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Each week, Athlon Sports will highlight some of the best one-on-one matchups to watch in college football. Here are the most important games within the game to watch this weekend:

Brett Hundley, QB vs. Shayne Skov, LB (UCLA at Stanford)
There may be no more important player in the nation this weekend than Hundley. He struggled against the Cardinal in his first meeting last year but learned from the experience and played well in the Pac-12 title game. With a developing supporting cast and electric dual-threat ability, he has the talent to take over a game at any point (ask Bo Pelini). Shayne Skov is the quarterback and leader of one of the best front sevens in the nation. He is the leading tackler and posted 14.0 tackles and 2.0 TFL in two wins over the Bruins last year.

Week 8 Previews and Predictions: ACCBig 12 Big Ten Pac-12 SEC

Cameron Erving, OT vs. Vic Beasley, DE (Florida State at Clemson)
The Seminoles 6-foot-6 junior is on the radar for NFL scouts, but Erving has been inconsistent at times. Saturday night should be a good showcase game as he will be matched up against Clemson ends Corey Crawford and Vic Beasley. That duo has combined for 18 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks this year. If Erving keeps Beasley and Crawford away from quarterback Jameis Winston, Florida State is going to have its way with the Tigers’ secondary.

Lamarcus Joyner, CB vs. Sammy Watkins, WR (Florida State at Clemson)
Two five-star recruits turned ACC stars will go head-to-head this weekend in Death Valley. Watkins is one of the nation’s most versatile and explosive wide receivers and is leading the Tigers with 36 catches, 582 yards and three straight games with a touchdown. Joyner, who is the Noles No. 2 tackles, helped to hold Watkins to just 24 yards on six receptions in the FSU win last year in Tallahassee. This will be a huge showdown between two future NFL players.

Melvin Gordon, RB vs. Jonathan Brown, LB (Wisconsin at Illinois)
On defense for Illinois, Brown, the Big Ten’s top tackler (60 total, 12.0 per game) will be faced with one of the most difficult tasks a linebacker in this league can face. Wisconsin’s offense is No. 1 in the league because of its traditionally powerful and deep running game. Wisconsin boasts the league’s No. 1 (Melvin Gordon), No. 4 (James White) and No. 10 (Corey Clement) rushers. Brown may have 20 tackles in this game but if they are all six yards down the field, it will be a long day for Illinois.

Jasson Verrett, CB vs. Josh Stewart, WR (TCU at Oklahoma State)
Stewart has one game under his belt after sustaining a concussion against West Virginia, but he had only two receptions against Kansas State. The Cowboys’ top receiver will need to be at his best in his matchup against Thorpe Award contender Jason Verrett, one of the top cover corners in the country. Stewart caught six passes for 120 yards against TCU a year ago. 

Teaser:
Top College Football Player Matchups to Watch in Week 8
Post date: Thursday, October 17, 2013 - 10:31
All taxonomy terms: Video, videos, Overtime
Path: /overtime/ole-miss-coed-really-enjoying-pregame-festivities
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The fine folks at TexAgs took a video camera to The Grove at Ole Miss on Saturday prior to the Aggies’ 41-38 win over the Rebels. 
 
By far the star of the video is an Ole Miss fan at the 38-second mark. Prepare for awesomeness.
 
Some of our favorite lines that have ever been spoken in the history of mankind: “Ole Miss is the most fun school you’ll ever go to. And when you go to a college, you’re gonna make the grades blah blah blah, as long as you get a two-oh….Ole Miss, we may all be…have lower IQs…I have a higher IQ than most these people, but…well no that’s a lie but…we have fun, and we don’t ever miss a party.”
 
 
Teaser:
Ole Miss Coed REALLY Enjoying Pregame Festivities
Post date: Thursday, October 17, 2013 - 08:42
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/5-reasons-kansas-city-chiefs-could-win-it-all
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Tom Brady made the NFL and the world stand up and take notice (again) of the New England Patriots on Sunday with his remarkable, come-from-behind, last-second win over the New Orleans Saints. The Denver Broncos, of course, have been making people take notice all season with their remarkable, high-scoring, 6-0 start.
 
Those two are widely considered the teams to beat in the conference, with some eyes watching closely the teams in Indianapolis and Cincinnati, too.
 
But why is it that so many are ignoring or dismissing what’s happening in Kansas City, where the revived Chiefs are an impressive 6-0? Maybe it’s time everyone stood up and took notice of them, too.
 
The Chiefs may not have played the Broncos yet – they still have to face them twice – but there is nothing phony about their undefeated start to the Andy Reid Era. They look like a team that has some staying power and should be a factor all season long. So while you’re pondering who’ll represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVIII, here are five reasons why you should also consider that the Chiefs are for real …
 
1. Andy Reid is a great coach — There’s a reason he lasted 14 years in Philadelphia, where he won nearly 60 percent of his games. He’s one of the finest coaches in the entire NFL and he doesn’t just stubbornly force players into his systems, he tailors what he does to suit the players he has.
 
No, he didn’t win a Super Bowl with the Eagles and that will forever keep him a notch below the — for lack of a better word — “elite” coaches in NFL history. But he got the Eagles to five NFC championship games in his tenure, which still makes him one of the elite of this generation. Hiring Reid was one of the smartest decisions the Chiefs organization had made in years.
 
2. Alex Smith is a winning quarterback — Smith was once the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft (2005) which is hard to remember given how erratic (and sometimes bad) he was during his first five NFL seasons and because he lost his job to Colin Kaepernick last year.
 
But behind that smog is the fact that the 49ers were a mess for most of Smith’s tenure and he was lost in an environment that changed offensive coordinators and offensive systems seemingly every year. The Chiefs picked him off the scrap heap, basically, after the 49ers cast him aside. But they were wise enough to see this truth: Once Jim Harbaugh took over the 49ers and the environment around Smith settled down, he was 20-6-1 as a starter, including an overtime loss in the 2011 NFC championship game.
 
Smith has talent. He’s smart and efficient and knows how to run a West Coast offense, which requires quick passes and quick decisions. He’s capable of carrying a team if necessary, but more importantly he knows how to manage a game and avoid costly turnovers, which might be the most important thing a quarterback can do nowadays.
 
Oh, and he’s also now 26-6-1 in his last 33 starts.
 
3. Dwayne Bowe is a true No. 1 receiver  The Chiefs’ best receiver could’ve been one of the big winners on the free-agent market last spring, but he never got there thanks to a five-year, $56 million contract he got on the eve of free agency. So far through six games he has only 20 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns, but the numbers almost don’t matter. His 6-2, 221-pounds presence has opened up a ton of other things for the Kansas City offense and that’s an enormous help for a quarterback in his first year with a new team. Had the Chiefs let him go, they would’ve had to overpay to replace him – if they even could. Instead, ownership made the necessarily financial commitment.
 
4. The Chiefs defense can play and rush the passer — In this era of wide open passing attacks, absolutely nothing counteracts that better than a strong, fierce pass rush. It is the ultimate weapon to disrupt the timing of even the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The Chiefs, it turns out, can rush the passer. They had 27 sacks last season, but already have 31 in 2013 after a 10-sack performance against the Oakland Raiders. And a defense that ranked 25th in the NFL last season is now fifth in the NFL under former Jets defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and they’re giving up a league-low 10.8 points per game. In their 3-4 defense — and a tip of the hat to Reid for sticking with the 3-4 instead of his favored 4-3 — linebackers Justin Houston (9 ½ sacks) and Tamba Hali (7 ½) have already combined for 17 sacks this season and nose tackle Dontari Poe has 4 ½. They have a very effective inside-outside punch.
 
5. The players are happier — Don’t underestimate that fact. Several NFL agents insist there was a lot of mistrust and misery under the previous regime, though it’s possible that had a lot to do with the losing and not necessarily former GM Scott Pioli and his head coaches. Whatever the reason, the atmosphere in Kansas City had soured and a fresh start was necessary. New GM John Dorsey seems to be popular and there was an immediate respect among everyone for Reid. Of course, the 6-0 start has helped, too.
 
— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
Teaser:
5 Reasons the Kansas City Chiefs Could Win It All
Post date: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 15:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2013-14-purdue-preview
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This preview and more on Purdue and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

Purdue Facts & Figures
Last season: 16-18 (8-10 Big Ten)
Postseason: CBI quarterfinals
Coach: Matt Painter (176-95 at Purdue)
Big Ten projection: Seventh
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Purdue went a respectable 8–10 in a rugged Big Ten last season, but some horrible performances during non-conference play led to a 16–18 overall record. The Boilermakers missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. “When we were bad, we were really bad,” coach Matt Painter said.

The Boilermakers will again be a young team — they don’t have a scholarship junior on the roster, for instance — but look to be back among the better teams in the Big Ten. Center A.J. Hammons has the talent to be one of the conference’s best players, and the Johnson brothers — Terone and Ronnie — could be an explosive backcourt. Just as important: Painter believes ingredients have arrived to bolster Purdue’s defensive play and outside shooting, two areas the Boilermakers struggled in last season.

“Our talent is better,” Painter says. “Our depth is better.”

Frontcourt

In an era in which true post players are hard to find, the 7-0, 256-pound Hammons will provide Purdue with quite a weapon. He’s got soft hands, a deft touch and tremendous strength underneath the basket both offensively and defensively. Now, he needs to develop some maturity after an inconsistent freshman season during which Painter often sent him to the bench because of a perceived lack of effort.

"The sky is the limit for him,” Painter says. “We need to get his production to meet his talent. When it does, we're going to be a pretty good basketball team."

Painter also has high hopes for redshirt freshman Jay Simpson, who missed most of last season with a lingering foot injury. Simpson also has battled asthma issues during his career.

Incoming freshman Basil Smotherman also will challenge for playing time. Senior Travis Carroll provides an experienced backup behind Hammons, and Donnie Hale will be counted on to help out with the rebounding off the bench. Errick Peck transferred to Purdue from Cornell for his final season of eligibility. He averaged 9.7 points for the Big Red last season.

Backcourt

Painter had few options to run the point last year other than freshman Ronnie Johnson. All that responsibility was sometimes overwhelming, but Painter believes it will pay off this season.

“As I said last year, the best thing that could happen to us would be for Ronnie Johnson to play 30 minutes a game,” Painter says, “and the worst thing that could happen to us would be for Ronnie Johnson to play 30 minutes a game.”

Johnson gets from one end of the court to the other with the ball as fast as any player in the country. He averaged 10.3 points and 4.1 assists in his first season but shot only 38.5 percent from the field and made a total of six 3-pointers.

“We’re going to have more depth (this season), more experience, more competition,” Painter says. “He’s not just going to get the basketball and that’s that. But if he makes strides, and he plays up to his ability, he can be one of the best point guards in the league.”

Older brother Terone Johnson led the Boilermakers in scoring last season with a 13.5-point average, including a 32-point performance against eventual national runner-up Michigan. But Painter thought Johnson sometimes let his emotions get the better of him.

“We have to get him to be a good leader for this team,” Painter says. “We not only need him to play like it, but he also has to act like it. He has to always be out there and lead by example.”

There are some intriguing backcourt possibilities beyond the two Johnsons, too. Incoming freshman Bryson Scott can play both on and off the ball and has an edge the Boilermakers sorely missed last season.

Fellow freshman Kendall Stephens is expected to shore up Purdue’s poor outside shooting. So is senior Sterling Carter, who transfers in for his final season from the University of Seattle. Don’t count out Rapheal Davis, who started 17 games as a freshman and was impressive on the defensive end.

Newcomers

The Boilermakers have five new faces, including three freshmen and two seniors who already graduated from their former schools. Some Purdue fans took it personally when Bryson Scott finished fourth in Indiana’s Mr. Basketball voting after a stellar career at Fort Wayne Northrop High School. He’s considered one of the best incoming combo guards in the nation and should contribute immediately. Kendall Stephens, the son of former Boilermaker standout Everette Stephens, will be counted on to stretch the defense. Basil Smotherman has shown he can play a variety of roles up front. Painter expects Errick Peck and Sterling Carter to add some needed maturity and toughness.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 291. Purdue ranked 291st in the nation in free throw percentage, hitting only 65.3 percent. That is the lowest percentage by a Matt Painter-coached Purdue team.


