Articles By All
-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)
LSU and Alabama played for the national championship last night, and congratulations are in order for the Crimson Tide on adding a sixth straight BCS title to the SEC’s trophy case.
Like any championship in any sport, it took thousands of hours of preparation, scouting, film study, weight work and recruiting to earn the Crystal Ball. It also takes a bit of luck, as was the case for this season’s BCS National Championship game.
LSU clearly earned its way into the title game with an unblemished record, but Alabama needed a little help to get there. Here is a week-by-week look at the college football season and how each Saturday shaped the national championship picture.
Week 1: (4) LSU 40, (2) Oregon 27
The Oregon Ducks entered the season as a slight favorite to defeat the Tigers in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. But the Honey Badger was having none of it, as Tyrann Mathieu and the physical LSU rushing attack (175 yards) handled the defending national runners-up with relative ease. Had the Ducks not committed four turnovers – which became 20 LSU points – who knows how the season would have played out? Instead, LSU moved to No. 2 in the polls. Runner-Up: (5) Boise State 35, (19) Georgia 21
Week 2: (3) Alabama 27, (23) Penn State 11
Other than LSU, the Nittany Lions might have been the best defense Alabama played all season long. Until a late TD by Penn State, this game was well in hand and was easily Alabama’s toughest non-conference test of the year. Trent Richardson rushed 26 times for 106 yards and two scores as the Tide controlled the game from the opening kickoff. They passed with flying colors. In the SEC East, the Gamecocks won a key road test over Georgia. However, the game actually played little role in the outcome of the East division. Runner-Up: (12) South Carolina 45, Georgia 42
Week 3: (1) Oklahoma 23, (5) Florida State 13
A second top-five team was handed its first loss and essentially eliminated from the national title race when Oklahoma’s defense beat up on E.J. Manuel in Tallahassee. The Sooners staked their claim to the BCS with a convincing road win while Manuel’s injury set a bad tone for what would turn out to be a disappointing season for the Noles. Meanwhile, after two terrible losses to start the season, Notre Dame dominated Michigan State, giving the Spartans one of two regular-season losses. LSU, behind a key fourth-quarter Jarrett Lee TD pass to Rueben Randle, squeaked past Mississippi State on the road on Thursday night. Runner-Up: Notre Dame 31, (15) Michigan State 13 / (3) LSU 19, (25) Mississippi State 6
Week 4: (3) Alabama 38, (14) Arkansas 14
This was a big weekend for the BCS national title landscape. Arkansas came into Tuscaloosa unbeaten with eyes on the big upset. But with 10:47 to go in the third, Bama was up 31-7 on the Hogs and eventually out-rushed Arkansas 197 to 17 that afternoon. Meanwhile in College Station, the No. 8-ranked Texas A&M Aggies were choking away their first second-half lead of the season to Oklahoma State. Brandon Weeden and the Pokes vaulted the Cowboys into the top five nationally. Up in Morgantown, LSU was in the process of allowing 533 total yards to West Virginia. But with the help of corners Mathieu and Morris Claiborne (and his 99-yard kickoff return), the Tigers held on for another huge non-conference win. Later that night, USC was upset by Arizona State in what would be one of only two losses for the ineligible Trojans. Runner-Up: (7) Oklahoma State 30, (7) Texas A&M 29 / (2) LSU 47, (16) West Virginia 21
Week 5: Auburn 16, (10) South Carolina 13
South Carolina will look back on Week 5 and realize that their SEC title hopes fell apart against Auburn. The unbeaten Cocks could not stop the Tigers rushing attack as since-dismissed tailback Michael Dyer carried 41 times for 141 yards and a touchdown. And there was much rejoicing in Athens, Ga. In Jerry’s World, Arkansas bounced back from the Bama loss — and a terrible first half against Texas A&M — to defeat the Aggies in a shootout to keep their own title hopes alive. Tyler Wilson threw for 510 yards. In Blacksburg, the Clemson Tigers continued their magical early season run by ending the undefeated Hokies' national title dreams in dominating fashion. The Tigers were eighth in the nation following the win and were making a serious case as a national title contender. But more on that in a second. Runner-Up: (18) Arkansas 42, (14) Texas A&M 38 / (13) Clemson 23, (11) Virginia Tech 3
Week 6: (3) Oklahoma 55, (11) Texas 17
This weekend left fans likely wanting more. Top match-ups like the Red River Shootout turned out to be completely one-sided – much like LSU’s blowout win over Florida, Arkansas’ win over Auburn, Alabama’s win over Vanderbilt, Oklahoma State’s win over Kansas. The unbeaten Sooners’ win over rival Texas made Oklahoma look, at the time, like the preseason No. 1 team in the nation. Little did we know… Runner-Up: (20) Kansas State 24, Missouri 17
Week 7: (23) Michigan State 28, (11) Michigan 14
First-year head man Brady Hoke had Michigan undefeated and knocking on the top ten when the Wolverines headed into East Lansing to take on the Spartans. Mark Dantonio’s bunch did a fantastic job on Denard Robinson, holding him to 42 yards rushing on 18 attempts and only 123 yards passing. Michigan went on to lose only one other game en route to the Sugar Bowl title, leaving Maize and Blue fans to wonder what might have been had they beaten Sparty that afternoon. Elsewhere, the Cowboys of Oklahoma State made another huge road statement with a win in Austin, and the Ducks repositioned themselves for a title run by destroying the ranked Sun Devils at home. Runner-Up: (8) Oklahoma State 38, (22) Texas 26 / (9) Oregon 41, (18) Arizona State 27
Week 8: (15) Michigan St 37, (4) Wisconsin 31 / Texas Tech 41, (3) Oklahoma 38
One that Alabama likely had to have in order to make it to New Orleans (among many others) turned out to be the top game of the 2011 regular season. The back-and-forth affair saw undefeated Wisconsin rally in the fourth-quarter to tie the game at 31 with 1:39 left in the game. At home, senior quarterback Kirk Cousins drove the Spartans to the 44 yard line with one play left on the clock. His historic tipped Hail Mary landed in Keith Nichol’s hands just before he inched across the goal-line to give the Badgers their first loss of the season. Wisconsin went on to win the Big Ten and play in the Rose Bowl, but had that pass fallen incomplete (and UW won in overtime), who knows where Big Red would have ended the year.
As the No. 3 team in the nation, the Sooners completely failed to show up on October 22. The Red Raiders eventually took a 31-7 third quarter lead in Norman before Oklahoma finally realized it was playing for its national title. It was too little, too late and OU dropped outside of the top ten. Out west in Palo Alto, Andrew Luck and Stanford passed their first real test of the season in impressive fashion over the 5-1 Huskies, pushing the Cardinal to fourth in the polls. Runner-Up: (7) Stanford 65, (22) Washington 21
Week 9: Georgia Tech 31, (6) Clemson 17 / (4) Stanford 56, (20) USC 48
The Tigers were 8-0 and staring a national title berth square in the face when they headed to Atlanta. And did what Clemson does best: completely baffle the mind. Costly turnovers, porous rush defense and the inability to get off the field on third down gave the Tigers their first loss of the season. Clemson would go on to lose four of its last six games. In the Little Apple, another undefeated team fell from the ranks of the unblemished. Oklahoma, fresh off its title-crushing defeat to Texas Tech, obliterated the over-matched Wildcats of Kansas State. Additionally, Stanford won one of the great games of the ’11 campaign when it recovered a USC fumble in triple-overtime to keep itself undefeated. Another top ten team, Michigan State, was upset on the road by Nebraska in what turned out to be an incredibly eventful weekend in college football. Runner-Up: (4) Stanford 56, (20) USC 48 / (11) Oklahoma 58, (10) Kansas State 17 / (13) Nebraska 24, (9) Michigan State 3
Week 10: (1) LSU 9, (2) Alabama 6
This one needs no explanation, although the outcome had little effect on the BCS national title game. After five straight weeks with LSU and Alabama atop the polls, the “Game of the Century” came to fruition at the Capstone. Alabama committed uncharacteristic penalties, could not convert on special teams and was on the losing end of one controversial interception call that likely decided the game’s outcome. Jordan Jefferson sparked the LSU offense just enough by giving the Bayou Bengals an option attack off the edge. The overtime win by LSU kept the Tigers unbeaten and all but locked into the BCS National Championship game. Alabama would need some help. Runner-Up: (3) Oklahoma State 52, (17) Kansas State 45
Week 11: TCU 36, (5) Boise State 35 / (6) Oregon 53, (3) Stanford 30
Another year, another kick heard round the Pacific Northwest. Boise State lined up for a 39-yard game-winning field goal with only seconds left on the clock against TCU. With the national and conference championship on the line, Dan Goodale sailed the attempt wide right as time expired. A trip to the BCS National Championship game was, for a second consecutive year, dashed by a missed field goal. In Palo Alto, a second top five team would fall, as Stanford, for a second consecutive year, could not stop the high-powered Oregon offense. Stanford has lost two regular games over the two seasons and both have come at the hands of Chip Kelly. The loss knocked Stanford out of the national title picture for good, while officially pushing a one-loss Oregon back into the mix. Runner-Up: None
Week 12: Iowa State 37, (2) Oklahoma State 31
Where to begin? Seven ranked teams, including four of the top ten, fell to lesser-ranked opponents this mid-November weekend. On Friday night, a missed 37-yard field goal by Quinn Sharp with 1:17 to go in regulation likely cost the No. 2 Oklahoma State Cowboys a chance at the national championship when Iowa State pulled off the unlikely overtime upset. Baylor’s Robert Griffin III not only beat Oklahoma with his final play touchdown pass, but he also won himself the Heisman Trophy when he topped the No. 5 Sooners for the first time in school history. Another kicker, this time it was Oregon’s Alejandro Maldonadado, also impacted the national title when No. 4 Oregon lost to USC. His 37-yard field goal went wide left as time expired. And No. 7 Clemson once again laid a giant egg, as it got housed by an unranked NC State team. The Crimson Tide merely sat back and enjoyed the charred landscape of college football. Runner-Up: (18) USC 38, (4) Oregon 35 / (25) Baylor 45, (5) Oklahoma 38 / NC State 37, (7) Clemson 13
Week 13: (1) LSU 41, (3) Arkansas 17
Entering Week 13, Razorbacks fans not only still had a chance at an SEC title, but were excited about a potential national championship berth. The Tigers quickly quashed those dreams by dominating the game 41-3 after serving up a 14-0 lead to the Hogs. The win clinched the SEC West and essentially a BCS National Championship berth for the Tigers. Alabama meanwhile, crushed rival Auburn 42-14 and basically secured its own spot in the title game. Runner-Up: None
Week 14: (1) LSU 42, (12) Georgia 10
The outcome may not have impacted the National Championship game, but Les Miles didn’t want to leave anything to question. After falling behind for the second straight week, the Tigers completely dominated the second half by outscoring the Bulldogs 35-0. Miles claimed his second SEC championship and officially earned his second career BCS National Championship game berth. Runner-Up: None
January 9: (2) Alabama 21, (1) LSU 0
It was absolute domination. The Crimson Tide walked into a hostile pseudo-road environment and completely whitewashed the No. 1 team in the nation. LSU managed five first downs, 92 total yards of offense, converted on 2-of-12 third downs and turned the ball over twice. In the first meeting, Alabama had the better offense and the better defense but were outplayed by a wide margin on special teams. Fool Nick Saban once, shame on you. Fool him twice? Never gonna happen. Special teams, with a little help from an incredibly poised A.J. McCarron and stifling defense, actually won Alabama the game as one big punt return and five made field goals were the difference. Alabama needed plenty of help to get to NOLA — see Weeks 11 and 12 of the regular season — but proved once they got there that they were clearly the better football team. The words "greatest ever" might have been just a big premature.
But what if Oklahoma State held on to beat Iowa State? What is Stanford could actually slow down Oregon? What if Wisconsin hadn't been beaten by two Hail Marys? And if Boise State could only make a clutch field goal? Saban and the Tide are deserving of the BCS Championship through hours, days, weeks and months of hard gut-wrenching sweat and tears, but it also took a little bit luck to land the 2011 BCS National Championship.
-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)
With the BCS National Championship in the rearview, recruiting now takes center stage for the next three weeks.
And one glance at the Athlon Consensus 100 will prove that it should be an electric ride to National Signing Day 2012 on Feb. 1. Despite roughly 18 national commitments this weekend in Tampa and San Antonio, still 15 of the top 40 players in the nation are left uncommitted. In total, 23 of the AC100 are still left on the board.
Recruitniks can expect plenty of movement in the player and team rankings as well. The final release of rankings from Rivals, Scout, 247Sports and ESPN are always the most volatile and should be released in the coming weeks. Expect plenty of shifting as National Signing Day 2012 approaches.
Cal made a huge push in the team rankings this weekend as they landed three AC100 prospects at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Jeff Tedford and star recruiting Tosh Lupoi landed the nation’s No. 1 defensive back, Sacramento (Calif.) Grant Union’s Shaq Thompson, and the nation’s No. 2 defensive tackle, Monrovia (Calif.) High’s Ellis McCarthy. He also added the No. 98-rated player in the nation in Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian’s Jordan Payton. It is clear that the Golden Bears, not UCLA, are reaping the benefits of the scholarship reductions at USC.
Alabama also had a huge weekend by landing prized safety Landon Collins (AC100 No. 20) – despite his mother’s best efforts – and dynamic do-everything play-maker Cyrus Jones (AC100 No. 63). Miami landed AC100 end Tyriq McCord (No. 97) and nationally ranked safety Deon Bush. Louisville also had a big weekend by landing linebackers Keith Brown and Nick Dawson — both of whom were in contention for Athlon’s Top 100.
Notre Dame will be looking to rebound after losing AC100 defensive back from Oxon (Md.) Potomac Ronald Darby. And Friday evening, Texas lost the No. 25 player in the nation, Skyline wideout Thomas Johnson. More on them below…
Here are the Top Players left on the board (in order of AC100 ranking):
1. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR (6-5, 220)
Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest
It should come as no surprise that the nation’s No. 1 player set a U.S. Army All-American Bowl record on Saturday. On a deep fly pattern, DGB made a one-handed catch against solid coverage and scored a U.S. Army Bowl record 79-yard touchdown. Despite dropping another easy touchdown in the endzone, Green-Beckham claimed co-MVP honors of the game after two receptions, 88 yards and the long score. Expect the top prospect to trim his current list of five to a group of three very soon. Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma feel like the best bets. Texas is, however, the only official visit he has taken thus far, and Johnson’s recent defection from the Horns may open the door for DGB in Austin. Finalists: Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas
4. Arik Armstead, OL/DE (6-7, 280)
Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove
The former USC commitment has an older brother at USC and wants to play basketball full-time on the next level. It may be down to four with a pending visit to Auburn coming soon. Oregon and Cal appear to be in the lead with the surging Golden Bears offering a perfect fit with their 3-4 defensive scheme. He is planning on enrolling early so a decision could come at any point. He has officially visited Alabama, Cal, Notre Dame and Cal thus far. Finalists: Auburn, Cal, Notre Dame, Oregon
5. Andrus Peat, OL (6-6, 295)
Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol
The big blocker was excellent in the Under Armour game last week and has proven his stock is warranted. His older brother, Todd, and cousin Avery Moss either play at or will play at Nebraska. So heading for a NSD announcement, the Huksers have the edge over his other three finalists. Peat has visited Nebraska and Stanford and will be in Los Angeles this weekend. Finalists: Florida State, Nebraska, Stanford, USC
11. Stefon Diggs, ATH (6-0, 185)
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel
Along with Trey Williams, Diggs was the most electric and exciting player on the field in the U.S. Army Bowl on Saturday. And unfortunately, Diggs has hinted at the fact that he might be extending his recruitment beyond NSD on Feb. 1. It appears mom wants him at Florida but Diggs wants to visit USC post-signing day. Can Lane Kiffin afford to leave one of those precious 15 spots open after signing day? Only time will tell. Finalists: Auburn, Cal, Florida, Maryland, Ohio State, USC
13. Eddie Goldman, DT (6-4, 305)
Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate
The star defensive tackle has taken four visits thus far to Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and Miami with Cal, Clemson or Maryland getting his fifth and final official. It has appeared to be a two-team race between the Crimson Tide and Seminoles but Auburn has made a strong push. Who wins out between Alabama’s Sal Suneri and Florida State’s Mark Stoops? You can bet both are working the phones hard for Mr. Goldman. Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Cal, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, South Carolina
15. Kyle Murphy, OL (6-6, 270)
San Clemente (Calif.)
