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Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2011-preview-north-carolina-tarheels

After the North Carolina Tar Heels fell one step short of the Final Four, Roy Williams entered the offseason uncertain about what his team might look like for 2011-12. Now, he couldn’t be more pleased. Each member of Williams’ starting frontcourt — Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller — passed up a chance to enter the NBA Draft. Their decision to stay in school means that the Tar Heels return their top seven scorers from last season. Throw in a recruiting class that includes top-flight freshmen James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston, and UNC is a favorite to win its third NCAA college basketball title in the last eight years.

“I’ve had five or six teams that I thought had a chance if they get lucky, if things go well, to win a national championship,” Williams says. “That’s the same kind of thing I think with this team. But you never know what’s going to happen.”

UNC’s starters up front will contend for All-ACC first-team status after the trio combined for 43.1 points per game last season. Barnes got off to a slow start amid unreasonably high expectations for his freshman season, but he established himself as a fearless shot-maker in the clutch. He spent the offseason working on his ball-handling, which he hopes will enable him to drive more to the basket rather than relying so heavily on his jumper.

Henson, with his long reach and leaping ability, has become the ACC’s most dominating defensive force. He still needs to improve his offense, but he led the league in blocked shots (3.2 bpg) and finished third in rebounding (10.1 rpg) last year as a sophomore. Zeller, meanwhile, proved how effective he could be when healthy for a full season. The senior remains a perfect fit for UNC’s transition game — “He’s as good a runner as I’ve ever coached,” Williams says — and he has refined a right-handed hook shot as his go-to move in the post.

McAdoo figures to rotate in as the team’s third big man, and sophomore Reggie Bullock can spell Barnes at small forward after missing the final nine games last season with a knee injury. Senior Justin Watts is undersized as a backup forward, but he compensates with explosive leaping ability.

Tar Heels Key Stat: 19.7
Harrison Barnes averaged 19.7 points over the final 18 games of his freshman season. He averaged 11.8 in his first 19 games.

The Tar Heels won 17 of their final 20 games last season, a run that began when Kendall Marshall became their starting point guard. Marshall took over the starting role after outplaying incumbent Larry Drew II for the first half of the season, and he received heavy minutes after Drew quit the team in early February. Now a sophomore, Marshall is comfortable in his leadership position. He isn’t UNC’s top talent, but he is its most indispensable player because of the team’s lack of depth at his position.

Ultra-quick junior Dexter Strickland struggled with his shooting for the second year in a row, but he found his niche as UNC’s best perimeter defender. He will continue to start at shooting guard while also serving as Marshall’s primary backup at the point.

The Tar Heels shot just 32.8 percent from 3-point range last season, an area they must improve to fulfill their national championship aspirations. Junior Leslie McDonald was expected to provide some outside shooting off the bench, but he suffered a torn ACL over the summer. His loss will put more pressure on Bullock and Hairston to deliver some scoring from the perimeter.

The Tar Heels face different expectations from the ones they encountered a year ago. Then, UNC basketball rallied around the idea of clawing their way to the top of the ACC after they fell out of the Top 25 early in the season. Now, they will open the season at the top of every major poll because of their unequaled combination of talent, depth and experience.

Anything less than the ACC regular-season title and a trip to the Final Four would be a disappointment for UNC players, coaches and fans alike. There are no guarantees in the single-elimination world of the NCAA Tournament, of course, but the Tar Heels have as good a chance as anyone of cutting down the nets in New Orleans — coincidentally, the site of Dean Smith’s 1982 and ’93 national titles.

“We have the opportunity to win it all, and we have the opportunity to completely fail,” Barnes says. “It’s just a matter of whether we continue to stay humble and continue to take the right steps and get our way back up to the top like we did last year.”

ACC Prediction: 1st
NCAA Tournament Prediction: National Champs

<p> How far will Roy Williams and his Tar Heels go this season?</p>
Post date: Friday, October 14, 2011 - 11:48
Path: /columns/garage-talk/stock-car-suicide

by Tom Bowles

So what would you do with $13 million? In this economy, that’s a dollar amount that makes most middle-class Americans drool. It’ll certainly make major athletes jealous, too, after all, that’s more than the highest-paid NHL, NBA and major league baseball players earn, and fairly competitive with sport’s “holy grail” these days, the NFL.

For Clint Bowyer, that money proved the key in extending his career past a free agency desert. 5-Hour Energy is dishing out the cash to sponsor a new, third car at Michael Waltrip Racing with Bowyer at the wheel. Surely, with the decline in attendance and viewership, that amount would be capable of funding all 36 races next season, right?


In fact, that $13 million covers 20 — yes, just over half — of the 36 events on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup schedule for 2012. As a result, the newly-numbered 15 Toyota has marketers working overtime, making cold calls and begging for pocket change to get enough money to “finish out” its primary sponsorship package. In fact, Bowyer’s other option — and current team — Richard Childress Racing, was so disgusted by the financials, it reacted like Bowyer was trying to offer team owner Childress a ’95 Chevy Lumina to compete with. The “thanks, but no thanks” meeting Childress and Bowyer had precipitating their divorce after six years together in Cup sounds like the owner felt he was getting jipped by a used car salesman.

A look behind the numbers, though, shows Childress has reason to be apprehensive. If you do the math, Bowyer’s new team thinks it needs a total of $23.4 million to remain competitive on the Sprint Cup market. A middle-tier team, with no postseason appearances to date, MWR’s final number is just 10 percent lower than AFLAC’s three-year, $78 million dollar deal that is coming to a close at Roush Fenway Racing this season with top-tier superstar Carl Edwards. That shows the market price for sponsors hasn’t declined — if anything, it’s gone up. Childress, knowing he didn’t have full-time deals in place that were competitive for current drivers Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick (Budweiser sponsors only 20 races on Harvick’s No. 29 car) felt there were too many millions for his marketing company to find in side deals between now and Daytona, 2012. By Childress’ figures, running a $13 million team would either lead to layoffs or diluted competition. Because as Rusty Wallace says, “Money buys speed.”

But how do these prices make any sense? When AFLAC signed on board at Roush Fenway at the end of 2008, it was at the beginning of an economic decline that’s only gotten worse. NASCAR ratings since then, while bottoming out last season, are still off more than 15 percent from three years ago; declining attendance, consumer spending and national exposure (see: moving races from ABC to ESPN) has also cut into the sport’s marketability. For all intents and purposes, the “cost bubble” to support one of these teams should have burst years ago.

You can’t blame the sponsors. They recognize the cracks in the armor. Home Depot, the longtime backer of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota, announced Thursday that it’s scaling back to a 24-race deal next season, as Dollar General will cover the other dozen races on Joey Logano’s slate. Home Depot joins a growing trend of longtime sponsors like Budweiser, UPS, Interstate Batteries, DuPont and Caterpillar not exiting the sport but either downgrading their marketing dollars or refusing to increase the budget. Those that remain realize they’re getting more bang for their buck than ever before: at 20 races, for example, people recognize Budweiser as the primary sponsor for Harvick, maximizing exposure for the company without having to shell out the big check that goes with it. The diecasts still get made, sponsor appearances stay the same and companies can lowball, playing one team against the other until they get the leanest, most streamlined deal possible. Others companies, like Crown Royal, Red Bull and perhaps even AFLAC, are choosing to not even bother — scoffing at the price, they’re leaving the car-sponsorship game altogether.

These partial deals, on the surface, are good enough to run a program full-time if multi-car teams were willing to reshape the way they do business. They should be driving down the price … but they’re not. Instead, owners like Jack Roush, Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske and others have refused to change their modus operandi. Instead, as the asking price stays the same, their response is to poach sponsors from smaller teams for lesser prices to fill the slate. The Joe Gibbs Racing/Dollar General deal is the perfect example. JGR needs filler money so it can keep the same price — plus the bloated shop of 300-plus employees to do a job that was done by one-third of the personnel a decade ago — without lowering the budget. The success of the Gibbs program, with drivers Logano, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin combined with the media exposure of being a top-tier operation, allows Gibbs to go out and get the money needed to continue.

But the “trickle-down” effect is beginning to take a toll. There are only so many sponsors to go around, and now 20 or 25 companies are being asked to come together to fund full-time operations of just six to eight cars. That means for the lower-end teams, there’s little to no money available, yet the cost of competition hasn’t been cut; the transition to start-and-parking, like Robby Gordon Motorsports’ No. 7 operation in Sprint Cup, becomes the necessary result. Owners enter survival mode, leaving the lower end of the garage a wasteland where teams exist not to please the fans, but use them for a paycheck through parking a three-year-old car five laps into a race. It’s either that or pull out of the sport altogether.

Those “start-and-park” efforts — cars that pull in before the first pit stop — have come as a result of NASCAR’s economic slowdown. Six or seven cars pulling off has been something that fans could handle, but in the wake of these sponsorship cutbacks, the current estimate for 2012 is 10-12, a number that’s one-quarter of the 43-car grid. That’s because this “outpricing the market” mentality has worked its way up to even the top levels of Sprint Cup competition. Both Childress and Roush, 2011 winners and former owner champions, are reducing their fleets from four cars to three. In Roush’s case, he’s watching full-time sponsor UPS, which once covered all the races for David Ragan’s No. 6 team, move over to a lesser, multi-race deal with Edwards’ No. 99 group next year.

Yet Roush, like all the other owners, refuses to drop his asking price. The top-tier group, consisting of five to seven men and two-dozen cars, won’t call the other’s bluff. Each expects to need a certain amount of money to compete. How can Roush spread all that Edwards money around, funding a fourth effort, if $10 million less gives them an engine program with 20 less horsepower than Hendrick? No owner wants to risk their success by cutting costs — and since NASCAR is made up of private contractors, no profit sharing or salary cap in the name of competitive balance is possible.

It’s an ugly scene, this business model that keeps inching towards a crisis mode. And until the owners in question work on cost-cutting, not competitive advantages, it’ll be a game of survivor until the end. Should this pattern continue — and it shows no signs of stopping — what does the final owner standing win, you ask? A chance to start a new stock car league. Because the one we have, NASCAR as we know it, will be dead — no matter how many fans watch TV or hit the stands each Sunday.

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles notes that the current business model in NASCAR — if not curbed — could sink the ship.</p>
Post date: Friday, October 14, 2011 - 09:45
Path: /college-football/college-football-predictions-every-game-week-7

By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)

Here's a look at every game of the Week 7 college football schedule.

Braden Gall's Week 7 Picks Against The Spread


No. 72 Hawaii at No. 92 San Jose State

San Jose State’s two-game winning streak was snapped last weekend, but the improved Spartans played relatively well at BYU. I’m still trying to figure out how Hawaii lost to UNLV by 20 points last month.
Hawaii 41, San Jose State 20


No. 1 Alabama at No. 82 Ole Miss
The Alabama defense has allowed 14 points or less in all six games this season. Not a good sign for Ole Miss, which has struggled to move the ball against quality competition.
Alabama 38, Ole Miss 6

No. 2 LSU at No. 41 Tennessee
With Tyler Bray out of the lineup, few are giving Tennessee much of a chance against the mighty LSU Tigers, but keep in mind that the Matt Simms-led Vols came oh-so-close to beating LSU in Baton Rouge last season. The Tigers scored the winning touchdown on the final play from scrimmage after the Vols’ infamous 13-man defensive alignment.
LSU 31, Tennessee 14

No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 83 Kansas
Kansas has given up 42 points or more against each FBS opponent it has faced. Oklahoma has scored 113 points over the past two games. Not a good matchup for the Jayhawks.
Oklahoma 58, Kansas 10

No. 102 Indiana at No. 4 Wisconsin
Indiana has played better in recent weeks, but this is still a team that has lost to Ball State and North Texas this season. The Hoosiers trip to Madison will not be fun.
Wisconsin 55, Indiana 7

No. 5 Boise State at No. 97 Colorado State
It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which a team that lost to San Jose State at home — that would be Colorado State —can be competitive with Boise State.
Boise State 48, Colorado State 17

No. 17 Arizona State at No. 6 Oregon
ESPN College GameDay will be making a rare appearance on the West Coast for a clash between two of the elite teams in the Pac-12. Arizona State, with its slick new uniforms, is in complete control of the South Division with a 3–0 record that includes a win over USC. A win in Eugene could possibly put the Devils in position to host the league title game. That, however, is easier said than done.
Oregon 35, Arizona State 24

No. 7 Oklahoma State at No. 25 Texas
Oklahoma State and Texas have met 25 times. Oklahoma State has won only three of those games — in 1944, 1997 and 2010. The Pokes are favored to pick up win No. 4 in this series.
Oklahoma State 38, Texas 24

No. 8 Clemson at No. 55 Maryland
Maryland has been in a funk since opening the season with a win at home vs. Miami, but the Terps did show some life last week in a five-point loss at Georgia Tech. Showing life will not be enough against Clemson.
Clemson 31, Maryland 21

No. 9 Stanford at No. 63 Washington State
The improved Cougars need to find three more wins on the schedule to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2003. Stanford will not be one of those wins.
Stanford 48, Washington State 10

No. 10 Georgia Tech at No. 67 Virginia
The Jackets scored a season-low 21 points last week, but still managed to beat Maryland and remain undefeated. This team could run the table in the regular season.
Georgia Tech 31, Virginia 20

No. 13 Virginia Tech at No. 19 Wake Forest
Wake Forest was known as a rushing team early in Jim Grobe’s tenure, but the Deacs are getting it done through the air thanks to the emergence of quarterback Tanner Price.
Virginia Tech 34, Wake Forest 24

No. 46 Ohio State at No. 14 Illinois
Illinois is favored over Ohio State for the first time since 2001, when Ron Turner’s Illini won the Big Ten title with Kurt Kittner at quarterback.
Illinois 24, Ohio State 21

No. 15 Michigan at No. 27 Michigan State
Michigan State is in the midst of its longest winning streak (three games) against the boys from Ann Arbor since the mid-1960s, when Duffy Daugherty & Co. outscored the Wolverines 78–14 in a three-game stretch.
Michigan State 28, Michigan 24

