Articles By Braden Gall
In our piece on Gary Patterson, we focused on the extremely fickle nature of college football fan bases. No longer are fans looking from year-to-year to analyze the state of their football program. In today's college football world, fans are now looking week-to-week.
For a case in point, let's turn to Nebraska and Bo Pelini. Nebraska is coming off a somewhat embarrassing 45-17 loss to Michigan. Combine this with a loss to Northwestern and a 48-17 blowout loss to Wisconsin, and you can almost start to hear those whispers of discontent that turn into screams before you can blink.
Here a few things to keep in mind about Nebraska football and about Coach Pelini:
1. From 1941-1961, the Cornhuskers had 17 losing seasons.
2. In steps Bob Devaney in 1962. In 1969, Bob Devaney hires Tom Osborne as his offensive coordinator. In 1973, Coach Osborne takes over from Coach Devaney. All-in-all, from 1962-1997, Nebraska won 356 of the 430 games it played, didn't have a single losing season, and won 75% of its games 33 of the 36 seasons.
3. Tom Osborne retires in 1997 and from 1998 - 2007, Nebraska won 67.72% of its games and had two losing seasons.
4. In the five years prior to Pelini being hired, the Cornhuskers won 59.68% of their games and only had two seasons with nine or more wins.
5. In 2008, Nebraska hires Bo Pelini. Let's dig into some numbers on Pelini's tenure at Nebraska:
|Years||Overall WP%||Conf. WP%||Non-Conf. WP%||Against Top 25 (Time of Game)||Against Over .500 Teams||9+ Win Seasons|
|2008-Present||71.15% (37-15)||63.64% (21-12)||84.21% (16-3)||40.00% (6-9)||47.62% (10-11)||3 (on pace for 4 with one win in last two games of 2011)|
Let's consider one other set of numbers:
|Years||WP% w/ Superior Talent||WP% w/ Equivalent Talent||WP% w/ Inferior Talent|
|2008-Present||81.82% (27-6)||54.55% (6-5)||33.33% (2-4)|
So, what's the verdict so far on Pelini? One thing we know for sure is that Coach Pelini knows defense. Of the nine seasons Pelini has been either a defensive coordinator (5 years) or a head coach (4 years), he has had top 25 nationally ranked scoring defenses in seven of the nine years. In fact, he has had top 10 nationally ranked scoring defenses in five of the nine years.
Furthermore, Pelini seems to have elevated Nebraska from having to worry about 5+ loss seasons (Bill Callahan lost 5 or more games in three of his four seasons as head coach at Nebraska). Pelini has not won less than nine games in his four years as head coach at Nebraska and barring two straight losses to end the 2011 season, he will once again win 9+ games.
On the somewhat negative side of the numbers is Pelini's winning percentage against Top 25 teams (40.00%) and winning percentage against teams finishing the season over .500 (47.62%). We have seen these numbers play out this year for Pelini. All three of Nebraska's losses this year have come against over .500 teams and two of their three losses have come against Top 25 teams. All three of their losses this year have also come against guys that can flat out coach (Brady Hoke, Bret Bielema, and Pat Fitzgerald).
With Pelini, you pretty much know what you are going to get. You are going to get a coach whose teams play great defense and who beat the teams they should beat around 80% of the time. You are getting a coach that will more than likely win 8+ games every year and keep Nebraska relevant in college football. Can Bo Pelini take Nebraska back to competing for National Championships and winning 12+ games a la the Osborne era? Given the fact that Nebraska is today in a far more competitive conference than years past, we would bet no. However, like with most things in life, let's wait and see how things play out on the field.
-by Braden Gall (follow him @AthlonBraden)
LSU and Alabama are probably the best two teams in the nation.
And when you play in a league that boasts the last five National Champions, you are going to get the benefit of the doubt.
That doesn’t make it right, however, for LSU and Alabama to play in the BCS title game. The top two teams in the nation played an undefeated, tightly contested, late-season game in which the No. 1 team beat the No. 2 team by three points.
Shouldn’t that game mean something?
If you are wondering why that scenario sounds so familiar, it’s because it is exactly what happened in 2006, when an unbeaten No. 1 Ohio State topped an unbeaten No. 2 Michigan 42-39 on November 18. The screams against a rematch echoing from around the nation — and from Gainesville in particular — were deafening.
And they were right.
Michigan easily handled a 12-1 Wisconsin team, outlasted a 9-4 Penn State on the road and dismantled a 10-3 Notre Dame team that played in the Sugar Bowl before losing by three on the road to the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation. Sounds awfully similar to an Alabama team that, assuming both LSU and Bama take care of business over the final two weeks, won at Penn State, handily beat a 10-2 Arkansas team at home, beat its Iron Bowl rival and lost to the No. 1 team in the nation by three points. A very simple, and very subjective, case could be made that the 2006 Wolverines deserved the right to play in the national championship game —precisely the identical case Crimson Tide fans are making today.
Through the joy of hindsight, we now know that Florida did, in fact, deserve to play in the BCS National Championship game against the Buckeyes. Obviously. But the 10.5-point spread favoring Ohio State certainly didn’t indicate that was the case before the game was played. Very few experts were picking the Gators to win that game.
And this is where my long-time personal sports philosophies and what I have seen on the college football gridiron this season decisively diverge.
Teams that do not win their division or conference are allowed to win championships in every other major sport. The Green Bay Packers or the St. Louis Cardinals wouldn’t be World Champions if “Wild Cards” were not allowed to participate in the championship format. Yet, the Packers and Cardinals had to prove their mettle by maneuvering an incredibly treacherous postseason path to the title game(s). These teams were rewarded for establishing themselves as “worthy” during the regular season, earning a chance to play for a championship against the sport's best competition.
And they capitalized with epic and unexpected performances.
The Packers had to win three straight road games against the Eagles, Falcons and Bears before defeating the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. The Cardinals had to defeat the mighty Phillies, Brewers and Rangers in order to capture their 11th World Series title.
Herein lies the rub. I believe that Alabama and LSU (for now, Arkansas fans) are the two best teams in the nation. But that is, by definition, just a guess. There is no factual proof that Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Boise State or Stanford wouldn’t beat the Bayou Bengals or the Crimson Tide. Hypothetically, let’s assume each of those teams wins their conference championship, leaving them a combined 57-6. They would easily have established themselves as the best of the rest.
Did anyone pick the Cardinals to win the World Series? Or the Packers to win three road games and the Super Bowl? Assuming that LSU and Alabama would automatically defeat every one of those other teams is prognostication hubris.
In the non-playoff BCS format that is currently employed, the point is to try to objectively select the two best teams in the nation for a one-game playoff scenario. This makes college football’s regular season the most powerful and meaningful in all of sports – as every anti-playoff advocate will so readily point out.
So the 9-6 win by LSU over Alabama in Tuscaloosa on November 5 has to mean something, right? I may have watched that game and still felt that Alabama was the “better” team, but the better team doesn’t always win and LSU has to receive some sort of credit for winning that game.
If Alabama and LSU meet in the BCS National Title game, my eyes will agree that they are likely the two best teams in the nation. But if Alabama beats LSU, then what did that November 6 meeting mean?
Absolutely nothing. And my sports insides would be in a post-Turkey Day knot.
In a system that values the regular season at an unprecedented level, that contest at the Captsone has to have a cost associated with it. Alabama lost its division, its conference and the chance at a national championship that night — even if I still think they are the best team in the nation.
The point of athletic competition is having the opportunity to accomplish greatness against all odds. Joe Namath and John Elway pulled off two of the greatest upsets in football history on sports’ grandest stage. Jimmy V or Villanova would never have had the chance to cut down the nets if it weren't for the tournament. The Florida Marlins and Josh Beckett would never have ruined Steve Bartman’s life if not for the Wild Card. The 2007 Oregon State Beavers baseball team was one of the final at-large bids into the postseason and they captured the College World Series championship. None of which would have happened had we let our subjective hypotheses do the work for us.
The list goes on and on, full of Shining Moments that allow fans to dream big and then witness those fantasies unfold in front of them through the beauty of on-the-field competition. So if Alabama and LSU land in a four-team playoff, for example, and each wins its way to the title game, my inner sports-chi would be totally aligned and comfortable with a rematch. But in the current system, a team that doesn’t even win its own division simply does not deserve the right to play for a National Championship, even if we think it might be the second-best team in the nation.
Because if the BCS is such a perfect format, why is it the most heavily criticized postseason system in all of major American sports?
Pep bands, cheerleaders, tailgating, student sections, cornhole and especially rivalries. All of which makes college football the greatest sport on the planet. The Athlon Sports editorial staff put its collective heads together and ranked the Top 25 rivalries in college football:
1. Michigan-Ohio State (Michigan leads 57-44-6)
Some think the story is a tall tale, but others swear it’s true. After his Ohio State team scored its final touchdown late in a 50–14 rout of Michigan at the end of the 1968 season, Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes elected to go for two points, instead of kicking the PAT. When asked afterward why he did that, Hayes reportedly said, “Because they wouldn’t let me go for three.” Hayes’ hatred for “that team up north,” as he referred to Michigan, was legendary. Rest assured that Wolverine fans harbor no affection for the Buckeyes, either. The schools have met every year but five (1913-17) since 1900 — the teams’ first game was in 1897 — and their contests have become appointment viewing for much of the country, late in November, usually under gun-metal gray skies with a hint of winter in the air. More important, Big Ten primacy is usually at stake, especially since Bo Schembechler took over in Ann Arbor in 1969 to turn the U-M fortunes around and provide an irascible counterbalance to the cantankerous Hayes. Since that point, Michigan-Ohio State has been the nation’s most consistently competitive and heated rivalry. Because the games have so much significance and occur at season’s end, a loss can be doubly haunting. Not only does the vanquished team lose to a hated foe, but its season can be destroyed also. For that reason, Michigan-Ohio State tops the rivalry list. There may be games that match these schools’ animosity for each other, and there may be contests that are as consistently important. But none combines the two into such a volatile package.
2. Alabama-Auburn (Alabama leads 40-34-1)
When Bill Curry was coaching at Alabama, he went to a Birmingham elementary school one day to speak with children about football and life. Upon entering the classroom, he saw a boy standing in the corner, sobbing. Curry wondered what was going on, and a student told him, “Jason is an Auburn fan, and we took care of him.” Curry brought Jason out of the corner and told him it was all right to root for the Tigers, no doubt angering the young Crimson Tide supporters in the room. Truth be told, it isn’t all right to be an Auburn fan — if you follow the Tide. Tiger fans feel the same way about Bama. If you live in the state of Alabama, you have to choose; you either yell “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle.” You’re either a fan of the big-brother Crimson Tide, or Auburn, which has its roots in agricultural education and resents the perceived arrogance of its rival. In a state with no major professional sports team, Auburn-Alabama football is a religion. Curry’s minister once told him it was more important. It has been that way from the game’s earliest days, which proved to be so contentious that the schools stopped playing each other for 41 years. Once they resumed hostilities, they did so at a geographically neutral site, in Birmingham, but Auburn fans groused for decades because Legion Field was the Tide’s home away from home. That changed when the game moved to campus, but the vitriol has not abated. Fans of both teams crave victory, and a loss means a full year of misery from friends, co-workers and even family members. It’s enough to make someone want to stand in a corner and cry.
3. Army-Navy (Navy leads 55-49-7)
Go ahead and try to attend this game without experiencing a surge of patriotism. If the Super Hornets’ flyover doesn’t get you, the Army paratroopers will. If you miss the parades of Cadets and Midshipmen, then the non-stop spirit videos on the big board will stir your senses. By game’s end, no matter what the score, America wins. That may seem hokey to some, but they haven’t been there. Trust us, Army-Navy is college football in its purest state. Today, that’s something worth celebrating. Fans of the teams thirst for victory, and so do the players, who are truly playing for their fellow students. Afterward, they rejoin their classmates in preparation for military service, not an NFL career. For 364 days of the year, Army and Navy are on the same team. For three hours on a chilled December afternoon, they represent every soldier or sailor who has ever donned a uniform, walked a post or sailed into the dark of night. The football has been pretty good over the years, too. Five Heisman winners have participated in the rivalry, and dozens of Hall of Famers have taken the field representing the academies. Though Navy has dominated the scoreboard over the past decade, the game remains a huge draw and a still thrills fans across the country. Most important, it pits future military and government leaders against each other as they fight for their Academies and provide the country with an afternoon of prideful competition.
4. Oklahoma-Texas (Texas leads 59-41-5)
One of the most unique characteristics about Dallas’ Cotton Bowl is that the teams’ locker rooms empty into a common corridor, so that players take the field through the same tunnel. On more than one occasion, as Texas and Oklahoma have prepared to charge onto the hallowed stadium’s turf, they have encountered each other in a highly charged, emotional moment that could have ignited an inferno. Instead, they decided to enjoin the fight on the gridiron, in front of 95,000-plus fans divided evenly into crimson and burnt orange enclaves. Rarely has the flame from the ensuing collision failed to heat the passions of all in attendance. While the Texas State Fair rollicks on around them, and vendors offer to fry anything that doesn’t move — and some things that do — the Longhorns and Sooners offer a mid-season football feast that dates back to 1900, when Oklahoma wasn’t even a state and Texas was just beginning to tap into the huge oil reserves deep below its surface. The neighbors harbor a significant dislike for each other, and tempers have boiled over many times on nights before the game. It doesn’t help that many OU grads now live in Texas, lured south by jobs in the petroleum industry. And plenty of Lone Star football talent has headed north to Norman, especially when Barry Switzer was pillaging the state’s top programs for all-stars. The action on the field rarely disappoints. Although there have been several blowouts over the years, including 2011’s 55–17 Sooner wipeout, the action is usually taut and has national implications. Though the game is played in October, several championship runs have been spawned by a victory in Dallas, and several high hopes have been dashed.
5. USC-Notre Dame (Notre Dame leads 43-22-5)
The nation’s top intersectional rivalry owes a debt of gratitude to some unfriendly residents of Lincoln, Neb., and Bonnie Rockne’s love of warm California weather. At a time when traditional gridiron matchups are being torn asunder by the whirling conference kaleidoscope, Notre Dame and USC continue their annual hostilities, treating the nation to a classic matchup of iconic programs. The schools almost didn’t get together. But in 1925, after ND dropped a 17–0 decision at Nebraska, before an inhospitable crowd of Cornhusker fans, coach Knute Rockne and his wife were joined on the train back to Chicago by USC athletic director Gwynn Wilson and his wife, Marion. While Wilson tried to convince Rockne to ditch the burgeoning rivalry with Nebraska for an annual trip west, Marion Wilson and Bonnie Rockne became fast friends in another train compartment. Rockne resisted Wilson’s entreaties, but his wife was enthralled with the idea of Los Angeles in the late fall. She later convinced her husband to play the Trojans. The resulting rivalry has lasted 85 years and has filled the college football history books with dozens of classic tales. More Heisman winners have played in the Notre Dame-USC game than in any other rivalry, and many a national championship hope has been validated with a victory in the game. Though the teams alternate between their home sites, playing in late November in L.A. and mid-October in South Bend, the game retains a glamour that defines it and is a product of two of college football’s most storied programs.
6. Georgia-Florida (Georgia leads 46-40-2)
The party begins at “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” around Tuesday, when the big boats start cruising up the St. John’s River in Jacksonville. By gametime, everybody is in a festive mood – except the players. The Bulldogs and Gators have engaged in some classics over the years, from Georgia’s thrilling comeback in 1980 to Florida’s soggy 1993 triumph. Cheers!
7. Miami-Florida State (Miami leads 31-24)
For a while there during the 1990s, there was more talent on the field when the ‘Canes and ‘Noles met up than in some NFL stadiums. And everybody wanted to put on a show. This matchup lacks the tradition and history of other rivalries, but the hostility is just as high. And there have been some classics. FSU fans still wince when they hear the words “Wide Right,” while Miami backers still cringe at the 34-3 beating their heroes absorbed in ’84.
8. Harvard-Yale (Yale leads 65-54-8)
The Crimson and Bulldogs may not have played the first-ever college football game, but both schools had hands in how the game developed into what we have today. The late-November meeting between the schools is a history lesson wrapped in a high-class tailgate party. Harvard and Yale no longer compete at college football’s highest level, but they remain forever linked to the sport’s earliest days.
9. Florida-Florida State (Florida leads 33-20-2)
For years, this was a big brother/little brother battle, with the establishment Gators looking down on the upstart Seminoles. Then, FSU started to win games – a lot of games – and things changed. This may lack the in-state hate of Auburn-Alabama, but don’t worry; the two sides harbor plenty of dislike for each other. During the past three decades, as both have competed for national laurels, their games have become more than just neighborhood brawls.
10. Cal-Stanford (Stanford leads 51-43-10)
To some, The Big Game is the province of the wine-and-cheese crowd, and the schools’ NoCal addresses reinforce that. But there can be no denying that these schools thirst to defeat each other. It’s a classic battle of private (Stanford) against public (Cal), and bragging rights go well beyond which side brings the best pinot to the pre-game party. Plus, what other rivalry can boast a game with a crazy ending as the 1982 contest: “The band is on the field!”
11. Pittsburgh-West Virginia (Pitt leads 61-39-3)
Only 75 miles separates the two combatants in the Backyard Brawl. And this rivalry is also helped by the fact that Dana Holgorsen and Todd Graham don't like each other.
12. Texas-Texas A&M (Texas leads 75-37-5)
This Thanksgiving weekend tradition is in jeopardy with the Aggies’ move to the SEC.
13. Oregon-Oregon State (Oregon leads 58-46-10)
The Civil War has come a long way since the Ducks and Beavers played to a 0–0 tie in 1983.
14. BYU-Utah (Utah leads 51-31-4)
The Holy War might be the best name for any rivalry in the nation.
15. UCLA-USC (USC leads 43-28-7)
The Southern California showdown was dominated by UCLA from 1991-98, but the Bruins have only won once since, in 2006.
16. Alabama-Tennessee (Alabama leads 47-38-7)
The Third Saturday in October means only one thing to people in the South: Alabama vs. Tennessee.
17. Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (Oklahoma leads 81-17-7)
T. Boone Pickens’ interest in the Oklahoma State program was piqued after the Pokes, 3–7 at the time, knocked OU out of the 2001 national title game with a 16–13 win.
18. Clemson-South Carolina (Clemson leads 65-39-4)
These two schools were bitter rivals well before they started playing football in the 1890s. South Carolina has won two straight, but Clemson holds a 65–39–4 advantage in the all-time series.
19. Mississippi State-Ole Miss (Ole Miss leads 60-41-6)
The Egg Bowl is often the only way to salvage a season for these two programs that have struggled to win consistently in the SEC.
20. Michigan-Michigan State (Michigan leads 67-31-5)
It pains MSU fans that Michigan’s biggest rival is Ohio State, but the “Little Brothers” from East Lansing have won the last four in the series.
21. Auburn-Georgia (Auburn leads 54-52-8)
It’s the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry and it dates back to 1892. Auburn holds the slimmest of margins, with a 54–52–8 edge in the series.
22. Michigan-Notre Dame (Michigan leads 22-15-1)
These two traditional powers have only played regularly for the past three decades, but they produced a ton of memorable moments. Strike a pose, Desmond!
23. Georgia-Georgia Tech (Georgia leads 61-39-5)
You know it’s a good rivalry when the book about the series is called Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.
24. Minnesota-Wisconsin (Minnesota leads 59-53-8)
The winner of the Gophers vs. Badgers showdown takes home the prized Paul Bunyan Axe. It’s the most played rivalry in FBS football, dating back to 1890.
25. Lafayette-Lehigh (Lafayette leads 76-65-5)
The Rivalry, as it’s called, pits two small private schools located 17 miles apart in Eastern Pennsylvania. Lafayette and Lehigh have met 146 times, including every year since 1897.
By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 12 Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) – The Spartans had a pretty good weekend. Michigan State grabbed the Old Brass Spittoon from the Indiana Hoosiers in the not-so competitive rivalry. More importantly, the 55-3 drubbing of Indiana (and eventual Nebraska loss) clinched a spot in the first-ever Big Ten Championship game for Mark Dantonio. The game against Indiana was merely a formality, as MSU outgained IU 470 to 236 and had a 48-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins needed just over one half of action to throw for 272 yards and three touchdowns — bringing him to 60 for his career. With one more scoring strike, Cousins will tie Jeff Smoker for the career TD pass lead in East Lansing. Michigan State now heads to Northwestern for the regular-season finale before heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game on December 3.
2. Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2) – Wisconsin, as it has all season, struggled to get started on the road against Illinois. But an impassioned halftime speech by head coach Bret Bielema trailing 17-7 lit an appropriate fire under the Badgers offense. Montee Ball and the Badgers scored 21 unanswered points to pull off the 28-17 come-from-behind victory. Ball finished with 224 yards (164 in the second half) and three total touchdowns on 40 touches. He is third in the nation in rushing and became only the fifth player in NCAA history to score 30 touchdowns. Wisconsin's defense also played inspired football in the second half, forcing three of its four turnovers on the day. Wisconsin now welcomes Penn State to Camp Randall in what has become a Big Ten Championship semifinal. The winner of the game at 3:30 PM ET on Saturday in Madison, Wisc., will head to Indianapolis for the debut of the Big Ten title game.
3. Penn State (9-2, 6-1) – Technically, the outcome of the Penn State-Ohio State game had little impact on the Nittany Lions' search for a Big Ten title. Either way, Penn State was going to have to beat the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison this weekend. But the 20-14 win was nonetheless very impressive — and it marked the beginning of a new era. It was the first time PSU won a football without Joe Paterno stalking the sidelines since December 1965 (1950 if you count his years as an assistant). Penn State rushed for 239 yards against the league's No. 3 rush defense (119.3 ypg entering Saturday). The diminuative but speedy Stephfon Green, not Silas Redd, led the way with 93 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Niether team scored a point in the second half as both quarterbacks struggled mightily to produce big plays in the passing game. Matt McGloin will have to play better than his 10-of-18, 88 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT line indicates if he expects to keep pace with the Badgers.
4. Michigan (9-2, 5-2) – In one of the most impressive performances by any team this season, Michigan dominated the line of scrimmage in a 45-17 win over new divisional rival Nebraska. The Wolverines rushed for 238 yards while holding Rex Burkhead to only 36 yards on 10 carries. The Maize and Blue set the tone for the second half when, leading only 17-10, Michigan scored two touchdowns in six minutes to blow the game open in the third quarter. Denard Robinson finished a tidy 11-of-18 for 180 yards and two scores to go with his 23 carries, 83 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. His 33 career rushing touchdowns are sixth all-time in UM history. All the momentum points to Michigan finally snapping its seven-game losing streak to that school from down south this weekend in the best rivalry game in college football.
5. Nebraska (8-3, 4-3) – The wheels are starting to come off the Huskers' 2011 campaign. Losing two out of three isn't all that bad in the modern Big Ten, but how it happened is a bit concerning. Getting upset at home by Northwestern and then getting smoked along the line of scrimmage 45-17 at Michigan is borderline unacceptable. Michigan nearly doubled the Huskers' rushing output (238 to 138) and failed to play inspired football in the second half, getting outscored 28-7 in the latter segment of the game. Taylor Martinez completed only 9-of-23 passes, Rex Burkhead totalled 36 yards from scrimmage and the Huskers lost three of four fumbles. The battle for the whole ear of corn against Iowa should've carried more weight than their combined six Big Ten losses indicate. That said, if Nebraska can beat Iowa in the newly minted season-ending rivalry and then win its bowl game, it will have reached ten wins in its maiden voyage through the Big Ten.
6. Ohio State (6-5, 3-4) – The future is very bright for the Buckeyes, but the end of 2011 could be tough to swallow for The Ohio State University. After losing to Purdue, Ohio State came out flat on defense and got beat 20-14 against Penn State. With a trip to Ann Arbor against a hungry, hot and prepared Michigan team looming this weekend, the Bucks are staring at a 6-6 season. That said, it appears that Urban Meyer will be leading the Scarlet and Gray ship next fall, and he will have a developing star at quarteback in Braxton Miller and a talent-laden defense. Miller has rushed for 352 yards and four touchdowns over the last four games.
7. Iowa (7-4, 4-3) – Iowa got its first road win of the 2011 season by defeating Purdue 31-21 in West Lafayette on Saturday. James Vandenberg continued his impressive development by throwing three touchdowns passes and 273 yards on 22-of-32 passing. Vandenberg is now No. 2 in the Big Ten in passing efficiency at 149.02. Two of his scoring strikes hit Marvin McNutt, who finished with nine catches and 151 yards. Marcus Coker continued his hot play as well, spearheading the Hawkeyes' ground game with 139 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Kirk Ferentz's defense forced four turnovers and held the Boilermakers to 282 yards of offense. Iowa enters the season finale at Nebraska aiming for an eight-win season.
8. Northwestern (6-5, 3-4) – Pat Fitzgerald's bunch stayed hot by winning their fourth straight game, 28-13 over Minnesota. Special teams set the tone early for Northwestern with two big kickoff returns by Venric Mark, allowing the Wildcats to score touchdowns on each of their first three possessions. Dan Persa played wire-to-wire, completing 22-of-31 passes with two scoring throws, and the ground game offered a nice complement by producing 152 yards. After losing five straight, the Cats are now bow-eligbile with a home game against Legends Division Champion Michigan State waiting this Saturday.
9. Illinois (6-5, 2-5) – The 2011 campaign for Illinois has been a tale of two halves. And never was this theme more evident than in the 28-17 home loss to the Wisconsin Badgers this weekend. Ron Zook carried a 17-7 lead into halftime before getting outscored 21-0 over the final 30 minutes. Three second-half turnovers aided the Badgers' Montee Ball, who rushed for 164 yards against Illinois in the second half alone. It was the fifth straight loss for the Illini, who will visit a two-win Minnesota team this weekend. A loss to the Gophers would likely be the final straw for Zook as the head coach in Champaign-Urbana.
10. Purdue (5-6, 3-4) – Senior Day in West Lafayette didn't exactly play out like the Boilermakers hoped. Purdue got outgained 408 to 282 yards, out-possessed 33:30 to 26:30 and turned the ball over four times in a 31-21 loss to Iowa. Three of those turnovers came at the hands of quarterback Roberts Marve, who completed 7-of-18 passes for 95 yards and no touchdowns. Caleb TerBush was the better of the two signal-callers, completing 10-of-16 passes and throwing a first-quarter touchdown to Gabe Holmes. Ralph Bolden rushed for 71 yards and a garbage-time touchdown on 14 carries in a game that was never really in doubt for the Hawkeyes. Purdue now will battle for the Old Oaken Bucket when it visits rival Indiana, which is winless in Big Ten play.
11. Minnesota (2-9, 1-6) – The Gophers managed to roll up 269 yards rushing behind 100-yard performances from quarterback MarQueis Gray (26 att., 147 yards, TD) and Duane Bennett (23 att., 127 yards). Yet the defense and special teams could not overcome the electric start by Northwestern. The Wildcats scored on their first three possessions, and the Gophers managed only two field goals over the final 45 minutes. The Gophers host the Illini in the season finale with a chance to end Ron Zook's coaching career at Illinois.
12. Indiana (1-10, 0-7) – The Hoosiers were on bye last week and enter the final weekend of play with their best shot at a Big Ten win to date. Purdue comes to town in the Hoosier State battle for the Old Oaken Bucket. Indiana's lone win this season came against South Carolina State, and it is safe to say that the Hoosiers are the worst team in the conference.
The 25 Greatest College Football Rivalries
By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 12 Pac-12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Oregon (9-2, 7-1) – The three-way round robin between this league's three best teams has gone the way of the road team in all three contests. Two weeks ago, Oregon went on the road and toppled the Cardinal — a team that beat USC in Los Angeles back on the last Saturday in October — with relative ease. But A plus B does not equal C, as the Ducks fell 38-35 at home to the Trojans Saturday night. The Ducks came out flat and never had the lead — they were down 24-7 early in the third and 38-20 heading into the fourth. After Oregon fought valiantly to get into a position to win the game, Chip Kelly mismanaged his offense and settled for what appeared to be an easy 37-yard game-tying field goal with only seconds remaining. As the Alejandro Maldonado kick sailed wide left, so too did Oregon's BCS national title hopes. The loss snapped a 21-game winning streak in Autzen Stadium for the Ducks. Oregon will clinch the North with a win in the Civil War this weekend.
2. Stanford (10-1, 8-1) – The rain-drenched Big Game featured multiple first-half lead changes and a 15-point fourth quarter rally that came up just short. Andrew Luck and the Cardinal survived a slow start to win their second straight against arch-rival Cal 31-28. The Heisman front-runner completed 20-of-30 passes for 257 yards and two scores to keep The Axe in Palo Alto for one more season. Stanford outgained Cal 149 to 81 on the ground while holding the Bears to 2.4 yards per carry. It was the 114th meeting between the two West Coast rivals. If the Ducks slip up against the Beavers, Stanford will represent the North. If Stanford beats Notre Dame, it will likely land an at-large BCS bowl bid.
3. USC (9-2, 6-2) – Trojan fans need to sit back this weekend and enjoy Matt Barkley play in what should be his final game at USC agianst the rival UCLA Bruins. Barkley continued his stellar play by completing 26-of-34 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns to outlast Oregon 38-35. It was his fifth 300-yard game and seventh game with at least three touchdown throws. Without a bowl game or Pac-12 title to play for, Barkley and the Men of Troy have a chance to foil their rivals' dreams with a win over the Bruins — who, with a win over USC, would play in the Pac-12 title game.
4. Utah (7-4, 4-4) – Utah and Washington State scored 14 total points in the first half of their snowy, below-freezing meeting this weekend. But a furious fourth quarter of action that featured 34 total points and a 10-point Wazzu rally with less than seven minutes to play sent the game into overtime. Junior defensive back Mo Lee was the hero for Utah as he intercepted his second pass of the game during the first overtime possession for the Cougars. All Kyle Whittingham needed then was a 38-yard field goal from Coleman Petersen to clinch the 30-27 win. John White IV carried the ball 42 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns to pace the offense. Utah continues its great second half as the win was the fourth straight Pac-12 victory. With Colorado coming up on Friday, the Utes still have an outside chance at the conference title game. Utah owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over UCLA, who faces USC, but lost earlier to Arizona State, who faces Cal. If both ASU (who has lost four of five) and UCLA lose, a win would push Utah into the Pac-12 championship game.
5. Washington (6-5, 4-4) – The 5-1 start seems like a distant memory for Huskies fans. Nick Montana made his first career start and completed only 11 of his 21 pass attempts in the 38-21 road loss to Oregon State. Washington allowed 484 yards of offense and turned the ball over three times — including a key Montana fumble deep in his own territory. The Beavers immediately put the game out of reach with their second of three fourth quarter touchdowns, going up 17 with 11:27 left on the clock. Keith Price took over under center and led a scoring drive, but was intercepted on the next possession. Washington has lost seven of eight to the Beavers and now has the Apple Cup in the regular season finale.
6. UCLA (6-5, 5-3) – The UCLA Bruins are one win away from playing in the first annual Pac-12 championship game. After beating up Colorado 45-6 this weekend, Rick Neuheisel is staring at a conference crown (and 2012 employment checks) if he can beat cross-town rival USC this weekend. Kevin Prince threw for 225 yards and a career-high four touchdowns while Johnathan Franklin rushed for 162 yards and a score in the lopsided home win over the lowly Buffaloes. The Bruins outgained Colorado 553 yards to 229 and forced three turnovers. The game was over by the end of the first quarter, as UCLA took a 21-0 lead into the second frame. Beating the Trojans on the road will be a tall order, however. If the Bruins lose, they can still clinch the divison with either an Arizona State win or Utah loss.
7. Arizona State (6-5, 4-4) – The Sun Devils are reeling heading into what could be the most important game of the year. The Devils had a late lead in the battle for the Territorial Cup, but couldn't stop anyone who played quarterback for Arizona. Nick Foles threw for 370 yards and back-up Bryson Bernie tossed the game-winning strike with just over five minutes left in the game. Brock Osweiler, who attempted 63 passes for 487 yards, led ASU into the Wildcats' red zone, but couldn't complete the rally. The 31-27 loss was the third straight and fourth in five games for the still-hopeful Sun Devils. If Arizona State beats Cal at home, UCLA loses to USC on the road and Utah beats Colorado, the Devils will clinch the Pac-12 South title.
8. California (6-5, 3-5) – Quarterback Zach Maynard completed 20-of-30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. But the Cal signal-caller got zero help from his ground game in the 31-28 loss to Stanford in the Big Game. Cal rushed for 81 yards on 34 carries for an ugly 2.4-yard clip. The Bears lost The Axe to crosstown rival Stanford for the second straight season but now have a chance to ruin Arizona State's season in the desert this Friday.
9. Washington State (4-7, 2-6) – The Cougars missed a great chance to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2006. Third-string quarteback Connor Halliday, fresh off his 494-yard effort a week ago, threw for 290 yards and two scores in the 30-27 overtime loss to Utah. However, Halliday also threw four interceptions, including his costly fourth pick on the first possession of overtime. Utah kicked a field goal shortly thereafter and gave Wazzu its seventh loss of the year. Winning the Apple Cup in the season finale would give the Cougars five wins and might save Paul Wulff's job.
10. Oregon State (3-8, 3-5) – Sean Mannion is giving Beavers' fans a good reason for hope in Corvallis. The freshman quarterback threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns in the big 38-21 win over Washington. Mike Riley, who could be fighting for his job, led Oregon State to its seventh win in eight games against the Huskies. A 21-point fourth quarter gave OSU its third Pac-12 win on the season. Riley and company now have a chance to spoil arch-rival Oregon's conference title hopes in the Civil War this weekend.
11. Arizona (3-8, 2-7) – The battle in the desert is one of the more underrated rivalries in the nation, and Arizona made a winner of Tim Kish in the 31-27 Territorial Cup win over Arizona State. Nick Foles was the game's MVP, throwing for 370 yards and two touchdowns on 35 completions. Yet, the game's most important pass came from back-up Bryson Berine when he connected with Juron Criner on a 23-yard touchdown pass with just over five minutes to play. It turned out to be the game winner when the Cats defense stopped Arizona State on the Arizona 15-yard line with no time remaining. Despite being banged up and leaving the game, Foles set a single-season school record for yards (3,982) and completions (354). The Wildcats finish with UL Lafayette this weekend (what?).
12. Colorado (2-10, 1-7) – Fresh off its first-ever Pac-12 victory over Arizona, Colorado returned to normalcy this weekend with a 45-6 loss to UCLA. Tyler Hansen threw three interceptions and Rodney Stewart carried 21 times for only 77 yards. The Buffs allowed 328 yards rushing to the Bruins and are ranked 12th in the league in scoring offense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense and kickoff returns. Jon Embree finishes off his first season in Boulder with a trip to Utah, which is fighting for a division title, on Friday.
-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)
NFL Bye Weeks: Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh
Start These Quarterbacks:
Carson Palmer, Oakland (at Minnesota)
The Oakland Raiders passer has thrown for 631 yards and five touchdowns in his last two games and is coming off his best game of his brief tenure on the Bay. He has built an instant rapport with rookie Denarius Moore and will be facing the NFL’s 30th-rated pass defense (272.8 ypg). No team in the league has allowed more touchdown passes than Minnesota’s 18.
Alex Smith, San Francisco (Arizona)
Smith has become a model of consistency – quick, where does that rank among phrases you thought you would hear? It’s true, however, that Jim Harbaugh has turned the former No. 1 overall bust into a serviceable fantasy option. He has thrown for between 170 and 242 yards in six of the last eight games and has a touchdown pass in six straight to go with only three interceptions all season. The Cardinals rank 24th against the pass and pose little threat to the 49ers on defense.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay (at Green Bay)
Freeman has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions only three times this season, but in a blowout situation in Lambeau, he should have a good chance to produce a useful fantasy total. The Packers rank 31st in the NFL against the pass, and Freeman is sixth in the NFL in attempts per game. Look for the Bucs to be throwing a lot in the second half.
Bench These Quarterbacks:
Eagles QBs (at NY Giants)
With broken ribs it is hard to imagine Michael Vick being allowed to use his legs — if he plays at all. And against one of the league’s top pass rushes, neither Vince Young nor Vick should have much time to throw. Especially considering the wide receiver issues with DeSean Jackson (contract) and Jeremy Maclin (hamstring, shoulder).
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (at Baltimore)
The red-headed quarterback got his first career taste of Pittsburgh last weekend, and it showed. He threw for only 170 yards and two interceptions (even though he did toss two scoring strikes). Dalton has exceeded all expectations in 2011, but no team has allowed fewer touchdown passes than Baltimore’s six. The Ravens are sixth in the NFL against the pass at 194.3 yards per game as well. Stay away.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo (at Miami)
Fitz has topped the 200-yard mark only twice in his last six games and has only seven touchdowns over that same span. His 2:5 TD:INT ratio over his last two doesn’t bode well either — even against the Dolphins. Miami’s pass defense has played dramatically improved football of late, allowing a total of 467 yards, no touchdowns and two picks through the air during the two-game winning streak. Miami has surrendered 12 total points the last two weeks.
Start These Running Backs:
Michael Bush, Oakland (at Minnesota)
Assuming that Darren McFadden is out once again, Bush becomes almost a must-start — even against a relatively solid rush defense. In his fill-in start last week, Bush totaled 242 yards and a touchdown on 33 touches. Palmer and Hue Jackson will get him the ball plenty against the 2-7 Vikings.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle (at St. Louis)
In what was arguably the week's most shocking final score, Lynch torched Baltimore for 167 yards from scrimmage and a score in the 22-17 upset. Lynch has 61 touches in the last two games and should be in for another full day of action against the worst rushing defense in the NFL (150.6 ypg allowed).
Brandon Jacobs, NY Giants (Philadelphia)
I am not ready to say that Jacobs is running as hard as possible yet, but it does appear he is taking advantage of his opportunity with Ahmad Bradshaw still injured. The Eagles are allowing 112.4 yards per game and nearly one touchdown per game to running backs. Expect a full workload for Jacobs, assuming Bradshaw does not play.
James Starks, Green Bay (Tampa Bay)
Arizona, Indianapolis and Carolina are the only three teams in the league that have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Bucs. Tampa Bay ranks 29th in the NFL against the run at 138.2 yards per game. Expect Green Bay to get up big behind Aaron Rodgers early and then turn to the ground game in the second half.
Reggie Bush, Miami (Buffalo)
Sound familiar: Arizona, Indianapolis and Carolina are the only three teams in the league that have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Bills. Buffalo ranks 23rd in the NFL against the run at 125.2 yards per game. Bush has 53 touches over the last three games and is averaging 5.9 yards per touch with three scores over that span. He is finally getting the ball in the red zone, and even if Buffalo pulls away, he will get touches in the passing game.
Kendall Hunter, San Francisco (Arizona)
K-Hunt is a deep sleeper play this weekend. He showed spark and solid quickness while filling in last week for Frank Gore (he averaged 6.7 yards per carry and scored). Against a porous Cardinals defense that is last in the NFL in rushing touchdowns allowed (12), Hunter should get 12-16 touches and should score.
Bench These Running Backs:
Chris Johnson, Tennessee (at Atlanta)
If you take out CJ’s two 100-yard efforts against lowly Carolina and Cleveland, he has averaged 37.8 yards rushing per game. He has scored only twice this year and is facing one of the NFL’s best run defenses in a must-win situation. The Falcons are allowing a third-best 90.3 yards per game behind stellar play of Sean Weatherspoon, Curtis Lofton, Jordan Babineaux and Corey Peters in the front seven.
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (at Baltimore)
Yes, Marshawn Lynch posted a big number against the Ravens last week. But that was following an emotion-draining road thriller over Pittsburgh and a cross-country flight to the Pacific Northwest. This important divisional game will most assuredly feature the NFL’s No. 3 scoring defense (16.9 ppg), the No. 3 rushing defense (90.3 ypg) and the No. 3 total defense (296.4 ypg).
LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay (at Green Bay)
Expect the touches for Blount to be much lower than normal in what should be a lopsided score in Green Bay. Blount, even when healthy, has not produced in 2011. He hasn’t scored since Week 4 against the Colts, has topped the century mark only one time (Week 4) and has 140 yards rushing in his last three games. The Pack is stingy against the run (8th in the NFL), so don’t expect much from Blount.
Beanie Wells, Arizona (at San Francisco)
Put this one on the tee and start swinging for the fences. There is just no way Wells has any business near your starting lineup. Just thought I would remind you.
Frank Gore, San Francisco (Arizona)
The matchup is very juicy, but Gore is nursing two tender ankles and a bum knee. Owners can expect a lowered workload and plenty of K-Hunt.
Felix Jones, Dallas (at Washington)
DeMarco Murray is on a record-setting tear, and there is just no reason to slow his momentum. Take a major wait and see approach to Jones.
Start These Wide Receivers:
Mario Manningham, NY Giants (Philadelphia)
The Eagles are struggling to stop anyone, and Mario is starting to get his Super back. Manningham has caught at least five passes in four of five games and has scored in three straight. Look for the Manning-Manningham connection to continue to grow as the year goes along.
Denarius Moore, Oakland (at Minnesota)
It was painfully obvious how much Carson Palmer likes Moore. Once Jacoby Ford left the game, No. 17 got most of his looks — and the rookie wideout capitalized with multiple big plays and circus catches (5 rec., 123 yards, 2 TDs on Thursday night). Look for the 30th-rated pass defense that has allowed a league-worst 18 touchdown passes to surrender plenty of fantasy points to the Raiders’ pass-catcher.
