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The reigning kings of December will collide in Qualcomm Stadium, as the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers will face off tonight on NBC. Tom Brady and Philip Rivers rival Santa Claus for ownership of this month; they have a combined December record of 75–13 and rank first (Brady) and second (Rivers) in the NFL in December winning percentage since 1950 among quarterbacks with 25 starts or more. The Patriots (9-3) are in bounce-back mode after seeing their seven-game winning streak snapped in a 26–21 loss to Green Bay, while the Chargers (8-4) are coming off a key comeback win over Baltimore.
New England Patriots vs. San Diego Chargers
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: New England -4
|New England 2014 Schedule|
|11/16||@ IND||W 42 - 20||Recap|
|11/23||vs DET||W 34 - 9||Recap|
|11/30||@ GB||L 21 - 26||Recap|
|12/7||@ SD||W 23 - 14||Recap|
|12/14||vs MIA||W 41 - 13||Recap|
|12/21||@ NYJ||1:00 pm||Buy Tickets|
|12/28||vs BUF||1:00 pm||Buy Tickets|
New England’s Key to Victory: Maintain Focus
A trip to the warm climes of San Diego can seem like a vacation, and L.A. is just a quick drive up the coast, as we saw when tight end Rob Gronkowski took in a Clippers game with Justin Bieber earlier this week. The Patriots have a reputation for being the most business-like, results-driven team in the game, but it’s critical that this group regain the level of intensity that led to its recent seven-game surge. They need to be particularly focused on preventing big plays; after Aaron Rodgers burned New England’s secondary for first-half touchdown passes of 32 and 45 yards, leading to a nine-point halftime deficit that proved too much to overcome. “It’s important for us to not be distracted by nice weather and things that are going on out here and realize that we have a job to do this week,” left guard Dan Connelly said. “We have to treat it as much like a regular week as we can.”
|San Diego 2014 Schedule|
|11/16||vs OAK||W 13 - 6||Recap|
|11/23||vs STL||W 27 - 24||Recap|
|11/30||@ BAL||W 34 - 33||Recap|
|12/7||vs NE||L 14 - 23||Recap|
|12/14||vs DEN||L 10 - 22||Recap|
|12/20||@ SF||8:25 pm||Buy Tickets|
|12/28||@ KC||1:00 pm||Buy Tickets|
San Diego’s Key to Victory: Reverse the Curse
The history of this series favors the Patriots — overwhelmingly. Tom Brady has never lost to San Diego, boasting a 5-0 record against the Bolts. His counterpart, Philip Rivers, is 1-5 against the Patriots, with the one win coming against a Matt Cassel-led New England team in 2008. The respective stats tell the story: Rivers has a 5-to-8 TD-to-interception ratio against the Brady-led Pats, with a 73.4 passer rating, while Brady has 11 TD passes and a 91.4 rating against San Diego. But Rivers made a salient point on this subject: These franchises haven’t met since 2011, and every year is new. “We’ve never played this Patriot team,” he said. “We’re 0-0 against this group. There are a lot of guys in that locker room that have never played the Patriots in their life. You can’t really say this team is 1-5 against them.” It’s up to these Chargers to ignore the history and play loose and confident.
The loss in Green Bay and the end of the seven-game winning streak was in all likelihood the wakeup call New England needed. Look for the Patriots to embark on yet another December surge with a key road win over a Chargers team that has been living on the edge all season.
Prediction: New England 27, San Diego 24
It’s only Week 14, but in many ways this matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins on CBS may as well be viewed as a playoff-elimination game in the AFC. The Dolphins and Ravens both enter today’s game at 7-5, part of a group of six teams with the same record. Miami is currently the leader of this pack, thanks to a series of tiebreakers. With so many teams bunched together, neither Miami nor Baltimore can afford a loss at this point, especially considering neither is leading their respective division.
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Miami -2.5
Baltimore is looking to regroup following last week’s 34-33 home loss to San Diego. John Harbaugh’s Ravens led by 10 with 6:13 to go in the fourth quarter, but the Chargers scored the game-winning touchdown with just 38 seconds left. Miami on the other hand needed a 10-point fourth quarter comeback of its own to avoid disaster Monday night in the Big Apple against the Jets. Even though the Jets ran roughshod over the Dolphins (277 yards rushing), Caleb Sturgis’ 26-yard field goal with 1:57 on the clock saved Joe Philbin’s team from an embarrassing loss that could have basically wrecked Miami’s playoff aspirations.
The key to this game may be how each offense attacks the other’s perceived weak spot on defense. For Baltimore this means taking advantage of a Miami run defense that’s giving up nearly 120 yards per game. Justin Forsett has been a revelation for the Ravens this season, already over 1,000 yards rushing and leading all running backs with an average of 5.6 yards per carry. Forsett is dealing with a knee issue, but he said he expects to play so he can get a shot at a defense that has surrendered 478 yards on the ground in its last two games.
Baltimore’s recent troubles on defense have come through the air. The Ravens gave up 420 yards passing and three touchdowns to Drew Brees two weeks ago, followed by 383 yards and three scores to Philip Rivers. Miami’s not known for throwing the ball all over the field, but Ryan Tannehill has been extremely efficient lately. He has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in each of the past five games. Last week also marked the first game all season in which Tannehill didn’t throw at least one touchdown pass.
The Dolphins have been pretty tough at home this season, having already defeated the Patriots and shutting out the Chargers while losing to the Packers on a last-second touchdown pass by Aaron Rodgers. The Ravens have experienced some highs (beating the Saints) and lows (losing 43-23 to the Steelers) on the road and their passing game has been inconsistent, while the defense has had to deal with the occasional breakdown or lapse in execution.
Baltimore probably needs this win more considering it is part of the highly competitive AFC North, but Miami has been more consistent over the past few months. This game will be close, but Tannehill makes enough plays in the second half and a late defensive stop will be enough to help the Dolphins maintain possession of a Wild Card berth, for at least one more week.
Prediction: Miami 24, Baltimore 20
The AFC North race takes center stage this afternoon when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals get together on CBS. The Bengals (8-3-1) currently lead the NFL’s most competitive division, with the Steelers (7-5) falling in between the Ravens and Browns as it relates to playoff pecking order.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Cincinnati -3.5
As the AFC playoff picture stands right now, Cincinnati would be the only team in. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland are part of a six-pack of 7-5 teams currently jockeying for one Wild Card berth, which is why divisional matchups like this will be so critical from here out.
This is the first of two Bengals vs. Steelers matchups between now and the end of the regular season. And while the Week 17 return date in Pittsburgh could end up being a winner-take-all situation, this game is just as important. A win would not only give the Bengals some breathing room between them and potentially the rest of the division, it also would give the Steelers a loss they can ill afford.
Since getting manhandled by Cleveland 24-3 at home in Week 10, Cincinnati has won three in a row, all on the road. Improved defensive play (12.0 ppg, 280.3 ypg) has been a factor during this streak, as has the return of two key offensive weapons (A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard) from injury.
Offense has been Pittsburgh’s calling card this season, as the Steelers rank third in the league in yards (417.3) and eighth in points (26.7) per game. Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown have been putting up huge numbers, but the problem has been the defense has given up its fair share too. Last week, Drew Brees threw five touchdown passes as New Orleans piled up nearly 400 yards in its 35-32 victory in the Steel City.
While Pittsburgh’s offense vs. Cincinnati’s defense is probably the key matchup, don’t overlook the Bengals’ offense. With Green and Bernard back in the fold, Andy Dalton has plenty of weapons at his disposal and this Steelers defense is not exactly the Steel Curtain of old.
The AFC North is the only division in the NFL with four winning teams, but Cincinnati is the team that’s been most consistent. The Bengals’ defense appears to be rounding into form and I think it will be the difference in what should be a typical AFC North matchup – physical, intense and likely to come down to the wire.
Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 24
Playoff positioning will be at stake when the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles get together this afternoon on FOX. The Seahawks (8-4) are one game behind the Cardinals for the lead in the NFC West and currently maintain a slight edge over the other Wild Card contenders. Even with a loss, the Eagles (9-3) would still be ahead of the Cowboys in the NFC East thanks to an unblemished (3-0) record in divisional play.
