Articles By Braden Gall

All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Start or Sit, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /columns/start-or-sit/fantasy-football-week-5-start-sit-running-backs

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Complete Week 5 NFL Fantasy Rankings

Week 5 Start & Sit: Quarterbacks
Week 5 Start & Sit: Running Backs
Week 5 Start & Sit: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Week 5 NFL Byes: Dallas, Cleveland, Washington, Baltimore, St. Louis, Miami

Start These Running Backs:

Joseph Addai, Indianapolis (Kansas City)
Don’t be fooled by the 41 yards on 11 carries last week from Addai. The Bucs forced Curtis Painter to beat them (and he nearly did). If the Colts expect to win any games this season (which they may not want to do, actually), then the ground game will have to feature prominently. And the Kansas City Chiefs haven’t stopped many rushing attacks as they rank 26th in the NFL against the run allowing 130 yards per game. They are also giving up an NFL-worst 31.5 points per game. Play Addai and feel good about it.

Willis McGahee, Denver (San Diego)
The former Bill and Raven promised big production during the summer months. Then he asked for the football more. It appears that not only was he right but that John Fox is going to give him what he wants. Certainly, a banged-up Knowshon Moreno has helped open the door, but McGahee has charged through it with renewed vigor. All but four of his 69 carries this season have come in the last three weeks, and while San Diego isn’t a great match-up, the Chargers did give up 28 points and nearly 150 yards rushing in Denver last season.

Arian Foster, Houston (Oakland)
This one may seem too obvious, but Foster looks like he is officially back. And Oakland looks ripe for the fantasy running back’s picking. The Raiders were gashed on the edge last weekend by Stevan Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the tune of 183 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. With Andre Johnson out for this one, expect Foster to get a boatload of touches.

Deep Week 5 RB Plays:

Issac Redman, Pittsburgh (Tennessee)
Even if Mendenhall plays, it is likely to be the fresher, healthier Redman who figures to get the bulk of the carries.

LaDainian Tomlinson, NY Jets (at New England)
Rex Ryan has vowed to return to the ground, and it won’t just be Shonn Greene who gets touches.

Stevan Ridley, New England (NY Jets)
With Danny Woodhead not practicing and Bill Belichick’s desire to rotate backs, look for Ridley to get 10-14 touches.

Thomas Jones, Kansas City (at Indianapolis)
The Colts have been unable to slow anyone's ground game and Jones could benefit.

Sit These Running Backs:

LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay (at San Francisco)
Blount has looked the part of weekly fantasy starter this fall. But against the Colts a mediocre fantasy week was salvaged by a late long touchdown run. And that was against one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL. This week, the Bucs travel across four time zones to take on the NFL’s No. 4 rushing defense in the Niners. They are allowing 74 yards per game on the ground and have yet to surrender a single rushing touchdown to anyone. You may have better options.

Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh (Tennessee)
After battling a bad hamstring issue all week, the Steeleres running back does not look like he should be anywhere near your line-up this week. The Titans have been stingy on defense — they rank as the No. 8 rush defense in the league at 87.8 yards per game. The Steelers offensive line has looked terrible thus far as Mendenhall is averaging just over 40 yards per game this season when healthy. Look for Redman to get plenty of work.

Ryan Grant and James Starks, Green Bay (at Atlanta)
This looks like the definition of a timeshare now that Grant has returned to the playing field. The Packers have no loyalty to any one particular running back. This game also has passing game written all over it as Green Bay is No. 2 (71 ypg) in the NFL in rushing defense and Atlanta is No. 10 (97.3 ypg).

Mike Tolbert, San Diego (at Denver)
In full PPR leagues, Tolbert still offers some value as he caught eight passes over the last two weeks. But his role continues to shrink with the emergence and improved play of Ryan Mathews. Tolbert has 10 carries in the last two games while Mathews has had 37 over that same span. If he does not reach paydirt — which he has done one time since week one — he offers little value to the traditionally scored fantasy league.

<p> Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Week 5 Start or Sit: Running Backs</p>
Post date: Friday, October 7, 2011 - 11:05
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/manny-diaz-has-eyes-texas-excited

Before the season started, Bruce Feldman wrote a great piece about Texas' new Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz. Apparently, Manny Diaz is a coach that very much believes in digging into the numbers and trying to look at coaching defense from as many angles as possible.

Diaz, who didn't play college football, was apparently very taken with Michael Lewis' book Moneyball. Since reading the book, Diaz has tried to utilize any and all available statistics to evaluate his defenses and his approach to measuring his defenses.

If you are not familiar with the book, now a major motion picture as well, Moneyball details how Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane was able to use statistical analysis to turn a low-budget, mid-market team that had become a cellar dweller into a perennial playoff contender. Since the book appeared in print in 2003, virtually every major league baseball franchise has started to use statistical analysis to help run their organization. Feldman goes into detail in his article about the different and unique statistics Diaz uses to help evaluate the success of his defenses. In the spirit of Moneyball and Coach Diaz' inner stat nerd, let's see how his CBTN stats look:

Coach School Yrs. Coached at School CBTN Rating CBTN Stars WP% WP% in Previous Five Years Avg. Recruiting Rank
Manny Diaz MTSU 4 46.22 47.37% 42.37% 96.80
Manny Diaz Miss. St. 1 74.17 69.23% 38.33% N/A - Too Few Years

For some perspective on the job Diaz has done, let's look at some numbers of his predecessors at MTSU:

Coach School Yrs. Coached at School CBTN Rating CBTN Stars WP% Avg. Scoring Defense
Steve Davis MTSU 3 25.97 45.71% 28.31
Bradley Dale Paveto MTSU 1 27.75 45.45% 24.45
Mark Criner MTSU 1 60.92 36.36% 18.73

So, the average CBTN Rating for MTSU's Defensive Coordinator's over the previous five years to Diaz' arrival was 33.32. This compares to Diaz' CBTN Rating of 46.22 rating in his four years as DC at MTSU. In other words, Diaz had a nearly 39% positive impact on MTSU's defense. Now that week 5 is in the books for this year, let's look at how Diaz is doing at Texas thus far compared to last year:

Coach School Year WP% Avg. Scoring Defense Scoring Defense National Rank Total Defense
Will Muschamp Texas 2010 41.66% 23.67 49 300.17
Manny Diaz Texas 2011 100.00% 14.75 12 289.00

So far so good in 2011. Texas may have indeed found a gem when they hired Diaz to replace Will Muschamp. However, looking at the schedule, some major defensive challenges await in the form of Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma St., and Baylor. We'll wait and see if this next stretch of games moves his numbers closer to Muschamp's mediocre 2010 numbers (by Texas standards), or if he can stay the current course. To see more our proprietary Defensive Coordinator Rankings for active and inactive Defensive Coordinators, please visit our CBTN Ranking's Page.

<p> Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has reenergized the Texas Longhorn defense.</p>
Post date: Friday, October 7, 2011 - 11:01
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Start or Sit, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /columns/start-or-sit/fantasy-football-week-5-start-sit-wrte

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Complete Week 5 NFL Fantasy Rankings

Week 5 Start & Sit: Quarterbacks
Week 5 Start & Sit: Running Backs
Week 5 Start & Sit: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Week 5 NFL Byes: Dallas, Cleveland, Washington, Baltimore, St. Louis, Miami

Start These Wide Receviers:

Julio Jones, Atlanta (Green Bay)
The first-round pick is starting to assert his authority in opposing secondaries. Seventeen catches for 242 yards in over his last two games says so despite Jones still awaiting his first trip to paydirt. The Packers defensive backs are banged up and are ranked only ahead of the Patriots in pass defense. Look for Matt Ryan and the Falcons passing game to equal or exceed Green Bay's 335 yards allowed per game.

Mike Williams, Tampa Bay (at San Francisco)
The Niners have been great against the run, ranking fourth in the league by allowing less than 75 yards on the ground per game. Josh Freeman is coming off his best game of the season and will be needed to throw it plenty if the Bucs expect to get the win. Look for Arrelious Benn and Preston Parker to have decent games as well.

Santonio Holmes, NY Jets (at New England)
The story is overdone at this point. New England ranks last in the NFL in pass defense by allowing nearly 370 yards per game. Rex Ryan has vowed to get back to the ground game — and they will — but Mark Sanchez will have plenty of opportunities to throw the ball this weekend too. Holmes has been a disappointment thus far in 2011 and has only seven receptions in the last three games. If there is going to be a breakout performance, it's going to come against the rival Pats and their atrocious secondary.

Marques Colston, New Orleans (Carolina)
The injury-prone wideout was eased back into the line-up last weekend with one reception for eight yards. Against Cam Newton, expect a more active day for the Saints' top pass-catcher in a game that could easily get into the 30s. Tone down your expectations for Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson.

Deep WR Plays:

Plaxico Burress, NY Jets (New England)
If fully healthy, all Jets pass catchers should post useful fantasy totals.

Sidney Rice, Seattle (at NY Giants)
The Seahawks finally have a vertical threat with Rice back in the line-up. And Tavaris Jackson is coming off his best game...maybe ever.

Michael Jenkins, Minnesota (Arizona)
This could be a high-scoring game in the Metrodome and Jenkins has built a nice rapport with Donovan McNabb.

Sit These Wide Receivers:

Eric Decker, Denver (San Diego)
Brandon Lloyd demanded the football and he got it with an 8-catch, 136-yard performance against a struggling secondary in a blowout loss. It's only a matter of time before Lloyd gets more redzone targets. The Chargers' secondary has been playing excellent football, however, allowing less than 200 yards passing per game. Look for John Fox to target the slightly less effective defensive line with the ground game and for the Chargers to stymie Kyle Orton — and therefore Mr. Decker.

Mario Manningham, NY Giants (Seattle)
The match-up shouldn't scare fantasy owners much at all; however, not-so-Super Mario is clearly not on the same page as Eli Manning. Or let me rephrase that, Manningham isn't on Manning's page — which is the only one that matters. There needs to be a consistent connection before he returns to must-start status.

Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, New Orleans (Carolina)
With Colston back and getting those slot, seam and redzone targets, and with Lance Moore playing quality football, there is almost instantly less room on the field for either Meachem or Henderson. They both have similar skill sets as vertical threats, so they will likely rotate more often than not. This has antacid tablets written all over it.

Deion Branch, New England (NY Jets)
Not getting targeted at all. As in, games without catches. Stay well away.

Start These Tight Ends:

Dustin Keller, NY Jets (at New England)
The Jets passing attack should be very successful and Keller could come up huge.

Rob Gronkowski, New England (NY Jets)
Public Service Announcement to Gronk owners: Forgive and forget. He will bounce back nicely.

Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit (Chicago)
Getting plenty of looks over the last two (17 receptions) and should be needed against athletic front seven.

Deeper TE Plays:

Greg Olsen, Carolina (New Orleans)
James Casey, Houston (Oakland)

<p> Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Week 5 Start or Sit: Wide Receivers, Tight Ends</p>
Post date: Friday, October 7, 2011 - 09:45
Path: /columns/start-or-sit/fantasy-football-week-5-start-sit-quarterbacks

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Complete Week 5 NFL Fantasy Rankings

Week 5 Start & Sit: Quarterbacks
Week 5 Start & Sit: Running Backs
Week 5 Start & Sit: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Week 5 NFL Byes: Dallas, Cleveland, Washington, Baltimore, St. Louis, Miami

Start These Quarterbacks:

Mark Sanchez, NY Jets (at New England)
The Jets quarterback posted his worst fantasy output of the season last week, completing only 11-of-35 passes for a season-low 119 yards and no touchdowns. However, in two of his last three meetings with New England, Sanchez has thrown three touchdowns and no picks. After four weeks, the Patriots are last in the NFL in pass defense at 368.8 yards allowed per game through the air. Sanchez could easily be a top 12 passer this weekend.

Matt Ryan, Atlanta (Green Bay)
The Falcons passer has had an interesting season. He has topped 300 yards twice but has one TD and one INT total in those two games. He has only one game with more than one touchdown, and that was a four-TD explosion in Week Two that featured only 195 yards passing. In three career games against Green Bay, Ryan has failed to reach 200 yards, but with the injuries to the Packers secondary, revenge on the mind and what should be an inability to run the ball, the Falcons passing game should be flying high this weekend. Ryan has 621 yards over his last two weeks, and the Packers are 31st in the NFL against the pass. Fantasy owners can expect that yards per game average to continue this weekend.

Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay (at San Francisco)
It took a large 26.18-point fantasy performance against the lowly Colts to elevate Josh Freeman to No. 19 overall in the fantasy rankings. Needless to say, his start to 2011 has been disappointing (or expected, depending on your preseason take on Freeman). The Niners are fourth in the NFL against the run at 74.0 yards per game, so expect Freeman to have to throw it around against the 27th-rated passing defense (284 ypg). In his only meeting with the Niners, Freeman threw for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the 21-0 win last fall. Expect him to carry last weekend’s fantasy momentum into this Sunday’s action.

Deep Week 5 QB Plays:

Matt Cassel, Kansas City (at Indianapolis)
Colts allowing 254 yards/game passing, and he is coming off best game of 2011 (260-1-0)

Curtis Painter, Indianapolis (Kansas City)
281-2-0 isn’t a bad line for your first career start, and no one has allowed more passing TD than the Chiefs (10).

Tavaris Jackson, Seattle (at NY Giants)
Posted a 319-3-2 line last weekend, and Giants secondary is decimated by injuries.

Sit These Quarterbacks:

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (Tennessee)
Big Ben was walking around in a boot all week, and the Titans have been rather stingy on defense. They rank seventh in the NFL against the pass at 212 yards allowed per game and have intercepted more passes (5) than touchdown passes allowed (4). The Steelers offensive line has been an absolute sieve thus far in 2011, and Big Ben has been sacked nine times and fumbled four times in three career games against the Titans. And with Reshard Mendenhall far below 100 percent, the entire Black and Gold offense could struggle this weekend.

