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For the first time this season, the SEC West did not hold the majority in the Legends Poll Top 8.
The top four remained largely unchanged, with No. 4 Oregon replacing Auburn. And the biggest surprise might have been Florida State receiving zero first-place votes for the first time all year while still holding on to its second-place ranking.
But No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 8 Arizona state were all newcomers to the rankings this week, each after prevailing in statement games.
Baylor manhandled Oklahoma, 48-14, in its first-ever victory in Norman. Seventh-ranked Ohio State vaulted to the top of the Big Ten with a road victory of its own, outlasting Michigan State, 49-37. And No. 8 Arizona State continued to roll with a 55-31 victory over Notre Dame in Tempe.
Top-ranked Mississippi State and No. 3 Alabama are set up for a showdown this coming weekend, with the winner in the driver’s seat to take home the SEC West crown.
Auburn, Michigan State and Notre Dame dropped from the top 8 this week. No. 5 TCU moved up two spots.
|1||Mississippi State (10)||9-0||101||1|
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
A list of the NBA’s best trash talkers might also read as “the game’s most old-school dudes.” In our modern, hyper-aware media era, such behavior can quickly become public knowledge, as nearly all affluent Americans carry a phone that’s also a video camera and a microphone. So it takes a truly dedicated verbal bully — a special sort of vinegar-tongued competitor — to keep speaking in dirty, destructive insults when they could so easily be outed for it.
But to those with a genuinely vindictive approach, the possible reputation hit is more than worth it. As our president recently reminded us in his public squabbling with Michael Jordan — who chided POTUS about his golf game, only to be cited by Mr. Obama for poor management of the Charlotte squad he owns — athletic dominance is great, but sometimes, there’s nothing that cuts as deep as the perfectly chosen piece of rhetoric. If you say certain words, and target the most sensitive parts of a man’s psyche with them, you can cut to the quick. Here are the best of the best at doing so.
5. Lance Stephenson
Forget language for a second. Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson tries diving into the brain of his adversaries through more visceral means. In his attempt to rattle LeBron James in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals (when Stephenson was still with the Indiana Pacers and not Jordan’s Hornets) one of the silliest, most unforgettable acts of the contemporary NBA occurred when Lance blew into LeBron’s ear:
Stephenson learned from one of the best when he was in the midwest — Pacers executive Larry Bird. Lance recently told Grantland’s Zach Lowe that the former Celtics legend hasn’t lost his cagy touch with words. “Yeah,” Stephenson said, “he talks a lot once you get to know him. He’s a cool guy. Of course he talks trash. If that’s you, that’ll always be you. He talks a lot, and he’s always challenging us to 3-point contests.”
4. Kendrick Perkins
The enforcer of the Oklahoma City Thunder holds value not so much for his abilities as an athlete as for his effect on the comfort of his teammates and enemies; he makes his allies feel protected, while the other team grows weary of his menacing scowl and hulky figure. Kendrick Perkins is one of the scariest people in the league, and he uses it to his advantage.
He’s also a proud fighter whose character doesn’t break after the game. Once, he let Chicago Bulls big man Joakim Noah know that as Noah entered the OKC locker room to greet former teammate Thabo Sefolosha. Perkins didn’t want the enemy in his barracks, looking at Noah to rhetorically ask, “We just let anyone in here now?” After some more heated squabbling between the two centers, Perkins said to Noah, "get your ass up out of here.”
3. Paul Pierce
When the acidic Stephen Jackson says you’re being “disrespectful,” you know you’re a top-tier trash talker. Paul Pierce earned that badge in 2010 when saying God-knows-what to Jackson, then with the Charlotte Bobcats. Jackson, via ESPN’s Chris Forsberg, had this to say: "I respect them as a team, they're a great team and they play hard, but when they get to a point where they get to disrespecting people, and it's not about basketball, that's where I have a problem. Everybody knows me as a basketball player, but everybody knows me off the court, too. So if it's about basketball, I'm cool, I respect everybody on their team, and I respect them as being a good team. But when it gets to the point where you're disrespecting [me] as a man, that's another problem… Certain things were said, quotes by certain people, and there's no need for me to drop names, they know what was said,” Jackson said, obviously referring to Pierce after the two looked heated during the Celtics victory.
2. Kobe Bryant
Kobe’s slithery, Jordanesque scoring maneuvers on the court are still what he’s most known for — but it seems only a matter of time before he becomes remembered as a hyper-charged personality above all. Bryant’s downright sociopathic commitment to his process and winning basketball games has seen him smear irrelevant former teammates like Smush Parker and even become the target of some zen-laden scourge in a book by his old coach Phil Jackson.
Kobe is difficult to deal with. He’s also not afraid to talk big to King James, the man who stole the NBA’s throne from Bryant long ago. After James’ infamous “The Decision” production, Bryant sent him some gamey texts. From Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding: “With a brutal seven-game victory over the Celtics in the bank for Bryant, the 2010 offseason is dominated by LeBron James' decision to leave Cleveland for Miami. What matters to Bryant is Phil Jackson agreeing to return to coach the Lakers again in pursuit of a third consecutive NBA title. Bryant sends James a text message. It goes like this: ‘Go ahead and get another MVP, if you want. And find the city you want to live in. But we're going to win the championship. Don't worry about it.’"
1. Kevin Garnett
The stories surrounding KG’s crippling levels of verbal venom are endless. But perhaps none is more memorable than the 2013 tale of his words that got New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony so riled up that he waited for Garnett at the Boston Celtics team bus after the game. Police officers were on hand at the stadium, and the two never came to blows — but what could Garnett have said to so get under Melo’s skin?
According to now-infamous rumors, KG told Anthony that his wife LaLa Anthony “tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios.” Anthony never confirmed that phrasing — no one did — but in regards to what started the fissure between the two players, he replied, “there’s some things as men that you just don’t say.”
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 11:
• The sports world takes time to honor our veterans. Watch the USMC drill team perform at halftime of Panthers-Eagles.
• Speaking of the Cavs, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving like to celebrate wins with pantomimed joint smoking.
• Bizarre story from the weekend: Florida backup DT Leon Orr was told he wasn't starting against Vanderbilt, so he hopped a bus back to Gainesville.
• Derrick Rose made some sweet Derrick Rose moves last night.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The fantasy football season has entered the home stretch with Week 11 on the horizon. The fantasy playoffs will begin in a few weeks, which means these next few games could make or break many a season. Reinforcements are on the way now that the two big bye weeks are in the rear-view mirror. That doesn’t mean every team will be playing this week, however, as owners will still have to make do without the services of top scorers like DeMarco Murray, Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Justin Forsett and Ben Roethlisberger, among others, while also dealing with the myriad of injuries that have occurred this season.
Athlon Sports is here to help you sort through some of the potential free agent options. The players listed in our weekly fantasy football waiver wire may be one-week adds, some may be worth holding on to all season long and some are of the “sleeper” variety that you may simply want to keep an eye on.
Teams on bye: Baltimore, Dallas, Jacksonville, New York Jets
Week 10 Recap: Mark Sanchez got off to a slow start Monday night against the Panthers, but he picked it up and finished with 332 yards and two touchdowns. Helping his night was the fact he didn't turn the ball over, although he did fumble twice on shotgun snaps (able to recover both). As long as Sanchez takes care of the ball, he's in the QB1 conversation while Nick Foles (broken collarbone) is out.
Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
Bridgewater and the Vikings are coming off of their bye, so the rookie should certainly be rested and healthy. And while his overall numbers (60.4 percent passing, 4 total TDs, 5 INTs in six games) don’t blow you away, the first-round pick has shown signs of progress. He hasn’t thrown an interception in each of the past two games and after bottoming out at 157 yards passing in Week 7, he’s increased that total (from 241 to 268) during this same span. He’s also yet to lose a fumble in 19 rushing attempts (95 yds., TD). Then there’s also the matter of facing a Chicago defense that’s been torched for 106 points over its past two games. Now may be the ideal time to invest or take a chance on this young, dual-threat signal-caller.
Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Somewhat surprisingly, Lovie Smith went back to McCown over Mike Glennon as his starting quarterback, even though McCown had thrown twice as many interceptions (four) as touchdowns (two) in his first three starts. But after missing five games with a thumb injury, McCown got the call on Sunday against Atlanta. The end result was the same; another loss for the Buccaneers, but McCown had his best statistical outing, throwing for 301 yards with two touchdowns and two picks. The turnovers are still concerning, but McCown has a pair of explosive wide receivers (Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans) to throw to and a fairly appealing schedule (at WAS, at CHI, vs. CIN) ahead of him. There’s still enough time for McCown to have an impact fantasy-wise before this season is over.
Drew Stanton, Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer left Sunday afternoon’s game with a knee injury, which was confirmed on Monday as a torn ACL. Palmer’s season is over and Arizona head coach Bruce Arians will once again turn to Stanton to lead his offense. Yesterday, Stanton promptly entered the game and threw a go-ahead, 48-yard touchdown pass to John Brown. Stanton has already made three starts this season while Palmer was sidelined with a nerve issue, and he led the Cardinals to two wins. He’s not as established as Palmer, but Stanton’s gotten the job done when called upon and he has plenty of familiarity with the offense and his playmakers. The schedule’s pretty tough (DET, at SEA), but there are probably worse options out there if you’re looking for a fill-in QB or some depth at the position.
Week 10 Recap: The Browns pounded the Bengals on the ground Thursday night with Terrance West (26 att., 94 yds., TD) teaming with Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell to churn out 169 yards and three touchdowns. A week after getting more carries than Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson touched the ball just eight times (compared to Ivory’s 14 carries) and was basically non-existent (35 total yards) in the Jets’ big home win over the Steelers. Philadelphia attacked Carolina through the air Monday night, so Chris Polk (5 att., 11 yds.) and the running game (Eagles had 37 yards rushing) weren't really needed.
C.J. Anderson and Montee Ball, Denver Broncos
Is Denver’s backfield in motion once again? Ronnie Hillman had seemingly established himself as the starter following Montee Ball’s injury, but now he’s hurt (foot sprain) and could end up missing some time. Hillman’s injury (or ineffectiveness depending on your point of view) opened the door for Anderson, who rushed for a team-high 90 yards on 13 carries (6.9 ypc) Sunday in Oakland. He also picked up 73 yards receiving on four catches, including a 51-yard touchdown. Anderson led the Broncos with 163 total yards against the Raiders, while Hillman and Juwan Thompson combined for just 21 yards rushing. What happens with the carries this coming Sunday in St. Louis is anyone’s guess at this point, especially with Ball nearing a return. Don’t forget that Ball was the starter in Week 1 and he also was everyone’s choice to have a breakout fantasy season. It hasn’t worked out that way so far, but Ball could get another chance given Hillman’s injury. The Broncos’ practices this week will definitely be worth monitoring, as John Fox’ tendency more recently has to been to ride the hot hand. Right now that belongs to Anderson.
