Articles By All
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Here's a look at every game of the Week 3 college football schedule.
No. 115 North Texas at No. 1 Alabama
Dan McCarney will do a very good job as the coach at North Texas, but his tenure in Denton is off to a rough start, with lopsided losses to FIU and Houston. An 0–3 record is an almost certainty.
Alabama 44, North Texas 6
No. 2 Oklahoma at No. 4 Florida State
There’s a school of thought — which we at Athlon Sports subscribe to — that the winner of this early season non-conference clash will end up playing Alabama in the national championship game.
Florida State 31, Oklahoma 27
No. 5 Boise State at No. 62 Toledo (Fri)
Boise State will need to play well to beat Toledo on the road. The Rockets are very good at the skill positions, and they gave Ohio State a legitimate scare in Columbus last weekend. I was tempted to pull the trigger on the upset.
Boise State 34, Toledo 24
Missouri State at No. 6 Oregon
Missouri State gained a total of 163 yards in a 51–7 loss at Arkansas in Week 1. Oregon is fresh off of a 69–20 win over Nevada. On paper, this is the biggest mismatch of the week.
Oregon 55, Missouri State 0
No. 89 Arkansas State at No. 7 Virginia Tech
Arkansas State made Illinois sweat (33–15) in Week 1 and blew out Memphis (47–3) last Saturday. This is a solid team, but Virginia Tech should be able to dominate at the line of scrimmage.
Virginia Tech 31, Arkansas State 20
No. 43 Washington at No. 8 Nebraska
This is the third meeting between these two clubs in the past 13 months. Nebraska won in Seattle last September but lost to the Huskies 19–7 in the Holiday Bowl. The rubber match will go to the Huskers.
Nebraska 31, Washington 20
No. 110 Idaho at No. 9 Texas A&M
The Aggies were quite impressive in an easier-than-expected 46–14 win over SMU in Week 1. This one is expected to be easy — and it will be.
Texas A&M 44, Idaho 10
No. 10 Oklahoma State at No. 58 Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane gave up 663 yards to Oklahoma in a 47–14 loss two weeks ago. The Cowboys’ offense is just as potent.
Oklahoma State 41, Tulsa 24
No. 11 Stanford at No. 55 Arizona
The Cardinal have given up one offensive touchdown in two games. Arizona’s rebuilt offensive line is in for a rough evening.
Stanford 31, Arizona 14
No. 12 Wisconsin at No. 73 Northern Illinois (Soldier Field)
Northern Illinois is very good on offense, but the Huskies have really struggled on the defensive end in 2011. They are giving up an average of 278 yards rushing. Not a good stat when you are about to face the Badgers.
Wisconsin 44, Northern Illinois 14
No. 92 Troy at No. 13 Arkansas
Troy led at Clemson at the half before getting outscored 30¬–3 in the final two quarters. The Trojans are good, but not good enough to pose too much of a threat to Arkansas.
Arkansas 41, Troy 17
No. 54 Navy at No. 14 South Carolina
Navy’s option attack will give South Carolina some problems, but the Gamecocks should be able to move the ball with relative ease.
South Carolina 31, Navy 17
No. 15 West Virginia at No. 23 Maryland
Maryland looked very good, especially on offense, in a Week 1 win over Miami (Fla.). Florida State is clearly the team to beat in the ACC Atlantic Division, but don’t be surprised if the Terps remain in the race all season.
Maryland 31, West Virginia 27
No. 37 Tennessee at No. 16 Florida
Florida has been dominant in wins over FAU (41–3) and UAB (39–0), but the new-look offense is about to face a different caliber of athletes this week. We’ll know far more about the Will Muschamp/Charlie Weis era at Florida by Saturday evening.
Florida 34, Tennessee 24
No. 17 Ohio State at No. 30 Miami (Fla.)
Expect a lot of the focus to be on each school’s respective off-the-field issues with the NCAA — and rightfully so.
Ohio State 20, Miami 17
No. 44 Syracuse at No. 18 USC
Syracuse is 2–0, but the Orange needed to rally from 15 down in the fourth quarter to beat Wake Forest in overtime and only defeated Rhode Island 21–14 last weekend. This team is a work in progress.
USC 28, Syracuse 10
No. 19 Texas at No. 67 UCLA
The Bruins rushed for 264 yards in a shocking 34–12 in Austin last season. Texas is ready for some payback.
Texas 30, UCLA 14
Stephen F. Austin at No. 20 Baylor
The Bears haven’t played since their thrilling 50–48 win over TCU on Sept. 1. Don’t expect any rust.
Baylor 48, Stephen F. Austin 13
No. 108 Louisiana-Monroe at No. 21 TCU
The Horned Frogs bounced back nicely from the loss at Baylor with an impressive 35–19 win at Air Force. TCU led 21–0 midway through the second quarter and 35–9 late in the third.
TCU 41, Louisiana-Monroe 3
No. 22 Michigan State at No. 29 Notre Dame
I still maintain that Notre Dame is a pretty good football team despite its 0–2 record. But it’s time for the Irish to overcome adversity and win a game.
Notre Dame 28, Michigan State 21
Florida A&M at No. 24 South Florida
The Bulls should be 4–0 when they hit the road for a huge showdown at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29.
South Florida 38, Florida A&M 3
No. 25 Arizona State at No. 33 Illinois
This has the chance to be one of the best games of the day, and it features two of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks — Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler and Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase.
Illinois 21, Arizona State 14
No. 26 Auburn at No. 45 Clemson
I think it’s safe to say that no defending national champion has ever been an underdog in two of its first three games in the ensuing season.
Auburn 34, Clemson 28
No. 113 Eastern Michigan at No. 27 Michigan
With wins over Howard and Alabama State, Eastern Michigan is 2–0 for the first time since 1989. The Eagles will not be 3–0.
Michigan 51, Eastern Michigan 10
Western Illinois at No. 31 Missouri
Missouri lost in overtime at Arizona State last Friday night, but the Tigers got a huge performance from sophomore quarterback James Franklin. He completed 26-of-42 for 319 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and added 84 yards on the ground. That is a very good sign for Gary Pinkel’s club.
Missouri 38, Western Illinois 0
No. 32 Penn State at No 81 Temple
It’s either a compliment to Temple or an indictment of Penn State that the Nittany Lions are only a 7.5-point favorite. Owl tailback Bernard Pierce (148.5 ypg) will be the best skill position player on the field.
Penn State 21, Temple 14
No. 34 UCF at No. 65 FIU
This is an underrated showdown between two very good teams that are coming off solid wins over BCS conference opponents. UCF dominated Boston College 30–3 in Orlando, while FIU upset Louisville 24–17 on the road. UCF’s defense has given up a total of three points.
UCF 28, FIU 10
Coastal Carolina at No. 35 Georgia
The Bulldogs need a win — any win. And they will get it against Coastal Carolina, and its entertaining head coach, David Bennett.
Georgia 38, Coastal Carolina 10
No. 66 Virginia at No. 36 North Carolina
Virginia survived a second half collapse at Indiana (the Cavs led 23–3 at one point — to beat the Hoosiers 34–31 on a field goal on the final play of the game. Mike London’s team must have success running the ball to have a chance to knock off UNC in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina 27, Virginia 17
No. 38 Northwestern at No. 86 Army
Army’s stats are predictable: No. 2 in the nation in rushing (353.0 ypg) and No. 118 in passing (74.5 ypg). To beat a solid team from a BCS conference, the Black Knights will have to find some balance on offense.
Northwestern 30, Army 17
No. 69 Kansas at No. 39 Georgia Tech
Kansas’ 28¬–25 win over Georgia Tech last September was one of the head-scratchers of the 2010 season. Both teams have looked very good on offense in ’11 against inferior competition.
Georgia Tech 38, Kansas 28
No. 40 Texas Tech at No. 116 New Mexico
New Mexico has scored one touchdown in two games this season. The Lobos will need about eight touchdowns to beat Texas Tech.
Texas Tech 56, New Mexico 10
No. 41 Iowa State at No. 74 Connecticut
The boys in Vegas know what they are doing, but I was a bit surprised that Iowa State, which beat Iowa last week, is a 4-point underdog to a UConn team that had less than 200 total yards in a loss at Vanderbilt.
Iowa State 24, Connecticut 14
No. 48 Pittsburgh at No. 42 Iowa
Pittsburgh is a rather soft 2–0 under first-year coach Todd Graham, with a 35–16 win over Buffalo and a 35–29 win over FCS opponent Maine.
Iowa 31, Pittsburgh 24
Gardner-Webb at No. 46 Wake Forest
Wake Forest has been one of the most improved teams in the nation in 2011. The Deacs are getting great play from quarterback Tanner Price (when healthy).
Wake Forest 41, Gardner-Webb 10
No. 50 Utah at No. 47 BYU
The road team hasn’t won in this series since 2006, when BYU edged Utah 33–31 in Salt Lake City. BYU has only scored one offensive touchdown this season, but the Cougs have played at Ole Miss and at Texas.
BYU 24, Utah 20
Presbyterian at No. 48 California
The Golden Bears are off to a nice start, with wins vs. Fresno State and at Colorado (ot). The pass-catch combo of Zach Maynard and Keenan Allen, who happen to be half-brothers, has been highly successful.
California 44, Presbyterian 0
No. 51 Houston at No. 102 Louisiana Tech
Shouldn’t these two teams be in the same conference?
Houston 41, Louisiana Tech 21
South Alabama at No. 53 NC State
NC State’s season has already taken a wrong turn, with a surprising loss at home to Wake Forest in the ACC opener.
NC State 41, South Alabama 3
No. 117 Akron at No. 56 Cincinnati
Akron has scored a total of three points this season, losing 42–0 at Ohio State and 41–3 at home vs. Temple. The Bearcats should hit 50 with ease.
Cincinnati 55, Akron 10
Northwestern State at No. 57 SMU
SMU has been a bit of a disappointment this season, losing 46–14 at Texas A&M and struggling at home vs. UTEP. J.J. McDermott gets his second straight start at quarterback.
SMU 45, Northwestern State 10
No. 95 Louisville at No. 59 Kentucky
Neither team has played well through the first two weeks of the season. Points will be at a premium. Look for UK true freshman Josh Clemons to have a big day carrying the ball with Raymond Sanders out with an injury.
Kentucky 17, Louisville 7
No. 61 Hawaii at No. 118 UNLV
UNLV is in the conversation as the worst team in the nation after its 59–7 loss at Washington State last week.
Hawaii 47, UNLV 13
No. 63 Ole Miss at No. 64 Vanderbilt
The Commodores have won four of the past six in this East vs. West battle. Both teams are struggling on offense. Whoever wins the turnover battle will likely win the game.
Vanderbilt 20, Ole Miss 17
No. 70 Washington State at No. 66 San Diego State
Washington State appears to be vastly improved, but the Cougars have yet to play a quality opponent. We’ll find out just how much progress Paul Wulff’s club has made after Saturday’s trip to San Diego.
San Diego State 27, Washington State 14
No. 87 Duke at No. 68 Boston College
The usually rock-solid Boston College program is on shaky ground. The Eagles managed only 137 yards of offense in a 31–3 loss at UCF last week. A loss at home to Duke isn’t possible, is it? Yes.
Duke 28, Boston College 20
No. 71 Marshall at No. 84 Ohio
Marshall very quietly recorded a huge win last weekend, knocking off C-USA East power Southern Miss 26–20. Now, the Herd step out of conference play to face a very solid Ohio team.
Ohio 23, Marshall 21
No. 112 Kent State at No. 75 Kansas State
The Wildcats trailed Eastern Kentucky 7–0 heading into the fourth quarter before rallying for a 10–7 win in the opener two weeks ago. Not good.
Kansas State 27, Kent State 10
No. 78 Colorado vs. No. 96 Colorado State (at Denver)
CU receiver Paul Richardson caught nine passes for 284 yards and two scores in last week’s overtime loss to California.
Colorado 28, Colorado State 17
No. 79 Nevada at No. 111 San Jose State
I thought Nevada would hang with Oregon last weekend. I was wrong. The Pack trailed 31–7 at the half en route to a 69–20 loss. This week, the competition gets easier — much easier.
Nevada 41, San Jose State 20
SE Louisiana at No. 80 Southern Miss
The Golden Eagles have been a disappointment so far, struggling to beat Louisiana Tech at home and then losing at Marshall. The usually high-octane USM offense has averaged only 19.5 points.
Southern Miss 31, SE Louisiana 14
North Dakota at No. 83 Fresno State
Fresno State returns home after difficult matchups at California and at Nebraska. This one shouldn’t be too much trouble.
Fresno State 37, North Dakota 7
SE Missouri State at No. 85 Purdue
Purdue has been in two games that ended with a blocked field goal; the Boilers were on the blocking end against Middle Tennessee and the got-blocked end at Rice. This one better not come down to a field goal attempt.
Purdue 38, SE Missouri State 10
No. 109 Tulane at No. 88 UAB
UAB might be without standout tailback Pat Shed due to a sports hernia. It shouldn’t matter.
UAB 31, Tulane 10
No. 107 Buffalo at No. 90 Ball State
This is a key MAC game for two teams that appear to be improved in 2011. Ball State already has a win over Indiana on its resume, while Buffalo played well in a season-opening loss at Pitt before beating Stony Brook last week.
Ball State 27, Buffalo 21
No. 93 Miami (Ohio) at No. 101 Minnesota
It was a rough week for Minnesota. The Gophers lost at home to New Mexico State in a game that was overshadowed by head coach Jerry Kill’s sideline seizure. Kill appears to be fine. We’re not sure about his team.
Minnesota 27, Miami (Ohio) 24
South Carolina State at No. 94 Indiana
Kevin Wilson is still searching for his first win as the head coach at Indiana. The search should end Saturday.
Indiana 41, South Carolina State 14
No. 104 Central Michigan at No. 97 Western Michigan
Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit is 0–5 vs. hated rival Central Michigan. He might not be around next season if his record dips to 0–6.
Western Michigan 28, Central Michigan 24
No. 103 Wyoming at No. 98 Bowling Green
The competition hasn’t been strong — Idaho and Morgan State — but Bowling Green looks to be much improved on offense. The Flacons are averaging 45.0 points and 525 yards per game.
Bowling Green 38, Wyoming 20
No. 114 UTEP and No. 100 New Mexico State
I’m still shocked that New Mexico State won at Minnesota last week. Quarterback Andrew Manley threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Aztecs, a three-touchdown underdog, to a 28–21 win.
New Mexico State 28, UTEP 20
Nicholls State at No. 105 Louisiana-Lafayette
The Rajin’ Cajuns are showing some fight under first-year coach Mark Hudspeth. Their win at Kent State last week was the school’s first non-conference road win (vs. an FBS foe) since 2006, when Ricky Bustle’s club won at Houston 31–28.
Louisiana-Lafayette 31, Nicholls State 10
Indiana State at No. 106 Western Kentucky
One week after giving up 190 yards of offense in a loss to Kentucky, the Hilltoppers were torched for 510 yards in a 40–14 home loss to Navy.
Western Kentucky 28, Indiana State 17
Austin Peay at No. 119 Memphis
It’s difficult to describe how much of a train wreck Memphis football is right now. Still, don’t be tempted to pick Austin Peay in this one; the Govs lost at Cincinnati 72–10 two weeks ago.
Memphis 30, Austin Peay 14
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 3
1. It’s only Week 3, but Saturday’s game between Florida State and Oklahoma will have an impact on the national title race. The winner of this matchup has a good chance to run the table and finish undefeated. With both teams expected to rank among the top 5-10 spots in the final poll, this could be an elimination game for the national championship. The Sooners have won the last five meetings between these two teams, including a 47-17 blowout last year. The Seminoles should have a better showing this time around, especially with this game in Tallahassee. Keep an eye on the matchup in the trenches. Florida State’s defensive line is one of the best in college football, which will be an issue for Oklahoma, especially with tackle Daryl Williams hobbled by a high ankle sprain.
2. The annual Florida-Tennessee game has lost some of its appeal in recent years. Under Urban Meyer, the Gators won six in a row over the Volunteers. Also, Tennessee has struggled to contend for the SEC East title, posting a 10-14 conference record since 2007. This season’s matchup features a lot of intrigue. Florida coach Will Muschamp is familiar with Tennessee coach Derek Dooley from their days as assistants under Nick Saban at LSU. Also, the Volunteers have been impressive on offense through two games, while the Gators look like they have one of the best defenses in the SEC. Tennessee’s offensive line is still a work in progress and if it struggles to protect quarterback Tyler Bray against a very good Florida defensive line, the Volunteers will have a long afternoon in the Swamp. Bray has posted some big numbers in a short time as the starter, but has yet to face a defense the caliber of Florida.
3. If not for turnovers, there’s a good chance Notre Dame would be 2-0. The Irish rank last nationally in turnover margin, which has to be corrected in Saturday’s game against Michigan State. The Spartans have won three out of the last four in this series, including a 34-31 thriller in East Lansing last year. Saturday’s game is an important one for Notre Dame, as it needs to get back on the winning track. The Irish could still finish 10-2, and contending for a spot in one of the BCS bowls isn’t dead yet. Notre Dame has struggled against the pass, allowing 233 yards per game through two weeks. The Spartans should test the Irish secondary, but protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins is a concern. It’s hard to call the third game of the year a must-win, but after outplaying its first two opponents and losing, Notre Dame really needs this one.
4. With Utah joining the Pac-12 and BYU becoming an Independent, these two rivals won’t meet as conference foes for the first time in 113 years. However, that shouldn’t change the anticipation for this matchup. The Holy War is an underappreciated rivalry on the national front. Quarterback play will be huge. BYU’s Jake Heaps looks to bounce back after a sluggish performance against Texas (22 of 38, 192 yards and two interceptions), while Utah’s Jordan Wynn needs to build some confidence as he continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Five of the last six matchups have been decided by a touchdown or less. Expect a similar outcome on Saturday.
5. Two of the top offensive minds in college football will meet when Clemson hosts Auburn this Saturday. Gus Malzahn (Auburn) will square off against his protégé Chad Morris (Clemson) in what should be an entertaining non-conference matchup. Over the last four years, Malzahn’s offenses have ranked no worse than 17th in scoring offense. Morris coordinated Tulsa’s offense to a No. 6 national ranking in scoring offense. These two offensive gurus are friends off the field, but for 60 minutes, it’s all about winning. Clemson has not impressed in two games, while Auburn has needed a late play in both games to win. With suspect defenses, Auburn and Clemson could be one of this week’s highest-scoring games.
6. Less than 225 miles separate the Maryland and West Virginia campuses, but this rivalry has been pretty quiet in recent years. The Mountaineers have claimed the last five in this series, with Maryland’s last victory coming in the 2004 Gator Bowl. The Terrapins should have a good chance to break that losing streak on Saturday, especially with Danny O’Brien under center. The 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year had a stellar performance in the opener, throwing for 348 yards and one score against Miami. West Virginia’s new pass-first offense is still a work in progress, largely due to a suspect offensive line, but Geno Smith is completing 66.7 percent of his passes and has yet to throw an interception. With both teams wanting to establish the pass, whichever offensive line can protect the best might be the deciding factor on Saturday.
7. The Arizona State-Illinois matchup might not generate as much interest as Florida State-Oklahoma, but this one has a lot of intrigue. Arizona State is coming off an overtime win over Missouri and has a key game against USC next Saturday. The Sun Devils crossed a big hurdle by beating the Tigers last week. Dennis Erickson’s team finally looks ready to contend for the Pac-12 title. Illinois has yet to be tested through two weeks, but is a dangerous team and one that could contend in the Big Ten Leaders Division. With two explosive offenses, this one could be a shootout. Both quarterbacks are off to solid starts, but this game could be decided by whichever offense imposes its will. The Illini will be more physical, while the Sun Devils are more finesse, wanting to run an up-tempo attack.
8. If you like offense, Saturday’s Louisville-Kentucky matchup is not for you. The Cardinals are averaging 415.5 yards per game, but have six turnovers and are managing only 19 points a game. If those numbers weren’t bad enough, it gets worse. The Wildcats rank 110th nationally in total offense and scored only 14 points to beat Western Kentucky and struggled to score 27 against Central Michigan. Kentucky will also be without running back Raymond Sanders, who suffered a knee injury last Saturday. The Wildcats have won the last four in this series, but with both teams struggling on offense, turnovers could play a key role in determining the outcome of the game.
