Articles By Braden Gall

All taxonomy terms: Big East, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/big-east-preview-wk-11
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Pittsburgh at Connecticut, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST

Connecticut’s football team showed a little life in its last outing, a 16–13 overtime win against West Virginia. However, if the Huskies don’t defeat Pittsburgh on Saturday, it will be the death of UConn’s longshot Big East title hopes.

After three games, Pitt is the only undefeated team in the league. Connecticut, a preseason dark horse favorite, was anchored in the conference’s cellar until upsetting the Mountaineers and moving to 1–2 in league play. With a win over the Panthers, the Huskies would sit just one game back.

Positive thoughts for UConn fans: The series between the teams is tied at three; the Huskies are 4–0 at home this season; the game is at Rentschler Field.

“Games with Connecticut have been very challenging for us,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt.
Negative thoughts for UConn fans: Pitt boasts the Big East’s No. 1 scoring offense; Connecticut has the league’s No. 7 scoring defense.

Panthers quarterback Tino Sunseri has experienced a rebirth of sorts this season after a shaky start. He’s now completed 65.9 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,672 yards and 12 touchdowns with four picks. On defense, Pitt may experience a rebirth if defensive end Greg Romeus — last season’s Big East Defensive Player of the Year — returns from a back injury. Wannstedt said it would be a game-time decision.

Connecticut will rely on Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 4 leading rusher, but the key will be the play of quarterback Zach Frazer.

Both teams were idle last week.

Cincinnati at West Virginia, Saturday, noon EST

There are many storylines to this game. Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, for instance, was a wide receivers coach in Morgantown for Rich Rodriguez. Three former Mountaineer players — Jahmile Addae, Brandon Myles and Milo Austin — now help Jones. UC fans are upset that their back-to-back Big East champions are now 3–5 overall and 1–2 in Big East play. WVU fans are ready to run coach Bill Stewart out of the Mountain State because his team is tied for last place in the embattled league.

Perhaps the one area to watch, however, is Cincinnati’s quarterback position. Expected back is Zach Collaros, who missed the Syracuse game with a knee injury. Collaros is leading the Big East in passing and total offense and has thrown 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season. If he’s on the field and in mid-season form, UC can give the Mountaineers, ranked No. 1 in the Big East in pass, scoring and total defense, a battle. Cincy leads the league in total offense (425.2 yards average) and ranks second in scoring offense (27.4 point average).

On the flip side, West Virginia’s offense, which has struggled, could get well against Cincinnati’s defense, ranked eighth in the Big East in scoring. The Mountaineers returned a veteran offensive line this season, as well as back Noel Devine, but are ranked No. 7 in scoring offense within the league.

Both teams are on two-game losing streaks.

South Florida at Louisville, Saturday, noon EST

This game should be played at Akron’s old Rubber Bowl, because of the way both teams have bounced back. Louisville, under first-year coach Charlie Strong, is one win away from becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. The Cardinals snapped an 11-game league road losing streak by defeating Syracuse last week. South Florida, under first-year coach Skip Holtz, has won back-to-back league games after an 0–2 start and is tied for third place with, you guessed it, the Cardinals. The Bulls are also a win away from being bowl-eligible.

USF had some minor injuries in its victory over Rutgers, but all dinged players — quarterback B.J. Daniels, backs Demetris Murray and Mo Plancher, lineman Jamar Bass and safety Jerrell Young — are expected to play.

Statistically, Louisville, 5–4, enters the game with the edge. The Cardinals are ranked third in the Big East both in scoring offense and defense, while the Bulls enter fifth in both categories.
Pay close attention, however, to whether Louisville star running back Bilal Powell, the nation’s fifth-leading rusher, and quarterback Adam Froman start. Both missed the Syracuse game because of injury.

Also, as always, check out which Daniels shows up for 5–3 USF. He’s thrown for 1,238 yards and eight touchdowns this season. But he’s also thrown 11 interceptions.

Syracuse at Rutgers, Saturday, 3:30 EST

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone is the man in his college town. The Orange, a former Big East doormat, need one win in their last three games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004. They have won four road games for the first time since 1996. SU sits in second place within its conference.

Then there’s Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. His program has fallen flat. The Scarlet Knights are coming off back-to-back road losses. They are 1–2 in Big East play and in a four-way tie for last place. In other words, Schiano could sure use a win here.

Rutgers has again listed Chas Dodd as its starting quarterback, but Schiano hasn’t ruled out a return of Tom Savage, the previous face of the program. Dodd has started the last four games after Savage started the first four.

The key, it seems, in this one is for RU to contain Syracuse back Delone Carter, who ranks fourth in the Big East in rushing, averaging 94.8 yards per game. Rutgers, meanwhile, is seventh in the league in rush defense and has allowed five opposing backs to top 100 yards in the past four games.

The Orange boast the Big East’s No. 2 total and scoring defense. Linebacker Derrell Smith is fifth in the conference in tackles with 75.

Teaser:
Athlon previews Week 11 in the Big East as South Florida visits Louisville, Pitt travels to UConn and Cincy heads to Morgantown.
Post date: Thursday, November 11, 2010 - 09:59
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/heisman-watch/whats-your-mind
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The Heisman Trophy is college football's most prestigious trophy, so the editors here at Athlon take the voting for the 13.5-inch, 25-pound award very seriously. Each week, the ballots are collected and tallied from inside the walls of Athlon Sports. Each voter may vote for five players (unlike the official three) and a first place vote is worth 5 points, a second is worth 4 points so and so forth down to the fifth place vote earning 1 point.

Follow our voters on twitter: Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie), Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden), Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster), Nathan Rush (@AthlonRush) and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman).

by Braden Gall

Here is how this week's vote turned out:

1. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn (33 pts, 6 first place votes)

Mississippi State boosters and Florida professors posed a bigger threat to Newton's Heisman bid this week than the UTC Mocs' defense. The Auburn quarterback posted his career high in passing yards with 317 this weekend. He added five total touchdowns and 24 yards rushing. Again, his recruitment, academic standing at Florida and path to the Plains are clearly the story for a player who is the top choice for the stiff-arm trophy.

What's Next: The Georgia Bulldogs come calling this weekend, and Auburn can clinch a trip to Atlanta with a win. So there is plenty on the line on the field this weekend — if he can stay focused off of it.

2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (28 pts, 0 first place votes)

Just another 26-carry, 121-yard, 3-TD performance for the nation's most dynamic running back. He added three receptions and 19 more yards through the air in the 53-16 obliteration of the Washington Huskies. James still leads the nation in yards rushing per game at 166.38 ypg.

What's Next: The Ducks head to Tightwad Hill this weekend where Cal has allowed a total of 34 points in four home games. In five road games, the Bears have allowed an average of 31.6 points per game. Berkeley is going to need some serious help if they expect to slow James, even if the game is at home.

3. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (21 pts, 1 first place votes)

Moore posted a 212.1 passer rating in the Broncos' dominating win over conference contender Hawaii. Moore completed 30 of 37 passes for a ridiculous 507 yards and three scores. Moore is still on pace to post the single most efficient season by a college quarterback in history with a 192.38 passer rating. For the record, I switched my vote again to Mr. Moore. The single most efficent season by a quarterback in history?

What's Next: A trip to in-state conference foe Idaho should pose little resistence for Moore. The Boise quarterback has thrown for 509 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs on 45 of 63 passing in two career games against the Vandals. BSU scored 108 points in those two wins.

Teaser:
Athlon's editors vote on college football's most prestigious award each week. Check out this week's voting.
Post date: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - 15:18
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/cfb-fantasy-week-10-start-or-sit
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Each week, Athlon will take a deeper look at the fantasy matchups that affect your lineup. Some players will deserve a second look from managers, while others could create some concern. Check out Athlon's College Fantasy Start or Sit for Week 10:

Follow us on Twitter: @AthlonBraden, @AthlonSteven

QB — Deserves A Second Look

Ricky Stanzi, Iowa (@ Indiana)

The Hawkeye quarterback is very quietly having an excellent season. He has curtailed the turnovers and has thrown at least one TD in 15 straight games. Recently, though, he has taken it to a new level. He has thrown three touchdowns passes in five of his last six contests. With the talent at receiver to work with, Stanzi is an excellent play this weekend.

Aaron Murray, Georgia (Idaho State)

In only his first season in college football, Murray has thrown for at least 220 yards in six of nine starts (and six of his last seven). And prior to last weekend, he had only three INTs (the Gators will do it to most QBs). Against lowly Idaho State, Murray should have a decent shot at 250-2. The emergence (finally) of Orson Charles, his high school teammate, should help for the rest of the season.

Mike Hartline, Kentucky (Charleston Southern)

Much like Stanzi, Hartline has transformed himself from game manager to legitimate fantasy option. He has topped the 300-yard mark in three of his last five games and has 10 TD tosses in his last three. Charleston Southern should offer plenty of fantasy opportunities.

Tyler Bray, Tennessee (@ Memphis)

Are we beginning to see a theme in the SEC? Bray, in his first career start, actually has a chance to succeed in the fantasy world. He rallied the Vols on the road against South Carolina (albeit coming up short) and finished with 159 yards and 2 TDs in roughly one half of action. Against a Memphis team that has allowed no fewer than 41 points four weeks in a row, Bray should be able to excel — especially with the emergence of Denarius Moore, Luke Stocker and Da'Rick Rogers.

Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (@ Michigan)

The Illini quarterback is changing from a fun freshman to watch into a relevant fantasy starting option. Over his last two games, Scheelhaase has six TDs and 163 yards rushing. The Wolverines defense just allowed Matt McGloin to throw for 250 yards and Evan Royster to rush 150 yards. Most Illini are solid options this weekend.

Austyn Carta-Samuels, Wyoming (@ New Mexico)

After a monster first weekend, ACS, in his second season, has turned into a fantasy bust. But he showed signs of life last weekend when he threw for 186 yards and 3 TDs while adding 51 yards rushing and another trip to paydirt on the ground. If you know anything about fantasy, it's play those who are playing the Lobos. They rank 118th in total defense, 119th in scoring defense, and Carta-Samuels posted a tidy 232-3 passing line with 54 yards rushing last season against New Mexico.

QB — Better Think Twice

Andy Dalton vs. Jordan Wynn (TCU @ Utah)

These are two of the top six defenses in the nation, and TCU boasts the country's best scoring and total defense. The last time these two hooked up in Salt Lake City, they combined for a total of 23 points. Dalton, as only a sophomore, threw for 251 yards, no scores and two INTs. Brian Johnson was the hero that night, and I do not expect Wynn to be able to replicate that performance.

Taylor Potts, Texas Tech (Missouri)

It finally appears the Red Raider quarterback pendulum has swung away from Potts. He has averaged less than 15 total fantasy points over his last three contests — two of which were losses. Expect Steven Sheffield to get a look at some point, so Potts is not worth starting against the Big 12's No. 1 total defense.

Dan Persa, Northwestern (@ Penn State)

The Nittany Lions are surprisingly stingy against the pass. They are allowing less than 190 yards per game through the air, and Northwestern has not proven that it can run the ball consistently. Yes, Persa is the entire offense and has been incredibly efficient, but expect a line similar to that of last year's match-up. Persa and Mike Kafka, who was knocked out of the game, combined for 243 yards and no scores.

Ben Chappell, Indiana (@ Iowa)

Despite throwing the ball 102 times over the last two weeks, Chappell has managed only two TDs (and less than 600 yards). He has also thrown four INTs over that span, and Iowa made Kirk Cousins look bad last week. Chappell posted a middling 227-2-3 line last season against Iowa. Don't expect him to match even that modest output this season.

Christian Ponder, Florida State (North Carolina)

Ponder really has not been consistent enough to be fantasy starter this season. But he is on this list just in case anyone out there was fooled by his 23.94 TFP performance last weekend or his 395-3 line against the Heels last fall. He has not topped 200 yards passing since Week 4 against Wake Forest, and UNC is giving up a measly 189 yards passing per game.

RB — Deserves A Second Look

Jarred Hassin, Army (Air Force)

Playing an Army running back will always be risky, but Hassin has delivered three weeks in a row in a big way. He has topped 100 yards and scored in all three while getting 18.3 carries per game over that span. To top it off, he has also added some receiving production with six catches for 98 yards as well. Now, there may only be a dozen pass attempts in the game between two option attacks, so that could bode very well for the runners. And Hassin looks to be the go-to guy for Army. The Falcons, by the way, rank 109th against the run this season at over 205 ypg.

J.J. Di Luigi, BYU (UNLV)

Di Luigi has been a solid and relatively consistent play all season. But there hasn't been much upside — his single game high is 23.2 TFP, but he has been below 14.4 TPF only once. He has offered plenty of value as a receiver when he does not get it done on the ground as his 33 receptions and 318 yards indicate. UNLV has allowed no fewer than 43 points in four straight games and ranks 118th against the run and 113th in scoring defense.

Tauren Poole, Tennessee (@ Memphis)

The Vols tailback has been up and down this season — 19 TPF three times and 7 TFP or less three times. But against Memphis, he is almost a lock for a big game. Interestingly, Poole has posted some solid numbers against the best of competition — 109 yards and a TD against LSU, 117 yards and a TD against Bama and 162 yards and a TD against Oregon. If he can do that against those defenses, the 100th-rated (195 ypg) rush defense should be no problem.

Keith Payne, Virginia (@ Duke)

The big fella is starting to prove very useful on the fantasy gridiron. He has scored in four straight, including three multiple touchdown games. His size makes him an ideal goalline back, but he has been getting the carries all over the field as well — 67 attempts over the last four to be exact. While Payne does not put up huge yardage totals, he does reach paydirt, so the 103rd-rated rush defense (196 ypg) of Duke should prove to be a juicy fantasy match-up.

Rodney Stewart, Colorado (@ Kansas)

The Buffs back hasn't always delivered this fall, but he definitely gets the football. He has 69 carries over his last three and against the 112th-rated rush defense (210 ypg), owners can expect a healthy dose of Mr. Stewart. And in conference play, the Jayhawks are allowing an absurd 46.8 points per game.

Robbie Rouse vs. Lennon Creer (Louisiana Tech @ Fresno State)

Rouse has been a disappointment this fall, but he has exploded over the last two games. His lines of 150-2 and 116-2 gave him back-to-back 27 TFP games. Creer is on his own little roll as well. He has games of 24.5, 29.4 and 32.5 TFP over his last three. With Rouse rested after a bye week and Creer at home, both these backs should be in your line-up. Both rush defenses are allowing around 155 yards per game on the ground.

