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Tom Brady and the New England Patriots travel to Baltimore to take on Joe Flacco and the defending champion Ravens at M&T Bank Field on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS. The Patriots are bitter after a last-second loss against the Dolphins, who continue to push New England for the AFC East title. Meanwhile, the Ravens won their fifth straight game with an 18-16 victory over the Lions on Monday night thanks to six field goals by Justin Tucker, including a 61-yarder with 38 seconds remaining.
If Baltimore wins out, against New England and Cincinnati, the Ravens will claim a second-straight AFC North title. The Ravens won't have it easy against Belichick and Brady. Brady is 42-6 in his career in December, making for the best win percentage in December for any quarterback since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger.
The Patriots are 6-1 in the regular season against Baltimore, while the Ravens are 2-1 in the postseason against New England. New England and Baltimore are used to playing against one another in big games as they've faced off in the last two AFC title games, which the two organizations have split.
3 Things to Watch
Joe Flacco's Knee
On Monday night, Joe Flacco was injured after Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy hit his helmet hit into the quarterback's left knee. Levy wasn't fined by the NFL, but Flacco was limited in practice as late as Friday. He will be forced to wear a brace for Sunday's game in order to keep from missing the first game of his six-year career. Expect Flacco to have trouble dropping back and moving around in the pocket. Monday he clearly had issues stepping into his throws as he couldn't get a consistent drive off of that lead leg. Flacco has only been sacked five times in the past three contests; however, he will be much less mobile this week. New England's pass rush combo of Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones will be licking their chops as they lead a defense that has 40 sacks on the season.Flacco hasn't been strong against pressure this year. Last week he was 4-of-14 for 45 yards with a sack when the Lions sent five or more pass rushers. His average of 5.4 yards per attempt against added pressure ranks him as the worst among qualified quarterbacks. Flacco won't have the luxury of a rushing game to take pressure off of him as the struggling Ray Rice is listed as questionable for Sunday.
Torrey Smith vs. Patriots' Secondary
The Patriots have done an excellent job of shutting down bigger receivers like Demaryius Thomas and Jimmy Graham; however, they clearly struggle with speedy wideouts. In back-to-back weeks Josh Gordon and Mike Wallace have each posted over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. Enter Smith, the NFL's fifth-ranked receiver in yards per reception at 17.5. Aqib Talib will have the duty of covering Baltimore's only option to stretch the defense downfield. Only Calvin Johnson, DeSean Jackson and Gordon have more catches of more than 20 yards, as Smith is fourth in the league with 19.
Tom Brady and Joe Flacco each have a few improbable comeback wins on their 2013 resumes. Flacco's have come in back-to-back weeks against Minnesota and Detroit. The thrilling 29-26 home victory that saw five lead changes in the final 2:05, including Flacco's 9-yard touchdown pass to rookie Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone with 4 seconds left. Though seemingly hard to beat, last week's comeback may have been even more exciting as Flacco drove the Ravens down the field to set up Justin Tucker's improbable 61-yard field goal for the 18-16 win. Tom Brady, working with depleted talent in the 2013, has produced memorable moments of his own in late game situations. Despite throwing a last second interception in the end zone last week against Miami, Brady came up big for New England in each of the three weeks prior. First, he helped the Patriots overcame a 24-point first-half deficit to beat the Broncos 34-31 in overtime. Next, they overcame a 10-point deficit against Houston to defeat them 34-31 thanks to two fourth quarter field goals by Stephen Gostowski. Finally, one of Brady's most unlikely wins came after the Patriots fell behind Cleveland 26-14 with 2:39 left in the game. Brady threw a 2-yard scoring pass to Julian Edelman with 1:01 left and a 1-yarder to Danny Amendola with 31 seconds remaining. Due to these late game heroics, the Patriots became the first team in 20 years to win 3 straight games in which they trailed by double digits in the 2nd half. Meanwhile, the Ravens strong fourth quarter play has resulted in their longest win streak, five, since 2006.
Key Player for New England: Stevan Ridley, RB
Baltimore's rush defense is ranked seventh in the NFL and have only allowed four rushing touchdowns, the fewest allowed in the NFL. Although the Ravens are fifth in the NFL allowing 3.8 yards per carry, Reggie Bush rushed 17 times for 86 yards and a touchdown last week. This Ravens rush defense is helped by the fact that most teams find it even easier to pass on a questionable secondary. Despite these high rankings, Baltimore has allowed touchdowns to opposing running backs in each of the past three weeks. In addition, they've allowed a hefty 4.5 yards per carry during this span. Ridley, thanks to his problems holding on to the football, is splitting carries with LeGarrette Blount. Still, Ridley is New England's top option out of the backfield and has scored seven touchdowns in his past eight games.
Key Player for Baltimore: Justin Tucker, K
Tucker, who was a perfect 6 for 6 last week, hasn't missed a field goal attempt since he was 0 for 2 in Week 2 at Cleveland. At 33 made field goals in a row, he has the NFL's longest streak since Matt Stover made 36 straight for the Ravens from 2005-06. Tucker is undoubtedly a major trump card for a Ravens squad that has struggled at times in the red zone.
Baltimore needs this win to keep up its hopes at an AFC North title and the playoffs, while the Patriots are still fighting for a first-round playoff bye. Suffice to say, both teams will have substantive focus for this game that will have a huge effect on the playoff picture in the AFC. The Ravens are the hotter team and own a 6-1 record at home; however, they've fallen each time against an elite quarterback in 2013, as they lost to Peyton Manning in Week 1 and Aaron Rodgers in Week 6.
Joe Flacco, despite the gusty comebacks, hasn't been that impressive. Justin Tucker's incredible performance last week speaks to the poor play of the Ravens' offense on third downs and in the end zone. The Ravens have only scored over 30 points all year and that was against the porous Texans. Flacco is banged up and the Ravens can't run the ball. It will be a struggle for Baltimore to put up points. While New England is a completely different team without Rob Gronkowski, Brady is good for the few scores which should be enough to topple the defending Super Bowl champs.
New England 27, Baltimore 17
Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs welcome Andrew Luck and the AFC South champion Colts into Arrowhead for a 1:00 p.m. ET game on CBS that will likely be a preview for a playoff matchup just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, Kansas City, as the five seed, would be on its way to Indianapolis to take on the Colts, as the four seed, in one of the AFC's two wild card games.
Kansas City, despite its impressive 11-3 record has been unable to supplant Denver, who has defeated them twice this year. Indianapolis, on the other hand, has taken full advantage of playing in the NFL's worst division, where the other three teams have a combined win percentage of .262.
After starting the season at 6-2 with wins over Denver, Seattle and San Francisco, the Colts have gone 3-3 since. In that six-week span Indy has been blown out by St. Louis, Arizona and Cincinnati. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have won their last two games after dropping three straight. Despite the 11-3 record, the Chiefs only have a single win against a team, the Eagles, with a plus .500 record.
The Colts are 11-8 in the regular season and 3-0 in the playoffs against the Chiefs. The matchup between these two teams came almost exactly one year ago in which the Colts won 20-13, despite 226 yards rushing from Jamaal Charles.
3 Things to Watch
Who can stop Jamaal Charles?
Anyone who owns or was playing against Charles in fantasy football last week can now appreciate his game-breaking abilities. Against Oakland, his 215 yards from scrimmage were a season-high and four receiving touchdowns were the most by a running back in a single game in NFL history. Charles is responsible for 37 percent of the Chiefs' rushing and receiving yards this season. That's the league high for any player on his team. On the season he is fourth in the NFL in rushing, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Where Charles separates himself is the extra dimension he brings with his 655 receiving yards, seven touchdowns and 630 yards after the catch. Charles has posted over 100 yards from scrimmage in 12 of 14 games in 2013, with seven games over 80 yards rushing and four games with over 50 yards receiving. Charles is a touchdown machine with 10 over the last month of play. He should find room to run against a Colts defense that has allowed 13 rushing touchdowns and enters this game as the NFL's 27th-ranked rushing defense, allowing 128.9 yards per game.
Reliable Alex Smith vs. Inconsistent Andrew Luck
A major part of the recipe for success in Kansas City has been the remarkably steady play of Alex Smith. Smith is coming off of his best game as a pro, in which he posted a perfect passer rating and threw for five touchdowns against Oakland. Smith has just one game with more than a single interception and has just four other games in which he's thrown even a single pick. He has posted nine games with over an 80 quarterback rating, with six games with a 94.0 rating or higher. Smith is throwing nearly four touchdowns for every interception, which ranks as one of the best ratios in the NFL. While he doesn't pile up the yardage, with zero 300-yard games, he succeeds at protecting the ball and making quick decisions. Smith certainly has a great deal of talent around him, which is why his style of play in 2013 has been the perfect addition to the Chiefs' offense. On the other hand, Andrew Luck hasn't been getting much help in Indy, which may be the reason for much of his inconsistency. Luck himself has only three 300-yard passing games. In fact, over the last month Luck has 200 yards or less in three of four games. Luck has struggled with his accuracy, as he has seven games with a completion percentage in the fifties. After throwing three interceptions in the first eight games, he has thrown eight touchdowns to six interceptions in the last six. Over the first seven games of the season, Luck's passer rating was 92.8; however, since Reggie Wayne went down in Week 7, Luck's passer rating has dropped to a mediocre 79.9.
Both teams bring excellent pass-rushers into this game. The Colts boast the NFL's current leader in sacks, with 16.5, and all-time leader in strip sacks, with 42. That man is Robert Mathis, who has 4.5 more sacks than anyone in the AFC, and accounts for 49 percent of Indianapolis' sacks. Meanwhile, Kansas City is third in the NFL with 43 sacks, as their roster is chock full of elite pass-rushers. The combination of outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, who have each accounted for 11 sacks, makes it impossible for an offensive line to slide protection in any one direction. The Chiefs also register sacks from other positions on the field as defensive tackle Dontari Poe has 4.5 and inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and safety Eric Berry each have 3.5. The good news for Indy is that Houston, who was expected to play this week, has been progressing slower than expected and will likely remain shelved due to an elbow injury for the sixth straight week.
Key Player for Indianapolis: T.Y. Hilton, WR
Hilton is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury for today's game. Hilton's absence would be huge as he has been Luck's top option since Reggie Wayne tore his ACL. Hilton's eight-catch, 78-yard performance last week was the best game he'd had since a pair of back-to-back 110-yard games in early November. Despite his struggles over the second half of the year, Indianapolis lacks any proven receiving threat behind him. If Hilton sits, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Da'Rick Rogers, who have a combined 37 receptions, will see a bigger role in the offense.
