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In August, we think we have it all figured out. These moves will work, these won’t. This will be a team’s quarterback. This transfer will be the savior.
As usual, college football provided a few surprises through the first month of the season, causing us to look back at some of the offseason moves that made a major difference.
We’re looking at assistant hires, personnel decisions and transfers — what worked and what didn’t through the first month of the season.
These are the gambles or at least the tough decisions that ended up paying major dividends already in 2014.
10 Offseason Moves that Worked in 2014
Lane Kiffin lands at Alabama and starts Blake Sims
Nick Saban’s move to hire the controversial former USC and Tennessee coach to run his offense was greeted with skepticism, but it turned out to be the spark Saban was seeking. Saban says he’s wanted to pass more, and Kiffin has delivered. The Crimson Tide are averaging 10.3 yards per attempt, the best of the Saban era. Meanwhile, an Alabama wide receiver, Amari Cooper, is contending for the Heisman — imagine that thought 10 years ago. Of course, none of this might be possible without the play of the veteran Blake Sims, who never let go of the starting job when Jake Coker arrived from Florida State.
Texas A&M names Jake Spavital playcaller and starts Kenny Hill
A year ago, Kevin Sumlin filled Kliff Kingsbury’s slot on the coaching staff with the youthful Spavital, who shared offensive coordinator duties with Clarence McKinney. Now, Spavital is the sole playcaller in the post-Johnny Manziel era. The Aggies’ offense has shown little drop off. Part of that is Hill winning the quarterback competition over five-star freshman quarterback Kyle Allen. Texas A&M is third in the nation in yards per play at 7.99.
Notre Dame hires Brian VanGorder
Notre Dame is fourth in the nation in scoring defense at 11.5 points allowed per game, and the periphery numbers and the competition suggest the Irish aren’t quite that dominant. Still, this is remarkable given the circumstances. Notre Dame is still without cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams, and the Irish transitioned from Bob Diaco’s 3-4 to VanGorder’s 4-3. After all that, Notre Dame hasn’t allowed more than two touchdowns in game this year.
Shaq Thompson playing offense
In an uneven season so far, Washington’s move to have Shaq Thompson play on both sides of the ball as worked without a hitch. He’s carried nine times for 84 yards with a touchdown, a development that hasn’t stopped him from making an impact on defense. Thompson has three defensive touchdowns this season, giving him three more total touchdowns than one school (SMU) has scored as a team.
Arizona starts Anu Solomon
The Wildcats had four quarterbacks competing for the job at one point, and it’s curious why this was such a hotly contested job. Solomon is arguably the nation’s top freshman quarterback so far, completing 63.4 percent of his passes for 1,454 yards with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions.
TCU’s new coordinators, same quarterback
TCU’s offense hadn’t been the same since Justin Fuente took the Memphis job. To compete in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs needed a major upgrade and attempted to do that with Sonny Cumbie from Texas Tech and Doug Meacham from Houston. Lucky for them, they already had an experienced quarterback who could fit in the system in Trevone Boykin, who had been moved to receiver at one point last season. TCU hasn’t played a Big 12 contender yet, but they’ve topped 70 plays in every game this season after averaging 68.5 per game a year ago.
Miami starts Brad Kaaya
The Hurricanes’ quarterback situation appeared to be in dire straits when fifth-year senior Ryan Williams was lost for the season and BYU transfer Jake Heaps failed to make an impression. Instead of falling apart at quarterback, Miami may have found the QB of the future in the freshman Kaaya. After taking his lumps in an ACC opener on the road against Louisville, Kaaya helped put Miami back in the ACC race with an interception-free win over Duke last week.
Gunner Kiel transfers to Cincinnati
Plenty of transfer quarterbacks have made moves that didn’t work out as some have found themselves riding the bench at a second school. Not so with Gunner Kiel, who finally found a home at Cincinnati. The former Notre Dame quarterback (and Indiana and LSU commitment) has completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 1,041 yards with 14 touchdowns and two picks. If Kiel can lead Cincy to an AAC championship, the Bearcats have a good shot at a major bowl game.
Cal hires Art Kaufman
In recent years, Kaufman already led defensive turnarounds at Texas Tech and Cincinnati. Cal needed any answers it could find after firing defensive coordinator Andy Buh after one year. Giving up 105 against Arizona and Colorado isn’t a great look, but the group is better. Cal is allowing 5.27 yards per play after allowing 7.08 a year ago.
Patrick Towles starts at Kentucky
Kentucky could have jumped right into the Drew Barker era but instead opted with its only experienced quarterback in Towles. The result was Kentucky’s first SEC win since Nov. 26, 2011 and a close call with Florida on Sept. 13. Towles’ best game was a 23-for-30 performance against Vanderbilt last week.
The game of baseball celebrates its heroes and greatest moments unlike any other sport in the world. Our favorite players are immortalized within our ballparks, and in our memories. Their stories are passed down from generation to generation, and their moments have stamped our lives as if they were meant for us specifically.
Our grandparents would tell us of Ted Williams’ last at bat in Boston, a home run to deep right center field in a half-empty Fenway. Our parents told us about Hank Aaron smashing an Al Downing hanging breaker into the left field bullpen on a brisk, April night in Atlanta to become the all-time home run king. Our generation will tell stories of Yankees captain Derek Jeter.
Jeter wasn’t a slugger, hitting mammoth moon shots that left us in awe, and he never hit more than 24 in a season. He was a good shortstop, not a great one, but Jeter had the ability to make the plays that left your jaw dropped. The backhanded stab, running deep into the hole, jump throw against his momentum, on a rope to first, was his trademark. Not too many shortstops could do that, ever.
Derek Jeter’s career has become iconic, not just within baseball, but for all sports. The greatest players in the game all have their signature moments that last forever; Jeter has a catalog. Here are the top five career-defining moments of Derek Jeter’s fantastic career.
THE DIVE - July 1, 2004
The Yankees and Red Sox rivalry is always in full swing, even in the dog days of July. Boston right fielder and left-handed batting Trot Nixon hit a cue shot on a pitch away that shot straight up and towards the shallow left field foul line, behind the third base bag. Jeter, sprinting from his position at shortstop, never took his eyes off the pop fly. Jeter made the catch, running full bore along the foul line, not able to stop his momentum before having to dive into the third row of the Old Stadium, face first. Jeter emerged from the crowd battered and bloodied under his right eye and on his chin, a testament to how Jeter played the game, 100% every day.
THE FLIP - Oct. 13, 2001
The Yankees were on the road and facing elimination down two games to none against the 102-win Oakland As. In the bottom of the 7th, Terrence Long ripped a line drive along the right field line, Yankee outfielder Shane Spencer corralled the ball in the corner and fired it towards home and catcher Jorge Posada, missing two cut-off men. The A's Jeremy Giambi was rounding third, trucking towards home and towards a tie game as the ball appeared to die in-between home and first…then Jeter happened. In what could be the most heady, intelligent baseball play in Postseason history, Jeter sprinted from his short stop position, realizing Spencer’s throw from deep right field wasn’t going to make it home, scooped up the ball and flipped it towards Posada. Giambi, assuming the ball was going to die alone the baseline, didn't slide and was tagged in the leg just before touching home.
Without Jeter’s intuition and guts, Game 3 is tied and the Yankees are more than likely sent home early. Instead, the Bronx Bombers hold onto the 1-run lead and then rally to beat the As in Games 4 and 5, and marched towards another World Series.
FOX broadcaster Thom Brennaman summarized “The Flip” as it happened: “Derek Jeter, with one of the most unbelievable plays you will ever see from a shortstop!” Spot on, Thom.
DJ3K - July 9, 2011
Getting 3,000 hits in a career all but assures a Cooperstown enshrinement. Derek Jeter decided that getting a patented inside out single to right field, like he had done countless times, wasn't going to be good enough for such a milestone.
Instead, the Yankee captain came to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd, with a 1-0 deficit against arguably the best pitcher in baseball, David Price — all while the New York faithful chanted “Der-ek Je-ter” as they had done so many times before — and sent a low-and-in breaking curveball to deep left field.
“See ya! History with an exclamation point!” said Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay, who continued: “Derek Jeter has done it in grand style.”
While Jeter rounded first base, Rays first baseman, Casey Kotchman tipped his cap to the captain, followed by a standing ovation from Yankee fans, and the visiting Rays. Christian Lopez, the man who caught the famed homer, gave the ball back to Jeter, and asked for nothing in return.
Jeter is the first and only member of the 3,000 hit club in the Yankees' illustrious history.
MR. NOVEMBER - Nov. 1, 2001
After the attacks of 9/11, America was in a state of shock and looking for answers. Our way of life was completely thrown off track. The closest thing that we could find to normalcy was postseason baseball.
Sure enough, the Yankees were able to rally past a two-games to-none-deficit at the hands of the Oakland As, and defeat the 116-win Seattle Mariners four-games-to-one in the ALCS.
Just seven weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the Yankees found themselves in a two-games-to-one hole to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the city of New York found itself torn between grieving and cheering. At that time, the Yankees were much more than a baseball team; they were representing New York City, and really, the nation as a whole. Just across town from old Yankee Stadium, New York’s bravest continued the cleanup and rescue effort at Ground Zero, and families continued to mourn. This was the one World Series where the rest of the country wanted the Yankees to win.
Derek Jeter came to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning of a three-three game — at midnight on Nov. 1. It was the first time in the history of the game that the Fall Classic had been played during the month of November. The video board in right field even said: “Welcome to November Baseball.” At the time, Jeter was batting just 1-for-15 in the series.
With two outs, Jeter battled back from an 0-2 count and took the 3-2 pitch from Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim the other way, a line drive to the right field corner. It barely cleared the short porch Stadium wall.
Mr. November was born…and a city was lifted, even if for one night.
A BRONX GOODBYE - Sept. 25, 2014
For the first time in Jeter’s career, he didn’t want the ball hit to him at his shortstop home. The Captain was showing his emotions all night, often fighting back tears, adjusting his cap in anxiousness. What should have been a 5-2 win in the top of the ninth for the Yankees, quickly turned into a 5-5 tie thanks to home runs from Orioles Adam Jones and Steve Pearce.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, a runner on second, and Yankee fans standing and chanting their captain’s name, the echo of Bob Sheppard’s introduction rang out one last time: “Now batting for the Yankees, number two, Derek Jeter…number two.”
Jeter, with his signature inside-out swing, took the first pitch to right field to plate the winning run for the Yankees.
The game didn't matter in the standings, as the Orioles had already clinched the AL East and the Yankees were already eliminated from Postseason contention, but that moment will resonate within the game of baseball forever.
This generation’s greatest sports icon was finally walking away from the lights of New York and the National Pastime on his own terms. After being mobbed by his current teammates, and embracing his old ones, Jeter slowly began to walk around the infield of Yankee Stadium, taking it all in, letting the love wash over him.
He walked over to where he has played for the past 20 seasons, between second and third base, where he won his five Gold Gloves, and lowered himself. His final act was done.
— Jake Rose
On NBA Media Day, everybody gets to be number one. All the ideals of the upcoming season are fresh, unspoiled by the slog of reality. Players spout off about MVP candidacy, their new-and-improved shooting form and how much they love all of their teammates — soon-to-be champions, all of them.
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal was more than bursting with such optimistic energy in D.C. on Monday. The 21-year-old said he and point guard John Wall — a first-time All-Star last season — are “definitely the best backcourt in the league.”
While it’s an encouraging sign for Cavs chemistry to see Waiters referring to frenemy Irving with a nickname, his defense also begat a war of words. When poked for a rebuke, Wall slighted Waiters. “They haven’t seen a playoff game yet, so when they make one they can start talking. But if you’re going to be the best backcourt, you have to start,” Wall said after practice Tuesday, twisting the knife in Waiters’ wound over often being pushed into a sixth man role. “This is the year he’s probably starting, so let’s see who’s got the best backcourt. You’ve got to be a starting backcourt to be the best backcourt.”
