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So here’s the deal: If you’re a quarterback who can throw a forward pass then you’re all but assured 18 fantasy points against the New England Patriots.
Tyler Palko, meet the New England Patriots. Fantasy players, meet Tyler Palko, the Kansas City Chiefs’ new starting quarterback. Palko, an undrafted free agent out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2007, gets his first career start when the Chiefs take on the Patriots Monday night in Foxboro.
The previous nine quarterbacks that have started this season against New England have all recorded at least 18-point fantasy days, and that 18-pointer only threw for 166 yards in doing so. The Patriots have allowed six 300-plus yard games, one 400-plus, a 250 and Mark Sanchez threw for 166 in Week 5 and then came back with 306 last week.
Houston, Pittsburgh and New Orleans are all on bye weeks, Michael Vick (ribs) is not looking available Sunday night and there are some other bad matchups out there in Week 11. If you’re in a two-quarterback league, Palko’s certainly a play in Week 11, and if you are looking for a deep sleeper or just wanting to jump in on the action against New England, starting Palko isn’t a bad idea in standard 12-team, one-QB leagues.
The 6-1, left-handed Palko is getting start No. 1 after Matt Cassel suffered a hand injury in Week 10 that will likely end his 2011 season. Once cut by the UFL’s California Redwoods, Palko has thrown a total of 13 NFL passes — completing nine of them for 82 yards — in four stops. He came into last week’s game in relief of Cassel, completing five of six passes for 47 yards on a drive that ended with a field goal.
And now he gets his first start against a Patriots team that, like all other NFL teams, has very little to go on about his game since he left Pitt. What we do know is the Patriots are allowing opposing QBs to complete 63.4 percent of their passes for 323.4 yards, 1.6 TDs and 1.3 interceptions a game for a league-worst 25.7 fantasy points per game.
Cassel took a while to get anything going this season, however, in four of his last five full-game starts, he threw for 253-plus yards in each game and had six TDs in those four games (four coming against Indianpolis). Palko does have Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Jonathan Baldwin in his receiving corps and a multi-purpose back in Dexter McCluster, who can help him as a pass catcher.
Whether it’s Palko throwing to try and keep the Chiefs competitive or if it’s Palko throwing to try and catch the Chiefs up, points are there for the taking for the new K.C. QB.
I’m not here to say Palko is going to be a fantasy backup, hell, even a reality backup that is reliable. There is a reason he’s thrown 13 NFL passes since 2007 and was cut by a UFL team in between. But for one night, against one poor defense and you just need a stop gap that will give you a quick 16 points, Palko is a good start.
Plus, it will give you a reason to watch what should otherwise be a terrible game.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
How bad is your running back situation this week?
Are you still waiting on Darren McFadden to come back? Is Ryan Mathews killing the Mike Tolbert vibe you thought would be happening on a consistent basis by now? Did you really think the Carolina backfield situation would ever clear up? Do you just know you will pick the wrong Washington Redskins RB this week? LeGarrette Blount and Cedric Benson taking the role of bell cow and playing more like cow … Well, you get the picture.
On top of all the inconsistent, frustrating running back play we’ve had this season, now we see Arian Foster, Rashard Mendenhall and the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts flavors of the week all hit their bye.
Who’s left for you to turn to in Week 11? It’s deep sleeper time.
I think your savior this week could be playing Sunday night, and he’s not even a starter.
New York Giants running back D.J. Ware has the potential to see plenty of work behind Brandon Jacobs when the team plays host to the Philadelphia Eagles. Ware is seeing his role increase as is Jacobs due to a broken foot that has sidelined Ahmad Bradshaw the last two games and ruled him out for Sunday night.
In San Francisco last week, playing against the league’s top rush defense, Ware carried nine times for 34 yards and added five catches for 34 yards. The catches came as a result of the Giants trying to play catch-up against the 49ers, but Ware looked sharp throughout the game.
Ware has 16 carries for 58 yards and five catches on eight targets for 34 yards over the last two games. That’s an average of 12 potential touches and 46 yards the last two weeks. With all the aforementioned problems the running back position has had this year, and the number of precarious RB situations fantasy players face this week, I will take a back with the potential for 12 touches in a possible shootout game as my flex play.
The Eagles have allowed three five-plus catch games from running backs this season, and allow 4.4 catches for 51.1 yards per games to opposing running backs through the first nine games of the 2011 season. Philadelphia is ranked 17th in yards per game allowed (120.0) and are ranked 27th in yards per carry (4.8).
Vince Young will likely be at QB for the injured Michael Vick (ribs), and while I don’t expect Young to light it up, he does have RB LeSean McCoy, WR DeSean Jackson and a bevy of possession receivers at his disposal that could certainly make for an interesting game.
This week it could go either way against the Eagles. The schizophrenic NFC East could see the Giants trailing late and needing Ware to help them play catch-up again, or they could be leading and he and Jacobs get plenty of opportunities to burn the clock.
Either way, if I’m in a PPR league, which is key if you are going to play him, then I am giving Ware serious consideration as a decent flex play today.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
You’re starting Oakland Raiders receiver Denarius Moore this week against the Minnesota Vikings, right? You’re just reading this because you need confirmation that it’s the right play for one of your fantasy WR spots in Week 11.
I understand. It’s a great play for you to make for a few of reasons before we even get to the he-is-good part.
First, he is the man for the Raiders with fellow receiver Jacoby Ford out with an ankle injury suffered in Week 10 and still with no timetable for his return. Second, the Vikings just lost defensive back Antoine Winfield for the season with a broken clavicle. Third, Oakland signal caller Carson Palmer is a top-10 fantasy QB in his first two games as the team’s starter with weeks of 25.58 and 20.16 points. He’s completing 60 percent of his passes as a starter, including 70 percent last week against San Diego.
Moore became Palmer’s favorite target when Jacoby Ford went down with an ankle injury early in last Thursday’s game. The rookie from Tennessee was targeted seven times to Ford’s second-best two. Moore caught five of the seven targets for 123 yards and two long scores (33, 27).
Moore has been inconsistent this season, but also had an inconsistent QB in Jason Campbell at the helm before Palmer came on board to step in for the injured Campbell. Moore was a stud in the preseason and then opened the 2011 campaign with a goose egg. He bounced back with 25.6 points in Week 2, 14.1 in Week 3, 9.85 in Week 4 and then fell off the map with days of .85, .95 and 1.88 fantasy points. Moore had his resurgence in Palmer’s first start, scoring 10.18 points against Denver and then exploded for the 27.75 points against San Diego.
Yahoo league owners certainly saw the value in Moore as he went from being owned in 56 percent of the leagues on Monday to 81 percent of the leagues by Friday. And it should be more than that with the way Palmer is playing and the pass-friendly schedule the Raiders have over the next month. Including this week’s Minnesota game, the Raiders take on four of the worst fantasy defenses against receivers in the next four weeks — Minnesota (31), Chicago (22), Miami (23) and Green Bay (30).
Since you are looking to input Moore into your starting lineup this week, here’s what he is facing against Minnesota: Winfield had just returned to the lineup last Monday night after a four-game absence due to a neck injury before the clavicle injury. Cornerback Chris Cook is still suspended from playing and safety Husain Abdullah will not play after the suffering a concussion on Monday night.
The Vikings are ranked 30th in the NFL against the pass (272.8 YPG) with 16 touchdowns allowed (31st) and just six interceptions (24th).
The matchup doesn’t get much Moore enticing than that (see what I did there with the Moore thing … oh, just go set him to start in your lineup).
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
After winning nine games in each of Houston Nutt’s first two seasons in Oxford, the Ole Miss program has been in a complete freefall. The Rebels went 4-8 last year, and the 2011 season has actually been worse. Ole Miss has now lost 12 consecutive SEC games and looks to be headed for a 2-10 campaign. The last time the Rebels finished a year with two wins was 1946, a year before the legendary John Vaught took over in Oxford. Nutt was fired on November 7 after a 30-13 loss at Kentucky, which was followed by an embarrassing defeat to Louisiana Tech, at home, 27-7. Having hit rock bottom, the only conversation in The Grove these days concerns the next coach. With the SEC as tough as ever, Ole Miss cannot miss on this hire and cement itself in the cellar of the league.
Who is your favorite to be the next coach at Ole Miss?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is an extremely important hire for Ole Miss. With Mississippi State getting better under Dan Mullen, plus the addition of Texas A&M to the SEC West, the Rebels need to make some progress in 2012 and 2013. I think a proven coach will be sought and that leads me to a couple of names: former Michigan and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, Southern Miss’ Larry Fedora, Arkansas State’s Hugh Freeze and UL Lafayette’s Mark Hudspeth. Rodriguez would be an interesting fit in the SEC and would be my first choice if I was making the hire. However, I don’t think he will get the job. I think it’s much more likely that Freeze or Fedora is the next head coach in Oxford. Between those two, I will take Freeze. He has already coached at Ole Miss under Ed Orgeron and would be a hit on the recruiting trail, as well as with the boosters. In one season at Arkansas State, Freeze has the Red Wolves in position to win the Sun Belt title and was a successful coach at Lambuth. It’s going to take a year or two to make the Rebels into a consistent bowl team, but Freeze is the right man for the job.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
It’s a shame that this question comes right after Southern Miss lost to UAB, but I still believe USM’s Larry Fedora is the hire for Ole Miss. He is in his fourth year in Hattiesburg, and the Golden Eagles will finish 10-2 this season and play for the Conference USA title. Fedora is a bright offensive mind and was an offensive coordinator in the SEC (Florida) and Big 12 (Oklahoma State) before becoming a head coach. He also has extensive ties to Texas prep football, which will serve as a major asset in recruiting. I do think Rich Rodriguez or Mike Leach would fit in Oxford because they can be successful without having to win the major recruiting battles against the superpowers in the SEC. However with Archie Manning co-chairing the search, I don’t expect much ‘drama’ with this hire. Hugh Freeze and Mark Hudspeth are intriguing candidates as well, but Larry Fedora is the best fit for Ole Miss.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I would hire Hugh Freeze, the current head coach at Arkansas State. He has done a terrific job in two seasons in Jonesboro, first as the offensive coordinator (2010) and now as the man in charge. The Red Wolves are 8–2 overall and a perfect 6–0 in the Sun Belt Conference. This is a significant improvement from the last season of the Steve Roberts era, when ASU went 4–8 overall and 4–4 in the league. Freeze was also successful in a previous stint as a head coach, going 20–5 in two seasons at Lambuth College, an NAIA school in Jackson, Tenn. Freeze, best known as Michael Oher’s high school coach in Memphis, has experience at Ole Miss, having served on Ed Orgeron’s staff from 2006-07. He might not be the flashiest name, but Freeze has all the qualities that Ole Miss should be looking for — success as a head coach, ties to the program and a familiarity with the school’s primary recruiting area.
Tell that swashbuckling former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach to grow a Colonel Reb mustache, mix a Hot Toddy and head down to The Grove, because he's my first choice to coach Ole Miss following the firing of Houston Nutt. In 10 seasons as the coach of the Red Raiders, Leach posted an 84–43 overall record, 47–33 mark in the Big 12 and was invited to a bowl game every year he coached in Lubbock. Leach's wide open spread passing attack also worked at Kentucky and Oklahoma, where he was offensive coordinator before being hired by Texas Tech in 2000. Leach would be a controversial hire, but one that would bring immediate excitement to a program that has grown stagnant. Oxford is a great college town and Ole Miss' facilities are better than most fans realize; the right coach should be able to take the Rebels to a bowl every season. I've decided Leach is that coach; now I'm going to The Library.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Who I would hire if I was the new Ole Miss athletic director and who I think will land the job are two totally different questions. I would call Guz Malzahn first, Mike Leach second and Rich Rodriguez third. Those unique offensive schemes are perfect for leveling the playing field against the bigger, more powerful athletic departments of the SEC West. But, for a variety of reasons, I do not see any of those names coaching in Oxford next fall. Larry Fedora of Southern Miss, Mark Hudspeth of UL Lafayette and Hugh Freeze of Arkansas State are the most likely candidates to make the final cut. Fair or not, Freeze is entirely to closely tied to Ed Orgeron for me to offer him the job, but I think he will win the day and land the Ole Miss gig over rising stars Fedora and Hudspeth.
Lee Corso, the outspoken and fun co-host of ESPN's College GameDay pre-game show accidentally (or maybe not so accidentally) dropped an F-Bomb while he was getting ready to put on the University of Houston mascot hat (one of his GameDay traditions.)
He was originally going to yell the name of the winner through one of those cheerleader cones, but when that wasn't working out as well as Corso had hoped, he clearly said "F--- It!", tossed the cone down and pulled out the Houston Cougar mascot hat.
When the f-word came out of his mouth, each one of his ESPN co-hosts jaw's dropped. Kirk Herbstreit immediately had a look of disbelief on his face and Chris Fowler put his head on the table, and then pretended to wash the mascot's mouth out with soap and said "shame on you!" to Corso.
Meanwhile, the celebrity guest Carl Lewis (and Houston grad) just had a huge smile on his face and clapped vigorously through the whole incident. Which is really the best reaction to have in a situation like that.
This isn't the first time Corso has cursed on the air, and quite frankly, we hope it's not the last.
Moments after the show, ESPN GameDay's official site showed a 12-second video of Corso apologizing for his on-air gaffe, where he said he got a little "too excited" and used an expletive he shouldn't have.
Are we wrong for kind of liking the fact that Corso gets so riled up during these broadcasts that his emotions get the better of him. We realize that ESPN can't have their announcers dropping F-bombs all the time (that would get expensive with the FCC), but it's nice to see a little unbridled enthusiasm on the screen from time to time. Isn't that what college football is all about, anyway?
This article on the California vs. Stanford college football rivalry originally appeared in Athlon's 1993 college football annuals. As the rivalry is renewed this week, we thought it was relevant to take a look back at the history of what is commonly known as the "Big Game."
Great Rivalries — California Golden Bears vs. Stanford Cardinal
By David Bush, San Francisco Chronicle
It is simply known as the Big Game. And many times it really is.
The rivalry between the University of California and Stanford has always been one of college football’s most exciting, even when one or both suffer through a mediocre season. The best example is the unforgettable 1982 contest, won on California’s sensational five-lateral kickoff return. Kevin Moen raced through the Stanford band, which had taken the field in premature celebration, to score as time expired.
Known simply as The Play, it has superseded Roy Riegels’ wrong-way run in the 1929 Rose Bowl game as the most famous play in college football history.
The rivals were finishing so-so seasons when they met at Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium on Nov. 20. Stanford, led by senior All-America quarterback John Elway, came in with a 5-5 record and a Hall of Fame Bowl invitation resting on the outcome. California was 6-4 under first-year coach Joe Kapp, an alumnus and the only man to play in the Rose Bowl, Grey Cup game (for the Canadian Football League title) and the Super Bowl.
The amazing climax overshadows the fact that it had been a gripping game throughout.
The underdog Golden Bears dominated the first half and led 10-0 before Stanford came back to take a 14-10 lead. A field goal and a sensational touchdown catch by receiver Wes Howell put California up 19-14 midway in the fourth quarter. A field goal pulled the Cardinal within two points, and on a fantastic Elway-led drive, Stanford rallied to take the lead. Faced with a fourth-and-17 situation on his own 13-yard line with 53 seconds remaining, Elway completed a 29-yard pass to Emile Harry. Three plays later, after the Cardinal advanced to the 18, Mark Harmon kicked a 35-yard field goal. Stanford led 20-19. Four seconds remained.
From the Stanford sideline, several players raced onto the field to celebrate their apparent victory. The Cardinal was penalized 15 yards and now had to kick off from the 25-yard line. About the same time, Richard Rodgers, California’s special teams captain, huddled with the kickoff lineup and told the men: “If you get the ball and you’re gonna be tackled, pitch it. Don’t fall with the ball.”
“I was thinking, ‘This guy’s crazy,’” recalls Dwight Garner, a freshman running back that year. He soon learned otherwise.
Seniors Moen and Mariet Ford, the other two players who would handle the ball on the kickoff, did not hear Rodgers. Moen was already on the field, and Ford was looking on the sideline for his shoes, which he had taken off because of cramps in his legs.
It was Moen who scooped up Harmon’s squib kick at the Golden Bears’ 43 and advanced 5 yards before being confronted by several Stanford players. “I saw Richard open on the sideline and yelled, ‘Here you go,’” remembers Moen, who tossed the ball overhanded to Rodgers. Rodgers ran a few yards, lateraled to Garner, then got behind him. As Garner was going down, wrapped up by a bevy of tacklers, he pitched back to Rodgers. Many, including the Stanford band, thought that Garner’s knees touched the turf, and the game was over. Some Stanford partisans still believe it.
At this point, California had managed to keep the ball alive but had not made much progress toward the goal line. As the band was streaming onto the field from Stanford’s end zone, Rodgers broke into the open and crossed the 50-yard line before shoveling the ball back to Ford at the Stanford 47.
“Once I got it, I just took off,” says Ford. “I saw the band in front of me, and I’m confused. I’m thinking about not getting put down by band members.”
