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Ohio State’s stay in second place in the Big Ten pecking order did not last very long. After being dethroned as the class of the Big Ten in last season’s conference championship game by Michigan State, the Buckeyes had to wait until Nov. 8 to get back on top. Naturally, and perhaps fittingly, that opportunity to jump back on top of the Big Ten came at the expense of Michigan State.
For Urban Meyer, Saturday night’s win against Michigan State was his first against a top-15 team since being hired as Ohio State’s coach in 2012. With that proverbial monkey off the back of Meyer now, the focus shifts to getting to the Big Ten championship game. With a head-to-head tiebreaker against Michigan State, Ohio State is two more wins away from clinching a return trip to Indianapolis as division champion. Ohio State is also now the team to beat in the Big Ten.
The success of Ohio State this season has been overshadowed by a Week 2 loss at home to Virginia Tech, but the Buckeyes have shown they are a far superior team than the one that took the field that night against the upset-minded Hokies. Sure, the Virginia Tech loss is not good, and looks worse as the season unfolds, but it is also important to remember the situation then and it should be put into perspective. J.T. Barrett was making just his second start for Ohio State, and it showed. Barrett had just taken over the starting job weeks before when Braxton Miller underwent season-ending surgery before it ever got started. Watching Barrett against Michigan State, you would have thought you were watching a completely different player. In reality, you were.
Barrett threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns against a Michigan State defense often referred to as the best in the Big Ten. Maybe the Spartans defense is lacking a no-fly zone this season, but to do what Barrett did on the road against Michigan State should open some eyes to what he and everyone else at Ohio State is doing. Ezekiel Elliott was a beast running the football (154 yards, two touchdowns) and Devin Smith showed off some wheels with 129 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Ohio State’s 49-37 victory in East Lansing was exactly the kind of victory the Buckeyes needed to re-enter the College Football Playoff discussion in the coming weeks, although it is still a crowded pool Ohio State is now swimming in with one-loss teams at TCU and Baylor in the Big 12, Oregon and Arizona State in the Pac-12, Alabama generating momentum in the SEC and undefeated teams at Mississippi State and Florida State. There may still be a chance for Ohio State to reach the playoff, but the only thing Urban Meyer’s team can focus on now is winning its first outright Big Ten championship since 2009.
Next up? A road trip to a surprisingly good Minnesota. Can the Buckeyes keep things rolling against a Gophers squad coming off a 51-14 win over Iowa?
-By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
This was a great weekend to have off if you are Nebraska. With Ohio State and Michigan State doing battle in the big Ten East, Minnesota and Iowa colliding in the west and Wisconsin on the road, this was a good weekend to sit back, relax and check out the rest of the conference. A bye week in November is always nice to have, especially when in the midst of a division race that has certainly heated up. For the Huskers, giving Heisman Trophy candidate running back Ameer Abdullah some extra time to heal up could not have come at a better time either.
Abdullah sprained his knee in Nebraska’s last game against Purdue. Bo Pelini said at the time there was no reason to believe he would have to sit his top offensive player for the big game this week against Wisconsin, and that was clearly some good news. Giving Abdullah an extra week not to worry about missing playing time can only help him and Nebraska as the Huskers look to make a run toward a return to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game. Nebraska has had a rash of bad luck in conference championship games under Pelini, but if Abdullah is healthy for the final games of the season this year could be different.
Nebraska’s only loss this season came on the road against Michigan State, but Nebraska has pretty much been a solid from September through mid-November in Big Ten play. The Huskers have won four conference games by double digits, and Abdullah has piled up big numbers to boost his Heisman profile. At 8-1 coming out of the bye week, these Huskers are looking to shrug aside a recent history of reaching nine wins as a ceiling all too often. With Nebraska currently in a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten West, the pressure is officially on for Nebraska to prove capable of reaching double-digit wins and making a case for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Though there is plenty of competition for the four playoff spots, the odds are still pretty decent a one–loss Big Ten champion would at least be in the conversation. Ohio State and Nebraska are the only two one-loss teams in the conference, and if things go well for Nebraska, the Huskers could have a chance to hand Ohio State a second straight conference championship game loss and make a case for the playoff in the process. There are three critical weeks before this can even become a realistic conversation worth having.
Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota are all tied for first place in the division, which makes the next few weeks especially intriguing. Nebraska travels to Wisconsin this week and hosts Minnesota next week before closing out the regular season at Iowa. Nebraska is going to need to be at full strength to go toe-to-toe in Madison against the Badgers in what should be a terrific showdown of the Big Ten’s top two running backs (Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Abdullah).
There is no question Nebraska is much more of a threat with Abdullah healthy. The extra week of rest could prove to be extremely valuable.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
For stretches of this season, Baylor didn’t look much like Baylor teams of recent vintage, and Bryce Petty didn’t resemble Bryce Petty.
This version of Art Briles’ squad was 7-1 but easy to dismiss in the College Football Playoff race.
On Saturday, Baylor achieved the most un-Baylor-like feat it could muster to put the Bears back into the playoff mix.
The Bears not only won a road game against a ranked team for the first time since 1991, they won in Norman for the first time in school history.
Baylor started Saturday ranked No. 12 but likely will be in striking distance of the playoff when the new rankings are released Tuesday after a 48-14 win over Oklahoma.
“This game, for me, was circled on the calendar,” Petty told the media. “I don't like to make that public, just because every game is a big game. At the same time, I really wanted to win this game, being at Norman. I didn't even know 37 straight losses to top 25 teams. All the stuff that we unraveled, that's big.”
The Bears needed this kind of feat to build legitimacy for the season. True, Baylor defeated TCU 61-58 thanks to a fourth quarter comeback Oct. 11. Otherwise, the Bears’ record entering Saturday didn’t have much meat to it.
Baylor’s non-conference schedule of SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo is forgettable at best, and its loss came by two touchdowns at West Virginia.
More than that, Petty was hardly himself in October and into the first weekend of November. The Big 12 leader in passing efficiency in 2013 completed 47 percent of his passes during the four-game stretch entering Saturday.
That changed in the second quarter in Norman when Petty started to look like the quarterback who led Baylor to a conference title last season.
In the second and third quarters, Petty was 27-of-32 for 322 yards with a touchdown. He picked apart the Oklahoma defense with short completions for the most part, completing 18 consecutive passes at one point.
“It is sometimes good for people to be doubted,” Baylor coach Art Briles told the media. “He has gone through a little bit of that.”
A run game that struggled for most of the game was at least effective in short-yardage situations around the goal line for four scores inside the five-yard line. The hot streak gave Baylor 45 unanswered points to end the game.
How the selection committee views this potential turn in Baylor’s season is a mystery. The non-conference schedule could continue to be an anchor.
And even though Baylor’s first win in Norman is a landmark moment, the victory might not be resume-builder it would be in any other season. Oklahoma picked up its third loss of the season to fall to 3-3 in the Big 12.
Yet if the selection committee likes common opponents, consider that Baylor beat the Sooners by 34 on the road. Kansas State won in Norman, too, by 1. TCU beat Oklahoma by 4 in Fort Worth.
The most important victory, though, may have been a fourth quarter comeback against TCU. The Horned Frogs handed Kansas State its first loss in Big 12 play Saturday, putting Baylor, TCU and the Wildcats into a three-way tie for the conference lead.
Baylor will wrap up the season in Waco against Kansas State, and by then, the Bears could be in position to do the most un-Baylor-like thing of all: Compete for a national championship.
It goes without saying that Minnesota’s offense starts with running the football. David Cobb has already rushed for 1,200 yards this season and leads the team with eight rushing touchdowns. The Minnesota rushing attack has carried the Gophers to a 7-2 record heading into mid-November. It has been needed because the Minnesota passing game has struggled to take flight this season. The Big Ten’s worst passing offense has averaged just 140.2 yards per game this season, but against Iowa it appeared the Gophers finally found some rhythm throwing the football.
After a couple of struggles throwing the football against Purdue and Illinois, Minnesota was smart and accurate with the football against Iowa. Though still relying on the performance of the running game, Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner completed 10 of his 13 pass attempts against the Hawkeyes for 138 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. Leidner had thrown for six touchdowns all season entering the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale.
In the second quarter, Leidner connected with Donovahn Jones for a 44-yard touchdown strike to break a 7-7 tie. Midway through the quarter, Leidner threw the first of two red zone touchdown passes before halftime and Minnesota was on its way to a rout of visiting Iowa. This was not just Minnesota taking advantage of a poor pass defense either. The Hawkeyes entered the week ranked second in the Big Ten against the pass. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging just over 50 percent in completion percentage this season. Leidner completed 76.9 percent of his attempts, by far his most accurate performance this season.
