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There was a time when Robert Griffin III’s future in Washington seemed limitless. In fact, some said he represented the future of the NFL. Like Michael Vick was supposed to be a decade or so earlier, RGIII was to become a new-age quarterback/weapon. The first quarterback who could be truly as dangerous throwing as he was on the run.
His unlimited potential is why the Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to move up to get him with the second pick of the 2012 draft. It’s why he instantly became a favorite of owner Dan Snyder, who even forced coach Mike Shanahan out when he reportedly took RGIII’s side in an internal squabble. It’s why, in his two NFL seasons, so many opposing defenders spoke of him with awe.
But now that RGIII is out with a dislocated ankle – the second major injury of his young career – it’s fair to wonder if he has much of a future at all. The Redskins appear to thrive when the less-mobile, more pocket-oriented Kirk Cousins is under center. And it sure looks like the ‘Skins are at least open to the idea of Cousins permanently taking RGIII’s place at the helm.
“Crazy things have happened in the NFL,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said when asked about that possibility. “I am not going to discount anybody or anything. I am not going to try and pull out a crystal ball and say what is going to happen tomorrow or next week. I know for the next six weeks we are going to concentrate on Kirk as a quarterback. We feel very strongly that he can get the job done.
“Whatever happens after that, I will deal with then.”
Well, imagine this scenario, then. Cousins turns the hapless Redskins into winners and the team thrives in its new offense with a quarterback who plays a more traditional style. Griffin still has “significant” value around the NFL, according to a report in the Washington Post. So could Washington recoup some of its losses in an offseason trade?
It’s certainly possible if RGIII recovers fully from his latest serious injury. And if he does, here are some of the teams that should be knocking at the Redskins’ door:
Tennessee Titans – Jake Locker is in his fourth and what should be his final season with the Titans, who need a fresh start all around. RGIII wouldn’t just jumpstart their offense, he’d give them a huge boost of excitement and energy which they’ve lacked since coach Jeff Fisher left town.
Dallas Cowboys – Jerry Jones regretted not drafting Johnny Manziel about five minutes after the Cowboys passed on him, because he thought Johnny Football would help keep his franchise relevant. Well, RGIII – again, a Texas native – would do the same. And it would give them a future beyond the career of Tony Romo, who is 33.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Josh McCown isn’t a long-term or short-term solution for their problems, and the Lovie Smith regime seems set against handing the ball to young Mike Glennon. They are destined to draft a QB in the first round next spring – possibly with the No. 1 overall pick. They might be able to fix their problems quicker if they get one with experience, like RGIII.
St. Louis Rams – Sam Bradford was once supposed to be their future, but he’s had worse injury luck than Griffin. Now the Rams are stuck with Shaun Hill and Austin Davis and they have to be looking toward their next franchise quarterback. Coach Jeff Fisher once had a lot of success turning a quarterback who liked to run in Steve McNair into a terrific all-around weapon. Maybe with RGIII he could do the same.
New England Patriots – Tom Brady is 37 years old and they don’t yet have a succession plan. Brady said he’s going to play until he stinks, and he’s not close to that yet. RGIII would be a little too high-octane to be a backup, but if any organization can handle that it’s the Bill Belichick machine.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
College football’s coaching carousel is usually quiet in September, but two teams have already made changes this year. June Jones resigned at SMU, and Texas Tech parted ways with defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt after the loss to Arkansas.
While two changes in September are surprising, the carousel certainly isn’t over.
Florida’s Will Muschamp and Michigan’s Brady Hoke – two coaches at top 25 jobs – are under immense pressure after slow starts to 2014.
At Kansas, Charlie Weis has a winning record in 2014 (2-1), but the Jayhawks are still expected to be an underdog in every Big 12 contest this year. Can Weis show progress within the conference?
Here is a look at the top 10 coaches on the hot seat after Week 4 this year:
College Football’s Top 10 Coaches on the Hot Seat After Week 4
1. Will Muschamp, Florida
2014 Record: 2-1
Record at Florida: 24-18 (4 years)
Muschamp entered the season as the No. 1 coach on the hot seat. Four weeks into the year, it’s hard to say anything has changed in Gainesville. Muschamp was tasked with improving an offense that averaged a paltry 18.8 points per game last season and just 4.8 yards per play. Florida scored 65 points in the opener against Eastern Michigan but is averaging just 4.9 yards per play in two SEC contests. Unless new coordinator Kurt Roper is able to find a quick fix for the offense over the next few weeks, a brutal remaining SEC schedule – at Tennessee, LSU, Missouri, Georgia, at Vanderbilt and South Carolina – could be too much for Muschamp to overcome.
2. Brady Hoke, Michigan
2014 Record: 2-2
Record at Michigan: 28-15 (4 years)
Similar to Florida’s Will Muschamp, the biggest problem for Hoke entering Week 5 is the offense. Doug Nussmeier was hired from Alabama to fix an offense that averaged 5.2 yards per play (No. 8 in conference) in Big Ten games last season. So far, it’s hard to suggest the Wolverines are any better on offense. Michigan has yet to reach the redzone in two games against Power 5 opponents and scored just 10 points in Saturday’s loss to Utah. Hoke has recruited well – No. 2 roster in the Big Ten – so a 9-7 mark in conference play since 2012 is underachieving at a program like Michigan.
3. Charlie Weis, Kansas
2014 Record: 2-1
Record at Kansas: 6-21 (3 years)
Coaching in Lawrence is not an easy assignment, but it’s hard to find progress for Weis since taking the job in 2012. Kansas is 6-21 overall under Weis and has just one conference victory. The Jayhawks lost six Big 12 games by 20 points or more last year and only won by six against SEMO in the 2014 opener. Weis was not a popular hire when he was picked to replace Turner Gill, and he’s running out of time to prove he’s the right coach to get Kansas football back on track.
4. Norm Chow, Hawaii
2014 Record: 1-3
Record at Hawaii: 5-23 (3 years)
Chow was a long-time assistant for a handful of programs and finally landed an opportunity to be a head coach in 2012 at Hawaii. Transitioning from the wide-open offense under Greg McMackin to more pro-style schemes takes time, but the Warriors have just five wins in three years. Hawaii had several close losses in 2013, which increased optimism for 2014. However, the Warriors are off to a 1-3 start, with the only victory coming against FCS opponent Northern Iowa (27-24). Hawaii is not an easy job, and Chow inherited some challenges. If the Warriors finish with two or three wins, a change could be coming in Honolulu.
5. Ron Turner, FIU
2014 Record: 1-3
Record at FIU: 2-14 (2 years)
After Mario Cristobal brought promise to FIU with back-to-back bowl games, the administration made the questionable decision to change head coaches. Turner was an odd hire, coming to Miami after nearly 10 years away from the college game. From 1997-04, Turner guided Illinois to a 35-57 mark and took the Fighting Illini to two bowl games in that span. As FIU’s coach, Turner is 2-14 and has two losses to FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman. This hire simply isn't going to work.
6. Bill Blankenship, Tulsa
2014 Record: 1-2
Record at Tulsa: 23-19 (4 years)
Blankenship inherited a good team from the previous coaching staff (Todd Graham) and led Tulsa to a 19-8 record from 2011-12. But the Golden Hurricane drastically slipped in record last year, finishing 3-9 and sixth in C-USA West. Tulsa is off to a 1-2 start this year and lost 50-21 at FAU in Week 3. Was Blankenship’s initial success due to a full cupboard from Graham’s coaching staff? With the move to the American Athletic Conference, Tulsa can’t afford to fall too far behind its new league mates.
7. Tim Beckman, Illinois
2014 Record: 3-1
Record at Illinois: 9-19 (3 years)
Beckman seemed like a good fit at Illinois after a 21-16 record in three years at Toledo. But three years later, Beckman is still searching for his first winning season and needs to win at least three Big Ten games in 2014 to make a bowl game. The Fighting Illini is 1-15 in conference play under Beckman, and the defense has ranked 10th or worse in points allowed in each of the last three seasons. With Purdue, Iowa and Penn State visiting Champaign, Beckman has an opportunity to push Illinois into bowl contention. But if the Fighting Illini fall short, Beckman may not return in 2015.
8. Larry Blakeney, Troy
2014 Record: 0-4
Record at Troy: 175-108-1 (24 years)
Considering Blakeney’s name is on the field at Veterans Memorial Stadium, it’s hard to see the veteran coach getting fired at the end of 2014. But is it time for change at Troy? Blakeney is 175-108-1 with the Trojans since 1991 but has not posted a winning record since 2010. The Trojans are 9-14 in Sun Belt play since 2011 and appear headed for their fourth losing season since 2004. Troy was the dominant program in the Sun Belt from 2006-10, and considering all of the recent changes in the league, it’s a surprise the Trojans have not played in a bowl since 2010.
9. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
2014 Record: 2-1
Record at Air Force: 51-42 (7 years)
Calhoun’s tenure at Air Force started with four seasons of at least eight victories and six consecutive bowl appearances. But since a 9-4 mark in 2010, the Falcons seem to be trending in the wrong direction. Air Force went 7-6 in 2011, followed by a 6-7 record in 2012. In 2013, the program went 2-10, which is the worst season by the Falcons since a 2-9-1 record in 1980. The 2-10 mark was also the first double-digit loss record in program history.
10. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
2014 Record: 2-1
Career Record: 12-27 (4 years)
Wilson is ranked No. 10 on this list, but the fourth-year coach is coming off a huge road win against Missouri, leaving Indiana at 2-1 after four weeks in 2014. The Hoosiers have made steady gains under Wilson after finishing 1-11 in 2011. Indiana improved to 4-8 in 2012 and jumped to 5-7 in 2013. Coaching in Bloomington is no easy assignment, and Wilson needs time to develop some of the program’s young talent. Barring a disaster of a record this year, Wilson doesn’t appear to be in any danger of being fired in 2014. But in the new 14-team Big Ten alignment, the Hoosiers can’t afford to fall too far behind, so it will be interesting to see what happens if Indiana finishes 4-8 this year.
Moving Off the Hot Seat?
Mike London, Virginia
2014 Record: 2-2
Career Record: 20-33 (5 years)
The Cavaliers are showing improvement in London's fifth season and have already matched their win total from 2013. London is out of the top 10 - for now - but another losing record could be tough to survive.
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
2014 Record: 4-0
Career Record: 51-32 (7 years)
The Yellow Jackets have never finished below .500 in conference play under Johnson. However, back-to-back seven-win campaigns placed Johnson on the hot seat in 2014, but the rumblings in Atlanta have quieted after the Yellow Jackets' 4-0 start.
The original reality TV show is sports. No contrived setting where seven strangers living in a house or one bachelor searching for love can match the excitement the Iron Bowl delivered last fall.
The beauty of college football lies in its complete unpredictability and drama. Here are some outrageous predictions for Week 4.
Note: The point of this column is to have some fun and make some outlandish predictions. Please react accordingly.
Mike Bercovici will throw for more yards than Brett Hundley
The Sun Devils' backup quarterback is stepping into a starring role this Thursday against No. 12 UCLA having thrown just 24 career passes. But the strong-armed righty has plenty of experience in this offense, as he battled with Taylor Kelly for starting duties two years ago. Bercovici will chuck it around all night while UCLA will turn to the running game.
Arkansas will rush for more yards than Texas A&M will pass
Much like the Arkansas-Texas Tech game two weeks ago, this meeting in Arlington, Texas, will feature an exciting battle of tempo and scheme. The Razorbacks have been unstoppable on the ground, rushing for 324.5 yards per game. The Aggies, behind Kenny Hill, have averaged 405.0 yards passing per game. If Bret Bielema wants to win, he will have to control the clock so look for more yards rushing from the Hogs than passing from the Ags.
Bonus: Also, keep an eye on Western Kentucky and Navy this weekend. The Hilltoppers are No. 2 nationally in passing offense (486.3 ypg) while the Midshipmen rank No. 4 nationally in rushing (345.0 ypg).