9. The rubber match between Washington and Nebraska should provide a good gauge for where both teams are before conference play begins. The Huskies rank last in the nation in pass defense and are allowing 29.5 points a game. Despite the loss of quarterback Jake Locker, the offense has been fine, averaging 35 points and 358 yards per game. New quarterback Keith Price has thrown seven touchdowns to only one interception this season. Nebraska’s offense has scored at least 40 points in both games this year, but the offensive line is inexperienced in spots. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is one of the nation’s leading rushers, but is completing only 48.9 percent of his throws. The Cornhuskers had trouble blocking the Huskies’ defensive line in the Holiday Bowl and the matchup in the trenches will play a key role in deciding this one.
10. Before the scandals and off-the-field incidents, the Miami-Ohio State matchup was hyped as one of the top non-conference games of 2011. With Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor no longer in Columbus, and the black cloud hanging over the Miami program, the game has lost a little of its appeal. The Hurricanes fell short in their debut under new coach Al Golden, losing 32-24 to Maryland. The Buckeyes have won both of their games, but struggled in last week’s victory over Toledo. Ohio State quarterback Joe Bauserman likely holds the keys to the outcome of the game. The senior threw for only 189 yards last week, which could be a concern if Miami contains the Ohio State rushing attack. After serving a one-game suspension, the Hurricanes will turn to Jacory Harris at quarterback. The senior has had his moments, but also struggled with interceptions. In a tight game, Miami cannot afford another bad game from Harris.
Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 3 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.
Boise State 38, Toledo 20
Iowa State 24, Connecticut 17
Oklahoma 31, Florida State 27
Florida 30, Tennessee 20
Arizona State 31, Illinois 30
Georgia Tech 38, Kansas 27
Miami 24, Ohio State 20
Nebraska 31, Washington 20
Notre Dame 34, Michigan State 27
Auburn 38, Clemson 31
Maryland 34, West Virginia 31
Iowa 27, Pittsburgh 20
USC 38, Syracuse 20
BYU 24, Utah 20
Texas 24, UCLA 16
Stanford 38, Arizona 24
Looking for a few upsets? Keep a close watch on these games.
Iowa State at Connecticut (-4.5)
The Huskies have one of the best defenses in the Big East, but the offense is downright awful. New Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz has been solid through two starts, and Cyclones have an underrated defense.
Penn State (-6.5) at Temple
It’s a longshot, but the Owls have what it takes to win this one. Temple running back Bernard Pierce is off to a great start and needs to continue that success to secure a victory. Penn State’s offense needs to find a spark, particularly at quarterback.
Auburn at Clemson (-3.5)
Auburn is very fortunate to be 2-0. While Clemson has struggled to beat Troy and Wofford. Going on the road to Death Valley is no easy task and it wouldn’t be a surprise if a young Auburn team struggled. However, Auburn has looked like the better team so far.
Ole Miss (-1.5) at Vanderbilt
According to the folks out in Vegas, the Rebels are a slight favorite. However, neither team has been impressive on offense. The Commodores have won two out of the last three at home in this series and coming off a confidence-building win over Connecticut, they should be in position to open SEC play with a win.
Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 3
Remember those choose your adventure books? How about a choose your own path in conference realignment?
If the Big 12 falls apart, what's the best fit for Missouri?
TCU running back Ed Wesley and linebacker Tanner Brock are unlikely to play in Week 3.
Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham is unhappy with quarterback Tino Sunseri.
Temple has a big opportunity against Penn State this Saturday.
A week after suffering a seizure on the sidelines, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill will return to Minnesota's stadium for Saturday's game against Miami (Ohio).
Purdue quarterback Robert Marve will return to the field this Saturday against Southeast Missouri.
Clemson guard David Smith is out for Saturday's game against Auburn. The play of the offensive line has been a concern for Clemson through two weeks.
How did Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Clemson's Chad Morris become good friends?
Florida State receiver Willie Haulstead will miss Saturday's game against Oklahoma with concussion-like symptoms.
Georgia president Michael Adams would like for fans to support coach Mark Richt.
Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa is expected to return to the lineup on Oct. 1 against Illinois.
Colorado has yet to get its ground attack going through two games.
Despite an 0-2 start, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly thinks his team is ready to come together.
Texas will turn to Case McCoy and David Ash at quarterback.
A Sea of Red awaits Washington in Lincoln on Saturday.
Memphis has fired defensive coordinator Jay Hopson.
Kentucky needs quarterback Morgan Newton to show improvement against Louisville.
Kansas State needs better execution on offense this week. The Wildcats struggled in their opener against Eastern Kentucky.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
For a Week 3 college football game, there’s a lot on the line for Oklahoma and Florida State. Top five matchups are rare in the non-conference portion of any team’s schedule, so this is a chance to make a big statement. Both teams are national title contenders, but a loss in this game could be a significant setback for those hopes.
Oklahoma easily handled Florida State last year, winning 47-17 in Norman. However, the scene has shifted to Tallahassee. The Seminoles are hungry to avenge last season’s defeat, while prove Florida State is back on the national scene and a title contender.
Neither team has been tested so far. Oklahoma was off last week, but routed Tulsa 47-14 in the opener.
Florida State beat UL Monroe 34-0 in Week 1, while easily taking care of Charleston Southern 62-10 last Saturday.
Although both teams have looked good against inferior competition, this matchup will provide a better gauge of where they stand before conference play begins.
When Florida State Has the Ball
Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel has eight starts under his belt, but this is arguably his most important one. Manuel has thrown for 581 yards and six touchdowns this year. The junior has only rushed 10 times for 30 yards this season, but that could be one area Florida State looks to use him more on Saturday night.
Although Manuel may be used more in the running game, Florida State still needs to establish a traditional rushing attack. The Seminoles have a plethora of talented backs, with junior Chris Thompson expected to draw the start. However, senior Ty Jones and freshmen Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. will also see snaps.
Just like the running backs, the Seminoles are stocked with talented receivers. Willie Haulstead is not expected to play due to concussion-like symptoms, but senior Bert Reed and junior Rodney Smith are capable starters. Youngsters Jarred Haggins, Greg Dent, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene will also be counted upon heavily to produce.
The one concern for the Seminoles is the offensive line. Two new starters were stepping into the lineup this season, after guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon finished their eligibility. The line did not have a great spring and a few spots could be shuffled before this game. Considering the competition through two weeks, it's impossible to know how far along this group has come.
Oklahoma’s defensive line should be in a good position to take advantage of the Seminoles’ uncertainty up front. Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander are two of the best ends in the Big 12. However, the interior is a concern for the Sooners, as Jamarkus McFarland and Casey Walker have yet to have a breakout season.
Keep a close watch on the Sooner linebacking corps. Senior Travis Lewis will miss this game due to a foot injury, which means sophomores Tony Jefferson, Tom Wort and Corey Nelson will have to step up in a hostile environment. Lewis was one of the Big 12’s top defenders and his on-field leadership will be missed.
If Alexander and Lewis spend most of the night in the Florida State backfield, the Sooners should win this game. However, if Oklahoma’s defensive line struggles to get pressure, Manuel and the Seminole receivers should have a huge performance.
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
The Sooners own one of the nation’s most high-powered offenses, led by quarterback Landry Jones. He threw for 4,718 yards and 38 scores last season, while earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. Jones ripped apart the Florida State secondary for 380 yards and four scores last year.
Receivers Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills anchor one of the top receiving corps in college football. Broyles led all receivers with 130 receptions last year, while Stills is one of the rising stars in the game. Joining those two as weapons will be tight end James Hanna and receivers Trey Franks and Dejuan Miller.
The Sooners are using a running back by committee approach, but there’s no shortage of options. Brennan Clay will likely draw the start, but walk-on Dominique Whaley has been impressive and should see his share of carries. Sophomore Roy Finch will also figure into the rotation as a change of pace threat.
Similar to the Florida State offense, Oklahoma’s biggest question mark rests with the offensive line. Right tackle Daryl Williams is expected to play with a high ankle sprain, but will be less than 100 percent.
The Seminoles possess a deep defensive line, led by junior Brandon Jenkins. It will be important for the line, especially Jenkins and Bjoern Werner, to get after Jones and disrupt the timing to Broyles and Stills. The Sooners like to use a lot of quick passes to Broyles, so disrupting that timing will be critical.
Florida State’s secondary has plenty to prove this year, especially after struggling against Oklahoma last season. Corners Mike Harris, Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid are solid, but need to be much better than they were in last season's matchup. If the Seminoles are able to get pressure on Jones, the secondary will find their job much easier.
When a game is expected to be close, an x-factor could be what happens on special teams.
The Seminoles have one of the nation’s best at kicker (Dustin Hopkins) and punter (Shawn Powell). Hopkins has a strong leg and will become a valuable weapon once Florida State crosses midfield.
The Sooners would be wise to avoid kicking to Greg Reid, one of the nation’s most electric punt returners. Reid is averaging 17.8 yards per punt return this season.
Field goals could be a question mark for Oklahoma, as kicker Jimmy Stevens has been inconsistent during his career. However, returns should be in good shape with Broyles, Clay and Franks getting most of the work.
If you only watch one game this weekend, make sure this is it. Both teams are national title contenders and are deserving of its current ranking.
This is a huge chance for Florida State to announce its place on the national stage once again. After taking a step back during Bobby Bowden’s final years, Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles back into title contention.
Both teams possess high-powered offenses, but this game will be won or lost in the trenches. If the Sooners can hold off Florida State’s pass rush, Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles will have another big game, while leading Oklahoma to a key non-conference win.
Prediction: Oklahoma 31, Florida State 27
Click here for all of our week 3 college football predictions
By Josh Kipnis
This past weekend, we all witnessed history as Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers broke the record for most passing yards in a quarterback’s NFL debut. Even with his astonishing 110.4 passer rating, 2 TD, 422-yard performance, Newton still has a long way to go before he can claim kingship over the division. With Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Josh Freeman leading the other three teams in the NFC South, 2011 should be a very promising year for this division.
Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)
Background: Brees, who was signed by the Saints in 2006, led the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl victory in 2009. Winner of the MVP award in that game, he is also the Saints’ all-time leader in passing yards. The five-time pro-bowler was the AP Player of the Year in 2008 and has thrown over 4,000 yards each season with the Saints.
Strengths: Brees’ most eye-catching strength has to be his pinpoint accuracy. In fact, “pinpoint” cannot even describe how well this guy can hit a receiver downfield. In his “SportsScience” debut, Brees was asked to throw a football at an archery target from 20 yards away. Out of the ten throws he took, he hit the bulls-eye all ten times. Not even Olympic archers hit the bulls-eye that much.
Weaknesses: Many scouts questioned the Purdue alum’s height (6-0) as he entered the NFL draft back in 2001. His arm strength is also below average compared to the competition around the league. Nonetheless, do his weaknesses even matter at this point? He is unquestionably a top five QB in the NFL, and has the Saints in the Super Bowl conversation every year.
Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)
Background: Ryan is one of two rookie quarterbacks (Peyton Manning) in NFL history to throw over 3,000 yards in his rookie season, making him the obvious choice for the 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year. Ryan led the Falcons to the playoffs his rookie season and again last season. Ryan continues to show signs of improvement; increasing his touchdown totals in each of the three seasons he has been a pro.
Strengths: Ryan shows a great balance of attributes; he might not be the most accurate or have the strongest arm, but he is definitely above average in both categories. So what’s so incredible about “Matty Ice?” In just three seasons in the NFL, Ryan has led the Falcons to eight 4th quarter comebacks and thirteen game winning drives. I’d say the nickname holds true.
Weaknesses: Leading the Falcons to the playoffs twice is a great feat, however, Atlanta lost in both of those openers. His 0-2 record in the playoffs is the only part of Ryan’s game holding him back from an elite status.
Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Bucs)
Background: Freeman broke the Bucs’ rookie records in passing yards (1,855) and TD passes (10) back in 2009. In just his second NFL season, he blew those numbers out of the water, throwing for 1,600 more yards, 15 more TDs, and 12 less INTs. Just 23 years old out of Kansas State, Freeman is posting numbers close to Brad Johnson in ’03, the last time Tampa Bay won the Lombardi Trophy.
Strengths: Coaches have to wipe the drool from their mouths when they see this guy throw on a pair of shoulder pads. Standing at 6-6 and weighing 248 lbs, Freeman is an absolute monster at the quarterback position. Add his mobility and arm strength to the list, and defensive coordinators suddenly find their tail between their legs.
Weaknesses: The major flaw in his rookie season was turnovers. Freeman ranked 4th in the NFL with 18 interceptions in 2009. However, it seems he found a solution to the problem during the off-season because he threw 12 less INTs in 2010. It sounds crazy, but does this guy have a weakness? Maybe his only limitation is Tampa Bay’s receiving corp.
Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers)
Background: As mentioned earlier, Newton displayed one of the best rookie performances ever, by throwing for 422 yards in his NFL debut. The Panthers have to be ecstatic seeing their number one overall pick playing this well. Last season, Panthers’ starter Jimmy Clausen never threw more than 300 yards and one touchdown in a game; Newton was better in both categories in just his first NFL start. The Heisman Trophy winner and NCAA National Champ from Auburn posted the 2nd highest yardage total among all QBs in Week 1.
Strengths: Almost identical in size to Josh Freeman, 6-6, 248 lbs, Newton is another beast among men. His combination of size, arm strength, and mobility made it impossible for Carolina to pass on this young stud. Although it is too early in his career to say his mentality is a strength, you have to love how the 22-year old carries himself in an interview. Following his epic performance, all Newton could think about was not being able to lead his team to victory, his first loss in over a year. “The last time I lost a game was Navarro Junior College,” Newton said. “What do you want me to say, it feels great? It is not a comfortable feeling for me.”
Weaknesses: The only flaw in his rookie debut came in red zone efficiency. On the final drive of the game, the Panthers had a first down on the Arizona 11-yard line. Newton’s next four plays were incomplete passes, and the fifth fell short of the end zone.
No question about it, the NFC South is stacked at the quarterback position. With Drew Brees continuing to display his pro-bowl career, and young gun-slingers Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman, and Cam Newton entering the NFL’s spotlight, one thing is for sure: defensive backs around the league are all starting to shake as they see NFC South teams on their schedule.
That's kind of weird. What about the other swimmers? If she had any respect for the others around her, she would take one in the bathroom, like every other person.
Casey Pachall, TCU (UL-Monroe)
Replacing a legend is never easy, but despite the loss to Baylor, Pachall has made it look easy. He has six touchdown passes to only one interception with 56 yards rushing and another score on the ground. He has completed more than 70 percent of his passes and will be facing the 79th-rated pass efficiency defense thus far in 2011. Against FBS talent this fall, ULM has allowed 280 yards and three touchdowns. This is Pachall’s team now, and owners should have him in the line-up this week.
Tyler Hansen, Colorado (Colorado State)
Throwing for a single-game school record isn’t something that happens every day, but that is what Hansen did last week. His 474 yards are a Buffaloes record and the current single-game high of the 2011 season. He has thrown at least two TDs in each game thus far and accounted for three scores against Colorado State in last year’s opener. Start all of your Buffs.
Aaron Murray, Georgia (Coastal Carolina)
The Dawgs might have lost to South Carolina last week, but Murray is clearly the real deal under center. He threw four TDs and 248 yards against the Cocks last week and will look to expand on that line this week. Certainly, Mark Richt will establish the run behind star freshman Isaiah Crowell, but Murray should post excellent numbers against a far inferior opponent.
James Franklin, Missouri (Western Illinois)
There is still plenty to learn for Franklin, but the talent is obvious. In two career starts, he already has a 300-yard passing game, a 100-yard rushing game, completed 63.2 percent of his passes, has only one interception and has experienced a hostile road overtime atmosphere. Expect Gary Pinkel to get his Tigers back on track against lowly Western Illinois.
Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M (Idaho)
The Aggies will welcome a chance to play actual football after constant expansion drama has engulfed College Station during the bye week. Tannehill and company has to be hungry to get back onto the field, and the poor Vandals will play the role of punching bag. Idaho allowed 478 yards of offense against Bowling Green in week one and should be no match – on either side of the ball – for the powerful TAMU attack.
Derek Carr, Fresno State (North Dakota)
Week Two was a huge learning experience for the sophomore slinger from The Valley. Against an elite-level defense in an incredibly stressful environment, Carr threw 254 yards and scored two touchdowns against Nebraska. The younger brother of former first overall pick David Carr has proven his mettle in only two starts against quality BCS competition. Against North Dakota, Carr’s full talent should flourish.
Bench These Quarterbacks:
Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State (at Virginia Tech)
The Hokies held Dom Davis and East Carolina's high-flying attack to 127 yards on 38 attempts last weekend. That should be all fantasy owners need to keep Aplin far away from the starting line-up. Bud Foster has his defense back where it belongs: Rated in the top ten nationally by allowing 202.5 yards per game through two weeks.
Tyler Bray, Tennessee (at Florida)
The Vols sophomore had all day to throw last week against Cincinnati, but fans can bet that the law firm of Powell, Floyd, Easley, Green and Howard won’t allow Bray to leave the Swamp untouched. The Gators have won six straight over Tennessee and have played excellent defense against weak opponents FAU and UAB. Florida has allowed a total of three points this season. Additionally, Bray has started seven total games in his brief career – none of which were outside of the state of Tennessee or against a true road crowd.
Kriss Proctor, Navy (at South Carolina)
Against Delaware, Proctor averaged eight yards per carry on 22 attempts. Against Western Kentucky, he ran 16 times at a 1.4 yards per carry clip. South Carolina will easily be the toughest defense Proctor has faced thus far, but the major weakness of the Cocks’ unit has been the secondary. Proctor has attempted 14 passes all season, so it’s the front seven in Columbia that will play the key role. The upside is very limited, even if Navy keeps it close.
Keith Price, Washington (at Nebraska)
The good news in Seattle is that Steve Sarkisian has clearly found his quarterback. The bad is that Price is facing an angry Huskers team in Memorial Stadium. He did get plenty of experience in garbage time at Oregon last season but has never seen anything like the atmosphere he will be facing this weekend. The upside is extremely limited as even playing well last week, Derek Carr managed 14.6 fantasy points passing last week against Nebraska.
Kolton Browning, UL-Monroe (at TCU)
Until he gets to Sun Belt play, Browning shouldn’t be anywhere near the starting line-up. He is 26-50 for 246 yards and one touchdown in two games thus far. Enough said.
Play with caution:
Nick Foles, Arizona (Stanford)
Against the Cardinal last year, Foles threw for 248 yards, one TD and one INT. It was his lowest yardage total since the 10-9 Cal win back on September 25, 2010. Stanford has held both starting quarterbacks it has faced this fall to less than 200 yards passing and has looked like a national title contender in its two blowout wins.
Corey Robinson, Troy (at Arkansas)
There is a chance that Robinson could throw a few garbage time touchdowns, but Arkansas will dominate this one from the opening kickoff. A similar line to his Clemson performance feels right for Robinson: 258 yards, TD, INT.
Alex Gillett, Eastern Michigan (at Michigan)
The Wolverines defense doesn’t scare anyone, but there is a clear talent differential in this one. After a quality first week (25.2 TFP), Gillett looked terrible against Alabama State, completing only seven of his 19 passes for 61 yards.
Landry Jones at EJ Manuel (Oklahoma at Florida State)
Brock Osweiler at Nathan Scheelhaase (Arizona State at Illinois)
Kirk Cousins at Tommy Rees (Michigan State at Notre Dame)
Jordan Webb at Tevin Washington (Kansas at Georgia Tech)
Barrett Trotter at Tajh Boyd (Auburn at Clemson)
Start These Running Backs:
Isaiah Crowell, Georgia (Coastal Carolina)
Against South Carolina, Crowell had his nationally televised coming out party. He runs with excellent patience and vision and can be used in all facets of the offense. Look for Richt to get him plenty of work against the lowly Chanticleers.
