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We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you.
These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points
PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points
A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 2, along with the consensus pick of Athlon Sports editors Mitchell Light, Rob Doster, Nathan Rush, Patrick Snow and Steven Lassan:
Seahawks (0-1) at Steelers (0-1)
The Hawks will fly cross-country for an early kickoff in the Eastern Time Zone. To make matters worse, Seattle is headed for a Super Bowl XL rematch in Pittsburgh — where an angrier-than-usual James Harrison and the Hits-burgh defense is waiting, after suffering an ugly 35–7 loss to rival Baltimore. Steelers by 12
Raiders (1-0) at Bills (1-0)
It doesn’t take a Harvard man like Ryan Fitzpatrick to know that Buffalo’s quarterback (133.0 passer rating) is the real deal. Bills by 2
Cardinals (1-0) at Redskins (1-0)
Kevin Kolb was bailed out in his Arizona debut, while Rex Grossman appeared to luck out in his first start of the year in D.C. Redskins by 4
Buccaneers (0-1) at Vikings (0-1)
These former black-and-blue NFC Central foes meet again. The young Bucs are desperate to prove last year’s 10-win season wasn’t a fluke, while the veteran Vikings are eager to prove their six-win ’10 was just that. Buccaneers by 2
Jaguars (1-0) at Jets (1-0)
Luke McCown earned his first win as a starter since 2007 against the Titans — who had a first-year coach, new quarterback and running back who held out the entire preseason. The Jets will provide no such luck. Jets by 8
Bears (1-0) at Saints (0-1)
The Big Easy faces a tough NFC North road, with the Packers and Bears in back-to-back weeks. After falling just short at Lambeau Field last Thursday night, Drew Brees will look to avoid an 0–2 start in the Superdome opener. Saints by 3
Browns (0-1) at Colts (0-1)
Kerry Collins needs to show the restless locals that he still has a few TD throws left in his 38-year-old right arm. Cleveland’s defense made Andy Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski look good in a loss to Cincy. If Collins can’t produce this week, call Brett Favre. Colts by 2
Chiefs (0-1) at Lions (1-0)
Kansas City fell flat on its face, getting stampeded by Buffalo at Arrowhead Stadium. Now, the Chiefs head to the Motor City to take on a young Lions squad with playoff ambitions. Lions by 9
Ravens (1-0) at Titans (0-1)
No “ghosts, demons, monkeys” were ripped off Baltimore’s back following a win over Pittsburgh, but the 28-point trouncing has to make Ray Lewis want to dance. Chris Johnson and the Titans can only hope to catch Ray’s Ravens basking in last week’s success. Ravens by 10
Packers (1-0) at Panthers (0-1)
Last season’s worst meets the first, as 2–14 Carolina takes on Super Bowl XLV champion Green Bay. The No. 1 overall pick, Cam Newton, was poised in his NFL debut; but he wasn’t facing Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and the Packers’ attacking 3-4 defense. Packers by 13
Cowboys (0-1) at 49ers (1-0)
This matchup was a mid-1990s NFC title game tradition. Now, the Boys ride into the Bay Area hoping to forget last week’s trip to New York — when Tony Romo and Co. lost after giving up a 14-point fourth-quarter lead for the first time in the franchise’s storied history. Cowboys by 4
Bengals (1-0) at Broncos (0-1)
If Cincy starts Andy Dalton (wrist) and has any success early, expect the boo-birds to come out and chants for Tim Tebow to return. Broncos by 3
Texans (1-0) at Dolphins (0-1)
The hype is deafening, as Houston appears poised to take the next step in the AFC. But a Phins squad that hung tough with the Patriots could give fans the first sign that these are still the “same old Texans.” Texans by 2
Chargers (1-0) at Patriots (1-0)
Tom Brady was in rare form against Miami, passing for 517 yards and four TDs on Monday night. Meanwhile, the Bolts continued their special teams troubles — allowing an opening kickoff return for a TD vs. the Vikings before losing kicker Nate Kaeding to injury. Patriots by 4
Eagles (1-0) at Falcons (0-1)
Don’t mention bird-fighting in Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta, where he was the No. 1 overall pick of the Falcons in 2001 and started until 2006, when dog-fighting charges sacked the mobile lefty. The new face of the franchise, Matt Ryan, needs to bounce back after a tough opening week at Chicago. But Matty Ice is 19–3 at the Georgia Dome. Eagles by 4
Rams (0-1) at Giants (0-1)
The walking wounded stagger into this Monday night matchup. St. Louis may be without running back Steven Jackson (leg), while quarterback Sam Bradford (finger) will play hurt against a Big Blue defense whose best defender, Justin Tuck (neck), missed Week 1. Giants by 7
Week 2 of the 2011 NFL season is almost ready to kickoff, which means it is time to start getting your fantasy football lineups in order. Athlon Sports will try to help you do that each week with its Start or Sit suggestions. Keep in mind that these are suggestions and you are the owner of your fantasy team, and setting your lineup comes down to what you think is right.
This is how I work out fantasy football scoring in my mind: I want to average 16 points from my QBs, RBs, WRs and Flex and average 10 points from my TEs, Ks and DSTs. It rarely works that way, but if you could get the skill spots to average 16 and the other three to average 10, that's 132 points in a 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 FLX, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DST setup; it's a score that should win you most weeks.
Check back each week for Start or Sit and see who we are giving our thumbs up or thumbs down to and whether we had success or failure the week prior.
Sneaky Start of the Week
Greg Salas, WR, STL at New York Giants
The slot position in the Rams' offense is the one that was supposed to be the big producer for PPR leagues this season. Danny Amendola was to be the 2011 Wes Welker, and was well on his way before an elbow injury early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's season opener. Amendola was targeted six times, catching five balls for 45 yards. He was targeted 123 times in 2010.
He is out for Week 2 and St. Louis QB Sam Bradford will have rookie Greg Salas in the slot position. Salas is bigger than Amendola — 6-1, 210 vs. 5-10, 186 — and he scored 22 times in his last two seasons at Hawaii.
With the Giants' defense decimated by injuries, Salas could be a great play in PPR leagues this week.
Unexpected Sit of the Week
Chris Johnson, RB, TEN vs. Baltimore
Last week's Unexpected Sit of the Week was Baltimore RB Ray Rice, who was going up against a Pittsburgh team that stifled him three times last season. Rice threw egg on my face, scoring 28.9 fantasy points, and proving his worth as perhaps the top fantasy back to have this season.
The same cannot be said for Chris Johnson right now. The Titans looked awful against Jacksonville in the season opener, and I can't see it getting much better against a much better team in the Ravens. CJ, who held out for almost all of preseason, had little room to work and only managed to become a blip on the scoring radar thanks to six catches for 25 yards that helped muster up 7.9 fantasy points.
So I will give it a try again, and buck the trend that you "must play your first-round picks."
If the Titans were a well-oiled machine on the offensive end — you know, not one with a new QB in a new system, a "sleeper tight end" that's still asleep, a budding star at WR that seems to fluke his way into a lot of fantasy points and a standout RB who is just a few weeks into that new system under coordinator Chris Palmer, a system that ran the ball just 13 times in the opener — then I would say start Johnson no matter what.
But this is not a well-oiled offense, and sit CJ in the tough match ups until he proves otherwise. If you think 7.9 points against Jacksonville is going to improve against a team that just demolished the Steelers, then be my guest and start CJ.
And this coming from someone who has Johnson in two leagues, Britt in two leagues and Cook in a league.
Eli Manning (NYG) vs. St. Louis — Manning didn't have the best opener (14.92 fantasy points), but he gets a Rams secondary decimated by injuries — much like his own — in a Monday Night Football game that has the potential to be a shootout.
Rex Grossman (WAS) vs. Arizona — Just look at what rookie Cam Newton did to Arizona in his first professional start, pretty much utilizing only one target (WR Steve Smith 11 times) to get his fantasy production. Grossman has multiple passing options and a solid pass-catching backfield at his disposal in order to have a second straight solid outing after 23.2 fantasy points in the opener.
Matthew Stafford (DET) vs. Kansas City — Once he puts a few solid outings together, injury free, Stafford will stop showing up on this list because it should just be understood he's a fantasy starter. But since he hasn't proven it on a consistent basis, he ends up on these lists. This week he gets a Chiefs team reeling in the secondary with the loss of stud safety Eric Berry (ACL) and Stafford is coming off of a 28.2-point fantasy effort against Tampa Bay. Everyone should have success for the Lions this week, and it starts with Stafford's distribution of the football.
Cam Newton (CAR) vs. Green Bay — It was a great start for Newton against a miserable Arizona secondary, and the Packers did allow Drew Brees to throw for 419 yards, three scores and no interceptions. But that is Super Bowl-winning QB Drew Brees, not a rookie QB making his second pro start against the defending Super Bowl champs. If you picked up Newton, idle him for one week and then unleash him against Jacksonville next week.
Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. Philadelphia — The Falcons might be able to have more success on the ground with RB Michael Turner in this game, and want to lean on it more after rushing just 14 times in a loss to Chicago. The Eagles have a solid secondary, and Ryan did not look too good against Chicago's secondary last week (zero TDs, one INT, a fumble and 319 yards for 9.76 fantasy points). The turnovers Philly's likely to produce, and the likelihood of Turner getting in the end zone, may mean Ryan has to get you points through yards alone, and one turnover can take away 50 yards just, like, that.
Colt McCoy (CLE) at Indianapolis — Might be a sexy option this week because of the Texans dismantling of the Colts in the opener. However, McCoy completed less than 50 percent of his passes against the Bengals, threw for just 213 yards and may go into Sunday without his starting right tackle (Tony Pashos) for the second straight game. And which Colt will be gunning for McCoy from that side of the field? Robert Mathis, who had 11 sacks last year.
LeGarrette Blount (TB) at Minnesota — One of the many coachspeak casualties of Week 1, Blount fell into the we-needed-to-run-him-more category. Tampa Bay had to play catch up against Detroit and were in more of a two-minute mode. I don't see the Bucs having to play catch up against the Vikings, thus Blount should be able to showcased as the power back and punch a couple into the end zone. Minnesota allowed 51.5 fantasy points to RBs, in a half-PPR format, against San Diego last week.
Peyton Hillis (CLE) at Indianapolis — The Colts allowed 28.8 points to three Texans RBs last week, and Hillis could have a monster game as a bull rusher and as a pass-catching outlet for Colt McCoy as he tries to improve on his 48-percent completion rate. Hillis ran for 57 yards and caught six balls for 30 yards against Cincinnati, and now gets a Colts D that was fifth-worst against fantasy RBs (24.5 PPG) last season, and obviously haven't improved in that area yet.
James Starks (GB) at Carolina — I'm expecting a blowout, thus I'm expecting Starks to get plenty of work to show what he's got. He's a solid flex play, and will emerge as more than that down the road if he can shake Ryan Grant.
Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC) at New York Jets — He is the Jags' only option. You know it. I know it. And I'm sure the Jets know it. Marcedes Lewis is nursing a strained calf and may or may not go. Mike Thomas and Jason Hill will be covered by two solid corners. And the Jets surrendered just 14 points per game to RBs last season (second best), and gave up just 64 yards on 26 carries against the Cowboys to go along with five catches for 40 yards and no scores from three Dallas RBs last Sunday in the Meadowlands.
DeAngelo Williams (CAR) vs. Green Bay — Your rookie QB, making his first pro start, throws for over 400 yards and all you can scrounge up is 36 total yards and one catch (4.1 fantasy points) as the team's lead back? Add on that Jonathan Stewart is there to split the backfield, and it's even tougher to look Williams' way the rest of the season. If 400 yards passing against the Cardinals didn't open up running lanes, I doubt he finds much room against the Pack this week.
Fred Jackson (BUF) vs. Oakland — This has the potential to be an ugly, sluggish game. The Raiders' secondary can conceivably tame the Bills receivers, particularly if Steve Johnson (groin) doesn't play. Meanwhil,e Oakland may grind it out with Darren McFadden against a Bills run D that surrendered 25.6 fantasy points per game to RBs last season, and weren't tested in Week 1 after jumping out to a 20-0 lead against the Chiefs, last year's top rushing team. I just picture Oakland LB Rolando McClain shadowing Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller wherever they may roam, and it will usually be McClain winning the battle.
Mario Manningham (NYG) vs. St. Louis — Read the Eli Manning blurb above. This game has shootout written all over it due to both teams being battered in the secondary. And for Manningham, the team's No. 1 option, Hakeem Nicks, is battling a knee injury and is no lock to go just yet. Monitor the situation, but even if Hicks plays, I'd slide Manningham in there with him.
Jacoby Jones (HOU) at Miami — He moves into the starting role due to Kevin Walter's shoulder injury, and Jones could flourish against a Dolphins team that just allowed Tom Brady to throw for 517 yards against them on Monday night. You don't fix that in six days. Plus, if your league rewards return yards, Jones can help you out there as well. He scored on a punt return in the opener.
Emmanuel Sanders (PIT) vs. Seattle — Sanders didn't get much work in the preseason due to his foot injury, but came right out in Week 1 and scored a TD in the blowout loss to the Ravens. I envision the Steelers being pretty angry about last week's defeat, and taking it out on the Seahawks. If you can't take a flier on him against the Seahawks, when can you?
Mike Thomas (JAC) at New York Jets — If he's covered by Darrelle Revis, forget it. Even if he isn't, just forget it with Thomas this week. Live to play another day when he has easier match ups.
Steve Smith (CAR) vs. Green Bay — He may receive 11 targets again, but how many times will a Packer step in front of the ball. Smith, like Newton, will be a solid play against Jacksonville next week, but for now be happy if you had him in the lineup in Week 1 and find another option for Week 2.
Austin Collie (IND) vs. Cleveland — Just three targets and no catches in a blowout loss to the Texans. While that stat line is appetizing, I will wait until the Collins-to-Collie connection, well, actually makes a connection before I slide him into a WR3 or flex role. Peyton, please hurry back. Love, Pierre, Dallas and Austin.
Owen Daniels (HOU) at Miami — You saw what the Patriots TEs did to Miami last week, right? If you didn't, here it is: 17 targets, 13 catches, 189 yards, two TDs. More OD, please!
Tony Gonzalez (ATL) vs. Philadelphia — He went 5-for-72 against the Bears last week on seven targets — all numbers above last year's averages. Now Gonzo gets an Eagles team that allowed the most fantasy points to TEs a year ago (12.4 PPG) and could be the go-to guy while Roddy White and Julio Jones are blanketed by the outstanding Philly corners.
Jermaine Gresham (CIN) at Denver — The second-year player was one of the Bengals' favorite targets in Week 1, and he delivered with six catches for 58 yards and a score on those eight targets. He gets a Denver team that may be without Champ Bailey (hamstring) and Elvis Dumervil (shoulder) this week, opening up the pass for the Bengals. Monitor Cincy QB Andy Dalton's health as well, because Gresham's success is tied in with Dalton playing.
Jared Cook (TEN) vs. Baltimore — An almost complete no-show against the Jags — the JAGS! He was targeted two times and caught one pass for seven yards. Until he proves he's a consistent fantasy option he stays in the "a-sleeper" category.
Zach Miller (SEA) at Pittsburgh — He was targeted just four times against San Francisco, catching two for 19 yards. The Seahawks' offense managed 219 yards against the 49ers. I doubt that's going to improve much against an angry Steelers defense.
Anthony Fasano (MIA) vs. Houston — Fasano broke out for a five-catch, 82-yard performance against the Patriots, but now goes against a Houston team that limited Indianapolis' Dallas Clark to four catches for 39 yards in a blowout win for the Texans.
David Akers (SF) vs. Dallas — The 49ers' offense is pathetic — 209 yards against Seattle to currently rank 31st in the league. But what they might be able to do this week against an injured Dallas secondary is get into field goal range. Akers might be on a perfect team for a fantasy kicker — one that can't get past the 20 (1-for-5 last week were the Niners). This means more 3-point opportunities for the veteran who is a career 82-percent kicker.
Josh Brown (STL) at New York Giants — St. Louis has the weapons to move the ball down the field, but without Steven Jackson do they have the ability to punch it across the goal line? If not, Brown will be there to pick up the pieces with a few 3-pointers. I lean toward shootout this week, which may mean both 3- and 1-pointers for Brown.
Billy Cundiff (BAL) at Tennessee — Unlike Akers and Brown, the Ravens should be able to punch it across the goal line early and often against the Titans. Cundiff hit three PATs and two FGs for nine fantasy points against the Steelers in Week 1, and should do at least the same, if not more, this week.
