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Path: /fantasy/injury-updates-week-4-matthew-stafford-matt-forte-willis-mcgahee-1

There are a few key fantasy contributors that have had a number of injury question marks surrounding their playing status leading up to Week 4 of the 2012 NFL season. Here’s a little bit about these three and what you should consider.

Matthew StaffordMatthew Stafford, Detroit Lions QB vs. Minnesota Vikings

The quarterback injured his right hip in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter of the Lions’ game at Tennessee in Week 3. He returned to practice on Thursday, practiced in full on Friday and should be healthy enough to go against the visiting Minnesota Vikings.

If Stafford’s playing then you’re playing him.

The Vikings’ defense is ranked 18th against opposing fantasy quarterbacks, but they have not faced anything close to a QB like Stafford. Minnesota has played Blaine Gabbert, Andrew Luck and Alex Smith. All three quarterbacks have thrown for at least 200 yards and the Vikings have surrendered five touchdowns to one interception.

In two games against Minnesota last season, Stafford threw for 302.5 yards per game with four touchdowns and no interceptions.


Matt ForteMatt Forte, Chicago Bears RB vs. Dallas Cowboys (Monday night)

“Matt Forte continues to get better” and “he’s questionable for the game” Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith said this week of his star running back who returned to practice this week as he battles an ankle injury suffered Sept. 13.

Does he “get better” enough to play Monday night in Dallas? Is this a decoy to make the Cowboys waste time preparing for Forte, who thinks he will play.

Unless you have Michael Bush, it’d be pretty irresponsible to have Forte in your starting lineup when games kickoff today. And don’t go grab Felix Jones, Khalil Bell or Armando Allen as a fail-safe, either. This is why you draft, and hopefully you drafted qualify backups to address injured players like Forte.

As a Forte owner in multiple leagues, I would like to see him sit the next two weeks, get another week of rest during the Week 6 bye and then be at full strength when he has to face run defenses like Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minnesota twice and Arizona the rest of the fantasy season.

Yikes. Maybe he should play these next two weeks, have great success and then we can sell high.


Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos RB vs. Oakland Raiders

Denver running back Willis McGahee is listed as probable after a rib injury he suffered against Houston last week. The Broncos play host to the Raiders in a late game Sunday afternoon, so a probable, 30-year-old running back with a rib injury does not necessarily scream confident start. 

However, McGahee said this week “all systems go on my end,” and he does have 50 carries on the season — 30 more than his other backfield mates combined.

Oakland’s defense is ranked 25th against fantasy running backs. The Raiders have only faced one true feature back in Reggie Bush. He ran for 172 yards and two scores and caught another three balls for 25 yards.  San Diego and Pittsburgh combined for just 35 running back carries against the Raiders for 68 yards — but Oakland allowed 231 yards and a score and 384 yards and four scores through the air with no interceptions in either game.

So this could tell you two things: An injured McGahee might not be needed as much and Peyton Manning could have a field day against this Raiders’ secondary.

If you have a better option than McGahee, I might go with it.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

Post date: Sunday, September 30, 2012 - 07:18
Path: /fantasy/injury-updates-week-4-hakeem-nicks-dwayne-bowe-dexter-mccluster

There are a few key fantasy contributors that have had a number of injury question marks surrounding their playing status leading up to Week 4 of the 2012 NFL season. Here’s a little bit about these three and what you should consider.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday night)

Hakeem NicksWe’ve gone from foot to knee with high draft pick Hakeem Nicks and the Giants receiver will miss his second straight game after being declared out on Saturday.

What a tease.

We should’ve been happy that he was out there for the Wednesday night kickoff in Week 1 and followed up a lukewarm opener with a 10-for-199 and a touchdown performance in Week 2. However, he injured his knee in that receiving clinic against Tampa Bay and now we start to get worried.

We heard he was close last week before not even traveling with the team to Carolina for last Thursday’s game Carolina. Then news started circulating on Friday he went from meh to doubtful to Saturday being listed as out for the Sunday night game against the Eagles.

Time to start worrying about Nicks?

Well, Eli Manning has a reliable tight end again in Martellus Bennett. I called Bennett a “value” in this year’s Athlon Sports Fantasy Magazine, noting that when Manning had a reliable tight end from 2005-10, that position averaged 49.7 catches, 607.5 yards and 5.5. TDs over those six seasons — or 143.5 points for a season in PPR, which is easily top-10 tight end material.

Manning has Victor Cruz still doing his thing. Manning has Ramses Barden stepping in for Nicks last week to the tune of 10 catches for 162 yards.

Nicks has yet to play 16 games in a season and injuries are becoming a concern. Barden is available in 74 percent of Yahoo leagues as of this writing and is at least a WR3 or flex play tonight.

Dwayne Bowe WR and Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Diego Chargers

Dexter McClusterDwayne Bowe is questionable with a groin injury but likely to play and Dexter McCluster is also questionable after suffering the nasty elbow injury last week against New Orleans.

Bowe appeared on the injury report Thursday and but did have a limited outing on Friday. McCluster, listed as a RB/WR in Yahoo leagues, a RB in ESPN leagues and a WR in CBS leagues, saw light work on Friday.

There’s a chance both are game-time decisions but can you start either against a San Diego defense that is fifth against fantasy receivers? The Chargers have allowed three touchdowns but no receiver has more than five catches of 67 yards and they have faced a pass-happy Carson Palmer, Jake Locker when the Titans were getting blown out and Matt Ryan, who spread 15 targets, 10 catches, 122 yards and a score to Julio Jones and Roddy White.

If Bowe goes you start him. He has 31 targets the last two games and 37 for the season. He has turned that into 18 catches for 234 yards and two scores — and he’s in a contract year.

McCluster, after receiving 10 targets the first week (six catches for 82 yards), he has received nine combined the last two weeks for seven catches and 60 yards.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

Post date: Sunday, September 30, 2012 - 07:15
Path: /nfl/new-york-giants-vs-philadelphia-eagles-preview-and-prediction

Two teams coming off drastically different Week 3 results will battle tonight when the Philadelphia Eagles host the New York Giants at 8:20 pm EST on NBC. The defending Super Bowl champions went to Carolina 10 days ago and absolutely dominated the Panthers 36-7. On the other hand, the Eagles traveled to Arizona last Sunday and were blown out by the Cardinals by a 27-6 mark. Philadelphia has owned this rivalry in recent years, winning seven of the last eight contests including a playoff game.

When the Philadelphia Eagles have the ball:
The Philly offense has put up major yardage (1,249) through three games but only has 47 points to show for the effort. The obvious factor in the lack of scoring is turnovers, and the Eagles lead the league with 12. Quarterback Michael Vick was harassed into five sacks and two fumbles against Arizona, and the banged-up Philadelphia offensive line must play better versus New York. The Eagles will need to get elite back LeSean McCoy more than the 16 touches he had last week.

The Giants defense has played decently versus the run but has given up 785 passing yards in three games. The vaunted New York pass rush will look to improve on its six sacks this season, but the Giants do have six interceptions on the year. The key against Philadelphia will be stopping McCoy on the ground and forcing Vick into more mistakes and turnovers.

When the New York Giants have the ball:
Quarterback Eli Manning already has 1,011 passing yards, and he has found some new weapons this season. Tight end Martellus Bennett has 15 receptions and three touchdowns on the year, and backup receiver Ramses Barden got the start in place of ailing wideout Hakeem Nicks (also out tonight) against Carolina and tallied nine catches for 138 yards. New York also had a big-time performance against the Panthers from backup running back Andre Brown, who produced 113 rushing yards and two touchdowns filling in for the injured Ahmad Bradshaw.

The Philly defense ranks fifth in the NFL, including third-best in the league against the pass. The Eagles allowed only 29 rushing yards in last November’s win over the G-men, and they will need a repeat performance on Sunday night. If Juan Castillo’s group can stop the New York running attack, then it will have an opportunity to harass Manning. The Eagles have five interceptions and seven sacks this season, and they will need to force the Giants into a lack of balance.

Key Factor:
This divisional battle should be a tight contest, and winning the turnover battle will be critical. The Eagles have been able to move the ball all season, but the giveaways have to stop to stay in the NFC East race. Manning has been solid through the three games, but the Eagles pass defense will provide a major challenge. We’ll go with Eagles to protect the ball and win a close one in front of a raucous Philadelphia crowd.

Eagles 27 Giants 24

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

<p> New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Sunday, September 30, 2012 - 07:15
Path: /fantasy/injury-updates-week-4-pierre-garcon-evan-royster-stephen-hill

There are a few key fantasy contributors that have had a number of injury question marks surrounding their playing status leading up to Week 4 of the 2012 NFL season. Here’s a little bit about these three and what you should consider.

Pierre Garcon, WR and Evan Royster RB, Washington Redskins vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pierre GarconPierre Garcon is still living off the 88-yard screen pass for a score he caught in Week 1 against the Saints. However, it is that play that has kept the Redskins’ big free-agent signing off the field for the last two games and is expected to do the same this week.

Rich Campbell of the Washington Times was told by a source that Garcon would “try to play” in today’s game at Tampa Bay. Of course, it is a late-afternoon game, so there is no try, only do.

Even a try could net Garcon points as the Buccaneers are second to only the Redskins in points allowed to fantasy receivers this season and Garcon caught two balls for 146 yards and two scores against Tampa Bay last season. So how about just those two plays, Pierre and then you can get back to the sidelines?

Evan Royster is dealing with a sprained patellar tendon but did return to a full practice on Friday. Roy Helu is on injured reserve and Ryan Grant just joined the team, so if Royster plays he should have the backup role to Alfred Morris.

In three games this season, Royster has just nine touches for 55 yards.

Since teams are having a field day on the Bucs’ pass defense in fantasy, the rush defense looks respectable — ranked sixth against fantasy running backs. They held Dallas’ DeMarco Murray to 38 yards and a score last week. Andre Brown had 71 yards and a touchdown a week earlier and Carolina rushed just seven times with its RBs in Week 1.

There is no way you are starting Royster in any capacity and Garcon is a WR2 if he plays. Yes, it is a late game for the Redskins-Bucs, but seven of the 14 remaining games in Week 4 are 4:05 starts or later. So there’s a chance that the debate between Garcon and another receiver in your starting lineup can be made without worrying about the 1 p.m. games.

Stephen Hill, WR, New York Jets vs. San Francisco 49ers

You weren’t thinking of starting Stephen Hill were you? He’s not even on your redraft-league roster anymore, right?

Well, just in case the answer is yes to either, the rookie receiver from Georgia Tech did not practice all week as he battles a hamstring injury and is listed as doubtful for today’s early game against San Francisco.

Hill is also battling not having any catches the last two weeks.

After his Week 1 statline read six targets, five catches, 89 yards and two scores he was one of the top waiver wire claims. Forgetting that Mark Sanchez was his quarterback, fantasy owners ran to the wire to grab Hill. The next two weeks have included nine targets, including seven last week, with no catches.

Jeremy Kerley, already a double-digit fantasy scorer in PPR leagues twice this season, will benefit from no Hill. San Francisco is ranked 14th against fantasy receivers but the Jets are ninth-best in the league when it comes to production from fantasy receivers.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

Post date: Sunday, September 30, 2012 - 07:11
Path: /fantasy/injury-updates-week-4-ahmad-bradshaw-jonathan-stewart-jacob-tamme

There are a few key fantasy contributors that have had a number of injury question marks surrounding their playing status leading up to Week 4 of the 2012 NFL season. Here’s a little bit about these three and what you should consider.

Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants RB vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday night)

Ahmad BradshawAhmad Bradshaw is set to return from a game-and-a-half hiatus after a bulging disk in his neck sidelined the Giants No. 1 running back. In his sted, Andre Brown has looked more than capable of holding down the starting job — 184 yards, three scores and five catches for 36 yards.

Well, great. A No. 1 back already with an injury history, a journeyman back that has made due in his short time as the No. 1 and a Sunday night game.

What do the Giants do with two healthy, productive backs? What do you do with the two backs in your lineup?

Well, first the matchup. The Giants’ defense is taking on Michael Vick, who has looked terrible so far this season and has been more than willing to turn the ball over to the Giants. The Giants love to pass the ball — no matter who’s in or out of the lineup — and for the most part the Eagles have been pretty good at defending that the last year-plus.

So it is back to what do the Giants do with two healthy backs?

Last year when it was Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs — or D.J. Ware in Bradshaw’s absence — let’s just say it was not fun fantasy.

Only four times when both Bradshaw and Jacobs were in together (10 games) did one of the two get over 16 carries. Bradshaw led on three such occasions — 17-4, 26-5 and 16-7 — and Jacobs once at 19-8.

Bradshaw did lead in carries in all but two games in which they played together, and when he did Jacobs was relegated to nine or less carries each of those eight times.

The bright side for Bradshaw last season was that he still had 10 double-digit fantasy days. The dark side is that Brown certainly brings something different than Jacobs did last year.

This is a tough call to make, particularly with it being a Sunday night game.

I would still roll with Brown for one week on the assumption Bradshaw is eased back in and hope for the best. This would almost be a show-me game to see how Bradshaw looks and if he blows up, oh well, you know he’s back and pop in the lineup for Week 5.

Jonathan Stewart, Carolina RB vs. Atlanta Falcons

Jonathan StewartMuch like the Giants’ running back situation, two healthy backs is not necessarily a good thing in regards to fantasy.

Jonathan Stewart has battled a toe injury and that’s about as non-knee related bad as it can get for a running back. He’s great when he plays but he also has DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert to contend with, in addition to QB Cam Newton running the ball.

This offense looked miserable last Thursday against the Giants and the Falcons don’t offer much of a reprieve.

But back to the usage of backs.

Stewart played in all 16 games last season, starting three and carrying 142 times for 761 yards and four scores. His 47 catches for 413 yards and a score made the low carries somewhat tolerable. Williams played in 16, started in 14 and had 155 carries for 836 yards and seven scores. He added 16 catches for 135 yards. Then the team adds Tolbert, the TD vulture/replacement for whichever of the starters inevitably goes down.

I have never drafted any of these three in any league in any year and I am in eight leagues per season. I just don’t want to deal with headaches like this. And now we add the fact that they take on a Falcons team that actually knows how to play defense now.

Willis McGahee’s 25.4 points in PPR leagues makes him the only back to go above 12 points this season against the Falcons, and it took him getting 24 of Denver’s 30 RB touches to do that.

It’s hard to picture Carolina hanging around for long in this one, and it’s hard to picture any one of these three backs being a factor. You might get an early score or a very late score from one, but wouldn’t you rather trust someone that can continue to produce in the middle 30 minutes?

Jacob Tamme, Denver Broncos TE vs. Oakland Raiders

OK, when I saw Jacob Tamme go down against the Texans last week and there was a tear in his sock I thought for sure that was a bone coming through. I watched that thing on the DVR like the Zapruder film. There was no tear in the sock when he ran the route and when the play ended, he was hurt and there was a tear in the sock.

Move along further in the game, and Tamme was out there when the Broncos made their last-ditch effort with the multiple laterals on the final play and it was Tamme who last touched the ball. I went from thinking: “Did I just see an L.T.-Theismann injury?" To "does Tamme lose points for touching the last lateral?”

When it was all said and done, Tamme ends up on the injury report this week as probable with a groin injury. He is likely to play and is getting looks from QB Peyton Manning; he just isn’t doing anything with said looks.

The concern of whether you should’ve drafted Tamme or Joel Dreessen is no longer an issue. Tamme has 19 targets (13th in the league) to Dreessen’s nine. However, Tamme only has 10 catches for 87 yards and a score this season.

Old man Brandon Stokley is a problem as he is getting in the way of more production for Tamme and Eric Decker, but unless you’ve already gone to the wire and picked up Martellus Bennett, Brent Celek or Thursday night bust, Dennis Pitta, then there’s really nowhere you can go at tight end.

If Tamme is playing you play him and take solace in the fact that the Broncos take on a Raiders team that is 23rd against fantasy tight ends with 19 catches for 263 yards and a score.  

— Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

Post date: Sunday, September 30, 2012 - 07:04
Path: /fantasy/injury-updates-week-4-steven-jackson-jeremy-maclin-doug-baldwin

There are a few key fantasy contributors that have had a number of injury question marks surrounding their playing status leading up to Week 4 of the 2012 NFL season. Here’s a little bit about these three and what you should consider.

Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks

Steven Jackson did not practice until Friday and that was on a limited basis. Now he gets Seattle’s defense — ninth best against fantasy running backs with 119 yards allowed on the ground and two scores and 18 catches for 136 yards and no scores allowed through the passing game.

Jackson is a RB3 — barely — through three weeks of the NFL season. He is the 36th-best fantasy back currently with 41 carries for 140 yards, six catches for 36 yards and no touchdowns via ground or air.

And whether it is Jackson, Daryl Richardson or current bust Isaiah Pead, the Rams are the third-worst team in the league in regards to fantasy RB production. They have just 259 yards and 10 catches for 63 yards with no scores either rushing or receiving.

Jackson ran for 42 yards with three catches for 19 yards in the first meeting at Seattle last season (Week 11) and followed with a 20-for-63-yard performance on the ground, a 3-for-60 performance through the air and one rushing score in a Week 14 home game.

The ONLY saving grace for Jackson in this game is his history indoors. He has played 78 of his 118 career games indoors and scored 43 of his 52 rushing touchdowns inside. But that’s where indoors stops.

Since he has nearly doubled his indoor games versus his outdoor games, Jackson’s yards per game and per carry are nearly identical and his catches and receiving yards per game are nearly identical.

Bottom line: If he were to miraculously have a good game today, sell, sell, sell.


Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants (Sunday night)

Listed as probable, Jeremy Maclin practiced in full every day this week and is expected to be back in the lineup Sunday night against the Giants. It is a friendly matchup for Maclin, however, it is a not-so-friendly matchup for his quarterback, Michael Vick.

This is a tough call, due to Vick’s play at quarterback through three weeks.

Do you start a No. 1 receiver against a Giants team that is fifth worst against fantasy receivers this season, having allowed five receivers to eclipsed 70 yards and having allowed five touchdowns?

