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The Eyes of Texas will be focused squarely on Austin Thanksgiving night. So, too, will the eyes of the nation.
TCU’s last big test of the season will take place Thursday night against the surging Longhorns and fans in Texas, the Big 12 and in places like Columbus and Starkville will be focused on The 40 Acres.
Fans can bet the Playoff Committee will be paying attention as well.
Elsewhere, Baylor and Kansas State should hold serve in preparation for their season-ending meeting next weekend.
Week 14 Big 12 Game Power Rankings
1. TCU (-7.5) at Texas
Thur., 7:30 p.m., FS1
This is as dangerous a game as any national championship contender will have over the last two weeks of the season. Texas is one of the hottest teams in the nation, has one of the best defenses in the nation, is the most powerful program in the league and is a home underdog on Thanksgiving night. So the Horned Frogs will have to stop more than just a developing quarterback and surging running game on offense or even the top pass-rushing defense in the Big 12. A win would give Charlie Strong a four-game winning streak to end the year and a winning overall record — all after a 2-4 start. Trevone Boykin will have to play his best game of the year to get the win and keep pace with Baylor. Because if TCU plays like it did in its last two road trips to Morgantown or, worse, Lawrence, the Frogs could leave Austin with a loss they can't afford.
Listen to the Rivalry Week predictions podcast:
2. Baylor (-24.5) vs. Texas Tech
3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2, Arlington
By Saturday afternoon, Art Briles will know exactly what is at stake against Texas Tech. Baylor (and KSU) will be watching intently on Turkey Day evening, knowing a win by Texas gives the Bears a shot at the College Football Playoff and an outright league championship. Either way, Bryce Petty should have no issues moving up and down the field against Texas Tech. Last year, this game featured 97 points and 1,129 yards of total offense — 63 and 657 of which came from Baylor. Kliff Kingsbury finally got into the win column last weekend against Iowa State but nothing about this matchup indicates the Red Raiders have a chance to pull the upset.
3. West Virginia at Iowa St
This is likely Paul Rhoads' last shot at a Big 12 win with a road trip to TCU looming in the season finale. Iowa State has had plenty of close calls, however, losing to Kansas State, Texas and Texas Tech by a total of 10 points. The Mountaineers aren’t playing much better, losing three straight with a surprising lack of offense — with their three least efficient yards per play showings of the season (4.46, 4.98, 5.09). Much of that is due to level of competition and Clint Trickett’s third concussion in two seasons. Skyler Howard would get the nod under center should Dana Holgorsen do the right thing and protect his starting quarterback. The undersized sophomore has attempted 25 career passes for WVU.
4. Kansas (+28) at Kansas St
4 p.m., FS1
Win and advance is all that matters for Kansas State. That, and, spend Thanksgiving rooting hard for Charlie Strong. If TCU loses to Texas, Bill Snyder’s bunch is right back in the mix for an outright Big 12 championship. The Jayhawks were destroyed by Oklahoma's Samaje Perine last weekend and there is no reason to think the Sunflower State rivalry will turn out differently.
Off: Oklahoma, Oklahoma St
Big 12 Predictions:
|Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|TCU (-7.5) at Texas||Texas, 24-23||TCU, 28-20||TCU, 28-14||TCU, 27-24|
|BU (-24.5) at TT||BU, 45-17||BU, 47-13||BU, 42-24||BU, 48-24|
|WVU at ISU||WVU, 34-31||WVU, 33-13||WVU, 35-17||WVU, 34-27|
|KU (+28) at KSU||KSU, 50-10||KSU, 41-10||KSU, 44-17||KSU, 40-13|
One rivalry will determine a piece of the Big Ten championship, and unless you’ve been living under a rock this season, you know it’s not the usual game.
Michigan-Ohio State is the undercard in the Big Ten this week to Minnesota and Wisconsin. The longest-lived rivalry in major college football has been for the Slab of Bacon and Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but for the first time it’s for a trip to the Big Ten title game.
For all of the rivalry’s longevity, the two teams have been both ranked at kickoff only twice since 1962, the last time the rivalry was played with both teams in Big Ten championship contention.
It’s the most important game in the Big Ten this week — and not just for the Big Ten, TCU is pulling for the Gophers, too — but it’s not the only one with major implications.
Ohio State still has a playoff spot it would like to claim. Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern are all looking to be bowl eligible. And Nebraska and Iowa are looking for a win that will keep fans of their coaches’ backs.
Week 14 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Big Ten Week 14 Game Power Rankings
All times Eastern
1. Minnesota at Wisconsin
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
The contest for Paul Bunyan’s Axe has rarely been this important on the Big Ten stage. The winner will claim the Big Ten West and face Ohio State in the conference title game, making this the most important Minnesota-Wisconsin game since 1962. That season, both teams were ranked in the top five, and Wisconsin claimed the Big Ten title with a 14-9 win in the season finale. In this year’s meeting, what should be a showdown of two great running backs has diminished a bit. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is coming off a 200-yard game against Iowa, tying him with Badgers great Ron Dayne for the Big Ten single-season record last week. Gordon is 519 yards short of Barry Sanders’ national record from 1988. On the other side, though, Minnesota running back David Cobb is “very questionable,” coach Jerry Kill says. Cobb has rushed for 1,430 yards and 12 touchdowns this season in Minnesota’s tricky ground game. Quarterback Mitch Leidner rushed for 110 yards while passing for 135 to fill some of the void left by Cobb late in last week’s win over Nebraska.
2. Michigan at Ohio State
Saturday, noon, ABC
That Virginia Tech loss in Week 2 continues to be an anchor for Ohio State’s playoff hopes even though the Buckeyes were ranked sixth in the most recent release from the selection committee. The Buckeyes haven’t helped their case, either, in the last two games. Ohio State allowed Minnesota to rush for 218 yards and Indiana to run for 281, plus three touchdowns apiece. Both the Gophers and Hoosiers have effective running games, but the production (6.2 yards allowed per carry) is cause for concern. The Buckeyes have also turned the ball over eight times in the last three games, finishing on the wrong side of the turnover margin in each game. Michigan is a wounded team, but the Wolverines have been effective on the ground in the last three games (207.7 yards per game, 5.4 yards per carry). The Wolverines have high stakes in this game, too. A loss means no postseason for Michigan. The same program that reached a bowl game every year from 1975-2007 (and would have made more in the 70s if not for Big Ten rules) is in danger of missing the postseason for the third time in seven seasons.
3. Michigan State at Penn State
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
Michigan State’s Big Ten and playoff hopes evaporated several weeks ago, but the Spartans still have plenty of goals for the final game of the regular season. A spot in a major New Year’s Bowl (the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange or Peach) remains at stake as well as a fourth 10-win season in the last five years. Penn State is still looking to clinch a winning season after missing an opportunity against Illinois in a 16-14 loss last week. The Nittany Lions’ offensive line has been able to patch together a run game during the last three weeks, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg is still running for his life. This week, he’ll face a Michigan State defense that is tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks. Also of note: Spartans senior Tony Lippett is slated to be Michigan State’s first two-way starter since 1968 when he opens the game at receiver and cornerback.
4. Nebraska at Iowa
Friday, noon, ABC
The enthusiasm game for this game probably isn’t very high. Nebraska’s deflating loss to Minnesota last week puts the Cornhuskers a game away from Bo Pelini’s traditional four losses. A season that started 8-1 for Nebraska is in danger of ending on a three-game losing streak before the bowl game. Iowa’s season has been even more of a letdown with three losses in the last five games. What the future holds for either of these coaches — Pelini and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz — isn’t clear, but certainly one fanbase will be howling by Friday afternoon. On the field, though, this game will feature one intriguing matchup in the trenches between Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory and Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. NFL scouts will be closely attuned to that pairing.
5. Illinois at Northwestern
Saturday, noon, ESPNU
This seemed unthinkable at one point this season, but the winner of this game goes to a bowl game. Illinois stole wins over Penn State and Minnesota to put the Illini into bowl contention. Northwestern defeated Wisconsin on Oct. 4 and defeated Notre Dame in double overtime two weeks ago. The Wildcats, though, might be in dire straits as quarterback Trevor Siemian left last week’s game against Purdue with a torn ACL. Junior Zach Oliver will start against Illinois, but freshman Matt Alviti is expected to play, too.
6. Rutgers at Maryland
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
This isn’t a good game in a weekend of great games, but let’s stop to note that both of the Big Ten newcomers are enjoying successful seasons. Both are bowl eligible. Maryland (7-4) is 5-1 on the road and scored Big Ten wins over Iowa, Penn State and Michigan. Rutgers has been outclassed by the better Big Ten teams it has faced this season, but the Scarlet Knights are at least bowl eligible. Both teams will enjoy at least one beneficial matchup: Maryland and Rutgers are among the worst teams in the league in both sides of the run game.
7. Purdue at Indiana
Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network
The Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket will have to take the place for a bowl game for Purdue and Indiana ... again. Purdue will look to get its offense back on track. The Boilermakers looked like they had their quarterback of the future in Austin Appleby back in early October, but he’s throw six interception in his last four games. On the other sideline, Indiana running back Tevin Coleman is putting the finishing touches of a fantastic season — one that could be his last with the Hoosiers. Coleman is 94 yards of 2,000. If he’s able to hit that threshold, it will mark only the third time a conference has had two 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. UCF’s Kevin Smith and Tulane’s Matt Forte did it Conference USA in 2007. Iowa State’s Troy Davis and Texas Tech’s Byron Harnspard did it in the Big 12 in 1996.
Big Ten Week 14 Athlon Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Nebraska at Iowa (-1)||Iowa 24-21||Neb 30-27||Iowa 27-24||Iowa 24-20|
|Illinois at Northwestern (-8)||Ill. 21-14||NW 30-21||NW 27-20||NW 17-14|
|Purdue at Indiana (-2 1/2)||Purdue 34-31||IU 34-31||IU 34-31||IU 34-30|
|Michigan at Ohio State (-20)||OSU 42-21||OSU 27-14||OSU 38-17||OSU 34-20|
|Michigan St (-13 1/2) at Penn St||MSU 21-14||MSU 34-3||MSU 27-10||MSU 20-10|
|Minnesota at Wisconsin (-13 1/2)||Wisc 31-14||Wisc 40-27||Wisc 30-20||Wisc 30-15|
|Rutgers at Maryland (-8 1/2)||Md 31-13||Md 34-27||Md 34-17||Md 27-13|
The stakes are high for the ACC in Week 14. The Florida State-Florida matchup has lost some of its national appeal with the Gators hovering around .500, but the Seminoles need to win to stay alive for a spot in college football’s four-team playoff.
Clemson has lost five straight to South Carolina, but coach Dabo Swinney’s team has a good opportunity to reverse the trend in this series if quarterback Deshaun Watson is able to play. Georgia Tech and Louisville take on SEC rivals this Saturday and both need wins to have a shot at a berth in the Orange Bowl if Florida State does not make the college football playoff.
In addition to the four ACC-SEC rivalry games, there are five conference matchups slated for Week 14. Virginia-Virginia Tech is the matchup with the most importance in conference play, with the winner earning bowl eligibility. Pittsburgh is battling for postseason hopes in a road trip to Miami.