Cleveland and Washington last regularly exchanged tempers when LeBron James was a Cavalier for the first time. Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison were thorns in the King’s side for multiple postseasons of that era. While a returned, wiser James may now be beyond speaking ill of other teams, it seems a younger generation is more than happy to renew the flames of rivalry.
— John Wilmes
Derek Jeter was the perfect player at the perfect time. Jeter emerged as the Yankee captain at the end of the Steroid Era and perfectly played the role of the “Face of Baseball” ever since.
Jeter played the game “the right way” for 20 seasons, running out ground balls, diving into stands for foul pop-ups, hitting clutch homers, and being an outstanding gentleman of the game, never unruly or ungracious, always polite and obliging. Jeter’s character only enhanced his legend on the field, creating the aura of “The Captain” even when he was reluctant to play the role we all wanted him to. He was always, simply, Derek Jeter.
Thanks to the advance of the digital age, social networks, and regional sports networks, the legend of Jeter was able to flourish for all the right reasons. Fans of the game were looking for a player who could be a white knight on and off the field, who could distance himself from scandal and the Steroid Era. What they got was Derek Jeter.
Now, a new era of baseball is here. New commissioner Rob Manfred will take the helm without The Captain to be the transcendent star who helped keep the game’s national identity intact. What Manfred does have is a stable of young talent across the league that can attempt to do what Jeter did for the next generation of baseball.
Here are the top choices for the Jeter’s replacements as “Faces of Baseball.”
If Ruthian home runs are your thing, Giancarlo has you covered in South Beach. His home runs don’t just leave the ball park, they fly on a Top Gun fighter jet. If Paul Bunyan were a baseball player, he’d have Giancarlo’s two-handed, effortless chop-swing that makes the ball sound like it was shot from a circus cannon.
Stanton lead the National League in long balls (37), total bases (299) and slugging percentage (.555) this season, all accomplished before he got hit in the face with a fastball and was forced to sit out the final few weeks of the year.
In 2014, Stanton was in the top five in all of baseball in OPS (.995), walks (94), and on-base percentage (.394), and in the top ten in RBIs (105).
The California native is just 24 years old and already has 154 homers in his five-year career, which puts him on pace for approximately 340 deep balls after his age 30 season — all while playing in the Grand Canyon of ball parks, Marlins Park.
Stanton will be just 26 years old when his contract expires in 2016. Look for the young slugger to get a major payday in a couple years if an extension with the Marlins can’t be reached.
Imagine putting that swing in the arena of Yankee Stadium. Look out.
What can’t Cutch do? The 2013 NL MVP has been the biggest reason the Pirates have been resurrected after 20 losing seasons and have made it to the postseason the past two years.
While McCutchen might be most recognized for his dreads spilling out from under his Pirates cap, his all-around game is nothing to overlook. Besides his MVP award last year, McCutchen is a four-time All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove center fielder. Some of his numbers this year are better than his MVP season!
In 2014, he lead all of baseball in on-base percentage (.410), and was top ten in slugging percentage (.542). McCutchen led the National League in OPS (.952) and OPS+ (168). Adding to those stats, McCutchen hit .314 with 38 doubles, 25 home runs, and 83 RBIs.
McCutchen has all of the qualities that a manager could want from his team leader. Cutch isn't afraid to lay out to make a catch and save a run, or run full-steam into a wall to rob extra bases from a hitter, all for the sake of the team. Cutch will hit a homer in one inning, steal second in another with his lightning speed, and then smack one of his patented doubles in the gap to cap it off.
Andrew McCutchen is the complete weapon, and at just 27 years old, ready to make some more noise in The ‘Burgh for seasons to come.
At just age 27, San Francisco Giants catcher/first basemen Buster Posey has already amassed one heck of an awards mantle, all while looking like he just graduated from high school.
The 2010 Rookie of the Year already has two World Series rings, the 2012 NL MVP award, two All-Star game appearances, and a Silver Slugger Award to put on his resume. Posey is the face of one of the most successful North American sports franchises of the past decade in the Giants.
After a “sub-par” 2013, Posey rebounded in 2014 with a slash-line of .311/.364/.490, an OPS of .854 to go along with 22 home runs, 28 doubles, and 89 RBIs. Catchers don't put up those kinds of numbers, even “offensive” catchers.
If the Giants make another deep run into October in 2014, look for Posey to be the first on the field holding the Commissioner’s Trophy, and on your next box of Wheaties.
Rizzo is the dark horse of the group. The Chicago Cubs first basemen has shown glimpses of what he could become, especially if he gets any protection in the lineup with the organization’s youth movement (Side note: Cubs’ top prospect Kris Bryant very well could be on this list next season).
The days of the Cubs signing and flipping talent for trade deadline deals are over, and the time for the team to take steps towards winning is now. That winning starts with the cornerstone of the organization, 25 year old first basemen Anthony Rizzo.
2014 was Rizzo’s second full season in The Show, and he was lights out for a last-place team. The lefty was in the top five of the National League in on-base percentage (.386), slugging percentage (.527), and OPS (.913). On top of those numbers, Rizzo hit .288 with 32 homers, and 28 doubles, and earned himself his first All-Star selection.
To add to the on-field accolades, Rizzo is a cancer survivor who dedicates so much of his off-time visiting sick children in Chicago hospitals, often times showing up unannounced.
If the Cubs plan unfolds like they hope, Rizzo will be the foundation of NL Central Division and pennant-winning teams for years to come. Any guy that can win with the Cubs is going to garner some national attention.
This season the Baltimore Orioles won the AL East by an unbelievable 12 games over Derek Jeter’s Yankees. This without a true pitching ace, season-ending injuries to All-Stars Manny Machado, and Matt Weiters, and a suspended Chris Davis.
Even with all the disorder in the Os lineup, they were able to lead the league in home runs this season, thanks in large part to Adam Jones. who blasted 29 long balls, and tacked on 30 doubles, all while playing Gold Glove caliber defense, again.
Along with the leadership of Skipper Buck Showalter, one could easily argue that Jones is the key to the Os success the past several seasons in which he won three Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and went to four All-Star games.
Jones’ game might be the smoothest in all of baseball. His swing is easy, yet fierce. He rules center field in the same manner that Ken Griffey Jr. did, dominating. Fly balls don’t get over the head of Adam Jones; they die in the webbing of his glove.
Off the field Jones excels just as much. Earlier this year, Jones was awarded the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation’s award for community service due to his constant activity within the Baltimore community. After Derek Jeter hit his now-famed walk-off single against the Os in his last at-bat in the Bronx, Jones took to Twitter to sing The Captain’s praises: “Couldn’t have asked for a better role model within the game. Jeter thanks for teaching me that grinding is the way to play.”
The Dodgers southpaw ace is the only pitcher you will find on this list. Really, it's hard to be the “face of the game” when you're only pitching every fifth day, but Kershaw is that dominating that he needs to be on this list.
At age 26, Kershaw has already amassed 98 wins and could be the closest thing we will ever see again to a possible 300-game winner. His career ERA is a slim 2.48 with a win-loss percentage of .667, which is first among active pitchers. The winner of two Cy Young Awards, soon to be three, Kershaw is also the frontrunner for the NL MVP award this year. He has been that dominating.
Kershaw was so dominating this season that in the month of June his ERA was 0.87. That is not a typo. That same month, he struck out twice as many batters (61) than he allowed base-runners (30), and threw his first no-hitter on June 19.
In 2014, Kershaw led baseball in wins (21), WHIP (0.86), ERA (1.77), WAR (8.0), complete games (6), win-loss percentage (.875), ERA+ (197), FIP (1.81), strikeouts per nine innings (10.8), and strikeouts-to-walks ratio (7.71). These numbers are plenty enough to argue that Kershaw assembled one of the greatest seasons a pitcher has ever had.
It's not hard to envision Kershaw as the newest “Face of the Game,” as long as he shaves that awful beard.
Let’s face it, once Derek Jeter announced he was retiring earlier in the year, everyone knew that Mike Trout was going to take over as the primary ambassador for the game of baseball. This is truly fitting since Jeter is Mike Trout’s biggest role model.
Trout carries himself in the same way that Jeter does. Quiet and reluctant to fall into the accolades and hype being showered upon him. Trout plays the game hard, every single day.
Trout’s first three seasons have been nothing short of historic. His first year in the bigs, he was AL Rookie of the Year, an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and second in MVP voting behind Miguel Cabrera — which has happened twice. Many baseball pundits argue that because of Trout’s stellar play as the Angels’ center fielder, he should have been awarded two MVPs. Surely, this season will be the year Trout overthrow’s Miggy’s reign as AL MVP.
To understand the early greatness of Mike Trout, we can look at his WAR (“wins above replacement,” which analyzes how many wins a player is worth per season). Cooperstown legends Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey, Jr., Al Kaline, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, and Ty Cobb all rank behind Trout in terms of WAR accrued through their age-22 seasons. If that wasn’t enough, according to FanGraphs' measurement of WAR, Mike Trout’s young three-year career is one of the greatest three-year stretches in the history of baseball, just behind the best three-year splits of Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle, Rogers Hornsby, Willie Mays, and Ted Williams. Wow.
Analytics aside, in his first three years, Mike Trout’s career slash line is a ridiculous .305/.395./.549 with 97 home runs, 102 stolen bases, 307 RBI, 111 doubles, an OPS of .945, and an OPS+ of 167. Those numbers are absurd for any player, but for a 23-year-old, they are mythical.
Trout is the runaway consensus AL MVP this season, and it is by far his worst hitting season since being called up for full-time duty in 2012. Even though the numbers with the lumber aren't as gaudy as the previous two years in terms of average, Trout still leads baseball in runs scored (115), extra base-hits (84), and total bases (338). Trout is also the AL leader in RBIs (111) and WAR (7.9). Not to be outdone, he is also top five in the game in homers (36), doubles (39), triples (9), walks (88), slugging percentage (.561), OPS (.939), and OPS+ (167).
Whew, proof enough?
If there is anyone in the game today who can transcend the ballpark and reach the national mainstream, it's Mike Trout, and judging by the 23-year-olds career path thus far, we better get used to seeing him around.
With Jeter stepping down, an era and generation of baseball has ended. It's time now for Trout, Stanton, Rizzo, Jones, and McCutchen to take their spot atop the mountain as the players who will lead the game into the next generation.
— Jake Rose
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for October 1:
• Pedro Martinez ripped Ned Yost's managing in two languages. Still, the Royals' first playoff win in 29 years was worth the wait. The fantastic finish even yielded a classic George Brett GIF.
• Derek Jeter is not going quietly into retirement. Jetes is starting a new website.
• In case you went to bed, here's the game-winning hit in last night's Royals-A's marathon.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
NBA Media Days are all about talking the talk and looking the part. The day’s cliches about added muscle, renewed focus and championship aspirations have become as predictable as the four seasons. We’ve even got Media Day Bingo to guide us through these tropes:
So when character rears it head on the eve of training camp, it shines through all these dull gestures. Nick Young, a Los Angeles native and happy Lakers returnee — his new deal is worth about $21 million over four years — knows as much about this pomp as anyone. He’s a true showman.
“I’m a star,” he said, chuckling at media day. “Swaggy P” stole the show at the Lakers season-opening presser, smiling a mile a minute as he riffed hilarious lines like: “Kobe practiced with me, I didn’t practice with him… I was showing Kobe the ropes this summer.”
He went on to say that the team’s new rookies (Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle) must call him “Daddy Swag,” “Uncle Swag,” and eventually "Grandpa Swaggy." Young also said he taught new Lakers coach Byron Scott all about team defense over Swaggy’s “summer of enlightenment”—“we need some guys to be in the back, just in case I get blown by,” he jested.
