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There were snarky comments on Twitter — imagine that — when some images were posted late Saturday night of students celebrating on the Tennessee campus.
I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of the tweets poked fun at Volunteer fans for making such a big deal about beating a South Carolina team that hasn’t won an SEC game in six weeks and is now 2–5 in the league.
My take: It was a big deal. A huge deal — and a cause for celebration.
Butch Jones has done a terrific job rebuilding the Tennessee program but has had very few tangible results on the field. Before Saturday’s improbable win in Columbia, Jones had won only two of his first 12 SEC games. Sure, the schedule has been tough, but it’s hard to argue that a team with a 2–10 record in league play is making progress.
Jones needed a breakthrough win. And he got it. Yes, South Carolina is struggling right now, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But the Gamecocks, with an 18–6 record in the league from 2011-13, have been one of the elite teams in the SEC in recent seasons. And now Jones and the Vols have recorded wins over Steve Spurrier’s program in consecutive seasons.
Saturday’s win was extra special for two reasons: It came on the road (UT’s first SEC road win against a team other than Vanderbilt or Kentucky since 2007) and it came after the Vols trailed by 14 points with under five minutes to play.
Joshua Dobbs, who was planning to redshirt as recently as nine days ago, threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 166 yards and three scores to lead an offense that rolled up 645 yards. On the final drive in regulation, the Vols went 85 yards on nine plays without a timeout. The defense had it struggles — South Carolina had 625 yards — but flexed its muscles with a dominant series in overtime.
This program is not ready to compete with the elite in the SEC on a consistent basis, but Tennessee took a major step forward on Saturday night.
And it was a cause for celebration.
Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs shined in the Volunteers’ 45-42 overtime win over South Carolina. Dobbs was the catalyst in a furious fourth-quarter rally, guiding Tennessee’s offense 21 points – including the game-tying touchdown with just 11 seconds remaining.
Whether it was on the ground or through the air, South Carolina’s defense simply had no answer for the talented sophomore. Dobbs earned Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors for Week 10 by passing for 301 yards and two scores and leading the team with 166 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
The Volunteers are rebuilding under second-year coach Butch Jones, and the program has found a spark on offense in the last two games with Dobbs under center. Against Alabama, Dobbs rushed for 75 yards and passed for 192 yards. One week later, Dobbs took another step forward in his development, leading Tennessee to an overtime win over South Carolina.
Dobbs played in the final five games of last season but clearly looks more comfortable in Tennessee’s offense after a full offseason to work with the coaching staff. And with an offensive line that’s also rebuilding, Dobbs’ mobility has been a huge asset. The sophomore’s emergence should give Tennessee a chance to win each of its remaining three games and reach a bowl for the first time since 2010.
Defensive Player of the Week: Erick Dargan, S, Oregon
The Ducks snapped a two-game losing streak to Stanford with a 45-16 victory on Saturday night. Both sides of the ball delivered in the win, as the offense posted 45 points and averaged 6.8 yards per play, while the defense held the Cardinal to just three second-half points. Dargan was one of the leaders for Oregon’s defensive effort, pacing the team with 12 tackles (nine solo) and recording one interception. The senior also forced fumble on Stanford’s opening drive for the fourth quarter. Saturday’s game was just another standout performance for the senior, as he leads the team in tackles and has five interceptions through nine games.
Coordinator of the Week: Dave Aranda, Wisconsin
Aranda entered the season with just three returning starters and a host of questions about the defense. But after eight games, Aranda has found plenty of answers to his preseason concerns, and Wisconsin’s defense is performing at a high level over the last two weeks. The Badgers held Maryland to seven points on Oct. 25 and pitched a shutout against Rutgers (37-0) on Saturday. Since allowing 6.5 yards per play against USF on Sept. 27, Wisconsin’s defense has held opponents to a lower per-play mark in four consecutive games. The Terrapins managed only 3.1 yards per play last weekend, while the Badgers held Rutgers to 2.5 mark in Week 10. In just two seasons at Wisconsin, Aranda has emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top coordinators and is a big reason why the Badgers could sweep their final four games (at Purdue, Nebraska, at Iowa and Minnesota) on a path to a West Division title.
Freshman of the Week: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Cook received only nine carries in Thursday night’s 42-31 win over Louisville, but the true freshman made the most of his opportunities. Cook recorded 110 yards and two scores on nine attempts and caught four passes for 40 yards. The true freshman averaged 12.2 yards per carry, with his big-play ability showcased on touchdown runs of 38 and 40 yards. Cook’s 38-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter gave Florida State the lead for good against the Cardinals. After the five-star true freshman delivered in the clutch on Thursday night, it’s a safe bet he will be a bigger part of the offense in future weeks.
The stakes, as usual, will be high when the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers renew their rivalry tonight on NBC. Both teams enter this game 5-3, percentage points behind AFC North-leading Cincinnati (4-2-1). Tonight’s victor will either keep pace with the Bengals or replace them at the top of the standings, while the loser could wind up in last place in the NFL’s most competitive division.
There’s no love lost between John Harbaugh’s and Mike Tomlin’s teams, who have played each other 15 times, including twice in the playoffs, since Harbaugh took over the Ravens in 2008. Tomlin holds an 8-7 edge, but the Ravens have won the last two meetings. Games between these two archrivals have typically been close – 11 contests have been decided by four points or fewer.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Baltimore -1.5
Three Things to Watch
|Baltimore 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||@ IND||L 13 - 20||Recap|
|10/12||@ TB||W 48 - 17||Recap|
|10/19||vs ATL||W 29 - 7||Recap|
|10/26||@ CIN||L 24 - 27||Recap|
|11/2||@ PIT||L 23 - 43||Recap|
|11/9||vs TEN||W 21 - 7||Recap|
|11/24||@ NO||W 34 - 27||Recap|
|11/30||vs SD||L 33 - 34||Recap|
1. Joe Cool vs. Big Ben
They may not have the history or surefire Hall of Fame resumes of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, but Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger have developed their own little rivalry. Since being taken 18th overall in the 2008 draft and thrust into the starting lineup, Flacco has gone 7-8 versus Pittsburgh, but he’s just 4-7 (including 0-2 in the playoffs) head-to-head against Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger has missed four games against Flacco’s Ravens – three due to injury, including both games in 2012, and one due to suspension (2010). In their nine regular-season meetings, neither quarterback has exactly filled up the stat sheet. Flacco has a better passer rating (87.6 to 78.2), more touchdown passes (12 to 9) and fewer interceptions (3 to 8), while Roethlisberger has thrown for more yards (2,193 to 1,895). Even with the edge in yardage, Roethlisberger’s total breaks down to less than 244 per game. The two are also separated by less than a percent (58.8 for Flacco, 58.0 for Roethlisberger) when it comes to accuracy. So while neither quarterback has typically put up big numbers against the other’s team, each is still critical to their team’s success and will no doubt be under Al Michaels’ and Cris Collinsworth’s microscope during NBC’s broadcast. And who knows, perhaps tonight will produce a rare breakout performance from one of these signal-callers in this heated rivalry. After all Flacco did throw a career-high five touchdown passes earlier this season while Roethlisberger set new franchise records with his 522-yard, six-touchdown performance last week against Indianapolis.
|Pittsburgh 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||@ JAC||W 17 - 9||Recap|
|10/12||@ CLE||L 10 - 31||Recap|
|10/20||vs HOU||W 30 - 23||Recap|
|10/26||vs IND||W 51 - 34||Recap|
|11/2||vs BAL||W 43 - 23||Recap|
|11/9||@ NYJ||L 13 - 20||Recap|
|11/17||@ TEN||W 27 - 24||Recap|
|11/30||vs NO||L 32 - 35||Recap|
2. Baltimore’s Beat-up Defense
The Ravens handily beat the Steelers 26-6 when these two first met back in Week 2. Even though the total yardage was close (323-301), Baltimore was much more physical, punishing Pittsburgh on both sides of the ball. The Ravens’ defense set the tone, finishing with three takeaways and two sacks, but this unit will look a little different tonight. Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson, who were the starting cornerbacks in Week 2, won’t play due to injury. Smith, Baltimore’s top cornerback, will certainly be missed against a Steelers wide receiver corps that features All-Pro candidate Antonio Brown, as well as younger weapons Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant. Several other starters, most notably Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs, are also dealing with some injury issues of their own, although both are expected to play tonight. Ngata and Suggs are veteran leaders and linchpins of the Ravens’ defense and will be needed to not only get pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, but also to help contain Le’Veon Bell, who is third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,086). One of the reasons Baltimore defeated Pittsburgh so easily in Week 2 was the Ravens limited the Steelers to just two field goals and two trips in the red zone (0-2). With the secondary already shorthanded and the front seven dealing with some injury issues of its own, Baltimore’s defense will need to dig deep to have similar success tonight against a Pittsburgh offense that put up 639 yards and 51 points last week.