No. 18 Kansas State at No. 43 Texas Tech
The Wildcats are one of the surprise teams in the nation. I’ve picked against them in each of the last three weeks. I should jump on the bandwagon … but I’ll go with the high-scoring Red Raiders at home.
Texas Tech 34, Kansas State 30

No. 20 South Carolina at No. 40 Mississippi State
With Connor Shaw running the show, South Carolina rolled up a Steve Spurrier-era high 639 yards against Kentucky last week. Mississippi State should offer some more resistance.
Mississippi State 21, South Carolina 13

No. 23 Baylor at No. 21 Texas A&M
These two programs have played every year since 1945, but Texas A&M’s departure to the SEC most likely means the end of the rivalry.
Texas A&M 38, Baylor 34

No. 24 Georgia at No. 56 Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt’s defense has been strong, but the Commodores have only scored three points in the last two games.
Georgia 24, Vanderbilt 10

No. 26 Florida at No. 30 Auburn
It’s safe to say that a defending national champion has never been a home underdog to a team that is coming off consecutive losses of at least 28 points.
Auburn 28, Florida 23

No. 80 Colorado at No. 28 Washington
Washington quarterback Keith Price has thrown at least three touchdowns in every game this season.
Washington 37, Colorado 21

No. 34 Miami (Fla.) at No. 29 North Carolina
Miami tailback Lamar Miller might be receiving some Heisman buzz if the Hurricanes had won a few more game. The sophomore has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the first five games, including 184 vs. Ohio State and 166 vs. Virginia Tech.
Miami (Fla.) 27, North Carolina 20

No. 31 Florida State at No. 65 Duke
We thought the Florida State defense would be stout this year. We thought wrong. The Noles have given up 70 points in their last two games.
Florida State 34, Duke 21

No. 32 South Florida at No. 81 Connecticut
The Bulls are coming off a surprisingly one-sided loss (44–17) at Pittsburgh. Connecticut’s 43–16 loss at West Virginia, however, was not a surprise.
South Florida 31, Connecticut 14

No. 88 Purdue at No. 34 Penn State
The Nittany Lions might be tough to watch on offense, but this team has been solid on defense all season. It should be another ugly win for Joe Paterno & Co.
Penn State 21, Purdue 13

No. 70 UCF at No. 35 SMU
It’s C-USA East vs. C-USA West. It’s the running game vs. the forward pass. It should be an SMU victory.
SMU 29, UCF 23

No. 58 Navy at No. 37 Rutgers
Navy has lost three in a row for the first time since 2002, when Paul Johnson’s first Midshipmen club went 2–10.
Rutgers 34, Navy 27

No. 47 Iowa State at No. 38 Missouri
Iowa State’s three wins have come by an average of 2.7 points per game. Its two losses have come by an average of 23 points.
Missouri 31, Iowa State 17

No. 59 Utah at No. 39 Pittsburgh
Pitt has been one of the most inconsistent teams in the nation this season. One week after pounding South Florida, 44–17, at home, the Panthers were beaten soundly at Rutgers, 34–10.
Pittsburgh 31, Utah 14

No. 44 USC at No. 49 California
Cal shocked USC, 34–31, in 2003 in what was the first big win of the Jeff Tedford era. The Bears have lost seven straight in the series since that breakthrough victory in Berkeley, with the last two being decided by an average of 30.5 points.
California 31, USC 24

No. 53 Northwestern at No. 48 Iowa
Last week, in a 13–3 loss at Penn State, Iowa was held without a touchdown for the first time since 2007, when the Hawkeyes lost at Purdue, 31–6.
Iowa 28, Northwestern 27

No. 76 Louisville at No. 50 Cincinnati
The schedule has been far from grueling, but Cincinnati has held every team not named Tennessee to 14 points or less this season. Louisville ranks 112th in the nation in scoring offense.
Cincinnati 31, Louisville 13

No. 51 Toledo at No. 104 Bowling Green
The Rockets are one of the hidden gems in college football this season. They are 3–3 overall, with a controversial overtime loss at Syracuse, a five-point loss at Ohio State and a 40–15 loss to Boise State. This is a very solid team.
Toledo 41, Bowling Green 21

No. 89 Buffalo at No. 52 Temple
Buffalo is 2–4, but three of the four losses have come against BCS conference foes. Last week, the Bulls upset Ohio, 38–37. This is another big test.
Temple 31, Buffalo 24

No. 110 UAB at No. 60 Tulsa
UAB is one of three winless teams in the nation (New Mexico and FAU are the others). With dates against Tulsa, UCF, Marshall and Houston looming, it might be a while before the Blazers get off the mat.
Tulsa 48, UAB 14

No. 95 Northern Illinois at No. 61 Western Michigan
This is a huge game in the MAC West. Western Michigan has won four of five since opening the season with a weather-shortened loss at Michigan. The Broncos are very potent on offense.
Western Michigan 37, Northern Illinois 27

No. 64 BYU at No. 86 Oregon State
BYU swept a three-game homestand in less-than-inspiring fashion, beating UCF (24–17), Utah State (27–24) and San Jose State (29–16). Now, the show goes on the road against an Oregon State team that is rejuvenated after last week’s 10-point win over Arizona.
Oregon State 27, BYU 16

No. 120 New Mexico at No. 73 Nevada
The Lobos are looking for their first win of the year and their first win under interim head coach George Barlow. It’s not going to happen in Reno.
Nevada 48, New Mexico 14

No. 91 Ball State at No. 74 Ohio
Ohio’s 38–37 loss at Buffalo last week was very damaging. The Bobcats should be favored in every remaining game, with the possible exception of the home date vs. Temple on Nov. 2.
Ohio 31, Ball State 17

No. 87 Rice at No. 75 Marshall
Marshall’s offense, led by a true freshman quarterback (Rakeem Cato), has scored 17 points or less in all but one game this season. Rice has scored 24 or more in each of its last four games.
Marshall 24, Rice 21

No. 78 Utah State at No. 96 Fresno State
Utah State took out the frustration of three painfully close early season losses by pounding Wyoming, 63–19, last weekend in Logan.
Utah State 31, Fresno State 20

No. 101 North Texas at No. 79 UL-Lafayette
UL-Lafayette is the surprise of the Sun Belt, with a 3–0 league record that includes wins over both Troy and FIU. The Cajuns will be bowl-eligible after this weekend.
UL-Lafayette 33, North Texas 13

No. 90 East Carolina at No. 118 Memphis
It’s been a bit of a struggle for East Carolina, which has lost four of five games this year. Memphis, however, is good for what ails any team in college football.
East Carolina 41, Memphis 7

No. 93 UTEP at No. 108 Tulane
Tulane is 2–0 when it scores 47 points or more this season, and 0–4 when it doesn’t.
Tulane 22, UTEP 21

No. 114 Eastern Michigan at No. 94 Central Michigan
Eastern Michigan is 3–3, but two of those wins have come against FCS opponents and the other was against Akron, one of the worst teams in the FBS ranks.
Central Michigan 37, Eastern Michigan 14

No. 112 UL-Monroe at No. 98 Troy
Troy has dominated the Sun Belt in recent years but has had some trouble with UL-Monroe. The Warhawks have won two of the last three and three of the last six in the series.
Troy 28, UL-Monroe 20

No. 116 UNLV at No. 99 Wyoming
UNLV has been outscored in its four losses by an average of 37 points per game.
Wyoming 38, UNLV 21

No. 105 Miami (Ohio) at No. 115 Kent State
Miami broke into the win column for the first time last week, topping Army, 35–28, in Oxford. Win No. 2 should be much easier.
Miami (Ohio) 27, Kent State 10

No. 111 Idaho at No. 107 New Mexico State
New Mexico State is 2–3, with wins over Minnesota and New Mexico. The Aztecs have not defeated three FBS teams in the same season since 2004.
New Mexico State 21, Idaho 20

No. 109 Western Kentucky at No. 117 Florida Atlantic
Western Kentucky is coming off its first win of the season, a 36–33 double-OT thriller over rival Middle Tennessee. Bobby Rainey, the most underrated tailback in the nation, had his fourth 100-yard game of the season.
Western Kentucky 23, Florida Atlantic 14

Last week — 43-7
Season - 316-57

<p> Week 7 action is highlighted by Arizona State-Oregon, Michigan-Michigan State and Oklahoam State-Texas.</p>
Post date: Friday, October 14, 2011 - 08:03
Path: /columns/start-or-sit/nfl-fantasy-football-start-or-sit-week-6

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Complete Week 6 NFL Fantasy Rankings

Week 6 NFL Byes: Arizona, Denver, Kansas City, San Diego, Seattle, Tennessee

Start These Quarterbacks:

Tony Romo, Dallas (at New England)
Despite holding the Jets to only 166 yards passing last week, the Patriots still rank last in the NFL against the pass at 326.6 yards allowed per game. Mark Sanchez did throw two touchdown passes, however, so Romo should be poised for big numbers this weekend. Especially with a bye week to prepare and a healthy Miles Austin returning to the line-up. Romo is sixth in the NFL in attempts per game (38) and should get plenty of chances through the air against the Patriots.

Eli Manning, NY Giants (at Buffalo)
Only Kansas City and Washington have allowed more passing touchdowns than the Buffalo Bills. And at 283.4 yards allowed per game, the Bills rank 26th against the pass thus far in 2011. Manning has 721 yards and five touchdowns in his last two contests and has clearly established a rapport with fantasy newcomer Victor Cruz. Fantasy owners can expect big yardage and point totals, but also should anticipate a turnover or two (Buffalo leads the NFL with 12 interceptions).

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo (NY Giants)
Speaking of the Bills, Fitzpatrick should also be in the line-up this weekend. The Giants have only allowed five passing scores all season, but two of those came last week at the hands of Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson – who also combined for 315 yards through the air. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora have yet to practice, so the pass rush doesn’t appear to be ready to help the MASH unit that is the Giants' secondary. New York has allowed 63 points in its last two games against Seattle and Arizona, so there is no reason to expect that the Giants will be able to slow down the Bills' balanced attack.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (Indianapolis)
The Colts' defense has been targeted by fantasy owners all season and Week 6 should be no different. Indianapolis, who is allowing 254.2 passing yards per contest, is coming off of a game in which it made Matt Cassel look like a Super Bowl champion. The Chiefs' signal-caller completed 21-of-29 passes for 257 yards and four touchdowns. Behind the NFL’s No. 1 defense, Dalton has led his team to two straight wins in which he accounted for at least two touchdowns. The Bengals' passer is averaging just over 240 yards per game since Week 1 and will face a defense that is allowing a league worst 68.3 percent completion rate. This redhead is a quality bye week spot starter.

Mark Sanchez, NY Jets (Miami)
At the Week 6 mark of the season, Sanchez is averaging more fantasy points per game than Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, Josh Freeman and Kevin Kolb. He has been feast or famine in yardage leagues, topping 300 twice and failing to reach 200 in the other three games. But he has accounted for at least two touchdowns in four of five contests this fall and is coming off his most efficient (105.6 passer rating vs. the Patriots) performance of the year. Only the Patriots are allowing more passing yards than the Dolphins’ 307 per game and the they are not creating turnovers; the Fish have given up nine touchdowns versus only two interceptions.

Sit These Quarterbacks:

Matt Schaub, Houston (at Baltimore)
The Texans' passer has averaged fewer fantasy points per game than Matt Hasselbeck to this point of the season. Of course, not having any receivers to throw to will do that anyone’s fantasy stats – and Derrick Mason is not the answer. The Ravens have allowed three passing touchdowns all season (with six INTs), 212 yards per game and boast the NFL’s second best completion percentage against (52.7 percent). There is little upside for Schaub this week.

Joe Flacco, Baltimore (Houston)
The Texans are third in the NFL in opponents' completion percentage as they are allowing quarterbacks to complete a paltry 52.9 percent of their passes. The Texans are also third in the NFL with 15.0 sacks and sixth in yards allowed per game at 208.2. What's more, Flacco is coming off of his worst performance of the season in which he completed a meager 32.3 percent of his passes for 163 yards, no scores and had two turnovers against a struggling Jets defense. There might be better options out there.

Jay Cutler, Chicago (Minnesota)
Despite being able to run the football with some effectiveness against Detroit, the Bears' offensive line could not protect Cutler from constant harassment on Monday night. Minnesota isn’t all that scary against the pass (especially if Antoine Winfield doesn’t play) but the Vikings are second in the NFL with 16.0 sacks and have allowed only six passing touchdowns. Expect Jared Allen and Brian Robison to be in Cutler’s face all game long. Additionally, Mike Martz appears to have dedicated himself to Matt Forte – 47 att., 321 yards, TD over his last two games – so the opportunities for Cutler may be limited as the Bears look to control the clock.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit (San Francisco)
The Niners are second in the NFL in scoring defense by allowing a nasty 15.6 points per game. They are fourth in the NFL in rushing defense at a measly 76.4 yards per game. And they are coming off of a game in which they held Josh Freeman to 17-of-33 passing, 187 yards, two interceptions, no touchdowns and sacked him three times. This is an extremely tough bench as Stafford has been match-up proof all season, but he will get zero help from the ground game this weekend – the Niners are the only team yet to allow a rushing touchdown – so maybe lower your expectations this week.

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (Jacksonville)
This is another tough call for fantasy owners. Here are the facts so that you can make the most educated decision possible. Big Ben scored 37.12 (Athlon scoring system) of his 93.34 total fantasy points last week against Tennessee. He will play his second game in a row with protective footwear as he continues to recover from a sprained foot. He has already turned the ball over 10 times this season. Jacksonville is allowing a relatively stingy 215.4 yards passing per game, but has not gotten to the quarterback (8.0 sacks). Rashard Mendenhall will likely play, but he still won’t be 100 percent and he has a struggling offensive line. Big Ben has averaged 203.3 yards passing in four career games against the Jags. Have fun. (I am going Romo and Cam Newton over Big Ben in my two leagues.)

Start These Running Backs:

Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (Indianapolis)
There should be a developing theme circling Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati this weekend: Play your Bengals. Benson is facing the NFL's second-worst rush defense at 145.2 yards allowed per game. Additionally, only the Jets (8) and Cardinals (8) have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Colts (6). The Bengals are giving him the ball – 21 touches per game through the first five – and there is no reason to think he won’t get to the century mark and reach paydirt.