Murphy is down to five and will likely take two more visits before eventually making his decision. He has visited Oregon and Florida thus far and supposedly will take a trip to The Farm this weekend and USC the following. And Cal seems to be the hottest team in the nation on the trail and cannot be counted out of anything at this point. Finalists: Cal, Florida, Oregon, Stanford, USC
16. Darius Hamilton, DE (6-4, 245)
Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep
The son of former NFL lineman Keith Hamilton is very comfortable at pretty much any position on the defensive line. He is down to three choices (not shockingly, Cal is in the mix) and he will make the call either on NSD or the day before (Jan. 31). He cares about early playing time, a chance for a championship and the relationship with his coaches. He has visited Cal and Florida with one coming for Rutgers (Jan. 20) and possibly Miami (Jan. 27). Florida might be the leader in the clubhouse. Finalists: Cal, Florida, Rutgers
21. Yuri Wright, DB (6-2, 185)
Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep
There was some rumor to Wright making an announcement at the U.S. Army game, but that did not come to fruition. Colorado, Michigan and Notre Dame look like his three finalists with Georgia and Rutgers still hanging in the mix. He has visited Colorado and Notre Dame thus far. Finalists: Colorado, Michigan, Notre Dame
25. Thomas Johnson, WR (6-0, 180)
Dallas (Texas) Skyline
Johnson decommitted Friday night from the Texas Longhorns the day after playing in the Under Armour game (strangely, with a big number of future teammates). After nearly one full calendar year as a Texas verbal, Johnson now looks to be picking between Cal, Oregon and TCU. He will be visiting his three finalists over the next few weeks before a NSD decision. Finalists: Cal, Oregon, TCU
26. Nelson Agholor, ATH (6-0, 180)
Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep
Agholor is a young player who wise and mature beyond his years and it shows on the field. He is dynamic and will be an immediate impact player on the next level – be it at running back, wide receiver or special teams. He has visited three of his five finalists already and will look to officially visit USC and Florida State (Jan. 13) before NSD. Matt Barkley’s decision to return to Heritage Hall may play a big role in where Agholor eventually lands. Finalists: Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, USC
28. Tracy Howard, DB (5-11, 175)
Hollywood (Fla.) Miramar
Howard proved his skills this weekend in the U.S. Army Bowl as he was matched up with the nation’s top player Green-Beckham all game long. He allowed only two receptions to the star wideout and was actually in great position on the long touchdown pass (DGB simply made a special play). LSU and Florida appear to be his finalists, but Howard has only visited Florida State and West Virginia thus far. He will be at USC this weekend and reportedly LSU on Jan. 20 with a potential trip to Florida looming. Finalists: Florida, Florida State, LSU, USC, West Virginia
31. Devin Fuller, ATH (6-0, 190)
Westwood (N.J.) N Valley Old Tappan
This two-sport dynamo wants to play quarterback and baseball — and wants to play them early. He is a perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez’ system and could start right away in the desert, so the Wildcats may have a slight edge. However, Fuller’s recruitment has been as wide open as any in the nation. He will enroll early so he will have to make his call in a timely fashion. He visited TCU back in December and Nebraska back in October with a trip to Rutgers coming on Jan. 20. Anything can happen here, though, so stay tuned. Finalists: Arizona, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Rutgers, TCU, UCLA
37. Joshua Garnett, OL (6-5, 280)
This is not your ordinary 6-5, 280-pound blocker. This a top 40 football prospect in the nation who also wants to be a bio-chemistry pre-med major in college. It should come as no shock then that Michigan, Notre Dame and Stanford are his three top choices. He has visited the Wolverines and the Irish so far and will likely get to The Farm at some point over the next few weeks. Reportedly, none of the three has a clear edge. Finalists: Michigan, Notre Dame, Stanford
38. Kwon Alexander, LB (6-2, 210)
Alexander is down to three schools and the BCS Championship game could have played a large role in helping him to decide. The talented tackler has visited Auburn and LSU thus far (as well as Florida State) and will hold off until NSD to make his decision. He is currently rehabbing from a knee injury he suffered back in October. Will he visit Alabama officially after the BCS NCG? Only time will tell. Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, LSU
40. Josh Harvey-Clemons, LB (6-4, 205)
Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes
This rangy linebacker (potential defensive end) has Florida, Georgia and Florida State with the Gators and Dawgs leading the charge for his services. He has visited Florida and reportedly will be in Athens this weekend. There is no timetable set for his decision, but he could pop anytime after his official trip to Georgia. Finalists: Florida, Georgia
51. Ronald Darby, DB (5-11, 175)
Oxon Hill (Md.) Potomac
The longtime Notre Dame commitment reopened his recruitment this weekend. He has visited Maryland and Auburn and is slated be on campus at Clemson this weekend. Florida State and LSU will also figure heavily in the mix. Florida State could be making a strong push for Mr. Darby. Finalists: Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, USC
57. Aziz Shittu, DT (6-3, 275)
Atwater (Calif.) Buhach
Texas A&M and Cal have already had the privilege of entertaining the big nose guard on campus. Reports are that Shittu will look to stay in-state to play his college ball, and that would eliminate the Aggies, Auburn, Boston College, Nebraska and Washington. That leaves Cal, Stanford, USC and UCLA as his four finalists. Finalists: Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC
66. Avery Young, OL (6-5, 275)
Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Palm Beach
Young has trimmed his list from five to three, but is still largely undecided. Technically, it appears that Auburn, Florida and Georgia will be who Young chooses from. However, he has visited Alabama and could be on campus in Miami on Jan. 20. His mother is from Georgia and he will be announcing on TV in Atlanta on Signing Day. Could this be a positive omen for Mark Richt and the Dawgs? Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Miami
71. Zach Banner, OL (6-8, 310)
Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes
The son of NLF blocker Lincoln Kennedy had his list trimmed to five. He has visited Michigan, Notre Dame, Washington and Oklahoma, with USC the only one yet to get an official visit. However, news recently broke that Banner was, in fact, down to two programs as USC and Oklahoma look like his two finalists now. Finalists: Oklahoma, USC, Washington
72. Joel Caleb, ATH (6-2, 205)
Midlothian (Va.) Clover Hill
Caleb announced Friday that he would make his decision on National Signing Day and that he would pick between four programs: Georgia, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. The talented athlete missed some of this season with a torn meniscus and has been rehabbing hard in order to be ready for 2012. He has taken two visits to Ohio State and Virginia Tech. Finalists: Georgia, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, West Virginia
73. Davonte Neal, ATH (5-9, 175)
Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral
Neal can play anywhere on the field and could still play anywhere in the nation. His list is still long and wide with schools from most every conference still in the hunt. His only visit thus far was to Notre Dame, and he looks to be headed to Ohio State (Jan. 13) and Arkansas (Jan. 20) in the near future. Originally from Akron, Neal would be totally comfortable heading back to the Midwest. That said, the coaching changes at both in-state schools have reenergized the Grand Canyon State schools. Finalists: Arizona State, Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Northwestern, Ohio State, USC
78. Javonte Magee, DT (6-5, 260)
San Antonio (Texas) Sam Houston
The big defensive tackle is down to three former Big 12 programs. Magee has visited future SEC schools Missouri and Texas A&M officially with Baylor rounding out his list of finalists. Baylor got a big commitment from Brian Nance over the weekend, and it could be a sign of things to come as it sounds like Magee is very high on the Bears. He plans to announces well in advance of NSD, so expect a decision at any point. Finalists: Baylor, Missouri, Texas A&M
83. Jordan Diamond, OL (6-6, 290)
Chicago (Ill.) Simeon
This big blocker has it down to five schools. He has visited Ohio State and Auburn and has trips to Arkansas and Wisconsin pending over the next few weeks. Michigan rounds out his top five. He has been monitoring the coaching situations at Wisconsin and Auburn very closely as both coaching staffs have had tremendous turnover this off-season. Diamond could make a decision at any point prior to NSD. Finalists: Arkansas, Auburn, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Created by: MBA Online
Everyone knows about Apple, the giant computer company lead by the uber-genius Steve Jobs. People like to talk about how Apple changed the world and the way that we interact at work, with each other and in basically everywhere.
But what about the good old-fashioned apple. As in the fruit and not the company. Here's a quick look at how the fruit and the corportation stack up against each other. And to be honest, they're more alike than you might think (they're also very very different, so, ya know.)
God is a big Tim Tebow fan. And he's not a big fan of Ben Roethlisberger. At least that's the only logical answer I can take away after the Broncos beat the Steelers 29-23 in overtime of the playoffs.
Let's break it down. After being the worst quarterback in the history of the game with more than 15 starts (that's a statistical fact, look it up) Tim Tebow, the good boy who prays really hard (and loud), eats his vegetables and probably helps little old ladies cross the street at halftime, erupted for the greatest game of his career against the Steelers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, who happen to be lead by Ben Roethlisberger, a guy who gets called a rapist everywhere he goes for his numerous sexual assault allegations that have had caused him thousands in lawyer fees and brushes with the law, had a terrible game that cost his team a chance at the Super Bowl.
Let's look at this match-up through God's eyes and see why he may have given Tim a helpful nudge over Ben:
Let's face it, God hasn't had this great of a PR spokesman since Moses. In the past, God's had a bit of a backlash after letting sleazebags like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker speak for him, only to later get exposed for philanderers and embezzlers. Tebow is the real deal. He's not going to get caught in bed with a Playmate or get busted for huffing crack in some Boulder back alley. God has been waiting to put his money on the right guy, someone who is not only a man of character, but puts his faith (and his circumsizing) where is mouth is. (Well, he doesn't put the circumsizing where his mouth is...you know what I mean.)
God Doesn't Like (Alleged) Rapists
So, in the first Testament there are some questionable parts that are kind of OK with rape (check Deuteronomy and Judges), but since he let us know about John 3 16 where he sent his only begotten son to save the world (Jesus, not Tebow) he's been pretty clear on the whole "I don't like rape" argument. So it would be really hard for him to let a guy who's been accused of numerous sexual assaults to go on the road and take down a guy who's basically a poster boy for Jesus. This was God's great chance to draw a pretty clear line in the sand in rapist vs non-rapist and he took it.
A Friendly Reminder Who's In Charge
God himself admits that he's a jealous God, so I'm sure he's been a little peeved at all the press the Mayans have gotten about 2012 being the end of the world. Giving Tebow the win was his little way of letting us all know exactly who's going to decide when the world will be engulfed in flames and who will fill men's hearts with fear and set the seas roaring before the Kingdom of Heaven will return to reign over it for all of eternity. God, not the silly little Mayans.
As we all knew, on paper, Roethlisberger is head and shoulders above Tebow in ability and experience. Roethlisberger, who threw one of the great Super Bowl winning passes of all time against the Cardinals (lead by an almost-but-not-quite-as-pious Kurt Warner) already has two NFL crowns notched into his belt. Tebow, on the other hand was the fourth-string quarterback for a team picked to lose more games than it won just four months ago. But when you put God on his team, we know who's going to win that game every time.
Having said all that, Tebow has no chance against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
by Josh Kipnis
Michigan players were rocking shirts that read “Pour some Sugar on me.” After their victory in LA, the Oregon Ducks “Rose to power.” Oklahoma State proclaimed to Stanford fans that the Fiesta Bowl was “Nacho Victory.”
West Virginia asked Clemson, “Orange you glad we won?”
On Wednesday night, the West Virginia Mountaineers crushed the Clemson Tigers, 70-33 (Trust me, it’s not a typo). As I watched the game, I kept staring at the bottom of the screen. “70-33” just doesn’t look normal on a scoreboard, in any sport. Even in basketball, the average points Clemson allows per game is less than 70.
The game was expected to be an offensive shootout, but no one could have predicted a score of this magnitude. “Never could we imagine we’d put up seventy points,” WVU quarterback Geno Smith said after the game. Seventy is the highest total a team has ever scored in an NCAA bowl game.
The Mountaineers didn’t just put a slight tear in the record books, they threw them all in the shredder. West Virginia broke nine different bowl game records.
On a night when seventy points are scored, it is tough to pinpoint only one star. As WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen put it, “you score seventy points by being good on all three sides of the ball.” In the star-filled galaxy of the Orange Bowl, Geno Smith was, however, the biggest and brightest—the North Star, if you will.
Smith went 31 of 42 with 401 yards, 6 passing TDs, and 1 rushing TD (tying records for TD passes, total TDs, and points scored). Tavon Austin was on the receiving end of four of those touchdowns, tying the record for TD catches in a bowl game. Safety Darwin Cook also shined in the sky, returning a fumble 99 yards.
Clemson led 17-14 at the end of the first quarter, but the Tigers lost all ability to pounce on their opponents in the second.
The pivotal moment in the game was Cook’s fumble recovery. The 99-yard play gave the Mountaineers a 28-17 lead in the 2nd quarter. “It was a pretty big moment,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “They hadn’t really stopped us [before that]. That was huge. Then it snowballed quickly.” Clemson was outscored 35-3 in the second, breaking the previous record for number of points allowed in one quarter of a bowl game.
West Virginia scored three times in the final 2:29 of the first half. Heading into the locker room, the score was 49-20 (most points by a team in a half and most combined points in a half).
The halftime entertainment featured “the fat lady” singing.
Last season, the Clemson defense ranked thirteenth in the country, allowing 18.77 points per game. To coach Swinney, it must’ve felt like ages ago. “We’re a better team than we played tonight,” he said after the embarrassment. “Just too many mistakes. But we’ll be back.”
But should they even be allowed back? ACC teams are 2-13 all-time in BCS bowl games; that is last among automatic-qualifying conferences. This year, Virginia Tech received an at-large bid to the Sugar Bowl, falling to Michigan 23-20 in overtime.
Clemson’s loss was brutal. At times, I honestly cringed while watching the game. And so as the Mountaineers drenched their coach with Gatorade and put on those championship t-shirts, I only wish I could’ve been on the sidelines to hand Dabo Swinney another shirt—“Orange you glad this is over?”
