Articles By Braden Gall

Path: /college-football/recruiting-rankings-update-risers-and-fallers

-by Braden Gall (follow at @AthlonBraden)

The Athlon Consensus 100 is a recruiting ranking used to portray the truest and most accurate list of the top 100 senior football prospects in the nation. Athlon Sports uses six expert compilations to create what is the most complete Top 100 list anywhere in the scouting arena.

Since the debut of the 2012 AC100, each of the four major recruiting services has revamped the rankings. With the 2011 prep football season in the rearview mirror, talent evaluators and scouts around the nation have reconvened and re-ranked every prospect in the country.

And Athlon Sports has adjusted the AC100 accordingly:

Dorial Green-Beckham is still No. 1

The Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest wide receiver was the No. 1 player when the AC100 debuted months ago, and he has maintained his stronghold atop the rankings throughout the process thus far.

In fact, not only did the top slot remain stable with Green-Beckham, but the top five is also exactly the same. Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook running back Keith Marshall moved from No. 9 to No. 6 and became the nation’s No. 1 running back in the process. He is now one slot ahead of Aledo’s Jonathan Gray. Hueytown (Ala.) quarterback Jameis Winston moved from No. 12 to No. 10, knocking Olney (Md.) Good Counsel athlete Stefon Diggs outside of the nation’s top ten. Winston, who is committed to Florida State, is still the nation’s No. 1 quarterback prospect.

The Nation’s Biggest Risers

The biggest mover in the AC100 ranks came from Miami (Fla.) Norland running back Randy “Duke” Johnson. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound dynamo went from outside of the top 100 to No. 49 in the AC100. Despite his diminutive frame, Johnson is the complete package. He plays an elite level of competition, he has led his team on a deep playoff run and he has the big-play ability to score anytime he touches the ball. His speed and explosiveness are among the nation’s best, and now as the nation’s No. 7-rated running back, he is ranked as such. The Duke is committed to Miami.

Auburn commitment TJ Yeldon jumped 29 spots from No. 90 to No. 61 after all four major recruiting services bumped him up in the rankings. The Daphne (Ala.) running back made the biggest move in the 247Sports rankings from outside the top 100 to No. 26. Rivals has always thought more highly of Yeldon than anyone else as he is now a five-star at No. 24.

Future Ohio State Buckeye Adolphus Washington leapt 24 spots in the rankings from No. 47 to No. 23. The Cincinnati (Ohio) Taft defensive end is now ranked as the No. 4 end in the country. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound D-lineman was the Class IV state defensive player of the year as a junior and has very few weaknesses. Scout appears to have nailed this evaluation from the get-go as he has been the No. 18 prospect in their ranks from the start. Rivals, ESPN and 247Sports have each moved the pass rusher into the Top 75.

This is a deep class for running backs as Marshall, Johnson and Yeldon have all risen through the ranks, but Cape Coral (Fla.) Island Coast runner Mario Pender also made a big jump from No. 55 to No. 35. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Florida State verbal made large jumps in the Scout 300 (from No. 85 to 44) and the 247Sports Top 247 (from No. 110 to 32). The compact runner has one of the best power-to-speed ratios in the entire class and is now the country’s No. 4 running back.

Two-way star Cyrus Jones jumped from No. 82 to No. 63 after Rivals and Scout pushed the Baltimore (Md.) Gilman athlete from outside the top 150 to No. 106 and No. 105, respectively. ESPN thinks the most of Jones as they have the 5-foot-10, 180-pound prospect ranked at No. 33. Alabama, Auburn and Virginia Tech appear to be the wide receiver/defensive back’s finalists.

Arlington (Texas) Martin defensive end Devonte Fields (No. 95) and Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) SM Catholic offensive tackle Max Tuerk (No. 98) are two new faces in the AC100. Fields is committed to TCU, while Tuerk is headed to USC.

The Nation’s Biggest Fallers

The biggest faller within the AC100 is Centerville (Ohio) defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, who dropped 28 spots to No. 68 from No. 40. Interestingly enough, Scout and ESPN did not move the undersized 6-foot-3, 215-pound edge rusher at all. Yet, 247Sports and Rivals saw something they didn’t like and dropped him precipitously to No. 109 (from No. 61) and No. 148 (from No. 49), respectively. Cal, USC, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford and Northwestern are Odenigbo’s finalists.

Future Texas A&M quarterback Matt Davis was dropped in the rankings by all four major services, and it resulted in a 23-spot drop from No. 65 to No. 88 in the AC100. Rivals and Scout have always been higher on the 6-foot-2, 210-pound dual-threat gunslinger, but both moved the Houston (Texas) Klein passer down. He is now ranked outside of the Top 100 by three of the four major services.

A player who has seen his stock slowly fall all year long has been Fort Mitchell (Ky.) Dixie Heights quarterback Zeke Pike. The Auburn Tigers pledge was dropped from No. 104 to No. 145 by Rivals and from No. 98 to outside the Top 247 by 247Sports. ESPN has never had Pike ranked in its ESPNU 150, and it appears they did the best job of evaluating the 6-foot-5, 220-pound pocket passer. As a result, Pike fell 19 spots from No. 63 to No. 82 in the AC100.

Pompano Beach (Fla.) Blanche Ely star wide receiver Avery Johnson fell 17 spots from No. 50 to No. 67. The LSU Tigers’ verbal commitment has been dropped out of the top 150 by both Scout and 247Sports while Rivals downgraded him slightly. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound pass catcher is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson – who had his own interesting recruitment process.

Additionally, Boynton Beach (Fla.) lineman Jessamen Dunker fell 15 spots, Hogansville (Ga.) Callaway tight end Ricky Parks dropped 14 slots and Morton (Miss.) nose tackle Quay Evans was downgraded 13 slots. De La Salle quarterback Bart Houston (No. 95), Jim Kelly’s nephew Chad Kelly (No. 98) and Greensboro (N.C.) blocker Brock Stadnik (No. 99) all fell out of the AC100.

<p> The Athlon Consensus 100 has been updated. Who are the nation's biggest risers and fallers?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 13:00
Path: /columns/heisman-watch/athlon-sports-heisman-voting-championship-saturday

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

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

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

Today marks the 14th time the Athlon Sports editors have voted on the 2011 Heisman Trophy and for the first time all season, Stanford's Andrew Luck is not atop the ballot. After 13 straight weeks with Luck finishing first, Alabama's Trent Richardson has taken over the top slot in the voting. Luck received three first-place votes and four second-place votes while T-Rich landed the other six first place marks and one second.

In a year that has had more legitimate candidates than can ever be remembered, it is only appropriate that the best player in the nation can throw four touchdowns in a relatively easy win over Notre Dame and fall out of the top slot. But that is what has happened.

Baylor's Robert Griffin III is still hanging around while Wisconsin's Montee Ball and USC's Matt Barkley continue to post record-setting numbers on two-loss teams.

1. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (85/90 total points, 6/9 first place votes)
Season Stats: 263 att., 1,583 yards, 20 TD, 27 rec., 327 yards, 3 TD

Richardson waited until the right time to make his move to the top of the charts. A 27-carry, 203-yard performance in the 42-14 Iron Bowl win over Auburn pushed T-Rich to the top of the Heisman heap heading into Championship Saturday. He is the most physically talented running back in the nation and the only SEC running back in history to rush for 20 touchdowns. He also is the lead offensive weapon for what many think is the best team in the nation. Will it hurt him that he won't be playing again like many of the other finalists — e.g., Montee Ball, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Case Keenum — this weekend?

  Name Pos. Team Pts 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Ballots
1. Trent Richardson RB Alabama 85 6 1 2 - - 9
2. Andrew Luck QB Stanford 80 3 4 1 - 1 9
3. Robert Griffin III QB Baylor 75 - 4 4 1 - 9
4. Montee Ball RB Wisconsin 53 - - - 2 4 9
5. Matt Barkley QB USC 51 - - 1 3 2 9
6. Case Keenum QB Houston 48 - - - 3 2 9
7. Kellen Moore QB Boise State 31 - - - - - 9
8. Russell Wilson QB Wisconsin 30 - - 1 - - 8
9. Brandon Weeden QB Oklahoma St 13 - - - - - 6
10. LaMichael James RB Oregon 9 - - - - - 4
11. Denard Robinson QB Michigan 6 - - - - - 3
12. David Wilson RB Virginia Tech 5 - - - - - 3
14. Collin Klein QB Kansas St 4 - - - - - 1
15. Justin Blackmon WR Oklahoma St 2 - - - - - 1
16. Bobby Rainey RB Western Kentucky 2 - - - - - 1
17. Brad Wing P LSU 1 - - - - - 1

2. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (80)
Season Stats: 261/373, 3,170 yards, 35 TD, 9 INT, 43 att., 153 yards, 2 TD

Luck finished his career at Stanford with a solid 28-14 win over Notre Dame and second straight BCS Bowl berth. He completed 20-of-30 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns. He has led his team to a 23-2 record over the last tw seasons, but his inability to beat Oregon (0-2) over the last two seasons might have cost him not only the Heisman but the National Championship as well. Strangely enough, this weekend marked the fifth game in a row in which he threw an interception.

3. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (75)
Season Stats: 252/347, 3,678 yards, 34 TD, 5 INT, 149 att., 612 yards, 7 TD

Griffin III rolled right late in the second quarter and as he was going down, took a major shot to the head. He was clearly knocked stiff. RG3 still mustered 106 yards passing on 7-of-11 passing, 62 yards rushing and three total touchdowns before being knocked from the 66-42 win over Texas Tech. You can do the math on how big the numbers could have been had RG3 been able to finish the game. Back-up Nick Florence threw for 151 yards, rushed for 14 yards and scored three touchdowns of his own. Combine those numbers with Griffin's and he is likely atop the Heisman voting instead of Richardson. He needs a huge game and a win over the Texas Longhorns this weekend. That said, the dynamic passer has taken Baylor to levels of success it has not reached in decades: It has reached its highest single-season win total since 1991, and with one more win will have 16 in two years, its highest total since 1985-86. Next Game: Texas

4. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (53)
Season Stats: 248 att., 1,622 yards, 29 TD, 17 rec., 248 yards, 5 TD, 1/1, 25 yards, TD

With the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl on the line, Ball was handed the ball 25 times, and he delivered once again. The stellar runner rushed for 156 yards and four more touchdowns in the 45-7 division-clinching win over Penn State. Ball is now second all-time in NCAA history with 34 touchdowns this year — 11 more than Richardson's 23. He is five short of the NCAA record (39) with two games to play, is leading the nation in scoring (17.0 ppg) and is second in the nation in rushing (1,622). A big performance in the Big Ten title game could get Ball a much-deserved trip to New York. Next Game: Michigan State (Indianapolis)

5. Matt Barkley, QB, USC (51)
Season Stats: 308/446, 3,528 yards, 39 TD, 7 INT, 28 att., 14 yards, 2 TD

It was a record-setting Saturday for Mr. Barkley. He completed a school-record 35 passes and tied his own record with six touchdown passes in the 50-0 win over the rival UCLA Bruins. He finished with 423 yards. His 39 scoring strikes this season broke Matt Leinart's single-season school record of 38. Barkley also helped wideout Robert Woods break the Pac-12 single-season receiving record held by Keyshawn Johnson (102 catches). Woods finished with 111 receptions for 1,292 yards.

6. Case Keenum, QB, Houston (48)
Season Stats: 342/467, 4,726 yards, 43 TD, 3 INT, 44 att., 43 yards, 3 TD

Keenum did all he could possibly do in the 2011 regular season. He shattered every major career passing record in NCAA history, and with the 48-16 win over Tulsa, finished the regular season unblemished at 12-0. A win over Southern Miss in the C-USA title game would likely earn Houston a BCS bowl bid. Keenum finished the day 33-of-46 for 457 yards and five touchdowns. He leads the NCAA in total offense at 397.4 yards per game and is the No. 3 most efficient passer at 187.34. Next Game: Southern Miss

7. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (31)
Season Stats: 272/372, 3,194 yards, 38 TD, 7 INT, 18 att., minus-57 yards

It was just another day at the office for Moore. The Broncos topped Wyoming 36-14 behind Moore's 24-of-36, 279-yard, 3-TD performance. Moore, like Keenum, passed Graham Harrell's career TD mark (134) this weekend and now has 137 career scoring strikes. A couple of missed kicks cost Moore a shot at a Heisman and National Title two years in a row. Next Game: Wyoming

8. Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin (30)
Season Stats: 189/231, 2,692 yards, 29 TD, 3 INT, 66 att., 325 yards, 5 TD, 1 rec., 25 yards, TD

Wilson completed 19-of-29 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the 45-7 Leaders Division win over Penn State. Wilson now has a touchdown pass in 36 straight games, which ties Harrell's NCAA record. He has a touchdown pass in 45 of his last 46 games and 45 of his 48 career games. He is the nation's leader in passer rating at 192.9 — which would be a single-season NCAA record (Colt Brennan, 186.0). He already owns most Wisconsin single-season passing records and could become only the fourth QB in Big Ten history to reach 30 passing touchdowns in a season. He has thrown an interception in only two games this season. Next Game: Michigan State (Indianapolis)

9. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (13)
Season Stats: 355/486, 4,111 yards, 34 TD, 12 INT, 15 att., minus-95 yards

Weeden and the Pokes had a bye week in an effort to prepare for Oklahoma and the Bedlam Series. If the Cowboys can defeat the Sooners handily and Weeden plays a great game, he could sneak back into the Heisman mix — and will have an oustide shot at the BCS national title game. Next Game: Oklahoma

10. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (9)
Season Stats: 173 car., 1,285 yards, 13 TD, 14 rec., 180 yards, 1 TD

James and the Ducks clinched what should be their third straight Pac-12 title with the 49-21 win over rival Oregon State in the Civil War. James rushed 24 times for 142 yards and scored once. His 142.7 yards per game leads the nation in per game average. With a win over UCLA in the Pac-12 title game, James and Oregon will reach a third straight BCS Bowl. Next Game: UCLA

Previous Voting:

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 13

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 12

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 11

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 10

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 9
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 8

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 7

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 6

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 5

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 4

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 3

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 2

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 1

<p> Athlon Sports Heisman Voting: Championship Saturday</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-big-ten-9

By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)

Post-Week 13 Big Ten Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings. And two Big Ten teams came in at #1 of our Top 25 College Football Rivalries.

1. Michigan State (10-2, 7-1) – Finally, the Spartans can look ahead to the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis. After handling the Northwestern Wildcats 31-17 for their 10th win of the season, Michigan State sets its sights on the Big Ten's version of "The Rematch." The Spartans and Badgers were clearly the top two teams in the conference this season as the two played the best game of the season back on October 22. The Kirk Cousins' game-winning Hail Mary toss to Keith Nichol was arguably the biggest scoring strike of his school-record 62 career touchdown passes. Sparty carries the Big Ten's No. 1 rushing defense, No. 1 total defense and the league's best pass rush (No. 1 at 3.08 sacks per game) into Lucas Oil Field Saturday night against what is probably the nation's top offensive line. The winner goes to the Rose Bowl to face Oregon, while the loser could fall past Michigan and Nebraska to the Outback Bowl.

2. Wisconsin (10-2, 6-2) –  The Badgers were the most impressive team in the Big Ten conference this season, and after a  45-7 win over Penn State on Saturday, will have a chance to prove it in its rematch with Michigan State. The nation's leading passer, leading scorer and leading punt returner will enter the Oil Drum in Indy with revenge on the mind — and they could be tough to stop. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball leads the nation in scoring (17.0 ppg) and is second in the nation in rushing (1,622 yards). His 34 touchdowns trail only Barry Sanders' 39 on the all-time NCAA list and part of the reason UW lost to Michigan State in October was due to his absence (Ball missed most of the second and third quarters). The 220 yards rushing posted by the Badgers in East Lansing was the season-high allowed by the Big Ten's top rush defense. The win gave the Badgers their fifth 10-win season in seven years.

3. Michigan (10-2, 6-2) – The monkey is officially off the Maize and Blue backs. In the best rivalry game in college football, Michigan and Ohio State played one of the most exciting football games of the year. The Wolverines topped the Buckeyes 40-34 in a game that featured six lead changes and the two most athletic quarterbacks in the nation. Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller offered fans a potential glimpse of the 2012 Big Ten title game by combining for 672 yards of total offense, eight total touchdowns and only one turnover. The win for Brady Hoke likely landed Michigan an at-large BCS bowl bid and its first triumph over rival OSU in eight years. Most importantly, however, is that the Wolverines finished No. 2 in the Big Ten in rush defense (129.1 ypg) and ninth nationlly in scoring defense (17.2 ppg). It is one of the more remarkable defensive turnaronds in recent memory. The Sugar Bowl against an unbeaten Houston Cougars team appears to be the most likely holiday destination for Michigan.

4. Nebraska (9-3, 5-3) – A new rivarly was born when Nebraska toppled Iowa 20-7 in the final game of the regular season on Friday. The Huskers ran for 222 yards on 61 carries — Rex Burkhead getting a school-record 38 of those attempts and 160 of those yards — and held the ball for 37:47 minutes of possession. Meanwhile, the defense held Marcus Coker under 100 yards for only the second time in seven games. Burkhead ended his first season as the starter second in the Big Ten in rushing attempts (261) and third in yards (1,268). Nebraska finishes its first Big Ten season above .500 and will visit Florida this bowl season. It should land in either the Cap One or Outback Bowl, with the smart money on Orlando and the Cap One Bowl.

5. Penn State (9-3, 6-2) – The Nittany Lions have had a nightmarish last couple of weeks and it ended with a 45-7 thumping at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers. With a chance to win the Big Ten Leaders Division, Penn State showed just how far it has left to climb to reach the championship plateau. Penn State was outgained 450 to 233, completed just 11 of its 25 passes, went 4-15 on third and fourth down conversions, turned the ball over four times (to UW's one) and kept the football for a mere 21:43 minutes of possession. The loss drops PSU in the bowl pecking order, and with the radioactivity emanating from Happy Valley, a bowl selection commitees might be hesitant to tab the Lions. Look for the Nits to fall no lower than the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas — and for the coaching search to reach a rolling boil very shortly.

6. Ohio State (6-6, 3-5) – Did any Buckeyes fan really notice the football game in Ann Arbor this weekend? Fans are already pointing to what could be a special 2012 team as its new head coach Urban Meyer was officially presented to Scarlet and Gray nation on Monday afternoon. With Braxton Miller and a host of talented defenders returning, Ohio State is your likely preseason pick to win the Leaders Division in 2012. Miller finished the final five games of the season with 452 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground to match his developing passing game (450 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT over his last three games). The 6-6 record was the first non-winning season for OSU since 1999 and it appears the Buckeyes are headed for the Gator Bowl.

7. Iowa (7-5, 4-4) – With the 20-7 loss to Nebraska last weekend, the Hawkeyes ended the 2011 campaign with three losses in five games. Despite having the league's No. 2 rusher in Marcus Coker, the Hawkeyes finished 11th in the Big Ten in rushing offense. There are plenty of bright spots, however, as Marvin McNutt led the Big Ten in receiving (105.8 yards per game) and set school receiving touchdown records for a career and season. Additionally, James Vandenberg established himself as a playmaker for 2012. The seven win season again proves the dependability, yet mediocrity, of Kirk Ferentz' tenure at Iowa. It was the sixth time in seven years in which the Hawkeyes finished the regular season between six and eight wins and between four and six losses. Iowa looks to be headed to the Insight Bowl.

8. Northwestern (6-6, 3-5) – The Wildcats were no match for the focused Spartans as they lost 31-17 in the regular season finale. But Pat Fitzgerald's team will be bowling — likely the TicketCity Bowl — for the fourth time in his six-year tenure as head coach. In fact, Fitzgerald owns four of the school's ten total postseason apperances. Look for the Big Ten's top-rated passing offense to take full advantage of whichever Big 12 defense it faces in the TicketCity Bowl.

10. Purdue (6-6, 4-4) – With the 33-25 win over Indiana, the Boilermakers became the 10th Big Ten to earn bowl eligibility in 2011. By winning the Old Oaken Bucket over its in-state rival, Purdue should be playing in the postseason for the first time since 2007. The Little Ceasrs Pizza Bowl on December 27 looks like the right fit — especially considering how unattrative Illinois looks at the moment (see below). The question still reamins: Did Danny Hope do enough to keep his job?

9. Illinois (6-6, 2-6) – One of the most epic collapes in NCAA history came to fruition when Illinois went into Minneapolis and laid one of the largest, smelliest Big Ten eggs in history. In an effort to avoid a six-game losing streak, the not-so-Fighting Illini mustered a pathetic 160 yards of total offense, convereted on 2-of-15 third downs, rushed for 2.6 yards per carry and waited until they were down 27-0 before scoring any points against Minnesota. It turns out, the 27-7 loss to the Gophers was the final straw for Illinois, who handed Ron Zook his walking papers shortly thereafter. After the 6-0 start, the Illini are still bowl eligible, but won't be very attractive to any bowl committee after the terrible showing this weekend, no head coach and a six-game losing streak.