Alfred Blue, Houston Texans
Arian Foster tweaked his groin in the Texans’ last game. That was in Week 9, as Houston was off last week. Because of the bye, Foster said he expects to be ready to go this Sunday, but it’s not like he has the strongest track record when it comes to injuries. If Foster can’t go, Blue will get the call and the rookie from LSU has already shown what’s he capable of. Back in Week 3, Blue filled in for Foster, who was dealing with a sore hamstring. In his first NFL start, Blue rushed for 78 yards on 13 carries against the Giants. For the season, the sixth-round pick is averaging 3.4 yards per carry, but he hasn’t fumbled the ball in 74 touches and he’s caught a touchdown pass. Foster is the Texans’ undisputed workhorse, but he’s dealt with injuries before and if this latest one causes him to miss any time or limits his touches, Blue is next in line.
Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
Jackson was carted off the field in Week 7 after suffering a groin injury, and it was initially expected that he would miss at least a month. Jackson sat out Week 8 and then had a bye week to receive treatment and recover. Somewhat surprisingly, Jackson returned to practice last week and wound up not only being activated for Sunday’s game, but seeing action. He finished with just three rushing attempts (10 yards) and four catches (39 yards), but the important thing was the fact he played. As soon as he’s back to practicing in full, Jackson will resume the starting role in the Bills’ backfield. He was the team’s leading rusher before the injury and he’s also heavily involved in the passing game (37 rec., 300 yds., TD). Buffalo has a short turnaround for its Thursday night game in Miami, but it shouldn’t be too long before Jackson is leading the charge for the Bills once again. This is a potential opportunity to add a legitimate starting running back to your roster for the home stretch and fantasy playoffs.
Week 10 Recap: Kendall Wright was targeted a team-high seven times against Baltimore, but he finished with just four grabs for 53 yards. Kenny Britt was held to just three catches for 31 yards, as tight end Jared Cook (see below) made the big plays in the passing game for the Rams against the Cardinals. Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdown passes in the first half against the Bears, but Davante Adams (2 rec., 10 yds.) wasn’t able to join in on the fun. Josh Gordon has one more game to serve on his suspension before he’s able to rejoin the Browns and possibly play in Week 12.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City doesn’t exactly toss the ball all over the field and Bowe has disappointed many a fantasy owner in the past, but perhaps the tide is turning some? Bowe has strung together four straight games of at least 8.5 fantasy points (Athlon scoring), averaging six catches for 74 yards during that stretch. He still has yet to record a touchdown, but he’s getting the targets (35 over his last four games), which at least means he should see his fair share of opportunities moving forward. The Chiefs host Seattle this week, but still have two games with Oakland remaining as well as a Week 13 date with Denver. Bowe is not going to fill up the box score on a weekly basis, but he could be a nice option to round out a receiver corps, especially in PPR leagues.
James Jones, Oakland Raiders
Jones made NFL history yesterday, just not necessarily the kind he would like. According to Pro Football Focus’ Mike Clay, Jones set a wide receiver record on Sunday when he recorded just 20 yards on eight catches. It’s the fewest yards ever for a player with eight receptions in a game. That said, what shouldn’t be overlooked is the fact that Jones got a total of 12 targets against Denver. For the season, Jones has been targeted 71 times (25th among WRs), catching 47 of them for 463 yards and three touchdowns. That’s borderline top-30 fantasy WR production, despite playing with a rookie quarterback and for an offense that lacks in playmakers. Even with the Raiders’ offensive struggles, Jones is a viable WR3/4/flex, especially in PPR leagues.
Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles
Since catching two touchdowns in his third career NFL game, Matthews had been relatively quiet, until Monday night that is. The Eagles’ second-round pick clicked right away with new starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, as Matthews caught seven balls for 138 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers. Carolina’s cover guys were no match for Matthews operating out of the slot and Sanchez looked for him early and often. It appears that Matthews and Sanchez already have pretty good chemistry, so it’s not out of the question for success like this to continue. Matthews could serve as a functional WR3 or possibly WR2 from here out.
Preston Parker, New York Giants
By now Odell Beckham Jr. should certainly be on your radar, if he’s even available in your league, but Parker also is making a case for himself. While it’s pretty apparent that Beckham has passed Rueben Randle in the pecking order in the Giants’ passing game, Parker also put up better numbers than the so-called No. 1 wide receiver on Sunday. Parker took advantage of Seattle’s vaunted secondary’s issues defending slot receivers, finishing with a season-best seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. While it’s extremely risky to expect that sort of production from Parker on a weekly basis, his role as the No. 3 WR in an offense that’s been forced to pass a lot is pretty secure. That’s enough to at least add Parker to the watch list in deeper leagues.
Week 10 Recap: Mychal Rivera made it three strong games in a row with his eight-catch, 64-yard effort against Denver. He also caught a touchdown, giving him three in his last two games.
Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams
Cook has long teased and tantalized fantasy owners with his talent and seemingly endless potential. And this season has been no different. Seventh among his position in targets (56), Cook is near the back end of the top 20 in both receptions (31) and fantasy points. He has just one touchdown so far, which came yesterday against Arizona. Cook hauled in just two passes on Sunday, but he still finished with 89 yards receiving and a score. Consistency is not Cook’s strong point, but he’s also one of the few weapons Austin Davis has to throw to. If Cook does ever put it all together, he could go from being a frustrating tease to a legitimate, every-week fantasy starter.
Austin Seferian-Jenkings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers’ second-round pick, Seferian-Jenkins has struggled with injuries and inconsistency in his first NFL season. However, he’s also shown flashes of his all-around talent and immense potential, including Sunday against Atlanta. Targeted a season-best nine times, Seferian-Jenkins hauled in five passes for 30 yards and a touchdown. It was his second touchdown in three games, as it appears that Seferian-Jenkins is settling in despite the fact Tampa Bay made a quarterback switch from Mike Glennon back to Josh McCown. The young tight end appears to have a bright future with the Bucs, and is worth TE2 consideration, at minimum, the rest of this season.
Week 10 Recap: Baltimore racked up five sacks, forced two turnovers and held the Titans to just seven points on Sunday, while Dallas collected four QB takedowns and three takeaways (15 PA) in its convincing win over Jacksonville in London. Unfortunately, both DSTs are on bye this week.
The AFC North-leading Browns (you read that right) have been getting it done in large part because of their defense. Taking its cues from head coach Mike Petitne, Cleveland’s defense has made a pretty good living on pressuring the quarterback (20 sacks) and allowing its talented and deep secondary to make plays and stop opposing pass attacks without too much help. The end result is a defense that’s first in the NFL in completion rate (56.9) and passer rating (72.2) allowed, and is tied for second in interceptions (13). It also produces a fantasy DST that has 12 takeaways (9 INTs, 3 fumbles) and nine sacks over its last four games. Next up is a Houston team that has a new starting quarterback in Ryan Mallett and could potentially be without the services of Arian Foster (groin injury). Perhaps it’s time to find out just how much bite this Browns defense has?
Scoring is based on Athlon Sports default scoring which is 6 points for all TDs, .5 points per reception and 1 point PER 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving and 40 return yards.
College football’s playoff committee has released two sets of rankings, and the debate about the top four teams will continue every week until the final matchups are released. While the top 25 rankings are expected to change each week and will look drastically different from the release of the first poll to the last one, the playoff committee's poll provided some insight into the process.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. This poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey), SBNation.com
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 11 Playoff Projection
Takeaways From Expert Poll Results
* Mississippi State extended its edge over Florida State for the No. 1 spot. The Bulldogs held 12 first-place votes last week but recorded 15 after Week 11. The Seminoles had eight first-place votes following Week 10 but lost four in this week’s projection. Alabama also picked up one first-place vote.
* There’s a clear top four in this week’s poll: Mississippi State, Florida State, Alabama and Oregon. In last week’s poll, Alabama and Oregon tied for the No. 4 spot.
* TCU and Baylor are on the outside of the top four in this week’s vote. Even though the Bears won the head-to-head matchup, the Horned Frogs recorded more points (83 to 69) in the post-Week 11 projection.
* Four SEC teams received votes in this week’s projection.
* Ohio State jumped from No. 10 to No. 8 after beating Michigan State in Week 11. The Buckeyes need a lot of help to reach the top four and could benefit from Wisconsin or Nebraska winning out and ranking among the top 10-15 teams in the polls prior to the Big Ten Championship.
* Arizona State climbs from No. 12 to No. 7 after beating Notre Dame. The Sun Devils won’t play an opponent ranked in this week’s poll the rest of the regular season, but a matchup against Arizona and Oregon (if it reaches the Pac-12 Championship) would help bolster coach Todd Graham’s team.
* Two-loss teams Auburn, Ole Miss and Michigan State each received votes in this week’s poll, but all three are longshots to climb back into the top four.
Group of 5 Rankings
The Thundering Herd fell behind 14-0 to Southern Miss but rallied for an easy 63-17 win on Saturday. Quarterback Rakeem Cato has passed for a score in 41 consecutive games, and Marshall’s defense is allowing just 4.4 yards per play. Marshall could be tested in its final three contests, starting with a matchup against defending C-USA champion Rice this Saturday.
2. Boise State
It wasn’t easy, but the Broncos earned their fourth consecutive victory by defeating New Mexico 60-49. Quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi each topped 100 rushing yards, and the offense recorded 34 first downs in the victory. Boise State has a tricky matchup against San Diego State this Saturday, as the Aztecs have defeated the Broncos in back-to-back years. After the contest against San Diego State, Boise State plays at Wyoming on Nov. 22.
3. Colorado State
The Rams easily dispatched Hawaii in a 49-22 victory in Week 11. Colorado State is on bye this Saturday, and the off date comes at a good time for coach Jim McElwain’s team. Quarterback Garrett Grayson and receiver Rashard Higgins are dealing with minor injuries and could use the time off to heal before the final two games of the year (New Mexico and at Air Force).
4. East Carolina
East Carolina is coming off a timely bye, which should help coach Ruffin McNeill’s team regroup after the 20-10 loss to Temple on Nov. 1. The Pirates play at Cincinnati this Thursday in a critical American Athletic Conference matchup.
Don’t adjust your vision: Memphis is currently at the top of the American Athletic Conference standings. Yes, that’s right. The Tigers are 4-1 in conference play and scored a key win over Temple on Nov. 7. Memphis should be favored to win its final three games – at Tulane, USF and Connecticut. The Tigers are a longshot to claim the Group of 5 spot, but the inclusion of Memphis in this ranking just shows how far coach Justin Fuente has brought this program over the last three seasons.
Games With Playoff/Bowl Implications in Week 12
East Carolina at Cincinnati
7 p.m. ET, ESPN 2 (Thursday)
After losing to Temple in Week 10, East Carolina needs a win to keep its Group of 5 bowl hopes alive.
Ohio State at Minnesota
Noon ET, ABC
A road trip to Minneapolis is a good letdown spot for Ohio State after its win against Michigan State. The Golden Gophers need a win to keep pace with Wisconsin and Nebraska in the Big Ten West Division.
Clemson at Georgia Tech
Noon ET, ESPN
A critical matchup for positioning within the ACC. Freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson is back in the lineup for Clemson, while Georgia Tech needs to win to stay within reach of Duke in the Coastal. The winner of this game stays alive for a berth in the Orange Bowl (assuming Florida State makes the playoff).
South Carolina at Florida
Noon ET, SEC Network
Believe it or not, Florida still has faint SEC East title hopes. On the other sideline, South Carolina is just trying to get bowl eligible.