If nothing else, Minnesota gained some confidence passing the football at just the right time. The final few games for Minnesota are still considered an uphill battle for a Minnesota team that is continuing to develop and mature. Next week Minnesota will host Ohio State, with the Buckeyes coming off a big road win at Michigan State. Ohio State is around the middle of the pack in the Big Ten against the pass. So is Nebraska, also still to come on Minnesota’s schedule. Wisconsin, Minnesota’s final opponent this season, Wisconsin, leads the Big Ten against the pass.
Minnesota is going to need to have a balanced attack in order to make a run in these final three games. If the Gophers can get the running game on track early and often, it will open things up for the passing game as well. With what Minnesota has to work with, that is not a terrible way to go. Mitch Leidner may not be a guy who will throw for 250 or 300 yards, but if he can be put in a situation to make some safe throws, Minnesota’s offense should have enough to make things a little more interesting these next few weeks.
This is Minnesota’s time to prove they belong in the Big Ten race. A superior TCU team humbled the Gophers earlier in the season, but Minnesota has matured a bit since that early season loss. Now lets see if the passing game has found its groove at the right time or if it was just a blip on the radar against Iowa.
- by Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
It’s always dangerous to throw out the word “luck” in sports. Are teams lucky, or do good teams make their own luck? Are teams unlucky, or do bad teams simply not make enough big plays at the right time?
Whatever your thoughts on this issue might be, you’d have to agree that Auburn has been quite fortunate since Gus Malzahan took over as its head coach. The Tigers have clearly been one of the elite programs in the past two years, but it’s undeniable the ball has bounced the right way in critical times. From the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare” to the “Kick Six” miracles that helped Auburn reach the 2013 BCS National Championship Game to Laquon Treadwell’s fumble at the goal line in the thrilling win at Ole Miss two weeks ago, the football gods have been smiling on the Tigers.
That all changed Saturday afternoon, when Auburn had two unforced turnovers — one an a bad exchange between quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne inside the 5-yard line and the other on premature snap by center Reese Disumkes at the 28-yard line — in the final minutes of a stunning 41–38 loss at home to Texas A&M.
“We just didn’t get it done when we usually do,” Malzahn said after the game. “Like I sad, we aren’t going to blame anybody. That is just how it goes, and we will be better next time.”
The loss was a significant blow to Auburn’s chances of reaching the College Football Playoff, though it’s a bit early to eliminate the Tigers from the postseason picture. If chaos ensues in the final few weeks of the regular season, there is a possibility that a two-loss team could sneak into the four-team field. And you could argue that no two–loss team would have a more impressive resume than a 10–2 Auburn team that would claim wins at Kansas State, vs. LSU, at Ole Miss, at Georgia and at Alabama.
So Auburn, despite a crushing loss to a mediocre Texas A&M team, could still find a way into the national title hunt — with a little luck, of course.
Oregon crossed another hurdle in its quest to reach college football’s four-team playoff with a 51-27 victory over Utah on Saturday night. The win over the Utes clinched a spot in the Pac-12 Championship for coach Mark Helfrich’s team, and the Ducks have won five in a row since a 31-24 loss to Arizona in early October.
However, Saturday night’s win over Utah could be costly in the long run. Oregon doesn’t release much in the way of injury reports, but a couple key players left the game and were unable to return.
The biggest concern from Saturday night has to be the status of standout center Hroniss Grasu. The senior made his 50th consecutive start in Saturday night’s win over Utah and is one of the leaders for an offense that averages 46 points a game. Grasu left the game with a knee injury and was replaced by Doug Brenner.
In addition to Grasu, Oregon lost tight end Pharaoh Brown due to a serious leg injury, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu left with a toe injury, and defensive end DeForest Buckner left the locker room with ice on his knee.
Considering Oregon’s policy of not discussing injuries, it’s hard to know how long this team could be without Grasu or Buckner. Ekpre-Olomu commented after the game he expects to be ready for Colorado.
While the injuries against Utah are troublesome for Oregon, this team has a bye in Week 12, followed by games against Colorado and Oregon State. The Ducks should be able to beat the Buffaloes and Beavers without being at full strength.
However, it’s the Pac-12 Championship that should be of concern for Helfrich.
Arizona State has won five in a row, and its defense creates a lot of havoc around the line of scrimmage (73 tackles for a loss). And the Sun Devils certainly have no trouble scoring points, as coach Todd Graham’s offense averages 36.7 points per game.
Arizona State still has work to do in order to reach the conference championship, but the Sun Devils are a threat to Oregon’s playoff hopes if they meet in the Pac-12 title game – especially if the Ducks are at less than 100 percent in the injury department.
With the return of tackle Jake Fisher and quarterback Marcus Mariota’s continued play as the best quarterback in college football, Oregon has scored at least 42 points in each of its last five games.
The high-scoring offense has helped to mask some of the issues on defense, where the Ducks rank ninth in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per play (5.7) and last in the conference in third-down defense.
Getting Fisher back was huge for the offense, but how much of a blow would it be to this team if Grasu was out for an extended period?
So far, the Ducks’ national title hopes have yet to be derailed by injury. And with a couple of weeks to get everyone at full strength before the Pac-12 title game, that’s a huge break for Helfrich’s team.
The NFL’s longest-running rivalry takes center stage tonight when the Chicago Bears take on the Green Bay Packers on NBC. Both teams are coming out of their bye having lost their last game, but the Bears (3-5) are in a bigger funk than the Packers (5-3). Chicago has lost four of its past five games after getting bludgeoned by Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and rest of the Patriots 51-23 in Foxboro in Week 8. Green Bay also lost big, 44-23 in New Orleans, prior to going on bye, but had won its previous four games, including a 38-17 victory in Chicago back in Week 4.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Green Bay -7.5
Three Things to Watch
|Chicago 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||@ CAR||L 24 - 31||Recap|
|10/12||@ ATL||W 27 - 13||Recap|
|10/19||vs MIA||L 14 - 27||Recap|
|10/26||@ NE||L 23 - 51||Recap|
|11/9||@ GB||L 14 - 55||Recap|
|11/16||vs MIN||W 21 - 13||Recap|
|11/23||vs TB||W 21 - 13||Recap|
|11/27||@ DET||L 17 - 34||Recap|
1. Aaron Rodgers Bearing Down
This represents the 190th meeting in the regular season between Chicago and Green Bay. The Bears hold a slight 93-90-6 lead, but the Packers have dominated the proceedings with Aaron Rodgers under center. Since becoming Green Bay’s starting quarterback in 2008, Rodgers is 11-3 against Chicago, including a road win in the 2011 NFC Championship Game. The only game Rodgers has lost to the Bears since that 21-14 win on Jan. 23, 2011 was last season’s 27-20 defeat on “Monday Night Football” to close out Week 9. Rodgers started that game, but he didn’t finish it, as Chicago’s Shea McClellin sacked him on the first series, breaking his collarbone. Otherwise, Rodgers has owned the Bears, posting a 25:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 13 regular season games, while completing 69 percent of his passes and compiling a 105.0 passer rating. He was practically flawless (22-of-28, 302-4-0) in the 38-17 Week 4 win in Chicago, and it’s not like the Bears’ defense has gotten better since that game. Rodgers injured his hamstring two weeks ago in the loss to New Orleans, but he got the bye to recover and wasn’t limited at all in practice this week. This doesn’t bode well for Chicago, whose last win against Green Bay came in a game in which Rodgers was on the field for a total of seven plays.
|Green Bay 2014 Schedule|
|10/2||vs MIN||W 42 - 10||Recap|
|10/12||@ MIA||W 27 - 24||Recap|
|10/19||vs CAR||W 38 - 17||Recap|
|10/26||@ NO||L 23 - 44||Recap|
|11/9||vs CHI||W 55 - 14||Recap|
|11/16||vs PHI||W 53 - 20||Recap|
|11/23||@ MIN||W 24 - 21||Recap|
|11/30||vs NE||W 26 - 21||Recap|
2. Can Cutler Make the Lambeau Leap?
Aaron Rodgers’ success against the Bears has come, fair or not, at the expense of Jay Cutler. A 38-17 loss at Solider Field in Week 4 dropped Cutler’s career record, including playoffs, against the Packers to 1-10. His lone victory over Green Bay came back in the 2010 season and not surprisingly; Cutler’s numbers against the Packers haven’t been pretty. In 10 games with the Bears, Cutler has thrown more interceptions (20) than touchdowns (12) against Green Bay and is averaging exactly 200 yards passing per contest. If that’s not bad enough, the picture is even uglier when you look at how he has fared in three games at Lambeau Field: 0-3, 49-of-102 (48.0 percent), 571-2-10. Ouch. So far this season, Cutler is completing 67.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and eight picks. He has played pretty well (11 TDs, 3 INTs) on the road, where the Bears are 3-2, but Lambeau has always been a house of horrors for him. Adding to the degree of difficulty is the fact that the Packers are 33-5-1 at home since Week 10 of the 2009 season. The good news is that one of those losses (Nov. 4, 2013) was to the Bears. The bad news is that Josh McCown was the starting quarterback, as Cutler was out with a groin injury. A victory tonight would not only represent a breakthrough of sorts for Cutler, it also could set the tone for the second half of the season, as Chicago desperately needs a win to keep any playoff hopes alive.
