 points and 324 total yards in a seven-point loss and held Miami to only 191 yards passing and one touchdown in its 34-15 road win last week. Neither offense has been that productive or explosive to this point, so both defenses will need to keep up their good work or run the risk of putting their team in a hole it may not be able to climb out of.
New England’s offense is struggling, but the defense has picked up the slack and then some. Kansas City usually plays well at home and will get a huge boost with the return of Jamaal Charles, but until the Chiefs develop more consistency and more explosiveness in their passing game, this offense will struggle against good defenses. Tom Brady’s production may be down to start the season, but his track record speaks for itself. The Patriots stick with the script that has worked them for so well these past two weeks, relying on their defense to bottle up Kansas City’s running game just enough to leave Arrowhead Stadium with a hard-fought road victory.
Prediction: New England 23, Kansas City 20
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of college football. Every Sunday, reading updated box scores and stats is like Christmas for fans and media members. Some stats like total offense and total defense are overrated but each help paint a picture for a team or particular game.
Whether the stats are historic, advanced or just an observation from a box score, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of college football action:
10 Amazing CFB Stats from Week 5
8.0: Michigan’s Average Points Per Game Against Power 5 Opponents
Doug Nussmeier was hired to provide a quick fix for Michigan’s offense, but the Wolverines are still stuck in neutral after five weeks. The Wolverines are averaging just eight points a game against Power 5 opponents (Minnesota, Notre Dame and Utah), and the offense recorded just 171 yards on 53 plays against the Golden Gophers. If you take into account all five games, Michigan ranks last in the Big Ten by averaging just 22 points a game. Barring a major turnaround by the offense, Nussmeier and coach Brady Hoke will both be looking for new jobs at the end of 2014.
1.9: Purdue’s Yards Per Play on Final 10 Drives
Purdue’s upset hopes against Iowa got off to a good start in Week 5, as the Boilermakers jumped out to a 10-0 lead. But it was all downhill from there. Purdue’s offense managed just 70 yards on its final 37 plays and no drive in the second half lasted more than seven plays. During the final 10 drives, the Boilermakers averaged just 1.9 yards per play.
14: Passing TDs in California-Colorado’s 59-56 Shootout
If you like offense, Saturday’s California-Colorado matchup was the game to watch. The two teams combined for 64 first downs, 1,215 yards and 115 points. The passing game for both teams thrived, as Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau completed 46 of 67 attempts for 455 yards and seven touchdowns. California’s Jared Goff matched Liufau, completing 24 of his 42 passes for seven scores and 458 yards. How impressive are the 14 passing touchdowns in a game? Only six teams in the nation have more than 14 all season.
119: Yardage by Missouri on Final Two Drives
Let’s throw out the two-play drive Missouri used to run out the clock and focus on the Tigers’ final two possessions to score a huge win at South Carolina. Missouri’s first two possessions of the game went for 102 yards on 18 plays, but the Tigers managed just 69 yards until the last two drives of the game. Missouri went 68 yards on three plays to cut the Gamecocks’ deficit to 20-14 and went 51 yards on nine plays to take a 21-20 lead. The Tigers didn’t have a particularly prolific day on offense, but the offense delivered in the clutch with the game on the line.
7: TD Drives Led by LSU Freshman QB Brandon Harris Against NMSU
The quarterback controversy in Baton Rouge should be over. If coach Les Miles starts Anthony Jennings in Week 6, he’s making the wrong decision. Sure, New Mexico State's defense was the toughest opposition on Saturday, but the Tigers’ offense has operated better in 2014 with Harris at the controls. Against the Aggies on Saturday night, Harris guided the offense to seven touchdowns on seven drives. The true freshman completed 11 of 14 throws for 178 yards and three scores and rushed for 36 yards and two touchdowns on five attempts. In five games, Harris has completed 22 of 30 passes for 394 yards and six scores. It’s pretty clear who is the better quarterback at LSU right now.