ACC Week 14 Game Power Rankings
1. Florida at Florida State (-7.5)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The annual rivalry matchup between Florida and Florida State has lost some of its national appeal this year, but there’s still plenty at stake for both programs. All of the pressure in this game is on the Florida State sideline, as the Seminoles need to win out to claim a spot in college football’s playoff. For Florida, this will be coach Will Muschamp’s last game. The Gators want to send Muschamp out a winner and spoil Florida State’s unbeaten record and national title hopes. And despite Florida’s struggles this year, the oddsmakers are giving the Gators plenty of respect with a line just over a touchdown. Florida’s upset hopes hinge on its ability to establish the run. The Seminoles have struggled at times to stop the run, allowing 4.7 yards per carry in last week’s win over Boston College. If the Gators establish their ground attack, they can limit Florida State’s possessions and keep quarterback Jameis Winston on the sidelines. In addition to stopping the run, the Seminoles can’t afford turnovers to give the Gators any early confidence and will need receivers outside of Rashad Greene to step up. All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III could spend most of his snaps covering Greene, which opens the door for freshman Travis Rudolph and sophomore Jesus Wilson to pickup the slack in the passing game. Florida State has won three out of the last four in this series, including a 30-point victory in 2013.
Listen to the Rivalry Week predictions podcast:
2. South Carolina at Clemson (-4.5)
Noon ET, ESPN
South Carolina has dominated the Palmetto State rivalry in recent years by winning five in a row over the Tigers since 2009. The gap between the two teams during that span has been wide, as South Carolina has won each of the last five meetings by at least 10 points. Despite the recent history between these two programs, Clemson is a slight favorite for Saturday’s game. But coach Dabo Swinney’s team has uncertainty at quarterback, as freshman Deshaun Watson is questionable to play due to a knee injury. If Watson doesn’t start, senior Cole Stoudt (1,576 yards, 6 TDs, 9 INTs) would get the nod under center. Regardless of whether Stoudt or Watson is under center, Clemson’s offense will have opportunities to move the ball against a South Carolina defense allowing 6.1 yards per play. The strength of the Gamecocks is an offense averaging 34 points per game in SEC contests. Quarterback Dylan Thompson leads the SEC with an average of 275.5 yards per game, but Clemson’s defense leads the nation by limiting opponents to just 3.9 yards per play. The turnover battle will be one area to watch on Saturday. Over the last four matchups, South Carolina owns a +11 edge over the Tigers.
3. Georgia Tech at Georgia (-13)
Noon ET, SEC Network
Georgia Tech will play for the ACC Championship next week, but the Yellow Jackets have some unfinished business in the regular season. Georgia has won 12 out of the last 13 matchups against Georgia Tech in their annual in-state rivalry. Can coach Paul Johnson’s team reverse the trend in the series? The Yellow Jackets rank fourth in the nation in rush offense, and the Bulldogs have been susceptible to the run at times this year. Georgia allowed 418 yards to Florida and gave up 214 against Kentucky. Quarterback Justin Thomas leads the ground attack for Johnson, with Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days each capable of rushing for 100 yards. While Georgia Tech’s option attack will be tough to stop, a bigger problem for Johnson is on defense. The Yellow Jackets allow 6.1 yards per play and rank 10th in the ACC in rush defense. That’s an issue against a Georgia team averaging 260.6 rushing yards per game, largely on the shoulders of freshman running back Nick Chubb. In order to pull off the upset, Georgia Tech needs to force a couple of turnovers against a Bulldog offense that has lost just eight all year.
4. Virginia (-1) at Virginia Tech
8 p.m. ET, ESPN (Friday)
The in-state rivalry between Virginia and Virginia Tech has been a one-sided affair in recent years. The Hokies have recorded 10 wins in a row in this series and claimed seven consecutive victories in Blacksburg against the Cavaliers. However, there’s very little separating the two programs in 2014, and the winner of Friday night’s matchup will earn a bowl bid. Points could be at a premium between two offenses that average less than 22 points a game in ACC contests. Virginia Tech’s defense has allowed 12 plays of 40 yards or more this year, but coordinator Bud Foster’s group has limited opponents to 20.5 points per game. Virginia’s offense has been inconsistent at times this year but averaged five yards per play in the 30-13 win over Miami. The health of running back Kevin Parks is critical on Friday night, as the senior missed most of last week’s game due to concussion-like symptoms. Injuries have been a major issue for Virginia Tech all year, as running backs Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams were lost for the year, and Trey Edmunds has played in only six contests. In a tight game, quarterback play – especially between two struggling signal-callers – and turnovers will be crucial to the outcome. These two teams have lost 45 turnovers this year and an edge in this department could be the difference in the game on Friday.
5. Kentucky at Louisville (-12.5)
Noon ET, ESPN2
Bragging rights in the Bluegrass State are on the line when Kentucky and Louisville meet on Saturday. Additionally, there’s plenty at stake in terms of bowls and postseason positioning. The Wildcats need a win to go bowling for the first time since 2010, while the Cardinals are still alive for a spot in the Orange Bowl (provided Florida State makes the college football playoff). For Kentucky to defeat Louisville for the first time in four years, coach Mark Stoops’ team has to find ways to stop the potent Cardinals’ offense. Louisville freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon completed only 8 of 21 passes for 180 yards in last week’s win over Notre Dame, but he had plenty of help from a rushing attack that recorded 229 yards on 50 attempts. Stopping the run has been a challenge for Kentucky this year, and the Wildcats (201 ypg) will have trouble containing a Cardinals’ ground attack that features Michael Dyer and Brandon Radcliff. The Wildcats started fast on offense this year but have not averaged more than 4.5 yards per play over the last three weeks. That’s not a good sign against a Louisville defense limiting opponents to 4.6 yards per play and one that has forced 26 turnovers in 11 games.
6. NC State at North Carolina (-7.5)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network/ESPN3
There’s some added appeal to the annual battle between NC State and North Carolina this year, as both teams are bowl eligible and looking to improve their standing in the ACC’s crowded postseason picture. For the second year in a row, the Tar Heels have played better over the second half of the season. Coach Larry Fedora’s team has scored at least 40 points in three out of its last five games, with quarterback Marquise Williams leading the way by recording at least 300 yards of total offense in five out of his last six starts. NC State’s defense has been prone to giving up big plays (25 of 30 yards or more) and allows ACC opponents to score 34.7 points per game. While those numbers are problematic for the Wolfpack, North Carolina’s defense has been equally porous. The Tar Heels rank last in the conference by allowing league opponents to score 36.6 points per game, and this unit is giving up 6.2 yards per play (ACC-only games). Quarterback Jacoby Brissett (19 TDs, 5 INTs) has energized NC State’s offense, but his numbers have dipped in conference play and in road contests. Considering the play of both defenses, a shootout would not be surprising in Chapel Hill. North Carolina has won the last two meetings in this series.
7. Pittsburgh at Miami (-10)
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The Panthers and Hurricanes began 2014 with expectations of competing for the Coastal Division crown, but these two teams enter the season finale with a combined 11-11 overall record and just a 6-8 mark in conference play. This matchup features the ACC’s top running backs in Pittsburgh’s James Conner and Miami’s Duke Johnson. Conner is questionable to play with a hip injury suffered last week against Syracuse, but even if he plays, running room could be limited against a defense holding opponents to 3.6 yards per carry. With Johnson eligible to declare for the draft, this game is expected to be his final appearance in a Miami uniform at Sun Life Stadium. The junior has six 100-yard efforts over his last seven games and faces a Pittsburgh defense allowing 5.2 yards per carry in ACC contests. Stopping the run is critical for both teams on Saturday, but the turnover battle is also worth monitoring. Miami and Pittsburgh both rank near the bottom of the ACC in lost turnovers, with the Panthers owning a negative margin (-5) in 11 contests. The Hurricanes have won 16 out of the last 17 in this series, but Pittsburgh needs a win to get bowl eligible.
8. Syracuse at Boston College (-11)
12:30 p.m. ET, RSN/ESPN3
Boston College fell short in its upset bid against Florida State, but the Eagles are clearly on the right track in coach Steve Addazio’s second year. With a win over Syracuse on Saturday, Boston College would earn back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2009-10. While the trajectory of the program in Chestnut Hill is clear, there’s uncertainty on the other sideline. The Orange went 7-6 last season but have slipped to 3-8 in 2014. Injuries and offensive issues have plagued coach Scott Shafer’s team this year, limiting Syracuse to just one ACC win (30-7 Wake Forest). The battle in the trenches is critical for both teams on Saturday, as Syracuse has limited opponents to just seven rushing scores and 3.4 yards per carry in 2014. Boston College ranks second in the ACC by averaging 261.8 rushing yards per contest, with quarterback Tyler Murphy leading the team with 1,054 yards. Even if the Orange limits the Eagles on the ground, Shafer’s team has to find a spark on offense. Syracuse has not scored more than 17 points in each of its last four games and averages just 4.4 yards per play in ACC contests. The Eagles allow 5.3 yards per play on defense and limit opponents to 23.9 points per game in league play. The Orange has won three out of the last four meetings against Boston College.
9. Wake Forest at Duke (-18)
7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Seven out of the last eight meetings between Wake Forest and Duke have been decided by 11 points or less. The Demon Deacons controlled this rivalry from 2000-11, but the Blue Devils have won two in a row. Despite the recent trend in this series, Duke is a heavy favorite for Saturday’s game. Coach David Cutcliffe’s team appeared to have the inside track to the ACC Championship in early November but back-to-back losses ended the hopes of a repeat trip to Charlotte. Turnovers have been a problem for the Blue Devils in their three losses this year. Duke committed nine turnovers in defeats and three in victories. Assuming the Blue Devils can hold onto the ball, they should win their third game in a row over their in-state rivals. Wake Forest is averaging just 2.8 yards per play in ACC games and has scored only 19 points in its last two league contests. The Demon Deacons are rebuilding under first-year coach Dave Clawson but picked up their first conference win by beating Virginia Tech 6-3 in double overtime last Saturday.
ACC Week 14 Predictions
|UVa (-1) at VT||UVa 24-14||VT 19-18||VT 24-20||UVa 17-14|
|SC (+4.5) at Clemson||SC 28-21||CU 27-24||SC 30-27||CU 34-26|
|GT (+13) at UGa||UGa 31-21||UGa 34-23||UGa 38-27||UGa 41-20|
|UK (+12.5) at UL||UL 35-14||UL 31-24||UL 34-20||UL 23-20|
|Syracuse (+11) at BC||BC 34-14||BC 35-17||BC 30-13||BC 27-13|
|NC State (+7.5) at UNC||UNC 35-21||UNC 45-42||UNC 38-27||UNC 37-23|
|Florida (+7.5) at FSU||FSU 38-28||FSU 29-21||FSU 30-20||FSU 27-20|
|Wake (+18) at Duke||Duke 31-10||Duke 35-13||Duke 30-10||Duke 20-10|
|Pitt (+10) at Miami||Miami 34-20||Miami 34-27||Miami 31-20||Miami 23-13|
The final week of the regular season is highlighted by rivalry games in Tuscaloosa and Oxford. Elsewhere, Missouri attempts to capture the outright SEC East title; Texas A&M and LSU try to close disappointing seasons on a positive note; Tennessee seeks its sixth win to become bowl-eligible; and a quartet of SEC schools will play rivalry games against ACC foes.