Scott hasn't replied with any of his own jokes, but Kobe certainly has. Here he makes sure we remember who stands in whose shadow in Young's relationship with Australian pop star Iggy Azalea:
Young’s loose, fun confidence has long been a staple of both his personality and his game. Swaggy was a silver lining to last year’s ugly 27-55 Lakers campaign — he blossomed into one of the best hot-handed scorers in the league, averaging 17.9 points per game, a career high. So when he proclaims that he’ll be fighting for both the MVP and Sixth Man awards in this interview, he’s only halfway kidding.
A super-sub version of Young would be an asset to any contender. Swaggy P is a telling personality for the new tone of Lakers-dom. Written off in past seasons for his inefficient, irrationally confident playing style, Young has consistently shrugged the skepticism aside and kept his moxie. No one expects these rag-tag Lakers to be competitive in a loaded Western Conference, but being the underdog suits Young, Kobe Bryant (who spoke of his inner “rage” at media day) and the rest of the new-look Lakers.
Let the year of the Swaggy begin.
— John Wilmes
College football’s 2014 season is only five weeks old, but it’s clear some teams are already showing improvement from their 2013 performance.
Arkansas, West Virginia, California and NC State highlight just a few of the teams from Power 5 conferences taking a step forward in their development after each recorded a losing record last year.
There’s a long way to go this year, and this list could look significantly different by December. Injuries, coaching changes, emergence of quarterbacks and other various elements of surprise will create more chaos across college football. It’s always tough to put too much stock in teams that have played a weak schedule in the first month of the season, but after examining each team’s record through September, here are 12 teams we think are significantly improved from 2013.
College Football's Top 12 Most-Improved Teams in 2014
Power 5 Conference Teams
It may seem odd to call Arkansas improved at just 3-2, but the Razorbacks are making significant progress in coach Bret Bielema’s second year. Arkansas held its own against Auburn in the first half and led Texas A&M 28-14 in the fourth quarter. While both were losses, it’s a clear sign Bielema has the program on the right track – he just needs more talent. The rushing attack leads the way for Arkansas on offense, averaging 316.6 yards per game, with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams both ranking among the top five backs in yards per game in the SEC. There’s also progress on defense, where first-year coordinator Robb Smith helped Arkansas lower its points allowed per game to 25.8 after giving up 30.8 in 2013.
What’s Next: The SEC West is challenging, so Arkansas has an uphill battle to make a bowl in 2014. The defense and passing attack are Bielema’s biggest areas to improve over the next seven games, and the development of both units will decide whether or not the Razorbacks can get to six wins in a brutal SEC West.
The Golden Bears slumped to 1-11 in Sonny Dykes’ first season, but due to better luck in the injury department and improvement on both sides of the ball, California is off to a 3-1 start. And if it wasn’t for Arizona’s Hail Mary connection on Sept. 20, the Golden Bears would be 4-0. Quarterback Jared Goff is off to a fast start (17 TDs, 3 INTs), guiding the offense to an average of 7.1 yards per play. Injuries hit the defense hard last season, but new coordinator Art Kaufman was a needed addition after Andy Buh’s struggles in 2013. California is allowing only 35.8 points per game after giving up 45.9 in 2013.
What’s Next: Improving the second-half defense is a priority. 71 of the 143 points allowed by the Golden Bears occurred over the final two quarters and in overtime. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem, but California will only go to a bowl if its defense continues to show progress over the next eight games. The Golden Bears have a shot at a bowl, especially if they can beat Washington State this Saturday and beat Washington on Oct. 11.
With a 3-1 record, Kentucky is off to its best start since 2010. The Wildcats have made considerable progress under second-year coach Mark Stoops, snapping a 16-game SEC losing streak by defeating Vanderbilt 17-7 and nearly winning at Florida (36-30 3 OT) on Sept. 13. Stoops’ recruiting efforts are paying off with an upgraded roster, and the offense features a handful of young players poised to make an impact over the next couple of years. After scoring over 20 points only three times in 2013, the Wildcats have already reached that total in two games in 2014. Kentucky’s offense is averaging 31.5 points per game – a clear improvement from last season’s 20.5 mark.
What’s Next: Kentucky was picked by most to finish last in the SEC East, but with a win over Vanderbilt, the Wildcats now have an outside shot at a bowl. The schedule doesn’t provide many favors with four consecutive games against ranked foes (LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri and Georgia) in October/early November. Even if the Wildcats fall short of postseason eligibility, the program is trending in the right direction going into 2015.
The Wolfpack nearly shocked the college football world with an upset over Florida State last Saturday. Even though NC State’s upset bid fell short, second-year coach Dave Doeren has the Wolfpack on track to make a bowl after a 3-9 record last season. The key cog in the turnaround has been the play of quarterback Jacoby Brissett. After sitting out 2013 due to transfer rules, Brissett has thrown for 13 touchdowns to just one interception and is completing 68.9 percent of his passes.
What’s Next: NC State is a young team, and most of the core from this year’s squad is set to return in 2015. Getting to a bowl game would be a huge step in the right direction for Doeren. And of course, beating North Carolina on Nov. 29 wouldn’t hurt Doeren’s rebuilding effort. Brissett should be in the mix for All-ACC honors, and the offense needs to carry this team with a defense giving up 26 points per game so far in 2014.
Considering the three opponents on TCU’s schedule (Samford, Minnesota and SMU), this team is still a mystery. However, for a team that lost six games by 10 points or less last year, there are positive signs the Horned Frogs have turned things around and can contend for eight wins in 2014. After scoring just 25.1 points per game last year, TCU is averaging 44.7 through three contests. Of course, competition is a question, but quarterbacks Trevone Boykin and Matt Joeckel have combined for 10 passing touchdowns, which nearly equals the team’s total from 2013 (14). And as usual, Gary Patterson’s defense is slated to be one of the best in the Big 12.
What’s Next: We should find out just how good TCU is over the next two weeks. The Horned Frogs host Oklahoma this Saturday and play at Baylor on Oct. 11. After losing its share of close games last year, TCU is bound to have better luck in the win column in 2014. If the offense continues to progress under new co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, the Horned Frogs can finish 8-4 or even 9-3.
Mike London entered 2014 squarely on the hot seat with an 18-31 record over the last four years. So far, London is on track to save his job, as the Cavaliers are 3-2 through the first month of the season. Virginia lost to UCLA by eight in the opener and fell by eight on the road at BYU. The Cavaliers have already exceeded their win total from last year and are squarely in the mix to compete in a wide-open Coastal Division.
What’s Next: Virginia has its share of flaws, but there’s no perfect team in the Coastal Division. Quarterback play and the offensive line are two units to watch over the next few weeks if the Cavaliers are to make a serious push for the division title. London has recruited well, so talent certainly isn’t an issue in Charlottesville. Can the Cavaliers continue to progress enough for London to reach six wins and save his job for 2015?
A tough schedule and quarterback uncertainty led many to project West Virginia to finish at the bottom of the Big 12 this year. The tough schedule remains, but the Mountaineers found an answer at quarterback in senior Clint Trickett, and coach Dana Holgorsen’s high-scoring offense is back in Morgantown. Trickett has thrown for nine touchdowns and 1,600 yards through four games, while the emergence of Kevin White has provided the passing attack with a go-to target. West Virginia’s defense still needs some work, but after playing Oklahoma and Alabama tough, Holgorsen’s team has showed it is ready to easily surpass last year’s 4-8 record.
What’s Next: The next barometer test for West Virginia is an Oct. 18 date against Baylor but most of the remaining games on the schedule are winnable. Road trips to Texas and Oklahoma State, along with home dates against TCU and Kansas State certainly aren’t easy, but if the Mountaineers can hang with Oklahoma and Alabama, they certainly have a shot to win any of those contests.
Group of 5 Teams
The Zips made a four-game improvement from 2012 to 2013 and could make a similar jump in 2014. Akron is 2-2 after beating Pittsburgh and hosts preseason MAC East favorite Bowling Green on Nov. 4. Road tests at Ohio, Ball State and Buffalo are challenging, but Terry Bowden’s Zips rank No. 1 in the MAC scoring defense, and this team has improved its overall talent and depth over the last three years.
Just four games into the season and Air Force has already exceeded its win total from 2013 (2). Victories over Nicholls State and Georgia State didn’t move the needle nationally, but the Falcons knocked off Boise State 28-14 last Saturday. Troy Calhoun’s team will have a chance to take a lead for the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy with a win over Navy on Oct. 4. With games against UNLV, New Mexico and Army remaining, Air Force should have a good chance to return to the postseason.
Coming off a 4-8 season, Louisiana Tech didn’t garner much consideration to be picked near the top of Conference USA’s West Division. But five weeks into the season, the Bulldogs have to be one of the frontrunners in a wide-open division. After a rocky debut, coach Skip Holtz seems to have the program pointed in the right direction, as Louisiana Tech has scored road wins over UL Lafayette and North Texas. Challenging non-conference games against Oklahoma and Auburn has skewed the stats, but new coordinator Manny Diaz has made a difference on defense, and quarterback Cody Sokol has already matched the team’s touchdown total (10) from all of last year.
Memphis was a program in disarray after the failed two-year stint under Larry Porter, but Justin Fuente has transformed the Tigers back into a bowl team in three seasons. Memphis has won nine games over the last three years and is off to a 2-2 start in 2014. The Tigers gave UCLA all it could handle on Sept. 6 and played Ole Miss tough in a 24-3 loss. Defense is leading the way for Memphis, as the Barry Odom’s group ranks third in the American Athletic Conference by allowing just 20.8 points per game – and that’s after playing UCLA and Ole Miss. With winnable conference games against Tulane, USF, UConn, Tulsa and SMU remaining, the Tigers should go bowling for the first time since 2008.
Temple finished 2-10 last year, but a deeper look at the Owls’ schedule shows this team was more competitive over the second half of the season and was just a couple plays away from winning four games. In Matt Rhule’s debut season, Temple lost its last four games by 10 points or less. The Owls are successfully building off last year’s improvement, jumping to a 3-1 start through the first four weeks. A huge road win at Vanderbilt got the momentum rolling, while the Owls defeated Delaware State and UConn by a combined score of 95-10. Quarterback P.J. Walker ranks second in the conference with a 65.1 completion percentage, and Temple’s defense is allowing just 4.6 yards per play.
Athlon Sports has formed a Heisman Trophy committee. Each week, we will ask 13 members of the national college football media to rank their top candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
Each voter will rank their top five candidates, with each first-place vote getting five points and each last-place vote getting one point.
Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports
Dave Revsine, Big Ten Network
Adam Zucker, CBS Sports
Steven Godfrey, SBNation
Zac Ellis, Sports Illustrated
Bryan Fischer, NFL.com
Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Network
Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report, B/R Radio
Josh Ward, MrSEC.com
Mitch Light, Athlon Sports
David Fox, Athlon Sports
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports, SiriusXM
Dropped out: Shane Carden, James Conner, Melvin Gordon, Jameis Winston, Nick Marshall
Listen to the Week 5 recap podcast:
The Top 3:
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Mariota and the Ducks were off this weekend but will host a revenge game against Arizona on Thursday night. Mariota was still nursing a knee injury when Oregon lost to the Wildcats in the desert last year, costing Mark Helfrich the Pac-12 North title in the process. This one could get ugly very quickly.
2. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Gurley had a career day in a critical home win over Tennessee. In a game that saw quarterback Hutson Mason struggle mightily, Gurley was needed to carry his offense to victory. And he did just that by rushing 28 times for a career-high 208 yards and two touchdowns in the three-point win.
3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Cooper and the Tide were on bye in Week 4, giving Nick Saban two weeks to prepare for the daunting trip to Oxford this Saturday. ESPN's
"College Gameday" will be at The Grove for the first time and the moment couldn't be bigger for Ole Miss. A huge game from Cooper could launch Alabama into the top slot in the polls and Cooper to the top of many Heisman ballots.
The original reality TV show is sports. No contrived setting where seven strangers living in a house or one bachelor searching for love can match the excitement the Iron Bowl delivered last fall.
The beauty of college football lies in its complete unpredictability and drama. Here are some outrageous predictions for Week 6.