Key Player for Kansas City: Sean Smith, CB
The Colts, as it has been all year, will not be able to run the football; especially not against the quality front seven in Kansas City. Therefore, the only way the Colts will move the ball will be through the air. Thus, Smith should be busy all day as it wouldn't be unusual to see Luck drop back more than 50 times. Smith, standing 6-3, is huge for a corner and won't struggle with bigger receivers like Da'Rick Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey. If Smith does his job on the perimeter, Luck's only option may be tight end Coby Fleener down the middle. Even so, Fleener will be covered by either one of the Chiefs' athletic linebacking corps or one of the big, physical Kansas City safeties.
If the Chiefs win their final two regular-season games, they will have the largest win improvement from one season to the next in NFL history. The Chiefs, 2-14 last season, would finish 13-3 by winning out, an improvement of 11 games. If this is to happen look for the Chiefs to make use of a formula that has worked extremely well for them thus far; that is, returns and turnovers. The Chiefs, with 11 return touchdowns, are the first team in NFL history to score multiple touchdowns via interceptions (5), kickoff returns (2), punt returns (2) and fumble returns (2). Additionally, they lead the league with a plus-21 turnover differential, turning those takeaways into 115 more points off turnovers than their opponents.
The Colts just aren't the same team they were early in the season, when then had several impressive victories and a healthy Reggie Wayne; however, they will be the best team Kansas City has faced all year. While the numbers appear to favor Kansas City, the Colts are never out of a game with Luck involved. Home field advantage in Arrowhead will make the difference in this game, but things may be different in two weeks at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Kansas City 21, Indianapolis 17
It’s Week 16, which means championship week for most fantasy leagues. Will the reigning NFL MVP be available to help your team try and win a title? Here’s the latest update on Adrian Peterson and some other key running backs.
Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, RBs, Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals
Neither Peterson nor Gerhart suited up last week, leaving Matt Asiata left to carry the load. Asiata did just that, rushing for 51 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries in the win over Philadelphia. Peterson practiced some on Wednesday and Thursday, but was still getting treatment for his sprained foot. He’s listed as Questionable, but Peterson pronounced himself “ready to roll.” Peterson is as tough as they come, but there’s nothing wrong with making sure he’s in the lineup before starting him, especially this week. Meanwhile, Gerhart is Probable after missing last week because of a hamstring injury. His value is tied soley to Peterson’s availability and workload, if he plays. As for Asiata, it looks like he’s a one-week wonder, as he’s Questionable with an ankle injury and pretty much an afterthought as long as Peterson and Gerhart are active.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans
Jones-Drew missed last week’s game because of his hamstring injury and he only logged a limited practice on Friday. He is listed as Questionable and could end up being a game-time decision. Watch his status very carefully, especially since backup Jordan Todman rushed for 109 yards against Buffalo. If MJD does play, I would consider throwing him out there given the matchup with a Titans defense that’s giving up the second-most fantasy points to RBs.
Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins
Jackson was limited in practice earlier this week because of a rib injury, but he was a full go on Friday and is considered Probable. Jackson and C.J. Spiller have been splitting the carries for the most part, but both could see more touches than usual today considering the Bills will be without quarterback EJ Manuel (knee injury) and wide receiver Stevie Johnson (personal). The Dolphins are giving up the tenth-most fantasy points to running backs, so Jackson and Spiller are both probably in the RB2 conversation this week. Spiller is the more explosive runner, but Jackson leads the team in carries, has seven rushing touchdowns (to Spiller’s two) and has been more active in the passing game. From a rankings standpoint, Jackson is ahead of Spiller, but not by a lot.
Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
After making a near-miraculous return from an injured ankle ligament, Thomas apparently re-injured the same ankle last week. He practiced on a limited basis on Friday and is listed as Questionable for today’s game in Buffalo. Last week against the Patriots, Lamar Miller got 15 carries, while Thomas had five. Should Thomas play, I would expect a similar workload split, which makes Miller the more appealing option. If Thomas is out, Miller’s outlook gets even better based on the assumed increase he would see in carries.
Already Ruled Out
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers – Stewart will miss a second straight game because of the torn MCL in his right knee that he sustained a few weeks ago. DeAngelo Williams should see the majority of the touches today against New Orleans, and he's coming off one of his best games of the season (168 total yards, TD) against the Jets. The Saints have really struggled against the run, so this week Williams could finally break out.
If your fantasy team is still alive, Week 16 is what you have been working towards all season. With no margin for error when it comes to setting your lineup here are some running back injuries you need to know about.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
Rice sat out Wednesday’s session and was a limited participant on both Thursday and Friday. He’s officially listed as Questionable with a thigh injury, but he’s been nursing several injuries during the season and there doesn’t appear to be any real concern regarding his availability for this afternoon. There is quite a bit at stake in this game, but Rice has struggled with his production all season. The Patriots have been susceptible to the run, but Rice is on pace for less than 700 yards rushing. I’m not saying don’t start Rice, but at this point you should be well aware of the potential for disappointing results.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
For the second straight week, Lacy’s practice participation was limited to a brief appearance on Friday, but he is still listed as Probable to face the Steelers. Then again he did rush for 141 yards against Dallas last week despite practicing very little, so perhaps this was the team’s plan all along. Either way, Lacy needs to be in your lineup as the weather forecast could result in a more run-centric offense for the Packers.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers
Just when it looked like McFadden’s season was over, he was back at practice this week and is considered Probable to return against the Chargers this afternoon. If anything, McFadden’s presence could impact Rashad Jennings’ productivity, even though Jennings will remain the starting running back. I wouldn’t hesitate to use Jennings, but it would probably be wise to downgrade him slightly with McFadden now added to a backfield mix that already included Marcel Reece.
In Case You Missed It…
Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans – Tate was placed on injured reserve this week after breaking another rib (his fifth) in last week’s loss to Indianapolis. Dennis Johnson and Deji Karim will handle the carries, and even against Denver’s suspect defense neither inspires a lot of confidence, especially with so much on the line.
One Giant wide receiver has already been sidelined for the rest of the season. Are there any other key wideouts in danger of not playing in Week 16?
Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants at Detroit Lions
Cruz suffered a concussion and a knee injury last week. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on Thursday and is Out for the rest of the season. Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle will serve as the Giants’ starting wide receivers. This presents a big opportunity for Randle to prove he can be a reliable starter, especially with Nicks a free agent after the season. Fantasy-wise, Nicks has been a disappointment, while Randle has been productive with his targets (37 rec., 6 TDs). Even with a somewhat appealing matchup in Detroit, I would consider both nothing more than a WR3 this week.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions vs. New York Giants
Johnson’s knee injury is nothing new, but what is new is that it severely limited his ability to practice this week. While he has logged minimal practice time and been good to go for much of this season, the fact that he is listed as Questionable on the injury report is more than enough reason to pay a little more attention. There have been no reports out of Detroit indicating Johnson won’t play, but it would be advisable to follow up on his status later this morning, especially given the later (4:05 p.m. ET) kickoff time.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
Fitzgerald suffered a concussion when he was part of the Cardinals’ “hands team” on an onside kick in last week’s game. He practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday, but was still going through the league-mandated concussion protocols as of late Friday. He is considered Questionable, and has been as durable as they come, having played in 98 straight games going back to Week 13 in 2007. However, between his health, the fact his quarterback is a game-time decision himself and the matchup with the NFL’s No. 1 defense on their home turf, I’m just not sure Fitzgerald can offer that much assistance this week.
Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints
Smith dislocated his middle finger in practice this week, but he’s Probable and there’s no way he’s missing this huge NFC South game against the Saints. The problem with Smith is that he just hasn’t been putting up the numbers we are accustomed to, as his season-high in yards is 69 and he has one touchdown catch in his last eight games. Smith’s days as a WR1 are long gone, as he’s no more than a WR3/flex at this point.
Denver will be missing one of its key weapons for its Week 16 meeting with Houston, but the Texans should have their main horse in their lineup. Here is the latest information on some other injured wide receivers to get you ready for championship week.
Wes Welker, WR, Denver Broncos at Houston Texans
Welker missed last week’s loss to San Diego because of a concussion and he will miss at least two more games. The Broncos have already ruled Welker Out for today’s game in Houston and the regular-season finale, with the hope he will be ready to return for the playoffs. The Texans are second in the NFL in passing defense, but have still given up 25 touchdown passes. With Welker out, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker both should see plenty of targets, along with tight end Julius Thomas. All three are must-starts regardless of matchup.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans vs. Denver Broncos
Johnson is dealing with a wrist injury that limited his practice participation. However, he’s listed as Probable and should be just fine for today’s game. One thing that will be slightly different is the return of Matt Schaub under center due to an injury to Case Keenum. Schaub has had his issues this season, but he and Johnson also have been productive during their time together. Denver’s defense is 28th in the league against the pass and it’s not like you’re sitting Johnson in the first place.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at St. Louis Rams
Good news for Jackson and his owners. He practiced fully on both Thursday and Friday and is listed as Probable. It appears that he has just about put his hamstring issue in the rear-view mirror and he’s locked in as a WR1.
Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneeers
Austin’s ankle is still an issue, as he was absent from practice both Thursday and Friday. He’s listed as Questionable on the injury report, but I have a hard time believing the Rams would risk putting their first-round pick out there. It looks like Austin’s rookie season, from both a fantasy perspective and for the Rams, has come to an end.
Not Playing Today…
Stevie Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills – Johnson will miss today’s game following the recent passing of his mother. Robert Woods will assume Johnson’s No. 1 role against the Dolphins, but Miami has been solid against the pass and Thad Lewis, not EJ Manuel, is starting at quarterback. Be sure to temper your expectations for Woods.
Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars – Shorts was placed on injured reserve last week and underwent surgery to repair his groin. With Shorts sidelined, there’s not much to like regarding the Jaguars’ passing game.
Several quarterbacks and tight ends are either dealing with injuries or have already been ruled out for Week 16. Athlon Sports has the latest information on the names you need to know.
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
Flacco sustained a slight knee injury in the Monday night win over Detroit, as he took a hit from a helmet to his left knee. He was limited in practice and is officially listed as Questionable, but barring a setback he will be out there for this critical game against the Patriots. Flacco will wear a knee brace, but he has yet to miss a game in his six-year career. His numbers haven’t been what people were hoping or expecting for, but the Patriots’ defense hasn’t exactly been shutting opposing offenses down either. It’s really going to come down to if you trust Flacco enough to start him or have a better option you are more comfortable employing.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers (Mon.)
Gonzalez is listed as Questionable yet again, but he’s also caught a touchdown pass in three straight games, so I fully expect him to play. Since this is a rather important week, however, just be sure you are confident he will play before deciding to stick with them. Otherwise you may not be in the holiday spirit come Monday night should something happen that causes Gonzalez to be inactive.
Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
First it was an elbow, now it’s his ankle. But the end result is the same. Palmer is listed as Questionable and will be a game-time decision, yet he is still expected to start. What is different this week, however, is the matchup against the NFL’s No. 1 defense on the road. Palmer is not the most mobile quarterback in the first place and the fact that he may be playing on a gimpy ankle against the Seahawks in their building? No thank you. Or did you forget what the Seahawks did to Drew Brees and the Saints a few weeks ago or the Giants on the road just last week.
Garrett Graham, TE, Houston Texans vs. Denver Broncos
Graham missed last week’s game because of a hamstring injury and he didn’t practice at all this week. He’s listed as Questionable, but even that appears to be optimistic. Chances are the final call on Graham’s availability will be made around game time, so at least the 1 p.m. ET kickoff helps there. If Graham can’t go Ryan Griffin would get the start. He’s definitely of the deep sleeper variety, but he did catch six passes for 62 yards last week.
QBs and TEs Already Ruled Out:
Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns – Cameron has already been ruled Out for today’s game because of a concussion. Be sure to take him out of your starting lineup and look elsewhere for a TE.
John Carlson, TE, Minnesota Vikings – Carlson has been placed on injured reserve due to lingering concussion symptoms. He joins teammate Kyle Rudolph (foot) as Viking tight ends who saw their season come to an early end.
Case Keenum, QB, Houston Texans – Keenum has already been ruled Out due to a thumb injury. Matt Schaub will take over at quarterback. As poorly as Schaub has performed this season, don’t forget he is a two-time Pro Bowler who’s thrown for more than 4,000 yards in a season three times. I’m not saying I would rely on Schaub to win me a fantasy championship, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t fare well enough against Denver’s 31st-ranked passing defense to maintain Andre Johnson’s WR1 status.
EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills – Even though he finished last week’s game, Manuel sustained some sort of injury to his left knee. That’s good news since it means it’s not the same knee he hurt earlier in the season, which caused him to miss four games. However, that’s now three knee injuries the rookie has sustained in his first season, including one in the preseason, which is why the team has already ruled him Out for today’s game. Thad Lewis, who started three of the games Manuel missed, will get the call. With so much on the line today, you really aren’t going to take your chances with Lewis are you?
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Detroit Lions – Pettigrew injured his ankle last week and has already been ruled Out. This will mean increased opportunities for Joseph Fauria, who has certainly made the most out of the ones has gotten so far. Fauria has just 12 catches on the season, but seven of those have gone for touchdowns. He’s clearly a viable red zone target for Matthew Stafford, but that also makes Fauria the perfect boom-or-bust candidate.
Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins – Reed is Out for a fifth straight game because of a lingering concussion. There is no reason to not think the rookie’s season is over.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers – The long wait continues in Green Bay as Rodgers was ruled Out on Friday. For whatever reason, he just hasn’t been cleared to return to action, and it’s now looking like the Packers’ playoff hopes are in the hands of Matt Flynn. He answered the bell last week against Dallas (299 yards, 4 TD passes in the second half), but Pittsburgh’s defense should be a little tougher challenge and the elements also could be a factor. Flynn has gotten results, but he still carries plenty of risk from a fantasy perspective.
Tulane is back in postseason play for the first time since 2002, when Chris Scelfo guided the Green Wave to the Hawaii Bowl after a 7–5 regular season. This time around, Tulane will be playing its bowl game in its home stadium, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The players no doubt would have preferred to leave the city of New Orleans, but any bowl is a good bowl for a program that averaged 2.9 wins from 2005-12. Curtis Johnson, who spent 10 years on the staff at Miami (Fla.) from 1996-05, won only two games in 2012, his first as the Wave’s head coach. This year, Tulane won six of its first eight games before struggling late and settling for a 7–5 record. The Wave’s 5–3 mark in Conference USA was the school’s first winning league record since the 1998 team went undefeated.
A trip to the Big Easy has become a December tradition for Tulane’s opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns will be playing in the New Orleans Bowl for the third straight season — and they will be searching for their third straight bowl victory after beating San Diego State 32–20 in 2011 and East Carolina 43–34 in ’12. Mark Hudspeth’s team opened the season with two losses and closed the season with two losses. In between, the Cajuns won eight straight and have now gone 8–4 in the regular season in each of Hudspeth’s three years on the job.
Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 21 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Tulane -2.5
Tulane’s Key to Victory: Stop the Run
The Green Wave rank second in Conference USA in rushing defense, allowing only 119.7 yards per game. Those stats have been padded a bit by quarterback sacks — Tulane had 34 for a negative-235 yards — but this defense does an outstanding job defending the run. The Wave held eight of their 12 opponents to under 4.0 yards per carry and four of those eight to under 2.0 yards per carry. Those are impressive numbers. Tulane will be tasked with slowing down a Louisiana-Lafayette team that leads the Sun Belt in rushing with 208.7 yards per game. The Cajuns have two backs who rushed for 800 yards — including Elijah McGuire, who averaged 8.9 yards on his 92 attempts — and also get production on the ground from quarterback Terrance Broadway (421 yards, eight TDs). Turnovers will also be key for Tulane. The Wave are third in the nation in turnovers forced (33) and tied for ninth in turnover margin (plus-1.00). Tulane, which struggles on offense, can have a tough time putting points on the board when it is not forcing turnovers and setting up the offense with solid field position. The Wave were plus-15 in their seven wins and minus-3 in their five losses.
Louisiana-Lafayette’s Key to Victory: A healthy and productive Terrance Broadway
With Broadway in the lineup, Louisiana-Lafayette went 8–3, with losses at Arkansas, at Kansas State and vs. ULM (by three points). Without their starting quarterback, the Cajuns lost 30–8 at South Alabama in the season-finale. The lesson here is that Broadway is very, very important to this team. The senior broke his arm in the fourth quarter against ULM and is questionable for the bowl game. Three redshirt freshmen played in the South Alabama game, combining to complete 9-of-26 passes for 143 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. If Broadway can’t play, the Cajuns figure to struggle in the passing game and will be forced to rely on their running game against the stout Tulane rush defense.
Key Player: Orleans Darkwa, RB, Tulane
Darkwa needs 75 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. He struggled in the season-finale, rushing for only 26 yards on 14 carries in a 17–13 loss to Rice. In the two previous games, however, he combined for 240 yards on 37 carries as the Wave lost to UTSA and beat UTEP. Earlier in the year, he had 118 yards (on a 6.9-yard average) in a season-changing win at ULM, and he averaged 4.7 yards and 5.1 yards in key wins over East Carolina and Tulsa, respectively. The Nashville native was not offered by any SEC schools coming out of Ensworth High School, but he’s had a very solid career in Conference USA.
So much of this game hinges on Broadway’s availability. Louisiana-Lafayette has multiple weapons at running back, but its offense will be too one-dimensional if one of the redshirt freshmen is forced to start. Hudspeth has done a great job during his time in Lafayette, but this is probably the worst of his three teams — each of which won eight games in the regular season. The 2013 Cajuns have only one win over a bowl team (Arkansas State) and struggled in some of their wins against lesser opponents. Tulane‘s schedule was a bit more challenging, and this game probably means more to the Green Wave, who will playing in their first bowl game in over a decade.
Prediction: Tulane 27, Louisiana Lafayette 20
Wisconsin’s 2014 Big Ten title hopes received a boost on Friday, as running back Melvin Gordon announced his intention to return for next season.
Gordon is only a junior but could have left early for the NFL Draft, as he redshirted after playing sparingly in 2011.
Gordon rushed for 1,466 yards and 12 touchdowns on 181 attempts in 2013.
Gordon should be one of the top returning running backs in college football next season.
Think back to early August, when the preseason picks were just coming out and 32 teams in 31 NFL cities were overflowing with optimism. Almost every team in the league had playoff, if not Super Bowl aspirations. Everyone’s expectations were sky high.
And the higher the expectations, in some cases, the farther the fall.
So before the NFL begins its postseason and before it hands out all it’s awards, here’s a look at 10 players who should’ve been contenders for elite status during the 2013 season. At least that’s what we all seemed to expect.
So while there were other disappointments around the NFL, it’s hard to find players who disappointed all of us more than these:
1. Giants QB Eli Manning – The Giants began the season with a Super Bowl countdown clock in their locker room and nobody laughed, in large part because they had a franchise quarterback. But then Manning threw 15 interceptions in the first five game, on his way to a franchise record-tying 25 so far. A few years ago he called himself “elite,” then went out and played like it and won a Super Bowl. This year he’s suffering through arguably his worst NFL season and the Giants are one of the biggest disappointments in the league.
2. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III – Maybe expectations should’ve been tempered because he was coming off major knee surgery, but he declared himself healthy and the Redskins were the defending NFC East champs. But Griffin has hardly looked anything like RGIII this season and opponents don’t fear him the way they did when he was a rookie. His numbers aren’t terrible, but they’re down across the board and he’s not as effective as a runner. There’s also been controversy swirling around him and his coach as the Redskins continue to lose.
3. Texans QB Matt Schaub – He’s one of the forgotten members of the QB Class of 2004, mostly because he was a third-rounder who needed to be traded to find a job to call his own. And he had, with a Texan team that was perennially underachieving, but seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough this year. Instead, Schaub has been booed out of his own stadium and (despite playing this Sunday in place of an injured Case Keenum) replaced by his now-fired coach. His numbers are so miserable he likely will have a hard time finding a starting job anywhere next year.
4. Falcons WR Roddy White – It’s hard to believe that the Falcons were just a few feet away from winning the NFC championship last season. Now they’re in contention for the first pick in the draft. And a big reason is the surprise ankle injury that White has been suffering through since opening day. He has played in 11 games, but he’s been mostly ineffective with just 43 catches for 479 yards and a touchdown. And, at 32, there’s a chance that in the future those numbers will only get worse.
5. Ravens RB Ray Rice – He was a huge part of the Ravens’ championship run last year and he was coming off of four straight seasons with 1,000 yards rushing and over 1,500 total. There was no reason to expect a major decline at age 26. Whether or not it was his injured hip, the decline has been steep. He’s already missed three games and he’ll be lucky to get to 800 rushing yards and 400 yards receiving. His totals will be his worst since his rookie year.
6. Dolphins WR Mike Wallace – He was one of the top free agents on the market last offseason and landed a $60 million contract because the Dolphins thought he’d be the missing piece that would elevate QB Ryan Tannehill and put them over the top. Instead, for most of the season everyone wondered what they bought and why, as Wallace struggled to find any chemistry with his quarterback. He does have 64 catches for 867 yards and four touchdowns with two games to go and statistically it’ll be one of his finest seasons. But seven times in 14 games he’s had less than 50 yards receiving, which isn’t good for a guy paid to be one of the top receivers in the league.
