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Ranking college football teams is a thankless job — I get that. Be that as it may, it's still a job, and one of the most important there is in college football. The rankings drive the narrative. They're what give us marquee matchups and the perception of quality wins. Without them, we have nothing to measure teams with or against.

 

For that reason, it's important to keep a close eye on how the voters are ranking the teams. Here are a few things I noticed in the college football polls after the fourth week of the season.

 

Miami keeps climbing, but why?

The Hurricanes have shown up in this column for three straight weeks and will continue to do so until I can nail down what exactly it is about them that makes the voters swoon. They had the weekend off. They literally played air, and that was good enough to slide up one spot in the AP Top 25 and five spots in the Amway Coaches Poll. In both polls, they are one spot ahead of Nebraska, which has knocked off Oregon and Northwestern in back-to-back weeks. Meanwhile, Miami's three wins this season are over Group of Five or FCS opponents with a combined record of 3-9.

 

OU-t of sight, OU-t of mind

Just like I said it would go down last week, Oklahoma — like Miami — was idle, yet still fell out of the AP Top 25. Sure, the Sooners are 1-2, but those two losses are against top-10 teams. This is where we see a lack of consistency in the polls. If Oklahoma falls even though it doesn't play, why does Miami get a bump for not playing? Something is fishy here.

 

Forget about a Rocky Mountain High, the voters have Georgia on their minds

We were all trying to figure out what to make of Georgia this year. Well, after Ole Miss blew the fur off the Bulldogs this past Saturday, I certainly have a better idea of what Georgia is about. As a result, the Dawgs took significant hits in both major polls, but also remained in the top 25 of each. At first glance, that seems legit. But then, in the "others receiving votes" category of both polls, Colorado is hanging around unranked. The Buffaloes have the same record as the Bulldogs, and their only loss was a barn-burner at Michigan. Based on their body of work, it would appear the Buffaloes deserve Georgia's spot in both polls.

 

Boise State is back (almost)

For the first time in 2016, the most prestigious program in the Group of Five has cracked the AP Top 25. Three wins over FBS schools — including two over the Pac-12 — helped the Broncos crash the party. But over in the Amway Coaches poll, Boise State still resides in the "others receiving votes" section, looking up at the likes of North Carolina, Florida, San Diego State and Texas. You could make the argument that none of the four has a better overall body of work than the Broncos.

 

Come back every week as I take a closer look at some questionable outcomes in the polls.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
College Football Poll Watch: Miami Up, Oklahoma Out and Boise State is Back
Post date: Monday, September 26, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /golf/greatest-golfers-all-time
Body:

He hadn't struck a meaningful shot in many years — aside from the ceremonial tee shots that launched each Masters — but Arnold Palmer remained the world's most important golfer until the day he died, and his legacy will live on as long as there's televised golf. In fact, were it not for Palmer, you wouldn't be reading this list, and golf would still be struggling to gain a foothold on the American sports landscape.

 

The King has his rightful place high on this list, and most of the others who join him here owe him a debt of gratitude for the mammoth purses and endorsement opportunities that followed in his wake. Our No. 1 player, Tiger Woods, had this to say via Twitter: "It's hard to imagine golf without you or anyone more important to the game than the King."

 

As for this ranking, it's hard if not impossible to compare players across different eras in any sport. In golf, it's doubly so, given the game's equipment advances and changing conditions of golf courses over the years.

 

In compiling this ranking, I used two primary criteria: achievement and impact. Who won important golf tournaments, and who transcended the game while doing so? You'll notice that today's superstars — Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day — are missing, but as their achievements accumulate, they'll no doubt force their way into future rankings. Stay tuned.

 

Here, then, are the 20 men who have had the greatest careers and most lasting impact on the game of golf. Feel free to tell me where I’m wrong.

 

20. Greg Norman
The star-crossed Norman is better remembered for his spectacular failures than his successes, but we can't overlook his 20 career PGA Tour wins and his 331 weeks spent as the world's No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Rankings. A little better luck and a little more clutch play and he would have seven or eight major wins instead of two (1986 and 1993 British Opens). 

 

19. Cary Middlecoff
Middlecoff set aside a career in dentistry to become one of the greatest players of all time, challenging Ben Hogan and Sam Snead for world supremacy in the late 1940s and 1950s. Won 40 times on the PGA Tour, including three majors.

 

18. Vijay Singh
His career might be tainted on the front end by cheating allegations and on the back end by association with performance-enhancing drugs, but it's hard to deny Vijay a spot in the golf pantheon. He's won 34 times on the PGA Tour, including two PGA Championships and a Masters win.

 

17. Billy Casper
The Big Three — Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player — dominated the golf headlines in the 1960s, but the unassuming Casper was as good as anybody in his era. Casper won 51 PGA Tour events, seventh all time, and earned three majors, including the 1966 U.S. Open, where he denied Palmer a coveted win.

 

16. Ernie Els
With four majors — two U.S. Opens and two British Opens — the Big Easy is a legitimate challenger for the title of second-best player of the Tiger Woods era. His smooth, easy swing is the envy of hackers from here to Johannesburg and has led him to 19 PGA Tour victories.

 

15. Walter Hagen
The flamboyant Hagen was the first ultra-successful touring pro and raised the stature of the lowly pro golfer substantially in an era when amateurs like Bobby Jones ruled the sport. Hagen won 11 professional majors — two U.S. Opens, four British Opens and five PGAs — to set a record that would stand until the 1960s, and he also won five Western Opens during a time when that tournament was essentially a major.

 

14. Nick Faldo
Sir Nick dominated world golf for a time at the expense of chief rival Greg Norman, whom he drubbed in a memorable British Open showdown in 1990 and beat in the 1996 Masters following Norman's epic collapse. Faldo won six majors — three Masters and three British Opens — and earned 30 wins on the European Tour while providing a steadying influence on five Ryder Cup-winning teams.

 

13. Lee Trevino
The Merry Mex got a lot out of an unorthodox, self-taught game, winning 29 PGA Tour events and six majors. Four times, Trevino denied Nicklaus at a major championship, adding to his legend as one of the few players who could stare down the Golden Bear. Trevino also brought an unprecedented level of working-man appeal and humor to the Tour, although, as he said, "I played the tour in 1967 and told jokes and nobody laughed. Then I won the Open the next year, told the same jokes, and everybody laughed like hell."

 

12. Byron Nelson
For a few months in 1945, Byron Nelson played better than anyone ever has. That year, Lord Byron won 11 tournaments in a row, including the PGA Championship. When you consider that Payne Stewart won 11 tournaments in his career and is considered one of the all-time greats, you get a sense of the magnitude of that accomplishment. More than one-fifth of Nelson’s 52 career wins came courtesy of the Streak. And lest we dismiss the accomplishment on the basis of inferior competition, remember that Sam Snead was nearing his prime and a young Ben Hogan was making a name for himself. For one incredible spring and summer, Lord Byron invented and patented The Zone. For the year, Nelson won a staggering 18 events and was named AP Athlete of the Year. For his career, he was the game's greatest gentleman.

 

11. Seve Ballesteros
Maybe we loved him because we could identify with him. We were often hitting out of the woods, from bunkers, from parking lots, just like he was. The difference? Seve Ballesteros would often make a birdie from the woods, or the bunker, or the parking lot, and he’d do it with a style and grace that was impossible not to admire and envy. Almost two decades before Tiger Woods, Ballesteros exploded onto the scene as a precocious 19-year-old, finishing tied for second with the great Jack Nicklaus at the 1976 British Open at Royal Birkdale. Having fashioned his game by hitting rocks on the beaches of Pedrena, Spain, with a homemade 3-iron, Ballesteros was ready to attack any lie, any condition, any circumstance, making him ideally suited for the demanding conditions at Britain’s links courses.

 

His three British Open titles were triumphs of courage and ingenuity. His 1979 Open title at Royal Lytham and St. Annes was punctuated by a birdie for the ages from the parking lot. His 1984 title at the Old Course at St. Andrews denied Tom Watson his third consecutive Open and fourth in five years. His 1988 title was, in retrospect, the climax of his playing career and featured one of the great final rounds in golf history. His 65 that day included an 11-hole stretch in which Ballesteros made two pars, two bogeys, six birdies and an eagle. It took a chip shot on the final hole that nudged the flagstick to turn back Nick Price. In all, Ballesteros won five majors, adding two Masters titles to his three British Opens, while collecting 65 titles worldwide. His magical short game led him to six European Tour Vardon trophies for low scoring average.

 

But in assessing Ballesteros’ career, we can’t overlook his larger impact on golf. Seve was more than a great player. He was Europe’s version of Arnold Palmer, putting a sport on his back and selling it to an entire continent. Almost singlehandedly, Seve made the Ryder Cup an event, transforming a low-key, American-dominated series of exhibitions into one of the greatest spectacles in sports. In fact, Seve’s finest hour may have come not with a golf club in hand, but a walkie-talkie. Because of his legacy and influence, the Ryder Cup was held for the first time on mainland Europe in 1997, at Spain’s Valderrama Golf Club. As non-playing captain, Seve was the fire that ignited the European team against a heavily favored American team. Ballesteros, one of the greatest match-play golfers in history, willed his team to an historic win without firing a shot.

 

The Ballesteros File
• Winner of five major championships (2 Masters, 3 British Opens)
• Winner of 50 European Tour events, six European Tour Vardon Trophies for low scoring average
• Earned 20 Ryder Cup points in 37 career matches

 

10. Phil Mickelson
Tagged from the beginning as the Next Nicklaus, Mickelson has always lived with massive expectations, some of them self-imposed, and Phil's failures are almost as celebrated as his many successes. But there have been plenty of successes — 42 PGA Tour wins (ninth all time) and five majors, including three Masters. He's also recorded a record six runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open, but that only adds to his everyman appeal. His jaw-dropping 66 in the final round of the 2013 British Open on baked, windswept Muirfield joins the ranks of the greatest rounds in major championship history and vaults Phil the Thrill into our top 10. As long as he continues to play the U.S. Open, hope remains alive for a career Grand Slam, which would be a remarkable achievement for a guy who suffered through countless crushing disappointments just to win his first major.

 

The Mickelson File

• Winner of five major championships (3 Masters, 1 British Open, 1 PGA Championship)

• One of only 8 players with as many as three Masters wins

• One of only 15 men to hold at least three legs of the career Grand Slam

• Runner-up at the U.S. Open a record six times

• 20 top-3 finishes, 35 top-10 finishes at major championships

• Winner of 42 PGA Tour events, 9th all time

• Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012

• Remains last amateur to win on the PGA Tour (1991 Northern Telecom Open)

 

No. 9: Gene Sarazen
It’s a shame, really, that Gene Sarazen is remembered primarily for a single shot, when he meant so much more than that to the game. But what a shot it was. It was his first Masters, 1935. He trailed Craig Wood by three shots on the final day when he came to Augusta’s No. 15, a par-5 that is reachable in two shots. His tee shot left him some 220 yards from the flag. The story goes that as he stood in the 15th fairway, he turned to his caddie, Stovepipe, and said, “Should I play it safe?” “Noooo. Go for it,” was Stovepipe’s response. Knowing he needed to get the ball in the air to carry the small creek guarding the front of the green, Sarazen pulled out his 4-wood and promptly made history, holing his shot for a double eagle that put him in a playoff with Wood, which he won. And Bobby Jones’ little gathering in Augusta was never the same.

 

Sarazen won his first professional title at the age of 19 and never looked back, winning 37 more times in a career that spanned more than four decades. He became the first member of golf’s modern Career Grand Slam club with his Masters win, which he added to his two U.S. Open titles (1922, 1932), his three PGA Championships (1922, 1923 and 1933) and his 1932 British Open win. After 66 years, only four other players — Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods — have joined that elite group. He even impacted the way the game is played. Sarazen is widely credited with the invention of the sand wedge in the early 1930s.

 

The Sarazen File
• Winner of seven major titles and a career Grand Slam
• Owner of 38 career PGA titles
• Inventor of the sand wedge
• AP Male Athlete of the Year in 1932
• Won his second U.S. Open (1932) by playing the last 28 holes in an incredible 100 strokes in one of the great performances in golf history
• Struck the Shot Heard Round the World, his 4-wood that nestled in the hole for a double eagle at Augusta National’s No. 15

 

8. Gary Player
Before Seve Ballesteros, before Greg Norman, before Ernie Els, there was Gary Player, golf’s first great international ambassador. Before the diminutive South African packed his wife and kids and a few suitcases and set out on his five-decade international odyssey, golf was primarily dominated by British and American players. Then along came the little man in black. Over a career than began in the mid-1950s, Player has logged more air miles than the Space Shuttle, and he has saved many of his greatest achievements for his trips to the States.

Using an unprecedented commitment to physical fitness (for golf, anyway) and an unmatched work ethic, Player has fashioned a remarkable career that has seen him win well over 150 tournaments worldwide, including nine major championships. He is one of only five players to own all four of golf’s modern majors, and one of only four players — Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo are the others — to have won the Masters and the British Open three times apiece.

 

Augusta was the scene of his greatest win. It was 1978, and Player hadn’t won a major championship in four years. His career seemed to be in decline, and he found himself seven shots out of the lead heading into the final round of the Masters. The 42-year-old Player proceeded to catch fire. Playing well ahead of the leaders, Player blistered Augusta National with a final-round 64, then waited as the leaders faltered down the stretch, giving him his third green jacket. His 64 remains the greatest final-round Masters performance in history, matched in drama only by Nicklaus’ sixth Masters title eight years later.

 

The Player File
• One of five players — Jack Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods are the others — to own a career Grand Slam.
• One of four players — Nicklaus, Woods and Nick Faldo are the others — to have won the Masters and British Open three times each.
• Recorded wins on the PGA or Senior Tours in a record five decades — the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

 

7. Tom Watson
Watson won eight majors and dominated golf’s oldest tournament, the British Open, like no one else, winning five times in a nine-year span and coming close to a historic sixth win in 2009 at age 59. Like Trevino, he won four memorable duels with Jack Nicklaus in major championships, including the 1977 British Open, the greatest head-to-head duel in golf history. Watson and Nicklaus so distanced themselves from the rest of the field on that baked, windswept surface that Hubert Green, who finished third, remarked, “I won the tournament I was playing. I don’t know what tournament they were playing.” For the weekend, Nicklaus shot 65-66 — and lost. Watson’s 65-65 gave him his second British Open title.

 

In 2009, Watson was the beloved elder statesman at the British Open at Turnberry, the sentimental choice of an emotional and appreciative crowd that very nearly willed him to the most improbable win in the history of golf’s most storied tournament. But instead of Nicklaus accompanying him down the 18th fairway, he had four days of fatigue, crushing pressure and the hopes of a watching world weighing him down. Standing over the eight-foot par putt that would have provided an improbable capper to his Hall of Fame career, his 59-year-old nerves finally betrayed him. “It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn't it? It would have been a hell of a story,” he said. “It wasn’t to be. And yes, it’s a great disappointment. It tears at your gut, as it always has torn at my gut. It’s not easy to take."

But Watson's triumphs far outnumber his disappointments. His Augusta exploits are overshadowed by his dominance at the British Open, but between 1975 and 1988, no one was better at The Masters — two wins, three runner-ups and 12 top-10 finishes. He outdueled Nicklaus at the 1982 U.S. Open on the strength of one of the greatest shots in golf history — his chip-in on the 71st hole that led to a two-shot win, perhaps the most satisfying of his 39 career wins.

 

The Watson file
• 39 career PGA Tour wins, including eight major championships
• 5 British Open wins, trailing only Harry Vardon
• 6-time PGA Tour Player of the Year
• Made at least one cut per year from 1971–2007, a streak of 37 years.

 

6. Bobby Jones
In the Golden Age of sports, nobody shone brighter than Bobby Jones. Not Babe Ruth, not Red Grange, not Jack Dempsey. From 1923-30, a nation that was truly embracing sports on an epic scale watched in awe as Jones won everything in sight. Then, having no more worlds to conquer, he walked away from competitive golf, at age 28. No sports legend accomplished more in a shorter period of time, and no sports legend walked away at such a young age.

 

A golf prodigy at age 14, Jones really didn’t find his game until the ripe old age of 20, when he began his remarkable run. He took the 1923 U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff, then ripped off another 12 majors before calling it a career. His record of 13 major championships would stand for 40 years, before a youngster named Nicklaus came along.

 

Obviously, Jones’ crowning achievement came in 1930 with his unprecedented and so far unduplicated Grand Slam. That year, Jones, bore the incredible weight of expectations. Fans and media fully expected him to sweep the majors, which at the time included the U.S. and British Opens and the U.S. and British Amateurs. His run to the Slam almost ended before it began, as Jones sweated out three one-up matches in the British Amateur. He won the British Open by two strokes, then took the U.S. Open by a similarly slim margin.

 

Only one leg was left, and it was the easiest. Jones waltzed to the U.S. Amateur Championship amid a contingent of Marine bodyguards, and the Slam was his. Less than two months later, Jones retired from competitive golf, his legend secure.

 

But his contributions to the game didn’t end. A few years later, he organized a gathering of friends that came to be known as the Masters. Jones was a fixture at Augusta each spring, but his golf was confined to the friendly kind. The Georgia Tech and Harvard graduate instead practiced law in Atlanta.

 

His later years were unkind. He suffered from syringomyelia, a painful and crippling disease that confined him to a wheelchair and finally ended his life on Dec. 18, 1971. The legendary golf writer Herbert Warren Wind eulogized him this way: “As a young man, he was able to stand up to just about the best that life can offer, which is not easy, and later he stood up with equal grace to just about the worst.”

 

The Jones file
• Winner of the 1930 Grand Slam — the U.S. and British Opens and U.S. and British Amateurs
• Played in 31 majors, won 13 and finished in the top 10 27 times
• Founder of Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters

 

5. Ben Hogan

Brooding, temperamental, focused — Ben Hogan was not a charismatic figure who rallied the masses to follow the game a la Arnold Palmer. Instead, he was all about golf shots. The Hawk remains the greatest shotmaker golf has ever produced. Rather than relying on today’s technologically advanced equipment, Hogan used an uncanny ability to control the flight of his ball to win nine majors — and a greater percentage of majors entered than even Jack Nicklaus. To  Hogan, “the Hawk,” “Bantam Ben,” who was 5’7”, 140 pounds when he was at the peak of his game, striking a ball well was more important than scoring.

 

Hogan’s life was one struggle after another. The early years, when Hogan couldn’t control the hook. The later years, when he battled back from a terrible 1949 auto crash that nearly killed him. But he never gave in or gave out until suffering a major stroke after his mind and his body had been ravaged by Alzheimer’s and colon cancer.

 

Others played a golf course; Hogan studied it. He didn’t write down yardages. He interpreted them. “I have to feel a shot,” he said. He squinted from under that familiar white hat, surveyed the land, reached into a bag held by a caddy usually afraid to utter a word and then made that flat, repetitive swing.

 

He is one of five players to win all of the Grand Slam events. In 1953, he became the first to win as many as three majors in one year, the Masters and both Opens. He didn’t enter the PGA that year, fearing his legs weren’t up to the challenge. The ’53 British Open at Carnoustie, the only British Open he entered, would be his last major.