1: Touchdown Scored by SMU Through Four Games
SMU’s offense has been dreadful in 2014. The Mustangs have scored only 12 points through four games, with the only touchdown coming on the final play against North Texas on a 33-yard Hail Mary pass. SMU’s offense has been plagued by struggling options at quarterback, a ground attack that is averaging just 1.4 yards per rush, and an offensive line that has allowed 29 sacks through four games. Coach June Jones resigned after the loss to the Mean Green, and the road for SMU isn’t going to get any easier with Cincinnati, East Carolina and Memphis up next. To put in perspective how bad SMU's offense has struggled so far, UCLA's Ishmael Adams scored more touchdowns in one game (Arizona State) than the Mustangs have all year.
42.3: OSU QB Daxx Garman’s Average Pass TD Length Against TTU
With J.W. Walsh sidelined indefinitely, it’s Daxx Garman’s show at Oklahoma State. And Garman isn’t shy about attempting deep passes. In Thursday night’s win over Texas Tech, Garman averaged 42.3 yards on his four touchdown passes. Garman connected on a 33-yard score in the first quarter, a 39-yard touchdown toss in the second quarter and scoring plays of 47 and 50 in the third quarter. Garman completed only 17 passes and averaged 21.8 yards per completion on Thursday night.
2: Touchdowns Allowed by Stanford’s Defense in Pac-12 Games
Four new starters and a coordinator haven’t slowed Stanford’s defense through its first four games of the season. The Cardinal has allowed only two touchdowns in two Pac-12 games and limited Washington to just 179 total yards in Saturday’s 20-13 win. Stanford has also pitched two shutouts (UC Davis and Army) and has recorded 11 sacks this year. So far, the 2014 version of the Cardinal defense is shaping up to be as dominant as the one that allowed just 4.8 yards per play last season.
3: 200-Yard Games by Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah in 2014
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah continued his hot start to the season by gashing Illinois for 208 yards and three scores on 22 attempts. And if the Cornhuskers weren’t leading by a huge margin at halftime, Abdullah would have recorded a monster stat-line with a full game of opportunities. The senior has three 200-yard efforts in five games in 2014, rushing for 232 against FAU and 229 against Miami. Abdullah’s toughest test of 2014 takes place next Saturday against Michigan State.
2.7: Arkansas Yards Per Play on Final Six Drives
The Razorbacks are clearly improved in coach Bret Bielema’s second year. However, there’s no doubt Arkansas let a win slip away on Saturday against Texas A&M. But the Razorbacks had a little help, as the Aggies stepped up on defense after falling behind 28-14 in the third quarter. Over Arkansas final six drives, Texas A&M allowed just 92 yards on 34 plays (2.7 yards per play). The Aggies forced four punts over the Razorbacks final six drives, with the only other possessions resulting in a missed field goal and a turnover on downs to end the game. Texas A&M’s defense has been heavily criticized over the last two years, but the Aggies made plays at the right time on Saturday.
Other Stats to Know
* Georgia running back Todd Gurley set a career high by rushing for 208 yards in Saturday’s win over Tennessee.
* Ohio State’s pass defense continues to be a problem in 2014. The Buckeyes allowed four passing scores, averaging 60 yards per touchdown toss in the 50-28 win over the Cincinnati.
* Ole Miss has allowed just two touchdowns through four games.
* Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson completed 25 consecutive passes in Saturday night’s win over Syracuse.
* Georgia Southern running back Matt Breida ranks fourth nationally with eight rushing scores through five games. Breida has four touchdown runs of at least 56 yards and averages 33.5 yards per rushing score in 2014.
* NC State averaged 6.9 yards per play in the first half against Florida State. But the Seminoles tightened up on defense in the second half, allowing just 4.4 yards per play over the final two quarters.
* Temple has scored a defensive touchdown in all four games this year.
* UCLA averaged 10 yards per play in Thursday night’s win over Arizona State.
* Quarterback Brett Hundley recorded 427 total yards against Arizona State. The 427 total yards rank second in Hundley’s career for most total yards in a single game.
* Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason is averaging just 9.8 yards per completion in 2014.
* Wake Forest has recorded negative rushing yards in three out of its five games.
* Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for six touchdowns against North Carolina on Saturday. Watson is the first quarterback in Clemson history to throw for six touchdowns in a game.
* Ohio State recorded 710 yards and 45 first downs in Saturday’s 50-28 win over Cincinnati.
* North Carolina’s defense has allowed at least 500 yards in three out of its four games in 2014.
* Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon has rushed for 434 yards over his last two games.
* Vanderbilt recorded only eight first downs and averaged just 3.0 yards per play in a 17-7 loss to Kentucky on Saturday.
* Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel has tossed at least four touchdowns in each of the Bearcats’ three games this year.
* UMass recorded 638 yards in Saturday’s 47-42 loss to Bowling Green. The 638 yards are the most by the Minutemen since they moved to the FBS level.
* USC is the only team in the nation to not allow a passing touchdown through Week 5.
* TCU quarterbacks Trevone Boykin and Matt Joeckel have thrown 10 touchdown passes through three games this year. The Horned Frogs had just 14 passing scores in 2013.
* Texas Tech committed 16 penalties in Thursday night’s loss to Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders have committed at least 10 penalties in three out of their four games in 2014. Additionally, Texas Tech is one game of 10 penalties away from matching last year’s total (four) of games with double-digit penalties.
* Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova now owns the school record for most passing touchdowns in a career with 61. Nova threw four scores in Saturday’s 31-6 win over Tulane. That’s the second game for Nova with four passing touchdowns in 2014.
* The 24 points allowed by Florida State in the first quarter were the most allowed by the Seminoles in an opening quarter in school history.
* After throwing for 2,523 yards and 21 scores as Indiana’s part-time quarterback last year, Nate Sudfeld is off to a slow start in 2014. Sudfeld has two games of throwing for less than 130 yards and has just two scores through four contests.
* Boston College freshman running back Jon Hilliman has scored two rushing scores in three consecutive games.
* Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer has tossed at least two picks in four consecutive contests.
* On five drives in the first quarter, Iowa ran 13 plays and registered just 10 yards.
* Louisville’s Brandon Radcliff rushed for 129 yards on 17 attempts against Wake Forest. Radcliff had just 91 yards on 17 carries last season.
* Kansas State averaged 8.1 yards per play in Saturday’s win over UTEP. That’s the highest mark for the Wildcats since a 9.3 mark on Oct. 16, 2012 against Kansas.
* Army averaged 8.1 yards per play and won the turnover battle (2 to 0) over Yale, but the Black Knights lost 49-43 in overtime.
* Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 17-7 despite recording just 100 yards in the second half.
* Penn State freshman receiver DaeSean Hamilton has at least four receptions in every game and has three 100-yard efforts through five games.
* Bowling Green and UMass combined for 1,306 yards, 89 points and 59 first downs in Saturday’s 47-42 shootout. The Falcons also had three receivers eclipse the 100-yard mark.
* Indiana running back Tevin Coleman has scored in 13 consecutive games.
* Georgia converted only one third-down attempt in Saturday’s 35-32 win over Tennessee.
* By defeating Kent State 45-13 on Saturday, Virginia has already surpassed its win total (3) from last season (2).
* UAB committed six turnovers and gave up two defensive scores in Saturday’s loss to FIU on Saturday.
* Louisville true freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon completed 16 of 32 passes for 206 yards and added 46 yards in his first career start on Saturday.
* Colorado ran 110 plays in Saturday’s loss to California.
* Wyoming has played two of college football’s top 10 teams in 2014, but the Cowboys averaged 5.9 yards per play against Oregon and 5.6 against Michigan State. That’s a good sign for coach Craig Bohl’s team as it moves deep into Mountain West play.
* Boise State lost seven turnovers in Saturday’s 28-14 loss to Air Force. That’s the most turnovers the Broncos have lost in a game since 1992.