11. Minnesota (3-9, 2-6) – Ron Zook doesn't deserve all of the credit for the atrocious showing of the Illini in the 27-7 loss to Minnesota this weekend. Jerry Kill and the Gophers get plenty of kudos for showing up with nothing to play for and controling the game from the get-go. Quarterback MarQueis Gray topped the 160 yard mark rushing for the second straight weekend and the third time this season as he carried 27 times for 167 yards and two scores to lead Minnesota. The Gophers won two of its last five games and showed marked improvement over the course of the season. Could things finally be looking up in the Twin Cities?

12. Indiana (1-11, 0-8) – Indiana lost the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket 33-25 to in-state rival Purdue. The Hoosiers are one of five teams in the nation who failed to win a conference game this season. Yet, if there is any silver lining, it is the development of the running game over the second half. Indiana averaged 118.8 yards rushing per game in the first six games. It posted an average of 203.2 yards per game on the ground over the second half. On defense, however, IU finished last in the Big Ten in rushing, passing efficiency, scoring and total defense. Kevin Wilson has his work cut out for him this offseason.

Also Read:
The 25 Greatest College Football Rivalries

<p> How do the teams in the Big Ten stack up after the 13th week of action?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-gets-recruiting-bump-urban-meyer

-by Braden Gall (follow him on twitter @AthlonBraden)

Urban Meyer is a proven commodity on the sidelines. His immaculate coaching record speaks for itself.

He is 104-23 overall and 7-1 in bowl games. He was MAC Coach of the Year his first season at Bowling Green (2001). He was Mountain West Coach of the Year in both of his two seasons at Utah – to go with two MWC championships and a BCS Bowl berth. And in six years in the SEC, Meyer's players won two BCS National Championships and one Heisman Trophy.

That’s a serious resume to be handing out at every checkpoint along the Ohio State recruiting trail. Sitting in living rooms all over the Midwest and Northeast, the new Buckeyes coach will bring with him as much clout as any head coach in the nation. More importantly, the Urban Meyer name rings across the fertile Southern recruiting grounds with volume and clarity.

“This is absolutely a home run hire for Ohio State,” national recruiting analyst Barton Simmons told Athlon Sports. “I can’t imagine a better fit from a recruiting standpoint than Urban Meyer. He’s got name recognition nationally and a system that athletes love to play in.”

Simmons continued: “Ohio State has landed some great players out of the state of Florida, and that pipeline will only continue to grow under Meyer. He also has Ohio ties and understands the importance of building a wall around what is arguably the fourth-most talented state in the country.”

Meyer was a force on the recruiting trail with the budget and power of the mighty Florida Gators athletic department. His full classes at Florida (2006-2010) were the envy of nearly every program in the nation and included the 2007 and 2010 recruiting national championships — aka ranked as the No. 1 class in the nation by Athlon Sports. The Gators claimed the best class in the SEC three times in five years under Meyer.

Over the five-year span, Meyer signed 120 total players, 43 Athlon Consensus 100 prospects, 92 players from southern states and 70 from the state of Florida. To top it all off, he never lost his touch in the northeast, landing 13 players from the area including names like Joe Haden, Aaron Hernandez, Dominique Easley, Jordan Reed, Jelani Jenkins and Sharrif Floyd.

Here is a quick breakdown of his five full Florida classes:

2010: 28 total signees, 13 AC100
National Rank: No. 1, SEC Rank: No. 1

2009: 16 total signees, 5 AC100
National Rank: No. 9, SEC Rank: No. 4

2008: 22 total signees, 7 AC100
National Rank: No. 8, SEC Rank: No. 3

2007: 27 total signees, 12 AC100
National Rank: No. 1, SEC Rank: No. 1

2006: 27 total signees, 6 AC100
National Rank: No. 2, SEC Rank: No. 1

Ohio State has never had a problem attracting elite level talent, and the Buckeye brand has never been a tough sell for any coach who has worked on the banks of the Olentangy. But the brand image had taken a hit recently amidst tattoo-email cover-up scandals and booster payroll smudging. Anything and everything will become fodder for opposing coaches when it comes to recruiting, so a national title-winning head coach being forced to resign was easy pickings for rival Big Ten coaching staffs.

“Schools like Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska were able to come into the Buckeye State and pull players that Ohio State coveted,”’s Kevin Noon told Athlon Sports. is the officially licensed website covering Ohio State football recruiting.

“But when landing Urban Meyer seemed like more than a possibility, players began to show more interest,” Noon went on. “Before Meyer was hired it appeared that the Buckeyes were done with their 2012 recruiting effort with only a handful of kids left on the board. Now, with the new hire, all bets are off and Ohio State could clean up by flipping a few in-state kids and moving on some out-of-state talent.”

The impact of Meyer on OSU recruiting has already been felt. Athlon Consensus 100 defensive end Adolphus Washington even mentioned Meyer specifically in his announcement speech last Tuesday. Ohio State had 16 total commitments when it officially revealed that Urban Meyer would be the next head coach in the Horseshoe. With two hard months of recruiting left, Bucks fans can bet on The Ohio State University pulling a few upsets and luring a big name or two to Columbus en route to National Signing Day 2012.

Unfortunately for the rest of the Big Ten, it’s merely a warning shot across the bow as every recruiting coordinator in the league should be bracing for Meyer’s impact in 2013.

More Urban Meyer, Ohio State content:

Urban Meyer Will Win Big
by Mitch Light

Follow Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden), Barton Simmons (@BartonSimmons) and Kevin Noon (@Kevin_Noon) on twitter

<p> What sort of impact will new head coach Urban Meyer have on Ohio State recruiting efforts?</p>
Post date: Monday, November 28, 2011 - 16:14
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-pac-12-8

By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)

Post-Week 13 Pac-12 Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Oregon (10-2, 8-1) – With the dominating 49-21 win over rival Oregon State in the Civil War, the Oregon Ducks clinched the Pac-12 North. With a win over the 6-6 Bruins on Saturday, the Ducks will win their third straight conference championship and play in their third straight BCS bowl. Oregon finished No. 1 in the league in rushing (291.0 ypg), No. 1 in total offense (510.6 ypg) and No. 1 in scoring offense (45.9 ppg). The Ducks also claim the nation's leading rusher in per game average with LaMichael James' 142.7 ypg and the conference's top return man in DeAnthony Thomas (27.7 ypr). Oregon has won three straight over UCLA including a 60-13 victory in Eugene last season. In his three years as head coach, Chip Kelly is 32-6 overall and 24-3 in conference play. 

2. Stanford (11-1, 8-1) – Heisman hopeful Andrew Luck tossed four touchdown passes in what was likely a BCS bowl-clinching 28-14 win over Notre Dame. Luck, who is the Pac-12's most efficient passer (167.5), is 23-2 over his last two seasons and will see his legacy defined as much by his inability to beat Oregon as his 9,083 yards and 87 total touchdowns. Had Luck managed to beat Oregon in either of the last two seasons, Stanford would likely have played for a national championship. Stanford led the Pac-12 in rushing defense (90.3 ypg) and total defense (331.4 ypg). The 23 wins mark the most in a two-year period and represent the first back-to-back 10-win seasons in program history. A match-up with the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State winner in the Fiesta Bowl is the most likely scenario for Luck's final game at Stanford.

3. USC (10-2, 7-2) – Any team in the nation want to play the USC Trojans in a playoff game? I seriously doubt it. The Men of Troy and Matt Barkley pounded rival UCLA 50-0 in the season finale for USC. It was the Trojans' 11th win in 12 games against UCLA and gave the school their eighth 10-win season in 10 years (counting 2005). Barkley played in what could be his final game for Southern California, completing 35-of-42 passes for 423 yards and six touchdowns. Since the overtime loss to Stanford, the USC quarterback has thrown 17 touchdowns, only two interceptions and averaged 309.5 yards per game while winning all four games. The Trojans are clearly the best team in the Pac-12 South, and it is unfortunate for the players and fans that the NCAA did not lift the postseason bans.

4. Washington (7-5, 5-4) – Despite some second-half struggles, the Huskies ended the 2011 regular season on a high note with a 38-21 win over rival Washington State in the Apple Cup. Keith Price bounced back admirably with a 21-of-29, 291-yard, 3-TD performance in the win. The sophomore gunslinger battled through inconsistency and some injuries in his first year as the starter to finish with 29 touchdowns and 2,625 yards through the air. The win gave Washington its first winning regular season since 2002, and with a bowl win, the Huskies would have their first eight-win season since 2001. Washington appears to be headed for the Alamo Bowl to battle with either Kansas State or the loser of the Bedlam game. The Alamo Bowl could also select Cal, pushing Washington to the Holiday Bowl.

5. California (7-5, 4-5) – Cal may have saved Jeff Tedord's job by beating Arizona State 47-38 on Friday. The Golden Bears rushed for 247 yards and four touchdowns on 40 carries. The win assures Tedford of his ninth winning season in 10 years on the job in Berkeley. Cal led the league in pass defense and tackles for a loss this season, and breakout wide receiver Keenan Allen finished second in the conference with 89 receptions and third with 1,261 yards. With three wins in their final four games, the Bears appear to be headed to the Holiday Bowl — potentially against the Baylor Bears and Robert Griffin III.

6. Utah (7-5, 4-5) – Utah missed a golden opportunity to make a huge statement in its first season in the Pac-12. Utah kicker Coleman Petersen missed a 48-yard field goal with two seconds left in a very disappointing 17-14 home loss to the Colorado Buffaloes. It was his third miss of the game, and the loss cost Kyle Whittingham and company a Pac-12 South title — and a chance at a Rose Bowl. Losing star tailback John White IV in the third quarter didn't help, as the Utah running back finished nearly 100 yards below his season average. White carried a season-low 10 times for a season-low 28 yards. The second half of the season has proved that Utah belongs with the BCS big boys, as the Utes finished 4-1 down the stretch in league play. However, the loss to the Buffs leaves an extremly bitter taste in the Utes' mouths — and checkbooks. Instead of the Rose, Alamo or Holiday Bowl, Utah looks to be slated for a trip to El Paso and the Sun Bowl against the ACC's No. 4 team (likely Wake Forest or Virginia).

7. UCLA (6-6, 5-4) – The UCLA Bruins are the inaugural Pac-12 South Champions. The Bruins were outgained 572 to 385 yards, converted on only 3-of-15 third and fourth down conversions and lost 50-0 to USC. But an unexpected loss to Colorado by Utah, awarded the Bruins with a berth in the Pac-12 championship game. As a heavy underdog against the Ducks, the Bruins will likely finish the regular season at 6-7 and will have to apply for a bowl waiver from the NCAA leadership council. If given the waiver, the Bruins have to wait for the conference to fill its other seven bowl commitments before they likely land in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. However, head coach Rick Neuheisel won't be joining his team on any postseason trip. Neuheisel is 21-28 overall and 3-25 against teams that finished with a winning record in four years as head coach, and it appears he will be given his walking papers following this Saturday's conference title game.

8. Arizona State (6-6, 4-5) – The Sun Devils finished an up and down 2011 season by losing 47-38 to Cal at home in the season finale. The loss marked the fourth straight loss and fifth in six games after a 5-1 start for Arizona State. A trip to Sin City and the Las Vegas Bowl with a match-up against Mountain West champ TCU appears the likely postseason destination for ASU. Head coach Dennis Erickson, like many Pac-12 coaches this postseason, could be coaching for his job in the bowl game. Arizona State is 31-30 under Erickson in five seasons, featuring one winning season (2007) and no bowl wins. TCU would be a heavy favorite.

9. Washington State (4-8, 2-7) – The Cougars lost 38-21 to the rival Huskies in the 104th edition of the Apple Cup. Washington State allowed 434 yards of offense to Washington and turned the ball over twice in the second straight loss to the Pac-12 North rival. Paul Wulff is now 9-40 as the head man at Wazzu, and the last winning season in Pullman took place in 2003. The offense showed signs of improvement, finishing second in the conference in passing at 322.3 yards per game. However, expect another tumultuous off-season for the Cougars.

10. Oregon State (3-9, 3-6) – In his second stint as head coach at Oregon State, Mike Riley had two losing seasons in his first eight years. After the 49-21 loss to rival Oregon this weekend, Riley now has his third losing season and his worst record in 11 total seasons as the Beavers head coach. Quarterback Sean Mannion has offered some solace, as the freshman has provided the answer at quarterback. He threw for another 299 yards and three touchdowns in the loss this weekend. He was one yard away from his fifth 300-yard effort in nine games. The Beavers uncharacteristically finished last in the league in rushing offense (86.9 ypg) and rushing defense (196.8 ypg).

11. Arizona (4-8, 2-7) – The Wildcats got a "nice" 45-37 win against a decent UL Lafayette team. Although it doesn't count as the first win of the Rich Rodriguez era, Arizona is technically 1-0 with RichRod as acting head coach. Nick Foles extended his single-season school records for completions (387) and yards (4,334) with his fifth straight 300-yard game and 10th of the season. Foles finished as the Pac-12's leader in total offense at 352.6 yards per game. A two-game winning streak is a great way to get what should be an exciting off-season in Tucson started.

12. Colorado (3-10, 2-7) – The first season of the Jon Embree era ended with a bang. The Buffaloes snapped a 23-game road losing streak by topping the Utes 17-14 in Salt Lake City. Not only did Colorado get its second Pac-12 win of the year, but it also crushed the Utes' hopes of landing in the conference title game. Rodney Stewart played his final game in a Buffs uniform with only 12 touches for 45 yards. Stewart finished his career with 3,598 yards rushing, 25 touchdowns, 93 receptions and 969 yards receiving.

<p> How do the teams in the Pac-12 stack up after Week 13 of action?</p>
Post date: Monday, November 28, 2011 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/betting-against-spread-week-13-picks

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Like most of us around the college football world, the state of Oklahoma completely shocked me last week. Two of the worst defensive performances of the season cost both the Sooners and the Cowboys a potential chance at a national title - and me a chance at a third straight winning weekend. Houston and Kansas State continue to be rock solid against the spread and may continue that trend the rest of the way in 2011.

Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving holiday everyone and stuff your faces with these almost-but-not-quite locks of the week...

Season Record ATS: 72-48-3 (5-5 last week)

Week 13's Top Picks:
Houston (-3) at Tulsa
Tulsa won this game by three points last season, but the most productive player in NCAA history wasn't on the field. In the two previous meetings, Keenum led the Cougars to victory in Tulsa 46-45 in 2009 and 70-30 at home in 2008. The Houston quarterback threw for 926 yards and accounted for 10 touchdowns in those two games. The Cougars have won every game they have played in 2011 by an average margin of victory of nearly 32 points per - which is actually 43 points per game over the last three. Houston also leads the nation with a 9-2 record against the spread. My Pick: Houston -3

Tennessee (-7) at Kentucky
Everyone knows the stat: Tennessee has won 26 straight games over the Wildcats. The Vols have struggled on offense in SEC play, but that was without star quarterback Tyler Bray. The big-time passer threw for 189 yards and two touchdowns in his return to action last weekend. Expect even more from the future NFL Draft pick this weekend against a team that ranks 12th in the SEC in passing offense, total offense, scoring offense, passing efficiency, sacks allowed and punt returns. My Pick: Tennessee -7

Ohio State (+7) at Michigan
If Michigan cannot beat, as Brady Hoke likes to say, "Ohio" in 2011, it may never beat the Buckeyes ever again. This is arguably the worst Ohio State team we have seen in more than a decade and Michigan is playing as good of football as it has since 2006. Neither teams needs extra motivation, but Hoke knows how important this game is to the seniors on his team and the bill-paying alumni base. Look for the hungrier Wolverine team to break the seven-year losing streak. My Pick: Michigan -7

New Mexico State (+19) at Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech was won six straight games - including an easy win over an SEC team, as well as Fresno State, and a road win over Nevada. Tech leads the league in rushing defense, scoring defense, turnover margin, pass efficiency defense and tackles for a loss. New Mexico State has lost four of five games and will not be able to keep pace against that defense. Tech is also tied for the nation's lead at 9-2 against the spread this season. My Pick: Louisiana Tech -19

UCLA (+14) at USC
Certainly, UCLA has much to play for — a Pac-12 title. But the Bruins have lost four straight and and 11 out of 12 to the rival Trojans. USC is coming off a season-defining win over Oregon and would love nothing more than to knock their crosstown rival out of the Pac-12 title game. Matt Barkley is playing the best football of his career and is 2-0 against the Bruins - including a 21-point win the last time they played in the Colesium. Look for another statement win for USC over a UCLA team that has recently lost by 25 to Utah and 36 to Arizona. The Men of Troy are 7-3-1 against the spread and the Bruins at 3-8. My Pick: USC -14

Virginia Tech (-4) at Virginia
This is the biggest game in Charlottesville in years and should be relatively close. And UVa has won four straight games and is playing for an ACC title game berth. That said, the Hokies operate at a different level of athlete with Logan Thomas and David Wilson powering the offense. The Hokies have won seven straight in this series and the last two haven't been close (37-7 and 42-13). Certainly, this is a different Wahoo team, but Virginia Tech should be able to pressure the quarterback, get off the field on third down and stymie the Cavs' ground game. My Pick: Virginia Tech -4

Arkansas (+11.5) at LSU
The Hogs certainly have the formula to beat LSU: A mad scientist calling plays, the deepest receiving corp in the nation and a quarterback who can sling it. However, how can you complete passes when you are lying on your back? Wilson got hit and hit and hit again against Alabama and should expect much of the same from the deepest defensive line in the nation. Can Arkansas stop the power rushing attack of LSU? And Brad Wing will totally nuetralize one of the nation's top returnmen in Joe Adams. LSU is simply the better team across the board. The Bayou Bengals are also 8-3 against the spread this season. My Pick: LSU -11.5

Rutgers (-3) at UConn
The Knights have a lot to play for in this one. And they have had loads of success against the Huskies recently: Rutgers has won three straight and five out of six. The Knights can clinch a share of the Big East title with a win and UConn's pathetic offense should not be able to challenge a Knights' offense that is rolling behind freak wideout Mohamed Sanu and new workhorse Jawan Jamison (34 att., 200 yards 2 TD last week). The Knights have won three straight and are 8-3 against the spread while UConn is 3-7 against the number on the year. My Pick: Rutgers -3

Louisville (+3.5) at South Florida
The Cardinals also have loads to play for in the Big East. A win clinches a share of the Big East title for Louisville as well and the second half has been a totally different story for Charlie Strong. Wins over Rutgers, Syracuse, West Virginia and UConn speak for themselves. The defense is playing lights-out and the Strong has been preaching the importance of getting the program's first-ever win at USF. With Bulls' starting quarterback BJ Daniels likely not playing, take the Cards to win outright. My Pick: Louisville +3.5

Clemson (-4) at South Carolina
Sammy Wakings says he will be 100% at kickoff and that may be all that matters. The Tigers have turned the ball over entirely too much lately and South Carolina has played great defense of late. But with nothing on the line for either team in terms of conference championships, pure hatred should fuel this rivarly. Clemson should right the ship on offense with Watkins in the game and will outlast a South Carolina team that has struggled to score points. My Pick: Clemson -4

2011 Top Teams ATS:

1t. Stanford (9-2)
1t. Arkansas State (9-2)
1t. Houston (9-2)
1t. Kansas State (9-2)
1t. Louisiana Tech (9-2)
1t. Western Kentucky (9-2)
7t. LSU (8-3)
7t. Michigan (8-3)
7t. Rutgers (8-3)
7t. Oklahoma State (8-3)
7t. Vanderbilt (8-3)
12t. USC (7-3-1)
12t. Georgia (7-3-1)

2011 Bottom Teams ATS:

1. Central Michigan (1-11)
2. Maryland (2-9)
3. Florida Atlantic (2-8)
4. Colorado (3-9)
5t. Texas A&M (3-8)
5t. Ole Miss (3-8)
5t. Virginia Tech (3-8)
8t. Colorado State (3-7)
8t. Troy (3-7)
8t. UCLA (3-7)
8t. UConn (3-7)
8t. MTSU (3-7)
8t. Syracuse (3-7)
14t. Nebraska (3-7-1)
14t. Penn State (3-7-1)
14t. Akron (3-7-1)
14t. Hawaii (3-7-1)

<p> Athlon's Braden Gall offers his top college football picks against the spread each week.</p>
Post date: Thursday, November 24, 2011 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, start or sit, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /columns/start-or-sit/nfl-fantasy-football-start-and-sit-week-12

-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)

Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Week 12 Rankings

Start These Quarterbacks:

Matt Ryan, Atlanta (Minnesota)
After five straight weeks with only one touchdown in each game, Ryan rested on the bye week. Since that bye, Ryan has averaged 314 yards per game with six total touchdowns in his last three games. The Vikings are 28th in the league against the pass and have allowed a league-worst 19 passing touchdowns. Julio Jones or not, Ryan is a great play.

Vince Young, Philadelphia (New England)
Young finished with a useful 258 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in the huge win over New York last weekend. With Jeremy Maclin likely returning to the lineup, facing the worst pass defense in the NFL and probably playing from behind for the majority of the game will give Young owners at worst a Top 15 fantasy number.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (Cleveland)
He has thrown five interceptions against division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but he also kept his team in both games and threw for a career-high 373 yards — without A.J. Green. The Browns have been solid against the pass, but only because nobody has had any need to throw the football. Dalton should be around that 220-2 range this weekend in a must-win situation for the Bengals.

