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MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
We believe that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
Miami Marlins Mt. Rushmore
The Miami Marlins have existed for just 21 seasons, joining the National League in 1993. Success has been rare and fleeting. The Marlins have posted just six winning seasons in the their 21 campaigns and have yet to win a division title. However, the 1997 and 2003 squads parlayed wild card berths into World Series championships. With spotty attendance and no baseball-only stadium until 2012, the Marlins have been unable (some would say unwilling) to retain or sign high-priced players. So there are no long-tenured stars in Florida history. This Mt. Rushmore will change dramatically over the next 10 years or so. The State of Baseball in Miami isn't great right now. The 2013 season was the franchise's second-worst in history.
The All-Star shortstop was a perennial MVP candidate during most of his tenure in Miami. He was Rookie of the year in 2006, and won a batting title with a .342 average in 2009 when he was MVP runner-up. Although he played just six and a half seasons, he ranks first in total bases and runs created for the franchise. He is second in runs and hits.
An original Marlin, Conine was selected from the Kansas City Royals in the expansion draft. He was an integral part of both championship teams in Florida, batting .304 in 32 postseason games for the Marlins. Conine earned MVP honors in the 1995 All-Star Game, the only Marlin so honored. He is second on the Marlins all-time list in games and RBIs, third in hits and total bases.
The first general manager of the Marlins, Dombrowski was responsible for building the 1997 championship team, and played a significant role in re-building the team into a contender in 2003, although he left for the Detroit Tigers in 2002.
Cabrera made his major league debut on June 20, 2003 and quickly became a fixture in the Marlins’ lineup. During his five seasons in South Florida, Cabrera received MVP votes every year. He averaged .313 with 28 homers and 105 RBIs per season. Those numbers increased to 32 home runs and 115 RBIs if you eliminate the half season in 2003. Cabrera hit four postseason home runs during the Marlins’ championship run in 2003.
Jim Leyland, the manager who led the Marlins to their first title, deserves some mention.
Third baseman Mike Lowell ranks first in RBIs and second in total bases.
The ageless Livan Hernandez was just 24-24 in his four seasons with the Marlins, but he was 4-0 in the 1997 postseason, earning MVP honors in both the NLCS and World Series.
No one has more hits or scored more runs in a Marlins uniform than second baseman Luis Castillo.
Jack McKeon managed the team to the title in 2003 after taking over a losing team 38 games into the season.
Josh Beckett won just 41 games in five seasons, but the 2003 World Series MVP had one Mt. Rushmore moment as he shut out the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in Game 6 to clinch the Series.
Best Current Player
It's easy to get excited about a young pitcher like Jose Fernandez, but Giancarlo Stanton — assuming he stays with the team — is more likely to rocket up the charts and join this group. He's also much more likely to be traded or allowed to leave before obtaining that status.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com
Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 8 SEC Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Alabama (8-0) – The countdown is officially on to Nov. 5. Alabama had a sluggish first half against Tennessee, but pulled away in the final two quarters for a 37-6 victory. Running back Trent Richardson was held under 100 yards by the Volunteers, but still managed to reach the endzone twice. Alabama’s defense has been stellar all season and has held its last three opponents to less than 200 total yards. Although it was not the Crimson Tide’s best performance, their hold on the No. 1 spot in the SEC power rankings is secure.
2. LSU (8-0) – As mentioned previously in our SEC power rankings, if Alabama is No. 1, LSU is No. 1b. There’s not much separation between these two teams, but the much-anticipated matchup in Tuscaloosa is just around the corner. The Tigers handled Auburn 45-10 on Saturday, which was their third consecutive victory of at least 30 points. LSU is expected to get suspended cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon and running back Spencer Ware reinstated before the Nov. 5 showdown against Alabama.
3. Arkansas (6-1) – The Razorbacks were heavy favorites against Ole Miss, but the Rebels led at halftime and lost by only five points. Quarterback Tyler Wilson led the way with 232 passing yards, while running back Dennis Johnson ran for 160 yards and one score. Outside of the season finale against LSU, the Razorbacks should be favored to win the rest of their games, starting with Saturday’s contest against Vanderbilt. Arkansas still has SEC West title hopes, but needs Alabama to lose twice and has to beat LSU on Nov. 25.
4. South Carolina (6-1) – Life without Marcus Lattimore begins on Saturday. The Gamecocks are in control of the SEC East, but it’s going to be a challenge to win the division without Lattimore. South Carolina will have to lean on freshman back Brandon Wilds to carry the workload, while quarterback Connor Shaw and the defense will have to step up. The Gamecocks are at Tennessee this Saturday, a team they have beaten two out of the last three tries, but have not won in Knoxville since 2005.
5. Georgia (5-2) – If the Bulldogs want to win the SEC East, a victory on Saturday against Florida is a must. Georgia enters Week 9 riding a five-game winning streak, and Saturday’s matchup against the Gators is the toughest remaining conference game on its schedule. The Bulldogs have not had much success against Florida in recent years, winning only two out of the last 13 matchups. One bit of bad news for Georgia during its off week – safety Shawn Williams and nose guard Kwame Geathers were suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game due to their actions in the win over Vanderbilt on Oct. 15.
6. Auburn (5-3) – Even with three key LSU players suspended, it was a tall order for Auburn to win in Baton Rouge. Auburn’s 45-10 loss to LSU was its biggest margin of defeat this year and puts its overall record at 5-3 entering Week 9. Clint Moseley got his first start at quarterback against LSU and completed 12 of 20 passes for 145 yards and one interception. Moseley is expected to start in Auburn’s game against Ole Miss this Saturday. The Tigers have won four out of their last six games against the Rebels.
7. Florida (4-3) – Thanks to a much-needed bye week, the Gators should get quarterback John Brantley back under center for Saturday’s game against Georgia. Brantley has missed the last two contests, after suffering an ankle injury in the 38-10 loss to Alabama. The Gators can still win the SEC East, but any comeback has to start with a win over the Bulldogs on Saturday. Florida also needs to beat South Carolina when the two teams meet on Nov. 12.
8. Tennessee (3-4) – A brutal October schedule, combined with a thumb injury to quarterback Tyler Bray, has made life very difficult for the Volunteers. Tennessee is riding a three-game losing streak entering Saturday’s contest against South Carolina. To help provide a spark, the Volunteers have turned the offense over to true freshman quarterback Justin Worley. Tennessee still has a shot to get to a bowl game, but beating an improving Vanderbilt team on Nov. 19 could decide the SEC’s last team into the postseason.
9. Mississippi State (3-4) – The Bulldogs had a bye in Week 8 and return to action on Saturday at Kentucky. Mississippi State is still searching for its first win in SEC play, and needs three more victories to get bowl eligible. The Bulldogs have a favorable path to six wins, especially with Kentucky, Tennessee-Martin and Ole Miss remaining on the schedule. Saturday’s game against the Wildcats will likely see Tyler Russell make his second start at quarterback for Mississippi State.
10. Vanderbilt (4-3) – Running back Zac Stacy gashed Army for 198 yards and three scores, which was more than enough for Vanderbilt to post a 44-21 victory over the Black Knights. Also helping the cause was Jordan Rodgers’ first start at quarterback. The junior threw for 186 yards, while adding 96 more on the ground. The win over Army snapped a three-game losing streak for Vanderbilt and puts it two wins away from reaching a bowl. The Commodores host Arkansas this Saturday.
11. Ole Miss (2-5) – The Rebels showed some signs of life on Saturday, opening up a 17-7 at the half over Arkansas. However, Ole Miss was unable to keep the Razorbacks’ offense in check the full game, eventually losing 29-24. Quarterback Randall Mackey seems to have provided a spark for the Rebels’ offense, totaling 249 yards and three scores in Saturday’s game. There’s no doubt coach Houston Nutt needs wins in order to save his job for 2012. The Rebels travel to Auburn this Saturday, before making a trip to Lexington to play Kentucky on Nov. 5.
12. Kentucky (3-4) – The Wildcats snapped a four-game losing streak on Saturday, defeating Jacksonville State 38-14. Kentucky’s offense has been a sore spot all year, but quarterback Morgan Newton completed 10 of 16 throws for 105 yards and two scores, while running back CoShik Williams ran for 148 yards. While getting a victory is nice, let’s see if Kentucky can build upon that momentum on Saturday against Mississippi State. Neither team has a win in SEC play, but the Wildcats are big underdogs.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 8 ACC Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Clemson (8-0) – The Tigers remained unbeaten with a 59-38 win over North Carolina on Saturday. Clemson’s offense had limited success on the ground against the Tar Heels, due to an injury to running back Andre Ellington. Although Ellington was missed, he really wasn’t needed, as quarterback Tajh Boyd (367 yards, five scores) and receiver Sammy Watkins (8 rec., 91 yards and one touchdown) carried the day for the Clemson offense. Although doubts remain about the Tigers’ defense, it’s going to be very difficult for any of the remaining opponents on Clemson’s schedule to stop its offense. The Tigers travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech this Saturday.
2. Virginia Tech (7-1) – Since posting a lackluster performance against Clemson on Oct. 1, the Hokies have shown signs of life on offense, posting three consecutive games of at least 30 points. Quarterback Logan Thomas appears to be a much-improved player over the last few weeks, throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions in Virginia Tech’s last three games. The Hokies defeated Boston College 30-14 on Saturday, and assumed control of the ACC Coastal with Georgia Tech’s loss to Miami. Virginia Tech plays at Duke this Saturday.
3. Miami (4-3) – The Hurricanes are just above .500, but a look at their resume shows this is a solid team. Miami lost by eight in the opener to Maryland, four to undefeated Kansas State and a narrow three-point defeat to Virginia Tech two weeks ago. The Hurricanes seem to be finding their stride under first-year coach Al Golden, particularly after Saturday’s 24-7 win over Georgia Tech. In the victory, the defense held the Yellow Jackets to 134 rushing yards, while preventing any big plays by quarterback Tevin Washington and receiver Stephen Hill. Miami still has a chance to win the ACC Coastal, but it needs a little help in the form of a Virginia Tech loss. The Hurricanes host Virginia on Thursday night this week.
4. Georgia Tech (6-2) – After a 6-0 start, it looked like Georgia Tech was going to cruise to an ACC Coastal title. Not anymore. The Yellow Jackets have dropped back-to-back games, and their offense has started to sputter the last few weeks. After scoring at least 35 points in the first five games of the year, Georgia Tech has not managed more than 21 in its last three games. The Yellow Jackets will always rely on the run, but the passing attack has to hit a few plays to help take some of the pressure off the rushing game. Can Georgia Tech get back on track this Saturday? It won’t be easy with Clemson coming to Atlanta.
5. Wake Forest (5-2) – The Demon Deacons are probably the only team that has a shot to knock off Clemson from the top spot in the Atlantic, and they kept pace with the Tigers with a 24-23 win over Duke on Saturday. Wake Forest hits the road for a key trip to North Carolina this week. The offense has been without running back Josh Harris due to a hamstring injury the last two weeks, but is expected to return to the lineup. A win over the Tar Heels would give Wake Forest the North Carolina ACC championship, as it already has wins over Duke and NC State.
6. Florida State (4-3) – The Seminoles are going to fall short of lofty preseason expectations, but there’s still plenty to play for. Florida State has won back-to-back games (both by the score of 41-16), and if it wins out, can finish with a 9-3 record. In Saturday’s win over Maryland, running back Devonta Freeman breathed some life into the rushing attack, posting 100 yards and one score. Quarterback EJ Manuel has been solid in his return from a shoulder injury, throwing five touchdowns over his last three games. The Seminoles host NC State this Saturday.
7. North Carolina (5-3) – The Tar Heels hope to snap a two-game losing streak this Saturday, as they host in-state rival Wake Forest. North Carolina has started to slide in the power rankings over the last two weeks, and there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding this team going forward. Interim coach Everett Withers’ future with the program is up in the air and will largely be determined over the next few weeks. After Saturday’s game against Wake Forest, the Tar Heels have back-to-back road games against NC State and Virginia Tech.
8. NC State (4-3) – After a disappointing 2-3 start, the Wolfpack has righted the ship the last few weeks. NC State has posted back-to-back wins, including Saturday’s 28-14 victory over Virginia. Quarterback Mike Glennon was a question mark entering this season, but has proven to be more than adequate, throwing for 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. Injuries have factored heavily into NC State’s record, but it still has a shot to get bowl eligible with five games remaining. The Wolfpack play at Florida State this Saturday.
9. Virginia (4-3) – The Cavaliers were unable to build off the 24-21 upset win over Georgia Tech, losing 28-14 to NC State on Saturday. Virginia has yet to settle on a quarterback this year, and coach Mike London can’t be pleased with his passing attack after watching David Watford and Michael Rocco combine for 11 of 35 for 125 passing yards and three interceptions on Saturday. The Cavaliers travel to Miami to take on the Hurricanes on Thursday night.
10. Maryland (2-5) – Are the Terrapins back to square one with their quarterback situation? In Saturday’s 41-16 loss to Florida State, starter C.J. Brown was knocked out of the game and replaced by former No. 1 passer Danny O’Brien. Brown completed 11 of 19 throws for only 92 yards, while O’Brien threw for 180 yards on nine completions. Coach Randy Edsall has indicated the starter for Saturday’s game against Boston College would be a gametime decision. The Terrapins are a longshot to get bowl eligible, but if they have any hope, beating the Eagles on Saturday is a must.
11. Duke (3-4) – Although the Blue Devils fell short in their bid to beat Wake Forest, they deserve credit for rallying from a 17-3 deficit at halftime. Duke had a chance to drive for the winning score late, but quarterback Sean Renfree’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete with just over a minute to go. The Blue Devils have lost two in a row, putting their bowl hopes on life support with five games remaining. Duke hosts Virginia Tech this Saturday, before hitting the road to play at Miami on Nov. 5.
12. Boston College (1-6) – Coach Frank Spaziani hoped the bye week would help find some answers for his team. Unfortunately for Spaziani and the Eagles, the outcome wasn’t much better than the previous weeks, as Boston College remained winless in conference play with a 30-14 defeat to Virginia Tech. With five games remaining, it’s going to be very difficult for the Eagles to get bowl eligible – especially with a schedule that features games against Florida State, Notre Dame and Miami in November. Barring an upset, Boston College could be looking at a 1-11 record at the end of the year.
by Charlie Miller
The 2011 World Series is evolving into one of the classic matchups in history. We’ve seen a 1-0 game through eight innings won in the ninth with two sac flies. We’ve seen a monumental blowout with Albert Pujols making history with three home runs. We’ve witnessed a young pitcher coming of age with a gem in Game 4 as Derek Holland shut down the Cardinals for 8+ innings. Baseball fans must be thrilled with this fall display.