Tim Tebow makes no sense. By all account the Broncos quarterback flat out sucks. I know the Tebow-backers don't want to believe it and point to his 7-game winning streak in the middle of the season as proof that he has that special intangible that doesn't show up in the box score and makes him a winning quarterback. Which is what really counts (they say), forgetting about the Bronco defense and kicking game that had a much larger hand in that winning streak than Tebow.
But up until the second quarter of the Broncos playoff game against the Steelers, Denver hadn't scored a touchdown in 22 drives. 22! This is a player in his second year. This is a player who is an alternate in the pro-bowl based solely on his myth than his reality. He sucks, right? Right?
Wrong, I guess. Because he destroyed the vaunted Steelers defense, which was the #1 overrall ranked defense in the NFL this year for 185 yards (in the second quarter alone) tossing one touchdown and running for another. It's not often ANY quarterback makes the Steelers defense look confused and out of sorts. But Tim Tebow managed to do that in the second quarter of this playoff game.
After Tebow launched four passes of 30 yards or more, Pittsburgh's cornerbacks and safeties were left looking at each other and pointing fingers.
So how do the pundits explain this performance by Tebow? The thing is, they can't, and they end up looking exactly like the Steelers secondary, pointing fingers at each other and shrugging their shoulders.
So which Tebow will show up in the rest of this game, playoffs and career? You can't have a quarterback score zero touchdowns in 22 straight quarters and hope for one explosive quarter in every 5 games. Even if it is a playoff.
The Houston Texans have had a year of football firsts. After locking up their first division title and their first playoff birth in team history, they just added first playoff win to this year's resume after beating the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10.
And it was a good day for Texans' with letters for their first names. Oh, and a guy named Arian.
After the Bengals had controlled the ball and seemingly moved it at will down the field in the first half, rookie defensive lineman J.J. Watt took the momentum back with an incredible interception at the line of scrimmage that he took 29 yards for a touchdown. See the video of J.J. Watt's interception here. And to put a cherry on top, Watt added a sack on the last play of the first half when Dalton was going back for a hail mary.
The first half ended with a Texans' 17-10 lead, but Houston had to feel pretty good to get pushed around and come out of the first 30 minutes with a lead. In reality, the Bengals should have had the lead at the end of the half.
But from that point on, the Texans controlled the game, holding the Bengals offense to very few yards in the second half. Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton looked like a seasoned veteran in the first half, but looked a little lost and out of his rhythm in the second.
And what the Bengals desperately needed was a strong first drive in the second half, but instead they looked discombulated, burning a timeout, which made furious and had him screaming at the sideline.
When T.J. Yates connected on a 40-yard touchdown to Andre Johnson to put the Texans up 24-10 with 1:08 left in the third quarter, the Bengals all but fell apart.
PacMan Jones was seen arguing on the sideline with coaches and quarterback Andy Dalton threw his helmet over the bench.
The one lopsided stat of the game, that told a huge story was the success of Houston's running game against the vaunted Bengals rush defense. Arian Foster had a monster game on the ground and needing only the first three quarters to go over 100 yards.
And Dalton threw his third interception of the game when he hung up a ball with 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter, when the Bengals were desperate to get their offense going, Daneal Manning picked it off and set up a 42-yard touchdown run by Arian Foster where it looked like the Bengals defense wasn't very interested in tackling him. With the Texans up 31-10 with five minutes left, the Texans had all but sewn up team history with their first playoff victory behind a very loud and fired up home crowd.
Foster finished with 153 yards rushing.
And after the rash of injuries the Texans' have dealt with, Houston's head coach Gary Kubiak should be a front runner for coach of the year. No team has had to deal with injuries to more star players, Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Mario Williams, just to name a few. And for him to lead that team not not only a playoff berth, but a division title and a playoff win deserves all the honors you can give Kubiak.
And not to mention, Wade Philips' genius job with the Texans defense, taking them from one of the worst in the league last year to a top 10 defense this year is a historic turnaround. His free agent pick-up of ex-Bengal coernerback Jonathan Joseph played a huge part in shutting down the Bengals' star rookie wide receiver A.J. Green.
On the flipside, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis will have to answer questions about burning all of his coaching challenges on questionable calls in the first half. WIth the Texans running away with it, it didn't really matter, but the Bengals had no challenges in the second half if they needed them. Lewis lost both of his challenges in the first half.
J.J. Watt wasn't a household name before the Houston Texans' first playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
But he will be now after making a game-changing and unbelievably athletic interception at the line of scrimmage off of Andy Dalton to put the Texans up 17-10 at the end of the first half.
The Bengals had moved the ball all day, but didn't have much to show for it. They were trying to drive down to get at least a field goal at the end of the first half, but J.J. Watt had other plans. At the line of scrimmage, Watt, who used to be a tight end for the Wisconsin Badgers showed off some amazing hands as he snatched Dalton's seemingly point blank pass out of the air after pushing off the offensive lineman, and Watt took it to the end zone with less than a minute left in the half.
Watt needed oxygen after his 29-yard interception return for the touchdown. While Dalton was seen rolling his eyes, knowing that there was nothing he could do and that was just a top-notch play by Watt.
If the Texans go ahead to win this game, everyone will point to this play by Watt as the reason why. The Texans were getting beat in the momentum department before J.J.'s play.
To make matters worse, the Badgers, who J.J. Watt played for beat Andy Dalton's TCU Horned Frogs in their last college game against each other.
If you were feeling sorry for Elin Nordegren after having to go through the ordeal of Tiger Woods cheating on her with multitudes of strippers and half-prostitutes, well...
You probably don't have to feel sorry for her anymore.
I know money doesn't buy happiness, but it sure can put a nice down payment on it. Elin, who was living in a $12 million, 17,000 square foot mansion in Palm Beach, Florida decided that just a little renovation wasn't going to do the job.
So instead of adding on a nice breakfast nook, she tore the whole sucker down and has plans to build something that's being called a "dream house."
I guess she dreams bigger than most of us. Because if I woke up in a $12 million mansion in southern Florida, I might think I was still dreaming, instead of thinking that I had to tear this nightmare down so I could finally have the house I REALLY wanted. (Yes, that's sarcasm.)
Will this brazen act of spending turn the public's feelings for her? Before, she was the beautiful, wronged wife. And Tiger was the dirty dog. But now, with the economy still struggling and unemployment at 8.5%, she looks more like a Real Wife of Palm Beach; someone who is not living in the same world as the rest of the 99%.
And while we knew she made out with mad cash, tossing away $12 million dollars just feels a little gross.
Words being thrown around the Internet are "obscene," "disgusting" and "insane."
In a time when $12 million could go to clothe the homeless or feed starving children (it was just Christmas, after all), it seems like there's something more to this than meets the eye, because by all accounts, it makes no sense financially.
But maybe she's doing it to give Tiger a little jab as he watches millions of what used to be his dollars get pushed over by a bulldozer. And really, if you could do something like that to someone who humiliated you in front of the world, well, that would be pretty awesome.
No word on where Tiger was when this house was torn down. But we're still guessing Elin wouldn't mind if he was in the house when the walls came crashing down.
Who’s the fourth-best shooting guard in NBA fantasy nine-category leagues right now? Well, of course, it’s Portland Trail Blazer Wesley Matthews.
He is certainly paying big dividends for you if you grabbed him in your 2012 NBA fantasy draft — and you likely got him at a deal — a deal that’s easily giving a nice return on your investment so far.
Matthews entered the 2011-12 season with a Yahoo ADP of 72.1 — a top-of-the-sixth-round pick — and ESPN had him ranked 14th amongst shooting guards. Matthews was selected in the middle of the sixth round — right on schedule — in this year’s Athlon Sports one-man keeper NBA fantasy draft.
Matthews is the 14th best at something currently, but its 14th-best fantasy player overall in fantasy over the last seven days.
I know it’s early, and chances of Matthews keeping pace at one of the most loaded fantasy positions in the NBA is a tough task, but he did finish as the 10th-best shooting guard in nine-category fantasy leagues last season.
It will be hard for Matthews to get past the likes of Dwyane Wade, Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Martin and James Harden at the shooting guard spot in terms of fantasy, but his ADP in Yahoo leagues made him the 17th shooting guard taken and finishing top 10 has already been proven.
Now Brandon Roy is taken out of the mix with his retirement, opening up the door wider for Matthews.
In 69 games as the starter last season, he went for 16.9 points, 3.3 boards, 2.2 assists, 2.1 3-pointers and 1.4 steals in 36 minutes per game.
So far in the 2011-12 season, Matthews is a top-four shooting guard and top-15 player with less time than last season. He is playing 34:17 minutes per game with 15.4 points, 5.2 boards, 1.2 assists, 2.4 3-pointers and 1.4 steals.
A deep bench is something of a concern for Matthews fantasy owners, but he was a proven commodity last season and has already picked up where he left off. So have faith in him and reap the rewards of your sixth-round selection.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)
Do you ever wonder how a college football coach assembles a national championship caliber roster? Thousands of hours of scouting, evaluating, recruiting and coaching is the simple answer. But it also takes a little bit of luck as well.
The most interesting pattern within the interwoven LSU-Alabama timelines comes on the recruiting trail. Just look at last night's announcement of Athlon Consensus 100 safety Landon Collins. He grew up in the shadow of Tigers Stadium but picked Alabama. And the mother of the No. 3 defensive back in the nation wasn't happy about it.
Just imagine how the BCS National Championship game would be different if Nico Johnson or Mark Barron picked LSU instead of Alabama. Or what if Bennie Logan or Barkevious Mingo picked the Crimson Tide instead of the Bayou Bengals?
Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Offenses As Recruits
Here is how Nick Saban and Les Miles put together National Championship defenses at LSU and Alabama respectively:
Alabama Crimson Tide Starting Defense:
Josh Chapman, NT (2007)
From Hoover (Ala.) High School near Birmingham, Chapman entered college as a solid three-star defensive tackle prospect. He was ranked as the No. 32 nose tackle in the nation and the No. 12 player in the state by Rivals. He picked Alabama after initially committing to Auburn as well as other offers from Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
Jesse Williams, DE (2011)
Williams came a long way to get to the Capstone and the BCS National Championship game. Originally from Cavendish Road High School in Brisbane, Australia, Williams enrolled at Western Arizona Community College in Yuma, Arizona in 2009. After two seasons as a JUCO, Williams signed with Alabama in the spring of 2011 as the No. 2-rated junior college prospect in the nation. The 6-foot-4, 330-pounder obviously made a big impact in only one year on campus.
Damion Square, DE (2008)
Square posted 26 sacks in his final two seasons at Houston (Texas) Yates, landing him a three-star ranking from Rivals. He was ranked as the No. 37 defensive tackle and No. 55 player in the state of Texas by the internet scouting service. He picked Alabama over Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Texas A&M.
Jerrell Harris, LB (2008) AC100
Harris was a member of the inaugural AC100 back in 2008 as the No. 9-ranked linebacker in the entire country. He came to Alabama from Tide pipeline Gadsden City High School from Gadsden, Ala., after 265 tackles over his final two prep seasons. Harris took all five official visits: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee and USC. He has played 37 games in his career, but it is safe to say that after 52 total career tackles, Harris failed to live up to the recruiting hype.
Dont’a Hightower, LB (2008)
From Lewisburg (Tenn.) Marshall County, Hightower has proven to be one of the top Nick Saban recruits during his time at Alabama. The battering ram of a linebacker was ranked as the No. 3 player in the Volunteeer State and the No. 15 player at his position nationally. The two-way prep star picked Bama over Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. While not a top 100-type talent, Hightower was a four-star recruit by Rivals. He led the Tide in tackles in 2011 with 81 stops.
Nico Johnson, LB (2009) AC100
Johnson was one of the top prospects in the entire nation back in 2009. He was ranked as the No. 5 linebacker in the nation and was the No. 21 player in the nation overall. He trailed only Manti Te’o, Dorian Bell, Vontaze Burfict and Jelani Jenkins in the positional rankings. He hails from Andalusia (Ala.) and picked Alabama over Auburn and LSU.
Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama (2008)
The Eufaula, Ala., native was the No. 7-rated defensive end in the nation but only the No. 9-rated player in the state of Alabama. He was nationally recruited as the No. 111 player in the nation regardless of position and helped Alabama to the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. Upshaw, who picked Alabama over Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina and Georgia, was named the Class 5A Lineman of the Year by the ASWA.
Mark Barron, S, Alabama (2008) AC100
The nation’s No. 1 class was buoyed by the presence of the Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul safety. Barron was the No. 58-rated player in the AC100 and the No. 5 player in the state of Alabama. He was the nation’s No. 6 defensive back behind Patrick Peterson, Brandon Harris, Rahim Moore, BJ Scott and Dee Finley – three of whom are playing in the NFL. He was the nation’s No. 3 safety after being named MVP of the 2007 Class 5A Alabama state title game. He picked Alabama over LSU and Auburn.
Robert Lester, S (2008)
The Foley (Ala.) native was ranked as the No. 23 safety in the nation by Rivals back in 2008. His two finalists were Oklahoma and Alabama. The four-star prospect was ranked as the No. 15 player in the state of Alabama and has 10 interceptions over the last two seasons.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (2009) AC100
The Gadsden (Ala.) Gadsden City star was the No. 1 cornerback in the nation back in 2009. He was the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama. And he was the No. 10 player in the AC100. The five-star U.S. Army All-American, along with fellow AC100 stud Richardson, helped bolster an Alabama class that finished No. 3 nationally. Kirkpatrick had his choice of schools and is technically the highest-rated player on Athlon’s 2011 All-America squad. He picked Bama over Florida and Texas.
DeQuan Menzie, CB (2010)
Orginally from Columbus (Ga.) Carver, Menzie landed at Alabama after playing at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss. He was the No. 6-rated JUCO prospect by Scout and the No. 14-rated JUCO talent by Rivals. He selected Alabama over Ole Miss and Tennessee and beat out the highly touted DeMarcus Milliner to win a starting job this fall.
LSU Tigers Starting Defense:
Sam Montgomery, DE (2009) AC100
The star end from Greenwood (S.C.) was ranked as the No. 4 defensive end in the nation in the 2009 AC100. He was the No. 43-rated player in the entire nation regardless of position. The 6-foot-4, 245 rush end made his decision on television on National Signing Day by putting on the Purple and Gold hat over Tennessee and North Carolina. He was the No. 1 player in the Palmetto State back in the '09 cycle and may be one of the top NFL defensive ends in the nation — in either the 2012 or 2013 NFL Draft.
Bennie Logan, DT (2009)
Another member of the nation's No. 1 class, Logan came to Baton Rouge from Coushatta (La.) Red River as a three-star recruit. He was ranked as the No. 33 defensive end in the nation by Rivals and the No. 65 defensive end by Scout. Miles originally tried to offer Logan a greyshirt, but finally coughed up a scholarship during his official visit. Logan immediately picked the Tigers over Michigan, Nebraska, Texas Tech and Alabama.
Michael Brockers, DT (2009)
The four-star defenive end prospect from Houston (Texas) Chavez was ranked as the No. 19 defensive end in the nation and the No. 242 player overall in the nation. His offer sheet included Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Houston to go with his LSU scholie.
