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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 7 Big East Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. West Virginia (5-1) – The Mountaineers did not play in Week 7 and will return to action this Friday at Syracuse. The Orange upset West Virginia 19-14 in Morgantown last season. The Mountaineers struggled to get their offense on track in last year’s matchup, but that shouldn’t be an issue on Friday. Syracuse has struggled to stop the pass and is allowing nearly 30 points a game. The Mountaineers remain the favorite to win the Big East title.
2. Rutgers (5-1) – A blocked field goal with less than five minutes remaining kept the Scarlet Knights ahead and proved to be just enough for the victory. With five victories this year, Rutgers has surpassed its win total from last season. True freshman quarterback Gary Nova tossed two interceptions in the win over Navy, but also threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Jawan Jamison earned his first 100-yard effort of his career, while also posting a touchdown. Rutgers returns to Big East play with a trip to Louisville on Friday.
3. Cincinnati (5-1) – It wasn’t the dominant performance some expected from the Bearcats, but they defeated Louisville 25-16 to move to 5-1 this season. After winning only four games last season, Cincinnati has already surpassed that victory total in 2011 and stands one win away from bowl eligibility. The Bearcats hit the road for their next two games, as they travel to take on South Florida and then Pittsburgh on Nov. 5.
4. Pittsburgh (3-4) – After pummeling South Florida 44-17 on Thursday night in late September, it appeared the Panthers were ready to emerge as contenders in the Big East. Not so fast. The last two weeks were a step back in coach Todd Graham’s first season, featuring a 34-10 loss to Rutgers and a 26-14 defeat to Utah on Saturday. The Panthers’ offense went dormant against the Utes, posting only 120 yards and turning the ball over three times. Pittsburgh is off next Saturday, before returning to action on Oct. 26 against Connecticut.
5. South Florida (4-2) – After a 4-0 start, the Bulls have slipped in the Big East power rankings due to back-to-back losses. South Florida dropped a 44-17 game at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, but Saturday’s 16-10 defeat to Connecticut was a huge surprise. The Huskies did not score an offensive touchdown, but won the turnover battle and limited quarterback B.J. Daniels to only 164 passing yards. With back-to-back conference losses, the Bulls have some work to do in the Big East race. And their quest to get back into the mix starts on Saturday against Cincinnati.
6. Syracuse (4-2) – The Orange did not play on Saturday and will return to action on Friday against West Virginia. Syracuse defeated the Mountaineers last season, but will likely be heavy underdogs for this season’s matchup. The Orange have struggled to stop the pass all year, which will be under fire from West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. Syracuse needs two wins to get bowl eligible, which won’t be easy with games at Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh, along with South Florida, Cincinnati and West Virginia visiting the Carrier Dome.
7. Connecticut (3-4) – Without question, the most surprising score from Week 7’s Big East action was the Huskies’ victory over South Florida. Connecticut’s offense has sputtered all year, but it didn’t matter on Saturday. The Huskies scored a defensive touchdown and forced four South Florida turnovers. This victory was a big one for Connecticut, as it snapped a two-game losing streak and keeps the bowl hopes alive. The Huskies are off on Saturday and return to action on Oct. 26 at Pittsburgh.
8. Louisville (2-4) – The Cardinals held a 16-7 lead at halftime, but was unable to keep that lead in the second half, as Cincinnati pulled away for a 25-16 victory. Freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater continues to gain valuable experience, completing 17 of 28 throws for 195 yards and one interception. However, the rushing attack continues to struggle for Louisville, as it managed only 70 yards and averaged 2.1 yards per carry. The Cardinals host Rutgers this Friday.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
South Carolina’s SEC title hopes suffered a significant setback, as running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury in Saturday’s game against Mississippi State. The Gamecocks managed to hold on for a 14-12 win, but it came at a major price.
Following Saturday’s action, Georgia and South Carolina were the only teams with one defeat in the SEC East. Thanks to a loss to Auburn, Florida slipped to 2-3 and needs a lot of help to win the division.
The Gamecocks defeated Georgia earlier this season, but with Lattimore’s injury, can they hold onto the SEC East title? Don’t bet on it.
South Carolina is off this Saturday, but faces a tough two-game road stretch at Tennessee and Arkansas. The Gamecocks should be able to beat the Volunteers, but winning against the Razorbacks – one of the best offenses in the SEC – is an uphill battle. Also, South Carolina still has to face Florida in its final conference game and hosts rival Clemson on Nov. 26. Only a date with Citadel on Nov. 19 is a sure bet on the schedule.
While it’s possible the Gamecocks could rally around quarterback Connor Shaw, Lattimore was one of the best players in college football and won’t easily be replaced. For a team that has dealt with bouts of inconsistency on offense all year, losing your best player isn’t an ideal situation.
With all of the uncertainty surrounding South Carolina’s quarterbacks this year, there was no doubt Lattimore was going to carry the offense. Through seven games, the sophomore led the team with 818 rushing yards and 10 scores. Lattimore ranked 13th nationally with 116.9 rushing yards per game, which was second in the SEC behind Alabama’s Trent Richardson.
Lattimore’s emergence last season carried South Carolina to a SEC East title. In his freshman year, Lattimore collected 1,197 yards and 17 scores, while catching 29 passes for 412 yards and two touchdowns.
South Carolina expected Lattimore to easily build on last season’s statistics, and the sophomore garnered a ton of preseason hype, including a spot on Athlon’s first-team All-American team.
Although Lattimore is out for the rest of the season, the good news is that he is expected to return in 2012 at full strength. Lattimore will be a junior next season, and considering he is likely a first-round pick, 2012 should be his last in Columbia.
Where South Carolina goes from here at running back remains to be seen.
With Lattimore’s injury and the dismissal of quarterback Stephen Garcia, the Gamecocks have lost their top two leading rushers this year. Starting quarterback Connor Shaw is third on the team with 110 yards and no scores.
It’s very likely a committee approach will be used at running back. True freshman Brandon Wilds was listed as the top backup to Lattimore for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State. Wilds has rushed for 75 yards on 13 attempts this year. Bruce Ellington has spent most of the year at receiver, but could be called upon to help in the rushing attack. Eric Baker and Kenny Miles have a lot of experience, but both have been banged up this season.
Although the Gamecocks may be able to patch together a rushing attack, it’s not going to equal anything close to what Lattimore brought to the table.
If South Carolina wants to get back to Atlanta for the SEC title, Shaw to continue to develop at quarterback. With the rushing game taking a step back, the offense will have to lean a little more on Shaw and receiver Alshon Jeffery.
The Gamecocks will also need the defense to continue their recent play. South Carolina’s last four opponents have not managed more than 16 points. Also, the defense ranks 19th nationally in points allowed and ninth in total defense. The Gamecocks own the SEC’s best secondary, allowing only 133.7 yards per game, but that total is skewed by the recent run of opponents with shaky quarterback play – Vanderbilt, Auburn, Kentucky and Mississippi State.
It’s not out of the question for South Carolina to rally and claim the SEC East title. After all, three losses won the division last year.
With a win over Georgia, the Gamecocks still control their own destiny. However, Lattimore is a huge loss and one that won’t be replaced.
Although Georgia still has a tough game remaining against Florida, the path to Atlanta is there for the Bulldogs. And without Lattimore in the lineup for South Carolina, Georgia will represent the East in the SEC title game in December.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
The the midway point of the 2011 college football in the rearview mirror, so Athlon Sports takes a look at the top must-see games left on the Big Ten slate.
1. Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: Michigan State leads 28-21
These two have swapped victories in the last six meetings including a tight 10-point win by Michigan State a year ago that cost the Badgers the outright conference title. Kirk Cousins converted a few key goalline fourth downs to give Michigan State its first share of a conference title since 1990. Wisconsin brings the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense and the top rated rushing attack, passing attack and total offense in the Big Ten to East Lansing. Jerell Worthy and the nation’s No. 2 defense will be prepared along the Spartan front. Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson will likely hold the key to success. Whichever quarterback can complete passes down the field in the vertical passing game will likely lead his team to victory.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Badgers by 4
2. Michigan State vs. Nebraska (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Nebraksa leads 5-0
The Spartans are still looking for their first ever win over Nebraska, and with one in 2011, they could find themselves playing in December in Indianapolis. After a quality win over archrival Michigan, Sparty fancies itself as the primary contender in the Big Ten Legends Division. The last meeting between the two took place in the Alamo Bowl in 2003 and Nebraska has outscored Michigan State 181-34 in the five meetings with an average margin of victory just under 30 points. Nebraska possesses two of the top five rushers in the Big Ten and Michigan State is allowing a league best 186.2 yards per game.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers by 4
3. Ohio State vs. Michigan (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Michigan leads 57-43-6
The greatest rivalry in all of college football will be renewed for the 107th time when these two Midwest powers lock horns in the final week of the regular season. Despite the prestige, tradition and nostalgia created from watching the Maize and Blue battle with the Scarlet and Gray, this rivalry has been totally one-sided of late. Ohio State has won seven straight and nine of the last ten. Brady Hoke and Denard Robinson clearly has Michigan pointed in the right direction and has the Wolverines in a position to surprise. However, the Buckeyes will only get better until the final week of the season and will still be able to control the trenches. Michigan will beat OSU in the near future, it just isn’t likely to happen in 2011.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Buckeyes by 3
4. Wisconsin vs. Ohio State (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 53-18-5
Ohio State won 21 straight meetings with the Badgers from 1960 to 1980. Since then, Wisconsin has held its own in the blossoming rivalry 11-14-1 in the 26 games since. In fact, these two teams have split the last six, eight and 10 games played. But Ohio State has won the last two in Columbus in convincing fashion (at least on the scoreboard) 69-30. Russell Wilson will be playing in the most hostile environment of his career when he walks into the Shoe and will need his running game if he expects to leave Columbus with a win. However, the Bucks have totally stymied the Badgers’ potent rushing game in the last two meetings on the Banks of the Olentagy’s. Sconie has mustered only 130 yards on 81 carries in the two losses. Ohio State is still stiff on defense, but keeping up with a team that averages over 50 points per game will be a tall order for true freshman Braxton Miller.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Badgers by 7
5. Nebraska vs. Michigan (Week 12)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: Michigan leads 3-2-1
Nebraska had a rough enough schedule through September and October, but won’t get any breaks in the final three weeks of the regular season either. In back-to-back weekends, the Huskers have to play in front hostile 110,000-seat crowds in Happy Valley and Ann Arbor. It was 1962 the last time Big Red visited the Big House. The Wolverines lost the first Legends Division elimination game this weekend in East Lansing, but still could push for division supremacy. However, the Wolverines have yet to prove it can match wills along the line of scrimmage with the Big Ten’s elite. And stopping the Rex Burkhead-Taylor Martinez combo takes strength up front.
6. Iowa vs. Nebraska (Week 13)
Nov. 25, All-Time Series: Nebraska leads 26-12-3
These two heartland powers really haven’t met since World War II. The border rivals met regularly during the World War I era as well as in the 30s and 40s, but have played only six times since 1946. The renewal of what is now an intra-divisional rivalry could still carry with it divisional implications - whole ear of corn, so to speak, could be on the line in the season finale in Lincoln. The Hawkeye offense, with the exception of its trip to Happy Valley, has been solid under James Vandenberg’s leadership, scoring at least 31 points in every other game the Hawks have played this season. If both can reach Thanksgiving without sustaining another loss, this game could hold major Big Ten title ramifications.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers by 7
7. Wisconsin vs. Illinois (Week 12)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: Illinois leads 37-34-7
The luster has certainly been dampened with the Illini’s home loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday. The Badgers lost the last time they visited Champaign 31-26 back in 2007, but had won five out of the previous six as the road team. This has been a relatively high-scoring affair over the last decade and should be so once again in 2011 as both teams are averaging over 200 yards rushing and passing this fall. Nathan Scheelhaase and the Illinois offensive line will have to run the football – and the league’s No. 2 rushing defense will have to slow Montee Ball and company – if the Fighting Illini expects to contend for the Leaders’ Division title.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Badgers by 10
8. Michigan State vs. Iowa (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Iowa leads 22-18-2
The Hawkeyes have won seven straight games at home against Sparty and there could be a lot more on the line this season than usual. A trip to the Big Ten title game is still very much on the mind’s of both teams as both still have yet to face Nebraska. Kirk Cousins knows exactly what happened in Iowa City last season as the 37-6 shocker was the only blemish on Michigan State’s regular season schedule.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Hawkeyes by 1
9. Penn State vs. Wisconsin (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads 8-6
The Nittany Lions have won three out of four over the Badgers and embarrassed the Big Red when they last visited Camp Randall, 48-7. That was 2008. Penn State has struggled to score all season long but has showed marked improvement on defense. Certainly, the Lions will be much-improved by Thanksgiving, but a road upset seems unlikely in what appears to be a lopsided offensive match-up.
10. llinois vs. Penn State (Oct. 29)
10b. Michigan vs. Iowa (Nov. 5)
10c. Penn State vs. Ohio State (Nov. 19)
This is Donovan McNabb's stance after getting benched. He looks more like Al Bundy than a Super Bowl almost-winning quarterback who's been sent to the bench for--and then getting outplayed by--a rookie quarterback (Christian Ponder) who, by all consensus, was drafted way too high.
It looks like the only thing missing from Minnesota's sideline was a couch, a TV and a bag of chips.