Laurent Robinson, Dallas (at Washington)
Robinson lands on this list for the second straight week — and he has earned it. The Illinois State product has caught 13 passes for 208 yards and four touchdowns in the last three games. Romo has clearly defined him as one of his top three options, so keep him in the lineup against the Skins.
Damian Williams, Tennessee (at Atlanta)
The Falcons have been dominant against the run, so expect most of the Titans' offensive success to come through the air. Williams made a fantasy living in college by playing smart, disciplined, fundamentally sound football at USC (and Arkansas), and it is starting to show on the next level. He has scored in two straight games and posted his first career 100-yard game last week against Carolina.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City (at New England)
Despite a very tasty matchup against the worst pass defense in the league (that is getting better and healthier each week), Bowe still has Tyler Palko throwing him the ball now. Look for Kyle Arrington, who has been arguably the Pats' best DB, to slow Bowe just enough to hurt your fantasy squad.
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia (at NY Giants)
D-Jax has been asleep all season as he his contract issues have put a serious dent in his fantasy production. And without a healthy Michael Vick throwing him the ball, I would look for a more stable, safer play this week. Especially against the Giants’ pass rush.
Roddy White, Atlanta (Tennessee)
The return of Julio Jones, ageless wonder Tony Gonzalez and Cortland Finnegan all make this seem like a low ceiling for the under-performing Hot Roddy. Look for the gameplan to center around Michael Turner anyway.
Vincent Jackson, San Diego (at Chicago)
The Chargers couldn’t block my grandmother last weekend, and Rivers will face a fierce pass rush this weekend. And since secondary shifting a month ago, the Bears have not allowed a wideout to top the 85-yard mark and have allowed only one touchdown since Week 6.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
College football has a way of surprising you each and every week. It's what makes it the greatest sport on the planet. Despite hitting on four of my top five picks, THE Ohio State University decided to trip all over itself in West Lafayette - for the second time in a row. Additionally, had I kept the last two games off of my list (USC -11.5 and Vanderbilt -15.5) - and if Alabama could have figured out a way to put 0.5 more points on the board - I would have posted a lucrative 8-3 mark.
However, I have only myself to blame for not having the guts to roll with the red-hot Dores and Trojans. And close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Thus, I settled for a modest (but still winning) 5-4 weekend.
Season Record ATS: 67-43-1 (5-4 last week)
Week 12's Top Picks:
Wisconsin (-14.5) at Illinois
Illinois has gone four straight games without scoring in the first half and has totalled 42 points in those games - all losses. On the flip side, this is probably the best offense Big Red has ever put on the field. The Badgers have their sights set on Indianapolis with the most efficient quarterback in the history of college football and America's leading scorer leading the way. Ron Zook, meanwhile, will be looking for a new place of employment next fall. My Pick: Wisconsin -14.5
Kansas State (+8.5) at Texas
What have you done for me lately? I was on Texas winning last week against a Missouri team that had allowed 118 points in three games. Yet, Mizzou held the Horns to three points and 247 yards on offense. Collin Klein, and his 24 rushing touchdowns, refuses to let his team lose - especially to a team that hasn't beaten the Wildcats since 2003. Kansas State is tied for second in the nation with an 8-2 record against the spread and should keep it very close, if not win outright, in Austin. My Pick: Kansas State +8.5
Mississippi State (+13) at Arkansas
The Hogs have covered four straight times in which the kickoff did not take place at noon eastern. This one begins at 3:30 eastern. The Razorbacks are clicking on all cylinders offensively as they have scored 93 points over the last two weeks. The Bulldogs have struggled to score all season, scoring 97 combined points - 62 of which came against Kentucky and Auburn - in six SEC contests (1-5). A nine-win MSU team allowed 38 points in a loss to Arkansas last season in Starkville. Expect more of the same from the deepest receiving corp in the nation against a 5-5 Bulldog team. My Pick: Arkansas -13
SMU (+20) at Houston
The Cougars are aiming at a BCS bowl bid if they can continue to rack up huge wins and SMU is the next victim. SMU might need to score 50 points to cover this spread, and without star tailback Zach Line, that just became a much more difficult task. Houston is 8-2 against the spread this season and has averaged 67.3 points per game over its last three. Houston won this game last season by 25 points at SMU...without Case Keenum. My Pick: Houston -20
Oklahoma (-15) at Baylor
Baylor has allowed fewer than 30 points in Big 12 play only once this season (26 to Iowa State), giving it an ugly 40.8-points per game allowed in conference play. And Oklahoma knows how to score - try 45.4 points per game (sixth nationally). Expect a high-scoring affair - something akin to the 55-28 Bears loss to Texas A&M or the 59-24 loss to Oklahoma State. My Pick: Oklahoma -15
Louisville (pk) at UConn
Charlie Strong and the Cardinals have the 12th-rated scoring defense in the nation at just over 18 points per game allowed. UConn sports terrible quarterback play (Johnny McEntee ranks 94th in efficiency), medicore coaching and have struggled on offense all season: 107th in total offense and 93rd in scoring. Strong's bunch has its sights still set on a Big East title, but has to win this game to stay in the hunt. My Pick: Louisville
Cal (+17.5) at Stanford
Coming off its worst performance since, well, the last time they played Oregon, Stanford will be motivated. An at-large BCS bowl bid is still possible and Andrew Luck shouldn't need any extra motivation to top a brusied and beaten crosstown rival. This was a 34-point win for the Cardinal last season in which they rushed for 232 yards on the road in Berkeley. Stanford still leads the nation against the spread at 9-1 and will get back on track this weekend with a big win. My Pick: Stanford -17.5
Virginia (+17.5) at Florida State
The Seminoles have quietly reeled off five straight wins, however, those came mostly against the ACC's worst competiton. While FSU has more raw talent than the Cavaliers, there is really no difference between these two teams on paper. Both are 7-3 with convincing wins over Duke and Maryland to go with hard-fought victories over Miami. Florida State's defense should win the game for the Noles, but not by three scores - not against a motivated and extremely well-coached Wahoo team that wants a piece of the ACC crown. My Pick: Virginia +17.5
Oklahoma State (-27.5) at Iowa State
The Cowboys have 60 more minutes of football to play before the Bedlam Series on Decemeber 3 - and the poor Cyclones get to play the role of punching bag in the Pokes' final tune-up. The last two games between these two came in 2008 and 2009 with the Cowboys winning both by a combined 93-25. Oklahoma State is 8-2 against the spread this season and the nation's No. 2 scoring offense (51.7 ppg) will post another huge number against the nation's 91st ranked defense (420.4 ypg). My Pick: Oklahoma State -27.5
Vanderbilt (-1.5) at Tennessee
The Dores are arguably the most improved team in the nation and have everything to play for this weekend. Not only is their arch-in-state-rival down on their luck, but Vanderbilt likely needs this win to get to a bowl game in James Franklin's first season. (Vanderbilt visits a solid Wake Forest team next weekend.) If Tyler Bray were 100% healthy, the Vols would be tough to beat in Neyland Stadium. But Vandy is going to hit him early and often, forcing him to make the tough throws with a recovering broken thumb. This Commodores team plays harder than their opponents and that isn't likely to change this weekend - not with all that is at stake. My Pick: Vanderbilt -1.5
2011 Top 20 Teams ATS:
1. Stanford (9-1)
2t. Arkansas State (8-2)
2t. Houston (8-2)
2t. Kansas State (8-2)
2t. Louisiana Tech (8-2)
2t. Oklahoma State (8-2)
2t. Vanderbilt (8-2)
2t. Western Kentucky (8-2)
9. Georgia (7-2-1)
10t. Alabama (7-3)
10t. Clemson (7-3)
10t. LSU (7-3)
10t. Michigan (7-3)
10t. New Mexico State (7-3)
10t. Rutgers (7-3)
10t. Southern Miss (7-3)*
17t. Eastern Michigan (6-3-1)
17t. USC (6-3-1)
19. Oklahoma (6-3)
20. Wyoming (6-3)
2011 Bottom 20 Teams ATS:
1. Central Michigan (1-10)
2t. Maryland (2-8)
2t. Texas A&M (2-8)
4. Penn State (2-7-1)
5t. Colorado State (2-7)
5t. Florida Atlantic (2-7)
5t. Troy (2-7)
8t. Colorado (3-8)
8t. Tulane (3-8)
10t. Air Force (3-7)
10t. Arizona (3-7)
10t. Memphis (3-7)*
10t. Ole Miss (3-7)
10t. Oregon State (3-7)
10t. Syracuse (3-7)
10t. UCLA (3-7)
10t. Virginia Tech (3-7)
18t. Akron (3-6-1)
18t. Hawaii (3-6-1)
18t. Nebraska (3-6-1)
18t. NC State (3-6-1)
* - team played on Thursday night
Other Week 12 Content:
Mitch Light's Top Ten Games of Week 12
Athlon Sports Predicts Every Game of Week 12
Steven Lassan's Top Week 12 Storylines to Watch
Conference and National Championship Races Update
Who is the nation's best one-loss team?
Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall had a chance to sit down with CBS College Basketball analyst Clark Kellogg to preview the 2011-2012 NCAA Basketball season. You can follow Braden on twitter at @AthlonBraden.
Braden Gall: The college basketball season is upon us, but first, the Capital One Cup is awarded annually to each of the best men’s and women’s college athletic programs. Talk about your involvement in the Capital One Cup.
Clark Kellogg: This is my second year on the advisory board of the Capital One Cup, and we had a fantastic first year. There have been some sports added and there are now 20 women’s sports and 19 men’s sports that can vie for the Capital One Cup. It is a competition that goes year-round and encompasses the fall, winter and spring sports that have championships. Schools can earn points by finishing in the top ten of the final polls of their respective sports, and then each winning program will receive not only the Capital One Cup Trophy but $200,000 each for their scholarship fund designated for post-graduate for former student athletes.
You can get all the information at CapitalOneCup.com as well as Facebook.com/CapitalOneCup and Twitter.com/CapitalOneCup. So I am looking forward to it again for Year Two. It is a great way to engage fans and reward excellence on the field through scholarship dollars.
Gall: Every season we see a ridiculous influx of young freshman talent. Who are the names we will see right off the bat make the biggest impact?
Kellogg: I’ve got all the names down but I have normally refrained from watching them too much in high school because it doesn’t always translate to college. But in terms of names, you’ve got a bunch of them at Kentucky. Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Shannon Scott at Ohio State, Austin Rivers at Duke, Myc Kabongo at Texas and Quincy Miller at Baylor. I mean, these are all guys that have tremendous reputations coming out of high school, and it is always fun for me to see how they pan out in their new respective environments. And we will have some freshmen that perhaps aren’t as highly touted that might be more productive than some of the guys I just mentioned. So that is part of the fun for me to see how these guys handle all of the things that are new and challenging about being a Division I college basketball player.
Gall: We saw a lot of talented guard play down the stretch last season — Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight, Kendall Marshall, Aaron Craft, just to name a few. Have we seen a transition from the big man to the point guard as the most dominant position on the court?
Kellogg: You know, that is interesting. And as you look at different periods of time, clearly there is a premium on having really good guards lately. You need tremendous ball-handling and leadership in the backcourt nowadays as well as the ability to pressure defensively. You also need big shot-making and playmaking back there. Those guys are going to have the ball most of the time, so when you have elite level players at those positions, they can really elevate your team’s chances at success. If you can combine that with some presence inside, now you have a really lethal combination. So I think you are right, backcourt play, as well as shot-making, has really become the focal point of what teams are trying to do offensively now.
Gall: One guy that has no problem landing elite level backcourt players is Kentucky’s John Calipari. How does he land four or five of the best players in the nation every single season?
Kellogg: First of all, he is a terrific coach. I don’t care what folks have to say about him, because there are some naysayers out there. He has got a personality that is very much up in front of you, but he is real and he is excellent at what he does. Kids see the success that he has had with outstanding point guards and it feeds upon itself. They know the demands will be high and that they are going to be pushed to get better and that is what kids of that level want to see — an opportunity to realize their dreams of playing pro basketball and to do it at one of the greatest, if not THE greatest program’s environment. So he has got that working for him, and it will continue to be the case because of how he is as a coach, what he’s been able to do in terms of results as a coach and how kids become enamored with that when they are trying to fulfill their own dreams.
Gall: Now that he is 15 pounds lighter, how good can Jared Sullinger be this season?
Kellogg: He is going to be terrific, and he was outstanding last year. He had one of the great freshman seasons in the history of the Ohio State program. Really, when you look at what he did and how consistent he was, it might be right at the top of the list. He is a hungry, thirsty player who wants to be better and wants to be the best he can be and wants to see his team have a chance to win a national championship. You add a year of maturity and take a look at what he has done to improve his body and his game and I think he will be one of the most impactful players in all of college basketball this season.
Gall: How do you replace Kemba Walker and how can UConn build on last year’s national title season?
Kellogg: You typically don’t replace guys like that — his leadership, his charisma, his production. His ability to rise to the highest level at the most important times. That is pretty unique stuff. But you have a culture of winning and excellence that has been established there by Jim Calhoun, and the players see it and they feed off of it. You continue to bring in talented guys who can also be leaders. So, I actually don’t think that they will miss much of a beat — it will be different as it is every year — but they will be right in the conversation for not only getting to the Final Four but having a real chance to win it all.
Gall: The LSU-Alabama football game reminded me of the UConn-Butler final from a year ago. From a personal standpoint, is there a style of play that you enjoy more?
Kellogg: I can appreciate a good defensive struggle. I can appreciate the effort, will and skill it takes to play at a high level on the defensive end. But what I enjoy most, is quality defense and really good offense together: ball movement, great floor spacing, making the right pass at the right time, and finally, shot-making. There is no substitute for putting the ball in the basket. And that to me is the essence of the game. Sure there is going to be defense and rebounding, but you cannot have, in my mind, a really enjoyable, compelling game if there is not a good level of shot-making. And if that is done against good defense, then you have the ideal way to see the game played. The ball being moved, people sharing it, your elite players doing their thing and it coming down to who can make the best plays, primarily on the offensive end, in terms of shot-making.
Gall: What will be the best league in the nation this year?
Kellogg: Man, that is a tough one. I think the Big Ten will be down a notch in terms of its overall depth. I think you look at the ACC with a consensus No. 1 team in North Carolina. Duke and some others will be better than anticipated as well. To be honest with you at this point, I am not sure I can pick just one yet. The Big East will be excellent again and is always right there in the conversation, but I am still searching. I do not have an order in the conference rankings just yet.
Gall: Who are your preseason Final Four picks?
Kellogg: Because I am not in the studio any more and will be courtside for games all season and for ultimately the Final Four in New Orleans (laughs), I have recused myself from coming up with my Final Four predictions. Simply because my predecessor, Billy Packer, came up with a pretty good rule: When you are calling the games, you are better served not making predictions.
Gall: So who are the four most talented teams in the nation, then?
Kellogg: I have a group that I have looked at. Certainly you start with North Carolina, when you consider talent and experience. I don’t think anyone will argue that with that combination, North Carolina has more than anybody. I think when you look at talent, you have to throw Kentucky in there. Even though they are youthful, they are extremely talented. I think Baylor is quite talented. UConn, Syracuse and Duke are right in that mix as well. Then I would probably look at Vanderbilt and Florida as teams that are fighting to get into that top-six range in terms of talent and potential.
Gall: Tell everyone again about how you are involved with the Capital One Cup.
Kellogg: The first stop is CapitalOneCup.com. But you can also check us out on Facebook.com/CapitalOneCup and on twitter.com/CapitalOneCup. That gives you an opportunity to not only follow your teams in the fall, winter and spring sports but also to get caught up on how the points are divvied out and accumulated. It should be another exciting season for the Capital One Cup, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Each week, the Athlon editors vote on the most prestigious award in all of college football. A nine-man conglomerate of college football gurus from Athlon Sports will vote for their top 10 Heisman Trophy candidates. The votes will be tallied and the result will be posted as the Athlon Sports Heisman Watch List every Wednesday of the regular season.
Note: A first place vote earns a player 10 points. A second place votes earns nine points - so on and so forth until the 10th place vote receives one point.
With three weeks left in the regular season, the 2011 Heisman Trophy race has morphed into one of the most exciting stiff-armed chases in history. For the first time this fall, three different players received first-place votes, and a legitimate case could be made for more than half a dozen superstars.
Stanford's Andrew Luck, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Alabama's Trent Richardson each landed a first-place vote as the trio appears headed for New York — at least, for now.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (87/90 total points, 6/9 first place votes)
Season Stats: 221/313, 2,680 yards, 29 TD, 7 INT, 34 att., 134 yards, 2 TD
Luck did not play a great football game in the 53-30 loss to Oregon — but neither did his pass catchers or defense. Dropped passes and missed tackles cost Mr. Luck a chance at an undefeated season and Pac-12 championship. An at-large BCS bowl bid and the Heisman Trophy are still very much within grasp if Luck can wrap up the season with two wins. Luck finished 27-for-41, 256 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Next Game: Cal
|3.||Brandon Weeden||QB||Oklahoma St||67||2||-||1||4||1||9|
|4.||Robert Griffin III||QB||Baylor||57||-||2||1||2||2||9|
|7.||Kellen Moore||QB||Boise St||30||-||-||1||-||-||9|
|12.||Justin Blackmon||WR||Oklahoma St||6||-||-||-||-||-||2|
|13.||David Wilson||RB||Virginia Tech||5||-||-||-||-||-||3|
2. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (78)
Season Stats: 204 att., 1,205 yards, 18 TD, 25 rec., 318 yards, TD
Richardson carried a sluggish Alabama offense with 32 carries, 127 yards, two receptions, 26 yards and one second half trip to paydirt in the 24-7 road win over Mississippi State. Richardson is the most talented running back in the nation, and the Tide might still sneak into the title game. Don't expect a huge workload from T-Rich this weekend against the mighty Eagles of Georgia Southern. Next Game: Georgia Southern
3. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (67)
Season Stats: 313/428, 3,635 yards, 31 TD, 9 INT, 15 att., minus-95 yards
Weeden didn't even need three complete quarters to throw for 423 yards and four touchdowns on an incredible 31-of-37 passing in the 66-6 road win over Texas Tech. A road trip to Iowa State this weekend seems like only a formality before the Pokes get a bye over Thanksgiving — and then host the Sooners on Championship Saturday. Weeden is fourth in the nation in total offense (354.0) and leads the nation's No. 2 passing attack and scoring offense, trailing only Houston in both categories. Next Game: at Iowa State
4. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (57)
Season Stats: 224/302, 3,093 yards, 29 TD, 5 INT, 117 att., 478 yards, 5 TD
Griffin accounted for 415 yards of total offense and scored four total touchdowns in what was a furious season- and Heisman-saving overtime comeback against Kansas. With 3:31 left to play in the third, Baylor trailed 24-3. Griffin engineered three fourth-quarter touchdown drives and scored again in overtime to halt the Jayhawks' upset bid 31-30. At 396.78 yards per game, Griffin trails Case Keenum by less than two yards per game as the nation's leader in total offense. His 188.58 passer rating is third nationally but would break the single-season NCAA record (186.0). With six wins, the Bears are poised for a second consecutive bowl game for the first time since 1993. Next Game: Oklahoma
5. Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin (42)
Season Stats: 160/218, 2,416 yards, 25 TD, 3 INT, 55 att., 295 yards, 4 TD, 1 rec., 25 yards, TD
The accolades for the Badgers' quarterback continue to grow. Wilson threw his 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th touchdowns in the 42-13 win over rival Minnesota last Saturday — each one of which added to his Wisconsin single-season school record. He completed his first 16 passes and finished 16-of-17 for 178 yards and those four scoring strikes. His last pass attempt was a dropped deep ball by Nick Toon with 6:22 left in the third quarter. Wilson now has thrown a touchdown pass in 34 straight games, two short of the NCAA record of 36 (Graham Harrell), and is sporting a 201.58 passer rating, which would be an NCAA record. Next Game: at Illinois
6. Case Keenum, QB, Houston (42)
Season Stats: 279/376, 3,951 yards, 37 TD, 3 INT, 37 att., 35 yards, 2 TD
Keenum and the Cougars have scored no less than 56 points in five straight games, and Tulane posed no real threat in the 73-17 Thursday night win. Keenum went 22-of-29 for 325 yards and three more touchdowns. Aside from being the NCAA's all-time leading passer and touchdown thrower, Keenum currently leads the nation in total offense at 398.6 yards per game. He is also spearheading the nation's top scoring attack at 54.7 points per game. Next Game: SMU
7. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (30)
Season Stats: 220/297, 2,549 yards, 31 TD, 5 INT, 14 att., minus-40 yards
For all intents and purposes, Moore's National Championship and Heisman Trophy campaigns ended for the second straight year on the leg of a kicker. Moore went 28-of-38 for 320 yards and two scores as he pushed the Broncos back into the lead at the start of the fourth quarter (35-28). After a TCU touchdown and 2-point conversion with just over a minute to go, Moore drove his team to the TCU 22 yard-line, where Dan Goodale missed the game-winner. Next Game: at San Diego State
8. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (22)
Season Stats: 254/393, 3,349 yards, 28 TD, 9 INT, 17 att., 22 yards, 2 TD
Jones and his Sooner attack rested up last weekend while they watched their counterparts in Stillwater roll up a 60-point win. Jones now gets winnable games against Baylor and Iowa State to prep for the championship tilt in Boone Pickens Stadium. Next Game: at Baylor
9. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (21)
Season Stats: 185 att., 1,242 yards, 23 TD, 14 rec., 234 yards, 4 TD, 1/1, 25 yards, TD
In the seventh consecutive win over rival Minnesota (42-13), Ball rushed 23 times for 166 yards and two scores while catching another touchdown. Ball has now scored 27 touchdowns on the year, setting a new Big Ten single-season record. He leads the nation in scoring at 16.2 points per game and leads the Big Ten in rushing at 124.2 yards per game. He is 11 touchdowns away from breaking Barry Sanders' NCAA all-time single-season mark of 38. Next Game: at Illinois
10. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (19)
Season Stats: 153 car., 1,207 yards, 12 TD, 13 rec., 175 yards, 1 TD
James has come up big in big-time spots (excepting maybe the LSU game) this season despite his severly dislocated elbow. James put on a show this weekend with 146 yards and three touchdowns in the key Pac-12 game of the year at Stanford. The 53-30 win over the Cardinal not only vaulted James back into the Heisman conversation but likely won the Ducks the conference title. James technically leads the nation in rushing at 150.9 yards per game. Next Game: at Baylor
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 11
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 10
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 9
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 8
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 7
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 6
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 5
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 4
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 3
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 2
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 1
By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 11 Big Ten Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Michigan State (8-2, 5-1) – The Spartans cleared one of their final hurdles in the race for Indianapolis with a dominating road win over Iowa, 37-21. Kirk Cousins threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns (without an interception) to cure his road woes while Le'Veon Bell rushed 20 times for 112 yards and a score of his own. Michigan State kicked a field goal halfway through the third quarter to take a 34-7 lead and put the game out of reach. The Spartans will face lowly Indiana before a key road trip to Evanston to take on the cagey Northwestern Wildcats in the season finale. Michigan State is all but locked into a Legends Division title.