Barkevious Mingo DE (2009)
You think Les Miles likes his 2009 defensive line class? Mingo completes the four-man '09 starting defensive line — which does not include the highest-ranked of the group, Chris Davenport, or No. 3-ranked (within the LSU class) Josh Downs. Mingo, from West Monroe (La.), was ranked as the No. 29 linebacker in the nation and the No. 196 overall prospect in the country. He entered college, after picking LSU over Alabama, UConn and Michigan, as a skinny 6-foot-5, 205-pound outside backer. He is now a 250-pound national championship defensive end.
Stefoin Francois, LB (2007)
As a safety for Reserve (La.) East St. John, Francois nearly landed at Florida State. But two days before National Signing Day, he surprisingly committed to the Bayou Bengals. The then 6-foot-1, 188-pound defensive back was ranked as the No. 5 safety in the nation and the No. 63 prospect overall. After switching to outside linebacker, he bulked up to 225 pounds and has played well two seasons in a row at his new position.
Kevin Minter, LB (2009)
A nationally rated recruit, Minter was the No. 17 linebacking prospect in the nation and the No. 148 overall recruit in the country. The Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge tackling machine posted three consecutive 100+ tackle seasons to finish his prep career. He made 404 stops over that span. In first full season as the starter as a sophomore, Minter finished fifth on the team in tackles with 56 stops. He picked LSU over offers from Oklahoma State, South Carolina, USC, West Virginia, Virginia, NC State and Kentucky.
Ryan Baker, LB (2008)
Yet another Top 100 prospect starting for this stellar LSU defense, Baker was ranked as the No. 74 overall prospect in the nation and the No. 6 outside linebacker by Rivals. He hails from Blountstown (Fla.) and picked the Tigers over the Florida State Seminoles, despite the late push by Bobby Bowden.
Brandon Taylor, S (2008)
The Franklinton (La.) prospect was initially a cornerback coming out of high school but became a speedy, undersized safety once in Baton Rouge. He was a top 100 prospect by Rivals as the No. 9-ranked cornerback and the No. 92 overall player in the nation. He picked LSU over Kansas State and Notre Dame. The smallish (6-foot, 190-pound) safety finished No. 2 on this team in tackles in 2011 (67).
Eric Reid, S (2009) AC100
The 2009 LSU Tigers recruiting class, which one the Athlon Sports National Recruiting Championship, will eventually go down in history as one of the more productive in SEC history. Reid was the No. 10-rated defensive back in the nation and was the No. 79-rated overall prospect in the AC100. He made the single most important play in the first edition of the "Game of the Century" when he ripped the ball away from Bama tight end Michael Williams. The Geismar (La.) Dutchtown prospect picked LSU over NC State, Stanford, Tennessee and Tulane.
Tyrann Mathieu, PR, LSU (2010)
The Honey Badger was the No. 44 defensive back in the nation and the No. 8 player in the state of Louisiana by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 13-rated cornerback in the nation by Rivals. The New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine dynamo was either firmly committed to Frank Wilson and LSU, or schools were scared off by his attitude, because his offer sheet was LSU, Southern Miss, SMU, Tulane, FIU, Miami (Ohio) and Hampton.
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (2008)
Was ranked as the No. 21 player in the state of LA and the No. 58-rated athlete in the nation by Rivals.com. Visited no other schools officially, but his short list included Nebraska, Texas A&M, Tulane, Arkansas State and Louisiana Tech. Three-star player from Shreveport (La.) Fair Park where he played QB. He passed for 1,009 yards and 14 TDs while rushing for 1,023 yards and 16 TDs in 2008.
Jim Rome, the outspoken radio and TV personality is leaving ESPN for CBS Sports, according to reports.
ESPN had reportedly offered Rome a multi-year deal to keep his TV show "Jim Rome is Burning" with the worldwide leader in sports, but he declined and took a deal with CBS, who offered him an "expanded role". Seeing as Rome already had a daily TV show with ESPN, what an "expanded role" means for him at CBS is still unclear.
We're guessing he's going to take his trademark speaking voice (who is imitated by impressionists everywhere, including Frank Caliendo on Fox's Sunday Morning NFL show--which happens to go up against CBS' Sunday Morning NFL show) to do more TV and possibly more reporting.
Will CBS give him a more primetime platform? He's on at 4:30 every afternoon on ESPN (he's been on the station since 2004) so he might be looking for either a later time slot, or possibly his own show on Sunday morning.
According to James Andrew Miller, who authored the ESPN tell-all "Those Guys Have All the Fun" Rome makes an estimated $30 million a year from his radio show alone.
We will update as more information becomes available, or when a replacement for Rome is announced.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
BCS National Championship
Alabama (11-1) vs. LSU (13-0)
Date: Jan. 9 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Offenses As Recruits
Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Defenses As Recruits
For the first time in BCS history, two teams from the same conference will play for the national title. While there was plenty of anti-rematch chatter, Alabama and LSU are the two best teams in college football. Consider this: LSU navigated one of the nation’s most difficult schedules, and Alabama lost to the Tigers by a field goal in the first matchup in early November. So if LSU is ranked No. 1 and the Crimson Tide’s only loss came to the Tigers, it’s fair to say these teams are 1A and 1B.
There’s no question these two offenses aren’t among the best in college football, but the first meeting was controlled by the defenses. Will we see the same outcome on Jan. 9? Alabama outgained LSU 295 to 239, but four missed field goals and two costly turnovers hurt the Crimson Tide's chances at victory. While the Tigers may not have done anything overwhelmingly special in that game, they did a good job of capitalizing on Alabama’s mistakes and made timely plays on offense.
The first meeting between these two teams may not have supplied the offensive fireworks some were looking hoping to see, but the defenses are two of – if not the best – in college football. Alabama leads the nation in scoring, total, rushing and pass defense. LSU isn’t far behind, ranking second nationally in total and scoring defense.
Alabama’s only blemish on the season was the 9-6 loss to LSU, while the Tigers finished as the only undefeated team in college football.
LSU has claimed the last two meetings in this series, including a 24-21 win in Baton Rouge last year. Alabama posted back-to-back wins in 2008 and 2009, but the Tigers have won seven out of the last nine overall meetings.
WHEN ALABAMA HAS THE BALL:
In the first matchup, LSU did a good job of holding running back Trent Richardson in check. He managed only 89 yards on 23 attempts, but did catch five passes for 80 yards. The Tigers can expect to see a lot more from Richardson this time around. Expect the junior to get around 30 overall touches, including some opportunities on special teams. When Richardson needs a rest, Eddie Lacy will step in and he averaged 7.5 yards per carry this year.
While everything in the Alabama offense flows around Richardson, don’t overlook quarterback AJ McCarron. The sophomore completed 16 of 28 throws for 199 yards in the first meeting. While McCarron’s numbers weren’t awful against LSU earlier this year, he threw a costly interception. The Crimson Tide offense needs McCarron to be efficient and take some of the pressure off of the rushing attack. McCarron doesn't have to throw for 300 yards, but he has to hit some passes early to prevent the Tigers from loading up against Richardson.
Alabama doesn’t have a deep corps of receivers, but Marquis Maze is one of the SEC’s most underrated receivers. He caught 56 passes for 627 yards and one score this year. Tight ends Michael Williams and Brad Smelley will be important contributors for McCarron, as the two players combined for 41 receptions in the regular season. Darius Hanks and Kenny Bell will also contribute in the receiving corps, while Richardson figures to see a handful of catches out of the backfield.
The battle in the trenches will feature one of the best offensive lines in college football (Alabama), against one of the top defensive fronts (LSU). The Crimson Tide’s offensive line allowed only 15 sacks this season, while leading the way for running backs to average 5.6 yards per carry. Center William Vlachos and tackle Barrett Jones earned first-team All-SEC honors. The Tigers will counter will a deep and speedy defensive line. End Sam Montgomery collected nine sacks and first-team All-SEC honors, while fellow end Barkevious Mingo registered eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss this year.
Winning the battle in the trenches is going to be crucial for both team’s chances for a victory. The Crimson Tide needs to establish control to open up lanes for Richardson and keep the pressure off of McCarron. If the Tigers gain control, Richardson will have trouble finding running room. In the first matchup, Montgomery recorded two sacks and it’s crucial for Alabama to keep him away from McCarron.
Expect LSU to focus in on stopping Richardson once again, while forcing the Crimson Tide to take to the air to win the game. The Tigers own one of the top defensive backfields in the nation, led by Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. Although McCarron has been careful with the ball this year (5 INTs), one mistake in this game will be costly.
WHEN LSU HAS THE BALL:
The Tigers have a clear identity on offense, and they need to win the battle in the trenches in order to claim the national title.
LSU ranks 17th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 215.2 yards per game. In the first meeting, Alabama held the Tigers to 148 yards on 41 attempts. A handful of running backs will see time, but Michael Ford and Spencer Ware figure to get the bulk of the work. Ford led the team with 755 yards on 123 attempts, while Ware led with eight rushing scores. Alfred Blue (539 yards) and Kenny Hilliard (320) will also see touches.
A wildcard to watch on the ground will be quarterback Jordan Jefferson. He managed 43 yards in the first meeting between these two teams, and his ability to get yards on the ground when passing plays break down will be crucial for LSU’s chances at victory.
While the Tigers want to lean on the run, they have to generate something from the passing attack. Jefferson missed four games due to suspension, but only finished with 684 passing yards and six scores. Jarrett Lee also saw extensive time under center, throwing for 1,306 yards and 14 touchdowns. Lee is the better passer, but Jefferson’s rushing ability could be more valuable in this game, especially since he mustered 43 yards on the ground in the first meeting between these two teams.
The Tigers have only two players with more than 30 catches this year, with Rueben Randle leading the team with 904 receiving yards on 50 catches. Odell Beckham, Russell Shepard and tight end DeAngelo Peterson will also figure into the mix in the receiving corps, but it won’t be an easy battle against Alabama’s secondary. The Crimson Tide has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete only 48.3 percent of their throws this year. Opposing offenses have also managed only six passing scores in 2011.
Expect Alabama’s defense to load up the box and force LSU to win this game through the air. The Tigers need to keep the Crimson Tide off balance with throws on first and second down, which will help prevent third and long situations. If Alabama can hold the Tigers in check on the ground, it should be in good position to win this game. The Crimson Tide allowed the Tigers to average 3.6 yards per rush in the first meeting, and the battle in the trenches will only get tougher this time around.
This area was Alabama’s trouble spot in the first meeting. Cade Foster made only one of four attempts, while Jeremy Shelley connected on one of two attempts. All of the missed/blocked field goals came from at least 44 yards out, so these aren’t chip shots Alabama was missing. Shelley has been more reliable this year, nailing 16 of 20 attempts, while Foster has hit on only 2 of 9.
Punter Cody Mandell had a so-so year, averaging 38.9 yards per punt. The Crimson Tide coverage units have been solid, allowing only 50 punt return yards on 10 attempts.
Trent Richardson was used sparingly on kickoff returns this season, but could see more opportunities in this area on Jan. 9. Marquis Maze averaged 12.4 yards on punt returns and 28.5 yards per kickoff return this season. Expect him to be Alabama’s top option on special teams against LSU.
LSU had an advantage in this department in the first meeting and should have an edge in the rematch. Kicker Drew Alleman hit 16 of 18 attempts this season and earned second-team All-SEC honors. Punter Brad Wing averaged 44.1 yards per punt and placed 23 of those inside of the 20. Wing also earned second-team All-SEC honors this season.
LSU has been strong on returns all year. Tyrann Mathieu is averaging 16.2 yards per punt return and has scored twice this season. Morris Claiborne leads the way on kickoff returns, averaging 26.1 yards per return this year. Claiborne also scored on a 99-yard return against West Virginia.
Athlon’s Staff Predictions
When the clock strikes zero and the confetti falls on Jan. 9, the SEC will claim its sixth consecutive national championship.
With a tight game expected, turnovers and special teams are going to play a huge role in deciding the outcome. The turnover margin was even in the first matchup, but there was a clear edge on special teams.
After a long layoff from the last regular season game, both defenses will control the tempo early on. It will also be interesting to see what new wrinkles both teams have worked into the playbook for this game.
Surprisingly, Athlon’s editors all agree on which team will hoist the national title trophy on Jan. 9 in New Orleans – and it’s not the team that won the first meeting on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama 20, LSU 17
MVP: AJ McCarron, QB
Alabama 17, LSU 12
MVP: Trent Richardson, RB
Alabama 20, LSU 17
MVP: Trent Richardson, RB
Alabama 20, LSU 17
MVP: Trent Richardson, RB
Alabama 23, LSU 17
MVP: Courtney Upshaw, LB
-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)
Do you ever wonder how a college football coach assembles a national championship caliber roster? Thousands of hours of scouting, evaluating, recruiting and coaching is the simple answer. But it also takes a little bit of luck as well.
The most interesting pattern within the interwoven LSU-Alabama timelines comes on the recruiting trail. How would the BCS National Championship game be different if Trent Richardson had picked LSU over Alabama and Rueben Randle and Will Blackwell had chosen the Crimson Tide over the Bayou Bengals?
Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Defenses As Recruits
Here is how Les Miles and Nick Saban put together National Championship offenses at LSU and Alabama respectively:
Alabama Crimson Tide Starting Offense:
A.J. McCarron, QB (2009) AC100
Alabama landed one of the nation’s top signal-callers when it inked McCarron back in 2009, and it showed in his SEC leading 66.7% completion rate in his first year under center. The lanky passer was the No. 8-rated QB prospect in the nation and was the No. 97 overall player in the '09 Athlon Consensus 100. Bad chest tattoo aside, Bama landed a good one when it beat out Miami, Ole Miss and Oklahoma for the Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul’s passer.
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (2009) AC100
The Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia tailback was a known commodity well before he was toting the rock for the Crimson Tide. Richardson was the No. 20-rated player in the nation in the 2009 AC100, the No. 3-rated running back in the nation and the No. 2-rated player in the state of Florida. He ranked behind only D.J. Fluker and Dre Kirkpatrick in Alabama’s No. 3-rated recruiting class. He was Florida’s Class 5A Mr. Football after 2,090 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior. T-Rich had his pick of any school in the nation and made a splash with his Houndstooth announcement of Alabama over Florida, Florida State and LSU. Imagine what this season would have looked like had landed in Baton Rouge?
Barrett Jones, OT (2008)
This Memphis (Tenn.) Evangelical Christian stud was the No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee (which included Dont’a Hightower), the No. 17 offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 146-rated player nationally regardless of position. He possessed offers from nearly everyone in the southeast but visited only Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. Jones helped Nick Saban sign the nation’s No. 1 class in 2008.
Chance Warmack, OG (2009)
This big blocker from Atlanta (Ga.) Westlake picked Alabama over Auburn, South Carolina and Rutgers. Warmack was ranked as the No. 29 player in the state of Georgia and the No. 20 offensive guard in the nation by Rivals.com.
Williams Vlachos, OC (2007)
One of the elder statesmen of the Bama offensive line hails from Birmingham (Ala.) Mountain Brook. Florida State, Georgia Tech and West Virginia were “in the running” for the stud center but likely had little shot at landing the local talent. Vlachos was ranked as the No. 9 center prospect in the nation.
