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It’s no secret the 2016 season was a successful one for the ACC. Clemson claimed the conference title and is headed for the College Football Playoff for the second year in a row, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy and new hires at Miami (Mark Richt), Virginia Tech (Justin Fuente) and Syracuse (Dino Babers) immediately helped their programs take a step forward. With all signs pointing to successful tenures ahead for Richt, Fuente and Babers, the overall depth of the ACC continues to improve. Additionally, 11 of the 14 ACC teams are bowling, with Florida State making an appearance in a New Year’s Six Bowl for the second consecutive season.

 

Related: Predictions for Every College Football Bowl Game

 

With the regular season completed and bowl season starting on Dec. 17, it’s time to recap and look back at the 2016 campaign. Athlon Sports offers its awards and honors the best players in the league with the first and second all-conference teams for the ACC:

 

ACC 2016 Season Awards
 

Offensive Player of the Year: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

 

Defensive Player of the Year: DeMarcus Walker, DL, Florida State

 

Coach of the Year: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

 

Freshman of the Year (Offense): Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State

 

Freshman of the Year (Defense): Dexter Lawrence, DL, Clemson

 

Offensive Coordinator of the Year: Matt Canada, Pitt

 

Defensive Coordinator of the Year: Brent Venables, Clemson

 

Newcomer of the Year: Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech

 

Breakout Player: Amba Etta-Tawo, WR, Syracuse

 

ACC 2016 Season Awards
 

First-Team

Offense

Second-Team

Offense

QB

Lamar Jackson

Louisville 

Deshaun Watson

Clemson 

RB

Dalvin Cook

Florida State 

Matt Dayes

NC State 

RB

James Conner

Pitt 

Mark Walton

Miami 

 

AP

Quadree Henderson

Pitt 

Jaylen Samuels

NC State 

WR

Mike Williams

Clemson 

Isaiah Ford

Virginia Tech 

WR

Amba Etta-Tawo

Syracuse 

Ryan Switzer

North Carolina 

TE

Jordan Leggett

Clemson 

Cole Hikutini

Louisville 

C

Jay Guillermo

Clemson 

Lucas Crowley

North Carolina 

OL

Dorian Johnson

Pitt 

Brian O'Neill

Pitt 

OL

Roderick Johnson

Florida State 

Danny Isidora

Miami 

OL

Mitch Hyatt

Clemson 

Tyrone Crowder

Clemson 

OL

Adam Bisnowaty

Pitt 

Freddie Burden (C)

Georgia Tech 

     
 

First-Team

Defense

Second-Team

Defense

DL

DeMarcus Walker

Florida State 

Dexter Lawrence

Clemson 

DL

Ejuan Price

Pitt 

Christian Wilkins

Clemson 

DL

Carlos Watkins

Clemson 

Bradley Chubb

NC State 

DL

Harold Landry

Boston College 

Woody Barron

Virginia Tech 

LB

Marquel Lee

Wake Forest 

Derrick Nnadi (DL)

Florida State 

LB

Ben Boulware

Clemson 

Keith Kelsey

Louisville 

LB

Micah Kiser

Virginia 

Tremaine Edmunds

Virginia Tech 

CB

Tarvarus McFadden

Florida State 

Corn Elder

Miami 

 

CB

Cordrea Tankersley

Clemson 

Jaire Alexander

Louisville 

S

Jadar Johnson

Clemson 

Jordan Whitehead

Pitt 

S

Quin Blanding

Virginia 

Josh Jones

NC State 

     
 

First-Team

Specialists

Second-Team

Specialists

K

Nick Weiler

North Carolina 

Michael Badgley

Miami 

P

Nicholas Conte

Virginia 

Justin Vogel

Miami 

KR

Quadree Henderson

Pitt 

T.J. Logan

North Carolina 

PR

Braxton Berrios

Miami 

Brisly Estime

Syracuse 

 

 
Teaser:
ACC 2016 Season Awards and All-Conference Team
Post date: Wednesday, December 14, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-watchability-big-12s-bowl-games-2016
Body:

The Big 12 as a whole took a tiny step forward during the 2015 bowl season by notching a 3-4 record, one win better than the conference’s ‘14 mark.

 

The quality of play in the league tumbled this year, evidenced by the fact that only six teams even qualified for a postseason trip. As a sign that things might get even worse for the Big 12 this postseason, the oddsmakers have installed five of the conference’s representatives as underdogs in their games.

 

Related: Ranking All 40 College Football Bowls for 2016 From Must-See to Must-Miss

 

Even though it could get ugly for the league, its bowl slate doesn’t lack for compelling matchups. Chief among them is a Sugar Bowl showcase.

 

Bowl Watchability Rankings by Power Five Conference: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

 

Note: All times are ET.

 

1. Sugar Bowl – Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Auburn (8-4)

Jan. 2 – 8:30 p.m., ESPN

In the lone game feature a Big 12 favorite, the immovable object goes up against the unstoppable force and whatnot. According to the S&P+ efficiency rankings, the nation's No. 1 offense will take the field against the No. 7 defense on Jan. 2 in New Orleans. Of course, the outcome will likely come down to the matchup between OU's No. 57 defense and Auburn's No. 34 offense.

 

2. Texas Bowl – Kansas State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (8-4)

Dec. 28 – 9 p.m., ESPN

The Aggies' split from the Big 12 in 2012 probably feels like old news to plenty of fans outside the flyover states. Inside them, it's a different story, and a good bowl battle should fire up the pettiness this time of year. Trevor Knight could even get a chance to make one last start in this game.

 

3. Alamo Bowl – Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Colorado (10-3)

Dec. 29 – 9 p.m., ESPN

Another battle of former conference foes. Befitting the kind folks of Boulder, the animosity in Big 12 country for the Buffaloes doesn't burn all that hot. A better reason to watch: This marks CU's first bowl game since 2007. That’s a hell of a long wait.

 

4. Russell Athletic Bowl – West Virginia (10-2) vs. Miami (8-4)

Dec. 28 – 5:30 p.m., ESPN

The fine folks at Russell Athletic have to be wondering what it will take to get something other than a clunker in their game. The last three contests have been decided by an average of 24 points. The three-point spread in favor of Miami suggests a tight one could finally be coming this year.

 

5. Liberty Bowl – TCU (6-6) vs. Georgia (7-5)

Dec. 30 – 12 p.m., ESPN

Hard to imagine that a holiday trip to Memphis will do much to lift the spirits of two of the most disappointing programs in all of college football this year, so don’t expect quality football in this season’s edition of the Liberty Bowl. This game does pose an intriguing contrast in styles, though. It also gives Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart a chance to build some goodwill after such a lackluster debut season.

 

6. Cactus Bowl – Baylor (6-6) vs. Boise State (10-2)

Dec. 27 – 10:15 p.m., ESPN

This game sets up as a slaughter. Baylor’s coaches are all looking for work, and the team fell apart in the back half of the year. If that’s not bad enough, true freshman quarterback Zach Smith threw six interceptions in the team’s final three games of the year. The Broncos’ defense could have a field day.

 

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.

Teaser:
Ranking the Watchability of the Big 12’s Bowl Games in 2016
Post date: Wednesday, December 14, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: syndicated, NFL
Path: /nfl/predictions-every-nfl-game-week-15-2016
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The Week 15 slate in the NFL has six divisional games on tap, but there also are several important matchups that look much different at this point than they did before the season started.

 

Entering this season, there probably weren’t many that thought Tennessee would still be in contention in the middle of December. But the Titans sit at 7-6 tied atop the AFC South with Houston. Tennessee is coming off of a huge home win over Denver but now must travel to Kansas City to take on the AFC West-leading Chiefs (10-3). The Texans host lowly Jacksonville while Oakland travels to San Diego to face the Chargers, as the pressure to keep pace rises with every passing week.

 

Elsewhere, Detroit heads to the Big Apple to take on the Giants in a matchup of two 9-4 teams that also could serve as a potential playoff preview. The Lions have a two-game lead in the NFC North while the Giants are a game clear of Tampa Bay (8-5) for the first wild card spot following last week’s win over Dallas. Besides the Buccaneers, who are tied with Atlanta record-wise in the NFC South, the Redskins (7-5-1), Packers and Vikings (both at 7-6) are the closest in the wild card pursuit.

 

Speaking of Tampa Bay, the Bucs will take on the Cowboys in the Sunday night matchup. Dallas has already clinched a playoff spot, but missed out an opportunity to claim the NFC East in last week’s loss to New York. Tampa Bay is on the wrong end of one of the tiebreakers to Atlanta, so a win in Big D would go a long ways towards improving the young Bucs’ playoff positioning.

 

And even though one of the principals has changed, Sunday's renewal of the New England-Denver rivalry in the Mile High City still carries a great deal of importance. The Patriots (11-2) are the top seed in the AFC and one win away from claiming yet another AFC East title. The Broncos (8-5) currently hold the second wild card spot, but can ill afford to lose given they are two games behind both the Chiefs and Raiders in their own division. Can the defending Super Bowl champions rise to the occasion against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady once more?

 

So which teams will come out on top in every NFL game in Week 15? Athlon's own Rob Doster (AthlonDoster), John Gworek (JohnGworek), Steven Lassan (AthlonSteven), and Mark Ross (AthlonMarkR), along with AthlonSports.com contributor Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer), predict the winners for every game this week:

 

NFL Week 15 Predictions

 

 

Rob

Doster

Bryan
Fischer

John

Gworek

Steven

Lassan

Mark

Ross

Los Angeles at
Seattle (TNF)

Miami at
NY Jets (Sat.)

Green Bay at
Chicago

Jacksonville at
Houston

Cleveland at
Buffalo

Philadelphia at
Baltimore

Tennessee at
Kansas City

Detroit at
NY Giants

Indianapolis at
Minnesota

Pittsburgh at
Cincinnati

New Orleans at
Arizona

San Francisco at
Atlanta

New England at
Denver
Oakland at
San Diego
Tampa Bay at
Dallas (SNF)

Carolina at
Washington (MNF)

Week 14 12-4 9-7 9-7 10-6 10-6
Season 141-65 121-85 121-85 126-80 127-79

 

Note: Ties are not included in season record.

Teaser:
Predictions for Every NFL Game in Week 15
Post date: Wednesday, December 14, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, syndicated
Path: /college-football/ranking-college-footballs-best-twitter-accounts-ohio-state-clemson-utah-lsu-va-tech-oregon-houston-oklahoma
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Sometimes it's not all about what happens on the field. Part of the appeal of a team is in the social media account. It gives fans an up close and personal look at the individuals on the team. Some teams have what it takes to connect with fans and convert those who aren't.

 

Personality of an account, graphics, voice, fun, and other elements make an account a must-follow. In an age where everything is changing rapidly, you only have a short amount of time (and characters) to impress and get a follow.

 

10 Best College Football Twitter Accounts

 

School Handle Analysis
1. Ohio State @OhioStateFB Ohio State came up big on and off the field this season. The Buckeyes got their own distinguished Twitter account and hit the ground running. It's fun, has great content, and all the winning doesn't hurt either.
2. Oregon @WinTheDay Oregon's Twitter account is probably the funniest of them all. Although that's not hard with The Duck on your side. Between that, the jokes, and the jersey combos being revealed, Oregon is a must-follow for even the casual football fan.
3. Virginia Tech @VT_Football Virginia Tech is cool, engaging, and always up for promoting anything Hokies-related. Don't sleep on VA Tech's social media presence. Pretty soon it will be all anyone is talking about.
4. Nebraska @HuskerFBNation Nebraska had a extremely tough year with the death of punter Sam Foltz, and through the football team's Twitter account, we were able to get to know the team on a personal level. From videos, to tributes, to the touching photo after the team took a delay of game penalty in the season opener, Nebraska made everyone a part of #HuskerNation this year and it worked.
5. Utah @Utah_Football Utah the state gets a "boring" reputation, but the Utes' Twitter account is anything but that. Their squad makes good use of emojis, isn't afraid to retweet anything about the team, and makes sure everyone knows what's going on with the Utes.
6. Clemson @ClemsonFB Clemson will always be in the top 10 when it comes to the best Twitter accounts. The Tigers have good graphics, great players to spotlight, and with a coach like Dabo Swinney, the content sometimes writes itself.
7. Northwestern @NUFBFamily There's a chance Northwestern gets lost in the shuffle of other Big Ten teams, but their twitter account definitely stands out. Changes to the avi, the team dances, and more... you feel like family when you follow @NUFBFamily.
8. Houston @UHCougarFB Houston is always going to be one of the best when it comes to Twitter. Although Tom Herman is no longer there, we'll get to see what kind of excitement Major Applewhite will bring to the #HTownTakeover.
9. LSU @LSUfootball LSU is the best in the SEC when it comes to Twitter. In a conference that's mainly traditional, the Tigers find a way to have a little fun. 
10. Oklahoma @OU_Football Oklahoma fans are some of the best in college football, so it's only right the team's account gives them up close and personal access to their favorite Sooners. Oklahoma's account gave fans an all-access look at their Heisman hopefuls' journey. With this account, you'll feel like you're part of the team.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, December 13, 2016 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: syndicated, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-power-rankings-week-15-2016
Body:

The early afternoon window on Sunday produced plenty of drama in the final few minutes while all of the primetime games delivered with close games in another quality week of football in the NFL. The playoff field shuffled considerably in both conferences as a result of some of those outcomes and we’re starting to see teams finding a hot hand as much as we’re running into a few others who simply would like the season to be over. 

 

Related: NFL 2016 Regular and Postseason Predictions

 

With that in mind and factoring in everything from overall roster strength, to quarterback play, to the coaching staff, to injuries, here is the latest edition of NFL power rankings and where every team stacks up from 1 to 32.

 

Week 15 NFL Power Rankings

 

1. Dallas Cowboys

Last week: 1
It certainly seems as though the Giants have this team’s number as New York has handed the Cowboys both of their losses this season. Losing on the road in a close game to a division rival isn’t anything to fret over but the offensive performance the past two weeks is eyebrow-raising for those wondering if Dak Prescott is finally coming back to Earth. We’ll see if this has been an aberration or a troubling trend in the final two games this month.

 

2. New England Patriots

Last week: 2
Bill Belichick may personally take over special teams as a result of those miscues on “Monday Night Football” against the Ravens. This team is still the favorite in the AFC at this point even with all the injuries and defensive struggles but a walk to the Super Bowl shouldn’t be expected by fans in New England.

 

3. Kansas City Chiefs

Last week: 4

It wasn’t always pretty against Oakland on Thursday night, but the Chiefs own the tiebreakers in the AFC West race and are hot on the heels of the Patriots for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Everybody in the AFC saw what a dangerous team this can be with somebody like Tyreek Hill returning kicks but replacing linebacker Derrick Johnson will certainly be easier said than done.

 

4. Detroit Lions

Last week: 7

We’re to the point in the Lions’ season where Calvin Johnson has to be kicking himself just a little the way things have gone without him. Although they needed yet another late comeback to beat the lowly Bears, all those late wins bode well come playoff time when everything seems to come down to a final few plays.

 

5. Oakland Raiders

Last week: 3

Short week on the road and the Raiders played as such at Kansas City, cutting their odds to win the division down considerably. The defensive performance was very encouraging however and if they continue to play like that, this will be a team few want to face in the postseason.

 

6. Pittsburgh Steelers

Last week: 8

Le’Veon Bell out-gained the Bills by himself and suddenly the very dangerous Steelers are hitting the same stride they were on last year. Given what’s left on the schedule, wouldn’t be surprising at all if this team didn’t have a seven-game winning streak heading into a wild card game. 

 

7. Atlanta Falcons

Last week: 10

Putting up 42 — even against the Rams — with those injury issues on offense was still impressive and it would take quite a collapse for this team to miss out on hosting a playoff game given the way the schedule breaks in December.

 

8. New York Giants

Last week: 11

No team enjoys winning ugly quite like the Giants, which really have exorcized their close game troubles from a season ago and done the exact opposite in 2016. We’ll find out if that win over Dallas was the result of familiarity and matchups or something else these final three games but it’s beginning to feel at least a little like 2008 or ‘11 for some.