Shaq Thompson will lead the Huskies in tackles and rushing
Washington and Stanford have played two physical and epic showdowns the last two seasons with each team winning a close one at home. The Huskies will turn to the best player on the field for either team in two-way star Shaq Thompson to carry them this weekend. Thompson will lead the Huskies in rushing against the most physical defense in the Pac-12 while also leading the Huskies in tackles against the most physical offense in the Pac-12. It should be another brutal battle for the lead in the Pac-12 North.
Neither Minnesota nor Michigan will complete a pass (to their own team)
Michigan’s offensive struggles have reached epic proportions, scoring just three points on offense against Big 5 teams this year. The Wolverines rank 100th in passing offense and both Devin Gardner and Shane Morris threw interceptions last weekend. Meanwhile, Minnesota ranks 124th in passing offense and backup quarterback Chris Streveler completed just one pass a week ago against San Jose State. The battle for The Little Brown Jug could set the forward pass back two decades if these two aren’t careful.
Duke will win an ACC game in Miami
Duke and Miami have played just 11 times, including the last nine as members of the ACC Coastal Division. The Blue Devils defeated the Canes 48-30 in Durham last season and won the first-ever meeting between these two back in 1976 in Miami (non-conference). The Hurricanes have won every other meeting (9-2) between those two games. That will change this weekend when Duke posts its first-ever ACC win at Miami. The four previous conference meetings in South Florida saw the Devils outscored by an average of 27 points.
Athlon Sports has formed a Heisman Trophy committee. Each week, we will ask 13 members of the national college football media to rank their top candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
Each voter will rank their top five candidates, with each first-place vote getting five points and each last-place vote getting one point.
Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports
Dave Revsine, Big Ten Network
Adam Zucker, CBS Sports
Steven Godfrey, SBNation
Zac Ellis, Sports Illustrated
Bryan Fischer, NFL.com
Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Network
Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report, B/R Radio
Josh Ward, MrSEC.com
Mitch Light, Athlon Sports
David Fox, Athlon Sports
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports, SiriusXM
Dropped out: Demarcus Robinson
Listen to the Week 4 recap podcast:
The Top 3:
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Mariota was brilliant late on Saturday evening against an upstart Washington State squad. Without two starters along his offensive line, the Oregon quarterback ran for his life all game long, as the Cougars consistently forced him out of the pocket. He finished 21-of-25 passing (84 percent) for 329 yards and five touchdowns while rushing 13 times for 58 yards in the seven-point win. In four games, Mariota has 1,135 yards passing, 214 yards rushing, 16 total touchdowns and no interceptions.
2. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
The UGA tailback wasn’t needed much in the 66-0 win over Troy. Gurley carried six times for 73 yards and didn’t reach the end zone in extremely limited time. He still leads the SEC in rushing yards per game (134.0 ypg, 10th nationally) but is third behind Alex Collins (490) and Josh Robinson (485) when it comes to yards alone.
3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
There is no doubt Lane Kiffin has made a huge difference with the Alabama offense and no one is more appreciative than Cooper. The Bama wideout caught 10 passes for 201 yards and three huge touchdowns against Florida in a marquee win in Alabama’s SEC opener. He is leading the nation with 43 receptions (10.8 pg) and receiving yards at 655 (163.8 pg) and has scored five times. He is on pace for 129 receptions, 1,965 yards and 15 touchdowns — all of which would be school records.
No. 18 Gonzaga is gearing up for another run beyond an West Coast Conference title and an NCAA Tournament appearance, which has become the standard in 15 seasons under Mark Few. The Zags have brought in a handful of transfers to combine with the veteran inside-out duo of Kevin Pangos and Przemek Karnowski for a program hoping to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009.
The Gonzaga edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
In one of those way-too-early preseason polls released shortly after Connecticut won the NCAA championship in April, Gonzaga checked in at No. 9, and according to coach Mark Few, there’s a possibility that this could be his best team.
On paper, it’s hard to argue, and those who know Few know he’s not prone to hyperbole, particularly when his team is involved.
Two years removed from the program’s first No. 1 ranking and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Zags have assembled a team that looks long on promise and short on weaknesses. The Bulldogs have experience, depth, size, shooters, post-up options and versatility.
No. 18 Gonzaga Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-6, 15-3 West Coast
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAAs: 16
Coach: Mark Few (403-100 overall, 193-25 WCC)
WCC Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Przemek Karnowski’s development seems to be right on track. The 7-1 center has made noticeable changes to his body, trimming off pounds while adding strength and endurance. He’s expanded his offensive arsenal and excels at putting opposing bigs in foul trouble. He was a force on defense, swatting 62 shots and, for the most part, doing a better job of avoiding foul trouble himself as the season progressed. He had double-doubles in GU’s two NCAA Tournament games.
Sam Dower Jr., Karnowski’s sidekick last season, has moved on to the professional ranks. Enter Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, a highly skilled 6-10 forward. He spent last season working with trainer Travis Knight, who helped remodel Kelly Olynyk’s body during a redshirt year prior to his breakout season in 2013. Wiltjer, who came off the bench for Kentucky’s 2012 national championship team, has shooting range beyond the 3-point line, and his added muscle should help him operate in the lane.
Domantas Sabonis, another skilled 6-10 forward, could be the first big off the bench. The 18-year-old Sabonis, son of Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, has held his own against some of the best players in the world.
It’s a much different scenario than last season, when Gonzaga often turned to 6-7 Drew Barham and 6-5 Kyle Dranginis as Dower’s primary backups.
Angel Nunez is another option. The athletic, 6-8 Nunez was eligible for the final two-thirds of last season and made contributions in several games. With a full season in the program and an offseason to develop, Nunez could see more minutes. Seven-footer Ryan Edwards could redshirt or serve as Karnowski’s backup for the second straight year.
Guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. cracked the starting lineup as freshmen, and they’ve been there ever since, combining for 187 starts. Both are career double-figure scorers (Pangos 13.3 ppg, Bell 10.1 ppg) and excellent 3-point shooters (Pangos 40.9 percent, Bell 42.8 precent), and they also do a good job taking care of the basketball.
The two have dealt with a lot of wear and tear on their bodies. Pangos played with toe and ankle injuries from early December through the remainder of the season but didn’t miss a game. Few has called Pangos the toughest kid he’s ever coached. Bell has had offseason surgeries the last two years.
The wing position isn’t as settled, but there are quality options in Kyle Dranginis, USC transfer Byron Wesley and possibly Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan. Dranginis had a solid sophomore season, stepping in as a starter when Bell was sidelined by a broken hand. His versatility was reflected in his stats with averages of 6.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals. Wesley, who is eligible immediately, led USC in scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 rpg) last season. McClellan, who will be eligible in December, was Vanderbilt’s leading scorer (14.3 ppg) before being dismissed from the team after 12 games.
Gonzaga also has highly regarded incoming freshmen Josh Perkins and Silas Melson.
The Zags are heavy favorites to win their 14th WCC crown in 15 seasons. They have an impressive roster, led by the rock-solid backcourt of Pangos and Bell Jr. and possibly one of the nation’s better frontcourt tandems in Karnowski and Wiltjer. Any of those four players could be considered a WCC Player of the Year candidate, though the team’s balance might overshadow individual honors.
But Gonzaga’s goals extend beyond the WCC. The Zags have played in the NCAAs in 16 straight seasons, and they have the potential to make their stay in this season’s tournament a long one.
Kyle Wiltjer’s knowledge of the game and ability to spread the floor should help his pairing with Przemek Karnowski flourish. Wiltjer’s offseason work in the weight room figures to bring an inside-outside balance to his game. Byron Wesley should have an impact at both ends of the floor, and Eric McClellan could eventually do the same. Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, the backcourt of the future, and the talented Domantas Sabonis figure to have roles in the rotation.
Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers and more.
Today, David attempts to isolate each rookie from his team and equipment and properly rank the driving chops of each member of this year’s rookie class.
The 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship is underway. While pressure to earn points and wins aren’t nearly the concern for rookies as they were during the regular season, there are still eight races on the schedule that can be utilized to enhance strengths and eradicate weaknesses.
Here is the latest Rookie Report ranking, prior to this Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway:
1. Kyle Larson, No. 42 (previous: 1)
“It’s a damn shame we aren’t in the Chase,” said Larson over the radio to his crew following his second-place finish at New Hampshire, his second consecutive finish inside the top three in the last two races, concurring with the Chase’s first two events.
Though it is a shame, Larson had 26 races to accomplish the task of qualifying into the Chase. He didn’t, and it wasn’t due to one specific poor outing. The job didn’t get done when it mattered during the 26-race regular season, but that shouldn’t stop him from playing the role of potential spoiler in the remaining eight events.
The rest of the 2014 schedule includes four tracks — Texas, Kansas, Talladega and Dover — wherein he earned top-12 finishes earlier this season. It also includes Homestead, at which he has competed three times, once apiece in each of NASCAR’s three premier divisions, and led in each. No, return trips don’t make for automatic improvement; however, with Larson quick assimilation is the norm. He just might out-point some of the most notable Chasers going forward.
2. Austin Dillon, No. 3 (previous: 2)
With negative surplus passing values in each of his last seven races, a problem that has increased as the season progressed, Dillon just isn’t capitalizing on the track position he’s been given. A part of the problem is retention ability on double-file restarts. During this span, he lost 10 positions across five restart attempts within the first seven rows at Pocono and 14 across two at Michigan. The non-preferred groove, as it does with most drivers, has his number. He has retained his restart position just 27 percent of the time this season from that groove.
3. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 (previous: 3)
While it’s true that Allgaier and crew chief Steve Addington lost four red zone positions en route to their 20th-place finish at New Hampshire, the closing tide has been turning for a team that struggled closing out races for the majority of the season. New Hampshire was the first race since Pocono that the No. 51 team lost positions during the final 10 percent of a race, good for an 83.33 percent base retention in races they completed, which stands 18 percent better than the team’s season-long mark of 65.22.
4. Cole Whitt, No. 26 (previous: 4)
Whitt’s involvement in a multi-car crash on lap 181 at New Hampshire and subsequent 38th-place finish broke a streak of four straight 30th-place finishes, making the last five races his worst stretch of the entire season. If the No. 26 team can weather this storm, there are some beams of light on the horizon. In those five races dating back to Bristol, the always-scrappy Whitt averaged a surplus passing value 4.53 percent better than the expected efficiency from a driver with his average running position.
5. Michael Annett, No. 7 (previous: 5)
Not mentioned in last week’s look at passing splits was the improvement made by Annett in his adjusted pass efficiency in the season’s third quarter. In fact, he was one of two drivers — Allgaier was the other — to jump from an efficiency in the red to one in the black, shooting from 49.04 percent to 51.43 percent (anything over 50 percent signifies a driver passing more than he or she is passed). If the 12 positions crew chief Bono Manion cost him during green-flag pit cycles in the span of races from Kentucky through Chicagoland was just a balanced zero, the No. 7 team could have capitalized on its driver’s steady track position gains.
6. Alex Bowman, No. 23 (previous: 6)
The second half of this season hasn’t been kind to Bowman. It’d make sense that the under-budget BK Racing team can’t afford the kind of Toyota Gen-6 spec updates that Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing can make to its machines, so a tapering off in speed and everything else that comes with that makes sense. Bowman’s passing has taken a tremendous blow dating back to the Kentucky race. In the last 10 races (omitting Watkins Glen), Bowman earned negative surplus passing values in nine of them, averaging an efficiency 5.77 percent below what is expected from a driver in his average running position. That’s the worst mark of any series regular during that span.
7. Ryan Truex, No. 83 (previous: 7)
It would appear that all the improving that Truex did — especially to his passing ability — were victories of the Pyrrhic variety, because BK Racing elected to bench him at New Hampshire, a track Truex was victorious at in K&N East competition in 2010, in favor of Travis Kvapil, a known never-was with an unsavory rap sheet. While it’s true that Truex has failed to light the world on fire, not all rookies adapt to higher competition levels like Kyle Larson did. A commitment of time should come with every decision to sign a rookie driver, and owners Ron Devine and Wayne Press and team GM Rick Carpenter failed to provide it. It would seem they’re also in the process of egregiously botching the hiring of his replacement.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
For the early part of the 2014 season, Nick Saban was looking for a quarterback to step up and lead his Alabama team. Blake Sims has done just that.
