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Missouri running back Russell Hansbrough made one of the top plays of Week 11, hurdling a Kentucky defender on a fourth-down run in the first half.
Hansbrough ended up with a 15-yard gain on the play, which was one of a few highlight reel plays by Missouri in the 48-17 victory over the Wildcats.
Minnesota is one of the best storylines of the 2013 season. The Golden Gophers improved to 8-2 with a 24-10 win over Penn State on Saturday, and coach Jerry Kill celebrated with the team in the locker room by showcasing a few dance moves.
Since returning to the team after a short medical leave, Kill has been coaching from the press box for the last few games. However, the formula continues to work, as Minnesota has won four consecutive contests:
Miami has a huge Coastal Division showdown against Virginia Tech on Saturday night, and the Hurricanes unveiled a new alternate uniform for the showdown:
Here's a closeup of the new helmet. pic.twitter.com/eMuCchcNHN— Miami Hurricanes (@hurricanesports) November 9, 2013
Eastern Michigan fired coach Ron English a day before the program’s matchup against Western Michigan. English was 11-46 in his tenure with the Eagles.
Although English’s record was 11-46, Eastern Michigan is arguably the toughest job in the nation. The Eagles went 6-6 in 2011, which was the program’s non-losing season since 1995.
English’s win/loss record certainly factored into his dismissal. However, audio from a recent team meeting was the final straw in his tenure.
Here’s the statement from the school:
There's also audio of English's rant that prompted his dismissal (contains some inappropriate language)
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota entered Thursday night’s game against Stanford as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. However, the sophomore left Stanford with a major dent in his resume.
Mariota completed 20 of 34 passes for 250 yards and two scores. However, most of his damage came after the result was no longer in doubt.
The sophomore did not throw an interception, which extended his mistake-free streak in 2013 to 259 passes.
However, a big problem for Mariota was his mobility against Stanford’s aggressive defense. Mariota rushed for -16 yards and never seemed comfortable when trying to escape the pressure.
Was Mariota dealing with a knee injury? It seems that was the case, as reports before the game indicated the sophomore has a partial sprain of his MCL.
Source with knowledge of situation tells me Marcus Mariota has a partial sprain of his MCL #GoDucks— Collin Harmon (@Collin_Harmon) November 8, 2013
With over a week to heal before a home game against Utah, Mariota should be fine for next Saturday’s game against Utah.
Assuming Mariota is 100 percent, Oregon should finish 11-1 and play in a BCS bowl.
Bronco Mendenhall and the BYU Cougars travel to Madison to take on Gary Andersen and the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on ESPN at 3:30 pm ET. Gary Andersen has seen BYU before. Many times before, actually. When he was at Utah State, Andersen coached against the Cougars in all four of his seasons. He compiled a 1-3 record; however, all of his losses were at Provo where BYU enjoys a great home field advantage. This time, he gets the Cougars to travel across the country to take on his ranked Badgers team in the hostile environment of Camp Randall. BYU is on a five-game winning streak, yet outside of Texas, they have yet to register a truly impressive win. The Badgers also have a nice win streak going, one of three games that started after their seven-point loss at Ohio State. This is the second all-time meeting between the two teams as the Cougars beat the Badgers in 1980 by a score of 28-3 at Camp Randall.
Three Things to Watch
Taysom Hill's arm
Hill is renowned for his rushing abilities. Currently, he is the second-leading rusher among quarterbacks with 841 yards on the ground, which includes an impressive 5.9 yards per carry and eight touchdowns. As defenses have started to game plan against Hill running wild, the young quarterback has found a new way to keep defensive coordinators up late at night. Over BYU's five-game winning streak, Hill has completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,455 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hill is ranked No. 6 in college football in total offense and he will need to continue his polished passing as Wisconsin boasts the No. 5 rushing defense in the nation.
Melvin Gordon's legs
Is there as reliable a running back in college football as Wisconsin's Gordon? Gordon has rushed for over 140 yards in six games this season, including a season-high 192 yards against Arizona State. The sophomore tailback currently ranks as the nation's seventh ranked rusher, even with noticeably less carries than his peers. Among rushers with over 900 yards this year, Gordon is the only one with less than 125 carries. His staggering 8.7 rushing yards per carry ties him with Lache Seastrunk for No. 1 nationally. Gordon has yet to rush for fewer than 140 yards at home, but it's worth noting that he failed to crack the 80-yard mark against Iowa and Ohio State. The Cougars defense shouldn't be taken lightly as they allow 145.3 rushing yards per game, which puts them at No. 42 in the country.
This will likely decide the game. BYU wants to turn this game into a fast-paced shootout, while Wisconsin wants to make it a ground-and-pound slugfest. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, who faced BYU several times as the head coach at Utah State, told reporters this week, "We can't get into a momentum game of ups and downs. We have to be steady-Eddie just like we were last week." Indeed, quarterback Joel Stave simply doesn't possess the abilities to be anything more than the game manager that he has been this year, especially with top weapon Jared Abbrederis questionable for the game after he suffered a rib injury midway through the second quarter of last Saturday’s win over Iowa. Wisconsin will look to slow things down with Gordon and James White, while the Cougars will look to speed things up with the dual-threat Hill and explosive RB Jamaal Williams and WR Cody Hoffman. Wisconsin's defense will look to shut down BYU on third-downs and in the red zone, which happen to be two of the Badgers' defense biggest strengths. Wisconsin has only allowed eight touchdowns in 21 red zone attempts, while BYU has scored 19 touchdowns on 39 red zone attempts. BYU has the nation's 100th ranked third-down offense, converting only 34 percent of the time. The doesn't line up well against a Wisconsin defense that is fourth in the NCAA in third-down defense, allowing a first down only 29 percent of the time.
Key Player: Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU
As mentioned, Taysom Hill will have to beat Wisconsin with his arm. He will look toward his favorite target WR Cody Hoffman, who leads the Cougars with 29 receptions and is averaging an explosive 18.1 yards per reception. The 6'4" Hoffman is a huge goal-line threat that can help BYU overcome its poor redzone play. He has battled injuries this year, so his numbers aren't up to his usual standard. He caught 100 balls last year for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wisconsin doesn't have anyone on the back end that can match his raw athleticism and talent.
Gary Andersen knows this BYU program too well for them to pull any surprises on him. I think the Wisconsin defense will be ready for everything it sees, and the Badgers will plow threw the Cougars up front, controlling the line on each side of the ball.
Prediction: Wisconsin 24, BYU 15
SEC heavyweights Alabama and LSU will collide on Saturday night with conference and national title implications. The 2013 meeting between the Crimson Tide and Tigers will be the fifth straight matchup where both programs rank among the top 15 teams in the Associated Press poll.
Even though Alabama has managed to lose twice in November and win the national title in back-to-back seasons, the Crimson Tide’s margin of error is a little smaller this year. Florida State and Ohio State are unlikely to lose a game in the regular season, while Baylor crossed one hurdle in its quest to finish 12-0 by beating Oklahoma on Thursday night.
With two losses, LSU has a chance to play spoiler on Saturday night. The Tigers are out of the BCS title picture and need a lot of help just to get back into the SEC Championship discussion. The pressure to win is clearly with Alabama, while LSU can play with nothing to lose.
Since 2010, Alabama has lost only five games. However, two of those defeats came at the hands of LSU. The Tigers won 24-21 in Baton Rouge in 2010 and 9-6 in Tuscaloosa in 2011. Alabama coach Nick Saban is 4-3 against LSU during his tenure in Tuscaloosa.
In the overall series, Alabama holds a 47-25-5 edge over LSU.
LSU at Alabama
Kickoff: 8 ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama – 12.5
Three Things to Watch
LSU’s wide receivers vs. Alabama’s secondary
Alabama’s secondary had to replace two key players coming into 2013 (safety Robert Lester and cornerback Dee Milliner), but this unit is still holding opponents to 197 passing yards per game in SEC contests. The Crimson Tide allowed 464 passing yards and five touchdown tosses to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. However, Alabama has allowed just one other touchdown pass in SEC play this season. Coach Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart are still trying to find the right mix at cornerback, as sophomore Bradley Sylve is dealing with a high ankle sprain and may not play against LSU. If Sylve is out, Eddie Jackson and Cyrus Jones will fight to start opposite of senior Deion Belue. This will be the biggest challenge for Alabama’s secondary since the Texas A&M matchup. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham form one of the nation’s best receiver duos, catching 106 passes for 1,891 yards and 16 touchdowns this year. Just how valuable are Landry and Beckham? LSU quarterbacks have completed 153 passes this year. Landry and Beckham have caught 106 of their passes. If LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger has time to throw, Landry and Beckham should be able to make plays against Alabama’s secondary.
LSU’s rush defense
It’s a bit uncharacteristic to see LSU ranked No. 8 in the SEC (conference-only games) against the run. However, that’s what happens when ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo and tackle Bennie Logan leave early for the NFL, and seniors Lavar Edwards, Josh Downs and Chancey Aghayere expire their eligibility. The Tigers essentially have a new two-deep on the defensive line this year, and there’s not a senior in the rotation. Opponents are averaging 4.4 yards per carry against LSU this season, but this line has held offenses to just seven rushing scores. Alabama’s offensive line has started to jell over the last few games, and the Crimson Tide average 6.9 yards per carry in SEC-only games. Running back T.J. Yeldon is the workhorse, but Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry and Jalston Fowler could all see time on Saturday night. Winning the battle at the line of scrimmage is always crucial when these two teams meet. Can LSU’s defense match Alabama’s strength at the point of attack?
LSU RB Jeremy Hill vs. Alabama’s rush defense
Alabama’s rush defense has been nearly impenetrable once again in 2013. The Crimson Tide are holding opponents to just 3.8 yards per carry and have allowed just two rushing touchdowns in SEC games. LSU’s offensive line is solid but has room to improve. The Tigers have allowed 12 sacks in SEC games, and the line has paved the way for rushers to average 4.2 yards per carry in conference-only matchups. Hill is the team’s leading rusher (922 yards), and it’s critical for the sophomore to help LSU’s offense stay out of long-distance situations on second or third down. If Hill is contained, the Tigers will have their hands full trying to move the ball on Alabama.
Key Player: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Mettenberger is one of the nation’s most-improved quarterbacks this season. After throwing for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, the senior is completing 65.4 percent of his passes and already has 19 passing scores. Mettenberger has just seven interceptions in 2013 but five picks have come in the last two games. In last year’s matchup, the senior threw for 298 yards and one touchdown. Can Mettenberger repeat that performance in 2013? LSU needs a similar output this year to have a shot at the upset.