Both teams enter this afternoon’s game having won their past two contests and four out of five. Seattle has looked more like the defending Super Bowl champions of late, beating divisional rivals Arizona and San Francisco by a combined score of 38-6. Philadelphia is coming off of a convincing 33-10 win in Dallas on Thanksgiving and are 6-0 at home this season.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Philadelphia -1
|Seattle 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||vs NYG||W 38 - 17||Recap|
|11/16||@ KC||L 20 - 24||Recap|
|11/23||vs ARI||W 19 - 3||Recap|
|11/27||@ SF||W 19 - 3||Recap|
|12/7||@ PHI||W 24 - 14||Recap|
|12/14||vs SF||W 17 - 7||Recap|
|12/21||@ ARI||8:30 pm||Buy Tickets|
|12/28||vs STL||4:25 pm||Buy Tickets|
Seattle’s Key to Victory: Stop Shady
After getting off to a slow start LeSean “Shady” McCoy has gotten it going. The reigning rushing champion, McCoy is coming off of a season-high 159 yards on the ground last week against Dallas and has four 100-yard efforts over his last seven games. That’s after not rushing for more than 81 yards in each of his first five games. A big-play threat whenever he touches the ball, Philadelphia is 6-1 when McCoy goes over 100 total yards. It’s not like the Eagles can’t win when McCoy doesn’t have a good game, but his presence in Chip Kelly’s offense shouldn’t be overlooked either. The Seahawks are fifth in the league in rushing defense and have given up more than 64 yards rushing only once in their last five games. If Seattle can bottle up McCoy that would put more pressure on Mark Sanchez to make plays from the pocket. Since taking over for an injured Nick Foles, Sanchez has directed Philadelphia to a 3-1 record as the starter, but he’s still prone to the occasional mistake (eight turnovers vs. nine total TDs) and isn’t always the most accurate (63.4 percent completion rate this season) with his throws. Kelly’s offensive system may be quarterback-friendly, but Sanchez vs. Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” could be one ugly matchup. And that’s exactly what the Seahawks are hoping for.
|Philadelphia 2014 Schedule|
|11/10||vs CAR||W 45 - 21||Recap|
|11/16||@ GB||L 20 - 53||Recap|
|11/23||vs TEN||W 43 - 24||Recap|
|11/27||@ DAL||W 33 - 10||Recap|
|12/7||vs SEA||L 14 - 24||Recap|
|12/14||vs DAL||L 27 - 38||Recap|
|12/20||@ WAS||4:30 pm||Buy Tickets|
|12/28||@ NYG||1:00 pm||Buy Tickets|
Philadelphia’s Key to Victory: Beat Seattle at its Own Game
One of the hallmarks of Seattle’s defense last season was the unit’s ability to create turnovers. The Seahawks were first in the NFL in takeaways (39), interceptions (28) and turnover margin (plus-20). After forcing just five takeaways in their first six games (3-3 record), business has picked up for Pete Carroll’s defense to the tune of 13 turnovers forced over the past six contests. Not surprisingly, the defending Super Bowl champions have gone 5-1 during this stretch. While the Eagles’ defense will never be mistaken for the “Legion of Boom,” Philadelphia’s defense has fared pretty well in this category this season. The Eagles have collected 22 takeaways thus far, which is four more than the Seahawks’ total and places them in a tie for fifth in the league. What’s more, Chip Kelly’s team has made the most of its takeaways, as the Eagles have scored six defensive touchdowns. Contrast that to Seattle, which has gotten just two scores from its defense. Philadelphia’s success carries over to special teams as well, which has accounted for four touchdowns and five blocked kicks. The Seahawks have two blocked kicks, but no special teams scores. Statistically speaking, Seattle’s defense is ranked No. 1 in the league in yards allowed and third in points. Philadelphia’s defense is 24th and tied for 19th in those same categories. However, similar to what the Seahawks did last season, the Eagles’ defense has made a healthy living off of turnovers this season. Maintaining that edge this afternoon could be key to Philadelphia’s chances of winning, especially considering how good a job Seattle does with ball security (9 giveaways, tied for second-fewest) compared to the Eagles (league-worst 28).
A potential playoff preview? Perhaps, but right now the focus of these two teams is to just get into the postseason. Philadelphia is a little more secure in that respect, but Seattle is the defending champions and appears to be rounding into form at the right time. Coming off of dominating victories over Arizona and San Francisco, the Seahawks are a team no one wants to face now, let alone in January. The Eagles have the edge over the Cowboys in the NFC East, but also are in the mix for one of the top two seeds and a first-round bye. Philadelphia is undefeated at home and has more offensive firepower, but I’ll take my chances with the “Legion of Boom” against Mark Sanchez, regardless of where the game is played.
Prediction: Seattle 27, Philadelphia 23
The Buffalo Bills will try and improve their playoff standing when they take on the Denver Broncos this afternoon on CBS. The Bills (7-5) have three teams ahead of them in the AFC Wild Card pecking order while the Broncos (9-3) have an outside shot of wrapping up a playoff spot, depending on the outcome of numerous other games
Buffalo is part of a six-pack of 7-5 teams currently jockeying for the second Wild Card spot with San Diego (8-4) claiming the other. The Bills are behind the Dolphins (better winning percentage in divisional play) and Chiefs (better winning percentage in conference games), thanks in part to losses to each the past two weeks. Buffalo’s remaining slate is not easy with Green Bay on tap next week and back-to-back road games on opposite sides of the country (Oakland then New England) to finish things up. The Bills need to win just to keep pace with the pack, but face a tough test this afternoon against a Broncos team that’s undefeated at home.
Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Denver -10
|Buffalo 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||vs KC||L 13 - 17||Recap|
|11/13||@ MIA||L 9 - 22||Recap|
|11/24||vs NYJ||W 38 - 3||Recap|
|11/30||vs CLE||W 26 - 10||Recap|
|12/7||@ DEN||L 17 - 24||Recap|
|12/14||vs GB||W 21 - 13||Recap|
|12/21||@ OAK||4:25 pm||Buy Tickets|
|12/28||@ NE||1:00 pm||Buy Tickets|
Buffalo’s Key to Victory: Get Offensive
The Bills rank among the top 10 in the NFL in the four major defensive categories. They are second in scoring defense (18.1 ppg) and fifth in both total (312.4 ypg) and passing (216.1 ypg) defense. Buffalo also leads the league with 48 sacks and has collected 20 in the past four games alone. All of this is well and good, especially going against a Peyton Manning-led Denver offense that’s fifth in both yards (413.9) and points (30.1) per game, but the Bills will still need to find a way to score some points. After all, the Broncos are 6-0 this season at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, averaging 35.3 points per game. Buffalo is 17th in the league in scoring at 17 points per game and has scored more than 35 points just twice. Both of those games were against the 2-10 Jets. The Bills have done a little better job putting points on the board on the road (21.8 ppg), but Denver’s low-water mark at home so far is the 24 it scored in a Week 2 win over Kansas City. Since that game, the Broncos have put up 41 on the Cardinals, 42 on the 49ers, 35 on the Chargers, and 39 on the Dolphins. Buffalo’s defense is capable of limiting any team’s offense, but it will be difficult for them to completely shut down Manning and the Broncos. And that’s just part of the battle, as the Bills’ offense will still need to cobble some scoring drives together and do so against a Denver defense that has given up less than 23 points per game at home.
|Denver 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||@ OAK||W 41 - 17||Recap|
|11/16||@ STL||L 7 - 22||Recap|
|11/23||vs MIA||W 39 - 36||Recap|
|11/30||@ KC||W 29 - 16||Recap|
|12/7||vs BUF||W 24 - 17||Recap|
|12/14||@ SD||W 22 - 10||Recap|
|12/22||@ CIN||8:30 pm||Buy Tickets|
|12/28||vs OAK||4:25 pm||Buy Tickets|
Denver’s Key to Victory: Stay Balanced
The Broncos have the luxury of a future Hall of Fame quarterback running their offense, but that doesn’t mean they at their best when Peyton Manning is throwing the ball all over the field. In each of Denver’s three losses, the Broncos’ offensive game plan was extremely pass-heavy. Against Seattle, Manning attempted 49 passes compared to 20 rushes. The pass vs. run distribution was even more lopsided against New England (57/17) and St. Louis (54/10). For whatever reason, the 22-7 loss to the Rams three weeks ago must have served as a tipping point because Denver has since recommitted to the run in a big way. In Week 12 against Miami, it was a 50/50 split and then last week the Broncos ran the ball 10 more times than they passed it. And in those two games, all the team did was rush for 415 yards, dominate time of possession and, most importantly, beat a pair of playoff-contending teams. In fact, this run-heavy approach fueled a fourth-quarter comeback against the Dolphins and allowed the Broncos to hold the ball for more than 38 minutes against the Chiefs. Running back C.J. Anderson, who was buried on the depth chart earlier this season, has been the catalyst for Denver’s rejuvenated ground attack (335 yards rushing in the last two games) and there’s no reason to deviate from that approach now. Buffalo’s defense has been tough against the run (96.3 ypg), but the Broncos’ offensive line is playing exceptionally well and Anderson has been punishing opponents on the ground. Manning is perfectly capable of beating teams by himself, but as this season has showed, it’s not always in the Broncos’ best interests to rely on that strategy. And as far as the Bills’ defense is concerned, facing a potent, two-dimensional offense run by a future Hall of Fame quarterback on the road certainly does not bode well for their interests.
Buffalo is in the thick of the Wild Card chase and has one of the NFL’s toughest defenses. Denver is positioned to not only win its fourth straight AFC West crown, but also to wind up with one of the top two seeds and a first-round bye. On paper, the Bills appear equipped to keep Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense in check. However, that was before Denver recommitted to the run, as C.J. Anderson has jumpstarted a rushing attack that’s piled up more than 400 yards in the last two games. Buffalo has had issues scoring points all season and this won’t get any easier against a Broncos defense that’s been pretty stingy at home. Going up against a future Hall of Fame quarterback is just one of the challenges facing the Bills, who will come up short in their attempt to hand the Broncos their first loss at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Prediction: Denver 27, Buffalo 17
The saying goes that the backup quarterback is the most popular person in football.
At Ohio State, that may be no exaggeration.
Quarterback injuries have been the norm for Urban Meyer in Columbus, but lucky for the Buckeyes, the next man up has been more than prepared.
At one point, Cardale Jones spent time as the third-string quarterback. Braxton Miller was the starter until he went down with a shoulder injury to give way to redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. With a broken ankle, Barrett gave way for Jones, the third backup quarterback to enter a game because of injury for Ohio State the last two seasons.