Sims threw five touchdown passes against Florida on Saturday and amassed 445 yards through the air. And with the convincing 41-21 victory over Florida in Tuscaloosa, Alabama jumped Florida State to take over the No. 1 spot in the Legends Poll Top 8. The Tide received eight of the 14 first-place votes.
Second-ranked Florida State managed to squeak by Clemson in overtime, 23-17, playing at home without star quarterback Jameis Winston. On short notice, backup Sean Maguire was asked to step in due to Winston’s suspension, and Maguire hung tough against a blitz happy Clemson defense. The Seminoles received 5 first-place votes.
Oklahoma notched the other first-place vote and jumped up to the No. 3 after beating West Virginia 45-33 in Morgantown, WV. Freshman RB Samaje Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns in the Big 12 match-up.
Oregon slid two places to No. 4 after a tight win over Washington State, 38-31. Mariota threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns, continuing his Heisman Trophy campaign, despite being sacked seven times.
No. 4 Oregon was followed by Auburn, Texas A&M, and Baylor in the Legends Poll rankings.
No. 8 Notre Dame made its debut in the Legends Poll Top 8 this week, replacing LSU, which was stunned at home by Mississippi State, 34-29, Saturday night.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
|2||Florida State (5)||3-0||92||1|
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 23:
• Metta World Peace is changing his Chinese name to "The Panda's Friend," and he unveiled shoes to match. Also, Metta World Peace is insane.
• Tom Brady knows what it's like to be left hanging on a high-five. So when a photo circulated of his boss suffering a similar fate, he did something about it.
• Watch a team of pee-wee footballers try — and fail — to break through a banner. Banner 1, Mighty Mites 0.
• James Harrison's retirement lasted all of two weeks. Guess the WalMart greeter thing didn't work out.
• Speaking of debunked legends, the 1972 Dolphins don't actually get together for a toast when the last unbeaten falls. The world makes no sense any more.
• Jose Altuve redefines the term "free swinger."
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
It’s Week 4 of the NFL regular season and not only will Miami and Oakland travel across the pond to play in London, but the byes are upon us! Arizona, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, St. Louis and Seattle all get a breather, putting a lot of offensive (and defensive for that matter) firepower on the bench. This coupled with more injuries to significant players means another busy week for the waiver wire.
And in that respect Athlon Sports is here to help you sort through some of the potential free agent options. The players listed in our weekly fantasy football waiver wire may be one-week adds, some may be worth holding on to all season long and some are of the “sleeper” variety that you may simply want to keep an eye on.
Teams on bye in Week 4: Arizona, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, St. Louis and Seattle
Week 3 Recap: Kirk Cousins looked pretty comfortable leading Washington’s offense, leading all quarterbacks in Week 3 with 427 yards passing. He also tossed three touchdowns and just one interception in his first start this season. Cousins is definitely a worthy bye-week fill-in if not borderline every-week starter as long as Robert Griffin III remains sidelined.
Eli Manning, New York Giants
After throwing more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3) in the first two games, Manning was mistake-free in the Giants’ win over previously undefeated Houston. Manning completed 21 of 28 passes for 234 yards and two scores and has now put up back-to-back respectable games. It looks like he and his teammates are getting more comfortable in the new offense with each game. Next up for Manning and the Giants is a Thursday night date with Washington, who gave up 325 yards and three TDs to Nick Foles on Sunday. He may have dropped out of the circle of trust as an every-week starter, but Manning should definitely be on the radar if your starting QB is on bye this week.
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
There are some rookies (Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater) out there slated to make their first career starts in Week 4 as well as some other “veteran” options (Mike Glennon, Austin Davis), but let’s give the “old” man on the block some credit shall we? Playing behind an offensive line that lost three starters this offseason and with a lack of established weapons compared to other teams, Smith has continued to get the job done. He may not throw for a ton of yards, but he generally takes care of the football (no turnovers since Week 1) and can make plays with both his arm (3 TD passes Sunday vs. Miami) and legs (78 yards rushing in three games). The Chiefs get the Patriots on Monday night at home, and while it may not be an ideal matchup would you rather trust a guy who has gotten the job done before or a young quarterback still getting his feet wet as a professional?
Week 3 Recap: Knile Davis stepped in admirably for an injured Jamaal Charles, rushing for 132 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries in the win against Miami. Charles may be back from his high ankle sprain sooner rather than later, so just keep that in mind. Bobby Rainey got off to a tough start against Atlanta and fumbled twice, but the Buccaneers stuck with him and he finished with 105 total yards on 18 touches. How much work he gets this week against Pittsburgh will depend largely on Doug Martin’s (missed last week because of ankle injury) health. Jeremy Hill scored another touchdown in what was an otherwise quiet (7 att., 39 yds.) afternoon. Matt Asiata struggled in the run game (12 att., 35 yds.), but was somewhat of a factor again in the passing game (3 rec., 36 yds.).
Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis Colts
Trent Richardson is still getting his chances, but Bradshaw is clearly an active part of this Colts offense. Through three games he already has three touchdown catches and also is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Bradshaw is averaging more than 10 touches per game and if the Colts’ offense continues to produce, the veteran should as well. Bradshaw may be No. 2 on the depth chart (for now), but he’s currently seventh in fantasy points at his position.
Donald Brown, San Diego Chargers
Ryan Mathews is expected to miss about a month with a sprained MCL. Danny Woodhead was going to be a factor, especially as a receiver, but he went on injured reserve this week with a broken leg. That leaves Brown to handle the bulk of the workload. To that end, he got a whopping 31 carries against Buffalo on Sunday. And while he may not have picked up a ton of yards (62), any back that sees that many carries is valuable. Brown also caught five passes for 27 yards, so his versatility only increases his fantasy potential moving forward.
Roy Helu, Washington Redskins
Alfred Morris left Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia with a knee injury (which he got running into his own quarterback), but he was able to return. That said, with a short turnaround to get ready for the Thursday night game against the Giants, it’s possible that Helu could see more touches than usual. Helu got just two on Sunday, but one was a 55-yard reception and the other resulted in a one-yard rushing touchdown. Helu is already a part of Jay Gruden’s offense, but his role figures to increase if Morris is limited by the knee injury.
Lorenzo Taliaferro, Baltimore Ravens
Bernard Pierce was scratched prior to kickoff because of a thigh injury. Justin Forsett got 11 carries and five targets (65 total yards), but it was Taliaferro, the Ravens’ fourth-round pick who got the most work. An unheralded rookie from FCS member Coastal Carolina, Taliaferro rushed for 91 yards on 18 carries (5.1 ypc) and his first NFL touchdown in the win over Cleveland. Obviously Pierce’s health will dictate Taliaferro’s role moving forward, but it looks like the rookie may be on his way to at least moving past Forsett on the depth chart, if he hasn’t passed him already.
Week 3 Recap: Mohamed Sanu was up to his usual tricks against Tennessee, connecting with Andy Dalton on a touchdown pass. Sanu also caught five passes for 44 yards, but he’s on bye this week and the Bengals could get Marvin Jones back in Week 5. James Jones was third on the team in targets (5) Sunday against New England, but he still led the team in receiving with 43 yards on three catches. On the other hand, Rueben Randle was targeted a team-high 10 times against Houston, but he hauled in just five of those for a mere 27 yards.
Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal, San Diego Chargers
Royal (12-131-2) has better numbers than Floyd (6-148-1) to this point, but I prefer the latter over the former long term. For one, Keenan Allen is the Chargers wide receiver you want to own, but he’s gotten off to a slow start (12-109-0) because of a combination of competition (first two games were against Arizona and Seattle) and a groin injury that hampered him on Sunday against Buffalo. While Allen is limited, Royal figures to benefit the most since he’s been a reliable red zone target for Rivers. However, Royal is as streaky as they come – of his eight touchdowns last season, five of those came in the first two games – whereas Floyd is a legitimate vertical threat (24.7 ypc). With so many wide receivers on bye either Floyd or Royal are viable fill-in candidates, but be wary of the boom-or-bust potential with each.
Devin Hester, Atlanta Falcons
To be fair, Hester has a total of seven receptions on eight targets. But he’s turned those opportunties into 126 yards (18.0 ypc) and he also took his first rushing attempt of the season 20 yards for a touchdown against Tampa Bay on Thursday. Roddy White (hamstring) didn’t play against the Bucs while Harry Douglas injured his foot. The Falcons have used the most four-wide receiver sets of any team this season, so if anything it looks like Hester will continue to get chances. It’s just a matter of what he does with them. Hester’s return skills (28.0 yards per kickoff return, 15.2 ypr on punts and a TD) only add to his appeal in those leagues that include special teams contributions in their scoring.
Hakeem Nicks, Indianapolis Colts
Nicks is tied for fifth on the team in targets (12), but he and Andrew Luck have connected on 10 of those for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Remember Nicks was targeted 102 times last season with the Giants, catching 56 of them yet he didn’t get into the end zone once. If this connection continues to produce results, chances are pretty good that Luck may start to look Nicks’ way a little more. The Colts’ offense rolled up some ridiculous numbers against Jacksonville on Sunday and could be in for another big day this week when they host Tennessee.
Allen Robinson and Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars
Robinson is one of a trio of talented rookie wide receivers the Jaguars are employing. Second-round pick Marqise Lee carries the most upside, but he missed Sunday’s game because of a hamstring injury. It’s the same type of injury that kept Shorts (right) off of the field the first two games. Robinson and Shorts tied for the team lead in targets (10 each) against Indianapolis with the rookie tops in catches (7) and yards (79) while the veteran scored a touchdown. Robinson’s snap count has risen each game, and even when Lee returns he seems a safe bet to stay involved in the passing game. Shorts meanwhile was Jacksonville’s leading receiver last season (66-777-3) and I don’t really expect that to change despite the fact that first-round pick Blake Bortles has been given the starting quarterback job. Moving forward, I prefer Shorts and then Lee, but the latter’s hamstring injury will only help Robinson and Week 2 waiver wire wonder Allen Hurns, who caught his third touchdown pass on Sunday, remain fantasy relevant too.
Week 3 Recap: Niles Paul remained active (9 targets, 6 rec., 68 yds.) for Washington while Larry Donnell (6 rec., 45 yds.) posted his lowest numbers of the season. In both cases, these tight ends were not as productive as their team’s respective wide receivers, something that bears watching moving forward.
Owen Daniels, Baltimore Ravens
Dennis Pitta dislocated his hip on Sunday against Cleveland. Unfortunately it’s the same hip that he fractured last summer that wiped out most of his 2013 season. While the full extent of his latest injury is not yet known, it’s safe to assume we probably won’t see Pitta again this season. Daniels will take over as the Ravens’ primary tight end and his familiarity with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak doesn’t hurt. Daniels caught two touchdown passes in Week 2, but has just five catches for 42 yards in the other two games. Daniels isn’t a “safe” every-week starting TE1, not yet, but he certainly is an appealing fill-in option.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce’s snap count has been on the rise each game and that’s a good sign for this young, talented tight end. A player that generated some preseason buzz because of his combination of size and athleticism, Kelce has caught at least three passes each game and is averaging 16.6 yards per reception. He also hauled in his first touchdown of the season against Miami. If the playing time stays consistent and the results keep coming, Kelce could enter the TE1 discussion shortly.
Week 3 Recap: Washington followed up its 10-sack, 10 PA effort against Jacksonville by coughing up 37 points and 379 total yards to Philadelphia, with no sacks and just one takeaway. The Redskins get the Giants on Thursday night for those interested in taking another chance on this DST.
San Diego Chargers
Through three games the Chargers are tied for fourth in the NFL in points allowed (16.3 ppg). This defense has done a good job getting to the quarterback (7 sacks) and forcing some turnovers (3 fumbles). Next up is a visit from a Jacksonville team that has lost its past two games by a combined score of 85-27 and has given up 14 sacks and committed four turnovers during that same span. And besides making the cross-country trip to face the Chargers, Blake Bortles will be making his first career start at quarterback for the Jags. What’s not to like here?