 

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last week: 12

It’s been a long time since Tampa Bay fans can be excited to tune in for Bucs games but that’s the case thanks to this late-season surge that has included wins over several playoff teams. We’ll see if Jameis Winston and company can add another Sunday night in Big D.

 

10. Seattle Seahawks

Last week: 5

We can chalk up the Russell Wilson interceptions to a bad day continuing to roll downhill but the offensive line struggles on the road and defensives lapses without Earl Thomas is very concerning as the team looks toward the postseason.

 

11. Denver Broncos

Last week: 6

Having Trevor Siemian throw the ball 51 times isn’t the recipe for success with this team as the run game has once again proven to be non-existent on the road. 

 

12. Baltimore Ravens

Last week: 9

The comeback against the Patriots took the sting out of a tough loss but there’s still plenty of questions regarding if this team has enough to get over the hump and make it into the postseason.

 

13. Green Bay Packers

Last week: 17

That’s now three in a row for the Packers thanks to a much stiffer defense and an offense that hasn’t skipped a beat even if Aaron Rodgers is still a little banged up. At this point, you probably wouldn’t bet against Green Bay winning out given how well the Pack played against Seattle and what’s left on the docket.

 

14. Tennessee Titans

Last week: 16

It took awhile, but the Titans finally got over that .500 hump thanks to one of their most impressive wins of the season over Denver. Somebody has to win the AFC South and it’s looking more and more like things will come down to hosting the Texans at the end of the year.

 

15. Washington Redskins

Last week: 14

Still in the thick of the playoff hunt, the team can’t afford mistakes like that pick-six Kirk Cousins threw on Sunday to keep the Eagles alive. The defensive improvement on Sunday was nice but you wonder if that was a byproduct of the opponent or signs of progress.

 

16. Miami Dolphins

Last week: 13

Struggling to put away the Cardinals certainly wan’t the most pressing news for Miami as all eyes are on Ryan Tannehill’s timetable for an injury comeback. Matt Moore is serviceable under center but at least the team should get linebacker Kiko Alonso back next week. 

 

17. Buffalo Bills

Last week: 15

Rex Ryan didn’t have many answers after that loss to the Steelers in which Le’Veon Bell ran wild and it probably won’t be too long before those reports of a coaching change become reality.

 

18. Houston Texans

Last week: 21

The defense forced three turnovers and still needed a late stand to stop Andrew Luck. That’s probably not surprising given the way the offense performed, which once again will make life difficult during this stretch run.

 

19. Philadelphia Eagles

Last week: 19

The Carson Wentz Wagon is a hop-on, hop-off bus this season but it’s abundantly clear that the young signal-caller isn’t the problem in Philly, his supporting cast is.

 

20. Minnesota Vikings

Last week: 25

They’re amazingly still in the hunt for a playoff bid at 7-6 but struggling against Jacksonville does not bode well for their final three games. Still, maybe getting back Adrian Petersen soon could provide a nice boost to the offense, even if he’s just limited to practices.

 

21. New Orleans Saints

Last week: 18

Three interceptions by Drew Brees was uncharacteristic against the Bucs, but the way this team is built even tossing one might be enough to cost the Saints a win.

 

22. Carolina Panthers

Last week: 26

There was a time against San Diego where things could have gone south in a hurry but they didn’t and Carolina came through with a solid win at home. The team is probably resorted to playing playoff spoiler at this point but getting back to 8-8 to end the year isn’t out of the question.

 

23. Arizona Cardinals

Last week: 20

With each passing performance by Carson Palmer, it seems as if the calls to trade for Tony Romo will only grow louder and louder in the desert. It wasn’t a terrible surprise to see a domed team from out west struggle in the rain however.

 

24. San Diego Chargers

Last week: 23

If there was a way for a team to beat itself, San Diego certainly found it against Carolina as Philip Rivers once again became a turnover machine in a winnable game that slipped away.

 

25. Indianapolis Colts

Last week: 22

It truly would be interesting to see where this team would be if they didn’t have Andrew Luck at quarterback because these Colts are a frustrating bunch to watch closely on both sides of the ball, especially in the trenches.

 

26. Cincinnati Bengals

Last week: 24

It was no surprise to see the Bengals beat up the Browns, something even this banged-up team could seemingly do in its sleep.

 

27. Chicago Bears

Last week: 27

The play down the stretch of Matt Barkley has been one of the more interesting storylines to pop up in the NFC and could play a big role in the team’s plans next season if the Bears draft a quarterback of the future in the first few rounds.

 

28. New York Jets

Last week: 30

How many Jets fans were hoping for that game with the 49ers to result in a close loss or a tie for draft position purposes? All of them? All of them.

 

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

Last week: 29

Getting a delay of game penalty on a kickoff, as the Jags did in their loss to Minnesota, seems to perfectly encapsulate this season for Jacksonville.

 

30. Los Angeles Rams

Last week: 28

Things got so bad that the team finally parted ways with Jeff Fisher. Despite the numerous issues facing Los Angeles, this should be an attractive job opening and it will be interesting to see what further housecleaning occurs between now and January.

 

Related: 5 Replacements for Fired Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher

 

31. San Francisco 49ers

Last week: 31

Given the state of the franchise, the 49ers probably won by losing on Sunday to the Jets with draft slot implications in play.

 

32. Cleveland Browns

Last week: 32

Home against the Bengals is probably the best shot the team had at avoiding a winless season given what’s left on the schedule but, on the bright side, Ohio native DeShone Kizer did declare for the draft this week...

 

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

Teaser:
NFL Power Rankings: Week 15
Post date: Tuesday, December 13, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/15-best-pac-12-college-football-games-2016
Body:

The Pac-12 at the end of the year was not exactly what we thought it was at the beginning of the season. Washington surged into the national spotlight and ended up making the College Football Playoff, USC battled back from a 1-3 start to become the hottest team in the country and Colorado was the turnaround of the decade with a worst to first run in the Pac-12 South Division.

 

All of that likely made for a happy commissioner in Larry Scott as the league proved to be worth tuning in for each and every week. Among all those upsets, wild endings and hugely important shakeups though, which ones were the best games? It’s hard to narrow things down of course, but here are the best 10 Pac-12 games of the 2016 regular season and the five best non-conference contests involving a Pac-12 school.

 

2016's Best Games: Top 25ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

 

10 Best Pac-12 Games of 2016 Regular Season

 

10. Washington 44, Stanford 6 — Sept. 30

This rout was not an interesting game from start to finish but it was an important one as Montlake was rocking like it was nearly two decades ago. It also represented a changing of the guard in the Pac-12 North as the Huskies took it to the defending Pac-12 champions in record fashion and dominated the trenches unlike anybody else had against Stanford. Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin combined for five touchdowns and the defense looked like the best this side of Alabama in holding the Cardinal to just 29 rushing yards.

 

9. Colorado 38, Washington State 24 — Nov. 19

College Football Playoff implications in the Pac-12 were on the line and one of the biggest games down the stretch ended up pitting a pair of top 25 teams in... Washington State and Colorado? Wait, what? Yes it was true and Buffaloes quarterback Sefo Liufau delivered one of the most impressive performances all season when he returned from injury to throw for 345 yards and run for another 108 during a rare big game in Boulder. Luke Falk threw for three bills against one of the best secondaries in the country and helped the Cougars have their chances in the fourth quarter but it wasn’t to be as CU pulled away late.

 

8. Colorado 41, Oregon 38 — Sept. 24

This was our first inclination that things were not right in Eugene for the Ducks and that Colorado was going to cook up something special this season as the Buffs secured one of their biggest wins since joining the Pac-12 behind the heroics of backup signal-caller Steven Montez. The QB helped the team re-take the lead late in the fourth thanks to an amazing strike to Bryce Bobo, who narrowly completed a wild catch in the back of the end zone. A huge defensive stand that ended in an interception capped a fun game that saw Colorado take a big lead before allowing Oregon back into things at Autzen.

 

7. Stanford 22, UCLA 13 — Sept. 24

UCLA came so close to knocking off its pesky big brother in the Bay Area but somehow Stanford found a way to win a bit of a rock fight at the Rose Bowl. Christian McCaffrey ran for 138 yards as the sole offensive option for a team that trailed for more than three quarters of the game. While a late Bruins field goal and quick fumble recovery on the next drive appeared to be enough with less than two minutes left, it was the Cardinal who came up with big plays and marched 70 yards for an incredible Ryan Burns touchdown pass that J.J. Arcega-Whiteside leaped into the air to snag over a defender. UCLA still had a shot to win but Josh Rosen was sacked and fumbled, which allowed Stanford to score 13 points in 25 seconds to end the game between the preseason favorites in each division.

 

6. Colorado 27, Utah 22 — Nov. 26

Colorado secured the Pac-12 South title thanks to a stingy defense (three sacks, four turnovers, a pair of fourth-down stops) in a game with far more drama than stellar play until the final quarter. After not getting much going through the thin air, Utah mounted a touchdown drive that closed the score to within five after missing the two-point conversion. The Buffs recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock to help the first sellout crowd in over a decade in Boulder storm the field after the game and celebrate an improbable division title.

 

5. Oregon 30, Utah 28 — Nov. 19

An incredible 34 combined points in the fourth quarter capped off a run of five lead changes as Oregon completed an incredible upset in Salt Lake City that, at the time, looked as though would save the job of head coach Mark Helfrich. Young quarterback Justin Herbert didn’t flinch in the face of a nasty Utes pass rush and found Darren Carrington in the corner of the end zone for one of the best catches of the season and a game-winning, 75-yard drive in a little more than two minutes.

 

4. Cal 52, Oregon 49 (2OT) - Oct. 21

Few games embodied the #Pac12AfterDark spirit quite like this one as the two teams combined for 101 points, more than 1,000 yards of total offense and an FBS-record 203 combined plays. This also was the highest over/under in college football history according to Vegas (89.5), and the two teams hit the over, appropriately, in overtime. Cal also set an FBS record for plays in a game with 118 and didn’t commit a single turnover while doing so. That allowed the Bears to hold off the Ducks, who needed four touchdowns in the second half to rally for extra frames, before the defense stepped up with an interception that allowed them to win the game.

 

3. Utah 31, USC 27 — Sept. 23

USC has to wonder about “what if” on this game as it very well could have been the deciding factor in playing for the Pac-12 title and possibly the College Football Playoff had the Trojans been able to hold onto a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead. Instead it was Utah that rallied at home behind Southern California native Troy Williams, leading the team on a 75-yard drive to pull to within three and then marching the team 93 yards for the game-winner with 16 seconds left. While the result wasn’t what the Trojans wanted, it did usher in the Sam Darnold era at quarterback while proving to pave the way for running back Joe Williams’ return at Utah.

 

2. Washington 31, Utah 24 — Oct. 29

This was one of the few close calls the Huskies had in a Pac-12 game during a fun one from Salt Lake City. Utes punter Mitch Wishnowsky had a performance worthy of his Ray Guy Award by pinning Washington deep in its own territory all day while Joe Williams once again impressed in his return from retirement with 172 rushing yards against a stingy Washington defense. All of that culminated in a crazy punt return from Dante Pettis however, that the UW receiver brought back 58 yards for a touchdown and the eventual game-winning points with just a little more than three minutes left. It was the Huskies’ first opportunity to show the College Football Playoff Selection Committee they could beat a good team and they came through in the clutch.

 

1. USC 26, Washington 13 — Nov. 12

The Trojans’ comeback from early-season irrelevance came to a head on a chilly night in Seattle as Adoree’ Jackson came up with two interceptions and USC knocked off the eventual conference champs. Sam Darnold looked like a future Heisman contender by picking apart a very good Huskies defense and the UW offense never could seem to get back on track despite a pair of long scores from speedy wideout John Ross. Now both teams are in the top 10 and New Year’s Six bowl games and each can probably thank what happened in this one for that.

 

Best of the Rest:

Oregon State 47, Cal 44 (OT)

Utah 52, UCLA 45

Cal 28, Utah 23

Washington 35, Arizona 28 (OT)

Washington 70, Oregon 21

 

5 Best Pac-12 Non-Conference Games of 2016

 

1. Utah 20, BYU 19 — Sept. 10

This for sure wasn’t the most well-played game ever but the latest edition of The Holy War turned out to bring plenty of hard-hitting defense, a shocking nine — nine! — turnovers and one incredible defensive stand at the end to give Utah a sixth straight victory in the series over its in-state rivals. Things were kicked off by a pick-six on the very first play of the game and it ended with a 75-yard drive by the Cougars to pull to within one. However an impressive defensive stand helped foil a two-point conversion that would have won things and Utah held on for a win that toed the line between hot potato and stellar defensive play.

 

2. Texas A&M 31, UCLA 24 (OT) — Sept. 3

Trevor Knight’s debut for the Aggies was an impressive one as he scored three times, including a key touchdown run on 4th-and-goal in overtime that just about ended a wild comeback by UCLA. Josh Rosen didn’t quite have the game he wanted after calling out Aggies fans, throwing for 343 yards but also three interceptions. Still, the Bruins ran off 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to storm back and force overtime before Rosen’s pass fell incomplete to cap a tough loss for the visitors.

 

3. Nebraska 35, Oregon 32 — Sept. 17

This game was so controversial for the Ducks that they cited it in the initial release about Mark Helfrich being fired. Oregon went for two after a touchdown five times and only got one of them as the Ducks fell on the road thanks to a number of defensive lapses and questionable play calls. Tommy Armstrong helped rally the Cornhuskers with a late touchdown just before halftime and then followed that up with three more scoring drives in the second half, capped by a 34-yard scamper for the game-winner. While the Ducks did get to midfield with a chance, they went backward and Nebraska ended up holding on.

 

4. Arizona State 68, Texas Tech 55 — Sept. 10

We’ll just call this the Kalen Ballage game. The Arizona State star tied an NCAA record with eight touchdowns on just 16 touches against the Red Raiders. That capped a day in which he also had 185 all-purpose yards and caused yet more heartache for Texas Tech’s defense, as the Red Raiders allowed 68 points in some #Pac12AfterDark action. Patrick Mahomes threw for 540 yards and helped put up 55 points but in the end it wasn’t enough for a pair of teams that couldn’t tackle one bit on defense.

 

5. Cal 50, Texas 43 — Sept. 17

Former Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb had a career night in a Bears uniform against the Longhorns, as reality came crashing down at Texas following a hot start to the season. While D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren both ran wild on the ground, a few freshman moments from QB Shane Buechele made a comeback tough late in the second half. The craziest thing came by way of Cal’s Vic Enwere, who thought he iced the game with a 55-yard touchdown run but he ended up dropping the ball just before the goal line. Texas didn’t recover it “immediately” or else the Horns would have had another chance to win the game on the road in Berkeley.

 

Best of the Rest:

Boise State 31, Washington State 28

Eastern Washington 45, Washington State 42

San Diego State 45, Cal 40

Michigan 45, Colorado 28

Stanford 17, Notre Dame 10

 

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

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The Big Ten is trending up at the end of the 2016 college football regular season. The conference has a strong argument as the best in the nation this year, as Ohio State finished No. 3 in the CFB Playoff selection committee rankings, with Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin also inside of the final top 10. The Buckeyes ranked as the top team in the rankings, but the Nittany Lions edged the Badgers for the Big Ten title in Indianapolis. With Urban Meyer (Ohio State), James Franklin (Penn State), Paul Chryst (Wisconsin), Mark Dantonio (Michigan State) and Jim Harbaugh (Michigan) leading the way, the Big Ten has one of the best collections of coaches and has helped this league challenge the SEC for conference supremacy.

