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Pittsburgh is looking for its fourth head coach in five seasons after Paul Chryst was hired to replace Gary Andersen at Wisconsin. Chryst’s move to the Big Ten comes as no surprise, as the third-year coach is a Madison native and worked on the Badgers’ staff in 2002 and again from 2005-11. In three seasons as Pittsburgh’s head coach, Chryst went 19-19 and guided the program to three bowl appearances.
The Panthers should have plenty of interested candidates, perhaps including Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, Ball State coach Pete Lembo and former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.
Who might replace Chryst at Pittsburgh? Here are 11 names to watch.
11 Candidates to Replace Paul Chryst at Pittsburgh
Matt Campbell, Head Coach, Toledo
Campbell is one of the rising stars from coaches outside of a Power 5 conference. In three full seasons at Toledo, the Ohio native is 25-13. He also coached the 2011 Military Bowl after Tim Beckman left for Illinois and guided the Rockets to a 42-41 victory. Under Campbell’s watch, the Rockets are 18-6 in the MAC and claimed a share of the West Division title with a 7-1 mark in conference play this season. Prior to taking over as Toledo’s head coach, Campbell worked as an assistant with the Rockets for two years (2009-11) and at Bowling Green (2006-08). Campbell played at Mount Union and is one of the youngest college football coaches at 35 years old.
Rod Carey, Head Coach, Northern Illinois
Carey has continued to keep Northern Illinois at the top of the MAC with a 23-5 record in two full seasons as the head coach in DeKalb. The Wisconsin native was an assistant under Dave Doeren prior to his promotion to the head coach spot and also spent time working on staffs at North Dakota and Illinois State. Carey also coached the Huskies in the Orange Bowl against Florida State after Doeren left for NC State.
Bud Foster, Defensive Coordinator, Virginia Tech
Foster popped up in the mix during Pittsburgh’s last coaching search. Could the long-time Virginia Tech assistant show interest again in the job? Foster is one of the nation’s highest-paid assistants and has worked under Frank Beamer in Blacksburg since 1987. Under Foster’s direction, the Hokies have consistently ranked among the nation’s top defenses. However, the veteran assistant does not have any experience as a head coach. A longshot but worth mentioning since he was in the mix last time.
Justin Fuente, Head Coach, Memphis
Fuente should be one of the leading candidates for national coach of the year honors after guiding Memphis to a share of the American Athletic Conference title in 2014. The Tigers are 16-20 under Fuente’s watch, but the Oklahoma native inherited a mess after Larry Porter was fired after a 3-21 record in two years at Memphis. The Tigers also transitioned from Conference USA to the tougher American Athletic Conference, and Fuente’s team nearly won at UCLA earlier this season. Prior to taking over at Memphis, Fuente worked under Gary Patterson at TCU from 2007-11.
Doc Holliday, Head Coach, Marshall
Holliday is a native of West Virginia and played with the Mountaineers from 1976-78. Considering his ties to West Virginia, Holliday presents an interesting dynamic in the Pittsburgh coaching search. Would the Panthers want to hire a West Virginia guy? Regardless of his ties to Morgantown, Holliday is known as a good recruiter and was a long-time assistant prior to taking the job at Marshall. In five seasons with the Thundering Herd, Holliday is 39-25 and 22-5 over the last two years.
Pete Lembo, Head Coach, Ball State
Lembo is a native of New York and has been successful at three different stops as a head coach, including a five-year stint at Lehigh from 2001-05. During his five years at Lehigh, Lembo went 44-14 and the Mountain Hawks made two appearances in the FCS playoffs. From 2006-10, Lembo coached at Elon and went 35-22 in five seasons. He also led the Phoenix to a spot in the 2009 FCS playoffs and won at least seven games in three of those years. Lembo’s track record of success has continued at Ball State, guiding the Cardinals to a 19-7 mark from 2012-13 and back-to-back bowl appearances. Despite a 5-7 record this year, Lembo is considered one of the top coaches in the MAC.
Joe Moorhead, Head Coach, Fordham
Moorhead is a name Pittsburgh fans may remember from his stint as an assistant at UConn from 2009-11. And he's also a native of the Steel City. In three years at Fordham, Moorhead has guided the Rams to a 29-10 record and two FCS playoff appearances. Considering Moorhead is working at his alma mater and recently had his contract extended, he may not be interested in leaving Fordham. However, he’s been a successful FCS coach and would be a good fit at Pittsburgh.
Pat Narduzzi, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi is regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in college football and is ready for his opportunity to run a Power 5 program. The Connecticut native has worked at Michigan State under Mark Dantonio since 2007. Under Narduzzi’s guidance, the Spartans have ranked among the nation’s best on defense. Michigan State limited opponents to just four yards per play in 2013 and ranked in the top four of the Big Ten in scoring defense in four consecutive seasons. Narduzzi also has experience as an assistant from stops at Cincinnati, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois and Rhode Island. Narduzzi should be high on Pittsburgh’s list.
Matt Rhule, Head Coach, Temple
Rhule is a coach with several years of experience in the state of Pennsylvania. He’s a native of State College and played under Joe Paterno at Penn State. Rhule’s coaching career started at Albright College in 1998 and continued with stops at Buffalo and UCLA before landing at Western Carolina from 2002-05. After a four-year stint with the Catamounts, Rhule coached under Al Golden at Temple from 2006-10 and remained on staff during Steve Addazio’s first season. Rhule left Philadelphia to coach with the Giants in 2012 but returned to Temple after Addazio was hired by Boston College. In two years with the Owls, Rhule’s record is 8-16, but the program made significant progress from 2013 to 2014. Temple was bowl eligible this season but did not receive a postseason bid after a 6-6 mark.
Greg Schiano, former Rutgers and Tampa Bay head coach
Schiano has been out of work since he was fired at the end of the 2013 NFL season at Tampa Bay. In two years with the Buccaneers, Schiano went 11-21, but he was a successful college coach at Rutgers from 2001-11. Under his watch, the Scarlet Knights went 68-67 and made six bowl appearances over the last seven years in his tenure. Schiano didn’t inherit much to work with when he was hired at Rutgers and needed a few years to build the talent base, which is why the Scarlet Knights went 8-27 through his first three seasons. Schiano’s recruiting connections in New Jersey could be a huge boost for Pittsburgh.
Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State
Shoop has emerged as one of the nation’s top defensive coordinators over the last four years and deserves consideration as one of the top assistant hires in 2014 after Penn State’s defense held opponents to 17.7 points per game this season. Prior to 2014, Shoop worked at Vanderbilt under James Franklin. The Commodores ranked fifth in the SEC in scoring defense in 2012 and sixth in the conference in fewest yards per play in 2013. Shoop also has stops as an assistant at William & Mary, UMass, Boston College, Army, Villanova, Yale and Northeastern. He also spent three years as Columbia’s head coach (2003-05).
Matt Wells, Head Coach, Utah State
Wells’ name has popped up on the radar for jobs at Tulsa and Oregon State this offseason, but he decided to remain at Utah State after interest from both programs. Wells coaches at his alma mater, so it’s not going to be easy for him to leave Utah State. Could a job at a Power 5 program interest the Oklahoma native? Wells spent time as an assistant at Navy, Tulsa, New Mexico and Louisville prior to joining Gary Andersen’s staff at Utah State in 2011. After Andersen left for Wisconsin, Wells was promoted to head coach and the Aggies are 18-9 under his watch. Wells’ record at Utah State is impressive considering the program has been dealing with significant injuries at quarterback the last two years and is starting a true freshman after its top three options were injured in 2014.
Oregon’s hopes of winning the college football national championship took a hit on Wednesday, as reports indicated top cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a significant knee injury in practice.
Yahoo Sports reported Ekpre-Olomu’s injury occurred during Tuesday’s practice and there’s concern the top cornerback suffered a torn ACL. The senior is not expected to play in Oregon’s upcoming game against Florida State.
Ekpre-Olomu was a first-team All-American by Athlon Sports and the Associated Press for 2014. The senior recorded 63 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass breakups in 13 games this season.
Without Ekpre-Olomu, the Ducks are expected to ask more of Dior Mathis and Chris Seisay at cornerback.
Troy Hill is expected to slide into the No. 1 cornerback spot, and the senior has recorded 57 tackles, one interception and 16 pass breakups this season. Hill was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection this season.
Losing Ekpre-Olomu – one of the nation’s top defenders – is a significant loss for Oregon’s defense in the Rose Bowl against Florida State. The matchup between the Ducks and Seminoles was expected to be a high-scoring affair. Now, Oregon coordinator Don Pellum has to regroup with less than a month to prepare.
The Ducks struggled at times on defense this year but held opponents to 23.8 points per game in Pac-12 matchups this year. Pellum’s group also allowed 5.4 yards per play and ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in third-down defense.
Needless to say, those numbers (and struggles) will be magnified in the Rose Bowl without Ekpre-Olomu against Florida State’s explosive offense.
The Seminoles average 34.8 points per game and 6.4 yards per play. Quarterback Jameis Winston won the Heisman in 2013 but tossed 17 picks in 2014. Winston’s increase in interceptions was due to a variety of factors, including new targets at receiver and a struggling offensive line.
However, despite the increase in turnovers, Florida State’s offense has been operating at a high level and became even more dangerous over the second half of 2014 with the emergence of running back Dalvin Cook.
Ekpre-Olomu was expected to be aligned against top receiver Rashad Greene, who caught 93 passes for 1,306 yards and seven scores in 2014. Greene was also an Athlon Sports All-American in 2014 and is clearly the favorite target for Winston.
By no means does Ekpre-Olomu’s injury end Oregon’s national title hopes. With quarterback Marcus Mariota and an array of weapons on offense, the Ducks can outscore any team in the playoff. However, the Ducks are going to need stops at some point to beat Florida State. Can Pellum mix and match the right combinations in the secondary to slow down Winston and Greene? If not, the Ducks are going to be looking at a quick exit in the playoff.
Sources: #Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered what is believed to be a serious knee injury in practice yesterday. Concern it's a torn ACL.— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) December 17, 2014
Jabari Parker is the face of the Milwaukee Bucks’ future. He was, also, set to be the Rookie of the Year by almost all accounts — until something very unfortunate happened.
The former Duke standout and Chicago native has an advanced, veteran-like knack for scoring that goes beyond simple skills like shooting, jumping, and running. He’s got that next-level touch for putting points up; that creative gene we evoke when we so emphatically say “buckets.” Jabari’s got a singular way of finding the hole, and he’s still only 19 years old.
That’s why the latest news about him is so heartbreaking. Parker’s knee buckled in Monday night’s road game against the Phoenix Suns, and late last night the worst was confirmed by ESPN and other outlets: Parker has torn his ACL, and he’ll miss the remainder of his rookie season.
