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After a miracle comeback at the Ryder Cup Matches at Medinah in 2012, Europe is the prohibitive favorite to retain the Cup on home turf, as Tom Watson takes a shorthanded American team to Scotland for the most pressure-packed event in golf. Can a U.S. team led by crafty veteran Phil Mickelson and young gun Rickie Fowler upset a European powerhouse led by four-time major champion Rory McIlroy and Ryder Cup maestro Sergio Garcia?
Athlon caught up with Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, a Ryder cup veteran with a match record of 5-5-2 in three Cups, to get his perspective.
How is the pressure of the Ryder Cup compared to a major championship?
It’s very different. One’s individual pressure. Obviously, I had a chance to experience both things in the space of three or four months of each other (in 2010). Back nine of the U.S. Open and then coming down the stretch against Hunter (Mahan at the Ryder Cup). I can safely say it was ten-fold the pressure at the Ryder Cup. No doubt about it. You’re only letting yourself down by not taking care of it at a major championship. But you feel the fates of all your teammates and everything that goes into the Ryder Cup. And especially how passionate Europe is about the Ryder Cup. We’re certainly very, very into it.
Describe the experience of playing in a Ryder Cup.
I feel like I’ve experienced everything I can experience at the Ryder Cup. I’ve lost. I’ve won. I hit the last shot, I hit the first shot, I’ve played both sides of the Atlantic. At Gleneagles, I’ve made a promise to myself that I’m going to go and enjoy it. Try to shrug the pressure off a little bit. Play with my eyes open and take it all in and really embrace and enjoy as opposed to getting all tense and feeling like it’s pretty painful at times.
What about Gleneagles as a venue?
I think it will be a good venue. Weather is something we can’t control, and I’m sure it’ll be a talking point. But I think from a crowd’s point of view, Scottish fans are very educated and they love their golf and they will be absolutely fired up. First Ryder Cup (in Scotland) for many, many years. I’m expecting it to be pretty amazing. From a match play standpoint, the course is kind of irrelevant. Take Dove Mountain (former home of the WGC-Match Play Championship). That’s a golf course where you couldn’t play a stroke-play event. It would just be impossible. But it works for match play. The golf course can be irrelevant from a match play standpoint. It’s just ball against ball. Doesn’t matter if there is lots of rough or no rough. Long, short. Doesn’t really matter. Beautiful, not beautiful. Match play, the golf course is less relevant than it is at a major championship. I’m all for the Ryder Cup being at iconic venues. But it’s more about the people and the atmosphere and the experience and the matches.
You’ve played on two winning teams and one losing team. How do you view this one?
It’s something I’m very much looking forward to. A huge honor. I paced myself well this season, coming off good form in the summer, and I think I can be an instrumental part of the team. I’m getting to the veteran stage and I feel like I can definitely be a decent sort of leader for the young guys on the team.
After a miracle comeback at the Ryder Cup Matches at Medinah in 2012, Europe is the prohibitive favorite to retain the Cup on home turf, as Tom Watson takes a shorthanded American team to Scotland for the most pressure-packed event in golf. Can a U.S. team led by crafty veteran Phil Mickelson and young gun Rickie Fowler upset a European powerhouse led by four-time major champion Rory McIlroy and Ryder Cup maestro Sergio Garcia?
One of the keys to the U.S. effort, Rickie Fowler will be participating in his second Cup after a record of 0-1-2 in 2010 — but with four top-5 finishes in this year's majors under his stylish white belt. Athlon talked to Fowler for his perspective as the teams head to Gleneagles.
How is the pressure of a Ryder Cup different than a major?
It is different. I think the biggest ones for me, that kind of set me up for The Ryder Cup, it wasn't any of the professional events I played. It was the Walker Cup experience, being in the team atmosphere. I think coming off and playing right out of college helped me, as well in 2010. So I'll still definitely be feeling the nerves this year as well, but I'm looking forward to it and pulling from the past experiences in 2010 and the two Walker Cups I have played. It's a bit different when you are playing for a few other guys on the team, captain and wearing the red, white and blue.
Although you were not on the 2012 team, you sense any extra motivation to win it this year after what happened at Medinah?
You always want to go into those wanting to win, but with the way the last couple have gone, being on the losing side in '10 and then watching the guys come up short on the final day there at Medinah, yeah, it gives us a little fire to get it all together this year. I think the biggest thing is kind of get the team together, get everyone kind of on the same page. I know everyone's going to want to win, but bringing the team together is always big. I know Europe's always very strong at team camaraderie. Not that the U.S. doesn't get along, but I feel like we can work on getting the team together a little bit better and see if we can all pull together as a team and bring the cup home.
How tough was it not to be on the team the last time?
It was a struggle for me through that summer because my main goal that year was to make the Ryder Cup team. I was in position and was playing decent, and then I didn't make it well known, but after the fact, a lot of people knew that I was playing injured with my back that was giving me trouble. So it was a struggle just because I knew I could play well and I wanted to play well, and I wasn't able to because of the pain that my back was giving me and wasn't able to put myself in a position to make good swings. I'm definitely pleased with what I've done fitness-wise, and I've put myself in a position now where I'm locked up for the Ryder Cup team and I can go ahead and play.
What impact do you expect captain Tom Watson to have on the U.S. team?
I've gotten to know him a little bit. He's a living legend of the game. It will be cool to have him as a captain and it will be a lot cooler if we're able to bring the Cup back for him.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 17:
• The top 35 cheerleading squads of the NCAA. This list will require extensive study to assess.
• The Nats and Orioles clinched, leading to celebrations like the one in the photo above and the one seen here where Adam Jones smashes pies into fans' faces, and also conjuring visions of a Beltway World Series.
• No matter your opinion of Adrian Peterson, I think we can all agree that the Vikings are stumbling around cluelessly.
• In addition to a new contract, LeBron James also has new hair.
• Blake Griffin hit Open Mic Night at the Laugh Factory. I'm afraid to watch it; let me know how he did.
• A Cubs fan lost his wedding ring onto the field while giving high-fives. That's the most Cubs fan thing possible.
• Watch Texas A&M punter Drew Kaiser campaign for the Heisman Trophy. If I had a vote, he'd get it.
• Why do celebrities even throw out first pitches? Charles Barkley bounced one last night.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Offensive line play is often overlooked when analyzing and predicting a college football season. Outside of quarterback play, the five players in the trenches are the most important position on offense. Good skill players won’t go far with a limited offensive line, and a passing game won’t get on track if there’s no protection.
In Athlon’s predicted top 25 offensive lines for 2014, five of the units hailed from the Pac-12. Stanford, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and UCLA ranked among the nation’s best, with the Cardinal grabbing the No. 1 spot in the conference.
While optimism ran high at those schools in the preseason, some teams are still searching for the right answers three weeks into 2014.
|Oregon's Post-Spring Projected OL|
|LT||Tyler Johnstone||26 career starts|
|LG||Hamani Stevens||16 career starts|
|C||Hroniss Grasu||43 career starts|
|RG||Cameron Hunt||9 career starts|
|RT||Jake Fisher||25 career starts|
Each team has a different story in the trenches, but for Oregon, injuries have limited a unit that returned all five starters and was poised to be one of the best in the nation.
Improving the production from the guards and overall physicality of the line was a priority in the offseason, and so far, it appears Oregon’s offensive line has answered the call. The Ducks have scored on 93.3 percent of their red zone trips in 2014. Oregon rushers are averaging 6.3 yards per carry through three weeks and that includes a solid (4.3 ypc) performance against one of the best defenses in the nation (Michigan State).
But will those numbers hold over the course of the season? The Ducks’ line has been thinned by injuries, as Tyler Johnstone was lost for the year due to a knee injury in the preseason, and tackles Andre Yruretagoyena and Jake Fisher have been injured in the last two weeks.
|Oregon's Projected OL for Week 4|
|LT Matt Pierson/Jake Fisher||Fisher's Status Uncertain|
|LG Hamani Stevens||Started all 3 games in 2014.|
|C Hroniss Grasu||Best center in nation?|
|RG Cameron Hunt||Started 2 games in 2014.|
|RT Tyrell Crosby||True freshman pressed into duty.|
Oregon is secretive with injury updates, so there’s no long-term diagnosis on Fisher or Yruretagoyena.
With Fisher and Yruretagoyena sidelined, the Ducks will rely on junior Matt Pierson and freshman Tyrell Crosby to handle the tackle duties. Crosby ranked as the No. 401 recruit in the 2014 signing class and started the Week 3 contest against Wyoming. Crosby started on the right side and is expected to stay there, even with Fisher’s absence in Week 4. Pierson is a walk-on but has game experience by playing in six contests in 2013 and three games in 2012. He also filled in against Wyoming, helping a line that did not allow a sack last Saturday.
But if either player is out for an extended period of time, the Ducks could go into the heart of their schedule (at UCLA – Oct. 11, Washington – Oct. 18 and Stanford – Nov. 1) without their top three tackles from the preseason.
Matchups against the Bruins and Cardinal will be huge for Oregon’s playoff hopes and could decide whether or not the Ducks or Stanford represents the North in the Pac-12 title game.
Will Oregon’s offensive line woes derail the offense against Washington State or Arizona? Probably not, but a thin offensive line could create more pressure on quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The Cougars have just four sacks in three games and have allowed 28.7 points per game so far this year. Washington State’s defensive line is underrated, headlined by tackle Xavier Cooper. The Cougars also sacked Mariota three times in 2013.
The Wildcats have allowed 21.3 points per game and 5.2 yards per play through three weeks. Oregon’s matchup against Arizona is more favorable, as the Wildcats are breaking in two new starters on the line.
But the reality for Oregon is simple. Good luck and injuries are required to win a national title. Not having three of your top tackles from the preseason is something that will be difficult to overcome. Of course, having a quarterback like Mariota certainly alleviates the concerns up front. And the Ducks can use their spread to get rid of the ball and allow their athletes to make plays in space.
If Fisher and Yruretagoyena return soon, Oregon’s offensive line should be fine. However, if these two miss the rest of the year, the Ducks’ depth up front could be a huge issue, especially against physical defenses like Stanford, UCLA and potential matchups in the playoffs.
On the other side of the division, UCLA is also dealing with uncertainty on its offensive line.
In the opener against Virginia, the Bruins allowed 11 tackles for a loss and five sacks. Center Jake Brendel (All-Pac-12 candidate) did not play against the Cavaliers due to a knee injury, which clearly attributed to some of UCLA’s struggles up front.
|Game||YPR||Sacks Allowed||TFL Allowed|
|at UVA||3.0||5 (33 att)||11|
|Memphis||3.5||4 (44 att)||6|
|Texas||4.6||3 (34 att)||3|
Brendel returned in Week 2 against Memphis, and the Bruins allowed four sacks on 44 pass attempts, gave up six tackles for a loss and improved their yards per carry average from 3.0 in the opener to 3.5 against the Tigers.
UCLA’s line took a step forward in Week 3, recording a 4.6 yards per rush against Texas – the best defensive front the Bruins have played in 2014 – and gave up only three sacks on 34 pass attempts.
The good news for coach Jim Mora and quarterback Brett Hundley is the line seems to be improving with each game. However, tackle Malcolm Bunche was injured against Texas and his status for next week’s Thursday night showdown against Arizona State is uncertain.