The Boilermakers should return to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence. Anything less would be a major disappointment. If the Johnson brothers and Hammons are as good as Painter expects, and the small but talented freshman class develops quickly, Purdue could be a surprise contender in the Big Ten.

Teaser:
College Basketball: 2013-14 Purdue Preview
Post date: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Big Ten, Iowa Hawkeyes, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2013-14-iowa-preview
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This preview and more on Iowa and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

Iowa Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-13 (9-9 Big Ten)
Postseason: NIT runner up
Coach: Fran McCaffery (54-50 at Iowa)
Big Ten projection: Sixth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
After three seasons on the job in Iowa City, Fran McCaffery’s latest rebuilding project is almost complete. All that remains is ending Iowa’s NCAA Tournament drought, which dates back to the 2005-06 season. The chance of that happening looks good — on paper — with all but one key player returning from last season’s team that finished runner-up to Baylor in the NIT.

Now it’s just a matter of living up to the hype, a challenge that’s been rare for Iowa during most of the past decade.

“We expected to build something special,” says McCaffery, who also rebuilt programs at Lehigh, UNC-Greensboro and Siena before coming to Iowa.

Iowa’s victory total has increased in each of McCaffery’s first three seasons — from 11 to 18 to 25 last season, which tied for the second most wins in school history.

Frontcourt

The thought of Iowa having the deepest frontline in the Big Ten was hard to envision when McCaffery took over a depleted and deflated Hawkeye program in 2010. Player defections from the previous coaching regime had gutted the program and caused a serious shortage of talent.

Now however, the front line is a position of strength, bolstered by the addition of Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff, who has the versatility to play both forward positions. Uthoff, an Iowa native, spent the 2010-11 season redshirting at Wisconsin and then sat out last year at Iowa due to transfer rules.

Aaron White and sophomore center Adam Woodbury both started all 38 games last season. White played his best ball in Big Ten play, averaging 13.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in 18 league games. He was named third-team all-conference. The 7-1 Woodbury, a former top recruit, didn’t make a huge impact as a freshman (4.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg), but he is poised for a big leap forward. Woodbury worked during the offseason to improve his free throw shooting and his ability to attack the basket.

“I’m more explosive,” Woodbury says. “I’m stronger around the rim. I’m able to step out further on my jump shot. I’m just trying to improve my all-around game.”

Another player to watch is 6-10 Gabe Olaseni, who is still raw on offense but a force at times on defense thanks to his athleticism and length.

Backcourt

There is also depth on the perimeter, along with a potential star in Devyn Marble.

McCaffery has three point guards on scholarship if you include Marble. The other two are sophomores Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons. Gesell started 30 of the 34 games that he played in last season, shifting between point and shooting guard. He became the only Hawkeye freshman to finish with at least 295 points, 85 rebounds and 85 assists in a single season despite missing four games with a foot injury. Clemmons played in all 38 games and started 13 times. He ranked second on the team and third among Big Ten rookies with 105 assists last season. He also excels as an on-the-ball defender.

Marble established himself as Iowa’s go-to player on offense last season. He plays both guard positions and was instrumental in Iowa advancing to the NIT title game, averaging 20.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 steals in the five postseason games. Marble enters this season ranked 28th on the school’s scoring list with 1,134 points. His father, Roy Marble Sr., is Iowa’s career-scoring leader with 2,116 points. Roy and Devyn are the only father-son duo in Big Ten history to eclipse 1,000 points in a career.

Junior Josh Oglesby and incoming freshman Peter Jok will compete for playing time at shooting guard. The hope is that at least one of them will develop into a consistent 3-point shooter. Oglesby suffered through a season-long slump last season, shooting just 26.9 percent from 3-point range. Jok was once considered one of the top freshmen in the nation, but his high school career was derailed by a knee injury. He is now healthy.

Newcomers

Playing time will be tough to come by with so many returning players, but Jarrod Uthoff should make an immediate impact after sitting out the last two seasons. He is a versatile scorer and a defender. The hope is that Peter Jok will help solve the perimeter shooting woes that plagued the Hawkeyes throughout last season. Kyle Meyer will add depth to an already deep frontline.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 4. Six of Iowa’s nine regular-season Big Ten losses last season came by four points or less, including one in overtime and another in double-overtime.


Everybody associated with the Iowa program will consider it a huge disappointment if this team doesn’t finish in the upper-half of the conference and make the NCAA Tournament. Playing in the NIT in each of the past two seasons was beneficial, but now it’s time to take the next step. And the pieces are in place for that to happen, barring a rash of injuries.

Teaser:
College Basketball: 2013-14 Iowa Preview
Post date: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2013-14-nebraska-preview
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This preview and more on Nebraska and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

Nebraska Facts & Figures
Last season: 15-18 (5-13 Big Ten)
Postseason: None
Coach: Tim Miles (15-18 at Nebraska)
Big Ten projection: 12th
Postseason projection: None
How can a Nebraska basketball program make May, June and July headlines in a state that usually spends those months counting the days to preseason football camp?

Selling out a new arena helps. So does the coach, Tim Miles, poaching an assistant coach from Georgetown and paying him $230,000 — the highest salary ever for a Nebraska assistant basketball coach.

Then there’s the Huskers’ schedule, which will include Florida Gulf Coast and Miami among five teams visiting Lincoln that advanced to last year’s Sweet 16.

Yes, folks are talking hoops in Lincoln, which usually isn’t the case when there’s a defensive line to fret about or a budding backup quarterback battle to dissect.

Miles, entering his second season, deserves much of the credit for injecting some life and hope into a program that’s never won an NCAA Tournament game and hasn’t earned an NCAA berth since 1998.

He’s had an assist in this surge of momentum, too, thanks to Nebraska’s move this season to Pinnacle Bank Arena, located in Lincoln’s West Haymarket district. Fans are ecstatic about the move — Nebraska sold out of season tickets in May — but are just as intrigued by a team that will play seven new faces.

There’s one on the bench, too; Miles hired Kenya Hunter, the longest-tenured assistant coach at Georgetown, to replace Ben Johnson, who left for the same job at his alma mater, Minnesota.

Frontcourt

Let’s just put it this way: When Miles hit the recruiting trail in July, he made no bones about his biggest need. “We need size in our program,” Miles said. “We need size and athleticism.”

Nebraska’s frontcourt was lacking in depth and athleticism last season, and the two main players from that group — 6-10 Brandon Ubel and 6-11 Andre Almeida — graduated.

What’s a little perplexing is that Miles, who will enter this season with a vacant scholarship, had such a difficult time landing bigs during the late spring period. He did sign junior college forward Leslee Smith, but other recruits went elsewhere, bypassing what surely would’ve been immediate playing time in Lincoln.

Florida transfer Walter Pitchford, a 6-10 forward who sat out last season, greatly improves Nebraska’s athleticism and has decent shooting range. The same can be said of Smith, a 6-8, 250-pound forward and former SMU player. Miles likes Smith’s strength, poise and maturity, and Smith is quick and agile enough to play out of the high post.

Nebraska’s tallest player is 7-1 sophomore Sergej Vucetic, but at only 236 pounds, he still lacks strength.

Backcourt

Nebraska will have plenty more scoring options, which means Ray Gallegos shouldn’t have to carry as much of a scoring burden. He’s the leading returning scorer (12.5 ppg) and led the Big Ten last season in 3-point attempts (271) while shooting them at a mere 30.6-percent clip.

Among the newcomers is Terran Petteway, a 6-6 wing who sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech. Petteway is athletic, can get to the rim and will be a factor on the boards. He can also play a variety of positions, including point guard.

True freshmen Nick Fuller and Nate Hawkins could provide a scoring punch off the bench. Fuller, in particular, is a 6-6 lefty with a smooth long-range shot. Another true freshman, New Zealand native Tai Webster, could fill Nebraska’s void at point guard.

Sophomore Shavon Shields, perhaps among only one or two locks in the starting lineup, blossomed over the second half of his freshman season.

Newcomers

Most of the hype has centered on Tai Webster, a true freshman point guard from New Zealand, although Terran Petteway, a 6-6 transfer from Texas Tech, could be the biggest difference-maker. Florida transfer Walter Pitchford and junior college transfer Leslee Smith are key frontcourt pieces, and true freshmen Nick Fuller and Nate Hawkins should provide a scoring boost. Redshirt Deverell Biggs will challenge for the starting job at point guard.

Final analysis
Factoid: 9.8. Nebraska averaged only 9.8 assists per game, ranking 332nd in the nation in the category. No NU player averaged more than 2.5 per game.


Nebraska will have vastly improved athleticism, increased depth and considerably more scoring options. That’s reason enough to believe that the Huskers, in their second season under Miles, can improve on last year’s 15–18 record. But can they make a run at postseason play? That depends on how well a group of new, young players can mesh. Miles may have a more athletic squad, but Nebraska still lacks the size and strength needed to compete day-in and day-out in the bruising Big Ten. That’s why the Huskers will finish in the lower half of the league again — although they’ll be a far cry from the pushover many Big Ten teams have come to expect.

Teaser:
College Basketball: 2013-14 Nebraska Preview
Post date: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2013-14-indiana-preview
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This preview and more on Indiana and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

Indiana Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-7 (14-4 Big Ten)
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Coach: Tom Crean (84-82 at Indiana)
Big Ten projection: Fifth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
The Big Ten is not a forgiving conference. It is a place for veterans and NBA Draft picks. It is a formidable league that sent its fifth-place team to the NCAA title game last season.

Seven veterans have departed Tom Crean’s Indiana basketball team, including four 1,000-point scorers, two taken in the first four picks of the NBA Draft. Nobody will pick the Hoosiers to finish in the top three in the Big Ten, but nobody should expect Indiana to disappear from the league race by early February.

Veterans Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey played their way onto the U.S. World University Games team. Crean’s six-player freshman class is a consensus top-10 group that is lifted by the addition of fifth-year transfer Evan Gordon. Sophomore Jeremy Hollowell intends to become the Big Ten’s most improved player.

“You can look at it (as) the glass is half empty because we lost a lot of people,” Crean says. “The glass half full is we’ve got such a young team, and they’re going to have that much more of a chance for growth.

“I think it will be fun to coach them. I really do. There will be some trying days. We’re in a veteran league. I don’t think that’s changed much. But I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to coach these guys.”

Frontcourt

Cody Zeller was the recruit Crean had to sign to make Indiana relevant again. Crean signed him, coached him for two seasons, utilized Zeller to win a Big Ten championship and sent him to the NBA as the fourth overall pick.

Now Zeller is gone, and Crean must create new ways to score inside. Noah Vonleh arrives as Indiana’s next great player. Although he’s only 6-9, Vonleh plays bigger than that because he’s an explosive athlete with a 7-4 wingspan. Vonleh can make a 3-point shot or attack the basket. He should play power forward, but only if another freshman, Luke Fischer, delivers at center. Like Zeller, Fischer won multiple high school state titles. He’s not as athletic as Zeller but is considered a better shooter.

Crean praised Hollowell over the summer for embracing the work ethic that drove Victor Oladipo to greatness when he transformed himself from a top-150 recruit to the second pick in the 2013 draft. Hollowell has a chance to become Indiana’s top scorer because he can make 3-point shots, get to the rim and pass. The fourth frontcourt regular will be Sheehey, a superb defender and instant energy guy who was the Big Ten’s top sixth man. Sophomore Hanner Mosquera-Perea is the team’s best athlete, but must prove he can contribute in the half-court.

Backcourt

Ferrell had a tough job last season, playing point guard as a freshman for a veteran group that had won 27 games the previous season. He handled it well, deferring to teammates and averaging nearly two assists for every turnover. His role must change. Ferrell must make the 15-footer. He failed to score in IU’s final two NCAA Tournament games. In fact, the Hoosiers’ starting guards were outscored 38–0 in the 61–50 Sweet Sixteen loss to Syracuse.