Matt Schaub, Houston (Oakland)
It’s a fairly simple equation: Matt Schaub minus Andre Johnson equals fantasy mediocrity. In 2011, Schaub is averaging only 240 yards per game – his worst per-game average since his first season in Houston back in 2007. This is partly because the Texans boast the NFL’s No. 4 rushing attack now that Arian Foster is back to full strength. Oakland is leading the NFL in rushing and just allowed the Pats to roll up 185 yards on the ground. Expect a lot of handoffs in this contest of running backs Foster and Darren McFadden.

Jay Cutler, Chicago (at Detroit)
As is typical in a Mike Martz scheme, protecting the quarterback is low on his priority list. Cutler has been sacked 15 times — second only to Sam Bradford’s 18. And the Detriot Lions have a nasty front line that has nine sacks and helped with seven interceptions. Cutler entered last weekend averaging 38 attempts and 286 yards per game. He attempted only 17 passes for 102 yards and no touchdowns in a 34-point game against Carolina. Matt Forte was featured prominently and could be once again this weekend. On the road against a swarming front seven doesn’t sound like a recipe for fantasy success this weekend.

<p> Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Week 5 Start or Sit: Quarterbacks</p>
Post date: Friday, October 7, 2011 - 09:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Washington Huskies
Path: /columns/athlon-interview/washington-husky-legend-don-james-talks-college-football

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Athlon Sports' Braden Gall had a chance to sit down with legendary Washington Huskies football coach Don James. The 1991 National Champion coach touched on the evolution of college football, the current NCAA landscape, his favorite memories and the future of Washington Husky football.

Braden Gall: You started your career at Kent State. What was it like coaching Nick Saban, Gary Pinkel and Jack Lambert all at the same time?

Don James: When I got there, the coach said you’ve got half a dozen guys that you are going to be delighted with because of their attitude and effort. And then you got about a half dozen guys you absolutely have to get rid of because they are going to do everything they can to destroy the locker room. It was safe to say that those three guys were on the good list.

BG: Talk about the job Steve Sarkisian has done so far at Washington.

DJ: I think he has done a great job. He started from an 0-12 season and last year they were 3-6 before winning the last three games to get bowl eligible. And I think two of those wins came with the ball in the air for a field goal when the clock was running out. Then I went down [to San Diego] to see the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska and that was by far their best game of the season. So they have clearly made progress. And [Keith Price] has a much better supporting cast than Jake Locker had. Poor Jake stayed there and helped us without a lot of support. Quarterbacks can play better with good defenses because they get better field position and they get the other team off the field. So, I think we have made good progress.

BG: You were there when the Pac-8 grew to the Pac-10. The conference just went through a major transition with the growth to 12 teams. What are your thoughts on the growth of the conference and the job Larry Scott has done?

DJ: I think he has done a great job, obviously with the [TV] contracts. I was always opposed to expansion because I have mentioned many times if you have a paint store on one block you don’t want two more paint stores coming in on the same block. So I was always a fan of the Pac-8. Of course, then we grew to the Pac-10 and I have learned to live with that and I understand the need for it.

But now I think TV and money dictates everything. You want to get to 12 teams so you can have a championship game and generate more income. Now I see where they are considering ways to pay the athletes, but how are the MAC and other mid-majors schools that don’t get giant crowds going to do that? I don’t understand it. They get academic counseling, they get room, board, books, tuition and fees. Now the NCAA allows summer school as well, so they are very well paid.

BG: What is the biggest difference in college football between the beginning of your tenure versus the end of your career – and now 20 years later?

DJ: When I first got started, I coached at Florida State then went to Michigan and then Colorado. So I got different, great areas of football experience.

Everything changes. Before it used to be players were being paid in some conferences like the old Southwest Conference. Then alums were taken out of the equation. And now it looks like the alums are back in. NFL football grew and then we had agent problems. You know we will probably always have agent problems. Now they are sneaking around trying to get a hold of your young players and get them committed. The situation at Miami, where I played, is unbelievable.

The NCAA rules have taken football coaches away from their players. When I was at Florida State we bed-checked those kids every night of the year and we could work out winter programs to the day. And now it’s a 20-hour work week. So they have taken the coaches away from the players but the coaches are more responsible for the players. So you tell me how that is going to work?

BG: What would you say the toughest part of being a current college football coach is?

DJ: You always have the high pressure of the media because now you have the internet and everybody knows who the top high school players are. So you are being second-guessed on evaluation all the time. I never relied on media for my evaluation. We are going to do that as a staff.

It changes, like I said. We have taken alums out of recruiting and now it seems they are back in it according to the Miami situation. How do you control a guy you don’t even know or see?

The biggest change has been, of course, offering scholarships to juniors. I never had to do that. I saw some guys that were obviously great prospects but I never wanted to offer one a scholarship until they were done with their senior year.

BG: Talk about the 1991 team that won the national championship. What does that group mean to you and what did it mean to share that title with your alma mater?

DJ: First of all, it was sort of a mythical situation where you had two championships. And back in 1984, we won the 1985 Orange Bowl and we lost out in the vote to BYU. I wanted to win one, but you never knew until the votes come in. I think [in 1991] that we were the greatest football team maybe ever up to that date. We had speed, youth, experience, top draft choices, and I think we could have beaten Miami even though they are my alma mater. Obviously they thought they could beat us, but I guess we will never know.

BG: Talk about the favorite places you like to go play?

DJ: There was never any places I liked to go play. If you played at Texas A&M you weren’t going to hear a snap count. There was no way those students were going to let you hear the snap count. So you had to adjust. Arizona State kind of turned into that when John Cooper was there. He was waving a towel and getting the crowd noise up. So I went back to our fans at Washington and I said when teams come into Husky Stadium, they don’t deserve to hear a snap count. So we got our fans revved up. The referee used to step in at the goal-line and try to get the fans to settle down. Fortunately, the refs finally gave up and let the fans make as much noise as they want. You can adjust your offense to go on silent counts or at the snap of the ball.

Stadiums that were tough? It wasn’t tough going to Oregon, Oregon State or Washington State for a while, but then they got good. And those stadiums got much tougher because they are a little smaller, there is no track and the fans are almost right on the field.

BG: Who were some of the most memorable players you coached or coached against?

DJ: The ones you read about everyday. Lambert was a great player for the Steelers and in the NFL Hall of Fame. I like the guys that are coaching now. Dave Christenson at Wyoming played for me and he coached for Gary Pinkel. Of course, Gary played for me and coached with me, working his way up through the ranks. I could see his development.

I kind of got Nick Saban started in coaching. I think his wife needed another year to get her degree so we encouraged him to come out and coach with us. He does a great job. I think those type of guys and I watch their scores and progress.

Then there is a lot of guys who were great kids and great players. Napoleon Kaufman played with the Raiders and now he has a church in Oakland. He has done some great things, so you follow those guys. But there are a lot of guys who have done really well and are successful. I remember mostly the ones who came back to help the University, contribute and go to games.

BG: Any particular players you remember preparing for and thinking how are we going to stop this guy?

DJ: You know there was a quarterback who played at Stanford and played for the Denver Broncos that was probably the hardest guy to prepare for because he was so big and strong. The Elway family was originally from Washington, you know, and we knew about him and tried to recruit him. We probably came close but didn’t get him.

You wanted to try to keep him in the pocket to throw, because if he got outside he could beat you throwing and running. He was probably the hardest player to defend against.

BG: Talk about the Xs and Os. What are the biggest differences in scheme between when you were coaching and today’s game?

DJ: It always changes. When I was at Florida State we threw the ball a ton and looked like an NFL team with Steve Tensi and Fred Biletnikoff. We had great defenses and that is kind of what I built my reputation on. And back in those days we would go to the San Diego Chargers camp and learn everything we could about the NFL, throwing the ball, routes and coverages.

Then I got to the wishbone and we got in real tight like Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma: Run six plays and run them well. Of course, then I was with Eddie Crowder at Colorado. So I got a little bit of that background. Then Woody Hayes – we’re not going to throw the ball. Of course, I grew up in the SEC coaching and that was with Bobby Dodd and General Neyland and those guys. You know, they would punt on third down when they were backed up. The kicking game was just so important back then. Kicking game, defense and run the ball.

Then I worked with Keith Gilbertson my last couple of years here and we had the one-back sets. But when you saw us go to one back, all you worried about was the draw. (Plus all the throwing.) So I brought in Keith and I wanted to do some of the things the Washington Redskins were doing with the counter trey out of the one-back set pulling two linemen and so forth. So I wanted to be a running team also out of the one-back.

So we adjusted and then they adjusted to us. Then we became a blitz team and played man-to-man and blitzed almost every down and had some great defensive years.

The defenses always catch up. It’s going to be interesting to me to see what the defenses do to stop the Oregon offense, for example. They don’t ever want you to huddle up. Pinkel did that with Christenson at Missouri and now Dave’s doing it at Wyoming. It changes and it’s constantly on the change. The offenses do something good and eventually the defenses catch up.

BG: What is your favorite college town in America?

DJ: I grew up in Massillon, Ohio, and as far as high school football goes, you can't hardly beat that. I think the Big Ten schools were special – Michigan and Ohio State. When I was out at Colorado, you couldn’t beat Nebraska. In fact, you couldn’t beat them at home either. They would bring more people into our stadium than we had.

You can go all over the country and find great places. The Coliseum is big, and playing UCLA was always special once UCLA started playing in the Rose Bowl. It was always a thrill just to go to the Rose Bowl. We went to six of them. There are so many great stadiums out there.

BG: In light of what is happening with Miami, is there anything that can be done with all the boosters, go-betweens and agents causing problems?

DJ: You have to fix it with your own players. And I am sure coaches now are doing the same things I did with my players. You have got to tell them the rules. They need to pass an NCAA rules test. And then continue to hammer them with rules. We would hammer our kids about agents and alums all the time. They can't take you to dinner, they can't call you.

And you just have to recruit good kids too. Poor kids are the problem. You bring in kid you doesn’t have a dime and someone like that guy down at Miami is offering them this stuff. And obviously he is down there in prison, so he is obviously not a high character guy. He couldn’t care less about the NCAA rules. He wanted to get close to the athletes. And there are lots of alums like that, they want to get to know the kids and do things for them. You have to keep in front of your own guys. Recruit high quality kids and keep them abreast of the rules and just keep hammering.

Special thanks to Athlon Sports partner The Legends Poll

Other Legend's Interviews:

Georgia's Vince Dooley
Air Force's Fisher DeBerry


<p> Athlon sat down with one of college football's greats to talk Washington football and more.</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 6, 2011 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/stevan-ridley-fantasy-stud-patriots

The New England Patriots have had a history of mixing and matching running backs. That trend was cemented by the fact that Bill Belichick drafted Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. So the Patriots entered the season with reigning 1,000-yard back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, cult hero Danny Woodhead and two highly touted rookie running backs all vying for carries.

Against the Oakland Raiders on the road, the group had its best game of the season, rushing for a season-high 185 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. More impressively, the Patriots did it without Woodhead, who hopped off the field with an ankle injury after two carries. It appears that the injury will not be a serious, but he did not return to the field, and Stevan Ridley reaped the benefits by running for 97 yards on 10 carries and a key touchdown run.

With Vereen still waiting to play his first NFL snap, the onus of running the football for New England will fall to Green-Ellis and Ridley. If you are a fantasy owner with The Lawfirm on the roster, it just makes too much sense to add Ridley. He is a must-add for Woodhead owners as well.

The burly Ridley (5-foot-11, 225) was a workhorse in America's top conference for LSU last season. He carried the ball 249 times for 1,147 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior, and nothing about his breakout performance this weekend says he won't continue to be successful.

Will Ridley become a feature back and get 25 carries per game for the Patriots? Of course not. Keep in mind, Green-Ellis also put forth his best yardage total of the season (75 yards), scored his third touchdown in four games and got six more touches than Ridley.

All signs point to Ridley getting more involved in the offense as both he and Green-Ellis should provide some quality fantasy value for the rest of the year. Whether it's a tough but important match-up (Jets, Steelers, Giants) or an easy lay-up (Miami, Denver, Kansas City, Indianapolis), both backs should expect to get plenty of work for the rest of 2011.

- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

<p> Stevan Ridley: Fantasy Stud for the Patriots?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - 16:49
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NC State Wolfpack
Path: /columns/national-notebook/frank-spaziani-tom-obrien-hot-seat-together

- by (@CoachesBTN on twitter)

Some things just seem to work better when they are paired together: Peanut Butter & Jelly, Tom & Jerry, Laurel & Hardy, Sonny & Cher, Ben Stiller & Owen Wilson. We think we have another pairing to add to the above group: O'Brien & Spaziani. Tom O'Brien took over the head coaching job at Boston College in 1997. That same year he hired Frank Spaziani, then a defensive coordinator in the Canadian Football League, as his defensive backs coach. In 1999, O'Brien promoted Spaziani to the job of defensive coordinator. Let's take a look at some hard numbers from 2001-2006 for O'Brien & Spaziani:  

CBTN HC Stars CBTN DC Stars Overall WP% 9+ Win Seasons Bowl Record Avg. Scor. Def. Avg. Scor. Off.
70.67% 4 6-0 18.77 ppg 23.21 ppg

To say the very least, the above numbers are pretty impressive. In fact, from 2001-2006, Tom O'Brien was a top 20 head coach and Frank Spaziani was a top 20 defensive coordinator. What's even more impressive about this is the fact that from 2002-2006 Boston College had an average recruiting class of 45.20. After the 2006 season, Tom O'Brien accepted the head coaching at North Carolina State. O'Brien took long-time offensive coordinator Dana Bible with him, but Frank Spaziani remained at Boston College as the defensive coordinator for new head coach Jeff Jagodzinski. After Jagodzinski was fired after the 2008 season, Spaziani was named the new head coach at Boston College. Let's take a look at how the two have done without each other:

Coach CBTN HC Star Rating Overall WP% 9+ Win Seasons Bowl Record Avg. Scoring Def. Avg. Scor. Off.
Tom O'Brien 49.09% 1 1-1 27.69 ppg 27.44 ppg

As you can see, without Spaziani as his defensive coordinator, O'Brien's scoring defense numbers have increased by 47.52%. His scoring offense numbers have actually increased by 18.22%, but that doesn't matter too much when you are giving up almost 48% more points per game on average. Also keep in mind that during this time, North Carolina State has had an average recruiting class of 49.80, which is virtually identical to the average recruiting class O'Brien had at Boston College. Now, let's see how Spaziani has fared as a head coach:

Coach CBTN Star Rating Overall WP% 9+ Win Seasons Bowl Record Avg. Scor. Def. Avg. Scor. Off.
Frank Spaziani 51.61% 0 0-2 20.97 ppg 21.28

As a head coach, Spaziani is still putting up solid defensive numbers, but his offensive stats are pretty atrocious. In his thirty games as head coach at Boston College, Spaziani's team has only scored 30 or more points five times or 16.67% of the time. From 2001-2006, Boston College scored 30 or more points 42.67% of the time. So far this year, O'Brien & Spaziani are a combined 3-7 and both coaches appear to be on hot seats at their respective programs. One of the hardest questions to answer when analyzing coaches is how dependent they are on other coaches. Every coach is dependent on other coaches to some degree, but some coaches appear to be more dependent than others (see here and here).