Note: The point of this column is to have some fun and make some outlandish predictions. Please react accordingly.
The Magnolia State will go unbeaten
It’s no secret this could be the biggest college football weekend in the state of Mississippi… ever. Ole Miss is hosting Alabama while Mississippi State is hosting Texas A&M. All four teams are unbeaten and Oxford has never hosted ESPN’s College Gameday (they will be at The Grove). Both the Rebels and the Bulldogs have the defenses needed to hold up against two extremely talented offenses, so two wins for the Magnolia State is very much a possibility.
Listen to the Week 5 recap podcast:
The Irish and Cardinal won’t score a touchdown
Stanford has allowed 19 total offensive points and just three trips into the red zone for the entire season. The Cardinal rank No. 1 in the nation in total defense and scoring defense at 6.5 points per game allowed. Notre Dame is fourth in the nation by allowing just 11.5 points per game in four contests. Stanford wins 12-9 on field goals alone.
Auburn, Oregon win by a combined 80 points
Auburn hosts LSU while Oregon hosts Arizona. Both the Wildcats and Bayou Bengals won these games last year and fans in both Auburn and Eugene should expect revenge in a big way this weekend. LSU was completely stomped by Mississippi State two weeks ago, so Gus Malzahn should have little trouble topping the Tigers with a big number. Marcus Mariota will run roughshod over a still developing Arizona squad. Look for two massive blowouts.
Ameer Abdullah will be held to less than 50 yards rushing
Very few players have been able to top 100 yards rushing against the Spartans but Ameer Abdullah is one of them. He rushed for 123 yards on 22 carries in a 41-28 loss at home to Sparty last season. After three 200-yard performances in five games this fall, the Nebraska running back is squarely in Heisman conversations. That all ends this weekend, however, as Michigan State will stack the box and totally shut down the Huskers' star player. Look for a big MSU win this weekend.
Tennessee will do something it hasn’t done in 10 years… beat Florida
If there ever was a time for the Vols to snap the painful losing streak to the Gators, it’s this weekend. The Gators are smarting after the whipping they took at the hands of Alabama while Tennessee should be buoyed by another strong showing on the road against a highly ranked opponent. The Vols haven’t beat Florida since 2004 and will be at home for the first time since Week 2.
No. 13 San Diego State is preparing for another run in the NCAA Tournament after reaching the Sweet 16 in two of the last four years. Once an afterthought, winning the Mountain West is now commonplace for Steve Fisher’s team. Do the Aztecs have what it takes to reach truly uncharted territory in the Elite Eight or better?
The San Diego State edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
San Diego State exceeded expectations last season with the second Sweet 16 appearance in school history, and it will be no surprise to see the Aztecs advance deep into the NCAA Tournament again this season.
The Aztecs lost their top two players in point guard Xavier Thames and rebounding dynamo Josh Davis, but plenty of athleticism and talent remains on campus. San Diego State returns three frontcourt starters (JJ O’Brien, Winston Shepard and Skylar Spencer) and the Mountain West’s top reserve (Dwayne Polee II) from a 31–5 club. They also welcome an impressive cast of newcomers.
Once a program with no tradition that received sparse interest locally, the Aztecs are among the top programs in the West and seeking their 10th consecutive 20-win campaign. San Diego State has won at least 25 contests in five of the last six seasons, topped by a school-best 34–3 mark in 2010-11.
A knack for reloading and the ability to get players to sell out defensively have been trademarks of the program’s recent successful run. The names change, role players develop into standouts and the victories follow.
San Diego State is easily the class of the Mountain West entering this season. The question isn’t whether or not the Aztecs will be part of the NCAA Tournament field. It is this: How far can they advance?
No. 13 San Diego State Facts & Figures
Last season: 31-5, 16-2 Mountain West
Postseason: Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: 5
Coach: Steve Fisher (312-176 overall at San Diego State, 129-99 Mountain West)
Mountain West Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The athletic Shepard will receive the opportunity to show he’s a go-to player after finishing second on the squad in scoring (11.6 ppg) as a sophomore. Shepard fancied himself as a one-and-done college player, but his inconsistent jumper remains a work-in-progress despite impressive versatility to play multiple positions.
Polee was the Mountain West’s Sixth Man of the Year last season, and the 6-7 wing has the nickname — “TramPolee” — to go with his soaring skill set. Polee was a force over the second half of last season and helps present matchup problems if San Diego State opts to start him in a three-forward alignment.
O’Brien and Spencer are returning starters who know their roles. O’Brien, a senior forward, does all the little things and is a strong defender, while Spencer, a 6-10 junior center, established a school record for blocked shots (89) in a season and is on pace to shatter the school’s career mark.
Arizona transfer Angelo Chol and freshman Zylan Cheatham will supply much-needed interior depth. Ballyhooed freshman Malik Pope will receive opportunities to contribute on the wing, while sophomore Matt Shrigley will again play a role after ranking second on the squad in 3-point baskets (40) last season.
San Diego State will be hard-pressed to replace Thames, who emerged as a major star as a senior and became a second-round draft pick of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.
Sophomore D’Erryl Williams played in 20 games off the bench last season and will compete with incoming freshman Kevin Zabo, a Canadian import. Whoever lands the starting point guard role will represent a drop-off from Thames, and coach Steve Fisher will attempt to diminish the amount of pressure the duo will face early in the season.
Incoming freshman Trey Kell will have a chance to make an impact at shooting guard — whether it be as a starter or from off the bench. Kell averaged 25.6 points last season as one of the top prep players in San Diego.
Holdovers Aqeel Quinn and Dakarai Allen will compete for playing time, as will Hartford transfer Parker U’u.
San Diego State figures to be an NCAA Tournament participant for the sixth straight season — an incredible accomplishment for a program that had never notched an NCAA victory prior to the 2011 tourney.
The Aztecs have established an expectation of winning and have reached the Sweet 16 in two of the past four seasons. The next step is making it to the Elite Eight, but the 69-year-old Fisher also has an eye on cracking the Final Four before he retires.
How ready the newcomers are for the big stage might determine whether 2015 is the year in which San Diego State breaks through. The abundance of depth will ensure that a key injury won’t derail those hopes.
Regardless, the Aztecs will again be one of the top programs in the West and a program to watch during the month of March.
Angelo Chol was a valuable reserve at national powerhouse Arizona and has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Malik Pope earned a five-star recruiting grade from one major recruiting service despite missing all of last season with a broken left leg. Zylan Cheatham also figures to make an immediate contribution after being one of the top prep players in the state of Arizona. Trey Kell is a highly regarded shooter, while Kevin Zabo provides much-needed playmaking ability.
October may be the most important month of the college football season in terms of shaping the Playoff.
Don’t believe us? September losses can almost be forgiven ... or at least that was the old way. And by November, the field for the four spots in the semifinal may be whittled to a dozen or so.
In between is October, when plenty of teams still feel like they have a shot. Besides the 16 teams still undefeated at the end of September, a handful of one-loss teams still have good reason to be optimistic given what could be a wild and wacky year.
Oct. 4 is just the beginning, the most important Saturday of the most important month. But it won’t be alone in shaping what the selection committee will have to consider by the time it meets in Dallas for the first time on Dec. 28.
12 Games in October that will Shape the Playoff
Alabama at Ole Miss
Both teams opened the season with non-conference wins in Atlanta, and now they open October with their most important SEC games to date. Neither team looked ready to contend for the playoff back then. Since Week 1, Alabama’s Blake Sims has established himself as the shepherd of a high-powered offense, and Ole Miss discovered it has a top-flight SEC defense.
What more can we learn about Oklahoma after an impressive first month of the season? This may be OU’s toughest Big 12 road game. Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State all visit Norman, making this the Sooners’ only visit to face a ranked team. Since joining the Big 12, TCU has lost by three points and seven points to the Sooners. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin won’t be intimidated — he has two career starts and fared well despite losses to OU.
LSU at Auburn
The SEC West is so good that it may be difficult to write a team off this early in the season, but LSU may be on a razor’s edge it loses in Jordan-Hare. Lose this game, and LSU falls to 0-2 in the division. The only thing separating LSU from contender or spoiler status? A freshman quarterback.
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Early upsets of set in motion one of the most unlikely SEC games to carry weight in the Playoff race. The Aggies have handled South Carolina and Arkansas as first-year starter Kenny Hill has become a Heisman contender — despite an uneven performance Saturday against the Hogs. Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott, though, can continue to build his resume after a showcase against LSU two weeks ago.
Even though both teams have picked up key wins early in the season, Stanford and Notre Dame still need to prove their wares as national contenders. Stanford’s defense has been lights out this season — opponents have scored a red zone touchdown just once in three chances against the Cardinal all season. At the same time, Stanford’s offense has been dismal in converting scoring chances to points. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s signature 31-0 performance against Michigan doesn’t seem quite so special.
The Big Ten’s reputation has been bruised this season, but the reality is that the league still has an outside shot at a Playoff spot. Nebraska has a win over Miami on the resume and has clobbered enough other opponents to show the close call with McNeese State was an aberration. The Cornhuskers are a legit Playoff contender with a win in East Lansing. Meanwhile, Michigan State is clinging to the hope that breezing through the Big Ten will be impressive enough to excuse a 19-point loss to Oregon in Eugene.
BYU at UCF
BYU is probably a Playoff longshot with its three games against Power 5 teams coming against teams that may struggle to reach bowl games (Texas, Virginia and Cal). An undefeated season may be the only way BYU gets in. An at-large bid for one of the major bowl games in the “New Year’s Six” may be more likely. That said, the notion of “impressing voters” in a Thursday night ESPN game on the East Coast is a relic of the BCS era. The only eyes that matter are those of the 13 selection committee. Still, we say any exposure helps.
Oregon at UCLA
Provided Oregon can beat Arizona at home and UCLA can do the same to Utah — neither are guarantees — the Ducks and Bruins will be undefeated for this monster Pac-12 matchup. The favorites in the North and South might have to beat each other twice to get to the Playoff. Oh, and the quarterback showdown will be a bit entertaining.
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Only a week after Ole Miss hosts Alabama and Texas A&M visits Mississippi State, the Rebels and Aggies meet in College Station. The two teams could conceivably go from undefeated to out of contention for the SEC West within two weeks.
Notre Dame at Florida State
As we said earlier, Notre Dame’s Playoff credentials aren’t clear, though beating Stanford would make the Irish an instant contender. Either way, Notre Dame may end up being the highest-ranked team Florida State plays all season.
Think October is a big month for the Aggies? Texas A&M plays three ranked teams in a row during the month. And that’s before the Aggies face Auburn, Missouri and LSU to round out the regular season. Even if Texas A&M enters the game with a pair of losses, Alabama may need this game to prove it can contain the hurry-up no huddle.
Baylor faces TCU on Oct. 11, which may be the tougher opponent for the Bears, but this may be the tougher game. Baylor catches TCU at home while having to make a road trip to the furthest outpost in the Big 12. The likelihood of a shootout remains high. The Bears and Mountaineers have combined for 248 total points in the last two meetings.
This isn’t the most compelling game of the month, and it might not be all that competitive if Florida State starts to play to its potential. But it is the last major game of the month, and its one with a history of upsets. Louisville defeated fourth-ranked Florida State 26-20 in a classic upset in 2002. The Cardinals coach at the time, Bobby Petrino, is the same this time around.
Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith evaluates the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report includes twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with drivers and more.
Today, David ponders the relationship between young drivers and crashing.
Too often in auto racing, young drivers are haplessly deemed too reckless, chronic wadders of equipment that they don’t appreciate because they’ve been handed everything on a silver platter up until this point. It causes team owners, trigger-happy in every other aspect of the industry, to place their hiring gun gently on the table and slowly back away. They got into racing to race and win, after all, not wreck.