Well, most fans. But there are some fans who are not enjoying the 2011 postseason.
Boston fans can’t be too excited about October baseball this season. Red Sox fans spent almost 100 years watching the World Series believing it was meant for the Yankees and other teams. Until 2004, when a miraculous eight-game run in October changed history in Boston. Since then, Red Sox fans are convinced they are entitled to a berth in the postseason. Oops. Not this year. To make matters worse, fans lost the only manager, Terry Francona, to have won a World Series in Boston since 1918 and the team’s architect in GM Theo Epstein.
Folks in Atlanta can’t be too happy either. In addition to the memory of blowing a supposedly insurmountable wild card lead in September, the Braves’ fans are constantly reminded what Mark Teixeira did for the franchise. The kid who played collegiately at Georgia Tech was acquired from Texas for Matt Harrison, Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz at the trade deadline in 2007. (Jarrod Saltalamacchia was also in the deal and was subsequently traded by Texas to Boston.) After posting a .295-37-137 line in 157 games over two seasons, the Braves did not believe they could re-sign Teixeira and dealt him at the deadline in 2008 to the Angels for Casey Kotchman. Kotchman didn’t impress over 130 games, so he was traded to Boston for Adam LaRoche at the next deadline. And so the revolving door at first base for the Braves continued. LaRoche hit .325 in 57 games, but left as a free agent at the end of the year. While the Braves are home watching, Harrison, Andrus and Feliz are enjoying their second World Series in two years, a constant reminder for Braves fans what could have been. For good measure, there are also those shots of Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright (once an Atlanta farm hand, who missed this season while recovering from Tommy John surgery) and shortstop Rafael Furcal, whom the Braves desperately tried to re-sign after the 2005 season.
Most New York Yankees fans believe the World Series doesn’t exist if the pinstripes aren’t a part of it. But here’s news, Yankees fans: there have actually been 107 World Series in baseball history, not just 40.
Milwaukee fans are still gnashing their teeth over the fact that the Brew Crew finished six games ahead of the Cardinals over 162 games, yet couldn’t win more than two out of six against St. Louis in the playoffs. What’s worse is having to watch Nelson Cruz of the Rangers. Cruz was dealt to the Rangers along with Carlos Lee for a couple of Corderos, a Mench and Laynce Nix. Boy, did that deal work well. The Brewers, whose bullpen couldn’t hold the Cardinals down in the NLCS, could have used Mike Adams, now of the Rangers, who was originally signed and developed by Milwaukee.
Royals, Pirates, Nationals fans are enjoying it as always. After all, it’s always other teams in the World Series.
Cubs fans are certainly enjoying the party. That’s what Cubs fans do — party. They’ll pass the innings talking about how the Cubs will be there next year — although none of them actually believe it.
Think Padres fans would like to have the Jim Edmonds-David Freese trade back? Sure, he scuffles at third base, but the guy can hit, even at Petco Park. With a little better offense, the Padres might have had reason to hold onto reliever Adams, who has become the best setup man for Texas.
Reds fans are clearly miserable. Not only because the hated St. Louis Cardinals are basking in the postseason sun, but it was the Reds who took the chance on believing Josh Hamilton had resurrected his career. For some reason, they were only partially convinced and traded the future MVP to Texas. At least the Reds have Edinson Volquez, though.
Blue Jays fans may need long memories to remember Chris Carpenter in a Toronto uniform, but Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski pitched there this summer and have been important pieces for St. Louis. And just as Michael Young was on the cusp of being major league ready way back in 2000, the Jays decided they would rather have pitcher Esteban Loaiza from the Rangers. Loaiza was 25-28 for Toronto before leaving as a free agent. Young bats cleanup for the defending AL champs and is the franchise’s all-time hits leader with 2,061.
Are any Angels fans wondering what could have been if Mike Napoli had been in an Angels uniform this season instead of with Texas? The Angels finished just 10 games behind Texas, and Napoli, who was traded to Toronto (and subsequently dealt to Texas) over the winter for Vernon Wells, could have made a difference. The Halos would love to have that one back.
A’s fans may be enjoying reliving some good ole days with the movie Moneyball this fall, but they are reminded of the organization’s financial realities watching Matt Holliday play leftfield for St. Louis. Convinced he would not be re-signed, the A’s traded him to the Cardinals in 2009. Losing Alexi Ogando to Texas in the Rule 5 draft is another matter.
Any other fan groups passing on this World Series?
By Mitch Light
These are not good times on Rocky Top.
The University of Tennessee football team, one of the more storied programs in college football, is 0–4 in the SEC for the second straight season. And it is not a competitive 0–4. The Vols have lost the four games by an average of 32.0 points and have been outgained by an average of 147.3 yards.
Yes, the schedule has been grueling — you can argue that no team in the nation has faced a more difficult conference slate to date — but this is Tennessee we are talking about. The Vols are used to being one of the elite teams in the league. They are accustomed to handing out the beatings — not being on the receiving end. A tough schedule was never used as an excuse from 1989 through 2004, when the Vols went 98–26–1 in SEC play. Tough schedules didn’t matter back then. Tennessee was often better than everyone else.
Tennessee has slipped down several notches in the SEC food chain in the past decade and faces a difficult climb back to relevance.
This year’s Volunteer club had tremendous potential on offense, but those hopes were dashed when wide receiver Justin Hunter went down with a knee injury against Florida and quarterback Tyler Bray broke his thumb in the fourth quarter of a loss to Georgia.
The Vols were forced to take on the two premier defensive teams in the nation (LSU and Alabama) without their two best offensive players. The results weren’t surprising: 13 total points, 17 total first downs and 394 total yards.
The schedule softens up in the final month of the regular season, but the Vols will apparently forge ahead with a true freshman at quarterback. Derek Dooley opted to burn Justin Worley’s redshirt in the fourth quarter of the seventh game of the season. With Bray’s return uncertain — UT hopes he can return for Game 11, vs. Vanderbilt — Dooley and his staff obviously believe Worley, who has yet to attempt a pass, gives them a better chance to win than fifth-year senior Matt Simms, the starter in each of the last two games.
Tennessee, at 3-4 overall, needs to win three of its final five games to become bowl-eligible. One of those games, however, is a trip to Arkansas, where the Vols figure to be heavy underdogs. That reduces UT’s margin for error in the other four games. Chalk up the home date with Middle Tennessee as a sure win. Can this team, with a true freshman at quarterback the rest of the way, go 2–1 against South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky? The guess here is yes. But the fact that we are even asking the question shows how far this program has fallen.
AROUND THE SEC
• Jarrett Lee continued his efficient play, completing 14-of-20 passes for 165 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in LSU’s win over Auburn. Lee has 13 touchdowns and one INT in 155 attempts this season.
• Zac Stacy rushed for 198 yards in Vanderbilt’s 44–21 win over Army. It was the third-highest single-game total in school history, trailing Frank Mordica (321 yards vs. Air Force in 1978) and Doug Matthews (214 yards vs. Tulane in 1969). Stacy is averaging 7.4 yards per carry this season.
• Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson failed to throw a touchdown pass in the Hogs’ win against Ole Miss. It was the first time all season he did not throw a TD and it was the first time since November 2009 that Arkansas as a team did not have at least one TD pass.
• Kentucky beat Jacksonville State 38–14 last weekend. The Wildcats had scored a total of 37 points during their four-game losing streak.
• Tennessee has forced only six turnovers in seven games. South Carolina has forced 24.
• LSU’s Rueben Randle leads the SEC with six receptions of 40 yards or longer.
• Kentucky only has 58 plays from scrimmage of 10 yards or more, the fewest in the league by 14. Arkansas has 123 plays of 10 yards or more.
• Ole Miss has only made 14 trips into the Red Zone this season. Only two teams nationally, FAU and Kent State, have fewer.
It is Week 8, the fourth week of bye weeks, and some big names go on vacation this weekend, so run to the waiver wire for some much needed help. You need someone to step in and hold down the fort for a week, or maybe more in some cases.
WEEK 8 BYES: Atlanta, Chicago, Green Bay, New York Jets, Oakland, Tampa Bay
At quarterback the biggest name in the game is idle as Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers take the week off. Also out are Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Mark Sanchez, Carson Palmer and Josh Freeman. Outside of Rodgers, it is unlikely any of the other quarterbacks on a bye this week are the main cog of your fantasy roster.
John Beck, Washington
Beck scored 19.16 fantasy points after throwing for 279 yards an interception and a score and running for another touchdown. The loss of WR Santana Moss (hand) for perhaps the next month doesn’t help, but Beck was able to manage without Moss for much of Sunday’s game against Carolina. The Redskins are at Buffalo (in Toronto) this week — ranked 30th against fantasy quarterbacks at 24.9 points per game — then they get San Francisco and Miami, which are also bottom 12 fantasy defenses against quarterbacks. He is still available in 90 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Tim Tebow, Denver
Tebow is the quarterback you plug into your lineup and then make sure you don’t watch him play. Just check the box score the following day and know that he got it done somehow, someway. His performance against Miami on Sunday was the epitome of fantasy vs. reality. He is not a good NFL quarterback, but he finds a way to get it done. For how long will this go on? We don’t know; I doubt not much past this season, but I am not concerned about next season. He scored nearly 23 fantasy points against Miami. Detroit comes to the Mile High City this weekend. It’s hard to gauge what you will get out of Tebow each week as a passer or runner, but it’s worth noting the Lions have allowed at least 13 fantasy points to the last three running backs and an average of 19.4 points against the last five quarterbacks they have faced. Tebow is still available in 46 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Carson Palmer, Oakland
OK, the debut was terrible. But he was on a couch watching the NFL seven days prior and the next Sunday Palmer was the QB for the Raiders. He gets a bye week to try and get acclimated to the playbook and with the numerous weapons he will have at his disposal. Plus, when the Raiders return in Week 9 they get Denver, the 31st ranked team against fantasy quarterbacks, in the Black Hole. Palmer is still available in 60 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota
The rookie made his first start, and the big TD to Michael Jenkins to start the game certainly helped pad his stats. But Ponder finished with 17.86 points against a Packers team that is third worst in the league against fantasy quarterbacks,. Ponder went 13-for-32 for 291 yards, two scores and two picks and added 31 yards rushing on four carries. Ponder is still available in 91 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Alex Smith, San Francisco
The 49ers travel to Washington this week to take on a Redskins team that has allowed at least 250 yards passing on an average of 18.75 completions against four of the six quarterbacks they have faced. Cam Newton threw for 256 yards on 18-of-23 on Sunday. Smith will have Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter at his disposal in addition to Michael Crabtree, the return of Braylon Edwards and stud TE Vernon Davis. If you are in a bind this week, Smith should be a good play.
WEEK 8 BYES: Atlanta, Chicago, Green Bay, New York Jets, Oakland, Tampa Bay
The Nos. 1, 7 and 8 backs in fantasy are idle this week in Chicago’s Matt Forte, Oakland’s Darren McFadden and Atlanta’s Michael Turner.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas
Of course he was easily the No. 1 waiver pick up of the week going into last week’s waivers and he did not disappoint. He posted 31.3 fantasy points on 253 yards rushing and a 91-yard TD. With Felix Jones expected to miss this week at Philadelphia (ankle) as well, the rookie should have another solid week. The Eagles are 29th in the league against fantasy running backs. He is still available in 42 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Delone Carter, Indianapolis
He was the lone bright spot with his 89 yards on 10 carries in a blowout loss to New Orleans. He added a TD and a 42-yard second-quarter run. Now the Colts get a Titans team that cannot stop the run. Arian Foster scored 43.9 fantasy points against them on Sunday; Ben Tate even had 10.4 points. Tennessee, ranked 28th in the league against fantasy backs, has surrendered 382 yards to the position in its last two games. Carter is available in 80 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Knowshon Moreno, Denver
Willis McGahee broke his hand in the win over Miami. Whether he will miss time due to the injury is unknown, but Moreno could be a good replacement in his sted. With Tim Tebow’s affinity to roll out of the pocket and freelance, Moreno could benefit as a pass catcher out of the backfield. The Broncos play host to the Lions this week, and they give up an average of 6.1 receptions for 31.9 yards per game this season to running backs. Moreno is available in 54 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Ryan Torain and Roy Helu, Washington
The Redskins and Mike Shanahan have certainly antagonized fantasy footballers in how they handle the team’s running back situation. Well the situation may have cleared up a bit with the news that Tim Hightower was lost for the year with an ACL. Torain has been a starter this season and the rookie Helu has been used sparingly. Torain should be a good start this week against a Buffalo team that is 27th against fantasy running backs. Keep an eye on how the Skins use Helu against the Bills. Torain is still available in 43 percent of Yahoo leagues, while Helu is available in 85 percent.
Alfonso Smith, Arizona
A bone bruise for Beanie Wells is expected to sideline him for a couple of weeks. Chester Taylor was a healthy inactive against the Steelers Sunday. LaRod Stephens-Howling can’t handle a starting workload. The leaves Smith if you are desperate. He is an inside runner and basically last-man standing of those expected to get consistent touches. Here’s the problem with this week: The Cardinals travel to Baltimore, a run defense they probably won’t crack. But the following week Arizona plays host to the terrible run defense that is the St. Louis Rams. He is available in 99 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Pierre Thomas, New Orleans
The Saints’ backfield is another frustrating one. Mark Ingram left Sunday night’s game with a heel injury after having scored 10.2 fantasy points. Thomas had 57 yards on 10 carries and five catches for 68 yards and 15 fantasy points in the blowout of the Colts. Darren Sproles was also a monster for the Saints, racking up 27.78 fantasy points in a half-PPR format. Now the Saints travel to play a St. Louis team that just allowed a rookie RB on an average running Cowboys team rack up 253 yards. Monitor Ingram’s status (X-rays came back negative on Monday), but even if he plays I would go get all Saints runners this week and reap the rewards against the lowly Rams. Thomas is available in 50 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Leon Washington, Seattle
Marshawn Lynch was a scratch against Cleveland after his back spasms would not subside in pregame warm ups. Washington went on to score 9.38 fantasy points in an ugly 6-3 loss. The Seahawks take on another AFC North opponent when Cincinnati comes to town. Washington had 39 yards on seven carries and 10 yards on four receptions. If you are in leagues that award return yards, Washington is a good play. He had an 81-yard punt return for a score called back in the Cleveland loss. Monitor Lynch’s status this week, and if he goes then you need not go anywhere near Washington. He’s worth a look, but don’t waste any waiver priority on him.