3. Bears Get Defensive?
Entering this season expectations were high for Chicago’s offense, given its success last season and the quantity and quality of playmakers that were returning. To this point, it’s certainly fair to say that Marc Trestman’s offense has underachieved, but it’s not like the defense has done its job either. The Bears are 21st in the NFL in total defense (372.4 ypg) and 29th in scoring (27.8 ppg). They gave up 51 points to New England in their last game and have held one team (Atlanta) to fewer than 321 yards of offense. Coordinator Mel Tucker’s unit is relatively young and inexperienced, and the growing pains have been obvious, especially given the injuries on that side of the ball. All-Pro cornerback Charles Tillman tore his triceps in Week 2 and is out for the season, as is defensive end Lamarr Houston, who tore his ACL celebrating a meaningless sack in the loss to the Patriots. Linebackers Lance Briggs (ribs) and Jonathan Bostic (back) also have missed significant time and other injuries in the secondary have resulted in a lot of lineup shuffling and several young players getting thrown into the fire earlier than expected. Briggs and Bostic are both expected to play tonight, which should help stabilize the middle of the defense and the back end should be close to full strength as well. The hope is that the combination of better health and the opportunity to work on some things during the bye will lead to better results for Tucker’s unit on the field. Some early returns would certainly be welcome tonight, especially considering the offense’s own struggles and Jay Cutler’s lack of success at Lambeau Field.
Both Chicago and Green Bay lost their last games headed into the bye, but there’s no debate when it comes to which team has been playing better. The Packers started October 3-0, while the Bears haven’t won in nearly a month. Green Bay has won 14 of its last 18 games coming right after a bye and the extra week also gave Aaron Rodgers’ ailing hamstring time to heal. Rodgers has simply owned his NFC North archrival and Jay Cutler has not enjoyed his previous visits to Lambeau Field to say the least. Stranger things have happened this season, but I think there’s just too much history in the Packers’ favor to expect any sort of breakthrough from Cutler and the Bears tonight.
Prediction: Green Bay 31, Chicago 24
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was simply flawless in Saturday’s win over Michigan State. The redshirt freshman finished with 300 passing yards and three scores and rushed for 86 yards and two touchdowns in a matchup against one of the nation’s best defenses.
Barrett earned Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors for Week 11 due to his performance against the Spartans, which vaulted Ohio State back into contention for a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff.
The Buckeyes lost to the Spartans in last year’s Big Ten Championship, and this season’s meeting was billed as a defacto East Division title game and a matchup between the two best teams in the conference.
The Spartans jumped out to a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter, but the Buckeyes never hit the panic button and rallied behind an offense that finished with just two punts. Barrett guided Ohio State back to a 28-21 lead at halftime, and the redshirt freshman helped the Buckeyes score 14 points unanswered midway through the second half, which gave coach Urban Meyer’s team a 42-24 lead and proved to be more than enough in a 49-37 victory for Ohio State.
Barrett had big shoes to fill in August with the season-ending shoulder injury to quarterback Braxton Miller. After a slow start to the season, the redshirt freshman clearly looks like a rising star at quarterback and is someone who has mastered Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman’s system in a very short amount of time.
Defensive Player of the Week: Cedric Reed, DE, Texas
Reed led a standout defensive effort in Texas’ upset win over West Virginia. The Longhorns held the Mountaineers to a season-low 16 points and five yards per play on 90 attempts. Reed wreaked havoc on West Virginia’s offensive line, sacking quarterback Clint Trickett three times and recording four tackles for a loss. One of the senior’s sacks against Trickett resulted in a safety in the fourth quarter. Reed also chipped in 12 overall tackles and one forced fumble.
Coordinator of the Week: Phil Bennett, Baylor
Baylor’s offense scored 48 points in Saturday’s win over Oklahoma, but the defensive effort from the Bears was just as sharp. Coordinator Phil Bennett has significantly improved Baylor’s defense in recent years, as this unit led the Big 12 in fewest yards per play in 2013. Bennett had to replace a few standouts from last season, but the Bears haven’t suffered in production. In Saturday’s victory, the Sooners did not score a point after the first quarter, were limited to 5.1 yards per play and five out of the last six offensive possessions by Oklahoma never lasted more than 18 yards. Baylor will always have an explosive offense under coach Art Briles. However, it’s the improvement on defense that has the Bears squarely in the mix to earn a spot in the college football playoff.
Freshman of the Week: Luke Falk, QB, Washington State
In his first career start, Falk kept coach Mike Leach’s high-powered offense on track by throwing for 471 yards and five scores in a 39-32 win over Oregon State. The redshirt freshman threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, including an 18-yard toss to Dom Williams to give Washington State the lead for good against the Beavers. Falk had the difficult assignment of replacing injured starter Connor Halliday in last week’s game against USC, but the redshirt freshman clearly showed he was ready for the task by guiding the Cougars to their second Pac-12 victory of 2014. Falk’s 471 yards against Oregon State were the most by a Washington State quarterback in their first career start, and the former walk-on has a chance to solidify his place atop the depth chart for next season if he continues to play at a high level against Arizona State and Washington.
Week 10 should mark the return of one NFC East quarterback and the debut of a new starting signal-caller in the division. Whether it’s London or Green Bay, Athlon Sports has the QB injuries you need to know about.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears
Probable – Hamstring
Rodgers was noticeably gimpy two weeks ago after injuring his hamstring in the loss to New Orleans. But the bye came at an ideal time for the Packers’ signal-caller, as he took some time off to recover. He was a full practice participant this week and is listed as Probable for tonight’s game. Rodgers said he was “fine” when asked about his hamstring earlier in the week and head coach Mike McCarthy also pronounced his QB “ready to go.” Rodgers has owned the Bears during his career, but it’s not like you’re ever sitting the 2011 MVP, right?
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (London)
Probable – Back
Romo was held out of last week’s game, and it looks like that decision may end up paying off. He survived the long plane ride to London and increased his practice activity as the week progressed, finishing things off with a full session on Friday. The fact that he is listed as Probable is a pretty strong signal Romo will play. While there are still plenty of questions regarding his effectiveness and if he’ll be out there the entire game, the coaching and training staff seem pretty confident in his readiness, so you should probably trust Romo too if he’s on your roster.
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Dallas Cowboys (London)
Probable – Wrist
Bortles suffered a minor wrist injury last week, but he was able to finish the game. He was a full go in practice all week and is listed as Probable, so there’s no reason to not expect him to play. Starting him on your fantasy team, however, is an entirely different matter. While Bortles has shown some flashes of the talent and potential that made him the third player taken in May’s draft, he also leads the NFL in interceptions (13) despite the fact he’s played in just seven games. Even with six teams on bye, it’s still too early to seriously think about trusting Bortles as a QB2, let alone a QB1.
Already Ruled Out:
Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles – Foles broke his collarbone last week and is expected to miss at least six weeks. Mark Sanchez stepped in for Foles against Houston, and threw a pair of touchdowns and interceptions, as the Eagles held on for the win. Now Sanchez gets a second chance at being a starter, beginning with a Monday night matchup against Carolina. There’s plenty to like about Sanchez’ situation, mainly as it relates to the playmakers around him and Chip Kelly’s offensive system, and he’s certainly worthy of QB2 consideration this week.
Both San Francisco and New Orleans have running backs who appear on the injury report for Week 10. Find out if any 49er or Saint ball carrier is in danger of missing today’s matchup and how the Buccaneers’ backfield is shaping up for their game against Atlanta.
Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas, RBs, New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers
Questionable – Shoulder; Out – Arm; Out – Rib/Shoulder
If you’re a Saints running back and your name is not Travaris Cadet, then you appear on this week’s injury report. When it comes to reading the tea leaves, the easy part is that Robinson and Thomas are both Out again, as neither practiced at all this week. That brings us to Ingram (right), who is Questionable because of a shoulder injury he suffered last week. He was limited in practice because of his shoulder, but that could have been more of a coaches’ decision stemming from the fact he carried the ball 30 times for 100 yards in the Saints’ victory last Thursday night. The expectation is that Ingram will play and he should get plenty of carries once again, as he’s averaging 136 yards rushing over his last two games. Ingram insists his shoulder injury isn’t serious and I have no problem taking him at his word. Ingram should be started without hesitation, while Cadet is a possible fill-in flex option, especially in PPR leagues.
Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints
Probable – Hip
Gore was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, but was a full go on Friday. He’s listed as Probable, so there doesn’t appear to be any reason to not expect him to play today. What is concerning, however, is the fact that Gore’s workload and production have both been on the decline. After rushing for a combined 226 yards in Weeks 4 and 5, Gore has accumulated a total of 107 yards over his past three games. He’s also gone from at least 16 carries to 23 in the past two contests combined. Why the 49ers have somewhat abandoned the run is anyone’s guess and it’s not like backup Carlos Hyde has seen a huge increase in his touches either. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t change the fact that Gore is averaging less than 60 yards rushing per game and has scored a total of two touchdowns. If you want to employ him as a RB2, especially this week, I can’t really fault you, but Gore is probably safer as a flex option right now.
Doug Martin and Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Doubtful – Ankle; Questionable – Ankle
Once again, Martin did not practice at all this week, so even though he’s listed as Doubtful, there’s no reason to even consider starting him. Sims on the other hand still has yet to make his NFL debut and he remains limited in practice. He wasn’t activated last week, but he’s listed as Questionable and it’s sounding like third-round pick will get on the field today. That said, the Buccaneer back to focus on is Bobby Rainey, who should continue to handle the majority of the workload as Sims gets acclimated to the pro game. Rainey has been the Bucs’ most effective back to this point and he should be able to do some damage against a Falcons defense that’s giving up the most fantasy points to RBs. Those are two reasons why Rainey is a borderline RB1 (12-team leagues) in this week’s rankings.
Both Buffalo’s and Miami’s top running backs are Questionable for their Week 10 game, while Detroit’s backfield should be at full strength. Athlon Sports has the latest news on these injury situations to help get your fantasy team ready.
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions
Questionable – Shoulder
Miller injured his shoulder last week and it limited him during practice. He is expected to play, but don’t take his Questionable tag too lightly. Detroit’s defense has done a pretty good job against the run and Miller’s injury could lead to fewer touches if he does play. Keep a close eye on Miller’s status prior to kickoff (1 p.m. ET), but I would wait as long as possible before making a final decision. If Miller can’t go, backups Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams would share the work, but I wouldn’t turn to either as Miller’s replacement in your starting lineup.
Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Questionable – Groin
Jackson suffered a groin injury in Week 7 and was originally expected to be out at least a month. However, after returning to practice this week, it looked like Jackson was out to prove everyone wrong. Even though Jackson was back on the field, head coach Doug Marrone was pretty blunt when he said he didn’t think Jackson was ready to return quite yet. He is listed as Questionable for today’s game, but I would be surprised if Jackson wound up playing. With C.J. Spiller (broken collarbone) already on injured reserve, the Bills can ill afford to have Jackson come back too soon and re-aggravate his injury. Anthony Dixon will likely get the majority of the carries if Jackson is held out, while Bryce Brown also will get some touches. With six teams on bye, Dixon is probably in the RB2/flex conversation, but I wouldn’t take my chances with Brown unless you’re really hurting to fill out your lineup.
Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit Lions vs. Miami Dolphins
Probable – Ankle
Bush didn’t play in London two weeks ago because of an ankle injury, but he took full advantage of the bye to treat it. He was a full participant in practice each day and is listed as Probable. Bush’s numbers haven’t been all that great this season and while the hope is that he will be a different player from here out, the reality is that he’s not the only mouth that needs to be fed in the Lions’ backfield. Joique Bell is the designated lead back and remains the best fantasy option of the bunch, while Bush could wind up sharing touches with Theo Riddick. Bush’s primary appeal is due to the fact that he’s actively involved in the Lions’ passing game, but Riddick has shown a knack for doing the same thing and the offense also will get All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson back today. There are only so many targets and carries to split up, especially against a pretty good Miami defense, so Bush may not get enough opportunities to make much of an impact. Bush is still pretty safe as a flex option this week, but he’s a low-end RB2 so be sure to temper your expectations.
Even though there are just three late afternoon kickoffs in Week 10, there are plenty of key running back injuries to keep an eye on. Here are the ones you need to know about.
Montee Ball and Juwan Thompson, RBs, Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
Questionable – Groin; Probable – Knee
After not practicing at all the past four weeks, Ball (right) was back on the field, albeit in a limited capacity. He’s officially listed as Questionable, but it looks like there’s a good chance Ball will be activated today. Ronnie Hillman should still see the bulk of the work, however, as prior to last week’s game in New England, he had averaged 4.9 yards per carry over the previous three games. If anything, Ball’s potential return could impact Thompson’s usage. Thompson, who is Probable after practicing fully all week, had been getting some carries near the goal line and scored two touchdowns two weeks ago. He and Ball could end up sharing backup duties, which means Hillman is probably the only Bronco back to employ this week.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks vs. New York Giants
Probable – Calf
Lynch was added to the injury report this week after missing the first two days of practice because of a calf issue. He was a full go on Friday, however, and when head coach Pete Carroll was asked, he said Lynch was “ready to roll.” Lynch is listed as Probable, which backs up Carroll’s confidence in his readiness, so there doesn’t appear to be any reason for you to not start him. Lynch has topped 88 yards rushing just once this season, but he does have eight total touchdowns, including two last week. Lynch is definitely a must-start RB1 this week at home against a Giants defense that is giving up the fourth most fantasy points to opposing RBs.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams
Probable – Foot
The refrain should be pretty familiar by now. The coaches limit Ellington’s work in practice mainly to cut down the wear and tear on their workhorse. He’s been a mainstay on the injury report this season, but as usual, he’s listed as Probable and will be out there carrying the load once again. Ellington is averaging 109 yards from scrimmage per game this season and has pretty much sewed up his status as a top-10 fantasy RB from here out.
Already Ruled Out:
Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants – Jennings returned to practice this week, but he was just a limited participant on Thursday and Friday. He was considered a long shot to play as of Friday, so it should come as no surprise that Jennings did not accompany the team to Seattle. This means that Andre Williams and Peyton Hillis once again will handle the backfield duties this afternoon against the Seahawks. Neither was that effective on the ground Monday night against the Colts, combining for 42 yards on 16 carries, but Williams got three times as many carries (12) as Hillis (four). That probably won’t change today, but it doesn’t mean that a great deal should be expected out of Williams either. Not only has the rookie struggled to gain much ground (3.0 ypc), he’s facing a Seahawks defense that’s usually pretty tough at home and one that has done a good job against the run. Hopefully you’re eyeing Williams as a flex option and nothing more.
Week 10 marks the return of Calvin Johnson to the Lions’ starting lineup, but the outlook isn’t as promising for some other key wide receivers. Athlon Sports has the latest information on whether some teams will be without their top target today or not.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Questionable – Knee
Jackson cant’ seem to get over the hump. First hampered by a rib injury, Jackson appears on this week’s injury report with a knee issue. He didn’t practice at all on Wednesday, but increased his participation over the next two days, so even though he’s Questionable, it appears that Jackson will play. The bigger development, however, is the fact the Buccaneers are going back to Josh McCown as their starting quarterback. Jackson and Mike Glennon were really starting to click, so it will be interesting to see if the QB change ends up hurting Jackson fantasy-wise. The Bucs are playing the Falcons, so the matchup is certainly in Jackson’s favor, which is why he maintains his WR2 status.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions vs. Miami Dolphins
Probable - Ankle
If anyone needed a bye, it was Johnson and it looks like the extra time did him plenty of good. Forget Questionable, game-time decisions and all of that, Johnson practiced in full every day this week and is listed as Probable. The man known as Megatron will be back out there today and it should only be a matter of time before he’s producing like the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver he was drafted as. Johnson’s return will impact Golden Tate, but it shouldn’t make him fantasy irrelevant either. Matthew Stafford will be happy to get his No. 1 target back that’s for sure.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Questionable – Groin
A quartet of Bills wide receivers appear on the injury report this week, but Watkins is the only one worth paying close attention to. The first-round pick has posted back-to-back strong games, but he left practice early on Wednesday after aggravating a groin injury. He underwent an MRI, but the key here is that Watkins didn’t return to practice on Thursday or Friday. Watkins is officially listed as Questionable, but there is definitely reason to be concerned here. He will most likely be a game-time decision, but I wouldn’t keep my hopes up. Even if Watkins plays, he will most likely be limited by the injury.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks vs. New York Giants
Probable – Groin
Baldwin missed practice time earlier this week because of a groin injury, but he was able to increase his participation each passing day. He finished his prep work with a full session on Friday, which was enough to earn him a Probable designation. Baldwin is the Seahawks’ No. 1 target, but the production just hasn’t been there (11 rec., 99 yds.) over the last two weeks. The targets (14 total) have been, however, which is one reason why Baldwin still checks in as a top-25 fantasy option this week.