2. Wisconsin (8-2, 4-2) – Wisconsin knew exactly what was at stake when it took the field Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis: A Big Ten championship, Paul Bunyan's Axe and long-standing school and conference records. None of it got in the way of the Badgers, who dismantled arch-rival Minnesota 42-13. The Badgers control their own destiny now after losses by Ohio State and Penn State. The Badgers' Montee Ball set a Big Ten record for touchdowns with his 25th, 26th and 27th trips to paydirt. The Axe remains in Madtown for the eighth consectutive season after Russell Wilson threw his school-record 25th touchdown pass in the win (John Stocco, 21). Wilson, who also has a touchdown in 34 consecutive games (two short of the NCAA record), completed his first 16 pass attempts and actually increased his would-be NCAA single-season efficiency record to 201.58. If Wisconsin can beat Illinois on the road and handle Penn State at home, the Badgers will be headed to Indy on December 3.
3. Nebraska (8-2, 4-2) – The most innocent of bystanders this weekend, Nebraska faced the attention of the nation when it walked into Beaver Stadium on Saturday. After an incredibly emotional and heart-felt battle with the inspired Nittany Lions, the Huskers headed home victorious after outlasting PSU 17-14. Rex Burkhead was the leader NU fans have grown to love, carrying 25 times for 121 yards and a key third quarter touchdown. He lined up at wideout, under center, in the wildcat, at running back and was easily the most important offensive player on either team. Nebraska kept its slim Big Ten title hopes alive with the victory and has to win two difficult games against Michigan and Iowa while hoping for Michigan State to slip up along the way.
4. Penn State (8-2, 5-1) – There may not have been a more surreal opening scene in college football history than when the Penn State Nittany Lions walked arm-in-arm onto the field Saturday morning to face the Cornhuskers. The 17-14 hard-fought loss was secondary to the beginning of the healing process that is fully underway in State College. Both teams played incredibly hard, but in the end PSU came up just short. However, be it the pre-game prayer circle that included both teams or the personal welcomes visiting fans got from PSU faithful, everyone was a winner in Beaver Stadium. The power of athletic competition has long been a healer of souls, and the intrinsic value of sport was no more apparent than at Penn State on Saturday. To top it off, the Lions can still win their division if they can beat Ohio State and Wisconsin in a brutal two-game finish to the year.
5. Michigan (8-2, 4-2) – No Denard Robinson? No problem. The electric quarterback left the game in the third quarter with a bruised wrist, but the Wolverines' dominant defense and replacement Devin Gardner managed to put away Illinois 31-14 on Saturday. The Illini had 30 yards of offense at halftime and were held to 214 on the day. Fitzgerald Toussaint had his second 170+ yard game in three weeks by rushing for 192 yards on 27 carries. Gardner threw one big fourth-quarter touchdown pass. Big Blue has quickly returned to its historic roots by playing shutdown defense and pounding the football on offense. Michigan hosts Nebraska and Ohio State to finish the season.
6. Ohio State (6-4, 3-3) – Who would have thought that Purdue would turn out to be the Buckeyes' most dangerous Leaders Division rival? For the second straight trip to West Lafayette, the Ohio State Buckeyes headed home with a loss. This time, it was a heartbreaking 26-23 overtime defeat. After trailing 17-7 at halftime, the Bucks rallied to tie the game at 20 with less than a minute to play. But Purdue miraculously blocked the extra point to send it to overtime. A Robert Marve one-yard touchdown run sealed the Bucks' fate, as Purdue outgained the mighty Buckeyes 363-295. Now OSU needs help to reach the Big Ten title game as it faces Penn State and Michigan to close things out.
7. Iowa (6-4, 3-3) – The Hawkeyes completely failed to show up for the first half of their 37-21 loss to Michigan State, entering the break down 31-7. Iowa also failed to establish the ground game that had afforded it so much success in previous weeks. The Hawks mustered only 87 yards on 30 carries — 57 yards on 21 carries for Marcus Coker — and turned the ball over three times as Kirk Ferentz and company watched their Big Ten title hopes fall by the wayside. James Vandenberg attempted 47 passes — not a desired ingredient for Ferentz's offense. Iowa finishes with road trips to feisty Purdue and new divisional rival Nebraska.
8. Illinois (6-4, 2-4) – The bye week did nothing to help the Illini's offensive woes as Illinois managed only 30 yards of total offense in the first half of the 31-14 loss to Michigan. Even after his team knocked out star quarterback Denard Robinson, Ron Zook could not figure out a way to produce enough offense to win for the first time in more than a month. Illinois finished with 214 total yards — 37 rushing on 33 carries — and carry a four-game losing streak into the home test against Wisconsin this weekend. Zook's team has scored six total touchdowns in those four games, while the Badgers have scored 14 touchdowns in their last two games.
9. Northwestern (5-5, 2-4) – Don't look now, but the Wildcats have won three straight games after an easy 28-6 win over non-con foe Rice. Dan Persa returned to action and played his best game of the year by completing 25-of-32 passes for 372 yards and four touchdowns. Jeremy Ebert was the primary beneficiary, catching seven passes for 208 yards and two scores. Renaissance man Cain Kolter completed one pass, rushed nine times, caught five passes and scored a touchdown of his own in the win. The Wildcats now need to win against either Minnesota or Michigan State to reach their fourth straight bowl game.
10. Purdue (5-5, 3-3) – After blowout losses to Wisconsin and Michigan, Danny Hope once again proved his mettle with a huge 26-23 overtime upset over Ohio State. It was Purdue's second straight win over the Buckeyes in West Lafayette, even if it took a blocked extra point with less than a minute to pull it off. The two-quarterback system worked to perfection as Robert Marve (10-of-13, 94 yards) and Caleb TerBush (15-of-24, 140 yards) did just enough to outlast OSU. It was Marve's key third-and-12 conversion on the penultimate play of the game that led to the one-yard game-winning QB sneak from the former Miami Hurricane. With Iowa and Indiana remaining, Hope has a great chance at a bowl game in 2011.
11. Minnesota (2-8, 1-5) – The Gophers played valiantly two weeks in a row, upsetting Iowa and playing tight with Michigan State. That wasn't the case this weekend against the powerful Wisconsin attack. The Badgers did whatever they wanted on offense to the tune of 6.3 yards per carry on 45 rushes and 16-of-17 passing. The Gophers managed 156 yards of total offense.
12. Indiana (1-9, 0-6) – The Hoosiers didn't lose this weekend. They didn't take the field, either. Indiana played arguably its best game in the 34-20 loss to Ohio State and will look to build on that performance against Michigan State and Purdue to the end the year. Two solid showings would give Kevin Wilson something positive to build on in the offseason.
During the 51-year period from 1950-2000, the Oklahoma State Cowboys lost more games than they won in 33 of 51 (64.71%) seasons. Additionally, during this period the Cowboys only had 18 winning seasons (35.29%), 12 seasons with seven or more wins (23.53%), and only 10 seasons that ended in trips to a bowl game (19.60%).
The above numbers aren't Kansas State pre-Bill Snyder bad, but only winning more games that you lose 35.29% of the time over a 51 year span is pretty atrocious in our book. Let's now look at some numbers over the last 11 seasons for the Cowboys:
|School||Years||Overall WP%||Losing Seasons||7+ Win Seasons||Bowl Bids|
You don't have to be a genius or have 20/20 vision to see that over the last eleven seasons Oklahoma State football has gotten a lot better. So, what happened in Stillwater to bring about this change? From our standpoint, two things happened:
- T. Boone Pickens decided to test the idea that anything is possible if you throw enough money at it.
- Oklahoma State hired a good coach who in turn hired another good coach.
As much as we love a good underdog story, there simply aren't very many in college football. We wrote a little about this in an article we published recently on Mike Sherman.
From the article:
Here is a list of the last 10 AP National Champions:
2002: Ohio St.
What do the above schools have in common? They are all loaded with NFL-caliber talent and, with the exception of Miami, have large undergraduate enrollments and 80,000+ seat stadiums they fill up each and every week. We are not trying to squash the hopes of the smaller schools out there or state that they cannot have successful years or programs, Chris Petersen and Gary Patterson have proved as much. We are simply trying to point out the existing reality of college football. It’s very much an arms race and those with the bigger and better guns typically win the most battles and wars.
So, how do you become one of the Have's in college football? You go out and find a billionaire who wants to make your football program the primary benefactor of their philanthropy. We are a little fuzzy on the exact numbers, but it's safe to state that T. Boone Pickens has donated or pledged to donate several hundreds of thousands of dollars to making Oklahoma State football a Have.
The second thing Oklahoma State did right was to hire a quality coach in Les Miles in 2001. In the five seasons before Miles took over, the Cowboys had one winning season and won 46.43% of their overall games. During Miles' four seasons at the helm, the Cowboys had only one losing season, won 57.14% of their games, and had a nine win season for the first time since Barry Sanders' senior season in 1988.
One of the smartest moves Coach Miles made at Oklahoma State was bringing Mike Gundy on board right from the start to run the Cowboys offense. From 2001-2004, the Cowboys had a nationally top 20 ranked scoring offense three of the four years Gundy was calling the plays. In 2005, Miles was hired to be the next head coach at LSU (more on that here), and the Cowboys decided to take a chance and promote their relatively young signal caller from offensive coordinator to head coach. After the first three year's of Gundy's reign, many OSU fans may have wondered if a mistake had been made:
|Years||CBTN Stars||Overall WP%||Conf. WP%||WP% Against Over .500 Teams||WP% in Close Games||Losing Seasons||9+ Win Seasons|
The above numbers resembled those of a Have Not or possibly a Have that has the wrong coach in place. Now, let's look at the past nearly four years and see how Coach Gundy has fared:
|Years||CBTN Stars||Overall WP%||Conf. WP%||WP% Against Over .500 Teams||WP% in Close Games||Losing Seasons||9+ Win Seasons|
So, what happened to transform Mike Gundy from a seemingly standard sub-par Oklahoma State head football coach into a coach who, over the last four years, has won almost 80% of his games and over 77% of his conference games? Is this a case of the guy-behind-the-guy? Gundy has certainly had some quality coordinators over the last four years (Dana Holgorsen in particular), but it doesn't appear as though his success has been dependent on the arrival of one particular offensive or defensive coordinator. Well, if it's not Coordinator Dependency Syndrome, what else could it be? How about recruiting? Let's take a look:
|Coach||Year||4 Year Recruiting Average||Record|
|Mike Gundy||2011||30.75||10-0 (two regular season games to play)|
So, the talent has increased since Gundy took over in 2005, but not enough to explain going from winning less than 50% of his games from 2005-2007 to winning nearly 80% of his games from 2008-Present. After digging around, our conclusion is that we don't really have a conclusion. We believe Mike Gundy has a phenomenal offensive football mind as evidenced by the fact that, since 2001, Oklahoma State has had a top 25 nationally ranked offense in eight of the last eleven seasons. It appears it took Mike Gundy a few years to get his head coaching sea legs under him, and since then (see 2008), Coach Gundy has been one of the top 15 head coaches in all of college football. So, if you want to change a culture of losing, go find a billionaire like T. Boone Pickens and masters of their craft like Mike Gundy.
-by Braden Gall (follow him on twitter @AthlonBraden)
The Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers was the NFL’s first half MVP – and it wasn’t even close.
But where could Rodgers’ 2011 campaign rank in the annals of this great league should he continue ravaging opposing defenses? Very simply, it would be the greatest season by an NFL quarterback in history.
Before we dive into Rodgers’ push for immortality, let's address the question of who currently claims the mantle of ‘Best season by an NFL quarterback.’
Is it Kurt Warner of 1999? Steve Young of 1994? Tom Brady of 2007? Peyton Manning of 2004?
While Warner and Young went on to win the Super Bowl and were likely more complete from Week 1 to the Super Bowl, it is hard to make the claim that Manning’s ’04 and Brady’s '07 performances weren’t the greatest statistical regular seasons in history.
The Colts’ gunslinger was unstoppable. He set the single-season NFL record with 49 touchdown passes and an unheard-of – and still NFL-record – 121.1 QB rating. Manning completed 67.6% of his passes, threw only 10 interceptions and averaged 284.8 yards per game that year. He led his team to a 12-4 record before losing to New England in the AFC Divisional round.
Brady broke Manning’s single-season touchdown record when he tossed 50 scoring strikes just three years later. The Pats’ quarterback posted a 117.2 quarterback rating, which trails only Manning as the most efficient in league history. Brady averaged 300.4 yards per game and completed 68.9% of his passes with only eight interceptions. Brady led what was only the second undefeated regular season in history when New England finished 16-0 before losing to the Giants in a memorable Super Bowl XLII.
While New England, Indianapolis, Michigan and Tennessee fans will never agree on which of those two seasons was greater, both would take a clear back seat to Mr. Rodgers if he carries his first half MVP tempo through the second half of action.
Rodgers is currently averaging 327.4 yards per game and has thrown a league-leading 24 touchdowns against only three interceptions. He is on pace for a single-season NFL record 5,238 yards, third-best 48 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He is currently completing 72.5% of his passes, which would break Drew Brees’ 2009 NFL single-season record of 70.6%. His astonishing 129.1 passer rating would shatter Manning’s 2004 single-season NFL mark. He is averaging 9.9 yards per attempt, which would place him fifth all-time in NFL history behind only Sid Luckman (10.9 in 1943) Otto Graham (10.6 in 1953 and 10.2 in 1947) and Norm Van Brocklin (10.1 in 1954). Not exactly an assortment of spring chickens. Rodgers is also leading the league in completions of 40 or more yards with nine such passes.
Moreover, the Packer passer became the first player in NFL history to reach 2,600 yards and 24 touchdowns in the first eight games of the season. He became the first player in NFL history to start a season with a eight consecutive games with a passer rating of at least 110.0 and currently owns the longest single-season streak of games played at 110+ (8) – breaking Hall of Famer Young’s 1994 record.
Rodgers has led the Green Bay offense to three 28-point first-half performances this season — a number that equals the combined total of the 31 other NFL teams. He is also leading the NFL in 3-TD games since 2009 with 16. Brees is second with 15, Manning has 13 and Brady has 12.
Much of Rodgers' success can be attributed to his incredible accuracy while on the run. He keeps plays alive with his superior athletic ability and is nearly as pinpoint outside of the pocket as he is between the tackles. Just ask Super Bowl-winning coach Brian Billick, who displayed an obvious man-crush on No. 12 while calling the Packers' 45-38 win over San Diego last weekend. And rightly so — Rodgers posted a 145.8 rating in the win.
Back in 2007, Brady rushed for 98 yards and two scores while Manning “rolled up” 38 yards and no scores on the ground in 2004. Through three and a half seasons (55 career starts) Rodgers has rushed for 1,006 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has rushed for no fewer than 201 yards or four scores in any season and is on pace for a 254-yard, 4-TD performance in 2011.
This means Rodgers would smash single-season NFL records for passing yards, QB rating and total offense while setting single-season benchmarks for completion percentage and touchdowns accounted for. It would, in fact, be the greatest season by a quarterback in league history.
Have I mentioned that he is the reigning Super Bowl MVP who hasn’t lost a game since December 12, 2010?
NFL Single-Season Quarterback Records and Rodgers' current pace:
|Record||Owner||Team||Year||Number||Rodgers' 2011 Pace|
|Passing Yards:||Dan Marino||MIA||1984||5,084||5,238|
|Passing TDs:||Tom Brady||NE||2007||50||48|
|QB Rating:||Peyton Manning||IND||2004||121.1||129.1|
|Completion %:||Drew Brees||NO||2009||70.6%||72.5%|
|Total Offense:||Drew Brees||NO||2009||4,976||5,492|
|TDs Accounted For:||Tom Brady||NE||2007||52||52|
More Packers Content:
Will The Green Bay Packers Go Undefeated in 2011?
By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 11 Pac-12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Oregon (9-1, 7-0) – The Ducks proved once again that speed kills. On a sloppy field against the best player in the nation, Oregon showed that it is simply the best team in the Pac-12. LaMichael James, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff all scored on long touchdowns on which Stanford missed badly on open-field tackles. Quarterback Darron Thomas played his best football in a month and led his Ducks to what should be a Pac-12 North championship-clinching win. Oregon now hosts the best team in the South, Southern California in Autzen Stadium.
2. Stanford (9-1, 7-1) – The showdown on the Farm was one long case of deja vu for Cardinal faithful. The last loss Stanford suffered was a 52-31 thumping in Eugene last season at the hands of the Ducks. The 53-30 score Saturday night further indicated just how fast Oregon can be. Big plays, missed tackles and untimely turnovers cost the Cardinal a chance at a Pac-12 and potential BCS Championship — and possibly cost Andrew Luck the Heisman. Stanford still has an at-large BCS chance with games against Cal and Notre Dame to finish 2011.
3. USC (8-2, 5-2) – Lane Kiffin and the Trojans offense got back to basics this weekend in a 40-17 drubbing of Washington. Matt Barkley was needed for only 174 yards and one touchdown as the ground game took center stage. Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler combined for 198 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns in the easy win over the Huskies. In all, USC rushed for 252 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries. The defense played excellent football, holding Washington to a season-low 244 total yards of offense. Their reward? A trip to Eugene to play the league's top team.
4. Washington (6-4, 4-3) – Keith Price managed to throw for only 125 yards and failed to throw a touchdown for the first time all year before leaving in the third quarter with a knee injury. The Huskies were outgained 426 to 244 yards in the 40-17 loss to USC, and the game was further proof that U of W still has a ways to go in order to compete for conference titles. Chris Polk's 36 yards rushing was his worst output since a 41-0 loss to Stanford in late October of 2010. The Huskies need to win out with games against Oregon State and Washington State.
5. Arizona State (6-4, 4-3) – The Sun Devils must not have been doing any scoreboard watching Saturday night. Right before kickoff of the road game against Washington State, ASU learned that UCLA had lost to Utah and that they once again controlled their own destiny. It didn't help any as the Cougars inexplicably topped the Devils 37-27. In slushy, wintry conditions in Pullman that now undoubtedly match the Devils' attitude, Washington State rolled up 590 yards of offense and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull off one of the year's biggest upsets. Arizona State now once again needs help to play in the Pac-12's title game.