WEEK 8 BYES: Atlanta, Chicago, Green Bay, New York Jets, Oakland, Tampa Bay
Say good bye to Roddy White, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and the Chicago, Oakland and Tampa Bay flavors of the week as they are all idle for Week 8.
Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards, San Francisco
The 49ers are playing well, Alex Smith is playing well and so too is Crabtree. He had 15 targets two weeks ago, catching nine for 77 yards. Maybe he's finally going to emerge as a dependable player. He's still available in 62 percent of Yahoo leagues. Edwards (knee) should be healthy again after the bye. Plus, Josh Morgan is out for the year. It's all about opportunity. Edwards is available in 83 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati
He was on a bye last week, and many of us thought he would be on an extended bye after the marijuana-at-the-house incident. Apparently the Bengals are impervious from suspension this season, and Simpson is garnering attention from QB Andy Dalton. He led the team in targets, catches and yards two weeks ago against Indianapolis, scoring 13.1 fantasy points. He’s available in 82 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh
If Hines Ward (ankle) is sidelined then Brown becomes the receiver opposite Mike Wallace. Brown has been a solid playmaker for the Steelers, but the crew of Brown, Ward and Emmanuel Sanders has made it frustrating for fantasy owners. Even if Ward plays this week, Brown might be a good add and play as Pittsburgh travels to a New England team that has certainly been generous to fantasy wide receivers this season worst in the league as a matter of fact. Brown had nine targets on Sunday, catching seven for 102 yards. He is available in 70 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver
Can any receiver be counted on with Tim Tebow freelancing back there? I’m not sure. Thomas, in his season debut, was targeted a team-high 10 times, catching just three of them for 27 yards but one was for a score. So there’s the positive that Tebow looked Thomas’ way the most. That and the fact that the Denver defense is terrible is perhaps a formula for Thomas being successful. Don’t waste this week’s waiver priority on him, but if you have the space then stash and hope, Thomas is available in 91 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Davone Bess, Miami
Man, do the Dolphins stink. But one old PPR favorite re-emerged Sunday. Bess had 12 targets from Matt Moore and caught seven of them for 52 yards. If you are in a full PPR and need a WR this week, look Bess’ way as the Dolphins play a Kansas City team that is 13th worst against fantasy receivers. He is available in 72 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Steve Breaston, Kansas City
If San Diego jumps all over the Chiefs on Monday night, Breaston will have some value. He had scored in double digits before Sunday’s blowout of Oakland (still scored 8.9 fantasy points on nine targets, seven catches for 64 yards). Certainly worth an add if you think the Chargers will make it a passing affair. He is available in 71 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Early Doucet, Arizona
He has scored in double digits the last two weeks and now the Cardinals will travel to Baltimore without their starting RB. Do you see Arizona staying in this game for long? I don’t. The Ravens are middle of the road against defending fantasy receivers and Doucet has the luxury of playing opposite Larry Fitzgerald. He is averaging seven targets, 4.3 catches and 56.5 yards per game with two scores. Doucet is available in 78 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Jabar Gaffney and Anthony Armstrong, Washington
These are strictly matchup and opportunity based. Gaffney will have to step his game up to replace the injured Santana Moss and Armstrong has returned from a hamstring injury and will have to serve as the No. 2. The schedule against the pass is very favorable for the Redskins over the next few weeks. I would not waste a waiver priority against either of these receivers. I would monitor the news on both of these players as the week goes along, see who’s getting the hype and lean his way come Sunday.
Plaxico Burress, New York Jets
That’s the big target we expected Burress to be when he came to the Jets. Mark Sanchez threw for just 173 yards on 18-of-33 passing, but Burress was there to pull down three touchdowns of those 173 yards. Perhaps the bye week will help iron out some inconsistencies in the passing game, and Burress could continue his hot streak. When the Jets come back they get the Bills (currently ranked 23rd against fantasy receivers), Patriots (32nd), Broncos (28th), Buffalo again, Redskins (12th), Chiefs (20th) and Giants (27th). Burress is available in 37 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Dezmon Briscoe, Tampa Bay
Briscoe had 10 targets, catching six for 73 and a score against the Bears in London. The Bucs spread it around too much to depend on a single receiver, but Briscoe was an emerging talent in the preseason and pushing for the No. 2 spot at the start of the year. The Bucs are on a bye this week but get New Orleans, Houston and Green Bay as the first three out of the bye. Those are three games I expect them to be out of early, increasing the chances Briscoe could produce in fantasy garbage time. He is available in 100 percent of Yahoo leagues.
WEEK 8 BYES: Atlanta, Chicago, Green Bay, New York Jets, Oakland, Tampa Bay
Gone this week are Tony Gonzalez, Jermichael Finley, Dustin Keller, Kevin Boss and Kellen Winslow. It’s not a killer week for losing the position, but Gonzalez and Finley have been plug and plays that you will need to find a replacement for if you don’t carry two tight ends.
Jake Ballard, New York Giants
Ballard posted has three straight double-digit fantasy weeks, and now he gets a Dolphins team that allowed over 13 fantasy points per game to the position. He’s available in 88 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Aaron Hernandez, New England
Since his return in Week 5, Hernandez has scored 8.1 and 15.8 fantasy points. Tom Brady loves targeting those tight ends. So this is more a public service announcement, that if you see someone dropped Hernandez due to the Patriots' bye, go grab him and enjoy the rest of the year.
Fred Davis, Washington
He is not available in as many leagues as he was last week (he went from 58 percent availability to 32) after scoring 17 fantasy points against Carolina. Now with no Santana Moss (hand), no Tim Hightower (ACL) to go along with no Chris Cooley (finger), Davis’ stock is rising rapidly. Now he gets a Buffalo team ranked 12th against fantasy tight ends.
Daniel Fells, Denver
I told you to go get Daniel Fells last week because he was playing the Dolphins and their love for giving up points to the position. It took him a while to get going, but he grabbed a beautiful pass from Tim Tebow to set up the last TD, Fells then scored the touchdown. He finished with two catches for 31 yards and the score. After the great catch near the end and the late TD, plus with Tebow’s lack of accuracy perhaps he starts looking Fells’ way more. He’s available in 99 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota
Rookie quarterback + tight end are usually a good combination, right? Well, in his first career start, rookie QB Christian Ponder helped Shiancoe to his best day of 2011. Shiancoe scored 12.5 fantasy points on five catches for 45 yards and a score. If you need a one-week fix, Shiancoe could be a good one against a Carolina team that allows an average of 4.6 catches for 69.3 yards, including Fred Davis’ 6-for-80 and a score performance on Sunday. He’s available in 81 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Evan Moore, Cleveland
Moore had potential earlier in the year but has been in a time share with Benjamin Watson. Watson suffered a concussion against Seattle Sunday and his status for this week’s game San Francisco is yet to be determined. The 49ers are stout against the run, meaning the Browns will have to find a way to move the ball through the air. The Brown offense is certainly lackluster, but Moore could find some success against a 49ers team that is middle of the road against fantasy tight ends. Plus, he plays with a QB in Colt McCoy that attempts 42 passes per game (of course he produces a paltry 5.5 YPA). He’s available in 98 percent of Yahoo leagues.
By Corby Yarbrough, @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
They have celebrated one conference championship in the history of Kent State’s football program. One. Oklahoma, this ain’t. In 1972, the Golden Flashes won five of their last six, including a season-ending triumph over Toledo that clinched the title and earned a Tangerine Bowl berth.
It couldn’t have come at a more important time in school history.
Until the championship — and for many, after it still — Kent State had been known for one thing: the horrific deaths two-plus years earlier of four innocent students at the hands of National Guardsmen trying to stop a rally on campus protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Today, the haunting lyrics of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio” continue to resonate, and those who were there remember.
“All that stuff that happened at Kent State united the students,” says Alabama head coach Nick Saban, a member of the ’72 title team and a student at the time of the shootings.
“They were looking for something to identify with. There was probably more interest in the football program at that time than ever before.”
We often overemphasize the restorative power of sport in times of tragedy. The Golden Flashes’ title didn’t bring back the dead. It couldn’t fill the holes in the hearts of survivors. But it was a positive at a time when the name “Kent State” stood for something catastrophic and divisive.
Saban was there, playing safety. So was head coach Don James, who would lead Washington to a national title nearly two decades later. Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel was a two-time all-conference tight end on the team, and Hall of Fame linebacker and four-time Super Bowl champion Jack Lambert patrolled the middle of the defense. It was a remarkable confluence of talent at a school not necessarily known for it at a time that absolutely needed it.
“I think everybody felt like something really good had to happen at Kent State,” James says. “The school needed positive publicity, and the community wrapped its arms around the sport.”
The four men took interesting paths to the school, but their arrivals helped shape Kent State’s history and contributed greatly to the school’s healing process. In the late 1960s, James was working as defensive coordinator at Colorado under Eddie Crowder and met Mike Lude, then a scout with the Denver Broncos. When Lude took the athletic director’s job at Kent State, he called James and offered him the head coaching position. James had grown up in Massillon — only about 35 miles from the KSU campus — and his brother had earned a degree from Kent, so the move made good sense.
Lambert wanted to go to Miami (Ohio), but coach Bill Mallory wouldn’t recruit him. Said he was too small. And, in fact, Lambert played quarterback in high school. So, the Mantua, Ohio, native ended up at Kent State. Talk about a perfect housewarming present for James. After sitting out the ’70 season (freshmen weren’t eligible until 1972), Lambert became a force as a sophomore.
“He was ideal,” James says. “He came into my office one day and said, ‘I know you’re concerned about our academic eligibility and going to class, but in my case don’t worry. Football is too important for me to mess that up.’
“What a great competitor.”
Kent State wasn’t Saban’s first choice, either. In fact, he was all set to go to the Naval Academy. But in the spring before he was to report to Annapolis, he “decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do.” Saban didn’t have too many other scholarship opportunities, so he was left to decide between Miami (Ohio), Ohio and Kent State. He chose the Golden Flashes.
“They were the absolutely worst program of the bunch,” Saban says. “But I had an uncle in Canton, which was only 30 miles away, and since I was a shy kid from (Fairmont) West Virginia, I wasn’t comfortable not knowing anybody.”
Pinkel wasn’t too keen on straying so far from home. That’s why the Akron native chose Kent State, which sits about 15 miles from his home. He arrived in ’70 and played three seasons for James. He also had the distinction of rooming with Lambert. “I like to lie and tell people that I knocked his teeth out,” Pinkel says with a laugh.
The Golden Flashes weren’t cracking too many people in the mouth during the first half of the 1972 season. They started the year 1–3–1 and looked ready to assume their historic spot near the bottom of the Mid-American Conference standings when they visited 3–0–1 Bowling Green.
“We had to beat Miami, Bowling Green and Toledo to win the league, and the other coaches were saying we could never do it, because we weren’t good enough,” James says.
But the Golden Flashes were good enough. They bumped off Bowling Green, 14–10, and despite a loss to Northern Illinois, closed the year with a 21–10 spanking of Miami (Ohio) on the road and a resounding 27–9 win at home against Toledo to conclude the season and clinch the title. The crown was worth a spot in the Tangerine Bowl, where Kent State lost to Tampa, 21–18, in the school’s second and last postseason appearance.
“We had a lot of good young players,” says Saban, who was a senior on the championship squad. “We had a good young quarterback (freshman Greg Kokal), and as the season went on, we got better and better. We were pretty good at the end.”
Because Saban was a year older than Pinkel and Lambert, he was on campus when the shootings occurred. In fact, he had an English class with Allison Krause, one of the people shot to death on May 4, 1970. He had thought about attending the rally, which included 3,000 Kent State students, but decided to eat lunch first and wasn’t present when the National Guardsmen opened fire.
The incident impacted him, and Saban has admitted that every May 4, he “really thinks about” what happened. He considers often the impact James had on him as well. After graduating with a business degree in 1973, Saban became a graduate assistant under James before joining the staff full-time.
“He was a fantastic person and class guy,” Saban says of James. “He was systematic about everything he did and defined what the expectations he had for everything in the organization were. He worked hard and did things the way I thought they should be done. He did a good job developing players there and a good job recruiting players.”
James didn’t recruit Pinkel, but he certainly benefitted from the All-MAC tight end’s accomplishments. Pinkel caught 34 passes in 1972 and 36 in ’73 at a time when the passing game was nothing like it is today. “He had great hands, ran well and was smart,” Saban says. “He was a good character guy and an outstanding player.”
Pinkel was an honorable mention All-American in 1973, when the Golden Flashes went 9–2. Even though that record was better than the ’72 edition’s accomplishment, it wasn’t good enough for another MAC championship. Still, 18 Kent State players were on the All-MAC lists, and the Golden Flashes allowed a mere 11.9 points per game. Only a 20–10 loss to undefeated Miami prevented them from repeating as league champs. “They were a much better team than the 1972 team,” Saban says.
Pinkel bounced around a couple NFL camps, but like Saban, returned to Kent State to be a graduate assistant in ’74 and ended up spending 15 years on James’ staffs at Kent and the University of Washington.
“If Pinkel gave the NFL a little more time, he could have made it,” James says. “He could block and had excellent hands.”
And then there was Lambert, the nine-time Pro Bowler and seven-time first-team All-Pro linebacker on some of the Steelers’ greatest teams.
James tells a story about coaching in a postseason all-star game after Lambert’s senior year. He warned fellow coach Dick MacPherson that the team would have to practice with at least helmets and shoulder pads, because “we have a guy who won’t let anybody go through his area.” McPherson insisted on practices in sweats only, but after seeing Lambert in action during the first workout, told the team to wear helmets and pads for the rest of the practices.
“He was one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever been around,” Pinkel says about Lambert. “He was a smart guy. He was a very dedicated football player.”
Lambert was so tough that he played a game with two hip pointers, a bruised chest and a swollen elbow. James once said that Lambert felt responsible every time the opponent gained an inch. “I came to Kent with a background of putting your game face on Thursday, not Friday,” James says. “His game face was on every day.”
For four years under James, Kent State had the right attitude, and Lambert, Pinkel and Saban were big parts of it. At a time when a wounded campus needed something around which it could rally, the Golden Flashes provided it with a championship and some great moments that allowed a healing school to be known for something more than tragedy.
“Winning that championship had a profound impact on the university as far as its attitude,” Pinkel says. “I’m proud of that.”
This article originally appeared in Athlon Sports monthly, available in newspapers nationwide.
By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 8 Big Ten Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Nebraska (6-1, 2-1) – Almost by default, and after an easy 41-14 win over Minnesota, the Cornhuskers take over the top spot in Athlon Sports' Big Ten Power Rankings. Big Red rushed for 346 yards and three touchdowns on 56 attempts while allowing a measly 254 yards of total offense to the Gophers. Rex Burkhead topped the century mark for the fourth time in five games and has scored a touchdown in every game this fall. With the Michigan State Spartans coming to town this weekend, not only is the top spot on this list on the line, but a Big Ten championship and potential BCS Bowl bid also hang in the balance in Memorial Stadium.
2. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) – In what was the most exciting game of the 2011 season, the Spartans and Keith Nichol inched their way past the Wisconsin Badgers 37-31 on a 44-yard Hail Mary with no time remaining. Michigan State now brings the nation's No. 2 total defense, and the Big Ten's top rush defense, into Lincoln to square off with the Big Ten's top rushing offense. A second straight Big Ten championship is likely on the line when Sparty heads to Nebraska this weekend.
3. Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1) – The Badgers suffered arguably the most painful loss in school history on Saturday night when a deflected Hail Mary heave from midfield was caught by Keith Nichol before a goalline tug-of-war went the way of the Spartans. The Badgers jumped to an early 14-0 lead, but an injury to the nation's leading scorer Montee Ball — and some inexplicable special teams blunders — allowed the Spartans to roll off 23 unanswered points. The Badgers, with Ball back in the lineup, scored 14 fourth-quarter points to tie the game before the heartbreaking heave ended their national championship hopes. Wisconsin still controls its own destiny but has to rebound quickly as it heads to Ohio State and the Horseshoe this weekend.
4. Michigan (6-1, 2-1) – Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines sat back and watched the madness this weekenad as Brady Hoke's bunch prepares for a brutal stretch run in Big Ten play. The Maize and Blue host Purdue this weekend before finishing with road trips to Iowa and Illinois and home tests against Nebraska and Ohio State.
5. Penn State (7-1, 4-0) – Is there a quieter 4-0 conference team in the nation than Penn State? The Nittany Lions control their own destiny after taking care of business on the road against Northwestern 34-24. The Nits played balanced offensive football (192 yards passing, 197 yards rushing) and stuck with one quarterback, Matt McGloin, for the entire game. He played quality football by passing for 17-of-26 passes for 192 yards, two scores and no interceptions. Tailback Silas Redd ran for a career-high 164 yards and a touchdown of his own while the defense kept the Wildcats to only 94 yards rushing on 37 carries. Penn State now hosts Illinois and Nebraska before finishing 2011 with road trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin.
6. Ohio State (4-3, 1-2) – Without playing a game, the Buckeyes were one of the Big Ten's biggest winners in Week 8. With the Badgers losing, the Bucks now control their own Leaders Divison destiny. They will have two weeks to prepare for a visit from a Wisconsin team that is reeling after the devastaing defeat at the hands of the Spartans. With a win over Illinois already under their belt and the Badgers, Nittany Lions and Boilermakers still left on the schedule, Ohio State still has a very real shot at playing in Indianapolis in December.
7. Illinois (6-2, 2-2) – The Fighting Illini have played uninspired football two weeks in a row, and it has dropped them nearly out of the Leaders Divison race. With a 21-14 loss to Purdue, the Illini are now sitting in fourth (really fifth, since Ohio State owns the tiebreaker) place in the division. Nathan Scheelhaase struggled to complete passes all game and finished with only 16 yards on 13 carries (he is the team's leading rusher). The dynamic quarterback has rushed 29 times for 65 yards over his last two games as his team has posted only 21 points over the last two weeks. If it were not for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the score would have been much worse. Illinois now travels to Penn State to face the Big Ten's top scoring defense.
8. Iowa (5-2, 2-1) – Iowa kept its Leaders Division title hopes alive with a 45-24 win over Indiana this weekend. After struggling two weeks ago against Penn State, quarterback James Vanderberg has played flawless football. He had as many touchdowns (4) as he did incompletions this weekend and has totalled 26-of-38 passing for 477 yards and six touchdowns in the Hawkeyes' last two wins. With division games with Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska still looming, Kirk Ferentz and company must travel north to Minnesota this weekend and get a win.
9. Northwestern (2-5, 0-4) – After two heartbreaking losses to Army and Illinois, Northwestern has struggled to stop anyone in three straight losses to Michigan, Iowa and Penn State. The Wildcats allowed Penn State tailback Silas Redd to set a career high in yards and actually made Matt McGloin look like an efficient passer. It has been a rough season for Northwestern, but the Wildcats should be able to get back on track this weekend with a trip to Bloomington.
10. Purdue (4-3, 2-1) – The Boilermakers might have saved Danny Hope's job by pulling the 21-14 upset over Illinois last Saturday. Caleb TerBush played efficient football, completing 16-of-25 passes for 178 yards, two scores and no interceptions. The Boilers led 21-0 for essentially the entire game, and the final score was not really indicative of how easily they handled the dynamic Illini offensive attack.
11. Indiana (1-7, 0-4) – The Hoosiers lost 45-24 against Iowa this weekend and have yet to defeat an FBS opponent under new head coach Kevin Wilson. In Tre Roberson, Indiana started a true freshman at quarterback for the first time in school history. Roberson showed reasons for optimism as he completed 16-of-24 passes for 197 yards and one touchdown while rushing 16 times for 84 yards on the ground. However, as if starting 1-7 weren't hard enough for Wilson, the IU coaching staff learned this week that the No. 2 quarterback recruit in the nation, Gunner Kiel, has reopened his recruitment and will likely end up at Notre Dame or Alabama instead of Bloomington.
12. Minnesota (1-6, 0-3) – There isn't much to say about a 41-14 home loss to Nebraska. Minnesota now ranks dead last in the Big Ten in total offense, scoring offense, scoring defense, turnover margin, passing efficiency and sacks. The Gophers are 11th in the Big Ten in rushing offense, passing offense, rushing defense and total defense. With Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois left on the schedule, it is hard to see the Gophers winning again in 2011.
It seems like most of the recent Big East conversation has revolved around expansion, departures or just remaining a viable league. Meanwhile, the gridiron race to wear the conference crown and go to the BCS has become one of the most exciting and unpredictable in college football. Most pundits had West Virginia winning the league in the preseason, but the Mountaineers’ 49-23 loss at Syracuse has created championship optimism throughout the conference. Cincinnati stands alone without a loss in league play, while South Florida is the only winless team in conference games. Rutgers has a 2-1 league record, while the other five schools — Syracuse, West Virginia, Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh — all stand at 1-1. The race for the Big East title should be a wild one and probably won’t be decided until the season’s final weekend on December 3.
Who is your favorite to win the Big East?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though West Virginia is coming off a disappointing road loss to Syracuse, I still think the Mountaineers are the team to beat. There’s no question the offense is capable of scoring 35-40 points a game, but it needs more help from the offensive line and rushing attack. Quarterback Geno Smith didn’t have much time to throw against Syracuse, and that has been a reoccurring problem this year. The defense lost a handful of key contributors from last season’s team and it has shown so far. The Mountaineers rank seventh in the Big East in scoring defense and last in stopping the run. Clearly, there are some areas that need to be addressed. And the schedule isn’t overly easy the rest of the way, as West Virginia travels to Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida. The Bearcats seem to be West Virginia’s toughest competition in order to win the Big East, but I’m going to say the Mountaineers find the right answers on both sides of the ball and end up with the conference title.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
I will make a surprise pick and take the best defense in the league — the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. They lead the Big East in scoring defense, passing defense, pass efficiency defense and are second in total defense. Rutgers is fifth nationally in turnover margin and leads the conference in sacks. The Knights also get primary challengers West Virginia, Cincinnati and South Florida all at home, with only one Big East road trip left on the schedule (at UConn). Give me Daa Rutgaaars — with WVU a close second. But I guess we will find out the actual answer to this question on Saturday at 3:30 PM ET when the Mountaineers travel to Piscataway.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
This is a very difficult conference to predict from week to week, but I’ll take the Cincinnati Bearcats because of their overall balance. UC quarterback Zach Collaros is a solid passer, and he adds a ton to the run game that already has an outstanding tailback in Isaiah Pead. The Bearcats do give up too many pass yards on defense, but they allow less than 20 points per game. West Virginia is probably still considered the favorite by most, but the Mountaineers’ slow starts are concerning. If they fall behind early against Cincinnati, it may look like Friday night’s loss at Syracuse. It will be a tough November for Butch Jones’ club having to play at Pitt, at Rutgers and at Syracuse, in addition to hosting WVU at Paul Brown Stadium. But I think Cincinnati’s balance with its high-powered offense will carry the Bearcats to the BCS.
Mark Ennis – Big East Coast Bias (@Mengus22)
What a difference 17 days or so makes. Going into USF's Thursday night trip to Pittsburgh, I'd have picked them as the clear favorite to win the Big East. Now, they might be playing the worst football in the conference. In fact, the Bulls are the only team that realistically can't win the conference right now. Cincinnati has control of the Big East race and should be the favorite to win the conference for the third time in four years, but I still think West Virginia will win it. The two teams play at Paul Brown Stadium in two weeks and if the Tennessee and South Florida games indicate anything, it's that Cincinnati is susceptible to quality passing attacks. I think West Virginia got a wake-up call in the Carrier Dome on Friday night and is a better football team than it showed. Barring another mental lapse, the Mountaineers will win out. If they do that, Syracuse only has to drop one more Big East game and West Virginia will head back to the BCS.
Four years ago, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan felt like he was starting over. Four years later, he has lost his big guys again. But the transition to a new year should be smoother. “In 2007, we lost three lottery picks and our entire starting five,” he says. “We’ve got some good players coming back for this next season.”
Florida struggled after the back-to-back national championship teams, and it wasn’t until last season that it was able to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. But the frontcourt that helped UF reach the Elite Eight last season was wiped out because of graduation.
This will be a guard-heavy team that has to have some younger players develop if it is to compete for a second straight SEC Championship.
“We’ll be a better shooting team than we were a year ago,” Donovan says. “But the big question is going to be our frontcourt depth. We’ve got to find some guys who can go and get some rebounds.”
Donovan lost not only his frontcourt starters but also his entire coaching staff. Larry Shyatt, a big factor in Florida’s success over the last seven seasons, is back at Wyoming as the head coach. Rob Lanier went to Texas as an assistant, and Richard Pitino returned to Louisville to coach with his father.
Donovan brought in John Pelphrey, the former UF assistant who was let go by Arkansas; Norm Roberts, who has head coaching experience at St. John’s; and Matt McCall, a former director of operations at Florida.
“I like the guys we brought in because we have guys who have been in the fire as head coaches,” Donovan says. “John certainly gives me a comfort level having worked with him in the past.”
Gators Key Stat: 25
The Gators have enjoyed 25 NCAA Tournament wins under Billy Donovan. The school had seven NCAA wins before his arrival in Gainesville.
Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus are gone. They combined to average 32.0 points and 19.4 rebounds a year ago.
Now, the Gators will lean on center Patric Young and forward Erik Murphy to produce down low. Young was often the first guy off the bench for the Gators a year ago and led the team in blocked shots.
He spent the summer playing for the USA U19 team and needs to develop more moves around the basket to be effective. He also needs to stay out of foul trouble given Florida’s lack of depth. Murphy saw limited action as a sophomore — he played 10-plus minutes in only seven SEC games — but had some nice moments. He showed a nice touch from outside, shooting 40.0 percent from 3-point range.
Florida hopes that sophomores Casey Prather and Will Yeguete can provide quality minutes at small forward. The two combined to average 13.8 minutes per game a year ago. Depth may also come from Cody Larson, a 6'8" forward who redshirted last year, and incoming 6'10" freshman Walter Pitchford.
Florida returns its two leading scorers from a year ago in guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker. Boynton is a streaky shooter but a lock-down defender. Walker earned the nickname “Big Shot Erv” after making so many clutch shots during Florida’s run a year ago. Together they averaged 28.8 points per game, and either one could play the point or shooting guard.
The talent on the perimeter doesn’t stop with those two, however. Mike Rosario averaged 16.5 points per game at Rutgers in two seasons before transferring and sitting out last year. Scottie Wilbekin enrolled in school a year early and played an important role off the bench. And incoming freshman Brad Beal has already been projected as potential 2011 NBA Lottery pick. The Missouri native can drive it to the basket and is an excellent 3-point shooter.
“We’re going to play some three-guard sets,” Donovan says. “We’ve got some guys who can really shoot it. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to work them all in.”
This will be a different team than the one that lost in overtime to Butler in the Elite Eight a year ago. That was an inside-out team. This group will be more perimeter-oriented. Still, the Gators will go only as far as their big men take them.
In the rugged SEC, the Gators will have plenty of firepower, but if they can’t rebound or defend inside, it’s not going to matter. Young may be the answer inside. If he takes a big step forward, Florida will be back as an SEC contender.
SEC Prediction: 3rd
NCAA Tournament Prediction: Sweet 16
by Matt Taliaferro
And then, there were five. So it seems. Maybe. The one thing that is beyond debate is Clint Bowyer’s continued strength on NASCAR’s plate tracks. Bowyer made a last-lap pass of teammate Jeff Burton in the Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday to earn his first win of the 2011.
It was Bowyer’s second victory in the last three Talladega events and third straight finish of first or second. It was also his final plate-track start for team owner Richard Childress, as Bowyer will head to Michael Waltrip Racing at season’s end.
“It’s just so important to me to be able to cap off such a good relationship with Richard,” Bowyer said. “Everybody at RCR — it’s like family over there. (It) meant a lot for me to be able to win before we end this deal.
“The stars were lined up today with having the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet (paint scheme) on the racecar. If I won the race, it was going to be Richard’s 100th win. Too many things meant to be for it not to be. I’m excited that it was.”
Childress stood to pick up his organization’s 100th win one way or another. Bowyer and Burton, who combined to lead 51 laps on the afternoon, led the field to green with two laps remaining following a vicious wreck involving Regan Smith, Mark Martin, Marcos Ambrose, Denny Hamlin and Juan Pablo Montoya.
The duo’s restart was flawless, and they quickly drafted away from a snarling pack of cars jockeying for position.
“Right at the split second I touched his bumper, one of the Red Bull cars hit me in the butt,” Bowyer said of the final restart. “It just launched us out there. The rest was history. I was able to get up through the gearbox, shove him (and) it got us away. At that split second, they came to a halt and split up and were racing two- and three-wide. We were able to drive off into the sunset.”
The tandem of Dave Blaney and Brad Keselowski — who worked with one another all day — finish third and fourth. Brain Vickers and Kasey Kahne were fifth and sixth.
