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Something’s got to give when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to San Francisco for a Week 15 Monday night game. And Antonio Brown might be the one to help blow it open for the Steelers.
The San Francisco 49ers have the No. 1 rushing defense in the league at 70.5 yards allowed per game and no touchdowns surrendered. No back has eclipsed 64 yards rushing this season. But they also bring just the 19th-ranked passing defense that allows 234.5 yards per game with 18 touchdowns allowed and 18 interceptions. The Steelers are ranked sixth against the run (97.0 YPG) with six TDs allowed and No. 1 against the pass (179.1 YPG).
San Francisco brings the seventh-ranked rushing offense (126.9 YPG) and 29th-ranked passing offense (182.1 YPG). Pittsburgh brings the ninth-ranked passing offense (257.1 YPG) with 21 TDs and 11 interceptions and the 17th-ranked rushing offense (114.5 YPG).
Advantage: Steelers passing game.
However there are two BIG question marks heading into the game. First, whether Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) will start and secondly, whether he will have enough time to be productive behind a beat up offensive line. Center Maurkice Pouncey has already been declared out. The 49ers are ranked 14th in the league with 32 sacks.
So let’s assume the 17th-ranked run game of the Steelers is shut down by the top-ranked run defense of the 49ers as we all expect and Pittsburgh will be able to have success through the air. If it’s Roethlisberger, the deep ball can still be there, if it’s Charlie Batch in for Big Ben, then Brown can still be productive as the receiver that can catch passes all over the field.
In PPR leagues, Brown should thrive. And in non-PPR leagues, he showed that if you wait he will pay off — see his 79-yard TD catch in the closing minutes to help the Steelers beat the Browns two Thursdays ago.
Brown has been targeted 24 times in the last four weeks for 16 catches, 385 yards and one score. That’s just the last month, In the three games before that, Brown was targeted 35 times — 35 TIMES — for 21 catches, 278 yards and a score.
Since Week 10, the 49ers have allowed four receivers to eclipsed 60 yards — Mario Manningham (6-77-1), Victor Cruz (6-84-0), Anquan Boldin (4-63-0) and Larry Fitzgerald (7-149-1) and have given up six total touchdowns to receivers in those five weeks.
You hope that Big Ben can play and be mobile enough to keep his solid connection going with Brown, but even if it’s Batch it is hard to sit a top-12 fantasy receiver over the last four weeks, on a team that is ninth in passing, going against a 49ers team that gives up the pass and will struggle to find any offense — ground or air.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
First off, this is written Sunday morning before the Week 15 early games kick off. With that in mind, and knowing you have to set your lineup here in the next couple of hours, can you honestly take the chance that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may not play Monday night in San Francisco?
This is the semifinals. This is the quarterback position we are talking about. That’s a big position to leave up to hope for more than 24 hours after the rest of your lineup has finished their games.
Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain against the Cleveland Browns two Thursdays ago but managed to get himself back in the game after halftime, limp around in the pocket and be productive. Eventually, he found Antonio Brown for the game-winning 79-yard touchdown pass down the sidelines in the closing minutes.
Eleven days removed from that injury and one cross-country flight later, we are all hoping that Roethlisberger can play because we know the Steelers aren’t going to be able to run against the 49ers’ top-ranked rushing defense (70.5 yards per game) that has allowed no rushing touchdowns. So we would like to feel confident that Big Ben will be out there to make other fantasy stars we count on valuable in the semifinals — namely receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.
I think the 49ers’ 19th-ranked pass defense that allows 234.5 yards per game will still be vulnerable with Charlie Batch as the Steelers’ signal caller, so Wallace and Brown should be safe starts. Pittsburgh has the ninth-ranked passing offense in the league at 257.1 yards per game with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The 49ers, in addition to being ranked 19th against the pass have allowed 18 TDs with 18 interceptions.
But it all seems tied in to the health of Roethlisberger.
He sat out three practices before participating Friday, something the coaches said they wanted to see him do before they made a decision on his status. Roethlisberger has certainly proven his toughness over the years, even in coming back into the Cleveland game in which he suffered the latest injury. Can he backpedal enough to get out of the way of the pass rush that is certain to come from the 49ers’ defensive line — one that won’t have to deal with center Maurkice Pouncey now that he’s already been declared out? Can he step into his throws to make accurate connections with Wallace and Brown?
There are just too many question marks surrounding Roethlisberger for me to wait until Monday night to see if he can go. And if he does go, will he be able to make it through the entire game as an effective QB?
Unless you want to pick up San Francisco’s Alex Smith now and wait if you have no other options, then might I suggest Christian Ponder, Rex Grossman, Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton or even Kyle Orton to get garbage-time production against the Packers.
And if you do go the Smith route, keep in mind he faces the NFL’s No. 1 pass defense and its sixth-ranked rush defense. Good luck.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Oh, Shonn Greene are you teasing us or is this for real?
The New York Jets’ running back has certainly paid off for those of us who waited all season for him to do just that. He has three straight double-digit weeks for the first time this season and now faces a Philadephia Eagles defense that is ranked 18th against the run at 115.1 yards per game. However, the Eagles have given up the eighth-most rushing yards to RBs the last three weeks (355).
Greene had 10.5 points against Buffalo in Week 12, busted off his season high of 30.9 points in Week 13 against Washington and came back with 26.2 points against Kansas City last week. And this is with QB Mark Sanchez having three rushing touchdowns the last five weeks. It has helped that Greene has added nine catches for 96 yards — 14.1 points in Athlon’s half-PPR scoring fotmat — to help counter Sanchez vulturing those scores.
But is this a mirage or can we start Greene in the semifinals of our fantasy football playoffs?
Well, the Jets are facing Michael Vick and a still high-powered yet inefficient Eagles offense, Run the ball, control the clock and keep Vick off the field. Greene can certainly help the Jets do that.
New York allowed Reggie Bush to run for 103 yards n 14 carries and get five catches for 27 yards last week in Miami. A week earlier, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch gashed the Jets for 148 yards and two scores on 22 carries. Lynch and Bush are two of six runners to gain over 100 yards against the Jets and two of eight to get at least 86.
Greene needs to get in the end zone to make it a successful day, and he has done that four times in the last three games after having done it just twice in the previous 11 games. He has games of 78, 88 and 129 yards rushing the last three games after having just two games above 78 in the previous 11. He has three games of three catches in a row after having just one game of over three catches in the previous 11.
So it has either clicked for Greene or he is peaking at just the right time. Whatever it is, the combination of his recent performances and that of the Eagles against opposing running backs makes Greene a solid start in Week 15.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
This is not what you like to write about a player you helped project as a top-10 fantasy pick in Athlon Sports’ 2011 fantasy football magazine, but Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall can’t even be considered a Flex1 against the San Francisco 49ers Monday night.
I’d love to say the factors are the beat up offensive line, or that Charlie Batch may have to start in place of Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback or it’s just because the San Francisco rush defense is just too good to waste your time. All those are certainly factor, but in regards to how a true first-round back should perform, Mendenhall hasn’t really been worth an RB1 or RB2 slot all season — and he’s one of the few workhorse backs left.
Mendenhall has had just one game over 100 yards — a 23-for-146 effort against Jacksonville in Week 6 — and all the other games have been 76 yards or less, including eight at 60 or less. He has banged out the occasional two-TD game — Weeks 10 and 13 to help offset rushing days of 60 and 44 yards in those two contests — but otherwise has gone six games without a score. And as a pass-catcher, forget it. He had at least had 23 or more catches the last two years; this year he has just 13.
So that’s just the 13 games leading up to the matchup against the 49ers. The resurgent team from San Francisco is tops in the league in rushing defense and have basically made starting a player against it a waste of a roster spot.
The 49ers allow just 70.5 yards per game and have not surrendered a touchdown. No back has eclipsed 64 yards rushing this season; so at least Mendenhall will feel comfortable that he’s right at home with these numbers.
Like Frank Gore on the 49ers’ side, who also is just barely a flex going against the Steelers’ sixth-ranked rushing defense (97.0 YPG) that has allowed just six TDs this season and only two to running backs since Week 5, Mendenhall would probably need a turnover deep in San Francisco territory or a trip inside the 5 to have a legitimate chance at scoring a TD.
One thing going for Mendenhall is that he has five scores in the last five games — none coming beyond 10 yards. So he is clearly the go-to guy around the goal line. The Steelers can get down there with their passing offense going against the 49ers’ 19th-ranked passing defense that allows 234.5 yards per game.
But at what cost do you play a RB like Mendenhall who will go up against a team that gives up the pass but still has not allowed a single rushing TD this season?
Injuries might have killed you this season and you are forced to start Mendenhall, and I am sorry for that. But if you also have players like Willis McGahee, Cedric Benson, Pierre Thomas, Brandon Jacobs, Ben Tate, Marion Barber, Donald Brown, I would pop them in before the Pittsburgh back if for nothing but the upside.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
The long ball will need to be Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s friend in Week 15 if he plans on having success against Cleveland Browns standout corner Joe Haden.
Haden got burned two Thursdays ago on a late pass to Antonio Brown, who turned it up field for a 79-yard touchdown to help win the game for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Prior to that catch, Haden had limited receivers to two catches for 21 yards on two targets.
A week earlier, Haden was targeted four times against Baltimore and allowed no catches. In Week 12, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green caught three balls for 110 yards, Haden giving up a long of 51 to Green during the final minute of the game. Green also had gains of 35 and 24 yards against the Browns.
So the moral of the story: You better hope Fitzgerald breaks a big one to be a decent producer for you in fantasy football.
Outside of the 51-yarder to Green and the 79-yarder to Brown, Haden had not given up a pass longer than 41 yards this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Green was also on the receiving end of that play, his only catch of their Week 1 game that went for one of the three scores Haden’s allowed this season.
As for consistent production, receivers have pretty much just been able to get long-ball bulk over the last five weeks. Haden gave up 79 of his 94 yards on the catch to Brown last week. He gave up no yards in Week 13. He gave up 125 yards in Week 12 against Cincinnati with the late 51-yard play and another 35-yard catch. He allowed 73 yards against Jacksonville with a long of 28 and 48 yards against St. Louis with a long of 24. In that time, Haden’s been targeted 31 times and given up 17 catches.
Fitzgerald’s 6-3 frame and ability to go up and grab any ball certainly puts him in the category to be able to get a long ball from QB John Skelton. And having Skelton, who’s willing to push the ball down field more than Kevin Kolb, will be a benefit for Fitzgerald today. But the numbers do say that Fitzgerald’s likely success will come from a long ball as opposed to consistent production.
The Browns do have the second-ranked pass defense thanks to being thrown on a league-low 27.6 times per game thanks to their 31st-ranked rush defense (150.9 yards per game). So this could be a game where Beanie Wells gets going again.
You would hope the run game would open up room for Fitzgerald, but Haden knows he is taking on one of the game’s best for the first time in the NFL, and for the most part of 60 minutes per game this season he has not backed down from his responsibilities.
Fitzgerald is coming off a 7-for-149-1 TD game with a long of 53 in there against the 49ers. His other longs of the season include 73, 47, 66, 42 and 41. You have to lower your expectations against Haden, but you can’t sit a receiver like Fitzgerald.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Green Bay Packers running backs James Starks (ankle) and Brandon Saine (concussion) are game-time decisions in Week 15 against the Kansas City Chiefs. And this makes the status of the aforementioned as well as Ryan Grant completely up in the air in regards to their use in fantasy football.
It’s the semifinals of the fantasy football playoffs for most, and game-time decision is not something we like hearing this time of year. We are already biting our nails with every decision we make anyway, and having already had two games in the books on Thursday and Saturday that we may or may have not chosen wisely makes setting your rosters in the next few hours even more crucial.
I was completely off about Ryan Grant as the lead back last week against Oakland. Saine’s concussion certainly helped Grant get more looks, but he hadn’t done anything all season, the Packers’ backs hadn’t done anything all season and Grant busts off a 47-yard TD run in the first three minutes and then scores on a 6-yarder in the middle of the second quarter.
