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The running back situation in the NFL in Week 15 is pretty dire. Two of them have already played in Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner, and they were certainly started in most leagues. And here we are for a Saturday night game, nationally televised by the NFL Network, with a decision to make about Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount.
Starting Blount means there are two questions you have to ask yourself: Do you trust Blount? Do you trust that Bucs coach Raheem Morris will stick with him even in the likelihood that the Bucs will be down?
Tampa Bay has lost seven in a row and in those seven games Blount has cracked double digits in fantasy three times. In the four wins in six games before this losing streak, he cracked double digits twice, including his only 20-point game of the season against the last-place Colts. So five out of 11 games played he has double digits, six he doesn’t.
Plus, there is little margin for error when using Blount as there is a fumble issue that makes it an even smaller margin if your league takes away points for lost fumbles. Blount has fumbled nine times since entering the league last season and has lost six of them. Four of those fumbles, and three lost ones, have come in the last three games.
And now for the big HOWEVER.
The Cowboys are ranked 24th against fantasy running backs this season, and in seven games against sub-.500 teams Dallas has allowed an average of 74.7 yards rushing per game, 13.6 yards receiving per game on an average of 2.9 catches and four total TDs for an average of 13.7 fantasy points per game. Dallas is 6-1 in those games, winning by an average of 10.6 points.
So even in games the Cowboys are beating bad teams by 10.6 points, the high producers at RB of those teams are still collectively averaging 13.7 fantasy points.
I have Blount in a dynasty league and the only thing that gives me hope is he and the Bucs will be better in the near future; but as a week-to-week play he scares the daylights out of me. It’s said to forgive and forget in fantasy, but I cannot forgive the 1.9-point egg he laid against a terrible Carolina defense in Week 13 when the Bucs got down early and he had 11 carries for 19 yards. It came on the heels of back-to-back 100-yard games against the Packers and Titans when we had all but given up on Blount after three games of 34, 72 and 34 yards with no touchdowns. He bounced back with the 74-yard, goal line TD game last week for 12.5 fantasy points.
Again, it comes down to whether or not you trust Raheem Morris to continue to use Blount no matter what the score. If the numbers play out and you plan on using Blount as an RB3 or flex2, I would be happy with 13.7 points from that position in a playoff week. I’m just not sure I can go on that limb with a back that has burned me more than helped me,
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Felix Jones is back. And we are all clamoring to use the Dallas Cowboys’ running back in Saturday night’s Week 15 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And why wouldn’t we? Tampa Bay has lost seven in a row, is ranked 28th in rushing yards allowed (139.7) on a sixth-most 30.2 attempts per game and are ranked last in touchdowns allowed (19).
But in the second NFL Network game of the week, are we going to see a matchup where a team clearly has the ability to run on the other but decides to do a lot of damage through the air? Along with Felix Jones at running back, Miles Austin, Laurent Robinson, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are no slouches offensively for the Cowboys.
Seems eerily familiar to the Atlanta-Jacksonville game on Thursday night where Michael Turner had a clear advantage, but had 19 carries for 61 yards and a short TD thanks to field position off a fumbled punt return by the Jaguars. Roddy White wound up with a 30.5-point day, Julio Jones had 17.6 fantasy points and Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez were relatively non-existent with 1.7 and 1.9 points.
The one difference for the Cowboys if they get up big, as opposed to the Falcons, could be that they have no other backs to really turn to. Jones is in there because DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner are on IR, Tashard Choice is long since gone and Sammy Morris was just signed off the street. So Jones, who recently returned from a high ankle sprain of his own, might have to be the opener, the set-up man and the closer for the Cowboys.
The Bucs have allowed the last four true feature backs they have faced to gash them.
Frank Gore went off for 125 yards and a score in Week 5; Matt Forte for 145 yards and a score in Week 7; Arian Foster 845 yards rushing and a score and 102 yards receiving and a score in Week 10 and Chris Johnson 190 yards in Week 12. In between, Carolina’s duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart had 138 total yards and a score in Week 13; New Orleans’ trio of Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory had 257 total yards and two scores in Week 9 and the Saints needed four players to combine for 109 yards and a score in Week 6.
Point being, they are easy to run on and have also given up 65 catches for 617 yards and four scores this season.
All signs point to Felix Jones being a great start. The question is: How great?
Do you start him in his first game back as the true feature back? He can’t be a power back but he can be the all-purpose back that the Bucs have certainly had trouble with this season?
So where does he rank this week? Does he go ahead of players like Shonn Greene and Roy Helu who have been hot as of late? Does he go ahead of an Adrian Peterson returning from an ankle injury against a Saints team likely to have their way with the Vikings?
I start Peterson ahead of him because he’s Peterson, but after that, Jones is a great play. He did average 99 total yards with two touchdowns over the final eight games of last season and saw those numbers dip this season before the injury to 63.6 total yards with just one TD. The lack of TDs is the only concern with Jones as the Cowboys certainly have plenty of other targets, but he should rack up plenty of yards against the Bucs.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
Bowl season kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 17 in Albuquerque and ends on Jan. 9 in New Orleans with the BCS Championship. With 35 games on the docket, there's plenty of options to keep college fans interested over the next month.
Athlon's editors offer their predictions for all 35 games with a slight twist. The picks were made with confidence points, 1 being the least and 35 being the most.
The six editors were split on the Rose Bowl, but all are picking Alabama to knock off LSU in the national championship.
|Braden Gall||Charlie Miller|
|New Mexico: Temple vs. Wyoming||Wyoming (4)||Wyoming (11)|
|Idaho Potato: Utah State vs. Ohio||Utah State (5)||Utah State (1)|
|New Orleans: SDSU vs. UL Lafayette||UL Lafayette (6)||UL Lafayette (20)|
|St. Petersburg: FIU vs. Marshall||FIU (7)||FIU (9)|
|Poinsettia: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech||TCU (34)||TCU (30)|
|Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Arizona State||Boise State (35)||Boise State (31)|
|Hawaii: Southern Miss vs. Nevada||Nevada (8)||Southern Miss (28)|
|Independence: North Carolina vs. Missouri||Missouri (17)||Missouri (8)|
|Little Caesars: Western Michigan vs. Purdue||Purdue (23)||Purdue (15)|
|Belk: Louisville vs. NC State||Louisville (27)||NC State (13)|
|Military: Air Force vs. Toledo||Air Force (24)||Air Force (12)|
|Holiday: California vs. Texas||California (3)||Texas (10)|
|Champs Sports: Florida State vs. Notre Dame||Florida State (25)||Florida State (18)|
|Alamo: Baylor vs. Washington||Baylor (30)||Baylor (33)|
|Armed Forces: BYU vs. Tulsa||BYU (2)||Tulsa (19)|
|Pinstripe: Rutgers vs. Iowa State||Rutgers (22)||Rutgers (6)|
|Music City: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State||Mississippi State (9)||Mississippi State (29)|
|Insight: Iowa vs. Oklahoma||Oklahoma (29)||Oklahoma (32)|
|Meineke Car Care: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern||Texas A&M (21)||Texas A&M (24)|
|Sun: Georgia Tech vs. Utah||Utah (20)||Georgia Tech (2)|
|Liberty: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt (33)||Vanderbilt (21)|
|Kraft Fight Hunger: Illinois vs. UCLA||UCLA (11)||Illinois (14)|
|Chick-fil-A: Virginia vs. Auburn||Auburn (26)||Auburn (27)|
|TicketCity: Penn State vs. Houston||Penn State (31)||Penn State (17)|
|Outback: Michigan State vs. Georgia||Georgia (16)||Georgia (7)|
|Capital One: Nebraska vs. South Carolina||South Carolina (12)||South Carolina (4)|
|Gator: Ohio State vs. Florida||Ohio State (15)||Florida (3)|
|Rose: Wisconsin vs. Oregon||Oregon (28)||Wisconsin (5)|
|Fiesta: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State||Stanford (1)||Stanford (23)|
|Sugar: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech||Michigan (19)||Virginia Tech (16)|
|Orange: Clemson vs. West Virginia||Clemson (14)||Clemson (34)|
|Cotton: Kansas State vs. Arkansas||Arkansas (32)||Arkansas (26)|
|Compass: SMU vs. Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh (10)||Pittsburgh (25)|
|GoDaddy.com: Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State||Northern Illinois (18)||Northern Illinois (22)|
|BCS National Title: LSU vs. Alabama||Alabama (13)||Alabama (35)|
|Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|New Mexico: Temple vs. Wyoming||Temple (6)||Temple (31)|
|Idaho Potato: Utah State vs. Ohio||Utah State (13)||Utah State (32)|
|New Orleans: SDSU vs. UL Lafayette||San Diego State (3)||San Diego State (22)|
|St. Petersburg: FIU vs. Marshall||FIU (30)||Marshall (21)|
|Poinsettia: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech||TCU (31)||Louisiana Tech (4)|
|Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Arizona State||Boise State (35)||Boise State (35)|
|Hawaii: Southern Miss vs. Nevada||Southern Miss (25)||Southern Miss (9)|
|Independence: North Carolina vs. Missouri||Missouri (24)||Missouri (23)|
|Little Caesars: Western Michigan vs. Purdue||Western Michigan (10)||Purdue (24)|
|Belk: Louisville vs. NC State||NC State (2)||Louisville (10)|
|Military: Air Force vs. Toledo||Air Force (15)||Toledo (25)|
|Holiday: California vs. Texas||Texas (11)||California (2)|
|Champs Sports: Florida State vs. Notre Dame||Florida State (29)||Notre Dame (26)|
|Alamo: Baylor vs. Washington||Baylor (33)||Baylor (20)|
|Armed Forces: BYU vs. Tulsa||BYU (16)||Tulsa (11)|
|Pinstripe: Rutgers vs. Iowa State||Rutgers (4)||Rutgers (12)|
|Music City: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State||Mississippi State (34)||Mississippi State (27)|
|Insight: Iowa vs. Oklahoma||Oklahoma (32)||Oklahoma (33)|
|Meineke Car Care: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern||Texas A&M (21)||Texas A&M (28)|
|Sun: Georgia Tech vs. Utah||Georgia Tech (22)||Georgia Tech (29)|
|Liberty: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt (19)||Vanderbilt (19)|
|Kraft Fight Hunger: Illinois vs. UCLA||Illinois (1)||UCLA (7)|
|Chick-fil-A: Virginia vs. Auburn||Virginia (12)||Virginia (8)|
|TicketCity: Penn State vs. Houston||Penn State (7)||Penn State (18)|
|Outback: Michigan State vs. Georgia||Georgia (18)||Georgia (5)|
|Capital One: Nebraska vs. South Carolina||South Carolina (9)||South Carolina (6)|
|Gator: Ohio State vs. Florida||Ohio State (20)||Ohio State (13)|
|Rose: Wisconsin vs. Oregon||Wisconsin (5)||Oregon (3)|
|Fiesta: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State (23)||Oklahoma State (17)|
|Sugar: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech||Michigan (8)||Michigan (16)|
|Orange: Clemson vs. West Virginia||Clemson (27)||Clemson (34)|
|Cotton: Kansas State vs. Arkansas||Arkansas (28)||Arkansas (30)|
|Compass: SMU vs. Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh (14)||Pittsburgh (14)|
|GoDaddy.com: Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State||Northern Illinois (26)||Northern Illinois (15)|
|BCS National Title: LSU vs. Alabama||Alabama (17)||Alabama (1)|
|Mark Ross||Patrick Snow|
|New Mexico: Temple vs. Wyoming||Temple (34)||Temple (27)|
|Idaho Potato: Utah State vs. Ohio||Ohio (16)||Utah State (17)|
|New Orleans: SDSU vs. UL Lafayette||UL Lafayette (11)||San Diego State (23)|
|St. Petersburg: FIU vs. Marshall||FIU (33)||FIU (18)|
|Poinsettia: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech||Louisiana Tech (9)||TCU (33)|
|Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Arizona State||Boise State (35)||Boise State (35)|
|Hawaii: Southern Miss vs. Nevada||Southern Miss (17)||Southern Miss (14)|
|Independence: North Carolina vs. Missouri||North Carolina (1)||Missouri (26)|
|Little Caesars: Western Michigan vs. Purdue||Western Michigan (2)||Purdue (8)|
|Belk: Louisville vs. NC State||NC State (22)||Louisville (7)|
|Military: Air Force vs. Toledo||Air Force (3)||Toledo (16)|
|Holiday: California vs. Texas||Texas (4)||Texas (19)|
|Champs Sports: Florida State vs. Notre Dame||Florida State (28)||Florida State (15)|
|Alamo: Baylor vs. Washington||Baylor (25)||Baylor (34)|
|Armed Forces: BYU vs. Tulsa||BYU (21)||BYU (13)|
|Pinstripe: Rutgers vs. Iowa State||Rutgers (12)||Rutgers (6)|
|Music City: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State||Mississippi State (30)||Mississippi State (32)|
|Insight: Iowa vs. Oklahoma||Oklahoma (23)||Oklahoma (29)|
|Meineke Car Care: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern||Texas A&M (32)||Texas A&M (28)|
|Sun: Georgia Tech vs. Utah||Utah (5)||Utah (5)|
|Liberty: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt (6)||Vanderbilt (24)|
|Kraft Fight Hunger: Illinois vs. UCLA||Illinois (29)||UCLA (1)|
|Chick-fil-A: Virginia vs. Auburn||Virginia (19)||Virginia (9)|
|TicketCity: Penn State vs. Houston||Penn State (20)||Penn State (12)|
|Outback: Michigan State vs. Georgia||Georgia (7)||Georgia (22)|
|Capital One: Nebraska vs. South Carolina||South Carolina (31)||Nebraska (4)|
|Gator: Ohio State vs. Florida||Florida (18)||Ohio State (31)|
|Rose: Wisconsin vs. Oregon||Oregon (15)||Wisconsin (2)|
|Fiesta: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State (26)||Oklahoma State (21)|
|Sugar: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech (8)||Michigan (10)|
|Orange: Clemson vs. West Virginia||Clemson (14)||Clemson (20)|
|Cotton: Kansas State vs. Arkansas||Arkansas (24)||Arkansas (25)|
|Compass: SMU vs. Pittsburgh||SMU (13)||Pittsburgh (11)|
|GoDaddy.com: Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State||Northern Illinois (27)||Northern Illinois (3)|
|BCS National Title: LSU vs. Alabama||Alabama (10)||Alabama (30)|
USC’s 2012 national title hopes hinge squarely on the NFL decision of two players – quarterback Matt Barkley and left tackle Matt Kalil. The Trojans were dealt their first blow for next season on Thursday night, as Kalil decided to forego his final year of eligibility and will enter the NFL Draft. He is expected to be one of the first 15 picks off the board in April.
Barkley has yet to make a decision on his future, but most believe the two players are a package deal. However, the junior quarterback could still return to USC, but will be missing arguably his top offensive lineman next season.
Kalil’s departure is huge loss for a team that was just starting to find the right mix on the offensive line. The Trojans finished first tied for first nationally with just eight sacks allowed in 2011.
With a gaping hole at left tackle, USC could move Kevin Graf from the right side to fill Kalil’s spot. One bit of positive news for USC: The rest of the group should return intact. Center Khaled Holmes earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors this season and should be one of the top linemen in the conference in 2012. Also, guard Marcus Martin was one of the top freshman linemen in college football this year.
With Kalil’s decision out of the way, the focus shifts to Barkley. If he returns, the junior will likely be the Heisman frontrunner, as well as leading the Trojans to a top-five ranking in preseason polls. Considering USC has been on a bowl ban the last two years, there is an opportunity for Barkley to lead this team back to a BCS bowl or a spot in the national title game. But will that be enough for him to stick around?
Barkley is widely-regarded as the No. 2 quarterback on most draft boards, just behind Stanford’s Andrew Luck. And considering he would likely be one of the first five players selected in the NFL Draft, it’s unlikely he will return to Los Angeles for his senior year – especially with Kalil announcing his departure.
If Barkley goes to the NFL Draft as expected, three candidates will battle for the starting quarterback job in the spring: Jesse Scroggins, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek.