Rob Bironas (TEN) vs. Baltimore — This offense can't move the ball right now. They didn't move it against the Jaguars, and in seven days I doubt they will have figured out how to move it against the Ravens. Unless Bironas lines up for a few more 67-yard attempts, and hits this time to give you a good bonus, keep one of the league's best on the pine in Week 2.
Dan Carpenter (MIA) vs. Houston — I just see the Texans shutting the Dolphins down this week in every facet. Carpenter only produced six fantasy points out of the 24 points the Dolphins scored in Week 1. I don't see 24 on the board for Miami in Week 2.
Josh Scobee (JAC) at New York Jets — He took advantage of a stagnate offense last week by hitting three field goals and one PAT. It's doubtful he gets that many opportunities against the Jets this week.
Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City — You saw what Buffalo did to the Chiefs in Arrowhead, right? Seven points. Really? Now the Lions, who just held Tampa Bay to 14 points with two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery, welcome Kansas City to the Motor City. It's a risky play because you need the Lions to force turnovers and get to Matt Cassel in addition to the already low point total and yardage I think they will hold them to on Sunday, but it's a risk worth taking.
Houston Texans at Miami — I am not worried about what Chad Henne did playing catch up to rack up his yards. The Texans unleashed their new 3-4 defense on Kerry Collins and the Colts last week, and Indy was stumped from the word go. Houston held the Colts to seven points, registered three sacks, two fumble recoveries and got a punt return for a score. I believe they bring the heat again this week, shut down the receivers and let Reggie Bush try to beat them. Good luck with that.
Washington Redskins vs, Arizona — The Redskins limited the Giants to 14 points, sacked Eli Manning four times, intercepted him once and returned it for a score and blocked a field goal. The Giants were also held to 75 yards rushing. Look for Beanie Wells to struggle and the Redskins to try and make Kevin Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald beat them on the road. The Jim Haslett-led defense will pressure Kolb into mistakes. Plus, the Redskins have Brandon Banks as a very dangerous return man.
Chicago Bears at New Orleans — Last week's No. 2 fantasy defense (25 points) allowed just two field goals, recorded five sacks and got a Brian Urlacher fumble return for a score against the Falcons at home. Now the Bears travel to a New Orleans team that scored 34 points against Green Bay, turned the ball over once, converted 64-percent of its third-down attempts and surrendered three sacks. The Green Bay defense mustered all of five fantasy points without Randall Cobb's kickoff return for a score (11 with). Look elsewhere this week.
San Diego Chargers at New England — This one is pretty simple: The Chargers held Donovan McNabb to 39 yards passing last week — THIRTY-NINE — and their fantasy defense walked away with seven points. Why? Because they allowed a 103-yard kickoff return for a score on the first play, forced just one turnover and sacked McNabb four times. Tom Brady's back at home after passing for 517 yards, being sacked just once and throwing an interception for the first time in 359 pass attempts. The Chargers won't force turnovers, won't get to Brady and won't hold him to the necessary points or yardage totals you need to justify starting them as a fantasy defense this week.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Dallas — Last week's No. 1 fantasy defense (26 points) needed two special teams returns for TDs from Ted Ginn to get there. The 49ers are tied for eighth (14 fantasy points) without those two returns against a terrible Seahawks team that mustered 219 total yards and 17 points. Dallas will certainly get more than 219 yards and 17 points this week against a San Fran team that was second worst against fantasy WRs last year (31 PPG) and ninth worst against fantasy QBs (18.5). Tony Romo, Felix Jones, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are a lot different than Tarvaris Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, Mike Williams and Zach Miller. Maybe come back to San Francisco in a week when it travels to Cincinnati.
— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter
by Matt Taliaferro
NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship gets rolling this weekend in New Hampshire … no, wait … Chicago. Yeah, that’s right, Chicagoland Speedway. Answer me this: Could the sanctioning body have awarded the date to a track more devoid of character? I get that it’s a facility struggling in attendance and ratings numbers. A marquee date may help (or at least can’t hurt), but at what point does NASCAR think in the macro and not the micro? The sport benefits from an exciting Chase start, especially after last week’s action-packed Saturday night in Richmond, and this is the ultimate momentum killer.
Anyway, this column is supposed to be more of a Chase preview as my boy Vito Pugliese is taking track preview duties, so before it totally gets away from me, I’ll hit the brakes Starsky and Hutch style and refocus.
Any Chase preview column begins and ends with Jimmie Johnson. It doesn’t matter where he’s seeded or who else is currently loaded for bear. When you’re the five-time defending champion you get the nod. So, does Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have the magic in them for a sixth crown after an atypical one-win regular season?
I tend to agree with the contingent that says until the 48 team gives me a reason to pick against them, I won’t. I use to have the same conversation with our MLB editor here at Athlon. My beloved Atlanta Braves were in the midst of a 14-year division title streak, yet for two or three years, the thinking was to try and foresee the downfall by picking them to miss the playoffs in our preseason annuals.
Didn’t happen. Not until 2006. And by then we’d gotten tired of getting burned and actually hopped back on the bandwagon when they finally petered out. Same line of thinking with Johnson.
That’s not to say there aren’t some worthy candidates to knock off Johnson. In fact, this field looks as dangerous as any I can remember — but I seem to say that every year. Let’s start at the top:
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Ironic, isn’t it? You can just feel the love here. Actually, the Harvick/Busch tie at the top helps Kevin’s cause. Harvick admits to thriving on controversy, stirring the pot, fanning the flames. And he seems to take particular delight in needling Busch. From a performance standpoint, Harvick has the experience, the team, the machinery and the demeanor to be a champion. So what’s missing? Good question, but best I can tell it’s just a break here or there. The 29 team maneuvered through its roller coaster of a summer and seems to have come out stronger on the other side, as its last two finishes can attest.
But Johnson stands in his way, and Harvick has yet to prove he can beat J.J. heads-up. But he’s close.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
The New York Yankees, while still picked by most to make the postseason, were looked at as the Wild Card due in large part to the weakness of their starting rotation.
CC Sabathia, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have all been solid (in Lester’s case) to excellent (in Sabathia’s case). But as Boston has watched its massive, seemingly insurmountable Wild Card lead evaporate in a matter of days, the issues on the mound in Beantown cannot be ignored.
Since the Yankees beat the Red Sox on the first day of September 4-2, the Sox have struggled to get people out. This is obviously due in part to the loss of Josh Beckett – who missed a couple of starts because of a sprained ankle.
However, it's not just Beckett's bum ankle's fault. In September, the Red Sox are 3-11 overall and are allowing nearly seven runs per game. This is one of those times when a 5-year, $82.5 million pitcher is supposed to step in and save the sinking ship.
But John Lackey has been anything but worth his lofty price tag.
And to be honest (and I can’t believe I am saying this) A.J. Burnett’s identical 5-year, $82.5 million contract might actually be the smarter of the two deals.
Let’s look at the numbers in year one:
Lackey (2010): 215 IP, 14-11, 4.40 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 156 K, 72 BB
Burnett (2009): 207 IP, 13-9, 4.04 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 195 K, 97 BB
It should be noted that Burnett helped the Yankees win the World Series in 2009 by making five starts – in three of which he went at least six innings and allowed two or fewer runs.
How about year number two:
Lackey (2011): 149.2 IP, 12-12, 6.19 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 101 K, 51 BB
Burnett (2010): 186.2 IP, 10-15, 5.26 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 145 K, 78 BB
Basically, through the first 40 percent of these indistinguishable contracts, the numbers are virtually identical – minus that one little World Series ring Burnett is polishing at the moment.
Lackey has yet to pitch in the postseason for the Red Sox. And he won’t if he can’t step up and help this team stop the bleeding. When it has mattered the most, Lackey has failed to answer the bell. Boston has lost his last four starts and five of his last six trips to the bump. He finished seven innings once in that span and allowed fewer than three runs a single time.
At the time of the contracts, I would have taken the Lackey deal every day of the week and twice on Sundays, but I am not sure I can say that any longer.
by Vito Pugliese
NASCAR’s version of the playoffs gets started this weekend in Chicago, just as Major League Baseball is winding down, the NFL regular season is heating up and fantasy football geeks are going berserk. I say that lovingly mind you, as I am pretty pumped about my acquisition of Robert Meachem at wide receiver for this weekend. Like any responsible owner, you need to game plan each race, and see what key player will perform there. That means pouring over stats, reviewing game tape and dissecting Athlon Sports' Fantasy Football page.
Hey I’m a company guy — but don’t worry, because I’ve put together a comprehensive guide for each race in the 10-week Chase for the Sprint Cup. I’ve listed a winner and drivers to watch. If you have a fantasy team or an all-consuming gambling addiction, please take the following into consideration before you cash out what’s left of the 401k or the kid’s college fund.
Chicagoland has had a stigma as being a cookie-cutter track, another 1.5-mile oval that resembles many others on schedule. Looking back at who ran well this season at tracks that have a similar layout — Kansas and Kentucky — there are a couple of names that stand out. Kurt Busch dominated Kansas in June, leading 152 laps before teammate Brad Keselowski grabbed the win on a fuel-mileage gamble. Denny Hamlin led for 34 laps and finished third, while Carl Edwards led for 29 circuits and came home fifth. Busch led 41 laps in Kentucky in July, while his brother, Kyle, checked out and wasn’t really seriously challenged for the win until the final restart, leading 125 laps on the day. Kansas winner Keselowski led for 79 laps and ended up seventh, while Edwards posted another fifth-place run.
Prediction: A guy named Busch wins. Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin are solid selections as well.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
You know things have moved along in NASCAR when we’re talking about a championship playoff format and a one-mile oval as a short track. Short tracks are supposed to be under a mile, but nobody listens to me anyway. The definition of a short track now is, if you can still run competitive with a wrinkled fender — and New Hampshire, the track that Kyle Petty once suggested could be filled with water and made a bass lake — has in recent years produced some of the best racing and closest finishes. The Magic Mile got demoted from being the Chase kickoff for 2011, but second billing’s not bad either.
With the struggles that Stewart-Haas had getting into the Chase — well OK, Tony Stewart had getting into the Chase — Loudon will be welcome relief for this two-car team. Smoke should have won here last year for the third time before running out of fuel on the final lap, while teammate Ryan Newman won here in July for the third time in his career. Kurt Busch led for 66 laps that day before slipping to 10th, while Denny Hamlin has a win here and came home third. Kyle Busch’s Chase hopes have been dashed here in years past, so even though the 18 car is fast everywhere, I’m leery of looking in his direction in New Hampshire. Jeff Gordon has speed and the 24 team won here as the No. 5 team in 2009 with Mark Martin at the helm, and the Gordon Renaissance started this year at Phoenix, the other flat-mile track on the schedule.
Prediction: Tony Stewart remembers he’s Tony Stewart. Then Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin in that order.
Dover International Speedway
The white cliffs … er, banks … of Dover pose a different kind of challenge to drivers. It’s basically a big Bristol, with the straights feeling like they’re banked more than the corners. “Concrete” Carl Edwards is hard to handle at Dover, as is his Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth. Edwards led 119 laps earlier this year while Kenseth, who is looking for sponsorship in 2012, took the win. Kyle Busch posted a top 5, but the real “five” you need to watch for is ol’ “Five Time”. Jimmie Johnson decimated the field in May, leading 207 laps, before sliding to ninth by day’s end, and has six of his 54-career wins here. Not a toughie to figure this one out.
Prediction: Jimmie Johnson wins but Carl Edwards makes him earn it. Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick follow.
Clint, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore! Actually, I don’t think you’re at RCR anymore, but that doesn’t mean your teammate, Kevin Harvick, is in any better position to win in Kansas. While Kurt Busch ran away with things here in July, Brad Keselowski conquered on fuel (not consisting of corn), and was the fastest car on the track late in the going at Michigan — a similar layout — in August. Dale Earnhardt Jr. rallied from disaster after spinning to a second-place run that day, highlighting another pitfall for this track. Things can get spread out in the wide-open spaces of the Great Plains, and there aren’t usually many cautions to slow the action. If you get into trouble here, you’re most likely done — but you if can stay the first car one-lap down, you might be able to salvage your day — or sneak one out on gas mileage.
Prediction: Keselowski wins but this time on speed. Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch round out the top 5.
Charlotte Motor Speedway
The Queen City and capitol of the NASCAR city-state marks the midpoint of the Chase, and is usually the barometer to determine who’s in and who’s out as the playoffs hit their “second season.” No longer Lowe’s Motor Speedway, it is also no longer the 48’s house, and others have been able to prosper on what was once Jimmie Johnson’s personal playground like that episode of South Park when Cartman buys an amusement park.
Downforce is king at 1.5-mile tracks, and Fords have that aplenty with their cool-running FR9 engines allowing the front ends to be sealed up while still hauling the mail. Matt Kenseth set sail for 103 laps in the Coca-Cola 600, while Carl Edwards was next in line leading 61 laps. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Chevy had the checkered flag in sight but his car coughed through Turn 3, running out of fuel as he surrendered his first win in three years to Kevin Harvick, to the heartbreak and unfathomable sorrow of Junior Nation. Jeff Gordon won in Atlanta, which is kind of like Charlotte, holding off Johnson. This could be a Hendrick Motorsports affair in Charlotte once again, just like the old days when it was their house.
Prediction: Carl Edwards reigns supreme, and does not tear the front end off the car doing victory donuts. Jeff Gordon is in the conversation, as is Jimmie Johnson. Junior doesn’t win here, but starts to build some momentum. Kyle Busch is dangerous anywhere.
With the advent of two-car tandems, just about anybody could win at Talladega. Don’t think so? Ask Brad Keselowski, who won his first race here in 2009 with James Finch’s part-time team. This one is a crapshoot — you could literally pick anyone in the top 15 with 10 laps to go and have a shot at getting it right. What it sets the stage for, however, is a very big win that will be very popular for a lot of people, which means a lot of stuff is going to get thrown onto the track afterwards.
Prediction: By the grace of God, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins and the infield resembles Woodstock ’99. His Hendrick teammate, Jimmie Johnson, follows, with the Stewart-Haas sister cars of Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman.
By Nathan Rush
Like it or not, Michael Vick still owns “Matt Ryan’s House” at the Georgia Dome. Vick is more popular than Ryan in Atlanta and always will be.
In fairness, Ryan would be the most exciting, charismatic CEO of Home Depot that Arthur Blank could ever dream of.
But the clean-cut, by-the-book pocket-passer is nowhere near the magnetic force that the Michael Vick Experience was when he was the face of Nike and a preternatural phenomenon, No. 1 overall pick out of Virginia Tech, not so long ago.
With respect to Dominique Wilkins, Dale Murphy and Deion Sanders, in Vick’s prime he was the most beloved athlete in Atlanta sports history.
Vick was the personification of Atlanta’s ideal self-image — a groundbreaking, stylish, successful young black leader. The dual-threat quarterback with a cannon left arm, running back moves and track star speed was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. And while Vick captivated America’s imagination, he was Atlanta’s very own to treasure.
Ryan, on the other hand, is the prototype NFL quarterback — professional in every way, intelligent, reliable, tall, white and right-handed. Not trying to reinvent the wheel; just trying to perfect a proven blueprint for the position.
The Boston College product is sold as Tom Brady lite —without the Brazilian ubermodel wife, Hollywood hair, NFL records and Super Bowl jewelry. But without all of that, what’s left? Ryan is methodical, where Vick is mercurial; Ryan is borin’, while Vick is ballin’.
Matt Ryan is who the Falcons need; but Michael Vick is who Atlanta still wants.
And that will be crystal clear when the Philadelphia Eagles fly down to the Georgia Dome to play the Atlanta Falcons on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. The most prominent jersey in the stands will be Vick’s No. 7, in all shades and sizes.
In reality and symbolically, Ryan will be No. 2 when Vick comes back to a city whose love affair may have taken a break, but certainly never died. Vick’s absence has only made Atlanta’s heart grow fonder.
It was clear in 2009, when Vick was given a roaring ovation by the Georgia Dome crowd. Then a backup, Vick went 2-of-2 for 48 yards and one TD through the air, while rushing for 17 yards and another TD on the ground in mop-up duty at the end of a 34–7 Philly win at Atlanta.
“I just remember being in the (Georgia) Dome and the crowd chanting my name, which is special,” Vick recalled, in an interview with Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“All my teammates thought it was the greatest thing in the world. Everybody on our sideline came to me and said they were excited that they could be a part of that situation and being there to witness it because they had never seen it before.