When it comes to O'Brien & Spaziani, the numbers seem to allow for the conclusion that maybe they should have kept the band together.

<p> Both NC State and Boston College will have tough decisions to make at the end of 2011 concerning Tom O'Brien and Frank Spaziani.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - 13:01
Path: /nfl/redskins-ryan-torain-running-back-own-washington

NFL Fantasy owners are constantly in search of help at the running back position. And with the bye weeks here for the next two months, Washington Redskins' running back Ryan Torain makes a great addition to any fantasy roster. Especially, those with Roy Helu and Tim Hightower already rostered.

Hightower is dealing with a shoulder injury and rumors swirled last weekend prior to the St. Louis game that Torain was going to get more work. Well, he did just that with 135 yards and one touchdown on only 19 carries. Most importantly, the Redskins won 17-10 behind the solid 7.1 yards per carry work by Torain.

Mike Shannahan has proven over the course of his career that he has no loyalty towards anyone that carries the football and will change running backs like he changes socks. With Hightower banged-up and much better suited for the starting roll versus the change-of-pace roll, Torain figures to get the bulk of the carries from here on out. In fact, Helu may actually jump Hightower on the depth chart because his skill set is, unlike Hightower, better suited for third downs, passing situations and the desired change-of-pace scenarios.

Additionally, Torain is a known NFL commodity. The Redskins running back rushed for 742 yards and four touchdowns on 164 carries in only 10 games last season - making Torain one of fantasy football's top waiver wire additions in 2010.

If Torain can stay healthy, it will be hard for Shannahan and the Redskins not to give the fresh-legged running back the bulk of the carries. The key for fantasy owners will be Torain's ability to stay on the field. He has fractured an elbow, tore an ACL, pulled a groin, strained a hamstring and, in August, had surgery to insert three screws into his broken left hand.

If you own either Hightower or Helu, Torain is a must-add. If you are looking for bye week help, Torain is a must-add. If you are in need of running back depth (which is mostly everyone), then Torain is a must-add.

No matter how you slice it, Torain should not be on your fantasy league's waiver wire.

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

<p> Redskins' Ryan Torain the running back to own in Washington?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - 12:52
All taxonomy terms: Andrew Luck, Chad Henne, Miami Dolphins, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/dolphins-chad-henne-injured-will-draft-andrew-luck

Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne is getting a second opinion on a season-ending shoulder injury. While the Dolphins await the results of more tests on Henne's left shoulder, head coach Tony Sparano is looking for a replacement during the bye week.

Apparently, Jake Delhomme, David Garrard, Brodie Croyle and Trent Edwards have all been contacted as potential options to fill in for Henne. Garrard's agent says he will not sign with Miami, while Edwards and Croyle were at the Dolphins' facilities working out for the coaching staff. Delhomme reportedly declined the workout invitation.

The real question Dolphins' fan need to ask themselves is: Is losing the starting quarterback this year a bad thing? The answer to that question is definitively NO. That is right, having Brodie Croyle as your starting quarterback for the remainder of the 2011 season is actually a huge step in the right direction.

And no, not because he is going to win football games. Precisely the opposite is true, actually. Croyle under center ensures one key facet to the rebuilding of the Miami Dolphins franchise: The drafting of Stanford quarterback prodigy Andrew Luck with the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The remainder of the schedule is downright brutal for the Dolphins. The Fish have to play the entire NFC East, New England, the Jets and Bills twice each and Oakland. That leaves a Week 7 match-up with Denver and a Week 9 contest against Kansas City as the only winnable games left on the schedule. A 2-14 record would all but guarantee the Dolphins the worst record in the NFL and the chance to draft Luck with the first overall pick in the April draft.

So cheer up Miami fans, you now have plenty to root for in 2011.

It just won't involve Chad Henne — or winning football games.

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

<p> Dolphins' Chad Henne Injured, Will Draft Andrew Luck</p>
Post date: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - 12:11
Path: /nfl/chris-cooley-needs-shut-about-tony-romo

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

The Washington Redskins' tight end Chris Cooley has had some interesting things to say about Dallas Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo this week after watching Dallas blow another fourth-quarter lead to the Detroit Lions. He didn't mince words.

“It’s SO good,” Cooley said of Romo’s fourth-quarter choke-job on his weekly appearance on the LaVar and Dukes show. “I was watching the scoreboard in St. Louis, and I didn’t see that they’d lost really until they end, I thought they blew them out so I kind of stopped paying attention. It’s amazing, AMAZING to watch him choke like that.

“I’m just saying, I’m up 24 points in the third quarter, if I’m the head coach, I feel like I could probably just take a knee for the rest of the game, punt it away and there’s no way that Detroit’s gonna drive on you that many times,” Cooley continued. “The only way you’re gonna give up that many points is turnovers, right? It’s hilarious to watch him throw pick-sixes, too, back-to-back. I loved it. But it wouldn’t be as good as my cage fight.”

LaVar Arrington couldn't let the cagefighting reference go unnoticed, so he asked Cooley how long a cage fight with Romo would last.

“For me to beat Tony? I’m gonna be honest, I don’t know what kind of cagefighting skills he has,” Cooley answered. “I would probably try to incorporate my wrestling ability, like when I was in high school. Obviously it’s been a while, but I didn’t like to beat people fast. I like to embarrass 'em a little bit. Like, take a 24-point lead, and then just play with it a little bit.”

I love a good trash talking as much as the next guy — and as far as trash talking goes, this one (as we say around the office) is strong-to-quite-strong. There is one major issue here, however. Cooley and the Redskins got beat by a fourth-quarter comeback on national television by Tony Romo and the Cowboys not even two weeks ago. And Romo did it with receivers who couldn't line up right, a center who couldn't snap the ball and without scoring an offensive touchdown!

Cooley’s comments are not incorrect or egregious in any way. And frankly, they are as entertaining as any comments I have heard in years — especially considering the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry. Maybe they were over the top, but not necessarily untrue. The problem, Mr. Cooley, is your timing. If you are going to run your mouth about a player who is the No. 5-rated passer in NFL history, you better have not just gotten beat by said player 10 days earlier.

To top it all off, Cooley has been dramatically outplayed by teammate Fred Davis and may not even be the best tight end on his own team. Davis has caught 16 passes to Cooley's seven, 248 yards to Cooley's 66 and Cooley has yet to reach the endzone.

I love the attitude. I love the moxie. And I would take Cooley in a cage fight against Romo any day.

But right now, Romo is 1-0 against the Redskins, Chris.

<p> Chris Cooley Needs to Shut Up About Tony Romo</p>
Post date: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - 10:51
Path: /columns/heisman-watch/athlon-sports-heisman-voting-week-6

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Each week, the Athlon editors will vote on the most prestigious award in all of college football. A nine-man conglomerate of college football gurus from Athlon Sports will vote for their top 10 Heisman Trophy candidates. The votes will be tallied and the result will be posted as the Athlon Sports Heisman Watch List every Wednesday of the regular season.

Note: The scoring system is as follows: A first place vote earns a player 10 points. A second place votes earns nine points - so on and so forth until the 10th place player receives one point.

The Wisconsin Badgers pulled off the biggest win of the weekend, and quarterback Russell Wilson is a huge reason why. The former All-ACC performer has not only fit in quickly in Madison, but is now leading a national title contender. The Athlon Heisman contender has watched his stock rise every week of the season. Wilson didn't receive a single vote in the preseason ballot. He debuted on the list at 11th before Week Two. He moved to ninth prior to Week Three, sixth before Week Four and fifth last week.

Now, he is the top challenger to Andrew Luck — who has yet to relinquish his hold of the top slot at any point during the 2011 season.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (86/90 total points, 8/9 first place votes)
Season Stats: 80/112, 1,013 yards, 11 TD, INT, 11 att., 58 yards, TD

The Cardinal rolled over UCLA 45-19 this weekend and Luck put his athleticism on full display. A tight-rope one-handed catch down the sideline (yes, I said catch) made all of the highlight tapes, but his near-flawless 23-of-27 performance led to Stanford's 12th straight win. He threw for another 227 yards and three more touchdowns. Next Game: Colorado

  Name Pos. Team Pts 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Ballots
1. Andrew Luck QB Stanford 86 8 - - - 1 9
2. Russell Wilson QB Wisconsin 74 - 3 5 1 - 9
3. Robert Griffin III QB Baylor 62 - 1 2 3 2 9
4. Kellen Moore QB Boise State 60 - 2 1 3 - 9
5. Trent Richardson RB Alabama 56 - 2 1 1 3 9
6. Marcus Lattimore RB South Carolina 40 - 1 - 1 1 8
7. Landry Jones QB Oklahoma 30 - - - - 2 7
8. Denard Robinson QB Michigan 29 1 - - - - 7
9. Brandon Weeden QB Oklahoma St 28 - - - - - 7
10. Justin Blackmon WR Oklahoma St 10 - - - - - 3
11. LaMichael James RB Oregon 4 - - - - - 2
12. Robert Woods WR USC 4 - - - - - 2
13. Tyrann Mathieu CB LSU 4 - - - - - 3
14. Ryan Broyles WR Oklahoma 3 - - - - - 2
15. Tajh Boyd QB Clemson 3 - - - - - 2
16. Darron Thomas QB Oregon 1 - - - - - 1
17. Matt Barkley QB USC 1 - - - - - 1

2. Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin (74)
Season Stats: 83/111, 1,391 yards, 13 TD, INT, 22 att., 140 yards, 2 TD

If voters hadn't had a chance to watch Wilson's dual-threat skills in action before Saturday, you can bet everyone knows about him now. Wilson danced and dodged Husker defenders all night long to the tune of 255 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers, 32 more yards rushing and another sprint into the endzone in the 48-17 statement win over Nebraska. Wisconsin has outscored its opponents by at least 31 points in every game, and Wilson is No. 2 nationally with an absurd 216.89 efficiency rating. Next Game: Bye Week

3. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (62)
Season Stats: 92/112, 1,481 yards, 18 TD, 1 INT, 36 att., 173 yards, TD

Griffin III threw five touchdown passes for the third time in four 2011 games in the tough road loss to Kansas State (36-35). The Bears quarterback completed 23-of-31 passes for 346 yards to go with those five touchdowns. He is still leading the nation in efficiency with a 230.33 QB rating; however, his first interception of the season cost Baylor the game against KSU. Arthur Brown picked off the talented quarterback in the closing minutes, leading to the game-deciding field goal. Next Game: Iowa State

4. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (75 pts)
Season Stats: 102/138, 1,137 yards, 14 TD, 4 INT, 5 att., (-6) yards

Despite a dominating 30-10 revenge victory over Nevada this weekend, voters would be shocked by Moore's stat line. He completed only 19-of-33 passes for 142 yards, two touchdowns and a rare two interceptions. It was only Moore's third career game with more than one interception (Hawaii 2010, Nevada in 2008) over 44 career starts (42-2). Next Game: at Fresno State

5. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (26)
Season Stats: 96 att., 622 yards, 10 TD, 11 rec., 148 yards, TD

In the mini-Heisman battle at running back, Marcus Lattimore has led for the entirety of the 2011 season. Until now. Richardson, behind a stellar showing in Gainesville, has leapt over the Carolina stud and into the Top Five. T-Rich carried the ball 29 times for 181 yards and two scores (with two receptions for 27 yards through the air) in Alabama's third extremely convincing quality win of the season, 38-10 over Florida. He has scored at least two touchdowns in four of Bama's five wins thus far. Next Game: Vanderbilt

6. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (73)
Season Stats: 124 att., 691 yards, 9 TD, 12 rec., 139 yards, TD

Coming into the weekend, Auburn ranked 112th against the run (226.5 ypg) and 92nd in points allowed (31.0 ppg). So it was shocking to see Marcus Lattimore held to nearly 100 yards below his season average. Lattimore and the Cocks fell to the defending champs 16-13, and the talented tailback got only 17 carries for 66 yards — both of which were his lowest totals of the season. He also failed to record a reception for the first time since Week Three against Furman in 2010. Lattimore will have to lead Carolina to Atlanta with tremendous statistics if he expects to get to New York as a sophomore — which, of course, is totally within reason considering his talent. Next Game: Kentucky

7. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (48)
Season Stats: 111/155, 1,447 yards, 10 TD, 5 INT, 8 att., 3 yards, 2 TD

The Sooners rolled 62-6 over Ball State last weekend, setting up the big Red River Shootout this weekend (Rivarly just doesn't sound right to a guy who lived in Texas as a kid). Jones lit up the Cardinals defense to the tune of 425 yards (his second straight 400-yard effort) and five touchdowns. The schedule, and potential trip to the BCS title game, gets daunting from here on out. Next Game: Texas (Cotton Bowl)

8. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (29)
Season Stats: 50/91, 793 yards, 8 TD, 6 INT, 77 att., 603 yards, 6 TD

Against a rival in Minnesota, Robinson played his most efficient game of the season. Shoelace completed 15-of-19 passes for 169 yards and two scores and no interceptions. He added 51 yards rushing and another score on only six carries in the 58-0 win over the Gophers. Passing the football with efficiency and staying healthy will be key to Robinson's Heisman — and Michigan's Big Ten title — chances. Next Game: at Northwestern

9. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (28)
Season Stats: 142/191, 1,592 yards, 10 TD, 6 INT, 9 att., (-69) yards

The Pokes had the weekend off after the thrilling second-half comeback against Texas A&M. The schedule gets hard now as Texas, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma are still on the slate. Kansas should provide another offensive warm-up. Weeden threw for 389 yards and three scores in the 48-14 win over the Jayhawks last season. Next Game: Kansas

10. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (28)
Season Stats: 38 rec., 450 yards, 4 TD

See Brandon Weeden. Blackmon caught 10 passes for 130 yards and a score against Kansas last fall. Next Game: Kansas

Previous Voting:

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 5

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 4

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 3

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 2

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 1

<p> Athlon Sports Heisman Voting: Week 6</p>
Post date: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - 07:50
Path: /nfl/legarrette-blount-continues-impress-buccaneers

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tailback LeGarrette Blount has taken an interesting path to his starting job as an NFL running back.