Even though all three candidates are inexperienced, the cupboard wouldn’t be totally bare for the new quarterback. The receiving corps is among the best in the nation, as Robert Woods and Marqise Lee should contend for All-American honors. Also, tight end Randall Telfer had a solid freshman campaign and figures to be a bigger part of the attack in 2012. The Trojans also have a good stable of running backs, led by Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan.
If Barkley joins Kalil as an early entrant into the NFL Draft, USC’s national title hopes will take a back seat in 2012. However, coach Lane Kiffin has done a good job on the recruiting trail and the talent in the program is back on the rise. Even if the Trojans aren’t a national title contender next year, with all of the coaching changes and turnover in the Pac-12 South Division, it’s very likely they will remain the favorite to play Oregon in the 2012 conference title game.
-by Braden Gall (follow at @AthlonBraden)
The recruitment of the nation’s No. 4 prospect, two-way star lineman Arik Armstead, has been anything but smooth.
The 6-foot-7, 280-pound stud from Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove committed to the USC Trojans in June of 2010. His older brother, Armond Armstead, is currently a senior defensive end for the Trojans. However, after experiencing chest pains last spring, Armond was hospitalized briefly and held out of workouts. After many negative tests for every condition possible, Armond was redshirted and not cleared to play by USC.
Subsequently, Arik, the Athlon Consensus 100 No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in the nation, decommitted from USC shortly thereafter in October.
The Trojans are reportedly still in the mix, but time is running out for Lane Kiffin. Armstead has technically graduated (he has enough credits to enroll in college) and is set to enroll in the coming weeks. The elite prospect is also a star hoopster and will likely be playing on the hardcourt as the well as the gridiron in college. This aspect of his recruitment will also weigh heavily in his decision as he is seeking a quality basketball program.
Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, for example, has used head basketball coach Mike Brey to help recruit the stud lineman and claims that the youngster could be operating on a college roster as soon as he gets to campus. With the loss of Tim Abromaitis for the year to injury, Brey could certainly use another big body.
Armstead visited the Notre Dame Fighting Irish officially on October 21, the Alabama Crimson Tide on November 4 and the Oregon Ducks on November 18. He was on the Berkeley campus last weekend, letting Jeff Tedford and company court him. His final visit could come as early as this weekend at Auburn. It would be his fifth and final visit.
He claims that he has not eliminated anyone yet — leaving upwards of two dozen schools vying for his services. However, proximity and official visits are the two biggest indicators in recruiting. This would give Cal and Oregon the edge, obviously, over Notre Dame and the Yellowhammer programs. He will get all of his official visits out of the way so that he can spend the holiday break mulling it over before making his final decision. As an early enrollee and potential basketball star, fans won’t have to wait too much longer to see the big Pleasant Grove prospect in action.
Although he is listed as an offensive tackle, Armstead is just as likely to end up on defense. Very simply put, he is a huge prospect. He has incredible length and is a rangy athlete for a player who will line up in the trenches. And he has the power to match, as he simply overpowers blockers when on defense. He has solid “get-off” that translates well to both sides of the ball and shows quality agility/quickness for a player of his size. He has prototype size and athleticism for both positions. He can dominate the line of scrimmage no matter what side of the ball he is on.
Refining his technique and fundamentals will be huge for Armstead. Things like hand placement, pad level and footwork will all improve rapidly once he settles on a position. Even the experts are torn on whether he projects to the O-line or the D-line. In fact, 247Sports.com has him listed as both the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle and the nation’s No. 1 defensive end. Three of the ranking services have declared Armstead the top prospect in the nation, while Rivals.com clearly thinks the "least" of him at No. 29 overall.
How Armstead ranks:
ESPN: No. 15 overall, No. 2 offensive tackle
Rivals: No. 29 overall, No. 4 strongside defensive end
Scout: No. 1 overall, No. 1 offensive tackle
247Sports: No. 1 overall, No. 1 offensive tackle, No. 1 defensive end
O-D: No. 1 overall, No. 1 offensive tackle
NCSA: No. 3 overall, No. 1 defensive end
It’s too late now to do anything about a season gone wrong. Dreams are dead. Hopes haven squashed. And in some places the spark of life has been extinguished. The stretch run of the NFL season isn’t for pretenders. The playoff race isn’t for teams and people whose bubbles have already burst.
And there many burst bubbles littering the NFL landscape with three weeks left in the 2011 season. So many teams and people had what must have seemed like realistic expectations, only to see them go painfully unfulfilled.
Who are the biggest busts of the 2011 season? The list is long, but here is a look at the Top 10:
The Dream Team
Make that the nightmare. The Philadelphia Eagles were the stars of the offseason, signing every free agent they could get their hands on and adding them to a team that won the NFC East last year. But the self-proclaimed “Dream Team” (And boy, should they thank backup QB Vince Young for calling them that) were exposed early as having no chemistry, a surprisingly porous secondary, and a turnover-prone offense. When Michael Vick started getting hurt they had no chance, and as a result there is speculation that Andy Reid may soon have no job.
The Patriot Projects - Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco
Sometimes smart coaches are too smart for their own good. That’s what happened when Bill Belichick thought he could squeeze water out of the rocks that are Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. The Haynesworth project was such a failure that he was released in early November. Ochocinco is still taking up space on the roster, but has just 13 catches for 228 yards and looks very, very done.
Browns RB Peyton Hillis
The Madden Cover boy has just 346 yards on 101 carries, which is enough to dry up all the grassroots support he had in the voting for that honor. He’s battled injuries all year. He missed a game with strep throat, but then – in the midst of a contract squabble – his agent said he told him to sit out. He ticked off his Cleveland teammates along the way, too.
Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross
It was bad enough that he embarrassed Tony Sparano by flirting with Jim Harbaugh during the offseason, then keeping Sparano when he lost Harbaugh to the 49ers. Then he kept Sparano twisting for weeks, even though everyone knew he was going to get fired. But the worst thing that happen is that his team blew an 0-7 start which had them in position to make a run at the No. 1 pick in the draft, where they could’ve found their first franchise quarterback since Dan Marino (Stanford QB Andrew Luck). They’ve gone 4-2 since and now they’ve got no chance.
Former Chiefs coach Todd Haley
The Kansas City Chiefs were the defending champions of the AFC West and felt ready to repeat, but an NFL source who saw them in training camp said back then “They don’t look ready.” That seems right. They lost their first two games, to Buffalo and Detroit, by a combined score of 89-10. They actually rallied from an 0-3 start to get to 4-3, but after they became the first victim of winless Miami it was all downhill from there. The Chiefs began embarrassing themselves again, the injuries hit, Haley got fired, and now it’s like the 2010 season never happened.
Former NFL QB Donovan McNabb
His career had sputtered last year in Washington, but some thought he might be revived by a move to Minnesota. It was clear in Week 1 that wouldn’t be the case. He completed 7 of 15 passes for just 39 yards and wasn’t much better in his other five starts. The Vikings went 1-6, he lost his job to a rookie, then he was released and it’s likely his career is over.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers
“What’s wrong with Rivers?” was one of the most asked questions around the NFL early in the season. His numbers are still good – he’ll top 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns – but they aren’t as gaudy as some of his contemporaries. Plus, his interception total has skyrocketed to 17 (so far) and the Chargers, in the wide-open AFC West, are a disappointing 6-7.
Rams QB Sam Bradford
He was so good as a rookie that everyone thought he’d be one of the next stars of the NFL, but he’s fallen flat on his face in his sophomore season. Injuries certainly haven’t helped, but neither has his performance. In 10 starts he’s got just 2,164 yards and a measly six touchdown passes. And under his guidance, a Rams team that was in the playoff race until the final seconds last year, is 2-11 and they may end up firing their coach.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
They were 10-6 last year and a hard-luck team that just missed the playoffs, but they clearly were on the rise. And no one would’ve argued after they beat the Saints in Week 6 to move to 4-2. Now they’re 4-9 – seven straight losses -- and the last loss was a blowout at the hands of the 4-9 Jacksonville Jaguars in which the Bucs turned the ball over seven times.
Former Giants RB Tiki Barber
It was always improbable – if not completely unbelievable – that a 36-year-old running back would make a comeback in the NFL five years after he retired. But he sure got a lot of publicity out of the attempt, with his camp even leaking the names of a few teams that were “interested.” None were, though. He never got a sniff of interest, he remains unsigned, he will likely re-retire, and his already tarnished reputation – especially in the eyes of bitter Giants fans – took another unfortunate hit.
By RALPH VACCHIANO
-by Braden Gall (follow at @AthlonBraden)
The BCS is wrapping up its 14th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late '90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?
The debates will most assuredly rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 10 Pac-12 teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):
"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
* - team played in the Pac-12 Championship game
10b. UCLA Bruins, 1998 (10-2, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bob Toledo
Key Stats: Cade McNown set a school record for passing yards in a game (513), season (3,470) and career (10,708). His 68 career touchdown passes are also a school record.
Award Winners: Kris Farris (Outland), Cade McNown (Johnny Unitas, Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cade McNown (1st, 1999), Freddie Mitchell (1st, 2001), Robert Thomas (1st, 2002), DeShaun Foster (2nd, 2002)
Never ranked lower than sixth in the polls (Week 1 and final), the Bruins started the year 10-0 with eyes on the first-ever BCS title game. Record-setting passer Cade McNown worked past three ranked opponents before the final game of the regular season in the Orange Bowl with Miami. With 50 seconds left, Edgerrin James scored his third touchdown to give the Hurricanes a crazy 49-45 upset of the No. 3 Bruins. James ran 39 times for 299 yards. UCLA went on to allow 246 yards and four touchdowns to Ron Dayne in their 38-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl defeat was disappointing, but the Miami upset removed UCLA from a Fiesta Bowl date with unbeaten Tennessee for the National Championship.
10. Oregon Ducks, 2001 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Mike Bellotti
Championships: Pac-10, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Joey Harrington finished his career 25-3 as a starter; was Oregon's first 11-win season in history,
Award Winners: Joey Harrington (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Joey Harrington (1st, 2002), Maurice Morris (2nd, 2002), Igor Olshansky (2nd, 2004)
Heisman Trophy finalist Joey Harrington (4th) led the Ducks to an outright Pac-10 championship. The piano-playing signal caller threw for 2,415 yards and 23 touchdowns en route to a Fiesta Bowl berth (the Rose Bowl was reserved for the 2001 NCG). The Ducks fell out of the top 10 only once — following a narrow 49-42 defeat to Stanford — and barely missed an opportunity to play in the national championship game. The Ducks beat four ranked opponents, including a 38-16 destruction of No. 3-ranked Colorado in Tempe, Ariz.
9. Stanford Cardinal, 2010 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh
Championships: Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Scored school-record 524 points, 12 wins is the most in school history, finished No. 2 in the nation in sacks allowed (6.0) and No. 3 nationally in passing efficiency (168.38)
Award Winners: Andrew Luck (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year), Owen Marecic (Paul Hornung)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: N/A
Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck, in only his sophomore season, and cult-of-personality head coach Jim Harbaugh led Stanford to arguably its best season in school history. The Cardinal scored more points and won more games than any team in their history, and their 40-12 demolition of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl provided the program with its first-ever BCS Bowl win. However, a 52-31 road loss to eventual national champion runner-up Oregon cost Luck a chance to face Auburn in the BCS title game. The Cardinal finished No. 5 in the final polls.
8. USC Trojans, 2002 (11-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in total offense (449.2 ypg), scoring offense (35.7 ppg), rushing defense (83.2 ypg), total defense (284.9 ypg), scoring defense (18.5 ppg) and passing efficiency (149.21).
Award Winners: Carson Palmer (Heisman Trophy, Johnny Unitas), Mike Williams (Pac-10 Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Carson Palmer (1st, 2003), Troy Polamalu (1st, 2003), Kenechi Udeze (1st, 2004), Jacob Rogers (2nd, 2004), Keary Colbert (2nd, 2004), Mike Williams (1st, 2005), Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006)
The beginning of the Trojan-Pete Carroll reign over the West Coast could be marked by the 2002 Men of Troy. Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer finally lived up to his recruiting hype with 3,942 yards and 37 total touchdowns. And he did it against nine different ranked opponents. Early season losses on the road against a ranked Kansas State team by seven and a ranked Washington State team by three cost the Trojans a shot at the national title game. The Cougars actually played in the Rose Bowl (a 34-14 loss to Oklahoma), but USC finished as the highest-rated team in the league (#5) after a convincing 38-17 win over No. 3 Iowa in the Orange Bowl. This team sent 46 different players into the NFL and was obviously led on defense by huge names like Polamalu, Cody, Patterson and Udeze. Carroll won a share of his first national title the following season, but this '02 edition of Fight On started it all.
7. Oregon State Beavers, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Dennis Erickson
Championships: Pac-10, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Ken Simonton led the Pac-10 in rushing (134.0 ypg), OSU led the conference in total defense (314.4 ypg) and scoring defense (18.5 ppg).
Award Winners: Dennis Erickson (Pac-10 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Chad Johnson (2nd, 2001), Nick Barnett (1st, 2003), Dwan Edwards (2nd, 2004)
In what has to be considered the best Beavers team in program history, Dennis Erickson used a plethora of junior college talent to lead Oregon State to its first 10+ win season ever. The 11 wins are still a school record, and the conference co-championship was the first league title for the school since 1964. While the defense, led by NFL future star Nick Barnett, was the Pac-10's best, it was the offense that impressed the most. Quarterback Jonathan Smith was the league's No. 2 passer. Running back Ken Simonton led the league in rushing at 134 yards per game. And a pair of future NFL stars, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, keep defenses honest on the outside. The team's only loss came at the hands of eventual Rose Bowl champion Washington in Husky Stadium 33-30. Erickson's bunch wrapped up the magical year by crushing Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl.
6. Washington Huskies, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Rick Neuheisel
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in rushing (211.7 ypg), topped an 11-1 Miami team 34-29
Award Winners: Marques Tuiasosopo (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Marques Tuiasosopo (2nd, 2001), Jerramy Stevens (1st, 2002), Larry Tripplett (2nd, 2002), Tank Johnson (2nd, 2004)
In what might have been the most exciting and competitive season in modern Pac-10 football, a three way round robin tie between a 7-1 Oregon (who beat Washington 23-16 in Autzen Stadium) and a 7-1 Oregon State led to the Huskies earning the trip to Pasadena. Marques Tuiasosopo led Washington past a brutal non-conference slate that included one-loss Miami and head coach Rick Neuheisel's former employer Colorado. A 33-30 win over Oregon State — and an Oregon loss to the Beavers in the Civil War due to five Joey Harrington interceptions — helped U of W return to its first Rose Bowl since 1993. This embattled team and program was willing to do whatever it took to win — and win it did. Capped by a 34-24 win over Drew Brees' Purdue in the Rose Bowl, the Huskies won 11 games for the first time since Don James' national title team of 1991, and they haven't come close to touching 10 wins ever since.
5. USC Trojans, 2008 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring defense at 9.0 points allowed per game, also led the nation in pass defense (134.4 ypg) and pass efficiency defense as well. Finished No. 2 in total defense nationally (221.7 ypg).
Award Winners: Rey Maualuga (Bednarik, Pac-10 Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010), Taylor Mays (2nd, 2010), Tyron Smith (1st, 2011)
After starting the season 2-0 and reaching No. 1 status, first-year starter Mark Sanchez and the Men of Troy got upset on a Thursday night in primetime by true freshman dynamo Jacquizz Rodgers and the Oregon State Beaver. Rodgers ran for 186 yards and the Trojans dropped to No. 9 in the polls. They wouldn't lose again. USC punished ranked opponents Oregon and Cal and crushed rivals Notre Dame and UCLA en route to yet another Rose Bowl appearance. Penn State was no match for USC, losing 38-24. The offense was outstanding with Sanchez utilizing names like Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson, Joe McKnight and Patrick Turner. But the defense was downright unbeatable. One of the greatest linebacking corps in NCAA history — Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing — helped USC lead the nation in scoring defense. Eight teams failed to score more than seven points on the trio in 2008.