“I will always remember that day, not for the plays I made on the field — because that was a fracture of the joy that I felt that day. The appreciation from the Atlanta fans that I had, even though I was in a different uniform.”
Now that Vick has worked his way out of the darkness — following 19 months served in prison on a federal felony conviction stemming from a dog-fighting ring run on his Virginia property — he is back in the spotlight as a Pro Bowl franchise quarterback with a $100 million contract, a Nike spokesman and a renowned redemption story.
This is no backup arriving in Atlanta to hear chants and cheers at the end of a blowout. This is Atlanta’s pride, its once-prodigious turned-prodigal son returning home.
“That’s not my house,” Vick says, politely and politically. “That’s Matt Ryan’s house. I’m just a visitor.”
Atlanta will weigh in on Sunday night when the Eagles face the Falcons in the Georgia Dome — the house Ryan is renting but Vick still owns.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
After a middle of the road effort in Week One of the college football season, I bounced back with force in Week Two, nailing each of my top three locks of the week. Of course, there is no rest for the weary as Mississippi State (vs. Auburn) and Iowa wildly underachieved in games they both should have won.
I still feel Andrew Lucky as I am going back to the Cardinal well for the third straight week after Stanford covered the spread in both of its games thus far. And since my road favorites were such a big hit last week as well, I might as well keep that train rolling along too.
Season Record ATS: 11-7-1 (6-3 last week)
Week 3's Top Picks (all times eastern):
1. Oklahoma State (-13.5) at Tulsa
The Cowboys look just as good as if not better than they were last season on offense. And last year, they dropped a 65 spot on Tulsa (65-28 final). Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle, Justin Blackmon and one of the nation's top offensive lines will walk into Tulsa (which could have a heavy Orange and Black tint to it) and run away with this one. My Pick: Oklahoma State -13.5
2. Nevada (-6) at San Jose State
I know it was a blowout and I know they allowed 69 points, but against the national runner-up in Oregon, the Wolf Pack rolled up 516 yards of offense, including 283 yards rushing. It was Nevada's first game of the season, so they should be much improved in Week Two. San Jose State played improved football against UCLA last week, but hasn't closed the gap after a 57-3 drubbing against Stanford in Week One. Chris Ault and company beat the Spartans 62-7 last fall. My Pick: Nevada -6
3. Houston (-6.5) at Louisiana Tech
Case Keenum threw for 458 yards and five touchdowns last week. Louisiana Tech allowed 372 yards, four touchdowns and 42 total points to Central Arkansas and Nathan Dick last week. There is no way the Bulldogs can slow down the Cougars offense. Houston will roll. My Pick: Houston -6.5
4. Texas Tech (-20.5) at New Mexico
Few teams have played as poorly as the Lobos. They have scored 13 total points against Colorado State at home and Arkansas on the road. The Rams sacked New Mexico 10 times in the opener and Texas Tech knows it. The Red Raiders are rested after the bye week and are prepared to travel into the Land of Enchantment for an easy win. My Pick: Texas Tech -20.5
5. Stanford (-9) at Arizona
Andrew Luck plays football at a different level than anyone else in the nation. Weird things can happen in the desert but not normally until October. Luck was 23-of-32 for 299 yards and two scores in the 42-17 win over the Wildcats last season. Meanwhile, the Cats are coming off a nationally televised loss to Okie State in which they allowed 398 yards passing to Weeden and 197 yards rushing to Randle and company. My Pick: Stanford -9
6. Auburn (+3.5) at Clemson
The nation's longest current winning streak (17) is on the line when Auburn heads down to Death Valley. Clemson has not looked good in either game, both of which were against clearly inferior opponents (Troy, Wofford). There is just no way anyone can pick against the defending national champs. Watching the Mississippi State defense play well enough to win against LSU on Thursday night only highlights the job Guz Malzahn has done with the young Auburn offense. This one should be a shootout with Auburn winning No. 18 in a row. My Pick: Auburn
7. Wyoming at Bowling Green (54.5 O/U)
Bowling Green is averaging 45 points per game (yes, against Idaho and Morgan State) and Wyoming is averaging 40 points per game (yes, against Weber State and Texas State). The Cowboys allowed 32 points to Weber State in week one, and this game has shootout written all over it with solid quarterback play from Matt Schilz and Brett Smith respectively. My Pick: Over 54.5
Tier Two Picks if you are feeling lucky:
Take the road underdogs to cover - and in Ohio State's case - to win outright:
Ohio State (+2.5) at Miami
Navy (+18) at South Carolina
Michigan State (+5.5) at Notre Dame
Other Week Three Content:
College Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 3
Week 3 Prediction: Florida State vs. Oklahoma
Steven Lassan's Week 3 Upsets and Match-ups
Athlon Sports Predicts Every Game of Week 3
It wasn’t even as close as the 30-point margin of victory. Last season Florida State was ready to return to national prominence, but Oklahoma crushed the Seminoles, 47-17, in a game where Sooners’ boss Bob Stoops took it easy on the opponent – namely FSU defensive coordinator and brother Mark Stoops – in the second half. Oklahoma has been almost unbeatable in Norman during Stoops’ tenure, but the ‘Noles didn’t even put up much of a fight last year. Expectations are even higher for Jimbo Fisher’s program this season, and FSU gets the Sooners in Tallahassee on Saturday night. This game should be one of the premier matchups in college football this season. Check out all of our college football predictions for week 3.
Will Florida State get revenge against Oklahoma?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I like Oklahoma to win on Saturday, but it would not shock me if Florida State got revenge. Last season’s game in Norman was embarrassing to the Seminoles, and with this game in Tallahassee, I’d expect to see a much different team this time around. Winning the battle in the trenches is going to be crucial to the outcome. Neither team has a dominating offensive line, and Oklahoma is dealing with an injury to its right tackle. The Seminoles have a very good defensive line, anchored by senior and likely All-American Brandon Jenkins. If Florida State’s offensive line can give EJ Manuel time to throw on offense and open up a few more running lanes for the running backs, the Seminoles should have the edge. This is really a coin flip game, but I’m going to guess Florida State will fall short in its quest to get revenge. With this one at home and the revenge factor, it’s tough to pick against the Seminoles, but Oklahoma wins this one by a field goal.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I am going with Florida State on Saturday night. Last year's game was obviously dominated by the Oklahoma offense, but we must keep in mind that was the FSU defense's second game in a new scheme under new coordinator Mark Stoops. I'm confident that Stoops will have a good plan for OU and that his defense will do a better job executing this time around. A big key to the game will be the play of quarterback EJ Manuel, who is making the biggest start of his career. He was a highly touted recruit who has had to wait for his turn in Tallahassee. Manuel isn't the most polished passer, but he can still sling it around the field, and he can tuck the ball and run when things break down. FSU will have to run the ball with some success to make it easier for Manuel and the passing attack. This should be a classic. The stakes are very high, with the winner emerging as a likely candidate to play in the BCS National Championship Game. I believe it's Florida State's time to shine.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I like the Sooners to win in Tallahassee. It will not look like last year’s infamous game, when Oklahoma was up 34-7 at half and could have run up the score easily. Florida State had no answer for Landry Jones and the high-tempo Oky offense, but Mark Stoops’ should have his unit much more prepared for the quick pace of the Sooners this season. EJ Manuel should be able to drive the ‘Noles down the field against a wounded Oklahoma defense, and his ability to keep the chains moving (and the ball away from Jones) will be the key for Florida State. The Sooners do not play near as well away from Norman, but I believe that Jones and receivers Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills will be more effective than Manuel’s crew. Jimbo Fisher is turning FSU back into a juggernaut program, but I believe he will have to wait a little longer for a marquee victory and revenge. I’ll take Oklahoma, 33-30, in a thriller.
The Seminoles will get their revenge against the Sooners — not only for last year’s 47-17 disaster, but for preventing an FSU repeat as BCS champs back in the 2001 Orange Bowl, which was a 13-2 thriller for anyone who may have forgotten. OU’s “Big Game Bob” Stoops will take another high-profile loss, as FSU’s Jimbo Fisher claims a signature victory. The 'Noles defense — called by Bob’s brother Mark — will have to keep the Sooners’ passing attack in check. But OU’s Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles will have a tough time against a loaded FSU front seven and a secondary led by playmaking corners Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes, who can take the ball for six the other way if Oklahoma tries to get too greedy down field. Put on your Bobby Bowden safari hat, the Seminoles are going big game hunting Saturday against the Sooners.
by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush
Race: Geico 400
Location: Joliet, Ill.
When: Sunday, Sept. 18
TV: ESPN (2:00 p.m. EST)
2010 Winner: David Reutimann
Specs: 1.5-mile tri-oval; Banking/Turns: 18 degrees; Banking/Tri-Oval: 11 degrees; Banking/Backstretch: 5 degrees
Race Length: 400.5 miles/267 laps
Track Qualifying Record: 188.147 mph (Jimmie Johnson, 2005)
Race Record: 145.138 mph (David Reutimann, 2010)
From the Spotter's Stand
In last year’s Windy City run, David Reutimann won his first Cup race without an asterisk while old man Jeff Gordon made the 600th Cup start of his career.
Reutimann seemed apologetic after stumbling into a rain-shortened 227-lap win at the Coca-Cola 600 in 2009. But no one could question the Tums 00 Toyota after a gut-wrenching race to beat Carl Edwards and Gordon to the line in a green-white-checker finish.
Jimmie Johnson led the opening 92 laps of the night. But uncharacteristic miscues led to a 25th-place finish. Expect the 48’s mistakes to be corrected, however, as the 1.5-mile tri-oval of Chicagoland Speedway will (inexplicably) host the first Chase race in 2011.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Negotiating a smooth entry into Chicago’s sweeping turns sets the car up for a good exit, which is where the passing is going to take place. Chicago is all about handling on the track’s surprisingly weathered surface. Racing at night normally increases grip on a cool track surface, but Chicago’s bumpy ride doesn’t guarantee that. It’s close to Kansas, but thanks to a back straight with a really gradual, almost unnoticeable curve, it’s unique in its own way. I don’t really think that curved back straight makes any difference at all in terms of setting the car up.”
Looking at Checkers: Jeff Gordon, with a win and seven top 10s in 10 Chi-Town starts.
Pretty Solid Pick: Richmond winner Kevin Harvick, who won the first two races here.
Good Sleeper Pick: Do not overlook Brian Vickers’ stats at Chicago.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: You’d think this would be a Greg Biffle-type track, but it’s not.
Insider Tip: We’re in the Chase now, so teams like the 48, 18, 24 and 99 will come to play.
Classic Moments at Chicagoland
Before Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon swapped pit crews at Texas last year, the most notable team swap in NASCAR came at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in 2005.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. enters the USG Sheetrock 400 mired at 16th in the point standings while his teammate, Michael Waltrip — and former crew — ranks 17th. Although Matt Kenseth thoroughly dominates the race, Earnhardt’s crew chief, Steve Hmiel, makes a gutsy two-tire call during the final caution period, giving the No. 8 Budweiser Chevy valuable track position. Junior holds off Kenseth in clean air over the final 13 laps to earn his only win of the campaign.
Following the race, Jeff Gordon gives Mike Bliss a black eye at the airport after the two tangled to bring out the final caution that set the table for Hmiel’s pit call.
By RALPH VACCHIANO
In 2003, the New England Patriots released popular safety Lawyer Milloy, causing an uproar up in Foxboro, Mass. He promptly signed with the Buffalo Bills, and together they hammered the Pats 31-0 on Opening Day. Tom Brady was picked off four times.
The Patriots looked like their NFL dynasty would never get started. The Bills looked like they had recaptured their glory days.
The Bills finished 6-10 that season. The Patriots finished 14-2 and won the Super Bowl.
The point: Strange things happen on Opening Day.
So it’s always wise to hold off on the overreactions until at least Week 2, when at least the beginnings of pretenders and contenders really take shape. In the first game of the season when nerves are tight, emotions are high, and players are still getting up and back to speed, results sometimes tend to be aberrations. It pays to be cautious when reading the week one tea leaves.
For example, here are five overreactions from the first week of the season that aren’t likely to turn out to be true:
1.“Cam Newton is a Pro Bowler.”
One of the most controversial rookies in years had the best debut for a rookie quarterback since … well, ever, really. Going 24 for 37 for 422 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals was remarkable considering the No. 1 overall pick had no offseason, thanks to the lockout, to work with his team.
Here’s a fact, though: Rookie quarterbacks struggle. Newton will struggle. This won’t be an arrow that points directly up and makes him immediately one of the best quarterbacks in the NFC. Even Peyton Manning had some troubles as a rookie, and he was arguably m ore polished than any quarterback who ever entered the league.
So expect flashes of brilliance from Newton, like he displayed on Sunday. But also expect to see more downs than ups.
2.“The Buffalo Bills are a contender.”
Coming off a 4-12 season, even the most optimistic Bills fan couldn’t have expected what happened on Sunday: a 41-7 blowout win in Kansas City. And the Bills did look good, no doubt.
It was also a classic case of a game snowballing out of control, starting with the Chiefs’ fumble on the opening kickoff. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw four touchdowns, but only 208 yards, so it’s not like the offense lit up the Chiefs. It had more to do with turnovers and the Bills’ defense shutting down the Chiefs.
In other words, it was good, but not great, and in a division with the New England Patriots and New York Jets, they’ll need much more. The Bills are improved, no doubt, but the playoffs are likely still out of reach.
3.“Donovan McNabb is done.”
It’s a hard point to argue after his 7-for-15, 39-yard performance in a loss to the Chargers. One observer said “He looked disinterested,” which is an alarming criticism of a 34-year-old vet who was supposed to be revived by another fresh start.
Don’t completely write off McNabb, though. He’s only two years removed from a good season in Philadelphia and even last year he put up decent numbers in the midst of Washington’s mess. He has some weapons to help him in Minnesota, like Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson, and he definitely has a little bit left in the tank.
There’s no defending his opening-day showing, but you dismiss his chances of a rebound at your own risk.
4.“The Colts can’t win without Peyton Manning.”
They probably can’t, given how much he’s meant to that offense, and the longer he’s out with a neck injury the bleaker their prospects get. But could there have been a worse opening-day situation to through 38-year-old QB Kerry Collins into? On the road in Houston against a team with an explosive offense and good young defense, after signing late in camp and not having much time to learn a complicated offensive scheme?
Collins struggled, fumbled a couple of snaps, and the offense was so inept it put the defense in terrible position. But Collins is a pro with a big arm and he’s surrounded by talented weapons. He’ll get more comfortable as the games go on. The Colts probably won’t win a championship unless Manning returns healthy, but Collins is more than capable of keeping them in the hunt until their savior gets back.
5.“The NFC South has gone from ‘beast’ to ‘least’.”
With the Falcons, Saints and Bucs all with double-digit wins last year they may have been the best or most exciting division in football. This year all four teams are 0-1 and all of a sudden everyone has noticed they fattened their records last season on the terrible NFC West.
Will they have three teams with double-digit wins this year? No. But don’t knock this division, especially with the improved and reloaded Carolina Panthers bringing up the rear. The New Orleans Saints lost their opener in Green Bay to the defending Super Bowl champs on the last play of the game. The Atlanta Falcons lost on the road in Chicago against a tough Bears defense and a team that reached the NFC championship game last year. The Bucs lost to a Detroit Lions team many think will be surprise contenders this year.
All three of those teams have good quarterbacks and an array of offensive weapons. The NFC South may take a small step back, but at least three of their teams will be in the playoff chase right until the end.
College football uniforms have been in the news lately. With Maryland's flag uniforms that looked like something out of Middle Earth, Boise State's "Power Rangers" getup and Oklahoma State's all grey, we're not sure what's going on with the current state of uniforms. What happened to the classics?
In an effort to see what uniforms will look like in the future, we looked into our crystal ball (which is actually just Photoshop) and saw what the college football uniforms will look like in the upcoming seasons.
The Texas Longhorns
Florida State Seminoles
Oregon Ducks (if their mascot is too good for pants, then we're guessing the players will be, too.)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Joe Paterno's Nike-sponsored IV bag
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Here's a look at every game of the Week 3 college football schedule.
No. 115 North Texas at No. 1 Alabama
Dan McCarney will do a very good job as the coach at North Texas, but his tenure in Denton is off to a rough start, with lopsided losses to FIU and Houston. An 0–3 record is an almost certainty.
Alabama 44, North Texas 6
No. 2 Oklahoma at No. 4 Florida State
There’s a school of thought — which we at Athlon Sports subscribe to — that the winner of this early season non-conference clash will end up playing Alabama in the national championship game.