With seven weeks in the book, it's time to take a look at how teams project to the postseason. There's going to be a lot of changes over the next couple of weeks, especially as teams battle just to get to six wins.
|New Mexico||Dec. 17||MWC vs. Pac-12||Colorado State vs. Northwestern*|
|Idaho Potato||Dec. 17||MAC vs. WAC||Toledo vs. Nevada|
|New Orleans||Dec. 17||C-USA vs. Sun Belt||Marshall vs. UL Lafayette|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 20||Big East vs. C-USA||UCF vs. Pittsburgh|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 21||MWC vs. WAC||Air Force vs. Fresno State|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 22||MWC vs. Pac-12||TCU vs. UCLA|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs. WAC||Hawaii vs. Southern Miss|
|Independence||Dec. 26||ACC vs. MWC||San Diego State vs. Wake Forest|
|Little Caesars||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs. MAC||Northern Illinois vs. Ohio State|
|Belk||Dec. 27||ACC vs. Big East||Cincinnati vs. North Carolina|
|Military||Dec. 28||ACC vs. Navy||Navy vs. Virginia|
|Holiday||Dec. 28||Big 12 vs. Pac-12||Baylor vs. Arizona State|
|Champs Sports||Dec. 29||ACC vs. Big East||Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech|
|Alamo||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs. Pac-12||Texas A&M vs. Washington|
|Armed Forces||Dec. 30||BYU vs. C-USA||BYU vs. Tulsa|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 30||Big 12 vs. Big East||Rutgers vs. Missouri|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC vs. SEC||Miami vs. Tennessee|
|Insight||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs. Big 12||Michigan vs. Texas|
|Car Care||Dec. 31||Big Ten vs. Big 12||Texas Tech vs. Penn State|
|Sun||Dec. 31||ACC vs. Pac-12||Florida State vs. California|
|Liberty||Dec. 31||C-USA vs. SEC||Mississippi State vs. Houston|
|Fight Hunger||Dec. 31||Army vs. Pac-12||Utah vs. Syracuse*|
|Chick-fil-A||Dec. 31||ACC vs. SEC||Virginia Tech vs. Auburn|
|TicketCity||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. C-USA||SMU vs. Iowa|
|Outback||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. SEC||South Carolina vs. Michigan State|
|Capital One||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. SEC||Georgia vs. Nebraska|
|Gator||Jan. 2||Big Ten vs. SEC||Florida vs. Illinois|
|Rose||Jan. 2||BCS vs. BCS||Wisconsin vs. Stanford|
|Fiesta||Jan. 2||BCS vs. BCS||Oklahoma State vs. Oregon|
|Sugar||Jan. 3||BCS vs. BCS||LSU vs. Boise State|
|Orange||Jan. 4||BCS vs. BCS||Clemson vs. West Virginia|
|Cotton||Jan. 6||Big 12 vs. SEC||Arkansas vs. Kansas State|
|BBVA Compass||Jan. 7||Big East vs. SEC||South Florida vs. Vanderbilt|
|GoDaddy.com||Jan. 8||MAC vs. Sun Belt||Temple vs. FIU|
|National Title||Jan. 9||BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2||Alabama vs. Oklahoma|
* Current standings and projections indicate some conferences may fail to fulfill their tie-ins for 2011.
Here we are in week 6 of the NFL fantasy football season and difficult decisions need to be made. With byes decimating some teams, it's hard to decide who to take a flier on. Here's what you should do with four of them.
Delone Carter: Don't Play
Delone has been the darling of the waiver wire this week, but this is not an ideal match-up for him against the Bengals, who have one of the top defenses against the run. If Carter had performed admirably last week when he took over for the injured Joseph Addai, we'd say give him a shot, because he does seem to have the goal line duties. But back-up Donald Brown seemed to outplay him last week, which means there's a good chance the two will split carries against Cincinnati. Not a good place to be even for a top back. The most you can hope for out of Carter is 40-50 yards and a touchdown. That's his upside. If you have another sure thing in your backfield who's guaranteed more than 12 touches, go that route. It just doesn't seem like a good situation for Carter this week.
Danny Woodhead: Don't Play
Ahh, the game-time decision. The bane of the fantasy football player's existence. And that's what the Patriots' Danny Woodhead is this week. And that's why you should sit him. The Pats are firing on almost all cylinders now with Aaron Hernandez back and the man with the law firm name, BenJarvis Green-Ellis having a career week last week. I know Bill Belichick's New England Patriots' switches is up from week to week, but the last thing this offense seems to need is Danny Woodhead. Which means there's no need for them to push him out onto the field faster than they need to. If he's on your waiver wire next week, and you're still dealing with bye week issues, go after him. But this week, let him sit.
Greg Little: Play
Yes, the Browns offense has been anemic. Yes, the Browns haven't done those minor things like "move the ball" or "score points," but this week Greg Little, the flashy, playmaking rookie wide receiver got a vote of confidence from the coaching staff and was promoted to starter for the Browns. What exactly does this mean? Who knows, but it seems like he'll at least get a few looks and targets as the staff will want to make their decision look like a smart one. And Little has the skills to make them right. So pop him in your lineup and see what happens. He's got nothing but upside right now. That could change from upside to downside at some point, but this is a smart, calculated gamble. If he's going to become a WR2, he may as well do it on your team. You can always cut him if he flops.
Tim Hightower: Don't Play
It's rare to say you shouldn't play a running back who's going to probably start against one of the worst run defenses in the league. But when he's starting a committee, that looks like it's leaning towards a dictatorship (with Ryan Torain acting as the dictator), it's a tough call, but you may want to sit him. It seems as though Hightower, who is coming off a tweaked knee, is fine on the ninjury front. But after Ryan Torain blew up two weeks ago, we're expecting Ryan to get the majority fo the carries. While it's tempting, and probably hurts, to see your 5-7th round draft pick get upstaged by a waiver wire pickup, this is the tough decision fantasy football owners have to make to win leagues. We expect Hightower to get 10 touches and put up 50 yards. If he's lucky enough to add a touchdown to that line, then he's worth playing. But if you have someone on your bench who will get 15-20 touches, put him in instead. You can never bank on touchdowns, and we always opt for the guy who should get more touches.
by Nathan Rush
The Green Bay Packers do not need to wear throwback jerseys, re-created 1929 uniforms, the Acme Packers’ 1921-22 jackets, or any other gimmicky on-field merchandise used to move product at the local mall.
But the reigning Super Bowl champions will do just that, donning their hideous blue unis with mustard-yellow numerical circles, tan pants and brown wannabe-leather helmets in Week 6 against the St. Louis Rams — a team that also wears blue and yellow, by the way.
Other than conformity, there’s no reason for the Packers to stoop to the level of every other team. Green Bay is lucky enough to have a “tradition unlike any other” — meant to be said in Jim Nantz’s Masters voice — and should treat its own franchise with the respect it has earned and rightfully deserves.
The Packers’ green and gold jerseys have been “uniform” for the club since Vince Lombardi decided so in 1959. The block “G” helmets were added in 1961. But throw history to the wind when the “re-created” 1929 blue-mustard-tan-and-brown disgraces mix with 1921-22 “Acme Packers” coach’s jackets once again this weekend.
Presumed good intentions aside — the 1929 jerseys are meant to honor the team’s first-ever world championship, when co-founder Curly Lambeau led a 12–0–1 squad to the first of three straight titles — this is no tribute.
The Packers should be the only team in the NFL without a throwback, third-jersey alternate. Coach Lombardi wore a suit, tie and dress hat; quarterback Bart Starr — the MVP of Super Bowls I and II — wore green and gold every game of his NFL career.
Granted, the Indian Packing Company funded the team’s blue jerseys and leather helmets upon its arrival in pro football back in 1921. And current quarterback and Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers appears to enjoy playing in the burlap-inspired pants.
“Love them, love them, love them,” said Rodgers, who completed 21-of-30 passes for 298 yards, three TDs and zero INTs during a 34–16 win over the 49ers the last time he wore the throwback jerseys, in Week 13 last season.
“I’ll be honest, I looked at the picture (of the uniforms) last year, and I was a little bit wary of, ‘What’s that going to look like?’ But I’ll tell you what, and you’ll probably hear it from some other guys, the pants that we have are the most comfortable pants.
“I’ve been looking forward to this game all year because of those pants. I don’t know what the problem is, why we can’t get the same material during every other game. But, I’m telling you, these brown pants — whatever, tan — are so comfortable.”
But for a Packers franchise that honors its rich tradition by wearing classic uniforms every week of the season, this ridiculous attempt to make tradition some sort of special occasion in Green Bay seems to cheapen the spirit of the entire throwback concept — which serves a valuable purpose in every other NFL city.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Aliquippa (PA) Hopewell running back Rushel Shell has committed to the University of Pittsburgh. Shell is head coach Todd Graham’s 18th verbal commitment for the class of 2012.
Shell, a 5-foot-11, 215 tailback, is the No. 3 rated runner in the Athlon Consensus 100 and is the No. 17 overall prospect in America. However, Shell is much bigger and more powerful than Keith Marshall (AC100 No. 9) and Jonathan Gray (AC100 No. 6) and may be a more complete player who is better suited for a three-down work load.
The Hopewell High prospect – which is located roughly 30 minutes from the Pittsburgh campus – is arguably the most prolific runner in Pennsylvania prep history. Shell entered his senior season with 29 consecutive 100-yard games and early in the season he became the WPIAL’s all-time leading rusher (he currently sits at 7,827 yards). He has a chance to pass Steelton-Highspire Jeremiah Young’s 9,027 yards as the Keystone State’s all-time leading high school rusher. Shell currently has rushed for 1,059 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011.
Shell is following the lead of fellow Western Pennsylvania legend Tony Dorsett. The Hall of Fame running back played at Hopewell High and in 1973 choose to play his college ball for the Pitt Panthers. Shell runs the football every Friday night in a stadium featuring Dorsett’s name high atop the marquee.
Shell cited the high-octane offense coach Graham employs and that watching Ray Graham definitely influenced his decision. Being able to play close to home with friends and family was also a key for Shell.
The talented tailback says he picked Pitt over Alabama (despite never actually taking an official visit to Tuscaloosa) and that Ohio State would have been his favorite had Jim Tressel not resigned amidst NCAA allegations.
View an in-depth scouting report and video of Rushel Shell here
LeGarrette Blount wasn't having a great season, but he was having a very LeGarrette Blout-esque season. Which means his owners are hurting now that the Tampa Bay running back is out several weeks with a grade 2 tear in his left MCL.
So what should Blount owners do now that their missing a fantasy footballer who wouldn't pile up yards, but had found the end zone three times in four and a half games.
There's speculation for exactly how long Blount will be out, but you can easily expect to miss weeks 6-8 at best.
The first option is to go get Earnest Graham, who will be the primary back-up while Blount is riding the pine. But there's a catch (there's always a catch in fantasy football, isn't there). Graham has battled hamstirng issues for a few weeks. And while he was on the field in last week's shellacking at the hands of the 49ers, hamstrings have a way of coming back.
Earnest Graham should catch a few ball (he's got 23 receptions so far this season.) Some of that is from his role as third down back when Blount is getting the majority of carries. But look for that to continue. If his hamstring holds up, Graham could easily put up a 80 yard, 1 TD day with 4-5 catches sprinkled in. He should be a solid RB1 if healthy.
If his hamstring acts up, keep an eye on Kregg Lumpkin, who would slide into the feature back role. I wouldn't pick up Lumpkin just yet, but monitor the Tampa Bay-Saints box score and news, and if you have some space for a flier, Lumpkin could be a decent gamble.
And of course, if you're really looking for an exact replica of Blount (well, a B-version of LeGarrette) go get Delone Carter. With Joseph Addai out this Sunday, Carter, who's been the goal line back for the Indianapolis Colts, will get more carries this week as well as the goal line duties. Delone hasn't shown many flashes of brilliance, or flashes of gaining yards, but he has found the end zone once (and when you take into account how woeful the Colts offense was in the first few weeks, and how few carries he got when Addai was healthy, any end zone trips is a success on that team.) Look for Delone to put up 50 yards and a touchdown this Sunday against a solid Bengals defense.
It’s been an interesting year for ACC quarterbacks. We have witnessed breakout seasons for Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Wake Forest’s Tanner Price and Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington, and it’s no coincidence that those teams are all 3-0 in league play. Florida State’s EJ Manuel has battled injuries but still has a chance to be a top signal caller. North Carolina’s Bryn Renner has the league’s top QB rating, but he has also thrown six interceptions. Miami’s Jacory Harris and Duke’s Sean Renfree have had solid seasons so far, and it may surprise many that NC State’s Mike Glennon leads the ACC in touchdown passes with 16. Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas has been inconsistent but showed his potential against Miami last week, while the sophomore expectations for Maryland’s Danny O’Brien have faded quickly with a new coaching staff and offense.
Who is the best quarterback in the ACC?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Entering the season, the battle to be the ACC’s No. 1 quarterback at the end of the year appeared to be between Florida State’s EJ Manuel and Maryland’s Danny O’Brien. After six weeks, it’s probably safe to say that neither player will make first-team All-ACC. I’d have to say Clemson’s Tajh Boyd has been the best quarterback in the ACC. Boyd has been a quick study in new coordinator Chad Morris’ offense, and leads the ACC with 310 yards a game. The sophomore has also delivered in Clemson’s toughest games this year, torching Florida State for 344 yards and three touchdowns and 386 yards and four scores against Auburn. Boyd has also thrown only two picks this year. With Clemson’s new up-tempo offense hitting on all cylinders, expect Boyd to continue posting big numbers, while leading the Tigers to an ACC Atlantic title.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
This is a tough question. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Wake Forest’s Tanner Price are both having very productive seasons throwing the ball for two teams that are playing very well, but Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington is having the best season for a quarterback — based on what he is asked to do for his team’s offense. Washington only ranks 11th in the league in yards per game with 175.3, but he has been unbelievably efficient throwing the ball out of the Yellow Jackets’ option attack. He is averaging 14.4 yards per attempt (which would lead the nation by a wide margin if he had enough attempts to qualify) and has a sparkling TD-to-INT ratio of 10-to-2. And as expected, he is running the ball well, averaging over 50 yards per game for team that has yet to lose a game. If you had to pick a quarterback in the ACC to run your team, Washington would not be high on the list — unless, of course, you run the option — but he is clearly doing a great job at the quarterback position for his team.
Jim Young (ACCSports.com, @ACCSports)
To me this a two-quarterback debate between Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Wake Forest's Tanner Price. The numbers — Boyd (1,742 yards, 15 TDs and two INTs in six games); Price (1,352 yards, 10 TDs and two INTs in five games) — are incredibly close. They've both done it against top competition. I'll give the slight edge to Tanner Price of the Demon Deacons because his road statistics are better than Boyd's and because he throws such an accurate deep ball.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Florida State's E.J. Manuel is probably the best prospect in the ACC and Logan Thomas is the best athlete with arguably the most upside. But I just can't find a reason why Clemson's Tajh Boyd isn't the best quarterback in the ACC. He leads the league in yards (1,742) by almost 300 yards, he leads the league in touchdown responsible for (18), is tied for fewest interceptions by a starter (2) and has his team unbeaten and in the national championship picture. Tanner Price, Sean Renfree, Bryn Renner and Mike Glennon all have bright futures and are talented signal callers, but no one has played better in bigger spots than Boyd.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
This is an interesting question, but I will give the slight edge to Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington over Wake Forest’s Tanner Price and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. The quarterback is asked to do so much in Paul Johnson’s attack, and Washington always seems to come through for the Yellow Jackets. He has rushed for six touchdowns and passed for 10 while only throwing two interceptions. Washington’s average of 14.4 yards per pass attempt is just gaudy. Boyd has been great this season, but some of that is the spectacular play of Sammy Watkins and Chad Morris’ offense taking the league by storm. If Price had not been injured in the second half at Syracuse, the Demon Deacons would be undefeated. But right now, I’ll take Washington for leading Georgia Tech to a 6-0 record.