3. Ball Security
In the 26-6 win over Pittsburgh in Week 2, Baltimore’s defense forced three turnovers. Since that game, the Ravens have posted a minus-one (10 giveaways, 9 takeaways) turnover margin. The Steelers meanwhile have recorded at least one takeaway in each of their past six games and are plus-five (6, 11) during that span. Two of Pittsburgh’s three turnovers in the first game against Baltimore occurred in the red zone and the Steelers’ miscues led to 10 points for the Ravens. In a rivalry where so many games (12 of 15 since 2008) have been decided by a touchdown or less, it makes sense that ball security has played a key role in the outcomes. To that end, the Steelers are 7-3 in games against the Ravens in which they have won the turnover battle (4-2) or the teams were even (3-1). Baltimore is 4-1 when it does a better job of taking care of the football. And even though the Ravens are plus-seven overall against the Steelers in their last 15 matchups, it should be pointed out that this discrepancy is primarily due to a forgettable 2011 season opener when Pittsburgh committed seven turnovers, five of those courtesy of Ben Roethlisberger (3 INTs, 2 fumbles). Not surprisingly, that 35-7 Ravens win represented the most lopsided decision in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco vs. Mike Tomlin/Roethlisberger rivalry. So keep two hands on the football at all times tonight fellas, if you want to win.
Both Baltimore and Pittsburgh sit at 5-3 halfway through the season, but tonight’s winner could find itself in first place at the end of this game while the loser could the only last place team in any division with a winning record. What else would you expect when these two teams get together? The Steelers are coming off of their best offensive showing (639 yards and 51 points), while the Ravens are picking up the pieces after watching the Bengals come back and beat them with a late touchdown. In a rivalry that’s know for close games, the smallest break or advantage could be the difference between victory and defeat. To that end, I think Pittsburgh not only has the most momentum entering tonight, but also is catching a depleted and banged-up Ravens defense at the right time. It won’t be a cakewalk, because it never is, but I think the Steelers continue their recent strong play by taking care of business at home.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 28, Baltimore 24
Two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game take center stage this afternoon when the Denver Broncos face the New England Patriots on CBS. Manning-Brady Bowl XVI features history’s greatest QB rivalry — Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. Although Brady has a 10–5 all-time record vs. Manning, including a 7–2 mark at Foxboro, this year’s Patriots (6-2) seem far more vulnerable than this year’s Broncos (6-1).
In the previous 15 games, Brady has completed 66.8 percent of his passes for 3,680 yards, 27 TDs and 12 INTs for a 96.4 passer rating; Manning has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 4,371 yards, 31 TDs and 20 INTs for an 88.0 passer rating. The 37-year-old Brady and 38-year-old Manning can’t keep up this pace forever. Enjoy the hype and hoopla while it lasts.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Denver -3
Three Things to Watch
|Denver 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||vs ARI||W 41 - 20||Recap|
|10/12||@ NYJ||W 31 - 17||Recap|
|10/19||vs SF||W 42 - 17||Recap|
|10/23||vs SD||W 35 - 21||Recap|
|11/2||@ NE||L 21 - 43||Recap|
|11/9||@ OAK||W 41 - 17||Recap|
|11/16||@ STL||L 7 - 22||Recap|
|11/23||vs MIA||W 39 - 36||Recap|
1. A Tale of Two Quarterbacks
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have always had a two-man mutual admiration society, but they've amped up the praise heading into their 16th career matchup. "Peyton has been a phenomenal player — so consistent and durable for a long period of time," Brady said. "We've had a great rivalry in the AFC East (when Manning was with Indianapolis), and this year is no different." Brady's too modest to point out that he's had a significant upper hand in his personal rivalry with Peyton, holding a 10–5 record against Manning's teams, but both quarterbacks have produced huge head-to-head numbers in what amounts to a season's worth of work, and Manning won the most recent encounter, 26–16 in last season's AFC Championship Game. Football is a team game, but quarterback is the most important position in team sports, and all eyes will be on the two future Hall of Famers under center.
|New England 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||vs CIN||W 43 - 17||Recap|
|10/12||@ BUF||W 37 - 22||Recap|
|10/16||vs NYJ||W 27 - 25||Recap|
|10/26||vs CHI||W 51 - 23||Recap|
|11/2||vs DEN||W 43 - 21||Recap|
|11/16||@ IND||W 42 - 20||Recap|
|11/23||vs DET||W 34 - 9||Recap|
|11/30||@ GB||L 21 - 26||Recap|
2. Patriots Peaking?
The Patriots played their best, most complete game of the season in routing the Bears 51–23 last Sunday in a game that wasn't even as close as the score, as the P-men raced to a 45–7 third-quarter lead before a couple of meaningless Chicago touchdowns. New England was flawless in all three phases, prompting cornerback Darrelle Revis — who had an interception against the Bears — to observe: "We're a team on a mission." The Patriots have won four straight, but it's worth noting that one week earlier, they struggled to beat the lowly Jets, and four of their six wins have come against teams with losing records, including the rapidly imploding Bears. In other words, it's premature to anoint this team the AFC favorite. This game will be far more revealing about the Patriots' prospects.
3. Run to Glory
Most of the ink gets spilled in talking about the quarterbacks, but the running game takes on special importance when the Patriots and Broncos get together. Since 2006, the team that has rushed for more yardage has posted a 6–2 record in this rivalry, including last season's playoff meeting, when the Broncos outrushed the Patriots 107–64. Neither of these teams has been particularly adept at running the ball this season; the Patriots rank 17th in the NFL, the Broncos 21st. In terms of run defense, the Broncos have an overwhelming advantage, ranking first in the NFL, allowing only 72.4 yards per game, while the Patriots surrender an average of 129.6. "We don't want people running the ball on us," said Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall. "We want to get to all of the things we can do with our packages in the pass rush. To do that we have to stop the run."
Some key factors seem to favor New England in this one: Brady's head-to-head record against Manning, his 14-to-0 TD-to-INT ratio during the Patriots’ current four-game winning streak, their 4–0 record at home this season and their 13-game winning streak in Foxboro. This Denver team looks like a Super Bowl contender, but they won't get there unscathed.
Prediction: New England 31, Denver 28
One NFC East quarterback is set to return in Week 9 while another is Questionable because of two small fractures in his back. Let Athlon Sports get you caught up on the QB injuries you need to know about.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins at Minnesota Vikings
Probable – Ankle
Colt McCoy led the Redskins to a surprise overtime victory in Dallas on Monday night, but it looks like his stay atop the depth chart will be brief. Griffin was a full go every day at practice and head coach Jay Gruden has already said that he fully intends to turn the starting job back over to RG3. So the fact he’s listed as Probable is a mere formality and now it’s a matter of whether you immediately go back to Griffin as your fantasy starter or do you leave him on the bench? I would suggest the latter, see how he does against the Vikings and revisit this next week, but the bye-week situation may force your hand.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys vs. Arizona Cardinals
Questionable – Back
Cowboys fans held their collective breaths when Romo went down on Monday night after getting kneed in his surgically repaired back on a sack. Romo missed a couple of series, but was able to return late in the fourth quarter. Romo didn’t practice at all this week, but he’s officially listed as Questionable, so he has a 50-50 shot of playing. He will probably be a game-time decision today and the 1 p.m. ET kickoff helps in that respect. However, what was initially referred to as a contusion and pain tolerance issue apparently is worse than that. ESPN’s Todd Archer reported on Saturday that Romo has two small fractures in his back. Even though there’s a chance Romo plays, how effective will he be and what are the chances he doesn’t finish the game? This is not a good week for QB depth with six teams on bye, but I would strongly consider all other possible options before turning your team’s fate over to Romo’s beat-up back.