 

With the regular season completed and bowl season starting on Dec. 17, it’s time to recap and look back at the 2016 campaign. Athlon Sports offers its awards and honors the best players in the league with the first, second and third all-conference teams for the Big Ten:

 

Big Ten 2016 Season Awards

 

Offensive Player of the Year: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

 

Defensive Player of the Year: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

 

Coach of the Year: James Franklin, Penn State

 

Freshman of the Year (Offense): Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

 

Freshman of the Year (Defense): Nick Bosa, DL, Ohio State

 

Offensive Coordinator of the Year: Joe Moorhead, Penn State

 

Defensive Coordinator of the Year: Don Brown, Michigan

 

Newcomer of the Year: Ryan Ramczyk, OL, Wisconsin

 

Breakout Player: Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State

 

Big Ten 2016 Postseason All-Conference Team
 

First-Team

Offense

Second-Team

Offense

Third-Team

Offense

QB

J.T. Barrett

Ohio State 

Trace McSorley

Penn State 

Clayton Thorson

Northwestern 

RB

Corey Clement

Wisconsin 

Mike Weber

Ohio State 

LeShun Daniels

Iowa 

RB

Saquon Barkley

Penn State 

Justin Jackson

Northwestern 

LJ Scott

Michigan State 

AP

Curtis Samuel

Ohio State 

Rodney Smith (RB)

Minnesota 

Akrum Wadley (RB)

Iowa 

WR

Austin Carr

Northwestern 

DeAngelo Yancey

Purdue 

Nick Westbrook

Indiana 

WR

Amara Darboh

Michigan 

R.J. Shelton

Michigan State 

Chris Godwin

Penn State 

TE

Jake Butt 

Michigan 

Mike Gesicki

Penn State 

Troy Fumagalli

Wisconsin 

C

Pat Elflein

Ohio State 

Mason Cole

Michigan 

Beau Benzschawel (OL)

Wisconsin 

OL

Billy Price

Ohio State 

Sean Welsh

Iowa 

Ben Braden

Michigan 

OL

Erik Magnuson

Michigan 

James Daniels

Iowa 

Kyle Kalis

Michigan 

OL

Dan Feeney

Indiana 

Brian Allen

Michigan State 

Nick Gates

Nebraska 

OL

Ryan Ramczyk

Wisconsin 

Jamarco Jones

Ohio State 

Michael Dunn

Maryland 

       
 

First-Team

Defense

Second-Team

Defense

Third-Team

Defense

DL

Jaleel Johnson

Iowa 

Chris Wormley

Michigan 

Jake Replogle

Purdue 

DL

Tyquan Lewis

Ohio State 

Malik McDowell

Michigan State 

Steven Richardson

Minnesota 

DL

Taco Charlton

Michigan 

Ifeadi Odenigbo

Northwestern 

Dawuane Smoot

Illinois 

DL

Ryan Glasgow

Michigan 

Vince Biegel (LB)

Wisconsin 

Garrett Sickels

Penn State 

LB

Raekwon McMillan

Ohio State 

Anthony Walker

Northwestern 

Brandon Bell

Penn State 

LB

Jabrill Peppers

Michigan 

Tegray Scales

Indiana 

Hardy Nickerson

Illinois 

LB

T.J. Watt

Wisconsin 

Josey Jewell

Iowa 

Riley Bullough

Michigan State 

CB

Jourdan Lewis

Michigan 

Marshon Lattimore

Ohio State 

Sojourn Shelton

Wisconsin  

CB

Desmond King

Iowa 

Channing Stribling

Michigan 

Gareon Conley

Ohio State 

S

Malik Hooker

Ohio State 

Leo Musso

Wisconsin 

Marcus Allen

Penn State 

S

Nathan Gerry

Nebraska 

Godwin Igwebuike

Northwestern 

Delano Hill

Michigan 

       
 

First-Team

Specialists

Second-Team

Specialists

Third-Team

Specialists

K

Emmit Carpenter

Minnesota 

Tyler Davis

Penn State 

Tyler Durbin

Ohio State 

P

Cameron Johnston

Ohio State 

Kenny Allen

Michigan 

Ron Coluzzi

Iowa 

KR

Desmond King

Iowa 

Parris Campbell

Ohio State 

Solomon Vault

Northwestern 

PR

Jabrill Peppers

Michigan 

Desmond King

Iowa 

De'Mornay Pierson-El

Nebraska 

 

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This was not your typical season in the SEC, where Alabama dominated the league more than any team in recent memory and the rest of the conference was tightly bunched in a band of mediocrity. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some good football being played however, and there were once again several classics that will be talked about for years to come.

 

Related: 15 Best ACC College Football Games of 2016

 

Among all those upsets, wild endings and hugely important shakeups though, which ones were the best games? It’s hard to narrow things down of course, but here are the best 10 SEC games of the 2016 regular season and the five best non-conference contests involving a SEC school.

 

2016's Best Games: Top 25ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

 

10 Best SEC Games of 2016 Regular Season

 

10. Florida 16, LSU 10 — Nov. 19

The game itself was a classic defensive struggle — mostly the product of two mediocre offenses — in which yards and points were hard to come by. But the off-the-field bickering between the two schools over where and when to play this game after Hurricane Matthew postponed it only raised the stakes and the fact that Florida won the SEC East as the result of an all-or-nothing goal line stuff of Derrius Guice only added to this one.

 

9. Georgia 28, Missouri 27 — Sept. 18

Missouri’s defense had one of its best outings of the season in limiting the Bulldogs’ normally potent rushing attack to just 101 yards. Opposite day continued as Georgia’s freshman quarterback Jacob Eason ended up throwing the ball 55 times to out-duel Drew Lock on the other side. The youngster saved his best for last however, operating the two-minute drill with ease to find Isaiah McKenzie on fourth down in the end zone for a 20-yard strike that proved to be the game-winner. Missouri ended up fumbling on its next snap to end the game.

 

8. Tennessee 38, Florida 28 — Sept. 24

Tennessee took out more than a decade of frustration on rival Florida and appeared, at the time, to finally live up to all that preseason praise with another thrilling comeback to snap an 11-game losing streak. The Gators jumped out to a 21-point lead in the second quarter behind a balanced attack but the Volunteers came roaring back to the tune of 38 straight points in front of a wild home crowd. The UT defense came up big down the stretch despite injuries and the offense started to click with Joshua Dobbs after a slow start. Talk about a wild swing of emotions for those in orange.

 

7. Vanderbilt 45, Tennessee 34 — Nov. 26

This time, Tennessee was on the opposite end of a second-half comeback, one that very likely cost the Volunteers a spot in the Sugar Bowl in the process. Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur threw for a career-high 416 yards and looked like Peyton Manning at times as he sliced through a banged-up defense. In the process, Vanderbilt became bowl eligible without needing to resort to an APR tie-breaker thanks to the win over its in-state rivals. To make matters worse, some bungled clock management out of Butch Jones on the final drive made things even tougher in the end.

 

6. Mississippi State 35, Texas A&M 28 — Nov. 5

There was no bigger surprise in the College Football Playoff rankings this year than seeing Texas A&M sitting at No. 4 ahead of Washington. The Aggies would prove that ranking moot however, by getting blitzed by a lackluster Mississippi State team in Starkville the following Saturday, as Nick Fitzgerald played the game of his young career. Texas A&M QB Trevor Knight was injured as the offense slowed to a halt for Kevin Sumlin in a highlight win for the Bulldogs that ultimately helped them go bowling, despite finishing 5-7.

 

5. Ole Miss 29, Texas A&M 28 — Nov. 12

Just when you thought things were bad for Texas A&M, it got even worse late in the season. Up big in the second half at home, playing against a freshman quarterback, the Aggies ended up blowing a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead to turn up the hot seat on head coach Kevin Sumlin. Ole Miss true freshman quarterback Shea Patterson flipped some sort of switch to help key the comeback and finished with 338 passing yards before getting the team in position to kick a 39-yard field goal to win it in stunning fashion.

 

4. Alabama 48, Ole Miss 43 — Sept. 17

The Rebels seemingly had Nick Saban’s number after winning two seasons in a row against the Crimson Tide. For a while, it looked like they had it again in jumping out to a 24-3 lead with just minutes left in the first half. But Alabama reverted back to Alabama and used two quick scores — including an 85-yard punt return touchdown by Eddie Jackson — to come storming back to take the lead. Jonathan Allen’s fumble return for a score appeared to ice the game with five minutes to go but Ole Miss scored twice more to make things interesting before Alabama ended the threat and the losing streak.

 

3. Texas A&M 45, Tennessee 38 (2OT) — Oct. 8

A battle of top-10 teams lived up to the early billing with a thrilling finish that saw the Volunteers rally from six turnovers to force overtime but fail to overcome a seventh as the Aggies held on in a pivotal SEC matchup. Texas A&M thought it had all but secured a victory when Trevor Knight busted out a 62-yard run with just three minutes left in the game to go up two scores. However, Alvin Kamara scored twice in the final two minutes to force overtime before Knight ended things for good with another touchdown on the ground in the second extra frame to cap off a super long thriller for both teams.

 

2. Alabama 10, LSU 0 — Nov. 5

The Alabama/LSU matchup is a meeting between SEC heavyweights and it appeared to be the case once again in this low-scoring affair that helped propel the Crimson Tide to the West Division title. With NFL draft picks all over the field, Alabama freshman Jalen Hurts was mostly bottled up but came through in the clutch with a couple of key quarterback runs to set up the team’s two scores while the dominating defense did the rest in keeping the Tigers out of the end zone. In a day full of shootouts, this was a bit of a refresher between a bunch of big-time players who you will soon see on Sunday.

 

1. Tennessee 34, Georgia 31 — Oct. 1

Second-half Tennessee was a sight to behold this season and needed every ounce of that magic between the hedges against Georgia for a win that was thought to lock up the SEC East. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-0 lead but the Volunteers came roaring back once again, helped in part by a defensive touchdown set up by superstar Derek Barnett. The teams combined for three touchdowns in the final three minutes though, including an improbable Hail Mary from Joshua Dobbs to Jauan Jennings from 43 yards out to induce pandemonium on the UT sideline and cap off a game that had a little bit of everything.

 

Best of the Rest:

Kentucky 40, Mississippi State 38

Alabama 33, Texas A&M 14

Auburn 18, LSU 13

Tennessee 49, Kentucky 36

Arkansas 34, Ole Miss 30

 

5 Best SECC Non-Conference Games of 2016

 

1. Arkansas 41, TCU 38 (2OT) — Sept. 10

There were not a ton of great non-conference matchups in the SEC in the second weekend of the season but this one more than made up for things with a thriller between a pair of old SWC foes. Arkansas led most of the game in a bit of a slugfest and took a 20-7 lead into the fourth quarter. TCU came storming back behind Kenny Hill however, running off three straight touchdown drives to take a lead with two minutes to go. It didn’t take long for the Hogs to answer, finding the end zone and converting the two points for the tie. The Horned Frogs’ KaVontae Turpin was amazing down the stretch and nearly won the game in setting up a 28-yard field goal with 10 seconds left thanks to a big return, but the kick was blocked. Eventually Arkansas prevailed in the second overtime as Austin Allen powered his way into the end zone to cap a heck of a game.

 

2. Texas A&M 31, UCLA 24 (OT) — Sept. 3

UCLA entered in the top 20 of the preseason polls and were gunning for a big road win but ran into a hungry Texas A&M team that captured one of their its best wins this season during the opening week. Trevor Knight made a great debut after transferring from Oklahoma and out-dueled highly touted star Josh Rosen. While it appeared as though the Aggies were going to run away with things when Josh Reynolds scored from 40 yards out to go up two scores, UCLA responded with a pair of touchdowns before tying the score on a successful two-point conversion. Knight came up big in overtime to secure the win though while Rosen became the goat with his third interception.

 

3. Florida State 45, Ole Miss 34 — Sept. 5

Ole Miss led by 22 after the first quarter on Labor Day but saw hopes of another season spent in the college football elite suffer a blow by letting a young Florida State back into the game. Chad Kelly threw for four touchdowns but helped the Seminoles come roaring back with three interceptions. A late Van Jefferson touchdown kept the Rebels in this one but the Landsharks never could get a stop while Kelly was picked off a final time to end the threat.

 

4. Tennessee 20, Appalachian State 13 (OT) — Sept. 1

Coming into this one, everybody was talking about Tennessee’s preseason expectations while mentioning the famous upset Appalachian State had back in the day at Michigan. For a long time, it looked as though the Mountaineers were well on their way to pulling off another wild victory with a 10-point halftime lead. The Volunteers clawed their back into things, tying things up with a 67-yard pass while Appalachian State’s kicker missed a field goal with five minutes to go. Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs ended up fumbling in the end zone in overtime but it was recovered by his tailback to secure a much closer than expected win for the Vols in the opener.

 

5. Clemson 19, Auburn 13 — Sept. 3

After this one went final, the snap reaction was to try and figure out what was wrong with Clemson coming off a run to the national title game and returning a ton of talent. Instead we should have been asking about what was right about that Auburn defense, which put out the first of several fantastic performances this season against their fellow Tigers. This one was tense and close throughout and came down to a curious decision by Dabo Swinney that appeared to backfire but Auburn couldn’t quite take advantage behind an offense that never could click behind a puzzling quarterback shuffle.

 

Best of the Rest:

Georgia Tech 28, Georgia 27

Wisconsin 16, LSU 14

BYU 28, Mississippi State 21 (2OT)

Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35

Alabama 52, USC 6

 

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

 

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)

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The ACC had a strong regular season that culminated in Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson winning the Heisman Trophy.

 

All the way through, there were compelling matchups, as Clemson has carried the flag once again for the ACC and made the College Football Playoff. At the very top of the league, one can make the argument that the ACC was second only to the Big Ten in terms of high-quality teams.

 

As bowl season gets underway, there are a few absolutely must-see games and a few duds, but the best ones overshadow the lesser games. The top-end ACC-involved matchups are three of the most enticing ones of the entire nationwide slate.

 

Related: Ranking All 40 College Football Bowls for 2016 From Must-See to Must-Miss

 

Bowl Watchability Rankings by Power Five Conference: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

 

Note: All times are ET.

 

1. Fiesta Bowl – Ohio State (11-1) vs. Clemson (21-1)

Dec. 31 – 7 p.m., ESPN

The last time these teams met in the 2014 Orange Bowl, Clemson earned a 40-35 win over the Buckeyes in a game that really helped launch the Tigers into their current stratosphere of the college football elite. The stakes are higher this time around as the winner goes to the championship of the College Football Playoff, but this should be a competitive and entertaining take between two of the game's giants.

 

Related: 5 Reasons Why Clemson Will Win the College Football Playoff

 

2. Orange Bowl – Michigan (10-2) vs. Florida State (9-3)

Dec. 30 – 8 p.m., ESPN

At the beginning of the year, it would not have been out of the norm to see this game projected as a semifinal in the College Football Playoff. Florida State has been playing its best football of the season down the stretch and Michigan was literally inches from beating Ohio State. Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook against Michigan's 13th-ranked run defense will be a matchup to watch.

 

3. Citrus Bowl – LSU (7-4) vs. Louisville (9-3)

Dec. 31 – 11 a.m., ABC

This could very well end up being number one by the time all is said and done. The Cardinals sport the Heisman Trophy winner in Lamar Jackson and the top-ranked scoring offense in the country. LSU's Leonard Fournette at this point is expected to play in what should be his last college game. The Tigers will pit their sixth-ranked scoring defense against Louisville’s offensive juggernaut.

 

4. Sun Bowl – Stanford (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4)

Dec. 30 – 2 p.m., CBS

These are a pair of teams that had diametrically opposed stretch runs. North Carolina stumbled with a pair of losses over the second half of the season when it had a chance to repeat as ACC Coastal Division champion. This game will feature Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky, a rising NFL draft prospect still in his junior year, and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, who will be playing his last college game to cap a brilliant career.

 

5. Belk Bowl – Arkansas (7-5) vs. Virginia Tech (9-4)

Dec. 29 – 5:30 p.m., ESPN

This will be a chance for Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente to put a bow on his successful maiden voyage in Blacksburg against an Arkansas team that always seems to play its best football at the end of the season under Bret Bielema. Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans has made an immediate impact this season, while Arkansas running back Rawleigh Williams III is one of the top running backs in the nation.

 

6. Russell Athletic Bowl – West Virginia (10-2) vs. Miami (8-4)

Dec. 28 – 5:30 p.m., ESPN

This game holds some interest because West Virginia has had a resurgent season, resulting in a nice contract extension for head coach Dana Holgerson. Perhaps the Mountaineers thought they would be eligible for a bit of a better bowl, but Miami will be no cakewalk. The Hurricanes had somewhat of a mediocre year, but Mark Richt has a chance to build some momentum in his first year leading his alma mater.