This, though, was different. On Saturday, Ohio State started the day ranked No. 5 in the playoff rankings and would face a top-five defense in the Big Ten championship game.
A win, and especially strong play from Jones, would strengthen Ohio State's cause for the playoff.
Jones responded with a dominant performance in a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin. In his first career start, Jones completed 12-of-17 passes for 257 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers against the Badgers to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.
Wisconsin started the day ranked fifth in fewest yards per play (4.4) and 17th in yards per pass attempt.
Those numbers will take a hit after facing Ohio State.
Under Jones, Ohio State averaged 10 yards per play, and the quarterback averaged 17.1 yards per attempt against the Badgers.
National Defensive Player of the Week: Michael Bennett, Ohio State
If you picked an Ohio State player to have nearly three times as many rushing yards as Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon on Saturday, you could have won a few bets. Certainly, part of that is on the Buckeyes’ Ezekiel Elliott (220 yards), but some is on defensive tackle Michael Bennett and the Ohio State defense. Bennett finished with four tackles for a loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles as Ohio State held Gordon to 76 yards on 26 carries. For the first time all season, Gordon failed to produce a 20-yard carry. He topped out with his longest run going for 13 yards.
National Freshman of the Week: Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Jameis Winston played perhaps his best game of the season in the ACC championship, but he was in danger of being upstaged by a freshman tailback. Cook rushed for 177 yards on 31 carries and a touchdown for the best Florida State rushing day in 39 games. On one possession in the first and second quarters against Georgia Tech, Cook had all seven touches on a 75-yard touchdown drive. Later, he had the key 10-yard run on third-and-7 in the fourth quarter that sealed the 37-35 win for Florida State.
National Coordinator of the Week: Don Pellum, Oregon
In short, Oregon has two weaknesses as it tries to win the school’s first national championship: Arizona and its own defense. The Ducks solved both in the Pac-12 championship on Friday in a 51-13 win over Arizona. Pellum’s defense had arguably its best game of the season. Arizona amassed only 224 yards and 3.7 yards per play against the Ducks. Of Arizona’s 113 passing yards, 69 came on a single touchdown on a broken coverage. Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon was injured during the course of the game, but Wildcats quarterbacks combined to go 9-of-26 with an interception.
Julius Thomas isn’t the only elite tight end on the Week 14 injury report. Will the Broncos get their other Thomas back today and what’s the TE situation for the Panthers, Colts and Browns? Keep reading and you’ll find out.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Questionable – Knee
Olsen was limited when he did practice this week and is listed as Questionable, but there doesn’t appear to be any major concern regarding his availability. He should play and if he does, Olsen needs to be in your lineup. Just double-check before kickoff (1 p.m. ET) and make sure the No. 4 fantasy TE this season is indeed active.
Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos vs. Buffalo Bills
Questionable – Ankle
This week Thomas was able to practice on a limited basis all three days, so it looks like he’s making progress. Will it be enough for him to get back out there this afternoon? That remains to be seen, but Thomas has said he’s “close.” He’s officially Questionable and most likely is going to be a game-time decision yet again, so it’s a matter of how much risk are you willing to take considering the late (4:05 p.m. ET) kickoff. We ranked Thomas third this week, for what that’s worth.
Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns
Probable – Ankle
After missing the past two games, Allen is on track to return today. He was a full participant in practice and is listed as Probable. How many snaps he will get is a question worth asking, but don’t be surprised if Allen’s return impacts Coby Fleener’s opportunities. Fleener has thrived since Allen got injured early in Week 11, catching 13 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns (both last week) over the past three games. But Allen had better numbers than Fleener prior to his injury, which is why he is ranked a few spots higher than his teammate despite the missed time. At best, both should be viewed as borderline TE1 options this week.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns vs. Indianapolis Colts
Questionable – Concussion
Cameron has missed the past five games because of a concussion, but he has been able to practice on a limited basis. He was able to participate to some degree every day this week, which earned him a Questionable designation. However, Cameron’s fate really isn’t in the hands of the coaching staff as much as it is in the neurologist who must clear him to play. The bottom line is that Cameron has missed more than a month’s worth of action, so even if he plays, rust should be expected. At this point in the fantasy season, it’s probably not worth it to take a chance with Cameron unless you have no other choice.
Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins vs. Baltimore Ravens
Questionable – Hamstring
Clay has missed the past two games, but he’s making progress and could be back out there today. He was a limited practice participant every day this week and his Questionable tag is an upgrade from last week’s Doubtful. Even if Clay plays, he’s too risky to trust this week.
Already Ruled Out:
Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets – Amaro will miss a second straight game as he’s still going through the league-mandated concussion protocols.
It’s Week 14, which means every game really counts from here out in both the NFL and fantasy. Between later this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow there are six games that need to be considered before setting your lineup. Here are some wide receiver injuries in those games that you really need to pay attention to.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Questionable – Knee
The good news is that Fitzgerald was able to increase his practice participation and was out there for at least a little bit every day. The bad news is that while he’s listed as Questionable, head coach Bruce Arians said on Friday that Fitzgerald still isn’t 100 percent and will be a game-time decision once again. Arizona is struggling right now and the Cardinals’ offense will be without running back Andre Ellington. With the late kickoff and the uncertainty surrounding Fitzgerald’s status, I would just consider him as being Out and move on.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos vs. Buffalo Bills
Probable – Ankle
The Broncos already had one hobbled Thomas (Julius, ankle), but got another scare when Demaryius got his ankle stepped on by a teammate during Wednesday’s practice. He sat out Thursday, but was back on the field Friday. That information along with his Probable designation seems to signal that he will play against the Bills. Thomas hasn’t gone over 100 yards receiving in either of his past two games, but he has caught four touchdown passes during this span, cementing his status as an elite WR1.
Harry Douglas and Roddy White, WRs, Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers (Mon.)
Probable – Foot; Questionable – Ankle
Douglas missed four games earlier this season with a foot injury. It continues to limit him in practice, but that’s more precautionary than anything. Douglas is Probable, all but assuring he will play. The same can’t be said for White, who was Questionable last week and ended up not playing after he was unable to practice. Along those lines, White was a limited participant on Saturday and afterwards he said he was confident he would be able to go on Monday night. He’s still Questionable, but it certainly sounds like White’s got a much better chance of playing this week compared to last. But can you wait until Monday night to find out? White has picked things up lately (3 TDs over his past five games), but Douglas also fared pretty well (9 rec. 116 yds.) last week in White’s absence. Julio Jones is the top dog when it comes to Atlanta’s wide receivers, but White’s capable of putting up WR2 production of his own. Douglas’ value is tied directly to whether White plays or not, but there’s plenty of risk when it comes to either this week because of the timing (play on Monday night) and uncertainty surrounding White’s status.
Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, WRs, New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers
Questionable – Thigh; Questionable – Shoulder
Both Edelman and LaFell were limited in practice this week and even though both are Questionable, they are expected to play tonight. Rob Gronkowski is the No. 1 option in the Patriots’ passing game, but Tom Brady has not been afraid to throw the ball Edelman’s or LaFell’s way either. Edelman has been more the PPR guy (team-high 77 rec.) while LaFell has made the most of his opportunities (7 TDs). With Gronk getting the majority of the looks, Edelman and LaFell are probably best if employed as WR3/flex options, with each having the potential of putting up bigger numbers.
Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, WRs, Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos
Probable – Hip; Probable – Ankle
Watkins suffered a hip injury last week and was limited by it in in practice. It’s the same story for Woods, except he’s dealing with an ankle injury. It looks like it will be a happy ending for both (and their fantasy owners), however, as each is listed as Probable. Denver’s defense has done a decent job against WRs this season, but the possibility of Buffalo being forced to throw because of the game situation is tempting enough to recommend finding a way to get both Watkins and Woods into the starting lineup. Both are more WR3/flex options, but each is capable of doing more.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers at Oakland Raiders
Probable – Knee
It has been a disappointing season for Crabtree, who has four touchdown receptions and is averaging only 11.3 yards per catch. Injuries have been somewhat to blame and he’s now dealing with a knee issue that limited his practice participation Wednesday and Thursday. He was a full go on Friday and is listed as Probable, but that doesn’t mean you should have Crabtree in your starting lineup. Consider this: He’s reached double-digits in fantasy points just twice over his last nine games.
Plenty of recognizable wide receivers appear on the Week 14 injury report. Which ones can you count on and which ones may not play? Have no fear, Athlon Sports has got these key targets covered.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Probable – Ankle
Nothing to see or be worried about here. Johnson was limited on Wednesday more out of precaution than anything. He was a full go on Thursday and Friday and is listed as Probable. Johnson was in vintage Megatron form (11-146-2) last week against Chicago and he’s ranked among our top 5 WRs this week.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Probable – Thigh
Green missed three games earlier this season because of a toe injury, but this time it’s a thigh issue giving him some problems. He was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, but was a full go on Friday. He’s listed as Probable, so you can pretty much count on him being out there. Green has a favorable matchup against a Steelers secondary that has struggled at times. Green is a must-start WR1, as he has scored at least 14.7 fantasy points in each of his past three games.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins vs. St. Louis Rams
Questionable – Shin
Jackson wasn’t able to practice because of a shin contusion, so his Questionable designation may be wishful thinking. The Redskins are going to give Jackson every opportunity to play, which means he will probably end up being a game-time decision. Jackson has been a boom-or-bust type of player this season and Colt McCoy doesn’t have the strongest arm, so it's probably best to leave DJax on your bench this week.
Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans vs. New York Giants
Questionable – Hand
The same week the Titans put Justin Hunter on injured reserve with a lacerated spleen, Wright cracked a bone in his right hand during practice on Wednesday. He wasn’t able to go Thursday or Friday, so his Questionable designation should be taken seriously. Wright’s production has been disappointing, so you have to wonder how effective he can be if he does end up playing. Unless you don’t have another option, I wouldn’t rely on Wright this week.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns
Probable – Hamstring
Hilton is dealing with a hamstring issue, but it doesn’t appear to be too serious. He was limited in practice on Wednesday, but a full participant both Thursday and Friday. He’s listed as Probable, so Hilton should be safe to employ. Hilton has scored at least 13.5 fantasy points in eight of his last nine games, one of the reasons why he’s been a top-10 fantasy WR this season. Hilton falls just outside of the top 10 in this week’s WR rankings, even with the prospect of being matched up against shutdown cornerback Joe Haden this afternoon.
Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace, WRs, Miami Dolphins vs. Baltimore Ravens
Probable – Knee; Probable – Chest
Hartline joins Wallace on the injury report, but both are Probable and expected to play. Hartline hurt his knee last week and was limited some in practice, but the bigger concern is that rookie Jarvis Landry has passed Hartline in the pecking order. Wallace continues to post solid numbers, making him a reliable and safe WR2. Hartline doesn’t really register on the fantasy radar at this point.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
Probable – Knee
Smith didn’t practice at all on Wednesday or Thursday, but he’s still listed as Probable, so it looks like the coaching staff isn’t too concerned about his knee. Torrey has outpaced teammate Steve as the more productive Smith for the Ravens over the past month, and he should be safe to utilize as a WR2/3.
Andre Ellington has already been ruled out for Week 14, but he’s not the only running back on the injury report. Here are the other ailing RBs you need to know about before the late afternoon games get started.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles
Probable – Back
Lynch is on the injury report, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it. He was held out of Wednesday’s practice for rest, eased back into things on Thursday and was a full go on Friday. He’s listed as Probable and is a must-start against an Eagles defense that’s among the top 10 in fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs. Lynch has three 100-yard efforts over his last four games and seems to have gotten stronger as the season has worn on.
Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders vs. San Francisco 49ers
Probable – Concussion
After missing last week, Murray was a full participant in practice both Thursday and Friday. He has passed the concussion protocols, is listed as Probable and expected to get the start this afternoon. Even though he gained 112 yards on just four carries the last time he was on the field, don’t expect Murray to pick up where he left off. For one, interim head coach Tony Sparano has already made a point to say that Murray will not be used as a workhorse the rest of the way, which means Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Marcel Reece could impact his touches. Secondly, the 49ers have done a pretty good job against RBs and it’s not like the Raiders have a lot of other offensive weapons for defenses to worry about. I have no problem with plugging Murray in and seeing what he can do, but he’s probably best viewed as a flex with upside this week.
Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers
Questionable – Ankle
Vereen was limited in practice because of an ankle injury and he’s listed as Questionable. However, these are the Patriots we are talking about, as Vereen is one of 10 who are designated as being Questionable. There doesn’t appear to be any real danger of Vereen missing this game, but it’s not like running backs and Bill Belichick are a fantasy match made in heaven in the first place. Don’t forget that since Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards against the Colts in Week 11 he’s had one carry (for four yards). LeGarrette Blount rejoined the team a few weeks ago and since his return he’s been the No. 1 option. Vereen is a legitimate pass-catching threat, but he’s scored a total of four touchdowns and is averaging just over 10 touches per game. Vereen was already more suited for flex duty to begin with, so it’s just a matter of whether you think he will be limited tonight against the Chargers.
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers at Oakland Raiders
Probable – Shoulder
Hyde was limited in practice by a shoulder injury, but he’s listed as Probable so he should play. The rookie has gotten opportunities (75 att.) and he leads the team with four rushing touchdowns, but he’s averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and still deferring to Frank Gore. The matchup against the Raiders is appealing, but Hyde is nothing more than a flex possibility this week.
Already Ruled Out:
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals – Ellington hasn’t been healthy all season, as he’s dealt with a tendon issue in his foot since Week 1. But he also hadn’t missed any games, until now. Ellington left last week’s game against Atlanta with a hip pointer. It’s bad enough that he wasn’t able to practice, which combined with his other bumps and bruises led to the team ruling him out for today. Stepfan Taylor will get the start in Ellington’s place, but Marion Grice and possibly even Robert Hughes figure to be involved as well. Even though Ellington is a must-start RB, the same can’t be said for Taylor. If you have Ellington and need a replacement, Taylor will suffice, just be sure to temper your expectations.
Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, RBs, Denver Broncos – Still no practice for either Ball (groin) or Hillman (foot), so this will be a third straight game missed for the former and No. 4 for the latter. The good news for the Broncos is that C.J. Anderson has taken the job and run with it, to the tune of 335 yards over the last two games. Even against a tough Buffalo defense, Anderson still ranks among our top 10 RBs this week.
The Giants could be a man down in Week 14 while Cleveland’s backfield may not be operating at full strength either. Here’s the latest on those situations as well as the Saints and Vikings.
Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants vs. Tennessee Titans
Questionable – Knee
Jennings injured his ankle last week, and it’s still bother him. He didn’t practice at all on Wednesday or Thursday and was limited on Friday. He’s officially Questionable, which puts his chances at 50/50, but the final decision probably won’t be made until prior to kickoff (1 p.m. ET). If Jennings can’t go, Andre Williams would get the start. Only one other team has given up more fantasy points to RBs this season than the Titans, so whether it’s Jennings or Williams, whoever gets the call could be in store for a truly Giant afternoon. If you do have Jennings, however, I would certainly have a back-up plan in place.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns vs. Indianapolis Colts
Questionable – Hip
Crowell missed Wednesday’s practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday because of a hip injury. He’s listed as Questionable, but all signs seem to point towards him playing against the Colts. The rookie has emerged as the Browns’ most productive rusher, as seven of his 107 carries have resulted in touchdowns. Crowell, like most rookies, has been up-and-down at times and also has had some ball security issues, but he’s been getting the call fairly consistently over Terrance West. As long as Crowell plays, he should make for a viable RB2 this week.
Travaris Cadet, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson, RBs, New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers
Probable – Hamstring; Probable – Shoulder; Probable – Forearm
The Saints’ backfield should be back to full strength today with Robinson on track to return after missing the past six games. Cadet and Ingram also are listed as Probable, while Pierre Thomas doesn’t even appear on this week’s injury report. Last week Ingram and Thomas did the heavy lifting, getting all of the carries while combining for 143 yards on the ground. Even with Robinson returning, I don’t really expect the pecking order to change much. Ingram is a must-start, while Thomas is flex-worthy. I don’t think Cadet or Robinson will see enough touches to make much of an impact, at least fantasy-wise.
Already Ruled Out:
Jerick McKinnon, RBs, Minnesota Vikings – On Saturday, the Vikings put McKinnon on injured reserve because of a back injury. What happens now with the Vikings’ backfield is really anyone’s guess. Matt Asiata led the way with 14 carries last week, but Ben Tate and Joe Banyard got involved as well and the trio combined for 75 yards rushing (3.6 ypc) and five receiving (all Asiata). That’s barely flex production as a group, let alone an individual RB, so this is a backfield committee you probably don’t want to rely on this week.
It’s Week 14, which means the fantasy playoffs are either here already or will begin soon. Everyone needs their top guys available, but that may not be the case in Baltimore’s backfield.
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars
Probable – Groin
Foster returned last Sunday after missing two games because of a groin injury. He finished with 105 total yards and a touchdown against the Titans. Foster was limited in practice at the start of the week, but he was a full go on Friday and is listed as Probable. Foster has another appealing matchup today, against a Jacksonville defense that has given up the sixth-most fantasy points to RBs, which is why he checks in at No. 1 on our Week 14 RB rankings.
Justin Forsett, RB, Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
Questionable – Knee
Forsett injured his knee last week and wasn’t able to practice until Friday, and even then he was limited. The lack of practice time is concerning, but Forsett has said he’s confident he will be able to play. He’s listed as Questionable, but it looks like Forsett may end up being a game-time decision. Forsett is fourth in the league in rushing, so production hasn’t been a question. If he plays, Forsett must be started. If he’s unable to go, however, Bernard Pierce would likely replace Forsett in the starting lineup. Miami has given up some big rushing totals lately, so Forsett’s status is definitely worth keeping an eye on leading up to kickoff (1 p.m. ET).
Reggie Bush, RBs, Detroit Lions vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Probable – Ankle
Bush hasn’t played since Week 10, but after being a full practice participant this week, he’s listed as Probable. Bush’s season has been a disappointment, whether it’s been the lack of production or different injuries. Head coach Jim Caldwell called Bush the Lions’ starting running back on Thursday, but Joique Bell has been more productive and consistent by far and I don’t expect that to change much with Bush’s return. Bush has scored one touchdown and is averaging 3.6 yards per carry when he’s been on the field. Yes, he can be effective as a receiver, but I have a hard time endorsing Bush even as a flex this week. Bell is the Lions back I would want to have, as he’s ranked inside our top 15 RBs this week.