The 188-mile journey from Taylor County High School in Perry, Florida to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay has been anything but ordinary for Blount. In 2005, he first attempted to enroll at Auburn directly out of high school but failed to qualify after receiving very little interest as a two-star recruit. So Blount landed at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Miss., where he garnered JUCO All-American honors.

Blount signed with the Oregon Ducks over other offers from West Virginia, Florida State and Ole Miss. After a stellar 2008 season in Eugene, in which he rushed for 1,002 yards and 17 touchdowns, Blount became a national headline (and punchline for that matter) at the start of the 2009 campaign when he delivered a right-handed sucker punch to Boise State Bronco linebacker Byron Hout. Blount, who also got involved with BSU fans as he was escorted from the stadium, had totalled -8 yards from scrimmage and was caught for a safety in the loss to Boise State.

He was suspended indefinitely.

After a letter of apology, Blount was reinstated with four games left in the season and ended up playing a key role in the season finale against Oregon State and played in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State.

Blount went undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft and was eventually signed by the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent. In August of his first NFL preseason camp, Blount again got himself into trouble by throwing another right hook at Titans teammate Eric Bakhtiari. Subsequently, the Titans placed Blount on waivers.

Enter the Tampa Bay Bucs. On September 6, Tampa Bay claimed Blount off of waivers and inserted him into the lineup in Week 3 against Pittsburgh. He scored his first touchdown in his first career game. Three weeks later, Blount topped the 100-yard mark for the first time in his short career. He finished the 2010 season with 201 carries, 1,007 yards and six touchdowns.

Now, four weeks into his second season, the Bucs are riding Blount like the franchise back that he could be. He has carried 49 times in the last two games, and he posted his second-highest yardage total of 127 yards on Monday night in the key win over the Indianapolis Colts. Most importantly, his 35-yard fourth-quarter game-winning touchdown run pushed the Bucs to 3-1 on the young season. His 294 yards are sixth in the NFC.

With loads of mental focus question marks swirling around him for the better part of a decade, Blount has overcome suspensions, poor grades, fighting and depth charts to establish himself as a potential go-to tailback.

Now, we'll see if he can stay out of trouble.

<p> LeGarrette Blount Continues to Impress for Buccaneers</p>
Post date: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - 13:21
Path: /nfl/colts-dolphins-battle-nfls-worst-record-and-andrew-luck

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

One lucky NFL team is going to "acquire" the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and land the surest quarterback prospect in decades. Unfortunately, in order to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, one NFL team is going to have to be very (un)lucky on the field in 2011.

At the quarter pole of the NFL season, four teams have separated themselves from the pack as the top (or bottom, depending on how you look at it) contenders for the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams each have started the season 0-4 and each has a good shot at getting Luck with the first pick. (Just for good measure, keep an eye on the Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos, as each could easily slip into this race as well.)

Since the St. Louis Rams already have their franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford — and are struggling so mightily due in large part to a rash of injuries — they will clearly not be in the market for the Stanford signal-caller. Additionally, playing in the NFC West should afford the Rams a few more chances to win than if they played in the, say, AFC East.

The Minnesota Vikings have proven in short order that they can compete with just about anyone — for 30 minutes. With the most talented running back on the planet and a potential Hall of Fame quarterback under center, Minnesota should be able to reach four or five wins, which would likely take them out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. There is also that small issue of last year's first-round pick, Christian Ponder — and all of his money — which also impedes the Vikes from selecting Luck.

That leaves the Miami Dolphins and the Indianapolis Colts.

The Andrew Luck watch — aka "Suck for Luck" — should be on in full force in both cities, and one lucky team will get the stellar quarterback. The Colts have a roster loaded with veteran players who are accustomed to winning — and winning big. The team has played well against the Steelers and Bucs in its last two losses — clearly making a big mistake by showing actual desire to win football games. So with games against Kansas City, Cincinnati, Carolina, two with Tennessee and Jacksonville each still left on the schedule, the odds say the Colts win at least four if not five games.

No, the smart money is on Andrew Luck returning to the site of his Orange Bowl thumping of Virginia Tech and becoming a member of the Miami Dolphins. The Fish still have to play the entire NFC East, Oakland, Buffalo twice, the Jets twice and New England again. Kansas City and Denver look like the only two winnable games left on the schedule. So assuming — because this is the NFL, after all — that the Dolphins pull off one upset, they are looking at a 3-13 record at best. Top it off with a coach who could be receiving his pink slip at any moment and you have a recipe for disaster (or in this case, celebration).

So if the Dolphins — and any player with more than one year left on the contract — were smart, they would start the rebuilding process today by losing as many games as possible. It sounds pathetic and flies in the face of all that sports represent, but underachievement from here on out might be the best way to improve the franchise long-term.

Because a player like Andrew Luck does not come along very often.

<p> The race is on for the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - 11:00
Path: /columns/waiver-wire/fantasy-football-waiver-wire-week-5

Some of the players listed in Athlon Sports' NFL Fantasy Football Waiver Wire Week 5 may be one-week adds, some may be season-long adds and some are listed just for you to keep an eye on to stash on your roster if you have the space.

Scoring is based on Athlon Sports default scoring which is 6 points for all TDs, .5 points per reception and 1 point per 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving and 40 return yards.

Also, if you have any fantasy football questions for Week 5's Ask Athlon, send them my way @AthlonBraden on Twitter or via email to


With bye weeks here to stay for the next two months or so, it is time to grab a bigger picture of what might be out there on the waiver wire. For those GMs in two-QB leagues, finding someone for two weeks is imperative. Those who went early and never again on a QB in the draft — which isn't all that terrible of a strategy — might be scowering the waiver wire for a one-week spot start. Any way you slice it, it is never a bad time to start looking to the future — especially when it comes to the QB position.

Matt Hasselbeck, TEN
The Next Six: PIT, bye, HOU, IND, CIN, CAR
He is the No. 8-ranked fantasy QB with 1,152 yards, 8 TD and 3 INT at the quarter pole. I shouldn't have to do the math for you. He is a must-add in two-QB systems, and with Houston, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Carolina looming after Week 7, the Titans signal-caller could prove very worthy from Weeks 7-10.

Colt McCoy, CLE
The Next Six: Bye, OAK, SF, HOU, STL, JAC, CIN
McCoy has outperformed Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, Josh Freeman, Big Ben, Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb thus far in 2011. In fact, the Texas product is a top-16 option, while every one of those aformentioned names is not. After the bye this week, the consistency of McCoy will be useful against the likes of St. Louis, San Francisco, Jacksonville and Cincinnati.

Andy Dalton, CIN
The Next Six: JAC, IND, bye, SEA, TEN, PIT, BAL, CLE
His combined QB rating from this last two games (40.8, 64.4) is nearly two points short of his second career start at 107.0. Reality is likely somewhere in between the two. And against the likes of Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Seattle and Tennessee (with a bye week dead in the middle), Dalton should have plenty of chances to utilize his uber-talented receiving corps.

Running Backs

Ryan Torain, WAS
The injury-prone runner finally got his chance in 2011 and he certainly made the most of it. Torain, after a strong second half to last season, had to wait until midway of quarter number two during Week 4 of play against the Rams. After 19 carries and 135 yards, Torain has injected himself into the Mike Shanahan tailback competition. Roy Helu looks like the long-term solution, and Tim Hightower looks like the short-term answer. But Torain could create loads of value should either falter — or get hurt.

Stevan Ridley, NE
This one may take a couple of weeks to pay off, but when Bill Belichick wants to run the football, Ridley will figure prominently. Cries for him to start are overzealous as the Lawfirm will likely always get the bulk (16 carries to Ridley's 10 this weekend) of the workload. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been too effective to completely remove from the eqaution, but if you own BJGE, Ridley would be a smart addition.

Montario Hardesty, CLE
With Peyton Hillis out two weeks ago, Hardesty totalled 86 yards from scrimmage on 17 touches. With Hillis in the game, Hardesty totalled 71 yards on 13 touches, including five catches this weekend. The carries look to be divided much more evenly than expected, so add Hardesty immediately if you are a Hillis owner.

Wide Receivers

No Brainers: Neither Eric Decker of Denver nor Nate Washington of Tennessee should be sitting on your waiver wire. As a public service announcement.

Denarius Moore, OAK
Has wowed coaches since day one of practice and is establishing himself as a player who needs the football on a regular basis.

Antonio Brown, PIT
With Hines Ward and Emmaunel Sanders lacking in production, Brown has surged to the forefront after a team-leading 10 targets this weekend.

David Nelson, BUF
Slowed in Week 4, but still has 18 receptions over the last three weeks. Keep an eye on the Bills' distribution.

Deep Waiver Wire Wide Receiver adds

Laurent Robinson, DAL (10 rec., 165 yards in last two)
Josh Morgan, SF (3 rec., 65 yards, TD last week)
Victor Cruz, NYG (9 rec., 208 yards, 2 TD in last two)
Darrius Heyward-Bey, OAK (team high 115 yards and 7 targets last week)

Tight Ends

Ben Watson, CLE
A quality tight end will always be a young quarterback's best friend, and Colt McCoy seems to have found a nice connection with the very talented Watson. He has 11 receptions for 112 yards and a TD over last two games.

Jermaine Gresham, CIN
See Ben Watson. Andy Dalton would be wise to utilize the Gresham safety net more often. He is supremely talented and is a great redzone target. The two have hooked up eight times for 121 yards and a TD over the last two.

Ed Dickson, BAL
It was an off game for both Dickson and Joe Flacco Sunday night, but he was targeted 12 times against the Jets and has quickly made Ravens fans forget about Todd Heap.

Defense/Special Teams

Both of these match-ups could be worth looking into — on either side of the ball. Depending on your scoring system, all four could be useful.

Houston Texans

Who says you can't go from worst to first in one season? With the coaching staff changes, personnel additions through the draft and free agency, packaged with the gift of no Peyton Manning, this is the year for the Texans. Sit back and enjoy — as long as they stay healthy, of course.

San Francisco 49ers
Schedule: TB, DET, BYE, CLE, WAS, NYG, ARI

This unit is playing inspired football behind the best LB in the nation and a tremendous new head coach. Basically Detroit is all that stands in the Niners' way of fantasy stardom over the next seven weeks.

Washington Redskins
Schedule: bye, PHI, CAR, BUF, SF, MIA, DAL, SEA

Certainly won't help in the short term, but games against Carolina, San Fran, Miami and Seattle are almost must-start for a unit that is so clearly improved under Shanahan — and with Brian Orakpo, LaRon Landry and Ryan Kerrigan.

<p> Some of the players listed in Athlon Sports' NFL Fantasy Football Waiver Wire Week&nbsp;5 may be one-week adds, some may be season-long adds and some are listed just for you to keep an eye on to stash on your roster if you have the space.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-big-ten-2

By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)

Post-Week 5 Big Ten Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Wisconsin (5-0) –  The Badgers officially staked their claim to the top spot in the Big Ten with one of the most impressive performances by any team in any league Saturday night when they dismantled Nebraska 48-17. The Huskers went up 14-7 early in the second quarter before UW rolled off 35 unanswered points. Quarterback Russell Wilson was masterful at the helm of the Big Red ship, throwing for 255 yards and two scores while adding 32 yards and another score on the ground. Wilson consistently evaded pressure with ease, only enhancing his Heisman Trophy campaign. Tailback Montee Ball scored four times and is leading the nation in scoring at 16.8 points per game. With a combined margin of victory of 191 points in five games, Wisconsin has yet to beat an opponent by less than 30 points.

2. Nebraska (4-1) – Welcome to the Big Ten, Nebraska. The Huskers were given a rude welcome to their new league at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers. Taylor Martinez threw three interceptions — including the first play of the second half — and completed only 11 of his 22 passes in the embarassing 48-17 loss in Camp Randall. The Huskers are still considered the favorites to win the Legends Division, but will need to regroup quickly with The Ohio State University making its first-ever trip to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln this weekend.

3. Michigan (5-0) – The Maize and Blue are unbeaten and might be establishing themselves as the main contender in the Legends Division after winning the Little Brown Jug this weekend. Michigan held Minnesota to 177 total yards and 0-11 on third downs to win 58-0 while starting to resemble the Wolverines of years past. Denard Robinson played his most efficient game of 2011 by completing 15-of-19 without a turnover of any kind. He finished with 169 yards passing and 51 rushing while the team as a whole rushed for 363 yards. Vincent Smith became the fourth player since 2000 to run, pass and catch a touchdown in the same game.

4. Illinois (5-0) – The Land of Lincoln Trophy belongs to the Illini after 218 second-half passing yards and 28 final-half points against Northwestern. After his team had trailed 28-10 in the third, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase wiggled into the end zone with 13 seconds left to edge Northwestern 38-35. The passer set a career mark with 391 yards with wide receiver A.J. Jenkins acting as the primary beneficiary. The senior wideout set a school record with 268 yards on 12 receptions and three touchdowns. It was the first time Illinois has won a Big Ten opener since 2007. The fighting Ron Zookers travel to rival Indiana this Saturday.

5. Michigan State (4-1) – The Spartans boast the nation's No. 1 defense, and Saturday did nothing to change that. Michigan State, at 173.4 total yards allowed per game, held Ohio State to 178 total yards of offense. Braxton Miller lasted only 10 attempts before Joe Bauserman took over and led OSU to its only score with 10 seconds to go. The 10-7 win ended a seven-game losing streak for Michigan State against the Buckeyes and sets up a huge game two weeks from now with Michigan (MSU is on bye this weekend).