Russell Wilson of NC State... wait, he plays for Wisconsin now and is a Heisman Trophy candidate on a BCS national title contender. Of those still in conference, Clemson's Tajh Boyd has been the best all-around signal-caller in the ACC. The redshirt sophomore from Hampton, Va., has battled through a hip injury but still managed to throw for 1,742 yards, 15 TDs and only two INTs; scramble for 120 yards and three TDs; and lead the Tigers to a surprising 6–0 start to the season. The 6'1", 230-pounder is tough, smart, athletic and possesses an "it" factor his teammates rally around. Coach Dabo Swinney may hog the spotlight with his crazy jumping around in-game and tearing up post-game, but it is Boyd who is the emotional leader of Clemson — and the best quarterback in the ACC.
As he stands on the cusp of history, Mike Krzyzewski’s 32nd season for the Duke Blue Devils means dealing with a program reboot. With 900 Division I college basketball coaching wins, Krzyzewski needs two wins to catch his mentor, Bob Knight, for the all-time record and three wins to call the mark his own. He’ll likely get there in November, but he’ll do so with a team that will look nothing like the squad that went 32–5 and won the ACC Tournament before bowing out in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Devils lost a pair of senior stalwarts in guard Nolan Smith, the ACC Player of the Year, and Kyle Singler, plus freshman guard Kyrie Irving, who showed enough during his injury-shortened, 11-game season to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
So last year’s perimeter-oriented team has transformed into this year’s version featuring a deep, but not yet proven, frontcourt along with a talented but mostly inexperienced backcourt. Duke’s top returning scorer is junior guard Seth Curry (9.0 ppg). The Blue Devils’ lone senior is forward Miles Plumlee (4.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg).
Yet the 64-year-old Krzyzewski is at peace with the challenge ahead as he looks down the road beyond win No. 903. “Now it’s this group’s turn,” Krzyzewski says, “not just for this year, but to set the wheels in motion to see how the next few years can be.”
While Duke lacks a dominating post player, the Blue Devils possess depth and experience that should provide defensive toughness and rebounding. Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee were regular starters last season, while Miles Plumlee started occasionally and was a solid player off the bench. Krzyzewski likes his frontcourt depth so much that there’s a chance Duke could be an “inside-outside” team this season rather than looking for points on the perimeter first.
The 6'10" Miles Plumlee became a serviceable cog in the rotation last year while averaging 17 minutes per game. He’s not likely to develop into a double-figure scorer but should provide solid rebounding and defense with additional minutes. Junior Mason Plumlee possesses the highest ceiling. He started 32 games, averaging 7.2 points and 8.4 rebounds last season while blocking a team-high 62 shots. More consistent play could make him the kind of double-double regular Duke needs. This season, a third Plumlee brother, 6'11" freshman Marshall, will fight for playing time in the paint.
Kelly made a big jump in his sophomore season, contributing points from the perimeter and inside while teaming with the Plumlees to guard the basket well. His 3-point shot (31.9 percent) wasn’t consistent, but his strength and passing ability make him valuable.
Sophomore Josh Hairston, an athletic 6'7" forward, saw few significant minutes last season as he adjusted to the physical nature of Division I basketball. His improvement in conditioning will determine how much he’ll contribute. Freshman Alex Murphy is built in the Singler mode and could force his way into the rotation.
Key Blue Devil Stat: 4
There are four former Blue Devil team captains on Duke's coaching staff, with former Oklahoma and VCU head coach Jeff Capel joining Chris Collins, Steve Wojciechowski and Nate James on the bench.
Curry and Andre Dawkins bring the most experience but are both score-first players. Both have the ability to knock down 3-pointers with regularity, yet the Blue Devils are in need of playmakers this season.
Sophomore point guard Tyler Thornton showed strong defensive skills last season in spot duty. He’ll need to produce on the offensive end to increase his playing time.
Freshmen Austin Rivers and Quinn Cook will provide athleticism and talent. A true scorer, Rivers will play from Day 1, while Cook has a chance to seize the point guard minutes. Their development, when and if it comes, is crucial to Duke’s success.
“It’s kind of a rite of passage, from being a good player to being an outstanding player,” Krzyzewski says. “Some guys make it freshman year. Some guys do it along the way. I’m looking forward to seeing who does that.”
Curry and Dawkins have played enough in Krzyzewski’s system to know what needs to be done. The Blue Devils need them to provide regular double-figure scoring nights to be a top-10 team.
With so many proven players gone, Krzyzewski faces a season in which roles will develop as the months progress. He’s not worried, though. “We have talent,” Krzyzewski says, “and that’s a good place to start.”
North Carolina is the overwhelming favorite in the ACC, but Duke is the clear No. 2 pick. If Mason Plumlee emerges as a consistent force and the freshman guards are as good as advertised, a trip to the Final Four is well within reach.
ACC Prediction: 2nd
NCAA Tournament Prediction: Elite Eight
After the North Carolina Tar Heels fell one step short of the Final Four, Roy Williams entered the offseason uncertain about what his team might look like for 2011-12. Now, he couldn’t be more pleased. Each member of Williams’ starting frontcourt — Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller — passed up a chance to enter the NBA Draft. Their decision to stay in school means that the Tar Heels return their top seven scorers from last season. Throw in a recruiting class that includes top-flight freshmen James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston, and UNC is a favorite to win its third NCAA college basketball title in the last eight years.
“I’ve had five or six teams that I thought had a chance if they get lucky, if things go well, to win a national championship,” Williams says. “That’s the same kind of thing I think with this team. But you never know what’s going to happen.”
UNC’s starters up front will contend for All-ACC first-team status after the trio combined for 43.1 points per game last season. Barnes got off to a slow start amid unreasonably high expectations for his freshman season, but he established himself as a fearless shot-maker in the clutch. He spent the offseason working on his ball-handling, which he hopes will enable him to drive more to the basket rather than relying so heavily on his jumper.
Henson, with his long reach and leaping ability, has become the ACC’s most dominating defensive force. He still needs to improve his offense, but he led the league in blocked shots (3.2 bpg) and finished third in rebounding (10.1 rpg) last year as a sophomore. Zeller, meanwhile, proved how effective he could be when healthy for a full season. The senior remains a perfect fit for UNC’s transition game — “He’s as good a runner as I’ve ever coached,” Williams says — and he has refined a right-handed hook shot as his go-to move in the post.
McAdoo figures to rotate in as the team’s third big man, and sophomore Reggie Bullock can spell Barnes at small forward after missing the final nine games last season with a knee injury. Senior Justin Watts is undersized as a backup forward, but he compensates with explosive leaping ability.
Tar Heels Key Stat: 19.7
Harrison Barnes averaged 19.7 points over the final 18 games of his freshman season. He averaged 11.8 in his first 19 games.
The Tar Heels won 17 of their final 20 games last season, a run that began when Kendall Marshall became their starting point guard. Marshall took over the starting role after outplaying incumbent Larry Drew II for the first half of the season, and he received heavy minutes after Drew quit the team in early February. Now a sophomore, Marshall is comfortable in his leadership position. He isn’t UNC’s top talent, but he is its most indispensable player because of the team’s lack of depth at his position.
Ultra-quick junior Dexter Strickland struggled with his shooting for the second year in a row, but he found his niche as UNC’s best perimeter defender. He will continue to start at shooting guard while also serving as Marshall’s primary backup at the point.
The Tar Heels shot just 32.8 percent from 3-point range last season, an area they must improve to fulfill their national championship aspirations. Junior Leslie McDonald was expected to provide some outside shooting off the bench, but he suffered a torn ACL over the summer. His loss will put more pressure on Bullock and Hairston to deliver some scoring from the perimeter.
The Tar Heels face different expectations from the ones they encountered a year ago. Then, UNC basketball rallied around the idea of clawing their way to the top of the ACC after they fell out of the Top 25 early in the season. Now, they will open the season at the top of every major poll because of their unequaled combination of talent, depth and experience.
Anything less than the ACC regular-season title and a trip to the Final Four would be a disappointment for UNC players, coaches and fans alike. There are no guarantees in the single-elimination world of the NCAA Tournament, of course, but the Tar Heels have as good a chance as anyone of cutting down the nets in New Orleans — coincidentally, the site of Dean Smith’s 1982 and ’93 national titles.
“We have the opportunity to win it all, and we have the opportunity to completely fail,” Barnes says. “It’s just a matter of whether we continue to stay humble and continue to take the right steps and get our way back up to the top like we did last year.”
ACC Prediction: 1st
NCAA Tournament Prediction: National Champs
by Tom Bowles
So what would you do with $13 million? In this economy, that’s a dollar amount that makes most middle-class Americans drool. It’ll certainly make major athletes jealous, too, after all, that’s more than the highest-paid NHL, NBA and major league baseball players earn, and fairly competitive with sport’s “holy grail” these days, the NFL.
For Clint Bowyer, that money proved the key in extending his career past a free agency desert. 5-Hour Energy is dishing out the cash to sponsor a new, third car at Michael Waltrip Racing with Bowyer at the wheel. Surely, with the decline in attendance and viewership, that amount would be capable of funding all 36 races next season, right?
In fact, that $13 million covers 20 — yes, just over half — of the 36 events on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup schedule for 2012. As a result, the newly-numbered 15 Toyota has marketers working overtime, making cold calls and begging for pocket change to get enough money to “finish out” its primary sponsorship package. In fact, Bowyer’s other option — and current team — Richard Childress Racing, was so disgusted by the financials, it reacted like Bowyer was trying to offer team owner Childress a ’95 Chevy Lumina to compete with. The “thanks, but no thanks” meeting Childress and Bowyer had precipitating their divorce after six years together in Cup sounds like the owner felt he was getting jipped by a used car salesman.
A look behind the numbers, though, shows Childress has reason to be apprehensive. If you do the math, Bowyer’s new team thinks it needs a total of $23.4 million to remain competitive on the Sprint Cup market. A middle-tier team, with no postseason appearances to date, MWR’s final number is just 10 percent lower than AFLAC’s three-year, $78 million dollar deal that is coming to a close at Roush Fenway Racing this season with top-tier superstar Carl Edwards. That shows the market price for sponsors hasn’t declined — if anything, it’s gone up. Childress, knowing he didn’t have full-time deals in place that were competitive for current drivers Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick (Budweiser sponsors only 20 races on Harvick’s No. 29 car) felt there were too many millions for his marketing company to find in side deals between now and Daytona, 2012. By Childress’ figures, running a $13 million team would either lead to layoffs or diluted competition. Because as Rusty Wallace says, “Money buys speed.”
But how do these prices make any sense? When AFLAC signed on board at Roush Fenway at the end of 2008, it was at the beginning of an economic decline that’s only gotten worse. NASCAR ratings since then, while bottoming out last season, are still off more than 15 percent from three years ago; declining attendance, consumer spending and national exposure (see: moving races from ABC to ESPN) has also cut into the sport’s marketability. For all intents and purposes, the “cost bubble” to support one of these teams should have burst years ago.
You can’t blame the sponsors. They recognize the cracks in the armor. Home Depot, the longtime backer of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota, announced Thursday that it’s scaling back to a 24-race deal next season, as Dollar General will cover the other dozen races on Joey Logano’s slate. Home Depot joins a growing trend of longtime sponsors like Budweiser, UPS, Interstate Batteries, DuPont and Caterpillar not exiting the sport but either downgrading their marketing dollars or refusing to increase the budget. Those that remain realize they’re getting more bang for their buck than ever before: at 20 races, for example, people recognize Budweiser as the primary sponsor for Harvick, maximizing exposure for the company without having to shell out the big check that goes with it. The diecasts still get made, sponsor appearances stay the same and companies can lowball, playing one team against the other until they get the leanest, most streamlined deal possible. Others companies, like Crown Royal, Red Bull and perhaps even AFLAC, are choosing to not even bother — scoffing at the price, they’re leaving the car-sponsorship game altogether.
These partial deals, on the surface, are good enough to run a program full-time if multi-car teams were willing to reshape the way they do business. They should be driving down the price … but they’re not. Instead, owners like Jack Roush, Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske and others have refused to change their modus operandi. Instead, as the asking price stays the same, their response is to poach sponsors from smaller teams for lesser prices to fill the slate. The Joe Gibbs Racing/Dollar General deal is the perfect example. JGR needs filler money so it can keep the same price — plus the bloated shop of 300-plus employees to do a job that was done by one-third of the personnel a decade ago — without lowering the budget. The success of the Gibbs program, with drivers Logano, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin combined with the media exposure of being a top-tier operation, allows Gibbs to go out and get the money needed to continue.
But the “trickle-down” effect is beginning to take a toll. There are only so many sponsors to go around, and now 20 or 25 companies are being asked to come together to fund full-time operations of just six to eight cars. That means for the lower-end teams, there’s little to no money available, yet the cost of competition hasn’t been cut; the transition to start-and-parking, like Robby Gordon Motorsports’ No. 7 operation in Sprint Cup, becomes the necessary result. Owners enter survival mode, leaving the lower end of the garage a wasteland where teams exist not to please the fans, but use them for a paycheck through parking a three-year-old car five laps into a race. It’s either that or pull out of the sport altogether.
Those “start-and-park” efforts — cars that pull in before the first pit stop — have come as a result of NASCAR’s economic slowdown. Six or seven cars pulling off has been something that fans could handle, but in the wake of these sponsorship cutbacks, the current estimate for 2012 is 10-12, a number that’s one-quarter of the 43-car grid. That’s because this “outpricing the market” mentality has worked its way up to even the top levels of Sprint Cup competition. Both Childress and Roush, 2011 winners and former owner champions, are reducing their fleets from four cars to three. In Roush’s case, he’s watching full-time sponsor UPS, which once covered all the races for David Ragan’s No. 6 team, move over to a lesser, multi-race deal with Edwards’ No. 99 group next year.
Yet Roush, like all the other owners, refuses to drop his asking price. The top-tier group, consisting of five to seven men and two-dozen cars, won’t call the other’s bluff. Each expects to need a certain amount of money to compete. How can Roush spread all that Edwards money around, funding a fourth effort, if $10 million less gives them an engine program with 20 less horsepower than Hendrick? No owner wants to risk their success by cutting costs — and since NASCAR is made up of private contractors, no profit sharing or salary cap in the name of competitive balance is possible.
It’s an ugly scene, this business model that keeps inching towards a crisis mode. And until the owners in question work on cost-cutting, not competitive advantages, it’ll be a game of survivor until the end. Should this pattern continue — and it shows no signs of stopping — what does the final owner standing win, you ask? A chance to start a new stock car league. Because the one we have, NASCAR as we know it, will be dead — no matter how many fans watch TV or hit the stands each Sunday.
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
No. 72 Hawaii at No. 92 San Jose State
San Jose State’s two-game winning streak was snapped last weekend, but the improved Spartans played relatively well at BYU. I’m still trying to figure out how Hawaii lost to UNLV by 20 points last month.
Hawaii 41, San Jose State 20
No. 1 Alabama at No. 82 Ole Miss
The Alabama defense has allowed 14 points or less in all six games this season. Not a good sign for Ole Miss, which has struggled to move the ball against quality competition.