Most of this preview has focused on LSU for one reason: the Tigers need a near-perfect effort to pull off the upset. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron should be able to take advantage of the Tigers secondary, which ranks ninth in SEC games by allowing 250.4 yards per game. With McCarron playing at a high level, and the Crimson Tide owning an edge in the trenches, LSU’s defense will have its hands full on Saturday night. The Tigers battle and trade a few punches with Alabama for a half. However, the Crimson Tide is the better team and pulls away in the second half.
Prediction: Alabama 31, LSU 20
Bo Pelini and the Nebraska Cornhuskers travel to Ann Arbor to face off against Brady Hoke and the Michigan Wolverines in this conference battle at the Big House at 3:30 pm ET on ABC. The emotional states of Nebraska and Michigan players could not be more different after last week. The Cornhuskers beat Northwestern on a Hail Mary pass from Ron Kellogg III to Jacob Westerkamp as time expired. On the other hand, the Wolverines scored six points and put up just 168 yards of offense against bitter in-state rival Michigan State. The loss dropped Michigan out of a position to play in the Big Ten Championship, while Nebraska stayed alive in the Legends Division of the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers will once again be without starting quarterback Taylor Martinez, who is now battling a hip pointer and a shoulder injury, after being sidelined for two games earlier this season with turf toe.
3 Things to Watch
That's the amount of rushing yards Michigan had last week against Michigan State. It's the lowest rushing output in the program's lengthy history. Gardner had -46 rushing yards thanks in large part to the fact that the NCAA counts sacks as negative rushing yards. On the designed runs for Gardner, he rushed 11 times for three yards, including four negative rushes. Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed for just 20 yards on eight carries. Michigan only had five rushing attempts in the second half, and the only drive the Wolverines moved the ball into Michigan State territory in the second half ended with a Devin Gardner interception. Perhaps they can revitalize themselves on the ground against a Nebraska defense that allowed Northwestern RB Treyvon Green to rush for 149 yards and three touchdowns and QB Kain Colter to rush for 86 yards.
Offensive Line Play
After last week, many believe that the proud tradition of a strong offensive line hasn't been lived up to this year at Michigan. While they did struggle last week in allowing Devin Gardner to be sacked eight times, outside of that game, Michigan has only allowed 12 sacks in seven games. The Wolverines are led by All-American tackle Taylor Lewan and, while they have had some issues with chemistry and communication, this is still a talented bunch capable of shutting down an opposing pass rush. Where the Michigan line has struggled has been in opening holes in the run game. The Wolverines are 10th in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging just 154.9 yards per game. The Cornhuskers don't have as a talented of a front seven as Michigan State; however, they have some nice pieces that could cause Michigan some problems. Look for an impact from defensive end Randy Gregory, a versatile 6'6" end that has recorded three sacks in the last three games. Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis loves to move Gregory all around the field and will do so often to keep him from being matched up with Lewan. If Lewan is able to contain Gregory, then Nebraska will need its leading sacker, freshman Avery Moss, to make some big plays. In the other camp, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has to be licking his chops at the idea of sending pressure on a vulnerable Nebraska line. The Cornhuskers were severely hurt by the injury to All-Big Ten guard Spencer Long and will be forced to shuffle things even more with the recent injury to the other guard Jake Cotton. Both injuries have forced inexperienced players to grow up fast and are a large reason why Nebraska allows nearly four and a half sacks per contest.
Freshman quarterback at The Big House
Michigan Stadium is the largest stadium in the United States with a capacity of 109,901. That's no easy atmosphere for an experience quarterback to undertake, much less redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. Armstrong has experienced nothing like the road atmosphere in Ann Arbor as his only road start in his career came against Purdue. In that game he went six for 18 for 43 yards and three interceptions. It was the first of two straight games in which the young quarterback has thrown three interceptions. Nebraska has won just seven of 15 games away from Lincoln since the start 2011, while the Wolverines are undefeated at home under Brady Hoke.
Key Player: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
This junior has been beyond impressive in 2013. He currently ranks sixth in the entire nation in rushing yards with 1,108 and is second among top 15 rushers with a 7.1 yards per carry average. Abdullah has gone over the 100-yard mark in seven of his eight games this year, including a 225-yard performance against Illinois. His only game under 100 yards? That was when he rushed for 98 yards on 23 carries against UCLA. He's averaging nearly 161 rushing yards per game in Big Ten play. Last year against the Wolverines, Abdullah rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
Michigan's offense looked terrible last week. But then again, so did Nebraska and Tommy Armstrong Jr. The Cornhuskers may have gotten a win, but they did against a Northwestern team that hasn't won a game since September 21. Let's chalk Michigan's struggles up to the stifling Michigan State defense. Nebraska doesn't have anything close to resembling what Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi have built in East Lansing; however, they do have the nation's No. 4 ranked pass defense. Nebraska wins this game if they can pounce on Michigan early with a turnover, get a quick lead and take the air out of the ball the rest of the game. Forget it. Devin Gardner and the Wolverines are too tough at home and they offense that scores 37.9 points per game will show up in full force.
Prediction: Michigan 31, Nebraska 20
Virginia Tech and Miami meet on Saturday night hoping to bounce back after disappointing results last week. The Hurricanes lost 41-14 to rival Florida State, and the Hokies lost 34-27 at Boston College. Despite both teams losing, the Coastal Division title outlook didn’t change much. Duke and Georgia Tech are within striking distance, but Miami can take command of the division with a win on Saturday.
Virginia Tech started the season with a loss to Alabama in Atlanta, but the Hokies rebounded with six consecutive victories. However, since beating Pittsburgh 19-9, Virginia Tech has lost its last two games. Turnovers have been a huge problem the last two weeks for the Hokies, but they will be taking on a Miami team shorthanded on offense with the loss of running back Duke Johnson. The sophomore suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Florida State last week and was on pace to easily rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2013.
For the first time since 1993-94, these two teams will meet in Miami for consecutive seasons. Virginia Tech lost 30-12 at Miami last year, but the Hokies have claimed five out of the last seven in this series.
Virginia Tech at Miami
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Miami -6.5
Three Things to Watch
Miami’s passing offense vs. Virginia Tech’s secondary
Through five ACC games, Virginia Tech’s secondary has been outstanding. The Hokies are allowing just 161.6 yards per game through the air, and opposing quarterbacks are completing just 47.7 percent of their throws. With Duke Johnson sidelined, the Hurricanes will ask more of quarterback Stephen Morris on Saturday night. The senior suffered an ankle injury early in the season, but he appears to be 100 percent after throwing for 192 yards and two scores against Florida State. In last year’s meeting, Morris threw for 170 yards and two touchdowns but completed only 46.4 percent of his passes. The Hokies are overflowing with depth in the secondary, especially with the return of senior Antone Exum from a knee injury. With Exum, Kyle Fuller and freshmen Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech has four cornerbacks that could start for a majority of the top 25 teams in the latest release of the BCS standings. Safeties Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett are steady performers and have four interceptions this year. Morris has been inconsistent at times in 2013, and he won’t have receiver Phillip Dorsett back from injury. Even though Dallas Crawford is a capable replacement for Duke Johnson, it’s fair to wonder if Morris might press a little with the absence of Miami’s top back. In a game with very little separating these two teams, any turnover from Morris will be costly.
Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas
Which Thomas will Virginia Tech have on Saturday night? Is it the version that tossed a combined six picks against Duke and Boston College? Or is it the quarterback that threw five touchdowns to zero interceptions in a three-game conference stretch earlier this year? Although Thomas has to play better, the senior needs more from his supporting cast. The Hokies are averaging only 2.3 yards per carry in ACC games, with Trey Edmunds leading the team with 447 yards in nine games. Receivers Demitri Knowles and Willie Byrn lead the team in receptions, but neither is averaging more than 13 yards per catch. Miami’s defense isn’t among the best in the ACC. However, this unit has improved since last season and has forced 21 turnovers this year. If the Hurricanes can force a couple of turnovers and put Thomas into third-and-long situations, it could be another long night for Virginia Tech’s offense.
Turnovers and special teams
With Virginia Tech’s struggles on offense, and Miami playing without running back Duke Johnson, both teams won’t have much margin for error. The Hurricanes rank second in the ACC with 21 forced turnovers, while the Hokies have lost 15 turnovers. Both starting quarterbacks have struggled at times with interceptions, and any mistakes by either could be costly. Johnson’s absence will also be felt on special teams, as the sophomore averaged 28.3 yards per return this year. Freshmen Stacy Coley and Artie Burns could fill Johnson’s role on kickoffs. Both teams have been inconsistent on field goals, as Matt Goudis has connected on 6 of 10 attempts for Miami this year, while Virginia Tech’s Cody Journell is 10 of 16. Don’t be surprised if a key play on special teams or late turnover decides this game.
Key Player: Dallas Crawford, RB, Miami
With Duke Johnson sidelined, Crawford will assume the No. 1 role in the Miami backfield. Crawford has been solid this year, averaging 4.4 yards per carry on 67 attempts. The sophomore faces a Virginia Tech defense allowing just 102.7 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Stephen Morris is solid, but the Hurricanes need balance on offense. Crawford won’t find a ton of running room against Virginia Tech. But the sophomore has to record at least 75 yards and needs to convert on any third-and-short situations for Miami’s offense.
The mission for Miami is simple: Win out and get a rematch with Florida State in the ACC Championship. The Hurricanes would be a significant underdog to the Seminoles in a rematch, but Miami has yet to play for the ACC Championship. It’s time for the program to take that step. Virginia Tech’s defense will keep this game close, but the Hokies’ offense sputters in the second half, allowing the Hurricanes to do just enough to score a key conference win.
Prediction: Miami 24, Virginia Tech 20
Locks of the Week
Continue to ride the Jacksonville spotted gravy train, no matter how big the number. Well, anything short of a 28-point number at Denver…
Titans (-13) vs. Jaguars
Third-year Tennessee coach Mike Munchak has two black-eye losses — to then-winless Indy in 2011 and then-one-win J-Ville last season.
Steelers (-3) vs. Bills
Buffalo’s Mario Williams has recorded four sacks in two games, both as a member of the Houston Texans, against Big Ben Roethlisberger.
Straight Up Upsets
These tiny numbers could pay off huge dividends with upsets on Sunday in games that are essentially pick-ems.
Ravens (+1) vs. Bengals
Andy Dalton is 1–3 against Baltimore, with his only win coming in a meaningless Week 17 game last season, after the Ravens had already clinched the AFC North division.
Lions (+1) at Bears
Detroit devoured Chicago, 40–32, in Week 4. That, however, was the Lions first win over the Bears since Oct. 2011.
Eagles (+1) at Packers
Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone injury will likely hurt Title Town in the win column, starting this week against Chip Kelly’s Philly cheese steaks.