Florida State 31, Oklahoma 27
No. 5 Boise State at No. 62 Toledo (Fri)
Boise State will need to play well to beat Toledo on the road. The Rockets are very good at the skill positions, and they gave Ohio State a legitimate scare in Columbus last weekend. I was tempted to pull the trigger on the upset.
Boise State 34, Toledo 24
Missouri State at No. 6 Oregon
Missouri State gained a total of 163 yards in a 51–7 loss at Arkansas in Week 1. Oregon is fresh off of a 69–20 win over Nevada. On paper, this is the biggest mismatch of the week.
Oregon 55, Missouri State 0
No. 89 Arkansas State at No. 7 Virginia Tech
Arkansas State made Illinois sweat (33–15) in Week 1 and blew out Memphis (47–3) last Saturday. This is a solid team, but Virginia Tech should be able to dominate at the line of scrimmage.
Virginia Tech 31, Arkansas State 20
No. 43 Washington at No. 8 Nebraska
This is the third meeting between these two clubs in the past 13 months. Nebraska won in Seattle last September but lost to the Huskies 19–7 in the Holiday Bowl. The rubber match will go to the Huskers.
Nebraska 31, Washington 20
No. 110 Idaho at No. 9 Texas A&M
The Aggies were quite impressive in an easier-than-expected 46–14 win over SMU in Week 1. This one is expected to be easy — and it will be.
Texas A&M 44, Idaho 10
No. 10 Oklahoma State at No. 58 Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane gave up 663 yards to Oklahoma in a 47–14 loss two weeks ago. The Cowboys’ offense is just as potent.
Oklahoma State 41, Tulsa 24
No. 11 Stanford at No. 55 Arizona
The Cardinal have given up one offensive touchdown in two games. Arizona’s rebuilt offensive line is in for a rough evening.
Stanford 31, Arizona 14
No. 12 Wisconsin at No. 73 Northern Illinois (Soldier Field)
Northern Illinois is very good on offense, but the Huskies have really struggled on the defensive end in 2011. They are giving up an average of 278 yards rushing. Not a good stat when you are about to face the Badgers.
Wisconsin 44, Northern Illinois 14
No. 92 Troy at No. 13 Arkansas
Troy led at Clemson at the half before getting outscored 30¬–3 in the final two quarters. The Trojans are good, but not good enough to pose too much of a threat to Arkansas.
Arkansas 41, Troy 17
No. 54 Navy at No. 14 South Carolina
Navy’s option attack will give South Carolina some problems, but the Gamecocks should be able to move the ball with relative ease.
South Carolina 31, Navy 17
No. 15 West Virginia at No. 23 Maryland
Maryland looked very good, especially on offense, in a Week 1 win over Miami (Fla.). Florida State is clearly the team to beat in the ACC Atlantic Division, but don’t be surprised if the Terps remain in the race all season.
Maryland 31, West Virginia 27
No. 37 Tennessee at No. 16 Florida
Florida has been dominant in wins over FAU (41–3) and UAB (39–0), but the new-look offense is about to face a different caliber of athletes this week. We’ll know far more about the Will Muschamp/Charlie Weis era at Florida by Saturday evening.
Florida 34, Tennessee 24
No. 17 Ohio State at No. 30 Miami (Fla.)
Expect a lot of the focus to be on each school’s respective off-the-field issues with the NCAA — and rightfully so.
Ohio State 20, Miami 17
No. 44 Syracuse at No. 18 USC
Syracuse is 2–0, but the Orange needed to rally from 15 down in the fourth quarter to beat Wake Forest in overtime and only defeated Rhode Island 21–14 last weekend. This team is a work in progress.
USC 28, Syracuse 10
No. 19 Texas at No. 67 UCLA
The Bruins rushed for 264 yards in a shocking 34–12 in Austin last season. Texas is ready for some payback.
Texas 30, UCLA 14
Stephen F. Austin at No. 20 Baylor
The Bears haven’t played since their thrilling 50–48 win over TCU on Sept. 1. Don’t expect any rust.
Baylor 48, Stephen F. Austin 13
No. 108 Louisiana-Monroe at No. 21 TCU
The Horned Frogs bounced back nicely from the loss at Baylor with an impressive 35–19 win at Air Force. TCU led 21–0 midway through the second quarter and 35–9 late in the third.
TCU 41, Louisiana-Monroe 3
No. 22 Michigan State at No. 29 Notre Dame
I still maintain that Notre Dame is a pretty good football team despite its 0–2 record. But it’s time for the Irish to overcome adversity and win a game.
Notre Dame 28, Michigan State 21
Florida A&M at No. 24 South Florida
The Bulls should be 4–0 when they hit the road for a huge showdown at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29.
South Florida 38, Florida A&M 3
No. 25 Arizona State at No. 33 Illinois
This has the chance to be one of the best games of the day, and it features two of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks — Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler and Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase.
Illinois 21, Arizona State 14
No. 26 Auburn at No. 45 Clemson
I think it’s safe to say that no defending national champion has ever been an underdog in two of its first three games in the ensuing season.
Auburn 34, Clemson 28
No. 113 Eastern Michigan at No. 27 Michigan
With wins over Howard and Alabama State, Eastern Michigan is 2–0 for the first time since 1989. The Eagles will not be 3–0.
Michigan 51, Eastern Michigan 10
Western Illinois at No. 31 Missouri
Missouri lost in overtime at Arizona State last Friday night, but the Tigers got a huge performance from sophomore quarterback James Franklin. He completed 26-of-42 for 319 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and added 84 yards on the ground. That is a very good sign for Gary Pinkel’s club.
Missouri 38, Western Illinois 0
No. 32 Penn State at No 81 Temple
It’s either a compliment to Temple or an indictment of Penn State that the Nittany Lions are only a 7.5-point favorite. Owl tailback Bernard Pierce (148.5 ypg) will be the best skill position player on the field.
Penn State 21, Temple 14
No. 34 UCF at No. 65 FIU
This is an underrated showdown between two very good teams that are coming off solid wins over BCS conference opponents. UCF dominated Boston College 30–3 in Orlando, while FIU upset Louisville 24–17 on the road. UCF’s defense has given up a total of three points.
UCF 28, FIU 10
Coastal Carolina at No. 35 Georgia
The Bulldogs need a win — any win. And they will get it against Coastal Carolina, and its entertaining head coach, David Bennett.
Georgia 38, Coastal Carolina 10
No. 66 Virginia at No. 36 North Carolina
Virginia survived a second half collapse at Indiana (the Cavs led 23–3 at one point — to beat the Hoosiers 34–31 on a field goal on the final play of the game. Mike London’s team must have success running the ball to have a chance to knock off UNC in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina 27, Virginia 17
No. 38 Northwestern at No. 86 Army
Army’s stats are predictable: No. 2 in the nation in rushing (353.0 ypg) and No. 118 in passing (74.5 ypg). To beat a solid team from a BCS conference, the Black Knights will have to find some balance on offense.
Northwestern 30, Army 17
No. 69 Kansas at No. 39 Georgia Tech
Kansas’ 28¬–25 win over Georgia Tech last September was one of the head-scratchers of the 2010 season. Both teams have looked very good on offense in ’11 against inferior competition.
Georgia Tech 38, Kansas 28
No. 40 Texas Tech at No. 116 New Mexico
New Mexico has scored one touchdown in two games this season. The Lobos will need about eight touchdowns to beat Texas Tech.
Texas Tech 56, New Mexico 10
No. 41 Iowa State at No. 74 Connecticut
The boys in Vegas know what they are doing, but I was a bit surprised that Iowa State, which beat Iowa last week, is a 4-point underdog to a UConn team that had less than 200 total yards in a loss at Vanderbilt.
Iowa State 24, Connecticut 14
No. 48 Pittsburgh at No. 42 Iowa
Pittsburgh is a rather soft 2–0 under first-year coach Todd Graham, with a 35–16 win over Buffalo and a 35–29 win over FCS opponent Maine.
Iowa 31, Pittsburgh 24
Gardner-Webb at No. 46 Wake Forest
Wake Forest has been one of the most improved teams in the nation in 2011. The Deacs are getting great play from quarterback Tanner Price (when healthy).
Wake Forest 41, Gardner-Webb 10
No. 50 Utah at No. 47 BYU
The road team hasn’t won in this series since 2006, when BYU edged Utah 33–31 in Salt Lake City. BYU has only scored one offensive touchdown this season, but the Cougs have played at Ole Miss and at Texas.
BYU 24, Utah 20
Presbyterian at No. 48 California
The Golden Bears are off to a nice start, with wins vs. Fresno State and at Colorado (ot). The pass-catch combo of Zach Maynard and Keenan Allen, who happen to be half-brothers, has been highly successful.
California 44, Presbyterian 0
No. 51 Houston at No. 102 Louisiana Tech
Shouldn’t these two teams be in the same conference?
Houston 41, Louisiana Tech 21
South Alabama at No. 53 NC State
NC State’s season has already taken a wrong turn, with a surprising loss at home to Wake Forest in the ACC opener.
NC State 41, South Alabama 3
No. 117 Akron at No. 56 Cincinnati
Akron has scored a total of three points this season, losing 42–0 at Ohio State and 41–3 at home vs. Temple. The Bearcats should hit 50 with ease.
Cincinnati 55, Akron 10
Northwestern State at No. 57 SMU
SMU has been a bit of a disappointment this season, losing 46–14 at Texas A&M and struggling at home vs. UTEP. J.J. McDermott gets his second straight start at quarterback.
SMU 45, Northwestern State 10
No. 95 Louisville at No. 59 Kentucky
Neither team has played well through the first two weeks of the season. Points will be at a premium. Look for UK true freshman Josh Clemons to have a big day carrying the ball with Raymond Sanders out with an injury.
Kentucky 17, Louisville 7
No. 61 Hawaii at No. 118 UNLV
UNLV is in the conversation as the worst team in the nation after its 59–7 loss at Washington State last week.
Hawaii 47, UNLV 13
No. 63 Ole Miss at No. 64 Vanderbilt
The Commodores have won four of the past six in this East vs. West battle. Both teams are struggling on offense. Whoever wins the turnover battle will likely win the game.
Vanderbilt 20, Ole Miss 17
No. 70 Washington State at No. 66 San Diego State
Washington State appears to be vastly improved, but the Cougars have yet to play a quality opponent. We’ll find out just how much progress Paul Wulff’s club has made after Saturday’s trip to San Diego.
San Diego State 27, Washington State 14
No. 87 Duke at No. 68 Boston College
The usually rock-solid Boston College program is on shaky ground. The Eagles managed only 137 yards of offense in a 31–3 loss at UCF last week. A loss at home to Duke isn’t possible, is it? Yes.
Duke 28, Boston College 20
No. 71 Marshall at No. 84 Ohio
Marshall very quietly recorded a huge win last weekend, knocking off C-USA East power Southern Miss 26–20. Now, the Herd step out of conference play to face a very solid Ohio team.
Ohio 23, Marshall 21
No. 112 Kent State at No. 75 Kansas State
The Wildcats trailed Eastern Kentucky 7–0 heading into the fourth quarter before rallying for a 10–7 win in the opener two weeks ago. Not good.
Kansas State 27, Kent State 10
No. 78 Colorado vs. No. 96 Colorado State (at Denver)
CU receiver Paul Richardson caught nine passes for 284 yards and two scores in last week’s overtime loss to California.
Colorado 28, Colorado State 17
No. 79 Nevada at No. 111 San Jose State
I thought Nevada would hang with Oregon last weekend. I was wrong. The Pack trailed 31–7 at the half en route to a 69–20 loss. This week, the competition gets easier — much easier.
Nevada 41, San Jose State 20
SE Louisiana at No. 80 Southern Miss
The Golden Eagles have been a disappointment so far, struggling to beat Louisiana Tech at home and then losing at Marshall. The usually high-octane USM offense has averaged only 19.5 points.
Southern Miss 31, SE Louisiana 14
North Dakota at No. 83 Fresno State
Fresno State returns home after difficult matchups at California and at Nebraska. This one shouldn’t be too much trouble.
Fresno State 37, North Dakota 7
SE Missouri State at No. 85 Purdue
Purdue has been in two games that ended with a blocked field goal; the Boilers were on the blocking end against Middle Tennessee and the got-blocked end at Rice. This one better not come down to a field goal attempt.
Purdue 38, SE Missouri State 10
No. 109 Tulane at No. 88 UAB
UAB might be without standout tailback Pat Shed due to a sports hernia. It shouldn’t matter.
UAB 31, Tulane 10
No. 107 Buffalo at No. 90 Ball State
This is a key MAC game for two teams that appear to be improved in 2011. Ball State already has a win over Indiana on its resume, while Buffalo played well in a season-opening loss at Pitt before beating Stony Brook last week.
Ball State 27, Buffalo 21
No. 93 Miami (Ohio) at No. 101 Minnesota
It was a rough week for Minnesota. The Gophers lost at home to New Mexico State in a game that was overshadowed by head coach Jerry Kill’s sideline seizure. Kill appears to be fine. We’re not sure about his team.
Minnesota 27, Miami (Ohio) 24
South Carolina State at No. 94 Indiana
Kevin Wilson is still searching for his first win as the head coach at Indiana. The search should end Saturday.
Indiana 41, South Carolina State 14
No. 104 Central Michigan at No. 97 Western Michigan
Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit is 0–5 vs. hated rival Central Michigan. He might not be around next season if his record dips to 0–6.
Western Michigan 28, Central Michigan 24
No. 103 Wyoming at No. 98 Bowling Green
The competition hasn’t been strong — Idaho and Morgan State — but Bowling Green looks to be much improved on offense. The Flacons are averaging 45.0 points and 525 yards per game.
Bowling Green 38, Wyoming 20
No. 114 UTEP and No. 100 New Mexico State
I’m still shocked that New Mexico State won at Minnesota last week. Quarterback Andrew Manley threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Aztecs, a three-touchdown underdog, to a 28–21 win.
New Mexico State 28, UTEP 20
Nicholls State at No. 105 Louisiana-Lafayette
The Rajin’ Cajuns are showing some fight under first-year coach Mark Hudspeth. Their win at Kent State last week was the school’s first non-conference road win (vs. an FBS foe) since 2006, when Ricky Bustle’s club won at Houston 31–28.
Louisiana-Lafayette 31, Nicholls State 10
Indiana State at No. 106 Western Kentucky
One week after giving up 190 yards of offense in a loss to Kentucky, the Hilltoppers were torched for 510 yards in a 40–14 home loss to Navy.
Western Kentucky 28, Indiana State 17
Austin Peay at No. 119 Memphis
It’s difficult to describe how much of a train wreck Memphis football is right now. Still, don’t be tempted to pick Austin Peay in this one; the Govs lost at Cincinnati 72–10 two weeks ago.
Memphis 30, Austin Peay 14
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 3
1. It’s only Week 3, but Saturday’s game between Florida State and Oklahoma will have an impact on the national title race. The winner of this matchup has a good chance to run the table and finish undefeated. With both teams expected to rank among the top 5-10 spots in the final poll, this could be an elimination game for the national championship. The Sooners have won the last five meetings between these two teams, including a 47-17 blowout last year. The Seminoles should have a better showing this time around, especially with this game in Tallahassee. Keep an eye on the matchup in the trenches. Florida State’s defensive line is one of the best in college football, which will be an issue for Oklahoma, especially with tackle Daryl Williams hobbled by a high ankle sprain.
2. The annual Florida-Tennessee game has lost some of its appeal in recent years. Under Urban Meyer, the Gators won six in a row over the Volunteers. Also, Tennessee has struggled to contend for the SEC East title, posting a 10-14 conference record since 2007. This season’s matchup features a lot of intrigue. Florida coach Will Muschamp is familiar with Tennessee coach Derek Dooley from their days as assistants under Nick Saban at LSU. Also, the Volunteers have been impressive on offense through two games, while the Gators look like they have one of the best defenses in the SEC. Tennessee’s offensive line is still a work in progress and if it struggles to protect quarterback Tyler Bray against a very good Florida defensive line, the Volunteers will have a long afternoon in the Swamp. Bray has posted some big numbers in a short time as the starter, but has yet to face a defense the caliber of Florida.
3. If not for turnovers, there’s a good chance Notre Dame would be 2-0. The Irish rank last nationally in turnover margin, which has to be corrected in Saturday’s game against Michigan State. The Spartans have won three out of the last four in this series, including a 34-31 thriller in East Lansing last year. Saturday’s game is an important one for Notre Dame, as it needs to get back on the winning track. The Irish could still finish 10-2, and contending for a spot in one of the BCS bowls isn’t dead yet. Notre Dame has struggled against the pass, allowing 233 yards per game through two weeks. The Spartans should test the Irish secondary, but protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins is a concern. It’s hard to call the third game of the year a must-win, but after outplaying its first two opponents and losing, Notre Dame really needs this one.