Ahmad Bradshaw, NY Giants (Buffalo)
Brandon Jacobs still had yet to practice as of Thursday as he is dealing with a sprained MCL. Last week, Bradshaw received his heaviest workload of the season when he carried 17 times against Seattle. Expect more of the same against the NFL’s 29th-rated rushing defense, the Bills, who are allowing 138.4 yards per game on the ground. There should be a lot of fireworks on both sides of this one – take the over.

Shonn Greene, NY Jets (Miami)
Rex Ryan stated vehemently that he wanted to get back to “Jets” football by establishing a physical running attack against New England. Ryan and the Jets didn’t win the game, but Greene clearly was utilized in a more productive manner. He averaged 12.7 carries per game through the first four weeks (including two games with only 10 carries), but posted 21 rushing attempts last week for a season-high 83 yards and a touchdown. He also added a pair of receptions as well. Look for more of the same game plan against the lowly Dolphins.

James Starks (Ryan Grant), Green Bay (St. Louis)
The St. Louis Rams are the worst rushing defense in the NFL – and it's not really even close. At 179.8 yards allowed per game, the Rams serve up 34 more yards per game than the next worst team (145.2). Despite an antacid-inducing time share between the two, both Starks and Grant have a chance to produce on Sunday. Starks has averaged 15.3 touches per game over his last three and Grant finally looked healthy again last week. Starks should get the “60” in the 60-40 time split, but both should reach the endzone.

Deeper Running Back Plays:

Montario Hardesty, Cleveland (at Oakland)
Peyton Hillis will be back, but trade rumors and contact talks could give Hardesty more looks.

Ryan Torian, Washington (Philadelphia)
If your crystal ball says Shannahan will go with Torain, he is a great play.

Delone Carter, Indianapolis (at Cincinnati)
Any No. 1 starter should be considered, but the Bengals are the NFL’s No. 1 defense.

Running Backs: Lowered Expectations:

Jahvid Best, Detroit (San Francisco)
The Lions have been smart with Best by handing him the ball only 11.6 times over his last three games. He is brittle and consistently hampered by injuries, so keeping him healthy against arguably the nastiest linebacking corps in the NFL will be key. The 49ers are second in the NFL in scoring defense (15.6 ppg), fourth in the NFL in rushing defense (76.4 ypg) and is the only team yet to allow a rushing touchdown. Best should get a few receptions, but will be severely limited in the ground game this weekend.

Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh (Jacksonville)
The Steelers' running back looks like he will be back toting the rock. However, just how healthy he is remains to be seen. In that vein, it would be a surprise if Mendenhall got more than 10-12 touches this Sunday as Mike Tomlin easies his star tailback back into action. Look for Isaac Redman to get equal (if not more) touches than his No. 1 counterpart. Oh yeah, the Jags just held Cedric Benson to 53 yards on 24 carries (2.2 ypc) and no touchdowns.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England (Dallas)
The Lawfirm is coming off of the best game of his career after rushing for a career-high 136 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Jets. Now, he faces the best rushing defense in the NFL as Dallas is allowing only 61.8 yards per game and is battling a minor toe injury to boot. With Stevan Ridley nipping at his heels (23 attempts over his last three games), Green-Ellis could be in for a long day. Additionally, the Pats should be able to throw the ball plenty and that is just not a big part of his game (three receptions on the season).

Steven Jackson, St. Louis (at Green Bay)
Jackson is likely to get a handful of catches this weekend as the game should get out of hand, so in a full PPR league, he still has some value. And he is healthy after resting for the better part of a month. However, the Packers have been nasty against the run – they are third in the NFL at 75.8 yards allowed per game. Starting tailbacks have averaged 42.8 yards per game and have scored once (Michael Turner) against the Packers. It should be noted that Matt Forte, who rushed nine times for two yards against Green Bay, did catch seven passes for 80 yards.

DeAngelo Williams (Jonathan Stewart), Carolina (at Atlanta)
The former Memphis star is beginning to produce like fantasy owners expected. He had a season-high 115 yards last week and finally reached paydirt. He has averaged over 10 yards per carry over the last two games. However, with Jonathan Stewart still very much in the mix and the Falcons' penchant for stopping the run (8th in the NFL, 89.2 ypg, 3.5 ypc allowed), Williams' upside seems to be rather limited. In eight career games against Atlanta, Williams has averaged 60.3 yards and has scored only twice.

Start These Wide Receivers:

A.J. Green, Cincinnati (Indianapolis)
The rookie from Georgia hasn’t taken long to make a big fantasy impact in the NFL. He has caught at least four passes in four straight games, has topped 90 yards in three of his last four and has scored a touchdown in three of his five career games. He is a big play waiting to happen and Andy Dalton is looking his way on a regular basis. Look for Green to exploit one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.

Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, Dallas (at New England)
For the first time since before Week 1, both Bryant and Austin were able to fully participate in practice during the bye week. Now they return with full force against the worst pass defense in the NFL (326.6 yards allowed per game). Romo also looks healthy so the Cowboys' offense will be at full strength for the first time all year.

Marques Colston, New Orleans (at Tampa Bay)
The big receiver was eased into the line-up two weeks ago and the leash was taken off last week as he delivered a five-catch, 69-yard performance against Carolina. He should be back into your line-up against a defense that has allowed nine touchdown passes against only two interceptions on the season. Alex Smith, who had his second most efficient game of his career (127.2 QB rating), threw for 170 yards and three scores against the Bucs last week. Expect much more from Drew Brees.

Victor Cruz, NY Giants (Buffalo)
The young speedster has quickly earned Eli Manning’s trust as he was targeted an NFL third-best 11 times last week. He has 17 catches for 369 yards and three scores over his last three games. Buffalo has a tendency to make big plays on defense (leading the NFL in INTs) but also is giving up plenty of long completions. They rank 26th in the NFL at stopping the pass (283.4 ypg) and only the Chiefs and Eagles have allowed more than the Bills’ 10 passing touchdowns. Play all of your Giants receivers.

Deion Branch, New England (Dallas)
After one catch in two games, Branch finally returned to normalcy with a tasty seven-reception, 74-yard, TD performance last week against the Jets. Branch now has at least seven catches in three of five games this fall. New England will struggle running the football against the NFL's toughest rush defense, so all Patriots receivers should be a solid play this weekend. Especially considering Dallas will be able to score as well.

Deeper Wide Receiver Plays:

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oakland (Cleveland)
His 12 targets last week were No. 2 in the NFL and his line over the last two is 11 rec., 214 yards, TD.

Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Green Bay (St. Louis)
Jones had his best game of the season last weekend and Nelson is still a dependable flex option against a decimated secondary.

Danario Alexander, St. Louis (Green Bay)
The Packers are bad against the pass (299.8 ypg allowed) and St. Louis will be trailing for most of this one.

Bench These Wide Receivers:

Brandon Marshall, Miami (NY Jets)
There are a variety of reasons not to use Marshall this weekend. First and foremost, Matt Moore will be the one throwing him the ball. He has averaged 122 yards passing per game for his career with a 73.5 career QB rating. Second, Darrelle Revis will be the man charged with guarding Marshall. The Jets also have been the third stingiest against fantasy receivers on the season.

Percy Harvin, Minnesota (at Chicago)
The dynamic triple-threat has yet to score a touchdown in 2011 and has caught three or fewer passes in three of five games. He is coming off of his worst performance of the year after catching one pass in the 34-10 win over Arizona. Donovan McNabb is clearly having issues finding him in the offense and the Bears should be harassing him all game long.

Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis (at Cincinnati)
It is painfully obvious for Wayne owners that quarterback Curtis Painter is more comfortable throwing to Pierre Garcon. In Painter’s two starts, Wayne has a modest eight catches for 136 yards and no touchdowns. Garcon, on the other hand, has 271 yards and four touchdowns over that same span. Without Joseph Addai against the NFL’s No. 1 defense, most of the Colts' options could struggle.

Santana Moss, Washington (Philadelphia)
The Eagles have allowed a lot of touchdown passes this fall (11) but are still loaded with lockdown cover talent. Nnamdi Asomugha figures to be in Moss' hip pocket the entire game so don’t expect him to get too many looks this Sunday.

Start These Tight Ends:

Aaron Hernandez, New England (Dallas)
Returned last week with 5-56 line and all of your Patriots pass-catchers should be in the line-up.

Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati (Indianapolis)
Every Bengal has a chance to score – especially one who has reached the endzone in two straight games.

Fred Davis, Washington (Philadelphia)
Corners will be concerned with Moss and Eagles are 31st in the NFL with 11 passing TDs allowed

Bench These Tight Ends:

Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit (San Francisco)
Niners are playing excellent defense led by nasty linebackers – who will be all over Pettigrew.

Owen Daniels, Houston (at Baltimore)
Without Andre the Giant to distract defenders, the Ravens will be totally focused on OD. Baltimore is No. 2 against fantasy tight ends.

Start These Defenses/Special Teams:

Cincinnati Bengals
The QB, RB, WR, and TE should be in your line-up, why wouldn’t the NFL’s best defense?

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Both defenses get after the quarterback and both O-Lines have struggled to protect the quarterback. Both could be big this weekend.

Bench These Defenses/Special Teams:

Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots
Solid rush defenses mixed with pathetic pass defenses and two elite quarterbacks? No thanks.

New York Giants
This should be a high-scoring game and the Giants are without Tuck, Osi.

<p> Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 6</p>
Post date: Friday, October 14, 2011 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-predictions-michigan-vs-michigan-state

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The annual Michigan-Michigan State matchup always has plenty of intrigue, but the stakes are even higher this season. Both teams are ranked inside of the top 25 and are in the mix to win the Legends Division.

Nebraska entered the season as the favorite to win the Legends Division, but the Cornhuskers have not looked like a dominant team and suffered a huge loss on the injury front this week, as defensive tackle Jared Crick is out for the rest of the year.

New Michigan coach Brady Hoke is enjoying a 6-0 start to the season, which includes a thrilling 35-31 victory over Notre Dame and a 2-0 start in Big Ten play. The defensive lapses of 2010 are gone, with the Wolverines ranking ninth nationally in scoring defense.

Michigan State’s only loss of 2011 came in Week 3 against Notre Dame. The Spartans opened Big Ten play with a 10-7 victory over Ohio State.

Considering Nebraska’s issues, this matchup has taken on added importance. The winner of Saturday’s game between the Wolverines and Spartans won’t be guaranteed a division title, but a victory would certainly help build their case with nearly half of the season to go.

When Michigan State Has the Ball

Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins is the steady hand that guides the Michigan State offense. Cousins has thrown for 1,197 yards and six touchdowns through five games, but also has tossed four picks.

Stopping the pass was a major issue for Michigan’s defense last season, but has been solid through six games. The Wolverines rank 39th nationally against the pass and have not allowed a touchdown through the air in the last two games.

Although the Wolverines’ secondary has shown improvement, Michigan State will provide a tough test. Receiver B.J. Cunningham is one of the Big Ten’s top big-play threats, averaging 15.3 yards per catch. Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol will also factor into the mix at wide receiver, while athletic tight end Dion Sims has scored three touchdowns on 10 receptions this year.

Can the Spartans ignite their rushing attack against the Wolverines? The offensive line has struggled to jell this season, but has allowed only five sacks and rushers are averaging 3.4 yards per carry.

The Michigan defense has shown big improvement in nearly all areas, but is allowing 141.6 yards per game on the ground. Tackle Mike Martin is a key cog in the Wolverines' run defense and will be counted upon to create havoc in the Spartan backfield.

Michigan State needs running backs Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell to get on track on Saturday. Establishing some balance will help take the pressure off of Cousins. With the Spartans struggling to get the rushing game on track, the senior quarterback had a lot of pressure on his shoulders to win the game against Ohio State.

The Wolverines have played well in the trenches this year, and their defensive line needs to deliver once again this Saturday. Cousins is capable of winning this game without a ground attack, but Michigan State would like to establish balance. 

When Michigan Has the Ball

Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges went into this season hoping to lessen the workload on quarterback Denard Robinson. Although the junior has avoided the injuries that bothered him throughout 2010, he still leads the team with 94 carries and 674 rushing attempts.

Helping Robinson in the backfield is a plethora of backs, led by Fitzgerald Toussaint and Vincent Smith. Senior Michael Shaw will also factor into the mix.

Junior Hemingway and Jeremy Gallon have been Robinson’s favorite targets in the passing game. Big things were expected of Roy Roundtree this year, but he has been a disappointment, catching only six passes for 114 yards and one touchdown through six games.

The Michigan State defense has quietly been one of the best in college football this year. The Spartans enter Saturday’s game ranked No. 1 in total defense and tied for third in points allowed.

Much of the charge on defense has been led by underclassmen. The Spartans have only two seniors listed as starters for Saturday’s game. The success starts up front, with junior tackle Jerel Worthy anchoring the line. Worthy has only 10 tackles this year, but his presence goes beyond the box score. Sophomore linebacker Max Bullough has been another stellar performer, collecting 33 stops through five games.

It may seem simple, but Michigan State’s best chance at winning this game will rely on its ability to contain Robinson. Although he has continued to shoulder a heavy workload on the ground, Robinson has tossed nine picks and is still finding his rhythm in the passing game this season.

Robinson and the Wolverines have to be careful with the ball, as they are tied for the Big Ten lead with 11 lost turnovers. In a tight game like this, holding onto the ball is going to be especially important.

Stopping Robinson won’t be easy. However, if Michigan State can’t find the answer to stopping him, forcing a couple of turnovers isn’t a bad alternative. 

Special Teams

This unit was a weakness for Michigan last season, but has improved under the direction of coach Dan Ferrigno. Kicker Brendan Gibbons has connected on four of six field goal attempts, while punts will be handled by Matt Wile (41.1 average) or Will Hagerup (37.7 average).

Michigan has not produced many big returns this season, with Vincent Smith and Jeremy Gallon serving as the team’s top two options.

Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy has connected on 6 of 9 attempts this year, including a season-long of 50 yards.

The Spartans have the edge on returns, as Keshawn Martin and Nick Hill are the team’s top options. 


After three wins in a row over Michigan, has the balance of power in the state shifted to East Lansing? Perhaps it has for 2011, but Michigan coach Brady Hoke is bringing in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes and it seems like only a matter of time before the Wolverines are back in the top 10.

Neither team is without flaws, but it’s hard to pick against Michigan State with this game at home. If the offensive line can give him ample time to throw, quarterback Kirk Cousins should be able to find open receivers against the Wolverines’ secondary. However, the Spartans need to get their struggling rushing game on track to create balance.

Michigan State’s defense hasn’t gotten enough credit, but is ranked as one of the best in college football. If the Spartans can find a way to keep Denard Robinson in check, and make the other Michigan offensive weapons win this game, Michigan State should extend its streak to four over the Wolverines.

Michigan State 26, Michigan 23

<p> Michigan-Michigan State is one of the big games in Week 7. Athlon Sports previews what both sides need to do in order to win.</p>
Post date: Friday, October 14, 2011 - 07:55
Path: /columns/national-notebook/betting-against-spread-week-7-picks

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Week 7 officially marks the half-way mark of the 2011 college football season. For those counting at home, only Rutgers and Stanford remain unbeaten against the spread (5-0). I will be going back to the Cardinal well, but I am staying far away from the Scarlet Knights' bout with option kings Navy. The BCS schools of Oklahoma (8-2), Washington (8-2) and Georgia (8-2-2) have been very kind to point-spread aficionados everywhere and I will be revisiting those states once again in Week 7.

In a strange turn of events, I am taking 11 road favorites to cover this weekend — and one home favorite. Two teams to keep an eye on are Wisconsin at home against Indiana and Oklahoma at Kansas. Both are favored by more than 35 points, and normally anything over 28 instantly scares me away, however, both could top 60 points and cover easily (if that makes any sense). Take the overs as well.

Onto Week 7's picks...

Season Record ATS: 37-20-2 (9-3 last week)

Week 7's Top Picks:

1. Oklahoma State (-7.5) at Texas
Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden was sitting on the bench before halftime in last week's 70-28 win over Kansas. Weeden operates the nation's No. 1 scoring offense (51.4 ppg) and No. 2 total offense (577.4 ypg) and carries his unbeaten Pokes into Austin for the second consecutive season. The 33-16 win over the Horns last season marked the first time in school history Oklahoma State had won in Austin so Weeden and company know what it takes to win on the 40 Acres. The Longhorns allowed 367 yards and three scores to Landry Jones of Oklahoma last weekend in the awful 55-17 showing in the Red River Shootout. Take the Pokes to win big and push their ATS record to 5-1 this season. My Pick: Oklahoma State -7.5

2. Georgia Tech (-7) at Virginia
Tech's offense is a well-oiled option machine - and is 4-1-1 against the spread on the year. The only team of comparable talent UVa has faced was North Carolina. The Cavaliers allowed 222 yards rushing in the 28-17 road loss. The Yellow Jackets' offense is rolling up 360.5 yards per game on the ground and is No. 2 in the nation in passing efficiency. Paul Johnson has a legit ACC title contender, so winning on the road within the division is imperative. His team will be ready for a Virginia team who needed overtime to beat Idaho 21-20 its last time on the field. My Pick: Georgia Tech -7

3. South Florida (-7.5) at UConn
The Bulls had been rolling along (4-0) until getting buzz-sawed by Ray Graham and the Pitt Panthers two weeks ago. Skip Holtz's guys have had two weeks to prepare for arguably the worst offense in the Big East. The Huskies have lost four of their last five games and has allowed 81 points in its last two games. The 101st-ranked total offense — and the complete lack of quarterback play — will cost UConn any chance of pulling the upset. South Florida's balanced offensive attack (223.2 rushing, 280.4 passing per game) will be too much for the Huskies to keep pace with. My Pick: USF -7.5

4. Stanford (-21) at Washington State
I just can't stay away from Andrew Luck. The Cardinal are one of two teams left in football that is unbeaten against the spread (5-0). Stanford has been absolutely crushing opponents by an average margin of victory of 35.6 points per game. The Cougars played them tough last season (38-28), so Luck will certainly have his team on high alert. Additionally, the return of starting Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel might actually disrupt the Cougars offense - which has been relatively consistent under Marshall Lobbestael. Wazzu has allowed 32.3 points per game over its last three, including losses to San Diego State and UCLA. Don't fail me now Cardinal! My Pick: Stanford -21

5. Clemson (-7.5) at Maryland
There may not be a hotter team in the nation than the Clemson Tigers. They have covered four straight (including three upsets) and are 5-1 against the spread this season. The balanced Tigers offense posted 500 yards last week in the 36-14 win over Boston College while the Terps played valiantly agianst Georgia Tech in a 21-16 loss (scoring 13 fourth-quarter points). With major issues at quarterback — starter Danny O'Brien was pulled for C.J. Brown who proceeded to complete four of his 17 pass attempts — Clemson should have no problem stacking the box to slow the Terps' ground game. Clemson rolled 31-7 last season over Maryland and has won two out of three in College Park. My Pick: Clemson -7.5

6. East Carolina (-14) at Memphis
I took Houston to crush ECU last week and it paid off with 56-3 uber-cover. The Pirates have played a brutal schedule (losses to South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Houston and North Carolina), so facing the worst team in the FBS ranks should come as a welcome sight. Memphis got housed 28-6 by Rice last week and is allowing 36.7 points per game to go with 495 yards per game. Dom Davis will get back on track against the lowly Tigers. My Pick: ECU -14

7. Alabama (-25.5) at Ole Miss
The Crimson Tide is 5-1 against the spread this season and has crushed everyone it has faced. The nation's top scoring defense is allowing only seven points per game while the offense is leading the SEC in rushing at 217 yards per contest. Ole Miss is allowing 193 yards per game on the ground (95th nationally). If that wasn't enough, Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron added a new element to the offense last week by completing 23-of-30 passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns in the 34-0 win over Vanderbilt. If Alabama adds an explosive passing attack to go with this nasty defense and power rushing attack, no one will beat the Tide in 2011. Bama has outscored Ole Miss 45-13 over the last two meetings. My Pick: Alabama -25.5

8. Toledo (-7.5) at Bowling Green
The Rockets played tough against Boise State, should have beaten Syracuse, easily handled a very good Temple team 36-13 and destroyed Eastern Michigan 54-16 last weekend. Bowling Green has been outscored 100-31 in two blowout losses to Western Michigan and West Virginia and lost to Toledo last fall 33-14. Depite being a rivalry game, the tale of the tape shows two teams headed in opposite directions. My Pick: Toledo -7.5

If you are feeling lucky:

9. Miami, Ohio (-3.5) at Kent State
Kent has been outscored 57-20 over the last two by Northern Illinois and Ohio and ranks as arguably the worst offense in the nation. The Redhawks got into the win column last week by beating Army 35-28 and have been able to throw it well all season. Vegas is way off on this one. My Pick: Miami, Ohio -3.5

10. Florida State (-13.5) at Duke
The Noles are angry after losing three straight brutal games. Duke just doesn't have the talent to keep up. EJ Manuel is back and will torch the 87th-rated pass efficiency defense and Mark Stoops' defense will control the line of scrimmage against the 112th-ranked rushing attack. My Pick: Florida State

11. Colorado (+15) at Washington
The Huskies, behind stellar quarterback play, are 4-1 against the spread and on the field. They are poised to challenge Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 North if they can stay the course. After a bye week to rest, and facing a defense allowing 33.3 points per game and 250 yards through the air, Washington should roll. My Pick: Washington -15

12. Michigan (+2) at Michigan State
Sparty has won three straight games in this rivalry and the loser here is probably out of the race for the top spot in the Big Ten's Legends division. Michigan State boasts the nation's No. 1 defense and Denard Robinson has played wildly inconsistent football despite the 6-0 record. My Pick: Michigan State -2

2011 Trends:

5-0 Against the Spread: Rutgers, Stanford

5-1 Against the Spread: Alabama, Arkansas St., Clemson, Marshall, Michigan, Western Michigan

4-1 Against the Spread: Baylor, Cincinnati, Georgia (4-1-1), Georgia Tech (4-1-1), Kansas St., Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Temple, Texas Tech, UTEP, Utah St., Wake Forest, Washington, Washington St., Wisconsin

1-4 Against the Spread: Air Force, Colorado St., Florida St., NC St. (1-4-1), Texas A&M, Troy, Utah, Virginia, 

1-5 Against the Spread: Boston College, Central Michigan, UConn, Kent St., Mississippi St., Nebraska, Penn St, UCLA, Virginia Tech, 

Other Week 7 Content:

Mitch Light's Top Ten Games of Week 7
Steven Lassan's Top Storylines To Watch from Week 7
Athlon Sports Picks Every Week 7 College Football Game

<p> Athlon's Braden Gall offers his top college football picks against the spread each week.</p>
Post date: Friday, October 14, 2011 - 07:45
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, Big East
Path: /college-football/college-football-week-7-preview-match-ups-and-upset-picks

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 7

1. Illinois’ schedule hasn’t been one of the most difficult in the nation this year. However, the Illini are 6-0 and setup for a run at the Big Ten title, provided they knock off Ohio State on Saturday. The Fighting Illini are led by sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, and a stingy defense that is allowing only 17.8 points per game. The Buckeyes dropped to 3-3 with a 34-27 defeat at Nebraska last Saturday. Ohio State held a 27-6 lead early in the fourth quarter, but an injury to quarterback Braxton Miller limited the offense the rest of the game. Miller is expected to start, and the offense will get a boost with the return of running back Daniel Herron, after a six-game suspension for violating NCAA rules. Illinois’ last win over Ohio State in Champaign came in 1991, but the Illini defeated the Buckeyes in 2007 in Columbus. This is a big game for Illinois, considering they host Michigan and Wisconsin in November. While the Fighting Illini is positioning for a run at the conference title, Ohio State just needs a win. At 3-3, the Buckeyes could be in danger of a losing season with a loss on Saturday, while interim coach Luke Fickell needs a big win to keep his name in the mix for the full-time job in 2012.

2. Could Saturday’s Oregon-Arizona State matchup be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship? After wins over USC and Utah, the Sun Devils are firmly in control of the South. Oregon is no lock to win the North, especially with a Nov. 12 date at Stanford. The Sun Devils’ last victory over the Ducks was in 2004. Winning in Eugene won’t be easy, but Arizona State catches a break with Oregon running back LaMichael James likely sidelined with an elbow injury. With James sidelined, Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas and Tra Carson are expected to shoulder the workload in the backfield. Quarterback Brock Osweiler needs to have a big game for the Sun Devils to pull the upset. Also, Arizona State’s defense will have to contain Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, who has accounted for 17 touchdowns this year. Even if the Sun Devils don’t pull off the upset, this is a good opportunity to build experience for a potential repeat trip to Eugene in December.

3. One week after getting torched by Oklahoma, Texas’ defense is under the spotlight once again. Oklahoma State travels to Austin on Saturday, looking to earn back-to-back wins over the Longhorns for the first time in school history. In last season’s matchup, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden threw for 409 yards and one score, while receiver Justin Blackmon caught nine passes for 145 yards and one touchdown. In last week’s game against Oklahoma, Texas got very little pressure on quarterback Landry Jones and recorded only one sack. If the Longhorns want to win this one, they need the defense to get after Weeden and force some turnovers. The offense also has to pick it up, especially after last week’s statline – 259 total yards and five turnovers.

4. Without quarterback John Brantley, Florida knew it faced an uphill battle going into last week’s game against LSU. The Gators were very conservative with true freshman Jacoby Brissett guiding the offense and managed only 11 points. With Brantley sidelined one more week, it’s important for Brissett or fellow true freshman Jeff Driskel to spark the offense in Saturday’s game against Auburn. The Gators are still in the mix for the SEC East title, but cannot afford another conference loss. The Tigers aren’t without questions either, as starting quarterback Barrett Trotter has struggled and the defense has allowed at least 34 points four times this year. The Gators allowed only 46 points through their first four games, but have allowed 79 in their last two contests. With two struggling offenses, this game could be decided by whichever defense is able to create the most turnovers and stop the run. Neither team will be too aggressive throwing the ball, which forces a lot of pressure on running backs Michael Dyer (Auburn) and Chris Rainey (Florida).

5. Don’t expect many pleasantries to be exchanged in Saturday’s game between Baylor and Texas A&M. Baylor threatened to sue Texas A&M for leaving the Big 12, which has caused plenty of hard feelings between the two fanbases. On the field, this should be one of Week 7’s most entertaining matchups. Texas A&M’s secondary ranks last in the nation, and will be under fire from Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin and a deep group of receivers. The Aggies’ defense likely won’t be able to slow down the Bears’ passing attack, but can get help from their offense's solid rushing game to control the clock and keep the ball away from Griffin. Backs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael are averaging 188 yards a game on the ground, which will test a Baylor defense that ranks 83rd against the run. Considering the hard feelings between these two schools, who knows when they will play again? These two teams have met every year since 1945, but with A&M moving to the SEC, it’s unlikely this rivalry will be picked up again anytime soon. However, considering the firepower on both sidelines, this matchup could be a memorable one.

6. Another week, just another tune-up for Alabama and LSU in the collision course for its Nov. 5 matchup. The Crimson Tide is a big favorite on the road against Ole Miss, while the Tigers head to Knoxville to take on Tennessee. Without quarterback Tyler Bray, the Volunteers face an uphill battle to knock off the Tigers. Filling in for Bray will be senior Matt Simms, who started eight games last season. The countdown is on for both Alabama and LSU, as 2011’s most-anticipated game inches closer. With each team having two more games before the matchup, both will be looking to fine tune every area before Nov. 5.

