Articles By Braden Gall
The Heisman Trophy is college football's most prestigious trophy, so the editors here at Athlon take the voting for the 13.5-inch, 25-pound award very seriously. Each week, the ballots are collected and tallied from inside the walls of Athlon Sports. Each editor votes for five players (unlike the official three), and a first-place vote is worth 5 points, a second is worth 4 points so and so forth down to the fifth-place vote earning 1 point.
Follow our voters on twitter: Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie), Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden), Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster), Nathan Rush (@AthlonRush) and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman).
by Braden Gall
1. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn (34 pts, 6 first place votes)
Auburn was on bye last week, but it was a huge win for Newton — because nothing seriously damaging about his recruitment leaked this week. If I am an Auburn fan, every day without a story is a moral victory.
What's Next: This Friday at 3:30 PM ET, Newton will have his defining moment. All of his death-defying runs and game-winning grindhouse drives will have been for naught if he cannot beat rival Alabama. No pressure Cam.
2. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (23 pts, 1 first place vote)
Another week, another mediocre 174.1 QB-rating for Moore. His team won 51-0. He threw for 333 yards and 4 TDs. Yet, his season passer rating actually went down. His 188.84 rating would still be the single best season by a passer in history.
What's Next: The Broncos' final big test en route to a second consecutive undefeated season will be in Reno this weekend. Moore did not play in the FBS' highest scoring game back in '07, but he was on the sideline watching the 69-67 overtime thriller. Colin Kaepernick was magical that night and is still under center (a loose term) for Nevada. He will have to pull something crazy out of his hat if the Wolfpack expect to pull the upset.
3. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (21 pts)
Oregon was on bye last weekend.
What's Next: The Ducks can clinch the Pac-10 title and at least a Rose Bowl berth with a win over Arizona at home. The Wildcats have been stingy against the run, leading the conference with 112 yards allowed per game on the ground.
4. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (11 pts)
This guy could be the single best football player on the planet not getting an offical paycheck. Luck was 16-of-20, for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns while adding 72 yards rushing. His QB-rating for the game was 211.7 against a team that had been much better at home than on the road. Luck made a mockery of The Big Game in the 48-14 rout.
What's Next: The final game of the year and a potential BCS bowl berth could be on the line for Luck and the Cardinal this weekend agianst Oregon State. The home-field advantage should be too much for the undermanned but still very pesky Beavers squad.
Each week, Athlon will take a deeper look at the fantasy matchups that affect your lineup. Some players will deserve a second look from managers, while others could create some concern. Check out Athlon's College Fantasy Start or Sit for Week 13:
QB — Deserves A Second Look
T.J. Yates, North Carolina (@ Duke)
He might not be the most consistent option, but he is capable of putting up a big number. See Florida Stae, NC State, LSU and Virginia games this season. Against a Duke defense that made Marc Verica (417-4), Chase Rettig (230-2) and an option-based Tevin Washington (90-1) look like actual quarterbacks, Yates has a good chance to post a big yardage total. Duke is 109th in scoring defense and 111th in total defense.
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa (@ Minnesota)
The Iowa quarterback has thrown a TD pass in 18 straight games, so owners should have a good idea of what to expect this weekend. With Adam Robinson out again, Stanzi will be the unquestioned leader of the offense. Oh yeah, Minnesota ranks 114th in pass efficiency defense and 101st in scoring defense.
Aaron Murray, Georgia (Georgia Tech)
There is a lot more on the line for the Bulldogs this weekend than the Jackets. Bowl motivation gives a huge edge to Murray and the Georgia offense. The Yellow Jackets have given up some passing yards of late, allowing Sean Renfree of Duke to pass for 334 yards last weekend. Expect Murray and A.J. Green to have big days in the Clean, Old Fashioned Hate match-up.
Chris Relf vs. Jeremiah Masoli (Mississippi State @ Ole Miss)
The Bulldogs quarterback is coming off his career-high passing day (224 yards) last week and has been very effective on the ground all season. He has averaged 82 yards rushing per game over his last five games against teams not named Alabama. He scored a rushing TD in four of those five. Masoli, after a terrible showing agianst the Vols, bounced back in a big way last weekend against LSU. He rushed for 64 yards, threw for 177 yards and totaled three TDs. Expect a high-scoring Egg Bowl this year. These are the SEC's ninth- and 11th-rated defenses.
Bryan Ellis vs. Taylor McHargue (UAB @ Rice)
The Blazers quarterback has averaged 24.4 TFP over his last six games, so he might already be on top of mind. On the the other side, in his first action in nearly two months, McHargue posted a huge 36.1 fantasy day accounting for four total TDs last week against East Carolina. Rice is 116th in scoring and total defense while UAB is 85th in total defense and 93rd in scoring defense. If there is a fantasy option in this game on your roster, he should probably be in the lineup.
Rob Henry, Purdue (Indiana)
Henry is coming off his career high for passing yards (189) last week against a good Michigan State squad. He is also less than one yard per game away from leading the Boilers in rushing for the season (51.9 ypg). At home against the Big Ten's worst pass efficiency defense (115th nationally) and scoring defense (102nd), Henry should find plenty of room to make plays.
QB — Better Think Twice
Denard Robinson, Michigan (@ Ohio State)
And here is where things get interesting. This might be the single-toughest call any fantasy owner will have to make all season long (and I am both lucky and unlucky enough to have to make this call in both of my champisonship games). I have yet to bench Robinson in either league (with Andrew Luck and Tyrod Taylor on the bench). This issue with Robinson isn't whether he can produce against Ohio State — he can produce against anyone. It's can he stay healthy the whole game? In only the Purdue game did Robinson play the entire game and not score at least 28 TFP.
How do you bench the only player in NCAA history to both run and pass for 1,500 yards in a season? And how do you predict injuries? I leave you with this: In my BCS championship battle, he is starting over T.J. Yates, Jake Locker and Jeremiah Masoli. In my 120 title game, it has come down to Luck, Ryan Mallett and Robinson (Colin Kaepernick is my other starter, more on that in a second). I think I am going with Luck for the first time all year — although my opponent dropped Mallett this week, so I might play him just because!
Colin Kaepernick, Nevada (Boise State)
Much like Robinson, Kaepernick's skills are largley matchup-proof. Like Shoelace, only you can ultimately make the call to bench Crazy Legs, so here are some stats to consider. Boise State boasts the nation's No. 1 rush defense, No. 2 total defense, No. 2 scoring defense and No. 7 pass defense. In three career losses to BSU, CK10 has thrown seven TDs and no INTs. But he has never topped 250 yards (141, 241, 243). He has rushed for 278 yards in those three games but 177 came in that historical 69-67 loss during his freshman year. He ran for 31 yards on 16 attempts in Boise last season. The Wolf Pack have been able to score on Boise, however, by putting up 45 ppg in CK10's tenure under center. Nevada has had this game circled for over a year and will be fired up to play at home on a national stage. I am playing him. You make up your own mind. How is that for advice!
Cameron Newton, Auburn (@ Alabama)
The other two are on this list, so we might as well round out the fantasy triumverate with Mr. Newton. In real terms, all that Newton has accomplished this year might be for naught if he can't beat Alabama. One has to expect Bama to stack the box and force Newton to throw down the field. Bama is third nationally in scoring defense (SEC No. 1) and seventh nationally in total defense (SEC No. 2). And how does he continually keep himself insulated from the off-the-field issues? So in the fantasy world, Newton's upside is closer to that of games like Clemson (20.9 TFP) and Mississippi State (22.1) this year than Kentucky (51.2) and South Carolina (49.9). My guess is that he is closer to 20 than 50. Make your call accordingly.
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (LSU — Little Rock)
There are few options nationally that have more stability than Mallett. Owners are almost guaranteed 300 yards and at least two scores from the tall passer. And this matchup has been a high scoring affair three years running — LSU won last year 33-30 and Arky won the two previous games 31-30 and 50-48. The Tigers have slipped on defense since the loss to Auburn when they were sixth nationally in rushing (83 ypg) and 11th in scoring (14 ppg). They have dropped to 41st in rushing defense (135 ypg) and have given up 27 points per game in three SEC games since. Wait, aren't I supposed to be telling you not to play Mallett?
Zach Collaros, Cincinnati (@ UConn)
After dealing with an injury issue, Collaros delivered in a huge way last week posting 37.34 TFP against Rutgers. This isn't Rutgers. Do not be fooled by last week's explosion; UConn will be much tougher to deal with. The Huskies have the conference tie-breaker over Pitt and WVU and are playing for a Big East title. In their last four conference games, UConn has allowed the following stat lines to starting QBs: 171-0-1 (Ryan Nassib), 220-1-2 (Tino Sunseri), 160-0-0 (Geno Smith) and 195-1-0 (Adam Froman). That is a 186 ypg, two total TDs and three total INTs.
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (Colorado)
The drama on the sidelines and the soap opera in the locker room make Martinez an intriuging fantasy play this week. They should not need him too much, however, as the Huskers will look to pound the football in a game they have to win. He also has the hurt ankle. When fully healthy and motivated, Martinez is a great play. After watching Bo Pelini fully undress the youngster last week on national TV, I am not so sure. I would look elsewhere for more dependable options.
RB — Deserves A Second Look
Marcus Coker, Iowa (@ Minnesota)
Against one of the nation's elite defense, Coker posted an admirable 14.6-point fantasy week on 10 touches. Owners can expect his number of touches to at least double with Adam Robinson not playing this week. And, have I mentioned how bad the Gopher defense is?
Anthony Elzy, North Carolina (@ Duke)
In two tough games against Va. Tech and NC State, Elzy delivered. In his first real action of the year, the senior tailback posted modest totals of 38 yards on eight touches (and a TD) against FSU three weeks ago. He got 24 touches against the Hokies and responded with 184 yards and another score. Last week, it was 21 touches for 210 yards and a TD. He is seriously involved in the passing game (19 catches in three games) and should have plenty of success against Duke's lowly defense.
Alex Green, Hawaii (@ New Mexico State)
After a huge week against Utah State back in Week 8, Green has been a strong play. He has scored in every game since and has been a big part of the passing game, catching four passes for 93 yards last week. The Aggies rank 102nd against the run and are 113th in scoring defense.
Pat Shed vs. Sam McGuffie (UAB @ Rice)
As I stated earlier, this should be a high-scoring game and both backs should see some room to work. Shed has averaged over 26 TFP over his last four games while the great McGuffie has leaped his way to more than 22 TFP per game over his last four. Again, as I mentioned earlier, these two defenses rank 85th and 116th respectively.
Brian Fields, Western Michigan (@ Bowling Green)
Over his last two games, Fields has scored 54.1 TFP against Eastern Michigan and Kent State. Fields has at least 11 carries in three straight games and should again be the focus against BGSU — who ranks 113th nationally agianst the run allowing 208.9 yards per game.
Some really deep options if you need 'em:
Kennard Reeves, Vanderbilt (Wake Forest)
Deacs defense is atrocious and there is no one else left to run the ball for Vandy.
Dan Dierking, Purdue (Indiana)
Has had double-digit carries in five straight and IU is very, very beatable.
Lamar Miller, Miami, Fla. (South Florida)
Has 48 of his 94 attempts, 373 of his 625 yards and three of his five TDs over his last three games.
Matt Asiata, Utah (BYU)
Has more carries than Eddie Wide in two straight — posted 19 carries, 87 yards, TD last week.
1. Who are your top three national Coach of the Year candidates?
Braden: The easy choices are named Kelly, Chizik, Patterson and Peterson. But I don't look at the C.O.Y. award that way. Who has done the most unexpected job with the least amount of potential? My three names would be Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State, Tom O'Brien of NC State and Bret Bielema of Wisconsin. Gundy gets the edge in my book, especially if the Pokes win the Bedlam Series this weekend and earn their first trip to the Big 12 title game in school history.
Steven: Several candidates come to mind – Mike Gundy, Chip Kelly, Doug Marrone, Jim Harbaugh and Bret Bielema. An argument could be made for each of those coaches to win the award, but I’ll go with Gundy. Oklahoma State was expected to finish near the bottom of the Big 12 South, had five returning starters and was breaking in a new offensive coordinator. The Cowboys are one win away from their first bid to the Big 12 title game – quite an accomplishment considering the question marks entering the season.
Mitch: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State. His team was picked to finish fifth or sixth in the Big 12 South. He had a ton of starters to replace on both sides of the ball, yet his team is 10-1 with a chance to win its first-ever division title. Jim Harbaugh, Stanford. He lost Toby Gerhart, No. 2 in the Heisman race last year, and the Cardinal offense is better. This team has only one loss, at No. 1 Oregon. Gene Chizik, Auburn. It’s easy to give all of the credit to Cam Newton, but Chizik has done a great job in his two years at Auburn, and he has the No. 2 team in the nation right now.
2. Will Oregon and Auburn finish the season unbeaten and play for the national championship?
Braden: No. I am not sure if its a Civil War upset on the west coast or Auburn losing to either Alabama or South Carolina, but I think one of these two will drop a game somewhere. Can Gene Chizik keep his team insulated from all of the off-the-field garbage that is swirling around his program for two more weeks? Those are two brutal games in and of themselves — Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier don't need any help to pull an upset.
Steven: Oregon will finish the year unbeaten, but I believe Auburn will lose on Friday to Alabama. The road to an undefeated season isn’t easy for Oregon, as Arizona and Oregon State won’t be pushovers. However, if quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James stay healthy, the Ducks will finish 12-0 and play for the national championship against Boise State.
Mitch: My guess is that Oregon will play for the national title, but I think Auburn will lose one of its final two games. I’m not sure which game it will be — I just think the Tigers won’t beat both Alabama and South Carolina.
It’s not a large leap to presume there’s some frustration at Mississippi State these days, even in the midst of a very solid 7–4 season. Because the Bulldogs are busy thinking about what might have been.
A three-point home loss to Auburn early in the year. An overtime loss Saturday to Arkansas. Both games in the Valley of the Cowbell.
The exasperating game of what ifs is often so fruitless, but, in fairness, the Bulldogs have been so very close this season to a nine-win year with the Egg Bowl remaining. This, of course, all circles back to wafting waves of pseudo-jealousy about Cam Newton’s last-minute spurn job of Mississippi State (for whatever reasons).
One reporter pointed out Saturday that former MSU quarterback and (partial) whistleblower John Bond was turned into a celeb at the game, prominently finding his way on the school’s HD videoboard during pregame. Bond has been turned into a hero for his efforts to shine a light on Newton’s alleged misdeeds.
Here’s the question, while we’re dealing in hypotheticals: What if he had gone to Mississippi State? What if Newton or his dad had accepted a payment of some kind? Would that have come to light in the midst of an exceptionally good season at Mississippi State? Maybe those lamenting the fact that Newton isn’t in Bulldogs maroon should be happy, really. Might be a lot worse than a 7–4 record, right?
Alabama 63, Georgia State 7
South Carolina 69, Troy 24
Florida 48, Appalachian State 10
LSU 43, Ole Miss 36
Arkansas 38, Mississippi State 31 (2ot)
Tennessee 24, Vanderbilt 10
• Cannot say it enough: Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore have dramatically changed South Carolina’s offense. Consider that the Gamecocks scored 20.6 points a game in 2009 — and they’re putting up 33.6 a game this season. Of course, scoring 69 against Troy on Saturday didn’t hurt. Jeffery and Lattimore got to sit back and enjoy the second half after the Gamecocks led 56–7 through two. That’s new for South Carolina, notorious for playing down to competition. Jeffery, after a five-catch, 123-yard half, now has a school-record 1,210 yards this season. Lattimore, after 102 yards on seven carries, is the school’s first 1,000-yard back since 2000.
• Jordan Reed. Jordan Reed. Jordan Reed. If we keep saying it, perhaps the message will become clearer to Urban Meyer and his band of stubborn Florida coaching cronies. It came against Appalachian State, sure, but Reed showed he can be effective in different ways (four total TDs). He provides the closest thing available to Tim Tebow. And, if Meyer and Steve Addazio are bent on running the same offense, find the next best thing. Let him play. What’s it going to hurt?
• New rule: SEC teams need to stop scheduling FCS teams. We’ll make one caveat: You can schedule one every two seasons, if — and only if — the FCS team is an in-state team, so as to build your state’s college system. Otherwise, what’s the point? Florida plays a Southern Conference team every year. Why? And it’s played Charleston Southern once or twice. Why? Just bring the level of your schedule up, just a touch. Not just the Gators. Georgia just played Idaho State.