Grant finished with two scores and 85 yards on 10 carries. Starks’ one TD in Week 1 was the only other TD a Green Bay feature back had scored this season, and the Packers, despite beating teams by an average of 13.2 points per game coming into the Oakland beatdown, were 22nd in rushing attempts per game at 25.7 and 29th in rushing yards per game (96.5). Guess that philosophy changed against the 28th-ranked Raiders.
If Grant is the only back available in Week 15, you might as well roll with him again.
The Packers will be without No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings but have plenty of other targets for Aaron Rodgers to find and keep the offense moving just as efficiently as they have all season. And they should be up again on a Chiefs team that allows 23.5 points per game (23rd), 341.8 yards per game (15th), 209.3 yards per game in the air (10th) and 132.5 yards per game on the ground (26th).
The Chiefs are seventh worst against fantasy running backs this season and have allowed 133.4 yards rushing per game and 41 yards receiving per game with three scores to the position over the last five weeks.
But if Saine can return, he steals looks from Grant and has better hands out of the backfield. If Starks returns, we already know how that worked with Grant and Starks together — Grant was practically invisible.
Starks reportedly had trouble getting his ankle to respond this week and did not practice. Saine did not practice this week, either. If the 13-0 Packers feel they can get it done against the 5-8 Chiefs with Grant and fullback John Kuhn alone, and they should be able too, then there would be no reason for a playoff team to risk the health of their two younger backs.
This is one of those games where if all three are active I avoid all three as you did all season prior to Starks’ injury, but if Grant is the only one then he’s a must play as a flex at worst.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
What do we do with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in Week 15 at San Diego?
A week after scoring 4.2 fantasy points against Cleveland, thanks to RB Ray Rice running wild, Flacco bounced back with 16.08 points against Indianapolis.
We could look at trends, if you put any stock in them, and how Flacco has done this season after scoring at least 16 points.
In four-point passing TD leagues, he scored 20.96 in Week 1 and followed with 9.88 at Tennessee. He scored 28.26 the next week at St. Louis and followed with 3.22. It then took until Week 11 for Flacco to reach at least 16 points, scoring 17.6 against Cincinnati, which he followed with 10.64 against San Francisco.
So the trend is three games above 16 fantasy points prior to last week and drop offs of 11.08, 25.04 and 6.96 the following weeks for an average drop of 14.36 points after 16-point performance.
Now he gets the Chargers, who are favorable to running backs over the last five weeks and ho-hum against quarterbacks.
Baltimore brings a hot RB in Ray Rice — 497 yards rushing, 177 yards receiving, 24 catches and four TDs in the last five weeks — and an average QB in Flacco that you never know what you’re going to get.
In the past five weeks against RBs, San Diego has faced C.J. Spiller (56 total yards), Maurice Jones-Drew (188 total yards and 1 TD), Willis McGahee (117 rushing yards), Matt Forte (85 total yards) and Michael Bush (242 total yards and 1 TD) for an average of 17.76 fantasy points in Athlon’s half-PPR scoring format. All told, the Chargers are 18th against fantasy RBs over the last five weeks.
In the last five weeks against QBs, the Chargers have faced Ryan Fitzpatrick (176 yards, 2 INTs), Blaine Gabbert (195 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT), Tim Tebow (143 yards, 1 TD), Jay Cutler (286 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 1 rushing TD) and Carson Palmer (299 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT). All told, the Chargers are 20th against fantasy QBs over the last five weeks.
So, again, what do we do with Flacco this week? Trends say he won’t produce. The Chargers defense is averaging right around, oddly enough, 16 points per game allowed to QBs the last five weeks.
There’s more upside to starting Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Rex Grossman and Andy Dalton over Flacco because I think the chance of being guaranteed the 16 from these four is greater than hoping Flacco will be consistent enough to get there. Plus, the success Rice has had this season on the ground scares me away from the Raven QB.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Here we go again with Adrian Peterson, Week 15 and an injury in the fantasy football playoffs.
The Minnesota Vikings’ running back has missed the last three games with a high ankle sprain, and is expected to return today against the visiting New Orleans Saints.
Let’s not forget when we all thought Peterson would start in the fantasy playoffs in Week 15 of last season on a 5-9 Vikings team. He didn’t. We were left scrambling. And many a fantasy players’ season was abruptly ended as the Peterson-less Vikings fell 40-14 to the Chicago Bears.
That was a Monday night game against and we found out 45 minutes before kickoff that Peterson was a no-go. He practiced on the Saturday before the Monday night game but was a late scratch, and too late for many owners to try and slide Toby Gerhart into their starting lineups.
At least this week it is an early game and we will have enough time to make the adjustments if any news comes down.
Peterson was a full participant at practice but when you hear coach Leslie Frazier say “we’ll have to kind of work him in there,” and “we’ll have to monitor how he’s doing,” that doesn’t necessarily exude confidence in starting perhaps the best back in the NFL.
Frazier has said he is certain Peterson will start and his No. 1 back came out of a week of practices without soreness. But that is practice.
This is going up against a Saints defense that, is ranked 15th against the run and coming off a game in which they held Chris Johnson to 23 yards on 11 carries — and that’s a game the Titans were in until the last seconds. The Saints defense is also giving up the 30th most passing yards per game (268.0) on the fourth most attempts per game (39.1). So it could be the Vikings trying to go to the air to either stay in the game or try to get back into the game, because on the defensive side, Minnesota is 18th in yards per game allowed (350.2) and 30th in points allowed per game (28).
Peterson himself estimated on Friday that he was at 85 percent and everything looks like it’s a go for Sunday’s game against New Orleans. But this is Week 15. This is the semifinals for most. This is the time when we scrutinize every little thing in order to get your lineup just right in order to advance. And when you have a stud back returning from injury to play for a 2-11 team as big underdogs against a 10-3 New Orleans team it makes you wonder: Will he stay in the whole time? Will the Vikings be in the game long enough to keep the run game relevant?
My dilemma, in a non-PPR league with no flex, is Shonn Greene and Roy Helu on hot streaks, having already decided to start Felix Jones on Saturday night because the matchup was too enticing and now what to do with Adrian Peterson returning from injury.
I’ve never been a fan of “if you drafted them high then you start them,” but if Peterson says he is good to go then he’s good to go. And I will start him along side Felix Jones and hope to see them both in Week 16.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
It’s hard to think Frank Gore is anything more than a flex running back this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
You would have to hope for the 49ers defense to force some turnovers deep on Pittsburgh’s side of the field — which is possible with the battered offensive line the Steelers must send out there Monday night, or Charlie Batch possibly starting at QB for Ben Roethlisberger — for Gore to have much chance at success.
San Francisco brings the seventh-ranked rushing offense (126.9 YPG) into the game to try and get past the Steelers’ sixth-ranked rushing defense (97.0 YPG) that has allowed just six TDs this season and only two to running backs since Week 5.
And you’d be hard pressed to think the 49ers’ 29th-ranked passing offense (182.1 YPG) will open up much for Gore as the Steelers are No. 1 in the league against the pass at 179.1 yards per game.
So you can thank Gore for staying relatively healthy as a second-round pick and producing four straight games of 19.4 points or more right before the midway point of the schedule and seven double-digit games altogether through 14 weeks this season. He is now battling knee and ankle injuries and has Pittsburgh to contend with in the semifinals of most fantasy football leagues.
When others tell you in the preseason, “in prepping for your draft, that you can’t look to the fantasy playoffs as part of your draft,” I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. Look who are still the top run defenses against fantasy running backs as we enter the semifinals: Baltimore’s No. 2, Pittsburgh’s No. 6 and the New York Jets are No. 7.
If you have a back facing one of these three defenses over the next two to three weeks, good luck.
Like Gore, hope that your guys did a good enough job to keep you afloat through the regular season and you drafted depth or built it on the waiver wire to be able to push names like Gore, Ryan Mathews and now Rashard Mendenahll having to face the No. 1 49ers rush and fantasy RB defense aside this week in order to slide in that depth this week as a starting RB1 or RB2.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
It doesn’t get any better than this at the running back position does it? Chris Johsnon, the former 2,000-yard back, who can take it to the house on any play, going against the Indianapolis Colts and their 30th-ranked rush defense. And it’s in your semifinal week.
But let’s pump the brakes a bit.
Chris Johnson has almost been a rich man’s LeGarrette Blount this season. A few flashes here and there, but overall a disappointing fantasy season. He has just four games over 64 yards this season and three of those came in the last five weeks. He has four touchdowns this season and three of those came in the last five weeks.
So is he peaking or his he teasing? It’s hard to say. One thing that is for certain is he faced these same terrible Colts in Week 8, a 27-10 win by the Titans, and mustered up 34 yards on 14 carries and 17 yards on three catches. Unless you were in a full-PPR league, Johnson had barely been a flex play before his three explosions in Weeks 10, 12 and 13.
In those three weeks he rushed for 130 yards and a score against a pitiful Carolina defense, 190 yards against an even worse Tampa Bay defense and his high-water mark of the season — a 153-yard, two-TD game against a reeling Buffalo defense. CJ2K was back.
But in between those three explosions resurfaced the early 2011 CJ. He had 12 carries for 13 yards against Atlanta and last week he had 11 carries for 23 yards against a suspect New Orleans defense in a game the Titans were in until the final play.
So it leaves me wondering: Which CJ will we see today? Is it the one we loved two years ago, the one we liked last year or the one we are tolerating this season?
Coming off a dud against New Orleans and having only produced 51 total yards in a Week 8 matchup against Indy in Week 8 does not give me great confidence heading into the Week 15 matchup.
But the Colts have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to RBs in PPR leagues over the last five weeks and that’s with New England’s 21st-ranked rush offense in there. Since CJ’s bust against them in Week 8, the Colts allowed Michael Turner to gain 71 yards and a TD, Maurice Jones-Drew 114 yards and a TD, Carolina’s duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart 139 yards and two Williams scores and Ray Rice 103 yards and a score and six catches for 46 yards.
Javon Ringer was put on IR this week, leaving Jamie Harper as the backup. QB Matt Hasselbeck is ailing with a calf injury. All signs, and stats are pointing toward the Titans leaning on CJ a lot in this game, and he should be able to come through for you and them.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
-by Mitch Light (follow at @AthlonMitch)
With the 14th season of BCS bowl action about to take place, Athlon reviewed the tapes of the four (now five) biggest bowl games in college football. Since 1998, teams have been fighting to land a spot in the BCS and here are the players who made the most of their opportunities.
Here are the Top Fiesta Bowl Performances of the BCS Era:
5. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State, 2006
The Buckeyes won the Fiesta Bowl for the third time in four years thanks in large part to Smith’s exploits at quarterback. The junior completed 19-of-28 passes for a career-high 342 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 66 yards on 13 carries. Two Ohio State receivers, Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr., topped the 100-yard receiving mark.
4. Alex Smith, QB, Utah, 2005
Running Urban Meyer’s spread option offense to near perfection, Smith led Utah to a 35–7 win over Pittsburgh that completed a perfect 12–0 season. The future No. 1 pick of the San Francisco 49ers completed 29-of-37 passes for 328 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions and added 68 yards on the ground. The Utes were the first team from a non-BCS conference to earn a spot in a BCS bowl.
3. Joey Harrington, QB, Oregon, 2002
Oregon was ranked No. 2 in the nation in both major polls but got squeezed out of the BCS National Championship Game in favor of Nebraska. Harrington and the Ducks’ offense took their frustrations out on Colorado, ranked No. 3 in both polls, in a surprisingly lopsided 38–16 win. Harrington completed 38-of-42 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns, including a 79-yard strike to Samie Parker that tied the record for longest pass reception in Fiesta Bowl history.