6. Utah (6-4, 3-4) – After a convincing 31-6 win over UCLA, the Utah Utes are now one of the hotter teams in the league with three straight Pac-12 wins. John White IV rushed for 167 yards and three scores, and the Pac-12's top scoring defense completely shut down the Bruins attack. It was the first time UCLA was held without an offensive touchdown all season, and White leads the Pac-12 with 238 rushing attempts. They still need some help, but Utah is alive in the Pac-12 South race with Washington State and Colorado still left on the schedule. With the win, Utah became bowl-eligible for the ninth consecutive season.
7. UCLA (5-5, 4-3) – With the Pac-12 South race firmly in their control, the Bruins picked a perfect time to fail to reach paydirt for the first time all season. The 31-6 loss to Utah should have been crippling to the Bruins' Pac-12 title hopes — and still could cost Rick Neuheisel his job — but ASU's loss to Washington State has given UCLA new life. After allowing John White IV to trounce the rushing defense for 167 yards, the Bruins now rank last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense. UCLA controls its own destiny in the South and has Colorado at home and a visit to Southern Cal in the season finale.
8. California (6-4, 3-4) – Running back Isi Sofele had his best game of his career when he rushed 23 times for 190 yards (8.3 ypc) and a touchdown in the 23-6 win over Oregon State. Zach Maynard completed nearly 70% of his passes, and the defense obliterated the Beavers' rushing attack to the tune of 31 yards on 21 carries (1.4 ypc). Cal now has The Big Game on The Farm against an angry Cardinal team before visiting Arizona State in the final week of play. It's a tough stretch of action for an embattled coach who may need to pull off an upset to keep his job.
9. Washington State (4-6, 2-5) – This may sound crazy, but Wazzu could be a bowl team this season after a shocking 37-27 home win over Pac-12 South favorite Arizona State. True freshman Connor Halliday completed 27-of-36 passes for 494 yards and four touchdowns (0 INT) for a ridiculous 226.9 passer rating. The defense held Cameron Marshall to 16 attempts for 37 yards, his worst performance since Week 1 (in a blowout win against UC Davis in which he was not needed). It may be far-fetched, but if the Cougars can beat Utah and Washington, Paul Wulff will have his team in the postseason for the first time since 2003.
10. Oregon State (2-8, 2-5) – The Beavers' 23-8 road loss to Cal gave Mike Riley his third straight loss in what might have been the last winnable game for OSU. Oregon State was held to 1.4 yards per carry on 21 rushing attempts, and quarterback Sean Mannion failed to score a touchdown while throwing two interceptions. With Oregon and Washington still left on the schedule, it is hard to see Oregon State winning again in 2011 — and it may cost Riley his job.
11. Colorado (2-9, 1-6) – Rodney Stewart took control of the game on Saturday night, and it led to the first-ever Pac-12 win for Jon Embree and the Colorado Buffaloes. Stewart rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns while tossing another scoring strike in the 48-29 home win over Arizona. Quarterback Tyler Hansen also threw touchdowns while landing on the receiving end of Stewart's flea-flicker TD toss. The Buffs' 500 yards of offense were their highest total since Week 2 against Cal. The win allows the Buffs to avoid the first winless season at Folsom Field in the 87-year history of the building.
12. Arizona (2-8, 1-7) – Nick Foles threw for 300-plus yards again. And the Arizona Wildcats lost again. For the eight time this season, Foles topped the 300-yard mark, and for the seventh time, Arizona lost. The 48-29 loss to Colorado marks a new low for the 2011 Wildcats, who now rank last in the Pac-12 in total defense, pass defense, sacks allowed, punting and pass efficiency defense. They rank 11th in rushing offense scoring defense and turnover margin. Paging Mike Leach?
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
After two poor weeks of college football picks, I am back in the winning column with a slightly better than mediocre performance. I did go 5-0-1 in my top six picks but then limped to the finish with upsets by Iowa, NC State and Louisville.
Stanford has covered thirteen straight weeks, but I just can't go back to the well this weekend (even though I am picking the Cardinal to win outright). This week, I am headed to the Midwest and Sun Belt with seven of my nine picks hailing from the Big Ten and SEC this weekend.
Season Record ATS: 62-39-1 (7-5-1 last week)
Week 10's Top Picks:
Ohio State (-7) at Purdue
The Boilermakers have lost by a combined 98-31 over the last two weekends, and OSU topped Purdue 49-0 last season. The development of Braxton Miller and the very talented defense has led to three straight key wins for the Buckeyes. Purdue has failed to cover two straight weeks. My Pick: Ohio State -7
Rice (+15.5) at Northwestern
The Owls have allowed 148 points in the their last three games, and Northwestern is riding high after their upset road win over Nebraska, having scored 87 points in their two-game winning streak. This is a game the Wildcats have to win if they expect to get to a fourth straight bowl. Kain Colter has turned into quite the leader — whether he is lined up at quarterback or wide receiver. My Pick: Northwestern -15.5
Oklahoma State (-17) at Texas Tech
Despite the valiant effort by Kansas State a week ago, the Cowboys are still 7-2 against the spread this season. Tech has lost four of five games and has allowed at least 34 points in seven straight games — including a combined 93-27 two-week span heading into this game. In case you didn't know, the Pokes can score: Try No. 2 in the nation at 50.1 points per game. My Pick: Oklahoma State -17
Michigan (pk) at Illinois
The Illini will need to score points to beat Michigan, and that is something they have struggled to do during their current three-game losing streak. They have scored four total touchdowns in those games — which are four fewer touchdowns than they scored in the memorable 67-65 overtime win for the Maize and Blue last season. Denard Robinson accounted for 367 yards of offense and three scores last season. My Pick: Michigan
Tennessee (+14) at Arkansas
The Vols have scored 20 total points in their last three SEC games and will pose no threat to the Razorbacks. Justin Worley is starting his third career game and will be asked to match points with Tyler Wilson and arguably the deepest receiving corps in the nation. Plus, kickoff is at 6:00 PM ET, and the Hogs have covered three straight games in which the kickoff wasn't at noon. My Pick: Arkansas -14
Auburn (+13) at Georgia
The Dawgs have won five straight SEC games, but they have won by eight points or less in each of the last three. Auburn got back on track last weekend by dropping 41 points on Ole Miss and should be very competitive in this year's renewal of the South's Oldest Rivalry. Auburn won't win the game outright, but the Tigers will keep it close. My Pick: Auburn +13
Western Kentucky (+42) at LSU
Expect an emotional letdown for LSU — which could still mean a 35-point win. WKU is playing the best football of its entire FBS existence, riding a four-game winning streak, and is 7-2 against the spread. The total is 48.5, so Vegas is picking LSU to win 45-3. That doesn't feel right at all. My Pick: Western Kentucky +42
Texas (-1.5) at Missouri
The Longhorns are leading the Big 12 in rushing defense and total defense and are second in the league in scoring defense. Texas has scored 95 points in two huge wins over the last two weeks, and Missouri has allowed 39.3 points per game over their last three contests. My Pick: Texas -1.5
Alabama (-17.5) at Mississippi State
If there is one team (not named Penn State) I wouldn't want to be this weekend, it's the Bulldogs. Alabama realizes that it is still in the heart of the BCS National Championship hunt and needs style points to reach one of the top two spots in the rankings. MSU ranks 8th in the SEC against the run, and Bama is leading the league in rushing. Expect a huge game from Trent Richardson. My Pick: Alabama -17.5
9-0 Against the Spread: Stanford
8-1 Against the Spread: Arkansas State
7-2 Against the Spread: Alabama, Clemson, Georgia (6-2-1), Kansas State, LSU, Louisiana Tech, Oklahoma State, Southern Miss, Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky
2-7 Against the Spread: Maryland, Penn State, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech
1-7 Against the Spread: Colorado State
2-8 Against the Spread: Colorado
1-9 Against the Spread: Central Michigan
Other Week 11 Content:
-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)
NFL Bye Weeks: None
Note: The Bye Week is actually the only thing taking a bye this week in the NFL. There will be plenty of fantasy power sitting on the bench next weekend in the final bye of the season; however, Week 10 will feature full rosters for the first time in nearly two months. This means everyone's studs will be playing, and thus finding sleepers isn't nearly as difficult. Keep this in mind when setting your lineup this weekend. Get your best out there.
Start These Quarterbacks:
Tim Tebow, Denver (at Kansas City)
Say what you want about his efficiency, Tebow scores fantasy points. He has thrown five touchdowns against only one interception in his three starts with 240 yards rushing over that span. And the Chiefs just allowed a near perfect 147.5 QB rating to Matt Moore (244-3-0) last week.
Mark Sanchez, NY Jets (New England)
Stop me if you've heard this before: the Patriots rank last in the NFL in passing defense at 314 yards per game. Sanchez has an efficient seven-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio over last four games, and Jets have won three straight. Sanchez posted a serviceable 166-2-0 line against the Pats in Week 5.
Matt Cassel, Kansas City (Denver)
Cassel has topped the 250-yard mark in four of his last five games, so if he can add a couple of scores to his yardage totals, he will be a solid fantasy starter. Who better to help with reaching paydirt than the Broncos? Denver is allowing a 31st-rated 28.0 points per game and has allowed the second-most passing touchdowns (17) in the league thus far. Cassel has a good chance this weekend.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota (at Green Bay)
If you are looking for a deep sleeper, take a look at the rookie from Minnesota. The Packers rank 31st in pass defense at 299.6 yards per game, and Ponder is familiar with Green Bay as he got his first start against the division rival in Week 7. He was productive in the loss with a 219-2-2 line to go with 31 yards rushing in first meeting. Only the Colts (18) and Broncos (17) have allowed more passing touchdowns than the Packers' 16. The Vikings should be trailing and Ponder should be throwing.
Bench These Quarterbacks:
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay (Houston)
Freeman is coming off his most efficient performance of the season (103.5), but that won't continue that this weekend. Houston is No. 2 in the NFL in pass defense at 182.6 yards per game and is allowing an NFL-best 51.7% completion rate. The Texans are also fourth in NFL sacks (24.0) and will be chasing him down all game. The Bucs are just not trustworthy in the fantasy world.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo (at Dallas)
Fitz has failed to top 200 yards in three of his last five games and has averaged 217.8 yards per game over that span. He threw six touchdowns and six interceptions over that same span with the Bills limping to a 2-3 record. In the last two home games, Dallas allowed 417 yards, no touchdowns and four picks to starting quarterbacks.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (Pittsburgh)
The Steelers are the No. 3 pass defense in the NFL at 184.7 yards per game. By the way, rookie Andy Dalton will be facing the Blitz-burgh Steel Curtain for the first time in his career. Additionally, most of Dalton's scoring has come against mediocre defenses Cleveland, Indianapolis and Tennessee (7 TD, 0 INT). Against Buffalo, San Francisco and Seattle, Dalton struggled (3 TD, 6 INT).
Jay Cutler, Chicago (Detroit)
The Lions are rested after a bye week and are sixth in the NFL in pass defense at 193.6 yards per game. Detroit has surrendered only nine passing touchdowns and has forced 11 interceptions. Cutler posted a modest 247-1-0 line against the Lions earlier this year, and he would be lucky to repeat that performance in a must-win situation for both teams.
Start These Running Backs:
Chris Johnson, Tennessee (at Carolina)
CJ2K finally showed flashes of his former brilliance last weekend with a 110 yards from scrimmage on 18 touches against one of the top defenses in the NFL (CIN). The Panthers rank 28th in the NFL against the run at 133.3 yards per game, and no one has allowed more rushing touchdowns in the NFL than Carolina's 11 surrendered. If Johnson is ever going to reach the end zone, it's this weekend.
Willis McGahee, Denver (at Kansas City)
McGahee returned to the field with a vengeance last weekend with an incredible 20-carry, 163-yard, two-touchdown performance against Oakland. Reggie Bush just torched Kansas City for 142 yards from scrimmage on 16 touches and a trip to paydirt. Play Mr. McGahee.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas (Buffalo)
Only the Cardinals, Panthers and Colts have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Bills' 10, and Murray has been smoldering of late. He has 466 yards rushing in three games at an incredible 8.5 yards per carry. Toss in five catches and one touchdown and you have a fantasy monster. Plug and play the Oklahoma rookie.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina (Tennessee)
Stewart has 27 carries over the last two games. DeAngelo Williams has 17. Stewart has 127 yards from scrimmage in the last two games. Williams has 74 yards from scimmage. Stewart has scored in two of the last three games. Williams has scored one time all season (in Week 5). It's pretty clear who the better option is at this point.
Ben Tate, Houston (at Tampa Bay)
Tate has become a serviceable backup option for many fantasy owners. He has 32 carries in the last three games and has topped 100 yards in two of the last three games — despite Arian Foster getting 88 touches over the same span. The Bucs are 27th in the NFL against the ground game, so Tate is a quality sleeper option this weekend.
Bench These Running Backs:
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (Pittsburgh)
Benson has averaged 2.2, 3.6 and 3.9 yards per carry over his last three games and now faces the NFL sixth-best rush defense (95.6 yards per game). His splits against the Steel Curtain aren't pretty either, as he has averaged 43.0 yards per game over six contests with only two touchdowns. Look elsewhere this weekend.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh (Cincinnati)
The Steelers have struggled to run the ball all season long, and Big Ben has taken over as the focal point of the offense over the last three weeks. Mendenhall has not topped 13 carries in any of the last three games, and the Bengals boast the NFL's No. 2 rush defense at 84.5 yards per game. A 49-1 line might be about right.
Brandon Jacobs, NY Giants (at San Francisco)
This one is pretty easy. Ahmad Bradshaw has been ruled out of the game and Jacobs produced in his absence last weekend (72-1). However, the Niners are downright nasty against the run. They lead the NFL by allowing only 70.8 yards per game and are the only team that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown on the season.
LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay (Houston)
Against a poor run defense last weekend, Blount produced a modest 72 yards in his first action since Week 5. The Texans are fourth in the NFL at 91.4 yards allowed per game and held Cleveland to 44 yards on 21 carries for a paltry 2.1 clip. Look for Houston's defense to pressure Freeman and stack the box.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle (Baltimore)
The Ravens are third in the NFL against the run at 86.8 yards per game and have allowed only three rushing touchdowns the entire season. Baltimore permits only 3.4 yards per carry (201 attempts faced) and should destroy the Seahawks front line.
Start These Wide Receivers:
Jordy Nelson, Green Bay (Minnesota)
The banged-up Vikings secondary offers very little resistence and Nelson always seems to make one big play per game. And just in case you didn't know, Nelson is the No. 11 fantasy wide receiver in the NFL at the halfway point.
Santonio Holmes, NY Jets (New England)
After a slow start, Holmes has started to come on of late. He has scored in three of the last four games and is facing the NFL's worst pass defense at 314 yards per game.
Larent Robinson, Dallas (Buffalo)
With Miles Austin out, Robinson (who has scored in two straight games) looks to benefit. Dez Bryant is a must-play, but Robinson should get plenty of looks against the NFL's 25th-rated pass defense.
Michael Jenkins, Minnesota (at Green Bay)
The former Falcon is actually the highest-scoring receiver on the waiver wire of the Athlon Sports keeper NFL league. He posted his best game of the season in Ponder's first start (3-111-1) and should be playing from behind most of the season.
Bench These Wide Receivers:
AJ Green, Cincinnati (Pittsburgh)
Ike Taylor will be matched up against Green all game, and while it's hard to bench Green, his upside appears limited in Andy Dalton's first-ever experience against a Dick LeBeau defense.
Mike Williams, Tampa Bay (Houston)
Williams has averaged only 9.8 yards per catch this season and hasn't reached paydirt since Week 1. Expect the entire Bucs' passing attack to struggle against one of the NFL's best pass defenses.
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis (Jacksonville)
It's hard to believe but Wayne is approaching waiver wire status. He hasn't topped 77 yards since Week 1 and hasn't scored since the first game, either. He is hard to endorse against a relatively stingy Jaguars pass defense (197.0 ypg).
Sidney Rice, Seattle (Baltimore)
The Ravens have allowed an NFL second-best six passing touchdowns all season long and are fourth in the league in pass defense (192.6 ypg). Look for the entire Seahawks offense to be stymied this weekend.
Start These Tight Ends:
Brent Celek, Philadelphia (Arizona)
The Eagles tight end is finally getting his looks from Mr. Vick. Celek has averaged six catches and 65 yards per game and scored twice over the last three weeks.
Greg Olsen, Carolina (Tennessee)
The Titans have allowed the third-most fantasy points to tight ends this season, and Cam Newton favors him in the redzone (four TDs).
Bench These Tight Ends:
Vernon Davis, San Francisco (NY Giants)
Bueller? Bueller? Davis has nine catches for 75 yards over his last three games, and the Giants have allowed one touchdown to tight ends this season.
Kellen Winslow, Tampa Bay (Houston)
Houston has allowed the third-fewest points to the tight end this season, and the entire Bucs' passing attack will struggle.
Start These Defenses/Special Teams:
Houston Texans (at Tampa Bay)
The Texans have turned into one of the top fantasy defenses in the NFL. Plug and play.
Philadelphia Eagles (Arizona)
Without Kevin Kolb and a banged-up Beanie Wells, there should be opportunities for big plays.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Cincinnati)
Dalton has been solid but is facing an angry Pittsburgh team for the first time in his career. The Steelers will finally force some turnovers.
Bench These Defenses/Special Teams:
Dallas Cowboys (Buffalo)
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL, and the Bills will look to run early and often.
New York Giants (at San Francisco)
The Niners are built around running the football, with a quarterback who has thrown only two interceptions all season.
I am not a parent. I cannot speak as one.
And I won’t understand what parents across this country are feeling until, God willing, one day I’ve become one myself. But what has happened at Penn State University has shaken me to the core, nonetheless.
On Monday afternoon, I sat at my desk and I read 23 pages of horrifying grand jury testimony. I had to stop on more than one occasion to look away from my computer screen and regain my bearings.
My first reaction was visceral – towards a man who no longer deserves the rights and freedoms afforded to him by this great country. Next, I wrote down a laundry list of questions I wanted answered. Not as a sports writer or radio jock or even a fan, but as a human being.
What would I have done if I was in Mike McQueary’s shoes? How much unnecessary evil could have been prevented? What did Joe Paterno really know? When did he know it? How many more victims are there? How long has this be going on? How important is the game of football to me personally? Will there be NCAA sanctions? Should Penn State be allowed to finish the football season?
And why the hell was Jerry Sandusky walking around Penn State’s campus not two weeks ago as a free man?
Some of these questions have easy answers. The protection of children should come long before the retention of employment, maintaining a prestigious image or winning football games. You would think that is a pretty simple equation. And I am not hoping for probation or sanctions, which would be unprecedented behavior by the NCAA, I am rooting for an eight-by-eight cement cell without chance of parole.
And the current Penn State football players should not be punished for the irreconcilable mistakes of informed adult administrators over the last 15 years. So yes, Penn State fans, players and alumni should be proud to support their university against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
We need to remember not to indict the masses for the disgusting acts of a few. The majority of people who work, attend, play for and support Penn State University are wonderful people who felt the exact same gut-wrenching pain I did when I read the attorney general’s report.
But for those few who are culpable - and you know who you are - there is a dark and special place reserved for you.
Unfortunately, however, some of those questions may never get answered. Paterno and McQueary will have to wrestle with their own consciences for the rest of their lives. They followed the letter of the law, but not the spirit. Honestly, who cares about a tarnished legacy or potential Big Ten championship when dealing with the molestation of children?
Even as I write this I am losing focus. This is not about Joe Paterno. Or Mike McQueary. Or how the Penn State seniors will play in their final contest in Beaver Stadium this Saturday.
This is about the kids – and there are no silver linings.
I cannot expect victims’ hearts to relax now that 40 counts (for now) of child sexual abuse have been levied against one sick human being. The arraignment of Gary Schultz and Tim Curley won’t repair the frayed nerve endings that have been permanently damaged. I cannot expect victims to sleep easier at night because Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier have been fired as head coach and President at Penn State. In fact, the attorney representing the victims, Ben Andreozzi, released a statement claiming that the Penn State “Board of Trustees got it wrong. They should have consulted the victims before making a decision on Mr. Paterno.”
And even when Jerry Sandusky gets what is most-assuredly coming to him in a federal penitentiary, the horrific memories of the past will not be expelled from the furthest reaches of those children’s memories.
I can only hope with every ounce of my soul that somewhere a frightened young child, panicked irresolute parent or morally weak graduate assistant will find the internal strength to learn from what has happened in State College, Pa., and vow to never let it happen again.
Since Super Bowl I decided the 1966 NFL championship, there have been 1,252 seasons played by official NFL franchises. There have been two undefeated regular seasons and one perfect season. Just in case you’ve been hanging out with the Geico caveman for the last four decades, the 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 2007 New England Patriots are the only two teams ever to roll through an NFL schedule unblemished. Obviously, the ’72 Fish were happy to pop champagne corks when the New York Giants toppled the Pats in Super Bowl XLII.