Stay away from these games unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action on absolutely all the action.
Colts (-9.5) vs. Rams
Andrew Luck has a 10–2 record at home in Lucas Oil Stadium; the Rams are 4–7–1 on the road under Jeff Fisher.
Giants (-7) vs. Raiders
The Black Hole ventures East to take on Big Blue in a game that could provide a nice INT over-under side bet.
Broncos (-7) at Chargers
Peyton Manning beat the Bolts twice last season, but has struggled against Diego in the past, including a six-INT game in 2007.
Saints (-6.5) vs. Cowboys
Sean Payton was Tony Romo’s quarterbacks coach from 2003-05. Will the student be the teacher in New Orleans?
49ers (-6) vs. Panthers
This dual-threat shootout between Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton could be a highlight-reel cut tape when the dirt settles.
Seahawks (-5.5) at Falcons
The Dirty Birds beat the Hawks, 30–28, in the NFC Divisional Playoffs last season. But that was a completely different ATL squad.
Cardinals (-3) vs. Texans
After two tough losses at K.C. and to Indy, the legend of Case Keenum continues to grow.
Monday Night Moolah
Monday night time is the right time to double up the weekend’s winnings or bounce back from the weekend’s losses.
Buccaneers (+2.5) vs. Dolphins
With the Miami locker room being bullied by the national media all week, Tampa Bay could be in line for its first win of a staph-infected season.
1. Johnson hopes for no Phoenix repeat
There’s plenty in Jimmie Johnson’s career that the five-time champion would love to repeat. Championships, Daytona 500 wins and beating other drivers in side-by-side duels all probably make the cut.
But Johnson’s race at Phoenix International Raceway a year ago this week? Well, that’s one result that is awfully forgettable.
Johnson had driven from 24th to inside the top 10, holding par with championship challenger Brad Keselowski, when he felt his right front tire go soft exiting Turn 4. The car was suddenly uncontrollable and Johnson smacked the outside wall. The damage to the car was severe — he spent many laps in the garage getting repairs — but the damage in the point standings was worse.
Johnson ceded 27 points to Keselowski that day and left for the final race with a deficit that proved insurmountable.
“I’m just not going to put my guard down,” Johnson said this week. “We need to go into Phoenix and race well.”
He finished second in the spring race.
2. Will Phoenix be Chase’s splitting point?Is this the weekend when we see the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings break for one driver or another? Or will NASCAR get its desired ‘Game 7 moment’ in next week’s season finale?
The 2013 version of the Chase has remained knotted, somewhat improbably, through its first eight races. Even when there have been problems, the teams of Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth have rallied. Both conservatively emerged from the expected wildcard that is Talladega unscathed. All told, Johnson and Kenseth have combined for four wins, 11 top 5s and 13 top 10s in the 16 Chase starts between them.
The difference in the standings with two races left is a polite seven points.
More problems for Johnson like he had one year ago would certainly break things open, but so would another Kenseth Phoenix crash (fall race, 2011). But can we actually expect that?
Both drivers were top-10 finishers in the spring race, and both seem to be racing at a comfortable limit that’s been good enough to push the rest of the field further and further away as the postseason heads for a close. That cushion has led to both teams making few massive mistakes and finding ways to recover from the small ones.
Anything can happen, sure, but this Chase is leaving the impression that it won’t reveal its true identity until the end. It’s a fitting identity, really, seeing as both drivers are often masters of making their most decisive moves when the checkered flag nears — not when the engines are just getting fired.
3. Extreme advantage of track position gave Edwards spring Phoenix win It’s no secret that Carl Edwards all but had the February race at Phoenix International Raceway won when he left pit road first during the race’s final round of pit stops on Lap 238. He, like every other driver and team, knew the advantage that the race leader had in the Gen-6 car’s second race.
“The biggest thing that helped us was our pit crew,” Edwards said this week. “We had awesome pit stops and kept coming out three or four spots ahead of where we were running and that ultimately is what won us the race.”
The advantage of track position, of course, is nothing new in NASCAR.
But at Phoenix in the spring? The edge was simply absurd. It showed in the number of passes for the lead under green flag conditions. In total, there were just two during the race with the last one coming when Brad Keselowski passed Mark Martin on Lap 127 of the 312-lap race.
Look for that knowledge to greatly affect pit road strategy on Sunday.
4. New left side tires could be weekend’s curveball
Part of Edwards’ strategy — and that of several other drivers — included numerous two-tire pit stops in the spring race for new rubber on the right side only. The left side tires simply weren’t wearing enough to warrant a replacement in the name of handling improvement.
Thanks to a new left side tire construction that Goodyear is bringing to Phoenix for Sunday’s race, that could certainly change. Hopefully, it will change the lack of passing at the front, too.
The tire supplier held a test session at the track in September with five drivers. That test led Goodyear to bring a left side compound that the brand says “is designed to give the cars more grip” and is closer in construction to tires used one the one-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
All three NASCAR national series racing this weekend — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck — will use the same tires.
5. Jeff Gordon/Clint Bowyer, one year later
With less than two laps left to decide the winner of the fall race at Phoenix a year ago, Kevin Harvick look destined for victory lane in the same weekend reports surfaced of his departure for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. Johnson’s in-race problems and Keselowski’s newfound point lead was going to dominate the post-race chatter.
Then Jeff Gordon swerved right.
Gordon rammed into Clint Bowyer, sending both careening into the outside wall while collecting the bystanders of Joey Logano and Aric Almirola. It was an intentional crash by Gordon, supposed payback for slights that Bowyer had leveled previously on-track. It led to the season’s most-talked about story when Bowyer sprinted to the garage area seeking Gordon and a fight that broken out among crew members.
Tensions have cooled in the relationship between the two drivers — neither have had run-ins during competition in 2013 — but it’s fair to say the relationship still appears icy.
What’s that mean at Phoenix? Probably nothing. Bowyer, already suffering from the PR blowback of his team’s actions at Richmond in September, has been unwilling to rock many boats and hasn’t been much of a Chase contender. He’s had plenty of chances to deliver a payback to Gordon and hasn’t done so.
Still, the moment will be a cornerstone of this weekend’s race coverage as broadcasters recall the moment — and probably hope for another.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Nov. 8.
• Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory had a mock impromptu wedding with her tennis player boyfriend on Ellen. Seems like an excuse to link to a Kaley slideshow.
• Triumph of the Nerds: Stanford players showed up to the postgame presser wearing nerd glasses.
• You were probably watching college football last night, but Adrian Peterson was in full beast mode.
• Meanwhile, Baylor dinged up Big Game Bob's reputation even further, although the Bears didn't come out unscathed.
• LSU fullback JC Copeland fell in the shower, suffered a concussion, and referred to himself as Luscious Brown. Don't tell Roger Goodell; he'll outlaw postgame showers.
• Vijay Singh's lawyer has made a rather explosive allegation about PGA Tour drug testing. Could get interesting.
• George Brett went nuclear on an autograph-seeker. Read the story before you judge Brett too harshly.
• New Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has a good sense of humor. He's going to need it.
• Fresh off making history, NASCAR driver Darrell Wallace Jr. showed he truly belongs in the sport by smacking a competitor.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears kick off the second half of their schedules with a key NFC North matchup at Soldier Field on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on FOX. This game will help break up the three-way tie for first in the division, as Matthew Stafford and the Lions (5-3) are in search of the season sweep over the Bears (5-3).
This also is an important game as each team will be looking to take advantage of Aaron Rodgers’ injury (broken collarbone, out a minimum of three weeks) by either keeping pace with the Packers (5-3) or taking the lead in their division outright. The Detroit-Chicago rivalry dates back to 1930 with the Bears leading the all-time series 96-66-5. While the Lions are looking for the season sweep in 2013, the Bears have won seven of the past nine meetings, which goes back to when Stafford made his NFL debut after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
3 Things to Watch
After sustaining a groin injury in the Week 7 loss to Washington, Jay Cutler was initially expected to miss between three to four weeks. Someone apparently forgot to tell him this, however, as Cutler returned to practice on Thursday and is expected to get the start at home against Detroit. Josh McCown filled in admirably for Cutler in the Bears’ unexpected win over Green Bay at Lambeau Field this past Monday night, throwing for 272 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. However, first-year head coach Marc Trestman said all along that as long as Cutler was medically cleared to play he would be the starter. If anything, this gives Cutler a chance to redeem himself for his worst performance of the season when he turned the ball over four times (3 INTs, fumble) in the 40-32 loss in Detroit back in Week 4. Turnovers were a huge part of this game, as the teams combined for a total of seven. Cutler’s four miscues resulted in 17 points for the Lions and helped put the Bears behind by 21 entering the fourth quarter. Cutler has an 8:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the four wins he has been a part of this season. In losses that ratio changes to 4:6. It’s rather simplistic, but the Bears need Cutler to be at the top of his game despite his injury-induced layoff and to protect the football on Sunday. If Cutler falters against the Lions a second time then Trestman may have an unintended quarterback controversy on his hands, at least from a media perspective.
Reggie Bush and Matt Forté are versatile running backs that can make plays after taking a handoff or as a receiver out of the backfield. They are both among the top 10 in the NFL in yards from scrimmage and total touches, meaning they are pivotal to their respective team’s offensive game plan. This was clearly the case back in Week 4 when each posted more than 100 total yards and a rushing touchdown. Bush was the star on the ground, rushing for a season-high 139 yards on 18 carries (7.7 ypc), including a 37-yard touchdown run. Forté finished with fewer yards (95), but his highlight play was a 53-yard TD run and he was productive when he ran it, averaging nearly seven yards per carry. Both also were targeted six times in the passing game. Each defense is allowing more than 100 yards rushing per game with the Bears ranking near the bottom of the league at 127.5 yards per contest. Forté is coming off a 125-yard effort on Monday night against a Green Bay defense that is a top-five unit against the run. The Lions and the Bears both need their dynamic backs to produce to help open up the playbook and take some of the pressure off of the quarterbacks and the passing game. Whichever back “wins” the yardage battle on Sunday could very well end up with the W by game’s end too.
Who Roars Loudest on D?