Mississippi State at Alabama
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
This matchup is the best of Week 12. Mississippi State puts its No. 1 ranking on the line in Tuscaloosa against an Alabama team that is still climbing back into the national title picture. Can the Crimson Tide defense slow down quarterback Dak Prescott?
Nebraska at Wisconsin
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Not quite a national showcase game like Ohio State-Michigan State, but this meeting between the Cornhuskers and Badgers is important for the Big Ten West Division title. This game could feature two of the nation’s top running backs if Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah is healthy from a knee injury suffered against Purdue.
Auburn at Georgia
7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Remember how last year’s game ended? This year’s version could be just as entertaining, especially with Georgia regaining the services of running back Todd Gurley. Auburn needs to win this one to keep its West Division title hopes alive.
Missouri at Texas A&M
7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
The Tigers control their destiny in the SEC East. Texas A&M looks to build off its momentum from the win at Auburn last week.
Florida State at Miami
8 p.m. ET, ABC
Miami is garnering some interest as an upset pick over Florida State, but the Hurricanes have lost four in a row to their in-state rival. This matchup is one of the biggest for Miami under coach Al Golden, while the Seminoles can clinch the Atlantic Division with a win on Saturday.
LSU at Arkansas
8 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Will Arkansas get its first SEC win under coach Bret Bielema?
Arizona State at Oregon State
10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Sun Devils are on a collision course with Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. However, coach Todd Graham’s team has to avoid a letdown against a struggling Oregon State team on Saturday.
College football’s 2014 season has reached its final stretch run, and the bowl and national title picture is starting to clear. The playoff committee will release its third set of rankings on Tuesday this week, which should give fans, coaches and players a better idea of what the committee values heading into the last few weeks of the season.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
With 11 weeks in the books, it’s time to take a look at what the bowl picture might hold for each conference and team this year. The post-Week 11 bowl projections are a mixture between picks for the next few weeks, how things would look if the season ended today, and the results from the first 11 weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks.
Teams on the projection bubble: Akron, Texas State, Fresno State, USF, Oregon State, ULM, San Jose State, Northwestern, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Kentucky and Arkansas. Remember: It’s only Week 11. Several changes are coming, and it’s impossible to project all of the wins and losses the rest of the way considering how much changes week-to-week in college football.
College Football's Post-Week 11 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| UL Lafayette vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs.|
| UTEP vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
| Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs. |
| Bowling Green vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Ohio vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs.|
| East Carolina vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs.|
| UAB vs.|
Mountain West vs.
| Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| MTSU vs.|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| Western Kentucky vs.|
San Diego State
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs.|
| Rutgers vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| Boston College vs.|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs. |
| Virginia Tech vs.|
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Pittsburgh vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| NC State vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs. |
| Tennessee vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs.|
| Notre Dame vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs. |
| Texas vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs.|
| Duke vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs.|
| Minnesota vs.|
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
| Nebraska vs. |
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Michigan State vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American vs. |
| Houston vs.|
|Taxslayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Miami vs.|
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs. |
| Kansas State vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Washington vs.|
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
| Memphis vs.|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs. |
| Toledo vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Marshall vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
|Orange||Dec. 31||ACC vs.|
| Clemson vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
| TCU vs. |
|Related: Projecting the Playoff Teams After Week 11|
| Florida State vs.|
| Mississippi State vs.|
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Mississippi State vs.|
* Indicates an at-large selection. Conference not projected to have enough bowl-eligible teams to fulfill the conference alignment.
Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of Pac-12 football action:
Nov. 30, 1985: Last time Notre Dame allowed 55 points
Arizona State blitzed and rattled Everett Golson en route to five turnovers, seven sacks and a critical top-10 win over Notre Dame. The Sun Devils scored 55 points — 34 unanswered — against the Irish. It marked the first time that Notre Dame allowed that many points since Miami hung 58 points on the Irish on Nov. 30, 1985.
5: Head coaches to beat Notre Dame at two schools
Todd Graham is the 34th head coach in college football history to oppose Notre Dame at two different schools. Only five of them have beaten the Irish with two different programs. Graham now has wins over Notre Dame with Arizona State and Tulsa (2010) along with a loss while at Pitt (2011). The other four — Nick Saban, Dennis Erickson, Johnny Majors, Howard Jones — all have national championships.
Listen to the Week 11 predictions podcast:
100: Joe Walker’s fumble return touchdown
Kaelin Clay was already celebrating a would-be 14-0 Utah lead early in the second quarter. After catching what would have been an 80-yard touchdown, Clay dropped the ball before crossing the goal line. Oregon’s Joe Walker scooped up the ball (after his own team had fumbled it again) and rumbled easily 100 yards for a touchdown. Instead of a 14-point lead, it turned out to be a 14-point swing.
7: Games in which Marcus Mariota has accounted for at least four TDs
Mariota was brilliant once again in leading another 51-point effort. He threw for 239 yards, ran for 114 and accounted for four total touchdowns while leading a 24-point fourth-quarter scoring spree. Mariota now leads the nation with seven games with at least four total touchdowns. The Ducks have scored at least 42 points in five straight games and in all but two contests (WSU, Arizona) this year.
6-0: UCLA’s record away from the Rose Bowl
Brett Hundley is rounding into form as the leader of the UCLA offense and he is playing extremely well on the road. He threw for 302 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in the win over Washington in Seattle. It was his third straight game without a turnover and his sixth win away from Pasadena, including victories over Arizona State, Texas, Virginia, Cal and Colorado. Hundley also became UCLA's all-time leader with 70 career touchdown passes.
138: Yards rushing by linebackers in Seattle
Washington and UCLA have two-way stars with Shaq Thompson and Myles Jack respectively. Thompson posted his second straight 100-yard rushing game and made four tackles in the loss. Jack carried four times for 38 yards and scored his third rushing touchdown while registering six tackles on defense for the victorious Bruins.
6.5: Anu Solomon's yards per touch
After losing in ugly fashion to UCLA in Week 10, Arizona and Solomon got back on track with an easy home win over Colorado. Solomon was unstoppable. He posted a career-high 115 yards rushing on just 12 carries, added 211 yards passing on 38 attempts and threw four touchdowns. He averaged 6.5 yards per offensive play on 50 plays (326 total yards) in the 38-20 win.
1-0: Luke Falk’s career starting record
Most of college football was saddened when Connor Halliday was lost for the season with an injury. But redshirt freshman Luke Falk took advantage of his opportunity by winning his first career start against Oregon State, on the road no less. He threw 61 passes for 471 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in the 39-32 victory.
2: Washington St games without a turnover under Mike Leach
Falk not only won the game with efficient passing but he also protected the ball. It was just the second time in 35 games as the head coach at Washington State that Mike Leach’s Cougars didn’t turn the ball over. In fact, Leach went 30 games into his career in Pullman before playing a turnover-free game. Wazzu didn’t turn the ball over against Cal last month.
6: Oregon State consecutive Pac-12 losses at home
After losing to Washington State at home, Oregon State has now lost four straight games, five out of six and has posted six consecutive home losses against Pac-12 opponents. A win over Colorado on Sept. 28, 2013 was the last time the Beavers won a conference home game.
The field of candidates for one of college football’s most prestigious awards has been narrowed down to five with the announcement of this season’s finalists for The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. UCLA’s Brett Hundley, USC’s Cody Kessler, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Baylor’s Bryce Petty and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott are the 2014 finalists for the award that’s named after Hall of Fame legend Johnny Unitas, who many refer to as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
Here is a closer look at this season’s finalists:
Brett Hundley, UCLA
Through 10 games this season, Hundley has completed 72.1 percent of his passes for 2,547 yards with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions for a QB rating of 158.1. The redshirt junior also has 564 yards rushing and seven touchdowns for the 8-2 Bruins.
Cody Kessler, USC
In his second season as the Trojans’ starting quarterback, Kessler has emerged as one of the nation’s most productive passers. After 10 weeks, the fourth-year junior is fourth in the nation in QB rating (168.2) with a sparkling 25:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He is completing 69.7 percent of his passes and has posted four 300-yard games thus far.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
One of the nation’s most athletic and dynamic quarterbacks, Mariota is putting together a spectacular junior season for the 9-1 Ducks, who have almost wrapped up another Pac-12 North Division title. The third-year starter is well on his way to establishing career bests across the board, as he leads the nation in QB rating (184.5), has accounted for a total of 37 touchdowns (29 passing, 8 rushing) and 3,304 yards of total offense through 10 games.
Bryce Petty, Baylor
A fifth-year senior in his second season as the starter, Petty is once again posting impressive numbers for Art Briles’ Bears. A back injury cost Petty a game earlier in the season, but he’s still among the nation’s leaders in passer rating (152.2), as he’s thrown 21 touchdown passes and just three interceptions through nine games.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
The redshirt junior has enjoyed a breakthrough season, leading his Bulldogs to a 9-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in the polls. Prescott has been making plays with his arm and legs all season, accounting for 29 total touchdowns (18 passing, 11 rushing). Besides being the nation’s seventh-rated passer (158.5), Prescott also is averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
The five finalists were narrowed down from an original field of 27 candidates. This season’s winner will be announced on Dec. 8. Candidates for the Golden Arm Award, which has been presented annually since 1987, must be college seniors or fourth-year juniors on schedule to graduate with their class. Besides their on-field accomplishments, candidates are judged on their character, citizenship, scholastic achievement and leadership qualities.
Past Golden Arm Award winners include current NFL quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer and Colt McCoy. Last season’s recipient was Alabama’s A.J. McCarron.
The Golden Arm Award is presented by the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Educational Foundation, Inc. and Transamerica. Athlon Sports is proud to be a Golden Arm Award sponsor.
Change in college football is all around us, especially in this first season leading to the playoff.
One truism remains the case in the changing landscape, though: It’s darn tough to win a conference road game.
The top two teams in the country may learn that this week when Mississippi State visits Alabama and Florida State visits rival Miami.
Beyond the top two teams, the current cream of the crop in the Big Ten, Ohio State and Nebraska, will defend that status on the road. At the same time, Auburn attempts to recover from a damaging loss to Texas A&M by facing Georgia in Athens.
The Week Ahead: Nov. 15
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
Ohio State at Minnesota
When and where: Noon, ABC
We’re watching because... this is suddenly an important game in the Big Ten. After convincing divisional wins last week, Ohio State and Minnesota are a combined 9-1 in the Big Ten. The only conference loss among them, remarkably, is to an Illinois team with a backup quarterback. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett is on the fast track to stardom after 386 yards of total offense and four touchdowns against Michigan State. Meanwhile, Minnesota showed rare balance on offense as Mitch Leidner threw four touchdown passes in a 51-14 rout of Iowa.
Vegas says: Ohio State by 12
Mississippi State at Alabama
When and where: 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this week’s powerhouse matchup in the SEC West may be the most important of the year. The enthusiasm on the Mississippi State bandwagon has dimmed a bit as the Bulldogs have been pressed by Kentucky and Arkansas. Mississippi State can solidify its hold on No. 1, and Dak Prescott can push Marcus Mariota for the Heisman with a win in Tuscaloosa. The Bulldogs’ defense may be just what Alabama wants to see, however, after putting up 4.2 yards per play in the overtime win over LSU.