Or do you think that Vick’s play — six interceptions and three fumbles to three touchdowns — being put to the test against the Giants solid pass rush will make it a bad day for both?

Vick, regardless of his turnovers and TD production, has thrown for 317, 371 and 217 yards in the first three games and Maclin drew a team-high 14 targets in the only full game he’s played this season (Week 1 at Cleveland).

You roll with Maclin, who was Vick’s favorite target at 7.4 a game (13 games) last season, and expect there will be plenty to go around in a game with a line of 47.5.


Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks vs. St. Louis Rams

Doug Baldwin is only being mentioned for two reasons: He is on the injury report (shoulder) and he had a preseason grade that made him a WR4.

Oops! The second-year receiver has three catches for 13 yards on seven targets in two games. He plays with a rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson who has thrown for 153 or less in the first three games and is completing 57 percent of his passes.

You can only play two Seahawks until further notice: RB Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle defense/special teams.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

Post date: Sunday, September 30, 2012 - 06:05
Path: /fantasy/injury-updates-week-4-jared-cook-kenny-britt-mikel-leshoure

There are a few key fantasy contributors that have had a number of injury question marks surrounding their playing status leading up to Week 4 of the 2012 NFL season. Here’s a little bit about these three and what you should consider.

Jared Cook, TE and Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans vs. Houston Texans

Jared Cook is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury that forced an early exit from the Week 3 win over Detroit, which included a 61-yard touchdown for the inconsistent tight end. Kenny Britt, playing in his second game since last year’s season-ending knee injury, also lasted just one half before an ankle injury sent him to the sidelines. He too is listed as questionable.

After not practicing on Wednesday, Cook returned on Thursday and Friday. Now he gets a Texans team that is third best against tight ends, having allowed nine catches for 90 yards and a score through three games. Jacob Tamme had 10 targets for the Broncos against the Texans last week and finished the game with three catches for 31 yards.

And if a three-game sample’s not enough, the Texans were third best in 2011 as well. Cook went 4-for-63 on seven targets in the Week 17 meeting and 2-for-22 and a TD in the Week 7 meeting.

Six targets is the high for Cook this season and he received that number each of the first two weeks. The first week he turned it into four catches for 64 yards and he followed with a 3-for-23 performance in Week 2. Last week, he caught all four of his targets before the injury, finishing with 77 yards and the 61-yard touchdown.

Britt did not practice all week with the bum ankle and is not expected to play. And as they are doing to the tight end position, the Texans are not giving up much to fantasy receivers — also third best against the position. They have allowed just one receiving score to receivers and only 30 of 64 targets have been completed for 402 yards.

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings

What an NFL debut Mikel Leshoure had against the Titans last week. Yes, it was the Titans and their miserable run defense — fourth worst against fantasy running backs this year — but it was still his first full-speed, regular-season game since college.

However, following the 26-carry, 100-yard, one-touchdown and four-catch, 34-yard effort, Leshoure enters the Vikings game off of three straight limited practices with a groin injury. He is listed as questionable but is expected to play.

The Lions had no problem with Leshoure being the bellcow against the Titans as Kevin Smith, who had 35 touches the first two weeks, did not touch the ball against Tennessee.

The matchup today for Leshoure is not necessarily favorable. The Vikings are tops in the NFL against fantasy running backs, having allowed no scores and no rusher to eclipse Maurice Jones-Drew’s 77 yards in Week 1. And no back has more than MJD’s three Week 1 receptions.

Conversely, Minnesota is ranked 18th and 20th against fantasy QBs and WRs and Lions’ QB Matthew Stafford enters with a bum hip. Perhaps they rely more on Leshoure, but it is likely you have better options in the running game this week.

It is an early game so you will know the status of all involved.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter

Post date: Sunday, September 30, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Miami Hurricanes, News
Path: /news/miami-hurricanes-have-pathetic-crowd-against-nc-state

It's no secret Miami has had trouble drawing fans since its home games have moved to Sun Life Stadium. However, Saturday's game against NC State might have been a new low. 

This picture tweeted by @ByCasagrande shows a ridiculously sparse crowd just after the first quarter.

The school announced the attendance was 38,510, but the pictures clearly indicate a crowd less than that number.

Considering Miami was one of college football's premiere programs in the 1990s and early 2000s, the attendance numbers at Sun Life Stadium have to at least stir some discussion about building a venue that's closer to campus.  

<p> Where have Miami Hurricanes' fans gone?</p>
Post date: Saturday, September 29, 2012 - 11:20
Path: /college-football/texas-longhorns-vs-oklahoma-state-cowboys-preview-and-prediction

Kansas State fired the first shot in the Big 12 title race last weekend, and the focus shifts to Oklahoma State and Texas this Saturday. As the Wildcats’ victory over Oklahoma showed last week, the race to win the Big 12 title is wide open. The Cowboys are the defending Big 12 champs, but winning the conference crown won’t be easy with a freshman quarterback. Texas is a team on the rise, but just like Oklahoma State, its title hopes rest on an unproven quarterback.

This will be the first Big 12 contest for both teams and even though it’s still the first month of the season, there’s plenty on the line in this matchup. The Cowboys lost to Arizona in non-conference play, while Texas is 3-0 with wins over Ole Miss, Wyoming and New Mexico.

Storylines to Watch in Texas vs. Oklahoma State

Who will start at quarterback for Oklahoma State?
True freshman Wes Lunt started all three of Oklahoma State’s games this season but suffered a knee injury in the win over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Cowboys did not release an injury report on Friday, so there’s not much clarity in his status. If Lunt can’t play, redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh will get the nod under center. Walsh threw for 347 yards on 21 completions against the Ragin’ Cajuns and added 73 yards and one score on the ground. Lunt is a better pocket passer, while Walsh is more capable of making plays with his legs. By not releasing an injury report, the Cowboys will keep everyone guessing until pregame warmups.

Is Texas' defense ready to dominate?
The Longhorns expected to have one of college football’s best defenses coming into 2012, but they are off to a slow start through the first three games of the season. Texas ranks 34th nationally in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed per game. The numbers aren’t terrible, but this unit is capable of playing at a higher level. The Longhorns suffered a huge blow on Friday night, as linebacker Jordan Hicks was ruled out of Saturday’s game with a hip injury. Considering the non-conference competition wasn’t all that tough, Texas’ coordinator Manny Diaz likely saved a few tricks for Big 12 play. Expect an aggressive gameplan from the Longhorns, while the defensive end combination of Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor will test Oklahoma State’s offensive line.

Can David Ash continue his strong start?
Quarterback play was Texas’ biggest unknown coming into 2012. However, the coaching staff has to feel pretty good about their situation going into Week 5. David Ash has thrown for 703 yards and seven touchdowns through the first three games, while adding 58 yards and one score on the ground. With the depth at running back and talent on defense, Texas doesn’t need Ash to be Colt McCoy. However, he needs to make a few big plays and most importantly, take care of the ball. Oklahoma State’s defense is allowing 27.7 points per game and gave up 320 passing yards to Arizona’s Matt Scott. With those numbers in mind, Ash will have opportunities to make plays through the air, and he may need to hit a few passes to help open up rushing lanes.

Final Analysis

It’s only the first Big 12 game for both teams, but this is a key contest in the conference title picture. This matchup is a good barometer of where both teams stand on a national level and provide a little clarity to a Big 12 title race that should be very competitive. Oklahoma State is still an unknown, largely due to the uncertain quarterback situation. With a win in Stillwater, Texas can stamp its place as a top-10 team and a national title contender.

Expect the Longhorns to turn up the intensity on defense, as they will key on stopping Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle. Stopping Randle is no easy task, but Texas wants Walsh or Lunt to prove they can win this game through the air. The Longhorns' offense won’t hit many big plays, but quarterback David Ash will do just enough to win. 

Prediction: Texas 31-24

Related College Football Content

ACC Week 5 Preview and Predictions
Big East Week 5 Preview and Predictions

Big 12 Week 5 Preview and Predictions

Big Ten Week 5 Preview and Predictions

Pac-12 Week 5 Preview and Predictions

SEC Week 5 Preview and Predictions

Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat After Week 4

<p> Texas Longhorns vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Saturday, September 29, 2012 - 07:53
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Links, College Basketball, NFL, NBA, MLB
Path: /college-football/athlon%E2%80%99s-essential-eleven-links-day-18

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for September 28.

• Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times has the story on Washington’s upset of No. 8 Stanford last night at CenturyLink Field.

• The Ravens beat the Browns, 23-16, last night to move to 3-1 on the season. However, the Baltimore defense has looked vulnerable through four games.

• presents some of the best Oktoberfest beers for your enjoyment.

• Dave Miller of the National Football Post looks at the upcoming make-or-break stretch for Tennessee’s Derek Dooley.

• ESPN Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett previews the Ohio State-Michigan State matchup, where Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller could be the difference.

• Gotta love this guy making the most of a flood.

• CBS’ Jeff Goodman has a good piece on the maturation of Mountain West Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin of San Diego State.

• Who will get the blame if the Angels miss the playoffs after an offseason of huge spending?

• The 0-3 New Orleans Saints have the difficult task of facing a must-win at Lambeau Field against the 1-2 Packers.

• The NBA is going to enact procedures against floppers. Vlade Divac already retired, right?

The regular NFL officials are back, and we look forward to more moments like this one.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

September 27

• When the Ravens and Browns meet tonight, the regular NFL officials will return to the field after reaching a labor agreement with the league. It will be nice to have Ed Hochuli, Mike Carey and the old crew back blowing calls.

Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel looks at the incredible legacy on Nebraska’s Tom Osborne, who will retire at the end of the year.

• They couldn't just call it 'chicken' soup?!

• CBS’ Dennis Dodd details the struggles of Big Ten football.

• Georgia and Tennessee will meet in a big SEC East contest on Saturday. Instead of breaking down quarterbacks and 3-4 defenses, we’ll let these cheerleaders get you fired up for the game. Enjoy.

• Rangers third baseman and former Dodger Adrian Beltre reacts to Eric Gagne’s claim that 80 percent of his teammates were using performance-enhancing drugs.

• The Michigan State defense against elusive Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller will be a great matchup this weekend.

• SB Nation ranks the top 100 college basketball players for the 2012-13 season.

• It must be getting near October when Jon Gruden’s name starts being mentioned by SEC fans.

• So Seahawks receiver Golden Tate now admits he pushed off on Green Bay’s Sam Shields on the last play of the Monday Night Football debacle? Thanks for clearing that up big man.

• The South Park character Butters came out with a new “energy drink” on last night’s episode. The fact that the commercial for “Butters’ creamy goo” involved Tom Brady and Jim Rome just makes perfect sense.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

September 26

• ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports that a deal between the NFL and its regular referees is imminent, with a goal of the officials returning this weekend. 

• Former Cy Young winner Eric Gagne has a new book in which he states that 80 percent of his Dodgers teammates were using performance-enhancing drugs.

• looks at the league’s inconsistent policy on suspending players for helmet-to-helmet hits this season.

• It looks like Carmen from Spy Kids has, uh, grown up a little.

• The University of Minnesota-Crookston had a little issue painting the logo on its football field. Great Googly Moogly!

• Mississippi State will wear all-white uniforms against Texas A&M on November 3, commemorating when the schools played in a blizzard in the 2000 Independence Bowl.

• Does Oklahoma still have elite talent?

• The National League Cy Young decision will be a very interesting vote.

• Infamous Alabama fan, Harvey Updyke, is back in trouble. Shocker.

• The health news for North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams has been positive after his surgery to remove a tumor from his kidney.

• A little Green Bay local news humor after the Packers were robbed on Monday Night Football.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

September 25

• All of the NFL conversation today is focused on the botched call by the replacement referees that cost the Packers a win in Seattle on Monday Night Football. ESPN NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert says the league got what it deserved with its substitute officials.

• The Packers-Seahawks debacle was the latest and most egregious of many blown calls by the replacement referees this season, and it set off a media and social network firestorm.

• Bleacher Report’s Michael Felder looks at the SEC’s current rankings and what some pollsters may do later in the year to teams from college football’s best league.

• Notre Dame has decided to cancel its rivalry game with Michigan after 2014, obviously influenced by the future agreement to play five ACC opponents per season.

These are going to become way too popular with the NFL’s current officiating mess.

• Yahoo’s Jeff Passan has an interesting piece on the handling of White Sox ace Chris Sale versus that of Stephen Strasburg.

• Are the Falcons the NFL’s best team?

• NC State has a good shot at winning its first ACC basketball title in over 20 years.

• Apparently caffeine intake caused blurred vision for Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.

• looks at the best concerts left in 2012.

• Iman Shumpert of the New York Knicks decides to do a little iPhone 5 testing.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

September 24

• Don Banks of Sports Illustrated looks at the inspiring performance of Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, who starred in a win over the Patriots after his younger brother died in a motorcycle accident earlier in the day.

• The Jets worst fears came true today with the announcement that All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis will undergo season-ending surgery for a torn ACL.

• I think we all should strive to live our lives a little more like “Flathead” every day.

• ESPN Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna looks at the huge Irish win over Michigan, which now has ND standing at 4-0.

• The Florida State Seminoles also made a statement on Saturday night with their 49-37 win over Clemson.

• If you live in or have visited California, then you are probably aware of the popularity of “In-and-Out” burgers. Kudos to Oregon State coach Mike Riley for taking the Beavers there after defeating UCLA, 27-20, at the Rose Bowl.

• Could Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera win the American League triple crown, but not the MVP?

• The Titans won a 44-41 overtime thriller over the Lions in one of the wildest, big-play games that the NFL has ever seen.

• Check out this comparison of South Carolina’s Ace Sanders punt return this weekend against Missouri to some Tecmo Bowl video.
• The knee injury to Dolphins running back Reggie Bush may not be as severe as Miami feared.

• So you want to play quarterback in the National Football League? Check out the vicious hit Joe Mays of the Broncos puts on Houston’s Matt Schaub. Ouch.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

<p> The best sports links from the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the world of entertainment.</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 12:00
Path: /nfl/nfl-picks-against-spread-week-4

A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 4.

Locks of the Week
Both of these teams have something to prove after shocking results last week.

Seahawks (-3) at Rams
Marshawn Lynch was in “Beast Mode” against the Rams last season, rushing for a combined 203 yards and two TDs in two wins — a 24–7 triumph at St. Louis in Week 11 and a 30–13 victory at home in Week 14. And if it comes down to the final play, you know Golden Tate has got this in the bag.

Bengals (-3) at Jaguars
This is a catfight between two second-year signal-callers, Andy Dalton and Blaine Gabbert. The Jags are probably still hung over after their upset of the Colts last week.

Patriots (-4.5) at Bills
Tom Brady carries an 18–2 mark against the Bills, although one of those two losses did come last season in a 34–31 Week 3 defeat in Buffalo.

Straight Up Upsets
These underdogs don’t look as good as Kate Upton’s Twitter pics, but they look good.

Giants (+1) at Eagles
The Big Blue Wrecking Crew should be able to take advantage of Michael Vick, who has already thrown six INTs and lost three of his five fumbles this season.

Redskins (+3) at Buccaneers
Ride the RG3 bandwagon until the wheels fall off, the rookie has 956 total yards, seven total TDs and just two turnovers through three games.

Backdoor Covers
These underdogs may or may not pull off the straight up upset, but they should keep it close enough to cash in.

Vikings (+4.5) at Lions
The Vikes are riding high after their upset of the 49ers, while the Lions are looking shaky after an epic overtime defeat against the Titans — in a game that Matthew Stafford left injured.

Saints (+8) at Packers
It’s do or die for New Orleans. Sure, Green Bay will be fired up. But the Pack will also be emotionally drained after the Golden Gate fiasco, the short week after Monday night and long flight from Seattle.

Sucker Bets
Stay away completely. These games are meant for local yokels who always bet on their home team, or for degenerates who always have to have action.

Chargers (-1) at Chiefs
Arrowhead ain’t easy. This is a coin toss contest, just like the line says.

Cowboys (-3.5) vs. Bears
Two quarterbacks — Tony Romo and Jay Cutler — with a reputation of stinking it up on national television; this one could go down to the final INT.

49ers (-4.5) at Jets
The Niners looked like an unstoppable juggernaut in Weeks 1 and 2 before choking out in Week 3. Now without Darrelle Revis, the Jets could be in trouble against San Fran.

Cardinals (-6) vs. Dolphins
The rising Phoenix has been on fire thus far this season.

Broncos (-7) vs. Raiders
Still not sure which Peyton Manning will show up. Once the most reliable player around, No. 18 is a wild card until further notice.

Falcons (-7.5) vs. Panthers
A division showdown in Cam Newton’s hometown — where he lost 31–17 in Week 6 last season.

Texans (-12) vs. Titans
The old Houston Oilers return to face the new Houston Texans. It will be tough for CJ1YPC to have a breakout game against the Texans defense.

<p> A gambling preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 4, including Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams, Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers, Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets.</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 09:46
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/college-football-predictions-every-game-week-5-0

College football’s fifth weekend of action is highlighted Texas' trip to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State, Ohio State's battle with Michigan State and West Virginia's first Big 12 game vs. Baylor. Here’s a prediction on every game this weekend.