Crean has a critical decision at the other guard spot — go with a veteran (Gordon) or a freshman. Gordon, the younger brother of former IU star Eric, arrives after playing two seasons at Liberty and one at Arizona State. He’s a solid 3-point shooter who showed he was capable of scoring when he dropped 28 against USC. But he’s 6-1, and Crean might prefer a bigger defender.

He has two candidates — Troy Williams, who played in the Jordan Brand Classic, and Stanford Robinson, a top-75 recruit who arrives from the same D.C. area AAU program that produced Oladipo. Both need work on their jumpers, but they’re long, athletic and capable of forcing the tempo.

Newcomers

Evan Gordon is a fifth-year transfer who was Arizona State’s third-leading scorer last season. Noah Vonleh made the McDonald’s All-American game because he can score and rebound. Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson are wings in the Victor Oladipo mold. Luke Fischer is talented, but the Cody Zeller comparisons are unfair. Devin Davis and Collin Hartman are Indianapolis guys who committed to IU as sophomores. Davis is fearless, and Hartman can shoot.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 198. Indiana has been one of the nation’s top 3-point teams the last two seasons, but the Hoosiers must replace seven guys who combined to make 198 of IU’s 257 threes last season.


Indiana has been ready to go in November the last two seasons. This team won’t be. The Hoosiers are replacing their top four scorers, top three rebounders and top three 3-point shooters. After winning the Big Ten outright last season, IU fits in the middle of the pack.

This group will play without the expectations that appeared to suffocate last season’s team i19n March. The bench will be deeper, and Crean will have the depth to extend the defense with a taller and more athletic backcourt.

Hollowell and Vonleh must develop as inside scorers and defenders, because that’s what wins in the Big Ten. Several proven 3-point shooters must also emerge.
 

Teaser:
College Basketball: 2013-14 Indiana Preview
Post date: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 07:00
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-picks-every-game-week-7
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A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 7, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports' editors.

Seahawks (5-1) at Cardinals (3-3)
Seattle second-year signal-caller Russell Wilson returns to the site of his NFL debut, which he lost 20–16 at Arizona as the Hawks’ surprise starter in Week 1 last season. Wilson has since become an established quarterback, with a road playoff win under his belt and a 16–6 regular season record as a starter. All six of Wilson’s losses, however, have come on the road — including a 34–28 loss at Indianapolis this year. Seahawks by 9

Buccaneers (0-5) at Atlanta (1-4)
The Falcons have lost four games by a grand total of 15 points to teams with a combined 16–7 record. The sky may not be falling. But fresh off a bye week, Matt Ryan will need to adjust to life without stud wideout Julio Jones, who was lost for the season with a foot injury. Falcons by 9

Bears (4-2) at Redskins (1-4)
By all accounts Robert Griffin III has not been the same superhero RG3 from his rookie season. And Jay Cutler has not been the same scowling villain from yesteryear, either. What kind of bizarro world is this season’s NFL? Bears by 1

Cowboys (3-3) at Eagles (3-3)
The balance of power has swung back and forth in this NFC East rivalry. Dallas swept the season series last year with a 38–23 victory at Philly in Week 10 and a 38–33 win in Week 13. In 2011, the Eagles soared to a 34–7 home triumph in Week 8 and a 20–7 road win in Week 16. Eagles by 1

Patriots (5-1) at Jets (3-3)
New England struggled to a 13–10 ugly win in the rain on Thursday night in Week 2 this year. Tom Brady completed only 48.7 percent of his passes for just 185 yards and one TD in the win. The Patriots have now won six straight against the Jets with an 18–5 record with Brady at QB. Patriots by 8

Bills (2-4) at Dolphins (3-2)
Last season, Ryan Tannehill threw two TDs in a 24–10 win over the Bills at home in Week 16 after tossing two INTs in a 19–14 loss on the road at Buffalo in Week 11. The Bills are just hoping undrafted former scout team ace Thad Lewis (foot) is healthy after losing rookie starter EJ Manuel and rookie backup Jeff Tuel. Dolphins by 5

Chargers (3-3) at Jaguars (0-6)
The split stats are actually in Jacksonville’s favor — playing a West Coast team at 1 p.m. Eastern after that team played on Monday night. Chargers by 7

Rams (3-3) at Panthers (2-3)
As Cam Newton goes, so go the Panthers. Cam has scored eight of his 11 total TDs in wins and committed five of his six turnovers in losses. Panthers by 3

Bengals (4-2) at Lions (4-2)
Arguably the top two young wideouts in the NFL — Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (6'5", 236) and Cincy’s A.J. Green (6'4", 207) — will put on a show at Ford Field. As long as Megatron’s sore knee holds up, this big catfight should be a pass-happy affair in the Motor City. Lions by 2

49ers (4-2) at Titans (3-3)
San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick is 3–3 on the road as a starter, throwing a combined eight TDs and six INTs away from the Bay. 49ers by 9

Texans (2-4) at Chiefs (6-0)
The expansion Houston Texans (2002-present) ride out to face the old school Dallas Texans (1960-62), who left the Lone Star State to become the Kansas City Chiefs (1963-present). These clubs are heading in different directions, with Houston’s stale coach-QB combo of Gary Kubiak and Matt Schaub (nine INTs with four pick-sixes) taking on the fresh approach of Kansas City’s Andy Reid and Alex Smith. Chiefs by 8

Ravens (3-3) at Steelers (1-4)
Eight of the last 10 Baltimore-Pittsburgh meetings have been decided by exactly three points, either way — with four 23–20 games and two 13–10 contests. The two games not decided by a field goal? One was a four-point difference and the other was a 28-point blowout. Outliers have been few and far between in this series. Steelers by 1

Browns (3-3) at Packers (3-2)
The last time these two teams played, Aaron Rodgers threw three TDs and zero INTs in a 31–3 win at Cleveland. Déjà vu all over again? Packers by 10

Broncos (6-0) at Colts (4-2)
Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis, where he was the No. 1 overall pick in 1998, won four league MVP awards and a Super Bowl XLI title over 13 incredible seasons and one inactive year from 1998-2011. This Sunday night party will double as a horseshoe homecoming. Broncos by 7

Vikings (1-4) at Giants (0-6)
The Super Bowl will be in New York this year. But Monday night will not be a Super preview. Giants by 3

Last week: 11–4 // Season: 57–35

Teaser:
Predictions for every game on the NFL schedule for Week 7.
Post date: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 19:25
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Peyton Manning wanted to retire as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. He just didn’t want to retire following the 2011 season. As a result, the four-time MVP and Super Bowl XLI winner is returning to Indianapolis this week — as a member of the Denver Broncos.

“Nobody loves their job more than I do. Nobody loves playing quarterback more than I do. I still want to play. But there is no other team I wanted to play for,” Manning said, after being released by the Colts in March of 2012. “We all know that nothing lasts forever. Times change, circumstances change, and that’s the reality of playing in the NFL.”

After (at least) four major neck surgeries by Manning and a 2–14 record in 2011 — with the clown car quarterback crew of Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins — Indianapolis decided to use the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft on the heir to Manning, who was the No. 1 overall pick of the Colts in 1998.

After all, Manning was a soon-to-be 36-year-old fresh off a year-long injury recovery. More important, the top quarterback prospect in decades was available. Stanford’s Andrew Luck was the son of an NFL quarterback and had been coached by an NFL quarterback, former Cardinal and current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Even Manning thought the move to Luck was a no-brainer.

“He said, ‘You’ve got to take Andrew,’” Colts owner Jim Irsay told USA Today Sports. “‘You have to. You’re crazy if you don’t.’”

While the Colts were thrilled to transition from Manning to Luck, the Broncos were even more excited to add a future Hall of Famer to a roster that Tim Tebow had led to a playoff win the year before.

“I don’t consider it much of a risk, knowing Peyton Manning,” said Denver decider John Elway, after signing Manning. “I asked him, ‘Is there any doubt in your mind that you can’t get back to the Peyton Manning we know of?’ And he said, ‘There’s no doubt in my mind.’”

After 22 games in Denver, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind. Manning has thrown for 6,838 yards, 59 TDs and 13 INTs wearing orange crush.

The first 22 games of Luck’s career in Indianapolis has not been half bad, either. The mobile 24-year-old has thrown for 5,720 yards, 30 TDs and 21 INTs, while rushing for 409 yards and seven TDs in true blue.

All’s well that ends well. And the Manning-Luck swap is going well.

“I think it’s perfect,” Irsay told USA Today Sports. “What’s happened is what Peyton and I hoped would happen. The desire was for him to get well and get to a team that has a chance to win another Super Bowl before his career ended.

“And our desire was to be able to transition to Andrew. To be so good so soon is stunning.”
 

Teaser:
After 14 years with the Colts, Peyton Manning is having a horseshoe homecoming.
Post date: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 18:49
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1. Broncos (6-0) Peyton Manning loses two fumbles, throws pick-six.

2. Chiefs (6-0) Beat Raiders at Arrowhead for first time since 2006.

3. Patriots (5-1) Tom Brady throws winning TD with five seconds left.

4. Saints (5-1) Jimmy Graham (leg) exits in fourth quarter of loss.

5. Seahawks (5-1) Russell Wilson improves to 11–0 at home in Seattle.

6. 49ers (4-2) Big players make big plays in third straight victory.

7. Packers (3-2) Earn first road win after losses at San Fran, Cincy.

8. Colts (4-2) Chuck Pagano loses to Chargers DC brother, John.

9. Lions (4-2) Outscored Browns 24–0 in second half of victory.

10. Bears (4-2) Brandon Marshall fined $10,500 for green shoes.

11. Bengals (4-2) Mike Nugent bounces back with game-winning FG.

12. Cowboys (3-3) Give owner Jerry Jones a win on his 71st birthday.

13. Eagles (3-3) Nick Foles shines as Mike Vick watches from sideline.

14. Ravens (3-3) Lost to NFC team at home for first time in 14 games.

15. Dolphins (3-2) Ryan Tannehill has “plenty of arm,” few deep throws.

16. Rams (3-3) Defense, special teams score TDs in blowout win.

17. Texans (2-4) Home crowd cheers injured Matt Schaub on ground.

18. Falcons (1-4) Tony Gonzalez to K.C. trade rumors continue to swirl.

19. Titans (3-3) Unable to stop “Beast Mode” in loss at Seahawks.

20. Chargers (3-3) Philip Rivers outplays Andrew Luck in MNF victory.

21. Cardinals (3-3) Calais Campbell carted off field, but hopes to play.

22. Panthers (2-3) Cam Newton’s four scores lead Cats past Vikings.

23. Redskins (1-4) RG3 has three multi-turnover efforts in five games.

24. Jets (3-3) Marty Lyons inducted into Ring of Honor at halftime.

25. Browns (3-3) Brandon Weeden “bone-headed play” seals loss.

26. Bills (2-4) Thad Lewis scores three TDs in overtime defeat.

27. Raiders (2-4) Terrelle Pryor says team will “get to the playoffs.”

28. Vikings (1-4) Adrian Peterson plays after 2-year-old son’s death.

29. Steelers (1-4) Fourth team to reach 600 wins (including playoffs).

30. Giants (0-6) Worst start for Big Blue since 0–9 record in 1976.

31. Buccaneers (0-5) Third player diagnosed with MRSA staph infection.

32. Jaguars (0-6) Record underdogs (+28) only lost by 16 points.

Teaser:
Ranking all 32 NFL teams, from the Broncos to the Jaguars.
Post date: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 18:41
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Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers
What is this, the playoffs? Historic postseason overachiever Davis — who has 22 catches for 546 yards (24.8 ypc) and five TDs in five career playoff games — was dominant in a 32–20 win over Arizona. The 6'3", 250-pound physical freak had eight receptions for 180 yards (22.5 ypc) and a pair of second-quarter TDs covering 61 and 35 yards, respectively. Despite missing one game to injury, Davis has 22 catches for 404 yards (18.4 ypc) and six TDs in five games. With the Niners starved for pass-catchers, Davis’ play has been solid gold.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Jaguars
The most lopsided matchup in NFL history — at least on paper pregame — had the winless Jaguars as 28-point underdogs on the road against the unbeaten Broncos. And while Jacksonville did lose 35–19, there were a few bright spots to take away from the Mile High defeat. Blackmon hauled in 14 catches for 190 yards in a career effort for the second-year wideout out of Oklahoma State. Following a four-game suspension, Blackmon has 19 receptions for 326 yards (17.2 ypc) and a 67-yard TD in the two games he has played this season. The clawless Jaguars also scored a defensive TD and forced the Broncos’ first punt of October.