Tennessee scheduled Tennessee-Martin. C’mon. We understand there’s design in scheduling a softy between the conference finale and Florida State, but you can do better. You say, well, there are no real FCS possibilities in the state of Florida. For the sake of argument, let’s take former Division I-AA teams Florida Atlantic and Florida International. If you’re going to sink to that level in search of an opponent, go that direction.
• Here’s to you, Carl Moore. The Gators receiver was tossed out of his own Senior Day for fighting with an FCS player. He played, oh, about a quarter of the game before his ejection. If any of Moore’s family traveled from California for the game, we hope Moore has or will appropriately apologize. That’s embarrassing, both for Moore and the Gators. No reason for that at all. Regrettable for a lifetime, really. Moore might be suspended for part of this week’s Florida State game, as well.
Stud of the Week
South Carolina. A week after one of the biggest wins in school history, at Florida, the Gamecocks followed up with the fifth-most points in the program’s history. Lot of momentum heading into the Clemson and SEC title games.
Dud of the Week
The schedule. Real dearth of activity in the league, beyond the good one in Starkville.
One Sweet Pig
It was 75 years ago that a pig played peacemaker, and with that a rivalry began. Here is how the legend goes …
Angered by Minnesota’s style of play the year before, Iowa Governor Clyde Herring stated that the 1935 contest between the Hawkeyes and Gophers would be a cleaner game, and if not the Iowa fans would stand as judge and jury. Minnesota Governor Floyd Olson settled the tense situation by suggesting the two states bet their prized hogs on the contest. After Minnesota won, 13–6, Herring brought a pig from Rosedale Farms to Olson’s office, appropriately dubbed, Floyd of Rosedale. Olson later commissioned a bronze statue be constructed.
In a weekend in which Michigan and Ohio State is most present on the minds of Big Ten fans, the battle for Floyd will get overlooked. Iowa is finishing what’s been a frustrating season, while Minnesota administrators are ready for this season to end so that they may begin to rebuild a program that has been sputtering for some time.
But make no mistake: Both teams take fighting for Floyd very seriously. Here are a few notes on this series:
• Minnesota has 39 wins to Iowa’s 34, with two ties.
• The Gophers won 10 of the series first 11 meetings.
• Iowa has been the better team in recent years, having won eight of the last nine.
• The Gophers have failed to score a point in each of the past two years.
The battle for Floyd of Rosedale appears to be one-sided again this year, as Iowa possesses the more experienced and talented team. But if Minnesota showed anything in its last contest it is that it’s not ready to give up fighting. There is one more fight to go, one more opportunity to save face. And if there is anything that can bring a little joy to Gopher fans this season, it would be to bring that sweet pig back to Minnesota.
Week 12 Scoreboard
Penn State 41, Indiana 21
Michigan State 35, Purdue 31
Wisconsin 48, Michigan 28
Illinois 48, Northwestern 27
Ohio State 20, Iowa 17
Saturday’s intra-state clash between Northwestern and Illinois was interesting, to say the least. Due to limited space surrounding the east end zone, both teams had to start possessions going in the same direction — with one exception: Brian Peters’ 59-yard interception return for a score. Illinois coach Ron Zook said he’d love to play another game at the historic venue. No word yet on what Big Ten officials think about continuing the Wrigley game.
Another big day for McGloin
Nittany Lion quarterback Matt McGloin took apart Indiana in the second half of his team’s win on Saturday. McGloin finished the game 22 of 31 with 315 yards and two touchdowns. In four starts McGloin has led Penn State to a 3–1 record with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.
Posey almost drops Ohio State’s BCS hopes
In a play that could have ruined Ohio State’s season, DeVier Posey let a perfectly placed Terrelle Pryor pass fall through his arms in the end zone. The third down drop would have been the game-winner. Instead, Pryor saved his junior receiver by continuing the drive and finishing off the Hawkeyes.
Team of the Week: Ohio State
With their season hanging by a thread, quarterback Terrelle Pryor picked up a first down on a fourth-and-10, then led the Buckeyes down the field toward victory. This may be a disappointing year for Iowa, but winning in Iowa City is no easy task, and the Buckeyes got it done with plenty riding on the outcome.
Disappointment of the Week: Michigan State
So what if Michigan State battled back, it had trailed an inferior Purdue squad all game — in East Lansing, no less. Had the Boilermakers not committed a 10-yard penalty and had a punt blocked on their second-to-last possession, the Spartans season would be over.
Offensive Player of the Week: Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Illinois’ junior back had been on a roll entering Saturday’s contest, but no one could have guessed he would gain 330 yards against a Wildcat defense that had been allowing just 137.4 yards on the ground per game. Leshoure averaged 10.0 yards per carry for an Illini team that gained a total of 519 yards on the ground. His only two scores both came in the game’s first five minutes.
Defensive Player of the Week: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
The junior defensive lineman was his usual dominant self in the win over the Wolverines. Watt finished with six tackles and was disruptive on several other plays. He batted two Denard Robinson passes into the air, the second of which he caught and returned 15 yards. That play helped nail the coffin shut on Michigan.
Freshman of the Week: James White, RB, Wisconsin
White had 200 yards of total offense (181 rushing, 19 passing) on 25 touches and scored twice in Wisconsin’s convincing win over Michigan. Sure, much of his success can be attributed to the Badgers’ mammoth line, but White has proven week after week that he can be just as dangerous for Wisconsin as veteran back John Clay.
The Week Ahead
Upset Alert: Michigan State
The last time the Spartans came to Beaver Stadium, Mark Dantonio’s club was clobbered in a game that wasn’t as close as the 49–18 score suggests. Penn State is not that same team, but they are fully capable of handling a Spartans team that needed all of its ammo to beat Purdue last week.
Player to Watch: Adam Weber, QB, Minnesota
The Big Ten’s most experienced passer will end his career at home against an Iowa secondary that ranks seventh in the conference in passing yards allowed (217.9 per contest). The Hawkeyes rank first in team interceptions, so Weber must make wise decisions if he is to help Minnesota stay with the Hawkeyes for four quarters.
Only two Big Ten defenders are averaging more than nine tackles per game: Michigan’s Jonas Mouton and Illinois’ Martez Wilson. Last season’s leading tackler, Michigan State’s Greg Jones, ranks third.
Ohio State has a chance to close the gap in its all-time series with that team from up north. Michigan still holds a 57–43–6 advantage, but the Buckeyes have won the last six meetings.
The Badgers rank second in the country in team rushing touchdowns, trailing only Nevada, 44 to 41. Air Force and Auburn are the only other FBS schools with more than 35 rushing scores.
Purdue 28, Indiana 21
Penn State 27, Michigan State 24
Ohio State 38, Michigan 14
Iowa 45, Minnesota 7
Wisconsin 34, Northwestern 13
Alabama has a new fan base this week — the Stanford Cardinal. The Cardinal’s immediate future depends a lot on Friday’s Auburn-Alabama showdown. Stanford is trying to make its first Rose Bowl since 2000 but may need a little help from the Crimson Tide.
As of now, Oregon and Auburn are the top two teams in the Bowl Championship Series standings. If both teams win the rest of their games, they will meet in the BCS championship game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
If that happens, the Rose Bowl is required to offer a bid to a BCS-eligible team from a non-automatic qualifying conference. In this case, that bid likely would go to TCU or Boise State.
But if Auburn loses, the No. 2 team in the BCS standings likely will become either TCU or Boise State. If either of those two teams plays in the BCS championship game, the Rose Bowl is off the hook and can return to its Pac-10 roots. Stanford would be the team to come to Pasadena because of its second-place finish in the conference standings. Oregon is the Pac-10 winner but would be taking its chances with an even bigger prize.
Another question is whether Stanford might get picked for another BCS game even if TCU or Boise State winds up in the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal are No. 6 in the BCS standings and could move up higher if a team in front of them goes down
One hurdle the Cardinal would have to overcome is fan interest. Stanford wouldn’t figure to travel well to a bowl game — it didn’t come close to selling out its last home game, a much-anticipated showdown against Arizona. Then again, perhaps the lure of quarterback Andrew Luck, a Heisman Trophy candidate, would make Stanford an appealing product.
This, of course, all depends on the Cardinal taking care of business in its season-finale Saturday against Oregon State. Stanford should be heavily favored to take out the Beavers, but OSU did have a strong bounce-back game last weekend in a rout over USC.
The Cardinal looked very strong in the Big Game against Cal, a team that had been playing very well at home this season. Entering Saturday, the Bears were 4–1 at Memorial Stadium, with their only loss coming 15–13 to the top-ranked Ducks. But Stanford dominated on offense while Cal was victimized by a slew of penalties, mistakes and missed opportunities.
Luck made a late-season Heisman statement, whipping the Bears with his arm and legs. He completed 16 of 20 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns, and reeled off a pivotal 58-yard run in the second quarter that led to a touchdown. Luck looked like the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft he is anticipated to be. He demonstrated a terrific awareness of the pocket, often knowing just how long to wait before delivering a pass with pinpoint accuracy.
Washington 24, UCLA 7
Stanford 48, California 14
Oregon State 36, USC 7
Oregon State’s chances at a bowl game suddenly don’t feel like such a long shot. It didn’t appear the Beavers had a chance to win two of their final three games against the top three teams in the Pac-10 after a world’s-coming-to-an-end loss to Washington State last weekend. Before that, it was an unsightly loss at UCLA. But the Beavers got their mojo back in a big way Saturday, routing USC 36–7 at Reser Stadium. Suddenly, all the questions and doubt from the previous week were gone, and now Oregon State has to find a way to beat either Stanford or Oregon in its final two games to become bowl-eligible.
That won’t be easy, of course. The Ducks and Cardinal are far and away the class of the Pac-10. The Beavers must travel Saturday to Stanford, which absolutely dismantled Cal 48–14. Then, after playing the No. 7 team in the nation, it will be the Civil War against Oregon.
HUSKIES STILL ALIVE
Washington is another team that should have its bowl chances upgraded. The Huskies entered last week needing to win their last three games of the season, but not against the best competition. Washington beat UCLA 24–7 on Thursday. With the Apple Cup against lowly Washington State looming, the Huskies can enter Saturday’s game at Cal knowing they can get into prime position for bowl eligibility with a victory.
The Bears have been very good at home this season, but this is a different team than it was earlier in 2010. They have a new quarterback in Brock Mansion, who has made too many mistakes in his three starts and has been mostly ineffective. And their usually impenetrable defense at home was torn apart by Stanford — they allowed 469 yards to fall out of first place in the Pac-10 in total defense.
At 5–6, Cal needs a win to become bowl-eligible as well.
Final Week: Everything Still At Stake
Only one week remains in the Big 12 regular season. One momentous week. The North and South titles and the corresponding spots in the final Big 12 Championship game remain up for grabs. And major clashes are on tap, with rivalries the rule in finalizing the conference title picture, as well as the bowl picture with BCS bids and more at stake.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State took care of business — in a big way — setting up a Bedlam showdown in the South. The Cowboys rolled past Kansas 48–14, while the Sooners routed Baylor 53–24.
Up next: Bedlam, before a prime-time national television audience, with GameDay heading for Stillwater. For the Cowboys, it’s a shot at their first Big 12 South crown, not to mention their best shot at the Sooners in years.
“It’s all about OU,” Cowboy defensive end Richetti Jones told reporters after the KU game. “All week, that's all we are going to do — eat, sleep, drink OU.”
Said OSU defensive tackle Shane Jarka: “It’s definitely the biggest game of my life. I’m not exaggerating that at all.”
Texas A&M impacted both races, knocking off Nebraska 9–6 to keep the North in play, while also maintaining slim hopes for itself in the South.
Still, for the Cowboys and Huskers, the scenarios are simple: Win and they’re in. The Huskers must fend off suddenly hot Colorado, or have Missouri lose at home to the Jayhawks. Nebraska owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Missouri by virtue of its 31-17 victory over the Tigers on
The Big 12 scenarios:
Can clinch the North Division with a victory over Colorado or a Missouri loss to Kansas.
Needs to beat Kansas and for Colorado to beat Nebraska. That would make the Tigers North Division champions.
The Cowboys can clinch the South with a victory over Oklahoma. A loss to the Sooners, plus a loss by Texas A&M, would put Oklahoma and Oklahoma State into a first-place tie but Oklahoma would have the head-to-head tiebreaker edge.
The Cowboys would fall into a three-way tie for first with a loss to the Sooners and a Texas A&M victory over Texas.
The Sooners must beat Oklahoma State on Saturday in Stillwater. If Texas beats Texas A&M on Thursday, an OU victory over Oklahoma State would give the Sooners the South title.
The Aggies would finish 6–2 in league play with a victory at Texas on Thursday. If Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State, that would create a three-way tie in the South Division that would be broken as follows…
* If three or more teams are tied, steps 1 through 7 will be followed until a determination is made. If only two teams remain tied after any step, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative.
1. The records of the three teams will be compared against each other
2. The records of the three teams will be compared within their division
3. The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5 and 6)
4. The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.
5. The highest ranked team in the first Bowl Championship Series poll following the completion of Big 12 regular season conference play shall be the representative in the Big 12 Championship Game, unless two of the tied teams are ranked within one spot of the other in the BCS poll. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the Big 12 Championship Game.
6. The team with the best overall winning percentage (excluding exempted games) shall be the representative.
7. The representative will be chosen by draw.
Oklahoma State 48, Kansas 14
Oklahoma 53, Baylor 24
Texas A&M 9, Nebraska 6
Missouri 14, Iowa State 0
Colorado 44, Kansas State 36
Texas 51, Florida Atlantic 17
Texas Tech 64, Weber State 21
The regular season ended for two schools — Baylor and Iowa State — with losses. Still, the Bears should play on, earning a bowl bid for the first time as a member of the Big 12. After a strong start, Baylor stumbled to the finish, losing all three November games to ranked teams.
“You never want to go out like that,” said Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III.
The Bears did wrap up their first winning season since 1995 and will await a call on their postseason fate.
For Iowa State, done at 5–7, the season’s end won’t be easy to digest. The Cyclones stood at 5–4 after beating Texas and Kansas to end October, but lost in overtime to Nebraska, then failed to get a needed sixth win in closing defeats to Colorado or Missouri.
Against Missouri, the Cyclones were without quarterback Austen Arnaud, who had torn knee ligaments in the loss to the Buffaloes.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” said Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads. “College football is about bowl games. Not having that opportunity is very disappointing because we had opportunities to get the six and beyond and we didn’t do that.”
Trips To Win
Texas A&M and Nebraska, two of the nation’s top scoring teams, managed nothing but field goals in College Station. Aggie kicker Randy Bullock’s boot late in the fourth quarter was the difference.
A record crowd of 90,079 roared when Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez threw incomplete on fourth down of a final drive, then stormed the field after the game.
A&M, once 0–2 in conference play, won its fifth straight game heading into a Thanksgiving Day battle with Texas.
“The consequences of winning are the expectations get higher,” said Aggies coach Mike Sherman. “We jumped over another hurdle and have taken another step. We still have another step to take.”
Nebraska returned home wobbly, with Martinez hampered by an ankle injury that forced him to miss much of the first half and play tentative afterward. And the Huskers will get a Colorado team riding a two-game winning streak and hungering for a bowl bid, after another spirited win over Kansas State put the Buffs at 5–6.
The Huskers quickly tried to move on from what happened at A&M.
“The game’s irrelevant,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said, echoing a message to his squad. “At the end, we still control our destiny.”
Player of the Week: Trent Hunter, S, Texas A&M. The Aggies junior picked off two passes in A&M’s win over Nebraska, helping stretch his team’s winning streak to five games to stay alive in the Big 12 South title hunt. Hunter also added four tackles as A&M held the Huskers to two field goals and 306 total yards of offense.
Game of the Week: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State. They call it Bedlam, for good reason, and this meeting is the most meaningful since 1984, when the team’s were ranked Nos. 2 and 3 and involved in the national title picture. The winner likely wins the Big 12 South and advances to the conference championship game with a BCS bowl on the line.
On the Spot: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska. The Huskers freshman left the game at A&M, took a nationally televised berating from coach Bo Pelini on the sideline and later limped through the second half of a touchdown-less loss. Now the Huskers need a win over Colorado, which has suddenly rediscovered its offense.
In the Spotlight: The Cowboys Triplets. Only now are people catching on to Oklahoma State and its talented trio — quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Kendall Hunter and wideout Justin Blackmon — even though they’ve been lighting up teams all season. They’ll get lots of love Saturday, with GameDay in Stillwater and the Bedlam showdown set for prime time TV.
Brian Cabral, Colorado. Maybe the school should look inward in its coaching search to replace the fired Dan Hawkins. Cabral is a devoted Buff, as a former player and long-time assistant at the school. And there’s no arguing the results since he took over for Hawkins, with stirring wins over Iowa State and Kansas State.