The Bucks were just becoming quite the team to watch, too. Next to the incredibly lengthy 20-year-old Giannis “the Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, Parker had managed to become one of the faces of a new, rising generation of NBA superstardom.
Parker, who was drafted No. 2 overall by Milwaukee in June, still has many bright days ahead of him. Torn ACLs are terrible, but they’re not the end of the world. Chris Paul, a perennial MVP candidate, certainly survived his. But the recovery is rough, as Derrick Rose (who happens to have gone to the same high school as Jabari, Simeon Academy) is proving with his slow climb back to basketball prominence.
Luckily, the man is still young. He still won’t be able to legally drink by the time he hits the floor again, and he’ll have more than a decade of professional balling ahead of him. While Jabari will now definitely miss out on the Rookie of the Year award he was destined for — and we’ll miss the chance to watch him light the screen up for a season — he’ll still have more than ample opportunity to compete for much greater glory.
— John Wilmes
Seahawks (11–3) at Cardinals (10–4)
All that's on the line for both teams is the NFC's top seed at best and the NFC West Division title at worst. Arizona secured its playoff berth in a touchdown-less win against St. Louis. It is the first postseason trip for the Cardinals since 2009, Kurt Warner's last season. And they could use Warner now as they will go into Sunday's game with third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley under center. The defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks won the first meeting 19-3, which kick started their current four-game winning streak. Arizona is 7-0 at home this season, while Seattle is 4-3 on the road.
Falcons (5–9) at Saints (6-8)
OK, this is likely one of the farthest games away from being "can't miss," but who can turn their head away when passing by the train wreck that is the NFC South? Both teams are currently drafting inside the top 12 while at the same time playing for a division title. Back in Week 1, when both teams had optimism for a great season, the Falcons won 37-34 in overtime behind a franchise-record 448 yards passing from Matt Ryan. Atlanta, 4-0 in the division, enters on a two-game losing skid. New Orleans is 3-4 at home.
Chiefs (8–6) at Steelers (9–5)
This is a Wild Card-securing game for Pittsburgh, which still has the AFC North title in its sights with two more wins. The Chiefs need the win to keep their postseason hopes alive, but a number of scenarios have them alive even if they lose out. The Steelers are 7-3 in conference play with a 5-3 home record while the Chiefs are 6-4 against AFC opponents and 3-4 on the road.
Ravens (9–5) at Texans (7–7)
Baltimore enters Week 16 as the third AFC North team holding down a spot in the "if the playoffs ended today" scenario. The Ravens currently have the final Wild Card spot, and will make the playoffs with two more wins; the division title is still within reach as well. Meanwhile, Houston is still in contention as the fourth team on the outside looking in, but will need two wins and some help.
Well, there is nowhere to go but up for Johnny Manziel.
The Cleveland Browns' rookie quarterback made his starting debut in Week 15, and it was certainly forgettable. It was bad enough to lose while still in the playoff hunt and to be shutout 30-0 at home by in-state division rival Cincinnati, but the performance itself left plenty to be desired.
Running just 38 offensive plays, the fewest for Cleveland since its Week 1 return to the league in 1999 (28), the 22-year-old Manziel went 10-of-18 for 80 yards, was sacked three times, intercepted twice, and finished with a quarterback rating of 27.3. He had five carries for 13 yards.
"It’s the first game I’ve ever not scored a point in and been shut out,” he said on Monday. “I’ve played in a lot of games, I feel like, from high school through college and that one and never been shut out until then, so it was definitely tough.”
Cincinnati jumped out to a 20-0 halftime lead as Manziel was 4-of-9 for 22 yards with his two interceptions coming in the first two quarters. Both interceptions came on passes longer than 15 yards, of which Manziel finished 0-for-4 on those attempts.
"I never felt overwhelmed or that it was too much for me," he said.
The No. 22 pick overall in May's NFL Draft, Manziel became the Browns' 21st different starting quarterback since the franchise returned, and the team's fifth to be shut out in his first start. He became the NFL's sixth QB in the last 20 years to be shutout in his first start, the first since 2010.
And while he called the experience "humbling," Manziel certainly was not the first first-round QB to be shutout in his starting debut. But if history is any indicator, bouncing back quickly is a rarity. Four other first-round QBs were shutout in their first starts as rookies. The four combined for zero touchdowns and six interceptions in their debuts. They returned the next week to combine for two TDs and nine interceptions, and all four lost again.
Johnny Football has two more regular-season games to get on track and potentially get his team into the postseason - a feat none of the other four first-round QBs on the shutout list were remotely close to doing as rookies.
FIRST-ROUND QUARTERBACKS SHUTOUT IN FIRST START
TOMMY MADDOX, DENVER, WEEK 12, 1992
Maddox lost 24-0 at the Los Angeles Raiders in his first start as a rookie. He went 11-for-26 for 127 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He lost at Seattle the following week, 16-13, throwing for 127 yards, his first TD, and another two interceptions. Maddox, who was out of the NFL from 1996-2000, did not start again until Week 4, 2002, a 32-29 loss at New Orleans. His first win as a starter came the next week when he completed 16-of-25 passes for 216 yards, one TD, and two interceptions to defeat host Cincinnati 34-7.
TIMM ROSENBACH, PHOENIX, WEEK 15, 1989
Rosenbach lost 37-0 against visiting Denver, going 2-for-8 for 14 yards with no TDs and no interceptions. He did no start again until Week 1 of the following season, a 31-0 loss at Washington where he was 20-of-39 for 228 yards with no TDs and four interceptions. It was not until Rosenbach's third career start, Week 2 of the 1990 season, that he scored a win. He went 11-of-19 for 116 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in a 23-21 win at Philadelphia. He went 5-11 as a starter in 1990, started no games in 1991, lost the first two games of 1992 and was out of football by the end of the season.
TROY AIKMAN, DALLAS, WEEK 1, 1989
Aikman started 11 games of the Cowboys' 1-15, 1989 season. His first came in Week 1 when he lost 28-0 at New Orleans, completing 17-of-35 passes for 180 yards with no TDs and two interceptions. He followed that with a 27-21 loss at Altanta, throwing for 241 yards on 13-of-23 passing with one TD and two interceptions. Aikman did not get a win until his 12th career start, which came in Week 1 of the 1990 season. He scored the game-winning touchdown, a 1-yard run, to defeat visiting San Diego 17-14. Aikman was 13-of-29 for 193 yards with the rushing TD, a passing TD, and an interception.
BOB GRIESE, MIAMI, WEEK 2, 1967
Griese lost 24-0 to visiting Kansas City, completing 11-of-22 passes for 101 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. He followed that with a 29-7 loss at the Jets the next week, connecting on 1-of-3 passes for four yards, no scores, and one interception. Griese did not get his first win until his sixth start of the 1967 season. He had the game-winning, 31-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to defeat visiting Buffalo 17-14, connecting on 17-of-33 attempts for 222 yards, the touchdown, and three interceptions. Griese was the only one of the four first-round QBs shutout in their first start to get a win in his rookie season.
Owings Mills, MD (SportsNetwork.com) - The Baltimore Ravens placed rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, rookie safety Terrence Brooks and cornerback Asa Jackson on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday.
Taliaferro, a fourth-round pick, hurt his foot against the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 7 and didn't play against the Jaguars on Sunday. He carried the ball 68 times for 292 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games this season.
The Ravens now have Bernard Pierce and Fitzgerald Toussaint behind Justin Forsett at running back.
Brooks, a third-round draft pick, and Jackson are dealing with knee injuries.
Baltimore promoted offensive lineman Ryan Jensen from the practice squad to the active roster and signed defensive tackle Casey Walker off the New England Patriots' practice squad.
Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - The Houston Texans placed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on injured reserve Tuesday, officially ending his season.
The move came a day after Fitzpatrick had surgery on his broken left leg, an injury he suffered during Sunday's game against Indianapolis.
Backup Tom Savage was also injured on Sunday and will miss this weekend's game against Baltimore, further depleting Houston at the position.
The Texans bolstered their quarterback depth chart by signing Case Keenum to the active roster and inking Ricky Stanzi to the practice squad. Keenum or Thad Lewis figures to get the start Sunday against the Ravens.
Fitzpatrick was benched for Ryan Mallett earlier this season. He returned to a starting role after Mallett went down with a season-ending pectoral injury last month and ended the season with 2,483 yards passing and 17 touchdowns in 12 games.
Keenum started eight games for the Texans last season, going 0-8 with 1,760 yards passing, nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
Stanzi, 27, was a fifth-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011 out of Iowa. He spent two years on their roster and another on Jacksonville's last season but has never taken an NFL snap.
The Texans placed wide receiver Travis Labhart on the practice squad/injured list.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 16:
• Skill players aren't the only ones who do well with the ladies. Just ask Georgia kicker — yep, kicker — Marshall Morgan.
• Andre Iguodala made fun of Mike Conley's uncalled traveling violation in a most delightful way, although it cost him a technical.
• Well this is awkward: Jets owner Woody Johnson favorited a "Fire John Idzik" tweet. Accidentally, he said.
• This is not a new idea, but it's well executed: A bench warmer made himself a recruiting video.
• There was a "rain delay" at the Nets game.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
College football’s regular season is complete, and all that’s left of the 2014 season is 39 bowl games, including the first four-team playoff format in FBS history. While the season is over and fans for some teams are already planning for next season, it’s never too early (or late) to look back at the year that was and honor some of the top players, teams and coaches.
Athlon concludes its slate of regular season honors with the 2014 national awards, as well as a look ahead at some of the rising stars, coaches on the hot seat and coordinators to watch in 2015.
College Football’s 2014 National Awards
Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Mariota was the best player in college football this season – and it wasn’t close. The junior passed for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns and added 669 yards and 14 scores on the ground. Mariota was incredibly efficient, completing 68.3 percent of his passes and tossing only two interceptions on 372 attempts. The junior led the nation by averaging 10.2 yards per pass attempt in 2014.
2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
4. Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
5. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Defensive Player of the Year: Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona
Wright’s breakout season was a key cog in Arizona’s Pac-12 South title. The sophomore recorded 153 tackles (28 for a loss), 14 sacks and forced six fumbles. Wright’s 28 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles led the nation, and the California native acquired plenty of hardware this offseason, winning the Lombari, Bednarik and Nagurski Awards.
2. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
3. Nate Orchard, DE, Utah
4. Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
5. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Breakout player: Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
Coleman led Indiana with 958 rushing yards last season and was expected to see an increase in production after playing in only nine games in 2013. However, Coleman easily shattered preseason expectations by rushing for 2,036 yards and 15 scores. The junior averaged 7.5 yards per carry and managed his production despite Indiana’s passing offense struggling after an injury to quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
2. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
3. Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville
4. Martrell Spaight, LB, Arkansas
5. William Likely, CB, Maryland
Coach of the Year: Gary Patterson, TCU
Patterson pushed all of the right buttons to get TCU back on track after a 4-8 record in 2013. The hire of Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie as co-offensive coordinators paid big dividends for the offense, while the defense led the Big 12 in fewest points allowed. The Horned Frogs were just a play or two away from making the college football playoff, which is quite a turnaround for a program that went 6-12 in its first two years in the Big 12.