 

7. Pinstripe Bowl – Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. Northwestern (6-6)

Dec. 28 – 2 p.m., ESPN

Even though Northwestern hasn't exactly had a great year, Pat Fitzgerald is one of the better head coaches in the game who can prepare the Wildcats well for this bowl. Pittsburgh had two high-quality wins in beating Penn State and Clemson, and the Panthers sport one of the top offenses in the country. This also will be the last college game for Pittsburgh running back James Conner, one of the best in the nation.

 

8. TaxSlayer Bowl – Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7-5)

Dec. 31 – 11 a.m., ESPN

This one gained a little more juice when Kentucky shockingly knocked off Louisville at the end of the regular season, which makes the Wildcats a little more of a wild card in this game. Georgia Tech is bowling again after bouncing back from last season's 3-8 showing. Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas has had a stellar career and has the chance to top it off in style.

 

9. Independence Bowl – NC State (6-6) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)

Dec. 26 – 5 p.m., ESPN2

Like Kentucky, Vanderbilt comes into this game riding high off an upset, as the Commodores stunned Tennessee on the last game of the regular season. NC State's season might best be remembered for the upset it did not finish in its overtime loss to Clemson, but a victory over North Carolina was a nice consolation prize. This one may come down to which team stops the run more effectively.

 

10. Military Bowl – Temple (10-3) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)

Dec. 27 – 3:30 p.m., ESPN

The Owls have had one of the best seasons out of the teams from the Group of Five conferences, but the departure of head coach Matt Rhule to Baylor over the last week will somewhat diminish this one. When a team loses its coach right before the bowl game, it simply takes some steam away from the matchup. Either way, Wake Forest will be motivated to win the program's first bowl win since the 2008 EagleBank Bowl over Navy.

 

11. Quick Lane Bowl – Maryland (6-6) vs. Boston College (6-6)

Dec. 26 – 2:30 p.m., ESPN

This game is the quintessential example of why some people feel there are too many bowl games, as there really isn't much of a reason for a national audience to tune in here. Boston College was crushed by every good team it played and only reached six wins based on an extremely weak non-conference schedule. Maryland is still in rebuild mode. Eagles head coach Steve Addazio has been on the hot seat all year, so a win here might cool that a bit.

 

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.

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On Monday, the Los Angeles Rams fired head coach Jeff Fisher, who had been with the team since 2012. The Rams fell to 4-9 this season, following Sunday’s 42-14 embarrassing loss to Atlanta. A third straight loss and the eighth out of nine games was the final straw for Fisher, even though the team had announced on Dec. 4 that he had signed a two-year contract extension through 2018.

 

In nearly five seasons leading the Rams, Fisher went 31-45-1, never finishing with at least a .500 record or better than third in the NFC West. Los Angeles clearly has a lot of issues, but they start on offense where the Rams are last in the NFL in yards and points per game.

 

There are some intriguing pieces in place, starting with All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and linebacker Alec Ogletree on defense. Running back Todd Gurley has been a huge disappointment the season after being AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, but some of that can be attributed to a lack of production at quarterback and an inconsistent offensive line.

 

And speaking of quarterback, whoever is the next head coach will be tasked with developing No.1 overall pick Jared Goff. He has shown some flashes in his four starts, but the Rams need much more from the guy they tabbed as their next franchise quarterback, especially after giving up a package of picks, including next year’s first- and third-round selection, to the Tennessee Titans, Fisher’s employer before he was hired by Los Angeles, to take the former Cal standout.

 

With just one vacancy (for now) in the league, the Rams should have their choice of candidates. Here are some names to keep an eye on.

 

Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots

Second time’s the charm? McDaniels was Denver’s head coach from 2009-10, going 11-17 before he was dismissed prior to Week 13. McDaniels’ tenure with the Broncos was probably best known for trading Jay Cutler to the Bears and moving back into the first round to take Tim Tebow in the 2010 draft.

 

Following his firing from Denver, McDaniels landed with the Rams in St. Louis, as offensive coordinator under Steve Spagnuolo. When Spagnuolo was fired after the 2011 season, McDaniels returned to New England to work once more under Bill Belichick with whom he has won four Super Bowls. Whether McDaniels’ success is mostly due to Belichick and/or Tom Brady is fair to question, but his boss has already come out and said his young protégé is ready for another shot at being a head coach. Is a reunion with the Rams in order?

 

Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons

Another offensive-minded guy, Shanahan has been with Matt Ryan in Atlanta the past two seasons. The Falcons’ offense is tops in the NFL in scoring and third in both total and passing yards per game, and Ryan's name has come up in discussion regarding possible MVP candidates this season.

 

Prior to Atlanta, Shanahan was offensive coordinator for Cleveland (2014), Washington (2010-13) and Houston (2008-09). Under his tutelage, Robert Griffin III was named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 while Matt Schaub was a Pro Bowler and enjoyed the best season of his 13-year career in ’09. Shanahan is the son of two-time Super Bowl champion Mike Shanahan. Is it time for him to follow in his father’s footsteps?

 

Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles

Schwartz is a defensive-minded guy, and he’s been a head coach before too. After an eight-year stint as Fisher’s defensive coordinator in Tennessee, Schwartz was hired by Detroit in 2009. He led the Lions to the playoffs in 2011, but that was his only winning season. He was fired after going 7-9 in 2013, finishing his five-year tenure at 29-51.

 

After Detroit, Schwartz was hired by Doug Marrone to be Buffalo’s defensive coordinator. That season, the Bills finished fourth in the NFL in both total and scoring defense, while leading the league in sacks. The team went 9-7, but Marrone resigned and new head coach Rex Ryan chose not to retain Schwartz.

 

After taking a year off, Schwartz joined new Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson’s staff. One of the worst defenses in the league a year ago, Schwartz has turned the Eagles around, as they currently rank 12th in both yards and points allowed per game. Again, defense isn’t the Rams’ biggest issue, but maybe Schwartz is the right guy to get everyone back on the same page? Or will his deep ties to Fisher be a strike against him?

 

Anthony Lynn, offensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills

Formerly the running backs coach, Lynn took over offensive coordinator duties when Greg Roman was fired on Sept. 16. His debut in Week 3 was a successful one (Bills beat Arizona 33-18) and Buffalo currently leads the NFL in rushing offense. Lynn’s rise has gotten the attention of observers around the league, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see his name come up in potential coaching searches. And that could possibly include his current team, given Rex Ryan’s seemingly tenuous status as the Bills are 6-7 and looking like a long shot to end their 17-season playoff drought.

 

Todd Haley, offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers

Haley’s first shot at being a head coach didn’t go well, as he was 19-26 in Kansas City before he was fired with three games left in the 2011 season. But he did lead the Chiefs to 10-6 record and the AFC West title in 2010. And his track record as an offensive coordinator speaks for itself,  as he and Ben Roethlisberger have been a formidable pairing the past five seasons in Pittsburgh. The Rams need a QB guru of sorts if Jared Goff is going to develop into the long-term answer. Maybe Haley is the right guy for the job.

 

One Other Name to Consider...

 

Brian Kelly, head coach, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame’s 2016 season was a disaster to the point that there were reports Kelly’s representatives were looking for a way out of his contract. Despite the poor record this season, Kelly has had success everywhere he has coached and has long been connected to the NFL. Yes, the Chip Kelly experiment didn't go that great in Philadelphia and now San Francisco, but that doesn't mean we have seen the last of college coaches making the jump. In Brian Kelly's case, the timing may be right given how things went in South Bend this season and a pending academic misconduct case levied by the NCAA that the university is now appealing, something he seems to want nothing to do with. And who doesn’t want to see two Kellys coaching in the NFC West? 

Teaser:
5 Replacements for Fired Rams Coach Jeff Fisher
Post date: Monday, December 12, 2016 - 16:30
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Path: /college-football/predictions-every-college-football-2016-2017-bowl-game
Body:

College football’s bowl season kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 17 and continues until the national championship in Tampa, Fla. on Jan. 9. With the bowl lineup set and confidence pools and pick’em contests set to start on Dec. 17, four writers for Athlon Sports share predictions for every bowl.

 

Five games dot the first Saturday of action and eight other matchups are scheduled before Christmas. The bowl slate resumes after Christmas with three games on Dec. 26 and features matchups every day until Jan. 1. The New Year’s Six matchups start on Dec. 30 with the Orange Bowl, followed by three games on Jan. 2.

 

The third College Football Playoff starts on Dec. 31, with Alabama-Washington slated for the Peach Bowl and Clemson-Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Alabama is the favorite to win it all once again, and coach Nick Saban’s team is trying to go back-to-back after claiming a championship victory over Clemson last year. The Crimson Tide’s championship run starts in Atlanta against Washington, and if Saban’s team knocks off Washington, a rematch against Clemson or a date with Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes is on tap in Tampa. 

 

Note: Number in parentheses indicates confidence in prediction. A No. 40 ranking indicates more confidence in the prediction, while a lower number indicates less confidence in a pick.

 

College Football's 2016-17 Bowl Predictions and Picks
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Bryan

Fischer

Jim

Weber

New Mexico  (28)  (35)  (27)  (32)
Las Vegas  (17)  (8)  (16)  (25)
Cure  (1)  (32)  (2)  (10)
Camellia  (9)  (7)  (4)  (2)
New Orleans  (24)  (26)  (1)  (8)
Miami Beach  (37)  (40)  (40)  (39)
Boca Raton  (12)  (20)  (30)  (26)
Poinsettia  (23)  (22)  (26)  (3)

Famous Idaho

Potato

 (36)  (21)  (18)  (12)

Bahamas

 (25)  (6)  (17)  (27)
Armed Forces  (16)  (5)  (3)  (6)
Dollar General  (19)  (4)  (38)  (28)
Hawaii  (27)  (31)  (12) (31)
St. Petersburg  (39)  (38)  (37)   (38)
Quick Lane  (3)  (13)  (22)  (4)
Independence  (4)  (9) (10)  (5)
Heart of Dallas  (26)  (12)  (9)  (22)
Military (34)  (33)  (13)  (23)
Holiday  (33)  (30)  (23)  (24)
Cactus  (38)  (29)  (33)  (14)
Pinstripe  (30)  (27)  (36)  (30)
Russell Athletic  (6)  (14)  (15)  (29)
Foster Farms  (32)  (36)  (32)  (34)
Texas  (11)  (11)  (5)  (13)
Birmingham  (29)  (34)  (34)  (33)
Belk  (22)  (19)  (24)  (18)
Alamo  (15)  (15)  (8)  (19)
Liberty  (2)  (2)  (25)  (21)
Sun  (5)  (10)  (35)  (15)
Arizona  (40)  (25)  (39)  (37)
Music City  (31)  (23)  (21)  (20)
Citrus  (13)  (24)  (7)  (9)
TaxSlayer  (8)  (18)  (11)  (11)
Outback  (7)  (1)  (28)  (7)
Orange  (21)  (17)  (14)  (16)
Cotton  (18)  (37)  (20)  (17)
Rose  (20)  (28) (31)  (36)
Sugar  (10)  (3)  (6)  (35)
Peach  (35)  (39)  (29)  (40)
Fiesta  (14)  (16)  (19)  (1)
National Title

over

over

over

over

 

Teaser:
Predictions for Every College Football 2016-2017 Bowl Game
Post date: Monday, December 12, 2016 - 13:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-watchability-pac-12s-bowl-games-2016
Body:

After setting a record for bowl participants with a remarkable 10 last season, the Pac-12 has just six headed to the 2016 postseason. That's less an indictment on the conference's strength, and rather an indicator of a more top-heavy look in the past campaign.

 

Related: Ranking All 40 College Football Bowls for 2016 From Must-See to Must-Miss

 

All six of the Pac-12's bowl participants boast at least eight wins. The league can finish with as many as four double-digit-win teams, should the bowl games go as planned. Perhaps best for the Pac-12: After a one-year layoff, the conference once more has representation in the College Football Playoff.

 

Champion Stanford barely missed the cut in 2015, a year removed from Oregon reaching the inaugural tournament's title round. This season's Pac-12 champ, Washington, enters the field — and that's where we begin our countdown of Pac-12 bowl games.

 

Bowl Watchability Rankings by Power Five Conference: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

 

Note: All times are ET.

 

1. Peach Bowl — Washington (12-1) vs. Alabama (13-0)

Dec. 31 — 3 p.m., ESPN

A 31-point rout of Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game couldn't elevate Washington out of the No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoff standings, which means a cross-country trip and date with dominant Alabama.

 

Crimson Tide games have not qualified as particularly watchable this season — through no fault of Alabama's. Chalk it up to blowout after blowout, as the Tide rolled to a perfect record.

 

With talent on both sides of the ball and a month to game plan, however, Huskies head coach Chris Petersen could give Nick Saban and his team a fight in the national semifinal.

 

Related: 5 Reasons Why Washington Will Win the College Football Playoff

 

2. Rose Bowl — USC (9-3) vs. Penn State (11-2)

Jan. 2 — 5 p.m., ABC

College football offers few traditions quite as grand as The Granddaddy of 'Em All. The 103rd installment of college football's original bowl game emanates once more from one of the sport's most beautiful backdrops, and the action on the field should match the majesty of the San Gabriel Mountains framing the Pasadena stadium.

 

USC and Penn State roll into the 2017 Rose Bowl Game as two of the nation's hottest teams, winners of a combined 17 consecutive games. Among those victories are a pair of wins over playoff participants, Ohio State and Washington.

 

This contest could very well steal the show for the entire bowl season — and serve as a preview of next season's playoff.

 

3. Alamo Bowl — Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Colorado (10-3)

Dec. 29 — 9 p.m., ESPN

Two doors are before the Colorado Buffaloes: Behind Door No. 1 are the 2004 Cal Golden Bears. Arguably the second-best team in the nation throughout that regular season, a Rose Bowl snub left them dejected. The result was a listless loss in the Holiday Bowl.

 

Behind Door No. 2 are the 2006 Cal Golden Bears. That season after missing out on a BCS bowl berth, Cal went into the Holiday Bowl with designs on proving the BCS process wrong, and in turn, blew out Texas A&M.

 

Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre stated a logical case for his Cinderella Buffs to play in the Rose Bowl, but for The Rise to continue, it must do so at the Alamo. The Pac-12 Championship Game loser has never won its bowl game, and Colorado seeks to reverse that trend in a Big 12 reunion.

 

Oklahoma State's up-tempo offense and Colorado's turnover-creating defense should make for an intriguing chess match.

 

4. Sun Bowl — Stanford (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4)

Dec. 30 — 2 p.m., CBS

The bowl season may not have a contest pairing two more different teams than this. Stanford reflects the cool demeanor of its head coach, David Shaw, with a methodical offensive style and imposing defense. North Carolina takes on the identity of Red Bull-chugging head coach Larry Fedora, evident in an explosive offensive attack.

 

The clash in styles should make for a fun one in El Paso. A Stanford win gives the Cardinal its sixth 10-plus-win season in seven tries. The Sun Bowl also marks the farewell of standout running back Christian McCaffrey.

 

In last year's bowl game, McCaffrey electrified those in attendance at the Rose Bowl with one of the best individual performances in the Granddaddy's illustrious history. Don't be surprised to see similar fireworks in the Sun Bowl.

 

5. Holiday Bowl — Minnesota (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)

Dec. 27 — 7 p.m., ESPN

The Holiday Bowl offers another stark contrast in styles, this time with Minnesota bringing a run-oriented, defensive-minded approach to San Diego to pair opposite Washington State's pass-happy, air-raid assault. Minnesota arrives in the Holiday Bowl as a classic overachiever, exceeding most expectations in Tracy Claeys' first full season as head coach.

 

Washington State perhaps underachieved, given just a few weeks ago, the Cougars had a clear road map for the Rose Bowl laid out, but losses to Colorado and Washington derailed them. With book-ending regular-season losses against Eastern Washington and Boise State to start the year, 2016 was quite a roller coaster for Mike Leach's bunch.