If Bunche can’t go in Week 5, redshirt freshman Conor McDermott is listed on the backup on the depth chart, but UCLA could shuffle its line to move someone else to the left side.
Losing Bunche for an extended period of time would be a huge setback for a line that is still developing and thin on proven options off the bench. While that’s ominous for the Bruins, Bunche does have a week to get healthy before playing Arizona State (Sept. 25).
Assuming UCLA is able to win in Tempe, an aggressive Utah defense awaits on Oct. 4, followed by a date against Oregon on Oct. 11. Getting Brendel fully entrenched at center once again, along with Bunche back to full strength is critical in a key stretch run for the Bruins.
However, there’s one major caveat to UCLA’s title hopes that won’t revolve on the offensive line. Is quarterback Brett Hundley healthy and capable of returning soon? The early reports suggest Hundley’s elbow injury isn’t serious, but the Bruins need their signal-caller and No. 1 quarterback at full strength.
UCLA was Athlon’s pick to win the South Division this preseason. Even if the wins haven’t been impressive or as dominating as some may have anticipated in the preseason, the Bruins are still squarely in the mix for the division and conference title. And if UCLA wins the Pac-12 title with one loss or remains unbeaten, Jim Mora's team is going to be in college football's playoff.
The stats from the first three games suggest the offensive line is improving. But what type of impact could a long-term injury to Bunche hold for this group? And assuming Bunche does return to full strength, can this unit jell and continue to improve after a sluggish start to the season?
With its strong defense and quarterback Brett Hundley leading the way, UCLA is capable of pushing for a playoff spot. However, much like Oregon, the Bruins’ title hopes depend on the five blockers leading the way in key games against the Ducks, Sun Devils, along with late-season matchups against Washington, USC and Stanford.
It's early, but the development (and health) of offensive lines at UCLA and Oregon are going to play a huge role in determining the Pac-12 champion in 2014.
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: none
Listen to the Week 3 recap podcast:
The Top 3:
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
The Ducks quarterback wasn’t needed at all in the fourth quarter after leading Oregon to a big lead over Wyoming. He finished with a sterling line: 19-of-23 passing for 221 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers, 71 yards rushing and two more touchdowns. He’s got 962 yards of total offense and 11 touchdowns in three games. A road trip to Washington State this weekend should provide big numbers and another big win for the Ducks.
2. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
The Dawgs took one on the chin in Columbia but it has only hurt Gurley’s Heisman stock slightly. He is still the only player in the same realm as Mariota. The Georgia workhorse finished with 131 yards and a touchdown (another one was called back) on 20 carries to go with four receptions as well. Maybe he should have gotten the ball around the goal line late in the fourth quarter? Gurley has 329 yards and four touchdowns rushing on 35 carries in just two games but the loss could eventually cost him the award. He shouldn't be needed much this weekend against Troy.
3. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida St
Florida State and Jameis Winston were off in Week 3 but will be the focal point of the voters in Week 4 as Clemson comes to town. This could be the toughest ACC game of the year for the Noles and another big performance from Winston could move him into contention with Mariota and Gurley. Winston has completed over 70 percent of his passes and has 626 yards through the air in two wins thus far in 2014.
Arkansas has experienced its share of highs and lows since joining the SEC in 1992. The Razorbacks have won at least 10 games three times since 2006 but also bottomed out with an 0-8 record in conference play in 2013.
Finishing 0-8 in SEC play in 2013 was the result of several factors, but the winless season is largely attributed to the coaching carousel that transpired in Fayetteville.
Bobby Petrino’s four-year stint in Fayetteville was successful, which included 21 wins from 2010-11 and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl after the 2010 season. But Petrino’s tenure ended on a motorcycle ride in the spring of 2012, forcing the Razorbacks into uncertainty after the best two-year stint since Arkansas joined the SEC.
Athletic director Jeff Long’s options were limited in replacing Petrino and he chose familiarity by selecting former assistant John L. Smith to serve as a one-year option.
But that one year was surrounded in uncertainty in numerous ways, and the Razorbacks slipped to 4-8 overall and just 2-6 in SEC play.
Long’s hire of Bret Bielema from Wisconsin was a surprise, and Bielema endured a rough debut in 2013. Arkansas finished 3-9 overall and recorded its first winless season in conference play since joining the SEC.
While Bielema shouldered much of the criticism from the 2013 campaign, the Razorbacks’ problems were bigger than a coach.
Three coaches in three years, changes in scheme, personnel departures – including quarterback Tyler Wilson – and uncertainty in recruiting all compounded Arkansas’ issues.
Switching from Petrino’s high-powered offense to Bielema’s ground-and-pound attack required time and adjustments, but the Razorbacks started to show signs of life late in the 2013 season.
After being outscored by 139-24 against South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn, Arkansas lost by 10 to Ole Miss, lost by seven in overtime to Mississippi State and nearly upset LSU in Baton Rouge to close out 2013.
Those signs of life late in the season have carried over into 2014. Arkansas battled defending SEC champion Auburn for a half, losing 45-21 after the Tigers scored 24 unanswered points over the final two quarters.
The Razorbacks thoroughly dominated FCS opponent Nicholls State in Week 2 and gashed Texas Tech’s defense for 438 yards in a huge 49-28 road victory for Arkansas.
The Red Raiders may end 2014 as an overrated team based on the preseason rankings, but the Razorbacks are clearly improving under Bielema.
Why has Arkansas improved? Outside of the rushing attack and dynamic duo of running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, here are three reasons why the Razorbacks are improving in Bielema’s second season:
A healthy Brandon Allen at QB
In his first two starts of 2013, Allen completed 24 of 39 throws for 355 yards and five scores. After a shoulder injury against Southern Miss, Allen wasn’t the same quarterback. He finished 2013 by throwing just nine touchdowns over the final eight games and a lackluster 49.6 completion percentage. Allen is off to a good start once again, completing 28 of 48 passes for 353 yards and six scores. The Razorbacks will always lean on the run, but Allen’s health (and development) should keep opposing defenses honest.
Arkansas will always have trouble attracting five-star talent, but Bielema and his staff inked the No. 23 class in 2013 and the No. 30 haul in '14. And the Razorbacks are targeting another top 20-30 class this year, which is ranked No. 26 by 247Sports. The 2015 class already includes five four-star players. Bielema and his staff have done a good job of quickly developing talent, as eight players from the 2013 class are listed as starters. And nine players from the 2014 class are listed on the depth chart for Week 4, including nose guard Bijhon Jackson, center Frank Ragnow and cornerback Henre’ Toliver.
Reviewing Arkansas' Recruiting Over the Last Five Years
|Year||3-Stars Signed||4-Stars Signed||5-Stars Signed||SEC Class Rank||National Rank|
|Rankings compiled from 247Sports|
In the Trenches
This is one area Bielema has made an immediate difference. In a short time, Arkansas’ offensive line went from a question mark to a strength. Sophomores Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland headline a unit that bulldozed Texas Tech’s defensive line and leads the way for a rushing attack that ranks No. 2 nationally with an average of 7.9 yards per carry. The future for the offensive line looks bright with freshmen Frank Ragnow and Brian Wallace already appearing on the depth chart. Defensively, Arkansas has six freshmen or sophomores listed up front. It sounds cliché, but winning in the SEC starts in the trenches. The Razorbacks have the makings of a solid offensive and defensive line over the next few seasons.
Obstacles to Overcome
Brutal SEC West
|Arkansas 2014 Schedule|
|Sept. 6||Nicholls State|
Sure, Arkansas – yes it’s a small sample size – looks to be improved in 2014. But realistically, what’s the win total for this team by December? The SEC West is unforgiving, hosting two national title contenders in Alabama and Auburn, teams on the rise in Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, while LSU appears to be on track to quickly reload after a rash of personnel departures. Winning a game against an opponent from the West will be tough, and the Razorbacks play Missouri and Georgia in crossover play with the East. Ouch.
Developing the Passing Attack
A healthy Brandon Allen at quarterback will solve some of the Razorbacks’ passing game, but this offense averaged only 148.5 yards passing per game last year. Through three games, Arkansas is averaging just 141.7 yards per game through the air, but quarterbacks have already tossed six touchdowns after tossing a total of 15 in 12 games in 2013. In addition to Allen, the Razorbacks need more help from the receiving corps. Can Bielema and coordinator Jim Chaney develop a gamebreaker or two here?
Talent at Linebacker/Defensive Back
The Razorbacks will miss defensive end Trey Flowers next year, but the depth chart up front is mostly comprised of sophomores and freshmen. Sophomore Darius Philon is one of the SEC’s rising stars, and sophomore nose guard Taiwan Johnson has 3.5 sacks in 2014. Despite the optimism up front, the back seven is still a work in progress. Arkansas’ linebacking corps and defensive backfield ranked near the bottom of most SEC unit rankings in the preseason. If the Razorbacks are going to take a step forward on defense, secondary and linebacker play has to improve.
Looking Ahead to 2015
Arkansas is slated to lose 19 seniors this offseason. However, just nine are listed as starters on the depth chart.
Next season's schedule also is more favorable, featuring a rebuilding Tennessee team from the East and a home date against Mississippi State.
With most of the core returning, 2015 should be a better gauge of how far the Razorbacks have come in Bielema’s tenure.
Regardless of the final record in 2014, Arkansas is on the right track. The Razorbacks are building a ground-and-pound offense that resembles Bielema’s offenses at Wisconsin, and there’s young talent to build around on defense.
Winning a SEC game with a difficult schedule is going to be a challenge in 2014. However, Bielema and this staff won’t have to have wins to show progress, especially if the Razorbacks are competitive in every conference game.
Patience is required with a coaching change, especially in Fayetteville – in a brutal SEC West – after going through a messy end to Petrino’s tenure and the tumultuous one-year stint under Smith.
Bielema has plenty of work to do and by no means is Arkansas a finished product. But with a talented (and youthful) core in place, combined with the improvement at the end of 2013 and start to '14, the Razorbacks are turning a corner and appear to be deepening what is already college football’s toughest division.
The original reality TV show is sports. No contrived setting where seven strangers living in a house or one bachelor searching for love can match the excitement the Iron Bowl delivered last fall.
The beauty of college football lies in its complete unpredictability and drama. Here are some outrageous predictions for Week 4.
Note: The point of this column is to have some fun and make some outlandish predictions. Please react accordingly.
Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah will rush for more than their combined weight
Nebraska lists Ameer Abdullah as 195 pounds and Miami lists Duke Johnson at 206 pounds. While both of those numbers seem extremely suspect (both look a lot lighter than that), the explosive and exciting duo will combine to rush for more yards against each other's team than their combined weight of 401 pounds. This is a historic rivalry that has been played in three national title situations and these two electric tailbacks will make the 2014 version a memorable one.
Deshaun Watson will be the most productive QB in the Clemson-Florida State game
Jameis Winston and FSU topped a much better Clemson team last season 51-14 in Death Valley. It isn’t out of the question to think that Winston has 177 yards and one touchdown at halftime with a 50-point lead and no need to play in the second half. On the flip side of that, Cole Stoudt could easily be benched or, worse, injured by the halftime whistle. Instead look for Tigers freshman Deshaun Watson to have the most yards of total offense in this game. You heard it here first, folks.