Aug. 30: USC 52, Virginia 7 (Charlottesville, VA)
Sept. 13: USC 35, (#5) Ohio State 3 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 25: Oregon State 27, USC 21 (Corvallis, OR)
Oct. 4: USC 44, (#23) Oregon 10 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 11: USC 28, Arizona State 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 18: USC 69, Washington State 0 (Pullman, WA)
Oct. 25: USC 17, Arizona 10 (Tucson, AZ)
Nov. 1: USC 56, Washington 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 8: USC 17, (#21) Cal 3 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 15: USC 45, Stanford 23 (Palo Alto, CA)
Nov. 29: USC 38, Notre Dame 3 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 6: USC 28, UCLA 7 (Pasadena, CA)
Jan. 1: USC 38, (#5) Penn State 24 (Pasadena, CA, Rose Bowl)
4. Oregon Ducks, 2010 (12-1, 9-0)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Key Stats: LaMichael James led the nation in yards rushing per game (144.3) and scoring (12.0 ppg); team led the nation in scoring offense (47.0 ppg) and total offense (530.7 ypg), Darron Thomas threw two key interceptions and the Ducks rushed for 75 yards in the BCS NCG.
Award Winners: LaMichael James (Doak Walker), Chip Kelly (Eddie Robinson, Pac-10 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: N/A
One of the most powerful, explosive and fast-paced offenses in league history led the nation in scoring and total offense at 530.7 yards per game and 47.0 points per game. The Ducks' run at their first BCS title game began with a 35-point second half in Neyland Stadium against the Tennessee Vols. They scored at least 50 points in the next seven games until Chip Kelly led his team into Berkeley. The only test of the regular season came in the form of a sloppy 15-13 win over Cal that featured a defensive and special teams touchdown. After easy wins over Arizona and Oregon State, the Ducks squared off with Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers. The highest-scoring, most powerful team in school history (school-record 611 points) was held to 75 yards rushing on 32 carries while Auburn rolled up 254 yards on 50 attempts. Kelly came up three points short as the Tigers kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Sept. 4: Oregon 72, New Mexico 0 (Eugene, OR)
Sept. 11: Oregon 48, Tennessee 13 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 18: Oregon 69, Portland State 0 (Eugene, OR)
Sept. 25: Oregon 42, Arizona State 31 (Tempe, AZ)
Oct. 2: Oregon 52, (#9) Stanford 31 (Eugene, OR)
Oct. 9: Oregon 43, Washington State 23 (Pullman, WA)
Oct. 21: Oregon 60, UCLA 13 (Eugene, OR)
Oct. 30: Oregon 53, (#24) USC 32 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 6: Oregon 53, Washington 16 (Eugene, OR)
Nov. 13: Oregon 15, Cal 13 (Berkeley, CA)
Nov. 26: Oregon 48, (#21) Arizona 29 (Eugene, OR)
Dec. 4: Oregon 37, Oregon State 20 (Corvallis, OR)
Jan. 10: (#1) Auburn 22, Oregon 19 (Glendale, AZ, BCS NCG)
3. USC Trojans, 2003 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl, AP National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (60.2 ypg) and punting (43.7 ypp) and finished second nationally in turnover margin (+1.54), finished first or second in the league in 10 of 14 tracked team stats
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year), Pete Carroll (Home Depot Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Kenechi Udeze (1st, 2004), Jacob Rogers (2nd, 2004), Keary Colbert (2nd, 2004), Mike Williams (1st, 2005), Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2007), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2007), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2007)
After starting the year by crushing No. 6 Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium, USC reached No. 3 in the polls before a thrilling triple-overtime loss to Cal 34-31. USC dropped to 10th in the polls and never lost again. Led by first-year starter Matt Leinart, USC crushed Arizona State, Notre Dame, Washington and Arizona on the road and destroyed No. 6 Washington State at home by 27 points. The Trojans finished No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches' Poll at the end of the regular season, but was left out of the BCS championship game for Oklahoma (who got crushed by Kansas State 35-7 in the Big 12 title game). LSU went on to beat the Sooners and USC handled Michigan in the Rose Bowl with relative ease. The AP awarded the Men of Troy the National Championship while the BCS title went to the Bayou Bengals. It was the last split National Championship in college football. This team featured two Heisman Trophy winners and 16 "First Day" draft picks.
Aug. 30: USC 23, (#6) Auburn 0 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 6: USC 35, BYU 18 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 13: USC 61, Hawaii 32 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 27: Cal 34, USC 31 (3OT, Berkeley, CA)
Oct. 4: USC 37, Arizona State 17 (Tempe, AZ)
Oct. 11: USC 44, Stanford 21 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 18: USC 45, Notre Dame 14 (South Bend, IN)
Oct. 25: USC 43, Washington 23 (Seattle, WA)
Nov. 1: USC 43, (#6) Washington State 16 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 15: USC 45, Arizona 0 (Tucson, AZ)
Nov. 22: USC 47, UCLA 22 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 6: USC 52, Oregon State 28 (Los Angeles, CA)
Jan. 1: USC 28, (#4) Michigan 14 (Pasadena, CA, Rose Bowl)
2. USC Trojans, 2005 (12-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Key Stats: Led the nation in total offense (579.8 ypg) and second in the country in scoring (49.1 ppg), Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards (222.3), allowed 467 yards of total offense to Vince Young in the BCS NCG
Award Winners: Reggie Bush (Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Player of the Year), Pete Carroll (Pac-10 Co-Coach of the Year), Matt Leinart (Johnny Unitas)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010)
The defending BCS National Champs returned largely intact for 2005 and began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. After beating five ranked teams — three of which came on the road — the Men of Troy claimed their fourth straight Pac-10 championship. Do-everything tailback Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards at 222.3 yards per game and claimed the Heisman Trophy — the second straight for USC (Leinart, 2004). A 513-yard performance and this touchdown run in a shootout win over a ranked Fresno State team likely clinched the stiff-arm trophy for the dynamic running back. After crushing rival UCLA, the Trojans finished the 2005 season having never left the No. 1 line in the polls. They carried a 34-game winning streak into the BCS National Championship game against Texas in what became the first time two Heisman winners ever played in the same backfield. Leinart threw for a title game record 365 yards, but the Trojans defense could not stop Vince Young in what is the greatest game ever played according to this college football writer. This team had 20 first or second round draft picks on the roster and were 19 seconds away from claiming their third straight national title.
Sept. 3: USC 63, Hawaii 17 (Honolulu, HI)
Sept. 17: USC 70, Arkansas 17 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 24: USC 45, (#24) Oregon 13 (Eugene, OR)
Oct. 1: USC 38, (#15) Arizona State 28 (Tempe, AZ)
Oct. 8: USC 42, Arizona 21 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 15: USC 34, (#9) Notre Dame 31 (South Bend, IN)
Oct. 22: USC 51, Washington 24 (Seattle, WA)
Oct. 29: USC 55, Washington State 13 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 5: USC 51, Stanford 21 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 12: USC 35, Cal 10 (Berkeley, CA)
Nov. 26: USC 50, (#16) Fresno State 42 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 3: USC 66, (#11) UCLA 19 (Los Angeles, CA)
Jan. 4: (#2) Texas 41, USC 38 (Pasadena, CA, Rose Bowl, BCS NCG)
1. USC Trojans, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-12, Orange Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (79.4 ypg) and turnover margin (+1.46), led the Pac-10 in scoring (38.2 ppg) and finished No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (13.0 ppg), USC did not rank below third in the Pac-10 in any of the 14 tracked team stats.
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Reggie Bush (Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Shaun Cody (Pac-10 Co-Def. Player of the Year),
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009)
The best team in the Pac-10 since the BCS began might have been the best team in any league during the BCS era. After a split national title in 2003 with LSU, the Trojans entered 2004 as the No. 1 team in the nation. An opening weekend win over ACC champ Virginia Tech in Landover started what would become a magical ride to a BCS National Championship. The Trojans went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the nation, claimed the Heisman Trophy and put together the most impressive national championship game in the brief history of the BCS. Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his second year under center and armed with an NFL roster full of skill players, led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (156.54) and finished with 3,322 yards and 36 total touchdowns (against only six interceptions). He capped his Heisman campaign with 332 yards and a BCS bowl record five touchdown passes in the destruction of unbeaten No. 2 Oklahoma. The two-headed rushing attack of LenDale White (1,108 yards, 15 TDs) and Reggie Bush (1,416 yards from scrimmage, 15 TDs) made it virtually impossible for anyone to stop the 2004 Trojans. Eighteen different Trojans from the 2004 BCS National Championship team were selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL Draft. This team had the stats, the resume, the undefeated title season, the NFL talent, a superstar coach and is the best Pac-10 team of the BCS era because of it.
Aug. 28: USC 24, Virginia Tech 13 (Landover, MD)
Sept. 11: USC 49, Colorado State 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 18: USC 42, BYU 10 (Provo, UT)
Sept. 25: USC 31, Stanford 28 (Palo Alto, CA)
Oct: 9: USC 23, (#7) Cal 17 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 16: USC 45, (#15) Arizona State 7 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 23: USC 38, Washington 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 30: USC 42, Washington State 12 (Pullman, WA)
Nov. 6: USC 28, Oregon State 20 (Corvallis, OR)
Nov. 13: USC 49, Arizona 9 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 27: USC 41, Notre Dame 10 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 4: USC 29, UCLA 24 (Pasadena, CA)
Jan. 4: USC 55, Oklahoma 19 (Miami Gardens, FL, Orange Bowl, BCS NCG)
"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
* - team played in the ACC Championship game
Athlon Sports Ranks the Best Teams in Every BCS League:
The Top 10 Big East Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 ACC Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 Big Ten Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 Pac-12 Teams of the BSC Era
The Top 10 Big 12 Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 SEC Teams of the BCS Era
Mike McQueary, the former Penn State quarterback and graduate student testified that he saw Jerry Sandusky "molesting a young boy" in the Penn State showers in 2002.
This is the first time that McQueary has testified publicly to what he saw since the child sexual abuse scandal broke.
McQueary, who has had rumors swirling around him that he has told different version of this story privately, went on record in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania courtroom today.
McQueary testified that in 2002 he walked into the showers of Penn State and saw Sandusky and a young boy in the shower. He didn't see them directly initially, but in the reflection of a mirror.
McQueary testified that he "heard 'rhythmic slapping sounds' as he entered locker room. Said he saw boy with hands on shower wall with Jerry's arms wrapped around waist, and when asked by an attorney exactly what he saw, McQueary said, "I did not see insertion or hear screaming or yelling...I believe they were having some kind of intercourse. He moved toward shower and Sandusky separated from the boy. He didn't say anything and left. I was distraught. I was horrified."
McQueary testified that he did not say anything to Sandusky.
"They had turned so their bodies were both facing me. ... They looked directly in my eyes," he said. "Seeing that they were separated, I thought it was best that I leave the locker room."
He also said that he felt "shocked" and "horrified" after the incident.
"I was not thinking straight," he said.
After leaving the Penn State locker room, McQueary said that he immediately called his father, who told him to come to his house immediately, which was around 9:30 on Friday night. After speaking with his dad, his father told him he needed to tell Joe Paterno.
According to McQueary he called Joe the next morning at around 7:30am and told him he needed to speak with him. Paterno reportedly quipped, "Well, I don't have a job for you, so there's no point in coming over."
McQueary went to his house, say at his kitchen table and told coach Paterno what he saw. When asked by a lawyer if he made it clear that what he saw was "sexual in nature," McQueary responded "without a doubt."
Paterno, according to McQueary "slumped in his chair" and told McQueary that he "did the right thing" and expressed remorse that "you had to see something like that."
When asked why he went to Paterno, McQueary said that "he knew Joe would handle this the right way."
So let's go over what Mike McQueary saw and did. He saw Sandusky performing some sort of sexual act on a young boy in a Penn State shower (although he said he couldn't be sure it was intercourse, he was sure it was something sexual) and he said absolutely nothing and went home and called his dad.
Now before McQueary is ostracized for his inaction, we need to put ourselves in his shoes (no, we're not condoning his inaction). But McQueary was a Penn State lifer. And on Penn State's campus, Jerry Sandusky was just a notch below Joe Paterno in the God-like pedestal of Penn State sports. Imagine walking in on Joe Paterno performing this act with a young boy. You probably wouldn't believe your eyes.
Before we play armchair quarterback to what Mike McQueary should or shouldn't have done (I would like to think I would have stopped the abuse and taken Sandusky to jail personally after performing a citizen's arrest), think about the actual moment and how you would have really reacted if you saw a well-respected member of your community in a shower with a young boy.
I think it's important that Mike McQueary doesn't become the scapegoat for Sandusky's horrific action and Joe Paterno's almost equally horrific inaction. Yes, he should have done more. But let's not kill the messenger because it's easy to say what you would or would not have done if you had seen this lionized figure doing this despicable act.
Instead, we should call into question the idea of how an institution turns mortal men into immortal, larger than life figures. We saw this same inaction and fear in the Catholic Church's dealing with pedohilia.
By Mitch Light
New Mexico Bowl — Temple vs. Wyoming
For the second time in three seasons, Wyoming is in a bowl game with a true freshman at quarterback. Two years ago, Austyn Carta-Samuels guided the Cowboys to a win over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl. With Carta-Samuels gone — he transferred to Vanderbilt in the offseason — coach Dave Christensen handed the offense to Brett Smith, who ranks second in the Mountain West in total offense and fourth in passing efficiency. The key for the Cowboys, however, will be on defense. They rank 115th in the nation in stopping the run — a huge concern with Temple’s potent rushing attack on the horizon.
Temple 24, Wyoming 21
Idaho Potato Bowl — Utah State vs. Ohio
Utah State opened up the season with a 42–38 loss at Auburn, the defending national champs. The Aggies went on to lose four of their next six games — all by 10 points or less — before ending the season on a five-game winning streak. Ohio must regroup after blowing a 20–0 lead in the second half to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game. Three of the Bobcats’ four losses came by three points or less. These are two solid teams.
Utah State 27, Ohio 24
New Orleans Bowl — UL-Lafayette vs. San Diego State
Mark Hudspeth did a great job in his first year at UL-Lafayette, guiding the Ragin’ Cajuns to an 8–4 overall record and their first bowl game in the FBS ranks. San Diego State is making back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in school history. The Aztecs will lean heavily on underrated tailback Ronnie Hillman, who ranks third nationally in rushing (138.0 ypg).
San Diego State 34, UL-Lafayette 21
Beef O’Brady’s Bowl — FIU vs. Marshall
Marshall, at 5–3, had its first winning record in seven seasons in Conference USA. The Herd got it done with a true freshman (Rakeem Cato) taking the majority of the snaps at quarterback. FIU failed to repeat at Sun Belt champs, but the Golden Panthers still won eight games in the regular season, including their final three.
Marshall 20, FIU 14
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas — Arizona State vs. Boise State
Boise State, 11–1 overall, was relegated to the MAACO Bowl for the second straight season after getting snubbed in the BCS bowl selection process. This team deserves better. Arizona State, on the other hand, is fortunate to still be playing. The Sun Devils lost their final four games, including the last two at home, to finish at 6–6.
Boise State 37, Arizona State 21
Poinsettia Bowl — Louisiana Tech vs. TCU
Louisiana Tech is one of the more undervalued teams in the nation. The Bulldogs went 8–4 overall and won their final seven games. They lost by two points at Southern Miss (11–2), by one point to Houston (12–1) and by six, in overtime, at Mississippi State. TCU is obviously very good — the Frogs won at Boise State — but Louisiana Tech, a double-digit underdog, is capable of winning this game.
Louisiana Tech 24, TCU 21
Hawaii Bowl — Nevada vs. Southern Miss
Southern Miss got shipped off to Hawaii despite winning the Conference USA Championship Game. It’s a fun trip for the players, but too far for the majority of the fans, many of whom would have made the relatively short trip to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Nevada once again brings a high-powered attack to the table; the Wolf Pack have averaged over 500 yards per game in each of the past four seasons.
Southern Miss 41, Nevada 37
Independence Bowl — Missouri vs. North Carolina
SEC-bound Missouri salvaged what had been a disappointing season by winning its final three games, including a 17–5 decision over Texas and a 24–10 win over Kansas in the final Border War showdown for the foreseeable future. North Carolina struggled down the stretch, not surprising for a team playing with an interim head coach (Everett Withers) who was never expected to get the job on a full-time basis.