Points leader Carl Edwards and teammate Greg Biffle stayed hooked together throughout the afternoon, as well. The Roush Fenway pair lagged back, staying out of harm’s way and avoiding three accidents in the race’s final 25 laps. Edwards increased his lead in the championship standings with an 11th-place showing. Matt Kenseth, who slipped to an 18th-place result, is second, 14 points back. Keselowski’s top-5 run slots him third, 18 points behind Edwards, while Tony Stewart’s seventh-place finish has him 19 markers out of the Chase lead.
“I don't know that I’ve ever been excited about 11th place,” Edwards said. “This race was one that is nerve-wracking for everyone. We came in here with a small points lead and we’re leaving with a bigger one. That’s a huge day for us.”
Jimmie Johnson’s bid for a sixth consecutive Sprint Cup championship may have taken a fatal blow. Johnson and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. were paired as drafting partners, but when it came time for one final run to the front, they stalled out, finishing 25th (Earnhardt) and 26th (Johnson).
“As we went to make our switch, the pack was organized and with the green-white-checkered situation, there’s not a lot of time to get organized,” said Johnson, now 50 points behind Edwards. “We lost our momentum there and got to the outside and kind of stalled out up on the top and finished far worse than we had hoped to.
“We’ll just keep fighting. Every position counts. Every spot counts. And I want to finish as high as I can in the points. If it isn’t the championship, I want to finish as high as I can possibly finish.”
Chris Johnson, the once speedy Tennessee Titans running back used to be a game breaker. Then, this offseason, he signed a giant new contract. And something seems different. He doesn't have that same explosiveness he used to. And he's definitely not putting up the same numbers he did in previous years, back when he was a hungry young runner, looking to establish himself in the National Football League.
So, while his decline in production has seemed to dovetail with his increased paydays, let's take a look at how much Chris is earning this year in relation to how many yards he's putting up.
While his contract with the Titans is complex, for the sake of argument, let's use the 6 year, $56 million dollar numbers used by NBC's Mike Florio that puts Johnson's earnings at $9.3 million per year.
Total Yards Rushed in 2011: 268
Dollars for Every Yard Rushed in 2011: $13,013.05
Total Receiving Yards for 2011 Season: 143
Dollars For Every Receiving Yard: $24,388.11
Total Combined Yards for 2011 Season: 411
Dollars Per Combined Yard: $8,485.40
In contrast, let's look how these numbers stack up for Adrian Peterson (a back who also signed a big contract) this year. Peterson's deal was even bigger from the Vikings, as it breaks down to 13.3 million per year over the first three years (or roughly $833,333 per game). Using those numbers, here's how much Adrian has earned this year on a per-yard basis.
Total Yards Rushing in 2011: 712
Dollars For Every Yard Rushed in 2011: 7,022.47
Total Combined Yards in 2011: 761 (AP has 49 receiving yards)
Dollars Per Combined Yard in 2011: $6,570.30
In contrast, here's what Matt Forte is earning per yard this year. Forte has not signed a new contract and is scheduled to make $600,000 in 2011, or $37,500 per game.
Total Rushing Yards in 2011: 672
Dollar For Every Rushing Yard in 2011: $390.625
Total Receiving Yards in 2011: 419
Dollars For Every Receiving Yard: $626.49
Total Combined Yards in 2011: 1,091
Dollars For Every Combined Yard: $240.60
As you can see, Johnson is making twice as much as Peterson in terms of rushing yards, and earning $2,000 more for every yard he's gotten from the line of scrimmage.
Matt Forte, who's having an MVP season and is outgaining both of them in total yards by a wide margin, is earning a tiny % of what the Johnson and Peterson are earning.
At $9.3 million a year, that means Chris Johnson earns $581,250 for every game. Not a bad payday. So let's look at how many dollars that is for every yard gained in each individual game this year.
Game 1: At Jacksonville
Rushing Yards: 24
Dollars For Every Rushing Yard: $24,218.75
Receiving Yards: 25
Dollars For Every Yard Rushed: $23,250
Total Yards: 49
Dollars For Every Combined Yard: $11,862.24
Game 2: Against Baltimore
Rushing Yards: 53
Dollars For Every Yard Rushed: $10,966.98
Receiving Yards: 12
Dollars For Every Receiving Yard: $48,437.50
Total Yards: 65
Dollars For Every Combined Yard: $8,942.30
Game 3: Against Denver
Rushing Yards: 21
Dollars For Every Yard Rushed: $27.678.57
Receiving Yards: 54
Dollars For Every Receiving Yard: $10,763.88
Total Yards: 75
Dollars For Every Combined Yard: $7,750
Game 4: At Cleveland
Rushing Yards: 101
Dollars For Every Yard Rushed: $5,754.95
Receiving Yards: 11
Dollars For Every Receiving Yard: $52,840.90
Total Yards: 112
Dollars For Every Combined Yard: $5,189.73 (A great deal!)
Game 5: At Pittsburgh
Rushing Yards: 51
Dollars For Every Yard Rushed: $11,397.05
Receiving Yards: 14
Dollars For Every Receiving Yard: $41,517.85
Total Yards: 65
Dollars For Every Combined Yard: $8,942.30
Game 6: Against Houston
Rushing Yards: 18
Dollars For Every Yard Rushed: $32,291.66
Receiving Yards: 27
Dollars For Every Receiving Yard: $21.527.77
Total Yards: 45
Dollars For Every Combined Yards: $12,916.66
By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 8 Pac-12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Oregon (6-1, 4-0) – No LaMichael James, no Darron Thomas, no problem. Behind redshirt freshman quarterback Bryan Bennett and junior tailback Kenjon Barner, the Ducks rolled to an easy 45-2 victory over Colorado in Oregon's first trip to Folsom Field in over 20 years. The Ducks still piled up 371 yards rushing while holding an injury-riddled Buffs team to only 231 yards of total offense. Bennett finished 11-of-20 passing for 156 yards and two scores to go with 11.5 yards per carry on six attempts (69 yards). Barner also scored twice and topped the 100-yard mark for the second straight game with James. With Stanford looming on November 12, resting Thomas and James for a second straight week might be the smart decision as the Ducks host Washington State this weekend.
2. Stanford (7-0, 5-0) – As it turns out, Andrew Luck doesn't have to be Superman for Stanford to completely dominate an opponent. Behind a stellar ground game, the Cardinal topped Washington, its toughest competition to date, 65–21 at home this weekend. Luck was efficient (16-of-22, 169 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT), but Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro led an offensive line that plowed the way for a single-game school rushing record 446 yards on 44 carries. Stanford is now winning by 36 points per game and has set an NCAA record with 10 straight wins by at least 25 points. The Cardinal have won 15 straight. Luck now takes his Heisman and National Championship hopes on the road to The Coliseum to take on the Trojans of USC.
3. Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) – The Sun Devils had an extra week to think about the 41-27 loss at the hands of the Ducks two weekends ago. With two weeks to prepare for lowly Colorado (1-7, 0-4), Arizona State should be well on its way to clinching the first-ever Pac-12 South title. Especially considering the rest of the schedule: at UCLA, at Washington State, Arizona and Cal at home.
4. USC (6-1, 3-1) – Matt Barkley began the 31-17 win over Notre Dame by completing his first eight passes and finished with three touchdowns and 224 yards as the Trojans outgained Notre Dame 443-267 in total yards. After falling behind 17-0, the Irish clawed their way back into the game, and behind back-up quarterback Dayne Crist (Tommy Rees left with a knee injury), drove to the USC 1-yard line with less than a minute to go in the third quarter. However, instead of a 17-17 game, Crist mishandled the snap, and Jawanza Starling scooped up the loose ball and returned it 80 yards for a Trojan touchdown to make the score 24-10. USC, an 8.5-point underdog, held on for what head coach Lane Kiffin called "our team's biggest win since we've been here." USC hosts Stanford this weekend.
5. Washington (5-2, 3-1) – Steve Sarkisian, Keith Price and the Washington Huskies are going to be a very good football team in the very near future. But they are not ready to compete for Pac-12 titles yet. A 65-21 loss to Stanford this weekend proves that. The Huskies allowed 615 yards of total offense, including 446 rushing yards, to arguably the hottest team in the nation. Price and tailback Chris Polk were their usual productive selves, but the defense let the Dawgs' faithful down, allowing 10.1 yards per carry on 44 attempts on the ground. The Huskies get a winnable game at home against Arizona before the second barometer game of the year when Oregon comes to town.
6. California (4-3, 1-3) – Zach Maynard was at his best on Saturday when he completed 19-of-29 passes for 255 yards, another Keenan Allen touchdown connection and no turnovers. More importantly, the Bears defense showed up by shutting the Utes out until the 11:16 mark of the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the 34-10 final score gave Jeff Tedford his much-needed first conference win, and with UCLA, Washington State and Oregon State as the next three, the Bears have a great chance at bowl eligibility.
7. Utah (3-4, 0-4) – The rude introduction to BCS conference play continues for the Utes after a 34-10 loss at the hands of the winless in conference Cal Golden Bears. Utah was held to 13 yards rushing on 26 carries while quarterback Jon Hays was sacked four times and intercepted three times. The Utes shedule is not terrible down the stretch at all — Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA, Washington State, Colorado — but they will have to play better football than they did on Saturday if they expect to get to a bowl game.
8. Arizona (2-5, 1-4) – In one of the more inspiring and shocking outcomes of Week 8, Arizona completely dismantled the then 2-1 UCLA Bruins. Nick Foles was his usual self, throwing for 291 yards and three scores, while the defense made the biggest statement under the guidance of interim head coach Tim Kish (the defensive coordinator). The Wildcats allowed 37 yards rushing on 25 carries and forced five UCLA fumbles. It was Arizona's first win since Week 1 against Northern Arizona. The Wildcats now travel to Washington to take on the Huskies.
9. UCLA (3-4, 2-2) – So much for that job-saving 3-1 Pac-12 start for Rick Neuheisel. On national television in a must-win situation, the Bruins laid a complete egg. Arizona led 42-7 at halftime as the Bruins were utterly uncompetitive against a team that had yet to win a Pac-12 game. UCLA had been averaging 194 yards rushing per game before the pathetic 37-yard showing on Thursday night. The Bruins will host Cal on Saturday.
10. Oregon State (2-5, 2-2) – After a pathetic 0-4 start, the Beavers have now won two of their last three after a quality 44-21 win over Washington State. True freshman Malcolm Agnew ran 23 times for 103 yards and a score while quarterback Sean Mannion contiunes his growth process. He completed 26-of-34 passes for 376 yards and four touchdowns. Mike Riley's squad is showing signs of life and could get over .500 in conference play with a road win over reeling Utah this weekend.
11. Washington State (3-4, 1-3) – The Cougars once again appeared to have lost starting quarterback Jeff Tuel, who led the game at halftime with an apparent injury (he was 11-of-13 for the game). Marshall Lobbestael stepped in but could do nothing to help a porous Wazzzu defense that allowed 551 yards of offense to Oregon State. The 44-21 loss to OSU was a must-win if Paul Wulff wanted to get his team to the postseason — or get himself a contract extention. Both now seem to be out of reach with a brutal upcoming schedule: at Oregon, at Cal, Arizona State, Utah and Washington.
12. Colorado (1-7, 0-4) – The depleted Colorado Buffalos have now lost five straight and are technically 0-5 in conference play after a humiliating 45-2 loss to Oregon (the 36–33 loss to Cal was not techincally a conference game). Colorado now ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in rushing offense, scoring offense, scoring defense, kick returns and sacks allowed. They are 11th in total offense and rushing defense. Welcome to the Pac-12, Boulder.
Peyton Manning and the Colts: Where Did It Go Wrong?
This article originally appeared in Athlon Sports' monthly. Available in newspapers nationwide.
Of all the jobs in this country that pay six figures, it’s hard to imagine one with less responsibility over the last decade or so than backup quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. Best anyone could tell, there were really only two requirements for the job.
The first was some level of ability to play quarterback, though the extent of that ability never really seemed to matter. Between 1998 and 2010 — a span of 208 regular-season games — the Colts’ backup threw a total of 209 passes, with virtually none of them coming in a meaningful situation. In five of those 13 years, the Colts’ second-string quarterback never saw the field.
But the second requirement, it seemed, was far more important than the first. Forget experience, talent or even price. For the Indianapolis Colts, the most important quality in a backup quarterback was to be somebody Peyton Manning liked.
Surely the Colts, for all those years, could have done better than the likes of Brock Huard, Jim Sorgi and more recently, Curtis Painter — all of whom were essentially hand-picked by Manning to be his backup. At the time those quarterbacks played for the Colts, collecting salaries ranging from $480,000 to nearly $900,00 per year, it’s doubtful they would’ve gotten jobs as good anywhere else in the NFL. But with Manning so durable and the Colts so successful, making the playoffs 11 out of the last 12 years, no “just in case” was ever necessary.
As long as Manning was happy and healthy, the Colts didn’t have to worry about any insurance policies. Drafting a quarterback prospect to develop, like the Green Bay Packers did with Aaron Rodgers at the start of Brett Favre’s twilight, was never seriously considered for the win-now Colts. Signing a capable veteran would’ve only set up a potential clash of egos with Manning, who was used to getting complete deference and friendship, not locker room tension, from his backups.
And given Manning’s impact on the organization — he made the Colts constant contenders, he won them a Super Bowl after the 2006 season and even got them a new stadium that will host next year’s Super Bowl — perhaps that deference was completely appropriate.
Manning organized the offseason workouts, he called the plays, he OK’d the personnel moves. It’s impossible to overstate Manning’s sphere of influence with the Colts. He was, quite simply, the star around which everything and everyone orbited.
But for all the wins and all the glory that Manning brought the Colts, he has now brought them this: After starting training camp with legitimate hopes of another division title, they are now quite possibly the worst team in the NFL.
How did an organization so steeped in consistency and excellence suddenly sink to the bottom of the league? Look no further than the Colts’ undying belief and unwavering trust in No. 18.
On July 30, in the immediate aftermath of the NFL lockout’s resolution, Manning agreed to a new five-year contract with the Colts worth $90 million. Presumably, it would be the last contract for the 35-year old Manning before riding off to the Hall of Fame, perhaps with the title of greatest quarterback ever. The Colts were not expected to win the Super Bowl this season, but an eighth AFC South title in nine years seemed a reasonable goal. With a healthy Manning, Indianapolis was talented enough to make the playoffs again, at least.
Manning’s health, however, had been something of a question mark recently. For much of last season, Manning struggled with issues in his back and neck, eventually leading to surgery in May — his second in the span of a year — to correct a bulging disc. Though the rehab would prevent Manning from doing much offseason training, a typical six-to-eight week recovery period would put him on track for training camp and, at worst, get him back on the field by preseason. When Manning signed his contract, he gave no public indication that his recovery might spill over into meaningful football time.