Already Ruled Out:
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers – Williams broke a bone in his hand last week and he’s already been ruled out for today’s game against the Saints. Jonathan Stewart will get the start and with touches likely to be less of a concern, he’s worthy of at least flex consideration. Game situation/circumstances, as well as the presence of Cam Newton, Mike Tolbert and Fozzy Whitaker are still factors to consider, but this is one instance where it may be worth it to take a flyer on Stewart.
With a 55-3 win over Iowa State, TCU didn’t give the College Football Playoff selection committee any reason to drop the Horned Frogs out of the top four.
Now, the Horned Frogs will wait to find out of that’s enough.
TCU entered the week ranked No. 3 in the selection committee rankings. In theory, a rout of Iowa State, a team that finished winless in conference play, should keep TCU in a playoff scenario.
Yet TCU knows it won’t have the last word.
No. 6 Baylor, which defeated TCU 61-58 and outgained the Horned Frogs by nearly 300 yards on Oct. 11, has an opportunity for a statement win against No. 9 Kansas State.
Patterson: "I don’t know what happens tomorrow, but the bottom line is we’ve done everything we can do …. Now we’ll just wait and watch.”— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) December 6, 2014
TCU will have a share of the Big 12 title and a better non-conference win (Minnesota) compared to Baylor. The word “share” is key. The Big 12 will not declare a champion in the event of a tie and will present co-champions to the committee as TCU and either Baylor or Kansas State will finish with one Big 12 loss apiece.
In nearly every other tiebreaker situation, head-to-head would be the first determining factor. One of the criteria used by the selection committee will be conference championships. By naming co-champions, the Big 12 is putting the onus on the selection committee to pick the team with the better body of work.
In a week in which Baylor hired a public relations firm, TCU coach Gary Patterson said he won’t state his case any more than his team already had.
Gary Patterson on if TCU belongs in: "I don't see why they shouldn't consider us. This team has done everything we asked them to do..."— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) December 6, 2014
TCU could have crossed the 60-point barrier Saturday against Iowa State but elected to take two knees from the Iowa State 25.
In any event, TCU has engineered a remarkable turnaround. The Horned Frogs are 11-1 overall and 8-1 in the Big 12 only a year removed from going 4-8. The Frogs have won two more Big 12 games this season than they did during the first two seasons in the league (6-12).
Quarterback Trevone Boykin, who spent time at receiver last season, may have put the finishing touches on his bid to be a Heisman finalist by going 30-of-41 for 460 yards with four touchdowns and an interception against the Cyclones.
Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon are the favorites for the award with Alabama’s Amari Cooper making a bid for New York.
By the evening, though, all TCU eyes will be on Baylor.
Here’s how the two teams stacked up entering Saturday
|TCU vs. Baylor|
|Head-to-Head||Lost 61-58||Won 61-58|
|Loss||at No. 6 Baylor 61-58||at West Virginia 41-27|
|Best non-Big 12 win||Minnesota 30-7||at Buffalo 63-21|
|Offensive Yards/Play*||6.7 (First)||6.0 (Fifth)|
|Defensive Yards/Play*||5.7 (Sixth)||5.7 (Fifth)|
|Scoring Differential*||Plus-153 (19.1 per game)||Plus-134 (16.8 per game)|
|Yard Differential*||Plus-766 (95.8 per game)||Plus-1,084 (134.5 per game)|
|*Big 12 games only|
Anthony Davis’ MVP coming-out party hit a bump last night, when his New Orleans Pelicans rolled into Oakland to take on Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
Behind the tutelage of new coach Steve Kerr and the flaming hot shooting hands of Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors have looked like basketball’s best team this season, with their 112-85 dismantling of New Orleans extending their winning streak to 11 games and improving their record to a scary 16-2.
Curry, this week, was named the Western Conference Player of the Month, and he deserves every bit of the accolades. His unbelievably good shooting doesn’t really even scratch the surface of his deep value to GSW. He’s also one of the game’s best ball-handlers and distributors, and he has greatly expanded his effect upon defenses in 2014-15 with more dribble penetration and mid-range scoring.
And with Kerr’s new democratic-feeling rotations — which evoke the hyper-intelligent ethos of one of his old teams, Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs — production has been coming from unexpected places, too. Reserve big man Marreese Speights is enjoying his best season as a pro, clocking a staggering 26.18 player efficiency rating to go with 55 percent shooting from the floor. Starting center Andrew Bogut, long depressed within Mark Jackson’s retrogressive offensive sets, is now free to push the ball up the floor himself and behave like a wingman.
The Warriors can hit you in so many ways. They’ve gone on this run without yet even having great play from Andre Iguodala, easily their most versatile forward and their best defender outside the paint. Don’t be surprised if this isn’t the last time you read about how great this team is.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 5:
• Leading off today, SI swimsuit models in Christmas masks and bikinis. Season's greetings.
• Details are emerging about Kosta Karageorge, the Ohio State player who took his own life.
• The insane catches keep coming. This one's by Brandon Marshall.
• Darwin Awards nominee: A Nebraska defensive end tried to take a selfie with a raccoon and got bitten.
• A promotional blimp crashed into some fans at the Blazers game.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Things are going okay for Kyrie Irving this week. Not only did his inaugural signature Nike shoe just debut, but his Cleveland Cavaliers have now won five straight after defeating the New York Knicks last night, 90-87. Irving played no small part in the contest, leading all scorers with 37 on a hyper-efficient 12-of-18 from the field.
This isn’t the first time Irving’s been a shining bullet on Broadway. About two years ago, Kyrie donned a sinister-looking black face mask after returning from injury and wowed the Madison Square Garden crowd with a 41-point performance, rife with clutch shots down the stretch. The Cavs lost that one, 103-102, but Irving’s message of superstar potential was sent loudly and clearly.
Today, Irving struggles with the heightened responsibilities his new super squad and max contract bring. The caveat to his most recent Big Apple bonanza is that he only tallied two assists in the game — he had zero until the fourth quarter, when he caught LeBron James all alone down the court for a pivotal breakaway dunk.
Kyrie has to learn not to over-indulge his appetite for show-stopping isolation basketball, even if he plays with such efficiency, and even if he’s the very best in the game at the art of hero ball — and even if it’s breathtaking to observe. As Cleveland’s starting point guard and primary ball-handler, Irving spins the wheel of one of the most impressive offensive vehicles in modern NBA memory, and he has yet to figure out how to maximize it.
The Cavs should not be eking games out against the pitiful Knicks, and Kevin Love — a power forward who enjoyed historically rich productivity with the Minnesota Timberwolves last year — shouldn’t look confused about his role on so many nights. The next challenge in Kyrie’s progression is next-level stuff; he's got to learn to use his potent teammates as extensions of himself.
— John Wilmes
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley moved quickly in replacing the fired Will Muschamp, as the Gators announced Jim McElwain as the team’s new coach on Thursday. The Florida’s coaching search was an interesting exploration into hiring a coach, as the program was very public with its pursuit of McElwain and the negotiations for a hefty buyout with Colorado State.
Now that the dust has settled on the hire, it’s time to examine whether or not McElwain makes sense for Florida. Foley struck out on Muschamp and needs to get this hire right to get the Gators back in contention for SEC East titles.
It’s tough to know where a program stands with candidates when a search opens. Florida is one of the top jobs in college football, so there was no shortage of interested candidates. If some were expecting a big name here, they may be disappointed in McElwain’s hire. However, good coaches can come from any program, and McElwain – while it’s unspectacular – is going to work out well for Florida.
Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives for the Gators and grade the hire:
Positives in Florida’s Hire of McElwain
Background on Offense
Offense was the biggest problem under Muschamp. Florida never averaged more than 26 points per game in SEC contests over the last four seasons and struggled mightily in 2013 by recording 19.9 points per game in league matchups. It will take McElwain some time, but he should jumpstart this offense. Under McElwain’s guidance, Colorado State averaged 35.9 points per game in 2014 and recorded a 36.2 mark in 2013. Sure, the competition is tougher in the SEC, but McElwain transformed quarterback Garrett Grayson into an all-conference performer for the Rams and has a track record of success on this side of the ball. McElwain seems to be the right coach to fix some of Florida’s woes on offense, especially after this team struggled to develop a standout quarterback since Tim Tebow left Gainesville.
McElwain has spent a sizeable chunk of his coaching career out West, but he does have a four-year stint under Nick Saban as Alabama’s offensive coordinator (2008-11). Under McElwain’s direction, the Crimson Tide averaged at least 30 points per game in his four seasons as the play-caller. Even though McElwain has never been a head coach in the SEC before, his experience at Alabama will be a huge bonus when he opens the 2014 season. Experience isn’t required to win in the SEC – but it certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Concerns in Florida’s Hire of McElwain:
Recruiting in the SEC
This is being nitpicky but recruiting to Colorado State and Alabama is a different beast. As we mentioned above, it certainly helps McElwain that he has SEC experience. However, it’s one thing to win at the Mountain West level and another to win enough in the SEC to keep the fans quiet. Will McElwain struggle to recruit to Florida? Probably not. After all, the program is one of the best in the nation and should sell itself on the recruiting trail. However, this is one area that opposing coaches could use against him when going head-to-head with recruits. McElwain is an unknown to most prospects, so it’s important for him to sell his vision and blueprint right away to salvage a class that currently ranks at the bottom of the SEC. It’s also critical for McElwain to build a staff that’s familiar with the SEC, perhaps retaining a few of the assistants from the Muschamp regime would be a good place to start. Can McElwain win consistent recruiting battles against Florida State, Alabama and Georgia? We are about to find out.