6. Penn State (4-1) – The Nittany Lions won an ugly, mistake-prone road game over Indiana 16-10. The Nits turned the ball over twice inside of their opponent's five-yard line, leading to a 3-3 halftime score. Matt McGloin reentered the game and on his first pass connected with Derek Moye for a 74-yard touchdown to put PSU up for good. Silas Redd ran for 129 yards, and Penn State improved to 15-0 all-time against the Hoosiers. The rested Iowa Hawkeyes come to Happy Valley this weekend.

7. Iowa (3-1) – The Hawkeyes were on bye last weekend. Iowa has had two weeks to prepare for the lethargic Penn State offense it will have to face this weekend in Beaver Stadium. After Saturday, Iowa gets Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota, so a win over Penn State should put the Hawks squarely in the Big Ten Legends Division race (with Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska as three of its last four).

8. Ohio State (3-2) – The Buckeyes mustered 178 yards of total offense and scored no points in the first 59:50 of gametime. With the meaningless touchdown pass aside, that is as bad as an Ohio State offense has looked in years - and the crowd let Luke Fickell know it. The boos from Scarlet and Gray nation rained down upon the Buckeyes as they left the field with a 10-7 loss to the Spartans. Things don't get any easier with road trips to Nebraska and Illinois and Wisconsin at home over the next three.

9. Northwestern (2-2) – This might be the year of "What Could Have Been" for Northwestern fans. After surging to a 28-10 lead in the third quarter, the Wildcat defense crumbled in the face of Nathan Scheelhaase. The Illini set all sorts of passing records en route to a 38-35 dramatic comeback over Purple Nation. Dan Persa's return to the field looked like something out of a storybook as he completed 10-of-14 passes for 123 yards and four touchdowns (three to Jeremy Ebert). But the defense couldn't stop Scheelhaase in the second half, and Pat Fitzgerald's bunch headed home with the loss. Despite leaving late in the game as a precaution, Persa appears set for the Michigan game this weekend.

10. Purdue (2-2) – The Boilermakers were outgained 287 to 84 yards on the ground in the thorough 38-10 beatdown at the hands of Notre Dame. The Irish, who have won three straight since starting 0-2, looked good in all phases of the game. Notre Dame held Purdue to only 276 yards of total offense while rolling up 551 of their own without committing a turnover. Neither Caleb TerBush (10-15, 101 yards, TD, INT) nor Robert Marve (9-22, 91 yards) was effective enough to consistently move the football against the developing Notre Dame front seven. Purdue gets Minnesota at home this Saturday.

11. Minnesota (1-4) – To say the Gophers failed to show up for a rivarly game would be quite an understatement. Michigan rolled up 363 yards rushing and 58 points in the shutout victory over the Gophers. Minnesota totalled eight first downs, went 0-11 on third downs, compiled 177 total yards and turned the ball over twice in the loss. Minnesota travels to Purdue this weekend in what could be its only chance for a conference win in 2011.

12. Indiana (1-4) – It appears that Dusty Kiel has cemented himself as the starter after throwing 45 times in a tightly, but sloppily, played 16-10 loss to Penn State. He completed 22 of those passes for 184 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His Hail Mary heave came up five yards short in the final seconds. He added 28 yards rushing. Hoosiers fans need to get used to seeing the name Kiel under center, as Dusty's younger brother, Gunner, is the nation's No. 2 QB prospect and should compete for immediate playing time in 2012.

<p> Post Week 5 Athlon Sports' Big Ten Power Rankings.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - 07:45
All taxonomy terms: Philadelphia Eagles, Ronnie Brown, News
Path: /news/ronnie-brown-makes-dumbest-play-nfl-history

<p> Brown turned a touchdowns into a turnover by trying to throw a pass at the goalline.</p>
Post date: Monday, October 3, 2011 - 16:13
All taxonomy terms: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/packers-aaron-rodgers-best-player-nfl

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Is there any doubt who the best player in the NFL is today? There shouldn’t be after another Playstation performance on Sunday afternoon from Aaron Rodgers.

The Green Bay quarterback became the first player in NFL history to throw for 400 yards, four touchdowns and run for two touchdowns in a single game. Oh, and the Packers won 49-23 over Denver.

Rodgers has thrown for 1,325 yards, 12 touchdowns, two interceptions and sports a league-best 124.6 QB Rating. He is leading the NFL in completion percentage at 73.0 percent, yards per attempt at 10.5 and TD percent at 8.5. He also has run the ball 19 times for 53 yards and another two scores on the ground.

Most importantly, the Packers are 4-0 in 2011 and have won 10 straight games including four postseason wins after which Rodgers returned the Lombardi Trophy to Titletown and garnered Super Bowl MVP honors.

Aaron Rodgers has a 29-11 record as the starter (including playoffs) over the last three seasons (counting 2011) and is the most efficient quarterback in the history of the NFL. Steve Young set the NFL record for career QB Rating with a 96.8 career mark from 1985-1999. Rodgers is shattering Young's record with a current mark of 100.5. And his postseason QB rating in five games (all on the road) is even better at 112.6.

Here are his career numbers through three full seasons and a quarter of his fourth:

35-20 regular season record, 100.5 QB Rating
1,141 completions, 1,752 attempts, 65.1% completion
14,048 yards, 99 TD, 34 INT
208 attempts, 979 rushing yards, 15 TD

Those are impressive numbers that make him the best player in the game today. But just in case you needed some more convincing, here are his career postseason numbers — all of which have come away from Lambeau Field.

4-1 postseason record, 112.6 QB Rating
118 completions, 174 attempts, 67.8% completion
1,517 yards, 13 TD, 3 INT
17 attempts, 67 rushing yards, 3 TD

No matter how you look at it, Aaron Rodgers is the best football player on the planet.

<p> The Packers dominated the Broncos with another insane performance from No. 12.</p>
Post date: Monday, October 3, 2011 - 13:54
Path: /nfl/detroit-lions-nfls-team-destiny

-by Rob Doster

Last week in this space, I bragged about how the Buffalo Bills had posted consecutive comebacks of 18 points or more. Well, the Detroit Lions make the Bills look like frontrunners. After yesterday’s stunning comeback from a 27–3 deficit against the Cowboys, coupled with their erasure of a 20–0 deficit against Minnesota the week before, the Lions are now the first team in history to win consecutive games in which they trailed by 20 points or more both times. Both games were on the road, where the Lions are 3–0 this season and have now won their last five dating back to December 2010. They also own the NFL's longest regular season winning streak at eight games.

Team of destiny, anyone?

At the season’s quarter pole, the Lions are the story. And now that the Comeback Kids have proved to themselves that they’re never out of a game, there’s no ceiling to what they can accomplish.

Of course, the Lions have had some help to get to 4–0, a record matched only by their division rival Packers. First of all, Rob Ryan proved that he shares the family gene for foot-in-mouth disease, calling out Lions receiver Calvin Johnson prior to the game in saying that, “We work against better receivers in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant (in practice). Duly aroused, Johnson had two fourth-quarter touchdown catches to complete Detroit’s comeback, giving Lions coach Jim Schwartz the opening for this classic dig:

“I’m glad the third-best wide receiver on the Cowboys is on our team.”

Then there’s poor Tony Romo, whose bipolar season has inspired enough mood swings to make Cowboy Nation wonder if it’s collectively entered menopause. Brilliant in helping the ’Boys build that 27–3 lead, Romo inexplicably melted down in the second half, throwing third-quarter pick-sixes to Bobby Carpenter and Chris Houston in an eight-play span to reduce Dallas’ lead to 27–17 and give the Lions their opening.

Matthew Stafford — finally healthy — and Johnson were happy to take advantage. On the winning touchdown pass, Johnson faced single coverage from Terence Newman, and Johnson against anybody in single coverage is a mismatch. Of course, triple coverage didn’t work either — Johnson’s first touchdown had come amid three Cowboys defenders.

Stafford sounded a little sheepish after the second straight historic comeback. “Any time you come back from 20-something, you’re doing some kind of stealing,” he said.
No need to apologize, Detroit. Karmic justice owes you and your decaying shell of a once-proud city a lot of good fortune.

“The way the guys have banded together, it’s something I haven’t seen," receiver Nate Burleson said. "We’re learning how to win.” And teaching the league a lesson in perseverance in the process.


• Cam Newton has now thrown for 1,386 yards in four games for the Panthers. That projects to 5,544 yards for a full season, which would shatter Dan Marino’s NFL record. The kid’s a phenom, and as long as his Panthers remain unable to keep opponents out of the end zone, Newton will keep throwing. We could be watching the greatest rookie season by a quarterback in NFL history.

• Speaking of the Panthers’ D, or lack thereof, Carolina neutralized Jay Cutler, but it didn’t matter. Chicago’s Matt Forte proved himself to be the linchpin of the Bears offense, rushing for 205 yards and a touchdown in Chicago’s 34–29 win.

• Aaron Rodgers is posting video game numbers for the 4–0 Packers. After Sunday’s 49–23 win over the Broncos, Rodgers now has 1,325 passing yards and has accounted for 14 touchdowns in four games, with a passer rating of 124.6. He’s the best player in football right now.

• Hot seat watch: Leslie Frazier, call your agent. Frazier’s Vikings are 0–4 for the first time since 2002, squandering a lead for the fourth time in four games in losing to the Chiefs. “We’ve got to re-evaluate everything,” Frazier said, obviously cognizant that he’s currently being re-evaluated. Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ Todd Haley bought himself a little time. Just a little.

• Dream Team Watch: The Eagles are 1–3 and starting to panic. They squandered a 20-point lead at home to lose to the 49ers 24–23 as rookie kicker missed two fourth-quarter chip shots, either of which would have clinched a victory. “If we don’t win, we’re just a bunch of talented people who haven’t done anything, and there’s a lot of teams like that,” said Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins in a moment of clarity brought on by a third disheartening loss in a row.

New England's Wes Welker is posting insane numbers. He’s averaging 10 catches per game through four games, with 616 yards and five touchdowns. He caught more than half of Tom Brady’s 16 completions in yesterday’s 31–19 win over Oakland.

• Many happy returns in Baltimore’s 34–17 win over the Jets. In a game with only one offensive touchdown, the teams combined for five return touchdowns, three of them courtesy of the Ravens defense, which notched two fumble return TDs and a pick six. The Jets countered with a kickoff return and a pick-six of their own, but those were rare bright spots on a night of ineptitude. Maybe Joe Namath has a point. The Jets looked unprepared.

<p> The come-from-behind victory over Dallas has Lions fans excited about 2011.</p>
Post date: Monday, October 3, 2011 - 12:02
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-pac-12-2

By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)

Post-Week 5 Pac-12 Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Oregon (3-1) – The Ducks got a rest during the upset-riddled Week 5 play of action. Oregon now prepares for the heart of its conference schedule with the Cal Golden Bears coming to Eugene for a Thursday night primetime tilt. This contest last season was Oregon's toughest regular season test as Cal held Oregon to 15 points (32 points below their average), 324 yards (207 yards below average) and only 2.9 yards per carry on 55 attempts. Don't expect a repeat performance from the Bears as Oregon has won eight of the last nine meetings between the two in Autzen Stadium.

2. Stanford (4-0) – The Cardinal continue to cruise through the choppy college football waters by winning their 12th consecuative game 45-19 over UCLA. Andrew Luck, the best player in the nation, put his full athletic ability on display by completing 23-of-27 passes for 227 yards and three scores, and he added a spectacular one-handed, tight-rope 13-yard reception down the sideline. The Cardinal rushed for 202 yards and three scores as well. Stanford hosts Colorado on Saturday.

3. Arizona State (4-1) – A game Oregon State team, aided by turnovers, burst out to a 13-0 lead over ASU before Brock Osweiler and the defense led a 21-point comeback in the second quarter. Cameron Marshall took over in the fourth quarter, running around, over and through Beaver defenders to seal the 35-20 Sun Devils victory. It was a sloppy affair that featured 18 penalties, nine turnovers and a 35-7 run by ASU over the final three quarters. The Devils head to Utah this weekend.

4. Washington (4-1) – The growth and development of the Washington Huskies under Steve Sarkisian was on full display this Saturday in a convincing 31-14 road win over the 10-point favorites from Utah. Keith Price completed 22-of-30 passes for 226 yards and his 15th, 16th and 17th touchdown passes of the season, while tailback Chris Polk rushed 29 times for 189 yards — topping the 3,000 yard mark for his career. After Utah lost starting quarterback Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury by halftime, Polk dominated the second half by rushing 17 times for 155 yards in the latter half of the game. The Huskies allowed the Utes 17 total yards rushing on 23 carries. Washington, who has won five straight Pac-12 games, is on bye this weekend and will host the Buffs of Colorado next weekend in an effort to push themselves into the Pac-12 North race.

5. USC (4-1) – The Golden Boy quarterback set a school record, and the nation's most electric receiver dominated again as the Trojans outlasted Arizona 48-41. Matt Barkley threw for a USC-record 468 yards and four touchdowns while Robert Woods (who set his own school record with 17 receptions earlier this year) caught 14 passes for 255 yards (5 yards short of another school record) and two of those touchdowns. The game featured 1,136 yards of total offense. The Trojans get a chance to relax this weekend before facing Cal in two weeks.

6. California (3-1) – The Bears probably needed two weeks to lick the wounds sustained at the hands of the Huskies two weekends ago. They better be 100 percent as Cal travels to Eugene to take on Oregon, the No. 6 (by Athlon) team in the nation, on Thursday night in primetime. Cal gave the Ducks all they could handle in 2010, and Jeff Tedford can bet Chip Kelly hasn't forgotten.

7. Utah (2-2) – Kyle Whittingham probably did not expect to see Jon Hays throwing 18 passes this weekend, but that is what happened when starter Jordan Wynn injured his shoulder in the first half. Hays threw for 156 yards and a score in the second half but got zero help from the ground game (17 total yards) in the 31-14 home loss to Washington. Utah was a 10-point favorite in its first-ever Pac-12 home conference game but will have to wait another week to notch its first-ever conference win. Wynn's status for this weekend's game against Arizona State is currently unknown.