Edwin Baker, Michigan State (Minnesota)

It is hard to trust a running back who has not topped 10 carries in three straight games. But this match-up is different. Expect the Spartans to be steaming after the poor showing last weekend against the Hawkeyes, and they will take out their frustrations on the Gophers. Expect a very heavy dose of Baker, Bell and Caper this weekend.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, November 5, 2010 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Big Ten, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/big-ten-preview-wk-10
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Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) at Penn State (5-3, 2-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT

Fans around University Park are ready to celebrate Joe Paterno’s 400th victory, but before anyone can pop champagne the Nittany Lions must take care of a Wildcats team that is 4–0 on the road this season. Another note to add: Three of those four wins came by three or fewer points. Northwestern continues to rely heavily on Dan Persa, the Big Ten leader in completion percentage (74.4). The only extensive action Persa saw last season came against Penn State. Persa wasn’t bad (14-of-23 for 115 yards and 42 rushing yards); the Wildcats, as a team, did not fare as well in the 34–13 loss. Penn State has allowed fewer than 200 passing yards per game this season, but the club has faced few passing systems as good as this one. On the opposite sideline, the Nittany Lions hope to continue the momentum they got going on the ground last week. Evan Royster ran for hard-fought yards against Michigan to pick up just his second 100-yard game of the year. Quarterback Matt McGloin also performed well in his debut last week, and assuming he is back in the lineup, the sophomore should be able to exploit a Wildcat secondary allowing 244.8 yards per game.

Iowa (6-2, 3-1) at Indiana (4-4, 0-4), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

It’s been three years since the Hoosiers last beat the Hawkeyes. That was a much different Indiana team, however, with an offensive weapon (Kellen Lewis) that this year’s club simply does not have on its roster. And what worked for Indiana at the start of this season (passing the football) has not gotten the job done in recent weeks. This week, Ben Chappell and his receivers will really have their work cut out against Iowa’s street-smart secondary. The Hawkeyes’ veteran unit ranks fifth in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per contest but has given up the second-fewest passing scores (eight). And Iowa’s offense is operating as well as it has in years. Ricky Stanzi has the Big Ten’s best touchdown-to-interception ratio (19 to 2), and the running game is still clicking despite its lack of depth. All of this is bad news for an Indiana club allowing 384.1 yards and almost 30 points per contest. Very bad news.

Minnesota (1-8, 0-5) at Michigan State (8-1, 4-1), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

This contest is the perfect medicine for Michigan State a week after it failed to show in Iowa City. The Gophers present little challenge, and their awful run defense (11th in the Big Ten) should help the Spartans rediscover a ground game that went missing near the middle of October. Michigan State has averaged 76.3 rushing yards over the last three games; without a balanced offense, this club has no shot at a BCS berth. For Minnesota, this game is one more act of torture before this long and grueling season comes to an end. The team has now lost eight straight, and the remaining three contests do not look promising. As of late, the road has not been kind to Gopher fans (18-point loss to Wisconsin, 11-point loss to Purdue), so keeping this game competitive is step number one. To do so, Minnesota must somehow mask a secondary that has allowed a Big Ten-worst 17 touchdowns so far. Another thing that could hurt Minnesota in this contest is punting; the Gophers average a pathetic 34.6 yards per punt, while Michigan State leads the conference in punt returns.

Illinois (5-3, 3-2) at Michigan (5-3, 1-3), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

This is another dangerous game for a Rich Rodriguez club already reeling from three straight losses. The Illini are fresh off back-to-back 40-point efforts and possess one of the Big Ten’s best run defenses. In its visit to Beaver Stadium a few weeks ago, Illinois held a 16-minute advantage in time of possession and limited Penn State to 65 yards on the ground. That’s Big Ten football. Now they must duplicate that feat against a club that cannot escape the fact that it is one-dimensional. Outside of Kevin Korger’s 60-yard touchdown reception last week, no Michigan player besides Denard Robinson had more than 36 yards of offense. But even with Robinson accounting for nearly 400 yards of total offense last week, the Wolverines were unable to keep pace. Illinois has a few offensive woes of its own to sort out. Mikel Leshoure has failed to reach the 90-yard mark in four of the last five games, and last week gained just 1.5 yards per carry against a so-so Boilermaker unit. Leshoure must match his totals from last year’s game against Michigan (21 carries for 150 yards) for the Illini to pick up a third straight win in this series.

Wisconsin (7-1, 3-1) at Purdue (4-4, 2-2), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

Bret Bielema preaches about his team carrying a 1–0 philosophy into each and every week; now that mentality will be put to the test. The Badgers are ranked higher than any other Big Ten school at present, and face tremendous pressure in the month of November. They’ll be expected to win every game, and if Bielema’s teams have struggled with anything during his tenure it’s been handling the role of favorite. Purdue is not as bad as it appears on paper and is still alive in the bowl hunt (the Boilermakers need to win two of four). Wisconsin must come out of the gate as it did against Ohio State and Iowa and pound the football until Purdue relents. If Wisconsin holds back, it will become vulnerable to the upset. The Boilermakers must find a way to penetrate Wisconsin’s over-achieving, fourth-ranked defense. Both facets of the offense have failed to put a consistent product on the field as of late (52 rushing yards last week, 88 passing yards the week prior), and nothing short of a perfect performance will be needed against the No. 7 ranked Badgers.

Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) at Penn State (5-3, 2-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT

Fans around University Park are ready to celebrate Joe Paterno’s 400th victory, but before anyone can pop champagne the Nittany Lions must take care of a Wildcats team that is 4–0 on the road this season. Another note to add: Three of those four wins came by three or fewer points. Northwestern continues to rely heavily on Dan Persa, the Big Ten leader in completion percentage (74.4). The only extensive action Persa saw last season came against Penn State. Persa wasn’t bad (14-of-23 for 115 yards and 42 rushing yards); the Wildcats, as a team, did not fare as well in the 34–13 loss. Penn State has allowed fewer than 200 passing yards per game this season, but the club has faced few passing systems as good as this one. On the opposite sideline, the Nittany Lions hope to continue the momentum they got going on the ground last week. Evan Royster ran for hard-fought yards against Michigan to pick up just his second 100-yard game of the year. Quarterback Matt McGloin also performed well in his debut last week, and assuming he is back in the lineup, the sophomore should be able to exploit a Wildcat secondary allowing 244.8 yards per game.

Teaser:
Athlon previews Week 10 in the Big Ten. Northwestern, Wisconsin and Illinois face road tests this week.
Post date: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 13:09
All taxonomy terms: College Football, SEC
Path: /columns/national-notebook/sec-preview-wk-10
Body:

Florida (5-3, 3-3) at Vanderbilt (2-6, 1-4), 12:21 p.m., ET
TV: SEC Network

A subtly huge game, even though the Gators should roll. Be interesting to see how Florida responds after a very draining experience last week against Georgia, just squeaking past the Bulldogs in overtime. Good thing for Florida the South Carolina game — what figures to be the SEC East title game — isn’t this weekend.

As it is, the Gators get the closest thing there is to a bye week in SEC play, although note that Florida at least has to go on the road. Urban Meyer seemed to find something with the usage of three quarterbacks, also incorporating Jordan Reed, along with John Brantley and Trey Burton. Really, it’s about locating a balance between Brantley, who was still very average, and Burton, who was again dynamic and did complete two passes.

It’s hardly a work of art, but the Florida offense might be sufficient to manage two more wins — and then get clobbered by the West winner in Atlanta.

As for Vanderbilt, things got even worse with the news that running back Warren Norman is out for the season, following wrist surgery. Robbie Caldwell’s got his work cut out for him keeping his team glued together. Then again, it shouldn’t be anything for a man who’s dabbled in turkey insemination. The state title is still out there for the Commodores.

Player to Watch: Jordan Reed, Florida RB/TE. Let’s see how Reed is used this week, or if the tricks remain shelved for the Gamecocks.

Idaho State (1-7, 0-6) at Georgia (4-5, 3-4), 12:30 p.m., ET
TV: PPV/local affiliates

How did Idaho State wind up on the Bulldogs’ schedule, exactly? Wait, we don’t even want to know. Georgia doesn’t, either. It’ll take a victory in any shape and form. As its only FCS opponent, Idaho State will count toward getting the Bulldogs bowl-eligible, which still is no guarantee considering Auburn and Georgia Tech close out the regular season.

Todd Grantham shouldn’t have to break out the choke sign for the — wait a sec, got to look up what Idaho State’s mascot is — Bengals. This is a chance for Georgia to brush itself off, after last week’s crumble at the end, and prepare for two incredibly important November games. Aaron Murray needs to play like the dude in the fourth quarter against Florida — not the first, and overtime.

Player to Watch: Justin Houston, LB. This guy’s going to wind up leading the SEC in sacks, likely aided by this game.

Charleston Southern (2-6) at Kentucky (4-5), 12:30 p.m., ET
TV: PPV

Detecting a theme, with the pay-per-view games? There are some clunkers on the conference’s slate this week. Everybody’s prepping for November with a pseudo-open date, it seems. The Buccaneers have already been lambs-to-the-slaughter in Hawaii. But, you know, that was in Hawaii. The Bluegrass gets some frost on it about this time of year. And it’s expected to be quite chilly for a team from temperate North Charleston, S.C. Yes, that’s right. Charleston Southern, directionally confused, is in North Charleston.

Oh, right, the game. Kentucky was a play away from tying the game last week at Mississippi State. Then again, the Wildcats are an incompletion away from winless in the SEC. Just keep motoring, if you’re Joker’s boys, and hope for a bowl in a strange, strange season in which Randall Cobb called out the fanbase — after the season’s biggest win.

Player to Watch: Derrick Locke, Kentucky RB. This is the longest time ever missed for a stinger in human history. The Wildcats will not need him this week, but they will the rest of November if they would like a postseason.

Chattanooga (5-3) at No. 3 Auburn (9-0), 1:00 p.m., ET
TV: PPV

This is the only game we recommend forking over the pay-per-view bucks for. Cam Newton is worth the price of visual admission, regardless of the opponent.

Chattanooga isn’t an abysmal team in the Southern Conference, at least not compared to the other FCS schlubs listed above. But the Mocs are clearly not on Auburn’s level. Not even if alum Terrell Owens showed up.

Here’s a chance, though, for Auburn’s defense to tighten up a bit. That’ll be necessarily for those two remaining tests, Georgia and at Alabama, if the Tigers really are interested in winning an SEC (or national) title.

Player to Watch: Cam Newton, Auburn WR. He’s a receiver now, apparently. Let’s see if he dabbles at safety or kicking off this week. Has there been a more valuable player to his team in recent memory? He’s a bigger team MVP than even Tim Tebow.

No. 5 Alabama at No. 12 Louisiana State, 3:30 p.m., ET
TV: CBS

Team plays close with Auburn at Auburn, but loses. Has the following week off. Hosts Alabama the next week. That’s the scenario unfolding for LSU, and it should sound familiar. It was the very same formula for South Carolina, leading into the Gamecocks’ upset of the Tide.

Here are some reasons why that will not happen:

• It already happened once. Lightning doesn’t seem to strike twice on Nick Saban’s watch.

• The Tide hasn’t been playing all that well. Even if it did distance itself from Tennessee, it was a close game at the half. Ole Miss was a wash. Really, Bama hasn’t been Bama since going all “Swamp People” on the Gators. Here’s a chance to make a statement.

• LSU’s offense isn’t nearly as good as South Carolina’s. There’s no one nearly as dynamic as Marcus Lattimore or Alshon Jeffery on LSU’s sideline. Weird as it is to say, the Tigers would have a decent chance to win, if only they had Stephen Garcia as their QB.

Some really believe Alabama is still going to play for the SEC title and end up in a BCS bowl. We’ll buy. Look for a determined Tide team coming off its bye.

Player to Watch: Mark Ingram, Alabama RB. Remember him? It’s about time he broke out, even against a staunch D.

Louisiana-Lafayette (2-6) at Ole Miss (3-5), 7 p.m., ET
TV: ESPNU

God bless you, Louisiana-Lafayette. You all are 0–36 all-time against the SEC, but you still keep trying. We’re sure the paychecks aren’t terrible consolation prizes, but they’re still not getting the program to an SEC level, it seems. The Cajuns supplied one of the season’s more surprising results, somehow losing 54–21 — at home — to a Western Kentucky team that had lost 26 straight games, the longest streak in all divisions at that time.

The Rebels already lost one of these games this season, the opener against Jacksonville State (which might be better than Ooh-La-La, even though it’s a class down). So, in short, don’t expect it to happen again. Some pundits were picking the Rebels to dethrone Auburn a week ago. Let’s not get carried away. At the very least, can Houston Nutt bring back those silver unis? Those were sharp.

Player to Watch: Jesse Grandy, Ole Miss WR. Get the ball in his hands. This guy’s got some speed to him.

Arkansas (6-2, 3-2) at South Carolina (6-2, 4-2), 7 p.m., ET
TV: ESPN

Ah, the other game in the league this week. Odd spot for the Gamecocks, who can win the division, with or without this game. You wouldn’t have figured in August, or even a month ago, that would be the case.

Hindsight’s not 20-20 in the Gamecocks’ case. It just gives them a terrible headache. With one play going differently at Kentucky — the Wildcats’ only SEC win, to date — the Gamecocks would have two shots at the division. Instead, this week is moot in that discussion and it’s only a prelude to the Swamp. But South Carolina has adamantly said this week that Arkansas still means a great deal to the team. In that respect, both teams are playing for the same thing. With identical records, the Gamecocks and Razorbacks are fighting for similar bowl fates. So, head to head will come into play in early December, in that regard.

Ryan Mallett completed 23-of-27 passes, including 12-of-13 in the second half, as the Hogs rattled off 23 straight points to beat the Gamecocks a year ago. This time, South Carolina is giving up a league-worst 259.9 passing yards a game. And it lost a senior corner, Chris Culliver, for the season. Not a good recipe to stem an explosive passing offense.

The Gamecocks’ only hope is to outscore the Hogs, leaning on Lattimore (especially to control the clock) and Jeffery (Arkansas’ defense isn’t anything special, either). That, and Razorbacks top receiver Greg Childs is done for the year. These teams stack up evenly. With that in mind, don’t ignore the fact that South Carolina has won 13 of 14 at home, with the only loss coming to then-No. 1 Florida last November. But the Gamecocks have come unglued in Novembers past.

In short, who freaking knows what’s going to happen in this game?

Player to Watch: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina RB. He might be the Gamecocks’ best defense, keeping Mallett off the field. Lattimore had a season-best 184 yards last week against Tennessee.