Tamba Hali, LB, Chiefs
Undefeated Kansas City continued to steamroll through all comers, crushing AFC West rival Oakland, 24–7, to improve to 6–0 this year. The Chiefs defense led the way with 10 sacks and three INTs of Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Hali paced the pass-rushers with 3.5 sacks for 30.5 lost yards. He was joined in the sack party by Derrick Johnson (2.0 sacks), Eric Berry (1), Tyson Jackson (1), Justin Houston (1), Mike Catapano (1) and Husain Abdullah (0.5).

LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense was off and running during a 31–20 road win at Tampa Bay. McCoy had 25 carries for 116 yards (4.6 ypc) to go along with two catches for 55 yards. The league’s leading rusher, McCoy has 630 yards and a 99-yard cushion over second-leading rusher Arian Foster (531 yards). “Shady” was not Philly’s only big playmaker on Sunday, however. Backup quarterback Nick Foles threw for 296 yards with three scoring strikes — two to DeSean Jackson and another to Riley Cooper — while subbing for the injured Michael Vick.
 

Teaser:
The best performances in the NFL from Week 6.
Post date: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 18:27
All taxonomy terms: Missouri Tigers, SEC, College Basketball, News
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This preview and more on Missouri and the SEC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

Missouri Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-11 (11-7 SEC)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64
Coach: Frank Haith (53-13 at Missouri)
SEC projection: Fifth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Frank Haith guided Missouri to 30 victories in his first season while relying on the senior-laden roster he inherited from predecessor Mike Anderson. He won 23 last season after in many cases plugging the holes those seniors left behind with veteran transfers from other schools.

But heading into his third year with the Tigers, Haith finally seems to be assembling a group of players he’ll be able to count on for more than one season.

“I like what we’ve done in terms of putting together a roster,” Haith says. “Earnest Ross, Jabari Brown and Tony Criswell, those guys have worked their tails off and gotten better, which gives us a great foundation to work with going into the season.”

It’s the addition of Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson and a top-20 recruiting class headlined by freshmen Johnathan Williams III and Wes Clark and junior college All-American Keanau Post that has Haith most excited about the future in Columbia.

A couple of those newcomers will have to be ready to make an impact if Missouri is going to make up for the loss of starters Phil Pressey, Alex Oriakhi, Laurence Bowers and Keion Bell and take a run at a sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.

Frontcourt

Criswell, a 6’9” senior forward, is the only returning frontcourt player who was a regular part of Missouri’s rotation last season. The junior college transfer, who began his college career at UAB, averaged 5.2 points and 4.8 rebounds as the Tigers’ top reserve. He brings enough versatility to play either position along the front line, so Haith might prefer to bring him off the bench again. To do so, he’ll have to identify viable starters.

The 6’11” Post will likely be one — at center — if he can improve his conditioning. He averaged 12.3 points and 8.3 rebounds last season at Southwestern Illinois College. “He runs the floor well, has good hands,” Brown says. “He’s more athletic than I knew, good post moves.”

Missouri could look to either Williams or sophomore Stefan Jankovic to start at power forward.

The 6’9” Williams, who was the Tigers’ highest-ranked recruit, brings great skill and versatility but must add strength after weighing in at 208 pounds when he arrived in Columbia.

Jankovic has already had a season to bulk up his 6’11” frame, which should help him make the move to the frontcourt after playing mostly on the perimeter — when he played at all — as a freshman. He’s comfortable shooting from long range or slashing to the basket and could present matchup problems for opponents.

Backcourt

Missouri forwards benefited from Pressey’s playmaking skills the past two years. Though he struggled with decision-making last season, he still averaged 11.9 points and an SEC-leading 7.1 assists. One of the biggest question marks facing the Tigers is how to replace him.

Clarkson, who averaged 16.5 points and 2.5 assists as a sophomore with the Golden Hurricane, is a leading candidate.

“There is nothing he can’t do,” Haith says.

Missouri would still prefer to play Clarkson off the ball, but whether it can likely depends on the readiness of Clark, a top-75 recruit, to contribute. He arrives with a reputation as a hard-nosed guard who led his team to a state championship last season in Michigan.

The Tigers’ most proven weapons already reside on the wing with Brown and Ross. Brown, who began his college career at Oregon, averaged 13.7 points while shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range after becoming eligible last December.

Ross, a senior who started his career at Auburn, gives the Tigers an excellent rebounder (5.0 rpg) who also averaged 10.3 points while shooting 42.3 percent from three in conference play.

Freshman Shane Rector, a late addition who originally committed to Rutgers, could provide additional ball-handling off the bench.

Newcomers

Missouri’s coaches are already looking at Jordan Clarkson as a team leader. He’s expected to be one of the Tigers’ top scorers whether he’s playing on the wing or running the point. His primary position could be determined by the readiness of Wesley Clark, a hard-nosed point guard. Missouri is counting on Keanau Post to provide a low-post scoring threat and protection in front of the rim. Johnathan Williams III, a multi-talented forward, might have the brightest future of any newcomer but has to get stronger to realize his potential. Torren Jones has the size and athleticism needed to play under the basket in the SEC but remains raw. Shane Rector was signed late to give the Tigers a needed third ball-handler.

Final analysis
Factoid: 6. The Tigers will try to make a sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time in school history. Missouri also made five straight NCAA trips between 1986-1990 and 1999-2003.


Missouri will be short on experience with a lot of unknowns to be sorted out before it can be considered a contender in what figures to be a stronger SEC this season.

But Haith has talent to work with, particularly on the wing with Clarkson, Brown and Ross, and he expects to use a deeper bench. If the Tigers can jell and show some more grit on the defensive end, they have the potential to get another NCAA invite.

Teaser:
Tigers look to take regular season success into Tourney
Post date: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: LSU Tigers, SEC, College Basketball, News
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This preview and more on LSU and the SEC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

LSU Facts & Figures
Last season: 19-12 (9-9 SEC)
Postseason: NIT
Coach: Johnny Jones (19-12 at LSU)
SEC projection: Fourth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Johnny Jones’ mission when he returned to coach his alma mater in 2012 was to make LSU basketball relevant again. After a one-year transition period, he has the Tigers’ poised to make their first postseason appearance in five seasons.  

The Tigers return five of their top six scorers, including SEC Player of the Year candidate Johnny O’Bryant. They also welcome a top-10 recruiting class, highlighted by 6-8 local product Jarell Martin.

The signing of Martin was critical to the program. His arrival has energized the local fan base and created momentum for Jones’ program on the recruiting trail. The Tigers are now viewed as a program on the rise, and the Maravich Assembly Center should be hopping for the first time in several years.

Frontcourt

The strength of the Tigers’ lineup is inside, where O’Bryant and Martin combine to form an imposing tandem on the blocks and boards.

The 6-9 O’Bryant contemplated early entry to the NBA and can enhance his draft status with an improved junior season. He will be among the best big men in the league, along with Florida’s Patric Young, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes and Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein.

O’Bryant ranked among the league leaders in scoring (13.6 ppg), rebounding (8.7 rpg) and shooting (48 percent). He used his superior size and strength to dominate on the blocks and isn’t shy about demanding the ball in the paint.

O’Bryant committed a team-high 3.2 turnovers per game last season primarily because of collapsing defenses. He should find more room to operate in the paint with opponents forced to guard Martin in the high-low game. Martin, who can hit the mid-range jumper, plays with a non-stop motor and will be a force on the boards at both ends.

Senior Shavon Coleman is the glue guy at small forward. A big-time athlete, he’s an exceptional rebounder for his 6-5 size and can defend three positions. He’s not a great shooter but makes his hay on drives and put-backs.

Heralded freshman small forward Jordan Mickey, a top-40 national recruit, is expected to challenge for a starting spot and add immediate offensive punch on the wing.

Undersized freshman power forward Brian Bridgewater, junior college transfer John Odo and freshman center Darcy Malone add depth. Odo, a native of Nigeria, enrolled at LSU last January and practiced with the Tigers the remainder of the season.

Backcourt

Andre Stringer and Anthony Hickey are the Tigers’ version of Louisville’s successful guard tandem of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Both are pesky, undersized defenders with streaky offensive games. The 5-11 Hickey led the SEC in steals last season at the point, but has fallen in and out of Jones’ doghouse. He must become more mature and fill the leadership void created by the graduation of Charles Carmouche.

The presence of O’Bryant and Martin ensures the Tigers will face a lot of zone defenses this season. That theoretically should provide many open looks for Stringer and Hickey. They’ll need to shoot consistently from the perimeter to keep opponents honest and prevent them from focusing their defensive efforts inside. Neither is considered a sharpshooter, but both are capable of getting hot from behind the arc. Stringer ranked second (40.9 percent) and Hickey sixth (32.8) in the SEC in 3-point field-goal percentage.

Sophomore Malik Morgan and freshman Tim Quarterman are classic combo guards who are the heirs apparent to Stringer and Hickey in the backcourt. Morgan is a streaky scorer with a slashing game. Last year, he scored in double figures only three times with a high of 12 in a loss at Tennessee. With added strength, the staff believes Morgan could have a breakout season.

The wiry 6-6 Quarterman has excellent size and can play just about anywhere on the perimeter. He was a top-100 recruit who picked LSU over a host of SEC schools.

Newcomers

Jarell Martin, LSU’s best recruit in a decade, owns a pro body and a pro-style pick-and-pop game. Tim Quarterman should compete immediately for playing time on the wing and at point. His versatile skill set allows him to play three positions. Junior college center John Odo bolsters the interior depth and is a solid rebounder and shot-blocker. Australian big man Darcy Malone is the classic stretch power forward-center who patterns his game after Dirk Nowitzki. Brian Bridgewater is an undersized power forward who adds physicality inside.

Final analysis
Factoid: 62.5. LSU shot only 62.5 from the foul line last season, ranking last in the SEC and 331st in the nation. Johnny O’Bryant, who led the team with 141 attempts, shot 59.6 percent.


If anything, Jones is one year ahead of schedule in his rebuilding effort. His recruiting success has created excitement about LSU basketball for the first time in years. The Tigers’ deep, talented frontcourt is among the best in the SEC. If the Tigers’ perimeter players can provide consistent offense, LSU should return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.  
 

Teaser:
College Basketball: 2013-14 LSU Preview
Post date: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 07:00
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This preview and more on Boise State and the Mountain West are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

Boise State Facts & Figures
Last season: 21-11 (9-7 Mountain West)
Postseason: NCAA First Four
Coach: Leon Rice (56-41 at San Diego State)
Mountain West projection: Third
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
There’s a buzz surrounding the Boise State basketball team that normally is reserved for the university’s wildly successful and popular football program. But fresh off a 21-victory season that included two road wins over a ranked teams and the school’s first NCAA Tournament at-large bid, it’s easy to understand why Boise could turn into a basketball town.

Coach Leon Rice returns all five starters and the majority of production in every statistical category — 92.4 percent of its scoring, 96.7 percent assists and 83.9 percent rebounds). Eight of the nine players who regularly saw action last season are back.

“I like the expectations,” Rice says. “I like being talked about as one of the better teams in the conference. Our guys have a healthy attitude about that. They know how hard we have to work to accomplish that, how much better we have to get to go from where we were to where we want to get to. I think our guys are in a very good place about all of that.”