Week 14 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
SEC Week 14 Game Power Rankings
1. Auburn (+9.5) at Alabama (7:45 ET, ESPN)
Auburn played its way out of the SEC West race — and a spot in the College Football Playoff — by losing consecutive games to Texas A&M and Georgia, but this game is still very important on the national scene. Top-ranked Alabama is one of three teams — along with Oregon and Florida State — that controls its own destiny to secure one of the four Playoff spots. A win over Auburn and in the SEC Championship Game — against Missouri or Georgia — likely would make the Crimson Tide the No. 1 seed. First things first: A very talented Auburn team awaits. Despite the Tigers’ struggles two weeks ago at Georgia — they scored only seven points and managed only 292 total yards — this is one of the top offensive teams in the nation. Last year, Auburn rolled up 393 yards on a healthy 5.8 yards-per-play average in its thrilling 34–28 win over Alabama. The guess here is Auburn will need to score at least 30 points to win in Tuscaloosa.
2. Mississippi State (-2) at Ole Miss (3:30 ET, CBS)
About a month ago, the folks in the Magnolia State were dreaming of an Egg Bowl featuring two undefeated teams, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the national polls. That hasn’t happened, but this is still the most anticipated game between these two rivals in decades. Mississippi State, 6–1 in the SEC, can advance to the league title game with a win over Ole Miss coupled with an Alabama loss to Auburn. And the Bulldogs are still very much alive in the hunt for a College Football Playoff spot even if they don’t win the SEC West. Ole Miss must regroup after a sobering 30–0 loss at Arkansas, the Rebels’ third straight loss in league play. This team was 7–0 not too long ago; now a 4–4 SEC record is a very real possibility. That’s not what the locals had in mind when they were storming the field after the epic win over Alabama.
3. Arkansas (-1.5) at Missouri (Friday, 2:30 ET, CBS)
This is suddenly one of the more intriguing games of the holiday weekend. Missouri is one win away from securing its second straight trip to the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers, who beat Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday, have now won eight straight SEC road games. The key to Missouri’s success has been a defense that is allowing a league-low 4.19 yards per play against SEC opponents. The Tigers have 25 sacks in seven conference games and have forced 11 turnovers in their last five games. Arkansas has been arguably the most impressive team in the nation the past two weeks with wins over LSU and Ole Miss by a combined score of 47–0. Like Mizzou, Arkansas is getting it done on defense. The same unit that gave up 595 yards to Auburn, 523 to Texas A&M and 459 to Mississippi State allowed an average of 219.5 — including 49.5 on the ground — against LSU and Ole Miss. Points could be at a premium on Friday.
4. LSU (-3) at Texas A&M (Thursday, 7:30 ET, ESPN)
Despite the fact that both teams have a losing record in the league, there will be a ton of talent roaming the field in College Station on Thanksgiving night. The LSU offense has struggled over the last three weeks, scoring a total of two offensive touchdowns against Ole Miss (a win), Alabama (a loss) and Arkansas (a loss). The Tigers averaged an alarmingly low 2.3 yards per play in the shutout defeat at Arkansas. Texas A&M has some issues, but the Aggies’ offense has shown progress of late. They have scored a total of 68 points in their last two games — a win at Auburn and a home loss against Missouri — as true freshman Kyle Allen has become more comfortable in the offense.
5. Georgia Tech (+13) at Georgia (12 ET, SEC Network)
Georgia Tech clinched a spot in the ACC Championship Game last Thursday when North Carolina beat Duke. In a season with low (external) expectations, the Yellow Jackets have won nine games, including the last four by an average of 24.5 points. As usual, Tech is doing most of its work on the ground, ranking fourth nationally with 327.9 rushing yards per game. The Jackets have averaged 285.6 rushing yards against Georgia in the last five seasons but have lost all five games. The problem has been on the other side of the ball; Georgia has scored 30 points or more in all five of those wins, including 41 in last year’s victory in Atlanta. Georgia Tech’s task this weekend will be to slow down running back Nick Chubb. The true freshman has rushed for at least 100 yards in six straight games and is averaging 7.2 yards per carry for the season.
6. Kentucky (+12.5) at Louisville (12 ET, ESPN2)
Kentucky is seeking its first win since early October, when the Wildcats topped ULM 48–14 to improve to 5–1 overall. They have since lost five straight, all by 10 points or more. The defense has been UK’s biggest issue; the Cats have given up 41 points or more four times during the losing streak, including a total of 113 in consecutive losses to Georgia and Tennessee. Louisville is riding high after beating Notre Dame 31–28 in South Bend. The Cards were powered by a rushing attack that churned out 229 yards on 50 carries. True freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon only completed eight passes, but he averaged a healthy 22.5 yards on those eight completions. The Cards are now 8–3 overall and closed their first season in the ACC with a 5–3 record.
7. Florida (+7.5) at Florida State (3:30 ET, ESPN)
Will Muschamp’s final game at Florida will be on the same field as one of his finest moments as the Gators’ head coach. Two years ago, Florida closed the season with a 37–26 win in Tallahassee to cap off an 11–1 regular season. Since that late November Saturday, Florida is 10–13 overall while Florida State has yet to lose another game. The Seminoles have come close of late, flirting with defeat in each of their last five games. They have found a way to win each week and remain in control of their own destiny for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Florida will need significant production from its running game to have a shot in this game. Freshman quarterback Treon Harris has shown flashes of excellence but shouldn’t be trusted to get too much done against the FSU secondary. Last week, the Noles allowed 240 yards rushing to Boston College. If Florida approaches that number, this game could be very interesting.
8. South Carolina (+4.5) at Clemson (12 ET, ESPN)
South Carolina has won five straight in this underrated rivalry and has done so on the defensive end. Clemson, one of the top offensive teams in the ACC in recent years, has not scored more than 17 points in any of the five losses to South Carolina. Conventional wisdom suggests that will change due to the Gamecocks’ defensive struggles, but Clemson is having trouble scoring points of late. With true freshman Deshaun Watson slowed by an injury, Cole Stoudt got the nod last week in a lethargic 28–0 win over hapless Georgia State. The week before, the Tigers managed only 190 total yards in a 28–6 loss at Georgia Tech. Watson, who missed the final three quarters of the Tech game and the entire Georgia State game with a knee injury, is questionable this week. His return, assuming he’s close to 100 percent, would provide a nice boost to the Clemson attack. South Carolina has underachieved this season, but the Gamecocks have at least kept things exciting; each of their last five games against Power 5 teams have been decided by seven points or fewer.
9. Tennessee (-17) at Vanderbilt (4 ET, SEC Network)
The stakes are high for Tennessee, which needs to beat Vanderbilt to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010. The Vols are making nice progress under Butch Jones, but a loss to Vanderbilt would not sit well with Volunteer fans. The Commodores have been a disappointment in Derek Mason’s first season in Nashville. A third-straight win over Tennessee would no doubt be a huge boost for this program as it heads into the offseason, but there is nothing on the Dores’ 2014 résumé that suggests they are capable of winning this game. Vanderbilt is 0–7 in the SEC, none of its league games have been decided by fewer than 10 points, and it ranks last in the SEC in total offense and 12th in total defense.
SEC Week 14 Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|LSU at Texas A&M||LSU 21-20||LSU 31-27||LSU 30-20||A&M 21-20|
|Arkansas at Mizzou||UA 24-20||MU 24-21||MU 24-20||MU 24-21|
|Kentucky at Louisville||UL 35-14||UL 31-24||UL 34-20||UL 31-20|
|S. Carolina at Clemson||USC 28-21||CU 27-24||USC 30-27||CU 34-27|
|Ga. Tech at Georgia||UGa 31-21||UGa 34-23||UGa 38-27||UGa 41-24|
|Miss. State at Ole Miss||MSU 35-17||MSU 30-20||MSU 27-24||MSU 28-24|
|Florida at Florida St.||FSU 38-28||FSU 29-21||FSU 30-20||FSU 23-20|
|Tennessee at Vanderbilt||UT 42-14||UT 41-17||UT 34-13||UT 30-17|
|Auburn at Alabama||UA 31-21||UA 37-24||UA 34-24||UA 30-20|
The early season basketball tournaments have in some ways become bowl season.
There are the — let’s say — lower profile events with obscure teams and sparse crowds.
The Battle 4 Atlantis, though, has risen to the Orange Bowl or Fiesta Bowl of the non-conference basketball season.
Louisville, Duke and Memphis played here two years ago, Kansas, Villanova and Iowa a year ago.
This season’s even includes four teams ranked in this week’s Associated Press top 25 — No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 5 North Carolina, No. 18 Florida and No. 22 UCLA — plus Big East power Georgetown and Big 12 contender Oklahoma.
Those top five teams can solidify their bona fides while the other teams in the field can start to make moves into the national picture.
Wednesday’s First Round Games
All times Eastern
Butler vs. North Carolina (noon, ESPN2)
UCLA vs. Oklahoma (2:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Wisconsin vs. UAB (7 p.m., AXStv)
Florida vs. Georgetown (9:30 p.m., AXStv)
Championship Game: Friday, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Best potential game: Wisconsin vs. North Carolina in the final
The Badgers and Tar Heels opened the season in the Athlon top 10 and have done nothing to damage those projections through the first weeks of the season. The game could feature a handful of All-America candidates, including Marcus Paige, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker.
Player to watch: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Paige isn’t off to a blistering start (12 points per game), but North Carolina has hardly needed him to be an All-American in the first three games of the season. That changes as North Carolina advances through Atlantis. The second round brings a matchup against Oklahoma or UCLA and then probably Wisconsin, Florida or Georgetown.
Freshman to watch: Kevon Looney, UCLA
Atlantis features a handful of veteran teams or at least team’s that aren’t expecting freshmen to be the primary contributors. One of the exceptions is UCLA with five-star prospect Kevon Looney, who is averaging 14.8 points and 12 rebounds per game.
Breakout player: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Wisconsin lost one major contributor to last year’s team in Ben Brust. Filling the spot is sophomore forward Nigel Hayes, an outstanding athlete who is averaging nearly a double-double per game.
Storylines to watch
The Badgers are playing like a team that returns nearly every player from a Final Four squad. In fact, they’re playing better than last year’s squad. Frank Kaminsky is playing better than he did a year ago, raising his shooting percentage by more than 10 points while taking more shots from the outside. Sam Dekker is also a more efficient player than he was last season, and Nigel Hayes is amid a breakout campaign.
North Carolina’s post presence
The Tar Heels may have a breakout frontcourt this season with the performance of sophomore Kennedy Meeks, junior Brice Johnson and freshman Justin Jackson. Together, they’ve averaged 44 points per game through the first three.
Florida, Oklahoma try to bounce back
Florida and Oklahoma both had hopes of challenging Kentucky and Kansas in their respective conferences, but neither team looks anything like a conference contender. Florida lost at home to Miami and needed overtime to beat ULM. Oklahoma led Creighton by 18 in the second half only to lose 65-63 to a team rebuilding with Bluejays. Avoiding the losers’ bracket would be signs of progress.
Where does UCLA stand?
Arizona is the prohibitive favorite in the Pac-12. UCLA would have trouble challenging the Wildcats even in a best-case scenario this season, but the Bruins still have a shot to be No. 2 in the conference. Matchups against Oklahoma and potentially North Carolina, both contenders in their respective conferences, will be a good gauge of UCLA’s ceiling right now.
Butler’s coaching situation
Brandon Miller remains on medical leave due to an undisclosed issue, and the prospects of his return don’t appear optimistic. Under federal law, Miller can take 12 weeks of leave, but that will expire near the end of December. For now, Chris Holtmann is leading the program in place of the coach hired to replace Brad Stevens two years ago.