 

The Golden Gophers rank No. 32 nationally in scoring defense. Washington State's No. 14-ranked scoring offense promises to test that.

 

6. Foster Farms Bowl — Indiana (6-6) vs. Utah (8-4)

Dec. 28 — 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX

Bowl games featuring programs with interim head coaches is nothing new. Indiana's situation ahead of the Foster Farms Bowl is unusual in that Tom Allen is no interim, but his ascent to permanent Hoosiers head coach came unexpectedly last week when Kevin Wilson was fired.

 

That's in sharp contrast to Utah. Kyle Whittingham is one of the most well-tenured head coaches in the game, 2016 marking his 12th campaign at the helm with the Utes. In that time, Utah's won 8-of-9 bowl games, including three straight. As for Indiana, 2016 marks the first time in a quarter-century the Hoosiers have gone bowling in consecutive years.

 

With a win in the Bay Area, Utah will reach the nine-win threshold for the third time in as many years. The Utes may have missed on their opportunity at a Pac-12 championship with season-ending losses to Oregon and Colorado, but adding another bowl victory would provide a more fitting finale.

 

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

Teaser:
Ranking the Watchability of the Pac-12's Bowl Games in 2016
Post date: Monday, December 12, 2016 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/15-best-acc-college-football-games-2016
Body:

It was in many ways a banner season for the ACC, which saw Clemson take the conference title and make the College Football Playoff for the second season in a row. And not only did Louisville’s Lamar Jackson win the Heisman Trophy, but the Tigers’ Deshaun Watson finished second in the voting while taking home the Davey O’Brien Award.

 

But what about that regular season that led to 11 of 14 teams going bowling? Well, that one produced a number of thrillers, all-time classics and memorable upsets. From start to finish the ACC was one of the more fun leagues to watch if you were a college football fan and loaded with games that could best be described as gems.

 

Related: 15 Best Big Ten College Football Games of 2016

 

It’s hard to narrow things down of course, but here are the best 10 ACC games of the 2016 regular season and the five best non-conference contests involving an ACC school.

 

2016's Best Games: Top 25ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

 

10 Best ACC Games of 2016 Regular Season

 

10. Georgia Tech 38, Duke 35 – Oct. 29

There probably weren’t a ton of non-ACC fans that tuned into this one given the two teams involved, but they missed a doozy if so. Things looked like they were going to be a runaway for Georgia Tech early on as the Yellow Jackets jumped out to a 28-7 lead at halftime and showed no signs of slowing down. Things mostly went Duke’s way after halftime though, as the Blue Devils rallied with a 28-3 run and an improbable lead in the fourth quarter. Justin Thomas played a big role in a late scoring drive that started near his own end zone and was responsible for a whopping 459 yards of offense and four touchdowns in the eventual win. A clock-eating drive to close things out was just the cherry on top.

 

9. Louisville 63, Florida State 20 – Sept. 17

We’re pretty sure this game has already been forgotten about by Florida State fans while it probably did more than any other to propel Lamar Jackson to the Heisman Trophy. The shellacking between top 10 teams at the time all but ended the Seminoles’ hopes of making the College Football Playoff after becoming a trendy preseason pick. Jackson scored five times and put up nearly 400 yards of total offense despite not playing most of the second half. The Cardinals completely dominated this one from start to finish and made the Muhammad Ali tribute that occurred at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium that much more special with one of the biggest wins in school history.

 

8. Clemson 24, NC State 17 (OT) – Oct. 15

It seemed like most of the country was watching this game as the clocked ticked down and a massive win became a bag of hot potato between both teams. Clemson turned the ball over four times, including a Deshaun Watson pick-six, to breathe life into the Wolfpack’s underdog status. Matthew Dayes was the star of the show offensively for NC State, while quarterback Ryan Finley was picked off for the first time all season. The Wolfpack offense set up Kyle Bambard for a game winner from 33 yards out, but the kicker pushed it to the right to send the game to overtime. Deshaun Watson found the end zone in the extra frame while Finley was picked off to end the upset threat in Death Valley in a bit of a low-scoring classic.

 

7. North Carolina 37, Florida State 35 – Oct. 1

The Tar Heels jumped out to a three-touchdown lead in the first half behind the arm of quarterback Mitch Trubisky (in a 405-yard, three-TD effort) but a stunned Doak Walker Stadium stuck around for a thrilling second half that was as crazy as they come. Dalvin Cook played a big role in that by rushing for more than 100 yards and three scores while hauling in six passes to top the century mark through the air as well. Deondre Francois had a masterful touchdown run to cap a furious FSU rally and it looked like the team was going to hold on for a win after UNC kicker Nick Weiler had an extra point blocked the drive before. The Tar Heels got the ball back with 23 seconds left though and needed just three plays (and a pass interference penalty) to get into range for Weiler to drill a 54-yarder that pulled off the upset.

 

6. Clemson 37, Florida State 34 – Oct. 29

A classic fourth quarter and late rally helped Clemson survive a tough test in Tallahassee to keep its ACC championship dreams alive when all eyes were on the conference heavyweights. Deshaun Watson racked up 430 yards of offense and a pair of touchdown throws, but did toss two costly interceptions that kept the Seminoles in the game. Dalvin Cook scored a career-high four times and did most of his damage in the second half with some monster runs through a tough defense. Deondre Francois nearly came through with a late fourth-quarter rally but penalties doomed the drive and he was sacked on FSU’s final play to end the game.

 

5. Pitt 37, Georgia Tech 34 – Oct. 8

This game probably hit every box on a college football bingo card. Crazy fourth quarter that featured five scores? Check. Game-tying 74-yard touchdown pass to a tight end off a tipped pass with less than four minutes left? Check. Fourth down defensive stand with less than two minutes left? Check. Game-winning field goal that doinked off an upright? Check. Oh, and there’s also this trick play touchdown to a 300-pound offensive lineman:

 

 

4. Pitt 76, Syracuse 61 – Nov. 26

Go ahead and re-read that final score and try to comprehend the fact that it came in an ACC football game, not a basketball one. Yes it was very much a track meet between the two squads in a defense-optional game that saw numerous scoring and yardage records fall. To start with, the two combined to set a new FBS record for points scored in a game with 137, saw Pitt average more than 10 yards a carry, had Syracuse run 102 plays for 644 yards against Pat Narduzzi and amazingly had the Panthers score 76 points but fail to cover the 24-point spread. Oh, and Pitt completed just nine passes for four touchdowns and 251 yards while rushing for four bills. Wild.

 

3. Florida State 20, Miami 19 – Oct. 8

Everybody knows about the history these two have when it comes to late game situations and kickers. Well sliding up behind “Wide Right I-III” and “Wide Left,” came the “Block at the Rock.” Both teams entered this one ranked and there was plenty of talk that Miami was on the verge of a breakthrough under new head coach Mark Richt after not trailing all year. This one had plenty of hard-hitting defense — to the point where Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya lost a tooth on a play. FSU signal-caller Deandre Francois was knocked out of the game for a stretch, but battled back to help lead a comeback. Dalvin Cook was once again one of the best players on the field and there were a number of fantastic catches in this one. Miami thought it had tied things up in the final two minutes when Kaaya hit Stacy Coley just inside the end zone but Seminoles DE DeMarcus Walker had other ideas, bursting through the line to block Michael Badgley’s PAT and help seal a huge in-state win over their rivals.

 

2. Pitt 43, Clemson 42 – Nov. 12

The Tigers were playing with fire at home for most of 2016 and suffered their first home loss in 21 games at the hands of a Pitt team that made every clutch play down the stretch. Tailback James Conner ran for 132 yards and two scores, including a late touchdown that brought the Panthers within striking distance. That’s when the defense stuffed Clemson on fourth down from midfield to give themselves a chance with less than a minute on the clock. Chris Blewitt eventually knocked home the game-winner from 48 yards out to spoil a perfect season and force a shakeup in the playoff rankings at the time. Not everything was bad for Dabo Swinney’s squad however, as the loss seemed to wake the team up on its run to an eventual conference title and return trip to the playoff.

 

1. Clemson 42, Louisville 36 – Oct. 1

This game had a little bit of everything and played a major role in shaping the ACC title race, determining the playoff rankings and sorting out many of the major postseason awards this year. Clemson needed everything it could muster in a raucous environment at Death Valley to come up with a fourth-down, red-zone stop to keep its championship aspirations alive. Deshaun Watson scored five times, including twice in the final seven minutes, to balance out a few turnovers and a furious second half rally from Lamar Jackson that came up a yard short. This set the tone for the conference’s great season and had so many incredible swings of momentum.

 

5 Best ACC Non-Conference Games of 2016

 

1. Pitt 42, Penn State 39 – Sept. 10

Who knew back in September that this game would carry significant postseason weight when it came to the College Football Playoff? Pitt jumped out to a three-touchdown lead in the second quarter but needed to hold on late to prevent a furious rally from its in-state rivals. Running back James Conner ran for 117 yards and scored twice for one of the feel-good stories of the year following his return from cancer treatment, and the Panthers’ defense came up with a crucial interception seal the victory over the eventual Big Ten champions on a day where Pitt honored its 1976 national championship. To add to things, PSU’s Saquon Barkley scored five touchdowns on the day and helped make this contest one everybody discussed later in the year.

 

2. Florida State 45, Ole Miss 34 – Sept. 10

Everybody had circled this Labor Day matchup between top-15 teams as a potential launching point toward the College Football Playoff. Things didn’t end up working out that way for either squad but this game did bring a ton of thrilling moments in a classic out of Orlando. Deondre Francois struggled initially in his first start but came up big after halftime, as FSU ran off 33 straight points to complete the biggest comeback in school history. Ricky Aguayo also showed he could replace his big brother just down the road with a school-record six field goals. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly was the definition of hot and cold with four touchdowns on more than 300 yards passing but also was responsible for a costly four turnovers.

 

3. Clemson 19, Auburn 13 – Sept. 3

This meeting of the Tigers turned out to be one of the bigger matchups this season despite things not looking that way at the time. Clemson entered as the No. 2 team in the country with visions of rolling over their Southern rivals with ease. Things didn’t turn out as such as both defenses looked like world-beaters in a game where it was simply hard to move the football. Dabo Swinney curiously opted to go for it on fourth down late in the game but Wayne Gallman was stopped short and gave Auburn life. The home team couldn’t come up with the victory in the end but it made for a great opener for both squads.

 

4. Kentucky 41, Louisville 38 – Nov. 26

This game certainly cost Louisville a berth in the Orange Bowl, a top-10 ranking at the end of the regular season, and created a little bit of suspense when it came to the Heisman Trophy outcome. Lamar Jackson did dazzle once again against his in-state rivals but coughed the ball up three times through the air and once more on the ground — a fumble that later set up a game-winning, 47-yard field goal from Kentucky with 12 seconds left to put an exclamation point on Mark Stoops’ rebuilding job down the road in Lexington.

 

5. Tennessee 45, Virginia Tech 24 – Sept. 10

Ok, this game doesn’t make the list because it was some fantastic, close back-and-forth game. No, it makes the list because of a novelty factor: a record 156,990 people watched a college football game together from Bristol Motor Speedway. It was naturally the most in FBS history and would have been much more fun had the Hokies not turned the ball over so much. Virginia Tech did have a good start in jumping out to a first quarter lead but Tennessee ran off 31 straight to all but put the victory away.

 

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

Teaser:
15 Best ACC College Football Games of 2016
Post date: Monday, December 12, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/oklahoma-sooners-2016-team-awards
Body:

For all intents and purposes, Oklahoma’s dreams of another College Football Playoff bid died before the Sooners even made it out of September. Losses to Houston and Ohio State in non-conference play left the team essentially playing for a Big 12 championship and nothing more.

 

Nine straight wins later, the Sooners had captured Bob Stoops’ 10th conference title in 18 seasons in Norman. They did it by relying on one of the best offenses in the nation to overcome one of the worst defenses the program has fielded under Stoops.

 

Offensive MVP: Dede Westbrook, WR

With apologies to quarterback Baker Mayfield, Westbrook made the Oklahoma offense go. Once he got healthy after a rough September, Big 12 defenses couldn’t cover him. He might not have had the greatest single season for a receiver in school history, but it would be tough to top the nine-game stretch he put together to close the year.

 

Defensive MVP: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB

By virtue of his consistency, Obo edges out leading tackler Jordan Evans for this honor. The Sooners’ best edge rusher tallied nine sacks on the season, but he was an equally effective run-stopper from his position as outside linebacker.

 

Best Freshman: Jordan Parker, CB

Injuries and uneven play from OU’s upperclassmen in the secondary forced Parker into action ahead of schedule. His rookie season wasn’t without its ugly moments. As he gained experience, however, he turned into a relatively reliable cover man. Even with some competitors for his spot coming back, Parker will presumably begin spring ball as a starter.

 

Best Newcomer: Ben Powers, OL

Redshirt freshman Cody Ford showed promise at guard before a broken leg ended his season. When Powers, a junior college transfer, jumped into the lineup in Ford’s spot, the offense didn’t really miss a beat. In fact, Powers played well enough this season to merit all-conference consideration. He’ll join Ford and a number of returnees on what will be one of the best offensive lines in the country in 2017.

 

Best Play of the Season: Joe Mixon’s One-Handed Catch vs. Texas Tech

Mixon made his fair share of electric plays this season, but none could top his breathtaking one-handed catch and run for a touchdown in OU’s midseason shootout against the Red Raiders.

 

Best Performance (Player): Samaje Perine vs. Texas

You could have just as easily recognized Dede Westbrook’s play against the Longhorns for this award. Yet, OU had to have every single one of Perine’s 214 rushing yards and 35 carries to prevent another upset in the Red River Rivalry. Over the course of two straight drives in the second half, he carried the ball 17 times as the Sooners salted away the win.

 

Best Game (Team): Oklahoma 56, Kansas 3

It may seem cheap to pick a game against a perennial doormat such as KU here, but this was the closest thing to a complete performance that OU gave all season. Notably, the defense held the Jayhawks to just 170 yards of total offense, an average of a measly 2.6 yards per play. The Sooners fired on all cylinders in this game.

 

Defining Moment: End of First Half vs. Oklahoma State

As the first half of the 2016 Bedlam game drew to a close, the Sooners looked stunned. Westbrook was out with a concussion, and the Cowboys had just marched 50 yards in eight plays to take a 17-10 lead. The ensuing five-play, 76-yard drive, led by Mayfield, featured a 42-yard bomb to Jeffrey Mead. Mayfield tossed a 10-yard scoring strike to Geno Lewis to tie the game up with less than a minute left in the second quarter. OU never trailed again.

 

Biggest Surprise: Erick Wren, C

Word spread during fall camp that the walk-on Wren was pushing incumbent Jonathan Alvarez at center. Alvarez eventually gave way to the challenger. Wren received a well-earned scholarship weeks later.

 

Biggest Disappointment: Secondary

The defensive group that was supposed to be one of the squad’s biggest strengths was anything but. The success of Houston had in throwing the ball all over the field in the season opener made it look as though the defensive backs were completely outmatched by the Cougars’ receivers. Even after shuffling some personnel, the play of OU’s secondary still left plenty to be desired.

 

Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Dede Westbrook, WR

Easy call. The Biletnikoff Award winner’s 74 receptions accounted for 30 percent of OU’s catches in the regular season and nearly 40 percent of the team’s receiving yards. Good luck finding someone to replace that next season.

 

Player to Watch in 2017: Caleb Kelly, OLB

Kelly, a five-star recruit out of California in 2016, became a fixture of the defense at strong-side linebacker late in the season. He has the kind of all-around skills required of the players at that position in OU’s scheme, including proficiency in coverage and the ability to put heat on opposing QBs.

 

Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Inside Linebacker

Jordan Evans is graduating. Concussions forced one-time starter Tay Evans into retirement. Fill-in Emmanuel Beal struggled to stand his ground in run defense. OU simply doesn’t have much depth at ILB. Maybe the coaches could come up with a position change to bring a potential contributor into the fold.

 

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.