Alfred McCullough, OG (2007)
Another fifth-year player, McCullough was actually evaluated as a defensive tackle coming out of high school. Rivals.com listed him as the No. 24 DT in the nation while Scout listed the Athens (Ala.) product as the No. 46 defensive tackle. He has turned out to be a pretty good offensive lineman in his time at the Capstone.
D.J. Fluker, OT (2009) AC100
This monster of a recruit actually moved from Biloxi, Miss., to Foley, Ala., for his final season of prep play. And everybody wanted him. He was the No. 2-rated offensive lineman in the nation and was ranked No. 19 overall in the 2009 AC100. He was the No. 10-rated player to enter the SEC and was second only to Dre Kirkpatrick in the Bama recruiting rankings. Fluker, who was committed to Alabama for over a year, was listed as big as 6-foot-7 as a recruit and upwards of 350 pounds by Rivals.com (he was listed officially at a modest 6-foot-5, 340 as an incoming freshman).
Michael Williams, TE (2008)
Williams was an all-state talent and the 2A Lineman of the Year from Reform (Ala.) Pickens County. Williams was a highly touted prospect who picked Alabama over Clemson and Georgia Tech — he just wasn’t a tight end. Williams was evaluated as the No. 17 defensive end in the nation by Scout and the No. 4 weakside defensive end in the nation by Rivals after 24 sacks over his final two prep seasons. His blocking and pass-catching skills proved to be too much, however, as he will start at tight end in the national championship game.
Brad Smelley, TE (2008)
Nick Saban did a good job of creating tight ends in the 2008 class. Much like Williams, Smelley was not considered a tight end by the internet scouts. Scout listed the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) American Christian prospect as a quarterback and as the No. 194-rated wide receiver. Rivals listed the local talent as the No. 30-rated pro-style quarterback in the country. All Smelley did in 2011 was lead the No. 2 Crimson Tide in touchdown receptions and finished second in receptions.
Marquis Maze, WR (2007)
The senior wide receiver was a middle-of-the-pack three-star prospect who had a quality offer sheet that included Miami, Michigan, Tennessee, Auburn and Bama. More interestingly, however, was his “athlete” status. Maze was the No. 52-rated “athlete” in the nation back in 2007. The Birmingham (Ala.) Tarrant star rushed for 1,300 yards as a senior in only six games as well as being the dynamic receiver and return man Bama fans know and love today.
Darius Hanks, WR (2007)
Hailing from Norcross (Ga.), Hanks, like Maze, was a three-star middle-of-the-pack prospect. The difference, however, was the offer sheet for Hanks — which consisted of Kent State, Ohio, UAB, Houston, East Carolina and Alabama. It made for an easy choice.
LSU Tigers Starting Offense:
Jordan Jefferson, QB (2008)
The LSU quarterback stepped onto campus with a sterling prep resume. He was first-team All-State and was voted Gatorade Player of the Year in the Pelican State after 2,846 yards, 24 TD and only three interceptions as a senior at Destrehan (La.) High School. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound prospect was the No. 8-rated pro-style quarterback in the nation by Rivals and the No. 18-rated quarterback by Scout nationally. The four-star signal-caller was an LSU Tiger all the way.
Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Kenny Hilliard, RB (2010/2009/2011) AC100
Ware just missed landing in the AC100 back in 2010. He was the No. 103-rated player in the nation, the No. 13-rated running back in the nation and the No. 5-ranked player in the state of Ohio. The Cincinnati-Princeton tailback picked LSU over Michigan, Michigan State, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio State and others. Ford helped Les Miles land the nation’s No. 1 class in 2009 and was the No. 37-rated player in the AC100. He was the No. 6-rated running back in the nation and was the No. 3-rated player in the Pelican State. The Leesville product picked LSU over Florida and Florida State. Hilliard, who hails from Patterson, La., was a major part of arguably the most talent Pelican State senior class in history. The nephew of former NFL back Dalton Hilliard, Kenny was ranked as the No. 89 prospect in the nation in the 2011 AC100 and the No. 14-rated running back nationally. He rushed for 4,316 yards and 54 touchdowns over his final two prep seasons. Not too many football teams boast one AC100 tailback, much less three.
James Stampley, FB (2007)
Hailing from Baker (La.), Stampley has taken one of the more interesting routes to the 2011 BCS National title game. The starting battering ram and running game spearhead didn’t play football his first two years at LSU. As a center in high school, Stampley walked on at LSU and finally saw his first playing time in 2009. He played in every game as a junior in 2010 and scored his first career touchdown this fall against Ole Miss. As one of the hardest hitters in all of college football, Stampley has broken 25 of his own facemasks in 2011 according to the school.
Chris Faulk, OT (2009)
The Slidell (La.) Northshore prospect picked LSU over offers from Michigan, Nebraska, Louisiana Tech and Tulane. Faulk was ranked as the No. 165 overall prospect in the nation and was the No. 20 offensive line prospect nationally. Faulk and the rest of the 2009 LSU class claimed the Athlon Sports Recruiting National Championship.
Will Blackwell, OG (2007)
This burly blocker was scouted as a defensive player coming out of high school — and a good one at that. Blackwell was ranked as a four-star defensive tackle by Rivals and was the No. 22 defensive end by Scout. He posted 80 tackles and helped lead West Monroe (La.) to a 5A State Championship before picking LSU over finalists Alabama, Florida and Notre Dame.
P.J. Lonergan, OC (2008)
It was going to be LSU all the way for this three-star New Orleans (La.) Rummel product. Lonergan committed very early to the Tigers and stuck with it for the better part of a year as he watched Miles topple Ohio State in the 2007 National title game. He was ranked as the No. 60 offensive guard in the nation and the No. 32 player in the Pelican State.
T-Bob Hebert, OG (2007)
Georgia, Florida and LSU were the finalists for the nation’s No. 2 center back in 2007. The four-star blocker from Norcross (Ga.) Atlanta Christian was the No. 12 player in the Peach State.
Alex Hurst, OT (2008)
This monster 6-foot-6, 340 bookend tackle was a three-star recruit when he came out of Arlington (Tenn.). The 59th-rated offensive tackle in the nation and 12th-rated player in the state of Tennessee had offers from Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU.
Russell Shepard, WR (Z) (2009) AC100
Shepard was a known commodity coming out of Houston (Texas) Cypress Ridge. And the affable, confident, well-spoken youngster would tell you about it. Having interviewed and filmed Shepard during spring practice of his senior year, I can tell you he knew exactly what he was doing at all times. It made him the biggest hitter on defense and the star quarterback on offense. He rolled up 1,946 yards rushing and 28 TDs to with 1,843 yards passing and 20 TDs in his final prep season. He was ranked as the No. 2 player in the nation and trailed only Matt Barkley in the 2009 AC100. Although, he was listed as a quarterback coming out of high school — and got some looks under center at LSU — his athletic ability pushed him to wideout.
Rueben Randle, WR (X) (2009) AC100
The only Bayou Bengal ranked ahead of Randle in the 2009 LSU haul that landed Miles the recruiting national championship was Shepard. Randle was listed as the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver, and although it took some time to develop his skills, he has proven the lofty ranking was likely deserved. The Bastrop (La.) product was ranked as the No. 6 overall prospect in the nation and picked LSU over Alabama and Oklahoma. He is just another name in a long list of starters in the BCS championship game who choose between Bama and LSU.
Deangelo Peterson, TE (Y) (2008)
This tremendously gifted prep athlete didn’t have to travel far to get to campus. The Baton Rouge (La.) Desire Street Academy prospect was a four-star recruit who ranked as the No. 21 “athlete” in the nation by Rivals. He picked LSU over offers from Oklahoma, West Virginia and Tennessee. He was listed at 195 pounds coming out of high school, but has grown into the 6-foot-4, 235 pound tight end who will be starting in the national championship game.
This year’s version of the NFL playoffs start with two teams on the downslide, but the winner has a legitimate shot to make a quick turnaround and at least reach the AFC Championship Game.
The Cincinnati Bengals, who have not won a playoff game in 21 years, travel to play the Houston Texans, who are in the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s 10-year history, to open the NFL postseason on Saturday.
The pressure is on everyone in the playoffs, but in this particular game it has to be on Houston more. The Texans were supposed to be in the playoffs. They finally are and the game is at home. Plus, Houston has a victory over Cincinnati just one month ago.
Meanwhile, the Bengals, with their rookie quarterback, rookie receiver, new offensive coordinator, etc., were supposed to be terrible this season. Who would’ve thought they’d still be playing the second weekend in January?
Houston survived its injuries and was able to punch its playoff ticket with the win over the Bengals in Week 14 and secure a title in the miserable AFC South Division. It did not have to worry about a 1-3 record over the final month that sends the Texans limping into the playoffs.
Cincinnati has not been much better. It started the season 6-2 and collapsed with a 9-7 record, but a win over the Titans earlier in the season and the Jets falling in Week 17 allowed the Bengals to back step in as the No. 6 seed in the AFC and one of three teams from the AFC North in the playoffs.
It’s the first game in NFL postseason history where two rookies will start against one another. And the one that has been starting all season — Cincinnati’s A.J. Dalton — will be the one that helps the Bengals move on Saturday, and has a good chance of helping his team do so again the following week in New England and it’s terrible defense.
There are those initial feelings you get when you look at the playoff matchups as soon as they are lined up, and the Bengals knocking off the Texans is the first thought that jumped out to me when looking for an upset this week and perhaps even next against the top-seeded Patriots.
Which Cincinnati run defense will we get is about as big a question as which rookie QB will lead his team to victory. It was a tale of two halves for the Bengals this season. Only Denver (Week 2) ran for over 100 yards against the Bengals through the first eight games of the season, then came the back half of the schedule as six of the eight teams ran for over 100 yards — Pittsburgh (105), Baltimore (105), Cleveland (134), Pittsburgh (136), Houston (144), St. Louis (95), Arizona (59) and Baltimore (221).
Offensively, Cincinnati has Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott, who helped the Bengals rush for a decent-not-great 111.1 yards rushing per game (7th amongst the 12 playoff teams). The Bengals have a rookie receiver in A.J. Green who did not disappoint in his debut season (65-1,057-7). And Cincinnati has the No. 7 total defense — a defense that recorded a season-high five sacks the last time these two teams met.
With rookie QB T.J. Yates at the helm, Houston sends out running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate, helping to lead the Texans to 153 yards per game on the ground this season. Houston sends out injured but still top-notch receiver, Andre Johnson. Finally, the Texans bring the No. 2 total defense to the table.
However, the Texans have not won a game since the late comeback against the Bengals — they trailed by six with 2:33 left before Yates led the 80-yard, game-winning drive with a TD pass to Kevin Walter. In that game, the Bengals held Foster to 41 yards and Tate to 67 — 44 coming on a run in the first three minutes of the game — and the tight ends combined for 122 yards and a score.
Yates helped the Texans to three straight wins over Jacksonville, Atlanta and Cincinnati after taking over for the injured Matt Leinart, who took over for the injured Matt Schaub. Yates was in for the two losses to Carolina and Indianapolis and played just one series before exiting with an injured shoulder in the loss to Tennessee last week.
The Texans certainly do not rely on Yates to try and win them games, that’s what their running game and defense are for. I doubt we will see him attempt 44 passes again like he did the first time he played Cincinnati. But if it does come down to quarterback play, in the postseason I want to take the one that, albeit by just 11 more games, is the more seasoned one in Dalton.
Dalton has thrown 20 touchdowns to 13 interceptions this season and has just one interception since Week 11. Yates has three TDs and three picks since taking over in Week 12.
According to Pro Football Focus, this season Dalton was blitzed on 200 dropbacks and completed 56.4 percent of those passes for eight of his 20 touchdowns against two interceptions. The Texans love to blitz and Dalton could find success with Green, fellow receiver Jerome Simpson and tight end Jermaine Gresham.
Green does draw former Bengals’ defensive back, Jonathan Joseph, this weekend, but he had five catches for 59 yards and a 36-yard score against him in the last meeting, And according to PFF’s Mike Clay, Simpson has lined up wide left 63 percent of the time and the Texans have allowed seven scores to that spot, including one in four of their last five games.
Again, I’m not so sure one of the rookie quarterbacks will have to win the game, but I think I’m pushing my chips toward the one from Houston — the Houston suburbs of Katy, Texas — Andy Dalton as the quarterback less likely to lose the game.
Give me the proven connection of Dalton to Green over the unproven connection of Yates to Johnson. Then follow the same formula against a bad New England defense the next week and it’s on to the AFC Championship Game for a team that had to beg its fans to come out to the Week 17 game to avoid a television blackout.
Both teams have the formula to succeed in the postseason — a decent run game, one stud receiver and a solid defense. In fact, the Texans are statistically better at a majority of categories on both sides of the ball. Numbers, however, have been a funny thing in the NFL this season — fantasy football forecasting down the stretch taught me that. And I don’t think numbers will tell the whole story when this one is all over in Houston.
It’s been that kind of year for the NFL, so why stop in the postseason.
Cincinnati: the new Seattle for 2012.
By CorbyA. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)
There is no better time of the year for recruiting fans than January. National Signing Day is less than a month away, and the nation’s best are doing battle in San Antonio.
This week, recruitniks everywhere get the first real glimpse of the nation’s top prep athletes going head-to-head against equivalent talent at all-star events across the fruited plain. While inter- and intra-state all-star games can feature a state’s or region’s best prospects, the national all-star competitions clearly raise the bar.
Nowhere else in college football recruiting can you watch the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver battle with the nation’s No. 1 cornerback in practice for a full week. And this season’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which is expected to feature seven Athlon Consensus 100 commitments, is no exception.
West Names to Watch
Look no further than the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. He set a national high school receiving record with 6,353 career yards. His 75 career touchdown receptions rank third all-time, and his 300 receptions are fourth all-time in American prep football history. The 6-foot-6, 220 pound Calvin Johnson clone will be on full display on the West Roster Saturday in the Alamodome at 1 p.m. ET on NBC. Keep an eye on No. 5.
DGB has been very tight-lipped on the recruiting trail but appears to be down to five programs. Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas look to be the five lucky programs with the Hogs, Tigers and Sooners as the likely top three. The nation’s top prospect has played this entire process very close to the vest as his coach and father do most of the talking. Expect a late announcement from DGB.
The tailback talent is heavy weighted towards the West Roster where the nation’s fifth-, sixth- and eighth-ranked tailbacks will be featured. Spring (Texas) Dekaney’s Trey Williams (AC100 No. 41), a Texas A&M commitment, has claimed national player of the year honors after rushing for an astonishing 3,884 yards and 48 TDs in 2011. He announced that he will take more official visits, so you can bet Aggies fans are keeping a close watch on the star recruit. Oklahoma City (Okla.) Heritage Hall tailback Barry Sanders Jr. (AC100 No. 45) is obviously not afraid of or unaccustomed to the spotlight. His father was one of the greatest to ever play the game. Stanford has been rumored to be his leader over in-state favorite Oklahoma State. Finally, Daphne (Ala.) runner T.J. Yeldon (AC100 No. 61) is one of the few big power backs in a class loaded with smallish speedsters at running back. The future Crimson Tider is also a fantastic receiver.