With his leg cramping and Stanford defenders looming from the left, Ford knew he couldn’t reach the goal line. In desperation at the 25, he tossed the ball blindly over his right shoulder.
Ford: “I knew I was in front of Kevin but I never saw him.”
Moen: “I grabbed the ball but didn’t really see the goal line. All I saw was the band. As far as I was concerned, they were all Stanford players, and I just busted through them.”
Referee Charles Moffett conferred with the other officials for 43 seconds. None, he said, “thought anybody was down at any time. We could have called a penalty on the Stanford band. But we called one on the Stanford bench.”
Finally, Moffett gave the raised-arms touchdown signal. Thousands outside the stadium had left immediately after Harmon’s field goal and were on their way to their cars. They heard a mighty roar from inside. All they had missed was The Play of the Century.
“It was the right combination of guys and being lucky,” Moen says. “If you were going to try and script that kind of play, it never would have worked. To complete one lateral is hard enough. But four different guys and five different laterals along with everything else that was involved, well, that was unique.”
“Just a typical Cal-Stanford game,” Kapp deadpanned after his team’s 25-20 victory.
As incredible as that ending was, it wasn’t the only sensational windup of recent Big Game vintage. Since 1970, five of the 12 games at Berkeley have been decided on the last play and three others in the last two minutes. Another was in doubt until the final gun.
Stanford is a private school located outside the affluent suburban town of Palo Alto on the San Francisco peninsula. California is a public institution carved out of the cosmopolitan city of Berkeley on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.
What the schools have in common besides geographical proximity are high academic standards, a good-natured dislike for each other in athletics and a particularly intense rivalry in football.
The first of the 95 football games between the northern California schools was played in March 19, 1892 — in San Francisco. According to the off-told story, the game was delayed because the Stanford student manager, a chap named Herbert Hoover, forgot the ball. Actually, according to John T. Sullivan’s 1981 book, The Big Game, Hoover, who in 1929 would become the 31st president of the United States, was only partially to blame. He was just one of several responsible parties who forgot about bringing the ball. The game was finally played, Stanford won 14-10 and the series was launched.
The era between World Wars was the football zenith for both schools. Nicknames fit their success. California had its Wonder Teams (1920-24) and Thunder Team (1937). Stanford had the Vow Boys (1933-35) and the Wow Boys (1940).
Perhaps the greatest Big Game in those years was played in 1924 between Andy Smith’s Wonder Team and Glenn S. “Pop” Warner’s undefeated Stanford squad. Both coaches are in the Hall of Fame. Stanford took a 6-0 lead at halftime, but the Golden Bears came back to go ahead 20-6 in the final quarter. Stanford, however, rallied and scored two touchdowns, the second with less than a minute left, and a dramatic 20-20 tie was in the books. Stanford then went to the Rose Bowl, losing 27-10 to Notre Dame and the Four Horsemen.
The series was discontinued from 1943-45 during World War II because Stanford did not field teams. When the rivalry resumed, it did not take legendary coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf long to build another dynasty at California. Between 1947-50 the Bears were 38-4-1, and played in three Rose Bowl games (losing all) and a memorable Big Game.
Down 18-14 with three minutes left in 1947 at Palo Alto, heavily favored California scored on a stunning 80-yard pass from fullback Jackie Jensen (who went on to hit 199 home runs as an outfielder for the New York Yankees, Washington and the Boston Red Sox) to Paul Keckley. In a series of events a screenwriter would reject as improbable, Keckley, who had injured a shoulder two weeks earlier, pleaded with Waldorf to go into the game. At first reluctant, Waldorf relented and sent in Keckley. Two plays later, he gathered in the toss from Jensen on the Cal 35, got the block he needed at the Stanford 40 and sailed across the goal line. Final score: California 21, Stanford 18.
In 1948 at Berkeley, California tackle Jim “Truck” Cullom kicked an extra point and blocked Stanford’s conversion attempt. The Bears won 7-6.
Fortunes at both schools were on the decline in the 1950s. In 1956 Waldorf ended his coaching career with a victory as sophomore quarterback Kapp led California to a 20-18 upset over Stanford and John Brodie, it’s All-America quarterback.
Kapp would lead the Bears into their last Rose Bowl appearance after the 1958 season, but he had to beat Stanford 16-15 in a controversial Big Game to do it. California took full advantage of the new two-point conversion option. The Bears’ two touchdowns followed by two-point conversions beat two touchdowns and a field goal. Arguments still rage over whether Stanford receiver Irv Nikolai really caught the first conversion out of bounds, as an official ruled.
A year later, the schools staged another hair-raiser. Stanford quarterback Dick Norman completed 34 of 39 passes for 401 yards, rallying his team from a 14-0 deficit to a 17-14 lead. California scored a go-ahead touchdown (20-17) with four minutes remaining and then had to hold off Norman’s last furious rally. Unable to find an open receiver on the game’s final play, Norman was tackled on the Cal 5-yard line, trying in vain to get out of bounds. A field-goal tee to be used for the tying attempt was tucked into the belt of his pants.
The following decade produced few notable games in the 101-year-old series, but the fun resumed in earnest in 1969. An underdog California team fell behind 17-0 midway in the first period. “At that point, I was wondering if I could make it to Rickey’s bar (in Palo Alto) have a drink and get back before the final gun,” says Bob Steiner, California’s Sports Information Director at the time.
The Bears rallied behind Dave Penhall, who had begun the season as third-string quarterback, to go in front 28-23 in the last period. But Stanford moved on the ground for the touchdown that won the game, 29-28.
The next year, the Bears, with Penhall again leading the offense, upset Rose Bowl-bound Stanford with Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett 22-14.
California freshman quarterback Vince Ferragamo drilled a 7-yard touchdown pass to Steve Sweeney on the final play of the 1972 game to defeat the Stanford Cardinal (the nickname Indians was dropped that year) 24-21. Ferragamo completed only eight passes, but four were in the drive that covered 62 yards in 73 seconds. Sweeney lined up at tight end just once: on the last play. It was the only pass he caught as a tight end that year.
All-American Steve Bartkowski passed California to a 10-3 lead after three quarters of the 1974 renewal. Stanford, behind reserve quarterback Guy Benjamin, led 19-13 before Bartkowski brought the Bears back. After Steve Rivera’s one-handed catch on fourth and 10 resulted in a 23-yard gain, the Bears had a first down at the Cardinal 13 in the closing moments. With 23 seconds to play, Bartkowski connected with Rivera for a touchdown that, with Jim Breech’s extra point, put California up by one. But it wasn’t over.
Starting from his own 19, Benjamin completed two long aerials. On the second pass, Brad Williams dragged two defenders out of bounds at the California 33 with two seconds left. The image of Mike Langford’s 50-yard field goal sailing between the uprights on the last play is still remembered by legions of California and Stanford followers.
Two years afterwards, Stanford won the first of three straight games, scoring with 1:13 left to win 27-24 after recovering a fumble on the Bears’ 2-yard line. California won both in 1979 and 1980, but both times Stanford had to be stopped inside the 10-yard line in the final minutes.
In 1982 The Play ended a great game but not the great finishes. The Bears rallied from a 24-0 third-quarter deficit to nearly pull off an upset in 1985 at Stanford. A late-game-field-goal attempt fell short, preserving Stanford’s 24-22 triumph.
The Bears sent Kapp out a winner 17-11 in 1986. A tie, 11th in the series, resulted in 1988 when Stanford’s Tuan Van Le blocked a 20-yard field-goal try as time expired.
And the thrills continued into the 1990s. Three seasons ago, Stanford scored nine points in the final 12 seconds to win 27-25 on John Hopkins’ 39-yard field goal at the final gun.
Each year when the Big Game is played in late November, alumni share memories. The Play is, of course, the hands-down favorite of Golden Bear fans. And of the California players who brought it off.
“Once your football career is over, it’s over,” says Mariet Ford. “But not for me.”
There are contenders and there are pretenders, and sometimes this late in the season it’s impossible to separate the two. One moment a team like the Buffalo Bills can look like the best team in the AFC East. The next their fast start can fall like a house of cards.
Fortunes can change in reverse that quickly, too. Just ask the Green Bay Packers, who at this point last season were in a dogfight for the sixth and final NFC playoff seed which they didn’t lock up until the final week of the season. Then they went on a run for the ages to the Super Bowl championship, and judging by their 9-0 start this year they’ve never looked back.
So we may not know who the frauds and the hidden gems really are until the final chapter of this season has finally been completed. But if you’re looking for teams not to believe in, here are five that seem clearly overrated even though they’re teetering on the brink of contention.
In other words, these are four bandwagons you can avoid riding down the stretch …
Dallas Cowboys (5-4)
They may win the NFC East before this is over, but don’t get excited. If they win it, it’ll only because of a Giants collapse and the complete and utter failure that is the Philadelphia Eagles. This division, which once was an NFL powerhouse, is beginning to look mediocre at best.
This is what you need to know about the Cowboys, though: Tony Romo is good, but prone to bad mistakes and he usually makes them at terrible times. He’s always been on the verge of becoming a top quarterback, but then he finds a way to shoot himself in the foot.
So do you trust him? I don’t. Not this year. Not now. And I’m not impressed by the fact that they’ve won three of their last four games to salvage a 2-3 start either. They beat the Rams, Seahawks and fading Bills – all at home. The one loss was a 34-7 smackdown in Philadelphia against an Eagles team that’s been the biggest disappointment in the league.
Chicago Bears (6-3)
Four straight wins by Da Bears has everyone remembering that they were in the NFC championship game last season and even nearly won it. And that’s true.
The problem is they were a different team last year with a better defense. This year’s Bears defense ranks 25th in the league – 29th against the pass. They’ve won with thanks to turnovers (they are plus-9), great special teams play, and the MVP-like performance of Matt Forte.
Jay Cutler, meanwhile, is running a shockingly low-powered offense. He has 11 touchdown passes through nine games and his leading receiver is Forte, his running back. That’s usually a bad sign. If the defense isn’t strong and the quarterback isn’t strong, how can this team be trusted in a big spot down the stretch?
New York Jets (5-5)
All you needed to see from the Jets was their horrendous loss to Denver on Thursday night, where the two teams turned the NFL’s offensive clock back to the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Broncos ran the wishbone, for crying out loud, and they still had a more explosive offense than the Jets.
The Jets made the AFC championship game the last two seasons thanks mostly to their defense, which is a shell of its former self. Worse, quarterback Mark Sanchez looks like he’s taken a big step back in Year 3. He’s inaccurate, he’s making bad decisions, and it sure looks like his diva receivers (Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress) are getting frustrated.
Add in Rex Ryan’s mouth and the New York media and this could be a disaster in the making.
Oakland Raiders (5-4)
They looked for a while like one of the best stories in the NFL, the revival of a proud franchise that had been a joke for years. But there are few teams that could survive the loss of their starting quarterback (Jason Campbell) and starting running back (Darren McFadden) and continue to thrive.
Surviving the loss of McFadden will be easier, because of Michael Bush (not to mention the fact that McFadden will be back). The loss of Campbell, though, is huge. Yes, they made a bold move for Carson Palmer, but some thought he was on the decline when he last played for Cincinnati. Now, miracles are expected of him despite sitting out half a season and having to pick up a new offense on the fly?
This is a good team that will be a popular pick of many to do some playoff damage in 2012. But Palmer has thrown 7 interceptions in his first 76 attempted passes. That’s not good, and it’s only going to get worse.
By RALPH VACCHIANO
With the World Series in the rear-view mirror and the hot stove just beginning to heat up, it's time to hand out some awards to this year's best performers on the diamond. The Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) has already named its AL and NL Rookies of the Year, AL and NL Managers of the Year, and AL and NL Cy Young award winners. And while no Athlon editors are members of the BBWAA, here's how four of us — Charlie Miller, Braden Gall, Patrick Snow and Mark Ross — would have voted if we did have a ballot to cast.
There's no lack of quality candidates for AL MVP, so this could come down to the closest vote of all the major awards, if anything due to the number of names that will receive consideration. In addition, four different teams have multiple MVP candidates, so in some cases voters will be pitting teammate against teammate when it comes to filling out their ballot.
The Boston Red Sox have center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the Detroit Tigers have first baseman Miguel Cabrera and AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, the New York Yankees have second baseman Robinson Cano and center fielder Curtis Granderson, and the Texas Rangers have third baseman Adrian Beltre, second baseman Ian Kinsler and designated hitter/infielder Michael Young. And that's not to forget Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista, one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball this season.
Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: .302, 105 R, 155 H, 24 2B, 43 HR, 132 RBI, .447 OBP, .608 SLG, 1.056 OPS
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers: .296, 82 R, 144 H, 33 2B, 32 HR, 105 RBI, .331 OBP, .561 SLG, .892 OPS
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers: .344, 111 R, 197 H, 48 2B, 30 HR, 105 RBI, .448 OBP, .586 SLG, 1.033 OPS
Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees: .302, 104 R, 188 H, 46 2B, 28 HR, 118 RBI, .349 OBP, .533 SLG, .882 OPS
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston Red Sox: .321, 119 R, 212 H, 46 2B, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 39 SB, .376 OBP, .552 SLG, .928 OPS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Boston Red Sox: .338, 108 R, 213 H, 45 2B, 27 HR, 117 RBI, .410 OBP, .548 SLG, .957 OPS
Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Yankees: .262, 136 R, 153 H, 26 2B, 41 HR, 119 RBI, 25 SB, .364 OBP, .552 SLG, .916 OPS
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Texas Rangers: .255, 121 R, 158 H, 34 2B, 32 HR, 77 RBI, 30 SB, .335 OBP, .477 SLG, .832 OPS
Justin Verlander, P, Detroit Tigers: 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 251 IP, 57 BB, 250 K, 0.92 WHIP, 34 GS
Michael Young, DH/IF, Texas Rangers: .338, 88 R, 213 H, 41 2B, 11 HR, 106 RBI, .380 OBP, .474 SLG, .854 OPS
Athlon's Winner: Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Yankees
Granderson got two of the four first-place votes and beat out Ellsbury by one lone point, perhaps a indication of how the BBWAA's vote will pan out? Ellsbury got one first-place and two second-place votes to finish second. Tiger teammates Cabrera and Verlander tied for third with Verlander getting the remaning first-place vote, but also finishing seventh on one ballot. It's that sort of discrepancy which could play a significant role in the BBWAA vote in determining this year's AL MVP. Bautista rounded out the top five.
Here's how the Athlon editors voted
Charlie Miller's ballot:
1. Curtis Granderson
Granderson is the Yankees’ catalyst and led the AL in both runs and RBIs while adding strong defense in centerfield. Granderson, a career .215 hitter vs. lefties with a .346 slugging percentage, batted .273, slugged .604 and swatted 16 of his 41 homers off lefties.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury
Over the last month of the season as the Red Sox watched their lead evaporate, Ellsbury was solid, hitting .362 with a .693 slugging percentage since Aug. 26. Coming into 2011 the fleet centerfielder had just 20 career homers. He hit 32 this season.
3. Justin Verlander
For about four months the Tigers were rather ordinary when Verlander wasn’t on the mound. That changed over the last two months of the season as the Tigers played well enough when he wasn’t pitching to win the AL Central.
4. Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera was a hitting machine for the Tigers. He scored 111 runs, drove in 105 and won his first batting title.
5. Jose Bautista
Bautista was the most feared hitter in the Toronto lineup. So much so, that in 181 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Bautista walked 64 times, 22 of those intentional.
6. Adrian Gonzalez
7. Robinson Cano
8. Michael Young
9. Alex Avila
10. Adrian Beltre
Braden Gall's ballot:
1. Justin Verlander
Without a clear hitter standing above the rest, the best pitching season in 20 years for the AL Central Champs absolutely makes Verlander the most indispensable piece of any team.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury
Had Boston made the playoffs this stat line, combined with his defensive value at one of the three key positions on the field, would have been good enough to win the MVP: Fifth in AL in hitting (.321), fourth in stolen bases (39), fifth in home runs (32), sixth in RBI (105), third in doubles (46) and third in runs scored (119). All from the lead-off spot.
3. Curtis Granderson
A 40-20 season while leading the league in runs scored and RBIs from the two-hole of the AL East champs while playing one of the premiere defensive positions? That is tough to beat, however, the Grandy-Man will lose votes because of the stout protection around him in the order.
4. Miguel Cabrera
Led the AL in batting and was key cog in heart of AL Central Champs line-up. But trails Ellsbury and Granderson in nearly every category — including the oft-overlooked defensive side of the ball. His ratios, particularly on-base percentage, makes him an easy top-five choice, but his overall game isn’t as dynamic as the two ahead of him on my ballot.
5. Jose Bautista
The power numbers are off the charts — at least for the modern era of baseball — but he did it on a team that finished 16 games out of first place and at .500 for the season. Without the home run champ, the Blue Jays are 20 games out of first? 22? Ricky Romero was the most valuable Blue Jay in 2011.