Vegas says: Alabama by 7
Nebraska at Wisconsin
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... the two best running backs in the country (arguably) meet in a critical Big Ten West matchup. Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah have been friends since the recruiting process, and now they follow each other’s box scores every week. Gordon, the nation’s rushing leader, has the edge now, but Abdullah at No. 6 in the country isn’t far behind. The winner may be the favorite in the Big Ten West.
Vegas says: Wisconsin by 6
Auburn at Georgia
When and where: 7:15 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... one of the teams will salvage their hopes for the season after a devastating loss. Auburn is coming off a loss to Texas A&M while Georgia is two weeks removed from a loss to Florida. Both shocking defeats damaged college football playoff hopes. Georgia, at least, will get a jolt of energy with the return of Todd Gurley.
Vegas says: Georgia by 2 1/2
Florida State at Miami
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... Florida State is on upset alert again. The Seminoles are invincible in the second half, which is good news for a team that has struggled early. Florida State has trailed in the first half in six of the last seven games, including 21-0 at Louisville two weeks ago. Miami is one of the nation’s most improved teams during the last month. Duke Johnson is averaging 10.1 yards per carry in the last three wins while the defense has rebounding to allow 2.1 yards per carry in the last three games.
Vegas says: Florida State by 2
Having a strong starting lineup simply isn’t enough in the NBA. Teams like the Indiana Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers prove that, today, a front five with great chemistry and well-defined roles can only get you so far. Both teams fell out of last year’s postseason on the heels of bad scoring margins every time they had to rest their best men.
Not every squad has this problem. The Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans all bring men off the bench who are every bit as valuable to their culture as many of the players technically ahead of them in depth chart.
Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
Also filed under “would start in almost any other circumstance.” Warriors coach Steve Kerr has opted to make the versatile veteran a bench man simply so he can boost the confidence of third-year forward Harrison Barnes, who has started ahead of Iggy this year. Barnes is a fragile, developing prospect who struggled mightily in 2013-14 after a brilliant rookie season. Iguodala is one the game’s consummate professionals — his acceptance of a role as a reserve proves it.
He’s a former gold-medal winner with Team USA in the 2012 Beijing Olympics, and the game’s foremost analysts see one of basketball’s very best players when Andre takes the floor. He won’t usually fill up the box score, as his strengths lie in perfecting team strings on defense and offense both, and in wearing down the opponent with his relentless, intelligent hustle.
Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
Taj Gibson, the Chicago Bulls’ lengthy, beefy big man who originally hails from Brooklyn, was one of the best paint defenders in the NBA last year, and his offense saw a big spike, too, as he found more touch with his jumper and backdown game.
In tandem with Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and rookie Nikola Mirotic, Gibson makes Chicago’s front court an entity of extraordinary talent. And when the Bulls inevitably run up against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in their quest for a championship, don’t be surprised if you see Gibson closing tight games and often acting as his contending team’s central star.
Isaiah Thomas, Phoenix Suns
Hardcore NBA fans shook their heads at the Sacramento Kings all summer. Letting the swift, diminutive point guard go for nothing was one of the more puzzling moves of the offseason. The 5’9” Washington product has overshadowed the work of similar former Huskie Nate Robinson. More than just an occasional microwave man and folk hero, Thomas is simply one of the better scorers in the league.
His career 44 percent field goal percentage is exemplary for an undersized perimeter player, and now that he’s in a smarter, faster Phoenix offense, you can expect that number to rise. If the Suns can break through into the prickly Western Conference playoffs this year — after a heartbreaking finish in 2013-14 that saw the team miss the big dance after winning 50 games — it’ll have a lot to do with their adding one of basketball’s elite reserves.
Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
If, for whatever reason, you can’t remember Crawford’s birth name, just call him “Heat Check.”
When Jamal gets his shot going, there’s arguably no one in the league who’s a scarier sight for defenses, and no spot on the court that doesn’t look like a layup for the 15-year veteran. His possession of obscure statistical crowns like “most four-point plays in league history” shows us how unconscious he can become from beyond the arc:
Last year’s recipient of the Sixth Man of the Year award, Crawford has had a journeyman career that has seen him play for a whopping six teams. But nowhere has he looked more at home than in Lob City.
Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans’ starting front line of Anthony Davis and Omer Asik has led them to the third-best rebounding rate in the league. Both big men are absolute horses on the boards, wearing down the enemy at an impressive rate. And when the Pelicans bring the deep-shooting Anderson off the bench for a new look, Western Conference enemies simply won’t know what to do with New Orleans.
At 6’10” and 240 pounds, Anderson comes in an overwhelmingly sized package in terms of shooters. His ability to stretch the floor was paramount to the Orlando Magic’s offense when he was there with the post-oriented Dwight Howard, and now Anderson is re-establishing that chemistry with Davis, the heir to Howard’s throne as the game’s best big.
— John Wilmes
Hosts Braden Gall and David Fox breakdown how Week 11 impacted the playoff picture. TCU vs. Baylor? Can Florida State survive with one loss? Does a two-loss SEC champ get the nod over a one-loss champ? How good is Ohio State? We debate it all and much more on a spirited edition of the Cover 2 Podcast.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 10:
• Jimmy Graham had a weird day: An offensive PI penalty negated a game-winning touchdown, and he got felt up by the Joker.
• LeBron won't let his kids play football. Gotta wonder about football's long-term prosperity.
• We interrupt sports to bring the important news: The Foo Fighters' new record is out this week.
• Watch the Seahawks mascot land on a fan.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Clemson is having an uncharacteristic season on offense. The Tigers average just 5.4 yards per play (ninth in the ACC) and rank sixth in the conference by averaging 32.4 points per game. The slow start hasn’t drastically affected Clemson’s record, and coach Dabo Swinney’s team is poised to push for another season of at least 10 wins.
A couple of factors are to blame for the drop in production on offense, but there’s potential for this unit to improve over the final three games with the return of quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Watson’s return comes at a critical time for coach Dabo Swinney’s team. At 7-2 overall and 6-1 in conference play, Clemson is squarely in the mix to earn an appearance in the Orange Bowl – if Florida State makes the college football playoff. The Tigers made two previous appearances in the Orange Bowl under Swinney, but finishing 10-2 and earning a spot in one of the premier postseason games would be a huge accomplishment for a program replacing three offensive standouts in quarterback Tajh Boyd and receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant in 2014.
But there’s also another aspect to Watson’s return: the Nov. 29 showdown against South Carolina.
Clemson has not defeated the Gamecocks since 2008, but this would appear to be its best shot since the Gamecocks are struggling just to get bowl eligible.
Watson nearly guided Clemson to an upset win at Florida State and recorded 50 points in a win against North Carolina. The freshman also passed for 267 yards and two scores in an easy 41-0 win over NC State.
While this year’s offense isn’t as prolific as the units that led Clemson to 32 wins from 2011-13, that hasn’t derailed the Tigers from winning.
With Watson back in the lineup this week against Georgia Tech, it’s a good opportunity for this team to build momentum on offense before the bowl practices.
The true freshman has completed 75 of 112 passes for 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions in limited action this year. With Florida State’s Jameis Winston likely to enter the NFL Draft at the end of 2014, Watson should be the ACC’s top signal-caller in 2015. And Watson should be surrounded by plenty of talent, as running back Wayne Gallman and receiver Artavis Scott have emerged as key playmakers over the last few weeks.
Stoudt has kept the offense on track during Watson’s absence. However, there’s little doubt the true freshman is the better quarterback and has the skill-set to thrive in coordinator Chad Morris’ offense.
The Clemson coaching staff can be more aggressive in its passing game, as Watson averages 15.7 yards per completion, while Stoudt recorded just 10 yards per completion. Watson also averaged 10 yards per attempt, compared to 6.4 to Stoudt. The true freshman has a bigger arm, and his ability to stretch the field should help an offense that has six plays of 40 yards or more, which is a decrease from the 19 this team recorded last year.
Florida State is in full control of the Atlantic Division title this year, but Clemson still has plenty to play for over the last three weeks of the season. With Watson back under center this week, the Tigers have a chance to finish the year with momentum, including a good opportunity to beat their rival South Carolina and earn a spot in the Orange Bowl. And that’s not a bad way to finish 2014 with the amount of firepower that left Clemson for the NFL after the 2013 season.
A matchup of defending divisional champions will put a bow on Week 10 in the NFL when the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles face off on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The Eagles (6-2) once again are positioned near the top of the NFC East, while the Panthers (3-5-1) are still within striking distance in a crowded, mediocre NFC South.
If Philadelphia wants to make it two straight division crowns under head coach Chip Kelly, the Eagles will have to do so with a backup quarterback and without their defensive anchor. Meanwhile Carolina head coach Ron Rivera is trying to figure out what’s happened to his defense, which was among the league’s best last season.
Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Philadelphia -7
Three Things to Watch
|Carolina 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||vs CHI||W 31 - 24||Recap|
|10/12||@ CIN||37 - 37||Recap|
|10/19||@ GB||L 17 - 38||Recap|
|10/26||vs SEA||L 9 - 13||Recap|
|10/30||vs NO||L 10 - 28||Recap|
|11/10||@ PHI||L 21 - 45||Recap|
|11/16||vs ATL||L 17 - 19||Recap|
|11/30||@ MIN||L 13 - 31||Recap|
1. Sanchez’ Second Chance
Nick Foles is out for at least six weeks with a broken collarbone, meaning Mark Sanchez is getting his second chance. The fifth player taken in the 2009 draft, Sanchez was the Jets’ starting quarterback from 2009-12. Despite leading his team to consecutive AFC Championship Games in his first two seasons, Sanchez’ tenure with the Jets was rocky, to say the least. He posted a winning record (37-31, including playoffs) as the starter, but completed just 55 percent of his passes with 77 touchdowns compared to 72 interceptions. A combination of a shoulder injury (torn labrum) last August and the Jets drafting Geno Smith led to the end of Sanchez’ time in the Big Apple. He didn’t play a single game for the Jets last season and the team released him in March. A week later, he signed a one-year deal with Philadelphia to back up Nick Foles, and Sanchez is now the starter with Foles sidelined. Last week against Houston in relief of Foles, Sanchez tossed two touchdown passes in the Eagles’ 31-21 win, but he also had two interceptions that allowed the Texans to stay in the game. Chip Kelly has had nothing but positive things to say about Sanchez since signing him and in the aftermath of Foles’ injury, but the only thing that really matters is what happens on the field. This is by the far the best supporting cast Sanchez has had as a pro, and Kelly’s offensive system is known to be quarterback-friendly. Everything appears to be in place for Sanchez to succeed. The question now is will he take full advantage of this second chance or just validate what was said about him near the end of his time with the Jets?
|Philadelphia 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||vs STL||W 34 - 28||Recap|
|10/12||vs NYG||W 27 - 0||Recap|
|10/26||@ ARI||L 20 - 24||Recap|
|11/2||@ HOU||W 31 - 21||Recap|
|11/10||vs CAR||W 45 - 21||Recap|
|11/16||@ GB||L 20 - 53||Recap|
|11/23||vs TEN||W 43 - 24||Recap|
|11/27||@ DAL||W 33 - 10||Recap|
2. Carolina’s (Lack of) Defense
The Panthers surprised pretty much everyone last season when they went 12-4 and won the NFC South. One of the big reasons for their success was a defense that ranked behind only the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in several categories. In 2013, Carolina’s defense was the second stingiest in terms of yards (301.3 ypg) and points (15.1 ppg) allowed and it was led by Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly. Unfortunately, what was a major strength last season has turned into a weakness. The Panthers gave up a total of 241 points last season, but have already allowed 236 in just nine games thus far. After starting the season 2-0, Carolina has gone 1-5-1, as the defense has given up 30.7 points per game during this ugly seven-game stretch. Run defense in particular has been a problem. Ron Rivera’s team was second in the league in stopping the run in 2013 (86.9 ypg), but enter tonight’s game ranked 26th (131.9 ypg). Each of the Panthers’ past four opponents has run for at least 105 yards. This is not a good trend considering the Eagles are eighth in the rushing offense (124.5 ypg) and are averaging 162 yards per game on the ground over their last four contests. Carolina relied heavily on its defense last season to not only keep the Panthers in games, but often times to win them. Success has been harder to come by this season, as the defense has regressed and the offense (19.7 ppg, 25th) hasn’t been able to pick up the slack. It’s been a rough go for Carolina’s defense lately, and things don’t figure to get any easier tonight against the league’s fourth-ranked offense.