No. 110 Hawaii at No. 55 BYU
Norm Chow, the noted offensive guru, is off to a rocky start in his first season as a head coach. The Warriors lost last week at home to Nevada 69–24 to drop to 1–2. The offense is ranked 102nd in the nation, and the defense has given up a total of 118 points in two games vs. FBS foes.
BYU 41-17


No. 75 Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama
In its only game vs. a quality opponent (Texas in Oxford), Ole Miss gave up 350 yards on the ground. That’s an alarming number for a team that is preparing to visit Tuscaloosa to take on the mighty Crimson Tide.
Alabama 49-7

Towson at No. 2 LSU
Towson made the most dramatic improvement in the Division I ranks last season, improving from 1–10 in 2010 to 9–3 in ’11.
LSU 41-0

No. 3 Oregon at No. 100 Washington State
Maybe we expected too much too soon out of Mike Leach at Washington State, but the Cougars have been a disappointment in 2012. The record is a respectable 2–2, but they only beat Eastern Washington by four and UNLV by eight and lost last week at home to Colorado.
Oregon 51-10

No. 42 Tennessee at No. 4 Georgia
This is the eighth time in the Derek Dooley era that Tennessee has been an underdog of 13 points or more. That happened only three times in the 13 seasons prior to Dooley’s arrival.
Georgia 38-17

No. 5 Florida State at No. 57 South Florida
Florida State announced itself as a legitimate national title contender with a 49–37 win over Clemson Saturday night. Now it’s time for the Seminoles to show they can handle prosperity against a South Florida team that lost last week at Ball State.
Florida State 31-13

No. 7 South Carolina at No. 81 Kentucky
We all remember the Saturday night in Lexington two years ago when Kentucky stormed back from a 28–10 deficit in the third quarter to steal a 31–28 victory from South Carolina, ranked No. 10 at the time. That, however, is the only time the Gamecocks have lost to Kentucky since the turn of the century. Carolina has won 11 of the past 12 vs. the Wildcats, highlighted by last season’s 54–3 beatdown in Columbia.
South Carolina 27-6

No. 8 Texas at No. 26 Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State has sandwiched lopsided wins vs. inferior opponents (Savannah State and UL Lafayette) around a 59–38 loss at Arizona. The Pokes are allowing 438.5 yards per game vs. FBS foes. Look for the outstanding Texas defensive line to make life difficult for the Oklahoma State quarterback — either true freshman Wes Lunt (if healthy) or redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh.
Texas 31-17

No. 11 Ohio State at No. 21 Michigan State
Ohio State has struggled on defense the past two weeks, giving up 512 and 403 yards to California and UAB, respectively. The major issue has been stopping the pass; the Bucks currently rank 104th in the nation in pass defense, allowing 277.3 yards per game. Good thing for Ohio State that Michigan State has so much trouble with the forward pass.
Ohio State 17-13

No. 38 Baylor at No. 12 West Virginia

West Virginia is putting up gaudy numbers in the passing game: Quarterback Geno Smith ranks second nationally in total offense, and WVU has two players (Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey) ranked among the top 10 nationally in receiving yards per game. This is an underrated matchup on a rather ordinary slate of games. 

West Virginia 44-34

No. 17 Clemson at No. 74 Boston College
Clemson scored 37 points and gained 426 yards of offense on the road yet still lost by 12 points to Florida State. That’s what happens when your defense allows the opposition to average 8.9 yards per snap. That won’t happen this week.
Clemson 31-14

No. 17 TCU at No. 93 SMU
Here’s an incredible stat (first pointed out by Athlon colleague David Fox): SMU ranks last in the nation in total defense even though the Mustangs did not allow a point in one of its three games. That’s right, SMU is allowing 556.7 yards and 35.7 points per game despite shutting out Stephen F. Austin 52–0 two weeks ago.
TCU 38-13

No. 19 Louisville at No. 96 Southern Miss
These two former C-USA rivals are a combined 4–3. Louisville is 4–0. Southern Miss is 0–3. The Golden Eagles have been brutal on both sides of the ball under first-year coach Ellis Johnson. They rank 115th in the nation in total offense and 104th in total defense.
Louisville 28-7

No. 20 Oregon State at No. 25 Arizona
Expectations were low at Oregon State this season. So naturally, Mike Riley has the Beavers off to a 2–0 start that includes wins against Wisconsin and UCLA. ). Arizona suffered its first defeat of the Rich Rodriguez era on Saturday night, a humbling 49–0 shutout at Oregon. The Wildcats hung around into the second half — they only trailed 13–0 midway through the third — but gave up five touchdowns in the final 22 minutes of the game.
Oregon State 23-17

No. 23 UCLA at No. 99 Colorado
Colorado is back in double-digits in the Athlon Sports 124 after its surprising win at Washington State last Saturday. The Buffaloes had played as poorly as any team in the nation in the first three weeks of the season but somehow found a way to win in Pullman. The winning ways won’t continue.
UCLA 38-13

No. 47 Wisconsin at No. 24 Nebraska
We still don’t know much about Nebraska. The Huskers have defeated three overmatched teams in Lincoln and lost to UCLA in their only game vs. a school from an AQ conference. Even against this soft schedule, Nebraska is having trouble stopping the run. The Huskers have given up 185 yards on the ground to Southern Miss, 355 to UCLA and 148 to Arkansas State. Wisconsin hasn’t been productive on the ground to date, but this is a team that is still capable of running the ball well (we think). 

Nebraska 27-20

No. 28 Boise State at No. 109 New Mexico
Boise State has been held without an offensive touchdown in two of its three games yet is still 2–1 after beating BYU 7–6 last Thursday night. New Mexcio is showing signs of life under first-year coach Bob Davie; the Lobos ended an annoying three-year losing streak to rival New Mexico State with a 27–14 win in Las Cruces last week. I’m sure Walter White was pleased.
Boise State 27-10

No. 60 Arkansas at No. 30 Texas A&M
There are so many words we can use to describe Arkansas’ season to date — debacle, train wreck, dumpster fire, nightmare, etc. One word that can’t be used? Success. Virtually nothing has gone right for the Razorbacks. They are 0–3 vs. FBS opponents, and all three losses have come in the state of Arkansas. Now, John L. Smith takes his show on the road.
Texas A&M 41-20

No. 98 Indiana at No. 31 Northwestern
Northwestern is one of only 15 teams in the nation with a 4–0 record. Three of those wins have come against teams from an AQ conference — Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College. Indiana, meanwhile, has one win vs. an FBS team dating back to the beginning of the 2011 season. That win came in Week 2 against a UMass team that is in its first year in the FBS.
Northwestern 31-23

No. 32 Nevada at No. 106 Texas State
Nevada junior Stefphon Jefferson leads the nation in rushing attempts (122), rushing yards (697) and rushing touchdowns (11). He should run wild this week in San Marcos.
Nevada 41-10

No. 33 Missouri at No. 62 UCF
Missouri finds itself as a three-point underdog on the road to a UCF team that only beat FIU by 13 points last week. The Tigers will be eager to prove that the wrong team is favored.
Missouri 30-28

No. 34 Arizona State at No. 49 California
Unless Zach Maynard, the starting quarterback at Cal, goes down with an injury in the next few days, Arizona State will be facing a team’s No. 1 quarterback for the first time since opening day (vs. Northern Arizona). The Sun Devils played Illinois without Nathan Scheelhaase, Missouri without James Franklin and Utah without Jordan Wynn (who retired from football the week before).
California 27-24

No. 44 Cincinnati vs. No. 35 Virginia Tech (Landover, Md.)
It’s tempting to compare these teams’ common opponent (Cincinnati beat Pitt by 24 points and Pitt beat Virginia Tech by 18 points), but applying the transitive property in college football can be dangerous.

Virginia Tech 27-24

No. 43 NC State at No. 36 Miami (Fla.)
The first thing that comes to mind about Miami football in 2012 is the Canes’ no-show in a 52–13 loss at Kansas State in Week 2. But that’s far from the complete story. Al Golden’s team is 3–1 overall and 2–0 in the ACC with both wins coming on the road. The Canes showed tremendous resolve at Georgia Tech last weekend, rallying from a 36–19 deficit in the second half to defeat the Yellow Jackets in overtime. 

Miami 27-20

No. 118 Middle Tennessee at No. 37 Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech is averaging 42.0 points per game but only has a 2–2 record to show for it — thanks to overtime losses to Virginia Tech and Miami. The Yellow Jackets led Miami last week 36–19 in the second half but surrendered the final 23 points of the game.
Georgia Tech 48-10

No. 52 Texas Tech at No. 39 Iowa State
Keep in mind that the schedule has been ridiculously soft — Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico — but Texas Tech currently ranks first in the nation in total defense (160.3 ypg). That won’t last, especially with Oklahoma, West Virginia, TCU, Kansas State and Texas looming on the Red Raiders’ schedule.
Iowa State 27-23

No. 87 Marshall at No. 40 Purdue
Don’t be surprised if Purdue emerges as one of the better teams in the Big Ten (insert Big Ten joke here). The Boilermakers are 2–1, and their only lose was by three points at Notre Dame.
Purdue 30-17

No. 41 Ohio at No. 124 UMass
Ohio is 4–0 and it’s hard to find a potential loss on the Bobcats’ schedule. UMass is 0-4, and it’s difficult to find a potential win on the Minutemen’s schedule.
Ohio 41-10

No. 46 Louisiana Tech at No. 65 Virginia
Louisiana Tech is 3–0 and has scored over 50 points in all three games. Last week, the Bulldogs disposed of Illinois with surprising ease, beating the Illini 52-24 in Champaign. On a negative note, Tech’s leading rusher, Tevin King, is out for the year after tearing an ACL vs. Illinois.
Louisiana Tech 38-23

No. 101 UNLV at No. 48 Utah State
UNLV suffered a horrible loss in Week 2 (17–14 at home to Northern Arizona), but the Rebels have actually played relatively well in 2012. They have lost two games to AQ conference teams by a combined 11 points (by three to Minnesota in OT and by eight to Washington State), and last week they knocked off Air Force 38–35. Winning in Logan, however, is a tough chore.
Utah State 38-20

No. 50 Minnesota at No. 67 Iowa
It hasn’t exactly been the most difficult slate — and the wins haven’t exactly been dominating — but Minnesota is 4–0 for the first time since 2008. Iowa has played three games vs. AQ conference teams, and all three games have been decided by three points or less. The Hawkeyes beat Northern Illinois by one and lost to Iowa State by three and Central Michigan by one.
Minnesota 21-20

No. 51 ULM at No. 117 Tulane
After opening the 2012 season with three AQ conference teams — and playing quite well in all three — ULM heads to New Orleans to take on a struggling Tulane club. The Green Wave are 0–3 and are coming off a 39–0 loss at home to Ole Miss.
ULM 34-14

No. 53 Western Kentucky at No. 78 Arkansas State
This is a pivotal clash in the Sun Belt. There was no letdown for Western Kentucky last week after its big win at Kentucky. The Hilltoppers pounded Southern Miss 42–17 in Bowling Green to improve to 3–1. Arkansas State is 2–2 but has yet to play a team with comparable abilities. The Red Wolves were big favorites over Memphis and Alcorn State and decided underdogs vs. Oregon and Nebraska.
Western Kentucky 33-30

No. 56 Ball State at No. 104 Kent State
These are two improving programs with outstanding head coaches. Ball State, led by Pete Lembo, is 3–1 with the only loss coming at Clemson. The Cardinals have two wins over AQ conference teams, Indiana and South Florida. Kent State, under the direction of former Ohio State assistant Darrell Hazell is 2–1.
Ball State 33-20

No. 72 Duke at No. 58 Wake Forest
Duke, off to a 3–1 start, appears to be improved, but the Blue Devils have yet to record anything close to a quality win. Wake Forest is also 3–1, and it’s a strange 3–1. The Demon Deacons struggled with Liberty and Army and got blown out (52–0) at Florida State yet beat North Carolina. I smell upset.
Duke 21-20

No. 119 Idaho at No. 59 North Carolina
Idaho made a big move in our weekly rankings, climbing from No. 124 (last) all the way to No. 119. The reason? The Vandals lost in overtime to Wyoming.
North Carolina 41-6

No. 66 Penn State at No. 63 Illinois
Penn State is not a very good team, but the Nittany Lions would be 3–1 if they had a kicker who could make a chip-shot field goal. Illinois has been brutal on defense; the Illini have given up 45 points and 52 points in their two losses (at Arizona State and vs. Louisiana Tech).
Illinois 27-24

No. 73 Toledo at No. 64 Western Michigan
This is a key early season showdown between two teams expectd to be in the hunt for the MAC West title. Western Michigan has played three games vs. AQ conference teams, losing to Illinois (24–7) and Minnesota (28–3) and beating UConn (30–24). Toledo lost in Week 1 in overtime at Arizona. These are two good teams.
Western Michigan 38, Toledo 34

No. 115 Buffalo at No. 68 UConn
As expected, UConn has been very good on defense and very average on offense. The Huskies are 2–2 after losing last week at Western Michigan — their second straight loss to the Broncos.
UConn 30-3

No. 69 Tulsa at No. 97 UAB
Tulsa had a nice win last week, rallying to beat a Fresno State team that had defeated Colorado 69–14 the week before. UAB is 0–3 against a tough schedule. This team isn’t awful.
Tulsa 33-24

No. 94 FIU at No. 76 UL Lafayette
The folks in Lafayette can’t be thrilled that their rivals from the Northeastern part of the state, the ULM Warhawks, have been getting so much national attention.
UL Lafayette 38-30

No. 88 San Diego State at No. 77 Fresno State
With the talent in the state of California, neither of these teams should be ranked so low in our national rankings. Fresno State lost some early season momentum by letting a 13-point first half lead slip away last week at Tulsa.
Fresno State 31-20

No. 95 Central Michigan at No. 79 Northern Illinois
Central Michigan is fresh off its best win of the Dan Enos era, a 32–31 victory at Iowa. Now, we’ll find out if the Chips have staying power. Northern Illinois lost by one point in Week 1 to that same Iowa team but has reeled off three straight since.
Northern Illinois 34-14

No. 85 UTEP at No. 80 East Carolina
East Carolina is struggling on offense without Dominique Davis taking snaps at quarterback. The Pirates rank 118th in the nation in scoring vs. FBS opponents, averaging 13.3 points in three games. The schedule has been tough (South Carolina, Southern Miss and North Carolina, all on the road), but ECU needs to increase its offensive production to be a factor in C-USA East.
East Carolina 21-20

No. 82 San Jose State at No. 89 Navy
San Jose State has won three straight after losing by three points to Stanford in Week 1. The Spartans have scored 38 points or more in all three wins. Navy picked up its first win of the season last week, taking out its early season frustrations on VMI in a 41–3 win. The Middies struggled to score points in their first two games, losses to Notre Dame (50–10) and Penn State (34–7). It will be a bad sign if Navy has trouble moving the ball this weekend.
San Jose State 24-17

No. 86 Troy at No. 121 South Alabama
Troy is 2–2 with two losses (vs. UL Lafayette and Mississippi State) by a combined nine points. The Trojans rolled up 572 yards in the loss to MSU. They should win this game with ease.
Troy 38-13

No. 107 Houston vs. No. 90 Rice
Houston has arguably been the most disappointing team in the nation. Yes, record-setting quarterback Case Keenum is gone, but the Cougars welcomed back 12 starters (including seven on defense) from a team that won 13 games last season. But the 2012 season, under the direction of first-year coach Tony Levine, has been a disaster. Houston has lost all three games, most notably a 30–13 decision at home in Week 1 to FBS upstart Texas State.
Rice 41-37

Rhode Island at No. 92 Bowling Green
Bowling Green looked sharp in a Week 1 loss at Florida but has not played well since. The Falcons struggled at home to beat a bad Idaho team and then lost at Toledo and Virginia Tech by a combined 64–15. Rhode Island is 0–3.
Bowling Green 38-6

No. 113 Colorado State at No. 102 Air Force
It’s an intrastate battle between two struggling programs. Colorado State has dropped three straight since beating Colorado in Week 1. Air Force played well at Michigan in Week 2 but lost to UNLV last weekend. Not good.
Air Force 34-20

Stony Brook at No. 103 Army
Army has scored 77 points in the past two weeks but has nothing to show for it. The Black Knights are 0–3 thanks in large part to a defense that is giving up 491.7 yards and 44.0 points per game.
Army 34-23

No. 105 North Texas at No. 122 FAU
North Texas isn’t bad. The Mean Green are 1–3 but have played relatively well against a tough schedule. Florida Atlantic can catch its breath (to a degree) after playing Georgia and Alabama the past two weeks.
North Texas 30-13

No. 108 Miami (Ohio) at No. 114 Akron
Akron is showing signs of improvement. The Zips, under the direction of Terry Bowden, lost at FIU in overtime in Week 2 and hung with Tennessee until the fourth quarter last weekend in Knoxville.
Akron 28-24

No. 120 Texas-San Antonio at No. 116 New Mexico State
New Mexico State dropped to 1–3 with a disappointing loss at home to rival New Mexico last week. The Aggies were gashed on the ground, giving up 302 yards on 54 carries. UTSA is 4–0 with wins against South Alabama, Texas A&M-Commerce, Georgia State and Northwestern Oklahoma. Not exactly a murderer’s row.
New Mexico State 27-24

Last week: 45-12
Season: 210-49



<p> Predictions on every college football game on the Week 5 schedule. Texas heads to Oklahoma State, Michigan State hosts Ohio State and Tennessee makes the trip to Georgia</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 07:02
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-fantasy-football-start-or-sit-week-4

From now until Week 11, every team will get a one-week break from the playing field, which means you obviously won’t be able to start any of those players that given week. Indianapolis and Pittsburgh are the only ones on bye in Week 4, and while it’s just two teams, it still means some owners are out there will have to do without the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Mike Wallace, Reggie Wayne and others this week. Don’t forget that Heath Miller was the top-scoring tight end in all of fantasy football last week.

So as usual, Athlon Sports is here to help you make those important lineup decisions for your Yahoo!, or ESPN fantasy football league with our weekly Start and Sit suggestions. Keep in mind these are merely our suggestions as the ultimate decision comes down to you, the owner.

Week 4 Positional Rankings

Sneaky Start of the Week
Ben Tate, RB, Houston vs. Tennessee
No, Arian Foster’s not hurt, not that I’m aware of anyways, and yes, I do know he’s the lead horse in the Texans’ backfield. However, that does not mean there’s not enough room for two viable fantasy options, especially considering this Sunday’s match up against Tennessee.

First, the Titans are 29th in the league in rushing defense and are giving up the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. Second, Foster and Tate have shared the load before, and been productive doing so. In Week 2 against Miami, Foster led the way with 28 carries, while Tate got 12, turning them into 74 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 23 yards in that game and has shown himself to be just as reliable as Foster as a receiver.