6. Michael Young
7. Adrian Gonzalez
8. Robinson Cano
9. Adrian Beltre
10. Asdrubal Cabrera
Patrick Snow's ballot:
1. Curtis Granderson
One of my favorite statistics when comparing hitters in runs scored plus RBIs. Guess who led the league in both, compiling 136 runs and 119 RBIs? Granderson was a Yankees’ catalyst, leading the AL East champs in runs, RBIs, home runs (41) and triples (10). He also added 25 steals and played a solid center field. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera had another great season, but Granderson’s was better.
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Jacoby Ellsbury
4. Jose Bautista
5. Adrian Gonzalez
6. Robinson Cano
7. Justin Verlander
8. Ian Kinsler
9. Michael Young
10. Victor Martinez
Mark Ross' ballot:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury
Boston’s center fielder bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 to post a 30-30 campaign and finished in the top six in the AL in average, runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases, on-base and slugging percentage, as the Red Sox lead-off hitter. He also didn’t make an error in 154 games in center.
2. Curtis Granderson
The Yankees’ center fielder led the AL in runs (136) and RBI (119) and finished second in home runs (41) and triples (10), while also stealing 25 bases.
3. Justin Verlander
Named the AL Cy Young winner by an unanimous vote, Verlander went 20-2 in his last 24 starts with one of the two losses being a 1-0 decision. During that same span, Detroit went from a game above .500 and seven games behind first place, to finishing the season at 95-67 and winning the AL Central by 15 games.
4. Miguel Cabrera
The linchpin of the Tigers’ offense, Cabrera finished with the highest batting average (.344) and on-base percentage (.448) in all of baseball and also led the majors in doubles (48). With runners in scoring position, Cabrera hit .388 for the year with 10 home runs and 75 RBIs.
5. Jose Bautista
The clear-cut MVP of the first half (.334, 73 R, 31 HR, 65 RBI), the Blue Jays' slugger still posted impressive numbers (.302, 105 R, 43 HR, 103 RBI) for the season, and led all of baseball in slugging percentage (.608) and OPS (1.056) despite being pitched around so much (ML-best 132 BB, including 24 intentional passes).
6. Adrian Gonzalez
7. Michael Young
8. Robinson Cano
9. Adrian Beltre
10. James Shields
Other Baseball awards-related content:
Tim Tebow is a football player. That's the only explanation I can give after last night's unexplainable win against the New York Jets.
I'm not sure if I would call him a "quarterback." Sure, he starts each play under center and calls out the formation and takes the hike. And that's about as far as the quarterback moniker gets you, because once the ball is hiked, Tebow morphs into a fullback who sometimes mistakenly heaves the ball into the air in the direction of other players (I refuse to call what Tebow does a "pass").
But it works, because the Broncos quarterback is 4-1 in his starts this year, despite an extremely poor arm that can neither fire a pass into a small window, or even find it's target when a player is wide open.
And when you listen to sports pundits try to analyze and give reasons for how and why Tebow keeps winning, they're at a loss for words. The term "winner" is usually the fallback explanation. "He just knows how to win." Or, "He was a winner in college and...uhh, he's a leader...and he wins!"
But I don't think that's it. The explanation is much more simple than that. The football community is a copycat community. Whenever someone comes into the league and throws a wrinkle in the conventional thinking (Mike Martz in the early 2000s, Parcells' use of the wildcat a few years ago etc) there are always varying degrees of success. Sometimes it can take a team to a Super Bowl or two (like Martz) and others it's good for a few flukey wins (like the wildcat.)
And you can see how this is playing out with John Fox and Tim Tebow right now because the pundits (most of whom are ex-football players and coaches) are a good barometer for the current roster of players and coaches. If the pundits don't know how to explain this Tebow thing, then the current coaches probably can't either. And if they can't explain it, then they can't properly defend it.
Because almost every other team out there has a quarterback who is capable of throwing a pass (although last night Mark Sanchez made a strong case against that.) Team defenses know how to defend a quarterback who plays like a quarterback. But since they've never seen or played against a quarterback who runs (and throws) like a fullback, they're unsure how to create a package to properly defend him.
On last night's game-winning 20-yard touchdown run against the Jets, Eric Smith took the worst angle he could have and Tebow was free to take off. Because his instinct was he wanted to make Tebow throw the ball quickly.
But Tebow's not your typical quarterback who will heave the ball up under pressure. Tebow doesn't want to throw the ball. Tebow isn't good at throwing the ball (which is like saying a running back isn't fast, or a coernerback isn't good at covering guys). If Eric Smith makes that play against "Tim Tebow" and not a classic "quarterback" the Jets probably win the game.
But since no one's really ever seen a quarterback like this before, players revert to what they're used to. And that's why Tebow is winning. For now.
The Broncos should have lost that game last night. But everything fell perfectly for them to win it. From Sanchez's pick 6, to the Jets inability to run the ball and control any clock, to their poor defensive performance with 5 minutes to go in the game.
Is Tebow a long-term answer for the Broncos? No. Tebow will get figured out, just like all the flukey plays and players before him. But, man, he sure makes for amazing television, doesn't he?
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Here's a look at every game of the Week 12 college football schedule.
No. 2 Oklahoma State at No. 50 Iowa State
Oklahoma State has done a very good job remaining focused on the task at hand each week. The Pokes have one more test to pass — this weekend in Ames — before the epic showdown with OU in Stillwater.
Oklahoma State 41, Iowa State 17
No. 62 Toledo at No. 114 Central Michigan
Toledo is tied with Northern Illinois in the loss column in the MAC West, but the Rockets lost the head-to-head battle with the Huskies. They will need NIU to lose to either Ball State or Eastern Michigan (both at home) to advance to the MAC title game.
Toledo 41, Central Michigan 13
No. 1 LSU at No. 86 Ole Miss
It’s the final home game for Houston Nutt as the coach at Ole Miss. Last time out, the Rebels lost to Louisiana Tech, 27–7, in Oxford. It’s highly unlikely that this game will be close.
LSU 34, Ole Miss 7
Georgia Southern at No. 3 Alabama
It will be interesting to see if Georgia Southern’s option attack, ranked No. 2 in the FCS ranks in rushing (320.4 ypg), can get anything going against an Alabama defense that is allowing only 51.9 rushing yards per game.
Alabama 37, Georgia Southern 0
No. 15 USC at No. 4 Oregon
Led by quarterback Matt Barkley, the USC offense has scored 40 points or more in four of its last six games. Last Saturday, the Trojans beat a quality Washington team with ease, 40¬–17. Barkley & Co. figure to score some points — though the Trojans are a bit banged up — but Oregon is playing too well on offense to slip up.
Oregon 41, USC 30
No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 26 Baylor
Oklahoma, at 8–1 overall, is still in the national title picture, but the Sooners’ one loss looks worse and worse each week. Texas Tech has lost its three games since that shocking win in Norman by a combined score of 159–33. Oklahoma has won its two games since that loss in convincing fashion, 58–17 at Kansas State and 41–25 vs. Texas A&M.
Oklahoma 48, Baylor 30
No. 51 Mississippi State at No. 6 Arkansas
Mississippi State has only scored more than 28 points in an SEC game once, at Auburn in Week 1. Arkansas has scored over 28 points against every SEC team not named Alabama.
Arkansas 34, Mississippi State 17
No. 7 Clemson at No. 59 NC State
There are rumors swirling that NC State coach Tom O’Brien could be on the way out. Beating Clemson would probably quiet some of that talk. That, however, isn’t likely to happen.
Clemson 31, NC State 21
No. 52 California at No. 8 Stanford
Stanford’s national title hopes ended last Saturday night, but the Cardinal are still in play for a BCS bowl. They will have to win their final two games, starting with the Big Game this Saturday at home. The Bears have played two teams currently ranked (Oregon and USC) and lost those games by a combined score of 73¬–22.
Stanford 38, California 17
No. 99 Indiana at No. 10 Michigan State
Indiana is the only BCS conference team that has not defeated at least one FBS opponent this season. The Hoosiers’ lone win came against South Carolina State back in September.
Michigan State 41, Indiana 13
No. 11 Wisconsin at No. 43 Illinois
Wisconsin is averaging 250.1 yards per game rushing and 248.9 yards per game passing. And by the way, UW is also ranked No. 5 in the nation in scoring defense. This is an elite team.
Wisconsin 38, Illinois 14
No. 12 Kansas State at No. 30 Texas
The Longhorns appeared to have hit their stride in recent weeks, but it turned out the wins over Kansas (43–0) and Texas Tech (52–0) were a bit of fool’s gold. Last weekend, they lost at Missouri, 17–5, to drop to 3–3 in the Big 12. UT managed only 247 total yards against a Mizzou defense that was torched for 686 yards the previous week by Baylor. Let that sink in for a moment.
Kansas State 24, Texas 20
No. 13 Boise State at No. 65 San Diego State
Boise State’s slim hopes at a national title ended when Dan Goodale’s 39-yard field goal attempt sailed wide to the right. San Diego State is good enough to make Boise State sweat, but the Broncos should get back on track.
Boise State 37, San Diego State 21
No. 85 Kentucky at No. 14 Georgia
A win over the Wildcats will send Georgia to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2005. The chances of this happening are highly likely.
Georgia 44, Kentucky 10
The Citadel at No. 16 South Carolina
The Gamecocks step out into the FCS ranks for a tune-up for the big showdown with Clemson next weekend. This will not be competitive.
South Carolina 48, The Citadel 0
No. 17 Nebraska at No. 22 Michigan
These two storied programs, who shared the national championship in 1997, meet for only the sixth time overall and for the first time in the regular season since 1962. Both teams are 4–2 in the Big Ten and one full game behind Michigan State in the Legends Division. Nebraska, however, does have a head-to-head win over MSU.
Michigan 24, Nebraska 17
No. 18 Penn State at No. 27 Ohio State
Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller is showing signs of life, but this team simply doesn’t scare anyone in the passing game. The Buckeyes have thrown for 90 yards or fewer in three of six Big Ten games and have not topped the 150-yard passing mark in a league game once. Fortunately for Ohio State, Penn State has major issues on offense as well. Don’t expect many points.
Ohio State 17, Penn State 13
No. 109 Colorado State at No. 19 TCU
Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild pulled the redshirt off freshman Garrett Grayson in the second quarter of last week’s loss to San Diego State. Sounds a bit desperate.
TCU 33, Colorado State 7
No. 71 SMU at No. 20 Houston
Houston, ranked No. 11 in the latest BCS rankings, will likely play in its first BCS bowl with wins in its final two regular-season games (SMU, at Tulsa) and a win in the C-USA title game.
Houston 47, SMU 27
No. 31 Virginia at No. 21 Florida State
Upstart Virginia controls its own destiny in the ACC Coastal, but the Cavs would have to complete an improbable sweep — beating Florida State in Tallahassee and Virginia Tech at home.
Florida State 24, Virginia 21
No. 78 Boston College at No. 23 Notre Dame
Not much has gone well for Boston College, but the Eagles did beat former coach Tom O’Brien and his NC State club for a third straight time in Chestnut Hill.
Notre Dame 41, Boston College 10
No. 24 Georgia Tech at No. 74 Duke
Duke secured its 17th straight losing season with a loss last week at Virginia. The Blue Devils have been more competitive under David Cutcliffe’s watch, but they still can’t get over the hump.
Georgia Tech 34, Duke 13
No. 28 Cincinnati at No. 48 Rutgers
It’s time for Munchie Legaux at Cincinnati. With starting quarterback Zach Colloras out for the rest of the regular season, Legaux, a dual-threat QB from New Orleans, steps in for the Bearcats.
Cincinnati 27, Rutgers 23
No. 57 Texas Tech at No. 29 Missouri
Texas Tech’s post-Oklahoma collapse continued last week with a 66–6 loss at home to Oklahoma State. It’s astounding how bad this team has been in recent weeks.
Missouri 34, Texas Tech 22
Samford at No. 32 Auburn
Auburn is in a bit of an offensive funk, having scored 17 points or fewer in its last five games not against Ole Miss. Look for the Tigers to flex their muscles against Samford.
Auburn 48, Samford 10
No. 33 Washington at No. 79 Oregon State
Keith Price’s efficiency has taken a hit as Washington’s schedule has toughened up. Through the first six games, the Huskies’ sophomore quarterback threw 21 touchdowns and only four interceptions. In the last four games — at Stanford, vs. Arizona, vs. Oregon, at USC — he has thrown four touchdowns and six interception.
Washington 38, Oregon State 20
No. 34 Miami (Fla.) at No. 55 South Florida
Last year, South Florida’s 23–20 overtime win at Miami probably sealed the fate of former Hurricane coach Randy Shannon. The Canes will be eager to exact some revenge.
Miami (Fla.) 21, South Florida 17
Furman at No. 35 Florida
Furman head coach Bruce Fowler made four trips to The Swamp as the defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt (2002-10). He lost all four games.
Florida 41, Furman 7
No. 36 Tulsa at No. 95 UTEP
Houston is stealing the headlines in C-USA West, but Tulsa is 6–0 in league play and hosts the Cougars in the finale on Nov. 25. Don’t be surprised if the Golden Hurricane crash the Coogs’ party.
Tulsa 41, UTEP 17
No. 81 Arizona at No. 37 Arizona State
Both teams are coming off troubling losses. Arizona lost badly (48–29) to a Colorado team that had lost its previous five Pac-12 games by an average of 38.2 points. Arizona State, meanwhile, missed a huge opportunity in its quest to wrap up a spot in the Pac-12 title game by losing at Washington State, 37–27.
Arizona State 34, Arizona 20
No. 38 Utah at No. 66 Washington State
Wazzu rolled up 590 yards of offense in its win over Arizona State last week, the most for the Cougars since a 601-yard effort against Cal in 2005. Posting gaudy numbers against the Utah defense will not be so easy.
Utah 24, Washington State 17
No. 93 Kansas at No. 39 Texas A&M
Texas A&M has averaged 34.6 points in its five losses. That is hard to do.
Texas A&M 41, Kansas 14
No. 42 Iowa at No. 54 Purdue
Purdue, which is 5–1 in the friendly confines of Ross-Ade Stadium, needs to beat Iowa at home this week or win at Indiana (winless against FBS foes) to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007.
Purdue 21, Iowa 20
No. 83 Minnesota at No. 44 Northwestern
Northwestern has won three straight games and needs one more victory to secure its fifth straight non-losing regular season — the longest such streak at the school since the 1920s.
Northwestern 38, Minnesota 24
No. 87 Maryland at No. 45 Wake Forest
Wake Forest, currently 4–3 in the ACC, can secure a winning league record for the first time since 2007 with a win over the struggling Terps. Maryland has lost six straight, the last five by 10 points or more.
Wake Forest 31, Maryland 21
No. 46 Vanderbilt at No. 58 Tennessee
With two games still to play, Vanderbilt has already won more games this season (five) than the last two seasons combined (four). And there has been nothing fluky about the Dores’ 5–5 mark; in fact, Vanderbilt, with three SEC losses by five points or less, is a few plays away from being 7–3 or even 8–2.
Vanderbilt 27, Tennessee 23
No. 47 Louisville at No. 72 Connecticut
Two of the five two-loss teams in the Big East get together in Storrs. The loser is all but out of the league race. The winner still has plenty of work to do.
Louisville 21, Connecticut 20
No. 80 Colorado at No. 49 UCLA
UCLA controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 South, starting with this Saturday’s date with Colorado. If the Bruins beat the Buffaloes and then somehow find a way to beat rival USC on the road, Rick Neuheisal will find himself in the first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game. It’s still an uphill battle — USC is playing great football — but stranger things have happened.
UCLA 31, Colorado 17
No. 100 New Mexico State at No. 56 BYU
New Mexico State has made tremendous progress in Year 3 of the DeWayne Walker era. The Aggies are 4–6 overall, with wins over Minnesota, New Mexico, Idaho and Fresno State. The closing slate is tough — at BYU, at Louisiana Tech, vs. Utah State — but there is legitimate hope in Las Cruces for the first time in a while.
BYU 34, New Mexico State 16
No. 60 Louisiana Tech at No. 61 Nevada
Neither team can clinch, but the winner of this game will almost assuredly win the WAC title in the first year post-Boise State. Louisiana Tech has quietly put together a five-game winning streak, highlighted by last week’s 27–7 win at Ole Miss. The Bulldogs’ late surge has made their coach, Sonny Dykes, a strong candidate at Arizona.
Louisiana Tech 35, Nevada 31
No. 63 Arkansas State at No. 113 Middle Tennessee
Arkansas State can wrap up at least a share of the Sun Belt title with a win in Murfreesboro this weekend. The Red Wolves have won seven in a row and have only lost at Illinois and at Virginia Tech. This is a very good team.
Arkansas State 41, Middle Tennessee 20
No. 64 Wyoming at No. 115 New Mexico
Big happenings at New Mexico this week. First, the Lobos beat UNLV to pick up the first win under interim coach George Barlow. Then, on Wednesday, news came out that former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie was named head coach at UNM.
Wyoming 41, New Mexico 10
No. 116 UNLV at No. 69 Air Force
UNLV was good enough to beat a decent Hawaii team by 20 points in Week 3 yet lost at home to Southern Utah (by 25 points) and at New Mexico. Strange season for the Rebs.