Andre Williams, Boston College (Duke)
Montel Harris has yet to practice and the redshirting rumors are growing louder in Chestnut Hill. That leaves the carries in the very capable arms of Andre the Giant. Duke allowed 205 yards on 30 carries (6.8 yards per carry) and two touchdowns against Stanford last week. Expect Boston College to get back to its roots and pound the football in an effort to win its first game of the season.
Isi Sofele, Cal (Presbyterian)
This Golden Bear hasn’t shown the same talent as the Bests and the Lynchs of past years, but he still has topped 80 yards and 20 carries in both games this fall. He scored twice against Fresno State, and against the Blue Hose, Sofele should be very successful.
Terrance Ganaway, Baylor (Stephen F. Austin)
The starting tailback for Baylor has been champing at the bit to get back onto the field after the 15-day layoff. He rushed 24 times for 120 yards against TCU; expect Art Briles to get him rolling early against the FCS opponent.
Josh Harris, Wake Forest (Gardner-Webb)
Harris has carried the ball 22 and 23 times respectively against Syracuse (66 yards) and NC State (96 yards). The level of competition is far below that of the previous first two weeks, so the sophomore future star could have a big day against the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
DeAnthony Thomas, Oregon (Missouri State)
This one is a no-brainer. Thomas has touched the ball 12 times on the ground for 103 yards with one score and eight times for 140 yards with two scores through the air. The Black Mamba is a dynamic breakaway threat who can score from anywhere on the field, and against Missouri State, he should get plenty of work.
Michael Hayes, Houston (at Louisiana Tech)
Here is the touches breakdown in the crowded Cougars’ pseudo-backfield: Charles Sims has four carries and two receptions, Bryce Beall has 18 carries and one receptions and Hayes has 20 carries and 11 receptions. Clearly, Case Keenum and Kevin Sumlin like Hayes’ game the most. And against La. Tech, there will boatloads of points scored on both sides.
If you are desperate:
Curtis Underwood, NC State (South Alabama)
Marc Tyler, USC (Syracuse)
Christine Michael, Texas A&M (Idaho)
Eddie Lacy, Alabama (North Texas)
Kendrick Hardy, Jamal Woodyard, Southern Miss (Houston)
Bench These Running Backs:
Lance Dunbar, North Texas (at Alabama)
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Bama has the best defense I have seen on any college field thus far. Dunbar will be held completely in check this week. Look elsewhere.
Adonis Thomas, Toledo (Boise State)
This makes two weeks in a row that one of the MAC’s best fantasy plays needs to be on the bench. Boise State has an NFL front line on defense and will be even tougher than Ohio State – who held Thomas to 47 yards on 14 carries.
Chris Polk, Washington (at Nebraska)
There has been a lot of talk about how Nebraksa has struggled on defense this fall. The Huskers couldn’t stop Bobby Rainey in week one of last season, but then turned it on the rest of the way. Robbie Rouse ran for 169 yards against Big Red last week, but he needed 36 carries to get there. There is no doubt that Bo Pelini has lit a fire under his defensive unit, and the Huskers will come out fired up against a team they are extremely familiar with – this is the third meeting in roughly one calendar year for the two.
Tauren Poole, Tennessee (at Florida)
Poole has been on the verge of breaking a big run through two games but has been held in relative check. He has 45 carries for 199 yards and only the one score thus far in 2011. But the Florida Gators front seven will be by far the toughest test he has faced. He managed only 23 yards on 10 carries last season in Knoxville against Florida. Is allowing 1.5 points per game a good thing?
Antwon Bailey, Syracuse (at USC)
Bailey was excellent in Week One and wasn’t asked to do to much (for some reason) against Rhode Island in Week Two. The Trojans defense looks to be dramatically improved from a year ago after holding the very underrated John White IV to 56 yards on 20 carries last week.
Perry Jones, Kevin Parks, Virginia (at North Carolina)
Javonti Greene, Dominique Sherrer, Eastern Michigan (at Michigan)
Jeff Scott, Ole Miss (at Vanderbilt)
Bernard Pierce, Temple (Penn State)
Ray Graham, Pitt (at Iowa)
Wide Receiver To Watch:
Emory Blake, Auburn (at Clemson)
At least 95 yards in each game and a score in both games. Should be high scoring.
Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech (Houston)
Has 13 catches in the first two games and this one should feature lots of points.
Josh Boyce, TCU (UL-Monroe)
At least five catches and 76 yards in each game thus far. Looks like Pachall’s go-to.
Sammy Waktins, Clemson (Auburn)
Getting a lot touches as only a freshman (5 att., 11 rec.) and should be high scoring.
DeVonte Christopher, Utah (at BYU)
One of the Pac-12’s most underrated wideouts. Huge game (11-136-1) last week.
B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State (at Notre Dame)
Sparty’s all-time leading receiver should take advantage of the weak Irish secondary.
Taveon Rogers, New Mexico State (UTEP)
Has scored a touchdown and reached at least 88 yards in each game thus far.
Top Ten DEF/ST Spot Starts:
1. South Florida (FAMU)
2. Oregon (Missouri State)
3. NC State (South Alabama)
4. UCF (at FIU)
5. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
6. Texas A&M (Idaho)
7. Texas Tech (at New Mexico)
8. South Carolina (Navy)
9. Western Kentucky (Indiana State)
10. Arkansas (Troy)
Other Week 3 Content:
Mitch Light's Weekend on Tap: Week's Top Ten Games
This article was originally published in the 2004 Athlon Sports Racing Edition Vol. 2/2004
Realignment… Athlon Style
For the past few years, NASCAR has been adding, subtracting, swapping, cutting and pasting the Cup schedule. It has become clear to die-hard fans that NASCAR has less interest in staying true to its roots than in taking the series to the big markets across the country. While change is natural to any sport’s evolution, many feel that taking dates from the old tracks that have character (North Wilksboro, Darlington, Rockingham) and moving them to the new cookie-cutter tracks (California, Kansas, Chicago, Las Vegas) will make aerodynamics more important than driver skill. If we wanted follow-the-leader, spread-out-style racing, we’d watch the IRL.
We at Athlon believe that a diverse schedule that takes the sport to many areas of the country is important to the continued growth of NASCAR. At the same time, we believe that loyalty goes a long way in the eyes of the fans. The following is how we would put together the 2004 Nextel Cup schedule if we were in charge at the France Palace. We have no hidden agendas or allegiances to anyone — except to true fans. Our purpose is to provide the best, most entertaining schedule for the most avid fans while supporting NASCAR’s plans for future growth. So the SMI/ISC tug-of-war does not play into our schedule, but you better believe Darlington getting its Labor Day date back does.
2/7 Bud Shootout Daytona Int’l Speedway
2/12 Gatorade Twin 125s Daytona Int’l Speedway
2/15 Daytona 500 Daytona Int’l Speedway
2/22 Subway 400 North Carolina Motor Speedway
2/29 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Daytona is where it should be on the schedule, and what better way to follow up the glitz and glamour than with a trip to historic, quaint little ol’ Rockingham. Follow that up with a trip out west to Las Vegas, which will now fall on what was an off weekend. More about that off-weekend later.
3/7 Kentucky 400 Kentucky Speedway
3/14 Checker Auto Parts 500 Phoenix International Raceway
3/21 Golden Corral 500 Atlanta Motor Speedway
3/28 Samsung/Radio Shack 500 Texas Motor Speedway
Here’s where we start having a little fun. The drivers seem to love the new Kentucky Speedway, with most taking a trip or two up there to test each year. Give that track a date and you’ll attract the Louisville/Lexington/Cincinnati crowd. Out to Phoenix and its fun little one-mile oval, then down to Atlanta for the annual March race in the Peach State and on out to Texas, whose date is moved up one weekend.
4/4 Off-Weekend #1
4/10 Food City 500 Bristol Motor Speedway
4/18 Aaron’s 499 Talladega Superspeedway
4/25 Banquet 400 Kansas Speedway
April gets real silly. Let’s give the boys a break on the first weekend of the month. That’s seven points races to start the season followed by an off-weekend. This is a trend that will continue throughout the season. Why run 20 weekends in a row if you can space your off-dates evenly? Follow that up with the first of two Bristol night races. That’s right, run both Bristol dates on a Saturday night. Why? Because Bristol is just better at night. Talladega makes for two awesome weekends in a row on the 18th, followed by the annual bore-fest at Kansas.
5/2 Advance Auto Parts 500 Martinsville Speedway
5/9 Pocono 500 Pocono Raceway
5/16 Colorado 500 Pikes Peak Int’l Raceway
5/22 Nextel All-Star Challenge Lowe’s Motor Speedway
5/30 Coca Cola 600 Lowe’s Motor Speedway
Let’s start May at Martinsville and then head up to Pocono and pray for good weather for its one and only race of the year. Out to Pikes Peak for the inaugural Cup race there. This one mile D-shaped oval puts on a heck of a show when the Busch boys come to town. Plus, you’re hitting a new fan base and, hey, the track’s got character. The All-Star race and the 600 round out the month as usual. And by the way, we think the All-Star race should stay in Charlotte.
6/6 Off-Weekend #2
6/12 Pontiac Performance 400 Richmond International Raceway
6/20 MBNA America 400 Dover International Speedway
6/27 Michigan 400 Michigan International Speedway
Another off-weekend to start June. As with Bristol, we’re going to run both Richmond races at night. Up to Dover, because the weather should permit it by June, and then over to Michigan.
7/3 Auto Club 500 California Speedway
7/11 Tropicana 400 Chicagoland Speedway
7/17 New England 300 New Hampshire Int’l Speedway
7/25 Subway 500 Martinsville Speedway
OK, OK, before you throw a rod, let’s get one thing straight: the Labor Day date needs to be at Darlington. Therefore, we’ll throw California a bone and give them a high-profile Saturday night date on the Fourth of July weekend. We’ll get back to Daytona soon enough, don’t worry. From there, it’s up to Chicago and New Hampshire only, and we mean only, if NHIS puts some lights up. Then we go short track racin’ again at Martinsville, moving their race weekend up from October.
8/1 Off-Weekend #3
8/8 Brickyard 400 Indianapolis Motor Speedway
8/15 Dodge/Save Mart 350 Infineon Raceway
8/22 Ford 400 Homestead-Miami Speedway
8/28 Chevy Monte Carlo 400 Richmond Int’l Speedway
August starts with an off-weekend after seven weeks on the road. Indy’s weekend stays pretty much where it’s always been. No real change there. Then out to Infineon, so we can run our one and only road course. Down to Miami, which is moved up from the last weekend because let’s face it, Miami is the ultimate anticlimax to the season. Then back under the lights at Richmond for some hood stompin’.
9/5 Mountain Dew Southern 500 Darlington Raceway
9/12 Michigan 400 Michigan Int’l Speedway
9/19 Lone Star 500 Texas Motor Speedway
9/25 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 Atlanta Motor Speedway
We’re giving Darlington its Labor Day date back, provided they run it under the lights. I doubt we’ll get too much negative feedback on that. Up to Michigan before it gets too cold. Texas gets its coveted second date which we hope will end the silly feud between NASCAR and Bruton Smith (er, we mean Francis Ferko). Finally, on to Atlanta, where AMS’ weekend gets bumped up from October. While we’re at it, let’s run Atlanta under the lights. The cars look spectacular qualifying at night, so why not turn all 43 of them loose in prime time.
10/3 EA Sports 500 Talladega Superspeedway
10/10 Off-Weekend #4
10/16 Athlon Sports 400 Nashville Superspeedway
10/23 Pop Secret 500 California Speedway
10/30 Sharpie 500 Bristol Motor Speedway
We start our stretch run at Talladega, then give everyone a week off to catch their breath. The Cup boys then visit Nashville Superspeedway for its first-ever Cup race. Even better: it’s under the lights. California gets its second date, which will also be run at night, as will the Sharpie 500 at Bristol.
11/6 UAW-GM Quality 500 Lowe’s Motor Speedway
11/13 Pepsi 400 Daytona International Speedway
11/21 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 Darlington Raceway
The months of October and November are set up to take the Series to some of its most popular events. Imagine a race for the title coming down to the final few weeks where the guys have to slug it out at tracks such as Talladega, Bristol, Lowe’s, Daytona and Darlington. In our world anything is possible, so November shapes up to be truly amazing. Lowe’s is run at night in the teams’ backyard. A Saturday night race down in Daytona, where we’ve taken their July 4th race and placed it in “the stretch run.” And finally the season wraps up at the one track that tests every driver’s mettle — Darlington.
So let’s summarize: We run a bunch of events on Saturday night because night racing rules. It’s as simple as that. Plus, that makes for more prime-time exposure. You’ve still got 36 points events, and the season still encompasses 41 weeks. Some tracks must lose a date, and some must be awarded one. Off-weekends are spread out evenly, and the end of the season brings possibly the most exciting eight-week stretch of racing imaginable. As fans of racing, we feel this is the ultimate format to watch today’s NASCAR bridge a gap between the old and the new. Now if only we could get NASCAR on the phone…
By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)
I had a chance recently to talk college football with former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, who won 169 games in 23 years with the Falcons. The College Football Hall of Famer now spends time with his family in South Carolina and Oklahoma and does great work with his foundation. He also votes in the Legends Poll, which will be released on Sunday. Coach DeBerry discusses the state of collegiate athletics, realignment, current teams and some of the greatest players and places from his outstanding career.
Patrick Snow: There have been several scandals lately, and many at storied places like Miami, USC and Ohio State. What do you make of the current state of college football, and what coaches can do about it?
Fisher DeBerry: It’s very disheartening because that’s not what intercollegiate athletics is all about. The purpose of intercollegiate athletics is to teach life values, and the most important person in the program is the player himself. We’re trying to help them become the people they want to be and have opportunities to find their rightful place in society. I think that’s what the basic foundation of college athletics is all about. Unfortunately, the almighty dollar has crept in the sport and caused a lot of pressure and certainly a lot of unfortunate things to happen. It’s a sad indictment on college football, to be honest with you, but we need to understand that coaches are in the game to help kids. I know the heart and soul of these coaches, and most went into coaching for the same reason I did - to help kids. However, they are certainly not in control of the kids 24/7.
PS: Do you see any validity to players being paid?
FD: First of all, again, it defies the main intent of what college athletics is all about. That intent should be to get an education and have a great experience, and so I think anything more than the scholarship, room and board, tuition and what the NCAA allows is what everybody should do. We have Pell Grants and things like that for kids that really need it, but the unfortunate thing is that some kids don’t use that money the way that’s in their best interest. I don’t think adding more money necessarily is the answer. I think we have to scrutinize more the people who give to the programs and hang around the programs. Kids are kids. They don’t have their hands out, but if somebody walks up to them and wants to help them in an illegal way - and it’s substantial – then it’s very tempting. They’re kids, and I think we have to be very conscious of who is hanging around the program.
PS: Let’s move on the field. The Legends Poll comes out this Sunday, but who are some of your favorites this season to play in the BCS and for the national championship?
FD: Some of the teams I like are Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Florida State, Stanford, Boise State, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. There are a lot of teams right below them that will make a lot of noise and can have a major impact on what it will look like at the end of the season, but that’s my ten to start out. Oklahoma has a great quarterback and outstanding receivers, particularly [Ryan] Broyles. They offensive line has experience, but they had a tragic loss at linebacker and some injuries there as well. They have Florida State this weekend, so that will be a big game for both teams. Oklahoma probably has the most depth. Alabama has a great running back but may have a question at quarterback. They certainly have great athletes throughout the program.
PS: Who do you think could challenge Alabama and LSU in the SEC?
FD: I think South Carolina. They have some big-time players and just need the quarterback to be more consistent. They have a running back as good as anyone in the country and a receiver as there is in the country. Their thing is to improve defensively, and they have some really good edge players. It’s the first time in four or five years that they have the same offensive line coach for two years in a row. The quarterback has experience, and there’s no substitute for playing experience. And you know Arkansas, if their quarterback steps up, they can surprise a lot of people. They have some doggone good wide receivers, and their defense is getting better.
PS: You really like Nebraska and Wisconsin. Are they the most likely pair to play in the first Big Ten Championship Game?
FD: Yes, but I don’t think you can rule out Penn State or Michigan State, and Ohio State is Ohio State. They still have some great players and they still have great tradition. Adversity can bond a team and bring the best out in them, and we’ll just have to see how they handle losing a star quarterback and a great coach.
PS: We now have Nebraska in the Big Ten and Colorado and Utah in the Pac-12, and the Texas A&M to the SEC story has dominated the headlines. What do you make of the current expansion, especially if leagues go past the current 12-team threshold towards 16-team “Superconferences”? Is this a bad direction for college football?
FD: Having gone down that road, I think it is. Twelve is the best number, and the reason I say that is in the Western Athletic Conference we went to 16 teams. At the first conference meeting we had an agenda that we thought would take three hours, and after three hours we had only covered two items. We had to come back and have an extra meeting the next day, something a lot of coaches did not like. What happens when you get 16bteams is that you’re not going to be able to satisfy everybody. It’s so important that everybody is behind the conference and believes in everything going on within the conference, and they want to promote it. With too many [teams], teams begin to look out for themselves more than they do the overall betterment of the conference itself. It seems to be a very workable number to have 12, but money is going to dictate these decisions. You’re looking for TV markets and bringing revenue in.
PS: Let’s talk about some of the superlatives from your outstanding career. Who would you consider your best player on the college level?
FD: The best player we had at the Academy overall was Chad Hennings [also a College Football Hall of Famer], and he went on to have nine years in the NFL after fulfilling his military obligation. He got three Super Bowl rings. He really grew in the program and had great God-given skills. He had so much pride and wanted to be great, and he went on to win the Outland Trophy his senior year. Chad was just a great role model for college football and the Academy. We also had a great quarterback in Dee Dowis, who ran the triple option probably as well as anyone has ever run it. For a number of years, he held the NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback. And Beau Morgan was a great player for us as well. He was the first quarterback in successive years to rush and pass for over 1,000 yards in the same season.
PS: Who would you say was the best player you faced, the guy that gave you and your staff the most headaches?
FD: Oh my. In 23 years at the Academy, there were so many. I held my breath every time Rocket Ismail got his hands on the ball for Notre Dame. Also Allen Pickett, the great running back, and certainly Tim Brown [both of Notre Dame]. I always wondered where he was on the field. Those were great players. Robert Smith of Ohio State was one that every time he touched it you held your breath, but we were fortunate to beat them in the Liberty Bowl. Marshall Faulk too; we were fortunate to beat them two of the three years he was at San Diego State. He was one of the great ones. LaDainian Tomlinson of TCU has his coming out party when they beat us 35-34, and it was the only game we lost that year .
PS: What were some of the best environments where you coached and that represent what college football should be?
FD: I always enjoyed playing at Notre Dame, especially before the expansion of the stadium. The fans were right on top of you there, but they really appreciated good football. Tennessee was a fun place to go and play. They had 106,000 people or so, and they must have played “Rocky Top” 200 times. BYU was a tough place to play, especially when you got behind and their crowd really got into it. Another great place to play is Army because their kids really get into the game.
PS: What is the moment that still hurts the most from your career? Maybe one where you still look back and wish that you could redo it.
FD: In 1985, Penn State and Air Force were the only two undefeated teams in that last game of the season. Penn State played Pittsburgh and won and had we beaten BYU, it was very likely we would have played them [Penn State]. BYU intercepted a pass in the end zone and beat us 28-21 that day. That was really tough. Also, we played Northwestern in 1994. We had a pretty good football team but had lost to Colorado State and BYU in the first two games. Northwestern came in, and we dominated the game all day long but fumbled right before the half and that would have put us up. Late in the game it was 10-7, and we fumbled the ball on the same play as the end of the first half. They picked it up and ran 98 yards, and we lose 14-10. However, that team did come back and win eight of the next nine games, and I was really proud of them. One more was the one-point loss we had at Tennessee in 2006. I went for two at the end and got beat 31-30. If I had it to do over again, I told Chad Hall who’s now with the Eagles when I was driving through Knoxville last summer that I would run the same play again.
PS: What are some favorite rivalries in college football, whether you were part of them or just enjoy watching?
FD: Alabama-Auburn is obviously a special game. Certainly our [Air Force] games with Army and Navy were very, very special. Living now in Oklahoma part of the time, that is certainly a special game between Oklahoma and Texas. Your USC-UCLA games, Oregon-Oregon State games, South Carolina-Clemson games; it’s those instate rivalries that really excite you about college football.