Marqise Lee and Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Dallas Cowboys (London)
Probable – Ankle; Probable – Hamstring
It should come as no surprise that multiple Jaguar wide receivers appear on this week’s injury report. Fortunately, it looks like Lee and Shorts are both in pretty good shape to play against the Cowboys, as they are listed as Probable. Shorts is the biggest question mark, as he didn’t practice at all on Thursday because of a hamstring issue. He was back on the field Friday and has said he fully intends to be out there. The Jaguars don’t lack for wide receivers, which makes it very hard to rely on any of them as a starting fantasy option. Couple that with a rookie QB (Blake Bortles), who has several more interceptions (13) compared to touchdowns (8). Unless you are desperate to fill out your lineup, any and all Jaguar wideouts, including big-play option Allen Hurns (16.1 ypr, 5 TDs) and top target Allen Robinson (43 rec.), should be viewed primarily as deeper league options.
New Orleans’ All-Pro tight end is ready to roll in Week 10, but the same can’t be said of Chicago’s big target. Athlon Sports gets you up to date on the key tight ends that appeared on this week’s injury report.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers
Probable – Shoulder
Graham was a full practice participant every day this week and unlike last week, he’s listed as Probable. This “upgrade” alone should pretty much remove any doubt from the equation. Graham has caught a touchdown pass in each of his past two games, so he’s looking more like his old self with each passing week. Rob Gronkowski is on bye, which is why Graham is our No. 1 TE this week, and he should have another productive day at the office against a 49ers defense that’s pretty banged up in the middle.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Questionable – Ribs
Bennett just can’t seem to shake the injury bug. After dealing with a hamstring issue the past several weeks, Bennett injured his ribs during practice a few days ago. He didn’t practice at all on Friday, which is typically not a good sign, and is listed as Questionable. Head coach Marc Trestman didn’t sound overly optimistic when asked about his tight end’s availability, so it’s likely Bennett will wind up being a game-time decision. The Bears don’t play until tonight, which complicates matters some, especially considering Bennett’s role in the passing game and the fact he is a top-five fantasy TE. Bennett is a guy you definitely want in your lineup, but just keep in mind that if you wait until kickoff (8:30 p.m. ET) and he ends up not playing, your options will be limited to the likes of Bennett’s replacement, Dante Rosario, and Green Bay’s Andrew Quarless, because chances are neither Greg Olsen or Zach Ertz, who play Monday, are available. Are you willing to take a chance on Bennett not playing and be shut out at TE?
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills
Probable – Ribs
Kelce was a full go at practice this week, so even though he’s on the injury report all you need to worry about is the Probable designation. Kelce has been a top-10 fantasy TE for most of the season and it’s certainly how he should be treated this week with the aforementioned Gronkowski, as well as Antonio Gates and Dwayne Allen all on bye. Anthony Fasano will get his share of playing time, but the Chiefs employ enough two-tight end sets and also will make a point to get Kelce, their leading receiver, involved so it shouldn’t impact your decision about whether to start him or not.
Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions
Probable – Knee
Clay missed some practice time, as he has pretty much every week this season, but he’s listed as Probable, so expect him to be out there today. Clay has been the epitome of an up-and-down player this season, as he’s gone from four catches in Week 7 to one the following week to five last week. He did catch a touchdown pass in two of the past three games, but if his cycle holds true, he’s due for a poor showing today. The point is, Clay has been hard to figure out and even more difficult to trust on a weekly basis this season, but once again the bye-week situation may leave you with no choice but to stick with him.
Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew, TEs, Detroit Lions vs. Miami Dolphins
Doubtful – Hamstring; Questionable – Ankle; Questionable – Foot
Unlike teammates Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson, the bye did not seem to benefit the Lions’ banged-up tight end trio that much. No one has been ruled out yet, but the best shot any of the three have of playing today is 50-50, if even that. Ebron is the least likely to suit up, based on his Doubtful tag. He and Pettigrew, who is Questionable, practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday. Fauria on the other hand, got in a little bit of work every day, so he’s the least Questionable of this group, for what that’s worth. The bottom line is this – with Johnson and Bush both expected back, there’s no reason to pay any Lion tight end much attention this week, if any of them even make it on the field.
Arizona State bolstered its playoff hopes with a huge 55-31 win over Notre Dame on Saturday.
The Sun Devils had plenty of help from their defense, but receiver Jaelen Strong made one of the best plays of the day with a touchdown grab in the first half.
Strong finished with five catches for 58 yards, and this first-half touchdown reception was his best grab of the day:
Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams had a huge performance in the Golden Gophers’ game against Iowa.
With Minnesota leading 14-7 midway through the second quarter, Williams made one of the catches of the year in the Big Ten. The tight end kept the foot in bounds and snagged a pass from quarterback Mitch Leidner.
Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight went airborne to gain critical yardage in the first half of Saturday’s game against Baylor.
Knight had the first down without the hurdle, but the jump over cornerback Terrell Burt gave the offense a few more yards.
Check out Knight’s awesome hurdle over a Baylor defender:
For the last few years, NASCAR fans have bemoaned the 1.5-mile “cookie-cutter” tri-oval tracks for dominating the Chase for the Sprint Cup’s 10-race docket. “It favors the No. 48 team,” they say. “The tracks looks the same, things are boring, NASCAR needs a road course (it does), add another short track, revive North Wilkesboro, race at Eldora, blah, blah, blah …”
Which races have provided the best action in the 2014 Chase?
Chicagoland Speedway. Charlotte Motor Speedway. Texas Motor Speedway. All of the “cookie cutter” ilk.
Granted, the last two have been due to the post-race antics on pit road and in the garage. With scenes straight out of the WWE Attitude Era, the only thing missing has been Stone Cold’s monster truck driving over cars on pit road or Alan Gustafson landing The People’s Elbow on Paul Wolfe. While Talladega and Martinsville are often identified as the two tracks that would have the most impact in determining the 2014 Sprint Cup champion under the new elimination format, it’s been Kansas and Texas that ultimately will dictate who goes into Homestead for a shot at the title.
Speaking of Texas and shootings, after this weekend’s events they might want to find different trophies besides a lever action .30-.30 and a pair of Colt SAA .45s. Maybe nunchucks and a steel chair? With Jeff Gordon (and half of Hendrick Motorsports) taking on Brad Keselowski and his engine tuner, it ignited a firestorm of tweets, memes, and angry clenched-fist responses from the Nos. 24 and 2 townsfolk alike. Whatever your take on the matter, it’s a moot point as the series moves onto Phoenix for the final cutoff before next week’s final four matchup at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Gentleman, to your corners …
I remember back in 1990 prior to the Pyroil 500k at Phoenix, ESPN did a promo for the race with Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin in an old west saloon, pounding beers and pointing guns at each other. While the first shots were fired back in Charlotte between Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, hostilities came to a crescendo in Fort Worth last Sunday. Will any of that spill over into this weekend’s penultimate race?
While I doubt you will see anything as deliberate as Gordon’s ambush on Clint Bowyer in 2012 (that nearly collected Keselowski in the process), I think you’ll see a little something from somebody with one race to go. NASCAR did set a precedent at Richmond in 2013 that it would take unilateral action if it deemed the outcome was being manipulated, but since there have been two rumbles in three weeks with no driver penalty, “Boys Have at It” appears to be alive and well — and accepted as fair play.
Who will be the ones to watch this weekend? To be honest, everyone still alive in the Chase. And a few that no longer are.
In February at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick had the field covered from the time they unloaded. He won every practice session, sat on the pole and by Happy Hour, the field had pretty much conceded the win to his No. 4 team. Harvick’s record at PIR is impressive to say the least: five wins, the most in the Cup Series (ever). He’s won three of the last five events here; the other finishes being second and 13th. He’s eighth in points right now, just six away from Gordon in the fourth and final cut off spot.
Speaking of Gordon, if we were using season-long cumulative points, he’d be headed for his fifth championship right now. Well, actually it’d be his sixth, since he would have won it in 2007, as well. No matter, since this is a new era and year one of elimination points racing, but this track should provide some solace. It was at Phoenix in 2011 that heralded his return to relevance after flying under the radar for a few seasons. Alan Gustafson has a win here with both Gordon and Martin, and with Rick Hendrick covering his fine from last weekend, has nothing to fret over. The No. 24 team finished fifth here in the spring, and if they can lead a lap early and manage that same sort of performance, it should be enough to get him onto Homestead, in spite of last week’s late race flat tire.
Joey Logano has been lights out since the Chase started. Currently tied for the lead, he would still be second behind Gordon if a season-long points standing was the order of the day. Logano and the Todd Gordon-led Team Penske No. 22 narrowly avoided disaster when it suffered a flat tire and spin with 29 laps to go last week. With the flurry of late restarts they rallied back to 12th – a championship-salvaging caliber performance if there ever was one. Since the Chase began, Logano has finished outside of the top 5 just twice – last Sunday and an 11th at Talladega. They finished fourth here in February, and if they don’t advance to Homestead it would be a very Peyton Manning-esque tank job — and a crying shame, as they have played this one to perfection. Logano won at Loudon, the second race of the Chase, which is also a one-mile flat track.