2. Pat White, QB, West Virginia, 2008
A true dual-threat quarterback, White abused the Oklahoma defense with 150 yards rushing on 25 carries and 176 yards passing as the Mountaineers rolled up 525 total yards en route to a 48–28 win over the Big 12 champs. West Virginia was coached by Bill Stewart, who stepped in for Rich Rodriguez, who bolted for the top job at Michigan after the regular season.
1. Jared Zabransky, QB, Boise State, 2007
In what will always be remembered as one of the most exciting bowl games in history, Zabransky and the upstart Broncos stunned heavily favored Oklahoma, 43–42 in overtime, after converting a Statue of Liberty play into a two-point conversion on their first possession of the extra session. Zabransky finished the game with 262 yards passing and three touchdowns.
San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews is coming off three straight games of at least 112 yards rushing after four straight games under 112 total yards.
So which Mathews are we going to get Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15?
Well, the Ravens are ranked second in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (85.8). They have allowed just six rushing touchdowns all season and are No. 3 in scoring defense at 15.5 points allowed per game.
Hope for Mathews to get something done in the receiving game since it is unlikely he will have much success getting in the end zone — carries Mike Tolbert will likely steal anyway. Mathews has 45 catches on 53 targets for 420 yards and no scores this season. He racked up nearly half of those catches and a majority of those yards — 19 for 254 — in the first four weeks. And in those four games, he had rushing totals of 45, 64, 98 and 81.
Mathews finally broke threw with a 100-yard game in Week 5 against Denver, racking up 125 yards on 24 carries, but he managed just one catch for seven yards.
So the trend with Mathews is: if he’s rushing well he’s not catching much. If he’s not rushing well — say under the 85.8 the Ravens are allowing — then his catches are at least helping offset the lack of production as a runner. Mathews has been under 85.8 yards rushing in seven games this season and in those seven he’s averaged 4.3 receptions for 45.9 yards and 51 rushing yards for 12.7 fantasy points in Athlon’s half-PPR scoring format.
Look for Sunday night to certainly be a low-rushing day. The Ravens have only allowed two backs to get above the 85.8 rushing yards a game they allow — Maurice Jones-Drew had 105 yards in Week 7 and Marshawn Lynch had 109 yards and a score in Week 10. Four backs have at least 50 receiving yards against the Ravens since Week 6 — three of them coming since Week 10.
So there is hope for Mathews if he’s used as a runner and receiver, and the numbers on his poor rushing days suggest he can still get you to double digits.
It depends on what you want Mathews for this week. He is probably a mid-level RB2 who you start ahead of Marion Barber, Ryan Grant, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, Rashard Mendenhall, C.J. Spiller, any Cleveland RB, any Kansas City RB.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Who is the fantasy odd man out for the Dallas Cowboys when they take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Week 15 game Saturday night?
Odds are it is receiver Dez Bryant.
In the year of “Gotta Eat,” not everyone can be fed on this Cowboys team despite the deliciously appetizing meal the Bucs statistically seem ready to serve up.
Laurent Robinson is not going away despite the return of a Miles Austin, who is still not 100 percent with his hamstring injury. Bryant will likely draw Tampa Bay’s top cornerback, Aqib Talib, who is expected to return from a hamstring strain that sidelined him last week. Jason Witten is still a premiere tight end and now the Cowboys run with all-purpose back Felix Jones.
So many players. So many matchups to exploit. Only one football. Only 60 minutes.
With the loss of power back DeMarco Murray, will Jones slide into that role with the same amount of carries? Will he get the same amount of touches, just more in the passing game? Will Dallas go to more three-receiver sets, making Robinson, Austin and Bryant all appealing plays the next few weeks of fantasy? Unfortunately it’s going to take semifinal week of the fantasy playoffs for the Cowboys to figure out what they want to do offensively. Or they could just exploit a bad Bucs defense however they want and it will change entirely in Week 16.
Jones is a great play as basically the only Dallas RB left. Tampa Bay has lost seven in a row, is ranked 28th in rushing yards allowed (139.7) on a sixth-most 30.2 attempts per game and are ranked last in touchdowns allowed (19).
As for Witten, he is averaging 10.79 fantasy points per game this season — ranked sixth at his position — and the Bucs have not really had to deal with too many top tight ends. The faced New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham in Week 6 and gave up seven catches for 124 yards on 11 targets and faced him again in Week 9 when he had six catches for 78 yards on eight targets. Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez is the only other TE to see at least eight targets, and he had two catches for 18 yards and a TD in Week 3’s 16-13 Falcons win. Witten has seen under eight targets just once in the last five weeks, and he caught five balls for 87 yards and a TD on six targets in that game vs. Baltimore.
So Jones and Witten should be safe to get theirs. That leaves Robinson, Austin and Bryant.
In fantasy you can’t sit the hot hand and Robinson has been that. His targets have dropped each of the last two weeks, but he continues to produce. Since Week 8, he has 50 targets, 32 catches, 530 yards and eight scores. Only in Week 13 did he not score, but still had 4-for-72.
Austin came back from his hamstring injury, and is still reportedly not 100 percent, but turned seven targets into four catches for 63 yards and a score. He had two catches for 53 yards in the Week 9 game against Seattle before re-injuring his hamstring early in the game. Clearly, he is still a favorite target of QB Tony Romo.
And that brings us to Bryant. He was targeted just two times last week, one week after being targeted a season-high 14 times with no Miles Austin in the lineup. He is always a threat to catch the deep ball — see his one catch for a 50-yard touchdown last week — but going against Talib and with so many mouths to feed in the Dallas offense, Bryant will have to be the one to lower your expectations for this week.
Talib has not necessarily lit the world on fire this season. He’s coming off a hamstring injury that’s sidelined him the last two games and Bryant could blow right past him in his return. But Talib has only allowed over 54 yards once since Week 4 and only two TDs in that same time.
Someone has to be the odd man out and stats point to Bryant.
The Cowboys have three receivers that can be the one-long TD type of players and even Jones can take one to the house from anywhere on the field. So it’s almost hope and pray for Bryant with all three receivers active.
I hope I’m wrong, because I have Bryant in two leagues, but unless the Cowboys and Romo put up Case Keenum-Houston Cougars numbers, someone is going to get a little less to eat Saturday night.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
The running back situation in the NFL in Week 15 is pretty dire. Two of them have already played in Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner, and they were certainly started in most leagues. And here we are for a Saturday night game, nationally televised by the NFL Network, with a decision to make about Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount.
Starting Blount means there are two questions you have to ask yourself: Do you trust Blount? Do you trust that Bucs coach Raheem Morris will stick with him even in the likelihood that the Bucs will be down?
Tampa Bay has lost seven in a row and in those seven games Blount has cracked double digits in fantasy three times. In the four wins in six games before this losing streak, he cracked double digits twice, including his only 20-point game of the season against the last-place Colts. So five out of 11 games played he has double digits, six he doesn’t.
Plus, there is little margin for error when using Blount as there is a fumble issue that makes it an even smaller margin if your league takes away points for lost fumbles. Blount has fumbled nine times since entering the league last season and has lost six of them. Four of those fumbles, and three lost ones, have come in the last three games.
And now for the big HOWEVER.
The Cowboys are ranked 24th against fantasy running backs this season, and in seven games against sub-.500 teams Dallas has allowed an average of 74.7 yards rushing per game, 13.6 yards receiving per game on an average of 2.9 catches and four total TDs for an average of 13.7 fantasy points per game. Dallas is 6-1 in those games, winning by an average of 10.6 points.
So even in games the Cowboys are beating bad teams by 10.6 points, the high producers at RB of those teams are still collectively averaging 13.7 fantasy points.
I have Blount in a dynasty league and the only thing that gives me hope is he and the Bucs will be better in the near future; but as a week-to-week play he scares the daylights out of me. It’s said to forgive and forget in fantasy, but I cannot forgive the 1.9-point egg he laid against a terrible Carolina defense in Week 13 when the Bucs got down early and he had 11 carries for 19 yards. It came on the heels of back-to-back 100-yard games against the Packers and Titans when we had all but given up on Blount after three games of 34, 72 and 34 yards with no touchdowns. He bounced back with the 74-yard, goal line TD game last week for 12.5 fantasy points.
Again, it comes down to whether or not you trust Raheem Morris to continue to use Blount no matter what the score. If the numbers play out and you plan on using Blount as an RB3 or flex2, I would be happy with 13.7 points from that position in a playoff week. I’m just not sure I can go on that limb with a back that has burned me more than helped me,
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Felix Jones is back. And we are all clamoring to use the Dallas Cowboys’ running back in Saturday night’s Week 15 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And why wouldn’t we? Tampa Bay has lost seven in a row, is ranked 28th in rushing yards allowed (139.7) on a sixth-most 30.2 attempts per game and are ranked last in touchdowns allowed (19).
But in the second NFL Network game of the week, are we going to see a matchup where a team clearly has the ability to run on the other but decides to do a lot of damage through the air? Along with Felix Jones at running back, Miles Austin, Laurent Robinson, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are no slouches offensively for the Cowboys.
Seems eerily familiar to the Atlanta-Jacksonville game on Thursday night where Michael Turner had a clear advantage, but had 19 carries for 61 yards and a short TD thanks to field position off a fumbled punt return by the Jaguars. Roddy White wound up with a 30.5-point day, Julio Jones had 17.6 fantasy points and Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez were relatively non-existent with 1.7 and 1.9 points.
The one difference for the Cowboys if they get up big, as opposed to the Falcons, could be that they have no other backs to really turn to. Jones is in there because DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner are on IR, Tashard Choice is long since gone and Sammy Morris was just signed off the street. So Jones, who recently returned from a high ankle sprain of his own, might have to be the opener, the set-up man and the closer for the Cowboys.
The Bucs have allowed the last four true feature backs they have faced to gash them.
Frank Gore went off for 125 yards and a score in Week 5; Matt Forte for 145 yards and a score in Week 7; Arian Foster 845 yards rushing and a score and 102 yards receiving and a score in Week 10 and Chris Johnson 190 yards in Week 12. In between, Carolina’s duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart had 138 total yards and a score in Week 13; New Orleans’ trio of Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory had 257 total yards and two scores in Week 9 and the Saints needed four players to combine for 109 yards and a score in Week 6.
Point being, they are easy to run on and have also given up 65 catches for 617 yards and four scores this season.
All signs point to Felix Jones being a great start. The question is: How great?
Do you start him in his first game back as the true feature back? He can’t be a power back but he can be the all-purpose back that the Bucs have certainly had trouble with this season?
So where does he rank this week? Does he go ahead of players like Shonn Greene and Roy Helu who have been hot as of late? Does he go ahead of an Adrian Peterson returning from an ankle injury against a Saints team likely to have their way with the Vikings?
I start Peterson ahead of him because he’s Peterson, but after that, Jones is a great play. He did average 99 total yards with two touchdowns over the final eight games of last season and saw those numbers dip this season before the injury to 63.6 total yards with just one TD. The lack of TDs is the only concern with Jones as the Cowboys certainly have plenty of other targets, but he should rack up plenty of yards against the Bucs.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Bowl season kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 17 in Albuquerque and ends on Jan. 9 in New Orleans with the BCS Championship. With 35 games on the docket, there's plenty of options to keep college fans interested over the next month.
Athlon's editors offer their predictions for all 35 games with a slight twist. The picks were made with confidence points, 1 being the least and 35 being the most.