7. Last week’s win over Florida State pushed Wake Forest squarely into contention for the ACC Atlantic crown. The Demon Deacons are 3-0 in conference play, with a key Nov. 12 date at Clemson. However, Wake Forest must first survive a visit from Virginia Tech this Saturday. The Demon Deacons have lost their last four games to the Hokies, with the last home victory coming in 1970. Virginia Tech rebounded from a disappointing 23-3 loss to Clemson by rallying in the fourth quarter to beat Miami last Saturday. Quarterback Logan Thomas took a step forward in his development in the win over the Hurricanes, totaling five touchdowns and misfiring on only two passes. The Demon Deacons have been solid on defense, particularly against the run. Considering the Hokies already have one conference loss, this is a must-win game, especially with Georgia Tech undefeated in the ACC Coastal race.

8. There’s not a ton of marquee matchups this Saturday, but Michigan-Michigan State should be the headliner. The Spartans have won three in a row over the Wolverines and will be looking to take advantage of a raucous crowd at home in East Lansing. Michigan is off to a 6-0 start under new coach Brady Hoke. Quarterback Denard Robinson continues to make plays, while the defense has shown big improvement under new coordinator Greg Mattison. Robinson faces a stiff test on Saturday, as Michigan State ranks first nationally in total defense and third in scoring. The Spartans have struggled to get their rushing attack on track, and the offensive line has not performed well. Considering Nebraska’s struggles and the loss of tackle Jared Crick, the winner of this game will take a step forward to contending for the Big Ten Legends Division title.

9. The South Carolina-Mississippi State matchup isn’t going to register on the national radar, but there’s a lot of intrigue surrounding this game. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier made the switch at quarterback from Stephen Garcia (now dismissed) to Connor Shaw against Kentucky, which sparked the offense for 54 points in Saturday’s victory. However, Mississippi State’s defense will present a tougher challenge, particularly against the pass, where the Bulldogs rank 20th nationally. Mississippi State’s offense is also under fire, as quarterback Chris Relf has struggled and sophomore Tyler Russell is expected to see more playing time. The Bulldogs and Gamecocks have not played since 2007. Mississippi State has lost the last five games in this series, and a win over South Carolina would be huge, especially with all three victories coming against teams from outside a BCS conference.

10. Kansas State continued its surprising start, defeating Missouri 24-17 to move to 5-0. Leading the charge for the much-improved Wildcats have been linebacker Arthur Brown and quarterback Collin Klein. Both players will be crucial to Kansas State’s hopes of moving to 6-0 Saturday, as the Wildcats travel to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech. The Red Raiders will test a Kansas State secondary ranked third in the Big 12 in pass defense. However, Texas Tech’s offense suffered a setback with the loss of running back Eric Stephens to a season-ending knee injury. Without Stephens, more of the focus is going to be on quarterback Seth Doege. The Wildcats would prefer not to get in a shootout with the Red Raiders, which is why Klein and running back John Hubert have to control the clock and keep Doege and his receivers on the sidelines. 

Saturday’s Picks

Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 7 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.

Michigan State 26, Michigan 23
Oregon 44, Arizona State 30
Oklahoma State 41, Texas 27
Virginia Tech 27, Wake Forest 24
Texas A&M 41, Baylor 38
Ohio State 24, Illinois 20
Florida 23, Auburn 20
LSU 31, Tennessee 10
Florida State 38, Duke 20
Kansas State 34, Texas Tech 30
Pittsburgh 28, Utah 17
Miami 27, North Carolina 24
South Carolina 24, Mississippi State 20

Upset Watch

Looking for a few upsets? Keep a close watch on these games.

Miami at North Carolina (-2)
This game is a tossup. The Hurricanes have struggled on defense, but the Tar Heels haven’t exactly been a shutdown unit either.

South Carolina (-5) at Mississippi State
Just like Miami-North Carolina, this one has tossup written all over it. The Gamecocks had a good showing last week, but it’s hard to read much into beating Kentucky.

Kansas State at Texas Tech (-3.5)
The Wildcats aren't getting much respect from the folks in Vegas. Without Eric Stephens, the Red Raiders will have to lean even more on quarterback Seth Doege. 

Northwestern at Iowa (-7)
Wildcats’ quarterback Dan Persa tore his Achilles in last season’s matchup against the Hawkeyes. Now that he’s back, Northwestern is a dangerous team in Big Ten play.

Western Kentucky at FAU (-3)
The Hilltoppers are coming off a solid road win at MTSU, while this is FAU’s opener in its new stadium. In a matchup with two sluggish offenses, I like Western Kentucky with running back Bobby Rainey leading the way.

Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 7

An injury to starter Larry Smith has opened the door for Jordan Rodgers to compete for the starting quarterback spot at Vanderbilt.

Quarterback Jeff Tuel has been cleared to return for Washinton State. Will Marshall Lobbestael get the start once again?

Depth has helped Wisconsin overcome some key injuries this year.

How do the Big East expansion candidates stack up? Here's an in-depth look at the numbers.

College Football Matrix breaks down the expansion candidates from Non-AQ conferences.

Injuries continue to add up for Florida State, as receiver Rashad Greene is likely out for Saturday's game against Duke.

Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa won't forget last season's game against Iowa.

Will it be Danny O'Brien or C.J. Brown under center for Maryland on Saturday?

Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn is out for the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury suffered in the loss against Washington.

Auburn's offense is struggling, but coordinator Gus Malzahn believes Barrett Trotter is still the best quarterback to lead the offense.

Illinois' receiver A.J. Jenkins is off to a great start this season. Is he the Big Ten's best receiver after six weeks?

What if Russell Wilson chose Auburn over Wisconsin?

An Alabama offensive lineman could miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury.

The value for Missouri to join the SEC is uncertain.

Penn State receiver Derek Moye suffered a foot injury and is out for Saturday's game against Purdue. 

San Diego State is interested in joining the Big 12. 

Are there any quick fixes for Louisville after a slow start?

Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree has been out since the season opener against Boise State, but is getting closer to a return.

<p> We give you the 10 most important match-ups and upset picks for Week 7.</p>
Post date: Friday, October 14, 2011 - 07:26
Path: /college-basketball/jared-sullinger-singing-eating-and-returning-ohio-state

Jared Sullinger’s decision to return to Ohio State ensured the Buckeyes another shot at getting to the Final Four. Thad Matta hadn’t had much luck keeping big men around Columbus for more than one year — witness Greg Oden, Kosta Koufos and B.J. Mullens.

However, Sullinger is a different breed. He averaged a double-double as a freshman and would have been a sure-fire lottery pick, but he opted to return for another year in college.

He told reporters immediately after getting bounced in the Elite Eight that he’d be back — and he stuck to his word. Athlon Sports sat down with Sullinger over the summer to discuss the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports: What is your favorite opposing gym?
Jared Sullinger: Michigan — mostly because of the rivalry. That building is electric and a fun place to play.

What’s the place you least like to play in the Big Ten?
I’m not sure there is a bad place to play in the league, but they were entertaining at Purdue. They kept singing “Party in the USA” and were yelling “Subway Diet” at me every time I was at the free throw line.

Who is the toughest guy who guarded you so far in college?
Colton Iverson at Minnesota (who has since transferred to Colorado State). The one thing about him is that I couldn’t move him. He really held his ground and I honestly didn’t expect that.

How about the most difficult player you have had to guard?
JaJuan Johnson. He’s able to make really difficult shots. Even when I had a hand in his face, he made shots. There was really nothing you could do.

Which coach in the league would you want to play for — other than Thad Matta, of course?
Tubby Smith. I like his high-low. It looks like there are a lot of easy baskets down in the post.

You didn’t wait long to announce you’d be coming back to Ohio State for your sophomore season. You did it immediately after you guys lost in the Elite Eight. Did you ever have second thoughts after saying it?
Never. Honestly, I knew the whole year I was coming back. I never came out and blatantly said it, but I knew. A lot of people were telling me it was off emotion, but I knew I was coming back — and I’m a man of my word.

Why did you decide to come back even though you probably would have been a high lottery pick?
My teammates. They make college fun. I still want to be a kid. I don’t want to be a professional just yet. I’m honestly having too much fun right now — and I also think that I can learn a lot more from Coach Matta and develop my game before I get to the next level.

When did it hit you that your season was over?
The day after we lost, when I got on the plane. I was thinking that we were supposed to be in the hotel getting ready to shoot. Actually, maybe it was right after the game, when the buzzer went off, I was still thinking we had tomorrow. But then I walked in the locker room and saw Jon (Diebler), Dave (Lighty) and Dallas (Lauderdale) all crying, and then it hit me that there was no tomorrow for them.

How much blame did you put on yourself for the loss to Kentucky?
Those two free throws I missed. I put a lot on those because we ended up losing by two points. I went 7-for-9 from the line, but if I make those two free throws, we have a chance to go to overtime. It’s tough thinking about that. It’s still tough.

There’s been a lot of talk that you decided to come back so that you could expand your game and play power forward.
I talked to Coach Matta and told him that whatever position he wants me to play, I’ll play it. Whatever he asks, I’ll do — whether it’s the 4 or the 5. People say that I can’t shoot, dribble and that I’m too slow to guard a 4. I’ll let people be the judge of that this year. I came in last year at 285 pounds, and now I’m at 275. It’s a big difference. I’m actually surviving conditioning this time around.

How tough has it been to slim down? Let’s face it, I know you like food.
I love to eat, but I don’t eat a lot anymore. I used to eat three or four plates at each meal, but I’ve cut it down now to just one plate. It’s kind of crazy.

What’s your ultimate meal?

My mom’s steak, my aunt’s broccoli and cheese and some loaded mashed potatoes.

Have you and Aaron Craft worked on your voices after that, um, unique rendition last year of “Party in the USA” that made the rounds just about everywhere?

No singing lessons. We still get a lot of stuff about that, though. I was in a fast food restaurant and “Party in the USA” came on and everyone in the whole place wanted me to sing it. 

Give me a rating from 1 to 10 on each of your singing performances — you, (Aaron) Craft and (Jon) Diebler.
(laughing) Craft was a negative two, Diebler was probably a 0.28 and I was a 10. But I’m going to take Craft’s side on this one, he was sick when he sang. He’s better than what was in the video.

What’s your take on a bunch of the top players — not just you — returning to college basketball this season?
That was pretty amazing for college basketball. We showed that it’s not just about the money; it’s about winning. I know Terrence Jones and Harrison Barnes personally — and they both love to win. This was a big step for college basketball. and I think it’ll make for a great year.

With Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all coming back to North Carolina and Jones returning to Kentucky, you guys went from the preseason No. 1 team in the country to the consensus No. 3 team. What are your thoughts on that?
I feel like we’re in the same spot as we were last year, not being the favorite — but being ranked somewhere between three and five. It doesn’t really matter to me. I like where we’re at — and I love the freshman class we’ve brought in.

Tell us a little bit about this new group. Give us your thoughts on each of the new guys.
Let’s start with (center) Amir Williams. He’s a funny kid who is real athletic and has a high motor. (Center) Trey McDonald is a hard worker who is pretty dang good. (Forward) Sam Thompson is athletic, smart and is high-energy — especially on defense. (Forward) LaQuinton Ross is a skilled forward who is long as can be, and (point guard) Shannon Scott is fast and is similar to Aaron Craft. These guys are really going to help us this year and in the future.

What do you want to do after you are done playing basketball?
I want to own my own business someday. I’m big and I like to eat. I want to own a restaurant, maybe a soul food place.


<p> Here's our Q&amp;A with the Buckeyes big man as he returns for his sophomore year</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 17:26
Path: /nfl/nfl-picks-every-game-week-6

A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 6, along with the consensus pick of Athlon Sports editors Mitchell Light, Rob Doster, Nathan Rush, Patrick Snow and Steven Lassan:

Bills (4-1) at Giants (3-2)
The Wide Right Bowl will feature countless replays of Scott Norwood’s infamous 47-yard missed field goal at the end of Super Bowl XXV — which resulted in the second Lombardi Trophy for the Giants and the first of four consecutive Bills’ losses on Super Sunday. This time, New York state supremacy is on the line.
Giants by 3

Colts (0-5) at Bengals (3-2)
Normally, a two-hour drive down I-74 to Cincy would be a welcome road trip for Colts fans. But there may be fewer blue jerseys in the stands this year, as winless Indianapolis has shown few signs of life so far. Meanwhile, the Bengals are hopeful that the rookie QB-WR duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green can win again and match the team’s 2010 win total.
Bengals by 3

Jaguars (1-4) at Steelers (3-2)
The final leg of Pittsburgh’s four-game tour of the AFC South, which has already included a close call win at Indianapolis, a late loss at Houston and a blowout of Tennessee.
Steelers by 9

Eagles (1-4) at Redskins (3-1)
The heat is on Andy Reid and Michael Vick to stop Philly’s downward spiral. “Dream Team” never happened; “Redeem Team” still can.
Eagles by 1

49ers (4-1) at Lions (5-0)
Jim Harbaugh’s Niners hope to catch Motown hung over from a weeklong Monday night party following the team’s first MNF win since 1998.
Lions by 3

Rams (0-4) at Packers (5-0)
When a winless team visits an undefeated club this late in the season, odds are both squads exit with zeros — as opposed to ones — in the respective columns that were already blank. Just a roundabout way of saying St. Louis will almost certainly lose at Green Bay this week.
Packers by 14

Panthers (1-4) at Falcons (2-3)
Local legend Cam Newton — who was born in College Park, Ga., and attended Westlake High School in Fulton County — returns to Atlanta’s Georgia Dome for the first time since leading Auburn to a 56–17 win over South Carolina in the SEC title game. The Panthers’ rookie will be playing in front of friends and family as he looks for the first road win of his career.
Falcons by 4

Browns (2-2) at Raiders (3-2)
Expect an emotional scene at the Black Hole, as Al Davis (July 4, 1929 – Oct. 8, 2011) is honored by the Raider Nation in the first home game since the three-time Super Bowl champion owner’s passing. The Browns are fresh off a bye week but are walking into an even more hostile environment than usual in Oakland.
Raiders by 6

Texans (3-2) at Ravens (3-1)
Houston has problems following the loss of linebacker Mario Williams (torn pectoral) and the likely absence of receiver Andre Johnson (hamstring) — arguably the team’s top playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Ravens by 7