7. Bills RB CJ Spiller – His 1,200 rushing yards and 1,700 total yards last season was supposed to be just the start, but an ankle injury spoiled most of his season and he likely won’t even get to 1,000 yards rushing. He’s had just three 100-yard rushing games to go along with two games where his total was in the single digits. And he’s only reached the end zone twice.
8. Texans DE JJ Watt – How is it possible that a guy who’ll likely finish with double-digit sacks is a disappointment? Because his 9 ½ pales in comparison with the 20 ½ he had last season and there was a lot of talk about him challenging the NFL single-season sack record – shattering it, too. Much like the Texans defense he was supposed to anchor, he didn’t come close to living up to the hype.
9. Vikings DE Jared Allen – Much like Watt, Allen’s disappointment is about the hype. Despite the fact that he’s 31 he said in the offseason that Michael Strahan’s sack record (22 ½) was “reachable” – which he knew because he had 22 two years ago. Last year he dropped all the way down to 12, though, and that proved to be a trend, not an aberration. Now he’s only at nine with just two games to go.
10. Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe – In 2010 and 2011, Bowe was one of the NFL’s best receivers and certainly one of the most unheralded. And this year with the Chiefs on an 11-3 tear and new QB Alex Smith playing terrific football, shouldn’t Bowe’s numbers be even better? But in the Andy Reid West Coast offense, he hasn’t been the big play threat everyone hoped. He has caught 52 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns, but given how good the Chiefs are and the amount of points they’re scoring, he really should be so much more.
— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
A new trend has popped up in recent years for college football teams, as some have scheduled games in baseball stadiums. Illinois-Northwestern played at Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium in New York hosts the Pinstripe Bowl.
Boston College and Notre Dame will continue this recent trend, scheduling a game for Fenway Park in 2015.
This will be the first football game in Fenway Park since 1968. Needless to say, this is a pretty awesome setting for a football game.
Notre Dame 2014-16 schedules include at Lucas Oil Stadium vs. Purdue in '14, Fenway Park vs. BC in '15, Alamodome vs. Army in '16— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) December 20, 2013
Schools that are separated by 2,600 miles on opposite coasts will meet for the first time ever on the gridiron when Buffalo and San Diego State face off in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho.
Buffalo went 8-4 and finished second (6-2) in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference (MAC). In his fourth season with the school, head coach Jeff Quinn led the Bulls to just their second bowl appearance in program history and only their third winning season in the last 20 years. Buffalo lost to Connecticut 38-20 in the International Bowl following the 2008 season in its only other postseason appearance.
On the other side, San Diego State is making its fourth straight bowl appearance. Under the direction of head coach Rocky Long, the Aztecs won seven games in the regular season (7-5) and finished second (6-2) in the West Division of the Mountain West Conference (MWC). San Diego State has lost its last two bowl games, the most recent a 23-6 defeat to BYU in the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl.
For what it’s worth, the Bulls and the Aztecs did have one common opponent during the regular season. Both teams played Ohio State on the road and the games took place on back-to-back Saturdays. Buffalo opened its season with a 40-20 loss at The Horseshoe on Aug. 31, with the Aztecs coming in right behind them and likewise tasting defeat, 42-7, at the hands of the Buckeyes.
San Diego State also may a slight home-field edge in this game, which is being played at Boise State’s Bronco Stadium. As a member of the MWC, the Aztecs have played the Broncos in each of the past three seasons. This season’s contest was in San Diego State, but the Aztecs played in Boise in 2012, and won 21-19. Will their success on the well-known blue-colored artificial surface known as “Smurf Turf” carry over against the Bulls?
Buffalo vs. San Diego State
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Buffalo -3.5
Buffalo’s Key to Victory: Establish the run
The Bulls enters this game 67th in the nation in rushing at 171.9 yards per game. While that may not seem like a lot at first, a closer look at the numbers shows how important the ground game is to this offense. In eight wins, the offense averages 223.5 yards rushing per game. In four losses, that number plummets to just 68.6. The Bulls are powered by senior running back Branden Oliver, a two-time, first-team All-MAC selection who has rushed for nearly 4,000 yards in his career. Prior to his last game, Oliver had recorded seven straight 100-yard rushing performances, including two over 200 yards. He is averaging five yards per carry and has 1,421 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns in just 11 games. San Diego State has been very good against the run this season, coming in tied for 22nd in the nation in rushing defense (132.9 ypg). If Oliver can get going early, it should only help open up a Buffalo passing game led by sophomore quarterback Joe Licata that produced nearly 2,800 yards and 22 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.
San Diego State’s Key to Victory: Balance on offense
The Aztecs are 58th in the nation in total offense at 422 yards per game. For the season, the offense has skewed more to the pass (262.3), with more than 62 percent of their yards coming through the air. However, the recipe for much of the Aztecs’ success this season has come when both aspects of their offense is working. In San Diego State’s seven wins, the offense is averaging 255.1 yards passing per game compared to 272.1 in losses. That’s a difference of less than 20 yards. When it comes to running the ball, however, the gap is considerably bigger – try 199.9 yards rushing per game in wins versus 103.6 in losses. That’s a difference of nearly 100 yards. Junior running back Adam Muema (above, right) has gone over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons and is averaging 19 carries a game. He needs to lead the Aztecs’ own charge on the ground against a Buffalo defense that gave up less than 160 yards rushing per game. Similar to Buffalo’s offensive game plan, Muema’s success on the ground will help open up things for quarterback Quinn Kaehler without putting too much of the burden on the junior who struggled some (239-1-2) in his last game, a 45-19 blowout loss at UNLV.
Key Player: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
The 6-3, 248-pound senior is the heart and soul of the Bulls defense and one of the best defenders in all of college football. He’s a three-time, first-team All-MAC honoree and was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year this season. Mack established a new NCAA record for career forced fumbles with 16 and he is tied for the all-time mark with 75 tackles for a loss. He has led the team in tackles three straight years, registering 94 of them so far, along with 19 tackles for a loss, a team-high 10.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and three interceptions. He is a big reason why the Bulls were tied for 11th in the nation in sacks (36) and is definitely someone the Aztecs will need to account for on every single play. Mack is expected to be a first-round pick in May’s NFL Draft and no doubt he would love to end his collegiate career on a high note with a big game on national TV.
There’s no denying the level of competition is considerably stiffer in the MWC compared to the MAC, but that doesn’t mean you should sell this Buffalo team short. With Branden Oliver running the ball and Khalil Mack anchoring the defense, the Bulls have some NFL-caliber talent on their roster. San Diego State can put up some offense of its own, but the Aztecs have had their problems on defense and seem to lack instant impact-type of players. With Oliver and Mack playing their final collegiate games, I think their teammates will rally together and help these two standouts cap off a memorable season with the program’s first-ever bowl victory.
Prediction: Buffalo 31, San Diego State 27
Oregon announced it will have new Nike “Mach Speed” uniforms for its Dec. 30 bowl matchup against Texas.
This uniform is also a sneak peek at what to expect from the Ducks in 2014.
According to the Nike release, here's a sample about what's new about these uniforms:
It’s all about speed. For the last decade Nike has continually evolved college football uniforms for the country’s best teams. Among these, the Oregon Ducks football uniforms are on the cutting edge of innovation, with the clear goal of optimizing athlete performance and speed on the field. On December 30, Oregon will take the field wearing the latest Nike Pro Combat “Mach Speed” uniform, the most innovative Nike Pro Combat system of dress to date.
The uniform features an all-new chassis including the latest in lightweight fabric innovation built for maximum speed, ventilation and comfort. Drawing inspiration from some of the fastest athletes in the world, Nike has applied research and design across multiple sports to create one of the fastest uniforms on the field. Taking insights from Nike’s Swift Suit technology, the new Nike Mach Speed Football uniform fabric construction features an articulated fit to match the athlete’s motion of play. Ultimately this allows the athletes to move with the uniform fabrics, rather than against them.
Click here to view a full gallery of images for Oregon’s uniforms.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 20.
• Somebody finally had the good sense to put Kate Upton and her bikini in a movie. It's called "The Other Woman" and it will be out on April 25, 2014. That's a still from the movie to the right. I'm leaving later today to camp out for tickets.
• Bill Belichick may come across as a Scrooge, and he is — the Christmas morning version. Dude's practically Clark Griswold in his love of the season.
• Who has the best homefield advantage in the NFL? The Seahawks, of course, but there are some surprises near the top.
• Another one of those awesome "Serviceman surprises family" videos, this one courtesy of Arizona basketball.
• Shaq, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith broke out an on-set drum solo with their pens. Charles Barkley was not amused. Charles Barkley is awesome.
• Almost half of Forbes' 20 most valuable college football programs reside in the SEC. It's also interesting to note that there's a job opening at the No. 1 program on this list.
• Nobody does cruel kid videos like Jimmy Kimmel. This one involves a young Bears fan.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Like it or not, Las Vegas rarely gets it wrong, so tracking betting lines should always be a big part of each football weekend — even if there are no bets on the line. I finished the regular season 43-34-1 and that is where — if it were up to me — I would end my college football betting. Because betting on bowl games is a fool's errand. Motivation, focus, talent differentials all play huge roles in determining the outcome and, most of the time, this cannot be pinpointed for "exhibition" games. So my advice is stay away from every game not named the "BCS National Championship Game." But if you must, here are my top picks for games happening before the New Year (I will have the BCS bowls and other games taking place in 2014 coming soon).
