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The Houston Texans can't catch a break. Or maybe they're catching too many.
After suffering through injuries to seemingly all their star players, the news got even worse this week when head coach Gary Kubiak revealed that quarterback Matt Schaub has a Lisfranc foot injury. Which, for all you non-doctors out there, a Lisfranc injury is usually a fracture to one of the tarsas or metatarsals, which are basically the bones right behind the toes.
This is not good news. If his foot is broken, then he's put for the rest of the season, as would be the Texans' chances of doing anything in the playoffs (even if they made it to the postseason).
It's hard to remember a team that has suffered serious injuries to so many of their star players. And then still kept winning.
After suffering various injuries to Arian Foster, Mario Williams and Andre Johnson, it seemed like the Texans' had weathered the injury storm and were still contenders to be one of the best teams in the AFC come January.
Andre Johnson, who had missed several weeks with a hamstring injury was scheduled to get back on the field after their bye week this Sunday. At that point, the Texans thought they would be back at 100% with their three offensive weapons (Schaub, Foster and Johnson).
Schaub is going to see a specialist this week, but it doesn't look good. Kubiak refused to give a timetable for his return, but the chances of him missing the season seem to be better than 50-50. The best case scenario would be Schaub suiting up around the time of the playoffs.
Matt Leinart, not necessarily a name that instills a lot of confidence will take the reigns at quarterback while Schaub is out. On the good side, Leinart has two solid weeks to work with the fist team and learn the offense as best he can.
And he's inheriting one of the most explosive offenses in the league with a running game that can carry almost any running back with the powerhouse tandem of Foster and Ben Tate. And it looks like they'll need to lean heavily on them while Leinart figures things out. Could we see a Broncos-esque running attack in the next few weeks?
The short answer is, don't expect much out of Leinart until you see something. He's not going to put up Schaub-like numbers, so don't take a flyer on him unless you're in a two-quarterback league and you're dealing with an injury or one of your quarterbacks is named Colt McCoy.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
With 11 weeks in the book, it's time to take a look at how teams project to the postseason. There's going to be a lot of changes over the next couple of weeks, especially as teams battle just to get to six wins.
|New Mexico||Dec. 17||MWC vs. Pac-12||Wyoming vs. Temple*|
|Idaho Potato||Dec. 17||MAC vs. MWC||Ohio vs. Louisiana Tech|
|New Orleans||Dec. 17||C-USA vs. Sun Belt||UL Lafayette vs. Purdue*|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 20||Big East vs. C-USA||UCF vs. Pittsburgh|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 21||MWC vs. WAC||Nevada vs. TCU|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 22||MWC vs. Pac-12||Boise State vs. UCLA|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs. WAC||Hawaii vs. SMU|
|Independence||Dec. 26||ACC vs. MWC||San Diego State vs. North Carolina|
|Little Caesars||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs. MAC||Toledo vs. Northwestern|
|Belk||Dec. 27||ACC vs. Big East||West Virginia vs. Virginia|
|Military||Dec. 28||ACC vs. Navy||Navy vs. Wake Forest|
|Holiday||Dec. 28||Big 12 vs. Pac-12||Baylor vs. Arizona State|
|Champs Sports||Dec. 29||ACC vs. Big East||Notre Dame vs. Florida State|
|Alamo||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs. Pac-12||Texas vs. Washington|
|Armed Forces||Dec. 30||BYU vs. C-USA||BYU vs. Marshall|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 30||Big 12 vs. Big East||Rutgers vs. Missouri|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC vs. SEC||Miami vs. Mississippi State|
|Insight||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs. Big 12||Michigan vs. Texas A&M|
|Car Care||Dec. 31||Big Ten vs. Big 12||Texas Tech vs. Penn State|
|Sun||Dec. 31||ACC vs. Pac-12||Georgia Tech vs. California|
|Liberty||Dec. 31||C-USA vs. SEC||Southern Miss vs. Tennessee|
|Fight Hunger||Dec. 31||Army vs. Pac-12||Utah vs. Illinois*|
|Chick-fil-A||Dec. 31||ACC vs. SEC||Virginia Tech vs. Florida|
|TicketCity||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. C-USA||Tulsa vs. Iowa|
|Outback||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. SEC||South Carolina vs. Nebraska|
|Capital One||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. SEC||Georgia vs. Wisconsin|
|TaxSlayer.com Gator||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. SEC||Auburn vs. Ohio State|
|Rose||Jan. 2||BCS vs. BCS||Michigan State vs. Oregon|
|Fiesta||Jan. 2||BCS vs. BCS||Oklahoma vs. Stanford|
|Sugar||Jan. 3||BCS vs. BCS||Alabama vs. Houston|
|Orange||Jan. 4||BCS vs. BCS||Clemson vs. Cincinnati|
|Cotton||Jan. 6||Big 12 vs. SEC||Arkansas vs. Kansas State|
|BBVA Compass||Jan. 7||Big East vs. SEC||Vanderbilt vs. Louisville|
|GoDaddy.com||Jan. 8||MAC vs. Sun Belt||Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois|
|National Title||Jan. 9||BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2||LSU vs. Oklahoma State|
* Current standings and projections indicate some conferences may fail to fulfill their tie-ins for 2011.
-by Braden Gall (follow him on twitter @AthlonBraden)
The Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers was the NFL’s first half MVP – and it wasn’t even close.
But where could Rodgers’ 2011 campaign rank in the annals of this great league should he continue ravaging opposing defenses? Very simply, it would be the greatest season by an NFL quarterback in history.
Before we dive into Rodgers’ push for immortality, let's address the question of who currently claims the mantle of ‘Best season by an NFL quarterback.’
Is it Kurt Warner of 1999? Steve Young of 1994? Tom Brady of 2007? Peyton Manning of 2004?
While Warner and Young went on to win the Super Bowl and were likely more complete from Week 1 to the Super Bowl, it is hard to make the claim that Manning’s ’04 and Brady’s '07 performances weren’t the greatest statistical regular seasons in history.
The Colts’ gunslinger was unstoppable. He set the single-season NFL record with 49 touchdown passes and an unheard-of – and still NFL-record – 121.1 QB rating. Manning completed 67.6% of his passes, threw only 10 interceptions and averaged 284.8 yards per game that year. He led his team to a 12-4 record before losing to New England in the AFC Divisional round.
Brady broke Manning’s single-season touchdown record when he tossed 50 scoring strikes just three years later. The Pats’ quarterback posted a 117.2 quarterback rating, which trails only Manning as the most efficient in league history. Brady averaged 300.4 yards per game and completed 68.9% of his passes with only eight interceptions. Brady led what was only the second undefeated regular season in history when New England finished 16-0 before losing to the Giants in a memorable Super Bowl XLII.
While New England, Indianapolis, Michigan and Tennessee fans will never agree on which of those two seasons was greater, both would take a clear back seat to Mr. Rodgers if he carries his first half MVP tempo through the second half of action.
Rodgers is currently averaging 327.4 yards per game and has thrown a league-leading 24 touchdowns against only three interceptions. He is on pace for a single-season NFL record 5,238 yards, third-best 48 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He is currently completing 72.5% of his passes, which would break Drew Brees’ 2009 NFL single-season record of 70.6%. His astonishing 129.1 passer rating would shatter Manning’s 2004 single-season NFL mark. He is averaging 9.9 yards per attempt, which would place him fifth all-time in NFL history behind only Sid Luckman (10.9 in 1943) Otto Graham (10.6 in 1953 and 10.2 in 1947) and Norm Van Brocklin (10.1 in 1954). Not exactly an assortment of spring chickens. Rodgers is also leading the league in completions of 40 or more yards with nine such passes.
Moreover, the Packer passer became the first player in NFL history to reach 2,600 yards and 24 touchdowns in the first eight games of the season. He became the first player in NFL history to start a season with a eight consecutive games with a passer rating of at least 110.0 and currently owns the longest single-season streak of games played at 110+ (8) – breaking Hall of Famer Young’s 1994 record.
Rodgers has led the Green Bay offense to three 28-point first-half performances this season — a number that equals the combined total of the 31 other NFL teams. He is also leading the NFL in 3-TD games since 2009 with 16. Brees is second with 15, Manning has 13 and Brady has 12.
Much of Rodgers' success can be attributed to his incredible accuracy while on the run. He keeps plays alive with his superior athletic ability and is nearly as pinpoint outside of the pocket as he is between the tackles. Just ask Super Bowl-winning coach Brian Billick, who displayed an obvious man-crush on No. 12 while calling the Packers' 45-38 win over San Diego last weekend. And rightly so — Rodgers posted a 145.8 rating in the win.
Back in 2007, Brady rushed for 98 yards and two scores while Manning “rolled up” 38 yards and no scores on the ground in 2004. Through three and a half seasons (55 career starts) Rodgers has rushed for 1,006 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has rushed for no fewer than 201 yards or four scores in any season and is on pace for a 254-yard, 4-TD performance in 2011.
This means Rodgers would smash single-season NFL records for passing yards, QB rating and total offense while setting single-season benchmarks for completion percentage and touchdowns accounted for. It would, in fact, be the greatest season by a quarterback in league history.
Have I mentioned that he is the reigning Super Bowl MVP who hasn’t lost a game since December 12, 2010?
NFL Single-Season Quarterback Records and Rodgers' current pace:
|Record||Owner||Team||Year||Number||Rodgers' 2011 Pace|
|Passing Yards:||Dan Marino||MIA||1984||5,084||5,238|
|Passing TDs:||Tom Brady||NE||2007||50||48|
|QB Rating:||Peyton Manning||IND||2004||121.1||129.1|
|Completion %:||Drew Brees||NO||2009||70.6%||72.5%|
|Total Offense:||Drew Brees||NO||2009||4,976||5,492|
|TDs Accounted For:||Tom Brady||NE||2007||52||52|
More Packers Content:
Will The Green Bay Packers Go Undefeated in 2011?
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 11 Big 12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Oklahoma State (10-0) – Two to go. That’s the motto coach Mike Gundy has to keep pushing, as the Cowboys are knocking on the doorstep for an appearance in the national title game. Oklahoma State demolished Texas Tech 66-6 on Saturday, earning its 10 win of 2011. Quarterback Brandon Weeden tossed five touchdowns against the Red Raiders, giving him 31 on the season. The Cowboys have now recorded back-to-back double-digit win seasons since 1987-88. Oklahoma State is back in action this Friday against Iowa State.
2. Oklahoma (8-1) – The bye week came at a good time for the Sooners. With receiver Ryan Broyles and running back Dominique Whaley sidelined for the remainder of the year with injuries, the open date gave Oklahoma a chance to rework its lineup. Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds will have to pickup more of the slack at receiver, while Roy Finch and quarterback Blake Bell will see more action on the ground. The Sooners still have national title hopes, but have to win their final three games, including a date at Oklahoma State on Dec. 3. Oklahoma plays at Baylor this Saturday.
3. Kansas State (8-2) – The Wildcats have been no stranger to close games this season. Kansas State used four overtimes to knock off Texas A&M 53-50, which was its eighth victory of the year and the most since winning 11 in 2003. Six of the Wildcats’ eight wins have been decided by seven points or less. Quarterback Collin Klein is having a solid season – and not getting enough credit nationally – throwing only 10 touchdowns, but adding 24 scores on the ground. The Wildcats are out of the mix for the Big 12 title, but still have a chance to play for a solid bowl game (likely Cotton), by beating Texas and Iowa State in the next two weeks.
4. Baylor (6-3) – The Bears have been trending up in the power rankings over the last two weeks. Thanks to losses by Texas and Texas A&M, along with a victory over Missouri, Baylor has jumped to No. 4. The Bears surprisingly needed overtime to beat Kansas on Saturday, eventually pulling out a 31-30 victory. Quarterback Robert Griffin kept his Heisman hopes alive, recording 415 yards and four total scores to knock off the Jayhawks. Baylor has a difficult finish to the season, hosting Oklahoma and Texas, while playing Texas Tech at Cowboys Stadium.