This is more of a question than a concern for McElwain. Can he meet the high expectations at Florida? As we mentioned above, it’s easier to win at the Mountain West, and there’s certainly less pressure to coach at Colorado State than Florida. Will the Montana native meet the demands of the fanbase by consistently winning the East, recording 10 victories and beating rival Florida State? That remains to be seen, but the pressure on McElwain to win – and win big – is about to increase by a significant margin.
Florida missed on Muschamp – a Saban assistant – in the last hire, so there’s some doubt among the fanbase McElwain will produce at a higher level. However, there’s plenty in McElwain’s track record to suggest he’s done enough outside of his stint at Alabama to produce at a high level. The Montana native has experience in the NFL with the Raiders, worked as an assistant at Louisville, Michigan State and Montana State and has spent the last three seasons turning around the Colorado State program (including a 10-2 mark in 2014).
By no means is McElwain the flashy hire most fans want. However, he’s exactly what the program needs. Florida is going to get its share of talent on the recruiting trail. Now it needs a coach that can develop and put the talent into a position to succeed. McElwain is clearly that type of coach and is inheriting plenty to work with in 2015.
Boise State and Fresno State close out the 2014 regular season with a showdown on the blue turf in the Mountain West Conference championship game. With a win over the Bulldogs, the Broncos are expected to clinch a spot in one of college football’s premier bowl games as the top team from the Group of 5 conferences. While there’s a lot at stake for Boise State, Fresno State is trying to build off the momentum to close out the regular season. The Bulldogs won their final three games, including a 40-20 upset against Nevada to win the West Division.
Boise State and Fresno State have met 15 previous times, with the Broncos owning a 12-3 series edge. Fresno State’s last win in this series was last season (2013) by just one point (41-40). The Bulldogs have never won in Boise and lost the 2008 and 2010 meetings by 51 points each.
Fresno State at Boise State
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Boise State -22
Fresno State’s Key to Victory: QB Brian Burrell
It’s no secret Fresno State is going to need to score some points to keep pace with Boise State. The Broncos average 41.8 points in six home games this season, and coach Bryan Harsin’s offense is tough to stop on the blue turf. The Bulldogs are averaging 35.3 points per contest over their last three games, and quarterback Brian Burrell is playing better after early-season struggles. Burrell tossed four touchdown passes and threw for 313 yards in an upset win at Nevada and added 207 yards and three touchdowns in a win over San Jose State on Nov. 8. Burrell has 13 picks this year, and he has to keep that number to zero or one on Saturday night. The junior has a strong supporting cast, including running back Marteze Waller (6.5 ypc) and receiver Josh Harper (76 catches). Burrell holds the keys to the offense and will determine if Fresno State can pull off the upset. If he plays well and limits the mistakes, the Bulldogs have a chance to keep this close into the fourth quarter – similar to the first meeting between these two teams.
Boise State’s Key to Victory: Get RB Jay Ajayi Going Once Again
Jay Ajayi is one of the nation’s most underrated players, and the junior enters the Mountain West Championship with seven consecutive 100-yard efforts. In 12 games, Ajayi has 1,619 yards and 24 rushing scores and has caught 45 passes for 536 yards and four touchdowns. In the first meeting between these two programs in 2014, Ajayi gashed the Fresno State defense for 158 yards and two scores on 30 carries. The Bulldogs will be challenged at the point of attack once again, as this defensive front has struggled to stop the run this season and ranks ninth in the Mountain West in rush defense. Surprisingly, Ajayi wasn’t voted the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year this week, and it’s likely the junior will use that snub as motivation on Saturday night. Ajayi makes the offense for Boise State go. Fresno State has to find a way to slow down the junior on the ground, while the Broncos want to see around 130-150 yards from their star running back on Saturday night.
Fresno State gave Boise State all it could handle in the first meeting between these two teams this year. And the Bulldogs played better down the stretch this season, finishing with a three-game winning streak to earn back-to-back trips to the Mountain West Conference championship game. However, it’s a tall order to win in Boise. And the Broncos simply have too much to play for. Ajayi and quarterback Grant Hedrick have big performances, elevating Boise State to a conference title and a spot in a premier bowl game this year.
Prediction: Boise State 45, Fresno State 20
Nebraska didn’t waste time in finding its next coach, as less than a week after Bo Pelini was fired, athletic director Shawn Eichorst has hired Mike Riley from Oregon State.
Not only was Eichorst’s hire quick, but Riley’s move from Oregon State to Nebraska comes as a major surprise. Riley had a long-term contract with the Beavers and was 93-80 during his tenure in Corvallis.
Some may look at Riley’s record and be underwhelmed with just 93 victories. However, Oregon State is one of the toughest jobs in the Pac-12. Riley was hired away from USC in 1997 as the Beavers’ head coach and brought immediate improvement to the program. From 1972-97, Oregon State had zero seasons of more than four wins. In Riley’s first year (1997), the Beavers went 3-8 and improved to 5-6 in the following season. After the five-win mark in 1998, Riley left Corvallis for the NFL.
After four years in the NFL, Riley returned to Oregon State and guided the Beavers to eight bowl games since 2003. The program also tied for second in the final conference standings twice and has four finishes in the final Associated Press poll.
Just how good was Riley at Oregon State? The Beavers had no bowl appearances from 1996-1998. From 1999-13, Oregon State has played in 11 postseason games – clearly a sign of how much the program improved under Riley’s direction.
Did Nebraska hit a home run by hiring Riley? Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives of this hire.
Positives in Nebraska’s Hire of Mike Riley
Mike Riley…the Anti-Bo?
Bo Pelini certainly won a lot of games at Nebraska, but it’s clear his personality clashed with the fanbase and administrators. That won’t be an issue with Riley. The Idaho native is known as one of the nicest coaches in college football. That distinction doesn’t win games, but Riley has the personality to win at a place like Nebraska.
Developing Talent…Doing More With Less
Riley wasn’t going to reel in elite talent at Oregon State. So the coaching staff had to find overlooked players and develop prospects into All-Pac-12 talent. That formula can work at Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers need to hit Texas and California to find talent, which are two areas Riley recruited for Oregon State. Riley has a good eye for talent, and it’s much easier to recruit at Nebraska than Oregon State. Even if Riley doesn’t reel in top 10-15 classes – something Nebraska wasn’t doing under Pelini – the program can win at a higher level if he continues to find and develop talent similar to what the Beavers were doing in Corvallis. Nebraska is a top 25 job but it can be difficult to attract talent to Lincoln. And with that in mind, it’s critical to have a coach that can find and develop talent.
Here’s a look at Riley’s recruiting rankings with the Beavers from 2011-14:
|Year||National Rank||Commits||5-Stars Signed||4-Stars Signed||3-Stars Signed|
|Rankings and recruiting data according to 247Sports|
Any Concerns in Nebraska’s Hire of Mike Riley?
It’s hard to identify many weaknesses in this hire for Nebraska. But is Riley the right coach to move Nebraska back into national title contention? The guess here is the Cornhuskers won’t win at a significantly higher level than what Pelini was able to do. However, if Nebraska wants the anti-Bo Pelini, then Riley is the right coach. Sure, he may not win 11 or 12 games in a season, and the Cornhuskers may have a puzzling loss or two at times, but he’s not going to clash with the fanbase. That’s important after the last few years isn’t it?
By no means in this a splashy hire. Riley isn’t going to move the needle much nationally, and the initial reaction by most took this coaching move as a surprise. However, once the initial surprise has dissipated, it’s easy to see why Nebraska went this direction. Riley is the opposite in terms of personality to Bo Pelini, has recruited Texas well – an area the Cornhuskers need to significantly mine for talent – and has succeeded in terms of developing talent.
In last year’s coach rankings by Athlon Sports, Riley ranked as the No. 27 coach in the nation. Pelini ranked No. 43. Riley is a better coach, knows how to evaluate talent and is going to fit in well at Nebraska with his easy-going personality.
Nebraska is the best job in the Big Ten West Division. The Cornhuskers may not contend for national championships on a consistent basis, but this program should be a player on a yearly basis for the conference title and should rank as a top 25 team.
Riley did more with less at Oregon State. Forget about the record - it's the 11th best job in the Pac-12. He may not bring a national title to Lincoln, but he’s going to win a lot of games.
Final Grade: B
It's the final weekend of the regular season and I'm not going to lie to you. I don't feel good about it.
I pick all of the championship games every season against the spread and will do the same again. (But am only going to count it towards my record if I do well.)
Listed below is every championship game prediction and the big one in the Big 12 as well. Enjoy!