2013 Record Against the Spread: 43-34-1 (4-2 last week)
Bowl Picks, Part 1:
Fresno State (+6.5) vs. USC
The Bulldogs normally get up for bowl opponents from big conferences as they have won four straight postseason games against “BCS” conference teams. USC has lost four straight bowl games and are on their second interim head coach of the season. Even if Fresno loses, it’s hard to see a team with Derek Carr throwing passes getting blown out. I will take the points. Prediction: Fresno State +6.5
Ole Miss (-3.5) vs. Georgia Tech
Generally speaking, teams with plenty of time to prepare for the triple option fair well against Paul Johnson. The Tech head coach is 3-7 in bowl games overall and Ole Miss is simply a significantly better team on both sides of the ball. Look for a large contingent of Rebel fans in Nashville and for Ole Miss to build momentum for what could be a big 2014 season. Prediction: Ole Miss -3.5
Rutgers (+14.5) vs. Notre Dame
Rutgers is just bad. How is that for analysis? The Knights have won two of their last seven games and those wins came against South Florida and Temple — a combined 4-20 on the season. Notre Dame is significantly better on both sides of the ball and especially on defense, where Rutgers will struggle to find much space. Look for the Irish to roll big in this one with eyes on a potentially exciting 2014 campaign. Prediction: Notre Dame -14.5
BYU (+3) vs. Washington
Washington has lost its head coach and has a lot of players eyeing a jump to the NFL — Bishop Sankey, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Keith Price. BYU has a steely-eyed coach in Bronco Mendenhall and a dynamic quarterback in Taysom Hill. Look for the long preparation time to help the established coaching staff more than the inexperienced interim staff. Chris Peteresen isn’t on campus just yet, Huskies fans. Prediction: BYU +3
Miami (-3.5) vs. Louisville
Fans in Louisville have seen what a motivated Cardinals team can do in a bowl game when they trounced a superior Florida team in the Sugar Bowl last season. Yes, the game is being played in Orlando but a good chunk of the Louisville roster calls Florida home, including their star quarterback. Look for the Hurricanes — without Duke Johnson — to be looking ahead to next season while Teddy Bridgewater will have his squad focused in what should be his final college football game. Prediction: Louisville -3.5
Bowl Picks Against the Spread, Part 1:
|Top 25 Games||Mitch Light||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Washington St (-5) vs. Colorado St|
|Fresno St (+6.5) vs. USC|
Buffalo (+2) vs. San Diego St
|Tulane (-2.5) vs. UL Lafayette|
|East Carolina (-13.5) vs. Ohio|
|Boise St (+3) vs. Oregon St|
|Pitt (+5) vs. Bowling Green|
|Marshall (-2.5) vs. Maryland|
|Syracuse (+5) vs. Minnesota|
|BYU (+3) vs. Washington|
|Rutgers (+14.5) vs. Notre Dame|
|Cincinnati (+3) vs. North Carolina|
|N. Illinois (-1.5) Utah St|
|Miami (+3.5) vs. Louisville|
|Michigan (+3.5) vs. Kansas St|
|MTSU (+6) vs. Navy|
|Ole Miss (-3) vs. Georgia Tech|
|Oregon (-13.5) vs. Texas|
|Arizona St (-14) vs. Texas Tech|
|Arizona (-7.5) vs. Boston College|
|Virginia Tech (+7.5) vs. UCLA|
|Rice (+7) vs. Mississippi St|
|Duke (+12) vs. Texas A&M|
The college bowl season is a great opportunity for us to get a look at the next crop of fantasy football stars. Pre-draft Combine and Pro Day workouts are fun, but nothing beats evaluating a player in live game action under the bright lights of a bowl game.
So get ahead of your competition and check out these 12 future fantasy football stars.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
vs. Fresno State, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
Lee is the most NFL-ready WR on this list. He wins with short-area quickness, smooth route-running and reliable hands. Lee has the versatility to line up all over the field.
His numbers have suffered this season because of knee and shoulder injuries and shaky QB play. But he’s just a year removed from a huge 118-catch, 1,721-yard campaign. He went for 73 catches and 1,143 yards in his freshman year.
Lee isn’t a true game breaker, but his polish could result in big numbers in the pros. Think Marvin Harrison.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
vs. Cincinnati, Belk Bowl, Dec. 28 at 3:20 p.m. ET on ESPN
Ebron is more WR than TE. And that’s just fine for fantasy owners.
This guy has all the tools to post big-time receiving numbers at the next level. Ebron goes 6’4, 245 pounds with impressive speed, acceleration and change-of-direction ability. He’s averaged a sizzling 16.3 yards per catch as the focal point of North Carolina’s passing game this year. He’s had catches of 71 and 79 yards. You don’t see that type of explosive ability from many TEs.
Ebron’s athleticism will allow him to line up all over the formation for his NFL team. The junior is expected to declare for the 2014 draft and will likely be a 1st-round pick. It shouldn’t take him long to emerge as a fantasy factor.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
vs. Miami, Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 28 at 6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN
Bridgewater’s draft stock has taken a hit recently, and recent reports have him contemplating staying in school another year. But he remains the most polished and well-rounded QB prospect in college football. He’s tossed 55 TDs vs. 12 INTs over the past 2 seasons. That’s impressive -- even if Bridgewater isn’t facing elite competition.
He has NFL-caliber arm strength and accuracy. Scouts laud his quick release. But it’s his ability to read defenses and dissect coverages that will help him make a seamless transition to the NFL. Bridgewater is a pocket passer but can pick up yards on the ground when he needs to. That will add to his fantasy potential.
If there’s a concern here, it’s Bridgewater’s wiry 6’3, 196-pound frame. He at least does a good job avoiding hits when he scrambles.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
vs. Texas, Valero Alamo Bowl, Dec. 30 at 6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN
Mariota made a surprising decision to return to school for 2014. He might have been in the mix to go No. 1 overall had he declared. The kid’s game could still use some polishing, though. He’ll only be more ready to make a fantasy impact when he comes out in 2015.
The most obvious comparison for Mariota is Colin Kaepernick. That might be a bit lofty -- Mariota doesn’t have Kaepernick’s arm strength and might fall a bit short in the accuracy department, too. But he has a similar combination of passing and rushing ability.
Mariota threw 30 TDs vs. just 4 INTs in 2013. On the ground, he’s ripped off 1,334 yards and 14 TDs over the past 2 seasons. Former Oregon HC Mike Bellotti calls Mariota “a more natural runner” than Robert Griffin.
Mariota isn’t as safe a fantasy prospect as Bridgewater, but he certainly has more upside.
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
vs. Arizona State, National University Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30 at 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
This isn’t the next Jimmy Graham. But he’s the closest thing in the college game.
Amaro is a 6’5, 260-pound freak of an athlete. He’s projected to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.6-second range.
He’s posted some videogame-like numbers in 2013. Amaro sits 11th among all players with 1,240 receiving yards. His 98 catches rank 7th. (Remember that this is a TE we’re talking about.) He’s topped 100 yards in 5 of 12 games. Texas Tech’s pass-heavy spread offense has surely boosted Amaro’s production, but this guy is the real deal.
Amaro does damage as a traditional in-line TE or split out in the slot. He’s explosive off the snap with a size-speed combination that makes him a matchup nightmare. Amaro knows how to use his big frame to shield smaller defenders. And he has a pair of big, sticky hands.
In short, he’s everything NFL teams are looking for in a “new-age” TE. Amaro will be wildly productive in the NFL -- and a difference-maker in fantasy. The junior hasn’t officially declared for the 2014 draft but will compete with Ebron to be the 1st TE off the board if he does.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
vs. Duke, Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Johnny Manziel’s top target will likely emerge as a better pro than the 2012 Heisman winner.
Evans brings a mix of Anquan Boldin’s physicality and Vincent Jackson’s downfield playmaking ability. This is a 6’5, 225-pounder with excellent leaping ability, body control and vice-grip hands. Even when he’s covered, he’s open because of his dominant catch-point skills.
Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline ranks Evans as the top WR in the class.
“Large, game impacting receiver that physically beats defenders in the middle of the field or outraces opponents down the flanks,” Pauline wrote. “Has all the necessary talents to be a big time number one wide out in the NFL.”
Evans might not rack up huge yardage at the next level, but he could be a catch and TD machine.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
vs. South Carolina, Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET on ABC
When you think of Wisconsin RBs, you usually think of big bruisers like Montee Ball or (gulp!) Ron Dayne. That’s not Gordon.
This guy is a home run hitter. Gordon has busted off runs of 65, 70, 71 and 80 yards this year. He’s totaled 1,466 yards on just 181 carries -- a juicy 8.1-yard average.
Gordon has drawn comparisons to Jamaal Charles as a 1-cut runner with elite speed and acceleration. While Gordon might not have Charles’ 4.3 wheels, he packs more punch at 6’1 and 203 pounds. If the redshirt sophomore declares for the 2014 NFL Draft, he has a chance to be the 1st RB off the board.
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
vs. Oklahoma, Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
‘Bama has sent a bunch of backs to the big leagues lately -- Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy -- with varying degrees of success. Yeldon might be more talented than all of them.
As a true freshman in 2012, Yeldon ripped off 1,108 yards and 12 scores on 175 carries. That 6.3-yard average was just a shade lower than Lacy’s 6.5 mark. Yeldon has had another efficient campaign this year, taking 190 totes for 1,163 yards and 13 scores. He’s also a capable pass-catcher, with 29 grabs for 291 yards over the past 2 seasons.
At 6’2 and 218 pounds, Yeldon is almost the same exact size as Adrian Peterson when he came out of Oklahoma. Like Peterson, Yeldon boasts an impressive combination of speed and power. He busts plenty of tackles and has recorded 9 runs of 30+ yards over the last 2 years.
Yeldon isn’t eligible for the 2014 draft but is the early favorite to be the 1st RB off the board in 2015. He has all the makings of an elite fantasy back.
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
vs. Oklahoma State, AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX
The comparisons to A.J. Green are warranted. Green-Beckham is a rangy 6’6, 225-pounder with scary athleticism and fluidity.
Rivals.com ranked Green-Beckham as the top prospect in the 2012 class. CBS’ Tom Lemming called him the best high school WR since Randy Moss.
“He's got everything,” Lemming said. “Height, super long arms, leaping ability, speed, and most of all, production.”
Green-Beckham hasn’t disappointed at Missouri. A drug suspension marred his freshman season, but he averaged 14.1 yards per catch and scored 5 times in limited action. That included TDs of 70 and 80 yards.
He’s taken a giant leap forward in 2012. Green-Beckham leads Mizzou with 12 scores and is tied for the team lead with 55 catches. He’s averaging 15.1 yards per catch and has 6 grabs of 35+ yards.
Green-Beckam has more fantasy upside than any of the WRs listed above him here. You’ll just need to wait until 2015 to cash in on it. He’s not eligible for this spring’s NFL draft but will more than likely be a high 1st-rounder in 2015.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
vs. Clemson, Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Hyde totaled 1,408 yards and 14 TDs on a 7.7 yards-per-carry average this season. He heads to the Orange Bowl riding a streak of 8 straight 100-yard games.
The Buckeye doesn’t have the big-play ability of a Yeldon or Gordon, but he’s a big, bruising pile-driver. A 6’0, 242-pound tackle-breaking machine. Scouts are also high on his quick feet and vision. Hyde has been compared to Frank Gore. NFL.com’s Charles Davis believes Hyde might be better than Eddie Lacy.
While he doesn’t project to contribute much in the passing game -- just 14 catches this year -- Hyde could be a big-time producer in non-PPR fantasy leagues. He has the size and skill set to be a perennial 300-carry, 10-TD RB.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
vs. Ohio State, Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Watkins is by far the most explosive WR set to enter the big leagues in 2014. He has the speed to take the top off defenses but is at his best with the ball in his hands in open space.