That gives any NFL franchise a 0.15% chance of going undefeated at the start of any season. This is the NFL, after all.
Just ask Drew Brees and the Saints what happened against winless St. Louis two weeks ago. Or how about the AFC West-leading Chiefs’ performance against the winless Miami Dolphins last Sunday? That said, the Packers are nine weeks deep into the NFL season and have yet to lose, so their odds have clearly increased.
But not by much.
Since 1966, only 17 teams have reached the 9-0 mark. During the 45-year Super Bowl history of the NFL, 11.8% of teams to reach the 9-0 plateau went on to finish the regular season undefeated. Three of those 17 didn’t even make it to the next week, as only 14 teams have made it to 10-0. Four more lost in Game 11 and three more lost in Game 12, leaving seven teams in the Super Bowl era to have ever breathed the rarified air of a 12-0 start.
Those are long odds considering the schedule (and defensive struggles) remaining for the Packers.
Green Bay faces only one team with a losing record in the second half; the 2-6 Vikings come to town next Monday night. The Packers then get Tampa Bay at home before back-to-back road trips to likely playoff teams Detroit (on Thanksgiving) and New York (Giants). The Oakland Raiders and a rejuvenated Carson Palmer visit Lambeau Field in Week 14 before the final road game of the year against the wildly unpredictable Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15. Green Bay wraps up the 2011 season by hosting division rivals Chicago and Detroit.
No one would be shocked if Green Bay lost any of those games with the possible exception of Monday night’s home contest. In the modern world of professional football, all of those games are easily losable. And it won’t be Aaron Rodgers who costs the Packers an undefeated season; it will be the defense. The secondary is banged up, and the front seven is not getting enough pressure on the quarterback.
Green Bay finished 2010 as the No. 5-rated total defense in the league at 309.1 yards allowed per game. They are 30th at the halfway point of 2011 at 399.6 yards per game. The Packers also ranked fifth in the league last fall at defending the pass at 194.2 yards per game – more than 105 yards better than the 31st-ranked pass defense Green Bay features this season (299.6 ypg). Additionally, the Green and Gold defense recorded an NFL second-best 47.0 sacks a year ago, but is not getting after opposing passers nearly as well this go around. The Packers’ 19.0 sacks rank 17th in the league.
Moreover, scoring points is still the name of the game, not rolling up yards. While Green Bay is on pace to score the third-most points in NFL history (34.4 ppg) on offense, the defense – ranked No. 2 in the NFL at a paltry 15.0 points allowed per game last season – is holding the opposition to a mediocre 22.4 points per game in 2011 (17th in the NFL).
Without even mentioning Mike McCarthy’s looming, unenviable decision to rest key starters against two extremely physical defenses to finish the year, the bright and shiny league-wide bull's-eye on their back and continued defensive woes have the odds stacked heavily against the Green Bay Packers going unbeaten.
But never fear, Packer nation – don’t start canceling plane tickets and hotel reservations in Indianapolis. There are also some excellent odds stacked in your favor as well. Of the 17 teams to make it to the 9-0 mark, 11 of them played in the Super Bowl, with seven of those 11 claiming the ultimate prize as World Champions.
And frankly, hoisting Titletown’s fifth Lombardi Trophy is all Rodgers and company should care about.
Here are the 17 teams since 1966 that have gone 9-0 to start the season:
1969: Los Angeles Rams (11-3) lost to Minnesota in Game 12
1972: Miami Dolphins* (14-0) Undefeated
1973: Minnesota Vikings^ (12-2) lost to Atlanta in Game 10
1975: Minnesota Vikings (12-2) lost to Washington in Game 11
1984: Miami Dolphins^ (14-2) lost to San Diego in Game 12
1985: Chicago Bears* (15-1) lost to Miami in Game 13
1990: New York Giants* (13-3) lost to Philadelphia in Game 11
1990: San Francisco 49ers (14-2) lost to the LA Rams in Game 11
1991: Washington Redskins* (14-2) lost to Dallas in Game 12
1998: Denver Broncos* (14-2) lost to NY Giants in Game 14
2003: Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) lost to Cincinnati in Game 10
2005: Indianapolis Colts (14-2) lost to San Diego in Game 14
2006: Indianapolis Colts* (12-4) lost to Dallas in Game 10
2007: New England Patriots^ (16-0) lost to NY Giants in Super Bowl
2008: Tennessee Titans (13-3) lost to NY Jets in Game 11
2009: New Orleans Saints* (13-3) lost to Dallas in Game 14
2009: Indianapolis Colts^ (14-2) lost to NY Jets in Game 15
* - went on to win the Super Bowl
^ - went on to lose the Super Bowl
Coach Paterno had recently announced that he would retire at the end of the 2011 season due to the circumstances surrounding Paterno's action or lack thereof regarding information he was given concerning the lewd and atrocious conduct of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The Penn State Board of Trustees decided not to give Coach Paterno the chance to retire on his own terms Now that Paterno's legendary career is over, let's look at JoePa By The Numbers:
|Years||WP%||Conf. WP%||10-Win Seasons||Losing Seasons||National Champs.||Bowl Games|
Let's look at these numbers in a little more detail by decade:
|Years||WP%||Conf. WP%||10-Win Years||Losing Years||Bowl Apps.||Top 25 (EOS)||Top 10 (EOS)||Conf. Titles||Nat. Champs.|
|* (EOS) = End of Season Ranking|
A little more data on the 2001-Present data:
|Years||WP% Against Top 25 (TOG)||WP% Against Top 5 (TOG)||WP% Against Over .500 Teams||Bowl WP%||# of Top 25 Finishes|
|* (TOG) = Time of Game Ranking|
So, what do the numbers tell us?
They tell us that Paterno is one of the most successful college football coaches in history. They tell us that he won 409 of the 548 games he was the head coach. They tell us that he won 10 or more games in 46.67% of the full seasons he was the head coach. They tell us that he won two national titles, three Big Ten titles, and finished in the AP Top 10 21 different times. The numbers also unfortunately tell us that Joe Paterno's ability to compete for national championships and beat the elite programs in college football was deteriorating along with his eyesight.
Here at Coaches By The Numbers, we like to ignore the soft factors that far too often dominate conversations surrounding college football coaches. In this instance unfortunately, the soft factor of Paterno's inaction in the face of an unspeakable evil cannot be ignored and will forever tarnish his legacy By The Numbers.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Each week, the Athlon editors will vote on the most prestigious award in all of college football. A nine-man conglomerate of college football gurus from Athlon Sports will vote for their top 10 Heisman Trophy candidates. The votes will be tallied and the result will be posted as the Athlon Sports Heisman Watch List every Wednesday of the regular season.
Note: The scoring system is as follows: A first place vote earns a player 10 points. A second place votes earns nine points - so on and so forth until the 10th place vote receives one point.
It only took 10 weeks of football but Stanford's Andrew Luck has claimed all nine Athlon Sports first place Heisman Trophy ballots. And rightly so, considering he is the best player in the nation on an unbeaten team.
Despite being the best player on the field, Trent Richardon's kicker might have cost him the Heisman Trophy. Robert Griffin III got Baylor over the hump with a big win over Missouri, boosting his stock back into finalist territory. And Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Boise State's Kellen Moore simply produce huge numbers every week and hold onto Top 5-status once again.
As a side note, only four players landed on all nine ballots. Luck, Richardson, Moore and Houston's Case Keenum.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (90/90 total points, 9/9 first place votes)
Season Stats: 194/272, 2,424 yards, 26 TD, 5 INT, 29 att., 147 yards, 2 TD
Luck and the Cardinal got off to a sluggish start in the cold and damp Corvallis this weekend. After a 0-0 first quarter, Stanford stormed off for a 38-13 win to give Luck his 17th straight victory. His two touchdown passes in less than two minutes in the third quarter put the Beavers away. Luck finished 20-of-30, for 206 yards and three touchdowns in the win. His Heisman Trophy, Pac-12 title and BCS National Championship are on the line this weekend. No pressure. Next Game: Oregon
|3.||Kellen Moore||QB||Boise State||66||-||2||3||1||2||9|
|4.||Robert Griffin III||QB||Baylor||52||-||2||1||1||1||8|
|5.||Brandon Weeden||QB||Oklahoma St||49||-||-||-||5||1||8|
|11.||David Wilson||RB||Virginia Tech||10||-||-||-||-||-||4|
|15.||Justin Blackmon||WR||Oklahoma St||4||-||-||-||-||-||2|
2. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (75)
Season Stats: 172 att., 1,078 yards, 17 TD, 23 rec., 292 yards, TD
Trent Richardson was the best player on the field in the 9-6 overtime loss to LSU in this week's "Game of the Century." He was truly the most productive player for either team (except maybe LSU punter Brad Win) as he carried 23 times for 89 yards and caught five passes for 80 yards. T-Rich consistently moved the Tide into LSU territory all night and is still leading the SEC in rushing at 119.8 yards per game. However, if Bama doesn't get its rematch in the BCS title game, will Richardson have done enough to overcome Luck? Next Game: at Mississippi State
3. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (66)
Season Stats: 192/259, 2,229 yards, 29 TD, 5 INT, 10 att., (-16) yards
In the 48-21 win at UNLV, Moore became the winningest quarterback in the history of NCAA football. His 46-2 record as the starter speaks for itself. Against the Runnin' Rebels, Moore went 18-for-31 for 219 yards and five touchdowns and he is now fourth in the nation passer rating at 179.51. Moore needs a huge showing in his last real test of the 2011 season this weekend against the Horned Frogs. Next Game: TCU
4. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (52)
Season Stats: 202/273, 2,781 yards, 26 TD, 4 INT, 107 att., 375 yards, 4 TD
Griffin has not had any issues posting huge numbers all season. The difference this weekend is that he lead his team to a big win over Missouri 42-39. RG3 finished 27-of-41 for 406 yards and three touchdowns through the air to go with 19 rushing attemps, 53 yards and another score on the ground. Griffin III is the nation's No. 2 rated passer at 188.06 and has his team poised for a second consecutive bowl game for the first time since 1991-1992. Next Game: at Kansas
5. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (49)
Season Stats: 282/391, 3,212 yards, 26 TD, 9 INT, 14 att., (-85) yards
If the offensive ineptitude in Tuscaloosa wasn't your cup of tea, then maybe the defensive woes in Stillwater were. Oklahoma State and Kansas State combined for 1,082 yards of offense in the thrilling 52-45 back and forth affair. Weeden made a couple of bad throws (2 INT, one returned for a touchdowns), but he also set a school record with 502 yards passing. He was an incredibly efficient 36-of-46 passing and threw four scoring strikes of his own. Most importantly, he kept the Pokes national title hopes alive. Next Game: at Texas Tech
6. Case Keenum, QB, Houston (43)
Season Stats: 257/347, 3,626 yards, 34 TD, 3 INT, 32 att., 27 yards, 2 TD
Keenum was downright flawless in the 56-13 win over UAB this weekend. He completed 39 of his 44 attempts for 407 yards and two touchdowns. He also batted 1.000 in the ground game as he scored two touchdowns on two rushing attempts. Keenum is now the NCAA's all-time leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense. In 2011, he is leading the nation in total offense at 405.9 yards per game and is the nation's No. 2 most efficient passer with a rating of 192.44 - which would be an single-season NCAA record if not for the player next on this Heisman list. And his Cougars remain one of the nation's five unbeaten teams. Next Game: at Tulane
7. Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin (30)
Season Stats: 144/201, 2,238 yards, 21 TD, 3 INT, 48 att., 276 yards, 4 TD, 1 rec., 25 yards, TD
The records this Wisconsin team are establishing on offense are eye-opening. Wilson completed 15-of-20 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns to go with 10 carries, 76 yards and another score on the ground in the 62-17 win over Purdue. His 21 TD passes have tied a single-season school record set by John Stocco and he now has thrown a TD in 33 straight games - three short of the all-time NCAA mark of 36 set by Graham Harrell. Wilson is the nation's No. 1 rated passer at 196.66 - which would set a single-season NCAA record for passing efficiency (186.00). Too bad Wilson doesn't play safety. Next Game: at Minnesota
8. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (26)
Season Stats: 254/393, 3,349 yards, 28 TD, 9 INT, 17 att., 22 yards, 2 TD
Jones is easily the saddest finalist on this list as he had to watch his partner in crime Ryan Broyles walk off the field in Norman in tears after tearing his ACL. But Jones led his team to victory and has the Sooners poised to sneak into the BCS title game should a few teams falter. Jones finished 18-of-38 for 255 and two touchdowns in the 41-25 dismantling of Texas A&M. He is No. 3 in the nation in total offense at 374.56 yards per game. Next Game: at Baylor
9. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (15)
Season Stats: 162 att., 1,076 yards, 21 TD, 13 rec., 229 yards, 3 TD, 1/1, 25 yards, TD
The accolades for the Wisconsin offense continue. Montee Ball scored his 22nd, 23rd and 24th touchdowns of the season in the 62-17 romp over Purdue. Ball is now two scores away from tying Ki-Jana Carter (1994), Anthony Thompson (1988) and Pete Johnson (1975) for the all-time Big Ten single-season touchdown record of 26. His 24 touchdowns (not counting his TD pass to Wilson) have already tied the Badgers single-season mark set by Brian Calhoun back in 2005. Ball also set a career high with 223 yards rushing and now sits No. 2 in the Big Ten with 1,076 yards. Ball leads the nation in scoring at 16.0 points per game. Next Game: at Minnesota
10. Matt Barkley, QB, USC (11)
Season Stats: 229/342, 2,608 yards, 28 TD, 6 INT, 20 att., 25 yards, TD
Barkley is putting his full NFL resume on display. The Trojan quarterback set a school record with six touchdown passes (four in the first half) in the 42-17 road win over Colorado on Friday night. He finished the game 25-of-39 for 318 yards. Barkley has already set a single-season career high in TD passes (28) and is 183 yards from setting his yardage record as well. It is a shame USC cannot play in the Pac-12 title game (and here's hoping he comes back for his senior year). Next Game: Washington
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 10
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With the recent announcement that Houston Nutt will be resigning from Ole Miss at the end of the season, we thought it would be useful to update an earlier piece we wrote on Coach Nutt and expand our list of recommended coaches to be the next head coach at Ole Miss.
The only thing worse than Ole Miss replacing the famed Colonel with the new and more politically correct "Rebel Black Bear" is their on-field performance this season. When Ole Miss decided to replace the Ragin' Cajun Ed Orgeron with Houston Nutt, it appeared they made a solid hire. At the very least, Nutt helped Ole Miss win the press conference. From 2001-2007 as the head coach at Arkansas, Nutt won nine or more games three different times and competed for an SEC Championship.
Coach Nutt is extremely familiar with the SEC and is a four star coach in our system. What is there not to like, right? Let's dig into Houston Nutt's numbers since 2001 and see what we find;
|Coach||Years||Overall WP%||Conf. WP%||Non-Conf. WP%||WP% vs. Over .500 Teams||WP% vs. Top 25 (time of game)|
A few more numbers to consider:
|Coach||Years||Wins||Conf. Wins||Non-Conf. Wins||Non-Conf. Non-AQ Wins|
Almost one in every three of Coach Nutt's wins since 2003 came against a Non-AQ Conference opponent. And one final set of numbers:
|Coach||Years||WP%||Conf. WP%||WP% Against Over .500 Teams|
|Houston Nutt||2001-2004 & 2010-Present||50.70%||40.48%||35.37%|
From 2005 to 2007 Nutt had Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis in the backfield (three NFL starting running backs) and from 2008 to 2009, Nutt had Jevon Snead at quarterback (one of the nation's top QB's from 08-09), Michael Oher protecting his blind side, and Dexter McCluster and Mike Wallace at the skill positions. Every coach is better when they have superstars, but good coaches don't just win when they have special talent. Given the talent level of McFadden and Jones alone, you could argue that Nutt didn't win nearly big enough during the years they were in the backfield.
So, what do the above numbers tell us about Houston Nutt?
From our perspective, they tell us if you hire Houston Nutt, you better be prepared for the roller coaster ride on which he likes to take programs. If he gets the right talent and the right offensive coordinator, he is bound to put up a good year or two. However, if he doesn't have the right talent or the right offensive coordinator, he is bound to have some rough years.
For example, in his first two years at Ole Miss, Houston Nutt was 18-8 with elite skill position players on the offensive side of the ball. Since Snead, Wallace, and Oher have departed, Nutt is 6-15 with some really embarrassing losses (see Jacksonville State 2010, Vanderbilt 2010 & 2011, and Kentucky 2011).
So, should Houston Nutt have been forced to resign by Ole Miss? From our perspective, it depends?
If Ole Miss fans and alumni are content with a few good years mixed in with a few bad, than Nutt is your man. If Ole Miss fans want a little more out of their program, they are going to have to look beyond Houston Nutt. At this point, the numbers on Houston Nutt do a pretty solid job of telling his story as a head coach.
Now that the Ole Miss fan base has spoken and made it clear that they are not content in riding the Houston Nutt wave, it's time to assess the situation and make some job recommendations. Before we get to specific names, let's discuss the job itself. Looking at our proprietary CBTN Job Ranking, Ole Miss is the 26th best head coaching job in the country. The bad news about this number is that there are eight other SEC jobs ahead of Ole Miss and four are in the SEC West.
So, this is a good job in a great conference, but it certainly comes with its challenges. There are only three teams in the SEC (Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Vanderbilt) that have had lower average recruiting rankings over the last decade than Ole Miss. This isn't saying Ole Miss doesn't have talent. They just don't have talent like Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida have talent.
Let's consider this as well:
|Years||Games||% Played w/Superior Talent||% Played w/Equal Talent||% Played w/Inferior Talent|
For some comparison, since 2004, Alabama has only played 12.50% of its game with inferior talent (only 2 since Saban arrived). This is all to say that while Ole Miss is an attractive job it is not attractive enough to lure a Gary Patterson or Chris Petersen from their current jobs or an Urban Meyer from the ESPN booth.
So, what kind of coach does Ole Miss need?
Looking at the data and information above, Ole Miss is not going to win by lining up and trying to out-physical the rest of the SEC. They simply don't have the horses to do this. They need a coach who can out-think his peers and take a solid talent base and help it overachieve, not through "motivation" or "energy" (see failed attempt with Ed Orgeron) but through better schemes and preparation. With this in mind, we are going to give the Rebel Black Bears (hurts to event write that) ten names to consider:
This guy is the extremely obvious choice. He knows the conference, region, and has put up video game numbers as an OC at Arkansas, Tulsa, and Auburn. Additionally, he wants to become a head coach. You always take a risk with a coordinator, but given his numbers, Malzahn is well worth the risk. Fun stat on Malzahn: As an OC, his offenses have scored 30+ points 58.97% of the time, 40+ points 41.03% of the time, and 50+ points 23.08% of the time.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know he has some baggage. Read his book and you will understand that Leach's "baggage" is not really baggage at all. This guy is a great coach and a good man and should be on the list of any program looking to get better on the field. From 1970-1999, the 30-year period before Leach took the reigns at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders won eight or more games only six times. During Leach's ten years at the helm of Texas Tech, he accomplished this feat eight different times. From 2001-2009, among active and inactive head coaches with two years minimum experience, Mike Leach was our 23rd rated head coach. Keep in mind that during this same period, Leach had an average recruiting ranking of 31. Mile Leach is anxious is to get back on the sidelines and Ole Miss would be a great place for Leach to land.
The Rich Rod Michigan experiment failed, but we don't believe it failed because Rich Rodriguez is a bad coach. The Rich Rod experiment in Michigan failed because Rich Rod wasn't able to find a competent defensive coordinator (for more details, click here). If we were interviewing Rich Rod for a job, our first question would be regarding who he would hire as his defensive coordinator (we hear Mike Stoops is looking for a job). If we liked the answer (of course checking the numbers on the DC's he mentions), Rich Rod would be very high on our list. Even with three very subpar years at Michigan, Rich Rod still won over 60% of his games from 2001-2010, including four seasons with nine or more wins.
If you are wondering why Illinois is looking like a respectable program once again, look right past Head Coach Ron Zook to Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino. Ron Zook's winning percentage without Petrino at Illinois (2005-2009) is 35.00%. Ron Zook's winning percentage with Paul Petrino calling plays for the Fighting Illini is 59.09%. Additionally, Petrino has helped increase Illinois' scoring offense by 25.29% compared to the five years prior. Like his brother Bobby, Paul is not going to win any beauty contests or PR awards, but he is going to help you win football games. Hiring a coordinator brings a certain amount of risk with it, but like with Malzahn, we believe the numbers make the risk one worth taking.