 

Hogan’s last tournament was the 1971 Houston Champions International. Playing poorly, bothered by a sprained knee, 58-year-old Ben Hogan walked off the course during the first round and never played again. “I liked to win,” Hogan said, “but more than anything I loved to play the way I wanted to play.”

 

The Hogan File
• Winner of 64 PGA Tour events, including 9 majors
• One of five players to possess a modern career Grand Slam
• Only player to win Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in same year
• Also a towering figure in equipment manufacturing and golf instruction

 

4. Arnold Palmer

There have been better players with prettier swings. But there has never been a more important golfer than the King, Arnold Palmer. He quadrupled purses, brought golf away from the country clubs and into our living rooms, and assembled an Army of devoted followers. He won — and lost — with more flair than any other athlete.

 

From 1958 to 1968, Palmer reigned amid the azaleas and pines of Augusta National, where Arnie’s Army first mustered. With the lone exception of 1963, he was in contention at every Masters during that epic stretch, winning four times, finishing second twice, third once and fourth twice.

 

Although he made his reputation at The Masters — and made the tournament what it is today — it was the 1960 U.S. Open that truly captured the King at the peak of his powers. The leaderboard on that final day included a chubby 20-year-old amateur named Jack Nicklaus. It included a legend — the Hawk, Ben Hogan. The third member of this historic trio lit a cigarette, stalked to the tee of the 318-yard, par-4 first hole at Cherry Hills and drove the green on his way to a historic final-round 65, erasing a seven-stroke deficit for the greatest comeback in Open history.

 

The Palmer File
• 60 PGA Tour wins
• 7 Major Championships
• 4-time PGA Tour money champ
• 1st PGA Tour millionaire
• 15 consecutive years with at least one victory

 

3. Sam Snead
If winning is the standard for determining excellence, there is no greater player in golf history than Sam Snead. Using a smooth, syrupy swing that looked as natural and effortless as breathing, Slammin’ Sammy won more golf tournaments than any other player — a staggering total of 81 PGA Tour titles, and anywhere from 135 to 165 victories worldwide, depending on whom you ask. He posted wins in four different decades, from the 1936 West Virginia Closed Pro to the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open (his eighth title in that event), when he was 52 years old.

Snead won three Masters, including a 1954 playoff triumph over friend and rival Ben Hogan. He won three PGA Championships and a British Open.

 

There is one hole in the Slammer’s résumé that prevents him from staking a legitimate claim to being the greatest player in history. Somehow, Snead never won the one tournament that seemingly should have been his by birthright. He never won a U.S. Open. But his near-tragic failures at the Open do not diminish his accomplishments.

 

His swing was such an efficient device that it served him well into his golden years and remains the gold standard for golf swings. In 1979, he offered golf fans one final glimpse of his greatness, as he became the first player to score below his age, shooting 67 and 66 in the Quad Cities Open at the age of 67. By then, and for the rest of his life, Snead was a beloved ambassador and advocate for the game.

 

The Snead File
• A record 82 PGA Tour wins, spanning 1936 to 1965
• Seven major championships, including three Masters and three PGA Championships
• Oldest player to win, make a cut and shoot his age in PGA Tour history
• Posted top 10s in majors in five different decades

 

2. Jack Nicklaus

Nicklaus brought out greatness in his opponents — Palmer, Player, Watson, Trevino. But more importantly, he made golf a greater game through his physical skill and strength, his mental toughness, his sustained level of excellence and his genius for strategically dismantling golf courses around the world.

 

You know the litany of accomplishments. 18 major championships, more than Hogan and Palmer combined. A mind-boggling 37 top twos in majors.

 

And lest we think the Tour of the 21st Century outshines the Tour in Jack’s prime, consider this: Nicklaus fought many of the game’s greatest at their very peak and beat them all. And when he didn’t beat them, he coaxed their very best out of them.

 

As if to prove the point, at age 46, Nicklaus was able to muster enough of his old-time wizardry to outduel names like Ballesteros, Kite, Norman — all of them at the peak of their powers — to win his sixth Masters in 1986 in one of the greatest sports moments of all time.

In his golden years, the Golden Bear has continued to shape the game with his prolific golf course design company. 

 

The Nicklaus File
• Winner of 73 PGA Tour events, including a record 18 major championships
• Winner of a record six Masters
• Finished in top 5 in majors a record 56 times, in the top 10 a record 73 times
• Posted lowest scoring average on Tour eight times
• Won PGA Tour money title eight times
• Won at least two PGA Tour events in 17 consecutive seasons (1962-78)

 

1. Tiger Woods

In April 1997, Woods began a trajectory that led him directly to the top of this list. He so dominated the most storied and tradition-steeped tournament in golf that the sport was changed forever. We all remember the Masters-record 18-under par total that Woods shot in his first Masters as a pro. We remember his incredible 12-shot margin of victory. (Runner-up Tom Kite’s 282 total would have been good enough to win 17 previous Masters, but it only got him within 12 shots of Tiger.) We remember the way his mammoth drives turned the par-5s into pitch-and-putts. What many people don’t remember about the 1997 Masters is how badly Tiger started the tournament. On the front nine on Thursday, Woods went out in 40, leaving him 4-over par. That, apparently, is when the stars aligned and the golf gods smiled. Over the next 63 holes, Woods swept through Augusta National like a tornado, toying with the course and demoralizing the greatest players in the world. 

 

Tiger’s runaway, far from putting a crimp into the television ratings, instead gave golf its greatest ratings winner to date. In 1996, before Woods turned pro, the ratings were 9.2 on Sunday. In 1997, when Woods won, the number jumped to 14.1.

 

The rest, as they say, is history — 14 major championships, 79 PGA Tour wins, the lowest career scoring average in PGA Tour history, 10 Player of the Year awards, and, yes, scandal and disgrace. But the impact and the level of achievement are undeniable and unprecedented. Quite simply, at his best, Woods has played the game better than it's ever been played. 

 

The Woods File
• 79 PGA Tour wins, second all-time to Sam Snead
• 14 major championships, second all-time to Jack Nicklaus
• Only player ever to win four consecutive majors
• Lowest scoring average in PGA Tour history
• Scoring average of 67.79 in 2000 the lowest single-season average in Tour history
• PGA Tour Player of the Year a record 10 times

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Counts Down the Best in the Game's History</p>
Post date: Monday, September 26, 2016 - 10:05
All taxonomy terms: Life
Path: /buzz
Body:

Buzz Aldrin, 86, is an American icon. On July 20, 1969, he landed on the moon as NASA’s Apollo 11 Lunar Module pilot. The next day, he became the second man to walk on the moon’s surface. Since then, the former Korean War fighter pilot has received countless medals and awards, earned his doctorate from MIT and been “to infinity and beyond” as the inspiration for Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear. We caught up with Aldrin to talk about space… and life.

 

The future of NASA…
We went from NASA previously being an advisory agency. And then, to get to the moon, it had to become an operation agency. Now we’re finding that the private sector can do many things better than the government. Maybe we need to do more advising corporations’ commercial activities in space, and participate in that, too.

 

Working together as a planet to explore space, rather than competing as national space programs…

You certainly don’t compete, you cooperate. You have to. I’m doing the best I can to provide input into NASA. I have a little feel for strategy, being with the program and familiar with military strategy and policy and nations. We have to alleviate things with Russia by connecting back in space. We should be open to trying to do that with the Chinese. Because doing that is something that is right — above the atmosphere.

 

Surrounded by greatness…
I got to know people. (Billionaire and aerospace engineer) Howard Hughes, (Medal of Honor recipient and aviation pioneer) Jimmy Doolittle. I knew (U.S. senator and astronaut) John Glenn in Korea. He was a captain, years before. These were inspiring people.

 

Life advice…

Envision the image of somebody walking into the future with their arms spread out, encountering as many opportunities as they can find, examining them, testing them, trying them, and then pick the ones that you can make the best contribution, and they can make a contribution to you. Not just a flash in the pan, but something that is permanent. And if you get into trouble in any different way, ask for help. Because you’ll find that when you help somebody else, you feel better about helping them. And you may need the same help from somebody else one of these days.

 

Final thoughts…

Aim high. No dream is too high with your eyes in the sky.

 

Space-Age Wisdom

Aldrin has authored nine books, his most recent being 2016’s No Dream is Too High (co-author Ken Abraham). These are the 13 tenets of the philosophy of Buzz.

 

“The sky is not the limit … There are footprints on the Moon!”

 

“Keep your mind open to possibilities.”

 

“Show me your friends, and I will show you your future.”

 

“Second comes right after first.”

 

“Write your own epitaph.”

 

“Maintain your spirit of adventure.”

 

“Failure is always an option.”

 

“Practice respect for all people.”

 

“Do what you believe is right even when others choose otherwise.”

 

“Trust your gut … and your instruments.”

 

“Laugh … a lot!”

 

“Keep a young mindset at every age.”

 

“Help others go beyond where you have gone.”

 

Teaser:
NASA astronaut and author Buzz Aldrin talks space travel and life on Earth.
Post date: Monday, September 26, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: syndicated, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/monday-morning-observations-three-fantasy-takeaways-sundays-games-week-3-2016
Body:

Thankfully for fantasy owners, Week 3 was not nearly the injury bloodbath that Week 2 was. With the games going fairly close to as predicted, fantasy experts could breathe a little sigh of relief. Sure, there were some disappointments (Carson Palmer), but overall, the guys that we thought would succeed did well. However, that doesn't mean there aren't any storylines to head into Week 4.

 

The Philadelphia Eagles

What's more surprising: Ryan Mathews gave fantasy owners negative points in a 34-3 blowout victory or the fact that Carson Wentz is 3-0 heading into the Eagles’ bye week? Going into the season, Wentz wasn't even going to be the starter. Sam Bradford was set to be the starting quarterback with Wentz and Chase Daniel backing up him up. But Bradford was traded to Minnesota before Week 1 after Teddy Bridgewater got hurt, and the Eagles decided to turn the reins over to Wentz. Three wins later, Eagle fans and fantasy owners can see why.

 

No longer can the excuses be that the wins were against the poor, winless Browns and Bears. Philadelphia’s defense is a solid unit (held the Steelers to three points), and Wentz did his part with 301 passing yards and two touchdowns. In all three starts, Wentz has looked like a solid, capable NFL quarterback. He has no turnovers yet this season. As a rookie, he's going to take his lumps (the Vikings in Week 7 looks to be a tough matchup), but he has shown promise. For fantasy owners, he's a solid QB2 and may be a bye week replacement.

 

As for Mathews? He somehow got replaced by Wendell Smallwood in Week 3, and it's not clear why. Look for the practice reports this week to see if there was an injury Mathews was dealing with that was not announced. However, his owners should be concerned. Darren Sproles led the team in receptions and receiving yards and Kenjon Barner had more touches than Mathews. Something must be going on, but it will take time to figure out exactly what.

 

The Replacements

Week 2 was brutal for running backs, but fantasy owners knew early in the week that they would be without their starting running back for Week 2. How did the replacement running backs fare in Week 3?

 

Jerick McKinnon: 16 carries for 45 yards, one reception for two yards

Matt Asiata: six carries for 15 yards, one reception for four yards

Fozzy Whittaker: five carries for 22 yards, five receptions for 34 yards

Cameron Artis-Payne: 12 carries for 47 yards, one reception for 11 yards

Jay Ajayi: seven carries for 28 yards, one touchdown

Kenyan Drake: nine carries for 37 yards, two receptions for 11 yards

Dwayne Washington: 10 carries for 38 yards, one reception for -3 yards

Charles Sims: 13 carries for 55 yards, one touchdown, six receptions for 69 yards

 

Overall, none of the replacements did anything to take over the starting job once the starter is able to return (either this season or next year), but it is only one game. The best of the bunch is Charles Sims, but when Doug Martin returns, the job should still be his. Out of this group, fantasy owners were likely disappointed in any of the running backs they started (or spent a significant amount of their FAAB money on).

 

In looking to Week 4, these guys will be carrying the ball for their respective teams again. It's too early to make any early indications, but don't be fooled by Ajayi's touchdown. Sure, it was the game-winning score, but it wasn't enough to move him out of the timeshare situation in Miami. In Carolina, despite Whittaker's stat line, Artis-Payne was the starter and the go-to running back, although he didn't do anything to ensure more carries. In Minnesota, McKinnon had more touches and was on the field more than Asiata. Both have limited value. The bottom line is, none of these guys are must-owns if fantasy owners have needs elsewhere.

 

Top DST: Minnesota Vikings?

At the beginning of the season, the Minnesota Vikings DST was likely not drafted. After Week 1, many fantasy owners picked them up, chasing a two-touchdown performance. However, depending on the league's scoring, Minnesota is just one of two DSTs (Philadelphia) that have scored double-digit fantasy points all three weeks.  The Vikings haven't allowed more than 16 points and they are scoring them on defense – eight sacks, three interceptions, a safety and a punt returned for a touchdown on Sunday against Carolina.

 

The Vikings DST is 85 percent owned at this point, however, if they are still available, they are worth picking up. The schedule is great: home to the New York Giants and the Houston Texans before the bye. After the bye Minnesota is at Philadelphia and Chicago before coming home to face Detroit. Plenty of fantasy points can be gained by this DST in the coming weeks.

 

For those in leagues where the DST is already owned, keep an eye out for players facing Minnesota. The defense is giving up the ninth-fewest fantasy points to both wide receivers and running backs.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

 

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
Monday Morning Observations: Three Fantasy Takeaways From Sunday's Games
Post date: Monday, September 26, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, syndicated
Path: /college-football/fcs-rankings-power-poll-week-5-2016
Body:

Over half of the Missouri Valley Football Conference teams took off this past weekend yet the rich got richer.

 

Western Illinois earned the conference’s fourth win over an FBS opponent this season and Indiana State held off Illinois State in the first conference matchup. Now the top FCS conference in the nation has seven teams in the Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll.

 

It was moving Saturday for many. Eastern Washington and Cal Poly also won big games in the Big Sky Conference, and the Southland Conference grabbed headlines as well.

 

Here is the Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll through the games of Sept. 24:

 

1. North Dakota State

(3-0, 0-0 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: 1

Last Week’s Result: Idle

Redshirt junior Matt Plank takes over at middle linebacker with All-American Nick DeLuca lost to season-ending shoulder surgery. Plank’s first start comes against an Illinois State team that shared each of the last two Missouri Valley Conference titles with the Bison.

Next Opponent: No. 19 Illinois State (Oct. 1)

 

2. Eastern Washington

(3-1, 1-0 Big Sky)

Previous Ranking: 2

Last Week’s Result: 50-35 win over then-No. 23 Northern Arizona

The Eagles got All-America wide receiver Cooper Kupp back from a shoulder surgery after he missed a game and a half. His return – 11 receptions, of course – helped make quarterback Gage Gubrud devastating again in their Big Sky opener.

Next Opponent: UC Davis (Oct. 1)

 

3. Jacksonville State

(3-1, 0-0 Ohio Valley)

Previous Ranking: 4

Last Week’s Result: 48-19 win over Liberty

The Gamecocks leapfrog Sam Houston State because they’ve played a much-stronger schedule. Oh yes, they did blow out the Bearkats in the FCS semifinals last season.

Next Opponent: Tennessee Tech (Oct. 8)

 

4. Sam Houston State

(3-0, 2-0 Southland)

Previous Ranking: 3

Last Week’s Result: 52-16 win over Houston Baptist

A terrific “Battle of the Piney Woods” is on tap against Stephen F. Austin this week. Bearkats quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe enters with an average of 345 passing yards and three touchdowns per game.

Next Opponent: No. 25 Stephen F. Austin in Houston (Oct. 1)

 

5. Chattanooga

(4-0, 2-0 Southern)

Previous Ranking: 6

Last Week’s Result: 41-21 win over Samford

The Mocs jumped to a 21-0 lead and were not threatened by Samford as they moved atop the SoCon standings alongside The Citadel. Those two defending co-champs have a chance to be unbeaten when they meet on Oct. 15 in South Carolina.

Next Opponent: at East Tennessee State (Oct. 1)

 

6. Western Illinois

(3-0, 0-0 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: 10

Last Week’s Result: 28-23 win over Northern Illinois

The Leathernecks beat Eastern Illinois and Northern Arizona, then ended a 15-game losing streak against the FBS. And now the schedule will really get tough – they’ll be playing Missouri Valley Conference opponents.

Next Opponent: at No. 13 South Dakota State (Oct. 1)

 

7. James Madison

(3-1, 1-0 CAA Football)

Previous Ranking: 11

Last Week’s Result: 31-20 win over Maine

Talk about a 1-2 punch in the backfield: Khalid Abdullah, who’s coming off a career-best game (175 yards), and Cardon Johnson have combined for 851 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground this season.

Next Opponent: Delaware (Oct. 1)

 

8. Richmond

(3-1, 0-1 CAA)

Previous Ranking: 9

Last Week’s Result: 38-31 win over then-No. 22 Colgate

The Spiders answered a gut-check following their blowout loss at Stony Brook. Against Colgate, senior wide receiver Brian Brown became the program’s all-time receiving yardage leader (3,178).

Next Opponent: Towson (Oct. 1)

 

9. Cal Poly

(3-1, 1-0 Big Sky)

Previous Ranking: 13

Last Week’s Result: 42-41 win over then-No. 5 Montana

Head coach Tim Walsh doesn’t duck tough schedules, even with a team picked ninth in the Big Sky Conference’s two preseason polls. The Mustangs’ amazing start includes back-to-back wins over top-10 teams (South Dakota State on Sept. 17).

Next Opponent: at North Dakota (Oct. 1)

 

10. Montana

(2-1, 0-1 Big Sky)

Previous Ranking: 5

Last Week’s Result: 42-41 loss to then-No. 13 Cal Poly

The Griz suffered a tough Big Sky-opening loss on a day in which quarterback Brady Gustafson completed 47 passes and Jerry Louie-McGhee caught 21 of them – both school records.

Next Opponent: Southern Utah (Oct. 1)

 

11. Northern Iowa

(1-2, 0-0 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: 7

Last Week’s Result: Idle

A bye week was the first thing to slow down Panthers All-American Karter Schult. He has 12 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks through the first three games.

Next Opponent: Southern Illinois (Oct. 1)

 

12. Charleston Southern

(2-2, 1-0 Big South)

Previous Ranking: 12

Last Week’s Result: 35-7 win over Monmouth

Give him the ball more: Senior running back Mike Holloway has 25 touches from the line of scrimmage for 408 yards and six touchdowns.

Next Opponent: at No. 15 Coastal Carolina (Oct. 1)

 

13. South Dakota State

(1-2, 0-0 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: 14

Last Week’s Result: Idle

Having completed their bye, the Jackrabbits will play a particularly tough schedule in October (Western Illinois, at Southern Illinois, at North Dakota State, Youngstown State and at Illinois State).

Next Opponent: No. 6 Western Illinois (Oct. 1)

 

14. The Citadel

(3-0, 2-0 Southern)

Previous Ranking: 16

Last Week’s Result: Idle

Want clutch? The Bulldogs have converted 49 percent on third down and are 8-of-9 in the red zone with seven touchdowns.