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs vs. New York Jets
Probable – Shoulder
Head coach Andy Reid revealed earlier this week that Smith suffered some sort of shoulder injury last Sunday and initially expressed some doubt that his quarterback would be able to play in Week 9. Smith has since put to rest any questions about his availability, as he was a full participant in practice every day and is listed as Probable. Smith is not known for being a stat-stuffer, but he gets the Jets, the team that is giving up the most fantasy points to opposing QBs. With six teams on bye, Smith is definitely on the QB-2 radar this week and is certainly worthy of QB1 consideration as well.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins vs. San Diego Chargers
Probable – Ankle
Tannehill is nursing some sort of ankle injury. He was held back some on Wednesday, but was a full go on both Thursday and Friday. He is listed as Probable and will try and bounce back from a disappointing performance (16-of-29, 196-1-1) last week against Jacksonville. Tannehill is probably more QB2 material this week, but he’s capable of producing like a QB1.
With six teams on bye in Week 9, fantasy owners need all the healthy running backs they can find. Which injured ball carriers can you count on today?
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs vs. New York Jets
Probable – Back
Charles is on the injury report with a back injury, but he was a full go at practice every day this week and is listed as Probable. There has been nothing reported or mentioned to suggest Charles won’t play, which is why he’s a top-five RB this week in Athlon Sports’ rankings.
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Probable – Knee
Foster missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday, but that was mainly a coaches’ decision to give their workhorse some rest. The key here is his Probable designation and the fact that he’s rushed for 100 yards in four straight games with eight total touchdowns and 20 carries per game. Foster is our No. 1 RB this week, so we’re pretty confident in saying he will play.
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins vs. San Diego Chargers
Probable – Knee
Miller was limited all week in practice by a knee injury, but he’s still expected to play today. He’s listed as Probable and will take his shot against a San Diego defense that’s allowed a running back to score at least 14 fantasy points in each of its past three games. Miller is averaging nearly five yards per carry this week and checks in as a top-10 starting option.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cleveland Browns
Doubtful – Ankle
Martin did not practice one bit this week, so his Doubtful tag seems a mere formality. Martin has been a major disappointment this season and the Buccaneers seem content to move on from him and let Bobby Rainey and Charles Sims handle the backfield duties. Rainey has not only been a starter before, but he’s also thrived in the role, so he’s certainly worthy of RB2/flex consideration this week. Sims is the Bucs’ third-round pick but he has been on injured reserve all season because of a preseason ankle injury that required surgery. The team is reportedly high on Sims, but chances are he will be brought along slowly since this would be his first NFL action. For now, Rainey is the Tampa Bay back to own, but Sims is certainly worth adding if you have the room or are looking to beef up your RB depth.
Darren Sproles, RB, Philadelphia Eagles at Houston Texans
Probable – Knee
Sproles was Questionable last week, but ended up not playing. That should change today, however, as he was a full participant in practice every day and is listed as Probable. While it’s unclear how many touches Sproles will see in his first game back, he should be safe to employ as a flex option with upside.
Donald Brown and Ryan Mathews, RBs, San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins
Probable – Concussion, Out – Knee
Brown finally got through the league-mandated concussion protocols and was a full participant in practice every day. He’s listed as Probable and should be back out there today. Mathews was able to get a limited session in on Friday, but the team has already ruled him out. Branden Oliver should continue to see the bulk of the work, although it will be interesting to see how may touches Brown gets in his first game back. Oliver should be a pretty safe RB2, but I wouldn’t mess with Brown this week.
Giovani Bernard and Rashad Jennings have already been ruled out for Week 9. Are there are any other top fantasy RBs in danger of not playing?
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys
Probable – Foot
Ellington was limited both Wednesday and Thursday, but that’s probably more a maintenance and rest matter than injury-related. He was a full go on Friday and is Probable yet again and is a no-doubt, must-start RB1. If anything, Ellington may see more touches than usual with backup Stepfan Taylor out because of a calf injury.
Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, RBs, Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
Out – Groin; Probable – Shoulder
Ball has yet to return to practice, so he will miss a fourth straight game. Hillman fell on his shoulder during Wednesday’s practice and was limited on Thursday. However, he insisted it was nothing serious and proved it by being a full participant on Friday. He is listed as Probable and will be a key part of the Broncos’ offensive game plan even though the Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady angle is getting all of the attention. Not only has Hillman been extremely effective as Denver’s No. 1 rusher (283 yds., 4.9 ypc over last three games), the Patriots also are ranked near the bottom of the NFL in rushing defense (129.6 ypg) and are giving up the third-most fantasy points to opposing RBs. Hillman is a must-start RB this week and his backup, Juwan Thompson could be worth a look as a flex based on his role as Denver’s goal-line back.
Justin Forsett, RB, Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Probable – Ankle
Forsett increased his practice participation a little each day, finishing the week off as a full go on Friday. So even though he’s dealing with some sort of ankle injury, he is listed as Probable and fully expected to face the Steelers tonight. Forsett has been one of this season’s fantasy surprises, seizing the starting job for the Ravens and producing like a top-10 fantasy RB to this point. If you were fortunate enough to pick up Forsett early in the season, there’s no reason to shy away from him at this point.
Already Ruled Out:
Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals – Bernard has been dinged up for a while now, and it looks like the damage has finally taken its toll. A combination of a clavicle injury from three weeks ago and a hip injury suffered last week is bad enough that it will sideline him for at least one game. The Bengals have already ruled Bernard out for today’s game after he was unable to practice. Bernard’s absence is not only a blow for Cincinnati, but it’s going to hurt fantasy-wise too with so many other backs on bye. Jeremy Hill will get the nod in Bernard’s absence and he immediately becomes a must-start option. For those who are desperate to fill out their lineup, backup Cedric Peerman may be worth a look. Just don’t expect Peerman to do what Hill has done as Bernard’s backup.
Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants – Jennings is reportedly getting closer to returning from his MCL sprain, but he hasn’t made it back to practice yet. He will miss a third straight game Monday night while the Giants turn to rookie Andre Williams and Peyton Hillis to carry the load. Williams should see the bulk of the carries, but he’s been rather inefficient (3.1 ypc) and the coaching staff is not ready to trust him as pass-blocker or receiver, which could impact his opportunities. That said, Williams still carries more fantasy appeal and potential than Hillis, as long as you’re not expecting anything more than RB2 production from him.
Cincinnati already knows it will be without its top running back for Week 9, but what about the Bengals’ All-Pro wide receiver? Here is the latest on A.J. Green and some other key pass-catchers.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cleveland Browns
Probable – Rib
The rib is still an issue for Jackson, but it doesn’t seem to be enough of a hindrance to prevent him from playing. Jackson was listed as Questionable last week and still wound up playing, so his Probable designation should really put an end to any doubts about his availability. Jackson remains a relatively safe WR2 to employ in your starting lineup.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Questionable – Toe
Green returned to practice this week and even though he was limited all three days, he’s definitely moving in the right direction. Green is officially listed as Questionable, but if you listened to head coach Marvin Lewis earlier this week he sounded pretty optimistic he would have his No. 1 wide receiver back. So barring a last-minute setback, Green will play after missing the past three games. With running back Giovani Bernard already ruled out, the Bengals really need their All-Pro wide receiver. And with so many other wideouts on bye, Green pretty much has to be in your lineup, even if he ends up being limited on the field.
Allen Hurns and Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals
Probable – Ankle; Probable – Groin
At one point or another this season, pretty much every wide receiver on the Jaguars’ roster has dealt with some sort of injury. The good news is that even though Hurns and Shorts appear on this week’s injury report, both are Probable and expected to play today. Between the two, Hurns was the only one who missed any practice time, so there doesn’t appear to be any real concern here. What’s more concerning, however, is should you count on either Hurns or Shorts even in a week where so many other WRs aren’t available. That’s really up to you, depending on your options. For one, rookie QB Blake Bortles is going through the expected learning curve (league-leading 12 INTs) when it comes to getting acclimated to the NFL, while the Bengals have been very stingy against opposing WRs (29th in fantasy points allowed). I still think Shorts is the Jaguar wideout to own, but it’s hard to expect more than WR2 production from him right now. Hurns has had some productive games, but he hasn’t caught a TD since Week 3 and is probably nothing more than a flex option.
Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins vs. San Diego Chargers
Probable – Knee
Clay’s knee injury just won’t go away, as he was limited all week in practice. He’s listed as Probable, so the expectation is that Clay will play, but this is a guy who goes from catching a TD one week to just one pass the next. Clay has been really hard to figure out this season but with six teams on bye, you may have no other choice but to roll the dice on him and hope for the best.
Already Ruled Out:
Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns – Cameron suffered a concussion last week and hasn’t made much progress going through the league-mandated tests. He was held out of practice this week and besides already being ruled out for today’s game, there are reports that Cameron could miss even more time. For now, hold on to Cameron and look elsewhere to fill out your TE spot this week.
Reggie Wayne should be back in the lineup Monday night to close out Week 9, but he’s not the only wide receiver or tight end of note that appears on the injury report. Here’s the lowdown on one tough Texan and a pass-catching Jet, as well as the Chiefs’ and Ravens’ big targets.
Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants (Mon.)
Probable – Elbow
Wayne missed last week because of an elbow injury and his presence was missed, as the Colts lost to the Steelers 51-34. The coaching staff gave Wayne Thursday off, but he was back on the practice field Friday and Saturday and is listed as Probable for the Monday night matchup with the Giants. T.Y. Hilton has been the Colts’ most productive wide receiver, but Wayne’s return should make Andrew Luck and the passing attack that much more difficult to stop. Wayne may not be the no-doubt WR1 he has been in the past, but he should still be started if you own him. Wayne’s return also impacts the outlooks for Donte Moncrief and Hakeem Nicks. Of this duo, Moncrief is the only one with any real fantasy appeal, but just be sure to temper your expectations of the athletic and explosive rookie.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Probable – Ankle
Similar to teammate Arian Foster, Johnson was held out of practice on Wednesday before participating on a limited basis Thursday and Friday. Johnson is listed as Probable and maintains his WR1 status, as he’s gotten 33 targets over the last three games.
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs vs. New York Jets
Probable – Ribs
The ribs are still an issue for Kelce, but the only day he was limited in practice this week was Wednesday. He’s listed as Probable, so Kelce remains a legitimate TE1 starting option. Kelce has caught at least three passes in all but one game thus far and is capable of making something happen anytime he touches the ball. Kelce has the upside, but Anthony Fasano (Probable, Shoulder) is a savvy veteran who could be worth taking a flyer on if you’re desperate at TE.
Eric Decker, WR, New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs
Probable – Hamstring
Decker shows up on this week’s injury report, but he was a full go at practice all week, so there doesn’t appear to be much reason for concern. He’s Probable, but should he be in your lineup? Decker has just three touchdown catches in seven games and has yet to surpass 74 yards receiving. Today will be Decker’s first game with Michael Vick as his starting quarterback and the Jets are facing a Chiefs defense at home that’s done a really good job pressuring the pocker. Decker and teammate Percy Harvin are both pretty risky starting options right now, but you may have no other choice with six teams on bye.
Owen Daniels, TE, Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Questionable – Knee
Daniels missed last week’s game after undergoing a procedure on his knee, but he was back at practice this week. He was limited on Wednesday, held out on Thursday and was a full go on Friday. This curious pattern resulted in him getting the Questionable tag, which means he has a 50-50 shot of playing. That still is enough reason to think twice before putting Daniels back into the lineup, especially considering the Ravens don’t play until tonight. Unless you simply have no other choice, I would leave Daniels on the bench and revisit his status next week.
Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday suffered a broken fibula in Saturday’s loss to USC and will miss the remainder of the 2014 season.
The senior was hit after a pass in the first half and was transported from the field on a cart.
Halliday passed for 40 yards and one pick on nine attempts in limited action against USC on Saturday.
For the season, Halliday passed for 3,833 yards and 32 scores.
Backup Luke Falk completed 38 of 57 passes for 370 yards and two scores after Halliday’s injury.
Washington State was eliminated from bowl contention after the loss to USC, as coach Mike Leach’s team is 2-7 and 1-5 in the Pac-12. The Cougars won’t have an easy finish to the season with road trips to Oregon State and Arizona State up next, followed by the Apple Cup finale against Washington.
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah left Saturday’s game against Purdue due to a knee injury. Abdullah was injured early in the first half against the Boilermakers and was replaced by Imani Cross and Terrell Newby.
Prior to the knee injury, Abdullah rushed for just one yard on six carries.
According to coach Bo Pelini, Abdullah will not return in the second half.
However, Abdullah’s knee injury is not believed to be serious, and the senior will have two weeks to get ready for the Nov. 15 showdown against Wisconsin.
Pelini tells Jeanine Edwards that Abdullah is unlikely to return, but "I think he's going to be fine ... We're going to be really cautious."— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) November 1, 2014
New rivalries are a part of any league as expansion has changed the outlook of all of the Power 5 conferences in recent years.
In their first meeting as Big Ten foes, Maryland and Penn State attempted to jumpstart a new rivalry with some pregame fireworks between the two teams.
Only time will tell if this actually becomes a rivalry, but these two teams wasted no time showing their dislike for each other.
Here are the two teams exchanging some pleasantries in warm-ups:
Maryland trying to start a rumble. pic.twitter.com/9WwKATriei— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) November 1, 2014
And here’s the best part: Maryland refused to shake hands with Penn State’s players prior to the coin toss:
Please do not touch the ref, Stefon Diggs. http://t.co/dBxIs4zhg7— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) November 1, 2014
The Oklahoma City Thunder have had lots of bad news lately. It was rough enough losing Kevin Durant to a Jones fracture for up to two months — the reigning MVP is integral to his team’s title chances. But they would’ve had enough left to stay afloat without him, had they not also lost Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Morrow and now the second half of their dynamic duo, Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook started Thursday night off with his customary, bodacious swag step into the Staples Center, to take on Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers:
Then he got his hand hit near the rim during the second quarter, and left for the locker room through L.A.’s chutes. But not before a little discourse with the locals:
Westbrook sustained a small fracture in the hand, but it is unknown how much time he will miss. As to what he said to the fans, why he said it, what they said back: This is unknown. But the Thunder point guard and L.A. native is a famously fiery personality on the court, a method player who stays frantic and aggressive every instant he’s in the building. His frustration from a sudden injury, when his team was already struggling to tread water, would make the combustible Westbrook an easy target for agitation.
The Western Conference of the 2014-15 season looks to be about as difficult a field as the league’s ever seen. Making the playoffs is no sure thing for any squad — last year, the Phoenix Suns won 50 games and still missed the round of sixteen. If the Thunder don’t get healthy quick, they might find themselves in quite the hole to dig themselves out of. But at least OKC’s got the promise of Westbrook and Durant together at some point this season — it’s hard to think of any two superstars we'd rather see waging a fight up the standings.
— John Wilmes
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Patrick Towles, Kentucky vs. Missouri ($6000)
Towles had a huge game last week against Miss State; accounting for over 450 total yards and four total scores. He could post similar numbers this week against Missouri and comes in at a nice price.
1) RB Jon Hilliman, Boston College vs. VA Tech ($4500)
Hilliman scored twice last week and gets to face a Hokies defense that gave up over 350 yards rushing to Miami last week. He could find the end zone again and reach value this week.
2) RB William Stanback, UCF vs. UCONN ($4500)
Stanback had 97 yards and two scores last week versus Temple. He could have a nice game this week against the Huskies. Look for Stanback to reach value this week.
1) WR Deante Gray, TCU vs. West Virginia ($5200)
Gray dropped 165 yards and two scores on Texas Tech last week and could find more success this week against West Virginia. His value really shoots up if Josh Doctson is unable to play this week.
2) WR Mario Alford, West Virginia vs. TCU ($5600)
Alford had 136 yards and a score last week and could see plenty of targets against TCU. This game could be a track meet, with both teams throwing the ball often. Look for Alford to have a solid afternoon.
3) WR Tyler Boyd, Pitt vs. Duke ($5800)
Boyd is having a decent season and his upside is too good to pass on in this game. He could easily have a big week and his price is very appealing. Look for Boyd to show up this week.
1) TE Blake Bell, Oklahoma vs. Iowa State ($2600)
Bell scored in his last game and is worth a look at this price.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Kent Myers, Utah State vs. Hawaii ($4700)
With the top three QB’s on the roster all hurt, Myers will get the start this week against Hawaii. He looks to be a dual threat kid who has some upside at near minimum price.