Tennessee (2-6) at Memphis (1-7), 7 p.m., CT
TV: CBS College Sports

Memphis is purported to be one of the worst college football teams in America. Backing that up is the fact that the Tigers are 18-point home underdogs to Tennessee — something that even caught Vols first-year coach Derek Dooley off guard earlier in the week.

Tennessee did manage to do some things right, even in the second half, at South Carolina last week. The decision to go with Tyler Bray in the second half might have rankled Matt Simms (he’s since apologized), but it was the right move. Ahem, even after he threw a pick six immediately upon entering the game.

Bray rebounded enough, though, to get the nod this week. Denarius Moore showed last week he could get behind South Carolina’s defensive backs. So that lends evidence that he might be able to sneak past Memphis’ secondary, as well.

Mentioned this about Vanderbilt, but the state title is still out there for the Vols. Small steps, small victories for Dooley’s Vols.

Player to Watch: Denarius Moore, Tennessee WR. A nod for that 228-yard day last week in Columbia. Few more times out like that, and he might net himself a look to play on Sundays.

Teaser:
Athlon previews Week 10 in the SEC. Two huge divisional match-ups highlight this week's action.
Post date: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 12:44
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Pac 10
Path: /columns/national-notebook/pac-10-preview-wk-10
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Washington at Oregon, Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

Washington’s chances of winning this game are about 1 in 100. That is, Oregon has the No. 1 offense in the country while the Huskies have the No. 100 defense. Plus, the Ducks are at home. The only thing that may stop Oregon in this game is the clock. The only question is whether the first number of the Ducks’ score will begin with a 5, 6 or 7. Any hopes the Huskies had of trying to keep pace offensively with Oregon were effectively erased when the team announced quarterback Jake Locker would have to sit out with a cracked rib. Washington’s free-fall from bowl eligibility looks to be accelerating.

California at Washington State, Saturday, 1:00 p.m.

The Bears are heavy favorites, but don’t be shocked if this game is competitive. The Cougars are still bad, but they clearly are improving from where they were two seasons ago. They have some talent now on offense and have demonstrated they can move the ball. The Bears are reeling. They lost starting quarterback Kevin Riley last week to a season-ending knee injury and haven’t proven they can win on the road. Cal is 0–4 away from home, getting outscored 145–61 in the process. Junior Brock Mansion will make his first career start for the Bears, who need to win two of their final four games to become bowl-eligible.

Oregon State at UCLA, Saturday, 4:00 p.m.

Despite the loss of All-America candidate James Rodgers at wide receiver, the Beavers are still in the Pac-10 race, although Oregon looks unbeatable at this point. Oregon State is 3–1 in conference play after last week’s impressive win over Cal, and is oh-so-close to being 4–0 were it not for a missed two-point conversion in double overtime against Washington. The Beavers are 1½ games behind the Ducks in the Pac-10 race, and the teams will meet in the Civil War to close out the season. The Bruins, meanwhile, have lost three in a row since their supposed upset of Texas, although that’s not looking like such a big deal anymore. UCLA is looking like the eighth-place team it was picked to be before the season.

Arizona at Stanford, Saturday, 5 p.m.

The implications of this game are clear: The winner keeps alive its slim hopes of catching Oregon in the Pac-10 race, while the loser redefines its goals and simply starts playing for the best bowl berth possible. For the second straight week, Stanford’s Andrew Luck gets to go head-to-head with one of the other top quarterbacks in the conference, Arizona’s Nick Foles. Foles missed the past two games with a dislocated kneecap but is fully healed and expected to start. That being said, the Wildcats still may find a way to get backup Matt Scott some playing time. Scott excelled filling in for Foles, averaging 276 yards passing while throwing three touchdown passes with one interception. Luck easily outplayed Washington’s Jake Locker in last week’s showdown of top Pac-10 quarterbacks.

Arizona State at USC, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

The Trojans were humbled by Oregon at home last week. Now, USC, with no bowl game to play for, simply looks to finish as high up in the conference standings as possible. The Trojans are tied for fifth place with three other teams entering the weekend. This may be the most winnable game left on USC’s conference schedule — the Trojans still have to play at Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA. Arizona State is a hard team to figure out. The Sun Devils have been competitive against good teams like Wisconsin and Oregon State but were blown out by Cal, also an up and down team. The Sun Devils are coming off a thorough pasting of Washington State last week.
 

Teaser:
Athlon previews Week 10 in the Pac-10 as Stanford and Arizona square off with potential Rose Bowl implications on the line.
Post date: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 12:04
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/nfc-sack-master
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Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions for Week 9 in the NFL:

Follow us on twitter: @AthlonBraden / @AthlonSteven / @AthlonRush

1. Why was Donovan McNabb on the bench for the final drive of the Redskins' loss to the Lions?

Steven: I don’t buy any of reasons coming out of the Washington camp. This seems to be Mike Shanahan trying to send a message to Donovan McNabb. The veteran quarterback’s numbers aren’t great this year, but Washington is in the mix for a playoff spot and I’m not sure why McNabb is taking a lot of criticism for what’s going on with this team. The Redskins have a questionable offensive line, a weak receiving corps and unproven running backs. Why didn’t Washington put a claim in for Randy Moss? Shanahan may not want McNabb back next season, but he’s a much better option than Rex Grossman if the Redskins want to threaten for the NFC East title.

Braden: This is one of the most puzzling coaching moves I have ever seen. And the excuses are even worse. Conditioning? For a quarterback? Seriously? Knowledge of the offense? A 12-year potential Hall of Famer vs. Rex Grossman? Seriously? Plus, McNabb already has one fourth quarter two-minute game-tying drive this season against the Packers, so we know he still has it. Is this Mike Shanahan flexing his muscle to prove a point, even if it's to his own detriment? Maybe if McNabb had any receivers or running backs helping him out, he could accomplish something. My gut tells me that there is more to this than anyone is letting on. I am staying tuned.

Nathan: Donovan McNabb’s “cardiovascular endurance” was not up to the standard of the great Mike Shanahan. Now, had this been the Super Bowl and Andy Reid was coaching, McNabb would have been allowed to run the slowest two-minute drill in history. But it looks like Shanahan is making McNabb his new Albert Haynesworth — alienating his most accomplished and highest paid offensive player just like he did with his All-Pro, $100 million man on defense. Making matters worse, backup Rex Grossman fumbled away the game to Lions mauler Ndamukong Suh, who high-stepped into the end zone for his first career TD. Expect the Shanahan-igans to continue and to continually backfire. Let’s put it this way: If the players in D.C. had been allowed to vote on their coach on Tuesday, I’m sure the incumbent would have lost.

2. Was grabbing Randy Moss the right move for the Titans?

Steven: I don’t understand the move by Tennessee. I understand Kenny Britt’s injury is a concern and most defenses aren’t exactly scared of Nate Washington or Justin Gage. This move should also help Tennessee’s running game get on track. However, if Randy Moss was disgruntled about getting the ball in the past, is he really going to be content with a team that averages 26 passing attempts a game – one of the lowest totals in the league? Adding a questionable attitude to the mix as the Titans make a playoff push doesn’t make much sense, and the cons outweigh the pros in my opinion.

Braden: It all depends on Moss. He has clearly shown that he refuses to apply himself, and until he does, he will remain irrelevent in the NFL world. Moss has been targeted 47 times this season and made only 21 catches for 313 yards in eight games. Right now, he is having a bigger impact on Randy Moss Motorsports — where all he does is sign the checks. Jeff Fisher is a players' coach who can handle most headcases, but this is a team that doesn't need any headaches/complications when trying to battle Peyton Manning or Arian Foster for the AFC South crown. Maybe the Kenny Britt injury is worse than the team is letting on.

Nathan: Anyone who has watched how defenses cover Randy Moss (with safeties playing 20-to-30 yards deep) and Chris Johnson (with eight or nine in the box) should be able to do the math — this is a great move for the Titans, at least in theory, on paper and on Madden. The key will be the catering service. If Nashville rolls out food good enough for Randy’s dogs, everything should be fine. He did, after all, get what he was after — a playoff contender with a superstar running back (CJ2K also happens to share an agent with Moss), two QBs who can go deep and a players’ coach in Jeff Fisher. Plus, he finally gets a bye week. But remember, Randy is the ultimate frontrunner. When things are good, he’s great; but if things turn sour, look out.

3. Who had a worse week, Brad Childress or Wade Phillips?

Steven: Brad Childress. The first mistake was spending a third-round pick for a receiver who has a questionable attitude in the middle of the year. By waiving Randy Moss, the Vikings are without a No. 1 receiver, a third-round pick, and Childress’ approval rating in the locker room continues to plummet. Wade Phillips certainly had a bad week, but the Vikings/Moss dealings helped to push Dallas’ struggles away from the spotlight – at least until they get blown out by Green Bay this Sunday.

Braden: No doubt it is Phillips. Here is a quote from the Cowboys' head coach this week: "If I knew what to do, I would have already done it." Sounds like he is done in Big D. A blowout loss to Jacksonville at home is atrocious. A close loss on the road against the team with the best record in the NFL, despite the off-the-field issues, isn't even in the same area code.

Nathan: Brad Childress wasted a third round pick, upset his owner and divided the locker room with his unilateral move to waive Randy Moss just a month after trading for the future Hall of Famer. Wade Phillips was already done. This week, Childress joined him on the lame duck boat back to coordinator town.

Teaser:
NFC defenses, McNabb's benching, Randy Moss and much more in Week 10's edition of NFL Burning Questions.
Post date: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Big 12, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/big-12-preview-wk-10
Body:

Baylor (7-2, 4-1) at Oklahoma State (7-1, 3-1), Saturday, 11:30 a.m.

Welcome to the Big 12 Game of the Week. Seriously. Baylor and Oklahoma State, in November, for self-control of the South Division. Welcome to the Big 12’s brave new world, where Texas and Texas Tech occupy the cellar and Baylor talks titles, despite never even as much as qualifying for a bowl bid as a conference member.

The Cowboys are surprise contenders, too, after losing one of the strongest senior classes in school history and being pegged in the preseason for also-ran status in the South.
Yet here sit Baylor and Oklahoma State, poised for a breakthrough, squaring off in what figures to be an entertaining shootout in Stillwater. The Cowboys and Bears rank, respectively, No. 3 and 10 nationally in passing offense; No. 2 and 8 in total offense; and No. 3 and 23 in scoring offense.

Robert Griffin III’s dual-threat skills are a major concern for OSU, which struggled mightily containing Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez. As always, Griffin will be the key to Baylor’s chances in Stillwater, where the Bears haven’t won since 1939. Of course, this is shaping up as an historic year for Baylor.

After a one-game suspension over a DUI complaint, Justin Blackmon returns for the Cowboys. The nation’s leader in yards per game, he mixes with quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Kendall Hunter to form an explosive trio.
Last one to 40 loses?

Colorado (3-5, 0-4) at Kansas (2-6, 0-4), Saturday, 1 p.m.

The Big 12 South features showdowns. This Big 12 North matchup gets to the lowdown — who’s the worst team in the conference? These are the last of the league’s winless.
The Jayhawks have been spiraling downward since midseason a year ago. And a coaching change to Turner Gill has provided no magic, yet. KU is losing league games by an average of 36.8 points and enters the weekend unsure of who will start at quarterback: Quinn Mecham, Jordan Webb or Kale Pick. All have started and struggled.

Colorado carries similar quarterback concerns into Lawrence, trying to rally — again — behind Cody Hawkins, who is filling in for the injured Tyler Hansen. Meanwhile, Dan Hawkins remains on one of the hottest coaching seats in the country.

At least the Buffs have been in games, losing tight fits to Baylor and Texas Tech. And there remains flickering hope of a bowl bid, with winnable games remaining, beginning with KU.

Nebraska (7-1, 3-1) at Iowa State (5-4, 3-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

After posting back-to-back statement wins over Oklahoma State and Missouri, the Huskers find themselves in a dangerous spot on the road at suddenly surging Iowa State.

Trap game? Not likely. Not after the Cyclones pulled a major upset in Lincoln a year ago, claiming one of the greatest conquests in school history. Surely that game and this game will be in clear focus for the Huskers, who got good news mid-week when quarterback Taylor Martinez returned to practice and was deemed good to go Saturday.

Martinez missed the second half of the Missouri win with a sprained ankle, leaving running back Roy Helu Jr. to handle the starring role, which he did, going for a school-record 307 rushing yards.

The Huskers face an Iowa State team trying to sneak into the North Division race. The Cyclones shook off lopsided losses to Utah and Oklahoma to beat Texas and Kansas. And with games against the Huskers and Mizzou to play, ISU controls its own destiny in the division. The Cyclones plan to commit two defenders to Martinez, who presents a run-pass challenge they haven’t faced. Offensively, the Cyclones will try to exploit a Nebraska defense that ranks just 75th nationally against the run.

Oklahoma (7-1, 3-1) at Texas A&M (5-3, 2-2), Saturday, 6 p.m.

Ryan Tannehill has breathed new life into the Aggies — and this matchup. With the former wideout taking over for inconsistent Jerrod Johnson at quarterback, A&M has won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-September.

Tannehill’s passing and running sparked 45-point outbursts in wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. And in just a game and a half, he’s completed 48-of-66 passes for 604 yards and seven touchdowns.

While the Aggies still lag in the Big 12 South, there’s a definite buzz about the program with the Sooners heading for Kyle Field.

And the road hasn’t been easily navigated for the Sooners, who are just 19–14 away from home since 2006. This season, they’ve struggled at Cincinnati and in the Cotton Bowl against Texas and lost at Missouri, ending their unbeaten season and, in all likelihood, their BCS title hopes.

OU quarterback Landry Jones carries his own rocky road resume. A touchdown-throwing machine at home, Jones often scuffles on enemy ground. In the loss to Mizzou, he was 0-for-7 passing in the fourth quarter.

Texas (4-4, 2-3) at Kansas State (5-3, 2-3), Saturday, 7 p.m.

Texas heads out onto the road, which may just bring a big “phew” from the Longhorns. The Horns have stumbled, from playing for the BCS championship in January, to losing three straight home games in a season that has gone sideways. And the heat is on back home.
Consider this unthinkable scenario for a program that has been winning 10 games a season with regularity: A bowl bid is not at all certain. Beating K-State may be mandatory.

And the Wildcats are scrapping for bowl eligibility themselves.

Both squads enter on two-game losing streaks and struggling on offense. The Longhorns alarmingly lack playmakers for a team that annually rules the recruiting rankings. So there’s a lack of direction, too.

K-State, at least, knows to hitch up to standout running back Daniel Thomas, who ranks second in the Big 12 and eighth nationally in rushing, averaging 124.5 yards a game.