Texas tickets. Once a coveted commodity, tickets to Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium can now be had on the cheap. Apparently, only one struggling season is all it takes to keep Horns fans away. Premium seats were available for pennies on the dollar when Oklahoma State rolled into Austin two weeks ago and gaps of empty seats were seen for Saturday’s tilt against Florida Atlantic, when the Horns actually won 51–17. Now comes the real test: Will UT fans actually sell their seats to Aggies?
By the Numbers
10: Wins for Oklahoma State, the program’s most ever in the regular season.
18: Consecutive years of bowl eligibility for Texas Tech, attained with Saturday’s rout of Weber State.
90,079: Attendance for A&M’s game against Nebraska, a Kyle Field record.
Not that long ago, Virginia Tech was a team that couldn’t find a way to win a game. These days, Virginia Tech is a team that’s starting to look like it might not lose again.
The Hokies clinched the Coastal Division title Saturday with their 31–17 victory over Miami, earning a spot in the ACC championship game for the fourth time in six seasons. They extended their winning streak to nine games, their longest since 1999, as their 0–2 start to the season became even smaller in the rear-view mirror.
Back in September, after a six-day stretch in which Virginia Tech lost to Boise State and then got upset at home by Football Championship Subdivision member James Madison, such a surge seemed improbable. But the ACC’s most disappointing team through the season’s first two weeks now has a chance to accomplish many of the goals it set before the season started.
If the Hokies (9–2, 7–0 ACC) beat rival Virginia this week, they’ll reach 10 victories for the seventh consecutive season. They also will become the first ACC team to go undefeated in conference play since Florida State in 2000.
Neither achievement measures up to Virginia Tech’s ultimate goal of winning a national championship, but that dream for 2010 died early. The Hokies deserve credit for not letting that disappointment kill the rest of their season.
Boston College 17, Virginia 13
N.C. State 29, North Carolina 25
Georgia Tech 30, Duke 20
Clemson 30, Wake Forest 10
Virginia Tech 31, Miami 17
Florida State 30, Maryland 16
Atlantic Division now a two-team race
Maryland suffered its first home loss of the season against Florida State, falling out of contention for the Atlantic Division title in the process. But the Terrapins (7–4, 4–3) still will have a say in which team lines up against Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game on Dec. 4 in Charlotte.
If Maryland beats NC State this week, the Seminoles will go to the title game as the Atlantic Division’s representative. If the Wolfpack prevail, they will take on the Hokies.
Florida State (8–3, 6–2) is the leader in the clubhouse, having completed its conference schedule with a half-game lead on NC State. But the Wolfpack (8–3, 5–2) remained in control of the division with their victory at North Carolina, and they own the tiebreaker over Florida State based on their 28–24 win over the Seminoles on Oct. 28.
“It’s everything we’ve worked for,” NC State quarterback Russell Wilson said. “Since Day 1 when I got here, I’ve had ups and downs. But our team is really together right now, and that means a lot. …
“We have an opportunity, and now we have to get ready for this week and seize the moment.”
Pack’s seniors get sweep
NC State did more than move one win away from the Atlantic Division title over the weekend. The Wolfpack also got a rivalry win, knocking off North Carolina (6–5, 3–4) for the fourth year in a row. NC State had beaten the Tar Heels four times in a row during just one previous stretch, a string of five consecutive wins from 1988-92.
“It’s everything,” NC State wide receiver Darrell Davis said. “Being a guy from Florida, I didn’t know much about this rivalry before I got here. The people showed me how this rivalry is to them, how much it means to them. Over the years, I’ve grown to dislike this team as well.”
The lack of warm feelings was evident after the biggest play of the game, a 2-yard touchdown catch by NC State’s Owen Spencer on fourth down late in the third quarter that cut North Carolina’s lead to 19–17. Spencer pulled in the pass, which NC State coach Tom O’Brien called “a prayer,” after it was deflected by UNC safety Da’Norris Searcy and Davis.
NC State wide receiver Jarvis Williams and North Carolina linebacker Kevin Reddick were ejected from the game for their role in a scrum immediately after the play.
“I just think it was a big turning point for us,” Davis said, “and we used it as something positive instead of something negative.”
NC State outscored North Carolina 19–6 in the game’s final 16 minutes, going ahead for good on an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown by T.J. Graham early in the fourth quarter. The Wolfpack’s defense took it from there, holding the Tar Heels to a net minus-7 yards rushing for the game on the strength of seven sacks.
Let’s go bowling
The ACC entered the weekend with three teams that needed one more victory to become bowl-eligible. All three teams won, extending some impressive streaks in the process.
Boston College knocked off Virginia to gain bowl eligibility for the 12th consecutive season, winning their fourth game in a row after a season-jeopardizing five-game losing streak. The Eagles (6–5, 4–4) became just the fifth team in ACC history to win their final four league games after losing their first four league games.
Clemson picked up its first road win of the season at Wake Forest, recording its 12th consecutive six-win season. The Tigers (6–5, 4–4) also finished at .500 or better in ACC play for the 12th year in a row.
Georgia Tech extended its bowl-eligibility streak to 14 seasons after rallying from a 13–6 halftime deficit to defeat Duke. The Yellow Jackets (6–5, 4–4), who snapped a three-game losing streak, have finished at .500 or better in conference play each of the last 16 seasons.
The ACC now has nine bowl-eligible teams, meaning the conference can fulfill all of its bowl agreements. The league has guaranteed tie-ins with eight bowl games and an option for a ninth, so all nine teams should be able to play in the postseason.
Eagles’ Harris hurting
Boston College improved to 5–0 all time against Virginia, but the victory came at a cost. Tailback Montel Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing (113.0 yards per game), suffered cartilage damage in his left knee on the final play of the third quarter. Harris, who rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries against the Cavaliers, did not return to the game. His status for this week’s game at Syracuse is questionable at best.
Harris, who is second on Boston College’s career rushing list with 3,600 yards, has rushed for more yardage than any junior in ACC history. If he can’t play or is limited against the Orange, freshman Andre Williams will carry the load. Williams rushed for 108 yards on 12 carries against Virginia, giving the Eagles a pair of 100-yard rushers in the same game for the first time since 2006.
Bowers, Tigers tough on defense
Da’Quan Bowers has been so dominant all season that his individual performance has overshadowed the success of Clemson’s team defense. After limiting Wake Forest to 205 total yards, the Tigers lead the ACC and rank ninth nationally in points allowed (16.7 per game). They also have allowed just one offensive touchdown in six consecutive games, the second longest streak in school history.
The Demon Deacons emptied their playbook to try to get something going against the Tigers, letting wide receivers Chris Givens and Marshall Williams each attempt a pass on trick plays. But nothing worked until the fourth quarter, when the game already had been decided.
“Give Clemson credit,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “There are some really good defenses in this league, but I don’t know that there’s any defense better than the one we just played.”
Bowers, of course, has played a big part from his defensive end position. He had two more sacks against Wake Forest, giving him at least one sack in a school-record ninth consecutive game. Bowers now has 15.5 sacks this season, just shy of the school record (16) that Keith Adams set in 1999.
Terrapins lose more linemen
Maryland’s offensive line has been a revolving door for much of the season, a fact that makes the team’s improvement from last year even more remarkable. The Terrapins, who already had lost starting tackles Justin Gilbert and Pete DeSouza to season-ending injuries, endured more misfortune against Florida State.
Center Bennett Fulper (hand) and right guard Justin Lewis (knee) went down in the first half against the Seminoles, causing massive shuffling up front. Right tackle Paul Pinegar replaced Fulper at center, left tackle R.J. Dill moved over to right tackle, and true freshman Max Garcia entered the game at left tackle. Pete White replaced Lewis in a straight switch.
The changes kept the Terrapins afloat in the short term — they rushed for 163 yards and allowed only two sacks against a Florida State defense that was averaging an NCAA-best 3.9 sacks per game — but Maryland will have to pay a price in the future. Garcia, who had been planning to redshirt this season, will lose a year of eligibility.
Some good news for Maryland: X-rays on Fulper’s hand were negative, and he was able to return to the game in the second half.
“That is an area that we can’t sustain many more losses,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said, “but our team stuck in there right to the very end.”
Morris finally looks like a freshman
Miami true freshman quarterback Stephen Morris had been stellar in place of Jacory Harris, who missed his third consecutive game as he recovers from a concussion, until the fourth quarter against Virginia Tech. But Morris threw three interceptions in the final period against the Hokies, and the Hurricanes (7–4, 5–3) finished with six turnovers for the first time since a game against Virginia Tech in 1999.
Morris, who had been 12 of 18 for 168 yards and a touchdown through three quarters, completed just 3 of 15 passes for 34 yards in the fourth. He also was hurt by the fact that Travis Benjamin dropped what would have been a 64-yard touchdown pass.
“They made the plays, and we didn’t,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “When you watch it, it’s heartache because the guys played hard, but we just couldn’t come up with the plays at the right time, and they did.”
Duke’s Brown goes down
Duke lost one of its best defensive players to a serious injury in its defeat at Georgia Tech. True freshman Kelby Brown, who has started the last seven games at middle linebacker, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee against the Yellow Jackets.
Brown sat out the first two games of the season with the intention to redshirt, but his play in practice was so strong that he forced himself on the field. He leads the nation in fumble recoveries per game (0.44) and ranks second among all ACC rookies with 7.3 tackles per game.
“It is unfortunate that Kelby’s fine freshman season ends prematurely,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “It is really tough for a freshman to arrive on campus in June and start seven games at middle linebacker, and he did just that. We know he is in great hands with our medical staff — it is the best in the country — and we’re confident Kelby will overcome this obstacle and be back as soon as possible.”
• Clemson tailback Andre Ellington missed his third consecutive game with a foot injury, but Jamie Harper capably carried the load in his absence for the second week in a row. A week after rushing for 143 yards and a touchdown and catching nine passes for 54 yards at Florida State, Harper rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown in addition to catching three passes for 39 yards at Wake Forest. Harper became the first Clemson player with at least 140 rushing yards in back-to-back games since James Davis in 2005.
• Duke quarterback Sean Renfree threw 14 interceptions during his team’s six-game losing streak earlier this season, but he has avoided throwing an interception for four games in a row. Renfree, who passed for 334 yards and a touchdown against Georgia Tech, has not thrown an interception in his last 157 pass attempts.
• Florida State tailback Chris Thompson ripped off a 70-yard touchdown run for Florida State’s first points against Maryland. Thompson, who is averaging 7.7 yards per carry, became the first player in school history with three touchdown runs of at least 70 yards in the same season.
• Georgia Tech kicker Scott Blair had to handle the punting chores against Duke after a pair of injuries. Starting punter Sean Poole needed surgery after slipping on a curb at a convenience store last week, and backup Chandler Anderson was sidelined with a strained hamstring. Blair, who made field goals of 41, 43 and 44 yards against the Blue Devils, averaged 46 yards on two punts.
• Miami wide receiver Leonard Hankerson had six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown against Virginia Tech, scoring a touchdown for the sixth consecutive game. Hankerson broke the school record for touchdown catches in a season (12), surpassing the previous mark of 11 set by Michael Irvin in 1986.
• North Carolina’s T.J. Yates completed 33 of 44 passes for 411 yards and two touchdowns against N.C. State, setting a school record for completions in a game and throwing for more than 400 yards for the third time this season. Yates also broke his own single-season record for passing yards and became UNC’s all-time leader in passing yards. He has thrown for 8,879 yards in his career, surpassing the previous mark of 8,755 yards set by Darian Durant.
• North Carolina senior Anthony Elzy caught nine passes for 178 yards and a touchdown against NC State, setting a single-game school record for receiving yards by a running back. Elzy, who had nine catches for 37 yards in UNC’s first nine games, has 16 receptions for 280 yards in the last two games.
• NC State received a nice boost against North Carolina thanks to the return of senior kicker Josh Czajkowski, who previously had been declared out for the season with a hamstring injury. Czajkowski made both of his field-goal tries, a 47-yarder and a 24-yarder, and all three of his extra points. “I told him on the field Thursday after he kicked that he should have done this a long time ago,” NC State coach Tom O’Brien joked. “I said, ‘You should have pulled your hamstring a long time ago because now you’re smooth.’ He even said that he’s kicking the ball better, he feels better and has much better rhythm for what he’s doing. Go figure.”
• Virginia wide receivers Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman became the first teammates in school history to post at least 700 receiving yards in the same season. Burd has 752 yards this season, and Inman has 750 yards.
• Virginia Tech cornerback Jayron Hosley came up with his nation-leading eighth interception in the fourth quarter against Miami. Hosley is just one interception shy of Virginia Tech’s single-season school record, set by Ron Davidson in 1967.
• Wake Forest has lost nine consecutive games for the first time since it dropped the final 10 games of the 1978 season. The Demon Deacons’ skid is the second-longest active losing streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The countdown to the end of the Big East regular season is two weeks. And there are only two teams one can count out of the chase to at least capture a share of the conference title.
Pittsburgh still has the best chance to grab the league’s BCS bowl, but Connecticut helped itself and others by downing Syracuse last weekend. The Huskies bumped the Orange out of second place and now share that with West Virginia. Both are 3–2 in conference play, while Pitt is 4–1.
“It’s what I’ve tried to instill in these young men,” said UConn coach Randy Edsall.
“Hey, don’t let anybody count you out. You just got to keep fighting.”
Pittsburgh, though, can clinch no worse than a tie for the title by winning this week’s home Backyard Brawl against West Virginia. The Panthers can win the title outright by adding a season-ending road win against Cincinnati. On Saturday, Pitt nudged South Florida by 17–10.
“That was a heck of a win for our football team for a lot of reasons,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. “We needed to bounce back (from a loss to Connecticut) and the encouraging thing is we still haven’t put together a complete game.”
Pitt received a game-winning 22-yard touchdown run from Dion Lewis in the fourth quarter in Tampa. Lewis ran for 105 yards and a score, while quarterback Tino Sunseri was 11-for-16 passing for 142 yards and a touchdown to make the Panthers bowl eligible at 6–4. South Florida got a nice 45-yard touchdown run on a reverse from wideout Terrence Mitchell, but allowed a three-game winning streak to end.
Connecticut won at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome behind two touchdown runs from Jordan Todman and three field goals from kicker Dave Teggart. SU could only manage two Ross Krautman field goals. It ended a sometimes wonderful, but always strange Big East season for the Orange. Syracuse, which hosts Boston College this Saturday, became the first team in Big East history to win all of its conference road games, but lose all of its league home games.
West Virginia, 7–3 overall, remained alive on the strength of its defense in a 17–10 win over Louisville at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The Mountaineer defense held the Cardinals to nine first downs, 26 rushing yards and 171 total yards. It didn’t allow an offensive touchdown. West Virginia is the nation’s only team that’s held every opponent to 21 points or fewer.
“Our kids are playing hard and they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.
On the other end of the conference, Cincinnati, the league’s back-to-back reigning champs, managed to escape the cellar and remain alive with a wild 69–38 victory over Rutgers. It was the highest-scoring game in Big East history. UC’s Isaiah Pead scored five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) and the Bearcats offense ripped off 661 yards of offense en route to 10 touchdowns.
Individual numbers? Pead had 213 yards rushing and teammate Zach Collaros completed 23-of-39 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns. Rutgers wideout Mark Harrison had 10 receptions for 240 yards and a league record-tying four touchdowns, and teammate Chas Dodd completed 19-of- 29 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns.
West Virginia 17, Louisville 10
Pittsburgh 17, South Florida 10
Connecticut 23, Syracuse 6
Cincinnati 69, Rutgers 38
Breaking it down
As stated, Pitt wins the Big East outright by taking its last two games. But Connecticut and West Virginia can still take the outright title as well. Syracuse, South Florida and Cincinnati all remain in the hunt to tie for the league championship.
After Pitt, UConn has the best chance to win the league outright. The Huskies need to win out at home against Cincy and at South Florida and hope Pitt loses at least once. Connecticut holds tiebreaker advantages over Pitt and WVU.
WVU needs to defeat Pitt at Heinz Field this Friday and win at home against Rutgers. It also has to hope Connecticut loses one of its final two games.
This week’s schedule has two Big East games on Friday. Louisville visits Rutgers at 11 a.m. on ESPN2. The U of L can become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2006 with a win.
WVU and Pitt meet at noon in the 103rd edition of the Brawl. That game will be televised by ABC.
Saturday league games will be Cincinnati at Connecticut; Syracuse hosting Boston College; and South Florida visiting Miami (Fla.).