Air Force 37, UNLV 13
No. 70 Navy at No. 97 San Jose State
Navy has won two in a row, beating Troy at home and winning at SMU, to keep its hopes alive of playing a bowl game for a ninth straight season. The Middies close with this trip to San Jose State and then play rival Army on Dec. 10.
Navy 27, San Jose State 24
No. 107 Army at No. 75 Temple
Temple has played three straight games decided by four points or loss, losing at Bowling Green by three, at Ohio by four and beating Miami (Ohio) by three. This week shouldn’t be close.
Temple 30, Army 14
No. 76 Utah State at No. 112 Idaho State
The Aggies have figured out a way to win the close games, with a four-point win over Hawaii and a one-point win over San Jose State in the last two weeks. It shouldn’t be close this week.
Utah State 37, Idaho 10
No. 77 UCF at No. 96 East Carolina
It’s been a disappointing season for UCF, which was expected to battle for the C-USA East title. The Knights, however, are 4–6 overall and 2–4 in the league, though five of the six losses have been by seven points or less.
UCF 24, East Carolina 23
No. 102 Fresno State at No. 84 Hawaii
These are not good times for Pat Hill at Fresno State. The Bulldog faithful can handle losing to Boise State, and maybe even Nevada, but losing to Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State is frowned upon.
Hawaii 34, Fresno State 20
No. 89 Western Kentucky at No. 98 North Texas
The Hilltoppers lost last week for the first time since Oct. 1, but there is no shame in losing to LSU in Baton Rouge. WKU’s Sun Belt streak is alive at five straight games — and should move to six after this weekend.
Western Kentucky 21, North Texas 17
No. 92 FIU at No. 105 UL-Monroe
FIU will not repeat as Sun Belt champs, but the Golden Panthers are still having a solid season. They are 6–4 overall and 3–3 in league play and have a good opportunity to close the season with wins over UL-Monroe and Middle Tennessee.
FIU 24, UL-Monroe 17
No. 118 Tulane at No. 94 Rice
The Green Wave are limping to the finish line, with losses in eight straight games, the last five by at least six points.
Rice 31, Tulane 14
No. 101 Eastern Michigan at No. 110 Kent State
Both of these teams have exceeded expectations. Eastern Michigan is 6–4 overall and an amazing 4–2 in league play, while Kent State has won three straight to even its MAC record to 3–3.
Kent State 21, Eastern Michigan 20
No. 120 Akron at No. 106 Buffalo
Akron took over the dreaded No. 120 spot in our rankings after New Mexico lost last week. There is nothing that this team has done of late to suggest it can win a game vs. an FBS foe.
Buffalo 31, Akron 6
No. 119 FAU at No. 111 Troy
FAU is still searching for its first win in the final season of Howard Schnellenberger’s legendary coaching career. It’s not likely to come this weekend.
Troy 38, FAU 15
Last week — 40-12
Season — 444–113
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
College football has a way of surprising you each and every week. It's what makes it the greatest sport on the planet. Despite hitting on four of my top five picks, THE Ohio State University decided to trip all over itself in West Lafayette - for the second time in a row. Additionally, had I kept the last two games off of my list (USC -11.5 and Vanderbilt -15.5) - and if Alabama could have figured out a way to put 0.5 more points on the board - I would have posted a lucrative 8-3 mark.
However, I have only myself to blame for not having the guts to roll with the red-hot Dores and Trojans. And close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Thus, I settled for a modest (but still winning) 5-4 weekend.
Season Record ATS: 67-43-1 (5-4 last week)
Week 12's Top Picks:
Wisconsin (-14.5) at Illinois
Illinois has gone four straight games without scoring in the first half and has totalled 42 points in those games - all losses. On the flip side, this is probably the best offense Big Red has ever put on the field. The Badgers have their sights set on Indianapolis with the most efficient quarterback in the history of college football and America's leading scorer leading the way. Ron Zook, meanwhile, will be looking for a new place of employment next fall. My Pick: Wisconsin -14.5
Kansas State (+8.5) at Texas
What have you done for me lately? I was on Texas winning last week against a Missouri team that had allowed 118 points in three games. Yet, Mizzou held the Horns to three points and 247 yards on offense. Collin Klein, and his 24 rushing touchdowns, refuses to let his team lose - especially to a team that hasn't beaten the Wildcats since 2003. Kansas State is tied for second in the nation with an 8-2 record against the spread and should keep it very close, if not win outright, in Austin. My Pick: Kansas State +8.5
Mississippi State (+13) at Arkansas
The Hogs have covered four straight times in which the kickoff did not take place at noon eastern. This one begins at 3:30 eastern. The Razorbacks are clicking on all cylinders offensively as they have scored 93 points over the last two weeks. The Bulldogs have struggled to score all season, scoring 97 combined points - 62 of which came against Kentucky and Auburn - in six SEC contests (1-5). A nine-win MSU team allowed 38 points in a loss to Arkansas last season in Starkville. Expect more of the same from the deepest receiving corp in the nation against a 5-5 Bulldog team. My Pick: Arkansas -13
SMU (+20) at Houston
The Cougars are aiming at a BCS bowl bid if they can continue to rack up huge wins and SMU is the next victim. SMU might need to score 50 points to cover this spread, and without star tailback Zach Line, that just became a much more difficult task. Houston is 8-2 against the spread this season and has averaged 67.3 points per game over its last three. Houston won this game last season by 25 points at SMU...without Case Keenum. My Pick: Houston -20
Oklahoma (-15) at Baylor
Baylor has allowed fewer than 30 points in Big 12 play only once this season (26 to Iowa State), giving it an ugly 40.8-points per game allowed in conference play. And Oklahoma knows how to score - try 45.4 points per game (sixth nationally). Expect a high-scoring affair - something akin to the 55-28 Bears loss to Texas A&M or the 59-24 loss to Oklahoma State. My Pick: Oklahoma -15
Louisville (pk) at UConn
Charlie Strong and the Cardinals have the 12th-rated scoring defense in the nation at just over 18 points per game allowed. UConn sports terrible quarterback play (Johnny McEntee ranks 94th in efficiency), medicore coaching and have struggled on offense all season: 107th in total offense and 93rd in scoring. Strong's bunch has its sights still set on a Big East title, but has to win this game to stay in the hunt. My Pick: Louisville
Cal (+17.5) at Stanford
Coming off its worst performance since, well, the last time they played Oregon, Stanford will be motivated. An at-large BCS bowl bid is still possible and Andrew Luck shouldn't need any extra motivation to top a brusied and beaten crosstown rival. This was a 34-point win for the Cardinal last season in which they rushed for 232 yards on the road in Berkeley. Stanford still leads the nation against the spread at 9-1 and will get back on track this weekend with a big win. My Pick: Stanford -17.5
Virginia (+17.5) at Florida State
The Seminoles have quietly reeled off five straight wins, however, those came mostly against the ACC's worst competiton. While FSU has more raw talent than the Cavaliers, there is really no difference between these two teams on paper. Both are 7-3 with convincing wins over Duke and Maryland to go with hard-fought victories over Miami. Florida State's defense should win the game for the Noles, but not by three scores - not against a motivated and extremely well-coached Wahoo team that wants a piece of the ACC crown. My Pick: Virginia +17.5
Oklahoma State (-27.5) at Iowa State
The Cowboys have 60 more minutes of football to play before the Bedlam Series on Decemeber 3 - and the poor Cyclones get to play the role of punching bag in the Pokes' final tune-up. The last two games between these two came in 2008 and 2009 with the Cowboys winning both by a combined 93-25. Oklahoma State is 8-2 against the spread this season and the nation's No. 2 scoring offense (51.7 ppg) will post another huge number against the nation's 91st ranked defense (420.4 ypg). My Pick: Oklahoma State -27.5
Vanderbilt (-1.5) at Tennessee
The Dores are arguably the most improved team in the nation and have everything to play for this weekend. Not only is their arch-in-state-rival down on their luck, but Vanderbilt likely needs this win to get to a bowl game in James Franklin's first season. (Vanderbilt visits a solid Wake Forest team next weekend.) If Tyler Bray were 100% healthy, the Vols would be tough to beat in Neyland Stadium. But Vandy is going to hit him early and often, forcing him to make the tough throws with a recovering broken thumb. This Commodores team plays harder than their opponents and that isn't likely to change this weekend - not with all that is at stake. My Pick: Vanderbilt -1.5
2011 Top 20 Teams ATS:
1. Stanford (9-1)
2t. Arkansas State (8-2)
2t. Houston (8-2)
2t. Kansas State (8-2)
2t. Louisiana Tech (8-2)
2t. Oklahoma State (8-2)
2t. Vanderbilt (8-2)
2t. Western Kentucky (8-2)
9. Georgia (7-2-1)
10t. Alabama (7-3)
10t. Clemson (7-3)
10t. LSU (7-3)
10t. Michigan (7-3)
10t. New Mexico State (7-3)
10t. Rutgers (7-3)
10t. Southern Miss (7-3)*
17t. Eastern Michigan (6-3-1)
17t. USC (6-3-1)
19. Oklahoma (6-3)
20. Wyoming (6-3)
2011 Bottom 20 Teams ATS:
1. Central Michigan (1-10)
2t. Maryland (2-8)
2t. Texas A&M (2-8)
4. Penn State (2-7-1)
5t. Colorado State (2-7)
5t. Florida Atlantic (2-7)
5t. Troy (2-7)
8t. Colorado (3-8)
8t. Tulane (3-8)
10t. Air Force (3-7)
10t. Arizona (3-7)
10t. Memphis (3-7)*
10t. Ole Miss (3-7)
10t. Oregon State (3-7)
10t. Syracuse (3-7)
10t. UCLA (3-7)
10t. Virginia Tech (3-7)
18t. Akron (3-6-1)
18t. Hawaii (3-6-1)
18t. Nebraska (3-6-1)
18t. NC State (3-6-1)
* - team played on Thursday night
Other Week 12 Content:
Mitch Light's Top Ten Games of Week 12
Athlon Sports Predicts Every Game of Week 12
Steven Lassan's Top Week 12 Storylines to Watch
Conference and National Championship Races Update
Who is the nation's best one-loss team?
-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)
NFL Bye Weeks: Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh
Start These Quarterbacks:
Carson Palmer, Oakland (at Minnesota)
The Oakland Raiders passer has thrown for 631 yards and five touchdowns in his last two games and is coming off his best game of his brief tenure on the Bay. He has built an instant rapport with rookie Denarius Moore and will be facing the NFL’s 30th-rated pass defense (272.8 ypg). No team in the league has allowed more touchdown passes than Minnesota’s 18.
Alex Smith, San Francisco (Arizona)
Smith has become a model of consistency – quick, where does that rank among phrases you thought you would hear? It’s true, however, that Jim Harbaugh has turned the former No. 1 overall bust into a serviceable fantasy option. He has thrown for between 170 and 242 yards in six of the last eight games and has a touchdown pass in six straight to go with only three interceptions all season. The Cardinals rank 24th against the pass and pose little threat to the 49ers on defense.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay (at Green Bay)
Freeman has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions only three times this season, but in a blowout situation in Lambeau, he should have a good chance to produce a useful fantasy total. The Packers rank 31st in the NFL against the pass, and Freeman is sixth in the NFL in attempts per game. Look for the Bucs to be throwing a lot in the second half.
Bench These Quarterbacks:
Eagles QBs (at NY Giants)
With broken ribs it is hard to imagine Michael Vick being allowed to use his legs — if he plays at all. And against one of the league’s top pass rushes, neither Vince Young nor Vick should have much time to throw. Especially considering the wide receiver issues with DeSean Jackson (contract) and Jeremy Maclin (hamstring, shoulder).
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (at Baltimore)
The red-headed quarterback got his first career taste of Pittsburgh last weekend, and it showed. He threw for only 170 yards and two interceptions (even though he did toss two scoring strikes). Dalton has exceeded all expectations in 2011, but no team has allowed fewer touchdown passes than Baltimore’s six. The Ravens are sixth in the NFL against the pass at 194.3 yards per game as well. Stay away.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo (at Miami)
Fitz has topped the 200-yard mark only twice in his last six games and has only seven touchdowns over that same span. His 2:5 TD:INT ratio over his last two doesn’t bode well either — even against the Dolphins. Miami’s pass defense has played dramatically improved football of late, allowing a total of 467 yards, no touchdowns and two picks through the air during the two-game winning streak. Miami has surrendered 12 total points the last two weeks.
Start These Running Backs:
Michael Bush, Oakland (at Minnesota)
Assuming that Darren McFadden is out once again, Bush becomes almost a must-start — even against a relatively solid rush defense. In his fill-in start last week, Bush totaled 242 yards and a touchdown on 33 touches. Palmer and Hue Jackson will get him the ball plenty against the 2-7 Vikings.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle (at St. Louis)
In what was arguably the week's most shocking final score, Lynch torched Baltimore for 167 yards from scrimmage and a score in the 22-17 upset. Lynch has 61 touches in the last two games and should be in for another full day of action against the worst rushing defense in the NFL (150.6 ypg allowed).
Brandon Jacobs, NY Giants (Philadelphia)
I am not ready to say that Jacobs is running as hard as possible yet, but it does appear he is taking advantage of his opportunity with Ahmad Bradshaw still injured. The Eagles are allowing 112.4 yards per game and nearly one touchdown per game to running backs. Expect a full workload for Jacobs, assuming Bradshaw does not play.
James Starks, Green Bay (Tampa Bay)
Arizona, Indianapolis and Carolina are the only three teams in the league that have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Bucs. Tampa Bay ranks 29th in the NFL against the run at 138.2 yards per game. Expect Green Bay to get up big behind Aaron Rodgers early and then turn to the ground game in the second half.
Reggie Bush, Miami (Buffalo)
Sound familiar: Arizona, Indianapolis and Carolina are the only three teams in the league that have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Bills. Buffalo ranks 23rd in the NFL against the run at 125.2 yards per game. Bush has 53 touches over the last three games and is averaging 5.9 yards per touch with three scores over that span. He is finally getting the ball in the red zone, and even if Buffalo pulls away, he will get touches in the passing game.
Kendall Hunter, San Francisco (Arizona)
K-Hunt is a deep sleeper play this weekend. He showed spark and solid quickness while filling in last week for Frank Gore (he averaged 6.7 yards per carry and scored). Against a porous Cardinals defense that is last in the NFL in rushing touchdowns allowed (12), Hunter should get 12-16 touches and should score.
Bench These Running Backs:
Chris Johnson, Tennessee (at Atlanta)
If you take out CJ’s two 100-yard efforts against lowly Carolina and Cleveland, he has averaged 37.8 yards rushing per game. He has scored only twice this year and is facing one of the NFL’s best run defenses in a must-win situation. The Falcons are allowing a third-best 90.3 yards per game behind stellar play of Sean Weatherspoon, Curtis Lofton, Jordan Babineaux and Corey Peters in the front seven.
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (at Baltimore)
Yes, Marshawn Lynch posted a big number against the Ravens last week. But that was following an emotion-draining road thriller over Pittsburgh and a cross-country flight to the Pacific Northwest. This important divisional game will most assuredly feature the NFL’s No. 3 scoring defense (16.9 ppg), the No. 3 rushing defense (90.3 ypg) and the No. 3 total defense (296.4 ypg).
LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay (at Green Bay)
Expect the touches for Blount to be much lower than normal in what should be a lopsided score in Green Bay. Blount, even when healthy, has not produced in 2011. He hasn’t scored since Week 4 against the Colts, has topped the century mark only one time (Week 4) and has 140 yards rushing in his last three games. The Pack is stingy against the run (8th in the NFL), so don’t expect much from Blount.
Beanie Wells, Arizona (at San Francisco)
Put this one on the tee and start swinging for the fences. There is just no way Wells has any business near your starting lineup. Just thought I would remind you.
Frank Gore, San Francisco (Arizona)
The matchup is very juicy, but Gore is nursing two tender ankles and a bum knee. Owners can expect a lowered workload and plenty of K-Hunt.
Felix Jones, Dallas (at Washington)
DeMarco Murray is on a record-setting tear, and there is just no reason to slow his momentum. Take a major wait and see approach to Jones.
Start These Wide Receivers:
Mario Manningham, NY Giants (Philadelphia)
The Eagles are struggling to stop anyone, and Mario is starting to get his Super back. Manningham has caught at least five passes in four of five games and has scored in three straight. Look for the Manning-Manningham connection to continue to grow as the year goes along.
Denarius Moore, Oakland (at Minnesota)
It was painfully obvious how much Carson Palmer likes Moore. Once Jacoby Ford left the game, No. 17 got most of his looks — and the rookie wideout capitalized with multiple big plays and circus catches (5 rec., 123 yards, 2 TDs on Thursday night). Look for the 30th-rated pass defense that has allowed a league-worst 18 touchdown passes to surrender plenty of fantasy points to the Raiders’ pass-catcher.
Laurent Robinson, Dallas (at Washington)
Robinson lands on this list for the second straight week — and he has earned it. The Illinois State product has caught 13 passes for 208 yards and four touchdowns in the last three games. Romo has clearly defined him as one of his top three options, so keep him in the lineup against the Skins.