Alabama 38, Ole Miss 6
No. 2 LSU at No. 41 Tennessee
With Tyler Bray out of the lineup, few are giving Tennessee much of a chance against the mighty LSU Tigers, but keep in mind that the Matt Simms-led Vols came oh-so-close to beating LSU in Baton Rouge last season. The Tigers scored the winning touchdown on the final play from scrimmage after the Vols’ infamous 13-man defensive alignment.
LSU 31, Tennessee 14
No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 83 Kansas
Kansas has given up 42 points or more against each FBS opponent it has faced. Oklahoma has scored 113 points over the past two games. Not a good matchup for the Jayhawks.
Oklahoma 58, Kansas 10
No. 102 Indiana at No. 4 Wisconsin
Indiana has played better in recent weeks, but this is still a team that has lost to Ball State and North Texas this season. The Hoosiers trip to Madison will not be fun.
Wisconsin 55, Indiana 7
No. 5 Boise State at No. 97 Colorado State
It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which a team that lost to San Jose State at home — that would be Colorado State —can be competitive with Boise State.
Boise State 48, Colorado State 17
No. 17 Arizona State at No. 6 Oregon
ESPN College GameDay will be making a rare appearance on the West Coast for a clash between two of the elite teams in the Pac-12. Arizona State, with its slick new uniforms, is in complete control of the South Division with a 3–0 record that includes a win over USC. A win in Eugene could possibly put the Devils in position to host the league title game. That, however, is easier said than done.
Oregon 35, Arizona State 24
No. 7 Oklahoma State at No. 25 Texas
Oklahoma State and Texas have met 25 times. Oklahoma State has won only three of those games — in 1944, 1997 and 2010. The Pokes are favored to pick up win No. 4 in this series.
Oklahoma State 38, Texas 24
No. 8 Clemson at No. 55 Maryland
Maryland has been in a funk since opening the season with a win at home vs. Miami, but the Terps did show some life last week in a five-point loss at Georgia Tech. Showing life will not be enough against Clemson.
Clemson 31, Maryland 21
No. 9 Stanford at No. 63 Washington State
The improved Cougars need to find three more wins on the schedule to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2003. Stanford will not be one of those wins.
Stanford 48, Washington State 10
No. 10 Georgia Tech at No. 67 Virginia
The Jackets scored a season-low 21 points last week, but still managed to beat Maryland and remain undefeated. This team could run the table in the regular season.
Georgia Tech 31, Virginia 20
No. 13 Virginia Tech at No. 19 Wake Forest
Wake Forest was known as a rushing team early in Jim Grobe’s tenure, but the Deacs are getting it done through the air thanks to the emergence of quarterback Tanner Price.
Virginia Tech 34, Wake Forest 24
No. 46 Ohio State at No. 14 Illinois
Illinois is favored over Ohio State for the first time since 2001, when Ron Turner’s Illini won the Big Ten title with Kurt Kittner at quarterback.
Illinois 24, Ohio State 21
No. 15 Michigan at No. 27 Michigan State
Michigan State is in the midst of its longest winning streak (three games) against the boys from Ann Arbor since the mid-1960s, when Duffy Daugherty & Co. outscored the Wolverines 78–14 in a three-game stretch.
Michigan State 28, Michigan 24
No. 18 Kansas State at No. 43 Texas Tech
The Wildcats are one of the surprise teams in the nation. I’ve picked against them in each of the last three weeks. I should jump on the bandwagon … but I’ll go with the high-scoring Red Raiders at home.
Texas Tech 34, Kansas State 30
No. 20 South Carolina at No. 40 Mississippi State
With Connor Shaw running the show, South Carolina rolled up a Steve Spurrier-era high 639 yards against Kentucky last week. Mississippi State should offer some more resistance.
Mississippi State 21, South Carolina 13
No. 23 Baylor at No. 21 Texas A&M
These two programs have played every year since 1945, but Texas A&M’s departure to the SEC most likely means the end of the rivalry.
Texas A&M 38, Baylor 34
No. 24 Georgia at No. 56 Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt’s defense has been strong, but the Commodores have only scored three points in the last two games.
Georgia 24, Vanderbilt 10
No. 26 Florida at No. 30 Auburn
It’s safe to say that a defending national champion has never been a home underdog to a team that is coming off consecutive losses of at least 28 points.
Auburn 28, Florida 23
No. 80 Colorado at No. 28 Washington
Washington quarterback Keith Price has thrown at least three touchdowns in every game this season.
Washington 37, Colorado 21
No. 34 Miami (Fla.) at No. 29 North Carolina
Miami tailback Lamar Miller might be receiving some Heisman buzz if the Hurricanes had won a few more game. The sophomore has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the first five games, including 184 vs. Ohio State and 166 vs. Virginia Tech.
Miami (Fla.) 27, North Carolina 20
No. 31 Florida State at No. 65 Duke
We thought the Florida State defense would be stout this year. We thought wrong. The Noles have given up 70 points in their last two games.
Florida State 34, Duke 21
No. 32 South Florida at No. 81 Connecticut
The Bulls are coming off a surprisingly one-sided loss (44–17) at Pittsburgh. Connecticut’s 43–16 loss at West Virginia, however, was not a surprise.
South Florida 31, Connecticut 14
No. 88 Purdue at No. 34 Penn State
The Nittany Lions might be tough to watch on offense, but this team has been solid on defense all season. It should be another ugly win for Joe Paterno & Co.
Penn State 21, Purdue 13
No. 70 UCF at No. 35 SMU
It’s C-USA East vs. C-USA West. It’s the running game vs. the forward pass. It should be an SMU victory.
SMU 29, UCF 23
No. 58 Navy at No. 37 Rutgers
Navy has lost three in a row for the first time since 2002, when Paul Johnson’s first Midshipmen club went 2–10.
Rutgers 34, Navy 27
No. 47 Iowa State at No. 38 Missouri
Iowa State’s three wins have come by an average of 2.7 points per game. Its two losses have come by an average of 23 points.
Missouri 31, Iowa State 17
No. 59 Utah at No. 39 Pittsburgh
Pitt has been one of the most inconsistent teams in the nation this season. One week after pounding South Florida, 44–17, at home, the Panthers were beaten soundly at Rutgers, 34–10.
Pittsburgh 31, Utah 14
No. 44 USC at No. 49 California
Cal shocked USC, 34–31, in 2003 in what was the first big win of the Jeff Tedford era. The Bears have lost seven straight in the series since that breakthrough victory in Berkeley, with the last two being decided by an average of 30.5 points.
California 31, USC 24
No. 53 Northwestern at No. 48 Iowa
Last week, in a 13–3 loss at Penn State, Iowa was held without a touchdown for the first time since 2007, when the Hawkeyes lost at Purdue, 31–6.
Iowa 28, Northwestern 27
No. 76 Louisville at No. 50 Cincinnati
The schedule has been far from grueling, but Cincinnati has held every team not named Tennessee to 14 points or less this season. Louisville ranks 112th in the nation in scoring offense.
Cincinnati 31, Louisville 13
No. 51 Toledo at No. 104 Bowling Green
The Rockets are one of the hidden gems in college football this season. They are 3–3 overall, with a controversial overtime loss at Syracuse, a five-point loss at Ohio State and a 40–15 loss to Boise State. This is a very solid team.
Toledo 41, Bowling Green 21
No. 89 Buffalo at No. 52 Temple
Buffalo is 2–4, but three of the four losses have come against BCS conference foes. Last week, the Bulls upset Ohio, 38–37. This is another big test.
Temple 31, Buffalo 24
No. 110 UAB at No. 60 Tulsa
UAB is one of three winless teams in the nation (New Mexico and FAU are the others). With dates against Tulsa, UCF, Marshall and Houston looming, it might be a while before the Blazers get off the mat.
Tulsa 48, UAB 14
No. 95 Northern Illinois at No. 61 Western Michigan
This is a huge game in the MAC West. Western Michigan has won four of five since opening the season with a weather-shortened loss at Michigan. The Broncos are very potent on offense.
Western Michigan 37, Northern Illinois 27
No. 64 BYU at No. 86 Oregon State
BYU swept a three-game homestand in less-than-inspiring fashion, beating UCF (24–17), Utah State (27–24) and San Jose State (29–16). Now, the show goes on the road against an Oregon State team that is rejuvenated after last week’s 10-point win over Arizona.
Oregon State 27, BYU 16
No. 120 New Mexico at No. 73 Nevada
The Lobos are looking for their first win of the year and their first win under interim head coach George Barlow. It’s not going to happen in Reno.
Nevada 48, New Mexico 14
No. 91 Ball State at No. 74 Ohio
Ohio’s 38–37 loss at Buffalo last week was very damaging. The Bobcats should be favored in every remaining game, with the possible exception of the home date vs. Temple on Nov. 2.
Ohio 31, Ball State 17
No. 87 Rice at No. 75 Marshall
Marshall’s offense, led by a true freshman quarterback (Rakeem Cato), has scored 17 points or less in all but one game this season. Rice has scored 24 or more in each of its last four games.
Marshall 24, Rice 21
No. 78 Utah State at No. 96 Fresno State
Utah State took out the frustration of three painfully close early season losses by pounding Wyoming, 63–19, last weekend in Logan.
Utah State 31, Fresno State 20
No. 101 North Texas at No. 79 UL-Lafayette
UL-Lafayette is the surprise of the Sun Belt, with a 3–0 league record that includes wins over both Troy and FIU. The Cajuns will be bowl-eligible after this weekend.
UL-Lafayette 33, North Texas 13
No. 90 East Carolina at No. 118 Memphis
It’s been a bit of a struggle for East Carolina, which has lost four of five games this year. Memphis, however, is good for what ails any team in college football.
East Carolina 41, Memphis 7
No. 93 UTEP at No. 108 Tulane
Tulane is 2–0 when it scores 47 points or more this season, and 0–4 when it doesn’t.
Tulane 22, UTEP 21
No. 114 Eastern Michigan at No. 94 Central Michigan
Eastern Michigan is 3–3, but two of those wins have come against FCS opponents and the other was against Akron, one of the worst teams in the FBS ranks.
Central Michigan 37, Eastern Michigan 14
No. 112 UL-Monroe at No. 98 Troy
Troy has dominated the Sun Belt in recent years but has had some trouble with UL-Monroe. The Warhawks have won two of the last three and three of the last six in the series.
Troy 28, UL-Monroe 20
No. 116 UNLV at No. 99 Wyoming
UNLV has been outscored in its four losses by an average of 37 points per game.
Wyoming 38, UNLV 21
No. 105 Miami (Ohio) at No. 115 Kent State
Miami broke into the win column for the first time last week, topping Army, 35–28, in Oxford. Win No. 2 should be much easier.
Miami (Ohio) 27, Kent State 10
No. 111 Idaho at No. 107 New Mexico State
New Mexico State is 2–3, with wins over Minnesota and New Mexico. The Aztecs have not defeated three FBS teams in the same season since 2004.
New Mexico State 21, Idaho 20
No. 109 Western Kentucky at No. 117 Florida Atlantic
Western Kentucky is coming off its first win of the season, a 36–33 double-OT thriller over rival Middle Tennessee. Bobby Rainey, the most underrated tailback in the nation, had his fourth 100-yard game of the season.
Western Kentucky 23, Florida Atlantic 14
Last week — 43-7
Season - 316-57
Start These Quarterbacks:
Tony Romo, Dallas (at New England)
Despite holding the Jets to only 166 yards passing last week, the Patriots still rank last in the NFL against the pass at 326.6 yards allowed per game. Mark Sanchez did throw two touchdown passes, however, so Romo should be poised for big numbers this weekend. Especially with a bye week to prepare and a healthy Miles Austin returning to the line-up. Romo is sixth in the NFL in attempts per game (38) and should get plenty of chances through the air against the Patriots.
Eli Manning, NY Giants (at Buffalo)
Only Kansas City and Washington have allowed more passing touchdowns than the Buffalo Bills. And at 283.4 yards allowed per game, the Bills rank 26th against the pass thus far in 2011. Manning has 721 yards and five touchdowns in his last two contests and has clearly established a rapport with fantasy newcomer Victor Cruz. Fantasy owners can expect big yardage and point totals, but also should anticipate a turnover or two (Buffalo leads the NFL with 12 interceptions).
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo (NY Giants)
Speaking of the Bills, Fitzpatrick should also be in the line-up this weekend. The Giants have only allowed five passing scores all season, but two of those came last week at the hands of Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson – who also combined for 315 yards through the air. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora have yet to practice, so the pass rush doesn’t appear to be ready to help the MASH unit that is the Giants' secondary. New York has allowed 63 points in its last two games against Seattle and Arizona, so there is no reason to expect that the Giants will be able to slow down the Bills' balanced attack.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (Indianapolis)
The Colts' defense has been targeted by fantasy owners all season and Week 6 should be no different. Indianapolis, who is allowing 254.2 passing yards per contest, is coming off of a game in which it made Matt Cassel look like a Super Bowl champion. The Chiefs' signal-caller completed 21-of-29 passes for 257 yards and four touchdowns. Behind the NFL’s No. 1 defense, Dalton has led his team to two straight wins in which he accounted for at least two touchdowns. The Bengals' passer is averaging just over 240 yards per game since Week 1 and will face a defense that is allowing a league worst 68.3 percent completion rate. This redhead is a quality bye week spot starter.
Mark Sanchez, NY Jets (Miami)
At the Week 6 mark of the season, Sanchez is averaging more fantasy points per game than Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, Josh Freeman and Kevin Kolb. He has been feast or famine in yardage leagues, topping 300 twice and failing to reach 200 in the other three games. But he has accounted for at least two touchdowns in four of five contests this fall and is coming off his most efficient (105.6 passer rating vs. the Patriots) performance of the year. Only the Patriots are allowing more passing yards than the Dolphins’ 307 per game and the they are not creating turnovers; the Fish have given up nine touchdowns versus only two interceptions.
Sit These Quarterbacks:
Matt Schaub, Houston (at Baltimore)
The Texans' passer has averaged fewer fantasy points per game than Matt Hasselbeck to this point of the season. Of course, not having any receivers to throw to will do that anyone’s fantasy stats – and Derrick Mason is not the answer. The Ravens have allowed three passing touchdowns all season (with six INTs), 212 yards per game and boast the NFL’s second best completion percentage against (52.7 percent). There is little upside for Schaub this week.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore (Houston)
The Texans are third in the NFL in opponents' completion percentage as they are allowing quarterbacks to complete a paltry 52.9 percent of their passes. The Texans are also third in the NFL with 15.0 sacks and sixth in yards allowed per game at 208.2. What's more, Flacco is coming off of his worst performance of the season in which he completed a meager 32.3 percent of his passes for 163 yards, no scores and had two turnovers against a struggling Jets defense. There might be better options out there.