Finally, keep an eye on the massive line prospect from Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove, Arik Armstead. The 6-foot-7, 280-pound two-way star wants not only to play two sports in college (he is an excellent basketball prospect as well) but also possibly two positions. He would be considered the nation’s No. 1-ranked offensive line prospect, but he will be playing mostly defensive end on Saturday. The former USC commitment has taken snaps on both sides of the ball this week and could end up on either side of the ball on the next level. It looks like Alabama, Auburn, Cal, Notre Dame and Oregon are his finalists.
East Names to Watch
The country’s No. 2 quarterback prospect, Columbus (Ind.) East’s Gunner Kiel, will be slinging it around for the East Team. He is committed to LSU and could compete for early playing time with continued development, and a good showing against the nation’s elite will go a long way. He has played well in practice, showing poise, leadership and the ability to work through progressions — even in the face of the normally very difficult national all-star game setting.
Expect Kiel to be looking at No. 1 for a good portion of his snaps. Olney (Md.) Good Counsel athlete Stefon Diggs (AC100 No. 11) has been incredibly impressive all week long and should get plenty of looks from Kiel.
However, the story for the East squad could be the defensive line. Eight AC100 recuits will be lining up trying to stop those talented West tailbacks. The group is led by Shelby (N.C.) Crest end Jonathan Bullard (AC100 No. 50), who excelled at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas before dominating all week long in San Antonio. Wearing No. 90, Bullard will announce where he will be playing college football on Saturday (prediction below). Glen Ellyn (Ill.) Glenbard West tackle Tommy Schutt (AC100 No. 52) has also played incredibly well between the tackles all week. Schutt, along with East teammate Cincinnati (Ohio) Taft end Adolphus Washington (AC100 No. 23), recently committed to Ohio State after Urban Meyer was announced as the new head coach. Buckeyes fans will certainly be watching this group.
Additionally, defensive ends Darius Hamilton (AC100 No. 16), Eli Harold (AC100 No. 65) and Tyriq MCcord (AC100 No. 97) will join forces with the above names and nose tackles Jarron Jones (AC100 No. 32) and Carlos Watkins (AC100 No. 91) to form one of the nastiest defensive lines in U.S. Army Bowl history.
AC100 Announcement Watch
Shaq Thompson, DB (No. 9)
Sacramento (Calif.) Grant Union
Ranks: Rivals: 7, Scout: 12, ESPN: 22, 247Sports: 11, O-D: 18, NCSA: 25
Finalists: Cal, Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington
Thompson is the nation’s top-rated defensive back and will be the top player making his announcement on Saturday. A recent report has Cal and Washington as his top options, and Cal has always been considered the favorite. If there is going to be an upset, however, it could be a Washington team that features his former teammate and friend James Sample. Prediction: Washington
Ellis McCarthy, DT (No. 18)
Monrovia (Calif.) Monrovia
Ranks: Rivals: 17, Scout: 28, ESPN: 43, 247Sports: 29, O-D: 62, NCSA: 21
Finalists: Cal, Oregon, USC
If there is going to be someone who backs out of his very public announcement — which happens at least once every year — it will be McCarthy. It feels like he will back out of his decision and continue the recruiting process, however, if the stud defensive tackle does make the call, look for him to pick between longtime leader USC and the surging Cal Golden Bears. Prediction: Cal
Barry Sanders Jr., RB (No. 45)
Oklahoma City (Okla.) Heritage Hall
Ranks: Rivals: 134, Scout: 64, ESPN: 78, 247Sports: 54, O-D: 42, NCSA: 15
Finalists: Alabama, Florida State, Oklahoma State, Stanford
While Alabama and Florida State are still technically in the mix, it doesn’t appear either will play a role in Sanders’ future. Stanford and Oklahoma State, where his father played, are the top two choices, and the Cardinal have long been rumored as the favorite. That said, it just doesn’t seem possible that Barry Sanders would leave his father’s school and home-state program in the lurch. There will be a lot of pressure from many angles, including his family, to stay at home. Reports late Thursday evening were Stanford has won the verbal, however, his announcement won't take place until Saturday and won't be final until February 1. Prediction: Stanford
Jonathan Bullard, DE (No. 50)
Shelby (N.C.) Crest
Ranks: Rivals: 20, Scout: 85, ESPN: 83, 247Sports: 67, O-D: N/A, NCSA: 33
Finalists: Clemson, Florida, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee
Clemson was all the buzz last week when Bullard showed-out at the Shrine Bowl. He was supposed to announce last week as well, so that bodes well for longtime favorite Florida. The Gators have long been in the lead for the stud defensive end and will be the team to beat when he finally makes his decision. Prediction: Florida
Anthony Alford, QB/ATH (No. 70)
Petal (Miss.) Petal
Ranks: Rivals: 124, Scout: N/A, ESPN: 98, 247Sports: 35, O-D: 34, NCSA: 85
Finalists: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Southern Miss
The talented dual-threat passer was considered a heavy LSU lean for much of the year, but Les Miles landed Kiel a few weeks ago, and that has turned Alford off to the Tigers. Ole Miss and Mississippi State have quarterback issues that Alford could help instantly, but the Magnolia State’s 2011 Mr. Football, and 6A State Champion, is likely locked into the starting lineup in Hattiesburg. Prediction: Southern Miss
Tyriq McCord, DE (No. 97)
Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson
Ranks: Rivals: 74, Scout: N/A, ESPN: 99, 247Sports: 123, O-D: 108, NCSA: 96
Finalists: Florida, Georgia, Miami, South Carolina, USC
No matter who McCord picks, it appears that an official visit to USC is inevitable. He has been recruited hard by Georgia commit John Theus and Florida commit Kent Taylor, but South Carolina and Miami might be his top choices. The Gamecocks have long been the favorite, but the Canes and Gators would offer a campus that is much closer to home. Prediction: South Carolina
Jordan Payton, WR (No. 99)
Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian
Ranks: Rivals: 120, Scout: 90, ESPN: N/A, 247Sports: N/A, O-D: 13, NCSA: 128
Finalists: Cal, Michigan, Notre Dame, UCLA
Payton has been one of the many bright spots this week in practice. He has made big catches all week long and has been a dependable option. He wants to play in a quality offense at an (obviously) very solid academic institution. Barring an unforeseen upset of monumental proportions, Jeff Tedford should be very happy with Payton’s decision. Prediction: Cal
Deon Bush, S (No. 117)
Miami (Fla.) Columbus
Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Miami
Elijah Shumate, S (No. 129)
Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco
Finalists: Notre Dame, Rutgers, South Carolina
Brian Nance, LB (No. 150)
Euless (Texas) Trinity
Finalists: Arkansas, Baylor, UCLA
Kevon Seymour, CB (No. 161)
Pasadena (Calif.) Muir
Finalists: Cal, UCLA, USC, Oregon
Keith Brown, LB (No. 213)
Miami (Fla.) Norland)
Finalists: Illinois, Louisville, Miami
Nick Dawson, LB (No. 258)
Charlotte (N.C.) Phillip O. Berry
Finalists: Clemson, Louisville, NC State
Jordan Diggs, S (not ranked)
Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods
Finalists: Tennessee, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
by Mark Ross
Arkansas State (10-2) vs. Northern Illinois (10-3)
Date: Jan. 8 at 9 p.m. ET
Location: Ladd Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
The second-to-last bowl on the 35-game slate may be completely overshadowed by the BCS Championship Game, which will take place the following night, but the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile features one thing the Alabama vs. LSU tilt in nearby New Orleans doesn’t — a matchup of conference champions.
Sun Belt champion Arkansas State has already posted the most wins in a season since 1986, and back then the Red Wolves were playing in Division I-AA, which is now known as the FCS level. The Red Wolves are the first team in the Sun Belt’s 11-year history to win 10 regular-season games. This will be their first bowl game since 2005 and they come into this game with a nine-game winning streak.
Mid-American Conference (MAC) champion Northern Illinois is making its fourth straight bowl appearance and has won 10 or more games in consecutive seasons. The Huskies defeated Fresno State 40-17 in last year’s Humanitarian Bowl for their school-record 11th win. They have a chance to tie that mark if they defeat Arkansas State, which would represent their ninth straight victory.
Both schools won their respective conference titles under the direction of first-year head coaches, Hugh Freeze for Arkansas State and Dave Doeren for Northern Illinois. However, only Doeren will be coaching in his first bowl game, as Freeze was named the new head coach of Ole Miss on Dec. 5.
Arkansas State tabbed former Auburn offensive coordinator, as well as former Springdale (Ark.) High School head coach and Arkansas offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn to be its new head coach. Interim head coach David Gunn will lead the Red Wolves in the bowl game and stay on as an assistant under Malzahn in 2012.
Both teams feature potent offenses that are averaging more than 33 points per game led by dual-threat quarterbacks who are among the top 10 in the nation in total offense. Arkansas State’s defense is statistically better across the board, but other than Virginia Tech, the Red Wolves have yet to face an offense like Northern Illinois’.
Each team had a shot earlier in the season against a ranked opponent that played in a BCS bowl and each came up short. Arkansas State held its own against the Hokies, who lost in the Sugar Bowl to Michigan, losing 26-7 in Blacksburg, Va., while Northern Illinois hosted head coach Doeren’s previous employer, Wisconsin, and got trounced by the Badgers, who fell in the Rose Bowl to Oregon, 49-7.
WHEN ARKANSAS STATE HAS THE BALL:
For Arkansas State, the offense begins and pretty much ends with quarterback Ryan Aplin. The junior was named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year after compiling a school-record 3,840 total yards of offense, which also represents the second-most in conference history. Aplin comes into this game ranked 10th in the nation in total offense, averaging 320.0 yards per game.
Aplin has completed a school-record 274 passes for 3,235 yards with 18 touchdowns. He has completed 66 percent of his passes so far and thrown 13 interceptions.
Besides his passing numbers, Aplin also is the team’s leading rusher with 605 yards and nine touchdowns. Seven different Red Wolves have carried the ball at least 16 times this season and scored a rushing touchdown.
After Aplin, the second-most carries have gone to senior Derek Lawson, who has 459 yards and three touchdowns. Freshman Frankie Jackson has contributed six rushing touchdowns to the Red Wolves’ ground attack.
Dwayne Frampton is Aplin’s clear-cut No. 1 target, leading the team with 90 catches, 1,125 yards and six touchdowns. The senior was named first team All-Sun Belt and also returns punts.
Besides Frampton, the Red Wolves have juniors Josh Jarboe and Taylor Stockemer, who have combined for 89 receptions, 1,278 yards and eight touchdowns. Jarboe was named to the All-Sun Belt second team and Stockemer tied Frampton with six touchdown catches. All told, 18 different Red Wolves, including Aplin, have caught at least one pass this season.
Arkansas State averages 33.5 points per game and has scored 30 or more in its last six games. During this steak, Aplin has averaged 336.2 yards of total offense, In the Red Wolves’ two losses, to Illinois to open the season and to Virginia Tech, Aplin averaged just 267.5 yards of total offense.
Northern Illinois’ defense comes into this game surrendering an average of 417.9 yards and 31.1 points per game. The Huskies will need to do a better job across the board defensively if they hope to limit Aplin and the rest of the Red Wolves.
WHEN NORTHERN ILLINOIS HAS THE BALL:
While Arkasas State has Aplin, Northern Illinois has its own dangerous, record-setting dual-threat quarterback in Chandler Harnish. The senior was named the MAC’s top player after leading the Huskies to their second-ever conference championship and first since 1983 by directing the largest comeback in school history. Harnish and Northern Illinois came back from 20-0 deficit in the third quarter to defeat Ohio 23-20 in the MAC Championship Game.
Harnsih, who already holds 23 school single-season and career passing and total offense records, is 19-5 as the Huskies’ starter the past two seasons. He currently ranks eighth in the nation in total offense, averaging 332.6 yards per game.
Harnish has rushed for nearly 1,400 yards this season, averaging 7.5 yards per carry in the process. His 106.3 yards per game ranks him No. 18 in the nation in rushing. He has four games with 150 rushing yards or more, including two where he rushed for 200 yards or more.
Harnish is just as dangerous with his arm, as he has thrown for 2,942 yards with 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He is ranked as the 13th-most efficient passer in the nation and combined with his 11 rushing touchdowns; he has been responsible for a total of 37 touchdowns this season.
Harnish needs just 14 yards rushing in the bowl game to become only the third quarterback in FBS history to rush for 3,000 yards and pass for 8,000 in a career. To this point, Harnish has 2,986 rushing yards and 8,670 passing yards. He’s also been responsible for a total of 90 touchdowns (66 passing, 24 rushing) to this point.
As a team, Northern Illinois is averaging 247.6 yards rushing per game, which ranks the Huskies ninth in the nation, and an impressive 5.7 yards per carry. After Harnish, the Huskies’ top rusher is senior Jasmin Hopkins, who could be a 1,000-yard rusher in his own right. Hopkins enters the bowl game needing just 68 more yards to reach the mark and he leads the team with 16 total touchdowns.
Harnish likes to spread the ball around to his receivers as 16 different Huskies have caught at least one pass and 10 have scored. The team’s leading receiver is Nathan Palmer, who is tops in receptions (46), yards (683) and touchdowns (7). The senior was named the MVP of the MAC Championship Game after scoring two touchdowns and amassing 132 all-purpose yards in the Huskies’ comeback win.
Northern Illinois’ offensive line is an experienced group, consisting of four seniors and a junior. The line features two first team All-MAC performers in senior center Scott Wedige and senior left tackle Trevor Olson. Olson has started 52 consecutive games and has yet to allow a sack this season.
The line is a big reason why the Huskies rank among the top 10 in the nation in total offense (10th with 481.8 yards per game), rushing (ninth) and fewest sacks allowed (fifth with just nine total through 13 games).
The Huskies’ offensive line will need to maintain its consistent play in the bowl game as it will be facing an Arkansas State defense that ranks 17th in the nation in sacks with 2.7 per game. Leading the way for the Red Wolves is senior defensive lineman Brandon Joiner, who was named Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year after racking up 12 sacks, the fifth-highest total in the country. Joiner also has 15.5 tackles for loss this season as the Red Wolves average more than seven stops behind the line per game, which ranks them 12th overall.
Arkansas State’s defense ranks among the top 20 in the nation in total defense (20th), scoring defense (15th), rush defense (15th) and pass efficiency defense (17th). Illinois and Virginia Tech are the only two teams that had more than 400 total yards of offense against the Red Wolves, and Northern Illinois is certainly capable of doing that much and more. It will be interesting to see if Joiner and fellow seniors linebacker Demario Davis and defensive backs Darryl Feemster and Kelcie McCray, who all made first team All-Sun Belt, will be able to contain Harnish and the Huskies.
With two high-powered offenses in tow, neither team needs to rely that heavily on their respective return units, and the statistics support this. Northern Illinois has three return touchdowns, including two on kickoffs by Tommylee Lewis, while Arkansas State ranks 102nd out of 120 teams in FBS in kickoff returns.
Northern Illinois’ Mathew Sims has already set a school-record with 116 points this season, with more than half of that damage coming via PAT (59 of 61). Sims, a first team All-MAC selection, has been pretty accurate on his field goals, making 19 of 24, but he is just 3 of 6 from 40 yards and beyond.
Arkansas State employs somewhat of a committee when it comes to its placekicking duties. Brian Davis has handled all of the PATs and is 16 of 21 in field goal attempts, while Bobby Zalud is 6 of 11, with all of his attempts coming from 40 yards and out.