Next Opponent: at Western Carolina (Oct. 1)

 

15. Coastal Carolina

(3-1 FCS Independent)

Previous Ranking: 20

Last Week’s Result: 41-21 win over Furman

In rebounding from a loss to Jacksonville State, Coastal scored touchdowns off a blocked field goal (Kenneth Daniels, 60 yards), a punt return (Ky’Jon Tyler, 80 yards) and an interception (Alex Scearce, 31 yards).

Next Opponent: No. 12 Charleston Southern (Oct. 1)

 

16. Villanova

(3-1, 1-0 CAA Football)

Previous Ranking: 17

Last Week’s Result: 31-14 win over Lafayette

In head coach Andy Talley’s final season at ‘Nova, the first half of the schedule is much softer than what lies ahead. The Wildcats, of course, hope to send out Talley with an FCS playoff berth.

Next Opponent: at Elon (Oct. 1)

 

17. Youngstown State

(2-1, 0-0 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: 18

Last Week’s Result: Idle

With running back Jody Webb sidelined by injury, the Penguins have worked sophomore Tevin McCaster into the rotation with Martin Ruiz. The ‘Guins are averaging 294 rushing yards per game.

Next Opponent: South Dakota (Oct. 1)

 

18. Eastern Illinois

(3-1, 1-0 OVC)

Previous Ranking: 21

Last Week’s Result: 56-35 win over Austin Peay

If the Panthers are giving up 35 points to Austin Peay, you have to wonder how their graduation-depleted defense will hold up against some of the top Ohio Valley Conference offenses.

Next Opponent: at Southeast Missouri State (Oct. 1)

 

19. Illinois State

(2-2, 0-1 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: 15

Last Week’s Result: 34-31 loss to Indiana State

Yikes, with a loss at North Dakota State, the Redbirds would fall below the .500 mark just three weeks after beating Northwestern. 

Next Opponent: at No. 1 North Dakota State (Oct. 1)

 

20. Colgate

(1-2, 0-0 Patriot)

Previous Ranking: 22

Last Week’s Result: 38-31 loss at then-No. 9 Richmond

The defending Patriot League champs have played only on the road and their effort at Richmond was credible. The Spiders stymied Raiders quarterback Jake Melville (three interceptions) just a week after he passed for a career-high five touchdowns.

Next Opponent: Cornell (Oct. 1)

 

21. Albany

(4-0, 1-0 CAA Football)

Previous Ranking: 24

Last Week’s Result: 20-9 win over Saint Francis

It’s all CAA games from here for head coach Greg Gattuso’s squad. The Great Danes have a bye week to prepare for Richmond and don’t have James Madison, Towson and William & Mary on a favorable conference schedule.

Next Opponent: No. 8 Richmond (Oct. 8)

 

22. McNeese

(2-2, 1-1 Southland)

Previous Ranking: 25

Last Week’s Result: 42-35 win over Incarnate Word

It was very un-McNeese-like when the Cowboys struggled to run the ball and stop the run as they evened their conference record In a Southland that had eye-catching results this past weekend.

Next Opponent: Nicholls (Oct. 1)

 

23. Fordham

(2-1, 0-0 Patriot)

Previous Ranking: Unranked

Last Week’s Result: 31-17 win over Penn

The Rams haven’t done enough to convince anyone that they play enough defense, but any team with quarterback Kevin Anderson and running back Chase Edmonds will outscore many opponents.

Next Opponent: at Monmouth (Oct. 1)

 

24. Indiana State

(3-1, 1-0 Missouri Valley)

Previous Ranking: Unranked

Last Week’s Result: 34-31 win over then-No. 15 Illinois State

The Sycamores blew late leads against Illinois State in the last two seasons, but had a finishing touch this year. Sophomore quarterback Isaac Harker has been red hot.

Next Opponent: Missouri State (Oct. 1)

 

25. Stephen F. Austin

(3-1, 2-0 Southland)

Previous Ranking: Unranked

Last Week’s Result: 41-30 win over Abilene Christian

What a difference a year makes – this time last season, the Lumberjacks were on their way to an 0-5 start. Quarterback Hunter Taylor keeps coming off the bench to replace starter Zach Conque and help lead victories.

Next Opponent: No. 2 Sam Houston State in Houston (Oct. 1)

 

Power poll possibilities: Harvard (2-0, 0-0 Ivy), North Dakota (2-2, 1-0 Big Sky), Southern Utah (2-1, 1-0 Big Sky), Stony Brook (2-2, 1-0 CAA)

 

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

 

(Top photo by Western Illinois University Athletics)

Teaser:
Never really idle, the Missouri Valley is rolling seven (teams) in the power poll
Post date: Monday, September 26, 2016 - 09:30
Path: /life/mike-ditka-da-coach
Body:

Mike Ditka is a steely-eyed, fire-breathing folk hero. For generations, he’s inspired both rabid football fandom and light-hearted Halloween costumes alike. At 76, “Iron Mike” is an institution.

 

It’s been a remarkable football life for Ditka, who was coached by “Pistol” Pete Maravich’s dad, Press, at Aliquippa (Pa.) High School before going on to a College Football Hall of Fame career as a three-sport star (football, baseball and basketball) at the University of Pittsburgh. The 6’3”, 230-pound, tough-as-nails tight end was the fifth overall pick of the Chicago Bears in 1961 and went on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career over 12 seasons — winning championships with George Halas’ Bears (1963) and Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys (Super Bowl VI). He earned two more rings as a coach, serving as an assistant under Landry (Super Bowl XII) and cementing his own larger-than-life persona as “Da Coach” of the legendary 1985 Bears (Super Bowl XX).

 

Since leaving the NFL, Ditka has taken his no-nonsense show on the road with broadcasting gigs at NBC, CBS and ESPN, where he’s currently a contributor on SportsCenter. He’s also put together an IMDb page that includes the final episode of Cheers, a co-starring role opposite Will Ferrell in Kicking & Screaming and, of course, cameos with Saturday Night Live’s “Bill Swerski’s Superfans” of “Da Bears!”

 

Most recently, he has partnered with Life Extension to promote Mike Ditka’s Prostate PM and raise awareness during National Prostate Health Month in September. We caught up with Ditka, and he was everything you expect “Iron Mike” to be.

 

Talk about Mike Ditka’s Prostate PM…

I’m not a scientist. I don’t know. It works. It lets me get a better night’s sleep. It helps me, keeps me more regular. But there’s a lot of good products out there. I’m not trying to stick this one down your throat or anything like that. It’s a good product. You don’t want to be up all night, that’s the whole thing. I think it’s important.

 

You’re not a scientist, but you wanted to be a dentist if football didn’t work out. What kind of dentist would you have been?

A bad one. Believe me, I wouldn’t have been very good at it at all.

 

What do you think about Tom Brady’s “DeflateGate” suspension?

It’s bogus. Brady doesn’t have to cheat to win. But let me tell you what, going back as far as I remember, on cold days everybody took the footballs and rubbed that wax off of them with a solvent. Everybody did it. Why? Because it helped the quarterback grip the ball better, that’s why. You want the game to be good? Or you wanna piss around and fine people? I think the league made a big mistake with Brady.

 

What about the Washington Redskins name controversy?

That’s bogus, too. Believe me, there’s political correctness to the umpteenth degree.

 

Should the NFL expand to Europe?

American football is an American sport. I know we drew well (in London), but I think a lot of it was just the novelty. I don’t know if they’d support it on a week-to-week basis.

 

Should college football players be paid?

Do colleges make money? Okay, then you answered your question. I don’t know. I think they gave us $25 a month for laundry or something. The guys didn’t use it for laundry; my mother did my laundry. You use it for beer. When you go to college, you don’t go to get paid, you go to get a college education and to play the sport that you play.

 

If you were NFL commissioner, what changes would you implement to deal with concussions?

What changes can you make? It’s football. What, you wanna play touch football? Football is football, it’s been this way for a long time. It’s tackling, it’s physical, people get knocked out, people get hit hard. And I think that’s part of the appeal of the game to people, whether you like it or not. Probably get worse before it gets better, because guys are bigger, faster, stronger.

 

Who’s the best player you ever coached?

Walter Payton, by far. His attitude for the game. He was relentless in his pursuit of excellence. He was always trying to be the best. He was the best conditioned athlete we had. He led our team by example.

 

Who’s the best player you played against?

I played against a lot of great players. (Ray) Nitschke was tough. Gino Marchetti, Willie Wood, Herb Adderley. A lot of them are in the Hall of Fame. Dick Anderson. I can’t name them all. Jeez.

 

Who’s your favorite current player?

I like Aaron Rodgers, I really do. He’s the real deal. He’s a great leader of that football team and he’s a great example for young people. I think too many of these guys go out there now and act like a**holes.

 

The Saturday Night Live “Superfans” might have had a heart attack hearing you say Aaron Rodgers is your favorite player. What was your relationship with those guys?

They were unbelievable. They were typical Bear fans, that’s what they were. You say, “Wow. Oh yeah, we have Bear fans just like those guys.”

 

 

What about the Bears-Packers rivalry?

I don’t know if it’s the same now as it was then. I was in with the guys who started the league, (George) Halas and (Vince) Lombardi, and the great Packer teams of the ’60s. I played against those guys, beat ’em out in ’63. It’s right up the road from us. Green Bay-Chicago was meant to be a great rivalry. I don’t think there’s a better rivalry in sports.

 

You’re still beloved in Chicago. Have you had any crazy fan interactions recently?

I stay away from those people. They’re nuts. No. People are pretty good. I take my picture with people. To me, if people think I’m not normal, they’re wrong. I’m no better or any worse than anybody else.

 

Teaser:
Hall of Famer and Super Bowl champ Mike Ditka talks football, past and present.
Post date: Monday, September 26, 2016 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/atlanta-falcons-vs-new-orleans-saints-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

This decade-old rivalry will be renewed just as it was 10 years ago: in the third game of the season, in the Superdome and on “Monday Night Football.” It also marked the formal return of the Saints to New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. That contest showed the rest of the NFL that the Saints intended to serve as more than just a feel-good story. They throttled their divisional foe en route to the NFC South title and the franchise’s first appearance in the conference championship game.

 

The Saints have played the Falcons more than any other opponent. Atlanta leads the overall series 49-45. However, these two have evenly split the games played in New Orleans with 23 wins apiece. The Saints have won the last two meetings against the Falcons.

 

New Orleans head coach Sean Payton has enjoyed a great deal of success against Atlanta. Under Payton, the Saints have won 15 of the 20 meetings. New Orleans also has swept both biannual games versus Atlanta in six of his 10 seasons leading the Black and Gold.

 

Atlanta at New Orleans

 

Kickoff: Monday, Sept. 26 at 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Saints -3

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Saints’ defensive performance in Week 2: the start of improvement or a mirage?
The Saints’ secondary did not frighten anyone going into the season, partially because it includes two undrafted rookies, Ken Crawley and De’Vante Harris. Then, the defensive backfield lost Delvin Breaux due to a broken fibula in the first game. P.J. Williams suffered a season-ending concussion in the first half of the second. How did this unit respond in East Rutherford, facing one of the most talented trios of wide receivers in the NFL, a group that is headlined by Odell Beckham Jr.? New Orleans’ back end forced three turnovers, while the defense as a whole yielded the fewest points in a game (16, but six of those came via a TD on a blocked field goal) since Week 9 of the 2014 season (10 vs. Carolina). Last week, the Saints did not allow an offensive touchdown for the first time since Week 3 back in 2014 (nine points allowed to Minnesota).

 

2. Can the Falcons’ weak run defense keep Saints’ running game stuck in neutral?
After two games, Atlanta ranks near the bottom of the NFL in rushing defense. The Falcons have allowed an average of 122.5 yards per game and 4.6 yards per rushing attempt. These are despite being only ranked 18th in the number of rushing attempts by opponents.

 

The Saints and their fans fantasize about merely approaching those average amounts. The combined number of rushing yards gained in two games barely exceeds the median amount of allowed yards by the Falcons. New Orleans enters this game tied for 28th in rushing offense (64.5 ypg). The Saints' offense cannot succeed if opponents do not respect the possibility of handing off the ball to a running back.

 

3. Will the Falcons be able to exploit the Saints’ placekicking woes?
The Raiders managed to put a hand on Wil Lutz’s 20-yard field goal attempt in Week 1 but the ball still wobbled through the uprights. The Giants scored the lone touchdown of the game last week by blocking his 38-yard attempt. Lutz has taken the blame, explaining that he must increase the trajectory when kicking to avoid defenders' reach. Head coach Sean Payton pointed the finger at the right interior of the line for allowing the blocked kick by New York. Kicks of such short distances should not be blocked or deflected so frequently.

 

Could the Falcons block a field goal to change the momentum in what projects to be a very close contest? It would be a turnabout of sorts considering the Saints blocked a punt for a touchdown against Atlanta in the Superdome in 2006 and ‘15.

 

Final Analysis

 

This game could prove to be the turning point of the season for the winner. It would definitely hasten the decline for the loser. A loss by Atlanta would be the Falcons’ second divisional setback in as many games. A third overall loss for New Orleans would leave the Saints falling further behind the rest of the NFC South.

 

The nostalgia of this same matchup a decade ago will keep the Who Dat Nation energized throughout the game. The primetime kickoff will allow their energy to build even more. Their boisterous animosity toward their neighbors in the NFC South will fuel ear-splitting noise. The Saints' offense subpar performance last week will motivate Drew Brees and company to pile up the yards and points.

 

Prediction: Saints 37, Falcons 31

 

— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com.

Teaser:
Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, September 26, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/10-coaching-candidates-replace-les-miles-lsu
Body:

LSU has fired coach Les Miles four games into the 2016 season. Miles was on the verge of getting fired last season but survived for another year after the Tigers defeated Texas A&M in the regular season finale. Miles was hired to replace Nick Saban in 2005 and guided the program to a 114-34 record, including the 2007 national championship. Although Miles won a lot of games at LSU, the Tigers underachieved in recent years. Despite recruiting some of the nation’s best talent, LSU was just 14-10 in SEC play from 2013-15.

 

LSU named defensive assistant Ed Orgeron as the program’s interim head coach for the rest of the 2016 season.

 

Here are 10 coaching candidates to replace Les Miles at LSU:

 

10 Coaching Candidates to Replace Les Miles at LSU

 

Art Briles, former Baylor head coach

Is Briles too toxic to be hired this offseason? It’s a fair question considering all that transpired at Baylor. On-field results certainly aren’t a problem for Briles. He went 34-28 at Houston from 2003-07 and transformed Baylor from one of the worst programs in the Big 12 to a College Football Playoff contender. During his stint with the Bears, Briles went 65-37 and guided the program to six consecutive bowl appearances.

 

Jeff Brohm, head coach, WKU

Brohm is another rising star in the coaching ranks. He’s regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the Group of 5 ranks and took over as WKU’s head coach after Bobby Petrino left for Louisville following the 2013 season. Through three years as WKU’s head coach, Brohm is 22-9 and guided the program to a 12-2 record in 2015.

 

Larry Fedora, head coach, North Carolina

Fedora is coming off an 11-3 record in 2015, which was the best record for Fedora in Chapel Hill. Under Fedora’s watch, North Carolina is 35-21 in five seasons and has guided the program to a bowl appearance in three consecutive years. The Tar Heels were ineligible for postseason play in Fedora’s first year (2012) but claimed a share of the ACC Coastal Division title. North Carolina claimed the division title outright for the first time in program history in 2015. Prior to his stint at North Carolina, Fedora went 34-19 at Southern Miss and also made stops as an offensive coordinator at Florida, Oklahoma State and MTSU.

 

Jimbo Fisher, head coach, Florida State

Fisher has already indicated it would take a lot for him to leave Tallahassee. Fisher was reportedly the top target for LSU last year if it made a coaching change. The former Nick Saban assistant coached in Baton Rouge from 2000-06 and has guided Florida State back among the nation’s elite. Since 2010, the Seminoles are 71-15 under Fisher’s watch and won the 2013 national championship.

 

Mike Gundy, head coach, Oklahoma State

It’s no secret, but Gundy is a former Oklahoma State quarterback and has been the head coach at his alma mater for 12 seasons. With that in mind, it would take a lot for Gundy to even consider leaving Oklahoma State. Gundy is one of the Big 12’s top coaches, guiding the Cowboys to a 96-49 record since taking over for Les Miles – after he left for LSU – in 2005. Gundy has guided Oklahoma State to two seasons of double-digit wins over the last four years and finished No. 3 nationally in 2011.   

 

Tom Herman, head coach, Houston

Herman is likely to be the top target of several Power 5 openings this offseason. The California native is the No. 1 rising star in the head coaching ranks and is 17-1 through two years at Houston. The Cougars were the top Group of 5 program last season and are playing their way into playoff consideration in 2016. Additionally, Herman was a standout coordinator during stints at Ohio State, Iowa State, Rice and Texas State.

 

Chip Kelly, head coach, San Francisco 49ers

Big question: Would Kelly leave after only one year with the 49ers? Kelly’s first stint in the NFL (Eagles) didn’t work out well, but he went 46-7 in four seasons with Oregon. Kelly’s dynamic offense would be a needed boost for a program that has struggled on that side of the ball in recent years.

 

Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State

Mississippi State is one of the toughest jobs in the SEC, but Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to a 57-37 mark since taking over in Starkville in 2009. Mississippi State went 5-7 in Mullen’s first season (2009) but won at least eight games in four out of the last six years. The Bulldogs went 10-3 in 2014, ranked No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff standings and finished No. 11 nationally in the final Associated Press poll. To emphasize how good of a job Mullen has done at Mississippi State – this program has just three seasons of 10 wins in school history. Mullen has one of those 10-win campaigns and also two nine-win seasons. Considering what Mullen has been able to do at Mississippi State, it’s interesting to wonder what he could do with more talent at LSU.

 

Bobby Petrino, head coach, Louisville

A longshot, but we have to mention Petrino in this space. He’s one of the nation’s best minds and play-callers on offense. Petrino is 104-39 in his coaching career, which features stops at Louisville (twice), Arkansas and WKU. Again, we think it’s a longshot for Petrino to depart Louisville – but his name will be mentioned through the rumor mill.

 

Willie Taggart, head coach, USF

Taggart is only 17-24 during his stint at USF, but after a 2-10 record in 2013, the Bulls have made steady improvement and nearly won the American Athletic East Division in 2015. Prior to taking over at USF, Taggart went 16-20 during three seasons at WKU. The Hilltoppers went 2-10 in Taggart’s first year but recorded back-to-back 7-5 records. Taggart is good recruiter and is regarded for his work on offense, including transforming USF’s offense from a power-running team to a spread in 2015.

 

Two Really Big Longshots

 

Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator, Alabama

Kiffin is going to get another shot as a head coach at a Power 5 job.

 

Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Monken inherited a mess at Southern Miss and transformed the Golden Eagles into the top team in Conference USA’s West Division in 2015. He left for the NFL last offseason.

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Weekly rankings are a big part of every college football season, and Athlon Sports will update its top 25 following the games each weekend. The first month of the season has produced several high-profile matchups, and Week 4 didn’t disappoint with Tennessee's victory over Florida, Texas A&M's win against Arkansas and Wisconsin's road upset over Michigan State. The Badgers and Aggies continue to climb in Athlon's top 25 rankings, while UCLA, Arkansas, Florida and Michigan State tumble after losses. Utah, Baylor, Colorado, Nebraska and West Virginia join the rankings following Week 4 action.