Saints (4-1) at Buccaneers (3-2)
Drew Brees has made the Tampa-St. Pete area his home away from home the past two years — throwing for a combined 450 yards, six TDs and one INT during 38–7 and 31–6 road wins.
Saints by 6

Cowboys (2-2) at Patriots (4-1)
New England has the league’s best offense (495.2 ypg) and worst defense (433.0 ypg). Dallas has a quarterback, Tony Romo, who has been hailed as the best (playing through injury vs. 49ers) and the worst (throwing away win vs. Lions). After what must have felt like an excruciatingly long bye week, the eyes of Texas are on Romo in this high-profile matchup.
Patriots by 9

Vikings (1-4) at Bears (2-3)
This Sunday night tilt features the only two teams in the NFC North that are not unbeaten. Last season, Chicago cruised to a pair of wins against Minnesota — with a 27–13 victory in Week 10 and a 40–14 blowout in Week 15.
Bears by 4

Dolphins (0-4) at Jets (2-3)
Rex Ryan’s club is in desperation mode heading into this Monday night AFC East fight. After suffering losses to the Patriots, Ravens and Raiders, the Jets are in a must-win mindframe against the winless Dolphins — who will give Matt Moore his first start against the No. 5 pass defense (203.0 ypg) in the league.
Jets by 7

<p> A preview of every game on the NFL schedule for Week 6 — including the Buffalo Bills at New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions, Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots — with the consensus pick of Athlon Sports' editors.</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 16:07
Path: /college-football/michigan-michigan-state-who-wins-paul-bunyan-trophy

Michigan State has won three games in a row over hated-Michigan, but the current streak was preceded by the Wolverines taking six in a row over the Spartans from 2002-07. There have been many dramatic Paul Bunyan Trophy games — from Gary Moeller going for two in 1990, to the MSU clock operator in 2001 to the triple-overtime thriller in 2004 — and the 2011 version sets up as a potential classic. Michigan seems to be back on college football’s national radar under new coach Brady Hoke, who has the Wolverines flying high at 6-0. Mark Dantonio’s club has the top-rated defense in the nation, and the Spartans will have major momentum in the Big Ten’s Legends Division race with a victory. Hoke will try to become the first Michigan coach since 1948 (Bennie Oosterbaan) to beat Michigan State in his debut season. The Spartans and Wolverines will kick it off at noon Eastern Time on Saturday.

Who Wins: Michigan or Michigan State?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven
I like Michigan State to win Saturday’s matchup. The Spartans have been rock solid on defense this year, allowing only 10.2 points a game and ranking first nationally in total defense. Those numbers will be put to the test by Michigan’s offense, particularly quarterback Denard Robinson. The junior is having a great year running the ball (674 yards and eight touchdowns), but has had his struggles through the air (9 INTs, 55.8 completion percentage). Although Robinson has been finding ways to win games, I’m not sure the Spartans’ defense is going to allow him many opportunities to launch a comeback if the Wolverines fall behind. Michigan State’s offense needs to play better, particularly on the offensive line and with the rushing attack. The Spartans have won the last three matchups in this series and with this game in East Lansing, I like Michigan State to pull out a close game in the fourth quarter.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
This game is a tough one to pick, but I’m going with Michigan by a field goal. Michigan State does have the top-rated defense in the country, but four of the five Spartans opponents are ranked at 88th or worse in offense. Notre Dame is the one solid offense MSU has faced, and the Irish won 31-13. The Spartans ran all over Michigan’s porous defense a year ago, and they intercepted Denard Robinson three times. I don’t see either one of those things happening this season. The Wolverines defense has improved greatly under Greg Mattison, and the MSU offensive line has struggled early this season. This game will go to the team that wins the running battle, and I think UM’s Robinson will make that happen.

Nathan Rush 
Hail to the Victors. Denard X. Robinson will lead the undefeated Wolverines past the Spartans in front of a hostile crowd in East Lansing. This year, Shoelace has been phenomenal once again, throwing for 1,130 yards, 10 TDs and nine INTs, while running for 720 yards and eight TDs. But this week, in particular, is a redemption game for the X-man, who threw a career-worst three INTs and was held to his fourth-lowest rushing total of the season during a 34–17 embarrassment at the Big House last year. With the Legends Division on the line, expect Robinson to make enough plays with the game on the line against a stingy Spartans defense that ranks first in the nation in yards allowed (173.4 ypg) and third in points allowed (10.2 ppg). The Paul Bunyan Trophy will be reclaimed by the Maize and Blue, thanks to their tall-tale quarterback.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden
I will take Kirk Cousins to complete a big fourth-quarter third-down conversion and Le'Veon Bell to rush for two one-yard touchdowns giving the Spartans their fourth consecutive win over the Wolverines. Cousins, if he plays well, will be the difference in the game as his ability to push the ball down the field against the Michigan secondary will play a key role. While Denard Robinson has been electric, he has also been wild and turnover-prone. Look for Jerel Worthy and the nation's No. 1 defense to make life hard on the Maize and Blue offense all game long. Spartans by 3.

<p> Michigan is undefeated, but Michigan State has beaten the Wolverines three consecutive times.</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 15:39
All taxonomy terms: Tim Tebow, Overtime
Path: /overtime/worst-tim-tebow-tribute-video-0

I've never seen grown men get so worked up over another grown man like football fans and Tim Tebow. What is is about the Denver Broncos new starting quarterback that makes guys want to spend a lot of time and energy expressing their love for him?

Sure, he works hard, but lots of players work hard. Are these all Florida Gators fans? I just don't get it. 

If anyone can explain the Tim Tebow phenomenon to me, I would love to hear it.

<p> Sometimes you don't want people to pay tribute to you.</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 14:56
Path: /mlb/where-do-boston-red-sox-go-here

by Charlie Miller

The Boston Red Sox have no general manager, no manager and $126 million committed in players’ salaries for 2012. Maybe the 126 number would frighten most GMs, but Boston has grown accustomed to payrolls north of $160 million, so it’s not that far out of line. And with ticket sales continuing at a record pace and revenues from NESN soaring, the team isn’t close to financial trouble.

However, they may be racing toward trouble of another kind. The $126 million does not include a DH, a rightfielder or, most importantly, a closer. It also doesn’t include the handful of players who are arbitration eligible and due some big raises, the most notable Jacoby Ellsbury, arguably the team’s best player in 2011.

What the number does include is nearly $60 million committed to a starting rotation of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. And that can’t be too comforting for a new braintrust.

Lackey posted the worst ERA (6.41) in team history over a full season. Buchholz made just 14 starts. Dice-K was ineffective in seven starts before being injured. Beckett and Lester combined to go 28-16, numbers indicative of horses a team can count on in the clutch. But where were those guys when the team — leaking oil at an astounding rate — needed them most?

All indications are that they were enjoying beer and buckets of thighs and breasts. Beckett was 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA in four September starts raising his season ERA from 2.54 to 2.89. The Sox lost four of Lester’s five starts as the lefthander suffered through a 1-3 month with a 5.40 ERA.

Boston needs a fresh start of monumental proportions. Does that mean sacrificing a season and several million to get back on the winning track sooner? That’s not a bad plan. This is a mess not easily cleaned.

It’s all too easy to manage this team from afar, but I suspect bringing in a no-frills, old-school manager and identifying about five guys you want to go to war with would be the place to start. Immediately and swiftly change the culture and clean house as much as can be tolerated financially.

<br />
Post date: Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 14:28
Path: /college-football/arizona-state-rolls-dice-dennis-erickson

This article originally appeared in Athlon's 2007 College Football annual.

This is Dennis Erickson:

He won two national championships at the University of Miami.

He led downtrodden Oregon State to an 11–1 season capped off by a 41–9 rout of Notre Dame in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl.

He’s the all-time winningest coach in University of Idaho history, he guided Washington State to its first bowl victory since 1931, and his record in the college ranks is a gaudy 148–65–1.

This, too, is Dennis Erickson: His 1987 WSU team had a 1.94 grade-point average when it won the Aloha Bowl. During his six-year tenure at Miami, players fraudulently received more than $200,000 in Pell Grant money.

The Hurricanes were slapped with multiple rules violations that resulted in the loss of 31 scholarships and a one-year ban on postseason play. The NCAA also found that Erickson allowed three players who failed drug tests to play in games.

Miami’s 46–3 drubbing of Texas in the 1991 Cotton Bowl was tainted by the Hurricanes’ nine personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, leading Miami president Edward Foote to say it was “an unfortunate end to an otherwise outstanding season.”

Arizona State researched the good and the bad before it hired Erickson last December.

Its verdict?

“I feel comfortable with who this man is,” says Lisa Love, ASU’s vice president of athletics.

It’s easy to understand why the Sun Devils hired Erickson. They were perennial underachievers under coach Dirk Koetter, fashioning a 40–34 record in his six seasons in Tempe and never finishing higher than third in the Pac-10 Conference.

In addition, Koetter was 0–12 in Pac-10 games played in California, 21–28 overall in conference play and 2–19 against top-25 teams.

Erickson, 60, should change all that. He’s won wherever he’s coached in college, with the exception of his one-year stint at Idaho in 2006, and the Sun Devils expect nothing less.

“This is not a guessing game,” Love says. “This is not a roll of the dice. His track record is extraordinary. He is not only a big-game coach. He is a big-season coach. And he is a program builder, which is what we are seeking. We are not seeking a success on one great game day; we’re seeking a great season, and then a repeat.”

UTEP coach Mike Price, a friend of Erickson’s since high school, says: “Wherever Dennis goes, he fits right in immediately. He won’t have to start from scratch at ASU. He’s got good coaches and a good plan, and he’ll put it to use. I’m excited for ASU. It will be a lot of fun with him there.”
The Sun Devils could use a little fun.

“I don’t think our team had a personality (last year),” says quarterback Rudy Carpenter. “We didn’t play with a swagger or attitude. It was a little suppressed.”

That won’t happen under Erickson, who signed a five-year, $5.6 million contract. He’ll want his players to be intense, outgoing and vocal. His Miami and Oregon State clubs weren’t wallflowers, and ASU won’t be either.

Erickson’s players appreciate the freedom and, in turn, are fiercely loyal to him.

Former Oregon State and current Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson once said, “If I was 90 years old and he recruited me, I would play for him.”
In the days leading up to the 2006 Hawaii Bowl, Koetter said it would be difficult for any coach to consistently win in Tempe. “The thing is — and I was guilty of this — a lot of people look at ASU on the outside and have a perception of what Arizona State is. That’s not what it is,” said Koetter, declining to be more specific. “The only way to know that is to go on the inside. Arizona State is not what it is perceived to be on the outside. It really isn’t. That’s been proven.”

ASU has been to two Rose Bowls (1986 season, 1996 season) in its 28 years in the Pac-10. Since 1986, it’s won more than seven games in a season just four times.

Erickson, however, doesn’t believe the Sun Devils have to be trapped in a spin cycle of mediocrity. “I’ve always felt, from the outside looking in, that ASU is a place where you have an opportunity to win a Pac-10 championship and compete nationally,” he says. “This job opened at the right time. It’s an opportunity for me and my coaches to get back in the Pac-10 and get to a Rose Bowl, which is the only big bowl I haven’t been to.”

“Dennis’ message has been clear ever since we got here,” says offensive line coach Gregg Smith, an assistant to Erickson at every coaching stop since 1982. “He wants ASU to not be satisfied with seven-win seasons or lower-tier bowls. … When things look impossible, Dennis will sit you down and show you the light at the end of the tunnel. And he’ll get you there.”

It helps to have two championship rings to show off to the players. Getting the players’ attention won’t be an issue for Erickson. 

“Going in, they know we’ve been there and what we’ve done,” he says. “They have respect for that. They know that, if they listen to what we ask them to do, they have a chance to be successful. If you do these things and are accountable in all aspects of what we ask you to do, you will be successful.”

The question is, what price will ASU pay for those victories? Erickson’s hire, while greeted enthusiastically by boosters, was met with skepticism by the media and some fans. Sun Devil alums Dan and Barbara Driscoll showed up for Erickson’s introductory press conference holding a sign that said, “Erickson, Go Home … ASU Deserved Better.” They were upset Erickson left Idaho after only one season. 

“I’m amazed,” says Dan Driscoll, who grew up in Moscow, Idaho. “You trust what the guy says, and 10 months later, he’s gone.”

The second question at his press conference: “Coach, I was just wondering what the words commitment and loyalty mean to you?”

ASU officials bristle at the notion that in Erickson, they hired a man who runs a renegade program and has little regard for NCAA rules or on-field sportsmanship.

“He is a person of character,” says university president Michael Crow. “I was assuming a Barry Switzer-type, a cocky personality. He’s more professorial, a master coach. I became convinced in talking to him that, with the right support that we provide in academics and compliance that other programs might not have, he’ll be great.”

Erickson hasn’t ducked the hard questions, including queries about his DUI arrest in 1995. He will not admit the criticisms have any merit, though, particularly in regard to his teams’ lack of discipline. “You talk about discipline,” Erickson says. “I see it (undisciplined behavior) happen sometimes, but I don’t see that’s something that has happened regularly in Dennis Erickson’s program at all.”

Erickson has held nine head coaching jobs in the past 21 years: Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, Miami, the Seattle Seahawks, Oregon State, the San Francisco 49ers, Idaho again and now ASU. He has been, by any measure, a coach always looking for the bigger job and the bigger paycheck. But that doesn’t bother ASU. 

“I personally hope that he is here for the long haul,” Love says. “If he’s not, we’ll go hire another great football coach.”

“I am here to build a program,” Erickson says. “If I do leave — and that may be 20 years down the road, I don’t know — it will be a very solid program that people will be proud of.”

<p> The Sun Devils took the risk of hiring Dennis Erickson. And it paid off.</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 14:08
Path: /nfl/philadelphia-eagles-blueprint-missing-playoffs

The Philadelphia Eagles have already declared the Dream Team “dead”, but they only meant the nickname, not the team itself. They still remain confident that they’re talented enough and have enough time to turn their sinking ship around.