Missouri 28, North Carolina 17
Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl — Western Michigan vs. Purdue
Western Michigan boasts one of the nation’s most potent pass-catch duos in Alex Carder and Jordan White. The Broncos rank eighth in the nation in passing (328.8 ypg) and White leads all receivers nationally with 10.6 receptions per game. WMU will have to score a bunch of points, because its defense could have trouble with Purdue.
Purdue 41, Western Michigan 33
Belk Bowl — Louisville vs. NC State
Picked by most to finish near the bottom of the Big East in 2011, Louisville was the surprise of the league, tying for the title with West Virginia and Cincinnati. And with talented true freshman Teddy Bridgewater emerging at quarterback, the future is bright for the Cards. At NC State, Tom O’Brien likely saved his job by winning three of his final four games, most notably a 13–0 shutout vs. rival North Carolina.
Louisville 23, NC State 17
Military Bowl — Toledo vs. Air Force
Toledo averaged 52.8 points in its last six games, but managed to only go 5–1 in that stretch. The Rockets lost to Northern Illinois, 63–60, at home in a game that ultimately cost them the MAC West title. Air Force was a bit of a disappointment, finishing in fifth place in the Mountain West with a 3–4 league record.
Toledo 41, Air Force 27
Holiday Bowl — California vs. Texas
Texas limped to the finish line, losing three of its final four games. Amazingly, the Longhorns are 6–11 in the Big 12 over the last two seasons. Cal played well late, winning three of its last four, with the only loss coming by three points at Stanford.
California 27, Texas 17
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
One year after winning the national championship, Gene Chizik is looking at a turning point in his tenure at Auburn.
Chizik’s coaching staff took a hit over the last few weeks, with offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ted Roof departing for other jobs. Malzahn left to be the head coach at Arkansas State, while Roof left to become the defensive coordinator at UCF.
Roof’s defenses never finished higher than 60th in total defense and 53rd in scoring in his three years at Auburn. The 2011 version ranked 11th in the SEC in rushing, total and scoring defense, while the pass defense finished last in the conference. Youth and a lack of proven depth were to blame for much of the issues this season.
Chizik is going to call the plays for the defense in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia, but will hire a coordinator in the offseason. Florida State’s Mark Stoops has been rumored as a possible target by Auburn and other names are sure to emerge.
Malzahn’s departure is clearly a bigger loss for Chizik. The Tigers finished 17th nationally in scoring in 2009 and seventh last season.
Auburn will certainly pay well for its coordinators next season, so Chizik will be able to attract some top talent to rebuilding his coaching staff. However, it won’t be easy to replicate Malzahn’s system. The Tigers have recruited to run Malzahn’s spread offense, so choosing a different scheme could add transition time. Considering the question marks on defense and strength at running back, Auburn may not want to continue its with up-tempo offense.
With quarterback Cam Newton leaving early to the NFL, the offense was never the same this year. The up-tempo scheme never took off, and the Tigers averaged only 20 points in SEC play this year. Quarterback was a question mark all season, as Clint Moseley, Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier all took snaps for Auburn. And neither was able to clearly separate from the others as the No. 1 guy.
Quarterback won’t be the only question mark for Auburn’s offense this offseason. Running back Michael Dyer is suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl and isn’t a lock to return to the roster for next season. The sophomore rushed for 1,242 yards and 10 scores this year, which followed up a terrific freshman campaign.
With Dyer sidelined for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason will be forced to shoulder the workload in the backfield. McCalebb rushed for 532 yards this season, while Mason added 97.
If Dyer does not return to the team in 2012, the outlook in the backfield won’t be much better. McCalebb and Mason will return, while Florida transfer Mike Blakely will be eligible next season. While that trio isn’t bad, Auburn – assuming he does not return – will miss Dyer’s ability to be the clear go-to back. And there’s also the issue of who will be Auburn’s quarterback next year?
It’s unfair to say Chizik is on the hot seat one year removed from winning the national title. However, his tenure has reached a critical juncture. Take away last season’s record and Auburn is 15-10 in two years under Chizik. With Malzahn and Roof departing, Chizik has another chance to put his stamp on the program.
There’s no question the Tigers have talent in the program. After all, this team has ranked among the best in college football in recruiting over the last couple of seasons.
Another 7-5 season won’t sit well in Auburn and there will be a lot of turnover and uncertainty facing this team going into 2012.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Utah State (7-5) vs. Ohio (9-4)
Date: Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Location: Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho
The second matchup of bowl season features a battle on the blue turf in Boise. Although this game won’t register much interest on the national radar, this one could be one of the most entertaining pre-Christmas bowls.
The last four winners of this bowl have scored 40 points, so a shootout isn’t out of the question.
Although Utah State finished 7-5, it was a season of several close calls. The Aggies were unable to hold onto a lead late in the fourth quarter against Auburn, lost by one point to Colorado State, were defeated by three points to BYU and fell by a touchdown to eventual WAC champion Louisiana Tech. Since losing to the Bulldogs, the Aggies have won five in a row.
Ohio enters this matchup with victories in five out of its last six games. However, the Bobcats closed out the season on a disappointing note. Ohio led Northern Illinois 20-0 at halftime in the MAC title game, but the Huskies rallied for a 23-20 victory. Although two weeks have passed since that loss, it’s fair to wonder if the Bobcats will carry the disappointment from that loss to Boise.
This is Utah State’s first postseason appearance since playing in this bowl in 1997 against Cincinnati. The Aggies are 1-4 in bowl trips, with their lone victory coming against Ball State in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl.
Ohio is 0-5 in bowl appearances, including a 48-21 blowout loss to Troy in last season’s New Orleans Bowl.
WHEN OHIO HAS THE BALL:
In first season as the starter, Tyler Tettleton has emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the MAC. The sophomore threw for 3,086 yards and 26 scores, while adding 635 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. His dual-threat ability has been a huge asset in the development of Ohio’s offense this year.
Tettleton isn’t the only player doing damage on the ground for the Bobcats, as running back Donte Harden is 61 yards away from getting to 1,000. The senior has only two rushing scores, but is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has caught 23 passes this year.
Senior LaVon Brazill is Tettleton’s go-to target in the passing game. Brazill caught 66 passes for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Riley Dunlop, Donte Foster, Jordan Thompson and Phil Bates will all factor into the receiving corps, giving the Bobcats a deep group of targets for their passing attack.
The Aggies gave up 28.3 points a game this year, but led the WAC in total defense and finished second in the conference against the run. Linebacker Bobby Wagner is one of the nation’s top defenders from outside of the BCS conferences, recording 140 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions this season.
Stopping Tettleton is likely to be Utah State’s No. 1 priority on defense. However, it would be a surprise if the Aggies are able to completely shut down Ohio’s offense. Utah State’s defense held its last two opponents to 21 or fewer points, but gave up at least 31 in the three prior contests.
WHEN UTAH STATE HAS THE BALL:
Running back Robert Turbin missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but has showed no ill-effects from that injury. Turbin rushed for 1,416 yards and 19 scores on 229 attempts this season, while catching 16 passes for 164 yards and four touchdowns. Turbin is clearly Utah State’s go-to back, but Michael Smith and Kerwynn Williams will also get touches. Both players add more big-play ability in the backfield, as Smith averaged seven yards a carry, while Williams averaged 6.7 yards per attempt.
The Aggies will lean on their rushing attack (277.5 yards per game), but Ohio won’t be pushed around in the trenches. The Bobcats owned one of the MAC’s top defenses, ranking 30th nationally against the run and allowing only 11 touchdowns on the ground this year. Three Ohio defenders earned second-team All-MAC honors, including linebacker Noah Keller, who has to play a key role in slowing down Turbin.
Chuckie Keeton was one of the top freshman quarterbacks in the nation before an injury against Hawaii forced him to miss the final four regular season games. Adam Kennedy assumed the starting job in Keeton’s absence, throwing for 700 yards and eight touchdowns in the final four contests. Keeton is expected to be available to play, but Kennedy will start.
With their success on the ground, Utah State has been averaging only 23 passing attempts a game this year. However, Kennedy and Keeton are capable passers and are averaging 12.5 yards per completion. The Aggies don’t have an incredibly deep group of receivers, but Matt Austin (34 receptions) and Stanley Morrison (25 receptions) are solid options.
Ohio kicker Matt Weller earned second-team All-MAC honors this season, connecting on 24 of 33 attempts. He displayed good long-range ability, nailing 6 of 14 attempts from 40 yards or more.
The Bobcats also got a solid year from Donte Harden on kickoff returns, as he averaged 26.3 yards on 21 returns.
Utah State kicker Josh Thompson attempted just nine field goals this season, but connected on six. Punter Tyler Bennett averaged 44.2 yards per punt and downed 19 inside of the 20.
Kerwynn Williams was one of the top kickoff returners in the WAC last season, but his averaged dipped from 27.2 per return in 2010 to 22.7 this year. Williams and Eric Moats will handle the bulk of punt return duties.
If you are hungry for college football action this Saturday, this should be the game to watch. Both teams aren’t lacking for talent on defense, but all signs point to a high-scoring affair. The Aggies seem to have turned a corner under coach Gary Andersen and a victory over Ohio would be their eighth of the season – equaling their best win total since 1979. Expect a back and forth game, but Utah State’s rushing attack will be the difference in the end.
Utah State 31, Ohio 27
-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)
Start These Quarterbacks:
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (at St. Louis)
Dalton’s performance hasn’t been elite of late, but the defenses he has faced are: Pittsburgh twice, Baltimore, Houston. And he fared admirably, averaging 216.7 yards per game with five touchdowns. He hasn’t throw an interception in three straight games, and the Rams haven’t been stopping any part of any offense.
Tim Tebow, Denver (New England)
Would the NFL simply cancel the season and award the Lombardi Trophy to Tim Tebow himself if he were to pull off an upset of Tom Brady and the Pats? With the Patriots' ability to score early, Tebow might be in 2-minute mode for the final three quarters, and that is great news for fantasy owners. New England is still last in passing defense at over 308 yards per game allowed, and Tebow could be in store for another big game on the ground as well.
Jake Locker, Tennessee (at Indianapolis)
The rookie was a top-five option last week in fantasy and will be facing the worst team in the NFL this weekend. The Colts allow a league-worst 29.4 points per game and have a league-worst six interceptions. Locker will get it done both with his powerful right arm and mobile lower extremities. Look for another solid outing from the youngster.
T.J. Yates, Houston (Carolina)
If you need to dig deep, look for Yates to produce again. His clutch performance in the second half last week proved he has great leadership ability — and it bumped a mediocre fantasy day into 300-yard, 2-TD range. In two starts, he has 488 yards, 3 TD and one INT — and now he faces a defense ranked 29th in scoring (27.3 ppg).
Cam Newton, Carolina (at Houston)
All three of this week’s “Lowered Expectations” are tough benches, but also have brutal match-ups. Houston has been nearly dominant on defense: Fifth in INT (17), third against the pass (183.5 ypg) and a nasty fourth in scoring (16.0 ppg). With homefield advantage still on the line for Houston, expect this team to rally around its ailing defensive coordinator. A 183-1-3, 32-? line sounds about right for Newton. It will all come down to the rushing touchdowns column.
Philip Rivers, San Diego (Baltimore)
The Chargers and Rivers are hot through the air (6 TD, 0 INT) over the last two — against Jacksonville and Buffalo. Rivers is still having one of his worst seasons statistically, and his offensive line has been terrible. Against a Baltimore pass rush that is leading the league in sacks (45.0), is third in scoring defense (16.5 ppg), fifth against the pass (192.3 ypg) and has allowed a league-low nine touchdown passes, Rivers' upside appears very limited.
Ben Roesthlisberger, Pittsburgh (at San Francisco)
Keep a close eye on Big Ben’s ankle. He is questionable for a game that has major playoff implications in the AFC, so it is unlikely he misses time. He is one of the toughest hombres in the league, but the Niners have been nasty on defense all season. Their 18 interceptions rank second in the league, and the ground game won’t help him at all. There is very little to like about the two-time Super Bowl champ this week.
Start These Running Backs:
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (at St. Louis)
His 21 carries for 91 yards last week against Houston is much more impressive than the 9.1 fantasy points indicate. And now he gets the worst rushing defense in the league, as the Rams allow 156.8 yards per game. They clearly had no desire to stop Marshawn Lynch on Monday night and won’t be game for the Bengals' power rushing attack either.
Roy Helu, Washington (at NY Giants)
Helu has been a top-10 back over last three weeks as he has topped the century mark and the 23 carry plateau in each game. And Giants have been about as bad as any team…ever…over the last three weeks. They have allowed 40.3 points per game in the last three weeks, and the Skins offense should be able to move the ball in what will be a high-scoring affair.
Reggie Bush, Miami (at Buffalo)
Michael isn’t the only Bush who should be in your lineup this weekend. (Sorry.) The former Saint is running with renewed vigor and has back-to-back 100-yard games to show for it. The Bills have been atrocious for the better part of two months and are allowing 130.7 yards rushing per game at a 4.7-yard clip.
Ryan Grant, Green Bay (at Kansas City)
Assuming James Starks is out again, Grant is the guy against a defense that surrenders 132.5 yards rushing per game. Grant ran with renewed energy last week in what was his best game in what seems like three seasons (10 att., 85 yards, 2 TD, 1 rec., 13 yards). The Chiefs, with a new head coach now, are coming off a disgusting performance against the Jets: 37 points allowed, 159 yards rushing allowed, three rushing TDs allowed.
Felix Jones, Dallas (at Tampa Bay)
Welcome back, King Felix! The Cowboys gave Jones the ball 22 times for 137 yards from scrimmage in the Sunday night shootout with the Giants. While no team has been as bad as New York on defense of late, Tampa Bay isn’t far behind. The Bucs are 29th in the league against the run (139.7 yards per game) and a league-leading 19 rushing touchdowns. Plug and play.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh (at San Francisco)
The Niners are on the verge of greatness when it comes to playing the run. They still haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown (second place: five allowed), they lead the league in rushing defense (70.5 ypg) by a wide margin and are No. 1 in scoring defense at 14.0 points allowed per game. With Big Ben banged up, it's tough to see big numbers for Mendenhall.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego (Baltimore)
The Ravens are third in the NFL in rushing touchdowns allowed with six, are third in the NFL in points allowed per game at 15.5 and are No. 2 in the NFL against fantasy running backs. In a PPR league, he deserves a slight bump in value, but it is hard to see him continuing his roll on the ground this weekend.
Frank Gore, San Francisco (Pittsburgh)
Rushing yards will be tough to come by on both sides of the ball Monday night. The Steelers are allowing 15.2 points per game, good for second in the NFL. They have allowed an NFL 3rd-best six rushing touchdowns and only 97.0 yards per game. Gore hasn’t reached the 100-yard mark since Week 9, so don’t expect it to happen this weekend.
Start These Wide Receivers:
Santana Moss or Jabar Gaffney, Washington (at NY Giants)
The Giants have been awful of late and the secondary is a big part of their struggles. Moss is coming off a 3-81-1 game and has 12 receptions in his last three. Gaffney has 18 receptions for 279 yards and two scores in his last three. Without Fred Davis, these two should get the majority of the targets against the porous G-Men.
Donald Driver or James Jones, Green Bay (at Kansas City)
Jordy Nelson is a must start with Greg Jennings out; however, both Driver and Jones deserve a look this weekend as well. Driver set a season high with 75 yards last week and has at least four catches in each of the last two. Jones is more of a hit-or-miss (94, TD one week sandwiched by zero catch performances) but has more upside than Driver. Pick your poison and hope you picked correctly.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver (at New England)
Thomas is a physical specimen who has all the natural ability to be an elite receiver but has experienced nagging injuries and a steep learning curve. With 11 catches for 222 yards and three scores over his last two games, it appears that he is starting to blossom. Against the worst Patriots secondary in more than a decade, he should play well.
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia (NY Jets)
Much like the way you should bench whichever running back is facing the 49ers, whoever gets locked down by Derrelle Revis is a near must-bench as well. With his antics, contract talk and Michael Vick’s struggles, it is hard to recommend D-Jax this week. He hasn’t topped 100 yards since Week 4 and has scored one time in eight games.