Scoring is based on Athlon Sports default scoring which is 6 points for all TDs, .5 points per reception and 1 point PER 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving and 40 return yards.
Following Saturday’s overtime loss to Florida State, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney announced true freshman Deshaun Watson supplanted Cole Stoudt as the team’s starting quarterback.
While Stoudt could be a solid quarterback for the Tigers and certainly hasn’t been awful through the first three games, starting Watson is clearly the right call for Clemson.
In three games of his career, Watson has showed the moment is not too big for him.
Against Florida State – the defending national champion – and in Tallahassee, Watson completed 19 of 28 throws for 266 yards and rushed for 30 yards on 12 attempts.
In the opener against Georgia, Watson led the Tigers on an impressive touchdown drive and finished with 59 yards and a score on two completions.
As with any true freshman quarterback, Watson is going to have his share of ups and downs. But Watson is ready for the spotlight and the opportunity to handle the full controls for Clemson’s offense.
The 2014 season is still young, but with two losses – and one in ACC play – the Tigers are unlikely to make a splash on the national scene.
No, Clemson isn’t rebuilding or already looking ahead to 2015, but at this point, why not play Watson and have him fully entrenched in the job by November? When two quarterbacks are performing at a similar level, why not play the one with more upside. In that case, the answer for Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris is clear: Deshaun Watson.
Deshaun Watson vs. Cole Stoudt Through Three Games in 2014
|Deshaun Watson||Cole Stoudt|
|Yards Per Completion||16.5||11.8|
|Yards Per Attempt||11.7||7.5|
|Passing Plays of 20+ Yards||9||9|
|Passing Plays of 30+ Yards||6||6|
As the stats show, Watson offers more big-play ability for the Clemson offense and nearly has more passing yards than Stoudt on 24 less attempts.
A favorable schedule awaits the Tigers, including four of their next five in Death Valley. The only road trip until November is an Oct. 18 date at Boston College.
There’s simply no downside for Clemson in this scenario. With two losses and Florida State a heavy favorite to win the Atlantic Division, a look to the future (without a drop in production) is the right move. Watson has outplayed Stoudt, the schedule is favorable for a change under center, and the Tigers can start building momentum with a young core on offense.
Clemson loses three starters on the line at the end of 2014, but the receiving and running back corps are filled with talented youngsters. Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and Charone Peake headline a deep group at receiver, while C.J. Davidson, Wayne Gallman and Adam Choice are slated to return at running back in 2015.
With the young core of skill players, and Watson having a full season to develop, Clemson’s offense will once again be one of the best in the ACC in 2015. While it's early to be breaking down depth charts for next season, an explosive offense is needed for the Tigers next year with a plethora of losses on defense.
Stoudt waited his turn behind Tajh Boyd and earned the right to start in the opener. But after three games, it’s clear Watson is Clemson’s best quarterback and option to win in 2014 - with a slight look ahead to 2015.
Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Pac-12 football action:
44: Yards allowed in the second half by Washington
One of the most shocking halftime scores of Week 4 was the Huskies trailing 35-point underdog Georgia State 14-0. Washington had allowed 219 yards of offense in the first quarter. In the second half, the Dawgs stiffened up, outscoring the Panthers 45-0 and holding them to just 44 yards of total offense.
0: Interceptions thrown by Cyler Miles this season
Part of the reason Washington stormed back to beat GSU was creating four Panthers turnovers while not giving the ball up once. Quarterback Cyler Miles has a model citizen on the field when it comes to protecting the ball. Miles has 71 pass attempts for 525 yards in three games and has yet to throw an interception. He has scored eight total touchdowns.
36: Points Scored by Arizona in Fourth Quarter Against Cal
The Golden Bears led the Wildcats 31-13 at the end of the third quarter. One quarter later, the shootout everyone expected finally started. The Wildcats and Golden Bears combined for 50 points in the fourth quarter, with Arizona recording a school-record 36 in a crazy 49-45 victory.
47-of-73: Anu Solomon school records for completions and attempts
Quarterback Anu Solomon is a burgeoning star in the Pac-12 for Arizona. He set school records for both completions (47) and attempts (73) attempts in the wild, come-from-behind win over Cal at home. He finished with 520 yards passing and led the team in rushing with 46 yards. Solomon is second in the nation with 1,621 yards of total offense.
7.0: Sacks allowed by Oregon
The Ducks won on Saturday evening but there are some glaring concerns about the Oregon offensive line moving forward. With two starters missing up front, Marcus Mariota was running for his life and was sacked seven times. Oregon gave up a total of 18 sacks last year and had allowed just three in three games this season entering Week 4. Now, the Ducks are 11th in the Pac-12 with 10 sacks allowed (UCLA, 11).
11,339: Sean Mannion career passing yards
Oregon State’s quarterback threw for 275 yards in the 28-7 win over San Diego State. For his career, Mannion has thrown for 11,339 yards, passing Derek Anderson (11,249) this weekend for No. 1 all-time in school history. Mannion is seven touchdowns behind Anderson’s school record of 79.
0: Trips allowed into the red zone by Utah
Michigan has some major offensive issues and Utah exploited them this weekend in the easy 26-10 win in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines had 12 offensive possessions and didn’t advance into the Utes’ red zone one time. Technically, Utah’s defense allowed just three points since UM’s only score came on defense. Additionally, Kyle Whittingham is 2-0 in The Big House.
3: Kaelin Clay return touchdowns
Clay returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter against Michigan this weekend. It was his second punt return for a touchdown this year and his third return for a score overall. Only Vanderbilt’s Darius Sims has two return scores this fall, so Clay leads the nation with three.
8.0: Yards per play for Cal
The Golden Bears choked away a chance at a quality road win in the Pac-12 in Tucson this weekend. That ugly fourth quarter shouldn’t overshadow the fact that this team is clearly improved. This offense averaged just 5.2 yards per play a year ago (98th nationally) but posted 8.0 yards per play against Arizona. In three games, Cal is averaging 6.8 yards per play (28th).
518: Nelson Spruce receiving yards
The Colorado Buffaloes' star wide receiver has quickly replaced Paul Richardson in Boulder. Spruce caught 13 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown in the win over Hawaii. He is now third in the nation with 518 yards (Amari Cooper, Kevin White) and is leading the nation with seven receiving touchdowns.
No. 19 VCU continues to be one of the most consistent programs outside of a major conference with at least 24 wins in the each of the last eight seasons. The Rams are poised for more that simply consistent production with a highly touted signing class and a challenging non-conference schedule.
The VCU edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere this week.
Last season was a transition year for VCU as a program. The Rams graduated from a program that could be a national player in the wake of their 2011 Final Four run to a program that is a national player. VCU earned its second straight No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and was upset by Stephen F. Austin in its opening game. The fact that VCU has moved from underdog to heavyweight is the storyline going into this season.
Coach Shaka Smart adds a top-30 rated recruiting class as he looks to earn his first Atlantic 10 title. That class may provide the kind of depth he desires to wear out the opposition in his havoc style.
“We do what we do, and that’s be an up-tempo team that attacks for all 94 feet,” Smart says. “(The freshmen) can add to our depth, which plays into our style of play and hopefully takes us to another level, to be more successful than last year.”
The Rams will be picked atop the Atlantic 10 not because of the incoming freshmen, but rather for a roster stocked with firepower and aggressiveness. VCU boasts the A-10 preseason Player of the Year in Treveon Graham and defensive menace Briante Weber. The duo meshes with a talented returning cast, adding up to a group that will be a formidable foe every time it steps on the court.
No. 19 VCU Facts & Figures
Last season: 26-9, 12-4 Atlantic 10
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 4
Coach: Shaka Smart (137-46 at VCU, 62-24 CAA/A-10)
A-10 Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Smart has to replace two-time All-A-10 performer Juvonte Reddic on his frontline. Sophomore Mo Alie-Cox may be the answer. Cox is freakishly built, a muscled 6-6 specimen who resembles a tight end but jumps like a pogo stick. Alie-Cox, who blocked five shots in a March win over Saint Louis, is a rim protector on defense but has a limited (for now) offensive game.
“Our team feeds off of him and the plays he makes,” Smart says, “and we’re excited about his improvement.”
For offensive production on the front line, Smart can turn to 6-9 redshirt freshman Antravious Simmons and his old school back-to-the-basket game or senior Jarred Guest, a spidery 6-8 face-up post player with a 15-foot jumper. Freshmen Mike Gilmore and Justin Tillman will also battle the returnees for playing time. Both carry the skill to make a difference but also need to adjust to the college game.
Graham will also slide down to play the 4 to give VCU a matchup advantage.
Weber has been among the league leaders in steals during his three-year career. He adjusted well to a new position last season, point guard, and enters his senior year a more mature player. “It’s been an ongoing process, but he’s made huge strides,” Smart says, “and we’re excited in terms of Briante as a leader and a winner.” Weber has a steady backup in speedy sophomore JeQuan Lewis.
Melvin Johnson hurt his knee twice last season but can be a lights-out shooter. Johnson hit eight 3s against Virginia Tech and has bought in to the system. Jordan Burgess hit 26 3-pointers in his freshman season and brings a level of toughness to the court that cannot be ignored.
Graham is within range of breaking the school’s all-time scoring record. He can hit the 3 but also earned the nickname Freight Train for his ability to steam down the lane, absorb contact and score.
Terry Larrier, a pure athlete and Smart’s best-ever recruit, will also see significant minutes on the perimeter.
Next season will begin with VCU riding a 20-game home winning streak and with 50 consecutive home sellouts. The Rams also have made the NCAA Tournament a habit, with bids in each of the last four seasons. Over the past 10 years, VCU has 251 wins, which ranks 14th-most in the country over that span.
VCU will be tested in the non-conference this season. Games against Virginia, Villanova, Tennessee and Cincinnati dot a stacked schedule. But for Smart, it isn’t about the opponent. It’s about VCU.
“Our overall team shooting needs to be better. We shot too low a percentage for us from the field,” he says. “But we’re a much-improved shooting team this year, which will make us a higher-scoring team.”
It’s a loaded class for Shaka Smart, led by silky Terry Larrier, rated a consensus top-50 recruit who could make immediate waves. Justin Tillman is explosive at 6-7 and will also challenge for time in the frontcourt. Mike Gilmore has a promising future, and Jonathan Williams is a commanding presence at point guard. Antravious Simmons is a redshirt freshman who can score on the low block.
The Big East coaching roster — back in its classic lineup — was notable for its firebrands on the bench with Jim Boeheim, John Thompson, Rollie Massimino and Lou Carnesecca.
The lineup in the second year of this version of the Big East may have personality but it is more notable for its familiarity.
Jay Wright and John Thompson III are as identifiable with their programs as anybody in college basketball in 2014-15, Chris Mack and Brandon Miller are alums for their respective schools, and Ed Cooley is a Rhode Island and Providence hometowner.
That will have to do for the Big East for now. The league that once boasted multiple Hall of Famers has only two coaches that have reached the Final Four in Wright and Thompson.
As usual, a handful of factors go into ranking the coaches — career accomplishments, career momentum, gameday acumen, player development, recruiting, conference records and postseason success.
1. Jay Wright, Villanova
Record at Villanova: 286-149 (.657)
NCAA Tournament: 13-11, one Final Four
Number to note: Villanova’s Big East title in 2014 was the Wildcats’ first outright conference title since 1982. Nova hasn’t won a conference tournament since 1995.
Why he’s ranked here: After a brief dip in 2011-12, Villanova has returned to where Wright has had the program for most of his tenure. Villanova went 16-0 vs. Big East opponents not named Creighton during the 2013-14 regular season.
2. John Thompson III, Georgetown
Record at Georgetown: 227-104 (.686)
NCAA Tournament: 8-9, one Final Four
Number to note: Before last season, Georgetown ranked in the top 100 in defensive efficiency in KenPom's rankings every year of Thompson’s tenure, including three times in the top 10.
Why he’s ranked here: Thompson may get dinged for early NCAA losses, but the Hoyas are a year removed from a Big East title. Besides, Georgetown’s NCAA draws have included Florida Gulf Coast, Final Four-bound VCU and Stephen Curry-led Davidson.
