Articles By Athlon Sports
Jameis Winston’s performance against Clemson was nearly flawless. Just ask Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.
Even one of the few miscues for Winston — a first-quarter interception — wasn’t totally on the Florida State freshman quarterback.
“The interception was our fault,” Fisher said. “The headset went out. We signaled the route to the receiver and they ran the double move. The coach who signaled to Winston signaled for the single move. We had to throw away the headset. That could have cost you the ballgame. It cost us a huge turnover in the game. He didn't make that mistake, but he handled it well."
Winston’s poise has been the theme of the season for Florida State as much as the Seminoles’ return to the national championship stage. Against Clemson on the road, Winston displayed both by passing for 444 yards in a 51-14 rout of the Tigers.
Winston’s performance against the then-No. 3 Tigers earned him his second sweep of Athlon Sports National Player of the Week and National Freshman of the Week awards.
Athlon Sports Week 8 National Awards
National Offensive Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week: Jameis Winston, Florida State
A crowd of more 83,000 and a top-five showdown on the road was nothing to Winston. The freshman completed 22 of 34 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns in the 51-14 blowout over Clemson. Winston also rushed for a four-yard score in the third quarter and had a 94-yard toss to tight end Nick O’Leary that nearly resulted in a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The freshman’s only interception was the result of a miscommunication by the coaching staff, which is just his third pick on the season.
National Defensive Player of the Week: Michael Sam, Missouri
Missouri beat Florida 36-17 in Maty Mauk’s first start at quarterback, but the story of the day was the Tigers’ surprisingly dominant defense. Defensive end Michael Sam recorded three sacks — to increase his SEC-leading total to 9.0 — to spearhead a Mizzou defense that limited Florida to 151 yards of offense. Sam also leads the SEC with 13.0 tackles for a loss.
National Coordinator of the Week: Derek Mason, Stanford
UCLA's Heisman-contending quarterback Brett Hundley came into the game 11th in the nation in passing efficiency (165.0) and eighth nationally in total offense (345.8 yards per game). The Bruins were fifth nationally in total offense (547.0 yards per game) and seventh in scoring offense (45.8). Mason's physical defense held UCLA to just 10 points and 266 yards of offense, and, in particular, made life miserable for Hundley. The Bruins quarterback threw two interceptions, was sacked four times and mustered just 219 yards of offense.
Athlon Week 8 Conference Awards
Offense: Jameis Winston, Florida State
Defense: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
Freshman: Jameis Winston, Florida State
Coordinator: Jeremy Pruitt, Florida State
Offense: Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
Defense: Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
Freshman: Davis Webb, Texas Tech
Coordinator: Phil Bennett, Baylor
Offense: Devin Gardner/Jeremy Gallon, Michigan
Defense: Max Bullough/Denicos Allen, Michigan State
Freshman: T.J. Simmons, Indiana
Coordinator: Tracy Claeys, Minnesota
Offense: Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
Defense: Jordan Richards, Stanford
Freshman: Michael Adkins II, Colorado
Coordinator: Derek Mason, Stanford
Offense: Tre Mason, Auburn
Defense: Michael Sam, Missouri
Freshman: Marquez North, Tennessee
Coordinator: Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt
This preview and more on Arizona State and the Pac-12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Arizona State Facts & Figures
Last season: 22-13 (9-9 Pac-12)
Postseason: NIT second round
Coach: Herb Sendek (120-109 at Nebraska)
Pac-12 projection: Fifth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
The Sun Devils have one of the nation’s best players in point guard Jahii Carson, an emerging if inconsistent big man in center Jordan Bachynski and a big-time transfer in shooting guard Jermaine Marshall. ASU also has improved its traditionally weak home non-conference schedule, so the NCAA Tournament selection committee won’t scoff at its RPI.
At this point, Sendek may need an NCAA berth to save his job. Carson is expected to turn pro after this season, leaving a huge void in the program. Simply put, it’s now or not anytime soon for both the Sun Devils and Sendek.