The six editors were split on the Rose Bowl, but all are picking Alabama to knock off LSU in the national championship.
|Braden Gall||Charlie Miller|
|New Mexico: Temple vs. Wyoming||Wyoming (4)||Wyoming (11)|
|Idaho Potato: Utah State vs. Ohio||Utah State (5)||Utah State (1)|
|New Orleans: SDSU vs. UL Lafayette||UL Lafayette (6)||UL Lafayette (20)|
|St. Petersburg: FIU vs. Marshall||FIU (7)||FIU (9)|
|Poinsettia: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech||TCU (34)||TCU (30)|
|Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Arizona State||Boise State (35)||Boise State (31)|
|Hawaii: Southern Miss vs. Nevada||Nevada (8)||Southern Miss (28)|
|Independence: North Carolina vs. Missouri||Missouri (17)||Missouri (8)|
|Little Caesars: Western Michigan vs. Purdue||Purdue (23)||Purdue (15)|
|Belk: Louisville vs. NC State||Louisville (27)||NC State (13)|
|Military: Air Force vs. Toledo||Air Force (24)||Air Force (12)|
|Holiday: California vs. Texas||California (3)||Texas (10)|
|Champs Sports: Florida State vs. Notre Dame||Florida State (25)||Florida State (18)|
|Alamo: Baylor vs. Washington||Baylor (30)||Baylor (33)|
|Armed Forces: BYU vs. Tulsa||BYU (2)||Tulsa (19)|
|Pinstripe: Rutgers vs. Iowa State||Rutgers (22)||Rutgers (6)|
|Music City: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State||Mississippi State (9)||Mississippi State (29)|
|Insight: Iowa vs. Oklahoma||Oklahoma (29)||Oklahoma (32)|
|Meineke Car Care: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern||Texas A&M (21)||Texas A&M (24)|
|Sun: Georgia Tech vs. Utah||Utah (20)||Georgia Tech (2)|
|Liberty: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt (33)||Vanderbilt (21)|
|Kraft Fight Hunger: Illinois vs. UCLA||UCLA (11)||Illinois (14)|
|Chick-fil-A: Virginia vs. Auburn||Auburn (26)||Auburn (27)|
|TicketCity: Penn State vs. Houston||Penn State (31)||Penn State (17)|
|Outback: Michigan State vs. Georgia||Georgia (16)||Georgia (7)|
|Capital One: Nebraska vs. South Carolina||South Carolina (12)||South Carolina (4)|
|Gator: Ohio State vs. Florida||Ohio State (15)||Florida (3)|
|Rose: Wisconsin vs. Oregon||Oregon (28)||Wisconsin (5)|
|Fiesta: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State||Stanford (1)||Stanford (23)|
|Sugar: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech||Michigan (19)||Virginia Tech (16)|
|Orange: Clemson vs. West Virginia||Clemson (14)||Clemson (34)|
|Cotton: Kansas State vs. Arkansas||Arkansas (32)||Arkansas (26)|
|Compass: SMU vs. Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh (10)||Pittsburgh (25)|
|GoDaddy.com: Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State||Northern Illinois (18)||Northern Illinois (22)|
|BCS National Title: LSU vs. Alabama||Alabama (13)||Alabama (35)|
|Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|New Mexico: Temple vs. Wyoming||Temple (6)||Temple (31)|
|Idaho Potato: Utah State vs. Ohio||Utah State (13)||Utah State (32)|
|New Orleans: SDSU vs. UL Lafayette||San Diego State (3)||San Diego State (22)|
|St. Petersburg: FIU vs. Marshall||FIU (30)||Marshall (21)|
|Poinsettia: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech||TCU (31)||Louisiana Tech (4)|
|Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Arizona State||Boise State (35)||Boise State (35)|
|Hawaii: Southern Miss vs. Nevada||Southern Miss (25)||Southern Miss (9)|
|Independence: North Carolina vs. Missouri||Missouri (24)||Missouri (23)|
|Little Caesars: Western Michigan vs. Purdue||Western Michigan (10)||Purdue (24)|
|Belk: Louisville vs. NC State||NC State (2)||Louisville (10)|
|Military: Air Force vs. Toledo||Air Force (15)||Toledo (25)|
|Holiday: California vs. Texas||Texas (11)||California (2)|
|Champs Sports: Florida State vs. Notre Dame||Florida State (29)||Notre Dame (26)|
|Alamo: Baylor vs. Washington||Baylor (33)||Baylor (20)|
|Armed Forces: BYU vs. Tulsa||BYU (16)||Tulsa (11)|
|Pinstripe: Rutgers vs. Iowa State||Rutgers (4)||Rutgers (12)|
|Music City: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State||Mississippi State (34)||Mississippi State (27)|
|Insight: Iowa vs. Oklahoma||Oklahoma (32)||Oklahoma (33)|
|Meineke Car Care: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern||Texas A&M (21)||Texas A&M (28)|
|Sun: Georgia Tech vs. Utah||Georgia Tech (22)||Georgia Tech (29)|
|Liberty: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt (19)||Vanderbilt (19)|
|Kraft Fight Hunger: Illinois vs. UCLA||Illinois (1)||UCLA (7)|
|Chick-fil-A: Virginia vs. Auburn||Virginia (12)||Virginia (8)|
|TicketCity: Penn State vs. Houston||Penn State (7)||Penn State (18)|
|Outback: Michigan State vs. Georgia||Georgia (18)||Georgia (5)|
|Capital One: Nebraska vs. South Carolina||South Carolina (9)||South Carolina (6)|
|Gator: Ohio State vs. Florida||Ohio State (20)||Ohio State (13)|
|Rose: Wisconsin vs. Oregon||Wisconsin (5)||Oregon (3)|
|Fiesta: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State (23)||Oklahoma State (17)|
|Sugar: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech||Michigan (8)||Michigan (16)|
|Orange: Clemson vs. West Virginia||Clemson (27)||Clemson (34)|
|Cotton: Kansas State vs. Arkansas||Arkansas (28)||Arkansas (30)|
|Compass: SMU vs. Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh (14)||Pittsburgh (14)|
|GoDaddy.com: Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State||Northern Illinois (26)||Northern Illinois (15)|
|BCS National Title: LSU vs. Alabama||Alabama (17)||Alabama (1)|
|Mark Ross||Patrick Snow|
|New Mexico: Temple vs. Wyoming||Temple (34)||Temple (27)|
|Idaho Potato: Utah State vs. Ohio||Ohio (16)||Utah State (17)|
|New Orleans: SDSU vs. UL Lafayette||UL Lafayette (11)||San Diego State (23)|
|St. Petersburg: FIU vs. Marshall||FIU (33)||FIU (18)|
|Poinsettia: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech||Louisiana Tech (9)||TCU (33)|
|Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Arizona State||Boise State (35)||Boise State (35)|
|Hawaii: Southern Miss vs. Nevada||Southern Miss (17)||Southern Miss (14)|
|Independence: North Carolina vs. Missouri||North Carolina (1)||Missouri (26)|
|Little Caesars: Western Michigan vs. Purdue||Western Michigan (2)||Purdue (8)|
|Belk: Louisville vs. NC State||NC State (22)||Louisville (7)|
|Military: Air Force vs. Toledo||Air Force (3)||Toledo (16)|
|Holiday: California vs. Texas||Texas (4)||Texas (19)|
|Champs Sports: Florida State vs. Notre Dame||Florida State (28)||Florida State (15)|
|Alamo: Baylor vs. Washington||Baylor (25)||Baylor (34)|
|Armed Forces: BYU vs. Tulsa||BYU (21)||BYU (13)|
|Pinstripe: Rutgers vs. Iowa State||Rutgers (12)||Rutgers (6)|
|Music City: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State||Mississippi State (30)||Mississippi State (32)|
|Insight: Iowa vs. Oklahoma||Oklahoma (23)||Oklahoma (29)|
|Meineke Car Care: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern||Texas A&M (32)||Texas A&M (28)|
|Sun: Georgia Tech vs. Utah||Utah (5)||Utah (5)|
|Liberty: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt (6)||Vanderbilt (24)|
|Kraft Fight Hunger: Illinois vs. UCLA||Illinois (29)||UCLA (1)|
|Chick-fil-A: Virginia vs. Auburn||Virginia (19)||Virginia (9)|
|TicketCity: Penn State vs. Houston||Penn State (20)||Penn State (12)|
|Outback: Michigan State vs. Georgia||Georgia (7)||Georgia (22)|
|Capital One: Nebraska vs. South Carolina||South Carolina (31)||Nebraska (4)|
|Gator: Ohio State vs. Florida||Florida (18)||Ohio State (31)|
|Rose: Wisconsin vs. Oregon||Oregon (15)||Wisconsin (2)|
|Fiesta: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State (26)||Oklahoma State (21)|
|Sugar: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech (8)||Michigan (10)|
|Orange: Clemson vs. West Virginia||Clemson (14)||Clemson (20)|
|Cotton: Kansas State vs. Arkansas||Arkansas (24)||Arkansas (25)|
|Compass: SMU vs. Pittsburgh||SMU (13)||Pittsburgh (11)|
|GoDaddy.com: Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State||Northern Illinois (27)||Northern Illinois (3)|
|BCS National Title: LSU vs. Alabama||Alabama (10)||Alabama (30)|
USC’s 2012 national title hopes hinge squarely on the NFL decision of two players – quarterback Matt Barkley and left tackle Matt Kalil. The Trojans were dealt their first blow for next season on Thursday night, as Kalil decided to forego his final year of eligibility and will enter the NFL Draft. He is expected to be one of the first 15 picks off the board in April.
Barkley has yet to make a decision on his future, but most believe the two players are a package deal. However, the junior quarterback could still return to USC, but will be missing arguably his top offensive lineman next season.
Kalil’s departure is huge loss for a team that was just starting to find the right mix on the offensive line. The Trojans finished first tied for first nationally with just eight sacks allowed in 2011.
With a gaping hole at left tackle, USC could move Kevin Graf from the right side to fill Kalil’s spot. One bit of positive news for USC: The rest of the group should return intact. Center Khaled Holmes earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors this season and should be one of the top linemen in the conference in 2012. Also, guard Marcus Martin was one of the top freshman linemen in college football this year.
With Kalil’s decision out of the way, the focus shifts to Barkley. If he returns, the junior will likely be the Heisman frontrunner, as well as leading the Trojans to a top-five ranking in preseason polls. Considering USC has been on a bowl ban the last two years, there is an opportunity for Barkley to lead this team back to a BCS bowl or a spot in the national title game. But will that be enough for him to stick around?
Barkley is widely-regarded as the No. 2 quarterback on most draft boards, just behind Stanford’s Andrew Luck. And considering he would likely be one of the first five players selected in the NFL Draft, it’s unlikely he will return to Los Angeles for his senior year – especially with Kalil announcing his departure.
If Barkley goes to the NFL Draft as expected, three candidates will battle for the starting quarterback job in the spring: Jesse Scroggins, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek.
Even though all three candidates are inexperienced, the cupboard wouldn’t be totally bare for the new quarterback. The receiving corps is among the best in the nation, as Robert Woods and Marqise Lee should contend for All-American honors. Also, tight end Randall Telfer had a solid freshman campaign and figures to be a bigger part of the attack in 2012. The Trojans also have a good stable of running backs, led by Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan.
If Barkley joins Kalil as an early entrant into the NFL Draft, USC’s national title hopes will take a back seat in 2012. However, coach Lane Kiffin has done a good job on the recruiting trail and the talent in the program is back on the rise. Even if the Trojans aren’t a national title contender next year, with all of the coaching changes and turnover in the Pac-12 South Division, it’s very likely they will remain the favorite to play Oregon in the 2012 conference title game.
-by Braden Gall (follow at @AthlonBraden)
The recruitment of the nation’s No. 4 prospect, two-way star lineman Arik Armstead, has been anything but smooth.
The 6-foot-7, 280-pound stud from Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove committed to the USC Trojans in June of 2010. His older brother, Armond Armstead, is currently a senior defensive end for the Trojans. However, after experiencing chest pains last spring, Armond was hospitalized briefly and held out of workouts. After many negative tests for every condition possible, Armond was redshirted and not cleared to play by USC.
Subsequently, Arik, the Athlon Consensus 100 No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the nation, decommitted from USC shortly thereafter in October.
The Trojans are reportedly still in the mix, but time is running out for Lane Kiffin. Armstead has technically graduated (he has enough credits to enroll in college) and is set to enroll in the coming weeks. The elite prospect is also a star hoopster and will likely be playing on the hardcourt as the well as the gridiron in college. This aspect of his recruitment will also weigh heavily in his decision as he is seeking a quality basketball program.
Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, for example, has used head basketball coach Mike Brey to help recruit the stud lineman and claims that the youngster could be operating on a college roster as soon as he gets to campus. With the loss of Tim Abromaitis for the year to injury, Brey could certainly use another big body.
Armstead visited the Notre Dame Fighting Irish officially on October 21, the Alabama Crimson Tide on November 4 and the Oregon Ducks on November 18. He was on the Berkeley campus last weekend, letting Jeff Tedford and company court him. His final visit could come as early as this weekend at Auburn. It would be his fifth and final visit.
He claims that he has not eliminated anyone yet — leaving upwards of two dozen schools vying for his services. However, proximity and official visits are the two biggest indicators in recruiting. This would give Cal and Oregon the edge, obviously, over Notre Dame and the Yellowhammer programs. He will get all of his official visits out of the way so that he can spend the holiday break mulling it over before making his final decision. As an early enrollee and potential basketball star, fans won’t have to wait too much longer to see the big Pleasant Grove prospect in action.
Although he is listed as an offensive tackle, Armstead is just as likely to end up on defense. Very simply put, he is a huge prospect. He has incredible length and is a rangy athlete for a player who will line up in the trenches. And he has the power to match, as he simply overpowers blockers when on defense. He has solid “get-off” that translates well to both sides of the ball and shows quality agility/quickness for a player of his size. He has prototype size and athleticism for both positions. He can dominate the line of scrimmage no matter what side of the ball he is on.
Refining his technique and fundamentals will be huge for Armstead. Things like hand placement, pad level and footwork will all improve rapidly once he settles on a position. Even the experts are torn on whether he projects to the O-line or the D-line. In fact, 247Sports.com has him listed as both the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle and the nation’s No. 1 defensive end. Three of the ranking services have declared Armstead the top prospect in the nation, while Rivals.com clearly thinks the "least" of him at No. 29 overall.
How Armstead ranks:
ESPN: No. 15 overall, No. 2 offensive tackle
Rivals: No. 29 overall, No. 4 strongside defensive end
Scout: No. 1 overall, No. 1 offensive tackle
247Sports: No. 1 overall, No. 1 offensive tackle, No. 1 defensive end
O-D: No. 1 overall, No. 1 offensive tackle
NCSA: No. 3 overall, No. 1 defensive end
It’s too late now to do anything about a season gone wrong. Dreams are dead. Hopes haven squashed. And in some places the spark of life has been extinguished. The stretch run of the NFL season isn’t for pretenders. The playoff race isn’t for teams and people whose bubbles have already burst.
And there many burst bubbles littering the NFL landscape with three weeks left in the 2011 season. So many teams and people had what must have seemed like realistic expectations, only to see them go painfully unfulfilled.
Who are the biggest busts of the 2011 season? The list is long, but here is a look at the Top 10:
The Dream Team
Make that the nightmare. The Philadelphia Eagles were the stars of the offseason, signing every free agent they could get their hands on and adding them to a team that won the NFC East last year. But the self-proclaimed “Dream Team” (And boy, should they thank backup QB Vince Young for calling them that) were exposed early as having no chemistry, a surprisingly porous secondary, and a turnover-prone offense. When Michael Vick started getting hurt they had no chance, and as a result there is speculation that Andy Reid may soon have no job.
The Patriot Projects - Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco
Sometimes smart coaches are too smart for their own good. That’s what happened when Bill Belichick thought he could squeeze water out of the rocks that are Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. The Haynesworth project was such a failure that he was released in early November. Ochocinco is still taking up space on the roster, but has just 13 catches for 228 yards and looks very, very done.
Browns RB Peyton Hillis
The Madden Cover boy has just 346 yards on 101 carries, which is enough to dry up all the grassroots support he had in the voting for that honor. He’s battled injuries all year. He missed a game with strep throat, but then – in the midst of a contract squabble – his agent said he told him to sit out. He ticked off his Cleveland teammates along the way, too.
Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross
It was bad enough that he embarrassed Tony Sparano by flirting with Jim Harbaugh during the offseason, then keeping Sparano when he lost Harbaugh to the 49ers. Then he kept Sparano twisting for weeks, even though everyone knew he was going to get fired. But the worst thing that happen is that his team blew an 0-7 start which had them in position to make a run at the No. 1 pick in the draft, where they could’ve found their first franchise quarterback since Dan Marino (Stanford QB Andrew Luck). They’ve gone 4-2 since and now they’ve got no chance.
Former Chiefs coach Todd Haley
The Kansas City Chiefs were the defending champions of the AFC West and felt ready to repeat, but an NFL source who saw them in training camp said back then “They don’t look ready.” That seems right. They lost their first two games, to Buffalo and Detroit, by a combined score of 89-10. They actually rallied from an 0-3 start to get to 4-3, but after they became the first victim of winless Miami it was all downhill from there. The Chiefs began embarrassing themselves again, the injuries hit, Haley got fired, and now it’s like the 2010 season never happened.
Former NFL QB Donovan McNabb
His career had sputtered last year in Washington, but some thought he might be revived by a move to Minnesota. It was clear in Week 1 that wouldn’t be the case. He completed 7 of 15 passes for just 39 yards and wasn’t much better in his other five starts. The Vikings went 1-6, he lost his job to a rookie, then he was released and it’s likely his career is over.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers
“What’s wrong with Rivers?” was one of the most asked questions around the NFL early in the season. His numbers are still good – he’ll top 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns – but they aren’t as gaudy as some of his contemporaries. Plus, his interception total has skyrocketed to 17 (so far) and the Chargers, in the wide-open AFC West, are a disappointing 6-7.
Rams QB Sam Bradford
He was so good as a rookie that everyone thought he’d be one of the next stars of the NFL, but he’s fallen flat on his face in his sophomore season. Injuries certainly haven’t helped, but neither has his performance. In 10 starts he’s got just 2,164 yards and a measly six touchdown passes. And under his guidance, a Rams team that was in the playoff race until the final seconds last year, is 2-11 and they may end up firing their coach.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
They were 10-6 last year and a hard-luck team that just missed the playoffs, but they clearly were on the rise. And no one would’ve argued after they beat the Saints in Week 6 to move to 4-2. Now they’re 4-9 – seven straight losses -- and the last loss was a blowout at the hands of the 4-9 Jacksonville Jaguars in which the Bucs turned the ball over seven times.
Former Giants RB Tiki Barber
It was always improbable – if not completely unbelievable – that a 36-year-old running back would make a comeback in the NFL five years after he retired. But he sure got a lot of publicity out of the attempt, with his camp even leaking the names of a few teams that were “interested.” None were, though. He never got a sniff of interest, he remains unsigned, he will likely re-retire, and his already tarnished reputation – especially in the eyes of bitter Giants fans – took another unfortunate hit.
By RALPH VACCHIANO
-by Braden Gall (follow at @AthlonBraden)
The BCS is wrapping up its 14th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late '90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?
The debates will most assuredly rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 10 Pac-12 teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):
"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
* - team played in the Pac-12 Championship game
10b. UCLA Bruins, 1998 (10-2, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Toledo
Key Stats: Cade McNown set a school record for passing yards in a game (513), season (3,470) and career (10,708). His 68 career touchdown passes are also a school record.
Award Winners: Kris Farris (Outland), Cade McNown (Johnny Unitas, Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cade McNown (1st, 1999), Freddie Mitchell (1st, 2001), Robert Thomas (1st, 2002), DeShaun Foster (2nd, 2002)
Never ranked lower than sixth in the polls (Week 1 and final), the Bruins started the year 10-0 with eyes on the first-ever BCS title game. Record-setting passer Cade McNown worked past three ranked opponents before the final game of the regular season in the Orange Bowl with Miami. With 50 seconds left, Edgerrin James scored his third touchdown to give the Hurricanes a crazy 49-45 upset of the No. 3 Bruins. James ran 39 times for 299 yards. UCLA went on to allow 246 yards and four touchdowns to Ron Dayne in their 38-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl defeat was disappointing, but the Miami upset removed UCLA from a Fiesta Bowl date with unbeaten Tennessee for the National Championship.
10. Oregon Ducks, 2001 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mike Bellotti
Championships: Pac-10, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Joey Harrington finished his career 25-3 as a starter; was Oregon's first 11-win season in history,
Award Winners: Joey Harrington (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Joey Harrington (1st, 2002), Maurice Morris (2nd, 2002), Igor Olshansky (2nd, 2004)
Heisman Trophy finalist Joey Harrington (4th) led the Ducks to an outright Pac-10 championship. The piano-playing signal caller threw for 2,415 yards and 23 touchdowns en route to a Fiesta Bowl berth (the Rose Bowl was reserved for the 2001 NCG). The Ducks fell out of the top 10 only once — following a narrow 49-42 defeat to Stanford — and barely missed an opportunity to play in the national championship game. The Ducks beat four ranked opponents, including a 38-16 destruction of No. 3-ranked Colorado in Tempe, Ariz.
9. Stanford Cardinal, 2010 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh
Championships: Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Scored school-record 524 points, 12 wins is the most in school history, finished No. 2 in the nation in sacks allowed (6.0) and No. 3 nationally in passing efficiency (168.38)
Award Winners: Andrew Luck (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year), Owen Marecic (Paul Hornung)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: N/A
Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck, in only his sophomore season, and cult-of-personality head coach Jim Harbaugh led Stanford to arguably its best season in school history. The Cardinal scored more points and won more games than any team in their history, and their 40-12 demolition of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl provided the program with its first-ever BCS Bowl win. However, a 52-31 road loss to eventual national champion runner-up Oregon cost Luck a chance to face Auburn in the BCS title game. The Cardinal finished No. 5 in the final polls.
8. USC Trojans, 2002 (11-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in total offense (449.2 ypg), scoring offense (35.7 ppg), rushing defense (83.2 ypg), total defense (284.9 ypg), scoring defense (18.5 ppg) and passing efficiency (149.21).
Award Winners: Carson Palmer (Heisman Trophy, Johnny Unitas), Mike Williams (Pac-10 Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Carson Palmer (1st, 2003), Troy Polamalu (1st, 2003), Kenechi Udeze (1st, 2004), Jacob Rogers (2nd, 2004), Keary Colbert (2nd, 2004), Mike Williams (1st, 2005), Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006)
The beginning of the Trojan-Pete Carroll reign over the West Coast could be marked by the 2002 Men of Troy. Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer finally lived up to his recruiting hype with 3,942 yards and 37 total touchdowns. And he did it against nine different ranked opponents. Early season losses on the road against a ranked Kansas State team by seven and a ranked Washington State team by three cost the Trojans a shot at the national title game. The Cougars actually played in the Rose Bowl (a 34-14 loss to Oklahoma), but USC finished as the highest-rated team in the league (#5) after a convincing 38-17 win over No. 3 Iowa in the Orange Bowl. This team sent 46 different players into the NFL and was obviously led on defense by huge names like Polamalu, Cody, Patterson and Udeze. Carroll won a share of his first national title the following season, but this '02 edition of Fight On started it all.
7. Oregon State Beavers, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Dennis Erickson
Championships: Pac-10, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Ken Simonton led the Pac-10 in rushing (134.0 ypg), OSU led the conference in total defense (314.4 ypg) and scoring defense (18.5 ppg).
Award Winners: Dennis Erickson (Pac-10 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Chad Johnson (2nd, 2001), Nick Barnett (1st, 2003), Dwan Edwards (2nd, 2004)
In what has to be considered the best Beavers team in program history, Dennis Erickson used a plethora of junior college talent to lead Oregon State to its first 10+ win season ever. The 11 wins are still a school record, and the conference co-championship was the first league title for the school since 1964. While the defense, led by NFL future star Nick Barnett, was the Pac-10's best, it was the offense that impressed the most. Quarterback Jonathan Smith was the league's No. 2 passer. Running back Ken Simonton led the league in rushing at 134 yards per game. And a pair of future NFL stars, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, keep defenses honest on the outside. The team's only loss came at the hands of eventual Rose Bowl champion Washington in Husky Stadium 33-30. Erickson's bunch wrapped up the magical year by crushing Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl.