Matt Hasselbeck/Jake Locker, Tennessee (Tampa Bay)
No matter who starts, there could be plenty of value under center for the Titans. The Bucs are ranked 29th in the NFL against the pass, and only the Chargers, Colts and Vikings have allowed more passing touchdowns than their 18 allowed. Locker sparked the offense last weekend in the second half and has obvious ability.

Bench These Quarterbacks:

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo (at NY Jets)
This makes four straight weeks that we have addressed Fitz’s struggles. Here are his last three stat lines: 191-1-2 against the Jets, 146-1-3 against the Cowboys and 209-0-2 against the resurgent Dolphins. His highest passer rating was 51.9 over that span. The Jets have allowed an NFL second-best eight passing touchdowns and are sixth against the pass.

Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay (at Tennessee)
Please do not buy into Freeman’s 342-yard, two touchdown performance last weekend. He still sports an 11:15 TD:INT ratio and posted those numbers against the NFL’s second-worst pass defense. The Titans are stronger against the pass, and Freeman is 27th in the NFL in passer rating behind names like Kolb, Cassel, McCoy and Orton.

Alex Smith, San Francisco (at Baltimore)
This one goes without saying, but Smith and the Niners are traveling across three time zones in a short work week against maybe the best pass defense in the league. They have allowed a league-best seven passing touchdowns and are seventh against the pass at 211.3 yards per game.

***Just so you know not to play them: Colt McCoy (at Cincinnati), Blaine Gabbert (Houston), Tyler Palko (Pittsburgh), Caleb Hanie (at Oakland)***

Start These Running Backs:

Jonathan Stewart/DeAngelo Williams, Carolina (at Indianapolis)
Cries for Stewart to become an every down back are getting louder and louder. He has averaged seven yards per touch over the last two games and has become quite a factor — for the first time in his career — in the passing game. The Colts are 31st in the NFL against the rush at 145.6 yards, and both Panther backs could do something in a game that Carolina has to win.

Chris Johnson, Tennessee (Tampa Bay)
The Bucs are 26th against the run at 133.5 yards per game and have allowed 13 rushing touchdowns (only Carolina has allowed more with 14). If Jake Locker is starting, fans can expect a heavy dose of the ground game in the form of CJ2K and maybe even Javon Ringer. If Johnson cannot get on track against Tampa Bay, 2011 will officially become a wasted season for the stubborn contract holdout.

Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (Cleveland)
Benson averaged 2.7 yards per carry and totaled 41 yards against the Ravens, but he made most prognosticators look foolish by reaching paydirt twice — which matched his season total. The Browns are 29th in the NFL against the run at 139.3 yards allowed per game. Look for all hands on deck for a key divisional game.

Donald Brown, Indianapolis (Carolina)
Carolina ranks 30th in the NFL against the run at 140.7 yards allowed per game and has allowed more rushing touchdowns (14) than anyone else in the league. With Joseph Addai still having major issues, Brown has gotten the majority of the looks at 17 and 18 touches respectively over the last two. Look for the Colts to run the football to keep Cam Newton off the field.

Bench These Running Backs:

Ray Rice, Baltimore (San Francisco)
If you play in a PPR format, you cannot bench Rice. But in a touchdowns and yards league, it is hard to see Rice posting more than 10 fantasy points. The Niners are the only team yet to allow a rushing touchdown and lead the NFL in rushing defense by a wide margin (73.9 yards per game allowed). Look for 20 touches, 70 total yards and an outside chance at a receiving touchdown.

Frank Gore, San Francisco (at Baltimore)
The short week and cross-country flight for a player who has been battling injuries would make me nervous if they were playing the Browns. But this is the Ravens, who lead the NFL at 3.3 yards per attempt and are fifth in the league against the run. This has defensive struggle written all over it — with or without Ray Lewis.

Toby Gerhart, Minnesota (at Atlanta)
The Falcons are No. 2 in the NFL at 85.4 yards per carry and have stifled running backs all season long. Chris Johnson rushed for 13 yards on 12 carries and caught three passes for 15 yards in last week’s dominating performance. If it weren’t for a 17-yard Matt Hasselbeck scramble, the Titans would have totaled 24 yards rushing total.

Start These Wide Receivers:

Percy Harvin, Minnesota (at Atlanta)
With Purple Jesus on the sideline, Harvin is pretty much the only playmaker the Vikings have on offense. He has caught six passes in each of the last two games and routinely gets rushing attempts from out of the backfield. He has 11 attempts for 55 yards and a touchdown over the last three weeks. With the ground game held in check and the game likely getting out of hand early, Harvin could benfit with another strong showing.

Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, NY Jets (Buffalo)
The Bills are 24th in the NFL against the pass at 250 yards allowed per game and are 23rd in passing touchdowns allowed (17). Over the last three games, they have been even worse. Buffalo surrendered 160 yards and three touchdowns to Matt Moore in last week’s blowout loss. Tony Romo threw for 270 yards and three scores in the 44-7 drubbing two weeks ago. And both Holmes (3-29-1) and Burress (5-79) had solid games in the 27-11 win over the Bills.

Nate Washington, Tennessee (Tampa Bay)
Washington was easily the more dependable of the two Titans receivers last weekend. He posted a nasty 9-115-2 line with most of damage coming once Jake Locker was inserted into the lineup. The strong-armed passer hit him for two scoring strikes in the second half, and the Titans will continue to look his way against a defense that ranks 29th against the pass.

Brandon Lloyd, St. Louis (Arizona)
He has caught a touchdown in three of four games and has become Sam Bradford's top target. Against an atrocious Cardinals defense, the only thing that will keep Lloyd from a big fantasy number is the compensation benchmark that kicks in with his 30th reception in a Rams uniform (he has 26 currently). But giving up a fifth rounder instead of a sixth sounds pretty reasonable for a player with 26 catches for 322 yards and three scores in five games.

Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati (Cleveland)
AJ Green is going to try to practice this week, but the Bengals have to play it very cautiously with their prized deep threat. Especially in a game they should have no problem winning. Simpson caught eight passes for 152 yards in his absence last week and has scored in two of the his last three games.

Vincent Brown, San Diego (Denver)
With Malcolm Floyd still on the bench with an injury and Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates drawing the Broncos' top covermen, Brown has a good chance to make a big play. His speed and down-the-field ability were extraordinary in college, and that ability showed in spades against the Raiders. Rivers has targeted him 19 times over the last three weeks and should be looking his way plenty this weekend.

Lowered Expectations:

Stevie Johnson, Buffalo (at NY Jets)
Welcome to Revis Island. No offense has stumbled more over the last month than the Bills. Enough said?

Eric Decker, Denver (at San Diego)
The former Golden Gopher wideout was held without a reception last week and has one total catch in two games. As long Tim Tebow is playing quarterback, the opportunities will just not be there for Decker.

Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City (Pittsburgh)
Tyler Palko is killing Bowe owners everywhere, and the Steelers rank third in the NFL against the pass at 183.2 yards per game. He just cannot be trusted against the Steel Curtain.

<p> Athlon Sports Week 12 NFL Fantasy Start and Sit</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - 10:29
Path: /columns/heisman-watch/athlon-sports-heisman-voting-week-13

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

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

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

And then there were three. Stanford's Andrew Luck, Alabama's Trent Richardson and Baylor's Robert Griffin III have separated themselves as the top three candidates for the 2011 Heisman Trophy. Each received a first-place vote, and there is a major drop-off in the voting to the next tier of options.

The second group of three includes two of the hottest risers in the nation and the most productive player in the history of the sport. Wisconsin's Montee Ball and USC's Matt Barkley have improved their stock more than anyone over the second half, and Houston's Case Keenum is still undefeated. These three are trailing the top three by a fairly wide margin, but have plenty of breathing room on the rest of the field.

The final group of candidates features three very talented quarterbacks who each brings something unique to the Heisman discussion.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (85/90 total points, 5/9 first place votes)
Season Stats: 241/343, 2,937 yards, 31 TD, 8 INT, 39 att., 133 yards, 2 TD

Luck wasn't amazing in the 31-28 win over Cal, but he was still the driving force behind the second straight win over the arch-rival Golden Bears. He completed 20-of-30 passes for 257 yards and two scores and has kept the The Axe in Palo Alto for another year. Luck is working with much less on the oustide than, say, a USC, Oklahoma State or Oklahoma quarterback and is still the best player in the nation for a potential one-loss BCS at-large team. Next Game: Notre Dame

  Name Pos. Team Pts 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Ballots
1. Andrew Luck QB Stanford 85 5 3 1 - - 9
2. Trent Richardson RB Alabama 78 3 4 2 - - 9
3. Robert Griffin III QB Baylor 75 1 2 5 1 - 9
4. Montee Ball RB Wisconsin 47 - - - 3 - 9
5. Case Keenum QB Houston 45 - - - 1 3 9
6. Matt Barkley QB USC 42 - - - 2 3 8
7. Russell Wilson QB Wisconsin 30 - - 1 - 1 6
8. Kellen Moore QB Boise St 28 - - - - 2 9
9. Brandon Weeden QB Oklahoma St 25 - - - 1 - 7
10. LaMichael James RB Oregon 13 - - - 1 - 4
11. David Wilson RB Virginia Tech 6 - - - - - 3
12. Landry Jones QB Oklahoma 4 - - - - - 2
13. Collin Klein QB Kansas St 4 - - - - - 1
14. Denard Robinson QB Michigan 4 - - - - - 2
15. Justin Blackmon WR Oklahoma St 2 - - - - - 1
16. Bobby Rainey RB Western Kentucky 2 - - - - - 1
17. Brad Wing P LSU 1 - - - - - 1

2. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (82)
Season Stats: 236 att., 1,380 yards, 20 TD, 26 rec., 322 yards, 2 TD

You don't just line up against Georgia Southern and expect to get a win. Trent Richardson was needed for more than expected in the 45-21 win over the Eagles. T-Rich touched the ball 33 times for 188 yards from scrimmage and three trips to paydirt. Richardson leads the SEC in rushing at 125.5 yards per game and 12.0 points per game. Next Game: at Auburn

3. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (75)
Season Stats: 245/336, 3,572 yards, 33 TD, 5 INT, 135 att., 550 yards, 5 TD

RG3 not only won himself arguably the biggest game in Baylor history, but he likely also won himself plenty of Heisman votes and made himself loads of cash with his performance in the 45-38 win over Oklahoma. He completed 21-of-34 passes for 479 yards and four touchdowns for almost 23 yards per completion. He also ran for 72 yards on 18 carries. His 412.2 yards per game of total offense leads the nation, and his 191.65 passer rating is No. 2 in the country — and better than the single-season NCAA record. Simply put, Griffin III is the most valuable player in the nation. Next Game: Texas Tech

4. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (47)
Season Stats: 223 att., 1,466 yards, 25 TD, 16 rec., 233 yards, 5 TD, 1/1, 25 yards, TD

The game started slowly for the Badgers offense, but then Wisconsin gave the ball to Mr. Ball. The Big Red tailback rushed for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the second half of the 28-17 road win over Illinois. Keeping his Big Ten title hopes alive, Ball finished with 222 yards from scrimmage and three total touchdowns on 40 touches. He became only the fifth player in college football history to score 30 touchdowns in a season and could make a run at Barry Sanders' NCAA-record 39 scores. He is now third in the nation in rushing at 133.3 yards per game and is leading the nation in scoring at 16.9 points per game. His 1,466 yards trail only Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey (1,468 yards) nationally. A big-time Big Ten title game-clinching performance this weekend against Penn State could vault him into the city that never sleeps. Next Game: Penn State

5. Case Keenum, QB, Houston (45)
Season Stats: 309/421, 4,269 yards, 38 TD, 3 INT, 41 att., 54 yards, 3 TD

Lee Corso freudian slips aside, Gameday saw the most productive player in history throw for another 318 yards and account for two more touchdowns. More importantly, he kept his team unbeaten with the 37-7 drubbing of C-USA rival SMU. Keenum is currently the No. 2 in the nation in total offense and is the No. 3 most efficient quarterback nationally. Next Game: SMU

6. Matt Barkley, QB, USC (42)
Season Stats: 273/404, 3,105 yards, 33 TD, 7 INT, 27 att., 20 yards, 2 TD

Few players have seen their stock rise more quickly than Barkley. On the road in a foggy, cold Autzen Stadium, the Trojan signal-caller completed an outstanding 26-of-34 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns in the 38-35 win over Oregon. The Ducks never led. Barkley has proven that he belongs on this list, especially in the face of sanctions and probation — which only makes his performance that much more impressive. Next Game: UCLA

7. Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin (30)
Season Stats: 170/231, 2,506 yards, 26 TD, 3 INT, 59 att., 289 yards, 5 TD, 1 rec., 25 yards, TD

Wilson didn't post the big numbers, but he played an efficient game in a key win that keeps the Badgers' BCS bowl hopes alive. The UW passer completed 10-of-13 passes for only 90 yards but scored a pair of touchdowns (1 rush, 1 pass). His passer efficiency of 199.27 is not only leading the nation, but would also shatter the NCAA's single-season record of 186.00 set by Colt Brennan. Next Game: Penn State

8. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (28)
Season Stats: 248/336, 2,915 yards, 35 TD, 6 INT, 16 att., minus-50 yards

Moore is not used to playing games following a loss, but that is what he had to do this weekend. The Bronco put the TCU loss behind him by throwing for 366 yards and four touchdowns in the 52-35 road win over San Diego State. Next Game: Wyoming

9. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (25)
Season Stats: 355/486, 4,111 yards, 34 TD, 12 INT, 15 att., minus-95 yards

It is unfortunate that Weeden's entire Heisman campaign might have come down to a couple bad throws against Iowa State. The Pokes quarterback completed 42 passes to his own team — for 476 yards and three touchdowns — but three to the Cyclones as well in the 37-31 overtime road loss. Weeden is fourth in the NCAA in total offense (365.1 ypg) and is No. 2 (to Griffin III) in passing efficiency in the Big 12. However, his Heisman and National Championship aspirations might have fallen by the wayside last Friday night. After the bye, he will have one more major chance to prove himself in the Bedlam Series. Next Game: Bye

10. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (13)
Season Stats: 173 car., 1,285 yards, 13 TD, 14 rec., 180 yards, 1 TD

James and the Ducks experienced one of the most heartbreaking losses of recent memory when the USC Trojans outlasted them 38-35 in Eugene last weekend. James did reach the end zone but was arguably the third most effective back on his own offense. He still leads the nation in rushing yards per game at 142.8 yards but will likely not be making a return trip to New York. Next Game: at Baylor

Previous Voting:

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 12

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 11

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 10

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 9
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 8

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 7

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 6

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 5

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 4

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 3

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 2

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 1

<p> Athlon Sports Heisman Voting: Week 13</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Bo Pelini, College Football
Path: /college-football/bo-pelini-good-coach-or-underachiever


In our piece on Gary Patterson, we focused on the extremely fickle nature of college football fan bases. No longer are fans looking from year-to-year to analyze the state of their football program. In today's college football world, fans are now looking week-to-week.

For a case in point, let's turn to Nebraska and Bo Pelini. Nebraska is coming off a somewhat embarrassing 45-17 loss to Michigan. Combine this with a loss to Northwestern and a 48-17 blowout loss to Wisconsin, and you can almost start to hear those whispers of discontent that turn into screams before you can blink.

Here a few things to keep in mind about Nebraska football and about Coach Pelini:

1. From 1941-1961, the Cornhuskers had 17 losing seasons.

2. In steps Bob Devaney in 1962. In 1969, Bob Devaney hires Tom Osborne as his offensive coordinator. In 1973, Coach Osborne takes over from Coach Devaney. All-in-all, from 1962-1997, Nebraska won 356 of the 430 games it played, didn't have a single losing season, and won 75% of its games 33 of the 36 seasons.

3. Tom Osborne retires in 1997 and from 1998 - 2007, Nebraska won 67.72% of its games and had two losing seasons.

4. In the five years prior to Pelini being hired, the Cornhuskers won 59.68% of their games and only had two seasons with nine or more wins.

5. In 2008, Nebraska hires Bo Pelini. Let's dig into some numbers on Pelini's tenure at Nebraska:

Years Overall WP% Conf. WP% Non-Conf. WP% Against Top 25 (Time of Game) Against Over .500 Teams 9+ Win Seasons
2008-Present 71.15% (37-15) 63.64% (21-12) 84.21% (16-3) 40.00% (6-9) 47.62% (10-11) 3 (on pace for 4 with one win in last two games of 2011)

Let's consider one other set of numbers:

Years WP% w/ Superior Talent WP% w/ Equivalent Talent WP% w/ Inferior Talent
2008-Present 81.82% (27-6) 54.55% (6-5) 33.33% (2-4)

So, what's the verdict so far on Pelini? One thing we know for sure is that Coach Pelini knows defense. Of the nine seasons Pelini has been either a defensive coordinator (5 years) or a head coach (4 years), he has had top 25 nationally ranked scoring defenses in seven of the nine years. In fact, he has had top 10 nationally ranked scoring defenses in five of the nine years.

Furthermore, Pelini seems to have elevated Nebraska from having to worry about 5+ loss seasons (Bill Callahan lost 5 or more games in three of his four seasons as head coach at Nebraska). Pelini has not won less than nine games in his four years as head coach at Nebraska and barring two straight losses to end the 2011 season, he will once again win 9+ games.

On the somewhat negative side of the numbers is Pelini's winning percentage against Top 25 teams (40.00%) and winning percentage against teams finishing the season over .500 (47.62%). We have seen these numbers play out this year for Pelini. All three of Nebraska's losses this year have come against over .500 teams and two of their three losses have come against Top 25 teams. All three of their losses this year have also come against guys that can flat out coach (Brady Hoke, Bret Bielema, and Pat Fitzgerald).

With Pelini, you pretty much know what you are going to get. You are going to get a coach whose teams play great defense and who beat the teams they should beat around 80% of the time. You are getting a coach that will more than likely win 8+ games every year and keep Nebraska relevant in college football. Can Bo Pelini take Nebraska back to competing for National Championships and winning 12+ games a la the Osborne era? Given the fact that Nebraska is today in a far more competitive conference than years past, we would bet no. However, like with most things in life, let's wait and see how things play out on the field.

<p> Is Bo Pelini producing like he should at Nebraska or has his teams underachieved?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - 06:23
Path: /college-football/lsu-alabama-case-against-bcs-rematch

-by Braden Gall (follow him @AthlonBraden)

LSU and Alabama are probably the best two teams in the nation.

And when you play in a league that boasts the last five National Champions, you are going to get the benefit of the doubt.

That doesn’t make it right, however, for LSU and Alabama to play in the BCS title game. The top two teams in the nation played an undefeated, tightly contested, late-season game in which the No. 1 team beat the No. 2 team by three points.

Shouldn’t that game mean something?

If you are wondering why that scenario sounds so familiar, it’s because it is exactly what happened in 2006, when an unbeaten No. 1 Ohio State topped an unbeaten No. 2 Michigan 42-39 on November 18. The screams against a rematch echoing from around the nation — and from Gainesville in particular — were deafening.

And they were right.

Michigan easily handled a 12-1 Wisconsin team, outlasted a 9-4 Penn State on the road and dismantled a 10-3 Notre Dame team that played in the Sugar Bowl before losing by three on the road to the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation. Sounds awfully similar to an Alabama team that, assuming both LSU and Bama take care of business over the final two weeks, won at Penn State, handily beat a 10-2 Arkansas team at home, beat its Iron Bowl rival and lost to the No. 1 team in the nation by three points. A very simple, and very subjective, case could be made that the 2006 Wolverines deserved the right to play in the national championship game —precisely the identical case Crimson Tide fans are making today.

Through the joy of hindsight, we now know that Florida did, in fact, deserve to play in the BCS National Championship game against the Buckeyes. Obviously. But the 10.5-point spread favoring Ohio State certainly didn’t indicate that was the case before the game was played. Very few experts were picking the Gators to win that game.

And this is where my long-time personal sports philosophies and what I have seen on the college football gridiron this season decisively diverge.

Teams that do not win their division or conference are allowed to win championships in every other major sport. The Green Bay Packers or the St. Louis Cardinals wouldn’t be World Champions if “Wild Cards” were not allowed to participate in the championship format. Yet, the Packers and Cardinals had to prove their mettle by maneuvering an incredibly treacherous postseason path to the title game(s). These teams were rewarded for establishing themselves as “worthy” during the regular season, earning a chance to play for a championship against the sport's best competition.

And they capitalized with epic and unexpected performances.

The Packers had to win three straight road games against the Eagles, Falcons and Bears before defeating the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. The Cardinals had to defeat the mighty Phillies, Brewers and Rangers in order to capture their 11th World Series title.

Herein lies the rub. I believe that Alabama and LSU (for now, Arkansas fans) are the two best teams in the nation. But that is, by definition, just a guess. There is no factual proof that Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Boise State or Stanford wouldn’t beat the Bayou Bengals or the Crimson Tide. Hypothetically, let’s assume each of those teams wins their conference championship, leaving them a combined 57-6. They would easily have established themselves as the best of the rest.

Did anyone pick the Cardinals to win the World Series? Or the Packers to win three road games and the Super Bowl? Assuming that LSU and Alabama would automatically defeat every one of those other teams is prognostication hubris.