The Sun Devils desperately need the 7-2 Bachynski to shed his reputation as an enigma and become a potential double-double every time he steps on the floor. There are times when Bachynski is a dominant player; he had a Pac-12-record 120 blocks last season. But there are also times when he disappears; he had only two points and three rebounds against California last year. ASU doesn’t need Bachynski to be a big scorer; Carson will take care of that. But he has to stay on the floor for 30 minutes — which means staying out of foul trouble — and contribute, say, 12 points, seven or eight rebounds and three blocked shots every night.
Junior Jonathan Gilling hit a team-high 84 3-point shots last season, but like Bachynski he also had too many off nights. Given the attention Carson demands from the defense, Gilling should get enough open looks to be a 40 percent shooter from 3-point range rather than the 36.7 percent shooter he was last season. To his credit, Gilling has become a much better rebounder — averaging 6.1 per game — and defender.
The loss of Carrick Felix to the NBA is huge. He was ASU’s best defensive player, its second-leading scorer and in many ways, its leader. The Sun Devils don’t have a ready-made replacement. Michigan State transfer Brandan Kearney is the most likely choice, but he won’t be eligible until the Pac-12 season.
ASU should have one of the strongest backcourts in the Pac-12. Carson, obviously, is the catalyst. He was nothing short of brilliant his freshman year, ranking second in the conference in scoring while racking up 177 assists, the sixth-most for a freshman in Pac-12 history.
Carson, however, does has room to improve. He needs to be more consistent with his 3-point shot — although he has an uncanny knack of making them when they most count — which will prevent defenses from sagging off him as they did at times last year. Also, he almost exclusively goes to his right. If he can go left even on occasion, defenders will have to play him more honestly.
But those are nitpicks. Carson is a legitimate All-America candidate, a potential first-round NBA Draft choice and the reason Sendek will employ a hurry-up offense this season. The coach wants his team to shoot the ball in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock as often as possible.
ASU faced a huge hole at off guard when Evan Gordon unexpectedly transferred but then upgraded the position with the transfer in of Marshall, who averaged 15.3 points per game at Penn State last season. Marshall can shoot the three and get to the basket. He should be the perfect complement to Carson.
There’s not a lot of depth or talent behind Carson and Marshall, so it’s imperative they stay healthy. Shaquielle McKissic, a junior college import, could provide some athleticism in a reserve role, and redshirt freshman Calaen Robinson has a chance to earn some playing time, although Carson likely will play at least 35 minutes per game.
The Sun Devils will have eight new players, including five transfers. Jermaine Marshall is the big get; he’ll start at shooting guard and should be the perfect complement to Carson. Transfers Sai Tummala and Brandan Kearney will vie to replace the departed Carrick Felix at small forward. Kearney won’t be eligible until the Pac-12 season but his defense could give him the edge.
Factoid: 20. It had been 20 years since a Pac-12 freshman averaged at least 18.5 points and 5.1 assists per game. Jahii Carson put up those numbers last season.
This preview and more on Colorado and the Pac-12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Colorado Facts & Figures
Last season: 21-12 (10-8 Pac-12)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64
Coach: Tad Boyle (69-38 at Colorado)
Pac-12 projection: Third
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Now, on to the next challenge — keeping all the momentum going. “I think the key is our players,” Boyle says. “They expect to win. They expect to be successful. They expect to go to the postseason. I think our coaches do, and I know our fans are enjoying getting used to it as well.”
Had forward Andre Roberson returned for his senior season instead of jumping to the NBA, the 2013-14 Buffaloes would have been, arguably, the most talented team in school history. Losing Roberson scales back those grand proclamations just a bit, but with another projected NBA first-rounder at point guard in junior Spencer Dinwiddie, a solid nucleus of returning players and another talented recruiting class, this still looks like one of the best CU teams in recent memory.
The Buffs will have an opportunity to prove themselves against a very difficult non-conference schedule. CU will play three top teams from the Big 12 (Kansas at home and Oklahoma State and Baylor in neutral court games) as well as Harvard, Colorado State, Georgia, Wyoming, Air Force and UCSB.