Then training camp started, and Manning wasn’t at practice. Then preseason games started, and Manning wasn’t playing. And then, as the regular season approached and Manning still wasn’t ready, it became apparent what was happening.
The Colts had been blindsided.
On the morning of Sept. 9, Manning went in for another surgery on his neck — this time a “single level anterior fusion,” a much more invasive procedure — confirming that he would miss games for the first time in his NFL career. The fact that Indianapolis kept Manning on the active roster was designed to provide some hope that he might be able to come back, perhaps in Week 10 or 11, and push the Colts back into the postseason. The reality, of course, was that Manning would likely miss the entire season and might never play again.
And it was obvious the Colts were unprepared.
So confident were the Colts that Manning would be back that they spent the entire offseason without putting a second of consideration into a Plan B. They didn’t use any of their five draft picks on a quarterback. Once the post-lockout free agency period started in September, they didn’t pursue anyone to have on the roster just in case Manning’s progress stalled. Indianapolis would open 2011 with the same quarterback depth chart as they had in 2010: Manning the starter and Painter, who took zero snaps in 2010, the backup.
Maybe Manning wasn’t realistic about the pace of his recovery or expectations for his health at age 35. Maybe, as he maintains, he felt like he was close to being ready for weeks but just couldn’t quite get over the last hurdle. Either way, the Colts take their cues from Manning when it comes to the quarterback position, and their failure to have a suitable backup plan leads directly back to him.
By the time it became apparent that Manning’s status for the regular season was in jeopardy, the best option left for the Colts was bringing 38-year old Kerry Collins out of retirement. The results have been nothing short of dreadful. In the first three weeks of the season, the tandem of Collins and Painter combined for 541 passing yards, two touchdowns and five turnovers. The Colts’ offense, typically a model of precision, is now one of the worst in the league.
And Manning isn’t coming back, not this year, and maybe not ever. With neck and back injuries, especially once they become a recurring problem, you just don’t know.
But if there’s a consolation to this mess, it’s that Manning may unwittingly give the Colts a reason to do what they should’ve been done long ago. With their franchise quarterback turning 36 in March, it’s time to start grooming Manning’s successor. Stanford’s Andrew Luck, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, will likely be the No. 1 pick next May, and the Colts may lose just enough games this season to get him.
All those years, the Colts never worried about life after Manning. Now, suddenly, it’s staring them in the face.
By Dan Wolken. Dan is a national sports columnist at The Daily, the first daily newspaper built specifically for the iPad and soon to be available on other tablet devices.
One of the primary reasons we started this site is our belief in the power of coaching. Talent of course matters as evidenced by taking a quick look at the last decade of national champions in college football. However, even teams with every advantage possibles struggle, at least relatively so, when they don't have the right General running the army. For a few cases in point, consider the following:
Prior to the Nick Saban and Les Miles eras taking over at LSU in 2000, the Tigers won 55.36% of their games from 1980-1999. Since 2002, LSU has won 77.70% of their games.
Prior to Bob Stoops taking over at Oklahoma in 1999, the vaunted Sooners won 67.76% of their games from 1980-1998. Since 1999, the Sooners have won 81.33% of their games.
Prior to Mack Brown taking over at Texas in 1998, the Longhorns won 63.64% of their games from 1978-1997. Under Brown, Texas has won 79.19% of their games.
- Prior to Pete Carroll taking over at USC in 2001, the Trojans won 61.37% of their games from 1981-2000. The Trojans won 83.62% of their games under Carroll.
Coaching matters and in our opinion, it matters above all else. For the ultimate example in how much coaching matters, we turn to Kansas State's Bill Snyder. Coach Snyder's Wildcats are off to a 6-0 start this season, with impressive victories over Texas Tech, Baylor, and Miami. However, we don't want to focus on one year. We want to focus on Coach Snyder's body of work as the prime example of how a single coach can change the entire identity of a football program. Let's consider a few things first with regards to the history of the program:
|Kansas St.||1896-1988 (93 years)||299||510||36.96%||1|
|Team||Years||8+Win Seasons||8+ Loss Seasons|
|Team||WP% in 5 Years Prior to Snyder|
These numbers culminated in 1989, leading to....
That year, Bill Snyder was hired and began his tenure as head coach at Kansas State. Now, let's fast forward and take a look at how the Wildcats have fared under Snyder's leadership:
|Coach||Team||Years||Overall WP%||Bowl Appearances|
|Bill Snyder||Kansas State||1989-2005, 2009-Present||65.68%||13*|
|*Assuming a Bowl Appearance for 2011 given the Wildcats are bowl eligible after first six games|
|Coach||Team||Years||8+ Win Seasons||8+ Loss Seasons|
|Bill Snyder||Kansas State||1989-2005, 2009-2010||10||1|
Finally and most impressively:
|Coach||Team||Years||11+ Win Seasons|
|Bill Snyder||Kansas State||1997-2003||6|
We knew Bill Snyder was a good coach, but after digging into the numbers, we are simply astounded by the coaching job he has done for the Wildcats. Given the state of the program prior to his arrival in Manhattan (KS), it is nothing short of miraculous. This season, the Wildcats are off to a 6-0 start and appear to have at least two more victories on the docket and a really great chance at a 9-win season. Over the last four years, the Wildcats have had an average recruiting class of 80.25 (out of 120 teams), so it's pretty safe to assume that Snyder is not recruiting his way to victories. If he is not recruiting his way to victories, then how is Snyder doing what he is doing? This year may be a great example of how Snyder does what he does. Let's look at a few numbers:
|Coach||Team||Year||Scoring Off. Natl. Rank||Avg. Scoring Def. Natl. Rank|
|Bill Snyder||Kansas St.||2011||58 (out of 120)||21 (out of 120)|
So, from the looks of it, Kansas State has a very average offense with an above average defense. Typically, teams with these kind of national rankings aren't 6-0 with victories over Miami (avg. recruiting class of 20.25 over last four years), Texas Tech (avg. recruiting class of 34.25 over last four years), and Baylor (avg. recruiting class of 49.75 over last four years). After digging around for a while, we think we may have stumbled on to the reason for the Wildcat's fast start:
|3rd Down Efficiency - Offense||3rd Down Efficiency - Defense||3rd Down Differential||Turnovers Lost||Turnovers Gained|
So, the Wildcats have a 16.37% positive difference between how often they convert on third downs and how often they prevent their opponents from converting. Additionally, they have forced almost twice as many turnovers as they committed. From our standpoint, the above numbers really demonstrate coaching in action. Third down efficiency numbers are great indicators of coaching because they point to strategy, play calling, and execution.
As complicated as football can be, in the end it really isn't any more complicated than finding ways to score more points than your opponent. If you can find ways to keep your offense on the field more than your opponent, you have drastically improved your chances of winning the game. Offensive scheme, positive 3rd down efficiency differential, and positive turnover margin are all major contributing factors to overall success. The 2011 Kansas State team is certainly proof of that.
So, why is Bill Snyder a great coach and leader? Our best answer is that we don't know. The late, great leadership and management guru Peter Drucker once said the following about leadership: "Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes." From everything we have had read and know about Bill Snyder, he is a rather boring guy. He certainly doesn't fit the "energetic, motivating, recruiter" profile so many AD's seem enamored with these days.
However, from our standpoint, Snyder's somewhat plain style is just as much of a Red Herring as is a coach's energetic style. As Mr. Drucker noted, leadership should be defined by results not attributes. When you consider the results Bill Snyder has produced at Kansas State, it's hard not to place him the upper echelon of leaders and coaches in the history of college football.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys
The Rangers beat the Cardinals 4–0 in Game 4 of the World Series. The real home run hitter of the day was Murray, who took 25 carries for a franchise-record 253 yards and a 91-yard TD, the second-longest run in the Cowboys’ storied history, during a 34–7 victory over the Rams. The rookie out of Oklahoma owns a single-game rushing record previously held by Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett — who still boasts the longest run in Dallas (and NFL) history, with a 99-yarder in 1983.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans
The state of Tennessee is Foster’s second home. Whether he’s playing in Knoxville or Nashville, the former Volunteer is ready to run. The top-ranked player in fantasy football this preseason, Foster looked the part during a 41–7 road win over the Titans — with 25 carries for 115 yards and two TDs, as well as with five catches for 119 yards and a 78-yard TD. The Texans moved into first place in the AFC South with the largest margin of victory in franchise history.
Matt Forte, RB, Bears
“Pay Forte” is a popular sentiment on both sides of the pond following 25 carries for 145 yards and one TD during a 24–18 Bears win over the Buccaneers. The 6'2", 218-pound fourth-year running back out of Tulane ran all over the pitch at Wembley Stadium in the NFL’s fifth annual regular season trip to London, England.
Brandon Flowers, CB, Chiefs
Kansas City’s ball-hawking defense hauled in six INTs for 113 return yards and two TDs in a 28–0 skunking in the Black Hole at Oakland. After picking off Raiders quarterback Kyle Boller three times in the first half, the Chiefs turned their attention to the recently acquired Carson Palmer, who promptly threw three INTs of his own. Flowers picked off Boller early on, then took Palmer’s first INT back for a 58-yard TD.
Drew Brees, QB, Saints
New Orleans set a franchise record for points during a 62–7 Big Easy win over Indianapolis. Brees led the march, completing 31-of-35 passes for 325 yards, five TDs and zero INTs in a lopsided game that was viewed a must-see Sunday night rematch of Super Bowl XLIV and a homecoming for Peyton Manning when the schedules were released in April. The Saints’ balanced attack also had 236 rushing yards — led by the running back trio of Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas — winning the time-of-possession battle, 38:19-to-21:41.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 8 Big East Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Cincinnati (6-1) – Thanks to a 37-34 win over South Florida on Saturday, the Bearcats are the new No. 1 team in the Big East power rankings. Quarterback Zach Collaros made several clutch plays in the victory, finishing with 389 passing yards and three touchdowns. The Bearcats struggled to stop South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels, but also forced four turnovers. Cincinnati has won five in a row and is the only Big East team without a loss in conference play. The Bearcats are off this Saturday, before returning to action on Nov. 5 at Pittsburgh.
2. West Virginia (5-2) – Due to a 49-23 loss to Syracuse, the Mountaineers relinquish the No. 1 spot in the power rankings for the first time this season. There weren’t many positives in the loss, as both sides of the ball had issues for West Virginia. Quarterback Geno Smith threw two interceptions, but didn’t get much help from the rushing attack or offensive line. The Mountaineers’ defense also struggled to get stops, allowing Syracuse to collect 443 yards of total offense. West Virginia hits the road for a matchup against Rutgers this Saturday.
3. Rutgers (5-2) – The Scarlet Knights make a slight drop in this week’s power rankings. Rutgers had its four-game winning streak snapped on Friday night, losing 16-14 to Louisville. Winning the turnover battle has been huge for the Scarlet Knights this season, but they were on the losing end of that statistic against the Cardinals. Freshman quarterback Gary Nova threw three interceptions, while Louisville only turned the ball over once. Rutgers is still in good shape in conference play, especially with West Virginia visiting Piscataway this Saturday.
4. Syracuse (5-2) – The Orange were heavy underdogs on Friday night, but pulled off one of Week 8’s big upsets by beating West Virginia 49-23. Quarterback Ryan Nassib posted a solid performance, throwing for 229 yards and three scores. The defense did a good job of pressuring West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, along with forcing him into two interceptions. The win on Friday gives Syracuse its first back-to-back wins over the Mountaineers since 2000-2001. The Orange play at Louisville this Saturday.
5. Pittsburgh (3-4) – The Panthers had a bye in Week 8 and will return to action on Wednesday night against Connecticut. Pittsburgh is reeling just a bit, as it has lost back-to-back games and still needs three wins to get bowl eligible. If the Panthers want to get into the postseason, beating the Huskies are a must. Coach Todd Graham has been frustrated with the production from his offense, but will be sticking with Tino Sunseri as his quarterback. Sunseri has struggled, but hasn’t received much help from his offensive line.
6. South Florida (4-3) – A promising 4-0 start has suddenly been washed away with three straight losses. The Bulls looked like one of the top teams in the Big East early this year, but are likely out of the conference race due to the recent losses. South Florida is coming off a 37-34 loss to Cincinnati on Saturday, which makes it the only team in the Big East without a conference win. The Bulls have a bye this Saturday, which comes at a good time for a team that is desperate for wins just to get bowl eligible.
7. Louisville (3-4) – The Cardinals are starting a handful of young players, and it appears things are starting to come together. Louisville snapped a three-game losing streak, defeating Rutgers 16-14 to earn its first Big East win in 2011. The Cardinals finally got their rushing game on track, getting 108 yards from sophomore back Jeremy Wright, while Dominique Brown and Victor Anderson combined for 78 more. Freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater continues to progress, completing 10 of 18 throws for 122 yards and one score. Louisville still has a lot of work to do in order to get bowl eligible, but a win over Syracuse on Saturday would help postseason hopes.
8. Connecticut (3-4) – The Huskies had a bye in Week 8 and are back in action on Wednesday night at Pittsburgh. Connecticut’s off week came at a good time, as the team upset South Florida to earn its first Big East win of 2011. With the Huskies having some momentum, the bye week allowed them some time to look back and fix some of the mistakes from the first half. The offense is still a concern, particularly at quarterback with Johnny McEntee and Scott McCummings getting snaps each week. Connecticut is unlikely to repeat as Big East champs, but returning to a bowl game is still within reach.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the most important things to take away from this weekend.
Alabama/LSU – As expected, both teams passed their Week 8 tests with flying colors, and the countdown to Nov. 5 can officially begin. The Alabama-LSU matchup has to be the most-anticipated game of 2011 and credit both teams for getting to this point undefeated.
Arizona – The Wildcats have had a brutal schedule to start the year and after coach Mike Stoops was fired, it would have been easy to pack it in. However, Arizona responded with a blowout win over UCLA on Thursday night, which keeps its slim bowl hopes alive for another week.
Cincinnati – Are the Bearcats the new frontrunner in the Big East? Cincinnati defeated South Florida 37-34 on Saturday, which moves the Bearcats to 6-1 overall and 2-0 in Big East play. Coming into this year, there was no question about Cincinnati’s offense, but the defense had to step up and so far, it has answered the bell.
East Carolina QB Dominique Davis – Davis set two NCAA records in Saturday’s win over Navy. The senior completed his first 26 attempts to break the single-game NCAA record, and dating back to East Carolina’s last game, had a streak of 36 completions in a row (also a NCAA record). The Pirates are off to a slow start, but still have a chance to get bowl eligible this year.