Damian Williams, Tennessee (at Atlanta)
The Falcons have been dominant against the run, so expect most of the Titans' offensive success to come through the air. Williams made a fantasy living in college by playing smart, disciplined, fundamentally sound football at USC (and Arkansas), and it is starting to show on the next level. He has scored in two straight games and posted his first career 100-yard game last week against Carolina.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City (at New England)
Despite a very tasty matchup against the worst pass defense in the league (that is getting better and healthier each week), Bowe still has Tyler Palko throwing him the ball now. Look for Kyle Arrington, who has been arguably the Pats' best DB, to slow Bowe just enough to hurt your fantasy squad.
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia (at NY Giants)
D-Jax has been asleep all season as he his contract issues have put a serious dent in his fantasy production. And without a healthy Michael Vick throwing him the ball, I would look for a more stable, safer play this week. Especially against the Giants’ pass rush.
Roddy White, Atlanta (Tennessee)
The return of Julio Jones, ageless wonder Tony Gonzalez and Cortland Finnegan all make this seem like a low ceiling for the under-performing Hot Roddy. Look for the gameplan to center around Michael Turner anyway.
Vincent Jackson, San Diego (at Chicago)
The Chargers couldn’t block my grandmother last weekend, and Rivers will face a fierce pass rush this weekend. And since secondary shifting a month ago, the Bears have not allowed a wideout to top the 85-yard mark and have allowed only one touchdown since Week 6.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 12
1. The pressure is building on Oklahoma State. If the Cowboys can win their final two games, they will play for the national title on Jan. 9 in New Orleans. Although the stakes are getting higher, this team isn’t showing any signs of crumbling. Oklahoma State destroyed Texas Tech 66-6 last Saturday and survived a last-minute drive by Kansas State two weeks ago to remain unbeaten. The Cowboys travel to Ames for a Friday night matchup against Iowa State. This is Oklahoma State’s final opportunity for a tune-up with the much-anticipated game against Oklahoma on Dec. 3. The Cyclones enter this contest with momentum, winning their last two games to get to 5-4 overall. Their pass defense ranks 55th nationally and has not allowed a 300-yard passer this season. Iowa State ranks last in the Big 12 in scoring offense, but quarterback Jared Barnett and running back James White are capable of keeping the Cyclones in this game. There’s always the danger of looking ahead with Oklahoma coming up on Dec. 3. However, this Oklahoma State team should handle its business and return to Stillwater 11-0.
2. Under first-year coach James Franklin, Vanderbilt has made significant progress this season. The Commodores have two blowout wins in SEC play (Kentucky and Ole Miss), while losing close games against Georgia (five), Arkansas (three), Florida (five). Franklin won’t accept moral victories, but it’s clear this is a different team. Vanderbilt needs one win in its final two games (at Tennessee and Wake Forest) to get bowl eligible. Beating the Volunteers has been nearly impossible for the Commodores, as they have only won once in the last 28 meetings. Tennessee limps into this game with a 0-6 SEC record, but received a bit of good news this week. Quarterback Tyler Bray could be close to returning, after missing the last five games with a thumb injury. Even if Bray returns, there’s no guarantee he will be 100 percent. While this is a big game for Vanderbilt’s bowl chances, the Volunteers have to win or they will finish 2011 with a losing record. Success has been difficult for the Commodores in this series, but all signs point to a change in fortune on Saturday.
3. The Big East remains one of the most convoluted conference races entering Week 12. Cincinnati was the clear frontrunner last week, but suffered a 24-21 loss to West Virginia, and quarterback Zach Collaros suffered an ankle injury that will keep him out for the rest of the regular season. Sophomore Munchie Legaux will make his first start at Rutgers this Saturday. The Scarlet Knights are very much in the mix to win the conference title, but have to beat the Bearcats and hope for a West Virginia loss in one of its final two games. Can Legaux keep Cincinnati’s title hopes alive? He performed well in limited action against the Mountaineers, throwing for 144 yards and adding 77 yards and a score on the ground. Moving the ball against Rutgers has been a challenge this season, as it leads the Big East in pass, total and scoring defense. Coach Greg Schiano made the decision to go back to Chas Dodd under center, and he responded with 196 yards and two scores in the win over Army. Rutgers has lost its last five games against Cincinnati and Saturday’s matchup is a must-win to keep conference title hopes alive. If Legaux picks up where he left off against the Mountaineers, Cincinnati will be in good shape. However, winning on the road in your first start is never easy.
4. With a relatively light schedule this week, Oregon-USC should be one of the must-see games on Saturday. Thanks to the 53-30 win over Stanford last week, the Ducks are surging back into the national title picture. USC is also one of the hottest teams in the nation, winning five out of its last six games, with the only defeat coming to Stanford in three overtimes. The Ducks are big favorites, but coming off last week’s big road win, could they have a letdown? The Trojans have the firepower to pull off the upset, but are dealing with some key injuries. Receiver Robert Woods will likely play, but is less than 100 percent. Defensive tackles Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris and left tackle Matt Kalil have also been limited in practice, and their status for Saturday’s game is uncertain. The injuries to Tupou and Harris have to be concerning for USC, as Oregon is averaging 291 yards a game on the ground. Running back LaMichael James gashed the Trojans for 239 yards and three scores last season, and the Trojans cannot allow that to happen again if they want to win in Eugene. With a win over the Trojans, the Ducks will clinch the Pac-12 North title. Oregon has dominated the last two meetings in this series and won three out of the last four. It's really a shame USC is ineligible for the Pac-12 title, as it is the best team in the messy South Division. There’s always the potential of a letdown after a big win, but Chip Kelly should have his team focused with a berth in the national title still a possibility.
5. Oklahoma’s loss to Texas Tech looks worse as each week passes. Since winning in Norman, the Red Raiders are 0-3 and have scored only 33 points. Despite the bad loss, don’t count out the Sooners in the national title mix. If Oklahoma wins out, it would throw its hat into the ring with Alabama and Oregon as the best one-loss team in college football. The Sooners don’t have an easy road to winning out, as they play at Baylor this Saturday and at Oklahoma State on Dec. 3. And there’s the injury factor. Receiver Ryan Broyles and running back Dominique Whaley were lost for the year, delivering two huge blows to the offense. The Sooners still have capable fill-ins, but Broyles and Whaley will be missed. Even though Oklahoma is shorthanded, it is still a heavy favorite against Baylor. The Bears have never beaten the Sooners and most of the matchups haven’t been close. Will that change? There’s no question Baylor will score points with quarterback Robert Griffin leading the way. But can the defense get any stops? After all, this group had trouble slowing down Kansas last week. Baylor is unbeaten at home this year, but it’s going to take a flawless effort to knock off the Sooners.
6. What a difference just a couple of months can make. As spring practice finished up and everyone looked ahead to the season, there was a lot of interest in the Penn State-Ohio State matchup. After all, it was supposed to pit Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel in an important game for positioning in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Fast forward to November and it’s almost unbelievable to see what has happened to both programs since spring practice. Tressel and Paterno are both gone and in their place are two interim coaches: Luke Fickell (Ohio State) and Tom Bradley (Penn State). While both teams are still alive for the division title, it seems like a longshot that either will make the trip to Indianapolis to represent the Leaders Division. And looking forward, both programs could look quite a bit different next season. Fickell and Bradley are unlikely to return, which will usher in a new regime for both schools. Regardless of what happens on Saturday between these two teams, both will be in the spotlight throughout the offseason as the search for a new direction and coach begin after the regular season.
7. The ACC title picture is beginning to clear. Clemson clinched the Atlantic Division last week, while Virginia and Virginia Tech are competing for the Coastal. The Cavaliers are quietly putting together a nice season, posting a 7-3 record with wins over Georgia Tech and Miami. If Virginia wants to setup a de-facto Coastal championship game with the Hokies next week, it has to beat Florida State on Saturday. The Seminoles are one of the hottest teams in the conference, winning five games in a row. A key to a Cavaliers’ victory will be the battle in the trenches. Virginia’s rushing attack is averaging 187.6 yards per game, but the Seminoles own the top run defense in the ACC, allowing only 85 yards per contest. The Cavaliers have had a fast rise under coach Mike London and a win in Tallahassee would be another huge victory, while keeping alive their Coastal title hopes.
8. Everything seems to be breaking Wisconsin’s way for a shot to play in the Big Ten title game. The Badgers got a lot of help last week, as Penn State lost to Nebraska and Purdue upset Ohio State. As long as Wisconsin wins out, it will play in the first Big Ten conference championship. The first obstacle to claiming the division is a trip to Illinois this Saturday. After a 6-0 start, the Fighting Illini is headed in the wrong direction with a four-game losing streak. And the rumor mill is already abuzz that coach Ron Zook is already on his way out at the end of the season. Even though Illinois has been on a slide, its defense will give the Badgers all they can handle. Only one opponent in the last five games has scored more than 21 points against the Fighting Illini, while they also rank fifth in the nation in sacks. Wisconsin has steamrolled its last two opponents, gashing Purdue for 62 points and Minnesota for 42. While Illinois might be able to slow down Badgers’ quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball, the four-game losing streak and a struggling offense will make any hopes of an upset very difficult.
9. After last week’s thrilling 53-50 four-overtime victory over Texas A&M, what can Kansas State do for an encore? The Wildcats hit the road for a matchup against Texas, a team they have beaten the last three times they have played. The Longhorns are dealing with a rash of injuries on offense, and running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron may miss their second straight game. If Texas is shorthanded at running back again, it could be a long day for the offense. The Longhorns managed only 247 total yards in last week’s loss to Missouri, and faces a Kansas State rush defense allowing only 117.1 yards per game. With concerns about the offense, the Longhorns’ defense has to come through with one of their best efforts of the year. And priority No. 1 is stopping K-State quarterback Collin Klein. The junior has totaled at least 200 yards of offense in all but two games this year, while posting 34 overall touchdowns. This game has significant implications on the Big 12 bowl pecking order. With a win, Kansas State will keep its BCS bowl hopes alive. The Longhorns won’t reach the BCS, but could earn a Cotton Bowl berth with a 9-3 record at the end of the year.
10. Michigan State owns a one-game lead over Michigan and Nebraska in the Legends Division. The Spartans should be able to win their final two games (Indiana and at Northwestern), but the Wolverines and Cornhuskers have to keep winning to keep the pressure on and stay alive for an at-large spot in the BCS. Even though these two teams have met only six times on the gridiron, they are almost mirror images of each other. Both offenses are led by running quarterbacks, while playing hard-nosed defense. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was banged up in the win over Illinois, but is expected to play on Saturday. Robinson may be less than 100 percent, but the emergence of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint should help relieve some of the pressure on offense. With both defenses playing well, it’s going to be up to whichever offense can make enough plays. Nebraska can lean on running back Rex Burkhead, but quarterback Taylor Martinez has to hit a few passes downfield to prevent the Wolverines from ganging up against the run. The loser of this game will see its hopes of playing for a Big Ten title end, which only adds to the intrigue of the first meeting between Nebraska and Michigan as conference rivals.
Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 12 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.
Ohio State 20, Penn State 17
Miami 27, South Florida 24
Vanderbilt 24, Tennessee 17
Florida State 31, Virginia 20
Nebraska 24, Michigan 20
Cincinnati 27, Rutgers 24
Oklahoma 48, Baylor 31
Wisconsin 34, Illinois 17
Kansas State 30, Texas 27
Arkansas 34, Mississippi State 20
Stanford 38, California 20
Oregon 44, USC 34
Looking for a few upsets? Keep a close watch on these games.
Vanderbilt (-1) at Tennessee
The Volunteers have dominated this series. Can they deliver again or will the Commodores win in Knoxville and get bowl eligible?
Nebraska at Michigan (-2.5)
With these two teams almost a mirror image of each other, this game has coin flip written all over it.
Cincinnati (-3) at Rutgers
With Zach Collaros out, can sophomore Munchie Legaux lead the Bearcats to a Big East title?
Kansas State at Texas (-7)
If the Longhorns are shorthanded at running back once again, you have to like Kansas State’s chances of winning on Saturday.
Clemson (-7.5) at NC State
With the Atlantic Division wrapped up, could the Tigers be in for a letdown on Saturday?
Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 12
With Zach Collaros out for the rest of the year with an ankle injury, Cincinnati's Big East title hopes rest with sophomore Munchie Legaux.
Remember receiver DeVier Posey? After serving a 10-game suspension, he will return for Ohio State this week against Penn State.
After his surprise performance against Arizona State (494 passing yards, four touchdowns), Connor Halliday will start this Saturday at quarterback for Washington State.
Missouri running back Henry Josey suffered a devastating knee injury in the 17-5 win over Texas last Saturday. Josey may not be able to return in time for the start of the 2012 year.
All signs point to Georgia coach Mark Richt getting a contract extension at the end of the season. Remember that hot seat talk?
Will quarterback Danny O'Brien return to Maryland next season?
Illinois linebacker Trulon Henry was shot in the hand while trying to breakup a fight at a party. He is out for the rest of the year.
Why has Texas A&M struggled this season? Here are five reasons why the Aggies will fail to live up to preseason expectations.
Is this Mohamed Sanu's final home game at Rutgers?
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray is expected to return to the lineup this week against Vanderbilt. Bray suffered a broken thumb against Georgia and has missed Tennessee's last five games.
Is it time for Illinois to make a coaching change? All signs point to Ron Zook not returning as the Fighting Illini coach in 2012.
Syracuse starting safety Phillip Thomas has been suspended indefinitely.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Consider Saturday’s matchup between Nebraska and Michigan an elimination game. With both teams sporting a 4-2 record in conference play, the loser will be two games behind Michigan State (5-1) in the Legends Division. Considering the Spartans’ schedule (Indiana and Northwestern), a loss in the final two games seems unlikely.
This will be the first meeting between these two teams since 2005 and the first as Big Ten foes. Michigan owns a slight 3-2-1 edge in the series, but Nebraska won the last meeting, 32-28 in the Alamo Bowl.
Nebraska’s first season in the Big Ten has had its share of ups and downs. The Cornhuskers soundly defeated Michigan State 24-3, but lost to Northwestern 28-25 one week later. Nebraska dealt Penn State’s Big Ten title hopes a significant blow with last week’s 17-14 victory in Happy Valley.
Michigan is 2-2 in its last four games, with losses against Michigan State and Iowa. However, this team has made significant progress under first-year coach Brady Hoke, and if the Wolverines can win out, earning an at-large spot in one of the BCS bowls is within reach.
When Michigan Has the Ball
Quarterback Denard Robinson has been dealing with bumps and bruises most of the year, including a wrist injury last week against Illinois. The junior may be less than 100 percent, but is expected to play on Saturday
Robinson is not having the monster statistical season he had in 2010, as he adapts to coordinator Al Borges’ offense. The junior is completing only 52.4 percent of his throws and has tossed 13 picks this season.
Thanks to the emergence of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, Robinson hasn’t been forced to carry the offense this year. Toussaint has emerged as Michigan's No. 1 back over the last few weeks, rushing for 170 yards against Purdue, 58 against Iowa and 192 against Illinois.
Getting the rushing game on track is going to be important to Michigan’s chances at victory. Nebraska’s front four has been dealing some key injuries, including the loss of All-American tackle Jared Crick in early October. The Cornhuskers rank 66th nationally against the run, allowing 161.3 yards per game. One of the key cogs in Nebraska’s rush defense is linebacker Lavonte David. The senior has been a tackling machine with 97 stops this season.
Although Nebraska has been tough against the run at times this season, Michigan’s best opportunity to win this game is to keep pounding away up front. Nebraska’s secondary has been stingy against the pass all year, ranking 21st nationally. Opposing quarterbacks are completing only 53.1 percent of their throws against the Cornhuskers.
When Robinson throws, expect Junior Hemingway to be his No. 1 target. Hemingway leads Michigan with 27 receptions and 520 receiving yards. There’s not a ton of depth in the receiving corps, especially considering Roy Roundtree has been quiet most of this season.
Expect Nebraska to load up in the box and force Robinson to throw. Also, the Cornhuskers have to keep Robinson contained in the pocket and not allow him to make plays with his legs. Dual-threat quarterbacks have provided headaches for the Nebraska defense, so this won’t be an easy matchup.
When Nebraska Has the Ball
Quarterback Taylor Martinez is one of the nation’s most dynamic players with the ball in his hand. The sophomore is averaging five yards a carry and has rushed for 768 yards and nine scores. Martinez still needs a lot of work as a passer, but has thrown only one interception in his last four games.
While Martinez is a dangerous playmaker, the Nebraska offense goes through running back Rex Burkhead. The junior has compiled 1,072 yards and 14 scores through 10 games.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke and coordinator Greg Mattison have brought dramatic improvement to the defense this season. The Wolverines were downright awful last season, ranking last in the Big Ten in pass, scoring and total defense. However, Michigan ranks seventh in the nation in scoring defense and is allowing only 322.2 yards a game.
The Wolverines are allowing 130.9 rushing yards per game, which will be tested by Nebraska’s offense. The one-two punch of Martinez and Burkhead will be a handful for Michigan to stop.