In the non-playoff BCS format that is currently employed, the point is to try to objectively select the two best teams in the nation for a one-game playoff scenario. This makes college football’s regular season the most powerful and meaningful in all of sports – as every anti-playoff advocate will so readily point out.

So the 9-6 win by LSU over Alabama in Tuscaloosa on November 5 has to mean something, right? I may have watched that game and still felt that Alabama was the “better” team, but the better team doesn’t always win and LSU has to receive some sort of credit for winning that game.

If Alabama and LSU meet in the BCS National Title game, my eyes will agree that they are likely the two best teams in the nation. But if Alabama beats LSU, then what did that November 6 meeting mean?

Absolutely nothing. And my sports insides would be in a post-Turkey Day knot.

In a system that values the regular season at an unprecedented level, that contest at the Captsone has to have a cost associated with it. Alabama lost its division, its conference and the chance at a national championship that night — even if I still think they are the best team in the nation.

The point of athletic competition is having the opportunity to accomplish greatness against all odds. Joe Namath and John Elway pulled off two of the greatest upsets in football history on sports’ grandest stage. Jimmy V or Villanova would never have had the chance to cut down the nets if it weren't for the tournament. The Florida Marlins and Josh Beckett would never have ruined Steve Bartman’s life if not for the Wild Card. The 2007 Oregon State Beavers baseball team was one of the final at-large bids into the postseason and they captured the College World Series championship. None of which would have happened had we let our subjective hypotheses do the work for us.

The list goes on and on, full of Shining Moments that allow fans to dream big and then witness those fantasies unfold in front of them through the beauty of on-the-field competition. So if Alabama and LSU land in a four-team playoff, for example, and each wins its way to the title game, my inner sports-chi would be totally aligned and comfortable with a rematch. But in the current system, a team that doesn’t even win its own division simply does not deserve the right to play for a National Championship, even if we think it might be the second-best team in the nation.

Because if the BCS is such a perfect format, why is it the most heavily criticized postseason system in all of major American sports?

<p> Why LSU and Alabama should not be allowed to play for the BCS National Championship.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-rivalries

Pep bands, cheerleaders, tailgating, student sections, cornhole and especially rivalries. All of which makes college football the greatest sport on the planet. The Athlon Sports editorial staff put its collective heads together and ranked the Top 25 rivalries in college football:

1. Michigan-Ohio State (Michigan leads 57-44-6)
Some think the story is a tall tale, but others swear it’s true. After his Ohio State team scored its final touchdown late in a 50–14 rout of Michigan at the end of the 1968 season, Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes elected to go for two points, instead of kicking the PAT. When asked afterward why he did that, Hayes reportedly said, “Because they ­wouldn’t let me go for three.” Hayes’ hatred for “that team up north,” as he referred to Michigan, was legendary. Rest assured that Wolverine fans harbor no affection for the Buckeyes, either. The schools have met every year but five (1913-17) since 1900 — the teams’ first game was in 1897 — and their contests have become appointment viewing for much of the country, late in November, usually under gun-metal gray skies with a hint of winter in the air. More important, Big Ten primacy is usually at stake, especially since Bo Schembechler took over in Ann Arbor in 1969 to turn the U-M fortunes around and provide an irascible counterbalance to the cantankerous Hayes. Since that point, Michigan-Ohio State has been the nation’s most consistently competitive and heated rivalry. Because the games have so much significance and occur at season’s end, a loss can be doubly haunting. Not only does the vanquished team lose to a hated foe, but its season can be destroyed also. For that reason, Michigan-Ohio State tops the rivalry list. There may be games that match these schools’ animosity for each other, and there may be contests that are as consistently important. But none combines the two into such a volatile package.

2. Alabama-Auburn (Alabama leads 40-34-1)
When Bill Curry was coaching at Alabama, he went to a Birmingham elementary school one day to speak with children about football and life. Upon entering the classroom, he saw a boy standing in the corner, sobbing. Curry wondered what was going on, and a student told him, “Jason is an Auburn fan, and we took care of him.” Curry brought Jason out of the corner and told him it was all right to root for the Tigers, no doubt angering the young Crimson Tide supporters in the room. Truth be told, it isn’t all right to be an Auburn fan — if you follow the Tide. Tiger fans feel the same way about Bama. If you live in the state of Alabama, you have to choose; you either yell “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle.” You’re either a fan of the big-brother Crimson Tide, or Auburn, which has its roots in agricultural education and resents the perceived arrogance of its rival. In a state with no major professional sports team, Auburn-Alabama football is a religion. Curry’s minister once told him it was more important. It has been that way from the game’s earliest days, which proved to be so contentious that the schools stopped playing each other for 41 years. Once they resumed hostilities, they did so at a geographically neutral site, in Birmingham, but Auburn fans groused for decades because Legion Field was the Tide’s home away from home. That changed when the game moved to campus, but the vitriol has not abated. Fans of both teams crave victory, and a loss means a full year of misery from friends, co-workers and even family members. It’s enough to make someone want to stand in a corner and cry.

3. Army-Navy (Navy leads 55-49-7)
Go ahead and try to attend this game without experiencing a surge of patriotism. If the Super Hornets’ flyover doesn’t get you, the Army paratroopers will. If you miss the parades of Cadets and Midshipmen, then the non-stop spirit videos on the big board will stir your senses. By game’s end, no matter what the score, America wins. That may seem hokey to some, but they haven’t been there. Trust us, Army-Navy is college football in its purest state. Today, that’s something worth celebrating. Fans of the teams thirst for victory, and so do the players, who are truly playing for their fellow students. Afterward, they rejoin their classmates in preparation for military service, not an NFL career. For 364 days of the year, Army and Navy are on the same team. For three hours on a chilled December afternoon, they represent every soldier or sailor who has ever donned a uniform, walked a post or sailed into the dark of night. The football has been pretty good over the years, too. Five Heisman winners have participated in the rivalry, and dozens of Hall of Famers have taken the field representing the academies. Though Navy has dominated the scoreboard over the past decade, the game remains a huge draw and a still thrills fans across the country. Most important, it pits future military and government leaders against each other as they fight for their Academies and provide the country with an afternoon of prideful competition.

4. Oklahoma-Texas (Texas leads 59-41-5)
One of the most unique characteristics about Dallas’ Cotton Bowl is that the teams’ locker rooms empty into a common corridor, so that players take the field through the same tunnel. On more than one occasion, as Texas and Oklahoma have prepared to charge onto the hallowed stadium’s turf, they have encountered each other in a highly charged, emotional moment that could have ignited an inferno. Instead, they decided to enjoin the fight on the gridiron, in front of 95,000-plus fans divided evenly into crimson and burnt orange enclaves. Rarely has the flame from the ensuing collision failed to heat the passions of all in attendance. While the Texas State Fair rollicks on around them, and vendors offer to fry anything that doesn’t move — and some things that do — the Longhorns and Sooners offer a mid-season football feast that dates back to 1900, when Oklahoma wasn’t even a state and Texas was just beginning to tap into the huge oil reserves deep below its surface. The neighbors harbor a significant dislike for each other, and tempers have boiled over many times on nights before the game. It doesn’t help that many OU grads now live in Texas, lured south by jobs in the petroleum industry. And plenty of Lone Star football talent has headed north to Norman, especially when Barry Switzer was pillaging the state’s top programs for all-stars. The action on the field rarely disappoints. Although there have been several blowouts over the years, including 2011’s 55–17 Sooner wipeout, the action is usually taut and has national implications. Though the game is played in October, several championship runs have been spawned by a victory in Dallas, and several high hopes have been dashed.

5. USC-Notre Dame (Notre Dame leads 43-22-5)
The nation’s top intersectional rivalry owes a debt of gratitude to some unfriendly residents of Lincoln, Neb., and Bonnie Rockne’s love of warm California weather. At a time when traditional gridiron matchups are being torn asunder by the whirling conference kaleidoscope, Notre Dame and USC continue their annual hostilities, treating the nation to a classic matchup of iconic programs. The schools almost didn’t get together. But in 1925, after ND dropped a 17–0 decision at Nebraska, before an inhospitable crowd of Cornhusker fans, coach Knute Rockne and his wife were joined on the train back to Chicago by USC athletic director Gwynn Wilson and his wife, Marion. While Wilson tried to convince Rockne to ditch the burgeoning rivalry with Nebraska for an annual trip west, Marion Wilson and Bonnie Rockne became fast friends in another train compartment. Rockne resisted Wilson’s entreaties, but his wife was enthralled with the idea of Los Angeles in the late fall. She later convinced her husband to play the Trojans. The resulting rivalry has lasted 85 years and has filled the college football history books with dozens of classic tales. More Heisman winners have played in the Notre Dame-USC game than in any other rivalry, and many a national championship hope has been validated with a victory in the game. Though the teams alternate between their home sites, playing in late November in L.A. and mid-October in South Bend, the game retains a glamour that defines it and is a product of two of college football’s most storied programs.

6. Georgia-Florida (Georgia leads 46-40-2)
The party begins at “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” around Tuesday, when the big boats start cruising up the St. John’s River in Jacksonville. By gametime, everybody is in a festive mood – except the players. The Bulldogs and Gators have engaged in some classics over the years, from Georgia’s thrilling comeback in 1980 to Florida’s soggy 1993 triumph. Cheers!

7. Miami-Florida State (Miami leads 31-24)
For a while there during the 1990s, there was more talent on the field when the ‘Canes and ‘Noles met up than in some NFL stadiums. And everybody wanted to put on a show. This matchup lacks the tradition and history of other rivalries, but the hostility is just as high. And there have been some classics. FSU fans still wince when they hear the words “Wide Right,” while Miami backers still cringe at the 34-3 beating their heroes absorbed in ’84.

8. Harvard-Yale (Yale leads 65-54-8)
The Crimson and Bulldogs may not have played the first-ever college football game, but both schools had hands in how the game developed into what we have today. The late-November meeting between the schools is a history lesson wrapped in a high-class tailgate party. Harvard and Yale no longer compete at college football’s highest level, but they remain forever linked to the sport’s earliest days.

9. Florida-Florida State (Florida leads 33-20-2)
For years, this was a big brother/little brother battle, with the establishment Gators looking down on the upstart Seminoles. Then, FSU started to win games – a lot of games – and things changed. This may lack the in-state hate of Auburn-Alabama, but don’t worry; the two sides harbor plenty of dislike for each other. During the past three decades, as both have competed for national laurels, their games have become more than just neighborhood brawls.

10. Cal-Stanford (Stanford leads 51-43-10)
To some, The Big Game is the province of the wine-and-cheese crowd, and the schools’ NoCal addresses reinforce that. But there can be no denying that these schools thirst to defeat each other. It’s a classic battle of private (Stanford) against public (Cal), and bragging rights go well beyond which side brings the best pinot to the pre-game party. Plus, what other rivalry can boast a game with a crazy ending as the 1982 contest: “The band is on the field!”

11. Pittsburgh-West Virginia (Pitt leads 61-39-3)
Only 75 miles separates the two combatants in the Backyard Brawl. And this rivalry is also helped by the fact that Dana Holgorsen and Todd Graham don't like each other.

12. Texas-Texas A&M (Texas leads 75-37-5)
This Thanksgiving weekend tradition is in jeopardy with the Aggies’ move to the SEC.

13. Oregon-Oregon State (Oregon leads 58-46-10)
The Civil War has come a long way since the Ducks and Beavers played to a 0–0 tie in 1983.

14. BYU-Utah (Utah leads 51-31-4)
The Holy War might be the best name for any rivalry in the nation.

15. UCLA-USC (USC leads 43-28-7)
The Southern California showdown was dominated by UCLA from 1991-98, but the Bruins have only won once since, in 2006.

16. Alabama-Tennessee (Alabama leads 47-38-7)
The Third Saturday in October means only one thing to people in the South: Alabama vs. Tennessee.

17. Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (Oklahoma leads 81-17-7)
T. Boone Pickens’ interest in the Oklahoma State program was piqued after the Pokes, 3–7 at the time, knocked OU out of the 2001 national title game with a 16–13 win.

18. Clemson-South Carolina (Clemson leads 65-39-4)
These two schools were bitter rivals well before they started playing football in the 1890s. South Carolina has won two straight, but Clemson holds a 65–39–4 advantage in the all-time series.

19. Mississippi State-Ole Miss (Ole Miss leads 60-41-6)
The Egg Bowl is often the only way to salvage a season for these two programs that have struggled to win consistently in the SEC.

20. Michigan-Michigan State (Michigan leads 67-31-5)
It pains MSU fans that Michigan’s biggest rival is Ohio State, but the “Little Brothers” from East Lansing have won the last four in the series.

21. Auburn-Georgia (Auburn leads 54-52-8)
It’s the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry and it dates back to 1892. Auburn holds the slimmest of margins, with a 54–52–8 edge in the series.

22. Michigan-Notre Dame (Michigan leads 22-15-1)
These two traditional powers have only played regularly for the past three decades, but they produced a ton of memorable moments. Strike a pose, Desmond!

23. Georgia-Georgia Tech (Georgia leads 61-39-5)
You know it’s a good rivalry when the book about the series is called Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.

24. Minnesota-Wisconsin (Minnesota leads 59-53-8)
The winner of the Gophers vs. Badgers showdown takes home the prized Paul Bunyan Axe. It’s the most played rivalry in FBS football, dating back to 1890.

25. Lafayette-Lehigh (Lafayette leads 76-65-5)
The Rivalry, as it’s called, pits two small private schools located 17 miles apart in Eastern Pennsylvania. Lafayette and Lehigh have met 146 times, including every year since 1897.

<p> College Football's Top 25 Rivalries</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - 06:40
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-big-ten-8

By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)

Post-Week 12 Big Ten Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings. And two Big Ten teams came in at #1 of our Top 25 College Football Rivalries.

1. Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) – The Spartans had a pretty good weekend. Michigan State grabbed the Old Brass Spittoon from the Indiana Hoosiers in the not-so competitive rivalry. More importantly, the 55-3 drubbing of Indiana (and eventual Nebraska loss) clinched a spot in the first-ever Big Ten Championship game for Mark Dantonio. The game against Indiana was merely a formality, as MSU outgained IU 470 to 236 and had a 48-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins needed just over one half of action to throw for 272 yards and three touchdowns — bringing him to 60 for his career. With one more scoring strike, Cousins will tie Jeff Smoker for the career TD pass lead in East Lansing. Michigan State now heads to Northwestern for the regular-season finale before heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game on December 3.

2. Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2) –  Wisconsin, as it has all season, struggled to get started on the road against Illinois. But an impassioned halftime speech by head coach Bret Bielema trailing 17-7 lit an appropriate fire under the Badgers offense. Montee Ball and the Badgers scored 21 unanswered points to pull off the 28-17 come-from-behind victory. Ball finished with 224 yards (164 in the second half) and three total touchdowns on 40 touches. He is third in the nation in rushing and became only the fifth player in NCAA history to score 30 touchdowns. Wisconsin's defense also played inspired football in the second half, forcing three of its four turnovers on the day. Wisconsin now welcomes Penn State to Camp Randall in what has become a Big Ten Championship semifinal. The winner of the game at 3:30 PM ET on Saturday in Madison, Wisc., will head to Indianapolis for the debut of the Big Ten title game.

3. Penn State (9-2, 6-1) – Technically, the outcome of the Penn State-Ohio State game had little impact on the Nittany Lions' search for a Big Ten title. Either way, Penn State was going to have to beat the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison this weekend. But the 20-14 win was nonetheless very impressive — and it marked the beginning of a new era. It was the first time PSU won a football without Joe Paterno stalking the sidelines since December 1965 (1950 if you count his years as an assistant). Penn State rushed for 239 yards against the league's No. 3 rush defense (119.3 ypg entering Saturday). The diminuative but speedy Stephfon Green, not Silas Redd, led the way with 93 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Niether team scored a point in the second half as both quarterbacks struggled mightily to produce big plays in the passing game. Matt McGloin will have to play better than his 10-of-18, 88 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT line indicates if he expects to keep pace with the Badgers.

4. Michigan (9-2, 5-2) – In one of the most impressive performances by any team this season, Michigan dominated the line of scrimmage in a 45-17 win over new divisional rival Nebraska. The Wolverines rushed for 238 yards while holding Rex Burkhead to only 36 yards on 10 carries. The Maize and Blue set the tone for the second half when, leading only 17-10, Michigan scored two touchdowns in six minutes to blow the game open in the third quarter. Denard Robinson finished a tidy 11-of-18 for 180 yards and two scores to go with his 23 carries, 83 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. His 33 career rushing touchdowns are sixth all-time in UM history. All the momentum points to Michigan finally snapping its seven-game losing streak to that school from down south this weekend in the best rivalry game in college football.

5. Nebraska (8-3, 4-3) – The wheels are starting to come off the Huskers' 2011 campaign. Losing two out of three isn't all that bad in the modern Big Ten, but how it happened is a bit concerning. Getting upset at home by Northwestern and then getting smoked along the line of scrimmage 45-17 at Michigan is borderline unacceptable. Michigan nearly doubled the Huskers' rushing output (238 to 138) and failed to play inspired football in the second half, getting outscored 28-7 in the latter segment of the game. Taylor Martinez completed only 9-of-23 passes, Rex Burkhead totalled 36 yards from scrimmage and the Huskers lost three of four fumbles. The battle for the whole ear of corn against Iowa should've carried more weight than their combined six Big Ten losses indicate. That said, if Nebraska can beat Iowa in the newly minted season-ending rivalry and then win its bowl game, it will have reached ten wins in its maiden voyage through the Big Ten.

6. Ohio State (6-5, 3-4) – The future is very bright for the Buckeyes, but the end of 2011 could be tough to swallow for The Ohio State University. After losing to Purdue, Ohio State came out flat on defense and got beat 20-14 against Penn State. With a trip to Ann Arbor against a hungry, hot and prepared Michigan team looming this weekend, the Bucks are staring at a 6-6 season. That said, it appears that Urban Meyer will be leading the Scarlet and Gray ship next fall, and he will have a developing star at quarteback in Braxton Miller and a talent-laden defense. Miller has rushed for 352 yards and four touchdowns over the last four games.

7. Iowa (7-4, 4-3) – Iowa got its first road win of the 2011 season by defeating Purdue 31-21 in West Lafayette on Saturday. James Vandenberg continued his impressive development by throwing three touchdowns passes and 273 yards on 22-of-32 passing. Vandenberg is now No. 2 in the Big Ten in passing efficiency at 149.02. Two of his scoring strikes hit Marvin McNutt, who finished with nine catches and 151 yards. Marcus Coker continued his hot play as well, spearheading the Hawkeyes' ground game with 139 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Kirk Ferentz's defense forced four turnovers and held the Boilermakers to 282 yards of offense. Iowa enters the season finale at Nebraska aiming for an eight-win season.

8. Northwestern (6-5, 3-4) – Pat Fitzgerald's bunch stayed hot by winning their fourth straight game, 28-13 over Minnesota. Special teams set the tone early for Northwestern with two big kickoff returns by Venric Mark, allowing the Wildcats to score touchdowns on each of their first three possessions. Dan Persa played wire-to-wire, completing 22-of-31 passes with two scoring throws, and the ground game offered a nice complement by producing 152 yards. After losing five straight, the Cats are now bow-eligbile with a home game against Legends Division Champion Michigan State waiting this Saturday.

9. Illinois (6-5, 2-5) – The 2011 campaign for Illinois has been a tale of two halves. And never was this theme more evident than in the 28-17 home loss to the Wisconsin Badgers this weekend. Ron Zook carried a 17-7 lead into halftime before getting outscored 21-0 over the final 30 minutes. Three second-half turnovers aided the Badgers' Montee Ball, who rushed for 164 yards against Illinois in the second half alone. It was the fifth straight loss for the Illini, who will visit a two-win Minnesota team this weekend. A loss to the Gophers would likely be the final straw for Zook as the head coach in Champaign-Urbana.

10. Purdue (5-6, 3-4) – Senior Day in West Lafayette didn't exactly play out like the Boilermakers hoped. Purdue got outgained 408 to 282 yards, out-possessed 33:30 to 26:30 and turned the ball over four times in a 31-21 loss to Iowa. Three of those turnovers came at the hands of quarterback Roberts Marve, who completed 7-of-18 passes for 95 yards and no touchdowns. Caleb TerBush was the better of the two signal-callers, completing 10-of-16 passes and throwing a first-quarter touchdown to Gabe Holmes. Ralph Bolden rushed for 71 yards and a garbage-time touchdown on 14 carries in a game that was never really in doubt for the Hawkeyes. Purdue now will battle for the Old Oaken Bucket when it visits rival Indiana, which is winless in Big Ten play.

11. Minnesota (2-9, 1-6) – The Gophers managed to roll up 269 yards rushing behind 100-yard performances from quarterback MarQueis Gray (26 att., 147 yards, TD) and Duane Bennett (23 att., 127 yards). Yet the defense and special teams could not overcome the electric start by Northwestern. The Wildcats scored on their first three possessions, and the Gophers managed only two field goals over the final 45 minutes. The Gophers host the Illini in the season finale with a chance to end Ron Zook's coaching career at Illinois.

12. Indiana (1-10, 0-7) – The Hoosiers were on bye last week and enter the final weekend of play with their best shot at a Big Ten win to date. Purdue comes to town in the Hoosier State battle for the Old Oaken Bucket. Indiana's lone win this season came against South Carolina State, and it is safe to say that the Hoosiers are the worst team in the conference.