“I love our team coming back,” Boyle says. “We basically have four starters coming back. We lose a pretty key component with Andre, the rebounding and the experience factor, but we have a lot of capable young guys coming in and a couple that were sitting out.”
Roberson’s 11 points per game won’t be hard to replace, but rebounding is expected to be much more of a collective effort now. Boyle will lean on four players in the paint, with sophomores Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson carrying the biggest expectations into the season.
They might be the second and third best players on the roster behind Dinwiddie. Both enjoyed success as true freshmen and should be able to build on it. Johnson is versatile and will sometimes play more like a guard offensively. Scott has a nice game in the paint and runs the floor well for a big.
Wesley Gordon, a 6-8 redshirt freshman, practiced against Roberson every day last season, and Boyle hopes he learned from the experience. Gordon might be the wild card on the roster because he’s being asked to fill Roberson’s shoes. Freshman Dustin Thomas, a 6-7 forward, will also get minutes.
Dinwiddie is the backbone of this team, and he affects the game in many ways. He led the Buffs in scoring last season at 15.3 points a game and assists with 3.0. He shot 240 free throws and is probably the team’s best defender. Dinwiddie, however, must become a more consistent outside shooter.
“I think he can have a breakout year for us,” Boyle says. “I think he can be one of the premier players in our conference and one of the best guards in the country.”
Fellow junior Askia Booker is fearless. He can get hot and score in bunches, but when his shots aren’t falling, he often becomes a liability. Boyle would like to see improved consistency, shot selection and defense from Booker.
Sophomores Xavier Talton and Eli Stalzer each played a little less than 10 minutes per game last season and will have to fight off freshmen to remain in the rotation.
Redshirt freshman Chris Jenkins, a 6-7 product of the Detroit area, brings length and athleticism off the bench and has a nice shooter’s touch. He could be a starter at some point in the season and send Booker back to the sixth man role in which he excelled two years ago. True freshman Jaron Hopkins will likely serve as Dinwiddie’s backup.
Colorado needs Dustin Thomas to contribute in the frontcourt. Small forward Tre’Shaun Fletcher might have the most scoring ability of the group. Jaron Hopkins will play minutes off the bench at the point. George King was a late addition to the recruiting class in the spring following Andre Roberson’s departure and is probably the most likely to redshirt.
Factoid: 3. Colorado has had three straight non-losing conference records (one in Big 12, two in Pac-12), its longest such streak since the early 1960s.
The Buffs have the talent, experience and depth — as well as the coaching — to compete with Arizona, UCLA and Oregon for the conference title. Anything short of another NCAA Tournament appearance would be a disappointment at a school that is finally falling in love with its basketball program.
This preview and more on Oregon and the Pac-12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Oregon Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-9 (12-6 Pac-12)
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Coach: Dana Altman (73-37 at Oregon)
Pac-12 projection: Fourth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
“I felt like that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be,” UO guard Johnathan Loyd says. “We want to fix that this year.”
As usual, the Ducks will attempt a quick rebuilding effort. For the third straight year, they’ve added a high-profile transfer with one season of eligibility remaining, in this case Mike Moser from UNLV. Meanwhile, replacing last season’s one-year wonder, Arsalan Kazemi, could be this team’s biggest question mark.
Oregon boasts a couple of emerging stars in sophomore Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. They’ll look to senior junior college transfer Richard Amardi, who was able to practice with the team over the summer, and Moser to help fill the gaps created by the loss of eight lettermen.
Kazemi was a player who “got every rebound,” according to Dotson, who says the second-round NBA Draft pick will be Oregon’s toughest player to replace. Ben Carter, who averaged 10 minutes per game as Kazemi’s backup, will have an opportunity to take on a more prominent role. He’s a tough, athletic forward who showed flashes in the rare chances he got to spell Kazemi.