Missouri (7-1, 3-1) at Texas Tech (4-4, 2-4), Saturday, 7 p.m.

Mizzou’s loss at Nebraska delivered major disappointment for a program on the verge of a national breakthrough. How will the Tigers respond? Mizzou must maintain focus, with the North far from settled and promising bowl possibilities still in play. Sure, the Tigers need help to overtake the Huskers in the North. But it’s already been a crazy year in the Big 12, so there’s no need to ditch goals and dreams now.

And for quarterback Blaine Gabbert and a defense that still ranks among the nation’s elite, this game may be key.

Lubbock traditionally has been a difficult place to play, but the Red Raiders have already lost twice at home. They’ve been awful on defense and far from Mike Leach-like offensively.

Teaser:
Athlon previews Week 10 in the Big 12. A great slate of action is highlighted by Baylor-Okie State and Okahoma-Texas A&M.
Post date: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/acc-preview-wk-10
Body:

Georgia Tech (5-3, 3-2 ACC) at Virginia Tech (6-2, 4-0 ACC), Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Virginia Tech is firmly in control of the Coastal Division race, two games up in the loss column on Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets can cut into that lead with a victory in this game, an important matchup because the winner has played for the ACC championship in each of the last five years.

Both teams are coming off an open date, but the extra time to prepare might benefit No. 20 Virginia Tech more than Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets lead the nation in rushing (317.4 yards per game) with their unconventional spread-option offense, and the Hokies were grateful to get a few extra days to practice against it with their scout team.

The key to the offense for Georgia Tech is quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, who has completed just 38.2 percent of his passes this season but has rushed for eight touchdowns and needs only 42 rushing yards to break Woodrow Dantzler’s ACC record for career rushing yards by a quarterback.

The Hokies will try to contain Georgia Tech’s vaunted ground game with their leading tackler at less than 100 percent health. Linebacker Bruce Taylor sprained his left ankle in Virginia Tech’s last game, a 44-7 win over Duke, and will not be full strength for this contest.

The good news for the Hokies is that Taylor’s backup, former walk-on Jack Tyler, is solid against the run. The Yellow Jackets, who rarely pass, likely won’t be able to exploit Tyler’s deficiencies in pass coverage. Virginia Tech also figures to benefit from the return of starting safety Eddie Whitley, who missed the Duke game because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

On the other side, Georgia Tech’s struggling 3-4 defense will face what has become an offensive juggernaut. Led by quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who ranks fourth in the country in passing efficiency and third nationally in yards per pass attempt, Virginia Tech has been carving up opponents on the ground and through the air. The Hokies average an ACC-best 37.0 points per game and rank second in the conference in rushing (214.8 ypg) with their talented tailback trio of Ryan Williams, Darren Evans and David Wilson.

Maryland (6-2, 3-1 ACC) at Miami (5-3, 3-2 ACC), Saturday, noon ET

Maryland is making a push for the Atlantic Division title. Miami is hanging on for dear life in the Coastal Division race. Not many people would have expected either scenario entering this game.

The Hurricanes enter this game in major trouble — and not just because they lost at Virginia 24-19 last week after being favored by more than two touchdowns. Miami starting quarterback Jacory Harris suffered a concussion in the first half of that game and did not return. He also missed practice early this week, making it likely that true freshman Stephen Morris will start against the Terrapins.

Morris was a redshirt candidate until last week, when Harris was injured and back quarterback Alonzo Highsmith’s hand injury prevented him from playing. Once third-stringer Spencer Whipple struggled, Morris found himself in the game. Morris rallied Miami from a 24-0 deficit early in the fourth quarter and ended up completing 9 of 22 passes for 162 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Hurricanes would love to help Morris by establishing their running game early against Maryland, but that could be easier said than done. The Terrapins allowed Navy to rush for 412 yards in the season opener, but they have allowed an average of just 84.3 rushing yards per game since then.

The Terrapins have rebounded from their 2-10 season in 2009, achieving bowl eligibility with four games left to play. The question they still have to answer, even after picking up four wins in their last five games, is whether they are legitimate ACC championship contenders. Redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O’Brien holds the key to Maryland’s fate. O’Brien, who has taken over as the starter in place of junior Jamarr Robinson, has thrown seven touchdown passes and no interceptions in the last two games. He will get a test against a Miami defense that ranks among the nation’s best against the pass.

The Hurricanes, who were held without a sack last week, still rank sixth nationally in that category (3.13 sacks per game). They also rank second in the country in opponents’ passing efficiency (ACC-best 93.20 rating) and seventh in the country passing yards allowed (ACC-best 152.5 per game).

NC State (6-2, 3-1 ACC) at Clemson (4-4, 2-3 ACC), Saturday, noon ET

NC State is starting to look like one of those teams of destiny. This week, the No. 23 Wolfpack get to take on a reeling Clemson team that suddenly is without its best offensive player.

The Tigers, who had clawed their way back into the Atlantic Division race entering last weekend, suffered a surprising 16-10 loss at Boston College. Making matters worse, tailback Andre Ellington suffered a strained ligament in his foot that will prevent him from playing for a couple of weeks. Ellington, who leads the ACC in all-purpose yardage (129.1 yards per game) and is tied for the league lead in touchdowns (12), also is fifth in the conference in rushing (85.8 ypg). Jamie Harper will replace Ellington as Clemson’s primary runner, with redshirt freshman Roderick McDowell moving into the backup role.

Ellington’s absence will be felt by a Clemson offense that has struggled to generate much production through the air this season. Quarterback Kyle Parker enters this game eighth in the ACC in passing yards (164.4 per game) and ninth in the league in passing efficiency (110.5 rating), having completed just 53.0 percent of his passes. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney reportedly has told backup quarterback Tajh Boyd that he will play some against the Wolfpack, although when Boyd might enter the game and how often he’ll play remain to be seen.

Parker, who was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Colorado Rockies, might see a future teammate when he looks across the field this week. NC State’s Russell Wilson, a fourth-round pick of the Rockies in the same draft, leads the ACC and ranks fourth nationally in total offense (321.4 ypg), and he is coming off a game in which he rushed for three touchdowns against Florida State.

Clemson, which has won six consecutive meetings with NC State, must find a way to pressure Wilson without giving him room to scramble for big chunks of yardage. Some of that burden will fall on defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who ranks second nationally in sacks (1.25 per game) and tackles for loss (2.19 per game).

Virginia (4-4, 1-3 ACC) at Duke (2-6, 0-4 ACC), Saturday, noon ET

This game features a matchup of the bottom two teams in the Coastal Division, but each squad has some positive momentum. The Cavaliers have won two games in a row to get back to .500 overall, and the Blue Devils snapped their six-game losing streak last week.
Virginia, which has won 17 of the last 21 meetings with Duke but has lost two in a row in the series, knocked off Miami 24-19, ending a nine-game losing streak against ACC competition. The Cavs tied a school record by intercepting five passes, including two by NCAA interceptions leader Chase Minnifield, en route to their first victory over a ranked team since 2008.

The Blue Devils, meanwhile, got back in the win column by staying away from interceptions. Quarterback Sean Renfree, who had thrown 14 interceptions in his last six games leading up to Duke’s 34-31 win at Navy, was nearly flawless against the Midshipmen. He completed 28-of-30 passes for 314 yards, passing for one touchdown and running for two others to give the Blue Devils their first victory against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent this season.

The keys to victory will be the same for Duke in this contest. The Blue Devils still rank 119th out of 120 FBS teams in terms of turnover margin (minus-1.38 per game). On the other side, Virginia will try to keep things simple for quarterback Marc Verica by running the ball as much as possible. Bruising tailback Keith Payne has an ACC-best 12 rushing touchdowns this season, and he will take aim at a Duke defense that ranks among the nation’s bottom 20 teams in points allowed (37.8 per game), rushing yards allowed (196.4 per game) and total yards allowed (434.1 per game).

Boston College (3-5, 1-4 ACC) at Wake Forest (2-6, 1-4 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Neither Boston College nor Wake Forest is in contention for the Atlantic Division title, but both have an exciting player named Harris at tailback. The Eagles, who had dropped five games in a row before their 16-10 victory over Clemson last week, feature the ACC’s leading rusher in junior Montel Harris (104.5 yards per game). Harris could enjoy a big day against a Wake Forest defense that ranks among the nation’s bottom six in points allowed (40.8 per game), total yards allowed (453.4 per game) and rushing yards allowed (217.3 per game).

Wake Forest’s Josh Harris faces a stiffer test. Harris, who burst onto the scene three weeks ago with 241 yards and two touchdowns at Virginia Tech in the first start of his career, enters this contest averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He will look for running room against a Boston College defense that offers little in the way of daylight. The Eagles held Clemson’s Andre Ellington to 42 yards on 14 carries last week, and they rank third in the country against the run (83.9 ypg).

The Eagles, who have defeated Wake Forest three consecutive times, responded well without starting safety Wes Davis (career-ending neck injury) and starting cornerback DeLeon Gause (knee surgery) last week against Clemson. But it remains to be seen if their revamped secondary can hold up for the remainder of the season.

North Carolina (5-3, 2-2 ACC) at Florida State (6-2, 4-1 ACC), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Florida State enters this game with a bruised psyche. North Carolina enters this game with a bruised, well, everything.

The No. 24 Seminoles suffered their first conference loss of the season last week at NC State, falling 28-24 in excruciating fashion. Florida State has a chance to get back on track against a team it has dominated over the years. The Seminoles lead the all-time series with North Carolina 15-1-1, including an 8-0-1 record at home. They should benefit this week from getting to play a UNC team that is banged up at several positions.

The Tar Heels, who rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Football Championship Subdivision member William & Mary 21-17 last week, look nothing like the team they were supposed to be entering the season. Investigations into the program for illegal benefits and academic misconduct have led to the ineligibility of several key players, and injuries have led to the absence of several others.

UNC’s secondary, in particular, is in bad shape this weekend. The Tar Heels played against William & Mary without cornerbacks Trey Boston (ankle) and Mywan Jackson (groin), and they lost cornerback Terry Shankle for the season with a knee injury in that game. Coach Butch Davis said this week that he might have to burn a redshirt or two in the secondary if more injuries occur. The Tar Heels hope to welcome back star linebacker Quan Sturdivant, who has missed the last five games with a hamstring injury, but their lack of depth in the defensive backfield could be a major problem against Florida State.

Ponder, who has been bothered by a bruised triceps and a ruptured bursa sac in his throwing arm this season, is starting to get healthy. He looked as good as he has all season against NC State, and he has enjoyed success against the Tar Heels before.

On the other side, North Carolina needs senior tailback Johnny White to continue his breakout season. White rushed for a career-high 164 yards on a career-high 29 carries last week, including a game-winning 67-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and he enters this game with the ACC lead in yards from scrimmage. Florida State counters with a defense that leads the nation in sacks (4.13 per game) while allowing an ACC-best 17.6 points per game.

Teaser:
Athlon previews Week 10 in the ACC. Florida State tries to bounce back while NC State travels to Clemson.
Post date: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 11:16
All taxonomy terms: Big East, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/big-east-preview-wk-10
Body:

Louisville at Syracuse, Saturday, noon EST

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said this week that even though his team is 6–2 it really hasn’t accomplished anything this season. That, of course, isn’t exactly correct. The Orange is the surprise team of the Big East, sitting at 3–1 in conference play and in second place, behind only 3–0 leader Pittsburgh. The SU faithful are alive again and should provide a nice crowd for this game in the Carrier Dome.

Offensively, the Orange will rely on back Delone Carter, the nation’s No. 29 rusher, averaging 93.25 yards per game. More than likely, though, Marrone will again lean on his stingy defense, which ranks 13th nationally in total defense and 14th in scoring. There are injury concerns, however, after last week’s 31–7 win over Cincinnati. Right tackle Michael Hay was seen wearing a boot on his left foot this week.

Louisville, meanwhile, enters this at 4–4 after a 20–3 loss to Pitt. The Cardinals will try to snap an 11-game road losing streak without Bilal Powell, who probably will miss this game with a knee injury. Quarterback Adam Froman is also trying to recover from a thigh bruise. The good news for the Cards is that back Victor Anderson is recovered from a shoulder injury and should play. The U of L is second in the Big East in total offense and fourth in total defense.

Teaser:
Athlon previews the week of action in the Big East. Only Louisville and Syracuse are on the field this Saturday.
Post date: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 10:54
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/joepas-last-stand
Body:

Athlon editors Steven Lassan, Mitch Light and Braden Gall debate five burning questions about Week 10 in college football:

Follow us on twitter: @AthlonBraden / @AthlonSteven / @AthlonMitch

1. If you were Big East commissioner, how would you expand?

Mitch: I like the idea of adding Villanova, if the school is willing to make the commitment to football. It’s obviously a great fit geographically. TCU is interesting. It’s a great program, but is it a good fit? The school will have access to an automatic bid in the BCS, but it won’t be the same as playing in the Big 12 or Pac-10. Will TCU be able to recruit the state of Texas any better playing teams like Syracuse, UConn and Rutgers? I’m not sure. Memphis would be a good fit, because it has a great basketball program and a football program with potential. Memphis football has a long way to go, but with the right commitment from the school and the right coach in place, it can be a solid program that can complete in the Big East. And I like the natural rivalries with Louisville and Cincy. UCF will always get mentioned, too, because of the size of the school and the Orlando market.

Braden: With the official announcement of expansion this week, there are a few conference commissioners out there who are weak in the knees (namely Craig Thompson and Britton Banowsky). Marshall, UCF, East Carolina, TCU, Houston, Temple and others have been tossed around. Taking money out of the equation (which we all know is actually all that matters), TCU and Houston would be my two picks. Dipping into Texas, both for players and TV ratings, cannot be topped. Villanova has stadium issues, so they might be out despite how logical the fit would be. What will happen? Temple and UCF are my best guesses.

Steven: The Big East is in an interesting position with expansion. Are the candidates added only going to be members for football or will they add to the 16 team basketball conference? I think Villanova is an easy target. The Wildcats are a successful FCS program and seem to be interested in making the jump, but will need to upgrade their stadium at some point. UCF is a strong option due to the large enrollment, potential television market and the Big East has to like the fact they can get into Florida more, which could help recruiting. TCU will get a lot of consideration, but if Houston isn’t invited, there would be no natural rival for the Horned Frogs, and adding a team from Texas is an odd fit for this conference. Memphis would be a fallback option, but the school needs to make a commitment to upgrading the stadium and the football program before they could have any success in the Big East.