2. Justin Fuente, Memphis
3. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
4. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
5. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Coordinator of the Year: Tom Herman, Offensive Coordinator, Ohio State
Three. That’s how many starting quarterbacks Ohio State has cycled through since August, as Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in fall workouts, and redshirt freshman backup J.T. Barrett was lost for the year with a leg injury against Michigan. But under Herman’s direction, the Buckeyes never missed a beat on offense. Sophomore Cardale Jones made his first start in the Big Ten Championship and completed 12 of 17 passes for 257 yards and three scores, guiding Ohio State to a 59-0 win over Wisconsin. Despite the injuries at quarterback and four new starters on the offensive line, the Buckeyes averaged 45.2 points per game and averaged seven yards per play in 2014.
2. Doug Meacham, Co-Offensive Coordinator, TCU
3. Lane Kiffin, Offensive Coordinator, Alabama
4. Dave Steckel, Defensive Coordinator, Missouri
5. Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State
Best New Coach Hire for 2014: Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern
With Georgia Southern transitioning from the FCS to FBS ranks, the Eagles were unable to play for a bowl. But that shouldn’t diminish Fritz’s first season, as the former Sam Houston State coach guided Georgia Southern to a 9-3 mark and nearly recorded wins over NC State and Georgia Tech. The Eagles were unbeaten in Sun Belt play and led the nation with an average of 379.9 rushing yards per game. Georgia Southern is a program with a strong track record on the FCS level, and under Fritz’s direction, the Eagles will be one of the top programs in the Sun Belt.
2. Bill Clark, UAB
3. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
4. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
5. Charlie Strong, Texas
Best Coordinator Hire for 2014: Doug Meacham, Co-Offensive Coordinator, TCU
Meacham and fellow co-coordinator Sonny Cumbie provide an instant fix for TCU’s offense. The Horned Frogs averaged only 25.1 points per game in 2013 and ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in yards per play. However, in Meacham’s first year, TCU emerged as one of the top offenses in the nation, and quarterback Trevone Boykin showed significant improvement after struggling under center in 2013. The Horned Frogs averaged 6.8 yards per play (ranked No. 1 in the Big 12) and 46.8 points per game. TCU’s improved offense is a big reason why this team had a chance at a playoff spot in 2014.
2. Lane Kiffin, Offensive Coordinator, Alabama
3. Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State
4. Lance Anderson, Defensive Coordinator, Stanford
5. Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator, Georgia
Biggest Surprise: TCU
TCU entered the season with low expectations after a 4-8 mark last season. Combine the losing record with a new offensive coordinator, uncertain quarterback situation and only three starters returning on offense, it’s easy to see why the Horned Frogs were picked outside of the top 25 in most preseason polls. But TCU quickly showed why it was one of the nation’s most-improved squads, beating Oklahoma 37-33 in early October and nearly defeating Baylor (61-58) a week later. The Horned Frogs were expected to show improvement after last season’s 4-8 mark. However, finishing 11-1 with a chance to make the playoffs was quite a surprise for coach Gary Patterson’s team.
2. Mississippi State
4. Western Michigan
Biggest Disappointment: Oklahoma
Everything seemed to suggest Oklahoma was ready to emerge as a national title contender in 2014. The Sooners won 11 games in what most considered a rebuilding year (2013), defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and returned 14 starters with a chunk of those earning all-conference honors this preseason. Instead of building off last year’s 11-win season, Oklahoma slumped to 8-4 and lost three games at home. The Sooners finished fourth in the Big 12 with a 5-4 conference record and lost to rival Oklahoma State in the regular season finale. Oklahoma has the talent to rebound in 2015, but this team will enter next year with lower expectations after underachieving this season.
2. South Carolina
3. Virginia Tech
Best Freshman: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Barrett ensured Ohio State’s offense wouldn’t miss a beat with Braxton Miller sidelined in August with a shoulder injury. The redshirt freshman passed for 2,834 yards and 34 scores and rushed for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns prior to a season-ending leg injury against Michigan. Barrett also earned fourth-team All-America honors by Athlon Sports for 2014.
2. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
3. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
4. Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama
5. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Best All-Around in 2014: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Thompson was the nation’s top two-way player in 2014, and not only was the junior one of Washington’s top defenders, but a case could be made he was also the team’s top offensive threat. Thompson ranked fourth on the team with 71 stops (two tackles for a loss), recorded one sack, one interception and forced three fumbles. On offense, Thompson rushed for 456 yards and two scores and averaged a healthy 7.5 yards per carry.
Most-Improved Player: Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Boykin went into the season as a question mark but exited as a Heisman candidate. The junior thrived under new co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, passing for 3,714 yards and 30 scores. Boykin also completed 60.5 percent of his passes and added 642 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. The junior was named the Big 12’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Five Coaches on the Rise
1. Justin Fuente, Memphis
Fuente inherited a mess from former coach Larry Porter, but the Oklahoma native quickly transformed Memphis into a bowl team. The Tigers went 9-3 this year (Fuente’s third season) and claimed a share of the American Athletic Conference title.
2. Matt Wells, Utah State
Wells navigated a season-ending knee injury to quarterback Chuckie Keeton last year to make the Mountain West Championship and lost his top three passers this season to injuries. However, Utah State finished 9-4 overall and 6-2 in Mountain West play. Wells is 18-9 in two seasons in Logan.
3. Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern
Fritz guided Georgia Southern to a 9-3 mark and a perfect 8-0 record in Sun Belt play this year. Expect Fritz to keep the Eagles near the top of the Sun Belt in the coming seasons.
4. Bill Clark, UAB
Led UAB to a 6-6 mark in 2014, which was a three-game improvement from 2013. Clark is an excellent coach looking for work after UAB’s program was wrongfully discontinued.
5. Dino Babers, Bowling Green
Despite an injury to starting quarterback Matt Johnson, Babers guided Bowling Green to the MAC East title. In three season as a head coach (Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green), Babers has a 26-13 record.
Five Coordinators on the Rise
1. Doug Meacham, Co-Offensive Coordinator, TCU
Meacham’s has provided two programs (Houston and TCU) with a quick turnaround on offense. His next stop should be as a head coach on the FBS level.
2. Mike Norvell, Offensive Coordinator, Arizona State
Under Norvell’s direction, Arizona State’s offense has not finished lower than third in the Pac-12 in scoring.
3. Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin
The Badgers returned only three starters on defense this year, yet held opponents to 20 points per game and 4.8 yards per play.
4. Scott Frost, Offensive Coordinator, Oregon
Frost has continued to build on Chip Kelly’s offense at Oregon, as the Ducks averaged 46.3 points per game in 2014.
5. Mike Elko, Defensive Coordinator, Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons’ offense didn’t give their defense many breaks this season, but Elko developed a group that held opponents to 5.2 yards per play and ranked fifth in the ACC in sacks (conference-only games).
Five Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2015
1. Norm Chow, Hawaii
Hawaii is a tough job, and Chow is a native of Honolulu, so the veteran coach won’t be rushed out the door. However, the Warriors are just 8-29 under Chow’s watch and 4-20 in Mountain West play.
2. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Injuries woes at quarterback hampered the Hoosiers in 2014, but Wilson has made progress during his four seasons in Bloomington. Indiana is one of the toughest jobs in the Big Ten and another 5-7 season could be enough for Wilson to return in 2016.
3. Ron Caragher, San Jose State
The Spartans have been trending in the wrong direction since Mike MacIntyre left for Colorado. Caragher went 6-6 in his debut but regressed to 3-9 in 2014. On a positive note, San Jose State returns a good chunk of its depth chart for 2015. With a good base of talent returning, the Spartans could take a step forward next year.
4. Mike London, Virginia
London saved his job by finishing 5-7 in 2014. The Cavaliers have recruited well, so talent isn’t an issue in Charlottesville. London needs to get Virginia back in the postseason next year.
5. Tim Beckman, Illinois
Similar to Mike London, Beckman saved his job with a successful 2014 campaign. Illinois went 6-6 and finished 3-5 in the Big Ten this year, elevating the program to its first bowl trip since 2011. Despite the 6-6 record, the Fighting Illini is just 12-24 under Beckman’s watch.
Five Players on the Rise in 2015
1. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
True freshman emerged as Florida State’s best running back over the second half of the season. Expect bigger and better things from Cook in 2015.
2. KD Cannon, WR, Baylor
Explosive playmaker averaged 16.7 yards per catch in 2014. The freshman should be an even bigger piece of Baylor’s passing offense next season.
3. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Assuming Jameis Winston leaves for the NFL, Watson will be the top quarterback in the ACC next year.
4. Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
Johnson has impressed in limited action, completing 28 of 37 passes for three touchdowns in 2014. Look for Johnson to assume the controls of coach Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense.
5. Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon is off to the NFL after the Outback Bowl. Clement is Wisconsin’s next standout at running back.
Three Programs on the Rise for 2015
Bret Bielema has Arkansas trending in the right direction after the Razorbacks improved their total by three games from 2013 to 2014. Bielema’s team also lost to Alabama by just one point, by seven to Mississippi State and by seven in overtime against Texas A&M. This team was much closer to 8-4 or even 9-3 than some may realize.
The Volunteers are back in the postseason this year after a three-season absence. Coach Butch Jones is recruiting well and several young players made a significant contribution in 2014. That’s a positive sign for Tennessee in 2015 and beyond, as Jones should have the Volunteers around the top 25-30 teams in the nation next year.
New coach Tom Herman’s background on offense should pay dividends for the Cougars in 2015. Whether it’s Greg Ward or John O’Korn under center, Houston has the pieces to have one of the top offenses in the American Athletic Conference. And it’s not out of the question the Cougars contend for the conference title in 2015.
Kobe Bryant has done it. Now No. 3 all-time in scoring, he’s passed his idol Michael Jordan.
Reggie Miller isn’t impressed, though. “Michael Jordan on his worst day is 10 times better than Kobe Bryant on his best day,” the TNT announcer and three-point shooting legend recently said to Dan Patrick. “That’s not short-changing Kobe at all, because he handed me my lunch pail, too, but I will take that Black Cat (Jordan) all day, any day over Kobe.”
We can’t usually weigh too much into what legends of the past say about their old peers, or current-day players either. They’ve always got a hefty mythological stake in how people perceive their competition in the world of sports rhetoric, where legacy rules all. Every time Miller’s current co-workers Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley aim their crosshairs at men like Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard, it’s not hard to see: These guys don’t want their history to be shown up.