* Ohio State recorded 710 yards against Cincinnati in Saturday’s 50-28 victory. That’s the first performance for the Buckeyes over 700 yards of offense since Aug. 27, 1986.
* Seven of LSU’s nine touchdowns scored against New Mexico State were scored by true freshmen (Brandon Harris and Leonard Fournette).
* Nevada was outgained 446 to 256, lost the turnover battle (3 to 0) and went 0-9 on third-down attempts against San Jose State. However, the Wolf Pack won 21-10.
* Wake Forest defensive end Tylor Harris set a FBS record by recovering three fumbles in Saturday’s loss to Louisville.
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of measuring performance and marking milestones in the NFL. With that in mind, Athlon Sports rounded up the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Week 4 of the season.
There have now only been two NFL regular season games without any punts after Green Bay and Chicago combined to keep their punters off the field in Week 4. The other came Sept. 13, 1992 when Buffalo and San Francisco did not punt in a game that featured 1,118 yards of total offense combined. An AFC Divisional matchup between Kansas City and Indianapolis (2004) is the only playoff game with zero punts.
J.J. Watt's 80-yard interception return for a score against Buffalo made him the first player in NFL history with 35-plus sacks, a receiving touchdown (Week 2 this year) and an interception touchdown return in his first four seasons.
Indianapolis' quarterback Andrew Luck completed 70.7 percent of his passes (29 of 41) for 393 yards with four touchdowns and one interception for a 123.3 passer rating in the Colts’ Week 4 win over Tennessee. Luck, who last week completed 79.5 percent of his passes for 370 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 140.4 rating, is the first player in NFL history to post consecutive games with at least 370 passing yards, four or more touchdown passes, a completion percentage above 70 percent and one or no interceptions.
With a punt return for a touchdown (Darren Sproles), a blocked punt return for a touchdown (Brad Smith) and an interception return for a touchdown (Malcolm Jenkins) against San Francisco Sunday, Philadelphia became just the second team in NFL history to pull off such a trifecta. In NFL history, teams that had three returns for TDs in a game were 71-1-1; the Eagles lost 26-21.
New Orleans was shutout in the first half for just the third time (2007, 2011) under head coach Sean Payton when Dallas took a 24-0 lead into halftime Sunday night. The Cowboys won 38-17.
Dallas' DeMarco Murray became the fourth running back in NFL history with 100+ rushing yards and 1+ rushing touchdown in each of the team's first four games, and the first since Dallas' Emmitt Smith did so in 1995. Jim Brown (1958) and O.J. Simpson (1975) are the other two. Brown stretched the streak to six games, while Simpson pushed it to five.
Rookie quarterbacks Blake Bortles (Jacksonville) and Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota) made their first NFL start in Week 4. Along with Derek Carr (Oakland), three rookies have started at quarterback this season. It marks the fourth consecutive season (2011-14) in which at least three rookies started at quarterback in a September game. That is the longest such streak in the Super Bowl era.
With their 41-17 victory against Tennessee in Week 4, the Indianapolis Colts have won eight consecutive games within the AFC South. It is the longest active streak in the NFL.
Over Philadelphia's first nine possessions of its Week 4 game against San Francisco, the Eagles collected just five first downs on 37 plays. They picked up six first downs on 15 plays on their second-to-last drive of the day, which was halted on a fourth-and-goal pass play from the 2 for a potential game-winning TD pass. Philly finished with 213 total yards of offense, which is the second lowest under Chip Kelly, and 22 rushing yards, which is the lowest by any team this season entering Monday night's game.
Entering Week 4, Philadelphia was the best second-half team in the league with a +50-point differential while San Francisco was the worst at -49, including zero points in the fourth quarter. The 49ers outscored the Eagles 13-0 in the second half, including three points in the fourth quarter.
Since opening up with a 17-0 halftime lead in Week 1 against Philadelphia, Jacksonville has been outscored 152-41. The 0-4 Jaguars have scored 21 of those points in the first half.