“Watkins is one of the best ‘catch and run’ playmakers I've seen in the college game,” NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks wrote. “He excels at maneuvering through traffic with the ball in his hands, but also displays the toughness to run through arm tackles on the perimeter.”
Watkins is averaging 14.1 yards per catch for his college career. He’s made 15 grabs of 40+ yards, including 91- and 96-yarders this season. Watkins has topped 100 yards in 14 of 35 career games.
Watkins’ speed and explosion have drawn comparisons to Torrey Smith. And he’s probably a more well-rounded receiver than Smith was coming out of Maryland. Watkins is capable of making a 1st-year fantasy impact and should quickly emerge as a perennial stud.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
vs. Auburn, BCS National Championship, Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
The best player in college football is a redshirt freshman. Winston has been dominant in his debut season at Florida State, setting NCAA freshman records with 3,820 passing yards and 38 TDs. He’ll only get better as a passer with more seasoning.
But it’s Winston’s combination of size (6’4, 228 pounds) and athleticism that makes him such an intriguing fantasy football prospect. He could make a Cam Newton-like impact with his legs at the pro level.
This article was written by Jared Smola and provided to Athlon Sports courtesy of DraftSharks.com. Online since 1999, Draft Sharks won the 2010 and 2012 FSTA awards for the most accurate fantasy football projections in the industry.
Have you ever wondered which athlete or sports figure is tailor-made for the Christmas season? Well, we’ve made our list and checked it twice, although we’re still working on the naughty or nice part.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
Dionte Christmas (SG, Phoenix Suns)
Rakeem Christmas (F, Syracuse basketball)
Matt Holliday (OF, St. Louis Cardinals)
Doug Jolley (former NFL tight end 2002-06)
Nerlens Noel (C, Philadelphia 76ers)
Plenty of sports figures have color-coordinated names for the season…
A.J. Green (WR, Cincinnati Bengals)
Shawn Green (former MLB OF/1B 1993-2007)
"Mean Joe" Greene (NFL Hall of Famer)
Red Auerbach (legendary NBA coach)
Red Grange (NFL Hall of Famer)
Michael Redd (former NBA guard 2000-12)
Who’s ready to deck the halls?
Todd Berry (Louisiana-Monroe football head coach)
Jamey Carroll (MLB IF, free agent)
Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks head coach)
Jon Garland (MLB pitcher 2000-11)
Royal Ivey (former NBA guard, 2004-13)
Holly Rowe (ESPN reporter)
Mike Tannenbaum (former New York Jets general manager)
Walking in a winter wonderland…
David Frost (PGA Champions Tour)
Scott Frost (Oregon offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach)
Frostee Rucker (DE, Arizona Cardinals)
Ron Slay (Tennessee basketball 1999-2003, now plays overseas)
Garth Snow (NHL goalie 1993-2006, current New York Islanders general manager)
J.T. Snow (MLB first baseman 1992-2006, '08)
Jay Cutler may hail from Santa Claus, Ind., but all these guys are missing is a white beard and a red suit…
Zac Claus (Nevada basketball assistant coach)
Casey Clausen (Tennessee quarterback 2000-03)
Jimmy Clausen (former NFL quarterback 2010-12)
Ed Kringle (played on the PGA Tour in the 1950s)
Sure they can play football, but can they fly?
Dwight Dasher (Middle Tennessee quarterback 2007-10)
Kyle Rudolph (TE, Minnesota Vikings)
Casting call for the nativity scene…
David DeJesus (OF, Tampa Bay Rays)
Curtis Joseph (NHL goalie 1988-2009)
Angel Pagan (OF, San Francisco Giants)
Russell Shepard (WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Mark Weisman (RB, Iowa football)
Now we feast…
Mia Hamm (women's soccer legend)
Felix Pie (MLB OF, free agent)
Antrel Rolle (DB, New York Giants)
And who better to wrap up our list...
Metta World Peace (F, New York Knicks)
Jon Gruden is back in the coaching rumor carousel once again. Last year the former NFL coach was mentioned prominently as a name to watch at Tennessee. Now the rumor mill has placed Gruden in the mix at Texas. If you are following along on Twitter, the hashtag is appropriate and catchy: #Grumors.
Gruden’s name popping up for coaching jobs seems to happen every offseason, but the Ohio native has a pretty cushy job – and a nice contract – in the Monday Night Football booth.
Is it just rumor or is there some truth to the Gruden to Texas rumors? My guess is its somewhere in the middle.
Gruden hasn’t coached since he was fired at Tampa Bay in 2008. Yes, that is five seasons ago. Also, Gruden hasn’t coached in college since 1991. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then.
A week ago, Athlon Sports posted a look at the top 10 candidates to replace Mack Brown at Texas. Gruden isn’t on our list, but if he’s interested, Texas will inquire.
Although Gruden might be interested in coming to Texas, the Longhorns would be wise to look in another direction. Sure, Gruden has a Super Bowl ring and is 95-81 at two different NFL stops. But for a program like Texas, is Gruden the right fit? Shouldn’t Texas target candidates with recent head coaching experience in college football?
Gruden will end up coaching once again, but our guess is it’s in the NFL – not on the sidelines in Austin.
Five Reasons Why Jon Gruden Would be a Bad Fit at Texas
1. Lack of College Experience
It’s one thing to coach in the NFL, but it’s another to win in the college ranks. UCLA’s Jim Mora is 18-8 in two years, but Bill Callahan was just 27-22 in four seasons at Nebraska. Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino each had success after spending time in the NFL, but both coaches got their start on the collegiate level. There’s no doubt coaches that come from the NFL can bring a lot of knowledge to a program, however, it’s not always easy relating to the players. Trying to implement a complicated offense is much easier in the NFL, especially since collegiate athletes have fewer hours to spend in the film room. Considering Gruden’s lack of head coaching experience in college, there would certainly be a transition period – and it may not be pretty early on – for Texas. Adapting to the college game takes time and even though Gruden has been intrigued by the no-huddle, spread offenses, he was a West Coast disciple in the NFL. Could he blend the two schemes together? Or would he revert to the West Coast? At Texas, the Longhorn Network requires some extra attention by the head coach in terms of media obligations. Also, there's the booster meet and greets that the head coach has to attend. Even though Gruden has been a good addition to the Monday Night Football booth, the extra media obligations and booster attention may be something he is not interested in taking on.
2. An Eye to the NFL?
Even if Gruden jumps at the opportunity to coach at Texas or anywhere else in the collegiate ranks, what’s to stop him from getting back into the NFL? Contracts for college football coaches usually mean very little, and Gruden could spend two years in college, then choose to depart for the NFL. Texas should be able to offer a hefty contract and could put provisions into the deal to protect the program from a coach leaving after a year or two. However, you never know how long a coach is going to stick around, but considering Gruden’s NFL background and how he exited, it’s a safe bet that he wants another shot. If Gruden was hired at Texas and left after two years, there’s no question the Longhorns would have a long list of interested coaches. However, transitioning from one coach to another, especially one with different styles, can set the program back a few years.
3. Recruiting and Building a Coaching Staff
Gruden could probably recruit successfully off of his name only, at least for the first two or three years of his college tenure. However, what happens after that has to be a concern. It’s been over 20 years since Gruden had to hit the recruiting trail. And this isn’t just a six-month process – it lasts all season. Gruden is a relentless worker and there’s always the fear he could get burned out after just a few seasons. The former NFL coach would also have to put together a staff that would be good recruiters, but that shouldn’t be an issue at Texas where money is plentiful. Building a staff without many college connections isn’t easy, and a collection of NFL assistants wouldn't necessarily work at Texas.
4. The West Coast Offense
The spread and high-scoring offenses are becoming the norm in college football, and there’s always been doubt the West Coast offense can work outside of the NFL. Although Gruden’s offense at Oakland finished three times in the top 10 of scoring offense, his teams at Tampa Bay never finished higher than 18th in the NFL in total offense. Obviously, it’s a different league, so it’s hard to take a lot away from those statistics. And of course, total offense numbers aren’t necessarily the best indicator of success. However, it’s also important to note 59 of the 125 teams in the nation are averaging at least 30 points a game, with 13 scoring at least 40 points per contest. Even though Alabama owns one of the nation’s best defenses, the Crimson Tide are averaging 38.8 points a game. Florida State – the No. 1 team in the nation – ranks third nationally in total defense and sixth in total offense. Again, those totals for Alabama and Florida State aren't necessarily the best indicator of success, but it showcases how some of the top teams in the nation are built. While Gruden’s background on offense is appealing, implementing a West Coast offense takes a lot of time. Nebraska (Bill Callahan) and Syracuse (Greg Robinson) implemented a similar scheme with limited results. During his time in the NFL, Gruden’s playbook might have been one of the deepest in the league. Although the schemes, plays and formations have worked in NFL, there’s simply no way Gruden can copy that offense in college. It’s not impossible for the West Coast offense to work in college, but Gruden would have to do a lot of simplifying to his playbook and be willing to adapt to more of a spread approach.
5. Too Difficult to Play For?
There’s no question Gruden would bring passion and energy to the sideline or to any program, but that may not translate well at the college level. Criticism is most players least favorite word, but NFLers are more likely to handle it better than college athletes. Although Gruden’s intensity could be a good thing for some players who have underachieved or aren’t putting in the proper hours, it’s a very fine line to walk with college players who don’t have the amount of time NFL players can put into perfecting their game. Gruden could land at a college and work out just fine. However, if he gets the reputation of being too difficult or too demanding to play for, his tenure will go south in a hurry. On name value alone, Gruden would have coaches lining up to join his staff. However, he’s a relentless worker. Would assistant coaches eventually get burned out from working with him?
The 2013 college football regular season had distinct and unique character. The No. 2 team in the nation didn’t lose every weekend like in 2007. And one player didn’t captivate the nation like Cam Newton in 2010 or Johnny Manziel last fall.
Every major conference race — and some of the smaller ones as well — came down to the final weekend, and, in some cases, the final moments of the final game. It was a season to remember for college football fans. Four teams battled until the final whistle in the Big 12 to determine who would be heading to Tempe but there was a long and exciting list of great finishes in the Big 12.
So that is what Athlon Sports is going to do. For some, this will be a stroll down memory lane while others may develop reoccurring nightmares. Here are the Big 12’s most entertaining and pivotal games of the 2013 season.