Eastern Michigan – The MAC is out of the national spotlight on most Saturdays, but let’s give a little credit to the job coach Ron English has done in Ypsilanti. The Eagles defeated Western Michigan to sweep the Michigan MAC schools and move to 5-3 this season. The five wins in 2011 are the most at Eastern Michigan since a 6-5 finish in 1995. With games against Buffalo and Kent State remaining on the schedule, the Eagles have a shot to get bowl eligible.
Florida State – Sure, the Seminoles might be a disappointment this year after the high expectations placed on them in the preseason, but they didn’t fold after losing three straight. Florida State has rallied with back-to-back 41-16 wins, beating Duke and Maryland to move to 4-3 this season. The Seminoles still have a chance to win out and finish with a solid 9-3 season.
Houston QB Case Keenum – Keenum broke the NCAA’s career record for total offense in a 63-28 blowout win over Marshall. The senior finished with 376 yards and six touchdowns. Keenum isn’t finished breaking records, as he needs just 802 passing yards to break Timmy Chang’s NCAA mark and five touchdown tosses to pass Graham Harrell in the record books.
Michigan State – Sometimes you have to be a little lucky to win a conference title. The Spartans capped off one of the weekend’s best games with a Hail Mary touchdown catch by receiver Keith Nichol to give them a 37-31 win over Wisconsin. So far, Michigan State has survived a difficult stretch (at Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin), but this Saturday’s game against Nebraska is huge for their conference title hopes.
Stanford – The Cardinal expected to get a test from Washington, but easily handled the Huskies for a 65-21 victory. Quarterback Andrew Luck had a solid performance, while the rushing attack wore down the Washington defense. The Cardinal still has some obstacles to clear for an undefeated season, including games against USC and Oregon, but it looks like Stanford will be in good position to play in one of the BCS games this year.
Texas Tech – The Red Raiders were a huge underdog against Oklahoma, but went into Norman and pulled off one of the year’s biggest upsets. Quarterback Seth Doege torched Oklahoma’s secondary, while Texas Tech’s defense kept receiver Ryan Broyles in check. With Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Baylor remaining, the Red Raiders have a difficult schedule, but should have a lot of confidence after their Week 8 upset.
UAB – The attendance at Thursday night’s UAB-UCF was horrendous, but let’s give a tip of the cap to the Blazers. UAB finally broke into the win column with a 26-24 win over the Knights.
USC – The Trojans have been somewhat of an afterthought on the national level this year. Due to the NCAA sanctions, USC can’t play in a bowl and is ineligible to participate in the conference title game. However, that hasn’t stopped the Trojans from figuring into the conversation as one of the best 25 teams in college football. USC posted a 31-17 win over Notre Dame on Saturday, which moves the Trojans to 6-1 this year.
Western Kentucky – The Hilltoppers began the year 0-4 but have rallied with three consecutive wins. Coach Willie Taggart has made noticeable improvement during his tenure at Western Kentucky and will have this team in contention for the Sun Belt title in the next couple of years.
Buffalo – The Bulls scored a touchdown with less than 20 seconds to go to pull within one point of Northern Illinois. However, the extra point was missed, giving the Huskies a 31-30 victory.
Georgia Tech – Three weeks ago, the Yellow Jackets looked like the class of the ACC Coastal. Now, Georgia Tech is on the outside looking in. The Yellow Jackets have back-to-back losses, and their high-powered offense has struggled in both games. Quarterback Tevin Washington has to throw the ball better if the Yellow Jackets want to have a shot at winning all of their remaining games.
Illinois – After jumping out to a 6-0 start, the Fighting Illini has lost two in a row. Losing to Ohio State is one thing, but getting handled on the road by Purdue was a surprise. With Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin the next three weeks, Illinois could have a five-game losing streak going into the season finale against Minnesota.
Kansas – The Jayhawks were easily handled by rival Kansas State on Saturday, opening the door for even more criticism on head coach Turner Gill. Kansas isn’t likely to make a coaching change in the offseason, but Gill needs to show big progress in 2012.
New Mexico offense – It’s no secret the Lobos are bad. However, the offensive numbers in Saturday’s loss to TCU were embarrassing. New Mexico managed only 85 yards and only five first downs against the Horned Frogs, which were both season lows. The Lobos only hope for a win appears to be on Nov. 12 against UNLV.
Notre Dame – The Irish had a four-game winning streak snapped on Saturday, losing 31-17 to USC. While the Trojans are a good team, it’s clear the Irish weren’t ready for the preseason BCS hype placed on them in the preseason. Notre Dame can still salvage a 9-3 season, but beating Wake Forest and Stanford is no sure thing.
Oklahoma – The Sooners watched their national title hopes lk disappear with Saturday’s 41-38 loss to Texas Tech. Oklahoma’s offense did not have running back Dominique Whaley, and quarterback Landry Jones struggled at times with his accuracy, but it was a surprise to see this team have only seven points at halftime. Without cornerback Jamell Fleming, the Sooners’ pass defense was awful, allowing Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege to throw for 441 yards. There’s a chance Oklahoma could work its way back into the national title picture, but it will need a lot of help. Considering the preseason expectations surrounding the Sooners, Saturday night’s loss was a huge disappointment.
Ole Miss – Inserting Randall Mackey as the starting quarterback appears to have jumpstarted the Rebels’ offense, but it wasn’t enough to beat Arkansas. Ole Miss makes this list, thanks to blowing a 17-7 lead at halftime over Arkansas. The Rebels have now lost 10 consecutive SEC games.
South Florida – After a 4-0 start, the Bulls looked like they were ready to emerge as one of the top contenders in the Big East. However, the last three weeks have been a disaster. South Florida lost a 37-34 shootout to Cincinnati, leaves it as the only winless team in Big East play. The Bulls’ look to snap their three-game losing streak on Nov. 5 at Rutgers.
Tulane – It’s an automatic mention in this section when you lose to Memphis.
West Virginia – Just when you think you have the Big East figured out, it all changes and its back to the drawing board. The Mountaineers seemed to be the clear No. 1 team in the conference going into Week 8, but was defeated handily 49-23 by Syracuse. West Virginia can still win the conference, but this team has more concerns than expected.
Wisconsin – There’s really no shame in losing at East Lansing, but Saturday night’s defeat could cost Wisconsin a shot at the national title. With Oklahoma’s loss to Texas Tech, the door would have been open for the Badgers, provided they were able to finish the season unbeaten. Wisconsin can still claim the Big Ten title, but playing for a national championship is unlikely.
Looking Ahead to Week 9
A small sample of what’s ahead
Connecticut at Pittsburgh (Wednesday)
It might not be a matchup between top 25 teams, but hey, it’s midweek football.
Virginia at Miami (Thursday)
Canes look to get revenge for last season’s upset loss at Virginia.
BYU at TCU (Friday)
Cougars have won five in a row, but TCU will be a step up in competition.
South Carolina at Tennessee
Can the Gamecocks generate a rushing attack without Marcus Lattimore?
Clemson at Georgia Tech
Is this the final hurdle for Clemson to clear for an undefeated regular season?
Illinois at Penn State
Nittany Lions quietly putting together a solid season.
West Virginia at Rutgers
Winner of this game keeps the pressure on Cincinnati in the Big East race.
NC State at Florida State
Wolfpack need three wins to get bowl eligible – can they pull off the upset?
Wake Forest at North Carolina
Demon Deacons need a win to keep the pressure on Clemson in the ACC Atlantic race.
Oklahoma at Kansas State
Sooners looking to get back on track with a win and keep slim national title hopes alive.
Baylor at Oklahoma State
With Oklahoma’s loss, the Cowboys are now the frontrunner in the Big 12.
Michigan State at Nebraska
Another week, another key Big Ten matchup for the Spartans.
Missouri at Texas A&M
Future SEC matchup?
Florida at Georgia
Bulldogs remain in the mix for SEC East title, but need a win over Gators.
Wisconsin at Ohio State
Can the Badgers bounce back after last week’s last-second loss to Michigan State?
Stanford at USC
Trojans’ defense will be tested by physical Stanford offense.
Injuries from Week 8
Army QB Trent Steelman – leg – questionable for Week 9
Cincinnati CB Dominique Battle – sprained knee – questionable for Week 9
Clemson RB Andre Ellington – foot – probable for Week 9
Colorado QB Tyler Hansen – concussion – questionable for Week 9
Georgia Tech C Jay Finch – knee – questionable for Week 9
Iowa WR Keenan Davis – sprained ankle – questionable for Week 9
Kentucky RB Raymond Sanders – high ankle sprain – out for Week 9
Miami OT Jonathan Feliciano – leg – unlikely to play in Week 9
Navy QB Kriss Proctor – elbow – questionable for Week 9
Northwestern QB Dan Persa – ankle – probable for Week 9
Oklahoma State WR Hubert Anyiam – foot – out for remainder of 2011
Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon – concussion – probable for Week 9
South Florida WR Sterling Griffin – ankle – questionable for Week 10
USC K Andre Heidari – sprained ankle – questionable for Week 9
Virginia Tech LB Bruce Taylor – sprained foot – questionable for Week 9
Washington State QB Jeff Tuel – shoulder – questionable for Week 9
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 8 Big 12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Oklahoma State (7-0) – Thanks to the loss by rival Oklahoma, the Pokes rise to the No. 1 spot in the power rankings for the first time this year. Many expected Saturday’s contest against Missouri to be a trap game, but Oklahoma State won easily 45-24. The Cowboys are in control of their destiny in the BCS with the Big 12 title, but there are a lot of games to be played. Oklahoma State hosts Baylor this Saturday.
2. Kansas State (7-0) – The Wildcats remained unbeaten with a 59-21 blowout win over rival Kansas on Saturday. Kansas State is 7-0 for the first time since 1999, but the competition gets a lot tougher the next few weeks. The Wildcats host Oklahoma this Saturday, before playing Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas the next three weeks. Even if Kansas State loses its next four games, Bill Snyder should still earn national coach of the year honors for the job he has done with this team in 2011.
3. Oklahoma (6-1) – Most wrote off the Sooners’ sluggish performance against Kansas as a post-Texas hangover. Apparently, that wasn’t the case. Oklahoma watched its national title hopes take a big hit, as it was upset 41-38 by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have had success beating the Sooners in Lubbock, but the victory in Norman snapped Oklahoma’s 39-game home winning streak. The Sooners can still win the Big 12 title, but have to quickly regroup with Kansas State ahead this Saturday. Cornerback Jamell Fleming was a key absence in the loss to Texas Tech and is unlikely to play this week against the Wildcats.
4. Texas A&M (5-2) – After back-to-back disappointing losses to Arkansas and Oklahoma State in early October, the Aggies have quietly put together a solid three-game winning streak. Texas A&M defeated Iowa State 33-17 on Saturday, which moved the Aggies to 5-2 overall. The one-two punch of running backs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray has been difficult to stop, as Texas A&M has at least 200 rushing yards in each of its last four contests. The Aggies host Missouri this Saturday.
5. Texas Tech (5-2) – The Red Raiders scored one of the biggest upsets of 2011, defeating Oklahoma 41-38 in Norman. Quarterback Seth Doege had a huge game, throwing for 441 yards and four scores, while the defense held Oklahoma to only seven points in the first half. With a difficult upcoming schedule, it was important for Texas Tech to pickup a little bit of momentum. The victory over Oklahoma was also a key notch in coach Tommy Tuberville's coaching tenure at Texas Tech. How close are the Red Raiders’ from being undefeated? Their two losses this year have been by a combined 12 points (Kansas State and Texas A&M). Texas Tech hosts Iowa State on Saturday.
6. Texas (4-2) – With the season halfway finished, the bye week came at a good time for the Longhorns. The coaching staff should be able to correct some of the mistakes, particularly on offense, that the young players are making. Co-offensive coordinators Major Applewhite and Bryan Harsin would like to get quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy off to a good start this week and figure out whether both will play each game or if one can assume the job full-time. Texas looks to snap a two-game losing streak this Saturday, as it hosts Kansas. Although the Jayhawks are unlikely to pose much of a threat to Texas, a solid performance would help boost the confidence of the young players before a difficult stretch of upcoming games – Texas Tech, at Missouri, Kansas State, at Texas A&M and at Baylor.
7. Baylor (5-2) – The Bears had a bye in Week 8 and will return to action on Saturday at Oklahoma State. Baylor has had very little success against the Cowboys in recent years, with its last win in this series coming in 2005. The Bears last victory in Stillwater was in 1939. Expect plenty of points in Saturday’s game, as neither team has been very good at stopping the pass.
8. Missouri (3-4) – The Tigers were a trendy upset pick going into Week 8, but Oklahoma State left Columbia with an easy win. Missouri didn’t have an answer for Cowboys’ quarterback Brandon Weeden and a deep group of receivers. Tigers’ quarterback James Franklin didn’t have his best game, tossing three picks and completing 14 of 27 throws. Missouri’s bowl hopes are hanging in the balance with five games remaining. The Tigers travel to College Station to play Texas A&M this Saturday, and the schedule won’t get any easier with Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech its next three opponents.
9. Iowa State (3-4) – The Cyclones dropped their fourth game in a row, losing 33-17 to Texas A&M in Ames. Quarterback Steele Jantz hasn’t been 100 percent since suffering a foot injury against Connecticut in Week 3, and his play has suffered. After an early interception against the Aggies, Iowa State turned to Jared Barnett under center. The redshirt freshman finished with 180 passing yards and 66 on the ground, and is expected to start in Iowa State’s Week 9 game at Texas Tech.
10. Kansas (2-5) – The Jayhawks’ 2011 season took another ugly turn with Saturday’s 59-21 loss to rival Kansas State. Kansas appeared to be on the right track after starting 2-0, but has lost five in a row and weren't competitive in four of those losses. Coach Turner Gill turned around an awful Buffalo team, and knew he had a lot of work to do when he came to Lawrence. However, Gill didn’t exactly get a ringing endorsement from the athletic director after Saturday’s game, and the pressure is on Kansas’ coaching staff to find some answers over the next couple of weeks.
Remember when Felix Jones was one of those fantasy football preseason draft darlings.
"He put on weight!" you said.
"Marion Barber is gone, so he's going to get the goal line carries" you said.
"The only back who could eat into his playing time is Tashard Choice." you said.
Oh, if we could only hear everything fantasy footballers said before, during and right after a draft.
Because the truth is, Felix Jones has had a poor season, even by Tashard Choice standards. He hasn't put up rushing numbers, he only has one touchdown, he only has one 100 yard rushing game. And he hasn't even put up a lot of catches, for a guy who was going to kill it in PPR leagues.
And now he's in a protective boot, and could miss another three weeks. But that's not the worst news.