2. Who will win the Big Ten championship?

Mitch: I think both Iowa and Wisconsin will end the season with one loss, and Wisconsin, with its win over Iowa, would win the tie-breaker. I think Michigan State will lose at Penn State, and Ohio State will lose at Iowa. Should be a great race.

Braden: It may all depend on the Ohio State-Iowa battle in Iowa City. Wisconsin and Michigan State, I believe, will lose another game along the way. So if Ohio State can take care of business in those pink locker rooms at Kinnick Stadium, the Buckeyes will have a chance at not only a Rose Bowl but maybe even a national title berth. I know it's boring, but there is a reason that OSU has won at least a share of five straight Big Ten titles.

Steven: I think Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin will all win out. With three teams tied atop the Big Ten, the tiebreaker would revert to the BCS standings, and I’m guessing Ohio State would be the highest ranked. If the Buckeyes beat Iowa, then that victory could be enough to propel them over Wisconsin in the BCS. Unless there is an unexpected loss or two along the way from the top four teams in this conference, the Big Ten appears likely to get two teams into BCS games.

3. What would shock you more, Syracuse winning the Big East or Baylor winning the Big 12 South? 

Mitch: Baylor winning the Big 12 South would be a much bigger shock. Syracuse has been awful in recent years, but it is far easier to climb up the food chain in the Big East than the Big 12 South. There are two superpowers (Texas and OU) and three other very solid programs (Texas Tech, A&M and Oklahoma State). Both teams have done a great job this season, but I’m more surprised that Baylor is contending this late in the season.

Braden: Syracuse has a much easier path to a conference title but Baylor has better players. Robert Griffin is the great equalizer and can single-handedly/footedly beat anyone. I think the Orange might be the biggest surprise of the season, but they actually have a chance to push for a Big East title. Baylor still has Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M left. Two out of three would be shocking to me.

Steven: Considering the Big East was believed to be a wide open race in the preseason, Syracuse winning the conference title wouldn’t shock me. The Orange were picked seventh in our preseason picks, but I think a lot of people believed this program could pull off an upset or two along the way and push for a better finish. I thought Baylor would be an improved team this year, just by getting Robert Griffin back under center. However, I am shocked at how much this team has improved this year and to be atop the Big 12 South standings after nine weeks.

Teaser:
The Week 10 edition of NCAA 5 Burning Questions tackles Big East expansion, Joe Paterno, the Greg Childs' injury and much more.
Post date: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 - 17:27
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/heisman-watch/we-want-you
Body:

The Heisman Trophy is college football's most prestigious trophy, so the editors here at Athlon take the voting for the 13.5-inch, 25-pound award very seriously. Each week, the ballots are collected and tallied from inside the walls of Athlon Sports. Each voter may vote for five players (unlike the official three) and a first place vote is worth 5 points, a second is worth 4 points so and so forth down to the fifth place vote earning 1 point.

Follow our voters on twitter: Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie), Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden), Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster), Nathan Rush (@AthlonRush) and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman).

by Braden Gall

Here is this week's results:

1. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn (34 pts, 6 first place votes)

As far as Heisman performances go, Newton laid an egg this weekend. Its amazing that leading a team to 51 points on the road in SEC play — with 209 yards, 2 TDs and 45 yards rushing — is considered a bad week. It was his lowest rushing total of the year, so Newton basically maintained status quo.

What's Next: Don't expect much of Newton against Chattanooga this Saturday. After Chattanooga, the Tigers face Georgia at home, with a national title, SEC title and Heisman potentially on the line in the Iron Bowl. There is still a lot of work to be done for Newton, and plenty of marquee opportunities to build his resume.

2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (29 pts, 1 first place vote)

I was the one who changed my vote from Newton to James. A 239-yard, 3-TD performance on the road against USC was only part of the equation. James, the nation's leading rusher, is also the driving force behind the No. 1 team in the nation (Oregon would be favored over Auburn if they played today). The Oregon tailback has been at his best against Stanford and the Trojans - the Ducks toughest two tests thus far. With Newton's uninspiring performance, James, the most explosive player in the nation, got my vote.

What's Next: A home game against Washington should allow James to keep that 172 yards-per-game pace up this week.

3. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (20 pts)

Stop the presses. Moore threw an interception. Actually, it was only his 15th INT in 1,015 career pass attempts. He is still the nation's most efficient passer and will break the single-season NCAA record if he continues this pace. Like Newton, 298 yards and 2 TDs has become a mediocre performance.

What's Next: An interesting game against Hawaii looms this weekend. The Warriors can score with anyone (11th nationally) and should be able to move the ball — for a little while. If this game was on the Islands, it would be much more intriguing. In Boise, the Broncos should roll.

Teaser:
Cameron Newton has been atop our Heisman voting for three weeks. But the gap is closing.
Post date: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 - 14:39
All taxonomy terms: Big Ten, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/ball-hawkeyes
Body:

No small number

A win for Penn State this weekend will get Joe Paterno to win No. 400. It’s just another win for Paterno, whose focus is and always has been on his players and their progress, but it’s an amazing total nonetheless. Ridiculous, almost. Consider this:

• If you add up Woody Hayes’ and Jim Tressel’s Ohio State wins (307) you’d still be almost 100 victories shy of Paterno’s total. Michigan coaching legends Fielding Yost and Bo Schembechler together fall about 40 wins shy.

• At the age of 65, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier does not have half as many wins as Paterno at his three Division I stops combined (183).

• Only seven men in history have more than 250 Division 1 victories.

During his 45 years on the sideline, Paterno has guided Penn State to five undefeated seasons and 24 bowl wins. More impressive than all of that — in those 45 years he has suffered through just five losing seasons.

This week’s contest will be no picnic — none of Penn State’s games have been this year — but you have to think that at home, in front of a packed Beaver Stadium crowd, the Nittany Lions have plenty of motivation to beat Northwestern — picking up a third straight victory, earning bowl eligibility, and getting Joe Pa to uncharted territory.

But while you appreciate that milestone — 400 career wins — appreciate this: In Penn State’s last five seasons (2005 to 2009) the team’s winning percentage has been .797 — better than Paterno’s career average of .751.

Paterno built the program into a powerhouse not long after taking the reins from Rip Engle, and he’s kept it there ever since.

The Week That Was

Scoreboard
Northwestern 20, Indiana 17
Illinois 44, Purdue 10
Iowa 37, Michigan State 6
Penn State 41, Michigan 31
Ohio State 52, Minnesota 10

Wildcats are bowl bound
Thanks to an outstanding performance by sophomore running back Mike Trumpy (164 yards from scrimmage on 24 touches), Northwestern beat Indiana to claim its sixth win of the season. It’s the fourth consecutive season that coach Pat Fitzgerald has guided his club to the mark.

The Buckeyes roll at Minnesota
Things began slowly for Jim Tressel’s club on Saturday evening, but eventually Ohio State took command of its game against Minnesota. Four offensive players scored touchdowns in the opening half, and Ohio State got 14 points in the second half thanks to touchdowns scored off a blocked punt and fumble return. It was the fifth time Ohio State won a game by 35 or more points this season.

Illinois blasts Purdue
Illinois’ stout defense limited Purdue to just 52 yards of passing in Saturday’s lopsided victory. Ron Zook’s club took an early lead and then exploded for 20 points in the third quarter to put the game out of reach. The Illinois defense limited the Boilermakers to two successful third down tries in 14 attempts, while the offense collected 24 first downs to Purdue’s nine.

Team of the Week: Iowa
The Hawkeyes were favored to win on Saturday because the game was played in Iowa City, but no one expected them to dominate the previously unbeaten Spartans. The Tyler Sash-to-Micah Hyde first-quarter interception return for a touchdown blew the game wide open, and was one of three picks by the Hawkeyes defense.

Disappointment of the Week: Michigan
Beaver Stadium is an unfriendly environment, but Michigan fans still didn’t expect their team to lose to an under-performing Penn State squad on Saturday. As it was, the Nittany Lions held a 28–10 halftime advantage and finished the game with almost a 15-minute advantage in time of possession. The Wolverines had no answer for Penn State’s running game, and despite another big night from Denard Robinson just couldn’t keep pace.

Offensive Player of the Week: Evan Royster, RB, Penn State
Finally! Royster came up huge for his team last week, carrying 29 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns — his first multiple-touchdown effort of the year and just his second 100-yard game. Because of Royster, Penn State wore down the Wolverines defense and inched a step closer to bowl eligibility.

Defensive Player of the Week: Shaun Prater, DB, Iowa
Immediately after the Hawkeyes took a 17–0 lead, Prater picked off another Kirk Cousins pass and returned it 42 yards into Hawkeye territory. Three plays later it was 23–0. The junior cornerback also assisted Iowa’s run defense with a double-digit tackle performance.

Freshman of the Week: Nathan Scheelhasse, QB, Illinois
Once again the Illini freshman was nearly perfect. Scheelhasse completed 80 percent of his passing attempts (16-of-20) for 195 yards and four touchdowns. On the ground he gained 5.6 yards per attempt and led the Illini in both carries (21) and yards (118).

The Week Ahead

Upset Alert: Wisconsin
No Big Ten team is at much risk this week, but Wisconsin should be the most conscious of not letting this one slip. The Badgers dropped a road game to an underdog late in the year last season (Northwestern). Purdue does not have a strong football team, but with Wisconsin coming off a bye, the Boilers may have enough to keep this contest interesting.

Player to Watch: Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Coming off of a miserable performance the junior hopes to bounce back against a Michigan defense allowing almost 150 rushing yards per game. Last week Penn State’s Evan Royster ripped up the Wolverines, and if Illinois is to keep pace in this contest it will require big performances on the ground from Leshoure and backfield mate Nathan Scheelhasse.

Additional Notes
Three teams have an opportunity to become bowl-eligible this weekend: Penn State and either Michigan or Illinois. Five Big Ten teams have already reached the six-win mark.
Wisconsin’s John Clay is just 113 yards shy of reaching the 1,000-yard mark for a second consecutive season. It would make Clay the conference’s second player to reach the mark this season (Michigan’s Denard Robinson). This week Clay faces a Purdue defense that ranks seventh in rushing yards allowed per contest (139.0) but only allows an average of 3.6 yards per carry.

Predictions
Michigan 23, Illinois 21
Iowa 44, Indiana 10
Michigan State 31, Minnesota 13
Wisconsin 34, Purdue 7
Penn State 17, Northwestern 14

Teaser:
Iowa destroyed Michigan State to get back in the Big Ten chase while JoePa reached an impressive milestone.
Post date: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 17:11
All taxonomy terms: College Football, SEC
Path: /columns/national-notebook/swamp-party
Body:

If you were circling games on South Carolina’s schedule in August, determining importance, this Saturday’s game against Arkansas would’ve ranked highly. But it’s an odd position the Gamecocks find themselves in entering the season’s final month: Arkansas (likely) means nothing in the SEC race. Go figure.

Win or lose this week, the Florida-South Carolina winner on Nov. 13 will play in Atlanta. That’s right: If the Ball Coach wants to finally take his team to the title game, he’ll have to win in Gainesville for the first time with a team on the visitors’ sideline.

Of course, one scenario would alter all this. But Spurrier isn’t exactly expecting it to play out. He laughed at a reporter who asked him what it would be like to wrap up the East on Saturday. “So,” Spurrier hooted, “you’re telling me Vanderbilt is going to beat Florida?”
Not happening. Swamp, it is.

The Gamecocks didn’t play particularly well against Tennessee. But the Gamecocks might’ve lost — or come very close to losing — that game in the past. This season is at least different because of the ability to turn to, gasp, playmakers. Alshon Jeffery had a 12-yard catch that he turned into a 70-yard touchdown, flashing what he calls “game speed.” That was the game-winner, with 12 minutes and change to go.

Then the Gamecocks turned to a horse of a running back — Derek Dooley actually called freshman Marcus Lattimore “Secretariat”; his high school teammates called him “the Horse” — for the final minutes. Lattimore had runs of 40 and 19 yards on the final touchdown drive, on the way to a season-high 184 yards.

Will those playmakers be the difference-makers in the Swamp? Oh, that’s right. Arkansas is first.

Scoreboard
South Carolina 38, Tennessee 24
Florida 34, Georgia 31 (ot)
Auburn 51, Ole Miss 31
Arkansas 49, Vanderbilt 14
Mississippi State 24, Kentucky 17

Thumbs Up

• Florida’s coaches have been maligned in this web space, as well as countless other places. So, give the Gators credit for throwing pretty much everything they had at Georgia to get a big lead. Play two quarterbacks? That’s for amateurs. How about three?

John Brantley’s line — 16-for-25 for 193 yards and a pick — was pedestrian, but Trey Burton (2-for-2 throwing; 110 rush yards) and Jordan Reed (three carries, 19 yards) will give future D-coordinators pause.

Maybe the Bulldogs’ secondary is still leaky, but it appeared the Gators were finally capable of a few downfield plays. Omarius Hines, Frankie Hammond Jr., Deonte Thompson … where have you been?

• Yeah, Auburn played well to win by 20 at Ole Miss. But why were national pundits so impressed with the victory? Because many of them foolishly picked the Rebels to win the game? C’mon, that wasn’t going to happen. Maybe if Ole Miss and Mississippi State merged, to form Magnolia State University.

Auburn plays very little defense. Ole Miss plays less. Advantage, Cam Newton. Newton ran for only 45 yards, but still leads the league in rushing by about 20 yards per game. He's been that good. He threw more in this one and even caught a score. Soon, he'll be kicking extra points.

• Note to Dan Mullen: Quit now and run for governor. Run on the “I Win” ticket. Mullen’s Mississippi State team has now reeled off six in a row Saturday against Kentucky — after the Bulldogs won five games all of last season. And a 17–14 loss to Auburn back in September? That’s looking more and more like a win all the time. The Bulldogs have a bunch of good players, but nothing incredible.

Mullen’s got to get some nods for SEC coach of the year — especially if the Bulldogs can do the unthinkable and topple Bama in two weeks. He's doing the most with the least. Even Gene Chizik would agree with that.

• Tennessee isn’t a very good football team. Don’t believe it? Dooley and the Vols will tell you. One Vol — a defensive player, no less — said he was pleased to score more than 10 points at South Carolina. He thought that was progress. Heck, maybe it was. Hey, Denarius Moore looked good — 228 yards for the senior receiver (most by any FBS player this season). Wait, he’s a senior? Where’s Moore been for three years? Tennessee might have found a quarterback. Stick-figure freshman Tyler Bray (6-6, 175 pounds?) had some decent moments on the road in the SEC. Well, after throwing a pick six.