Since taking the reigns at Houston in 2008, Kevin Sumlin has won 64.44% of his games and has had a top 15 nationally ranked scoring offense in each of his seasons coaching the Cougars. Houston's overall winning percentage in the five years prior to Sumlin's arrival was 53.97%. However, Sumlin did take over a program that Art Briles had resurrected from the cellar of Conference USA. In the two years before Sumlin took over, Briles' Cougars won 66.67% of their games. Additionally, in Sumlin's first two years as Houston's head coach, Dana Holgorsen was running the offense and calling the plays. In 50% of the games Holgorsen has either been the offensive coordinator or head coach, his team has scored 40 points or more. In Sumlin's one year without either Case Keenum at QB or Dana Holgorsen as OC, the Cougars went 5-7. With Keenum back at the helm of the offense, Houston is off to a 9-0 start. Additionally, Sumlin has coached 65.85% of his games at Houston with superior talent. Coach Sumlin has won 70.37% of games when he has superior talent. However, with equivalent or inferior talent, he has won 42.86% (6-8) of the time. So, there are some things we really like about Coach Sumlin, but overall, there are too many question marks to warrant putting him on our A list.
When it comes to numbers, there's not much to dislike about Kirby Smart. Since being named the defensive coordinator in 2008, Alabama has won 88.00% of the time and has an average national scoring defensive rank of 3.25. Kirby Smart played in the SEC (UGA) and has spent a large portion of his coaching career in the SEC. He knows the conference and looks like he should be an A-Lister. The reason Coach Smart is not on our A-List is because of what we call the "Belichick Effect". For a while there, if you wanted to become an NFL head coach all you needed to do was work for Bill Belichick. First it was Romeo Crennel, then it was Charlie Weis and Eric Mangini, and finally Josh McDaniels. The last time we checked, not one of these coaches was still a head coach as of the writing of this article. Nick Saban is one of the best minds in college football (especially on the defensive side of the ball), and you have to be careful not to assume that because someone works for a great head coach they will be a great head coach. Additionally, don't forget that since Saban took over at Alabama, the Tide have entered 100% of its games with equal or superior talent. Ole Miss is not Alabama, and the Rebel Black Bears have entered just over 70% of their games with equal or superior talent. Every job is unique and you have to make sure that you match up the right coach given the job at hand.
The biggest problem we have with June Jones is that we can't picture him without that Lei, stache, and Hawaiian shirt. Once we get past this, we like what we see. In the five years prior to Jones taking over at Hawaii, the Fighting Rainbows had won 20.34% of their games. From 1999-2007, Jones won 64.96% of his games and won nine or more games in six of the nine seasons he was head coach. In the five years before Jones took over at SMU, the Mustangs won 25.86% of their games. Since Coach Jones took over in 2008, the Mustangs have won 45.83% of their games (this includes Jones' first year when SMU went 1-11). If SMU can avoid losing their last four games (assuming a bowl bid), they will have seen their first back-to-back-to-back .500 or better seasons since the mid 1980's. His name doesn't get mentioned that much, but June Jones is one heck of a coach.
Mark Hudspeth is currently in his first year as head coach of the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. So far in 2011, Hudspeth is off to a 8-2 start. The Ragin' Cajuns have not won more than six games since 1993, so it's safe to say that Coach Hudspeth is having an immediate impact. After the first ten games, the Ragin' Cajuns are scoring 47.78% more points per game compared to 2010. Hudspeth spent the 2009-2010 seasons working as the passing game coordinator under Mississippi St. head coach Dan Mullen. Prior to his stop in Starkville, Hudspeth was the head coach at Division II North Alabama from 2002-2008, where he won 75.86% of his games. It's always risky to hire coaches after one year, but Hudspeth has a nice resume and a history of winning. He knows the state of Mississippi and Southeast and is definitely worth a call.
(see here for pre-season analysis we did on Coach Freeze) One of the primary things we look for in coaches is coaches who are doing things out of the ordinary. In the five years before Hugh Freeze took the head coaching job at Arkansas State, the Red Wolves won 41.67% of their games. In fact Arkansas State has not won more than six games in a season since 1987 when they were playing FCS football. In Freeze's first year at the helm, the Red Wolves are 7-2. Considering that this is the best year they have had since 1987 (there are still three games remaining, all of which the Red Wolves can win), we would call this "out of the ordinary". Making the jump from the Sun Belt to one of the more challenging SEC jobs is not an easy one, and this accounts for Coach Freeze being on our C-List. If some of the bigger names say no, the Rebel Black Bears could do a whole lot worse than Hugh Freeze.
Along with Kevin Sumlin, Larry Fedora is probably the most popular flavor of the month in college football. Southern Miss is off to an 8-1 start and has a great chance at a 10+ win season. However, one great year doesn't make a coach great, nor does one lousy year make a coach lousy. In the five years prior to Fedora taking the job in Hattiesburg, the Golden Eagles won 60.94% of their games and had two 9-win seasons. In the nearly four years that Fedora has been the head coach, Southern Miss has won 62.50% of his games. Fedora has always been impressive on the offensive side of the ball, but hasn't always been so impressive in the win-loss column. From 2001-Present, as an OC and HC, Larry Fedora has had top 25 nationally-ranked scoring offenses seven times. However, during this same time period, as an OC and HC, Fedora's teams have lost at least five games in eight of eleven years. Additionally, Southern Miss traditionally has recruiting advantages in Conference USA. Since 2008 when Fedora took over, only UCF has had on average better recruiting classes. In fact, 62.22% of the games Fedora has coached have been with superior talent. We like a lot of things about Fedora, but we don't want to let this year's success blind us to yesterday's red flags.
If you were truly starting to believe that Dabo Swinney's pre-game speeches were finally starting to take hold at Clemson, then we would like to introduce you to Chad Morris. Three years ago, Chad Morris was coaching high school football in Texas. During a 16-year head coaching career in Texas, Chad Morris won 169 games, including six state championships. In 2010, then Tulsa head coach Todd Graham hired Chad Morris to succeed Gus Malzahn as Tulsa's offensive coordinator. In 2011, Dabo Swinney hired Chad Morris from Tulsa to become Clemson's OC. To say the least, Morris has put up some impressive numbers. In his two years as an OC, Chad Morris' offenses have scored an average of 39.69 points per game and gained a total of 489.42 yards per game. In his 22 games as an OC, Morris has only tasted defeat three times. Morris would be a huge risk for Ole Miss (much smaller than Ed Orgeron of course), but he also might be the next great head coach. Hiring head coaches is much more art than science, but that doesn't mean there's zero science involved. We believe the above list is a list that based on the numbers gives Ole Miss a shot at hiring a successful head coach.
By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 10 Big Ten Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) – In a league where there is clearly no definitive No. 1 team, Michigan State used a Le'Veon Bell fourth-quarter touchdown run to beat lowly Minnesota 31-24 to take over the top spot in the Big Ten. The Spartans were smarting from last week's loss, and it took until 10:58 left in the fourth for MSU to put away the Gophers. Kirk Cousins threw for 296 yards and two scores, but the Spartans defense allowed uncharacteristically long (82-, 83- and 80-yard) scoring drives for Minnesota. The Spartans now control their own Legends Divison destiny with trips to Iowa and Northwestern sandwiched around a visit from Indiana. There is still plenty of work to do, but MSU got the help it needed to get to Indianapolis.
2. Wisconsin (7-2, 3-2) – This is going to be the season of what-ifs and could-have-beens for Big Red fans. This team looks like the most complete, most talented team in the league but could be on the outside looking in come championship Saturday. The Badgers put up 62 points and 605 yards of offense, including 364 yards rushing, in a blowout win over Purdue. Tailback Montee Ball scored his 22nd, 23rd and 24th touchdowns to bring him within two of the all-time single-season Big Ten record of 26 while rushing for a career-high 223 yards on 20 carries. Russell Wilson (15-of-20, 205 yards, 2 TD) was efficient again and is the nation's No. 1 passer with a 196.6 raing (which would be a new single-season NCAA record). Wisconsin needs help to reach Indy and faces road tests against Minnesota and Illinois before the home finale against Penn State.
3. Penn State (8-1, 5-0) – The Nittany Lions were on bye this week and it likely could not have come at a worse time. Atheltic Director Tim Curley and senior vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz have surrendered to police after charges of child sexual abuse were filed against former PSU assistant Jerry Sandusky. With a three-game finish against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin, Penn State and its anemic offense cannot afford any distractions as they attempt to earn a berth in the inaugural Big Ten title game.
4. Nebraska (7-2, 3-2) – The Big Ten rollar coaster ride for Cornhuskers fans continued this weekend with a heartbreaking home loss to Northwestern 28-25. The inability of Nebraska to consistently run the football against a defense that had been allowing 32 points and 432 yards per game was the story. Rex Burkhead was held to 69 yards on 22 carries (3.1 ypc) and Taylor Martinez mustered only 53 yards on 12 carries (4.4). The defense, on the other hand, could not stop Northwestern backup quarterback Kain Colter, who accounted for three second-half touchdowns. The Huskers now need to win out against Penn State, Michigan and Iowa and hope for a Michigan State loss in order to reach the Big Ten title game.
5. Ohio State (6-3, 3-2) – Woody Hayes would be proud. Ohio State ran the football with authority and played timely defense in a closer-than-anticipated 34-20 win over Indiana. The Buckeyes had three players top the century mark for the first time since 1989 as Carlos Hyde (15 att., 105 yards, TD), Boom Herron (14 att., 141 yards, TD) and freshman quarterback Braxton Miller (14 att., 105 yards, 2 TD) each contributed in a big way. Miller's 81-yard TD run was the longest scoring jaunt by any FBS quarterback in 2011. Luke Fickell used a Tre Roberson interception with just over four minutes to go in the game to seal the victory for the Buckeyes. OSU visits Purdue, hosts Penn State and plays that team from up North in the wrap-up to the season.
6. Michigan (7-2, 3-2) – Denard Robinson had four chances to tie the game from the three-yard line and 16 seconds left on the clock. And Shoelace threw not one, two or three but four incompletions to lose 24-16 to the Hawkeyes in Iowa City. In a game of inches, Michigan was on the losing (yet, correct) end of two tough calls in the final minutes that took two touchdowns off the board. In the end, the Wolverines were held to roughly half of their average on the ground (127 yards), and Robinson threw 20 incompletions and one key interception. The dynamic quarterback has topped 63 yards rushing only once in his last five games — a stretch in which UM is 3-2. The Maize and Blue finish with Illinois, Nebraska and that team from down South — and need lots of help to land in the Big Ten title game.
7. Illinois (6-3, 2-3) – Ron Zook hopefully took some time during the bye week to refine his offense. The Illini ranked 13th nationally in rushing offense, were averaging 447.7 yards of total offense and 34.7 points per game after six weeks. Orange Crush was 6-0 then. Zooker's squad has averaged 312.3 yards per game and has scored 28 total points in the three games since (0-3). With Michigan and Wisconsin up next on the schedule, the offense will need to show marked improvement if Illinois expects to reach eight wins.
8. Iowa (6-3, 3-2) – The Hawkeyes defense was the story of the 24-16 win over Michigan this weekend. The Wolverines entered Saturday leading the Big Ten in rushing at over 250 yards per game. Iowa held Michigan to 127 yards on the ground, got some timely (and correct) officiating and stopped Denard Robinson on four straight pass attempts from the three as time expired. Marcus Coker was the star on offense as he scored twice and rolled up 132 yards on 29 carries. With Michigan State visiting Iowa City this weekend and a trip to Nebraska to end the season, the Hawks still technically control their own destiny in the Legends Division race.
9. Northwestern (4-5, 2-4) – No Dan Persa, no worries. The growth and maturation of Kain Colter were on full display in the Wildcats' 28-25 upset of Nebraska as 17-point underdogs on Saturday. Colter steadily moved his purple offense up and down the field, passing for 115 yards, rushing for 57 and accounting for three second-half touchdowns after Persa left in the third with a shoulder issue. Jeremy Ebert set a personal high with 147 yards, including a massive 81-yard touchdown early in the fourth to put Northwestern up by 11. The defense held the Huskers running game in check all night (122 yards, 3.4 ypc). With Rice and Minnesota up next (followed by the finale with Michigan State), Pat Fitzgerald has his sights set on his fourth straight bowl game.
10. Purdue (4-5, 2-3) – The upset win over Illinois, the hard-nosed tight loss to Penn State and the blowout win over Minnesota seem a distant memory after two postseason-destroying losses. Purdue got pummeled at the hands of Wisconsin 62-17 this Saturday and now has to upset either Ohio State or Iowa at home to get to a bowl game — assuming the Boilermakers can beat Indiana on the road in the season finale.
11. Minnesota (2-7, 1-4) – If nothing else, Jerry Kill's Golden Gophers have shown marked improvement from the early season losses to New Mexico State and North Dakota State. In the last two weeks, Minnesota has upset rival Iowa and pushed Michigan State to the brink before losing 31-24 this weekend. Paul Bunyon's Axe is on the line this weekend with Wisconsin coming to town before the Gophers finish with Northwestern and Illinois. If Minny can pull off one more upset, fans in Minneapolis might have something to be excited about in 2012.
12. Indiana (1-9, 0-6) – The Hoosiers were on the Ohio State 44-yard line, down by seven with less than five minutes to go against the mighty Buckeyes. But freshman Tre Roberson made a bigger mistake than his freshman OSU counterpart Braxton Miller when he threw his lone interception to Travis Howard over the middle to seal IU's fate. Still, the 34-20 road loss was arguably the best showing by Kevin Wilson's bunch all season. Indiana is on bye this week before facing Michigan State and Purdue to finish 2011.
By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)
Post-Week 10 Pac-12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Stanford (9-0, 7-0) – A road test sandwiched between a triple-overtime thriller and the Pac-12's version of "Game of the Century" against Oregon led to a first half defined by the term "trap game." After a 0-0 score heading into the rainy, cold second quarter in Corvallis, Luck extended the nation's longest winning streak to 17 by outscoring Oregon State 38-13 over the final three periods. Stanford controlled over 40 minutes of possession and outgained OSU 507 to 285 yards. Luck finished with 206 yards and three touchdowns, including two scoring strikes two minutes apart late in the third quarter that put the game out of reach. All of college football should be focused on Palo Alto this weekend when the Oregon Ducks come to town with the Pac-12 race, and potentially the BCS national title, on the line.
2. Oregon (8-1, 6-0) – The Ducks started slow for the second straight week and took a 17-10 lead into halftime against the Washington Huskies in Seattle. But a 28-play, 17-point third quarter gave the Ducks the space they needed to hold on for the 34-17 win. Quarterback Darron Thomas still looked rusty (13-of-25), but LaMichael James has picked up where he left off as the focal point of the Ducks offensive attack - rushing for 156 yards and one touchdowns on 25 carries. The ground game rolled up 212 yards and overpowered the Huskies, but if Chip Kelly expects to beat Stanford on the Farm, he is going to have to get improved play from Thomas under center.
3. USC (7-2, 4-2) – We knew this team would (unfortunately) be the best team in the Pac-12 South. Matt Barkley's NFL skills were on full display on Friday night in the 42-17 road win over Colorado. The Trojan quarterback fired four first-half touchdowns and finished with 318 yards and school-record six touchdowns on 25-of-39 passing. Wideouts Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, who were high school teammates at Junipero Serra (Gardena, Calif.), combined for 18 catches, 254 yards and four of those Barkley touchdowns. USC finishes with a tough schedule: Washington, at Oregon and UCLA at home. It is a shame this team is not allowed to compete in the postseason.
4. Washington (6-3, 4-2) – On a night when the 1991 National Championship team was honored as Washington celebrated its final game in Husky Stadium before a state-of-the-art $250 million renovation, the Ducks spoiled the show. Keith Price was intercepted twice in the first half, but U of W trailed only 17-10 at the break. Then the third quarter happened. Oregon scored 17 points in the third period to push the lead to 34-17. Price was sacked six times on the night as the Husky offense was held to 151 yards under its season average. The uphill climb back to Pac-12 relevance is fully underway, but still has a ways to go in Seattle. The Huskies now finish with road games against USC and Oregon State and The Apple Cup at Qwest Field.
5. Arizona State (6-3, 4-2) – The Sun Devils had ten more first downs (29-19), averaged 5.3 yards per carry on 38 attempts, outgained UCLA 465-416, didn't commit a turnover and were better on third downs than the Bruins. However, when an Alex Garoutte 46-yard field goal attempt fell short (his third miss of the game), UCLA won the only stat that mattered: 29-28 on the scoreboard. This was another example of ASU's inconsistent play under Dennis Erickson. The Devils need to win out, which is a reasonable expectation with Washington State, Arizona and Cal left on tap, and hope for a UCLA loss along the way if Erickson wants to play in the first Pac-12 title game they seemed a lock for a week ago.
6. UCLA (5-4, 4-2) – Head coach Rick Neuheisel continues to add years to his life, despite his team getting completely outplayed by Arizona State. The 29-28 win over the Sun Devils was ugly — the Bruins were outgained, forced no turnovers and needed three missed field goals to win. Kevin Prince called it the "biggest win of his career" as he led a 10-play, 79-yard, 5:00-minute drive culminating in a Derrick Coleman game-winning touchdown with :49 seconds left in regulation. Prince finished 11-of-17 passing for 196 yards and a touchdown to go with his 61 yards rushing on 15 attemps. UCLA now controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 South with Utah, Colorado and USC left to go.
7. Utah (5-4, 2-4) – Utah jumped out to a 17-0 first quarter lead over Arizona and never looked back. Behind quality running from John White IV (27 attempts, 109 yards, 2 TD), effective passing from Jon Hays (12-of-21, 199 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) and hard-hitting defense (three key forced turnovers), Utah toppled Arizona 34-21 for its second straight Pac-12 win. With UCLA, Colorado and Washington State to finish the 2011 season, Utah now needs only one win to get to its ninth consecutive bowl game.
8. California (5-4, 2-4) – Much-maligned Cal quarterback Zach Maynard, who had tossed seven interceptions in his last three games, protected the football on a damp day at AT&T Park in the 30-7 win over Washington State. Maynard threw a first-drive touchdown to pass to Anthony Miller as Cal surged to a 30-0 lead before the quarterback got hurt recovering a fumble with 4:52 left in the third. Jeff Tedford, who is fighting for his professional life, is now one game from the postseason with Oregon State, Stanford and Arizona State left on the schedule.
9. Arizona (2-7, 1-6) – This weekend's 34-21 loss to Utah featured the seventh 300-yard passing game for Nick Foles. But it was the sixth loss for Foles and the Cats in those seven contests. The big issue has been the big fellas up front. The offensive line is ranked 112th in rushing (94.7 ypg) and is last in the Pac-12 in sacks allowed. Until the Wildcats can move the ball on the ground and protect Foles from taking a beating, Arizona will continue to lose games.
10. Oregon State (2-7, 2-4) – The Beavers played valiant football this weekend — for a quarter. The 0-0 scoreboard after 15 minutes of the Beavers-Cardinal contest quickly turned into a not-so-valiant 38-13 loss to Stanford. Oregon State was outgained by 222 yards, was 2-of-9 on third downs and averaged 1.9 yards per carry. Things aren't getting better in Corvallis for Mike Riley, who is on track for his worst season as the head man of Oregon State (3-8 in 1997).
11. Washington State (3-6, 1-5) – This one has to be one of the more dissappointing performances of the season. The Cougars mustered only 224 yards of offense, converted on only 4-of-16 third down chances and failed to score any points until the 13:38 mark of the fourth quarter. The 30-7 loss to Cal was Wazzu's fifth straight loss with Arizona State, Utah and Washington left to face.
12. Colorado (1-9, 0-6) – The Buffaloes' secondary will be seeing Matt Barkley throwing touchdowns in their sleep for years to come. Colorado allowed Barkley to break a USC passing record (6 TDs) en route to a non-competitive 42-17 loss to the Men of Troy. Colorado is still searching for its first Pac-12 win and faces Arizona, UCLA and Utah to finish the first-ever trip through west coast football.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
The last two weeks of college football have not been kind to me — either as a fan or as a points spread prognosticator. For the second straight week, I "lost" money and finished below .500 despite hitting on my top pick. The market did, in fact, over-correct on Washington and Purdue. The Huskies covered easily and so did Michigan.
And the most exciting streak in sports, Stanford's unbeaten streak against the spread, continued with a most improbable cover. In the third overtime, the Cardinal had to go for two, and it resulted in a 0.5-point cover.
Andrew Luck and company will keep that streak alive for at least one more week...