Speaking of tank jobs, Hamlin has become synonymous with them in the Chase since things fell apart at Phoenix for him back in 2010. To be fair, it wasn’t really Hamlin’s fault; a late race fuel strategy by then crew chief Mike Ford didn’t pay off, and it seems Hamlin has been trying to exorcise those demons ever since. Hamlin and the 11 bunch have gone about things dramatically different than Logano and the No. 22 team. Instead of top 5-ing the competition into the ground, they’ve done just enough to squeak by, and avoid the trouble that has plagued the Chase favorites in the Eliminator round. Eighth- and 10th-place runs at Martinsville and Texas has been enough to have them tied for the points lead heading into this weekend. His last two finishes here have been 28th and 19th. That won’t get the job done Sunday, but his previous runs of third, second and a win (2012) would do nicely.
Going to throw a nod to Dale Earnhardt Jr. here as well. The No. 88 was the only car capable of hanging with Harvick here in February and swept both Pocono races and won at Martinsville two weeks ago – flat tracks all three. Can Junior close out the year in style? He last won here during his six-win season of 2004.
The only reason Kenseth is in this grouping is because he’s fifth in points and only four get to go to Homestead. Somehow, he remains winless in 2014, yet has 20 top-10 finishes. His record at Phoenix lately has been “meh” at best with zero top 5s since 2007 (in a Gen-5 Roush Ford) and only one Top-10 finish in the last seven races. If there’s any irony to Brian France’s comments Tuesday that he has no problem if the eventual champion has no wins this year, it is that Kenseth’s 2003 championship campaign that helped serve as the catalyst to the Chase format to begin with. He’ll need to make something happen this weekend or hope for the worst for those in front of him – and behind him in points.
Chief among those contenders to Kenseth is his former Roush Fenway – and future JGR teammate – Carl Edwards. Proving that the only lame duck in this camp is the one sporting AFLAC on his uniform, Edwards is still in position to go out on top, having lost the 2011 title on a tie breaker. The No. 99 experienced the same struggles they have on the majority of downforce tracks this year, and were as low as 24th at point during the AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Late-race pit strategy (keep throwing tires at it) and the frantic restarts saw them eek out a ninth-place run heading into one of Edwards best tracks. In 20 starts at PIR he has three poles – important since leading a lap still gets you one bonus point, and he’s just one point out of fourth at the moment. He has wins in 2010 and 2013, and was eighth here in the spring. Don’t expect any pit road foul-ups or bone head calls from crew chief Jimmy Fennig on the pit box – but a top-5 finish is still easier said than done.
If there’s one guy who should have been throwing leather at the end of the race Sunday it was Ryan Newman. He suffered a cut tire at the hands of Marcos Ambrose while having worked his way up as high as fifth late in the going, and ended up with a 15th-place finish. Then again, Ambrose laid out Casey Mears with a right hook at Richmond in May, so even with his formidable forehead, he probably played that one right.
Newman is a master at flat tracks, and stole a win at PIR in 2010 during a green-white-checker finish. In fact, Newman’s last four wins – Indy, Martinsville, Loudon and Phoenix – have all come on flat tracks. That has to count for something, and RCR has notched five wins here; four with Kevin Harvick, and one with Dale Earnhardt in that 1990 title showdown. You’d be hard pressed to find many who had Newman going this deep in the Chase. He led six laps here in February and finished seventh; he’s third in points with no wins, and only one top 5 until the Chase started. Not one to back down from a fight and known for being virtually impossible to pass, it’s a coin toss as to whether they’ll have the pure speed to hold off the competition Sunday.
Chase Hope Enders
Going to go out on a limb here and saying that Keselowski doesn’t make it into the next round. Not because his team isn’t fast or talented enough – I simply have a hard time believing that somebody will have an incident near him this weekend. Phoenix is fast, but guys seem to treat it like a short track lately. That frontstretch is awfully narrow with that inside pit wall, and if there is an accident can become a track blocker quickly. Oh yeah, after the events of the last few weeks he has a target on his back, as well.
Phoenix International Raceway Winner: Kevin Harvick
He took over for “The Intimidator” in The No. 3, but after last weekend at Texas, you can call the No. 4 driver “The Instigator.” Lighting the fuse by assisting Keselowski towards the angry mob at Texas, it was a bit of a chess move, acting as an antagonist to a driver that was already on probation, one point ahead of him in the standings, and has the one car that can match the No. 4 in pure speed virtually every weekend.
Don’t expect these guys to ride and wait for things to play out; they had the baddest horse in the field a few months ago here, and their driver simply dominates. The best place to avoid trouble here is out front, and if the pit crew can avoid any foul ups, Harvick won’t have to push anyone after the race; as in, under the bus as he has been known to do this year.
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Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, NASCAR rolls west to Phoenix International Raceway where the final four drivers will be set for a one-race, winner-take-all showdown in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
1. Kurt Busch investigated after domestic assault claim
Potential trouble is looming once again for NASCAR’s 2004 champion.
Police in Dover, Del., announced Friday that an active investigation has started into NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch after a report filed Wednesday in the city accused him of domestic assault. The Associated Press reported that the assault report was filed by Busch’s ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.
“At this time, the department is still investigating the victim’s claims and will not have any further comment on this matter in order to preserve the integrity of the case,” read a release from the Dover Police Department.
Driscoll, once very active on Twitter about her relationship with Busch, hasn’t posted a tweet mentioning the driver since Sept. 29 — one day after the Dover race. Busch, likewise, hasn’t mentioned Driscoll on the popular social media network since Sept. 18. The two had grown very close in recent years and Busch had even folded his personal charity in favor of promoting the Armed Forces Foundation — the organization Driscoll operates.
Friday afternoon, the AFF announced it was suspending Busch’s role from the organization. Both NASCAR and Busch’s race team, Stewart-Haas Racing, issued statements Friday announcing awareness of the issue but said that no action would be taken at the current juncture as they await further news from DPD.
Busch also released a statement through lawyer Rusty Hardin denying the claim and saying it was the product of Driscoll not wanting a relationship to end. Out of NASCAR’s championship contention, Busch practiced and qualified his No. 41 Chevrolet on Friday in preparation of Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway. He’ll start 10th on Sunday.
Kevin Harvick regrets role in Texas fight
Kevin Harvick started somewhat of an internet meme last week when he casually shoved Brad Keselowski from behind and stepped back as the brawl between Keselowski and Jeff Gordon ignited. Friday, he admitted that he regretted his role in the fracas — despite the virality of the #Harvicking hashtag.
“The competitor in me loves the controversy and loves the situations that it puts the competitors in,” Harvick said. “The Dad in me doesn’t really enjoy the hashtag, and doesn’t really enjoy the circumstances of the situation. But, live and learn, and you move on.”
Harvick has never been shy of a confrontation on track or in the garage, but he says he realizes since the birth of son Keelan in 2012 that his actions carry a bit more weight.
“I think in the end the difficult part for me is to go home and realize that one day you are going to have to answer those questions to your son,” Harvick said. “It’s definitely two different sides and how you have to look at it and how you have to approach it.”
All of that said, Harvick said he still thinks someone needed to approach Keselowski after the Texas race, if only to get a word in.
“I think that the problem that I have with it I have been in that situation with (Keselowski) before and have him turn his back on me and just walk off,” Harvick said. “I don’t think that is the appropriate way to handle those types of situations. It just kind of rubbed me the wrong way and I reacted and obviously didn’t really realize that it was going to ignite that.”
Will payback play out on Sunday at Phoenix?
On-track payback with championship considerations on the line is a real possibility this weekend after the fireworks between Gordon and Keselowski at Texas. But it won’t be the first time Phoenix has played host to such antics.
It was just two seasons ago that Clint Bowyer was on the receiving end of an abrupt right turn from Gordon that ultimately eliminated his No. 15 team from championship contention. The intentional crash was the product of Gordon feeling Bowyer had cut his tire earlier in the race, and the frustration manifested in a multi-car crash in Turn 4.
Gordon was penalized for the incident that prompted a pit-crew brawl and sent Bowyer sprinting through the PIR garage in an attempt to confront the four-time champion.
But will it happen this weekend? Well, more times than not these things tend to not be settled on-track as cooler heads — and larger aspirations — prevail. However, this version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup has seen a lot of unexpected outbreaks of anger issues. Combine that with Keselowski’s hard driving and the recipe this weekend may include ruffled fenders and dashed title hopes.
Gordon’s crew chief miffed at team penalties
NASCAR avoided penalizing any of the drivers involved in the fight on pit road after last week’s race at Texas, but dropped the hammer on several Hendrick Motorsports crewmen. No crewmen from Team Penske were penalized, likely because NASCAR couldn’t identify who exactly did what in the chaotic fight scene that included lots and lots of thrown punches.
The penalties, totally $185,000 for the Hendrick group and several weeks of suspension, left Gordon’s crew chief Alan Gustafson feeling like the sanctioning body unnecessarily delivered most of the discipline on crew members.
“I personally feel a little bit like a second-class citizen, and I think a lot of our team members do, too,” Gustafson told FOXSports.com’s Jared Turner. “I hate (that) those guys took the brunt of it, which I don't really feel like they were responsible for, in my opinion. I don't think they went and initiated any of this, nor had that intention."
Hendrick Motorsports didn’t appeal the penalties and announced they would cover the cost of its employees’ fines.
Gustafson lamented that it seemed NASCAR wanted drivers to fight but not shoulder the price.
"I think NASCAR's making a concerted effort to illustrate they want the drivers to be able to do what they want to do on the racetrack and have no repercussion for it, and have no accountability for it.,” he said. “I think that generates the most drama on the track, and that's what they're looking for.”
Elimination again at stake in Phoenix
Following Sunday’s race at Phoenix, four drivers will be left to fight for the championship next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Thanks to the latest version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the Ford 400 will be the first time in NASCAR’s history that four drivers will enter the final race with exactly the same amount of points.
But as it stands, eight drivers — Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick — are still eligible for the final four. None are locked-in, either, because drivers now outside of the Chase (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson) won the first two races of the Chase’s third round.
The results leave the third round of this Chase as the closest yet, with first-place Hamlin leading eighth-place Harvick by just 18 points. Harvick, who crashed after contact with Kenseth at Martinsville two weeks ago, thinks a win is his best chance at continuing on.
“That would be the easiest way to do it,” said Harvick.
A win Sunday for Harvick would be his fourth in five tries at Phoenix. Only Hamlin, Logano and Newman can guarantee an advance to the Homestead finale by not winning Sunday.
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Death Valley will be rocking when the No. 16 LSU Tigers take on the No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide in prime time on CBS (8 p.m. ET) Saturday night. National title-winning coaches Les Miles and Nick Saban go toe-to-toe with five-star-stuffed, NFL-talent-laden rosters. Although Alabama (-6.5) is favored, LSU is capable of pulling off the upset and shaking up the SEC West standings and College Football Playoff picture. Here are four reasons the Bayou Bengals will beat Bama:
1. Death Valley
Tiger Stadium is “Where opponents dreams come to die,” according to Coach Miles, who has a 45–4 record in Saturday night home games at Death Valley since taking over the top spot in Baton Rouge back in 2005. There is an indescribable force surrounding the 102,321 purple-and-gold rowdy crowd that comprises arguably the best home field advantage in all of college football.
2. Les Miles
The Mad Hatter has been known to eat grass, let ’er rip in interviews and just say F it — meaning Fake punts and Fourth-down conversions — in big games. In the season-opener against Wisconsin, special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto dialed up a successful third-quarter fake punt that shifted momentum and started a run of 21 unanswered points in a 28–24 win at AT&T Stadium. Miles has a 5–4 record vs. Alabama in regular season games. And he will pull out all the stops to take down the Tide this time around.
3. Alabama Injuries
At this point in the season, every team is banged up. But Alabama is in particularly bad shape this weekend. Left tackle Cameron Robinson — a Louisiana native who spurned the Tigers in favor of the Tide — has a gimpy ankle that will make him a game-time decision. Even if Robinson does play, LSU’s D-line could take advantage of the true freshman playing with a bum wheel. Stud tailback T.J. Yeldon is also struggling with a foot issue; this on the heels of a season-ending gruesome leg injury suffered by big back Kenyan Drake earlier this year.
4. Leonard Fournette
The 6’1”, 230-pound 19-year-old from New Orleans is arguably the best freshman running back since Adrian Peterson. Fournette has 131 carries for 657 yards (5.0 ypc) and seven TDs, along with seven catches for 127 yards (18.1 ypc). LSU is 5–0 when Fournette has topped 11 carries. LSU is No. 7 nationally is rushing attempts and No. 1 in the SEC (439) — with 50 more attempts than No. 2 Arkansas (389). In a 10–7 win over Ole Miss earlier this year, LSU had 55 rushes for 264 yards compared to 16 pass attempts for 142 yards. Expect a similar gameplan featuring Fournette, whose only official visits were to LSU and Alabama.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 7:
• Ever wonder what Big Red would look like in a pair of daisy dukes? Enjoy mascots wearing pants.
• Devon and Leah Still shared a moment last night, and it just got dusty in my office.
• Charles Barkley is fasting until the Lakers win. I'm seriously concerned for his survival.
• As halfcourt shots go, this Blazers fan's attempt made for a nice entry pass at best.
• According to Andy Richter, Mike Ditka once used a rental car as an ashtray.
• In the process of setting quarterback play back decades, Andy Dalton forgot the rules, too.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Luke Falk, Washington State vs. Oregon State ($6600)
Falk came in for an injured Connor Halliday last week against USC and looked very good considering the situation. The Cougars offense won’t change and Falk will be throwing the ball all over the field against Oregon State. He looks like a great play this week.
1) RB Synjyn Days, Georgia Tech vs. NC State ($4300)
Days has gone over 100 yards rushing in the last two games and also added two scores last week against Virginia. Look for him to make it three in a row with a suspect NC State on the docket. He appears to be an awesome punt option this week.
2) RB Ryan Jackson, Houston vs. Tulane ($4800)
Jackson is averaging 20.30 DK fantasy points over the last two games and could top that against Tulane this week. The Green Wave run defense comes in ranked 85th in the country and gives up plenty of big plays.
3) RB Tarean Folston, Notre Dame vs. Arizona State ($5400)
Folston is averaging 28.20 DK fantasy points over the past three games and has a nice match up with Arizona State. The Sun Devils are ranked 88th against the run and may have a hard time containing Folston. He looks like a nice value play in Week 11.
1) WR Jamison Crowder, Duke vs. Syracuse ($5900)
Crowder looked unstoppable last week with 165 yards and two scores against Pitt. He appears to finally be in rhythym with Anthony Boone and looks to be way under priced this week. Expect more fantasy goodness out of this Blue Devil.
2) WR Victor Bolden ($4900) & Jordan Villamin ($4700), Oregon State vs. Washington State
Both Bolden and Villamin had big games against Cal last week and could post huge numbers against Washington State. The Cougars pass defense is ranked 119thand is allowing 295 yards per game. Play both of these Beavers.
3) WR Deshon Foxx, UCONN vs. Army ($4100)
Fox had 11 carries for 102 yards and a score last week against Central Florida. He carries big upside this week with the potential for plenty of carries. Foxx may be hard for a bad Army defense to contain.
1) TE Blake Bell, Oklahoma vs. Baylor ($2500)
Bell scored twice last week and somehow his price came down $100. He could find the end zone again in a potential shoot out with Baylor.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Connor Cook, Michigan State vs. Ohio State ($5500)
Connor has a difficult match up against Ohio State, but could throw a couple of touchdowns and reach value. Cook seems to save his best games for the biggest games and this certainly qualifies.
1) RB Michael Dyer, Louisville vs. Boston College ($5200)
Dyer ran for 134 yards and three scores against Florida State last week. He is running like the Michael Dyer of old and could tear through the BC defense this week. Put Mr. Dyer in your lineups.
2) RB Jhurell Pressley, New Mexico vs. Boise State ($4900)
Pressley has scored five rushing touchdowns in the last two games and comes in at a solid price this week. He could add to his touchdown total this week and prove to be an excellent punt option.
3) RB Matt Jones ($4800) & Kelvin Taylor ($4600), Florida vs. Vanderbilt
Jones and Taylor went ballistic last week against Georgia with a combined 389 rushing yards and four touchdowns. They both received 25 carries and both look like great plays against a weak Commodores defense.
1) WR Curry Sexton, Kansas State vs. TCU ($5100)
DFS owners may be shocked to learn that Sexton and Tyler Lockett have the same number of receptions on the season (49). He could have a very nice game in what could be a high scoring affair with TCU. Sexton looks like a nice punt option in this BIG 12 showdown.
2) WR Jordan Payton, UCLA vs. Washington ($4800)
Payton’s price makes absolutely no sense this week. He averages 20.3 DK fantasy points on the season and will be facing the 109th ranked pass defense of Washington. He could easily blow out his price this week.
3) WR Tyler Winston, San Jose State vs. Fresno State ($5200)
Winston is the Spartans top receiving target and could blow right past Fresno State this week. The Bulldogs ranked 101st in pass defense and are very suseptable to big plays.
1) TE Steven Scheu, Vanderbilt vs. Florida ($3300)
Scheu has scored double-digit fantasy points in the last two games.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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The Cleveland Cavaliers look rocky right now. But unless the Lord has reached into this roster’s mostly young bodies and snatched the immense talent out of them, LeBron James and Co. won’t appear so fragile later. Despite their surprising 1-3 start, the Cavs are still title contenders and the most likely to emerge from the Eastern Conference. Once they figure out their chemistry woes, we’ll start fearing them again.
The Chicago Bulls, of course, are the greatest potential caveat to this truth. The defense-heavy monsters of the Midwest, led by taskmaster coach Tom Thibodeau, can’t truly challenge the King without their own prodigal son, however, and Derrick Rose’s health continues to be a source of major worry in Chicago, after two seasons of Rose missing all but ten games due to dual knee injuries.
Rose sprained both of his ankles against Cleveland on October 31 — the second game of the season. He subsequently sat as his team took care of two inferior opponents in the Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic. More recently, Rose returned on November 5, and although the Bulls got the win over the Milwaukee Bucks to improve to 4-1 while the point guard put up an efficient, 13-point, seven-assist line, he didn’t look exactly like himself.
Rose moved with hesitation in the contest, clearly not 100 percent on those ankles. He still knows how to utilize his hefty court mythos to beguile defenders and get his way in the halfcourt, but Rose will need need to be nothing short of the lane-penetrating destroyer his city loves if Chicago is going to compete for a championship in earnest.
The heavy question here is whether that’s even possible anymore. Fretful Chicagoans wonder whether Rose’s body can ever withstand the pressure he puts on it with his torque-driven style. And until Rose strings together something like a month or two of unbroken, top-notch play, his health will remain the biggest question mark of the 2014-15 championship outlook.
— John Wilmes
The first year of college football’s playoff committee rankings has added new intrigue to the season, and one look at the latest top 25 release shows just how important Saturday’s game is between Arizona State and Notre Dame. The Sun Devils and Fighting Irish are ranked back-to-back (No. 9 and No. 10) following the Week 10 games. Saturday’s winner should keep their playoff hopes alive while dealing a significant (and likely eliminating) loss to the other team.
Arizona State has won four games in a row since a 62-27 loss to UCLA. The Sun Devils defeated three ranked teams in that stretch, including a 19-16 overtime win against Utah and a 38-34 last-second victory over USC on Oct. 4. Notre Dame’s only loss this year came at the hands of Florida State, but the Fighting Irish rank behind Arizona State due to the Sun Devils’ strength of schedule and bigger margin of victory against a common opponent (Stanford).
Arizona State and Notre Dame have only three previous meetings. The Fighting Irish are 3-0 against the Sun Devils, including a 37-34 victory in last season’s matchup in Arlington.
Notre Dame at Arizona State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Arizona State -2.5
Notre Dame’s Key to Victory: QB Everett Golson
Coming off a tough matchup against Navy, combined with the loss of linebacker Joe Schmidt, Notre Dame needs its offense to carry the team on Saturday. As evidenced by his 22 passing touchdowns to just seven interceptions, Golson is capable of doing so. Arizona State ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense, but this unit has played three average offenses over the last three weeks. Golson could be the best quarterback the Sun Devils have played this season, and his mobility will keep plays alive if the defense is able to get pressure and collapse the pocket. But most importantly for Notre Dame, Golson has to have a mistake-free effort. The junior has seven picks this season and two came in the loss to Florida State. A tight game is expected on Saturday, and a turnover or two by either team could be costly. One other area to watch is the emergence of running back Tarean Folston. The sophomore has 169 yards over the last two games.
Arizona State’s Key to Victory: Balance on Offense
Quarterback Taylor Kelly is still knocking off the rust from a foot injury that forced him to miss three games earlier this year. But Kelly has passed for 385 yards and three scores over the last two contests and has 62 rushing yards in that span. Despite being a little rusty, Kelly guided Arizona State to wins over Washington and Utah. Considering Kelly probably needs another week or two to get fully acclimated to the offense once again, the Sun Devils need to take the pressure off him by establishing balance. Running back D.J. Foster leads the team with 701 yards and freshman Demario Richard has 280 – including 170 over the last two weeks. Receiver Jaelen Strong is one of the best in the Pac-12, catching 57 passes for 821 yards and eight scores. Notre Dame won’t have standout linebacker Joe Schmidt for the rest of the year due to an injury suffered against Navy. Without Schmidt, the Fighting Irish will turn to true freshman Nyles Morgan in the starting lineup. Notre Dame’s defense is giving up 5.2 yards per play in 2014 but has allowed at least 5.6 yards per play in three consecutive weeks. With Schmidt’s injury, combined with the Fighting Irish’s recent performance on defense, Arizona State should be able to push 30 points on Saturday night. Balance for the Sun Devils will be critical, especially as Kelly continues to knock the rust off from a significant foot injury.
It’s probably fair to call this game an elimination matchup in terms of playoff seeding. The loser of this matchup is likely out of the picture for one of the four-team spots, but is still in the mix for one of the New Year’s Bowls. The winner of this game will be on the doorstep of the top eight once again next week and in position to earn a spot in the playoffs. Notre Dame’s defense is a concern. But it’s also fair to wonder whether Arizona State’s recent improvement on that side of the ball was due to offenses that ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12. Expect plenty of points in this back-and-forth affair. Notre Dame keeps its playoff hopes alive for another week by finding a way to win this one in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Arizona State 31
At the beginning of the season, not many circled Kansas State-TCU as the biggest game of the year in the Big 12. But Saturday’s matchup between the Horned Frogs and Wildcats could be the biggest game of the year in the conference, as TCU and Kansas State rank No. 7 and No. 8 in the latest playoff committee rankings.
TCU finished 4-8 last season but has experienced a quick turnaround on the strength of an improved offense. The Horned Frogs averaged only 25.1 points per game in 2013 but have recorded 48 points per contest through eight matchups this year. Quarterback Trevone Boykin has thrived under new co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie.
With a victory over TCU on Saturday, Kansas State will match its win total from 2013. The Wildcats’ biggest win in 2014 took place in Norman, defeating Oklahoma 31-30 in mid-October. Coach Bill Snyder’s team suffered its only loss at the hands of Auburn – a game that was summed up by missed opportunities for Kansas State.
Kansas State owns a 4-3 series edge over TCU. The Wildcats have won the last two meetings over the Horned Frogs. The last meeting between these two teams in Fort Worth was a 23-10 win by Kansas State.
And here’s a small storyline to note about this matchup: TCU coach Gary Patterson played at Kansas State from 1980-81 and is a Kansas native.
Kansas State at TCU
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: TCU -6
Kansas State’s Key to Victory: Win the Turnover Battle
It sounds simple, but Kansas State’s mistake-free ways will be tested against TCU. The Horned Frogs lead the nation with a +15 turnover margin and has forced nine takeaways in their last two games. On the flipside, the Wildcats have lost only seven turnovers and commit only 3.4 penalties per game. Bill Snyder’s team simply won’t beat itself on Saturday night. With little separating Kansas State and TCU, it’s the small things that could swing this game in favor of a particular team. The Wildcats need to continue what they have done all season and limit their mistakes. Quarterback Jake Waters is a big part of that storyline, as the senior has yet to throw a pick in a Big 12 game. If Waters completes over 60 percent of his throws, doesn’t toss a pick, and Kansas State wins the turnover battle, that might be enough for the Wildcats to win in Fort Worth.
TCU’s Key to Victory: Establish the Tempo on Offense
Kansas State averages 35.8 points per game in Big 12 action this year, but the Wildcats prefer to move at a methodical pace (32:50 time of possession). TCU is going with an up-tempo approach this year, and the switch in schemes has made a huge impact on the offense. Quarterback Trevone Boykin is a Heisman contender, and the Horned Frogs have 25 plays of 30 yards or more this year. Kansas State is capable of scoring 40 points, but the Wildcats would prefer to move a little slower and use their ground attack to eat up the clock on lengthy drives. TCU should look to jump out to an early lead and force K-State to play at a quicker pace. If Boykin can rebound from his worst start of the season (166 yards against West Virginia), there will be opportunities to make plays against a secondary that ranks seventh in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense.
This is the only top-10 matchup for Week 11 and is relatively even across the board. Both defenses allow less than five yards per play, while Kansas State ranks as the Big 12’s best in scoring defense (18.6 ppg). TCU is more explosive on offense, but the Wildcats – using a different style – aren’t far behind on the stat sheet. Expect a tight game well into the fourth quarter, with both teams landing a few big plays in the process. Kansas State is one of the best in the nation at not beating itself. However, with this game in Fort Worth and quarterback Trevone Boykin due for a rebound effort, TCU gets a slight edge – but there’s not much separating these two teams.