Frontcourt

The Broncos run a four-out offense, leaving forward Ryan Watkins as the man in the middle. The 6-9 senior is a threat facing or with his back to the basket, as his 61.7 shooting percentage attests. He was the team’s leading rebounder last season at 6.8 per game and also contributed an average of 8.4 points. Watkins has been starting since his freshman season.

Perhaps the most important addition to the roster is 6-9 sophomore Edmunds Dukulis, a talented Latvian who sat out last season. He’ll be counted on to score and rebound on the interior. Freshman Nicholas Duncan also should carve out a niche in the frontcourt; Rice loves the Australian’s nose for the ball and ability to rebound.

Junior college transfer James Webb III and redshirt freshman Joey Nebeker also are available and could work their way into small roles.

Backcourt

There aren’t many backcourts that pack the offensive punch of the Broncos’ crew. Point guard Derrick Marks was a second-team All-Mountain West pick last season when he had three 30-point performances en route to averaging 16.3 points and 3.8 assists. Marks is a physical guard who can get to the basket or pull-up and score. He shot 46.6 percent and a cool 83.7 percent from the line.

Marks has plenty of weapons at his disposal, most notably fellow junior Anthony Drmic. The wing led the team in scoring at 17.7 points per game and should eclipse the 1,000-point barrier before conference play begins. Drmic is a high-energy offensive player who can shoot from long range (39.2 percent from three) or create with penetration.

Senior Jeff Elorriaga is the team’s undisputed leader. He’s a calming influence on offense and the team’s stopper on defense. The former walk-on hit a school-record 10 3-pointers in a game last season and shot 44.7 percent from behind the arc on his way to averaging 10.2 points. He missed three games with a concussion, and the Broncos lost all three.

Junior Igor Hadziomerovic serves as a second point guard on the floor. His presence allows Marks to play on the wing at times. Hadziomerovic is a heady Australian with the knack of finding the open man. He makes everyone around him better.

Off the bench, the Broncos have explosive sophomore Mikey Thompson. The 6-3 guard had 11 double-digit games last season. Senior Thomas Bropleh is versatile and can play a number of positions. Junior Joe Hanstad is a solid shooter.

Newcomers

Edmunds Dukulis, a 6-9 forward from Latvia who sat out last season per NCAA eligibility rules, will be counted on to score inside. Junior college transfer James Webb III, a 6-9 forward, arguably will be the most athletic player on the roster. Freshman forward Nicholas Duncan hails from the Australian Institute of Sport — the same school that produced starters Anthony Drmic and Igor Hadziomerovic — and should be a factor. Redshirt freshman forward Joey Nebeker and freshman guard Dezmyn Trent will add depth.

Final analysis
Factoid: 5. Boise State returns five starters. The Broncos are the only team that competed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament that brings back all five starters from last season.


Boise State should contend for a Mountain West championship in its third season in the conference. The Broncos are tough to guard because of their ability to spread the floor with 3-point shooters, and that gives Marks space to operate. Scoring won’t be an issue, but defending and rebounding will determine how this season plays out — teams with size and superior athleticism will cause Boise State trouble.

Taco Bell Arena has become one of the tougher courts in the West, as Rice’s squad went 14–1 at home last season. A nonconference game at Kentucky and a December trip to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic are tests that should give Boise State fans an idea of whether this season will be as special as they are hoping and expecting.

*photo courtesy of Boise State athletics
 

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College Basketball: 2013-14 Boise State Preview
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This preview and more on San Diego State and the Mountain West are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

San Diego State Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-11 (9-7 Mountain West)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 32
Coach: Steve Fisher (281-171 at San Diego State)
Mountain West projection: Fourth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
San Diego State is firmly entrenched as one of leading powers in the West, and two offseason developments figure to ensure that the Aztecs are a factor in the month of March.

First, the athletic department reversed course and elected to remain in the Mountain West, one of the toughest basketball conferences in the country, instead of dropping down to the inferior Big West due to football’s yearning to join a top-flight conference. The other key development occurred in mid-May when fifth-year senior forward Josh Davis decided to transfer from Tulane to San Diego State. Davis averaged 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds last season for the Green Wave and is eligible to play immediately after earning his degree at Tulane.

The addition of Davis gives the Aztecs the bona fide star they would otherwise lack after standout Jamaal Franklin skipped his senior season in favor of the NBA. Davis’ presence will be crucial in a loaded league in which the Aztecs will be challenged by strong teams from New Mexico, UNLV and Boise State.

Frontcourt

The addition of Davis gives San Diego State a player capable of racking up double-doubles, as he had 16 for Tulane last season. He is billed as the best frontcourt player in San Diego State’s program since Kawhi Leonard, now a budding star for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

The 6-8 Davis earned first-team All-Conference USA honors at Tulane and joins gritty junior JJ O’Brien as a frontcourt starter. O’Brien is a strong defender who is gradually improving his offensive repertoire.

Athletic sophomore Winston Shepard could make a big jump this season. He experienced consistency issues last season after arriving as one of the most ballyhooed recruits in program history. Shepard started just two games as a freshman and averaged 5.7 points while shooting only 39.3 percent from the field.

Sophomore post Skylar Spencer excelled on the defensive end with 51 blocked shots and will again be part of the rotation. Junior wing Dwayne Polee II underwhelmed last season after transferring from St. John’s but figures to get more minutes with Franklin gone. Junior post James Johnson will help in a backup role, and redshirt freshman Matt Shrigley has a nice shooting touch.

Backcourt

Replacing Franklin will be quite a chore, as he was the only Division I player to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals last season. Coach Steve Fisher supported his point guard’s decision to depart a season early, and Franklin was a second-round pick of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Senior Xavier Thames isn’t going to approach Franklin’s 17-point average, but he’s a capable floor leader despite his assists average dropping from 4.1 as a sophomore to 2.4 last season. Thames (9.5 ppg) is San Diego State’s top returning scorer but isn’t a strong shooter and dealt with periodic back issues last season. He is at his best when penetrating and drawing fouls.

Junior transfer Aqeel Quinn offers 3-point shooting prowess and has two years of major-college experience at Cal State Northridge. Quinn averaged 6.8 points as a sophomore.

Incoming freshman Dakarai Allen is expected to make immediate contributions as a defender. How he fares on the offensive end will determine how much of an impact he will make. Allen is one of two newcomers from Sheldon High in Sacramento. Guard D’Erryl Williams also chose the Aztecs and he will back up Thames this season.

Newcomers

Senior forward Josh Davis is an impact transfer who is expected to be San Diego State’s leading scorer and rebounder. Freshman guards Dakarai Allen and D’Erryl Williams are both expected to contribute with Allen entering the fold as the more polished player. Junior guard Aqeel Quinn provides outside shooting punch and redshirt freshman wing Matt Shrigley will also be part of the rotation.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 8. Steve Fisher has strung together eight consecutive 20-win campaigns at a school that was one of the worst programs in the nation prior to his arrival in 1999.
San Diego State is seeking its fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth, and it would be a surprise if the Aztecs aren’t part of the 68-team field considering the proven ability of Fisher and head coach-in-waiting Brian Dutcher to reload on the fly.

The schedule has a few challenges — a road date at Kansas and a home contest against Arizona are the highlights — as San Diego State wants to make sure it is battle-tested. The conference slate will certainly be arduous, as the Mountain West will again be a fiercely competitive league with conference road wins hard to come by.

Even with all its recent success, San Diego State has won only three NCAA Tournament games in its history. That numbers should be four (at least) by the end of the 2013-14 season.

Photo courtesty of Ernie Anderson/San Diego State athletics

Teaser:
College Basketball: 2013-14 San Diego State Preview
Post date: Monday, October 14, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/2013-legends-poll-top-25-college-football-week-7
Body:
The Legends Poll top 25 saw its first significant shake-up after a wild weekend of upsets in college football.
 
Missouri and Texas provided the first upsets of the day, vaulting No. 14 Mizzou 11 spots after its 41-26 win over Georgia in Athens. The Bulldogs fell eight spots to No. 15. 
 
Texas shocked Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry, springing a 36-20 upset in Dallas. The Longhorns moved into the rankings at No. 25 and Oklahoma dropped five spots to No. 17, which made No. 11 Baylor the highest ranked Big 12 team for the first time in the history of the conference.
 
No. 12 Stanford suffered one of the biggest tumbles in the rankings as well, falling eight spots after falling at Utah, 27-21.
 
Alabama, which received one less first place vote this week (13), Oregon and Clemson remained unchanged in the top 3 this week. No. 4 Ohio State moved up a spot and fifth-ranked Florida State made its first top 5 appearance of the season, setting up a top 5 showdown at Clemson next weekend.
 
No. 21 Virginia Tech was the only other newcomer to the rankings this week.
 
Northwestern and Notre Dame dropped out of the top 25.
 
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll
 
THE LEGENDS POLL TOP 25
RKTEAMRECORDPOINTSPV RK
1AlabamaAlabama (13)6-03971
2OregonOregon (3)6-03872
3ClemsonClemson6-03653
4Ohio StateOhio State6-03495
5Florida StateFlorida State5-03376
6LSULSU6-131010
7Texas A&MTexas A&M5-12998
8LouisvilleLouisville6-02719
9UCLAUCLA5-025411
10South CarolinaSouth Carolina5-124515
11BaylorBaylor5-023114
12StanfordStanford5-12304
13Miami (FL)Miami (FL)5-022513
14MissouriMissouri6-018725
15GeorgiaGeorgia4-21557
16Texas TechTexas Tech6-015220
17OklahomaOklahoma5-112912
18WisconsinWisconsin4-211324
19Oklahoma StateOklahoma State4-18922
20Fresno StateFresno State5-07921
21Virginia TechVirginia Tech6-177-
22FloridaFlorida4-26016
23WashingtonWashington4-25719
24MichiganMichigan5-15417
25TexasTexas4-234-

* The Legends Poll voting process is exactly what the BCS is trying to create and Athlon will bring it to you as the de facto Selection Committee for fans to follow over the next two seasons, allowing you to see how the Selection Committee will operate from 2014 onward.  You can see the entire Poll at www.legendschannel.com.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Sunday, October 13, 2013 - 18:40
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/golden-arm-performances-week-7
Body:
Transamerica is a proud sponsor of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. The award is presented each year by the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Education Foundation to the nation’s top college quarterback based on character, citizenship, scholastic achievement, leadership qualities, and athletic accomplishments. Candidates must be a graduating senior or fourth-year junior on schedule to graduate with their class. As a leading financial services company, Transamerica takes pride in being there for those moments when our customers say, “It’s real now.” Moments like the birth of a new baby, the opening of a new business, college acceptance, retirement, and other key milestones. By showing our support for the young men on the Top 30 watch list, we look forward to seeing them thrill fans around the country and experience moments during the season and beyond when they say, “It’s real now.” 
 
1. Sean Mannion, Orgeon State
Another week meant another big game for Oregon State’s Sean Mannion. No quarterback on the Golden Arm Award watch list had more passing yards than Mannion, who passed for 493 yards and four touchdowns in a road win at Washington State. Mannion continues to put up huge numbers on a regular basis. Mannion currently leads the nation in passing yards (2,511 yards) and touchdowns (25) and has only been intercepted three times this season. He is the only quarterback in the country averaging over 400 yards per game.
 
David Fales2. David Fales, San Jose State
The San Jose State Spartans were led to a road victory at Colorado State by David Fales. Fales passed for 431 yards and three touchdowns, including a game-winning 62-yard pass to Tyler Winston in the fourth quarter to break a 27-27 tie. Remarkably, that was the shortest distance thrown by Fales on a touchdown in the game. Fales had an 83-yard pass and a 77-yard pass for touchdowns in the second quarter as well. This was the second time this season Fales surpassed 400 passing yards in a single game.
 
3.  Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Clemson struggled early on against Boston College despite playing at home, but Tajh Boyd never got rattled and eventually helped lead the Tigers to another win to remain undefeated. Boyd became the school’s all-time leading passer while throwing for 334 yards and a touchdown in the game. Boyd also added 33 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. Next week Boyd will go head-to-head with freshman sensation Jameis Winston and Florida State.
 