Statistically speaking, these two defenses are very similar. They are separated by 0.1 yards per game in total defense and less than four points per game in scoring defense. The Lions have fared better against the run (108.5 ypg) than the Bears (127.5) with the Monsters of the Midway having the advantage (253.6 to 272.5 ypg) versus the pass. Chicago actually outgained Detroit (417 to 387) on offense in their first meeting back in Week 4, but the Lions made the most of four Cutler turnovers and sacked him three times to help secure the victory. Pressuring the quarterback has actually been a problem for both defenses this season. Entering the Monday night game against Green Bay, Chicago had a total of nine sacks in seven games. That was before the Bears racked up five sacks against the Packers, including one in the first quarter by Shea McCllelin that broke Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone. No doubt Ndamukong Suh and company would love to get their hands on Cutler again, but the Lions also need to find a way to do a better job in pass defense. When he wasn’t getting sacked, Cutler carved up the Lions’ secondary with 22 completions to his wide receivers and tight end for 295 yards and two touchdowns. On the other side, the Bears have been hit by hard on injuries to its front seven and a patchwork defensive line and inexperienced linebacking corps needs to improve its run defense. The Bears beat the Packers on Monday night despite surrendering 190 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Between pressuring the pocket and learning from past mistakes, keep an eye out on Sunday to which defense makes the most noise on the field.
Detroit Key Player: Calvin Johnson, WR
It pretty much goes without saying that Johnson is “key” to Detroit’s offensive success. After all not only is he the NFL’s single-season receiving leader (1,964 yards), he came eight yards shy of breaking the single-game mark with 329 yards on 14 catches in Week 8. Megatron is indisputably the best wide receiver in the league and he is quickly securing his place as one of the greatest to ever play the position. That said, his career numbers against Chicago don’t exactly stand out. In 12 games, Johnson has recorded 57 catches for 845 yards and five touchdowns against the Bears. That’s less than an average of five receptions per game and only 70.4 yards per contest, including just two 100-yard efforts in those 12 games. Johnson was held to just four catches for 44 yards in the first meeting, which is one of the reasons why quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 23 of 35 passes for 242 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Chicago has a pair of All-Pro cornerbacks in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, but Johnson has shown on more than one occasion he can take his game to another level. One of those types of efforts against the Bears would no doubt go a long way towards securing the season sweep and at least a share of first place in the NFC North.
Chicago Key Player: Khaseem Greene, LB
With Nick Roach leaving via free agency, Brian Urlacher retiring and Lance Briggs entering his 11th season, the Bears knew they had to add some new blood to their linebacking corps. The changes started with the additions of D.J. Williams and James Anderson in free agency followed by the selections of Jon Bostic (second round) and Greene (fourth) in April’s draft. The plan was to bring the former Florida and Rutgers standouts along slowly, but that changed after Williams was lost for the season in Week 6 due to a torn pectoral muscle followed by Briggs sustaining a shoulder injury a week later. Bostic and Greene were thrust into the starting lineup and, as can be expected, the rookies have experienced their share of growing pains. Greene is especially important because he is filling in for Briggs at weak-side linebacker. Briggs led the Bears with 13 tackles in the first game against the Lions and Greene needs to be just as active and involved on Sunday while also showing he’s a quick study. Greene and Bostic were drafted in hopes they would develop into the next great Bear linebackers. Unfortunately, injuries have thrust them both into the fire earlier than expected, meaning the future is now for the duo.
In one play on Monday night, the outlook of the NFC North changed entirely when Aaron Rodgers was driven into the Lambeau Field turf by Shea McCllelin. Not only did Chicago’s win over Green Bay create a three-way tie for first place in the division, it opened up at least a three-week window for the Bears and Lions to try and separate themselves from a Rodgers-less Packers team. So needless to say, this could be a season-defining game for these two teams.
Both teams are enjoying modest one-game winning streaks, but the Bears appear to have the momentum following their big Monday night victory at Lambeau Field, while the Lions are coming off of their bye. Chicago also will have Jay Cutler back under center for the first time since injuring his groin in Week 7. Cutler played poorly in the Week 4 meeting with the Lions, and after backup Josh McCown led the team to victory over the Packers, he no doubt wants to show everyone why he’s the No. 1 signal-caller in the Windy City.
The Lions are among the most explosive offenses in the NFL led by the trio of Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, but the defense remains a question mark and has been very up and down, especially in the secondary. The Lions’ Week 4 victory was due in large part to Cutler’s four turnovers and I don’t see a repeat on Sunday. First-year head coach Marc Trestman leans on running back Matt Forté early to help ease Cutler back into the flow, but the quarterback makes some key throws late to help the Bears earn a season split against the Lions and stake their claim as the top team in the NFC North.
Chicago 31, Detroit 27
Like it or not, Las Vegas rarely gets it wrong, so tracking betting lines should always be a big part of each football weekend — even if there are no bets on the line. It took me a few weeks but I finally gained some ground last week thanks to Georgia, Minnesota and Auburn. I am going back to the SEC for my top pick this week.
2013 Record Against the Spread: 31-23-1 (3-1 last week)
Week 11 Picks of the Week:
Missouri (-14) at Kentucky
The Tigers have been consistently underrated throughout the season. Mizzou’s 7-1-1 record against the spread demonstrates this pretty clearly. Kentucky has yet to win in the SEC under Mark Stoops and simply doesn’t have enough good players to stay competitive with the Tigers. Could Gary Pinkel’s bunch be looking ahead to Ole Miss next week? Possibly. But Pinkel’s team also knows it controls its own destiny in the SEC East and won’t overlook anyone from here on out. Prediction: Missouri -14
BYU (+8) at Wisconsin
The Badgers consistently struggle with dual-threat quarterbacks and BYU’s Taysom Hill is one of the most explosive and talented in the nation. Additionally, this defense is physical and designed to stop a power rushing attack like Wisconsin's. BYU is extremely well coached, battled tested and head coach Bronco Mendenhall knows UW head coach Gary Andersen very well. He is 3-1 against Andersen in his career. The Badgers should still win but there is no reason to think this game won’t be close between two evenly matched teams. Prediction: BYU +8
Texas (-6.5) at West Virginia
The Longhorns lost to WVU last season at home but both teams are wildly different this year. Texas is staring at a 6-0 start in the Big 12 and has put itself into BCS bowl contention. But a win over the Mountaineers is a must. Defensively, this team is much improved under Greg Robinson, allowing just 40 total points in the last three games combined. West Virginia has won once since September and will struggle against a considerably more talented team. Prediction: Texas -6.5
Arizona State (-7) at Utah
The Sun Devils are cruising on offense, having scored at least 53 points in four straight Pac-12 games. Utah is much better at home than on the road but won’t have the offensive firepower to match Arizona State. Todd Graham knows this a must-win situation if he wants to keep his lead in the Pac-12 South so he will allow Taylor Kelly to air it out. Look for another 40-plus points from Sparky. Prediction: Arizona State -7
Top 25 Picks Against the Spread:
Note: games with FCS opponents won't be included each week
|Top 25 Games||Mitch Light||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|No. 13 LSU (+12.5) at No. 1 Alabama|
|No. 2 Florida St (-35.5) at Wake Forest|
|No. 8 Missouri (-14) at Kentucky|
|No. 9 Auburn (-7.5) at Tennessee|
|Virginia Tech (+7) at No. 11 Miami|
|Kansas (+31) at No. 14 Oklahoma St|
|Mississippi St (+19.5) at No. 15 Texas A&M|
|No. 16 Fresno St (-10) at Wyoming|
|No. 19 UCLA (-2) at Arizona|
|Houston (+10.5) at No. 21 UCF|
|No. 22 Arizona St (-7) at Utah|
|No. 23 Notre Dame (-5) at Pitt|
|BYU (+8) at Wisconsin|
|Kansas St (+3) at No. 25 Texas Tech|
Ohio State was a heavy favorite to win the Big Ten in the preseason, and the Buckeyes are the only team from the conference ranked among the top 15 in the nation. The Big Ten is struggling nationally with only three ranked teams, and Michigan did not take the step forward some expected this year, while Northwestern has been a disappointment at 4-5 overall.
Michigan State and Wisconsin are vying to be the No. 2 team in the Big Ten this year, and there’s little separating the Badgers and Spartans.
Michigan State is 8-1, with its only loss coming at Notre Dame. Wisconsin has two setbacks, “losing” by two points to Arizona State and a seven-point defeat at Ohio State.
If both teams continue to win out, there’s a good chance the Big Ten will get a second team into the BCS bowls.
Ohio State is clearly the top team in the Big Ten. But after the Buckeyes, are the Spartans or the Badgers at No. 2?
Wisconsin or Michigan State: Who is the No. 2 team in the Big Ten Behind Ohio State?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Close call, but I will take Michigan State over Wisconsin for the No. 2 spot in the Big Ten. The Badgers have played a tougher schedule and impressed in a seven-point loss to Ohio State. But the Spartans own the Big Ten’s No. 1 defense, holding opponents to just 3.4 yards per play. Michigan State has allowed just 12 touchdowns all season, with Wisconsin one behind at 13. The Spartans have the edge on defense, while the Badgers get a slight nod on offense. Running backs Melvin Gordon and James White form an effective one-two punch, and quarterback Joel Stave is efficient (150.4 quarterback rating). After struggling early in the year, Michigan State’s offense is starting to find its rhythm, scoring at least 26 points in four out of the last five games. Quarterback Connor Cook only has three interceptions on 230 passes, and he’s surrounded by a solid supporting cast, including running back Jeremy Langford and receiver Bennie Fowler. Even though Wisconsin has a statistical edge on Michigan State’s offense, the Spartans have improved as the season progressed and significantly narrowed the gap in recent weeks. There’s not much separating these two teams, but I would give Michigan State a slight advantage.