8. Arizona (1-4) – Yes, the Wildcats have played a brutal schedule (Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, USC) but they have failed to stop much of anything in 2011. Arizona has allowed 178 points in its four-game losing streak after losing to USC 48-41 this weekend. It ranks 115th in total defense, 111th in rush defense, 110th in pass defense and 115th in scoring defense. Nick Foles, who leads the Pac-12 in total offense (357 ypg), should get his team off the mat this weekend as they take on Oregon State in Corvallis on Saturday.

9. Washington State (3-1) – The legend of Marshall Lobbestael continues to grow in Pullman, Wash. The back-up quarterback, who should be filling in for at least one more week for starter Jeff Tuel, threw for his third straight 300-yard effort with 376 yards and three scores in the 31-27 road win over Colorado. The stunning 14-point, fourth-quarter comeback was capped by a 63-yard Lobbestael-to-Marquess Wilson touchdown pass with 1:10 left in the game. The Cougars won a total of five games over the previous three seasons and haven't won three games in a season since 2007. They travel to UCLA this weekend.

10. UCLA (2-3) – The Bruins were a heavy underdog against Stanford this weekend and showed why as Luck and Company dissected UCLA 45-19. The pressure on head coach Rick Neuheisel to win will get unbearable if the Bruins lose at home against Washington State this weekend. UCLA's two wins were struggles against San Jose State and Oregon State — that is simply not getting the job done with the talent that resides in Westwood.

11. Colorado (1-4) –
Colorado played solid football for three quarters, leading 27-17 late in the second half against Washington State. Quarterback Tyler Hansen has played quality football for much of the season, but threw his first interception in 133 pass attempts late in the first half which led to Cougars points. The Cougs scored the final 14 points to stun the Boulder crowd and keep Colorado winless in conference play. Rodney Stewart was a major bright spot, touching the ball 27 times for 166 yards and his first touchdown of 2011. The Buffs head to Stanford this weekend.

12. Oregon State (0-4) – The Beavers played valiant football against a clearly very flat Sun Devils football team. However, second half turnovers and poor tackling led to a 35-7 Arizona State run. The Devils scored the final 14 points behind four Sean Mannion interceptions. Asking Mannion to throw 66 times is probably not the recipe for success Mike Riley is searching for. Freshman dynamo Malcolm Agnew failed to play for a third straight week.

<p> How do the teams in the Pac-12 stack up after the fifth week of action?</p>
Post date: Monday, October 3, 2011 - 11:00
Path: /columns/national-notebook/betting-against-spread-week-5-picks

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Week 4 of the college football season taught me to stop trying to analyze the Sun Belt. I nailed my top three locks last week (LSU, Oregon, SMU) while also getting Georgia and Fresno State correct. However, Florida International and Troy failed miserably. East Carolina and USC also let me down for a mediocre yet still in-the-black 5-4 weekend.

I have made a good living off favorites – road favorites to be exact – this season, but Week 5 could be the week of the underdog. I like a number of dogs to cover this weekend, including Nebraska, Washington, Northwestern and Arkansas. A few others – Kansas State (+3.5), Oregon State (+18.5) and Michigan State (+3) – won’t be on this list but are worth looking into.

The Big Ten is front and center in Week 5…

Season Record ATS: 20-14-1 (5-4 last week)

Week 5's Top Picks:

1. Washington (+10) at Utah
The Athlon Staff is very high on the Huskies winning outright this weekend as quarterback Keith Price has been much better than advertised. He scored 38 points on Nebraska in Lincoln and is leading the nation with 14 passing touchdowns. Utah’s defensive front will be key and the atmosphere will be intense for the Utes' first-ever home Pac-12 game. I like Utah to win, but Washington keeps it very close. Washington +10

2. Notre Dame (-11.5) at Purdue
Don’t let the 59-0 score over Southeast Missouri State fool you, Purdue is not a good team. Notre Dame has been excellent against the run (93 ypg) all season and is coming off back-to-back defensive gems against two excellent power running teams in Michigan State and Pitt (see Thursday night). Purdue will have to throw the ball to keep it close, but Caleb TerBush has been inefficient, ranking as the 65th-best passer in the nation. Notre Dame -11.5

3. Georgia Tech (-10) at NC State
The Wolfpack are ranked 8th in the ACC against the run and were out-gained by Cincinnati on the ground last week 240 to (-26). They have lost their only two games against FBS competition this season (Wake Forest, Cincinnati) and are coming off the embarrassing 44-14 drubbing at the hands of the Bearcats. Tech, on the other hand, is riding high after outlasting North Carolina last week and is poised for a deep ACC title run. The Jackets are also 4-0 against the spread and averaging nearly 400 yards rushing per game, while NC State is 0-4 and wishing for Russell Wilson. Georgia Tech -10

4. Alabama (-4) at Florida
The Tide have not won in Gainesville since 1999, but the only loss came at the hands of the 2006 National Champions. Alabama has passed two huge tests already by controlling Penn State easily 27-11 in Happy Valley and completely dominating a quality Arkansas team 38-14 last weekend. This is a young, talented Florida team but I am not sure they have the firepower to score many points against a defense that is allowing 45.75 rushing yards (3rd nationally), 8.0 points per game (2nd) and 138.25 yards passing (3rd). Trent Richardson and one big Florida turnover will be the difference. Alabama -4

5. Memphis (+23) at Middle Tennessee
Okay, I was just kidding about the Sun Belt. But only because it's Memphis – arguably the worst team in the nation. And Las Vegas hasn’t figured it out yet. SMU covered the 20.5 spread last week twice in the 42-0 win in Memphis. Middle Tennessee, on the other hand, is scoring points in droves as quarterback Logan Kilgore threw for 415 yards and 5 TDs last week in a near upset win over rival Troy. At 0-3, MTSU is hungry for a win. MTSU -23

6. Nebraska (+10) at Wisconsin
The Badgers have played as good as any team in the nation, but have yet to face a quality opponent. Nebraska has beaten both Fresno State and Washington and gets Jared Crick and Alfonzo Dennard on the field together for the first time all season. Wilson is playing incredible football and the atmosphere will be electric, but Wisconsin historically has never stopped dual-threat spread quarterbacks like Taylor Martinez. If T-Magic can get out of the pocket and make plays with his legs, the Huskers will win it outright. Nebraska +10

7. Northwestern (+10) at Illinois
The Wildcats are one of the best coached teams in the nation and are getting their leader and superstar back in quarterback Dan Persa. How effective he'll be running the ball remains to be seen, but his presence will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the offense. Illinois is off to a great 4-0 start but allowed 306 yards to Alex Carder of Western Michigan last week in a 23-20 nail-biting win at home. Persa and the well-rested Cats will give Illinois all it can handle after the bye week. Northwestern +10

8. Penn State (-14.5) at Indiana
The Hoosiers are struggling to stop air right now. North Texas rolled up 226 yards rushing and pulled out a 24-21 win over IU in Bloomington last week. UNT is a 23-point underdog this weekend against 1-3 Tulsa. Indiana is is 11th in the Big Ten in rush defense at 189.75 yards per game, and PSU will look to pound the rock with Silas Redd early and often. Penn State is 14-0 all-time against IU and has won by double-digits in six of the last eight games. Penn State -14.5

9. Minnesota (-20) at Michigan
This is a rivalry game, but the Gophers have been arguably the worst BCS conference team in the nation. Home losses to New Mexico State and North Dakota State say as much. Michigan is coming off a solid 28-7 win over a good San Diego State team where Denard Robinson rushed for 200 yards and three scores. Minnesota is ranked 108th against the pass and 75th in scoring defense. Don’t expect them to slow Shoelace much in Ann Arbor. Michigan -20.5

If you are feeling lucky:

Texas A&M (-2.5) vs. Arkansas (Arlington)
Bowling Green (+18.5) at West Virginia
Michigan State (+3) at Ohio State

2011 Trends:

4-0 Teams Against the Spread:

Arkansas State, Florida, Georgia Tech, Temple

3-0 Teams Against the Spread:

Baylor, Navy, Rutgers, Stanford

0-4 Teams Against the Spread:

Central Michigan, Kent State, NC State, Penn State

0-3 Teams Against the Spread:

Air Force, Oregon State

Other Week 5 Content:

Steven Lassan's Upsets, Storylines and Key Match-ups of Week 5

Mitch Light's Weekend on Tap: Week 5's Top Ten Games

In-depth Predictions: Alabama at Florida

Athlon Sports Picks Every Game of Week 5
In-depth Predictions: Nebraska at Wisconsin

<p> Athlon's Braden Gall offers his top college football picks against the spread each week.</p>
Post date: Friday, September 30, 2011 - 14:00
Path: /columns/athlon-interview/arkansas-legend-frank-broyles-talks-hogs-college-football

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Athlon Sports' Braden Gall had a chance to sit down with legendary Arkansas Razorbacks head coach and athletic director Frank Broyles. The former Hogs head coach touched on the current college football landscape, what the future holds for Arkansas and the SEC, the job Bobby Petrino has done and some of his favorite memories from coaching the planet’s greatest game.

Braden Gall: What does it mean to you to be involved in the Legends Poll?

FB: I am very pleased to be on the Legends Poll. I enjoy it thoroughly because our coaches discuss the teams they watch and report on the ones they are responsible for. To hear the coaches explain and rate the teams they watch is a joy as a former coach. It's wonderful to hear them and the effort they put into understanding the potential of the teams they are representing and scouting for the poll.

BG: Have LSU, Alabama and Oklahoma separated themselves from the rest of the nation?

FB: Not really. I think if you look at the top ten teams, all of them are undefeated. And scheduling is the big factor today. It is one of the biggest changes in college football as coaches' wishes have been accepted by the Athletic Directors so that the conference games don’t start until after the first three or four games. And all of the first four games, except maybe one, are warm-up games. If you look at the Top 25, 19 of them are still undefeated and that is scheduling. So when you look at the teams that they have played, most coaches have gotten their way and they play non-conference games and then 7 or 9 conference games at the end so at this point it has mostly been warm-up games. So what you are voting on are teams that have been playing against teams that they should beat 19 of 20 times. So how do you tell who is first and who is second? You can’t at this stage of the game.

BG: What is the biggest difference scheme-wise, Xs and Os, in college football today from when you were playing and coaching?

FB: The rule change to allow the offensive linemen to use their hands on pass protection has changed college football the most dramatically in the 50-plus years I have been involved with the sport. Because in my first years of coaching, the offensive hands had to stay next to the chest, and if they separated from the chest it was a 15-yard penalty. So teams didn’t throw the drop-back pass because they got penalties and couldn’t get any consistency. So they would use play-action passes. Then the officials changed the rules so that the offensive hands could leave the body and go into the chest of the defensive man. You can’t hold him but you can hit him with your hands, which is a tremendous difference in pass protections. A total difference.

So the passing game has changed dramatically, plus the speed has changed. Back then we would have one Lance Alworth who could run like a deer. Today, Arkansas has six or seven players as fast as Alworth was. And so what do you do? You force teams to cover the width and depth of the field on the snap of the ball. In my day, you didn’t have to cover the width because there wasn’t enough speed for them to put them out there as flankers. Therefore you were playing in a much smaller area. You didn’t have the speed to get it out there in the flats and be a threat to the defense. So the speed has changed the game. Plus the rules people wisely changed the pass protection rules where you could legitimately block for a drop-back pass. So the college game has caught up in scoring with the pros.

BG: Does the spread offense and the dual-threat quarterback level the playing field in college football?

FB: Yes, it starts with the quarterback. If you snap the ball 75 times, he is getting the ball 75 times! So the quarterbacks we see today who can throw the ball and run, with the speed we have at the wide receivers positions now, are forcing the defense to cover the width and depth of the field at the snap of the ball. The four wide receiver sets force you to cover the width and depth at the snap of the ball.

BG: What is the decision-making process like when a team decides to change conferences, like Arkansas did in the 1990s?

FB: We saw that the SWC, because the NFL in Dallas and Houston were taking the fans, was not going to be the SWC for much longer. And we knew that Texas and Texas A&M had the political strength to move to some other conference and we would be left out as an independent. So we applied to the SEC with permission from our board of directors. We told the SEC that if they were to expand and ask us to join that we would accept immediately. We were borders to Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana so we fit into the geography of the conference and that we would come immediately. So when they decided to expand, they gave us a call and we accepted immediately.

BG: What do you think about the overall direction and trajectory of college football and these larger conferences?

FB: I hate to see the rivalries of these great teams leave for the TV money. I think the SEC with the rivalries of Mississippi, Alabama, LSU and Arkansas, etc. should stay intact even though we don’t have the big TV cities. We need to keep the conferences level and the playing field level for the teams in our conferences, and we have been able to do that in the SEC.

BG: Is there anything we can do to fix the violations and sanctions within college football or are we stuck with the off the field issues forever?

FB: There are always going to be some people who will bend the rules, and it's unfortunate. AD's and school officials have to be sure when they hire somebody that the coaches know that if you get put on probation that you lose your job. That would make coaches realize that we are here for a level playing field. All we want is a level playing field for all the schools to have an equal chance to be competitive where we have balance. Which we have today, we have great balance today in college football.

BG: What are some of your favorite college towns and stadiums from your past?

FB: When I started my coaching career as an assistant coach at Baylor and we had to play Texas in Austin and that was the toughest place we ever had to play. Playing the Longhorns in Austin was one of the more difficult places to play. I know in the SEC wherever you go, it’s going to be tough, because of the state pride. It's about the same now as it was back then. And that is what makes college football so exciting. When you go play on the road, you are playing in front of a sellout and you get some of your own fans in there too. We have about 4,000-5,000 fans that travel to see the Razorbacks in road and non-conference games. We hold back about 5,000 seats for visiting fans in Fayetteville – and that is a long way from everything. But that is just the rivalries we have and when you have that involved in the game, it's exciting. It helps recruiting and the fan base grow and prosper.

BG: What do you think of the job that Bobby Petrino has done?