Battle 4 Atlantis Staff Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light|
|Prediction||Wisconsin over North Carolina||North Carolina over Wisconsin||Wisconsin over UCLA|
|Player to Watch||Buddy Hield, Oklahoma||Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina||Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin|
One of the great Thanksgiving traditions is snickering at who is playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions.
The list of Lions quarterbacks starting on Thanksgiving is a list of draft busts, journeymen, career backups and former stars whose best days had gone by.
Giggling at Lions quarterbacks on Thanksgiving, though, is getting tougher. Thank you, Matthew Stafford.
To fill that void is our (somewhat arbitrary) ranking of the quarterbacks who have started on Thanksgiving for the Lions since the NFL merger (1970).
To be clear, we’re looking at their entire career, not just their starts on Thanksgiving nor their tenures with the Lions. You’re welcome, Daunte Culpepper.
1. Matthew Stafford (2009, 2011-13)
Stafford has made the most starts for the Lions on Thanksgiving since Joey Harrington and delivered the first win in a decade with a 40-10 win over the Packers last season. Give the Lions' all-time leading passer a keg (to carry).
2. Dave Krieg (1994)
The longtime Seahawks quarterback made one Thanksgiving start for Detroit, and it was one of the Lions’ best. Subbing for Scott Mitchell, Krieg went 20-of-25 for 351 yards with three touchdowns in a win over the Bills. By then, Kreig was a 36-year-old QB with three Pro Bowl selections and an NFC Championship Game behind him.
3. Daunte Culpepper (2008)
Remember the Culpepper era in Detroit? We didn’t, either. From 2000-04, Culpepper was a rival to Peyton Manning. After that? Not so much. By 2008, the three-time Pro Bowler made five starts during the Lions’ winless season in 2008. Culpepper was 0-10 as a starter in two seasons for the Lions.
4. Jon Kitna (2006-07)
Kitna entered the league in 1997, and he was still on an NFL roster at age 41 in 2013. The Cowboys signed him away from being a high school math teacher and coach at Lincoln High in Tacoma, Wash. — during winter break, of course. Kitna then donated his $53,000 Cowboys salary to the high school. Oh, and he started on Thanksgiving for both the Lions and Cowboys during his career. You’re a cool teacher, Mr. Kitna.
5. Joe Ferguson (1986)
Ferguson made five career starts for the Lions in his mid-30s, well after he played for the Bills from 1973-84. He led the league in passing in 1977 and touchdowns in '75 and pulled the Bills out of the doldrums. But he also had a knack for throwing interceptions in the playoffs and also during the 1982 regular season when he threw 16 picks.
6. Scott Mitchell (1995-97)
Mitchell enjoyed his best season in 1995 with 4,338 yards and 32 touchdowns, including a win over Minnesota on Thanksgiving. He started three full seasons for Detroit and hung around the NFL for five more years until 2001. He resurfaced as a 366-pound contestant on "The Biggest Loser" in 2014.
7. Greg Landry (1970-72, 1974, 1976-77)
Landry spent 10 seasons with the Lions, only four as their primary quarterback. After spending 1968-84 in the NFL, he was an assistant in the pros and in college until 1986. Bet you didn’t know there’s a National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, and Landry’s in it. Now you know.
8. Erik Kramer (1991-92)
He started 15 games in three seasons for the Lions, including twice on Thanksgiving and three times in the playoffs. He didn’t become a full-time starter until age 31 for the Bears.
9. Gus Frerotte (1999)
The journeyman Frerotte is one of 14 quarterbacks to throw a 99-yard pass. In that way, he’s just like Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Jim Plunkett and Otto Graham.
10. Rodney Peete (1993)
Peete bounced around the league as a backup for most of his 15 seasons. He finished with a 45-42 career record, which for this list is pretty good.
11. Eric Hipple (1981-83, 1985)
Hipple played his entire career for the Lions, going 3-1 on Thanksgiving and 25-29 otherwise.
12. Gary Danielson (1978, 1980, 1984)
The CBS college football commentator started three non-consecutive Thanksgivings for the Lions and had a couple of nice seasons in 1978-80.
13. Bill Munson (1973)
Munson played for the Lions from 1968-75, started 48 games and yet only one of them came on Thanksgiving. In his first two seasons in the NFL in 1964-65 for the Rams, Munson threw 29 total interceptions. A decade later, he led three game-winning drives for the Lions in 1974 alone.
14. Charlie Batch (1998, 2000-01)
We could have sworn Charlie Batch was still a backup somewhere. He’s not.
15. Joey Harrington (2002-05)
Harrington started four Thanksgiving games for the Lions. He finished two of them. He’s on TV now.
16. Bob Gagliano (1989-90)
For Detroit in two years: 11 starts, 16 touchdown passes. For three other NFL teams in five years: Two starts and one touchdown pass Also played two years in the USFL.
17. Shaun Hill (2010)
Hill started one season while Stafford was hurt, threw 12 interceptions, including two against the Patriots on Thanksgiving.
18. Chuck Long (1987-88)
He started twice on Thanksgiving and went a combined 8-of-20. His 2.8 passer rating in 1988 is the worst for any Lions QB on Thanksgiving since 1970. Led the NFL with 20 interceptions in 1987.
19. Joe Reed (1975)
Enjoyed one extended look as a starter in 1975 and threw nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
20. Jeff Komlo (1979)
A ninth-round pick, Komlo threw 23 interceptions and went 2-12 in his lone season as a starter in the NFL as a rookie. His story didn’t end well.
If the weekly exercise of explaining the College Football Playoff rankings has taught us anything, it’s that coming up with perfect answers is impossible.
A week after “game control” became the talking point of the week, selection committee chair Jeff Long indicated previous rankings remain in the back of the minds of the committee members’ minds even on Nov. 25.
That’s partly why Mississippi State remains at No. 4 and in the playoff with only one win against a team in the current top 25.
The Bulldogs have wins over three teams that were at some point in the playoff rankings that started since Week 10 — Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M. Only No. 15 Auburn remains and that’s a long way from the top three where the Tigers started.
“It’s just something the committee discusses,” Long said. “We know if we team was ranked 14-15-16 and teams play differently at different parts of the year. A team that may have been playing very well early in the season whether through injuries or level of competition, they’re not playing as well (now).
“It’s not a criteria but we certainly discuss or know when a team was previously ranked in the top 25.”
Long clarified he means the playoff’s top 25 and not the polls, but the distinction may be lost on fans who want to know why those games and rankings still count up to five weeks later.
Let’s attempt to translate just a bit: Teams previously ranked in the top 25 are probably in the top 30 or 40 now, even if the committee doesn’t go that deep into the rankings. The committee knows LSU is not Tulane. Texas A&M is not Texas State. And West Virginia is not Washington State.
In trying to explain something that already makes sense to the common fan, the weekly rankings release force the committee to dress up the movements in a way that seems smarter and more ironclad than it actually is.
So before you start sifting through old polls and top 25s, take a deep breath and wait until next week. Surely, we'll have somethign new to discuss then.
Here’s how the most recent top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Nov. 25|
|1. Alabama||10. Michigan State||18. Minnesota|
|2. Oregon||11. Arizona||19. Ole Miss|
|3. Florida State||12. Kansas State||20. Oklahoma|
|4. Mississippi State||13. Arizona State||21. Clemson|
|5. TCU||14. Wisconsin||22. Louisville|
|6. Ohio State||15. Auburn||23. Boise State|
|7. Baylor||16. Georgia Tech||24. Marshall|
|8. UCLA||17. Missouri||25. Utah|
The Group of Five makes an appearance
Boise State and Marshall are your official leaders for a spot in the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange or Peach bowls. Boise State (9-2) checked in at No. 23, and Marshall (11-0) at No. 24. Those rankings carry important distinctions: First, Boise State is head of Mountain West foe Colorado State. Boise defeated Colorado State 37-24 in Week 2, but the Rams have two wins over Power 5 teams (Colorado on a neutral field and Boston College on the road). Marshall is one of two undefeated teams, but the Thundering Herd have the 136th-ranked schedule in the Sagarin ratings.
Rivalry games will be noted
This will be of note this week: Long said the unexpected nature of rivalry games may be a topic among the committee. “We certainly discuss if it’s a rivalry game, and we do know that (there are) a number of unanticipated outcomes in rivalry games,” Long said. That may be good news for teams like Ohio State and Florida State that face rivals that they should defeat comfortably on paper.
Division on Florida State
Is Florida State a good team because it finds a way to win each week or should the Seminoles be downgraded for letting lesser teams hang around? The committee is as divided as anyone. “There are some who believe a team coming from behind and winning is a sign of a strong team,” Long said. “There are others who believe that they are a good enough team and they should have been in front or in control of the game. It’s a debate in the room.”
The committee was down to 11
Archie Manning hasn’t participated all year as he recovered from knee replacement surgery, but the committee was down a second member in Mike Tranghese. The former Big East commissioner was ill but is expected back next week.
Who Should Worry:
The Horned Frogs still have a nice ace in the hole when it comes to its non-conference schedule compared to Mississippi State, Baylor and Ohio State. The Frogs defeated No. 18 Minnesota 30-7 in September when the Bulldogs and Bears were playing lackluster non-conference schedules and the Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech. TCU has a road game Thursday against an improving Texas, but Baylor (No. 12 Kansas State), Mississippi State (No. 19 Ole Miss) and Ohio State (either No. 14 Wisconsin or No. 18 Minnesota) all finish their seasons with tougher games. TCU is already out of the top four with few ways to make up ground without help.
The Thundering Herd entered the top 25, but Marshall shouldn’t get too excited. Marshall is behind Boise, a team Long said was ahead because its strength of schedule is “far and away” better. If both continue to win, that leaves little room even for an undefeated Marshall to move up. The Herd face Western Kentucky (6-5) and either Louisiana Tech and Rice (7-4) in the league title game. Even if Boise State loses to Utah State (9-3) and falls out of Mountain West contention, one-loss Colorado State would swoop in for the MWC championship game.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:
The Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech may not be as damming as we think. The Hokies are 5-6 after a 6-3 double-overtime loss to Wake Forest on Saturday and haven’t come close to duplicating their high-water mark of defeating Ohio State 35-21 in Columbus in Week 2. In response to a question about losses to teams whose stature as fallen regarding Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss and Ohio State’s loss to Virginia Tech, Long said: “We certainly talk about bad losses, but I’m not sure I would agree with the ones you listed there.”
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 5 TCU vs. No. 11 Arizona
Fiesta: No. 23 Boise State* vs. No. 6 Ohio State
Orange: No. 16 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 10 Michigan State
Peach: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Georgia
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
Hosts Braden Gall and Steven Lassan preview another historic week of Thanksgiving football. The Big Ten West, SEC West and East and Pac-12 South division championships hang in the balance. We also offer up some locks of the week against the spread and breakdown Turkey Day menus and traditions.
LeBron James called his Cleveland Cavaliers team “fragile” over the weekend, after they hit a new low by losing a fourth-straight game. The Cavs haven’t proved they’re tough and playoff-ready, by any means. But at least that streak is over now. Cleveland dominated the young Orlando Magic wire-to-wire last night, pulling out a 104-76 victory behind James’ 29 points, 11 assists, four rebounds and three steals. That’s what MVPs do: They snap you out of a funk, straightening out a whole squad seemingly on their own.