Last Week: 2-3
Alabama (-14.5) vs. Missouri (Atlanta)
This is a bad matchup for the Tigers, who have struggled with downhill, power-rushing teams. Maty Mauk has also been inconsistent all year. Mizzou is familiar with the situation but doesn't have the horses to compete with the Tide. Prediction: Alabama -14
Oregon (-14) vs. Arizona (Santa Clara)
The Ducks are cruising but this is a huge number against a team that beat them just two months ago. These two teams are a combined 21-3 this year overall but just 9-15 against the spread. It likely means stay away from this mess. But if you must, take Marcus Mariota to exact some revenge and definitely take the over. Prediction: Oregon -14
Florida State (-4.5) vs. Georgia Tech (Charlotte)
If we've learned anything this year, it's never take the 'Noles against the spread. Florida State is 3-9 against the mark this season and is facing a brutal matchup on defense. Tech is 5-1 against the spread away from home and could cover again — even if they lose. Prediction: Georgia Tech +4.5
Wisconsin (-4) vs. Ohio State (Indianapolis)
Whoever stops the run more effectively is likely to win this game. Ohio State is a better overall team by a wide margin but the one-game situation and no J.T. Barrett makes the Badgers the favorite. Take the team with more talent and more to play for in Ohio State. Prediction: Ohio State +4
Kansas State (+8) at Baylor
Both teams have been solid against the spread this year but Kansas State has been better. Baylor is 6-4-1 while KSU is 8-3. Art Briles has been excellent against Bill Snyder (3-1) but has a banged-up quarterback in Bryce Petty. Both teams are still eyeing a title in the Big 12 so a close game is likely. Prediction: Kansas State +7.5
Fresno State (+22) at Boise State
This is a huge number and Boise will win easily at home. But by how much? In a title game setting, I'd err on the side of caution.
Northern Illinois (-6.5) vs. Bowling Green (Detroit)
The Huskies are the better team and BG has had QB issues. Take NIU to roll.
Louisiana Tech (+11) at Marshall
Rakeem Cato in his final game with a title on the line at home? Yes, please.
Top 25 Picks ATS:
|Top 25||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|Alabama (-14.5) vs Mizzou|
|Oregon (-14) vs Arizona|
|Iowa St (+34) at TCU|
|Florida St (-4.5) vs Georgia Tech|
|Wisconsin (-4) vs Ohio St|
|Kansas St (+8) at Baylor|
|Oklahoma St (+21) at Oklahoma|
|Fresno St (+22) at Boise St|
|N. Illinois (-6.5) vs Bowling Green|
|Louisiana Tech (+11) at Marshall|
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: THURSDAY-FRIDAY GAME SET
We are combining positions with such a small set of games.
1) RB Fred Coppet, Bowling Green vs. No Illinois ($4900)
Coppet has gone over 100 yards rushing in two of the last three games and could do some damage against a suspect Huskies run defense.
2) WR Argeros Turner, No Illinois vs. Bowling Green ($4000)
Turner is averaging 12.98 DK fantasy points over the last four games and comes in at a cheap price. He could easily reach value and will likely be under owned this week.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY ALL DAY GAME SET
1) QB Greg Ward Jr., Houston vs. Cincinnati ($6600)
Ward could do plenty of damage with his arm and legs against Cincinnati this week. Look for Ward to reach value.
2) QB Cardale Jones, Ohio State vs. Wisconsin ($6600)
Jones will be starting for the injured JT Barrett and could have a solid game versus Wisconsin. He could make some plays with his feet and account for a couple of scores.
3) QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma ($5300)
Rudolph looked decent in his first start last week and could find success against an overrated Sooners defense. His salary is low and he could be a decent punt option at QB this week.
1) RB Kenneth Farrow, Houston vs. Cincinnati ($5800)
Farrow has scored six rushing touchdowns over the last two games and could add to that total against Cincinnati. The Bearcats rush defense is ranked 79th overall.
2) RB Aaron Green, TCU vs. Iowa State ($6300)
B.J. Catalon is once again questionable to play this week. Green has been outstanding as the team’s feature back in Catalon’s absence, and the Horned Frogs will be looking to make a statement against the lowly Cyclones.
3) RB Ron Johnson, UCONN vs. SMU ($4400)
A pulse is all it takes to for a RB to get recommended against SMU. Johnson had 22 carries last week and tear up the Mustangs with that kind of work load.
4) RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State vs. Georgia Tech ($5800)
Cook had 144 yards rushing last week against Florida and could see a ton of carries with Karlos Williams dealing with a concussion. Look for Cook to top the 100-yard mark again this week in the ACC Championship.
1) WR Davonte Allen, Marshall vs. La Tech ($5900)
Allen returned from injury last week and responded with 141 yards receiving and two scores against Western Kentucky. He could have another big day against a La Tech pass defense ranked 74th in the country.
2) WR Bud Sasser, Missouri vs. Alabama ($5400)
Sasser is averaging 20 DK fantasy points over the past four games. He will likely see a ton of targets against the Crimson Tide and could find the end zone.
3) WR Darren Waller, Georgia Tech vs. Florida State ($3200)
Waller could see a huge increase in targets with DeAndre Smelter out for the season with a torn ACL. He could easily pay off on his low price and looks like a great punt option this week.
1) TE Jake Roh, Boise State vs. Fresno State ($2800)
Roh could find some open space against the 97th ranked pass defense in the country.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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Remember when Dirk Nowitzki ruined LeBron James and the Miami Heat’s coming-out party in the summer of 2011? Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks were the squad no one saw coming, with a somewhat rag-tag crew of role players, featuring an offense run by a twilight-years Jason Kidd and a defense anchored by the indomitable Tyson Chandler. The world watched with disbelief as a young, unready James watched how it was done by the determined Mavericks.
Nowitzki is one of the greatest scorers in the history of the league, and that was his chance to prove it to his largest audience yet. And while Dirk is now 36, he still has elite gravity over defenses, and he’s still a Maverick. And, augmented by a returned and rejuvenated Chandler as well as the team’s new leading scorer Monta Ellis and Houston Rockets exile Chandler Parsons, Nowitzki is once again at the heart of a championship contender.
It doesn’t hurt having coach Rick Carlisle still on board, either. Carlisle is one of the league’s very best, and his team’s night-to-night game-planning proves that much.The Mavs' democratic, pointed offense leads the NBA with an average 110.2 points per game, while their 11.2 turnovers per contest — made possible through a shrewd point-guard-by-committee system starring Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris — makes them third best in basketball at taking care of their possession time.
The 15-5 Mavericks put basketball on notice with their impressive performance in the Tuesday night’s double-overtime December classic against the burly Chicago Bulls, a game Dallas won behind Ellis’ 38-point explosion, including a handful of icy, clutch shots through both extra sessions. Even on an off shooting night from Nowitzki — who went 8-for-22 on the night — Dallas had the depth and resolve to slay one of the best teams in basketball on the road. Keep the Mavericks on your radar for this spring.
— John Wilmes
Mike Riley departed Oregon State for Nebraska on Thursday, leaving the Beavers looking for a new head coach for the first time since the end of the 2002 season. Oregon State is one of the toughest jobs in the Pac-12, so finding a coach that can win at a high level won’t be easy for athletic director Bob De Carolis.
De Carolis could be looking at current Pac-12 assistants like Justin Wilcox at Washington or Scott Frost at Oregon. Current FBS or FCS coaches are also expected to jump into the mix, including Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter, Utah State’s Matt Wells and Eastern Washington’s Beau Baldwin.
Who might replace Mike Riley at Oregon State? Let’s take a look at 10 possible candidates:
10 Coaching Candidates to Replace Mike Riley at Oregon State
Beau Baldwin, head coach, Eastern Washington
Baldwin is a rising star in the FCS ranks, and Oregon State fans are certainly familiar with his Eastern Washington team after the Eagles knocked off the Beavers in the 2013 season opener. Baldwin spent one year as Central Washington’s head coach in 2007, recording a 10-3 record with a Division II playoff appearance. The California native replaced Paul Wulff at Eastern Washington in 2008 and has a 76-27 mark with the Eagles in seven years. Baldwin has won at least 10 games in each of the last three seasons and claimed the FCS Championship in 2010. He is regarded as a bright offensive mind, and Eastern Washington ranked No. 1 in FCS ranks with an average of 44.6 points per game in 2014.
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State
DeRuyter is 26-12 in his three years at Fresno State, including an 11-2 mark in 2013 with a Mountain West title. DeRuyter’s background in Texas and California is critical for a program like Oregon State, as the Beavers recruit heavily in those two areas. Prior to taking over at Fresno State, DeRuyter worked at Texas A&M for two seasons as a defensive coordinator and had stops as an assistant at Air Force, Nevada, Ohio and Navy prior to College Station. DeRuyter went 6-6 this season but also had to replace standout quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams.
Scott Frost, offensive coordinator, Oregon
An Oregon assistant as the head coach at Oregon State? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Frost is considered by many to be a rising star and a future head coach at a Power 5 program. The Nebraska native doesn’t have a ton of coaching experience, but he spent one season as a graduate assistant at Nebraska (2002), a year in the same capacity with Kansas State (2006) and two seasons at Northern Iowa from 2007-08. Frost was hired by former Oregon coach Chip Kelly to tutor the wide receivers in 2009, and he served in that capacity until the start of the 2013 season. Frost was promoted to offensive coordinator after Kelly left for the NFL, and the Ducks’ offense continues to be one of the best in the nation under his watch. Oregon averaged 45.5 points per game in 2013 and has a 45.9 mark entering the Pac-12 Championship. Frost is young and still largely unproven. However, at a place like Oregon State, a coach that can implement an lethal offense like the Ducks have used in recent years would help the Beavers compete in the Pac-12 North.
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
Herman is another assistant coach primed for a chance to run his own program in the coming seasons. The Ohio native started his coaching career in 1998 at Texas Lutheran University and has worked his way up the assistant ladder over the last 17 seasons. Herman also has stops at Texas (graduate assistant) and Sam Houston State (2001-04) before landing his first opportunity to be a play-caller in 2005 at Texas State. After two years with the Bobcats, Herman called the plays at Rice for two seasons and spent three years at Iowa State from 2009-11. Herman was hired by Urban Meyer as Ohio State’s play-caller at the end of the 2011 season, and the Buckeyes’ offense has thrived under his watch. Herman is also a member of Mensa International.