FB: He has done a sensational job. His dad was a college coach, and so he has been involved in coaching since he was five years old. The one thing I always say about Bobby Petrino is he is not looking to experiment. He has his game plan and it’s been tried and tested throughout his career. He goes out, puts it into place and makes it work wherever he goes.

Check out other Athlon Sports Legends Interviews:

Air Force's Fisher DeBerry

Georgia's Vince Dooley

West Virginia's Don Nehlen

Washington's Don James
BYU's LaVell Edwards

Arizona State's Frank Kush
Arkansas' Frank Broyles

Special thanks to Athlon Sports partner The Legends Poll

<p> Athlon sat down with legendary Razorbacks coach and administrator Frank Broyles.</p>
Post date: Friday, September 30, 2011 - 10:30
Path: /columns/start-or-sit/college-fantasy-football-start-or-sit-week-5

- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Here is Athlon Sports college football Week Five College Fantasy Football Start or Sit:

Start These Quarterbacks:

Tyler Hansen, Colorado (Washington State)
The Buffs passer has played good football – at least on the fantasy gridiron – all season long. He has at least two touchdowns in all four games and has topped 215 yards in all four contests. He is averaging nearly 40 attempts per game and should have plenty of opportunity against a defense that gave up 273-2 and 42 points to San Diego State the last time they took the field. Expect a shootout in Boulder this weekend.

Collin Klein, Kansas State (Baylor)
The gritty Wildcats quarterback has proven to be a very workable fantasy option in short order. He is averaging over 100 yards rushing per game and has tossed three touchdowns and no picks in his last two. Baylor has the firepower to make this a high-scoring game as the Bears’ defense has allowed Casey Pachall of TCU (251-4) and Taylor McHargue (260-3) to go off in its two FBS games thus far.

Logan Kilgore, Middle Tennessee (Memphis)
In the Week 5 edition of “Let’s Pick on Memphis,” you will find Mr. Kilgore front and center. The Tigers rank 118th against the pass, 119th in total defense, 113th in scoring defense and 110th in pass efficiency defense. Oh yeah, Kilgore is coming off a 415-yard, 5-TD performance against rival Troy. Plug and play this week.

Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State (at Western Kentucky)
Welcome to Sun Belt conference play! Aplin has been solid thus far (averaging 17.1 TFP per game) against stiff competition like Illinois and Virginia Tech. He lit up Memphis in week two and had his most yards of total offense last week in a blowout over Central Arkansas. Western Kentucky got beat 44-16 at home by Indiana State the last time they took the field – allowing 227-3 to Ronnie Fouch. Expect big things from here on out from Aplin.

Jacory Harris, Miami (Bethune-Cookman)
Despite losing to KSU, Harris still managed to post a useful 272-2 line last weekend. He should get some first half chances as this one should get out of hand very quickly. Expect plenty of room for Harris to throw early against the likes of Bethune-Cookman.

Bench These Quarterbacks:

Tajh Boyd, Clemson (at Virginia Tech)
This might be the toughest high-priced fantasy match-up of the weekend. Boyd has been playing excellent football, but his performance last weekend against Florida State came at home. He has yet to face anything like the combination of coach, defense and atmosphere like he will against Bud Foster’s Hokies in Blacksburg, Va. The Hokies held Dom Davis (see below) to 4.08 TFP. Bench at your own risk.

Dom Davis, East Carolina (North Carolina)
The Pirates gunslinger is in a similar situation to Boyd of Clemson. After being totally stymied by the Hokies, Davis bounced back with 361 yards and three scores last week. However, he also threw his fourth, fifth and sixth interceptions of the year. The Tar Heels held Tevin Washington to his worst passing game of the season with only one score and his first INT of the season. Much like Boyd, he probably can’t be benched, but his upside might be limited.

Matt Schilz, Bowling Green (at West Virginia)
The sophomore passer has yet to be slowed this fall but has also played Idaho, Morgan State, Wyoming and Miami (Ohio). This will potentially be the toughest defense he faces all season – and they are angry after the LSU loss last weekend. He could land a couple of late touchdowns due to a lopsided score, but 200-2 seems like a solid estimate against the Big East powerhouse.

Tim Jefferson vs. Kriss Proctor (Air Force vs. Navy)
This was a very low scoring 14-6 win for Air Force last season. Jefferson rushed for two scores, but totaled 145 yards of total offense (83 pass, 62 rush). Fantasy stud Ricky Dobbs was held to 103 yards, 0 total TD, 2 INT and 43 yards rushing. This could once again be a tough-sledding type of game for both teams.

Start These Running Backs:

Davin Meggett, Maryland (Towson)
Randy Edsall has no choice: He has to do whatever it takes to win, and Towson should pose little threat. Expect Meggett and running mate D.J. Adams to get plenty of touches early and often. After 40 carries in the first two weeks, Temple held the Terps tailback to only nine carries last week. That cannot make Edsall happy.

Benny Cunningham, MTSU (Memphis)
Chapter Two of pick on the Tigers this week features the Middle tailback who has carried the ball at least 14 times all three games – culminating in his first 100-yard effort of the season last weekend. He has scored in all three games, and Memphis is no obstacle at all. Get Benny in the line-up.

Terrance Ganaway vs. John Hubert (Baylor at Kansas State)
The Wildcats and Bears should score plenty of points this weekend in Manhattan. Ganaway has scored four times in three games and will once again be the featured back. Hubert ran 18 times for 166 yards and a score in the win over Miami last week. Expect both to get plenty of chances in this one.

Rodney Stewart, Colorado (Washington State)
The Buffs running back is the highest rated fantasy back who has yet to score a rushing touchdown. That is because he has carried the ball 72 times and caught 23 passes for 582 yards from scrimmage. This should be a high-scoring game, and Stewart is a good bet to finally crack the goal-line.

Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, LSU (Kentucky)
Not that these two will be too far from the starting line-up anyway, but this is just a reminder to make sure you get them on the field this weekend. Ford has had between 12 and 14 carries in all four games with six touchdowns. Ware has topped 22 carries in three of four contests and has scored three times. Expect 15-20 touches for both and expect both to reach the end zone. 

Silas Redd, Penn State (at Indiana)
This is a no-brain start. Redd IS the PSU offense and will get plenty of carries this weekend against the Hoosiers. He wasn’t needed against Eastern Michigan and likely disappointed owners with his 48 yards. But this is the Big Ten opener on the road, so expect a bounce back performance from Redd. 

Perry Jones, Virginia (Idaho)
Kevin Parks is supposed to play but has been hampered by an ankle injury all week. Against Idaho, expect Mike London to keep a close eye on K.P., thus giving Jones ample opportunity to tote the rock. The Vandals are ranked 104th in total defense and 102nd in scoring defense.

Tauren Poole, Tennessee (Buffalo)
With a bye week to prepare, the sour taste in the O-Line’s mouth after a poor showing on the ground against Florida and the Bulls coming to Neyland Stadium, Poole is poised for his best game of the season. Look for the Vols to get the ground game working early against Buffalo.

Deep RB Plays:

Troy Pollard, Illinois (Northwestern)
Vernard Roberts, West Virginia (Bowling Green)
Mike James, Miami (Bethune-Cookman)

Bench These Running Backs:

Brandon Oliver, Buffalo (at Tennessee)
There is no doubt he gets the ball – try 100 attempts in four games. But he was held to only 84 yards and no scores last weekend against UConn. The Vols are rested, angry and at home. Oliver’s upside is very limited this weekend.

Mike Ball, Nevada (at Boise State)
The Wolfpack rusher has carried the ball 56 times in two weeks, topping 124 yards in both games. He did, however, fail to score against Texas Tech and Oregon this year, and Boise State boasts a dramatically better D-line than both. On the blue turf, and with revenge on Boise's mind, Ball will be kept in check.

Andre Ellington, Clemson (at Virginia Tech)
The Clemson Tigers are facing their tallest order of 2011 when they walk into Lane Stadium on Saturday. Ellington has been solid but uninspiring in two emotional home wins over Auburn and Florida State. He has a tough time staying healthy, and the Hokies are loaded for bear. I will have him on my bench this weekend.

Jahwan Edwards, Ball State (at Oklahoma)
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Does anyone think that Ball State will walk into Norman, Okla., and pound the football successfully against the Sooners? No thank you.

James White, Wisconsin (Nebraska)
If the Badgers are going to move the football this weekend, it might have to come through the air. With Montee Ball still getting more carries and goal-line chances, there just might not be enough points to go around. Nebraska welcomes back Jared Crick and Alfonzo Dennard to the line-up and will be fully healthy for the first time in 2011.

Lowered Expectations:

Trent Richardson vs. Chris Rainey (Alabama at Florida)
This feels like an 80-90 yards from scrimmage and one score type of game for both. Like T-Rich more.

Anthon Samuel, Jordan Hopgood, Bowling Green (at West Virginia)
Expect West Virginia to be fired up and ready to go after the loss to LSU.

Le’Veon Bell, Edwin Baker, Michigan State (at Ohio State)
Time share against the Buckeyes in Columbus doesn’t sound like fantasy success to me.

Zach Line, SMU (at TCU)
How will the separated shoulder affect him against solid TCU defense?

Waiver Wire Wide Receivers:

Eric Ward, Texas Tech (at Kansas)
Has caught 14 passes for 138 yards and two scores over last two.

Sancho McDonald, MTSU (Memphis)
Has scored in all three games this fall, and the Tigers are pathetic on defense.

Keith Sconiers, Akron (at Eastern Michigan)
Has caught 15 passes for 291 yards and three scores over last two.

Eric Thomas, Troy (UAB)
Has become the Trojans’ top target with a TD in all three games thus far.

Jalen Saunders, Fresno State (Ole Miss)
Big-play threat who is averaging 37 yards per catch over last two (8-296-4).

Top DEF/ST Spot Starts:

1. Miami (Bethune-Cookman)
2. Oklahoma (Ball State)
3. Notre Dame (at Purdue)
4. Stanford (UCLA)
5. Cincinnati (Miami, Ohio)
6. Tennessee (Buffalo)
7. Virginia (Idaho)
8. Ohio (Kent State)
9. Maryland (Towson)
10. UConn (Western Michigan)
11. UL-Lafayette (FAU)
12. Arizona State (Oregon State)

<p> Athlon prepares the college fantasy player with in-depth match-up analysis for Week 5.</p>
Post date: Friday, September 30, 2011 - 10:30
Path: /columns/nfl-perspective/cam-newton-new-faces-atop-nfl-leaderboards

-by Ralph Vacchiano

You knew that Tom Brady and Drew Brees would be leading the NFL in passing yardage, even this early in the season. But come on, who would’ve guessed that Cam Newton would be third? Darren McFadden as the NFL’s rushing leader so far is probably not a stretch, but Ben Tate fifth, less than 100 yards behind and ahead of Adrian Peterson?
Nate Washington with more catches than Roddy White? Ryan Fitzpatrick in the Top 10 in passer rating? Jason Pierre-Paul tied for second in sacks, just a half-sack behind DeMarcus Ware?
There are some new and surprising faces atop the leaderboards three weeks into the NFL season. Here’s a look at the five biggest, most eye-opening surprises among them, so far:
QB Cam Newton, Carolina
There were many people who believed the No. 1 overall pick would eventually be a star, despite all his detractors. But the key word was “eventually”. In a lockout year where everyone lost the offseason, rookies figured to be more lost than usual. But not Newton. Even his most ardent supporters couldn’t have seen back-to-back 400-yard passing games at the start of his career and a completion percentage well over 60 percent. Yeah, his numbers came back to Earth in Week 3, but in poor weather conditions he still managed to complete more than half his passes and not throw an interception. He’ll have his ups and downs, no doubt. All rookie quarterbacks do. He certainly has opened up a lot of eyes, though, with his first three games.
RB Ben Tate, Houston

When Arian Foster got hurt before the opener, it seemed only natural that Texans coach Gary Kubiak would lean even more heavily on his passing attack. With Matt Schaub at quarterback and Andre Johnson at receiver, he seemed to have more than enough weapons to protect an unheralded rookie running back.  He didn’t see it that way, though, and Tate carried more than 20 times for more than 100 yards in each of the Texans’ first two games. When he followed that up with 82 yards in Week 3 he put himself sixth in the NFL in rushing, ahead of Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Ray Rice. As soon as Foster returns, Tate’s numbers will drop, no doubt. But he certainly proved that if Foster is out long term, the Texans’ rushing attack will be fine.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo
The Buffalo Bills are the surprise of the NFL, coming out of absolute nowhere to go 3-0, and they’re riding the arm of their Harvard-grad quarterback. Fitzpatrick’s nine touchdown passes are tied with Drew Brees and trail only Tom Brady. He’s also completed 64.9 percent of his passes – six points above his career average and seven points higher than last year. Scouts have always loved him as a smart player (perhaps an Ivy League stereotype) and he showed a little potential last year. But no one saw his first two games coming, where he threw seven touchdowns and just one interception. Then he went 27 for 40 for 369 yards against the Patriots and won a duel with Brady? It looks like he has arrived.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul, N.Y. Giants
Since he was coming off the bench and it happened for a collapsing team late in the season, it was easy to overlook the four sacks Pierre-Paul had in the Giants’ last six games of 2010 – especially since he had two each in back-to-back games. It looked like he was just flashing the talent that made him the 15th overall pick in the draft. He was still considered a project. Then, filling in for the injured Osi Umenyiora, he followed that up with four more in the first three games this year and he’s been close to at least half-a-dozen others. He’s a pass-rushing beast, sitting just a half-sack behind DeMarcus Ware in the NFL standings, and he’s not so easy to dismiss as a project anymore.
WR Nate Washington, Tennessee
In his six previous seasons in the NFL, Washington has been a serviceable receiver, but one with limitations. He’s never topped more than 47 catches and he’s certainly not a player anyone would want as a No. 1 option on their team. Three games into the season, though, he has 21 catches already … on an offense that featured running back Chris Johnson and receiver Kenny Britt. Washington’s production has been both consistent and surprising. Of course now it gets tougher. Britt is out for the season with a knee injury, so Washington really will be Matt Hasselbeck’s No. 1 target. It’ll be very interesting to see if he can come close to his current production without Britt drawing double teams to the other side.