4. With Utah joining the Pac-12 and BYU becoming an Independent, these two rivals won’t meet as conference foes for the first time in 113 years. However, that shouldn’t change the anticipation for this matchup. The Holy War is an underappreciated rivalry on the national front. Quarterback play will be huge. BYU’s Jake Heaps looks to bounce back after a sluggish performance against Texas (22 of 38, 192 yards and two interceptions), while Utah’s Jordan Wynn needs to build some confidence as he continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Five of the last six matchups have been decided by a touchdown or less. Expect a similar outcome on Saturday.
5. Two of the top offensive minds in college football will meet when Clemson hosts Auburn this Saturday. Gus Malzahn (Auburn) will square off against his protégé Chad Morris (Clemson) in what should be an entertaining non-conference matchup. Over the last four years, Malzahn’s offenses have ranked no worse than 17th in scoring offense. Morris coordinated Tulsa’s offense to a No. 6 national ranking in scoring offense. These two offensive gurus are friends off the field, but for 60 minutes, it’s all about winning. Clemson has not impressed in two games, while Auburn has needed a late play in both games to win. With suspect defenses, Auburn and Clemson could be one of this week’s highest-scoring games.
6. Less than 225 miles separate the Maryland and West Virginia campuses, but this rivalry has been pretty quiet in recent years. The Mountaineers have claimed the last five in this series, with Maryland’s last victory coming in the 2004 Gator Bowl. The Terrapins should have a good chance to break that losing streak on Saturday, especially with Danny O’Brien under center. The 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year had a stellar performance in the opener, throwing for 348 yards and one score against Miami. West Virginia’s new pass-first offense is still a work in progress, largely due to a suspect offensive line, but Geno Smith is completing 66.7 percent of his passes and has yet to throw an interception. With both teams wanting to establish the pass, whichever offensive line can protect the best might be the deciding factor on Saturday.
7. The Arizona State-Illinois matchup might not generate as much interest as Florida State-Oklahoma, but this one has a lot of intrigue. Arizona State is coming off an overtime win over Missouri and has a key game against USC next Saturday. The Sun Devils crossed a big hurdle by beating the Tigers last week. Dennis Erickson’s team finally looks ready to contend for the Pac-12 title. Illinois has yet to be tested through two weeks, but is a dangerous team and one that could contend in the Big Ten Leaders Division. With two explosive offenses, this one could be a shootout. Both quarterbacks are off to solid starts, but this game could be decided by whichever offense imposes its will. The Illini will be more physical, while the Sun Devils are more finesse, wanting to run an up-tempo attack.
8. If you like offense, Saturday’s Louisville-Kentucky matchup is not for you. The Cardinals are averaging 415.5 yards per game, but have six turnovers and are managing only 19 points a game. If those numbers weren’t bad enough, it gets worse. The Wildcats rank 110th nationally in total offense and scored only 14 points to beat Western Kentucky and struggled to score 27 against Central Michigan. Kentucky will also be without running back Raymond Sanders, who suffered a knee injury last Saturday. The Wildcats have won the last four in this series, but with both teams struggling on offense, turnovers could play a key role in determining the outcome of the game.
9. The rubber match between Washington and Nebraska should provide a good gauge for where both teams are before conference play begins. The Huskies rank last in the nation in pass defense and are allowing 29.5 points a game. Despite the loss of quarterback Jake Locker, the offense has been fine, averaging 35 points and 358 yards per game. New quarterback Keith Price has thrown seven touchdowns to only one interception this season. Nebraska’s offense has scored at least 40 points in both games this year, but the offensive line is inexperienced in spots. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is one of the nation’s leading rushers, but is completing only 48.9 percent of his throws. The Cornhuskers had trouble blocking the Huskies’ defensive line in the Holiday Bowl and the matchup in the trenches will play a key role in deciding this one.
10. Before the scandals and off-the-field incidents, the Miami-Ohio State matchup was hyped as one of the top non-conference games of 2011. With Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor no longer in Columbus, and the black cloud hanging over the Miami program, the game has lost a little of its appeal. The Hurricanes fell short in their debut under new coach Al Golden, losing 32-24 to Maryland. The Buckeyes have won both of their games, but struggled in last week’s victory over Toledo. Ohio State quarterback Joe Bauserman likely holds the keys to the outcome of the game. The senior threw for only 189 yards last week, which could be a concern if Miami contains the Ohio State rushing attack. After serving a one-game suspension, the Hurricanes will turn to Jacory Harris at quarterback. The senior has had his moments, but also struggled with interceptions. In a tight game, Miami cannot afford another bad game from Harris.
Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 3 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.
Boise State 38, Toledo 20
Iowa State 24, Connecticut 17
Oklahoma 31, Florida State 27
Florida 30, Tennessee 20
Arizona State 31, Illinois 30
Georgia Tech 38, Kansas 27
Miami 24, Ohio State 20
Nebraska 31, Washington 20
Notre Dame 34, Michigan State 27
Auburn 38, Clemson 31
Maryland 34, West Virginia 31
Iowa 27, Pittsburgh 20
USC 38, Syracuse 20
BYU 24, Utah 20
Texas 24, UCLA 16
Stanford 38, Arizona 24
Looking for a few upsets? Keep a close watch on these games.
Iowa State at Connecticut (-4.5)
The Huskies have one of the best defenses in the Big East, but the offense is downright awful. New Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz has been solid through two starts, and Cyclones have an underrated defense.
Penn State (-6.5) at Temple
It’s a longshot, but the Owls have what it takes to win this one. Temple running back Bernard Pierce is off to a great start and needs to continue that success to secure a victory. Penn State’s offense needs to find a spark, particularly at quarterback.
Auburn at Clemson (-3.5)
Auburn is very fortunate to be 2-0. While Clemson has struggled to beat Troy and Wofford. Going on the road to Death Valley is no easy task and it wouldn’t be a surprise if a young Auburn team struggled. However, Auburn has looked like the better team so far.
Ole Miss (-1.5) at Vanderbilt
According to the folks out in Vegas, the Rebels are a slight favorite. However, neither team has been impressive on offense. The Commodores have won two out of the last three at home in this series and coming off a confidence-building win over Connecticut, they should be in position to open SEC play with a win.
Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 3
Remember those choose your adventure books? How about a choose your own path in conference realignment?
If the Big 12 falls apart, what's the best fit for Missouri?
TCU running back Ed Wesley and linebacker Tanner Brock are unlikely to play in Week 3.
Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham is unhappy with quarterback Tino Sunseri.
Temple has a big opportunity against Penn State this Saturday.
A week after suffering a seizure on the sidelines, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill will return to Minnesota's stadium for Saturday's game against Miami (Ohio).
Purdue quarterback Robert Marve will return to the field this Saturday against Southeast Missouri.
Clemson guard David Smith is out for Saturday's game against Auburn. The play of the offensive line has been a concern for Clemson through two weeks.
How did Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Clemson's Chad Morris become good friends?
Florida State receiver Willie Haulstead will miss Saturday's game against Oklahoma with concussion-like symptoms.
Georgia president Michael Adams would like for fans to support coach Mark Richt.
Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa is expected to return to the lineup on Oct. 1 against Illinois.
Colorado has yet to get its ground attack going through two games.
Despite an 0-2 start, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly thinks his team is ready to come together.
Texas will turn to Case McCoy and David Ash at quarterback.
A Sea of Red awaits Washington in Lincoln on Saturday.
Memphis has fired defensive coordinator Jay Hopson.
Kentucky needs quarterback Morgan Newton to show improvement against Louisville.
Kansas State needs better execution on offense this week. The Wildcats struggled in their opener against Eastern Kentucky.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
For a Week 3 college football game, there’s a lot on the line for Oklahoma and Florida State. Top five matchups are rare in the non-conference portion of any team’s schedule, so this is a chance to make a big statement. Both teams are national title contenders, but a loss in this game could be a significant setback for those hopes.
Oklahoma easily handled Florida State last year, winning 47-17 in Norman. However, the scene has shifted to Tallahassee. The Seminoles are hungry to avenge last season’s defeat, while prove Florida State is back on the national scene and a title contender.
Neither team has been tested so far. Oklahoma was off last week, but routed Tulsa 47-14 in the opener.
Florida State beat UL Monroe 34-0 in Week 1, while easily taking care of Charleston Southern 62-10 last Saturday.
Although both teams have looked good against inferior competition, this matchup will provide a better gauge of where they stand before conference play begins.
When Florida State Has the Ball
Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel has eight starts under his belt, but this is arguably his most important one. Manuel has thrown for 581 yards and six touchdowns this year. The junior has only rushed 10 times for 30 yards this season, but that could be one area Florida State looks to use him more on Saturday night.
Although Manuel may be used more in the running game, Florida State still needs to establish a traditional rushing attack. The Seminoles have a plethora of talented backs, with junior Chris Thompson expected to draw the start. However, senior Ty Jones and freshmen Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. will also see snaps.
Just like the running backs, the Seminoles are stocked with talented receivers. Willie Haulstead is not expected to play due to concussion-like symptoms, but senior Bert Reed and junior Rodney Smith are capable starters. Youngsters Jarred Haggins, Greg Dent, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene will also be counted upon heavily to produce.
The one concern for the Seminoles is the offensive line. Two new starters were stepping into the lineup this season, after guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon finished their eligibility. The line did not have a great spring and a few spots could be shuffled before this game. Considering the competition through two weeks, it's impossible to know how far along this group has come.
Oklahoma’s defensive line should be in a good position to take advantage of the Seminoles’ uncertainty up front. Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander are two of the best ends in the Big 12. However, the interior is a concern for the Sooners, as Jamarkus McFarland and Casey Walker have yet to have a breakout season.
Keep a close watch on the Sooner linebacking corps. Senior Travis Lewis will miss this game due to a foot injury, which means sophomores Tony Jefferson, Tom Wort and Corey Nelson will have to step up in a hostile environment. Lewis was one of the Big 12’s top defenders and his on-field leadership will be missed.
If Alexander and Lewis spend most of the night in the Florida State backfield, the Sooners should win this game. However, if Oklahoma’s defensive line struggles to get pressure, Manuel and the Seminole receivers should have a huge performance.
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
The Sooners own one of the nation’s most high-powered offenses, led by quarterback Landry Jones. He threw for 4,718 yards and 38 scores last season, while earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. Jones ripped apart the Florida State secondary for 380 yards and four scores last year.
Receivers Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills anchor one of the top receiving corps in college football. Broyles led all receivers with 130 receptions last year, while Stills is one of the rising stars in the game. Joining those two as weapons will be tight end James Hanna and receivers Trey Franks and Dejuan Miller.
The Sooners are using a running back by committee approach, but there’s no shortage of options. Brennan Clay will likely draw the start, but walk-on Dominique Whaley has been impressive and should see his share of carries. Sophomore Roy Finch will also figure into the rotation as a change of pace threat.
Similar to the Florida State offense, Oklahoma’s biggest question mark rests with the offensive line. Right tackle Daryl Williams is expected to play with a high ankle sprain, but will be less than 100 percent.
The Seminoles possess a deep defensive line, led by junior Brandon Jenkins. It will be important for the line, especially Jenkins and Bjoern Werner, to get after Jones and disrupt the timing to Broyles and Stills. The Sooners like to use a lot of quick passes to Broyles, so disrupting that timing will be critical.
Florida State’s secondary has plenty to prove this year, especially after struggling against Oklahoma last season. Corners Mike Harris, Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid are solid, but need to be much better than they were in last season's matchup. If the Seminoles are able to get pressure on Jones, the secondary will find their job much easier.
When a game is expected to be close, an x-factor could be what happens on special teams.
The Seminoles have one of the nation’s best at kicker (Dustin Hopkins) and punter (Shawn Powell). Hopkins has a strong leg and will become a valuable weapon once Florida State crosses midfield.
The Sooners would be wise to avoid kicking to Greg Reid, one of the nation’s most electric punt returners. Reid is averaging 17.8 yards per punt return this season.
Field goals could be a question mark for Oklahoma, as kicker Jimmy Stevens has been inconsistent during his career. However, returns should be in good shape with Broyles, Clay and Franks getting most of the work.
If you only watch one game this weekend, make sure this is it. Both teams are national title contenders and are deserving of its current ranking.
This is a huge chance for Florida State to announce its place on the national stage once again. After taking a step back during Bobby Bowden’s final years, Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles back into title contention.
Both teams possess high-powered offenses, but this game will be won or lost in the trenches. If the Sooners can hold off Florida State’s pass rush, Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles will have another big game, while leading Oklahoma to a key non-conference win.
Prediction: Oklahoma 31, Florida State 27
Click here for all of our week 3 college football predictions
By Josh Kipnis
This past weekend, we all witnessed history as Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers broke the record for most passing yards in a quarterback’s NFL debut. Even with his astonishing 110.4 passer rating, 2 TD, 422-yard performance, Newton still has a long way to go before he can claim kingship over the division. With Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Josh Freeman leading the other three teams in the NFC South, 2011 should be a very promising year for this division.
Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)
Background: Brees, who was signed by the Saints in 2006, led the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl victory in 2009. Winner of the MVP award in that game, he is also the Saints’ all-time leader in passing yards. The five-time pro-bowler was the AP Player of the Year in 2008 and has thrown over 4,000 yards each season with the Saints.
Strengths: Brees’ most eye-catching strength has to be his pinpoint accuracy. In fact, “pinpoint” cannot even describe how well this guy can hit a receiver downfield. In his “SportsScience” debut, Brees was asked to throw a football at an archery target from 20 yards away. Out of the ten throws he took, he hit the bulls-eye all ten times. Not even Olympic archers hit the bulls-eye that much.
Weaknesses: Many scouts questioned the Purdue alum’s height (6-0) as he entered the NFL draft back in 2001. His arm strength is also below average compared to the competition around the league. Nonetheless, do his weaknesses even matter at this point? He is unquestionably a top five QB in the NFL, and has the Saints in the Super Bowl conversation every year.
Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)
Background: Ryan is one of two rookie quarterbacks (Peyton Manning) in NFL history to throw over 3,000 yards in his rookie season, making him the obvious choice for the 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year. Ryan led the Falcons to the playoffs his rookie season and again last season. Ryan continues to show signs of improvement; increasing his touchdown totals in each of the three seasons he has been a pro.
Strengths: Ryan shows a great balance of attributes; he might not be the most accurate or have the strongest arm, but he is definitely above average in both categories. So what’s so incredible about “Matty Ice?” In just three seasons in the NFL, Ryan has led the Falcons to eight 4th quarter comebacks and thirteen game winning drives. I’d say the nickname holds true.
Weaknesses: Leading the Falcons to the playoffs twice is a great feat, however, Atlanta lost in both of those openers. His 0-2 record in the playoffs is the only part of Ryan’s game holding him back from an elite status.
Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Bucs)
Background: Freeman broke the Bucs’ rookie records in passing yards (1,855) and TD passes (10) back in 2009. In just his second NFL season, he blew those numbers out of the water, throwing for 1,600 more yards, 15 more TDs, and 12 less INTs. Just 23 years old out of Kansas State, Freeman is posting numbers close to Brad Johnson in ’03, the last time Tampa Bay won the Lombardi Trophy.
Strengths: Coaches have to wipe the drool from their mouths when they see this guy throw on a pair of shoulder pads. Standing at 6-6 and weighing 248 lbs, Freeman is an absolute monster at the quarterback position. Add his mobility and arm strength to the list, and defensive coordinators suddenly find their tail between their legs.
Weaknesses: The major flaw in his rookie season was turnovers. Freeman ranked 4th in the NFL with 18 interceptions in 2009. However, it seems he found a solution to the problem during the off-season because he threw 12 less INTs in 2010. It sounds crazy, but does this guy have a weakness? Maybe his only limitation is Tampa Bay’s receiving corp.
Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers)
Background: As mentioned earlier, Newton displayed one of the best rookie performances ever, by throwing for 422 yards in his NFL debut. The Panthers have to be ecstatic seeing their number one overall pick playing this well. Last season, Panthers’ starter Jimmy Clausen never threw more than 300 yards and one touchdown in a game; Newton was better in both categories in just his first NFL start. The Heisman Trophy winner and NCAA National Champ from Auburn posted the 2nd highest yardage total among all QBs in Week 1.