Teaser:
Oklahoma Sooners 2016 Team Awards
Post date: Monday, December 12, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/virginia-tech-hokies-2016-team-awards
Body:

Despite losing to Clemson 42-35 in the ACC Championship Game, 2016 was a very successful year for Virginia Tech. Forget the 9-4 record, which in and of itself is pretty good. New head coach Justin Fuente came in and changed the culture of the program while still embracing the past. Doing those two things in concert was not easy and should be celebrated.

 

Offensive MVP: Jerod Evans, QB

Changing the culture at Virginia Tech really meant changing the offense and that started when Fuente convinced Evans to come to Blacksburg. A perfect fit in the new Hokie system, the junior college transfer from Dallas threw for 3,303 yards and 27 touchdowns while running for 759 yards and 10 more scores. As a result, a Virginia Tech team that ranked 74th in total offense in 2015 stands at No. 42 going into the bowl games.

 

Defensive MVP: Tremaine Edmunds, LB

Woody Baron had a big year at defensive tackle, leading the team with 17.5 tackles for lost yardage. But from beginning to end, Edmunds made plays. He finished second on the team in tackles with 99 and his 17 tackles for lost yardage were right behind Baron. He also tied with Baron for second with 4.5 sacks and had a big game against Clemson on Saturday with 12 total tackles. Only a sophomore, his days of terrorizing ACC opponents are just beginning.

 

Best Freshman: Trevon Hill, DE

The redshirt freshman from Virginia Beach got into the rotation on the defensive line and made an impact. He had 33 tackles, with five of those resulting in 18 lost yards. He also had a sack and a half. With Ken Ekanem out of eligibility after the Belk Bowl, Hill’s role will expand next season.

 

Best Play of the Season: Woody Baron Fumble Recovery Against North Carolina

After North Carolina got the ball to start the second half down 13-3, Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky fumbled and Baron picked up the ball and ran to the UNC 22-yard line. On the next play, Evans hit Sam Rogers for a score and a 17-point lead. The win over North Carolina was the biggest Coastal Division victory of the year and Baron’s fumble recovery put the game away.

 

Best Performance By a Player in 2016: Woody Baron vs. Miami

The Hurricanes are thrilled that they will never have to face Baron again. The senior from Nashville dominated the line of scrimmage that Thursday night, totaling four and a half tackles for lost yardage and two and a half sacks. Several other Tech defenders had big numbers that night and much of that was result of Baron’s constant pressure.

 

Best Game (Team Performance): 34-3 Win at North Carolina

Played in the midst of Hurricane Matthew, it was not a pretty game. Statistically, Jerod Evans had his poorest passing performance of the year. But Virginia Tech ran the ball well enough and the defense forced four turnovers to give the Hokies their most important victory of the season.

 

Defining Moment: Fighting Clemson to the Bitter End

This Virginia Tech team had some dud performances. The Syracuse game following the win in Chapel Hill was a stinker. So was the Georgia Tech loss and the start of the Notre Dame game. But the Hokies never stopped battling. They rallied to win at Notre Dame and for a while it looked like they would do the same against Clemson. Down 21 points late in the third quarter, the Hokies could have packed it in. But led by its determined quarterback, Virginia Tech had the ball deep in Clemson territory at the end with a chance to tie it up. That comeback – and the one in South Bend – showed the character of this team.

 

Biggest Surprise: Vinny Mihota, DE

The success of Virginia Tech has been based on everyone improving what they did last year. No one has come from completely out of nowhere, but Mihota made a significant jump as a redshirt sophomore. In 2015, the Fredericksburg, Va., product had just 12 tackles. But this fall, Mihota started all 13 games, had 43 tackles, seven for lost yardage, and two sacks. Despite problems with both shoulders, he deflected a couple of Deshaun Watson passes in key spots in the ACC title game.

 

Biggest Disappointment: Ball Security

When Virginia Tech struggled, giveaways were a big factor. Five fumbles led to a loss in the “Battle at Bristol” to Tennessee after jumping out to an early 14-0 lead. The Hokies lost the turnover battle to Syracuse. And they were minus-three in turnover margin in the Georgia Tech game. Even against Clemson, Jerod Evans’ two interceptions were big. The Hokies were adapting to a completely new offense this season, but without the turnovers Justin Fuente’s team would likely be an in even better bowl situation.

 

Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Ken Ekanem, DE

There is no question that Virginia Tech will have trouble replacing defensive tackle Woody Baron inside, but the pass rush provided by Ekanem will be tough to replicate. A seasoned veteran, Ekanem knew the intricacies of the defensive end position and was someone that could get after the quarterback. Trevon Hill should improve and slide into a starting role at this position. But for a team that was average at rushing the passer, losing your top sack specialist is not ideal.

 

Player to Watch in 2017: Tim Settle, DT

A highly coveted prospect out of Manassas, Va., Settle contributed to the Hokies this season after redshirting in 2015. With Woody Baron moving on, Settle will be counted on as a major contributor along the defensive line next fall. In his third year in Bud Foster’s system, Settle should be ready to emerge as a consistent force in 2017.

 

Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Running Game

The Hokies did average 185 rushing yards per game on the ground, but quarterback Jerod Evans was responsible for a big chunk of that yardage. Travon McMillian, after rushing for 1,043 yards in 2015, slipped to just 637 yards. With Virginia Tech having to replace multiple-year starters Augie Conte and Jonathan McLaughlin along the offensive line, a clear priority this offseason is finding ways to get more production out of the running backs in 2017.

 

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.

 

(Photos courtesy of www.hokiesports.com)

Teaser:
Virginia Tech Hokies 2016 Team Awards
Post date: Monday, December 12, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/sec-2016-season-awards-and-all-conference-team
Body:

The 2016 season was an interesting year for the SEC. Alabama enters the College Football Playoff as the No. 1 overall team but every team in the SEC outside of the Crimson Tide had at least four losses.

 

While the 2016 campaign was largely a down year for most of the SEC, the league’s 14 teams still produced plenty of talent. Alabama led the way on Athlon Sports’ All-SEC team with 17 overall selections, with LSU and Florida tied for second with nine. Auburn was third with eight picks, while Texas A&M was next with six selections.

 

With the regular season completed and bowl season starting on Dec. 17, it’s time to recap and look back at the 2016 campaign. Athlon Sports offers its awards and honors the best players in the league with the first, second and third all-conference teams for the SEC:

 

SEC 2016 Season Awards

 

Offensive Player of the Year: Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

Dobbs led all players in conference action this year, averaging 316.9 total yards per game in SEC contests. 

Runner Up: Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama

 

Defensive Player of the Year: Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama

Allen led the way in the trenches for Alabama's dominant defense this season. In addition to anchoring the top run defense in the nation, Allen accumulated 13 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks in 13 contests.

Runner Up: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

 

Coach of the Year: Nick Saban, Alabama

Another year, another dominant Alabama team. While winning at a high level is nothing new for Saban, he's done it in 2016 with a true freshman quarterback (Jalen Hurts) and enters the playoff as the clear favorite to win it all.

Runner Up: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

 

Freshman of the Year (Offense): Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama

A strong case could be made for Hurts as first-team All-SEC quarterback. The true freshman started 12 games for the Crimson Tide and averaged 264.1 total yards per contest.

Runner Up: Jonah Williams, OL, Alabama

 

Freshman of the Year (Defense): Leo Lewis, LB, Mississippi State

Lewis started all 12 games and was a key cog in Mississippi State's defense. The redshirt freshman ranked second on the team with 72 tackles (4.5 for a loss) and also recorded one pass breakup.

Runner Up: Marlon Davidson, DL, Auburn

 

Offensive Coordinator of the Year: Lane Kiffin, Alabama

Since arriving in Tuscaloosa, Kiffin has successfully blended the up-tempo and spread looks with Alabama's physical ground game. Despite the loss of running back Derrick Henry and a true freshman (Jalen Hurts) under center, the Crimson Tide averaged 39.8 points a game in SEC contests this year - up from 31.2 in 2015.

Runner Up: Eddie Gran, Kentucky

 

Defensive Coordinator of the Year: Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama

Pruitt returned to Tuscaloosa after Kirby Smart left for Georgia and helped Nick Saban mold the nation's best defense. The Crimson Tide allowed only 11.8 points per game and just 3.94 yards per play.

Runner Up: Dave Aranda, LSU

 

Newcomer of the Year: Trevor Knight, QB, Texas A&M

In addition to his on-field production, Knight was a stabilizing force and a leader for an offense that ended 2015 with uncertainty about its quarterback position after two players left College Station. In 10 games, Knight accounted for 2,716 total yards and 26 touchdowns.

Runner Up: Darius James, OL, Auburn

 

Breakout Player: Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn

A late-season injury slowed Pettway in November, but the sophomore still finished with 1,123 yards and seven touchdowns.

Runner Up: Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State

 

SEC 2016 Postseason All-Conference Team
 

First-Team

Offense

Second-Team

Offense

Third-Team

Offense

QB

Joshua Dobbs

Tennessee 

Jalen Hurts

Alabama 

Chad Kelly

Ole Miss 

RB

Rawleigh Williams

Arkansas 

Ralph Webb

Vanderbilt 

Leonard Fournette

LSU 

RB

Kamryn Pettway

Auburn 

Derrius Guice

LSU 

Boom Williams

Kentucky 

AP

Christian Kirk

Texas A&M 

Alvin Kamara

Tennessee 

Calvin Ridley (WR)

Alabama  

WR

Josh Reynolds

Texas A&M 

Fred Ross

Miss. State 

Antonio Callaway

Florida 

WR

ArDarius Stewart

Alabama 

J'Mon Moore

Missouri 

Josh Malone

Tennessee 

TE

Evan Engram

Ole Miss 

O.J. Howard

Alabama 

Jeremy Sprinkle

Arkansas 

C

Frank Ragnow

Arkansas 

Bradley Bozeman 

Alabama 

Martez Ivey (OL)

Florida 

OL

Cam Robinson

Alabama 

Josh Boutte

LSU 

Will Clapp

LSU 

OL

Ethan Pocic (C)

LSU 

Jon Toth (C)

Kentucky 

Paul Adams

Missouri 

OL

Braden Smith

Auburn 

Justin Senior

Miss. State 

Alex Kozan

Auburn 

OL

Jonah Williams

Alabama 

Robert Leff

Auburn 

Will Holden

Vanderbilt 

       
 

First-Team

Defense

Second-Team

Defense

Third-Team

Defense

DL

Derek Barnett

Tennessee 

Charles Harris

Missouri 

Dalvin Tomlinson

Alabama 

DL

Myles Garrett

Texas A&M 

Caleb Brantley

Florida  

Darius English

South Carolina 

DL

Jonathan Allen

Alabama 

Carl Lawson

Auburn 

Trent Thompson

Georgia 

DL

Arden Key

LSU 

Montravius Adams

Auburn  

Marquis Haynes

Ole Miss 

LB

Zach Cunningham

Vanderbilt 

Ryan Anderson

Alabama 

Shaan Washington

Texas A&M 

LB

Tim Williams

Alabama 

Kendell Beckwith

LSU 

Jordan Jones

Kentucky 

LB

Reuben Foster

Alabama 

Jarrad Davis

Florida 

Roquan Smith

Georgia 

CB

Tre'Davious White

LSU 

Quincy Wilson

Florida 

Carlton Davis

Auburn 

CB

Jalen Tabor

Florida 

Aarion Penton

Missouri 

Marlon Humphrey

Alabama 

S

Minkah Fitzpatrick 

Alabama 

Justin Evans

Texas A&M 

Eddie Jackson

Alabama 

S

Jamal Adams

LSU 

Marcus Maye

Florida 

Mike Edwards

Kentucky 

       
 

First-Team

Specialists

Second-Team

Specialists

Third-Team

Specialists

K

Daniel Carlson

Auburn 

Eddy Pineiro

Florida 

Gary Wunderlich

Ole Miss 

P

JK Scott

Alabama 

Johnny Townsend

Florida 

Toby Baker

Arkansas 

KR

Darrius Sims

Vanderbilt 

Evan Berry

Tennessee 

Carlos Davis

Ole Miss 

PR

Christian Kirk

Texas A&M 

Eddie Jackson

Alabama 

Isaiah McKenzie

Georgia 

 

Teaser:
SEC 2016 Season Awards and All-Conference Team
Post date: Monday, December 12, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-mountaineers-2016-team-awards
Body:

This season garnered the best record West Virginia has had since joining the Big 12 in 2012. At 10-2 the Mountaineers finished third in the Big 12 and No. 16 in the final regular season College Football Playoff rankings. A victory over Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 28 would give WVU its first 11-win season since 2007.

 

While the Mountaineers’ offense had multiple playmakers such as Skyler Howard, Shelton Gibson and Justin Crawford it was the defense that stole the show this season. Tony Gibson’s unit has allowed 23.4 points per game thus far while shutting down some of the most potent passing attacks in the nation.

 

Offensive MVP: Skyler Howard, QB

Howard will leave Morgantown third all-time in Mountaineer history in passing yards. His improvements over last season were obvious, as he led the WVU to its first 10-win season since 2011. Howard completed 60.8 percent of his passes with 26 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He also will finish the season ranked second in program with 60 touchdown passes.

 

Defensive MVP: Rasul Douglas, DB

After playing sparingly in 2015, Douglas quickly made a name for himself this season. The junior college transfer is fourth on the team in tackles and is tied for the FBS lead with eight interceptions. Douglas’ performance earned him first-team All-Big 12 honors.

 

Best Freshman: Kennedy McKoy, RB

The true freshman came out of nowhere when injuries started to mount for WVU. McKoy currently has 466 rushing yards on 72 attempts along with 59 receiving yards. Against Texas Tech, McKoy ran for 99 yards on just four carries (24.8 ypc).

 

Best Newcomer: Justin Crawford, RB

The former junior college offensive player of the year started the season behind Rushel Shell on the depth chart. However it wasn’t long before Crawford became a regular in the Mountaineers’ backfield, posting 1,168 rushing yards averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Most of those yards have come in the last three games in which he has totaled 665 on 65 carries. Currently fourth in the Big 12 in rushing, Crawford was named the conference’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year.

 

Best Play of the Season: Daikiel Shorts’ TD Catch on Fourth Down vs. Baylor

Down 14-3 late in the first half, the Mountaineers went for it on 4th-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Shorts was able to secure the ball and toe tap in the back of the end zone to give West Virginia its first touchdown of the game and some momentum heading into halftime.

 

 

Best Performance: Justin Crawford vs. Oklahoma

In a game where not much went right for the Mountaineers, Crawford put up a performance that is only bested by Tavon Austin’s effort against the Sooners in 2012. Crawford ended the night with 331rushing yards on just 24 carries (13.8 ypc).

 

Best Game: West Virginia 24, Texas 20

Playing in Austin where the Mountaineers had lost by 17 points two years earlier, WVU had to scratch for every yard offensively. The Longhorns outperformed the Mountaineers in every offensive aspect from a statistical standpoint, but the WVU defense held strong in the final minutes to secure the 24-20 victory. It was the Mountaineers’ second straight over Texas.

 

Defining Moment: Maurice Fleming’s Late Interception vs. BYU

With the Mountaineers clinging to a three-point lead late in the game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., BYU was moving the ball down the field. The Cougars were close to being in field goal range when Fleming intercepted Taysom Hill near the goal line with 1:09 to seal the 35-32 victory.

 

Biggest Surprise: Justin Arndt, LB

Arndt is one of those “feel good” stories you love to read about. Originally a walk-on, he earned a scholarship his senior season. From there the undersized linebacker became a team captain and is leading the team in tackles with 80 entering the bowl game.

 

Biggest Disappointment: Rushel Shell, RB

There were high hopes for Shell entering his senior season after he considered leaving early for the NFL. Shell was expected to replace departed Big 12 rushing champion Wendell Smallwood, but nagging injuries have limited Shell to just nine games. He is currently second on the team in both rushing yards (514) and touchdowns (five).

 

Senior That Will be Missed the Most Next Season: Tyler Orlosky, OL

Orlosky was the anchor of a Mountaineers’ offensive line that was considered by many to be the best in the Big 12 and one of the top groups in the nation. Orlosky was named first-team All-Big 12 by the coaches.