When back-up to the back-up DeMarco Murray blew up for a Cowboys' record-setting 253 yards against the Rams, that sound you heard was the hot air coming out of Felix Jones owners.
Yes, the Rams are bad. But 253 yards from one guy is insane. As bad as St. Louis has been all year, no one's put up 200 yards on them.
All this points to a changing of the guard in Big D. Murray will be going up against an almost equally anemic run defense in the Eagles this weekend, before seeing the Seahawks stout defense in week 9. If Murray puts up two more solid weeks, it's almost impossible to imagine that the Cowboys would give the majority of touches back to Felix.
And now that Tashard Choice injured his shoulder against the Rams, DeMarco Murray will have the backfield all to himself. This is his chance to take the starting job and literall run away with it. Because Felix had plenty of chances to be the big dog in Big D, but DeMarco is now in the perfect position to have his day.
Beanie Wells has a knack for getting injured. And his fantasy owners are worried this week, when he took that knack to the next level when he re-injured his surgically-repaired right knee in the Cardinals game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So now what? Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said he didn't know the severity of Wells' injury, but we're guessing it's not going to be good news for fantasy footballers.
Wells injured his knee in the second quarter and did not return. Not a good sign.
So while most fantasy owners handcuffed Beanie with LaRod Stephens-Howling, Howling got exactly zero carries filling in for Wells. He did catch two passes for 76 yards and a touchdown, but the lack of carries is very concerning.
Alfonso Smith, instead, got the replacement carries, posting 17 yards and a touchdown on five carries. Smith is the waiver wire back to get this week, as he's the guy to get the majority of carries and touches if Wells is out for an extended period of time.
LaRod Stephens-Howling looks to be the change of pace, third down back who may get a few catches here and there, but probably won't touch the ball enough to be worth a roster spot, even in PPR leagues. (But if you're desperate, I guess you could do worse.)
But before you blow a waiver wire pick on Smith, make sure Beanie is out. The Cardinals play the Ravens tough defense next week, before getting the soft Rams run defense in week 9.
The Indianapolis Colts are taking this "Suck for Luck" thing to Mt. Everest-style heights. Indy put on perhaps the worst performance by an NFL team since the expansion-era Bucs, showing that they're fully prepared to stage a season-long tickle-fight with the Dolphins for a chance at drafting the best QB prospect since the guy standing on the sidelines in a Colts cap. Indy's 62-7 loss to New Orleans in the Superdome was a clear statement that they're in the Luck sweepstakes for keeps.
How bad were the Colts? Let us count the ways. They surrendered 557 yards of offense, providing the Saints with nearly equal opportunities on the ground (236 yards) and through the air (321 yards). The Saints matched the NFL record for points in a single game since the merger, and the 55-point margin was surpassed only by the Patriots' 59–0 win over the Titans in 2009. Indy mustered only 252 yards, much of it in garbage time, and turned the ball over three times, throwing a pick-six to Leigh Torrence to close the scoring.
Drew Brees was brutal in his efficiency, throwing more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four). For the night, Brees was 31-of-35 for 325 yards and five scores, slicing the Colts defense with short timing passes in becoming only the second player since the merger to throw for 300 yards, five TDs and no picks in a game three times. The one-sided spectacle was enough to give interested spectator Archie Manning flashbacks to his days as quarterback for the Aints.
"I was real proud of how we played tonight, how we handled the week of practice," said Saints coach Sean Payton, who coached from the booth while nursing a broken leg. "We spent a lot of time during the week just talking about us beginning to play our best football, because we really felt while we were 4–2, we hadn't done that."
Meanwhile, the Colts seem a bit resigned to their status as NFL doormats.
"That team played better than we did in every area and we just got whooped across the board," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "It's one of those things that once you don't do the little things right, there is a lot of bad things that happen to you. Obviously, I have to take responsibility for our team and the way that they played."
Uh, Coach, you might not want to do that. Not if you want a shot at standing in the vicinity while Manning tutors Luck next season. Now that would be job security.
• The Titans were nearly as bad as the Colts, allowing the Andre Johnson-less Texans to roll up 518 yards while mustering only 148 themselves in a 41–7 Texans rout. Chris Johnson continues to hear it from the home folks, who rained down boos on Johnson's 10-carry, 18-yard performance. Seems like Titans fans have the impression they're not getting their money's worth.
• My colleague Nathan Rush has said all that needs to be said about Tim Tebow's performance. It wasn't terribly pretty, but Tebow did what he does: He won. One of these games, he might even complete 50 percent of his passes.
• You might think that the 1–6 Vikings have bottomed out given their heartbreaking 33–27 loss to Green Bay. But the men in purple might have themselves a quarterback. Christian Ponder's numbers were horrendous at first glance, but the kid showed heart. Of course, when your counterpart is nearly perfect, it's tough to win. Aaron Rodgers was 24-of-30 for 335 yards and three TDs in his continuing assault on the record books.
• Most valuable non-QB in the league? How about Matt Forte? The Bears running back is the first player since 2004 to surpass 1,000 yards from scrimmage in seven games after rushing for 145 yards and catching passes for 38 more in a 24–18 win over Tampa Bay in London.
• On a day of steaming deuces, few stunk worse than the Saint Louis Rams. After entering the season with hopes of a division title, the Rams fell to 0–6 with a 34–7 loss to the Cowboys, allowing DeMarco Murray, of all people, to set the Cowboys single-game rushing record with 253 yards.
• Carson Palmer's debut with the Raiders couldn't have gone worse. Palmer was 8-of-21 for 116 yards and three interceptions as Oakland lost to the Chiefs 28–0. Kyle Boller, whom he replaced, was just as bad, throwing a pick-six on the Raiders' first possession, one of his three first-half interceptions. Palmer may be regretting his decision to climb off the couch, although the Raiders have a bye week to figure things out.
by Nathan Rush
Superman saved the day again. Tim Tebow led the Denver Broncos to an 18–15 overtime win over the Miami Dolphins.
With Urban Meyer watching on the sideline and a sea of blue No. 15 jerseys — both Broncos and Florida Gators — in the stands, Tebow led Denver to 18 unanswered points in a come-from-behind victory that was sealed by a 52-yard field goal from Matt Prater.
It may have taken chants of “We want Tebow!” from the crowd at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, a massive digital billboard reading “Broncos Fans to John Fox: Play Tebow!!” north of downtown Denver at the intersection of 58th and Logan, and a miserable 6–21 record in the last 27 starts of Kyle Orton, but it has finally happened — Tebow was named the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos for Week 7.
Why it took so long for owner Pat Bowlen, two-time Super Bowl champion-turned-executive VP of football operations John Elway and Coach Fox to turn to the No. 25 overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, who knows?
Presumably, the decision-makers want to distance themselves from all moves made by Josh McDaniels, who was fired after a 3–9 start to last season. McDaniels is, after all, the slash-and-burn emperor with no clothes who traded away Jay Cutler and drafted Tebow.
But after a 1–4 start to the 2011 season, pride should be thrown out the window in favor of production. That is, unless Stanford legend Elway wants to lose as many games as possible in order to ensure the No. 1 overall pick to draft current Cardinal icon Andrew Luck.
But even if the Broncos don’t get the top pick, Luck could always pull an “Elway” and demand a trade to Denver — which is what Elway did to the Baltimore Colts in 1983.
If the Broncos want to win this year, Tebow is the only way to go. And Sunday afternoon in South Florida was just another example of that fact — which the fans in Miami seem to have an easier time accepting than the decision-makers in Denver.
Tebow was the main attraction on “Gator Day” at Sun Life Stadium, where the 2008 BCS national title-winning Florida team was honored at halftime.
A slow start put the Broncos in a 15–0 hole. But the powerful 6'3", 236-pound dual-threat lefty leader lifted the team to a 15–0 fourth-quarter run — commanding touchdown drives of 80 and 56 yards to force overtime and ultimately hand the winless 0–6 Dolphins their 12th loss in their last 13 home games.
“It’s tough to say, but man, Timmy did a great job,” said Miami rookie center Mike Pouncey, a teammate of Tebow’s at Florida.
“Hopefully the critics will get off him about what he can’t do and talk about the things that he can do, and that’s figure out a way to win the game, no matter what.”
Tebow finished the game with 161 passing yards, two TDs and zero INTs, as well as eight carries for 65 yards and the overtime-forcing two-point conversion on the ground. He has now thrown for 894 yards, eight TDs and three INTs, while rushing for 329 yards and seven TDs in 13 career games.
Rightfully labeled a “winner,” Tebow has a 2–2 record in four NFL starts. The Broncos are 4–14 in all other games since drafting Tebow.
Still, there seems to be a league-wide reluctance to acknowledge Tebow’s success and potential. Worse, there is an eagerness to shoot down or pick apart the young signal-caller — whose simultaneously brutish and instinctual skills admittedly resemble a leather-helmeted old school throwback more than a radio-headset-wearing modern day pocket passer.
But, as anyone who has met the remarkable 24-year-old can attest, the Tebow aura is real, his “it” factor is off the charts and his winning enthusiasm is contagious. Elway may continue to lead the Tebow doubters, but it would be hard to find a Denver teammate who isn’t standing loyally behind their new quarterback.
“First off, I have to thank my lord and savior, Jesus Christ, and my teammates … they believed in me for more than 60 minutes,” said Tebow, immediately after the win.
“You can’t lose confidence in yourself or you’ve lost already. When you get knocked down, you’ve got to keep getting back up.”
After this week’s win in Miami, it’s Tebow time in Denver — even if Elway doesn’t believe in Superman.
Sam Bradford has been downgraded to out against the Dallas Cowboys due to his high ankle sprain. But, while you may want to, now is not the time to give up on the Rams quarterback.
The two reasons to keep him are 1) the addition of Brandon Lloyd and the Rams' remaining schedule. Will these two things make a difference for your fantasy team?
Yes, but it is still going to take some time. You are probably teetering on giving up on Bradford because he has failed miserably to live up to expectations this season, but hold on a little longer.
The trade for Brandon Lloyd with the Denver Broncos brings a receiver Rams’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels certainly brought out of nowhere last season when he was head coach in Denver. St. Louis also activated Mark Clayton from the PUP list this week, a receiver that Bradford clicked with instantly last season. A knee injury last year sidelined Clayton to this point. Danario Alexander seems to be a reliable deep threat after having battled with his own injuries. And rookie Greg Salas has become a favorite target in the slot role where we all expected someone, either Danny Amendola to be the new Wes Welker.
Bradford has underwhelmed us this season to say the least. He is the 31st ranked quarterback heading into Week 7, scoring just 59.28 points in Athlon’s scoring format (6 points all touchdowns and 1 point per 25 yards passing). He has just one game in the teens which was a 19.74-point effort against a depleted New York Giants secondary.
One of the caveat’s about owning Bradford this season was the fact the Rams had a tough schedule the first half of the year. But if he can stay healthy (currently battling a high ankle sprain and may not play this week) and get acclimated with the new targets, that schedule against the pass certainly lightens up.
After Dallas, the Rams play six of their seven games against teams currently in the bottom half of the league against fantasy quarterbacks, including New Orleans (24th), Arizona (22nd), Cleveland (5th), Seattle (17th), Arizona (22nd), San Francisco (19th) and Seattle (17th). Keep in mind when your fantasy schedule matters most, the final two playoff weeks 15 and 16, the Rams play two of the top teams currently against fantasy passers in Cincinnati (3rd) and Pittsburgh (2nd).
But back to this week.
As a sidebar, if you are VERY desperate, A.J. Feeley may be a decent spot start in Bradford’s sted as the Rams should be trailing and due to Dallas’ track record against fantasy quarterbacks thus far.
Dallasv has allowed all but one opposing QB to score 19-plus fantasy points (Mark Sanchez (22.7), Alex Smith (20.26), Matthew Stafford (19.5), Rex Grossman (13.6) and Tom Brady (21.26).
By Corby Yarbrough, @Corby_Yarbrough
It is not that often that fantasy kickers get any glory as we always tell you to wait until the last or second-to-last pick of your drafts to select the position. But Sebastian Janikowski brings what no other kicker in the league does on a consistent basis - the long ball. If your league awards bonus points for distance kicks, then Janikowski is the man to have. Through six weeks, he already has five 50-plus field goals and 12 field goals altogether.
The Raiders play host to Kansas City this week and then go on their bye. So if you are a fantasy player that doesn’t hold two kickers on your roster you were probably set to dump him next week anyways. But if you like the consistency he has brought you with the long ball over the years and 2.6 PATs per game he is averaging this season, you might have considered holding on to him through the bye week.
Janikowski was added to the injury report on Thursday, and the Raiders were trying out kickers on Friday.
It doesn’t help as a fantasy player that some of the better kickers are on bye weeks themselves. David Akers (3rd), Mike Nugent (9th), Stephen Gostkowski (9th), Rian Lindell (11th), Alex Henery (14th) and Lawrence Tynes are all idle this week.
Some of the top-20 options available are Tampa Bay’s Connor Barth, Minnesota’s Ryan Longwell, Miami’s Dan Carpenter, San Diego’s Nick Novak, Indianapolis’ Adam Vinatieri and Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee.
All of the aforementioned have scored at least 44 fantasy points this season (in Athlon’s format), and here is a breakdown of their Week 7 match ups.
Connor Barth (52 fantasy points) vs. Chicago (in London)
The Bears are 17th in the league at eight points allowed per game to kickers. It could be a soggy field, could bog down the offenses. This could be a field goal kicker kind of day.
Ryan Longwell (47 points) vs. Green Bay
The Packers are 4th in the league at six points per game to kickers. I don’t see much work for Longwell as rookie Christian Ponder gets the start against the Super Bowl champs.
Dan Carpenter (46 points) vs. Denver
Carpenter has the most potential as the Dolphins face a Denver team that has allowed a league-leading 10 points a game to kickers.
Nick Novak (46 points) at New York Jets
The Jets are middle of the road at 16th, allowing 7.8 points per game to kickers. I see this as a pretty good match up for Novak and the Chargers. They should be able to move the ball, but if they can’t punch it across the goal line in steps Novak.
Adam Vinatieri (44 points) at New Orleans
The Saints are 23rd in the league at 8.2 points per game to kickers. It’s indoors, so that’s always good. I doubt the Colts can go toe to toe with the Saints offensively, but they might move it enough to make Vinatieri relevant.
Josh Scobee (44 points) vs. Baltimore
The Ravens are No. 1 in the NFL against kickers, surrendering just 4.6 points per game. Say no to Sco.
If I’m on the waiver wire to replace Janikowski this week (and I am in three leagues), then I go Carpenter first then Novak, Barth and Vinatieri.
By Corby Yarbrough, @Corby_Yarbrough