In the GoDaddy.com Bowl’s 12-year history (first named the Mobile Alabama Bowl and then GMAC Bowl prior to changing name to GoDaddy.com Bowl last year), the winning team has scored at least 28 points. Considering both Arkansas State and Northern Illinois come in averaging more than 33 points per game, there’s a chance this one could look a lot like the 2001 game that saw Marshall beat East Carolina 64-61 in double overtime.
Whether that happens or not, will depend primarily on one thing, how Arkansas State’s defense, which is ranked among the top 20 in the nation in several categories, handles Northern Illinois’ high-powered offense. The Red Wolves’ offense should do plenty of damage of its own against the Huskies’ susceptible defense.
However, as was mentioned earlier, Arkansas State, outside of Virginia Tech, hasn’t faced an offense like Northern Illinois’, and in the end the experienced Huskies’ offense led by their record-setting dual-threat quarterback Harnish and a veteran offensive line, will prove to be more than the Red Wolves can handle.
This is a good time for Arkansas State football, with a Sun Belt championship under its belt and native son Malzahn ready to assume the reigns, but this season will end on a losing note as Harnish and the Huskies’ senior class will end their careers with one final victory.
Northern Illinois 38, Arkansas State 34
We look back at the 2010 NBA season and pull out some of the more unusual, weird, funny and sad moments that occurred on certain dates. And yes, these are all real.
Aug. 2 — Former center Rony Seikaly, now billed on his website as “one of the most sought-after DJs in the world,” releases his first track on eMusic.com — the 7 1/2-minute progressive house beatfest, “Come With Me.”
Oct. 9 — It was only preseason, but no one had ever seen anything like the Nets comeback from seven points down in the last 12.5 seconds as they hit a trio of triples to beat the 76ers.
Oct. 11 — John Wall’s exhibition in an exhibition game against the Bucks includes two baskets, two assists and a steal in a 40-second span.
Oct. 25 — Lamar Odom sues the IRS for not allowing him to deduct $12,000 in league fines and $178,000 in fitness expenses.
Oct. 29 — After a Halloween-costumed kid litters the court with candy that had been given to him by the Hornets PA announcer during a timeout, J.R. Smith picks it up and eats it.
Oct. 31 — For the second straight game, the Heat hold the opposition starting forwards without a field goal.
Nov. 5 — In a paradoxical night for centers, Anderson Varejao, Marc Gasol and Emeka Okafor combine to sink 34 of 36 shots, while Brook Lopez misses his first 13 en route to laying a 3-for-17 egg.
Nov. 5 — A photo of a nude Phil Jackson drinking a beer during his playing days is displayed at a National Arts Club fete of Madison Square Garden photographer George Kalinsky.
Nov. 6 — Within a two-week span, the Magic have an exhibition game in Tampa cancelled because of a slippery court, a game in New York postponed due to falling debris and now lose Vince Carter to a hip injury when he falls on a slick floor in Charlotte.
Nov. 7 — Timberwolves rookie Nikola Pekovic stops to tie his shoe as the Rockets steam downcourt, leading to a breakout by Yao Ming, who is fouled by Michael Beasley, who then must be benched because it’s his third of the first half.
Nov. 10 — The Pacers miss only the last of their 21 shots (a 26-foot heave trying to beat the buzzer) in the third period versus Denver. Had they waited 24 hours, their 54 points would have been the most scored in one quarter in exactly 20 years to the day.
Nov. 10 — Cleveland’s bench outscores its starters, 52-41, in a win over the Nets.
Nov. 10 — Paul Millsap, who was 2-for-20 from 3-land in 326 career games at tipoff, makes all three of his long-range attempts in the last 28 seconds of regulation to force OT against Miami in a Jazz victory.
Nov. 10 — David Lee’s elbow becomes intimate with former teammate Wilson Chandler’s mouth, shattering four of the New York swingman’s teeth, with a fragment from one lodging in Lee’s arm.
Nov. 12 — The Wizards ask their fans to stand until their club scores its first basket. Three minutes, 20 seconds and nine shots into the game, they are able to be seated.
Nov. 12 — With 31 rebounds against the Knicks, Kevin Love out-boards three entire teams that were in action this evening.
Nov. 15 – The Clippers (who lose to the Nets) trot out the youngest starting lineup in NBA history − one that averages 21 years, 143 days.
Nov. 17 – The Knicks put more field goals, 3-pointers, rebounds, assists and blocked shots (as well as fewer turnovers) in the boxscore than the Nuggets – but lose anyway.
Nov. 21 – The Pistons pull the plug on an in-game promotion involving their mascot and a frozen turkey giveaway because of drippage on the floor.
Nov. 22 – Three weeks after beating the 76ers, 116-115 in OT, the Wizards return the “favor,” 116-114 in OT.
Dec. 3 – The Lakers assemble a stretch of play during a 33-point blowout of the Kings during which 25 of their 30 field goals (compared to five for Sacto) are scored from the paint.
Dec. 9 – Assistant coach Mario Elie is the latest member of the Sacramento Kings organization to get pinched on a DUI charge, joining players Antoine Wright and Andres Nocioni, co-owner George Maloof and former head coach Eric Musselman in recent years.
Dec. 10 – Amare Stoudemire ties the Knicks record for consecutive 30-point games (seven) and for most turnovers in one game (11) on the same night.
Dec. 11 – Detroit scores 72 points in the first half, leads by 25 midway through the third quarter, holds a lead of 16 in the fourth and gets 23 points from Ben Wallace (his career high over 996 games), but loses to Toronto.
Dec. 12 – Nick Collison tallies only two points, but during the 20 minutes he’s on the court, Oklahoma City outscores Cleveland, 57-25.
Dec. 13 – Miami’s big three of Bron, Wade and Bosh combine to score exactly 75 points for the fourth consecutive game.
Dec. 15 – One month to the day after he misses the only free throw among the Thunder’s 34 attempts against Utah, James Harden (an 84% FT shooter in 2010-11) records the lone misfire in their 29 tries versus Houston.
Dec. 16 – Manu Ginobili scores the game-winning bucket and draws the game-saving charge in the final four seconds, one night after draining a winning jumper at the buzzer.
Dec. 17 – Five days after Nolan Carroll of the Miami Dolphins is tripped along the sidelines by a Jets coach in New York, LeBron James of the Miami Heat is tripped along the sidelines when he grazes the Knicks bench in New York.
Dec. 17 – The Suns intentionally foul Brendan Haywood three times late in the game. After he bricks five of six free throws, the Mavs replace him with Ian Mahinmi, who makes four straight.
Dec. 19 – On the same night 33-year-old Paul Pierce posts his first triple-double in 323 games, 38-year-old Grant Hill scores 30 for the first time in 359.
Dec. 22 – Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz is enlisted to help Celtics mascot Lucky with a dunk at halftime, but delays the stunt so he can capture it on his cell phone.
Dec. 25 – Derrick Rose, playing against the Knicks, misses 13 of his 18 shots inside 10 feet. Six are blocked, including four in the first quarter alone.
Dec. 28 – Tyreke Evans swishes a 3 from beyond halfcourt as the final buzzer sounds to stagger Memphis, 100-98.
Jan. 3 – Shaquille O’Neal carries Rajon Rondo, returning after a two-week injury, into the Celtics locker room and places him into a chair with the query, “Anything else King Rondo?”
Jan. 3 – On the same day Charlotte bricks a franchise-record 18 consecutive shots against Miami, the Sixers bench misfires on 32 of 40 in a defeat to New Orleans.
Jan. 7 – While New Jersey’s Sasha Vujacic is shooting 1-for-14 in Washington, the Pacers are shooting 1-for-15 in the fourth quarter in Indy.
Jan. 11 – The Timberwolves are assessed five technical fouls in 10 seconds, resulting in the ejection of coach Kurt Rambis and five made free throws by Manu Ginobili.
Jan. 12 – Although they are outscored in the paint, 70-42, Oklahoma City slides by Houston, 118-112.
Jan. 15 – To promote Derrick Rose for the All-Star Game, the Bulls PR staff places roses at each member of the media’s work space.
Jan. 18 – Only four teams are in action, and three of them – the Bulls, Hawks and Heat – combine to miss 60 of 74 three-point attempts.
Jan. 19 – Tyreke Evans scores 16 points, goes 0-for-2 from the arc, takes four free throws, pulls down five rebounds, makes three steals and blocks one shot for the second game in a row.
Jan. 23 – Carmelo Anthony, who had never sunk more than five 3-pointers in any of his previous 549 games, throws down six in a span of nine minutes, 28 seconds in the third quarter against Indiana.
Jan. 24 – Wizards rookie Kevin Seraphin unknowingly begins the game with his shorts on backwards, and must do the ol’ switcheroo at the bench while shielded by teammates.
Jan. 27 – Dwayne Wade begins the fourth quarter on a run of 13 consecutive shots made, then misses his last seven in a loss to New York.
Jan. 27 – Fans elect Yao Ming, whose season ended on November 10, to start the All-Star Game.
Feb. 1 – Kevin Martin goes 10-for-11 from the stripe, while the rest of his Rockets teammates go 0-for-0.
Feb. 7 – The Nuggets lose to Houston as Carmelo Anthony’s 50-point game is garnished by zero assists.
Feb. 9 – Traditional non-scorers Randy Foye, DeJuan Blair and J.J. Barea each far exceed their season PPGs in the fourth quarter alone, with 17, 16 and 15 points, respectively.
Feb. 10 – Traditional non-scorer Aaron Afflalo throws in 19 points in the fourth quarter, including a buzzer-beating 3.
Feb. 11 − Traditional non-scorer Dahntay Jones tallies all 19 of his points in the fourth quarter.
Feb. 11 – To end Cleveland’s NBA-record 26-game losing streak, the Clippers find it necessary to have every one of the players post a negative plus/minus.
Feb. 12 – The visiting team wins all eight games on the schedule – an NBA first.
Feb. 12 – Under Wally Szczerbiak’s talking head − where his name is intended to appear as he is commentating on CBS’ Inside College Basketball Show − appears the graphic, “RANDOM DUDE/Guest Info Here.”
Feb. 19 – A Miami player wins the 3-point shootout for the third time in the last five years.
Feb. 22 – On a night when Gerald Wallace is the first Bobcat ever to score 20 points while taking as few as six shots, Heat teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade score 54 points without making a free throw.
Feb. 26 – Utah loses to Detroit despite assisting on 84.1% of its field goals and connecting on 59.5% of its attempts.
Mar. 2 – Troy Murphy reveals that he is a licensed spray-tanner, and is now accepting clients at his home facility.
Mar. 2 – A 14-0 lead to start the game is insufficient for the Bulls, who fall to the Hawks.
Mar. 3 – Down by 24 in the third quarter, the Magic use a 40-9 run to beat the Heat.
Mar. 4 – Corey Brewer commits five fouls in his five-minute stint and characterizes his Dallas debut as “a little bit too aggressive.”
Mar. 6 – Miami misses its 12th and 13th consecutive field goal attempt that would have tied the game or put them ahead in the final 10 seconds of regulation.
Mar. 12 – Dwyane Wade blocks four Memphis shots in 55 seconds.
Mar. 12 – Mike Bibby sinks his 12th bucket since joining Miami – every one of them a trifecta.
Mar. 12 – In the most pathetically arrogant legal transgression of the season, Hawks nobody Josh Powell is arrested after refusing to move his vehicle to clear the way for an approaching ambulance.
Mar. 14 – Ten days after the Spurs toast the Heat by 30 points in San Antonio, the Heat toast the Spurs by 30 in Miami.
Mar. 14 – On the same night that Samuel Dalembert sets a record for most games played (644) prior to scoring 25 points for the first time, Chuck Hayes logs his first 20-point performance in his 410th outing.
Mar. 17 – The Cavaliers, the only team not to lose a game by 20 points in 2010-11, do so for the 11th time in 2011-12 – just 10 fewer than all seven seasons of the LeBron James era combined.
Mar. 23 – The Eastern Conference-leading Celtics are upset for the second time in two weeks despite no opposing player scoring as many as 15 points in the game.
Mar. 27 – Miami defeats Houston, 125-119, which is the exact same score as their game of December 29.
Apr. 1 – The Pistons retire Dennis Rodman’s jersey – on April Fool’s Day.
Apr. 5 – Orlando beats Milwaukee despite misfiring on 18 consecutive downtowners.
Apr. 8 – Nene bags all five of his field goal attempts but none of his eight free throws for the biggest charity “oh-fer” ever by a player who was perfect from the floor.
Apr. 11 – Von Wafer soars for a wide-open dunk then, not realizing he missed it, turns to the crowd and strikes a look-at-me pose while crashing into teammate Jermaine O’Neal and causing him to double-dribble.
Apr. 25 – Andre Miller hits his fourth 3-pointer in the first five games of the postseason, equaling his regular-season total.
May 8 – In completing their upset sweep of the Lakers, the Mavericks get as many points from their bench (86) as do the vanquished from their entire team.
-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)
Wisconsin Badgers running back Montee Ball just made the hardest decision of his life by electing to return to Madison for his senior season.
At least, that is what he will tell you if you ask him.
Ball said at his homecoming announcement on Thursday that deciding to put off his NFL payday was tougher than trying to decide on which college to attend. The NFL told the talented tailback that he would likely be a third round selection in the upcoming April draft. Ball took this as a challenge – he also cited an academic promise to his family – and will return to college football as the highest returning Heisman vote-getter in 2012. He also tied (kind of) Barry Sanders single-season touchdown record at 39 and won a Big Ten championship.
The question is was it the right move?
If he returned to Wisconsin to try to win a national championship, he will be sorely disappointed – baring another star senior grad student quarterback transferring from NC State. But I respect the competitive spirit of all athletes. If he returned to Wisconsin to finish his college education, I will stand up and applaud him.
But if he returned to Wisconsin to improve his NFL Draft stock, he could be making the worst decision of his career.
First, for lack of a better term, he is what he is. He isn’t going to run a 4.3 40 all of the sudden with one extra year of Big Ten football. He isn’t going to grow three inches magically with a dozen or so more collegiate games under his belt. Yes, Ball can get stronger and smarter as a football player and a man, but he won’t ever be physically gifted enough to be a first round pick. Which leads me to my second point…
Running backs have quickly become the least valuable commodity in the NFL Draft. Ball has a really good chance — with his toughness, smarts and short space agility — to be a solid NFL back. Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Michael Turner, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster and Frank Gore were the top six rushers this season in the NFL. If you are counting at home, that is a second, second, fifth, second, undrafted and third round draft pick. The point being, unless you are Adrian Peterson, LaDanian Tomlinson or Trent Richardson, running backs just don’t go in the first round any longer.
Finally, Ball touched the ball 331 times in 2011 and there is only so much tread on a running back’s tires. Another 300 touches – behind an offensive line and quarterback that won’t be nearly as talented in 2012 as it was this fall – could put his body, aka earning potential, at serious risk of injury.
It may work out for Ball. He may go from a early third round pick to a late second rounder. But the best thing he could have done was start working on his game at the next level, protect his body and start his already ticking professional clock a year sooner.
Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, however, could not have made a better decision.