 

Player to Watch in 2017: Will Grier, QB

There has been a buzz around Grier since transferring from Florida in the offseason. He will replace Skyler Howard, a two-year starter. In 2015, Grier went 6-0 as the starter for the Gators before he was suspended one year for violation of NCAA rules. Grier’s suspension was due to him testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

 

Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Defensive Line

The Mountaineers will have to replace their entire defensive line next season. Nose tackle Darrien Howard and defensive ends Noble Nwachukwu and Christian Brown all graduate. While their replacements are already on the team they will be inexperienced. Defense has been one of the strengths of this WVU team, as it ranks among the top three in the Big 12 in total, scoring and rushing defense.

 

— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.

Teaser:
West Virginia Mountaineers 2016 Team Awards
Post date: Monday, December 12, 2016 - 09:30
Path: /nfl/baltimore-ravens-vs-new-england-patriots-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots are very much in the thick of the postseason races. But while Patriots fans are in their usual December “let’s just stay healthy for the playoffs” mode, Ravens fans are already treating every week like a playoff game.

 

New England (10-2) is three games clear in the lost column of Miami in the AFC East. The Dolphins beat Arizona on Sunday, so the Patriots can’t clinch the division with a victory tonight, but it can get one step closer to that goal. A victory also would give the Pats a one-game edge on Kansas City and Oakland in the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs.

 

Baltimore, on the other hand, can’t worry about the postseason yet. The Ravens need a win to tie Pittsburgh at 8-5, although Baltimore has the clear advantage when it comes to divisional record (4-0 vs. 2-1). The Ravens play three of their last four on the road, including a trip to face the Steelers on Christmas Day in a game that could decide the AFC North. In other words, it’s safe to say Baltimore needs a win more than New England.

 

Both teams have been playing well; the Ravens have won four of five since their bye, although all four wins have come at home. Baltimore hasn’t won on the road since Week 2 at Cleveland. The Patriots have won seven of eight since Tom Brady’s return from suspension and are averaging more than 400 yards of offense with him at the helm. Some things just never change.

 

Baltimore at New England

 

Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Patriots -7

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. The evolution of the Patriots’ offense without Gronk

Playing without Rob Gronkowski isn’t an entirely new thing for the Patriots. He missed chunks of the season in both 2012 and ‘13 and hasn’t played in all 16 games since ‘11. Still, Gronkowski represented New England’s biggest deep threat and still led the NFL in yards per catch (21.6) when his season ended two weeks ago because of a back injury. Fellow tight end Martellus Bennett does have three 100-yard games this season, but he has been nicked up himself. And with Gronkowski out last week against the Rams, Bennett caught just two passes for four yards. Rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell was targeted a season-high 10 times and caught eight passes, a trend that could continue. Also expect to see a lot of running backs Dion Lewis and James White. The pair combined for eight catches on 10 targets last week, and LeGarrette Blount usually takes care of the ground game. Against the NFL’s top run defense, Blount may be neutralized.

 

2. Ravens’ offense picking up the pace

Quarterback Joe Flacco has expressed his desire to run more no-huddle, and he may be on to something. Baltimore rarely huddled in the first half last week against Miami, jumping to a 24–0 lead on its way to 496 total yards and a 38-6 win. Despite sitting out the final nine minutes, Flacco racked up a franchise-record 36 completions on 47 attempts for 381 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Could the Ravens’ offense, still ranked just 17th, be turning a corner? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Baltimore has only one other game with as many as 400 yards this season and until last week hadn’t scored more than 28 points in any game. The Patriots very quietly have moved into the top 10 in total defense and are actually tied with Baltimore for the second-fewest points allowed in the league. Huddle or not, the Ravens will have a tough time repeating last week’s success.

 

3. Blount force vs. Baltimore’s run defense

As we mentioned above, this matchup may not get much play between the 20s, because when you have Brady there is no point wasting much time trying to run on the Ravens. But Blount has been a huge factor at the goal line this season, racking up a league-best 13 rushing touchdowns. Baltimore, though, has allowed only four, best in the NFL. If the Ravens can stop Blount in the red zone and hold New England to field goals, they will have a chance to pull the upset.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Ravens have never won in New England during the regular season (0-5) but strangely are 2-1 in the playoffs at Gillette Stadium. As good as their defense is and as good as the offense looked last week, its tough to see that trend changing. This isn’t a great matchup for Baltimore because New England is happy to throw the ball instead of running it into a brick wall all night. The Ravens also thrive on turnovers (nine takeaways in their last four wins), but the Patriots take care of the ball (NFL-low eight turnovers and only four since Brady’s return). Brady hasn’t lost two home starts in the same season since 2012, and he won’t this season either.

 

Prediction: Patriots 20, Ravens 16

Teaser:
Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, December 12, 2016 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/dallas-cowboys-vs-new-york-giants-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

The Cowboys (11-1) have proved all season long they’re for real. Sunday marks a chance for the Giants (8-4) to do the same.

 

Ben McAdoo’s club has clung to its best win, a 20-19 squeaker over the Cowboys in the season opener. Back then, Cowboys rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were making their NFL debut; and a mistake by Terrance Williams prevented a 57-yard field goal try as time expired. The Giants got the Cowboys raw, got a great game by Eli Manning and benefitted from Victor Cruz’s stellar game in his return.

 

Now, the Giants will need that effort all over again... and then some. Dallas hasn’t lost since that opening encounter, an 11-game winning streak that has trampled the competition and established the Cowboys as Super Bowl favorites. Their struggles in the opening game have faded; they’re eager to enact revenge and show how much they’ve grown.

 

The Giants have played well since but one could make the argument they’ve beaten up inferior competition. Only one of their other victories, against the Ravens in Week 6, was against a team with a winning record. Only one of their wins, Week 12 against the Browns, has been by more than seven points.

 

Instead, the Giants have been fighting for victories against teams like the Rams, Bears and Bengals, a trio who won’t be hosting playoff games anytime soon. And while the Giants’ wild-card position seems secure, the schedule after the Cowboys is daunting: the NFC North-leading Lions, facing the Eagles at Lincoln Financial (where they’re 4-1 entering Week 14) and a closing date with the Redskins on the road. A stumbling, 9-7 or 8-8 finish seems just as possible as challenging the Cowboys for the NFC East title.

 

The Giants have been underrated before; just ask the Patriots, twice in games that led to Super Bowl wins. That’s why Sunday night’s premier matchup puts the focus squarely on them. Yes, the Cowboys have much to gain; clinching the overall No. 1 seed with a victory and some help, but the Giants also have just as much to lose.

 

Series History: Cowboys lead series 62-45-2, but Giants have won past two meetings.

 

Dallas at New York

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 11 at 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NBC

Spread: Cowboys -2.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Which Eli Manning will show up?
In the season opener, Manning had his second-best game of the year on paper (tops if you choose not to count the Browns). Three touchdown passes, just one interception and a QB Rating of 110.3 combined with crisp, sharp decision-making that crested with the key hook up with Victor Cruz in the fourth quarter.

 

With 3,097 passing yards this season, Manning is on pace for a third straight year with more than 4,000 yards. His 88.3 QB rating as a whole makes this one of his better seasons but the 35-year-old finds himself prone to total stinkers. His interception in the second quarter of the Steelers game last week shifted momentum and was part of a pitiful performance – just 195 passing yards, two picks and zero traction generated during a forgettable second half.

 

If that Manning shows up the Cowboys beat the Giants by 30. The Manning of old? The one that can play like an MVP at times? That quarterback will keep it close.

 

2. Can the Giants run The ball?
We certainly know the Cowboys can; rookie Ezekiel Elliott leads the league with 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns. But the Giants, despite boasting weapons like Odell Beckham Jr. in the passing game, have fallen flat when they try and stay grounded. They are second to last in the NFL with just 77.5 rushing yards per game and are still looking for their first 100-yard performance. How bad has it been?  Beckham has 1,015 receiving yards. The entire Giants team has combined for 930 yards on the ground.

 

Week 1, however, was an important exception to the rule. Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen combined for 113 rushing yards in Dallas, enough to open up the field as Manning threw for 201, three touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his passes. It’s much easier, of course for a guy like Beckham to beat off the double-team when defenses have to worry about the run. The Giants need a repeat performance, badly to stay competitive Sunday night.

 

3. Will the Cowboys’ superstars break out?
The Cowboys’ Week 1 loss featured awful performances by their key offensive leaders. Elliott rushed for a season-low 51 yards; Dez Bryant caught just one ball. Dak Prescott produced a dismal QB rating of 69.4; the only game in which it was more than 100.

 

You get the picture. The 19 points scored against the Giants were the second-fewest of the season for Dallas. Last week against Minnesota was the first time the Cowboys didn’t score as many as 20 since Week 1. The past three months have found this team nearly unstoppable.

 

Keep that pattern up tonight and they’ll be fine. Revert back to Week 1 behavior? Then we’ve got a problem. It’s notable that Minnesota was able to make Prescott and Elliott look and play like rookies. They fumbled the ball three times collectively; Prescott got sacked three times and produced a career-low 139 passing yards. Turns out he’s human after all.

 

Final Analysis

 

Expect a hard-fought game with a wild card hard to gauge: the weather. Conditions are calling for temperatures in the mid-30s with a band of snow that could accumulate. It’s a December freeze the Cowboys aren’t used to, the type of road game that could throw a wrench into things. But every time there’s a bump in the road, Dak Prescott and company seem to figure out a way to keep the train from running off the tracks.

 

Sunday night, they’ll do it again.

 

Prediction: Cowboys 17, Giants 13

 

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

Teaser:
Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 11, 2016 - 08:45
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Mother Nature should bring plenty of excitement to this Sunday afternoon matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The Seahawks destroyed the Carolina Panthers last Sunday night 40-7 at CenturyLink Field. Offensively, Seattle outgained Carolina 534-271 as the Seahawks ran for 240 yards and threw for 294, creating nearly a perfect balance all night long. However, the win was costly, as safety Earl Thomas is out for the season with a broken tibia.

 

Green Bay has stabilized its season with a couple of wins in a row after beating the Houston Texans 21-13 last Sunday in a snowstorm. The Packers’ performance was not aesthetically pleasing, as the offense really did not get rolling until the fourth quarter. Green Bay needed a 98-yard touchdown drive that covered the back end of the third quarter and part of the fourth to break a 7-7 tie and give the Packers the spark they needed to pull away for the victory. So is Green Bay really  a threat to make a run at the Detroit in the NFC North or is this modest two-game winning streak fool’s gold considering the competition (also beat Philadelphia in Week 12)?

 

Seattle at Green Bay

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 11 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Seahawks -3

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Seahawks’ secondary without Earl Thomas
The next man up mentality for the Legion of Boom will be put to the test, as Steven Terrell will take the place of Earl Thomas in Seahawks’ defensive backfield. Don’t be surprised if Rodgers goes after Terrell early and often to force him to step up and make plays. Terrell, did grade out at 82.6 according to Pro Football Focus for last week’s game against the Panthers. Nevertheless, that was against Cam Newton and a Carolina passing game that will not cause as many headaches as Green Bay’s. If Rodgers can get rolling early and connect with Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams then the Packers will be in great shape for another win over the Seahawks at Lambeau.

 

2. Seahawks running game vs. Packers’ defense
With Green Bay linebacker Nick Perry out this week because of a significant hand injury, it’s going to be important for Seattle to try and establish its running game early. Thomas Rawls is coming off of a big game against Carolina, as he gashed the Panthers for 106 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns, one coming on a 42-yard run. Rawls’ effectiveness against the Panthers allowed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to dig into his bag of plays, including a fly sweep by Tyler Lockett that went for 75 yards and a backbreaking touchdown early in the third quarter that made the score 30-7.

 

3. Seahawks’ pass rush vs. Packers’ offensive line
Over the years, Seattle has done a nice job of getting pressure on Rodgers on a regular basis. It will be fascinating to see how defensive coordinator Kris Richard attacks Rodgers in this game, as the injury situation would dictate an increased focus on blitzing and relying more on the defensive line. Look for Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Frank Clark to get ample pressure on Rodgers and try to get him out of the pocket. Although with Rodgers, that’s not always the best strategy since he’s capable of picking up some yards with his legs as well as throwing on the run. If Avril can come up with one of his textbook strip sack-and-fumble early on then that should give the Seahawks’ defense some much-needed confidence and momentum.

 

Final Analysis

 

With the amount of injuries Green Bay is dealing with on defense, you would think Russell Wilson should have a field day lighting up the Packers, as many teams have done this season. However, the reality is the Seahawks have not won in Lambeau Field since 1999 so there is a bit of a mental hurdle for them to overcome. In addition, life on the road has not been kind to Seattle, who is just 2-3-1 away from CenturyLink Field.  The Packers are the more desperate team in this matchup, and with the home-field advantage should find a way to sneak out with another tough win over the Seahawks and keep their playoff hopes alive.

 

Prediction: Packers 27, Seahawks 24

 

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

Teaser:
Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 11, 2016 - 08:30
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Los Angeles (4-8) will host Atlanta (7-5) on Sunday, in a game the Falcons desperately need to win to improve their postseason chances. The Rams return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum following an unsuccessful two-game road trip that culminated in a 26-10 loss to the Patriots last week. Sentiments of dysfunction have emerged, as Jeff Fisher’s team has now lost three games in a row and seven of its last eight.

 

Los Angeles will look to put an end to its losing ways, attempting to play the role of spoiler against Atlanta, who is tied atop the NFC South with Tampa Bay. While the Rams are no longer a threat to contend for the NFC West crown or a playoff berth, a win over the Falcons would provide some much-needed momentum to close out the season. A victory also could give a restless fan base something to cheer about, while potentially help ease some of the growing tensions within the franchise.

 

The Falcons enter this game at a critical point after last week’s crushing 29-28 loss at home to the Chiefs because of a botched two-point conversion just after Atlanta took a late lead. The loss allowed red-hot Tampa Bay to tie the Falcons record-wise atop the NFC South standings. Atlanta owns the divisional tiebreaker over the Buccaneers, but Tampa Bay is the one with al l of the momentum having won four games in a row. Given Los Angeles’ struggles this season, this is a game the Falcons can ill afford to lose.

 

Atlanta at Los Angeles

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 11 at 4:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: Atlanta -6.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Will the Rams Test a Potentially Short-Handed Atlanta Passing Game?
Despite a season of dominance, the NFL’s No. 3-ranked passing attack (302 ypg) could be in for a test this week against a solid Rams defense that ranks ninth (231 ypg) against the pass. Not only has Los Angeles been solid against the pass, the Rams also may get to reap the benefits of a depleted Falcons arsenal on Sunday.

 

Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu has already been ruled out with a groin injury. Left tackle Jake Matthews is dealing with a sprained knee that could prevent him from protecting Matt Ryan’s blind side. But the biggest concern is the turf toe that Julio Jones, the league’s most productive wideout, is dealing with. While Jones is expected to play, he won’t be at 100 percent, which doesn’t bode well considering he already was due for a challenge matched up against Trumaine Johnson, one of the league’s better cornerbacks.

 

Ryan will still have options to throw to, including budding playmaker Taylor Gabriel, but the circumstances could dictate some adjustments in the game plan, especially depending on Jones’ contributions. Gabriel, in particular, may have to deal with more attention than usual because of Sanu’s absence and Jones being limited. It’s difficult to predict exactly what Atlanta’s passing game might look like on Sunday given the health issues, and you know Los Angeles’ defense won’t make things any easier for Ryan and company.

 

2. The Atlanta Run Game vs. Los Angeles Run Defense
The good news is that even if a depleted Falcons passing attack has issues, Atlanta should able to supplement a good portion of any lost production in that regard with a solid running game. The duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman provides a formidable threat to a leaky Rams run defense that has struggled mightily of late. The Falcons are ninth in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 110 yards per game on the ground and have been even better recently, piling up a total of 244 yards and five touchdowns in the last two games alone.

 

Los Angeles is 21st against the run (114 ypg) on the season, but has been gashed in its last two games. In losses to the Saints and Patriots, the Rams have surrendered 342 rushing yards and three touchdowns. This appears to be a matchup that Atlanta should be able to exploit.