Similar to Nebraska’s defensive gameplan, expect the Wolverines to gang up on stopping the run and force Martinez to beat them through the air. The Cornhuskers’ no-huddle offense can take on a toll on the defense in the second half, which will be something to watch in this game.
When Martinez throws, he will have an assortment of talented, but young receiving options. Kenny Bell leads the team with 23 receptions for 307 yards, while Jamal Turner is averaging 16.2 yards per reception.
In a close game like what is expected on Saturday, winning the turnover battle is going to be critical. The Wolverines rank second in the Big Ten with 20 forced turnovers, while the Cornhuskers have turned it over 14 times.
Give Nebraska the edge in this department.
Kicker Brett Maher has been nearly automatic this season, connecting on 16 of 19 attempts. Maher also serves as the punter, averaging 45.4 yards per kick.
Ameer Abdullah is one of the Big Ten’s most dangerous return men, averaging 31 yards per kick return and 8.2 yards on 12 punt returns.
Field goals were an adventure at Michigan last season, but Brendan Gibbons has connected on 8 of 11 attempts this year.
Martavious Odoms is Michigan’s top kick returner, averaging 22.5 yards per return. Jeremy Gallon is averaging 11 yards per punt return this season.
This matchup is one of the toughest games to predict in Week 12. Both teams are even and almost a mirror image of each other.
Although it seems to be a longshot Nebraska or Michigan will end up with the Legends Division title, there’s still a chance to qualify for a spot in one of the BCS bowls.
With two nearly identical offenses, it could come down to which tandem performs better: Michigan’s Robinson and Toussaint or Nebraska’s Martinez and Burkead.
Expect a low-scoring game, but the Cornhuskers should find a way to pull out a close win in Ann Arbor.
Nebraska 24, Michigan 20
Michael Vick's broken ribs have ruled him out of Sunday's game against the Giants. Vick will be replaced at quarterback with Vince Young.
And if the Eagles lose this Sunday, should the oft-injured and fragile Vick play another down this year? Philadelphia's record currently stands at a meager 3-6. Their playoff hopes are already extremely dim. But another loss seals their fate and all but mathmatically eliminates them from any hope of making the postseason.
So why play Vick another down? He'll be a game-time decision for next week's game against the Patriots. And even if he plays, he'll be even more fragile than he is now because his ribs still won't be 100% by then.
With Vince Young serving as a well-paid back-up, it makes sense that the Eagles should keep their most valuable commodity on the shelf, away from the possibility of concussions, broken bones and sprained MCLs, and let VY take the reigns--and the beatings--of the Eagles' quarterback position.
What good does it do to put Vick back out on the field? If you concede that Vick is the most important player on Philly's team, (and only LeSean McCoy could be in that conversation) the upside just isn't there.
The best that could happen, is Vick comes back and leads the Eagles to a string of late-season wins and Philadelphia finishes somewhere around the .500 mark.
But they still miss the playoffs. That might mean something to the Cleveland Browns. But the Eagles set the bar a bit higher and the only thing you win with that plan is an even worse pick int he NFL draft.
The downside is that Vick, given the way he throws his body around, refuses to go down, and takes a beating on seemingly every play, gets seriously injured. A torn MCL takes a long time to heal, and an injury like that would affect his game even more than the classic pocket passers.
It goes against the mentality of football players, but football player's don't always use logic and reasoning.
If you're an Eagles fan who's more interested in the big picture then you realize that this is a lost season. The Dream Team didn't work. It happens. Chalk it up to a learning experience and call it a day. But putting Vick back on the field for meaningless games can only make this bad season worse.
What's more important to Eagles fans? Winning nothing now, or still having a chance to win it all next year?
Tim Tebow’s Superman success collides with the wrath of Rex Ryan in a Thursday night fight between the Denver Broncos and New York Jets under the lights at Mile High.
And this comical clash of the titans will certainly end in life or death soap opera hysterics, regardless of the outcome.
If the Broncos win, Tebow will improve his record as a starter this year to 4–1 while handing the Jets their second loss in five days, following a 37–16 defeat at home against their hated AFC East rival Patriots on Sunday night — just over 100 hours prior to Thursday’s kickoff.
“All Tim Tebow does is win,” everyone in Denver and Gator Nation will say.
“No other team in the NFL is playing a Thursday night game after a Sunday night game,” Ryan, the Jets and New York’s greater metropolitan area will complain.
If the Jets win, the season will be saved — at least until they kick off against the division-rival Bills next week — and Tebow will once again become the whipping boy he was following his only loss and, coincidentally, his only start at Invesco Field this year, an ugly 45–10 defeat to the Lions in Week 8.
“Tebow can’t play quarterback in the NFL,” and “The single-wing, run-first, option offense will never work in the pros,” will be repeated ad nauseam among televised talking heads and drive time drones.
The over-the-top insanity will be more fun if Tebow wins. And, like it or not, Tebow-led Denver probably will beat Jet-lagged New York.
There is a new energy around the Broncos since Tebow was reluctantly named the starting quarterback of a 1–4 team by coach John Fox and John Elway — who apparently would rather “Suck for Luck” with Kyle Orton than win with Tebow, who was drafted by persona non grata Josh McDaniels.
On the other side, the Jets are in a tailspin downward spiral, coming off a painful loss to the Patriots. After making back-to-back AFC title games, quarterback Mark Sanchez has not taken the strides many expected — both physically and mentally — most recently calling a timeout against New England that Ryan called “the stupidest thing in football history.”
A quick turnaround from Sunday night to Thursday night is the last thing New York needs. The Jets seem to be stuck in the past, ready for a rematch with the Patriots rather than a one-off with the Broncos.
“Mentally, we know it’s a great challenge,” said Ryan, of the short week of preparation. “You go right back at it and really seeing the difference between playing Denver compared to New England. It’s so different that you have no choice but to say, ‘Hey, let’s go. That thing is behind us now, let’s just focus on what is in front of us.’ Because we have to. This is such a different challenge for us. We can’t do anything, that game right there (against the Patriots), we can’t win that game right now.”
Meanwhile, Denver is in the midst of breaking out an offense so old it’s new again. The Broncos ran the ball 55 times for 244 yards and a seven-yard Tebow TD, while throwing just eight passes (completing two) for 69 yards and a 56-yard scoring strike from Tebow to Eric Decker for what proved to be the winning fourth-quarter score of a 17–10 victory at Kansas City last week.
“They did throw it eight times. But it was 55 runs. We don’t know exactly what we’re going to get. We just have to be sound (defensively),” explained Ryan, during his weekly Tuesday press conference.
“They’ve been really multiple. Sometimes they spread them out. They’ll go empty (backfield) and then run the ball with the quarterback. Running “O” plays and all that stuff. So no matter what you see, you’ll probably start by saying, ‘It’s probably a run,’ and then we’ll defend the pass after it.
“But you’re looking at formations or personnel groupings that tell you it’s going to be a pass, and it’s not with this group. That’s a little different, but you’d better be sound and obviously assume he’s running with it.”
The assumption of a Tebow run, option pitch or handoff would appear to be especially powerful against a proud New York secondary coming off a game in which Tom Brady threw 39 passes for 329 yards and three TDs while New England had no back with over eight carries on the ground.
Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner and All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis may experience an unwanted “Lost”-style solitary purgatory in a new version of “Revis Island.” And that lack-of-pass Broncos attack might create a foggy focus for the likes Antonio Cromartie, who has been known to sleepwalk through a play and get burnt deep.
“We can’t fall asleep back there in the secondary,” Revis stressed this week. “It can get boring, especially when a team just keeps running the ball, series after series, play after play.”
Tebow may not throw a Peyton Manning spiral, but his wobbly duck made it over the top of the Chiefs defense and hit Decker in-stride last week for an easy score, while also padding Tebow’s career-high 102.6 passer rating. The Broncos’ Tebow-oriented offense may not be conventional by NFL standards, but if it ain’t broke Fox ain’t fixing it.
“As long as you’re moving the ball, possessing the ball, giving your defense some rest, it’s all good,” said Fox, after taking down the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
“We’re trying to do whatever is going to help us to win. In my opinion, that’s all part of coaching — putting your players in position to utilize their abilities. … It is a little cliché, but you take what the defense gives you.”
A tired, dejected Jets defense will probably give Tebow just enough to pull off a Broncos upset Thursday night on NFL Network.
by Josh Kipnis
There is no dispute: The past few years for the Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals, and San Francisco 49ers have been a struggle. But this year, a group of rookies have swept in and rescued these damsels in distress. Here is my list of the “Rookie Superheroes” halfway through the season.
Superman - Cam Newton
Superhuman strength and speed, as well as the ability to fly, are among his key attributes. The scouts thought he wasn’t good enough, but boy were they wrong. It’s been years since we’ve seen a rookie dominate like Newton. His “freeze breath” is sending more than a chill down the spines of NFL teams. He does it all: threads the needle in the pocket, escapes pressure with dazzling footwork, and bulldozes defenders with brutal force. His only kryptonite is his 2-6 record; but you can’t blame Newton for having below average teammates. Newton ranks 3rd in the NFL in total touchdowns and 6th in passing yards. I have him as my Offensive Rookie of the Year and possibly even a backup for the NFC in the Pro Bowl.
Batman and Robin - Andy Dalton and A.J. Green
Ever since the demise of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco, the Bengals have been in search of a new dynamic duo. They found just that in this year’s NFL draft with 1st rounder A.J. Green and 2nd rounder Andy Dalton. You hardly ever see a pair of rookies having this much success. The two have hooked up for 599 yards and 5 TDs. Together, they have the Bengals back in playoff contention. Cincinnati is 6-2 this season and tied for first in the AFC North. The next few games are crucial for this young Bengals squad as they take on the hard-nosed defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Will Dalton and Green continue their heroic success? Let’s see what kinds of gadgets Batman and Robin pull out of their tool belts next.
The Flash - Patrick Peterson
Keep your eyes peeled or you might just miss him, seriously. Did you see his game-winning 99-yard punt return last week? The kid was backpedaling faster than players could run forwards. Peterson has accumulated three punt return touchdowns this season, two of which were the go-ahead scores for the Arizona Cardinals. He doesn’t even play offense and he is tied for second on the team in touchdowns. Talk about a playmaker.
Professor X - Jim Harbaugh
What goes on inside the mind of 1st year coach, Jim Harbaugh? Under Harbaugh, the 49ers already have more wins than their entire season last year. At 7-1, it looks as if San Francisco is going to run away with the NFC West. The key to their success has to be attributed to their coaching. The offense is night and day in comparison to last year. Just look at how much of an impact Harbaugh has made on Alex Smith. In 2010, Smith was thrown in and out of the starting lineup, but in 2011 he has proven that there is no better man for the job. Smith ranks 5th in completion percentage and has thrown the fewest interceptions in the NFL. Harbaugh, a former NFL QB, clearly has imparted his wisdom on Smith and the rest of the 49ers team.
by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush
Race: Ford 400
Track: Homestead-Miami Speedway
Location: Homestead, Fla.
When: Sunday, Nov. 20
TV: ESPN (3:00 p.m. EST)
Specs: 1.5-mile oval; Banking/Straightaways: 4°; Banking/Turns: Variable (18°-20°)
2010 Winner: Carl Edwards
2011 Race Length: 400.5 miles/267 laps
Track Qualifying Record: 181.111 mph (Jamie McMurray, 2003)
Race Record: 140.335 mph (Tony Stewart, 1999)
From the Spotter’s Stand
NASCAR takes its traveling road show to South Beach for the last stop on the Cup schedule. And home sweet Homestead is the only race where it’s possible to see two teams celebrate victory.
In 2010, Carl Edwards back-flipped and chilled with the crowd after winning his second straight race of the Chase and earning his second Homestead win in three years. Cousin Carl led 190 laps and gained plenty of positive momentum that has translated into a title run this season.
But the driver who did donuts after the race was the runner-up. Jimmie Johnson led just one lap, but it was enough to finish No. 1 in the standings — 39 points ahead of Denny Hamlin — and clinch a record fifth straight Cup title for Rick Hendrick’s top team.
Make no mistake, this race will be the “Tony and Carl Show,” as the two hit South Florida separated by just three points in the standings. This championship battle could go either way: Edwards gets marks for his performance since Homestead’s reconfiguration and Stewart has been running so well regardless of track that a win is possible on any given weekend.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Long straightaways transition into corners where speed must be maintained — at least partially — to set up a pass in the center (of the corner) off. A car that can pick up the throttle quickly off the corner is one that can pass.
“That track was such a disaster when it opened. They shaped it like Indy, only smaller, but didn’t realize that squared-off corners are just dangerous on a track that’s a mile and half, not two. So they rounded the corners, and then stage three was tapering the banking. It took a bunch of money and revamping, but they got it right.”
Looking at Checkers: Points leader Carl Edwards has two wins and six top 10s in seven starts at HMS.
Pretty Solid Pick: Tony Stewart is going to be on Carl’s bumper all race long. Or maybe in front of it.
Good Sleeper Pick: AJ Allmendinger has yet to win a Cup race, but that may change on Sunday. He’s never finished worse than 11th in Homestead.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Kyle Busch has typically thrown in the towel by now. This year is probably no exception.
Insider Tip: This one’s for all the marbles. Your lineup needs to include either Edwards or Stewart.
Classic Moments at Homestead-Miami Speedway
The 2004 Ford 400 in Homestead marks the final race of NASCAR’s inaugural Chase for the Championship.
Kurt Busch enters the event 18 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson and 21 up over Jeff Gordon, but on lap 93 the wheels come off. Literally. Busch loses his right front wheel while running second to Greg Biffle, when the hub completely detaches from the car. Luckily, Busch has already ducked to the pit access road, although he nearly hits the pit road wall in the process.
Amazingly, Busch never loses a lap, and wins a game of points-leader leapfrog, finishing fifth while Johnson is second and Gordon third. Eight points separate Busch from Johnson, marking the tightest points finish in NASCAR history.
by Vito Pugliese
Just three points separate Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards as they settle the 2011 Sprint Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But is this really the greatest (or even the closest) title fight ever? Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese takes a look back at the greatest last-lap championship finishes in NASCAR’s history.
Much has been and will be made this weekend about the “closest championship battle ever.” Many pundits have bandied about how the 2011 Chase for the Championship is “the greatest championship fight ever,” “the closest title fight ever” or “the best Chase yet.” That might not be true if your name is Kyle Busch — or if you were watching the sport before Jimmie Johnson decided to make a career out of destroying records and invalidating a number of title formats.
This year marks the first time somebody other than Johnson will win the title since before vampire movies were relevant. So let’s reflect back on some of those “other” championship battles that went down to the final race. After all, if this year is supposed to be the greatest and most dramatic championship ever, it would have to be gauged against the following five title bouts.
1973: Benny Parsons vs. Richard Petty vs. Cale Yarborough
It was the early ’70s. Music sucked, the cars were getting slow and everybody wore their hair and dressed like a dirtball or a terrorist. It was also a time when Richard Petty began to build upon the legacy that would earn him the nickname “The King,” having won back-to-back titles in 1971 and ’72.
Going into the final race at Rockingham, Benny Parsons held a 194.5-point lead over Petty. Parsons, driving a Chevrolet for L.G. DeWitt, qualified fifth and was running by his lonesome when a car spun on the backstretch. Parsons clipped it, ripping the entire right side off of the car — including the roll cage. There was only one other car that didn’t qualify for the event and that was still at the track — a car owned by Ralph Moody of legendary Ford-tandem Holman-Moody fame. Moody’s car became a donor for Parsons’ mangled machine.
BP returned to the action 136 laps down, but was able to hold off Cale Yarborough in the championship battle by 67.15 points. It would be the only Cup title for Parsons, whose feat prevented Petty from winning five consecutive championships.
1979: Darrell Waltrip vs. Richard Petty
As the worst decade ever came to a close, a new age in NASCAR dawned. Darrell Waltrip brought a brash attitude and trash-talking to the stock car scene, while The King was not quite ready to abdicate the throne. While DW may have pulled a slide job on Petty to win at Darlington in the Rebel 500, the championship would come down to the final event in Ontario, Calif. — the spiritual sister track to The Brickyard.
Petty trailed Waltrip by two points heading into the final race (a true two-point margin, mind you; Tony Stewart would trail Carl Edwards by 15 points under this same system). On the 38th lap of the event, a car spun in front of Waltrip, who also spun in an effort to avoid hitting what may have been in the cloud of smoke ahead of him. This was before the era of any sort of electronic timing and scoring or transponders, and Waltrip believed he was the leader, having pitted just once to the leaders’ two stops. Later, Waltrip’s crew chief would confirm his greatest fear: he was actually one lap down.
Petty would finish fifth to Waltrip’s eighth that day. It was the seventh and final championship for Petty, and an improbable one at that, as 10 races prior, Petty was 227 points out of the lead. Considering how out to lunch Tony Stewart and the No. 14 team were stumbling into the Chase this season, the final 1979 race in Ontario should provide some inspiration for the owner/driver of Stewart-Haas Racing.