5. Missouri (5-5) – Considering what transpired with conference realignment, beating Texas has be a little special for Missouri this year. The Tigers knocked off the Longhorns 17-5 on Saturday, which was their first win over the Texas since 1997. The victory over the Longhorns didn't provide all good news for coach Gary Pinkel, as running back Henry Josey suffered a knee injury and will miss the remainder of the year. The Tigers are back in action this Saturday against Texas Tech and close out the year with Kansas on Nov. 26.
6. Texas (6-3) – One week after getting bowl eligible, the Longhorns suffered a 17-5 defeat to Missouri. The Longhorns turned in an awful performance on offense, but that was largely due to injuries to receiver Jaxon Shipley and running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. Quarterback David Ash completed only 13 of 29 passes for 158 yards and one interception. The Longhorns host Kansas State this Saturday, before closing the year with two Texas rivals – Texas A&M and Baylor.
7. Texas A&M (5-5) – The Aggies are one of the most disappointing teams in college football. Texas A&M was ranked among the top 10 teams in preseason polls, but have slumped to a 5-5 record. The Aggies suffered their fifth defeat of the year on Saturday, losing 53-50 to Kansas State in four overtimes. Texas A&M still needs one more victory to get bowl eligible, but that should happen this Saturday against Kansas. Considering the disappointing record, it’s no surprise head coach Mike Sherman is on the hot seat.
8. Iowa State (5-4) – The Cyclones had a bye in Week 11 and return to action this Saturday against Oklahoma State. Iowa State needs one more win to get bowl eligible, but it’s not going to be an easy road with Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State remaining. The Cyclones’ pass defense is going to be under fire on Friday night against the Cowboys, but it has held up relatively well this season, ranking 55th nationally.
9. Texas Tech (5-5) – Since beating Oklahoma on Oct. 22, the Red Raiders are 0-3 and have scored only 33 points. The defense has been a concern all year for Texas Tech and it ranks 114th nationally in scoring defense and 113th in yards allowed. With three straight losses, the Red Raiders are in jeopardy of missing a bowl game for the first time since 1999. Texas Tech plays at Missouri this Saturday.
10. Kansas (2-8) – Oh so close. The Jayhawks led Baylor 24-3 going into the fourth quarter, but was unable to hold onto the lead. The Bears stormed back with 21 points in the final quarter, and stopped Kansas’ two-point try to win in overtime. One bright spot for the Jayhawks was the play of running back Darrian Miller. He rushed for 147 yards on 24 attempts, while teammate James Sims added 64. Kansas is running out of time to record its first Big 12 victory this year, with Texas A&M and Missouri the only two remaining games.
2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award
Too often, scandals like the ones at the University of Miami or Ohio State or USC overshadow the positive aspects of college athletics. The Golden Arm Award, presented annually to the top senior quarterback — as qualified by academic year — by the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Foundation, encapsulates all that is good in college sports. The award acknowledges performance on the field, for sure. However, it goes beyond completion percentage and touchdown passes. The Golden Arm Award rewards character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game.
Athlon Sports is proud to partner with the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Foundation in sponsoring this award in 2011.
Top Performances Last Week
Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
How did Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden respond to the pressure that comes with being ranked No. 2 for the first time in school history? By throwing for 423 yards and five touchdowns in a resounding 66-6 victory at Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders made three costly turnovers early that led to three touchdowns, and the rout was on, as OSU built a 49-0 halftime advantage.
Weeden, a Unitas Golden Arm award finalist, completed 31-of-37 attempts with no interceptions. Weeden spread the wealth among several receivers as the Cowboys had two receivers, Josh Cooper and Justin Blackmon, with more than 100 yards. Weeden left the game after tossing his fifth scoring strike of the day to Josh Stewart with 4:11 left in the third quarter.
Robert Griffin III, Baylor
Dual threat Robert Griffin led Baylor to three fourth-quarter touchdowns in a sterling comeback overtime win at Kansas. The vaunted Baylor offense was stymied for much of the first three quarters before Griffin found his groove.
Baylor scored on three possessions with scoring drives of 80-plus yards. Griffin’s dash around the left end for a 49-yard score capped a five-play, 89-yard drive with just under 12 minutes to play.
The Bears took over at their own two-yard line, and Griffin needed just six plays to find paydirt, connecting with Terrance Williams for a 36-yard touchdown strike that cut the Kansas lead to 24-17 with just under eight minutes left.
The Unitas Golden Arm award candidate completed the comeback with a 67-yard touchdown pass to Tevin Reese that finished off a three-play, 80-yard drive to send the game into overtime.
Griffin tossed a 14-yard pass to Reese in overtime before Kansas failed on a two-point conversion to give the Bears a 31-30 win. Griffin finished the game with 312 yards passing and 103 rushing.
Kellen Moore, Boise State
The loss was painful, and fortunately, not a very familiar feeling for Kellen Moore, quarterback of Boise State. The Broncos lost at home for the first time in 36 games, and the first home loss of the senior’s career. But Moore did his part.
In a back-and-forth game in which neither team ever held more than a one-score advantage, TCU converted a two-point conversion with 1:05 to play to take a 36-35 lead. Moore led the Broncos into scoring position, but the 39-yard field goal attempt of freshman kicker Dan Goodale sailed wide.
Moore was 28-for-38 passing for 320 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His 54-yard scoring pass to Dallas Burroughs broke a 28-28 tie at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
For his career, the Prosser, Wash., native has completed 69.3% of his passes for 13,416 yards and 130 touchdowns.
To see all the candidates for this year’s Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, please click here.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 11 Big East Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Cincinnati (7-2) – The Bearcats suffered a setback in the Big East title race, losing 24-21 to West Virginia on Saturday. The loss to the Mountaineers was Cincinnati’s first conference defeat this year. Making matters even worse was an injury to starting quarterback Zach Collaros. The senior suffered a fractured ankle and has been lost for the rest of the regular season. Backup Munchie Legaux completed 9 of 20 throws for 138 yards in relief of Collaros, while also rushing for 77 yards and a score. The Bearcats still hold a one-game lead in the Big East, but face road tests the next two weeks – at Rutgers and at Syracuse. Without Collaros, Cincinnati could see its Big East title hopes slip away.
2. West Virginia (7-3) – Don’t count out the Mountaineers in the Big East title race. West Virginia kept its conference championship hopes alive with a 24-21 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday. With the rushing attack going nowhere, quarterback Geno Smith carried the offense with 372 passing yards and one score. The defense also made a few key plays, recording a touchdown in the first half and blocked field goal as time expired to preserve the victory. West Virginia still needs another Cincinnati loss to jump back to the top of the standings, but Saturday’s win was big to get back into the mix. The Mountaineers are off next Saturday and play Pittsburgh on Nov. 25.
3. Louisville (5-5) – The Cardinals had their three-game winning streak snapped with a 21-14 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday. The offense was held in check most of the afternoon, as Louisville’s first score came late in the third quarter. Freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for only 162 yards, and the rushing attack never managed to get on track. After building momentum with three straight wins, Louisville has to turn its focus back to getting bowl eligible. The Cardinals need to win one of their final two games (at Connecticut and at South Florida) to get into the postseason. Louisville isn't eliminated in the conference title race, but needs Cincinnati lose out.
4. Rutgers (7-3) – The Scarlet Knights got all they could handle from Army, but used two fourth quarter touchdowns to finish with a 27-12 victory. Chas Dodd got the call at quarterback and completed 17 of 27 passes for 192 yards and one touchdown. Jeremy Deering also gave the offense a spark, rushing for 66 yards on 14 attempts. This game may be the first of two for Rutgers in Yankee Stadium this year. With a 7-3 record, the Scarlet Knights have to be squarely on the Pinstripe Bowl radar, which is held on Dec. 30 in New York City.
5. Pittsburgh (5-5) – Quarterback Tino Sunseri led the Panthers to a 21-14 victory over Louisville on Saturday, totaling 227 overall yards and posting two scores. The win over the Cardinals was Pittsburgh’s first on the road this year and improved its record to 3-2 in Big East play. The Panthers need one more win to get bowl eligible and have two games remaining: at West Virginia and home against Syracuse. Pittsburgh has a bye this Saturday and travels to Morgantown for the Backyard Brawl on Friday, Nov. 25.
6. South Florida (5-4) – The Bulls snapped a four-game losing streak with a dominating 37-17 victory over Syracuse on Friday night. Quarterback B.J. Daniels carried the offense, rushing for 117 yards and a score, while passing for 254 yards. The defense allowed 405 yards, but kept Syracuse running back Antwon Bailey in check and allowed only seven points in the second half. South Florida still needs one more win to get bowl eligible, and ends the year with three home games – Miami, Louisville and West Virginia. The Bulls expected to be better than 5-4 entering Week 12, but there’s a good chance they can finish 8-4 with a favorable remaining schedule.
7. Connecticut (4-5) – The Huskies had a bye in Week 11 and return to action this Saturday against Louisville. Connecticut needs two wins to get bowl eligible, but there’s no guaranteed victories on the schedule. The Huskies are home against Louisville and Rutgers, before closing out the year at Cincinnati. Connecticut’s postseason hopes largely rest on its quarterback play. Johnny McEntee has been inconsistent, and Scott McCummings may see more time as a change of pace option.
8. Syracuse (5-5) – The Orange head into their bye week with two games remaining, and one victory needed to get bowl eligible. After upsetting West Virginia 49-23 on Oct. 21, Syracuse has lost three consecutive games, including a 37-17 defeat to South Florida on Friday night. The offense had its moments against the Bulls, but was unable to cash in on a couple of key opportunities around the goal-line. And the defense struggled to stop South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels, who totaled 371 overall yards. Syracuse returns to action on Nov. 26 with a home date against Cincinnati.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the most important things to take away from this weekend.
Clemson – The Tigers had their national title hopes end with a 31-17 loss to Georgia Tech in Week 9, but rebounded with a 31-28 victory over Wake Forest. With the win over the Demon Deacons, Clemson has clinched an appearance in the ACC title game. This will be the Tigers' second appearance in the ACC Championship under coach Dabo Swinney. Not bad for a guy that was on the hot seat entering 2011.
Georgia – One more win. That’s all the Bulldogs need to clinch the SEC East. Georgia took a big step towards claiming the division by thumping Auburn 45-7 on Saturday. Quarterback Aaron Murray torched the Tigers’ secondary, throwing for 224 yards and four touchdowns. Considering Kentucky is 4-6 and has only one win in SEC play (Ole Miss), the Bulldogs will be heavily favored for Saturday’s game.
Houston – The Cougars recorded an easy 73-17 victory against Tulane on Thursday night to move to 10-0 this season. However, beating an awful Tulane team is not why Houston makes the winner’s section. Thanks to TCU’s win over Boise State, the Cougars are in the driver’s seat for a spot in one of the BCS bowls. Houston has two regular season games remaining, and if it wins both, will likely face Southern Miss in the Conference USA title game. While the path is favorable, the Cougars still have work to do in order to make their first BCS bowl appearance.
Kansas State – Even with losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the Wildcats are one of the most surprising teams in college football this season. Kansas State survived four overtimes to knock off Texas A&M, which improved its overall record to 8-2. Quarterback Collin Klein is not getting enough credit nationally for his season, posting 34 overall touchdowns and 2,513 yards. With Texas and Iowa State remaining, the Wildcats could finish 10-2 and play in the Cotton Bowl. Not a bad outcome for a team picked near the bottom of the Big 12.
Michigan State – The Spartans are in full control of the Big Ten Legends Division. With a 37-21 victory over Iowa on Saturday, Michigan State crossed a major hurdle to clinching a spot in the first Big Ten title game. The Spartans close out the year with favorable matchups against Indiana and Northwestern. Considering the upcoming schedule, it would be a shock if Michigan State loses another game in the regular season.