 

College Football Post-Week 4 Top 25 Rankings
 

1. Alabama (4-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat Kent State 48-0

Last Week: 1

Week 5 Opponent: Kentucky

 

As expected, Crimson Tide posted a dominant 48-0 victory over Kent State. Injuries to receiver Calvin Ridley, running back Damien Harris and cornerback Marlon Humphrey from the win over Kent State don’t appear to be serious.

 

2. Ohio State (3-0)

Week 4 Result: Bye Week

Last Week: 2

Week 5 Opponent: Rutgers

 

Buckeyes will be heavy favorites in their next two games (Rutgers and Indiana). The Oct. 15 road date at Wisconsin looks a lot tougher than it did in the preseason.

 

3. Louisville (4-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat Marshall 59-28

Last Week: 3

Week 5 Opponent: at Clemson

 

Another huge performance from Lamar Jackson leads the Cardinals to easy road win over Marshall. Next up? A showdown against Clemson.

 

4. Michigan (4-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat Penn State 49-10

Last Week: 4

Week 5 Opponent: Wisconsin

 

Wolverines dominated the line of scrimmage (and the scoreboard) in Saturday’s 49-10 victory over Penn State.

 

5. Houston (4-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat Houston 64-3

Last Week: 5

Week 5 Opponent: UConn (Thursday)

 

Revenge is on Houston’s mind with UConn – the only team to beat the Cougars last year – visiting TDECU Stadium on Thursday night.

 

6. Clemson (4-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat Georgia Tech 26-7

Last Week: 6

Week 5 Opponent: Louisville

 

Clemson’s defense dominated the line of scrimmage and never allowed Georgia Tech’s option offense to get on track.

 

7. Stanford (3-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat UCLA 22-13

Last Week: 7

Week 5 Opponent: at Washington (Friday)

 

Last-minute heroics by quarterback Ryan Burns and receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside lift Stanford to its ninth consecutive win over UCLA.

 

8. Wisconsin (4-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat Michigan State 30-6

Last Week: 11

Week 5 Opponent: at Michigan

 

Badgers score another impressive win after a dominant 30-6 victory in East Lansing over Michigan State. However, the schedule doesn’t get any easier with a trip to Michigan next Saturday.

 

9. Washington (4-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat Arizona 35-28

Last Week: 8

Week 5 Opponent: Stanford (Friday)

 

Were the Huskies caught looking ahead to Stanford? Washington needed overtime to knock off Arizona on Saturday night.

 

10. Texas A&M (4-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat Arkansas 45-24

Last Week: 14

Week 5 Opponent: at South Carolina

 

Aggies had a complete team performance in the 45-24 win over Arkansas. End Myles Garrett and safety Armani Watts led the effort on defense, while quarterback Trevor Knight guided the offense to an average of 10 yards per play.

 

11. Tennessee (4-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat Florida 38-28

Last Week: 11

Week 5 Opponent: at Georgia

 

The streak is over. Tennessee uses strong second-half performance to end 11-game losing streak to Florida.

 

12. Florida State (3-1)

Week 4 Result: Beat USF 55-35

Last Week: 10

Week 5 Opponent: North Carolina

 

Dalvin Cook finally looked like the player we expected to see in 2016. However, Florida State still has a lot of question marks to address on defense.

 

13. Michigan State (2-1)

Week 4 Result: Loss to Wisconsin 30-6

Last Week: 9

Week 5 Opponent: at Indiana

 

Turnovers and a sputtering offense too much for Michigan State to overcome in 30-6 loss against Wisconsin.

 

14. Ole Miss (2-2)

Week 4 Result: Beat Georgia 45-14

Last Week: 18

Week 5 Opponent: Memphis

 

Dominant. That’s the easiest way to describe Ole Miss’ 45-14 victory on Saturday.

 

15. Baylor (4-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat Oklahoma State 35-24

Last Week: NR

Week 5 Opponent: at Iowa State

 

Quarterback Seth Russell throws for 387 yards and four scores to lead 35-24 win over Oklahoma State in Baylor’s Big 12 opener.

 

16. Nebraska (4-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat Northwestern

Last Week: NR

Week 5 Opponent: Illinois

 

After tossing 16 interceptions last season, quarterback Tommy Armstrong has only one interception through the first four games of 2016.

 

17. Miami (3-0)

Week 4 Result: Bye Week

Last Week: 24

Week 5 Opponent: at Georgia Tech

 

Timely bye week helps Miami prepare for Georgia Tech’s option attack.

 

18. UCLA (2-2)

Week 4 Result: Lost to Stanford 22-13

Last Week: 16

Week 5 Opponent: Arizona

 

Bruins couldn’t hold onto late lead in 22-13 loss to Stanford. However, there’s no shame in losses to Stanford and Texas A&M.

 

19. Arkansas (3-1)

Week 4 Result: Lost to Texas A&M 45-24

Last Week: 15

Week 5 Opponent: Alcorn State

 

Missed opportunities in the red zone and turnovers marred Arkansas’ loss to Texas A&M.

 

20. Florida (3-1)

Week 4 Result: Loss to Tennessee 38-28

Last Week: 17

Week 5 Opponent: at Vanderbilt

 

The second half wasn’t kind to Florida in the 38-28 loss to Tennessee. The Gators couldn’t get anything going on offense, while the defense allowed the Volunteers to score touchdowns on five of the first seven drives in the final two quarters.

 

21. Colorado (3-1)

Week 4 Result: Beat Oregon 41-38

Last Week: NR

Week 5 Opponent: Oregon State

 

If there was any doubt regarding Mike MacIntyre’s coaching ability, Colorado’s start to the 2016 season should put those to rest.

 

22. San Diego State (3-0)

Week 4 Result: Bye Week

Last Week: 20

Week 5 Opponent: at South Alabama

 

Aztecs have one more non-conference trip remaining before opening Mountain West play on Oct. 8 against UNLV.

 

23. Utah (4-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat USC 31-27

Last Week: NR

Week 5 Opponent: at California

 

Quarterback Troy Williams delivered in the clutch in Friday night’s win over USC.

 

24. Boise State (3-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat Oregon State 38-24

Last Week: 25

Week 5 Opponent: Utah State

 

Broncos go 2-0 against Pac-12 teams after 38-24 win over Oregon State.

 

25. West Virginia (3-0)

Week 4 Result: Beat BYU 35-32

Last Week: NR

Week 5 Opponent: Kansas State

 

Mountaineers quietly off to a solid 3-0 start after beating BYU at FedEx Field in Week 4.

 

College Football Post-Week 3 Top 25 Rankings
 

1. Alabama (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Ole Miss 48-43

Last Week: 1

Week 4 Opponent: Kent State

 

Crimson Tide rushing attack comes alive, while defense scores twice to avoid a third consecutive loss to Ole Miss.

 

2. Ohio State (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Oklahoma 45-24

Last Week: 4

Week 4 Opponent: Bye Week

 

The Buckeyes returned only six starters this season. However, after Saturday night’s dominant 45-24 victory over Oklahoma, Urban Meyer’s team looks better team than the one that went 12-1 last season.

 

3. Louisville (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Florida State 63-20

Last Week: 13

Week 4 Opponent: at Marshall

 

Quarterback Lamar Jackson was terrific once again, but the Louisville defense was also instrumental in the blowout victory over Florida State.

 

4. Michigan (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Colorado 45-28

Last Week: 5

Week 4 Opponent: Penn State

 

Michigan’s defense held Colorado to just 18 total yards over the last seven drives in Saturday’s 45-28 victory.

 

5. Houston (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Cincinnati 40-16

Last Week: 5

Week 4 Opponent: at Texas State

 

Two interceptions returned for touchdowns and timely plays by quarterback Greg Ward propelled Houston to a big fourth quarter and a 40-16 victory over Cincinnati on Thursday night.

 

6. Clemson (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat South Carolina State 59-0

Last Week: 6

Week 4 Opponent: at Georgia Tech (Thursday)

 

Tigers cruised to an easy win over South Carolina State and may have worked out some of the kinks on offense (7.1 ypp).

 

7. Stanford (2-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat USC 27-10

Last Week: 8

Week 4 Opponent: at UCLA

 

Running back Christian McCaffrey delivers another big performance against USC to lead the Cardinal to their third win in a row over the Trojans.

 

8. Washington (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Portland State 41-3

Last Week: 7

Week 4 Opponent: at Arizona

 

As expected, the Huskies dominated their non-conference slate. There’s a looming showdown against Stanford on Sept. 30.

 

9. Michigan State (2-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Notre Dame 36-28

Last Week: 12

Week 4 Opponent: Wisconsin

 

Spartans take advantage of three Notre Dame turnovers and use 21-point effort in third quarter to earn a 36-28 victory over the Fighting Irish.

 

10. Florida State (2-1)

Week 3 Result: Lost to Louisville 63-20

Last Week: 2

Week 4 Opponent: at USF

 

The Seminoles have a lot of issues to address, but coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has plenty of time to play their way back into the playoff picture.

 

11. Wisconsin (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Georgia State 23-17

Last Week: 10

Week 4 Opponent at Michigan State

 

It wasn’t pretty, but the Badgers held off upset-minded Georgia State on Saturday. The focus shifts to conference play with a trip to Michigan State next week, but who takes the majority of snaps at quarterback after Alex Hornibrook replaced Bart Houston late in the win on Saturday?

 

12. Tennessee (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Ohio 28-19

Last Week: 14

Week 4 Opponent: Florida

 

Once again, the Volunteers weren’t impressive in a victory. However, the Volunteers are 3-0 and still in good shape to win the SEC East.

 

13. Georgia (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Missouri 28-27

Last Week: 15

Week 4 Opponent: at Ole Miss

 

Jacob Eason’s clutch touchdown toss to Isaiah McKenzie with less than two minutes remaining propels Georgia to win over Missouri. Bulldogs have won last two games by a combined three points.

 

14. Texas A&M (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Auburn 29-16

Last Week: 17

Week 4 Opponent: Arkansas (Arlington)

 

Balanced attack on offense (247 passing yards to 231 rushing) and stingy defense (4.5 yards per play allowed) guides Texas A&M to road win at Auburn.

 

15. Arkansas (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Texas State 42-3

Last Week: 20

Week 4 Opponent: Texas A&M (Arlington)

 

Hogs cruised to easy win over Texas State to move to 3-0, but the focus shifts to SEC play and the neutral site matchup against Texas A&M next Saturday. Arkansas has lost by seven points in each of the last two years against the Aggies. 

 

16. UCLA (2-1)

Week 3 Result: Beat BYU 17-14

Last Week: 21

Week 4 Opponent: Stanford

 

Bruins will be looking to end eight-game losing streak against Stanford in Week 4.

 

17. Florida (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat North Texas 32-0

Last Week: 22

Week 4 Opponent: at Tennessee

 

Injury to quarterback Luke Del Rio puts a damper on Florida’s win over North Texas (and 3-0 start).

 

18. Ole Miss (1-2)

Week 3 Result: Lost to Alabama 48-43

Last Week: 16

Week 4 Opponent: Georgia

 

Rebels gave No. 1 Alabama all it could handle (and nearly made it three in a row over the Crimson Tide).

 

19. LSU (2-1)

Week 3 Result: Beat Mississippi State 23-20

Last Week: 23

Week 4 Opponent: at Auburn

 

Mississippi State made it interesting late, but quarterback Danny Etling (19 of 30 for 215 yards) was solid in his first start and running back Leonard Fournette (147 yards) was in midseason form.

 

20. San Diego State (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat NIU 42-28

Last Week: NR

Week 4 Opponent: Bye Week

 

Aztecs make their first appearance of the season in Athlon’s top 25.

 

21. California (2-1)

Week 3 Result: Beat Texas 50-43

Last Week: NR

Week 4 Opponent: at Arizona State

 

Davis Webb to Chad Hansen is becoming one of the nation’s top pass-catch combinations for 2016.

 

22. Texas (2-1)

Week 3 Result: Lost to California 50-43

Last Week: 9

Week 4 Opponent: Bye Week

 

Longhorns unable to contain California’s offense in a 50-43 loss at Berkeley.

 

23. Notre Dame (1-2)

Week 3 Result: Lost to Michigan State 36-28

Last Week: 11

Week 4 Opponent: Duke

 

Defense woes showed up once again in loss to Michigan State.  

 

24. Miami (3-0)

Week 3 Result: Beat Appalachian State 45-10

Last Week: NR

Week 4 Opponent: Bye Week

 

Hurricanes easily avoided Appalachian State’s upset bid with 45-10 victory in Boone.

 

25. Boise State (2-0)

Week 3 Result: Bye Week

Last Week: 25

Week 4 Opponent: at Oregon State

 

Broncos look to go 2-0 against Pac-12 teams with a matchup against Oregon State this Saturday.

 

 

College Football Post-Week 2 Top 25 Rankings
 

1. Alabama (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat WKU 38-10

Last Week: 1

Week 3 Opponent: at Ole Miss

 

Nick Saban may not be happy, but the Crimson Tide still looks like the best team in the nation.

 

2. Florida State (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Charleston Southern 52-8

Last Week: 2

Week 3 Opponent: at Louisville

 

Injury to safety Derwin James is something to monitor with huge matchup at Louisville ahead in Week 3.

 

3. Ohio State (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Tulsa 48-3

Last Week: 4

Week 3 Opponent: at Oklahoma

 

The Buckeyes’ defense has yet to allow a touchdown through the first two games of the season. A better test awaits this unit on Saturday at Oklahoma.

 

4. Michigan (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat UCF 51-14

Last Week: 5

Week 3 Opponent: Colorado

 

Wolverines have dominated on defense through the first two games of 2016, but the pieces are also starting to fall into place on offense.

 

5. Houston (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Lamar 42-0

Last Week: 6

Week 3 Opponent: at Cincinnati

 

No Greg Ward? No problem against Lamar. All signs point to Ward returning for Week 3.

 

6. Clemson (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Troy 30-24

Last Week: 3

Week 3 Opponent: South Carolina State

 

The Tigers have not looked sharp through the first two games. Will Dabo Swinney’s team get on track against South Carolina State next week?

 

7. Washington (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Idaho 59-14

Last Week: 7

Week 3 Opponent: Portland State

 

Huskies have one more tune-up opportunity in Week 3 (Portland State) before Pac-12 play opens on Sept. 24 at Arizona.

 

8. Stanford (1-0)

Week 2 Result: Bye Week

Last Week: 8

Week 3 Opponent: USC

 

The Cardinal opens Pac-12 play next week with USC coming to town, with road dates also looming against UCLA (Sept. 24) and Washington (Sept. 30).

 

9. Texas (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat UTEP 41-7

Last Week: 9

Week 3 Opponent: at California

 

Are the Longhorns the Big 12’s best team and hope for a playoff contender?

 

10. Wisconsin (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Akron 54-10

Last Week: 10

Week 3 Opponent: Georgia State

 

There was no hangover from the upset win over LSU for the Badgers in an easy win against Akron on Saturday. 

 

11. Notre Dame (1-1)

Week 2 Result: Beat Nevada 39-10

Last Week: 11

Week 3 Opponent: Michigan State

 

Fighting Irish cruised in win over Nevada but need a win over Michigan State to keep playoff hopes alive next week.

 

12. Michigan State (1-0)

Week 2 Result: Bye Week

Last Week: 13

Week 3 Opponent: at Notre Dame

 

Spartans use bye week to prep for road trip to Notre Dame.

 

13. Louisville (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Syracuse 62-28

Last Week: 16

Week 3 Opponent: Florida State

 

Cardinals are averaging 66 points a game through the first two weeks of the season. Can that hold in Week 3 against Florida State?

 

14. Tennessee (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Virginia Tech 45-24

Last Week: 14

Week 3 Opponent: Ohio

 

The Battle of Bristol was close for a half, but the Volunteers eventually played like a team that was picked as the SEC East favorite in 2016.

 

15. Georgia (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Nicholls 26-24

Last Week: 14

Week 3 Opponent: at Missouri

 

Bulldogs were not impressive against Nicholls in Kirby Smart’s home opener.

 

16. Ole Miss (1-1)

Week 2 Result: Beat Wofford 38-13

Last Week: 15

Week 3 Opponent: Alabama

 

Can the Rebels make it three in a row over the Crimson Tide?

 

17. Texas A&M (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Prairie View 67-0

Last Week: 17

Week 3 Opponent: at Auburn

 

No trouble in Week 2 for the Aggies with easy win over Prairie View.

 

18. Oklahoma (1-1)

Week 2 Result: Beat ULM 59-17

Last Week: 18

Week 3 Opponent: Ohio State

 

Next week’s matchup against Ohio State will make-or-break Oklahoma’s playoff hopes.

 

19. Iowa (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Iowa State 42-3

Last Week: 19

Week 3 Opponent: North Dakota State

 

Hawkeyes’ 39-point win over in-state rival Iowa State is biggest over Cyclones since 1997.

 

20. Arkansas (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat TCU 41-38

Last Week: NR

Week 3 Opponent: Texas State

 

New quarterback Austin Allen and senior linebacker Brooks Ellis delivered clutch plays to beat TCU.

 

21. UCLA (1-1)

Week 2 Result: Beat UNLV 42-21

Last Week: 21

Week 3 Opponent: at BYU

 

UCLA’s defense is banged up headed into Week 3 showdown against BYU.

 

22. Florida (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Kentucky 45-7

Last Week: 23

Week 3 Opponent: North Texas

 

Domination over Kentucky continued with 45-7 dismantling over Wildcats in Week 2.

 

23. LSU (1-1)

Week 2 Result: Beat Jacksonville State 34-13

Last Week: 20

Week 3 Opponent: Mississippi State

 

Is Danny Etling the spark LSU needs at quarterback?

 

24. Oregon (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Virginia 44-26

Last Week: 25

Week 3 Opponent: at Nebraska

 

Dakota Prukop (21 of 31 for 331 yards and three scores) was impressive in win over Virginia.

 

25. Boise State (2-0)

Week 2 Result: Beat Washington State 31-28

Last Week: NR

Week 3 Opponent: at Oregon State (Sept. 24)

 

Broncos should be 2-0 over Pac-12 opponents after a Sept. 24 trip to Oregon State.

 

 

College Football Post-Week 1 Top 25 Rankings

 

1. Alabama (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat USC 52-6

Last Week: 1

Week 2 Opponent: WKU

 

The Crimson Tide dominated USC and found their quarterback in freshman Jalen Hurts.

 

2. Florida State (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Ole Miss 45-34

Last Week: 2

Week 2 Opponent: Charleston Southern

 

Redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois and senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker were instrumental in the second-half rally to beat the Rebels.

 

3. Ohio State (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Bowling Green 77-10

Last Week: 3

Week 2 Opponent: Tulsa

 

The Buckeyes have a wealth of promising playmakers, and J.T. Barrett looks a lot like the quarterback that accounted for 45 touchdowns in 2014.

 

4. Clemson (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Auburn 19-13

Last Week: 4

Week 2 Opponent: Troy

 

Auburn’s defense gave Clemson’s offense all it could handle. Tigers’ offense should bounce back against Troy this Saturday.

 

5. Michigan (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Hawaii 63-3

Last Week: 5

Week 2 Opponent: UCF

 

Easy win over Hawaii showcased Michigan’s dominant defense, while quarterback Wilton Speight (10 of 13) was steady in his debut.