Brady Hoke, former Michigan coach
Hoke seems like a longshot, but his name has popped up in the initial rumor mill of candidates. Why would Hoke be a possible candidate at Oregon State after striking out at Michigan? Hoke was an assistant with the Beavers from 1989-94 and worked with the Wolverines as an assistant while Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis also spent time in Ann Arbor. While Hoke went 31-20 in four years at Michigan and was fired at the conclusion of 2014, he won at San Diego State (not an easy job) and went 19-7 in his last two seasons at Ball State. The connections are there but it would be surprising to see Hoke in Corvallis next year.
Bronco Mendenhall, head coach, BYU
Mendenhall is a longshot, but he played at Oregon State from 1986-87 and later coached in Corvallis from 1995-96. There are certainly ties for Mendenhall to Oregon State, but BYU is a better job. Prior to taking over as the Cougars’ head coach, Mendenhall worked as the defensive coordinator in Provo for two seasons (03-04), spent five years at New Mexico (1998-02) and made other stops at Louisiana Tech (1997), Northern Arizona (1993-94) and Snow College (1991-92). In 10 years as BYU’s coach, Mendenhall has a 90-38 record with nine consecutive bowl appearances.
Mike Norvell, offensive coordinator, Arizona State
Norvell is technically the deputy head coach to Todd Graham at Arizona State, but he’s the architect of the offenses in Tempe. Norvell has worked under Graham for the last eight years, including stints outside of Arizona State at Tulsa and Pittsburgh. The 33-year-old play-caller does not have any experience as a head coach, but it’s clear he’s a rising star in the coaching ranks and is on a fast track to running a Power 5 program.
Bob Stitt, head coach, Colorado School of Mines
Sure, Stitt is a little off the national radar, but it’s not easy to win at Oregon State. Why not try something different? Stitt has coached at Colorado School of Mines since 2000 and has a 98-60 record in that span. The Nebraska native is known for his innovative offenses and spent time as Harvard’s offensive coordinator from 1999-00. Stitt may lack the experience of some of the other candidates on the major college level, but his scheme would be difficult for opposing Pac-12 defensive coordinators to prepare against.
Matt Wells, head coach, Utah State
Wells has picked up where Gary Andersen left off in Logan. Utah State is 18-9 over the last two seasons and played in the Mountain West title game in 2013. Wells and his staff have overcome a plethora of quarterback injuries over the last two years and had to start a true freshman that opened the season as the No. 4 option in 2014. Prior to taking over as Utah State’s head coach and spending two years under Andersen as an assistant, Wells worked at Navy, Tulsa, New Mexico and Louisville.
Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, USC
Wilcox is no stranger to the Pacific Northwest, as he played at Oregon from 1996-99 and coached as an assistant at Boise State (2001-02 and 06-09) and at Washington from 2012-13. The Oregon native worked as the defensive coordinator at USC in 2014, and the Trojans finished third in the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 23.8 points per game. Wilcox has been a defensive coordinator for the last nine seasons, including a two-year stint at Tennessee from 2010-11.
Mike Riley has had many opportunities to move during his second stint as Oregon State’s coach. USC took a look at their former coordinator. So did Alabama, where Riley played for Bear Bryant.
After 11 seasons since his return to Corvallis, Riley made the move to Nebraska to replace Bo Pelini.
So what kind of program is awaiting Riley in Lincoln, and what are the prospects for his early tenure?
Here’s a look:
Offense (4): T Zach Sterup, T Alex Lewis, QB Tommy Armstrong, WR Jordan Westerkamp
Defense (7): E Greg McMullen, T Vincent Valentine, T Maliek Collins, E Randy Gregory, LB David Santos, S Nate Gerry, CB Daniel Davie
Riley will have a challenge ahead of him on offense as the Cornhuskers must replace three cornerstones of their offense in running back Ameer Abdullah, wide receiver Kenny Bell and offensive lineman Jake Cotton. Imani Cross should be poised to become the feature back, but he’s never had more than 85 carries in a season. On defense, junior defensive end Randy Gregory will be a candidate to go early to the NFL Draft.
|247Sports Composite Rankings|
|Year||National Rank||Big Ten Rank|
How does a program win nine or 10 games every season without breaking through as a national player? Those recruiting numbers tell part of the story — a top half recruiting class in the Big Ten but rarely cracking the national top 25. Mike Riley was hired in part because of his ability to locate and develop talent from all over the country. Nebraska is in a precarious recruiting position now that it is detached from its traditional Big 12/Big 8 base, and Lincoln is not the easiest place for prospects to reach. Nebraska’s roster features 12 players from Texas and seven from Ohio. One or both of those numbers may need to be higher for the Huskers to compete on a national level.
Oregon State and Nebraska both run what might be termed a pro-style, but both have elements of the spread. Riley’s best teams have generally been balanced with a productive tailback — think of Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers. That system may be ideal for Nebraska, yet Oregon State was in the top three in pass attempts in the Pac-12 in three of the last four seasons. Both teams have run a base 4-3. Oregon State has developed solid defensive linemen over the years, something Nebraska has had in spades. If Riley brings defensive coordinator Mark Banker with him to Lincoln — it’s reasonable to assume he’ll be a contender to succeed Riley — the system may translate nicely to the personnel.
Nebraska’s players were vocal in support of Pelini when he was fired. Even before the change, the Cornhuskers stressed the Pelini they knew was not the same as his gruff public persona. Still, the move from Pelini to the affable Riley is about as dramatic a shift in personality as any.
What does the competition look like?
The Big Ten West should continue to be the weaker of the two divisions. With or without Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin does what it does with the run game and defense year in and year out. Iowa will lose a couple of key players (Brandon Scherff and Carl Davis) but expects to be a veteran team. Minnesota moves on without David Cobb next season. Next season’s schedule features Miami on the road and BYU at home in the non-conference, but its toughest Big Ten games (Wisconsin and Michigan State) are at home. And lucky for Riley, no Oregon or Stanford.
Bowling Green and Northern Illinois meet for the second consecutive year in Detroit for the MAC Championship Game. The stakes are a little lower in this season’s matchup, as the Huskies entered last year's game undefeated and had a chance at a marquee bowl. However, the Falcons used a huge performance from quarterback Matt Johnson to end Northern Illinois’ unbeaten season. Much has changed about both programs since last season, as the Huskies had to replace standout quarterback Jordan Lynch and Dino Babers was hired from Eastern Illinois to replace Dave Clawson, who left to be the head coach at Wake Forest.
Bowling Green owns an 11-7 series edge over Northern Illinois. The Falcons snapped a three-game losing streak to the Huskies in last year’s MAC Championship. These two teams have played only once in the regular season since 2011. This is the second meeting between Northern Illinois and Bowling Green in the MAC Championship.
Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Friday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Northern Illinois -6.5
Bowling Green’s Key to Victory: Get QB James Knapke Back on Track
Bowling Green is just 2-3 over its last five games, and a big problem during that span has been the play of its quarterbacks. Of course, any discussion about the Falcons’ passing attack has to rewind back to the season opener. Starter Matt Johnson suffered a season-ending injury against Western Kentucky, and Knapke – a sophomore from Indiana – has been pressed into the starting role. Knapke has the keys to a potent offense, as first-year coach Dino Babers preaches a “falcon fast” approach, and Bowling Green has ran the most plays in the MAC this season. Knapke has just two touchdown passes in his last four games and passed for just 71 yards against Toledo and 140 against Ball State. The sophomore has a solid group of receivers at his disposal, and running back Travis Greene returned from injury to rush for 159 yards and a score in the season finale. The playmakers are there for Babers. However, the Bowling Green offense won’t get on track without a solid performance from Knapke.
Northern Illinois’ Key to Victory: Establish the Run
The Huskies rank second in the MAC with an average of 246.2 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Drew Hare leads the squad with 790 yards, but there’s a cast of running backs available to contribute. The best of the bunch is Cameron Stingily (4.9 ypc), and Joel Bouagnon and Akeem Daniels also help contribute to the ground attack. The effectiveness of the rush attack has fueled the Northern Illinois offense this season, as the passing game ranks 12th in the MAC with an average of 187.2 yards per game. Hare has tossed 15 touchdown passes to just one interception in 2014, but it’s clear this offense isn’t as explosive through the air as it was under Lynch. And leaning on the rushing attack on Friday night is ideal with a Bowling Green defense ranked 10th in the MAC against the run. The Falcons allowed 325 rushing yards to Toledo and 199 to Ball State. The opportunity is there with a veteran offensive line and talented group of rushers for Northern Illinois to control the time of possession and pound away at the Falcons’ defense.
Revenge should be on the mind of Northern Illinois. The Huskies had a chance to play in a marquee bowl last season, but the Falcons pulled off an upset in last year’s MAC title game. If Northern Illinois establishes its ground attack and continues to take care of the ball (10 lost turnovers in 2014), coach Rod Carey’s team will claim its third conference championship in four years. The Huskies rank sixth in the MAC against the run, which should allow Bowling Green to use Greene and the rest of the backfield to take some of the pressure off of quarterback James Knapke. The Falcons fall short of winning back-to-back MAC titles, as Northern Illinois gets revenge from last year’s loss.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 30, Bowling Green 20