Thumbs Down

• Please explain why Arkansas receiver Greg Childs — the same Greg Childs who almost didn’t play because of an ankle injury — was playing in the fourth quarter of a blowout against Vanderbilt? (It was the widest margin of victory in a Bobby Petrino win at Arkansas). The greed, stubbornness or indifference resulted in the Hogs’ top receiver injuring his knee. Now he might not be available this week against South Carolina. Clearly not helpful. In addition, Joe Adams (ankle) isn’t 100 percent. He had to sit last week against the Commodores.

• What was Georgia thinking in overtime? All right, Aaron Murray made some nice plays and throws to get the Bulldogs back in the game. But his final touchdown to A.J. Green appeared to be rather fortunate. So, then you turn the keys over to him in overtime? Murray nearly throws an interception on first down, missing on the corner-route throw in one-on-one coverage. Then, on third down, he throws off his back foot into the middle of the field, praying that Green will save him. Maybe that’s just the curse of having a franchise-type receiver. You lean too hard. But don’t be afraid to call for some safer routes, play-callers — especially when Orson Charles is the one that primarily helped you back into the game. Where was he in OT?

• It’s getting old writing this, but South Carolina’s pass defense stinks. For a team that’s flirting with a division title, it’s a major, major problem. And a huge issue considering Ryan Mallett — regardless of what receivers are healthy — is coming to town. Chris Culliver is hurt and likely done for the season. Let’s see what the Gamecocks do from here. Switching to more man coverage didn't really fix anything. Tennessee became the third team in four weeks to throw for 300 yards against the Gamecocks. Your turn, Mr. Mallett.

Stud of the Week
Cam Newton, Auburn QB. He caught a TD pass this week. That’s new.

Dud of the Week
Matt Simms, Tennessee QB. Yes, it sucks you were removed as quarterback. But the crybaby routine to the media will not do you any favors, pal.

Teaser:
South Carolina and Florida, after big wins, now control their own destiny in the East.
Post date: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 16:58
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Pac 10
Path: /columns/national-notebook/maehl-delivered
Body:

If USC supposedly was the toughest test remaining on Oregon’s schedule, the road to the Ducks’ second straight Pac-10 title could become downright silly. Oregon broke open a close game early in the third quarter and cruised to a 53–32 victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday. Although the game was competitive for over two quarters, there was a sense by the time the game ended that the Trojans were outclassed.

Granted, USC doesn’t have the same brand of depth it’s had in years past because of player defections following last summer’s NCAA sanctions, but even a full complement of players may not have prevented the Ducks from wearing down the Trojans in the second half. Oregon proved it could score quickly or with sustained drives, and the Ducks had a couple of methodical drives in the second half to pull away. USC’s defense had no answer for Oregon’s machine-like offense, which ended up with 599 total yards.

The Trojans have the best offense the Ducks will face this season, other than maybe Stanford. And although USC was able to put up some yards and points against Oregon, the Ducks’ underrated defense came up with enough stops to allow their offense to pull away.

While Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was padding his Heisman Trophy stat sheet by throwing in a receiving touchdown against Ole Miss, Oregon running back LaMichael James kept pace with a dominant 239-yard, three-touchdown performance. Oregon moved up to No. 1 in this week’s Bowl Championship Series standings. The Ducks have four more games — two at home and two on the road. That includes a showdown in their second-to-last game of the season against Arizona, which is tied for second in the Pac-10 standings, one game behind Oregon.

The Ducks close out the season with their annual Civil War battle with Oregon State.

Oregon’s next two games are at home against Washington and then at Cal, teams that look to be headed for the lower half of the conference standings. The Huskies allowed 42 points to Stanford on Saturday. The Autzen Stadium scoreboard operator could have his hands full when the Huskies visit this weekend.

Scoreboard
Arizona 29, UCLA 21
Oregon State 35, California 7
Arizona State 42, Washington State 0
Stanford 41, Washington 0
Oregon 53, USC 32

Mounting Troubles
Cal coach Jeff Tedford was already searching for an answer to his team’s troubling split personality. Now, he’s got a bigger problem on his hands.

The Bears continue to play two seasons in one. When they are home, they dispatch opponents easily. When they are on the road, the same thing happens to them. The trend kept up Saturday when Cal was thoroughly taken apart by Oregon State in a 35–7 loss. But the defeat was overshadowed by what appears to be a season-ending knee injury to starting quarterback Kevin Riley, who went down during Cal’s second possession of the game.

The Bears have been to bowl games seven years in a row, but that streak could be in trouble. Cal has to win two of its final four games to become bowl-eligible, and the Bears still have to play Oregon and Stanford. Cal should be decided underdogs in both of those games, meaning it would be a good idea to beat Washington State and Washington.

Most teams don’t have a problem with Washington State, but the Bears must visit the Cougars this weekend with a quarterback making his first career start. Junior Brock Mansion replaced Riley against Oregon St. in the first meaningful action of his career. He had only seen limited time during blowouts previously.

The Cougars are improving and Cal’s playbook may be shrunk with the inexperienced Mansion running the show. That means the Bears may need their defense to carry the day in Pullman. Cal’s defense, like the rest of the team, has been much more effective at home than on the road this season.

Luck Wins Draft Showdown
The showdown of potential top-10 draft picks never really materialized Saturday in Seattle. A huge contingent of NFL scouts was on hand at Husky Stadium as Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck went head-to-head against Washington quarterback Jake Locker. Both are considered high NFL draft picks, with Luck possibly going No. 1 overall.

But this one was all about Luck. He threw for only 192 yards and a touchdown, but he was extremely efficient and added a 51-yard touchdown run. Locker, meanwhile, had one of the worst games of his career, although part of his woes were due to poor pass protection. Locker, who hasn’t turned in the huge season many expected, completed just 7-of-14 passes for 64 yards.

Some believed Locker could have been the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, but he decided to return to Washington for his senior season. Now, Locker’s stock appears to be falling.

Teaser:
The state of Washington was outscored 83-0 and Oregon cleared one of big hurdles.
Post date: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 16:33
All taxonomy terms: Big 12, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/bears-pull-upset
Body:

Baylor Bears: Now Do You Believe?

Baylor’s rise in the Big 12 South and the national rankings and in the thoughts and minds of college football fans has found real traction with win over Texas.

Bowl eligible? Nice. Back in the rankings? Cool.

But big time? Not by virtue of wins over the likes of Buffalo and Kansas State and Colorado. The Bears lacked substance, with an ugly loss to TCU and another setback to Texas Tech on their resume.
Not anymore. Baylor beat the Longhorns, 30–22, for the first time since 1997 and won in Austin for the first time since 1991, securing the sort of statement win that had been missing. OK, so this isn’t your typical Texas team, a title contender carved from superb stock. The Longhorns, who have now lost three times at home, are clearly scrambling.

Still, it’s Texas, with all its four- and five-star recruits. And Mack Brown. In Austin.

And while the thought had been that outstanding quarterback Robert Griffin III was willing his team to wins, the win over the Longhorns revealed that the Baylor’s talent is improving across the board.

“It’s been a while since we’ve given our fans proof to believe,” Bears coach Art Briles said afterward.

“Our players are as resilient as any I’ve been around.

“What’s really helped is that we’ve gone down to the wire the last few weeks. We’re used to being in those situations and our guys believe good things are going to happen.”

After prevailing at Texas, Baylor isn’t just bowl-eligible; it is bowl bound. And at 4–1 in the Big 12 South, they lead the pack with several key games against the rest of the division coming up, including a visit to Oklahoma State this Saturday.

“Our goal has always been to win the South title,” Griffin said. “The tide has changed this year and we’re the team to beat.

“People say that Baylor can never beat this team and that team. Well, that Bear is gone.”

Scoreboard
Oklahoma State 24, Kansas State 14
Iowa State 28, Kansas 16
Nebraska 31, Missouri 17
Texas A&M 45, Texas Tech 27
Baylor 30, Texas 22
Oklahoma 43, Colorado 10

Huskers Run Away
All the anticipation of Saturday’s North heavyweight title bout — Nebraska vs. Missouri — exited Lincoln after the Huskers delivered a staggering early blow, getting a 66-yard touchdown run from Roy Helu Jr. in the opening moments and bolting to a 24–0 first-quarter lead.

That’s the kind of day it was for Helu and the Huskers. And Mizzou, which was off to its best season start since 1960, lost for the 17th straight time on the road against a Top 25 team.

Helu enjoyed a memorable day, rushing for a school-record 307 yards and three long scoring runs. He had 228 yards on his first 10 carries, and tacked on touchdowns covering 73 and 53 yards.

“I can’t explain how much I feel for my linemen and fullback,” Helu said. “They deserve as much credit as I do.”

Cowboy Up
Adversity was stacking up on Oklahoma State, with its first loss to Nebraska followed by the one-game suspension of star wide receiver Justin Blackmon as the repercussion of an ill-advised trip to Dallas to watch former teammate Dez Bryant on Monday Night Football.

On top of that, the Cowboys were heading to Kansas State, where they hadn’t won since current coach Mike Gundy was handing off to Barry Sanders in 1988.

But the Pokes prevailed behind their defense and kicking game. They slowed K-State standout running back Daniel Thomas and picked off three second-half passes. And punter Quinn Sharp dropped four punts inside the Wildcat 10.

Overall, OSU out-rushed K-State 213 to 111, with Kendall Hunter running for 143 yards.

Player of the Week: Roy Helu Jr., Sr., Nebraska. Helu’s big day in a big win over Missouri broke Calvin Jones’ NU rushing record of 294 yards, set against Kansas in 1991. And it was much needed, with quarterback Taylor Martinez missing the second half with a bruised right leg. Late in the game, when the Tigers entertained faint hopes of a comeback, Helu kept moving the chains and the clock.

Coming Up

Game of the Week: Baylor at Oklahoma State. Two teams picked for way down in the South Division are way up, both in the Big 12 title hunt, as well as the Top 25. While strange things can happen, the Bears and Cowboys are squaring off in what amounts to an elimination bout within the conference.
On the Spot: Mack Brown, Texas. Don’t look now, but the Longhorns are a .500 team at 4–4 overall. They’ve lost three times at home (UCLA, Iowa State and Baylor) and seem to be in disarray, just one season after making the BCS title game. Brown remains the king of Texas, but there’s some work ahead in directing a rebound.

In the Spotlight: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M. Better late than never, right? A former prep quarterback who spent three seasons at wideout, Tannehill has replaced Jerrod Johnson behind center and thrived. He passed for a school-record 449 yards and four touchdowns and led the Aggies to their most points in a league home game since 2005 in the win over Texas Tech.

Stock Rising
Paul Rhoads, Iowa State. The second-year coach has crafted some benchmark wins in his short stay in Ames. His teams have shown character, too. Just two weeks ago, the Cyclones were reeling and seemingly bound for the bottom of the North Division, after surrendering 120 points in losses to Utah and Oklahoma. Now ISU is streaking, beating Texas and Kansas back-to-back and creeping within one win of bowl eligibility at 5–4. The closing schedule is rugged, with home games against Nebraska and Missouri and a trip to Colorado. Circle the visit to Boulder as the make-or-break game.

Stock Falling
Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M. Johnson’s spiral has apparently flattened out, with Tannehill’s ascension in College Station. The two QBs had split time the week before, but it was Tannehill all the way in the win over Tech, while Johnson watched from the sideline. It’s been a freefall senior season for Johnson, the school’s career passing yards leader.

By the Numbers

4 Conference wins by Baylor, its most as a member of the Big 12.

34.5 Average distance of Nebraska’s 34 touchdowns from the line of scrimmage.

208 Yards receiving for Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles, a school record.
 

Teaser:
Baylor's big upset, Nebraska's statement and Ryan Broyles huge weekend highlight Week 9 in the Big 12.
Post date: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 15:56
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/unpredictable
Body:

Optimists attribute it to parity. Realists attribute it to mediocrity. Members of those two groups can argue about the cause all they want, but they can’t disagree about the effect: The ACC is absolutely unpredictable.

In six games involving ACC teams over the weekend, four underdogs emerged victorious. NC State was playing at home in its Thursday night victory Florida State, so that upset was mild. But injury-ravaged Boston College — five-game losing streak and all — knocked off Clemson. And Virginia, mired in a nine-game losing streak in conference play, toppled Miami. Then Duke, which had dropped six consecutive games and looked terrible doing it, won at Navy.

Even the games that ended with the favored team winning unfolded in unusual fashion. North Carolina needed to rally from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat William & Mary, an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision. Maryland won what was supposed to be a close game against Wake Forest by 48 points.

“In the ACC, week in and week out, anybody can beat anyone,” Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith said.

That statement is no revelation, of course. After all, this is a conference that hasn’t had a single team go undefeated in league play since it split into divisions in 2005. This is a conference in which the league champion has had at least two league losses in three of the last five seasons. This is a conference in which 10 of the 12 teams posted league records of 4–4 or better in 2008, although no team did better than 5–3. And this is a conference in which a team picked to finish in last place, Wake Forest in 2006, won the league championship that year.

The biggest winner this past weekend in the ACC didn’t even play a game. With Miami’s loss, Virginia Tech increased its lead in the Coastal Division to two games in the loss column. That means the Hokies (6–2, 4–0 ACC), who are on a roll with a six-game winning streak, can slip up once and still win the division outright.

That should be of some comfort to Virginia Tech fans, because in the ACC, it’s usually a matter of when rather than if with regard to upsets.

Scoreboard
NC State 28, Florida State 24 (Thurs.)
Boston College 16, Clemson 10
Virginia 24, Miami 19
Maryland 62, Wake Forest 14
Duke 34, Navy 31
North Carolina 21, William & Mary 17

O’Brien plays to win, gets rewarded
NC State coach Tom O’Brien made a decision that could end up making his team’s season. Trailing Florida State 24–21 and facing fourth and goal from inside the 1, O’Brien originally sent out his field-goal unit to go for the tie. But then he called a timeout, thought better of it and decided to go for the touchdown. Quarterback Russell Wilson found tight end George Bryan in the end zone for what turned out to be the winning score with 2:40 remaining.

The result of O’Brien’s decision was that Florida State needed a touchdown, not a field goal, on its ensuing possession. The Seminoles drove the ball to the NC State 4, where Christian Ponder lost a fumble when tailback Ty Jones bumped into him after a play-action fake.

The victory put the Wolfpack (6–2, 3–1) in control of their own destiny in the Atlantic Division. N.C. State finishes with three of its final four games on the road, including trips to division rivals Clemson and Maryland.

Harris injury hurts Hurricanes
The biggest surprise — if there is such a thing in the ACC — of the weekend came with Miami’s loss at Virginia. The Hurricanes (5–3, 3–2) got off to a slow start in the game, and then they lost their starting quarterback when Jacory Harris took a vicious (but clean) hit to chest from defensive lineman John-Kevin Dolce.