In some regards, this notion is true. Even this year with a talented rookie class far beyond anything we’ve seen in recent seasons, four of these whiny whippersnappers rank among the top 10 most frequent crashers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, while two others in that category are in their second full season. It’s probably not a coincidence that the two rookies with the highest per-race crash frequency, Parker Kligerman and Ryan Truex, are the two rookies that now without rides for the remaining seven races.
|DRIVER||RACES||CRASHES||CRASHES PER RACE||RANK|
|Kyle Larson||29||11||0.38||9 (Tie)|
|Alex Bowman||29||11||0.38||9 (Tie)|
|Michael Annett||29||10||0.34||12 (Tie)|
|Justin Allgaier||29||9||0.31||16 (Tie)|
|Cole Whitt||29||8||0.28||20 (Tie)|
|Austin Dillon||29||4||0.14||39 (Tie)|
Not every young driver crashes, but most certainly do. Crashing is used an excuse to part ways with fresh-faced gas-mashers when other elements of the driver-team relationship aren’t going swimmingly. When these drivers demonstrate something to offset their high crash totals, reprieves are awarded. Consider the following:
- Greg Biffle crashed nine times in his first 11 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts. Because Biffle showed such unbridled aggression and came highly recommended by fellow Michigan man Benny Parsons, Jack Roush didn’t pull the plug on this young driver experiment in 1998. Biffle, who has crashed only 13 times in his last 101 Cup Series starts (a three-year crash frequency of 0.13), is now the longest-tenured Roush Fenway Racing driver and starting in 2015, will be the team’s bell cow.
- In Kyle Busch’s initial six-race Cup Series schedule in 2004, he crashed out of three races in Hendrick Motorsports equipment, never finishing higher than 24th. To this day, his aggression precedes him and he may or may not have transformed into a serial crasher for Joe Gibbs Racing, as he holds a 0.41 crash frequency this season, accounting for 12 crashes in a 29-race span. He crashed 15 times last season, for a per-race frequency of 0.42 (the second-highest rate among series regulars). Somehow, his accident-prone ways have never been a problem, at least publicly.
- Kyle Larson’s 0.38 crash frequency is one of the 10 highest in the series, but it’s doubtful that the show this runaway Rookie of the Year favorite is putting on is off-putting. Chip Ganassi Racing lacked the kind of spark Larson provides since Sterling Marlin came within a fractured vertebra of winning the 2002 Cup Series championship. As long as he keeps producing top-10 finishes with historic regularity, the fab shop won’t grumble too much about Yung Money’s crash damage.
Crashing, contrary to what’s said on telecasts or in team-issued press releases, isn’t solely due to poor luck. The ability to avoid crashes is a characteristic that teams covet. Biffle, a free agent up until this summer when he extended his stay at Roush Fenway, was an intriguing item on the market solely because of his crash avoidance. Aggression can be calculated or reckless. Most of the time, drivers learn the difference; however, the learning process might be born anew every time a driver is dropped into a new, more competitive situation.
Ricky Stenhouse’s learning process is still in progress. His flirtation with the walls of every speedway in America began (and ended) in his first USAC pavement start at Iowa Speedway. He was nicknamed “Wrecky” during his lone ARCA Series season, still showcasing enough talent to go into the year’s final race as a championship contender. His crashing was so rampant in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2010 that Roush Fenway benched him for a race, but he ultimately ended the season with a 0.44 crash frequency – innocuous compared to that of fellow Roush driver Colin Braun’s 0.63 – and earned identical 0.18 frequencies in 2011 and 2012 en route to consecutive series titles.
Currently en route to finishing his second full season in the Cup Series, Stenhouse is back to the crashing phase of his assimilation. His per-race crash count has doubled this season — he crashed eight times in 36 races last year (for a 0.22 frequency) — having crashed 13 times in 2014’s first 29 races, 0.45 times per race. He’s slated to return to Roush Fenway next season.
Of course, some rookies just have a penchant for avoiding collision. Of all of Austin Dillon’s faults, crashing isn’t one of them. His 0.14 crash frequency is pristine compared to the average Cup Series driver (0.27 for a driver with at least six starts this season). He scored low frequencies in his two full Nationwide Series seasons (0.15 in both 2012 and 2013), crashing 10 times in the span of 66 races. His brother Ty has a similar knack, having crashed just once in 2014, resulting in top-20 finishes in all 28 of his Nationwide Series starts.
Crashing acting as a detriment to a young driver’s career is merely a convenient excuse. Good teams with the tendency of being sound talent evaluators don’t home in on crash totals. Being a talented, speedy racer outside of the crashing is enough to earn leeway that tentative team owners don’t readily make available.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
Oregon is no stranger to alternate uniforms and designs, and the Ducks have unveiled a different look for Thursday night’s game against Arizona.
The uniforms feature pink accents, which are designed to help support breast cancer awareness.
Oregon also wore a similar design last season.
So, NASCAR Nation, were the first three races of NASCAR’s reformatted Chase for the Sprint Cup more exciting than last year? Here’s a few statistics to help you decide.
2013: 21.0 per event
2014: 12.7 per event
Lead Changes in the Last 10 Laps
Debris Cautions (Typically thrown when the field is spread out)
2013: 7 of 20 (35%)
2014: 11 of 26 (42.3%)
I start this way not because I want the sport to fail but to provide sobering reality to the unrelenting marketing excitement of NASCAR’s “new Chase format.” CEO Brian France, in pushing to change the playoff system, has emphasized the need for “Game 7” moments for the crowning of a champion to rival the slow build we see in stick ‘n’ ball sports. To do so, the format was changed more radically this year than we’ve seen since a “playoff” was introduced in 2004. There’s been an emphasis on winning (automatic qualifier), an expansion of the field to 16 and elimination stages to the point only four drivers will be eligible to race for the title at Homestead in November.
The moves early on in the season led to more exciting competition, especially at tracks where driver skill, not team money/engineering expertise provides a decided advantage (see: Watkins Glen, short tracks, restrictor plate racing). However, over the long run you can’t put lipstick on a pig. The four drivers we saw eliminated in this round of the Chase were nowhere near in position to compete for a title. The three drivers we saw win to start the postseason is a trio that, along with Jimmie Johnson, would be no surprise to see inside the “Final Four” at Homestead. This Sunday, with eliminations on the line, all those titlists came in with a clear mentality: “winning” meant not fighting for the trophy but advancing to the next round. Honestly, New Hampshire would have been just as monotonous if not for some nicely-timed debris cautions that bunched up the field and upped the anxiety for the final 125 laps.
What Dover became was a lot of conservative competition, along the lines of a Week 17 NFL matchup with little on the line. A postseason event over the course of the day somehow wound up with less meaning, at times, than a regular-season race. And a larger-than-expected crowd at Dover — their interest piqued in NASCAR’s new Chase elimination — instead saw the fun eliminated out of competition at what used to be one of the sport’s trickier, exciting tracks.
There’s still seven races left to go in NASCAR’s playoff, so certainly anything can happen. But there’s few, if any, underdogs left in the field of 12; nine of them come from just three teams (Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing). Carl Edwards, the 2008 title runner-up, and the always-contending Kevin Harvick from Stewart-Haas Racing are numbers 10 and 11, respectively. Underrated Ryan Newman, known more for earning poles than fighting for titles, is the closest thing you get to a “David vs. Goliath” story, and even then he’s driving for well-funded Richard Childress Racing.
If I’m missing something, please, comment below and tell me why you’re more excited about NASCAR three races into the new format. I’m hopeful the tide turns, but right now I see a whole lot of changes … and, after early optimism, I also see a very similar end result. Falling flat.
Through the Gears we go…
FIRST GEAR: Gordon steps up
After two races of Penske dominance, threatening to take the “favorite” label away from Hendrick Motorsports, the regular season championship leader stepped up. Jeff Gordon waited patiently for his turn at Dover, an event dominated by Harvick until a broken valve stem on a tire left the No. 4 car limping to the pits with a roughed-up splitter. Harvick’s track position gone — despite a timely caution to save him from going a lap down — left the victory battle between the two other cars head and shoulders above the pack: Gordon and Brad Keselowski. Combined, that trio of drivers led 395 of Dover’s 400 laps.
“I felt like we had a shot at the 2 car,” Gordon said. “We had kind of stayed with [Keselowski] throughout the day. He really would fade after about 30 laps, and so I was able to run him down on one of those restarts on the longer run and get by him.”
This race favored Gordon, whose car has been at its best this season on long, green-flag runs where traffic spreads out. The No. 24 car, in those situations has been one of the few able to pass without being slowed significantly by NASCAR’s “aero push” phenomenon. And with “long run” types of tracks ahead, including the Kansas facility where Gordon won this spring, this four-time champ remains in strong contention to bring home a fifth come Homestead.
SECOND GEAR: Clearing up the Chase grid
NASCAR’s first elimination race became a battle down the stretch between Hendrick’s Kasey Kahne and SHR’s Kurt Busch. Kahne, who had a top-10 car, lost two laps when a loose left-rear tire forced a green-flag stop. He spent the rest of the day clawing back, catching a lucky break on another yellow to regain a lap on the leaders. Kahne wound up 20th, one lap behind, jumping eight spots over the last 160 laps of the race. Busch, meanwhile, saw his car turn evil handling-wise, dropping seven spots during that same stretch, from 11th to 18th. That ultimately made up the difference, Kahne the one recovering from adversity during a season where he’s drowned in it far too often.
“We just had to race, race, race,” he said. “I never really got nervous at all. I’m glad NASCAR just let it go and let us race for it.”
The long green-flag run at the end doomed Busch, whose car just couldn’t keep it together over the last 40 laps, losing the five spots that dropped the 2004 champ out of contention for good.
“It was just tight,” he explained. “I felt like we were in good position to advance, but you just can’t expect to advance by running 18th. I just chalk it up to me not getting the job done.”
Others left behind, dropped from the 16-driver Chase field could see it coming. AJ Allmendinger put up a valiant effort, coming the closest, but could not overcome the limits of a JTG-Daugherty single-car operation in its first full year together as driver, crew chief and manufacturer. Simply making the Chase was an achievement for them, as well as fellow first-time Cup winner Aric Almirola, who was doomed by a faulty engine at Chicagoland. Greg Biffle, driving for struggling Roush Fenway Racing has been down on speed all season, collecting just three top-5 finishes and was arguably the worst-performing of these Chase drivers during the regular season.
THIRD GEAR: Is the 48/88 shop a step behind?
Dover, where Jimmie Johnson has a record nine career victories, is the closest thing the sport has to an “automatic.” Johnson, who’s won the Chase race at Dover three of the last five years, was supposed to rubber-stamp his effort for a record-tying seventh championship here, pounding the field and reminding us all how the No. 48 owns NASCAR’s postseason era. Instead? There was an A-minus, third-place result — a race where Johnson didn’t lead a lap at the Monster Mile for the first time in seven-and-a-half years. Does that mean Johnson is in trouble?
Yes and no. Certainly, crew chief Chad Knaus has made a career out of building this team to peak at the right time. A victory here, as opposed to a third-place, did little for Johnson under this new format, as no one enters the next round with an advantage (all points for the 12 contenders have been reset). Knaus constantly reemphasized the strategy of “survive and advance” on the radio, urging Johnson not to push too hard with a car that was ever-so-slightly behind the top two.
At the same time, you’d like to see Johnson run up front more; he hasn’t led a lap in any race since Michigan in August, and is now winless since the first Michigan race in June. The performance of Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose cars are built in the same shop, is even more concerning. The No. 88 car came into the Chase with momentum but has run 11th, ninth and 17th, also failing to lead a lap. Without a past history of bouncing back, running consistently throughout all 10 races of the Chase, you have to wonder if Earnhardt could be vulnerable in this next round. He was a ho-hum 19th at Charlotte in the spring; a similar finish leaves him wide open to suffer bad luck at Talladega and miss out.
“Trust me, we’re going to go to work and try to find everything we can to get better,” he said after Sunday’s race. “But we’re concerned. It’s not been a good couple of weeks. We need to find something quick.”