Listen to the Week 3 recap podcast:
Mississippi State scores more points in the first half than LSU has allowed all season
LSU has given up 24 total points in three games this fall and has a current streak shutout streak going of 147 minutes and 24 seconds. When Mississippi State comes to town this weekend, Dak Prescott will bring his triple-threat ability to the bayou. LSU may still win the game but Prescott — and his 323 yards per game average — should lead his Bulldogs to 24 points in the first half alone. The Tigers have yet to face a legitimate quarterback all season and Prescott could open some eyes against LSU.
Marcus Mariota and Connor Halliday will combine for 1,000 yards of offense
Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday set an NCAA record a year ago against Oregon with 89 pass attempts. It netted him 557 yards in the 62-38 defeat to the Ducks. Meanwhile, Marcus Mariota rolled up 394 yards of offense (327 pass, 67 rush) in the win. These two will be prominently featured once again and could easily combine for 1,000 yards of total offense and 100 points.
Amari Cooper will post season lows against Florida
Cooper is off to an unreal start to the season for the Crimson Tide. He is leading the nation with 33 receptions and is third nationally in yards with 454 in three games. But he will be matched up with the best corner in the SEC this weekend when Vernon Hargreaves III and Florida come to town. The guess is Lane Kiffin will attack other areas of the Florida defense with great success and won’t let the Cooper-VH3 matchup dictate the direction of the offense.
BONUS: Clint Trickett will be the focal point of Bob Stoops' defense
If I had written that sentence last year, I might have been fired from my current position and relegated to restocking Dana Holgorsen's RedBull Frigidaire. Thus, making my bonus prediction totally outrageous and bizarre.
Michigan continues our top 25 countdown at No. 23 as the Wolverines look to replace Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and more. Michigan has bounced back quickly before under John Beilein. Will that trend continue in 2014-15?
The Michigan edition is one of dozens available in our online store on newsstands everywhere this week.
All those years wandering the post-Fab Five desert are over in Ann Arbor, and it’s not a mirage.
Coming off a 2013 Final Four appearance that most credited to National Player of the Year Trey Burke and sidekick Tim Hardaway Jr., coach John Beilein proved his program had staying power last year. With Burke and Hardaway departed, he took his youth-laden Wolverines, featuring one senior and one junior, to a Big Ten regular-season championship and an Elite Eight appearance.
Now Beilein, a 61-year-old entering his eighth season at Michigan, gets to rebuild all over again. Three more Wolverines — Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary — bolted for the 2014 NBA Draft after two seasons, leaving U-M again as one of the youngest teams in the country.
No. 23 Michigan Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-9, 15-3 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Consecutive NCAAs: 4
Coach: John Beilein (150-94 at Michigan, 70-56 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
The loss of McGary still stings, but the enigmatic forward played only eight games last season due to injury and was facing a yearlong ban from NCAA play due to a failed drug test. What in fact stings worse is a complete overhaul on the Michigan frontcourt.
Beilein plays only one true post player in his famed two-guard offense. That spot was split last year between two veterans who have also departed, Jordan Morgan (graduation) and Jon Horford (transfer to Florida).
What’s left is 6-10 redshirt freshman Mark Donnal, an inside-outside forward; junior forward Max Bielfeldt, a burly 6-7 career reserve; and Ricky Doyle, a 6-9 freshman. Donnal drew strong reviews for his practice play last season and is expected to earn a starting role and be the pick man in U-M’s ball-screen offense. He can step out and hit the 3, but questions remain whether he can handle the rigors of post play in the Big Ten.
Two additional freshmen, Kameron Chatman and D.J. Wilson, are likely to play offensively as wings but defend the 4 spot on the other end of the floor. Chatman, at 6-8, boasts a methodical offensive game and a high skill set. Wilson, a wiry 6-8 forward, is athletic but needs development.
Of them, only Bielfeldt has appeared in a collegiate game.
Related: Caris LeVert joins the Athlon Sports All-Junior Team
As it always has under Beilein, Michigan’s success will hinge on its guards. The 2014-15 Wolverines will go as far as the trio of Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin takes them.
LeVert is Michigan’s leading returner in points (12.9 ppg), rebounds (4.3 rpg) and assists (2.9 apg). Much of Beilein’s offense will operate through the 6-6 junior, who emerged from relative obscurity to earn All-Big Ten honors last year. Before leaving U-M as a lottery pick, Stauskas pointed out: “Caris is ready to blow up a little bit. I think Caris is ready to make that jump to a star player.”
The hope is that Walton and Irvin can take similar freshman-to-sophomore leaps seen from LeVert and Stauskas. Walton is a true point guard but will look to increase his scoring and is capable of doing so. Irvin, a 42.5 percent 3-point shooter, is a gifted 6-6 scorer needing to prove he can be versatile offensively and add rebounding on both ends.
Junior point guard Spike Albrecht returns as a steadying force in the backcourt and a threat from 3-point distance. Freshmen Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins, a pair of wings who signed late in the spring, add depth and will look to crack the rotation.
With every starting player from its 2013 Final Four appearance having entered the NBA early, Michigan is a clean slate.
From last year’s roster, Stauskas, Robinson, Morgan and Horford accounted for 54.5 percent of the team’s total points, 55.8 percent of its made field goals and 52.4 percent of its rebounds.
That’s gone, but the expectations aren’t. Beilein’s system has proven resilient and is bolstered by a keen eye on the recruiting trail. Having already rebuilt Michigan, Beilein says this team “isn’t starting over.”
“I think the foundation is there and now we have to start putting the bricks back in,” he adds.
Starting in the backcourt, Michigan has the talent to return to the NCAA Tournament and potentially compete for a top-three Big Ten finish. Youth, scoring options and questions surrounding rebounding and interior defense, though, leave plenty of uncertainty.
Six of Michigan’s 12 scholarship players are first-year freshmen, while a seventh belongs to redshirt frosh Mark Donnal, a potential starter. Kameron Chatman, a top-50 recruit, should make an immediate impact. D.J. Wilson and Ricky Doyle add much needed length. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins, (Johnny’s son) were late signees and add depth.
Earlier this year, the San Francisco 49ers moved out of their old digs at Candlestick Park and into their new home, the $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium. The Santa Clara, Calif., venue, which seats approximately 68,500, is more than just a place to catch a game; it’s a cathedral to football and an homage to the Silicon Valley. And it’s blowing fans’ minds. Here’s why:
1. It's Wired!
Befitting a stadium in the heart of the Silicon Valley, you're never more than 10 feet away from a wireless hotspot. Seventy miles of Wi-Fi specific cable offer 40GB/s of bandwidth (40 times more than any other stadium). Which is good, because…
2…You’re Plugged In
The 49ers’ new app lets you order food for pickup or have it delivered to your seat (for an extra $5), gives you turn-by-turn directions to locations like bathrooms and parking areas, and allows access to real-time instant replays. Speaking of which…
3. Comprehensive Instant Replay
Thirteen stadium cameras and a TV crew of 40-plus will be filming the game, providing at least six replay angles of every play, making attendees the most informed armchair referee in the league.
4. It's Green (figuratively)
Levi’s Stadium’s 38,000 square feet of solar panels soak up the sun and keep the stadium running on its own electricity.
5. It’s Green (literally)
The natural grass stadium has a 27,000-square-foot garden on the roof of the suite tower is made up of local plants that require minimal water. It soaks up heat, minimizes the HVAC cooling requirements, and grows herbs for the concession stands.
6. Eat Up!
Want a burger? How about a jalapeno cheddar kielbasa? The fare at Levi’s Stadium befits the area’s foodie atmosphere. Vegan franks, curry stations, crepe desserts and Chef Michael Mina’s onsite Bourbon Steak and Pub restaurant give “stadium food” a whole new meaning. There’s even an $18 Double Barrel Wagyu topped with pork chicharrones that may be the craziest hot dog in sports.
7. Pedestrian Expressways
They've organized the pedestrian walkways to be more efficient than Candlestick: the food lines don't intersect with the bathroom lines anymore, and they've created lanes on the exterior of the stadium so you don't have to wade through the food lines to get from one end of the stadium to the other.
8. It’s Drought-Friendly
All of the plumbing fixtures are low flow, almost twice as efficient than building code requirements, and 85 percent of the water used is recycled water provided by the city.
9. It's LOUD!
The lower bowl has over 45,000 seats (one of the largest in the NFL), and the glass-fronted box seats on the West side will provide a reverberating effect. The result could spell an end to Seattle’s title as the NFL’s loudest stadium.
Qualifying has never been so important in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series — just ask the six drivers with the best qualifying average on the circuit. Each has scored multiple wins in 2014.
Brad Keselowski is amongst that group. In fact, he leads it. Keselowski’s five wins are a series best, as is his 7.2-place average starting position.
That’s what made Sunday’s Chase kickoff race at Chicagoland Speedway unusual.
Keselowski posted the 25th fastest speed in Friday’s first practice session at the 1.5-mile track, and when qualifying was rained out, the field was set using the session’s times. On an aero-dependent track like Chicagoland, fighting dirty air in the middle of the pack is strike one for those with a realistic shot at the win.
With strategy on pit road coming into play virtually every week — two tires, four tires, splash ’n’ go — teams want an optimal pit box. The quickest in qualifying get the best choice of pit box. Twenty-fifth on the grid is a long way from optimal. Strike two for Keselowski.
There’d be no strike three, though.
Oh, Keselowski and crew fouled a couple off — namely, a missed lug nut on pit road under yellow that necessitated an additional stop. That dropped the No. 2 Ford from second to 16th with 86 laps remaining. But that’s where pure speed came into play.
The 2012 Sprint Cup champion drove back to the top 5 over the ensuing laps and by the time a caution waved on lap 244 of 267, he was sitting fourth. Then, it was a matter of taking advantage of the situation presented.
As Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson battled side-by-side for the lead on a late restart, Keselowski calmly stalked, then struck, splitting the pair in a daring thread-the-needle pass with 15 laps to go.
And oh, what a pass it was. Misjudge and three cars are trashed; hit that sweet spot and it’s an automatic pass into the next round — the “Contender” round — of NASCAR’s elimination-style playoff.
“I just saw a hole and I went for it,” Keselowski explained. “The 4 (Harvick) and the 42 (Larson) were racing really hard, doing all the things they needed to do. It just opened a hole.
“I didn’t know if my car would stick or not, but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try it. I tried it, it did. That got us into the lead.”
And just like that, Keselowski is the hottest thing on tour. Winner of consecutive events, he knocked Jeff Gordon off the point standings throne the four-time champ had occupied since early April after a Richmond win in which Keselowski decimated the field.
Dodging and weaving his way to victory at Chicagoland was a statement of sorts for the No 2 bunch. It was no rout, demanding driver and team to overcome adversity. Of course, for a strategic, thinking-man like Keselowski, it’s always “onward.”
“Nobody cares that we won Chicago, nobody cares that we won Richmond or the other three races,” Keselowski said. “It keeps resetting. You have to reset yourself. You have to keep developing the car and pushing as a team, whether it’s on pit road, the car handling, spec, whatever it might be, or driver tactics.
“It’s a statement for this week. After we get done with Dover, everything resets.”
In the meantime, multiple-race winners and chief competitors Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick kept pace, each finishing in the top 5 at Chicagoland. And they weren’t alone: twelve of the top-15 finishers were Chase drivers.