4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina
Staying in the same state, South Carolina’s starting quarterback had a big afternoon in helping the Gamecocks rout Arkansas on the road. Shaw completed 19 of 28 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns, including two touchdown passes to Bruce Ellington in the second quarter to take a 17-point lead into halftime. Shaw also added 37 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown late in the third quarter as the Gamecocks pulled away from the Razorbacks with ease.
 
5. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
Arizona State struck quickly against Colorado when Taylor Kelly completed a 69-yard pass to Jaelen Strong for an early touchdown. As the Sun Devils were off to the races against Colorado, Kelly tossed a second touchdown pass to Davon Coleman early in the second quarter and ran 17 yards for a touchdown just before halftime for a big lead at the break. Kelly passed for 233 yards, averaging a season high 12.3 yards per attempt and avoided an interception.

Sponsored by Transamerica

 

Teaser:
Golden Arm Performances of Week 7
Post date: Sunday, October 13, 2013 - 18:20
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/mariota-named-athlon-sports-national-player-week
Body:

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota may have entered the weekend as the Heisman frontrunner, but Saturday’s 45-24 win at Washington erased any doubt.

Mariota led one of the most impressive wins by a national championship by taking apart the stout Huskies’ defense, earning Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.

Washington entered the game allowing only 146.4 passing yards per game and two total passing touchdowns. Mariota crushed those numbers with his usual efficiency. The sophomore completed 24 of 31 passes for 366 yards with three touchdowns while rushing for 88 yards and a score.

A testament to Mariota’s ability and Oregon’s depth on offense, the Ducks amassed 631 yards despite missing running back De’Anthony Thomas and tight end Colt Lyerla for the entire game. Top wide receiver Josh Huff also missed time during the game with an injury.

Mariota has accounted for 25 total touchdowns this season (17 passing and eight rushing) without a turnover as Oregon defeated Washington for the 10th consecutive time.

Athlon Sports Week 7 National Awards

National Offensive Player of the Week: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
The Ducks quarterback was brilliant again, this time on the road against a ranked divisional foe and rival. Mariota led the Ducks to an easy 45-24 win over Washington by completing 24-of-31 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He added 88 yards rushing on 13 carries and another touchdown on the ground. He is now 18-1 as a starter with 63 career total touchdowns and just six interceptions. Mariota hasn't thrown a pick in 233 attempts.

National Defensive Player of the Week: Nate Orchard, LB, Utah
Fellow defensive linemates Trevor Reilly and Tenny Palepoi have made more plays and garnered more headlines through five games, but Saturday night's upset of Stanford was Orchard's coming out party. He registered his second and third sack of the season and forced two huge fumbles for a Utah defense that simply outplayed the Cardinal for most of the game. He finished with five total tackles on the night and was a big part of the final minute goal-line stand that won the game for the Utes.

National Freshman of the Week: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
It took unlikely completions on the game's final drive in the game's final minute against Michigan, but Hackenberg wrote the first chapter of what could be a stellar career. He posted his third 300-yard effort in six career starts and accounted for four touchdowns in the thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Wolverines. He completed 23 of his 44 passes and now leads the Big Ten in passing at 278.7 yards per game.

Coordinator of the week: Major Applewhite, Texas
The defense was off to a bad start for Texas, but the offense has been nearly as disjointed this season for Texas. Not against Oklahoma. Quarterback Case McCoy missed some open deep throws, but he still finished 13 of 22 for 190 yards. They key for Applewhite’s offense though was third down conversions (13 of 20) and a two-headed rushing attack from Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray that combined for 253 yards on the ground.


Athlon Week 7 Conference Awards

ACC
Offense: Anthony Boone, Duke
Defense: Vic Beasley, Clemson
Freshman: Jack Tocho, NC State
Coordinator: Jim Knowles, Duke

Big 12
Offense:
Tevin Reese, Baylor
Defense: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
Freshman: Davis Webb, Texas Tech
Coordinator: Major Applewhite, Texas

Big Ten
Offense: Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
Defense: D.J. Olaniyan, Penn State
Freshman: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Coordinator: Dave Aranda, Wisconsin

Pac-12
Offense: Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Defense: Nate Orchard, Utah
Freshman: Andy Phillips, Utah
Coordinators: Dennis Erickson/Kalani Sitake, Utah

SEC
Offense:
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Defense: Lamin Barrow, LSU
Freshman: A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
Coordinator: Dave Steckel, Missouri

 

Teaser:
Mariota named Athlon Sports National Player of the Week
Post date: Sunday, October 13, 2013 - 14:53
Path: /college-football/college-fantasy-football-week-7-start-or-sit-report
Body:

Week 7 is here already and now it is time to make a push for the fantasy playoffs.  If your team is in the middle of the pack, every roster move you make from this point on can propel you up in the standings or bring your team closer to irrelevancy. 

Start

James Franklin, QB-Missouri at Georgia
Franklin leads the undefeated Tigers into Athens to face a Georgia defense that is allowing 32.2 points per game and over 260 yards in the air.

Bo Wallace, QB-Ole Miss vs Texas A&M
The Aggies defense is allowing nearly 30 points per game, and Wallace should post a solid stat line if the Rebels reach the 30-point mark.

Keenan Reynolds, QB-Navy at Duke
When the Blue Devils faced Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack in Week 3, they surrendered 344 rushing yards.

Paul Perkins, RB-UCLA vs California
Perkins was solid in relief of injured running back Jordan James last Thursday at Utah and should post nice numbers against a Bears defense that is allowing 219 rushing yards per game.

Larry Dixon, RB-Army vs Eastern Michigan
Dixon has topped 100 yards in a game three times this season and faces an Eagles defense that has allowed 19 rushing touchdowns in 2013, third-most in the FBS.

David Oku, RB-Arkansas State vs Idaho
Oku and the Red Wolves offense host a Vandals defense that is allowing 224.8 rushing yards per game and 6.0 yards per carry.

Trayion Durham, RB-Kent State at Ball State
Durham has only topped the 100-yard mark once this season, but he should make a push to reach that plateau this week when the Golden Flashes face a Ball State defense that gives up over 200 rushing yards per game.

Albert Wilson, WR-Georgia State vs Troy
Wilson is averaging 30 receiving yards per game against FBS opponents this season, but that number should rise significantly this week when he faces a Troy defense that allows over 315 passing yards per game.
 

Bench

C.J. Brown, QB-Maryland vs Virginia
There has not been any information concerning the availability of Brown for Saturday when the Terps host Virginia. For those that have early lineup deadlines, be prepared to leave the senior signal-caller on the bench this week.

Nate Sudfeld, QB-Indiana at Michigan State
If the Hoosiers offense struggles to move the ball against Sparty’s defense, do not be surprised if Tre Roberson receives significant snaps.

Baker Mayfield, QB-Texas Tech vs Iowa State
Fantasy owners were relieved to hear that there was no structural damage to Mayfield’s knee after his injury last weekend, but he may be extremely limited or unavailable Saturday when the undefeated Red Raiders host the Cyclones.

Vad Lee, QB, Georgia Tech at BYU
This week, the Yellow Jackets travel cross country to face a BYU defense that is allowing a respectable 132 yards per game on the ground.  More importantly for owners of Lee, the Cougars defense has only allowed two rushing touchdowns so far this season.

James Sims, RB-Kansas at TCU
Facing his toughest test of the season last week, Sims ran for a season-low 28 yards on nine carries against Texas Tech.  It won’t get any easier for the Jayhawks offense this week when they travel to TCU.

Travis Greene, RB-Bowling Green at Mississippi State
The Falcons have only played two non-MAC FBS schools this season (Tulsa and Indiana), and in those two games, Greene has rushed for a total of 131 yards and zero touchdowns on 33 carries.

James Conner, RB-Pitt at Virginia Tech
Conner exploded for 292 yards in back-to-back games against New Mexico and Duke, but was held in-check when the Panthers hosted Virginia two weeks ago.  This may be the toughest test remaining on the schedule for the Panthers offense.

Donnel Pumphrey, RB-San Diego State at Air Force
Three points to consider:  Adam Muema rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against Nevada, 72 of Pumphrey’s 112 rushing yards last week were gained in a single play, and the Aztecs offense turned to Muema once they reached the red zone.

 

For Start/Bench advice from Joe DiSalvo, send an email
Follow Joe on twitter (@theCFFsite)

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 13:00
Path: /nfl/new-york-giants-vs-chicago-bears-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Two teams featuring embattled, high-profile quarterbacks and struggling defenses are on tap tonight when the New York Giants square off against the Chicago Bears at 8:25 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. The Giants are in desperate need of a win following a disastrous 0-5 start while the Bears are looking to put an end to their two-game losing streak.

Although there’s plenty of blame to go around for the Giants’ horrendous start to the season, Eli Manning is bearing the brunt of it, unfairly or not. Following a near-flawless opening stretch in his first season under new Bears head coach Marc Trestman, Jay Cutler has been anything but perfect and the offense has gotten off to slow starts in each of the past two games, both losses.

4 Things to Watch

Controlling the Clock
The Giants are last in the NFL in time of possession, keeping the ball for less than 26 minutes per game. The Bears aren’t too much better, coming in at 29:10, which places them 21st in the league. What this means is that each team’s defense has spent more than 30 minutes, or half, of every game on the field. Considering both units have had to deal with numerous injuries that have taken their toll on their respective depth charts, it’s really no surprise that both are in the bottom third of the total defense rankings. The Giants’ and Bears’ offenses are equally capable of moving the chains and putting some points on the board. Chances are whichever team has the ball longest tonight will do just that, and probably win.

Collapsing the Pocket
Eli Manning and Jay Cutler have been sacked a collective 24 times and have turned the ball over 23 times (18 INTs, 5 fumbles) through five games. Needless to say, they have made their share of mistakes in the early going. Getting pressure on the quarterback is the easiest, and often most effective, way to rattle a quarterback, but this has not been a strong suit for either defense thus far. The Giants have the second-fewest sacks in the NFL with five and the Bears are just one spot ahead of them with eight. The Giants’ defensive line has been surprisingly ineffective, as the trio of Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka have combined for three sacks. The Bears’ D-line has been beset by injuries, first losing All-Pro tackle Henry Melton and most recently Nate Collins to torn ACLs, and their main pass rusher, Julius Peppers, has just one sack. Someone from either the Big Blue Wrecking Crew or one of the Monsters of the Midway will need to bring the heat tonight, otherwise the quarterbacks will dictate the outcome of this game.

Can’t Be a One-Man(ning) Show
Eli will be the first to admit that he’s simply not getting the job done. No NFL quarterback can expect to win if he throws more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (8) week in and week out. That said, no quarterback can do it alone either, including big brother Peyton. While the older Manning is re-writing the record books with every game, he’s getting 117 yards rushing per contest and also has the support of the top defense against the run. Cutler has Matt Forté, one of the most versatile and productive running backs, at his disposal. Eli meanwhile is getting 57 yards rushing per game and the backing of a defense that’s allowing nearly 400 yards and more than 36 points per game. Granted, his turnovers (14 total) have certainly not helped, but the bottom line is the Giants have to figure out something on the ground so that Manning doesn’t have to throw the ball 40 times every game. That’s easier said than done, however, as the Giants will be without leading rusher David Wilson, who will miss tonight’s game because of a neck injury. That leaves Brandon Jacobs (2.2 ypc) and Da’Rel Scott (3.5 ypc), re-signed this week, to get the job done. Manning may want to make sure his arm stays loose.

Hurry Up, Offense
Chicago got off to a 3-0 start thanks to two fourth-quarterback comebacks in the first two games and then putting 40 points on the board against Pittsburgh in Week 3. Two of the keys to these victories were a fast start by the offense and keeping the score close early. The Bears scored at least a touchdown in the first quarter of each game and trailed by no more than seven at the half. In the past two games, both losses, the Bears scored a total of three points in the first quarter of both games and were outscored 50-20 by the Lions and Saints in the first half. Last week the Bears had just two first downs more than halfway through the second quarter and dug themselves into a 20-7 halftime hole they couldn’t get out of. The time of possession disparity has already been documented (see above), so a quick, and productive, start by Cutler and company would not only get the Bears off on the right foot, but also would prevent the Giants from building any much-needed momentum.