6. Washington Huskies, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Rick Neuheisel
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in rushing (211.7 ypg), topped an 11-1 Miami team 34-29
Award Winners: Marques Tuiasosopo (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Marques Tuiasosopo (2nd, 2001), Jerramy Stevens (1st, 2002), Larry Tripplett (2nd, 2002), Tank Johnson (2nd, 2004)
In what might have been the most exciting and competitive season in modern Pac-10 football, a three way round robin tie between a 7-1 Oregon (who beat Washington 23-16 in Autzen Stadium) and a 7-1 Oregon State led to the Huskies earning the trip to Pasadena. Marques Tuiasosopo led Washington past a brutal non-conference slate that included one-loss Miami and head coach Rick Neuheisel's former employer Colorado. A 33-30 win over Oregon State — and an Oregon loss to the Beavers in the Civil War due to five Joey Harrington interceptions — helped U of W return to its first Rose Bowl since 1993. This embattled team and program was willing to do whatever it took to win — and win it did. Capped by a 34-24 win over Drew Brees' Purdue in the Rose Bowl, the Huskies won 11 games for the first time since Don James' national title team of 1991, and they haven't come close to touching 10 wins ever since.
5. USC Trojans, 2008 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring defense at 9.0 points allowed per game, also led the nation in pass defense (134.4 ypg) and pass efficiency defense as well. Finished No. 2 in total defense nationally (221.7 ypg).
Award Winners: Rey Maualuga (Bednarik, Pac-10 Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010), Taylor Mays (2nd, 2010), Tyron Smith (1st, 2011)
After starting the season 2-0 and reaching No. 1 status, first-year starter Mark Sanchez and the Men of Troy got upset on a Thursday night in primetime by true freshman dynamo Jacquizz Rodgers and the Oregon State Beaver. Rodgers ran for 186 yards and the Trojans dropped to No. 9 in the polls. They wouldn't lose again. USC punished ranked opponents Oregon and Cal and crushed rivals Notre Dame and UCLA en route to yet another Rose Bowl appearance. Penn State was no match for USC, losing 38-24. The offense was outstanding with Sanchez utilizing names like Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson, Joe McKnight and Patrick Turner. But the defense was downright unbeatable. One of the greatest linebacking corps in NCAA history — Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing — helped USC lead the nation in scoring defense. Eight teams failed to score more than seven points on the trio in 2008.
Aug. 30: USC 52, Virginia 7 (Charlottesville, VA)
Sept. 13: USC 35, (#5) Ohio State 3 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 25: Oregon State 27, USC 21 (Corvallis, OR)
Oct. 4: USC 44, (#23) Oregon 10 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 11: USC 28, Arizona State 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 18: USC 69, Washington State 0 (Pullman, WA)
Oct. 25: USC 17, Arizona 10 (Tucson, AZ)
Nov. 1: USC 56, Washington 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 8: USC 17, (#21) Cal 3 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 15: USC 45, Stanford 23 (Palo Alto, CA)
Nov. 29: USC 38, Notre Dame 3 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 6: USC 28, UCLA 7 (Pasadena, CA)
Jan. 1: USC 38, (#5) Penn State 24 (Pasadena, CA, Rose Bowl)
4. Oregon Ducks, 2010 (12-1, 9-0)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Key Stats: LaMichael James led the nation in yards rushing per game (144.3) and scoring (12.0 ppg); team led the nation in scoring offense (47.0 ppg) and total offense (530.7 ypg), Darron Thomas threw two key interceptions and the Ducks rushed for 75 yards in the BCS NCG.
Award Winners: LaMichael James (Doak Walker), Chip Kelly (Eddie Robinson, Pac-10 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: N/A
One of the most powerful, explosive and fast-paced offenses in league history led the nation in scoring and total offense at 530.7 yards per game and 47.0 points per game. The Ducks' run at their first BCS title game began with a 35-point second half in Neyland Stadium against the Tennessee Vols. They scored at least 50 points in the next seven games until Chip Kelly led his team into Berkeley. The only test of the regular season came in the form of a sloppy 15-13 win over Cal that featured a defensive and special teams touchdown. After easy wins over Arizona and Oregon State, the Ducks squared off with Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers. The highest-scoring, most powerful team in school history (school-record 611 points) was held to 75 yards rushing on 32 carries while Auburn rolled up 254 yards on 50 attempts. Kelly came up three points short as the Tigers kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Sept. 4: Oregon 72, New Mexico 0 (Eugene, OR)
Sept. 11: Oregon 48, Tennessee 13 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 18: Oregon 69, Portland State 0 (Eugene, OR)
Sept. 25: Oregon 42, Arizona State 31 (Tempe, AZ)
Oct. 2: Oregon 52, (#9) Stanford 31 (Eugene, OR)
Oct. 9: Oregon 43, Washington State 23 (Pullman, WA)
Oct. 21: Oregon 60, UCLA 13 (Eugene, OR)
Oct. 30: Oregon 53, (#24) USC 32 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 6: Oregon 53, Washington 16 (Eugene, OR)
Nov. 13: Oregon 15, Cal 13 (Berkeley, CA)
Nov. 26: Oregon 48, (#21) Arizona 29 (Eugene, OR)
Dec. 4: Oregon 37, Oregon State 20 (Corvallis, OR)
Jan. 10: (#1) Auburn 22, Oregon 19 (Glendale, AZ, BCS NCG)
3. USC Trojans, 2003 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl, AP National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (60.2 ypg) and punting (43.7 ypp) and finished second nationally in turnover margin (+1.54), finished first or second in the league in 10 of 14 tracked team stats
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year), Pete Carroll (Home Depot Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Kenechi Udeze (1st, 2004), Jacob Rogers (2nd, 2004), Keary Colbert (2nd, 2004), Mike Williams (1st, 2005), Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2007), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2007), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2007)
After starting the year by crushing No. 6 Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium, USC reached No. 3 in the polls before a thrilling triple-overtime loss to Cal 34-31. USC dropped to 10th in the polls and never lost again. Led by first-year starter Matt Leinart, USC crushed Arizona State, Notre Dame, Washington and Arizona on the road and destroyed No. 6 Washington State at home by 27 points. The Trojans finished No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches' Poll at the end of the regular season, but was left out of the BCS championship game for Oklahoma (who got crushed by Kansas State 35-7 in the Big 12 title game). LSU went on to beat the Sooners and USC handled Michigan in the Rose Bowl with relative ease. The AP awarded the Men of Troy the National Championship while the BCS title went to the Bayou Bengals. It was the last split National Championship in college football. This team featured two Heisman Trophy winners and 16 "First Day" draft picks.
Aug. 30: USC 23, (#6) Auburn 0 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 6: USC 35, BYU 18 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 13: USC 61, Hawaii 32 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 27: Cal 34, USC 31 (3OT, Berkeley, CA)
Oct. 4: USC 37, Arizona State 17 (Tempe, AZ)
Oct. 11: USC 44, Stanford 21 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 18: USC 45, Notre Dame 14 (South Bend, IN)
Oct. 25: USC 43, Washington 23 (Seattle, WA)
Nov. 1: USC 43, (#6) Washington State 16 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 15: USC 45, Arizona 0 (Tucson, AZ)
Nov. 22: USC 47, UCLA 22 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 6: USC 52, Oregon State 28 (Los Angeles, CA)
Jan. 1: USC 28, (#4) Michigan 14 (Pasadena, CA, Rose Bowl)
2. USC Trojans, 2005 (12-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Key Stats: Led the nation in total offense (579.8 ypg) and second in the country in scoring (49.1 ppg), Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards (222.3), allowed 467 yards of total offense to Vince Young in the BCS NCG
Award Winners: Reggie Bush (Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Player of the Year), Pete Carroll (Pac-10 Co-Coach of the Year), Matt Leinart (Johnny Unitas)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010)
The defending BCS National Champs returned largely intact for 2005 and began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. After beating five ranked teams — three of which came on the road — the Men of Troy claimed their fourth straight Pac-10 championship. Do-everything tailback Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards at 222.3 yards per game and claimed the Heisman Trophy — the second straight for USC (Leinart, 2004). A 513-yard performance and this touchdown run in a shootout win over a ranked Fresno State team likely clinched the stiff-arm trophy for the dynamic running back. After crushing rival UCLA, the Trojans finished the 2005 season having never left the No. 1 line in the polls. They carried a 34-game winning streak into the BCS National Championship game against Texas in what became the first time two Heisman winners ever played in the same backfield. Leinart threw for a title game record 365 yards, but the Trojans defense could not stop Vince Young in what is the greatest game ever played according to this college football writer. This team had 20 first or second round draft picks on the roster and were 19 seconds away from claiming their third straight national title.
Sept. 3: USC 63, Hawaii 17 (Honolulu, HI)
Sept. 17: USC 70, Arkansas 17 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 24: USC 45, (#24) Oregon 13 (Eugene, OR)
Oct. 1: USC 38, (#15) Arizona State 28 (Tempe, AZ)
Oct. 8: USC 42, Arizona 21 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 15: USC 34, (#9) Notre Dame 31 (South Bend, IN)
Oct. 22: USC 51, Washington 24 (Seattle, WA)
Oct. 29: USC 55, Washington State 13 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 5: USC 51, Stanford 21 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 12: USC 35, Cal 10 (Berkeley, CA)
Nov. 26: USC 50, (#16) Fresno State 42 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 3: USC 66, (#11) UCLA 19 (Los Angeles, CA)
Jan. 4: (#2) Texas 41, USC 38 (Pasadena, CA, Rose Bowl, BCS NCG)
1. USC Trojans, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-12, Orange Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (79.4 ypg) and turnover margin (+1.46), led the Pac-10 in scoring (38.2 ppg) and finished No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (13.0 ppg), USC did not rank below third in the Pac-10 in any of the 14 tracked team stats.
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Reggie Bush (Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Shaun Cody (Pac-10 Co-Def. Player of the Year),
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009)
The best team in the Pac-10 since the BCS began might have been the best team in any league during the BCS era. After a split national title in 2003 with LSU, the Trojans entered 2004 as the No. 1 team in the nation. An opening weekend win over ACC champ Virginia Tech in Landover started what would become a magical ride to a BCS National Championship. The Trojans went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the nation, claimed the Heisman Trophy and put together the most impressive national championship game in the brief history of the BCS. Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his second year under center and armed with an NFL roster full of skill players, led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (156.54) and finished with 3,322 yards and 36 total touchdowns (against only six interceptions). He capped his Heisman campaign with 332 yards and a BCS bowl record five touchdown passes in the destruction of unbeaten No. 2 Oklahoma. The two-headed rushing attack of LenDale White (1,108 yards, 15 TDs) and Reggie Bush (1,416 yards from scrimmage, 15 TDs) made it virtually impossible for anyone to stop the 2004 Trojans. Eighteen different Trojans from the 2004 BCS National Championship team were selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL Draft. This team had the stats, the resume, the undefeated title season, the NFL talent, a superstar coach and is the best Pac-10 team of the BCS era because of it.
Aug. 28: USC 24, Virginia Tech 13 (Landover, MD)
Sept. 11: USC 49, Colorado State 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 18: USC 42, BYU 10 (Provo, UT)
Sept. 25: USC 31, Stanford 28 (Palo Alto, CA)
Oct: 9: USC 23, (#7) Cal 17 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 16: USC 45, (#15) Arizona State 7 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 23: USC 38, Washington 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 30: USC 42, Washington State 12 (Pullman, WA)
Nov. 6: USC 28, Oregon State 20 (Corvallis, OR)
Nov. 13: USC 49, Arizona 9 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 27: USC 41, Notre Dame 10 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 4: USC 29, UCLA 24 (Pasadena, CA)
Jan. 4: USC 55, Oklahoma 19 (Miami Gardens, FL, Orange Bowl, BCS NCG)
"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
* - team played in the ACC Championship game
Athlon Sports Ranks the Best Teams in Every BCS League:
The Top 10 Big East Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 ACC Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 Big Ten Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 Pac-12 Teams of the BSC Era
The Top 10 Big 12 Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 SEC Teams of the BCS Era
Mike McQueary, the former Penn State quarterback and graduate student testified that he saw Jerry Sandusky "molesting a young boy" in the Penn State showers in 2002.