3. Cam Gets Offensive?
Misery must love company, as both Carolina’s defense and offense have gone into a prolonged slump at the same time. As poorly as the defense has played over the last seven games (30.7 ppg allowed), it’s not like the offense has been lending a ton of support. The Panthers are averaging less than 20 points per game on the season and that’s only because they scored 68 points in back-to-back games in Weeks 5 and 6. They have managed 10 points or fewer three times, including in each of the past two games. A rash of injuries has impacted Carolina’s backfield all season, which has put even more pressure on Cam Newton and a practically brand-new group of pass-catchers. After showing a great deal of growth last season, Newton has hit a rough patch. His passing yards have gone down in each of the past four games, culminating with a career-worst performance last week at home against New Orleans when he completed just 10 of 28 passes (35.7 percent) for 151 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Newton has thrown a pick in each of his last five games and hasn’t tossed a touchdown pass since Week 7. Even with reliable tight end Greg Olsen and talented wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers’ first-round pick, as Newton’s primary targets, he is averaging just 224.3 yards passing per game with eight touchdown passes. With an inconsistent running game (94.7 ypg, 26th) and a defense that’s been struggling, Carolina needs Newton to be at the top of his game. Perhaps tonight’s matchup against the Eagles will be just what Newton and the Panthers’ offense need to get going in the right direction.
Even though Philadelphia is without the services of Nick Foles, the Eagles play in an offensive system that's not dependent on the quarterback. Chip Kelly will come up with a game plan that should put Mark Sanchez in a position where he doesn't have to win the game by himself. I'm not so sure the same can be said for Cam Newton and Carolina. The Panthers have had trouble running the ball consistently alll season and this defense is not the same, stingy, physical unit it was in 2013. Philadelphia is 4-0 this season at Lincoln Financial Field and has won its last eight regular season home games. As long as Sanchez doesn't try to do too much himself and takes care of the football, the Eagles should soar at home tonight.
Prediction: Philadelphia 31, Carolina 20
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of the game. Any game, for that matter.
Some fall on the sabermetric side of things, while others like to keep it simple and use the old eyeball test. In the football world, that means total offense, total defense and points scored versus points per play and defensive efficiency ratings. Rational and logical arguments can be made for the legitimacy and relevance of both sides of the stats spectrum.
With that in mind, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Week 10 of the NFL season.
The AFC North is the first division in which every team is at least two games above .500 at any point in the season since the 1935 NFL Western Division.
The 8-1 Arizona Cardinals hold the NFL's best record for the first time after nine games since 1966. This is the first time since 1948 the Cardinals are 8-1 and just the third time in franchise history (1925, 1948, 2014).
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a game-winning touchdown pass with 29 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of the Lions’ 20-16 win against Miami. Detroit has scored the game-winning points inside of the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter to win in regulation in each of its past three games, becoming the first team to do so since the 1994 New York Giants.
Stafford, who passed for 280 yards and two touchdowns, has 19,953 career passing yards in 70 games, the most of any player in NFL history in his first 70 games. Dan Marino, who passed for 19,179 yards in his first 70 games, previously had the most of any player. Stafford’s 122 career touchdown passes are tied with Johnny Unitas for the fourth-most of any player through 70 career games.
The Chicago Bears are the second team in NFL history to allow 50+ points in consecutive games after surrendering 55 to Green Bay in Week 10 and 51 to New England in Week 8. The other was the Rochester Jeffersons in 1923. The 55 points scored by Green Bay tied the most points for the Packers in a game at Lambeau Field. The team record is 57.
Green Bay became the third team in NFL history to lead by 42 or more points at halftime (42-0). The Packers joined the 2009 Patriots (45 against Tennessee) and the 1983 Packers (42 against Tampa Bay).
Seattle became the first team in NFL history to have a running back rush for at least four touchdowns and a quarterback with more than 100 rushing yards in the same game after QB Russell Wilson ran for 107 yards and a score and RB Marshawn Lynch ran for 140 and a career-high four touchdowns in Seattle's 38-17 win over the New York Giants.
Russell Wilson joins Michael Vick (2004 and 2006) as the only quarterbacks with at least three 100-yard rushing games in a season in the Super Bowl era (since 1966).
Dallas running back DeMarco Murray rushed for 100 yards in the Cowboys’ 31-17 win against Jacksonville. Murray, who has nine 100-yard rushing games in 2014, is the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 100 yards in nine of his team’s first 10 games to begin a season.
Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant became the first player with at least 150 receiving yards (158) and two touchdowns in the 11-game history of the NFL International Series in London. He has also scored a TD in 11 consecutive games against AFC opponents.
Joseph Randle's 40-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter was the first rushing touchdown by a Cowboys back not named DeMarco Murray.
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning passed for 340 yards and five touchdowns in the Broncos’ 41-17 win at Oakland, extending his own NFL-record streak of consecutive games with multiple touchdown passes to 15 games. Manning has also thrown a touchdown pass in 48 consecutive games, surpassing Johnny Unitas (47) for the third-longest streak in NFL history. Manning’s first touchdown of the game was a 51-yard pass, marking his 44th career touchdown pass of at least 50 yards, eclipsing Brett Favre for the most such TD passes of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era.
Broncos tight end Julius Thomas had two touchdown catches and leads all NFL players with 12 TDs this season. He is the first tight end in NFL history with back-to-back 12-touchdown seasons.
New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick passed for 132 yards with two touchdowns and added 39 rushing yards in a 20-13 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Vick now has 6,006 career rushing yards and is the first quarterback in NFL history to reach 6,000.
Arizona kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed his first field goal of the season in Week 10 after starting 17-of-17.
If the 2014-15 season is anything like the 2013-14 edition, we’re in luck.
Just think of all that transpired a year ago: Wichita State’s run for history, a fantastic freshman class led by Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker, Syracuse’s hot start as an ACC member.
And then think of how all of that was flipped in the NCAA Tournament as Kentucky finally delivered on its title-contending promise only to be stopped by a seventh-seeded UConn team in the championship game.
Say this about 2014-15: There’s more where that came from. Duke, Kentucky and Kansas have superstar freshmen again. The ACC adds another powerhouse program in Louisville. And Wichita State should keep rolling.
The only question is what wild twists and turns this season will take down the stretch. We’re ready.
1. Duke’s Big Three
Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones promised each other (and anybody else who would listen) in the summer before their senior years of high school that they’d take visits together and enroll at the same college. Ultimately, they settled on Duke, then started working on Justise Winslow. And the result is a college-aged “Big Three” that should give Mike Krzyzewski a reasonably good chance to capture his fifth national championship.
“We just wanted the best opportunity to win,” Okafor explains, and there’s no denying that their decisions created an ideal situation for lots and lots of wins.
Okafor, Jones and Winslow are all consensus top-15 national recruits who play different positions. Basically, they represent the nation’s top incoming point guard (Jones), the nation’s top incoming center (Okafor), and one of the nation’s top three incoming wings (Winslow), and they’re the main reasons why Duke should actually be better this season despite losing its best two players — Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood — early to the NBA Draft.
Who’s the best of the group?
That’s Okafor, for sure.
He’s a 6-11, wide-bodied big who makes up for what he lacks in athleticism with a unique skill set and understanding of the game. More than anybody else, he’s likely to go first overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, and it should surprise nobody if Okafor is a first-team All-American during what’s expected to be his lone year in college.
“We consider Jahlil Okafor as good a big man as there is in the country,” Krzyzewski says. “He’s had an amazing amount of experience playing for the United States and for a great high school program.”
And now he’ll play for a great college program.
“The great thing about all of the kids is that they want to share a spotlight and they want to be on a great team,” Krzyzewski adds. “They’re team-first guys — even though they have this excellent amount of individual talent.”
2. Kentucky’s Loaded Frontcourt
Have you counted the bodies yet?
Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee are all back, and they’ll be joined in the frontcourt by freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. That’s six future pros who are natural power forwards or centers, and so the obvious question is this: How will Calipari find proper minutes for all of them?
Answer: He won’t. Because it’s impossible. Granted, Poythress will be asked to play some small forward, and it’ll help if he’s successful. But even if he is, and if Lyles and Johnson start at power forward and center, that’ll still leave Cauley-Stein and Towns as big reserves, which would leave Lee, most likely, caught in a numbers game and completely buried on the bench even though he’d be the best and most athletic big at like 90 percent of the nation’s high-major programs.
“For the first time I’ve had players return that had their chance to put their names in the draft, so we’re in a unique situation where we have veterans now,” Calipari says. “I’m excited about it. The returning players and the freshmen are getting along well. So it’s all good.”
All good for now, of course.
But will it be all good when the games start?
That’s the biggest challenge facing Calipari this season.
3. Wichita State, Obviously
Gregg Marshall’s Shockers became the story of last college basketball season — and the nation’s most divisive team — while taking a perfect record into their Round of 32 game against Kentucky. As you know, the Wildcats won on that Sunday afternoon in St. Louis thanks to a flurry of 3-pointers and free throws in the second half. But Wichita State still finished 35–1 overall, and the Shockers are returning enough to roll through the Missouri Valley Conference again.
Fred VanVleet is back. So is Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton.
That means Wichita State returns its starting 1, 2 and 3 from that 35-win team, and now you know why Marshall decided to return for an eighth season at WSU despite the fact that Tennessee, Missouri, Wake Forest, California and basically every other power-conference school with an opening tried, either directly or indirectly, to lure him away from the MVC power he’s built. Put another way, Marshall’s stock won’t slip this season because he’ll win plenty thanks to the presence of VanVleet, Baker and Cotton. They combined to average 35.0 points, 11.7 rebounds and 10.9 assists last season.
Bottom line, pencil the Shockers down for another 30 wins.
Then we’ll see if the school can keep Marshall for a ninth season.