3. Chris Mack, Xavier
Record at Xavier: 111-57 (.661)
NCAA Tournament: 4-4
Number to note: Since starting 29-3 in his first two season in the Atlantic 10, Mack is 29-21 in the A-10/Big East.
Why he’s ranked here: Xavier’s pace has slowed since Mack’s first two seasons, but he’s reached the NCAA Tournament in four of five seasons and reached the Sweet 16 in 2012.
4. Greg McDermott, Creighton
Record at Creighton: 107-38 (.738)
NCAA Tournament: 3-6
Number to note: McDermott is 149-131 without his son on the roster and 107-38 with Doug McDermott.
Why he’s ranked here: No question, Greg McDermott is thankful his son turned out to be a three-time All-American, but don’t forget the elder McDermott was the first coach to win consistently at Northern Iowa.
5. Ed Cooley, Providence
Record at Providence: 57-44 (.564)
NCAA Tournament: 0-1
Number to note: Cooley’s 42 wins in the last two seasons are the best for Providence since 1995-97, and the Friars’ NCAA appearance last year was their first since 2004.
Why he’s ranked here: Cooley has improved Providence enough to raise the possibility of doing what Rick Barnes or Rick Pitino never did: post winning Big East records in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.
6. Steve Lavin, St. John’s
Record at St. John’s: 71-60 (.542)
NCAA Tournament: 11-7
Number to note: St. John’s is 32-30 in the Big East with two NIT appearances in three seasons since the Red Storm went 12-6 in Lavin’s first year.
Why he’s ranked here: Treatment for prostate cancer in 2011-12 stalled Lavin’s ability to build upon his first season, but he’s recruited well enough by now to reach the NCAA Tournament again.
7. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
Record at Seton Hall: 66-66 (.500)
NCAA Tournament: No appearances
Number to note: Seton Hall went 15-21 in the Big East in Willard’s first two seasons before dropping to 9-27 in the past two.
Why he’s ranked here: Willard appeared to have Seton Hall on the right track before a 3-15 collapse two years ago. Year 5 will be a big one for Willard.
8. Oliver Purnell, DePaul
Record at DePaul: 42-85 (.331)
NCAA Tournament: 0-6
Number to note: Purnell has one of the most unique coaching experiences in college basketball. He’s coached at five spots since 1988, he’s never won an NCAA game and has never been fired.
Why he’s ranked here: Purnell has turned around Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson. Purnell (9-57 in the Big East) may have met his match at DePaul.
9. Brandon Miller, Butler
Record at Butler: 14-17 (.452)
NCAA Tournament: None
Number to note: Miller’s first season was Butler’s second losing campaign since 1992-93.
Why he’s ranked here: Miller faced an exodus of five players from November through April last season in his first season, but the former Brad Stevens and Thad Matta assistant knows the terrain here.
10. Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette
Record at Marquette: First season
NCAA Tournament: None
Number to note: Wojo is 38 years old, and he has spent 19 of those years as a player or assistant for Mike Krzyzewski.
Why he’s ranked here: Wojciechowski’s predecessor Buzz Williams was ranked No. 1 in the Big East a year ago, but Marquette has been a spot where Williams and Tom Crean were able to build names for themselves.
Most schedules are starting to move into conference play, but don’t tell the teams in some of the biggest games this week.
Teams like South Carolina, UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford and Washington all could look like they use another week or two to get into shape before critical games.
UCLA and Arizona State both have health concerns for the quarterback position. Washington and UCLA have played down to lesser teams. Stanford can’t find its way to the end zone. And South Carolina is just embarrassing (says Steve Spurrier).
There’s no more time shake off the offseason cobwebs, so someone’s going to have to figure things out before Saturday.
Week 5’s Top Five Games
All Times Eastern
UCLA at Arizona State
When and where: Thursday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... the Pac-12 South is becoming increasingly unpredictable thanks to the emergence of Arizona and Utah plus USC’s egg-laying at Boston College. UCLA’s had its share of close calls with and without quarterback Brett Hundley, who may be ready to return after he missed most of the Texas win a week ago. Arizona State isn’t so lucky with Taylor Kelly out with a foot injury. Arizona State will replace him with Mike Bercovici, who has been on campus long enough to back up Brock Osweiler.
Vegas says: UCLA by 6
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (Arlington)
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... we like surprises, and Arkansas and Texas A&M being relevant in the powerhouse SEC West counts. Picked to finish sixth and seventh in the West, the Aggies and Razorbacks are a combined 7-1. Arkansas will try to control the clock with the run game as it did against former A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech. The Aggies have yet to face a high-level, full-strength offense all season.
Vegas says: Texas A&M by 10
Stanford at Washington
When and where: Saturday, 4:15 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... one of these teams has to start looking like a Pac-12 North contender, right? Stanford has been inept in the red zone, and Washington is letting bad teams hang around. Even after converting all three red zone chances for touchdowns against Army, Stanford’s red zone touchdown rate (six TDs in 14 red zone trips) is last in the Pac-12. And a week after Washington made easy work of Illinois, the Huskies let Georgia State jump to a two-touchdown halftime lead in a 45-14 win. Oregon is vulnerable, but neither of these teams looks ready to take advantage.
Vegas says: Stanford by 7
Missouri at South Carolina
When and where: Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... at this rate the game between two SEC East contenders may devolve into a comedy of errors. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said the way his team plays is “embarrassing” and took over kickoff coverage coaching duties after giving up two returns for touchdowns against Vanderbilt. His team won by two touchdowns. Wonder what Spurrier would say if his team lost at home to Indiana as Missouri just did.
Vegas says: South Carolina by 6
Tennessee at Georgia
When and where: Saturday, noon, ESPN
We’re watching because... Tennessee is an improved team. Improved enough to further spoil Georgia’s season, though, we’re not sure. Either way, Todd Gurley facing linebacker A.J. Johnson promises to be an interesting matchup. Gurley missed the matchup last season, a 34-31 Georgia win in Knoxville.
Vegas says: Georgia by 18
It was an eventful weekend in the SEC. Records were broken (Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims). Major statements were made (Mississippi State). And offenses floundered (Florida). Here are some stats from the week that was in the SEC.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 4 in the SEC
Kickoffs returned for touchdowns by Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims in the Commodores’ loss to South Carolina. Sims is the first SEC player and the 18th player in FBS history to return two kickoffs for scores in the same game.
Yards per passing attempt averaged by Alabama quarterback Blake Sims in Alabama’s 42–21 win over Florida, a number that has been surpassed only once by a Nick Saban quarterback at Alabama against an SEC opponent. AJ McCarron averaged 13.9 yards per attempt in a 2012 win over Tennessee, against a defense that ranked last in the league by the end of the season.
Points scored by Auburn in Thursday’s win at Kansas State, the fewest by the Tigers in a victory since they beat Florida 17–6 in October 2011.
Times LSU has allowed at least 250 yards rushing in 2014 — 268 to Wisconsin and 302 to Mississippi State. The Tigers had not allowed a team to rush for 250-plus yards in a game since Auburn gashed them for 440 in October 2010.
Teams from Power 5 conferences that have at least 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards passing — Alabama and Mississippi State. Alabama has 1,007 yards rushing and 1,343 yards passing; MSU has 1,083 yards rushing and 1,067 yards passing.
Yards per play allowed by the South Carolina defense in Saturday’s 48–34 win at Vanderbilt. It was the most Vanderbilt has had against an SEC team since a 38–26 loss to Kentucky in 2006.
Rushing touchdowns by Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams, the most in the SEC and tied for third-most in the nation. As a team, the Razorbacks rank second in the country with 17 rushing touchdowns.
Drives by Florida that lasted three plays or fewer in the Gators’ loss at Alabama. Florida had two drives that went for seven plays — one covered 25 yards and ended with an interception and the other covered 31 yards and ended on downs. The Gators had 200 yards of offense and completed only 9-of-28 passes.
Average points scored by Texas A&M in its two road games. The Aggies won at South Carolina 52–28 in the opener and beat SMU in Dallas 58–6 on Saturday.
Losses by Missouri at home to a non-conference opponent since the end of the 2001 season — until Saturday’s setback against Indiana. The Tigers’ only other loss to a non-conference opponent in the last 12-plus years was to New Mexico in 2005.
Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Big 12 football action:
359: Yards allowed by Kansas State
Kansas State lost an ugly one to the Tigers on Thursday night but not for a lack of effort. Bill Snyder’s bunch held Auburn to a Gus Malzahn-low 359 yards of total offense. Only four other times has a team held a Malzahn-coached Auburn team to less than 400 yards of offense: Alabama (393), Arkansas (366) and Washington State (394) are the only other teams to keep the Tigers under 400 yards of offense in the Malzahn era.
2.0: Points per trip inside the 40 for Kansas State
Points per trip inside the opponent’s 40 is a great way to calculate a team’s ability to finish drives effectively. And the Wildcats mustered just 2.0 points (14) per trip inside the Auburn 40-yard line (7). To put this into perspective, FIU was last in the nation last year in this category with 2.36 points per trip inside the 40.
0: Kansas State penalties
While big miscues cost the Wildcats in a big way — missed field goals and turnovers namely — Kansas State still managed to stay off the stat sheet in one important category. The Cats weren’t penalized one time against Auburn and currently lead the Big 12 with just 13 penalties in three games (14th nationally). They have been hit with 92 yards of yellow flags — good for sixth nationally.
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4-8: Big 12 record against Big 5 schools
Counting the independent BYU Cougars as a “Big 5” school leaves the Big 12 with a 4-8 record in 2014 against power conference teams. The wins? Oklahoma over Tennessee and a 3-0 mark against the Big Ten (Minnesota, Iowa, Maryland). Losses to Alabama (WVU), Florida State (OSU), Auburn (KSU) and UCLA (Texas) were at least competitive. There are no more games left with the Big 5 for the league.
152: Samaje Perine’s Big 12 rushing lead
After rushing for 242 yards — the most by any Sooner since DeMarco Murray in 2010 — on 34 carries and scoring four times against West Virginia, Oklahoma’s freshman tailback is now leading the Big 12 in rushing with 419 yards. In fact, he’s 152 yards ahead of No. 2, the Mountaineers' Rushel Shell (267). Additionally, both Shell (4.1 ypc) and Perine (6.4) have 66 rushing attempts this season.
8: Oklahoma interceptions this season
After two more interceptions this weekend, the Sooners are leading the nation with eight picked off passes. Oklahoma’s plus-6 turnover margin is tops in the Big 12 and tied for sixth nationally.
5: Yards Clint Trickett is shy of matching his 2013 total
Through four games, few players in the nation are as improved as West Virginia’s Clint Trickett. He has 1,600 yards passing in four games, two of which came against teams ranked in the top five. His grand passing total from 2013: 1,605 yards.
9: Kevin White's fewest receptions in a game this season
With another 10 receptions for 173 yards in the loss to Oklahoma, West Virginia wideout Kevin White kept pace with Alabama’s Amari Cooper. He’s is second in the nation in both receptions (42) and yards (633) to only Cooper and has caught at least nine passes in each of the four games he’s played in this fall.
16.3: Tony Pierson yards per touch this season
In the 24-10 win over Central Michigan, Pierson ran three times for 77 yards and caught three passes for 12 yards. On the season, the Jayhawks' top playmaker has 245 yards from scrimmage (121 rush, 124 rec.) on just 16 total touches for a per-touch average of 16.3 yards. It might make sense to get him as involved in the offense as possible.
2: Times Charlie Weis has had a winning record at Kansas after Week 1
Kansas has won each of its season openers under Charlie Weis, so the Jayhawks had a winning record after Week 1 in each of the last three seasons. But other than Week 4 of last year, the Jayhawks haven’t had a winning record after Week 1 under Weis until beating Central Michigan this weekend (2-1). In fact, this is the latest in the calendar year Kansas has been above .500 under Weis.