While it's actually closer than I initially thought, I am still siding with Michigan State on this one. Wisconsin hung tough with Ohio State in The Shoe in late September and is getting it done on both sides of the ball, but I like Michigan State's defense just a little better. The Spartans are No. 1 in the nation in yards allowed at 210.2 per game. The Badgers aren't too far behind at sixth, but they are giving up 285.5 yards per contest, that's a difference of more than 75 yards per game. MSU has been next-to-impossible to run on, surrendering a paltry 43.4 yards rushing per game and just 1.6 yards per carry. When it comes to beating Ohio State, one of the keys will be slowing down the Buckeyes on the ground, both the running backs and dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller. I think Michigan State's defense is more than capable of doing just that. Even with their offensive issues and lack of explosive playmakers, I think the Spartans' defense will allow Mark Dantonio's squad to hang with pretty much any team in the country. To be honest, it's a shame we probably won't get to see Michigan State and Wisconsin play each other this season. Hopefully that won't be the case for a Spartans-Buckeyes matchup, which is what it looks like we are headed towards for the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
Coach Bill Mallory, former head coach of Miami (Ohio), Colorado, Northern Illinois, Indiana and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
I think Michigan State is a better team than Wisconsin at this point in the season. Michigan State has made tremendous strides offensively since the season began. Their defense has been dominant the entire season. I think that is where they are better than Wisconsin, and now that their offense is playing well, I would have to choose Michigan State over Wisconsin to be the No. 2 team behind Ohio State.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Michigan State. Wisconsin has played a slightly tougher schedule with Arizona State and Ohio State, but the Badgers lost both of those games. The Spartans boast the nation's best defense — one that is achieving at historic levels. But it's the development of the Spartans' offense that makes this team the second-best in the Big Ten. Sparty is averaging over 30 points per game in the Big Ten because of the play of quarterback Connor Cook, and the emergence of tailback Jeremy Langford. Wisconsin is an excellent team with excellent balance on both sides of the ball, but on a neutral field in a cornfield, I am taking the Spartans to win.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Easy call on that one: Michigan State. And the only reason Michigan State is No. 2 to Ohio State is because the offense isn’t quite as dynamic as others in the league. That said, Michigan State is greatly improved on that side of the ball since the start of conference play. The Spartans are averaging 5.6 yards per play in conference games, a yard more than in the non-conference season. That’s mainly due to improvement in the passing game, but the defense is so good Michigan State can afford to have the seventh-best offense in Big Ten games. You want some perspective on Michigan State’s defense? The Spartans allow 210.3 total yards per game. Most teams allow more than that in just one phase of the game: 98 teams allow more passing yards per game alone; 19 teams, including three in the Big Ten, allow more than 210 yards per game rushing. Because of the defense, Michigan State is the clear No. 2 right now and the only team with a shot of knocking off Ohio State.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com and Crystal Ball Run
Michigan State seems to have found their offensive identity in recent weeks, which may put them over the edge right now in the battle for number two in the Big Ten. There is a lot to like about Wisconsin with their running game and their underrated defense, but right now the Spartans are the more complete package. No team in the Big Ten plays as good a defense as the Spartans. Michigan State has allowed just 12 touchdowns this season and they have forced 16 turnovers. When you have more turnovers than touchdowns allowed, that sort of speaks for itself at this point in the season, although the Badgers are not that far off (13 TDs allowed, 12 turnovers forced). Michigan State struggled on offense early on but now that they seem to be playing better on that side of the football, with Jeremy Langford leading the ground game and Connor Cook stabilizing the passing game recently, the Spartans are now the biggest threat to Ohio State’s undefeated championship plans.
The Heisman is but one award, and one award isn’t enough to contain the best of college football.
While we love prognosticating who will win college football’s most coveted individual trophy, we also love the glut of postseason awards that go to each position, each with a nod to the game’s history from Davey O’Brien and Doak Walker to Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe to Ray Guy and Lou Groza.
Everyone tracks the progress in the Heisman race, but Athlon Sports will try to keep an eye on who will take home college football’s positional awards.
Here’s our look at the “other” trophies through the ninth week of the season.
Davey O’Brien (Top quarterback)
Our leader: Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Oregon’s Marcus Mariota was ailing against Stanford, but Stanford’s pass rush was suffocating. Winston may finish the week as the Heisman and Davey O’Brien frontrunner after the out-of-character game by the Oregon quarterback. Of course, Winston is plenty deserving. He’s second in the nation to Bryce Petty passing efficiency and yards per attempt.
Others: Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Florida State’s Marcus Mariota, Baylor’s Bryce Petty
Doak Walker (Top running back)
Our leader: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey
Carey has rushed for 1,072 yards and 10 touchdowns in seven games as Arizona is a surprise at 6-2. Carey is the only player in the country averaging better than 150 rushing yards per game.
Others: Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews, South Carolina’s Mike Davis, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Boston College’s Andre Williams.
Biletnikoff (Top wide receiver)
Our leader: Texas A&M’s Mike Evans
Both Evans and Brandin Cooks have had two sub-100-yard games in the last two weeks. Evans did so in two lopsided games (and still had five catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns against Vanderbilt) while Cooks and the Oregon State passing game has struggled. Evans has 1,147 yards and 12 touchdowns on 52 catches.
Others: Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, Baylor’s Antwan Goodley, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, Baylor’s Tevin Reese, Penn State’s Allen Robinson
Mackey (Top tight end)
Our leader: Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro
The Mackey Award still hasn’t acknowledged Amaro due to his 2012 classification as a receiver. However, Amaro is third in the nation with 79 receptions along with 1,035 yards and four touchdowns.
Others: North Carolina’s Eric Ebron
Outland (Top interior lineman)
Our leader: Stanford’s David Yankey
The Cardinal’s grinding run game took control against Oregon on Thursday as Stanford rushed for 274 yards on 66 carries behind Yankey and the Stanford line.
Others: Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Baylor’s Cyril Richardson
Nagurski/Bednarik (Defensive player of the year)
Our leader: Stanford’s Shayne Skov
Skov is the leader of one of the nation’s best defenses (other than the one at Michigan State). In a Thursday night game against Oregon’s prolific offense, Skov took control, pressuring Marcus Mariota and forcing a fumble at Stanford’s 3 to end an Oregon scoring opportunity.
Others: UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Clemson’s Vic Beasley, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Missouri’s Michael Sam, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy
Lombardi Award (Top lineman or linebacker)
Our leader: Skov
Others: UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Clemson’s Vic Beasley, Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, Stanford’s Trent Murphy, Missouri’s Michael Sam, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy
Butkus (Top linebacker)
Our leader: Skov
Others: UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, Stanford’s Trent Murphy, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy
Thorpe (Top defensive back)
Our leader: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard
Dennard had an interception and a forced fumble in Michigan State’s dominant defensive performance against Michigan.
Others: Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner, TCU’s Jason Verrett
Lou Groza (Top kicker)
Our leader: Niklas Sade, NC State
Sade is 17 of 19 on field goals this season, including 5 of 6 between 40 of 49 yards.
Others: Florida State’s Robert Aguayo, Texas Tech’s Ryan Bustin, Maryland’s Brad Craddock, Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez, Oklahoma’s Michael Hunnicutt
Ray Guy (Top punter)
Our leader: Miami (Ohio)’s Zac Murphy
Murphy leads the nation at 48 yards per kick on 6.6 punts per game.
Others: Ole Miss’ Tyler Campbell, Tennessee’s Michael Palardy, Iowa State's Kirby Van Der Kamp
Freshman of the year
Our leader: Florida State’s Jameis Winston
Winston had two bad throws for interceptions against Miami, but the Seminoles still won 41-14. Winston completed 21 of 29 passes for 325 with a touchdown on a long screen pass.
Others: Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III
Coach of the year
Our leader: Baylor’s Art Briles
Baylor has only won one of its toughest four games down the stretch, but defeating Oklahoma, especially in a game where the offense started slow, signaled Baylor is as much of a national championship contender as Ohio State. Yes, that Baylor.
Others: Boston College’s Steve Addazio, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Tulane’s Curtis Johnson, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, North Texas’ Dan McCarney, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel
Broyles Award (Top assistant)
Our leader: Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi
Narduzzi may have one of the best defenses of the BCS era with numbers that stack up with 2011 Alabama, 2008 TCU and 2008 USC. Michigan State pushed Michigan back for minus-48 yards rushing to improve its rush defense to 43.4 per game. No one else averages less than 80.
Others: Baylor’s Phil Bennett, LSU’s Cam Cameron, Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt, Texas’ Greg Robinson, Alabama’s Kirby Smart
Like most hardcore college basketball fans, those of us around the Athlon Sports office like to contrast and compare.
Sure, we have strong feelings about our top 25 and league picks — and we hope we’re right — but we like picking up the other magazines and checking how other publications evaluated the same information.
Here’s how Athlon compared with other major college basketball publications including Lindy's, The Sporting News (TSN), USA Today (USA Today), Sports Illustrated, and the coaches' and Associated Press polls. Of course, Kentucky’s a popular pick, but there are plenty of places we have differences of opinion.
|4. Michigan State||1||2||2||3||2||2|
|8. Oklahoma State||9||10||10||10||12||t8|
|10. North Carolina||5||--||11||11||11||12|
|11. Ohio State||6||11||12||8||10||11|
|14. New Mexico||--||--||18||17||20||23|
|15. Notre Dame||19||21||--||24||22||21|
|25. Wichita State||15||--||16||--||16||16|
|-- Boise State||--||--||--||22||--||--|
Comparing all conference championship picks
|Atlantic Sun||Fla. Gulf Coast||Fla. Gulf Coast||Fla. Gulf Coast||Mercer|
|Big Sky||Montana||Weber State||Weber State||Montana|
|Big South||High Point||High Point||HPU/CSU||Charleston So.|
|Big Ten||Michigan State||Michigan State||Michigan State||Michigan State|
|Big West||UC Irvine||UC Irvine||Long Beach St.||UC Irvine|
|Conference USA||La. Tech||Southern Miss||La. Tech||La. Tech|
|Horizon||Green Bay||Wright State||Wright State||Wright State|
|MEAC||Norfolk State||Norfolk State||Norfolk State||Norfolk State|
|Missouri Valley||Wichita State||Wichita State||Wichita State||Wichita State|
|Mountain West||New Mexico||New Mexico||New Mexico||New Mexico|
|Northeast||LIU Brooklyn||LIU Brooklyn||Mount St. Mary's||LIU Brooklyn|
|Ohio Valley||Eastern Ky.||Eastern Ky.||EKU/SEMO||Eastern Ky.|
|Patriot||Boston U.||Boston U.||Bucknell||Lafayette|
|Southland||Northwestern St.||Northwestern St.||Northwestern St.||Northwestern St.|
|Summit||North Dakota St.||North Dakota St.||North Dakota St.||North Dakota St.|
|Sun Belt||Western Ky.||UL Lafayette||Western Ky.||Georgia St.|
|SWAC||Southern||Alabama A&M||Texas Southern||Jackson St.|
|WAC||New Mexico St.||New Mexico St.||New Mexico St.||New Mexico St.|
Let’s get this out of the way: College basketball’s opening day is a dud. It doesn’t have the pageantry of baseball or the pent-up anticipation for football. For the most part, the matchups are lackluster. Not even every team starts on the same day.
That said, college basketball may have the most interesting first two months. Showcase games on neutral courts. Non-conference games in opposing gyms. And preseason tournaments that give us unexpected matchups.
The best part is that they all mean something. These are the games that will show up in NCAA Tournament resumes come March.
These are the best games of the early portion of the season or at least through December when the conference challenges begin.
1. Michigan State vs. Kentucky (Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m., ESPN)
*in Chicago (Champions Classic)
The talk of Kentucky becoming the first undefeated team in college basketball since 1975-76 Indiana will be ramped up if the Wildcats can defeat Michigan State. The Wildcats’ freshmen are supremely talented, but this will still be their fifth game together against a veteran Michigan State team with national title ambitions of their own.
2. Duke vs. Kansas (Nov. 12, 9:30 p.m.m ESPN)
*in Chicago (Champions Classic)
Gobs of talent for both teams, but a ton of newcomers who haven’t played together before. For most, this will be the first time we see the Jayhawks’ Andrew Wiggins in a college uniform (Kansas opens with Louisiana-Monroe today). Wiggins have is work cut out for him on both ends of the court against Duke’s versatile small forwards — Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and freshman Jabari Parker — who will be making their first big splashes, too.
3. Ohio State at Marquette (Nov. 16, 1 p.m., Fox)
How good would this game be if Deshaun Thomas and Vander Blue — both of whom left school early and didn’t make NBA rosters — stayed in school. Even so, Ohio State and Marquette have plans to win their respective conferences. Marquette’s Davante Gardner will face a team still finding its way on the glass while Ohio State’s Aaron Craft will be up against a freshman point guard.
4. Florida at Wisconsin (Nov. 12, 9 p.m., ESPN2)
Wisconsin never played at full strength last season as Josh Gasser missed all year with an injury. Meanwhile, the Gators have major roster concerns. Dorian Finney-Smith, Damontre Harris and Scottie Wilbekin are suspended. Will Yeguete and Eli Carter are hurt. Michael Frazier is sick with mono. That leaves perhaps only four scholarship players visiting the Kohl Center.
• Michigan vs. VCU (Puerto Rico Tipoff semifinal, Nov. 22)
• Connecticut vs. Indiana (2K Sports Classic final, Nov. 22)
• Oklahoma State vs. Michigan State (Coaches vs. Cancer final, Nov. 23)
• North Carolina vs. Louisville (Hall of Fame Tipoff final, Nov. 24)
• Baylor vs. Gonzaga (Maui Invitational semifinal, Nov. 26)
• Baylor vs. Syracuse (Maui Invitational final, Nov. 27)
• Arizona vs. Duke (NIT final, Nov. 29)
• Kansas vs. Tennessee (Battle 4 Atlantis final, Nov. 30)
• Creighton vs. Marquette (Wooden Legacy final, Dec. 1)
Arizona has a young team, led by freshman Aaron Gordon, but the Wildcats believe they can contend for the Final Four. San Diego State is rebuilding without do-it-all guard Jamaal Franklin, but the Aztecs bring in a big-time transfer in Josh Davis from Tulane who should keep San Diego State in Mountain West contention.
6. Colorado vs. Baylor (Nov. 8, 10 p.m. Fox Sports Net)
Two non-traditional teams meet for the real gem of college basketball’s opening night. Colorado has hopes for a third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance even without rebounding machine Andre Roberson. The absence of Roberson will be an intriguing storyline against 7-foot-1 Baylor sophomore Isaiah Austin and senior Cory Jefferson.
7. Marquette at Arizona State (Nov. 25, 9 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Arizona State may be a bubble team this season, but the Sun Devils will have one of the Pac-12’s most dynamic players in Jahii Carson. This continues an interesting first month for Marquette before it tries to win the reconfigured Big East. Buzz Williams has been able to replace key players with great success before, but he’ll have a good idea of where he stands this season before Thanksgiving.
8. Georgetown vs. Oregon (Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m., ESPN)
*in Pyeongtaek, South Korea
It’s a shame both teams won’t be close to full strength when the Hoyas and Ducks face each other in the Armed Forces Classic in South Korea. Oregon point guard Dominic Artis and forward Ben Carter will miss nine games due to NCAA violations. Georgetown lost Greg Whittington to a torn ACL in July. Still, Oregon recently learned Houston transfer Joseph Young will be able to play immediately along with UNLV transfer Mike Moser.
9. St. John’s vs. Wisconsin (Nov. 8, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network)
*in Sioux Falls, S.D.
St. John’s returns nearly its entire roster from last season while adding five-star freshman Rysheed Jordan and getting God’sgift Achiuwa back from a redshirt. The Red Storm are considered a dark horse in the Big East, but they won’t be under the radar if they can defeat Wisconsin on the first day of the season.
10. Arizona State at UNLV (Nov. 19, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
UNLV is rebuilding without No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett plus mainstay Anthony Marshall and transfer Mike Moser. There’s still plenty of talent for Dave Rice to make a run in a depleted Mountain West. Keep an eye on two quick point guards: Carson for Arizona State and junior college transfer Deville Smith for UNLV.
11. Iowa State at BYU (Nov. 20, 9:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has another team that could be led by a transfer with the arrival of Marshall statsheet-stuffer DeAndre Kane. BYU’s Tyler Haws will be one of the nation’s leading scorers (and lip-synchers).
12. Purdue vs. Oklahoma State (Nov. 28, noon, ESPN2)
*Old Spice Classic
The Old Spice Classic starts with a matchup between and Oklahoma State team with Final Four potential against a Purdue team trying to work its way up the Big Ten standings.
13. Tennessee at Xavier (Nov. 12, 9 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
A lack of quality non-conference wins hurt Tennessee’s bid to be in the NCAA Tournament under Cuonzo Martin. Xavier might not be a major trophy, but it’s not a game the Volunteers would like to have on the NCAA resume.
14. Xavier vs. Iowa (Nov. 28, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
*Battle 4 Atlantis
Xavier and Iowa missed the NCAA Tournament last season, but both expect to be in the field in 2014. Semaj Christon (Xavier) and Roy Devyn Marble (Iowa) are names you need to know.
15. VCU at Virginia (Nov. 12, 7 p.m., ESPN2)
VCU’s havoc faces Virginia’s plodding offense and Joe Harris. A nice clash of styles early in the season.
Thursday night drama never really occurred until Oregon blocked a field goal in the fourth quarter agains Stanford. Before that, the drama was a sloppy first half in Waco.
The biggest drama Thursday night offered was an upending the 2013 landscape.
A national championship contender was born.
Another championship contender fell out of contention.
The Heisman favorite stumbled.
And one team still is kicking itself for losing to Utah.
Three Things We Learned from Baylor 41, Oklahoma 12
Baylor is in the BCS title mix. Baylor won its first test against a ranked team this season and did so with ease after the first 22 minutes or so. No question, the Bears’ schedule right now pales in comparison to Alabama, Ohio State or even Stanford. But on Thursday Baylor proved opportunistic on offense, solid on defense and grinding in the run game when it was necessary. No, it wasn’t pretty early. Bryce Petty was out of sorts in the first quarter, and Baylor trailed 5-3 at one point. But after Oklahoma mismanaged the end of the first half, Baylor rolled, even with with backup personnel. The Sooners’ attempt to throw Baylor off guard with a quarterback platoon of Blake Bell and Trevor Knight was a disaster, helped by the Baylor defense. The Bears held Oklahoma to 3.4 yards per play and picked up two turnovers. With Oregon’s loss and Ohio State’s lackluster competition this season, Baylor deserves to be in the BCS championships discussion as long as the Bears are undefeated.
End-of-half management doomed the Sooners. Aggressive playcalling may have spelled the end for Oklahoma. Trailing 10-5, Oklahoma got the ball with 7:02 left in the first half and starting running an up-tempo offense. Two minutes of game time later, Oklahoma moved the ball only 34 yards and punted. Baylor scored in less than two minutes. On the ensuing drive, Blake Bell was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage. Baylor scored again to take a 24-5 halftime lead. Between that and the decision to rotate Bell and Knight, expect Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel to face questions for the remainder of the season.
The Baylor offense is a thing of beauty. Boy, this was ugly early. Once it got going, though, Baylor proved it could obtain and hold a lead in a variety of ways even with secondary personnel. Petty completed only half of his passes, but he rushed for 49 yards with two touchdowns on top of three passing touchdowns, and this was with Tevin Reese out for much of the game with a wrist injury. With Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin sidelined, third-string running back Shock Linwood ran out the clock with ease, rushing for 180 yards and 23 carries and showing the moves of a top-flight running back.
Three Things We Learned from Stanford 26, Oregon 20.
Stanford is cursing Pac-12 expansion. After the first quarter one thing was clear: Utah’s 27-21 win over Stanford on Oct 12 is the most puzzling score of the season. If Stanford doesn’t lose for the remainder of the regular season it will be as out-of-left-field a loss as Oklahoma State’s loss to Iowa State in 2011 or West Virginia’s loss to Pittsburgh in 2007. Oregon made things interesting with a blocked field goal and a recovered fumble on the ensuing kickoff in the fourth quarter, but otherwise this was as impressive a win over a quality team as we’ve seen this season. Simply put, Stanford is Oregon Kryptonite now. Even with the late flurry, Oregon has scored 34 points on Stanford in two seasons. Only LSU in 2011 has held the Ducks to fewer in a single game in the last three seasons.
Marcus Mariota wasn’t himself, and Stanford’s defense helped. Oregon’s offense has had its setbacks. Tight end Colt Lyerla left the team. Wide receiver Josh Huff was hurt through the course of the loss to Stanford. And Marcus Mariota with a knee injury never looked comfortable. He ran the ball only six times, including three sacks, and fumbled twice. Playing without defensive end Ben Gardner, though, Stanford’s front seven was furious. Linebackers Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley kept Mariota in the pocket and off balance all night as the rest of the defense didn’t let Oregon’s offense get free in the open field. Oregon didn’t have a play longer than 26 yards Thursday after having 35 plays of 30 or more yards this season.
Stanford’s identity is its offensive line. Stanford had one of the best offensive lines in the country when Andrew Luck was there, and replenished that with outstanding recruits. This season, the experience showed. Stanford has four seniors on its line, plus one of those star recruits in left tackle Andrus Peat. Kevin Hogan made plays when he needed, completing 7 of 13 passes for 103 yards, but the run game was the star of Thursday night. Tyler Gaffney kept the Oregon offense off the field late by rushing for 157 yards on a school-record 45 carries. Behind Outland contender David Yankey, Stanford converted 14 of 21 third downs.
No. 13 LSU visits No. 1 Alabama in yet another installment of the “Game of the Century.” It marks the fourth meeting between the two SEC powerhouses in two calendar years to the week. This rivalry has elite national championship coaches, stacked rosters of future NFL stars and a rich history.
Before LSU and Alabama gets kicked off on 8 p.m. ET Saturday night (CBS), here is a tasty pregame meal in the form of important, bizarre and historic statistics:
6-1: LSU’s record in the last seven visits to Tuscaloosa
Alabama leads the overall series 47-25-5, has won two straight and four of the last six. However, LSU has won six of the last seven in Tuscaloosa in a series that has seen the road team achieve a bizarre level of success. In fact, the road team has won 11 of the last 17 meetings overall between these two SEC West powerhouses. LSU outlasted Alabama 9-6 in overtime the last time these two got together in Tuscaloosa (2011). Nick Saban is 4-3 against Les Miles since coming to Alabama.