FOURTH GEAR: A monstrous mess
Dover’s Monster Mile once again turned into a dull parade of too many cars running in place Sunday. A track known for survival had not a single car suffer a serious wreck, as 40 of 43 cars finished the race and virtually all cautions occur because of debris. Had NASCAR wanted, letting some subjective calls go the other way, this entire event could have run caution free.
Many claim the problem at Dover is the tire compound; that it doesn’t create enough fall-off over the course of a green-flag run. What you get is too much parity, about 20 cars up front running the same speed an entire run while the rest become meaningless lapped traffic. Watching the leaders dice through those backmarkers at a place where passing has become virtually impossible, provided the only interesting moments for fans frustrated over the racing here. One would think, considering the importance of this track on the schedule, that NASCAR, Dover executives and Goodyear would get together in the offseason and hammer toward a solution so the track’s aggressive, rough-around-the-edges personality can return. Dover’s marketing push in and around Philadelphia (my hometown) has been admirable but there’s only so much you can showcase to potential new fans from Sunday. Are you going to make a 30-second commercial based on Chase elimination mathematics? Come on.
How many races has Harvick given away due to poor pit stops, penalties or some type of tire problem? We’ve got to be up to half-a-dozen at this point as Harvick, who led a NASCAR-high 406 laps in the first three races of this Chase, went 0-for-3 on victory lane. … Quietly, local favorite Martin Truex Jr. came home seventh for single-car Furniture Row Racing. A disappointing Truex, who has yet to lead a lap this season in the No. 78, has just four top-10 finishes, with two of them occurring at the Monster Mile. … Three Chase races, three top-6 finishes for rookie Kyle Larson. While not in the postseason field, the kid continues to impress each and every week. … Someone needs to explain to me how Almirola, Biffle, Allmendinger or Kurt Busch could still finish “as high as fifth in points.” The new NASCAR Chase format resets everyone’s point total to 3,000, leaving 13th through 16th behind in the 2,000-point range. So isn’t it mathematically impossible to move up beyond 13th? If so, NASCAR better explain that to a whole host of other media members, drivers and crewmen, who were all chirping about “the push to finish as high as 5th in points” after getting eliminated.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 30:
• Now that we've reached the end of September, here's the month in sports-related ladies.
• Not surprisingly, the Cardinals lead the Wall Street Journal's MLB Hateability Index.
• Yesterday's headline of the day: "Mike Leach Predicts Human Extinction." Is that click bait or what?
• Salacious gossip of the day: It's gotten ugly in Johnny Weir's split from his husband.
• A fix for you NBA fans: a Rubio-to-Wiggins alley-oop slam.
• Some reporter had the stones to ask Bill Belichick if he was evaluating the Patriots' quarterback situation. His reply was priceless.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Alabama strengthened its grip on the No. 1 spot in the Legends Poll Top 8. Despite not playing, the Crimson Tide received 11 of the 14 first place votes.
Idle Oklahoma moved up a spot to No. 2 and faces a tough road test at Texas Christian this upcoming weekend.
Florida State dropped another spot to No. 3 after a lackluster performance at NC State. The Seminoles’ defense struggled at times, but Florida State managed to hold on against a team they typically struggle with on the road. Oregon and Auburn rounded out the Top 5.
No. 6, Texas A&M kept its spot after grasping a 35-28, come from behind, victory over Arkansas in Dallas. The Aggies were followed by Baylor and Michigan State. Notre Dame dropped out of the Top 8 despite a 31-15 victory over Syracuse. Mississippi State and UCLA also received votes.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
|3||Florida State (1)||4-0||79||2|
It’s Week 5 and hopefully your team survived the first bye of the season. It was certainly a big one with Denver, Seattle, Cincinnati, Arizona, Cleveland and St. Louis all taking a breather. The good news is that this week the only two teams on bye are Miami and Oakland, who need the extra rest to recover from their trip to London. There are still injuries and other circumstances to deal with, however, and new names continue to pop up on the fantasy radar.
Athlon Sports is here to help you sort through some of the potential free agent options. The players listed in our weekly fantasy football waiver wire may be one-week adds, some may be worth holding on to all season long and some are of the “sleeper” variety that you may simply want to keep an eye on.
Teams on bye: Miami, Oakland
Week 4 Recap: Eli Manning was the week’s leading fantasy scorer after his five-touchdown (4 passing, 1 rushing) showing in a Thursday night rout of Washington. Alex Smith tossed three more touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over a single time as the Chiefs routed the Patriots on Monday night. Smith, who is owned in less than half of all Yahoo! leagues, has more fantasy points through four games than Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Tony Romo or Nick Foles.
Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
Bridgewater’s first NFL start went about as well as it possibly could (317 yards passing, rush TD, 2-point conversion), leading his team to an impressive win over Atlanta, until he left in the fourth quarter on a cart because of an ankle injury. The good news is that x-rays came back negative, so it appears to be some sort of sprain. The bad news, however, is that the Vikings have a short turnaround before paying a visit to Green Bay on Thursday night, so it’s possible Bridgewater may not get the start or even play this week. Regardless, the rookie’s first impression shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if you are looking for a bye-week replacement down the road or need to beef up your QB depth.
Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Let’s give Glennon his due. In his first start in place of an injured Josh McCown, all he did was lead his team to a comeback win in Pittsburgh in thrilling fashion. Glennon’s numbers (302-2-1) may not jump out at you, but his 22.1 fantasy points (Athlon scoring) were more than McCown had put up in any of the three previous games. Glennon started 13 games as a rookie last season and finished with respectable stats (2,608-19-9), so it’s not like he’s new to this role. Reports are that McCown could be facing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb, so there’s a chance this will be Glennon’s job for the immediate future. Depending on matchup, your bye-week situation or if you are in a 2-QB league, Glennon could be someone to keep on your radar.
Week 4 Recap: Another week, another receiving touchdown for Ahmad Bradshaw, who has four on the season already. He totaled just 52 yards against Tennessee, but it’s his status as one of Andrew Luck’s most trusted targets that’s driving his value. Lorenzo Taliaferro took advantage of an “inactive” Bernard Pierce and carried the ball a team-high 15 times for 58 yards and a touchdown in Baltimore’s victory over Carolina. With Pierce, Taliaferro and Justin Forsett (97 total yards, TD vs. Panthers) all in the picture, this is quickly becoming a crowded backfield. Roy Helu led Washington with five catches for 78 yards (also had two carries for eight yards) as one of the few offensive bright spots in the blowout home loss to the Giants. Donald Brown (10 att., 19 yds.) couldn’t get anything going on the ground against Jacksonville, but he should remain the primary ball-carrier for the Chargers moving forward with Ryan Mathews (MCL) injured and Danny Woodhead (broken leg) on IR.
Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings
Matt Asiata was certainly busy (20 att., 78 yds., 3 TDs) against Atlanta, but McKinnon also got 18 carries and turned those into 135 yards rushing. The rookie showed his explosiveness in one 55-yard run and he also caught one pass for 17 yards. Adrian Peterson’s future with the team is uncertain at best, so Asiata and McKinnon will be the backfield until something changes. Asiata may be No. 1 on the depth chart, but it looks like McKinnon will get his fair share of opportunities too.
Khiry Robinson, New Orleans Saints
The Saints did not look very good in a discouraging loss Sunday night to Dallas, but one positive takeaway could be the emergence of Robinson. Mark Ingram will miss a few more games after breaking his hand, so the opportunity is there for Robinson to replace Ingram’s rushing production. After falling behind early, New Orleans abandoned the run, but Robinson still finished with 87 yards on just eight carries. Granted, 62 of those came on one run when the game was pretty well decided, but it’s important for Robinson to take advantage of the opportunities he gets. Case in point: Ingram picked up three rushing touchdowns before getting hurt, so the assumption is that those goal-line looks will now go to Robinson.
Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans
After getting just eight carries in the first two games combined, Sankey has received a total of 19 touches (16 rushing, 3 receiving) over the past two games. It’s taken some time, but it looks like the Titans’ second-round pick is starting to settle in. Sankey’s progress in the box score may still leave more to be desired from a fantasy standpoint, but his numbers should only go up if the coaching staff continues to give him consistent touches.
Antone Smith, Atlanta Falcons
Steven Jackson is the leading rusher and has received nearly half (50) of the team’s 102 carries, but Smith’s impact shouldn’t be overlooked. Despite getting just 10 rushing attempts so far, Smith is second on the team with 119 yards (11.9 ypc) and he leads with two scores on the ground. On Sunday against Minnesota, Smith ripped off a 48-yard touchdown run, the Falcons’ longest play on the ground this season. He will need to see consistent carries moving forward to merit serious consideration as even a flex option; but it looks like Smith may be passing rookie Devonta Freeman and Jacquzz Rodgers (3 att., 10 yds. rushing comined vs. Vikings) in the pecking order in Atlanta’s backfield.
Week 4 Recap: Eddie Royal lived up to his reputation as a streaky player with two more touchdown catches against Jacksonville. Malcom Floyd got into the act too with his second scoring grab of the season, as the Chargers attacked the Jaguars through the air with much success. Allen Robinson was fairly active (7 targets, 5 rec., 38 yds.) against San Diego and could see even more looks considering Cecil Shorts left early after apparently re-aggravating a hamstring injury that cost him the first two games. Devin Hester took advantage of Harry Douglas’ absence and filled in nicely as the Falcons’ No. 3 wide receiver – 5 catches for 70 yards, including a 36-yard scoring strike. Hakeem Nicks (2 rec., 12 yds.) was one of the few Colts who didn’t take advantage of a generous Titans’ passing defense (393 yds., 4 TDs allowed) on Sunday.
Marvin Jones, Cincinnati Bengals
Remember me? Jones broke his foot early in the preseason, but the expectation is he will be back this week. The Bengals went 3-0 without him, but Jones’ return will only help Andy Dalton and the passing game. Jones caught a total of 51 passes last season, but 10 of those went for touchdowns, a big reason why he finished 25th in fantasy points at his position. He’s not the big-play threat that A.J. Green or even Giovani Bernard is, but he’s a legitimate red-zone target, something Dalton could use with tight end Tyler Eifert (dislocated elbow) on short-term IR. Jones could be a nice boost to a team with bye week issues or needing some depth at receiver.
Brian Quick, St. Louis Rams
St. Louis is already on its third quarterback this season, but one constant for the Rams at wide receiver has been Quick. The third-year pro entered this season with just 29 career receptions and four touchdowns and in the shadows of teammates Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt and Chris Givens. All Quick has done however, is record 16 grabs for 235 yards and a touchdown in the team’s first three games. The Rams’ offense is still a work in progress, but they are coming off of a bye and it looks like Quick is the preferred target of whomever lines up under center.
Jarius Wright, Minnesota Vikings
Cordarelle Patterson and Greg Jennings are the more popular options and remain ahead of Wright on the depth chart, but it was Wright who made the most noise on Sunday. In Teddy Bridgewater’s first career start, Wright hooked up with the rookie quarterback eight times for 132 yards in the win over Atlanta. Wright saw twice as many targets (10) as Patterson and Jennings combined (8). Over the long haul, Patterson still offers the most upside because of his athleticism and explosiveness – don’t forget he had 102 yards rushing in Week 1 – but it’s possible that Wright supplants Jennings’ as the Vikings’ No. 2 option. Something worth keeping an eye on, especially if Bridgewater (depending on his ankle injury) continues to produce in the pocket.
Week 4 Recap: Travis Kelce showed up in a big way on Monday night, catching eight passes for 93 yards and a late touchdown that probably saved some people’s fantasy teams while ruining the chances of others. Steve Smith stole the show against his former team, but Owen Daniels was the second-most targeted Raven against Carolina with six. He finished the day with four catches for 43 yards and remains a borderline TE1 moving forward with Dennis Pitta (dislocated hip) on IR.