Derrick Rose used to do such work the Chicago Bulls, but lately the Windy City’s lucky just to see their star point guard take the floor. After missing four games with a tweaked hamstring, Rose returned to action against the Utah Jazz last night to help the Bulls eke out a win in Salt Lake City after blowing a 19-point lead. Chicago played Rose for just 25 minutes, clearly still uneasy about the health of their game-changing star. Until the stakes are truly high, you can expect the team’s approach to favor preserving Rose’s fragile body, regardless of what his critics might say.
The New York Knicks were put in a position to understand Chicago’s plight last night, as Carmelo Anthony left the court with back spasms toward the end of a 91-86 road loss to the Houston Rockets. ESPN's Ian Begley reported that 'Melo went to a Houston hospital to receive medication for the pain, but Anthony’s status is otherwise unknown at this moment. Stay tuned for updates.
But Rockets counterpart James Harden continued to prove, in this contest, that he deserves mention in the MVP category himself. Racking up a season-high 36 points to go with six rebounds and six steals, Harden closed the Knicks by scoring his team’s last 12 points and widened the gap to let Clutch City breathe easy. If the Rockets are to survive Dwight Howard’s recent knee injury — which has led to some serious rebounding and rim-protection problems — it’ll be because of The Beard simply won’t let them lose.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 25:
• NFL logo pancake art. It's exactly what it sounds like.
• An NFL journeyman was found passed out in a Wendy's drive-thru. As a commenter notes, he got a frosty reception.
• Joe Pos reminds us that for one shining moment, Priest Holmes was the greatest player fantasy football had ever seen.
• Watch James Harden abandon matador defense in favor of statue defense.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
It’s been a weird season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Preseason speculation had them atop of the league, fighting for a second Western Conference title and their first NBA championship. Reigning MVP Kevin Durant’s foot injury — a Jones fracture — cast doubt on those hopes, but by no means dashed them. When Russell Westbrook left the team’s first game of the season with a hand injury, things got even dimmer.
Next came injuries to Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow, Perry Jones III, Andre Roberson and Jeremy Lamb. The “Zombie Thunder” have been a collection of overstretched players; basketball journeymen thrust into roles they couldn’t have possibly imagined a 59-win team would’ve handed them. Kendrick Perkins has been asked to score — yikes — in an offense regularly led by Sebastian Telfair, a point guard who wasn’t even in the league last season.
Now 3-12, the Thunder have the worst record in their conference. Only the comically bad, winless Philadelphia 76ers are at a lower spot in the standings. The Thunder have dug themselves quite a hole to get out of.
Good thing the cavalry’s on the way, then. According to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, the Thunder’s dual superstars are now participating in the majority of team practices. Westbrook could return as soon as Friday, when OKC hosts the New York Knicks. “They looked good,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said when asked about Durant and Westbrook. “But no more than that. They’re going to continue to go through this process, and when they’re ready, 100 percent ready, they will play. But until then, nothing else we know of.”
At the end of the day, the berserk Western Conference is arguably no easier or more difficult for a team whether their postseason berth comes with a No. 1 seed or a No. 8 seed. Every matchup is tough. And the Thunder, lucky them, are talented enough to beat any team in a seven-game series (home court or not) if they’re healthy. The challenge now is for them to play nearly perfect basketball for four months, just to get to those playoffs.
— John Wilmes
College football’s playoff committee has released four sets of rankings, and the debate about the top four teams will continue every week until the final matchups are released. While the top 25 rankings are expected to change each week and will look drastically different from the release of the first poll to the last one, the playoff committee's poll provided some insight into the process.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. This poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey), SBNation.com
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 13 Playoff Projection
Takeaways From Expert Poll Results
* Alabama remains the No. 1 team in the playoff projection after taking the top spot following the Week 12 win over Mississippi State.
* The gap between Florida State and Oregon decreased from 18 points to six this week. The Seminoles received six first-place votes compared to one for the Ducks.
* Mississippi State is ahead of Baylor and TCU for the last spot by a comfortable margin (20 points).
* Barring an upset, the top four teams in this projection – Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and Mississippi State – are in good shape to earn a playoff bid. The Bulldogs could be pushed by Baylor, TCU or Ohio State for that last spot, but assuming coach Dan Mullen’s team beats Ole Miss and finishes 11-1, Mississippi State seems to have the inside track for the No. 4 ranking.
* UCLA jumps two spots to No. 8 in the rankings after beating USC. The Bruins are a longshot to make the playoffs, but coach Jim Mora’s team would have an interesting case for a bid if it wins out – including a matchup against Oregon in the Pac-12 title.
* Missouri makes an appearance in the poll, but the Tigers need a lot of breaks to jump into the discussion for a playoff spot. Coach Gary Pinkel’s team can clinch the SEC East with a win over Arkansas this Friday.
Group of 5 Rankings
Remaining Schedule: Western Kentucky (Nov. 28)
The Thundering Herd survived an upset bid at UAB and holds a slight edge over Boise State for the No. 1 spot in the Group of 5 rankings.
2. Boise State
Remaining Schedule: Utah State (Nov. 29)
With Marshall’s narrow win at UAB, the gap between the Thundering Herd and Boise State is closing. The Broncos crushed Wyoming 63-14 to improve to 9-2 and host a solid Utah State team this Saturday.
3. Colorado State
Remaining Schedule: at Air Force (Nov. 28)
A late-season bye week helped quarterback Garrett Grayson and receiver Rashard Higgins return to full strength, and the Rams easily handled New Mexico 58-20 on Saturday. Colorado State needs a win on the road over Air Force and have Utah State beat Boise State on Saturday to play for the Mountain West title.
Remaining Schedule: UConn (Nov. 29)
The Tigers claimed their fifth victory in a row with a 31-20 win over USF on Saturday. Three teams in the American Athletic Conference have one loss in conference play, and Memphis closes out its league slate with a home date against UConn on Saturday. If the Tigers win and UCF loses at USF or East Carolina, Memphis would own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Cincinnati for the league crown.
Remaining Schedule: at Temple (Nov. 29), Houston (Dec. 6)
The Bearcats soundly defeated UConn 41-0 last week to keep pace with Memphis and UCF in the American Athletic Conference. Cincinnati is a longshot to gain the Group of 5 bowl spot, but coach Tommy Tuberville’s team can finish with a 9-3 record and improve its bowl positioning over the last two weeks.
Games With Playoff/Bowl Implications in Week 14
TCU at Texas
7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1 (Thursday)
LSU at Texas A&M
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Thursday)
Northern Illinois at Western Michigan
11 a.m. ET, ESPNU (Friday)
Western Kentucky at Marshall
Noon ET, Fox Sports 1 (Friday)
Arkansas at Missouri
2:30 p.m. ET, CBS (Friday)
Stanford at UCLA
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC (Friday)
Arizona State at Arizona
3:30 p.m. ET, FOX (Friday)
Michigan at Ohio State
Noon ET, ABC
Georgia Tech at Georgia
Noon ET, SEC Network
South Carolina at Clemson
Noon ET, ESPN
Florida at Florida State
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Minnesota at Wisconsin
3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Notre Dame at USC
3:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Auburn at Alabama
7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Oregon at Oregon State
8 p.m. ET, ABC
Utah State at Boise State
10:15 p.m., ESPN2
College football’s 2014 season has reached its final stretch run, and the bowl and national title picture is starting to clear. The playoff committee will release its fifth set of rankings on Tuesday this week, which should give fans, coaches and players a better idea of what the committee values heading into the last few weeks of the season.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
With 13 weeks in the books, it’s time to take a look at what the bowl picture might hold for each conference and team this year. The post-Week 13 bowl projections are a mixture between picks for the next few weeks, how things would look if the season ended today, and the results from the first 13 weeks of action.
Teams on the projection bubble and missing our projections this week: Oklahoma State, Temple, Fresno State, Ohio, Akron, Illinois, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Oregon State and UAB.
College Football's Post-Week 13 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| UL Lafayette vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20|
| UTEP vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
| Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Bowling Green vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Toledo vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs.|
| East Carolina vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23|
| Western Kentucky vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
| Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| MTSU vs.|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs. |
| Rice vs.|
San Diego State
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs.|
| Rutgers vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| Boston College vs.|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| NC State vs.|
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Virginia Tech vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Notre Dame vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| North Carolina vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Miami vs.|
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Nebraska vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs.|
| Ole Miss vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs. |
| Clemson vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
| Texas vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs.|
| Duke vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs.|
| Maryland vs.|
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
| Minnesota vs.|
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American vs.|
| Houston vs.|
|Taxslayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Kansas State vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Stanford vs.|
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
| Memphis vs.|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs. |
| Northern Illinois vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Georgia vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| TCU vs.|
|Orange||Dec. 31||ACC vs.|
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
| Baylor vs.|
|Related: Projecting the Playoff Teams After Week 13|
|Rose||Jan. 1||Playoff |
| Florida State vs.|
| Alabama vs.|
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Alabama vs.|
* Indicates an at-large selection. Conference not projected to have enough bowl-eligible teams to fulfill the conference alignment.
** Bold indicates team has accepted bid to bowl.
Week 13 of the NFL season means three things – a Thanksgiving tripleheader, no more bye weeks to worry about and the realization that the fantasy playoffs are just around the corner. Whether your league’s playoffs start next week or a little later, there’s no debate that these next few games will make or break many a season.
With that in mind here are 15 players that could be available on your waiver wire that could wind up being the difference between experiencing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Note: Players listed below are owned in less than 70% of Yahoo! leagues.
Eli Manning, New York Giants
The interceptions are certainly a concern when it comes to Manning, but remember that five of his 12 picks came in one game. The appeal when it comes to Peyton’s younger brother is twofold. First, there’s the schedule. Of the Giants’ remaining five games, four of them are against teams that are in the top 12 of the league in terms of fantasy points allowed to QBs. It starts off with Jacksonville (10th) this week and includes a finishing stretch of Washington (fourth), St. Louis (second) and Philadelphia (12th). Even Tennessee (25th) doesn't seem like that difficult a matchup, at least on paper. The second reason to like Manning is the emergence of rookie Odell Beckham Jr. In the last four games, the Giants’ first-round pick has averaged more than 125 yards receiving. Not surprising, Manning has averaged 315 yards passing during that same stretch. Peyton’s got better numbers, but Eli’s more readily available and both Manning brothers could end up being difference-makers during the fantasy playoffs.
Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee Titans
Adding Mettenberger to your roster, let alone starting him, is definitely going against the grain. However, the rookie has shown signs of growth and improvement with each start. On Sunday, he threw for a season-high 345 yards and he has now recorded two touchdown passes in each of his past two games. The schedule (at HOU, NYG, NYJ, at JAC, IND) also isn’t daunting, as there are three top-10 QB fantasy matchups on tap for Weeks 14-16. The worst of this quintet is Indianapolis (17th), but that is the final game of the season and it’s possible that the Colts will have their playoff destination determined by then. There’s plenty of risk when it comes to relying on Mettenberger, namely his lack of experience and the uncertainty surrounding his supporting cast, but it’s also possible that youth will be served during these fantasy playoffs.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
By and large, Tannehill acquitted himself quite well on Sunday in his head-to-head matchup with Peyton Manning. Tannehill had one fewer touchdown pass (3 to 4) and the lone turnover (INT), but he still finished with 33.6 fantasy points on the road in his duel with the future Hall of Famer. Tannehill has been a top-five fantasy QB these past four weeks and he still has two games (Weeks 13 and 17) remaining against the Jets, who are giving up the most fantasy points to opposing QBs. Tannehill is well on his way to putting together the best season of his young NFL career. Perhaps this success will continue during the fantasy playoffs?