Connecticut’s Jordan Todman scored a couple of touchdowns and ran for 130 yards against Syracuse. That performance was good enough to keep Todman No. 2 nationally in rushing with a 145.1 yard average. He’s second only to Oregon’s LaMichael James. Louisville’s Bilal Powell is eighth, averaging 120.7.
West Virginia’s defense, meanwhile, continues to impress. The Mountaineers are fourth nationally in rush defense (88 yard average), scoring defense (12.9) and total defense (245.1). WVU is also No. 8 in pass defense, allowing an average of 157.1 yards.
When Rutgers’ Greg Schiano had the Scarlet Knights on a roll a few years back, many thought RU was rejuvenated. Now it seems like RU is headed for the days of old. With two games to play the team is in last place in the Big East and has a chance to tie Temple for the most last-place finishes in league history. Temple, booted from the league in 2004, had seven.
The good and the bad
During Pittsburgh’s win over South Florida, Panther defensive end Brandon Linsdsey recorded his 10th sack of the season. No Pitt player has reached double digits since Joe Clermond in 2007. Pitt, though, also was whistled for 11 penalties for 116 yards. In the prior three games, the Panthers had been called for 11-90 combined.
South Florida running back Moise Plancher injured a shoulder against Pitt and was limited throughout the game.
When Cincinnati’s Isaiah Pead rushed for his career-high 213 yards, it was the first 200-yard game for a Bearcat since Richard Hall had 238 against Miami in 2004.
How bad was it?
Louisville’s offense was shut down to such a degree that the team’s leading rusher against West Virginia was kicker/punter Chris Philpott. He had 21 rushing yards on a fake punt. “Just no execution on offense,” said U of L coach Charlie Strong.
The Yankees-Derek Jeter negotiation should be pretty simple, but it could potentially turn into one of the offseason’s best stories if either side turns stubborn. It has been widely reported that New York general manger Brian Cashman (has there ever been a more appropriately-named GM) will offer the 37-year old shortstop a contract in the neighborhood of three years for a total of $45 million, an overpayment baseball-wise at this point in Jeter’s career. We all know New York can afford to overpay anyone, and the career-Yankee Jeter means a lot to the franchise’s fans. While his skills are fading, Jeter is still as popular as ever in the Bronx and has earned the right in many observers’ eyes to be overcompensated (more than $22 million last season for a .270 hitter with little power). Logic says he would gladly accept New York’s bloated offer instead of a one or two-year deal from another club for $8-12 million per season, right?
That’s where this standoff could get interesting. In the end, I don’t think the veteran shortstop will try to hold the Yankees hostage. Jeter’s agent, knowing how much revenue New York rakes in each season, will probably push for a little extra money because that’s his job. However, there have been some suggestions that Jeter will seek more than $20 million per season and wants that sum for three or even four years. We’ll see if an unrealistic counteroffer actually happens, but you never know what the combination of player ego and a hungry sports agent can produce.
The obvious multi-million dollar question: Will the Yankees play hardball with a fan favorite like Jeter? Most close followers of baseball know that his value would be significantly less to any other ballclub, but they also understand why New York would offer a generous deal for three seasons at $15 million per year. But what if Jeter wants more—would the club actually tell him ‘no one is going to pay you close to what we’re offering’ and let him negotiate elsewhere? The Yankees would probably be fine without him, but they do not want to do anything to upset their massive fan base (especially at the prices they are charging).
It seems unfathomable to most Yankees’ fans that #2 would not be wearing pinstripes for his entire career. However, Cashman may want to exercise some fiscal sense and call any bluff out of the Jeter camp. It’s actually fairly easy to see a scenario where New York would be better in 2011 with a new captain. Imagine how scary the Yankees would be if they did the following: 1) signed starting pitcher Cliff Lee, 2) used the Jeter 'overpayment money' to instead sign leftfielder Carl Crawford, and 3) traded a couple of minor leaguers for a shortstop like Stephen Drew or Jose Reyes if Triple-A prospect Eduardo Nunez is not ready. I guarantee the other AL East clubs do not want to face that lineup next season.
Most of us assumed the Jeter deal (much like Mariano Rivera’s) would just be a formality this winter, but he may ask for over-the-top money. When all is said and done, I believe the chances of the Yankees having a new shortstop in 2011 to be very slim. While he may have his agent push a little, Jeter will most likely realize his lack of leverage and return to the Bronx for more than quality money. But if his agent decides to keep pushing for more, the Yankees’ brass will have a compelling stance to take. Would they really pay more than $20 million a season for three or four years for the worst player in their infield? That would be the type of contract that would send baseball economics into further chaos. Please Brian Cashman, for the sake of the game, call any bluff.
-by Patrick Snow
Franchise in Free-Fall
Yesterday set the Tennessee Titans back five years. Quarterback and coach burned whatever bridge was left between them and spit on the ashes. Vince Young’s postgame meltdown after a shocking, disheartening 19–16 loss to a crippled Redskins team, followed in short order by a very public bashing from his head coach, was the culmination of a QB-coach relationship that soured before it even began — the day that the franchise drafted Young at the insistence of owner Bud Adams, over the apparent objections of coach Jeff Fisher. Ever since, Fisher has made his distaste for his mercurial quarterback so apparent that Stevie Wonder could see it — putting him on a shorter leash than any other starter in the league, clearly preferring Kerry Collins despite Young’s penchant for winning games. Young has earned some of his coach’s distrust with his displays of immaturity, to be sure — but shouldn’t the veteran coach be the bigger man than the young quarterback? Shouldn’t the coaching staff adapt to what it has at the quarterback position instead of shoehorning a player into a system and a set of restraints that were destined to choke off his strengths? Now, it looks like the Titans are starting over at the most important position on the team and are prepared to waste Chris Johnson’s best years, not to mention squandering the presence of explosive wideouts Randy Moss and Kenny Britt, while Rusty Smith either grows into the position or proves he can’t and forces the Titans to look elsewhere. A sad day indeed for the guys in Columbia blue.
Eagles Win Battle for NFC Supremacy
In his first six starts, Michael Vick carried the Philadelphia Eagles with his arm and his legs. Last night, he shared center stage with a defense that had his back. Vick completed a Manning sweep, following up a Week Nine win over Peyton’s Colts with a key NFC East win over Eli’s Giants. On a night when Vick failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season, the Eagles defense took up the slack, forcing five turnovers, including a critical Manning fumble with 2:51 left and the Eagles up 24–17, leading to a clinching field goal. “We knew this game wasn’t going to be like the last game,” Vick said, referring to the offensive clinic the Eagles put on in a 59–28 win over the Redskins. “We knew we would have to deal with adversity. It’s all about fighting and hanging in there when you have to.” I’ll resist the urge to make a bad joke about Vick’s use of the word “fighting” and simply tip my hat to the Eagles, the NFC’s best team.
The littlest guy on the field outshone some of the game’s biggest stars in New England’s 31–28 win over Indianapolis. Danny Woodhead, a 5-foot-8 running back from football factory Chadron State, endeared himself to undersized men everywhere, scoring on a beautiful, winding 36-yard run and then making the tackle on the subsequent kickoff. “I do everything to make the play, whether I’m a runner, a receiver or on a kickoff,” said Woodhead. “Maybe (I carry) a little chip, but I’m not too worried what everybody thinks about my size, weight or height. My worry is about doing my job, whatever that might be.” Yesterday, that job was providing the emotional spark with his impressive display of versatility. Woodhead’s a football player, and that’s one of the highest compliments I can pay.
I’ve been hard on Mark Sanchez at times, but it’s hard to deny that the guy has brought a winning quality to the Jets. Yesterday, the Gang Green snatched victory from the jaws of certain defeat thanks to their rapidly maturing field general. The Jets blew a 16-point lead and trailed the Texans 27–23 with less than a minute to go when Sanchez executed what could be a season-defining drive — two completions to LaDainian Tomlinson, one to Braylon Edwards and a touchdown toss to Santonio Holmes for a 30–27 win. “We’re cutting it awfully close,” Sanchez said. “I don’t think anybody has any finger nails left if they’re a Jets fan.” Don’t worry, Mark — they’ll gladly trade fingernails for a ring.
The Brett Favre era in the NFL is limping to a dispiriting close, as the scandal-ridden QB is now playing out the string for a bad team and a lame-duck coach. Yesterday marked a low point, as the Packers, the team that Favre took to glory, pummeled the Vikings 31–3. “This has got me at a loss for words,” Favre said. “Disappointing would be an understatement.” I’ll provide a word, Brett — sad. The Vikings are 3–7 and out of playoff contention, and Favre, who completed 17-of-38 passes for 208 yards and an interception, was powerless to stop the turnovers, penalties and sideline finger-pointing that have driven this season into the ground. Regrets? Brett has a few, no doubt.
-by Rob Doster
Each week, Athlon will take a deeper look at the fantasy matchups that affect your lineup. Some players will deserve a second look from managers, while others could create some concern. Check out Athlon's College Fantasy Start or Sit for Week 12:
QB — Deserves A Second Look
Tyler Bray, Tennessee (@ Vanderbilt)
Back-to-back 300-yard efforts have Big Orange nation fired up about the future of the Vols passing attack. A loaded but young receiving corps also has fans excited. Against the Dores, and their 106th-rated total defense, Bray should be able to deliver the goods.
Bryan Ellis, UAB (Memphis)
Ellis has been solid if nothing else from week to week this season. But he exploded last week for 35.72 TFP — 418 yards and 5 TDs against ECU. Memphis is very simply terrible on defense: 119th in pass efficiency, 120th in total defense and 117th in scoring defense.
Jordan La Secla, San Jose State (@ Hawaii)
The Spartans quarterback has been producing of late. He has seven of his nine passing touchdowns in the last three games and back-to-back 300-yard efforts. Hawaii 'boasts' the 83rd-rated pass defense, so this should be a high scoring affair out on the islands.
Tevin Washington, Georgia Tech (Duke)
Even in a bad loss to Miami last week, the option QB topped 100 yards both passing and rushing with a TD mixed in. Against two other option attacks this season, Duke allowed 34.38 TFP to RIcky Dobbs of Navy and 23.6 TFP to Trent Steelman of Army.
Alex Gillett, Eastern Michigan (@ Buffalo)
Fantasy editor Steven Lassan called for the upset on the Section 120 podcast, so if that happens, Gillett will have to be big. He is the team's leading rusher and has 784 yards of total offense in his last three with six total TDs. If Lasso is right, and he usually is, then Gillett will be a sound option this week.
Matt McGloin, Penn State (Indiana — Landover)
Yes, Robert Bolden could see some time this weekend, but the offense has been clearly improved under McGloin. The new starter has 634 yards passing and eight total TDs in his three starts (one in the Horseshoe, keep in mind). And Indiana just allowed 83 points to the Badgers.
Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin (@ Michigan)
Speaking of the Badgers, the expected barn-burner in Ann Arbor should be beneficial for the Wisconsin quarterback. Tolzien is eighth nationally in passer efficiency and had his best career game against the Maize and Blue last season when he threw for 240 yards and four TDs in the 45-24 win. Expect much of the same this week.
QB — Better Think Twice
Terrelle Pryor vs. Ricky Stanzi (Ohio State vs. Iowa)
Two great defenses should keep the upside limited this week for both passers — even if the new game plan has TP2 giddy over playing this weekend. Pryor had one of his worst career games last year (fantasy wise) when he totaled 29 yards rushing and 93 yards passing without a single score.
Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M (Nebraska)
The Aggie quarterback underacheived last week against Baylor — largly because he was not needed. He threw for 280 yards and a TD — not exactly a huge fantasy number. The Huskers' secondary is awesome. They lead the nation in pass efficiency defense and are second in pass defense.
Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech (@ Miami, Fla.)
The No. 2 pass efficiency defense in the nation resides in Coral Gables. And Taylor has been under 18 TFP in two games in a row, even in comfortable wins. Last year, Taylor posted a mediocre 98 yards passing, 75 yards rushing and one total TD. Either he isn't needed in a blowout win over a freshman quarterback or it's a low-scoring, tighly played affair. That is no good either way.
Christian Ponder, Florida State (@ Maryland)
The Maryland defense is greatly improved from a year ago, and Ponder is returning from an injury. This is an important game for both teams, so expect both defenses to be ready to play. This has the makings of a grind-it-out type of game that fantasy owners should want no part of in any fashion — expect maybe the defenses.
Ryan Lindley, San Diego State (Utah)
The Aztec passer has had only two games since the Utah match last season in which he passed for less than 207 yards (his total against the Utes last fall). He threw two INTs and SDSU was blown out 38-7. Expect the score to be much closer than that this year, but his upside seems limited against the eighth-best defense in the nation.
Ryan Colburn, Fresno State (@ Boise State)
Boise boasts the No. 3 total defense in the nation. The No. 2 scoring defense in the nation. And the Broncos have not lost a conference game since the Ming Dynasty. Colburn has been solid of late, but I would stay far away from him this weekend.
RB — Deserves A Second Look
Montee Ball and James White, Wisconsin (@ Michigan)
John Clay will suit up this weekend but is highly unlikely to see too many carries. Ball and White combined for 41 carries, 315 yards and five touchdowns last week against Indiana (all in the first 36 minutes of the game, mind you, Bret Bielema critics). Michigan is the worst total defense in the Big Ten, allowing more than 433 yards per game and over 32 points per game (9th in Big Ten).
Derrvin Speight, Utah State (Idaho)
After averaging 10 TFP through his first eight games, Speight has posted 52.1 TFP in his last two. He got 48 carries in those games, and against Idaho's 104-rated rush defense (197 ypg), he should be more than capable of a 20-pt fantasy week.
Marc Tyler, USC (@ Oregon State)
After a lot of split carries and weekly flux, it appears that Tyler has earned the workload for the Trojans. He has a team-high 60 carries over the last three. His 31 attempts for 160 yards (and a TD) last week dwarfed the rest of the USC backs — who combined for six carries. I am not sure how it happened, but Oregon State allowed 221 yards on 61 carries against Washington State last week. The Beavers will play better this weekend, but Wazzu? Need I say more?
Alexander Teich, Navy (Arkansas State)
Navy's leading ball-carrier not named Dobbs has been Teich all season. His 114 carries lead the Middies running backs by a wide margin (Murray has 65 and Greene has 60). But Teich is finally reaching the end zone. He has scored three times over the last two games, and Arky State should pose no threat on defense (111th in rush defense) and is good enough on offense (34th in total offense) to keep it close.
Baron Batch and Eric Stephens, Texas Tech (Weber State)
Both backs are over 100 carries for the season — 142 and 100, respectively. Texas Tech has run the ball an unheard-of-in-Lubbock 89 times over the last two weeks. Against lowly Weber State, expect the Raiders to keep it safe and utilize the ground game once again.
Chris Rainey, Florida (Appalachian State)
The all-purpose back has 34 touches in three games since returning from suspension and scored in every game. He is also eligible at WR in most leagues so fill him in where needed. Urban Meyer seems dedicated to getting him touches in some fashion, and against Appy State, he should have plenty of room to work.
Cierre Wood, Notre Dame (Army — New York)
Since taking over for Armando Allen two weeks ago, the explosive Wood has been getting it done. He has 42 touches in those games, totalling 211 yards from scrimmage and two TDs. With the freshman taking snaps, expect Brian Kelly to lean heavily on Wood — well, at least as heavily as a Kelly-led offense ever will lean on a running back.
Pat Shed, UAB (Memphis)
Shed has averaged 24.1 TFP per game over his last three while totalling 63 carries and 18 receptions over that span. Memphis is pathetic on defense, and all Blazers should have a chance to post adequate numbers.
Stanford (9-1, 6-1) at California (5-5, 3-4), Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
The Cardinal will continue their quest for a BCS bowl berth with a visit to their rival. No. 1 Oregon remains the only team to beat Stanford. If both teams continue on their current paths, Stanford could be in line for a ticket to the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal’s balanced, potent offense will get a test from the Bears, who put together one of the best defensive performances in the nation this season during their 15–13 loss to Oregon last weekend. Cal leads the Pac-10 and is 10th nationally in total defense, but most of its success this season has come against spread offenses. The Cardinal run a power, pro-style attack that will be a whole new challenge for the Bears. That being said, Cal stopped Stanford’s offense last season when it was the hottest in the country.
USC (7-3, 4-3) at Oregon State (4-5, 3-3), Saturday, 5 p.m.