Larry Donnell, New York Giants
Donnell was mentioned in this space before (Week 3) and to be honest, I’m pretty much shocked his ownership rate (55% in Yahoo! leagues as of Tuesday morning) is as low as it is. All this guy has done is come out of nowhere to emerge as a top-five fantasy TE after four weeks. He’s coming off of a three-touchdown performance against Washington and has averaged nearly eight targets per game. Any questions about whether he’s legit or not should have been answered by now. Really at this point it’s a matter of where does he rank moving forward? Top 10 seems pretty safe and it’s not that far-fetched to make an argument for him as a borderline top-five option the rest of the season. Need I say any more?
Week 4 Recap: San Diego had some trouble with Jacksonville early, but settled in and held the Jaguars scoreless for pretty much the last two and a half quarters. The Chargers finished with three sacks and three takeaways (2 INTs, 1 fumble) for a solid 12 fantasy points. Next up on the schedule: home to the Jets, at Oakland and home against the Chiefs.
Not to pick on the aforementioned Jaguars, but the reality is this is a team that ranks next to last in total offense (279.3 ypg) and scoring (14.5 ppg) and the only offense faring worse (Oakland) is on bye this week. Jacksonville also is 30th in rushing (69.8 ypg), has allowed a whopping 20 sacks in four games and is starting a rookie quarterback. The Steelers didn’t exactly look that impressive, especially late, against the Buccaneers, but this is a defense that has shown it can dominate an opponent (3 sacks, 2 takeaways, TD in Week 3 vs. Carolina) and let’s face it – the matchup doesn’t get any better than this.
Scoring is based on Athlon Sports default scoring which is 6 points for all TDs, .5 points per reception and 1 point PER 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving and 40 return yards.
The new college football playoff format has added even more intrigue to the 2014 season. Instead of figuring out the top two teams in early December, the focus has shifted to finding four teams to play in the first FBS postseason playoff format.
To help select the four playoff teams, a 13-person committee was picked, which includes names like Barry Alvarez, Oliver Luck, Pat Haden and Jeff Long, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former coach Tyrone Willingham.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. The official playoff committee will release its rankings starting on Oct. 28, but this poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 5 Playoff Projection Results
Takeaways from Expert Poll Results
* According to the voting panel, the top four teams are clear. Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon and Florida State are a step above Auburn at No. 5. And there’s a 30-point gap from the Tigers to Texas A&M at No. 6.
* Alabama received eight of the 19 first-place votes. Oklahoma ranked second with seven first-place votes.
* Oregon has one of the best wins of the 2014 season (Michigan State) and accumulated only one first-place vote. The Ducks recorded three votes for No. 2 and nine for No. 3.
* Five of the 14 teams receiving votes are from the SEC. Three come from the Pac-12.
Related: Everything You Need to Know About the CFB Playoff
Group of 5 Rankings
(One team from the Group of 5 conferences - American Athletic, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt - will play in one of college football's premier (New Year's Bowls) each season.
1. East Carolina
Key Wins: at Virginia Tech, North Carolina
Pirates are the clear frontrunner for the Group of 5 spot in one of college football’s premier bowl games. East Carolina may not be tested over the next three weeks (SMU, at USF and UConn), but October matchups against Cincinnati and Temple will be the toughest remaining games on the schedule – until the finale against UCF.
2. Cincinnati (2-1)
Key Wins: Toledo
Bearcats lost to Ohio State on Saturday and rank behind East Carolina due to its lack of wins against Power 5 teams. Has opportunity to climb with remaining games against Miami and East Carolina.
Related: Post-Week 5 Bowl Projections
3. Marshall (4-0)
Key Wins: at Akron
Thundering Herd has favorable path to 12-0 regular season mark, but weak strength of schedule will hurt this team.
Key Results from Week 5
UCLA 62, Arizona State 27 (Thursday)
Best performance of the year by the Bruins.
Northwestern 29, Penn State 6
Longshot playoff hopes by Nittany Lions ended by Wildcats.
Georgia 35, Tennessee 32
Bulldogs avoid upset. SEC East title hopes improve with South Carolina loss.
Florida State 56, NC State 41
Seminoles avoid upset in Raleigh to remain unbeaten.
Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 28 (OT)
Aggies keep pace with Alabama and Auburn in SEC West.
Stanford 20, Washington 13
Cardinal avoids second Pac-12 loss with road win in Seattle.
Missouri 21, South Carolina 20
Tigers take a step forward in SEC East title race.
Air Force 28, Boise State 14
Broncos eliminated from contention for Group of 5 bowl spot?
Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 15
Fighting Irish remain unbeaten before showdown against Stanford.
Key Games With Playoff Implications in Week 6
Arizona at Oregon (Thursday)
One more tune-up for Ducks before showdown against UCLA next Saturday.
LSU at Auburn
An 0-2 hole won’t be easy to overcome in the SEC West for LSU.
Nebraska at Michigan State
Ameer Abdullah versus Michigan State’s defense is a must-see matchup.
Alabama at Ole Miss
Can the Rebels score a breakthrough win in the SEC West?
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Another test for Texas A&M’s defense. Can it stop Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott?
Baylor at Texas
Can the Longhorns find a way to slow down Baylor’s high-scoring offense?
Oklahoma at TCU
Horned Frogs lost by only three points to Oklahoma last season. This year’s matchup is in Fort Worth.
Stanford at Notre Dame
Last two meetings have been decided by a touchdown.
Utah at UCLA
Bruins can’t afford to look past Utes.
With five weeks in the books, college football’s bowl and national title picture is surrounded in uncertainty.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
While only five weeks are in the books, it’s never too early to start looking at what the bowl picture might hold for each conference and team this year. The post-Week 5 bowl projections are a mixture between picks for the next few weeks, how things would look if the season ended today, and the results from the first five weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks, especially as the heart of conference play arrives in October.
College Football's Post-Week 5 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| Nevada vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs.|
| UTSA vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
|Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Air Force vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| ULL vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs.|
| FAU vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
|Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| Marshall vs.|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs.|
| Rice vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs. |
| North Carolina vs. |
|Bitcoin St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| UCF vs. |
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs. |
| Temple vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Duke vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Virginia vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs.|
| Tennessee vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs.|
|West Virginia vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
| TCU vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs.|
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
| Nebraska vs.|
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Ohio State vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American/Army vs.|
|TaxSlayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Miami vs. |
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
|Kansas State vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs. |
|Texas vs. |
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
| Florida vs. |
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs.|
| Arkansas State vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Auburn vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| UCLA vs. |
|Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
|Rose||Jan. 1||Playoff |
| Florida State vs. |
| Alabama vs. |
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Alabama vs.|
* Indicates conference not projected to have enough bowl-eligible teams.
The Pac-12 has reversed its fortunes among the major conferences, but there remains an area where the league is lagging.
Remember, this is a league that is two years removed from sending only two teams to the NCAA Tournament, its regular season champion not among them.
That has changed with 11 NCAA Tournament teams during the last two seasons, three more than the previous three seasons combined.
Getting to the Tournament is one thing. Advancing is another. No active Pac-12 coach has a Final Four appearance. Every other major basketball conference (the Power 5, plus the American and Big East) have at least two Final Four coaches. The ACC alone has 30 Final Four appearances spread among five coaches.
That figures to change eventually, as Arizona’s Sean Miller has twice reached the Elite Eight since arriving in the Pac-12.
Even without a ton of trophies, the Pac-12 cast of coaches is interesting: Miller is the star here, but Tad Boyle and Larry Krystkowiak have proven themselves program-builders in the last four years. Johnny Dawkins and Herb Sendek resurrected their tenures with NCAA appearances last year.
As usual, a handful of factors go into ranking the coaches — career accomplishments, career momentum, gameday acumen, player development, recruiting, conference records and postseason success.
1. Sean Miller, Arizona
Record at Arizona: 129-48 (.729)
NCAA Tournament: 14-7
Number to note: Miller has reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in each of his last five trips at Arizona and Xavier. The only two times he’s failed to reach the Sweet 16 were his first two NCAA appearances with Musketeers.
Why he’s ranked here: Miller has restored Arizona to national prominence and has the No. 4 signing class this year and the No. 1 class for 2015. The best coach without a Final Four appearance won’t carry that title for much longer.
2. Tad Boyle, Colorado
Record at Colorado: 92-50 (.648)
NCAA Tournament: 1-3
Number to note: The Buffaloes have ranked in the top 50 of adjusted defensive efficiency in each of the last three seasons, according to KenPom.
Why he’s ranked here: This is the golden age of Colorado basketball. Colorado has as many NCAA appearances under Boyle in the last three seasons as it did from 1969-2011.
3. Steve Alford, UCLA
Record at UCLA: 28-9 (.757)
NCAA Tournament: 7-8
Number to note: In Alford’s first season, UCLA reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008 ... with the help of a No. 13 seed (Tulsa) and No. 12 seed (Stephen F. Austin). That shouldn’t be ignored — two of Alford’s New Mexico teams were eliminated by double-digit seeds.
Why he’s ranked here: Alford’s hire wasn’t met with much excitement, but the jolt of energy seems to be working. UCLA had arguably its best team since the 2008 Final Four squad.
4. Dana Altman, Oregon
Record at Oregon: 97-47 (.674)
NCAA Tournament: 5-10
Number to note: A streaky program has stability. Oregon has winning conference seasons in three consecutive years for the first time in school history.
Why he’s ranked here: An offseason scandal casts a shadow over his tenure at Oregon. His career, though, has been marked by building consistent winners at Creighton and now Oregon.
5. Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
Record at Utah: 42-55 (.433)
NCAA Tournament: 1-2
Number to note: Utah won more Pac-12 games in his third season (nine) than the Utes won total games in his first year (six).
Why he’s ranked here: Krystkowiak brought Utah back from irrelevance, and now the Utes will contend for their first NCAA spot since 2009.
6. Johnny Dawkins, Stanford
Record at Stanford: 117-87 (.575)
NCAA Tournament: 2-1
Number to note: Entering 2014, Stanford hadn’t defeated a higher-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament since 1998. Dawkins did it twice in his first trip. No. 10 Stanford upset No. 7 New Mexico and No. 2 Kansas. The Cardinal still managed to lose to a lower-seeded team in the Sweet 16 (No. 11 Dayton).
Why he’s ranked here: After missing the NCAA Tournament in his first five seasons, Dawkins saved his job with a trip to the Sweet 16.
7. Lorenzo Romar, Washington
Record at Washington: 254-144 (.838)
NCAA Tournament: 8-7
Number to note: Washington’s ranking on KenPom.com has decreased in each of the last four seasons from No. 20 in 2011 to No. 57 to No. 76 to No. 95 in 2014. The latter is Washington’s worst since Romar’s first season in 2002-03.
Why he’s ranked here: Romar has led Washington to the Sweet 16 three times, won the conference tournament three times and won the league twice. Still, he’ll be under pressure to reverse the decline.
8. Cuonzo Martin, Cal
Record at Cal: First season
NCAA Tournament: 3-1
Number to note: After NCAA Tournament snubs at Missouri State and Tennessee, Martin made up for lost time by winning three games in his first NCAA appearance, starting in the First Four and ending the Sweet 16.
Why he’s ranked here: Martin hopes he’s landed where he’s more appreciated at Cal.
9. Herb Sendek, Arizona State
Record at Arizona State: 141-121 (.538)
NCAA Tournament: 7-8
Number to note: Sendek’s last two teams, led by guard Jahii Carson, were the first two of his eight-year tenure to average better than 70 points per game.
Why he’s ranked here: Sendek is a survivor, that’s for sure. His second NCAA bid at Arizona State keeps him in Tempe.
10. Andy Enfield, USC
Record at USC: 11-21 (.344)
NCAA Tournament: 2-1
Number to note: USC at least played fast for Enfield, ranking 26th in adjusted tempo by KenPom.
Why he’s ranked here: Enfield is the only coach to take a No. 15 seed to the Sweet 16. Rebuilding USC will take more than one weekend.
11. Wayne Tinkle, Oregon State
Record at Oregon State: First season
NCAA Tournament: 0-3
Number to note: Montana won regular season and Big Sky Tournament titles two of the last three seasons under Tinkle.