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
Ben Tate was released last week, which removed one mouth to feed in the Browns’ backfield. Terrance West is still around and will get his share of touches, but Crowell seems to have moved ahead of him in the pecking order. Crowell has gotten at least 12 carries in three straight games and he also has three rushing touchdowns during this span. He is averaging a healthy five yards per carry and has a knack for getting into the end zone (7 rushing TDs in 90 att.). In Weeks 14-16 Crowell will face three teams (IND, CIN, CAR) that are among the top seven teams in fantasy points allowed to RBs. It doesn’t get more playoff-friendly than that.
Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams
Mason continues to get the call in the Rams’ backfield, as he’s averaged nearly 20 carries over the past four games. From here out his schedule shapes up pretty well, starting with Oakland (fifth in fantasy pts allowed to RBs) and including a Week 16 date with the Giants (second). The only matchup that’s not that appealing is a Week 15 home game with Arizona (No. 3 in NFL in rushing defense). That said, the key with Mason moving forward is opportunity and it certainly appears that he’ll see more than enough carries to at least put him in a position to be a reliable fantasy contributor.
Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings claimed Ben Tate off of waivers last week following his release by Cleveland, but there’s no reason to not think that McKinnon will remain a big part of the game plan. For starters, Adrian Peterson’s uncertain future means it’s even more important for the team to evaluate McKinnon, its third-round pick, to determine if he’s a potential long-term answer at running back. So assuming McKinnon will continue to see consistent touches, it should increase his fantasy potential moving forward, even if Minnesota’s closing slate (CAR, NYJ, at DET, at MIA, CHI) features a couple of not-so-appealing matchups. Remember when it comes to fantasy RBs, opportunity (i.e., touches) is an important part of the puzzle.
Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders
Talk about making the most of your opportunities. Murray picked up 112 yards rushing against the Chiefs Thursday night on just four carries. His 90-yard TD run in the second quarter was highlight material and who knows where his numbers would have finished had he not departed with a concussion before halftime. The good news is that the extra days between games should give Murray plenty of time to get through the league-mandated concussion protocols. As long as Murray is cleared to play you can pretty much count on seeing a healthy dose of him moving forward.
John Brown, Arizona Cardinals
Name the most-targeted Cardinal this season? It’s not Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd or even Andre Ellington. Instead it’s Brown, who head coach Bruce Arians has already compared to Marvin Harrison. Brown, Arizona’s third-round pick, is just another product of what has been a stellar rookie WR class. He leads the Cardinals in targets (71) and touchdown catches (5), and trails only Fitzgerald in receiving yards (529). Brown has caught at least two passes every game and while his fantasy production has been up-and-down, he could have a bigger role moving forward with Fitzgerald dealing with a knee injury that caused him to miss Sunday’s game (first since 2007). Brown has been flying under the radar, but that may soon change.
Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are coming off of their bye, presenting a golden opportunity to snag Bryant before his ownership rate goes back up. All the rookie has done in his first five games is haul in six touchdowns. After missing the first six games because of a hamstring injury, Bryant has taken advantage of an inconsistent Markus Wheaton and emerged as a big-play target for Pittsburgh’s offense. Antonio Brown will continue to be the lead dog in this pack, but Bryant has already shown that he doesn’t need many opportunities to cause some major damage.
Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
Ryan Tannehill (see above) has been among the most productive fantasy QBs over the past four weeks and one of his favorite targets during this stretch has been Landry. Mike Wallace is the Dolphins’ No. 1 receiver, but it’s Landry who leads the team in receptions (49). Twenty-four of these catches have come in his past four games, as have four of his five touchdown grabs. The second-round pick out of LSU has not only been a reliable (75.4 percent catch rate) target, but he’s also developed into a more productive one, setting the stage for what could be a strong finish to a solid rookie campaign.
Kenny Stills, New Orleans Saints
Brandin Cooks, the Saints’ first-round pick, went on injured reserve last week because of a broken thumb. Prior to the injury, Cooks was second only to Jimmy Graham in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns. Stills replaced Cooks in the starting lineup Monday night against Baltimore and responded with a season-best eight receptions (on nine targets) for 98 yards. As the Saints' No. 3 WR for most of the season, Stills' numbers (39-529-2) are similar to those of Marques Colston (38-618-2), despite the fact that Colston has seen more targets (64 to 51 for Stills).
Mychal Rivera, Oakland Raiders
Rivera didn’t do much of anything (rec., 8 yds.) last week against Kansas City, but otherwise it’s been a nice stretch of production for the second-year tight end. He is second on the team in receptions (38) and all three of his touchdowns came in back-to-back games (Weeks 9-10). Rivera carries plenty of risk, but it’s not like Derek Carr has a bunch of established targets to throw to either. Depending on your TE options, you may at least want to consider taking a flyer on Rivera.
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Sports hernia surgery cost Rudolph seven games, but this was a guy considered to be a top-10 fantasy TE entering the season. After going target-less in his first game back two weeks ago, Rudolph made good on three of his five looks Sunday against Green Bay, finishing with 50 yards. The more important development is that Rudolph played just about every possible snap, so he’s clearly the Vikings No. 1 TE moving forward. The question now is how soon until he starts producing like a TE1?
The Ravens DST has produced double-digit fantasy points in four/five of the last seven games. This unit can get after the quarterback (21 sacks during this stretch), which usually leads to the potential for forcing some turnovers (5 INTs, 6 fumbles). There’s also the matter of Baltimore’s Week 15 home date with Jacksonville. The Jaguars are giving up the most fantasy points to DSTs, making it a tailor-made, playoff-friendly matchup for the Ravens DST.
St. Louis Rams
This DST currently ranks n the middle of the pack in fantasy scoring, but it also has produced 12 or more points in three of its past four games. One of those was against Denver’s high-powered offense, as St. Louis picked off Peyton Manning twice, sacked him twice and held the Broncos to just seven points. The Rams have rediscovered their pass rush (16 sacks in last four games) and the highest-ranked offense they will face the rest of the way belongs to the dysfunctional Redskins (11th in total offense). And that Week 14 game is preceded by a home date with Oakland, the NFL’s worst offense. The Rams call the Show Me State home and this DST may be primed to show plenty of fantasy production from here out.
Scoring is based on Athlon Sports default scoring which is 6 points for all TDs, .5 points per reception and 1 point PER 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving and 40 return yards.
The original reality TV show is sports. No contrived setting where seven strangers living in a house or one bachelor searching for love can match the excitement the Iron Bowl delivered last fall.
The beauty of college football lies in its complete unpredictability and drama. Here are some outrageous predictions for Week 14.
Note: The point of this column is to have some fun and make some outlandish predictions. Please react accordingly.
The ACC will win the season-ending series with the SEC
Clemson hasn’t beaten South Carolina since 2008, losing five straight in the heated in-state rivalry. Georgia Tech hasn’t beaten Georgia since 2008 and has lost 12 of the last 13 in the series known simply as Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. Tech has its best chance in years with a 9-2 record and ACC Coastal Division title already clinched. The only ACC team to hold its own in the critical season-ending round-robin has been Florida State — winners of three out of four against Florida. Look for all three ACC teams to win this weekend. More shocking? Only Tech over the Dawgs would be an upset.
Missouri will win the SEC East… again
Last year, South Carolina entered the final month of the season with a tie-breaker over Missouri, forcing the Tigers to win four straight to win the East. The Tigers did just that, including wins at Ole Miss and against Johnny Football at home. This year, Georgia entered the final month of the season with a tie-breaker over Mizzou needing just one slip up for an SEC East title. Well, after five straight wins, the Tigers are a victory over Arkansas at home away from repeating in exactly the same fashion. Mizzou beats Arkansas and shocks the country (again) by winning the East.
Listen to the Week 13 recap and analysis podcast:
The Territorial Cup will determine the Pac-12 South
UCLA is in control of its own destiny but is facing a bit of a nemesis in Stanford. The Cardinal have won six straight against UCLA, including all three while Jim Mora has been in Westwood. Should Stanford upset the Bruins, the winner of the Arizona State-Arizona rivalry game would claim the Pac-12 South crown and a berth in the conference title game. Both games will be happening at exactly the same time.
No one will break the NCAA’s single-game rushing record
Two weeks ago, Melvin Gordon broke LaDainian Tomlinson’s 15-year old NCAA single-game rushing record with 408 yards against Nebraska. The year of the running back continued last weekend when, just five business days later, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine broke Gordon’s record with 427 yards against Kansas. I’m going out on limb here and saying that no one will break Perine’s record… this week.
Texas will play a role in the Big 12 title… after all.
Baylor, Kansas State and TCU all have one league loss and all three have a shot at the Big 12 title. Baylor has the tie-breaker over TCU while TCU has the tie-breaker over Kansas State. The Wildcats will visit Baylor on Dec. 6. So where does Texas fit in, you ask? TCU visits a red-hot Longhorns team on Thanksgiving night and Texas is prepared to give Art Briles (or Bill Snyder) a huge serving of good fortune when they knock off the Horned Frogs in Austin. The College Football Playoff Committee would be extremely grateful.
Athlon Sports has formed a Heisman Trophy committee. Each week, we will ask 13 members of the national college football media to rank their top candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
Each voter will rank their top five candidates, with each first-place vote getting five points and each last-place vote getting one point.
Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports
Dave Revsine, Big Ten Network
Adam Zucker, CBS Sports
Steven Godfrey, SBNation
Zac Ellis, Sports Illustrated
Bryan Fischer, NFL.com
Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Network
Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report, B/R Radio
Josh Ward, MrSEC.com
Mitch Light, Athlon Sports
David Fox, Athlon Sports
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports, SiriusXM
Dropped out: Cody Kessler, Jameis Winston
Listen to the Week 13 recap and analysis podcast:
The Top 3:
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
In what is likely to be his final performance in Autzen Stadium, Marcus Mariota got a standing ovation. He accounted for four touchdowns, giving him a Pac-12-record 42 for the season, and rolling up nearly 400 yards of offense (396) in three quarters of work in the easy win over Colorado. It was his nation-leading eighth game this year with four total touchdowns and Mariota became one of just five players in NCAA history with 9,000 career passing yards and 2,000 career rushing yards.
Season Stats: 3,103 yds, 68.0%, 32 TDs, 2 INTs, 597 rush yds, 9 TDs
2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Unfortunately, Samaje Perine might have impacted the Heisman race as Melvin Gordon’s single-game rushing record stood for just seven days. However, in a road win over an always-stingy rival Iowa, Gordon was brilliant in the second half. He finished with 200 yards rushing, 64 yards receiving and two more touchdowns. He became the 17th player in NCAA history to rush for 2,000 yards and did it faster than anyone ever (241 att.). His 2,109 yards are tied with Ron Dayne for the Wisconsin and Big Ten record with Minnesota coming to town next weekend.
Season Stats: 254 att., 2,109 yds, 25 TDs, 15 rec., 147 yds, 2 TDs
3. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
He’s a little late to the party and he wasn’t the best player on the field against Indiana (See: Jalin Marshall) but Barrett is making a strong Heisman push. The Buckeyes quarterback completed 25-of-32 passes for 302 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions to go with 20 carries and 78 yards rushing. With 33 touchdown passes and 3,507 yards of offense, Barrett has broken two significant, single-season school records. And did so while clinching the Big Ten East Division championship.