This is the first time that McQueary has testified publicly to what he saw since the child sexual abuse scandal broke.
McQueary, who has had rumors swirling around him that he has told different version of this story privately, went on record in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania courtroom today.
McQueary testified that in 2002 he walked into the showers of Penn State and saw Sandusky and a young boy in the shower. He didn't see them directly initially, but in the reflection of a mirror.
McQueary testified that he "heard 'rhythmic slapping sounds' as he entered locker room. Said he saw boy with hands on shower wall with Jerry's arms wrapped around waist, and when asked by an attorney exactly what he saw, McQueary said, "I did not see insertion or hear screaming or yelling...I believe they were having some kind of intercourse. He moved toward shower and Sandusky separated from the boy. He didn't say anything and left. I was distraught. I was horrified."
McQueary testified that he did not say anything to Sandusky.
"They had turned so their bodies were both facing me. ... They looked directly in my eyes," he said. "Seeing that they were separated, I thought it was best that I leave the locker room."
He also said that he felt "shocked" and "horrified" after the incident.
"I was not thinking straight," he said.
After leaving the Penn State locker room, McQueary said that he immediately called his father, who told him to come to his house immediately, which was around 9:30 on Friday night. After speaking with his dad, his father told him he needed to tell Joe Paterno.
According to McQueary he called Joe the next morning at around 7:30am and told him he needed to speak with him. Paterno reportedly quipped, "Well, I don't have a job for you, so there's no point in coming over."
McQueary went to his house, say at his kitchen table and told coach Paterno what he saw. When asked by a lawyer if he made it clear that what he saw was "sexual in nature," McQueary responded "without a doubt."
Paterno, according to McQueary "slumped in his chair" and told McQueary that he "did the right thing" and expressed remorse that "you had to see something like that."
When asked why he went to Paterno, McQueary said that "he knew Joe would handle this the right way."
So let's go over what Mike McQueary saw and did. He saw Sandusky performing some sort of sexual act on a young boy in a Penn State shower (although he said he couldn't be sure it was intercourse, he was sure it was something sexual) and he said absolutely nothing and went home and called his dad.
Now before McQueary is ostracized for his inaction, we need to put ourselves in his shoes (no, we're not condoning his inaction). But McQueary was a Penn State lifer. And on Penn State's campus, Jerry Sandusky was just a notch below Joe Paterno in the God-like pedestal of Penn State sports. Imagine walking in on Joe Paterno performing this act with a young boy. You probably wouldn't believe your eyes.
Before we play armchair quarterback to what Mike McQueary should or shouldn't have done (I would like to think I would have stopped the abuse and taken Sandusky to jail personally after performing a citizen's arrest), think about the actual moment and how you would have really reacted if you saw a well-respected member of your community in a shower with a young boy.
I think it's important that Mike McQueary doesn't become the scapegoat for Sandusky's horrific action and Joe Paterno's almost equally horrific inaction. Yes, he should have done more. But let's not kill the messenger because it's easy to say what you would or would not have done if you had seen this lionized figure doing this despicable act.
Instead, we should call into question the idea of how an institution turns mortal men into immortal, larger than life figures. We saw this same inaction and fear in the Catholic Church's dealing with pedohilia.
By Mitch Light
New Mexico Bowl — Temple vs. Wyoming
For the second time in three seasons, Wyoming is in a bowl game with a true freshman at quarterback. Two years ago, Austyn Carta-Samuels guided the Cowboys to a win over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl. With Carta-Samuels gone — he transferred to Vanderbilt in the offseason — coach Dave Christensen handed the offense to Brett Smith, who ranks second in the Mountain West in total offense and fourth in passing efficiency. The key for the Cowboys, however, will be on defense. They rank 115th in the nation in stopping the run — a huge concern with Temple’s potent rushing attack on the horizon.
Temple 24, Wyoming 21
Idaho Potato Bowl — Utah State vs. Ohio
Utah State opened up the season with a 42–38 loss at Auburn, the defending national champs. The Aggies went on to lose four of their next six games — all by 10 points or less — before ending the season on a five-game winning streak. Ohio must regroup after blowing a 20–0 lead in the second half to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game. Three of the Bobcats’ four losses came by three points or less. These are two solid teams.
Utah State 27, Ohio 24
New Orleans Bowl — UL-Lafayette vs. San Diego State
Mark Hudspeth did a great job in his first year at UL-Lafayette, guiding the Ragin’ Cajuns to an 8–4 overall record and their first bowl game in the FBS ranks. San Diego State is making back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in school history. The Aztecs will lean heavily on underrated tailback Ronnie Hillman, who ranks third nationally in rushing (138.0 ypg).
San Diego State 34, UL-Lafayette 21
Beef O’Brady’s Bowl — FIU vs. Marshall
Marshall, at 5–3, had its first winning record in seven seasons in Conference USA. The Herd got it done with a true freshman (Rakeem Cato) taking the majority of the snaps at quarterback. FIU failed to repeat at Sun Belt champs, but the Golden Panthers still won eight games in the regular season, including their final three.
Marshall 20, FIU 14
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas — Arizona State vs. Boise State
Boise State, 11–1 overall, was relegated to the MAACO Bowl for the second straight season after getting snubbed in the BCS bowl selection process. This team deserves better. Arizona State, on the other hand, is fortunate to still be playing. The Sun Devils lost their final four games, including the last two at home, to finish at 6–6.
Boise State 37, Arizona State 21
Poinsettia Bowl — Louisiana Tech vs. TCU
Louisiana Tech is one of the more undervalued teams in the nation. The Bulldogs went 8–4 overall and won their final seven games. They lost by two points at Southern Miss (11–2), by one point to Houston (12–1) and by six, in overtime, at Mississippi State. TCU is obviously very good — the Frogs won at Boise State — but Louisiana Tech, a double-digit underdog, is capable of winning this game.
Louisiana Tech 24, TCU 21
Hawaii Bowl — Nevada vs. Southern Miss
Southern Miss got shipped off to Hawaii despite winning the Conference USA Championship Game. It’s a fun trip for the players, but too far for the majority of the fans, many of whom would have made the relatively short trip to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Nevada once again brings a high-powered attack to the table; the Wolf Pack have averaged over 500 yards per game in each of the past four seasons.
Southern Miss 41, Nevada 37
Independence Bowl — Missouri vs. North Carolina
SEC-bound Missouri salvaged what had been a disappointing season by winning its final three games, including a 17–5 decision over Texas and a 24–10 win over Kansas in the final Border War showdown for the foreseeable future. North Carolina struggled down the stretch, not surprising for a team playing with an interim head coach (Everett Withers) who was never expected to get the job on a full-time basis.
Missouri 28, North Carolina 17
Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl — Western Michigan vs. Purdue
Western Michigan boasts one of the nation’s most potent pass-catch duos in Alex Carder and Jordan White. The Broncos rank eighth in the nation in passing (328.8 ypg) and White leads all receivers nationally with 10.6 receptions per game. WMU will have to score a bunch of points, because its defense could have trouble with Purdue.
Purdue 41, Western Michigan 33
Belk Bowl — Louisville vs. NC State
Picked by most to finish near the bottom of the Big East in 2011, Louisville was the surprise of the league, tying for the title with West Virginia and Cincinnati. And with talented true freshman Teddy Bridgewater emerging at quarterback, the future is bright for the Cards. At NC State, Tom O’Brien likely saved his job by winning three of his final four games, most notably a 13–0 shutout vs. rival North Carolina.
Louisville 23, NC State 17
Military Bowl — Toledo vs. Air Force
Toledo averaged 52.8 points in its last six games, but managed to only go 5–1 in that stretch. The Rockets lost to Northern Illinois, 63–60, at home in a game that ultimately cost them the MAC West title. Air Force was a bit of a disappointment, finishing in fifth place in the Mountain West with a 3–4 league record.
Toledo 41, Air Force 27
Holiday Bowl — California vs. Texas
Texas limped to the finish line, losing three of its final four games. Amazingly, the Longhorns are 6–11 in the Big 12 over the last two seasons. Cal played well late, winning three of its last four, with the only loss coming by three points at Stanford.
California 27, Texas 17
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
One year after winning the national championship, Gene Chizik is looking at a turning point in his tenure at Auburn.
Chizik’s coaching staff took a hit over the last few weeks, with offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ted Roof departing for other jobs. Malzahn left to be the head coach at Arkansas State, while Roof left to become the defensive coordinator at UCF.
Roof’s defenses never finished higher than 60th in total defense and 53rd in scoring in his three years at Auburn. The 2011 version ranked 11th in the SEC in rushing, total and scoring defense, while the pass defense finished last in the conference. Youth and a lack of proven depth were to blame for much of the issues this season.
Chizik is going to call the plays for the defense in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia, but will hire a coordinator in the offseason. Florida State’s Mark Stoops has been rumored as a possible target by Auburn and other names are sure to emerge.
Malzahn’s departure is clearly a bigger loss for Chizik. The Tigers finished 17th nationally in scoring in 2009 and seventh last season.
Auburn will certainly pay well for its coordinators next season, so Chizik will be able to attract some top talent to rebuilding his coaching staff. However, it won’t be easy to replicate Malzahn’s system. The Tigers have recruited to run Malzahn’s spread offense, so choosing a different scheme could add transition time. Considering the question marks on defense and strength at running back, Auburn may not want to continue its with up-tempo offense.
With quarterback Cam Newton leaving early to the NFL, the offense was never the same this year. The up-tempo scheme never took off, and the Tigers averaged only 20 points in SEC play this year. Quarterback was a question mark all season, as Clint Moseley, Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier all took snaps for Auburn. And neither was able to clearly separate from the others as the No. 1 guy.
Quarterback won’t be the only question mark for Auburn’s offense this offseason. Running back Michael Dyer is suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl and isn’t a lock to return to the roster for next season. The sophomore rushed for 1,242 yards and 10 scores this year, which followed up a terrific freshman campaign.
With Dyer sidelined for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason will be forced to shoulder the workload in the backfield. McCalebb rushed for 532 yards this season, while Mason added 97.
If Dyer does not return to the team in 2012, the outlook in the backfield won’t be much better. McCalebb and Mason will return, while Florida transfer Mike Blakely will be eligible next season. While that trio isn’t bad, Auburn – assuming he does not return – will miss Dyer’s ability to be the clear go-to back. And there’s also the issue of who will be Auburn’s quarterback next year?
It’s unfair to say Chizik is on the hot seat one year removed from winning the national title. However, his tenure has reached a critical juncture. Take away last season’s record and Auburn is 15-10 in two years under Chizik. With Malzahn and Roof departing, Chizik has another chance to put his stamp on the program.
There’s no question the Tigers have talent in the program. After all, this team has ranked among the best in college football in recruiting over the last couple of seasons.
Another 7-5 season won’t sit well in Auburn and there will be a lot of turnover and uncertainty facing this team going into 2012.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Utah State (7-5) vs. Ohio (9-4)
Date: Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Location: Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho
The second matchup of bowl season features a battle on the blue turf in Boise. Although this game won’t register much interest on the national radar, this one could be one of the most entertaining pre-Christmas bowls.
The last four winners of this bowl have scored 40 points, so a shootout isn’t out of the question.
Although Utah State finished 7-5, it was a season of several close calls. The Aggies were unable to hold onto a lead late in the fourth quarter against Auburn, lost by one point to Colorado State, were defeated by three points to BYU and fell by a touchdown to eventual WAC champion Louisiana Tech. Since losing to the Bulldogs, the Aggies have won five in a row.