Strengths: Almost identical in size to Josh Freeman, 6-6, 248 lbs, Newton is another beast among men. His combination of size, arm strength, and mobility made it impossible for Carolina to pass on this young stud. Although it is too early in his career to say his mentality is a strength, you have to love how the 22-year old carries himself in an interview. Following his epic performance, all Newton could think about was not being able to lead his team to victory, his first loss in over a year. “The last time I lost a game was Navarro Junior College,” Newton said. “What do you want me to say, it feels great? It is not a comfortable feeling for me.”
Weaknesses: The only flaw in his rookie debut came in red zone efficiency. On the final drive of the game, the Panthers had a first down on the Arizona 11-yard line. Newton’s next four plays were incomplete passes, and the fifth fell short of the end zone.
No question about it, the NFC South is stacked at the quarterback position. With Drew Brees continuing to display his pro-bowl career, and young gun-slingers Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman, and Cam Newton entering the NFL’s spotlight, one thing is for sure: defensive backs around the league are all starting to shake as they see NFC South teams on their schedule.
That's kind of weird. What about the other swimmers? If she had any respect for the others around her, she would take one in the bathroom, like every other person.
Casey Pachall, TCU (UL-Monroe)
Replacing a legend is never easy, but despite the loss to Baylor, Pachall has made it look easy. He has six touchdown passes to only one interception with 56 yards rushing and another score on the ground. He has completed more than 70 percent of his passes and will be facing the 79th-rated pass efficiency defense thus far in 2011. Against FBS talent this fall, ULM has allowed 280 yards and three touchdowns. This is Pachall’s team now, and owners should have him in the line-up this week.
Tyler Hansen, Colorado (Colorado State)
Throwing for a single-game school record isn’t something that happens every day, but that is what Hansen did last week. His 474 yards are a Buffaloes record and the current single-game high of the 2011 season. He has thrown at least two TDs in each game thus far and accounted for three scores against Colorado State in last year’s opener. Start all of your Buffs.
Aaron Murray, Georgia (Coastal Carolina)
The Dawgs might have lost to South Carolina last week, but Murray is clearly the real deal under center. He threw four TDs and 248 yards against the Cocks last week and will look to expand on that line this week. Certainly, Mark Richt will establish the run behind star freshman Isaiah Crowell, but Murray should post excellent numbers against a far inferior opponent.
James Franklin, Missouri (Western Illinois)
There is still plenty to learn for Franklin, but the talent is obvious. In two career starts, he already has a 300-yard passing game, a 100-yard rushing game, completed 63.2 percent of his passes, has only one interception and has experienced a hostile road overtime atmosphere. Expect Gary Pinkel to get his Tigers back on track against lowly Western Illinois.
Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M (Idaho)
The Aggies will welcome a chance to play actual football after constant expansion drama has engulfed College Station during the bye week. Tannehill and company has to be hungry to get back onto the field, and the poor Vandals will play the role of punching bag. Idaho allowed 478 yards of offense against Bowling Green in week one and should be no match – on either side of the ball – for the powerful TAMU attack.
Derek Carr, Fresno State (North Dakota)
Week Two was a huge learning experience for the sophomore slinger from The Valley. Against an elite-level defense in an incredibly stressful environment, Carr threw 254 yards and scored two touchdowns against Nebraska. The younger brother of former first overall pick David Carr has proven his mettle in only two starts against quality BCS competition. Against North Dakota, Carr’s full talent should flourish.
Bench These Quarterbacks:
Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State (at Virginia Tech)
The Hokies held Dom Davis and East Carolina's high-flying attack to 127 yards on 38 attempts last weekend. That should be all fantasy owners need to keep Aplin far away from the starting line-up. Bud Foster has his defense back where it belongs: Rated in the top ten nationally by allowing 202.5 yards per game through two weeks.
Tyler Bray, Tennessee (at Florida)
The Vols sophomore had all day to throw last week against Cincinnati, but fans can bet that the law firm of Powell, Floyd, Easley, Green and Howard won’t allow Bray to leave the Swamp untouched. The Gators have won six straight over Tennessee and have played excellent defense against weak opponents FAU and UAB. Florida has allowed a total of three points this season. Additionally, Bray has started seven total games in his brief career – none of which were outside of the state of Tennessee or against a true road crowd.
Kriss Proctor, Navy (at South Carolina)
Against Delaware, Proctor averaged eight yards per carry on 22 attempts. Against Western Kentucky, he ran 16 times at a 1.4 yards per carry clip. South Carolina will easily be the toughest defense Proctor has faced thus far, but the major weakness of the Cocks’ unit has been the secondary. Proctor has attempted 14 passes all season, so it’s the front seven in Columbia that will play the key role. The upside is very limited, even if Navy keeps it close.
Keith Price, Washington (at Nebraska)
The good news in Seattle is that Steve Sarkisian has clearly found his quarterback. The bad is that Price is facing an angry Huskers team in Memorial Stadium. He did get plenty of experience in garbage time at Oregon last season but has never seen anything like the atmosphere he will be facing this weekend. The upside is extremely limited as even playing well last week, Derek Carr managed 14.6 fantasy points passing last week against Nebraska.
Kolton Browning, UL-Monroe (at TCU)
Until he gets to Sun Belt play, Browning shouldn’t be anywhere near the starting line-up. He is 26-50 for 246 yards and one touchdown in two games thus far. Enough said.
Play with caution:
Nick Foles, Arizona (Stanford)
Against the Cardinal last year, Foles threw for 248 yards, one TD and one INT. It was his lowest yardage total since the 10-9 Cal win back on September 25, 2010. Stanford has held both starting quarterbacks it has faced this fall to less than 200 yards passing and has looked like a national title contender in its two blowout wins.
Corey Robinson, Troy (at Arkansas)
There is a chance that Robinson could throw a few garbage time touchdowns, but Arkansas will dominate this one from the opening kickoff. A similar line to his Clemson performance feels right for Robinson: 258 yards, TD, INT.
Alex Gillett, Eastern Michigan (at Michigan)
The Wolverines defense doesn’t scare anyone, but there is a clear talent differential in this one. After a quality first week (25.2 TFP), Gillett looked terrible against Alabama State, completing only seven of his 19 passes for 61 yards.
Landry Jones at EJ Manuel (Oklahoma at Florida State)
Brock Osweiler at Nathan Scheelhaase (Arizona State at Illinois)
Kirk Cousins at Tommy Rees (Michigan State at Notre Dame)
Jordan Webb at Tevin Washington (Kansas at Georgia Tech)
Barrett Trotter at Tajh Boyd (Auburn at Clemson)
Start These Running Backs:
Isaiah Crowell, Georgia (Coastal Carolina)
Against South Carolina, Crowell had his nationally televised coming out party. He runs with excellent patience and vision and can be used in all facets of the offense. Look for Richt to get him plenty of work against the lowly Chanticleers.
Andre Williams, Boston College (Duke)
Montel Harris has yet to practice and the redshirting rumors are growing louder in Chestnut Hill. That leaves the carries in the very capable arms of Andre the Giant. Duke allowed 205 yards on 30 carries (6.8 yards per carry) and two touchdowns against Stanford last week. Expect Boston College to get back to its roots and pound the football in an effort to win its first game of the season.
Isi Sofele, Cal (Presbyterian)
This Golden Bear hasn’t shown the same talent as the Bests and the Lynchs of past years, but he still has topped 80 yards and 20 carries in both games this fall. He scored twice against Fresno State, and against the Blue Hose, Sofele should be very successful.
Terrance Ganaway, Baylor (Stephen F. Austin)
The starting tailback for Baylor has been champing at the bit to get back onto the field after the 15-day layoff. He rushed 24 times for 120 yards against TCU; expect Art Briles to get him rolling early against the FCS opponent.
Josh Harris, Wake Forest (Gardner-Webb)
Harris has carried the ball 22 and 23 times respectively against Syracuse (66 yards) and NC State (96 yards). The level of competition is far below that of the previous first two weeks, so the sophomore future star could have a big day against the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
DeAnthony Thomas, Oregon (Missouri State)
This one is a no-brainer. Thomas has touched the ball 12 times on the ground for 103 yards with one score and eight times for 140 yards with two scores through the air. The Black Mamba is a dynamic breakaway threat who can score from anywhere on the field, and against Missouri State, he should get plenty of work.
Michael Hayes, Houston (at Louisiana Tech)
Here is the touches breakdown in the crowded Cougars’ pseudo-backfield: Charles Sims has four carries and two receptions, Bryce Beall has 18 carries and one receptions and Hayes has 20 carries and 11 receptions. Clearly, Case Keenum and Kevin Sumlin like Hayes’ game the most. And against La. Tech, there will boatloads of points scored on both sides.
If you are desperate:
Curtis Underwood, NC State (South Alabama)
Marc Tyler, USC (Syracuse)
Christine Michael, Texas A&M (Idaho)
Eddie Lacy, Alabama (North Texas)
Kendrick Hardy, Jamal Woodyard, Southern Miss (Houston)
Bench These Running Backs:
Lance Dunbar, North Texas (at Alabama)
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Bama has the best defense I have seen on any college field thus far. Dunbar will be held completely in check this week. Look elsewhere.
Adonis Thomas, Toledo (Boise State)
This makes two weeks in a row that one of the MAC’s best fantasy plays needs to be on the bench. Boise State has an NFL front line on defense and will be even tougher than Ohio State – who held Thomas to 47 yards on 14 carries.
Chris Polk, Washington (at Nebraska)
There has been a lot of talk about how Nebraksa has struggled on defense this fall. The Huskers couldn’t stop Bobby Rainey in week one of last season, but then turned it on the rest of the way. Robbie Rouse ran for 169 yards against Big Red last week, but he needed 36 carries to get there. There is no doubt that Bo Pelini has lit a fire under his defensive unit, and the Huskers will come out fired up against a team they are extremely familiar with – this is the third meeting in roughly one calendar year for the two.
Tauren Poole, Tennessee (at Florida)
Poole has been on the verge of breaking a big run through two games but has been held in relative check. He has 45 carries for 199 yards and only the one score thus far in 2011. But the Florida Gators front seven will be by far the toughest test he has faced. He managed only 23 yards on 10 carries last season in Knoxville against Florida. Is allowing 1.5 points per game a good thing?
Antwon Bailey, Syracuse (at USC)
Bailey was excellent in Week One and wasn’t asked to do to much (for some reason) against Rhode Island in Week Two. The Trojans defense looks to be dramatically improved from a year ago after holding the very underrated John White IV to 56 yards on 20 carries last week.
Perry Jones, Kevin Parks, Virginia (at North Carolina)
Javonti Greene, Dominique Sherrer, Eastern Michigan (at Michigan)
Jeff Scott, Ole Miss (at Vanderbilt)
Bernard Pierce, Temple (Penn State)
Ray Graham, Pitt (at Iowa)
Wide Receiver To Watch:
Emory Blake, Auburn (at Clemson)
At least 95 yards in each game and a score in both games. Should be high scoring.
Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech (Houston)
Has 13 catches in the first two games and this one should feature lots of points.
Josh Boyce, TCU (UL-Monroe)
At least five catches and 76 yards in each game thus far. Looks like Pachall’s go-to.
Sammy Waktins, Clemson (Auburn)
Getting a lot touches as only a freshman (5 att., 11 rec.) and should be high scoring.
DeVonte Christopher, Utah (at BYU)
One of the Pac-12’s most underrated wideouts. Huge game (11-136-1) last week.
B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State (at Notre Dame)
Sparty’s all-time leading receiver should take advantage of the weak Irish secondary.
Taveon Rogers, New Mexico State (UTEP)
Has scored a touchdown and reached at least 88 yards in each game thus far.
Top Ten DEF/ST Spot Starts:
1. South Florida (FAMU)
2. Oregon (Missouri State)
3. NC State (South Alabama)
4. UCF (at FIU)
5. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
6. Texas A&M (Idaho)
7. Texas Tech (at New Mexico)
8. South Carolina (Navy)
9. Western Kentucky (Indiana State)
10. Arkansas (Troy)
Other Week 3 Content:
Mitch Light's Weekend on Tap: Week's Top Ten Games
This article was originally published in the 2004 Athlon Sports Racing Edition Vol. 2/2004
Realignment… Athlon Style
For the past few years, NASCAR has been adding, subtracting, swapping, cutting and pasting the Cup schedule. It has become clear to die-hard fans that NASCAR has less interest in staying true to its roots than in taking the series to the big markets across the country. While change is natural to any sport’s evolution, many feel that taking dates from the old tracks that have character (North Wilksboro, Darlington, Rockingham) and moving them to the new cookie-cutter tracks (California, Kansas, Chicago, Las Vegas) will make aerodynamics more important than driver skill. If we wanted follow-the-leader, spread-out-style racing, we’d watch the IRL.
We at Athlon believe that a diverse schedule that takes the sport to many areas of the country is important to the continued growth of NASCAR. At the same time, we believe that loyalty goes a long way in the eyes of the fans. The following is how we would put together the 2004 Nextel Cup schedule if we were in charge at the France Palace. We have no hidden agendas or allegiances to anyone — except to true fans. Our purpose is to provide the best, most entertaining schedule for the most avid fans while supporting NASCAR’s plans for future growth. So the SMI/ISC tug-of-war does not play into our schedule, but you better believe Darlington getting its Labor Day date back does.
2/7 Bud Shootout Daytona Int’l Speedway
2/12 Gatorade Twin 125s Daytona Int’l Speedway
2/15 Daytona 500 Daytona Int’l Speedway
2/22 Subway 400 North Carolina Motor Speedway
2/29 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Daytona is where it should be on the schedule, and what better way to follow up the glitz and glamour than with a trip to historic, quaint little ol’ Rockingham. Follow that up with a trip out west to Las Vegas, which will now fall on what was an off weekend. More about that off-weekend later.
3/7 Kentucky 400 Kentucky Speedway
3/14 Checker Auto Parts 500 Phoenix International Raceway
3/21 Golden Corral 500 Atlanta Motor Speedway
3/28 Samsung/Radio Shack 500 Texas Motor Speedway
Here’s where we start having a little fun. The drivers seem to love the new Kentucky Speedway, with most taking a trip or two up there to test each year. Give that track a date and you’ll attract the Louisville/Lexington/Cincinnati crowd. Out to Phoenix and its fun little one-mile oval, then down to Atlanta for the annual March race in the Peach State and on out to Texas, whose date is moved up one weekend.
4/4 Off-Weekend #1
4/10 Food City 500 Bristol Motor Speedway
4/18 Aaron’s 499 Talladega Superspeedway
4/25 Banquet 400 Kansas Speedway
April gets real silly. Let’s give the boys a break on the first weekend of the month. That’s seven points races to start the season followed by an off-weekend. This is a trend that will continue throughout the season. Why run 20 weekends in a row if you can space your off-dates evenly? Follow that up with the first of two Bristol night races. That’s right, run both Bristol dates on a Saturday night. Why? Because Bristol is just better at night. Talladega makes for two awesome weekends in a row on the 18th, followed by the annual bore-fest at Kansas.
5/2 Advance Auto Parts 500 Martinsville Speedway
5/9 Pocono 500 Pocono Raceway
5/16 Colorado 500 Pikes Peak Int’l Raceway
5/22 Nextel All-Star Challenge Lowe’s Motor Speedway
5/30 Coca Cola 600 Lowe’s Motor Speedway
Let’s start May at Martinsville and then head up to Pocono and pray for good weather for its one and only race of the year. Out to Pikes Peak for the inaugural Cup race there. This one mile D-shaped oval puts on a heck of a show when the Busch boys come to town. Plus, you’re hitting a new fan base and, hey, the track’s got character. The All-Star race and the 600 round out the month as usual. And by the way, we think the All-Star race should stay in Charlotte.
6/6 Off-Weekend #2
6/12 Pontiac Performance 400 Richmond International Raceway
6/20 MBNA America 400 Dover International Speedway
6/27 Michigan 400 Michigan International Speedway
Another off-weekend to start June. As with Bristol, we’re going to run both Richmond races at night. Up to Dover, because the weather should permit it by June, and then over to Michigan.
7/3 Auto Club 500 California Speedway
7/11 Tropicana 400 Chicagoland Speedway
7/17 New England 300 New Hampshire Int’l Speedway
7/25 Subway 500 Martinsville Speedway
OK, OK, before you throw a rod, let’s get one thing straight: the Labor Day date needs to be at Darlington. Therefore, we’ll throw California a bone and give them a high-profile Saturday night date on the Fourth of July weekend. We’ll get back to Daytona soon enough, don’t worry. From there, it’s up to Chicago and New Hampshire only, and we mean only, if NHIS puts some lights up. Then we go short track racin’ again at Martinsville, moving their race weekend up from October.