Last season, Tate scored 9.5 or more fantasy points in eight of the 15 games he played in. Of those eight, three of them came in games in which Foster scored 23.5 or more fantasy points himself. In fact, Foster’s biggest game of the 2011 season was against the Titans in Week 7 when he had more than 115 yards both rushing and receiving and scored three touchdowns (43.9 pts). Despite this, Foster still got 15 carries, which went for 104 yards (10.4 pts).

I’m not saying Foster and Tate are going to run wild like that versus the Titans this time around, although the statistics to this point might suggest otherwise. Rather what I am thinking is that between the Titans’ susceptible rush defense and the Texans’ run-oriented offense, there should be more than enough opportunities to make Tate a very solid flex option this week, if not a borderline RB2, especially if he’s able to find the end zone.

Surprise Sit of the Week
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina at Atlanta
If not for a one-yard touchdown plunge in the third quarter, Newton’s overall line against the Giants last Thursday night would have looked pretty ugly. He completed just 16 of his 30 pass attempts for 242 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. He also was sacked twice and picked up a grand total of five yards on his five other rush attempts.

Prior to the Giants game, Newton had played fairly well. In his first two games, he completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for an average of 227 yards per game. But he had as many interceptions as touchdown passes (two apiece), along with a rushing touchdown and a fumble lost. In total, he currently is No. 18 at his position in fantasy scoring, putting him behind the likes of Michael Vick (and his nine turnovers), second-year signal callers Jake Locker and Christian Ponder, and this year’s No. 1 overall pick, Andrew Luck.

To put it simply, Newton’s fantasy production early on this season is down quite a bit, and I don’t see it getting much better against Atlanta. Last season, Newton scored 78.3 fantasy points through his first three games, which also were the first three games of his NFL career. This season, he’s scored 53.0 fantasy points in his first three games. That’s a difference of 25.3 points or an average of 8.4 points per game.

Then there’s the Falcons defense, which is seventh in the league in pass defense right now and is giving up the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Remember, this is a defense that picked Peyton Manning off three times in the first quarter two weeks ago at home and followed that up by holding Phillip Rivers to just 173 yards through the air, no touchdowns and two interceptions on the road. Newton is still one of the most dangerous players in the league and is always a candidate to break out for a huge game. I just don’t see it happening this week.

Peyton Manning (DEN) vs. Oakland
Yes, I had Manning in the Sit section last week. And even though one could argue he did most of his damage in “garbage” time against the Texans, as the Broncos were trying to come back from a huge deficit, he still delivered. Manning finished with 330 yards, two touchdowns, and most importantly, no interceptions against the Texans, and this week he welcomes Oakland to his new home field. Make that he welcomes with open arms a Raiders defense that’s giving up more than 264 yards through the air and nearly 30 points per game, and has yet to intercept a pass.

Philip Rivers (SD) at Kansas City
Rivers had a forgettable performance last week against Atlanta as he had just 173 yards passing, no touchdowns and threw two picks. His numbers should improve quite a bit this week against Kansas City. While the Falcons are giving up the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, the Chiefs are allowing the third most. The Chiefs have allowed eight touchdown passes and have just one interception in their first three games.

Josh Freeman (TB) vs. Washington
Freeman, like Manning, goes from one side to the other this week if anything because of the opponent. After getting roughed up by Dallas (110 yards, TD, INT, sacked twice) last week, Freeman gets his shot at a Washington defense that’s surrendering the second-most passing yards per game (Tampa is first in this category) and is yielding the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. How bad has it been? Drew Brees, Sam Bradford and Andy Dalton each enjoyed 300-yard, three-touchdown performances against the ‘Skins.

Tony Romo (DAL) vs. Chicago (Monday)
Romo was not able to take advantage of what appeared to be a Start-able situation against Tampa Bay last week, and now finds himself in the exact opposite situation this week. Despite throwing for 283 yards, Romo had just one touchdown and three turnovers (INT, 2 lost fumbles) against the Buccaneers. He could be in for an even rougher Monday night as Chicago is currently sixth in the league in total, rush and pass defense and is giving up the fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks.

Jay Cutler (CHI) at Dallas (Monday)
Cutler was even less impressive than Romo against St. Louis (183 yards, INT) and also faces a much tougher task Monday night against the Dallas defense. The Cowboys are the No. 1 defense in the NFL in yards allowed and are giving up only 137 through the air per game. Pass protection has been an ongoing issue for the Bears, not a good sign for this game, and in his last two games, Cutler has thrown one touchdown pass compared to five interceptions.

Jake Locker (TEN) at Houston
The second-year quarterback had a career day (413 total yards, 2 TD passes) against Detroit last week, so kudos to the kid. But this was against the Lions in a game that was mostly back-and-forth throughout the second half. This week it’s Houston, the No. 2 defense in the league right now and one that’s giving up less than 190 passing yards to the opposition. This also will more than likely be a game in which the Texans will dominate, both on the scoreboard and in terms of time of possession, and one in which I think the Titans will struggle to move the ball. In other words, good luck kid.

Running Backs

BenJarvus Green-Ellis (CIN) at Jacksonville
The Law Firm hasn’t exactly run over the opposition thus far (56 att., 204 yds., 2 TD), but some of that can be attributed to Andy Dalton’s back-to-back 300-yard/3-TD games. Which bring us to this week’s game in Jacksonville. The Jaguars are giving up more than 150 rushing yards per game and the third-most fantasy points to opposing running backs.  So, on paper anyways, this appears to be as good a week as any to give the ball to BJGE early and often and see what he can do.

Ryan Williams (ARI) vs. Miami
The changing of the guard, if you will, as it applies to Arizona’s backfield started last week against Philadelphia and became official earlier this week. It began when Williams got five more carries (13 to 8) that incumbent starter Beanie Wells  against the Eagles and culminated with the Cardinals Wells on injured reserve due to a severe turf toe injury. Wells will be eligible to return in November, but considering Williams averaged 6.4 yards per carry against the Eagles, his starting days may be over. Regardless, Williams should get the bulk of the carries from here out and I for one am very curious to see what he can do against Miami’s defense. The Dolphins have been pretty stingy yardage-wise (75.5 rushing ypg), but they are still in the top half of the league when it comes to fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs.

Jacquizz Rodgers (ATL) vs. Carolina
Even though Michael Turner is still getting the majority of the carries, the Falcons have stayed true to their word about involving Rodgers in their game plan. Rodgers is second on the team in carries (20) and is just one behind No. 3 wide receiver Harry Douglas in targets (8) so far. Last week against San Diego Rodgers got 10 carries (Turner had 12) and caught five passes, one of which went for a touchdown. Carolina is not only giving up the second-most fantasy points to opposing running backs, they also have allowed the most receptions (32) to them. Anyone else notice a trend here?

Chris Johnson (TEN) at Houston
Has it really come to this? Sit the guy who ran for more than 2,000 yards just three seasons ago? The answer is a resounding yes considering Johnson’s pitiful production thus far. For one, the starting quarterback (Jake Locker) has more rushing yards than Johnson. Secondly, does anyone really think it will get any better this week against a Houston defense that’s allowed less than 70 yards rushing per game? To put it another way, the Texans are giving up 3.8 yards per carry, which is tied for the 10th lowest average in the league. That’s still 2.4 yards more than what Johnson (1.4 ypc) is averaging. How far the once mighty have fallen.

New York Giants backfield (NYG) at Philadelphia
Congratulations Andre Brown. You rushed for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns in your first career NFL start. Now go back to the bench. Ahmad Bradshaw is expected to return to his starting role after missing last week’s game with a neck injury, but the Giants also have said that Brown will get his share of touches. Translation: this has all the makings of the recent past when Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs shared carries. Everyone who owned either during that time can recall how much fun that wasn’t. As it applies to the present, consider that this situation could play out in such a way that it’s entirely possible that, for example, Brown could end up with the most carries this Sunday against Philadelphia. That still doesn’t mean, however, that Brown ends up with more fantasy points than Bradshaw, as the latter could take the goal-line work from the former and score from close in or do more damage on the receiving end. What it does mean is this: for now I would keep my distance from either, especially since the Eagles have been decent (103.0 ypg) against the run.

Reggie Bush (MIA) at Arizona and Michael Bush (CHC) at Dallas (Monday)
That’s right, pick a Bush, any Bush, and my advice is to leave him on your bench this week. Reggie left last week’s game due to a knee injury, and while no structural damage was found, he has been limited in practice this week. He is adamant about playing, but he’s not the one who has the final say or will determine how much work he gets if he does see the field against the Cardinals. I’m just not sure he will have enough chances to have that big of an impact, neither for the Dolphins nor your fantasy team.

On the other hand, there’s Michael, who was solid (73 total yards, TD), but certainly not spectacular as the Bears’ starting running back against St. Louis. He also reportedly took some pretty hard hits during that game, which is one reason why the Bears brought in several free agents, including Ryan Grant who ended up signing with Washington, earlier this week. There’s also talk that Matt Forte, the incumbent starter who missed last week because of an ankle injury, may be back on Monday night against Dallas. If he plays, Forte will certainly be limited in terms of workload, but that also means less work for Bush. And speaking of Dallas, the Cowboys are tops in the NFL in total defense, although they are giving up 113 yards on the ground per game. Still, between the punishment Bush has already taken, the chance that Forte returns and takes some touches away from him, and the potential for punishment stemming from the match-up with the Cowboys, that seems to be enough reasons to at least give some pause before putting the other Bush in your starting lineup as well.

Wide Receivers

Jordy Nelson (GB) vs. New Orleans
There’s no denying Jordy Nelson has gotten off to a slow start, with just 13 catches for 167 yards (12.8 ypc) and no touchdowns through three games. However, you could say that about all of Aaron Rodgers’ pass-catchers in general. Regardless, Nelson thrived in home games last season with 42 receptions for 816 yards (19.4 ypc) and 13 touchdowns in eight contests. Green Bay is at home against New Orleans this week. The Saints are last in the NFL in total defense and tied for second-to-last in points (34.0) allowed. Maybe it’s just me, but I think we should give Nelson one more chance this week, don’t you?

Eric Decker (DEN) vs. Oakland
In Denver’s first two games, Decker caught a combined nine passes for 108 yards, or an average of 12 yards per catch. Last week against Houston, who currently ranks fourth in pass defense, Decker hauled in eight passes for 136 yards, which translates into an average of 17 yards per catch. Decker has yet to find the end zone, but there’s a good chance that will change this week as Oakland has not only allowed the seventh-most passing yards, but they have yet to pick off a pass (versus six TD passes allowed) either.

Malcom Floyd (SD) at Kansas City
Floyd signs a three-year contract extension earlier this week and ends up on this week’s Start list. Coincidence? Not really when you consider Floyd is far and away Philip Rivers’ favorite target (23) so far. Staying healthy has really been the biggest strike against Floyd in the past, as he’s showing (13 rec., 227 yds., TD) what he can do when’s he able to stay on the field. Next up for the Chargers, who are looking to bounce back after a disappointing showing against Atlanta, is a Kansas City pass defense that’s allowed eight touchdown passes through the first three games.

Steve Smith (CAR) at Atlanta
Smith may have done the right thing in “scolding” his young quarterback after witnessing his sideline demeanor during last week’s loss to the Giants, as he is the veteran leader of the Panthers. However, call me curious in that I want to see if his public admonishment of Cam Newton has any adverse effect, even if it’s minor, on their on-field chemistry. Also, Atlanta has been pretty tough on opposing wide receivers thus far, surrendering just one touchdown catch in three games.

Danny Amendola (STL) vs. Seattle
Amendola erupted (15 rec., 160 yds., TD) against Washington two weeks ago, only to come back to earth (5, 66) last week against Chicago. Seattle’s secondary is big, athletic, physical and pretty deep and have allowed just two touchdown catches to opposing receivers. Put me in the camp that thinks this game will look a lot more like last week rather than what he was able to do in Week 2.

Golden Tate (SEA) at St. Louis
Yes, Tate was the hero, albeit with an assist from the now-unemployed replacement officials, of Seattle’s improbable (dare I say, unwarranted?) last-second win over Green Bay on Monday night. However, don’t overlook the fact that while he scored two touchdowns, he only has a total of six catches so far, and Russell Wilson (57.3 percent completion rate, 434 yards, 4 TD, INT) hasn’t exactly been lighting it up himself. St. Louis hasn’t been that bad (238 yards per game, 2 TD, 5 INT) against the pass either. To me Tate is a perfect example of a boom-or-bust type of fantasy option, although I would characterize him more as the latter rather than the former.

Tight Ends
Tony Gonzalez (ATL) vs. Carolina
Don’t look now, but the “old” man is showing the young pups how this game is played. The 36-year-old future Hall of Famer, who is the No. 1 tight end in fantasy football, also leads his position in targets (28) and receptions (21), while he is second in receiving yards (214) and tied for second in touchdowns (3). Does anyone see any reason why this won’t continue? Yeah, me neither.

Owen Daniels (HOU) vs. Tennessee
Daniels, and not Andre Johnson, currently leads the Texans in targets with 22, and he’s tied for first with the All-Pro wide receiver in receptions with 13. Now there’s little reason to expect this to continue, but don’t be surprised if the tight end hangs close for at least another week. Tennessee has given up the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends, which includes five touchdown catches in three games.

Brent Celek (PHI) vs. New York Giants
It may seem like I’m picking on Celek, who went from a Sit two weeks ago to a Start last week and now finds himself on the other side again. But I also should point out that the Philadelphia tight end, who leads his position and the Eagles in receiving yards with 258, has yet to cooperate either. He had a big game (8 rec., 157 yds.) against Baltimore in Week 2 and followed that up with a quiet (2, 36) outing against Arizona. As far as this week goes, let’s just say I’m not crazy about the match-up with the Giants and it looks like Jeremy Maclin will be back at wide receiver, whose presence could mean fewer targets for Celek. Then again it wouldn’t shock me if Celek stays true to his pattern, meaning he will buck my prediction for the third straight week and have a big game. So if that happens and you Celek owners decide to not heed my advice here, you can thank me later.

Jason Witten (DAL) vs. Chicago (Monday)
Even though Witten says he’s healthy, it certainly seems like something is amiss with the All-Pro tight end, even if it’s mental and not physical. If that’s the case, I don’t think anyone would fault him, considering what’s he already gone through this season. And if it’s not the case, there must be some other reason for the fact he’s only connected with Tony Romo eight times on 21 targets for 76 yards (9.5 ypc) and no touchdowns. Until he gets a handle on the ball more consistently, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.

Defense/Special Teams

Seattle at St. Louis
Let’s see, the Seahawks sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times on Monday night and gave up one touchdown and two field goals to the Packers’ offense. The day before, Chicago sacked Sam Bradford six times and picked him off twice, returning one of them for a touchdown. The Rams could only manage six points, which came courtesy of two long field goals (46, 56), against the Bears. This week the Rams host the Seahawks. Can you say repeat?

New York Giants at Philadelphia
I expect the Eagles will get a fair share of yards and put some points on the board against the Giants, so in terms of fantasy output for the G-Men on defense/special teams it comes down to three things – sacks, turnovers and TDs. Fortunately for them, the Eagles have turned the ball over a league-high 12 times, have given up seven sacks (tied for 10th) and, for what it’s worth, they have allowed two defensive scores too. I kind of like the Giants’ chances here.

Denver vs. Oakland
Denver’s defense has been fairly solid, but they have been hurt somewhat (8 TD, 2 INT) by the pass. Enter Oakland and Carson Palmer, who is second in the league in pass attempts (128), third in completions (80) and seventh in yards (879). Palmer has only been picked off twice in all of those attempts, so provided he continue to take care of the ball and have the time, I think he will be able to have success through the air against the Broncos. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if this one turned out to be a fairly high-scoring affair.

Detroit vs. Minnesota
The Lions surrendered more than 400 yards of total offense in last week’s loss to the Titans and will face a much better rushing attack this week in the form of Adrian Peterson. Quarterback Christian Ponder has just one turnover (fumble) this season and is currently fifth in the league in passer rating. I just don’t see the Vikings’ offense making things that much easier this week on the Lions’ defense.


Matt Bryant (ATL) vs. Carolina
The Falcons are tied for third in the league in scoring at 31.3 points per game. The Panthers are tied for 23rd in the league in points allowed, giving up 26.3 per game, and also are allowing the second-most fantasy points to opposing kickers. I hope Bryant was expecting to get a lot of rest on the sidelines this week.

Shayne Graham (HOU) vs. Tennessee
The only thing that could prevent this prediction from not coming true as I see it is if Graham ends up kicking just PATs. Either way, I fully expect the Texans to put a lot of points on the board against the Titans.

Mason Crosby (GB) vs. New Orleans
Similar to Graham, I think Crosby will get several chances to show off his leg. It’s just that the majority of the chances will come from the 19-yard-line as an extra point attempt rather than a field goal try from farther out.

Justin Medlock (CAR) at Atlanta
To be honest, I didn’t even know Medlock was the Panthers’ kicker. Then again maybe that’s because he’s attempted just one field goal so far, and it was only from 21 yards out. Not sure fans will see much of him this Sunday in Atlanta either.

— By Mark Ross, published on Sept. 28, 2012

<p> 2012 Fantasy Football: Week 4 Start or Sit</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-week-5-preview-match-ups-upset-picks-and-storylines-watch

The final weekend of college football action in September certainly won't win many awards for the best slate of games. The Week 5 schedule features some intriguing games (Ohio State-Michigan State), but nothing like college football fans experienced last Saturday with Clemson-Florida State, Kansas State-Oklahoma and Notre Dame-Michigan. However, it's the weeks we least expect to be exciting that end up producing several upsets and close calls among teams ranked in the top 25.