Also Read:
The 25 Greatest College Football Rivalries

<p> How do the teams in the Big Ten stack up after the 12th week of action?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - 06:10
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-pac-12-7

By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)

Post-Week 12 Pac-12 Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Oregon (9-2, 7-1) – The three-way round robin between this league's three best teams has gone the way of the road team in all three contests. Two weeks ago, Oregon went on the road and toppled the Cardinal — a team that beat USC in Los Angeles back on the last Saturday in October — with relative ease. But A plus B does not equal C, as the Ducks fell 38-35 at home to the Trojans Saturday night. The Ducks came out flat and never had the lead — they were down 24-7 early in the third and 38-20 heading into the fourth. After Oregon fought valiantly to get into a position to win the game, Chip Kelly mismanaged his offense and settled for what appeared to be an easy 37-yard game-tying field goal with only seconds remaining. As the Alejandro Maldonado kick sailed wide left, so too did Oregon's BCS national title hopes. The loss snapped a 21-game winning streak in Autzen Stadium for the Ducks. Oregon will clinch the North with a win in the Civil War this weekend.

2. Stanford (10-1, 8-1) – The rain-drenched Big Game featured multiple first-half lead changes and a 15-point fourth quarter rally that came up just short. Andrew Luck and the Cardinal survived a slow start to win their second straight against arch-rival Cal 31-28. The Heisman front-runner completed 20-of-30 passes for 257 yards and two scores to keep The Axe in Palo Alto for one more season. Stanford outgained Cal 149 to 81 on the ground while holding the Bears to 2.4 yards per carry. It was the 114th meeting between the two West Coast rivals. If the Ducks slip up against the Beavers, Stanford will represent the North. If Stanford beats Notre Dame, it will likely land an at-large BCS bowl bid.

3. USC (9-2, 6-2) – Trojan fans need to sit back this weekend and enjoy Matt Barkley play in what should be his final game at USC agianst the rival UCLA Bruins. Barkley continued his stellar play by completing 26-of-34 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns to outlast Oregon 38-35. It was his fifth 300-yard game and seventh game with at least three touchdown throws. Without a bowl game or Pac-12 title to play for, Barkley and the Men of Troy have a chance to foil their rivals' dreams with a win over the Bruins — who, with a win over USC, would play in the Pac-12 title game. 

4. Utah (7-4, 4-4) – Utah and Washington State scored 14 total points in the first half of their snowy, below-freezing meeting this weekend. But a furious fourth quarter of action that featured 34 total points and a 10-point Wazzu rally with less than seven minutes to play sent the game into overtime. Junior defensive back Mo Lee was the hero for Utah as he intercepted his second pass of the game during the first overtime possession for the Cougars. All Kyle Whittingham needed then was a 38-yard field goal from Coleman Petersen to clinch the 30-27 win. John White IV carried the ball 42 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns to pace the offense. Utah continues its great second half as the win was the fourth straight Pac-12 victory. With Colorado coming up on Friday, the Utes still have an outside chance at the conference title game. Utah owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over UCLA, who faces USC, but lost earlier to Arizona State, who faces Cal. If both ASU (who has lost four of five) and UCLA lose, a win would push Utah into the Pac-12 championship game.

5. Washington (6-5, 4-4) – The 5-1 start seems like a distant memory for Huskies fans. Nick Montana made his first career start and completed only 11 of his 21 pass attempts in the 38-21 road loss to Oregon State. Washington allowed 484 yards of offense and turned the ball over three times — including a key Montana fumble deep in his own territory. The Beavers immediately put the game out of reach with their second of three fourth quarter touchdowns, going up 17 with 11:27 left on the clock. Keith Price took over under center and led a scoring drive, but was intercepted on the next possession. Washington has lost seven of eight to the Beavers and now has the Apple Cup in the regular season finale.

6. UCLA (6-5, 5-3) – The UCLA Bruins are one win away from playing in the first annual Pac-12 championship game. After beating up Colorado 45-6 this weekend, Rick Neuheisel is staring at a conference crown (and 2012 employment checks) if he can beat cross-town rival USC this weekend. Kevin Prince threw for 225 yards and a career-high four touchdowns while Johnathan Franklin rushed for 162 yards and a score in the lopsided home win over the lowly Buffaloes. The Bruins outgained Colorado 553 yards to 229 and forced three turnovers. The game was over by the end of the first quarter, as UCLA took a 21-0 lead into the second frame. Beating the Trojans on the road will be a tall order, however. If the Bruins lose, they can still clinch the divison with either an Arizona State win or Utah loss.

7. Arizona State (6-5, 4-4) – The Sun Devils are reeling heading into what could be the most important game of the year. The Devils had a late lead in the battle for the Territorial Cup, but couldn't stop anyone who played quarterback for Arizona. Nick Foles threw for 370 yards and back-up Bryson Bernie tossed the game-winning strike with just over five minutes left in the game. Brock Osweiler, who attempted 63 passes for 487 yards, led ASU into the Wildcats' red zone, but couldn't complete the rally. The 31-27 loss was the third straight and fourth in five games for the still-hopeful Sun Devils. If Arizona State beats Cal at home, UCLA loses to USC on the road and Utah beats Colorado, the Devils will clinch the Pac-12 South title.

8. California (6-5, 3-5) – Quarterback Zach Maynard completed 20-of-30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. But the Cal signal-caller got zero help from his ground game in the 31-28 loss to Stanford in the Big Game. Cal rushed for 81 yards on 34 carries for an ugly 2.4-yard clip. The Bears lost The Axe to crosstown rival Stanford for the second straight season but now have a chance to ruin Arizona State's season in the desert this Friday.

9. Washington State (4-7, 2-6) – The Cougars missed a great chance to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2006. Third-string quarteback Connor Halliday, fresh off his 494-yard effort a week ago, threw for 290 yards and two scores in the 30-27 overtime loss to Utah. However, Halliday also threw four interceptions, including his costly fourth pick on the first possession of overtime. Utah kicked a field goal shortly thereafter and gave Wazzu its seventh loss of the year. Winning the Apple Cup in the season finale would give the Cougars five wins and might save Paul Wulff's job.

10. Oregon State (3-8, 3-5) – Sean Mannion is giving Beavers' fans a good reason for hope in Corvallis. The freshman quarterback threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns in the big 38-21 win over Washington. Mike Riley, who could be fighting for his job, led Oregon State to its seventh win in eight games against the Huskies. A 21-point fourth quarter gave OSU its third Pac-12 win on the season. Riley and company now have a chance to spoil arch-rival Oregon's conference title hopes in the Civil War this weekend.

11. Arizona (3-8, 2-7) – The battle in the desert is one of the more underrated rivalries in the nation, and Arizona made a winner of Tim Kish in the 31-27 Territorial Cup win over Arizona State. Nick Foles was the game's MVP, throwing for 370 yards and two touchdowns on 35 completions. Yet, the game's most important pass came from back-up Bryson Berine when he connected with Juron Criner on a 23-yard touchdown pass with just over five minutes to play. It turned out to be the game winner when the Cats defense stopped Arizona State on the Arizona 15-yard line with no time remaining. Despite being banged up and leaving the game, Foles set a single-season school record for yards (3,982) and completions (354). The Wildcats finish with UL Lafayette this weekend (what?).

12. Colorado (2-10, 1-7) – Fresh off its first-ever Pac-12 victory over Arizona, Colorado returned to normalcy this weekend with a 45-6 loss to UCLA. Tyler Hansen threw three interceptions and Rodney Stewart carried 21 times for only 77 yards. The Buffs allowed 328 yards rushing to the Bruins and are ranked 12th in the league in scoring offense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense and kickoff returns. Jon Embree finishes off his first season in Boulder with a trip to Utah, which is fighting for a division title, on Friday.

<p> How do the teams in the Pac-12 stack up after Week 12 of action?</p>
Post date: Monday, November 21, 2011 - 11:11
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, start or sit, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /columns/start-or-sit/nfl-fantasy-football-start-and-sit-week-11

-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)

Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Week 11 Rankings

NFL Bye Weeks: Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh

Start These Quarterbacks:

Carson Palmer, Oakland (at Minnesota)
The Oakland Raiders passer has thrown for 631 yards and five touchdowns in his last two games and is coming off his best game of his brief tenure on the Bay. He has built an instant rapport with rookie Denarius Moore and will be facing the NFL’s 30th-rated pass defense (272.8 ypg). No team in the league has allowed more touchdown passes than Minnesota’s 18.

Alex Smith, San Francisco (Arizona)
Smith has become a model of consistency – quick, where does that rank among phrases you thought you would hear? It’s true, however, that Jim Harbaugh has turned the former No. 1 overall bust into a serviceable fantasy option. He has thrown for between 170 and 242 yards in six of the last eight games and has a touchdown pass in six straight to go with only three interceptions all season. The Cardinals rank 24th against the pass and pose little threat to the 49ers on defense.

Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay (at Green Bay)
Freeman has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions only three times this season, but in a blowout situation in Lambeau, he should have a good chance to produce a useful fantasy total. The Packers rank 31st in the NFL against the pass, and Freeman is sixth in the NFL in attempts per game. Look for the Bucs to be throwing a lot in the second half.

Bench These Quarterbacks:

Eagles QBs (at NY Giants)
With broken ribs it is hard to imagine Michael Vick being allowed to use his legs — if he plays at all. And against one of the league’s top pass rushes, neither Vince Young nor Vick should have much time to throw. Especially considering the wide receiver issues with DeSean Jackson (contract) and Jeremy Maclin (hamstring, shoulder).

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (at Baltimore)
The red-headed quarterback got his first career taste of Pittsburgh last weekend, and it showed. He threw for only 170 yards and two interceptions (even though he did toss two scoring strikes). Dalton has exceeded all expectations in 2011, but no team has allowed fewer touchdown passes than Baltimore’s six. The Ravens are sixth in the NFL against the pass at 194.3 yards per game as well. Stay away.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo (at Miami)
Fitz has topped the 200-yard mark only twice in his last six games and has only seven touchdowns over that same span. His 2:5 TD:INT ratio over his last two doesn’t bode well either — even against the Dolphins. Miami’s pass defense has played dramatically improved football of late, allowing a total of 467 yards, no touchdowns and two picks through the air during the two-game winning streak. Miami has surrendered 12 total points the last two weeks.

Start These Running Backs:

Michael Bush, Oakland (at Minnesota)
Assuming that Darren McFadden is out once again, Bush becomes almost a must-start — even against a relatively solid rush defense. In his fill-in start last week, Bush totaled 242 yards and a touchdown on 33 touches. Palmer and Hue Jackson will get him the ball plenty against the 2-7 Vikings.

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle (at St. Louis)
In what was arguably the week's most shocking final score, Lynch torched Baltimore for 167 yards from scrimmage and a score in the 22-17 upset. Lynch has 61 touches in the last two games and should be in for another full day of action against the worst rushing defense in the NFL (150.6 ypg allowed).

Brandon Jacobs, NY Giants (Philadelphia)
I am not ready to say that Jacobs is running as hard as possible yet, but it does appear he is taking advantage of his opportunity with Ahmad Bradshaw still injured. The Eagles are allowing 112.4 yards per game and nearly one touchdown per game to running backs. Expect a full workload for Jacobs, assuming Bradshaw does not play.

James Starks, Green Bay (Tampa Bay)
Arizona, Indianapolis and Carolina are the only three teams in the league that have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Bucs. Tampa Bay ranks 29th in the NFL against the run at 138.2 yards per game. Expect Green Bay to get up big behind Aaron Rodgers early and then turn to the ground game in the second half.

Reggie Bush, Miami (Buffalo)
Sound familiar: Arizona, Indianapolis and Carolina are the only three teams in the league that have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Bills. Buffalo ranks 23rd in the NFL against the run at 125.2 yards per game. Bush has 53 touches over the last three games and is averaging 5.9 yards per touch with three scores over that span. He is finally getting the ball in the red zone, and even if Buffalo pulls away, he will get touches in the passing game.

Kendall Hunter, San Francisco (Arizona)
K-Hunt is a deep sleeper play this weekend. He showed spark and solid quickness while filling in last week for Frank Gore (he averaged 6.7 yards per carry and scored). Against a porous Cardinals defense that is last in the NFL in rushing touchdowns allowed (12), Hunter should get 12-16 touches and should score.

Bench These Running Backs:

Chris Johnson, Tennessee (at Atlanta)
If you take out CJ’s two 100-yard efforts against lowly Carolina and Cleveland, he has averaged 37.8 yards rushing per game. He has scored only twice this year and is facing one of the NFL’s best run defenses in a must-win situation. The Falcons are allowing a third-best 90.3 yards per game behind stellar play of Sean Weatherspoon, Curtis Lofton, Jordan Babineaux and Corey Peters in the front seven.

Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (at Baltimore)
Yes, Marshawn Lynch posted a big number against the Ravens last week. But that was following an emotion-draining road thriller over Pittsburgh and a cross-country flight to the Pacific Northwest. This important divisional game will most assuredly feature the NFL’s No. 3 scoring defense (16.9 ppg), the No. 3 rushing defense (90.3 ypg) and the No. 3 total defense (296.4 ypg).

LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay (at Green Bay)
Expect the touches for Blount to be much lower than normal in what should be a lopsided score in Green Bay. Blount, even when healthy, has not produced in 2011. He hasn’t scored since Week 4 against the Colts, has topped the century mark only one time (Week 4) and has 140 yards rushing in his last three games. The Pack is stingy against the run (8th in the NFL), so don’t expect much from Blount.

Beanie Wells, Arizona (at San Francisco)
Put this one on the tee and start swinging for the fences. There is just no way Wells has any business near your starting lineup. Just thought I would remind you.

Injury Concerns:

Frank Gore, San Francisco (Arizona)
The matchup is very juicy, but Gore is nursing two tender ankles and a bum knee. Owners can expect a lowered workload and plenty of K-Hunt.

Felix Jones, Dallas (at Washington)
DeMarco Murray is on a record-setting tear, and there is just no reason to slow his momentum. Take a major wait and see approach to Jones.

Start These Wide Receivers:

Mario Manningham, NY Giants (Philadelphia)
The Eagles are struggling to stop anyone, and Mario is starting to get his Super back. Manningham has caught at least five passes in four of five games and has scored in three straight. Look for the Manning-Manningham connection to continue to grow as the year goes along.

Denarius Moore, Oakland (at Minnesota)
It was painfully obvious how much Carson Palmer likes Moore. Once Jacoby Ford left the game, No. 17 got most of his looks — and the rookie wideout capitalized with multiple big plays and circus catches (5 rec., 123 yards, 2 TDs on Thursday night). Look for the 30th-rated pass defense that has allowed a league-worst 18 touchdown passes to surrender plenty of fantasy points to the Raiders’ pass-catcher.

Laurent Robinson, Dallas (at Washington)
Robinson lands on this list for the second straight week — and he has earned it. The Illinois State product has caught 13 passes for 208 yards and four touchdowns in the last three games. Romo has clearly defined him as one of his top three options, so keep him in the lineup against the Skins.

Damian Williams, Tennessee (at Atlanta)
The Falcons have been dominant against the run, so expect most of the Titans' offensive success to come through the air. Williams made a fantasy living in college by playing smart, disciplined, fundamentally sound football at USC (and Arkansas), and it is starting to show on the next level. He has scored in two straight games and posted his first career 100-yard game last week against Carolina.

Lowered Expectations:

Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City (at New England)
Despite a very tasty matchup against the worst pass defense in the league (that is getting better and healthier each week), Bowe still has Tyler Palko throwing him the ball now. Look for Kyle Arrington, who has been arguably the Pats' best DB, to slow Bowe just enough to hurt your fantasy squad.

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia (at NY Giants)
D-Jax has been asleep all season as he his contract issues have put a serious dent in his fantasy production. And without a healthy Michael Vick throwing him the ball, I would look for a more stable, safer play this week. Especially against the Giants’ pass rush.

Roddy White, Atlanta (Tennessee)
The return of Julio Jones, ageless wonder Tony Gonzalez and Cortland Finnegan all make this seem like a low ceiling for the under-performing Hot Roddy. Look for the gameplan to center around Michael Turner anyway.


Vincent Jackson, San Diego (at Chicago)
The Chargers couldn’t block my grandmother last weekend, and Rivers will face a fierce pass rush this weekend. And since secondary shifting a month ago, the Bears have not allowed a wideout to top the 85-yard mark and have allowed only one touchdown since Week 6.

<p> Athlon Sports Week 11 NFL Fantasy Start and Sit</p>
Post date: Friday, November 18, 2011 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/betting-against-spread-week-12-picks

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

College football has a way of surprising you each and every week. It's what makes it the greatest sport on the planet. Despite hitting on four of my top five picks, THE Ohio State University decided to trip all over itself in West Lafayette - for the second time in a row. Additionally, had I kept the last two games off of my list (USC -11.5 and Vanderbilt -15.5) - and if Alabama could have figured out a way to put 0.5 more points on the board - I would have posted a lucrative 8-3 mark.

However, I have only myself to blame for not having the guts to roll with the red-hot Dores and Trojans. And close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Thus, I settled for a modest (but still winning) 5-4 weekend.

Season Record ATS: 67-43-1 (5-4 last week)

Week 12's Top Picks:

Wisconsin (-14.5) at Illinois
Illinois has gone four straight games without scoring in the first half and has totalled 42 points in those games - all losses. On the flip side, this is probably the best offense Big Red has ever put on the field. The Badgers have their sights set on Indianapolis with the most efficient quarterback in the history of college football and America's leading scorer leading the way. Ron Zook, meanwhile, will be looking for a new place of employment next fall. My Pick: Wisconsin -14.5

Kansas State (+8.5) at Texas
What have you done for me lately? I was on Texas winning last week against a Missouri team that had allowed 118 points in three games. Yet, Mizzou held the Horns to three points and 247 yards on offense. Collin Klein, and his 24 rushing touchdowns, refuses to let his team lose - especially to a team that hasn't beaten the Wildcats since 2003. Kansas State is tied for second in the nation with an 8-2 record against the spread and should keep it very close, if not win outright, in Austin. My Pick: Kansas State +8.5

Mississippi State (+13) at Arkansas
The Hogs have covered four straight times in which the kickoff did not take place at noon eastern. This one begins at 3:30 eastern. The Razorbacks are clicking on all cylinders offensively as they have scored 93 points over the last two weeks. The Bulldogs have struggled to score all season, scoring 97 combined points - 62 of which came against Kentucky and Auburn - in six SEC contests (1-5). A nine-win MSU team allowed 38 points in a loss to Arkansas last season in Starkville. Expect more of the same from the deepest receiving corp in the nation against a 5-5 Bulldog team. My Pick: Arkansas -13

SMU (+20) at Houston
The Cougars are aiming at a BCS bowl bid if they can continue to rack up huge wins and SMU is the next victim. SMU might need to score 50 points to cover this spread, and without star tailback Zach Line, that just became a much more difficult task. Houston is 8-2 against the spread this season and has averaged 67.3 points per game over its last three. Houston won this game last season by 25 points at SMU...without Case Keenum. My Pick: Houston -20

Oklahoma (-15) at Baylor
Baylor has allowed fewer than 30 points in Big 12 play only once this season (26 to Iowa State), giving it an ugly 40.8-points per game allowed in conference play. And Oklahoma knows how to score - try 45.4 points per game (sixth nationally). Expect a high-scoring affair - something akin to the 55-28 Bears loss to Texas A&M or the 59-24 loss to Oklahoma State. My Pick: Oklahoma -15

Louisville (pk) at UConn
Charlie Strong and the Cardinals have the 12th-rated scoring defense in the nation at just over 18 points per game allowed. UConn sports terrible quarterback play (Johnny McEntee ranks 94th in efficiency), medicore coaching and have struggled on offense all season: 107th in total offense and 93rd in scoring. Strong's bunch has its sights still set on a Big East title, but has to win this game to stay in the hunt. My Pick: Louisville

Cal (+17.5) at Stanford
Coming off its worst performance since, well, the last time they played Oregon, Stanford will be motivated. An at-large BCS bowl bid is still possible and Andrew Luck shouldn't need any extra motivation to top a brusied and beaten crosstown rival. This was a 34-point win for the Cardinal last season in which they rushed for 232 yards on the road in Berkeley. Stanford still leads the nation against the spread at 9-1 and will get back on track this weekend with a big win. My Pick: Stanford -17.5

Virginia (+17.5) at Florida State
The Seminoles have quietly reeled off five straight wins, however, those came mostly against the ACC's worst competiton. While FSU has more raw talent than the Cavaliers, there is really no difference between these two teams on paper. Both are 7-3 with convincing wins over Duke and Maryland to go with hard-fought victories over Miami. Florida State's defense should win the game for the Noles, but not by three scores - not against a motivated and extremely well-coached Wahoo team that wants a piece of the ACC crown. My Pick: Virginia +17.5

Oklahoma State (-27.5) at Iowa State
The Cowboys have 60 more minutes of football to play before the Bedlam Series on Decemeber 3 - and the poor Cyclones get to play the role of punching bag in the Pokes' final tune-up. The last two games between these two came in 2008 and 2009 with the Cowboys winning both by a combined 93-25. Oklahoma State is 8-2 against the spread this season and the nation's No. 2 scoring offense (51.7 ppg) will post another huge number against the nation's 91st ranked defense (420.4 ypg). My Pick: Oklahoma State -27.5

Vanderbilt (-1.5) at Tennessee
The Dores are arguably the most improved team in the nation and have everything to play for this weekend.  Not only is their arch-in-state-rival down on their luck, but Vanderbilt likely needs this win to get to a bowl game in James Franklin's first season. (Vanderbilt visits a solid Wake Forest team next weekend.) If Tyler Bray were 100% healthy, the Vols would be tough to beat in Neyland Stadium. But Vandy is going to hit him early and often, forcing him to make the tough throws with a recovering broken thumb. This Commodores team plays harder than their opponents and that isn't likely to change this weekend - not with all that is at stake. My Pick: Vanderbilt -1.5

2011 Top 20 Teams ATS:

1. Stanford (9-1)
2t. Arkansas State (8-2)
2t. Houston (8-2)
2t. Kansas State (8-2)
2t. Louisiana Tech (8-2)
2t. Oklahoma State (8-2)
2t. Vanderbilt (8-2)
2t. Western Kentucky (8-2)
9. Georgia (7-2-1)
10t. Alabama (7-3)
10t. Clemson (7-3)
10t. LSU (7-3)
10t. Michigan (7-3)
10t. New Mexico State (7-3)
10t. Rutgers (7-3)
10t. Southern Miss (7-3)*
17t. Eastern Michigan (6-3-1)
17t. USC (6-3-1)
19. Oklahoma (6-3)
20. Wyoming (6-3)

2011 Bottom 20 Teams ATS:

1. Central Michigan (1-10)
2t. Maryland (2-8)
2t. Texas A&M (2-8)
4. Penn State (2-7-1)
5t. Colorado State (2-7)
5t. Florida Atlantic (2-7)
5t. Troy (2-7)
8t. Colorado (3-8)
8t. Tulane (3-8)
10t. Air Force (3-7)
10t. Arizona (3-7)
10t. Memphis (3-7)*
10t. Ole Miss (3-7)
10t. Oregon State (3-7)
10t. Syracuse (3-7)
10t. UCLA (3-7)
10t. Virginia Tech (3-7)
18t. Akron (3-6-1)
18t. Hawaii (3-6-1)
18t. Nebraska (3-6-1)
18t. NC State (3-6-1)

* - team played on Thursday night

Other Week 12 Content:

Mitch Light's Top Ten Games of Week 12
Athlon Sports Predicts Every Game of Week 12

Steven Lassan's Top Week 12 Storylines to Watch
Conference and National Championship Races Update

Who is the nation's best one-loss team?