1. Oklahoma 33, Oklahoma State 24 (Dec. 7)
One of the most heated rivalries in all of college football had some extra juice in 2013. The Big 12 title and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl was on the line for the Pokes while the Sooners had a shot at a BCS bowl and 10-win season in their sights (not to mention ruining the Cowboys' season). Bob Stoops had to turn to his backup quarterbacks at halftime, so he leaned on his defense all game. Holding Okie State in check most of the game, the Sooners finally lost the lead when Oklahoma State went up 24-20 with 2:30 to go. Mike Gundy had to give the ball back to the Crimson and Cream with less than two minutes to play. Blake Bell contructed a drive to remember when he moved the Sooners down the field for the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds to play. Stoops moved to 8-1 all-time against Gundy as he dashed OSU’s Big 12 title hopes on the final drive of the season.
2. Oklahoma State 33, Kansas State 29 (Oct. 5)
The Cowboys' offense struggled for much of the game but Oklahoma State carried a three-point lead into halftime at home against KSU. The Wildcats retook the lead early in the third quarter before two OSU field goals gave the Pokes a 23-21 advantage heading into the fourth. With 6:09 left, however, Daniel Sams announced himself to the Big 12 when he scored his third touchdown of the game to give the Wildcats the lead. But when needed, J.W. Walsh delivered by leading two scoring drives in the final five minutes of play, including the game-winning TD pass to Charlie Moore with 4:13 left.
3. Baylor 30, Texas 10 (Dec. 7)
There was no better way for Baylor to end the season. The Bedlam Game upset earlier in the day turned this season finale into an outright Big 12 championship game for both teams. Texas played well for the first 30 minutes, taking a 3-3 tie into the break. But Baylor did what Baylor had done all season long by making halftime adjustments and scoring quickly to start the second half. A 17-point third quarter put the game out of reach and gave Art Briles and the Bears fans a championship to celebrate. Floyd Casey Stadium was closed for the final time with the program’s first Big 12 title and first BCS bowl bid secured.
4. Baylor 35, Kansas State 25 (Oct. 12)
The Bears couldn’t run the ball like they were accustomed to in Manhattan, but Bryce Petty delivered a critical fourth-quarter performance that eventually helped Baylor win the Big 12. In the closest win of the season, Petty and the Bears entered the final frame trailing by four. As KSU geared up to stop the run, Petty made them pay with two long touchdown passes — 54 and 21 yards — in the final quarter to give Baylor a win in what was one of only three tough games it played all season.
5. West Virginia 30, Oklahoma State 21 (Sept. 28)
Neither team could run the ball, they combined for five turnovers and a variety of miscues highlighted a sloppy early season affair in Morgantown. Hometown hero Clint Trickett got his first career start for WVU, throwing for 309 yards and a touchdown in the huge upset over Big 12 frontrunner Okie State. The Cowboys were within three for most of the third and fourth quarters and had multiple opportunities to tie or take the lead. Yet, the Mountaineers persevered and nailed two field goals in the final period to win by nine.
6. Texas 47, West Virginia 40 in OT (Nov. 9)
This was an epic back-and-forth affair that featured a resilient Texas team and a motivated Mountaineers squad. The Longhorns played from behind for most of the game, and as soon as they took a lead, WVU would come right back down the field to retake the lead. The lead changed hands three times in the fourth quarter and Texas needed a 24-yard field goal with 13 seconds left to send it to overtime. From there, Case McCoy tossed a touchdown pass, and Texas linebacker Steve Edmond snagged a Paul Millard pass on fourth down in the endzone to seal the improbable and thrilling comeback. The win moved Texas to 6-0 in the Big 12 at the time.
7. Oklahoma 38, Texas Tech 30 (Oct. 26)
Oklahoma limped home after getting whipped by Texas and sleep-walking through Kansas while Texas Tech surged into Norman with a 7-0 record. And until the final minute of the third quarter, it looked like Texas Tech was going to leave with an unblemished record. However, the running game and Blake Bell matched the high-powered offense of the Red Raiders in the final frame. Over the last 15:33, Oklahoma would score 17 points to give Kliff Kingsbury his first loss as a head coach. The three Tech turnovers would prove to be costly as the Red Raiders didn’t win a game the rest of the season.
8. Texas 36, Oklahoma 20 (Oct. 12)
The biggest game of the season every year featured one of the most unlikely outcomes of the season. Oklahoma entered play a heavy favorite over archrival Texas in the Cotton Bowl. But the Horns rallied around embattled coach Mack Brown to pounce on the Sooners early and often. Texas went up 20-3 late in the second quarter and never looked back. The win propelled Texas to a 6-0 start in the Big 12 and a near Big 12 title. It wasn't as close or dramatic as the rest of the best Big 12 games, but it holds special meaning as the final meeting between Bob Stoops and Mack Brown in Dallas.
9. Oklahoma State 49, Baylor 17 (Nov. 23)
With the Big 12 title hanging in the balance and an unbeaten Baylor team coming to town, Oklahoma State played its best game of the season when it jumped all over the Bears in Stillwater. Clint Chelf was red hot out of the gate and finished with 370 yards and three touchdowns as his offense had no issues carving up the Bears' respected defense. The win was one of the most important in the Big 12 season and gave Oklahoma State control of its own destiny in the conference race with only The Bedlam Game left on the schedule.
10. Texas 31, Iowa State 30 (Oct. 3)
An early season Thursday night trip to Ames gave fans a bizarre and wild shootout. Every time Iowa State scored to take the lead, the Longhorns would answer, be it a final play touchdown pass at the end of the first half or a long touchdown drive at the end of the third quarter. The Cyclones came back once again, turning two Texas fumbles into 10 points to start the final period. But Texas had an answer. With the help of some questionable officiating, the Burnt Orange took the lead with 51 seconds to play to win. Paul Rhoads voiced his displeasure after the game.
Just missed the cut
11. Baylor 41, TCU 38 (Nov. 30)
Coaching animosity, defensive TDs and lots of scoring made this one to remember.
12. Baylor 41, Oklahoma 12 (Nov. 7)
The Bears announced their national title presence with this primetime Thursday night beatdown.
13. Oklahoma 20, TCU 17 (Oct. 5)
Oklahoma was able to run the ball when needed late in this physical battle in Norman.
14. Oklahoma State 38, Texas 13 (Nov. 16)
The Pokes went into Austin and dominated for the third straight time.
15. Oklahoma 35, Notre Dame 21 (Sept. 28)
A signature win for a signature program with 10 wins and a BCS bowl bid.
Best of the rest:
16. Oklahoma 41, Kansas State 31 (Nov. 23)
17. Baylor 63, Texas Tech 34 (Nov. 16)
18. Texas 31, Kansas State 21 (Sept. 21)
19. Iowa State 52, West Virginia 44 (OT, Nov. 30)
20. West Virginia 30, TCU 27 (OT, Nov. 2)
21. Kansas State 33, TCU 31 (Nov. 16)
22. Oklahoma 16, West Virginia 7 (Sept. 7)
23. Oklahoma State 21, Mississippi State 3
24. North Dakota State 24, Kansas State 21 (Aug. 30)
25. Kansas 31, West Virginia 19 (Nov. 16)
The 35 bowl games on this year’s roster may be too many for some.
That’s fine. For some of us, that’s not enough. Not just because if the insatiable need for December and January college football. Bowl games — especially bad bowl games — offer a wide variety of ridiculous bowl names, wild destinations and “what were you thinking” ideas.
Bowl games have come and gone over the years. Some were successful, including the Bluebonnet Bowl, All-American Bowl and Freedom Bowl. Some were cool ideas like the Bacardi Bowl. And some were doomed from the start — a bowl game in Dayton? Really?
Here are 15 bowl games you won't see in December and January.
15 Defunct College Football Bowl Games We Miss
Site: Honolulu (Aloha Stadium)
Technically, this is a defunct bowl, though a bowl game returned to Hawaii two years later for the imaginatively named Hawaii Bowl. The Aloha Bowl was played on Christmas Day for the final 14 games of its run and often featured ranked teams from major conferences. The Hawaii Bowl, on the other hand, is traditionally played on Christmas Eve and features Conference USA, Mountain West and WAC teams. Edge: Aloha Bowl.
All-American Bowl/Hall of Fame Classic
Site: Birmingham, Ala. (Legion Field)
A second-tier bowl game for more than a decade, Birmingham eventually abandoned the All-American Bowl to host the SEC Championship Game, which moved to Atlanta two years later. A shame: This Birmingham game ended in 1990 before Pittsburgh ever had a chance to play in it.
Site: Dayton, Ohio (Welcome Stadium)
As the hometown of the Wright brothers and the site of where they designed their flying machine, Dayton considers its the birthplace of aviation (the University of Dayton mascot is the Flyers). The Aviation Bowl, though, never really took flight, and New Mexico’s 28-12 win over Western Michigan in 1961 was the only bowl game in Dayton. Only 3,694 people attended the game.
Site: Havana, Cuba (Tropical Stadium)
The first Bahamas Bowl will be played next season, but that won’t be the first bowl game played in the tropics. Not by a long shot. Auburn’s first bowl game was in pre-Castro Cuba on New Year’s Day 1937 in a 7-7 tie with Villanova. The Bacardi Bowl is the accepted name, but the game also went by the Rhumba Bowl or Cigar Bowl.
Site: Houston (Rice Stadium/Astrodome)
An equivalent to the Holiday or Alamo bowls, the Bluebonnet Bowl had the longest history of a now-defunct bowl, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Bluebonnet usually had a Texas team or a Southwest Conference team on one side. One exception: This Missouri-Georgia Tech meeting in 1962 called by legendary Cubs announcer Harry Caray:
Site: Louisville, Ky. (Fairgrounds Stadium)
Fairgrounds Stadium is now an eyesore from the Interstate in Louisville, especially compared to the Cardinals’ new facility. Not only did Louisville play football here, it hosted Oklahoma State’s 1958 bowl win over Florida State. The game was attended by a mere 7,000 people, but it’s more notable for being the first national television appearance for Howard Cosell.
Site: Fresno, Calif. (Bulldog Stadium)
The game gave us one of the great bowl sponsors in the California Raisin Advisory Board. The claymation dancing and singing raisins were more memorable than any of the bowl matchups between the WAC and the MAC. The California Raisin Bowl is not to be confused with simply the Raisin Bowl, also held in Fresno from 1945-49.
Site: Anaheim, Calif. (Anaheim Stadium)
The Freedom Bowl featured a fair amount of star power in its decade of existence, including MVP performances from Chuck Long, Ty Detmer, Marshall Faulk and Tedy Bruschi.
Garden State Bowl
Site: East Rutherford, N.J. (Giants Stadium)
The Garden State Bowl learned what the NFL may figure out in 2014: Postseason games in December and January are to be avoided. Rutgers and Temple played in the first two games here before embarking on lengthy bowl droughts. After four games, Giants Stadium became the site of the popular and much more successful (and warmer) Kickoff Classic, a game that ran in late August from 1983-2002.