2004: Five-Way Chase Race
There were a lot of naysayers when the term “The Chase” entered the NASCAR lexicon following 19 seasons of sensational championship showdowns. Unfortunately, two of the final four NASCAR seasons were less than thrilling, with Bobby Labonte and Matt Kenseth conspiring to give credence to a new points format — one that the “casual sports fan” would be more accustomed to.
While many bemoaned the very idea of change and cursed the billion-dollar network television deal which spawned this hideous monster, come Homestead in November 2004, there were five drivers with a shot at the first Nextel Cup.
Kurt Busch entered the event with a scant 18-point lead over Jimmie Johnson, with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin mathematically in contention for the crown. As cheesy as it sounds, the wheels of Busch’s championship chase literally did come off of Lap 93, as a loose right front wheel gave way on his car. Busch, sensing something was amiss, ducked to pit road as the wheel separated itself from the machine, and he narrowly missed hitting the pit road barrier. The errant Goodyear Eagle then bounded down the frontstretch, brought out a caution and, as a result, Busch remained on the lead lap.
A late-race, two-lap scramble saw Busch’s teammate, Greg Biffle, win the event, preventing Johnson from gaining a position and leading a lap — and ultimately falling short of a championship. Had Johnson gotten by Biffle, he would have won by two points. As it stands, the first Chase season was the closest ever and, in hindsight, nearly thrust Johnson within but one title of immortality alongside Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty’s seven Cup titles.
1990: The Blue Oval Brigade vs. Dale Earnhardt
Rusty Wallace and the No. 27 Raymond Beadle-owned team did everything humanly possible to lose the championship in 1989, but somehow outlasted Dale Earnhardt by 12 points. While Wallace jumped up and down on his hood, the Intimidator went and sulked in his tree stand.
The 1990 season was supposed to be all Earnhardt, as he looked to finally win the Daytona 500 and his fourth championship. The 500 ended with the checkered flag in sight for Earnhardt and a piece of Ricky Rudd’s bell housing slicing open his tire. There was also the matter of an upstart Ford team, which a year earlier served notice that a Midwest short-track ace getting his second shot at stardom and a Michigan-based engineer with a road- and drag-race background were going to be sticking around for the foreseeable future in the form of Mark Martin and Jack Roush.
Martin and Earnhardt emerged during the summer months as the two title contenders, with Martin assuming the points lead in June despite a dubious 46-point fine regarding a welded intake spacer that was technically legal after Martin won the third race of the season in Richmond. There used to be a week off prior to the final race in Atlanta, and the Ford teams had one mission: defeat General Motors and deny it a championship. While the No. 6 Roush team had won the August event at Michigan, all of the Ford camps colluded during the week of testing prior to the final race to conjure up the ultimate Thunderbird — the original Roush/Yates collaboration.
What resulted was a good idea gone awry: A car that pushed like an Amish haycart and had air in the brake lines. Earnhardt finished third, Martin sixth, and the Intimidator took his fourth Cup title by 26 points.
1992: The Greatest Championship Battle and Single Race in NASCAR History.
There are certain sports highlights that are ingrained in the minds of fans everywhere. If you’re a baseball fan, it’s Kirk Gibson hobbling around second, fist pumping, after going yard on a bum wheel. If you’re a football fan, it’s Montana to Clark in slow motion. If you’re a NASCAR fan, it’s everything that happened in the 1992 Hooters 500.
We’ve all become accustomed to the pre-race flyover, but it isn’t often that you have AH-64 Apaches pacing the field around the track.
It was Jeff Gordon’s first race and Richard Petty’s fiery finale, replete with on-air demands of safety workers to, “Get the ****in’ fire extinguisher!” (little wonder where Kurt Busch gets it from). Six drivers entered the final race with a shot at the championship: Bill Elliott, Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison (despite nearly getting killed twice in racing accidents that year), Mark Martin, Kyle Petty and Harry Gant.
Martin dominated the middle stages of the race before succumbing to a burned piston, while Allison was taken out by a swervin’ Ernie Irvan. That left it to Awesome Bill and the Kulwicki’s Underbird. Kulwicki needed to lead one more lap than Elliott to prevent him from leading the most laps — had he not, Elliott would have won the tie-breaker based on wins (five victories to Kulwicki’s two).
If Tony Stewart is in need of any sort of motivation this weekend as he attempts to eclipse Carl Edwards in the Sprint Cup standings, he should pop in a tape of this race. The original stock car engineer, who kept St. Christopher wings under his seat and a comb in his pocket, realized the unlikely dream when he set forth down south from Greenfield, Wisc., six years earlier. Kulwicki finished second to Elliott in the race, but won the big prize by 10 points — ending the greatest championship battle and single race in NASCAR history.
Earlier this week, New England Patriots wide receiver and world-renowned Twitter addict Chad Ochocinco posted a new avatar featuring himself, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick photoshopped onto the movie poster for Lethal Weapon 3. As you can see, the results were spectacular. Ochocinco has already dropped the avatar, but in honor of his work, we decided to update some other classic movie posters with the biggest stars in sports.
By Saul Hutson
As Oregon was finishing off Stanford last Saturday night, many members in the college football media wanted to debate the nation’s next best team after LSU and Oklahoma State. The Ducks were impressive in that win over the Cardinal, but it’s the same squad that was dismantled by LSU. Alabama lost in overtime to the Bengal Tigers, and the Tide has the best defense in the nation. But some are now saying that LaMichael James and Oregon may have surpassed the Tide. Oklahoma is still in the conversation, but the home loss to a very mediocre Texas Tech club seems to clearly put the Sooners behind Alabama and Oregon. Arkansas is up there as well, but the Hogs were destroyed by the Tide for their only loss. Some in ACC country may even argue that Clemson and Virginia Tech deserve consideration.
Who is the best 1-loss team in the nation?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Alabama is the best one-loss team in the nation. In fact, the Crimson Tide might be the best team in the nation, period, but it's kind of hard to make that argument since they lost at home to LSU. Alabama gets the nod over teams like Oklahoma and Oregon because of its defense, which is the best in the nation — and it’s not even close. Nick Saban’s club is allowing an average of 181.4 yards per game and 3.15 yards per play. Next on the list, in both categories, is LSU at 253.2 yards per game and 4.01 yards per play. Those are astounding gaps between No. 1 and No. 2 in the national rankings for both categories. And it’s not like Alabama is weak on the offensive side of the ball. The Tide rank 35th in the nation in total offense (434.2 ypg) and 25th in scoring offense (34.5 ppg). They boast arguably the top running back in the nation in junior Trent Richardson, and the offensive line is among the best in college football, as well. Other than the kicking game, which was an issue in the loss to LSU, Alabama is a team with very few weaknesses.
Any team whose only loss is to LSU deserves mention as the best one-loss team in the nation. That list consists of Oregon (40–27 loss at Cowboys Stadium in the season-opener on Sept. 3), Alabama (9–6 loss in overtime in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5) and soon-to-be Oklahoma State (pending a loss in the BCS national title game in New Orleans on Jan. 9). Aside from my man Mike Gundy's currently-undefeated Cowboys — who, in all seriousness, I do think could defeat even a full-strength Oklahoma squad and will give the Bayou Bengals a serious battle for the BCS crystal — Chip Kelly's Ducks and Nick Saban's Crimson Tide are in a league of their own compared to their one-loss peers from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Stanford, Boise State and Southern Miss. But when debating West Coast highlighter vs. Deep South houndstooth, the choice is clear. Oregon is a much better squad than it was in the opener; but Alabama remains arguably the most complete team — roster and coaching staff combined — in the country. If there were a college football playoff, the Tide would be the pre-tourney Vegas favorite. Bama is by far the best one-loss team in the nation.
A.J. Jacobson – DuckSportsAuthority.com (@AJ_Jacobson)
The 2011 Oregon Ducks opened the season very young, but it still took a -3 turnover margin and the best team in college football — the LSU Tigers — to hand Chip Kelly’s group their only loss. Oregon’s latest 23-point win on the road against Stanford is clear indication of this team’s trajectory. The Ducks are third in the nation in scoring offense, fifth in rushing and eighth in total offense. Since losing to LSU, Oregon has won nine straight games and every one of them has been by at least 15 points. The Ducks should continue their current dominance against USC this weekend and should be considered to best 1-loss team.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Since I still think that Alabama is the best team in the nation, I would have to say the Crimson Tide. But there are a lot of other teams I would not want to play right now. Oklahoma might be the second-best team in the nation, but cannot stay healthy. Oregon is on a roll offensively. Virginia Tech is rounding into one of the more complete teams in the nation behind the development of Logan Thomas. Two teams I would not want to play in my conference title game (talking to you Michigan State and LSU) is the Georgia Bulldogs or the Wisconsin Badgers — both of whom are wildly underrated in the polls. Clemson, Boise State, Stanford and Arkansas are on a lower tier in my opinion but are all tough outs as well. All of that said, I would not pick any of them to beat Alabama.
Josh McCuistion SoonerScoop.com (@JLMcCuistion)
Oklahoma's case is simple, it's collection of quality wins particularly away from Norman with road trips to Kansas State and Florida State and the annual battle in Dallas with Texas is something no one-loss team can match. Add in a potential win over Oklahoma State and they've also got the second best single-game win of the year by anyone.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I understand the argument that Oregon has improved from the start of the season, but I don’t think the Ducks would score 20 points against Alabama. That’s the scoring range of the UO offense the last two times the Ducks played SEC defenses — also their last two losses — and Alabama’s group is even better. The Tide did lose in overtime to LSU, but Oregon was never in it against the Bengal Tigers. Chip Kelly’s crew added a meaningless touchdown with 13 seconds to go just to cut it to a 40-27 loss in the opener. Too many college football media members seem to thrive on creating controversy instead of analyzing what’s happening on the field. There is no controversy here — Alabama is the best 1-loss team in the country.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think the best one-loss team in college football is Alabama. There’s a lot to like about this team, but the defense is simply the best in college football. The Crimson Tide have allowed no opponent to score more than 14 points in a game this year and rank first nationally in rush, total, scoring and pass defense. While the offense isn’t flashy, it’s certainly effective. Trent Richardson is one of the top running backs (if not the best) in the nation. He has rushed for 100 yards in every conference game except two this year (LSU and Tennessee), while posting 18 touchdowns and catching 25 passes for 318 yards. Alabama could have easily beaten LSU two weeks ago and taken the top spot in the polls. I’m not sure the Crimson Tide will get a shot to play for the national title, but if LSU is No. 1, then Alabama has to be No. 1-B.
by Josh Kipnis
The San Francisco 49ers are the best all-around team in the NFL. Yes, the Packers are undefeated. Yes, Aaron Rodgers could be the best passer we have ever seen. But teams without the Greek God of Quarterbacks have to have a balanced attack and consistency in all aspects of the game. If we are determining a team with the best offense/defense combination, I have to pick the Niners.
Jim Harbaugh, making his rookie debut as an NFL coach, has essentially clinched the NFC West with an 8-1 record (2nd place sits at 3-6) and the third easiest schedule remaining in the league. This will be the 49ers’ first playoff appearance since 2002, also marking the last time the team finished with a winning record.
Passing: San Francisco falls far below par when it comes to passing yardage. While other teams might mock the 4th lowest passing total in the NFL (179.6 yds/game), this stat proves to be the teams’ greatest strength. Sure, they might not pass for 300+ yards, but Harbaugh chooses to focus on a much more important facet of the game: turnovers. While quarterback Alex Smith’s longest touchdown is 44 yards this season (shortest among active starters), he has only thrown three interceptions all year long (tied with Rodgers for least in NFL). A key part of this efficiency is Smith’s use of his tight ends. Of the 11 TDs he has thrown, 7 of those have been to a TE. Hitting big, easy targets with reliable hands is exactly the strategy Smith needed to reinvigorate his young career.
Last Week: Frank Gore has been sensational. He set a franchise record this season by stringing together five consecutive games with at least 100 yards rushing. However, this past Sunday, the 49ers’ offense had to prove how successful they could be without the seventh best rusher in the NFL. It was the first time this season that San Francisco was in a “pass-first” scenario. And wouldn’t you know it, the offense flourished. Smith threw for 242 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT beating the Giants 27-20.
Big Plays: While offensively they do not rely on big plays, the Niners’ defense does. San Francisco has the second-most recovered fumbles and eighth-most interceptions. Cornerback Carlos Rogers has excelled this year, leading the league with 5 INTs. These game-changing turnovers are a major reason why San Francisco has given up the fewest total points in the entire NFL. If you don’t have the ball, it makes it a lot more difficult to put points on the board.
Linebackers: The 49ers have the best linebacking corps in all of football. NaVorro Bowman is second in the league with 92 tackles and teammate Patrick Willis is just a few spots below him, ranking 9th in the NFL. The third member of the unit is Aldon Smith, a rookie out of Missouri. He has accumulated 6.5 sacks thus far, eleventh most in the NFL. Need more stats to scare you about how good these three are? The 49ers have given up the fewest rushing yards of all 32 teams. But here’s the best part; San Francisco has not allowed a single rushing touchdown all year. That’s right, not one ball carrier.
Let the Gold Rush begin.
This profile of the Texas and Texas A&M college football rivalry originally appeared in Athlon's 1986 college football annuals. With Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC next season, this year's Thanksgiving Day showdown could be the last game between the in-state rivals in their series that dates back to 1894.
The Great Rivalries — Texas vs. Texas A&M
By Galyn Wilkins
It has lasted longer than the Wars of the Roses, longer than the Hatfields and McCoys, and sometimes it seems as fiercely fought as the Normans vs. the Saxons.
We’re talking Rivalry here, with a capital R. Rivalry as in the Unversity of Texas vs. Texas A&M. Ninety-one years of air raids — real air raids — cattle rustling, pregame conflagrations that make the Chicago Fire look like a patio barbecue, close games, blowout games, games resembling a concerto with four perfect movements and games with no rhyme or reason.
Just to say they take it seriously is an understatement. They take it personally. They take it as one of life’s larger responsibilities. Just last year, for example, A&M Coach Jackie Sherrill was watching from his office window as students piled up logs for the annual pre-Texas game bonfire.
“Doesn’t look like a Boy Scout campfire,” thought Sherrill as the logs were hoisted by crane and guided by nervous but steady hands into place 100 feet above the ground.
Responding to an inner trumpet call to action, Sherrill bolted out of his office, climbed the stack of logs and joined the bonfire engineers. The idea, see, is that anyone in Aggieland or Longhornland is willing to risk his neck the week of the game.
In recent years, frankly, some of the creativity has been extinguished in this great bonfire of a football series. Some of it has been legislated out, of course, because the kids were getting a little too creative.
In the 1950s, for example, the Aggies were working on plans for stealing the Texas mascot, a 1,500-pound steer named Bevo. One of them probably said, “We’ve done that before. Let’s try something different.”
So, in the space of eight hours one night, they traveled the state in commando groups and stole every mascot in the Southwest Conference, including the Arkansas razorback and the Texas longhorn.
The last theft occurred in 1972, when Texas’ Bevo made yet another trip to College Station in a U-Haul trailer. After that, conference rules were passed prohibiting such pranks. Bevo the steer and Reveille the collie have slept peacefully ever since.
The series has been anything but peaceful, though. It continues to burn as bright as the Aggie bonfire. Their match three years ago was one of the biggest double-barreled surprises in the history of Kyle Field in College Station, one of those games so shattered by unreal events that it can’t be put back together in a logical explanation.
Texas was unbeaten and rolling toward an almost certain national championship. The Aggies were 5-4-1 and hoping to fire one last shocking shot at the end of the season.
They almost did, taking a 13-0 lead in the second period. That was hard enough to believe. Much harder to comprehend was the Longhorns’ comeback. Riding the arm of quarterback Rick McIvor, they scored 45 points in a 15-minute blitzkrieg and won 45-13. The Aggies, however, not only had the last laugh that season, as Texas lost its national championship bid on a upset by Georgia in the Cotton Bowl, but have won the last two games in convincing fashion 37-12 and 42-10.
It’s about time, the Aggies say. For reasons not revealed by musty archives, they got off to a terrible start, losing the first seven matches with Texas, starting in 1894, all shutouts.
And then Charley Moran arrived in College Station. We can picture him riding onto the Aggie campus astride a white horse, six-shooters strapped to his waist, “Beat Texas” buttons pinned to his tunic.
This was 1909 and Moran was the Aggies’ 10th football coach. Thus, their impatience with coaches was established early. Moran’s first words were, “I didn’t come here to lose.”
He didn’t. He is the only Aggie coach whose teams defeated Texas twice in one year. By the middle of 1910, his second season, the Aggies had a 10-game winning streak. Moran had lit the fire.
Texas authorities suspected a rat in the woodpile and, sure enough, one of Moran’s stars admitted later that “from time to time we used boys of questionable academic pedigree.”
Texas broke off relations, diplomatic and otherwise, with the Aggies after the 1911 game. A verse chanted in the saloons of Austin shows what Texas students and fans thought of Moran:
To hell, to hell with Charley Moran
And all his dirty crew,
And if you don’t like the words of this song,
To hell, to hell with you
When the schools decided to resume combat in 1915, Moran was fired, probably in a concession to the powerful politicos at Texas — but the Longhorns had not heard the last of Charley Moran.