But Miller — as he noted — isn’t defending himself or his era. Bryant and Jordan both waxed him and his otherwise-title-bound Indiana Pacers in the postseason, and he accepts that. Both were superior players to him, but one still stood much taller: Jordan.
Of course, only a time machine can really solve this dispute. And while I don’t see any DeLoreans coming around the corner, we do know that Bryant is in his eighteenth season, and has only just now equaled Jordan’s output over fifteen. Kobe, great as he’s been, can’t compare to the efficient dominance that captured basketball’s imagination so thoroughly in the ’80’s and 90’s.
While the Black Mamba is an impressive 45 percent shooter over his career (almost unheard of for a perimeter player of such high usage) Jordan was positively interstellar with his 50 percent mark.
Bryant’s accomplishment shouldn’t be diminished. He has been more committed to the sport than Jordan — who retired from the NBA three times and swung a baseball bat for a while — and that certainly counts for something. But we shouldn’t be handing Kobe the crown without context, either. So while Miller's math may be off (I'm not sure the sport could survive a player with tenfold the talent as Vino) he's surely right that His Airness still reigns supreme.
— John Wilmes
The Big Ten played a lot of dramatic and exciting games in 2014.
Unfortunately, when it came to non-conference contests, the league didn’t win too many of them. However, an entire year of disappointment can all be washed away by two great showings by Ohio State in the College Football Playoff.
But, in the meantime, here are the best and most exciting Big Ten games of the 2014 season:
1. (14) Ohio St 49, (8) Michigan St 37
Nov. 8, East Lansing
There wasn’t a Hail Mary or last-second field goal, but this was easily the most important Big Ten game of the year. Ohio State went on the road and matched the Spartans punch for punch. In the end, J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott were too much for the defending champs. The win set up the Buckeyes for a run at the College Football Playoff.
2. (13) Ohio St 31, Penn St 24 (2OT)
Oct. 25, State College
Barrett played one of the worst games of his season while Penn State played arguably its best as a team, coming from 17 points back to force overtime. Yet, after two overtimes and four turnovers, Penn State’s offensive line woes eventually cost the Lions the game. Joey Bosa capped a remarkable evening with a game-ending sack on fourth down in double overtime.
3. (25) Minnesota 28, (23) Nebraska 24
Nov. 22, Lincoln
With just minutes left in the game and trailing, it appeared that Nebraska had made the game-winning play. But Jerry Kill’s Gophers, without running back David Cobb no less, once again made an unexpected play. Briean Boddy-Calhoun capped an epic road comeback for Minnesota when he ripped the ball away from Nebraska on his own goal line with 1:19 left in the game. It was Minnesota’s first win in Nebraska since 1960.
4. Nebraska 37, Iowa 34 (OT)
Nov. 28, Iowa City
The Huskers had lost two straight and were trailing 24-7 late in the third quarter when Tommy Armstrong led one of the most improbable comebacks in school history. Armstrong led three touchdown drives over the final 20 minutes, capped off by the game-tying drive that ended with eight seconds left in the game and then threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Kenny Bell in overtime — his fourth of the game.
5. Indiana 31, (18) Missouri 27
Sept. 20, Columbia
The biggest non-conference win and biggest upset of the year — regardless of conference — came from Kevin Wilson’s bunch in Columbia, Mo. Tevin Coleman rushed for 132 yards, Nate Sudfeld was excellent and D’Angelo Roberts scored the game-winning touchdown with just 22 seconds left. The SEC East champs lost just twice in the regular season.
6. (3) Oregon 46, (7) Michigan St 27
Sept. 6, Eugene
Few gave the Spartans a chance to go to Autzen Stadium and win. But through three quarters, everyone in Eugene had respect for Michigan State. The Spartans gave the Ducks all they could take until a late tipped interception landed in the hands of All-American corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The Ducks surged over the final few minutes, making the game look more lopsided than it actually was.
7. (14) Wisconsin 34, (18) Minnesota 24
Nov. 29, Madison
It’s the most played rivalry in college football and never before was as much on the line when these two got together to end the season. The Gophers jumped out to a 17-3 second-quarter lead before the Badgers rattled off 24 unanswered points and eventually held on for the win and the Big Ten West crown. Melvin Gordon also broke Ron Dayne’s single-season B1G rushing record in the process.
8. (13) LSU 28, (14) Wisconsin 24
Aug. 30, Houston
The Badgers jumped out to a huge lead behind a monster first half from Melvin Gordon. But after trailing 24-7 midway through the third quarter, LSU flipped a switch on defense and stuffed UW the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Tigers' offense made just enough plays to eke out a four-point win on a neutral field.
9. Rutgers 41, Maryland 38
Nov. 29, College Park
Down 35-10 as the first half was ending, Gary Nova began what would turn out to be the biggest comeback in Rutgers history. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Nova was leading Rutgers on a game-tying drive. With 6:14 left, the Knights kicked the eventual game-winning field goal, outscoring the Terps 31-3 over the final 32 minutes of play. Ralph Friedgen triumphantly returned to his old stomping grounds in dramatic fashion.
10. West Virginia 40, Maryland 37
Sept. 13, College Park
It wasn’t the prettiest football, but it sure was entertaining. Clint Trickett (511 yds) and C.J. Brown (402 yds of total offense) battled for 60 minutes until West Virginia kicked a 47-yard field goal as time expired to defeat the Terps. These two teams scored in every imaginable way but the Mountaineers were able to overcome four turnovers to win on the road.
The Best of the Rest:
11. (8) Ohio St 31, (25) Minnesota 24
12. Virginia Tech 35, (8) Ohio St 21
13. Rutgers 41, Washington St 38
14. (10) Michigan St 27, (19) Nebraska 22
15. (6) Ohio St 42, Michigan 28
16. Bowling Green 45, Indiana 42
17. Maryland 23, Michigan 16
18. Penn St 26, UCF 24
19. (24) Nebraska 41, Miami 31
20. (20) Wisconsin 59, (16) Nebraska 24
21. Maryland 20, Penn St 19
22. Northwestern 20, (17) Wisconsin 14
23. (16) Wisconsin 26, Iowa 24
24. Minnesota 39, Purdue 38
25. Illinois 28, Minnesota 24
Kendrick Perkins is one of the biggest trash talkers in the NBA. So it comes as no surprise that he’s gotten under the skin of yet another league star.
"He might as well play with his face painted, he's a clown to me," Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay told Kings blog Sactown Royalty. "You can quote that. He's a clown to me. He might as well play with his face painted.”
Gay’s choice words were a response to what Perkins was caught saying about the Kings during a November 9 contest between Sacramento and Perkins’ Oklahoma City Thunder. “These m—————— are still the Sacramento Kings,” Perkins said in the game — which OKC eventually won, 101-93 — caught here in Vine form (NSFW):
“I’d rather be a clown than a virus,” Perkins said about Gay’s most recent comments, implying that Gay’s movement around the league (this is his third team in as many seasons) is due to having an unsavory personality.
As has been the case throughout his career, Perk continues to impact the game in ways well beyond the box score. A consistent minus in nearly every statistical category, Perkins’ worth to the surging Thunder is in the scowl department. His mean, aggressive style helps his men feel backed-up, cohesive and confident. That’s what he gets paid for.
Gay, on the other hand, is enjoying the best play of his career, reminding the world of the potential they saw in him years ago. Averaging 21.1 points per game, his performance is now a silver lining for a Kings squad that’s fallen into confusion and controversy with the prolonged sickness of franchise man DeMarcus Cousins, and the sudden firing of head coach Mike Malone.
Just when you thought the Kings might be responsible for some good, competitive basketball again, they jump back into headlines for all the wrong, ridiculous reasons. Let the folly continue.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 16:
• Average home attendance for every FBS school. It's getting tough to fill seats.
• Here's Tom Izzo playing Christmas songs on the accordion, and reminding us all we hate the accordion.
• In case you were wondering, here's how the Internet actually works.
• John Wall and Liam Neeson star in a "Taken"-inspired promo.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The impact of freshmen on a college football season seems to grow each year. There’s no shortage of talent in the freshmen ranks in 2014, with several making a splash on the national stage. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was considered one of the candidates to go to New York for the Heisman ceremony prior to his season-ending leg injury against Michigan. In addition to Barrett, Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine broke the single-game rushing record set by Melvin Gordon, while Royce Freeman was a key cog in Oregon’s Pac-12 Championship.
The overload of freshmen talent continued on defense with the emergence of Texas A&M defensive lineman Myles Garrett and Virginia safety Quin Blanding. Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett had a breakout year and is a key piece of coach Butch Jones’ rebuilding effort in Knoxville.
Compiling the all-freshman team is no easy task. Several worthy players missed the cut, as we tried to combine stats, talent and playing time to piece together the all-freshman teams for 2014.
College Football's 2014 Postseason All-Freshman Team
|First-Team Offense||Second-Team Offense||Third-Team Offense|
|QB J.T. Barrett|
|QB Anu Solomon|
|QB Brad Kaaya|
|RB Samaje Perine|
|RB Jarvion Franklin|
|RB Leonard Fournette|
|RB Nick Chubb|
|RB Dalvin Cook|
|RB Justin Jackson|
|RB Royce Freeman|
|RB Nick Wilson|
|RB Larry Rose III|
|WR KD Cannon|
|WR Artavis Scott|
|WR DaeSean Hamilton|
|WR Mike Dudek|
|WR Devonte Boyd|
|WR Devon Allen|
|TE Bucky Hodges|
|TE Austin Hooper|
|TE Cam Serigne|
|OL Cam Robinson|
|OL Mason Cole|
|OL Viane Talamaivao|
|OL Rod Johnson|
|OL Jashon Robertson|
|OL Tyrell Crosby|
|OL Toa Lobendahn|
|OL Billy Price|
|OL Reggie Bain|
|OL Tejan Koroma|
|OL Andrew Nelson|
|OL Wyatt Teller|
OL Conor McDermott
|OL Ramsey Meyers|
|OL Brian Allen|
|AP Adoree Jackson|
|AP Speedy Noil|
|AP Jalin Marshall|
|First-Team Defense||Second-Team Defense||Third-Team Defense|
|DL Myles Garrett|
|DL Davon Godchaux|
|DL Javon Rolland-Jones|
|DL Derek Barnett|
|DL Lowell Lotulelei|
|DL Kemoko Turay|
|DL Marquis Haynes|
|DL Steven Richardson|
|DL Tashon Smallwood|
|DL KeShun Freeman|
|DL K.J. Smith|
|DL Malik McDowell|
|LB Lorenzo Carter|
|LB Jerod Fernandez|
|LB Peter Kalambayi|
|LB Darron Lee|
|LB Ja'Whaun Bentley|
|LB Nigel Bowden|
|LB Taylor Young|
|LB D.J. Calhoun|
|LB Armand Perry|
|LB Raekwon McMillan|
|DB Dravon Henry|
|DB Parry Nickerson|
|DB Eli Apple|
|DB Kamari Cotton-Moya|
|DB Marcus Allen|
|DB Budda Baker|
|DB Armani Watts|
|DB Jalen Tabor|
|DB Quin Blanding|
|DB Ranthony Texada|
|DB Nick Johnson|
|DB Jamal Adams|
|DB Mackensie Alexander|
|DB Sidney Jones|
|First-Team Specialists||Second-Team Specialists||Third-Team Specialists|
|K Matthew McCrane|
|K Rafael Gaglianone|
|K Austin MacGinnis|
|P JK Scott|
|P Joe Davidson|
|P Will Gleeson|
|KR Stanley Williams|
|KR Darius Phillips|
|KR Evan Berry|
|PR De'Mornay Pierson-El|
|PR Charles Nelson|
PR Isaiah McKenzie
The Miami Heat made some moves this summer, to try making up for the gaping hole in their talent level caused when LeBron James announced he’d be heading back to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The moves haven’t worked, as the injury-riddled Heat are just 11-13 and struggling to stay in the playoff picture — even in the soft Eastern Conference. Things aren’t getting any easier, either: Monday, the team announced that new small forward Josh McRoberts would need surgery to repair a recently torn meniscus. McRoberts, an under-the-radar player with a versatile offensive skill set, could miss the rest of the year.