Season Record ATS: 55-34-3 (5-6 last week)
Week 10's Top Picks:
Stanford (-21) at Oregon State (8-0)
The talent difference between these two is mind-blowing. Stanford has dominated every opponent it has faced for over a year, and that will not change this weekend against a struggling Beavers team that lost to Utah 27-8 last week. Stanford, the only team left unbeaten against the spread in 2011, could easily match last year's 38-0 final score. My Pick: Stanford -21
Missouri (+3) at Baylor
The Bears have lost three of their last four games and have allowed 114 points in their last two (Texas A&M and Oklahoma State). Mizzou is leading the Big 12 in rushing and is coming off a huge road win over Texas A&M (a team that just beat Baylor 55-28). James Franklin has been masterful running the offense, accounting for 11 touchdowns (6 pass, 5 rush) over the last three games. The Tigers should win outright, so take the points and run. My Pick: Mizzou +3
South Carolina (+5) at Arkansas
Apparently, I have not learned my lesson. The Hogs came out flat two weeks in a row against Ole Miss and Vandy, failing to cover both times. But those games, and the flat first half against Texas A&M, kicked-off at noon eastern. This game starts 7:15 ET, and the Hogs will be ready this time for an undermanned Gamecock team. Arkansas beat Carolina 41-20 in Columbia last season, and there is no Marcus Lattimore or Stephen Garcia in the lineup. If you fail to cover for the third consecutive game, you will be dead to me, Arky! You hear me? My Pick: Arkansas -5
Houston (-27.5) at UAB
The poor, poor Blazers. UAB allowed 59 points, including five passing touchdowns, to freshman quarterback AJ Graham and Marshall last week. Just imagine what Case Keenum and his arsenal of weapons will do to the 115th-ranked defense in college football. The Cougars are one of 16 teams in the nation who are 6-2 or better against the spread this fall. My Pick: Houston -27.5
Texas A&M (+13.5) at Oklahoma
Sooners fans, players and coaches remember very well the 33-19 loss to Texas A&M a year ago. That doesn't bode well for the Aggies this weekend. The mentally flimsy football team from College Station has choked in three second halves, and Oklahoma still has its eyes set on a national championship. Look for Landry Jones and company to attack the NCAA's worst pass defense (318.3 ypg, 120th). My Pick: Oklahoma -13.5
Oregon (-16) at Washington
The Huskies are very close to competing for Pac-12 North titles — it just isn't going to happen in 2011. Washington will be able to score, but now that Chip Kelly has his full complement of offensive toys, so too will Oregon. LaMichael James and Darron Thomas combined for five rushing scores and six overall touchdowns in last season's 53-16 win. Look for Oregon to be clicking on all cylinders in what should be a high-scoring game. My Pick: Oregon -16
North Carolina (-3.5) at NC State
This one has gotten chippy this week — which makes it fun for fans, but not the coaches. NC State has taken control over this rivarly, but Russell Wilson, who threw eight touchdowns in three Wolfpack wins over UNC, is no longer under center for Tom O'Brien. NC State is coming off a 34-0 blowout loss to Florida State and will not be able to stop an offense that just dropped 49 on a quality Wake Forest team and 38 on Clemson. North Carolina is just the superior football team. My Pick: North Carolina -3.5
Michigan (-3.5) at Iowa
Rivalry games are always tricky, but the Wolverines are a new, more mentally tough bunch under the new regime. Michigan is 6-2 against the spread this year, and Iowa is coming off its worse loss in years (22-21 to Minnesota). The Maize and Blue made easy work of a pesky Purdue team and are getting more balanced on offense. Look for Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint to excel against what has been an uncharacteristically weak Iowa defense: 76th in total defense, 81st in pass defense and 69th in rushing defense.My Pick: Michigan -3.5
If you're feeling lucky
Purdue (+25) at Wisconsin
The Badgers are angry and back in the friendly confines of Camp Randall. My Pick: Wisconsin -25
Louisville (+13.5) at West Virginia
WVU can score in bunches and has topped the 40-point mark in three of its last four. Louisville has won two straight games it should not have, but is on the road and has not even scored more than 27 all season. My Pick: WVU -13.5
TCU (-19) at Wyoming
The Frogs have won three straight by a total of 92 points and are playing as well as they have since 2010. The Cowboys' 105th-rated defense should be no challenge. My Pick: TCU -19
FIU (-3) at Western Kentucky
Four straight tough wins for WKU have the Hilltoppers thinking bowl game for the first time in their FBS existence. After a hot start, FIU has struggled over the last month, going 2-3 with losses to UL-Lafayette, Arkansas State and Duke. WKU will be fired up at home. My Pick: WKU +3
Kansas State (+20.5) at Oklahoma State
Something has to give. Kansas State is 6-2 on the year against the spread and Oklahoma State is 7-1. The Pokes are chugging along on offense, as Brandon Weeden is playing the most efficient football of his life. KSU is coming off a 58-17 home dismantling at the hands of Oklahoma last week. The Pokes know what is at stake and won't let the Wildcats sneak up on them — although, this has market over-correction written all over it too. My Pick: Oklahoma State -20.5
Special "Game of the Century" Pick ATS
LSU (+4.5) at Alabama
The Crimson Tide is 7-1 on the season against the spread, and across the board, looks like the slightly better football team. It will come down to, shockingly, turnovers, penalties, third-down conversions and special teams. Look for the Tide to Roll on Saturday. My Pick: Alabama -4.5
8-0 Against the Spread: Stanford
7-1 Against the Spread: Alabama, Arkansas State, Oklahoma State
6-2 Against the Spread: Houston, Kansas State, LSU, Louisiana Tech, Michigan, New Mexico State, Southern Miss, Temple, UTEP, Vanderbilt, Washington, Western Kentucky
7-2 Against the Spread: Clemson
2-7 Against the Spread: Colorado, Penn State
2-6 Against the Spread: UConn, Kent State, New Mexico, Texas A&M
2-7 Against the Spread: Colorado State, Tulane, Virginia Tech
1-8 Against the Spread: Central Michigan
Other Week 10 Content:
Mitch Light's Top Ten Games of Week 10
Four Ways Alabama Will Win the 'Game of the Century'
Four Ways LSU Will Win the 'Game of the Century'
Nick Saban: The Game's Best Coach
Les Miles: Love Him or Hate Him?
-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)
NFL Bye Weeks: Carolina, Detroit, Jacksonville, Minnesota
Start These Quarterbacks
Matt Ryan, Atlanta (at Indianapolis)
Matty Ice has had two weeks to get his ankle fully healthy, and there is no better way to walk back onto a field than against the Colts pass defense. No team in the NFL is less efficient against the pass than the Colts with their 72.4% completion rate allowed. No team has allowed more passing touchdowns than the Colts' 15. Expect Ryan to reach the Colts’ 258.9 yards allowed per game mark with relative ease.
Eli Manning, NY Giants (at New England)
New England’s woes against the pass are well documented; at 323.1 yards per game, they are more than 30 yards worse than anyone else in the league. Manning is coming off arguably his best game of the season (349-2-0) and should have a field day throwing due to the struggles of his ground game, which will be without Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Manning produced a tasty 251-4-1 line in his only career regular season start against New England, and we all know what happened in the only postseason meeting (David Tyree, please pick up the red courtesy phone).
Matt Cassel, Kansas City (Miami)
The defeated Dolphins have been bad in all phases of the game but have been particularly putrid against quarterbacks lately. They have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks over the last four games. The emergence of names like Battle and Baldwin only help Cassel’s case to produce this weekend. Miami’s 14:2 TD:INT ratio against is the worst in the NFL, and only the Colts have allowed more TD passes.
Carson Palmer, Oakland (Denver)
The Broncos' 68.1% completion rate against is second-worst in the NFL, and their 14:3 TD:INT ratio against is third-worst in the NFL. Denver just allowed 267-3-0 to Matt Stafford, 197-1-0 (which is world-beating for him) to Matt Moore, 250-1-1 to Philip Rivers and 408-4-1 to Aaron Rodgers over the last four games. Palmer should reach the 249.7 yards allowed per game by Denver and probably reach paydirt at least once – especially with Darren McFadden potentially shelved for this one.
Bench These Quarterbacks
Joe Flacco, Baltimore (at Pittsburgh)
The Ravens quarterback has one touchdown pass in his last four games to go with four interceptions. He also has failed to reach 200 yards in every other game he has played (Weeks 2, 4, 7). With the way Baltimore embarrassed the Steelers in Week 1, there is no way Pittsburgh isn’t clicking on all cylinders on defense this weekend. Oh yeah, the Steelers are No. 1 in the NFL against the pass at 171.6 yards allowed per game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo (NY Jets)
Reason No. 1 not to like the Harvard grad this week is the uber-talented Jets secondary, which leads the NFL with only four touchdown passes allowed and is tied for fourth with 11 interceptions. And Fitzpatrick has turned the ball over four times in the last two games. Reason No. 2 is Fred Jackson’s 132 attempts and NFL second-best 103 yards per game. The Jets have been susceptible to the ground game, and owners should expect a heavy dose of F-Jax this weekend. This week it’s once again Fitz and the Tempered Expectations that will be Breakin’ the Chains of Love.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (Baltimore)
The Ravens are third in the NFL in pass defense at 174.1 yards per game and are forcing turnovers in typical Ravens fashion. Baltimore has allowed five touchdown passes and has seven interceptions on the year. Big Ben committed five of his 11 total turnovers this season in the Week 1 debacle in Baltimore. Expect him to play better this weekend, but his upside is limited against a defense that is No. 2 in the NFL in sacks (25.0).
Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee (Cincinnati)
In the first four games, Hasselbeck averaged 288 yards per game with eight TDs and three INTs. Since Week 5, the level of competition has increased significantly, and it has shown in Hasselbeck’s production. He has three touchdowns, three interceptions and has averaged 196 yards per game since. The Bengals have allowed only six passing touchdown this fall and are fifth in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks in 2011.
Colt McCoy, Cleveland (at Houston)
The Browns passer still is the starter and still throws the ball as much as any quarterback in the league not named Brees. However, the passes are rarely down the field, and the Texans have played stingy pass defense of late. Especially since there will be no running game for the Browns whatsoever.
Start These Running Backs
Shonn Greene, NY Jets (at Buffalo)
Expect Rex Ryan’s re-establishment of the ground game to continue this weekend. Greene, who averaged 12.8 carries per game through four weeks, has topped 20 attempts in all three games since Ryan’s public yearning to run. And Greene’s production has jumped to nearly 90 yards rushing per game. The Bills are 27th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed at a 4.9 clip. Look for lots of Greene this weekend.
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (at Tennessee)
The Titans are 27th in the NFL against the run at 129.3 yards per game and have allowed a 100-yard rusher in two of their last three contests. Benson is, well, uh, rested after his mandatory penal bye week and will be fresh for what is a huge game with AFC Wild Card implications. Look for Benson to run early and often against the Titans.
LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay (at New Orleans)
Steven Jackson had his best game in years when he rolled up 159 yards (6.4 ypc) and two scores last week against the Saints. Reports are that Blount is back leading the way on offense after missing some time with his sprained MCL. The Saints are allowing a league-low 5.5 yards per carry for the season, and with the recent struggles of the Bucs’ passing game, owners can expect Raheem Morris to attempt to control the clock and keep Drew Brees on the sidelines.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk, New England (NY Giants)
Faulk is a sneaky play in PPR leagues; he should see plenty of time on third down in what should be a high-scoring affair. Look for Green-Ellis get plenty of touches between the tackles against the NFL’s 28th-rated rush defense (130.1 ypg). Before last week’s five-carry game, BJGE had been averaging nearly 16 carries per game. Owners can expect him to return to that mark in Week 9.
Beanie Wells, Arizona (St. Louis)
Wells might not be fully recovered from his knee injury yet, but fantasy owners could still be in store for big things this weekend. The Rams are allowing a league-worst 165.6 yards per game and have been gashed all season long. Wells is eighth in the NFL in rushing attempts per game (18.8) and should get plenty of touches in an effort to protect Kevin Kolb.
Bench These Running Backs
Chris Johnson, Tennessee (Cincinnati)
One of the biggest bust values of the 2011 season should not be in the lineup this weekend. The overweight and under-motivated tailback has topped the 53-yard mark only one time in 2011. Against the NFL’s No. 2 rush defense (85.4 ypg), which is also No. 2 in the league in forcing fumbles (10) and allows a fourth-best 17.6 points per game, CJ will be nowhere near his former CJ2K self. And in case you missed it, in an easy win over an atrocious Colts defense, Javon Ringer out-paced (19 touches, 102 yards) Mr. Johnson (17 touches, 51 yards) by a wide margin.
Reshard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh (Baltimore)
The Ravens are allowing the second-fewest points in the NFL at 15.7 points per game, are third in the NFL against the run at 89.1 yards per game and only the 49ers have allowed fewer rushing touchdowns than the Ravens' two. Mendenhall has topped the 70-yard mark only once in 2011 and has 26 carries for 102 yards with no TDs over his last two. In six career games against Baltimore, Mendenhall has average 55.0 yards, fumbled twice and scored three times.
Willis McGahee, Denver (at Oakland)
McGahee is crying for a full workload this weekend after missing time with a broken right hand. The pins were inserted, he missed one game and is reported back practicing this week. But how much you can count on him against what should be nine-man front from Oakland remains to be seen. It might be safer to play the wait-and-see game with Willis.
San Diego Chargers (Green Bay)
Ryan Mathews will probably be sitting on the sideline in civilian clothing. Mike Tolbert is active but has been dealing with serious injuries all season long. Curtis Brinkley showed flashes but also is dealing with concussion issues. Jacob Hester might vulture you a touchdown, but the Chargers backfield isn’t likely to produce much of anything this weekend against a Packers defense that has allowed three rushing touchdowns and a solid 102.1 yards per game. Expect Philip Rivers and the passing game to take center stage for Norv Turner.
Start These Wide Receivers
Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, NY Giants (at New England)
With Hakeen Nicks battling injuries, there should be plenty of space for the also very productive Cruz-Manningham combo to make plays against the worst pass defense in the NFL. The duo combined for 13 catches, 162 yards and two scores last week.
Brandon Lloyd, St. Louis (at Arizona)
After a few weeks in the system, Lloyd showed that he could still be an impact fantasy performer with a tidy 6-53-1 line last week against New Orleans. Arizona is 30th in the NFL against the pass at 277.6 yards allowed per game. Look for Lloyd’s role in the Rams’ offense continue to expand.
Julio Jones, Atlanta (at Indianapolis)
All signs point to Jones being back on the field this week after not playing since the fourth-quarter of Week 5. The Colts defense has been pathetic against, well, anyone on the opposing offense and Jones had back-to-back 100-yard games prior to his injury. If he is starting, play him without concern.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco (at Washington)
If you are feeling serious lucky, Crabtree could be a sneaky play this week. He has caught 14 passes for 131 yards and a TD in his last two games and seems to be finally working at a level needed to succeed in the NFL.
Malcolm Floyd, San Diego (Green Bay)
Floyd looked like Rivers' top target on Monday night (5-107) and should be used heavily against the banged-up Green Bay secondary. With all of the injuries to the running game, look for the passing game to lead the way for San Diego.
Deion Branch, New England (NY Giants)
Wes Welker is still not 100% and Branch has been solid over the last month or so. Since disappearing for two weeks, Branch has caught 14 passes for 179 yards and two scores in three games.
Bench These Wide Receivers
Stevie Johnson, Buffalo (NY Jets)
Welcome to Revis Island. The Jets have been excellent on the edge against receivers all season long as they have allowed only four touchdowns to go with 11 interceptions. Stay away.
Brandon Marshall, Miami (at Kansas City)
Brandon Flowers is one of the NFL's most underrated covermen and will likely draw the assignment this weekend. Marshall will get his targets, but Matt Moore will struggle against a secondary that is second in the NFL with 13 interceptions.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh (Baltimore)
The hard-working Brown has come to life with two great games in a row (7-102, 9-67-1) in a row. But Baltimore has been downright parsimonious against the pass this season. He caught two passes for 14 yards in the season opener in Baltimore.
Start These Tight Ends
Brent Celek, Philadelphia (Chicago)
Michael Vick has finally realized what type of weapon he has in Mr. Celek. I will take 18 targets, 11 receptions, 136 yards and a score in two weeks all day long.
Dustin Keller, NY Jets (at Buffalo)
Mark Sanchez still looks to Keller as a safety valve, and Keller has topped 50 yards in two straight games. Keller also scored twice against Buffalo last season and should be needed this week.
Jake Ballard, NY Giants (at New England)
Quietly becoming a steady fantasy producer at tight end after his fourth straight game with at least three catches and third straight game of at least 55 yards. He also scored twice over that four-game span, and the Pats are horrendous against the pass.
Bench These Tight Ends
Vernon Davis, San Francisco (at Washington)
Has topped 50 yards only once this season and has five total catches for 35 yards in last two games. Look for the ground game and receivers to get most of the offensive work this week.
Scott Chandler, Buffalo (NY Jets)
Don’t get sucked in by the two-touchdown performance last week. He has one game of more than two receptions and that was back in Week 1. Don’t do it!
Start These Defenses/Special Teams
San Francisco 49ers (at Washington)
The Niners are the No. 3-ranked fantasy defense this season and have yet to allow a rushing touchdown. The Skins O-Line is no match.
Oakland Raiders (Denver)
Tim Tebow is under center. Willis McGahee is banged up. Oakland is at home and needs a key division win.
Cincinnati Bengals (at Tennessee)
They have scored three weeks in a row, and Matt Hasselbeck has little to work with this weekend.
Bench These Defenses/Special Teams
Chicago Bears (at Philadelphia)
Michael Vick has been more stable of late, and the ground game figures to be featured prominently.
San Diego Chargers (Green Bay)
Aaron Rodgers protects the ball and could put up a big number on the struggling secondary.
Buffalo Bills (NY Jets)
Expect the Jets to run the football and minimize mistakes. Sanchez won’t take risks in this one.
If you asked ten LSU fans last year their thoughts on Les Miles, five would say they love him and five would say they wouldn't be too disappointed if he took another job.
Let's get beyond the fickleness of the fans, take emotion completely out of the equation, and see what the numbers have to say about the Mad Hatter.
Before we get into the numbers on Miles, let's look at some quick numbers from LSU's football history to gather some perspective of the program's prestige.
|Team||Years||Record||WP%||10-Win Seas.||SEC Champs||Natl. Champs|
Over the 20 year period from 1980-1999, LSU football only won 24 more games than they lost. During this 20 year period, LSU only had two 10-win seasons and won only two SEC Championships. Nick Saban took the reigns in 2000 and here is what ensued:
|Years||Record||WP%||10-Win Seasons||Conf. WP%||SEC Champs||Natl. Champs||CBTN Rating|
Clearly Nick Saban had a pretty large impact on LSU's program. He increased the WP% by 20 percentage points and had the same number of 10-win seasons as LSU did in the previous 20 years. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the National Championship he brought home. Given that LSU has only won seven national titles in school history, we can probably agree that this is a pretty big deal.
NOTE: LSU officially claims three national championships in 1958, 2003 & 2007, however, the school has been recognized as national champions by polling organizations on four additional occasions: 1908, 1935, 1936 and 1962.
Now, let's dive into Les Miles' numbers:
|Years||Record||WP%||10-Win Seasons||Conf. WP%||SEC Champs||Natl. Champs||CBTN Rating|
Let's take a look at a few other data sets on Miles (rank below is for active and inactive coaches since 2001 with minimum of 3 years experience and only reflects their time coaching in the SEC)
|School||WP% in Close Games (4 pts. or less)||Rank Among SEC Coaches in Close Games||WP% in Blowouts (15 pts. or more)||Rank Among SEC Coaches in Blowouts|
|LSU||68.42 (13-6)||2 (out of 18)||92.50 (37-3)||1 (out of 18)|
|WP% Against Teams Over .500||Rank Among SEC Coaches||WP% Against Teams Under .500||Rank Among SEC Coaches|
|LSU||67.39% (31-15)||2 (out of 18)||93.94% (31-2)||4 (out of 18)|
A huge aspect/trait that so many people value in a coach is recruiting. Let's look at how good of a job Les Miles has done in that area compared to his predecessor:
|Coach||Years||Avg. Recruiting Rank||Avg. Stars Per Recruit|
So on the recruiting trail, his classes are ranked almost the same as Saban, and his average player is actually better. From the looks of the numbers, Les Miles has done a pretty solid job of maintaining and building upon what Nick Saban built at LSU.
The "game of the century" this weekend will feature the two top defenses in the country. One stat that we track that we find interesting is the number of times a team gives up 10+, 20+, 30+, 40+, and 50+ points. You can check these numbers out on our Coach's Rankings tab.
Since Les Miles got to LSU in 2005, LSU defenses give up less than 10 pts 32.18% of the time. Even more impressive, LSU defenses under Miles give up less than 20 pts in 58.62% of their games. The game this weekend in Tuscaloosa, while only a regular season game, plays a prominent role in the BCS National Championship picture. So hopefully we have shown with our data that Les Miles is a terrific coach and has built upon what Saban left for him.
For those LSU fans that think that is an easy task, you need to look no further than LSU offensive assistant Steve Kragthorpe. Go ask him how easy it was to build upon Bobby Petrino's success at Louisville.
We look forward to tuning in along with the rest of the country to watch two great teams and two great coaches go to battle on Saturday night.