Jay Cutler, Chicago (Minnesota)
Despite being able to run the football with some effectiveness against Detroit, the Bears' offensive line could not protect Cutler from constant harassment on Monday night. Minnesota isn’t all that scary against the pass (especially if Antoine Winfield doesn’t play) but the Vikings are second in the NFL with 16.0 sacks and have allowed only six passing touchdowns. Expect Jared Allen and Brian Robison to be in Cutler’s face all game long. Additionally, Mike Martz appears to have dedicated himself to Matt Forte – 47 att., 321 yards, TD over his last two games – so the opportunities for Cutler may be limited as the Bears look to control the clock.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit (San Francisco)
The Niners are second in the NFL in scoring defense by allowing a nasty 15.6 points per game. They are fourth in the NFL in rushing defense at a measly 76.4 yards per game. And they are coming off of a game in which they held Josh Freeman to 17-of-33 passing, 187 yards, two interceptions, no touchdowns and sacked him three times. This is an extremely tough bench as Stafford has been match-up proof all season, but he will get zero help from the ground game this weekend – the Niners are the only team yet to allow a rushing touchdown – so maybe lower your expectations this week.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (Jacksonville)
This is another tough call for fantasy owners. Here are the facts so that you can make the most educated decision possible. Big Ben scored 37.12 (Athlon scoring system) of his 93.34 total fantasy points last week against Tennessee. He will play his second game in a row with protective footwear as he continues to recover from a sprained foot. He has already turned the ball over 10 times this season. Jacksonville is allowing a relatively stingy 215.4 yards passing per game, but has not gotten to the quarterback (8.0 sacks). Rashard Mendenhall will likely play, but he still won’t be 100 percent and he has a struggling offensive line. Big Ben has averaged 203.3 yards passing in four career games against the Jags. Have fun. (I am going Romo and Cam Newton over Big Ben in my two leagues.)
Start These Running Backs:
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (Indianapolis)
There should be a developing theme circling Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati this weekend: Play your Bengals. Benson is facing the NFL's second-worst rush defense at 145.2 yards allowed per game. Additionally, only the Jets (8) and Cardinals (8) have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Colts (6). The Bengals are giving him the ball – 21 touches per game through the first five – and there is no reason to think he won’t get to the century mark and reach paydirt.
Ahmad Bradshaw, NY Giants (Buffalo)
Brandon Jacobs still had yet to practice as of Thursday as he is dealing with a sprained MCL. Last week, Bradshaw received his heaviest workload of the season when he carried 17 times against Seattle. Expect more of the same against the NFL’s 29th-rated rushing defense, the Bills, who are allowing 138.4 yards per game on the ground. There should be a lot of fireworks on both sides of this one – take the over.
Shonn Greene, NY Jets (Miami)
Rex Ryan stated vehemently that he wanted to get back to “Jets” football by establishing a physical running attack against New England. Ryan and the Jets didn’t win the game, but Greene clearly was utilized in a more productive manner. He averaged 12.7 carries per game through the first four weeks (including two games with only 10 carries), but posted 21 rushing attempts last week for a season-high 83 yards and a touchdown. He also added a pair of receptions as well. Look for more of the same game plan against the lowly Dolphins.
James Starks (Ryan Grant), Green Bay (St. Louis)
The St. Louis Rams are the worst rushing defense in the NFL – and it's not really even close. At 179.8 yards allowed per game, the Rams serve up 34 more yards per game than the next worst team (145.2). Despite an antacid-inducing time share between the two, both Starks and Grant have a chance to produce on Sunday. Starks has averaged 15.3 touches per game over his last three and Grant finally looked healthy again last week. Starks should get the “60” in the 60-40 time split, but both should reach the endzone.
Deeper Running Back Plays:
Montario Hardesty, Cleveland (at Oakland)
Peyton Hillis will be back, but trade rumors and contact talks could give Hardesty more looks.
Ryan Torian, Washington (Philadelphia)
If your crystal ball says Shannahan will go with Torain, he is a great play.
Delone Carter, Indianapolis (at Cincinnati)
Any No. 1 starter should be considered, but the Bengals are the NFL’s No. 1 defense.
Running Backs: Lowered Expectations:
Jahvid Best, Detroit (San Francisco)
The Lions have been smart with Best by handing him the ball only 11.6 times over his last three games. He is brittle and consistently hampered by injuries, so keeping him healthy against arguably the nastiest linebacking corps in the NFL will be key. The 49ers are second in the NFL in scoring defense (15.6 ppg), fourth in the NFL in rushing defense (76.4 ypg) and is the only team yet to allow a rushing touchdown. Best should get a few receptions, but will be severely limited in the ground game this weekend.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh (Jacksonville)
The Steelers' running back looks like he will be back toting the rock. However, just how healthy he is remains to be seen. In that vein, it would be a surprise if Mendenhall got more than 10-12 touches this Sunday as Mike Tomlin easies his star tailback back into action. Look for Isaac Redman to get equal (if not more) touches than his No. 1 counterpart. Oh yeah, the Jags just held Cedric Benson to 53 yards on 24 carries (2.2 ypc) and no touchdowns.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England (Dallas)
The Lawfirm is coming off of the best game of his career after rushing for a career-high 136 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Jets. Now, he faces the best rushing defense in the NFL as Dallas is allowing only 61.8 yards per game and is battling a minor toe injury to boot. With Stevan Ridley nipping at his heels (23 attempts over his last three games), Green-Ellis could be in for a long day. Additionally, the Pats should be able to throw the ball plenty and that is just not a big part of his game (three receptions on the season).
Steven Jackson, St. Louis (at Green Bay)
Jackson is likely to get a handful of catches this weekend as the game should get out of hand, so in a full PPR league, he still has some value. And he is healthy after resting for the better part of a month. However, the Packers have been nasty against the run – they are third in the NFL at 75.8 yards allowed per game. Starting tailbacks have averaged 42.8 yards per game and have scored once (Michael Turner) against the Packers. It should be noted that Matt Forte, who rushed nine times for two yards against Green Bay, did catch seven passes for 80 yards.
DeAngelo Williams (Jonathan Stewart), Carolina (at Atlanta)
The former Memphis star is beginning to produce like fantasy owners expected. He had a season-high 115 yards last week and finally reached paydirt. He has averaged over 10 yards per carry over the last two games. However, with Jonathan Stewart still very much in the mix and the Falcons' penchant for stopping the run (8th in the NFL, 89.2 ypg, 3.5 ypc allowed), Williams' upside seems to be rather limited. In eight career games against Atlanta, Williams has averaged 60.3 yards and has scored only twice.
Start These Wide Receivers:
A.J. Green, Cincinnati (Indianapolis)
The rookie from Georgia hasn’t taken long to make a big fantasy impact in the NFL. He has caught at least four passes in four straight games, has topped 90 yards in three of his last four and has scored a touchdown in three of his five career games. He is a big play waiting to happen and Andy Dalton is looking his way on a regular basis. Look for Green to exploit one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, Dallas (at New England)
For the first time since before Week 1, both Bryant and Austin were able to fully participate in practice during the bye week. Now they return with full force against the worst pass defense in the NFL (326.6 yards allowed per game). Romo also looks healthy so the Cowboys' offense will be at full strength for the first time all year.
Marques Colston, New Orleans (at Tampa Bay)
The big receiver was eased into the line-up two weeks ago and the leash was taken off last week as he delivered a five-catch, 69-yard performance against Carolina. He should be back into your line-up against a defense that has allowed nine touchdown passes against only two interceptions on the season. Alex Smith, who had his second most efficient game of his career (127.2 QB rating), threw for 170 yards and three scores against the Bucs last week. Expect much more from Drew Brees.
Victor Cruz, NY Giants (Buffalo)
The young speedster has quickly earned Eli Manning’s trust as he was targeted an NFL third-best 11 times last week. He has 17 catches for 369 yards and three scores over his last three games. Buffalo has a tendency to make big plays on defense (leading the NFL in INTs) but also is giving up plenty of long completions. They rank 26th in the NFL at stopping the pass (283.4 ypg) and only the Chiefs and Eagles have allowed more than the Bills’ 10 passing touchdowns. Play all of your Giants receivers.
Deion Branch, New England (Dallas)
After one catch in two games, Branch finally returned to normalcy with a tasty seven-reception, 74-yard, TD performance last week against the Jets. Branch now has at least seven catches in three of five games this fall. New England will struggle running the football against the NFL's toughest rush defense, so all Patriots receivers should be a solid play this weekend. Especially considering Dallas will be able to score as well.
Deeper Wide Receiver Plays:
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oakland (Cleveland)
His 12 targets last week were No. 2 in the NFL and his line over the last two is 11 rec., 214 yards, TD.
Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Green Bay (St. Louis)
Jones had his best game of the season last weekend and Nelson is still a dependable flex option against a decimated secondary.
Danario Alexander, St. Louis (Green Bay)
The Packers are bad against the pass (299.8 ypg allowed) and St. Louis will be trailing for most of this one.
Bench These Wide Receivers:
Brandon Marshall, Miami (NY Jets)
There are a variety of reasons not to use Marshall this weekend. First and foremost, Matt Moore will be the one throwing him the ball. He has averaged 122 yards passing per game for his career with a 73.5 career QB rating. Second, Darrelle Revis will be the man charged with guarding Marshall. The Jets also have been the third stingiest against fantasy receivers on the season.
Percy Harvin, Minnesota (at Chicago)
The dynamic triple-threat has yet to score a touchdown in 2011 and has caught three or fewer passes in three of five games. He is coming off of his worst performance of the year after catching one pass in the 34-10 win over Arizona. Donovan McNabb is clearly having issues finding him in the offense and the Bears should be harassing him all game long.
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis (at Cincinnati)
It is painfully obvious for Wayne owners that quarterback Curtis Painter is more comfortable throwing to Pierre Garcon. In Painter’s two starts, Wayne has a modest eight catches for 136 yards and no touchdowns. Garcon, on the other hand, has 271 yards and four touchdowns over that same span. Without Joseph Addai against the NFL’s No. 1 defense, most of the Colts' options could struggle.
Santana Moss, Washington (Philadelphia)
The Eagles have allowed a lot of touchdown passes this fall (11) but are still loaded with lockdown cover talent. Nnamdi Asomugha figures to be in Moss' hip pocket the entire game so don’t expect him to get too many looks this Sunday.
Start These Tight Ends:
Aaron Hernandez, New England (Dallas)
Returned last week with 5-56 line and all of your Patriots pass-catchers should be in the line-up.
Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati (Indianapolis)
Every Bengal has a chance to score – especially one who has reached the endzone in two straight games.
Fred Davis, Washington (Philadelphia)
Corners will be concerned with Moss and Eagles are 31st in the NFL with 11 passing TDs allowed
Bench These Tight Ends:
Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit (San Francisco)
Niners are playing excellent defense led by nasty linebackers – who will be all over Pettigrew.
Owen Daniels, Houston (at Baltimore)
Without Andre the Giant to distract defenders, the Ravens will be totally focused on OD. Baltimore is No. 2 against fantasy tight ends.
Start These Defenses/Special Teams:
The QB, RB, WR, and TE should be in your line-up, why wouldn’t the NFL’s best defense?
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Both defenses get after the quarterback and both O-Lines have struggled to protect the quarterback. Both could be big this weekend.
New York Giants
This should be a high-scoring game and the Giants are without Tuck, Osi.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The annual Michigan-Michigan State matchup always has plenty of intrigue, but the stakes are even higher this season. Both teams are ranked inside of the top 25 and are in the mix to win the Legends Division.
Nebraska entered the season as the favorite to win the Legends Division, but the Cornhuskers have not looked like a dominant team and suffered a huge loss on the injury front this week, as defensive tackle Jared Crick is out for the rest of the year.
New Michigan coach Brady Hoke is enjoying a 6-0 start to the season, which includes a thrilling 35-31 victory over Notre Dame and a 2-0 start in Big Ten play. The defensive lapses of 2010 are gone, with the Wolverines ranking ninth nationally in scoring defense.
Michigan State’s only loss of 2011 came in Week 3 against Notre Dame. The Spartans opened Big Ten play with a 10-7 victory over Ohio State.
Considering Nebraska’s issues, this matchup has taken on added importance. The winner of Saturday’s game between the Wolverines and Spartans won’t be guaranteed a division title, but a victory would certainly help build their case with nearly half of the season to go.
When Michigan State Has the Ball
Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins is the steady hand that guides the Michigan State offense. Cousins has thrown for 1,197 yards and six touchdowns through five games, but also has tossed four picks.
Stopping the pass was a major issue for Michigan’s defense last season, but has been solid through six games. The Wolverines rank 39th nationally against the pass and have not allowed a touchdown through the air in the last two games.
Although the Wolverines’ secondary has shown improvement, Michigan State will provide a tough test. Receiver B.J. Cunningham is one of the Big Ten’s top big-play threats, averaging 15.3 yards per catch. Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol will also factor into the mix at wide receiver, while athletic tight end Dion Sims has scored three touchdowns on 10 receptions this year.
Can the Spartans ignite their rushing attack against the Wolverines? The offensive line has struggled to jell this season, but has allowed only five sacks and rushers are averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
The Michigan defense has shown big improvement in nearly all areas, but is allowing 141.6 yards per game on the ground. Tackle Mike Martin is a key cog in the Wolverines' run defense and will be counted upon to create havoc in the Spartan backfield.
Michigan State needs running backs Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell to get on track on Saturday. Establishing some balance will help take the pressure off of Cousins. With the Spartans struggling to get the rushing game on track, the senior quarterback had a lot of pressure on his shoulders to win the game against Ohio State.
The Wolverines have played well in the trenches this year, and their defensive line needs to deliver once again this Saturday. Cousins is capable of winning this game without a ground attack, but Michigan State would like to establish balance.
When Michigan Has the Ball
Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges went into this season hoping to lessen the workload on quarterback Denard Robinson. Although the junior has avoided the injuries that bothered him throughout 2010, he still leads the team with 94 carries and 674 rushing attempts.
Helping Robinson in the backfield is a plethora of backs, led by Fitzgerald Toussaint and Vincent Smith. Senior Michael Shaw will also factor into the mix.
Junior Hemingway and Jeremy Gallon have been Robinson’s favorite targets in the passing game. Big things were expected of Roy Roundtree this year, but he has been a disappointment, catching only six passes for 114 yards and one touchdown through six games.
The Michigan State defense has quietly been one of the best in college football this year. The Spartans enter Saturday’s game ranked No. 1 in total defense and tied for third in points allowed.
Much of the charge on defense has been led by underclassmen. The Spartans have only two seniors listed as starters for Saturday’s game. The success starts up front, with junior tackle Jerel Worthy anchoring the line. Worthy has only 10 tackles this year, but his presence goes beyond the box score. Sophomore linebacker Max Bullough has been another stellar performer, collecting 33 stops through five games.
It may seem simple, but Michigan State’s best chance at winning this game will rely on its ability to contain Robinson. Although he has continued to shoulder a heavy workload on the ground, Robinson has tossed nine picks and is still finding his rhythm in the passing game this season.