But do that? Five weeks into the season they’ve been a disaster. They’ve won only one game and given up 132 points – tied for most in the NFC. Their explosive quarterback, Michael Vick, has become turnover prone. Their coach, Andy Reid, is already sitting on a seat that’s on fire.

Hard as it is to believe, their last win was more than a month ago on Opening Day.

There’s also not much reason to think things will get better. Still looming on their schedule are the Chicago Bears, the New England Patriots, the New York Jets and five division games. They’re 1-4 and need to finish 7-4 just to get to .500 – and that might not be enough for a playoff berth in the NFC.

Is it impossible? No. Difficult? Yes. And keep in mind that the more the former Dream Team falters the more intense the pressure will become and the more difficult a playoff run will get. It’s hard to look at the schedule in a vacuum, but if you could, here’s a look at what the Eagles are facing and a prediction of the outcome.

It’s not a pretty sight:

Sunday at Washington – The Redskins are not only 3-1, they’re playing mistake-free football and look the most like an old NFC East team that can run the ball and dominate both lines of scrimmage. The mistake-free part is the opposite of what’s happening in Philly.
Prediction: Loss, 1-5

Bye – If ever a team needed a week off to regroup, it’s this one.

Oct. 30 vs. Cowboys – It could be a very ugly return home for the Eagles, but the Cowboys aren’t exactly the NFL’s most disciplined team. Plus, despite what’s happening this year, Reid is a brilliant coach and he’s a good bet to have his team ready with an extra week to prepare.
Prediction: Win, 2-5

Nov. 7 vs. Bears – The Bears defense is tough (despite their bad game against Detroit), but maybe more concerning for the Eagles is that the Bears Matt Forte may be one of the better running backs in the league. The Eagles are very susceptible to the run, which means this could be a big day for Forte.
Prediction: Loss, 2-6

Nov. 13 vs. Cardinals – Game three of a three-game home stand against a team that doesn’t travel very well. Cards quarterback Kevin Kolb knows his old team, but more importantly they know him. Figure Reid knows how to confuse and beat him, too.
Prediction: Win, 3-6

Nov. 20 at Giants – The Giants beat them last time, but the Eagles out-played them for much of the game and killed themselves with mistakes. That can happen again, obviously, but the Eagles have the receivers to torch the Giants’ secondary. This seems like a season series destined to split.
Prediction: Win, 4-6

Nov. 27 vs. Patriots – The way the Eagles’ defense has played so far this year, they likely will be no match for the most explosive offense in the NFL. The Patriots have way too many weapons and are too smart to lose to a team that has become turnover prone.
Prediction: Loss, 4-7

Dec. 1 at Seattle – The Seahawks are sometimes a different team at home, and trips across the country are never easy. They are a beatable team, though, with a questionable run game and a shaky passing offense. They also likely won’t have a good defensive answer for Michael Vick and his arsenal.
Prediction: Win, 5-7

Dec. 11 at Miami – Maybe the easiest game and certainly the easiest road trip left on their schedule. The Dolphins’ season is already over at 0-4 and at this point in the season their main goal could be to win the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes. If the Eagles have any hopes of being anything this season, this is one they have to win.
Prediction: Win, 6-7

Dec. 18 vs. Jets – This game may completely depend on what Jets team shows up. Is it the brash, tough-talking, contending Rex Ryan Jets? Or is it a team in turmoil, like it seems to be now, sleepwalking through the end of the season? These aren’t the Jets of the last two years, though, so chalk this up as a winnable game.
Prediction, Win 7-7

Dec. 24 at Dallas – NFC East games late in the year are always close, and these two teams could be locked in a very tight battle for a playoff berth. As long as Tony Romo is still healthy, figure the Cowboys will be able to put up some points. And give them a big home-field advantage, too.
Prediction: Loss, 7-8

Jan. 1 vs. Redskins – Will .500 be enough to get into the playoffs in the NFC this year? That’s hard to imagine. If this game matters, though, it’s a good bet the Eagles will find a way to win it at home. But by this point, their season may already be over. In that case, they could be in for a very ugly end.
Prediction: Loss, 7-9.

Since this isn't the NFC West, a sub-.500 record will not get the Eagles into the playoffs. Where will this debacle go down in football history? Only time will tell.

By Ralph Vacciano

<p> We predict each of the Eagles' remaining games and it doesn't look good for Philly.</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 13:36
Path: /overtime/mike-martzs-chicago-bears-offensive-playbook

Anyone who saw the Chicago Bears self-destruct against the Detroit Lions on Monday night probably thought Chicago’s offense was in complete disarray. Well, you thought wrong. We’ve obtained an exclusive look at Mike Martz’s playbook for Monday night’s debacle and from the looks of it, the Bears' offense executed to near perfection.

Play #1: The Make Sure Everyone Misses Their Blocking Assignment Play


Play #2: The One of Us Should False Start Play (Version 1)


Play #3: Maybe We Can Get 15 Yards With A Roughing The Passer Penalty

Play #4: The One of Us Should False Start Play (Version 2)


Play #5: Make Sure We Burn All Our Timeouts In the First Quarter Play 

Play #6: The Make Sure The Receivers Don't Get Open Play

Play #7: The Let's Call Another Seven Step Drop Because We're Stupid Play

Play #8: The Left-Handed Throw Will Really Confuse The Defense Play

Mike Martz has a history of drawing up unique NFL offensive plays that can result in confusing defenses and putting a great deal of points on the scoreboard. But as you can see, on the flipside, they can also leave their quarterback hanging out to dry if the offensive line and receivers aren't clicking on all cylinders. This is what Bears football is right now.

By Saul Hutson

<p> Mike Martz is an NFL offensive play calling genius. Here's a few of his unique plays</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 12:50
Path: /mlb/nelson-cruz-baseballs-newest-postseason-legend

— by Mark Ross

Move over Derek Jeter, there's a new baseball postseason hero and his name is Nelson Cruz. OK, that may be a little presumptuous, but this much is clear: Cruz's Texas Rangers and not Jeter's Yankees are the team on the verge of playing in their second straight World Series, thanks in part to Cruz's potent bat.

On Monday, Cruz hit the first-ever walk-off grand slam in postseason history to help the Rangers take Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers in 11 innings. Then last night, Cruz struck again, taking Tigers' closer Jose Valverde deep in the top of the 11th inning to seal Texas' 7-3 victory.

The end result is the Rangers are one win away from their second straight trip to the Fall Classic and the clear cut MVP of this ALCS is Cruz. In four games against the Tigers, the Rangers' outfielder has four home runs, driven in nine and is hitting .357.

Cruz has all of the Rangers' home runs in the ALCS and has driven in roughly half (nine of 19) of their runs. Cruz by himself has nearly out-produced the entire Tigers' team, which has five home runs and 12 RBIs.

The right fielder also has been a difference-maker with his arm, as he nailed the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera at home in the bottom of the 8th inning, unleashing a Cruz missile that cut down the potential game-winning run.

Postseason production is nothing new for Cruz, who last year slugged six home runs, drove in 11, scored 13 runs and hit .317 in 16 playoff games. In 24 postseason games in his career thus far, Cruz has hit .281 with 18 runs scored, 10 home runs and 20 RBIs. If you took out his 1-for-15 performance in this year's ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays, his batting average would rise to .324.

Even with that series included, Cruz's ratio of 8.9 at-bats per home run is the fourth best in postseason history, among players with at least 75 career postseason at-bats. The only players ahead of him are Carlos Beltran, Babe Ruth and Troy Glaus.

What's even more important is that the Rangers as a team have been able to reap the benefits of Cruz's success at the plate. If the Rangers go on to defeat the Tigers in the ALCS, that will run their postseason series mark to 4-1 the past two years. Their lone loss coming in last year's World Series to the San Francisco Giants.

Cruz, who is just 31, still has a long way to go before he approaches the level of a Jeter, whose five World Series rings headline his illustrious postseason resume, or even another famous Yankee power hitter, Reggie Jackson, aka Mr. October. But given his postseason production these past two seasons, he's certainly off to a good start.

And should the Rangers make it to their second straight World Series, Cruz will get the chance to add to his postseason numbers and help win the franchise's first championship in the process. After all, a World Series ring certainly wouldn't hurt his claim as baseball's newest postseason legend.

<p> Texas Rangers' slugger is putting up prolific numbers in 2011</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 12:40
Path: /college-football/college-football-predictions-10-key-games-week-7

By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)

Here are previews and predictions for the 10 best college football games this weekend.

Michigan (+1.5) at Michigan State
Michigan State is in the midst of its longest winning streak (three games) against the boys from Ann Arbor since the mid-1960s, when Duffy Daugherty & Co. outscored the Wolverines 78–14 in a three-game stretch. For the streak to reach four games — something that hasn’t happened since the early ’50s — the Spartans will have to find a way to slow down Denard Robinson. The junior quarterback was terrific in Michigan’s win at Northwestern last weekend, throwing for 337 yards and two touchdowns and adding 117 yards and two scores on the ground. Last year, State limited Robinson to 86 yards rushing, a season-low at the time, and forced him into three interceptions in a 34–17 MSU win in East Lansing. The guess here is that the Spartans will do just enough to slow down the Michigan attack.
Michigan State 28, Michigan 24

Arizona State (+15) at Oregon
ESPN College GameDay will be making a rare appearance on the West Coast for a clash between two of the elite teams in the Pac-12. Arizona State, with its slick new uniforms, is in complete control of the South Division with a 3–0 record that includes a win over USC. Oregon will be in a battle with Stanford and possibly Washington for the top spot in the North. The Ducks’ chances at the title, however, took a hit last Thursday when star tailback LaMichael James was sidelined with an elbow injury. He is hoping to play some this weekend, but he could also be out for several weeks — it’s too early to tell. Oregon is deep at running back, but James is a true difference-maker who is very difficult to replace.
Oregon 35, Arizona State 24

Oklahoma State (-7.5) at Texas
Oklahoma State and Texas have met 25 times. Oklahoma State has won only three of those games — in 1944, 1997 and 2010. The Pokes are favored to pick up win No. 4 in this series— and it’s easy to see why. Led by quarterback Brandon Weeden and wideout Justin Blackmon, O-State boasts arguably the nation’s most explosive offense. Last week, the Cowboys led Kansas 56–7 at the half before cruising to a 70–28 win. Texas is solid on defense, but the Horns are fresh off of a humbling 55–17 loss to Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout. OU quarterback Landry Jones had little trouble picking apart the Texas defense. Not a good sign with Weeden & Co. coming to town.
Oklahoma State 38, Texas 24

Virginia Tech (-7) at Wake Forest
Clemson is still the frontrunner in the Atlantic Division, but this clash in Winston-Salem this week could possibly be a preview of the ACC title game. Wake Forest is 3–0 in the league after last week’s impressive 35–30 win over Florida State. The Deacons, known as a rushing team early in Jim Grobe’s tenure, are getting it done through the air thanks to the emergence of quarterback Tanner Price. Virginia Tech has a fine quarterback of its own. Sophomore Logan Thomas, a first-year starter, played his best game last Saturday, throwing for 310 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Hokies’ thrilling 38–35 comeback win over Miami (Fla.). The key to the game, however, could be Wake’s ability (or inability) to slow down Tech tailback David Wilson. If he runs wild, the Hokies should win the game.
Virginia Tech 34, Wake Forest 24

Baylor (+9.5) at Texas A&M
Texas A&M got back on track last weekend, holding on for a 45–40 win at Texas Tech in what could be the Aggies’ last trip ever to Lubbock. A&M once again jumped out to a big lead at the half (31–20), but this week found a way to hold on — though there were definitely some tense moments in the fourth quarter. Baylor, too, rebounded from a difficult loss two weeks ago. The Bears rolled past Iowa State 49–26 behind another strong performance from Robert Griffin III, who threw for over 200 yards and rushed for over 100. These two programs have played every year since 1945, but A&M’s departure to the SEC most likely means the end of the rivalry.
Texas A&M 38, Baylor 34

Ohio State (-4) at Illinois
Illinois is favored over Ohio State for the first time since 2001, when Ron Turner’s Illini won the Big Ten title with Kurt Kittner at quarterback. The 2011 Illini, predicted by most to finish no better than fourth in the Big Ten Leaders, are one of the more surprising teams in the nation with a 6–0 overall record and a 2–0 mark in league play. Sophomore Nathan Scheelhaase is playing very well at the quarterback position, and Ron Zook’s club is making the right plays at the right times to win games. Ohio State, on the other hand, is not winning games; the Buckeyes have lost three of their last four (their worst stretch since 2004) due in large part to poor play at the quarterback position. True freshman Braxton Miller was showing signs of life Saturday night at Nebraska before going down with an ankle injury. Miller is expected to play this week — which is a very good sign. Joe Bauserman, the Buckeyes’ other option at quarterback, completed only 1-of-10 attempts for 13 yards in relief at Nebraska.
Illinois 24, Ohio State 21

Florida (-2) at Auburn
It’s safe to say that a defending national champion has never been a home underdog to a team that is coming off consecutive losses of at least 28 points. But that’s what we have this weekend at Auburn. The Tigers, fresh off a 38–14 loss at Arkansas, return home to face a Florida team that has been thoroughly beaten the past two weeks by the elite in college football, Alabama and LSU. Jeff Driskel is expected to be back at quarterback after missing the LSU game, but he is still just a true freshman, and he has yet to start a game in his career. That’s hardly comforting — even against a Tiger defense that has given up 34 points or more in four of six games this season. Auburn is having quarterback problems, as well. Junior Barrett Trotter completed only 6-of-19 attempts for 81 yards against Arkansas last week. Don’t expect to see the forward pass too much in this game.
Auburn 28, Florida 23