The 2014 Ryder Cup Matches
When: Sept. 26-28
Where: PGA Centenary Course, Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire, Scotland
Course: 7,262 yards, par 72
All-time record: U.S. leads 25–12–2
After a miracle comeback at the Ryder Cup Matches at Medinah in 2012, Europe is the prohibitive favorite to retain the Cup on home turf, as Tom Watson takes a shorthanded American team to Scotland for the most pressure-packed event in golf. Can a U.S. team led by crafty veteran Phil Mickelson and young gun Rickie Fowler upset a European powerhouse led by four-time major champion Rory McIlroy and Ryder Cup maestro Sergio Garcia?
To help get you ready for the drama, here's an explanation of the event's format:
Ryder Cup Format
Day One - Friday, Sept. 26
Morning Session — 4 points at stake
2 foursomes matches
2 fourballs matches
Afternoon Session — 4 points at stake
2 fourballs matches
2 foursomes matches
Day Two - Saturday, Sept. 27
Morning Session — 4 points at stake
2 foursomes matches
2 fourballs matches
Afternoon Session — 4 points at stake
2 fourballs matches
2 foursomes matches
Day Three - Sunday, Sept. 28
12 singles matches — 12 points at stake
Total Points at Stake: 28
Europe would retain the Cup with 14 points. The U.S. would need 14½ points to re-claim the Cup.
• In each match, there is one point at stake. Should the match end in a tie, each side is awarded a half-point.
• The Ryder Cup is conducted under rules of match play rather than stroke play. Match play scoring consists of individual holes won, halved or lost. Once a player or team is "up" more holes than there are holes remaining to play, the match is over.
• A foursomes match is a competition between two teams of two golfers. The two teammates take alternate shots throughout the match, with the same ball. A hole is won by the team that completes the hole in the fewest shots.
• A fourball match is a competition between two teams of two golfers, but all four golfers play their own ball throughout the round rather than alternating shots, and each hole is won by the team whose individual golfer has the lowest score.
• A singles match is a standard match play competition between two golfers.
• In a single Ryder Cup, an individual player can play a maximum of five matches (two foursomes, two fourballs and a singles match). All 12 players on both teams participate in singles, but the respective captains can select any eight players to play in fourballs and foursomes.
Conference bragging rights didn’t start with the College Football Playoff or even the BCS.
That said, fighting for championship postseason games has only magnified the “my conference is better than your conference” debate.
In some ways the selection committee may make those determinations, certainly in leaving out on conference (four spots for the Power 5) and potentially rewarding one league with two spots in the Playoff.
In 2014, the SEC looks to be on top again while the ACC and especially the Big Ten are licking their wounds.
Now that non-conference play is for the most part finished — the exception being Notre Dame games vs. the ACC and the SEC-ACC rivalry games — this is a good time to see how all the leagues rank.
To clarify: The Power 5 includes the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Notre Dame and BYU. The Non-Power 5 includes the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Army and Navy.
Vs. Power 5: 5-2
Vs. Non-Power 5: 13-1
Georgia 35, Clemson 21
Alabama 33, West Virginia 23
LSU 28, Wisconsin 24
South Carolina 33, East Carolina 23
Arkansas 49, Texas Tech 28
Auburn 20, Kansas State 14
Indiana 31, Missouri 27
Oklahoma 34, Tennessee 10
The SEC set the tone for its season with Week 1 wins over Clemson, West Virginia and Wisconsin. As non-conference play started to wind down, Auburn delivered an important, if sloppy, win over Kansas State on the road. The only head-scratcher is Missouri’s home loss to Indiana. If anything, the non-conference season re-established that the power in the SEC lies in the West, which is 24-2 overall with the only two losses coming in the division. The SEC West alone is 3-0 against the Big 12.
Key remaining games:
South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29
Florida at Florida State, Nov. 29
Georgia Tech at Georgia, Nov. 29
Vs. Power 5: 6-2
Vs. Non-Power 5: 15-2
Oregon 46, Michigan State 27
UCLA 28, Virginia 20
UCLA 20, Texas 17
Utah 26, Michigan 10
Rutgers 41, Washington State 38
Colorado State 31, Colorado 17
Nevada 24, Washington State 13
Boston College 37, USC 31
Pac-12 teams, most notably Washington and UCLA, have played in unexpectedly tight games against teams like Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Memphis and Virginia. For the most part, they’ve all be able to escape with a win — except for USC’s loss to Boston College. The wins may not look overwhelming, other than Oregon’s over Michigan State, but credit UCLA, Cal and Utah for winning games on the road or at least out of state. Against the non-Power 5, the Pac-12 has gone 10-2 against the Mountain West alone.
Key remaining games:
Stanford at Notre Dame, Oct. 4
Notre Dame at Arizona State, Nov. 8
Notre Dame at USC, Nov. 29
BYU at Cal, Nov. 29
3. Big 12
Vs. Power 5: 4-7
Vs. Non-Power 5: 8-0
Oklahoma 34, Tennessee 10
Iowa State 20, Iowa 17
West Virginia 40, Maryland 37
TCU 30, Minnesota 7
Florida State 37, Oklahoma State 31
Alabama 33, West Virginia 33
Arkansas 49, Texas Tech 28
UCLA 20, Texas 17
Auburn 20, Kansas State 14
The Big 12 can thank the Big Ten for helping the league pad its record. The Big 12 went 3-0 against the Big Ten while going 1-7 against the ACC, Pac-12, SEC and BYU. At least Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State were competitive with national title title contenders Florida State, Alabama and Auburn. The league has had few slip ups, a perfect record spoiled by Iowa State’s loss to North Dakota State of the FCS.
Key remaining games:
Vs. Power 5: 4-6
Vs. Non-Power 5: 14-4
Florida State 37, Oklahoma State 31
Virginia Tech 35, Ohio State 21
Boston College 37, USC 31
Georgia 45, Clemson 21
East Carolina 28, Virginia Tech 21
East Carolina 70, North Carolina 41
Iowa 24, Pittsburgh 20
Nebraska 41, Miami 31
The ACC hasn’t changed much about the perception that the league is one powerhouse and little else. No. 1 Florida State is the league’s only ranked team. Any strides made from Virginia Tech’s win in Columbus have been undone: Since then, ACC Coastal contenders Virginia Tech and North Carolina lost to East Carolina, and three ACC teams lost to Big Ten teams, two at home.
Key remaining games:
Notre Dame at Florida State, Oct. 18
South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29
Florida at Florida State, Nov. 29
Georgia Tech at Georgia, Nov. 29
5. Big Ten
Vs. Power 5: 5-11
Vs. Non-Power 5: 18-3
Rutgers 41, Washington State 38
Iowa 24, Pittsburgh 20
Nebraska 41, Miami 31
Indiana 21, Missouri 21
LSU 28, Wisconsin 24
Oregon 46, Michigan State 27
Virginia Tech 35, Ohio State 21
Iowa State 20, Iowa 17
Utah 26, Michigan 10
The outlook improved dramatically in Week 4, as three Big Ten teams (Iowa, Maryland and Nebraska) defeated three teams from the ACC. Indiana also picked up an unlikely win at defending SEC East champion Missouri. Nebraska and Penn State may still be the Big Ten’s only viable Playoff teams, but the sky isn’t falling at the same rate it was a week ago when the Big Ten was 1-10 against Power 5 teams. Of the Big Ten’s three losses to non-Power 5 teams, all were against programs from the MAC.
Key remaining games:
Vs. Power 5: 3-13
Vs. Non-Power 5: 2-5
East Carolina 28, Virginia Tech 21
East Carolina 70, North Carolina 31
East Carolina has the inside track for a New Year’s Six bowl, and it may stay that way unless Cincinnati makes a statement against Ohio State or Miami.
Key remaining games:
Cincinnati at Ohio State, Sept. 27
BYU at Houston, Oct. 9
Miami at Cincinnati, Oct. 11
7. Mountain West
Vs. Power 5: 3-16
Vs. Non-Power 5: 6-4
Colorado State 31, Colorado 17
Nevada 24, Washington State 13
Boise State 34, UL Lafayette 9
This is not the Mountain West you remember. The three Power 5 wins are over Colorado, Washington State and Wake Forest
8. Conference USA
Vs. Power 5: 0-15
Vs. Non-Power 5: 12-2
UTSA 24, Houston 7
Western Kentucky 59, Bowling Green 31
Louisiana Tech 48, UL Lafayette 20
Marshall 44, Ohio 14
Conference USA had better hope its perfect mark against the MAC and Sun Belt and 3-1 record against the American is enough to put its league champion (read: Marshall) into a New Year’s Six game. It sure isn’t C-USA’s goose egg against the Power 5 and pair of FCS losses (FIU to Bethune-Cookman and Louisiana Tech to Northwestern State).
Vs. Power 5: 3-16
Vs. Non-Power 5: 3-8
Bowling Green 45, Indiana 42
Northern Illinois 23, Northwestern 15
Central Michigan 38, Purdue 17
The MAC has more wins against the Big Ten (three) than it does against the American, Conference USA, Mountain West and Sun Belt combined (two, that third non-Power 5 win was over Army).
10. Sun Belt
Vs. Power 5: 1-7
Vs. Non-Power 5: 2-9
Arkansas State 21, Utah State 14
ULM 17, Wake Forest 10
League favorite UL Lafayette’s losses to Louisiana Tech and Boise State put a damper on the conference, but Arkansas State has proven to by pesky once again.
A debris field of Chase contenders at Loudon, with several drivers nursing home wrecked race cars and mulling potential elimination, was caused by none other than … debris itself. That’s right; an exciting end to the second race of NASCAR’s playoffs may never have happened had officials not called a debris caution on Lap 171, “cleaning up” the track while bunching up the field after a long, sprawling green-flag run. It was a nervous bunch, anxious for track position that then unleashed their aggression by beating and banging on each other to turn New Hampshire into New England’s Fall Demolition Derby.
That yellow flag that set up the madness also capped an astounding streak within NASCAR: during a three-week span, from Richmond to New Hampshire, 11 of 13 cautions were called for “competition” reasons — debris, or track security in the case of a drunken Richmond fan. No wrecks or blown engines, true safety hazards, were the cause of these judgment calls which fans will hardly remember Monday in place of the suspenseful racing they got down the stretch.
At this point, calling into question debris cautions is nothing new; the mystery of these slowdowns, along with TV’s inability to show said debris, drives fans crazy (think an NFL referee throwing a yellow flag, then walking away without explaining the penalty or why he moved your favorite team back 10 yards). But at this point it’s hard to argue the end result, and by the looks of the competition on Sunday, teams almost expect this type of situation throughout the first two-thirds of the race. It’s not like they’re going to hold back completely, losing laps in the form of laziness, but there’s a growing expectation within the NASCAR garage that the field’s getting bunched up at some point if a long green-flag run breaks out.
So if I’m NASCAR, and fans aren’t complaining about exciting endings why bother with calling debris in order to hide your true intention? It’s OK now … seriously. Just tell us there are competition cautions coming every 75 laps to make it fair for everyone. Perhaps NASCAR’s fear is that the racing will grow too conservative, drivers waiting to duke it out until the last quarter of the event knowing there’s a chance to change up strategy and track position. But isn’t that what’s happening anyway? In the first 100 laps, no one at New Hampshire gained more than nine spots or lost more than 12. Everyone seemed to run in place, frustrated by an inability to pass once the field spread out. Compare that to the last 48 laps, where Joey Logano was shot out of a cannon, launching all the way from 16th to first in one of the more exciting drives to the front all year. Clearly, the sense of urgency has shifted more than ever to a race’s closing stages.
If that’s the case, what’s stopping NASCAR from going all “official” and dividing the race into quarters? Or thirds? Everyone knows debris is going to pop up anyway, and fans aren’t complaining. It’s only the drivers and teams who lose out from the randomness of when NASCAR chooses to call these yellows, trapping them a lap down in the middle of green-flag pit stops when you can find debris anytime, anyplace on a racetrack. It’s the one part of the equation that still doesn’t sit right. Put the strategy back in their hands by dividing the race officially instead of leaving them at the mercy of NASCAR finding a hot dog wrapper when the mood strikes.