8/1 Off-Weekend #3
8/8 Brickyard 400 Indianapolis Motor Speedway
8/15 Dodge/Save Mart 350 Infineon Raceway
8/22 Ford 400 Homestead-Miami Speedway
8/28 Chevy Monte Carlo 400 Richmond Int’l Speedway
August starts with an off-weekend after seven weeks on the road. Indy’s weekend stays pretty much where it’s always been. No real change there. Then out to Infineon, so we can run our one and only road course. Down to Miami, which is moved up from the last weekend because let’s face it, Miami is the ultimate anticlimax to the season. Then back under the lights at Richmond for some hood stompin’.
9/5 Mountain Dew Southern 500 Darlington Raceway
9/12 Michigan 400 Michigan Int’l Speedway
9/19 Lone Star 500 Texas Motor Speedway
9/25 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 Atlanta Motor Speedway
We’re giving Darlington its Labor Day date back, provided they run it under the lights. I doubt we’ll get too much negative feedback on that. Up to Michigan before it gets too cold. Texas gets its coveted second date which we hope will end the silly feud between NASCAR and Bruton Smith (er, we mean Francis Ferko). Finally, on to Atlanta, where AMS’ weekend gets bumped up from October. While we’re at it, let’s run Atlanta under the lights. The cars look spectacular qualifying at night, so why not turn all 43 of them loose in prime time.
10/3 EA Sports 500 Talladega Superspeedway
10/10 Off-Weekend #4
10/16 Athlon Sports 400 Nashville Superspeedway
10/23 Pop Secret 500 California Speedway
10/30 Sharpie 500 Bristol Motor Speedway
We start our stretch run at Talladega, then give everyone a week off to catch their breath. The Cup boys then visit Nashville Superspeedway for its first-ever Cup race. Even better: it’s under the lights. California gets its second date, which will also be run at night, as will the Sharpie 500 at Bristol.
11/6 UAW-GM Quality 500 Lowe’s Motor Speedway
11/13 Pepsi 400 Daytona International Speedway
11/21 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 Darlington Raceway
The months of October and November are set up to take the Series to some of its most popular events. Imagine a race for the title coming down to the final few weeks where the guys have to slug it out at tracks such as Talladega, Bristol, Lowe’s, Daytona and Darlington. In our world anything is possible, so November shapes up to be truly amazing. Lowe’s is run at night in the teams’ backyard. A Saturday night race down in Daytona, where we’ve taken their July 4th race and placed it in “the stretch run.” And finally the season wraps up at the one track that tests every driver’s mettle — Darlington.
So let’s summarize: We run a bunch of events on Saturday night because night racing rules. It’s as simple as that. Plus, that makes for more prime-time exposure. You’ve still got 36 points events, and the season still encompasses 41 weeks. Some tracks must lose a date, and some must be awarded one. Off-weekends are spread out evenly, and the end of the season brings possibly the most exciting eight-week stretch of racing imaginable. As fans of racing, we feel this is the ultimate format to watch today’s NASCAR bridge a gap between the old and the new. Now if only we could get NASCAR on the phone…
By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)
I had a chance recently to talk college football with former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, who won 169 games in 23 years with the Falcons. The College Football Hall of Famer now spends time with his family in South Carolina and Oklahoma and does great work with his foundation. He also votes in the Legends Poll, which will be released on Sunday. Coach DeBerry discusses the state of collegiate athletics, realignment, current teams and some of the greatest players and places from his outstanding career.
Patrick Snow: There have been several scandals lately, and many at storied places like Miami, USC and Ohio State. What do you make of the current state of college football, and what coaches can do about it?
Fisher DeBerry: It’s very disheartening because that’s not what intercollegiate athletics is all about. The purpose of intercollegiate athletics is to teach life values, and the most important person in the program is the player himself. We’re trying to help them become the people they want to be and have opportunities to find their rightful place in society. I think that’s what the basic foundation of college athletics is all about. Unfortunately, the almighty dollar has crept in the sport and caused a lot of pressure and certainly a lot of unfortunate things to happen. It’s a sad indictment on college football, to be honest with you, but we need to understand that coaches are in the game to help kids. I know the heart and soul of these coaches, and most went into coaching for the same reason I did - to help kids. However, they are certainly not in control of the kids 24/7.
PS: Do you see any validity to players being paid?
FD: First of all, again, it defies the main intent of what college athletics is all about. That intent should be to get an education and have a great experience, and so I think anything more than the scholarship, room and board, tuition and what the NCAA allows is what everybody should do. We have Pell Grants and things like that for kids that really need it, but the unfortunate thing is that some kids don’t use that money the way that’s in their best interest. I don’t think adding more money necessarily is the answer. I think we have to scrutinize more the people who give to the programs and hang around the programs. Kids are kids. They don’t have their hands out, but if somebody walks up to them and wants to help them in an illegal way - and it’s substantial – then it’s very tempting. They’re kids, and I think we have to be very conscious of who is hanging around the program.
PS: Let’s move on the field. The Legends Poll comes out this Sunday, but who are some of your favorites this season to play in the BCS and for the national championship?
FD: Some of the teams I like are Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Florida State, Stanford, Boise State, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. There are a lot of teams right below them that will make a lot of noise and can have a major impact on what it will look like at the end of the season, but that’s my ten to start out. Oklahoma has a great quarterback and outstanding receivers, particularly [Ryan] Broyles. They offensive line has experience, but they had a tragic loss at linebacker and some injuries there as well. They have Florida State this weekend, so that will be a big game for both teams. Oklahoma probably has the most depth. Alabama has a great running back but may have a question at quarterback. They certainly have great athletes throughout the program.
PS: Who do you think could challenge Alabama and LSU in the SEC?
FD: I think South Carolina. They have some big-time players and just need the quarterback to be more consistent. They have a running back as good as anyone in the country and a receiver as there is in the country. Their thing is to improve defensively, and they have some really good edge players. It’s the first time in four or five years that they have the same offensive line coach for two years in a row. The quarterback has experience, and there’s no substitute for playing experience. And you know Arkansas, if their quarterback steps up, they can surprise a lot of people. They have some doggone good wide receivers, and their defense is getting better.
PS: You really like Nebraska and Wisconsin. Are they the most likely pair to play in the first Big Ten Championship Game?
FD: Yes, but I don’t think you can rule out Penn State or Michigan State, and Ohio State is Ohio State. They still have some great players and they still have great tradition. Adversity can bond a team and bring the best out in them, and we’ll just have to see how they handle losing a star quarterback and a great coach.
PS: We now have Nebraska in the Big Ten and Colorado and Utah in the Pac-12, and the Texas A&M to the SEC story has dominated the headlines. What do you make of the current expansion, especially if leagues go past the current 12-team threshold towards 16-team “Superconferences”? Is this a bad direction for college football?
FD: Having gone down that road, I think it is. Twelve is the best number, and the reason I say that is in the Western Athletic Conference we went to 16 teams. At the first conference meeting we had an agenda that we thought would take three hours, and after three hours we had only covered two items. We had to come back and have an extra meeting the next day, something a lot of coaches did not like. What happens when you get 16bteams is that you’re not going to be able to satisfy everybody. It’s so important that everybody is behind the conference and believes in everything going on within the conference, and they want to promote it. With too many [teams], teams begin to look out for themselves more than they do the overall betterment of the conference itself. It seems to be a very workable number to have 12, but money is going to dictate these decisions. You’re looking for TV markets and bringing revenue in.
PS: Let’s talk about some of the superlatives from your outstanding career. Who would you consider your best player on the college level?
FD: The best player we had at the Academy overall was Chad Hennings [also a College Football Hall of Famer], and he went on to have nine years in the NFL after fulfilling his military obligation. He got three Super Bowl rings. He really grew in the program and had great God-given skills. He had so much pride and wanted to be great, and he went on to win the Outland Trophy his senior year. Chad was just a great role model for college football and the Academy. We also had a great quarterback in Dee Dowis, who ran the triple option probably as well as anyone has ever run it. For a number of years, he held the NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback. And Beau Morgan was a great player for us as well. He was the first quarterback in successive years to rush and pass for over 1,000 yards in the same season.
PS: Who would you say was the best player you faced, the guy that gave you and your staff the most headaches?
FD: Oh my. In 23 years at the Academy, there were so many. I held my breath every time Rocket Ismail got his hands on the ball for Notre Dame. Also Allen Pickett, the great running back, and certainly Tim Brown [both of Notre Dame]. I always wondered where he was on the field. Those were great players. Robert Smith of Ohio State was one that every time he touched it you held your breath, but we were fortunate to beat them in the Liberty Bowl. Marshall Faulk too; we were fortunate to beat them two of the three years he was at San Diego State. He was one of the great ones. LaDainian Tomlinson of TCU has his coming out party when they beat us 35-34, and it was the only game we lost that year .
PS: What were some of the best environments where you coached and that represent what college football should be?
FD: I always enjoyed playing at Notre Dame, especially before the expansion of the stadium. The fans were right on top of you there, but they really appreciated good football. Tennessee was a fun place to go and play. They had 106,000 people or so, and they must have played “Rocky Top” 200 times. BYU was a tough place to play, especially when you got behind and their crowd really got into it. Another great place to play is Army because their kids really get into the game.
PS: What is the moment that still hurts the most from your career? Maybe one where you still look back and wish that you could redo it.
FD: In 1985, Penn State and Air Force were the only two undefeated teams in that last game of the season. Penn State played Pittsburgh and won and had we beaten BYU, it was very likely we would have played them [Penn State]. BYU intercepted a pass in the end zone and beat us 28-21 that day. That was really tough. Also, we played Northwestern in 1994. We had a pretty good football team but had lost to Colorado State and BYU in the first two games. Northwestern came in, and we dominated the game all day long but fumbled right before the half and that would have put us up. Late in the game it was 10-7, and we fumbled the ball on the same play as the end of the first half. They picked it up and ran 98 yards, and we lose 14-10. However, that team did come back and win eight of the next nine games, and I was really proud of them. One more was the one-point loss we had at Tennessee in 2006. I went for two at the end and got beat 31-30. If I had it to do over again, I told Chad Hall who’s now with the Eagles when I was driving through Knoxville last summer that I would run the same play again.
PS: What are some favorite rivalries in college football, whether you were part of them or just enjoy watching?
FD: Alabama-Auburn is obviously a special game. Certainly our [Air Force] games with Army and Navy were very, very special. Living now in Oklahoma part of the time, that is certainly a special game between Oklahoma and Texas. Your USC-UCLA games, Oregon-Oregon State games, South Carolina-Clemson games; it’s those instate rivalries that really excite you about college football.
PS: Who are some of the coaches who you admire and respect the most?
FD: I have great respect for Bobby Bowden. Bobby and I have been good friends. When I was named the head coach at Air Force, I picked up the phone and called Bobby to find out what I was supposed to do. Bobby was so gracious, and we remain good friends. Certainly I have a great respect for Grant Teaff and his coaching, and he was always a great mentor. I think Bob Stoops sets a great standard and is a great role model for all coaches across the country. We have so many great coaches in the game today, and sometimes we need to recognize more the great things they do on and off the field. Coaches care about the communities that they live in and work in, and they care about the people in their state and those who support their program. Coaches are my heroes because I know and respect so much the heart of a coach.
Michigan fans have to be elated with new coach Brady Hoke after the Wolverines’ stunning finish against Notre Dame. The Big House was rather quiet at the end of three quarters, but then a first-ever, late night party ensued as Denard Robinson led UM back to an improbable, last-second win over the Irish. But how far can Michigan go? The Wolverines tied for seventh in the Big Ten a year ago, and that was after finishing tied for last in 2009. They had one of college football’s worst defenses last year, and Hoke’s crew still needs more from their running backs. In the Legends Division this season, no one saw Michigan competing with Nebraska or Michigan State to go to the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. We’ll find out more about the Spartans on Saturday, while Nebraska’s defense looked shaky against Fresno State and Iowa’s was horrible in its loss to Iowa State.
Is Michigan a legitimate threat to win the Legends Division?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Michigan is off to a great start, but it’s a bit premature to call the Wolverines a legitimate threat to win the Legends Division. Brady Hoke’s club features one of the most exciting players in the game in quarterback Denard Robinson, but the overall level of talent — especially on defense — isn’t up to Michigan standards. Greg Mattison was an outstanding hire as the new defensive coordinator, but he can only do so much. Last year, Michigan ranked 110th in the nation in total defense, and the ’11 unit is off to a shaky start after getting torched for 513 yards in the win over Notre Dame. I am convinced that Hoke will win big at Michigan — but it will take some time. This season, a realistic expectation is eight wins overall and a breakeven mark in the Big Ten.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I don’t think Michigan will win the Legends Division, but the Wolverines have to at least be in the conversation. When we made our preseason picks, Michigan was the most difficult team to figure out in this division. With a new coach and a change in offensive schemes, it was uncertain how quickly the Wolverines could emerge as Big Ten contenders. Through two games, the defense has shown some improvement, while the offense is still trying to find his rhythm under new coordinator Al Borges. The Legends Division favorite has to be Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers have not looked dominant through two weeks. The Wolverines have a difficult schedule ahead, with road trips to Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa, with Nebraska and Ohio State visiting Ann Arbor in late November. The Wolverines have a chance if the Cornhuskers slip, but I think it’s more likely Michigan will finish second or third in the Legends Division.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Absolutely not. While Michigan has improved and Brady Hoke has won the locker room, the Maize and Blue will not be playing in Indianapolis in December. You win the Big Ten in the trenches and the Wolverines will eventually be strong at the point of attack. But Michigan State and Nebraska have superior talent along the line of scrimmage, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. And Iowa will be a lot better on November 5 than they were in Ames last weekend. A trip to Illinois precedes Nebraska and Ohio State on the schedule. While Michigan could start 6-0, I would be shocked to see it win more than three of its final six games.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Michigan could win the Legends Division in Brady Hoke’s first year. Nebraska should still be the favorite, but the Huskers’ defense needs to play up to its potential and Taylor Martinez must stay healthy. We do not know enough about Michigan State right now to see how an inexperienced offensive line will perform in league play, and the Wolverines can definitely beat Iowa and Northwestern. Michigan is still adjusting to a new offense and defense, but it helps to have one of the game’s most dynamic playmakers in Denard Robinson while that is taking place. Hoke’s team should improve greatly over the next three weeks against Eastern Michigan, San Diego State and Minnesota. Michigan can win in Lansing but then comes a tough November. While UM does avoid Wisconsin and Penn State in the Leaders Division, the trip to Illinois will not be easy after going to Iowa the week prior. Obviously the last two games of the season will be very tough – Nebraska and Ohio State in the Big House – but the team should be playing Hoke’s style effectively by that time. I’m not saying Michigan is the favorite, but the Wolverines do pose a legitimate threat to win the division.
by Mark Ross
When the NFL announced in March that kickoffs would be moved from the 30-yard-line to the 35-yard-line, it was not well received. Everyone from players, coaches and team executives to analysts and fans voiced their displeasure at a decision the league said was made to address player safety concerns. The general consensus among the dissenters was this — moving the kickoff five yards would result in basically eliminating any sort of return.
So now that Week 1 of the new NFL season is in the books, did the new kickoff rule have that much of an impact on the games? Yes, but not necessarily in the manner that so many predicted.
Moving kickoffs to the 35-yard-line definitely resulted in more touchbacks, substantially more in fact. In 2010, only 24 of 137 kickoffs (18 percent) in Week 1 went for touchbacks, according to STATS LLC. This season that number grew to roughly half as 79 of 162 (49 percent) kickoffs went for touchbacks. However, what must not be missed is what happened when one of them was returned.
Three kickoffs were returned for touchdowns, which ties the record for most in NFL history in an opening week. The record was initially set in 1970 and then tied in 1998. Last season only one kickoff was returned for a touchdown in Week 1. And if anything, moving the kickoff back five yards actually produced more exciting kickoff returns, highlighted by Green Bay Packers rookie Randall Cobb's record-tying 108-yard kickoff return in the Thursday night game against the New Orleans Saints that marked the start of the 2011 NFL season.
Besides Cobb, the other two kickoff returns each were more than 100 yards as well as the Minnesota Vikings' Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff against the San Diego Chargers 103 yards for the score and the San Francisco 49ers' Ted Ginn Jr. returned one 102 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in the 4th quarter of that game.