From exile in Kentucky, Moran wrote each Aggie player, urging him to “beat those people from Austin, if you still love me and think anything of me.”
There must have been something of a mystic hangover from the Moran years, because in the first game after his departure, the Longhorns fumbled 12 times and A&M won 13-0.
A&M students carried their heroes off the field, then helped Longhorn rooters carry their warriors to the dressing room. It was a peace that couldn’t last, and didn’t.
The next year, Texas avenged that 13-0 loss 21-7 and celebrated by acquiring a mascot, a cantankerous Longhorn steer. In 1917, Texas students planned to parade the steer at the Aggie game in College Station with 21-7 branded into his flank.
In the dead of night before the game, a Model T-Ford chugged off toward Austin, loaded with Aggies and branding irons. The next morning, the student wranglers at Texas were appalled to discover that their prize mascot had been branded with the 13-0 score of the 1915 game.
Oddly enough, a billboard proclaiming the quenching delights of Bevo Beer solved the problem. An enterprising student took a branding iron and changed the 13-0 to B E V O. Bevo Beer didn’t survive, but Texas mascots have been called Bevo ever since.
If the Aggies’ favorite target has been Bevo, the Longhorns have long been dedicated to watering down the A&M bonfire. In 1915, due to incendiary causes still unknown, the bonfire exploded. A witness, C.E. Griesser, who still lives near the campus, recalled that incident recently. “It scattered Aggies and wood from hell to breakfast and left a hole 10 feet deep,” he said.
In 1948, a Texas student was buzzing the bonfire in an airplane when he ran out of gas. After a forced landing, Aggie students removed the wings and threw them into the bonfire. Following a lengthy discussion, they set the nervous pilot free.
By 1920 the game had become an annual crusade for players, students and fans of both schools. A paragraph in the 1920 Texas student newspaper says it all: “The A&M game is at hand and classes and quizzes are mere details.”
A&M had hired Dana X. Bible, who later would “jump ship” and, after eight years at Nebraska, become a legend at Texas, where he coached 10 years.
The Aggies knew Bible had built something in 1920 when his team wiped out Daniel Baker 110-0 in the season opener. By the time the Aggies arrived in Ausitn for the last game of the year, they hadn’t yielded a single point.
Though 1920 is beyond the memory and hindsight of most fans, and beyond videotape of course, it must have been one of the greatest games in the history of the series. Maybe it was even, as the Austin American-Statesmen declared, “the greatest athletic contest ever played in Texas.”
You can imagine the players bashing noses, denting leather helmets, wiping the blood off their knuckles on moleskin pants.
What the Aggies couldn’t imagine was Texas scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter for a 7-3 victory, winding up a perfect 9-0 season. In a sneak preview of things to come much later, the Longhorns, exasperated after hammering at the Aggie defense all afternoon, pulled a trick pass play. They made tackle Tom Dennis eligible with a quick shift, and he caught a long pass at the A&M 3. Texas scored on the next play, bringing the first of 22 Southwest Conference titles to Austin.
Two years later, Bible used a shift of his own — to the history books. At halftime in Austin, where the Aggies had never won, Bible reminded his squad of the Alamo legend where Colonel William B. Travis supposedly drew a line in the dirt floor and invited all who wanted to stay and fight the huge Mexican force to step across the line and join him.
“Now men,” Bible said, screeching a chalk line across the locker room floor, “those who want to become known as the first A&M team to defeat Texas in Austin, step over the line.”
Bible was almost trampled in the rush, and the Aggies broke the 7-7 halftime tie and won 14-7.
Among the heroes illuminated by the rivalry, none symbolized its spirit more than Ed Bluestein, captain of the 1923 Longhorns.
After A&M’s 14-7 upset in 1922, Bluestein, a senior, got up in the depressed Texas locker room and said, “I want another crack at the Aggies and I’m going to do something about it.”
The next day he asked his calculus professor to flunk him so he could come back for another crack. The crack was hardly what he had in mind, however. He broke his leg on the Monday before the annual Thanksgiving Day bash.
Nevertheless, the Longhorns scored on a fumble recovery in the first quarter and held on for a 6-0 victory. Bluestein lived happily ever after, first as a Texas assistant coach and then as a highway patrolman stationed near the A&M campus.
Eventually, after Bear Bryant left A&M and Darrell Royal arrived at Texas with the makings of a dynasty, the Longhorns began to take charge of the series. They reeled off 10 straight wins, until in 1967 Edd Hargett threw an 80-yard missile to Bob Long that propelled the Aggies to a 10-7 victory and the conference title.
“There were several years when we didn’t have the manpower to keep up with Texas,” remembers Gene Stallings, then the Aggies’ coach. “That’s why we came up with those plays we called Texas Specials.”
Stallings pulled the chair from under the Longhorns in 1965 and 1966. In the first game, he had quarterback Harry Ledbetter throw what looked like a misdirected pass toward Jim Kauffman in the flat.
“We rehearsed every bit of it,” Stallings says. “Ledbetter had to throw the ball into the ground and turn around disgusted. Kauffman had to angrily kick the ground and start back toward the huddle.”
Suddenly, Kauffman picked up the ball and threw it downfield to Dude McLean. Bang! A 91-yard exploding cigar. See, it wasn’t an incomplete pass Ledbetter threw to Kauffman, but a lateral. Live ball. Ha-ha.
The trick not only astounded the Kyle Field crowd, but sent the giggling Aggies into a 17-0 lead. But, as Stallings would discover in the second half and in the rematch in Austin the next year, tricks are only fleeting, rickety glimpses of success. Texas came back from that 17-0 surprise to win 21-17.
Stallings pulled the Texas Special II the next year. Long, the kickoff receiver, faked a handoff to Lloyd Curington, ran toward the sideline, stopped at his 15 and threw a long lateral back to Curington, who ran 74 yards before he was apprehended for the fraud. The Aggies scored and crept to within 7-6, but Texas went on to a 22-14 victory.
“Those plays were fun,” Kauffman said not long ago, “and we realized they weren’t good, sound football. But when you’re out-manned, as we were, you have to get any edge you can.”
Field Scovell, now a Cotton Bowl impresario, was involved in a classic backfire as an Aggie guard in 1928. The Aggies had a play where the ball was hidden behind the flexed knee of a guard, there to be picked up by a furtive runner.
A Texas player, however, spotted it, grabbed it and headed toward the goal line. Scovell, the guard on the opposite side, chased the thief and caught him a few yards short of a touchdown.
“A lot of good that did,” Scovell says now. “We lost anyway 19-0.”
Hargett’s classy game in A&M’s 1967 triumph erased the nightmares of the backfires and the long Texas winning streaks.
But he soon discovered that in this rivalry a man can be standing with his cleats on the other team’s neck on year and have them shoved down his throat the next year.
When Hargett met the Longhorns at the end of the 1968 season, he had thrown 176 passes without an interception. They intercepted him five times en route to a 35-14 victory.
In 1975, the Longhorns took the nation’s top offense into Kyle Field – and lost 20-10. The Texas quarterback, Marty Akins, was on the sidelines most of the afternoon, sitting out an injury. It was a lifeboat of an explanation the Longhorns quickly jumped in after the game.
“If they say that was the reason they lost,” barked Aggie linebacker Ed Simonini, “well, they’re sick. I don’t like ‘em anyway.”
The feeling has always been mutual. Always will be.
See what you started, Charley Moran?
This profile originally appeared in Athlon's 2007 Penn State Game Day booklet.
Where to begin? Paterno is synonymous with Penn State football in much the same way that Bear Bryant is linked forever to Alabama, John Wooden to UCLA and Vince Lombardi to the Green Bay Packers. He ranks second in all-time Division I-A coaching victories and is within reach of the leader, Florida State’s Bobby Bowden. He has enjoyed five unbeaten seasons and won two national championships. He’s coached 71 first-team All-Americans, seven College Hall of Famers and 30 first-round NFL draft picks. Three of his former players—Jack Ham, Mike Munchak and Franco Harris—are enshrined in Canton. He’s a Hall of Famer himself, having been inducted into the college hall in December 2006. People like to think the Nittany Lions don’t have an emblem, but the truth is they do. It’s Paterno. Just try to imagine this program without visions of JoePa’s wavy pompadour or rolled-up trouser legs creeping into your subconscious. Go ahead, try. Not so easy, is it?
The on-field highlights of Paterno’s career are so familiar they hardly bear repeating. There’s the breakthrough 1968 season, in which the Lions went 11–0 and emerged as something more than just another regional power; the marvelous 1969 encore in which they matched their previous record by going unbeaten and defeating Missouri, 10–3, in the Orange Bowl; the national championship seasons of 1982 and ’86; the unbeaten 1994 season in which the Lions fielded what some regard as the best offense in college football history yet finished second to Nebraska in both polls; and, of course, the magical 29–27 victory over Ohio State in 2001, which gave Paterno his 324th career win, one more than Bryant amassed with the Crimson Tide.
What makes Paterno’s career so interesting is that none of those triumphs ever seemed preordained. The very idea that this lawyer’s son would become a football coach was absurd on its face. And not just to friends and family, but to Paterno himself. He was planning on attending law school.
A surprise phone call from Engle changed Paterno’s life. But even after taking up coaching at Penn State—the only postgraduate employer he has ever known—his ascent to the top of the profession was fraught with road blocks and detours. In 1967, his second season, Penn State lost its opener to Navy, 23–22, on a freak play. Coming on the heels of a 5–5 debut season, the loss shook the faith of some early Paterno backers. All of a sudden, Rip’s boy wonder didn’t seem so smart. “I thought I was going to get fired,” Paterno recalled recently. “A kid by the name of John Sladki from Johnstown … they threw a pass on the last play of the game, he deflected it and the guy caught it and ran. I go to bed sometimes thinking about Sladki, poor guy.” School officials stuck by their young coach. He justified their faith by guiding Penn State to victories in 31 of its next 33 games.
But there were more difficulties to come. An Alabama goal-line stand in the Sugar Bowl cost top-ranked Penn State the 1978 national championship and gave rise to talk that Paterno couldn’t win the big one. It remains the most haunting loss of the Paterno era. And while Paterno did finally get even with the Bear—more than even, actually—his triumph had a bittersweet aftertaste. Even as he was eclipsing Bryant’s career victories record in October 2001, the Lions were in the midst of their second consecutive losing season. From 2000 to 2004, Penn State would suffer four losing seasons. It was the school’s longest period of sustained mediocrity since the 1930s.
Still, Paterno avoided some other trap doors. He resisted the urge to leave for the NFL, spurning an offer from the Patriots in the early 1970s. He didn’t venture into politics as some other legendary sports figures have done, nor did he fall victim to health problems typically associated with high-pressure jobs. Even after suffering a broken leg last November when a player ran into him on the sideline at Wisconsin, he tried to talk his doctor into letting him coach the team’s next game a week later against Temple. The doctor refused, but the incident said volumes about Paterno’s determination. Said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, “He’s a wily old rascal. He’s not going anywhere.”
Paterno’s only real indulgence—if that’s what it is—is his desire to keep on working. With the losing seasons a not-so-distant memory, some would like to see him step away. Forty-one years, they say, should be enough for anyone.
But that wily old rascal has built up an enormous reservoir of goodwill in his tenure as head coach. He may not be the saintly figure the national media makes him out to be. He may be cranky and stubborn, and he may scapegoat officials from time to time in a way that some find unseemly. But he graduates his players, he gives back to the university (more than $4 million in philanthropic contributions as of this writing) and he lends the football program an iconic dimension it might otherwise lack.
Oh, and he still wins games in bunches from time to time. In 2005, the Nittany Lions went 11–1 and defeated Florida State, 26–23, in a triple-overtime Orange Bowl marathon. After the game, senior quarterback Michael Robinson took a seat in the interview room and addressed Paterno’s critics. He was speaking specifically about the recent attacks on the coach’s fitness for command, but he could just as well have been addressing an earlier generation of skeptics, one that thought Paterno was too stogy or archaic or conservative to succeed.
“To think that people actually wanted him to give this game up, to call it quits, when we knew what type of team we could have, I mean, I’m at a loss for words,” Robinson said. “What could these people have been thinking?”
“I don’t think our uniforms look that bad. I think they say something to kids about team-oriented play and an austere approach to life.” —Paterno on Penn State’s conservative look—dark jerseys without player names, plain white helmets, black shoes.
“I consider myself, and I know my teammates and Penn State players past and present feel likewise, a better person for having played for Joe Paterno.” —Former quarterback and current television analyst Todd Blackledge
“One of the greatest things Coach Paterno has said, when asked about his greatest team, is ‘I don’t know. I’ll tell you in 20 years.’ He really believes his greatest team isn’t which one had the fewest losses. His greatest team is what becomes of the men he coached. That’s a rarity in collegiate and professional sports, but that just epitomizes the class and values of Coach Paterno.” —Steve Wisniewski, guard, 1985-88
“I think everyone on the team not only wanted to win the Big Ten but to show the nation that the program was back and that Coach Paterno still had it, that he’s able to do things the right way with the right guys and not bend or break any rules. To get back in the spotlight, I think all of the players just wanted that for Coach.” —Linebacker Paul Posluszny, on the 2005 season
A quick preview of every game on the NFL schedule for Week 11, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports editors Mitchell Light, Rob Doster, Nathan Rush, Patrick Snow and Steven Lassan:
Chargers (4-5) at Bears (6-3)
Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler have a feud that goes back to Cutler’s days with Denver. The two have exchanged trash talk over the years, with Cutler saying they “aren’t the best of friends” and Rivers boasting that he’d “have been taken off in a cart” when responding to Cutler sitting out the second half of last year’s NFC title game with an injury. The Monsters of the Midway defense may get revenge for their quarterback.
Bears by 6
Jets (5-4) at Broncos (4-5)
Rex Ryan’s crew isn’t happy about having the quickest turnaround of the season — kicking off in Denver on Thursday night after losing to the Patriots last Sunday night. But there is no rest for the weary. The Jets will attempt to stop Tim Tebow’s old-school option offense.
Jets by 4
Raiders (5-4) at Vikings (2-7)
Oakland has been resting since last Thursday’s win over San Diego; Minnesota has a short week after losing to Green Bay on Monday.
Raiders by 2
Bills (5-4) at Dolphins (2-7)
Two teams headed in different directions — Miami is 2–0 following an 0–7 start; Buffalo is 1–3 after going 4–1 out of the gate.
Bills by 2
Jaguars (3-6) at Browns (3-6)
Cleveland is averaging only 10 points over its last four games, going 1–3 during that stretch.
Browns by 1
Bengals (6-3) at Ravens (6-3)
With the AFC North up for grabs, both Cincinnati and Baltimore must regroup after tough losses. The Bengals fell to the Steelers at home, while the Ravens were stunned by the Seahawks on the West Coast after capping a season sweep of Pittsburgh the week prior.
Ravens by 6
Panthers (2-7) at Lions (6-3)
These cats are collectively licking their wounds. Carolina was shut down by Tennessee in Cam Newton’s first “bad” game in the NFL, while Detroit was embarrassed by Chicago in Matt Stafford’s “worst” game of his young career.
Lions by 7
Buccaneers (4-5) at Packers (9-0)
The battle of the Bays pits former NFC Central rivals Tampa Bay — losers in four of its last five games — against Green Bay — the reigning Super Bowl champs who have won 15 straight. The Packers are attempting to become the 14th team in the Super Bowl era to start 10–0.
Packers by 12
Eagles (3-6) at Giants (6-3)
After being a healthy inactive as punishment for a missed meeting, DeSean Jackson returns to the scene of his greatest moment in the NFL. Last season’s “Miracle at the Meadowlands” punt return was a 65-yard walk-off score by Jackson that served as a knockout blow to the Giants. In that game, the Eagles scored 28 points in the final 7:28 to pull off a 38–31 win.
Giants by 4
Cowboys (5-4) at Redskins (3-6)
Dallas protected its home turf at Jerry’s House, beating Washington 18–16 in Week 3. Since then, the Boys have been riding an unpredictable roller coaster while the Skins have been in a consistent downward spiral.
Cowboys by 10
Cardinals (3-6) at 49ers (8-1)
Jim Harbaugh’s Niners are playing great. But San Fran hasn’t faced Arizona’s John Skelton, who is 2–0 since taking over for Kevin Kolb.
49ers by 11
Seahawks (3-6) at Rams (2-7)
The last time these two teams played was a Week 17 playoff play-in to settle the NFC Worst division title. Seattle made the playoffs at 7–9.
Rams by 1
Titans (5-4) at Falcons (5-4)
Two teams with playoff aspirations meet at a critical juncture. Technically, this isn’t do-or-die, but it sure feels like a fourth down in overtime.
Falcons by 5
Chiefs (4-5) at Patriots (6-3)
K.C.’s general manager Scott Pioli returns to New England, where he helped Bill Belichick build a three-time Super Bowl champion during his tenure with the team (2000-08). But the Chiefs will be without starting quarterback Matt Cassel, who served as Tom Brady’s backup before following Pioli to Kansas City.
Patriots by 17
Last week: 10–6 // Season: 98–48