Missouri – Losing running back Henry Josey for the rest of the year was a big blow to the Tigers’ offense, but it doesn’t take anything away from a solid 17-5 victory over Texas. Missouri’s defense held the Longhorns to only 247 yards and moved within one win of getting bowl eligible. The Tigers face Texas Tech this Saturday, before closing out the regular season with a matchup against Kansas.
Oregon – The Ducks have been off the national radar since a loss to LSU in the season opener, but Saturday’s 53-30 win over Stanford has this team back in the mix for a national title. Running back LaMichael James torched the Cardinal for 146 yards and three touchdowns, while the defense forced five turnovers and held Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor to 99 yards. Oregon has a tough matchup against USC this Saturday, but is one win away from clinching the Pac-12 North title. The Ducks need some help, but don’t count them out in the national title picture.
Purdue – I’m still skeptical of coach Danny Hope’s long-term future with the Boilermakers, but getting a 26-23 victory over Ohio State should ease the pressure on his hot seat. The offense got a spark from quarterback Robert Marve, who scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime, while passing for 94 yards on 10 completions. The defense also chipped in with a solid effort, limiting the Buckeyes to only 163 yards. And the win over the Buckeyes moved Purdue within one game of getting bowl eligible. The Boilermakers host Iowa this Saturday, before finishing the regular season with a date against rival Indiana.
TCU – The Horned Frogs gave the Mountain West a final parting shot on Saturday, knocking off Boise State 36-35 and moving into the driver’s seat for the conference title. Quarterback Casey Pachall torched an injury-riddled secondary, throwing for 473 yards and five touchdowns. The Horned Frogs’ defense also made a couple of key plays, including a forcing a fumble with less than three minutes remaining. With Colorado State and UNLV left on the schedule, TCU should finish 10-2 and close out its tenure in the Mountain West with a conference title.
USC – If quarterback Matt Barkley and tackle Matt Kalil return for 2012, this is going to be an interesting team to watch in the preseason polls. The Trojans knocked off Washington 40-17 on Saturday, which moved their record to 8-2 this season. It’s pretty clear USC is the best team in the Pac-12 South, and it’s a shame it can’t play for the conference title this year.
Utah – The Utes kept their Pac-12 South title hopes alive with a 31-6 victory over UCLA on Saturday. A season-ending injury to quarterback Jordan Wynn has limited the offense over the last few weeks, but running back John White and defense has carried the team. White gashed the Bruins for 167 yards and two touchdowns, which gave him 1,191 yards for the season. The Utes play at Washington State this Saturday.
Washington State – Coach Paul Wulff’s future is still up in the air, but he’s making a strong case to return to Pullman for 2012. The Cougars earned their second Pac-12 victory this season, defeating Arizona State 37-27. Redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Halliday turned in one of the top passing performances of Pac-12 play this year, throwing for 494 yards and four touchdowns. With two games left, don’t count out the Cougars from getting to a bowl. Beating Utah and Washington won’t be easy, but if Halliday picks up where he left off against the Sun Devils, anything is possible.
West Virginia – The Mountaineers were in danger of slipping out of the Big East title race, but Saturday’s 24-21 victory over Cincinnati keeps their hopes alive for another week. West Virginia still needs help to claim the top spot, but beating the Bearcats was a step in the right direction. The play of the offensive line and defense will be a concern the rest of the year, but with Cincinnati losing quarterback Zach Collaros for the remainder of the season, the Big East could be up for grabs.
Arizona State – Two weeks ago, the Sun Devils appeared to be in full control of the Pac-12 South Division. After back-to-back losses, Arizona State’s grip on the South is no more. The Sun Devils were upset 37-27 at Washington State on Saturday night, which dropped their record to 6-4. Arizona State still has the inside track on playing for the conference title, as UCLA still has to win at USC to claim the South.
Boise State – One loss doesn’t spoil a run like the Broncos have put together in recent seasons. But it’s certainly disappointing that a missed field goal will change Boise State’s 2011 campaign. The Broncos dropped their first regular season home game since 2001, losing 36-35 to TCU. Although Boise State should finish with an 11-1 record, it is likely to miss out on a BCS berth for the second season in a row.
Cincinnati – The Bearcats still have a one-game lead in the Big East, but losing to West Virginia 24-21 on Saturday was a costly defeat. Quarterback Zach Collaros is out for the rest of the regular season with a fractured ankle, which leaves Munchie Legaux as the starter. Cincinnati has three regular season contests remaining – at Rutgers, at Syracuse and home against Connecticut – and can’t afford another defeat. Without Collaros, finishing the season without a loss in the final three games won’t be easy.
FAU – With New Mexico’s victory over UNLV, the Owls are the only winless team in college football.
Illinois – The Fighting Illini have been on a slide since beginning the year 6-0. Illinois’ suffered its fourth straight defeat, losing 31-14 to Michigan on Saturday. The offense has been an issue over the last four games, as the Fighting Illini has not scored more than 14 points since Oct. 8 against Indiana. With Wisconsin coming to Champaign this week, Illinois could be 6-5 before the season finale against Minnesota.
NC State – One week after thumping rival North Carolina, the Wolfpack slumped to a 14-10 loss to Boston College. The defeat was particularly damaging to NC State’s bowl hopes, as it still needs two wins to get eligible and face Clemson and Maryland to close out the season. Will coach Tom O’Brien return next season? Although the Wolfpack has been hit hard by injuries, finishing with a 6-6 record and no bowl game is not going to sit well in Raleigh.
Ohio State – The Buckeyes appeared to be headed in the right direction coming into Week 11, as they had three straight wins and was in the mix to win the Leaders Division. Not anymore. Ohio State suffered a disappointing 26-23 overtime loss to Purdue, which dropped its record to 6-4 this year. The Buckeyes have to face Penn State and Michigan to close out the year, so there are no guaranteed victories remaining on the schedule. Although Luke Fickell deserved a lot of credit for leading this team to a victory over the Badgers, a sluggish performance against the Boilermakers certainly raises more questions about his future.
Ole Miss – A bad week for the Rebels got worse on Saturday night. Coach Houston Nutt was fired on Monday, and Ole Miss followed that up with a lethargic performance in a 27-7 loss to Louisiana Tech. The Rebels have not recorded a victory since beating Fresno State 38-28 on Oct. 1. With LSU and Mississippi State remaining, Ole Miss appears headed for a 2-10 record.
Stanford – The Cardinal watched their national title hopes end with a 53-30 defeat to Oregon on Saturday night. The lack of game changers at receiver showed against the Ducks, with quarterback Andrew Luck struggling to hit plays downfield all night. Oregon’s defensive front was also a handful for Stanford’s offensive line. Although the Cardinal is out of the national title picture, there is still plenty to play for. If Stanford wins against California and Notre Dame, it should reach a BCS game.
Texas A&M – We will have to wait until the end of the season to sort out the biggest disappointment of 2011, but it’s fairly certain the Aggies will be near the top of the list. Texas A&M began the season as a preseason top-10 team, but Saturday’s defeat to Kansas State dropped it to 5-5. The Aggies should get bowl eligible with a win over Kansas this Saturday. However, finishing 6-6 or 7-5 is not what most had in mind coming into 2011. Considering the disappointing season, could the Aggies replace coach Mike Sherman?
UNLV – When you lose to New Mexico, it’s an automatic mention into this space.
Looking Ahead to Week 12
A small sample of what’s ahead
North Carolina at Virginia Tech (Thursday)
Hokies can clinch Coastal Division with a win over Tar Heels and loss by Virginia against Florida State.
Oklahoma State at Iowa State (Friday)
Cowboys should win, but have to be careful not to look ahead to Bedlam.
Penn State at Ohio State
A big game for positioning in the Leaders Division.
Vanderbilt at Tennessee
Can the Commodores get bowl eligible in Knoxville?
Miami at South Florida
Bragging rights in the Sunshine State on the line, and the winner gets bowl eligible.
Virginia at Florida State
Seminoles on a roll, but Cavaliers are a dangerous team.
Nebraska at Michigan
Both teams looking up at Michigan State in the Legends Division race.
Kentucky at Georgia
Mission for Bulldogs is simple: Win and clinch the SEC East title.
Cincinnati at Rutgers
Without Zach Collaros, can the Bearcats hang onto their lead in the Big East?
Oklahoma at Baylor
Bears have no trouble lighting up the scoreboard, but can they slow down Oklahoma?
Wisconsin at Illinois
Badgers still lurking in the Big Ten race, but have to win out to have a chance.
USC at Oregon
Light schedule makes this matchup the game of the week.
Injuries from Week 11
Air Force QB Tim Jefferson (concussion) – questionable for Week 12
BYU QB Riley Nelson (broken rib) – out Week 12
Cincinnati QB Zach Collaros (ankle) – out for the remainder of the regular season
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins (shoulder) – probable for Week 12
Clemson OT Phillip Price (knee) – likely out 2 weeks
Colorado State QB Pete Thomas (knee) – questionable for Week 12
Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes (back) – questionable for Week 12
Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz (broken ankle) – out for remainder of season
Marshall QB A.J. Graham (shoulder) – questionable for Week 12
Maryland QB Danny O’Brien (arm) – out for the remainder of 2011
Michigan QB Denard Robinson (wrist) – probable for Week 12
Missouri RB Henry Josey (knee) – out for the remainder of 2011
North Texas RB Lance Dunbar (knee) – questionable for Week 12
Ohio State LB Andrew Sweat (concussion) – questionable for Week 12
Texas RB Fozzy Whittaker (knee) – out for the remainder of 2011
Texas LB Keenan Robinson (thumb) – questionable for Week 12
USC S T.J. McDonald (concussion) – questionable for Week 12
Washington QB Keith Price (knee) – probable for Week 12
Wisconsin C Peter Konz (ankle) – out 2 to 4 weeks
By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 11 Pac-12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Oregon (9-1, 7-0) – The Ducks proved once again that speed kills. On a sloppy field against the best player in the nation, Oregon showed that it is simply the best team in the Pac-12. LaMichael James, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff all scored on long touchdowns on which Stanford missed badly on open-field tackles. Quarterback Darron Thomas played his best football in a month and led his Ducks to what should be a Pac-12 North championship-clinching win. Oregon now hosts the best team in the South, Southern California in Autzen Stadium.
2. Stanford (9-1, 7-1) – The showdown on the Farm was one long case of deja vu for Cardinal faithful. The last loss Stanford suffered was a 52-31 thumping in Eugene last season at the hands of the Ducks. The 53-30 score Saturday night further indicated just how fast Oregon can be. Big plays, missed tackles and untimely turnovers cost the Cardinal a chance at a Pac-12 and potential BCS Championship — and possibly cost Andrew Luck the Heisman. Stanford still has an at-large BCS chance with games against Cal and Notre Dame to finish 2011.
3. USC (8-2, 5-2) – Lane Kiffin and the Trojans offense got back to basics this weekend in a 40-17 drubbing of Washington. Matt Barkley was needed for only 174 yards and one touchdown as the ground game took center stage. Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler combined for 198 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns in the easy win over the Huskies. In all, USC rushed for 252 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries. The defense played excellent football, holding Washington to a season-low 244 total yards of offense. Their reward? A trip to Eugene to play the league's top team.
4. Washington (6-4, 4-3) – Keith Price managed to throw for only 125 yards and failed to throw a touchdown for the first time all year before leaving in the third quarter with a knee injury. The Huskies were outgained 426 to 244 yards in the 40-17 loss to USC, and the game was further proof that U of W still has a ways to go in order to compete for conference titles. Chris Polk's 36 yards rushing was his worst output since a 41-0 loss to Stanford in late October of 2010. The Huskies need to win out with games against Oregon State and Washington State.