With Green Bay's 38-17 win against Chicago in Week 4, the Packers posted the franchise's 700th regular-season win. They joined the Bears as the only two franchises to achieve 700 wins. Chicago has 732.
Aaron Rodgers needed the fewest attempts in NFL history to reach 25,000 passing yards when he accomplished the feat in Week 4. He hit the mark in 3,065 attempts, besting Kurt Warner's 3,076.
Baltimore's Steve Smith had seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns against Carolina, his old team, in Week 4. The 429 yards he has this season are the most ever by a 35+ year-old player through the first four games of the season. In addition, Smith is the Panthers' all-time leading receiver (12,197) and became the second player in NFL history to have 100+ receiving yards in his first game against a franchise for which he had 10,000+ yards. He joined Torry Holt.
No. 15 Iowa State has rebuilt itself into a national contender, and that shouldn’t be any different despite the departures of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim. With a healthy Georges Niang and another influx of transfers, Iowa State will be a team to watch again.
The Iowa State edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
Iowa State’s run to the Sweet 16 in 2013-14 did more than stamp the Cyclones as a perennial contender in the Big 12. After knocking off North Carolina without an injured Georges Niang in the Round of 32, Iowa State made a name for itself nationally, and with that, Fred Hoiberg has acquired the reputation of being one of the top coaches in the game.
On the back of a trio featuring Niang, Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, Iowa State rattled off wins over Kansas State, Kansas and Baylor to win its first Big 12 Tournament championship since 2000. If it weren’t for a broken foot that Niang suffered in a second-round NCAA Tournament win over North Carolina Central, the red-hot Cyclones could have contended for an appearance in the Final Four.
With the departures of Melvin Ejim, the Big 12’s Player of the Year, and DeAndre Kane, a dynamic guard who averaged 17.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, it is natural to think that Hoiberg’s program could be due for a rebuilding season. However, with another round of transfers set to infiltrate the lineup, it appears that 2014-15 will be anything but that.
No. 15 Iowa State Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-8, 11-7 Big 12
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: 3
Coach: Fred Hoiberg (90-47 overall, 37-33 Big 12)
Big 12 Projection: Third
Postseason Projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Chemistry and versatility are Hoiberg’s keys to a successful basketball team. Niang possesses both of those characteristics. Niang, who averaged 16.7 points per game as a sophomore, rebounded from the broken foot quite well in the offseason by losing 15 pounds.
“He has always been very tough for bigger players to guard,” Hoiberg says. “The way that he got his body as finely tuned as it is will allow him to be a more versatile basketball player and play more positions.”
What doesn’t show up in the box score is Niang’s natural leadership ability. “Georges is as good as I have ever been around as far as pulling a group together,” Hoiberg says. “I think he knows that this is his team next year.”
Iowa State’s frontcourt will be far from a one-man show. Transfers Jameel McKay (Marquette) and Abdel Nader (Northern Illinois) will make their presence felt in a hurry.
“Jameel will have an immediate impact just because of his motor and his ability to run the floor and protect the rim,” Hoiberg says. “Plus, I think he can give us something on the offensive end.”
McKay, an athletic 6-9 shot-blocker, likely won’t be eligible until December but is the type of player Hoiberg has never had at Iowa State. Nader’s ability to play multiple positions is a strength.
Then, there is Dustin Hogue, an active 6-6 senior who exploded onto the national scene via a 34-point outburst in a Sweet 16 loss to UConn. Between Hogue, who averaged 8.4 rebounds per game last season, and McKay, there is a decent chance that a Cyclone could lead the Big 12 in rebounding this season.
A promising sophomore and a fifth-year graduate transfer are expected to lead the way for the Cyclones on the perimeter. Expect Monte Morris, who did a tremendous job taking care of the ball as a true freshman, to run the show at point guard. He committed only 28 turnovers in 1,013 minutes last season.