 

6. Houston (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Oklahoma 33-23

Last Week: 15

Week 2 Opponent: Lamar

 

It’s a long ways off, but Houston’s win over Oklahoma certainly helps the playoff hopes of Tom Herman’s team.

 

7. Washington (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Rutgers 48-13

Last Week: 11

Week 2 Opponent: Idaho

 

Washington needed more from its passing game to win the Pac-12 this year. After one game, quarterback Jake Browning (287 yards against Rutgers) looks ready for a breakout year.

 

8. Stanford (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Kansas State 26-13

Last Week: 12

Week 2 Opponent: Bye Week

 

Christian McCaffrey was impressive once again, and quarterback Ryan Burns was steady in his first start in Friday’s win over Kansas State.

 

9. Texas (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Notre Dame 50-47

Last Week: 43

Week 2 Opponent: UTEP

 

New coordinator Sterlin Gilbert – along with the combination of Shane Buechele and Tyrone Swoopes at quarterback – is the right mix for Texas’ offense.

 

10. Wisconsin (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat LSU 16-14

Last Week: 33

Week 2 Opponent: Akron

 

Wisconsin’s win over LSU was one of Week 1’s biggest surprises.

 

11. Notre Dame (0-1)

Week 1 Result: Lost to Texas 50-47

Last Week: 8

Week 2 Opponent: Nevada

 

Loss at Texas hurts, but Fighting Irish can still climb into playoff contention with an 11-1 record.

 

12. Georgia (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat North Carolina 33-24

Last Week: 16

Week 2 Opponent: Nicholls

 

The Bulldogs looked like the SEC East’s best team in Week 1 in win over North Carolina.

 

13. Michigan State (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Furman 28-13

Last Week: 13

Week 2 Opponent: Bye Week

 

Spartans sluggish in win over Furman, but a bigger test for coach Mark Dantonio’s team awaits on Sept. 17 at Notre Dame.

 

14. Tennessee (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Appalachian State 20-13

Last Week: 7

Week 2 Opponent: Virginia Tech (Bristol)

 

Volunteers escaped on Thursday night with an overtime victory over Appalachian State. Butch Jones’ team has to play better to beat Virginia Tech.

 

15. Ole Miss (0-1)

Week 1 Result: Lost to Florida State 45-34

Last Week: 10

Week 2 Opponent: Wofford

 

Rebels were impressive for a half but were unable to hold on against Florida State. Monday night’s game showed this team still has plenty of returning talent to absorb the offseason losses at receiver and on the defensive line.

 

16. Louisville (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Charlotte 70-14

Last Week: 18

Week 2 Opponent: at Syracuse (Friday)

 

Cardinals and quarterback Lamar Jackson were impressive in rout over Charlotte. The schedule gets a little tougher with a trip to Syracuse this Friday.

 

17. Texas A&M (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat UCLA 31-24

Last Week: 28

Week 2 Opponent: Prairie View

 

Aggies’ defense continues to improve under coordinator John Chavis, while the offense has the right fit at quarterback in Trevor Knight.

 

18. Oklahoma (0-1)

Week 1 Result: Lost to Houston 33-23

Last Week: 6

Week 2 Opponent: ULM

 

Week 2 opponent (ULM) allows the Sooners to sort out the issues on both sides of the ball before the showdown against Ohio State on Sept. 17.

 

19. Iowa (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Miami, Ohio 45-21

Last Week: 19

Week 2 Opponent: Iowa State

 

Hawkeyes averaged 7.3 yards per rush in easy win over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday.

 

20. LSU (0-1)

Week 1 Result: Lost to Wisconsin 16-14

Last Week: 9

Week 2 Opponent: Jacksonville State

 

Offseason tweaks and improvement on offense? Still waiting.

 

21. UCLA (0-1)

Week 1 Result: Lost to Texas A&M 31-24

Last Week: 14

Week 2 Opponent: UNLV

 

Late rally came up short for the Bruins in College Station. Jim Mora’s team is still Athlon’s pick to win the South Division.

 

22. TCU (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat South Dakota State 59-41

Last Week: 17

Week 2 Opponent: Arkansas

 

Horned Frogs will have to play a lot better than they did against South Dakota State to beat Arkansas this Saturday.

 

23. Florida (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat UMass 24-7

Last Week: 20

Week 2 Opponent: Kentucky

 

New quarterback Luke Del Rio was steady, but Gators still have some issues to iron out on offense.

 

24. Oklahoma State (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat Southeastern Louisiana 61-7

Last Week: 24

Week 2 Opponent: Central Michigan

 

Cowboys cruised over Southeastern Louisiana, but the jury is out on whether or not the ground attack (3.8 yards per rush) is improved.

 

25. Oregon (1-0)

Week 1 Result: Beat UC Davis 53-28

Last Week: 23

Week 2 Opponent: Virginia

 

Dakota Prukop (21 of 30 for 271 yards and three scores) was steady in his first start for the Ducks.

Teaser:
College Football Top 25 Rankings
Post date: Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 13:10
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/college-football-week-4-awards-2016
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Week 4 of the 2016 college football season produced several big performances and memorable moments. Tennessee rallied in the second half to end an 11-game losing streak to Florida, Wisconsin scored a huge road win over Michigan State, and Texas A&M knocked off Arkansas in Arlington, Texas. The weekend action also produced a few upsets, as Duke defeated Notre Dame in South Bend and Colorado won at Oregon.

 

With the fourth weekend of games in the books, it’s time to take a look at the best of the best and honor some of the top performances. Here’s a look at Athlon Sports’ picks for the offensive, defensive, coordinator, team, freshman and unsung hero from Week 4:

 

College Football Week 4 Awards

 

Offensive Player of the Week: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Dalvin Cook is back. After rushing for less than 100 yards in each of the first three games this season, Cook looked a lot like the player most projected as one of the Heisman favorites in Saturday’s win over USF. Cook pounded the USF defense for 267 yards and two touchdowns and caught four passes for 62 yards. The junior opened the scoring for Florida State with a 75-yard run on the first offensive snap of the game for the Seminoles and finished Saturday’s contest by averaging a whopping 9.5 yards per rush.

 

Defensive Player of the Week: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

Tennessee’s defense put the clamps on Florida’s offense after halftime, limiting the Gators to just 102 total yards and seven points in the final two quarters. Coordinator Bob Shoop deserves credit for building the right gameplan, and Florida’s offensive line simply had no answer for Barnett. The junior recorded five tackles (three for a loss), one pass breakup and two sacks.

 

Coordinator of the Week: Justin Wilcox, Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin

The defense and play-calling of Justin Wilcox is a big reason why the Badgers are 4-0 and scored upset wins over LSU and Michigan State to start the year. In Saturday’s win over the Spartans, Wilcox’s defense limited Michigan State to just 4.6 yards per play, 75 yards on the ground and forced four turnovers. The Badgers also recorded four sacks and seven tackles for a loss, while keeping the Spartans out of the end zone for the first time in 2016.

 

Freshmen of the Week (Offense): Alex Hornibrook, QB, Wisconsin/Steven Montez, QB, Colorado

Making your first career start in East Lansing against a top-10 team in Michigan State is no easy assignment. However, Hornibrook showed no signs of nerves and never appeared rattled in Wisconsin’s 30-6 victory over the Spartans. The redshirt freshman completed 16 of 26 passes for 195 yards and one score. Most importantly, Hornibrook’s performance was more than enough for Wisconsin to beat Michigan State.

 

Montez was called into action after an ankle injury suffered in last week’s game against Michigan prevented Sefo Liufau from playing in Week 4. However, Montez wasn't phased by the tough road environment at Autzen Stadium, as he completed 23 of 32 passes for 333 yards and three scores. He also led the team with 135 rushing yards and connected with receiver Bryce Bobo for the game-winning 31-yard score in the fourth quarter.

 

Freshman of the Week (Defense): Jessie Bates, DB, Wake Forest

Thanks to a 33-28 victory over Indiana on Saturday, the Demon Deacons are 4-0 for the first time since 2006. Bates was a key cog in the win over the Hoosiers, as the freshman led the defense with eight tackles and recorded two interceptions. The first interception came on the goal line with Indiana poised to score after a 63-yard drive, while the second pick was returned for a 55-yard score to give Wake Forest a 14-7 lead.

 

Unsung Hero of the Week: Armani Watts, S, Texas A&M

Standout edge rushers Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall get most of the attention on Texas A&M’s outstanding defense, but Watts delivered several critical plays in Saturday’s win over Arkansas. Watts led the team with nine tackles (2.5 for a loss), forced and recovered a fumble on the goal line and recorded two key tackles on a goal-line stand in the third quarter.

 

Team of the Week: Colorado

Colorado scored the biggest win of Mike MacIntyre’s tenure on Saturday with an upset 41-38 victory over Oregon. The Buffaloes were also shorthanded for this game, as starting quarterback Sefo Liufau was sidelined due to injury. But redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Montez stepped up and guided the Colorado offense to 593 yards and 41 points. The defense held the Ducks scoreless in the fourth quarter and clinched the victory with Ahekllo Witherspoon’s interception in the end zone with less than a minute remaining. Colorado is one of the nation’s most improved teams through the first four weeks of 2016 and will be a factor in the Pac-12 South title picture. 

Teaser:
College Football Week 4 Awards 2016
Post date: Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 12:16
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, NFC, syndicated, NFL
Path: /nfl/chicago-bears-vs-dallas-cowboys-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

This kind of matchup is probably not what NBC had in mind when they were going through the early NFL schedule and saw this one penciled in for “Sunday Night Football.” While the game involves two big markets and historically significant franchises, it also involves two backup quarterbacks and an 0-2 team that looks destined for a top-10 pick next spring.

 

At least the Cowboys are used to playing with their backup under center. Dak Prescott has looked extremely good through the first two weeks filling in for Tony Romo and has yet to throw an interception. He really started to get the offense going against Washington in a win last Sunday and has benefited from playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. Even the much-maligned Dallas defense has held its own and should be licking their chops to play this Bears offense.

 

Speaking of Chicago, they will be without Jay Cutler for the next few weeks after he sprained his thumb last Monday night against Philadelphia. Brian Hoyer is set to start at quarterback and will do his best to jumpstart an offense that hasn’t had much to get excited about so far this year. The normally tough defense also has taken some hits on the injury front and will look to avoid getting torched by a rookie for the second straight game.

 

Dallas won in blowout fashion the last time these two teams hooked up in 2014 but the road team is 4-1 over the past five. The Cowboys also have lost eight straight at AT&T Stadium.

 

Chicago at Dallas

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 8:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NBC

Spread: Cowboys -7

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Brian Hoyer gets the start

Hoyer has been a starter in the league before and has pulled off more than a few surprises over the years but will have a tall task replacing Jay Cutler in an offense that already wasn’t doing much (especially in the second half). He’ll have the benefit of throwing to Alshon Jeffery (listed as Questionable on injury report with a knee injury, but expected to play) and Kevin White on the perimeter and a run game that should get going against a defense that is allowing nearly five yards a carry. With the offense stuck in neutral though, Chicago will need its new quarterback to get something going on the road if the Bears want to have any chance of winning this one.

 

2. Any kind of pass rush

Some of the Cowboys’ most productive pass rushers are still out due to suspension and the makeshift front isn’t anything to write home about as a result. They got to Kirk Cousins only twice last week for sacks and allowed 350 yards through the air. The Bears’ offensive line is meddling so if Dallas can’t get anything going this week then it could be a very long season for coordinator Rod Marinelli trying to help out his secondary on obvious passing downs. Chicago faces much the same obstacle with Lamarr Houston out at linebacker, rookie Leonard Floyd off to a slow start and free agent addition Akiem Hicks not quite having the impact expected. Dak Prescott’s ability to run may cause additional problems but bottom line, Vic Fangio’s defense has to make things uncomfortable in the pocket for the rookie.

 

3. Feeding Zeke

The Cowboys spent their high first-round draft pick on the rookie from Ohio State for good reason: to put up big numbers behind that great offensive line. He was corralled in the opener against the Giants but started to get things going against Washington with a touchdown and averaging four yards a carry, but he did fumble twice. As much attention as Prescott has gotten, Elliott is the key to the Cowboys’ success this year and he needs to have a breakout game under the lights on Sunday.

 

Final Analysis

 

A rough start to the season for the Bears already has folks in Chicago pondering potential high draft picks in the spring but all is not lost just yet and a big win on the road at Dallas could turn the story around. It won’t be easy, especially without Jay Cutler around to make some big throws, but there’s hope to be had against a Cowboys team that simply hasn’t won much at home.

 

In order to pull off the upset though, some sort of run game will need to get going. Jeremy Langford is only averaging three yards a carry and his backups have just six rushing attempts through two games. It hasn’t helped that the Bears has been in the hole in the second half and had to resort to throwing the ball so much but they’ll head into this game with a clear focus on getting something going on the ground and playing better, more disciplined defense.

 

As for Dallas, this will be a game that can keep the momentum going from a good start to 2016. The team did end one unsightly losing streak last week, breaking a 1-12 run without Tony Romo as the starting quarterback as Dak Prescott picked up his first NFL victory. The rookie has been better than advertised and has yet to throw a pick in 75 passes to begin the year. The vaunted offensive line he’s played behind has been solid but not quite to the level it was on the past couple of seasons. The Bears may pose a few problems on Sunday night but this is simply a game where the Cowboys are the better squad and should be able to get a nice win at home over a reeling opponent.

 

Prediction: Cowboys 28, Bears 17

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.

Teaser:
Chicago Bears vs. Dallas Cowboys Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 09:15
All taxonomy terms: Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, NFL
Path: /nfl/san-diego-chargers-vs-indianapolis-colts-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

The Chargers and Colts are two teams struggling to find their way both on and off the field.

 

The Chargers have let the last few years of Phillip Rivers’ prime slip away with only a single playoff appearance since 2010, and failing to win more than nine games in a season since ’09. Off the field, the team’s ownership uses its leverage of simply being an NFL franchise against the city of San Diego, threatening to move to a new city.

 

For Indianapolis, the 2015 season was a lost campaign with Andrew Luck sidelined for more than half the season, revealing just how flawed the Colts were without their franchise quarterback. Little has been done to improve the roster since drafting Luck No. 1 overall in 2012, and now it feels as if Indy also is wasting the best years of Luck’s career.

 

Sunday’s game represents an early crossroads for two teams trying to keep pace with the rest of their respective divisions.

 

San Diego Charges vs. Indianapolis Colts

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 24 at 4:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Colts -3

 

1. Rivers Owns Indy

Phillip Rivers loves playing against the Colts. Rivers is 5-1 in his career against Indianapolis, including 2-0 in the playoffs (2007, ’08 seasons) when Peyton Manning was running the Colts' historically prolific offense.

 

Right now, Rivers is playing some of the best football of his career. At age 34 and in his 13th season, Rivers hasn’t showed any sign of slowing, currently ranking third in the league in passer rating and leading the NFL's No. 2 scoring offense (32.5 ppg). 

 

Rivers enters this game without the services of wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Danny Woodhead, both lost for the season after tearing their ACLs in back-to-back weeks. Those two combined for 147 catches, 1,480 yards and 10 TDs in 2015. The good news for Rivers and his pass catchers is that the Colts’ secondary also is in shambles, as cornerbacks Darius Butler and Keenan Robinson remain out, while Vontae Davis and a pair of safeties are listed as Questionable. Even though he may not have all of his favorite weapons, look for Rivers to sling the pigskin all over the Lucas Oil Stadium turf this afternoon.

 

2. No Woodhead, No Problem

The Chargers have been rather efficient so far this season running the football, totaling more than 150 yards in each of the first two games. If they can top the 150-yard mark again this week it will be the first time since 2006 the team will have done so in three straight games. 

 

Much of the success on the ground came from the one-two punch of Melvin Gordon and Woodhead. Prior to tearing his ACL, Woodhead was averaging more than six yards per carry. Gordon seems to have found his stride in his second season, as he finally scored his first NFL touchdown in Week 1. Even with Woodhead out, Gordon should be able to find some running room against a defense that is allowing 125 rushing yards per game. 

 

3. Luck Keeping It Close

With the Colts’ decimated defense going against one of the hottest QBs in the league, Andrew Luck and the Indy offense has to be on their ‘A’ game. The offensive line woes have been noted and noticeable, as Luck has already been sacked seven times and he’s officially listed as Questionable (shoulder) on the injury report. 

 

Despite the line troubles, Luck has done his job, throwing five touchdowns to just one interception so far. But this week, Luck will be without starting wide receiver Donte Moncrief, allowing the Charges to shift their attention to stopping T.Y. Hilton. San Diego has struggled against the pass (324.5 ypg) in the early going, so as long as Luck gets enough time, good things should happen when he drops back and lets it loose.

 

Final Analysis

 

Don’t expect much defense from either team in this game. Both the Colts and the Chargers are in the bottom third in the league in yards allowed per game. This matchup is all about the quarterback. Both Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck have big arms, are playing and facing banged-up secondaries and ineffective pass rushes. This game could very well turn into a shootout and come down to which teams has the ball last. If that final possession belongs to the Colts, give me Adam Vinatieri with the game on the line any day of the week.

 

Prediction: Colts 38, Chargers 35

 

— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.

Teaser:
San Diego Chargers vs. Indianapolis Colts Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-york-jets-vs-kansas-city-chiefs-preview-and-prediction-2016
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The Kansas City Chiefs will play host to the New York Jets in a Week 3 matchup that could very well loom large in the AFC playoff picture down the road. The Chiefs are coming off of a heart-breaking 19-12 loss to the Texans. While the Jets were able to parlay a three-touchdown performance by Matt Forte into a 37-31 win over the Bills. Both teams enter today’s matchup with identical 1-1 records.

 

The Chiefs head into Week 3 riding a seven-game home winning streak. They have not lost a game in Kansas City since Oct. 11 of last year. Andy Reid’s Chiefs will try to rebound from last week’s loss by making it eight wins in a row inside the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium. Standing in the Chiefs way will be a Jets team, coming off of 10 days of rest, in search of back-to-back wins on the road.

 

The all-time series between these two teams is currently tied at 18-18-1, although the Jets have won three of the last four meetings. However, the Chiefs came out on top the last time these teams faced off in 2014, beating New York 24-10 at home.

 

New York at Kansas City

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 4:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Kansas City -3

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Another Slow Start for the Chiefs?

In two games, the Chiefs have been outscored 34-6 in the first half. In 12 first half possessions, Kansas City has punted seven times, committed three turnovers and has managed just two field goals. The offense’s inability to convert on third down in the opening two quarters of play has been even more glaring. The Chiefs are an abysmal 3-for-13 (23 percent) in that department.

 

Granted, it’s only two games, but Kansas City cannot afford to make a habit out of digging themselves out of a hole, as it cost the team last week against Houston. And while the Chiefs have struggled in the first half, the Jets have done the opposite. New York has scored a touchdown on its opening possession in each of the first two games. The Jets have scored more points in the first half (36) than Kansas City has allowed (34). Another slow start for the Chiefs Sunday and they could see their home winning streak come to an end.