<p> Athlon's Braden Gall offers his top college football picks against the spread each week.</p>
Post date: Friday, November 18, 2011 - 06:00
Path: /news/college-basketball-qa-clark-kellogg

Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall had a chance to sit down with CBS College Basketball analyst Clark Kellogg to preview the 2011-2012 NCAA Basketball season. You can follow Braden on twitter at @AthlonBraden.

Braden Gall: The college basketball season is upon us, but first, the Capital One Cup is awarded annually to each of the best men’s and women’s college athletic programs. Talk about your involvement in the Capital One Cup.

Clark Kellogg: This is my second year on the advisory board of the Capital One Cup, and we had a fantastic first year. There have been some sports added and there are now 20 women’s sports and 19 men’s sports that can vie for the Capital One Cup. It is a competition that goes year-round and encompasses the fall, winter and spring sports that have championships. Schools can earn points by finishing in the top ten of the final polls of their respective sports, and then each winning program will receive not only the Capital One Cup Trophy but $200,000 each for their scholarship fund designated for post-graduate for former student athletes.

You can get all the information at as well as and So I am looking forward to it again for Year Two. It is a great way to engage fans and reward excellence on the field through scholarship dollars.

Gall: Every season we see a ridiculous influx of young freshman talent. Who are the names we will see right off the bat make the biggest impact?

Kellogg: I’ve got all the names down but I have normally refrained from watching them too much in high school because it doesn’t always translate to college. But in terms of names, you’ve got a bunch of them at Kentucky. Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Shannon Scott at Ohio State, Austin Rivers at Duke, Myc Kabongo at Texas and Quincy Miller at Baylor. I mean, these are all guys that have tremendous reputations coming out of high school, and it is always fun for me to see how they pan out in their new respective environments. And we will have some freshmen that perhaps aren’t as highly touted that might be more productive than some of the guys I just mentioned. So that is part of the fun for me to see how these guys handle all of the things that are new and challenging about being a Division I college basketball player.

Gall: We saw a lot of talented guard play down the stretch last season — Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight, Kendall Marshall, Aaron Craft, just to name a few. Have we seen a transition from the big man to the point guard as the most dominant position on the court?

Kellogg: You know, that is interesting. And as you look at different periods of time, clearly there is a premium on having really good guards lately. You need tremendous ball-handling and leadership in the backcourt nowadays as well as the ability to pressure defensively. You also need big shot-making and playmaking back there. Those guys are going to have the ball most of the time, so when you have elite level players at those positions, they can really elevate your team’s chances at success. If you can combine that with some presence inside, now you have a really lethal combination. So I think you are right, backcourt play, as well as shot-making, has really become the focal point of what teams are trying to do offensively now.

Gall: One guy that has no problem landing elite level backcourt players is Kentucky’s John Calipari. How does he land four or five of the best players in the nation every single season?

Kellogg: First of all, he is a terrific coach. I don’t care what folks have to say about him, because there are some naysayers out there. He has got a personality that is very much up in front of you, but he is real and he is excellent at what he does. Kids see the success that he has had with outstanding point guards and it feeds upon itself. They know the demands will be high and that they are going to be pushed to get better and that is what kids of that level want to see — an opportunity to realize their dreams of playing pro basketball and to do it at one of the greatest, if not THE greatest program’s environment. So he has got that working for him, and it will continue to be the case because of how he is as a coach, what he’s been able to do in terms of results as a coach and how kids become enamored with that when they are trying to fulfill their own dreams.

Gall: Now that he is 15 pounds lighter, how good can Jared Sullinger be this season?

Kellogg: He is going to be terrific, and he was outstanding last year. He had one of the great freshman seasons in the history of the Ohio State program. Really, when you look at what he did and how consistent he was, it might be right at the top of the list. He is a hungry, thirsty player who wants to be better and wants to be the best he can be and wants to see his team have a chance to win a national championship. You add a year of maturity and take a look at what he has done to improve his body and his game and I think he will be one of the most impactful players in all of college basketball this season.

Gall: How do you replace Kemba Walker and how can UConn build on last year’s national title season?

Kellogg: You typically don’t replace guys like that — his leadership, his charisma, his production. His ability to rise to the highest level at the most important times. That is pretty unique stuff. But you have a culture of winning and excellence that has been established there by Jim Calhoun, and the players see it and they feed off of it. You continue to bring in talented guys who can also be leaders. So, I actually don’t think that they will miss much of a beat — it will be different as it is every year — but they will be right in the conversation for not only getting to the Final Four but having a real chance to win it all.

Gall: The LSU-Alabama football game reminded me of the UConn-Butler final from a year ago. From a personal standpoint, is there a style of play that you enjoy more?

Kellogg: I can appreciate a good defensive struggle. I can appreciate the effort, will and skill it takes to play at a high level on the defensive end. But what I enjoy most, is quality defense and really good offense together: ball movement, great floor spacing, making the right pass at the right time, and finally, shot-making. There is no substitute for putting the ball in the basket. And that to me is the essence of the game. Sure there is going to be defense and rebounding, but you cannot have, in my mind, a really enjoyable, compelling game if there is not a good level of shot-making. And if that is done against good defense, then you have the ideal way to see the game played. The ball being moved, people sharing it, your elite players doing their thing and it coming down to who can make the best plays, primarily on the offensive end, in terms of shot-making.

Gall: What will be the best league in the nation this year?

Kellogg: Man, that is a tough one. I think the Big Ten will be down a notch in terms of its overall depth. I think you look at the ACC with a consensus No. 1 team in North Carolina. Duke and some others will be better than anticipated as well. To be honest with you at this point, I am not sure I can pick just one yet. The Big East will be excellent again and is always right there in the conversation, but I am still searching. I do not have an order in the conference rankings just yet.

Gall: Who are your preseason Final Four picks?

Kellogg: Because I am not in the studio any more and will be courtside for games all season and for ultimately the Final Four in New Orleans (laughs), I have recused myself from coming up with my Final Four predictions. Simply because my predecessor, Billy Packer, came up with a pretty good rule: When you are calling the games, you are better served not making predictions.

Gall: So who are the four most talented teams in the nation, then?

Kellogg: I have a group that I have looked at. Certainly you start with North Carolina, when you consider talent and experience. I don’t think anyone will argue that with that combination, North Carolina has more than anybody. I think when you look at talent, you have to throw Kentucky in there. Even though they are youthful, they are extremely talented. I think Baylor is quite talented. UConn, Syracuse and Duke are right in that mix as well. Then I would probably look at Vanderbilt and Florida as teams that are fighting to get into that top-six range in terms of talent and potential.

Gall: Tell everyone again about how you are involved with the Capital One Cup.

Kellogg: The first stop is But you can also check us out on and on That gives you an opportunity to not only follow your teams in the fall, winter and spring sports but also to get caught up on how the points are divvied out and accumulated. It should be another exciting season for the Capital One Cup, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

<p> Athlon's Braden Gall sits down with CBS analyst Clark Kellogg to break down the upcoming college hoops season.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 08:00
Path: /columns/heisman-watch/athlon-sports-heisman-voting-week-12

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

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

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

With three weeks left in the regular season, the 2011 Heisman Trophy race has morphed into one of the most exciting stiff-armed chases in history. For the first time this fall, three different players received first-place votes, and a legitimate case could be made for more than half a dozen superstars.

Stanford's Andrew Luck, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Alabama's Trent Richardson each landed a first-place vote as the trio appears headed for New York — at least, for now.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (87/90 total points, 6/9 first place votes)
Season Stats: 221/313, 2,680 yards, 29 TD, 7 INT, 34 att., 134 yards, 2 TD

Luck did not play a great football game in the 53-30 loss to Oregon — but neither did his pass catchers or defense. Dropped passes and missed tackles cost Mr. Luck a chance at an undefeated season and Pac-12 championship. An at-large BCS bowl bid and the Heisman Trophy are still very much within grasp if Luck can wrap up the season with two wins. Luck finished 27-for-41, 256 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Next Game: Cal

  Name Pos. Team Pts 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Ballots
1. Andrew Luck QB Stanford 87 6 3 - - - 9
2. Trent Richardson RB Alabama 78 1 4 4 - - 9
3. Brandon Weeden QB Oklahoma St 67 2 - 1 4 1 9
4. Robert Griffin III QB Baylor 57 - 2 1 2 2 9
5. Russell Wilson QB Wisconsin 42 - - 1 1 3 8
6. Case Keenum QB Houston 42 - - 1 - 2 9
7. Kellen Moore QB Boise St 30 - - 1 - - 9
8. Landry Jones QB Oklahoma 22 - - - 1 - 5
9. Montee Ball RB Wisconsin 21 - - - - - 6
10. LaMichael James RB Oregon 19 - - - 1 1 6
11. Matt Barkley QB USC 10 - - - - - 3
12. Justin Blackmon WR Oklahoma St 6 - - - - - 2
13. David Wilson RB Virginia Tech 5 - - - - - 3
14. Sammy Watkins WR Clemson 5 - - - - - 1
15. Tajh Boyd QB Clemson 3 - - - - - 1
16. Brad Wing P LSU 1 - - - - - 1

2. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (78)
Season Stats: 204 att., 1,205 yards, 18 TD, 25 rec., 318 yards, TD

Richardson carried a sluggish Alabama offense with 32 carries, 127 yards, two receptions, 26 yards and one second half trip to paydirt in the 24-7 road win over Mississippi State. Richardson is the most talented running back in the nation, and the Tide might still sneak into the title game. Don't expect a huge workload from T-Rich this weekend against the mighty Eagles of Georgia Southern. Next Game: Georgia Southern

3. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (67)
Season Stats: 313/428, 3,635 yards, 31 TD, 9 INT, 15 att., minus-95 yards

Weeden didn't even need three complete quarters to throw for 423 yards and four touchdowns on an incredible 31-of-37 passing in the 66-6 road win over Texas Tech. A road trip to Iowa State this weekend seems like only a formality before the Pokes get a bye over Thanksgiving — and then host the Sooners on Championship Saturday. Weeden is fourth in the nation in total offense (354.0) and leads the nation's No. 2 passing attack and scoring offense, trailing only Houston in both categories. Next Game: at Iowa State

4. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (57)
Season Stats: 224/302, 3,093 yards, 29 TD, 5 INT, 117 att., 478 yards, 5 TD

Griffin accounted for 415 yards of total offense and scored four total touchdowns in what was a furious season- and Heisman-saving overtime comeback against Kansas. With 3:31 left to play in the third, Baylor trailed 24-3. Griffin engineered three fourth-quarter touchdown drives and scored again in overtime to halt the Jayhawks' upset bid 31-30. At 396.78 yards per game, Griffin trails Case Keenum by less than two yards per game as the nation's leader in total offense. His 188.58 passer rating is third nationally but would break the single-season NCAA record (186.0). With six wins, the Bears are poised for a second consecutive bowl game for the first time since 1993. Next Game: Oklahoma

5. Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin (42)
Season Stats: 160/218, 2,416 yards, 25 TD, 3 INT, 55 att., 295 yards, 4 TD, 1 rec., 25 yards, TD

The accolades for the Badgers' quarterback continue to grow. Wilson threw his 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th touchdowns in the 42-13 win over rival Minnesota last Saturday — each one of which added to his Wisconsin single-season school record. He completed his first 16 passes and finished 16-of-17 for 178 yards and those four scoring strikes. His last pass attempt was a dropped deep ball by Nick Toon with 6:22 left in the third quarter. Wilson now has thrown a touchdown pass in 34 straight games, two short of the NCAA record of 36 (Graham Harrell), and is sporting a 201.58 passer rating, which would be an NCAA record. Next Game: at Illinois

6. Case Keenum, QB, Houston (42)
Season Stats: 279/376, 3,951 yards, 37 TD, 3 INT, 37 att., 35 yards, 2 TD

Keenum and the Cougars have scored no less than 56 points in five straight games, and Tulane posed no real threat in the 73-17 Thursday night win. Keenum went 22-of-29 for 325 yards and three more touchdowns. Aside from being the NCAA's all-time leading passer and touchdown thrower, Keenum currently leads the nation in total offense at 398.6 yards per game. He is also spearheading the nation's top scoring attack at 54.7 points per game. Next Game: SMU

7. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (30)
Season Stats: 220/297, 2,549 yards, 31 TD, 5 INT, 14 att., minus-40 yards

For all intents and purposes, Moore's National Championship and Heisman Trophy campaigns ended for the second straight year on the leg of a kicker. Moore went 28-of-38 for 320 yards and two scores as he pushed the Broncos back into the lead at the start of the fourth quarter (35-28). After a TCU touchdown and 2-point conversion with just over a minute to go, Moore drove his team to the TCU 22 yard-line, where Dan Goodale missed the game-winner. Next Game: at San Diego State

8. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (22)
Season Stats: 254/393, 3,349 yards, 28 TD, 9 INT, 17 att., 22 yards, 2 TD

Jones and his Sooner attack rested up last weekend while they watched their counterparts in Stillwater roll up a 60-point win. Jones now gets winnable games against Baylor and Iowa State to prep for the championship tilt in Boone Pickens Stadium. Next Game: at Baylor

9. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (21)
Season Stats: 185 att., 1,242 yards, 23 TD, 14 rec., 234 yards, 4 TD, 1/1, 25 yards, TD

In the seventh consecutive win over rival Minnesota (42-13), Ball rushed 23 times for 166 yards and two scores while catching another touchdown. Ball has now scored 27 touchdowns on the year, setting a new Big Ten single-season record. He leads the nation in scoring at 16.2 points per game and leads the Big Ten in rushing at 124.2 yards per game. He is 11 touchdowns away from breaking Barry Sanders' NCAA all-time single-season mark of 38. Next Game: at Illinois

10. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (19)
Season Stats: 153 car., 1,207 yards, 12 TD, 13 rec., 175 yards, 1 TD

James has come up big in big-time spots (excepting maybe the LSU game) this season despite his severly dislocated elbow. James put on a show this weekend with 146 yards and three touchdowns in the key Pac-12 game of the year at Stanford. The 53-30 win over the Cardinal not only vaulted James back into the Heisman conversation but likely won the Ducks the conference title. James technically leads the nation in rushing at 150.9 yards per game. Next Game: at Baylor

Previous Voting:

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 11

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 10

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 9
Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 8

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 7

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 6

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 5

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 4

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 3

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 2

Athlon Sports Heisman Ballot: Week 1

<p> Athlon Sports Heisman Voting: Week 12</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-big-ten-7

By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)

Post-Week 11 Big Ten Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Michigan State (8-2, 5-1) – The Spartans cleared one of their final hurdles in the race for Indianapolis with a dominating road win over Iowa, 37-21. Kirk Cousins threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns (without an interception) to cure his road woes while Le'Veon Bell rushed 20 times for 112 yards and a score of his own. Michigan State kicked a field goal halfway through the third quarter to take a 34-7 lead and put the game out of reach. The Spartans will face lowly Indiana before a key road trip to Evanston to take on the cagey Northwestern Wildcats in the season finale. Michigan State is all but locked into a Legends Division title.

2. Wisconsin (8-2, 4-2) –  Wisconsin knew exactly what was at stake when it took the field Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis: A Big Ten championship, Paul Bunyan's Axe and long-standing school and conference records. None of it got in the way of the Badgers, who dismantled arch-rival Minnesota 42-13. The Badgers control their own destiny now after losses by Ohio State and Penn State. The Badgers' Montee Ball set a Big Ten record for touchdowns with his 25th, 26th and 27th trips to paydirt. The Axe remains in Madtown for the eighth consectutive season after Russell Wilson threw his school-record 25th touchdown pass in the win (John Stocco, 21). Wilson, who also has a touchdown in 34 consecutive games (two short of the NCAA record), completed his first 16 pass attempts and actually increased his would-be NCAA single-season efficiency record to 201.58. If Wisconsin can beat Illinois on the road and handle Penn State at home, the Badgers will be headed to Indy on December 3. 

3. Nebraska (8-2, 4-2) – The most innocent of bystanders this weekend, Nebraska faced the attention of the nation when it walked into Beaver Stadium on Saturday. After an incredibly emotional and heart-felt battle with the inspired Nittany Lions, the Huskers headed home victorious after outlasting PSU 17-14. Rex Burkhead was the leader NU fans have grown to love, carrying 25 times for 121 yards and a key third quarter touchdown. He lined up at wideout, under center, in the wildcat, at running back and was easily the most important offensive player on either team. Nebraska kept its slim Big Ten title hopes alive with the victory and has to win two difficult games against Michigan and Iowa while hoping for Michigan State to slip up along the way.

4. Penn State (8-2, 5-1) – There may not have been a more surreal opening scene in college football history than when the Penn State Nittany Lions walked arm-in-arm onto the field Saturday morning to face the Cornhuskers. The 17-14 hard-fought loss was secondary to the beginning of the healing process that is fully underway in State College. Both teams played incredibly hard, but in the end PSU came up just short. However, be it the pre-game prayer circle that included both teams or the personal welcomes visiting fans got from PSU faithful, everyone was a winner in Beaver Stadium. The power of athletic competition has long been a healer of souls, and the intrinsic value of sport was no more apparent than at Penn State on Saturday. To top it off, the Lions can still win their division if they can beat Ohio State and Wisconsin in a brutal two-game finish to the year.

5. Michigan (8-2, 4-2) – No Denard Robinson? No problem. The electric quarterback left the game in the third quarter with a bruised wrist, but the Wolverines' dominant defense and replacement Devin Gardner managed to put away Illinois 31-14 on Saturday. The Illini had 30 yards of offense at halftime and were held to 214 on the day. Fitzgerald Toussaint had his second 170+ yard game in three weeks by rushing for 192 yards on 27 carries. Gardner threw one big fourth-quarter touchdown pass. Big Blue has quickly returned to its historic roots by playing shutdown defense and pounding the football on offense. Michigan hosts Nebraska and Ohio State to finish the season. 

6. Ohio State (6-4, 3-3) – Who would have thought that Purdue would turn out to be the Buckeyes' most dangerous Leaders Division rival? For the second straight trip to West Lafayette, the Ohio State Buckeyes headed home with a loss. This time, it was a heartbreaking 26-23 overtime defeat. After trailing 17-7 at halftime, the Bucks rallied to tie the game at 20 with less than a minute to play. But Purdue miraculously blocked the extra point to send it to overtime. A Robert Marve one-yard touchdown run sealed the Bucks' fate, as Purdue outgained the mighty Buckeyes 363-295. Now OSU needs help to reach the Big Ten title game as it faces Penn State and Michigan to close things out.