PS: Who are some of the coaches who you admire and respect the most?
FD: I have great respect for Bobby Bowden. Bobby and I have been good friends. When I was named the head coach at Air Force, I picked up the phone and called Bobby to find out what I was supposed to do. Bobby was so gracious, and we remain good friends. Certainly I have a great respect for Grant Teaff and his coaching, and he was always a great mentor. I think Bob Stoops sets a great standard and is a great role model for all coaches across the country. We have so many great coaches in the game today, and sometimes we need to recognize more the great things they do on and off the field. Coaches care about the communities that they live in and work in, and they care about the people in their state and those who support their program. Coaches are my heroes because I know and respect so much the heart of a coach.
Michigan fans have to be elated with new coach Brady Hoke after the Wolverines’ stunning finish against Notre Dame. The Big House was rather quiet at the end of three quarters, but then a first-ever, late night party ensued as Denard Robinson led UM back to an improbable, last-second win over the Irish. But how far can Michigan go? The Wolverines tied for seventh in the Big Ten a year ago, and that was after finishing tied for last in 2009. They had one of college football’s worst defenses last year, and Hoke’s crew still needs more from their running backs. In the Legends Division this season, no one saw Michigan competing with Nebraska or Michigan State to go to the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. We’ll find out more about the Spartans on Saturday, while Nebraska’s defense looked shaky against Fresno State and Iowa’s was horrible in its loss to Iowa State.
Is Michigan a legitimate threat to win the Legends Division?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Michigan is off to a great start, but it’s a bit premature to call the Wolverines a legitimate threat to win the Legends Division. Brady Hoke’s club features one of the most exciting players in the game in quarterback Denard Robinson, but the overall level of talent — especially on defense — isn’t up to Michigan standards. Greg Mattison was an outstanding hire as the new defensive coordinator, but he can only do so much. Last year, Michigan ranked 110th in the nation in total defense, and the ’11 unit is off to a shaky start after getting torched for 513 yards in the win over Notre Dame. I am convinced that Hoke will win big at Michigan — but it will take some time. This season, a realistic expectation is eight wins overall and a breakeven mark in the Big Ten.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I don’t think Michigan will win the Legends Division, but the Wolverines have to at least be in the conversation. When we made our preseason picks, Michigan was the most difficult team to figure out in this division. With a new coach and a change in offensive schemes, it was uncertain how quickly the Wolverines could emerge as Big Ten contenders. Through two games, the defense has shown some improvement, while the offense is still trying to find his rhythm under new coordinator Al Borges. The Legends Division favorite has to be Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers have not looked dominant through two weeks. The Wolverines have a difficult schedule ahead, with road trips to Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa, with Nebraska and Ohio State visiting Ann Arbor in late November. The Wolverines have a chance if the Cornhuskers slip, but I think it’s more likely Michigan will finish second or third in the Legends Division.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Absolutely not. While Michigan has improved and Brady Hoke has won the locker room, the Maize and Blue will not be playing in Indianapolis in December. You win the Big Ten in the trenches and the Wolverines will eventually be strong at the point of attack. But Michigan State and Nebraska have superior talent along the line of scrimmage, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. And Iowa will be a lot better on November 5 than they were in Ames last weekend. A trip to Illinois precedes Nebraska and Ohio State on the schedule. While Michigan could start 6-0, I would be shocked to see it win more than three of its final six games.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Michigan could win the Legends Division in Brady Hoke’s first year. Nebraska should still be the favorite, but the Huskers’ defense needs to play up to its potential and Taylor Martinez must stay healthy. We do not know enough about Michigan State right now to see how an inexperienced offensive line will perform in league play, and the Wolverines can definitely beat Iowa and Northwestern. Michigan is still adjusting to a new offense and defense, but it helps to have one of the game’s most dynamic playmakers in Denard Robinson while that is taking place. Hoke’s team should improve greatly over the next three weeks against Eastern Michigan, San Diego State and Minnesota. Michigan can win in Lansing but then comes a tough November. While UM does avoid Wisconsin and Penn State in the Leaders Division, the trip to Illinois will not be easy after going to Iowa the week prior. Obviously the last two games of the season will be very tough – Nebraska and Ohio State in the Big House – but the team should be playing Hoke’s style effectively by that time. I’m not saying Michigan is the favorite, but the Wolverines do pose a legitimate threat to win the division.
by Mark Ross
When the NFL announced in March that kickoffs would be moved from the 30-yard-line to the 35-yard-line, it was not well received. Everyone from players, coaches and team executives to analysts and fans voiced their displeasure at a decision the league said was made to address player safety concerns. The general consensus among the dissenters was this — moving the kickoff five yards would result in basically eliminating any sort of return.
So now that Week 1 of the new NFL season is in the books, did the new kickoff rule have that much of an impact on the games? Yes, but not necessarily in the manner that so many predicted.
Moving kickoffs to the 35-yard-line definitely resulted in more touchbacks, substantially more in fact. In 2010, only 24 of 137 kickoffs (18 percent) in Week 1 went for touchbacks, according to STATS LLC. This season that number grew to roughly half as 79 of 162 (49 percent) kickoffs went for touchbacks. However, what must not be missed is what happened when one of them was returned.
Three kickoffs were returned for touchdowns, which ties the record for most in NFL history in an opening week. The record was initially set in 1970 and then tied in 1998. Last season only one kickoff was returned for a touchdown in Week 1. And if anything, moving the kickoff back five yards actually produced more exciting kickoff returns, highlighted by Green Bay Packers rookie Randall Cobb's record-tying 108-yard kickoff return in the Thursday night game against the New Orleans Saints that marked the start of the 2011 NFL season.
Besides Cobb, the other two kickoff returns each were more than 100 yards as well as the Minnesota Vikings' Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff against the San Diego Chargers 103 yards for the score and the San Francisco 49ers' Ted Ginn Jr. returned one 102 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in the 4th quarter of that game.
And Ginn didn't stop there. Following the kickoff return and a three-and-out by the Seahawks, Ginn returned the subsequent punt 55 yards for a touchdown to put the game out of reach. With that return, Ginn became the first player to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same game in the opening week of an NFL season.
Ginn's punt return for a touchdown was one of five that happened during Week 1 action. The Saints' Darren Sproles got the first one of the 2011 season on Thursday night against the Packers, followed by Jacoby Jones of the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals rookie Patrick Peterson in their games on Sunday. The fifth and final one came courtesy of Eric Decker, who returned one 90 yards for his Denver Broncos against the Oakland Raiders on Monday night. That game also had the Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski tying the NFL record for longest field goal made when he booted one from 63 yards out to end the first half.
In total, the eight combined kick-return touchdowns (five punt, three kickoff) set a record for the most combined kick-return touchdowns in a single week in NFL history. So using Week 1 as a gauge, it appears that while the new kickoff rule may have significantly reduced the number of kickoff returns in a game, it also created the potential for more exciting plays in the process because of the increased distance (not to mention degree of difficulty) on those that are returned from deep in the endzone.
Besides the impact on the return game, the increased number of touchbacks from the new kickoff rule also meant teams were starting the vast majority of their drives from their own 20-yard-line. Whether or not the two are directly related, this much is clear — the first week of game action using the new kickoff rule featured plenty of prolific offense. Among the other records either set or tied in Week 1, according to the NFL:
- The 752 points scored tied for the ninth-most in a single week in NFL history and were the second-most ever scored in Week 1.
- There were 89 touchdowns scored, tied for the sixth-most in a single week in NFL history and tied for the most ever in Week 1 (2002).
- Teams combined to throw for 7,842 net passing yards, the highest total in any week in NFL history.
- There were five games in which each team had a player throw for at least 300 yards, the most such games in a week in NFL history.
- Fourteen quarterbacks threw for at least 300 yards, the most in a single week in NFL history.
And far as the NFL's concerns about player safety go, the new kickoff rules did produce substantially more touchbacks, which resulted in fewer returns and thereby reduced the number of chances players could get hurt during a return. To be fair, players still got hurt during kickoffs in Week 1, most notably Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff that Harvin returned for a touchdown. But let's be realistic here. This is football we're talking about. It's a physical, contact-oriented, high-impact sport. To quote what one former college football coach once memorably said, "It ain't intramurals brother!"
It's still (really) early, but on first glance, it appears that moving the kickoff results in more exciting returns and the potential for even more offensive fireworks. If that's the case, while the players, coaches and team executives may not still not be crazy about the new rule, and I'm sure you'll still hear a fair number of analysts put their two cents in; I don't think you'll hear the fans complain. And in the end, that's music to the NFL's ears.
With the very unexpected news breaking this week that Sarah Palin and ex-Michigan Wolverine and NBA star Glen Rice had a one-night stand back in the 80s (seriously, did anyone see this one coming?), we thought we'd provide this very informative and helpful flowchart to break down and analyze the various ways in which you could bed Sarah Palin.
Don't you feel like you are much more prepared if you ever come across the Republican presidential candidate (yes, she will be some day) who's known for family values event hough her daughter has two kids out of wedlock and Sarah herself has had one-night stands?
With Peyton Manning missing his first game in decades with a neck injury, we wanted to take a look back at the beginning of his career. This article originally appeared in Athlon's 1995 college football annual.
Archie's boy became a big Manning quickly at Tennessee
by David Climer, The Tennessean
Peyton Manning, resplendent in an orange jersey but still unmistakably green around the edges, jogged toward the huddle on that September evening, mindful of his father's advice.
"Even though you're a freshman," dear old dad told him a couple of days earlier, "take charge of the huddle."
Manning leaned in to complete the 11-man oval, his spotless uniform contrasting against the blood and sweat and smell of the others. It wasn't yet halftime, but Tennessee was already beaten and it showed. Florida was quick-kicking the Vols all over the Neyland Stadium field, and emotions were strained.
Attempting to rally the troops, Manning offered encouraging words to his older, wiser teammates. But the impromptu pep talk didn't get far.
"Shut the bleep up and call the bleeping play," said offensive tackle Jason Layman, three years Manning's senior and infinitely wiser in the ways of the college football world.
Welcome to the Southeastern Conference.
OK, a little journalistic license may have been taken with Layman's comment, but it underscores what Manning discovered in that galvanizing moment. Perhaps it was a coming-of-age for an 18-year-old. In September, it was becoming abundantly clear that the new kid in town would soon become the big man on a campus that adores its football team.
It was a daunting situation. Freshman quarterbacks, even those with such exemplary pedigrees, are not supposed to make the quantum leap from high school skirmishes to major college warfare without suffering inevitable breakdowns in confidence and performance.
"Nobody understands what a huge jump it is," says Heath Shuler, Tennessee's starting quarterback the previous two seasons and now a rising star with the Washington Redskins. "I hear people talk about what a difference it is going from the college game to the NFL, but I really believe it's a bigger jump from high school to college. For a freshman to come into a program like the one at Tennessee and handle everything that goes with being a quarterback in the SEC is unbelievable."
Peyton Manning appreciates the kind words, Heath, but he's been dealing with great expectations as far back as he can remember. He is, after all, Archie Manning's son.
"I'm sure it's been tough on him in some ways because people expect so much of him," says Archie Manning, ever the proud father and source of advice on deportment in the huddle. "But we've always taught him that all he could do was go out there and give it his best shot. He's very ambitious. He's always worked hard and he was a delight to raise. You know, it doesn't matter to me if he's a good football player or not. That's just the way it is with a father and his kids."
Wholesome? Corny? Maybe. But in an era of generation gaps and failures to communicate, it is wonderfully refreshing to stand between the Manning quarterbacks - one past, one present - and soak up all these family values. It's almost as if you've been transported to the set of one of those old TV shows where sons actually listen to the advice of their fathers. It's as if Rocky Top has given way to Walton Mountain.
"I feel really fortunate to have grown up in the environment that I have and to have the opportunities that I've experienced," Peyton says. "One thing I've learned, no matter what happens, is to keep a good, level head. My father's like that."
Maybe that's why Peyton has eased into his role as if it were a comfortable pair of jeans. His first-year credentials are impeccable (Freshman All-America and SEC Freshman of the Year) and his off-field performance is just as flawless. Manning is a media favorite because of his willingness to conduct interviews and offer honest views, and his teammates have embraced him because of a blue-collar work ethic that shows in everything from his increased strength in the weight room ("I gained almost 20 pounds of muscle since I got to campus, and I've got a stronger arm now," he says) to his clutch performance in games.
Manning is a serious young man, but he can still laugh at himself. He smiles while telling the story of a case of mistaken identity that transpired last winter, when, during a visit to a Knoxville hospital, a nurse walked up and began talking as if she knew him. The more she talked, the clearer it became to Manning that the nurse thought he was somebody else.
"She was telling me all these things like, 'I saw your mother earlier today and she was about to go visit so-and-so,' and I could tell she had me confused with somebody," Manning recalls. "I waited until she stopped, and then I said 'Ma'am, I don't believe I'm who you think I am. I'm Peyton Manning.'"
The nurse gasped and scurried away.
This is the exception rather than the rule. Tall and athletic, with just the slightest wobble in his walk and a distinctive boyish face, Manning is the most recognizable figure in Knoxville.
Manning navigates the concrete and grass of the Tennessee campus with a pleasant smile. It's the same way he acted at Isidore Newman, a small, private school in New Orleans, and he didn't think it necessary to alter his lifestyle when he arrived on a campus of more than 25,000 students.
He has grown accustomed to the attention. He's a bit embarrassed by it from time to time, but he recognizes that it comes with the turf.
"Around here," Manning says, "Tennessee football is big, whether you're the starting quarterback or a walk-on who has never played before. People are interested in you. They're always looking at you, speaking to you, asking for autographs or just wanting to shake your hand. I get invited to speak to groups, and if people think what I have to say is that important and that interesting, shoot, I'm going to do it. When I was growing up, I had my heroes too."
It is here you that you begin to gain some real insight into Peyton Manning and the world he comes from. If ever a child was born to be a star quarterback, it is he.
Asked to name his heroes, Manning's face quickly twists into a grin. "I didn't have to go very far to talk to my favorite hero. He lived in the same house. Anytime I needed to talk to him about anything, he was there," Manning says.
He didn't mention his father, an All-America quarterback at the University of Mississippi and former New Orleans Saint, by name, but he didn't have to. Some things go without saying.
The rapport has been built through the years. Young Manning was a regular visitor to Saints practices during his father's career. He even made two Pro Bowl trips with his dad, meeting such quarterbacks as Roger Staubach and Dan Fouts, whom he mentions as personal heroes slightly behind his father.
But Peyton kept his distance. He was very much his father's son.
"I never asked for autographs," the younger Manning says. "I thought shaking somebody's hand and telling them my name and 'nice to meet you' was good enough. I guess I just saw my dad signing so many autographs that it left an impression on me. A lot of times he and I would be walking somewhere, and he'd stop to sign autographs for people and I kind of wanted to keep on going."
There is an irony to it. The kid who didn't collect autographs now finds himself with writer's cramp after every home football game.
"I understand autographs; it's a big thing now," Manning says. "I just accept it as part of the job at Tennessee. People get real excited, and I'm happy to sign for anybody that wants my autograph. After the Mississippi State game, even though we lost, I saw the way people reacted when I came out of the locker room and walked to the bus. I said 'Uh-oh. Something's about to get started here. This is no small deal.'"
Indeed, it was no small deal. It was in that game, a loss in Starkville, Miss., that Todd Helton suffered a knee injury, joining senior Jerry Colquitt on the sideline. Suddenly, Tennessee's two apprentices, Manning and fellow freshman Branndon Stewart, were the Vols' only healthy scholarship quarterbacks. The game had changed.
Exactly four weeks ago after his college debut, an uneventful three-play cameo appearance against UCLA in Pasadena, Calif., and two weeks after the huddle faux pas against Florida, Manning, due to make his first start, found himself the center of attention as the team walked from Gibbs (athletic residence) Hall to Neyland Stadium to meet Washington State.
"When we made that walk from the dorm to the field with all those people around, it hits you how big it all is," Manning says. "I could tell how much it matters to everybody. You realize how fast things are changing. Before the first game against UCLA, I told my friends back home, 'Look for me on the sideline. I'll stand by the coach so I can get some camera time.' The next thing I know, Jerry gets hurt, and I say to myself, 'I'm in for a different type of year here.'
"My dad did the best he could to prepare me for the job. The quarterback job is the hardest one on the field. You can go from the top of the cloud to the lowest place on earth in a flash. He taught me to have a level head about it."
The rewards are evident. Manning completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,141 yards and 11 touchdowns. More importantly, he was 7-1 as Tennessee's starting quarterback, which he calls "the best stat to come out of the whole season."
There are a few regrets, not the least of which centers on the departure of Stewart, who packed up in January and transferred to Texas A&M. But, really, the town wasn't big enough for two young-gun quarterbacks.
"Branndon and I could've been real good friends," Peyton says, "but it was something that we both understood. As long as we were competing, there was no way for us to get real close. I thought I was the better quarterback and Branndon thought he was better. There was constant competition.
"From a football standpoint, it's worked out better for me. It means I'm Tennessee's quarterback. I'm going to be taking the snaps. But as far as the friendship part and losing a teammate from my recruiting class, I miss him. It's different without him around."
And then there is the unpleasant matter of last season's Tennessee-Alabama game. There was one pass play in that contest that Manning would like to have back.
The Crimson Tide led 17-13 when, on a last-minute, fourth-and-three play from the Alabama 7, Manning turned to his left and threw low and outside toward Nilo Silvan. On the other side of the field, running back James Stewart was all but ignored by the Crimson Tide defense.
Manning calls the misfire against Alabama "the low point of the season." He says if he had put the pass on target or turned to the other side and found Stewart "then we might have won that game and ended the 10-year drought of not beating them."
But in the aftermath of the Alabama disappointment, Vol players and fans discovered something about Manning. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, Manning stepped into a hostile environment and completed 18 of 23 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns while leading the Vols to victory at South Carolina.
"You just have to keep learning and keep growing," Manning says.
It is with this attitude he took virtually everything in stride as a freshman. Even when Manning was booed by some Neyland Stadium fans during the lackluster victory over the University of Memphis, he kept on plugging, calling upon his background as the son of a quarterback to help him get through the tough times.
"That's just part of it," he said of the brief booing, which occurred at the height of the Great Freshman Quarterback Debate among Tennessee fans. "I was kind of surprised. I wasn't really aware that there was that much booing in college football. I'd been around the Saints a lot, and in pro football you kind of expect it. But I guess it comes with being a quarterback."
Watching Manning direct the offense at the end of last season and in spring practice, it's hard to believe he is entering his sophomore season and is still a neophyte among college quarterbacks. His cool, efficient style would seem to indicate an older, wiser, more experienced player.
"He's in total control," says Bubba Miller, who anchors the offensive line at center. "Even though he is just a sophomore, he proved to all of us what he could do last year. We have absolute faith in him."
Last year, Manning was the pupil. This year he's the teacher.
"I came in and had so much to learn," he says. "I was lucky to have guys like Jerry and Todd to watch and learn from. I can't tell you how many times I would have a question and instead of going to one of the coaches, I'd just ask one of the older quarterbacks. They really helped me because they had gone through everything and remembered how things looked to them when they first got here. That's why I always try to help out the new quarterbacks. I figured that's part of the responsibility of being a starter."
This hand-me-down approach was a key element in the Vols' spring practice routine. With newcomers Jeremy Bates and Shawn Snyder struggling to learn the nuances of the offense, Manning often intervened with words of advice.
"Peyton has been wonderful," says Snyder, a walk-on from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., who enrolled at Tennessee in January to participate in spring practice and learn the Vols' complicated passing offense. "He's done everything that he can to help us get ready. There isn't enough to say about what he's done to help us both out. He's been a good teacher."
That's all well and good, but the real challenge is on 11 Saturdays this season, when Manning faces up to the expectations of the Big Orange legion. He is no longer a freshman, nor is there any debate about who should be taking the snaps.
"I'll be a lot more comfortable and there'll be a lot more in the offense," Manning says. "They didn't want to overload me last year, but I think I'll be comfortable with the whole package this year. It's amazing what a year can do. I'm much calmer now.