However, survival is the name of the game in this Chase, as the bottom four in the standings will be eliminated after the three-race first round. Currently, that includes Ryan Newman, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola — though a lot can change in the coming pair of races.
Then the Chase “resets,” and Keselowski — or Gordon, or Logano, or whoever catches fire — can make statements all over again.
Follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers and more.
Today, David analyzes the third quarter passing splits of rookies from the 2014 season.
In July, I wrapped up my analysis of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season’s first half by looking into first and second quarter passing splits in an effort to evaluate the growth of the seven rookies in this year’s class. Whereas average finishes tend to emphasize team growth — easily confused as a proper barometer for driver growth — studying passing splits allows us to understand how well a driver is acclimating to a series, a car and his or her surrounding competition.
When I analyze passing numbers, I choose to focus on adjusted pass efficiency (APE), which measures the percentage of pass encounters that are successful passes while omitting pit road gains under green-flag conditions, and surplus passing value (SPV), which measures the average difference between a driver’s actual efficiency from a driver in their average running position, telling us how well a driver passes against other drivers in his or her “track position neighborhood.”
APE and SPV are peripheral numbers that help explain the greater goal; the ultimate measure of drivers is their position at the conclusion of the final lap, and passing is one explanation as to how the result came to be.
Austin Dillon’s drop in efficiency, from 47.47 percent to 46.67, is not the most precipitous among the rookies; however, it may be the most disheartening. After earning a 49.27 percent APE in the first quarter of the season, he became less efficient with each nine-race span.
That efficiency dip played a hand in his drop in average finish from second quarter to third. He scored an average result of 17.2 in the nine events spanning from Talladega to the July Daytona race; he averaged a finish of 18.3 in the most recent nine, which began with three consecutive top-15 finishes. His worst outings, and an average finish of 23.5, came in the Michigan-to-Richmond spell, wherein Dillon earned an APE of 43.09 percent — 50 percent means that exactly half of a driver’s pass encounters are positive passes and anything below that is in the red — during that span.
If the pattern of diminished efficiency continues, there is reason to believe that it could make the fourth and final quarter the worst of Dillon’s rookie season and reaffirm previous concerns over the 2012 Nationwide Series champion’s ability to overtake for position.
The most improved passer in the season’s third quarter was, ironically, the driver that regressed the most from the first quarter to the second.
Justin Allgaier’s 2.8-percent improvement in efficiency and gargantuan 5.05-percent jump in SPV was the most fetching among the rookies, as he rejoined the ranks of plus passers — drivers with efficiencies in the black in both APE and SPV — the last nine races. For the season, he holds a 50.82 percent efficiency that contains a 1.93 percent surplus value.
My hypothesis on why Allgaier dropped in the season’s second quarter was because of improved average running position. Evident by a 0.3-position increase, from 25.3 to 25.0, Allgaier was competing against stronger competition more often in the season’s second quarter. Following the last nine races, his season-long average running position dropped to 25.2. That slight drop in running whereabouts means he saw and passed cars that he had no problem overtaking.
His might be a case of simple regression to the mean, or it might mean that the dichotomy between cars averaging a 25.1-place average running position or better and those averaging 25.2 or worse just happens to be extremely problematic for him for whatever reason. Regardless, his rookie-year ebb and flow has been intriguing to watch.
Ryan Truex’s improvement from his first quarter to his second was really the first positive thing to emerge from a troublesome rookie campaign, so it’s good news that efficiency regression didn’t take place in the third quarter. In fact, his 45.82 percent adjusted pass efficiency in the last nine races was identical to his second quarter tally.
Truex did, however, encounter a drop in SPV, falling from a plus-3.44 percent value to a minus-2.6 percent take, a decrease of more than 6 percent. That’s the result of six straight races, beginning with Indianapolis and skipping Michigan (he sat out due to a concussion suffered in a practice crash), which saw negative SPVs. In last Sunday’s race at Chicagoland, he registered a value of minus-7.18 percent. It was his worst single-race SPV of the entire season.
Though the efficiency remained the same, his SPV took a hit due to increased running position. Two races in the season’s third quarter, at Indianapolis and Pocono, saw him earn race-long average running positions of 32.8 and 29.9, respectively, which served as two of his three best single-race ARPs of the year.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 16:
• Jessica Biel is guest-starring on "New Girl" tonight. Seems like a good excuse to link to this slideshow of some of her greatest on-screen moments.
• Redskins fans have this bizarre notion that Kirk Cousins is their savior. These t-shirts are just one example.
• Bad news for the NFC: Darren Sproles is running wild.
• Interesting stuff here: What schools give out multi-year scholarships?
• Bizarre play of the weekend: an Arkansas State fake punt in which a player acted like he was dead. Oh, and it was intercepted.
• Eastern Kentucky's football intro video is worth the click. It's like The Matrix meets Tron.
• Mets phenom Jacob deGrom fanned the first eight batters he faced.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Wait a second. Are you telling me there was a pass for the lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ visit to Chicagoland Speedway within the last 20 laps of the race? Not just one, or two, or three … but four passes?
Those types of numbers wouldn’t make anyone blink an eye at Talladega. But for one of NASCAR’s much-maligned 1.5-mile tracks, where even getting decent attendance for a playoff opener is considered a stretch, we’ll label the type of racing witnessed on Sunday progress. There were two drivers, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson, trading paint in the final 100 miles before Brad Keselowski stepped up and snookered them both. There was contact in the form of frantic late-race restarts and shuffling for position instead of running in place. Yes, four of the six cautions witnessed were debris-related, almost like “competition yellows,” but the Larson-Harvick battle would have happened regardless of those bunch-ups. Passing, seemingly on hibernation for most of the summer on intermediates, chose to make a token appearance.
It’s a small foundation from which Chicagoland can hopefully build a better future. Those four lead changes in the final 25 laps Sunday? That’s one less than the number seen over the last five years at that track during those final circuits. For Chicagoland’s sake, as well as this new “Chase,” let’s hope it’s not a one-hit wonder.
“Through the Gears” we go …
FIRST GEAR: Penske Power
The first round of NASCAR’s “new” Chase brought with it a more intense style of racing. Every position meant a little something extra within the postseason grid of 16 as drivers fought to remain above the 12-man cutline just three races away.
But what we didn’t see was a new cast of characters celebrating in victory lane. Instead, Penske Racing threw the first punch, as Brad Keselowski made it back-to-back victories while mounting his case as a title favorite. Now armed with five wins – no one else in Cup has more than three – Keselowski becomes the first to punch his ticket to the next stage in NASCAR’s new round-by-round playoff system.
“It means a lot,” he said when asked about the impact. “My boss would say don't read your own press clippings. I want to enjoy the moment but I still know there's nine weeks to go. We have a bit of a hall pass for the next two, which I'm very appreciative. But those other seven, nobody cares that we won Chicago, nobody cares that we won Richmond or the other three races. It keeps resetting. You have to reset yourself.”
But until that happens in two weeks, Keselowski’s No. 2 team has time to get aggressive, testing strategy at Loudon and Dover that could potentially play out in the season finale. Like at Richmond the week prior, he remains in position to make a strong statement, sniffing two titles in three seasons to kick this team out of “one-hit wonder” territory. It’s also part of a renaissance for Ford Racing, which has won seven of the last 12 races, with Keselowski taking four. Even powerful Hendrick Motorsports, the other organization in strong title contention, has four wins combined during that same span.
SECOND GEAR: Larson Looking Good
With an expanded Chase field — more than one-third of the grid you see each week — it’s become nearly impossible for an underdog to fight his or her way up front. However, this playoff push might prove an exception to the rule when it comes to non-participants visiting victory lane. Among those drivers left out are three-time champ Tony Stewart, former title runner-up Clint Bowyer and talented rookie Kyle Larson.
Larson, so close so many times this season, struck first, putting together his season’s finest performance at Chicagoland. Running down Harvick, the duo engaged in a spirited battle for the lead that ultimately appeared to go Larson’s way. If not for the way those final cautions fell, the first-year driver would have almost certainly won. Of course, third is still nothing to sneeze at, especially when one considers his late-race battle with Jeff Gordon.
“I think this kid is the real deal,” Gordon said of Larson. “He’s going to be a star for a long time. I really wanted to see him win because I like him and I know he’s going to win a lot of races.”
“I know Jeff thinks a lot about me and I think a lot about him, too,” said the rookie, sitting in the same presser next to Gordon. “It was fun racing him. I definitely wanted to beat him.“
Ultimately, the bid for Larson fell short, but at this point his “Rookie of the Year” crown is virtually assured over Austin Dillon. No Chase means no pressure for this Chip Ganassi group and they have a few solid tracks forthcoming (Kansas, Charlotte) where I can see this rookie getting the job done.
THIRD GEAR: No Mulligans Here
Perhaps the biggest lesson in “New Chase, Round 1” was how hard it’ll be to come back from a mistake. Like every year, Chicagoland reached out and bit one Chaser, this time in the form of Aric Almirola. Already an underdog, a blown engine while running inside the top 10 appears to make his title bid toast. Now 52 points outside the top 12, Almirola would need to out-point Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman and AJ Allmendinger by 23 positions — and perhaps more depending on bonus points — in just the next two weeks to move forward.
“Win,” he said when asked of how to rectify the problem. But that’s unlikely for the No. 43 car, just like it is for struggling Greg Biffle in the No. 16 and AJ Allmendinger in the road-course-victory-only No. 47 Chevrolet. They’re a tick below their rivals and that gap in speed was quickly revealed Sunday.
Can any of those drivers complete a Hail Mary? A lot depends on how many problems the other contenders have. Currently, the gap between fifth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. to 13th-place Ryan Newman is just 13 points. That’s not enough to withstand an engine explosion, meaning some of the series’ top drivers (Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch) remain skating on very thin ice. All it takes is one bad break and, suddenly, they’re on the outside looking in.
Should make for a very interesting Talladega down the road, huh?
FOURTH GEAR: Couples Problems
Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., both of whom have endured disappointing seasons on the Cup circuit, took each other out on Sunday. Typically that’s not a big deal, but when the participating parties are in a personal relationship? Well, that changes things a bit.
Patrick blamed the wreck on her spotter, claiming he didn’t know Stenhouse was beside her before the duo made contact on the frontstretch. Both claim their relationship is fine as we move on to the next race. But it’s not the first time these two have come together — the most infamous incident occurring at the Charlotte race last May. The Chicagoland accident made for a little press, some splash NASCAR needs, but the underlying problem? Both will almost certainly be outside the top 20 at Loudon this weekend. Can’t pump up a story if neither of the chief participants is on the TV screen during the race.
It was a bit puzzling to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson a step behind in Chicagoland. Earnhardt, especially, was a bit of a surprise after a team meeting to delegate responsibility and pump the organization up for crew chief Steve Letarte’s swan song. An eleventh-place finish, with zero laps led after a 13th-place starting spot, just won’t cut it. … With Marcos Ambrose headed back to Australia in 2015, Richard Petty Motorsports has an opening for its No. 9 Ford. David Ragan is an early favorite for the seat, looking to “move up” from Front Row Motorsports and challenge for more than just restrictor plate victories. But the honest truth is there just aren’t many other choices out there. … In a rare occurrence, six drivers led 20 or more laps at Chicagoland on Sunday. It was a rare moment of parity in the series where a good portion of the top drivers took their turn up front.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Pac-12 football action:
452: Rushing yards allowed by USC
How is this not the most important number in the Pac-12 this weekend? The Trojans were outgained on the ground by Boston College by an astounding 452 to 20. This a week after the Eagles allowed over 300 yards rushing to Pitt. After leading 17-6 early in the second quarter, USC allowed 24 unanswered points. The Trojans didn’t score again until 4:32 left in the game, going 39:36 without a point.