4. KU’s quest for another Big 12 title
Bill Self has developed over the years into one of the surest things in college basketball, if not the surest, proof being that his Jayhawks have won at least a share of 10 consecutive Big 12 titles. So this season’s challenge is trying to win an 11th straight despite losing three starters — including the players who were picked first (Andrew Wiggins) and third (Joel Embiid) overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.
That sounds like a tall task. And it would be for most coaches.
But you’d be silly to bet against Self because A) he’s really, really good, B) he returns Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, and Frank Mason from a 25-win team, and C) KU is once again enrolling a stellar recruiting class featuring Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Devonte’ Graham, the last of whom the Jayhawks added late after the point guard was released from his signed National Letter of Intent with Appalachian State.
“He’s good,” Self says. “He’s a true point guard.”
Assuming that’s true, KU will have something this season that it never had last season— i.e., a true point guard — to help create for Selden, Mason, Oubre and Ellis, and Self will have no shortage of interesting combinations at is disposal.
“We should be good 1 through 4,” Self says. “We have some talented guys.”
The most interesting piece will be in the middle.
He’s a 6-8 forward and physical specimen who projects as a future NBA Lottery pick, but Alexander is unproven defensively and hardly a shot-blocker/shot-alterer like Embiid. And that might be an issue (although Arkansas transfer Hunter Mickelson should alleviate some of those concerns). Either way, Self has an incredible roster featuring veterans and newcomers and no fewer than four future NBA Draft picks, and that, more than anything else, is the point here — that Kansas will be fantastic again and, probably, Big 12 champions again.
5. Montrezl Harrell’s Breakthrough
Every year, without exception, there are underclassmen who surprise college basketball fans when they announce they’re leaving college early, and then, also every year, also without exception, there are other underclassmen whose decision to remain in college a year longer than most anticipated doubles as a shocking development.
Which brings us to Montrezl Harrell.
“I was shocked that he came back,” says Louisville’s Rick Pitino.
Harrell was a projected Lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. He could be a millionaire right now. Instead, he’s still in Louisville, still enrolled and set to have the type of breakthrough season that could make him a first-team All-American and, perhaps, a top-five pick in next June’s NBA Draft. Physically and athletically, Harrell already checks every box because he’s a 6-8, 235-pound freak. So as long as he expands his offensive game, his decision to delay getting paid NBA money for a year should pay off and, of course, give Louisville a chance to compete at the top of the ACC in its first season in the ACC.
Did you realize that, by the way?
In a move motivated by football (duh!), Louisville has relocated to the Atlantic Coast Conference after spending one season in the American Athletic Conference after spending eight seasons in the Big East that were preceded by a stint in Conference USA. (The Cardinals sure do bounce around a lot, don’t they?) The byproduct from that development is that it’s safe to call the ACC the nation’s best basketball league thanks to the presence of Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia Tech, NC State, Pittsburgh and, yes, Louisville. As for Pitino, well, he’d rather be in the old Big East still, frankly. But he knows those days are gone forever. So now he’s looking forward to coaching in some new spots.
“I’ve never coached at Duke or Virginia,” Pitino says. “So I’m excited about it. I really am.”
6. John Beilein’s Magic
Kentucky’s John Calipari has transitioned more prospects from high school to the NBA than any other college coach in recent years, and he really is on an unprecedented run. It’s amazing. But what’s equally impressive — and perhaps even more impressive — is how John Beilein has taken two prospects ranked outside of the top 75 of their high school classes and turned them into top-10 picks in consecutive years.
One is Trey Burke, who left Michigan after two seasons and was picked ninth in the 2013 NBA Draft. The other is Nik Stauskas, who left Michigan after two seasons and was picked eighth in the 2014 NBA Draft. Both were Big Ten Players of the Year.
So what’s Beilein’s secret?
“We try to project whether a player is on the rise,” Beilein says, “or if he’s already where he’s gonna be (when we sign him).”
Let the record show the Michigan staff is great at those projections. They clearly saw something in Burke and Stauskas that nobody else saw, and the byproduct of that was the Wolverines averaging 27.6 wins per season in the past three years.
So why is this relevant this preseason? Because Beilein has yet another unheralded recruit positioned to possibly be a top-10 pick. His name is Caris LeVert. He’s a 6-7 guard who was ranked 215th in the Class of 2012. Now he’s on every NBA franchise’s radar and projected, by most right now, to be a Lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, provided LeVert makes himself available. Either way, most of the shots Stauskas took last season will be LeVert’s to shoot this season. That means he should average more than 15 points per game for a nationally relevant program and be in contention for All-American honors.
7. The re-emergence of Arkansas
One of the more unbelievable facts about college basketball (given the history of the program and resources available) is that Arkansas hasn’t made a Sweet 16 since 1996. Did you realize that? The Razorbacks won the national title in 1994, lost in the title game in 1995, made the Sweet 16 in 1996, and they really haven’t escaped the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament since then.
“I hear it every day, man. Every day — from like the elderly people,” says Bobby Portis, the Hogs’ 6-11 forward. “Because, you know, back in the 90’s, we were a powerhouse. But it’s kinda flipped. So now somebody says something about it every day.”
The good news is that Portis’ decision to return to Arkansas for his sophomore year (rather than declare for the NBA Draft after last season) gives the Razorbacks a legitimate chance to break through and end this streak. Portis averaged 12.3 points and a team-best 6.8 rebounds last season, and his return ensured that coach Mike Anderson would have his top three scorers back. The others are Rashad Madden and Michael Qualls.
That trio doesn’t compare to the top three players at Kentucky, obviously. But they’re talented and good enough to lead Arkansas back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, and it should surprise nobody if the Hogs escape the opening weekend of that 68-team event for the first time in 19 seasons.
“Every year they talk about Kentucky and Florida and nobody else in the conference,” Portis says. “But maybe we can change that.”
8. North Carolina (on the basketball court)
UNC is one of the best and most accomplished programs in college basketball — proof being the 18 Final Fours and five NCAA Tournament titles. Beyond that, it’s the place Michael Jordan played, and the impact of those three years spent in Chapel Hill will probably last forever. And yet, all that said, the Tar Heels have been in the headlines recently more for off-the-court issues than on-the-court performance.
P.J. Hairston being ruled ineligible because of impermissible benefits dominated talk early last season. Meantime, that academic scandal is the story that keeps on giving, and who knows where that will ultimately lead? But it’s important to remember that the Tar Heels are still, you know, really good at basketball, and this season should serve as a reminder thanks to the return of Marcus Paige and enrollment of another heralded recruiting class featuring five-star prospects Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson.
“We are ecstatic that these three young men … decided to join our basketball family,” Williams says. “Each of them (is) talented, comes from a wonderful family and shares a common trait in that they have a tremendous desire for their teams to do well.”
Yes, that’s probably coach-speak on some level. But there’s no denying that the Tar Heels are equipped to have a team that does well and possibly advances to the Elite Eight for the third time in five seasons, if not farther. Navigating the ACC will be tough as usual thanks to Duke and Virginia — and the additions of Louisville (this year) and Pittsburgh (last year). But Paige, a 6-1 junior who averaged 17.5 points and 4.2 assists last season, could become the 17th consensus first-team All-American in UNC history this season, and, if he does, the guess here is that the discussion surrounding North Carolina will be more about hoops than fraudulent classes.
9. Sean Miller’s Emerging Monster
National championships are hard to come by for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the single-elimination nature of the NCAA Tournament. One bad shooting night, you’re done. One freak injury to a key player, you’re done. One questionable foul, you’re done. So it’s possible to be great and never actually cut nets on the first Monday in April, and there are lots of great coaches who fall into that category.
Which brings us to Sean Miller.
He’s likely the biggest power (at a top-shelf program) working today who hasn’t yet won a national title. In fact, he’s never made a Final Four in 10 years as a head coach. But his time is probably coming — perhaps as soon as this season courtesy of a roster that is loaded to the point where at least two players (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson) project as future Lottery picks in the NBA Draft.
How’d this happen?
Miller has lured commitments from 11 five-star prospects in the past five classes, which is at least four more than every other program not called Kentucky. That’s why Arizona is the clear favorite in the Pac-12 despite the losses of its top two scorers from last season’s 33-win team (Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon), and it’s hard to imagine a scenario (barring injury) where Arizona doesn’t finish first or second in the Pac-12 for the fourth time in five years.
10. The Wide-Open Race to Make an All-America Team
College basketball is a sport where most of the top players turn pro every single year. So nobody was surprised, nor should they have been, when Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, UCLA’s Kyle Anderson and lots more like them exited school after last season. That’s par for the so-called course.
Still, it’s worth noting that not a single first-team Associated Press All-American, second-team Associated Press All-American, or third-team Associated Press All-American is back in college for just the second time since 2003, and that means nobody seems like a sure-bet to collect first team honors at the end of this season. Which is fun, right?
Last year, around this time, pretty much every media outlet (including this magazine) had Marcus Smart, Doug McDermott and Russ Smith listed as preseason first-team All-Americans because they were awesome players who performed brilliantly at the college level in the year prior. But there are no can’t-leave-them-off guys entering this season, really. For instance, a reasonable person could pick Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet as the first-team point guard … or Duke’s Tyus Jones or West Virginia’s Juwan Staten, and it’s like that at every single position.
There’s nothing silly about selecting Marcus Paige (UNC), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Caris LeVert (Michigan), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Arizona), Sam Dekker (Wisconsin), Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), Georges Niang (Iowa State), Karl-Anthony Towns (Kentucky), Jahlil Okafor (Duke), Cliff Alexander (Kansas), Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin) or any number of players. So, for the first time in a long time, literally every single position on every single postseason All-American team seems to be there for the taking, and it’ll be a blast watching players try to earn those spots.
Perhaps all five will come from the names listed above.
Either way, get ready.
The college basketball season is almost here.
Florida has found its quarterback of the future.
One week after “managing” his team to an improbable win over Georgia when he only attempted six passes, Treon Harris showed his playmaking ability in the Gators’ 34–10 win at Vanderbilt. The diminutive true freshman — Harris is listed at 5-11 — completed 13-of-21 passes for 215 yards while adding 49 yards and two scores on the ground.
Harris averaged 10.2 yards on his 21 passes against Vanderbilt and is now up to an SEC-high 11.2 yards per attempt for the season. The player he replaced, Jeff Driskel, ranks last in the league with only 5.0 yards per attempt.
“We have all the confidence in him moving forward,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said after his team improved to 4–3 in the SEC. “The thing that strikes me is his maturity. He doesn’t get fazed. He’s been accurate in practice so that’s nothing that shocks me there. The maturity of carrying it to a game has been outstanding.”
The Florida coaching staff is doing its best to keep Driskel, the former starter, engaged in the offense. Driskel was on the field for five snaps Saturday night, netting 10 yards on four runs (most near the goal line) and badly misfiring on a short-passing attempting. But it’s clear this offense operates far more efficiently with Harris at quarterback. Maybe the offensive line has played better in the past two weeks — as Muschamp maintains — but it can’t be a coincidence that Florida has averaged 437 yards and 6.3 yards per play since the staff made the move at quarterback.
“He’s a special player,” says Gator All-America cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. “As a freshman just to come in and do whatever the coach asks, whether it’s handing the ball off six times or throwing the ball however many times he did today, he does it to a high level and that’s impressive for a freshman.”