Top Storylines to Watch in Week 5

1. Big Ten Showdown: Ohio State vs. Michigan State
It’s been a difficult first four weeks of the season for the Big Ten. With no marquee non-conference win and no team ranked inside of the top 10, the conference is desperately looking for some good news. Saturday’s Week 5 action should help erase some of the bad memories of non-conference play, especially due to the Ohio State-Michigan State match-up. The Buckeyes appear to be the Big Ten’s No. 1 team but struggled to beat UAB last week. Quarterback Braxton Miller is one of the Heisman frontrunners and takes on a Spartan defense ranked sixth nationally in yards allowed. The Buckeyes want to reduce the pressure on Miller, but the supporting cast needs to step up. Michigan State’s offense has been stuck in neutral for most of the year, with running back Le’Veon Bell averaging 152.5 yards per game despite a lackluster passing attack. Although Ohio State doesn’t want Miller to record 17-20 carries, it may be unavoidable against Michigan State. This one will be close because of the defenses, but Miller should be the difference in this game.

2. Is Texas the Big 12’s frontrunner?
Kansas State’s win over Oklahoma last Saturday shook up the Big 12 pecking order. The Sooners were thought to be the frontrunner, but the door is open for Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State to win the conference title. The Longhorns are off to a solid 3-0 start, with their offense averaging 49.3 points a game. Of course, the competition hasn’t been spectacular, but quarterback David Ash is showing signs of progress. The Cowboys enter Saturday's contest with uncertainty under center. Starter Wes Lunt suffered a knee injury against Louisiana-Lafayette and may not be able to play against Texas. If he can’t go, redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh will get the start. Oklahoma State has won the last two games in this series, but the momentum seems to be shifting back to Texas – especially if Ash continues to take care of the ball, and the defense cuts down on the yards and points allowed.

3. A Big (12) Welcome in Morgantown
West Virginia officially joined the Big 12 on July 1, but reality will sink in on Saturday afternoon. The Mountaineers kick off their first season in the Big 12 with a home date against Baylor. And if you like offense, this is definitely one of the weekend’s must-watch games. West Virginia is averaging 47.3 points a game, while Baylor ranks fifth nationally with an average of 51.3 points a game. Although the Mountaineers are stepping into a new conference and a schedule full of different opponents, this offense should feel right at home in the Big 12. Quarterback Geno Smith should have an opportunity to pad his Heisman resume against a Baylor secondary allowing 315 yards per game, while West Virginia’s new 3-4 scheme will get a test from the Bears’ offense. With a road date at Texas next week, this will provide the Mountaineers a barometer of just how their offense and defense stacks up in their new conference.

4. No letdown for Florida State
Let's go ahead and say it: The Seminoles are back. It’s early, so a lot can change in the national title race, but Florida State announced its presence as a BCS Championship contender with a convincing win over Clemson. Now comes the hard part for the Seminoles – avoiding a letdown. South Florida beat Florida State in its only previous match-up in 2009, but this is a case of programs headed in opposite directions. The Bulls are 19-19 since defeating the Seminoles and are off to a disappointing 2-2 start this season. Although Florida State is coming off of a huge victory, there’s not much to suggest South Florida can hang around in this game. The Bulls rank 64th nationally in total defense, and quarterback B.J. Daniels has been inconsistent. The Seminoles may have a sluggish start, but expect them to pull away from South Florida in the second half. 

5. Big Ten Championship Game Preview?
As mentioned previously with Ohio State-Michigan State, the race to win the Big Ten is wide open. With the Buckeyes banned from the postseason, Wisconsin appears to be the frontrunner to claim the Leaders Division title, but the Badgers haven’t looked like a championship team this year. Joel Stave replaced Danny O’Brien as Wisconsin’s starting quarterback and completed 12 of 17 passes for 210 yards against UTEP. Stave’s performance should give the Badgers some confidence on offense, especially as it appears running back Montee Ball will return from the concussion he suffered against the Miners. Nebraska’s defense has struggled to stop the run this year (177 yards per game), but its offense leads the Big Ten in scoring, total and rushing offense. The Badgers got the best of Nebraska last season, but beating the Cornhuskers in Lincoln won’t be easy. Considering both teams will be in the mix to win the Big Ten title, this could be an early preview of the conference title game in Indianapolis in early December.

6. Georgia on upset alert?
The Bulldogs passed their biggest test so far this year, beating Missouri 41-20 in Week 2. Georgia has the pieces to contend for a national title, but this team will be tested over the next couple of weeks with road games at South Carolina and a neutral site meeting with Florida. The Bulldogs are expected to have some reinforcements this week, as safety Baccari Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree are expected to return from a four-game suspension. Rambo’s return to the lineup is huge, especially against a Tennessee offense that leads the SEC in passing yards per game. Although the Volunteers might be able to hang around with their offense, the defense ranks near the bottom of the conference in points and yards allowed, which is bad news against Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and freshman running back Todd Gurley. This still doesn't mean the Volunteers aren't a dangerous opponent for the Bulldogs, especially with next week’s SEC East showdown against South Carolina looming large. 

Under the Radar Match-ups

Western Kentucky at Arkansas State – Louisiana-Lafayette and FIU should both be a factor, but Western Kentucky and Arkansas State are the favorites to win the Sun Belt title. The Red Wolves have been tested in road trips to Nebraska and Oregon, while the Hilltoppers have wins over Kentucky and Southern Miss. Even though this match-up may not have top 25 implications, these two teams are two of the best from the non-BCS ranks.

Louisiana Tech at Virginia – After demolishing Illinois last week, Louisiana Tech is favored to beat Virginia. The Bulldogs lost running back Tevin King with a knee injury in last week’s game, but this offense is loaded with weapons, including receiver Quinton Patton and quarterback Colby Cameron. The Cavaliers have struggled to find their rhythm on offense and can’t afford to fall behind against one of the nation’s top offenses.

Texas Tech at Iowa State – Oklahoma State at Texas and Baylor at West Virginia will draw more national interest, but this match-up could be one of the most intriguing games in Week 5. The Red Raiders lead the nation in total defense and rank second nationally in total offense. However, this will be Texas Tech’s toughest challenge this year, and the Cyclones have beat the Red Raiders two consecutive seasons.

Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech (Landover, Md.) – FedEx Field will host its second college football game this year, as the Hokies and Bearcats meet in Landover, Md. Virginia Tech’s offense ranks 10th in the ACC with 366.3 yards per game, while the Bearcats rank third nationally by allowing only 8.5 points per contest. Tech has struggled to get its rushing game on track, and Cincinnati’s active front seven won’t make it any easier for the Hokies to establish the ground game.

NC State at Miami – With Clemson-Florida State taking center stage in the ACC last week, the Hurricanes’ victory over Georgia Tech was overlooked. Miami is still a young team with a lot of personnel issues. However, if the Hurricanes knock off NC State, it might be time to consider this team as the biggest threat to Virginia Tech in the Coastal title race.

Are These Teams for Real?

Baylor (3-0) – The Bears will get a rude welcome to Morgantown, as West Virginia is ready for its Big 12 debut. Baylor needed strong second halves to put away Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe, but there is still plenty of firepower on offense, led by senior quarterback Nick Florence.

Duke (3-1) – Is this the year the Blue Devils get back to a bowl game? Duke is off to a 3-1 start for the first time since 2008 and this appears to be David Cutcliffe’s best team since he arrived in Durham. A win over Wake Forest this Saturday would put Duke within two wins of getting to a bowl game.

Minnesota (4-0) – The Golden Gophers are off to a good start in coach Jerry Kill’s second season, but they are largely untested. A road trip to Iowa should give us a better gauge of where Minnesota fits into the Big Ten bowl picture.

Five Quarterbacks Under Pressure

David Ash, Texas – Ash is off to a solid start but Saturday’s match-up against Oklahoma State will be his toughest yet.

Tyler Bray, Tennessee – Saturday’s match-up against Georgia is a good barometer test for Tennessee. The Volunteers fell apart in the second half against Florida, but hanging tough against Georgia would be a good sign for Derek Dooley. Bray has thrown 12 touchdowns so far but had his worst game overall against the Gators.

Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State – If the Spartans want to have any shot at beating Ohio State, Maxwell has to play much better than he has through the first four games.

Zach Mettenberger, LSU – Towson won’t give LSU much of a struggle, but it’s important for Mettenberger to build some confidence with a road date at Florida next Saturday.

Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois – Scheelhaase has been dealing with an ankle injury since the season opener and left last week’s loss against Louisiana Tech early. If the Fighting Illini want to win the Leaders Division, Scheelhaase needs to stay healthy and be a difference maker on offense.

Teams Looking to Bounce Back

Arizona – It wasn’t a surprise Arizona lost to Oregon, but the Wildcats had several chances to score and came up empty-handed, losing 49-0 to the Ducks. Arizona hosts rising Oregon State this Saturday, with the Beavers coming off of an impressive win at UCLA in Week 4.

Clemson – The Tigers were unable to capitalize on their halftime lead against Florida State, eventually losing 49-37. If Clemson wants to have any shot at winning the ACC Atlantic, it needs some help in the form of a few losses from the Seminoles in ACC play, but also needs to take care of business on the road against Boston College. 

Georgia Tech – The Yellow Jackets’ blew a 36-19 lead last week against Miami, which dropped Georgia Tech’s ACC record to 1-2 and likely ends any hope it had of winning the Coastal. The Yellow Jackets should get back into the win column with MTSU visiting Atlanta this Saturday.

UCLA – The Bruins suffered their first defeat of 2012, losing 27-20 to Oregon State last Saturday. UCLA shouldn’t have much trouble getting back into the win column this week, as the Bruins will travel to Boulder to take on Colorado.

Desperate for a Victory

Arkansas – Can the Razorbacks stop the downward spiral? Arkansas is in the midst of a three-game losing streak and faces a tough road trip to Texas A&M. The Razorbacks have won the last three match-ups against the Aggies, but have not played in College Station since 1991.

California A 1-3 start with a lackluster win over Southern Utah has Jeff Tedford squarely on the hot seat. However, the Golden Bears can get things going back in the right direction with a win over Arizona State this Saturday.

Iowa – Last week’s loss to Central Michigan isn’t sitting well in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes already have a loss to rival Iowa State this season, and the offense ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring. If Iowa loses to Minnesota this Saturday, Kirk Ferentz’s seat is only going to approach scalding hot levels.

Kentucky – After last week’s performance against Florida, do the Wildcats have any fight left? The good news is quarterback Maxwell Smith should start, even though he is dealing with a separated shoulder. The bad news? Kentucky is a heavy underdog and is playing a top-10 team in South Carolina.

Missouri – The Tigers are in a different situation than most of the teams in this category, but Saturday’s game at UCF is a big one for Missouri. The Tigers were easily handled in a road loss against South Carolina last week and need to build some confidence before getting back into SEC play.

Five Upsets to Watch

Marshall (+17) at Purdue
Here’s a stat that may surprise you: Marshall leads the nation in passing offense with 383.5 yards per game. The Thundering Herd has struggled on defense, but their offense is capable of putting a scare into Purdue. The Boilermakers are 2-1, but the victories have been against Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan.
Prediction: Purdue 31-27

Minnesota (+7) at Iowa
Even though the Golden Gophers are 4-0, there are some doubts about this team, especially with a schedule featuring games against UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse. However, Iowa’s offense is struggling under new coordinator Greg Davis, and the Hawkeyes are coming off of a disappointing loss to Central Michigan. The Golden Gophers have beat Iowa two years in a row, but have not won in Iowa City since 1999.
Prediction: Iowa 27-24

Missouri (+3) at UCF
It’s a little surprising to see Missouri as an underdog, but UCF is a dangerous team. The Knights destroyed Boston College in Orlando last season and hung tough against Ohio State in Columbus earlier this year. The Tigers need to jumpstart their offense, as they managed just 10 points in a loss to South Carolina last week.
Prediction: Missouri 27-24

NC State (+3.5) at Miami
The Wolfpack have flown under the radar since losing to Tennessee in Week 1, and quarterback Mike Glennon will give a porous Miami defense all it can handle. The Hurricanes should score on NC State’s defense, but the edge goes to the team with the better quarterback (Glennon).
Prediction: NC State 27-24

Arizona State (+2) at California
The Sun Devils are a slight underdog for Saturday’s match-up against the Golden Bears, as they have not won at California since 1997. California’s offensive line is giving up four sacks a game, which is bad news against an aggressive Arizona State defense.
Prediction: Arizona State 31-27

Bye Week Regrouping

Auburn (1-3) – The Tigers played LSU tough, but moral victories won’t get it done for Auburn. Expect Gene Chizik and his staff to evaluate and tweak the offense, starting wtih quarterback Kiehl Frazier.

Florida (4-0) – So far, so good for the Gators. Florida has emerged as one of the teams to beat in the SEC East and host LSU on Oct 6.

Michigan (2-2) – Despite their lackluster performances against Alabama and Notre Dame, the Wolverines still remain one of the favorites to win the Big Ten title.

Oklahoma (2-1) – Last week’s loss to Kansas State likely knocks Oklahoma out of the national title race, but the Sooners are still in the mix for the Big 12 title.

Rutgers (4-0) – Starting 4-0 wasn’t an unrealistic expectation in the preseason, but not many predicted Rutgers would win at South Florida and Arkansas. The Scarlet Knights are one of the top contenders for the Big East crown and return to action against Connecticut on Oct. 6.

USC (3-1) – Although Lane Kiffin doesn’t say much about injuries, the off date comes at a good time for the Trojans. Center Khaled Holmes will have nearly two weeks to get healthy, while USC can use the practice time to work on its rushing game.

Utah (2-2) – The Utes are reeling after last week’s loss against Arizona State and host USC next Thursday night. The bye week comes at a good time, especially as Utah looks to get running back John White back to full strength from an ankle injury.

Vanderbilt (1-3) – The Commodores can still reach a bowl game, but the offense needs a spark from Jordan Rodgers or Austyn Carta-Samuels at quarterback.

Injuries to Monitor

Alex Carder, QB, Western Michigan – Carder is one of the MAC’s top quarterbacks, but he will be sidelined indefinitely with a hand injury. Western Michigan takes on Toledo in a critical MAC West game this Saturday.

MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota – A high ankle sprain sidelined Gray against Syracuse, and he’s unlikely to play this Saturday against Iowa. Backup Max Shortell fared well in his absence, so Minnesota’s offense should not suffer much of a drop in production.

Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State – Lunt’s status has been up in the air since he left the Week 3 game against Louisiana-Lafayette with a knee injury. Although the injury isn’t as bad as initially feared, Lunt may not be able to start this week.

Maxwell Smith, QB, Kentucky – Smith was sorely missed in last week’s loss to Florida, but an injured throwing shoulder was simply too much to overcome. The sophomore is expected to return to the lineup against South Carolina this week. However, if he can’t start, Kentucky will have to lean on true freshman Jalen Whitlow under center. 

Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio – Tettleton sat out last week’s win over Norfolk State due to a hand injury. Although he won’t be needed much for Ohio to beat UMass, Tettleton is expected to return to the lineup.

Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss – Whether or not Ole Miss has Wallace under center really won’t matter against Alabama. However, the junior college recruit ranks 34th nationally in passing efficiency and averages 224 yards per game. Despite a shoulder injury, Wallace is expected to play.

Shawne Alston, RB, West Virginia – A thigh bruise limited Alston in last week’s game against Maryland, but he is expected to play in West Virginia’s Big 12 opener this Saturday.

Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin – Ball suffered a concussion in last week’s win over UTEP but is cleared to play for Saturday’s game against Nebraska.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson - Watkins was ruled out for Saturday's game against Boston College due to an abdominal virus. 

Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas - The Razorbacks' 2012 season only got worse last week, as Gragg suffered a knee injury against Rutgers and did not return. He won't play in Saturday's game at Texas A&M.

Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas – The Longhorns could be without one of their top defensive players this Saturday, as Hicks is nursing a hip injury and is questionable to play.

Games to Avoid

Ole Miss at Alabama
The Rebels’ last victory in this series came in 2003 and the last three match-ups between these two teams haven’t been close. Alabama rolled 52-7 in Oxford last year, and it would be a surprise to see Ole Miss keep this one within 25 points. With a bye week coming up, expect Alabama coach Nick Saban to work out all of the kinks before emptying the bench in the fourth quarter.

Towson at LSU
Considering last week’s close call at Auburn, Towson is the perfect Week 5 opponent for LSU. The Tigers should be able to use this game as a tune-up, especially with match-ups against Florida and South Carolina coming up in the next two weeks.

South Carolina at Kentucky
This is a classic case of two programs headed in opposite directions. The Gamecocks could win the SEC title this year, while Kentucky will struggle just to win a game in SEC play. After last week’s dismal showing in the Swamp, the Wildcats need some early momentum in this one – or it could get really ugly.

UCLA at Colorado
Even though the Buffaloes cracked the win column with an upset win over Washington State, they are still one of the worst BCS teams. UCLA suffered its first defeat of the season against Oregon State but should have no trouble putting away Colorado early.

Oregon at Washington State
On paper, this matchup between two of college football’s brightest offensive minds – Washington State’s Mike Leach and Oregon’s Chip Kelly – would figure to provide some fireworks. However, those fireworks may only be from Oregon, as the Ducks pitched a shutout against Arizona last week, while the Cougars are coming off of a disappointing loss to Colorado. This Pac-12 North match-up should get better in the coming seasons, but Oregon simply has too much firepower for Washington State in 2012. 

by Steven Lassan


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Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat After Week 4

<p> College Football Week 5 Preview: Match-Ups, Upset Picks and Storylines to Watch</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:50
All taxonomy terms: Pac-12, UCLA Bruins, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-countdown-no-12-ucla
Visit the online store for UCLA and other editions of the 2012-13 Athlon Sports College Basketball annual.

The first practices of college basketball season begin in mid-October, and Athlon Sports 2012-13 preview annuals are starting to arrive on newsstands all over the country.

To prepare for the start of college basketball season, we will preview one team each weekday, counting down to the first official day of basketball practice on Oct. 15, or for some teams on Oct. 12.

We continue our countdown with a preview of No. 12 UCLA.

The UCLA basketball program was teetering on the edge of an abyss, arms waving, frantically grasping at air for anything, just praying not to fall into obscurity.

A third straight season had ended in frustration, a damaging Sports Illustrated feature article served as a stain on the program, and it appeared Ben Howland, who just four years ago was coming off three straight Final Four appearances, lost control of the program he so cherished.