Why he’s ranked here: Montana has a nice tradition of producing coaches who thrive on the next level — Jud Heathcote, Mike Montgomery, Stew Morrill, Blaine Taylor and Larry Krystkowiak. Tinkle may have an impossible situation at Oregon State, though.
12. Ernie Kent, Washington State
Record at Washington State: First season
NCAA Tournament: 6-6
Number to note: Kent is Oregon’s all-time wins leader with 235 victories from 1998-2010.
Why he’s ranked here: Kent has been out of coaching since 2010, and his last 20-win season came in 2007.
No. 14 Michigan State is riding its longest Final Four drought under Tom Izzo, but don’t pity the poor Spartans who last reached the national semifinals in 2010. Izzo, though, has a challenge with Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Gary Harris gone from a team that won 29 games and reached the Elite Eight. As usual, he’ll have veterans ready to step into lead roles.
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Tom Izzo has built Michigan State to the point where last year’s run to the Elite Eight after a Big Ten Tournament Championship was considered to be an unsatisfying campaign.
Izzo wants to feel good about last year’s injury-strained accomplishments, but wonders if his second national title might have been in store if former point guard Keith Appling hadn’t wrecked his wrist and if former power forward Adreian Payne hadn’t been weighed down by mononucleosis.
Now, the Spartans will need paybacks from the basketball gods in the health category and rapid development from freshmen if they are going to contend for a conference title.
“I like the direction we’re heading right now,” Izzo says. “I think that we could be really good (this) year and then really, really good down the road.”
No. 14 Michigan State Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-9, 12-6 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Consecutive NCAAs: 17
Coach: Tom Izzo (468-187, 221-101 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Third
Postseason Projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The Branden Dawson who averaged 17.5 points during a six-game postseason hot streak is the Dawson that Michigan State desperately needs on a consistent basis. Dawson has honed his perimeter shooting skills to the point of becoming capable of playing the 3. But Michigan State will need him to attack opponents as a mismatch 4, as he did last March when he was Big Ten Tournament MOP.
Dawson has been a transition-and-garbage scorer in the past. But his improved jump shot, coupled with solid ball-handling skills and explosive finishing ability, may allow him to take his game to the next level. It’s rare to find a senior with Dawson’s raw talent. Injuries have kept him in the college ranks. His focus and effort have fluctuated in the past. Now he is driven to have the type of senior year Payne enjoyed last season.
When properly charged, Dawson is one of the most dynamic players in the conference. However, with Payne and Gary Harris gone to the NBA, Dawson will experience defenses designed to contain him for the first time in his college career.
Junior center Matt Costello has added a layer of muscle and appears ready to blossom after a pair of seasons diminished by injury and illness. He has become a quality face-up shooter during the offseason, but his back-to-the-basket skills are average. He is strong enough to command respect on defense and the glass. He has been in the shadow of Payne and former Spartan Derrick Nix for two years. Now Michigan State needs Costello to emerge as a plus pivot, but that might be a year away from coming to fruition.
Interior depth is a major concern. Sophomore Gavin Schilling is a stock-rising banger off the bench. Muscular 6-7 freshman Marvin Clark Jr. will need to contribute due to Izzo’s dismissal of stretch-4 Kenny Kaminski in August.
The depth issues mean Costello will need to play hard while avoiding foul trouble — always a terrible conflict of interest in the Izzo program. That could make it difficult for Michigan State to lead the Big Ten in defensive field goal percentage for a second straight year.
Denzel Valentine is a dazzling passer as a point/wing, and a respectable shooter. He has All-Big Ten potential and a triple-double skill set. With last year’s quiet seniors gone, Valentine’s leadership vocals are providing a fresh vibe. He can provide spot duty at the 4 if necessary.
Combo guard Travis Trice has thickened his once-scrawny body and hopes to finally have a full, healthy season. He’s a streak shooter who is ready to take his role to 30 minutes per game, mostly at the point. Trice is being given the keys to the offense for the first time and could emerge as one of the surprise players in the Big Ten. He’s pretty good, not great.
Alvin Ellis can play defense, run the floor and hit the open jumper, making him a rangy, useful role player.
If Cleveland State transfer Bryn Forbes, a deep shooter, gains immediate eligibility, Michigan State’s depth and offensive firepower will receive a substantial boost.
Leadership is on an upswing with Valentine and Trice. With six departed players and a thinned-out roster, this energetic mix of good personalities is similar to the surprising 2012 group that won the Big Ten and advanced to the Sweet 16 with Draymond Green. But the conference is stronger at the top this year than in 2012.
Lourawls Nairn is the fastest point guard Tom Izzo has ever signed. He struggles with his jump shot and finishing at the rim. Marvin Clark has nice shooting touch and a strong build but must play harder in the medium-range game. Javon Bess is an Izzo-style blue collar battler at the wing. Bryn Forbes was second-team All-Horizon League at Cleveland State, averaging 15.6 points while shooting 42 percent from deep.
Miami beat Oakland 38-14 on Sunday in Wembley Stadium in London.
It was a putrid football game between one team that hasn’t won a game in its last 10 tries and another that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2000. It meant very little to the AFC playoff picture or to NFL fans in general.
It mattered to the Dolphins' starting quarterback, the fans in London and, most importantly, to Roger Goodell.
Ryan Tannehill hasn’t played well this season but he put together his best outing of the season against the Raiders after back-to-back losses to the Bills and Chiefs. But that is the only real football-related headline to come from the United Kingdom.
No, the most important headlines lie in the periphery. Wembley Stadium, which began hosting one NFL game per year in 2007, hosted 83,436 fans for the Dolphins' win over Oakland. With two more games scheduled this season — Detroit faces Atlanta on Oct. 26 and Dallas battles Jacksonville on Nov. 9 — the powers that be are excepting nearly 250,000 tickets sold for NFL games in London this fall. And, you’ll notice, none of those six teams made the playoffs last season.
At roughly, 100 pounds per ticket, these three games will net approximately 25 million pounds just at the turnstile alone. That’s more than $40 million.
Goodell is shipping the bottom third of his product to London and the fans are eating it up. There is a reason that rumors indicate the number of games played in London could jump from three to five in the very near future. Clearly, Goodell wants to grow the brand internationally and a vast global reach is the only space left for the NFL to conquer.
Despite the unexpected popularity abroad of the mid-season trip across the pond and the pressure to find new streams of revenue locally, talks of a team calling London home permanently may be premature, however.
Exorbitant travel costs, impossible scheduling, salary cap implications and even things as simple as facilities could keep a team from relocating to London.
It’s nearly 5,000 miles from Seattle to London, so scheduling becomes enormously difficult for every team West of the Mississippi. Players aren’t going to want to live most of the year overseas and that could impact the salary cap in a way that 31 other owners won’t appreciate. And there is no guarantee that there’s even a stadium capable of hosting eight home games a season.
Today, fans are flocking to these games because they get to see something they don’t see every day. They get different teams spaced out over three months for a rare and special experience. London has yet to even prove it can successfully host games in back-to-back weekends.
Once the average European realizes he’s paying $160 per game to see Derek Carr lose, the novelty and interest may dry up quicker than anticipated.
At a combative press conference won’t be enough for Michigan coach Brady Hoke to explain the handing of injured quarterback Shane Morris.
Morris was lifted from the game due to a high ankle sprain and did not sustain a concussion to Hoke’s knowledge, Hoke told the media in a Monday morning press conference. The quarterback would have practiced Sunday if not for the ankle injury, Hoke said.
Hoke said he’d never put a player on the field if there was a risk he sustained a head injury, but assessing that risk is ultimately in the hands of the Michigan medical staff.
"I don't make decisions who plays, who doesn't play, as far as when there's injuries, in particular, if there were any head or head trauma," Hoke told the media. "Those of you who know or don't know, I would never put a kid in that situation. Never have and never will because you get into this to coach kids.”
In a contentious press conference Monday, Hoke fielded questions surrounding his handling of Morris, who sustained a helmet-to-helmet hit against Minnesota and continued for two more non-consecutive plays.
Morris needed help from a lineman to stand after taking a hit from Minnesota’s Theiren Cockran — a stumble Hoke says was brought about by an ankle injury. Morris stayed in for one more play but returned later in the series when Devin Gardner lost his helmet during a play.
The explanations Hoke gave, though, remain dubious.
Hoke says he “assumed” Michigan medical personnel performed the required tests for concussions, though those tests were not administered until after Morris stayed in the game long enough to throw an incomplete pass.
Hoke said he did not see the hit on Morris as the coach was following the ball downfield and attributed Morris’ stumble to his ankle giving out. Given the nature of the hit — the back of Morris’ head also hit the ground — Morris’ motions were consistent with those of a player who had suffered a concussion. Hoke said he did not see the quarterback struggling in real time and ultimately not until he viewed the coaches’ game film.
Hoke also repeatedly referred to a forthcoming statement from the Michigan medical staff, a statement that had not arrived as of four hours since the press conference. Hoke referred to the statement when asked if Morris received a concussion test on the sideline and why Morris still had his helmet after leaving the game for the first time.
Hoke also said he had not communicated with athletic director Dave Brandon since Saturday, though the school released a statement from Hoke on Sunday evening.
The Week 5 SEC slate was highlighted by Missouri’s surprising victory at South Carolina and Texas A&M’s comeback win, in overtime, over Arkansas in Arlington, Texas. Here are some stats from the week that was in the SEC.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 5 in the SEC
Third down conversion percentage rate allowed by the Tennessee defense in 2014, the best in the nation. Opponents have only converted 11 third downs in four games against the Vols. Last year, Tennessee ranked 92nd national in third down defense, allowing a 42.5 percent conversion rate.
Average carries per game by Todd Gurley, the most in his three seasons at Georgia. The Bulldogs entered the season with one of the deepest backfields in the nation, but injuries to some key reserves have forced Mark Richt to lean on Gurley more than he might have planned. Gurley had more than 20 carries seven times in 24 games in his first two seasons.
Consecutive possessions that ended with a punt by Texas A&M in the first quarter of the Aggies’ win against Arkansas on Saturday. It is the first time A&M punted on three straight possessions since the regular-season finale last season, a 28–21 loss at Missouri.
Games in which Arkansas has had at least 400 yards of offense this season — 684 vs. Nicholls State, 499 vs. Texas Tech, 427 vs. Northern Illinois, 484 vs. Texas A&M. Last season, the Hogs only topped the 400-yard mark three times, only one of which came against an SEC opponent (Texas A&M).
Touchdowns by Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims, who has not taken a snap on offense this season. Sims has two scores on kickoff returns and one on an interception return. No other Vanderbilt player has more than one touchdown.
Yards per passing attempt by the Kentucky offense, up from 6.8 last season, 5.5 in 2012 and 4.8 in ’11. The Wildcats rank fourth in the SEC in passing offense with 290.5 yards per game but have only thrown six touchdown passes, tied for second-fewest in the league.
Total yards accumulated by the Missouri offense in the 10 possessions from the middle of the first quarter through the middle of the fourth quarter in Mizzou’s 21–20 win at South Carolina. The Tigers then marched 68 yards and 51 yards, respectively, on their final two possessions, which both ended with touchdowns.
Touchdowns allowed by Ole Miss in four games this season. The Rebels gave up one score to both Boise State and Louisiana-Lafayette and did not allow a touchdown to Vanderbilt or Memphis. Ole Miss ranks No. 3 nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 8.5 points per game.
Losses at home by South Carolina so far this season. It’s the first time since 2008 that the Gamecocks have lost at least two games at Williams-Brice Stadium. That season, Carolina lost at home to Georgia (14–7) and LSU (24–17). The Gamecocks have not lost three home games since 2007.
Plays from scrimmage by the Texas A&M offense that have gone for 10 yards or more. That’s the most in the SEC and it’s 20 more than any other team in the league. Nationally, only Washington State has more (104).