It all makes too much sense to me, with NASCAR’s most important season finale looming dead ahead. Do you really want a Homestead finish coming down to a random debris caution? I didn’t think so. The last thing the sport needs is a call from the tower changing the course of its new “Final Four” championship Chase. All the better reason to turn debris into what it’s rightfully supposed to be: predetermined competition yellows.
“Through the Gears” we go …
FIRST GEAR: Hometrack Hero Logano delivers
Five years ago, a 19-year-old rookie dubbed the heart of “NASCAR’s next generation” made an unlikely visit to victory lane at Loudon. Losing a lap after a spinout, Logano’s first win was one of the luckiest we’ve seen in the sport this century: a perfect combination of Lucky Dogs, fuel mileage and a raging downpour from Mother Nature at the right time. The rookie won with a 25th-place car that day, out of place in the Winner’s Circle the same way he never seemed to fit within the culture of Joe Gibbs Racing. It would be two years before Logano added a second victory, at Pocono, but his JGR tenure was marked by untapped potential.
Fast forward to now, and Logano’s second Loudon trophy and you see a man transformed. Brimming with confidence, this 24-year-old earned his fourth victory of 2014 with the perfect mix of strategy, speed and aggression. Crew chief Todd Gordon made the right move to bring the No. 22 car in for fresh tires, pushing them outside the top 15 but knowing that was their only chance to charge forward for the win. Logano did the rest, jumping 10 spots in four laps and then picking his spots, slicing in front of Kevin Harvick on a lap 274 restart to take control of the race. Logano never gave up the point from that point on, even surviving contact from teammate Brad Keselowski amidst a flurry of late cautions to take the victory.
“High, wide and handsome,” Gordon joked about Logano’s late moves. “That was pretty awesome to watch.”
It was also an awesome boost to Logano’s championship hopes. Last Chase, despite a solid season for Penske Racing, the No. 22 team fell flat at Chicagoland, blowing an engine and never seeming to fully recover. This year, they’ve already won inside the postseason, punching their ticket to the next round under NASCAR’s new format and appear perfectly in sync with Keselowski, who missed the Chase last season. That duo has swept both Chase races, sits 1-2 in the standings and has the typical favorites at Hendrick Motorsports (Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr.) on their heels a bit.
It was the Hometown Boy (Logano is a New England native, from Middletown, Conn.) delivering at his home track, a moment not lost on a driver that’s matured a lot since the last time he took checkers there. And to think, in his post-race presser Logano referred to this place, the only one where he’s won twice in the Cup Series, as his “worst track.”
“It's (still) such a special place for me,” he said. “I watched my first Cup race here when I was five, (where) I started my first one, I won my first one. It was something really special to win here.”
SECOND GEAR: Joe Gibbs Racing’s Great Freefall
It’s amazing to see through the first two races how many Chase contenders have been done in by self-induced mistakes. Nowhere was that more apparent Sunday than within Joe Gibbs Racing’s three-car stable, whose solid postseason start crashed with a thud.
Matt Kenseth, whose left rear was rubbed on virtually all day, made a rare mistake mid-race. Catching his car off Turn2, he kept from spinning but the near-wreck caused teammate Kyle Busch to hit the brakes. Kasey Kahne then hit Busch, sending the No. 18 into a tailspin and ruining both their days. The fact Busch fought back for a top-10 finish (especially considering the disharmony with crew chief Dave Rogers) was incredible.
Kenseth, wrecked by Paul Menard later in the day, wasn’t so lucky. Wrecked within the final 30 laps, it was all the former champ could do to hold onto a 21st-place result. Still winless, last year’s title runner-up sits ninth, eight points above Chase elimination and is nowhere near the impressive performance he had through this point a year ago.
“It’s always frustrating when you get in a wreck, especially if you don’t feel like you had much or anything to do with it and get a bad finish,” he said. “I feel like I did the best I could today. I made that (other) mistake… I’m glad I didn’t cost Kyle too bad.”
However, the worst blow to JGR came in the form of Denny Hamlin’s faulty fuel probe. The broken part, leaving Hamlin several laps down, took the wind out of the sails of a No. 11 team that led 32 laps early on. “We suck,” the driver said on the radio at one point, “We are so bad.” Crew chief Darian Grubb, who angrily responded for the driver to keep quiet, tried to put out the fire of flailing confidence … but it was too late. A wreck a short time later, one where Hamlin oddly piled in, finished off an awful day that left him 13th in points, on the outside looking in on the top 12 with one of his worst tracks, Dover, dead ahead.
“You just can’t have any mistakes in this three-race Chase deal,” Hamlin said. “We went from looking pretty and probably going to coast our way to the next round to a long shot, at best. It’s frustrating, but what can you do?”
Change crew chiefs, that’s what. Gibbs hinted this week that shifts are coming, with a new fourth team driven by Carl Edwards added for 2015, and if Hamlin gets eliminated (along with a second JGR driver) look for them to happen sooner rather than later. The discord within this organization continues to rise during one of their more frustrating seasons.
THIRD GEAR: Lost Opportunities
Rookie Kyle Larson, along with his Chip Ganassi Racing operation, continues to impress during the month of September. A runner-up finish at Loudon, tying a career best, left him with two top-3 results this Chase. That’s a feat none of the 16 drivers actually racing for the title have accomplished.
“Really proud about how we have been running,” he said. “I know other teams that are in the Chase notice that and I’m sure they’re worried about us for next season already.”
They’re also breathing a sigh of relief about this one. If not for a blown tire at Michigan, resulting in a hard hit that led to a last-place finish in August, it would be Larson sitting top 5 in points, not a haggard Greg Biffle sitting 14th, and there’d be one more driver pushing a top-tier contender toward the brink of elimination.
As for drivers who’ve actually made the postseason, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson are scratching their heads a bit. Harvick led the most laps (104) but was beaten during a series of late restarts again, frustration that boiled over in the form of accusing Logano of jumping them. Harvick’s crew — Tony Stewart transplants — also struggled with slower stops that cost the No. 4 car the lead (nothing new). A winless streak back to Darlington in April continues, and it makes you wonder about this team’s long-term title hopes.
As for Johnson, his 48 bunch tried to gamble on old tires late, knowing they had the fuel mileage to make it if there was a long green-flag run. But crew chief Chad Knaus got snookered on strategy when there was a flurry of late cautions. Johnson was fifth, setting himself up well for Dover next week, yet seemed dissatisfied with overall performance. We’ll know next week if that was just an act.
FOURTH GEAR: Setting Up Chase Eliminations
The chaos at New Hampshire stretched far beyond the Gibbs bunch. Kurt Busch hit the outside wall hard, a victim of a tire gone flat. Ditto Jeff Gordon, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an unscheduled green-flag pit stop that at one point cost him a lap. Meanwhile, underdogs Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger kept themselves in the Chase fight. Almirola ran sixth, an impressive rebound following a blown engine at Chicagoland, while Allmendinger’s 13th-place, lead lap finish puts the No. 47 team in position to advance.
Who gets dropped when the field shrinks from 16 to 12? You have to think Biffle, who’s been invisible, gets shuffled out along with Almirola, whose Joliet DNF seems tough to overcome. Ryan Newman, sitting on the edge, was terrible at Dover in the spring and is vulnerable. But at this point, the other elimination spot could go to a team that once considered themselves at least “Elite Eight” contenders. My bet is someone within the JGR stable will fall victim. While Hamlin sits 13th now, don’t count out Kyle Busch, who wrecked at Dover in the spring and just hasn’t had any momentum in months. One bad move is all it will take at the Monster Mile to end title hopes of anyone from about fourth-place Jimmie Johnson on down.
Who is Cole Custer? A name you should pay attention to. Custer made history Saturday as the youngest winner within one of NASCAR’s top three divisions, dominating a New Hampshire Truck Series race at the ripe young age of 16 years, seven months. The son of Stewart-Haas EVP Joe Custer, Cole has the right combination of connections and talent to launch him toward a top-tier NASCAR ride someday. … Tony Stewart ran 30th and was never a factor in his first race since learning a grand jury will decide whether he’ll face criminal charges in the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy. Running behind cars with a smidgen of funding by comparison — like rookies Alex Bowman and Michael Annett — it’s clear Smoke’s focus is failing; he’s run no better than 15th in four races since his return. … Quietly, Martin Truex Jr. and rookie Austin Dillon slotted in solid performances. Rookie Dillon was 11th, his best run since Indianapolis, while Truex ran 12th, his best since Loudon in July as the single-car Furniture Row team looks to rebuild following a disappointing regular season.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
The Big Ten finally put together a solid weekend as a conference, which means sorting through the box scores for some notable stats was far less of a chore. The big theme of the week seemed to be success in the running game, with two of the top running backs in the country having huge performances. But that was not all to take note of this week around the Big Ten.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 4 in the Big Ten
12: Number of Big Ten teams to win in Week 4
It may not be quite enough to make up completely for some of the recent struggles throughout the conference, but it was certainly a more enjoyable weekend around the Big Ten for Big Ten fans. That is, of course, except for those in Ann Arbor. The only two Big Ten teams not to win this weekend were Michigan and Ohio State. The Buckeyes get a pass after having a bye week. Michigan, though…
756: Total offensive yards for Wisconsin against Bowling Green
Wisconsin’s offense had a field day against visiting Bowling Green. The Badgers were led by running back Melvin Gordon (more on him in a moment) as Wisconsin piled up 644 rushing yards. The total offensive yardage compiled by Wisconsin was more total offensive yards than six different FBS teams had compiled all season heading into the weekend (Vanderbilt, Eastern Michigan, North Texas, Wake Forest, Kent State and SMU).
19.5: Average rushing yards per carry for Melvin Gordon
If you forgot just how good Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon could be, his performance against Bowling Green should serve as a gentle reminder. Gordon rushed for career highs of 253 yards and five touchdowns, averaging an astounding 19.5 yards per rushing attempt. As a team, Wisconsin averaged 10.7 yards per rushing attempt against the defending MAC champions.
482: Combined rushing yards for Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah
With Wisconsin’s Gordon rushing for a career-high 253 yards against Bowling Green, the challenge was set for Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah to try and keep up. Abdullah may have come up shy of matching Gordon’s rushing total, but with Abdullah's 229 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Miami, the Big Ten’s top two running backs combined for 482 yards and seven touchdowns on Saturday. That combined rushing yardage total is more than 39 FBS schools have rushed for, and the combined touchdown total is more than 41 FBS schools have recorded this season.
5: Rushing touchdowns for Penn State against UMass
One part of Penn State’s game that has struggled to get on track in the first month of the season has been the running game. Against UMass the Nittany Lions finally found some traction. Entering the game Penn State had just two rushing touchdowns in the first three games of the season. Against UMass the Nittany Lions entered the end zone five times on the ground. Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak each had two, and Akeel Lynch added a fifth.
1: Third-down conversion allowed by Michigan State to Eastern Michigan
The game figured to be a mismatch between the Spartans and Eagles, but the complete domination by Michigan State at home was quite an exhibition in defensive supremacy. Michigan State allowed just one third-down conversion out of 13 to visiting Eastern Michigan. The Spartans allowed only 135 yards, most of that coming in garbage time with Michigan State blowing away the Eagles, 73-14. Michigan State controlled the football for 42 minutes, 41 seconds.
1: Third down conversion by Indiana in a win at Missouri
Everything Indiana did in winning at Missouri seemed to go against the grain for the Hoosiers. The defense actually came up with some key plays, and the Hoosiers managed to convert just one third down conversion out of 14. Normally winning on the road requires converting third downs but somehow Indiana managed to escape with converting just one (although Indiana was 2-fr-2 on fourth down conversion attempts).
3: Rushing yards allowed by Penn State against UMass
Penn State’s defense also had a relatively easy afternoon against an overpowered opponent at home. The Penn State defensive line never allowed the Minutemen to get going on the ground and the defense stuffed quarterback Blake Frohnapfel for a loss of 31 yards to limit the UMass ground game to just three yards.