14: Teams Shaq Thompson outscored
Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson turned in one of the top defensive performances of Week 3 by returning an interception 36 yards for a score and later scoring on a 52-yard fumble return. By scoring 12 points, Thompson outscored these teams in Week 3: Central Michigan, Kansas, UCF, Minnesota, Tennessee, Miami (Ohio), Kent State, Rutgers, Eastern Michigan, Southern Miss, Rice, Army, South Alabama and Louisiana-Monroe.
Listen to the Week 3 recap podcast:
11.0: Sacks for Danny Shelton, Hau’oli Kikaha
Thompson isn’t the only defensive standout for the Huskies this fall. Washington is leading the nation with 15.0 sacks through three games due to the play of its dynamic D-line duo of Danny Shelton and Hau’oli Kikaha. Shelton is leading the nation with 6.0 sacks and Kikaha is third nationally with 5.0 of his own after posting 3.0 in the blowout win over Illinois.
206: D.J. Foster's yards from scrimmage
The biggest news in Tempe will be the health of quarterback Taylor Kelly and how soon he can return to the field. But in the meantime, enjoy watching tailback D.J. Foster. He rushed for 147 yards on 20 carries and caught four passes for 59 yards while scoring twice in the easy win over Colorado. Foster now leads the nation with 649 yards from scrimmage in three games (510 rush, 139 rec.) and has scored six times. UTEP’s Aaron Jones is second with 560 YFS.
0: Points Stanford allowed in games not against USC
The Cardinal lost 13-10 to USC in Week 2 but has been pretty much perfect otherwise. Stanford beat Army 35-0 in Week 3, pitching a second shutout in three weeks. Stanford has had 36 defensive possessions in three games and it has allowed one touchdown (and two field goals). It pitched one shutout from 2011-13. Stanford is leading the nation with 204.3 yards per game allowed as well.
18: Total margin of victory for UCLA in 2014
Without its star quarterback, UCLA figured out a way to beat Texas in Arlington 20-17. It gives the Bruins three wins in three tries by a grand total of 18 points after beating Virginia by eight points and Memphis by seven. In the modern playoff era, however, survive and advance may be all that matters and UCLA has done just that.
31.0: Tackles for a loss against UCLA
The Bruins are 127th nationally — second to last (UConn) in the nation with 31.0 tackles for a loss allowed. The Bruins allowed 10.0 tackles for a loss, including three sacks, in the win over Texas. It means that UCLA has allowed at least 10.0 tackles for a loss in each of its three games (Virginia had 11.0 and Memphis had 10.0).
119, 175, 1,465, 12: Connor Halliday’s nation’s leading passing stats
Washington State finally got into the win column this weekend with a victory over lowly Portland State. Connor Halliday completed 41-of-62 passes for 544 yards and six touchdowns. He is now leading the nation in completions (119), attempts (175), yards (1,465) and is tied with Maty Mauk and Brandon Doughty for the lead in TD passes with 12.
14-for-14: Colorado's opponents in the red zone this season
Of the 26 teams that have failed to make a red zone stop this season, none can match Colorado in opportunities to fail. The Buffaloes have allowed their opponents to score on all 14 trips inside the red zone — 12 of which have gone for touchdowns. Only Toledo (14) has allowed more red zone TDs this fall. Arizona State was 4-for-4 on Saturday.
4: Pac-12 teams who have scored on every trip into the red zone
Conversely, 27 teams are perfect on offense in the red zone. Four of those hail from the Pac-12. Washington (13), Cal (11), Arizona (10) and UCLA (7) are all perfect in the red zone on offense thus far in 2014.
As college football evolves into the playoff era, the Legends Poll is changing with it. Each week the Legends Poll will release its Top 8 teams, which its panel of voters believe will inevitably be the next step in the evolution of the playoffs.
And in the first release of the 2014 season, the SEC West dominated the rankings, making up half of the Top 8.
Florida State opened up where it left off last season at No. 1, and will face its first true test against Clemson at home this coming weekend.
Second-ranked Oregon has impressed the Legends Poll panel with its tough early slate of games — knocking off Michigan State in week two. No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Oklahoma rounded out the Top 4.
Auburn debuted at No. 5, followed by Texas A&M, Baylor, and LSU to round out the Top 8.
What looked like a lackluster slate of games this past Saturday turned out to be anything but.
Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks pulled out an upset victory over Georgia, considered a heavy favorite going in to win the SEC East, 38-35. The loss kept Georgia out of the top 8.
USC and Virginia Tech had come off an emotional high after knocking off Stanford and Ohio State, respectively just a week ago. But Boston College stunned USC 37-31 and East Carolina upset Virginia Tech 28-21.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
|1||Florida State (10)||2-0||106||-|
Injuries and other circumstances have not been kind to fantasy football superstars early this season. Many this week had to make do without any solid contributions from Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, A.J. Green or Robert Griffin III to name a few. And to make matters worse, some of these highly drafted players are going to miss more than one game. So yet again, beleaguered and bewildered owners will have to turn to their league’s waiver wire in hopes of finding a lifeline.
And in that respect Athlon Sports is here to help you sort through some of the potential free agent options. The players listed in our weekly fantasy football waiver wire may be one-week adds, some may be worth holding on to all season long and some are of the “sleeper” variety that you may simply want to keep an eye on.
Week 1 Recap: Joe Flacco wasn’t spectacular (166 yds., 2 TDs), but he was steady and mistake-free in leading the Ravens to a big win over the Steelers. Jake Locker struggled against Dallas, throwing two interceptions and just one touchdown. Carson Palmer didn’t play against the Giants due to an elbow issue.
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin III dislocated his ankle against Jacksonville, potentially putting his season in jeopardy. Then again, given how well Cousins performed after RGIII went down, the Redskins appear to be in pretty good shape under center. Cousins completed 22-of-33 passes for 250 yards, two touchdowns and no picks in Washington’s dominating 41-10 win at home. With appealing matchups against Philadelphia and the Giants looming, Cousins could be one of the most added players this week.
Week 1 Recap: Mark Ingram collected 104 total yards and scored his third rushing touchdown of the season in the Saints’ last-second loss to Cleveland, but he's also expected to miss up to a month because of a broken hand. Terrance West led the way for the Browns on the ground with 68 yards rushing and a score, while Isaiah Crowell chipped in 54 on 11 carries. Bernard Pierce got 22 carries against Pittsburgh and turned them into 96 yards, while most of Justin Forsett’s 56 yards rushing (8 att.) came on a 41-yard burst. Chris Ivory not only got more carries (13) than Chris Johnson (12), but he also finished with more yards (43 to 21) and scored another rushing touchdown in the Jets’ loss to Green Bay.
Matt Asiata, Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson was deactivated on Friday due to an ongoing legal issue in Texas, which meant Asiata got the starting nod against New England. He rushed for just 36 yards on 13 carries, but caught five passes for 48 yards, including a 25-yard TD to open the scoring. Peterson has been reinstated by the Vikings and is expected to play Sunday, but his owners just may want to be safe and add Asiata to their roster if they have room. As is the case with any legal- or personal conduct-related issues in the NFL, especially this season, there's no telling what will happen next.
Knile Davis, Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles went down early with an ankle injury, but the Chiefs’ rushing attack didn’t miss a beat with Davis. The former Arkansas star posted 79 yards rushing on 22 carries and scored both of Kansas City’s touchdowns in the 24-17 loss to Denver. With Charles sidelined "indefinitely" with the dreaded high ankle sprain, Davis will take over as the starter, beginning with a road date in Miami.
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
Giovani Bernard is No. 1 in the pecking order, but the Bengals are not forgetting about the new guy either. While Bernard carried the ball 27 times on Sunday, Hill also got 15 carries. He finished with 74 yards rushing and also picked up his first career NFL touchdown. Through two games Hill has averaged nearly 10 carries a game and is averaging nearly five yards per attempt. This rookie is quickly entering the RB2/RB3/flex discussion.
Bobby Rainey, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin was a late scratch due to an ankle injury, opening the door for Rainey to see more touches. And all the diminutive (5-8) back did was explode for 144 yards on 22 carries against St. Louis. Rainey has excelled as the starter before, rushing for a total of 290 yards in games against Atlanta and Buffalo last season, so this isn’t exactly out of the blue. Add to this that his latest 100-yard effort came against a pretty good St. Louis defense and the fact the Bucs have a short week ahead of them, it’s highly likely Rainey will get another crack at those aforementioned Falcons on Thursday.
Week 1 Recap: Andrew Hawkins led the Browns in targets (12), catches (6) and yards (70) for the second straight game, including a critical 28-yard reception late in the fourth quarter that set up the game-winning field goal. Steve Smith Sr. was the Ravens’ leading receiver for a second straight week, catching six passes for 71 yards against the Steelers. In that same game, Markus Wheaton hauled in five grabs for 58 yards while also picking up 22 yards rushing on two carries. Jacksonville’s Allen Hurns followed up his huge Week 1 effort with two catches for just 13 yards, but was still better than teammate and fellow rookie Marqise Lee (2, 11), as the Jaguars’ struggled to move the ball against Washington’s defense (see below).
Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
The new drug policy negotiated by the NFL and NFLPA is reportedly close to being finalized. While several players will be reinstated immediately once this deal becomes official, Gordon is not among them. However, Gordon’s season-long suspension will reportedly be reduced to 10 games. So even though Gordon won’t be seen on the field until Week 12, if he’s still available in your league, you need to act now. After all this is a guy who led the league in receiving yards last year despite playing just 14 games. Sure there’s plenty of risk in stashing Gordon away, but the payoff come fantasy playoff time could be well worth it.
James Jones, Oakland Raiders
He’s not in Green Bay anymore, but Jones looks like he’s become rookie quarterback Derek Carr’s favorite target for the Raiders. Jones caught nine passes for 112 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Houston and was targeted (14) twice as many times as any other player. Through two games, Jones is averaging 12.2 yards per catch and has caught a touchdown pass in each game. Remember in fantasy, it’s not the uniform that’s important; it’s the numbers the player puts up.
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green left early with a toe injury, one that could sideline him until after the Bengals’ Week 4 bye. With Marvin Jones already out with a broken foot and tight end Tyler Eifert on IR (dislocated elbow) that leaves Sanu as one of Andy Dalton’s primary targets. He led the team with 84 yards and a touchdown on just three catches and also completed one pass for 50 yards in the win over Atlanta. Except Sanu to be just as busy this coming Sunday against Tennessee.
Week 1 Recap: Dwayne Allen followed up a strong return to the field with an absolute dud (1 target, 0 catches) in the Monday night loss to Philadelphia.