Robinson and the Wolverines have to be careful with the ball, as they are tied for the Big Ten lead with 11 lost turnovers. In a tight game like this, holding onto the ball is going to be especially important.
Stopping Robinson won’t be easy. However, if Michigan State can’t find the answer to stopping him, forcing a couple of turnovers isn’t a bad alternative.
This unit was a weakness for Michigan last season, but has improved under the direction of coach Dan Ferrigno. Kicker Brendan Gibbons has connected on four of six field goal attempts, while punts will be handled by Matt Wile (41.1 average) or Will Hagerup (37.7 average).
Michigan has not produced many big returns this season, with Vincent Smith and Jeremy Gallon serving as the team’s top two options.
Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy has connected on 6 of 9 attempts this year, including a season-long of 50 yards.
The Spartans have the edge on returns, as Keshawn Martin and Nick Hill are the team’s top options.
After three wins in a row over Michigan, has the balance of power in the state shifted to East Lansing? Perhaps it has for 2011, but Michigan coach Brady Hoke is bringing in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes and it seems like only a matter of time before the Wolverines are back in the top 10.
Neither team is without flaws, but it’s hard to pick against Michigan State with this game at home. If the offensive line can give him ample time to throw, quarterback Kirk Cousins should be able to find open receivers against the Wolverines’ secondary. However, the Spartans need to get their struggling rushing game on track to create balance.
Michigan State’s defense hasn’t gotten enough credit, but is ranked as one of the best in college football. If the Spartans can find a way to keep Denard Robinson in check, and make the other Michigan offensive weapons win this game, Michigan State should extend its streak to four over the Wolverines.
Michigan State 26, Michigan 23
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Week 7 officially marks the half-way mark of the 2011 college football season. For those counting at home, only Rutgers and Stanford remain unbeaten against the spread (5-0). I will be going back to the Cardinal well, but I am staying far away from the Scarlet Knights' bout with option kings Navy. The BCS schools of Oklahoma (8-2), Washington (8-2) and Georgia (8-2-2) have been very kind to point-spread aficionados everywhere and I will be revisiting those states once again in Week 7.
In a strange turn of events, I am taking 11 road favorites to cover this weekend — and one home favorite. Two teams to keep an eye on are Wisconsin at home against Indiana and Oklahoma at Kansas. Both are favored by more than 35 points, and normally anything over 28 instantly scares me away, however, both could top 60 points and cover easily (if that makes any sense). Take the overs as well.
Onto Week 7's picks...
Season Record ATS: 37-20-2 (9-3 last week)
Week 7's Top Picks:
1. Oklahoma State (-7.5) at Texas
Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden was sitting on the bench before halftime in last week's 70-28 win over Kansas. Weeden operates the nation's No. 1 scoring offense (51.4 ppg) and No. 2 total offense (577.4 ypg) and carries his unbeaten Pokes into Austin for the second consecutive season. The 33-16 win over the Horns last season marked the first time in school history Oklahoma State had won in Austin so Weeden and company know what it takes to win on the 40 Acres. The Longhorns allowed 367 yards and three scores to Landry Jones of Oklahoma last weekend in the awful 55-17 showing in the Red River Shootout. Take the Pokes to win big and push their ATS record to 5-1 this season. My Pick: Oklahoma State -7.5
2. Georgia Tech (-7) at Virginia
Tech's offense is a well-oiled option machine - and is 4-1-1 against the spread on the year. The only team of comparable talent UVa has faced was North Carolina. The Cavaliers allowed 222 yards rushing in the 28-17 road loss. The Yellow Jackets' offense is rolling up 360.5 yards per game on the ground and is No. 2 in the nation in passing efficiency. Paul Johnson has a legit ACC title contender, so winning on the road within the division is imperative. His team will be ready for a Virginia team who needed overtime to beat Idaho 21-20 its last time on the field. My Pick: Georgia Tech -7
3. South Florida (-7.5) at UConn
The Bulls had been rolling along (4-0) until getting buzz-sawed by Ray Graham and the Pitt Panthers two weeks ago. Skip Holtz's guys have had two weeks to prepare for arguably the worst offense in the Big East. The Huskies have lost four of their last five games and has allowed 81 points in its last two games. The 101st-ranked total offense — and the complete lack of quarterback play — will cost UConn any chance of pulling the upset. South Florida's balanced offensive attack (223.2 rushing, 280.4 passing per game) will be too much for the Huskies to keep pace with. My Pick: USF -7.5
4. Stanford (-21) at Washington State
I just can't stay away from Andrew Luck. The Cardinal are one of two teams left in football that is unbeaten against the spread (5-0). Stanford has been absolutely crushing opponents by an average margin of victory of 35.6 points per game. The Cougars played them tough last season (38-28), so Luck will certainly have his team on high alert. Additionally, the return of starting Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel might actually disrupt the Cougars offense - which has been relatively consistent under Marshall Lobbestael. Wazzu has allowed 32.3 points per game over its last three, including losses to San Diego State and UCLA. Don't fail me now Cardinal! My Pick: Stanford -21
5. Clemson (-7.5) at Maryland
There may not be a hotter team in the nation than the Clemson Tigers. They have covered four straight (including three upsets) and are 5-1 against the spread this season. The balanced Tigers offense posted 500 yards last week in the 36-14 win over Boston College while the Terps played valiantly agianst Georgia Tech in a 21-16 loss (scoring 13 fourth-quarter points). With major issues at quarterback — starter Danny O'Brien was pulled for C.J. Brown who proceeded to complete four of his 17 pass attempts — Clemson should have no problem stacking the box to slow the Terps' ground game. Clemson rolled 31-7 last season over Maryland and has won two out of three in College Park. My Pick: Clemson -7.5
6. East Carolina (-14) at Memphis
I took Houston to crush ECU last week and it paid off with 56-3 uber-cover. The Pirates have played a brutal schedule (losses to South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Houston and North Carolina), so facing the worst team in the FBS ranks should come as a welcome sight. Memphis got housed 28-6 by Rice last week and is allowing 36.7 points per game to go with 495 yards per game. Dom Davis will get back on track against the lowly Tigers. My Pick: ECU -14
7. Alabama (-25.5) at Ole Miss
The Crimson Tide is 5-1 against the spread this season and has crushed everyone it has faced. The nation's top scoring defense is allowing only seven points per game while the offense is leading the SEC in rushing at 217 yards per contest. Ole Miss is allowing 193 yards per game on the ground (95th nationally). If that wasn't enough, Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron added a new element to the offense last week by completing 23-of-30 passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns in the 34-0 win over Vanderbilt. If Alabama adds an explosive passing attack to go with this nasty defense and power rushing attack, no one will beat the Tide in 2011. Bama has outscored Ole Miss 45-13 over the last two meetings. My Pick: Alabama -25.5
8. Toledo (-7.5) at Bowling Green
The Rockets played tough against Boise State, should have beaten Syracuse, easily handled a very good Temple team 36-13 and destroyed Eastern Michigan 54-16 last weekend. Bowling Green has been outscored 100-31 in two blowout losses to Western Michigan and West Virginia and lost to Toledo last fall 33-14. Depite being a rivalry game, the tale of the tape shows two teams headed in opposite directions. My Pick: Toledo -7.5
If you are feeling lucky:
9. Miami, Ohio (-3.5) at Kent State
Kent has been outscored 57-20 over the last two by Northern Illinois and Ohio and ranks as arguably the worst offense in the nation. The Redhawks got into the win column last week by beating Army 35-28 and have been able to throw it well all season. Vegas is way off on this one. My Pick: Miami, Ohio -3.5
10. Florida State (-13.5) at Duke
The Noles are angry after losing three straight brutal games. Duke just doesn't have the talent to keep up. EJ Manuel is back and will torch the 87th-rated pass efficiency defense and Mark Stoops' defense will control the line of scrimmage against the 112th-ranked rushing attack. My Pick: Florida State
11. Colorado (+15) at Washington
The Huskies, behind stellar quarterback play, are 4-1 against the spread and on the field. They are poised to challenge Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 North if they can stay the course. After a bye week to rest, and facing a defense allowing 33.3 points per game and 250 yards through the air, Washington should roll. My Pick: Washington -15
12. Michigan (+2) at Michigan State
Sparty has won three straight games in this rivalry and the loser here is probably out of the race for the top spot in the Big Ten's Legends division. Michigan State boasts the nation's No. 1 defense and Denard Robinson has played wildly inconsistent football despite the 6-0 record. My Pick: Michigan State -2
5-0 Against the Spread: Rutgers, Stanford
5-1 Against the Spread: Alabama, Arkansas St., Clemson, Marshall, Michigan, Western Michigan
4-1 Against the Spread: Baylor, Cincinnati, Georgia (4-1-1), Georgia Tech (4-1-1), Kansas St., Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Temple, Texas Tech, UTEP, Utah St., Wake Forest, Washington, Washington St., Wisconsin
1-4 Against the Spread: Air Force, Colorado St., Florida St., NC St. (1-4-1), Texas A&M, Troy, Utah, Virginia,
1-5 Against the Spread: Boston College, Central Michigan, UConn, Kent St., Mississippi St., Nebraska, Penn St, UCLA, Virginia Tech,
Other Week 7 Content:
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 7
1. Illinois’ schedule hasn’t been one of the most difficult in the nation this year. However, the Illini are 6-0 and setup for a run at the Big Ten title, provided they knock off Ohio State on Saturday. The Fighting Illini are led by sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, and a stingy defense that is allowing only 17.8 points per game. The Buckeyes dropped to 3-3 with a 34-27 defeat at Nebraska last Saturday. Ohio State held a 27-6 lead early in the fourth quarter, but an injury to quarterback Braxton Miller limited the offense the rest of the game. Miller is expected to start, and the offense will get a boost with the return of running back Daniel Herron, after a six-game suspension for violating NCAA rules. Illinois’ last win over Ohio State in Champaign came in 1991, but the Illini defeated the Buckeyes in 2007 in Columbus. This is a big game for Illinois, considering they host Michigan and Wisconsin in November. While the Fighting Illini is positioning for a run at the conference title, Ohio State just needs a win. At 3-3, the Buckeyes could be in danger of a losing season with a loss on Saturday, while interim coach Luke Fickell needs a big win to keep his name in the mix for the full-time job in 2012.
2. Could Saturday’s Oregon-Arizona State matchup be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship? After wins over USC and Utah, the Sun Devils are firmly in control of the South. Oregon is no lock to win the North, especially with a Nov. 12 date at Stanford. The Sun Devils’ last victory over the Ducks was in 2004. Winning in Eugene won’t be easy, but Arizona State catches a break with Oregon running back LaMichael James likely sidelined with an elbow injury. With James sidelined, Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas and Tra Carson are expected to shoulder the workload in the backfield. Quarterback Brock Osweiler needs to have a big game for the Sun Devils to pull the upset. Also, Arizona State’s defense will have to contain Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, who has accounted for 17 touchdowns this year. Even if the Sun Devils don’t pull off the upset, this is a good opportunity to build experience for a potential repeat trip to Eugene in December.
3. One week after getting torched by Oklahoma, Texas’ defense is under the spotlight once again. Oklahoma State travels to Austin on Saturday, looking to earn back-to-back wins over the Longhorns for the first time in school history. In last season’s matchup, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden threw for 409 yards and one score, while receiver Justin Blackmon caught nine passes for 145 yards and one touchdown. In last week’s game against Oklahoma, Texas got very little pressure on quarterback Landry Jones and recorded only one sack. If the Longhorns want to win this one, they need the defense to get after Weeden and force some turnovers. The offense also has to pick it up, especially after last week’s statline – 259 total yards and five turnovers.
4. Without quarterback John Brantley, Florida knew it faced an uphill battle going into last week’s game against LSU. The Gators were very conservative with true freshman Jacoby Brissett guiding the offense and managed only 11 points. With Brantley sidelined one more week, it’s important for Brissett or fellow true freshman Jeff Driskel to spark the offense in Saturday’s game against Auburn. The Gators are still in the mix for the SEC East title, but cannot afford another conference loss. The Tigers aren’t without questions either, as starting quarterback Barrett Trotter has struggled and the defense has allowed at least 34 points four times this year. The Gators allowed only 46 points through their first four games, but have allowed 79 in their last two contests. With two struggling offenses, this game could be decided by whichever defense is able to create the most turnovers and stop the run. Neither team will be too aggressive throwing the ball, which forces a lot of pressure on running backs Michael Dyer (Auburn) and Chris Rainey (Florida).
5. Don’t expect many pleasantries to be exchanged in Saturday’s game between Baylor and Texas A&M. Baylor threatened to sue Texas A&M for leaving the Big 12, which has caused plenty of hard feelings between the two fanbases. On the field, this should be one of Week 7’s most entertaining matchups. Texas A&M’s secondary ranks last in the nation, and will be under fire from Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin and a deep group of receivers. The Aggies’ defense likely won’t be able to slow down the Bears’ passing attack, but can get help from their offense's solid rushing game to control the clock and keep the ball away from Griffin. Backs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael are averaging 188 yards a game on the ground, which will test a Baylor defense that ranks 83rd against the run. Considering the hard feelings between these two schools, who knows when they will play again? These two teams have met every year since 1945, but with A&M moving to the SEC, it’s unlikely this rivalry will be picked up again anytime soon. However, considering the firepower on both sidelines, this matchup could be a memorable one.
6. Another week, just another tune-up for Alabama and LSU in the collision course for its Nov. 5 matchup. The Crimson Tide is a big favorite on the road against Ole Miss, while the Tigers head to Knoxville to take on Tennessee. Without quarterback Tyler Bray, the Volunteers face an uphill battle to knock off the Tigers. Filling in for Bray will be senior Matt Simms, who started eight games last season. The countdown is on for both Alabama and LSU, as 2011’s most-anticipated game inches closer. With each team having two more games before the matchup, both will be looking to fine tune every area before Nov. 5.
7. Last week’s win over Florida State pushed Wake Forest squarely into contention for the ACC Atlantic crown. The Demon Deacons are 3-0 in conference play, with a key Nov. 12 date at Clemson. However, Wake Forest must first survive a visit from Virginia Tech this Saturday. The Demon Deacons have lost their last four games to the Hokies, with the last home victory coming in 1970. Virginia Tech rebounded from a disappointing 23-3 loss to Clemson by rallying in the fourth quarter to beat Miami last Saturday. Quarterback Logan Thomas took a step forward in his development in the win over the Hurricanes, totaling five touchdowns and misfiring on only two passes. The Demon Deacons have been solid on defense, particularly against the run. Considering the Hokies already have one conference loss, this is a must-win game, especially with Georgia Tech undefeated in the ACC Coastal race.