For the first time since Jake Plummer was leading Arizona State to the Rose Bowl, it seems Arizona State is going to be a viable contender in the chase for national supremacy. And it’s not a fluke either.
There may not be many teams that can give up 62 points at home and still be considered a legitimate contender for the College Football Playoff, but Arizona State has managed to rise from the ashes of that awful Thursday night performance against UCLA. Arizona State could have sunk in their malaise after that game, but instead the Sun Devils fired up wins at a ranked USC and returned home to score revenge against Stanford in a Pac-12 Championship Game rematch. Though the Trojans and Cardinal are no longer ranked, at the time it was vital for Arizona State to bounce back against respected opponents. The Stanford win more than anything helped Arizona State put behind them their disappointments over the past year, and they have not let up since.
Arizona State’s road win at Washington was nice, but winning a defensive battle with ranked Utah in overtime at home and following that up with an impressive victory at home against top 10 Notre Dame team has served as a nice statement to the College Football Playoff selection committee. The committee may have been withholding some judgments on Notre Dame the past two weeks, but that should change now. The committee will likely hammer Notre Dame with a second loss against a ranked team, but at the same time the committee may reward Arizona State for their effort. Arizona State started strong and managed to finish strong after losing the momentum. Regardless of what happens to Notre Dame, the selection committee should feel inclined to respect the full performance from Arizona State.
Few teams have shown the kind of balance Arizona State has this season. Despite playing through some quarterback injury concerns for Taylor Kelly, Arizona State has kept a balanced attack with the nation’s 26th best passing offense and the 44th best rushing offense. Maybe those numbers do not impress much, but put them together and that is one dependable and balanced offense that keeps defensive coordinators on their toes. The defense has also been resurgent since seeing UCLA score 62 points in Tempe in late September. Arizona State has held three of its past four opponents to fewer than 20 points, and it was the defense that helped set the tone to a big start against Notre Dame. Arizona State forced five turnovers, including two interceptions returned for a touchdown. This Arizona State team is hot as the sun. Can they keep the focus on the bigger prize at the end of the tunnel?
Arizona State still has a game with Arizona looming at the end of the season, and it is on the road. No game should be taken for granted by Arizona State, especially a rivalry game against the Wildcats. Keeping in mind how dangerous this Arizona team is capable of being, Arizona State will have its work cut out for it the rets of the way if the Sun Devils are intent on staying in the playoff picture. Arizona is the only team to defeat Oregon. If Arizona State can get by Arizona and avoid upset bids by Oregon State and Washington State, the Sun Devils will get their chance to upend the Ducks with a possible playoff spot on the line in addition to the Pac-12 trophy.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Ohio State’s stay in second place in the Big Ten pecking order did not last very long. After being dethroned as the class of the Big Ten in last season’s conference championship game by Michigan State, the Buckeyes had to wait until Nov. 8 to get back on top. Naturally, and perhaps fittingly, that opportunity to jump back on top of the Big Ten came at the expense of Michigan State.
For Urban Meyer, Saturday night’s win against Michigan State was his first against a top-15 team since being hired as Ohio State’s coach in 2012. With that proverbial monkey off the back of Meyer now, the focus shifts to getting to the Big Ten championship game. With a head-to-head tiebreaker against Michigan State, Ohio State is two more wins away from clinching a return trip to Indianapolis as division champion. Ohio State is also now the team to beat in the Big Ten.
The success of Ohio State this season has been overshadowed by a Week 2 loss at home to Virginia Tech, but the Buckeyes have shown they are a far superior team than the one that took the field that night against the upset-minded Hokies. Sure, the Virginia Tech loss is not good, and looks worse as the season unfolds, but it is also important to remember the situation then and it should be put into perspective. J.T. Barrett was making just his second start for Ohio State, and it showed. Barrett had just taken over the starting job weeks before when Braxton Miller underwent season-ending surgery before it ever got started. Watching Barrett against Michigan State, you would have thought you were watching a completely different player. In reality, you were.
Barrett threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns against a Michigan State defense often referred to as the best in the Big Ten. Maybe the Spartans defense is lacking a no-fly zone this season, but to do what Barrett did on the road against Michigan State should open some eyes to what he and everyone else at Ohio State is doing. Ezekiel Elliott was a beast running the football (154 yards, two touchdowns) and Devin Smith showed off some wheels with 129 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Ohio State’s 49-37 victory in East Lansing was exactly the kind of victory the Buckeyes needed to re-enter the College Football Playoff discussion in the coming weeks, although it is still a crowded pool Ohio State is now swimming in with one-loss teams at TCU and Baylor in the Big 12, Oregon and Arizona State in the Pac-12, Alabama generating momentum in the SEC and undefeated teams at Mississippi State and Florida State. There may still be a chance for Ohio State to reach the playoff, but the only thing Urban Meyer’s team can focus on now is winning its first outright Big Ten championship since 2009.
Next up? A road trip to a surprisingly good Minnesota. Can the Buckeyes keep things rolling against a Gophers squad coming off a 51-14 win over Iowa?
-By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
This was a great weekend to have off if you are Nebraska. With Ohio State and Michigan State doing battle in the big Ten East, Minnesota and Iowa colliding in the west and Wisconsin on the road, this was a good weekend to sit back, relax and check out the rest of the conference. A bye week in November is always nice to have, especially when in the midst of a division race that has certainly heated up. For the Huskers, giving Heisman Trophy candidate running back Ameer Abdullah some extra time to heal up could not have come at a better time either.
Abdullah sprained his knee in Nebraska’s last game against Purdue. Bo Pelini said at the time there was no reason to believe he would have to sit his top offensive player for the big game this week against Wisconsin, and that was clearly some good news. Giving Abdullah an extra week not to worry about missing playing time can only help him and Nebraska as the Huskers look to make a run toward a return to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game. Nebraska has had a rash of bad luck in conference championship games under Pelini, but if Abdullah is healthy for the final games of the season this year could be different.
Nebraska’s only loss this season came on the road against Michigan State, but Nebraska has pretty much been a solid from September through mid-November in Big Ten play. The Huskers have won four conference games by double digits, and Abdullah has piled up big numbers to boost his Heisman profile. At 8-1 coming out of the bye week, these Huskers are looking to shrug aside a recent history of reaching nine wins as a ceiling all too often. With Nebraska currently in a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten West, the pressure is officially on for Nebraska to prove capable of reaching double-digit wins and making a case for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Though there is plenty of competition for the four playoff spots, the odds are still pretty decent a one–loss Big Ten champion would at least be in the conversation. Ohio State and Nebraska are the only two one-loss teams in the conference, and if things go well for Nebraska, the Huskers could have a chance to hand Ohio State a second straight conference championship game loss and make a case for the playoff in the process. There are three critical weeks before this can even become a realistic conversation worth having.
Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota are all tied for first place in the division, which makes the next few weeks especially intriguing. Nebraska travels to Wisconsin this week and hosts Minnesota next week before closing out the regular season at Iowa. Nebraska is going to need to be at full strength to go toe-to-toe in Madison against the Badgers in what should be a terrific showdown of the Big Ten’s top two running backs (Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Abdullah).
There is no question Nebraska is much more of a threat with Abdullah healthy. The extra week of rest could prove to be extremely valuable.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
For stretches of this season, Baylor didn’t look much like Baylor teams of recent vintage, and Bryce Petty didn’t resemble Bryce Petty.
This version of Art Briles’ squad was 7-1 but easy to dismiss in the College Football Playoff race.
On Saturday, Baylor achieved the most un-Baylor-like feat it could muster to put the Bears back into the playoff mix.
The Bears not only won a road game against a ranked team for the first time since 1991, they won in Norman for the first time in school history.
Baylor started Saturday ranked No. 12 but likely will be in striking distance of the playoff when the new rankings are released Tuesday after a 48-14 win over Oklahoma.
“This game, for me, was circled on the calendar,” Petty told the media. “I don't like to make that public, just because every game is a big game. At the same time, I really wanted to win this game, being at Norman. I didn't even know 37 straight losses to top 25 teams. All the stuff that we unraveled, that's big.”
The Bears needed this kind of feat to build legitimacy for the season. True, Baylor defeated TCU 61-58 thanks to a fourth quarter comeback Oct. 11. Otherwise, the Bears’ record entering Saturday didn’t have much meat to it.
Baylor’s non-conference schedule of SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo is forgettable at best, and its loss came by two touchdowns at West Virginia.
More than that, Petty was hardly himself in October and into the first weekend of November. The Big 12 leader in passing efficiency in 2013 completed 47 percent of his passes during the four-game stretch entering Saturday.
That changed in the second quarter in Norman when Petty started to look like the quarterback who led Baylor to a conference title last season.
In the second and third quarters, Petty was 27-of-32 for 322 yards with a touchdown. He picked apart the Oklahoma defense with short completions for the most part, completing 18 consecutive passes at one point.
“It is sometimes good for people to be doubted,” Baylor coach Art Briles told the media. “He has gone through a little bit of that.”
A run game that struggled for most of the game was at least effective in short-yardage situations around the goal line for four scores inside the five-yard line. The hot streak gave Baylor 45 unanswered points to end the game.
How the selection committee views this potential turn in Baylor’s season is a mystery. The non-conference schedule could continue to be an anchor.
And even though Baylor’s first win in Norman is a landmark moment, the victory might not be resume-builder it would be in any other season. Oklahoma picked up its third loss of the season to fall to 3-3 in the Big 12.
Yet if the selection committee likes common opponents, consider that Baylor beat the Sooners by 34 on the road. Kansas State won in Norman, too, by 1. TCU beat Oklahoma by 4 in Fort Worth.
The most important victory, though, may have been a fourth quarter comeback against TCU. The Horned Frogs handed Kansas State its first loss in Big 12 play Saturday, putting Baylor, TCU and the Wildcats into a three-way tie for the conference lead.
Baylor will wrap up the season in Waco against Kansas State, and by then, the Bears could be in position to do the most un-Baylor-like thing of all: Compete for a national championship.
It goes without saying that Minnesota’s offense starts with running the football. David Cobb has already rushed for 1,200 yards this season and leads the team with eight rushing touchdowns. The Minnesota rushing attack has carried the Gophers to a 7-2 record heading into mid-November. It has been needed because the Minnesota passing game has struggled to take flight this season. The Big Ten’s worst passing offense has averaged just 140.2 yards per game this season, but against Iowa it appeared the Gophers finally found some rhythm throwing the football.
After a couple of struggles throwing the football against Purdue and Illinois, Minnesota was smart and accurate with the football against Iowa. Though still relying on the performance of the running game, Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner completed 10 of his 13 pass attempts against the Hawkeyes for 138 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. Leidner had thrown for six touchdowns all season entering the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale.
In the second quarter, Leidner connected with Donovahn Jones for a 44-yard touchdown strike to break a 7-7 tie. Midway through the quarter, Leidner threw the first of two red zone touchdown passes before halftime and Minnesota was on its way to a rout of visiting Iowa. This was not just Minnesota taking advantage of a poor pass defense either. The Hawkeyes entered the week ranked second in the Big Ten against the pass. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging just over 50 percent in completion percentage this season. Leidner completed 76.9 percent of his attempts, by far his most accurate performance this season.