Larry Donnell, New York Giants
Larry who? Donnell is a 2012 undrafted free agent out of Grambling State who has gone from being cut to a practice squad member to Eli Manning’s new favorite target. In his first two career games, Donnell has caught 12 passes (on 17 targets) for 137 yards and a touchdown. He leads the Giants in targets, receptions and yards. Donnell may not be Julius Thomas 2.0, who came out of nowhere last year and wound up as a top-three fantasy tight end, but at this rate he’s definitely worth considering as a backup or TE2.
Niles Paul, Washington Redskins
Jordan Reed is expected to miss several weeks because of a hamstring injury and Paul has already taken advantage of his absence. After leading the team with 86 yards on four catches in Week 1, Paul took top honors across the board with his 11 targets, eight receptions, 99 yards and a touchdown in the dominating win over Jacksonville. With Kirk Cousins (see above) taking over for an injured Robert Griffin III, it appears that not even a quarterback change can slow Paul’s hot start.
Week 1 Recap: Houston continued its impressive start, forcing four turnovers and keeping Oakland scoreless until the fourth quarter in its 30-14 victory. Next up for the Texans is a road date with the turnover-prone Giants.
I know, I’m as shocked as you are that I’m including the Redskins here. But any time a team racks up 10 sacks and holds a team to as many points, it’s worth noting. This defense is not going to do this every week; at least I don’t think it will, but there’s nothing wrong with giving credit where it’s due either. That said, it is possible that Washington’s D puts together two solid games in a row, considering it gets Philadelphia and the Eagles’ banged-up offensive line next.
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.
Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Big 12 football action:
108: Plays West Virginia ran
The Mountaineers rolled up 694 yards of offense in the win over Maryland in College Park. They ran 108 plays to get those yards and are third in the nation with 273 offensive snaps in three weeks. It took five games for WVU to hit the same mark a season ago.
2: Times Texas kicked off to start a half
One of the oddest occurrences in any football game ever took place at the coin toss between Texas and UCLA. The Bruins won the toss and deferred to the second half. Texas then inexplicably decided to kickoff to start the game instead of taking the ball. Texas lost the coin toss and the game 20-17 in dramatic fashion.
Listen to the Week 3 recap podcast:
4: Consecutive losses by Texas to teams outside the state of Texas
After the painful and dramatic loss to UCLA in Arlington, Texas, has now lost five of its last seven games and four straight to opponents from outside of the state of Texas. The Longhorns have beaten Texas Tech and North Texas while losing to Oklahoma State, Baylor, Oregon, BYU and UCLA in their last seven contests.
6:05: Texas Tech’s time of possession in the second half
Arkansas gashed the Red Raiders defense for 438 rushing yards (6.4 ypc) and seven scores. Bret Bielema’s offense held the ball for 40:39, which limited the high-powered Texas Tech offense to just three second-half possessions. The Red Raiders only registered 6:05 in time of possession over the final two quarters. The Hogs had more rushing attempts (68) than passing yards (61).
293.7: Texas Tech’s rushing yards allowed per game over their last 9 games
After the drubbing at the hands of the Razorbacks, the Red Raiders' opponents have rushed for 293.7 yards per game in their last nine contests. Kliff Kingsbury’s record is 3-6 in those games.
2:42: Total time of TCU’s three touchdown drives
Each of TCU’s three touchdown-scoring drives against Minnesota took less than 1:12 worth of time. The Frogs scored a touchdown on drives that took 35 seconds, 55 seconds and 1:12 — all in the first half of the 30-7 win over Minnesota. Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham have implemented the Horned Frogs’ new up-tempo attack in short order.
61.6: Average yards of KD Cannon’s TD catches
In three games this year, Cannon has caught 14 passes for a nation’s best 471 yards and five scores. The true freshman is averaging 33.6 yards per catch, with his five touchdown catches averaging 61.6 yards per reception.
2: Trevor Knight 300-yard games against SEC teams
Oklahoma’s quarterback likes facing the SEC. He has two career 300-yard passing games and both have come against SEC foes after he threw for 308 yards in an easy win over Tennessee. His other such game was his 348-yard Sugar Bowl outing against Alabama. Knight averages 102.3 yards per game passing in 10 other career games.
3-1: Paul Rhoads record against Kirk Ferentz since 2011
The Cyclones kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired to topple Iowa in Kinnick Stadium this weekend. It was the third win in four years for Iowa State and Paul Rhoads in the heated battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. (Overall, Rhoads is 3-3 against Iowa.)
20.4: Yards per carry by Duke's Shaun Wilson against Kansas
There is a lot wrong with Kansas but its rushing defense was exposed this weekend in the embarrassing 40-3 loss to Duke. The Jayhawks allowed Duke true freshman running back Shaun Wilson to rush 12 times for a school-record 245 yards and three touchdowns for an astounding 20.4 yards per carry.
West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Worley’s suspension comes at a critical point for the Mountaineers, as a showdown against Big 12 title favorite Oklahoma is ahead on Saturday.
There’s no question Worley’s absence will be felt on West Virginia’s defense. Oklahoma’s passing attack is averaging 293.3 passing yards per game, and receiver Sterling Shepard has caught 17 passes for 335 yards and two scores in three contests. Individual matchups always change throughout the game, but there was a good possibility Worley and Shepard would have squared off several times on Saturday.
Shepard is one of the Big 12’s top targets, and Knight has made progress as a passer since gashing Alabama for 348 yards in the Sugar Bowl. Needless to say, keeping Knight and Shepard under wraps just got a lot tougher for West Virginia on Saturday.
With Worley anchoring the secondary, West Virginia was holding opponents to just 204.7 yards per game through the air. And the Mountaineers allowed only two passing touchdowns through their first three games.
Worley is the top cornerback for Tony Gibson’s defense, but there’s experience in place with junior Terrell Chestnut and senior Travis Bell at cornerback. Also, senior Ishmael Banks is slated to return after a three-game academic suspension to begin 2014.
Banks, Chestnut and Bell have to step up on Saturday, but the secondary could use more help from the front seven. The defensive line is averaging two sacks per game in 2014 and getting more pressure on Knight would help compensate for Worley’s absence on the back end.
Worley is already regarded as one of the top cornerbacks in the Big 12 and has forced the Mountaineers’ only turnovers (two) this year.
In three games, Worley has recorded 17 tackles (two for a loss) and two interceptions.
In 11 appearances last year, the Philadelphia native recorded 45 tackles and one interception.
The length of Worley’s suspension is uncertain. But assuming he’s out of the lineup on Saturday night, it’s a huge loss for a West Virginia team that appears to be one of the most improved squads in the nation this year. And looking farther down the road on the Mountaineers’ schedule, matchups against Texas Tech and Baylor will certainly test the secondary.
West Virginia was already facing an uphill battle against Oklahoma. Without Worley, that task on Saturday night just got a lot tougher.
I'm interested to see what this ends up being. Daryl Worley would have been one of the last kids on the team I'd pick to get in trouble.— Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247) September 16, 2014
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of college football. Every Sunday, reading updated box scores and stats is like Christmas for fans and media members. Some stats like total offense and total defense are overrated but each help paint a picture for a team or particular game.
Whether the stats are historic, advanced or just an observation from a box score, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Atlantic Coast Conference football action:
10 Amazing CFB Stats from Week 3 in the ACC
Virginia's 23-21 upset of No. 21 Louisville Saturday marked the first win for the Cavaliers when facing a new ACC member for the first time in conference play. UVa upped its record to 1-6 in such games, dating back to Georgia Tech joining the ACC in 1979. The Cavs are 2-1 all time against the Cardinals.
South Florida amassed 92 yards of offense on its first two drives — 75 coming from a touchdown reception. However, the Bulls were limited to just two total yards over their final five drives of the first half. The 75-yard score tied the game at 7 before N.C. State went on a 28-0 run the rest of the half, a 42-0 run for the game, leading to the 49-17 victory.
Virginia Tech punted on all four first-quarter drives against East Carolina Saturday, while the Pirates scored touchdowns on three of their four first-quarter drives on the way to a 21-0 lead. ECU needed those three scores on the way to holding off the Hokies 28-21. Virginia Tech ended up punting on its first five drives, was intercepted on its next two, and missed a 37-yard field goal on its eighth possession.
In its 40-3 win against host Central Michigan Saturday, Syracuse scored 40 unanswered points thanks in part to a 5-for-5 effort inside the red zone. The Orange scored TDs of 4, 1, 3, and 1, and added a 23-yard field goal. Syracuse is now 9-for-9 for in the red zone this season.
Listen to the Week 3 recap podcast:
With its 41-3 win over Kansas, Duke moved to 3-0 for just the ninth time since 1960. The Blue Devils are 3-0 for the first time since 1994 (7-0), and the victory is the program's ninth consecutive non-conference regular-season win, the most in school history.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson and the Yellow Jackets defeated Johnson's former team with a 42-38, comeback win against Georgia Southern Saturday. Johnson is the 10th active FBS head coach to coach against his former team, and joined the other nine in being victorious in their last meeting against their former schools. Johnson's first college head coaching gig was in Statesboro (1997-2001), winning two I-AA titles, and he was an assistant for the Eagles from 1983-86. This was the first meeting between the two schools.
The first four scores of the Wake Forest-Utah State game averaged 49 yards, and only one of them came from the offense. The Demon Deacons returned an interception 70 yards for the game's opening score before the Aggies countered with a 35-yard interception return, a 44-yard touchdown pass, and a 47-yard fumble recovery for a score and a 19-7 lead. Utah State pushed the lead to 29-7 before eventually winning 36-24. The final six scores of the game averaged 13.3 yards, including each team kicking field goals (26 and 30).
Pittsburgh fought back against host Florida International for a 42-25 win Saturday after trailing 16-0 entering the second quarter. The 16-point deficit was the Panthers' largest comeback win since Oct. 5, 1996. Pittsburgh erased a 19-point lead on that day to defeat Temple 53-52 after trailing 52-33 entering the final quarter.
Phillip Dorsett posted 201 receiving yards in Miami's 41-20 win against Arkansas State Saturday. The 201 yards marked the third time in Hurricanes' history that a player had over 200 receiving yards. Wesley Carroll had 208 yards at California on Sept. 15, 1990, and Eddie Brown had 220 yards vs. Boston College on November 23, 1984. Dorsett’s 201 yards came on just four catches — two of which were touchdowns, both 63 yards.
After being held to minus-6 yards of offense and falling behind 10-0 to Southern California over the first 11:44 of the game, Boston College went on an offensive tear. The Eagles posted 500 yards of offense the rest of the way, and outscored the ninth-ranked Trojans 37-21 for a 37-31 win and their first victory against a top-10 team since 2004.
- Corby A. Yarbrough
@Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
There was high drama in the SEC on Saturday, with South Carolina outlasting Georgia in a thriller in Columbia and Florida surviving a scare from Kentucky in three overtimes. Here are some stats from the week that was in the SEC.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 3 in the SEC
Drives by Arkansas that lasted at least 11 plays in the Razorbacks’ dominating win at Texas Tech. The Hogs also had five touchdown-scoring drives that went for 68 yards or more.
Yards per play averaged by the Kentucky offense in Saturday night’s overtime loss at Florida. It was the most for the Wildcats in an SEC game since they averaged 6.0 in a November 2011 win over Ole Miss.
Consecutive SEC games in which Florida has failed to score more than two touchdowns in regulation. The Gators scored four touchdowns in Saturday’s 36–30 win over Kentucky, but two of the four came in overtime.