8. There’s not a ton of marquee matchups this Saturday, but Michigan-Michigan State should be the headliner. The Spartans have won three in a row over the Wolverines and will be looking to take advantage of a raucous crowd at home in East Lansing. Michigan is off to a 6-0 start under new coach Brady Hoke. Quarterback Denard Robinson continues to make plays, while the defense has shown big improvement under new coordinator Greg Mattison. Robinson faces a stiff test on Saturday, as Michigan State ranks first nationally in total defense and third in scoring. The Spartans have struggled to get their rushing attack on track, and the offensive line has not performed well. Considering Nebraska’s struggles and the loss of tackle Jared Crick, the winner of this game will take a step forward to contending for the Big Ten Legends Division title.
9. The South Carolina-Mississippi State matchup isn’t going to register on the national radar, but there’s a lot of intrigue surrounding this game. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier made the switch at quarterback from Stephen Garcia (now dismissed) to Connor Shaw against Kentucky, which sparked the offense for 54 points in Saturday’s victory. However, Mississippi State’s defense will present a tougher challenge, particularly against the pass, where the Bulldogs rank 20th nationally. Mississippi State’s offense is also under fire, as quarterback Chris Relf has struggled and sophomore Tyler Russell is expected to see more playing time. The Bulldogs and Gamecocks have not played since 2007. Mississippi State has lost the last five games in this series, and a win over South Carolina would be huge, especially with all three victories coming against teams from outside a BCS conference.
10. Kansas State continued its surprising start, defeating Missouri 24-17 to move to 5-0. Leading the charge for the much-improved Wildcats have been linebacker Arthur Brown and quarterback Collin Klein. Both players will be crucial to Kansas State’s hopes of moving to 6-0 Saturday, as the Wildcats travel to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech. The Red Raiders will test a Kansas State secondary ranked third in the Big 12 in pass defense. However, Texas Tech’s offense suffered a setback with the loss of running back Eric Stephens to a season-ending knee injury. Without Stephens, more of the focus is going to be on quarterback Seth Doege. The Wildcats would prefer not to get in a shootout with the Red Raiders, which is why Klein and running back John Hubert have to control the clock and keep Doege and his receivers on the sidelines.
Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 7 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.
Michigan State 26, Michigan 23
Oregon 44, Arizona State 30
Oklahoma State 41, Texas 27
Virginia Tech 27, Wake Forest 24
Texas A&M 41, Baylor 38
Ohio State 24, Illinois 20
Florida 23, Auburn 20
LSU 31, Tennessee 10
Florida State 38, Duke 20
Kansas State 34, Texas Tech 30
Pittsburgh 28, Utah 17
Miami 27, North Carolina 24
South Carolina 24, Mississippi State 20
Looking for a few upsets? Keep a close watch on these games.
Miami at North Carolina (-2)
This game is a tossup. The Hurricanes have struggled on defense, but the Tar Heels haven’t exactly been a shutdown unit either.
South Carolina (-5) at Mississippi State
Just like Miami-North Carolina, this one has tossup written all over it. The Gamecocks had a good showing last week, but it’s hard to read much into beating Kentucky.
Kansas State at Texas Tech (-3.5)
The Wildcats aren't getting much respect from the folks in Vegas. Without Eric Stephens, the Red Raiders will have to lean even more on quarterback Seth Doege.
Northwestern at Iowa (-7)
Wildcats’ quarterback Dan Persa tore his Achilles in last season’s matchup against the Hawkeyes. Now that he’s back, Northwestern is a dangerous team in Big Ten play.
Western Kentucky at FAU (-3)
The Hilltoppers are coming off a solid road win at MTSU, while this is FAU’s opener in its new stadium. In a matchup with two sluggish offenses, I like Western Kentucky with running back Bobby Rainey leading the way.
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Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa won't forget last season's game against Iowa.
Will it be Danny O'Brien or C.J. Brown under center for Maryland on Saturday?
Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn is out for the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury suffered in the loss against Washington.
Auburn's offense is struggling, but coordinator Gus Malzahn believes Barrett Trotter is still the best quarterback to lead the offense.
Illinois' receiver A.J. Jenkins is off to a great start this season. Is he the Big Ten's best receiver after six weeks?
What if Russell Wilson chose Auburn over Wisconsin?
An Alabama offensive lineman could miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury.
The value for Missouri to join the SEC is uncertain.
Penn State receiver Derek Moye suffered a foot injury and is out for Saturday's game against Purdue.
San Diego State is interested in joining the Big 12.
Are there any quick fixes for Louisville after a slow start?
Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree has been out since the season opener against Boise State, but is getting closer to a return.
Jared Sullinger’s decision to return to Ohio State ensured the Buckeyes another shot at getting to the Final Four. Thad Matta hadn’t had much luck keeping big men around Columbus for more than one year — witness Greg Oden, Kosta Koufos and B.J. Mullens.
However, Sullinger is a different breed. He averaged a double-double as a freshman and would have been a sure-fire lottery pick, but he opted to return for another year in college.
He told reporters immediately after getting bounced in the Elite Eight that he’d be back — and he stuck to his word. Athlon Sports sat down with Sullinger over the summer to discuss the upcoming season.
Athlon Sports: What is your favorite opposing gym?
Jared Sullinger: Michigan — mostly because of the rivalry. That building is electric and a fun place to play.
What’s the place you least like to play in the Big Ten?
I’m not sure there is a bad place to play in the league, but they were entertaining at Purdue. They kept singing “Party in the USA” and were yelling “Subway Diet” at me every time I was at the free throw line.
Who is the toughest guy who guarded you so far in college?
Colton Iverson at Minnesota (who has since transferred to Colorado State). The one thing about him is that I couldn’t move him. He really held his ground and I honestly didn’t expect that.
How about the most difficult player you have had to guard?
JaJuan Johnson. He’s able to make really difficult shots. Even when I had a hand in his face, he made shots. There was really nothing you could do.
Which coach in the league would you want to play for — other than Thad Matta, of course?
Tubby Smith. I like his high-low. It looks like there are a lot of easy baskets down in the post.
You didn’t wait long to announce you’d be coming back to Ohio State for your sophomore season. You did it immediately after you guys lost in the Elite Eight. Did you ever have second thoughts after saying it?
Never. Honestly, I knew the whole year I was coming back. I never came out and blatantly said it, but I knew. A lot of people were telling me it was off emotion, but I knew I was coming back — and I’m a man of my word.
Why did you decide to come back even though you probably would have been a high lottery pick?
My teammates. They make college fun. I still want to be a kid. I don’t want to be a professional just yet. I’m honestly having too much fun right now — and I also think that I can learn a lot more from Coach Matta and develop my game before I get to the next level.
When did it hit you that your season was over?
The day after we lost, when I got on the plane. I was thinking that we were supposed to be in the hotel getting ready to shoot. Actually, maybe it was right after the game, when the buzzer went off, I was still thinking we had tomorrow. But then I walked in the locker room and saw Jon (Diebler), Dave (Lighty) and Dallas (Lauderdale) all crying, and then it hit me that there was no tomorrow for them.
How much blame did you put on yourself for the loss to Kentucky?
Those two free throws I missed. I put a lot on those because we ended up losing by two points. I went 7-for-9 from the line, but if I make those two free throws, we have a chance to go to overtime. It’s tough thinking about that. It’s still tough.
There’s been a lot of talk that you decided to come back so that you could expand your game and play power forward.
I talked to Coach Matta and told him that whatever position he wants me to play, I’ll play it. Whatever he asks, I’ll do — whether it’s the 4 or the 5. People say that I can’t shoot, dribble and that I’m too slow to guard a 4. I’ll let people be the judge of that this year. I came in last year at 285 pounds, and now I’m at 275. It’s a big difference. I’m actually surviving conditioning this time around.
How tough has it been to slim down? Let’s face it, I know you like food.
I love to eat, but I don’t eat a lot anymore. I used to eat three or four plates at each meal, but I’ve cut it down now to just one plate. It’s kind of crazy.
What’s your ultimate meal?
My mom’s steak, my aunt’s broccoli and cheese and some loaded mashed potatoes.
Have you and Aaron Craft worked on your voices after that, um, unique rendition last year of “Party in the USA” that made the rounds just about everywhere?
No singing lessons. We still get a lot of stuff about that, though. I was in a fast food restaurant and “Party in the USA” came on and everyone in the whole place wanted me to sing it.
Give me a rating from 1 to 10 on each of your singing performances — you, (Aaron) Craft and (Jon) Diebler.
(laughing) Craft was a negative two, Diebler was probably a 0.28 and I was a 10. But I’m going to take Craft’s side on this one, he was sick when he sang. He’s better than what was in the video.
What’s your take on a bunch of the top players — not just you — returning to college basketball this season?
That was pretty amazing for college basketball. We showed that it’s not just about the money; it’s about winning. I know Terrence Jones and Harrison Barnes personally — and they both love to win. This was a big step for college basketball. and I think it’ll make for a great year.
With Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all coming back to North Carolina and Jones returning to Kentucky, you guys went from the preseason No. 1 team in the country to the consensus No. 3 team. What are your thoughts on that?
I feel like we’re in the same spot as we were last year, not being the favorite — but being ranked somewhere between three and five. It doesn’t really matter to me. I like where we’re at — and I love the freshman class we’ve brought in.
Tell us a little bit about this new group. Give us your thoughts on each of the new guys.
Let’s start with (center) Amir Williams. He’s a funny kid who is real athletic and has a high motor. (Center) Trey McDonald is a hard worker who is pretty dang good. (Forward) Sam Thompson is athletic, smart and is high-energy — especially on defense. (Forward) LaQuinton Ross is a skilled forward who is long as can be, and (point guard) Shannon Scott is fast and is similar to Aaron Craft. These guys are really going to help us this year and in the future.
What do you want to do after you are done playing basketball?
I want to own my own business someday. I’m big and I like to eat. I want to own a restaurant, maybe a soul food place.
A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 6, along with the consensus pick of Athlon Sports editors Mitchell Light, Rob Doster, Nathan Rush, Patrick Snow and Steven Lassan:
Bills (4-1) at Giants (3-2)
The Wide Right Bowl will feature countless replays of Scott Norwood’s infamous 47-yard missed field goal at the end of Super Bowl XXV — which resulted in the second Lombardi Trophy for the Giants and the first of four consecutive Bills’ losses on Super Sunday. This time, New York state supremacy is on the line.
Giants by 3
Colts (0-5) at Bengals (3-2)
Normally, a two-hour drive down I-74 to Cincy would be a welcome road trip for Colts fans. But there may be fewer blue jerseys in the stands this year, as winless Indianapolis has shown few signs of life so far. Meanwhile, the Bengals are hopeful that the rookie QB-WR duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green can win again and match the team’s 2010 win total.
Bengals by 3
Jaguars (1-4) at Steelers (3-2)
The final leg of Pittsburgh’s four-game tour of the AFC South, which has already included a close call win at Indianapolis, a late loss at Houston and a blowout of Tennessee.
Steelers by 9
Eagles (1-4) at Redskins (3-1)
The heat is on Andy Reid and Michael Vick to stop Philly’s downward spiral. “Dream Team” never happened; “Redeem Team” still can.
Eagles by 1
49ers (4-1) at Lions (5-0)
Jim Harbaugh’s Niners hope to catch Motown hung over from a weeklong Monday night party following the team’s first MNF win since 1998.
Lions by 3
Rams (0-4) at Packers (5-0)
When a winless team visits an undefeated club this late in the season, odds are both squads exit with zeros — as opposed to ones — in the respective columns that were already blank. Just a roundabout way of saying St. Louis will almost certainly lose at Green Bay this week.
Packers by 14
Panthers (1-4) at Falcons (2-3)
Local legend Cam Newton — who was born in College Park, Ga., and attended Westlake High School in Fulton County — returns to Atlanta’s Georgia Dome for the first time since leading Auburn to a 56–17 win over South Carolina in the SEC title game. The Panthers’ rookie will be playing in front of friends and family as he looks for the first road win of his career.
Falcons by 4
Browns (2-2) at Raiders (3-2)
Expect an emotional scene at the Black Hole, as Al Davis (July 4, 1929 – Oct. 8, 2011) is honored by the Raider Nation in the first home game since the three-time Super Bowl champion owner’s passing. The Browns are fresh off a bye week but are walking into an even more hostile environment than usual in Oakland.
Raiders by 6
Texans (3-2) at Ravens (3-1)
Houston has problems following the loss of linebacker Mario Williams (torn pectoral) and the likely absence of receiver Andre Johnson (hamstring) — arguably the team’s top playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Ravens by 7
Saints (4-1) at Buccaneers (3-2)
Drew Brees has made the Tampa-St. Pete area his home away from home the past two years — throwing for a combined 450 yards, six TDs and one INT during 38–7 and 31–6 road wins.
Saints by 6
Cowboys (2-2) at Patriots (4-1)
New England has the league’s best offense (495.2 ypg) and worst defense (433.0 ypg). Dallas has a quarterback, Tony Romo, who has been hailed as the best (playing through injury vs. 49ers) and the worst (throwing away win vs. Lions). After what must have felt like an excruciatingly long bye week, the eyes of Texas are on Romo in this high-profile matchup.
Patriots by 9
Vikings (1-4) at Bears (2-3)
This Sunday night tilt features the only two teams in the NFC North that are not unbeaten. Last season, Chicago cruised to a pair of wins against Minnesota — with a 27–13 victory in Week 10 and a 40–14 blowout in Week 15.
Bears by 4
Dolphins (0-4) at Jets (2-3)
Rex Ryan’s club is in desperation mode heading into this Monday night AFC East fight. After suffering losses to the Patriots, Ravens and Raiders, the Jets are in a must-win mindframe against the winless Dolphins — who will give Matt Moore his first start against the No. 5 pass defense (203.0 ypg) in the league.
Jets by 7
Michigan State has won three games in a row over hated-Michigan, but the current streak was preceded by the Wolverines taking six in a row over the Spartans from 2002-07. There have been many dramatic Paul Bunyan Trophy games — from Gary Moeller going for two in 1990, to the MSU clock operator in 2001 to the triple-overtime thriller in 2004 — and the 2011 version sets up as a potential classic. Michigan seems to be back on college football’s national radar under new coach Brady Hoke, who has the Wolverines flying high at 6-0. Mark Dantonio’s club has the top-rated defense in the nation, and the Spartans will have major momentum in the Big Ten’s Legends Division race with a victory. Hoke will try to become the first Michigan coach since 1948 (Bennie Oosterbaan) to beat Michigan State in his debut season. The Spartans and Wolverines will kick it off at noon Eastern Time on Saturday.