And Ginn didn't stop there. Following the kickoff return and a three-and-out by the Seahawks, Ginn returned the subsequent punt 55 yards for a touchdown to put the game out of reach. With that return, Ginn became the first player to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same game in the opening week of an NFL season.
Ginn's punt return for a touchdown was one of five that happened during Week 1 action. The Saints' Darren Sproles got the first one of the 2011 season on Thursday night against the Packers, followed by Jacoby Jones of the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals rookie Patrick Peterson in their games on Sunday. The fifth and final one came courtesy of Eric Decker, who returned one 90 yards for his Denver Broncos against the Oakland Raiders on Monday night. That game also had the Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski tying the NFL record for longest field goal made when he booted one from 63 yards out to end the first half.
In total, the eight combined kick-return touchdowns (five punt, three kickoff) set a record for the most combined kick-return touchdowns in a single week in NFL history. So using Week 1 as a gauge, it appears that while the new kickoff rule may have significantly reduced the number of kickoff returns in a game, it also created the potential for more exciting plays in the process because of the increased distance (not to mention degree of difficulty) on those that are returned from deep in the endzone.
Besides the impact on the return game, the increased number of touchbacks from the new kickoff rule also meant teams were starting the vast majority of their drives from their own 20-yard-line. Whether or not the two are directly related, this much is clear — the first week of game action using the new kickoff rule featured plenty of prolific offense. Among the other records either set or tied in Week 1, according to the NFL:
- The 752 points scored tied for the ninth-most in a single week in NFL history and were the second-most ever scored in Week 1.
- There were 89 touchdowns scored, tied for the sixth-most in a single week in NFL history and tied for the most ever in Week 1 (2002).
- Teams combined to throw for 7,842 net passing yards, the highest total in any week in NFL history.
- There were five games in which each team had a player throw for at least 300 yards, the most such games in a week in NFL history.
- Fourteen quarterbacks threw for at least 300 yards, the most in a single week in NFL history.
And far as the NFL's concerns about player safety go, the new kickoff rules did produce substantially more touchbacks, which resulted in fewer returns and thereby reduced the number of chances players could get hurt during a return. To be fair, players still got hurt during kickoffs in Week 1, most notably Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff that Harvin returned for a touchdown. But let's be realistic here. This is football we're talking about. It's a physical, contact-oriented, high-impact sport. To quote what one former college football coach once memorably said, "It ain't intramurals brother!"
It's still (really) early, but on first glance, it appears that moving the kickoff results in more exciting returns and the potential for even more offensive fireworks. If that's the case, while the players, coaches and team executives may not still not be crazy about the new rule, and I'm sure you'll still hear a fair number of analysts put their two cents in; I don't think you'll hear the fans complain. And in the end, that's music to the NFL's ears.
With the very unexpected news breaking this week that Sarah Palin and ex-Michigan Wolverine and NBA star Glen Rice had a one-night stand back in the 80s (seriously, did anyone see this one coming?), we thought we'd provide this very informative and helpful flowchart to break down and analyze the various ways in which you could bed Sarah Palin.
Don't you feel like you are much more prepared if you ever come across the Republican presidential candidate (yes, she will be some day) who's known for family values event hough her daughter has two kids out of wedlock and Sarah herself has had one-night stands?
With Peyton Manning missing his first game in decades with a neck injury, we wanted to take a look back at the beginning of his career. This article originally appeared in Athlon's 1995 college football annual.
Archie's boy became a big Manning quickly at Tennessee
by David Climer, The Tennessean
Peyton Manning, resplendent in an orange jersey but still unmistakably green around the edges, jogged toward the huddle on that September evening, mindful of his father's advice.
"Even though you're a freshman," dear old dad told him a couple of days earlier, "take charge of the huddle."
Manning leaned in to complete the 11-man oval, his spotless uniform contrasting against the blood and sweat and smell of the others. It wasn't yet halftime, but Tennessee was already beaten and it showed. Florida was quick-kicking the Vols all over the Neyland Stadium field, and emotions were strained.
Attempting to rally the troops, Manning offered encouraging words to his older, wiser teammates. But the impromptu pep talk didn't get far.
"Shut the bleep up and call the bleeping play," said offensive tackle Jason Layman, three years Manning's senior and infinitely wiser in the ways of the college football world.
Welcome to the Southeastern Conference.
OK, a little journalistic license may have been taken with Layman's comment, but it underscores what Manning discovered in that galvanizing moment. Perhaps it was a coming-of-age for an 18-year-old. In September, it was becoming abundantly clear that the new kid in town would soon become the big man on a campus that adores its football team.
It was a daunting situation. Freshman quarterbacks, even those with such exemplary pedigrees, are not supposed to make the quantum leap from high school skirmishes to major college warfare without suffering inevitable breakdowns in confidence and performance.
"Nobody understands what a huge jump it is," says Heath Shuler, Tennessee's starting quarterback the previous two seasons and now a rising star with the Washington Redskins. "I hear people talk about what a difference it is going from the college game to the NFL, but I really believe it's a bigger jump from high school to college. For a freshman to come into a program like the one at Tennessee and handle everything that goes with being a quarterback in the SEC is unbelievable."
Peyton Manning appreciates the kind words, Heath, but he's been dealing with great expectations as far back as he can remember. He is, after all, Archie Manning's son.
"I'm sure it's been tough on him in some ways because people expect so much of him," says Archie Manning, ever the proud father and source of advice on deportment in the huddle. "But we've always taught him that all he could do was go out there and give it his best shot. He's very ambitious. He's always worked hard and he was a delight to raise. You know, it doesn't matter to me if he's a good football player or not. That's just the way it is with a father and his kids."
Wholesome? Corny? Maybe. But in an era of generation gaps and failures to communicate, it is wonderfully refreshing to stand between the Manning quarterbacks - one past, one present - and soak up all these family values. It's almost as if you've been transported to the set of one of those old TV shows where sons actually listen to the advice of their fathers. It's as if Rocky Top has given way to Walton Mountain.
"I feel really fortunate to have grown up in the environment that I have and to have the opportunities that I've experienced," Peyton says. "One thing I've learned, no matter what happens, is to keep a good, level head. My father's like that."
Maybe that's why Peyton has eased into his role as if it were a comfortable pair of jeans. His first-year credentials are impeccable (Freshman All-America and SEC Freshman of the Year) and his off-field performance is just as flawless. Manning is a media favorite because of his willingness to conduct interviews and offer honest views, and his teammates have embraced him because of a blue-collar work ethic that shows in everything from his increased strength in the weight room ("I gained almost 20 pounds of muscle since I got to campus, and I've got a stronger arm now," he says) to his clutch performance in games.
Manning is a serious young man, but he can still laugh at himself. He smiles while telling the story of a case of mistaken identity that transpired last winter, when, during a visit to a Knoxville hospital, a nurse walked up and began talking as if she knew him. The more she talked, the clearer it became to Manning that the nurse thought he was somebody else.
"She was telling me all these things like, 'I saw your mother earlier today and she was about to go visit so-and-so,' and I could tell she had me confused with somebody," Manning recalls. "I waited until she stopped, and then I said 'Ma'am, I don't believe I'm who you think I am. I'm Peyton Manning.'"
The nurse gasped and scurried away.
This is the exception rather than the rule. Tall and athletic, with just the slightest wobble in his walk and a distinctive boyish face, Manning is the most recognizable figure in Knoxville.
Manning navigates the concrete and grass of the Tennessee campus with a pleasant smile. It's the same way he acted at Isidore Newman, a small, private school in New Orleans, and he didn't think it necessary to alter his lifestyle when he arrived on a campus of more than 25,000 students.
He has grown accustomed to the attention. He's a bit embarrassed by it from time to time, but he recognizes that it comes with the turf.
"Around here," Manning says, "Tennessee football is big, whether you're the starting quarterback or a walk-on who has never played before. People are interested in you. They're always looking at you, speaking to you, asking for autographs or just wanting to shake your hand. I get invited to speak to groups, and if people think what I have to say is that important and that interesting, shoot, I'm going to do it. When I was growing up, I had my heroes too."
It is here you that you begin to gain some real insight into Peyton Manning and the world he comes from. If ever a child was born to be a star quarterback, it is he.
Asked to name his heroes, Manning's face quickly twists into a grin. "I didn't have to go very far to talk to my favorite hero. He lived in the same house. Anytime I needed to talk to him about anything, he was there," Manning says.
He didn't mention his father, an All-America quarterback at the University of Mississippi and former New Orleans Saint, by name, but he didn't have to. Some things go without saying.
The rapport has been built through the years. Young Manning was a regular visitor to Saints practices during his father's career. He even made two Pro Bowl trips with his dad, meeting such quarterbacks as Roger Staubach and Dan Fouts, whom he mentions as personal heroes slightly behind his father.
But Peyton kept his distance. He was very much his father's son.
"I never asked for autographs," the younger Manning says. "I thought shaking somebody's hand and telling them my name and 'nice to meet you' was good enough. I guess I just saw my dad signing so many autographs that it left an impression on me. A lot of times he and I would be walking somewhere, and he'd stop to sign autographs for people and I kind of wanted to keep on going."
There is an irony to it. The kid who didn't collect autographs now finds himself with writer's cramp after every home football game.
"I understand autographs; it's a big thing now," Manning says. "I just accept it as part of the job at Tennessee. People get real excited, and I'm happy to sign for anybody that wants my autograph. After the Mississippi State game, even though we lost, I saw the way people reacted when I came out of the locker room and walked to the bus. I said 'Uh-oh. Something's about to get started here. This is no small deal.'"
Indeed, it was no small deal. It was in that game, a loss in Starkville, Miss., that Todd Helton suffered a knee injury, joining senior Jerry Colquitt on the sideline. Suddenly, Tennessee's two apprentices, Manning and fellow freshman Branndon Stewart, were the Vols' only healthy scholarship quarterbacks. The game had changed.
Exactly four weeks ago after his college debut, an uneventful three-play cameo appearance against UCLA in Pasadena, Calif., and two weeks after the huddle faux pas against Florida, Manning, due to make his first start, found himself the center of attention as the team walked from Gibbs (athletic residence) Hall to Neyland Stadium to meet Washington State.
"When we made that walk from the dorm to the field with all those people around, it hits you how big it all is," Manning says. "I could tell how much it matters to everybody. You realize how fast things are changing. Before the first game against UCLA, I told my friends back home, 'Look for me on the sideline. I'll stand by the coach so I can get some camera time.' The next thing I know, Jerry gets hurt, and I say to myself, 'I'm in for a different type of year here.'
"My dad did the best he could to prepare me for the job. The quarterback job is the hardest one on the field. You can go from the top of the cloud to the lowest place on earth in a flash. He taught me to have a level head about it."
The rewards are evident. Manning completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,141 yards and 11 touchdowns. More importantly, he was 7-1 as Tennessee's starting quarterback, which he calls "the best stat to come out of the whole season."
There are a few regrets, not the least of which centers on the departure of Stewart, who packed up in January and transferred to Texas A&M. But, really, the town wasn't big enough for two young-gun quarterbacks.
"Branndon and I could've been real good friends," Peyton says, "but it was something that we both understood. As long as we were competing, there was no way for us to get real close. I thought I was the better quarterback and Branndon thought he was better. There was constant competition.
"From a football standpoint, it's worked out better for me. It means I'm Tennessee's quarterback. I'm going to be taking the snaps. But as far as the friendship part and losing a teammate from my recruiting class, I miss him. It's different without him around."
And then there is the unpleasant matter of last season's Tennessee-Alabama game. There was one pass play in that contest that Manning would like to have back.
The Crimson Tide led 17-13 when, on a last-minute, fourth-and-three play from the Alabama 7, Manning turned to his left and threw low and outside toward Nilo Silvan. On the other side of the field, running back James Stewart was all but ignored by the Crimson Tide defense.
Manning calls the misfire against Alabama "the low point of the season." He says if he had put the pass on target or turned to the other side and found Stewart "then we might have won that game and ended the 10-year drought of not beating them."
But in the aftermath of the Alabama disappointment, Vol players and fans discovered something about Manning. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, Manning stepped into a hostile environment and completed 18 of 23 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns while leading the Vols to victory at South Carolina.
"You just have to keep learning and keep growing," Manning says.
It is with this attitude he took virtually everything in stride as a freshman. Even when Manning was booed by some Neyland Stadium fans during the lackluster victory over the University of Memphis, he kept on plugging, calling upon his background as the son of a quarterback to help him get through the tough times.
"That's just part of it," he said of the brief booing, which occurred at the height of the Great Freshman Quarterback Debate among Tennessee fans. "I was kind of surprised. I wasn't really aware that there was that much booing in college football. I'd been around the Saints a lot, and in pro football you kind of expect it. But I guess it comes with being a quarterback."
Watching Manning direct the offense at the end of last season and in spring practice, it's hard to believe he is entering his sophomore season and is still a neophyte among college quarterbacks. His cool, efficient style would seem to indicate an older, wiser, more experienced player.
"He's in total control," says Bubba Miller, who anchors the offensive line at center. "Even though he is just a sophomore, he proved to all of us what he could do last year. We have absolute faith in him."
Last year, Manning was the pupil. This year he's the teacher.
"I came in and had so much to learn," he says. "I was lucky to have guys like Jerry and Todd to watch and learn from. I can't tell you how many times I would have a question and instead of going to one of the coaches, I'd just ask one of the older quarterbacks. They really helped me because they had gone through everything and remembered how things looked to them when they first got here. That's why I always try to help out the new quarterbacks. I figured that's part of the responsibility of being a starter."
This hand-me-down approach was a key element in the Vols' spring practice routine. With newcomers Jeremy Bates and Shawn Snyder struggling to learn the nuances of the offense, Manning often intervened with words of advice.
"Peyton has been wonderful," says Snyder, a walk-on from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., who enrolled at Tennessee in January to participate in spring practice and learn the Vols' complicated passing offense. "He's done everything that he can to help us get ready. There isn't enough to say about what he's done to help us both out. He's been a good teacher."
That's all well and good, but the real challenge is on 11 Saturdays this season, when Manning faces up to the expectations of the Big Orange legion. He is no longer a freshman, nor is there any debate about who should be taking the snaps.
"I'll be a lot more comfortable and there'll be a lot more in the offense," Manning says. "They didn't want to overload me last year, but I think I'll be comfortable with the whole package this year. It's amazing what a year can do. I'm much calmer now.
"Now I can get in the huddle and say, "All right, listen up. Let's go make the play.' I couldn't do that in the first few games last year. I've tried to earn the respect of the older guys."
He has. These days, Peyton Manning does more than just call the bleeping play.
Why is the death of Brian Urlacher's mother in the news? Why is it that everywhere I turn, sports pundits on TV and radio feel the need to weigh in on their thoughts on whether Urlacher should or should not play this weekend against the Saints?
The death of Brian's mom should be something that Brian deals with privately. There was a time when media outlets wouldn't dream about discussing this on the air. Now, radio hosts feel as it is their right to give their opinions on how Brian Urlacher should deal with his tragedy. Well, it's not.
Is anything private anymore?
In a perfect world, this is a 20-second news piece about the tragedy and then it should be left alone. How do you think Brian feels hearing his mother's death bandied about across the AM dial like any other news topic? I'm sure he's not too happy about it.
Is it a slow news week? Isn't there a brand new NFL season to discuss? Aren't the baseball playoffs right around the corner? Shouldn't there be other things to talk about?
But this is the problem with the 24-hour news cycle. Everything needs to be discussed to the point of oblivion. If you listen to half the pundits, they will talk about this for 15 minutes, only to end their piece with the standard "But Urlacher should do anything he wants." Like that makes it OK.
As if the gross dissecting of the pros and cons of whether or not he should play while he's grieving the death of his mother can all be wiped away with a platitude before going off to commercial.
As if saying "we all feel for Brian at this time" makes up for the fact that you just spent 10 minutes talking openly about how whether the death of his mother should trump football right now.
If everyone really cared about the way Brian felt right now, maybe you shouldn't keep bringing up the death of his mother on national TV and radio. Because you're only making his time worse right now. Much, much worse.
The Bears season, while important to many, is not more important than family and family tragedy. If we had a little more decency, we would have some perspective about what we choose to discuss and not discuss.
Brian Urlacher, or any player in the national football league, national hockey league, major league baseball--any player anywhere--should be able to deal with matters like this privately, without analysis and discussion for however long he or she needs to.
Football players and athletes everywhere give us so much. Let's give them a little bit back and show a little class and dignity when they need something from us.