 

2. “Revis Island” and a Suspect Jets Pass Defense

Darrelle Revis has long been considered the NFL’s premier lockdown cornerback. Even against the best receivers, it is difficult to recall a single bad performance from him, much less two poor showings in a row. But that is exactly what has happened to the 31-year-old cornerback to start this season. In Week 1, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green put up big numbers (12 rec., 180 yards, TD) against Revis and Buffalo’s Marquise Goodwin victimized him for an 84-yard touchdown last week. According to Pro Football Focus, Revis has already yielded 183 receiving yards compared to a total of 583 for all of the 2015 season.

 

The question is will Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith try to exploit the aging cornerback on Sunday? Chances are he will, especially with speedy Jeremy Maclin at his disposal. Even if they don’t go after Revis specifically, Smith and company will try to test a Jets secondary that has been suspect as a whole in the first two games. New York’s defense has already allowed five pass plays of 40 or more yards, the most in the NFL. That’s almost half of the total this unit allowed all of last season (11). The Chiefs aren’t exactly known as an offense that takes lots of shots downfield, relying more on the West Coast-oriented short passing game. However, don’t be surprised if head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Brad Childress don’t let Smith air it out a couple of times Sunday afternoon if the opportunity presents itself.

 

3. The Jets’ Offense vs. a Beat-up Chiefs Defense

Stellar wide receiver play is crucial to the Jets’ offense. So, it doesn’t help that the top three wide receivers are banged up to some degree. While top target Brandon Marshall (knee) is the only one listed as Questionable, Eric Decker and Quincy Enunwa also appeared on this week’s injury report. If they aren’t at or near 100 percent, the Jets’ passing game will suffer to some degree.

 

The good news is that Kansas City’s defense is dealing with its own injury issues. Top pass rusher Justin Houston is on the PUP list with a knee injury and not expected back until November. Houston’s counterpart at outside linebacker, Tamba Hali, missed practice on Friday and while he is expected to play, he may not be at full strength. Starting cornerback Phillip Gaines is questionable with a knee injury, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry has been battling knee issues as well. The Chiefs still have some heavy hitters that can disrupt the Jets’ game plan on offense, but Kansas City’s depth could be tested, especially if any more injuries happen.

 

Final Analysis

 

One of the most important factors in this game is home-field advantage. You cannot discount the fact that the Chiefs are incredibly difficult to beat in Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City’s passing game also should be able to take advantage of a shaky Jets secondary. That said, the Chiefs’ struggles to get things going in the first half of games are very concerning.  But perhaps Kansas City’s biggest concern is the overall health of its roster. Two starting offensive linemen are beat up, still no Jamaal Charles, and the defense has several key players dealing with injures. The Jets, on the other hand, are well rested, far healthier, and have a little momentum on their side. This is a tough matchup to get a read on. It’s even tougher to bet against the Chiefs on their home turf. However, the Jets simply look like the better team right now.

 

Prediction: Jets 24, Chiefs 20

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

Teaser:
New York Jets vs. Kansas City Chiefs Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 08:45
Path: /nfl/pittsburgh-steelers-vs-philadelphia-eagles-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

Two NFL teams. Two 2-0 starts to the season. Two completely different sets of expectations.

 

In one corner, you have the Pittsburgh Steelers, roaring out of the gate with an explosive offense. Only three other NFL teams scored more points (62) in the first two weeks; none of them did it against a pair of 2015 playoff teams (Redskins, Bengals). The newest version of the Steel Curtain appears the team best positioned to compete against the titans of the AFC, New England and Denver for a spot in the Super Bowl.

 

On the other side, you have the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that seemingly “gave up” on their season a few weeks ago when they traded starting quarterback Sam Bradford away to the injury-plagued Vikings. Who would have guessed both of those organizations would join the Giants as the only 2-0 teams in the NFC? Riding the high of rookie phenom quarterback Carson Wentz, new life has been breathed into a team that last year seemed to sag under the weight of failing expectations under former head coach Chip Kelly.

 

The Eagles’ two victories though are not quite as impressive – neither the Bears nor Browns should come anywhere close to playoff contention this season. The Steelers, then provide a barometer as to whether this feisty young team from Philadelphia is “for real” as these intra-state rivals clash in one of the weekend’s best matchups.

 

Pittsburgh at Philadelphia

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 25, at 4:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Pittsburgh -3.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Wentz, Wentz, and More Wentz
It’s not often Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gets overshadowed by his opponent. But the Eagles rookie, whose jersey has been one of the hottest-selling merchandise in the NFL this year, has wowed observers with his rock solid play. Wentz’s QB Rating of 94.1 is tied for 14th in the NFL with Andrew Luck, not bad for a guy who played in just half a preseason game before injuring his ribs.

 

Wentz’s other stats, including three passing touchdowns through two games and a completion percentage of 60.6 are middling on paper. But it’s in controlling the ball and his team where this young gun stands out. He’s the first rookie in NFL history to win his first two starts without an interception or a turnover. Wentz has been sacked just four times; by comparison, Luck has been downed seven times and Aaron Rodgers six. It’s all added up to a ball-control offense capable that currently leads the league in time of possession at 37:43.

 

Those are the NFL intangibles you can’t teach, ones that came packaged with this first-round pick from North Dakota State. Add in Bradford’s bravado performance to start his Vikings tenure and this is shaping up to a win-win trade for both teams.

 

2. Pittsburgh’s Power Offense
Wentz, though pales in comparison to a Steelers offense loaded with weapons. Despite the absence of All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell (suspended the first three games), DeAngelo Williams has rolled over opposing defenses. His 237 rushing yards on 58 attempts were tops in the league through two games.  Williams also has 10 receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown, which is one of the reasons why Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t missed a beat without Bell.

 

Then there’s All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, whose enters with 12 catches and 165 yards and two touchdowns despite drawing the most attention of any pass catcher in the league. Alongside him little-known Eli Rogers has impressed, the undrafted free agent out of Louisville recording six catches versus the Redskins in the season opener. Rogers had spent the entire 2015 season on injured reserve (foot injury) but head coach Mike Tomlin had confidence in him that’s quickly paying off on the field. Jesse James, the replacement for retired tight end Heath Miller, also has been a pleasant surprise, with 60 yards and a touchdown.

 

The offense runs through Ben Roethlisberger, who leads the NFL with six touchdown passes. With Peyton Manning retired, Tom Brady set to miss one more game because of suspension and Rodgers struggling, one could argue Big Ben, at 34 and in his 13th year, is the top veteran QB in the league right now.

 

3. Eagles Doing It With D?
Besides Wentz’ impressive debut, another reason for Philadelphia’s 2-0 start is the play of the defense. Somewhat quietly, this unit under the direction of new coordinator Jim Schwartz has produced four takeaways.

 

This continues a patter that was established during the preseason when the Eagles had 11 turnovers. While preseason numbers can be easily discounted, the early returns of some key players in Schwartz’ 4-3 scheme are promising. Linebacker Brandon Graham could be setting himself up for his first Pro Bowl appearance as he has already recorded two sacks and a forced fumble in the new system.

 

Philadelphia’s defense also has benefitted from the addition of a couple of new faces – linebacker Nigel Bradham and safety Rodney McLeod. The free-agent acquisitions have injected new energy into their respective position groups and each has already made an impact on the field as well with interceptions.

 

All of these new elements add up to a defense that is playing together, flocking to the football and making life miserable for opposing offenses. The Eagles are third in the league in total defense and second in scoring, but after shutting down the Browns and the Bears, the unit’s first real test comes Sunday against the Steelers.

 

Final Analysis

 

On paper, the Steelers should be in control from the start. But don’t discount the way the Eagles have opened this season. The positive attitude is palpable throughout the entire organization, as it’s clear new head coach Doug Pederson has been a welcome breath of fresh air along with Carson Wentz. The Eagles are playing like they have nothing to lose, their quarterback isn’t playing like a rookie and that tough defense will make this game far closer than people would have thought a month ago.

 

Prediction: Steelers 24, Eagles 17

 

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.

 

(Carson Wentz photo courtesy of www.phiadelphiaeagles.com)

Teaser:
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 08:30
Path: /nfl/san-francisco-49ers-vs-seattle-seahawks-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

After scoring just 15 points in their first two games offensively, the Seattle Seahawks head into their Week 3 showdown with the San Francisco 49ers with their backs against the wall. The 9-3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams took a big-time toll physically on this team and exacerbated the problems with the offensive line and the offense as a whole right now. Throw in a mix of untimely penalties and turnovers along with the fact that Russell Wilson is not fully healthy, and not much is going right for Seattle at this point. This is going to be a very critical week for head coach Pete Carroll and the offensive staff to find some answers against a 49ers defense that can be taken advantage of.

 

San Francisco was in a tough spot last week coming off of the Monday night win over the Rams and then having to fly cross country to face Carolina, the defending NFC champions. The 49ers lost in a shootout to the Panthers by a score of 46-27. Despite the loss, San Francisco fans should be somewhat encouraged as the offense has 55 points in the first two games. For that to continue on Sunday, the 49ers need some early momentum in the passing game with Blaine Gabbert and to avoid the early turnover. If San Francisco can take care of the football and get the game into the latter stages of the second half with a chance to win it will put the pressure squarely on the Seahawks to have to produce in front of an angry Century Link Field crowd.

 

San Francisco at Seattle

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 4:05 p.m. ET

Channel TV: FOX

Spread: Seahawks -10

 

Three Things to Watch:

 

1. Can the 49ers control tempo offensively against the Seahawks’ defense?

One way to neutralize the 12s if you are the 49ers is score early and often and force the Seahawks to play from behind. This is easier said than done, as Seattle is allowing just 9.5 points per game. The Seahawks also did a very nice job last week of making tackles in space, missing just two against the Rams. They also had five defenders with a grade of 80 or better, according to Pro Football Focus, led by Bobby Wagner’s 89.7. Look for San Francisco head coach Chip Kelly to call for some quick, easy throws to help Blaine Gabbert and the offense find its rhythm. Also, despite the ineffectiveness of the running game last week against the Panthers, the 49ers can’t abandon it completely against Seattle. If Carlos Hyde can get 20-plus carries on Sunday, that should only increase San Francisco’s chances of staying in the game and potentially pulling off the road upset.

 

2. Seahawks’ Offensive Line

As expected, Seattle’s offensive front had a rough afternoon last week against Aaron Donald the rest of Rams’ defensive line. For years, Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson were able to cover for the glaring lack of skill up front, but with Lynch now retired and Wilson dealing with an ankle injury, opposing defenses have been on the attack. Justin Britt was the only member of the offensive line who finished with a grade of 70 or better last week, according to Pro Football Focus. Right tackle Gary Gilliam was at the opposite send of the spectrum (35.5) and had a game he would quickly like to forget. This has to change in order for this offense to move forward. This game could be just what this unit needs, as San Francisco got gashed last week in Carolina, giving up 353 passing yards alone to Cam Newton and the Panthers.

 

3. Seahawks’ Defensive Line vs. 49ers’ Offensive Line

The emergence of second-year defensive end Frank Clark (three sacks in two games), along with Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett gives Seattle a great opportunity to control the line of scrimmage on Sunday. Last year, the Seahawks were able to sack 49ers quarterbacks eight times. However, San Francisco’s offensive line has given up just two sacks thus far, which is pretty impressive considering the competition (Los Angeles, Carolina). This is where the 12s can come in and play a huge factor and make communication difficult for the 49ers’ offense. A few false start penalties could slow down the line’s reaction time and cohesiveness, setting up Clark, Bennett, Avril and Tony McDaniel to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Three-and-outs or, better yet, turnovers could help set up the Seattle offense in good field position and increase its scoring opportunities.

 

Final Analysis

 

Until the Seahawks can get rolling offensively it is difficult to see them blowing out any team. Thus, the nearly double-digit spread that most Vegas sportsbooks are reflecting seems too much for this Seattle team to cover. The Seahawks’ defense is playing at a high enough level to where it should be able to keep the 49ers’ offense in check, which should be enough cushion for the offense to get the job done and secure the win. However, if Seattle rolls out another offensive performance like last Sunday’s against the Rams then all bets are off and San Francisco will have a great opportunity to pick up its second upset victory against an NFC West foe.

 

Prediction: Seahawks 17, 49ers 10

 

— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.

Teaser:
San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 08:15
All taxonomy terms: Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL
Path: /nfl/los-angeles-rams-vs-tampa-bay-buccaneers-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

Things haven’t been great for the newly re-minted Los Angeles Rams in a long, long while — but a small silver lining for LA’s prodigal team is their recent domination of this week’s opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Rams have beaten the Bucs in each of the past four seasons.

 

Both teams are in rebuilding modes, but appear to have brighter futures on the horizon thanks to the progression of two young stars. For Los Angeles, it’s running back Todd Gurley, last season’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. While the days of the workhorse running back and power -running offenses dominating the game are likely over, Gurley is a refreshing throwback-type of player worth watching on a weekly basis.

 

For Tampa Bay, second-year quarterback Jameis Winston looks to be the real deal — or at least he appears to be on his way. Winston has shown his ability to throw well from the pocket, and manage an NFL huddle, but he tends to let one turnover snowball into multiple miscues.

 

Los Angeles at Tampa Bay

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 4:05 P.M. ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: Tampa Bay -4.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Rams’ Pass Rush

Instead of making the move to L.A., It seems that the Rams’ once volatile and unruly pass rush was left behind. For the last several seasons, the Rams’ defensive front was a terror on opposing quarterbacks, and one of the few bright spots on a marginal football team. Although Chris Long is now in New England, fellow defensive end Robert Quinn and All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald remain, but this defense simply isn’t attacking the quarterback the way it has in recent seasons. Through two weeks, the Rams have only two sacks — both coming last week against a hobbled Russell Wilson — and allowed a Blaine Gabbert-led San Francisco team beat them in Week 1.

 

Sunday, a healthier and more capable Jameis Winston will be a much tougher test than Gabbert or Wilson. With running back Doug Martin ruled out because of a hamstring injury, Winston will likely bear the load for Tampa Bay’s offense. This means that the Rams’ once-fearsome pass rush has another opportunity to be the difference-maker for a marginal team once again.

 

2. Which Winston?

The Buccaneers’ offense has been “A Tale of Two Winstons” so far in 2016. In Week 1, Jameis Winston was lights out, tossing four touchdowns on the road against Atlanta. Last week against Arizona, Winston was a mess, throwing four picks and losing a fumble. Because of the injury to Doug Martin and a couple of other skill position players, Winston will be relied upon even more this week to move the chains and get some points on the scoreboard.

 

Winston has proven that he’s got the skill set and mindset to be an elite NFL quarterback; he just hasn’t been consistent enough to make the Buccaneers a legitimate threat in the NFC South. With the Rams’ defense coming off of a dominating effort at home against Seattle, Winston will have to be at his best in making decisions and protecting the football and can ill afford to let one mistake snowball into an avalanche, like what happened last week in Arizona.

 

3. Let Gurley Run

Earlier this week Los Angeles running back Todd Gurley said he “sees 12 people on the field” when he has the ball. Translation: there is nowhere to run for Rams’ best offensive weapon. Through two games, Gurley has 36 carries for 98 yards and no touchdowns — tough numbers for a guy who ran for more than 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games last season.

 

With no indication that quarterback play — no matter whom is under center — is going to be any good, getting Gurley going is vital to Los Angeles’ success, otherwise head coach Jeff Fisher won’t have to worry about going 8-8 ever again.

 

Final Analysis

 

With Tampa Bay’s key injuries on offense looming large, the outcome of this game relies solely on the arm of Jameis Winston and his ability to counter Los Angeles’ stout defense. If we get a repeat performance of last week from Winston, it could be a very, very ugly football game for the Buccaneers’ home opener.

 

Prediction: Buccaneers 21, Rams 17

 

— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.

Teaser:
Los Angeles Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 08:00
Path: /fantasy/week-3-fantasy-football-injury-updates-thomas-rawls-rashad-jennings-andrew-luck-delaine-walker
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Fantasy owners were lucky to escape Week 2 with their starting two running backs still healthy. However, unlike the wide receivers, which are banged up and may or may not play, most of the injured running backs have already been ruled out. This gives owners time to prepare for their absence instead of waiting to see the inactive list prior to kick off.

 

Here are the guys that have already been ruled out: Adrian Peterson (knee), Doug Martin (hamstring), Arian Foster groin), Jonathan Stewart (hamstring), Donte Moncrief (shoulder), Corey Coleman (hand), Josh McCown (shoulder), and Virgil Green (calf). Also, Danny Woodhead (ACL) and Ameer Abdullah (foot) have been placed on injured reserve.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

Now here’s a look at the key quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends that are listed as either Questionable (50/50 shot of playing) or Doubtful (25 percent). And don’t forget to check out the injured wide receivers before setting your lineups.

 

Note: All players listed below are playing on Sunday

 

Questionable

 

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts vs. San Diego Chargers (4:25 p.m. ET)

Luck is going to play, despite the questionable tag. However, the shoulder issue is something to keep an eye on. He's been dealing with this all season (according to the injury reports), but has looked fine on game day. Luck has a great matchup this week and is a clear QB1.

 

Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins (1 p.m. ET)

Jennings hurt his thumb sometime during last week’s game against the Saints, which may explain his poor performance (40 total yards). He's been fitted with a cast that will let him play through the injury. However, it's hard to trust a running back that has been disappointing through two weeks and isn’t at 100 percent. Shane Vereen will likely have a bigger role in what should be a good matchup against the Redskins. Jennings is a RB3; Vereen is a RB2, especially in PPR formats.

 

Chris Ivory, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Baltimore Ravens (1 p.m. ET)

No details were released about Ivory's recent hospital stay, but he was a full participant in practice during the week, so it looks like he will be back on the field. T.J. Yeldon didn't do anything to earn the starting job outright, so expect Ivory to see plenty of work, especially at the goal line. He may be slightly limited, given the time he missed, but he still is shaping up as a RB3 with upside.

 

Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans vs. Oakland Raiders (1 p.m. ET)

Walker missed practice on Wednesday, was limited on Thursday and then missed practice on Friday with a hamstring injury. He has a great matchup against the Oakland Raiders, and it's hard to sit him if he is active. However, Rob Gronkowski owners know what can happen when you start a tight end that is going to be limited in the game. The safest option for Walker’s owners is to find another tight end for the week. Watch the inactive reports Sunday morning, but be wary even if he is active.

 

Doubtful

 

Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs vs. New York Jets (1 p.m. ET)

Finally practicing with the first team, Charles is getting closer to playing, but it's not going to be this week. Fantasy owners should watch next week's practice reports because it is a real possibility he plays in Week 4. As for Sunday, it looks to be the Spencer Ware show again with a side of Charcandrick West mixed in. Ware is a low RB2 in a tough matchup and West is a desperation play.

 

Thomas Rawls, RB, Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers (4:05 p.m. ET)

Rawls left the Week 2 game with a shin injury, which was later disclosed to be a contusion (bone bruise). While this isn't an injury to keep him sidelined for multiple weeks, it is unlikely he will play in Week 3. The Seahawks would be wise to rest Rawls and let Christine Michael carry the load against the 49ers. It's a great matchup for him, making Michael a high RB2 with upside, assuming Rawls doesn’t play.