Consecutive quarters in which LSU has not allowed a point. After rallying to beat Wisconsin 28–24 in Week 1, the Tigers have shut out Sam Houston State and ULM by a combined score of 87–0.
Alabama ball-carriers who had a run of at least 13 yards in the Crimson Tide’s 52–12 win over Southern Miss — Kenyan Drake (long of 29 yards), Tyren Jones (22), Derrick Henry (21), Blake Sims (20), T.J. Yeldon (15) and Altee Tenpenny (13).
Incomplete passes thrown by Tennessee in Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma, the most by the Volunteers since an October 2009 loss to Auburn in which they completed 20-of-44 passes. On Saturday night, Justin Worley completed 21-of-44 for 201 yards with one TD and two INTs.
Times in the last six years that South Carolina has scored at least 30 points against Georgia. Prior to 2009, the Gamecocks had not hit the 30-point mark in the previous 33 meetings between the two schools.
Yards rushing by fullback Quayvon Hicks, on three carries, in the fourth quarter of Georgia’s 38–35 loss to South Carolina. Tailback Todd Gurley had 17 yards on five carries in the fourth quarter.
Different Ole Miss players who have had at least 100 receiving yards in a game this season. Vince Sanders had 125 on eight receptions against Louisiana-Lafayette. Evan Engram had 112 yards on seven catches against Vanderbilt. And against Boise State, Cody Core had 110 yards on four catches and Laquon Treadwell had 105 on seven.
Players nationally with at least 250 yards rushing and 500 yards passing — Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. and BYU’s Taysom Hill.
The third week of the season was not quite the bounce back week the Big Ten may have been hoping for, but there were a few good things happening around the conference after a dismal week two. Let’s dive into some of the numbers from around the Big Ten this past week and the first three weeks of the college football season.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 3 in the Big Ten
2: Number of FBS teams with a winning record beaten by Big Ten teams
Time will tell how telling this stat is with a number of victories over schools projected to have winning records by the end of the season off to slow starts, but the numbers tell the story of how difficult it has been for the Big Ten through the first three weeks. Ohio State’s victory over Navy and Minnesota’s win over Middle Tennessee are the only FBS victories the Big Ten has claimed over teams with a winning record. Penn State’s victory over Rutgers does not count, of course.
2: Number of undefeated teams in the Big Ten entering Week 4
Nebraska and Penn State are the only unbeaten teams left standing amid the Big Ten rubble, just as we all predicted at the start of the season. It is fair to say other top contenders in the Big Ten (Wisconsin, Michigan State) have faced a stiffer challenge with games against LSU (Wisconsin) and Oregon (Michigan State), both coming away from home. Credit to Nebraska for picking up a win on the west coast in Week 3 at Fresno State. Penn State also has a win in Ireland, giving the Big Ten wins on three coastlines this season. Penn State is one of three schools with a home, road and neutral site win in the first three weeks (UCLA, Ole Miss).
3: Big Ten quarterbacks averaging at least 6.0 yards per rushing attempt
You thought Braxton Miller was the only dual-threat quarterback in the Big Ten? Think again. Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong leads the Big Ten in average rushing yardage per carry with 9.56 yards per attempt. Wisconsin’s Tanner McEvoy is also picking up good yardage when he tucks the ball, averaging 6.33 yards per carry. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown rushed for a game-high 161 yards against West Virginia to raise his average to 6.26 yards per carry. All three appear in the top ten in the Big Ten in this category.
4: Big Ten teams with a perfect scoring percentage in the red zone
You can pile up the big yards all you want, but what you do in the red zone will ultimately be a difference maker at some point during a season. So far, so good when Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern get inside the opponent’s 20-yard line as all four have left the field putting points on the scoreboard. Minnesota has had the most success in their red zone trips by scoring a touchdown each time they reach the red zone. Of course, all four have struggled at times just getting inside the 20-yard line. All four are in the bottom half of the Big Ten in total red zone opportunities (MSU and Northwestern have also only played two games).
9: Second-half lead changes between Indiana and Bowling Green
Talk about a seesaw battle. Indiana held on to a 14-13 lead at the half on the road against preseason MAC favorite Bowling Green, but things went off the hook after the break. The Hoosiers and Falcons exchanged the lead nine times before Bowling Green got the last laugh with a short touchdown pass with nine seconds to play.
11: Straight games Indiana running back Tevin Coleman has scored a touchdown
Indiana’s talented running back rushed for 190 yards and a trio of touchdowns against Bowling Green, earning quality losing effort status in week three. With Coleman’s trip to the end zone, he ties a school record for most consecutive games with a touchdown scored.
52: Red zone points scored by Ohio State vs. Kent State
The Buckeyes scored seven touchdowns inside the red zone against in-state foe Kent State. Just for good measure, Ohio State added a field goal to the mix as well as the Buckeyes dominated Kent State from start to finish. On nine trips to the red zone, Ohio State scored points on eight.
30-1: Ohio State’s record against schools from the MAC
With Ohio State’s victory over Kent State, the Buckeyes added to their dominant and lopsided winning record against the MAC. At least somebody is beating the MAC. The Big Ten has already lost three games to the MAC this season and a MAC school has defeated a Big Ten team in eight straight seasons. Ohio State also extended its winning streak over in-state opponents to 39 straight games. That will be challenged by Cincinnati after a bye week this weekend for the Buckeyes.
39: Blocked kicks by Rutgers since 2009
Forget about Virginia Tech and Beamer Ball. It is well past time to start giving props to what Rutgers is doing on special teams. On Saturday night the Scarlet Knights added to more to their FBS-leading blocked kick total since 2006 by blocking one Penn State field goal attempt by Sam Ficken and later blocking a punt.
43.9: Percent of third downs converted for first downs by the Big Ten
There are only 22 schools around the country that have converted at least 50 percent of their third down opportunities for first downs, but just two of those reside in the Big Ten. Indiana (51.7%) and Northwestern (51.2%) have kept drives alive on third down plays to lead the conference, respectively. Iowa (49.0%), Penn State (47.9%) and Illinois (46.2%) have been respectable as well, but it has been a surprise to see Ohio State (38.9%) and Wisconsin (37.0%) struggle on third downs early on this season.
Every Saturday night, Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall hosts The Scoreboard Show on SiriusXM College Sports Nation, Ch. 91. Every Tuesday, Athlon Sports will feature his take on the national conversation from fans to players to coaches.
The 2007 season is the benchmark for college football craziness, and while there is still more than two months left in the ‘14 campaign, comparisons are already being made to that wacky season seven years ago.
I bet Mark Richt remembers all about the '07 campaign.
We entered Week 3 with one marquee showdown in the SEC East and a bunch of so-so matchups throughout the rest of college football.
But as the day went along, it was obviously not going to be an average run of the mill Saturday afternoon.
West Virginia and Clint Trickett ran 108 plays for 694 yards to outlast Maryland, sending an unexpected shot across the Big 12 bow. Ruffin McNeill and East Carolina basically dominated a Virginia Tech team in Blacksburg that went into Columbus and won easily last weekend. Bowling Green scored with nine seconds left to give the Big Ten their third loss to the MAC. And Virginia won an ACC game for the first time in 672 days when it upset a ranked Louisville team at home.
And that was just the noon kickoffs. The real craziness took place in the SEC East and the Pac-12 South.
Georgia and South Carolina duked it out in true heavyweight fashion in a rainy but electric Williams-Brice Stadium. The Bulldogs had no answer on defense for the balanced and explosive South Carolina offense. Dylan Thompson waited his turn behind Connor Shaw for years for exactly this type of moment.
With the season hanging in the balance just three weeks into his senior season, the Gamecocks quarterback led an offense that dissected the UGA defense for 447 yards and 6.2 yards per play in what turned out to be the highest scoring game in the history of the SEC East series.
Thompson finished with 271 yards passing and four total touchdowns. More importantly, Steve Spurrier’s bunch left Week 3 with what amounts to a two-game lead over Georgia in the East and a renewed sense of purpose. Do both the Dawgs and Cocks have glaring issues on the defensive side of the ball? Is the rest of the SEC East — considering how good Mizzou has looked — considerably more balanced and more difficult than expected in the preseason? Did Georgia once again miss an opportunity to make a championship statement in a huge moment under Mark Richt?
Yes. Yes. And yes. But, for now, South Carolina landed the first big SEC East blow.
One guy who didn’t miss his chance in the spotlight was UCLA backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel.
The Bruins have looked like anything but a College Football Playoff team with three victories over Virginia, Memphis and Texas by a grand total of 18 points. But Neuheisel, the son of former UCLA coach and QB Rick Neuheisel who was forced into action when Brett Hundley left in the first quarter with an arm injury, won’t ever forget what happened in Arlington on Saturday night.
With three minutes to go in the game and trailing by four points, Neuheisel dropped a gorgeous 33-yard touchdown pass into the waiting arms of Jordan Payton down the left sideline to give UCLA the win over Texas. He may never throw another pass on any level again in his career but he certainly won’t ever forget that one.
While the Bruins have struggled on the whole this season, UCLA is still unbeaten and is coming off its most complete game against its best opponent and did so without its Heisman Trophy candidate. It should give Jim Mora’s bunch some confidence heading into a bye week before traveling to Tempe to face Arizona State in a critical Pac-12 South showdown.
The key will be who is playing quarterback in that huge Thursday night showdown. Hundley is optimistic he can return for UCLA while the Sun Devils may not be as lucky. Arizona State’s star quarterback Taylor Kelly was on crutches in the waning moments of ASU’s win over Colorado on Saturday and appears to be out for 2-3 games.
It couldn’t come at a worse time for Todd Graham. Arizona State will get an off weekend in Week 4 but then have to face UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington. The Sun Devils’ Pac-12 South hopes may now hinge on the inexperienced but very powerful right arm of junior Mike Bercovici.
If either Kelly or Hundley miss any amount of time — or aren’t playing at their usually elite level — one would think that would open the door for another team to step into the Pac-12 title picture.
It’s just hard to make the case that this team will be USC. The Trojans' win over Stanford was fortunate but there was nothing fluky about the way Boston College dominated the line of scrimmage against USC on Saturday night. Steve Sarkisian’s bunch was outrushed 452 to 20 in the massive upset. Seriously, read that previous sentence again.
No, it may actually be Arizona (3-0) or Utah (2-0) who might be ready to step into a challenger's role in the Pac-12 South rather than the Men of Troy.
Entering Week 3, the races in the SEC East and Pac-12 South were somewhat clear with Georgia and UCLA standing in control. While both the Bruins and Dawgs could still be considered the front-runners, each appears to be right in the heart of a much more heated race than originally expected.
Would it really shock anyone now if Missouri or Arizona won its respective division?
Dylan Thompson, QB, South Carolina
The Gamecocks quarterback was extra motivated after hearing about how great Georgia was for two weeks and that helped his team pull off the upset at home.
Jerry Neuheisel, QB, UCLA
The UCLA quarterback had to step in for the injured Brett Hundley and he led the Bruins to a comeback win over Texas. He talks about his interview with his father, Rick, and being forced into the spotlight.
Tyler Murphy, QB, Boston College
The Eagles quarterback rushed for 191 yards and explained how his team was able to pull off the shocking upset over USC.
Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina
The head coach of the Pirates knew his team was prepared to compete with Virginia Tech but he explains how losing to South Carolina helped his team.