Perennial All-Star Chris Bosh, simultaneously, is said to be out indefinitely with a strained calf. And Dwyane Wade, as is well known by now, has long been hard to rely on for consistent action on the floor. He’s a factory of pain these days, as he been for some time.
"Injuries are a part of this game; how you respond to adversities, to things that are tough, that's what reveals your collective character as a group,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told ESPN’s Mike Wallace. "I told the guys there will be brighter days. It always usually evens out at the end. We're being hit pretty strong with the injury bug right now.”
Now that the King is gone from South Beach, it’s easier than ever to see just how heavy of a load he carried for Pat Riley’s squad over four seasons. Even with the additions of McRoberts and two-time All-Star Luol Deng, the basketball presence James took with him is extremely noticeable. A former 50-win team (at worst) is now battling hard just to tread water.
Hope is dim for Heat fans today, but they always have one tantalizing possibility to hold out for: Riley’s masterful touch with big-ticket free agents. Come 2015 or '16, you know he’ll be poised to make another home run signing, to bring Miami back closer to the promised land.
— John Wilmes
The gap has certainly closed but the SEC is still college football's premier conference.
The No. 1 team in the nation, the toughest division in football, a glut of Heisman Trophy candidates and nationally relevant coaches made the SEC must-see TV this fall.
But it wasn’t just the Iron Bowl, Les Miles or the ACC-SEC round-robin that made the SEC great theatre this fall. A coaching change/search at one of the league’s most powerful programs, the rise of the Magnolia State into national prominence and the advent of a four-team College Football Playoff made the 2014 campaign a season no SEC fan will ever forget.
Here are the most memorable SEC games of the year:
1. (11) Ole Miss 23, (3) Alabama 17
For about seven minutes, Bo Wallace was downright brilliant and Alabama's special teams were not. Two Wallace touchdown passes and two 'Bama turnovers led to a historic and memorable victory over the Tide in "College GameDay’s" first-ever visit to The Grove.
2. (1) Alabama 55, (15) Auburn 44
While there was no SEC West or SEC title hanging in the balance, the intensity still delivered for these two hated rivals. Neither team played much defense in this record-setting Iron Bowl, as Alabama outscored Auburn 34-10 over the following 23 minutes after trailing by 12 in the third quarter. The win kept 'Bama in the playoff picture.
3. (5) Alabama 20, (16) LSU 13 (OT)
Always physical and always intense, the heavily-favored Crimson Tide needed a historic drive from Blake Sims to defeat the Tigers. Sims led 'Bama 55 yards over the final 50 seconds to tie the game before going on to win in overtime.
4. (3) Auburn 35, (4) Ole Miss 31
Literally and figuratively, the Rebels' home loss to Auburn might be one of the most painful in school or SEC history. No one on either side of the ledger will forget when Laquon Treadwell fumbled and broke his leg with 1:30 to go, as he was falling into the end zone for the game-winning score. The back-and-forth affair never featured a lead of more than seven points.
5. (24) LSU 10, (3) Ole Miss 7
It wasn’t always pretty but it was extremely memorable. The physical units beat each other up for 60 minutes before Ole Miss had a chance to win in the final moments. But a bizarre decision by Bo Wallace (and, to some extent, Hugh Freeze) in the final moments of the game began a tough final month for the Rebs.
6. (24) South Carolina 38, (6) Georgia 35
This SEC East rivalry has become of the most important and entertaining in the league and this year’s version didn’t disappoint. Todd Gurley and Dylan Thompson went back and forth all game while special teams and a goal-line stand played critical roles in the second half.
7. Texas A&M 41, (3) Auburn 38
The thrilling road upset by the Aggies was highlighted by two of the most bizarre fumbles the SEC has ever seen. After a furious second-half rally, Auburn appeared to have the game won or at least tied at two different times in the final moments. But a tangled exchanged at the two-yard line and a bizarre center snap on the 28 cost Auburn the game. Texas A&M was a 23-point underdog and this win also helped christen Kyle Allen as the future in College Station.
8. (6) Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 28 (OT)
The Hogs appeared to be poised for their first SEC win under Bret Bielema until Kenny Hill snatched victory away from Arkansas. Trailing by two touchdowns in the final frame, Hill connected on two long touchdown throws and added the game-winner on the first play of overtime to score 21 unanswered points and give Texas A&M the win.
9. (17) Missouri 21, Arkansas 14
The Hogs played extremely well for three quarters before a road-grading, old-school touchdown drive gave Missouri the SEC East championship. The Tigers ran 12 plays for 85 yards to score the game-winner with just six minutes left in the game. A turnover forced by Markus Golden eventually sealed the win in what should develop into an underrated border rivalry.
10. Florida 36, Kentucky 30 (3OT)
Kentucky fans will only remember what happened before the play and won’t ever forget what happened at the end. After the play clock appeared to hit zero, Jeff Driskel connected with Demarcus Robinson on 4th-and-7 in overtime to tie the game and keep Florida alive. Two overtimes later, Matt Jones scored the game-winning touchdown.
11. (16) Georgia Tech 30, (9) Georgia 24 (OT)
The 109th edition of Clean, Old Fashioned hate was one of the best. Mark Richt appeared to have won a sixth straight game over Paul Johnson, taking the lead with just 18 seconds left. But somehow Tech managed to get into field goal range and tie the game as time expired before prevailing in overtime.
12. (5) Auburn 42, South Carolina 35
South Carolina came to Auburn as a heavy underdog but proved to be anything but an easy out. The two high-powered offenses traded scores for the better part of 60 minutes before Auburn’s defense finally got a few stops in the fourth quarter. The two teams combined for 1,086 yards of offense and three total punts.
13. Tennessee 45, South Carolina 42 (OT)
Joshua “Astro” Dobbs became a household name in the miraculous comeback win over the Gamecocks. The Vols trailed 42-28 with less than five minutes to play before Dobbs led a whirlwind comeback in Columbia. Dobbs set a school record with 467 total yards of offense and became the first Vol to throw for at least 300 yards and rush for at least 100 in the same game.
14. (5) Alabama 25, (1) Mississippi St 20
It wasn’t as close as the score indicated but anytime two teams ranked in the top five get together, it’s cause for celebration. Alabama was clearly the better team but the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs acquitted themselves well, fighting back to lose by only five.
15. (19) Ole Miss 31, (4) Mississippi St 17
It wasn’t as dramatic or action-packed as some others but few games this year matched the intensity that the Egg Bowl produced. The Bulldogs led midway through the third quarter before Ole Miss went on a 24-7 run to end the game and knock MSU out of the playoffs.
The Best of the Rest:
16. Missouri 21, (13) South Carolina 20
17. (22) Louisville 44, Kentucky 40
18. (13) LSU 28, (14) Wisconsin 24
19. LSU 30, Florida 27
20. (12) Georgia 35, Tennessee 32
21. South Carolina 23, Florida 20 (OT)
22. (5) Auburn 20, (20) Kansas St 14
23. (7) Alabama 14, Arkansas 13
24. (12) Georgia 45, (16) Clemson 21
25. Mississippi St 34, (8) LSU 29
26. Kentucky 45, South Carolina 38
27. (3) Florida St 24, Florida 19
28. (3) Mississippi St 38, (2) Auburn 23
29. Florida 10, Tennessee 9
30. (20) Missouri 29, Tennessee 21
Oregon is finally off the board.
The Ducks have been knocking on the door of their first Heisman winner for years, and in 2014 they made their New York Athletic Club breakthrough count.
Marcus Mariota won the first Heisman Trophy in University of Oregon history, and he did it by a landslide. He received 90.92 percent of possible points, the third-highest total in Heisman history, and 788 of 890 first-place votes.
Mariota’s Heisman winning season wasn’t just a product of a single remarkable season — though a single remarkable season it was.
Oregon is proof that winning the Heisman is darn difficult. The Ducks have had finalists who where great running backs but at a time when quarterbacks are winning the award (LaMichael James). They’ve had quarterbacks as frontrunners until late-season injuries (Dennis Dixon and Mariota himself). They had a worthy candidate when they were the new team on the block (Joey Harrington).
Yet Oregon won 638 games in its history before winning its first Heisman trophy. That wasn’t the most in college football history, not even close. Championship programs like Tennessee, Clemson and Washington are still waiting to add a Heisman to the trophy case.
Which program will be the next to win its first Heisman? Here are the top 10 programs in terms of wins but no Heisman winners and an outlook in the short term for their prospects.
All-time wins: 810
Closest calls: Peyton Manning (runner-up in 1997), Heath Shuler (runner-up in 1993), Johnny Majors (runner-up in 1956), Hank Lauricella (runner-up in 1951)
Outlook: The Volunteers’ chances of breaking through are much better than they were a couple of years ago. Right now, the Volunteers have a pair of offensive playmakers, quarterback Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd, that will probably show up on the fringes of someone’s list next season.
2. West Virginia
All-time wins: 719
Closest calls: Pat White (sixth in 2007, seventh in 2008), Steve Slaton (fourth in 2006), Major Harris (third in 1989, fifth in 1988)
Outlook: Dana Holgorsen’s system always will be friendly to quarterbacks and receivers, but his quarterback (Clint Trickett) and receiver (Kevin White) will be gone next season. Unless running back Rushel Shell has something up his sleeve, 2015 may be a rebuilding season for star power in Morgantown.