Steve Smith, Carolina (at Houston)
Smith is a tough bench, but the Panthers passing game has little upside this weekend. The Texans have been excellent against both phases of offense. And Smith has struggled of late, totaling 11 catches, 75 yards per game and no touchdowns over his last three. Look for a 5-70-0 line as his potential upside.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco (Pittsburgh)
The former two-time Biletnikoff Award winner has become a must-start of late. Unfortunately, Monday night isn’t one of those. This game features two of the best front sevens in all of football, and both quarterbacks and running games will struggle. Look for a very low-scoring, tightly played affair. No big plays for Crabtree this weekend.
by Josh Kipnis
The Chris Paul madness is over. Finally. The NBA’s opening tipoff starts in 10 days, so what do you say we stop talking about free agency and start focusing on the actual game.
In the aftermath of the lockout, it seems nothing has changed. The players remain the puppet masters, despite a coup attempt from the owners this summer. By far, the most hyped difference is the shortened 66-game schedule set to tipoff on Christmas day. But have you given this idea a real thought yet? Sure, you were pissed the season was delayed a month, but have you considered what affect this new schedule will have on every team?
Players are not going to be getting the rest they previously cherished. In years past, each team played 82 games in 170 days. That’s a game in every 2.07 days. This year, teams will have to play 66 games in 123 days--averaging a game every 1.86 days. It seems like a small change, but think about Lakers’ center, Andrew Bynum. He missed 28 games last season, and that’s when the Lakers played just about every other day. Shortening his rest in between games is the last thing they need.
Playing this often, the keys to success this year are going to be youth and depth. By the season’s end, the youngest and freshest teams are going to be whirling dervishes in comparison to the stagnant play of the elderly (can you say hip replacement?) Who will make a run in the playoffs? Who will uncharacteristically struggle? The answers may surprise you.
Los Angeles Clippers
The whole Chris Paul mess pushed me back and forth on this one. I wish they could’ve found a way to keep Eric Gordon, but nevertheless, they got one of the two best point guards in the game. With Kaman, Aminu, and Gordon gone, their depth diminished, but not too much. Re-signing DeAndre Jordan, as well as bringing on Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups this off-season was huge. The Clippers starting five is as good as anyone (I feel like I should be slapped in the face. The Clippers?). Billups may be aging, but that’s where Eric Bledsoe comes into play. Holding onto him was key, and he could be up for the 6th Man Award this season.
What is happening in the NBA! Since when can the Clippers and Pacers both be good in the same year? Seriously, stop laughing; this team has some weapons. Danny Granger averaged over 20 PPG in 2010, and I see no signs of those numbers declining. The biggest flaw in Granger’s game though, was his efficiency rating--last season, he ranked 50th (You would too if you had the offensive supporting cast of Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansborough, and Darren Collison). But that problem is solved. Indiana signed Hornets’ star and leading scorer David West, taking pressure off Granger and adding a much-needed veteran voice to this young squad. I see them in the playoffs in a five or six spot.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Do I dare say it? I really (really) want to. NBA Champs…
How cool would it be to see this team win it all? The only thing holding me back is experience. Durant averaged 27.7 PPG last year, making him the youngest player in NBA history to win the scoring title. But will he ever emerge as a clutch player? It is the only thing missing in his repertoire (aside from any sense of defensive intensity). We’ve seen him fade into the shadows during crunch time too much. It’s time for the Durantula to cast his web.
I know I said youth and depth were needed, but I’m making an exception here. Why? Three words: Derrick Freakin Rose. He single-handedly carried his team to the Eastern Conference Finals last spring, and this year he will continue his success. The new schedule plays to his strengths perfectly. He is the epitome of a whirling dervish.
Los Angeles Lakers
For the first time (ever?) the Lakers will be the second best team playing in the Staples Center. The Clippers and Lakers are polar opposites this year. While the Clippers begin to build their youthful organization, the Lakers are evaluating retirement plans and checking into nursing homes. There is absolutely no chance the Lakers can survive this season. 66 games in 123 days will prove to be way too much for LA to handle. Consider the ages of their starting lineup: Bryant (33), Fisher (37), Gasol (31), Meta World Peace (32. “The Artest formally known as Ron”), and Bynum (24. His knees have more fluid than the Bears’ Sam Hurd has cocaine.) And the players coming off the bench? Aside from newly acquired player, Josh McRoberts, they have three guys (Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Luke Walton) who are all 31. They simply don’t have what it takes this year. The Odom trade is going to kill them. I know Kobe is a winner, but too many things are falling out of place. They will still make the playoffs, but it won’t be any higher than a five seed.
Kevin Garnett is already lashing out at Commissioner Stern for not giving teams enough of a pre-season. A few days ago, Garnett told reporters that, “Timing is everything.” Sorry KG, if that’s the case then looks like your Celtics have a whole lot of nothing. The Big Three isn’t what it used to be. Period. Each year they pride themselves on having the best defense in league. But can they continuously hold opponents under 100 points with this much mileage? Pierce (34), Garnett (35), and Allen (36) will outperform each and every team mentally, but the physical aspect is what’s lacking. And how about Rondo? The speedster is most effective in transition, pushing the ball up the court whenever the chance presents itself. Will Coach Doc Rivers even let him though? A transition offense isn’t an effective game-plan when you have a bunch of old men limping up the court. Also, how will the off-season trade rumors play with Rondo’s emotions? Lamar Odom sure didn’t like it.
Christmas is just 10 days away, and that means we are inching ever so close to NBA basketball again. This year’s schedule is something we haven’t seen before. With so many games being played in so little time, age, stability, and depth have never been so significant. Who will be the superior team in LA? Can the Celtics continue to be a beast in the East? Does Durant have what it takes to go the distance? Only time will tell. Basketball is back, baby!
The coaching carousel in college football has been as crazy as ever this offseason. It started with former Notre Dame boss Bob Davie going to New Mexico, and now has progressed to where Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach are in the Pac-12 and Urban Meyer is feeling healthy enough to lead Ohio State. Speaking of leaving Gainesville, Charlie Weis takes over at Kansas and will be on his third job in three years since leaving South Bend. The Arizona State search was very strange before landing on Todd Graham, who barely had time to text his former Pittsburgh players before heading to Tempe. Gus Malzahn will actually take a pay cut in going from Auburn offensive coordinator to Arkansas State head coach, and add new UCLA boss Jim Mora to the list of coaches heading back to the sidelines after some television time. Many of the new hires seemed to come out of left field, leaving fan bases stressed. However, sometimes we see stranger hires end up working well in the wild world of college football.
Most curious coaching hire of the offseason?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think UCLA’s decision to hire Jim Mora is one of the most curious coaching moves from this offseason. Mora has no collegiate head coaching experience, but has a solid NFL background, including stops with five different teams (head coach with the Seahawks and Falcons). His only experience as a college coach came in 1984, when he served as a graduate assistant at Washington. Although some have called this hire a huge mistake, I think it’s worth the risk for the Bruins. Mora is putting together a solid coaching staff, which includes ace recruiter Adrian Klemm and former Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. He has yet to name a defensive staff, but considering his background, Mora will play a large role in calling the shots on that side of the ball. Only time will tell if Mora is a good fit in college. However, with the options on the table, Mora is worth the risk - especially if he continues to assemble a solid coaching staff.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Well, Gus Malzahn’s decision to take over at Arkansas State was a curious decision on his part, but it was a great move by the school. From the school’s point of view, I’d say New Mexico’s hiring of Bob Davie is very questionable. Davie has been out of coaching for more than a decade and, more important, he wasn’t very successful during his five years as the boss at Notre Dame. His overall record of 35–25 doesn’t look too bad, but keep in mind that he took over a program that had averaged 9.6 wins in the previous nine seasons under Lou Holtz. Davie went 7–6 in his first season (1997) and went on to have a losing record two times in his final three years with the Irish. I don’t understand why the powers at be at New Mexico believe that a coach who could not succeed at Notre Dame — a school with a ton of built-in advantages — can win consistently with the Lobos. And again, the man has been out of coaching for more than 10 years. This one doesn’t make sense.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Curious is an interesting word to describe a coaching hire. Charlie Weis at Kansas isn't as much curious as is it underwhelming and questionable. But by far the biggest head-scratcher in this year's coaching carousel was UCLA's hiring of Jim Mora. He has energy, personality and will be a great spokesman for the university. Isn't that what Rick Neuheisel was — except he played quarterback at UCLA and had more than a decade of head coaching experience at the highest levels of college football. What makes anyone believe that Mora, a man with one year of college coaching experience as a graduate assistant 27 years ago, will be able to achieve where Neuheisel failed? Clearly the Bruins athletic department needs to commit to football once and for all if it ever expects to compete with their Trojan brethren from across town, but seeing Mora’s name atop the headlines this weekend was curious to say the least.
Charlie Weis to Kansas, huh? Was anyone in Lawrence cheering "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!" after that hire? The big man is a proven NFL offensive coordinator, but has struggled at the college level, as both a head coach and coordinator. Weis went 35–27 over five years at Notre Dame, carrying 19–6 record over his first two seasons with "Tyrone Willingham's players" and a 16–21 mark over his last three seasons once he was comfortably settled into his rut at South Bend. In his one season as the playcaller at Florida, Weis' Gators struggled as the nation's 72nd scoring offense, 75th rushing attack and 87th passing game. Weis has failed to find success, and the end zone, at two of the country's premier football institutions. Now KU expects him to reverse that trend at a basketball school playing in a dying football conference. Too bad Jimmy Clausen doesn't have any eligibility left.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I thought the UCLA decision to go with Jim Mora was curious. It seemed like the Bruins were trying to duplicate the Pete Carroll hire at USC instead of signing a current college coach who would be more equipped to succeed with some limitations on the football program. Mora may do well, but I do not see UCLA’s struggles as the same situation that USC was in after a bad Paul Hackett tenure. The strangest situation in the offseason had to be Gus Malzahn’s decision to leave a higher-paying gig as the Auburn OC to go to Arkansas State, but that should work out well for the Red Wolves.
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has been the best fantasy RB over the last four weeks by 16.5-points (106.8), and is coming off a four-TD, 40.6-fantasy point day against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.
His matchup is much tougher in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons. However he is the only viable fantasy option Jaguars have — the Jags know it, the Falcons know it and you know it — but it should go without saying that he cannot be pulled from your lineup.
The Falcons are the fifth-ranked rush defense in the league, allowing 95.2 yards per game and nine touchdowns, but that is also against the seventh fewest rushing attempts per game (24.3). Backs have had success as of late, including Arian Foster’s 22.7-point fantasy day in Week 13 and DeAngelo Williams’s 15.6-point day last week
Jacksonville knows it has to lean on MJD and is certainly doing so as of late. The Jaguars are third in the league this season in rushing attempts per game (31.3), which has helped produce the 10th-best rushing attack at 119.3 yards per game. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, it all the attempts and yards has still only produced the 23rd most rushing TDs of the season (7).
But MJD has seen a resurgence as of late, scoring five of those seven TDs in the last six weeks and he still has only gone below 85 yards rushing once this season (Week 8 and he made up for it with a TD).
And he is finally becoming a more consistent threat in the passing game. After seeing only 17 targets for 11 catches, 75 yards and no scores through the first seven weeks, MJD has seen 33 targets for 30 catches, 274 yards and three scores. More specifically, the last three weeks, MJD has seen targets of 6, 8 and 6 for games of 4-for-67, 6-for-91 and a score and last week’s 6-for-51 and two scores.
The Falcons are giving up the fifth-most catches (27) but just the 17th-most yards (167) to RBs over the last five weeks. The Jaguars, despite having a rookie QB, no receivers and a massive amount of injuries on the defensive side still are second-best when it comes to production from their fantasy RBs over the last five weeks.
So all the worry about Maurice Jones-Drew staying healthy enough to be relevant come postseason was worth nothing in the preseason. He was a steal for you in most drafts, and continues to get it done on a bad team with no help around him.
Start him vs. Atlanta, take what you can get and be happy that one of the best values in this year’s draft has paid off in bunches.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
A quick preview of every game on the NFL schedule for Week 15, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports editors Mitchell Light, Rob Doster, Nathan Rush, Patrick Snow and Steven Lassan:
Jaguars (4-9) at Falcons (8-5)
The Dirty Birds have not been great closers, but they have won the games they were expected to win at home — with only defeats to the Packers and Saints (in overtime) in the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome this season.
Falcons by 7
Cowboys (7-6) at Buccaneers (4-9)
The first Saturday night game of the season pits two teams licking their wounds. The Boys have lost back-to-back games on painful missed potential game-winning field goals — both of which came after timeouts that “iced” kicker Dan Bailey. The Bucs have simply lost seven straight games and are desperate to win.
Cowboys by 7
Bengals (7-6) at Rams (2-11)
St. Louis is the Gateway to the second-Worst team in the NFL (and No. 2 pick in the draft); Cincy is still eyeing a longshot playoff berth.
Bengals by 6
Dolphins (4-9) at Bills (5-8)
Miami crushed Buffalo, 35–8, in Week 11. That was the Bills’ third straight loss in a streak that has since grown to six consecutive defeats.
Bills by 1
Titans (7-6) at Colts (0-13)
Rookie Jake Locker could make his first start of the season, following a left calf injury to old man Matt Hasselbeck. But Tennessee is just hoping to avoid handing Indy its first win of the year. The Titans still have an outside shot at a Wild Card berth, but must win their last three.
Titans by 13
Redskins (4-9) at Giants (7-6)
Comeback king of New York, Eli Manning, will be looking to avenge a 28–14 Week 1 loss at Washington when the G-Men host the Skins.
Giants by 7
Saints (10-3) at Vikings (2-11)
Drew Brees loves playing indoors. N’Awlins is 3–2 in the elements this season and 7–1 under a roof in a temperature-controlled dome.
Saints by 10
Packers (13-0) at Chiefs (5-8)
Expect to hear plenty of great quotes from Vince Lombardi and Hank Stram prior to this rematch of Super Bowl I, which the Packers won 35–10 on Jan. 15, 1967 in Los Angeles.
Packers by 16
Panthers (4-9) at Texans (10-3)
Cam Newton hits Houston looking to win his third straight road game, after taking victories in Indy and Tampa Bay in Weeks 12 and 13.
Texans by 2
Seahawks (6-7) at Bears (7-6)
Chicago has gone 0–3 since Jay Cutler’s thumb injury; the Hawks are 4–1 the past five weeks.
Bears by 2
Lions (8-5) at Raiders (7-6)
Ndamukong Suh returns just in time to show the Black Hole what a real scary, dirty player looks and acts like on and off the field.
Raiders by 1
Jets (8-5) at Eagles (5-8)
This meeting would have been a quote-board bonanza earlier this season. As it stands, Philly’s only role is that of Jets spoiler.
Eagles by 2
Browns (4-9) at Cardinals (6-7)
Phoenix is rising, having won five of its last six games following a 1–6 start to the season.
Cardinals by 5
Patriots (10-3) at Broncos (8-5)
Tom Brady and Tim Tebow are carrying a combined 10–0 record, with 18 TDs and two INTs over the past five weeks. This week, however, either Tom or Tim Terrific will suffer a loss.
Patriots by 4
Ravens (10-3) at Chargers (6-7)
San Diego needs to win out and have Denver and Oakland fall apart in order to contend for the AFC West title. Meanwhile, Baltimore is jockeying for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Both teams badly need this win.
Ravens by 1
Steelers (10-3) at 49ers (10-3)
Both of Pittsburgh’s top two offensive players — quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey — have been diagnosed with high-ankle sprains and are questionable heading into this Monday night matchup with the fifth-ranked overall defense (305.1 ypg) and No. 1 rush defense (70.5 ypg). The Niners could use a win, however, having lost two of their last three after a 9–1 start to the season.
Steelers by 1
Last week: 11-5 // Season: 144-64
Stop. Please stop. OK, so Tim Tebow is having a good run. But just because the Denver Broncos are playing the New England Patriots doesn't mean that Tim Tebow is squaring off against Tom Brady.
By calling it Tebow vs Brady, we're putting Tim Tebow (the guy who has started, like, 11 NFL games) in the same breath as Tom Brady, possibly the greatest quarterback of all time. Does anyone think this whole Tebow-mania has gone even farther than way too far now?