7. Iowa (6-4, 3-3) – The Hawkeyes completely failed to show up for the first half of their 37-21 loss to Michigan State, entering the break down 31-7. Iowa also failed to establish the ground game that had afforded it so much success in previous weeks. The Hawks mustered only 87 yards on 30 carries — 57 yards on 21 carries for Marcus Coker — and turned the ball over three times as Kirk Ferentz and company watched their Big Ten title hopes fall by the wayside. James Vandenberg attempted 47 passes — not a desired ingredient for Ferentz's offense. Iowa finishes with road trips to feisty Purdue and new divisional rival Nebraska.

8. Illinois (6-4, 2-4) – The bye week did nothing to help the Illini's offensive woes as Illinois managed only 30 yards of total offense in the first half of the 31-14 loss to Michigan. Even after his team knocked out star quarterback Denard Robinson, Ron Zook could not figure out a way to produce enough offense to win for the first time in more than a month. Illinois finished with 214 total yards — 37 rushing on 33 carries — and carry a four-game losing streak into the home test against Wisconsin this weekend. Zook's team has scored six total touchdowns in those four games, while the Badgers have scored 14 touchdowns in their last two games.

9. Northwestern (5-5, 2-4) – Don't look now, but the Wildcats have won three straight games after an easy 28-6 win over non-con foe Rice. Dan Persa returned to action and played his best game of the year by completing 25-of-32 passes for 372 yards and four touchdowns. Jeremy Ebert was the primary beneficiary, catching seven passes for 208 yards and two scores. Renaissance man Cain Kolter completed one pass, rushed nine times, caught five passes and scored a touchdown of his own in the win. The Wildcats now need to win against either Minnesota or Michigan State to reach their fourth straight bowl game.

10. Purdue (5-5, 3-3) – After blowout losses to Wisconsin and Michigan, Danny Hope once again proved his mettle with a huge 26-23 overtime upset over Ohio State. It was Purdue's second straight win over the Buckeyes in West Lafayette, even if it took a blocked extra point with less than a minute to pull it off. The two-quarterback system worked to perfection as Robert Marve (10-of-13, 94 yards) and Caleb TerBush (15-of-24, 140 yards) did just enough to outlast OSU. It was Marve's key third-and-12 conversion on the penultimate play of the game that led to the one-yard game-winning QB sneak from the former Miami Hurricane. With Iowa and Indiana remaining, Hope has a great chance at a bowl game in 2011.

11. Minnesota (2-8, 1-5) – The Gophers played valiantly two weeks in a row, upsetting Iowa and playing tight with Michigan State. That wasn't the case this weekend against the powerful Wisconsin attack. The Badgers did whatever they wanted on offense to the tune of 6.3 yards per carry on 45 rushes and 16-of-17 passing.  The Gophers managed 156 yards of total offense.

12. Indiana (1-9, 0-6) – The Hoosiers didn't lose this weekend. They didn't take the field, either. Indiana played arguably its best game in the 34-20 loss to Ohio State and will look to build on that performance against Michigan State and Purdue to the end the year. Two solid showings would give Kevin Wilson something positive to build on in the offseason.

<p> How do the teams in the Big Ten stack up after the 11th week of action?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - 05:35
Path: /college-football/mike-gundy-and-oklahoma-state-perfect-match


During the 51-year period from 1950-2000, the Oklahoma State Cowboys lost more games than they won in 33 of 51 (64.71%) seasons. Additionally, during this period the Cowboys only had 18 winning seasons (35.29%), 12 seasons with seven or more wins (23.53%), and only 10 seasons that ended in trips to a bowl game (19.60%).

The above numbers aren't Kansas State pre-Bill Snyder bad, but only winning more games that you lose 35.29% of the time over a 51 year span is pretty atrocious in our book. Let's now look at some numbers over the last 11 seasons for the Cowboys:

School Years Overall WP% Losing Seasons 7+ Win Seasons Bowl Bids
Oklahoma St. 2001-2011 62.96% 2 9 9

You don't have to be a genius or have 20/20 vision to see that over the last eleven seasons Oklahoma State football has gotten a lot better. So, what happened in Stillwater to bring about this change? From our standpoint, two things happened:

  1. T. Boone Pickens decided to test the idea that anything is possible if you throw enough money at it.
  2. Oklahoma State hired a good coach who in turn hired another good coach.

As much as we love a good underdog story, there simply aren't very many in college football. We wrote a little about this in an article we published recently on Mike Sherman.

From the article:

Here is a list of the last 10 AP National Champions:

2001: Miami
2002: Ohio St.
2003: USC
2004: USC
2005: Texas
2006: Florida
2007: LSU
2008: Florida
2009: Alabama
2010: Auburn

What do the above schools have in common? They are all loaded with NFL-caliber talent and, with the exception of Miami, have large undergraduate enrollments and 80,000+ seat stadiums they fill up each and every week. We are not trying to squash the hopes of the smaller schools out there or state that they cannot have successful years or programs, Chris Petersen and Gary Patterson have proved as much. We are simply trying to point out the existing reality of college football. It’s very much an arms race and those with the bigger and better guns typically win the most battles and wars.

So, how do you become one of the Have's in college football? You go out and find a billionaire who wants to make your football program the primary benefactor of their philanthropy. We are a little fuzzy on the exact numbers, but it's safe to state that T. Boone Pickens has donated or pledged to donate several hundreds of thousands of dollars to making Oklahoma State football a Have.

The second thing Oklahoma State did right was to hire a quality coach in Les Miles in 2001. In the five seasons before Miles took over, the Cowboys had one winning season and won 46.43% of their overall games. During Miles' four seasons at the helm, the Cowboys had only one losing season, won 57.14% of their games, and had a nine win season for the first time since Barry Sanders' senior season in 1988.

One of the smartest moves Coach Miles made at Oklahoma State was bringing Mike Gundy on board right from the start to run the Cowboys offense. From 2001-2004, the Cowboys had a nationally top 20 ranked scoring offense three of the four years Gundy was calling the plays. In 2005, Miles was hired to be the next head coach at LSU (more on that here), and the Cowboys decided to take a chance and promote their relatively young signal caller from offensive coordinator to head coach. After the first three year's of Gundy's reign, many OSU fans may have wondered if a mistake had been made:

Years CBTN Stars Overall WP% Conf. WP% WP% Against Over .500 Teams WP% in Close Games Losing Seasons 9+ Win Seasons
2005-2007 48.65% 33.33% 29.17% 42.86% (3-4) 1 0

The above numbers resembled those of a Have Not or possibly a Have that has the wrong coach in place. Now, let's look at the past nearly four years and see how Coach Gundy has fared:

Years CBTN Stars Overall WP% Conf. WP% WP% Against Over .500 Teams WP% in Close Games Losing Seasons 9+ Win Seasons
2008-Present 79.59% 77.42% 66.67% 80.00% (4-1) 0 4

So, what happened to transform Mike Gundy from a seemingly standard sub-par Oklahoma State head football coach into a coach who, over the last four years, has won almost 80% of his games and over 77% of his conference games? Is this a case of the guy-behind-the-guy? Gundy has certainly had some quality coordinators over the last four years (Dana Holgorsen in particular), but it doesn't appear as though his success has been dependent on the arrival of one particular offensive or defensive coordinator. Well, if it's not Coordinator Dependency Syndrome, what else could it be? How about recruiting? Let's take a look:

Coach Year 4 Year Recruiting Average Record
Mike Gundy 2005 39.50 4-7
Mike Gundy 2006 35.50 7-6
Mike Gundy 2007 34.25 7-6
Mike Gundy 2008 36.00 9-4
Mike Gundy 2009 31.25 9-4
Mike Gundy 2010 31.75 11-2
Mike Gundy 2011 30.75 10-0 (two regular season games to play)

So, the talent has increased since Gundy took over in 2005, but not enough to explain going from winning less than 50% of his games from 2005-2007 to winning nearly 80% of his games from 2008-Present. After digging around, our conclusion is that we don't really have a conclusion. We believe Mike Gundy has a phenomenal offensive football mind as evidenced by the fact that, since 2001, Oklahoma State has had a top 25 nationally ranked offense in eight of the last eleven seasons. It appears it took Mike Gundy a few years to get his head coaching sea legs under him, and since then (see 2008), Coach Gundy has been one of the top 15 head coaches in all of college football. So, if you want to change a culture of losing, go find a billionaire like T. Boone Pickens and masters of their craft like Mike Gundy.

<p> Oklahoma State clearly made the right move when it hired Mike Gundy.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - 05:10
All taxonomy terms: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, NFL
Path: /nfl/aaron-rodgers-greatest-season-ever

-by Braden Gall (follow him on twitter @AthlonBraden)

The Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers was the NFL’s first half MVP – and it wasn’t even close.

But where could Rodgers’ 2011 campaign rank in the annals of this great league should he continue ravaging opposing defenses? Very simply, it would be the greatest season by an NFL quarterback in history.

Before we dive into Rodgers’ push for immortality, let's address the question of who currently claims the mantle of ‘Best season by an NFL quarterback.’

Is it Kurt Warner of 1999? Steve Young of 1994? Tom Brady of 2007? Peyton Manning of 2004?

While Warner and Young went on to win the Super Bowl and were likely more complete from Week 1 to the Super Bowl, it is hard to make the claim that Manning’s ’04 and Brady’s '07 performances weren’t the greatest statistical regular seasons in history.

The Colts’ gunslinger was unstoppable. He set the single-season NFL record with 49 touchdown passes and an unheard-of – and still NFL-record – 121.1 QB rating. Manning completed 67.6% of his passes, threw only 10 interceptions and averaged 284.8 yards per game that year. He led his team to a 12-4 record before losing to New England in the AFC Divisional round.

Brady broke Manning’s single-season touchdown record when he tossed 50 scoring strikes just three years later. The Pats’ quarterback posted a 117.2 quarterback rating, which trails only Manning as the most efficient in league history. Brady averaged 300.4 yards per game and completed 68.9% of his passes with only eight interceptions. Brady led what was only the second undefeated regular season in history when New England finished 16-0 before losing to the Giants in a memorable Super Bowl XLII.

While New England, Indianapolis, Michigan and Tennessee fans will never agree on which of those two seasons was greater, both would take a clear back seat to Mr. Rodgers if he carries his first half MVP tempo through the second half of action.

Rodgers is currently averaging 327.4 yards per game and has thrown a league-leading 24 touchdowns against only three interceptions. He is on pace for a single-season NFL record 5,238 yards, third-best 48 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He is currently completing 72.5% of his passes, which would break Drew Brees’ 2009 NFL single-season record of 70.6%. His astonishing 129.1 passer rating would shatter Manning’s 2004 single-season NFL mark. He is averaging 9.9 yards per attempt, which would place him fifth all-time in NFL history behind only Sid Luckman (10.9 in 1943) Otto Graham (10.6 in 1953 and 10.2 in 1947) and Norm Van Brocklin (10.1 in 1954). Not exactly an assortment of spring chickens. Rodgers is also leading the league in completions of 40 or more yards with nine such passes.

Moreover, the Packer passer became the first player in NFL history to reach 2,600 yards and 24 touchdowns in the first eight games of the season. He became the first player in NFL history to start a season with a eight consecutive games with a passer rating of at least 110.0 and currently owns the longest single-season streak of games played at 110+ (8) – breaking Hall of Famer Young’s 1994 record.

Rodgers has led the Green Bay offense to three 28-point first-half performances this season — a number that equals the combined total of the 31 other NFL teams. He is also leading the NFL in 3-TD games since 2009 with 16. Brees is second with 15, Manning has 13 and Brady has 12.

Much of Rodgers' success can be attributed to his incredible accuracy while on the run. He keeps plays alive with his superior athletic ability and is nearly as pinpoint outside of the pocket as he is between the tackles. Just ask Super Bowl-winning coach Brian Billick, who displayed an obvious man-crush on No. 12 while calling the Packers' 45-38 win over San Diego last weekend. And rightly so — Rodgers posted a 145.8 rating in the win.

Back in 2007, Brady rushed for 98 yards and two scores while Manning “rolled up” 38 yards and no scores on the ground in 2004. Through three and a half seasons (55 career starts) Rodgers has rushed for 1,006 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has rushed for no fewer than 201 yards or four scores in any season and is on pace for a 254-yard, 4-TD performance in 2011.

This means Rodgers would smash single-season NFL records for passing yards, QB rating and total offense while setting single-season benchmarks for completion percentage and touchdowns accounted for. It would, in fact, be the greatest season by a quarterback in league history.

Have I mentioned that he is the reigning Super Bowl MVP who hasn’t lost a game since December 12, 2010?

NFL Single-Season Quarterback Records and Rodgers' current pace:

Record Owner Team Year Number Rodgers' 2011 Pace
Passing Yards: Dan Marino MIA 1984 5,084 5,238
Passing TDs: Tom Brady NE 2007 50 48
QB Rating: Peyton Manning IND 2004 121.1 129.1
Completion %: Drew Brees NO 2009 70.6% 72.5%
Total Offense: Drew Brees NO 2009 4,976 5,492
TDs Accounted For: Tom Brady NE 2007 52 52

More Packers Content:

Will The Green Bay Packers Go Undefeated in 2011?

<p> Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in on pace for the best season in NFL history.</p>
Post date: Monday, November 14, 2011 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-pac-12-6

By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)

Post-Week 11 Pac-12 Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Oregon (9-1, 7-0) – The Ducks proved once again that speed kills. On a sloppy field against the best player in the nation, Oregon showed that it is simply the best team in the Pac-12. LaMichael James, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff all scored on long touchdowns on which Stanford missed badly on open-field tackles. Quarterback Darron Thomas played his best football in a month and led his Ducks to what should be a Pac-12 North championship-clinching win. Oregon now hosts the best team in the South, Southern California in Autzen Stadium.

2. Stanford (9-1, 7-1) – The showdown on the Farm was one long case of deja vu for Cardinal faithful. The last loss Stanford suffered was a 52-31 thumping in Eugene last season at the hands of the Ducks. The 53-30 score Saturday night further indicated just how fast Oregon can be. Big plays, missed tackles and untimely turnovers cost the Cardinal a chance at a Pac-12 and potential BCS Championship — and possibly cost Andrew Luck the Heisman. Stanford still has an at-large BCS chance with games against Cal and Notre Dame to finish 2011.

3. USC (8-2, 5-2) – Lane Kiffin and the Trojans offense got back to basics this weekend in a 40-17 drubbing of Washington. Matt Barkley was needed for only 174 yards and one touchdown as the ground game took center stage. Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler combined for 198 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns in the easy win over the Huskies. In all, USC rushed for 252 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries. The defense played excellent football, holding Washington to a season-low 244 total yards of offense. Their reward? A trip to Eugene to play the league's top team.

4. Washington (6-4, 4-3) – Keith Price managed to throw for only 125 yards and failed to throw a touchdown for the first time all year before leaving in the third quarter with a knee injury. The Huskies were outgained 426 to 244 yards in the 40-17 loss to USC, and the game was further proof that U of W still has a ways to go in order to compete for conference titles. Chris Polk's 36 yards rushing was his worst output since a 41-0 loss to Stanford in late October of 2010. The Huskies need to win out with games against Oregon State and Washington State.

5. Arizona State (6-4, 4-3) – The Sun Devils must not have been doing any scoreboard watching Saturday night. Right before kickoff of the road game against Washington State, ASU learned that UCLA had lost to Utah and that they once again controlled their own destiny. It didn't help any as the Cougars inexplicably topped the Devils 37-27. In slushy, wintry conditions in Pullman that now undoubtedly match the Devils' attitude, Washington State rolled up 590 yards of offense and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull off one of the year's biggest upsets. Arizona State now once again needs help to play in the Pac-12's title game.

6. Utah (6-4, 3-4) – After a convincing 31-6 win over UCLA, the Utah Utes are now one of the hotter teams in the league with three straight Pac-12 wins. John White IV rushed for 167 yards and three scores, and the Pac-12's top scoring defense completely shut down the Bruins attack. It was the first time UCLA was held without an offensive touchdown all season, and White leads the Pac-12 with 238 rushing attempts. They still need some help, but Utah is alive in the Pac-12 South race with Washington State and Colorado still left on the schedule. With the win, Utah became bowl-eligible for the ninth consecutive season.

7. UCLA (5-5, 4-3) – With the Pac-12 South race firmly in their control, the Bruins picked a perfect time to fail to reach paydirt for the first time all season. The 31-6 loss to Utah should have been crippling to the Bruins' Pac-12 title hopes — and still could cost Rick Neuheisel his job — but ASU's loss to Washington State has given UCLA new life. After allowing John White IV to trounce the rushing defense for 167 yards, the Bruins now rank last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense. UCLA controls its own destiny in the South and has Colorado at home and a visit to Southern Cal in the season finale.

8. California (6-4, 3-4) – Running back Isi Sofele had his best game of his career when he rushed 23 times for 190 yards (8.3 ypc) and a touchdown in the 23-6 win over Oregon State. Zach Maynard completed nearly 70% of his passes, and the defense obliterated the Beavers' rushing attack to the tune of 31 yards on 21 carries (1.4 ypc). Cal now has The Big Game on The Farm against an angry Cardinal team before visiting Arizona State in the final week of play. It's a tough stretch of action for an embattled coach who may need to pull off an upset to keep his job.

9. Washington State (4-6, 2-5) – This may sound crazy, but Wazzu could be a bowl team this season after a shocking 37-27 home win over Pac-12 South favorite Arizona State. True freshman Connor Halliday completed 27-of-36 passes for 494 yards and four touchdowns (0 INT) for a ridiculous 226.9 passer rating. The defense held Cameron Marshall to 16 attempts for 37 yards, his worst performance since Week 1 (in a blowout win against UC Davis in which he was not needed). It may be far-fetched, but if the Cougars can beat Utah and Washington, Paul Wulff will have his team in the postseason for the first time since 2003.

10. Oregon State (2-8, 2-5) – The Beavers' 23-8 road loss to Cal gave Mike Riley his third straight loss in what might have been the last winnable game for OSU. Oregon State was held to 1.4 yards per carry on 21 rushing attempts, and quarterback Sean Mannion failed to score a touchdown while throwing two interceptions. With Oregon and Washington still left on the schedule, it is hard to see Oregon State winning again in 2011 — and it may cost Riley his job.

11. Colorado (2-9, 1-6) –
Rodney Stewart took control of the game on Saturday night, and it led to the first-ever Pac-12 win for Jon Embree and the Colorado Buffaloes. Stewart rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns while tossing another scoring strike in the 48-29 home win over Arizona. Quarterback Tyler Hansen also threw touchdowns while landing on the receiving end of Stewart's flea-flicker TD toss. The Buffs' 500 yards of offense were their highest total since Week 2 against Cal. The win allows the Buffs to avoid the first winless season at Folsom Field in the 87-year history of the building.

12. Arizona (2-8, 1-7) – Nick Foles threw for 300-plus yards again. And the Arizona Wildcats lost again. For the eight time this season, Foles topped the 300-yard mark, and for the seventh time, Arizona lost. The 48-29 loss to Colorado marks a new low for the 2011 Wildcats, who now rank last in the Pac-12 in total defense, pass defense, sacks allowed, punting and pass efficiency defense. They rank 11th in rushing offense scoring defense and turnover margin. Paging Mike Leach?

<p> How do the teams in the Pac-12 stack up after Week 11 of action?</p>
Post date: Monday, November 14, 2011 - 04:05
Path: /college-football/betting-against-spread-week-11-picks

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

After two poor weeks of college football picks, I am back in the winning column with a slightly better than mediocre performance. I did go 5-0-1 in my top six picks but then limped to the finish with upsets by Iowa, NC State and Louisville.

Stanford has covered thirteen straight weeks, but I just can't go back to the well this weekend (even though I am picking the Cardinal to win outright). This week, I am headed to the Midwest and Sun Belt with seven of my nine picks hailing from the Big Ten and SEC this weekend.