Two teams going in different directions meet in the Pacific Northwest. The Trojans, despite having nothing to play for, are playing their best ball at the end of the season. USC has won two in a row, including a road victory at Arizona last week. The Trojans, who are not eligible to play in a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions, can still reach a 10-win season if they win their final three games. The Beavers, meanwhile, are reeling. They have lost three of four, including an embarrassing 31–14 home setback to Washington State last week. This begins a brutal final stretch of the season for the Beavers. After Saturday, Oregon State travels to Stanford before closing out the regular season in the Civil War against Oregon. The Beavers need to win two of their final three games to be bowl-eligible.
Oklahoma State (9-1, 5-1) at Kansas (3-7, 1-5), Saturday, 11 a.m.
The term “trap game” gets tossed around much too much. That said, it applies here, and the Jayhawks have one such conquest (Georgia Tech) to prove it.
Still, don’t expect it, with this Oklahoma State team proving repeatedly that its leaders know how to maintain focus. And the focus is clear: rolling through Lawrence on the way to a South Division showdown with archrival Oklahoma.
It’ll be Senior Day at KU, which can be good for a minor emotional boost. But the Jayhawks simply don’t have the firepower (Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, Kendall Hunter, et al) on offense to keep pace, unless OSU stumbles.
Once upon a time, the road was rough on the Cowboys. But they’ve won 10 of their last 13 away from home, including all four games this season, claiming victory in places that had been their Waterloo for decades.
The Pokes are too close to the prize to lose their way now. By beating Kansas, they’ll face OU for their first South title in the Big 12. And that will set them up with a likely rematch with Nebraska for the school’s first conference title.
Kansas State (6-4, 3-4) at Colorado (4-6, 1-5), Saturday, 1:10 p.m.
The Buffaloes claimed their first Big 12 win in more than a calendar year last Saturday. Now, how about No. 2?
What a difference a week — and a win — makes, as Colorado climbed out of the mess of a mid-season coaching change to convincingly beat Iowa State. Now, going back-to-back doesn’t seem like such a stretch, especially if quarterback Cody Hawkins can repeat his solid performance and interim coach Brian Cabral can maintain an emotional re-focus.
The Wildcats take one of the league’s top rushing offenses into Boulder, with running quarterback Colin Klein adding another element to go with tailback Daniel Thomas. Klein has given the ’Cats a boost, rotating at quarterback with Carson Coffman.
Still, the lack of a passing attack limits K-State. And the Buffs slowed Iowa State’s ground game a week ago, although the ’Cats present a much more physical challenge in their run game.
Weber State (6-4) at Texas Tech (5-5), Saturday, 2 p.m.
The Red Raiders are still seeking another win to reach bowl-eligible status. Thankfully, this one, against FCS-level Weber State, counts.
Tech has completed conference play in a quirky scheduling twist that features back-to-back non-conference home games, Saturday and again next week against Houston. In an uneven season, this presents an opportunity to build some momentum for the Red Raiders and for inconsistent quarterback Taylor Potts.
Weber State won’t be fazed by the step up in competition, with games against FBS schools a regularity in its scheduling. The Wildcats opened this season with a 38-20 loss at Boston College.
Still, don’t expect an upset. Weber State is just 3–43 all-time against the big boys, with the last breakthrough coming in 1993.
Florida Atlantic (4-5) at Texas (4-6), Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
The Longhorns’ mighty fall leaves them with this unlikely scenario: a must-win game against, get this, FAU. Must-win in terms of avoiding a losing season.
Must-win in terms of maintaining hope for — gasp! — a bowl bid. Must-win in terms of avoiding complete and total embarrassment. That’s where Texas stands, having lost four straight games and four of five at home this season.
The Horns continue to scuffle offensively, due to a lack of playmakers that would seem impossible considering the school’s annual recruiting hauls. Still, quarterback Garrett Gilbert’s struggles have fans and media calling for a look at backup Case McCoy. There would be similar calls at other positions, if only options existed.
FAU has rebounded from five straight losses to win three in a row and at least carry momentum into Austin.
Missouri (8-2, 4-2) at Iowa State (5-6, 3-4), Saturday, 6 p.m.
Week 11 was rough on the Cyclones. They lost as a favorite at Colorado and they lost injured quarterback Austen Arnaud in the process, robbing them of their gritty and respected leader, not to mention the program’s No. 2 passing leader in terms of career yards and touchdowns. That puts replacement Jerome Tiller on the spot, as Iowa State gets one final shot at gaining bowl eligibility. Tiller, of course, will need help, from running back Alexander Robinson and a cast of receivers and a defense that ranks No. 92 nationally in total defense.
Missouri, meanwhile, maintains hope for a North Division title, although its needs assistance from Texas A&M and Colorado in overtaking Nebraska. Still, it’s hope. And the Tigers seem to have rediscovered their offense, with Blaine Gabbert and Co. and a spiced-up playbook producing big numbers in a 38-28 win over K-State.
Oklahoma (8-2, 4-2) at Baylor (7-4, 4-3), Saturday, 7 p.m.
The Sooners are tiring of the “road struggle” questions, to the point that a testy Bob Stoops limited media access to just five players this week. But the questions aren’t going away, not until Oklahoma proves capable of stepping out of its Jekyll-Hyde routine. At home, the Sooners are superb. On the road, they’re susceptible, with losses in their last two trips outside of Norman.
OU Quarterback Landry Jones is just 1–5 in true road games as a starter, where he’s struggled with inconsistency and interception woes.
Not that it’s all on Jones. The Sooners defense has allowed 69 points in those two road losses (at Missouri and Texas A&M).
Baylor, however, would figure to provide a level of comfort. OU hasn’t lost to Baylor. Anywhere. Ever. And suddenly, the arguments that this is a different Baylor are fading. The Bears are better, clearly, yet have failed mightily against the best of competition, including the past two weeks in losses to Oklahoma State and A&M.
Baylor maintains a shot, with its explosive Robert Griffin III-led offense capable of putting up points. The Bears defense, however, is banged up, stressing an already difficult challenge of slowing the Sooners, who look to stay on track for a South Division title shot.
Nebraska (9-1, 5-1) at Texas A&M (7-3, 4-2), Saturday, 7 p.m.
The Aggies have rebounded to win four straight games and put themselves in the South title chase. An improving defense and the move to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback have transformed a team that once stood 0–2 in Big 12 play. And a win over Nebraska would further cement A&M’s status as a program on the rise, not only this season, but also going forward.
The Huskers can clinch the North title with a win, yet seek a return to form as well. Nebraska’s four-game winning streak has revealed some rocky moments, and quarterback Taylor Martinez has slowed down following his early season breakout.
And for all the references to the “Blackshirts” on defense, the Huskers haven’t been a shutdown defense at all, except against the league’s lightweights.
For Nebraska, this trip to College Station will be a test. Along with Tannehill’s impact, the Aggies have given running back Cyrus Gray a heavier workload and benefitted. And with the Huskers headed for Kyle Field — perhaps for the last time — in an ABC prime-time television slot, a full and frenzied house is expected in what amounts to the Big 12’s Game of the Week.
NC State (7-3, 4-2 ACC) at North Carolina (6-4, 3-3 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
It’s time for role reversal in the 100th edition of this rivalry game, with North Carolina trying to play the part of spoiler as effectively as NC State has in recent years. The Wolfpack have knocked off the Tar Heels three consecutive seasons, killing North Carolina’s division title chances in 2008 and sending UNC down the list in the ACC’s bowl pecking order last year.
Now the Tar Heels, already eliminated from contention in the Coastal Division, have a chance to keep the Wolfpack from winning a division title. N.C. State would clinch the Atlantic Division with victories in its last two games — this week and at Maryland in the regular-season finale — but its chances would take a big hit with a loss against North Carolina. In fact, a Wolfpack loss combined with a Florida State win over Maryland later Saturday night would send the Seminoles to the ACC championship game.
The key to this game is the turnover battle, which North Carolina can’t afford to lose if it hopes to give coach Butch Davis his first win against N.C. State. The Tar Heels have committed a total of six turnovers in their six victories this season, but they have turned over the ball 14 times in their four losses. Quarterback T.J. Yates tied a career high with four interceptions against Virginia Tech after throwing just four interceptions all season up to that point, and he will need to be sharper in the final home game of his career. Yates, who enters this game needing 288 passing yards to become UNC’s career leader in that category, could get a lift in the running game from tailback Shaun Draughn.
Draughn was limited by an ankle injury against the Hokies last week, but he should be healthy enough to play a larger role against the Wolfpack.
Regardless of Draughn’s status, the Tar Heels will have their hands full with an NC State defense that has allowed a total of 17 points in the last two weeks combined, its lowest total in back-to-back ACC games since 1982. Linebacker Nate Irving made a school-record eight tackles for loss last week in the Wolfpack’s 38-3 victory over Wake Forest, and he ranks third in the nation in that category (1.85 TFL per game) this season.
Offensively, N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson needs a big performance in order to push Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor for the ACC’s Offensive Player of the Year award.
Virginia (4-6, 1-5 ACC) at Boston College (5-5, 3-4 ACC), Saturday, noon ET
Virginia saw its bowl hopes die last week with a 42–23 loss to Maryland, but Boston College remains alive in its drive for the postseason. The Eagles, who have followed up a five-game losing streak with three consecutive wins, need one more victory to become bowl-eligible for the 12th consecutive season.
Boston College has climbed back into bowl contention on the strength of its defense, which has allowed one touchdown by opposing offenses in the last three games combined. The Eagles, who held Duke to 4 rushing yards in a 21-16 victory over the Blue Devils last week, enter this game with the nation’s No. 1 run defense (74.6 yards per game). The leader of the unit is linebacker Luke Kuechly, who leads the country in tackles (14.6 per game) and has made at least 10 tackles in a nation-leading 19 consecutive games.
Virginia, meanwhile, is limping to the finish line. The Cavaliers have suffered back-to-back losses since their upset of Miami on Oct. 30. Starting offensive tackle Landon Bradley is out for the season with a knee injury, and starting cornerback Ras-I Dowling also is done for the year with an ankle injury that followed knee and hamstring ailments.
Those injuries will hurt the Cavaliers, but the key storyline entering this game is the health of Virginia’s top two rushers after they went down last week against the Terrapins. Perry Jones suffered a head injury, and Keith Payne suffered a lower leg injury. Virginia coach Mike London is cautiously optimistic that both tailbacks will be able to play against the Eagles, but the combination of their iffy health and Boston College’s smothering run defense might cause the Cavaliers to rely more on quarterback Marc Verica and their passing game.
On the other side, Virginia must find a way to contain Boston College tailback Montel Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing (112.9 ypg). Harris lost a pair of fumbles in the red zone at Duke last week, so ball security will be his primary concern as he searches for running room against a Virginia defense that ranks 107th nationally (ACC-worst 202.5 ypg) against the run.
Duke (3-7, 1-5 ACC) at Georgia Tech (5-5, 3-4 ACC), Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET
Georgia Tech has dominated the series with Duke over the last two decades, winning 18 of the last 20 matchups and each of the last six meetings. If the Yellow Jackets extend that streak, they will become bowl-eligible for the 14th consecutive year.
Duke, meanwhile, was eliminated from bowl contention with its 21–16 loss to Boston College last week. The Blue Devils have no shot at a .500 record, but what they do have is plenty of experience defending Georgia Tech’s unconventional style of offense. Duke already has played Army and Navy this season, two teams that rely on the option and use many of the same principles and plays as the Yellow Jackets, who lead the nation in rushing (319.3 yards per game).
Tevin Washington continues to fill in at quarterback for Joshua Nesbitt, who is out for the rest of the regular season with a broken right arm. Washington completed 7 of 16 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown last week in the first start of his career, and he will take his best shot at a Duke defense that isn’t shy about crowding the line of scrimmage against run-oriented opponents.
On the other side, the Blue Devils have benefited from improved play from their quarterbacks in the last three weeks. Duke coach David Cutcliffe has maintained that Sean Renfree is his starter, but he continues to use backup Brandon Connette in short-yardage and red-zone situations. Renfree, who threw 14 interceptions during Duke’s six-game losing streak earlier this season, has not thrown an interception in the last three games.
Clemson (5-5, 3-4 ACC) at Wake Forest (2-8, 1-6 ACC), Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
Clemson is kicking itself for missed opportunities this season. The Tigers wouldn’t find themselves in this position — out of the Atlantic Division race and still needing one more win to become bowl-eligible — if they had done a better job kicking the football. Chandler Catanzaro made just 2-of-4 field-goal tries in Clemson’s 16-13 loss at Florida State last week, and the Tigers are 9-of-18 on field-goal attempts for the season. Clemson, which got just six points on four trips inside the FSU 20 last week, has scored a touchdown on just three of its last 16 trips inside the red zone.
If the Tigers are to improve those numbers this week, they will have to do so without their top offensive weapon. Tailback Andre Ellington remains sidelined with a strained ligament and a bone fragment in his foot, leaving Jamie Harper as Clemson’s primary ball carrier. Harper enjoyed a breakout performance last week against the Seminoles, rushing for 143 yards and catching nine passes for 54 yards, and he will go against a Wake Forest defense that ranks 114th nationally in points allowed (38.7 per game).
The Demon Deacons, who have dropped eight consecutive games in the same season for the first time since 1978, haven’t been much better on offense. They played last week without both of their starting guards, Joe Looney (ankle) and Michael Hoag (concussion), and converted wide receiver Michael Campanaro led the team in rushing.
Wake Forest will have its hands full this week with a Clemson defense that ranks ninth nationally in points allowed (ACC-best 17.4 per game). Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers leads the nation in sacks (1.35 per game) and ranks second in the country in tackles for loss (2.20 per game).
Virginia Tech (8-2, 6-0 ACC) at Miami (7-3, 5-2 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Virginia Tech can clinch its fourth Coastal Division title in six years with a victory in this matchup of former Big East powers. Miami needs a win to remain in contention for its first division title since joining the ACC.
The Hokies, who have won three of the last four meetings with the Hurricanes, enter this game with an eight-game winning streak. Virginia Tech forced six turnovers in its 26-10 victory at North Carolina last week, coaxing fifth-year senior T.J. Yates into a career-high-tying four interceptions. The Hokies will try to pick off passes from a true freshman this week, with Stephen Morris in line to start his third consecutive game as Jacory Harris recovers from a concussion he suffered at Virginia on Oct. 30.
Morris will be tested by a Virginia Tech defense that features NCAA interception leader Jayron Hosley (0.78 interceptions per game) and ranks seventh nationally in opponents’ passing efficiency (100.9 rating). Miami’s ground game has flourished with Morris at quarterback, but Morris also has shown instant chemistry with wide receiver Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson, who leads the ACC in receiving yards (87.9 per game), has tied Michael Irvin’s school record for touchdown catches in a season (11) and has caught a touchdown pass in five consecutive games.
Virginia Tech counters with a much more experienced passer in senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor, but Taylor’s task also will be a tough one. Miami ranks second nationally in opponents’ passing efficiency, third nationally in passing yards allowed (147.9 per game) and tied for ninth in the country in sacks (2.90 per game).
Florida State (7-3, 5-2 ACC) at Maryland (7-3, 4-2 ACC), Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
The winner stays alive in its quest for the Atlantic Division title, while the loser is eliminated from contention. Florida State enters the week with a half-game lead on Maryland and NC State in the standings, but the Terrapins and Wolfpack are in control. If Maryland or NC State wins its final two games — they play each other next week in the regular-season finale — that team wins the division. Still, next week’s game between the Wolfpack and Terrapins could turn out to be irrelevant with regard to determining the division winner. If North Carolina beats NC State on Saturday and Florida State follows up with a win over Maryland, the Seminoles will play in the ACC championship game.
Florida State remained in contention thanks to its 16–13 victory over Clemson last week, a game decided by Dustin Hopkins’ 55-yard field goal as time expired. Backup quarterback E.J. Manuel started and went the distance for the Seminoles in that game after Christian Ponder missed practice all week to receive medical attention for his sore right elbow. Doctors finally have figured out what was ailing Ponder — he had separated the fascia from a muscle near his elbow, not ruptured a bursa sac, as originally thought — and Ponder will start against the Terrapins after returning to practice at full speed.
The news is less positive about a couple of Ponder’s key weapons. Starting tailback Jermaine Thomas sprained his right knee against the Tigers and is out this week, leaving Chris Thompson and Ty Jones to split the carries. Wide receiver Willie Haulstead is questionable after suffering a concussion.
Maryland, meanwhile, enters this contest with three wins in its last four games after posting a 42-23 victory at Virginia last week. The Terrapins, who have lost three consecutive games against the Seminoles and 18 of 20 meetings overall, continue to come up with game-changing plays on both sides of the ball. Maryland ranks third in the country in turnover margin (plus-1.30 per game), a key reason for its resurgence after a 2-10 season in 2009.