1) RB Brian Hill, Wyoming vs. Fresno State ($5400)
Hill ran for 128 yards and two scores last week after Shaun Wick left with an injury. Wick is out at least three weeks, so insert Hill into your lineups now!
2) RB Tarean Folston, Notre Dame vs. Navy ($4800)
Floston is averaging 109 yards rushing and a score in the last two games and appears to be the main man in the Irish backfield. He could easily reach value this week and appears to be a nice punt option at the RB position.
3) RB Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn vs. Ole Miss ($4700)
Match up be damned here. I don’t care how good the Ole Miss defense is, getting Artis-Payne for $4700 is too good to pass up. The Auburn ground game is close to unstoppable and Artis-Payne could easily hit the 100-yard mark and add a score.
1) WR Josh Harper, Fresno State vs. Wyoming ($5800)
Harper could have a big night against Wyoming. He appears to be a bit under priced this week and looks like a very nice value play. Look for Harper to find the end zone for the third straight game.
2) WR Dwayne Stanford, Oregon vs. Stanford ($4000)
Stanford has become more involved in the Oregon passing game over the past four contests and could make for a solid punt play this week. He is an excellent red-zone option because of his size.
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There may be a great debate about who the greatest quarterback is of this generation, but there’s no debate which quarterbacks belong in the conversation. It starts and ends with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who both have earned a place among the greatest of all time.
Now, this Sunday, they will meet again for the 16th time in their illustrious careers. Here's a quick statistical look back at their gridiron battles.
Infographic by Barrett Self, barrettself.com
Jan. 21, 2007: Colts 38, Patriots 34, (AFC championship game)
Jan. 18, 2004: Patriots 24, Colts 14, (AFC championship game)
Nov. 15, 2009 – Colts 35, Patriots 34
Nov. 24, 2013: Patriots 34, Broncos 31, overtime
Nov. 4, 2007 – Patriots 24, Colts 20
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for October 31:
• LeBron James made his re-debut for Cleveland last night. It wasn't exactly Jordan-esque. His intro was pretty ballin' though.
• LaVar Arrington had a nice J.J. Watt costume, even amid racial allegations.
• Eric Decker took to Twitter to ask fans what they love about the Jets. The results were about what you'd expect.
• Scare of the day: When sea lions attack.
• This is inspiring: Deaf cheerleader defies the odds.
• Here's LeBron's epic intro last night.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Surely you’ve heard by now — LeBron James is back in Ohio, once again the leader of his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Last night’s ugly 95-90 home loss to the New York Knicks marked his first regular season game as a reborn Cav, and the birth of Cleveland’s new mega team featuring James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. James looked stiff and, frankly, not himself in the game. It’s unlikely the Cavs’ faltering start will be representative of their year at large.
But yesterday also showed us the latest of Mr. James’ hubris. We’d be foolish to undermine his confidence about his playing abilities — he’s one of the greatest ballers the game’s ever seen — but he’s clearly imagined himself into quite the inflated cultural figure. When asked about the significance of his return game, James said “this is probably one of the biggest sporting events that is up there ever,” according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
James’ P.R. team is probably wishing for a mulligan on this one. Especially after James reportedly co-opted his team’s first practice at training camp, holding an impromptu players-only meeting during which he gave each roster member a specific, personal goal for the season. This before rookie coach David Blatt was able to begin his own team instructions.
If you assumed LeBron had learned his media lessons since his gaudy, absurd production of “The Decision” and the ridiculous “not one, not two, not three…” celebration that followed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh when he joined the Miami Heat four years ago — well, you assumed wrong. James may have figured out that it behooves him to keep expectations for wins, losses and awards lower, but he hasn’t yet seen how to hide some of his megalomaniacal tendencies.
Maybe it will take a retired, further-wizened LeBron to wield his substantial power without all the corny reminders of how tall he stands over the pack. Or maybe he’ll never be humble enough to stop giving his skeptics more reasons to mock him.
— John Wilmes
The annual meeting between Stanford and Oregon has played a key role in shaping the Pac-12 championship in recent seasons. Over the last four years, the winner of the Stanford-Oregon matchup won the conference title.
And barring a significant change of events in November, this game will significantly shape the conference title once again. Stanford is 3-2 in conference play and has to beat Oregon to keep its Pac-12 title hopes alive. On the other sideline, the Ducks need to win to rank among the nation’s best in next week’s playoff poll. A two-loss Oregon team could get left out of the playoff, so every week is essentially an elimination game for coach Mark Helfrich’s team.
Stanford holds a 43-30-1 series edge over Oregon. The Cardinal has won three out of the last five meetings in this series, including two in a row and the most recent meeting in Eugene.
Stanford at Oregon
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Oregon -8
Three Things to Watch
1. Marcus Mariota Versus Stanford’s Defense
Stanford has been Mariota’s biggest nemesis in his three years as Oregon’s starting quarterback. The junior is 0-2 and completed 57.8 percent of his throws – a drop from his normal 66.5 percent career mark – against the Cardinal. Stanford sacked Mariota three times last year and held the Ducks scoreless until the fourth quarter. Will this year be any different? Despite a new coordinator (Lance Anderson) and a few new faces, the Cardinal hasn’t missed a beat on defense. Stanford is limiting opponents to 3.7 yards per play and only one offense managed more than 17 points so far this year. The success of the Cardinal defense starts up front, as senior Henry Anderson (35 tackles) anchors the line and the 3-4 attack. Anderson will have to do more of the heavy lifting on Saturday night with tackle David Parry out due to injury. With Parry sidelined, Oregon may look to attack the middle of Stanford’s defensive front. The linebacking corps is Stanford’s deepest and most-talented collection of players on defense. Junior Blake Martinez is having a breakout year, and redshirt freshman Peter Kalambayi leads the team with 5.5 sacks. If the Cardinal is able to generate pressure on Mariota, this defense will have a chance to control the pace of the game. It’s critical Stanford wins the battle at the line of scrimmage to have a chance to win on Saturday.
2. Stanford’s Offense
Even if Stanford’s defense finds a way to slow down Oregon’s offense, can the Cardinal generate enough points to pull off the upset? Coach David Shaw promised to tweak the offense after a sluggish showing against Arizona State, and the one-week results against Oregon State were promising. Stanford scored 38 points against the Beavers and averaged 6.7 yards per play – its best mark in Pac-12 games this year. But winning at home against Oregon State and beating Oregon on the road is a different challenge. Sure, the Ducks have struggled on defense this year, allowing 5.7 yards per play and is last in third-down defense in the Pac-12. But what is Stanford’s identity on offense right now? With a rebuilt offensive line and no clear go-to back, the Cardinal need to ask more from quarterback Kevin Hogan. The junior is completing 62.6 percent of his throws but tossed two interceptions in a 17-14 loss to Notre Dame. Hogan also completed only 48.7 percent of his passes in a 26-10 loss to Arizona State. The bottom line for Stanford’s offense is clear: Hogan has to play better and needs to get the ball to the team’s playmakers. Receivers Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste will have opportunities for big plays on Saturday night. And if Hogan has success through the air, it should allow the rushing attack to find lanes against the Ducks – ranked 10th in the Pac-12 against the run. Time of possession is an overrated statistic. But Stanford needs to control the pace of the game and limit Mariota’s opportunities on offense.
3. Oregon RB Royce Freeman and Stanford WR Ty Montgomery
Freeman and Montgomery are this game’s biggest x-factors. Freeman has been a breakout player for Oregon in his true freshman campaign, rushing for 748 yards and 13 touchdowns on 136 attempts. The true freshman has three consecutive 100-yard efforts and gashed Washington for 169 yards and four scores. Stanford is limiting opponents to 2.6 yards per carry and has held three Pac-12 opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground. Without tackle David Parry, will Freeman find room to run against this stingy defense? On the other sideline, Montgomery is one of the nation’s top all-purpose threats. The senior leads the team with 1,163 total yards, averaging 13.1 yards per touch. Considering how dangerous Montgomery is with the ball in his hands, it’s important for coach David Shaw to get the senior 10-15 touches in a variety of ways.