 

Antonio Gates ,TE, San Diego Chargers at Indianapolis Colts (4:25 p.m. ET)

After missing practice all week, Gates is not going to play in Week 3. The Chargers can't catch a break when it comes to injuries to their key offensive skill players. Rookie Hunter Henry will likely get the start and is an intriguing TE2 option for Gates owners (or Delanie Walker owners). The Chargers love to pass the ball, so Henry will see targets headed his way.

 

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys (8:30 p.m. ET)

After spraining his thumb in Monday night’s loss to Philadelphia, Cutler missed practice all week. While the Bears have yet to rule him out, all signs point to him sitting with Brian Hoyer getting the start. It's not a bad matchup, as this could turn into a high-scoring affair, but don’t count on Culter to be a part of it. If you need a replacement, Hoyer is a low QB2 as the Bears’ offense has yet to get its act together this season.

 

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys (8:30 p.m. ET)

Carey was just beginning to carve out a role in the Bears’ offense but he suffered a hamstring injury in the Monday night loss. With Jeremy Langford struggling, Chicago needs a running back to emerge as a consistent playmaker. Carey’s likely absence gives Langford another opportunity to claim the No. 1 job, but don’t be surprised if rookie Jordan Howard gets more touches against the Cowboys on Sunday night.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Week 3 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Thomas Rawls, Rashad Jennings, Andrew Luck, Delanie Walker
Post date: Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 06:30
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-week-3-injury-updates-brandon-marshall-julio-jones-alshon-jeffery-ty-hilton
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After two weeks of a relatively small injury report for fantasy owners to digest, Week 3 is back to analyzing what seems like half the league. Week 2 was a brutal one, especially for running backs.

 

However, most of those running back injuries were revealed earlier in the week, and those players have been ruled out. The guys that are questionable are the ones that are problematic for fantasy owners.

 

Before we begin, here are the players that have already been ruled out for Week 3: Adrian Peterson (knee), Doug Martin (hamstring), Arian Foster groin), Jonathan Stewart (hamstring), Donte Moncrief (shoulder), Corey Coleman (hand), Josh McCown (shoulder), and Virgil Green (calf). Also, Danny Woodhead (ACL) and Ameer Abdullah (foot) have been placed on injured reserve.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

Here is a look at the key wide receivers that appear on this week’s injury report. Don’t forget to check out the running backs.

 

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Jones missed practice Thursday and Friday because of a calf strain, but was able to put in a limited practice on Saturday (the equivalent of a Friday practice before the Sunday games). He has said he’s playing and has been able to produce before even when he’s not at 100 percent. He's a WR1 in a great matchup, so fantasy owners should cross their fingers and pencil him in their lineups.

 

Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Owners of Jeffery know that every week is another one with him being listed as questionable. Last season it was week after week of wondering if he was going to play, and this season is shaping up to be more of the same. Jeffery was limited on Wednesday, missed practice on Thursday, and returned to a limited practice on Friday because of a knee injury. All signs point to Jeffery playing on Sunday night, but the late start to the game is enough to make fantasy owners nervous. He's a WR2 if active, but when it comes to Jeffery, be sure to have a backup plan.

 

Brandon Marshall, New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

All three Jets wide receivers are banged up heading into Week 3. However, Eric Decker and Quincy Enunwa were able to put in a full practice on Friday, while Marshall was limited (after not practicing Wednesday or Thursday). Last Thursday night against Buffalo, Marshall hurt his knee and at first glance, it appeared serious. He was able to return to the game, but has been likely been dealing with soreness all week. Marshall has said he’s not missing this game, but his role may be slightly reduced because of the injury. Start him as a WR2, but keep an eye on the inactive list before game time, as it’s possible he could end up sitting this one out.

 

T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts vs. San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Even though Hilton missed practice on Friday, the Colts still believe he will play on Sunday. He put in a limited practice on Thursday, and the report from the Colts is that he was just resting on Friday. The knee issue doesn't seem to be a big concern, so fantasy owners should expect to have Hilton for Week 3. He only has 10 receptions this season for 120 yards, but the matchup against the Chargers is a good one. He's a low WR1.

 

Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills vs. Arizona Cardinals, (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Watkins played in Week 2, despite dealing with soreness in his surgically-repaired foot. He missed all practices this week and got stepped on during a walkthrough. The Bills are pessimistic about his chances of playing this week, and fantasy owners should plan on leaving him on their bench. Even if he does play, it's a tough matchup. Either way, don’t start Watkins this week, and it may not be a bad idea to plan on an extended absence. The Bills may choose to sit Watkins for a couple of games to let him heal or he could end up undergoing additional surgery (like Dez Bryant and Julian Edelman had last season).

 

Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons (Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

After missing practice on Friday due to a toe injury, Snead’s owners may have started to get a little nervous. The good news is that he was able to increase his practice participation each day. Snead told reporters he would be a game-time decision, which is always problematic when dealing with a Monday night game. If he plays, it’s a great matchup and he’s been productive early in the season, but the uncertainty surrounding his status and the injury itself necessitates that his fantasy owners come up with a contingency plan.

 

DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins vs. Cleveland Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

After a breakout game in Week 2 (8 rec., 106 yards), Parker should benefit from the great matchup against the Browns at home on Sunday. He was limited all week at practice, but he does not appear to be in danger of missing the game. Last week, Parker tied Jarvis Landry for the most targets (13 each), as Miami’s passing attack finally got on track in the second half against New England. Arian Foster’s injury could mean another pass-heavy game plan, which makes Parker a WR3 with upside.

 

Mohammed Sanu, Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Sanu returned to practice on Friday after missing Thursday, so he is on track to play on Monday night. He is a WR3, but with Julio Jones banged up, Sanu could see more targets than usual. If Jones ends up not playing, Sanu vaults into clear-cut WR2 territory, but it’s safest to view him as a WR3 with upside.

 

Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

With a full practice on Thursday, Lockett should be ready to go Sunday afternoon. He was limited on Wednesday with a knee sprain, but fantasy owners should plan to have him for Week 3. He's a low WR3 as the Seahawks’ offense has struggled in the early going.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Week 3 Injury Updates: Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffery, T.Y. Hilton
Post date: Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/bad-boy-road-300-preview-and-fantasy-nascar-predictions
Body:

Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. What do these six drivers have in common?

 

They combined to lead all 301 laps this July in the summer Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a race Kenseth won by nearly two seconds over a surprising Tony Stewart. But the other trait those drivers all share is they’ve all easily made the Chase.

 

It’s not surprising, then heading into NHMS their previous event foreshadowed drivers expected to climb to the forefront and flex their title muscle in Round 1. Truex, the winner at Chicagoland last Sunday enters the race having already clinched an automatic bid. Hamlin, the winner at Richmond two weeks ago was ninth at NHMS in July and could have contended for a second straight win at Chicagoland if not for a horsepower problem. Johnson, 12th in that Chicagoland race could have won there as well if not for a pit road speeding penalty that cost him track position late.

 

Then there’s Kenseth, Busch, and Keselowski, all former champions who entered this Chase with both momentum and consistency on their side. Each had solid runs at Chicagoland and it wouldn’t be a surprise if any of the trio wound up sitting in Victory Lane; for Kenseth, it would be his third straight win at NHMS.

 

Whomever ends up on top, the message is clear: don’t look far for results when setting your fantasy roster this weekend for the race. What we see in July at NHMS, like we have in the past is teams and drivers shedding their poker hands and showing true colors for how strong they’ll be once the playoffs come ‘round.

 

2016 Bad Boy Off Road 300

 

Time: 2:00 p.m. ET (Sunday)

Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway

TV: NBCSN

Radio: PRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90

 

Who’s at the Front: Hendrick Motorsports

 

Yes, Martin Truex, Jr. was the driver who came out on top after a thrilling comeback at Chicagoland. After a tire issue, Truex lost a lap under green only to make it up and then charge through the field to earn a hard-fought victory. But the way Hendrick, who had struggled for much of the summer handled themselves through the race was impressive. Rookie Chase Elliott led 75 laps and was in position for his first career victory before a late-race caution. Johnson, before the pit road speeding penalty mentioned above was dominant up front, creating a 1-2 HMS scenario we haven’t seen virtually all season. The 118 laps he led Sunday was more than the past 21 races combined for a No. 48 team that has looked like anything but six-time series champs throughout much of the past few months.

 

Who’s at the Back: Aric Almirola

 

We’ve mentioned rookie teammate Brian Scott in this space but Almirola isn’t doing much better in an awful year for Richard Petty Motorsports. A Chaser just two years ago, driving for the same team he has yet to crack the top 10 or lead more than one lap all season. 32nd at Chicagoland, Almirola holds an average finish of 27th over the last three races and, while 19th at Loudon in July seemed to be running no different under new crew chief Drew Blickensderfer than he was with Trent Owens at the helm.

 

News Briefs

 

NASCAR made changes to its inspection policy this week after winner Truex and Johnson “barely” failed post-race laser inspection. The sport had made clear before the Chase consistent penalties would be assessed for these types of situations but they changed course, claiming it “wasn’t fair” for Johnson to be assessed a major penalty when the rest of the title contenders weren’t subjected to the same type of post-race scrutiny. (Truex, even with a point penalty has already secured a spot in the next round of the Chase with a victory.)

 

Going forward, all 16 Chase contenders will go through post-race laser inspection and be subjected to the same type of consequences. Remember, a failure of landing within the specs could cost someone 35 points, a $65,000 fine, a win to be “encumbered,” (in English, it wouldn’t result in an automatic ticket to the next round) and their crew chief would get docked a three-race suspension.

 

NASCAR Nation is grieving the loss of longtime reporter Bob Margolis this week. Margolis, who worked for a number of different publications throughout his long career in the sport as well as a PR representative. He was 65. Yahoo has a great column about Margolis’ impact on the sport and what he meant as a racing journalist; he’s someone whose writing and personality I looked up to through the years and will be sorely missed.

 

The first Chase race from Chicagoland didn’t deliver in terms of NASCAR TV Viewership. The 1.6 final rating was down 30% from numbers delivered just two years ago during the sport’s final year on ESPN. It’s also the smallest audience to watch a race from Chicagoland since the track’s existence, tying even a rain-delayed event from a few years ago that also served as a Chase opener. Needless to say, the sport’s executives down in Daytona are getting a tad nervous; these numbers might cost them millions during the final round of title sponsor negotiations to replace Sprint.

 

NASCAR by the Numbers

 

6

The number of points separating ninth place Carl Edwards and 15th place Kyle Larson in the Chase standings. Two races remain before the next “cutoff,” where the number of title contenders get cut from 16 to 12.

 

2

The number of top-5 finishes for Ryan Blaney in the last four races (fourth at Chicagoland). The rookie had just two top-5 finishes in his first 41 Sprint Cup starts.

  

Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)

 

Top Tier

 

Kenseth. Kenseth. Kenseth. Why not? The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has won the last two races out in Loudon and hasn’t finished lower than 21st there during his tenure driving the No. 20 Toyota. You can’t go wrong with a veteran that knows how to advance his way through the Chase.

 

If you’re looking for a backup, JGR teammate Kyle Busch has six top-10 finishes in his last seven starts out in Loudon. That one outlier, though is a 37th-place result last fall and keep in mind it can sometimes be feast or famine for the sport’s defending champ. 38th in the Chase race of 2006 here, 34th in the Chase race of 2008… you can go on about some failures here that leave him just behind Kenseth on the depth chart.

  

Middle Tier

 

Austin Dillon, fighting for his playoff life has a quietly decent track record out in New Hampshire. He’s never finished lower than 22nd in five career starts and owns an average finish of 13.6. That’s good enough to stash on your roster if you’re worried about the rollercoaster of two other playoff drivers making contact; Dillon, even though he’s a younger driver in the series knows how to run conservatively and keep his nose clean.

 

Ryan Newman, Dillon’s teammate may not be in the playoff hunt but he owns three straight top-11 finishes at NHMS. Newman, eager to prove himself while RCR finalizes its lineup for 2017 is one of the few non-Chasers I can see winning a race over the next two months.

  

Lower Tier

 

Danica Patrick? Yes, indeed. Ms. Patrick earned a quiet 14th-place finish in the chaos of July’s finish up north and could benefit from the solid setups her Stewart-Haas Chase teammates bring into the race. Believe it or not, she’s stayed out of trouble for much of this season; her three DNFs and 22.3 average finish are both career bests. She’s a good sleeper if needed.

 

What Vegas Thinks

 

According to SportsBettingStats.com Friday morning three drivers are tied on the favorites list for New Hampshire at +650: Kyle Busch, Truex, and Kevin Harvick. Johnson, listed at +1150 is listed as a sleeper pick.

 

What I Think

 

Kenseth. Kenseth. Kenseth. Remember what happened between him and Joey Logano in last year’s Chase? I think the No. 20 team is out to prove something and they’ll start this Sunday with a convincing win.

 

Teaser:
Bad Boy Off Road 300 Preview and Fantasy NASCAR Predictions
Post date: Friday, September 23, 2016 - 15:02
Path: /college-football/arizona-state-sun-devils-vs-california-golden-bears-preview-and-prediction-2016
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Points and big plays won't be in short supply on Saturday night, as California and Arizona State meet in Tempe. Both teams are capable of scoring points in a hurry, with Vegas setting the over/under above 80 points. Needless to say, if you like offense, this is the game to watch on Saturday night.

 

California's win over Texas last weekend was almost a picture perfect ending to the Texas saga for offensive coordinator Jake Spavital and quarterback Davis Webb. For Spavital, there’s something about being an A&M guy and beating Texas. For the latter, you don’t grow up in Texas as a quarterback without idolizing the Longhorns and Webb was snubbed by Texas for the very quarterback he beat on Saturday - a quarterback he almost never got to play until leaving Texas Tech as a graduate transfer this offseason. Cal was Webb’s first and only shot at the Longhorns and he took it well.

 

This now means Cal is back in the driver’s seat and is looking to go to 3-1 and 1-0 in conference play, something far more important than worrying about a loss to San Diego State. As close as the Bears got to the polls with a win over Texas, surely a win over Arizona State would see them into the Top 25 ahead of their trip to Utah, who have a physical matchup with the Trojans this weekend.

 

As per usual, offense is not the issue for Sonny Dykes and his Bear Raid system. Cal currently ranks No. 2 in the nation in passing offense (453 ypg), third in total offense (580.3 ypg), and 10th in scoring offense (47 ppg). This is a team built to throw the ball all over the field and put up points. What the Bears have been lacking has been a defense to back that up.  

 

The Bears’ defense may not be on its way to becoming the Crimson Tide, but Cal is beginning to master a quality that can win an Air Raid team a title - forcing turnovers on defense. Timely interceptions and forced fumbles have been good to the Bears in 2016 and that is something they would prefer to keep going as they prepare to take on the Sun Devils. Todd Graham’s Arizona State teams are known for their tough defensive schemes and a delicious offensive mixture of run and pass.

 

After San Diego State, Cal players had to be feeling a little dejected, but a huge win over a program like Texas give the Bears a huge boost. The template is there for the Bears and they just need to follow it to victory. Holding Texas to 10 points in the second half of last week's game is just the kind of key ingredient the Bears have been missing from their tool kit. Now they’ll be expected to do that week in and week out, having proven that they can in successive weeks.

 

Cal at Arizona State

 

Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN2

Spread: Arizona State -4

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Davis Webb Needs to Maintain His Drive

Webb is the exact kind of leader Cal needed in the wake of Jared Goff’s departure to the NFL. More than just being a big arm, Webb has experience in games and against teams like the Sun Devils. The last time the Sun Devils’ defense tried to gameplan for Webb, he dissected them like an owl pellet in grade school. In the 2013 Holiday Bowl, he was 28-of-41 for 403 yards and four touchdowns.

 

Webb is the real deal and should benefit greatly during his time at Cal under Spavital. His patience and delivery are there, but he does need the experience and time to find people downfield. Outside of his anomaly against San Diego State, Webb has really limited his mistakes. He currently has 13 touchdowns to only three interceptions. When you consider that Cal is already at 166 passing attempts in three games with Webb, that's an outstanding start to a season with high expectations.

 

Related: Predictions for Every College Football Game in Week 4

 

 2. Minimize Three-And-Outs Against ASU

The Sun Devils have been on point when it comes to forcing their opponents to kick the ball after three plays. 36.4% of Arizona State’s defensive series’ end in a three-and-out. That’s nearly 40% of a team’s possession being squandered in three plays. In all, the Sun Devils have forced 16 three-and-outs of their 44 defensive stands. These types of numbers will win you a lot of ball games and this is the sort of physical play one draws up in their mind when thinking about the Sun Devils’ style.

 

Should Cal be able to limit those three-and-outs, they can test the ability of this ASU defense. With the rate that Cal has been putting up offensive points and yards, there is a strong chance they could put this game out reach before ASU even has a chance to gain a foothold in the game. In fact, the last two times these teams have played, Cal has erased a 21-point deficit en route to victory over the Sun Devils.

 

3. Keep Chad Hansen Happy

The redshirt junior has shown no signs of slowing up as the season continues.  Hansen currently leads the nation in per-game receptions (13.3 rpg) and receiving yards (178.7). And perhaps most importantly, he is tied for first in the nation with touchdown grabs (five). Just how dominant is Hansen? His closest competitor is currently 103 yards behind him. That’s basically a full game’s head start.

 

If Hansen continues to have the kind of productivity he has been enjoying this season, it’s hard to imagine the Bear wideout not bringing home some kind of hardware for the team. He is the real deal and Cal has itself a bonafide star with Hansen. He’s good enough to bring the Bears their first-ever Biletnikoff Award winner. Can Arizona State find a way to slow him down on Saturday night?

 

Final Analysis

 

The late games in the Pac-12 rarely fail to deliver. Pac-12 After Dark has thrived largely because of teams like Arizona State and Cal grinding it out every week with their style of play. It also adds to the overall intrigue of the conference. The standard-bearers all have their own style of play and Cal’s is probably the last style you want to see on Saturday night at 7 p.m. Think your team is tired now? Wait until after they’ve defended 70+ passes from this Cal offense.

 

Sparky has been a rollercoaster of emotions in the Pac-12 under Graham. They always look like they’re ready to turn that corner, but then they repeatedly get in their own way. If Graham is going to turn the Sun Devils into the contender he believes them to be, then getting a win over Cal is a great way to start that process. With the exception of Colorado, almost every one of ASU’s next opponents played on or around New Year’s Day last year.

 

Too much to do and not enough time to prepare for it all, Sparky.

 

Prediction: Cal 47, Arizona State 45

 

— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California.

Teaser:
Arizona State Sun Devils vs. California Golden Bears Preview and Prediction 2016
Post date: Friday, September 23, 2016 - 14:47
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-mountaineers-vs-byu-cougars-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

A lot has changed for both BYU (1-2) and West Virginia (2-0) since this game was scheduled back in 2010.

 

In 2010, just a few years after Rich Rod left for Michigan, the Mountaineers were still in the Big East and the late Bill Stewart was their head coach. 

 

For BYU, the Cougars were in the Mountain West and Bronco Mendenhall was the headman in Provo.

 

Flash forward to today, West Virginia is in the Big 12, BYU is an independent that is trying to scratch and claw their way into the Big 12, and the two teams have completely different head coaches in terms of philosophy than the previous coaches in Dana Holgorsen (WVU) and Kalani Sitake (BYU).

 

For West Virginia, this game gives them the opportunity to complete non-conference with an undefeated and join Baylor, as the only two teams in the league to enter Big 12 play undefeated.