The Terrapins have done an admirable job of protecting redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O’Brien with an offensive line that was revamped because of injuries, but they face their toughest test of the season this week. Florida State, led by defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Markus White, leads the nation in sacks (3.90 per game).
West Virginia (6-3, 2-2) at Louisville (5-5, 2-3), Saturday, noon EST
Since Bill Stewart has taken over at West Virginia, his teams are 18–2 at home, 2–1 in neutral-site bowls — and 5–8 on the road. This week, he’s trying to relieve some of the pressure on his job status and get the Mountaineers back in the Big East title hunt by winning at 5–5 Louisville.
“The road has not been as pleasant as we would have liked it to have been,” Stewart said. “Maybe we can make amends to that this weekend and get back on track.”
Pitt’s loss at Connecticut opened the door for all of the Big East, including WVU, now 2–2 in league play. The challenge for the Mountaineers will be to contain Cardinals back Bilal Powell, who had 140 yards last week against South Florida and is fifth in the country in rushing, averaging 134.1 yards. WVU seems equipped to do that with the nation’s seventh-best rush defense. The Mountaineers are allowing an average of just 94.9 rushing yards per game.
On the flip side, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who threw four touchdown passes in the first half last week against Cincinnati, will have to have success this week against cornerback Johnny Patrick and a Cardinals pass defense that’s ranked ninth nationally, allowing but 163.6 yards per game through the air.
The key in the game may be the running of WVU’s Noel Devine, who has been struggling with injuries and is averaging 85.6 yards. Louisville’s run defense is 48th nationally, allowing 142.9 yards per game.
Pittsburgh (5-4, 3-1) at South Florida (6-3, 3-2), Saturday, noon EST
Pittsburgh had a comfortable conference lead a week ago. Now the Panthers are in somewhat of an uncomfortable position with but a one-game Big East advantage in the loss column and this contest at South Florida’s Raymond James Stadium.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said this week his team is working on kick coverage after Connecticut’s Nick Williams returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score. Too, USF boasts dangerous return man Lindsey Lamar, who averages 30.8 yards per return. The Panthers are also dealing with the bad news that defensive end Greg Romeus, the Big East’s co-Defensive Player of the Year, is out for the season with a torn ACL after returning from back surgery.
South Florida, meanwhile, is on a high via a three-game winning streak, including last week’s 24–21 overtime road win at Louisville. While Pitt is 3–1 in Big East play and 5–4 overall, the Bulls are 3–2 and 6–3.
The question in this one centers on South Florida’s offense, specifically quarterback B.J. Daniels, going against Pittsburgh’s defense, ranked No. 1 in the conference in scoring.
On the other side, the Bulls will have to slow Pitt QB Tino Sunseri, who has completed 66.5 percent of his passes this season, and the one-two running punch of Ray Graham and Dion Lewis. South Florida has the Big East’s No. 6 pass and No. 4 rush defense.
Connecticut (5-4, 2-2) at Syracuse (7-3, 4-2), Saturday, 7 p.m EST
The Big East is down, but these two teams are up. Connecticut is coming off back-to-back victories against the teams picked to finish first and second in the conference this season. The Huskies won at home against Pitt, last week, and West Virginia. At 5–4 overall and 2–2 in league play, their season is rejuvenated.
Syracuse, meanwhile, is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004 and is coming off a 13–10 road win against Rutgers. The Orange are in second place in the Big East at 4–2 and is 7–3 overall. SU coach Doug Marrone, however, isn’t taking anything for granted.
“(Connecticut is) a very good football team that was picked by some to win this conference,” he said. “We’re a football team that’s trying to get to the upper level, and get back to consistency and winning, and we have a long way to go.”
The teams seem pretty evenly matched. While Connecticut enters with the Big East’s No. 2 scoring offense, Syracuse has the league’s No. 2 scoring defense. The Huskies have the conference’s No. 7 scoring defense, while the Orange has the No. 7 scoring offense.
Keep your eyes on UConn back Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 2 rusher, and Syracuse’s Delone Carter, fourth in the Big East in rushing.
Rutgers (4-5, 1-3) at Cincinnati (3-6, 1-3), Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST
There seems to be only one thing at stake in this matchup: escaping the cellar of what some call the nation’s worst BCS conference. Both are currently 1–3 and tied for last place in the Big East.
It’s someone surprising Rutgers is in the position, but close to shocking that back-to-back reigning league champ Cincinnati is there. Bearcats coach Butch Jones spent the early part of the week talking about keeping his team together. “We have to pull each other through these tough times,” he said.
A start would be winning against a 4–5 Rutgers team at home. The bad news for UC fans, however, is the Bearcats are but 2–3 at home this season and are on a three-game losing streak.
Rutgers, meanwhile, is on its own three-game skid after falling by 13–10 to Syracuse last week. RU did have success running the Wildcat formation with Jeremy Deering’s 166 rushing yards out of the formation. But the quarterback situation with struggling Chas Dodd and Tom Savage remains an issue.
If you’re looking for matchups, the Orange have the league’s second-ranked total defense, while the Bearcats field the Big East’s No. 1 total offense. On the flip side, Syracuse has the conference’s No. 6 offense, while UC has the No. 7 defense.
Penn State (6-4, 3-3) at Indiana (4-6, 0-6), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
This is a season to forget for the Hoosiers, as Bill Lynch’s club has failed to capitalize on too many opportunities. With two games to go, Indiana needs two wins to extend its season — highly unlikely. For one thing, the Hoosiers do not have a good history against Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions. The last time the two teams played in Bloomington, the Hoosiers kept it close but the team’s four second-half turnovers were too much to overcome. This game could also come down to turnovers — Penn State and Indiana are among four Big Ten teams with a negative turnover ratio — but a safer bet is that it will come down to which team’s quarterback makes more plays.
Last week, Matt McGloin was marvelous for Penn State in the first half, but not so much in the second. He needs to play well for four quarters to get Penn State back on track. The Hoosiers have no choice but to keep the ball in the air on offense, meaning another 40-attempt game is likely for Ben Chappell, who is expected to return to the lineup (hip). If Chappell is perfect, Indiana has a shot at its first conference win of the year. Anything short of that will not be enough.
Purdue (4-6, 2-4) at Michigan State (5-1, 9-1), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
There is no more impressive player in Big Ten football than Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, who has come as close as a defender can to being a game-changer. This week, Purdue must offer him more support. The offense has scored more than 20 points in conference action just once this season (Minnesota). That unit is still trying to find consistency in the running game and is in need of a primary receiver; Keith Smith, who played just a game and a half, still ranks fourth on the team in receptions. For Michigan State, the big news this week has been the return of Keshawn Martin, who was missed badly in games against Iowa and Minnesota. Martin is the Big Ten’s leading punt returner and the Spartans’ most explosive receiver. His return is welcome, but it won’t solve one of Michigan State’s problems: a squeaky running game. Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker exploded out of the gate but have both struggled the past month. A Purdue defense allowing 148.7 rushing yards per game could prove to be the cure. Fans may recall Michigan State needed 17 points in the final 12 minutes to beat the Boilermakers last year. The Spartans may only need 17 points total to put away Purdue this year.
Wisconsin (9-1, 5-1) at Michigan (7-3, 3-3), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Consider this Wisconsin’s last big test before booking its flight to Pasadena. Bret Bielema-coached teams have stumbled in their last two trips to Ann Arbor, so to complete this season’s goals the Badgers must first overcome that obstacle — and it appears they must do so without John Clay again. Perhaps it’s precautionary, but Clay continues to nurse his bum knee. No worries — the 1-2 combo of Montee Ball and James White did just fine without Clay last week (311 yards and five touchdowns combined) and should again this week against a run defense that has given up the second-most rushing scores in the Big Ten. In general, the Wolverines are giving up too many points (34 or more in five of the last six games) and must play well on both sides on Saturday to beat Wisconsin. Of course, the conversation with Michigan begins and ends with Denard Robinson. He has gained fewer than four yards per carry in each of the past two games but has the passing game clicking better than ever. Wisconsin’s secondary must respect Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemmingway this week, because if Robinson does not find open lanes to run through, he is perfectly capable of finding open receivers to throw to.
Illinois (5-5, 3-4) at Northwestern (7-3, 3-3), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
This game has drawn plenty of attention due to its location (Wrigley Field) but it shouldn’t take away from what is an important contest for both clubs. For Illinois, there is no getting around it: They must win this game because there is no guarantee they will beat Fresno State in the season finale. Illinois’ pass defense has been suspect as of late, having made Adam Weber and Minnesota’s receivers look good a week ago. Now the Illini face a Northwestern club trying to fill a hole at quarterback. Dan Persa was a darkhorse candidate for conference offensive player of the year thanks to his 3,100 yards of total offense. Freshman Evan Watkins has thrown a total of seven passes. He has good size (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) but must learn where his safety blankets are in a hurry before he gets a face full of orange. Northwestern has beaten Illinois in each of the last two meetings.
Ohio State (9-1, 5-1) at Iowa (7-3, 4-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
Once upon a time this game was categorized as one of the few contests that would help to decide the conference race. Not true anymore. Iowa’s two conference losses have dropped them from that race, and now all Kirk Ferentz’s club is hoping for is a dignified finish to what’s been a somewhat disappointing season. The silver lining is that the game will take place in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes have been dominant in all but one contest this year (Wisconsin — a game many feel Iowa should have won). Iowa has scored in bunches at Kinnick Stadium, but there will be no easy victories on offense for the team this week. The Buckeyes have the Big Ten’s top-rated pass defense and allow just 2.8 yards per carry on the ground. As they say, every yard must be earned. Ohio State’s task will be no less complicated. Iowa still has a respectable pass rush and a run defense allowing just 2.9 yards per carry. Chances are, the Buckeyes’ best bet for big plays will come via the passing game; the Hawkeyes give up 220.2 passing yards per game. It’s been six years since an Ohio State team has lost to Iowa, but that 2004 game was one Hawkeye fans have hardly forgotten — a 33-7 thumping in which Iowa outgained Ohio State by a ratio of almost three to one.
Troy (5-4) at No. 17 South Carolina (7-3), 12:21 p.m., ET
TV: SEC Network
The dangers are inherent in this game. It’s a movie we’ve seen before: Win big game, flop the next week. But South Carolina will be mindful of the horror flick that was the second half at Kentucky. And it’ll learn from said lesson.
Look for a whole mess of points. Troy throws an average of 42 passes a game, but the Trojans are 103rd in the country in total defense. They just allowed 52 points to Florida International last week. Will the Gamecocks be looking ahead to Clemson and the SEC title game? Naturally. But they’ll have enough to make this relatively easy.
Player to Watch: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina RB. Following up that 212-yard show at Florida, the freshman could rush for 100 yards in his sleep this week.
Appalachian State (9-1) at Florida (6-4), 12:30 p.m., ET
Florida continues its tradition of following the SEC regular-season finale with a SoCon team. (It was The Citadel a year ago, the Big South’s Charleston Southern the year before that. Too bad the College of Charleston doesn’t have a team.)
Appalachian State, as history tells us, presents more of a challenge than those other teams. These aren’t the Mountaineers of the earlier part of the decade, but they were ranked No. 1 in FCS for a time and they’re currently No. 2 in that poll. This is no slouch program, or “clown show” as Urban Meyer put it earlier in the week.
This would be a great opportunity for the Gators to iron out their offensive deficiencies. Specifically, Meyer needs to play Jordan Reed for an extended time at QB and see if he can piece together a gameplan for Florida State next week. Otherwise, UF might be looking at the unthinkable in Meyer’s sixth season: A seven-win season. This week is no gimme, either.
Player to Watch: Chris Rainey, Florida AP. App State has speed, but not Rainey speed.
Ole Miss (4-6, 1-5) at LSU (9-1, 5-1), 2:30 p.m., CT
Houston Nutt’s impassioned plea for patience this week was just sort of sad. Just really whiny and desperate, really. We all know this isn’t Nutt’s best team at Ole Miss. That’s fine. Just play on. We don’t need a lengthy sob story about injuries and blah, blah, blah.
Nutt said part of the speech’s message was to get the team fired up for the remaining games, against LSU and Mississippi State. In reality, especially after Tennessee put up 52 on the Rebs last week, it sounded as if Nutt was just preparing for the reality of two lopsided losses.
This will be one. LSU is a team motivated by the notion that, if things shake out a certain way, the Tigers could be right in the middle of the national title picture. Maybe they won’t, but they’ve got to keep winning to have that remote shot.
Player to Watch: Jordan Jefferson, LSU QB. He needs to continue the play he showed in the Alabama game in preparing for Arkansas next week.
No. 13 Arkansas (8-2, 4-2) at No. 22 Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3), 6 p.m., CT
A subtly big game in terms of shaping the postseason picture. Both are in line for New Year’s Day bowls, but which ones? Jerry Jones would love to have alma mater Arkansas in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl, even though the Hogs already played one game this season at Cowboys Stadium.
Mississippi State wants to shake off whatever that was last week at Alabama and prove it’s deserving of, perhaps, the Outback or Cotton bowls. It needs a win Saturday to get to the latter. With just a win next week against Ole Miss, it essentially guarantees it will be in either Atlanta or Tampa.
Arkansas, with Knile Davis and the added feature of the run game, is just too tough right now. Too much offense for even the vaunted cowbell.
Player to Watch: Ryan Mallett, Arkansas QB. Closes strong and could still nab second-team All-SEC QB.
Tennessee (4-6, 1-5) at Vanderbilt (2-8, 1-6), 6:30 p.m., CT
Still a meaningful November game for Tennessee, but not in the way the Volunteers are used to. Usually they’re gunning for a New Year’s Day bowl slot. This year, they just want a postseason spot, period. And they’re going to have to scramble to get there.
But the blowout of Ole Miss — which delivered Derek Dooley his first SEC victory, at long last — inspired some bowl hope. Freshman Tyler Bray has 10 TDs in the past three weeks, with half of those coming against SEC opponents. He seems to be picking up confidence as he goes.
Talented freshman Justin Hunter had three catches last week, and two were for touchdowns.
Vanderbilt will provide nothing more than a speed bump, setting up a rather big game next week between Kentucky and Tennessee. The Wildcats haven’t beaten UT since the Civil War, or something like that. And the Vols will need that one to become bowl-eligible.
Player to Watch: Justin Hunter, Tennessee WR. Still learning the Vols’ playbook, but his natural talent is shining against these weaker late-season opponents.
Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions for Week 11 in the NFL:
1. Where would Mark Sanchez fall in your AFC quarterback power rankings?
Steven: Sanchez still has a ways to go before he reaches the elite class of quarterbacks in the AFC, but he has shown improvement from last season. The second-year passer has tossed six picks this season after throwing 20 last year and has slightly improved his completion percentage. The Jets can lean on their defense and rushing attack to win games right now, but in a year or two, the team hopes Sanchez can shoulder more of the offensive workload. There are eight quarterbacks I would definitely take ahead of Sanchez this season - Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer and Kyle Orton. However, I think you can throw Sanchez into the next group with David Garrard, Jason Campbell, Matt Cassell and Vince Young.
Nathan: The AFC quarterback hierarchy starts with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning at the top, then takes a few small steps down from Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger to Joe Flacco. After the top five, I think Matt Schaub and Matt Cassel are traditional “safe” picks who can’t win big games on the road but will put up solid numbers that are hard to argue against. On the other hand, Mark Sanchez and Vince Young are “risky” young guys still figuring out the position, but they have more of “it” — moxy, swagger, whatever you want to call “it” — and seem to find a way to win games (and attract critics). Long story short, I’d take the top five (Brady or Manning, then Rivers, Big Ben and Flacco) over Sanchez, but that’s about it.
Braden: One and two — in whatever order you choose — are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (we can argue that one another week). I think Philip Rivers is No. 3, Big Ben is No. 4 and Joe Flacco is No. 5. After that, all bets are off. Sanchez is just as talented as Matt Schaub or Carson Palmer and wins more games. The former USC Trojan first round pick is 16-9 as a starter and played in the AFC title game as a rookie. He has shown great toughness battling injuries and has performed in one of the toughest, most scrutinizing markets in the NFL. Now, even though he has led his team to the best record in the league, there seems to be no middle ground with Mark Sanchez. He is either loved or hated. Either way, he is a winner in my book.