Ohio enters this matchup with victories in five out of its last six games. However, the Bobcats closed out the season on a disappointing note. Ohio led Northern Illinois 20-0 at halftime in the MAC title game, but the Huskies rallied for a 23-20 victory. Although two weeks have passed since that loss, it’s fair to wonder if the Bobcats will carry the disappointment from that loss to Boise.
This is Utah State’s first postseason appearance since playing in this bowl in 1997 against Cincinnati. The Aggies are 1-4 in bowl trips, with their lone victory coming against Ball State in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl.
Ohio is 0-5 in bowl appearances, including a 48-21 blowout loss to Troy in last season’s New Orleans Bowl.
WHEN OHIO HAS THE BALL:
In first season as the starter, Tyler Tettleton has emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the MAC. The sophomore threw for 3,086 yards and 26 scores, while adding 635 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. His dual-threat ability has been a huge asset in the development of Ohio’s offense this year.
Tettleton isn’t the only player doing damage on the ground for the Bobcats, as running back Donte Harden is 61 yards away from getting to 1,000. The senior has only two rushing scores, but is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has caught 23 passes this year.
Senior LaVon Brazill is Tettleton’s go-to target in the passing game. Brazill caught 66 passes for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Riley Dunlop, Donte Foster, Jordan Thompson and Phil Bates will all factor into the receiving corps, giving the Bobcats a deep group of targets for their passing attack.
The Aggies gave up 28.3 points a game this year, but led the WAC in total defense and finished second in the conference against the run. Linebacker Bobby Wagner is one of the nation’s top defenders from outside of the BCS conferences, recording 140 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions this season.
Stopping Tettleton is likely to be Utah State’s No. 1 priority on defense. However, it would be a surprise if the Aggies are able to completely shut down Ohio’s offense. Utah State’s defense held its last two opponents to 21 or fewer points, but gave up at least 31 in the three prior contests.
WHEN UTAH STATE HAS THE BALL:
Running back Robert Turbin missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but has showed no ill-effects from that injury. Turbin rushed for 1,416 yards and 19 scores on 229 attempts this season, while catching 16 passes for 164 yards and four touchdowns. Turbin is clearly Utah State’s go-to back, but Michael Smith and Kerwynn Williams will also get touches. Both players add more big-play ability in the backfield, as Smith averaged seven yards a carry, while Williams averaged 6.7 yards per attempt.
The Aggies will lean on their rushing attack (277.5 yards per game), but Ohio won’t be pushed around in the trenches. The Bobcats owned one of the MAC’s top defenses, ranking 30th nationally against the run and allowing only 11 touchdowns on the ground this year. Three Ohio defenders earned second-team All-MAC honors, including linebacker Noah Keller, who has to play a key role in slowing down Turbin.
Chuckie Keeton was one of the top freshman quarterbacks in the nation before an injury against Hawaii forced him to miss the final four regular season games. Adam Kennedy assumed the starting job in Keeton’s absence, throwing for 700 yards and eight touchdowns in the final four contests. Keeton is expected to be available to play, but Kennedy will start.
With their success on the ground, Utah State has been averaging only 23 passing attempts a game this year. However, Kennedy and Keeton are capable passers and are averaging 12.5 yards per completion. The Aggies don’t have an incredibly deep group of receivers, but Matt Austin (34 receptions) and Stanley Morrison (25 receptions) are solid options.
Ohio kicker Matt Weller earned second-team All-MAC honors this season, connecting on 24 of 33 attempts. He displayed good long-range ability, nailing 6 of 14 attempts from 40 yards or more.
The Bobcats also got a solid year from Donte Harden on kickoff returns, as he averaged 26.3 yards on 21 returns.
Utah State kicker Josh Thompson attempted just nine field goals this season, but connected on six. Punter Tyler Bennett averaged 44.2 yards per punt and downed 19 inside of the 20.
Kerwynn Williams was one of the top kickoff returners in the WAC last season, but his averaged dipped from 27.2 per return in 2010 to 22.7 this year. Williams and Eric Moats will handle the bulk of punt return duties.
If you are hungry for college football action this Saturday, this should be the game to watch. Both teams aren’t lacking for talent on defense, but all signs point to a high-scoring affair. The Aggies seem to have turned a corner under coach Gary Andersen and a victory over Ohio would be their eighth of the season – equaling their best win total since 1979. Expect a back and forth game, but Utah State’s rushing attack will be the difference in the end.
Utah State 31, Ohio 27
-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)
Start These Quarterbacks:
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (at St. Louis)
Dalton’s performance hasn’t been elite of late, but the defenses he has faced are: Pittsburgh twice, Baltimore, Houston. And he fared admirably, averaging 216.7 yards per game with five touchdowns. He hasn’t throw an interception in three straight games, and the Rams haven’t been stopping any part of any offense.
Tim Tebow, Denver (New England)
Would the NFL simply cancel the season and award the Lombardi Trophy to Tim Tebow himself if he were to pull off an upset of Tom Brady and the Pats? With the Patriots' ability to score early, Tebow might be in 2-minute mode for the final three quarters, and that is great news for fantasy owners. New England is still last in passing defense at over 308 yards per game allowed, and Tebow could be in store for another big game on the ground as well.
Jake Locker, Tennessee (at Indianapolis)
The rookie was a top-five option last week in fantasy and will be facing the worst team in the NFL this weekend. The Colts allow a league-worst 29.4 points per game and have a league-worst six interceptions. Locker will get it done both with his powerful right arm and mobile lower extremities. Look for another solid outing from the youngster.
T.J. Yates, Houston (Carolina)
If you need to dig deep, look for Yates to produce again. His clutch performance in the second half last week proved he has great leadership ability — and it bumped a mediocre fantasy day into 300-yard, 2-TD range. In two starts, he has 488 yards, 3 TD and one INT — and now he faces a defense ranked 29th in scoring (27.3 ppg).
Cam Newton, Carolina (at Houston)
All three of this week’s “Lowered Expectations” are tough benches, but also have brutal match-ups. Houston has been nearly dominant on defense: Fifth in INT (17), third against the pass (183.5 ypg) and a nasty fourth in scoring (16.0 ppg). With homefield advantage still on the line for Houston, expect this team to rally around its ailing defensive coordinator. A 183-1-3, 32-? line sounds about right for Newton. It will all come down to the rushing touchdowns column.
Philip Rivers, San Diego (Baltimore)
The Chargers and Rivers are hot through the air (6 TD, 0 INT) over the last two — against Jacksonville and Buffalo. Rivers is still having one of his worst seasons statistically, and his offensive line has been terrible. Against a Baltimore pass rush that is leading the league in sacks (45.0), is third in scoring defense (16.5 ppg), fifth against the pass (192.3 ypg) and has allowed a league-low nine touchdown passes, Rivers' upside appears very limited.
Ben Roesthlisberger, Pittsburgh (at San Francisco)
Keep a close eye on Big Ben’s ankle. He is questionable for a game that has major playoff implications in the AFC, so it is unlikely he misses time. He is one of the toughest hombres in the league, but the Niners have been nasty on defense all season. Their 18 interceptions rank second in the league, and the ground game won’t help him at all. There is very little to like about the two-time Super Bowl champ this week.
Start These Running Backs:
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (at St. Louis)
His 21 carries for 91 yards last week against Houston is much more impressive than the 9.1 fantasy points indicate. And now he gets the worst rushing defense in the league, as the Rams allow 156.8 yards per game. They clearly had no desire to stop Marshawn Lynch on Monday night and won’t be game for the Bengals' power rushing attack either.
Roy Helu, Washington (at NY Giants)
Helu has been a top-10 back over last three weeks as he has topped the century mark and the 23 carry plateau in each game. And Giants have been about as bad as any team…ever…over the last three weeks. They have allowed 40.3 points per game in the last three weeks, and the Skins offense should be able to move the ball in what will be a high-scoring affair.
Reggie Bush, Miami (at Buffalo)
Michael isn’t the only Bush who should be in your lineup this weekend. (Sorry.) The former Saint is running with renewed vigor and has back-to-back 100-yard games to show for it. The Bills have been atrocious for the better part of two months and are allowing 130.7 yards rushing per game at a 4.7-yard clip.
Ryan Grant, Green Bay (at Kansas City)
Assuming James Starks is out again, Grant is the guy against a defense that surrenders 132.5 yards rushing per game. Grant ran with renewed energy last week in what was his best game in what seems like three seasons (10 att., 85 yards, 2 TD, 1 rec., 13 yards). The Chiefs, with a new head coach now, are coming off a disgusting performance against the Jets: 37 points allowed, 159 yards rushing allowed, three rushing TDs allowed.
Felix Jones, Dallas (at Tampa Bay)
Welcome back, King Felix! The Cowboys gave Jones the ball 22 times for 137 yards from scrimmage in the Sunday night shootout with the Giants. While no team has been as bad as New York on defense of late, Tampa Bay isn’t far behind. The Bucs are 29th in the league against the run (139.7 yards per game) and a league-leading 19 rushing touchdowns. Plug and play.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh (at San Francisco)
The Niners are on the verge of greatness when it comes to playing the run. They still haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown (second place: five allowed), they lead the league in rushing defense (70.5 ypg) by a wide margin and are No. 1 in scoring defense at 14.0 points allowed per game. With Big Ben banged up, it's tough to see big numbers for Mendenhall.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego (Baltimore)
The Ravens are third in the NFL in rushing touchdowns allowed with six, are third in the NFL in points allowed per game at 15.5 and are No. 2 in the NFL against fantasy running backs. In a PPR league, he deserves a slight bump in value, but it is hard to see him continuing his roll on the ground this weekend.
Frank Gore, San Francisco (Pittsburgh)
Rushing yards will be tough to come by on both sides of the ball Monday night. The Steelers are allowing 15.2 points per game, good for second in the NFL. They have allowed an NFL 3rd-best six rushing touchdowns and only 97.0 yards per game. Gore hasn’t reached the 100-yard mark since Week 9, so don’t expect it to happen this weekend.
Start These Wide Receivers:
Santana Moss or Jabar Gaffney, Washington (at NY Giants)
The Giants have been awful of late and the secondary is a big part of their struggles. Moss is coming off a 3-81-1 game and has 12 receptions in his last three. Gaffney has 18 receptions for 279 yards and two scores in his last three. Without Fred Davis, these two should get the majority of the targets against the porous G-Men.
Donald Driver or James Jones, Green Bay (at Kansas City)
Jordy Nelson is a must start with Greg Jennings out; however, both Driver and Jones deserve a look this weekend as well. Driver set a season high with 75 yards last week and has at least four catches in each of the last two. Jones is more of a hit-or-miss (94, TD one week sandwiched by zero catch performances) but has more upside than Driver. Pick your poison and hope you picked correctly.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver (at New England)
Thomas is a physical specimen who has all the natural ability to be an elite receiver but has experienced nagging injuries and a steep learning curve. With 11 catches for 222 yards and three scores over his last two games, it appears that he is starting to blossom. Against the worst Patriots secondary in more than a decade, he should play well.
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia (NY Jets)
Much like the way you should bench whichever running back is facing the 49ers, whoever gets locked down by Derrelle Revis is a near must-bench as well. With his antics, contract talk and Michael Vick’s struggles, it is hard to recommend D-Jax this week. He hasn’t topped 100 yards since Week 4 and has scored one time in eight games.
Steve Smith, Carolina (at Houston)
Smith is a tough bench, but the Panthers passing game has little upside this weekend. The Texans have been excellent against both phases of offense. And Smith has struggled of late, totaling 11 catches, 75 yards per game and no touchdowns over his last three. Look for a 5-70-0 line as his potential upside.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco (Pittsburgh)
The former two-time Biletnikoff Award winner has become a must-start of late. Unfortunately, Monday night isn’t one of those. This game features two of the best front sevens in all of football, and both quarterbacks and running games will struggle. Look for a very low-scoring, tightly played affair. No big plays for Crabtree this weekend.