 

3. Is there hope for Jared Goff and Todd Gurley?
The possibility exists for both Goff and Gurley to have one of their better games against a defense that ranks near the bottom (27th) in total yards allowed per game (382 ypg) and dead last against the pass (281 ypg). Goff is coming off of a lousy performance on the road against New England, but the week prior in New Orleans he posted 214 passing yards and three touchdowns against the Saints. Granted, much of that came in garbage time in a 49-21 blowout loss, but it showed that Goff is capable of exploiting a vulnerable pass defense. And no one has been more vulnerable in that respect than the Falcons.

 

A favorable matchup awaits Gurley as well. The No. 10 overall pick of last year’s draft has been a huge disappointment after claiming AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2015. Gurley has yet to run for more than 85 yards in a game and has a total of four touchdowns. However, the opportunity to turn things around, at least for one game, is there against a middle-of-the-road Atlanta run defense. The Falcons have been somewhat generous to opposing backs this season, giving up 101 rushing yards per game and 11 touchdowns.

 

Final Analysis

 

Los Angeles should have an opportunity to improve upon its NFL-low 15 points per game average against an Atlanta defense that has allowed 28 points per contest. That being said, I still don’t see a Rams offense that has produced just four touchdowns at home all season being able to outscore the Falcons. With or without Julio Jones, Matt Ryan is talented enough to get the most out of his available targets. And even if the Atlanta’s normally potent passing attack is challenged, the running game is more than capable of making up for any serious deficiencies in that regard. With a healthy Jones, this game would probably not be close, but as it stands, the Falcons really need this win and should have just enough firepower to not only pull it off, but also cover the spread on the road.

 

Prediction: Falcons 27, Rams 20

 

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

Teaser:
Atlanta Falcons vs. Los Angeles Rams Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 11, 2016 - 08:15
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-vs-tampa-bay-buccaneers-preview-and-prediction-2016
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New Orleans enters Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay with its playoff aspirations on life support. The Saints’ offense sputtered, managing just 13 points in last week’s loss at home to Detroit. The Lions also put an end to Drew Brees’ streak of throwing a touchdown pass at home at 60 games, an NFL record. It was the first time he had failed to do so since Oct. 4, 2009.

 

In contrast, the Buccaneers are riding a huge wave of momentum. They have won four straight to tie Atlanta for first place in the NFC South. The Falcons technically remain in first place because they have a better divisional record, and the teams have already split their two meetings.

 

New Orleans lads the all-time series against the Buccaneers, 30-18. For games in Tampa, the Saints hold a 14-7 advantage. New Orleans has won eight of the nine most recent meetings. The Buccaneers have not beaten the Saints in Tampa since 2011.

 

New Orleans at Tampa Bay

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 11 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Saints +2.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Will the Buccaneers be able to run the ball?
Tampa Bay has cobbled together a tepid rushing offense as injuries have resulted in a revolving backfield. Leading rusher Jacquizz Rodgers has totaled 422 yards in seven games. Doug Martin, who has played in just six games because of a hamstring injury, leads the way in carries (17.5 per game) and rushing touchdowns (two). Peyton Barber has played in the most games (11), but has just 50 carries. This lack of stability and production has resulted in the Bucs gaining 90 or fewer yards on the ground in seven of their 12 games. They are in the middle of the pack when it comes to rushing offense (17th) with 104.9 rushing yards per game, but have averaged just 82.4 in their five losses.

 

2. Can the Saints’ secondary keep Mike Evans under wraps?
Evans has clearly been Tampa Bay’s top offensive weapon this season, accounting for nearly twice as many receiving yards (1,058) and touchdowns (10) as the next player on the game, tight end Cameron Brate (528, 6). No other Buccaneer has more than 500 receiving yards or two touchdown catches. Evans recorded at least one score in eight of 12 games, and last week’s was the first in which he finished with fewer than 50 receiving yards (38 vs. San Diego).

 

With Evans really coming into his own in his third season, he’s yet to enjoy much success against New Orleans. In three games versus the Saints he has been limited to eight receptions for 93 yards and just one touchdown.

 

The Saints have been erratic when it comes to defending opposing teams’ passing attacks. They have allowed five wide receivers (Golden Tate, Quinton Patton, Dontrelle Inman, Sterling Shepard and Amari Cooper) to post 100 or more yards, and have gone 2-3 in those games. New Orleans has yielded 300 or more passing yards in six games, but also has limited two of the past three opponents to fewer than 200 yards through the air. Which trend will continue on Sunday? For the Saints it starts with continuing to keep Evans in check.

 

3. Kicker reliability
Roberto Aguayo has given skeptics plenty of reasons to question why Tampa Bay traded away a third- and a fourth-round pick to move up and take the Florida State All-American in the second round (59th overall) of this year’s draft. The rookie has missed seven out of 22 field goal attempts. Two of those misses were from less than 40 yards. He is just three of eight from 40 yards and out and has missed two (out of 26) extra point attempts.

 

For New Orleans, Wil Lutz earned the kicking job as an undrafted rookie out of Georgia State, and he has been a little more successful in his first season. He is 18-of-24 on field goal attempts with four of his misses coming from 50 yards and beyond. He has missed just one of his 40 PATs. However, that one botched attempted was blocked and returned for a game-winning defensive conversion in the Saints’ Week 10 loss at home to Denver.

 

It’s entirely possible that Sunday’s game could be decided on which team’s kicker either rises to the occasion when called on or fails to convert a kick in a key situation.

 

Final Analysis

 

Tampa Bay is neck and neck with Atlanta in the NFC South. Having already split their head-to-head meetings, the next tiebreaker is divisional record. The Falcons currently have a slight lead (3-1 vs. 2-1) on the Buccaneers in that respect because they have played one more divisional game. That’s why this game is so important to Tampa Bay’s postseason plans.

 

As gloomy as things appears for New Orleans, currently two games behind the two leaders, the Saints still have some control over their destiny. After Sunday, these two teams will meet again in New Orleans on Christmas Eve in Week 17. A sweep by the Saints would give them the key head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bucs should the two teams finish the regular season tied.

 

As for this game, Tampa Bay is considered the slight favorite mainly because of home-field advantage. The Bucs are riding a four-game winning streak in which the last three have been decided by an average of six points. New Orleans has been on a roller-coaster ride since Week 4, but hit a nauseating low this past Sunday at home in a 28-13 loss to Detroit. Based on this pattern, the Saints could be due for a rebound, while Tampa bay may final lose a nail-biter.

 

Prediction: Saints 28, Buccaneers 27

 

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

Teaser:
New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 11, 2016 - 08:00
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Week 14 for fantasy owners means one thing: you need to win. Whether it's the playoffs or the last week of the regular season, fantasy owners need to put their best lineup out there.

 

Related: Playoff Schedule Analysis for WR, TE, DST

 

Along those lines, if the starters that have gotten you this far are injured, they aren't part of your best lineup. Be sure to check the inactive report to make sure those you are planning on using are playing if there’s any question about their status.

 

As it relates to quarterbacks and tight ends, Julius Thomas went on IR on Saturday, so his season is done. Be sure to read the latest on the others below, and don’t forget about the running backs and wide receivers (part 1, part 2) before setting your lineup.

 

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

 

Note: All times are ET and games are on Sunday, Dec. 11 unless otherwise noted.

 

Trevor Siemian (foot), QB, Denver Broncos at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m.

Even though he practiced this week, Siemian remains questionable to play. The Broncos, after seeing what Paxton Lynch did in Week 13 (12 completions for 104 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions), are looking to get Siemian back on the field if he can go. In the last three games he has played, Siemian has seven touchdown passes and three interceptions with at least 250 passing yards in each. Siemian is a QB2 if active, and his presence also boosts the fantasy value of his wide receivers.

 

Jordan Reed (shoulder), TE, Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m.

Reed hurt his shoulder in Week 12 and then came back in the game, running on adrenaline, and put up a 10-95-2 stat line on Thanksgiving Day against Dallas. But he missed last week because of the injury, which at one point was believed to be serious. He was able to practice some, but is reportedly still in pain and will be a game-time decision for today’s game. The good news is his owners will know early if he’s active. If he plays, he’s a TE1 even with a tough matchup. While the Eagles don’t allow a ton of yards to opposing tight ends, they have allowed four touchdowns since their Week 4 bye.

 

Eric Ebron (knee), TE, Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears, 1 p.m.

After putting in limited practices all week, Ebron is on track to play on Sunday. He came back from his zero-target Week 12 game with four receptions for 38 yards last week. The last time Ebron faced the Bears (Week 3) he had four receptions for 42 yards. Chicago has allowed a touchdown to an opposing tight end three times over the past four games. Ebron is a low TE1 for Week 14.

 

Martellus Bennett (ankle, shoulder), TE, New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens, 8:30 p.m. (Mon.)

The injuries have been hampering Bennett, as he hasn't truly stepped up since Rob Gronkowski was lost for the season. In the past three games, Bennett hasn't had more than three receptions or 22 yards. Each week it seems like this could be the week for his production to increase, but it just hasn’t happened. The Ravens have only allowed two opposing tight ends to score a touchdown. Tyler Eifert has fared the best against Baltimore thus far, when he caught five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets in Week 12. Bennett is a TE2.

 

Charles Clay (knee), TE, Buffalo Bills vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m.

Clay missed Week 13, although that was because of the birth of his child, rather than the knee injury. He put in limited practices all week, and he is on track to return today. In the past five weeks, he hasn't had more than five receptions or 29 yards. Despite playing in games where other primary pass catchers were out, Clay was never able to take advantage. He's a low TE2 with Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods back this week.

 

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

 

(Jordan Reed photo courtesy of www.redskins.com)

Teaser:
Week 14 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Jordan Reed, Trevor Siemian, Eric Ebron, Martellus Bennett
Post date: Sunday, December 11, 2016 - 06:30
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In Week 14, fantasy owners are dealing with plenty of players banged up and injured. Some decisions have already been made as A.J. Green, Allen Hurns and Mohamed Sanu have already been ruled out, while Eddie Royal is doubtful but likely won’t play either.

 

Related: Playoff Schedule Analysis for WR, TE, DST

 

As for the rest, there are still quite a few questionable wide receivers, both in terms of their playing status and fantasy outlook. The list is split up into two parts, with the first below and the rest here. Be sure to check out the QB/TE and RB lists before setting your lineup.

 

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

 

Note: All games are on Sunday, Dec. 11 and times are ET.

 

Jordan Matthews (ankle), WR, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins, 1 p.m.

After missing Week 13, Matthews is on track to play today. He put in full practices this week, so the ankle injury is no longer a concern for fantasy owners. Washington has allowed a touchdown to an opposing wide receiver in every game since its Week 9 bye. Matthews is a solid WR3, which is disappointing for fantasy owners that were hoping for better production, but it just hasn't been there for him this year.

 

Michael Thomas (foot), WR, New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m.

Fantasy owners who have been using Thomas were nervous this week when he missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday. He returned for a limited session on Friday, which puts him on track to suit up on Sunday. It's a risk because he is clearly not at 100 percent, but it is a great matchup for him and he has been one of Drew Brees' favorite targets. He drops from a borderline WR1 to a risky WR2.

 

DeVante Parker (back), WR, Miami Dolphins vs.. Arizona Cardinals, 1 p.m.

Last week, it looked like Parker would be out, but he was able to play and found the end zone. This week, he is still on the injury report, but was able to put in a full practice on Friday. He'll play on Sunday but the matchup against the Cardinals is a tough one. Parker may see Patrick Peterson, which limits his upside. He's a low WR3.

 

Dorial Green-Beckham (oblique), WR, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins, 1 p.m.

After not practicing on Friday, Green-Beckham's status for Sunday looks bleak. He didn't practice all week, and the expectation is that DGB will be out. Fantasy owners who had picked him up based on recent production should drop him for a better option. Nelson Agholor will be the next man up, although it may be TE Zach Ertz who gets additional looks in Week 14.

 

John Brown (illness), WR, Arizona Cardinals at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m.

As the Arizona Cardinals try to figure out how to manage Brown and his struggles with sickle-cell disease, his production will continue to suffer. He's on a snap count and in the past four games, he has three receptions for 49 yards. Brown will likely play in Week 14, but not enough to even merit fantasy consideration.

 

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

 

(Michael Thomas photo courtesy of www.neworleanssaints.com)

Teaser:
Week 14 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Michael Thomas, Jordan Matthews, DeVante Parker, Dorial Green-Beckham
Post date: Sunday, December 11, 2016 - 06:30
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Most fantasy owners that are playing in Week 14 either need to win to advance in the playoffs or need to win to get into the playoffs or improve their seed. This is an important week and fantasy owners are making tough lineup decisions.

 

Related: Playoff Schedule Analysis for WR, TE, DST

 

This is especially the case at wide receiver if one rather large question marking looming in a light game and several other notable guys questionable. But at least we know of three that won’t be playing, as A.J. Green, Allen Hurns and Mohamed Sanu have already been ruled out. You can basically add Eddie Royal, who is doubtful, to that group.

 

As for the rest, you can find some of the key names below and the rest of them here. Don’t forget to get check the QB/TE and RB breakdowns as well, and be sure to confirm a particular player’s status via the inactive list that’s released prior to game time.

 

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

 

Note: All games are on Sunday, Dec. 11 and times are ET.

 

Sammy Watkins (foot), WR, Buffalo Bills vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m.

Watkins will remain on the injury report for the rest of the season. He played last week and saw his snap count go up (from 68 percent vs. 45 percent in Week 12), which is encouraging. While the production (3 rec., 38 yds.) wasn't there, he did have nine targets. Watkins is a WR3 against a Steelers secondary that allows the third-fewest fantasy points to the position.

 

Julio Jones (toe), WR, Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m.

This one hurts, both for Jones and his fantasy owners. As valuable as he’s been, this may be the week to bench the NFL’s leading receiver. He missed practice all week and while the expectation is that Jones will give it a go today, it’s pretty clear that he’s nowhere close to 100 percent. Jones has played through his share of injuries in his career, but he’s also been used as a decoy under those circumstances. With Mohamed Sanu already ruled out, Taylor Gabriel could be in line for an increased number of targets. Either way, Jones is a game-time decision, and he’s playing in one of the later afternoon games. Jones’ owners will need to think about this one, as the safest course of action may be to leave him on the bench and hope he can get healthier for Week 15.

 

Marvin Jones (quadriceps), WR, Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears, 1 p.m.

With a week of limited practices, Jones is on track to play. However, with Golden Tate, TE Eric Ebron and even RB Theo Riddick seemingly ahead of Jones in the pecking order for targets, he is merely a low WR4. Both his ceiling and his floor are low, even with a good matchup against the Bears. He had four receptions for 54 yards in Week 12 (before missing last week’s game) and that's about what fantasy owners can expect again today.

 

Robert Woods (knee), WR, Buffalo Bills vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m.

In Week 9, Woods had a monster game, with 10 receptions for 162 yards. In the other eight games he's played, he's only had more than 60 receiving yards once. He's practiced this week and is on track to play, but with Sammy Watkins back and getting more snaps, Woods is just a WR4 at this point. The knee injury isn't a concern, but the same can’t be said for matchup and the amount of targets he’ll likely see. In Weeks 1 and 2 when Woods was on the field with Watkins, he had a total of five receptions for 30 yards.

 

Marquess Wilson (groin), WR, Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m.

Fantasy owners who started Wilson in Week 13 (1 target, 0 catches) probably aren’t too thrilled about the prospect of doing so again, and for good reason. He did put in limited practices this week, so he is on track to play. However, he is so hard to trust in a week when fantasy owners need to win. Josh Bellamy (questionable with a shoulder injury, but expected to play) and Cameron Meredith will likely be the leading targets for Matt Barkley, although it is possible Wilson gets involved. To be honest, any Bear not named Jordan Howard should probably be avoided in fantasy altogether.

 

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

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Week 14 Injury Updates: Julio Jones, Bills WRs, Marvin Jones, Marquess Wilson
Post date: Sunday, December 11, 2016 - 06:30

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