If nothing else, Minnesota gained some confidence passing the football at just the right time. The final few games for Minnesota are still considered an uphill battle for a Minnesota team that is continuing to develop and mature. Next week Minnesota will host Ohio State, with the Buckeyes coming off a big road win at Michigan State. Ohio State is around the middle of the pack in the Big Ten against the pass. So is Nebraska, also still to come on Minnesota’s schedule. Wisconsin, Minnesota’s final opponent this season, Wisconsin, leads the Big Ten against the pass.
Minnesota is going to need to have a balanced attack in order to make a run in these final three games. If the Gophers can get the running game on track early and often, it will open things up for the passing game as well. With what Minnesota has to work with, that is not a terrible way to go. Mitch Leidner may not be a guy who will throw for 250 or 300 yards, but if he can be put in a situation to make some safe throws, Minnesota’s offense should have enough to make things a little more interesting these next few weeks.
This is Minnesota’s time to prove they belong in the Big Ten race. A superior TCU team humbled the Gophers earlier in the season, but Minnesota has matured a bit since that early season loss. Now lets see if the passing game has found its groove at the right time or if it was just a blip on the radar against Iowa.
- by Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
It’s always dangerous to throw out the word “luck” in sports. Are teams lucky, or do good teams make their own luck? Are teams unlucky, or do bad teams simply not make enough big plays at the right time?
Whatever your thoughts on this issue might be, you’d have to agree that Auburn has been quite fortunate since Gus Malzahan took over as its head coach. The Tigers have clearly been one of the elite programs in the past two years, but it’s undeniable the ball has bounced the right way in critical times. From the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare” to the “Kick Six” miracles that helped Auburn reach the 2013 BCS National Championship Game to Laquon Treadwell’s fumble at the goal line in the thrilling win at Ole Miss two weeks ago, the football gods have been smiling on the Tigers.
That all changed Saturday afternoon, when Auburn had two unforced turnovers — one an a bad exchange between quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne inside the 5-yard line and the other on premature snap by center Reese Disumkes at the 28-yard line — in the final minutes of a stunning 41–38 loss at home to Texas A&M.
“We just didn’t get it done when we usually do,” Malzahn said after the game. “Like I sad, we aren’t going to blame anybody. That is just how it goes, and we will be better next time.”
The loss was a significant blow to Auburn’s chances of reaching the College Football Playoff, though it’s a bit early to eliminate the Tigers from the postseason picture. If chaos ensues in the final few weeks of the regular season, there is a possibility that a two-loss team could sneak into the four-team field. And you could argue that no two–loss team would have a more impressive resume than a 10–2 Auburn team that would claim wins at Kansas State, vs. LSU, at Ole Miss, at Georgia and at Alabama.
So Auburn, despite a crushing loss to a mediocre Texas A&M team, could still find a way into the national title hunt — with a little luck, of course.
Oregon crossed another hurdle in its quest to reach college football’s four-team playoff with a 51-27 victory over Utah on Saturday night. The win over the Utes clinched a spot in the Pac-12 Championship for coach Mark Helfrich’s team, and the Ducks have won five in a row since a 31-24 loss to Arizona in early October.
However, Saturday night’s win over Utah could be costly in the long run. Oregon doesn’t release much in the way of injury reports, but a couple key players left the game and were unable to return.
The biggest concern from Saturday night has to be the status of standout center Hroniss Grasu. The senior made his 50th consecutive start in Saturday night’s win over Utah and is one of the leaders for an offense that averages 46 points a game. Grasu left the game with a knee injury and was replaced by Doug Brenner.
In addition to Grasu, Oregon lost tight end Pharaoh Brown due to a serious leg injury, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu left with a toe injury, and defensive end DeForest Buckner left the locker room with ice on his knee.
Considering Oregon’s policy of not discussing injuries, it’s hard to know how long this team could be without Grasu or Buckner. Ekpre-Olomu commented after the game he expects to be ready for Colorado.
While the injuries against Utah are troublesome for Oregon, this team has a bye in Week 12, followed by games against Colorado and Oregon State. The Ducks should be able to beat the Buffaloes and Beavers without being at full strength.
However, it’s the Pac-12 Championship that should be of concern for Helfrich.
Arizona State has won five in a row, and its defense creates a lot of havoc around the line of scrimmage (73 tackles for a loss). And the Sun Devils certainly have no trouble scoring points, as coach Todd Graham’s offense averages 36.7 points per game.
Arizona State still has work to do in order to reach the conference championship, but the Sun Devils are a threat to Oregon’s playoff hopes if they meet in the Pac-12 title game – especially if the Ducks are at less than 100 percent in the injury department.
With the return of tackle Jake Fisher and quarterback Marcus Mariota’s continued play as the best quarterback in college football, Oregon has scored at least 42 points in each of its last five games.
The high-scoring offense has helped to mask some of the issues on defense, where the Ducks rank ninth in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per play (5.7) and last in the conference in third-down defense.
Getting Fisher back was huge for the offense, but how much of a blow would it be to this team if Grasu was out for an extended period?
So far, the Ducks’ national title hopes have yet to be derailed by injury. And with a couple of weeks to get everyone at full strength before the Pac-12 title game, that’s a huge break for Helfrich’s team.
The NFL’s longest-running rivalry takes center stage tonight when the Chicago Bears take on the Green Bay Packers on NBC. Both teams are coming out of their bye having lost their last game, but the Bears (3-5) are in a bigger funk than the Packers (5-3). Chicago has lost four of its past five games after getting bludgeoned by Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and rest of the Patriots 51-23 in Foxboro in Week 8. Green Bay also lost big, 44-23 in New Orleans, prior to going on bye, but had won its previous four games, including a 38-17 victory in Chicago back in Week 4.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Green Bay -7.5
Three Things to Watch
|Chicago 2014 Schedule|
|10/5||@ CAR||L 24 - 31||Recap|
|10/12||@ ATL||W 27 - 13||Recap|
|10/19||vs MIA||L 14 - 27||Recap|
|10/26||@ NE||L 23 - 51||Recap|
|11/9||@ GB||L 14 - 55||Recap|
|11/16||vs MIN||W 21 - 13||Recap|
|11/23||vs TB||W 21 - 13||Recap|
|11/27||@ DET||L 17 - 34||Recap|
1. Aaron Rodgers Bearing Down
This represents the 190th meeting in the regular season between Chicago and Green Bay. The Bears hold a slight 93-90-6 lead, but the Packers have dominated the proceedings with Aaron Rodgers under center. Since becoming Green Bay’s starting quarterback in 2008, Rodgers is 11-3 against Chicago, including a road win in the 2011 NFC Championship Game. The only game Rodgers has lost to the Bears since that 21-14 win on Jan. 23, 2011 was last season’s 27-20 defeat on “Monday Night Football” to close out Week 9. Rodgers started that game, but he didn’t finish it, as Chicago’s Shea McClellin sacked him on the first series, breaking his collarbone. Otherwise, Rodgers has owned the Bears, posting a 25:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 13 regular season games, while completing 69 percent of his passes and compiling a 105.0 passer rating. He was practically flawless (22-of-28, 302-4-0) in the 38-17 Week 4 win in Chicago, and it’s not like the Bears’ defense has gotten better since that game. Rodgers injured his hamstring two weeks ago in the loss to New Orleans, but he got the bye to recover and wasn’t limited at all in practice this week. This doesn’t bode well for Chicago, whose last win against Green Bay came in a game in which Rodgers was on the field for a total of seven plays.
|Green Bay 2014 Schedule|
|10/2||vs MIN||W 42 - 10||Recap|
|10/12||@ MIA||W 27 - 24||Recap|
|10/19||vs CAR||W 38 - 17||Recap|
|10/26||@ NO||L 23 - 44||Recap|
|11/9||vs CHI||W 55 - 14||Recap|
|11/16||vs PHI||W 53 - 20||Recap|
|11/23||@ MIN||W 24 - 21||Recap|
|11/30||vs NE||W 26 - 21||Recap|
2. Can Cutler Make the Lambeau Leap?
Aaron Rodgers’ success against the Bears has come, fair or not, at the expense of Jay Cutler. A 38-17 loss at Solider Field in Week 4 dropped Cutler’s career record, including playoffs, against the Packers to 1-10. His lone victory over Green Bay came back in the 2010 season and not surprisingly; Cutler’s numbers against the Packers haven’t been pretty. In 10 games with the Bears, Cutler has thrown more interceptions (20) than touchdowns (12) against Green Bay and is averaging exactly 200 yards passing per contest. If that’s not bad enough, the picture is even uglier when you look at how he has fared in three games at Lambeau Field: 0-3, 49-of-102 (48.0 percent), 571-2-10. Ouch. So far this season, Cutler is completing 67.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and eight picks. He has played pretty well (11 TDs, 3 INTs) on the road, where the Bears are 3-2, but Lambeau has always been a house of horrors for him. Adding to the degree of difficulty is the fact that the Packers are 33-5-1 at home since Week 10 of the 2009 season. The good news is that one of those losses (Nov. 4, 2013) was to the Bears. The bad news is that Josh McCown was the starting quarterback, as Cutler was out with a groin injury. A victory tonight would not only represent a breakthrough of sorts for Cutler, it also could set the tone for the second half of the season, as Chicago desperately needs a win to keep any playoff hopes alive.
3. Bears Get Defensive?
Entering this season expectations were high for Chicago’s offense, given its success last season and the quantity and quality of playmakers that were returning. To this point, it’s certainly fair to say that Marc Trestman’s offense has underachieved, but it’s not like the defense has done its job either. The Bears are 21st in the NFL in total defense (372.4 ypg) and 29th in scoring (27.8 ppg). They gave up 51 points to New England in their last game and have held one team (Atlanta) to fewer than 321 yards of offense. Coordinator Mel Tucker’s unit is relatively young and inexperienced, and the growing pains have been obvious, especially given the injuries on that side of the ball. All-Pro cornerback Charles Tillman tore his triceps in Week 2 and is out for the season, as is defensive end Lamarr Houston, who tore his ACL celebrating a meaningless sack in the loss to the Patriots. Linebackers Lance Briggs (ribs) and Jonathan Bostic (back) also have missed significant time and other injuries in the secondary have resulted in a lot of lineup shuffling and several young players getting thrown into the fire earlier than expected. Briggs and Bostic are both expected to play tonight, which should help stabilize the middle of the defense and the back end should be close to full strength as well. The hope is that the combination of better health and the opportunity to work on some things during the bye will lead to better results for Tucker’s unit on the field. Some early returns would certainly be welcome tonight, especially considering the offense’s own struggles and Jay Cutler’s lack of success at Lambeau Field.
Both Chicago and Green Bay lost their last games headed into the bye, but there’s no debate when it comes to which team has been playing better. The Packers started October 3-0, while the Bears haven’t won in nearly a month. Green Bay has won 14 of its last 18 games coming right after a bye and the extra week also gave Aaron Rodgers’ ailing hamstring time to heal. Rodgers has simply owned his NFC North archrival and Jay Cutler has not enjoyed his previous visits to Lambeau Field to say the least. Stranger things have happened this season, but I think there’s just too much history in the Packers’ favor to expect any sort of breakthrough from Cutler and the Bears tonight.