The vultures had descended, antsy fans who seethed over three aborted championship runs now calling for Howland’s head. Three Final Fours bled into three seasons of misery, two of them ending without even a postseason appearance. Things were crashing in.

And then, with one recruiting class, it’s all roses and sunshine in Tinseltown. Howland and his staff brought in arguably the nation’s top class, led by two of the top five recruits in the country in Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, to unveil in the refurbished Pauley Pavilion. They will join a roster with talent and experience but lacking discipline, with the fate of the season potentially resting on one big man’s broad shoulders.

Suddenly, the abyss does not appear so close.
The big man is Joshua Smith, and he is big. Still big. Very big. As a freshman in ’10-11, he burst onto the scene midway through Pac-10 play, finishing the season at 10.9 points game while averaging almost 22 minutes. By the end of the year, he was routinely scoring in double-figures, including a 16-point, six-rebound performance in a season-ending loss to Florida in the NCAA Tournament.

He lumbered into last season a sleeping giant, heavier than the season before. Smith eclipsed the 26-minute barrier just once as a sophomore, averaging just 17.2 minutes for the year, his season ending with a nine-minute, seven-point, five-foul performance in a loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament. Done in by a soft midsection and constant foul trouble because of it, Smith’s minutes slipped, his performance dipped, Howland flipped and the Bruins flopped.

If he comes back for Year 3 leaner and meaner, UCLA could contend for the Final Four.

If not, the Bruins will have to count on coveted freshman recruit Tony Parker, as backup center Anthony Stover continues to be sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Either one of the Wear twins — David or Travis — could fill in sparse minutes at the 5, but both are expected to share the power forward duties. They combined for 54.6 minutes per game last season as sophomores after transferring from North Carolina, Travis taking the lead in scoring (11.5 ppg to 10.2) while David maintained the edge in rebounding (6.3 rpg to Travis' 5.9).

And then there’s Muhammad, almost unanimously considered one of the top two recruits in the country, alongside Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel. Muhammad is a dangerous and effective scorer who will play extensively at the 3, and he should contend for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors. The question is when Muhammad will first play for UCLA. The NCAA is investigating his amateur status. He did not join the Bruins on their exhibition tour in China.

Related: Arrival of Muhammad, Anderson leads makeover at UCLA
Larry Drew II is eligible for a one-year rental after spending the first two-plus seasons at North Carolina. Drew averaged nearly six assists per game as a sophomore before his role was reduced with the emergence of Kendall Marshall.

While Drew is the more traditional point guard and will likely defend the opponent’s point guard, Anderson could become the primary ball-handler early in his career. The prodigious talent is a gifted passer and uses his size to his advantage. At 6-9, he can play three or four positions, and Howland intends to use him as such, maximizing matchups against much smaller opponents.

Drew and Anderson will often be on the court together — Drew, Anderson, Muhammad, Travis Wear and Smith is the likely starting off point — but Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell will play major roles as well. Lamb, a junior, struggled to find confidence in his offensive game last year, shooting just 40.8 percent while averaging 9.0 points. Powell was a key cog defensively for the Bruins and if he becomes more polished offensively, he could see significant time.
The pieces are in place for a UCLA revival in 2012-13. After escaping the miserable digs of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, they return home to an impatient fan base, frothing at the mouth in anticipation. The talent is in place, recruiting clicking on all cylinders and a pair of freshmen are expected to propel the Bruins back into title contention.

They are no longer staring down at the abyss, afraid to make one wrong move. No, they are looking up.


Athlon College Basketball Countdown So Far:
20. Florida

19. Notre Dame

18. Memphis
17. Baylor
16. Missouri

15. San Diego State

14. North Carolina

13. UNLV

<p> College Basketball Countdown: No. 12 UCLA</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:30
Path: /college-football/georgia-bulldogs-vs-tennessee-volunteers-preview-and-prediction

The SEC never disappoints for intriguing matchups. Even though Week 5 isn’t the best slate of games, Georgia-Tennessee is a contest with national title and SEC Championship implications. The Bulldogs can keep their national title hopes alive with a victory over the Volunteers, but they can’t afford to take Derek Dooley’s team lightly. Georgia has a road date against South Carolina next week, so there’s always a look-ahead factor. The Volunteers are 3-1, but Dooley still has plenty of work to do. Tennessee struggled against Akron last week, while the defense is far from a dominating unit.

The Bulldogs have won three out of the last four games in this series, including a 41-14 blowout victory in 2010. Tennessee has struggled to find success in the SEC recently, winning only one game in conference play last season and three contests in 2010. This matchup won’t make-or-break Dooley’s future, but the Volunteers need to show that the gap between this team and the rest of the SEC is closing.

Four Storylines to Watch in Georgia vs. Tennessee

Suspended players?
Georgia has allowed at least 20 points three times this season but held Vanderbilt to a field goal in last week’s victory. The Bulldogs should have one of college football’s top defenses, but this unit ranks 43rd nationally in yards allowed after four weeks. However, this defense should have a few reinforcements on the way, as linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Bacarri Rambo are expected to return after missing the first four games due to a suspension. The return of Rambo is especially important for the Bulldogs’ secondary, as it looks to slow down Tennessee’s passing attack, which is ranked No. 1 in the SEC.

Tennessee’s passing offense against Georgia’s defense
While getting Rambo back in the mix is a key part of Georgia’s defensive plan to stop Tennessee, the Bulldogs will need a little extra help. The Volunteers have two dynamic playmakers at receiver – Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson – and a dependable tight end in Mychal Rivera. Bray is completing 63.5 percent of his throws and has tossed only three picks this year. Georgia needs to counter with pressure, especially from All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones. The Bulldogs are averaging two sacks per game but need to get more pressure on Bray to throw off the timing of the offense. If the Volunteers can protect the junior quarterback, they will have opportunities to hit big plays. However, if Georgia gets to Bray, it should force a few sacks and turnovers.

Aaron Murray against Tennessee’s secondary
Murray is off to a fast start this season, throwing for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns through the first four weeks. The junior has been one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, and Tennessee’s secondary will have its hands full trying to stop Georgia’s passing attack. The Volunteers rank 66th nationally against the pass, but Akron had some success moving the ball through the air last week. Not only will Tennessee’s secondary have to step up, the pass rush has to be more active. The Volunteers are averaging only 1.3 sacks per game, which won’t get it done on Saturday. If Murray has enough time, he will burn Tennessee’s secondary for 275-300 yards.

Can Tennessee establish its rushing attack?
In order to win games in the SEC, you have to be able to run the ball. So far, that’s been an issue for Tennessee. The Volunteers rank eighth nationally in passing offense but struggled to find any production on the ground against Florida. Putting up numbers against Akron and Georgia State is one thing, but it’s tough sledding to run the ball against Florida and Georgia in the SEC. Running back Rajion Neal is off to a good start, rushing for 356 yards on 80 carries. Neal doesn’t need 150 yards, but he has to help Tennessee’s offense find some balance. 

Final Analysis

With a huge game against South Carolina next week, Georgia has to be careful not to overlook Tennessee. However, all of the matchups in this game suggest the Bulldogs should win comfortably. Quarterback Aaron Murray is off to a great start, while freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall should pound away at the Volunteers’ defense. With Rambo and Ogletree likely returning for the defense, the Bulldogs should be able to cut their averages on points and yards allowed.

While Tennessee may be able to move the ball, the lack of a consistent running game and difference makers on defense will allow Georgia to pull away in the second half.

Prediction: Georgia 34, Tennessee 20 

by Steven Lassan


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<p> Georgia Bulldogs vs. Tennessee Volunteers Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:25
Path: /college-football/nebraska-cornhuskers-vs-wisconsin-badgers-preview-and-prediction

With Ohio State ineligible to win the Big Ten title, it’s not crazy to think Saturday’s matchup between Wisconsin and Nebraska could be a preview of the conference’s title game in early December. The Badgers dominated last season’s matchup, winning 48-17 in Madison. In last year’s game, Russell Wilson threw for 255 yards, while Wisconsin gashed Nebraska for 231 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

There’s plenty of differences for both teams since last season’s meeting, and both have experienced some early turmoil. Wisconsin fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson after a slow start, while Nebraska coach Bo Pelini left the game against Arkansas State due to illness and its defense isn't playing at a high level. However, the Cornhuskers are in a more stable situation going into Big Ten play, especially since the Badgers are still adjusting to the changes on the coaching staff.

Four Storylines to Watch in Nebraska vs. Wisconsin

Can Wisconsin get its ground game on track?
Was last week’s performance against UTEP a sign of things to come for the Badgers’ rushing attack? Wisconsin recorded a season high of 213 yards against the Miners, with Melvin Gordon and James White leading the way with Montee Ball sidelined due to a concussion. Ball is expected to return this Saturday, and the senior should be able to find some rushing lanes against a Nebraska defense that ranks 86th nationally against the run. Although quarterback Joel Stave played well in his first start last week, Nebraska would like to load up the box and force the young quarterback to win. It will be important for Ball, Gordon and White to get yardage on the early downs to keep Stave out of third-and-long situations. Which brings us to the next question…

How much can the Badgers ask of Stave?
Wisconsin was looking for a spark when it decided to bench Danny O’Brien in favor of Stave. O’Brien never seemed to find his rhythm in the Badgers’ offense, which opened the door for Stave to start against UTEP. The redshirt freshman came to Madison as a walk-on but played well against the Miners and should give the coaching staff confidence for Saturday night’s game. Another good sign for Wisconsin’s offense was the return of Jared Abbrederis last week, who caught six passes against UTEP and is one of the Big Ten’s best receivers. Stave won’t be asked to throw for 300 yards, but he needs to get off to a good start. The Cornhuskers rank 20th nationally in pass defense but are averaging four sacks per game. Nebraska wants to force the Badgers to lean on Stave to win, which is why Wisconsin needs to establish balance will be critical on Saturday night.

Can Wisconsin slow down Taylor Martinez?
The competition hasn’t been overwhelmingly strong, but the Cornhuskers lead the Big Ten in total and scoring offense, while ranking in the top 10 nationally for both categories. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is off to a hot start, throwing for 878 yards and nine touchdowns, while adding 191 yards and two scores on the ground. The junior quarterback is a much-improved passer and should test a Wisconsin secondary that is allowing 245.3 yards per game. In last year’s matchup, Martinez threw three interceptions and completed 50 just percent of his throws. Big Ten teams considered Martinez more of a threat on the ground in recent years, but that’s no longer the case. Wisconsin hasn’t generated much of a pass rush this season, and if Martinez gets time, the junior will have a chance to pick apart this secondary.

The turnover battle
It seems cliché to say it, but the turnover battle will be crucial in this game. The Badgers have lost only five turnovers but have forced only one this year. Nebraska is tied for ninth in the Big Ten with nine turnovers lost but has forced seven on defense. Although Stave wasn’t bad in his first start last week, Nebraska’s defense will have chances to add to their turnover total.

Final Analysis

Expect revenge to be on Nebraska’s mind on Saturday night. The Cornhuskers were thoroughly embarrassed in last year’s game against Wisconsin, but the tables are turned in 2012. Nebraska is the better team, and running back Rex Burkhead showed no ill-effects in his return from a knee injury in last week’s game against Idaho State. The Badgers should be able to run the ball against the Cornhuskers’ front seven, but Stave will have to make plays in order to give his team a chance to win.

Wisconsin seems to have things going back in the right direction, but it’s a lot to ask Stave in his second career start to win in Lincoln.

Prediction: Nebraska 31, Wisconsin 20

by Steven Lassan


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<p> Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Wisconsin Badgers Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:15
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-mountaineers-vs-baylor-bears-preview-and-prediction

Saturday marks a new era in West Virginia football. The Mountaineers technically joined the Big 12 in July, but reality will sink in with Baylor visiting Morgantown. West Virginia is off to a hot 3-0 start, which includes wins over Marshall, James Madison and Maryland. Although the schedule hasn’t been that difficult, the Mountaineers’ offense looks to be in midseason form, and the defense is making progress under new co-coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson.

Replacing Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III was no easy task, but Baylor remains a threat to win the Big 12 title. New quarterback Nick Florence is off to a good start, and the talent level has been on the rise during Art Briles’ tenure. The Bears dodged a bullet the last two weeks, as they trailed FCS opponent Sam Houston State in Week 3 and held off a pesky Louisiana-Monroe team for a 47-42 victory in Week 4.

Five Storylines to Watch in Baylor vs. West Virginia

1. Can West Virginia establish its ground attack?
With quarterback Geno Smith and one of the nation’s top receiving corps, the rushing attack is almost an afterthought. However, with running back Shawne Alston dealing with a thigh injury against Maryland, the Mountaineers managed only 25 rushing yards on 25 attempts. Alston is expected to play, and Andrew Buie (144 yards, one touchdown) is having a nice season so far. Dustin Garrison suffered a significant knee injury in Orange Bowl workouts last year but had two carries in the win over Maryland. It’s not critical for West Virginia to rush for 200 yards, however, Baylor is allowing 177.7 yards per game on the ground, and the Mountaineers need to establish some balance to reduce the pressure on Smith.

2. Will Baylor be able to get stops on defense?
Veteran coordinator Phil Bennett is a well-respected defensive coach, but the numbers haven’t been pretty under his watch. Baylor ranked 116th nationally in total defense last season and allowed 37.2 points per game. So far this year, the Bears are allowing 492.7 yards and 29.7 points per game. West Virginia’s passing attack has been on fire through the first three games of the season, and it will be impossible for Baylor to completely slow down Geno Smith and his receivers. However, the Bears need to generate a pass rush, as well as force a few turnovers. Baylor ranks second in the Big 12 with 10 turnovers gained through three weeks, but the pass rush has been relatively quiet (1.7 sacks per game).

3. What should we expect from West Virginia’s defense?
As mentioned previously, the Mountaineers’ defense is still a work in progress. West Virginia has allowed more than 20 points twice this season, which will only climb now that the heart of the Big 12 schedule has arrived. The Mountaineers rank 103rd nationally against the pass and have yet to be tested against some of the top offenses in college football. Marshall’s Rakeem Cato threw for 413 yards in the opener, while Maryland freshman quarterback completed 20 of 29 throws for 305 yards in last week’s game. Baylor’s Nick Florence will be toughest test for West Virginia’s secondary, especially with two All-Big 12 candidates at receiver in Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese. Both players are averaging over 20 yards per catch, while Levi Norwood and Lanear Sampson shouldn’t be overlooked.

4. Will Baylor quarterback Nick Florence get off to a slow start once again?
Although the Bears won last week’s game against Louisiana-Monroe, Florence’s slow start has to be a concern for the coaching staff going into Saturday’s game. The senior threw two picks in the first quarter, and even though Baylor has a lot of firepower on its sideline, it cannot afford to fall too far behind West Virginia. Florence doesn’t have Griffin’s athleticism, but he’s not a statue either. In last week’s game, the senior rushed for 55 yards and has 159 on the season. Don’t be surprised if Baylor gets Florence into the game with a few runs, especially if the passing game stalls out early in the first quarter.

5. How many times will West Virginia WR Tavon Austin touch the ball?
In last week’s win over Maryland, Austin was the team’s top playmaker, catching 13 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns. He also recorded two carries for four yards and had four overall returns for 42 yards. There’s no question Austin is one of the nation’s most dynamic playmakers with the ball in its hands, and Baylor can expect a few reverses or handoffs to the senior. Austin is as dangerous as anyone in the nation with the ball in the open field, but junior Stedman Bailey shouldn’t be overlooked on the outside. The Bears need to find a way to keep Austin in check but also not allow Bailey to surpass the 13 catches for 173 yards and three scores he recorded against James Madison.

Final Analysis

Is this the start of a special season for West Virginia? The Mountaineers are a legitimate contender for the national championship, and their road to a potential spot in the BCS title game begins on Saturday against Baylor. West Virginia’s offense is deadly, but it won’t sneak up on any Big 12 teams this year, especially considering Oklahoma State and Texas Tech run similar variations.

If you like offense, this will be the game to watch this Saturday. Both teams should have no trouble moving the ball, but it’s hard to pick against West Virginia at home. The Mountaineers’ defense will give up a lot of yards but finds a way to force a turnover or key play late to seal the victory, while quarterback Geno Smith pads his Heisman stats with another game of 300+ passing yards.

Prediction: West Virginia 41, Baylor 31

by Steven Lassan


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<p> West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Baylor Bears Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:03
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-buckeyes-vs-michigan-state-spartans-game-preview-and-prediction

The Big Ten has an easy target for criticism through the first four weeks of the season. The conference doesn’t have a team ranked inside of the top 10 and the lack of a marquee win in non-conference play has been a black eye. However, Week 5 brings a much-needed change of scenery for all 12 teams. Conference play begins this Saturday and there are a few games that will draw national interest, which should help stop the bleeding from the awful start to the season.

Ohio State is the Big Ten’s only undefeated ranked team and is arguably the best team in the conference. Michigan State is off to a 3-1 start, with the only defeat coming to Notre dame. However, the Spartans looked sluggish in wins over Boise State and Eastern Michigan.

Five Things to Watch in Ohio State vs. Michigan State

1. Will Ohio State stop Le’Veon Bell?
Expect the Buckeyes to employ a simple gameplan on defense this Saturday. Ohio State will load the box to stop Bell, which will force Michigan State to lean on quarterback Andrew Maxwell. Bell rushed for 210 yards in the win over Boise State and 253 against Eastern Michigan but was held in check against Notre Dame (77 yards). The Buckeyes rank 33rd nationally against the run and only one opponent has managed more than 150 rushing yards against them this year (California, 224). Ohio State’s defensive line is one of the toughest in college football, especially with 322-pound tackle Johnathan Hankins in the middle. If the Buckeyes stop Bell, Michigan State will have a hard time moving the ball on Saturday afternoon. Which brings us to our next question…

2. Is this the game Andrew Maxwell steps up for Michigan State?
Replacing Kirk Cousins was no easy task, but most expected Maxwell would play better through the first four games of the season. The junior is completing 56.6 percent of his throws and has failed to eclipse more than 200 yards in each of his last two starts. Maxwell hasn’t thrown an interception since the season opener, but his performances have been uninspiring so far. He can’t be blamed for all of the woes in the passing game, especially with a revamped receiving corps that could feature two sophomore starters on Saturday. With the Buckeyes loading up to stop Bell, Maxwell will need to have the best game of 2012 in order to lead Michigan State to victory.