"Now I can get in the huddle and say, "All right, listen up. Let's go make the play.' I couldn't do that in the first few games last year. I've tried to earn the respect of the older guys."
He has. These days, Peyton Manning does more than just call the bleeping play.
Why is the death of Brian Urlacher's mother in the news? Why is it that everywhere I turn, sports pundits on TV and radio feel the need to weigh in on their thoughts on whether Urlacher should or should not play this weekend against the Saints?
The death of Brian's mom should be something that Brian deals with privately. There was a time when media outlets wouldn't dream about discussing this on the air. Now, radio hosts feel as it is their right to give their opinions on how Brian Urlacher should deal with his tragedy. Well, it's not.
Is anything private anymore?
In a perfect world, this is a 20-second news piece about the tragedy and then it should be left alone. How do you think Brian feels hearing his mother's death bandied about across the AM dial like any other news topic? I'm sure he's not too happy about it.
Is it a slow news week? Isn't there a brand new NFL season to discuss? Aren't the baseball playoffs right around the corner? Shouldn't there be other things to talk about?
But this is the problem with the 24-hour news cycle. Everything needs to be discussed to the point of oblivion. If you listen to half the pundits, they will talk about this for 15 minutes, only to end their piece with the standard "But Urlacher should do anything he wants." Like that makes it OK.
As if the gross dissecting of the pros and cons of whether or not he should play while he's grieving the death of his mother can all be wiped away with a platitude before going off to commercial.
As if saying "we all feel for Brian at this time" makes up for the fact that you just spent 10 minutes talking openly about how whether the death of his mother should trump football right now.
If everyone really cared about the way Brian felt right now, maybe you shouldn't keep bringing up the death of his mother on national TV and radio. Because you're only making his time worse right now. Much, much worse.
The Bears season, while important to many, is not more important than family and family tragedy. If we had a little more decency, we would have some perspective about what we choose to discuss and not discuss.
Brian Urlacher, or any player in the national football league, national hockey league, major league baseball--any player anywhere--should be able to deal with matters like this privately, without analysis and discussion for however long he or she needs to.
Football players and athletes everywhere give us so much. Let's give them a little bit back and show a little class and dignity when they need something from us.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
With conference realignment back in the news, college football fans are looking for someone to blame for all of this mess. Is it Texas? Texas A&M? The SEC? The Big 12? Oklahoma? Dan Beebe? Mike Slive? While it’s easy to point fingers at a villain in this time of uncertainty, it’s always interesting to look back and wonder what if.
What if Notre Dame had joined the Big Ten in 1999? Would the Big Ten still have courted Nebraska, leaving the Big 12 in a much more stable position? Would we be talking about superconferences right now? Our guess is no.
This isn’t as far-fetched as some may believe. The Big Ten approached Notre Dame in 1999 about becoming the 12th member, but the school's board of trustees voted to remain Independent.
The desire of Notre Dame to remain Independent likely spurred a domino effect across all conferences and many teams. One look at the standings from 1999 reveals college football has changed quite a bit.
Although some conferences have watched several teams come and go over the last 50 years, the Big Ten has been a picture of stability. Before Nebraska joined in 2011, Penn State was the last school to accept an invitation to the conference, joining the Big Ten as a football member in 1993.
Had Notre Dame joined the conference in 1999 or with any of the previous overtures, the Big Ten would have become the third BCS conference with 12 teams and a conference title game.
Here is Athlon’s best guess at how the college football landscape would look like today, had the Irish ditched Independence and joined the Big Ten in 1999.
Impact on the Big Ten
Nebraska became the Big Ten’s 12th member last season, but it’s unlikely that move would have occurred with the Irish in the conference.
Replace Nebraska with Notre Dame in the Legends Division and it’s probably a good idea of how the Big Ten could have looked in 1999.
As a side note, maybe the conference would have created better division names back then.
Impact on the Big 12
Thanks to overall instability and Texas A&M leaving for the SEC, the Big 12 is the conference generating the most national attention right now. Commissioner Dan Beebe is going to need to pull out a lot of stops to save his conference and keep Oklahoma and Texas happy.
Had the Big Ten already had 12 teams, it seems unlikely Nebraska would have left the Big 12 after the 2010 season. The Big Ten could certainly explore adding the Cornhuskers as part of a package to get to 14, but there’s no guarantee.
The issues that popped up last year in the Big 12 with unequal revenue sharing and the Longhorn Network would still likely face the conference. Even though the Cornhuskers may not want to stick around, where could they really turn?
Let’s also consider Colorado. The Buffaloes were an easy target for Pac-10 expansion and it’s very likely they would have left the Big 12 for a spot out west.
With the Big 12 looking to only fill one spot and Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M sticking together in this scenario, BYU would have been a very attractive candidate to fill Colorado’s spot.
Here’s what the Big 12 might’ve looked in 1999 under this scenario:
Impact on the Pac-10 in 1999
With Notre Dame in the Big Ten and Nebraska stuck in the Big 12, the Pac-10 simply invites Colorado and Utah to get to 12 teams.
Overall, the Pac-12 that could have been created in 1999 isn't much different than the current version.
Impact on the ACC
The ACC became a 12-team conference in 2005, as Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College joined from the Big East.
However, if Notre Dame had joined the Big Ten in 1999, it’s fair to say the ACC may have considered expansion a few years earlier.
Syracuse generated a lot of interest when the ACC wanted to make the jump to 12 teams and who knows, maybe the Orange would have gotten a bid over Virginia Tech or Boston College.
We’ll stick with the current ACC alignment for how things could look had Notre Dame joined the Big Ten in 1999 –
Impact on the Big East
The hardest conference to pinpoint in this scenario is the Big East. The conference has studied adding more teams, but is currently at nine with the addition of TCU in 2012.
Projecting what could have happened in 1999 is an even bigger question mark. The conference was composed of (after ACC expansion) Syracuse, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Temple and Rutgers.
It’s a safe bet the Big East would have added Louisville and Cincinnati from Conference USA once again. However, the race would be on to match the other conferences and get to 12 teams, which means the Big East would still have some work to do.
Connecticut was a FCS team until 2000, but the Huskies likely would have been invited once again with Louisville and Cincinnati.
Temple was removed from the Big East in 2004, but may have stayed if the conference wanted to get to 12 teams in 1999.
So where does that leave the Big East? Considering all of the BCS conferences would be moving to 12 teams, we’ll say the conference invites TCU, UCF, East Carolina and Houston to get to 12.
SMU, Southern Miss, Memphis, Villanova and Marshall may also have generated some interest.
Here’s how a 12-team Big East may have looked with expansion in 1999 or in the early 2000s –
Division 1 (North)
Division 2 (South)
Impact on the SEC
Likely none. Texas A&M may have still wanted out of the Big 12 – even with more stability – but it’s likely there would have been no changes in the SEC.
Impact on College Football
Let’s say Notre Dame did join the Big Ten in 1999 and the rest of the BCS conferences all quickly moved to assemble 12-team leagues to keep up. With championship games in all six of the BCS conferences from 2000 to 2010, could the national title matchups differed?
Ohio State has represented the Big Ten in the national title in 2002, 2006 and 2007. What if the Buckeyes were upset in the Big Ten championship game?
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint how the regular season may have differed, it’s certainly a possibility the matchups in the national title may have changed.
Notre Dame has continued to maintain their desire to remain an Independent, even as college football seemingly moves toward super conferences. If 16-team leagues are really around the corner, expect Notre Dame to eventually join the Big Ten.
If Notre Dame had joined the Big Ten in 1999, could college football be closer to super conferences today? Perhaps that’s the case, especially if Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska weren’t happy with the Big 12. Maybe Nebraska still joins the Big Ten in 2011, but Pittsburgh, Syracuse or Missouri follows as the 14th member.
Although 14 or 16-team conferences would remain a possibility even with Notre Dame joining the Big Ten, I think it’s a safe to say there would be less uncertainty and more stability across college football. And we would be hearing more about the play on the field, rather than the potential break up of the Big 12 and the creation of super conferences.
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Here are previews and predictions for the 10 best college football games this weekend.
Oklahoma (-3.5) at Florida State
There’s a school of thought — which we at Athlon Sports subscribe to — that the winner of this early season non-conference clash will end up playing Alabama in the national championship game. Both teams have looked sharp in the early going, but it must be noted that Florida State has played arguably the softest schedule of any top-25 team, beating Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern by a combined score of 96–10. The key for Florida State will be its ability to move the all on the ground on an OU defense that was mediocre against the run last year and showed some vulnerability in its season-opening win against Tulsa. Oklahoma has tremendous weapons on offense, and has the ability to be dominant through the air and on the ground. This should be a classic.
Florida State 31, Oklahoma 27
LSU (-3) at Mississippi State (Thu)
A bit of the shine was removed from this Thursday night showdown with Mississippi State’s loss at Auburn, but it’s still a huge game in the SEC West. The Bulldogs can’t afford an 0–2 start in league play if they plan on being a factor in the division race. LSU took care of business on Saturday against FCS foe Northwestern State, cruising to a 49–3 win its home-opener. Expect the Tigers to lean heavily on their running game, especially after Auburn gashed Mississippi State for 235 yards on 36 carries Saturday afternoon.
LSU 24, Mississippi State 17
Tennessee (+9.5) at Florida
You can make a strong case that Tennessee boasts the nation’s best quarterback/two-receiver combo, with Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers — all sophomores. Through two games, Bray has completed 78.5 percent of his passes for 698 yards with seven touchdowns and no INTs. Hunter and Rogers have combined for 502 yards and five touchdowns on 31 receptions. Florida has been dominant in wins over FAU (41–3) and UAB (39–0), but the new-look offense is about to face a different caliber of athletes this week. Tennessee has some issues on the front seven — mainly a lack of depth — but the Vols’ secondary is solid. We’ll know far more about the Will Muschamp/Charlie Weis era at Florida by Saturday evening.
Florida 34, Tennessee 24
Arizona State (+1.5) at Illinois
This has the chance to be one of the best games of the day, and it features two of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks — Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler and Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase. Arizona State is fresh off of an emotional, nationally televised overtime win over Missouri on Friday night. Now, the Sun Devils have another opportunity to make a statement, this time against a team that could surprise in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Illinois is very solid at the quarterback position and features a veteran offensive line that will open plenty of holes for senior tailback Jason Ford. This game won’t impact either team’s chances in their respective leagues, but it will go a long way in determining their postseason destinations.
Illinois 21, Arizona State 14
Ohio State (+2.5) at Miami (Fla.)
Expect a lot of the focus to be on each school’s respective off-the-field issues with the NCAA — and rightfully so. Ohio State is playing with an interim head coach (Luke Fickell) and a lineup that is lacking some of its best playmakers due to suspension. We are still in the early stages of the mess at Miami, but the Canes do have one thing working in their favor — the return of starting quarterback Jacory Harris (though some UM fans might argue that is not such a good thing). Harris was picked off four times in last season’s 36–24 loss to Ohio State in Columbus. He is capable of being a brilliant playmaker — but he’s also capable of making some very bad decisions. He will have to be at his best for the Canes to win.
Ohio State 20, Miami 17
Michigan State (+4.5) at Notre Dame
Notre Dame is 0–2 despite rolling up over 500 yards of offense in each of its first two games. The Irish have yet to win due to their inability to protect the ball (10 turnovers in two games) and because their defense allowed Michigan to march 58 yards and 80 yards for touchdowns in the final 2:16 of Saturday night’s epic game in Ann Arbor. Michigan State is coming off an astoundingly lopsided 44–0 win over a very bad Florida Atlantic team. The Spartans allowed only 48 yards of total offense and gave up only one first down — for the entire game. MSU, now 2–0, will be tested for the first time this season when it heads to South Bend. The Spartans had won six straight at ND before losing, 33–30, two years ago. This one is tough to call, but at some point the ball has to bounce Notre Dame’s way.
Notre Dame 28, Michigan State 21
Auburn (+3) at Clemson
I think it’s safe to say that no defending national champion has ever been an underdog in two of its first three games in the ensuing season. Auburn edged Mississippi State last week, 41–34, despite giving up 198 yards in the air and 333 yards on the ground. Through two games — both at home — the Tigers rank 111th in the nation in total defense and 118th in rushing defense. Now, they hit the road for the first time against a Clemson team that struggled with — but still beat — Troy (CU trailed 16-13 at the half before pulling away) and Wofford (35–27). Expect Clemson to lean heavily on tailback Andre Ellington, who is averaging 127 yards rushing. It’s always dangerous to pick against Auburn — so I won't.
Auburn 34, Clemson 28
West Virginia (+1.5) at Maryland
West Virginia has been a slow starter in 2011, with a total of three points in the first quarter of wins over Marshall and Norfolk State. Dana Holgorsen needs to find a way to get his team going a bit earlier now that the schedule is more difficult, starting with this week’s trip to Maryland. The Terps looked very good, especially on offense, in a Week 1 win over Miami (Fla.). Danny O’Brien was terrific at quarterback, completing 31-of-44 attempts for 348 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Florida State is clearly the team to beat in the ACC Atlantic Division, but don’t be surprised if Maryland remains in the race all season.
Maryland 31, West Virginia 27
Pittsburgh (+3) at Iowa
Pittsburgh is a rather soft 2–0 under first-year coach Todd Graham, with a 35–16 win over Buffalo and a 35–29 win over FCS opponent Maine. Graham’s teams at Tulsa were among the most explosive in the nation, but that has yet to translate at Pittsburgh — despite the inferior competition. Iowa must bounce back from a heartbreaking 44–41 triple-overtime loss at rival Iowa State. The Hawkeyes led five different times during the game but couldn’t stop ISU when it mattered. This is still a solid team that should be balanced on offense with James Vanderberg at quarterback and Marcus Coker at tailback.
Iowa 31, Pittsburgh 24
Utah (+3.5) at BYU
The road team hasn’t won in this series since 2006, when BYU edged Utah 33–31 in Salt Lake City. BYU has only scored one offensive touchdown this season, but the Cougs have played at Ole Miss and at Texas. Utah, too, has been sluggish on offense, scoring 27 points in the opener against Montana State and 14 last week at USC. The Utes will need a big game from junior college transfer John White, who is emerging as their primary ball-carrier.
BYU 24, Utah 20
Last week — 6–4 (2–7–1 vs. spread)
Season — 13–7 (9–10–1 vs. spread)
by Mark Ross
Tuesday night, Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers shut out the Chicago White Sox 5-0. Not only did the win, coupled with the Cleveland Indians' loss at Texas, push the Tigers' lead in the American League Central to 12.5 games with two weeks to go in the regular season, but it also was Verlander's 23rd win of the season. At 23-5, he already has the most wins by any pitcher to win the Cy Young since Randy Johnson won 24 in the NL in 2002.
He's just the fourth pitcher in the AL with 23 wins since 1990. The previous three — Bob Welch (1990), Pedro Martinez (1999) and Barry Zito (2002) — all won the Cy Young Award that season. Add a no-hitter earlier in the season, a 2.36 ERA, microscopic 0.92 WHIP and a ridiculous 238 strikeouts in 236 innings to his resume and MLB officials may as well go ahead and finish putting his name on this year's AL Cy Young Award trophy to save them some time.
This has been Verlander's year, hands down, which is not to say other pitchers have put up some impressive numbers. In the AL, Jered Weaver (16-7, 2.44 ERA, 187 Ks) has kept the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the AL West race with the Texas Rangers, while C.C. Sabathia (19-8, 2.93 ERA, 216 Ks) has been the lone consistent starter for the New York Yankees. Not to be outdone, James Shields (15-10, 2.70 ERA, 210 Ks) has the most complete games (11) of any pitcher in baseball since 1999 and has tossed four shutouts as his Tampa Bay Rays have made a late-season charge for the AL wild card.
The Cy Young race in the National League is even more muddled with the list of contenders including the reigning winner (Roy Halladay), a former winner in the AL (Cliff Lee) and a couple of young guns in Clayton Kershaw and Ian Kennedy. Halladay (17-5, 2.44 ERA, 204 Ks, NL-leading seven complete games) and Lee (16-7, 2.44 ERA, 211 Ks, six CGs and a ML-best six shutouts) have teamed with fellow starters Cole Hamels (14-8, 2.71 ERA, 177 Ks) and rookie Vance Worley (11-2, 2.92 ERA) to lead the Philadelphia Phillies to baseball's best record.
Meanwhile, in the NL West, Kershaw (18-5, 2.36 ERA, 231 Ks in 213.2 IP) has been one of the few bright spots for the Los Angeles Dodgers this year and at 23, he could become the youngest Cy Young winner in either league since a 20-year-old Dwight "Doc" Gooden won the NL Cy Young in 1985. Not to be outdone, Kennedy (19-4, 2.99 ERA, 182 Ks) is just three years older than Kershaw (26) and has emerged as the ace for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are on the verge of going worst-to-first in the NL West this season.
Despite all of these impressive credentials, there's no debate that Verlander has been the best pitcher in the AL, if not all of baseball. Who has been the best pitcher in the NL this year? Let's save that for another time shall we? The more important question when it comes to Verlander's dominance on the mound is this — does him being the best pitcher in AL merit him being named the AL MVP?
Nine pitchers in baseball history have been named the Cy Young Award and MVP recipient in the same season. Six (Vida Blue, Roger Clemens, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Denny McLain and Don Newcombe) were starting pitchers, while three (Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Willie Hernandez) were relievers.
Eckersley was the last pitcher to be named MVP (AL, 1992), while Clemens was the last starting pitcher (AL, 1986). So should Verlander be the first in nearly 20 years to achieve this rare feat?
There's no denying the Tigers wouldn't be in the position they are, first place in the AL Central, without Verlander. The Tigers have won Verlander's last 11 starts, with him going at least six innings in each of these. His shortest outing of his 32 starts on the season is six innings and the most runs he has given up in any start is six, which was against Tampa Bay back on May 24.
Since then, he's gone 19-2 in 21 starts with a 1.83 ERA and only three outings of less than seven innings pitched. On May 25, the Tigers were 25-23 and six games behind the Indians in the AL Central. Entering Wednesday, the Tigers were 86-62, tying them with the Yankees for the second-most wins in the AL. Coincidence?
Detroit starting pitchers have combined for 67 wins, second-most in the AL, and a 4.07 ERA, which is seventh in the league. The only other team in playoff contention with a higher ERA for its starters is the Boston Red Sox (4.26).
If you were to take out Verlander's numbers (2.36 ERA in 236 IPs) the Tigers' starting pitchers' ERA would balloon to 4.67, which would put them second-to-last in the AL, ahead of only Kansas City (4.95) and Baltimore (5.33). Further, Verlander's consistency and durability as a starter has saved the Tigers' bullpen, which has pitched the ninth-most innings among AL pens.
Considering the relievers have a collective ERA of 4.04, putting them in 11th place among AL relievers, that's a good thing.
Offensively, Detroit's hitters are no slouch as the lineup led by Miguel Cabrera (.332, 26 HR, 97 RBI, 101 R), Victor Martinez (.324, 11 HR, 94 RBI, 71 R) and Jhonny Peralta (.306, 19 HR, 80 RBI, 62 R) have scored the fourth-most runs in the AL and have the third-best team batting average.
However, the Tigers' offensive production is still a far cry from the production of the three teams who have scored more runs — Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers — who also just happen to be the three other AL playoff teams, if the season ended today.
To put it another way, Verlander's Run Support Average of 5.61 puts him in 29th place among starting pitchers in the AL. Among those who have received more run support is three of his teammates (Brad Penny, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer), not to mention all five Rangers starters, three Yankees (including Sabathia) and two Red Sox.
Outside of Verlander, the only starting pitcher in the AL whose done done more with less support is Weaver (4.33 RS). So not only has Verlander been productive, consistent and durable, he's also been highly efficient. It doesn't get more "valuable" than that does it?