Brandon Allen, QB, Arkansas
The Razorbacks quarterback explained how the SEC-Big 12 rivalry and difference in offensive styles helped the Hogs prepare for (and defeat) Texas Tech.
Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina
The Gamecocks running back gives all of the credit for the ground game’s success to the offensive line after the big win over Georgia.
Greyson Lambert, QB, Virginia
The Cavaliers signal-caller explains how the locker room at Virginia is brimming with confidence following a big win over Louisville.
College basketball season is creeping up fast, and Athlon Sports is counting down to Midnight Madness and the start of practice on Oct. 17.
Harvard continues our countdown at No. 24 as the Crimson continue an unprecedented in program history under Tommy Amaker. After three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, could Harvard be ready to take the next step and reach the Sweet 16?
A full preview of Harvard and the entire Ivy League are available in every edition, available on newsstands everywhere this week and in the online store.
The Crimson are looking for their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, and despite losing three cornerstones of the program’s success, Tommy Amaker has more than enough left in the cupboard to get his team back to the NCAAs.
Three seniors — Kyle Casey, Brandyn Curry and Laurent Rivard — are gone. Casey and Rivard were 1,000-point scorers, and Curry was a versatile guard who provided leadership throughout his career. They will all be sorely missed, but Amaker still has plenty of talent.
This team may not appear as powerful as the one that knocked off Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament, but it has terrific, veteran guards in Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers and no shortage of size to dominate Ivy League foes.
The question isn’t whether Amaker, who spurned Boston College this past offseason to remain at Harvard, will have enough to claim another league title. That’s almost a given. But it’s whether he can pull off a third consecutive win in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Harvard Facts & Figures
Last season: 27-5, 13-1 Ivy
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 3
Coach: Tommy Amaker (138-70, 67-31 Ivy)
Ivy Projection: First
Postseason projection: Round of 32
Harvard is deep and talented on the front line this season, especially with the return of Kenyatta Smith and the addition of freshman Chris Egi.
Senior forward Steve Moundou-Missi is a virtual lock to start after averaging 10.5 points and 6.0 boards last season. After that, it’s anyone’s guess who gets the nod. Smith logged just two minutes a year ago due to a foot injury, but he’s healthy now and gives Amaker a guy who can score in the post. Two years ago, Smith averaged 5.8 points and 4.3 rebounds as a part-time starter. Those numbers could double with more playing time.
Heralded top-100 recruit Zena Edosomwan played sparingly last season as a freshman, but the 6-9, 250-pound California native will find a way to get on the court more due to his physical presence and high motor.
Senior Jonah Travis is an undersized forward who does all the dirty work. He filled in admirably last season with Smith out of the lineup. Junior Evan Cummins is 6-9 and has made strides in each of his two seasons in the program. Egi is a 6-9 athlete from Canada who also had offers from Florida and UConn.
Perimeter depth is a cause for concern in Cambridge, but Amaker has two of the best guards in the league — and maybe even in the nation. Saunders is the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year after leading the team in scoring last season at 14.2 points per game and ranking in the top 10 in the league in seven statistical categories. He will team with Chambers, a junior point guard who does everything Amaker needs from the position. The 6-0 Chambers scores (11.1 ppg), distributes (4.6 apg) and also shoots it (38 percent 3-pointers).
The key here, though, is who else steps up to help out Saunders and Chambers on the perimeter. Candidates include Corbin Miller, who played in 2011-12 before spending the last two years on a LDS Church mission; long and athletic 6-8 junior Agunwa Okolie and 6-5 freshman wing Andre Chatfield. Miller may be the most likely to step in due to his experience and, more important, his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. He shot 45.6 from 3 as a freshman.
Veteran guard Matt Brown, who also plays wide receiver for the Harvard football team, could figure into the equation as well due to his toughness and defensive intensity.
Saunders and Chambers aren’t just talented and among the best at their position in the country, but they also bring experience to the table. Amaker has six big men he can rotate in and out of the lineup, if he so chooses.
The key, though, will be whether the Crimson can find a wing to complement the backcourt duo. Harvard will miss Rivard’s ability to space the floor and knock down shots. Miller could be the missing piece.
It’s Harvard and then everyone else in the Ivy — even after losing three seniors who helped build the program. But the goal now is whether the Crimson can make noise in the postseason, and its guards certainly give them a chance.
Corbin Miller returns from an LDS Church mission after averaging 3.8 points as a freshman in 2011-12. Chris Egi, a Canadian who played at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, is the highest rated of the three freshmen. Andre Chatfield will have a chance to play on the wing. Zach Yoshor will have a tough time carving out a role on a deep front line.
For the third year in a row, some of the top Big 12 coaches represent the best the University of Illinois has to offer.
It’s true: All three Illinois coaches from 1996-2012 have a home in the Big 12. In the combined 16 seasons from the three former Illini, only one didn’t end in the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, none has been more successful than Bill Self, who has won or shared a conference title every year since taking over at Kansas, but let’s not overlook the jobs Lon Kruger and Bruce Weber have done at Oklahoma and Kansas State, respectively.
Self gets the No. 1 spot in our Big 12 coach rankings, but Kruger isn’t far behind. Only Fred Hoiberg, who has turned around his alma mater in the last three seasons, stands in between Self and Kruger.
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. Bill Self, Kansas
Record at Kansas: 325-69 (.825)
NCAA Tournament: 36-15, two Final Fours, one national championship
Number to note: Last season was the first time since 2005 that Kansas ranked outside of the top 11 in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.
Why he’s ranked here: Kansas lost 10 games last season, most for Self since 1998-99 at Tulsa. The Jayhawks still won (or shared) its 10th consecutive Big 12 title by two games.
2. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Record at Iowa State: 90-47 (.657)
NCAA Tournament: 4-3
Number to note: Iowa State’s 34 Big 12 wins during the last three seasons are one more than the Cyclones won during the previous seven seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: The Mayor has a formula that has returned Iowa State to national prominence: Owning the transfer market, high-powered offense and analytical savvy.
3. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma
Record at Oklahoma: 58-38 (.604)
NCAA Tournament: 14-15, one Final Four
Number to note: Oklahoma ranked 17th in tempo last season. Kruger didn’t have a top-100 team in that category since 2005.
Why he’s ranked here: Got a problem? Lon Kruger will solve it. He’s led clean-up jobs at Florida, UNLV, Kansas State and now Oklahoma and taken all of them (plus Illinois) to multiple NCAA Tournaments.
4. Rick Barnes, Texas
Record at Texas: 382-166 (.697)
NCAA Tournament: 21-21, one Final Four
Number to note: Since 1993-94, Barnes has missed the NCAA Tournament only twice.
Why he’s ranked here: Barnes reversed the slide of his tenure with a surprising 24-11 season and 11-7 finish in the Big 12. The Myles Turner arrival signaled he still has some Lone Star State recruiting clout.
5. Bob Huggins, West Virginia
Record at West Virginia: 150-91 (.622)
NCAA Tournament: 27-20, one Final Four
Number to note: Huggins averaged 8.3 losses per season in 21 years at Akron and Cincinnati. He’s averaged 12.9 since his return at Kansas State and West Virginia.
Why he’s ranked here: Though West Virginia missed the NCAA Tournament, the Mountaineers improved offensively by 11 points per game thanks to Huggins’ most up-tempo team in nearly a decade.
6. Scott Drew, Baylor
Record at Baylor: 206-150 (.579)
NCAA Tournament: 8-4
Number to note: Drew is 17-5 combined in the NCAA Tournament and NIT, claiming two Elite Eights, a Sweet 16 and an NIT title.
Why he’s ranked here: The even-year, odd-year trend for Baylor predicts a down year in 2014-15.
7. Tubby Smith, Texas Tech
Record at Texas Tech: 14-18 (.438)
NCAA Tournament: 30-16, one Final Four, one national championship
Number to note: Smith hasn’t led a team to a winning conference record since his final season at Kentucky.
Why he’s ranked here: In what seemed like questionable hire at first, Smith led Texas Tech to its best Big 12 record since 2007-08 with wins over Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas.
8. Bruce Weber, Kansas State
Record at Kansas State: 47-21 (.691)
NCAA Tournament: 11-10, one Final Four
Number to note: Weber is 2-6 in the NCAA Tournament since taking Illinois to the national title game in 2005.
Why he’s ranked here: Weber’s best seasons as a coach have come in Years 1-2 at Illinois and Kansas State. He’s entering Year 3 in Manhattan.
9. Travis Ford, Oklahoma State
Record at Oklahoma State: 125-77 (.619)
NCAA Tournament: 1-5
Number to note: Oklahoma State is 34-36 in the Big 12 the last four seasons. Ford was 18-14 in his first two seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: Ford’s burdensome contract will outlast Marcus Smart in Stillwater.
10. Trent Johnson, TCU
Record at TCU: 20-43 (.317)
NCAA Tournament: 5-5
Number to note: Since leading LSU to a 27-8 in his first season in Baton Rogue, Johnson is 60-99 since.
Why he’s ranked here: Perhaps no coach could lead TCU to relevance in the Big 12. At 2-34 in conference play, TCU hasn’t even been competitive.
Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly left the Week 3 victory over Colorado due to a foot injury, and the senior is not expected to play in the Sun Devils’ upcoming showdown against UCLA on Sept. 25.
With Kelly sidelined, Mike Bercovici is slated to take the first snap against the Bruins.
Bercovici played in Kelly’s absence during the second half against Colorado and completed 2 of 4 passes for eight yards.
While Kelly will be missed, Bercovici does have experience, throwing 24 passes over the last three seasons.
Bercovici is not as strong of a runner as Kelly, but the Sun Devils can lean more on D.J. Foster and freshmen Kalen Ballage and Damario Richard to carry the offense on the ground.
It’s uncertain when Kelly will be able to return to the lineup, but his absence comes at a critical time for Arizona State. Arizona Sports reported Kelly suffered a broken foot and will be out at least a month.
The Sun Devils play UCLA on Sept. 25, then travel to USC the following Thursday. If that wasn’t difficult enough, games against Washington and Stanford round out the month of October. Considering Arizona State's difficult schedule, Kelly's injury and how well Bercovici plays will determine whether or not the Sun Devils are still a threat to repeat as Pac-12 South champs.
UCLA's offensive line has struggled, and quarterback Brett Hundley was injured in Saturday's win over Texas. USC lost at Boston College and was outplayed in a win at Stanford.
Who should be the favorite in this division? As always, it's a matter of survival. UCLA continues to win close games, and USC still has depth concerns.
It's tough to count out Arizona State with explosive playmakers like Foster and receiver Jaelen Strong, but the defense featured several new faces stepping into the starting lineup.
Can Bercovici and a rebuilt defense hold the Sun Devils' title hopes together for the next few weeks? Or will Kelly's injury doom Arizona State's title hopes? For now, it's easy to assume the latter, but the rest of the struggles in the Pac-12 South suggest this race is far from over - even with Kelly sidelined.
Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly (foot) is not expected to play against UCLA on Sept. 25 due to a foot injury, per source.— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) September 15, 2014
I'm told as of now ASU has no plans to offer an official update on Taylor Kelly today. No Todd Graham presser tomorrow due to bye week.— Tyler Lockman (@TylerLockman) September 14, 2014