Former USC Trojan and UNLV Runnin’ Rebel Bryce Dejean-Jones could ultimately lead Iowa State in scoring. Jones started 26 games for UNLV last season and averaged 13.6 points along the way. He will have the ball in his hands a lot in Hoiberg’s fast-paced system.
Iowa State has depth, too. Junior Naz Long made 46.2 percent of his shots from 3-point range over the last 10 games of last season. Long is one of the program’s emotional leaders in addition to being one of the top sixth-men in the Big 12.
Sophomore Matt Thomas made the second most 3-pointers for freshman in Iowa State history. He averaged 21.2 minutes but did not play more than 20 in any of the final eight games. True freshman Clayton Custer should serve as a quality backup to Morris up at the point.
Once again, Hoiberg has replenished his roster with quality transfers who meld well with veterans like Niang, Long, Morris and Thomas. The talent is on hand for Iowa State to make a legitimate run at a Big 12 championship.
Transfers Bryce Dejean-Jones (UNLV), Abdel Nader (Northern Illinois) and Jameel McKay (Marquette) will all make an immediate impact in Ames. Dejean-Jones is a natural scorer. At 6-6, Nader can hit an outside shot while being a force on the glass as well. McKay could be one of the top rebounders in the Big 12. Freshman Clayton Custer should be the backup point guard. Greek big man Georgios Tsalmpouris is a project.
Georges Niang is hardly a household name among casual fans, but he has earned respect the hard way: by winning. Niang played in the shadow of Nerlens Noel and Wayne Selden in prep school but was part of an Iowa State trio a year ago — along with Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane — that wound up winning the league tourney.
Now it’s Niang’s team, and the 6-7 Massachusetts native has completely transformed his body. Niang discusses his trash-talking methods, why he stuck with Iowa State and where he got his first name from.
This interview and more appears in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports college basketball annual, available on newsstands and in our online store now.
OK, so why the “S” at the end of your first name?
I was named after one of my dad’s best friends, who was originally from Africa. It’s actually supposed to be pronounced with a French accent since he was French, but I don’t want anyone to do that. But the “S” is silent. I’ve heard people pronounce it so many different ways that I don’t even bother to correct them. I just go with it.
You played against Nerlens Noel and Wayne Selden every day for two years at the Tilton School in New Hampshire. What did you learn from those guys?
I learned how to slow down playing against Nerlens, how to put the defender on the hot seat and make them guess on what move is coming. I learned how to compete against Wayne. Those guys made me a lot better, but the guy I really watched and learned from when I arrived at Tilton was Alex Oriakhi. I was a freshman and he was a junior at the time, and I really tried to model myself after Alex. He’s a great kid who worked so hard.
You committed to Iowa State as an unknown, but then started to get attention after a strong showing at the Peach Jam. Why did you remain loyal to the Cyclones despite high-profile schools trying to get you to re-open your recruitment?
I remember the first time Coach (Fred) Hoiberg saw me. I was playing St. Mark’s — which had Nik Stauskas, Kaleb Tarczewski and Alex Murphy — and I didn’t miss a shot. I was 11-for-11, and he said afterwards that he wanted me to be a part of Plan A at Iowa State. They were the first school that believed in me. I trusted them and committed on May 15 before my junior season. I’m not going to call out specific schools, but there were schools who called me and told me not to go to Iowa State — that there’s nothing in Iowa and to come play with us. But I knew Iowa State was where I wanted to be. I never even thought about going anywhere else.
You’ve had two pretty good seasons in Ames, and I saw that one ESPN writer even had you on his Preseason first-team All-America team. However, there are plenty of fans who have no idea who you are. Why is that?
I agree. I think there are plenty of fans who think I’m just a bum who should be down at the YMCA, but I think I get respect from the guys that really know basketball. I work so hard, and I don’t think people understand how hard I work to improve. A lot of players in the league are gifted with athleticism. I wasn’t really gifted with any.