In the end, the AL MVP vote will most likely come down to the debate of everyday position player vs. a pitcher who goes out to the mound once every five days. And there certainly is no lack of candidates among position players for this year's AL MVP with a list that includes (in no particular order):
Jose Bautista (.304, 42 HR, 100 RBI, 100 R)
Jacoby Ellsbury (.321, 27 HR, 94 RBI, 108 R, 36 SB)
Adrian Gonzalez (.340, 25 HR, 109 RBI, 102 R)
Robinson Cano (.305, 26 HR, 111 RBI, 96 R)
Curtis Granderson (.268, 39 HR, 111 RBI, 128 R, 24 SB)
Mark Teixeira (.248, 37 HR, 104 RBI, 85 R)
However the fact that Bautista's Jays aren't in playoff contention and the Red Sox and Yankees each have multiple candidates, a strong argument could be made for Verlander, as he is clearly the Tigers' most valuable player and the best pitcher in all of baseball this season, which incidentally has been called "The Year of the Pitcher."
In fact, it's a shame that the AL MVP votes will be cast before the postseason even starts. Because as it stands now, Verlander would face off against Ellsbury, Gonzalez and the rest of the Red Sox in the AL Division Series and should the Tigers make it to the AL Championship Series, their opponent would be either the Rangers, the reigning AL champions, or Cano, Granderson, Teixeira and the rest of the Yankees. What better way to prove who is the most "valuable" then to have the best square off against the best, no?
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Athlon Sports' Braden Gall had a chance to sit down with legendary SEC player and head coach Vince Dooley. The former head coach at Georgia touched on the current college football landscape, what the SEC has meant to him, Mark Richt and the 2011 Georgia Bulldogs and some of his favorite memories from coaching the planet’s greatest game.
Braden Gall: You played at Auburn, coached at Georgia and your son coaches at Tennessee. What has the SEC meant to you?
Vince Dooley: It’s all that I have ever known. I went to Auburn, I played at Auburn, and I coached at Auburn. I was there for 12 years. Then being at Georgia as long as I was and now I have a son [Derek Dooley] at Tennessee, a grandson that finished Vanderbilt and a granddaughter who has finished Alabama. So yeah, I have been very much involved and it has significant meaning to me. Even Derek coached at LSU, so for four or five years, we were LSU fans in addition to everything else. In fact, I was actually born in the same year that the SEC started (1932), so I have been heavily involved with the SEC my whole life.
BG: Have there ever been any rooting conflicts when Georgia and Tennessee get together?
VD: Yes, it certainly is a problem. If I were to get up in the stands and shout hard against [Derek] in favor of Georgia, then I wouldn’t be married much longer. What I decided to do last year when we played Tennessee was to stay at home and watch the game on TV. I have to pull for my son, but I can't pull against Georgia in Samford Stadium. And I’ve got the same problem this year when Georgia goes up to Knoxville. I’m considering not going to that game and maybe staying at Derek’s house to watch it on TV. That will be much easier.
BG: Conferences have changed dramatically over the years. What are your thoughts on the landscape and trajectory of college football?
VD: I’ve seen the SEC from the time I came in – when Tulane and Georgia Tech were members and we had 12 teams. They left shortly thereafter. And then I was there for the first expansion. Even when we were looking to expand [in 1992], we even looked at Texas and Texas A&M. We ended up with Arkansas and South Carolina; however, it could have just as easily, had things worked out, been Texas and Texas A&M. And that over 20 years ago.
So since that time, we have seen a lot of things happen – even more so recently. But it certainly appears that we are headed in the direction of having 14- or 16-team conferences with some reshuffling still left to do.
BG: What are the biggest differences in the Xs and Os of college football since you coached?
VD: All of these things go in cycles and come back in different ways. That has been the long time history of particularly the offense. An offense will get started and will drive a defense crazy for a period of time until the defense can catch up. Then another offense will come in and be successful. Eventually, you will just have variations of that same offense.
Actually, what we have today, in a lot of cases, is a spread formation. Which is just a spread single wing with a tailback doing what tailbacks used to do in the single wing, but they have much more flexibility to do it now. It’s always challenging, particularly for defensive teams in college football, because while there is always a certain offense that is in fashion, you still have other offenses that are taking place. Not everyone is running the spread. You still have some that are pro offenses and then you still have some that run the option. So all of that causes great stress on defenses in college football as opposed to the pros – which are a little more standard.
BG: Your thoughts on the evolution of the quarterback position in college football?
VD: All of college football is more sophisticated, both offensively and defensively, than it has ever been before. You’ve got better coaching than ever before. You’ve got more good coaches than ever before. Certainly, the passing game is more sophisticated than it has ever been.
Going back to the spread, you are getting these great athletes that are playing quarterback like the great single wing tailbacks used to do. Like Charley Trippi at Georgia, for example. In fact, Trippi told me a few years ago that he would love to play in this offense today. And that was when Charlie was 84 or 85. I am not sure he could do quite as well but he would do just fine in the modern system.
More and more schools are getting these great athletes [to play quarterback] and it’s taking some schools that traditionally have not been very good and making them very potent. As an example, we saw Utah State with that freshman [Chuckie Keeton] who gave Auburn fits. There are more and more of these type of skill players. It’s always about what’s up front over the long haul, but there are an abundance of skills people who are really balancing out college football.
BG: What were some of your favorite places to visit as a player or coach?
VD: I always loved Oxford, Mississippi and The Grove. Oh yeah, the tailgating in The Grove was fun. The fans there have always been great. So that was a favorite place – even though we had some tough times in Oxford when I was coaching.
Toughest places to play? South Carolina was always very tough at night. Paul Dietzel adopted what they used to do at LSU when it came to playing night football. So that was always a challenge. It was the same with Clemson. It was tough to play in Death Valley.
Anywhere you go, particularly because most of the time we were playing in the southeast and we are partial to this region, it was really great. There is a tradition of great football, great tailgating and great rivalries in this area of the country.
BG: With all of the sanctions and violations of the last two years, is there anything that can be done to fix the system?
VD: I think because of the great popularity and high visibility of the sport, we will always have problems. But I think that while we have several known schools that are under, not only investigation, but some that have already been penalized or found guilty, that there are still a great majority that are not. You have a lot of schools that are NOT under investigation. You have a lot of schools that are clean. The same goes for the players. It’s a small number of players that have gotten into trouble, while the majority of players are clean.
BG: What do you think of the job Mark Richt has done as the head coach at Georgia?
VD: He has had a great career. He won a championship his second year and then won a second championship. He wins 10 or more games more times than not, and usually when that happens you become a victim of your own success. The problem is that the standards are so high here at Georgia. Every successful coach I have known, be it Bear Bryant or Joe Paterno, and I’ve certainly been through my own trials and tribulations, has to go through tough times. That has happened recently with Coach Richt and I am confident that he will come out of it.
There certainly seems to be less patience today than ever before – and there wasn’t a lot of patience back then anyway. Nevertheless, the coaches are getting paid a heck of a lot more than they ever did before so the fans are more demanding because of it.
I think that Georgia, despite the fact they have started the way they have [0-2] – and people are starting to respect Boise more than ever – I think that there is enough good material there to be successful. They have a great quarterback in Aaron Murray. I think the defense is better, and they have got two of the best kickers in the country. So I do think that when the season is over that Georgia will have a much, much improved football team than last season.
BG: Talk about your involvement in the Legends Poll?
VD: It’s really fun and has been a great way for a lot of, I guess who you would call “Legends,” to keep in touch with each other. Some coaches that I’ve competed against and have great respect for. So that has been the best part – the weekly conversations, keeping in touch with college football and keeping in touch with old friends. We also discuss many of the current issues in college football. Overall, it’s been a great experience.
Special thanks to Athlon Sports partner The Legends Poll
The Miami and Ohio State programs were both rocked earlier this year with major cheating scandals. The Buckeyes lost ultra-successful coach Jim Tressel and talented quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the process and still have key players suspended. The Hurricanes are still being investigated after the report surfaced of former booster Nevin Shapiro’s funding of many impermissible activities regarding players and recruits. From tattoos to meals to parties to memorabilia sales to lots of other activities that don’t need to be repeated, OSU and Miami have had offseasons to forget. As we look towards the actual college football game in Miami, Ohio State will be without their top runner (Dan Herron), receiver (DeVier Posey) and blocker (Mike Adams), all still serving suspensions. The Buckeyes will return running back Jordan Hall and defensive backs Corey Brown and Travis Howard, who were serving separate suspensions. Miami gets quarterback Jacory Harris, linebacker Sean Spence and defensive tackle Marcus Forston, among others, back from their suspensions served during the Maryland game.
Who wins in South Beach this weekend: Miami or Ohio State?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I like Miami to win Saturday night’s matchup with Ohio State. The Hurricanes lost 36-24 in Columbus last year, but the scene shifts to South Beach this year. Also, Ohio State won’t have quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Daniel Herron or receiver DeVier Posey. The Buckeyes have been solid on defense so far, but Toledo moved the ball well last Saturday. The Hurricanes need a clean game from quarterback Jacory Harris, who is making his first start of 2011. Harris was suspended for Week 1, but his return could spark the offense, provided he eliminates the turnovers that plagued him last year. Running back Lamar Miller is a rising star in college football and should see 25-30 carries in this one. New Miami coach Al Golden is the right man to navigate the program for what could be difficult times ahead. Golden had a solid debut, even with a loss to Maryland. If Ohio State can win, it would be a huge boost to Luke Fickell’s profile and chance to keep the full-time job. I expect this to be a close game, but Miami is out for revenge. Toledo is one of the best teams in the MAC, but the Buckeyes did not have a great game on offense. Considering the new faces still working their way into the game on both sides of the ball, I think that gives the Hurricanes a slight edge on Saturday.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’ll think Ohio State will beat Miami in this battle of embattled teams who have had more suspensions than an Olympic track meet and the Tour de France combined. Even though Toledo gave the Buckeyes a scare last week, the Rockets only rushed for 46 yards on 30 carries. I believe Miami’s strength is running the ball with Lamar Miller, and that the OSU defense will have an answer for him. The Hurricanes get turnover-prone quarterback Jacory Harris back in this one, but he threw four interceptions in last year’s loss to the Buckeyes. Miami went down 36-24 in that game (even though it is now ‘vacated’ by OSU), but two of the Hurricanes’ scores were on special teams. I think Luke Fickell’s crew will look to prevent the big play this season and make the inconsistent Hurricanes drive the ball down the field. Additionally, the ‘U’ has lost eleven home games in the last five years. I just don’t see Miami having the same home advantage as in years past, so take the gritty Buckeyes in a tight game.
Ohio State and Miami were once known for a delayed pass-interference penalty in the BCS national title game. Oh, those were the days of innocence. Maurice Clarett was stripping the ball from Sean Taylor after an INT in the end zone; Jim Tressel was out-coaching Larry Coker; or was it vice-versa? Either way, these are different, darker days for two of America’s proudest football programs. Last year, The OSU drubbed The U, 36-24, in Columbus. This year, it’s payback — not against TP2 or the Sweater Vest, but against the Scarlet-and-Gray in general. First-year coach Al Golden won’t be wearing a Pat Riley suit, but he will be wearing a shirt-and-tie when the Hurricanes overwhelm the Buckeyes. Expect Lamar Miller to run wild and the Canes defense to play until the echo of the whistle. This will be a Big Ten, Buckeye bowl-game-style blowout and a South Beach celebration. Hopefully, no one will Tweet about it after the game.
By Josh Kipnis
Two years after a 1-15 record, the St. Louis Rams were hoping to make 2011 a memorable year with their first playoff berth since 2004. They probably aren’t saying the same thing after the NFL’s opening weekend.
The Rams enter Week 2 of the season with question marks at five different starting positions.
Running back Steven Jackson had a promising start to the season when he busted through the Eagles defense for a 47-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, the great play had a bitter ending as Jackson limped back to the sidelines favoring his right leg. He would carry the ball one more time before leaving the game early with a strained right quad. Jackson is already listed as “out” for next week’s matchup against the New York Giants.
Another player unable to finish the game was quarterback Sam Bradford. The NFL’s 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year left in the fourth quarter after his throwing hand collided with an opponent’s helmet. Team doctors suspected the worst – nerve damage to his right index finger. Fans, however, can finally take a sigh of relief as reports have indicated the finger is simply bruised.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about cornerback Ron Bartell. Bartell was one of the few Rams to play the entire game, but the news that followed afterwards was devastating. A MRI indicated Bartell suffered two fractures in his neck and will be out for the remainder of the season.
Cornerback could be the biggest problem for the Rams with fellow starter Bradley Fletcher listed as day-to-day with a sprained toe.
The last player to suffer an injury was wide receiver Danny Amendola. The Rams’ 2010 leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, dislocated his elbow in Sunday’s game. It is still up in the air whether or not he will need surgery, in which case Amendola’s season would likely come to an end.
Plagued by injuries in Week 1, the Rams, who play Monday night against the Giants, could not be happier with the extra day of rest their players will receive.
With the injuries piling up after Week 1, it seems that the Rams’ hope of making it back to the playoffs may have to wait yet another year.
Everyone loves a viral video. Even marketing departments of giant corporations. Which is why it's no secret that many of the viral vids your co-workers send you are not actually "real." They're real in that they are a video that's going viral. But they're not real in the fact that the people and stunts in the video are paid actors and the actions taking place are CGI'd more often than you want to believe.
But just because they're fake doesn't mean they're not entertaining. Here are some of our favorite from over the years. Some because they're actually interesting, and some because, well, they're embarrassingly terrible.
1. The Bunt Home Run
Commercial For: Didibao Shoes (maybe)
Some fake viral videos involve expensive CGI and complex camera shots. But this one is genius in its simplicity. Just cut together video of a bunt with video of a home run video using some grainy, foreign Japanese baseball game and voila. (One of the Ten Commandments of making fake viral videos is: Something is much more believable if it's foreign.)
2. Hot Girl Pulls off Insane Golf Trick
Commercial For: Bud Light
We can tell this viral video is fake because no man in his right mind would stand in front of a girl taking a full swing with a driver (and I don't care that he covers his crotch right before she takes a swing). If she could really do this, she'd be on Letterman, not a shaky-shot camera phone in some random backyard. Oh, it also helps that the money shot at the end is a Bug Light bottle. (Full disclosure: I also know this was fake because I created it for Budweiser.)
3. Ball Girl Makes Crazy Catch
Commercial For: Gatorade
While this video was clearly a fake, the Internet went mental for it and it spread like wildfire not long after it's release. Gatorade admitted they were behind it, but only after they said they weren't going to release it. Which seems even fishier than the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-catch this girl supposedly pulled off.
4. Guy Catches Laptop With His Butt
Commercial For: MSI
This may be my faovrite fake viral ever. It doesn't even try to be real, it just tries to be ridiculously over the top and funny. This is the Internet version of the Old Spice guy.
5. Running On Water
Commercial For: Hi-Tec
Even Jesus was like "Faaaaaake" the first time he saw this.
6. Evan Longoria Makes A Bare-Handed Catch
Commercial For: Gillette
It's a dead giveaway when the description of the video refers to Evan Longoria as a "Gillette Young Gun". I'm not totally clear on how this video makes me want to buy more Gillette razors, but at 5 million views and counting, it clearly did it's job of going viral.
7. Girl Kicks A Soccer Ball Through A Big Donut
Commercial For: Nike
Marketers have clearly figured out that the formula of girl + doing something x Internet video = page views. We really like how she just happens to place the ball down so the Nike Swoosh is facing the camera. That's in the subtley-branded Hall of Fame.
8. Bike Hero
Commercial For: Guitar Hero World Tour
When it came out that this one was fake, everyone went "Who cares, let's watch it again."
9. The Craziest Slip and Slide Ever
Commercial For: Microsoft
I'm not sure how a dude riding a home made slip n' slide jump into a hilariously tiny pool is going to get me to buy more computers, but I'm glad they made this.
10. Rob Dyrdek's Floating Skateboard
Commercial For: SweeTarts
I know this piece is called "Best Fake Viral Videos" but this is clearly on this list ironically. This is by far the lamest one we've ever seen. They should've put some more of their CGI budget into getting actors who can say "Whoa!" a little more believably.
11. David Beckham Has Three Balls
Commercial For: Pepsi
Hi, my name is David Beckham and I drink Pepsi all the time. Oh, and I also hang out with complete morons who like to yell stuff in clown voices while I make CGI'd videos of me kicking soccer balls into trash cans on the beach.
12. Michael Vick Throws a Football Out Of A Stadium
Commercial For: Powerade
Michael Vick is a superhuman specimen, but no athlete is strong enough to overcome crappy CGI.
13. Lebron Hits Some Full Court Shots
Commercial For: Powerade
If they really wanted to pull this off, they should've cut the dopey newscaster (who is clearly not going to win any Academy Awards) and had LeBron not shoot 80 footers like they're a free throw.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Each week Athlon's fantasy staff will dive into the NFL Fantasy world of Individual Defensive Players, or more affectionately known as IDPs. Weekly top performers, advice and waiver wire adds highlight the Athlon IDP Weekly Potpourri.
Week 1’s Top DBs:
1. Aqib Talib, CB, Tampa Bay: 16.0 TFP
3 solo tackles, 1 ast, INT, TD, 2 PD
2. Lardarius Webb, CB, Baltimore: 15.43 TFP
9 solo tackles, 2 ast, 1.0 sack, 2 PD, 37 return yards
3. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore: 15.0 TFP
6 solo tackles, 2 INT, 4 PD
As a general rule of thumb for defensive backs, safeties are better plays than corners. The great corners rarely get thrown at and one interception every three games would be considered good. If your league awards point for passes deflected/defensed, this does add some value to the coverman as they generally rack up the most PDs.
Additionally, the big play – e.g., the defensive TD – cannot be taken into consideration when trying evaluate IDPs. If a player scores two defensive touchdowns in a single season, he has done something special. So ignore Talib’s touchdown. Is it an indicator that the player has big-play potential? Absolutely. And Talib has 16 interceptions since 2008 (good for sixth in the NFL, Yahoo!), so keep an eye on him. He certainly should be motivated as he basically got out of prison to play football this year, but I am not running to the wire for the former Kansas standout.
And finally, on a somber note, the projected No. 1 IDP defensive back in the league, Kansas City's Eric Berry, will miss the entire season after he suffered a torn ACL at the hands of a Stevie Johnson block in the first quarter of 2011. As a fellow Tennessee alum - and EB29 fantasy owner - it was a rough day in the secondary. This injury not only screwed up my fantasy line-up in Week 1, but may hurt the rest of the Cheifs IDPs (Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Glenn Dorsey) as the star sophomore had quickly solidified the backend of the KC defense.
Top DB Adds:
Antoine Winfield, CB, Minnesota: 14.5 TFP
Winfield is one of the NFL’s all-time most underrated cornerbacks. He is an excellent tackler (as his 10 total stops in Week 1 indicate) and excellent off the blitz (5.0 sacks over the last three seasons).
Morgan Burnett, S, Green Bay: 10.5 TFP
Burnett was in for big things last year before it was ended with an injury four games into his rookie season. In his sophomore debut, he posted 14 total tackles. In this defense, he and fellow play-maker Nick Collins are excellent plays.
Kam Chancellor, S, Seattle: 10.0 TFP
Not many IDPs score in double-figures on tackles alone but that is what Chancellor did in Week 1, posting 10 solo stops. He is comfortable around the line of scrimmage and should rack up tackles all season behind the Seahawks questionable front seven.
Week 1’s Top LBs:
1. Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago: 22.0 TFP
6 solo tackles, 4 ast, INT, FR, TD, PD
2. Terrell Suggs, LB, Baltimore: 19.5 TFP
5 solo tackles, 3.0 sacks, 2 FF
3. D’Qwell Jackson, LB, Cleveland: 19.5 TFP
10 solo tackles, ast, 2.0 sacks, 1 FF
Linebackers are the easiest IDP position to find. Ten NFL linebackers posted at least eight solo tackles in the first week of action, so do not panic if your draft picks didn’t pan out in one week. Drop about 10 names on your watch list (Pat Angerer, Thomas Davis, Bart Scott, Jamar Chaney, Mason Foster) and feel free to shuffle players all season long.
Top LB Adds:
Sean Lee, LB, Dallas: 15.0 TFP
Lee looked the part on Sunday night against the Jets. He flew around the defense and was rarely off the field as it appears that Bradie James and Keith Brooking will be the ones rotating. Lee was a tackle machine at Penn State and should find himself with double-digit tackles on a consistent basis.