 

BYU, on the other hand, is looking to get back track after two straight losses to rival Utah and UCLA.  Can BYU pull off a win in the Eastern time zone where they are 3-11 since 2000?  The last win came against UConn in 2014.

 

This game will be played at FedEx Field, home of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, and will be considered a home game for the Mountaineers.

 

BYU vs. West Virginia (Landover, Md.)

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24th at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: West Virginia -7

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. The Big 12 expansion angle

We saw in week one how much attention Houston, a Big 12 expansion candidate, received after defeated Big 12 power Oklahoma.  The victory had the Coogs rising in the expansion process ever since.

 

Now, BYU’s opportunity against an unranked West Virginia isn’t as large of an opportunity as Houston’s, but it’s still a game that gives BYU a chance to show they can run with the Big 12.

 

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen acknowledged that there would likely be more at stake for BYU in this game with Big 12 expansion being in the backdrop of this game.

 

2. West Virginia wide receivers vs. BYU secondary

Mountaineer wide receiver Ka’Raun White had some interesting quotes regarding BYU receivers earlier in the week:

 

“The (BYU) corners, I don’t think they can run with us. They look solid, but they don’t look like they can keep up.”

 

Will BYU’s secondary answer the bulletin board material that White has now posted? West Virginia boasts some of the best receivers in the Big 12 with White, Daikiel Shorts, and Shelton Gibson who had 171 receiving yards against Youngstown State two weeks ago.

 

3. Will BYU make a change at quarterback?

Taysom Hill has struggled in offensive coordinator Ty Detmer’s new pro-style offense through the first three games of the season. Many in BYU’s fan base want backup Tanner Mangum to step in for Hill. Mangum won eight games as a starter after Hill went down with a Lisfranc injury.

 

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake has emphasized that Taysom Hill is their quarterback and they will stay the course with Hill.  But if the offense continues to go south with Hill under center, do they look for a change for this week to give a spark to the offense that is still looking for their identity?

 

Final Analysis

 

West Virginia has an explosive offense that Holgorsen said traces back to the old BYU days under LaVell Edwards. West Virginia’s offense will be the toughest test yet for a BYU defense that has been lights out through the first quarter of the year.

 

West Virginia has had two weeks to prepare for BYU, while the Cougars have played one of the toughest schedules in the nation through the first three weeks of the season and had to battle for a full 60 minutes in each game. BYU’s depth will be tested in this one, while West Virginia is fresh and ready to go.

 

This will be a close game, but the outcome will never be in doubt. West Virginia comes out of FedEx Field with a solid win to get them ready for Big 12 play.

 

Prediction:  West Virginia 28, BYU 16
Teaser:
West Virginia Mountaineers vs. BYU Cougars Preview and Prediction 2016
Post date: Friday, September 23, 2016 - 14:10
Path: /nfl/minnesota-vikings-vs-carolina-panthers-preview-and-prediction-2016
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The Carolina Panthers may have kicked off their season on a sour note, losing to the Broncos for the second time in as many games, but it did not take Cam Newton and company long to get back on track with a dominant 46-27 victory over the 49ers in Week 2. Carolina will look to stay on a positive trajectory when it faces off with NFC North-leading Minnesota on Sunday. Ron Rivera’s Panthers have not lost a game at Bank of America Stadium since November 2014. Will they be able to keep their home winning streak alive against one of the top teams in the NFC?

 

The Vikings' season appeared doomed when they lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a devastating knee injury in the preseason. But thanks to Sam Bradford, the emergence of Stefon Diggs at wide receiver and an opportunistic defense, a resilient Minnesota team is now sitting alone atop the NFC North at 2-0 on the young season. Even better, the Vikings were able to knock off archrival Green Bay while breaking in brand-new U.S. Bank Stadium last week. This week, Mike Zimmer’s team heads south to take on the defending NFC champion Panthers. The Vikings will do so without star running back Adrian Peterson and starting left tackle Matt Kalil. Can the Vikings continue to overcome adversity and keep their perfect record intact?

 

Minnesota at Carolina

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: Carolina -7

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Minnesota’s Offensive Line

Minnesota’s offensive line was a glaring issue of concern last season. In order to address the problem, general manager Rick Spielman made some big moves in the offseason, bringing in right tackle Andre Smith and left guard Alex Boone via free agency. Former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano also was brought in to replace Jeff Davidson as offensive line coach. The Vikings appeared confident that these moves would help shore up their shaky offensive front and bring more intensity.

 

So far, the overhauled line has not met those expectations. Just last week, the Minnesota front allowed the Green Bay defense to use Sam Bradford as its personal tackling dummy, recording four sacks and putting him on the ground an additional 10 times. The offensive line has been even less helpful in regard to the Vikings' running game, which is averaging an NFL-worst 1.9 yards per carry through two contests.

 

To make matters worse, the Vikings have now lost starting left tackle Matt Kalil for the season due to a hip injury, putting replacement T.J. Clemmings in charge of protecting Bradford’s blind side. This does not bode well for an already porous offensive line that is about to face a Panthers front seven that ranks among the best in the NFL.

 

2. Backup Running Backs

This isn’t the first time Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata have had to fill in for Adrian Peterson. In 2014, McKinnon and Asiata combined to rush for more than 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns in place of the then-suspended Peterson. On Sunday, the tandem of McKinnon and Asiata will once again try to fill the void left by Peterson’s absence. McKinnon is expected to serve as the primary back, mostly on first and second down, while Asiata’s services will likely be called upon in the red zone and on passing downs.

 

While McKinnon and Asiata are capable replacements, they are not Adrian Peterson. Peterson’s presence on the field alone has an effect on opposing defenses that cannot be duplicated. Plus, this is not 2014’s offensive line that these two will be running behind. The Vikings' run blocking has been atrocious so far in 2016. McKinnon and Asiata could have a tough time against a stout Carolina defense on Sunday.

 

The Panthers also will be without their starting running back, Jonathan Stewart (hamstring), for Sunday’s matchup. Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne are expected to share the carries in place of Stewart. Whittaker filled in admirably last week following Stewart’s injury, rushing for 100 yards on 16 carries and adding three catches for 31 yards. While Stewart’s absence will be felt, it shouldn’t be as noticeable as the Vikings' loss of Peterson. Cam Newton has long been the driving force behind the Panthers' rushing attack anyway. So, it should be business as usual for the NFL’s No. 1 rushing offense. The only thing that could prevent the Panthers' ground game from looking any different in Week 3 is a stout Vikings' run defense.

 

3. Turnovers

The Vikings have thrived off of takeaways so far this season. In fact, there is a good chance that they would be sitting at 0-2 without them. Minnesota has already generated six takeaways in its first two contests, two of which resulted in touchdowns. Conversely, the Vikings' offense has turned the ball over just once in two games. This could prove to be a great equalizer if they can capitalize on a Carolina offense that has already committed five turnovers.

 

That said, Minnesota's offense will feature some new faces at key positions this week, and the Vikings could be equally hard-pressed to protect the football from an aggressive Carolina defense that led the league in takeaways by a wide margin last season and already has six in the first two games. It seems like a safe bet that turnovers will be a factor in this game. The problem is trying to determine which team is better suited to make the most of them.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Vikings are a resilient football team with one of the best defenses in the NFL. They have legitimate weapons in wide receiver Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph. They also have a quarterback in Sam Bradford that showed plenty of promise in his first start with his new team last week. The problem is that Cam Newton, Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen combine to form a trio that is far superior. The Carolina offense has an even bigger edge when you factor in Minnesota's suspect offensive line to go along with the loss of Adrian Peterson. The Vikings' defense, led by star safety Harrison Smith, could make it interesting by capitalizing on turnovers. Otherwise, Minnesota has too many deficiencies on offense to keep pace with a Panthers team that has been next to impossible to beat on its home turf.

 

Prediction: Panthers 24, Vikings 14

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

Teaser:
Minnesota Vikings vs. Carolina Panthers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 23, 2016 - 13:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/washington-redskins-vs-new-york-giants-preview-and-prediction-2016
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No NFC East game is ever a given. More so than any other division, NFC East games are full of surprises and upsets. These games also feature their fair share of physicality and trash-talking, and the Week 3 matchup between the Redskins and Giants should be no different.

 

The Giants come into this game 2-0 after very close victories against Dallas and New Orleans. Last week New York seemed to be in control most of the game but a handful of turnovers allowed the Saints to hang around.

 

The Redskins dropped to 0-2 after a home loss to the Cowboys a week ago. Questions are being raised about quarterback Kirk Cousins’ ability to lead this offense, supporting Washington’s decision to not sign him to a long-term deal this offseason.

 

This game is critical for both teams. With a loss, the Redskins are looking at a very low likelihood of defending their division title. The Giants could use a victory to begin the season 3-0 for the first time since starting 5-0 start in 2009.

 

Washington at New York

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: New York -4.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Beckham vs. Norman: The Rematch

If you know anything about this game, you probably know that Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman will be facing off for the first time since their notorious matchup last season, as well as the first time since Norman joined the NFC East. Last year the two battled physically and mentally in a game between the Giants and Carolina Panthers. The battle featured a lot of drama including pre-game threats, several personal foul penalties and a one-game suspension for Beckham the following week. On the field, Beckham had a solid game with six receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown, a game-tying score against Norman. However, Beckham could have had even bigger numbers had he been mentally ready for the game. He had several drops, including a would-be 52 yard score after he burned Norman deep early in the first quarter.

 

The trash-talking intensified during the offseason and picked back up once the season started, although Beckham seems less interested in the extracurricular activity after getting himself into some hot water a year ago. Norman has performed admirably so far as a member of the Redskins, although he has yet to spend significant time shadowing the opposing teams’ top receivers. Beckham has 12 receptions for 159 yards in the first two games, but will be looking for his first touchdown against Norman and the Redskins. Look for each player to step up their game on Sunday afternoon.

 

2. Turnovers
New York’s offense should have cruised to victory last week after its defense held the Saints to only 13 points. However, despite 417 yards of total offense, the Giants could only muster one touchdown. The main culprit was shoddy ball security. Eli Manning lost the football on a sack, Shane Vereen fumbled on a rushing attempt and Victor Cruz coughed it up 40-yard catch-and-run that would have put the Giants in the red zone. Those fumbles came on three straight possessions and seemed to slow the blistering pace at which the Giants were moving the ball.

 

The Redskins have only forced two turnovers so far, so the Giants will hope that their fumbling problems don’t carry over. If the Redskins can apply some pressure in the backfield, however, they know the recipe to stopping the Giants’ potentially explosive offense.

 

3. Kirk Cousins
Cousins was a topic of controversy this offseason after leading the Redskins to the NFC East title in 2015. Even though he finished the season with 4,166 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, the Redskins were hesitant to sign Cousins to a long-term contract and instead wanted him to prove himself again. So far through two games he has done the opposite, tossing only one touchdown to three picks against less-than-stellar secondaries in Pittsburgh and Dallas.

New York’s revamped secondary, with the additions of cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple, has been tough on opposing quarterbacks. If Cousins can’t put up a decent performance against the Giants, then the questions will really start to pick up regarding his future in Washington.

 

Final Analysis

 

With a more explosive offense and a defense that has been mighty impressive through two weeks, the Giants look to be the clear favorites coming into this game. They even scored a special teams touchdown last week. Again, however, the NFC East is always a struggle and no game can ever be decided before kickoff. Enjoy the fireworks between Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman, and look to see Eli Manning lead his team to victory and a clear lead in the division.

 

Prediction: Giants 27, Redskins 14

Teaser:
Washington Redskins vs. New York Giants Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 23, 2016 - 13:15
Path: /nfl/denver-broncos-vs-cincinnati-bengals-preview-and-prediction-2016
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The defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos hit the road for the first time this season and face a stiff test against a Cincinnati Bengals team that not only has their sights set on another playoff appearance, but have their backs against the wall looking to avoid a 1-2 start to the year.

 

Denver is facing its first bit of adversity in 2016 after pulling out a win over Indianapolis last week. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware is out, big free-agent acquisition Donald Stephenson left his right tackle post early against the Colts and the team may be down to just one tight end this Saturday. Not exactly the news head coach Gary Kubiak wants to hear as quarterback Trevor Siemian makes his first start without the benefit of a home crowd.

 

On the other sideline, the Bengals are also dealing with their own issues in getting off to a relatively slow start through two weeks. Quarterback Andy Dalton has put up some impressive stats, especially when finding his favorite target A.J. Green down the field, but the offense isn’t quite hitting on all cylinders given its struggles in the red zone and in the run game. The defense still has a wealth of talent and will be counted on to come up big in this AFC clash between potential playoff teams.

 

The Broncos won last season’s meeting between the two franchises and five of the last six overall in the series. Kubiak has won every meeting with Cincinnati as a head coach but the former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator went 0-for-2 against the team back in 2014.

 

Denver at Cincinnati

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Bengals -3

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Siemian hits the road

Trevor Siemian has played fine as the starting quarterback for Denver but he’ll face his stiffest test yet by going on the road to a hostile environment for the first time and facing a Paul Guenther defense that is going to be much tougher than last week’s opponent, Indianapolis. While the young signal-caller has made a few mistakes so far this season, he’s also battled through them to regroup and lead his team to two wins. Seeing how he responds in Week 3 will be big in determining what kind of ceiling the Broncos have in 2016. Either way, expect a steady dose of handoffs against a defense allowing 4.2 yards per carry.

 

2. Containing A.J. Green

Green is well respected around the league as one of the best there is and showed it by torching the Jets secondary for 180 yards in Week 1. Things weren’t quite so easy against Pittsburgh’s defense last week, however, so it will be interesting to track what he does against Denver’s defense as the primary playmaker for the Bengals’ offense. T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris are up to the task in the Broncos’ secondary after limiting Green effectively in last year’s matchup but it won’t be easy to do so again on Sunday.

 

3. Slowing down Von Miller

So far Miller has looked like he’s worth every penny of that mega contract he received this offseason. He’s been terrorizing opposing offenses on just about every snap and made life miserable for two of the league’s best quarterbacks in Cam Newton and Andrew Luck. Seeing how Cincinnati tries to block him on obvious passing downs is worth monitoring because it seems highly doubtful that the Bengals will prefer to have Miller matched up one-on-one with the team’s offensive tackles. Expect running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard to be a little more involved in pass protection than the passing game as a result.

 

Final Analysis

 

Football is a game of matchups and in this intriguing AFC clash between two of last season’s playoff teams is a juicy one. The Bengals feature one of the best offenses in the NFL, led by an aerial attack with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green that has piled up yards through two weeks and are dangerous on every snap. The Broncos meanwhile, feature the best defense in the league by a good margin and are tough to attack no matter how good a team’s personnel is.

 

The combination of these two factors results in a pretty compelling non-primetime game on Sunday between teams looking to capture home-field advantage at the end of the season. Cincinnati is already pressing for wins, even early in the year, after narrowly beating the Jets but falling to division rival Pittsburgh last week. Denver isn’t in the same position but does have to deal with getting everybody’s best shot as the defending champs and has an inexperienced quarterback making his first road start. While a win or a loss won’t make or break either team’s season, this game should help sort out the top of the AFC and clarify where each squad stacks up compared to the rest of the conference.

 

At the end of the day, this one comes down to which offense can most effectively move down the field and limit mistakes. A three-and-out is a much better alternative to a fumble or interception and you can bet that coaches on both sides will be preaching ball security in such a close matchup. Cincinnati at home gets the slight edge when it comes to the final score, but don’t be surprised if Denver is in position to win the game in the fourth quarter.

 

Prediction: Bengals 26, Broncos 23

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.

Teaser:
Denver Broncos vs. Cincinnati Bengals Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 23, 2016 - 13:00
Path: /college-football/washington-huskies-vs-arizona-wildcats-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

Halloween night 2015 marked the nadir of a trying season for the Arizona Wildcats. Though not the most lopsided loss in Rich Rodriguez's tenure as head coach, the 49-3 blowout Washington put on Arizona last Oct. 31 may have been the program's lowest point since the 2012 campaign, when Rich Rodriguez first took over as head coach.

 

For Washington, that defensive masterpiece helped build the case for the Huskies as preseason favorites to contend not only for the Pac-12 North, but a spot in the College Football Playoff.

 

Nothing thus far has derailed the Washington hype train, with the Huskies opening the campaign 3-0, in a trio of wins quite similar to that Halloween rout of the Wildcats. Head coach Chris Petersen's squad is ranked in the top 10, with the chance to position itself for the all-important top four by the time November arrives — assuming the Huskies can avoid any upsets.

 

Washington at Arizona

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Line: Washington -10

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Jake Browning's Building Heisman Campaign 

Washington quarterback Jake Browning had a solid, if not unspectacular freshman season for the Huskies. Against Arizona, however, he was lights out, passing for 263 yards and four touchdowns.

 

Browning's fresh off a three-game start to his sophomore campaign with three scores against Rutgers, five against Idaho and four against Portland State. He's putting up some Heisman Trophy-caliber numbers, albeit against lackluster competition. Arizona's place among the Pac-12 this season remains to be seen, but a road conference game is the perfect time to make a statement.

 

2. A New-Look Arizona Rushing Attack 

Washington's stellar defense has held opponents to an incredible 2.14 yards per carry thus far in 2016. While skewed somewhat by the level of competition, the Huskies did face Portland State, whose unique approach produced one of the best rushing offenses in the FCS a season ago.

 

The Huskies' defensive front can be downright oppressive of opposing running games. A new-look Arizona backfield, with dual-threat quarterback Brandon Dawkins likely headed for his third start and lightning bug J.J. Taylor at running back, must find vulnerabilities in the Washington defense any opponent has yet to find.

 

The Dawkins-Taylor backfield is more reminiscent of Rodriguez's West Virginia teams with Pat White and Noel Devine, but those Mountaineer teams had Steve Slaton as the No. 1 ball carrier. Arizona's typical No. 1, Nick Wilson, is questionable for Saturday after coming out early last week vs. Hawaii.

 

3. Home-Field Advantage

Home-field advantage has proven overrated in the Pac-12 in recent years, but it's carried weight in the Arizona-Washington series. The home team has won every matchup since 2008, and by a considerable margin. Only Arizona's last-second win in 2014 and a bizarre pick-six for Washington in '09 produced single-digit margins.

 

The state of Arizona has, in general, been unkind to Washington. The Huskies gave up a two-score advantage last November to lose its eighth straight in the Grand Canyon State.

 

Whether it's the distance or the dry, desert air, winning in Arizona's been an issue for the Huskies — one that Petersen must solve if this team is indeed to contend for a Playoff berth.

 

Final Analysis

 

This is a true style clash: the speed of an undersized Arizona team against the strength of a powerful Washington bunch. That proposition favored Washington last season — considerably. It's also the formula Stanford has used to sit atop the Pac-12 for almost half-a-decade, and one that Alabama's ridden to No. 1 for most of the last seven years.

 

Arizona's hope is to force some turnovers early and score points quickly. Considering how the Washington defense has looked, juxtaposed with the offensive struggles Arizona's faced amid injuries, it could be an uphill climb for the Wildcats.

 

Prediction: Washington 38, Arizona 24 

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Teaser:
Washington Huskies vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 23, 2016 - 12:30

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