New York Key Player: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE
To be fair, the Giants’ defensive line as whole isn’t getting the job done, as evidenced by their collective four sacks. The star of the show, however, is Pierre-Paul, and he hasn’t been anywhere near the disruptive force he was two seasons ago. In 2011, JPP staked his claim as one of the NFL’s rising stars following an All-Pro season highlighted by 16.5 sacks. He managed just 6.5 sacks last season, as the Giants’ defense dropped all the way to 31st in the league. He underwent back surgery in June to repair a herniated disc, but was back on the field for the season opener. He’s also been dealing with a knee issue and it’s apparent he hasn’t been the same player that he was just two seasons ago. Pierre-Paul has one sack, which came in Week 1, and a total of 13 tackles in five games. Without a consistent pass rush or the threat of Pierre-Paul coming in and making the big play, offenses have gashed the Giants on both the ground (126 ypg) and through the air (269.2 ypg). Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler is not known for his ball security (3 lost fumbles) in the pocket and the Bears have struggled some with pass protection over the last two games. With the Giants desperately needing a win, this is the perfect time for the 2011 JPP to make an appearance.

Chicago Key Player: Julius Peppers, DE
Just as Jason Pierre-Paul is for the Giants, Peppers is the key component to the Bears’ defensive line. The highest-paid player on Chicago’s roster, Peppers has amassed 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, he is on pace for about three this season, as he has just one through five games. Peppers didn’t even register a single tackle last week against New Orleans, his second such no-show this season. The Bears’ defensive line has been hit hard by injuries with All-Pro tackle Henry Melton and his replacement, Nate Collins, both lost for the season because of torn ACLs. Chicago’s defense has fared pretty well against the rush (98.2 ypg), but is giving up about 280 yards per game. A more consistent pass rush would make the linebackers’ and defensive backs’ jobs easier in coverage, and Peppers needs to lead the way in that department. Halloween is still three weeks away, but Bears fans would love to see a monstrous effort from Peppers tonight.

Final Analysis

The Giants aren’t the only winless team left in the NFL, but other than the Steelers, no one needs a victory more than Tom Coughlin’s battered and frustrated bunch. Although the Bears have dropped two in a row and the defense has allowed at least 340 yards in each game, Chicago hast two new things New York doesn’t – a more productive running game and three wins under its belt.

With Matt Forté leading the charge, Jay Cutler doesn’t have to carry the load, while Eli Manning once again is forced to try and keep the Giants in the game by throwing on nearly every play. It won’t look pretty, but the Bears take care of business at home and Coughlin’s squad becomes the first Giant team since 1976 to start 0-6.

Chicago 27, New York 17

Teaser:
New York Giants vs. Chicago Bears Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 08:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2013-14-villanova-preview
Body:


This preview and more on Villanova and the Big East are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

Villanova Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-14 (10-8 Big East)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64
Coach: Jay Wright (257-144 at Villanova)
Big East projection: Fourth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64

Jay Wright knew last season’s team was talented, but most people had their eyes focused on the 2013-14 season as the year when Villanova could really make noise.

That all changed during one week in late January, when the Wildcats knocked off Louisville and Syracuse in back-to-back games. They quickly went from a team struggling with consistency to one that could beat anyone.

“I didn’t know if we would become a good team in February or in March, but then in January we won those games,” Wright says. “I thought, we have the ability to do this right now. I think we all recognized that week that we can do it right now.”

Villanova ended up riding those two wins to an NCAA Tournament berth, falling to North Carolina in the Round of 64. The Wildcats lose just one (Mouphtaou Yarou) of their top six players, and an additional season of experience is only going to help.

“I think we have a chance to be a better team,” Wright says. “We’re going to miss Mouph, but we’re bringing back the whole team. That year of playing together is more valuable than bringing in a great player.”

Frontcourt

The loss of Yarou, who started 107 games in his career, will impact the Wildcats’ post play. The center responsibilities will now fall to Daniel Ochefu, a sophomore who came to Villanova as a 4-star recruit. Ochefu has shown flashes of his potential, but his numbers dwindled as the season progressed. He needs to be more aggressive, especially in a relatively small Villanova lineup.

“We’re really excited about him,” Wright says. “He’s a completely different player than Mouph. More perimeter-oriented, finesse. We’re hoping he can be the biggest factor in making up for Mouph’s rebounding and defense.”

Jayvaughn Pinkston has continued to improve after a rocky start to his Nova career. He knows what he is — an undersized power forward who simply outworks and overpowers opponents. And it’s effective. The 6-7 Pinkston was the team’s leading scorer and second-leading rebounder last season.

Depth will come from two freshmen — Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds. Jenkins came up through the famed Gonzaga (D.C.) College High School program, while Reynolds was a late signee with a good frame.

Backcourt

Wright is known to fill his lineups with aggressive, attack-minded perimeter players. This year’s backcourt is a little different, but it’s still a deep, experienced group.

Ryan Arcidiacono burst onto the scene as a freshman, scoring in double-figures in the first five games of the season. He showed some inconsistency, but finished strong — hitting double digits in eight of his last nine contests. Expect his efficiency to improve as a sophomore.

Backcourt mate Darrun Hilliard averaged 11.4 points last season though he shot only 40.3 percent from the field. On the wing, James Bell is arguably the team’s best 3-point threat. He has a strong build and can help out on the glass and defend bigger small forwards. When Bell and Hilliard can keep defenses honest from the perimeter, the Wildcats’ offense becomes difficult to defend.

After sitting out last season, Rice transfer Dylan Ennis will help shore up the backcourt depth. Ennis, whose younger brother Tyler plays at Syracuse, could ease some of the pressure off of Arcidiacono.

“He’s going to fill a lot of roles,” Wright says. “He’s athletic and strong enough to guard a 3-man at times, and he’s good enough with the ball to play the point. We look at him as a basketball player.”

During the spring, it looked as though Tony Chennault would transfer, but he ultimately decided to return. Freshman Josh Hart can provide assistance on the wing. He’s an aggressive offensive player with size.

Newcomers

Outside of Dylan Ennis, Jay Wright might not need an immediate impact from the newcomers. Josh Hart is an aggressive scorer, while Kris Jenkins should be able to come off the bench and provide some pop. Darryl Reynolds was a spring addition to the group, and he will provide some interior depth. Ennis, though, should be a key asset for Wright on the perimeter after transferring from Rice.

Final analysis
Factoid: 26.1. Villanova led the nation last year by attempting 26.1 free throws per game. The Wildcats also led the nation by making 18.8 free throws per game.
Villanova has the pieces in place to be a factor in the new-look Big East. Arcidiacono should be more consistent with his shot selection and decision-making, while Pinkston gives the Wildcats a legitimate go-to-guy around the basket. With a solid cast of role players — and the addition of Ennis — Villanova is as strong 1-4 as anyone in the league. The key will be Ochefu: Can he fill the shoes left by Yarou? If so, expect big things from this team.

Teaser:
College Basketball: 2013-14 Villanova Preview
Post date: Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 07:58
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2013-14-xavier-preview
Body:


This preview and more on Xavier and the Big East are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

Xavier Facts & Figures
Last season: 17-14 (9-7 Atlantic 10)
Postseason: None
Coach: Chris Mack (90-44 at Xavier)
Big East projection: Sixth
Postseason projection: NCAA First Four

For the first time since 2005, there was no postseason basketball at Xavier last March.

Don’t get used to it.

Chris Mack, who is 46 games over .500 in four seasons as the head coach at his alma mater, has reloaded his roster and put his program is position for a successful inaugural season in the revamped Big East.

Frontcourt

Matt Stainbrook is the biggest addition, at least in stature. The 6-10 center played his first two seasons at Western Michigan, where he averaged 8.8 points and 6.4 rebounds as a freshman and 11.4 and 6.8 as a sophomore. The Ohio native dropped 50-plus pounds while sitting out last season as a transfer, but his progress was slowed by a torn meniscus is his right knee suffered in February. Stainbrook underwent surgery and rehab, and is expected to be a go-to player in the paint this season. His weight loss has improved his mobility and stamina, which should help fill the void left by former rebounding leader Travis Taylor.

The elder statesman of the frontcourt is power forward Isaiah Philmore, a bullish big-bodied Maryland native who came on strong late in his first season at Xavier after transferring from Towson. He averaged 7.5 points and 5.0 rebounds on the season but scored in double figures in seven of his last 11 games. Philmore emerged as a leader who earned his teammates’ respect through his physical play.
Jalen Reynolds, an explosive 6-9 forward who can shoot outside and attack the rim, is in the frontcourt mix after being ineligible last year. He joins freshman Aleksandar Vezenkov, a 6-8 combo forward with a mid-range game and experience against high-level European players. Vezenkov has played on Bulgarian junior national teams and as an amateur member of the Greek pro team Aris.

Sophomore James Farr, a 6-9 forward, remains a question mark. Although he improved last year, Farr struggled defensively and played limited minutes. Erik Stenger is 6-8 local product who provides energy off the bench in limited minutes.

The most intriguing battle could be at the small forward position. Junior Justin Martin has the most experience, but his production decreased as the season progressed. He scored 10 points or more in the first eight games but hit double figures only four times the rest of the way. Vezenkov could slide over to the 3 and create some mismatches for opposing small forwards. Freshman Kamall Richards, who brings physicality to the position, could be a factor as well.

Backcourt

The backcourt is anchored by guard Semaj Christon, who overcame an elbow injury and recurring cramps as a rookie to lead Xavier in scoring (15.2 ppg), assists (4.6 apg) and steals (1.5 spg). Christon was a second-team All-A-10 pick and became Xavier’s first A-10 Rookie of the Year.

Christon’s court awareness and attacking mentality carried Xavier through some tough spots. A former top-40 national recruit, Christon needs to emerge as more of a threat from 3-point range (he made only seven all season) and cut down on his turnovers (team-leading 109), but he has the ability to be one of the better combo guards in the nation as a sophomore.  

Dee Davis, a junior, returns as Xavier’s starting point guard. He is an outstanding perimeter defender who will be asked to guard some of the better perimeter players in the Big East. Davis needs to be more efficient inside the arc — he hit only 42.2 percent of his 2-point field goals  — but did a nice job keeping defenses honest by shooting 36.8 percent from long range.

Myles Davis and Brandon Randolph are expected to solidify the backcourt. Ineligible last year, Davis begins his Musketeers career with a reputation as an elite-level shooter. Randolph is a top prospect who’s dangerous in the open court.

Newcomers

Matt Stainbrook, who has two years of eligibility after transferring from Western Michigan, will provide a presence inside. Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds, both ineligible last season, weren’t allowed to participate in team activities in ’12-13. Both should contribute right away. Aleksandar Vezenkov, a spring signee, is a skilled big man who can shoot from the outside. Brandon Randolph will see time as a backup point guard. Kamall Richards is a physical wing player.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 87.4. Xavier has won 87.4 percent of its games at the Cintas Center. The Musketeers are 173–25 at the on-campus arena that opened for the 2000-01 season.

Xavier possesses what it lacked last season — depth. An influx of talent both in the frontcourt and on the perimeter will allow Mack to employ a variety of different looks.

Christon will once again be the primary weapon on offense, but the Musketeers will have scoring threats at every spot on the court. The defense, always a strength, will be tested on a more consistent basis in the more challenging Big East, but Xavier has the ingredients necessary to a significant player in its new league.

Photo courtesy of Bob Stevens

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College Basketball: 2013-14 Xavier Preview
Post date: Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 07:25
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This preview and more on St. John's and the Big East are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

St. John's Facts & Figures
Last season: 17-16 (8-10 Big East)
Postseason: NIT second round
Coach: Steve Lavin (51-47 at St. John's)
Big East projection: Fifth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Steve Lavin didn’t wait very long after the end of a difficult season — one in which is father passed away in February and his best player was suspended in March — to start looking ahead.