Harris suffered a concussion on the play, presumably when his head hit the ground from the force of the hit, and is questionable for this week’s game against Maryland.

“Our medical team has done a great job of evaluating and making sure that Jacory is OK,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “The process of when he will play is up to our medical staff. He will not play until our medical staff sees that he is ready to go.”

Harris threw the first of five Miami interceptions on the play he suffered the injury, and he didn’t return to the game. His absence left the Hurricanes in a bind because backup quarterback Alonzo Highsmith had a hand injury that prevented him from playing. That forced Spencer Whipple, son of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, into action. Whipple completed two passes to his own receivers and two passes to the Cavaliers out of his six attempts as Miami went into halftime trailing 14–0.

When the Hurricanes came out in the third quarter, they did so with their fourth quarterback. True freshman Stephen Morris, who had not played all season and planned to redshirt, played the rest of the game.

Morris completed 9-of-22 passes for 162 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. His 60-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin with 4:39 remaining brought the Hurricanes within one score of the lead after they trailed 24–0 early in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve been working him a little bit, and you have to give a young man the opportunity,” Shannon said. “I had confidence in him, and he responded late in the game.”

Morris might get more opportunities to respond. If Harris is unable to play against the Terrapins, Shannon already has announced that Morris will start the game.

Cavaliers enjoy different experience
Two weeks before, Virginia coach Mike London required his players to remain on the field at Scott Stadium as North Carolina celebrated its first victory at Virginia since 1981. London, trying to set a tone in his first season at the helm, wanted the Cavaliers to remember how it felt to get beat 44–10 in their homecoming game.

On Saturday, London required his players to remain on the field at Scott Stadium once again. This time, he wanted them to remember how it felt to get a big win in front of the home crowd.

“After we got beat by North Carolina, I wanted them to feel what that feels like,” London said. “It's the same thing with students and people standing around. I want them to feel what that feels like.

“I don’t know how many other opportunities we are going to have to feel that before the season ends, but you have to start somewhere and you have to start a mindset of ‘this is what's going to happen around here for a long time.’ Being out there and sharing the moment with them and the students was a signature moment for them.”

Teaser:
NC State, Boston College and Virginia pulled off big upsets this weekend in the ACC. Check out the Week 9 ACC notebook.
Post date: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 15:33
All taxonomy terms: Big East, College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/orange-crush
Body:

Big East officials annually try to size up the league’s best football teams and match them in late November. This season, for instance, Pittsburgh, the preseason favorite, is scheduled to take on West Virginia and defending champ Cincinnati late in the season. It’s supposed to serve as de facto title games since the conference has no championship.

This season, however, the two best teams might have played back on Oct. 16. Pittsburgh and surprising Syracuse have started to separate themselves from a crowded pack in the race for the BCS berth. The Panthers are now 3–0 in league play, while the Orange are 3–1. No other Big East team has more than one league victory. Pitt, though, has an extra edge because of its 45–14 decision in head-to-head play.

No one, however, around the SU program is complaining. The Orange took its fourth road win of the season last weekend via a 31–7 decision at Cincinnati. After a scoreless first quarter, Syracuse scored 17 points within a 5:03 span of the second period and pulled away in the second half. SU is now 6–2 overall — to the surprise of many. “I can’t even explain it,” said SU safety Max Suter. “It’s just an awesome feeling.”

SU got 109 rushing yards from Delone Carter and a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Ryan Nassib. Much of the story, however, centered on the Orange defense. The Bearcats, now 3–5 overall and 1–2 in league play, entered the game averaging 30.3 points and 446.4 yards, but were held to just seven points and 277 yards.
Pittsburgh, 5–3 overall, also leaned on its defense in a 20–3 win over Louisville at Heinz Field. The Panthers held Louisville to 185 yards total and 5-for-12 on third down conversions. “I think our defense is really clicking right now,” said Pitt safety Dom DeCicco.

Defensive end Jabaal Sheard had a pair of sacks and two forced fumbles.

Meanwhile, in East Hartford, Connecticut coach Randy Edsall got some relief from the heat and West Virginia coach Bill Stewart received another blast of it. The Huskies picked up their first league win of the season Friday by rallying for a 16–13 overtime win against the Mountaineers at Rentschler Field. The game followed UConn’s season-long theme. It is unbeaten in four games at home this season and winless on the road in four opportunities. As with Syracuse and Pitt, defense proved key. The Huskies kept the Mountaineers out of the end zone for the final three quarters and in overtime. Kicker Dave Teggart won the game with his third field goal of the game — a 27-yard kick in overtime — after WVU’s Ryan Clarke fumbled the ball away on the Mountaineers’ possession.

Huskies’ back Jordan Todman had 113 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 33 carries, while previous third-string quarterback Zach Frazer threw for 166 yards.

West Virginia had 414 yards of offense, but fell to 5–3 overall and into last place in league play at 1–2.

Scoreboard
Connecticut 16, West Virginia 13 (ot)
Pittsburgh 20, Louisville 3
Syracuse 31, Cincinnati 7

Powell hurts knee
Louisville running back Bilal Powell, the nation’s No. 5 rusher, left the Pitt game with an apparent knee injury and did not return. Nothing appeared to be seriously wrong with the back. That wasn’t the case, however, in regard to the U of L offense, which was held to its lowest scoring and yardage totals of the season.

Huskies on the spot
Connecticut recovered four West Virginia fumbles, none bigger than Lawrence Wilson’s pickup in overtime, when the Mountaineers had first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. WVU fumbled seven times.

Staying coy
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said he’s pretty much decided which of his quarterbacks — Chas Dodd or Tom Savage — will start this week against South Florida, but was keeping the decision under wraps for a while. Savage is healthy after healing from injuries to his ribs and throwing hand.

Hampton in
South Florida is expected to be without defensive end Craig Marshall, who has a foot injury, when the Bulls meet Rutgers on Wednesday. Marshall leads USF with four sacks. Junior Patrick Hampton will get the start.

Sorry, Joe
Cincinnati coach Butch Jones had some interesting things to say after his team’s home loss to Syracuse. “There’s a lot of things that people don’t see that go on behind closed doors,” Jones said. “Our big supporters do. They understand where we’re at, but the average Joe Public has no idea.” Cincy played against SU without starting quarterback Zach Collaros, who missed the game with a knee injury. Chazz Anderson threw for 148 yards.

Short schedule
Half of the Big East is off this week. On Wednesday, Rutgers visits South Florida for an ESPN2 game. The only conference game on Saturday has Louisville at Syracuse.
 

Teaser:
Syracuse and Pitt dominated on defense and have placed themselves in the thick of the Big East title chase. Check out our Week 9 Big East notebook.
Post date: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 15:06
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /columns/sunday-takeaway/sanchez-jets-shutdown
Body:

Remember Us?

What is this, 2007? Once again, the road to the Super Bowl clearly will wind its way through the historic streets of Foxborough, Mass. The town that was once home to the world’s largest straw hat factory — thanks, Wikipedia — is also home to the team to beat in 2010. We’re seven weeks into the NFL season, and order seems to have returned to the NFL; the Patriots are 6–1, and Tom Brady is the leader in the clubhouse for MVP honors. Brady played gunslinger against Brett Favre and the Vikings, finding Brandon Tate on a broken play for a decisive 65-yard touchdown in the Pats’ 28–18 win over the Vikings. “That’s a pretty basic scramble situation,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Tate’s first career touchdown. “It really was not a very well-run play. But (we) made the best of a bad situation.” That’s what champions do. Ray Lewis and Rex Ryan may make more noise, but the Pats are quietly building a case that they’re the best team in football. Again.

Wade Must Go — and So Must Brad

The removal of Wade Phillips as Cowboys head coach is looking more and more like a no-brainer. The Cowboys have given up the pretense of even trying to save Phillips’ job and are playing even worse than their 1–6 record would indicate. “I’m dumbfounded,” owner Jerry Jones said after a 35–17 loss to Jacksonville in which the Cowboys made David Garrard look like vintage Joe Montana. “I’m distraught, to say the least,” Phillips said, before committing professional hari-kari with this remark: “I’ve got talented players and I’m not getting them to play well enough. To me, that’s the root of the problem.” In that case, problem easily solved. Over to you, Jerry. A little less obvious, but no less necessary, is a change at the top in Minnesota. A popular pick to make the Super Bowl, the Vikings slipped to 2–6 with their loss to New England, and Childress has pretty clearly lost his locker room, which erupted with some bizarre postgame performance art from Randy Moss, who conducted a five-minute monologue in which he extolled his former team and coach while expressing disappointment with his current boss. That disappointment is understandable. Childress’ offense targeted the second-best receiver in history all of two times yesterday. That’s a fire-able offense right there.

Jets Offense Exposed

Coming off a bye, the Jets were inexcusably bad on offense in a 9–0 loss to Green Bay. The Packers’ defense is middle-of-the-pack (excuse the pun) by any statistical measure, yet Mason Crosby’s first-quarter field goal was all the production the Pack would need on a blustery day in the Meadowlands. It was a miserable afternoon for the Sanchize; Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez completed only 42.1 percent of his passes and was picked off twice. Aaron Rodgers didn’t fare much better — he was 15-of-34 passing — but the Pack protected the ball and took advantage of Jets miscues to embarrass Rex Ryan’s self-proclaimed Super Bowl favorites. “It felt embarrassing to be shut out at home,” said right tackle Damien Woody. “Our personnel and our coaching staff is too good for us to be shut out at home.”

Tough Threesome in NFC South

The division produced the Super Bowl champion in 2009, and it’s producing one of the most compelling races in the NFL in 2010, thanks to the emergence of the Tampa Bay Bucs, who have joined the Falcons and the Saints to create a three-way battle for dominance at the top of the division. The Bucs moved to 3–0 on the road and 5–2 overall with their 38–35 comeback win over the Cardinals, as rookie LeGarrette Blount rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Josh Freeman played mistake-free football. Meanwhile, the Saints showed that they’re still dangerous by beating the Steelers 20–10, and the Falcons have looked at times like the best team in the NFC. All three clubs have championship qualities. The winner will have earned it.

What’s Up in D.C.?

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King cites Mike Shanahan’s “stones” in yanking Donovan McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman to run the Redskins’ two-minute offense. I question Shanahan’s sanity. Rex Grossman? Why not put in a call to Ryan Leaf while you’re at it? Shanahan benched McNabb for the Skins’ final two possessions, citing Grossman’s comfort level with the two-minute offense. I’d hate to see Grossman operate in uncomfortable circumstances. He fumbled on his first play, and Ndamukong Suh grabbed the ball and raced 17 yards for the clinching touchdown to complete a 23-point fourth quarter in the Lions’ 37–25 win. McNabb took the high road, saying, “You have to be a professional. There's a long season ahead of us.” And, thanks to unnecessary unrest at the quarterback position, it just got longer.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 12:25
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/circuitous-lee
Body:

Circuitous (adj.): having a circular or winding course.

The word is also defined as not being forthright or direct in language or action.

Clifton “Cliff” Phifer Lee’s career path to World Series Game 1 ace could fall into both categories. In fact, it’s a tale that involves one of the worst trades in baseball history, seven different organizations, a cancer scare and two trips to the Fall Classic.

Over the last three seasons, Lee has endeared himself to not one, two or three major league fan bases, but four. And has done so in remarkable fashion on the field. Try a 2.98 ERA, 17 complete games and one Cy Young award in 93 starts since the open of the 2008 season.

A far cry from clubhouse in-fighting, being booed off the field and a demotion to the minors. All of which he would endure before getting his first taste of October baseball.

Lee, a Benton, Ark., native, was originally selected in the eighth round of the 1997 MLB draft by the Florida Marlins. He did not sign with the Fish, opting instead to enroll at Meridian Community College in Mississippi where he pitched for one season, after which he was drafted again — in the 20th round by the Baltimore Orioles. The year at a C.C. had cost him 12 rounds.

However, Lee bounced back. Instead of signing with the Orioles, he chose to attend the University of Arkansas. Two years later he signed with the Montreal Expos as a fourth-round pick in the 2000 draft.

In his first two years in the minors, Lee showed improvement and was promoted from A-Cape Fear to high-A-Jupiter, and then to AA-Harrisburg for the start of the ’02 campaign. That year he started 15 games for Harrisburg before the first of his many transactions — a trade that will go down in history as one of baseball’s worst.

On June 27, 2002, Lee was shipped to the Cleveland Indians with Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew. Colon was a solid 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA in 17 starts for Montreal, yet the Expos finished 19 games back of the Braves in the East, and 12.5 games behind the eventual NL Champion Giants in the Wild Card. Needless to say, the Expos gambled and lost the entire savings account.

En route to the majors, however, Lee had one more very serious hurdle to overcome that most minor leaguers know nothing about. Lee’s four-month old son Jaxon was diagnosed with leukemia and given a 30% chance to live. However, after chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and a stem cell transplant, Jaxon, now a healthy nine year-old, is in remission. (He could be seen in his father’s arms after the Rangers clinched the AL pennant.)

After three drafts, his son’s bout with cancer and one very lopsided trade, Lee made his major league debut on September 15th of 2002 in an Indians uniform.

He made 11 starts in his first two seasons for the Indians with a respectable 3-4 record and 3.30 ERA. In 2004, Lee finally became a regular in the Indians rotation and posted an above average 14-8 record with a severely below average 5.43 ERA. His 81 walks that year are still a career high by a wide margin.

He showed dramatic improvement in his second full season. Lee led the team with 18 wins, finished second in innings pitched with 202 and third in strikeouts. Along with his 3.79 ERA, Lee finished fourth in the 2005 Cy Young voting. Lee helped the Tribe to 93 wins in 2005.

Yet, as the Indians regressed in 2006 — from 93 wins to 78 wins — so, too, did Lee. Despite his dip in production, Lee earned his first big contract when the Indians signed him to a $14 million deal in midseason. Motivated, driven, and ambitious should have been words used to describe Lee’s 2007 season, right?

The ‘07 season did not start as planned, however, when Lee suffered a groin injury in spring training and was forced to start the season on the disabled list. He struggled mightily in his return to the rotation, going 4-9 with a 5.38 ERA in his first 16 starts of the season.

On July 21st, things began to unravel for the newly minted millionaire — at the Ballpark in Arlington, of all places.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 12:18
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/homegrown-heroes
Body:

There is more than one way to skin a cat.