This game was pegged by most in the offseason to be one of the biggest games of the year in the Pac-12. While this is still an intriguing matchup, this game has lost some of its appeal due to Stanford’s 4-3 record. Even though the Cardinal isn’t as highly ranked as most anticipated, there’s still plenty at stake for both teams. Stanford has controlled this rivalry over the last two years, but it’s also worth considering Mariota was not at full strength in last season’s meeting. With Mariota back at full strength and capable of running, Oregon’s offense should be more dynamic on Saturday night. Stanford will move the ball on the Ducks’ defense, but Mariota delivers with the game on the line to snap a two-game losing streak to the Cardinal.
Prediction: Oregon 34, Stanford 24
The SEC West dominated the first release of college football’s playoff rankings, but there’s a chance for a shake up in the top four with Auburn and Ole Miss meeting in Oxford on Saturday night.
It’s too early to call this an elimination game in the SEC West, but both teams need this game. Ole Miss suffered its first loss of the season last Saturday at LSU, while Auburn won a 42-35 shootout against South Carolina. The winner of this game will keep pace with Mississippi State and Alabama as the main contenders in the West and should stay among the top four in next week’s playoff poll.
Auburn owns a 28-10 series edge over Ole Miss. The Tigers won last year’s matchup 30-22 and have defeated the Rebels four out of the last five times in this series. Ole Miss won the last meeting between these two teams in Oxford, edging the Tigers 41-20 in 2012.
Auburn at Ole Miss
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ole Miss -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace
Prior to last week’s game against LSU, Wallace was playing mistake-free ball in the SEC. The senior started conference play by tossing zero interceptions through his first four games but played his worst game of the year in Baton Rouge. Wallace threw for just 176 yards on 14 completions (33 attempts) and tossed a costly last-minute interception to lose 10-7. For Ole Miss to get back into the win column this week, Wallace has to play better. The Rebels don’t have a traditional rushing attack, and the senior will have opportunities to make plays against an Auburn secondary that allowed five touchdowns and 416 passing yards to South Carolina last week. Wallace has a solid group of receivers at his disposal, but the offensive line is a concern with recent injuries to center Ben Still and tackle Laremy Tunsil. Considering the firepower on Auburn’s sideline, it’s tough ask Ole Miss’ defense to hold the Tigers in check all four quarters. Can Wallace bounce back after a rough outing in Baton Rouge? The Tigers defense should provide a good opportunity for the senior to get back on track and keep Ole Miss in contention for a playoff spot.
2. Auburn’s Rushing Attack
Ole Miss’ rush defense took a pounding in Baton Rouge last Saturday. The Rebels allowed 264 yards – a season high – to LSU and gave up 4.8 yards per carry. Additionally, the defense was on the field for 36 minutes. Time of possession isn’t necessarily important in the outcome of a game, but it’s noteworthy Ole Miss just played a 60-minute battle against a run-first team. Can the Rebels regain their pre-LSU form and recharge for another 60-minute battle against a run-first team? Auburn will test Ole Miss’ rush defense, as the Tigers averaged 8.4 yards per carry against South Carolina last week and have recorded at least 232 rushing yards in six out of their first seven games. Cameron Artis-Payne leads the team with 831 yards, but quarterback Nick Marshall is equally as dangerous with the ball in his hands, rushing for 581 yards on 85 attempts this year. Auburn’s offensive line is not as dominant as it was in 2013, but the Tigers are still one of the best in the nation on the ground. In order to stop Marshall and Artis-Payne, Ole Miss needs defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and safety Cody Prewitt at full strength. Both players were banged up in last week’s loss, and this defense will have trouble containing the Auburn offense if either is forced to miss a chunk of Saturday’s game. After taking a pounding in Baton Rouge, the front seven of Ole Miss will be under fire once again. In order to beat the Tigers, the Rebels have to stop the run on first and second downs, forcing Auburn to take to the air to win. Which team wins the battle at the line of scrimmage is critical to the outcome on Saturday night.
3. Timely stops by Auburn?
Auburn’s defense struggled on the stat sheet last year, but the Tigers were known for getting stops at critical times on third downs and in the red zone. This year, Auburn is statistically better, holding opponents to 25.3 points per game (SEC-only games) after allowing 29.6 in 2013. Also, the Tigers have limited opponents to just 5.7 yards per play – an improvement from the 6.4 mark in SEC games last season. While those numbers are good news for coordinator Ellis Johnson, it’s also important to note Auburn leads the SEC (conference-only games) in third-down and red zone defense. Across the board, improvement seems evident for the Tigers. However, this unit just allowed 35 points to South Carolina and has allowed 32 plays of 20 yards or more in 2014. Will that trend continue on Saturday night? Ole Miss isn’t as explosive as the Auburn on offense and needs to get seven points when they get in the red zone. If the Tigers can limit the Rebels’ big plays – especially to receiver Laquon Treadwell – and limit Ole Miss to field goals, Auburn can counter with touchdowns and break out to an early (and potentially commanding lead).
This matchup features an interesting contrast in styles, as the Rebels own one of the SEC’s top defenses, while the Tigers rank near the top of the conference in scoring. Ole Miss would prefer for this game to not turn into a 45-40 type of shootout and needs to rely on its defense once again. However, the Rebels have to find more answers on the ground and need a flawless effort from Wallace. Ole Miss could be more aggressive with its play-calling, allowing Wallace to take advantage of a suspect Auburn secondary. Asking the Rebels to shut down the Tigers’ offense is simply too tall of an order. However, Ole Miss can limit Auburn’s big plays, and force Malzahn’s offense to drive the length of the field. If the Rebels revert back to their pre-LSU form against the run, Ole Miss will knock off Auburn and remain squarely in the top four of college football’s playoff. If the Tigers establish their tempo and get out to a 14-0 or 14-3 start on offense, that might be too much to overcome for the Rebels.
Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Auburn 27
You can blame me, Ole Miss fans. I cost you the game against LSU (not Bo Wallace) by picking the Rebels to cover in Baton Rouge.
Needless to say, I need to make it up to you but I’m hoping you glanced at the Top 25 picks. I went 11-6 against the number and am, happy to say, now tied for the lead among my Athlon peers at 70-65-4 on the year. (I am very proud of this, clearly).
Anyway, back to top picks this week in an effort to get back into the black.
Last Week: 3-4
Oklahoma St (+14) at Kansas St
The Wildcats are on a mission and are surging after sweeping Oklahoma and Texas. Kansas State defensively is lights out and Jake Waters has been brilliant. The Cats are 5-2 against the number this season and the Cowboys are 2-5-1 and limp into Manhattan. Prediction: Kansas State -14
Arizona (+6.5) at UCLA
The Bruins' defense doesn’t get pressure on the QB and doesn’t create turnovers and that’s a bad recipe against Anu Solomon and Rich Rodriguez. In fact, the Wildcats might be the better team. Home field gives UCLA a good shot to win but Arizona could easily walk away with the outright upset. The Bruins are 1-7 against the spread this season. Prediction: Arizona +6.5
Arkansas (+10.5) at Mississippi St
Like when the Hogs faced Georgia, this is a bad matchup for Arkansas. They don’t have the weapons to take advantage of issues in State’s secondary. And the Hogs won’t be able to stop Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson. The Bulldogs are 5-2 against the spread this year as well. Prediction: Mississippi State -10.5
Cal (+4) at Oregon St
The Bears are 5-3 against the spread and can score points with the best the nation has to offer. Oregon State is 2-5 against the spread and hasn’t mustered any offense whatsoever this season. While the Beavers should be able to score (take the over), Cal should win outright. Prediction: Cal +4
Wisconsin (-10/pk) at Rutgers
The real spread is likely in the 10-11 range and I like UW to cover that too. The reason some books have removed the game is Gary Nova’s status. But two books on Covers.com have the game as a pick-em, so I am jumping on that easy money. Again, even laying the 10, I’d take the Badgers to roll. Prediction: Wisconsin -10/pk
Listen to the Week 10 preview podcast:
Ride the hot(est) hands:
TCU (-5.5) at West Virginia
The Horned Frogs are 7-0 against the spread this season and are clicking on all cylinders on offense. Lay the points and ride it until they lose.
Utah (+6) at Arizona St
The Utes are 6-1 against the spread this year and should be able to pressure the ASU offense into a few mistakes.
Tulsa (+24) at Memphis
The Tigers are 5-1-1 this year against the number and Tulsa has been terrible for much of the season, checking in at 2-5 ATS.
Western Michigan (-6) at Miami-OH
The only team in the nation that has been better against the spread than WMU is TCU. The Broncos are 7-1 against Vegas this year.
Top 25 Picks ATS:
|Top 25||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|Arkansas (+10.5) at Miss. St|
|Auburn (+2.5) at Ole Miss|
|Stanford (+8) at Oregon|
|TCU (-5.5) at W. Virginia|
|Okla. St (+14) at Kansas St|
|Notre Dame (-14) at Navy|
|Florida (+12.5) vs. Georgia|
|Arizona (+6.5) at UCLA|
|Kansas (+35.5) at Baylor|
|Utah (+6) at Arizona St|
|Purdue (+23.5) at Nebraska|
|Illinois (+28.5) at Ohio St|
|Oklahoma (-16.5) at Iowa St|
|ECU (-7.5) at Temple|
|Duke (+3.5) at Pitt|
For the first time during his tenure at Illinois, John Groce has a roster loaded with familiar faces. Of the 13 players making up this year’s Illini, 11 have been a part of Groce’s system for at least one year, a stark contrast to Year 1, when everyone was getting to know the new coach and his staff, and last year, when nine newcomers made up the majority of the roster.
Illinois’ third-year coach recognized a clear difference in the flow of practice after the team’s first workout of the eight-week summer schedule.
“We were able to cover more things in the hour I had them on the first day than at any time last summer because guys just knew stuff right away,” Groce says. “They’ve heard this stuff, in some cases for two years. That was really encouraging.”
The hope in Champaign is that the familiarity breeds victories. After a second-round exit in the NIT, the expectation is to return to the NCAA Tournament, where Illinois reached the Round of 32 in Groce’s first season.
Top scorer Rayvonte Rice returns to anchor the backcourt, and he’ll be aided by transfers Ahmad Starks (Oregon State) and Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall) to add some offensive balance for a team that finished 11th in the Big Ten in scoring (64.2 ppg).
“Obviously, we’ve got to improve our offensive efficiency,” Groce says. “Our defense was plenty good enough last year to win against anybody.”
The Illinois edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
In Nnanna Egwu, Illinois has a defensive stopper and rim protector who finished second in the Big Ten last year with 2.1 blocked shots per game. The key for the senior will be to stay out of foul trouble and remain on the court, because frontcourt depth took a hit when Western Michigan transfer Darius Paul was suspended for the season after violating team rules.
Freshman Leron Black, Mr. Basketball in Tennessee, figures to earn regular minutes in the playing rotation. The hard-nosed 6-7 forward brings a level of toughness that Illinois has lacked. “Guys really hate going against him in practice,” Groce says.
Sophomore Malcolm Hill, who came along in the second half of last season, adds versatility. The 6-6 Hill started the final 12 games of his freshman season as the power forward and connected on nine of his last 15 3-pointers.
Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert were seldom used as freshmen last season, and one or both will have to emerge to provide added depth. Freshman Michael Finke is a prolific outside shooter, and at just a shade under 6-10, he could see time as the stretch-4.
Illinois Fighting Illini Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-15, 7-11 Big Ten
Last NCAA Tournament: 2013
Coach: John Groce (43-28 at Illinois, 15-21 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Seventh
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
In his first season at Illinois after transferring from Drake, Rice proved he could score in the Big Ten. His 15.9-point average was eighth in the league. The 6-4 slasher did that while dealing with double teams as driving lanes closed because of Illinois’ lack of outside shooting.
Starks, the all-time leader in 3-pointers made at Oregon State, and Cosby, a 38.8 percent 3-point shooter at Seton Hall, will help free up Rice.
Kendrick Nunn, a member of the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team, enters the season carrying momentum from a strong finish. The 6-3 guard started the last 12 games of his rookie season and averaged 10.3 points during that stretch. Jaylon Tate, who had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman, will add depth at the point guard position.
Good thing the Illinois backcourt has depth. The Illini lost Tracy Abrams for the season with a torn ACL. Abrams was expected to contribute at the point after averaging 10.7 points per game last season.
The Big Ten, which was as strong the last two years as it’s been in some time, will ease up a bit this season, and that provides a chance for Illinois to make a move. With a good mix of drivers and shooters, the offense is expected to rebound from its anemic output. If the defense, which ranked in the top 25 in the country last season allowing 62.2 points, can maintain its punch, the Illini can climb the conference standings. For the first time in Groce’s tenure, the expectations are elevated, and how this group of players handles that pressure will go a long way in determining whether they meet the challenge.
Leron Black is a consensus top-50 recruit whose non-stop motor and knack for rebounding should earn him playing time. Michael Finke is a local kid who has grown two inches since committing to Illinois early during his junior season in high school. A versatile offensive player, Finke will need for his defense to catch up.
The first College Football Playoff rankings are here, and now we have an idea of what the selection committee will value in the final month of the season.
We also have an idea of what the teams out of the top four right now might have to do to get in. For the SEC contenders, the answer is simple: Just keep winning.
For teams like Notre Dame and Ohio State, who were perhaps ranked lower than expected, not only to they have to win the major games on their schedule, they may have to look great doing it.
The playoff has made the season more interesting for several teams, and every game will be important. Some, though, will be more critical than others.
Auburn at Ole Miss
The selection committee’s first rankings with Auburn at No. 3 and Ole Miss at No. 4 give this matchup a little more juice. Both teams have one loss to a top-five team, but Ole Miss’ situation seems a little more dire. The Rebels are facing injury issues, but more concerning Bo Wallace and his playcaller don’t appear to be on the same page.
Oregon at Utah
Whether or not Utah defeats Arizona State this week for at least a share of the Pac-12 South lead, Salt Lake City will be a tough trip for the Ducks. Oregon travels to the spot where Stanford saw its national title hopes evaporate with a loss in Salt Lake City a year ago. The Ducks will face a challenging road trip only a week after a critical game against Stanford’s physical defense.
Notre Dame at Arizona State
The No. 10 Irish and the No. 14 Sun Devils are on the fringes of the playoff picture after the committee’s first set of rankings. Notre Dame’s best statement this season is a close loss in Tallahassee while Arizona State needs to atone for a 62-27 home loss to UCLA. A critical game for two dark horses.
Ohio State at Michigan State
The Big Ten’s playoff hopes appeared to be awfully dim on Sept. 6 when Michigan State lost to Oregon on the road and Ohio State lost at home to Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes’ loss to the Hokies is more embarrassing, but this game is a must-win for both. Not to mention — this is a division game in the Big Ten East.
Kansas State at TCU
Surprise. Surprise. The two Big 12 teams in purple were top 10 teams in the first playoff rankings. TCU has to get through a road trip to West Virginia and Kansas State has to beat Oklahoma State at home before this matchup. If both survive, this may be an elimination game. A bit of an irony: TCU became a contender thanks to an up-tempo spread and will have to beat a stifling ball control team to continue the ride.
Baylor at Oklahoma
The preseason Big 12 favorites have their playoff hopes hanging by a thread. A loss here probably ends the playoff and league hopes for either.
Nov. 13 (Thursday)
East Carolina at Cincinnati
This game won’t factor into the national semifinals, but East Carolina is the only Group of 5 team in the first playoff rankings. Winning the American and being the top ranked team from outside of the major conferences guarantees East Carolina a major bowl bid. The road trip against Cincinnati will be the last major barrier until ECU faces UCF at home on Dec. 4.
Mississippi State at Alabama
Alabama started at No. 6 in the playoff rankings but no team has a more direct path to improve its stock thanks to remaining games against No. 1 (Mississippi State) and No. 3 (Auburn).
Auburn at Georgia
Hey, the SEC East makes an appearance in a playoff discussion. This is with good reason. Georgia’s lone loss is to South Carolina on the road by 3, and the Bulldogs have been able to absorb the absence of Todd Gurley. Provided Georgia can get through two more games without him (Florida and Kentucky), Georgia and Gurley can make a playoff statement against rival Auburn.
Nebraska at Wisconsin
One-loss Nebraska might be a playoff sleeper, but the Cornhuskers have no wins over ranked teams. The Cornhuskers need to beat Wisconsin and Iowa on the road and a Big Ten title to sniff the top four.
Auburn at Alabama
Not that a rematch of the Kick Six and the Iron Bowl needed any extra juice, but the game could end up deciding the SEC West and a playoff spot by the time the two teams meet.