3. Virginia Tech
All-time wins: 711
Closest calls: Mike Vick (third in 1999)
Outlook: These are perilous times for Virginia Tech offensive players. The quarterbacks are turnover-prone (Michael Brewer has one more year of eligibility), and no Hokies running back has topped 700 yards since David Wilson in 2011.
4. Georgia Tech
All-time wins: 710
Closest calls: Joe Hamilton (runner-up in 1999)
Outlook: What kind of confluence of events would have to occur to produce a Heisman contender from Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech? The Yellow Jackets would probably have to win around 10 games (as has happened in 2014 and 2009) and the player would have to be enough of the focal point of the offense to make a run. Think of the ACC version of Navy’s Ricky Dobbs or Kareem Reynolds.
All-time wins: 695
Closest calls: Steve Emtman (fourth in 1991)
Outlook: Shaq Thompson would be an ideal name to watch after the two-way star rushed for 456 yards and accounted for four defensive touchdowns. That is, if he wasn’t a junior who may be headed to the NFL Draft. Sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles quietly finished the season with 16 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first year under Chris Petersen. Miles will end up on someone’s sleeper list.
All-time wins: 692
Closest calls: Darren McFadden (runner-up in 2006 and 2007)
Outlook: McFadden was in the SEC at the wrong time. He was the unquestioned No. 1 running back in the SEC but played amid the Tim Tebow phenomenon. Now, Bret Bielema is recreating Wisconsin’s offense in Fayetteville and could have two 1,000-yard rushers returning in 2015. Presumably a Montee Ball or Melvin Gordon-like season in the SEC would swing Heisman voters.
All-time wins: 688
Closest calls: C.J. Spiller (sixth in 2009)
Outlook: After a string of worthy contenders — Sammy Watkins, C.J. Spiller and Tajh Boyd — Clemson has another on layaway for next season in rising sophomore Deshaun Watson. Two drawbacks, though: He’ll miss the bowl game while recovering from a torn ACL, and Clemson will be without the Chad Morris, whose offense allowed those three Heisman contenders to flourish.
8. Miami (Ohio)
All-time wins: 670
Closest calls: None
Outlook: Ben Roethlisberger finished ninth in the Heisman voting in 2003 with as many first-place votes as Matt Leinart that year. The chances of a MAC school producing a Heisman winner are slim — though Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch was a finalist last year. Miami needs to find a way to get into a bowl before thinking about awards.
9. North Carolina
All-time wins: 667
Closest calls: Charles Justice (runner-up in 1948 and 1949)
Outlook: In theory, Larry Fedora has an offense that should allow skill position players to flourish. In theory.
10. Michigan State
All-time wins: 669
Closest calls: Lorenzo White (fourth in 1985 and 1987), Sherman Lewis (third in 1963)
Outlook: Connor Cook will probably enter 2015 as one of the top 20 contenders should he return to school. Michigan State quarterbacks are barely cracking 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns — Kirk Cousins topped out at 3,316. This isn’t a system designed to crank out ridiculously prolific quarterbacks, and road-grading running backs have trouble winning the Heisman.
All-time wins: 655
Closest calls: Chase Daniel (fourth in 2007), Paul Christman (third in 1939)
Outlook: One of these days, Gary Pinkel is going to produce a Heisman-winning quarterback, given his track record at the position. Maty Mauk, however, will need to make quite the leap from completing 53 percent of his passes and throwing 11 picks if he’s going to be the guy.
All-time wins: 647
Closest calls: Chuck Muncie (runner-up in 1975), Paul Larson (fifth in 1954), Jack Jensen (fourth in 1948)
Outlook: Jared Goff passed for 3,973 yards with 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions. If Cal contends for the Pac-12 South in short order, maybe...
All-time wins: 645
Closest calls: Eli Manning (third in 2003), Archie Manning (third in 1970, fourth in 1969), Jake Gibbs (third in 1960)
Outlook: Ole Miss managed to lock up coach Hugh Freeze for a few more years. That’s as big a prize as any in Oxford.
All-time wins: 596
Closest calls: Drew Brees (third in 2000, fourth in 1999), Jim Everett (sixth in 1985), Mark Hermann (fourth in 1980, eighth in 1979), Mike Phipps (second in 1969) Leroy Keyes (second in 1968, third in 1967), Bob Griese (second in 1966, eighth in 1965)
Outlook: Hard to believe Purdue has had that many top-three Heisman contenders and hasn’t been able to get over the hump. That’s not going to change anytime soon.
All-time wins: 589
Closest calls: Scooby Wright (ninth in 2014)
Outlook: Rich Rodriguez has had two players — Wright and running back Ka’Deem Carey — finish in the top 10 since he arrived at Arizona. Given his track record at West Virginia, that may only be a start. Wright will be a preseason All-American in 2015, but rising sophomore Anu Solomon may be the guy on watch lists.
All-time wins: 588
Closest calls: Jake Plummer (third in 1996)
Outlook: Even if wide receiver Jaelen Strong heads to the draft, versatile running back D.J. Foster will be worth a look.
All-time wins: 531
Closest calls: Dak Prescott (eighth in 2014)
Outlook: Prescott spent most of 2014 as a viable Heisman contender before fading late in the season, and he still has a year of eligibility remaining.
All-time wins: 504
Closest calls: Collin Klein (third in 2012), Darren Sproles (fifth in 2003), Michael Bishop (second in 1998)
Outlook: Quarterback Jake Waters and wide receiver Tyler Lockett are seniors, so Bill Snyder is starting from square one.
All-time wins: 487
Closest calls: None
Outlook: The combination of Bobby Petrino and ACC affiliation should be a boon for Louisville Heisman hopefuls. Brian Brohm, Michael Bush and Teddy Bridgewater have been viable candidates in years past but the Big East/American gave them little room for error.
The biggest bombshell of the NBA season dropped last night when Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Sacramento Kings fired head coach Mike Malone, citing that “Malone didn't meet win-loss expectations of ownership[.]”
This one’s a head-scratcher. Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has been acknowledged by myself and many others as perhaps the league’s worst owner. But the Kings’ surprising improvement is hard to nitpick — especially given that their franchise player, DeMarcus Cousins, has been out of action with viral meningitis for the last nine games. With Cousins in the lineup, the Kings jumped out to an impressive 9-5 start.
Sacramento, this time last year, was 7-15. But with the maturation of Cousins, the renaissance of Rudy Gay and the unexpectedly shrewd replacement of point guard Isaiah Thomas with Darren Collison, they’re now 11-13, treading water in a historically prickly Western Conference behind the defense-first tutelage of Malone.
Now, they’ll be run by head assistant Ty Corbin — last year’s head coach of the fledgling Utah Jazz — who is reportedly filling in on an interim basis. Ranadive and management, Wojnarowski says, expected a faster, more exciting playing pace in addition to a better record. Ranadive even went so far, at one point during the offseason, to suggest that the team play a 4-on-5 defense which leaves one player behind to “cherry-pick.”
You have to feel for Sacramento’s fans at a time like this. While there’s always the possibility that Ranadive is a cutting-edge, innovative basketball mind, it’s more likely that he’s an eccentric, aggressive billionaire who’s out of his depth in running this team and that his frivolous decision-making will only continue to sink the Kings’ hopes at a competitive campaign.
Wojnarowski says the Kings don’t have a replacement strategy in line for the head coaching spot yet, but he also floated George Karl — who previously worked with Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, as part of an impressive Denver Nuggets run — as well as Vinny Del Negro as potential candidates. Stay tuned for more as this strange, shocking story develops.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 15:
• Johnny Football's dismal debut wasn't a huge surprise. Fortunately, it did lead to some fun Internet memes. Plus, for some reason, Joe Buck decided to share his thoughts.
• As if Kobe weren't depressed enough about this season, his team threw him a pathetic plane party to celebrate his passing Jordan on the scoring list.
• In case you're into legal jargon, here's the Adrian Peterson lawsuit against the Shield.
• The Kings fired Mike Malone out of nowhere. Merry Christmas.
• A terrible roughing the passer ended the Niners' hopes against Seattle.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of football. With that in mind, Athlon Sports rounded up the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Week 15 of the NFL season.
The New York Jets scored the first 16-11 victory in the history of the NFL when they defeated the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Sunday.
Cleveland rookie QB Johnny Manziel became the first Heisman winner to be shutout in his first career start since Danny Wuerffel did so with New Orleans in 1997. He was the first QB to be shutout in his first career start since Rusty Smith was blanked for Tennessee in 2010. The Browns fell 30-0 to visiting Cincinnati.
Cleveland made it four straight games with zero touchdown passes and two or more interceptions. The last time that happened was when Tampa Bay did it over five straight games in 1977.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has thrown a touchdown pass in 40 straight road games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. The next closest is Peyton Manning with 31.
The New England Patriots clinched their sixth-straight AFC East title on Sunday (2009-present), which is tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. Only the Los Angeles Rams (seven, 1973-79) have posted a longer streak. The Patriots, who also won five consecutive division titles from 2003-2007, are the first team in NFL history to win 11 division championships in a 12-year span. New England has won 35 straight home games against AFC teams.
With the Patriots' win over Miami, coach Bill Belichick earned his 229th career win, including playoff wins, tying Curly Lambeau for the fourth-most total victories by a head coach in NFL history.
With its win at San Diego on Sunday, Denver has won 12 consecutive divisional road games, tying San Francisco (1987-90) for the longest such streak in NFL history. The Broncos have not been defeated by an AFC West opponent on the road since December 19, 2010 (39-23 loss at Oakland).
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning passed for 233 yards in the win and has 4,143 passing yards this season. It is his NFL-record 14th career 4,000-yard passing season.
New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had 12 catches for 143 yards and three touchdowns in the Giants’ 24-13 win over Washington. He is the first rookie in NFL history with at least 12 catches, 140 receiving yards and three touchdown catches in a game. Over the past seven games, Beckham has 61 catches for 866 yards and six touchdowns. His 61 catches are the most by a rookie in a seven-game span and his 866 receiving yards are the second-most by a rookie over a seven-game span (920 yards, Bill Groman, 1960). Beckham now has at least 90 receiving yards in seven consecutive games, extending his NFL record streak for a rookie.
Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson each led their teams to wins Sunday, improving their respective teams' records to 10-4. Luck and Wilson are the only starting quarterbacks to begin their careers in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to guide their team to at least 10 regular-season wins in each of their first three NFL seasons.
Russell Wilson led Seattle to a 17-7 win over visiting San Francisco. In the regular season as a starting quarterback, Wilson’s 34 wins and 21 home victories are the most in the Super Bowl era in a quarterback’s first three seasons. He passed Dan Marino (33) and Matt Ryan (33) in wins and Ryan (20) in home victories.
Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown in the win over San Francisco to become the seventh player in NFL history with at least four consecutive seasons of 10 rushing TDs and 1,000 yards rushing.
San Francisco dropped to 0-5 when quarterback Colin Kaepernick gets sacked five or more times. He was dropped six times by the Seahawks Sunday. The 49ers are 24-8 in all of Kaepernick's other starts.
Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown had 10 catches for 123 yards in the Steelers’ 27-20 win at Atlanta. Brown, who leads the NFL with 115 receptions this season, is the fourth player in NFL history with consecutive 110-catch seasons, joining Jerry Rice (1994-95), Cris Carter (1994-95), and Wes Welker (2007-09, 2011-12). Brown’s 115 receptions are the most in a single season in Steelers history, surpassing Hines Ward (112 catches in 2002).
Detroit held Minnesota to 76 rushing yards, making the Vikings the 10th straight team the Lions have held under 100 yards on the ground. It is the franchise's longest streak since a nine-game span during the 1969 and 1970 seasons.
Arizona defeated St. Louis 12-6 last Thursday night in a game that saw no touchdowns. It was the first game since Oakland's 15-0 win over Kansas City in 2012 without a touchdown. It was the first time the Cardinals won a road game without scoring a touchdown since the 1935 Chicago Cardinals defeated the Boston Redskins 6-0.
Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history with 900 career catches (903) in last week's win. He did so at 31 years old and owns the record by more than a full year over Andre Johnson, who reached the milestone last year when he was 32.
St. Louis saw its streak of 86 unanswered points snapped by Arizona last week. The Rams had gone nearly 145 minutes without allowing a point. The 86 consecutive points without being scored upon was the longest since Buffalo had 86 in 1992.
Auburn took the first step in fixing its struggling defense by hiring former Florida coach Will Muschamp as the team’s new coordinator. Muschamp was a hot commodity among teams looking for a new defensive signal-caller, and his arrival on the Plains should provide immediate improvement for a unit that allowed 32.8 points per game in SEC contests.
After struggling on defense over the last two years, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn had to find some answers this offseason. Dismissing Ellis Johnson as the team’s coordinator was the first step in necessary changes. Replacing a coordinator isn’t necessarily the only problem or an easy solution to transforming a defense into an elite SEC unit. However, the addition of Muschamp is going to pay off for Auburn in 2015.
After Malzahn managed to reel in Muschamp for his staff, the challenge of fixing Auburn’s defense has to start in bowl practices and has to continue onto the recruiting trail until Signing Day in early February. While Muschamp’s scheme, experience and teaching will help the defense take a step forward on the stat sheet, this unit still needs more talent and overall depth.
While Muschamp didn’t win enough games at Florida to keep his job in 2015, defense certainly wasn’t a problem.
The Gators ranked among the top six in the SEC in fewest points allowed from 2011-14 and ranked fourth nationally in 2012 by limiting opponents to just 4.35 yards per play.
Defenses Under Will Muschamp Since 2006
|Year||Team||Points Per Game Allowed||Yards Per Play Allowed|
Under Johnson’s watch, Auburn’s defense allowed 29.6 points per contest in SEC play and increased that mark to 32.8 allowed in 2014. The Tigers also gave up 6.4 yards per play over the last two seasons. Auburn also allowed 24 plays of 30 yards or more in 2014 and surrendered 35 in 2013. The Tigers managed to win the SEC despite a struggling defense in 2013 but allowed 42 points per game in four losses in 2014. Regardless of how explosive a team’s offense is, allowing over 40 points per game simply won’t get it done in the SEC.
It’s hard to fault Johnson for all of the problems on defense, as the Tigers didn’t have the depth or talent on this side of the ball to challenge some of the top groups in the SEC. Only two Auburn defenders were selected for honors on the coaches All-SEC team for 2014, and both players – Jonathan Jones and Jonathon Mincy – are defensive backs.
A big problem in 2014 was a pass rush that generated only 20 sacks. End Carl Lawson was slated to be one of the team’s impact defenders, but he missed all of 2014 due to an ACL injury.
Getting Lawson back will allow Muschamp to build an aggressive front seven, and Auburn had only three seniors listed as starters on the two-deep for the Iron Bowl matchup against Alabama.
Could Muschamp be the offseason’s biggest coordinator hire? It’s certainly possible. But for Auburn to challenge Alabama, Ole Miss or Alabama as the best defense in the SEC next season or in 2016, the Tigers have to get immediate contributions from freshmen or find a few junior college recruits that can make an instant impact.
Muschamp adds instant credibility to a defense that has struggled over the last two years. While the head coaching gig at Florida didn’t work out, look for Muschamp to find a few answers for Auburn, allowing the Tigers to take a step forward on defense in 2015.
Teams with identical records, but completely opposite agendas will finish off Week 15 when the New Orleans Saints take on the Chicago Bears on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” With a win the Saints, despite entering tonight 5-8, would take over first place in the NFC South. The Bears also are 5-8, but have already been eliminated from playoff contention.
Teams that should have two of the more explosive offenses in the NFL have struggled at times while getting minimal support from their defense. New Orleans is second to last in total defense and 30th in scoring, while Chicago checks in at No. 28 (tied w/ Cincinnati entering Week 15) and has given up the most points of any team.
Drew Brees and the Saints are just 2-4 on the road, but they did beat the Bears at Soldier Field last season 26-18 in early October. Jay Cutler’s team has won just two of its six home games and is coming off of a 41-28 defeat to the Cowboys last week.
New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: New Orleans -3
|New Orleans 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||vs SF||L 24 - 27||Recap|
|11/16||vs CIN||L 10 - 27||Recap|
|11/24||vs BAL||L 27 - 34||Recap|
|11/30||@ PIT||W 35 - 32||Recap|
|12/7||vs CAR||L 10 - 41||Recap|
|12/15||@ CHI||W 31 - 15||Recap|
|12/21||vs ATL||L 14 - 30||Recap|
|12/28||@ TB||1:00 pm||Buy Tickets|
New Orleans’ Key to Victory: Be the Aggressor
The Saints are 5-8, but a win would put them in the driver's seat in the NFC South. These two teams play each other next week, but the Saints’ first goal is to win tonight. To do that, Drew Brees and the offense need to take full advantage of the worst scoring defense in the NFL. Chicago is giving up 29.1 points per game and has allowed 75 total over its last two contests. The Bears also surrendered 106 points to the Patriots and Packers in back-to-back losses earlier in the season. New Orleans’ offense has had its own issues, but it’s still third in yards per game (421.0), so that shouldn’t be a problem tonight against Chicago’s overmatched defense. The key is making sure these yards count, which is why the combination of head coach/play-caller Sean Payton and Brees need to stay aggressive when they have the ball. Take the deep shots down the field, unleash tight end Jimmy Graham across the middle, and complement the passing with a healthy dose of Mark Ingram. Brees, whose 12 interceptions have him tied for sixth, also needs to make sure he takes care of the football. As long as the Saints execute on offense, the points should come, and in bunches. And New Orleans will want all the points it can get, considering its own defense is giving up nearly 28 a game.
|Chicago 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||@ GB||L 14 - 55||Recap|
|11/16||vs MIN||W 21 - 13||Recap|
|11/23||vs TB||W 21 - 13||Recap|
|11/27||@ DET||L 17 - 34||Recap|
|12/4||vs DAL||L 28 - 41||Recap|
|12/15||vs NO||L 15 - 31||Recap|
|12/21||vs DET||L 14 - 20||Recap|
|12/28||@ MIN||1:00 pm||Buy Tickets|
Chicago’s Key to Victory: Roll Out the Welcome Matt
It’s been a disappointing second season for Marc Trestman’s Bears. The offense hasn’t been as explosive as it was last season and the defense has been one gigantic mess. Even with all of the defensive issues, the main fall guy this season has been quarterback Jay Cutler. After signing a seven-year, $126.7 million contract extension ($54 million guaranteed) before the season, more was expected of Cutler. He hasn’t exactly responded, as he leads the NFL with 21 turnovers (15 INTs, league-high tying six fumbles). To make matters worse, Cutler will be without his favorite target, wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering rib and lung injuries in last week’s loss to Dallas. With so much ire directed towards Cutler right now, Trestman’s wisest course of action may be to let his dynamic, dual-threat running back take over. In a lost season for the team, Matt Forté is having another Pro Bowl-caliber campaign. Forté is third in the league in yards from scrimmage with 1,578 thanks in large part to his 86 receptions, which have him tied for fourth. He is averaging 121.4 total yards per game, has scored nine total touchdowns and lost just two fumbles in 300 total touches. New Orleans has struggled defending the run all season, allowing 133.5 yards rushing per game, so it may be in Chicago’s best interests to have Cutler get the ball, either on a handoff or via the pass, to Forté early and often. There are other playmakers, like wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett, but based on the numbers, it’s pretty clear that running back has been this offense’s, well, Forté this season.
If this season had played out like many had predicted, tonight’s game would carry a lot more importance. As it stands now, however, New Orleans has much more to play for than Chicago. The Saints are still alive for a division title despite their poor record, while the Bears just want this nightmare of a season to end. There are still two games left after this one, and unfortunately, I don’t see a happy ending in store for Marc Trestman’s beaten down team. Tonight Drew Brees joins the list of quarterbacks who have carved up an overmatched defense, a theme Bears fans have become all too familiar with.
Prediction: New Orleans 38, Chicago 27
After Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant returned to the starting lineup for the Oklahoma City Thunder, everyone knew they could get back into contention for the Western Conference Playoffs. But how many people thought it would happen this quickly?
After a 112-88 victory over the reeling Phoenix Suns (losers of five straight) the Thunder have reached a 6-1 mark since Durant came back to the court, on December 2 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Thunder are now just 0.5 games behind Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot in their conference. This after a 5-13 start, which had the depleted “Zombie Thunder” sometimes using guys like Kendrick Perkins and Sebastian Telfair as primary offensive options.
Life comes at you fast in the NBA, where the whims of fate can turn famine into feast — and vice versa — at any moment. The Thunder are one of the best teams in the league, but their hopes are only as reliable as their roster’s mortal skeletons.
"They came out right from the start and got after it," Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said about OKC after the contest. "At one point in the middle of the first quarter they were 11 for 16, so they missed five shots, but on four of those they got offensive rebounds. You can't beat a team when you come out like that. They took it at us.”
Inspired and determined, the Thunder are now racing back into championship contention.
And, in the shorter term, toward Thursday’s game of the week, when they take on the new juggernaut of the West in Steph Curry’s 21-2 Golden State Warriors, who’ve made Steve Kerr the most successful rookie coach in league history so far.