In his first year under center in Norman, Jones completed 63.2% of his passes threw an interception once every 37.5 pass attempts. In his second year, he showed improvement by completing 65.6% of his passes and tossing a pick once every only 51.4 pass attempts. However, this fall Jones regressed mightily by completing only 58.1% of his throws and a career worst 32.1 pass attempts per interception.
He clearly failed as a leader against Texas Tech this season as the Sooners were not ready to play until it was too late against the Red Raiders. He also has had serious road woes, going an ugly 9-8 as a road starter over the course of his career. Jones only lost 10 total games as a starter in three full seasons at Oklahoma.
Finally, in the season's final three games without Ryan Broyles – the NCAA’s all-time leading receiving – Jones threw 144 passes. He threw five interceptions, zero touchdowns and lost twice.
There was no doubt that Jones would have been disappointed on draft weekend. He was not going to be a first day pick, even as a 6-foot-4, 230 pound quarterback who is the all-time leading passer in the prestigious history of Oklahoma football.
As a college football fan (who was born in Madison nonetheless), I love seeing names like Ball, Jones and Matt Barkley return to the college gridiron. But there is no doubt my unsolicited advice to Montee Ball would have been to start focusing full-time on your combine workouts, film study, interviewing skills and stamina. You can easily come back and finish your degree during your first offseason.
A quick preview of all four games on NFL Wild Card Weekend, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports editors Mitchell Light, Rob Doster, Nathan Rush, Patrick Snow and Steven Lassan:
Bengals (9-7) at Texans (10-6)
Saturday, Jan. 7, 4:30 pm ET, NBC
Two rookie quarterbacks go head-to-head in an unlikely playoff matchup. Cincinnati second-round pick Andy Dalton took over for disgruntled longtime starter Carson Palmer, while Houston fifth-rounder T.J. Yates rose from third-string to starter following season-ending injuries suffered by starter Matt Schaub (Lisfranc) and backup Matt Leinart (collarbone). Both young signal-callers have the luxury of elite talent at wide receiver and running back. Bengals rookie A.J. Green is one of the rising stars at any position, while Texans perennial Pro Bowler Andre Johnson is arguably the best in the business, when healthy. In the backfield, Cincy’s Cedric Benson rushed for 1,067 yards — his third straight 1,000-yard season — and six TDs; Houston’s Arian Foster posted 1,224 yards and 10 TDs in only 13 games this season. Defensively, Texans first-year coordinator Wade Phillips may have been the best free-agent pickup of the offseason. Houston’s hybrid 3-4 scheme ranks No. 2 in total defense (285.7 ypg), No. 3 against the pass (189.7 ypg) and No. 4 against the run (96.0 ypg).
Texans by 2
Lions (10-6) at Saints (13-3)
Saturday, Jan. 7, 8:00 pm ET, NBC
The Saints march into the postseason on an eight-game winning streak, thanks to a record-setting offense led by Super Bowl XLIV MVP quarterback Drew Brees. This season, New Orleans set single-season records for offensive yards (7,474), passing yards (5,347) and first downs (416), while Brees broke Dan Marino’s single-season passing yards record (5,476) and his own 2009 completion percentage mark (71.2). The onus will be on the Lions’ 22nd-ranked pass defense — which allowed Packers passers Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn to throw for a combined 787 yards, eight TDs and one INT in two division losses this season. Much-maligned defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will need to terrorize a New Orleans O-line whose sum is greater than its parts. Detroit’s tag-team duo of quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson will need to bring their A-game against an aggressive Saints defense that ranked 30th against the pass (259.8 ypg). After making the playoffs for the first time since 1999, the Lions want to hang around the tourney long enough to earn their first postseason win since 1991.
Saints by 9
Falcons (10-6) at Giants (9-7)
Sunday, Jan. 8, 1:00 pm ET, CBS
The Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense destroyed Dallas’ dreams of a postseason berth and now turn their attention to Falcons signal-caller Matt Ryan, who has been excellent in the friendly confines of his home Georgia Dome — or any other indoor facility, for that matter — but has struggled to a 2–3 record outdoors in the elements this season. Ryan is 0–2 in the playoffs, still searching for that elusive first win after losing to the eventual champion Packers last year and to the eventual NFC champion Cardinals as a rookie. “Matty Ice” will have a tough time against a New York pass rush featuring Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Ryan’s old college buddy Mathias Kiwanuka. Since starting his career 0–2 in the postseason, Giants signal-caller Eli Manning has gone 4–1, with an incredible run to win Super Bowl XLII following the 2007 season. The G-Men are on a roll similar to that this year.
Giants by 4
Steelers (12-4) at Broncos (8-8)
Sunday, Jan. 8, 4:30 pm ET, FOX
The walking wounded from Pittsburgh limp into Denver with a battle-tested but injured roster. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger brings a 10–3 career playoff record and two Super Bowl wins; but Big Ben is also dragging around a swollen left ankle. Since injuring his foot in Week 14 against the Browns, Roethlisberger has thrown zero TDs and three INTs, while taking five sacks and losing one fumble in two games. The Steelers won’t be able to lean on their run game, either, as tailback Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL in the season finale at Cleveland. It will be up to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s stop-unit — which will be without safety Ryan Clark, who will sit out due to a sickle-cell illness whose risks increase at higher altitudes — to stop Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who has a 7–4 record as a starter since taking over in Week 7. Tebow, however, is only 2–3 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Denver’s D has been underrated this season, but crucial to the Tebow-fueled fourth-quarter comebacks that have become the team’s signature style. During the Broncos’ six-game winning streak, the team allowed just 17 points per game, including four games of 13 or fewer points.
Steelers by 8
It’s not like Jose Calderon came out of nowhere, but it’s just not a name you can consistently count on — read just 68 games played each of the last three seasons — in NBA fantasy. But the Toronto Raptors’ guard is currently the third-best point guard in nine-category leagues this season and fantasy’s 12th-best player overall.
Calderon goes into Friday night’s game against the visiting New Jersey Nets already with four double-doubles under his belt and shows no signs of slowing down. The ankle injury to Jerryd Bayless, and no timetable for his return, will help Calderon to keep logging the minutes.
Calderon has reached double digits in assists in four of six games and has 60 of them to just 10 turnovers. He has reached double digits in points in four games and is shooting 52.9 percent from the field. Calderon is also perfect from the free-throw line (9-of-9).
Add in 4.2 boards per game, and he is taking great point guard numbers and turning himself into a great player across all categories.
ESPN had Calderon ranked 23rd amongst fantasy point guards entering the season, and he held an ADP of 107.8 in Yahoo leagues — a late 11th, early 12th round selection in 12-team leagues. That’s exactly where he went in the Athlon Sports one-man keeper annual NBA fantasy draft — 11th in the 11th round.
Obviously, the presence of Bayless in the lineup pushed Calderon down the board, but Bayless isn’t in there now and Calderon was still getting 30-plus minutes per game prior to Bayless’ Dec. 30 ankle injury.
Calderon has seen his minutes this season rise seven minutes above his career average (27:48), his points per game go up by 2.4, his shooting percentage rise four points, his 3-point percentage rise seven points, his free-throw percentage rise over 12 points, his assists go up by three per game.
Yes, it’s early, as just six games have been played. But all signs are pointing up for Calderon.
The one thing that has consistently held him back is just being on the court. Calderon has played exactly 68 of 82 games the last three years and has played above 77 just twice in his seven-year career.
If he can stay healthy, hold Bayless at bay, keep those shooting percentages up, Calderon is going to be a great steal as a 12th-round point guard.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Goalies are used to getting goals scored on them, as opposed to scoring them, but Everton's goalie Tim Howard blasted a kick from his own goal line in a game against Bolton, it went high into the air, took a perfect bounce and sailed into the goal over the opposing goalies head.
And now, Howard feels bad about his spectacular (if albeit a bit lucky goal.)
“It's not a nice feeling for a keeper. It's really awful actually,” Howard told Sky Sports. “For the back four and the goalkeepers at both ends, there was an awful wind swirling. You could see everybody was mistiming balls. Defenders were missing clearances that normally they would put up the field. I think the wind is the hardest condition to play in. Snow, rain, sun doesn't matter, but the wind really does play tricks on you.”
Howard said he spoke with Bogdan after Everton's 2-1 loss to Bolton.
“I let him know that I was feeling for him,” Howard said. “It's not a nice place to be. I've been there before, a long, long time ago, and that was why I didn't celebrate.”
How many offensive players would apologize to the goalie they just scored on? Probably zero, but that's what happens when you truly know what it feel like to be in the other guy's cleats.
It's that time of year again, New Year's resolution time. Everyone makes crazy promises to themselves like "I'm cutting back on my carbs" or "No more Tuesday morning mojitos" only to fall right back into a rut by MLK Day. Well at least you're not alone. Apparently pro athletes also like to set goals for themselves when the calendar turns over. Here are some resolutions we uncovered during a variety of interviews* with the biggest names in sports.
Peyton Manning: Learn how to throw a deep out route from wheelchair.
Urban Meyer: Spend more quality time with the family.
Albert Pujols: Get approval from MLB to wear first ever solid gold uniform.
LeBron James: Lose weight to lessen the load on D-Wade's shoulders during the playoffs.
DeSean Jackson: Undergo surgery to replace alligator arms with human arms.
Jeff Van Gundy: Find the cure for male pattern baldness.
Stan Van Gundy: Find the cure for male pattern fatness.
Tony LaRussa: Enjoy retirement and stop using home phone to make pitching changes.
Cam Newton: Force a trade back to Auburn to get a better contract.
Tim Tebow: Pray just a little bit more.
Kris Humphries: Figure out how to get more face time on television – ESPN, TNT and NBATV don’t count.
David Stern: Use "basketball reasons" to rig the playoffs so the Lakers play the Heat in the Finals.
Derek Jeter: Change nothing.
Dwight Howard: Stop requesting trades to places like New Jersey.
Kobe Bryant: Pass the ball to Kobe Bryant more.
Baseball Hall of Fame: Take the words “integrity, sportsmanship and character” out of voting guidelines for the next ten years.
Theo Epstein: Come to senses, quit immediately.
Philadelphia Eagles: Make the playoffs.
NHL: Stop broadcasting games on public access television.
Brett Favre: Un-retire and return to a successful career in cell phone dong shots.
Ndamukong Suh: Learn how to tackle without being charged with aggravated assault.
College athletics: Do anything right.
*We made these up.
Nearly two weeks into the current NBA season, the 3-2 Clippers are still the big deal when it comes to grabbing headlines out of Los Angeles. But the news about one of the game’s best big right now still comes out of the Lakers’ camp.
Andrew Bynum, suspended the first four games of the season for his removing J.J. Barea from his shoes in last year’s Western Conference semifinals, has been on a tear — in reality and fantasy — since his shortened punishment came to an end.
The Lakers’ 7-foot 285-pound center has been back since Dec. 31 and is ranked 15th overall in fantasy and seventh at the center position in nine-category leagues over the last seven days.
During those seven days and three games leading up to tonight’s game at Portland, Bynum has played 32:40 a game, is shooting .622 from the field, .571 from the stripe and averaging 22.7 points, 17.0 boards and 2.0 blocks.
He enters tonight’s Trail Blazers game coming off his first career 20-20 game — 21 points and 22 rebounds — with three blocks in a team-high 38 minutes. And he said his conditioning is still not where he wants it to be.
The condition of Bynum has always been his problem as a reliable or dependable fantasy player.
A year after being drafted last in the fourth round of last year’s Athlon Sports one-keeper, two-starting centers draft — with nine keepers ahead of him, Bynum was selected as the fifth pick in the sixth round with five keepers ahead of him.
The draft drop came on the heels of Bynum averaging 11.3 points, 9.4 boards and 2.0 blocks in 54 games — just one below the 55.3 games he’s averaged for his career.
And it’s the 55.3 that scares most fantasy players — and certainly Lakers fans — more than any other number.
ESPN’s Brian McKitish, citing the injuries that have plagued Bynum his entire six-year career, gave him a preseason rank of 19th. In Yahoo leagues this season, Bynum had an average draft position of 67.5 this season, making him a late fifth-round pick. The Yahoo/Rotowire preseason kit gave Bynum a ranking of 15th at the center position, also giving him props for his upside but acknowledging that if healthy he’s a worthy gamble.
Bynum’s production will be off the charts if that number of games played is in the 70s. Add in the departure of Lamar Odom, being surrounded by a 33-year-old Kobe Bryant, a 31-year-old Pau Gasol and a condensed season means everyone that drafted Bynum, 24, got a helluva deal this year.
Let the run of 20-20s begin.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
by Rob Doster
BBVA Compass Bowl
SMU (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
Date: Jan. 7 at 1 p.m. ET
Location: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
The Panthers, who played in the Compass Bowl following the 2010 season as well, make the return trip to Birmingham to face June Jones' pass-oriented Mustangs. Pitt was a few breaks away from a 10-win season but instead is coming off a roller coaster ride that saw the Panthers fail to post back-to-back wins after Week 2 and included heartbreaking losses to Iowa and Notre Dame in nonconference action and Cincinnati and West Virginia in Big East play. And now, they're arriving without a head coach, as Todd Graham took the job at Arizona State (a message he relayed to his team via text). Nevertheless, the only season of the Graham era did produce some highlights, including a 21–14 win over Big East co-champ Louisville and a season-ending 33–20 win over Syracuse that clinched bowl eligibility.
The Mustangs are bowling for the third consecutive season, but they limp into Birmingham having lost four of six, three of them by significant margins. In particular, SMU struggled against C-USA's upper echelon, losing to Southern Miss, Houston and Tulsa by an average score of 34–6. The Mustangs did post a signature win — a 40–33 overtime victory over TCU — so it would be foolish to discount their chances.
WHEN PITTSBURGH HAS THE BALL:
Quarterback Tino Sunseri regressed a bit during his junior season, as his TD-to-interception ratio fell from 16-9 to 10-10. The Panthers suffered a devastating loss with a knee injury to running back Ray Graham in a win over Connecticut, putting extra pressure on Sunseri and the passing game; Graham had rushed for 964 yards in eight games, an average of 120.5 yards per game. The Mustangs boast a more-than-respectable defense, although they had trouble producing turnovers, with only five interceptions all season.
WHEN SMU HAS THE BALL:
The key for the Mustangs: Protect the football. Jones' crew ranked dead last in the nation in turnover margin (-1.42) thanks to 31 giveaways, including an alarming 19 interceptions. The Mustangs live and die on the arm of quarterback J.J. McDermott, who had four 300-yard outings, including a 349-yard, four-touchdown masterpiece against TCU. McDermott also had four games with multiple interceptions, and the Mustangs were 1–3 in those games. Pitt was vulnerable against the pass, ranking 71st in the nation at 233.3 ypg, so expect the Mustangs to throw early and often.
Not much to see here. Neither team has an especially reliable kicker, nor does either cause much heartburn in the return game. SMU's Richard Crawford does rank ninth nationally in punt return average (12.67) but he did most of his damage with a 141-yard performance against UCF.
Both teams could use a boost of momentum heading into the offseason, but Todd Graham's messy departure has left a cloud over the Pittsburgh program. Expect the Mustangs to muster enough offense to outscore the Panthers.
SMU 28, Pittsburgh 24