Don't get me wrong, I don't want to take anything away from Tim Tebow's recent run. OK, fine, I do. I want to take a lot away from it. Let me explain:
The Denver Broncos' winning streak can barely be attributed to Tebow's play. On almost any other team, his 3 quarters of "zeroics" would put his team out of the running for a 4th quarter comeback. It's not Tebow who's winning these games, it's the Broncos' defense and special teams that's winning these games. Remember when the Bears made it to the Super Bowl in 2006 riding Rex Grossman, a stellar defense and a special teams that no one had ever seen before?
Do you think a Bears-Patriots match-up would be "Grossman vs Brady?" Let me answer that for you: No...no it definitely would not. (Well, maybe they would be if he "Grossman'd" after every big win.)
But this year, since Tebow has become the poster boy for Jesus, there's something "spiritual" about Denver's run. As if God is wearing his Tebow jersey every week and magically makes things happen in the Broncos' favor just to see his second favorite son win another one.
But if anything, God's wearing a Vonn Miller jersey. Or a Matt Prater jersey. Or a Vonn Prater jersey (he's God, he can do awesome stuff like that.)
Let's go over the Tebow's winning streak, with reasons you can point to (that has nothing to do with Tebow) why the Broncos' won that game.
Against the Bears: Caleb Hanie is not good at football. Marion Barber is an idiot. And then, Matt Prater.
Against the Vikings: Due to injuries, you were next in line to play corner for the Vikings.
Against the Chargers: Some Sundays, the Chargers forget how to play football. This was one of those Sundays. Oh, and Matt Prater never forgets how to kick field goals.
Against the Jets: OK, this comeback was pretty cool. But if Sanchez doesn't throw a pick 6, Tebow's last second run makes it a 13-10 Jets win.
Against the Chiefs: Tebow was 2 for 8. I don't need another reason.
Against the Raiders: Willis McGahee ran for 163 yards. 39 more than Tebow threw for. And Eddie Royal returned a punt for a touchdown.
Against the Dolphins: Denver got the onside kick and the Dolphins laid down.
So, while Tebow gets all the glory, the Denver defense is the real MVP of this team, keeping other teams off the scoreboard just enough so Tebow can shred a few prevent defenses on his way to being the reason for the season.
So, instead of Tebow vs Brady, can we please start referring to this Sunday's Pats-Broncos game as Brady vs A Very Good Defense, a Great Kicker, Pretty Good Special Teams and a Guy Who Hikes the Ball.
It’s semifinals weeks for most of us in the fantasy football world, and you start clinching up a little more when it comes to setting your lineups. Such is the case with the opening game of Week 15 as the Jacksonville Jaguars travel to play the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.
Falcons receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones are certainly two players many of us are counting on to get our semifinals started off the right way, but the numbers say they might not come through.
The 4-9 Jaguars, and their decimated secondary, are still the No. 4 ranked pass defense in the league at 190.8 yards per game thanks to being thrown on just 30.8 times per game (ranked 28th in the league). And unlike other teams ranked high against the pass because they are terrible against the run — Cleveland (2nd against the pass 31st against the run) and St. Louis (8th against the pass and 32nd against the run) — Jacksonville is 16th against the run at 111.5 yards per game.
However, the Jaguars have allowed six of the last eight feature backs they have faced to gain at least 80 all-purpose yards and an average of 16.1 fantasy points per game.
Week 6 — Rashard Mendenhall, 20.6
Week 7 — Ray Rice, 8.8
Week 8 — Arian Foster, 18.9
Week 10 — Donald Brown, 8.5
Week 11 — Chris Ogbonnaya, 20.4
Week 12 — Arian Foster, 18.4
Week 13 — Ryan Mathews, 18.9
Week 14 — LeGarrette Blount, 14.5
Conversely, No. 1 WRs have averaged 9.3 fantasy points since Week 6 against the Jaguars. They are tied for seventh in the league with just 16 passing touchdowns allowed.
Jacksonville has allowed six TDs to receivers in the first seven weeks and four in the last four weeks — three of them coming from three different San Diego receivers in Week 13.
Week 6 — Mike Wallace, 14.6
Week 7 — Anquan Boldin, 12
Week 8 — Kevin Walter, 9.5
Week 10 — Reggie Wayne, 2.8
Week 11 — Greg Litle, 8.4
Week 12 — Andre Johnson, 3.2
Week 13 — Vincent Jackson, 18.8
Week 14 — Mike Williams, 5
The only No. 2 receiver to have a valuable fantasy day since Week 6 would be San Diego’s Malcom Floyd in Week 13 with four catches for 108 yards and a score.
Granted, the Jaguars have faced decent running teams like the Ravens and Texans since Week 6 and have not faced potent passing attacks in that time (i.e. Colts, Browns, Buccaneers and the Texans), but what do you consider the Falcons is the question going into Week 15, and what do you think their defense will give to the Jaguars?
The Falcons are 16th in the league in rushing. Michael Turner is averaging 12.5 points per game since Week 6. He has had three single-digit fantasy days in a row with no TDs in that time and 76 yards rushing as the best day. Atlanta is 10th in passing with White averaging 13.5 points since Week 6 and the rookie Jones in and out of the lineup. When he’s in and active he’s great (12.45 PPG this season). He has battled hamstring issues this season and is now probable with a back injury for Thursday’s game.
The Falcons rank top 10 in both rushing attempts per game (28.2) and passing attempts per game (36.9).
So you really have to flip a coin and try to figure out which Atlanta offense is out there Thursday night? Is it the one that wants to showcase two talented receivers in a nationally televised game or one that wants to pound Turner against a team that has been much more friendly to RBs in six of the last eight weeks than it has receivers? Turner averages 22.3 yards per game rushing more at home this season (94.2) than away, whereas Ryan is pretty even at home and away this season.
Also keep in mind, the Jaguars only have RB Maurice Jones-Drew as a viable fantasy option and he faces the No. 5 rush defense in the league. So this one could be over in a hurry.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter
It's hard to tell if that Bernie Fine headline is from today or from the future. If all the allegations of sexual abuse coming out against the ex-Syracuse basketball assistant coach are true, we're guessing he probably won't stop when he finally does get to prison.
Although we'd hope that the inmates would be doing more of the abusing than getting abused.
Sam Hurd, the Chicago Bears receiver known for...well, he wasn't really known for anything football related, was arrested for trying to buy 5-10 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana each week. Now he's known as the unknown football player who tried to buy a crapload of drugs.
Hurd, who was apparently trying to set up a huge drug dealing network in Chicago (shouldn't you wait til your football career is over to try this?) was caught trying to buy the drugs off an undercover agent on Wednesday night.
Rumors are flying around Chicago that he was a drug kingpin and provided his teammates with drugs. Those rumors won't go away until the investigation is complete, but it looks like Hurd is not going to be a Chicago Bear for much longer.
The Bears are reportedly trying to waive him and are going to attempt to get a portion of his contract money back. Whether Hurd has already spent that on cocaine and smoke remains to be seen, but we're guessing the Bears won't be getting much in return after he spends whatever he has on attorney fees.
Why a professional athlete would think this is a good idea makes no sense whatsoever. The Bengals Jerome Simpson was caught with almost 9 pounds of pot in his house.
If convicted, Hurd wuld face up to 40 years in prison and a $2 million fine. Hurd had signed a three year $5.1 million contract this summer with the Bears. It completely blows the mind that he would throw it all away trying to become the King of Chicago's drug scene.
by Charlie Miller
With Albert Pujols signing with the Los Angeles Angels, ending his 11-year tenure in St. Louis, just how much does that swing the balance of power in baseball? While the Cardinals are coming off their second World Series title in six years, even with Pujols they would have not been a favorite to win again in 2012. But how far does Pujols’ defection knock St. Louis down the pecking order in the National League? The NL Central isn’t exactly the toughest division in baseball.
And how much do the signings of both Pujols and starting pitcher C.J. Wilson push the Angels up the depth chart in the American League? Are those two signings enough to tip the scales to L.A. in the AL West? Remember, two-time AL champion Texas resides in that division. And with the strong AL East — eight of the last 10 AL wild card teams have come from the AL East — winning the division is the only realistic shot at the postseason if you play in the Central or West.
So, who wins the World Series first, St. Louis or the Angels?
The Case for St. Louis
St. Louis has a few loose ends to tie up in order to lock up some key players, but World Series hero David Freese, clean-up hitter Matt Holliday, rising star Allen Craig, centerfielder Jon Jay, starter Jaime Garcia, prospect Shelby Miller and essentially an entire bullpen are locked up for the next four years or beyond. And at relatively reasonable prices. Ace Chris Carpenter, who was one of the Redbirds’ postseason heroes last season, is signed for two more years. So not only do the Cardinals have a proven core in place, but there remains enough payroll flexibility to fill holes.
Now back to the “loose ends.” They hold the key to the Cardinals’ next five years. Catcher Yadier Molina can be a free agent after 2012 and Adam Wainwright is signed through 2013. Getting extensions done for Molina and Wainwright will keep the Cardinals squarely in the hunt in the National League.
They may not be the odds-on favorite to win any single season, but as we’ve seen over and over again, once teams reach the postseason, the season resets enough for any hot team to win. Were the Cardinals really the best team in baseball in 2011? No. Not even the best in the National League. They squeaked into the playoffs courtesy of the Atlanta Braves on the final day of the season. Having an ace in Wainwright and stalwart Molina behind the plate gives the Redbirds a terrific opportunity to reach the postseason. Then anything can happen.
The final loose end is securing one more first baseman/outfielder. Not only for 2012 while the Cardinals wait for Craig to return from knee surgery, but for 2013 and beyond after Lance Berkman is presumably gone.
It’s easy to see how the Cardinals can be in the hunt in the NL Central for the next several seasons. The reigning champion Brewers are about to lose Prince Fielder and MVP Ryan Braun is facing a 50-game suspension. That’s a huge blow to the lineup in Milwaukee. It remains to be seen how quickly the Cubs can become contenders again, but at this point there are no real signs of improvement. They lost their best hitter from last season and have two ugly contracts (Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano) strangling their payroll. I suspect new president Theo Epstein will right the ship soon, but I don’t see the Cubs becoming a juggernaut in the near future. The Reds can be contenders, but they face payroll constraints and must deal with the impending free agency of Brandon Phillips after 2012 and former MVP Joey Votto after 2013.
Let’s face it, there are no dominant teams in this division, leaving an opportunity for St. Louis.
What could go wrong
St. Louis is beginning a new era, and not simply because No. 5 is no longer hitting in the No. 3 hole. Tony La Russa is no longer in charge in the dugout. Rookie manager Mike Matheny is the new sheriff in town and has little experience. While Matheny played a role in the development of both Molina and Wainwright, both could leave just as Pujols — a close friend of Molina — did this winter.
And what if Matheny just isn’t ready? Having a veteran pitching coach in Dave Duncan in the dugout and experienced Jose Oquendo still on the staff provides some kind of safety net. But if Matheny falters badly, the franchise could be set back a few years. The bullpen, which was much maligned early last season, became a team strength down the stretch. But counting on arms like Jason Motte, Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn and Marc Rzepczynski could prove to be fool’s gold. And what if Freese’s World Series performance turns out to be the peak of his career?
There are certainly no guarantees, far from it. But the Cardinals will continue to put themselves in position to make the playoffs for the next several seasons. And that alone gives them a shot at winning the franchise’s 12th championship.
-by Braden Gall (follow at @AthlonBraden)
The BCS is wrapping up its 14th season of action, and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late '90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?
The debates will most assuredly rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 15 SEC teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):
"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
* - team played in the SEC Championship game
15. Georgia Bulldogs, 2005 (10-3, 7-2*)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Key Stats: Forced four Jared Zabransky interceptions in the 48-13 season opening win, finished eighth in the nation in scoring defense (16.4 ppg), and D.J. Shockley led the SEC in passing efficiency (148.26).
Award Winners: N/A
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Tim Jennings (2nd, 2006), Mohamed Massaquoi (2nd, 2009)
The Dawgs began by destroying No. 19 Boise State and beat No. 7 Tennessee on the road before losing in the Cocktail Party to No. 18 Florida (without starting quarterback D.J. Shockley) and at home against No. 17 Auburn. Richt’s bunch, led by Shockley, rebounded with a win over No. 24 Georgia Tech and shellacked No. 3 LSU in the SEC title game 34-14. The Sugar Bowl had to be moved to Atlanta due to Hurricane Katrina, and the Dawgs ran into a Pat White-Steve Slaton buzzsaw, losing 38-35 to West Virginia.
14. LSU Tigers, 2001 (10-3, 6-3*)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Josh Reed set SEC receiving records for yards in a game (293), season (1,740) and career (3,001) as well as the single-game receptions mark (19). All but his career yards mark still stand. His 145.0 yards per game led the nation.
Award Winners: Josh Reed (Fred Biletnikoff)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Josh Reed (2nd, 2002), Michael Clayton (1st, 2004), Devery Henderson (2nd, 2004), Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004)
This team may have been the third-best team in the SEC in 2001 — it lost to No. 3 Florida and No. 4 Tennessee on consecutive weeks early in the year. But the Bayou Bengals easily handled the extraordinarily talented Tennessee team in the SEC championship game 31-20. Led by the SEC’s all-time leading receiver and Biletnikoff winner Josh Reed, Nick Saban announced that the Tigers had returned to prominence with LSU’s first conference title since 1988 and a Sugar Bowl championship over Illinois.
13. Tennessee Volunteers, 2001 (11-2, 7-2*)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Championships: SEC East, Citrus Bowl
Key Stats: Finished third in the nation in rushing defense (85.3 ypg) while Travis Stephens’ 122.0 yards rushing per game led the SEC. The Vols were a 17.5-point underdog to Florida.
Award Winners: Casey Clausen (Citrus Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: John Henderson (1st, 2002), Donte Stallworth (1st, 2002), Albert Haynesworth (1st, 2002), Eddie Moore (2nd, 2003)
Ranked no lower than 11th in the polls, Tennessee — and the rest of the nation — had to deal with the tragedy of 9/11 in their own way. The rivalry game with No. 2-ranked Florida was moved from Week 3 to December 1 where the Vols were 17.5-point underdogs. With 226 yards from Travis Stephens, the Vols pulled off the massive 34-32 upset and earned a trip to Atlanta an a rematch with an LSU team Tennessee had already defeated back in September. A likely trip to the National Championship Fiesta Bowl and a date with the best Big East Team of the BCS Era was on the line for Big Orange Nation. However, backup LSU quarterback Matt Mauck ran the Tigers to victory over the heavily favored Vols. Tennessee went on to beat Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. This team sent 22 players into the NFL Draft from 2002-2004.
12. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2008 (12-2, 8-1*)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC West
Key Stats: Finished No. 2 nationally against the run (74.1 ypg) and third nationally in total defense (263.5 ypg); John Parker Wilson’s 7,924 yards are an all-time Alabama record.
Award Winners: Andre Smith (Outland), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Andre Smith (1st, 2009), Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)
In Nick Saban’s second season at The Capstone, the Tide was quickly back in the national title picture. The Tide boasted a senior-laden offense, beat three ranked teams for an 8-0 SEC record and were the No. 1 team in the land when they headed to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game with the No. 2-ranked Florida Gators. The Gators defense foiled the Tide’s hopes for a national title by holding quarterback John Parker Wilson to 12-of-25 passing, no touchdowns and one key interception. The loss to Florida sent Alabama to the Sugar Bowl against an unbeaten Utah team. Without Andre Smith — or a chance at the crystal ball — the Tide failed to play motivated football and fell 31-17 to what might be considered the best Ute team in program history.
11. Georgia Bulldogs, 2007 (11-2, 6-2)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: This team led the SEC in sacks (3.23 pg) and was eighth nationally; Georgia’s 42-30 win over Florida was only the second win over the Gators in 10 tries; this was the second highest scoring team in school history at 32.6 points per game.
Award Winners: Knowshon Moreno (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Matt Stafford (1st, 2009), Knowshon Moreno (1st, 2009), Mohamed Massaquoi (2nd, 2009)
The most talented quarterback in school history, Matthew Stafford came close to leading Georgia back to the national title game. An early loss to South Carolina would not have ended the Dawgs' title hopes. However, an inexplicable 35-14 road loss to underdog Tennessee did cost Mark Richt a chance at playing a two-loss LSU in the SEC title game. The Tigers defeated the Vols, who won the division on a tie-breaker, and went on to beat Ohio State in the BCS national championship game, while Georgia was left to face an undefeated Hawaii team in the Sugar Bowl — in the same building as LSU. Georgia forced six turnovers and held the Warriors to minus-5 yards rushing in the 41-10 victory. Stafford was the first overall pick in the draft one year later.