78 and 115: Total TDs allowed by Alabama and LSU since 2009
Since the start of the championship era at Alabama under Nick Saban (2009), Alabama is leading the nation with 78 total touchdowns allowed on defense (62 games). LSU is No. 2 in the nation with 115 total touchdowns allowed on defense (62 games) over that same span. Over the last five seasons, that makes these the toughest two defenses to score on in the nation.
207.3: Odell Beckham Jr.’s SEC-leading all-purpose yards per game
Beckham has been a big-play machine for the Tigers all season and will be a pivotal player come Saturday night. He is second in the nation only to Antonio Andrews of Western Kentucky (227.2 ypg) in all-purpose yards per game. Beckham averages 21.2 yards every time he touches the ball and he gets his hands on it 9.8 times per game. Against an Alabama secondary that has some holes, Beckham and fellow wideout Jarvis Landry will have to come up big in the vertical passing game. Beckham has caught 48 passes for 1,009 yards and eight touchdowns on 21.0 yards per catch and has over 700 yards in the return game — including this ridiculous play:
495.7: Yards allowed per game by LSU in road SEC games this year
LSU is No. 3 in the SEC and No. 22 nationally in total defense, allowing 351.7 yards per game in 2013. The Tigers are No. 5 in the SEC and 31st nationally in scoring defense at 21.9 points allowed per game. But in road SEC contests, this unit has been suspect to big plays and big yards. In three conference road games this year, the Bayou Bengals defense is allowing 495.7 yards per game and 32.3 points per game. Georgia and Ole Miss are solid offensive teams but LSU shouldn’t give up 468 yards to Mississippi State no matter where they play.
26: Points allowed by Alabama in six games since playing Texas A&M
The Crimson Tide has yet to allow more than 10 points in a game since giving up 42 to Johnny Manziel in College Station in Week 3. Nick Saban’s club shutout both Ole Miss and Arkansas while allowing 10 points to Tennessee, seven to Kentucky and six to Colorado State. Alabama has allowed two touchdowns in six games and is allowing 4.3 points per game since facing the Aggies.
57.8%: LSU’s SEC-leading third-down offense
Third downs will be critical for both teams, as usual, and the Tigers’ offense has been excellent on the important down all season. LSU is leading the SEC and is second nationally only to Louisville (63.4%) by converting 57.8 percent of its third down chances (57-of-99). It won’t be that easy for LSU, however, as Alabama is leading the SEC in third-down defense. It allows opposing teams to convert on third down just 29.5 percent of the time (seventh nationally). Meanwhile, Bama is No. 2 in the SEC in third-down offense (50.4%) while LSU is 61st nationally in third-down defense (38.4%).
33-2: AJ McCarron’s record as a starter
Alabama’s quarterback may never get the Heisman consideration he likely deserves but his ability to win games is unquestioned. He has won 12 straight games, including his second BCS national title last year. His .943 winning percentage is fourth all-time in NCAA history for quarterbacks with a minimum of 30 starts behind only Oklahoma’s Steve Davis (.956), Miami’s Ken Dorsey (.950) and USC’s Matt Leinart (.949). Having said that, both of McCarron’s losses have come at home and one came at the hands of the LSU Tigers the last time they visited The Capstone. Overall in three games against the Tigers, the Bama signal-caller has thrown for 598 yards on 59.5 percent passing (53-of-89) with one game-winning touchdown pass and one interception.
177.07: Zach Mettenberger’s QB rating
Only Johnny Manziel (185.01) has been more efficient throwing the football this season in the SEC than Mettenberger. His 177.07 passer efficiency is a marked improvement from a year ago when he ranked 11th in the SEC at 128.34. His 276.9 yards passing per game are No. 2 to Manziel as well. However, he has struggled of late. Mettenberger has just one touchdown pass in his last two SEC games and has five interceptions in his last two games overall. With an advantage over Alabama on the outside with wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, Mettenberger becomes the most pivotal player on the LSU offense this weekend. He must play like he did against Georgia (372 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) not Ole Miss (274 yards, TD, 3 INTs).
0: Alabama and LSU players ranked in the top 10 in sacks in the SEC
Freshman A’Shawn Robinson is leading Alabama with 4.0 sacks on the season and is 11th in the SEC. Star nose tackle Anthony Johnson and cornerback Jalen Mills are tied for the LSU team lead with 3.0 sacks this season. It is almost shocking that neither team has a player ranked in the top 10 in the SEC in QB sacks. The Tigers, as a team, have been better at pressuring the quarterback, ranking fifth in the SEC with 20.0 sacks this year. Alabama, however, is 12th in the SEC with just 11.0 sacks on the season. This means Mettenberger may have some time to make big plays with his powerful right arm.
Minus-0.22: LSU’s turnover margin
The Tigers are 12th in the SEC, ahead of only Georgia and Arkansas, in turnover margin in 2013 at minus-0.22 per game. LSU is 88th nationally with just 12 forced turnovers (6 INT, 6 FR) and is 57th nationally with 14 giveaways on the season. Meanwhile, Alabama is No. 2 in the SEC with a plus-0.63 margin per game and No. 3 nationally with just seven turnovers all season. Bama has one turnover in its last two games while the Tigers have given the ball up six times in their last two games.
Week 11 of the 2013 college football season should play a huge role in shaping the national title picture. With Oregon-Stanford and Oklahoma-Baylor on Thursday, and LSU-Alabama on Saturday, the top 10 could look quite a bit different on Sunday morning.
Even if there are no upsets in the big games this weekend, expect plenty of surprise outcomes from around the nation on Saturday.
Athlon’s editors are back with another edition of the upset picks, and there are plenty of teams on alert this week.
The favorites can't win every game each week, so it's no surprise one of the most popular discussion points every Saturday is upset picks. Each week on AthlonSports.com, the editors will give an upset pick for the upcoming week of action.
College Football Week 11 Upset Predictions
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): Nevada (+9.5) over Colorado State
There are few upset picks that I like this week, but the 9.5 spread caught my attention in this game. Nevada is struggling in the first year under coach Brian Polian, but is Colorado State really 10 points better? The Rams rank last in the Mountain West in pass defense, allowing 309.6 yards per game. Nevada should be able to take advantage of Colorado State’s secondary, especially with quarterback Cody Fajardo and a receiving corps that has three players over 39 catches. Nevada’s defense isn’t much better than Colorado State, as the Wolf Pack rank last in the Mountain West in total yards allowed. The Rams’ rushing offense will test Nevada’s front seven, which has been gashed for 6.4 yards per carry this year. Nevada has never won in Fort Collins, but with both teams averaging over 30 points a game in Mountain West play, this one should be much closer than the spread indicates. And I’ll give the Wolf Pack a slight edge, as Fajardo scores late for the victory.
Mark Ross: Oklahoma (+15) over Baylor
Baylor fans certainly can't say their team isn't getting any respect. A 15-point favorite over the No. 10 team in the nation? If anything, I am taking this one somewhat on principle, as I just don't see the Bears beating the Sooners by more than two touchdowns. While that doesn't mean I don't think Baylor can't beat OU, especially at home, I am going to take the Sooners here because of their defense. Oklahoma is 10th in the country in total defense and has had just one really bad game, the loss to Texas in the Red River Rivalry. Yes, Baylor is putting up ridiculous numbers on offense (first in the nation in yards, points and passing) and doing a very good job on defense (15.9 ppg), but the Bears haven't really played anyone either.
Baylor's toughest game so far was at Kansas State, which the Bears won by just 10 points. Including the Wildcats, Baylor's schedule has featured six FBS teams that have a collective average of 64.2 in terms of total offense national rankings. Contrast that to Oklahoma, who has played eight FBS teams that have a collective national offensive ranking of 39.9. Both teams have played and beaten Kansas, Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia. Baylor's other wins are against Buffalo, Iowa State and Kansas State, while Oklahoma claims victories over Tulsa, Notre Dame (on the road), TCU and Texas Tech. Baylor has yet to play the toughest part of its schedule and by the end of Thursday night, I think there will be one fewer undefeated team in college football.
David Fox (@DavidFox615): BYU (+7.5) over Wisconsin
Wow, this is an odd game. A big-time nonconference opponent heading into Big Ten territory in early November. In many ways, this is a game the Badgers don’t need right now. Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and linebacker Chris Borland are banged up. Running back Melvin Gordon is coming off a season-low 62 yards against Iowa, a game the Badgers didn’t really pull away to win until Hawkeyes starting quarterback Jake Rudock was hurt. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen is plenty familiar with BYU, but only to a degree (also, he’s 1-3 against Bronco Mendenhall). BYU has installed one of the fastest offenses in the country this season that’s just hitting its stride. The Cougars amassed 681 yards on 115 plays against Houston and 568 yards on 91 plays against Houston. Throw-in Kyle Van Noy on defense, and this is an awfully tough matchup on both sides of the ball for Wisconsin, possibly the toughest matchup since a loss to Ohio State.
Stephen Schindler (@SteveSchindler): Virginia Tech (+6.5) over Miami
The Hurricanes just lost their best offensive weapon in RB Duke Johnson for the season last week against Florida State. That will be disastrous for an offense that revolves around the No. 2 rusher in the ACC. Johnson has racked up 920 yards and six touchdowns on the season. While Dallas Crawford is a good replacement, he lacks the electric explosiveness of Johnson. The Hokies have lost two straight, but still boast a very good defense that is ninth in the country in points allowed at 16.9. Miami really doesn't enjoy a standard college homefield advantage, thus I don't expect the crowd noise to be a factor. Logan Thomas has been inconsistent this year, but he has played well against the Hurricanes in his career as he threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns in the Hokies' 2011 win and rushed for over 100 yards last year. This is a huge game in the Coastal Division of the ACC and will likely determine who will play Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. I like Beamer Ball to come out on top in this one.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall): BYU (+7.5) at Wisconsin
The Badgers consistently struggled with talented and dual-threat quarterbacks. And BYU's Taysom Hill is right next to Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel in terms of raw physical ability. Wisconsin is welcoming back star linebacker Chris Borland but his nagging hamstring injury will be challenged by Hill's ability to run and throw. Additionally, coaches Bronco Mendenhall and Gary Andersen know each very well having coached against each other four times. BYU and Mendenhall won three of those. The Cougars have been challenged all season while the Badgers have played only a couple of tough games — both losses. And the crowd in Madison won't respect BYU like it should and could arrive late and find itself a non-factor.