Daryl Washginton, LB, Arizona: 14.0 TFP
The only thing keeping Washington from the top add spot is his mild calf strain. He is questionable for this week’s game, so monitor the injury. However, when healthy, the second-year backer is a star in the making. The defense is designed around the former TCU star and he will make big plays all year long – he had a sack and interception against Carolina.
Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Atlanta: 10.0 TFP
Even with Curtis Lofton on the same field, Weatherspoon has the ability to be a star in this league. The former first-round pick was slowed due to injury last fall and came out swinging this fall. He posted nine solo stops against Chicago.
Week 1’s Top DLs:
1. Kory Biermann, DE, Atlanta: 18.0 TFP
2 solo tackles, ast, 1.0 sack, INT, TF, PD
2. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, NY Giants: 14.5 TFP
5 solo tackles, ast, 2.0 sack, FF
3. Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago: 13.5 TFP
2 solo tackles, ast, 2.0 sack, FF, FR
Much like safeties and corners, the defensive end is normally the position to own on the fantasy IDP gridiron. Few defensive tackles are worth owning (Haloti Ngata is a monster by the way) so keep an eye on the edge of the defensive line.
The defensive line also appears like the most predictable preseason IDP position as Peppers, Jared Allen, John Abraham, Justin Smith, Mario Williams and Jason Babin all finished Week 1 in the top 10 of DL fantasy performers – as predicted.
Top DL Adds:
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, NY Giants: 14.5 TFP
From a physical standpoint, JPP skills match that of most elite NFL pass rushers. He just needed the opportunity and a year of seasoning. With Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora struggling with injuries (JPP is a must add if you own either of those two), Pierre-Paul could be in for a big year in the Big Apple.
Ray McDonald, DE, San Francisco: 9.5 TFP
Finally getting his chance to play regularly, McDonald made the most of it in Week 1 with six solo stops and a sack. High tackle totals are a rare thing for most defensive lineman, so do not underestimate a player who looks poised for decent tackle totals.
JJ Watt, DE, Houston: 7.0 TFP
This guy never quits working. He is an absolute monster on the edge and it appears he will be a huge part of the dramatically improved Texans’ defense. He collected five solo stops and recovered a fumble in his first career game.
More NFL Fantasy Content
Athlon Sports Week 2 Waiver Wire Report
Ask Athlon Week 2 Fantasy Advice
NFL Fantasy: Week 1 By the Numbers
Article originally published in 2004 Athlon Sports Racing annual
Opinions are like … well, you know the rest of that saying. Opinions are a little more valuable, though, when they belong to seven of Nextel Cup racing’s top guns. We think you’ll enjoy what they have to say on everything from rules changes to Cup contenders to the best toys — all of it refreshingly candid and unsanitized.
Would you change the point system? Does the winner deserve more points? Do pole winners deserve points?
Jimmie Johnson: I think that it would be beneficial if the winner of the race received more points. The way the points system works now, if you finish second and lead the most laps, you can finish with the same number of points as the winner, so I think there should be some reward for winning the actual race. The pole winner deserving points is a mixed bag. I could go either way. Track position is so important these days that if you win the pole it is a reward to have the track position. In addition, if you win the pole you have the best opportunity to lead the first lap and get five bonus points, so in some ways I can see how people want to reward the pole with points, but in a way, we already do.
Ryan Newman: I don’t really feel like the point system needs changing, but yes, I feel that points should be awarded for poles.
Elliott Sadler: I think the points system is just fine as it is. In all the years the points system has been in place this was the biggest year for controversy. The team with the most consistency earns the most points.
Mark Martin: They can do whatever they want to do with it. It doesn't matter to me. I don't think anything is wrong with the system. It’s the same system that we’ve always had and it has worked really well for us. Just because someone won by a lot of points this year, doesn’t mean we need to change anything. Last year (2002) Matt Kenseth won five races and finished eighth and there was no reason to change it then.
Ricky Rudd: No. I look at it like, why fix something that’s not broken. It’s been that way for many years. There are some arguments for pole position points and so on. But I think the system is pretty good as it is.
Ricky Craven: No, I think the points system is fine the way it is, with the exception of the pole winner. I think the pole winners do deserve some points. I mean, we spend an entire day each week focusing on nothing but qualifying. If we’re going to do that, I feel like the pole winner deserves some kind of reward or bonus for being the best on that day.
Sterling Marlin: I wouldn’t necessarily change the points system, but if they did then the winner and the pole winner definitely deserve more points.
Who besides yourself and your teammate do you consider the front-runner for the 2004 Nextel Cup?
Craven: Jimmie Johnson. His team just seems to have all the right ingredients in place to possibly claim the title. They have the equipment, but more importantly, Jimmie and Chad (Knaus) and the rest of the crew seem to have the chemistry and communication necessary to win it all.
Marlin: I’d say you’d have to look at Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson. They were real strong toward the end of the season. The 8 was really good there at the end of the season as well.
Martin: It’s hard to tell. There are a lot of factors that play into that and there is no way of predicting that now.
Newman: Jimmie Johnson is a good candidate and so is Junior or Jeff Gordon. It really depends on who has the best, most consistent season.
Johnson: I would say that there are about five to 10 teams that could win the championship next year. Just look at how close the points were this season. The No. 8, 12, 29, 24 and 48 were all battling it out for second through sixth and it came down to the last race. The No. 17 was so consistent this season they just didn’t have that many bad things happen to them. You also have to take into consideration the 18 and 20, who had bad luck this year, but they had new bodies this year and you could tell they were trying things that I’m sure will pay dividends for them next year. The team that will win next season is the team that has the fewest what-ifs at the end of the year.
Rudd: I think Ryan Newman is the guy. They have been very strong all year. They’ve had some mechanical problems, but they’ve been very fast on the race track and he’s got them beat I think.
Sadler: Ryan Newman — those boys are geniuses.
If you were building a new track, which current track would you use as a template?
Marlin: Homestead would be a good template to use. They have really fixed that track up nice.
Rudd: If I were building a race track I’d use Richmond as my template.
Craven: Dover International Speedway. I just think we need more pure, one-mile ovals on the circuit. I love the place. The fact that I usually run well there probably has a lot to do with that, but I love it.
Johnson: I would pick something like Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Dover and New Hampshire — tracks that I’ve had success on so I would have a better chance at winning some more races. In a perfect world I’d have them build an off-road track. I miss competing in those races and don’t really have an opportunity to with the schedule the way it is right now.
Sadler: For the fans I’d have to say Bristol. For the drivers, I love Atlanta, Vegas, Texas and Darlington.
Newman: If I could build a brand new Darlington, that’s what I’d build because it’s my favorite track we race at.
Martin: Lowe’s Motor Speedway. A lot of the other tracks have tried to copy it, but it’s my favorite track to race at. I just like the style of racing there. It’s a driver’s kind of track. Handling, especially in the corners, is key, and that suits my style of racing.
If you could eliminate a track, which would it be?
Rudd: Nothing jumps out in my mind right now. I enjoy all the tracks.
Newman: Daytona or Talladega because restrictor-plate racing isn’t fun for any of us out there.
Sadler: I would have to go with Martinsville, I’ve struggled there my whole career.
Johnson: I’m not sure I’d eliminate any of the tracks we race on. Each track is different, and they all offer their own challenges, so I really like most of the tracks we race on.
If you had to start an ill-handling car and the only hope you had at a win was dependent on your talent and driving skill, at which track would you be able to make up the most? At which track would you not have a shot at all?
Newman: I’d be at a disadvantage at restrictor-plate tracks, but all the rest, I’d say I’d have a shot at. Especially, if the car isn’t handling well, you’d want a track you can win on fuel. The ALLTEL team is good at calculating fuel, so I’d have a good shot at Chicago, Pocono, Michigan.
Rudd: At this day and time, I don’t care who you are, you can’t overcome a car that is not driving correctly. There are just too many good cars out there to be able to do that. If you go back four or five years ago the track would probably be Bristol. There were different lines around the race track and some things that you could change that might make up a little bit for an ill-handling car, but today you aren’t going to win with an ill-handling car.
Craven: I think Rockingham is probably the track where I could make up the most. I’ve had a lot of success there, and I seem to be able to get up on that high line and make up a lot of positions when I need to. I don’t seem to have a lot of luck at Homestead Speedway, but I do like the way they reconfigured the place, so maybe my luck will change there in the next couple of years.
Sadler: Well, if you can’t fix a car at certain tracks everyone is wasting each other’s time. Crew chiefs are experienced enough to where if the driver is complaining about something it is up to the driver and crew chief to come up with something that will fix the car. You can’t ever just give up.
Johnson: Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the win. For some reason I can really get around that track.
At which track does the X-Factor come into play for you? The X-Factor being a combination of luck and being at the right place at the right time.
Rudd: That statement applies to any given race on the (Nextel) Cup circuit today. And that is what really determined the winner in many cases — the pit strategy on fuel and tires. That’s really what has won quite a few races this year.
Johnson: I think all the tracks require the X-factor. Just look at Bill Elliott in Miami last season. Look at the fuel mileage races we’ve had this year. With the new ‘Lucky Dog’ policy, the X-factor is at every race. For you to have a strong finish these days, I think the X-factor plays a part in about 90 percent of the races. Anything can happen out there and a lot of it is out of your control.
Sadler: Every track. Anything can happen at any time, man. You can be running first and be taken out by a lapped car or a blown tire. That has happened to me and it sucks, but sometimes it works in the other direction.
Newman: It could be at any track really. I’ve had days I came from two laps to win. That was at Dover last year, and then Chicago I went on and won on fuel.
Darlington losing its Labor Day race, rock music instead of country music on the pre-race shows, millions and millions of dollars to run a full-time team. All this has sparked debate over how to balance the growth of NASCAR with the tradition of NASCAR. In your eyes, how does this sport continue to grow while staying pure to its roots?
Craven: I think that more prime time, Saturday night races is one way to continue the growth. I also think that we should follow the NFL’s lead and have a special weeknight race, maybe on Wednesday nights. I mean, NASCAR used to race three or four times a week back in the early days, so if the goal is to stay true to the roots of the sport while also growing the sport, that would be an ideal way to do that. I think the ratings would be tremendous for something like that.
Johnson: That’s the billion dollar question right now. NASCAR is doing a good job of trying to balance the old and the new. There is no way that you can please everyone in this situation. But just like other major league sports, in order for NASCAR to continue to grow and gain new fans and please our committed fans, we need to continue to evolve as a sport. We can’t stay the same, so NASCAR is working hard to make the right moves and not make drastic changes.
Sadler: As long as it stays a family sport and the most accessible sport in the world then we will always be staying close to our roots. We need to make sure we get new fans — they might be kids who listen to rock groups or whatever. We can remain close to the roots but escape stereotypes that racing is redneck or Southern. It’s much more than that.
Newman: Let’s face it, NASCAR is a business and if a business is going to survive, it needs to cater to the people that are buying into it. I feel like the sport itself is the tradition, but what drives it now is the sponsors and the demographics of the fans.
Martin: I’m just a race car driver. I show up each week and race; all of that other stuff is really out of my hands. All I can do is my part to help put on the best show possible for the fans.
Is 36 too many races? Would 30 be better? Theoretically, that’s a 16 percent decrease in revenue. Would you be willing to accept a 16 percent cut for fewer races?
Johnson: Yes. 36 or actually 38 races are too much. The drivers have it easy; it’s the crew guys that have it really tough. These guys work seven days a week, 13 to 15 hours a day and aren’t at home with there families. We have them going coast to coast and really take a lot away from them and take the balance away in their lives. I think that we should trim the schedule down and allow for more time at home for everyone. NASCAR has the longest professional sports season out there and I think that needs to change.
Rudd: I started my Winston Cup career when there were 28 races. I liked 28 races a lot better than I like 36. I’m not saying that we can’t handle more. It’s just that you would have a little more time for your personal life.
Sadler: No, 36 is cool. Actually it’s 38 if you count the Budweiser Shootout and the Nextel Cup All-Star Challenge. We are racers, and I’d race every day if you’d let me.
Newman: The number of races isn’t so bad, it’s the days away from home. If we could have the same amount of races, but make it a two-day show, that would be great.
What safety features does NASCAR need to implement?
Newman: I’m not going to make any decisions for NASCAR. They’ve been doing a great job listening to what the drivers have to say and work on those issues. We’ve come a long way in the last few years on safety, and it will get better.
Sadler: I’m a big guy — 6'2". Me, Dale Jarrett and Michael Waltrip are the biggest drivers on the circuit. I think that escape hatch will be good when it gets cleared. Hopefully I will never need to use it, but I think an alternative to getting out of the car besides the window would be helpful.
Johnson: I would like to see a traveling safety crew. I know that NASCAR is looking into this and I understand its reasoning as to why they have the current system. But for me and my family to know that the safety crew that might need to help me one day knows everything about me each week and I personally know them, that’s very important.
Rudd: I think NASCAR is looking at pretty much everything they need to look at right now. The one thing I would like to see them do is look at maybe getting the driver away from the left side door cage a little bit. Maybe locate the driver so many inches off the centerline of the driveshaft to get him out of the left side window. Maybe that will help prevent some of the injuries when the driver’s side smacks the wall.
Is the racing back to the yellow rule being handled correctly?
Newman: The first race NASCAR put the new rule into effect, I won. I got lucky, but I also had to gain one more lap before winning. I think the rule is good and NASCAR will work on it more and more.
Sadler: I think 13 seconds after the car stopped tumbling there was a safety worker talking to me through the window (at Talladega). That was also a good effort on the 42 other drivers on the track for slowing down to allow the safety crews to get to me.
Johnson: I think NASCAR is doing a good job with it. Things had to change because it was just a matter of time before someone got injured from racing back to the yellow. I’m not sure about the ‘Lucky Dog’ rule. It’s hard for the racer in us to see someone get a free pass, but as time goes on we’ll get everything worked out.
Rudd: I like the rule. I think it needs some adjusting on the shorter tracks a little bit where you have so many caution flags. At the end of the race virtually everyone is on the lead lap.
Should there be a traveling safety crew?
Martin: I wish there was.
Sadler: I think there needs to be a traveling medical crew. If I end up in the infield care center, it’s good that I know the person looking over me and they know me.
Rudd: I would say that before the new rules that NASCAR has on racing back to the flag, that we definitely needed a crew every week that was familiar with the rules. Today, it would still be nice knowing that you had people coming to your car that knew how to deal with your particular needs or knew about your previous injuries. That would be nice. But with not racing back to the flag, it has freed up how quickly they can move the safety crews. I think that all any driver wants to see is, when they have an accident, that you are going to have somebody there pretty quickly.
Newman: Most definitely. NASCAR has a traveling chef, why not a safety crew?
Should there be a yellow and/or red light on the dash board?
Rudd: I think some other series use that situation. I haven’t really seen a big need for that. Currently in Winston Cup with the rule change we don’t race back to the flag. If there is a problem and the caution flag comes out people slow down. It’s working real smooth right now. I really haven’t seen a need for a light on the dashboard.
Sadler: No, not necessarily. It might be too much of a distraction — I’d have to try it. My spotter Brett is 100 percent on his game. As long as he is paying attention, and I am paying attention I think we can avoid accidents with accidents.
Martin: That would be a nice addition.
Newman: I don’t think so.
What are some things (away from racing) you have been given the opportunity to do because of your position as a NASCAR driver?
Newman: Last year’s trip to NASA was about one of the coolest things I’ve done.
Martin: To be able to do all the charity things we have done over the years — it’s always a good feeling to give something back. We have the greatest fans in the world in this sport and it’s not always easy, but it’s always great to be able to help out charities and people in need of assistance.
Sadler: Gosh, too many to count. I’ve been to The Final Four, NBA games, MLB games, met celebrities like Carmen Electra, Serena and Venus Williams, the band Three Doors Down, WWE Wrestlers, and been in my buddy Blake Shelton’s country music video, Ol’ Red. I also get to travel in planes and cool cars. I’m real, real fortunate.
Johnson: I’ve thrown out the first pitch at a Phillies vs. Braves game, stood on the sidelines at a Georgia Tech (football) game, been able to get dinner reservations, meet actors and other celebrities. Just do things that you would never have guessed in a thousand years. I have the best job in the world that offers me a lot of benefits.
Rudd: A good example for me, I’ve always been an aviation sort of nut. I’m a pilot myself and having the U.S. Air Force associated with our car has given us a lot of opportunities to visit a lot of bases, to see a lot of the state of the art sort of equipment, visit with the Thunderbirds, things like that that I would not have had the opportunity to do otherwise.
Craven: The biggest thing that the notoriety of being a NASCAR driver has done for me is to allow me to put on my annual Snowmobile Charity Ride up in Maine. We’ve been fortunate to be able to raise a lot of money and help a lot of people. I can’t ask for anything better than that. I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of stars and go a lot of places during my time in the sport, but giving something back is the coolest thing being a NASCAR driver has allowed me to do.
Who was your favorite driver growing up? How has he influenced your driving style or how you conduct yourself at the track?
Rudd: I didn’t really have a favorite driver. I was always busy racing myself since I was about eight years old running go-karts and motorcycles. But I guess I did watch the Indy 500 and I remember watching A.J. Foyt. I remember Dan Gurney from road racing being a kid watching some of the races that came on ABC. I remember those guys, Gurney and Foyt, from when I was young. But I didn’t really follow the races that heavily because I was busy racing myself.
Sadler: My uncle Bud Elliott, my brother Hermie Sadler and Dale Earnhardt. They showed me how to be successful but stay real.
Craven: I really idolized Richard Petty when I was growing up. He served as a great example of how to handle yourself in the heat of the moment. He always had a smile for the camera, even after he might have just gotten wrecked on the track. Whenever I’m in a similar situation, I always try to remember how well he handled himself. I don’t always succeed in living up to the precedent he set, but I do try.
Johnson: I started out in motocross and Rick Johnson was a guy I looked up to. I also followed Rick Mears, since he was from California, thinking I’d take the same path from off-road to Indy cars. In stock cars, I was a Cale Yarborough fan. I also followed the Allisons and Dale Earnhardt. I had always wanted to race against Dale Earnhardt, and I’m sorry I missed the opportunity. As far as what I’ve taken from them, I would say that I’ve taken from them the desire to win and the work ethic. These guys wanted to win every time they got on the track and so do I.
Martin: Richard Petty. He is and always will be the greatest ambassador of our sport.
Newman: I always admired Dale Earnhardt for his way of mentally beating people before the race even started.
If you had to choose one driver to be NASCAR’s spokesman to America, who would it be?
Sadler: I think Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett are excellent spokesmen for the sport.
Martin: Jeff Gordon.
Newman: I don’t know if there is just one. Jeff Gordon’s made a good name for himself, but there’s a lot of guys out there.
Craven: I think Jeff Gordon has done a great job of being a spokesperson for NASCAR. He handles himself extremely well in interviews, and he’s a very intelligent, well-spoken guy. I think he helps to dispel a lot of the stereotypes that some of the country might have about our sport. He’s a hard guy to dislike, I think. I mean, he’s young, he’s a good-looking guy, and he’s very articulate.
Marlin: Rusty (Wallace) would be entertaining as a spokesperson. He’d be honest.
When you came into the sport, who took you under their wing?
Martin: Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.
Johnson: This isn’t going to surprise anyone, but when I got into Winston Cup Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick really took me under their wings. Jeff has taught me a lot about racing both on and off the track. Both Rick and Jeff have taught me a lot about the business side of the sport and how to deal with the pressures and what it takes to be a winner. I’ve been fortunate to get in with a tremendous organization and have a very supportive sponsor in Lowe’s.
Newman: Buddy Baker.
Marlin: No one really took me under their wing; I had been around racing so much already because of my dad that I knew everybody. It wasn’t like I was first starting.
Sadler: Dale Jarrett as a matter of fact. He and I were testing at Darlington — he in a Cup car and me in a Busch car. I went to him for advice on how to get around the ‘Lady In Black’ and he pretty much dropped everything, put me in a rental car and drove me around the track for 30 minutes. It’s cool because I won my first pole there in 2003. DJ and I have been tight ever since. I’ll never forget that.
Craven: Jeff Gordon really took me under his wing, even though I’m older than he is. He had already had a couple of years in Winston Cup before I moved up in 1995. When I joined Hendrick Motorsports, he really taught me the right way to do a lot of things. I really treasure his friendship, and the way he’s always been willing to help me. Among the drivers, he’s probably the one I’m closest to.