5. Arizona State (6-4, 4-3) – The Sun Devils must not have been doing any scoreboard watching Saturday night. Right before kickoff of the road game against Washington State, ASU learned that UCLA had lost to Utah and that they once again controlled their own destiny. It didn't help any as the Cougars inexplicably topped the Devils 37-27. In slushy, wintry conditions in Pullman that now undoubtedly match the Devils' attitude, Washington State rolled up 590 yards of offense and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull off one of the year's biggest upsets. Arizona State now once again needs help to play in the Pac-12's title game.
6. Utah (6-4, 3-4) – After a convincing 31-6 win over UCLA, the Utah Utes are now one of the hotter teams in the league with three straight Pac-12 wins. John White IV rushed for 167 yards and three scores, and the Pac-12's top scoring defense completely shut down the Bruins attack. It was the first time UCLA was held without an offensive touchdown all season, and White leads the Pac-12 with 238 rushing attempts. They still need some help, but Utah is alive in the Pac-12 South race with Washington State and Colorado still left on the schedule. With the win, Utah became bowl-eligible for the ninth consecutive season.
7. UCLA (5-5, 4-3) – With the Pac-12 South race firmly in their control, the Bruins picked a perfect time to fail to reach paydirt for the first time all season. The 31-6 loss to Utah should have been crippling to the Bruins' Pac-12 title hopes — and still could cost Rick Neuheisel his job — but ASU's loss to Washington State has given UCLA new life. After allowing John White IV to trounce the rushing defense for 167 yards, the Bruins now rank last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense. UCLA controls its own destiny in the South and has Colorado at home and a visit to Southern Cal in the season finale.
8. California (6-4, 3-4) – Running back Isi Sofele had his best game of his career when he rushed 23 times for 190 yards (8.3 ypc) and a touchdown in the 23-6 win over Oregon State. Zach Maynard completed nearly 70% of his passes, and the defense obliterated the Beavers' rushing attack to the tune of 31 yards on 21 carries (1.4 ypc). Cal now has The Big Game on The Farm against an angry Cardinal team before visiting Arizona State in the final week of play. It's a tough stretch of action for an embattled coach who may need to pull off an upset to keep his job.
9. Washington State (4-6, 2-5) – This may sound crazy, but Wazzu could be a bowl team this season after a shocking 37-27 home win over Pac-12 South favorite Arizona State. True freshman Connor Halliday completed 27-of-36 passes for 494 yards and four touchdowns (0 INT) for a ridiculous 226.9 passer rating. The defense held Cameron Marshall to 16 attempts for 37 yards, his worst performance since Week 1 (in a blowout win against UC Davis in which he was not needed). It may be far-fetched, but if the Cougars can beat Utah and Washington, Paul Wulff will have his team in the postseason for the first time since 2003.
10. Oregon State (2-8, 2-5) – The Beavers' 23-8 road loss to Cal gave Mike Riley his third straight loss in what might have been the last winnable game for OSU. Oregon State was held to 1.4 yards per carry on 21 rushing attempts, and quarterback Sean Mannion failed to score a touchdown while throwing two interceptions. With Oregon and Washington still left on the schedule, it is hard to see Oregon State winning again in 2011 — and it may cost Riley his job.
11. Colorado (2-9, 1-6) – Rodney Stewart took control of the game on Saturday night, and it led to the first-ever Pac-12 win for Jon Embree and the Colorado Buffaloes. Stewart rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns while tossing another scoring strike in the 48-29 home win over Arizona. Quarterback Tyler Hansen also threw touchdowns while landing on the receiving end of Stewart's flea-flicker TD toss. The Buffs' 500 yards of offense were their highest total since Week 2 against Cal. The win allows the Buffs to avoid the first winless season at Folsom Field in the 87-year history of the building.
12. Arizona (2-8, 1-7) – Nick Foles threw for 300-plus yards again. And the Arizona Wildcats lost again. For the eight time this season, Foles topped the 300-yard mark, and for the seventh time, Arizona lost. The 48-29 loss to Colorado marks a new low for the 2011 Wildcats, who now rank last in the Pac-12 in total defense, pass defense, sacks allowed, punting and pass efficiency defense. They rank 11th in rushing offense scoring defense and turnover margin. Paging Mike Leach?
Arkansas senior Joe Adams had one of the greatest punt returns in the history of punt returns against the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday.
Never before has a punt return gone from so stupid, because Adams started running backwards, then sideways, then backwards again, to so brilliant when he made a few cuts to make a few Volunteers miss and then finally break away to take it all the way to the house.
It's hard to say how many yards he actually ran during this punt return, but it seems like he ran anything but forward at least as many yards as he went upfield.
It's hard to say if this is more of poor defense and bad tackling than brilliant punt returning skills, but you can't take anything away from Arkansas' Adams for this punt return. He probably should've been tackled a few times, but the fact that he had such little space and juked his way to a touchdown makes this one of the greatest punt returns in history.
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Frank Gore, according to San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh is apparently "Fine" after suffering a knee injury against the New York Giants on Sunday.
The 49ers coach was emphatic that Gore will play next week, and the knee injury that kept him out of the majority of the second half is not serious. And that he wasn't put back in the game for precautionary reasons.
OK, fine, sounds great right? Hang on a second.
Gore, who has a history of injury problems that usually cost him anywhere from a couple of games to half a season is one of those fantasy players that always has owners waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But so far, this season has been different. Gore has been one of the most productive backs in the league, carrying the 49ers to an unbelievable 8-1 record. Harbaugh is all but assured of winnin coach of the year, and Frank Gore is in the discussions for MVP.
And while that's all well and good, every Frank Gore owner has wondered when the injury bug would hit. And when he didn't come back in the Giants game, everyone assumed the worst.
Whether Gore is actually fine and will be good to go next remains to be seen, but fantasy owners should pick up his more-than-capable backup, Kendall Hunter off waivers.
Hunter has proven himself to be a #1RB in waiting and he proved it by putting up 40 yards and a touchdown, to go along with one catch, in the game against New York.
And Hunter is worth owning even if Gore is 100%, because the 49ers have already openly discussed limting Gore's role to save on wear and tear leadign up to the playoffs.
And it makes sense. If history is any lesson, Gore can't take the weekly pounding he gets. Hunter is a rookie with fresh legs. And given the fact that the 49ers have all but wrapped up the NFC West with half the season to go, why not see what Kendall can do, while resting the most important player on your offense.
Go get Hunter, and I'd dare say he's worth a start next week against Arizona, no matter what Harbaugh or Gore say this week.
DeSean Jackson will reportedly be inactive today after showing up late for a team meeting on Saturday, multiple sources are reporting.
This will be a huge, unexpected blow for fantasy teams, as well as the Eagles passing game looking to get back on track after losing a very important game to the Bears last week.
This was exepcted to be a big bounceback week for Jackson as well, who only tallied two catches for 16 yards last week against the Bears.
This week was expected to be much different, with a game at home against the Cardinals who have the 27th ranked passing defense in the league. Most fantasy experts had moved DeSean Jackson up and were expecting the entire Eagles offense to put up the points that most had been expecting them to put up all season.
Exactly what team meeting he missed or why he missed it is still unknown. We'll update this story as we learn more about the situation. It must have been an egregious error on DeSean's part for him to be inactive for the whole game, and not just a quarter or half.
In the meantime, expect more out of Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant to fill the hole left by Jackson's absence. With 3rd string wide receiver Riley Cooper seeing a few more balls thrown his way. The Eagles desperately need to win every game remaining in their season if they are to continue to have any chance at a playoff berth, so Maclin and Avant just went from being #2 and #3 WR's to being #1 and #2 wide receivers on one of the most explosive passing offenses in football.
Start both Avant and Maclin with lots of confidence.
New York Giants receivers Hakeem Nicks is a triple threat for fantasy owners in his Week 10 game against the San Francisco 49ers. And not in a good way.
First, he is questionable with a hamstring injury that kept him out of last week’s game against New England and limited him in practice this week. Second, he is listed as a game-time decision, something we love to hear when prepping our lineups. Third, and worst of all, outside of a Sunday or Monday night game, the Giants play a late afternoon game today.
All signs are pointing to Nicks playing today, and the Giants will certainly need him.
Fellow receiver, Mario Manningham (knee), joined the injury report again. Manningham, who missed Week 3 with a concussion, practiced all week but was listed on Saturday’s injury report. The Giants will already be without RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) against the NFL’s top-ranked defense vs. the run (70.8 YPG and no touchdowns).
The 49ers are ranked 22nd against the pass (255.1 YPG with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions). However, the 49ers have been the fourth-best team against fantasy receivers the last five weeks and 20th-best all season.
Needless to say, New York must lean on its passing game to have any success in the Bay.
The Giants bring the NFL’s sixth-ranked passing offense (282.9 YPG) to San Francisco as quarterback Eli Manning has thrown 15 touchdowns to six interceptions and has a 62.9-percent completion rate
Nicks has certainly seen his production cut into by Manningham, Victor Cruz and tight end Jake Ballard this season. Nicks has been targeted 62 times, catching 38 for 575 yards (15.1 YPC) and three scores. Manningham has 52 targets and two scores having missed a game and Cruz has 53 targets and four scores. Ballard has 40 targets and three scores.
Nicks is the 19th-ranked fantasy receiver in Athlon’s half-PPR format, but Cruz is 16th. Manningham is 54th. Ballard is the 11th-best TE in fantasy. Moral of the story: Manning is spreading it around so much that the Giants receivers have become New Orleans-like in that you don’t know who to count on when.
Would I start Nicks against San Francisco? If I had better options, no.
There are the aforementioned factors going against him this week, and the late-afternoon start makes it really dicey. Anything could happen with the game-time decision tag and that is a scary proposition if you are counting on Nicks. Of course, if you hear that Manningham is out and Nicks is in, then don’t be too clever. Get Nicks in the lineup.
Hopefully, you drafted well or have made the correct moves on your waiver wire to establish depth for these situations. If you have not, then throw fantasy’s 19th-best receiver and still the team’s No. 1 target in there under the theory of playing your best players.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones jumped back on the fantasy radar after his two-touchdown, 131-yard performance in a quarter and change against Indianapolis last week.
However, he did not come out unscathed from the Colts game. He has again battled the hamstring injury this week, being limited in practice on both Thursday and Friday. He is probable for Sunday’s game against AFC South rival New Orleans.
It leaves fantasy owners wondering what to do with the rookie. Is he a reliable start?
Jones is fantasy’s 25th-best total points receiver despite missing two games and not having much of an impact in Week 2 after a five-catch, 71-yard NFL debut against Chicago. He is fantasy’s 14th-best points per game producer (12.98) in Athlon’s half-PPR format.
Falcon quarterback Matt Ryan has liked him from the start. After the 5-71 debut, he went just 2-for-29 but on a team-high eight targets against Philadelphia in Week 2. Jones bounced back with 6-for-115 on seven targets in Week 3 against Tampa Bay and 11-for-127 yards on 17 targets against Seattle in Week 4.
He was hurt in the fourth quarter (strained left hamstring) against Green Bay after catching one ball for 16 yards on four targets. Jones missed Weeks 6 and 7 and the Falcons had their bye in Week 8.
Jones now has 46 targets, catching 28 balls for 489 yards and two scores. Atlanta’s No. 1, Roddy White, has 78 targets, catching 43 for 501 yards and three scores. White averages 9.8 targets a game, while Jones averages 7.6.
The re-emergence for Jones after the bye was certainly a nice how do ya do. He received just four targets against the Colts, but caught three of them for 131 yards and his first and second career touchdowns in a very DeSean Jackson-like day.
His second TD helped give the Falcons a 21-0 lead over Indianapolis three minutes into the second quarter and he produced just one catch for one yard and one rush for 19 yards the rest of the way. So it’s hard to say what Jones would have done in a more competitive game.
This Sunday should be that competitive game.
Atlanta faces a New Orleans defense that has surrendered just one TD to a receiver in the last three games and six altogether since giving up three to three different receivers in the opener against Green Bay. And it’s not just touchdowns that are scarce, so are double-digit fantasy days from receivers. The Saints have allowed only Brandon Lloyd (6-53-1), Arrelious Benn (3-83-1) and Steve Smith (3-79-1) to have double-digit days in Athlon’s half-PPR scoring format in the last six games. Obviously, it was the TD that put all three over the 10-point mark, something Jones just got the first two of in his career.
New Orleans has also allowed at least 72 yards rushing in each of the last six weeks on an average of 17.3 carries, and days of 115, 109 and 159 are all in there in three of the last four weeks. Now Michael Turner, fantasy’s No. 8 RB, lines up against New Orleans.
The Saints will be without linebacker Jonathan Vilma, defensive end Turk McBride this week, and cornerbacks Tracy Porter (neck/chest) and Patrick Robinson (stomach) are probable and questionable. That’s good news for Matt Ryan and Co., ranked as the 12th-best fantasy quarterbacks and 22nd-best fantasy receivers, going against a New Orleans team already ranked 15th against fantasy quarterbacks and 19th against fantasy receivers.
This is a tough call on whether Jones is a WR2 or not this week because of what the Saints have done against fantasy receivers as of late, because you never know whether it will be a Roddy White or Jones day and because the New Orleans has been getting gashed by running backs and Turner could steal the scores.
But this is why the Falcons moved up in the draft to grab Jones. He is the explosive weapon Atlanta needed to consistently keep up with and defeat high-powered offensive teams such as the Saints. The Falcons saw the talent, and so should you.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Earl Bennett is back in the lineup for the Chicago Bears. The receiver saw his first action on Monday night since a Week 2 chest injury sidelined him for most of the first half of the season. Upon his return, Bennett caught all five of his targets for 95 yards and a score.
Now he goes up against the Detroit Lions. What should we expect from Bennett this week?
I would expect more of the same as we saw Monday night.
Quarterback Jay Cutler is certainly no stranger to sacks. He was sacked a league-leading 56 times last season and has already been dropped 21 times this season. And the Lions are certainly no strangers to sacks. They have the fourth most in the league at 24, and sacked Cutler three times and were close on many other plays in their Week 5 meeting.
And Cutler is no stranger to Bennett, dating back to their one season together at Vanderbilt when the freshman Bennett caught 79 passes from the senior Cutler.
That connection will certainly need to be one that is used often if the Bears and Cutler want to survive Sunday afternoon.
Bennett might be more than just the third down threat as the Lions will bring the pressure and Cutler needs to get rid of the ball quickly. Bennett has already caught eight of 10 targets (80 percent) from Cutler this season and caught 46 of 70 (66 percent) last season. No other Bear receiver has that high of a catch rate this year or last.
Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice gave his group a “C-plus” grade after Monday night’s win against Philadelphia, and going up against Detroit doesn’t lead one to believe that grade will rise.
In the Week 5 meeting against the Lions, Cutler completed 28 of 38 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown with the three sacks in a 24-13 loss at Detroit. Now he gets Bennett back and is at home to try and improve those numbers.
Where the concern lies mostly with starting Bennett are the other Bears receivers that can cut into his production. Devin Hester, Roy Williams, Johnny Knox and Dane Sanzenbacher have all lead the team in targets in at least one game this season, and that is when all four were playing. Now you add Bennett back into the mix. Hester is battling a sprained ankle suffered Monday night and is expected to play, but that may open the door a little more for Bennett.
It is a short sample size this season, but Bennett’s fourth year is on pace to be his best in per game numbers. In two full games, (chest injury occurred in first quarter vs. New Orleans) Bennett’s targets (3.5), catches (4), yardage (57.5) and scores (.5) per game are all up.
Detroit has allowed PPR receivers to be successful this season. Last week, Denver’s Eric Decker (6-72-1) and Eddie Royal (6-41-0) produced. A week earlier, Atlanta’s Roddy White (5-52-1) and Harry Douglas (4-62-0) had PPR success. San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree caught nine of 15 targets for 77 yards in Week 6, and in the Week 5 meeting, Sanzenbacher (6-64), Sam Hurd (4-50) and Devin Hester (5-32) were all decent PPR plays. Detroit does not, however, allow many receivers to cross the goal line. The Lions have only allowed five TDs to receivers thus far.
A combination of the pressure Detroit will bring against a still poor Chicago offensive line and the connection Cutler has with Bennett leads me to believe Bennett is a solid PPR play this week. You could take a chance on him as a flex in non-PPR, but I think he’s a solid WR2 in a PPR league.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
So you’ve picked up Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Laurent Robinson off the waiver wire. Now the question is do you start him this week against the visiting Buffalo Bills.
It depends on which Buffalo Bills pass defense are we going to see?
It has been a tale of two pass defenses for Buffalo this season. Four out of the first five weeks they were terrible, the last three they have been pretty solid.
In Week 1, the Bills allowed just six catches for 51 yards to five receivers in a blowout win against Kansas City. However, the next four weeks, Buffalo gave up some big days to receivers. Oakland’s Denarius Moore went 5-146-1, New England’s Wes Welker went 16-217-2, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green went 4-118-0 and Philadelphia’s Jason Avant went 9-139-0.
The Bills then seemingly put at least a bandage on some of the pass defense’s hemorrhaging when they held a pass-happy New York Giants team to just 11 catches and 164 yards amongst six receivers. Hakeem Nicks led the team that day with four catches for 96 yards.
It kick started a run over the last three games where no receiver has caught more than five balls, no other receiver, outside of Nicks’ 96, has gone over 79 yards and only one receiving TD (Santonio Holmes barely) has been allowed.
With injuries to Dez Bryant and Miles Austin throughout the season and Robinson transitioning in rather smoothly, the Cowboys still have the No. 7-ranked passing attack (279.5 YPG) in the NFL. The Bills don’t bring productive pressure (15 sacks ranked for 25th in NFL) but they do produce interceptions (15 ranked 2nd in NFL).
This week’s matchup is on the shoulders of Romo, who hasn’t thrown a pick in 64 attempts (jinx), and then on the height of Bryant (6-2) and Robinson (6-2) against the height of Buffalo cornerbacks Drayton Florence (6-0), Leodis McKelvin (5-10) and Terrence McGee (5-9).
Robinson already has two five-catch games for the Cowboys and two TDs— each coming in the last two games. He should fill in nicely as a starting receiver for the injured Austin (hamstring). Bryant has been a little flaky this season, but there is no denying his talent. He has 45 catches for 561 yards and six scores this season. Perhaps he will shine when the No. 1 spotlight is squarely on his No. 88 this weekend.
Plus, the threat of RB DeMarco Murray in the Cowboy backfield will certainly open up things for Bryant and Robinson.
All of these factors mean this is a start ’em if you’ve got ’em week for any Cowboys on your roster.
By Corby. A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Can you really send fantasy football’s seventh-best receiver this season to the bench in Week 10?
If I’m an A.J. Green owner, and I am in one league, I am really, really considering doing just that.
The Cincinnati Bengals’ rookie receiver, along with his rookie quarterback, Andy Dalton, will be facing the Pittsburgh Steelers and their Dick LeBeau-led defense for the first time together.
Pittsburgh, against fantasy receivers overall, is the third-best team in the league at defending them. Only six touchdowns (T-8th), 92 catches (11th) and 985 yards (4th) have been surrendered by the Steelers to receivers through nine games. No receiver has eclipsed 88 yards and no receiver has had multiple-TD games.
Here’s the kind of days the most-targeted receiver on the opposing team had against Pittsburgh.
Week 1: Anquan Boldin, Baltimore - Seven targets, four catches, 74 yards, 1 TD
Week 2: Ben Obomanu, Seatte - Six targets, four catches, 35 yards
Week 3: Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis - 13 targets, three catches, 24 yards
Week 4: Andre Johnson, Houston - Five targets, four catches, 36 yards
Week 5: Damian Williams, Tennessee - 11 targets, six catches, 66 yards, 1 TD
Week 6: Mike Thomas, Jacksonville - Six targets, four catches, 36 yards
Week 7: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona - 10 targets, four catches, 78 yards
Week 8: Wes Welker, New England - Six catches, 39 yards
Week 9: Anquan Boldin, Baltimore - 10 targets, seven catches, 88 yards
All told: 74 targets, 42 catches, 476 yards, two touchdowns (Average: 8.2 targets, 4.6 catches, 52.8 yards, .2 TD)
Green is easily the most-targeted receiver for the Bengals with 65, 12 ahead of Jerome Simpson for Cincinnati. Green has caught 40 of those for 599 yards and five touchdowns.
In Athlon’s half-PPR scoring format, the most targeted receiver averages an 8.7-point fantasy day against Pittsburgh.
And these are just Pittsburgh stats against receivers as a whole. When you break down what defensive back Ike Taylor has done against receivers, it’s even more statistical proof that you might want to find another option not named A.J. Green.
Taylor has been thrown at 56 times this season and allowed just 20 catches (35.7 percent catch rate) for 211 yards and one touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus. The 6-1, nine-year veteran was even stronger up until two weeks ago. He had allowed eight catches against 38 times being thrown at before back-to-back games of allowing six catches apiece on eight and 10 targets. Overall this season, in Athlon’s half-PPR format, receivers are averaging 2.2 catches, 23.4 yards and .1 TD for a 3.5-point fantasy effort.
Any given Sunday, right? But through nine weeks thus far, Taylor has been Revis and Asomugha like. Revis has been thrown at 39 times, given up 13 catches (33.3 percent catch rate) for 204 yards and no scores. Asomugha has been thrown at 24 times, given up 13 catches (54.2 percent catch rate) for 209 yards and one TD.
A LeBeau-led defense, a rookie QB and the play of Ike Taylor will have me leaving Green on the bench this weekend. Be thankful for what you’ve been able to get from Green thus far and will continue to get, but keep in mind that he did have an ADP of 93.5 from over 4,200 MyFantasyLeague.com drafts. You should have better receivers ahead of him, and everything he gives you from here on out is gravy.
But hold the gravy this week.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
by Tom Bowles
A lot of verbiage was spilled into the microphone at Phoenix International Raceway on Friday. Taking turns, Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs spent precious moments making public amends, celebrating their corporate marriage while embracing the changes needed to keep their partnership afloat. Cupid wasn’t visible, but boy, did he work overtime Thursday night spewing arrows of affection in all the right places.
“We know where his heart is,” said owner Joe Gibbs, attempting to wipe away Busch’s Texas torment of Ron Hornaday with every word. “We think he’s one of the gifted people when it comes to just being an athlete.
“When you’re put in a situation like this, you really can make one of two decisions. I think the one would have been devastating and I think really discouraging for everybody associated with Kyle — everybody around him and for the sport. What I’ve chosen to do, I want to support Kyle and I feel like this could have a positive impact on Kyle and I’m committed to him as a person.”
Cue driver, returning heart-shaped Hallmark card of appreciation, stage right.
“Joe has been there and has stuck by my side and has held my arm through this whole deal,” Busch said. “I can’t say enough about the man sitting next to me.
“There’s an opportunity for me to become a better person, to grow and learn from this and I’m looking forward to those days.”
But actions speak louder than those pretty words. NASCAR is a business, after all, political correctness borne out of necessity as those who make mistakes face the wrath of Fortune 500 companies. Already, Busch’s tap of terror has cost far more than NASCAR’s $50,000 slap on the wrist. Primary sponsor M&M’s bailed for Busch’s final two Cup races; in addition, Nationwide backer Z-Line Designs opted out for Homestead. Team owner Gibbs made reference to additional penalties through his press conference, all internal and likely based off the loss of income Busch’s ill-timed, Ron Hornaday wall slam caused his three-car operation.
So on Friday, while sitting at the microphone in Phoenix, Busch had no choice but to act remorseful, his pledge to change contingent upon keeping his cash — the wallet has already gotten light enough. It’s notable that among those in the garage paddock, majority consensus appears to be he has been forgiven. Title contender Brad Keselowski tweeted Thursday that Busch had been punished enough, a one-race parking last weekend consistent with several other penalties for outrageously bad behavior doled out over the past decade. Even Hornaday himself, who Busch claimed “still invited (him) over to the house to stay on the couch if I need it,” seems to have cooled off from a banzai move that ultimately cost him an opportunity to win a fifth Truck title.
So like it or not, with probation for just two more races, the punishment of Kyle Busch ends now. The question is, on the heels of the majority of fans calling for Busch’s firing — 55 percent during Sunday’s ESPN telecast — whether the consequences were effective enough for this 26-year-old aggressor to learn a lesson. From the start, I’ve felt the only way that happens is if Busch feels true fear, acknowledging his job could be in jeopardy. What better motivation to become a better person then the thought of facing unemployment?
Once again, his words lead you to believe Busch spent the week running scared. But was he?
“Was there a point in which I thought, ‘Do I have a ride?’” he said. “Of course there was. Yeah, I thought that. Was there a point in which Joe (Gibbs) ever told me that, ‘Hey, we’re looking at terminating this?’ No.”
Uh oh. That, to me, is where words of Busch’s conviction start turning into, well, confusion. Just take a look at how the sponsors reacted. On the surface, M&M’s put up a valiant front in the wake of a possible Busch firing. A company in the business of catering to children, Busch’s R-rated on-track behavior had to be proven unacceptable in the public eye.
“As a proud member of the racing community, Kyle’s recent actions are unacceptable and do not reflect the values of Mars,” said Debra A. Sandler, Chief Consumer Office of the company, when announcing they wouldn’t back the driver again until February 2012. “We believe our decision will have a positive impact on Kyle and will help him return next season ready to win.”
Hmm. So by that statement, it’s clear M&M’s “felt” Kyle needed two more races to sit and think about what he’d done. Yet that’s not what’s happening. Interstate Batteries has backed the No. 18 this weekend, part one of a two-race act that covers Mars’ financial decision to back out. Instead of Kyle getting benched, he was actually rewarded by another company who felt the need to support him.
“We feel NASCAR took the appropriate action with Kyle, and we think he will become a better person for it,” said Norm Miller, Interstate Batteries president. “As founding sponsor of Joe Gibbs Racing, we felt it was the right thing to do to support JGR, Kyle and the No. 18 team during this difficult time.”
OK, so let me get this straight: one company says Kyle will be a better person by sitting. Another company says Kyle will be a better person by driving on Sunday. Meanwhile, Gibbs talks some threatening talk through the week, even contacting Aric Almirola to drive the car. But, when push comes to shove it’s all for show: his primary driver was back in the car as soon as humanly possible.
Confused? If that’s not doublespeak, I don’t know what is. I can tell you one thing, though: we’ve seen a whole lot of great business decisions. Interstate gets a little more exposure at a bargain price. M&M’s saves two races’ worth of money while looking like they’re taking a stand against this horrible driver who they’ll continue to make millions off of in three months. And Gibbs keeps his troubled three-car team financially viable, saving face while hanging on to the best wheelman he’s got.
So yes, Friday was a day filled with plenty of people saying all the right things for their wallet. But will that cause Kyle to actually change? A mixed message of “you've been a bad boy, but here’s more money for you to go and play” isn’t exactly a hard-line stance.
“We’re going to set out to do whatever we think is best going forward,” Gibbs, in closing said on Friday.
What that appears to be, according to their actions, is returning to the status quo as quickly as possible. So we’ll see. If last week’s slap was enough to scare Kyle then take all that cash to the bank. But if it doesn’t, no need to feel sorry for everyone except the driver himself. He needs a personal adjustment, not just for him but the safety of others he’ll race with. Unfortunately, this week’s lesson had absolutely nothing to do with that. It’s because even in the face of disaster, there’s one quiet voice that speaks louder than any other:
The almighty dollar's.
Agree with Tom? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Tom on Twitter @NASCARBowles
The pitchers who usually finish games have been the starters of baseball’s offseason news. With free against like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder anticipated to take weeks before signing contracts, two prominent closers have the “hot stove” burning in the northeast.
Former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who collected 219 saves over the last six seasons in Boston, has reportedly agreed to a four-year, $50 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. The potential contract also includes a fifth-year vesting option for 2016 that could bring the total value of the deal to over $60 million. Papelbon will take a physical early next week before the deal can become official.
The Phillies’ signing of Papelbon is big news for several reasons. Boston and Philadelphia are current MLB stalwarts, so a prominent player changing between those franchises is noteworthy. A closer getting a four-year deal for over $12 million a season is eye-opening for free agents and management all around baseball. And it’s especially interesting that it was just a few days ago when multiple reports surfaced of last year’s closer, Ryan Madson, agreeing to a four-year, $44 million contract to remain in Philadelphia. Subsequently, it was reported that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and Madson’s agent, Scott Boras, had verbally agreed to the deal and that it just needed the approval of club president David Montgomery. After no Madson contract was signed, Amaro insisted that there was never a deal in place.
So what happened? Perhaps multiple reports were wrong, or maybe the Phillies got cold feet. Or perhaps once Amaro knew what Madson would take to re-sign, he could then better negotiate with Papelbon’s camp? No deal is ever official until it is signed, as Madson may have learned the hard way.
Papelbon’s signing becomes very interesting for other prominent closers. The Red Sox will be looking for a stopper, with Madson and Padres’ fireman Heath Bell as the leading candidates. The 30-year-old Papelbon will now move from one pressurized MLB market to another, or at least he will when a contract is actually signed.
The current situation at Penn State is truly sad and tragic. We were all shocked by the revelations in the grand jury report involving long-time PSU assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and his 40-count sexual-abuse case. The fallout from this horrific criminal indictment has affected the entire university. The Penn State board of trustees voted unanimously to remove Joe Paterno — head football coach at PSU since 1966 — and school president Graham Spanier "effective immediately." The man who replaced Sandusky as defensive coordinator, Tom Bradley, has taken over as interim head coach. The Nittany Lions have a home game with Nebraska on Saturday in what will be a strange and surreal environment. Legal proceedings will dominate the news in Happy Valley for the foreseeable future, and Penn State will be in search of competent and trustworthy leadership for the school and the football program.
With Paterno gone, what's the future of Penn State football?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
There’s no question it’s going to be a long healing process for Penn State. Rebuilding the image of the school and its athletic department is going to take years. And it’s not going to be an easy job. Focusing on the football aspect, this scandal is likely to have a significant impact on recruiting. And considering the overall shape of the athletic department, can the Nittany Lions lure a top coach to Happy Valley? My guess is they will still be able to land one of their top choices. Miami’s Al Golden is probably atop the coaching list, but there’s also a money factor involved with any candidate. How much is Penn State willing to pay? Adding even more uncertainty to the coaching hire is the situation with the athletic director. The Nittany Lions may not have that position filled in a full-time capacity when the next coach is hired. Considering that the coach may not know who the athletic director will be, it is cause for concern for anyone that is interested in taking the job. Shifting back to the present, Penn State still has a chance to win the Big Ten title. Can Tom Bradley rally the team? There are a lot of questions and no easy answers at this point.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
First of all, I’m not sure that Penn State should be playing against Nebraska on Saturday or going to the postseason. After watching clueless students riot while cheering for Joe Paterno and screaming “Beat Nebraska”, some lessons need to be learned about priorities at PSU. Plus what did Tom Bradley know about Sandusky’s behavior, and are we sure he deserves to coach the team? What else was covered up? There are so many unanswered questions around that football complex. I do not want the current players to be punished, but some things are more important than football. As far as the future, former Nittany Lion player and current Miami coach Al Golden seems to make the most sense. He would be as motivated as anyone to clean up the school’s image. The new PSU leadership may want to go outside the Paterno family, for obvious reasons, and then names like Urban Meyer, Mike London, Kevin Sumlin and Pat Fitzgerald will be considered. Penn State needs a coach with a sterling reputation — which is what most of us mistakenly believed PSU had for 46 years.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
If I were making the decisions at Penn State, the first — and hopefully only — call I’d make would be to Al Golden, the current head coach at Miami. Golden played at Penn State from 1987-91 and served on the coaching staff in State College for one season (2000). He did a tremendous job as the head coach at Temple, turning the Owls into a consistent winner in the MAC, and he has done a commendable job in a difficult situation in his only season at Miami. In ideal circumstances, Golden might be reluctant to leave Miami — located in one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the nation — for Penn State, given the current climate in State College. But Miami is facing NCAA sanctions for violations that occurred prior to Golden’s arrival in Coral Gables. Penn State, obviously, has its own issues, but the school will not be penalized by the NCAA. Rebuilding the image of the university might take a few years, but it is still a better situation for a coach than what Miami is about to encounter. It’s not imperative that Penn State hire one of its own now, but Golden is a quality candidate who would likely be on the school’s short list even if he wasn’t a former player. This hire should be a slam dunk.
Despite the historically horrific week at Penn State, saddened fans in Happy Valley must celebrate Senior Day on Saturday in a critical contest against Nebraska at Beaver Stadium. If only for three or four hours, the Nittany Lions and their faithful can focus on the game between the lines rather than the tragic recent turn of events, which exposed Jerry Sandusky as the worst kind of monster and Joe Paterno as an enabler willing to look the other way. After this weekend's final home game of the season, PSU visits Ohio State and Wisconsin in tough road trips that will serve as needed respites from the chaos unleashed in central Pennsylvania. These final three games — and whatever bowl is unlucky enough to receive Penn State as a dirty Santa gift — are far less important than the healing and rebuilding process that will start with an extensive coaching search. State College must rally as a community. The Penn State football family needs a leader to step forward, take control and attempt to honestly achieve the "Success with Honor" aspiration that JoePa and Co. failed so miserably to live up to.
With the World Series in the rear-view mirror and the hot stove just beginning to heat up, it's time to hand out some awards to this year's best performers on the diamond. The Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) started handing out theirs today by announcing the AL and NL Rookies of the Year. And while no Athlon editors are members of the BBWAA, here's how four of us — Charlie Miller, Braden Gall, Patrick Snow and Mark Ross — would have voted if we did have a ballot to cast.
AL Cy Young
Let's face it. This is the Detroit Tigers' Justin Verlander's award this season and it's not even close. There's no doubt that Verlander is going to run away with the voting for the AL Cy Young. It's more a question of who finishes behind him and in what order, and how Verlander fares in the AL MVP voting.
Even with Verlander the undisputable, clear-cut winner, there were several other pitchers who had outstanding seasons on the mound, including Boston Red Sox starter Josh Beckett, Verlander's Detroit Tigers teammate closer Jose Valverde, the Los Angeles Angels' starting duo of Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, New York Yankees teammates Mariano Rivera and CC Sabathia, Tampa Bay Rays starter James Shields, Texas Rangers ace C.J. Wilson, and Toronto Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero.
Josh Beckett, SP, Boston Red Sox: 13-7, 2.89 ERA, 193 IP, 52 BB, 175 K, 1.03 WHIP, 30 GS
Dan Haren, SP, Los Angeles Angels: 16-10, 3.17 ERA, 238 1/3 IP, 33 BB, 192 K, 1.02 WHIP, 34 GS
Mariano Rivera, RP, New York Yankees: 1-2, 1.91 ERA, 44 SV, 61 1/3 IP, 8 BB, 60 K, 0.90 WHIP, 64 GP
Ricky Romero, SP, Toronto Blue Jays: 15-11, 2.92 ERA, 225 IP, 80 BB, 178 K, 1.14 WHIP, 32 GS
CC Sabathia, SP, New York Yankees: 19-8, 3.00 ERA, 237 1/3 IP, 61 BB, 230 K, 1.23 WHIP, 33 GS
James Shields, SP, Tampa Bay Rays: 16-12, 2.82 ERA, 249 1/3 IP, 65 BB, 225 K, 1.04 WHIP, 33 GS
Jose Valverde, RP, Detroit Tigers: 2-4, 2.24 ERA, 49 SV, 72 1/3 IP, 34 BB, 69 K, 1.19 WHIP, 75 GP
Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers: 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 251 IP, 57 BB, 250 K, 0.92 WHIP, 34 GS
Jered Weaver, SP, Los Angeles Angels: 18-8, 2.41 ERA, 235 2/3 IP, 56 BB, 198 K, 1.01 WHIP, 33 GS
C.J. Wilson, SP, Texas Rangers: 16-7, 2.94 ERA, 223 1/3 IP, 74 BB, 206 K, 1.19 WHIP, 34 GS
Athlon's Winner: Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers
Here's how the Athlon editors voted
Charlie Miller's ballot:
1. Justin Verlander
Verlander turned what was a hotly contested race two months ago into a runaway. It’s not so much his 24 wins that are impressive, but he logged more than 250 innings, had 250 strikeouts and allowed just 231 baserunners via hit or walk.
2. Jose Valverde
The Tigers’ closer is among the elite firemen in baseball now. He had a perfect 49-for-49 season in save chances.
3. Jered Weaver
It was tough pitching for one of the weakest offenses in the AL. The Angels plated four runs or less in 11 of his 33 starts. Six of Weaver’s seven no-decisions were one-run games; three wins, three losses.
4. James Shields
Shields was a badly needed workhorse for the Rays, logging 249.1 innings. His 16-12 record isn’t all that impressive, but the Rays won all five of his no-decisions, making them 21-12 in his starts. And his team provided just two runs or less 12 times.
5. CC Sabathia
The Yankees were 22-11 in his starts, but let’s face it, in 10 of those starts, the Yankees plated eight runs or more. He failed to complete the sixth inning just twice.
6. C.J. Wilson
7. Dan Haren
8. Josh Beckett
9. Mariano Rivera
10. Ricky Romero
Braden Gall's ballot:
Patrick Snow's ballot:
1. Justin Verlander
This one is about as easy as it gets. The Tigers’ ace led the American League in ERA (2.40), wins (24), innings pitched (251) and strikeouts (250). Verlander also had the only WHIP under one among AL starters at 0.92. He was absolutely dominant this season and was a catalyst in propelling Detroit to the AL Central crown and an ALDS victory over the Yankees. Verlander is a lock for the Cy and will also get heavy AL MVP consideration.
2. Jered Weaver
3. Jose Valverde
4. James Shields
5. Mariano Rivera
6. Dan Haren
7. CC Sabathia
8. C.J. Wilson
9. Josh Beckett
10. Ricky Romero
Mark Ross' ballot:
1. Justin Verlander
Besides winning the pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, strikeouts) in the American League, Verlander led the majors in wins (24), innings pitched (251), strikeouts (250), WHIP (0.92) and opponents’ batting average (.192). Oh yeah, he also threw his second career no-hitter in May. Talk about dominant.
2. James Shields
Shields led the majors with 11 complete games and was second with four shutouts, which was tops in the AL. He won 16 games and came up big time and time again down the stretch as the Rays chased down the Red Sox and won the Wild Card.
3. Jered Weaver
Finished just behind Verlander for the AL ERA title at 2.41, was third in wins (18) and second in WHIP (1.01). He started the season by winning his first six starts with a 0.99 ERA and went 8-1 in June and July with a 1.65 ERA.
4. Jose Valverde
A perfect 49-for-49 in save chances as he carried the load in the Tigers’ bullpen on their way to winning the AL Central.
5. CC Sabathia
Second in the AL in wins (19) and strikeouts (230), Sabathia also posted the lowest ERA (3.00) of his three-year Yankee tenure.
6. Dan Haren
7. C.J. Wilson
8. Josh Beckett
9. Ricky Romero
10. Mariano Rivera
Other Baseball awards-related content:
With the World Series in the rear-view mirror and the hot stove just beginning to heat up, it's time to hand out some awards to this year's best performers on the diamond. The Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) will make their announcements starting Monday. And while no Athlon editors are members of the BBWAA, here's how four of us — Charlie Miller, Braden Gall, Patrick Snow and Mark Ross — would have voted if we did have a ballot to cast.
NL Rookie of the Year
Unlike the American League, the pool of quality candidates for this year's National League Rookie of the Year was considerably smaller. All of the leading contenders hail from the NL East, headlined by the Atlanta Braves duo of reliever Craig Kimbrel and first baseman Freddie Freeman, along with their teammate starter Brandon Beachy, Philadelphia Phillies starter Vance Worley, and Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa.
Brandon Beachy, P, Atlanta Braves: 7-3, 3.68 ERA, 141 2/3 IP, 46 BB, 169 K, 25 GS
Danny Espinosa, 2B, Washington Nationals: 158 G, .236, 72 R, 29 2B, 21 HR, 66 RBI
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves: 157 G, .282, 67 R, 32 2B, 21 HR, 76 RBI
Craig Kimbrel, P, Atlanta Braves: 4-3, 2.10 ERA, 46 SV, 77 IP, 32 BB, 127 K, 79 GP
Vance Worley, P, Philadelphia Phillies: 11-3, 3.01 ERA, 131 2/3 IP, 46 BB, 119 K, 21 GS
Athlon's Winner: Craig Kimbrel, P, Atlanta Braves
It's no surprise that Kimbrel got all four first-place votes since he will most likely run away with the BBWAA voting as well. What is a little more surprising, however, is that all four Athlon editors' ballots turned out exactly the same — Kimbrel, followed by Freeman and then Worley. Nice to see they can agree on some things.
Here's how the Athlon editors voted
Charlie Miller's ballot:
1. Craig Kimbrel
Converted 25 consecutive save opportunities during the meat of the schedule. Kimbrel anchored the best bullpen in the NL.
2. Freddie Freeman
3. Vance Worley
Braden Gall's ballot:
1. Craig Kimbrel
Kimbrel set an MLB rookie record with 46 saves this season and finished tied with John Axford for the NL lead. His 127 strikeouts in 77 innings pitched (14.8 K/9) made him only the fourth player in history to post at least 30 saves and a K/9 rate over 14.0 (Carlos Marmol 2010, Eric Gagne 2003, Billy Wagner, 1998, 1999). Kimbrel enjoyed a 37.2 scoreless inning streak from June 14 to September 8 to lead Atlanta to a big Wild Card lead. We just won’t talk about his last six outings.
2. Freddie Freeman
From the batter’s box, there isn’t really any NL competition for Freeman. He led all NL rookies in batting average (.282), hits (161), doubles (32), homers (21), RBIs (76), on-base percetange (.346) and slugging (.448). He was the stabilizing force in the heart of the Braves order and was arguably their most consistent hitter in 2011.
3. Vance Worley
Worley had the benefit of learning from four of the best to play the game, but that does very little to diminish his NL rookie-best 3.01 ERA (minimum 15 starts). And when it counted, Worley posted a 2.83 ERA over his final 17 starts of the season.
Patrick Snow's ballot:
1. Craig Kimbrel
The Braves’ fireballer was dominant for most of the season, including a 38-game scoreless streak from June 14 to September 8. During that amazing run, Kimbrel had two wins and 25 saves in 37.2 innings pitched while striking out 67 batters. The young righty tied for the NL lead in saves with 46 and set the MLB record for rookie saves in the process.
2. Freddie Freeman
3. Vance Worley
Mark Ross' ballot:
1. Craig Kimbrel
Kimbrel set the single-season record for saves by a rookie with 46. He struck out 127 and gave up just 32 walks in 77 innings. With the exception of a rough patch at the end of the season and three games over a two-week span in May, Kimbrel was as close to automatic as it comes. From June 14 to September 8, Kimbrel threw 37 2/3 scoreless innings, collecting two wins and 24 saves in those 38 appearances.
2. Freddie Freeman
Given the starting job at first base in spring training, Freeman struggled at the plate out of the gate, hitting just .217 with three home runs and eight RBIs through April. He started turning things around in May, batting .312 and found his power stroke during the summer, when he hit 10 home runs with 35 RBIs in June and July combined. The 21-year-old led finished the season leading all NL rookies in batting average (.282), hits (161), doubles (32), home runs (21), RBIs (76), on-base percentage (.346) and slugging percentage (.448).
3. Vance Worley
Used sporadically at the start of the season, Worley became a regular in the Phillies’ starting rotation in the middle of June and thrived in the role. For the season, he went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 25 appearances, 21 of them starts. In a three-month stretch between June and August, Worley went 7-0 in 14 starts with a 2.30 ERA.
Other Baseball Awards-related content:
This profile of the Florida State and Miami college football rivalry originally appeared in Athlon's 1992 Big Ten Football annual. As the rivalry is renewed this week, we thought it was relevant to take a look back at the history of this epic showdown.
Florida State vs Miami: One of College Football's Greatest Rivalries
Bill Peterson, former Florida State coach, may have put it best with one of his malaprops.
"These are the kind of football games," he said before a Florida State-Miami game, "that coaches strive on."
It is a series that Miami certainly has thrived on lately. But then, the Hurricanes have thrived on just about every team that has gotten in their way while winning four national championships in the past nine seasons.
Florida State has strived better than any during that span. The Seminoles have beaten Miami twice in those nine years. But three times they have lost by a point, falling 17-16 in 1983 and 1991, and 26-25 in a memorable 1987 shootout.
"It's funny--well, it's not funny," says Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. "Miami was the team of the '80s. With about two more points a game (against Miami), Florida State would have been the team of the '80s."
Incredibly, in a 35-game series that Miami leads 21 to 14, there have been six one-point decisions. Florida State has lost all of them.
The others: 7-6 in 1959 and 1962, and 10-9 in 1980.
Bowden has been the victim of four of the one-point defeats. Two may have cost him national titles.
In a talk at Miami earlier this year, Bowden jested about his national-championship frustration as he waved a hand.
"I solved that business," he said, "I got me one of them rings."
Bowden moved his hand to eye level and read what he said was the inscription: "National champions 1991, '92, '93, '94. Love, Mother."
Bowden has been more involved in this series than any other coach on either side. His record against the Hurricanes is a frustrating 6-12, including 1-1 during his time at West Virginia.
During Bowden's 16 seasons at Florida State, Miami has had five head coaches. He lost to the first two (Carl Selmer and Lou Saban) as well as the last three (Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson).
When Bowden took over at Florida State in 1976, he inherited a team that had gone 4-29 in the previous three seasons. In his second game, Miami blew out the Seminoles 47-0.
"I was thinking we were finally going to win a game," says Bowden, noting that Miami had gone 2-8 the previous year. "They kick off. We fumble. They score. They kick off again. We throw a pass. They intercept. They score again. It wss 27-0 in the first quarter. At the end, it was 47-0. It could have been 100-0."
Bowden's teams got better. But Miami was usually a little better.
Twice in the last four years, Florida State has been a consensus preseason choice to win it all. Each time Miami got in the way.
Last year the Hurricanes dealt the Seminoles their first loss after 16 straight victories, including 10 straight that season. Bowden believes his team was so devesstated by disappointment of a game it lost when a last-minute field goal sailed wide right by inches that it precipitated the 14-9 defeat by Florida in the last regular season game.
A difference of inches mught summarize most of the unusal games between these two. But more than inches mark this relationship.
"This series with Miami," says Bowden, "differs from others in the fact that it has gained as much national prestige as any collegiate game in the country. The implications in the last five years have been greater than, say, Ohio State-Michigan, Auburn-Alabama, Southern Cal-UCLA, Notre Dame-Southern Cal--or any others you can name."
With such national impact, Bowden wonders if the series with Florida, Florida State's historic blood rival, is as big as it once was.
"To me, I don't know," he says. "To me, Miami is now our No. 1 rival instead of Florida. From my standpoint, developments have shifted the center of gravity to Miami, not Gainesville."
Miami seems ot have had the fates on its side. Strange things happen when these two play--bad thigns for Bowden's Seminoles.
"Wide right" last season was a notable example.
Bowden's first one-point loss tot he Hurricanes, in 1980, came whent he Seminoles suddenly found themselves without a center. In the previous game, the top two centers were lost to injury.
"We started a guard at center," Bowden recalls. "He couldn't snap. We had 10 center-quarterback fumbles. Miami got five of 'em."
Florida State lost when Miami nose tackle Jim Burt managed to get his helmet int he way of a late two-point pass following a touchdown. The receiver was open.
The Seminoles also had the acute trouble with inexperience at center when Miami romped 31-0 int he 1988 opener. Misfortune at that position seems to be a common thread in defeats by the Hurricanes.
"I guess I've lost as much sleep over losses in '87 and '91 as any games in my 38 years of coaching," Bowden says. "You look back at such weird things, One time I had a center snap the ball over the kicker's head before the holder was ready."
Instead od an early field goal that may have made a difference, the ball sailed 51 yards downfield. And Miami was the team that got a field goal and a 3-0 lead (this was in 1987.)
"In the same game, we were threatening to score when we had a fumbled exchange," Bowden remembers. "One of our guys inadvertently kicked the ball right to their safety, who fell on top of it."
Florida State built a 19-3 lead int he third quarter, but Steve Walsh threw three late touchdown passes and completed 2-point passes after the first two.
"I cannot explain it," says Bowden, referring mainly to the losses in '87 and '91, "except there was magnificent play by Miami. Still, we were playing in Tallahassee and got a good lead both ti mes. I think we had better ball clubs. And yet we still got beat.
The home field has often seemed a disadvantage in this biarre series.
There was a time when Florida State seemed to own the Orange Bowl, a time when the Seminoles won eight straight over ther Hurricanes.
From 1963 through 1972 the two played seven times. During a period when the Seminoles were not drawing particularly well at home, they agreed to play every year at Miami in quest of a bigger payday.
Peterson, who coached Florida State for 11 seasons, won those first five games in the Orange Bowl, sometimes flying his team down the morning of a night game and returning home immediately after.
Florida State's odd Orange Bowl dominance continued under two coaches who followed Peterson. Larry Jones won there in '71 and '72. But in 1973 te Seminoles were beset by the hardest of times, going 0-11 under Jones, who was fired. Under a new coach, Darrell Mudra, the losing streak climbed to 20. Naturally, Florida State halted its losing run in the Orange Bowl, winning 21-14 in '74. The Seminoles' lead in Orange Bowl vicotries has dwindled in the wake of recent Miami dominance, but they are still ahead, 12 to 11, in games played there.
By 1973 the rivalry had become a genuine home and home series. Only two of the first 6 games, in 1957 and 1959, had been played in Tallahassee, and Miami won both.
And Miami continued to win in Tallahassee. Not until Bowden prevailed 4023 in 1979 did Florida State beat Miami in Tallahassee's Doak Campbell Stadium. That was the year Howard Schnellenberger came aboard as Miami's coach.
Miami has won 10 of 12 in Tallahassee.
"I don't think Tallhassee is an easy place to play," Schnellenberger says. "In fact, it is very tough there. First of all, you are playing a great football team every time you go to Doak Campbell Stadium. And the fans are loud. Not a whole lot of other people there, you know, have won going in there."
Nor does Bowden consider the Orange Bowl a piece of cake, though he's three of his five Miami victories there.
"It may be as tough a place to play as there is," he says, "now that they've got bigger crowds that are really into it."
Not many realize that football was in serious trouble at Florida State and Miami in the years immediately preceding the arrivals of Bowden and Schnellenberger.
J. Stanley Marshall, then Florida State president, had spoken of the possibility of the school giving up football unless supporters came up with quick money following the disastrous season of '73. Miami, its Orange Bowl crowds down alarmingly, seemed in even greater danger of giving up football, just as it did basketball for 14 years.
"I remember both programs were about to sink," Bowden says.
Suddenly, things changed.
One year Schnellenberger asked Bowden to fly to Miami to help hype the Orange Bowl turnout, possibly an unprecedented request to a visiting coach during the week of the game. Bowden did fly down the Monday before the teams met Saturday.
"Obviously we were trying to generate interest in Miami," Schnellenberger says. "We had a joint press conference. We had a weigh-in, kind of like boxers before a main event. I guess I weighed in a lot more than he did. But it worked out real well."
The next year Schnellenberger flew to Tallahassee on the Monday before the game. In a boxing ring, the two squared off with gloves on. The scene got lots of media exposure.
On another occasion the two posed as poker players, with an overhead camera showing each had a royal flush.
The two constitute a mutual-admiration society that has hardly diminished in strength through changing times.
"Howard is close to being the best coach in the country," Bowden sayus, "Back then, I mean, as well as now."
Schnellenberger, who has been coacing at the University of Louisville for the last seven seasons, says he patterned much of what Miami was doing when he was there after what Bowden already had begun at Florida State.
"I was impressed with the way they handled their marketing, how they selectively enlarged their stadium, never to exceed known demands, never making it too big," Schnellenberger says.
"And I had the greatest respect for Bobby, personally. A guy you've got to like--non-pretentious, never gives the appearance of being self-serving or egotistical. He exemplifies for me what a college coach should be. Probably it never has veen calculated, the impact he has had not only on the athletic department but the university itself."
Notably because of Bowden and Schnellenberger, perhaps partially because the two schools are nearly 500 miles apart, Miami vs Florida State evolved into an uncommonly friendly rivalry. Florida State seems always to have appreciated the fact that it was Miami that stuck its neck out and gave the Seminoles their first shot at a major college opponent.
An all-female school for several decades, Florida State enrolled men for the first time in 1946. A year later it fielded its first football team.
In 1951, the year after the Seminoles had gone 8-0 against opponents that included Troy State and a Howard (now Samford University) team on which Bowden played quarterback, Miami met Florida State int he Orange Bowl, winning 35-13.
Florida State has played Miami most years since and more times than any other opponent. Florida did not consent to play the Seminoles until 1958, and then onlyafter the threat of legislative action to force them to do so.
In his five years at Miami, Schnellenberger beat Bowden three times, including twice by a single point. His 17-16 victory in late 1983 provded the springboard to a national-championship victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
"More times than not the winner of the htis game has gone on to spectacular things," Schnellenberger says. "I don't know that any series has had more direct impact ont he national championship. And I don't know of any decided so many times by one point. But maybe this series is especially outstanding because of the great respect the teams and fans have for each other, because of the great sportsmanship after the fact."
Johnson, who replaced Schnellenberger at Miami, began inauspiciously against Florida State. In 1984, Bowden won the first challenge by a startling 38-3. In the Orange Bowl, of course. Whereupon Jonson won the next four games.
"I guarantee you on thing," Bowden slyly told alumni clubs int he spring following the 1988 game, "I'll never lose to him again."
Johnson had just accepted an offer to coach the Dallas Cowboys.
Miami's present coach, Dennis Erickson, thinks Bowden reminds him a bit fo Schnellenberger with his all-around strength as a coach.
There's a thought that many a coach might have won national titles with the talen Miami has fielded in the past decade.
"Not in my opinion," Bowden says. "Miami's had extraordinary talent. But the coaches they've had have been amazing, too."
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
After two poor weeks of college football picks, I am back in the winning column with a slightly better than mediocre performance. I did go 5-0-1 in my top six picks but then limped to the finish with upsets by Iowa, NC State and Louisville.
Stanford has covered thirteen straight weeks, but I just can't go back to the well this weekend (even though I am picking the Cardinal to win outright). This week, I am headed to the Midwest and Sun Belt with seven of my nine picks hailing from the Big Ten and SEC this weekend.
Season Record ATS: 62-39-1 (7-5-1 last week)
Week 10's Top Picks:
Ohio State (-7) at Purdue
The Boilermakers have lost by a combined 98-31 over the last two weekends, and OSU topped Purdue 49-0 last season. The development of Braxton Miller and the very talented defense has led to three straight key wins for the Buckeyes. Purdue has failed to cover two straight weeks. My Pick: Ohio State -7
Rice (+15.5) at Northwestern
The Owls have allowed 148 points in the their last three games, and Northwestern is riding high after their upset road win over Nebraska, having scored 87 points in their two-game winning streak. This is a game the Wildcats have to win if they expect to get to a fourth straight bowl. Kain Colter has turned into quite the leader — whether he is lined up at quarterback or wide receiver. My Pick: Northwestern -15.5
Oklahoma State (-17) at Texas Tech
Despite the valiant effort by Kansas State a week ago, the Cowboys are still 7-2 against the spread this season. Tech has lost four of five games and has allowed at least 34 points in seven straight games — including a combined 93-27 two-week span heading into this game. In case you didn't know, the Pokes can score: Try No. 2 in the nation at 50.1 points per game. My Pick: Oklahoma State -17
Michigan (pk) at Illinois
The Illini will need to score points to beat Michigan, and that is something they have struggled to do during their current three-game losing streak. They have scored four total touchdowns in those games — which are four fewer touchdowns than they scored in the memorable 67-65 overtime win for the Maize and Blue last season. Denard Robinson accounted for 367 yards of offense and three scores last season. My Pick: Michigan
Tennessee (+14) at Arkansas
The Vols have scored 20 total points in their last three SEC games and will pose no threat to the Razorbacks. Justin Worley is starting his third career game and will be asked to match points with Tyler Wilson and arguably the deepest receiving corps in the nation. Plus, kickoff is at 6:00 PM ET, and the Hogs have covered three straight games in which the kickoff wasn't at noon. My Pick: Arkansas -14
Auburn (+13) at Georgia
The Dawgs have won five straight SEC games, but they have won by eight points or less in each of the last three. Auburn got back on track last weekend by dropping 41 points on Ole Miss and should be very competitive in this year's renewal of the South's Oldest Rivalry. Auburn won't win the game outright, but the Tigers will keep it close. My Pick: Auburn +13
Western Kentucky (+42) at LSU
Expect an emotional letdown for LSU — which could still mean a 35-point win. WKU is playing the best football of its entire FBS existence, riding a four-game winning streak, and is 7-2 against the spread. The total is 48.5, so Vegas is picking LSU to win 45-3. That doesn't feel right at all. My Pick: Western Kentucky +42
Texas (-1.5) at Missouri
The Longhorns are leading the Big 12 in rushing defense and total defense and are second in the league in scoring defense. Texas has scored 95 points in two huge wins over the last two weeks, and Missouri has allowed 39.3 points per game over their last three contests. My Pick: Texas -1.5
Alabama (-17.5) at Mississippi State
If there is one team (not named Penn State) I wouldn't want to be this weekend, it's the Bulldogs. Alabama realizes that it is still in the heart of the BCS National Championship hunt and needs style points to reach one of the top two spots in the rankings. MSU ranks 8th in the SEC against the run, and Bama is leading the league in rushing. Expect a huge game from Trent Richardson. My Pick: Alabama -17.5
9-0 Against the Spread: Stanford
8-1 Against the Spread: Arkansas State
7-2 Against the Spread: Alabama, Clemson, Georgia (6-2-1), Kansas State, LSU, Louisiana Tech, Oklahoma State, Southern Miss, Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky
2-7 Against the Spread: Maryland, Penn State, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech
1-7 Against the Spread: Colorado State
2-8 Against the Spread: Colorado
1-9 Against the Spread: Central Michigan
Other Week 11 Content:
Earlier this week, Ashton Kutcher made a mistake over Twitter. Having not heard about the Penn State scandal, he tweeted "How do you fire Joe Pa? #insult #noclass as a Hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste". And then he was railed by his 8 million followers for not being aware of WHY Joe Pa was fired. How he hadn't heard about the scandal as of Wednesday, well, that's another issue. But because of his gaffe, which he's repeatedly apologized for, Ashton has quit Twitter altogether. That seems like a bit of a rash move (we all make mistakes), but we thought we'd have a little fun with it with a few more of Ashton Kutcher's uninformed sports tweets.
And here's a few tweets from history...