It’s rare to see a Thursday night game with national title implications, but that’s the case this week, as Oregon travels to Stanford for a Pac-12 North showdown. The Ducks rank No. 3 in the latest BCS standings, and a win over the Cardinal could be enough to push Oregon back to No. 2. With Florida State looking more and more impressive, there’s some pressure on the Ducks to win impressively.
However, Stanford certainly isn’t going to go quietly, as the Cardinal is still trying to keep their faint BCS title hopes alive. With one loss, Stanford has no room for error the rest of the way.
Although the national title is the No. 1 goal for both teams, the winner of this game should lock up a spot in the Pac-12 title game.
These two teams met last season, with Stanford winning 17-14 in Eugene. The loss knocked the Ducks out of the national title picture and allowed the Cardinal to play (and win) the Pac-12 Championship in late November.
Stanford owns a 45-30-1 series edge over Oregon. The Ducks and Cardinal have each claimed two out of the last four meetings. However, Oregon has won nine out of the last 11 matchups, including two by a combined score of 105-61 from 2010-11.
Oregon vs. Stanford
Kickoff: 9 ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Oregon -10
Three Things to Watch
Controlling the tempo
The Ducks want to play fast, while the Cardinal want to slow things down. Which tempo will win out on Thursday night? In last year’s meeting, Stanford dominated the time of possession (37:05 to 22:55). Controlling the clock isn’t a necessity, but the Cardinal gained at least 30 yards in each of their final three possessions last season. Did Stanford wear down a defense that was depleted by injuries in the trenches? Oregon is in better shape in the injury department this season, and through five conference games is holding opponents to 131.6 yards per game. The Ducks are limiting rushers to just 3.4 yards per carry in Pac-12 action, and opponents have managed just four rushing scores. In order to Stanford to win, it has to establish the run and keep Oregon’s offense off the field. Running back Tyler Gaffney has three consecutive 100-yard efforts and averaged 7.8 yards per carry against the Ducks in 2011. Gaffney isn’t the only capable rusher for Stanford, as Anthony Wilkerson has 207 yards this year, and quarterback Kevin Hogan is a dual-threat option. Shortening the game by establishing the run is a huge key to Stanford’s win chances on Thursday night.
Oregon’s passing attack vs. Stanford’s secondary
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has been nearly flawless in 2013. The sophomore is considered by most to be the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy and has thrown for 2,281 yards and 20 touchdowns in eight games. Mariota has fumbled twice this year but has yet to throw an interception. The sophomore’s last interception came 293 attempts ago against Stanford last season. The Cardinal rank ninth in the Pac-12 (conference-only games) against the pass, but this unit has picked off eight passes and will present a challenge for Mariota and his receivers. Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards form one of the nation’s best safety duos, while cornerback Alex Carter is a budding star. The Ducks have six players with at least 11 receptions, with Josh Huff and Bralon Addison each averaging at least 16 yards per catch. And those totals don’t include running back De’Anthony Thomas, who has only six catches due to injury. Mariota is one of the nation’s most efficient passers, but this matchup will be his toughest test of the year. Stanford’s pass rush (27 sacks) will be disruptive, and top-notch secondary won’t allow Addison and Huff to run free.
Stanford’s defensive line
Disrupting Oregon’s offense starts at the line of scrimmage. The Cardinal are allowing only 85.3 rushing yards per game in Pac-12 action this season, but the Ducks’ bring an experienced (and talented) offensive line to the Farm on Thursday night. Stanford’s line depth took a hit with a season-ending arm injury to end Ben Gardner, but this unit should get senior Henry Anderson back in the mix. With Anderson, Josh Mauro and David Parry in the starting lineup, Stanford has more than enough talent to win the battle up front. However, depth is a concern here, and Oregon’s up-tempo attack can take a toll on opposing defenses. The Ducks average 317.2 rushing yards per game, and three running backs – De’Anthony Thomas, Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall – will see time on Thursday night. Will Stanford’s defensive line win the line of scrimmage battle? Or will the Ducks’ rushing attack get on track after running backs Kenjon Barner and Thomas recorded only 109 yards in last year’s matchup?
Key Player: Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
It’s easy to list the quarterback as a key player, but Stanford needs Hogan to be at his best on Saturday night. In last year’s matchup, he threw for 211 yards on 25 completions and ran for 37 yards. The Cardinal doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards, but Hogan has to eliminate any mistakes and needs to make a few plays with his legs. The sophomore didn’t play particularly well against Oregon State (88 yards), and a similar performance could spell trouble for Stanford. Receiver Ty Montgomery is a gamebreaker, but the Cardinal should regain the services of Devon Cajuste, who did not play against Oregon State due to injury. Having Cajuste back in the lineup will only help Hogan in the passing game.
Top-10 matchups (see Florida State-Miami) don’t always live up to the hype. But this showdown between Oregon and Stanford should be a good one. The Ducks have revenge on their mind from last season and have to win to keep pace with Florida State in the national title picture. Stanford’s offense will control the tempo early on, but Mariota makes a couple of key plays in the fourth quarter that propels the Ducks to a huge road victory.
Prediction: Oregon 31, Stanford 24
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Nov. 7.
• I didn't watch the CMA Awards, but Carrie Underwood's legs make me sorta wish I had.
• The Martin-Incognito story is in the process of flipping toward Incognito, partly because of this essay. My hot sports take: There's blame on all sides. Including the Dolphins, given Jeff Ireland's suggested solution.
• Speaking of Instagram, photo-posting star Paulina Gretzky apparently caught on fire last night. Keep an eye on your fiancee, Dustin.
• A Blackhawks fan grabbed a unique souvenir. Lesson: Always be alert when a player's head busts through the glass.
• Blockbuster is shutting the rest of its stores. The big news here is that Blockbuster still had stores open.
• I usually don't get political here at Essential 11, but this is funny: Old 1990s websites that work better than the Obamacare website. My favorite on the list: the Heaven's Gate cult site, apparently still live and working better than the ACA site.
• Today's video is pretty touching: Aaron Rodgers delights then duets with a girl with spina bifida.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Each week, Athlon Sports will highlight some of the best one-on-one matchups to watch in college football. Here are the most important games within the game to watch this weekend:
Marcus Mariota, QB vs. Shayne Skov, LB (Oregon at Stanford, Thurs.)
There is no doubt the best player in the nation will be on full display against Stanford. Mariota’s Heisman hopes and BCS national title hopes hang in the balance as he seeks revenge for the only loss in his career. His offense was held to regular-season lows in yards (405) and points (14) in the 2012 home loss while he was held to a career-low one total touchdown. He must be better than 21-of-37 passing (207 yards, TD, INT) to win on The Farm. Charged with stopping the Ducks' complex and diverse offense is the leader of the Cardinal defense. The team’s leading tackler (7.8 per game) posted 10 tackles and 1.0 TFL in the upset win in Eugene last year but Skov means so much more to this team than just stats. His recognition skills will be tested the most by the zone-read-pass-run option Mariota brings to the table. One bad read and Oregon will make you pay in a big way. The pressure is on the Cardinal linebackers and Skov in particular this week.
Avery Patterson, CB vs. Ty Montgomery, WR (Oregon at Stanford, Thurs.)
Offensively, David Shaw wants to run the football and keep Oregon’s offense off the field. Everyone including Mark Helfrich knows this. Fans can bet that Nick Aliotti will scheme to stop Tyler Gaffney and the Cardinal O-line, forcing Kevin Hogan to make plays down the field. It falls to star wideout and big-play specialist Montgomery to stretch the defense. He has posted at least one catch of 30 yards in six of eight games and has two kickoff return touchdowns of at least 99 yards.
LSU's "other" WR vs. Alabama’s “other” CB (LSU at Alabama)
Senior Deion Belue is an established veteran at one cornerback spot in the Alabama secondary. The other starter will be either sophomore Bradley Sylve or true freshman Eddie Jackson. These young corners will be facing an LSU offense that features two elite wide receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. There will be times when Sylve and/or Jackson will be matched up with an All-America-caliber receiver — no matter which wide receiver Belue is charged with checking.
Anthony Johnson, DT vs. Ryan Kelly, C (LSU at Alabama)
LSU’s great players will have to play great on Saturday night. Johnson is the best player on a defense that has given up 400-plus yards in four of its last five SEC games. The Tigers need their big man to be disruptive on the interior of the defensive line. Kelly has missed time this season due to injury but is back in the lineup. He has never taken a snap against LSU in his career, so how he performs early against Johnson will be key for Alabama.
Frank Shannon, LB vs. Lache Seastrunk, RB (Oklahoma at Baylor, Thurs.)
Kansas State held Seastrunk to 59 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry, both season lows. Not coincidentally, Baylor was held to nearly 20 points off its scoring average for the year. Oklahoma’s run defense has been gouged at times this season, most notably against Texas. Seastrunk isn’t Baylor’s only weapon in the Bears’ prolific offense, but he does set the tone. Shannon has been banged up the last few weeks but the Sooners' leading tackler is back to full strength to face the explosive running back. This is a critical matchup for Oklahoma as only Kansas State has slowed the Bears' running game — and it nearly led to an upset.
Aaron Colvin, CB vs. Tevin Reese, WR (Oklahoma at Baylor, Thurs.)
Even if Oklahoma contains running back Lache Seastrunk, Baylor can still sneak its speedy receivers behind opposing defensive backs. Reese and Antwan Goodley both average better than 23 yards per catch with eight touchdowns apiece. Colvin is the savvy veteran while redshirt freshman Zack Sanchez has been a revelation this season as an intimidating hitter in the secondary.
Kyle Fuller, CB vs. Stephen Morris, QB (Virginia Tech at Miami)
With running back Duke Johnson sidelined for the rest of the year due to an ankle injury, the Hurricanes will probably ask Morris to shoulder more of the offensive workload. The senior completed 16 of 28 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State last week but also threw two interceptions. After struggling with an ankle injury earlier in the year, Morris looked closer to 100 percent in last week’s game. However, Morris has another tough assignment ahead this week, as Virginia Tech’s secondary ranks as one of the best in the nation. The Hokies are led by seniors Fuller and Antone Exum at cornerback, but freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller have combined for nine picks this year. With wide receiver Phillip Dorsett sidelined, Morris and Allen Hurns should be the go-to combination against Virginia Tech’s suffocating secondary.
Taysom Hill, QB vs. Chris Borland, LB (BYU at Wisconsin)
Marcus Trotter played very well in place of Borland last weekend in Iowa City, but there is no replacement for one of the best players in school history. And with an explosive, dual-threat quarterback coming to town, Badgers fans better hope Borland’s hamstring is fully healthy. BYU’s Taysom Hill is 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, has 953 yards of total offense in his last two games and is coming off a bye week. This will be a difficult challenge for the stingy Badgers defense.