2. Should the Vikings bench Brett Favre?
Steven: Favre may be hurt and struggling, but I don’t think the answer is to bench him. Tarvaris Jackson is only 10-9 in his tenure as a starter, and I just can’t see him being the answer to all of problems in Minnesota. It’s easy to blame Favre, but not having Sidney Rice is certainly hurting the passing attack. Unless Favre can’t play, I think he’s the best option for this team. The Vikings will be in the market for a quarterback this offseason; the only question is whether that’s through the draft or via free agency.
Nathan: Definitely not. Does Brad Childress even have that kind of power? At this point, Brett Favre and Roger Goodell are the only men who can bench Brett Favre. I think Favre plays against the Packers this week. But after that, it’s up in the air. I wouldn’t be shocked at anything right now. The Green Bay game could be Favre’s last. Why not? Beat the Packers, then ride off into the sunset with a fractured foot, bum throwing arm and bruised ego.
Braden: As I have said in this column before, it was Sept. 7, 1992 the last time Brett Favre didn't start a game in the NFL. Yes, he turned the ball over last week on the road in the division against a solid defense. But he is still one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. If you are Brad Childress, or any other member of the Minnesota organization, you have to believe that Favre is your best chance at still making the playoffs — which in the NFC is still very much within reach.
The staff of Athlon sports recently held their fantasy college basketball draft and asked me to provide a quick recap of the proceedings. The draft took place during the last week of October and first week of November and featured eight Athlon writers and two writers from College Fantasy Hoops Insider (me — Perry Missner, editor and lead writer for the site, and Asa Tysseling, who covers the Big 12 and designed the site we used for the draft — the FBL Zone). The draft was 14 rounds and each team needed to field a starting roster of three guards, three forwards, a swingman (guard or forward) and two centers with five bench slots. The scoring is a point for each point, rebound, assist, steal, and block with a point taken away for each turnover.
1 bhochman Kyle Singler, Duke, SR, F
2 asatyss Trey Thompkins, Georgia, JR, F
3 mitchlight Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech, SR, G
4 nathanrush Harrison Barnes, North Carolina, FR, F
5 nathankarp Klay Thompson, Washington State, JR, G
6 michaelmccracken Jacob Pullen, Kansas State, SR, G
7 Snowman Tracy Smith, North Carolina State, SR, C
8 Big Chief John Shurna, Northwestern, JR, F
9 charliemiller Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt, JR, G-F
10 bradengall Talor Battle, Penn State, SR, G
As I’ve written before, fantasy leagues are rarely won in the first round, but they can be lost. If your first-round pick busts, you can be in considerable trouble. None of the first round picks were really outlandish, but you could question Charlie Miller at number nine for his pick of Jeffery Taylor. He’s a fine player, but probably could have had a few rounds later. Kyle Singler has received a lot of press as a potential Player of the Year, but I think Duke has so many offensive options that Singler won’t be a top fantasy producer. His past numbers — 17 points, seven rebounds — are ok, but not outstanding. Snowman was wise to take a center because finding two starting centers in any league will be quite a chore. The league also seemed to shy away from the Big Ten, allowing me to get John Shurna and Braden Gall to select Talor Battle with two of the last three picks of the round.
11 bradengall JaJuan Johnson, Purdue, SR, F-C
12 charliemiller Augustus Gilchrist, South Florida, JR, F-C
13 Big Chief Kemba Walker, Connecticut, JR, G
14 Snowman Travis Leslie, Georgia, JR, G
15 michaelmccracken LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor, SR, G
16 nathankarp Demetri McCamey, Illinois, SR, G
17 nathanrush Brandon Knight, Kentucky, FR, G
18 mitchlight Herb Pope, Seton Hall, JR, F
19 asatyss Jordan Williams, Maryland, SO, F-C
20 bhochman Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall, SR, G
Three more centers went in the second round, and all three should be top producers. Gall doubled up on Big Ten picks by taking the conference’s top center to go along with its top guard. Perhaps Gall was showing his Midwestern roots. I was strong proponent of Walker prior to last year and he had a good season. He should continue his ascent as a junior. Snowman’s pick of Leslie may turn out to be a gem if first-round pick Trey Thompkins is out for any length of time and McCracken took a sound flyer on Dunn who will only be out for three games. Herb Pope was a bit of a risk as well, but should be a solid combo for Light with Delaney (who was my top fantasy Tier 1 option prior to the season).
21 bhochman Jared Sullinger, Ohio State, FR, F-C
22 asatyss Jimmy Butler, Marquette, SR, G-F
23 mitchlight Marshawn Powell, Arkansas, SO, F
24 nathanrush Isaiah Thomas, Washington, JR, G
25 nathankarp D.J. Kennedy, St. Johns, SR, G-F
26 michaelmccracken Derrick Williams, Arizona, SO, F
27 Snowman Alec Burks, Colorado, SO, G
28 Big Chief Perry Jones, Baylor, FR, F-C
29 charliemiller Enes Kanter, Kentucky, FR, C
30 bradengall Jon Leuer, Wisconsin, SR, F
If I were able to question Hochman’s first pick, he more than made up for it with his back-to-back picks. Hazell’s points will lift him to the top of the league, and Sullinger looks like the beastly center that the Buckeyes lacked last year (for the first time in ages). While Powell had a great freshman season, the fact that he broke his foot in the offseason would have kept me away. I really liked McCracken’s pick of Williams who should progress as a sophomore and be the main man for the Wildcats. Burks should be another excellent sophomore who controls the ball a great deal for the Buffaloes. Snowman’s forecast shouldn’t be too chilly. I needed a center, my name is Perry, and there was Perry Jones. I couldn’t resist. Hopefully, the Baylor freshman has more game than I do. While the Dunn risk will likely work out, Miller’s pick of Kanter will not. I would have been surprised had Kanter been allowed to play, but Miller apparently thought he was worth the flyer. Gall goes 3-for-3 for the Big Ten and it is hard to argue with his Leuer pick.
31 bradengall Marcus Morris, Kansas, JR, F
32 charliemiller Cory Higgins, Colorado, SR, G
33 Big Chief Brad Wanamaker, Pittsburgh, SR, G
34 Snowman Mike Tisdale, Illinois, SR, C
35 michaelmccracken Mike Singletary, Texas Tech, SR, F
36 nathankarp Chandler Parsons, Florida, SR, F
37 nathanrush JaMychal Green, Alabama, JR, F
38 mitchlight Kevin Jones, West Virginia, JR, F
39 asatyss Fabricio Melo, Syracuse, FR, C
40 bhochman William Buford, Ohio State, JR, G
Gall finally left the Big Ten and, again, it is hard to argue with Kansas’ best player. Marcus Morris was often the best player on the court for the Jayhawks even when Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich were there last year. He figures to improve as a junior. If I praised the pick of Burks, I have to do the same with Higgins, who should continue to be a nice value from Colorado. Wanamker had a nice first week that made me feel good about him as my second guard. I really liked the seventh and eighth picks of the Round 4. Green should progress in his junior year at Alabama and gives Rush a solid basis with Barnes, Knight, and Thomas. Light took his third straight forward, and Kevin Jones may be the most consistent of the three (Pope and Powell being the others). Freshmen centers are sometimes fool’s gold, but Melo should progress as the season does.
41 bhochman Nolan Smith, Duke, SR, G
42 asatyss Kyrie Irving, Duke, FR, G
43 mitchlight Reggie Jackson, Boston College, JR, G
44 nathanrush Tristan Thompson, Texas, FR, F-C
45 nathankarp Vernon Macklin, Florida, SR, F-C
46 michaelmccracken Maurice Creek, Indiana, SO, G
47 Snowman Tobias Harris, Tennessee, FR, F
48 Big Chief Sam Muldrow, South Carolina, SR, F-C
49 charliemiller John Jenkins, Vanderbilt, SO, G
50 bradengall Kris Joseph, Syracuse, JR, F
The league finally got over its collective Blue Devil dislike in Round 5. Hochman led the round off with Smith, and Tysseling followed up with his backcourt mate, Irving. It will be interesting to see who has more value at year’s end. Jackson could easily have more value than either Dukie because he scores, rebounds, and passes. Nice pick, Mr. Light. We had three centers go in the next five picks. Thompson figures to get a lot of minutes for the Longhorns, Macklin returns to Florida, and I took the Gamecocks’ top option. Creek was a nice pick by McCracken. I boldly predicted Creek would lead the Big Ten in scoring. Miller showed his Commodore roots with a second Vanderbilt player. Any guess in which round he took Festus Ezeli? Actually, someone stole Ezeli away from Miller. Stay tuned. Gall made another nice pick with Joseph who should be the Orange’s leading scorer.
1. Should the BCS standings be used to determine conference championships?
Braden: This is obviously related to the current Big Ten quandary. If Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State finish tied, the BCS standings will determine the champion and Rose Bowl contestant. Technically, Michigan State was unbeaten against the two (they didn't play OSU) and Wisconsin beat Ohio State soundly. Yet, the Buckeyes figure to finish highest in the BCS if all three win out. This was also a huge issue for the Big 12 a few years ago when Oklahoma and Texas were in a three-way tie for the Big 12 South. Although both OSU and OU lost head-to-head games, I actually believe they are/were the better team, but the BCS should be used for the top two teams in the nation only. Let the conferences decide tie-breakers how they want.
Mitch: No. The team will the best record in the league or the team that wins the championship game (if there is one) should win the league title. I’m okay with BCS standings serving as a tie-breaker (like in the Big Ten), but it should never trump the league standings.
Steven: Conference championships should not be determined by the BCS. All conference titles should be determined by the teams settling it on the field. The Big Ten is in a difficult spot this year because of a potential three-way tie atop the standings with Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Unfortunately, Michigan State does not play Ohio State, so there’s no way of settling this on the field. The Big Ten will get some help in this department next season with the addition of a 12th team in Nebraska, allowing for a championship game. Using the BCS as a tiebreaker after head-to-head makes sense, but I always prefer to see it play out on the field.
2. Florida State, Maryland and NC State are all 7-3. Who will represent the Atlantic Division in Charlotte on December 4th?
Braden: NC State might have the best player and might be the best coached (and has a win over FSU). Maryland might have the best schedule as both FSU and NC State both still need to make trips to College Park. But Florida State is one-half game up right now and might be playing the best football — they also have the best roster. I will go FSU, but I do not feel good about it. How can you in a league in which everyone finishes within one or two games of each other? I defer to Athlon's ACC guru Steven Lassan!
Mitch: Maryland has an advantage because it plays both NC State and Florida State at home, but I believe that Florida State is the best of the three teams and will win the league. The Noles are 5-2, with the two losses coming by a total of six points — and both in excruciating fashion.
Steven: This is the ACC, so nothing would be surprising, but I’ll go with Florida State. The Seminoles lost two heartbreakers against NC State and North Carolina and need a win at Maryland this Saturday to keep their hopes alive. If the Seminoles beat the Terrapins in College Park, all of the pressure shifts to NC State next week. The Wolfpack still have to play North Carolina and Maryland on the road, and I’d be surprised if they won both games. Maryland has shown big improvement from last year and catches a huge break in the schedule by hosting NC State and Florida State. Although the Terrapins have the best schedule and the Wolfpack have a win over Florida State, I think the ‘Noles somehow emerge as Atlantic champs.
By Braden Gall
The Heisman Trophy is college football's most prestigious trophy, so the editors here at Athlon take the voting for the 13.5-inch, 25-pound award very seriously. Each week, the ballots are collected and tallied from inside the walls of Athlon Sports. Each editor votes for five players (unlike the official three) and a first-place vote is worth 5 points, a second is worth 4 points so and so forth down to the fifth-place vote earning 1 point.
Follow our voters on twitter: Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie), Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden), Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster), Nathan Rush (@AthlonRush) and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman).
by Braden Gall
Here is how this week's vote turned out:
1. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn (34 pts, 6 first place votes)
After another 151 yards rushing and four more touchdowns — and a big win over Georgia at home — Newton's hold on Athlon's top Heisman spot continues. The off-the- field issues have clearly impacted some voters around the country, but only one of the seven here at Athlon. He is still the man to beat.
What's Next: Auburn is on bye this week.
2. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (24 pts, 1 first place vote)
The 180.9 QB-rating Moore posted in the 52-14 drubbing of in-state rival Idaho looks mediocre when compared to his season totals. He finished 19-of-26 for 216 yards and three TDs passing. It was a ho-hum performance by a player who has yet to lose a conference game in his career (21-0) and is on the verge of setting the single-season NCAA passer efficiency mark. Moore might also be the only player in the top four who has not been arrested.
What's Next: Boise hosts Fresno State this weekend in one of two final tests for the Broncos. In two career games against Fresno, Moore has only 394 yards with five TDs and no INTs.
3. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (22 pts)
The blur of green and yellow proved to be very human this weekend. Cal is a much better home team than road team, and the Bears proved it by holding the electric James to 91 yards on 29 carries (3.1 ypc). It was the Ducks' defense that won the game last weekend, not James and the nation's No. 1 scoring offense.
What's Next: The Ducks are on bye this week.
4. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (8 pts)
Blackmon continues his assualt on opposing secondaries. The Cowboys receiver caught nine passes for 145 yards and a TD in the big road win over rival Texas this weekend. He is still leading the nation in receiving yards — although he isn't actually leading his own conference in receptions per game (OU's Ryan Broyles, with 9.4) — and has had at least 125 yards in every game he has played this season. Blackmon's arrest might have cost him a trip to New York.
What's Next: A road trip to Kansas to battle the Big 12's worst scoring defense (33 ppg). You think the lawfirm of Weeden, Blackmon, Gundy and Holgerson are salivating yet?
The scene and location sure felt familiar, the Ball Coach being doused with Gatorade and carried off Florida Field. But in black, with a chicken on his polo? We knew it would be fitting for Steve Spurrier to go back to the Swamp and deliver South Carolina’s first SEC East title. But 36–14?
The Gators don’t lose games like that, and they certainly don’t lose them at home. The Gamecocks don’t win games like that, and they certainly don’t win them in November.
The Twilight Zone of the division has arrived, it seems, with South Carolina earning a berth to Atlanta. No, in reality, Marcus Lattimore has arrived. The three teams the Gamecocks needed to climb over in the East — the only three to win the division since the split in 1992 — were Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. Well, Lattimore rushed for 182 yards against Georgia, 184 against Tennessee and 212 against Florida. That’s 578 yards against the division’s traditional powers. And three wins against them. UT’s Derek Dooley called Lattimore “Secretariat.” Urban Meyer didn’t even want to mention him afterward.
“It’s got to be frustrating for people to watch him run up and down the field,” Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia said.
South Carolina led 20–7 in the first half at Auburn on Sept. 25 before Garcia fumbled twice in the fourth quarter to help the Tigers rally for a 35–27 victory. Let’s see if the Gamecocks have anything for the encore in three weeks.
Lattimore had just 33 yards on 14 carries in the first meeting. Keep that in mind.
Tennessee 52, Ole Miss 14
Kentucky 38, Vanderbilt 20
Auburn 49, Georgia 31
Arkansas 58, UTEP 21
LSU 51, UL Monroe 0
South Carolina 36, Florida 14
Alabama 30, Mississippi State 10
• Like in that game, Auburn was up to its old trick Saturday against Georgia of starting slow and then coming on oh-so-strong in the final quarter or two. Cam Newton was Cam Newton. The guy is unbelievable on third-and-short. Every bit the master of conversions that Tim Tebow ever was. And he is a better thrower than Tebow. The touchdowns to Philip Lutzenkirchen were darts. Newton missed just two throws in the first half. The first was a deflected interception that went through the hands of young receiver Emory Blake. The second was a deep ball that Mario Fannin alligator-armed.
Newton’s running ability is so special that it often masks how good of a passer he is most of the time. Of course, his ability to run does open that up quite a bit. Seriously, the only thing that can stop this guy is the NCAA’s rulebook.
• Randall Cobb reminded us all he is very good, running for 170 yards against Vanderbilt on just 10 carries, aided by a 73-yard touchdown run. He added 56 receiving yards as well. Kentucky fans are wondering if that’s the last they’ll see of Cobb at Commonwealth Stadium. He’s hinted recently about the idea of leaving early. And, well, he’s ready.
• Alabama finally looked like Alabama again, physically dominating Saturday against Mississippi State. Even without Trent Richardson, the Tide balanced its runs and carries through seven different players for 175 yards. Mark Ingram also had a 78-yard touchdown on a screen pass, showing some speed that, frankly, has been lacking this season. (You almost forget he’s there, don’t you? Abnormal for a Heisman winner.)
The Tide defense was swarming and swallowed up what speed Mississippi State has recruited and developed. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Alabama favored in two weeks when it hosts Auburn. The Tigers have the week off before the Iron Bowl. Bama, playing Georgia State on Thursday, might as well.