Who Wins: Michigan or Michigan State?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I like Michigan State to win Saturday’s matchup. The Spartans have been rock solid on defense this year, allowing only 10.2 points a game and ranking first nationally in total defense. Those numbers will be put to the test by Michigan’s offense, particularly quarterback Denard Robinson. The junior is having a great year running the ball (674 yards and eight touchdowns), but has had his struggles through the air (9 INTs, 55.8 completion percentage). Although Robinson has been finding ways to win games, I’m not sure the Spartans’ defense is going to allow him many opportunities to launch a comeback if the Wolverines fall behind. Michigan State’s offense needs to play better, particularly on the offensive line and with the rushing attack. The Spartans have won the last three matchups in this series and with this game in East Lansing, I like Michigan State to pull out a close game in the fourth quarter.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
This game is a tough one to pick, but I’m going with Michigan by a field goal. Michigan State does have the top-rated defense in the country, but four of the five Spartans opponents are ranked at 88th or worse in offense. Notre Dame is the one solid offense MSU has faced, and the Irish won 31-13. The Spartans ran all over Michigan’s porous defense a year ago, and they intercepted Denard Robinson three times. I don’t see either one of those things happening this season. The Wolverines defense has improved greatly under Greg Mattison, and the MSU offensive line has struggled early this season. This game will go to the team that wins the running battle, and I think UM’s Robinson will make that happen.
Hail to the Victors. Denard X. Robinson will lead the undefeated Wolverines past the Spartans in front of a hostile crowd in East Lansing. This year, Shoelace has been phenomenal once again, throwing for 1,130 yards, 10 TDs and nine INTs, while running for 720 yards and eight TDs. But this week, in particular, is a redemption game for the X-man, who threw a career-worst three INTs and was held to his fourth-lowest rushing total of the season during a 34–17 embarrassment at the Big House last year. With the Legends Division on the line, expect Robinson to make enough plays with the game on the line against a stingy Spartans defense that ranks first in the nation in yards allowed (173.4 ypg) and third in points allowed (10.2 ppg). The Paul Bunyan Trophy will be reclaimed by the Maize and Blue, thanks to their tall-tale quarterback.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
I will take Kirk Cousins to complete a big fourth-quarter third-down conversion and Le'Veon Bell to rush for two one-yard touchdowns giving the Spartans their fourth consecutive win over the Wolverines. Cousins, if he plays well, will be the difference in the game as his ability to push the ball down the field against the Michigan secondary will play a key role. While Denard Robinson has been electric, he has also been wild and turnover-prone. Look for Jerel Worthy and the nation's No. 1 defense to make life hard on the Maize and Blue offense all game long. Spartans by 3.
I've never seen grown men get so worked up over another grown man like football fans and Tim Tebow. What is is about the Denver Broncos new starting quarterback that makes guys want to spend a lot of time and energy expressing their love for him?
Sure, he works hard, but lots of players work hard. Are these all Florida Gators fans? I just don't get it.
If anyone can explain the Tim Tebow phenomenon to me, I would love to hear it.
by Charlie Miller
The Boston Red Sox have no general manager, no manager and $126 million committed in players’ salaries for 2012. Maybe the 126 number would frighten most GMs, but Boston has grown accustomed to payrolls north of $160 million, so it’s not that far out of line. And with ticket sales continuing at a record pace and revenues from NESN soaring, the team isn’t close to financial trouble.
However, they may be racing toward trouble of another kind. The $126 million does not include a DH, a rightfielder or, most importantly, a closer. It also doesn’t include the handful of players who are arbitration eligible and due some big raises, the most notable Jacoby Ellsbury, arguably the team’s best player in 2011.
What the number does include is nearly $60 million committed to a starting rotation of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. And that can’t be too comforting for a new braintrust.
Lackey posted the worst ERA (6.41) in team history over a full season. Buchholz made just 14 starts. Dice-K was ineffective in seven starts before being injured. Beckett and Lester combined to go 28-16, numbers indicative of horses a team can count on in the clutch. But where were those guys when the team — leaking oil at an astounding rate — needed them most?
All indications are that they were enjoying beer and buckets of thighs and breasts. Beckett was 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA in four September starts raising his season ERA from 2.54 to 2.89. The Sox lost four of Lester’s five starts as the lefthander suffered through a 1-3 month with a 5.40 ERA.
Boston needs a fresh start of monumental proportions. Does that mean sacrificing a season and several million to get back on the winning track sooner? That’s not a bad plan. This is a mess not easily cleaned.
It’s all too easy to manage this team from afar, but I suspect bringing in a no-frills, old-school manager and identifying about five guys you want to go to war with would be the place to start. Immediately and swiftly change the culture and clean house as much as can be tolerated financially.
This article originally appeared in Athlon's 2007 College Football annual.
This is Dennis Erickson:
He won two national championships at the University of Miami.
He led downtrodden Oregon State to an 11–1 season capped off by a 41–9 rout of Notre Dame in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl.
He’s the all-time winningest coach in University of Idaho history, he guided Washington State to its first bowl victory since 1931, and his record in the college ranks is a gaudy 148–65–1.
This, too, is Dennis Erickson: His 1987 WSU team had a 1.94 grade-point average when it won the Aloha Bowl. During his six-year tenure at Miami, players fraudulently received more than $200,000 in Pell Grant money.
The Hurricanes were slapped with multiple rules violations that resulted in the loss of 31 scholarships and a one-year ban on postseason play. The NCAA also found that Erickson allowed three players who failed drug tests to play in games.
Miami’s 46–3 drubbing of Texas in the 1991 Cotton Bowl was tainted by the Hurricanes’ nine personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, leading Miami president Edward Foote to say it was “an unfortunate end to an otherwise outstanding season.”
Arizona State researched the good and the bad before it hired Erickson last December.
“I feel comfortable with who this man is,” says Lisa Love, ASU’s vice president of athletics.
It’s easy to understand why the Sun Devils hired Erickson. They were perennial underachievers under coach Dirk Koetter, fashioning a 40–34 record in his six seasons in Tempe and never finishing higher than third in the Pac-10 Conference.
In addition, Koetter was 0–12 in Pac-10 games played in California, 21–28 overall in conference play and 2–19 against top-25 teams.
Erickson, 60, should change all that. He’s won wherever he’s coached in college, with the exception of his one-year stint at Idaho in 2006, and the Sun Devils expect nothing less.
“This is not a guessing game,” Love says. “This is not a roll of the dice. His track record is extraordinary. He is not only a big-game coach. He is a big-season coach. And he is a program builder, which is what we are seeking. We are not seeking a success on one great game day; we’re seeking a great season, and then a repeat.”
UTEP coach Mike Price, a friend of Erickson’s since high school, says: “Wherever Dennis goes, he fits right in immediately. He won’t have to start from scratch at ASU. He’s got good coaches and a good plan, and he’ll put it to use. I’m excited for ASU. It will be a lot of fun with him there.”
The Sun Devils could use a little fun.
“I don’t think our team had a personality (last year),” says quarterback Rudy Carpenter. “We didn’t play with a swagger or attitude. It was a little suppressed.”
That won’t happen under Erickson, who signed a five-year, $5.6 million contract. He’ll want his players to be intense, outgoing and vocal. His Miami and Oregon State clubs weren’t wallflowers, and ASU won’t be either.
Erickson’s players appreciate the freedom and, in turn, are fiercely loyal to him.
Former Oregon State and current Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson once said, “If I was 90 years old and he recruited me, I would play for him.”
In the days leading up to the 2006 Hawaii Bowl, Koetter said it would be difficult for any coach to consistently win in Tempe. “The thing is — and I was guilty of this — a lot of people look at ASU on the outside and have a perception of what Arizona State is. That’s not what it is,” said Koetter, declining to be more specific. “The only way to know that is to go on the inside. Arizona State is not what it is perceived to be on the outside. It really isn’t. That’s been proven.”
ASU has been to two Rose Bowls (1986 season, 1996 season) in its 28 years in the Pac-10. Since 1986, it’s won more than seven games in a season just four times.
Erickson, however, doesn’t believe the Sun Devils have to be trapped in a spin cycle of mediocrity. “I’ve always felt, from the outside looking in, that ASU is a place where you have an opportunity to win a Pac-10 championship and compete nationally,” he says. “This job opened at the right time. It’s an opportunity for me and my coaches to get back in the Pac-10 and get to a Rose Bowl, which is the only big bowl I haven’t been to.”
“Dennis’ message has been clear ever since we got here,” says offensive line coach Gregg Smith, an assistant to Erickson at every coaching stop since 1982. “He wants ASU to not be satisfied with seven-win seasons or lower-tier bowls. … When things look impossible, Dennis will sit you down and show you the light at the end of the tunnel. And he’ll get you there.”
It helps to have two championship rings to show off to the players. Getting the players’ attention won’t be an issue for Erickson.
“Going in, they know we’ve been there and what we’ve done,” he says. “They have respect for that. They know that, if they listen to what we ask them to do, they have a chance to be successful. If you do these things and are accountable in all aspects of what we ask you to do, you will be successful.”
The question is, what price will ASU pay for those victories? Erickson’s hire, while greeted enthusiastically by boosters, was met with skepticism by the media and some fans. Sun Devil alums Dan and Barbara Driscoll showed up for Erickson’s introductory press conference holding a sign that said, “Erickson, Go Home … ASU Deserved Better.” They were upset Erickson left Idaho after only one season.
“I’m amazed,” says Dan Driscoll, who grew up in Moscow, Idaho. “You trust what the guy says, and 10 months later, he’s gone.”
The second question at his press conference: “Coach, I was just wondering what the words commitment and loyalty mean to you?”
ASU officials bristle at the notion that in Erickson, they hired a man who runs a renegade program and has little regard for NCAA rules or on-field sportsmanship.
“He is a person of character,” says university president Michael Crow. “I was assuming a Barry Switzer-type, a cocky personality. He’s more professorial, a master coach. I became convinced in talking to him that, with the right support that we provide in academics and compliance that other programs might not have, he’ll be great.”
Erickson hasn’t ducked the hard questions, including queries about his DUI arrest in 1995. He will not admit the criticisms have any merit, though, particularly in regard to his teams’ lack of discipline. “You talk about discipline,” Erickson says. “I see it (undisciplined behavior) happen sometimes, but I don’t see that’s something that has happened regularly in Dennis Erickson’s program at all.”
Erickson has held nine head coaching jobs in the past 21 years: Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, Miami, the Seattle Seahawks, Oregon State, the San Francisco 49ers, Idaho again and now ASU. He has been, by any measure, a coach always looking for the bigger job and the bigger paycheck. But that doesn’t bother ASU.
“I personally hope that he is here for the long haul,” Love says. “If he’s not, we’ll go hire another great football coach.”
“I am here to build a program,” Erickson says. “If I do leave — and that may be 20 years down the road, I don’t know — it will be a very solid program that people will be proud of.”
The Philadelphia Eagles have already declared the Dream Team “dead”, but they only meant the nickname, not the team itself. They still remain confident that they’re talented enough and have enough time to turn their sinking ship around.
But do that? Five weeks into the season they’ve been a disaster. They’ve won only one game and given up 132 points – tied for most in the NFC. Their explosive quarterback, Michael Vick, has become turnover prone. Their coach, Andy Reid, is already sitting on a seat that’s on fire.
Hard as it is to believe, their last win was more than a month ago on Opening Day.
There’s also not much reason to think things will get better. Still looming on their schedule are the Chicago Bears, the New England Patriots, the New York Jets and five division games. They’re 1-4 and need to finish 7-4 just to get to .500 – and that might not be enough for a playoff berth in the NFC.
Is it impossible? No. Difficult? Yes. And keep in mind that the more the former Dream Team falters the more intense the pressure will become and the more difficult a playoff run will get. It’s hard to look at the schedule in a vacuum, but if you could, here’s a look at what the Eagles are facing and a prediction of the outcome.
It’s not a pretty sight:
Sunday at Washington – The Redskins are not only 3-1, they’re playing mistake-free football and look the most like an old NFC East team that can run the ball and dominate both lines of scrimmage. The mistake-free part is the opposite of what’s happening in Philly.
Prediction: Loss, 1-5
Bye – If ever a team needed a week off to regroup, it’s this one.
Oct. 30 vs. Cowboys – It could be a very ugly return home for the Eagles, but the Cowboys aren’t exactly the NFL’s most disciplined team. Plus, despite what’s happening this year, Reid is a brilliant coach and he’s a good bet to have his team ready with an extra week to prepare.
Prediction: Win, 2-5
Nov. 7 vs. Bears – The Bears defense is tough (despite their bad game against Detroit), but maybe more concerning for the Eagles is that the Bears Matt Forte may be one of the better running backs in the league. The Eagles are very susceptible to the run, which means this could be a big day for Forte.
Prediction: Loss, 2-6
Nov. 13 vs. Cardinals – Game three of a three-game home stand against a team that doesn’t travel very well. Cards quarterback Kevin Kolb knows his old team, but more importantly they know him. Figure Reid knows how to confuse and beat him, too.
Prediction: Win, 3-6
Nov. 20 at Giants – The Giants beat them last time, but the Eagles out-played them for much of the game and killed themselves with mistakes. That can happen again, obviously, but the Eagles have the receivers to torch the Giants’ secondary. This seems like a season series destined to split.
Prediction: Win, 4-6
Nov. 27 vs. Patriots – The way the Eagles’ defense has played so far this year, they likely will be no match for the most explosive offense in the NFL. The Patriots have way too many weapons and are too smart to lose to a team that has become turnover prone.
Prediction: Loss, 4-7
Dec. 1 at Seattle – The Seahawks are sometimes a different team at home, and trips across the country are never easy. They are a beatable team, though, with a questionable run game and a shaky passing offense. They also likely won’t have a good defensive answer for Michael Vick and his arsenal.
Prediction: Win, 5-7
Dec. 11 at Miami – Maybe the easiest game and certainly the easiest road trip left on their schedule. The Dolphins’ season is already over at 0-4 and at this point in the season their main goal could be to win the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes. If the Eagles have any hopes of being anything this season, this is one they have to win.
Prediction: Win, 6-7
Dec. 18 vs. Jets – This game may completely depend on what Jets team shows up. Is it the brash, tough-talking, contending Rex Ryan Jets? Or is it a team in turmoil, like it seems to be now, sleepwalking through the end of the season? These aren’t the Jets of the last two years, though, so chalk this up as a winnable game.
Prediction, Win 7-7
Dec. 24 at Dallas – NFC East games late in the year are always close, and these two teams could be locked in a very tight battle for a playoff berth. As long as Tony Romo is still healthy, figure the Cowboys will be able to put up some points. And give them a big home-field advantage, too.
Prediction: Loss, 7-8
Jan. 1 vs. Redskins – Will .500 be enough to get into the playoffs in the NFC this year? That’s hard to imagine. If this game matters, though, it’s a good bet the Eagles will find a way to win it at home. But by this point, their season may already be over. In that case, they could be in for a very ugly end.
Prediction: Loss, 7-9.
Since this isn't the NFC West, a sub-.500 record will not get the Eagles into the playoffs. Where will this debacle go down in football history? Only time will tell.
By Ralph Vacciano