It wasn’t just that St. John’s fourth-year head coach wanted to forget 2012-13 as soon as possible. It was more the promise the coming season holds that has him — and Red Storm fans — feeling that the future, finally, is now.

“I like where we are, and I like where we’re headed,” Lavin says.

Consider that St. John’s returns 91.6 percent of its scoring and 88.3 percent of its rebounding from a 17–16 NIT team. A roster that was dominated by freshmen and sophomores is now a year older and a year more seasoned. And that roster now includes Rysheed Jordan, a top-30 national recruit who is expected to make an immediate contribution.

There is one key unanswered question as St. John’s begins play in the new Big East, the basketball-centric spinoff from the old Big East: How will Lavin deal with the issue of junior guard De’Angelo Harrison, who led the team in scoring last year (17.8 ppg) before he was suspended for the final six games?

Frontcourt

JaKarr Sampson, the 2012-13 Big East Rookie of the Year, is ready to add the responsibility of leadership to his other considerable contributions.
“I’m pushing myself to be more of a leader, rather than being in the back row because I’m a freshman,” says Sampson, who averaged 14.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

The 6-8, 204-pound Sampson gives the Johnnies a solid foundation for what could be a top-notch frontcourt, one that also features shot-blocking specialist Chris Obekpa. The 6-9 Obekpa, though raw offensively, led the nation in blocks last year with an average of 4.0 per game.

There’s also some interior depth in the form of God’sgift Achiuwa and junior college transfer Orlando Sanchez, who has finally been cleared academically. Achiuwa averaged 9.4 points and 5.8 rebounds two years ago before redshirting last year. The 6-9 Sanchez will help in the low post with his rebounding ability for a team that struggled on the boards last season.

Sir’Dominic Pointer and Marc-Antoine Bourgault will compete for time on the wing.

Backcourt

Lavin now has options at point guard — with the added bonus of being able to keep Harrison at the shooting guard spot, which is his natural position. Junior Phil Greene IV was solid running the point a year ago, averaging 10.1 points and 2.6 assists. Jordan, one of the nation’s top point guard recruits, will push for some of those minutes immediately. His ability to also play the 2 offers Lavin the luxury of some flexibility in the backcourt.

But the focus will still be on Harrison, who missed the final six games of the ’12-13 season to recurring tardiness and poor behavior, according to published reports. Harrison is a prolific scorer, but he needs to improve his efficiency. At the time of his suspension, he was shooting 34.7 percent overall and 28.6 percent from three in league games. When he’s on his best behavior, Harrison is a legitimate weapon.

Jamal Branch, a 13-game starter, and Felix Balamou, a slasher with some promise, provide depth. There’s also the addition of a much-needed 3-point presence — St. John’s was last in the Big East last year in 3-point shooting at 27.1 percent — with Harvard transfer Max Hooper available after sitting out last season.

Newcomers

Five-star point guard Rysheed Jordan is touted by the school as the highest-rated recruit in Steve Lavin’s four years. Jordan averaged 25 points as a senior. Junior college transfer Orlando Sanchez, ineligible last season, will bring a post presence and some needed rebounding. Harvard transfer Max Hooper, a 6-6 wing, will help improve the league’s worst 3-point shooting offense from a year ago.

Final analysis
Factoid: 7.3. St. John’s led the nation with 7.3 blocked shots per game — 0.6 more than any other team — thanks in large part to a school-record 133 from freshman Chris Obekpa.

Talent isn’t the issue with this team. Pulling it all together is. A lot will depend on how much Harrison has matured — if at all — upon his return to the active roster.  

Lavin must also refine his team’s offensive skills. St. John’s was among the nation’s worst offensive teams a year ago, ranking 314th in effective field goal percentage (according to KenPom.com) and 315th in free throw percentage.

But the team’s most pressing needs (rebounding and 3-point shooting) can be filled with the additions of Sanchez and Hooper, who both sat out last season. Point guard depth was addressed as well with Jordan’s arrival.

On paper, this is an NCAA Tournament team with the potential to reach the Sweet 16. Lavin’s task is turn that potential into a reality.

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This preview and more on Georgetown and the Big East are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

Georgetown Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-7 (14-4 Big East)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64
Coach: John Thompson III (209-89 at Georgetown)
Big East projection: Third
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
It’s only one player, right?

Normally, when a team that won 25 games and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament returns all but one player, it can be expected to be ranked among the top five or 10 teams in the country. That isn’t the case with Georgetown, though — because that one departing player is Otto Porter, the No. 3 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and a consensus All-American last season.

“He’s ready,” coach John Thompson III said when Porter declared he was leaving early for the draft. “A lot of people come into this — a lot of players — with the notion of ‘I want to leave as soon as possible.’ They enter college, they walk in the door thinking about walking out the door. That has never been the case with him.”

Of course, the next step is finding a replacement for Porter. Here’s a hint: It won’t be easy.

Frontcourt

In an ideal world, Greg Whittington would have replaced Porter this season. However, the 6-9 Whittington — who was ruled academically ineligible for the second half of last season — suffered a knee injury in June that could jeopardize his return.

“Greg will return when he is 100 percent healthy,” Thompson III said at the time. “At this point, there is no specific timetable for his return.”

If Whittington is forced to miss the entire season, Georgetown’s frontcourt will go from one predicated on length and versatility to one highlighted by strength and bulk.

The big addition up front is UCLA transfer Josh Smith. When focused and on the court, Smith is one of the better low-post scorers around — but that didn’t happen often enough with the Bruins. He was always in foul trouble, and he couldn’t stay on the floor due to conditioning. If he’s in shape, Smith will be a big boost for the Hoyas in the post when he joins at the midseason point.

Another newcomer to keep an eye on is freshman Reggie Cameron, who will help fill Porter’s shoes. A native of New Jersey, the 6-7 Cameron is one of the best incoming shooters in the country.

Thompson III also brings back two starters: Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins. Lubick is a veteran who rebounds, sets screens and isn’t opposed to doing the dirty work around the basket. Hopkins adds a different dimension due to his ability to pass out of the post.

Moses Ayegba is raw, but he provides depth and strength.

Backcourt

Although Porter received most of the national attention for the Hoyas last season, Markel Starks was no slouch on the perimeter. He went through bouts of inconsistency, but Starks playing well generally meant that Georgetown was playing well. He’s a strong guard who can create for himself and others, and he is adept at initiating the Hoyas’ offense. With Porter gone, Starks will have to take on a bigger offensive and leadership role.

One player primed for a breakout offensive season is sophomore D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. The Indianapolis native came into college with a reputation as a guy who could get points, and he didn’t disappoint, especially over the second half of the season. He will have more responsibility this season, and his ability to make shots from behind the arc and create his own looks off the bounce will be a major plus.

Jabril Trawick is the starter on the wing. Trawick isn’t a prolific scorer, but he is a very good defender and athlete who uses his strength effectively.

There isn’t much depth at point guard, but Aaron Bowen and Stephen Domingo should see some minutes on the wings. Bowen is athletic and can defend, while Domingo has deep range..

Newcomers

Both newcomers will help the frontcourt tremendously. Josh Smith was an effective player at times for UCLA, and his ability to score with his back to the basket is a plus. Reggie Cameron is a smooth 3-point shooter who is at his best when used as a pick-and-pop power forward of sorts. He lacks quickness, but he should find plenty of opportunities in Georgetown’s half-court offense.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 2-5. Georgetown is only 2–5 in its last five NCAA Tournament appearances. Making matters worse, the Hoyas were a No. 2 or 3 seed in four of those five tournaments. They need to win when it counts.


Georgetown might have been the Big East favorite had Whittington not been injured. As it stands, the Hoyas have some question marks heading into the season. Porter provided so many things at both ends of the floor and will be impossible to replace. Smith-Rivera will have to be a consistent scoring option on the perimeter, but someone has to step up in the frontcourt. The answer could be Cameron, who creates matchup problems with his ability to step out and shoot. It could also be Smith — if he stays on the floor.

As always, Thompson III will have this team defending at a high level, and his offensive system will also win some games. How far this team goes could depend on its ability to make plays when it matters. The Hoyas’ struggles in March are becoming more and more noticeable.

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Admit it. You knew it was coming. Everybody in Dallas did. Everybody everywhere did. As the score got higher, the game got wilder, and more people started flipping their TV over to the game, everyone had the same thought going through their head: When is Tony Romo going to blow it?
 
He was brilliant against the high-flying Denver Broncos on Sunday, at least as good as Peyton Manning who right now is the best there is. He completed 25 of 36 passes for a ridiculous 506 yards and threw five touchdown passes. He was having what might have been the finest game of his 11-year career.
 
Then, on his final pass of the game, right at the two-minute warning, he ignored an open running back DeMarco Murray underneath and tried to squeeze a tight pass into tight end Gavin Escobar deep in his own territory. It was, of course, picked off by Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan, giving the Broncos the ball and the time to set up the game-winning field goal in a 51-48 win.
 
In a game where Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said, “Tony played as good a football game as I've ever seen him play,” everyone knew it was bound to happen. That’s the way it us with Romo. Everyone just sits back and waits for him to fail.
 
And really, that’s just unfair.
 
 Tony Romo's numbers, through his first 98 starts, absolutely blow away Troy Aikman's stats. 
 
Romo has been a terrific quarterback for the Cowboys, better than they ever should’ve expected from an unheralded, undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois in 2003. He wasn’t brought in to be the next great quarterback of “America’s Team.” But that’s exactly what he became.
 
To say he chokes — or that he choked in that game against the Broncos — is a terrible label. Sometimes things happen, even to the greatest quarterbacks in the game.
 
“You know, those plays happen in split seconds,” Garrett said. “And you saw something that he liked. He cut it loose. Their defender made a good play. It was a difference-making play of the game.”
 
It only seems like Romo is on the wrong end of those difference-making plays far too often. But the truth is, without him, the Cowboys of the last decade wouldn’t have been in very many big games.
 
In other words, Romo hasn’t been the complete failure that some make him out to be. In fact, when you compare him to the Dallas Cowboys’ last great quarterback – Hall of Famer Troy Aikman – Romo’s numbers absolutely blow his away. Granted, it’s a different era now and the passing game has exploded since Aikman’s day. But the numbers are startling nonetheless.
 
Through 98 starts, Aikman (1989-95) completed 62.8% of his passes for 16,607 yards, 98 touchdowns and 85 interceptions. Romo, in that span, has completed 65.2% of his passes for 26,998 yards, 187 touchdowns and 90 interceptions. Aikman had a passer rating of 81.6 and was only over 90 in two seasons. Romo is at 96.6 and has never been below 91.4.
 
Aikman won more (60 to 57). And he also had an enormous advantage in the postseason. Aikman was 10-1 in the playoffs in those years and led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles. Romo has been to the playoffs just three times with a record of 1-3.
 
Of course, Aikman had the benefit of Emmitt Smith in his backfield. Romo has only had a Top 10 rushing attack once. And Aikman played with defenses that were better, and ranked higher too. Also, it should be noted, that Aikman was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft while Romo was an undrafted free agent.
 
So the fact that Romo has accomplished as much as he has isn’t bad.
 
But there’s a truth about quarterbacking that Peyton Manning once learned and so did his little brother, Eli, and so has Drew Brees and Joe Flacco and many, many others before them. Quarterbacks, as former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi once said, are judged by only one criteria: “Can they take their team down the field, with the championship on the line, and into the end zone?”
 
In other words, can they perform when it really counts?
 
Romo has had plenty of terrific moments in his career. He’s made plenty of big passes in big spots and seized his share of big games. But in the biggest games, with the eyes of the world upon him, with playoff berths or playoff games on the line, there’s just something about him that seems to make him constantly fall short.
 
So for now he falls to a place where the Mannings and Flacco and Brees and so many others once resided: To the dark hole of great quarterbacks not great enough to win the big one. And no matter what he does in his career, the truth of the matter is that his reputation isn’t going to change until he finally does.
— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
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