• Is this when we ask why Tyler Bray didn’t start playing until a couple of weeks ago? Maybe he wasn’t ready, but he sure looks that way now for Tennessee.
• That Ughban Meyer offense showed up again, and at an incredibly inopportune time. The Gators were just fooling themselves if they thought they got well against Vanderbilt. (Besides, special teams and defensive plays led to points and short fields in that game.) You’ve got to feel for John Brantley at this point, because his coaches are sitting idly while he’s eaten alive by opposing teams — and the home fans. This isn’t Brantley’s fault. He’s not built for the scheme that Florida insists on running. The world, beyond Meyer and Steve Addazio, knows that. Brantley has to know that.
You know what teams do when they have a good quarterback — or running back or receiver — who doesn’t quite fit into a system? They adjust the system. Florida’s offense, which had 67 yards through three quarters Saturday, is so bad that it probably uses that hurry-up stuff just to get off the field faster. It’s embarrassing that Meyer can’t find something that works, considering the amount of talented players in his offensive meetings.
• Things got chippy in the final quarter between Auburn and Georgia. It’s unfortunate. And it’s Nick Fairley’s fault. The Auburn D-tackle, an outstanding player, needs to tone it down. This personal assault on quarterbacks — especially after plays are over — needs to stop.
Georgia’s players retaliated late in the game, which is certainly stooping to the opponent’s level. But after watching Fairley unfairly put his helmet in Aaron Murray’s back, who wouldn’t be chapped?
• LSU and The Hat won 51–0. That’s boring. The Tigers are back in SEC action the next two weeks, against Ole Miss and Arkansas. We’re hopeful that will provide more Miles theater. And punchlines.
Stud of the Week
Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina RB. The league’s top statistical running back carried the Gamecocks to Atlanta.
Dud of the Week
Urban Meyer, Florida coach. That was your gameplan? Really?
Dustin Hopkins just experienced a week he won’t soon forget. Seven days after the sophomore kicker came up short — or more accurately, wide right — in Florida State’s 37–35 loss to North Carolina, he redeemed himself in a big way.
Hopkins made a career-long 55-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Seminoles past Clemson 16–13 and keep his team’s Atlantic Division title hopes alive.
Hopkins had a similar opportunity the previous week against the Tar Heels, but he missed from 40 yards with two seconds remaining. He also had missed from 42 yards earlier in the fourth quarter of that game.
Coaches and teammates rallied around Hopkins in the aftermath of his disappointing performance against North Carolina, and he responded. Hopkins also connected on field-goal tries of 28 and 39 yards against the Tigers, providing a big boost to a Florida State offense that was operating without starting quarterback Christian Ponder.
Backup quarterback E.J. Manuel was solid in place of Ponder, who sat out after missing practice all week because of an injured right elbow, but Florida State’s advantage in the kicking game was the biggest factor in its victory. While Hopkins shined, Clemson’s Chandler Catanzaro was just 2-for-4 on field goals as the Tigers’ season-long kicking struggles continued.
Boston College 21, Duke 16
Miami 35, Georgia Tech 10
NC State 38, Wake Forest 3
Maryland 42, Virginia 23
Virginia Tech 26, North Carolina 10
Florida State 16, Clemson 13
Atlantic Division race update
Florida State’s win means the Tigers won’t repeat as Atlantic Division champions, narrowing the race for first place to three teams. The Seminoles (7–3, 5–2), who sit a half-game game ahead of NC State (7–3, 4–2) and Maryland (7–3, 4–2) in the standings, still need the Wolfpack and Terrapins each to lose in order to earn a spot in the ACC championship game.
That said, the Seminoles could clinch the division this week, when they travel to Maryland and NC State plays at North Carolina. Wins by Florida State and North Carolina would clinch the division title for the Seminoles before the final week, when NC State will play at Maryland.
The good news for the Terrapins is that they will win the division with victories in their final two games, both at home, but the bad news for them is that they have no margin for error. If they lose to either Florida State or NC State, they won’t play in the ACC championship game.
“Here we are with two games to go in the season, and we have a shot to win our division,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “We were picked to finish last by all of the experts, and that itself is an accomplishment. We’re not looking to stop there, though.”
NC State also will win the division with victories in its final two games, but that’s not the only scenario that would send the team to its first ACC title game. The Wolfpack also could win the division even if it loses this week at North Carolina — as long as Maryland beats Florida State and then NC State beats Maryland in the regular-season finale. That scenario would put all three teams at 5–3 in the conference, but the Wolfpack would own the tiebreaker because of head-to-head victories over the Seminoles and Terrapins.
Coastal Division race update
The situation is much clearer in the Coastal Division, where Virginia Tech (8–2, 6–0) has a firm grip on first place thanks to its eight-game winning streak. The Hokies forced six turnovers and put together a dominant third quarter that included two touchdown catches by Marcus Davis in their victory over North Carolina. They need to win just one of their two remaining games — at Miami and home against Virginia — to earn a spot in the ACC championship game for the fourth time in six seasons.
Miami (7–3, 5–2) is the only pursuer with a mathematical chance of catching the Hokies. The Hurricanes will win the division if they beat Virginia Tech this week and Virginia Tech loses to Virginia the following week.
Bowl eligibility update
Boston College continued its push for the postseason, defeating Duke for its third consecutive victory. The Eagles survived some rare mistakes by tailback Montel Harris, who rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown but also lost two fumbles in the red zone. Duke’s August Campbell returned the second fumble 95 yards for a touchdown — the longest fumble return in school history — to make the game close in the fourth quarter.
“Montel has certainly carried us for a lot of instances, and we dodged a bullet for him today,” Boston College coach Frank Spaziani said. “He’ll be fine.”
So might the Eagles (5–5, 3–4). They have bounced back from a five-game losing streak that put their chances of playing in a bowl game for the 12th consecutive season in serious jeopardy.
“It’s big,” said defensive end Max Holloway, who secured the victory by batting down Sean Renfree’s pass on fourth down from the BC 4-yard line with 46 seconds remaining. “Before, we were trying not to lose. Now we’re focused on winning. Our whole mindset is different.”
Boston College needs to win one of its final two games — home against Virginia and at Syracuse — to become bowl-eligible.
Clemson and Georgia Tech, which squared off against each other in the ACC championship game last year, face the same situation. The Tigers (5–5, 3–4) play at Wake Forest and home against South Carolina, and the Yellow Jackets (5–5, 3–4) host Duke before traveling to Georgia to wrap up the regular season.
Georgia Tech, which has suffered three consecutive losses for the first time since its final three games of the 2006 season, must end the skid before it can play in a bowl game for the 14th consecutive season.
“You keep playing. You don’t quit,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said after watching his team surrender four touchdown drives of at least 79 yards against Miami. “What are you going to do? You don’t have any other alternatives. You either keep playing or you quit.
“We aren’t going to quit. I can promise you that I’m not going to quit. We still have the chance to salvage and have a winning season.”
The same can’t be said for Duke (3–7, 1–5) and Virginia (4–6, 1–5), each of which were eliminated from bowl contention on Saturday. The Cavaliers still have a chance to get six wins and finish at .500, but they won’t be eligible for the postseason because two of their victories came against Football Championship Subdivision opponents.
Can you top this?
Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly and Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers continue to dominate opposing offenses. Unfortunately, only one of them can be the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Bowers made his latest case for the award against Florida State, registering a team-high nine tackles (including 2.0 tackles for loss). He also had an interception and a sack, tying the school record with at least one sack in eight consecutive games. Bowers leads the nation in sacks (1.35 per game) and tackles for loss (2.20 per game).
Kuechly was just as dominant against Duke, wreaking havoc all over the field. He helped the Eagles hold the Blue Devils to 4 rushing yards on 24 attempts, tallying 21 tackles, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Kuechly continues to lead the nation in tackles (14.6 per game) after making at least 10 stops for the 19th consecutive game.
Count Duke coach David Cutcliffe among those who was impressed. He called Kuechly “the best defensive college football player in the land.”
Like Mike: Miami’s Hankerson
It’s looking like Leonard Hankerson made a great decision when he chose to return to Miami for his senior year rather than declaring for the NFL draft. Hankerson had three catches for 132 yards and a touchdown against Georgia Tech, becoming the third player in school history to post back-to-back 800-yard receiving seasons.
The other two? Pro football Hall of Fame member Michael Irvin (1985-86) and Andre Johnson (2001-02), one of the top wide receivers in the NFL today.
Hankerson, who leads the ACC in receiving this season (87.9 yards per game), has scored a touchdown in five consecutive games. He tied Irvin’s school record with his 11th touchdown grab of the year, a career-long 79-yarder against the Yellow Jackets.
Hankerson went to Irvin’s high school, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the similarities between the two don’t end there. Like Irvin, Hankerson has good size at 6-3, 205 pounds. Like Irvin, Hankerson lacks blazing speed. But like Irvin, Hankerson is fast enough to be extremely productive.
“They said Mike Irvin was a 4.65 runner (in the 40-yard dash), but when he got the football in his hands, nobody could catch him,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “Same with Hankerson. People say he doesn’t have speed, but when he has the ball in his hands, he can get past people. Hankerson has enough speed to make some special things for him.”
• Clemson’s defeat at Florida State was rare, considering the circumstances. The Tigers, who got 143 rushing yards from Jamie Harper and 106 receiving yards from DeAndre Hopkins, saw their streak of 20 consecutive wins end in games in which they had a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver. Clemson had not lost such a game since falling 21–20 against North Carolina on Nov. 9, 1985.
• Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon came back strong against Boston College after leaving the previous week’s game against Virginia with a head injury. Vernon had a career-high 12 catches for 134 yards in his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season.
• Critics of Jacory Harris will emphasize that true freshman Stephen Morris led Miami to a season-high yardage total for the second week in a row, but much of the credit should go to the Hurricanes’ running game. Miami ran for 277 yards against Georgia Tech, getting one touchdown run each from tailbacks Damien Berry, Lamar Miller, Mike James and Graig Cooper.
• North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates broke Darian Durant’s school record for career completions against Virginia Tech, but Yates also tied a career high with four interceptions in the game. Before Saturday, Yates had thrown just four interceptions all season.
• NC State reached seven wins in the regular season for the first time since 2003, benefiting from a dominant performance by linebacker Nate Irving against Wake Forest. Irving made 13 tackles, including a school-record 8.0 tackles for loss, and the Wolfpack closed the game with 35 unanswered points.
• Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman became the first Virginia duo with at least 600 receiving yards in the same season since 1989, when Herman Moore (848 yards) and Bruce McGonnigal (634 yards) accomplished the feat. Burd (47 catches for 686 yards) and Inman (41 catches for 654 yards) also became the first set of Virginia wide receivers to post at least 40 receptions apiece in the same season.
• Wake Forest suffered its eighth consecutive loss, its longest losing streak since 1978, after another poor performance on the road. The Demon Deacons (2–8, 1–6) dropped to 0–5 away from home, having allowed an average of 50.2 points in those games while getting outscored by an average margin of 37.8 points per game. With two games left to play, Wake Forest already has allowed school-record totals of 387 points and 51 touchdowns this season.
Well, look who’s joined the Big 12 South race. Oklahoma State? Nope, the Cowboys have been there all along. Texas A&M.
That’s right, the left-for-dead Aggies, 0–2 in conference play a month ago now find themselves in the thick of things, with Saturday’s 42–30 win at Baylor their fourth straight.
It wasn’t always easy in Waco — A&M trailed 30–14 late in the second quarter — but Cyrus Gray’s running and a defense that pitched a second-half shutout against the explosive Bears sparked a turnaround that led to the first four-game winning streak of the Mike Sherman era.
“We have fighters on this team,” said Aggies quarterback Ryan Tannehill, “who will do anything to win.”
Suddenly, A&M is doing it. Gray ran for a career-high 137 yards and four touchdowns, including two as the Aggies were swinging momentum in the third quarter. Tannehill remained unbeaten since taking over the starting quarterback duties from Jerrod Johnson. And the defense is showing teeth, although they were late developing against the Bears. Still, they came up with plays when needed, including a key fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter.
Now the Aggies are 4–2 in the conference, trailing Oklahoma State by one game in the South with two games to play.
A&M will need some help to carry out its Big 12 title plans. The closing schedule is rugged, with Nebraska visiting College Station before the Aggies make a trip to archrival Texas after that.
Then there’s Oklahoma State, which has the one-game lead and a tiebreaking win over the Aggies, not to mention Oklahoma, which is tied with A&M.
Still, there’s hope. And that’s something that seemed to be vanishing but a few weeks ago.
Texas A&M 42, Baylor 30
Nebraska 20, Kansas 3
Missouri 38, Kansas State 28
Colorado 34, Iowa State 14
Oklahoma 45, Texas Tech 7
Oklahoma State 33, Texas 16
Oklahoma State’s surprising season continues along an historical path, as the Cowboys keep clearing markers from their past. OSU maintained frontrunner status in the Big 12 South with its rout of Texas — the program’s first win in Austin since 1944.
“We were due,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. “Oklahoma State was due for this win. There was a lot of talk about now winning here … and they’ve had our number for a while.”
Now the Cowboys are applying expiration dates to irritating series trends. Before marking off the road win at Texas from their checklist, OSU had already won at Texas Tech for the first time since 1944 and at Kansas State for the first time since 1988.
A week of turmoil, complete with the canning of coach Dan Hawkins, followed Colorado’s collapse at Kansas. So the Buffaloes’ convincing 34–14 beating of Iowa State was nothing short of stunning.
Hawkins watched from a stadium balcony, while his son Cody Hawkins passed for 266 yards and three touchdowns to direct the win and longtime CU assistant Brian Cabral won in his debut as a head coach.
“I cannot be more proud of our players,” said an emotional Cabral. “I cannot be more proud of our coaches. They had it in them. They have a heart of gold. They never looked back.
“And they’re looking forward.”
The Cyclones, 5–6, arrived with plenty to play for, needing one win to become bowl-eligible. They left still needing one and facing a season finale at home against Missouri without senior quarterback Austen Arnaud, who suffered what was likely a season-ending knee injury in the loss to the Buffs.
For once, the news was better on the sideline of Colorado, which won its first Big 12 game of the season.
“We had all this frustration and stress and took it out today,” linebacker B.J. Beatty told reporters after the game. “I love Coach Hawk, and I always will. He gave me every opportunity I’ve had up here, but we were definitely trying to make a statement of what he’s done for us.”
Loud and clear.
Buffs running back Rodney Stewart ran a career-high 35 times for 123 yards, cracking the 1,000-yard mark for the season. The defense piled up eight sacks and two turnovers, one a fumble returned for a touchdown.
Player of the Week: Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma. Spurring OU’s rout of Texas Tech, Broyles produced eight receptions for 119 yards and three touchdowns, breaking or tying five school records in the process: career receptions (229), single season receptions (94), career TD receptions (32), 100-yard games in a season (8) and 100-yard games in a career (15). Broyles is the seventh receiver in Big 12 history to record over 3,000 yards receiving.
Game of the Week: Nebraska at Texas A&M. The resurgent Aggies need a win to stay in the South race, while the Huskers take to the road with an opportunity to clinch the North. Nebraska’s Blackshirts aren’t up to the standard of the school’s great defensive units and will be tested significantly at Kyle Field.
On the Spot: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor. Griffin is a fabulous player and Exhibit A for why Baylor is in the midst of a program turnaround. But it’s time for the Bears quarterback to put together a complete game against a quality opponent, this time Oklahoma.
In the Spotlight: Jerome Tiller, QB, Iowa State. The classy Arnaud’s regular season is done, so the Cyclones now turn to Tiller to help steer them to bowl eligibility. Tiller has played in significant moments and is 1–1 as a starter, with last year’s impressive win at Nebraska on his resumé.
Mike Sherman, coach, Texas A&M. Sherman’s line graph showed a steep decline a month ago, but now features an abrupt and serious upswing. He’s got the fan base energized with a four-game winning streak that has the Aggies in the thick of the South Division race. And he did it boldly, benching the school’s all-time total offense leader (Jerrod Johnson) for a part-time wide receiver/quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.
Baylor boasting. Griffin talked about the Bears being the team to beat in the South just a few weeks ago. Since then, they’ve been just that: a beaten team. Back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and Texas A&M have removed some of the shine from the Bears’ breakout season. Now they get Oklahoma, which has struggled on the road, yet could light up Baylor’s shaky defense.
By the Numbers
30 Consecutive games with a reception by A&M’s Jeff Fuller, a school record.
45 Seasons Nebraska has won at least nine games (including this one); 39 have come since 1970.
3,391 Passing yards by OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden, a school record.