At 10:30 PM ET on December 18, from the Oracle Arena in Oakland, the old kings of the West will clash with the up-and-coming aces to give us a taste of the delicious playoff competition were due for this Spring.
Info from an AP report was used in this article.
— John Wilmes
For the first time in years, the ACC entered the season as a must-see conference.
The defending national champions and controversial reigning Heisman Trophy winner made ACC Media Days more of a circus than even the four-day SEC extravaganza in Birmingham.
But it wasn’t just the Jameis Winston spectacle that created intrigue in the ACC this preseason. John Swofford welcomed Louisville and Notre Dame to his ranks, boosting the number of nationally watched games instantly. New faces under center created unknowns and subsequent excitement across the entire conference. The usually impossible to predict Coastal Division was even more difficult to forecast than normal.
And to top it all off, college football welcomed a four-team Playoff to the mix. It’s safe to say no one will ever forget the 2014 season. Here were the most memorable ACC games of the year:
1. (2) Florida St 31, (5) Notre Dame 27
Oct. 18, Tallahassee
It’s hard to make an entire nation root for the usually hated Fighting Irish but that is what the Seminoles were able to do in this battle of top-five teams. An evenly matched bout most of the way, Winston led the Noles on a game-winning touchdown drive with just under eight minutes to go. Not to be outdone, Everett Golson moved the Irish to the FSU two-yard line before the infamous pick penalty erased the game-winning score and pushed ND back to the 18-yard line on fourth down. Winston was star of the show again, going 15-of-16 in the second half.
2. (16) Georgia Tech 30, (9) Georgia 24 (OT)
Nov. 29, Athens
It didn’t really mean much in the standings or rankings but the 109th edition of Clean, Old Fashioned Hate won’t ever be forgotten by either side. Paul Johnson and Tech entered the game on a five-game losing streak against UGA but pulled off one of the most dramatic wins in series history. Georgia scored with 18 seconds to go to seemingly win a sixth straight over the in-state rival but somehow Justin Thomas ran his team into field goal range on the ensuing possession. Harrison Butker drilled a 53-yarder to tie the game as time expired and, after a missed extra point nonetheless, the Jackets' defense kept the Dawgs out of the end zone for the win.
3. (4) Florida St 37, (11) Georgia Tech 35
Dec. 6, Charlotte
A year’s worth of close calls and near misses for the defending champions had most predicting the upset in the ACC Championship Game. After allowing boatloads of yards in the first half, it looked like Tech would be up to the task. However, the Seminoles' defense tightened in the second half and Winston, like always, led multiple scoring drives in the final 20 minutes of play. It was just enough for Florida State to win its third consecutive ACC title.
4. (1) Florida St 23, (22) Clemson 17 (OT)
Sept. 20, Tallahassee
The day before the big Atlantic Division showdown, Jimbo Fisher suspended his star quarterback for the entire game. Clemson, buoyed by a confident defense and the emergence of true freshman DeShaun Watson at quarterback, played mostly excellent football for 58 minutes. But a gut-wrenching fumble deep in Florida State territory with two minutes to play and a questionable fourth-down decision in overtime left the Tigers dumbstruck when the final whistle blew. Florida State had done it again, this time with Sean Maguire under center.
5. (3) Florida State 30, Miami 26
Nov. 15, Coral Gables
Once again, FSU started out slowly, trailing both 16-0 and 23-7 in the second quarter. But Winston and tailback Dalvin Cook flipped a switch in the second half, as Florida State went on a 23-3 run, scoring on four drives in the second half. Cook sprinted 26 yards with 3:05 left in the game to give the Noles their 26th straight win and fifth in a row over the archrival Hurricanes. Winston and Brad Kaaya both topped 300 yards passing.
6. (2) Florida St 42, (25) Louisville 31
Oct. 30, Louisville
Stop me when you’ve heard this before? Florida State stumbled out of the gate in primetime on a Thursday night in Papa John’s Stadium. Michael Dyer led a surging Cardinals squad to a 21-0 second-quarter lead before a fortunate bounce helped FSU get into the end zone with just 33 seconds left before halftime. The second half was the James Winston and Dalvin Cook show, as the duo combined for five touchdowns — all of which came from at least 35 yards away. The Noles finished on a 42-10 run over the final 31 minutes of play.
7. Virginia Tech 35, (8) Ohio St 21
Sept. 6, Columbus
This was one of the biggest upsets of the year regardless of conference. The Hokies rattled and tormented J.T. Barrett all night in a shocking two-touchdown win in Columbus. The victory didn’t help Tech go on to bigger or better things, as the Hokies' season topped out with the win over the Buckeyes and the loss didn’t hurt OSU enough to knock them out of the College Football Playoff. But it was a memorable night for college football and VT quarterback Michael Brewer.
8. (24) Duke 51, Pitt 48 (2OT)
Nov. 1, Pittsburgh
These two teams combined for 62 first downs, over 1,000 yards of offense and not one turnover in this double-overtime thriller. James Conner did everything he could for Pitt, rushing for 263 yards and three scores but an appropriately named kicker, Chris Blewitt, missed a 26-yard field goal as time expired in regulation. Duke’s backup quarterback then led the Blue Devils into the end zone in the second overtime for the win.
9. Boston College 37, (9) USC 31
Sept. 13, Chestnutt Hill
Steve Addazio’s excellent tenure at BC was highlighted by this top-10 victory. Against USC, the Eagles produced one of the most remarkable statistics of the year. Boston College rushed for 452 yards against one of the better Pac-12 defenses. Tyler Murphy counted for 191 of those yards, 66 coming on BC’s final TD of the game with 3:30 left in the game, and the defense did just enough to hold USC at bay.
10. (22) Louisville 44, Kentucky 40
Nov. 29, Louisville
The newest ACC-SEC rivalry has had a long history of animosity, but few games in the Bluegrass State series have been as entertaining. The two teams combined for 33 fourth-quarter points and produced four lead changes in the final nine minutes of action. The Cardinals' Kyle Bollin came out of nowhere to produce 381 yards passing and Boom Williams rushed for 126 and two scores for Kentucky.
The Best of the Rest:
11. (24) Louisville 31, N. Dame 28
12. (3) Florida St 24, Florida 19
13. Clemson 23, Louisville 17
14. (21) Clemson 35, S. Carolina 17
15. (1) Florida St 37, Oklahoma St 31
16. Georgia Tech 27, Virginia Tech 24
17. Georgia Tech 42, Ga. Southern 38
18. (6) N. Dame 50, N. Carolina 43
19. East Carolina 28, (17) Virginia Tech 21
20. (1) Florida St 56, NC State 41
21. N. Carolina 48, Georgia Tech 43
22. (3) Florida St 20, B. College 17
23. N. Carolina 31, San Diego St 27
24. Colorado St 24, B. College 21
25. Virginia 23, (21) Louisville 21
BONUS: Worst Game of the Year
Wake Forest 6, Virginia Tech 3 (2OT)
Nov. 22, Winston-Salem
Is there any doubt this wasn't the worst game of the entire 2014 football season, regardless of conference? A 0-0 tie in regulation is as bad as it gets.
The sizzling Seattle Seahawks will go for a third straight victory over the struggling San Francisco 49ers this afternoon on FOX. Seattle (9-4) shined in the Thanksgiving nightcap, beating San Francisco (7–6) 19-3 just two weeks ago. Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled, in particular, completing just 16-of-29 passes (55.2 percent) for a season-low 121 yards, zero TDs and two INTs for a season-low 36.7 passer rating.
Circumstances have only gotten worse for the 49ers, who lost 24-13 to the lowly Raiders last week. Over the past two weeks, Kaepernick has passed for a combined 295 yards, one TD and four INTs while taking nine sacks for 44 lost yards in two defeats. Kaepernick’s worst games have historically come at Seattle, where he is 0-3 with two TDs, six INTs and two lost fumbles.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Seattle -10
|San Francisco 2014 Schedule|
|11/2||vs STL||L 10 - 13||Recap|
|11/9||@ NO||W 27 - 24||Recap|
|11/16||@ NYG||W 16 - 10||Recap|
|11/23||vs WAS||W 17 - 13||Recap|
|11/27||vs SEA||L 3 - 19||Recap|
|12/7||@ OAK||L 13 - 24||Recap|
|12/14||@ SEA||L 7 - 17||Recap|
|12/20||vs SD||8:25 pm||Buy Tickets|
San Francisco’s Key to Victory: Rally Around Harbaugh
A report surfaced that Jim Harbaugh’s alma mater, Michigan, had reached out to the Niners’ boss about its vacant coaching job. With speculation running rampant that Harbaugh has one foot out the door — especially when you consider that CEO Jed York publicly referred to San Fran’s performance in a loss to the Raiders as “unacceptable” — it seems that the distractions swirling around the Niners’ headquarters are too much to overcome this week. But Harbaugh retains the respect of his players, who could rally around their embattled coach and strike a blow against their hated rivals from the Northwest. Harbaugh isn’t letting his job status distract from the task at hand. “My priorities are No. 1, winning football games, No. 2, with the welfare of our players, coaches and our staff, and lastly is what my personal and professional future is,” Harbaugh said. “My priorities are winning games.”
|Seattle 2014 Schedule|
|11/2||vs OAK||W 30 - 24||Recap|
|11/9||vs NYG||W 38 - 17||Recap|
|11/16||@ KC||L 20 - 24||Recap|
|11/23||vs ARI||W 19 - 3||Recap|
|11/27||@ SF||W 19 - 3||Recap|
|12/7||@ PHI||W 24 - 14||Recap|
|12/14||vs SF||W 17 - 7||Recap|
|12/21||@ ARI||8:30 pm||Buy Tickets|
Seattle’s Key to Victory: Don’t Look Ahead
The obvious temptation will be for the Seahawks to have one eye on a potentially division-deciding matchup with Arizona in Week 16, with the memory of their Thanksgiving domination of the Niners still fresh in their minds. Coach Pete Carroll is wary of overlooking a wounded, dangerous division rival and is alerting his team to the likelihood that the Niners will come to play. “That’s why they’re so dangerous coming in right now, because of his leadership and his toughness about the way he runs his program,” Carroll said of Harbaugh. “All the other stuff you guys thought was going on, there ain’t much to it. Really, it’s two football guys going at it and two guys who love to compete and battle and there’s nobody I’d rather play.” With that backdrop, a lapse in focus seems unlikely for a team that has won six of seven and is flexing its defensive muscles, allowing only 20 points in its last three wins.
The Niners’ season of promise has crumbled, hitting a low point in a Week 14 loss to their sad-sack Bay Area brethren Oakland Raiders. With the playoffs all but out of reach, they’ll have to settle for playing spoiler against the surging Seahawks. But given the bad blood between these two teams, expect a fierce and focused Seattle team to take care of its business.