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
Like the Iron Bowl, the Egg Bowl has the potential to be a matchup with SEC West and playoff implications. As it stands now, it’s the No. 1 vs. No. 4 game in the semifinals. And there’s recent history here as an Ole Miss turnover meltdown contributed to a Mississippi State win to set the momentum for this season.
March Madness was a one-and-done experience as Tennessee defeated Iowa 78–65 in the “play-in” game in Dayton. The season-ending collapse left Hawkeye fans wondering what went wrong with a team that just a month earlier had shown so much promise.
Making matters much worse was the personal crisis facing Iowa coach Fran McCaffery at the time. His 14-year old son, Patrick, had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his thyroid in the days leading up to Iowa’s NCAA Tournament game.
Patrick is now well on his way to recovery, his latest tests showing no signs of cancer.
As for his father’s team, it’s more of a mystery heading into this season. Four of the five starters return from last season, including All-Big Ten forward Aaron White. But the one missing piece is All-Big Ten guard Roy Devyn Marble, who led Iowa in scoring last season and was clearly the go-to player for a team that struggled to shoot from the perimeter.
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White is the first Hawkeye to have at least 1,300 points, 650 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 assists by his junior season. He is still considered a suspect shooter but hopes to change that after spending the offseason working on his medium-range jump shot.
Joining White on the frontline is 7-1 junior center Adam Woodbury, who has started all 71 games in his college career. Woodbury hasn’t been much of an offensive threat, though, scoring in double figures only 10 times in two years. But he had his best performance in the final game of the season, scoring a career-high 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the loss to Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament.
Junior Jarrod Uthoff is expected to start at small forward, giving Iowa another 6-9 presence on the frontline. Throw 6-10 Gabe Olaseni and 6-9 freshman Dominique Uhl into the mix and the Hawkeyes are well-equipped with size and experience.
Iowa Hawkeyes Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-13, 9-9 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA First Four
Consecutive NCAA Tournaments: 1
Coach: Fran McCaffery (74-63 at Iowa, 30-42 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Sixth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
This season will mark the first time that McCaffery hasn’t had Marble in his backcourt. They spent the last four seasons helping to rebuild the Iowa program, which had fallen on hard times when they both arrived in 2010.
Marble gave McCaffery a reliable scorer who at 6-6 could play both guard positions. Iowa doesn’t have that dimension this season. Junior Mike Gesell returns as the starting point guard, and he also has played shooting guard. But Gesell stands only 6-1 and has struggled to make perimeter shots and to finish at the basket. Junior college import Trey Dickerson will add some athleticism to the position.
Senior Josh Oglesby is considered the favorite to replace Marble at shooting guard. Oglesby can catch fire from 3-point range, but he lacks Marble’s size and versatility.
Sophomore sharpshooter Peter Jok has Marble’s size at 6-6, but Jok also has some personal issues holding him back. He pleaded guilty to OWI after being arrested on his moped in late April. Less than two months later, Jok was stopped again on his moped and cited for driving with a suspended license, prompting McCaffery to suspend him indefinitely.
Junior point guard Anthony Clemmons returns after a rocky sophomore season in which he fell out of the rotation and played sparingly down the stretch. Clemmons blamed himself and is determined to regain his form as a freshman, when he started 13 games.
The collapse at the end of last season marks the only time under McCaffery in which Iowa hasn’t progressed as a team. Iowa did end its NCAA Tournament drought last season, but now the challenge is to keep climbing without Marble leading the way. The Hawkeyes have a proven commodity in the post in White and quality depth along the front line. They have quality pieces on the perimeter but lack consistent outside shooting. Anything less than another NCAA Tournament bid would be considered a disappointment.
Fran McCaffery had several near-misses in this class, the biggest setback coming when point guard Tyler Ulis signed with Kentucky over Iowa last November. McCaffery rebounded by landing point guard Trey Dickerson, who averaged nearly 20 points per game as a freshman in junior college. Brady Ellingson enters college with a reputation for being a great 3-point shooter. Dominique Uhl will bring athleticism to the front line.
That may come as a surprise for a league hasn’t produced a national champion since Michigan State in 2000.
Yet, the Big Ten is the only conference to send a team to the Final Four in each of the last three seasons and has done so with three different teams — Wisconsin in 2014, Michigan in 2013 and Ohio State in 2012.
The league has also produced its share of regular season excitement with as many compelling teams as any league. Consider: Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State remain as consistent as ever, Michigan has become a national power, Indiana enjoyed one season as a No. 1 team for much of the year, and Iowa and Nebraska have risen their levels of play.
The question for 2014-15 is how long it continue.
Wisconsin returns from the Final Four with nearly its entire roster intact. Other mainstays at the top of the Big Ten heap have lost major cogs — Michigan State enters the season without Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling, Michigan without Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, Ohio State without Aaron Craft and Iowa without Roy Devyn Marble.
Those are major losses for a league that has relied on upperclassmen for the most of the last four years.
Does that mean the league as a whole will take a step back in 2014-15 while Wisconsin runs away with the title? Will the Wolverines, Spartans and Buckeyes reload? Will the Cornhuskers take the next step?
In any event, the depth in the Big Ten is in question for the first time in several years.
Previews of every Big Ten team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
Big Ten 2014-15 Preseason Picks
1. Wisconsin (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA runner up
Four returning starters from a Final Four team has ignited intriguing talk of a national championship run.
2. Nebraska (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
With Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields, the Huskers are the trendy pick to do big things.
3. Michigan State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Replacing Gary Harris and Adreian Payne won’t be easy, but Tom Izzo built depth while battling injuries last season.
4. Ohio State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
Life without Aaron Craft (or LaQuinton Ross) will be a challenge for a team that was offensively challenged last season.
5. Michigan (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
Give John Beilein three perimeter guys like Derrick Walton Jr., Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin and he’ll do the rest.
6. Iowa (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
Hawkeyes’ fans will expect more than merely a trip to the NCAA Tournament from a veteran team led by a talented senior like Aaron White.
7. Illinois (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
John Groce has put together a nice blend of veterans, youth and transfers but the Illini remain a big man away from the Top 25.
Postseason projection: NIT
Tom Crean has addressed his team’s shooting issues, but now the worry is rebounding and interior defense.
Postseason projection: NIT
Richard Pitino won the NIT during his first season, but could not close down the recruiting border.
Postseason projection: NIT
Embattled Mark Turgeon adds a top-10 recruiting class, but watched five players transfer out of his program. Hot Seat alert.
11 Penn State
Postseason projection: NIT
The Nittany Lions remain a team nobody wants to play because they defend and D.J. Newbill is always capable of a 20-point night.
If A.J. Hammons improves from good to great, the Boilermakers could move to the middle of the pack.
Lack of depth remains the leading issue as Chris Collins aims for progress in his second season.
It won’t be any easier for the Scarlet Knights here than it was in the Big East.
2014-15 Pac-12 Superlatives
Player of the Year: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
Dekker bulked up during the offseason and, oddly enough, grew from 6-7 to 6-9 since the end of last season. He already was Wisconsin’s top NBA prospect, and he'll make a run an All-America honors. He returned to add an outside shot to his game and for a run at a national title.
Best Defensive Player: Shannon Scott, Ohio State
Scott has major shoes to fill stepping in for point guard and defensive stopper Aaron Craft. His per 40 minute numbers were close to Craft’s, but carrying that over to a full-time role is easier said than done.
Most Underrated Player: Caris LeVert, Michigan
LeVert won’t be underrated for long. A secondary player for the Wolverines last season will be the focal point for this Michigan team. After averaging 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 rebounds, he’s suited to being a team leader for a young, rebuilding squad.
Newcomer of the Year: Anthony Lee, Ohio State
Ohio State was a mediocre rebounding team last season. Lee will be a major boost in that area after averaging an American Athletic Conference-best 8.6 boards per game at Temple last season.
Top Coach: Tom Izzo, Michigan State (full rankings of Big Ten coaches)
First-Team All-Big Ten
G Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
G Caris LeVert, Michigan
G/F Terran Petteway, Nebraska
F Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
C Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Second-Team All-Big Ten
G D.J. Newbill, Penn State
G Rayvonte Rice, Illinois
G/F Branden Dawson, Michigan State
F Aaron White, Iowa
C A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Third-Team All-Big Ten
G Derrick Walton, Michigan
G Shavon Shields, Nebraska
G Andre Hollins, Minnesota
G/F Dez Wells, Maryland
F Anthony Lee, Ohio State