10. Georgia Bulldogs, 2002 (13-1, 8-1*)
Head Coach: Mark Richt
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Finished fourth in the nation in scoring defense (15.1 ppg) and led the SEC in scoring (32.1); no Georgia team has scored more than 2002’s 450 points.
Award Winners: David Pollack (SEC Player of the Year), Mark Richt (SEC Coach of the Year), Musa Smith (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Jonathan Sullivan (1st, 2003), George Foster (1st, 2003), Boss Bailey (2nd, 2003), Jon Stinchcomb (2nd, 2003), Ben Watson (1st, 2004), Sean Jones (2nd, 2004), David Pollack (1st, 2005), Thomas Davis (1st, 2005), Reggie Brown (2nd, 2005), Tim Jennings (2nd, 2006)
No Georgia team has ever won more games or scored more points in a single season than the 2002 edition. And other than the 1980 Vince Dooley team and the 1945 Wallace Butts team, no Dawgs squad has had a better record than the 13-1 mark. Led by David Greene at quarterback and a stacked defense (Pollack, Davis, Jones, Jennings), Georgia rolled to an 8-0 mark before losing in the Cocktail Party 20-13 to Florida. After being knocked out of the national title hunt, Georgia crushed Ole Miss, topped Auburn, pummeled rival Georgia Tech before destroying Arkansas in the SEC title game. They capped the season with a Sugar Bowl title over Florida State.
9. LSU Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 7-2*)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: LSU beat seven ranked teams; the only BCS champion with two losses.
Award Winners: Glenn Dorsey (Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott, SEC Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Glenn Dorsey (1st, 2008), Tyson Jackson (1st, 2009)
By definition only, this is the “worst” BCS national champion due its two losses. However, wins over ranked Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee (with back-up quarterback Ryan Perrilloux) and Ohio State gave the Bayou Bengals the crystal ball nonetheless. The Tigers were undefeated in regulation, however, as both Kentucky and Arkansas needed overtime to top the Tigers. Despite the two losses and the 83 combined points allowed, the LSU Tigers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in relatively easy fashion 38-24. Matt Flynn threw four touchdown passes, and the defense, led by an 8-tackle, 1.5-sack, forced fumble performance by Ali Highsmith, kept the Bucks at arm’s length the entire game. It was the Tigers' second national title in five years.
8. Florida Gators, 2009 (13-1, 8-1*)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC East, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: Tim Tebow led the nation in passing efficency (164.17), set the SEC all-time total offense record (12,232 yards), and the SEC’s all-time touchdowns responsible for record (145).
Award Winners: Aaron Hernandez (John Mackey), Maurkice Pouncey (Rimington), Tim Tebow (SEC Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)
After the Gators claimed the 2008 BCS National Championship, Tim Tebow decided to return to Gainesville for his senior season. He led the Gators to an undefeated regular season mark and berth in the SEC Championship game against No. 2 Alabama. The rematch of the 2008 SEC title game went the way of the Tide 32-13, as Greg McElroy outplayed Tebow. While it was not the third national title he wanted, Tebow finished his career by setting a BCS bowl record for total yards with 533 and passing yards with 482 in the 51-24 win over Cincinnati. It was only the Gators' second win over a ranked opponent all season.
7. Auburn Tigers, 2004 (13-0, 9-0*)
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: The Tigers finished the regular season No. 3 in the BCS standings, led the nation in scoring defense (11.3 ppg), led the SEC in scoring offense (32.1 ppg); Jason Campbell led the league in passing efficiency (172.89).
Award Winners: Carlos Rogers (Thorpe), Jason Campbell (SEC Off. Player of the Year), Carnell Williams (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Tommy Tuberville (AP National, SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Ronnie Brown (1st, 2005), Carnell Williams (1st, 2005), Carlos Rogers (1st, 2005), Jason Campbell (1st, 2005), Marcus McNeill (2nd, 2006), Ben Grubbs (1st, 2007)
The 2004 Auburn Tigers backfield might be one of the most talented in college football history. Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams (Kenny Irons was redshirting) and Jason Campbell led the Tigers to an unblemished record. Only two teams stayed within 10 points of Auburn during the regular season (LSU 10-9, Alabama 21-13) while the three-headed backfield pounded opposing defenses. While Auburn beat four ranked teams, it missed out on the BCS national title game to an undefeated Oklahoma team. The Sooners got crushed by USC while Auburn snuck past Virginia Tech to win the Sugar Bowl. To this day, Tigers fan rue the missed opportunity of 2004. Auburn would have been a heavy underdog to USC and was defeated by what was largely the same team at home the year before 23-0. But it would have been fun to watch the two teams square off.
6. Florida Gators, 2006 (13-1, 8-1*)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Florida held Heisman winner Troy Smith to four completions in the title game and the Buckeyes to 82 total yards.
Award Winners: Percy Harvin (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Reggie Nelson (1st, 2007), Jarvis Moss (1st, 2007), Derrick Harvey (1st, 2008), Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010)
After defeating a ranked Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas, the Florida Gators entered the 2006 BCS national title game as a big underdog to Ohio State. But an NFL-heavy defense delivered one of the greatest defensive performances in championship game history. Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Derrick Harvey and company harassed Heisman winner Troy Smith all day. Smith threw for 35 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked five times. They held the OSU rushing attack to 47 yards on 23 carries. Ohio State totaled 82 yards of offense in the 41-14 beatdown. Cult hero Tim Tebow touched the ball 11 times and scored twice to begin his eternal legacy at Florida. Florida sent nine played into the 2007 NFL Draft. The only loss came at the hands of No. 11 Auburn 27-17 in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
5. Auburn Tigers, 2010 (14-0, 9-0*)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Cam Newton's 4,327 yards of total offense fset a single-season SEC record; Tigers set a school record with 41.2 points per game, led the nation in passing efficiency 180.52, won seven games by one score or less.
Award Winners: Cam Newton (Heisman Trophy, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, SEC Off. Player of Year), Nick Fairley (Lombardi), Lee Ziemba (SEC Top Blocker)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cam Newton (1st, 2011), Nick Fairley (1st, 2011)
The one-year wonders Cam Newton and Nick Fairley gave Auburn arguably its most important recruiting haul in history when they both chose the Loveliest Village on the Plains. The Heisman Trophy winner willed his team to victory against Mississippi State, Clemson, Kentucky, Alabama, Oregon and defined his legacy with an incredible 49-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of a tied game with LSU. His 217 rushing yards in the 24-17 win over the Tigers broke a single-game SEC rushing record for a quarterback. Newton finished with 2,854 yards passing, 1,473 yards rushing and an SEC second-best 51 total touchdowns. This is the only 14-win team in school history and was the highest-scoring Tigers team in program history by a wide margin — their 577 points topped Terry Bowden’s 1995 team by 139 points (41.2 ppg against 36.5 ppg).
Sept. 4: Auburn 52, Arkansas State 26 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 9: Auburn 17, Mississippi State 14 (Starkville, MS)
Sept. 18: Auburn 27, Clemson 24 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 25: Auburn 35, (#12) South Carolina 27 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 2: Auburn 52, UL Monroe 3 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 9: Auburn 37, Kentucky 34 (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 16: Auburn 65, (#12) Arkansas 43 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 23: Auburn 24, (#6) LSU 17 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 30: Auburn 51, Ole Miss 31 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 6: Auburn 62, Tennessee-Chattanooga 24 (Auburn, AL)
Nov. 13: Auburn 28, (#9) Alabama 27 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Dec. 4: Auburn 56, (#18) South Carolina 17 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 10: Auburn 22, (#2) Oregon 19 (Glendale, AZ, BCS NCG)
4. Tennessee Volunteers, 1998 (13-0, 9-0*)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Championships: SEC, Fiesta Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: This team put 11 players into the first or second round of the NFL Draft; Peerless Price is second all-time in BCS bowls with 242 all-purpose yards in the Fiesta Bowl, his 49.8 yards per catch is a BCS title game record.
Award Winners: Phillip Fulmer (AP National Coach of the Year), Peerless Price (Fiesta Bowl MVP), David Cutcliffe (Broyles)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Al Wilson (1st, 1999), Peerless Price (2nd, 1999), Jamal Lewis (1st, 2000), Shaun Ellis (1st, 2000), Raynoch Thompson (2nd, 2000), Chad Clifton (2nd, 2000), Dwayne Goodrich (2nd, 2000), Casey Coleman (2nd, 2000), Deon Grant (2nd, 2000), Travis Henry (2nd, 2001), John Henderson (1st, 2002)
In Year 1 A.P. (after Peyton), the Vols put together their greatest season in nearly five decades. Tee Martin stepped in at quarterback, and aided by a monster backfield that included Travis Henry, Jamal Lewis, Travis Stephens and Shawn Bryson, led the Vols past six ranked opponents for Tennessee’s sixth national championship. The defense held nine of its 13 opponents to 18 points or less. Despite a BCS record 199 yards receiving (242 all-purpose yards) and the game-winning 79-yard touchdown for game MVP Peerless Price, the most important and memorable moment from the 1998 title run involved a stumbling Razorback. Late in the Arkansas game, Tennessee was all but beaten until Billy Ratliff forced guard Brandon Burlsworth into quarterback Clint Stoerner, who gently and inexplicably “placed” the football on the ground. The Vols used a Henry touchdown run in the final seconds to seal the comeback from a 21-3 deficit and the eventual national championship.
Sept. 5: Tennessee 34, (#17) Syracuse 33 (Syracuse, NY)
Sept. 19: Tennessee 20, (#2) Florida 17 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 26: Tennessee 42, Houston 7 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 3: Tennessee 17, Auburn 9 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 10: Tennessee 22, (#7) Georgia 3 (Athens, GA)
Oct. 24: Tennessee 35, Alabama 18 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 31: Tennessee 49, South Carolina 14 (Columbia, SC)
Nov. 7: Tennessee 37, UAB 13 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 14: Tennessee 28, (#10) Arkansas 24 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 21: Tennessee 59, Kentucky 21 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 28: Tennessee 41, Vanderbilt 0 (Nashville, TN)
Dec. 5: Tennessee 24, (#23) Mississippi State 14 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 4: Tennessee 23, (#2) Florida State 16 (Tempe, AZ, Fiesta Bowl)
3. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1, 8-1*)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Only one time did a team score more than 14 points against LSU (Arkansas, 24). Led the nation in total defense (252.0 ypg) and scoring defense (11.0 ppg), held Heisman winner Jason White to 13-of-37 passing in title game.
Award Winners: Chad Lavalais (SEC Def. Player of the Year), Nick Saban (AP National Coach of the Year), Justin Vincent (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Michael Clayton (1st, 2004), Devery Henderson (2nd, 2004), Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Joseph Addai (1st, 2006), Andrew Whitworth (2nd, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007), Dwayne Bowe (1st, 2007), Chris Davis (1st, 2007)
Armed with the nation’s nastiest defense, Nick Saban restored the LSU name to prominence in only his fourth year at the helm. His team led the nation in total defense at 252 yards per game and scoring defense at exactly 11.0 points per game. Arkansas was the only team to score more than 14 points against the Bayou Bengals in 2003. Quarterback Matt Mauck steered the ship, freshman Justin Vincent and sophomore Joseph Addai powered the offense and one of the deepest receiving corps in history gave LSU tremendous balance. With three one-loss teams sitting atop the standings — and USC ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches’ Poll — the computers controversially placed the Sooners in the National Championship game against the Tigers. After the 21-14 win over an Oklahoma team boasting the Heisman, Thorpe, Lombardi and Bednarik winners, LSU claimed the BCS national title — splitting the votes with USC. It was their first national championship since 1958.
Aug. 30: LSU 49, UL Monroe 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 6: LSU 59, Arizona 13 (Tucson, AZ)
Sept. 13: LSU 35, Western Illinois 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 20: LSU 17, (#7) Georgia 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 27: LSU 41, Mississippi State 6 (Starkville, MS)
Oct. 11: Florida 19, LSU 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Oct. 18: LSU 33, South Carolina 7 (Columbia, SC)
Oct. 25: LSU 31, (#17) Auburn 7 (Baton Rouge, LA
Nov. 1: LSU 49, Louisiana Tech 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 15: LSU 27, Alabama 3 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 22: LSU 17, (#15) Ole Miss 14 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 28: LSU 55, Arkansas 24 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Dec. 6: LSU 34, (#5) Georgia 13 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 4: LSU 21, (#3) Oklahoma 14 (New Orleans, LA, Sugar Bowl)
2. Florida Gators, 2008 (13-1, 8-1*)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Led the SEC in rushing (231.1 ypg), total offense (445.1 ypg), scoring (43.6 ppg), pass efficiency defense (96.76), scoring defense (12.9 ppg), punting (38.1 ypp), turnover margin (+1.57) and passing efficiency (170.6). Percy Harvin led the SEC in scoring at 10.2 ppg.
Award Winners: Tim Tebow (Maxwell, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Brandon James (SEC Special Teamer of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)
Tim Tebow had his Heisman Trophy (2007) and a national championship ring (2006). But when the Florida Gators lost to the Ole Miss Rebels in The Swamp on a final drive fourth-down stop, Tebow took his legendary legacy to new heights. After fumbling, taking sacks and missing open receivers, the Gainesville idol gave one of the most famous speeches in college football history: “You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.” The Gators then went on to crush quality opponents Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Alabama by an average of 31.8 points per game. The win over No. 1 and unbeaten Alabama pushed the Gators into the national title game against another No. 1. The Chosen One then delivered on his promise (and halftime speech) by throwing for 231 yards and two scores while rushing for 109 yards on 22 carries to outlast Oklahoma 24-14. He claimed his second national championship in three years before announcing he would return for his senior year. The 2008 Gators tied the 1996 national champs as the highest-scoring team in school history (611 points).
Aug. 30: Florida 56, Hawaii 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 6: Florida 26, Miami 3 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 20: Florida 30, Tennessee 6 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 27: Ole Miss 31, Florida 30 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 4: Florida 38, Arkansas 7 (Fayetteville, AR)
Oct. 11: Florida 51, LSU 21 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 25: Florida 63, Kentucky 5 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 1: Florida 49, Georgia 10 (Jacksonville, FL)
Nov. 8: Florida 42, Vanderbilt 14 (Nashville, TN)
Nov. 15: Florida 56, South Carolina 6 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 22: Florida 70, Citadel 19 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 29: Florida 45, Florida State 15 (Tallahassee, FL)
Dec. 6: Florida 31, Alabama 20 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 8: Florida 24, Oklahoma 14 (Miami Gardens, FL, BCS NCG)
1. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (14-0, 9-0*)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Finished second in the nation in total (244.1 ypg), rushing (78.1 ypg) and scoring defense (11.7 ppg).
Award Winners: Mark Ingram (Heisman Trophy), Rolando McClain (Butkus, SEC Def. Player of the Year), Javier Arenas (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)
Led by boy genius quarterback Greg McElroy and a host of national award-winning first round NFL Draft picks, the Alabama Crimson Tide won their first national title since 1992. Nick Saban defeated five ranked opponents before taking down No. 2 Texas in the BCS National Championship game 37-21. This was the best defense in the nation, finishing second nationally in three of the four major statistical categories. In a rematch of the 2008 SEC title game, McElroy did his best Tebow impression by completing 12-of-18 passes for 239 yards without a turnover while picking up key yards on the ground. Heisman winner Mark Ingram rushed 28 times for 113 yards and three scores in the tear-inducing 32-13 win over Florida in Atlanta. Thus far, six first round picks have entered the NFL from the 2009 roster. Expect that number to grow in the spring with names like Trent Richardon, Dre Kirkpatrick, Barrett Jones and Mark Barron grading into or around the first round.
Florida and Alabama split against each other over the 2008-2009 seasons. Both had a Heisman Trophy winner and both went on to claim the national title. However, the Crimson Tide get a small edge because they finished the season undefeated — something Tim Tebow never did in his four-year college career. Since these two specific teams will obviously never have the chance to face each other, fans are left to argue about which team would win if pitted against each other on a neutral field with all the marbles on the line.