<p> Ralph Vacchiano takes a look at some of the NFL's most intriguing statistical leaders.</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 29, 2011 - 12:06
All taxonomy terms: BYU Cougars, College Football
Path: /columns/athlon-interview/byu-legend-lavell-edwards-talks-college-football

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Athlon Sports' Braden Gall had a chance to sit down with legendary BYU Cougars football coach LaVell Edwards. The famed offensive guru touched on the evolution of college football, the current NCAA landscape, his favorite memories and the future of BYU Cougar football.

Braden Gall: Talk about your involvement in the Legends Poll.

LaVell Edwards: We began the poll about a decade ago, but its been a lot of fun to get on the line and visit each week, talk about the games and get each other’s perspective from their area. We’ve got people on the committee from all parts of the country and all conferences in the country. We have all been there and done it and now we have some time to look at film and actually get a real idea of what others are doing. And then we vote. It’s been a great experience and a lot of fun.

BG: You’ve had the pleasure of coaching a lot excellent quarterbacks, names like McMahon, Detmer, Young, and Sarkisian just to name a few. Talk a little bit about BYU’s current quarterback Jake Heaps.

LE: He really is in the same category, or at least has the potential to be in the same category, as those names you just mentioned. He has great presence, he is very astute and has a very good arm. So I think he’s going to develop, if he stays healthy. I think he is going to have a great career.

BG: Is there one quarterback who you could single out as the most talented? The most pure talent of any of the greats you coached?

LE: I don’t know cause each one of them had their own unique style. Jim McMahon had great vision and great awareness. He and Ty Detmer really had an awareness of everything around them. Steve Young could run better than any of them. From a pure throwing ability? Mark Wilks would be right up in there. You know, they just had a combination of different factors. And as I have thought about it even in my own mind, I start figuring out how I might rank them, and even I can’t deceide. So I give up trying! Although, even if I did know, I wouldn’t say it publicly, but in my own mind I have given up trying because it is just too difficult.

BG: What were some of your favorite places – both from a pure atmosphere standpoint and difficulty standpoint – to take your team on the road?

LE: One of the most fun places we ever played was at Wisconsin. It was when Dave McClain was coaching and they were just starting to get revitalized, but the fans were unbelievable. I have never been to a place where the people had more fun than what the people were doing at Camp Randall that day. Just a great atmosphere.

Another great place we played was Notre Dame. Of course, they have great tradition there, but they had great fans too. The people were very respectful and their band played our fight song. Just the whole atmosphere of South Bend was great.

As far as tough place to play? I would say going to Hawaii. The time difference and then they had the great fan support and they get after you pretty well out there. And trying to keep your mind on football over there is not the easiest thing in the world either.

BG: It’s a new era for BYU athletics. Talk about what it means for the program to be independent in terms of scheduling and all the things that go into now not being affiliated with a conference.

LE: It's something very new and I’ve always been a proponent of being in a conference. There was a lot going on in college football and the timing seemed to play a big role. I don’t think it was a knee jerk reaction, but I do think that they had been thinking about it for a while because of TV and other issues we had with the conference contracts. Then when Utah went to the Pac-12, I think they saw that as a great opening and a time to do it.

It’s all new territory and it's kind of exciting to see what they are going to be doing with it. I think scheduling is always going to be difficult. You are going to get some good teams on the front end of your schedule, but I think once they get into October and November, it’s going to be tough to come up with good quality opponents – to come to Provo especially. We’ve had a tall task in our early schedule this year, and later on we play TCU in the big stadium in Dallas. That is the kind of a one shot affair. It is going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

BG: In light of what has happened with Miami and all of the other sanctions/issues from around the country, and obviously things have changed since you were recruiting, is there anything we can do to fix how the NCAA athletics are operating right now?

LE: What makes it difficult now is social media. I think there has always been issues with people obeying the rules – although, maybe not the extent of what happened down in Miami.

I don’t know, to be honest. The climate and attitude that everyone seems to have is that everything is all about the dollar. How much money can I make? How much is being a part of the BCS worth? Getting so many million dollars for being this or that. I don’t know what the answer might be. I do know that somehow they need to get a handle on it and it’s going to take a lot of work. The bottom line is I don’t know if you can legislate it. Maybe you can cut down on all the rules, eliminate some, and then totally enforce the ones you keep. It still comes down to people’s basic honesty, both players, agents and the third party people in recruiting. But it’s all driven by the dollar.

BG: How much have offenses changed in the last two decades?

LE: Yes, considerably. We were pass happy – that was the term they used to describe us – but we probably threw it about 35 times a game. At the time we got going, people weren’t doing it that much and we got a jump on everybody. And you knew the defenses hadn’t caught up with the kind of stuff we were doing. From then on it has merged into a spread type formation with everybody spread out wide and in the shotgun. Then people like Urban Meyer starting running that read option out of the spread formation which added another element. Now everybody in the country is throwing it and running the spread. When we were doing it, there was nobody in the Big Ten or SEC who was throwing it like us. There might have been a couple of schools around the country trying to get things going, but they would always revert back to what everybody else was doing. So we just stayed with it and it went on from there. It’s certainly a different game today. Things have a tendency to go in cycles and it will be interesting to see where it goes from here. Will it go back around to things in the past or just continue to evolve?

Special thanks to Athlon Sports partner The Legends Poll

Other Legend's Interviews:

Washington's Don James

Georgia's Vince Dooley

Air Force's Fisher DeBerry

<p> The former Cougar head coach joins Athlon to talk BYU and the future of college football.</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 29, 2011 - 11:02
Path: /columns/waiver-wire/nfl-fantasy-week-4-idp-waiver-wire

- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Each week Athlon's fantasy staff will dive into the NFL Fantasy world of Individual Defensive Players, or more affectionately known as IDPs. Weekly top performers, advice and waiver wire adds highlight the Athlon IDP Weekly Potpourri.

Week 3’s Top Defensive Backs:

1. Drayton Florence, CB, Buffalo: 14.0 TFP (2 solo, INT, TD, PD)
I can’t say to completely disregard this performance, because Florence did intercept a pass in Week 1, but the Bills coverman has eight total tackles in three games and scored 14 of his 23.5 TFP last weekend. Maybe watch-list him and keep an eye on his tackle totals.

2. Kenny Phillips, S, NY Giants: 14.0 TFP (7 solo, 2 ast, INT, FF, PD)
The Giants' safety has the talent of a former first-rounder, and with the way teams are throwing on the Giants, he could be a nice play from here on out. Phillips posted 77 total stops last season and could build on that this fall – he is on pace for 117 total tackles.

3. Morgan Burnett, S, Green Bay: 13.5 TFP (5 solo, 1 ast, 2 INT, 2 PD)
The Packers are leading the NFL in rushing defense and are 31st in pass defense. With the injuries to the secondary, expect Burnett to be a fantasy star the rest of the way.

2011 DB Fantasy Rankings:

1. Morgan Burnett, S, Green Bay: 40.5 TFP
2. Lardarius Webb, CB, Baltimore: 34.9 TFP
3. Roman Harper, S, New Orleans: 34.0 TFP
4. Antoine Winfield, CB, Minnesota: 31.5 TFP
5. Tyvon Branch, S, Oakland: 30.0 TFP

DB Waiver Wire Adds:

Kenny Phillips, S, NY Giants (No. 13 ranked DB)
Phillips has the talent and the opportunity to make a lot of plays. Of course, they may not help the Giants win games, but they should help you win fantasy match-ups. The Giants are getting thrown on and Phillips is on pace for more than 85 solo tackles – which would shatter his personal best (77 total tackles is his single season mark).

Kam Chancellor, S, Seattle (No. 11)
The Seahawks safety is racking up tackles three weeks into the season. He is averaging 8.0 total stops per game – on pace for 128 total. Once he starts to add the big play, his stat line could be very serviceable in deeper leagues.

Jason McCourty, CB, Tennessee (No. 7 overall DB)
Opposing teams will be targeting McCourty’s side of the field with Courtland Finnegan shutting down the other half. His next two are against Cleveland, with a mistake-prone offense, and Pittsburgh, who throws the ball all over the place.

Bryan Scott, S, Buffalo (No. 12)
Scott already has an interception and a forced fumble on his ledger to go with his 24 total stops. With the way the Bills have been getting into shootouts, Wilson could easily be a quality addition to any squad. His running mate Bryan Scott might deserve a look as well.

Reggie Nelson, S, Cincinnati (No. 12)
Tied with Wilson, Nelson also boasts elite-level talent as a former first-round pick. In his rookie season, Nelson posted career highs in PD (11) and INTs (5) but hasn’t been productive since. He is on pace to destroy his tackle total from last fall (54) and set a new career high in that category as he is on pace for 122 total stops. His previous high is 70.

Justin King, CB, St. Louis (No. 9)
21 solo stops for a cornerback is an good indicator that quarterbacks are not afraid to throw at King – and that they are completing passes. Cornerbacks are normally not great fantasy players as compared to safeties, but the more you are thrown at, the more chances you have for tackles, INTs and PDs (see DeAngelo Hall). He could be this year’s Terrell Thomas.

DB Injury Update:

Brandon Flowers, CB, Kansas City
One of the most underrated players in the league left week 3 with a high ankle sprain.

Patrick Chung, S, New England
Missed week 3 against Buffalo with a broken thumb but could return.

Champ Bailey, CB, Denver
He missed the last two games but returned to practice on Wednesday.

Michael Huff, S, Oakland
Left the week 3 game against the Jets with a concussion and must be cleared to play.

Week 3’s Top Linebackers:

1. Pat Angerer, Indianapolis: 16.5 TFP (12 solo, 9 ast)
He did it all with tackles – that is impressive. I have been telling readers to snag this high-tackle backer from Indy for weeks. He should not be on your waiver wire any longer.

2. Ray Lewis, Baltimore: 15.5 TFP (10 solo, 1.0 sack, FF)
The grizzled veteran is doing it again. Arguably the best linebacker this fantasy player has ever seen, bounced back in 2010 and is proving it was no fluke.

3. Leroy Hill, Seattle: 15.0 TFP (8 solo, 3 ast, 1.0 sack, FF)
The revitalized Hill is playing alongside some young, talented tackles in David Hawthorne, Aaron Curry and K.J. Wright. It appears that Curry will be the one losing snaps to Wright – making Hill a sneaky option from here on out.

2011 LB Fantasy Rankings:

1. D'Qwell Jackson, Cleveland: 41.0 TFP
2. Sean Lee, Dallas: 39.5 TFP
3. Pat Angerer, Indianapolis: 37.0 TFP
4. Ray Lewis, Baltimore: 35.5 TFP
5. Brian Urlacher, Chicago: 35.0 TFP

LB Waiver Wire Adds:

Pat Angerer, Indianapolis (No. 3 LB)
For the third straight week, he is still sitting on my waiver wire. Why? He has 42 total tackles already!

Mason Foster, Tampa Bay (No. 9)
The rookie has quickly established himself as a quality player and could be on the verge of stardom. He was an All-Pac-10 star at Washington and has picked up right where he left off.

Navorro Bowman, San Francisco (No. 11)
The former Penn State star is reaping the benefits of teams focusing on Patrick Willis. He has 30 total stops in three games – on pace for 160 total tackles. And with the Niners defense likely playing a lot of snaps, Bowman is a great early season addition.

LB Injury Report:

D.J. Williams, Denver
The tackle machine returned to practice on Wednesday and could play on Sunday.

Geno Hayes, Tampa Bay
Left week 3 against Atlanta with a head injury. Check his status later.

Week 3’s Top Defensive Linemen:

1. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota: 18.0 TFP (5 solo, 1 ast, 3.0 sack, FF)
The low-key, offseason workouts have clearly paid off.

2. Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona: 16.25 TFP (5 solo, 5 ast, 2.5 sack)
The 6-foot-8 monster is now the No. 3 D-lineman and has loads of upside.

3. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, NY Giants: 15.0 TFP (7 solo, 2 ast, 2.0 sack)
The uber-talent is the top DL in the league and living up to the first round hype.

2011 DL Fantasy Rankings:

1. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, NY Giants: 35.0 TFP
2. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota: 35.0 TFP
3. Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona: 29.0 TFP
4. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore: 26.0 TFP
5. Ahtyba Rubin, DT, Cleveland: 24.5 TFP

Top DL Waiver Wire Adds:

Ahtyba Rubin, DT, Cleveland (No. 5 DL)
A big nine-tackle performance last weekend jumped Rubin into the top five DL thus far. And after 82 tackles last season and teams looking to run on Cleveland, he is a great pick-up as he enters his prime (this is the start of his fourth NFL season).

Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina (No. 8)
Teams will have to focus on Charles Johnson on the other side of the line, so Hardy should get plenty of one-on-one match-ups. He is being told to get up the field and pressure the quarterback, and his sack totals should be solid. He also has 13 tackles through three games, along with a safety and fumble recovery.

JJ Watt, DE, Houston (No. 10)
This guy never stops working and it shows. He has 13 total tackles, a sack, a blocked kick and a fumble recovery in his first three games as a pro. Mario Williams is listed as questionable for the Steelers game this weekend, and his loss could impact all of the Texans' fantasy values for the short term. Brooks Reed looks to fill in should Super Mario miss any time.

Cullen Jenkins, DT/DE, Philadelphia (No. 11)
The former Packer has registered a sack in all three games thus far. However, his penchant for injuries means you need to snag him and get him in the line-up now before he hurts himself again.

DL Injury Report:

Mario Wiliams, DE/LB, Houston
Is listed as questionable for week 4 against Pittsburgh with a knee injury

Justin Tuck, DE, NY Giants
The strained groin and lingering neck issues have him questionable for Arizona.

Elvis Dumervil, DE, Denver
He missed last week’s game against the Titans but returned to practice on Wednesday.

Osi Umenyiora, DE, NY Giants
He practiced for the first time this season on Wednesday and reportedly looked good. Monitor.

Other Week 4 NFL Fantasy Content:

Week 4 NFL Fantasy Waiver Wire
Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Homepage

<p> Athlon Sports analyzes the top performers, best waiver wire adds and IDP injuries from around the NFL.</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 29, 2011 - 07:00