You broke your foot in Iowa State’s opening-round NCAA win against NC Central and weren’t able to do anything until May, yet you look to be in the best shape of your career when you showed up at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July. How were you able to manage the transformation?
The first week of May, I was still in a boot. I went back to Massachusetts with my trainer, and he sat me down. I weighed 255 and had 16 percent body fat. He said we can do it the hard way or you can walk away. I went with the hard way. I did yoga every day, lifted and did conditioning every day for four weeks and went twice every day on the court. They were long days, but were worth it. Now everyone who first sees me reacts the same way: “Holy @#$%.” It feels good because I’m a lot healthier than I was before. I feel better when I wake up. I eat better. It’s just a lifestyle change. Now I’m at 227 to 230 and am trying to get that vertical up!
What do you remember about the game against NC Central in which you broke your foot?
I felt a snap and fell to the ground. I’d broken my left foot before. I came out of the game and Coach Hoiberg told me to sit down. After a little while, he told me to check back in. It didn’t hurt when I got up, but then it was bad when I took the first couple of steps. I went in, scored five points — on a 3 and a floater — and then told him to take me out of the game. They did x-rays and told me I broke it. I was upset, but more because I felt bad for my team.
DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim are both gone now. How does that alter your role?
I think I’ll have to do more of what they did well — be a better rebounder since Melvin was such a great rebounder and be a better playmaker since that’s what DeAndre did so well. I was a leader last year, but I’ll have to step up in that area as well. I think the biggest thing for me is just to make plays.
Fred Hoiberg seems so mellow on the sidelines and even off the court. What’s an example when he actually showed some real emotion?
It came after we lost three games in a row — to Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Usually, he walks into the film room and is really quiet. He rolls in, says “What’s up, fellas” and sits down. Well, that day he walked in and says, “Show some emotion, guys.” He goes up to one of our guys and chest-bumps him — he’s yelling and screaming. I thought Tom Izzo had walked in. But he wanted to let us know that we played with no life.
You are admittedly one of the better trash-talkers around. Who else do you respect for their trash-talking ability and what is your reasoning for talking to opponents?
DeAndre Kane knows how to get under guys’ skin. He’d make guys take tough shots. (Former Oklahoma State guard) Markel Brown can talk with the best of them. He’s a silent assassin and talks when no one is expecting it. I usually do it when someone is killing us and you want them to get off their game. You want to draw a rift between the other team. For instance, when (Oklahoma State’s) Marcus Smart is killing us, I’d start telling him he should have left last year — and then tell his teammates that he doesn’t trust them.
You guys will add a couple more transfers this year in Bryce Dejean-Jones (UNLV) and Abdel Nader (Northern Illinois) in addition to junior college transfer Jameel McKay. How different will this team be?
We’ll buckle down better defensively, but with Fred, you’ll always expect a team that will compete every night. I think we’ll have more overall talent this year than in my first two years, but the key is putting it all together. We don’t have the chemistry yet — and that can make or break a season.
What’s your favorite place to play other than your gym?
Phog Allen (Fieldhouse, at Kansas). There’s so much energy in that building. I love going in there. The fans are as crazy as our fans and it’s just wild.
What’s your least favorite place to play?
I don’t want to upset Buddy (Hield), but probably Oklahoma or TCU. We always play in Oklahoma in the morning and it’s so dull. There’s also nothing exciting about Norman. TCU is always dead, although they should be better this year.
Other than Coach Hoiberg, who would be a coach you’d want to play for?
This might get me into trouble, but (Kansas) Coach (Bill) Self. I really have a lot of respect for him, because I like the way he runs a tight ship — and even though he does it differently than Coach Hoiberg, he demands a lot from his guys.
Who is the toughest player you’ve had to guard?
It was Romero Osby from Oklahoma a couple years ago. I held him to seven points the first time we played, but then he dialed me up for 27 and did it with every type of move.
Where would you be if you weren’t at Iowa State?
If Boston College had offered me a scholarship, that’s where I’d probably be. I grew up down the road and always wanted to stay close to home.