Now, that might actually be something worth Tebow-ing for.
Sept. 5: Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 24 (Atlanta, GA)
Sept. 12: Alabama 40, FIU 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 19: Alabama 53, North Texas 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 26: Alabama 35, Arkansas 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 3: Alabama 38, Kentucky 20 (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 10: Alabama 22, Ole Miss 3 (Oxford, MS)
Oct. 17: Alabama 20, South Carolina 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 24: Alabama 12, Tennessee 10 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 7: Alabama 24, LSU 15 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 14: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 3 (Starkville, MS)
Nov. 21: Alabama 45, Tennessee-Chattanooga 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 27: Alabama 26, Auburn 21 (Auburn, AL)
Dec. 5: Alabama 32, Florida 13 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 7: Alabama 37, Texas 21 (Pasadena, CA, BCS NCG)
"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
* - team played in the SEC Championship game
Just missing the cut: 1999 Alabama Crimson Tide, 2000 Florida Gators, 2001 Florida Gators, 2006 Arkansas Razorbacks, 2007 Florida Gators
Athlon Sports Ranks the Best Teams in Every BCS League:
The Top 10 Big East Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 ACC Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 Big Ten Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 Pac-12 Teams of the BSC Era
The Top 10 Big 12 Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 SEC Teams of the BCS Era
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
With Todd Graham leaving for Arizona State, Pittsburgh has to embark on its third coaching search in the last two seasons. Mike Haywood was hired to replace Dave Wannstedt last December, but was fired two weeks later due to a domestic violence charge. Graham was hired from Tulsa to replace Haywood, but chose to depart after just one season.
Who will replace Todd Graham at Pittsburgh?
Steve Addazio, head coach, Temple – Addazio is in his first season as a collegiate head coach, leading Temple to an 8-4 regular season record and a berth in the New Mexico Bowl. He is regarded as a good recruiter and has spent time as an assistant at Notre Dame, Indiana and Florida. Addazio is very familiar with the East Coast, as he grew up in Connecticut and worked there as a head coach on the high school level. There's very little track record as a head coach on the FBS level, but Addazio's ability to recruit and success with the Owls in 2011 makes him an intriguing candidate for Pittsburgh.
Teryl Austin, defensive backs coach, Baltimore Ravens – Austin’s name popped up in last season’s coaching search and will likely do so once again. He played at Pittsburgh from 1984-87 and was born in Sharon, Pa., so there's certainly a lot of familiarity with the Panthers. He has plenty of experience on the college level, working at Penn State (1991-92), Wake Forest (1993-95), Syracuse (1996-98), Michigan (1999-02) and at Florida in 2010. Austin has never been a head coach, but he has a solid resume and NFL experience.
Tom Bradley, interim Penn State coach – Bradley nearly landed the Pittsburgh job last season and figures to be in the mix once again. However, he is also in the running to keep the full-time spot at Penn State. Bradley was born in Johnstown, Pa. and has spent his entire coaching career at Penn State. His blue-collar attitude and approach would work well in Pittsburgh, but he has very limited experience as a head coach. One tricky question that must be answered: Is Bradley too toxic after the situation at Penn State? Although Bradley would be a solid hire, it would be difficult for Pittsburgh to hire him after what transpired in Happy Valley this season.
Paul Chryst, offensive coordinator, Wisconsin – Chryst is a highly-regarded offensive mind and seems ready for his first head coaching position. Under his direction, Wisconsin has led the Big Ten in scoring offense for three consecutive years and finished fourth nationally in scoring with an average of 44.6 points a game in 2011. Chyrst has stops as an assistant at Oregon State and in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers. He graduated from Wisconsin in 1988, so he may not be anxious to leave Madison. However, Bret Bielema is entrenched as the head coach, so he will have to look outside of Wisconsin for a chance to lead a program. Chryst wouldn't be flashy, but all signs point to him being a successful head coach.
Frank Cignetti, offensive coordinator, Rutgers – Cignetti is a Pittsburgh native, and it would be a major surprise if he didn't have interest in the position. He has been a successful assistant throughout his career, making stops with Fresno State, North Carolina, California and Rutgers, along with NFL experience in Kansas City, New Orleans and San Francisco. Cignetti had a short stint as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator under Dave Wannstedt from 2009-10. Although he has never been a head coach, Cignetti’s background and experience at Pittsburgh has to be attractive for athletic director Steve Pederson.
Mario Cristobal, head coach, FIU – There's no question Cristobal is one of the top coaches from a non-AQ school. But is he ready to make the jump to a BCS job? Cristobal inherited a disaster at FIU and has recorded a 24-37 record in five seasons, while leading the Golden Panthers to back-to-back bowl games. He played at Miami and has spent most of his coaching career in South Florida, so he may not be eager to take a job out of the state. Hiring Cristobal would be a home run for Pittsburgh, but the interest may not be mutual.
Ron English, head coach, Eastern Michigan – Coaching at Eastern Michigan is arguably one of the toughest jobs in college football. The Eagles have had just two seasons of at least six victories since 1988. English went 2-22 in his first two seasons in Ypsilanti, but led Eastern Michigan to a 6-6 record in 2011. He also has made stops as an assistant at San Diego State, Arizona State, Michigan and Louisville. English’s background on defense and blue-collar approach would be a good fit in Pittsburgh. Like Paul Chryst, English would not be a flashy name, but would be a good hire for a program that needs stability.
K.C. Keeler, head coach, Delaware – Keeler has very successful on the FCS level, leading Delaware to an 81-46 record over the last 10 years. Also, the Blue Hens have made four playoff appearances under his watch, including a FCS championship in 2003. Before coming to Delaware, Keeler was also a successful head coach at Rowan, posting an 88-21-1 record in nine years. He grew up in Emmaus, Pa., but graduated from Delaware, so he may not be too interested in leaving - even for a chance to land a good FBS job.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson – Morris recently inked a lengthy extension at Clemson, but an opportunity to be a head coach could be enough to convince him to leave Death Valley. He has experienced a quick rise through the coaching ranks, as he has spent just two seasons on the FBS level. Morris coordinated a Tulsa offense that averaged 41.4 points a game last season, while leading the Tigers to an average of 33.6 this year. Before coming to Tulsa in 2010, Morris was a high school coach at Lake Travis in Texas. Not having collegiate head coaching experience has to work against Morris, but he’s emerging as one of the top offensive minds in college football.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Narduzzi has been steadily moving up the coaching ranks over the last 10 years. He worked at Miami (Ohio) in 2003 as defensive coordinator, before jumping to take the same position at Cincinnati with Mark Dantonio in 2004. He joined Dantonio at Michigan State in 2007 and has developed one of the top defenses in college football this season. The only blemish on Narduzzi’s resume is the lack of head coaching experience. It's only a matter of time before Narduzzi lands a FBS head coaching gig - but is he ready to lead a BCS school? Considering Pittsburgh needs stability, choosing someone with no head coaching experience could be risky.
Paul Rhoads, head coach, Iowa State – Luring Rhoads away from Iowa State won’t be easy. But it would be a mistake if Pittsburgh didn't at least call about his interest. Rhoads has been one of the nation’s most underrated coaches over the last three years, leading the Cyclones to an 18-19 record and two bowl appearances. He previously coached at Pittsburgh as the defensive coordinator from 2000-07. Rhoads is a coach with a blue-collar attitude, which will work well in Pittsburgh. Considering Rhoads is from Iowa, leaving behind the Cyclones could be difficult. However, winning at Pittsburgh in the Big East (until 2014) is an easier road to handle than the Big 12.
Sal Sunseri, outside linebackers coach, Alabama – Although he has no extended head coaching experience, Sunseri has to be an attractive target for Pittsburgh. He played with the Panthers from 1978-81 and worked at the school from 1985-92 as a defensive assistant. Sunseri also has stops as an assistant at Louisville, LSU, Michigan State and with the Carolina Panthers. He joined Alabama’s staff in 2009, working with the outside linebackers and serving as an assistant head coach to Nick Saban. Considering Sunseri’s playing and coaching experience, he would likely consider this a destination job and wouldn’t be looking to bolt anytime soon (if ever).
Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator, Florida State – Stoops has been rumored to be a target for the open Auburn defensive coordinator position, but for now, appears to be staying at Florida State. Stoops is due for his first coaching position soon, and he’s paid his dues as an assistant, working at South Florida, Wyoming, Houston, Miami and Arizona. He has no connections to Pennsylvania, but grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, so he is somewhat familiar with the area. And his recruiting connections in Florida could pay dividends if he is hired at Pittsburgh. Florida State is bringing back one of the top defenses in college football next season, which could entice Stoops to stick around and raise his profile for 2012 openings.
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart signed an extension at Western Kentucky this offseason, but that likely won’t stop Pittsburgh from pursuing him if it is interested. The Hilltoppers won just two games in the two years prior to his arrival, but Taggart has brought steady improvement, leading Western Kentucky to a 7-5 record this season. He worked under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2007-09 and is one of the youngest head coaches (35) in college football.
Bud Foster, defensive coordinator, Virginia Tech – Despite opportunities to interview as a head coach – including Pittsburgh last season – Foster has been content to remain an assistant with Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech. He has coordinated the Hokies’ defense since 1995, emerging as one of the top assistants in college football during that span. With the Panthers moving to the ACC in 2014, would Foster want to compete against Beamer? Or is he content to remain a defensive coordinator? Considering Foster's history of sticking around in Blacksburg, it would be a surprise if he left for Pittsburgh.
Todd Haley, former Kansas City Chiefs coach – Haley spent a good chunk of his youth in Pittsburgh, as his dad (Dick Haley) worked as the Steelers’ player personnel director from 1971-1990. Although Haley is certainly familiar with the area, he does not have any collegiate head coaching experience. However, Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson hired a NFL dropout (Bill Callahan) at Nebraska, which makes Haley one to keep on the radar.
Jeff Jagodzinski, former Boston College head coach – It’s been a surprise Jagodzinski hasn’t landed another college head coaching position after two successful years at Boston College. He did not have an amicable divorce from the Eagles, as he was fired for interviewing with the Jets for their head coaching position at the end of the 2008 season. Since getting canned from Boston College, he has spent one year with the Buccaneers and one with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL.
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State – If you are looking for a wildcard to watch in this search, Lembo is the name to remember. He recorded a 44-14 record and two FCS apperances in five seasons at Lehigh, before leading Elon to a 35-22 record and one playoff appearance in five years. After finishing with six victories in the two years prior to Lembo’s arrival, the Cardinals won six games in 2011. Lembo is a bright offensive mind and has had success at every stop.
Randy Shannon, former Miami head coach – Shannon has no ties to the Pittsburgh area, but has head coaching experience, posting a 28-22 record in four years at Miami. Although he didn’t have tremendous success on the field, Shannon helped to cut down the off-the-field incidents and improve the Hurricanes’ work in the classroom. After a disappointing tenure at Miami, he is hungry to get back in the mix and prove he can have more success on the sidelines than he did with the Hurricanes.
Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Oklahoma – Venables is regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators in college football, working as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator since 2004. He is a Kansas native and has only coached in the Midwest, so it seems unlikely he would jump at an opportunity to coach at Pittsburgh.
by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)
New Orleans Bowl
Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. San Diego State (8-4)
Date: Dec., 17 at 9 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
Both teams ended this season with an 8-4 record, with Louisiana-Lafayette claiming third in the Sun Belt and San Diego State finishing fourth in the Mountain West. The Big Easy crowd will see plenty of points in what should be a Saturday night thriller — the Ragin’ Cajuns averaged over 32 points per game this season while the Aztecs scored over 29 points per contest. Both clubs were led by head coaches in their first year at their respective schools. Long-time New Mexico head coach Rocky Long joined Brady Hoke at SDSU as defensive coordinator in 2009 after leaving Albuquerque. When Hoke took the Michigan job, Long was promoted to lead the Aztecs. Mark Hudspeth took over in Lafayette this season after two years as a position coach at Mississippi State under Dan Mullen. Prior to MSU, Hudspeth was a very successful head coach at Division II North Alabama for seven seasons.
The New Orleans Bowl will be the first postseason contest for Louisiana-Lafayette as an FBS member, and it will be only the third bowl game at any level in school history. San Diego State got its first postseason win since 1969 in last year’s 35-14 Poinsettia Bowl victory over Navy. The Aztecs will only be making their third postseason appearance over the last 20 seasons, so back-to-back bowl wins would be very significant to the growth of the SDSU program.
San Diego State had seven players named first-team All-Mountain West, including two-time, all-league tailback Ronnie Hillman. The elusive runner totaled 1,656 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground this season. Five Ragin’ Cajuns were tabbed first-team All-Sun Belt, with tight end Ladarius Green receiving that honor for the second consecutive season. He is the NCAA's active career leader in touchdowns by a tight end.
WHEN SAN DIEGO STATE HAS THE BALL
It all starts with the aforementioned Hillman. The best San Diego State runner since Marshall Faulk ranked No. 3 in the nation in rushing, Hillman is averaging 138 yards per game. He topped the 100-yard rushing mark nine times this season, while going over 140 yards in seven of those games. The sophomore sensation is actually eligible for next April’s NFL draft (three years removed from high school) so this could his last SDSU game.
Quarterback Ryan Lindley had an inconsistent season, having to break in new targets after the departures of receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson from last season’s potent offense. Colin Lockett led the Aztecs with 52 catches for 885 yards, but the top red zone target is All-MWC tight end Gavin Escobar (seven TDs). The SDSU offensive line did an excellent job in pass protection, as well as paving the way for Hillman.
All-Sun Belt linebacker and leading tackler Lance Kelly will lead a Louisiana-Lafayette defense that ranked 72nd in the nation. Obviously, the Ragin’ Cajuns' top priority will be to stop Hillman from running wild. Louisiana-Lafayette will attempt to get some pressure on Lindley with all-league defensive lineman Bernard Smith, who led the team with 13 tackles for loss and six and a half sacks.
WHEN LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE HAS THE BALL
Quarterback Blaine Gautier is the key player on the Ragin’ Cajuns efficient attack, which ranked 65th in total offense but 32nd in scoring. The junior signal caller tossed 20 touchdowns against five interceptions this season, while also adding 434 yards on the ground. Running back Alonzo Harris led the team with 638 yards and eight touchdowns.
Gautier has a pair of first team All-Sun Belt weapons in receiver Javone Lawson and tight end Ladarius Green. Lawson had 54 catches for 899 yards and six scores. Green struggled with injuries early in the season, but he had 32 receptions for 308 yards and four touchdowns in his last four games. SDSU will definitely need to know where No. 89 is at all times.
Senior linebacker Miles Burris led the Aztecs with a staggering 19 tackles for loss (eighth in the country) and eight sacks this season. SDSU had 27 takeaways this year and is led by two All-MWC defensive backs, Larry Parker (seven interceptions) and Leon McFadden
Both teams have excellent punters and do not get much in the return game. The advantage here falls to Louisiana-Lafayette based on field-goal kicking. The Ragin’ Cajuns kicker and punter, Brett Baer, was 16-of-18 on field goal attempts this year with five makes of 40-plus yards. He also averaged 40.5 yards on 75 punts, including stopping 24 inside the 20-yard line.
San Diego State punter Brian Stahovich, a two-time All-MWC selection, averaged a solid 43.4 yards on 57 attempts. He had 16 punts over 50 yards and put 17 of them inside the 20-yard line.
Aztecs kicker Abelardo Perez struggled this season, only converting five of his 13 field-goal tries.
San Diego State seems to have the talent advantage in this one, but Louisiana-Lafayette will play well in its home state. Mark Hudspeth is a rising star in the coaching profession, and his staff has had three weeks to scheme for Ronnie Hillman and the Aztecs’ defensive pressure.
SDSU is one of the best teams in the country in turnover margin, and that could make the difference in the New Orleans Bowl. Look for an exciting Saturday night in the Big Easy, and for Hillman to star in a close Aztecs’ victory.
San Diego State 31, Louisiana-Lafayette 27
We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.
These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.
2011 NFL Week 15 Fantasy Football Rankings
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points
0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points
PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points