5.6: Michigan quarterback Shane Morris’s QBR rating
If you thought all Michigan head coach Brady Hoke needed to do was change quarterbacks to find a spark on offense, perhaps you were wrong. Morris replaced starter Devin Gardner following a lengthy weather delay at home against Utah, with the Utes in full control. Morris had a very rough go of things, completing four of 13 passes for 42 yards and throwing one interception.
5: Number of first downs allowed and quarterbacks played by Michigan State
Going back to Michigan State’s pure dominance against Eastern Michigan, the Spartans only allowed five first downs to the Eagles. That number also matched the number of quarterbacks the Spartans used during the course of the game. Connor Cook received a nice early exit, giving way to Damion Terry and Tyler O’Connor. Eventually the Spartans were able to give walk-ons Tommy Vento and Paul Andrie some playing time as well.
The guys recap the big weekend of action in the SEC, including Florida-Bama, Mississippi State-LSU and Missouri's lose to Indiana. The Big Ten deserves credit with the exception of Michigan, so what does the lose to Utah mean for Brady Hoke? The ACC struggled in Week 4 and the guys break down all of the action from Florida State-Clemson and the rest of the ACC. And Week 4 ended with some serious fireworks from the Pac-12.
Louisville’s Thursday night showdown against Florida State on Oct. 30 is one of the top remaining games in the ACC this year.
And the Cardinals will attempt to upset the Seminoles with an alternate uniform, which the school is calling “Showtime.”
The uniforms have an overall gray scheme and feature camo accents and chrome red logos.
Louisville will wear these uniforms vs. FSU on Oct. 30 pic.twitter.com/X7ZthGBfZa— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) September 22, 2014
Side view of helmet & shoulder pad of Louisville uniform for 10/30 game vs FSU pic.twitter.com/ms6GCnlYUz— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) September 22, 2014
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of college football. Every Sunday, reading updated box scores and stats is likeChristmas for fans and media members. Some stats like total offense and total defense are overrated but each help paint a picture for a team or particular game.
Whether the stats are historic, advanced or just an observation from a box score, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Atlantic Coast Conference football action:
In its 23-17 overtime win against Clemson, Florida State kepts its streak of first-quarter shutouts alive. With a 3-0 lead over the Tigers after one quarter, the Seminoles are still unscored upon in the first 15 minutes in three games this season, and have not allowed any first-quarter points in a regular-season game — nine games — since Clemson's touchdown with 51 seconds remaining in the Oct. 19, 2013 meeting. The shutout extends to 10 of the last 11 games counting Duke being blanked in the first quarter of last year's ACC title game. Auburn scored a TD with 3:07 remaining in the BCS National Championship Game.
Miami traveled to Nebraska having seen the most rushes of any ACC team (123) and yielding the lowest yards per carry (2.1) in the conference. That 2.1 defense must have stayed in Coral Gables. Nebraska, behind 229 yards from Ameer Abdullah, averaged 6.4 per carry (54-347) in a 41-31 win.
Georgia Tech entered Saturday's game tied for first in the ACC in fourth-down conversions, a perfect 3-of-3. The practice must have helped as no fourth down was bigger than the Jackets' final one. A Justin Thomas pass to DeAndre Smelter for 19 yards on fourth-and-15 with 2:30 left kept the game-tying drive alive. The Jackets followed with an interception on VT's ensuing drive, and seven plays later kicked the game-winning field goal. Georgia Tech is no longer perfect, however. The team failed on its other fourth-down attempt early in the second quarter — an incomplete pass at the Hokies' 37 that Virginia Tech turned into a 10-play TD drive for a 13-3 lead.
Mike Wever's 20-yard field goal in the fourth quarter made the Wake Forest redshirt freshman 6-of-6 on field goals to start the season. That streak ties Tracy Lounsbury's school record set in 1969 for consecutive makes to start a career. Weaver is also a perfect 9-of-9 on extra-point attempts. Weaver's field goal cut Army's lead to 21-17 before the the Demon Deacons scored the game-winning TD with 6:45 left in the fourth.
Virginia fell to host BYU 41-33 in a rare trip west of the Mississippi River for the Cavaliers. This was just the 17th game played west of the river in school history. The Cavs are 4-13 in those games. The last win west of the river was at BYU, 45-40 on Sept. 25, 1999. This was the first of five straight seasons in which UVa will play a game west of the Mississippi.
In a 40-10 win against Maine on Saturday, Boston College held its opponent to 20 rushing yards or less for the second straight week. On Saturday, Maine collected just 16 yards on the ground a week after Southern California was limited to 20 in a 37-31 BC victory.
In its 42-0 win against Presbyterian Saturday, N.C. State posted at least 40 points in a third straight game for the first time in school history. The Wolfpack, 4-0 for the third time ever, scored 46 against Old Dominion and 42 against South Florida. It was also the first shutout thrown by N.C. State since a 2011 win against North Carolina, and the first against a non-conference opponent since a 2005 bowl win against South Florida.
All 71 yards of Duke's opening drive came via QB rushes Saturday in a 47-13 win against Tulane. Anthony Boone had four rushes for 27 yards, while Thomas Sirk ran for 44 yards on two carries, including a 1-yard TD. The two quarterbacks combined for 84 of Duke's 100 first-half rushing yards (Sirk 43, Boone 41), and Sirk collected a career-high 94 yards on the ground, including a career-long run of 50 yards. Boone finished with 42 yards on a season-high 10 carries, including 1-yard TD run to open the third quarter.
During Syracuse's 34-20 loss to former ACC member Maryland on Saturday, the Orange allowed its first sack of the season. The third-quarter sack of Terrel Hunt ended a streak of 89 straight pass attempts, dating back to 2013, without a Syracuse QB being dropped.
Syracuse's streak of offensive snaps without a turnover came to a resounding end against Maryland when quarterback Terrel Hunt was intercepted by William Likely in the second quarter. Likely returned in 88 yards for a score. It was the first turnover in 257 snaps when the Orange coughed it up in the first quarter of the 2013 Texas Bowl against Minnesota.
- Corby A. Yarbrough
@Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 22:
• To start off your Monday: Hottest alumni of the Pac-12, including Arizona's Kristen Wiig.
• Cam Newton made the fashion statement of the young season: lavender jacket, capri pants and funky slip-on shoes.
• The Browns ran a pretty sweet trick play to Johnny Manziel, but it was wiped out by a motion penalty. Turns out, it was an illegal "hideout" play anyway. The NFL really is the No Fun League.
• This high school kid's postgame speech makes me want to suit up and crush somebody.
• If you have a strong constitution, watch this brutal women's cycling crash.
• Rich Rod was understandably excited after Arizona's Hail Mary win over Cal. Also wearing his heart on his sleeve post-game: Jimbo Fisher.
• Cardinals fans brawled with 49ers fans in violent and bloody fashion.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Teams that were on the opposite sides of comebacks last week will put the finishing touches on Week 3 when the Chicago Bears take on the New York Jets on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Chicago trailed by 17 points in San Francisco last week before Jay Cutler rallied his troops to an improbable 28-20 win in the first-ever game at Levi’s Stadium. New York built an 18-point lead on Green Bay at Lambeau Field only to watch Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson bring the Packers all the way back and win 31-24.
The Bears have beaten the Jets the last three times these two teams have played, the most recent a 38-34 victory in Chicago in 2010.
Chicago Bears at New York Jets
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: New York -2.5
Three Things to Watch
|Chicago 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs BUF||L 20 - 23||Recap|
|9/14||@ SF||W 28 - 20||Recap|
|9/22||@ NYJ||W 27 - 19||Recap|
|9/28||vs GB||L 17 - 38||Recap|
1. A Funny Thing Happened in the Second Quarter…
The second quarter last week proved to be the turning point for both Chicago and New York in their respective matchups. The Bears trailed San Francisco 17-0 with a little more than two minutes until halftime in front of a raucous, sold-out crowd in the 49ers’ first-ever game at Levi’s Stadium. The Jets raced out to a 21-3 lead on Green Bay less than five minutes into the second quarter in front of a stunned Packer fan base at Lambeau Field. After that, however, the momentum dramatically shifted, taking the direction of each game with it. In San Francisco, Jay Cutler and the Bears took full advantage of counterpart Colin Kaepernick’s four turnovers, as the visitors scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to shock the 49ers 28-20. In Green Bay, the Packers turned things around quickly, scoring 21 unanswered points before putting the Jets away thanks to an Aaron Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson 80-yard touchdown. The comeback victory wasn’t secure, however, until a potential game-tying touchdown pass from Geno Smith to Jeremy Kerley was negated due to an inopportune timeout called from the Jets’ sideline. The chaos of that fateful series only added to the sting the Jets felt afterwards knowing they let a golden opportunity to get a huge road win slip away. The Bears meanwhile enter this game riding high with the confidence gained from coming back last week on the road against a playoff team, especially since it followed a lackluster performance in their season-opening overtime loss to the Bills at home. NFL players are taught to have short memories, but one can’t help but wonder if what transpired last week will carry over into tonight, whether that be in a negative or positive way.
|New York (AFC) 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs OAK||W 19 - 14||Recap|
|9/14||@ GB||L 24 - 31||Recap|
|9/22||vs CHI||L 19 - 27||Recap|
|9/28||vs DET||L 17 - 24||Recap|
2. Monday Night is Geno’s Night?
Now in his second pro season, Jets starting quarterback Geno Smith is 9-9 in 18 career starts with an unimpressive 14:23 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The good news for Smith, and hopefully his team and Jets fans, is that the young signal-caller is 1-0 on Monday nights. Last season, Smith and the Jets traveled to Atlanta to face the Falcons in Week 5. Taking the “Monday Night Football” national stage for the first time, Smith put together by far the best game of his short career. Even though he finished with just 199 passing yards, Smith completed 80 percent of his passes (16 of 20) and tossed a career-best three touchdowns with no interceptions. To put this into perspective, consider that in his 17 other starts, Smith has thrown twice as many picks (23) as touchdowns (11). New York would beat Atlanta 30-28 on a 43-yard field goal by Nick Folk as time expired, and the win still stands as Smith’s high-water mark thus far. Case in point: over the next seven games after the win in Atlanta, Smith completed less than half of his passes and posted an ugly 1:11 TD:INT ratio, along with two rushing scores and two lost fumbles. Not surprisingly, the Jets went 2-5 during this stretch. With consistent play clearly being an issue for Smith, the question becomes can he rediscover the form he flashed on this same stage nearly a year ago and run his Monday night record to 2-0?
3. Chicago’s Offensive Forté
Last week was all about Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, as the Bears’ quarterback-wide receiver tandem produced three of the four touchdowns scored against the 49ers. Marshall isn’t the only weapon at Cutler’s disposal, however, as fellow wideout Alshon Jeffery (1,421 yards, 7 TDs in 2013) and tight end Martellus Bennett (2 TDs this season) are equally capable targets. That said, the primary engine to Chicago’s offense is running back Matt Forté. A 1,000-yard rusher who also is one of the NFL’s most dangerous receivers out of the backfield, Forté amassed 1,933 yards from scrimmage, caught 74 passes and scored 12 total touchdowns last season. The two-time Pro Bowler has gotten off to a slow start thus far, with just 205 total yards and no touchdowns after two games. San Francisco did a really good job of bottling Forté up last week (29 total yards on 17 carries) and that will be New York’s challenge tonight. To their credit, the Jets have been very good in both facets of the running game, leading the NFL in both rushing offense (179.0 ypg) and defense (52.5 ypg). Chicago has proven it can win without a significant contribution from its do-everything back, but when the Bears get Forté going early, it only makes this fast-paced, attacking offense that much more dangerous.
Chicago enters this one with plenty of momentum following last week’s comeback win in San Francisco. New York is still picking up the pieces of the golden opportunity it let slip by after coughing up a big lead at Green Bay and then getting in its own way late in the game. The Bears’ offense clicked late against the 49ers and that’s without any significant contribution from Matt Forté. The Jets have a good defense, have been running the ball extremely well, and are generally a tough out at home, but I think the Bears have too much size and too much firepower on offense for Rex Ryan’s team to contend with. Geno Smith and the Jets hang tough, but Jay Cutler connects on some big plays in the second half, as Chicago carries over its road success from one coast to the other.