3. Can the Buckeyes take some of the workload off Braxton Miller?
As expected, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has been a perfect fit in Urban Meyer’s spread offense. The sophomore has rushed for 441 yards and seven touchdowns while throwing for 754 yards and seven scores this year. Despite his strong start, the Buckeyes want to reduce his workload. Miller is averaging 17 rushes a game and may not last a full season at this pace. The sophomore is still developing as a passer but has thrown for 754 yards and seven touchdowns. Michigan State’s defense leads the Big Ten in total, scoring and rush defense so far this year and ranks 13th nationally against the pass. Miller needs to make a few big plays with his legs, but he also has to have some help from the supporting cast. Running back Jordan Hall has been steady in his first two games back from a foot injury, recording 192 yards and two receptions. Hall’s emergence should be a huge positive for Ohio State’s offense, and Carlos Hyde could return from injury this week. With Michigan State’s defense looking to stop Miller, it’s up to Hyde and Hall to step up on the ground.

4. Who will win the battle in the trenches?
Although Braxton Miller needs his supporting cast to step up, and Le’Veon Bell has to have more help from Andrew Maxwell, neither player will have much of an opportunity to succeed if the offensive lines don’t perform. Ohio State’s line entered the year as a question mark and has allowed nearly two sacks a game. Michigan State’s front five is allowing just one a game, but four came against Notre Dame. Although senior Nathan Williams has been dealing with the effects from knee surgery, the Buckeyes still have plenty of talent up front, including Johnathan Hankins at tackle and John Simon at end. Both players will have opportunities to take over the game this Saturday. Michigan State’s defensive line is stocked with talent, including All-American candidate William Gholston. End Marcus Rush is another player to watch (three tackles for a loss), while there’s plenty of size on the interior. This will be the toughest challenge for Ohio State’s offensive line and could be the perfect opportunity for Gholston to get on track this year.

5. Special teams
With Saturday’s matchup is expected to be a close one, a play on special teams could decide the outcome. Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy has connected on 7 of 11 attempts but is just 3 of 7 from 30-49 yards. Ohio State kicker Drew Basil hit his only attempt of the season, while punter Ben Buchanan is averaging 41.3 yards per punt. In last week’s win over UAB, the Buckeyes had a punt that was blocked and returned for a score. Can Michigan State find something on tape that UAB was able to exploit? Considering this game probably won’t be decided until deep in the fourth quarter, one mistake on special teams could be very costly.

Final Analysis

With a light week of games this Saturday, Ohio State-Michigan State has a chance to be the best game on the slate. The Buckeyes have won seven out of the last eight contests in this series, with the Spartans winning 10-7 in Columbus last year. Points should be at a premium in this matchup, with Braxton Miller outdueling Anddrew Maxwell to earn a hard-fought win for Ohio State.

Ohio State 23, Michigan State 20

by Steven Lassan


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<p> Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan State Spartans Game Preview and Prediction</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/college-football-betting-against-spread-week-5

Every Friday for entertainment purposes only, I will bring you my top college football picks against the spread. I do not condone, approve or encourage gambling on sports in any way. But if you are a fan of football — college or pro — and you don't think gambling has played a huge role in the growth and popularity of the sport, then you are simply being ignorant. And behind closed doors, the powers that be understand the impact betting has had on the game of football.

2012 Record Against The Spread: 17-14
Last Week: 2-4

Note: All lines are as of date of publication

Clemson (-9.5) at Boston College
The Tigers had two double-digit leads in the second half over Florida State on the road, so the only reason this line is so small has to be the “letdown” factor. The Tigers crushed the Eagles 36-14 last fall as Dabo Swinney’s team is vastly superior at basically every position. Boston College has allowed 502 yards rushing in two games against FBS opponents so Andre Ellington and Tajh Boyd should find plenty of space in this one. Prediction: Clemson (-9.5)

Minnesota (+7) at Iowa
The Gophers haven’t won in Iowa City since 1999, but have won the last two in this series. In fact, the one-point win over the Hawkeyes last season kick-started the Jerry Kill era in the Twin Cities. Minnesota has won five straight games and, while the Gophers may not win, they will certainly keep it close against a team that is teetering on the brink of self-destruction. Quarterback play for Iowa has been atrocious as the league’s worst scoring offense has accounted for one passing touchdown all season. Iowa may win, but it will be close — like the four total points separating these two since 2010. Prediction: Minnesota (+7)

Nevada (-19.5) at Texas State
The Wolfpack has scored at least 31 points in all four games and has put up 104 points in the last two games. They are averaging 317.8 yards rushing per game and destroyed Hawaii by 45 points last weekend. While Texas State has been sneaky good, like beating Houston in Week 1, they are still getting acclimated with big boy football. Good luck stopping the Pistol. Prediction: Nevada (-19.5)

Ohio State (+3) at Michigan State
These might be the best two teams in the Big Ten. These might be the best two coaches in the Big Ten. And these might be the best two defenses in the Big Ten. But there is one huge difference between these two teams: Quarterbacks. Braxton Miller has been special, accounting for 14 total TDs and 1,195 yards of offense. Andrew Maxwell has been a liability, accounting for 3 total TDs and 851 yards of offense. Miller is the difference. Prediction: Ohio State (+3)

Texas (-1.5) at Oklahoma State
The Longhorns appear to be motivated this season and the offensive statistics play that out. Texas averaged 28.1 points and 392.5 yards per game on offense last season. This season the 'Horns have posted 49.3 points and 514.3 yards per game through three contests thus far. The play of quarterback David Ash has been the difference. Oklahoma State, while still potent on offense, will be asking a freshman — either JW Walsh or Wes Lunt — to defeat one of the most talented defenses in the land. After two losses at home to Brandon Weeden, the Burnt Orange will be fired up for revenge on Saturday. Prediction: Texas (-1.5)

Indiana (+11) at Northwestern
The Wildcats are 4-0 in the standings and 4-0 against the spread in 2012. This offense is beginning to round into form with a power rushing game now at its disposal. And since Week 1, the defense has shown marked improvement — from 596 total yards allowed in a Week 1 to less than 318 in each of the last three games. Against the Hoosiers last fall, Northwestern won by 21 while scoring 59 points. This fall should feature a similar outcome. Prediction: Northwestern (-11)

Baylor (+11.5) at West Virginia
The Mountaineers have been great on offense and not so great on defense. West Virginia is ranked 74th in total defense and is 52nd in scoring defense — against Marshall, James Madison and Maryland. Meanwhile, Baylor has been just as electric on offense — try 51.3 points per game and 568.7 yards per game — in three games. Look for a high-scoring, close game that WVU wins by one score. After all, this is the Mounties first-ever taste of Big 12 action. Prediction: Baylor (+11.5)

Texas Tech (-3) at Iowa State
The Red Raiders claim the nation’s No. 1 defense at an absurd 160.3 total yards allowed per game. But these numbers are a mirage — they did it against Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico — for a team that allowed 39.3 points per game last season. Iowa State has a salty defense that destroyed Tech 41-7 last year in Lubbock and returns largely intact. This unlikely battle of unbeatens should go the way of the home team. Prediction: Iowa State (+3)

Others I like: 

South Carolina (-20.5) at Kentucky
NC State (+3) at Miami
Wisconsin (+11.5) at Nebraska
Central Michigan (+11.5) at Northern Illinois
San Diego State (+7) at Fresno State

2012 Trends Against the Spread:

4-0 ATS 3-1 ATS 1-3 ATS 0-4 ATS
Arizona St (3-0-1) Akron Auburn Arkansas
Ball St Duke Bowling Green Houston (0-3)
Fresno St Florida Cal Iowa
UL-Monroe (3-0) Georgia Tech Colorado Miami (Ohio)
Northwestern Kansas St Colorado St Southern Miss (0-3)
Oregon St (2-0) Minnesota E. Michigan Virginia (0-3-1)
Purdue (3-0) Ole Miss Idaho Washington St
San Jose St Nebraska Kentucky Wisconsin
Texas Tech (3-0) Notre Dame UMass  
UT-San Antonio (2-0) Ohio Memphis  
Utah St Penn St Michigan  
Western Kentucky South Carolina Michigan St  
  Toledo South Florida  
  Troy USC  
  UCLA Syracuse  
  UNLV Tennessee  
    Virginia Tech  

- by Braden Gall


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<p> College Football Betting Against the Spread: Week 5</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /nfl/nfl-week-4-under-pressure-michael-vick-chris-johnson-drew-brees

Each week, Athlon Sports will highlight the three most important names in the NFL. Our editors debate which player must play his best this weekend.

Who needs to step up the most in Week 4: Michael Vick, Chris Johnson or Drew Brees?

Mark Ross, Athlon Sports: Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia
The Eagles are 2-1, so everyone’s happy in The City of Brotherly Love, right? Not so much. The Eagles have been out-scored by 19 points. After posting consecutive one-point victories over the Browns and Ravens to start the season, they got thoroughly out-played by the Cardinals last week, losing 27-6.

What’s more Andy Reid has spent part of this week backtracking/clarifying statements he has made regarding Vick and his job security. That’s what happens when you are currently sporting a 2.3-to-1 turnover-to-touchdown ratio.

At first glance, it appears that Vick, who is third in the NFL in passing yards with 905, is off to a good start throwing the ball. That is until you find out he’s completing just 55.2 percent of his passes (25th in the league), and he’s thrown twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdown passes (three). Add in his three fumbles lost, and he’s responsible for nine of the team’s NFL-worst 12 turnovers. Put it all together and he’s 29th in the league in passer rating at 66.3. Not exactly the type of production you want from your $100-million man, right?

That said, the Eagles can make a huge statement this Sunday when they host the Giants, their division rival and the defending Super Bowl champions. Vick has had his share of success in his career against the G-Men. He holds a 5-2 record, has completed better than 60 percent of his passes and thrown for five touchdowns versus just three interceptions. He’s also rushed for 381 yards (6.8 ypc) and four touchdowns in those games.

To be fair, the offensive line, which has given up nine sacks already, needs to do a better job protecting Vick. Also wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson have both either missed games or been limited by injuries early on, so you could say Vick has yet to have his full complement of weapons. Still in the NFL, it all comes down to the quarterback and it’s up to Vick to silence the critics and put an end to any doubts about his status as the starter. Otherwise, it won’t just be his job security that becomes a hot topic of discussion, right Andy?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
Saints quarterback Drew Brees set a new NFL all-time record with 5,476 passing yards last season to go 46 touchdowns passes, and New Orleans finished with a 13-3 record and an NFC South title. However after an offseason bounty scandal that resulted in the suspension of head coach Sean Payton and others, the Saints have shockingly equaled their loss total of last year. Brees’ 904 passing yards and seven scores are solid numbers through three games, but he has already thrown five interceptions and been sacked seven times. The New Orleans defense and offensive line have had major issues this season, but it will have to be the All-Pro signal caller that leads the team out of its current hole if the Saints are going to salvage the 2012 campaign.

The grind gets tougher this week, as the Saints travel to Lambeau Field to meet the 1-2 Packers. The two NFC stalwarts combined for only four losses during the 2011 regular season but have five defeats this year. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is also under pressure this week, but Brees and the Saints offense must find a way to recapture some of last year’s magic in Wisconsin on Sunday. With weapons like Marques Colston and Lance Moore on the outside and elite tight end Jimmy Graham, New Orleans still has a shot to outscore its opponents. But since 1990, only three teams that started the NFL season 0-3 have made the playoffs. That’s a daunting statistic for Brees and company as they head to Green Bay this weekend.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall): Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee
On Sept. 1, 2011, the Tennessee Titans made Chris Johnson the highest paid running back on the planet by paying him $53.5 million over four years with $30 million guaranteed. Since being drafted in 2008, Johnson rushed for an NFL-best 4,598 yards on 925 carries, caught 137 passes for 1,008 yards receiving and scored 38 total touchdowns in 47 games. That is 5.0 yards per carry and 119.2 yards from scrimmage per game. The Titans went 13-3 in his rookie season and went 27-21 overall in that span.

In 19 games since the contract was signed, Johnson has rushed for 1,092 yards on 295 carries for an average of 3.7 yards per attempt and has scored four total touchdowns. Clearly, the $50-million man has mailed it in since signing his big contract.

The Titans tailback has been completely uninspired this fall, averaging 1.4 yards per carry (33 att., 45 yards) with nary a trip to paydirt in three games. Jake Locker is the team’s leading rusher currently.

After starting 1-2, the Titans go on the road to face the unbeaten Houston Texans in a huge divisional contest this weekend and Johnson needs to revert to his CJ2K form ASAP. In fact, the Titans will play three of the next four on the road with Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Minnesota coming up after the trip to Texas.

Locker appears to be the long-term solution at quarterback for the Titans, but if this team wants to challenge the Texans in the AFC South, it has to get production from its rushing attack.


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<p> NFL Week 4 Under Pressure: Michael Vick, Chris Johnson, Drew Brees</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/kansas-state-football-where-does-bill-snyder-rank-among-all-time-coaches

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has to be considered one of college football's best coaches. Snyder is credited with a "Miracle in Manhattan," turning the Wildcats into a consistent winner and a top-10 team in some seasons. After three years in retirement, Snyder has returned to the sidelines and has Kansas State back in contention for a Big 12 title. 

Where does Bill Snyder rank among all-time coaches? 

Coach Bobby Ross, former head coach of Maryland, Georgia Tech and Army and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
I got to know Bill some years back when I was an NFL head coach for the Chargers.  He brought his coaching staff to study what we were doing in San Diego and exchanged ideas with him and his staff.  I was very impressed by him and have followed his career since that time. Bill is a no-nonsense type of coach and a great communicator. He built the program from the bottom up.  They were at ground zero when he got there in Manhattan.  And not only did he do it once, he went back a few years ago and has Kansas State playing like a top ten team again. On our Legends Poll weekly conference call, R.C. Slocum said, "I think Bill Snyder ought to be Coach of the Century!"   I would rank him up near the top as well.

David Fox (@DavidFox615): 
Snyder hasn’t had the national championship breakthrough. He doesn’t run the most exciting schemes. And he doesn’t have the public persona of a Steve Spurrier, Bobby Bowden or even Nick Saban. But the results warrant mentioning him among the greats. Maybe he’s in a second tier after Bear Bryant, Bowden and the like, but he needs to be mentioned among the top 10 or so. Snyder has swooped in to rescue the Kansas State program twice. Say what you want about the light non-conference schedules over the years, but given its history and perennial talent gap with Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska over the years, Kansas State doesn’t have a whole lot of business being consistently competitive against those schools. Yet it’s happened. I’m not a fan of the “they just find ways to win” cliche, but it’s true for Snyder’s teams and it’s been true over the course of two decades.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall): 
It is virtually impossible to rank Bill Snyder all-time against coaches from 100 years worth of football. But against active coaches? He is easily top ten if not top five. Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Bob Stoops and Urban Meyer are likely the only coaches I would definitively rank ahead of Snyder. He would be on par with Frank Beamer, Chris Peterson, Chip Kelly and (gasp) Bobby Petrino. The Kansas State coach does more with less than possibly any other head coach in the nation, but at the end of the day, the resume isn't the same as those who have won national championships. Stoops has dominated the head-to-head record with Snyder and has seven Big 12 titles. Spurrier has seven conference championships. Meyer and Saban claim five of the last nine national titles. Snyder is a truly great football coach, and an extremely interesting man, who is entirely responsible for all that Kansas State football is today. But one conference championship in 21 seasons, despite the disadvantages at KSU, keeps him from the top tier of coaches in my opinion. 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): 
There are few coaches who could do what Snyder has done at Kansas State. When he arrived in Manhattan, Kansas State was one of the worst programs in the nation. The Wildcats were coming off back-to-back winless seasons and had just three victories over the last four years. Since Snyder’s arrival at Kansas State, the program has become a consistent winner and nearly played for the national title in 1998. As if his first tenure wasn’t good enough, Snyder returned out of retirement and has Kansas State in the mix to win the Big 12 title this year. It’s always difficult to place where coaches rank among their counterparts, as each job presents different challenges. However, it’s clear Snyder is currently one of the best coaches in college football and has to rank among the best of all-time. I wouldn’t put Snyder in the same class as Bobby Bowden, Nick Saban or Bear Bryant, but he wouldn’t be far behind in the next group.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): 
He’s clearly an all-time great. He has to be considered one of the great program builders of all-time for what he did during his first stint at Kansas State. He inherited a program that was perceived by many to be the worst in the nation — and rightfully so. The Wildcats went winless in the two previous seasons prior to his arrival. They won one game in his first season, five the next and then broke through with a 7–4 record in Year 3. After a step back in 1992, K-State began a stretch in which it won at least nine games in 10 of 11 seasons. That, alone, is an incredible accomplishment. But Snyder rebuilt the program once again, returning to the sidelines in 2009 after a three-year retirement. Last season, the Cats won 10 games — for the first time since 2003 — with a roster that was probably middle of the pack (at best) in the Big 12. And he has the Cats off to a 4–0 start in ’12, highlighted by last week’s upset win at Oklahoma. As I Tweeted late Saturday night: “Kansas State is amazing. Never picking against the Cats again.”