Mark Teixeira cost $180 million. C.C. Sabathia cost $152 million. A.J. Burnett cost $82.5 million. And yes, the Yankees got their 27th World Championship for all that money.

But that was last year.

Glory is an extremely fleeting concept in major league baseball these days. Where are the Bronx Bombers and their league-leading $206 million payroll now?

Like the rest of us, they are sitting on their couches watching the San Francisco Giants, and the league’s 10th-largest payroll, dominate the game from 60-feet, 6-inches away.

A few years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays were showered with adoration, not just for reaching the World Series but for how they did it. It was long and tedious process. It was the right way to do things. It was the future of baseball.

One out of three isn’t too bad, because building through the draft and grooming the foundation for success from within has taken center stage once again. Just ask the Phillies. Or the Braves. Or even the Padres, for that matter.

So why haven’t the Giants, and general manager Brain Sabean, been given the same sort of praise the Rays got in 2008?

The blueprint for the Giants’ championship run is equally impressive, if not more so. Like the Rays, San Fran won the NL West and two subsequent playoff series based largely on excellent homegrown pitching. In fact, the four-man homegrown rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner is only the second fully homegrown rotation in postseason history (since the inception of the draft in 1965), the other being the 1986 Boston Red Sox rotation comprised of Roger Clemens, Oil Can Boyd, Al Nipper and Bruce Hurst.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, October 29, 2010 - 17:01
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/game-4-preview
Body:

GAME 4 PREVIEW HERE

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, October 29, 2010 - 12:51
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/game-3-preview
Body:

The Giants landed the first two punches against the Rangers in San Francisco. The run total differential of 20-7 sounds more dominating than reality. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain silenced the Rangers’ bats, but there have been only two innings when the Giants’ offense did its damage. A six-run fifth inning in Game 1 and a seven-run eighth in Game 2 doomed the Rangers. Texas played one game with a sub-par right fielder, and one game without its cleanup hitter. Even with those two handicaps, the Rangers were still within two innings of playing toe-to-toe with the Giants. So a day off, a return home and changing to American League rules are three big changes in the Rangers’ favor. Colby Lewis beat the Yankees twice and gives the team confidence. Expect the Rangers, fueled by energetic fans, to regain their swagger and get back in the series.

At their workout on Friday, the Rangers appeared loose and confident. But behind the calm, business-as-usual facade, they must be feeling pressure of not falling behind 3-0.

An optimistic Rangers’ fan may want to point to June when the Rangers reeled off 11 wins in a row against National League teams. So, winning four of five doesn’t seem to daunting, does it? However, the realist knows that it was Milwaukee, Florida, Houston and Pittsburgh the Rangers defeated— not exactly teams vying for the NL pennant.

San Francisco Game 3 starter Jonathan Sanchez was last seen leaving the mound in Philadelphia after a wayward pitch struck Chase Utley in the back, which ultimately emptied both benches for a little pushing and shoving. Sanchez was anything but sharp and pitched with no confidence.

And the Rangers have been feasting on left-handed pitching. In their last five games against lefty starters, the Rangers have 39 hits and 16 earned runs in 29.2 innings. And those five left-handed starters were aces David Price, C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. So Sanchez will not intimidate Texas hitters. During the regular season, Texas hitters loved facing southpaws. The two through seven hitters should give Sanchez trouble.

Texas hitters against lefthanders during the regular season:
Michael Young, .322
Josh Hamilton, .271
Vlad Guerrero, .338
Nelson Cruz, .330
Ian Kinsler, .376
Bengie Molina, .311

The Rangers will score in Game 3. If Lewis can’t quiet the Giants’ bats, this will turn into batting practice for both teams and bullpens will play a huge role. And the Texas bullpen hasn’t shown any effectiveness at all, which would clearly the advantage would quickly turn San Fran’s way. So it is imperative that Lewis work deep enough into the game to shorten the bridge to closer Neftali Feliz.

Lewis will squelch the Giants enough to prevent a San Francisco sweep.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, October 29, 2010 - 12:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/cfb-fantasy-week-9-start-or-sit
Body:

Each week, Athlon will take a deeper look at the fantasy matchups that affect your lineup. Some players will deserve a second look from managers, while others could create some concern. Check out Athlon's College Fantasy Start or Sit for Week 9:

Follow us on Twitter: @AthlonBraden, @AthlonSteven

QB — Deserves A Second Look

Jeremiah Masoli, Ole Miss (Auburn)

The former Duck posted the best game of his season last weekend against Arkansas when he threw for 327 yards and 3 TDs while rushing for 98 more yards. Auburn's bend but dont break defense will allow yards to Colonel Reb. They currently rank 101st in pass defense, and in last year's win over Ole MIss, the Tigers allowed 219 yards rushing on 39 carries. I don't think the Rebels pull the upset, but Masoli should make it interesting.

Austin Dantin, Toledo (@ Eastern Michigan)

It is just too easy to pick on the Eagles from Ypsilanti. And Dantin has been solid now that the Rockets are into the heart of their MAC schedule. He has scored four rushing TDs over his last three games and has rushed for 130 yards over the last two. EMU's defensive ineptitude is well documented: 117th against the run, 119th in scoring defense and 109th in total defense.

Trent Steelman, Army (VMI)

As expected from the Army signal caller, Steelman has been productive on the ground. He has scored a rushing TD in five straight games, including a four-TD game against Temple. He has also topped 100 yards passing twice in the last three contests. Against lowly VMI, Steelman has a chance to post a good number.

Garrett Gilbert, Texas (Baylor)

The Longhorn passer has proven himself in very different ways the last two weeks (at least, from a fantasy standpoint). He outrushed Taylor Martinez in the big win in Lincoln two weeks ago then posted his first career 300-yard passing effort last week. The Bears will be dramatically outmatched talent-wise, and their 84th-rated pass defense should be easy to beat.

Jeffery Godfrey, UCF (East Carolina)

Three rushing TDs and an actual passing TD (his second of the year) dot Godfrey's resume over the last two weeks. This could be a high-scoring affair (despite the Knights' solid defense), and ECU's 110th-ranked pass defense could be beaten this weekend. The Pirates also rank 105th in scoring defense.

Matt Scott, Arizona (@ UCLA)

Scott managed the game beautifully last weekend against Washington. He completed 18-of-22 passes for 233 yards and a pair of scores. He added a sneaky 65 yards rushing, and that ability to make plays with his legs is the main difference between him and injured starter Nick Foles. Against the porous UCLA defense (120th rush D, 89th score D, 85th total D), Scott will have space to make plays.

Austen Arnaud, Iowa State (Kansas)

Arnaud has never really lived up to any of the fantasy hype, but has some servicable games from time to time. This week could be one of those times. No team in the Big 12 allows more points per game (33.86 ppg) and no Big 12 team is less effective against the pass (156 opponent passer rating) than the Jayhawks.

QB — Better Think Twice

Blaine Gabbert vs. Taylor Martinez (Missouri @ Nebraska)

On the Missouri side, Gabbert has never had a worse game than against the Huskers last season. Certainly the ankle injury hampered his play, but in fantasy, it doesn't matter why you posted a 134-yard, 0-TD, 2-INT stat line. And that was in Columbia. On the other side of the ledger is a freshman who struggled in his biggest test of the year so far. So much so, that he was benched. The Tigers D has allowed plenty of passing yards in the last two wins (322 to Jerrod Johnson, 303 to Landry Jones), but against the run, they have been solid. And that is where Martinez has done most of his damage. In those two wins, Mizzou allowed 156 yards on 58 carries (2.8 ypc). The nation's fifth-rated scoring defense (13.1 ppg) has allowed a total of 30 yards rushing to opposing quarterbacks for the entire year.

Robert Griffin, Baylor (@ Texas)

The Texas Longhorns, for all of their struggles on defense, rank No. 2 nationally against the pass, allowing under 140 yards per game through the air. Two weeks ago, they made Taylor Martinez look foolish, inducing a 4-for-12, 63-yard, 13-carry, 21-yard, 0-TD performance. The appalling home losses to UCLA and Iowa State were shocking, but it wasn't because the quarterback lit up the sky with an air attack. In those two losses, the Horns allowed a total of 163 passing yards. No player means more to his team than Mr. Griffin, but the Burnt Orange has allowed Baylor to top 20 points only twice in 12 games — all Bear losses.

Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M (Texas Tech)

The Aggie passer is beginning to put his name into the "Year's Largest Fantasy Bust" conversation. He has a total of two passing TDs in his last three games, and he hasn't really run the ball much at all. He has a total of 146 yards rushing for the season. And because he has turned the ball over 11 times, his coaching staff is toying with playing the back-up some this week. He might just be too risky.

Kirk Cousins, Michigan State (@ Iowa)

This one might be the most obvious bench play of the week. Cousins placed his name in the Heisman race with his 331-yard, 3-TD come-from-behind perfornance last week but won't be able to produce this week. He threw for 225 yards and one score in last year's 15-13 loss to Iowa in East Lansing. Don't expect anything more than that this weekend.

Aaron Murray vs. John Brantley (Georgia vs. Florida — Jacksonville)

Brantley and the Florida offense aren't even worth talking about. They should be nowhere near your fantasy lineup. But Murray has started to prove that he is the real deal. He wasn't needed last weekend, and the Gators have been taking the ball away from quarterbacks all season. Florida is tied for third in the nation with 13 INTs and forced four INTs against the Dawgs last weekend. Expect a low-scoring, grind-it-out-on-the-ground win for Georgia, but Murray's upside is limited.

Trevor Vittatoe, UTEP (@ Marshall)

The Miner passer has been hampered by an injury of late, and his fantasy stats have taken a huge hit. He has totaled 272 passing yards over the last two games with five interceptions and one touchdown. A road trip to Marshall is not what the doctor ordered.

RB — Deserves A Second Look

Knile Davis, Arkansas (Vanderbilt)

In the last three weeks, Davis has emerged as Bobby-P's favorite back. He has double-digit carries in all three, and over the last two games, Davis has out-carried the rest of the Hogs backs 36 to 13. He finally delievered the massive fantasy line last week against Ole Miss (176 yards, 3 TDs). The Dores rank 92nd against the run, allowing over 182 yards per game.

Adonis Thomas, Toledo (@ Eastern Michigan)

Thomas was given the most attempts of his career last week, 19, and he responded with 130 yards and a score against Ball State. EMU's defense is much maligned and will not slow anything the Rockets do. Play Thomas without any hesitation.

Jared Hassin, Army (VMI)

It is always a serious risk to play any running back from Army (and the last time I put Hassin on this list, he did not even register a carry), but against VMI, everyone has a chance. Hassin has been given the ball 43 times over his last three games and has back-to-back 100-yard efforts.

Ronnie Weaver, UCF (East Carolina)

George O'Leary might have actually settled on a running back. Weaver has two 130-plus-yard games in his last four and has three multiple TD games in his last five. He has averaged 22 carries per game over his last four, and this weekend should feature plenty of points. ECU ranks 88th against the run, 110th against the pass and 105th in scoring defense.

Johnny White and Shaun Draughn, North Carolina (William & Mary)

Ugh, it's William & Mary?

Alexander Teich, Navy (Duke)

Much like Army, playing an option back is always a risk, but Teich has been solid. He has been handed the ball 47 times over the last two games, and he has responded with 305 yards and two TDs. Duke ranks 107th against the run (203 ypg) and is 114th in scoring defense (38.7 ppg).

Back-ups worth a shot this weekend:

Matthew Tucker, TCU (@ UNLV)
Michael Hayes, Houston (@ Memphis)
Nic Grigsby, Arizona (@ UCLA)
Matt Brown, Temple (Akron)
Cameron Marshall or Deantre Lewis, Arizona State (Washington State)

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, October 29, 2010 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/caint-touch
Body:

The San Francisco Giants took a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven World Series Thursday night with a 9-0 victory over the Texas Rangers.

The star of Game 2 was Giants’ starter Matt Cain, who tossed 7.2 shutout innings on a windy night at AT&T Park. He was supported by 1997 World Series hero Edgar Renteria, who had a home run and three RBIs, as well as third baseman Juan Uribe’s two RBIs.

In his first postseason, Cain has pitched 21.1 innings without allowing an earned run. The big righty joined five others (Kenny Rogers, 2006 Tigers; Burt Hooten, 1981 Dodgers; Jon Matlack, 1973 Mets; Waite Hoyt, 1921 Yankees; Christy Mathewson, 1905 Giants) to have three starts in a single postseason without allowing an earned run.

Game 2 was closer than the final score would indicate. It looked like the Rangers would score first in the top of the fifth inning when Ian Kinsler hit a monstrous drive off the top of the wall in dead center. He would settle for a leadoff double, but then Cain stranded the Texas second baseman by getting three outs on balls that did not leave the infield.

Renteria did score the game’s first run in the bottom of the fifth with a solo homer to left field. In the top of the sixth, Cain  once again showed the mettle that has made him such an effective hurler this postseason. After giving up singles to Michael Young and Josh Hamilton, as well as a wild pitch, the Giants’ starter escaped the one-out jam by getting Nelson Cruz and Kinsler out on short popouts.

"I tried to get ahead of those guys," Cain said. "My biggest goal was to get them in my situation, but working the counts in my favor."

The Giants chased Rangers’ starter C.J. Wilson one batter into the bottom of the seventh, and postseason veteran Uribe added an RBI in that frame to give San Francisco a 2-0 lead. Cain was pulled after 7.2 innings, as lefty specialist Javier Lopez got AL batting champion Josh Hamilton to fly out to end the top of the eighth.

Instead of an exciting finish, the Rangers bullpen (lack of facial hair?) could not find the strike zone in bottom of that frame. They walked four and gave up four hits as the Giants scored seven runs to put the game out of reach.

"You know, those guys were good, especially Cain tonight," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We had some opportunities early in the ballgame to put some runs on the board, and we had the right people up there, and he made his pitches. That's what he does well. We just couldn't get it done. I think you have to tip your hat to the pitching over there right now.”

Washington’s team will be glad to get back home to Arlington, where they’ll enjoy a hitter’s park, the ability to play designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, and the home crowd. The Rangers led Major League Baseball in batting average this season, but they have only hit 4-for-21 with runners in scoring position in two World Series games. Conversely, the red-hot Giants have batted an amazing .500 (13-26) with runners in scoring position. Texas must reverse that fact to get back into this series.

Thirteen of the last 14 teams to go up 2-0 in the World Series have gone on to win the title, with the 1996 New York Yankees being the lone exception. The Rangers will try to change that trend Saturday night, when they send Colby Lewis to the mound to face Giants’ lefty Jonathan Sanchez in Game 3.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, October 29, 2010 - 09:37

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