Site: New York (Yankee Stadium)
The matchup between Nebraska and Miami in the 1962 game would be much more interesting decades later, but this game preceded Miami’s first national title by 21 years and featured Bob Devaney in only his first season as Nebraska’s coach. Still, the Gotham Bowl is such a great name. Unfortunately, the words “Gotham” and “football” probably shouldn’t go together. Thanks, Christopher Nolan.
Great Lakes Bowl
Site: Cleveland, Ohio
This bowl was probably doomed from the get-go because “bowl destination” and “lake effect snow” don’t go together. The game featured only one matchup between major teams, but at least it was historically notable as the first bowl appearance and bowl win by then-Kentucky coach Bear Bryant in 1947.
Site: Toronto (Rogers Centre)
In addition to being the first bowl game off American soil in 70 years, the International Bowl carries the distinction of being one of the first in an unfortunate trend of placing lower-tier bowl games in between New Year’s Day and BCS championship game. The demise of the Big East, 4-0 in this game against the MAC, and low attendance contributed to the demise of the game.
Site: Houston (Rice Stadium)
Florida has oranges and tangerines, and Georgia has peaches. Makes sense for Texas to have the Oil Bowl, right?
Site: Phoenix (Montgomery Stadium)
This game featured North Texas and Arizona State back when they were teachers’ colleges and when Drake, Dayton and Xavier went to bowl games. Not sure how it ended up a New Year’s Day bowl game. Like the Cherry Bowl, the Salad Bowl is virtually un-Google-able on the first try.
Silicon Valley Classic
Site: San Jose, Calif. (Spartan Stadium)
Back in the early 2000s, many games ended up with a dot com sponsor — galleryfurniture.com, EV1.net, Insight.com. Only one claimed all of Silicon Valley. The game went bust after the dot com bubble burst.
The Pac-12 finally returned to national prominence last season with five NCAA bids, placing two teams in the Sweet 16.
This season may be even better. The Pac-12 and the Big Ten are the only conferences with two undefeated teams, and Arizona and Oregon didn’t get there cheaply.
Arizona has defeated San Diego State and Michigan on the road and Duke at Madison Square Garden. A short-handed Oregon team has wins over Georgetown, Ole Miss and Illinois.
That said, the Pac-12 is far from a two-team league: Colorado has won 10 in a row since losing to Baylor on the first day of the season, a run that included a 75-72 win over Kansas. UCLA has shown it will be a tough out in Steve Alford's first season.
Other teams still have work to do, but even if the Pac-12 doesn’t top its five bids from a year ago, the league may have the most Final Four potential since 2007.
Early Season Report Card: Pac-12
Bubble watch: Arizona State, Stanford
Best win: Arizona 72, Duke 66
Worst loss: Coppin State 78, Oregon State 73
Power rankings so far
6. Arizona State
11. Oregon State
12. Washington State
Important non-conference games remaining:
Colorado vs. Oklahoma State (Dec. 21)
Stanford vs. Michigan (Dec. 21)
Cal at Creighton (Dec. 22)
Arizona is the top team but too balanced to pick a true league-wide MVP. Oregon is balanced, too, with six players averaging double figures, but the Houston transfer stands apart at 19.3 points per game. Young helped the Ducks weather the suspensions of Dominic Artis and Ben Carter, who returned to face UC Irvine on Tuesday, with 14 points against Illinois, 19 against Ole Miss and 24 against Georgetown.
Top freshman: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
As expected, Gordon has done a bit of everything for Arizona this season, averaging 12.1 points and 8.2 rebounds. Unlike Kansas with Andrew Wiggins or Kentucky with Julius Randle, Arizona can afford Gordon to have an off night (2 of 10 with eight rebounds in a win over UNLV). But Gordon can also shoulder the load (14 points, five rebounds against Michigan, 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists against Duke).
Surprise player: Delon Wright, Utah
The junior college transfer was expected to play a major role in the Utah backcourt, but he and the underrated Jordan Loveridge may turn Utah into one of the surprise teams in the Pac-12. Wright has been a stat sheet stuffer with 16 points, 6.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.0 rebounds. Utah’s 9-1 start has been against weak competition, but Saturday’s 81-64 win over BYU (and a two-point loss at Boise State) suggests there might some legitimacy here.
Early season flop: Washington
Athlon picked Washington ninth in the Pac-12 in the preseason, so the 6-4 start isn’t all that alarming. Still, Lorenzo Romar may be heading to his first losing season in conference since 2007-08. The Huskies have lost to every quality team they’ve faced (Indiana, Boston College and San Diego State) plus UC Irvine.
Lingering concerns: Which coaches can save their jobs?
The Pac-12 was notable at the start of the season for the number of coaches who began the season fighting to remain employed — Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins, Arizona State’s Herb Sendek, Washington State’s Ken Bone and Oregon State’s Craig Robinson. Dawkins and Sendek have their teams in NCAA Tournament contention, a good sign if it’s March Madness or bust for both. Washington State and Oregon State may have trouble picking up wins against the top portion of the league.
Best NCAA resume: Arizona
The Wildcats have vaulted to the No. 1 spot in the polls with good reason: An 11-0 start with wins over Duke on a neutral floor and San Diego State and Michigan on the road. This is the kind of resume that garners a No. 1 seed in March.
Could there be room for a third or fourth team in the two-team race for the Big 12 title?
The return of Marcus Smart to Oklahoma State and the arrival of Andrew Wiggins at Kansas appeared to set up those two programs atop the Big 12 this season.
One thing is clear in the Big 12 so far: It won’t be that easy. Fred Hoiberg is again working his magic at Iowa State where transfers and an up-tempo offense have the Cyclones undefeated. After a win over Kentucky, Baylor is back on the upswing after an NIT appearance last season.
And even Texas, a program all but ignored in the preseason, shows it might be back where it belongs in the mix after a win in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Wednesday.
Early Season Report Card: Big 12
Bubble watch: Texas
Best win: Kansas 94, Duke 83
Worst loss: Longwood 82, TCU 79
Power rankings so far
1. Oklahoma State
3. Iowa State
6. West Virginia
8. Kansas State
9. Texas Tech
Important non-conference games remaining
Oklahoma State vs. Colorado (Dec. 21)
Georgetown at Kansas (Dec. 21)
Kansas State vs. Gonzaga (Dec. 21)
San Diego State at Kansas (Jan. 5)
This is why Smart returned for his sophomore season. After the way Smart began the year, it’s clear the NBA Draft will be there when he’s finished. The Cowboys point guard has been even better this season, averaging 18 points per game (up from 15.4 per game) despite playing fewer minutes. Smart’s 39 points with four rebounds, four assists and five steals against Memphis on Nov. 19 is one of the top individual performances of the season so far.
Top freshman: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Fellow Kansas five-star freshman Joel Embiid has received more run recently thanks to his ahead-of-the-curve offensive game for a rookie big man. But Wiggins is still the top freshman of the league and one of the best in the country. The recruiting experts warned us not to expect Wiggins to put up Kevin Durant-like numbers, but Wiggins still averages 15.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Top newcomer: DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
Thanks to Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang, Iowa State doesn’t need DeAndre Kane to be quite the focal point of the offense as Marshall did. Kane averaged 13.6 shots from the field in 37.1 minutes per game with the Thundering Herd. He’s averaging 9.5 shots in 28.4 minutes at Iowa State. The supporting cast and diminished work load have improved his efficiency numbers while he’s maintained 7.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists for a legitimate Big 12 contender.
Surprise player: Jonathan Holmes, Texas
Could Rick Barnes avoid the same fate as Mack Brown? That may be the case after Texas’ 86-83 win over North Carolina on the road legitimized a 10-1 start. Holmes, Texas’ lone upperclassman, entered the season with 45 starts and 6.8 points per game. After 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks against the Tar Heels, Holmes is averaging 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Early season flop: Tarik Black, Kansas
The transfer from Memphis was expected to be major contributor at Kansas, especially given Black’s status as a veteran on a young team. With the development of Joel Embiid, Black has had trouble cracking the regular rotation: Two minutes against New Mexico, six against Florida, three against Colorado and eight Villanova.
Lingering concerns: Kansas’ point guard issues
Point guard was a liability for Kansas last season and has been a question mark in the early going this year. The situation had become dire enough where Bill Self elected to start freshman Frank Mason on a road swing against Colorado and Florida over veteran Naadir Tharpe. Mason will probably be the point guard long term, but Tharpe returned to the starting role in Saturday’s win over New Mexico when he had nine assists and four turnovers.
Best NCAA resume: Iowa State
This is a tough one: Oklahoma State’s top win is over Memphis at home when less than two weeks later the Cowboys lost to the same Memphis team on a neutral floor. Kansas has two good wins over Duke and New Mexico, but losses to Villanova, Colorado and Florida. Baylor has a standout win over Kentucky, one loss to Syracuse and two wins over Division II teams. Let’s give the nod to Iowa State, the only undefeated team in the league. The Cyclones are 2-0 against two Big Ten teams likely to play in the Tournament (Michigan and Iowa) and have a road win over BYU.
Arkansas State has hired North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson as its new head coach. Anderson will replace Bryan Harsin, who left to replace Chris Petersen at Boise State.
This is Anderson’s first head coaching job, but he has served as a coordinator since 2002. Prior to joining North Carolina’s staff in 2012, Anderson worked with Larry Fedora at Southern Miss from 2008-11.
Anderson also has experience from stints at UL Lafayette, MTSU, New Mexico and Trinity Valley College.
Anderson will be Arkansas State’s fifth coach in five years in 2014.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 19.
• In the spirit of the season, here's Victoria's Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio doing a photo shoot in reindeer antlers.
• ESPN will be bringing you the BCS National Championship Game six different ways. Buckle in for Megacast.
• It ain't over til it's over: 2013 is the Year of the Comeback in the NFL.
• Cool little story: Lions running back Joique Bell was once a security guard at Lions training camp.
• Today in perfectly timed photos: Wizards coach Randy Wittman takes a Spalding to the face.
• Andrea Bargnani of the Knicks did something exceptionally stupid, and the Knicks bench went crazy, although Metta World Peace was strangely unfazed. That entire sentence sounds about right.
• Elsewhere in NBA ineptitude, Luis Scola attempted to guard LeBron James. The results were not pretty.
• 2014 could be the Year of the Running Back in the SEC. Four of the league's rock-toters should contend for the Heisman.
• Here's an adorable Vine from gymnast McKayla Maroney, who has turned 18 while we weren't paying attention.
• Enjoy Roy Hibbert videobombing Stephen A. and the NBA Countdown crew.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]