Mark Ross: 
Snyder is without a doubt the greatest head coach in Kansas State's history. Not only is the football stadium named after him, but he also has more than 120 career wins than any other coach in the program's history. Snyder deserves a lot of credit and a great deal of respect for turning what was a moribund football program into a consistent winner, not once, but twice as he first retired following the 2005 season only to return three seasons later. Snyder has 163 wins and counting in his K-State tenure, which is now in its 21st season, and has a career winning percentage of nearly 66 percent. He has won only one conference title in his career, however, and is 6-7 in bowl games. Snyder is still several good years away from reaching the 200-victory milestone, and considering he will turn 73 in two weeks, you wonder how much longer he will keep going. I don't think he measures up to the all-time greats, but there's certainly no shame in leaving your lasting mark and legacy on a program and university, which is what he has done in Manhattan, Kan.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): 
Before Coach Snyder arrived in Manhattan, Kansas State had played over 90 years of football and never won a bowl game. In fact, a 1982 loss in the Independence Bowl was the lone postseason appearance in the history of the Wildcats program. The job that Snyder and his staff did in building KSU in to a consistent winner has to rank as the best ever in taking a moribund program and making it relevant. It’s difficult for me to rank Snyder among the top 20 all-time coaches because of a lack of conference or national titles (one Big 12 crown in 2003), but he definitely belongs in the next tier of great coaches and in the College Football Hall of Fame. 


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<p> Kansas State Football: Where does Bill Snyder rank among all-time coaches?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 05:51
Path: /college-football/college-football-award-watch-post-week-4-0

The Heisman Trophy isn’t the only award worth watching on a weekly basis. The Lombardi, Outland, Davey O’Brien and Biletnikoff races are all worth watching and debating as the season goes along.

Throughout the season, we’ll keep an eye on all the prominent position trophies through college football in addition to the Heisman.

If you’re looking for our thoughts on that other trophy, check our weekly Heisman poll.

Davey O’Brien (Top quarterback)
Our leader: Geno Smith, West Virginia
Smith was 30-of-43 for 338 yards with three touchdowns against Maryland last week, reminding us that even his season lows in completed passes, completion rate, touchdown passes and yards per attempt are still pretty darn good. Other quarterbacks are gaining, though, after Collin Klein and EJ Manuel had signature games last week. USC’s Matt Barkley, who has four interceptions in his last two games, is fading a bit.
Others: ULM’s Kolton Browning, Kansas State’s Collin Klein, Florida State’s EJ Manuel, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Georgia’s Aaron Murray

Doak Walker (Top running back)
Our leader: Chris Thompson, Florida State
The field for the nation’s top running back has been an interesting one -- UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin struggled against Oregon State, Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell has been streaky, Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas was solid yet unspectacular against Arizona. Let’s shine the spotlight on Florida State’s Chris Thompson, who has rushed for 300 yards and four touchdowns on only 24 carries in Florida State’s two ACC wins.
Others: Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin, Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson, South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, Fresno State’s Robbie Rouse, Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor, Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas

Biletnikoff Award (Top wide receiver)
Our leader: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
One of the byproducts of playing for Dana Holgorsen and with quarterback Geno Smith is the chance to stand out at receiver. Austin, however, made Smith look pretty good against Maryland with 13 catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Austin has nine touchdown catches and 46 catches in his last four games dating back to the Orange Bowl.
Others: West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey, USC’s Marqise Lee, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton, USC’s Robert Woods

Mackey Award (Top tight end)
Our leader: Chris Coyle, Arizona State
Coyle leads the nation’s tight ends in receptions (22) and receiving yards (301) for surprising Arizona State. The junior who had six career receptions coming into the season now has twice as many catches as anyone on the Sun Devils’ roster.
Others: Oregon’s Colt Lyerla, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins

Outland Trophy (Top interior lineman)
Our leader: Barrett Jones, Alabama
Another week with Jones looking like the player to beat for the lineman awards. Jones also was named a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, whcih is awarded to a player with notable on-field and academic accomplishments.
Others: Virginia’s Oday Aboushi, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Utah’s Star Lotulelei

Rimington Trophy (Top center)
Our leader: Alabama’s Jones
Others: Clemson’s Dalton Freeman



Bednarik Award/Nagurski Award (Defensive Player of the Year)
Our leader: Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
The play up front has been outstanding for Notre Dame, allowing Te’o to reap the benefits. Te’o had two interceptions against Michigan to go with eight tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Notre Dame has allowed three field goals and no touchdowns in the last two games.
Others: Mississippi State’s Johnathan Banks, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Utah’s Star Lotulelei, Florida State’s Bjoern Werner

Lombardi Award (Top lineman or linebacker)
Our leader: Te’o, Notre Dame
Others: Stanford’s Ben Gardner, UCLA’s Datone Jones, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Utah’s Star Lotulelei, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore, Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy, Maryland’s Joe Vellano, Florida State’s Bjeorn Werner

Butkus Award (Top linebacker)
Our leader: Te’o, Notre Dame
Others: USC’s Dion Bailey, Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Iowa State’s Jake Knott, Alabama’s C.J. Mosely, Connecticut’s Yawin Smallwood

Thorpe Award (Top defensive back)
Our leader: Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Mississippi State hasn’t faced the toughest schedule yet, meaning the Bulldogs could be bowl eligible before a difficult stretch against Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU in late October and early November. Banks has led the way for the Mississippi State defense the entire season. Against South Alabama last week, he picked up this highlight-reel interception. Banks has three picks on a team that leads the nation in turnover margin.
Others: NC State’s David Amerson, Texas’ Quandre Diggs, Oregon’s Iko Ekpre-Olomu, Alabama’s Dee Milliner, Stanford’s Jordan Richards, Texas’ Kenny Vacarro

Groza Award (Top kicker)

Our leader: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
Budzien is 8 of 8 on field goal attempts this season, including a 5 for 5 mark against Boston College in a 22-13 win two weeks ago.
Others: Iowa’s Mike Meyer, Florida’s Caleb Sturgis

Ray Guy Award (Top punter)
Our leader: Texas A&M’s Ryan Epperson
Epperson has been one of the nation’s most consistent punters, ranking third at 47.6 yards per kick and at least 44 yards per kick in each game this season. The Aggies are also second in the nation in net punting.
Others: Louisiana Tech’s Ryan Allen, Utah’s Sean Sellwood, LSU’s Brad Wing

Freshman of the Year
Our leader: Duke Johnson, Miami
Miami’s comeback against Georgia Tech last week was primarily on the shoulders of quarterback Stephen Morris, but Johnson still finished with 110 yards from scrimmage and 200 total yards. Though Johnson averaged a season-low 9.5 yards per play against Georgia Tech, he remains the national leader in all-purpose yards per game (209.5).
Others: Georgia’s Todd Gurley, UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon

Coach of the Year
Our leader: Mike Riley, Oregon State
Even in successful seasons at Oregon State, the Beavers often stumbled out of the gate in September. Riley has navigated an odd early schedule with a canceled season opener and an open date in Week 3 for an impressive pair of wins this season over Wisconsin and a hot UCLA team. Oregon State ranks second in the nation in rush defense.
Others: Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, Minnesota’s Jerry Kill, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, UCLA’s Jim L. Mora, Stanford’s David Shaw

by David Fox


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<p> College Football Award Watch: Post-Week 4</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 05:06
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fantasy, News
Path: /college-football/college-fantasy-football-week-5-emergency-starters

This piece is intended to assist those college fantasy loyalists who have stuck with us the entire week.  Whether you have an injury to a key player, a tough matchup at a particular position, or play in a deep league, this one is for you.  Good luck!  

Joe DiSalvo (@theCFFsite)


Taysom Hill, BYU vs Hawaii

Tyler Van Tubbergen, Western Michigan vs Toledo

Driphus Jackson, Rice vs Houston

Trent Steelman, Army v Stony Brook

Trey Miler, Navy vs San Jose St

Running Backs

Kenneth Dixon, LA Tech at Virginia

Jyruss Edwards, ULM at Tulane

DJ Foster, Arizona St at Colorado

Alonzo Harris, Louisiana vs FIU

Antoine Jimmerson, North Texas at FAU

Dri Archer, Kent St vs Ball St

Zach Laskey, GA Tech vs MTSU


Willie Snead, Ball St at Kent St

Marcus Lucas, Missouri at Central Florida

Keyarris Garrett, Tulsa at UAB

Ty MacArthur, Air Force vs Colorado St

For Start/Bench advice from Joe DiSalvo, send an email to[email protected]

Steven Lassan(@AthlonSteven)


David Fales, San Jose St at Navy

Kawaun Jakes, Western Kentucky at Arkansas St

Tanner Price, Wake Forest vs Duke

Running Backs

Shawne Alston, West Virginia vs Baylor

Dri Archer, Kent St vs Ball St

JaTerian Douglas, Tulsa at UAB


Brelan Chancellor, North Texas at FAU

Brandin Cooks, Oregon St at Arizona

Brent Leonard, UL-Monroe at Tulane

Martel Moore, Northern Illinois vs Central Michigan

<p> College Fantasy Football: Week 5 Emergency Starters</p>
Post date: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 03:45
All taxonomy terms: Pac-12, UCLA Bruins, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-uclas-makeover-0
This feature appears in all editions of the Athlon Sports 2012-13 College Basketball annual.

Ben Howland was dead and buried. After a three consecutive Final Four appearances and 30-win campaigns from 2005-06 through 2007-08, UCLA had become mediocre in what had quickly become a downtrodden Pac-12.

Speculation regarding his job security was in ample supply. Then, a national story surfaced about how he’d apparently lost control of his program and one of his star players. Former players took shots at his style of play and skeptics even poked fun at him for hiring an AAU coach from across the country on his staff.

“It was tough,” Howland says. “Probably as difficult a year as I’ve ever had in coaching.”

With all the off-court issues, though, one glaring issue in Westwood stood out above everything else over the last few years — the talent level. It just wasn’t up to UCLA standards.

The dropoff began with the Class of 2008, one that was lauded by just about every recruiting guru. Jrue Holiday, J’Mison Morgan, Drew Gordon, Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee. All were considered top-50 players nationally and, as a group, were supposed to help Howland and the program sustain its recent excellence.

Holiday averaged 8.5 points per game before leaving for the NBA after his freshman season. Morgan transferred to Baylor and has been a bust. Gordon bolted six games into his sophomore season after clashing with Howland. Anderson graduated this past season after a disappointing four-year college career. Lee left following his junior campaign and was a second-round pick in the NBA Draft.

The next group was nearly as heralded, with five more players holding a ranking in the top 100. The class was as disappointing as its predecessor.

Tyler Honeycutt underachieved for the majority of two seasons before, like Lee, leaving to become a second-round pick in the NBA Draft. Mike Moser left after logging just 4.7 minutes per contest as a freshman and has turned into a bona fide star and potential first-round pick at UNLV. Brendan Lane started eight games in three seasons before transferring to Pepperdine. Anthony Stover was a complete non-factor before being kicked off the team for academics this past offseason.

Reeves Nelson

And then there’s Reeves Nelson.

Nelson was different. The tough, hard-playing forward was plenty talented enough, but he was a disaster off the court who killed team chemistry. After multiple chances from Howland — probably a few too many — Nelson was finally jettisoned from the program early in the 2011-12. But it didn’t come quick enough as Nelson’s issues became a public embarrassment to Howland and his once-tight grip on this program.

There have been other misses since the vaunted 2008 and 2009 classes. The four-man 2010 group included Matt Carlino, who left and is thriving at BYU. De’End Parker and Norman Powell arrived in 2011, and Parker is already history, leaving for San Francisco. The list seemingly goes on and on with players who didn’t plan out for one reason or another.

But now everything appears to have changed.

The 14–18 record in 2009-10 has become a distant memory. So is last season’s disaster, one in which UCLA failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the past three seasons. Moreover, UCLA’s struggles have coincided with a conference-wide slump during the last three seasons. There’s a new chapter in UCLA basketball, at least that’s what Howland and Bruins fans hope. Optimism is high the Bruins can return to their glory days, not the ones when they were hanging banners in the John Wooden Era, but the ones when they were competing for national titles shortly after Howland arrived from Pittsburgh.

Howland has added arguably the nation’s top recruiting class, one that stacks up with John Calipari’s haul in Lexington and Sean Miller’s group at Arizona. Simply, that’s what has changed the expectations in Westwood.

Josh Smith

Now Josh Smith’s weight will no longer be the primary focus at UCLA. The Wear twins — David and Travis — won’t have to be anything more than they truly are, which is perform as solid players. North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II can be a role player, maybe even a bench guy. That’s because UCLA has added arguably the two best freshmen in the country.

Shabazz Muhammad comes in as the consensus top-ranked player in the nation. He’s a big, strong and athletic wing from Las Vegas who brings a much-needed toughness mentality to the program. Muhammad had long been considered a favorite to land at UCLA — with the aid of adidas — but Kentucky and other top programs made strong pushes for his services. Muhammad could well wind up being the top pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and should be Howland’s go-to guy from the moment he first takes the court at Pauley Pavilion whenever that may be. The NCAA’s eligibility review of Muhammad was ongoing into late August.

“He’s a great player,” Howland says. “He can do a lot of different things for us and will do a lot of different things for us that we haven’t had recently.”

Then there’s Kyle Anderson, a 6-9 point forward who passes the ball in a similar manner former North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall exhibited in his two years in Chapel Hill. Anderson, no matter what position he plays in Howland’s offense, will have the ball in his hands often because his best asset is his ability to make those around him better.

“He facilitates,” Howland says. “That’s what he does best, but his perimeter shot has improved over the past year.”

These two guys, Muhammad and Anderson, changed the complexion of the entire program. They will give Howland new life, a second chance to get this storied program back on track.

Howland still has pressure on him now, though, maybe even more so with the influx of talent. He can’t swing and miss at the NCAA Tournament again, especially with the addition of Muhammad, Anderson and another top-25 player, Georgia big man Tony Parker.

“It’s all about expectation level here,” Howland says. “That’s what happens when you have the history of UCLA and when you go to three Final Fours in a row.”

“It’s all about expectation level here, That’s what happens when you have the history of UCLA and when you go to three Final Fours in a row.”

-UCLA coach Ben Howland

Muhammad will be the centerpiece of the team. Anderson should make teammates like the Wear twins and Smith more effective with crisp passes that will be converted into easy layups. And Parker has the natural ability to push Smith for playing time in the middle. There’s a second talented freshman out of Georgia, 6-5 wing Jordan Adams, as well as junior guard Tyler Lamb and sophomore Norman Powell.

There are reasons for the lack of success over the past three seasons. Sure, the talent on the West Coast — and specifically California — has been down. But UCLA is also guilty of misevaluating some key players. The Bruins also have had chemistry issues and untimely defections to the NBA Draft.

 “We’ve had so many guys leave early,” Howland says. “It’s not easy to reload every year.”

Holiday, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo all left early. But more recently, the departures of Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, who bolted despite being sure-fire second round picks, hampered the Bruins a year ago.

But premature defections, even to the NBA,  haven’t been worthy of a free pass for Howland & Co. Not for the elite program out West.

The preseason polls are likely have UCLA in the top 25, perhaps in the top five. Howland is full of smiles these days, knowing he’ll have enough to compete with anyone in the league and nearly anyone in the entire country.

Related: College Basketball Countdown: No. 12 UCLA Preview

“I’m excited about this season,” he says. “But we need to go out and prove it. Rankings don’t mean anything. People can project all they want, but it’s about performance. I think we have a chance to be a really good team, but we need to go out and win games.”

Howland loses his starting backcourt of Lazeric Jones, who was the team’s leading scorer a year ago at 13.5 points per game, and Jerime Anderson, who never came close to fulfilling the potential he brought with him to UCLA. While Jones did have a solid season last year, the duo of Muhammad and Kyle Anderson will be instant upgrades — even with their youth and inexperience.

The Wear twins combined to average 21.7 points and more than a dozen boards per game last season. It’s unlikely they’ll ever be college stars, as many pegged throughout their high school careers before they landed at North Carolina. But they can be solid frontcourt players now that they are surrounded with top-tier talent.

Then there’s the rotund, ultra-talented big man, Smith, who can’t seem to get his weight issues under control — something that could end up costing him a career at the next level. Smith averaged a mediocre 9.9 points and 4.9 rebounds last season and enters his junior season as a forgotten man of sorts due to his uninspiring play and lack of consistent production.

The 6-5 Lamb had a solid sophomore campaign, averaging 9.0 points per game. He certainly fill a role, whether it be starting on the wing or coming off the bench.

The Wears aren’t the only ex-North Carolina players in L.A. Drew II is another local kid who left Chapel Hill and wound up back close to home. But his role is uncertain now with the arrival of Anderson.

Ben Howland

“They’ll definitely be playing together at times,” Howland says of a potential Anderson-Drew backcourt. “Larry can facilitate pretty well himself.”

But the Drew Experiment down in the ACC didn’t work well. Then-freshman Kendall Marshall supplanted him midway through the 2010-11 season, prompting Drew to abruptly leave Chapel Hill instead of accepting his role as a backup. Plenty of observers say Drew and his talent level are better-suited as a reserve, but Howland could wind up going with him as a starter, especially early in the season.

Roles will be important for Howland to establish — as will leadership and a defensive philosophy.

The holdovers will need to allow Muhammad and Anderson to come in and not only be the focal points on the court, but also leaders. These guys bring in a much-needed attitude, as well as a physical (Muhammad) and mental (Anderson) toughness that has sorely been lacking in the last few years.

Howland, over the years, has been known as a guy who won’t alter his system. Tough, hard-nosed man-to-man defense has been a staple throughout most of his career as well as an offensive system with limited freedom — something that caused several of his former players to complain.

Howland admits that he’ll likely stick with man-to-man defense, although he understands that his guards, who aren’t overly athletic, won’t be able to pressure the ball as he was able to do in the past.

With the recent struggles, it’s easy to forget what Howland has done over the past nine seasons at UCLA. There have been three Final Four appearances, more than 200 victories and no shortage of pros who have come though the program. He’s brought in heralded guys like Love and Holiday and also developed under-the-radar ones such as Westbrook and Darren Collison.

The program has had stellar seasons in 2006, ’07 and ’08. Then disappointing ones in 2010 and ’12.

“It’s all about expectations,” Howland says. “And I’m OK with that.”

Now we’ll see if this recruiting class, unlike the ones a few years ago, can help the Bruins live up to the hype.

-By Jeff Goodman,


Athlon College Basketball Countdown So Far:
20. Florida

19. Notre Dame

18. Memphis
17. Baylor
16. Missouri

15. San Diego State

14. North Carolina

13. UNLV

12. UCLA

<p> College Basketball: UCLA's Makeover</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 17:07