Season Stats: 2,658 yds, 64.8%, 33 TDs, 10 INTs, 849 rush yds, 9 TDs
Thanksgiving is a great time to get gorged on turkey, pie and college football rivalry games.
The traditional fare of the Iron Bowl, Florida-Florida State and Ohio State-Michigan is worth watching, but this week is also time for some surprising traditional and non-traditional matchups.
Even if the Egg Bowl isn’t the SEC West play-in game that seemed a possibility a month ago, Mississippi State-Ole Miss features a team hoping to play for a national title.
Wisconsin-Minnesota is a long-lived traditional rivalry that has rarely packed so much meaning with the Big Ten West title and perhaps a Heisman Trophy on the line.
And even though Missouri and Texas aren’t playing their traditional rivals this week, their matchups with Arkansas and TCU, respectively, are loaded with significance on the national and conference championship stage.
The Week Ahead: Nov. 25-27
All Times Eastern.
Listen to the Week 13 recap and analysis podcast:
TCU at Texas
When and where: Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... we miss Texas-Texas A&M as much as anyone, but this is still a darn good game. This is TCU’s last chance to make a statement to the playoff selection committee, and the Horned Frogs will have to do it on offense. Texas is only 6-5, but the Longhorns have had the best defense in the Big 12 since conference play began.
Vegas says: TCU by 6 1/2
Arkansas at Missouri
When and where: Friday, 2:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this is perhaps the most unlikely game playing a role in the SEC championship. Missouri lost at home to Indiana and to Georgia by 34 but can clinch the East with a win over the Hogs. Missouri can win the SEC East for the second consecutive season but has to go through the hottest team in the league to do it. Arkansas has ended a 17-game SEC win streak by outscoring LSU and Ole Miss 47-0.
Vegas says: Arkansas by 1 1/2
Arizona at Arizona State
When and where: Friday, 3:30 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... few games have more potential for a bonkers finish. Both teams have won on Hail Marys this season — Arizona over Cal and Arizona State over USC — not to mention the regular late-night craziness that follows Pac-12 teams. Fans will be doing their share of scoreboard watching, too. If UCLA loses to Stanford, the winner of the Territorial Cup wins the Pac-12 South outright. One question will be the status of Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon, who left the win over Utah on Saturday with a right foot injury.
Vegas says: Pick ‘em
Stanford at UCLA
When and where: Friday, 3:30 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... UCLA still has the Pac-12 South, a Pac-12 title and potentially a playoff spot on the line against a team that has the Bruins’ number. This is not the Stanford team we’re used to seeing, but the Bruins have reason to be worried even against a below-average Cardinal team. Stanford has won the last six in the series, four by two touchdowns or more.
Vegas says: UCLA by 4 1/2
Michigan at Ohio State
When and where: Saturday, noon, ABC/ESPN
We’re watching because... Ohio State may be primed for an upset. The Buckeyes let Indiana hang around for three quarters last week and has had a negative turnover margin for three consecutive games. Is that a case of looking ahead to Michigan or a real reason for Urban Meyer to worry? A year ago, another lackluster Michigan team challenged a then-undefeated Ohio State in a 42-41 loss.
Vegas says: Ohio State by 20
Georgia Tech at Georgia
When and where: Saturday, noon, SEC Network
We’re watching because... this game may mean everything to Georgia or nothing. The Bulldogs will know Friday afternoon if they’re going to the SEC Championship Game. An Arkansas win keeps Georgia in playoff contention. A Missouri win, and Georgia can start planning for a bowl. Georgia Tech has its division title wrapped up, but the Yellow Jackets have plenty of motivation after winning just one meeting in the series since 2001.
Vegas says: Georgia by 13
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this is an Egg Bowl with national significance, who knew? Ole Miss collapsed in last year’s Egg Bowl, a win that shifted the momentum for Dan Mullen’s program in 2014. The Bulldogs still have a chance at the SEC West if Alabama loses the Iron Bowl and may be a playoff contender even if they don’t reach Atlanta. Ole Miss, which has gone from No. 3 in the AP poll to 8-3, can ruin it all for Mississippi State.
Vegas says: Mississippi State by 2
Florida at Florida State
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... the last time a lame duck coach for Florida went to Tallahassee, the Gators spoiled a special day for Florida State. The Seminoles christened Bobby Bowden Field on Nov. 20, 2004 only to watch Florida players carry fired coach Ron Zook off of it after a 20-13 win over the 10th-ranked Seminoles.
Vegas says: Florida State by 7 1/2
Minnesota at Wisconsin
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
We’re watching because... the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe doesn’t usually figure into the Big Ten title race, and that’s pretty cool. Minnesota keeps plugging along and filling its trophy case — the Gophers already have the Floyd of Rosedale (Iowa) and Little Brown Jug (Michigan) this season and could add the Axe and a Big Ten West title. The coaches don’t need this advice, but just let us sit back and watch Melvin Gordon and David Cobb do their thing.
Vegas says: Wisconsin by 13 1/2
Auburn at Alabama
When and where: Saturday, 7:45 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... the last Iron Bowl ended like this.
Vegas says: Alabama by 9 1/2
Oregon at Oregon State
When and where: Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... one of the nation’s more underrated rivalries again factors in the national title race, if only for one team. The Civil War was once a balanced rivalry before Oregon began its current six-game win streak (two of those Oregon wins were decided by less than a touchdown, however). Oregon State has a losing record while Oregon is looking to stay in the title race. If that situation in a rivalry game doesn’t sound familiar, ask a West Virginia fan.
Vegas says: Oregon by 20
Earlier this month, new NBA commissioner Adam Silver penned a New York Times op-ed called “Legalize and Regulate Sports Betting.” The column was exactly what its title would lead you to believe it was. Silver highlighted the ongoing mega-industry of sports betting — a mixture of illegal activity and tricky maneuvering through legislation made possible by the internet — and called for professional sports leagues to take hold of the phenomenon for themselves, and bring it into daylight.
“There is no solid data on the volume of illegal sports betting activity in the United States,” Silver wrote, “but some estimate that nearly $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year.” Silver also noted that things are different — and, by implication, more reasonable — abroad: “Outside of the United States, sports betting and other forms of gambling are popular, widely legal and subject to regulation. In England, for example, a sports bet can be placed on a smartphone, at a stadium kiosk or even using a television remote control.”
Silver’s voice is one thing, but now a louder one is joining in. Over the weekend, Mark Cuban echoed his commissioner’s sentiments. “I agree 100 percent," Cuban told reporters before his Dallas Mavericks fell to the Houston Rockets. ”I think we're the world's biggest hypocrites when we say, 'Oh, we don't want you betting on our games,' and then we get all excited about the sports betting line and people go to Vegas on trips won from the NBA or NFL.
“I mean, it's hugely hypocritical. I just think that Adam did the exact right thing. I think by focusing on the federal regulations and making the changes there, that it will change. It's just a question of when. I think over the next three to five years, it will change. And it'll be interesting to see how the NFL reacts as well, because they've still so far said that they're adamant against it because I guess they have data that says the NFL doesn't benefit from gambling.”
Now, who wants to throw down on some over/unders about Cuban’s suggested timeline?
— John Wilmes
Hosts Braden Gall and David Fox breakdowns all of the action from Week 13. The Big Ten West is down to two teams, the ACC title game is set, UCLA takes the lead in the Pac-12 South, more Jameis Winston discussion and Samaje Perine's record-setting performance highlight this week's edition. We debate it all and offer our playoff predictions on this week's edition of the Cover 2 Podcast.
Tiger Woods announced over the weekend that he had selected little-known Chris Como as his new swing coach, sending out this Saturday morning tweet: "Happy to have Chris Como consulting and working with me on my swing. I’m excited to be back competing." Tiger confidante and former Stanford teammate Notah Begay played matchmaker for the two, putting an end to speculation that Woods was planning to fly solo upon his return to competition following an injury layoff.
So who is Chris Como? Based in Plano, Texas, he's listed among Golf Digest's "Best Young Teachers," and he sounds like a bit of a technician. “I like to study the golf swing in biomechanical terms,” Como wrote in Golf Digest. Sounds like a red flag; the last thing Woods needs to do is overthink. But Tiger has already begun downplaying Como's role, calling him a consultant rather than a teacher and raising questions of just how influential he'll be.
On one hand, Como is coming aboard Team Tiger at the perfect time; at least, former Woods mentor Hank Haney thinks so. “This is the easiest situation that any coach has been in,” he told Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel. “You couldn’t coach Tiger and have a friendlier scenario than Chris Como has. Look at the record Tiger had with Butch (Harmon); I was following that. Look at the record Tiger had with me; Sean (Foley) was following that.
“Let’s face it: The expectations are not super high at this point.”
In addition to being a clever, self-promoting zinger, Haney's comment prompted us to compare Tiger's performance under the tutelage of those three aforementioned mentors. Of course, there's a lot more to a player's success or failure than who's watching him on the range — especially when you're talking about the best player of the last 30 years — but Tiger certainly enjoyed varying degrees of success depending on who was helping call the shots.
Tiger and Butch Harmon
Harmon was Woods' mentor during his stunning ascendancy to the top of the golf world. With Harmon, Woods employed a more upright swing with a pronounced wrist cock.
Tiger under Butch:
• 31 PGA Tour Wins
• PGA Tour winning percentage of 26.8%
• 8 Major Championships — 1997, 2001, '02 Masters; 2000, '02 U.S. Open; 2000 British Open; 1999, 2000 PGA Championship
• 8 World Golf Championship Wins
• 5 Money Titles (1997, 1999-2002)
• 5 Times Low Scoring Average (1999-2003)
Quote: “I don’t think he needs a swing coach. If I were advising Tiger I’d tell him, ‘You’re the greatest player that ever lived, just go to the range and hit shots.’”
Tiger and Hank Haney
Haney flattened Woods swing but felt that Tiger was too dedicated to working out and not enough to practicing. But he also oversaw the period with the best winning percentage of Tiger's career.
Tiger Under Hank:
• 31 PGA Tour Wins
• PGA Tour winning percentage of 33.3%
• 6 Major Championships — 2005 Masters; 2008 U.S. Open; 2005, '06 British Open; 2006, '07 PGA Championship
• 4 Money Titles (2005-07, 2009)
• 4 Times Low Scoring Average (2005-07, 2009)
Quote: “I think he’d probably be better off just going and doing it himself. He’s the one that he’ll listen to the most. He’s the one that he’s always listened to the most."
Tiger and Sean Foley
Foley is known for his use of video and his rather unorthodox teaching style, but he had the misfortune of tutoring Woods during a particularly injury-plagued phase of his career.
• 8 PGA Tour Wins
• PGA Tour winning percentage of 14.5
• No Major Championships
• 1 Money Title (2013)
• Quote: "It was a lifelong ambition of mine to teach the best player of all time in our sport. I am both grateful for the things we had the opportunity to learn from one another, as well as the enduring friendship we have built. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him."
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 24:
• It's official: Katy Perry is your Super Bowl XLIX halftime performer.
• Odell Beckham had the catch of this or any other year in the Giants' loss to the Cowboys. It even impressed the heck out of the Cowboys. And, this being the Internet, some classic Beckham memes have emerged.
• Meanwhile, Marshawn Lynch had the postgame interview of the year.
• There's an NFL doomsday scenario brewing: a 5-11 team in the playoffs and a 12-4 team out.