Season Record ATS: 62-39-1 (7-5-1 last week)

Week 10's Top Picks:

Ohio State (-7) at Purdue
The Boilermakers have lost by a combined 98-31 over the last two weekends, and OSU topped Purdue 49-0 last season. The development of Braxton Miller and the very talented defense has led to three straight key wins for the Buckeyes. Purdue has failed to cover two straight weeks. My Pick: Ohio State -7

Rice (+15.5) at Northwestern
The Owls have allowed 148 points in the their last three games, and Northwestern is riding high after their upset road win over Nebraska, having scored 87 points in their two-game winning streak. This is a game the Wildcats have to win if they expect to get to a fourth straight bowl. Kain Colter has turned into quite the leader — whether he is lined up at quarterback or wide receiver. My Pick: Northwestern -15.5

Oklahoma State (-17) at Texas Tech
Despite the valiant effort by Kansas State a week ago, the Cowboys are still 7-2 against the spread this season. Tech has lost four of five games and has allowed at least 34 points in seven straight games — including a combined 93-27 two-week span heading into this game. In case you didn't know, the Pokes can score: Try No. 2 in the nation at 50.1 points per game. My Pick: Oklahoma State -17

Michigan (pk) at Illinois
The Illini will need to score points to beat Michigan, and that is something they have struggled to do during their current three-game losing streak. They have scored four total touchdowns in those games — which are four fewer touchdowns than they scored in the memorable 67-65 overtime win for the Maize and Blue last season. Denard Robinson accounted for 367 yards of offense and three scores last season. My Pick: Michigan

Tennessee (+14) at Arkansas
The Vols have scored 20 total points in their last three SEC games and will pose no threat to the Razorbacks. Justin Worley is starting his third career game and will be asked to match points with Tyler Wilson and arguably the deepest receiving corps in the nation. Plus, kickoff is at 6:00 PM ET, and the Hogs have covered three straight games in which the kickoff wasn't at noon. My Pick: Arkansas -14

Auburn (+13) at Georgia
The Dawgs have won five straight SEC games, but they have won by eight points or less in each of the last three. Auburn got back on track last weekend by dropping 41 points on Ole Miss and should be very competitive in this year's renewal of the South's Oldest Rivalry. Auburn won't win the game outright, but the Tigers will keep it close. My Pick: Auburn +13

Western Kentucky (+42) at LSU
Expect an emotional letdown for LSU — which could still mean a 35-point win. WKU is playing the best football of its entire FBS existence, riding a four-game winning streak, and is 7-2 against the spread. The total is 48.5, so Vegas is picking LSU to win 45-3. That doesn't feel right at all. My Pick: Western Kentucky +42

Texas (-1.5) at Missouri
The Longhorns are leading the Big 12 in rushing defense and total defense and are second in the league in scoring defense. Texas has scored 95 points in two huge wins over the last two weeks, and Missouri has allowed 39.3 points per game over their last three contests. My Pick: Texas -1.5

Alabama (-17.5) at Mississippi State
If there is one team (not named Penn State) I wouldn't want to be this weekend, it's the Bulldogs. Alabama realizes that it is still in the heart of the BCS National Championship hunt and needs style points to reach one of the top two spots in the rankings. MSU ranks 8th in the SEC against the run, and Bama is leading the league in rushing. Expect a huge game from Trent Richardson. My Pick: Alabama -17.5

2011 Trends:

9-0 Against the Spread: Stanford

8-1 Against the Spread: Arkansas State

7-2 Against the Spread: Alabama, Clemson, Georgia (6-2-1), Kansas State, LSU, Louisiana Tech, Oklahoma State, Southern Miss, Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky

2-7 Against the Spread: Maryland, Penn State, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech

1-7 Against the Spread: Colorado State

2-8 Against the Spread: Colorado

1-9 Against the Spread: Central Michigan

Other Week 11 Content:

Mitch Light's Top Ten Games of the Week
Steven Lassan's Top Ten Storylines of Week 10

Athlon Sports Picks Every Game of Week 10

In-Depth Oregon-Stanford Game Preview

<p> Athlon's Braden Gall offers his top college football picks against the spread each week.</p>
Post date: Friday, November 11, 2011 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, start or sit, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /columns/start-or-sit/nfl-fantasy-football-start-and-sit-week-10

-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)

Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Week 10 Rankings

NFL Bye Weeks: None

Note: The Bye Week is actually the only thing taking a bye this week in the NFL. There will be plenty of fantasy power sitting on the bench next weekend in the final bye of the season; however, Week 10 will feature full rosters for the first time in nearly two months. This means everyone's studs will be playing, and thus finding sleepers isn't nearly as difficult. Keep this in mind when setting your lineup this weekend. Get your best out there.

Start These Quarterbacks:

Tim Tebow, Denver (at Kansas City)
Say what you want about his efficiency, Tebow scores fantasy points. He has thrown five touchdowns against only one interception in his three starts with 240 yards rushing over that span. And the Chiefs just allowed a near perfect 147.5 QB rating to Matt Moore (244-3-0) last week.

Mark Sanchez, NY Jets (New England)
Stop me if you've heard this before: the Patriots rank last in the NFL in passing defense at 314 yards per game. Sanchez has an efficient seven-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio over last four games, and Jets have won three straight. Sanchez posted a serviceable 166-2-0 line against the Pats in Week 5.

Matt Cassel, Kansas City (Denver)
Cassel has topped the 250-yard mark in four of his last five games, so if he can add a couple of scores to his yardage totals, he will be a solid fantasy starter. Who better to help with reaching paydirt than the Broncos? Denver is allowing a 31st-rated 28.0 points per game and has allowed the second-most passing touchdowns (17) in the league thus far. Cassel has a good chance this weekend.

Christian Ponder, Minnesota (at Green Bay)
If you are looking for a deep sleeper, take a look at the rookie from Minnesota. The Packers rank 31st in pass defense at 299.6 yards per game, and Ponder is familiar with Green Bay as he got his first start against the division rival in Week 7. He was productive in the loss with a 219-2-2 line to go with 31 yards rushing in first meeting. Only the Colts (18) and Broncos (17) have allowed more passing touchdowns than the Packers' 16. The Vikings should be trailing and Ponder should be throwing.

Bench These Quarterbacks:

Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay (Houston)
Freeman is coming off his most efficient performance of the season (103.5), but that won't continue that this weekend. Houston is No. 2 in the NFL in pass defense at 182.6 yards per game and is allowing an NFL-best 51.7% completion rate. The Texans are also fourth in NFL sacks (24.0) and will be chasing him down all game. The Bucs are just not trustworthy in the fantasy world.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo (at Dallas)
Fitz has failed to top 200 yards in three of his last five games and has averaged 217.8 yards per game over that span. He threw six touchdowns and six interceptions over that same span with the Bills limping to a 2-3 record. In the last two home games, Dallas allowed 417 yards, no touchdowns and four picks to starting quarterbacks.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (Pittsburgh)
The Steelers are the No. 3 pass defense in the NFL at 184.7 yards per game. By the way, rookie Andy Dalton will be facing the Blitz-burgh Steel Curtain for the first time in his career. Additionally, most of Dalton's scoring has come against mediocre defenses Cleveland, Indianapolis and Tennessee (7 TD, 0 INT). Against Buffalo, San Francisco and Seattle, Dalton struggled (3 TD, 6 INT).

Jay Cutler, Chicago (Detroit)
The Lions are rested after a bye week and are sixth in the NFL in pass defense at 193.6 yards per game. Detroit has surrendered only nine passing touchdowns and has forced 11 interceptions. Cutler posted a modest 247-1-0 line against the Lions earlier this year, and he would be lucky to repeat that performance in a must-win situation for both teams.

Start These Running Backs:

Chris Johnson, Tennessee (at Carolina)
CJ2K finally showed flashes of his former brilliance last weekend with a 110 yards from scrimmage on 18 touches against one of the top defenses in the NFL (CIN). The Panthers rank 28th in the NFL against the run at 133.3 yards per game, and no one has allowed more rushing touchdowns in the NFL than Carolina's 11 surrendered. If Johnson is ever going to reach the end zone, it's this weekend.

Willis McGahee, Denver (at Kansas City)
McGahee returned to the field with a vengeance last weekend with an incredible 20-carry, 163-yard, two-touchdown performance against Oakland. Reggie Bush just torched Kansas City for 142 yards from scrimmage on 16 touches and a trip to paydirt. Play Mr. McGahee.

DeMarco Murray, Dallas (Buffalo)
Only the Cardinals, Panthers and Colts have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Bills' 10, and Murray has been smoldering of late. He has 466 yards rushing in three games at an incredible 8.5 yards per carry. Toss in five catches and one touchdown and you have a fantasy monster. Plug and play the Oklahoma rookie.

Jonathan Stewart, Carolina (Tennessee)
Stewart has 27 carries over the last two games. DeAngelo Williams has 17. Stewart has 127 yards from scrimmage in the last two games. Williams has 74 yards from scimmage. Stewart has scored in two of the last three games. Williams has scored one time all season (in Week 5). It's pretty clear who the better option is at this point.

Ben Tate, Houston (at Tampa Bay)
Tate has become a serviceable backup option for many fantasy owners. He has 32 carries in the last three games and has topped 100 yards in two of the last three games — despite Arian Foster getting 88 touches over the same span. The Bucs are 27th in the NFL against the ground game, so Tate is a quality sleeper option this weekend.

Bench These Running Backs:

Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (Pittsburgh)
Benson has averaged 2.2, 3.6 and 3.9 yards per carry over his last three games and now faces the NFL sixth-best rush defense (95.6 yards per game). His splits against the Steel Curtain aren't pretty either, as he has averaged 43.0 yards per game over six contests with only two touchdowns. Look elsewhere this weekend.

Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh (Cincinnati)
The Steelers have struggled to run the ball all season long, and Big Ben has taken over as the focal point of the offense over the last three weeks. Mendenhall has not topped 13 carries in any of the last three games, and the Bengals boast the NFL's No. 2 rush defense at 84.5 yards per game. A 49-1 line might be about right.

Brandon Jacobs, NY Giants (at San Francisco)
This one is pretty easy. Ahmad Bradshaw has been ruled out of the game and Jacobs produced in his absence last weekend (72-1). However, the Niners are downright nasty against the run. They lead the NFL by allowing only 70.8 yards per game and are the only team that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown on the season.

LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay (Houston)
Against a poor run defense last weekend, Blount produced a modest 72 yards in his first action since Week 5. The Texans are fourth in the NFL at 91.4 yards allowed per game and held Cleveland to 44 yards on 21 carries for a paltry 2.1 clip. Look for Houston's defense to pressure Freeman and stack the box.

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle (Baltimore)
The Ravens are third in the NFL against the run at 86.8 yards per game and have allowed only three rushing touchdowns the entire season. Baltimore permits only 3.4 yards per carry (201 attempts faced) and should destroy the Seahawks front line.

Start These Wide Receivers:

Jordy Nelson, Green Bay (Minnesota)
The banged-up Vikings secondary offers very little resistence and Nelson always seems to make one big play per game. And just in case you didn't know, Nelson is the No. 11 fantasy wide receiver in the NFL at the halfway point.

Santonio Holmes, NY Jets (New England)
After a slow start, Holmes has started to come on of late. He has scored in three of the last four games and is facing the NFL's worst pass defense at 314 yards per game.

Larent Robinson, Dallas (Buffalo)
With Miles Austin out, Robinson (who has scored in two straight games) looks to benefit. Dez Bryant is a must-play, but Robinson should get plenty of looks against the NFL's 25th-rated pass defense.

Michael Jenkins, Minnesota (at Green Bay)
The former Falcon is actually the highest-scoring receiver on the waiver wire of the Athlon Sports keeper NFL league. He posted his best game of the season in Ponder's first start (3-111-1) and should be playing from behind most of the season.

Bench These Wide Receivers:

AJ Green, Cincinnati (Pittsburgh)
Ike Taylor will be matched up against Green all game, and while it's hard to bench Green, his upside appears limited in Andy Dalton's first-ever experience against a Dick LeBeau defense.

Mike Williams, Tampa Bay (Houston)
Williams has averaged only 9.8 yards per catch this season and hasn't reached paydirt since Week 1. Expect the entire Bucs' passing attack to struggle against one of the NFL's best pass defenses.

Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis (Jacksonville)
It's hard to believe but Wayne is approaching waiver wire status. He hasn't topped 77 yards since Week 1 and hasn't scored since the first game, either. He is hard to endorse against a relatively stingy Jaguars pass defense (197.0 ypg).

Sidney Rice, Seattle (Baltimore)
The Ravens have allowed an NFL second-best six passing touchdowns all season long and are fourth in the league in pass defense (192.6 ypg). Look for the entire Seahawks offense to be stymied this weekend.

Start These Tight Ends:

Brent Celek, Philadelphia (Arizona)
The Eagles tight end is finally getting his looks from Mr. Vick. Celek has averaged six catches and 65 yards per game and scored twice over the last three weeks.

Greg Olsen, Carolina (Tennessee)
The Titans have allowed the third-most fantasy points to tight ends this season, and Cam Newton favors him in the redzone (four TDs).

Bench These Tight Ends:

Vernon Davis, San Francisco (NY Giants)
Bueller? Bueller? Davis has nine catches for 75 yards over his last three games, and the Giants have allowed one touchdown to tight ends this season.

Kellen Winslow, Tampa Bay (Houston)
Houston has allowed the third-fewest points to the tight end this season, and the entire Bucs' passing attack will struggle.

Start These Defenses/Special Teams:

Houston Texans (at Tampa Bay)
The Texans have turned into one of the top fantasy defenses in the NFL. Plug and play.

Philadelphia Eagles (Arizona)
Without Kevin Kolb and a banged-up Beanie Wells, there should be opportunities for big plays.

Pittsburgh Steelers (Cincinnati)
Dalton has been solid but is facing an angry Pittsburgh team for the first time in his career. The Steelers will finally force some turnovers.

Bench These Defenses/Special Teams:

Dallas Cowboys (Buffalo)
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL, and the Bills will look to run early and often.

New York Giants (at San Francisco)
The Niners are built around running the football, with a quarterback who has thrown only two interceptions all season.

<p> Athlon Sports Week 10 NFL Fantasy Start and Sit</p>
Post date: Friday, November 11, 2011 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/penn-state-failed-miserably

I am not a parent. I cannot speak as one.

And I won’t understand what parents across this country are feeling until, God willing, one day I’ve become one myself. But what has happened at Penn State University has shaken me to the core, nonetheless.

On Monday afternoon, I sat at my desk and I read 23 pages of horrifying grand jury testimony. I had to stop on more than one occasion to look away from my computer screen and regain my bearings.

My first reaction was visceral – towards a man who no longer deserves the rights and freedoms afforded to him by this great country. Next, I wrote down a laundry list of questions I wanted answered. Not as a sports writer or radio jock or even a fan, but as a human being.

What would I have done if I was in Mike McQueary’s shoes? How much unnecessary evil could have been prevented? What did Joe Paterno really know? When did he know it? How many more victims are there? How long has this be going on?  How important is the game of football to me personally? Will there be NCAA sanctions? Should Penn State be allowed to finish the football season?

And why the hell was Jerry Sandusky walking around Penn State’s campus not two weeks ago as a free man?

Some of these questions have easy answers. The protection of children should come long before the retention of employment, maintaining a prestigious image or winning football games. You would think that is a pretty simple equation. And I am not hoping for probation or sanctions, which would be unprecedented behavior by the NCAA, I am rooting for an eight-by-eight cement cell without chance of parole.

And the current Penn State football players should not be punished for the irreconcilable mistakes of informed adult administrators over the last 15 years. So yes, Penn State fans, players and alumni should be proud to support their university against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

We need to remember not to indict the masses for the disgusting acts of a few. The majority of people who work, attend, play for and support Penn State University are wonderful people who felt the exact same gut-wrenching pain I did when I read the attorney general’s report.

But for those few who are culpable - and you know who you are - there is a dark and special place reserved for you.

Unfortunately, however, some of those questions may never get answered. Paterno and McQueary will have to wrestle with their own consciences for the rest of their lives. They followed the letter of the law, but not the spirit. Honestly, who cares about a tarnished legacy or potential Big Ten championship when dealing with the molestation of children?

Even as I write this I am losing focus. This is not about Joe Paterno. Or Mike McQueary. Or how the Penn State seniors will play in their final contest in Beaver Stadium this Saturday.

This is about the kids – and there are no silver linings.

I cannot expect victims’ hearts to relax now that 40 counts (for now) of child sexual abuse have been levied against one sick human being. The arraignment of Gary Schultz and Tim Curley won’t repair the frayed nerve endings that have been permanently damaged. I cannot expect victims to sleep easier at night because Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier have been fired as head coach and President at Penn State. In fact, the attorney representing the victims, Ben Andreozzi, released a statement claiming that the Penn State “Board of Trustees got it wrong. They should have consulted the victims before making a decision on Mr. Paterno.”

And even when Jerry Sandusky gets what is most-assuredly coming to him in a federal penitentiary, the horrific memories of the past will not be expelled from the furthest reaches of those children’s memories.

I can only hope with every ounce of my soul that somewhere a frightened young child, panicked irresolute parent or morally weak graduate assistant will find the internal strength to learn from what has happened in State College, Pa., and vow to never let it happen again.

<p> Everyone is to be blamed for what has happened at Penn State.</p>
Post date: Thursday, November 10, 2011 - 14:01
All taxonomy terms: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, NFC North, NFL
Path: /nfl/green-bay-packers-will-not-go-undefeated

-by Braden Gall (follow him on twitter @AthlonBraden)

The Green Bay Packers will not go undefeated in 2011.

Since Super Bowl I decided the 1966 NFL championship, there have been 1,252 seasons played by official NFL franchises. There have been two undefeated regular seasons and one perfect season. Just in case you’ve been hanging out with the Geico caveman for the last four decades, the 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 2007 New England Patriots are the only two teams ever to roll through an NFL schedule unblemished. Obviously, the ’72 Fish were happy to pop champagne corks when the New York Giants toppled the Pats in Super Bowl XLII.

That gives any NFL franchise a 0.15% chance of going undefeated at the start of any season. This is the NFL, after all.

Just ask Drew Brees and the Saints what happened against winless St. Louis two weeks ago. Or how about the AFC West-leading Chiefs’ performance against the winless Miami Dolphins last Sunday? That said, the Packers are nine weeks deep into the NFL season and have yet to lose, so their odds have clearly increased.

But not by much.

Since 1966, only 17 teams have reached the 9-0 mark. During the 45-year Super Bowl history of the NFL, 11.8% of teams to reach the 9-0 plateau went on to finish the regular season undefeated. Three of those 17 didn’t even make it to the next week, as only 14 teams have made it to 10-0. Four more lost in Game 11 and three more lost in Game 12, leaving seven teams in the Super Bowl era to have ever breathed the rarified air of a 12-0 start.

Those are long odds considering the schedule (and defensive struggles) remaining for the Packers.

Green Bay faces only one team with a losing record in the second half; the 2-6 Vikings come to town next Monday night. The Packers then get Tampa Bay at home before back-to-back road trips to likely playoff teams Detroit (on Thanksgiving) and New York (Giants). The Oakland Raiders and a rejuvenated Carson Palmer visit Lambeau Field in Week 14 before the final road game of the year against the wildly unpredictable Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15. Green Bay wraps up the 2011 season by hosting division rivals Chicago and Detroit.

No one would be shocked if Green Bay lost any of those games with the possible exception of Monday night’s home contest. In the modern world of professional football, all of those games are easily losable. And it won’t be Aaron Rodgers who costs the Packers an undefeated season; it will be the defense. The secondary is banged up, and the front seven is not getting enough pressure on the quarterback.

Green Bay finished 2010 as the No. 5-rated total defense in the league at 309.1 yards allowed per game. They are 30th at the halfway point of 2011 at 399.6 yards per game. The Packers also ranked fifth in the league last fall at defending the pass at 194.2 yards per game – more than 105 yards better than the 31st-ranked pass defense Green Bay features this season (299.6 ypg). Additionally, the Green and Gold defense recorded an NFL second-best 47.0 sacks a year ago, but is not getting after opposing passers nearly as well this go around. The Packers’ 19.0 sacks rank 17th in the league.

Moreover, scoring points is still the name of the game, not rolling up yards. While Green Bay is on pace to score the third-most points in NFL history (34.4 ppg) on offense, the defense – ranked No. 2 in the NFL at a paltry 15.0 points allowed per game last season – is holding the opposition to a mediocre 22.4 points per game in 2011 (17th in the NFL).

Without even mentioning Mike McCarthy’s looming, unenviable decision to rest key starters against two extremely physical defenses to finish the year, the bright and shiny league-wide bull's-eye on their back and continued defensive woes have the odds stacked heavily against the Green Bay Packers going unbeaten.

But never fear, Packer nation – don’t start canceling plane tickets and hotel reservations in Indianapolis. There are also some excellent odds stacked in your favor as well. Of the 17 teams to make it to the 9-0 mark, 11 of them played in the Super Bowl, with seven of those 11 claiming the ultimate prize as World Champions.

And frankly, hoisting Titletown’s fifth Lombardi Trophy is all Rodgers and company should care about.

Here are the 17 teams since 1966 that have gone 9-0 to start the season:

1969: Los Angeles Rams (11-3) lost to Minnesota in Game 12
1972: Miami Dolphins* (14-0) Undefeated
1973: Minnesota Vikings^ (12-2) lost to Atlanta in Game 10
1975: Minnesota Vikings (12-2) lost to Washington in Game 11
1984: Miami Dolphins^ (14-2) lost to San Diego in Game 12
1985: Chicago Bears* (15-1) lost to Miami in Game 13
1990: New York Giants* (13-3) lost to Philadelphia in Game 11
1990: San Francisco 49ers (14-2) lost to the LA Rams in Game 11
1991: Washington Redskins* (14-2) lost to Dallas in Game 12
1998: Denver Broncos* (14-2) lost to NY Giants in Game 14
2003: Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) lost to Cincinnati in Game 10
2005: Indianapolis Colts (14-2) lost to San Diego in Game 14
2006: Indianapolis Colts* (12-4) lost to Dallas in Game 10
2007: New England Patriots^ (16-0) lost to NY Giants in Super Bowl
2008: Tennessee Titans (13-3) lost to NY Jets in Game 11
2009: New Orleans Saints* (13-3) lost to Dallas in Game 14
2009: Indianapolis Colts^ (14-2) lost to NY Jets in Game 15

* - went on to win the Super Bowl
^ - went on to lose the Super Bowl

<p> The odds are stacked heavily against the Packers going unbeaten in 2011.</p>
Post date: Thursday, November 10, 2011 - 06:00