Miami (Fla.) (+3) at North Carolina
The Hurricanes are a few plays away from being 4–1 or even 5–0. Their three losses have come by eight points (Maryland), four points (Kansas State) and three points (Virginia Tech), with none of the games decided until the final minute. Instead, Al Golden’s team finds itself 2–3 overall and 0–2 in league play with two crucial ACC Coastal Division games looming, this trip to UNC and a home date with Georgia Tech. Had the Canes come out on top in a few more of the games, tailback Lamar Miller might be receiving some Heisman buzz. The sophomore has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the first five games, including 184 vs. Ohio State and 166 vs. Virginia Tech. Carolina is 5–1, with the only loss coming by seven points at undefeated Georgia Tech. Interim coach Everitt Withers has done a solid job keeping his team focused. This is a key game for Carolina, which hits the road for three of its next four games. A win here keeps the Heels in the Coastal Division race.
Miami (Fla.) 27, North Carolina 20

USC (-3) at California (Thu)
Cal shocked USC, 34–31, in 2003 in what was the first big win of the Jeff Tedford era. The Bears have lost seven straight in the series since that breakthrough victory in Berkeley, with the last two being decided by an average of 30.5 points. The 2011 Bears jumped out to a 3–0 start but have lost back to back games at Washington and Oregon. They led Oregon 15–14 at the half last Thursday night before getting ambushed in the final two quarters en route to a 43–15 loss. USC hasn’t been overly impressive this year, but the Trojans are 4–1 with all four of the wins coming vs. BCS conference foes. The offense has been productive, but Monte Kiffin’s defense has been torched for a total of 84 points the past two weeks. Cal, which is playing its games at AT&T Park in San Francisco, won’t have a boisterous home crowd, but Bears are ready to end their losing streak vs. USC.
California 31, USC 24

South Carolina (-2.5) at Mississippi State
It’s been an interesting week at South Carolina. First, Steve Spurrier refused to address the media while a columnist from Columbia was in the room because of something that columnist wrote several months ago. Then, a few hours later, the school announced that Stephen Garcia had been kicked off the team. All this came a few days after the Gamecocks’ dominating 54–3 win over Kentucky in which USC rolled up a Spurrier-era high 639 yards of offense. Yards and points have been hard to come by at Mississippi State, which is off to a disappointing 3–3 start. The Bulldogs have totaled less than 220 yards in each of their past two SEC games and struggled to score in their non-conference wins over Louisiana Tech and UAB. No announcement has been made, but there is a strong possibility that Tyler Russell will get the start at quarterback over Chris Relf.
Mississippi State 21, South Carolina 13

Last week — 7–3 (3–7 vs. spread)
Season — 38–22 (29–30–1 vs. spread)

<p> Previews and predictions on 10 key games in Week 7.</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 08:51
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-rankings-week-6

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 6 Fantasy Football Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 6 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points

PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points

<br />
Post date: Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 07:47
All taxonomy terms: Atlanta Falcons, Julio Jones, News
Path: /news/julio-jones-hamstring-out-pick-harry-douglas

Atlanta Falcons star rookie wide receiver Julio Jones will not play this weekend against the Carolina Panthers after suffering a hamstring injury Sunday night.

Jones, who was back on the practice field rehabbing the injury, left Sunday’s game with Green Bay after pulling-up lame in the fourth quarter of the 25-14 loss to the Packers.

Seeing Jones on the practice field was an encouraging sign for Falcons head coach Mike Smith – who hopes to get Jones back into the starting line-up for the trip to Detroit in Week Seven.

Jones has been worth every penny – and pick – the Falcons spent to land the freakishly talented Alabama Crimson Tider. Jones, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, debuted by catching five passes for 71 yards. Recently, Jones put together back-to-back 100-yard games against Tampa Bay (6 rec., 115 yards) and Seattle (11 rec., 127 yard) before the hamstring injury against Green Bay last weekend.

Jones has 25 receptions for 358 yards and has yet to score a touchdown in his very young NFL career.

The injury does not seem serious, so fantasy owners need not worry too much about Jones’ long-term health. However, it does open the door for three-year wide receiver Harry Douglas to take on a much bigger role this weekend against the Panthers.

The much smaller Douglas will replace Jones in the starting line-up this weekend and will have a good shot at solid fantasy production. Carolina ranks 26th in the NFL in scoring defense after allowing 26.4 points per game over the first five weeks of the season. With Roddy White likely receiving most of the defense’s attention, Douglas, who has 11 receptions for 80 yards this year, should post his best game of the season this weekend.

<p> Atlanta Falcons star wide receiver Julio Jones will not play this weekend. Fantasy owners need to add Harry Douglas.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 18:16
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-defensespecial-teams-rankings-week-6

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 6 — Defense/Special Teams Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 6 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points

Teams on bye this week: Arizona, Denver, Kansas City, San Diego, Seattle, Tennessee

1 Green Bay Packers vs. STL
2 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. JAC
3 New York Jets at MIA
4 Baltimore Ravens at HOU
5 Detroit Lions vs. SF
6 Cincinnati Bengals vs. IND
7 Chicago Bears vs. MIN
8 New Orleans Saints at TB
9 San Francisco 49ers at DET
10 Washington Redksins vs. PHI
11 Houston Texans at BAL
12 Buffalo Bills at NYG
13 Minnesota Vikings at CHI
14 New York Giants vs. BUF
15 Philadelphia Eagles at WAS
16 Oakland Raiders vs. CLE

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 16:14
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-kicker-rankings-week-6

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 6 — Kicker Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 6 Waiver Wire

Athlon Sports Week 6 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points

Teams on bye this week: Arizona, Denver, Kansas City, San Diego, Seattle, Tennessee

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Sebastian Janikowski OAK vs. CLE
2 Neil Rackers HOU at BAL
3 Jason Hanson DET vs. SF
4 Mason Crosby GB vs. STL
5 John Kasay NO at TB
6 Stephen Gostkowski NE vs. DAL
7 Dan Bailey DAL at NE
8 Billy Cundiff BAL vs. HOU
9 David Akers SF at DET
10 Nick Folk NYJ at MIA
11 Mike Nugent CIN vs. IND
12 Matt Bryant ATL vs. CAR
13 Rian Lindell BUF at NYG
14 Robbie Gould CHI vs. MIN
15 Alex Henery PHI at WAS
16 Graham Gano WAS vs. PHI

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 16:07
All taxonomy terms: Jared Crick, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Big Ten, News
Path: /news/jared-crick-out-year-are-nebraska-big-ten-chances-done

Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick has been ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Crick suffered the injury during Saturday’s 34-27 win over Ohio State.

The senior entered the year with high expectations. Crick was selected as a preseason first-team Athlon All-American and was widely-regarded as the top defensive tackle in college football.

Through five games, Crick had collected 22 stops, three tackles for a loss and one sack. An injury held the senior out against Wyoming, but was a key cog in the Nebraska defense the rest of the way.

Crick is definitely going to be missed by the Cornhuskers. Even with him in the lineup, Nebraska ranked 80th nationally against the run and tied for 65th nationally in scoring defense. After ranking as one of the best defenses in college football last season, Nebraska has not lived up to the hype and has been one of the biggest disappointments in the Big Ten.

Crick’s absence will add more pressure to the defensive line. Junior Baker Steinkuhler will have to emerge as the leader on the interior. He has 19 stops through six contests. On the edge, Jason Ankrah and Cameron Meredith will also see more attention. Crick’s presence wasn’t always felt through the box score, but rather the double teams he drew from opposing offensive lines.

Senior Terrence Moore and redshirt freshman Chase Rome were listed behind Crick on the depth chart for Ohio State. Both players will see their snaps increase, along with sophomore Thaddeus Randle, who is listed as a backup to Steinkuhler.

Nebraska does catch a break in the schedule, as Minnesota is up after the bye this Satudray. The Golden Gophers have struggled on offense all year and would pose little threat to the Cornhuskers’ defense. After Minnesota, the offenses on the schedule get a little more difficult. Nebraska finishes the year with Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan and Iowa. Northwestern and Michigan would figure to be the most challenging offenses to stop out of that mix.

Despite Nebraska’s loss to Wisconsin in Week 5, it was still considered the frontrunner to win the Big Ten Legends Division. However, Crick’s injury will help Michigan and Michigan State to close the gap.

Nebraska's Big Ten title hopes aren't finished, but it certainly takes a hit with Crick's injury. Even if the Cornhuskers win the Legends Division, a matchup against Wisconsin would be a nightmare in the Big Ten title game. 

Although the defense has had its issues and is losing Crick for the year, Bo Pelini is one of the top defensive minds in college football. And he will need to come up with some answers or different looks over the second half of the season.

Crick is regarded as one of the top defensive line prospects in the NFL Draft. It’s unclear how this injury will affect his preparation for the 2012 draft. 

Even though Nebraska's defense has underachieved this season, there's no doubt Crick's injury makes this unit an even bigger concern going forward.

<p> Nebraska's defense suffered a big loss with defensive tackle Jared Crick out for the year due to an arm injury.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 16:03
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-tight-end-rankings-week-6

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 6 — Tight End Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 6 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Teams on bye this week: Arizona, Denver, Kansas City, San Diego, Seattle, Tennessee

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Jimmy Graham NO at TB
2 Jason Witten DAL at NE
3 Jermichael Finley GB vs. STL
4 Vernon Davis SF at DET
5 Owen Daniels HOU at BAL
6 Rob Gronkowski NE vs. DAL
7 Aaron Hernandez NE vs. DAL
8 Tony Gonzalez ATL vs. CAR
9 Greg Olsen CAR at ATL
10 Jermaine Gresham CIN vs. IND
11 Dustin Keller NYJ at MIA
12 Brandon Pettigrew DET vs. SF
13 Fred Davis WAS vs. PHI
14 Ed Dickson BAL vs. HOU
15 Dallas Clark IND at CIN
16 Ben Watson CLE at OAK
17 Kellen Winslow TB vs. NO
18 Heath Miller PIT vs. JAC
19 Scott Chandler BUF at NYG
20 Marcedes Lewis JAC at PIT
21 Jeremy Shockey CAR at ATL
22 Anthony Fasano MIA vs. NYJ
23 Chris Cooley WAS vs. PHI
24 Visanthe Shiancoe MIN at CHI
25 Jake Ballard NYG vs. BUF
26 Lance Kendricks STL at GB

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 15:50
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-wide-receiver-rankings-week-6

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 6 — Wide Receiver Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 6 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Teams on bye this week: Arizona, Denver, Kansas City, San Diego, Seattle, Tennessee

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Calvin Johnson DET vs. SF
2 Greg Jennings GB vs. STL
3 Hakeem Nicks NYG vs. BUF
4 Wes Welker NE vs. DAL
5 Steve Smith CAR at ATL
6 Roddy White ATL vs. CAR
7 Mike Wallace PIT vs. JAC
8 DeSean Jackson PHI at WAS
9 Miles Austin DAL at NE
10 Steve Johnson BUF at NYG
11 Dez Bryant DAL at NE
12 Santonio Holmes NYJ at MIA
13 A.J. Green CIN vs. IND
14 Jeremy Maclin PHI at WAS
15 Marques Colston NO at TB
16 Anquan Boldin BAL vs. HOU
17 Santana Moss WAS vs. PHI
18 Jordy Nelson GB vs. STL
19 Brandon Marshall MIA vs. NYJ
20 Pierre Garcon IND at CIN
21 Mario Manningham NYG vs. BUF
22 Reggie Wayne IND at CIN
23 Percy Harvin MIN at CHI
24 Victor Cruz NYG vs. BUF
25 Deion Branch NE vs. DAL
26 Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK vs. CLE
27 Mike Williams TB vs. NO
28 David Nelson BUF at NYG
29 Lance Moore NO vs. TB
30 Plaxico Burress NYJ at MIA
31 Robert Meachem NO at TB
32 James Jones GB vs. STL
33 Michael Crabtree SF at DET
34 Mike Thomas JAC at PIT
35 Antonio Brown PIT vs. JAC
36 Kevin Walter HOU at BAL
37 Denarius Moore OAK vs. CLE
38 Jason Avant PHI at WAS
39 Hines Ward PIT vs. JAC
40 Jabar Gafney WAS vs. PHI
41 Mike Sims-Walker STL at GB
42 Johnny Knox CHI vs. MIN
43 Jacoby Ford OAK vs. CLE
44 Davone Bess MIA vs. NYJ
45 Jacoby Jones HOU at BAL
46 Greg Little CLE at OAK
47 Jerome Simpson CIN vs. IND
48 Danario Alexander STL at GB
49 Harry Douglas ATL vs. CAR
50 Jason Hill JAC at PIT
51 Torrey Smith BAL vs. HOU
52 Titus Young DET vs. SF
53 Arrelious Benn TB vs. NO
54 Preston Parker TB vs. NO
55 Nate Burleson DET vs. SF
56 Brandon Gibson STL at GB
57 Josh Cribbs CLE at OAK
58 Devery Henderson NO at TB
59 Michael Jenkins MIN at CHI
60 Emmanuel Sanders PIT vs. JAC
61 Brandon LaFell CAR at ATL
62 Austin Collie IND at CIN
63 Randall Cobb GB vs. STL
64 Mohamed Massaquoi CLE at OAK

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 15:43
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-quarterback-rankings-week-6

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 6 — Quarterback Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 6 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Teams on bye this week: Arizona, Denver, Kansas City, San Diego, Seattle, Tennessee

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Aaron Rodgers GB vs. STL
2 Tom Brady NE vs. DAL
3 Tony Romo DAL at NE
4 Drew Brees NO at TB
5 Michael Vick PHI at WAS
6 Cam Newton CAR at ATL
7 Ben Roethlisberger PIT vs. JAC
8 Eli Manning NYG vs. BUF
9 Mark Sanchez NYJ vs. MIA
10 Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF at NYG
11 Matt Ryan ATL vs. CAR
12 Matthew Stafford DET vs. SF
13 Rex Grossman WAS vs. PHI
14 Joe Flacco BAL vs. HOU
15 Matt Schaub HOU at BAL
16 Josh Freeman TB vs. NO
17 Alex Smith SF at DET
18 Jason Campbell OAK vs. CLE
19 Jay Cutler CHI vs. MIN
20 Sam Bradford STL at GB
21 Andy Dalton CIN vs. IND
22 Colt McCoy CLE at OAK
23 Donovan McNabb MIN at CHI
24 Curtis Painter IND at CIN
25 Blaine Gabbert JAC at PIT
26 Matt Moore MIA at NYJ

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 15:31