• T.Y. Hilton broke down during his postgame interview as he talked about his baby daughter.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The Cleveland Cavaliers have now lost four games in a row. Nobody thought it was going to be easy for the quickly assembled super squad to find their rhythm — but no one thought they’d falter this badly out of the gate, either. Now 5-7 on the season, LeBron’s squad showed all the classic symptoms of losing basketball in their two weekend losses to the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors. Dropping the games by an average deficit of 15, they looked lost on both sides of the ball as rookie head coach David Blatt continued to have little impact on James and the rest of his stars.
The 2010-11 Miami Heat didn’t get off to a great start either, but the pandemonium about their beginnings was centered around a mere 9-8 record. They were criticized for not destroying everyone; not for failing to meet the standards of competence.
James had already clocked significant Team USA minutes with Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, while there’s a lot more work to be done with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, both of whom seem confused and overwhelmed by the demands of winning basketball. How much longer can Cleveland stumble without general manager David Griffin making some moves?
Meanwhile, Anthony Davis continued to prove himself as this season’s best player. In a 106-94 victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday, the New Orleans Pelicans big man poured in a career-high 43 points, also collecting 14 rebounds on the night. Davis is up to a preposterous 35.91 player efficiency rating over 36.6 minutes per game, and if he can hover near those figures for the rest of the season, there’s little doubt he’ll win the MVP award.
The Chicago Bulls’ former MVP Derrick Rose continued to sit and nurse his hamstring as his team limped into losses against the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers. Pau Gasol is now also out (calf) and the team lost Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson to injuries over the weekend, too. Chicago is still sitting pretty, near the top of the Eastern Conference seedings with an 8-5 record. But if the bodies keep on falling, the Bulls might find themselves slipping into the sticky territory of unmet expectations that rival Cleveland is living in.
— John Wilmes
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of football. With that in mind, Athlon Sports rounded up the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Week 12 of the NFL season.
New England's win against Detroit clinched the Patriots' 14th consecutive winning season. They became the sixth team in NFL history to post at least 14 consecutive winning seasons and are the first to do so since San Francisco (1983-98).
Peyton Manning became the third player in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass in at least 50 consecutive games, joining Drew Brees (54) and Tom Brady. Manning passed for four touchdowns in the Broncos' 39-36 win over Miami.
The Broncos trailed the Dolphins by 11 entering the third quarter, and Manning leading the comeback marked the first time sine 2003 that he has won a game in which his team trailed by 11 or more points entering the final quarter.
Denver wide receiver Wes Welker collected his 50th career touchdown catch in the win over Miami, joining Antonio Gates (96) and Rod Smith (68) as the only undrafted players with at least 50 touchdown receptions in the common draft era (since 1967).
Philadelphia scored on a kickoff return of 100+ yards for the second time this season on Sunday, making the Eagles the first team since 1970 Green Bay Packers to have multiple players with a 100+ yards kickoff return for a touchdown in a season. Josh Huff had Sunday's return of 107 yards while Chris Polk had a 102-yard return in Week 3. Nine different Eagles have now scored a return touchdown, tied for the most in a single season in NFL history.
Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez threw for 300+ yards for the third straight game in Sunday's 43-24 win against Tennessee. He had never thrown two in a row prior to this season in the first six years of his career.
In his return from suspension and season debut, Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon had 17 targets. That tied Chicago's Alshon Jeffery for the most this season (Week 11 vs. Minnesota). Gordon finished with eight catches for 120 yards in a 26-24 win in Atlanta.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks defeated Arizona 19-3 Sunday, giving Wilson his 20th career home win in his 22nd start. That is tied for the fewest starts needed to reach 20 regular-season wins at home among quarterbacks who began their careers in the Super Bowl era. The other three QBs to accomplish the feat are Matt Ryan, Marc Bulger, and Danny White.
Oakland running back Latavius Murray averaged 28 yards an attempt against Kansas City in Week 12, which is the highest averaged in an NFL game since at least 1933 with a minimum of four attempts. The four attempts is where it stopped for Murray after suffering a concussion. He had 112 yards and two TDs.
Chicago running back Matt Forte joined Ladainian Tomlinson as the only two players in NFL history with 800+ rushing yards and 40+ catches in each of his first seven seasons.
Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy rushed for 125 yards with a touchdown and had two catches for 13 yards with a touchdown in the Packers’ 24-21 win at Minnesota. Lacy is the first Packers running back to record at least 100 scrimmage yards and a receiving touchdown in three consecutive games in franchise history.
New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. became the third rookie since 1960 to have 10 receptions, 125 yards, and two touchdowns in a single game when he did so against Dallas Sunday night. He was 8-for-125 with the two scores in the first half, eventually finishing with 10 catches for 146 yards and the two scores.
Going into the start of the 2014 college football season, it seemed UCLA was the trendy pick to make a run to the first College Football Playoff and maybe even win the whole thing. Back-to-back losses in the middle of the season against Utah and Oregon may have derailed those ideas, but the Bruins have become one of the hottest teams in college football at perhaps the best possible time. But what is it that has changed with the Bruins that all of a sudden have them living up to the preseason hype?
For starters, protecting the football has improved over the last four weeks. Through the first seven games of the season, UCLA had a turnover margin of -2, with just two games seeing a positive turnover margin. Though the Bruins have lost the football a handful of times over the last month, the defense has come through with forced turnovers to make up for it. UCLA has forced six turnovers in the last four games.
Before that, the Bruins defense had forced eight turnovers all season, with three coming in the opener against Virginia and four coming in a road blowout win against Arizona State. Turnovers forced often felt to be few and far between those games for the Bruins. Now they can be counted on for at least one turnover per game it seems.
The Bruins are also starting to turn up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. UCLA is coming off its best performance of the season with six sacks of USC quarterback Cody Kessler. UCLA recorded three sacks in each of the two previous games before the USC game. UCLA had 10 sacks combined in its first eight games of the year.
UCLA has played its way into controlling the outcome of the Pac-12 South with just one week to play. The offense has been there for the Bruins throughout the season, but the defense is back to upholding its end of the bargain. All that stands in the way of UCLA and a trip back to the Pac-12 Championship Game for a third time in four seasons is Stanford. It is fitting the Bruins have a chance to wrap up the division against the two-time defending Pac-12 champions.
The Bruins also have a chance to wiggle into the College Football Playoff picture after all, with a convincing victory against Stanford and a victory over Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. UCLA may need a good amount of help elsewhere to see the preseason expectations met by UCLA, but crazy things can happen in the sport of college football. And the college football gods have rewarded teams getting hot at the right time. For UCLA, now could be the perfect time to be putting all of the pieces together.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
The Buffalo Bills will attempt to stay in the playoff discussion when they take on the New York Jets tonight in their adopted “home” of Ford Field in Detroit. This game was originally scheduled to be played Sunday afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium, but a massive snowstorm that dumped around eight feet in just a few days prompted not only the re-scheduling of this game, but the relocation to the Motor City.
The Bills (5-5) are aiming for a season sweep of the Jets (2-8) and a third straight win overall against their AFC East rivals. Buffalo trounced New York 43-23 at MetLife Stadium back in Week 8, thanks to four touchdown passes from Kyle Orton and six turnovers committed by Jets quarterbacks. That game also was the last time Geno Smith has been under center. He was replaced by Michael Vick after completing just two passes and throwing three interceptions in the first quarter in front of a thoroughly dissatisfied home crowd.
New York Jets vs. Buffalo Bills
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS (locally), NFL Sunday Ticket (DirecTV)
Spread: Buffalo -2
|New York (AFC) 2014 Schedule|
|11/2||@ KC||L 10 - 24||Recap|
|11/9||vs PIT||W 20 - 13||Recap|
|11/24||@ BUF||L 3 - 38||Recap|
|12/1||vs MIA||L 13 - 16||Recap|
|12/7||@ MIN||L 24 - 30||Recap|
|12/14||@ TEN||W 16 - 11||Recap|
|12/21||vs NE||1:00 pm||Buy Tickets|
|12/28||@ MIA||1:00 pm||Buy Tickets|
New York’s Key to Victory: Stay Grounded
The Jets have 18 giveaways on the season. A third of those (six) came in their Week 8 43-23 loss to the Bills. All six were committed by New York quarterbacks and while Geno Smith grabbed most of the headlines due to his nightmarish first quarter (2 completions, 3 INTs), it should be pointed out that Michael Vick threw a pick and lost two fumbles (out of four total). In fact, Smith and Vick have combined for 15 of the team’s 18 turnovers this season. Even though Smith (10 INTs, 2 fumbles) has been responsible for the vast majority of these, the argument can be made that the Jets are better off when the ball isn’t in their quarterbacks’ hands. New York is fourth in the NFL in rushing at 140.9 yards per game and dead last in passing (178.5 ypg). Buffalo’s defense has done a pretty good job against the run (99.0 ypg, 9th), but gave up a season-worst 175 yards (on 33 carries) and three touchdowns to the Jets back in Week 8. Even though the Bills won the first game by 20, they were outgained (280 to 312), especially on the ground (67 to 175), by the Jets. In fact, the final margin of victory was the exact number of points Buffalo scored on all of those New York miscues. If the Jets stay committed to the running game tonight, it could prove fruitful against a Bills defense that’s had to deal with a lot of extenuating circumstances in its preparations for this game. Besides, we’ve already seen what happens when this offense funnels primarily through the quarterback.
|Buffalo 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||vs KC||L 13 - 17||Recap|
|11/13||@ MIA||L 9 - 22||Recap|
|11/24||vs NYJ||W 38 - 3||Recap|
|11/30||vs CLE||W 26 - 10||Recap|
|12/7||@ DEN||L 17 - 24||Recap|
|12/14||vs GB||W 21 - 13||Recap|
|12/21||@ OAK||4:25 pm||Buy Tickets|
|12/28||@ NE||1:00 pm||Buy Tickets|
Buffalo’s Key to Victory: Maintain Edge in Turnover Margin
Statistically, the Bills’ offense has been just a hair more productive than the Jets’. Buffalo is 25th in the NFL in total offense (321.6 ypg), a little more than two yards ahead of New York. The defenses are also equally close in yards allowed, but the Bills have a near-touchdown advantage in terms of scoring defense (20.4 ppg compared to 26.5). The difference has been with turnovers. Buffalo is tied for seventh in the league with a plus-seven differential while New York is tied for 29th at minus-11. The Bills are near the top of the league in takeaways with 21 (12 INTs, 9 fumbles) while the Jets are last with just seven (3 INTs, 4 fumbles). To put it simply, Buffalo is plus-nine in its six wins and minus-two in its wins. New York is plus-two in its wins and minus-13 in its losses. One of the reasons the Bills are sitting at .500 and the Jets have won just two games is the vast discrepancy when it comes to ball security. This part of the game was huge in the first meeting and Buffalo would be well served to capitalize on its apparent advantage in this area tonight as well. The Bills may not be playing a true home game, but that doesn’t mean they can’t stick to the formula that has worked so well for them this season.
It has been anything but business as usual for Buffalo this past week. Not only did the snowstorm disrupt the Bills’ schedule, it forced the relocation of this game to Detroit. New York had to change up its routine too, but from a readiness standpoint, the Jets have a distinct advantage. However, there are plenty of reasons why one team is at .500 and one team is 2-8, and it starts at the quarterback position. Both teams have gone through quarterback changes, but Buffalo’s switch has been more successful than New York’s. Kyle Orton’s best game this season came back in Week 8 when the Bills trounced the Jets. I’m not expecting a repeat, but I do think Buffalo will take care of business at “home” tonight.