Amardi is a native of Ontario, Canada, a transfer who originally signed a Letter-of-Intent with Iowa State before joining the Ducks. At 6-9, he joins 6-11 senior Waverly Austin as the biggest players on the roster. Austin will look to find some consistency after playing sparingly behind Tony Woods last year, while Amardi provides some needed athleticism given the loss of dunk-artist Carlos Emory. “I’ll have somebody to throw more lobs to,” Loyd predicts.
If Kazemi wasn’t Oregon’s biggest loss, then it was do-everything wing E.J. Singler, who played just about every position on the floor at one time or another. The Ducks will look to Moser — the one-time UCLA Bruin who later transferred to UNLV — for similar versatility. Moser’s production dipped last season, but he averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds for UNVL two yearse ago.
Singler, Emory, Kazemi and Woods were four of Oregon’s top five scorers in 2012-13. The lone returner from the top five is Dotson, a wing who showed the potential to be one of the most explosive scorers in the conference both from the perimeter and attacking the basket.
“I’m more comfortable now, but every game you’ve got to work,” Dotson says. “Scoring isn’t going to come easy. You’ve got to take good shots, you can’t force them.”
Among the areas of his game Dotson tried to address over the offseason was the consistency of his defensive effort.
A foot injury cost point guard Artis nine games of his freshman season, during which the Ducks went 5–4. Hopes are high for the San Francisco native in ’13-14. “I expect him to be one of the best point guards in the country, start to finish,” Loyd says.
With Artis out, Loyd was among those who helped fill the void at the point. He was most effective as a spark off the bench — being named Most Outstanding Player of the Pac-12 Tournament — rather than when Artis was sidelined.
“I could tell my conditioning wasn’t where it was supposed to be,” says Loyd, who made 16 starts as a junior. “This year, hopefully being in a bigger role, I’ll be ready from the start.”
Oregon’s depth in the backcourt took a hit when Willie Moore and Fred Richardson III elected to transfer. Thus the Ducks will need some production from junior college transfer Jalil Abdul-Bassit and perhaps in-state recruit A.J. Lapray, who impressed teammates with his shooting ability over the summer.
Junior college transfer Richard Armardi ads size to frontcourt which lost some big bodies. Jordan Bell is an athletic freshman who can block shots. Mike Moser was considered one of the best players in the country two years ago at UNLV. Guard Joseph Young averaged 18 points per game at Houston last season. He is appealing for immediate eligibility. Freshman Christiano Felicio from Brazil also has eligibility concerns.
Factoid: 1. Only once in the past 17 years has a Dana Altman-coached team failed to win at least 10 conference games. Altman’s first Oregon team, in 2010-11, went 7–11.
How long can Dana Altman keep working his rebuilding magic? He’s had major makeovers in each of his four seasons as Oregon’s coach and made significant postseason runs in each of the past three years. He faces another big chemistry test in 2013-14, and by now players have every confidence in Altman’s ability to construct a contender.
“I think we’re going to do a lot of winning,” Loyd says.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Coach: Tim Miles (15-18 at Nebraska)
Big Ten projection: 12th
Postseason projection: None
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Coach: Johnny Jones (19-12 at LSU)
SEC projection: Fourth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
* 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.
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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
Offense: Anthony Boone, Duke
Defense: Vic Beasley, Clemson
Freshman: Jack Tocho, NC State
Coordinator: Jim Knowles, Duke
Offense: Tevin Reese, Baylor
Defense: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
Freshman: Davis Webb, Texas Tech
Coordinator: Major Applewhite, Texas
Offense: Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
Defense: D.J. Olaniyan, Penn State
Freshman: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Coordinator: Dave Aranda, Wisconsin
Offense: Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Defense: Nate Orchard, Utah
Freshman: Andy Phillips, Utah
Coordinators: Dennis Erickson/Kalani Sitake, Utah
Offense: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Defense: Lamin Barrow, LSU
Freshman: A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
Coordinator: Dave Steckel, Missouri
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.
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.
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.
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.
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