What other drivers or crew chiefs would you want to play poker against? Which would you not?
SadIer: I wouldn’t want to play with my own crew chief, Todd Parrott. He has too good of a poker face. Also, Matt Borland and Ryan Newman — forget it man.
Newman: I don’t know, but I can tell you, you don’t want to play against my crew chief Matt Borland. He’s a good poker player who actually competes in tournaments when we’re not racing.
Craven: Well, let me think. First, Mike Helton. I know he’s not a driver or a crew chief, but I think he’d make one heck of a poker player. Jimmy Spencer, just because he’d make for an entertaining game. Matt Borland and Ryan Newman would make for a good game, because of how analytical and intelligent they are.
It’s said that the difference between a man and a boy is the size of his toys. What are some of your favorite toys?
Sadler: I am not allowed to ride on motorcycles. My mom won’t let me. I have a pontoon boat and in my motorcoach I have two Xbox’s and a karaoke machine.
Craven: I love my snowmobiles and my Sea Ray boat. I love getting out on Moosehead Lake in Maine first thing in the morning on the Sea Ray. There’s nothing better than that. With the Snowmobiles, we have a lot of trails around Moosehead that we ride on, and we’ll just go for hours and hours on those things. It really clears my mind and recharges my batteries.
Rudd: I guess most of my toys are something I can share with my son, Landon. He is nine years old now and we enjoy doing a lot of different things, but one of the things he really enjoys is riding four-wheelers, running through the woods chasing each other. We enjoy doing that. And a little bit of go-karts; nothing real serious there. The other thing is airplanes. I enjoy aviation and because flying is a necessary part of our sport I enjoy the airplane and I enjoy the flying part of our sport.
Marlin: Some of my favorite toys are bulldozers and other farming equipment.
Newman: I’ve got a Ranger 520 Bass Boat, wave runners. I’ve got a 1928 Ford Roadster with a 1953 Ford engine that has dual 94 Stromsburg carburetors, Offenhauser heads, and a 1957 Ford 3-speed transmission. I have a 1953 Plymouth with the original flathead six cylinder and a 1957 Ford Thunderbird (one of Krissie’s favorites) with a numbers matching 312 engine and automatic transmission.
Johnson: I have a 36-foot Fountain boat, a couple of motorized bar stools that will go about 40 mph and a Harley-Davidson fatboy. We’re so busy I hardly have time to use them, but they’re great when I can.
Martin: Well, they’re not toys but my Citation Jet and my Vantari motor home. I’m very proud of both.
Do you play NASCAR video games? Do they ever help you prepare for a track?
Newman: I used to play them more, but definitely. I feel I’ve learned a lot about Darlington and Bristol by playing the NASCAR game.
Sadler: Yes, tons. I play EA Sports NASCAR Thunder 2004 all the time. It helped me get used to the new Homestead-Miami Speedway configuration before we got on the track.
Johnson: Yes, I play a lot of the games. The 2004 EA Sports NASCAR Thunder is pretty realistic. When I first came into the series, I played a lot of the games to experience the track and see what they were like. It helps a little in giving you the feel for what it will look like.
Martin: No. I leave all the video games to my son Matt.
What would be more entertaining: 43 NASCAR drivers playing Augusta National or 43 PGA golfers shooting it out at Bristol?
Craven: The 43 PGA Golfers at Bristol would be more entertaining to watch, but it would be a very short race. You could probably make a lot of money off the scrap metal that would be left over, though.
Johnson: I would say the golfers in Bristol. There is no way people would want to see me golf. I can play about seven or eight holes and then it’s off to the clubhouse.
Sadler: As much of a golf fan I am, I have to go with Bristol. Its heaven on earth. Those PGA Golfers need to try it out sometime.
Martin: 43 PGA golfers shooting it out at Bristol.
What is your favorite sport other than racing?
Marlin: My favorite sport other than racing is football. I love watching the Tennessee Vols play every week.
Newman: I watch hockey only because my wife Krissie is a Devils fan, but I really don’t like or watch other sports. I like watching fishing shows mostly.
Craven: Hockey is a lot of fun for me to watch. Growing up in New England, Hockey was one of the biggest things around. I was never very good at it, but the game has a lot of speed and excitement, which appeals to me for obvious reasons.
Sadler: Golf and deer hunting.
Who is your favorite athlete outside racing?
Craven: Carlton Fisk, the Boston Red Sox catcher. Being from Maine, the BoSox were everything to me as a kid as far as baseball was concerned, and Fisk was just such a strong player.
Sadler: Too many to name. I am a sports nut so I have favorites in every sport.
Martin: Michael Jordan. We shot a Gatorade Commercial with him a while back and he is great.
Do you have any crazy rituals or superstitions for race day?
Craven: I always try to carry something in my car that my kids (Riley, age 11 and Everett, age 7) have given me. My daughter even knows how much luck each good luck charm has in it. One time, I was in a wreck, and I told Riley that the good luck charm must have run out of luck. She said, “No daddy, that one still has at least two more races worth in it.”
Sadler: I don’t really, but I just do the same thing every week. Get lots of rest, drink a ton of water and Powerade, and breathe pure oxygen. A lot of resting and relaxing.
Newman: Not a one.
Johnson: No. I used to be superstitious, but now I just try to stay focused.
What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done on the track?
Sadler: Probably that little helmet toss in the Winston a few years back. I was mad at Ryan Newman because he wrecked me. It cost me a little bit of money when I got fined by NASCAR, and I also felt bad for all my sponsors at the time for acting like that.
Marlin: I can’t remember the exact year, it was 1976 or 1977 at Nashville. I had won the pole and we started the pace lap and I ran out of gas. I thought the crew guys had put the fuel in it and they thought I had put the fuel in it. I coasted right into the fuel pump and put about five gallons in and went back out there.
What track, NASCAR sanctioned or not, do you consider your home track?
Sadler: South Boston. That is where I grew up. I won a track championship, and they have a grandstand named after me. Richmond is my home track on the NASCAR circuit.
Newman: IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park) — maybe since I’m from South Bend. I raced there a lot in open-wheel.
Martin: Daytona, because that’s where we live now.
If not for racing, what would you be doing now?
Sadler: I’d be working in the family business or playing ball somewhere.
Martin: I'm just not sure.
Johnson: I’d be a fireman. Growing up I use to live next door to a fireman and have always wanted to be one. I’m not really sure what draws me to it. It might be the sense of being on the edge and trying to control something that isn’t controllable, but who knows.
Newman: Fishing, of course.
Like it or not, Peyton Manning and the high-octane Indy 500 offense has been replaced by Kerry Collins and the horseshoes.
The question now becomes: When will Manning return to the Colts? Late in the 2011 season? Week 1 of 2012? Or, God forbid, never again?
Will Peyton Manning’s nagging neck injury end a career that was largely taken for granted due to its metronome consistency of video game statistics and playoff berths?
The Colts suffered a humiliating 34–7 defeat on the road against the Texans days after Manning underwent his third neck operation in 19 months. The single level anterior fusion surgery is “performed regularly throughout the country on persons from all walks of life” but “there will be no estimation of a return date at this time,” according to the team’s official press release.
As a result of Sept. 8 surgery, the 35-year-old four-time league MVP and Super Bowl XLI MVP missed the first start of his 13-year career — snapping a streak of 227 straight starts (208 regular season, 19 postseason) dating back to Sept. 6, 1998, Manning’s rookie debut after being the No. 1 overall pick out of Tennessee.
When it became clear that rumors of No. 18’s demise were anything but exaggerated, Indianapolis signed the 38-year-old Collins — effectively replacing the NFL’s third all-time leading passer (54,828 yards) with the 11th-ranked yardage man (40,441).
Since Collins had recent success against the Texans — going 3–2, with the losses coming by a combined four points, as the off-and-on starter of the Titans since 2006 — many felt he was a capable stop-gap solution for a crucial Week 1 AFC South showdown.
But after watching Collins struggle — completing 16-of-31 passes for 197 yards, one TD and zero INTs, along with two lost fumbles on botched center exchanges — in the 27-point season-opening loss in Houston, most fans and pundits have written off this year’s Colts, whose run of nine consecutive playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy.
Still, the stoic Collins doesn’t seem fazed by one loss to a familiar division foe.
“You’ve got to be undaunted by anything that happened in the game and that’s win or lose, good game or bad game,” said Collins, a 17-year veteran with two trips to the NFC title game and a Super Bowl XXXV loss to the Ravens on his resume.
“You’ve got to be able to compartmentalize it, learn from it, deal with it and move on.”
This is Collins’ third week in town, after all. There should be some learning curve expected. Even Tom Brady would have trouble replacing Manning, who (as the running joke goes) will earn his fifth MVP award this season by proving just how valuable he is, and has been, to the Colts.
With a game under Collins’ belt and the Browns coming to Lucas Oil Stadium for the Colts’ home opener, things should get a little easier for the new-look offense. After an 0–1 start, Indy has to make sure there is no Houston hangover.
“This is the first ball game,” said Colts coach Jim Caldwell. “We’ve got 15 more to go.”
Caldwell is right; the Texans loss was the first ball game without Manning under center. But are there only 15 more to go? Or is this the beginning of a new era altogether in Indy?
Those people who just shrug and say, “Of course Peyton will play again,” are the same people who said, “Of course Peyton will start Week 1.”
In the NFL, there is no sure thing — not even Peyton Manning.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Each week, the Athlon editors will vote on the most prestigious award in all of college football. A nine-man conglomerate of college football gurus from Athlon Sports will vote for their top ten Heisman Trophy candidates. The votes will be tallied and the result will be posted as the Athlon Sports Heisman Watch List every Wednesday of the regular season.
Note: The scoring system is as follows: A first place vote earns a player 10 points. A second place votes earns nine points - so on and so forth until the 10th place player receives one point.
Two weeks do hardly a season make, but we have already seen plenty of Heisman moments from a number of potential finalists. Week Two featured Denard Robinson accounting for 98.7-percent of Michigan's total offense (446 of 452 yards) in the breathtaking come-from-behind win over Notre Dame. We also saw Marcus Lattimore carry the ball 13 times for 94 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Cocks' win over Georgia.
There is one name noticeably missing: Oregon running back LaMichael James. Despite 123 yards from scrimmage and two scores in a blowout win, James fell completely off the list. He did not receive a top ten vote by any of the nine editors after finishing ninth last week.
And so, with Robert Griffin III, Kellen Moore, Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles all on bye in Week Two, the spotlight still belongs to the best player in the nation:
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (83/90 total points, 7/9 first place votes)
Season Stats: 38/54, 461 yards, 6 TD, INT, 5 att., 11 yards, TD
The Cardinal have won their two games by a combined 101-17, so Luck has not been needed at all in the fourth quarter of either contest. The Palo Alto prodigy completed 20 of his 28 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns against Duke —which, for what it is worth, is technically a road win over an ACC team. Over his last five games dating back to last season, Luck has tossed 16 touchdowns against only two interceptions, and Stanford has won eight games in a row. Next Week: at Arizona
|2.||Kellen Moore||QB||Boise St||72||-||3||3||3||-||9|
|3.||Robert Griffin III||QB||Baylor||71||-||6||-||1||-||9|
|4.||Marcus Lattimore||RB||South Carolina||66||1||-||3||4||-||9|
|7.||Justin Blackmon||WR||Oklahoma St||25||-||-||-||-||2||8|
|11.||Michael Floyd||WR||Notre Dame||6||-||-||-||-||1||1|
|14.||David Wilson||RB||Virginia Tech||5||-||-||-||-||-||2|
|19.||Brandon Weeden||QB||Oklahoma St||2||-||-||-||-||-||1|
2. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (72 pts)
Boise State was on bye in week two, but will travel to take on an interesting opponent this weekend. Toledo, considered by many to be the favorite in the MAC West, took Ohio State to the wire before losing 27-22 in the Horseshoe. The Rockets will be ready for Moore and Company Friday night. Next Game: at Toledo
3. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (71 pts)
Griffin and the Bears have had to wait a long time to get back on the field. In fact, 15 days will have passed since fans saw the most dynamic force in college football take the field. Statistically speaking, Griffin might be limited this week as Baylor hosts a fledgling FCS in-state program. Next Game: Stephen F. Austin
4. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (66 pts, 1 first place vote)
The fourth quarter belonged to Lattimore last Saturday in Athens. His 13 rushing attempts on three final-quarter drives led to a touchdown, a field goal and ultimately iced the game on the final drive. He finished with 176 yards on 27 carries and the all-important fourth-quarter touchdown in what could turn out to be the most important win of the season for the Gamecocks. Next Game: Navy
5. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (45 pts, 1 first place vote)
If out of sight out of mind was an issue for Jones in the Week Two voting, it certainly won't be the case after this weekend. Jones leads the Sooners into Tallahassee in what could be a BCS championship game elimination game. The Noles (2-0) have looked outstanding — against UL-Monroe and Charleston Southern. The Heisman could also be on the line for Jones should he struggle against what has been a dominant front line for FSU. However, the question remains: Has Florida State closed the 30-point gap from last season's 47-17 beating in Norman? Next Game: at Florida State
6. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (35 pts)
The list of superlatives is long for Shoelace after the performance he put on in Ann Arbor Saturday night. He racked up 948 yards of total offense in the last two wins over the Irish, accounting for an absurd 98.7-percent of the offense last weekend. Robinson threw for 338 yards on only 11 completions and rushed 16 times for 108 yards. He struggled in the first three quarters, throwing three interceptions, but transformed into the electrifying talent Maize and Blue fans have come to love in the final period. Which, of course, included the three-play, 80-yard scoring drive in the final 28 seconds. Next Game: Eastern Michigan
7. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (25 pts)
The next tier of vote-getters begins with the talented Pokes wideout. After a quiet eight-catch, 144-yard first weekend, Blackmon showcased his skills on national television in the Thursday night blowout win over Arizona. The junior caught 12 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. It doesn't appear that the Cowboys offense is missing Dana Holgorsen at all thus far. Next Game: at Tulsa
8. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (24 pts)
If a three-touchdown performance can be called a fluke, Richardson first showing of 2011 might be it. He carried only 13 times for 37 yards against Kent State in week one but bounced back in hostile territory to prove he belongs on this list. Against Penn State in Beaver Stadium, T-Rich touched the ball 30 times for 130 yards from scrimmage and a pair of key touchdowns to beat PSU 27-11. Next Game: North Texas
9. Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin (22 pts)
The most important recruit in the class of 2011 was not Jadeveon Clowney or Malcolm Brown or Isaiah Crowell. It was Russell Wilson. Wilson is leading the Big Ten in passer rating and is No. 2 in the nation in QB efficiency with an astonishing 237.64 rating. He has completed 27 of 34 passes for 444 yards, five touchdowns and no turnovers. He has added 73 yards rushing on only six carries and another score on the ground. Wilson alone makes this Badger team the Leaders of the pack in their division. However, voters won't truly learn about Wilson until Nebraska comes calling on October 1. Next Game: Northern Illinois, Chicago
10. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma (13 pts)
The talented, talkative wideout still leads the nation in receptions after his 14-catch opening weekend performance. After resting for the week, Broyles and company will have a chance to put on a show when the Sooners travel to Tallahassee this weekend to battle Florida State. The BCS national title and Heisman trophy could be on the line in the weekend's highest-profile contest. Next Game: at Florida State
Athlon Sports 120: Week 3
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 2
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 1
Here's a scoring recap of how Week 1's Start or Sit worked out. Needless to say, I fell flat on my face, much like the Steelers' defense, with the call to sit Ray Rice. However, I take some solace in the fact my sneaky start of the week, Kenny Britt, did outscore Ray Rice. It's very little solace of course.
Anyways, I'd like to see more accountability in fantasy football, and I am happy to take the bad with the good. So a 50-percent success rate in Week 1 only seems fitting.
This is how I work out fantasy football scoring in my mind: I want to average 16 points from my QBs, RBs, WRs and Flex and average 10 points from my TEs, Ks and DSTs. It rarely works that way, but if you could get the skill spots to average 16 and the other three to average 10, that's 132 points in a 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 FLX, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DST setup; it's a score that should win you most weeks.
Week 1 Accuracy
(according to the 16 & 10 average theory)
Starts called correctly: 8 of 19
Sits called correctly: 11 of 19
Total correct: 19 of 38 (50 percent)
Sneaky Start of the Week
Kenny Britt, WR, TEN at Jacksonville - 5 catches, 136 yards, 2 TDs (29.10)
Unexpected Sit of the Week
Ray Rice, RB, BAL vs. Pittsburgh - 107 yards rushing, 4 catches, 42 yards, 2 TDs (28.90)
Kyle Orton (DEN) vs. Oakland - 304 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 FL (16.46)
Matthew Stafford (DET) at Tampa Bay - 305 yards passing, 3 TDs, 1 INT (28.20)
Mark Sanchez (NYJ) vs. Dallas - 335 yards passing, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 1 FL (22.70)
Tony Romo (DAL) at New York Jets - 342 yards passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 1 FL (23.58)
Sam Bradford (STL) vs. Philadelphia - 188 yards passing, 1 FL (5.02)
Kerry Collins (IND) at Houston - 197 yards passing, 1 TD, 2 FL (11.88)
Peyton Hillis (CLE) vs. Cincinnati - 57 yards rushing, 6 catches, 30 yards (11.70)
Cedric Benson (CIN) at Cleveland - 121 yards rushing, 1 TD, 1 catch (18.80)
DeAngelo Williams (CAR) at Arizona - 30 yards rushing, 1 catch, 6 yards (4.10)
Michael Turner (ATL) at Chicago - 100 yards rushing, 3 catches, 40 yards, 1 FL (14.50)
Felix Jones (DAL) at New York Jets - 44 yards rushing, 1 TD, 3 catches, 22 yards, 1 FL (14.10)
Marshawn Lynch (SEA) at San Francisco - 33 yards rushing, 2 catches, 14 yards (6.70)
Santonio Holmes (NYJ) vs. Dallas - 6 catches, 70 yards (10.00)
Mario Manningham (NYG) at Washington - 4 catches, 49 yards (6.90)
Lee Evans (BAL) vs. Pittsburgh - 0 catches (0.0)
Reggie Wayne (IND) at Houston - 7 catches, 106 yards, 1 TD (20.10)
Jeremy Maclin (PHI) at St. Louis - 1 catch, 20 yards (2.50)
Miles Austin (DAL) at New York Jets - 5 catches, 90 yards, 1 TD (17.50)
Brandon Pettigrew (DET) at Tampa Bay - 4 catches, 57 yards (7.70)
Marcedes Lewis (JAC) vs. Tennessee - 2 catches, 28 yards (3.80)
Jared Cook (TEN) at Jacksonville - 1 catch, 7 yards (2.20)
Tony Gonzalez (ATL) at Chicago - 5 catches, 72 yards (10.70)
Dustin Keller (NYJ) vs. Dallas - 5 catches, 61 yards, 1 TD (14.60)
Greg Olsen (CAR) at Arizona - 4 catches, 78 yards (9.80)
Defense/Special Teams Starts
Houston vs. Indianapolis - 19 fantasy points (Ranked 4th)
Cleveland vs. Cincinnati - 5 fantasy points (Ranked 24th)
San Francisco vs. Seattle - 26 fantasy points (Ranked 1st)
Defense/Special Teams Sits
New York Giants at Washington - 7 fantasy points (Ranked 21st)
Dallas at New York Jets - 9 fantasy points (Ranked 14th)
Atlanta at Chicago - 14 fantasy points (Ranked 9th)
Neil Rackers (HOU) vs. Indianapolis - 10 fantasy points (Ranked 6th)
Alex Henery (PHI) at St. Louis - 7 fantasy points (Ranked 14th)
Nick Folk (NYJ) vs. Dallas - 11 fantasy points (Ranked 5th)
David Akers (SF) vs. Seattle - 15 fantasy points (Ranked 1st)
David Buehler (DAL) at New York Jets - 0 fantasy points
Billy Cundiff (BAL) vs. Pittsburgh - 9 fantasy points (Ranked 9th)
Athlon Sports Default Scoring System
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points.
1 point for 40 return yards
Defense/Special Teams Scoring
0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points
PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points
— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter