Articles By David Fox
One rivalry will determine a piece of the Big Ten championship, and unless you’ve been living under a rock this season, you know it’s not the usual game.
Michigan-Ohio State is the undercard in the Big Ten this week to Minnesota and Wisconsin. The longest-lived rivalry in major college football has been for the Slab of Bacon and Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but for the first time it’s for a trip to the Big Ten title game.
For all of the rivalry’s longevity, the two teams have been both ranked at kickoff only twice since 1962, the last time the rivalry was played with both teams in Big Ten championship contention.
It’s the most important game in the Big Ten this week — and not just for the Big Ten, TCU is pulling for the Gophers, too — but it’s not the only one with major implications.
Ohio State still has a playoff spot it would like to claim. Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern are all looking to be bowl eligible. And Nebraska and Iowa are looking for a win that will keep fans of their coaches’ backs.
Week 14 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Big Ten Week 14 Game Power Rankings
All times Eastern
1. Minnesota at Wisconsin
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
The contest for Paul Bunyan’s Axe has rarely been this important on the Big Ten stage. The winner will claim the Big Ten West and face Ohio State in the conference title game, making this the most important Minnesota-Wisconsin game since 1962. That season, both teams were ranked in the top five, and Wisconsin claimed the Big Ten title with a 14-9 win in the season finale. In this year’s meeting, what should be a showdown of two great running backs has diminished a bit. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is coming off a 200-yard game against Iowa, tying him with Badgers great Ron Dayne for the Big Ten single-season record last week. Gordon is 519 yards short of Barry Sanders’ national record from 1988. On the other side, though, Minnesota running back David Cobb is “very questionable,” coach Jerry Kill says. Cobb has rushed for 1,430 yards and 12 touchdowns this season in Minnesota’s tricky ground game. Quarterback Mitch Leidner rushed for 110 yards while passing for 135 to fill some of the void left by Cobb late in last week’s win over Nebraska.
2. Michigan at Ohio State
Saturday, noon, ABC
That Virginia Tech loss in Week 2 continues to be an anchor for Ohio State’s playoff hopes even though the Buckeyes were ranked XXX in the most recent release from the selection committee. The Buckeyes haven’t helped their case, either, in the last two games. Ohio State allowed Minnesota to rush for 218 yards and Indiana to run for 281, plus three touchdowns apiece. Both the Gophers and Hoosiers have effective running games, but the production (6.2 yards allowed per carry) is cause for concern. The Buckeyes have also turned the ball over eight times in the last three games, finishing on the wrong side of the turnover margin in each game. Michigan is a wounded team, but the Wolverines have been effective on the ground in the last three games (207.7 yards per game, 5.4 yards per carry). The Wolverines have high stakes in this game, too. A loss means no postseason for Michigan. The same program that reached a bowl game every year from 1975-2007 (and would have made more in the 70s if not for Big Ten rules) is in danger of missing the postseason for the third time in seven seasons.
3. Michigan State at Penn State
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
Michigan State’s Big Ten and playoff hopes evaporated several weeks ago, but the Spartans still have plenty of goals for the final game of the regular season. A spot in a major New Year’s Bowl (the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange or Peach) remains at stake as well as a fourth 10-win season in the last five years. Penn State is still looking to clinch a winning season after missing an opportunity against Illinois in a 16-14 loss last week. The Nittany Lions’ offensive line has been able to patch together a run game during the last three weeks, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg is still running for his life. This week, he’ll face a Michigan State defense that is tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks. Also of note: Spartans senior Tony Lippett is slated to be Michigan State’s first two-way starter since 1968 when he opens the game at receiver and cornerback.
4. Nebraska at Iowa
Friday, noon, ABC
The enthusiasm game for this game probably isn’t very high. Nebraska’s deflating loss to Minnesota last week puts the Cornhuskers a game away from Bo Pelini’s traditional four losses. A season that started 8-1 for Nebraska is in danger of ending on a three-game losing streak before the bowl game. Iowa’s season has been even more of a letdown with three losses in the last five games. What the future holds for either of these coaches — Pelini and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz — isn’t clear, but certainly one fanbase will be howling by Friday afternoon. On the field, though, this game will feature one intriguing matchup in the trenches between Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory and Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. NFL scouts will be closely attuned to that pairing.
5. Illinois at Northwestern
Saturday, noon, ESPNU
This seemed unthinkable at one point this season, but the winner of this game goes to a bowl game. Illinois stole wins over Penn State and Minnesota to put the Illini into bowl contention. Northwestern defeated Wisconsin on Oct. 4 and defeated Notre Dame in double overtime two weeks ago. The Wildcats, though, might be in dire straits as quarterback Trevor Siemian left last week’s game against Purdue with a torn ACL. Junior Zach Oliver will start against Illinois, but freshman Matt Alviti is expected to play, too.
6. Rutgers at Maryland
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
This isn’t a good game in a weekend of great games, but let’s stop to note that both of the Big Ten newcomers are enjoying successful seasons. Both are bowl eligible. Maryland (7-4) is 5-1 on the road and scored Big Ten wins over Iowa, Penn State and Michigan. Rutgers has been outclassed by the better Big Ten teams it has faced this season, but the Scarlet Knights are at least bowl eligible. Both teams will enjoy at least one beneficial matchup: Maryland and Rutgers are among the worst teams in the league in both sides of the run game.
7. Purdue at Indiana
Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network
The Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket will have to take the place for a bowl game for Purdue and Indiana ... again. Purdue will look to get its offense back on track. The Boilermakers looked like they had their quarterback of the future in Austin Appleby back in early October, but he’s throw six interception in his last four games. On the other sideline, Indiana running back Tevin Coleman is putting the finishing touches of a fantastic season — one that could be his last with the Hoosiers. Coleman is 94 yards of 2,000. If he’s able to hit that threshold, it will mark only the third time a conference has had two 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. UCF’s Kevin Smith and Tulane’s Matt Forte did it Conference USA in 2007. Iowa State’s Troy Davis and Texas Tech’s Byron Harnspard did it in the Big 12 in 1996.
Big Ten Week 14 Athlon Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Nebraska at Iowa (-1)||Iowa 24-21||Iowa 27-24||Iowa 24-20|
|Illinois at Northwestern (-8)||Ill. 21-14||NW 27-20||NW 17-14|
|Purdue at Indiana (-2 1/2)||Purdue 34-31||IU 34-31||IU 34-30|
|Michigan at Ohio State (-20)||OSU 42-21||OSU 38-17||OSU 34-20|
|Michigan St (-13 1/2) at Penn St||MSU 21-14||MSU 27-10||MSU 20-10|
|Minnesota at Wisconsin (-13 1/2)||Wisc 31-14||Wisc 30-20||Wisc 30-15|
|Rutgers at Maryland (-8 1/2)||Md 31-13||Md 34-17||Md 27-13|
The early season basketball tournaments have in some ways become bowl season.
There are the — let’s say — lower profile events with obscure teams and sparse crowds.
The Battle 4 Atlantis, though, has risen to the Orange Bowl or Fiesta Bowl of the non-conference basketball season.
Louisville, Duke and Memphis played here two years ago, Kansas, Villanova and Iowa a year ago.
This season’s even includes four teams ranked in this week’s Associated Press top 25 — No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 5 North Carolina, No. 18 Florida and No. 22 UCLA — plus Big East power Georgetown and Big 12 contender Oklahoma.
Those top five teams can solidify their bona fides while the other teams in the field can start to make moves into the national picture.
Wednesday’s First Round Games
All times Eastern
Butler vs. North Carolina (noon, ESPN2)
UCLA vs. Oklahoma (2:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Wisconsin vs. UAB (7 p.m., AXStv)
Florida vs. Georgetown (9:30 p.m., AXStv)
Championship Game: Friday, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Best potential game: Wisconsin vs. North Carolina in the final
The Badgers and Tar Heels opened the season in the Athlon top 10 and have done nothing to damage those projections through the first weeks of the season. The game could feature a handful of All-America candidates, including Marcus Paige, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker.
Player to watch: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Paige isn’t off to a blistering start (12 points per game), but North Carolina has hardly needed him to be an All-American in the first three games of the season. That changes as North Carolina advances through Atlantis. The second round brings a matchup against Oklahoma or UCLA and then probably Wisconsin, Florida or Georgetown.
Freshman to watch: Kevon Looney, UCLA
Atlantis features a handful of veteran teams or at least team’s that aren’t expecting freshmen to be the primary contributors. One of the exceptions is UCLA with five-star prospect Kevon Looney, who is averaging 14.8 points and 12 rebounds per game.
Breakout player: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Wisconsin lost one major contributor to last year’s team in Ben Brust. Filling the spot is sophomore forward Nigel Hayes, an outstanding athlete who is averaging nearly a double-double per game.
Storylines to watch
The Badgers are playing like a team that returns nearly every player from a Final Four squad. In fact, they’re playing better than last year’s squad. Frank Kaminsky is playing better than he did a year ago, raising his shooting percentage by more than 10 points while taking more shots from the outside. Sam Dekker is also a more efficient player than he was last season, and Nigel Hayes is amid a breakout campaign.
North Carolina’s post presence
The Tar Heels may have a breakout frontcourt this season with the performance of sophomore Kennedy Meeks, junior Brice Johnson and freshman Justin Jackson. Together, they’ve averaged 44 points per game through the first three.
Florida, Oklahoma try to bounce back
Florida and Oklahoma both had hopes of challenging Kentucky and Kansas in their respective conferences, but neither team looks anything like a conference contender. Florida lost at home to Miami and needed overtime to beat ULM. Oklahoma led Creighton by 18 in the second half only to lose 65-63 to a team rebuilding with Bluejays. Avoiding the losers’ bracket would be signs of progress.
Where does UCLA stand?
Arizona is the prohibitive favorite in the Pac-12. UCLA would have trouble challenging the Wildcats even in a best-case scenario this season, but the Bruins still have a shot to be No. 2 in the conference. Matchups against Oklahoma and potentially North Carolina, both contenders in their respective conferences, will be a good gauge of UCLA’s ceiling right now.
Butler’s coaching situation
Brandon Miller remains on medical leave due to an undisclosed issue, and the prospects of his return don’t appear optimistic. Under federal law, Miller can take 12 weeks of leave, but that will expire near the end of December. For now, Chris Holtmann is leading the program in place of the coach hired to replace Brad Stevens two years ago.
Battle 4 Atlantis Staff Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light|
|Prediction||Wisconsin over North Carolina||North Carolina over Wisconsin||Wisconsin over UCLA|
|Player to Watch||Buddy Hield, Oklahoma||Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina||Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin|
One of the great Thanksgiving traditions is snickering at who is playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions.
The list of Lions quarterbacks starting on Thanksgiving is a list of draft busts, journeymen, career backups and former stars whose best days had gone by.
Giggling at Lions quarterbacks on Thanksgiving, though, is getting tougher. Thank you, Matthew Stafford.
To fill that void is our (somewhat arbitrary) ranking of the quarterbacks who have started on Thanksgiving for the Lions since the NFL merger (1970).
To be clear, we’re looking at their entire career, not just their starts on Thanksgiving nor their tenures with the Lions. You’re welcome, Daunte Culpepper.
1. Matthew Stafford (2009, 2011-13)
Stafford has made the most starts for the Lions on Thanksgiving since Joey Harrington and delivered the first win in a decade with a 40-10 win over the Packers last season. Give the Lions' all-time leading passer a keg (to carry).
2. Dave Krieg (1994)
The longtime Seahawks quarterback made one Thanksgiving start for Detroit, and it was one of the Lions’ best. Subbing for Scott Mitchell, Krieg went 20-of-25 for 351 yards with three touchdowns in a win over the Bills. By then, Kreig was a 36-year-old QB with three Pro Bowl selections and an NFC Championship Game behind him.
3. Daunte Culpepper (2008)
Remember the Culpepper era in Detroit? We didn’t, either. From 2000-04, Culpepper was a rival to Peyton Manning. After that? Not so much. By 2008, the three-time Pro Bowler made five starts during the Lions’ winless season in 2008. Culpepper was 0-10 as a starter in two seasons for the Lions.
4. Jon Kitna (2006-07)
Kitna entered the league in 1997, and he was still on an NFL roster at age 41 in 2013. The Cowboys signed him away from being a high school math teacher and coach at Lincoln High in Tacoma, Wash. — during winter break, of course. Kitna then donated his $53,000 Cowboys salary to the high school. Oh, and he started on Thanksgiving for both the Lions and Cowboys during his career. You’re a cool teacher, Mr. Kitna.
5. Joe Ferguson (1986)
Ferguson made five career starts for the Lions in his mid-30s, well after he played for the Bills from 1973-84. He led the league in passing in 1977 and touchdowns in '75 and pulled the Bills out of the doldrums. But he also had a knack for throwing interceptions in the playoffs and also during the 1982 regular season when he threw 16 picks.
6. Scott Mitchell (1995-97)
Mitchell enjoyed his best season in 1995 with 4,338 yards and 32 touchdowns, including a win over Minnesota on Thanksgiving. He started three full seasons for Detroit and hung around the NFL for five more years until 2001. He resurfaced as a 366-pound contestant on "The Biggest Loser" in 2014.
7. Greg Landry (1970-72, 1974, 1976-77)
Landry spent 10 seasons with the Lions, only four as their primary quarterback. After spending 1968-84 in the NFL, he was an assistant in the pros and in college until 1986. Bet you didn’t know there’s a National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, and Landry’s in it. Now you know.
8. Erik Kramer (1991-92)
He started 15 games in three seasons for the Lions, including twice on Thanksgiving and three times in the playoffs. He didn’t become a full-time starter until age 31 for the Bears.
9. Gus Frerotte (1999)
The journeyman Frerotte is one of 14 quarterbacks to throw a 99-yard pass. In that way, he’s just like Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Jim Plunkett and Otto Graham.
10. Rodney Peete (1993)
Peete bounced around the league as a backup for most of his 15 seasons. He finished with a 45-42 career record, which for this list is pretty good.
11. Eric Hipple (1981-83, 1985)
Hipple played his entire career for the Lions, going 3-1 on Thanksgiving and 25-29 otherwise.
12. Gary Danielson (1978, 1980, 1984)
The CBS college football commentator started three non-consecutive Thanksgivings for the Lions and had a couple of nice seasons in 1978-80.
13. Bill Munson (1973)
Munson played for the Lions from 1968-75, started 48 games and yet only one of them came on Thanksgiving. In his first two seasons in the NFL in 1964-65 for the Rams, Munson threw 29 total interceptions. A decade later, he led three game-winning drives for the Lions in 1974 alone.
14. Charlie Batch (1998, 2000-01)
We could have sworn Charlie Batch was still a backup somewhere. He’s not.
15. Joey Harrington (2002-05)
Harrington started four Thanksgiving games for the Lions. He finished two of them. He’s on TV now.
16. Bob Gagliano (1989-90)
For Detroit in two years: 11 starts, 16 touchdown passes. For three other NFL teams in five years: Two starts and one touchdown pass Also played two years in the USFL.
17. Shaun Hill (2010)
Hill started one season while Stafford was hurt, threw 12 interceptions, including two against the Patriots on Thanksgiving.
18. Chuck Long (1987-88)
He started twice on Thanksgiving and went a combined 8-of-20. His 2.8 passer rating in 1988 is the worst for any Lions QB on Thanksgiving since 1970. Led the NFL with 20 interceptions in 1987.
19. Joe Reed (1975)
Enjoyed one extended look as a starter in 1975 and threw nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
20. Jeff Komlo (1979)
A ninth-round pick, Komlo threw 23 interceptions and went 2-12 in his lone season as a starter in the NFL as a rookie. His story didn’t end well.
If the weekly exercise of explaining the College Football Playoff rankings has taught us anything, it’s that coming up with perfect answers is impossible.
A week after “game control” became the talking point of the week, selection committee chair Jeff Long indicated previous rankings remain in the back of the minds of the committee members’ minds even on Nov. 25.
That’s partly why Mississippi State remains at No. 4 and in the playoff with only one win against a team in the current top 25.
The Bulldogs have wins over three teams that were at some point in the playoff rankings that started since Week 10 — Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M. Only No. 15 Auburn remains and that’s a long way from the top three where the Tigers started.
“It’s just something the committee discusses,” Long said. “We know if we team was ranked 14-15-16 and teams play differently at different parts of the year. A team that may have been playing very well early in the season whether through injuries or level of competition, they’re not playing as well (now).
“It’s not a criteria but we certainly discuss or know when a team was previously ranked in the top 25.”
Long clarified he means the playoff’s top 25 and not the polls, but the distinction may be lost on fans who want to know why those games and rankings still count up to five weeks later.
Let’s attempt to translate just a bit: Teams previously ranked in the top 25 are probably in the top 30 or 40 now, even if the committee doesn’t go that deep into the rankings. The committee knows LSU is not Tulane. Texas A&M is not Texas State. And West Virginia is not Washington State.
In trying to explain something that already makes sense to the common fan, the weekly rankings release force the committee to dress up the movements in a way that seems smarter and more ironclad than it actually is.
So before you start sifting through old polls and top 25s, take a deep breath and wait until next week. Surely, we'll have somethign new to discuss then.
Here’s how the most recent top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Nov. 25|
|1. Alabama||10. Michigan State||18. Minnesota|
|2. Oregon||11. Arizona||19. Ole Miss|
|3. Florida State||12. Kansas State||20. Oklahoma|
|4. Mississippi State||13. Arizona State||21. Clemson|
|5. TCU||14. Wisconsin||22. Louisville|
|6. Ohio State||15. Auburn||23. Boise State|
|7. Baylor||16. Georgia Tech||24. Marshall|
|8. UCLA||17. Missouri||25. Utah|
The Group of Five makes an appearance
Boise State and Marshall are your official leaders for a spot in the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange or Peach bowls. Boise State (9-2) checked in at No. 23, and Marshall (11-0) at No. 24. Those rankings carry important distinctions: First, Boise State is head of Mountain West foe Colorado State. Boise defeated Colorado State 37-24 in Week 2, but the Rams have two wins over Power 5 teams (Colorado on a neutral field and Boston College on the road). Marshall is one of two undefeated teams, but the Thundering Herd have the 136th-ranked schedule in the Sagarin ratings.
Rivalry games will be noted
This will be of note this week: Long said the unexpected nature of rivalry games may be a topic among the committee. “We certainly discuss if it’s a rivalry game, and we do know that (there are) a number of unanticipated outcomes in rivalry games,” Long said. That may be good news for teams like Ohio State and Florida State that face rivals that they should defeat comfortably on paper.
Division on Florida State
Is Florida State a good team because it finds a way to win each week or should the Seminoles be downgraded for letting lesser teams hang around? The committee is as divided as anyone. “There are some who believe a team coming from behind and winning is a sign of a strong team,” Long said. “There are others who believe that they are a good enough team and they should have been in front or in control of the game. It’s a debate in the room.”
The committee was down to 11
Archie Manning hasn’t participated all year as he recovered from knee replacement surgery, but the committee was down a second member in Mike Tranghese. The former Big East commissioner was ill but is expected back next week.
Who Should Worry:
The Horned Frogs still have a nice ace in the hole when it comes to its non-conference schedule compared to Mississippi State, Baylor and Ohio State. The Frogs defeated No. 18 Minnesota 30-7 in September when the Bulldogs and Bears were playing lackluster non-conference schedules and the Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech. TCU has a road game Thursday against an improving Texas, but Baylor (No. 12 Kansas State), Mississippi State (No. 19 Ole Miss) and Ohio State (either No. 14 Wisconsin or No. 18 Minnesota) all finish their seasons with tougher games. TCU is already out of the top four with few ways to make up ground without help.
The Thundering Herd entered the top 25, but Marshall shouldn’t get too excited. Marshall is behind Boise, a team Long said was ahead because its strength of schedule is “far and away” better. If both continue to win, that leaves little room even for an undefeated Marshall to move up. The Herd face Western Kentucky (6-5) and either Louisiana Tech and Rice (7-4) in the league title game. Even if Boise State loses to Utah State (9-3) and falls out of Mountain West contention, one-loss Colorado State would swoop in for the MWC championship game.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:
The Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech may not be as damming as we think. The Hokies are 5-6 after a 6-3 double-overtime loss to Wake Forest on Saturday and haven’t come close to duplicating their high-water mark of defeating Ohio State 35-21 in Columbus in Week 2. In response to a question about losses to teams whose stature as fallen regarding Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss and Ohio State’s loss to Virginia Tech, Long said: “We certainly talk about bad losses, but I’m not sure I would agree with the ones you listed there.”
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 5 TCU vs. No. 11 Arizona
Fiesta: No. 23 Boise State* vs. No. 6 Ohio State
Orange: No. 16 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 10 Michigan State
Peach: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Georgia
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
Change is a constant in college football, particularly in the coaching profession.
In decades past, a coach could ascend to the top jobs — and some of the mid-level posts — in the sport and stay year after year. Think of Bear Bryant, Vince Dooley, Bo Schembechler or Hayden Fry.
Those days are more or less over. In the last four seasons alone, Texas, USC, Oregon, Auburn and Tennessee have hired new coaches. Penn State has hired two. Florida is on its second coaching search in the last five seasons.
While the names change, some of the best jobs in the sport do not. Florida is as good a job for this new coach as it was for Will Muschamp, Urban Meyer or Ron Zook. Kansas remains a challenge for any coach, an insurmountable one for many.
Which jobs are the best in this year’s version of the coaching carousel? Here’s our take on the potential for each program making a change this season.
Out: Will Muschamp (28-20 in four seasons)
Potential candidates: Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn
Pros: With three national championships since 1996 and eight SEC titles since 1991, Florida is one of the nation’s elite-of-the-elite jobs. The Gators are the flagship university and only SEC representative in one of the nation’s big three recruiting states. Moreover, Florida has been able to spot recruit into the Southeast, the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast regularly over the years. Athletic director Jeremy Foley is one of the nation’s top administrators who will give his football coach every opportunity to succeed.
Cons: If we’re going to nitpick at the Florida job, it could be the facilities. The Gators last had a stadium/facility upgrade in 2008 and remain one of the few top programs without an indoor practice facility or standalone football building. Foley shrugs off the perception that Florida lags in facilities. “We’re not into bells and whistles,” he says. Style is also a factor at Florida. The Gators have won three national championships since 1996, but the coaches who have succeeded the most, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, have run innovative offenses.
How good is the Florida job? A-plus
Out: Charlie Weis (6-22 in three seasons)
Potential candidates: Kansas interim coach Clint Bowen, Memphis coach Justin Fuente, Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz
Pros: Kansas has a clear ceiling in the Big 12, but the Jayhawks have proven they can have a respectable program. Mark Mangino took Kansas to four bowl games during his eight-year tenure with fortunate scheduling helping KU to a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl victory in 2007. Glen Mason led KU to four winning seasons in his final six seasons in the ‘90s.
Cons: The new coach walks into a rough situation with back-to-back disastrous hires. Weis’ reliance on junior college and four-year transfers will leave the new coach plugging holes right away. The Big 12’s only true basketball school, Kansas is the No. 2 football program in a state without a ton of high school prospects.
How good is the Kansas job? C-minus
Out: June Jones (36-43 in seven seasons)
Potential candidates: Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery, UL Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth, Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel
Pros: There’s little reason SMU can’t be the best team in the American Athletic Conference, but we could have said something similar of SMU’s final seasons in Conference USA. The Mustangs will never have first choice of football prospects in the Lone Star State, but getting the second or third crack at Texas guys who want to play college football in Dallas should be the foundation of a winning program.
Cons: With four consecutive bowl bids from 2009-12, Jones ended SMU’s postseason drought that dated back to the death penalty in 1987. Yet it’s tough to say SMU is in better shape than when he arrived. The winless Mustangs are perhaps the worst team in the FBS in 2014. Digging out of this hole won’t be easy.
How good is the SMU job? C-minus
Out: Larry Blakeney (178-112-1 in 24 seasons)
Potential candidates: Texas running backs coach Tommie Robinson, UAB coach Bill Clark
Pros: Troy was once the top program in the Sun Belt, winning at least a share of league titles every year from 2006-10. The league has thinned out a bit with programs like North Texas, FAU, FIU and Western Kentucky moving into Conference USA, but Troy can continue to be one of the league’s top programs.
Cons: Following the top coach in program history is always tough, and Blakeney was that for Troy. Serving as coach since 1991, Blakeney successfully led Troy in its transition from the Division II to the FBS. The Troy job also can’t claim to be the only FBS program in the Southern portion of the state with South Alabama joining the Sun Belt in 2012.
How good is the Troy job? D
Out: Jeff Quinn (20-36 in five seasons)
Potential candidates: Towson coach Rob Ambrose, Fordham coach Joe Moorhead
Pros: The Bulls are only two seasons removed from going 8-5 and reaching the MAC title game behind first-round NFL Draft pick Khalil Mack.
Cons: That 8-5 season in 2013 is one of only two winning seasons for Buffalo since the Bulls joined the MAC in 1999.
How good is the Buffalo job? F
Thanksgiving is a great time to get gorged on turkey, pie and college football rivalry games.
The traditional fare of the Iron Bowl, Florida-Florida State and Ohio State-Michigan is worth watching, but this week is also time for some surprising traditional and non-traditional matchups.
Even if the Egg Bowl isn’t the SEC West play-in game that seemed a possibility a month ago, Mississippi State-Ole Miss features a team hoping to play for a national title.
Wisconsin-Minnesota is a long-lived traditional rivalry that has rarely packed so much meaning with the Big Ten West title and perhaps a Heisman Trophy on the line.
And even though Missouri and Texas aren’t playing their traditional rivals this week, their matchups with Arkansas and TCU, respectively, are loaded with significance on the national and conference championship stage.
The Week Ahead: Nov. 25-27
All Times Eastern.
Listen to the Week 13 recap and analysis podcast:
TCU at Texas
When and where: Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... we miss Texas-Texas A&M as much as anyone, but this is still a darn good game. This is TCU’s last chance to make a statement to the playoff selection committee, and the Horned Frogs will have to do it on offense. Texas is only 6-5, but the Longhorns have had the best defense in the Big 12 since conference play began.
Vegas says: TCU by 6 1/2
Arkansas at Missouri
When and where: Friday, 2:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this is perhaps the most unlikely game playing a role in the SEC championship. Missouri lost at home to Indiana and to Georgia by 34 but can clinch the East with a win over the Hogs. Missouri can win the SEC East for the second consecutive season but has to go through the hottest team in the league to do it. Arkansas has ended a 17-game SEC win streak by outscoring LSU and Ole Miss 47-0.
Vegas says: Arkansas by 1 1/2
Arizona at Arizona State
When and where: Friday, 3:30 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... few games have more potential for a bonkers finish. Both teams have won on Hail Marys this season — Arizona over Cal and Arizona State over USC — not to mention the regular late-night craziness that follows Pac-12 teams. Fans will be doing their share of scoreboard watching, too. If UCLA loses to Stanford, the winner of the Territorial Cup wins the Pac-12 South outright. One question will be the status of Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon, who left the win over Utah on Saturday with a right foot injury.
Vegas says: Pick ‘em
Stanford at UCLA
When and where: Friday, 3:30 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... UCLA still has the Pac-12 South, a Pac-12 title and potentially a playoff spot on the line against a team that has the Bruins’ number. This is not the Stanford team we’re used to seeing, but the Bruins have reason to be worried even against a below-average Cardinal team. Stanford has won the last six in the series, four by two touchdowns or more.
Vegas says: UCLA by 4 1/2
Michigan at Ohio State
When and where: Saturday, noon, ABC/ESPN
We’re watching because... Ohio State may be primed for an upset. The Buckeyes let Indiana hang around for three quarters last week and has had a negative turnover margin for three consecutive games. Is that a case of looking ahead to Michigan or a real reason for Urban Meyer to worry? A year ago, another lackluster Michigan team challenged a then-undefeated Ohio State in a 42-41 loss.
Vegas says: Ohio State by 20
Georgia Tech at Georgia
When and where: Saturday, noon, SEC Network
We’re watching because... this game may mean everything to Georgia or nothing. The Bulldogs will know Friday afternoon if they’re going to the SEC Championship Game. An Arkansas win keeps Georgia in playoff contention. A Missouri win, and Georgia can start planning for a bowl. Georgia Tech has its division title wrapped up, but the Yellow Jackets have plenty of motivation after winning just one meeting in the series since 2001.
Vegas says: Georgia by 13
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this is an Egg Bowl with national significance, who knew? Ole Miss collapsed in last year’s Egg Bowl, a win that shifted the momentum for Dan Mullen’s program in 2014. The Bulldogs still have a chance at the SEC West if Alabama loses the Iron Bowl and may be a playoff contender even if they don’t reach Atlanta. Ole Miss, which has gone from No. 3 in the AP poll to 8-3, can ruin it all for Mississippi State.
Vegas says: Mississippi State by 2
Florida at Florida State
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... the last time a lame duck coach for Florida went to Tallahassee, the Gators spoiled a special day for Florida State. The Seminoles christened Bobby Bowden Field on Nov. 20, 2004 only to watch Florida players carry fired coach Ron Zook off of it after a 20-13 win over the 10th-ranked Seminoles.
Vegas says: Florida State by 7 1/2
Minnesota at Wisconsin
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
We’re watching because... the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe doesn’t usually figure into the Big Ten title race, and that’s pretty cool. Minnesota keeps plugging along and filling its trophy case — the Gophers already have the Floyd of Rosedale (Iowa) and Little Brown Jug (Michigan) this season and could add the Axe and a Big Ten West title. The coaches don’t need this advice, but just let us sit back and watch Melvin Gordon and David Cobb do their thing.
Vegas says: Wisconsin by 13 1/2
Auburn at Alabama
When and where: Saturday, 7:45 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... the last Iron Bowl ended like this.
Vegas says: Alabama by 9 1/2
Oregon at Oregon State
When and where: Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... one of the nation’s more underrated rivalries again factors in the national title race, if only for one team. The Civil War was once a balanced rivalry before Oregon began its current six-game win streak (two of those Oregon wins were decided by less than a touchdown, however). Oregon State has a losing record while Oregon is looking to stay in the title race. If that situation in a rivalry game doesn’t sound familiar, ask a West Virginia fan.
Vegas says: Oregon by 20
Winning in the Maui Invitational is generally a sign of good things to come.
The Maui Invitational was a kingmaker three times between 2005-11 as the eventual national champion also won in Maui. Last year’s winner, Syracuse, won Maui on the way to 25 consecutive wins to start the season.
National championship contender Arizona may be poised to make a similar run, using Maui as a springboard. At the very least, a team could emerge from Maui as arguably the top team in the West this season with the Pac-12 favorite (Arizona), Mountain West favorite (San Diego State) and No. 2 team in the West Coast Conference (BYU) all making appearances.
Monday’s First Round Games
All Times Eastern
Purdue vs. Kansas State (2:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Missouri vs. Arizona (5 p.m., ESPN2)
Pittsburgh vs. Chaminade (9 p.m., ESPNU)
BYU vs. San Diego State (11:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Championship Game: Wednesday, 10 p.m., ESPN
Best potential game: Arizona vs. San Diego State in the final
Arguably the top two teams out West could meet in the Maui Invitational championship game. San Diego State continues to rebuild year after year under Steve Fisher with Dwayne Polee, J.J. O’Brien and Winston Shepard growing into lead roles this season. Arizona has plenty of veterans, too, and a team that should contend for the Final Four.
Player to watch: Tyler Haws, BYU
Haws is the second-leading scorer returning in 2014-15 after averaging 23.2 points per game last season. He had his chances on the big stage early last season, scoring 31 points against Stanford, 20 against Iowa State, 25 against Texas and 17 against Wichita State.
Freshman to watch: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Another season and another star freshman at Arizona. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard Johnson steps into Aaron Gordon’s shoes with the Wildcats, but where Gordon was a defensive presence, Johnson is a diverse scoring threat. Arizona lacked an offensive lynchpin last season. That may change with Johnson.
Breakout player: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
Here’s an easy way to get noticed on a star-studded team: The sophomore Hollis-Jefferson dunked on UC Irvine’s Mamsdou N’Diaye, who is college basketball’s tallest player this season at 7-foot-6. Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 16 points per game this season after averaging 9.1 a year ago.
Storylines to watch:
We’ve seen what teams like Duke, Kentucky and Wisconsin can do against solid competition so far this season. This field won’t give Arizona a top-10 win — Wisconsin and North Carolina, for example, are playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis — but Arizona can start racking up wins against NCAA contenders Kansas State, San Diego State or Pittsburgh.
San Diego State’s defense vs. BYU’s Tyler Haws
The competition hasn’t been great, but San Diego State has been stifling on the defensive end this season so far. The Aztecs have allowed 44.7 points per game and 17.6 percent shooting from 3-point range. Steve Fisher has had a top-10 defensive team in two of the last three seasons, but BYU and Haws will be San Diego State’s first true test this season.
Signs of life for Pittsburgh and Kansas State
The long trip to Hawaii is not off to a great start for Pittsburgh. The Panthers lost 74-70 to Hawaii on Friday, only a week after announcing forward Durand Johnson would be suspended for the season. Johnson suffered a torn ACL last season but averaged 8.8 points in 19.8 minutes per game through the first 16 games. Kansas State is faring better but not by much. The Wildcats lost 69-60 at Long Beach State on Friday before heading to Maui. These are teams with NCAA Tournament potential that have already picked up bad losses before Thanksgiving.
Athlon Staff Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light|
|Prediction||Arizona over San Diego State||Arizona over San Diego State||Arizona over San Diego State|
|Player to Watch||Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona||Stanley Johnson, Arizona||Stanley Johnson, Arizona|
The selection committee made clear at least one point Tuesday: Winning a game isn’t always enough.
How a team wins or — in the words committee chair Jeff Long — how a team controls the game is just as important.
However the committee wants to explain its weekly rankings, Ohio State should be concerned with one word: Doubt.
Ohio State defeated Indiana 42-27 and led by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but the game wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the final score indicates.
Only a week after a 31-24 win over Minnesota, Ohio State spent three quarters tussling with a team that hadn’t won a Big Ten game. Perhaps the best news of the day for Ohio State occurred in Lincoln as Minnesota remaind in the Big Ten title hunt with a win over Nebraska. A road victory over Minnesota remains the second-best win of the season for Ohio State.
Back in Columbus, though, Indiana had scored 20 consecutive points for a six-point lead before freshman Jalin Marshall returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
Ohio State regrouped to overwhelm Indiana in the fourth quarter, but not until after giving the selection committee reason to second guess the Buckeyes. And even though Ohio State moved up to No. 6 last week, the Buckeyes surely don’t want to make the selection committee think too much.
In some ways, perhaps these two weeks should be a zero sum game. Ohio State did the same thing TCU did a week ago when the Horned Frogs let Kansas lead before claiming a 34-30 win. Ohio State’s sputtering performance against Indiana, a team that defeated a ranked Missouri team on the road this season, ended in a more lopsided victory.
But TCU, Baylor and any other one-loss team doesn’t have the albatross of a home loss to 5-6 Virginia Tech. The Hokies, by the way, lost 6-3 in double overtime to Wake Forest, a team that started Saturday ranked 149th in the Sagarin ratings.
While Ohio State has won five Big Ten games by at least 12 points, the Buckeyes aren’t making things easy. If the selection committee starts to see Ohio State’s first three quarters against Indiana as part of a trend, the Buckeyes may be in trouble.
And for that, there’s a fair amount of data: Ohio State has been on the negative side of the turnover margin in three consecutive games thanks to three giveaways against Indiana.
The run defense that gave up 178 yards to Michigan State and 218 to Minnesota gave up 281 to the Hoosiers.
Ohio State couldn’t control Tevin Coleman. The Buckeyes didn’t control the game. And, now, they may lose control of their momentum toward the playoff.
A running back setting himself apart from others in Wisconsin history takes a monumental feat.
The Badgers have the all-time leading rusher (Ron Dayne), career rushing touchdown leader (Montee Ball, who is also tied for the single-season record) and now the single-game rushing leader (Melvin Gordon).
Gordon’s 408 rushing yards against Nebraska last week, though, puts him in reach of the biggest prize for any running back, much less a Wisconsin running back — Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record.
Sanders rushed for 2,628 yards in 11 games in 1988 for Oklahoma State, a mark that’s been seriously challenged only once since then. UCF’s Kevin Smith came 61 yards short of tying Sanders in 2007.
To put Gordon’s season in perspective, only four running backs have come within 500 yards of Sanders’ record: Smith in 2007, Iowa State’s Troy Davis by 443 yards in 1986, Boston College’s Andre Williams by 451 yards last season, and TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson by 470 yards in 2000.
Before we delve deeper into Gordon’s shot at Sanders’ record, consider this: In 1988, the record for single-season passing in 1988 belonged to BYU’s Jim McMahon (4,571 yards in 1980). That mark has been exceeded 22 times since.
Back to Gordon: The Badgers running back sits at 1,909 rushing yards through 10 games and could play as many as 14 games if the Badgers clinch a trip to the Big Ten title game Saturday.
While Gordon won’t match Sanders’ mark of 238.9 rushing yards per game, he does have a chance to catch Sanders in a couple of other ways. And perhaps what’s most remarkable, Gordon could do it by rushing below his own season average.
Here’s a look at the records in Gordon’s sights in the final three or four games:
• Counting a Big Ten title game and a bowl, Gordon would need to rush for 720 yards in the final four games to pass Sanders. That’s an average of 180 yards per game. Gordon averages 190.9.
• Let’s say Wisconsin loses each of its last two games and misses the Big Ten title game. Gordon would need to average 240 yards in games against Minnesota and Iowa and in the bowl game. He’s exceeded that total three times this season.
• But if we’re going to say it's possible Gordon could average 240 yards in three games, what if those three games include the Big Ten title game? That would mean Gordon has a chance to break Sanders’ record before the bowl game — and before the Heisman voting. Since Ron Dayne in 1999, only two running backs have won the Heisman (Mark Ingram in 2009 and Reggie Bush in 2005).
• While Sanders’ rushing yards per game average is out of reach, Gordon can better Sanders in the per-play department. Sanders holds the record for backs with more than 280 carries with 7.64 yards per attempt. Gordon averages 8.56 yards per carry on 223 attempts. That would surpass Nebraska running back Mike Rozier’s record of 7.81 yards per carry for backs with at least 215 attempts.
• And as ESPN’s Brett Edgerton notes, Gordon could beat Sanders to the 2,000-yard mark.
If @Melvingordon25 can rush for his next 91 yards in fewer than 28 carries, he'll be the quickest ever to reach 2,000 yards.— Brett Edgerton (@EditorEdge) November 20, 2014
• So what about those Big Ten marks? Dayne holds the Big Ten record for single-season rushing with 2,109 yards in 1996. If Gordon’s season averages hold up, he’ll break that record sometime in the first half of the regular-season finale against Minnesota.
• Moreover, Gordon might have the Big Ten’s single-season rushing yards per game record all but wrapped up. Gordon, at 190.9 yards per game, is already well ahead of the record set by Michigan State’s Lorenzo White in 1985 (173.5).
One of the few places Scooby Wright will find his given name is on his high school diploma.
So ingrained is the nickname Scooby that when he was announced at his graduation ceremony at Cardinal Newman in Santa Rosa, Calif., many of his friends were taken aback to see him rise when “Phillip Wright III” was called to receive his diploma.
“And these were friends from fourth or fifth grade,” Wright told Athlon Sports.
Wright almost never goes by the name Phillip. Not even his parents — even when frustrated or trying to get his attention — use his full name.
He’s had his nickname since he was a baby when his father called his son his “little Scooby Doo.”
By season’s end, he’ll be the first Scooby to earn All-Pac-12 honors and perhaps other awards. Earlier this week, Wright was named a finalist for the Nagurski and Lombardi awards.
Wright ranks first nationally in tackles for a loss per game (2.2), third in sacks per game (1.2), fourth in tackles per game (11.8) and tied for first in forced fumbles (five).
With numbers like that, Wright may be on the verge of rare rise from recruiting obscurity to national prominence.
If Wright is a consensus All-American this season, he’ll be the sixth defensive freshman or sophomore since 2009 to earn that honor.
The others on the list are a who’s who of college and NFL stars: South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Boston College’s Luke Kuechly and Texas’ Earl Thomas.
If Wright joins that group, he’ll complete a meteoric two-year rise. He wears the Scooby nickname with pride but also his recruiting rating. On Twitter, Wright is @TwoStarScoob.
Though he’ll be decorated at the end of his sophomore college season, Wright nearly finished his junior high school season without a scholarship offer. He participated in camps but received only the cursory two-star rating by the recruiting services.
“He kind of was baffled why he wasn’t being recruited more,” Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin said. “There was one coach who said, ‘Hey, go check out Sacramento State or check out UC Davis.’ Those are good schools, but it was an insult to him because he thought he was better than the guys they were recruiting.”
The longtime coach at Cardinal Newman, Cronin remembers Wright around the school for several years before he was a freshman. Wright’s father is the softball coach at Santa Rosa Junior College, and his sister, six years older, played college softball at Illinois.
Confidence was never an issue for Wright, as he promised as a freshman that he’d be a Division I linebacker.
That was tested, though, in his junior year. His classmates in other sports were starting to receive scholarship offers, but Wright was not among them.
Cardinal Newman was not a football hotbed, so recruiters weren’t in the area consistently. Before Wright, the last alum to play high school football at a high level was offensive lineman Al Netter, who went to Northwestern and now plays for the San Francisco 49ers.
Though he was a productive high school player, Wright didn’t exactly look the part. Cronin estimates Wright weighed about 195-205 pounds at the time. His recruiting profiles listed him at 6-1, 225 pounds. As a junior, he barely had a 30-inch vertical. By the time he was a senior, that improved to 38 inches.
His Arizona profile lists him now at 246 pounds.
“Everyone always questioned my athleticism,” Wright said. “(But) I went to the Nike training camp with supposedly the best guys in the West Coast. I went and competed with the best of them and stood out but never really heard anything back.”
Wright was so far removed from recruiting that when the first offer came, he was nowhere to be found. While Wright was “probably at the beach that day,” Cronin was the first to learn that Arizona stumbled upon his highlights and couldn’t let him slip away.
The first contact came at the end of his junior year when he spoke to then-Arizona assistant Tony Gibson, who is now defensive coordinator at West Virginia.
“The first time I talked to them was when coach Gibson said, ‘we’re going to offer you,’” Wright said.
The scholarship offer wasn’t without risk, though. As happens in recruiting, secrets don’t stay secret for long. Once reports of an Arizona offer hit recruiting news sites, other schools might have taken a closer look — and not just Sacramento State and UC Davis.
“I thought this guy looks like a really good player,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “We thought, if we offer him, it’s going to bring attention to him and we’re going to have to fight a bunch of folks.”
Other schools started to pay attention, but Arizona made sure Wright didn’t feel forgotten. And Wright didn’t forget that out of the hundreds of highlights he sent, Arizona was one of the few to respond and the only one that didn’t hedge.
“Other schools said we’ll get back to you or send us film from your senior year,” Wright said. “But there was none of that with Arizona. They said we’re going to offer you now. We want you.”
The flyer on Wright paid quick dividends for Arizona. He started as freshman, picking up 83 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss and earning Athlon Sports second-team Freshman All-America honors.
If any school wishes it would have pounced on Wright early, it’s probably Oregon. Anything that would have kept Wright out of an Arizona uniform.
In Oregon’s two losses to Arizona in the last two seasons, Wright has been the pivotal player. Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota has been one of the most sure-handed quarterbacks in the country the last two seasons, but Wright has plucked two turnovers in two seasons from the Heisman contender.
Last season, Wright intercepted a Mariota pass, plucking the ball out of the air after teammate Shaq Richardson, falling out of bounds, deflected the ball to keep it in play. The first-quarter interception set the tone as Arizona upset the fifth-ranked Ducks 42-16.
In a Thursday night game on Oct. 2, Wright sacked Mariota, stripped the ball and recovered the fumble as Oregon drove down the field for the game-tying score. Arizona upset the No. 2 Ducks 31-24.
Wright, who two years earlier had gone ignored by colleges, couldn’t go to the student rec center the following Saturday without being noticed by other students.
“Once he got on campus, we found that he could handle a lot physically and mentally,” Rodriguez said. “He’s just a football player whether you put him at defensive end or linebacker. We could put him at fullback because he’s great there, too.”
The B storylines of the Big Ten are just starting to heat up.
The A storyline seems to be the same since the second week of the season: This is a league whose College Football Playoff hopes are continually hanging by the thread.
The other stories, though, may be more interesting. Chief among them Melvin Gordon’s chase for history, both as a realistic candidate to break Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record and a running back who could win the Heisman.
The other story is the November round robin to determine the Big Ten West. Ohio State should wrap up the East official this week against Indiana even if the Buckeyes’ division title seemed inevitable after a win over Michigan State on Nov. 8.
After the win over Nebraska last week, Wisconsin can clinch the West with a win over Iowa and a Minnesota loss, but the possibility remains that Wisconsin and Minnesota will face each other in the finale with the division on the line.
Week 13 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Big Ten Week 13 Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
1. Wisconsin at Iowa
3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
All eyes are on the Melvin Gordon show as the Wisconsin running back makes a run at the Heisman and Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record. Thanks to last week’s record-breaking 408-yard rushing effort, Gordon can pass Sanders even if he falls below his season average of 191 yards per game. Of course, that’s assuming Wisconsin reaches the Big Ten title game. The Badgers can clinch the West division with a win over Iowa and a Minnesota loss to Nebraska. Perhaps lost watching Gordon is the play of the Wisconsin defense. In the last four games, the Badgers have allowed 181 yards per game and three yards per play. Two opponents in that span (Rutgers and Nebraska) have passed for fewer than 100 yards and three (Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue) have rushed for fewer than 100 yards. Iowa will find out which version of its offense will show up — the balanced efforts against Northwestern and Illinois or the inept passing game against Minnesota.
Listen to the Week 13 preview podcast:
2. Minnesota at Nebraska
Nebraska is in an interesting spot. One week has unraveled many of the goals this season. This time last week, Nebraska still had a chance the Big Ten title game, and if the one-loss Cornhuskers could beat Wisconsin and potentially Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, Nebraska could at least make a case for the playoff. Melvin Gordon ended those plans in a 59-24 loss. The division is gone and probably a major bowl game. Nebraska hopes to have running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory, who were both injured during the course of the Wisconsin loss, back healthy this week. Even so, facing the run-oriented Gophers might not be a welcome sight after the Cornhuskers gave up 581 total rushing yards a week ago. Despite a loss to Ohio State, Minnesota has a chance to win the Big Ten West with a win in Lincoln setting up a winner-take-all game against Wisconsin next week.
3. Maryland at Michigan
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
For all the tumult this season, Michigan is still hoping for a bowl game. The Wolverines are 5-5 with a finale against Ohio State, meaning Michigan may need to win this one play in the postseason. Meanwhile, the problems continue for Brady Hoke, who may be coaching in his final home game in Ann Arbor. Defensive end Frank Clark, a player chosen in the preseason to represent Michigan at media day, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and was dismissed. Michigan will have to hope an off week and Maryland’s lackluster defense will put the Wolverines into a good position Saturday. Maryland, meanwhile, has been a better team away from College Park. The Terrapins are 4-1 on the road compared to 2-3 at home.
4. Indiana at Ohio State
Big Ten, Big Ten Network
Before Ohio State improved its stock to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday, Urban Meyer was already touting his team’s improvement from the Virginia Tech loss in Columbus to a team that has won back-to-back conference games over ranked teams on the road (Michigan State and Minnesota). “There’s no question this is the most improved team from Game 1 to Game 10 that I’ve ever been around,” Meyer said. That improvement has made the College Football Playoff a possibility and has made redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett a viable candidate to go to New York has a Heisman finalist. This week, Ohio State need only to flex its muscles like it can against Indiana. The Buckeyes need only look at TCU, which beat its conference bottom-feeder Kansas by 4, to learn that wins alone aren’t enough for the selection committee. Ohio State can clinch the Big Ten East with a win or a Michigan State loss.
5. Rutgers at Michigan State
Noon, Big Ten Network
With two games left against Rutgers and at Penn State, Michigan State is looking to secure a spot in a major bowl — i.e., the Cotton, Fiesta, Peach or Orange. Rutgers is a bowl team but has been outclasssed by the upper tier of the Big Ten, losing by a combined score of 135-41 to Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Most important for Michigan State is to get Connor Cook into a groove before he faces Penn State’s defense in the finale. Throw out a start against Indiana, and Cook is completing only 49.4 percent of his passes in October and November.
6. Penn State at Illinois
Penn State has corrected its course after a four-game losing streak and gained bowl eligibility thanks to back-to-back wins over Indiana and Temple. A win over Illinois would clinch not only a winning season for James Franklin in his first year at Penn State but also a winning regular season in all three years under NCAA sanctions (Penn State finishes the season at Michigan State). In the modeset two-game win streak, Penn State has enjoyed a revival of its run game. After failing to run for 100 yards in six of the first eight games, Penn State ran for 162 against Indiana and 254 against Temple. The Nittany Lions also didn’t allow a sack against the Owls. Time may be ticking on Illinois coach Tim Beckman, but his rosy evaluations of the season are true on one front: Illinois still has a shot at a bowl game. Illinois (4-6) finishes with Penn State and Northwestern but hasn’t won back-to-back Big Ten games since 2011.
7. Northwestern at Purdue
Northwestern will find out in a hurry how much the comeback win at Notre Dame helped turn the season. The Wildcats ended a four-game losing streak and scored only seven points fewer in a single game (43 points against Notre Dame) than they had in the previous four games combined (50). The upset in South Bend puts Northwestern (4-6) in bowl contention with its final two games against Purdue and Illinois. The Wildcats were an improved team against Notre Dame — Justin Jackson returned to form at running back, and Trevor Siemian passed for 284 yards and was sacked only twice. But Northwestern also got gifts from Notre Dame in the form of three second-half fumbles. Earlier in the season, Purdue started to look like a tougher out than the Boilermakers were a year ago, but Darrell Hazell’s team is exiting a brutal stretch of losses against Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Week 13 Big Ten Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Northwestern (-1.5) at Purdue
|NW 31-21||NW 14-13||NW 27-24||NW 34-20|
Penn State at Illinois (-6.5)
|PSU 24-14||PSU 24-21||PSU 27-20||PSU 20-10|
Indiana at Ohio State (-34.5)
|OSU 49-17||OSU 49-13||OSU 45-13||OSU 41-10|
Minnesota at Nebraska (-10.5)
|Neb 24-17||Neb 34-27||Neb 31-20||Neb 23-20|
Rutgers at Michigan State (-22.5)
|MSU 35-14||MSU 40-20||MSU 38-13||MSU 27-13|
Wisconsin (-10) at Iowa
|Wisc 41-21||Wisc 31-27||Wisc 30-20||Wisc 27-13|
Maryland at Michigan (-5)
|Mich 17-14||Mich 21-17||Mich 23-20||Md 17-10|
Here’s the terrifying part of Tuesday night: This is only the early season form for Kentucky and Duke.
November is supposed to be a time when teams are working through lineups and combinations, when freshmen are figuring out their place in the college game.
On Tuesday, Kentucky delivered a dominant team against another top five team, and Duke delivered three freshmen who look ready to roll through the ACC. If what we saw out of Kentucky two lineups and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor on Tuesday is a sign of things to come, we may see both of them again, this time in the same game on another neutral court.
These early games may end up as notches on NCAA Tournament profiles, but they do have a way of setting a tone for the season.
Here’s what we learned from the Champions Classic:
1. Kentucky is perhaps better than we expected
The Wildcats were Athlon’s No. 1 team in the preseason and a near-unanimous No. 1 pick just about everywhere else. On Tuesday, the same people who picked Kentucky No. 1 had their jaws on the ground. Kentucky defeated Kansas, a Big 12 favorite and a top-five team, 72-40. A 32-point win over a team with talent, experience and a shot at the Final Four. We can laugh at the platoon plans for a team that runs 11 and 12 deep, but when it works like it did Tuesday, Kentucky can’t be stopped. All 10 players on the Blue and White platoons scored in each of the first and second half. Think about how wild this is: Kentucky clobbered Kansas with only two players scoring in double figures and none more than 11 points.
2. Kentucky can be a ridiculous defensive team
The absurd stat of the night, of course, goes to Kentucky. The Wildcats had 11 blocks. Kansas had 11 field goals. Kentucky’s length was impenetrable Tuesday as Karl-Anthony Towns and Marcus Lee had four blocks apiece. Not that Kansas was much better on the perimeter. Starting point guard Frank Mason went 1-of-10 from the field, and the Jayhawks shot 3-of-15 from 3-point range. If Kentucky can do this to Kansas, what will it do to the SEC?
3. Jahlil Okafor is living up to his Player of the Year potential
Okafor’s first test against a quality opponent couldn’t have gone much better. Duke’s freshman center did the same to Michigan State has he did to Presbyterian and Fairfield. Okafor was 8-of-10 with 17 points against the Spartans. Michigan State had no answer for Okafor’s rare and elite talent as a low-post big man, not that there’s any shame there. Okafor is an 85-percent shooter this season.
4. Okafor is not alone
Besides Okafor’s 17 points, Duke freshmen Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones combined for 32 points against Michigan State. Winslow was all over the place on the way to 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and a three-pointer. Perhaps more important, Jones at point guard allowed veteran Quinn Cook to play at the two. The pair was expected to compete for time to a degree, so seeing them play together was a good sight for Mike Krzyzewski. Jones and Cook combined for no turnovers and 10 assists.
5. Michigan State has a long way to go
This isn’t a typical Michigan State team. With this roster, the Spartans appeared headed to short-lived NCAA Tournament appearance and a middling finish in the Big Ten. Tuesday only reinforced this. Michigan State got an outstanding effort from Branden Dawson (18 points, 8-of-10 shooting). The Spartans shot 50 percent from the field and got 13 offensive rebounds. And yet, Michigan State never really challenged Duke in a 10-point loss.
The college football playoff selection committee gave us a new catch phrase Tuesday: Game control
That’s why Alabama moved to No. 1 from No. 5. That’s why undefeated Florida State is No. 3. And that’s why TCU won a game and fell from in the bracket to out.
“Game control” is taking the place of what we once would have called style points or margin of victory.
Let committee chair Jeff Long explain:
"It might be considered somewhat subjective," he said. "The committee looks at the game, how the game was played, how close the game was played, whether there were lead changes back and forth, or whether a team was in control from the opening kickoff, or whether they gained control say in the second half and finished out the game.
"It's an evaluation of how the game was played between two teams."
Perhaps this phrase should lend credibility to the selection process even if it can be too much in the eye of the beholder and selectively applied.
Margin of victory can be deceiving. Alabama beat Mississippi State by five Saturday but led 19-0 in the second quarter and by 12 until the final 15 seconds.
Florida State is No. 3 in part because, presumably, it lacks game control. The Seminoles trailed Miami 23-10 at halftime, the fifth time this season FSU needed a second-half comeback to win this season.
TCU, also, lacked game control in a 34-30 win over a three-win Kansas team. The Horned Frogs trailed until late in the third quarter.
In a 12- or 13-game schedule, how a team asserts its dominance matters. Slip ups in what should be easy wins matter.
Yet here’s the problem with a subjective measure described on a weekly basis: While we learned about the concept of game control, Long also cited Mississippi State’s close loss to Alabama and never being out of the game as to why the Bulldogs fell to No. 4 and knocking TCU out of a playoff scenario.
Of course, Week 12 of the season didn’t occur in a vacuum. Mississippi State controlled enough games to be ranked No. 1 last week, and TCU lost game control in the fourth quarter against Baylor for its only loss of the season.
Alabama’s game control for most of the season — save for a 14-13 win over Arkansas and the loss to Ole Miss — is why the Crimson Tide are No. 1.
“While we would say that Alabama controlled that game, it did end up a 5-point game,” selection committe chari Jeff Long said during the ESPN broadcast. “While Alabama controlled it, Mississippi State was in striking distance.”
Despite its close games, Florida State has a flawless record of game control. Couldn’t Ohio State claim game control as it has defeated nearly every Big Ten team on its schedule comfortably? What about Baylor, which exhibited the most game control of any opponent this season against Oklahoma and snatched it away from TCU?
The selection committee is not supposed to reward running up a score, notable because TCU started taking knees on first down from the Kansas 12 rather than adding a second score to a four-point game against a three-win team.
"We don't think controlling the game means adding touchdowns," Long said.
While the idea of game control may make sense on a small scale, the selection committee has stumbled into an area it may have difficulty explaining by the first week of December.
Here’s how the second top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Nov. 18|
|1. Alabama||10. Georgia||18. Georgia Tech|
|2. Oregon||11. Michigan State||19. USC|
|3. Florida State||12. Kansas State||20. Missouri|
|4. Mississippi State||13. Arizona State||21. Oklahoma|
|5. TCU||14. Auburn||22. Clemson|
|6. Ohio State||15. Arizona||23. Nebraska|
|7. Baylor||16. Wisconsin||24. Louisville|
|8. Ole Miss||17. Utah||25. Minnesota|
Alabama moves from No. 5 to No. 1
The Crimson Tide made quite the leap from outside of a potential bracket to the top seed. Long said Alabama was the most complete team on offense, defense and special teams and cracked the top four after “what we consider to be a decisive win over Mississippi State.” The metrics must be especially impressive to the committee: With LSU falling out of the rankings with a loss to Arkansas, Alabama has only one top 25 win (Mississippi State).
Ohio State over Baylor
Ohio State defeated Minnesota 31-24 on the road to move from No. 8 to No. 6 (the Gophers remained at No. 25). Can Ohio State get into the playoff? That remains to be seen. The Buckeyes face Indiana and Michigan and would draw no better than Wisconsin, ranked 16th this week, in the Big Ten title game. What’s notable is Ohio State’s move ahead of stationary No. 7 Baylor.
Who Should Worry:
Long described the margin between Nos. 4-7 (Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State and Baylor) as “narrow, very narrow.” That’s not great news for the only team in that group without a ranked opponent left on it schedule, assuming Ohio State faces Wisconsin. Baylor, the only team to beat TCU this season, also has played one fewer game than the Horned Frogs.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:
The Bulldogs’ loss to Alabama, game control or not, wasn’t the end of the Mississippi State. The optimist for Mississippi State is that if the Bulldogs beat No. 8 Ole Miss, they stay in the playoff even if Alabama goes to the SEC title game. Yet the committee has repeatedly indicated that conference championships would play a role. That gives hope to the Big Ten and Big 12 teams on the outside looking in.
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Ole Miss
Fiesta: No. 9 UCLA vs. No. 11 Michigan State
Orange: No. 18 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 6 Ohio State
Peach: Marshall* vs. No. 10 Georgia
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
The Champions Classic finale between Kentucky and Kansas is sure to be a scouting bonanza even if John Calipari and Bill Self are trying to figure out how the pieces fit together.
Dozens of NBA scouts are expected to be Indianapolis for a game that may contain the most pro prospects on one floor this season — Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and the Harrison twins for Kentucky, Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Wayne Selden for Kansas.
Many of them will end up draft picks, including a handful in the lottery, but their ceiling as teams in college, expectedly, remains a work in progress.
During the weekend, Self had plenty of criticisms of a team that beat UC Santa Barbara, a solid mid-major, 69-59 in the opener. Calipari could say the same of watching his talented team needing a second-half rally to beat Buffalo.
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Site: Indianapolis, Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Time: 9 p.m., Eastern
What’s on the line for Kansas
Freshmen making their mark. Kansas’ top two freshmen — Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre — are as highly regarded as any group of rookies in the country. Both can further establish themselves with strong performances against the No.1 team in the country. In Chicago a year ago, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins outdueled Duke’s Jabari Parker late in a 94-83 win. Joel Embiid came off the bench for only two points (with seven rebounds and five assists). Wiggins and Embiid were top three picks in the NBA draft — while Parker was No. 2.
What’s on the line for Kentucky
A break from last season. Kentucky fans must have had a fair amount of trepidation watching the Wildcats trail Buffalo by five at halftime. The Wildcats came back to win 71-52, but there has to be a sense of “here we go again” with a team that struggles to play like a team loaded with talent. Kentucky lost to Michigan State in this event last season, a harbinger for a non-conference season that included losses to Baylor and North Carolina. A win over a fellow top-five team would ease some of the nerves for Big Blue Nation.
You’ll tune into watch: Kentucky’s front line
Calipari’s plans to rotate his forwards like a hockey line change will be put to the test. Against Buffalo, Karl-Anthony Towns started but played 10 minutes. Trey Lyles (20 minutes) and Dakari Johnson (26) came off the bench to play more than twice that. Kansas, meanwhile, is coming of a game in which it picked up 13 offensive rebounds against UCSB, six from Perry Ellis alone.
Pivotal player: Frank Mason, Kansas
Kansas’ backcourt has thinned with the departures of Naadir Tharpe and Conner Frankamp, leaving Mason as one of the only point guards on the roster. That said, freshman Devonte Graham came off the bench for 14 points against UCSB. For a program that’s enjoyed so much success as Kansas, it’s a surprise to see point guard not be a dominant position for several seasons.
Biggest question: Who hits the big shots on the perimeter?
Self was displeased with Kansas’ play on the perimeter against UCSB, and who can blame him at 2-of-10 from 3-point range. Wayne Selden alone was 2-of-8 from the field. Kansas will need balance if Kentucky’s frontline is balanced as expected. Kentucky’s Harrisons, of course, know a bit about hitting big long-range shots.
David Fox: Kentucky 78-71
Mitch Light: Kansas 74-72
Nathan Rush: Kentucky 76-72
Duke and Michigan State may look familiar to the untrained eye when the two teams meet Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
Mike Krzyzewski is here. So is Tom Izzo. Duke has talent. Michigan State has plenty of upperclassmen.
A deeper look, though, reveals just how strange these teams are for Krzyzewski and Izzo.
Duke is likely to start three freshmen. Perhaps that’s not odd for many teams, especially top teams that gobble up McDonald’s All-Americans. Duke's not always one of them. Consider this: Krzyzewski has coached 1,159 games at Duke. Only 37 times including this season has he started three freshmen and 27 of those lineups came during the 1982-83 season.
Meanwhile, the steady national contender Michigan State enters the season without any major expectations for a Big Ten title or Final Four run. The departures of Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling have left the Spartans with a changing of the guard.
Duke vs. Michigan State
Site: Indianapolis, Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Time: 7 p.m. Eastern
What’s on the line for Duke
The Blue Devils handled Presbyterian and Fairfield by a combined score of 222-103 in the first two games, but this could be a key moment for Duke to establish itself as one of the nation’s dominant teams early in the season. The Blue Devils also face Wisconsin at Madison and defending national champion Connecticut on a neutral court before Dec. 18 for an interesting first five weeks of the season.
What’s on the line for Michigan State
The Spartans will see where they stand against a national contender. The Big Ten may have only one elite team this season (Wisconsin), but the Spartans figure to be right in the mix. A lopsided loss in Indianapolis combined with the Spartans’ sloppy 64-59 win over Navy on Friday will allow some doubt to creep in.
You’ll tune into watch: Jahlil Okafor
Duke’s freshman center is the projected No. 1 overall pick and an All-America contender. So far, Okafor has done nothing to counter that reputation. He’s shot 17-of-20 from the field overall this season with 17 points and 19 points in his first two games. If there’s any nitpicking to do, Okafor had five turnovers against Fairfield.
Pivotal player: Justise Winslow
Duke’s freshmen include Okafor, whose credentials have been established, and Tyus Jones, a freshman expected to challenge veteran Quinn Cook for the point guard job. Winslow is “simply” the other great freshman in this class. Winslow has been nearly as effective as Okafor, shooting 12-of-22 from the floor in two games and countering the argument that he’s everything but a shooter.
Biggest question: Does Michigan State’s experience help keep this close?
A veteran Michigan State team beat preseason No. 1 Kentucky in last year’s Champions Classic, but this game doesn’t have the same cliche of youth vs. experience. True, Michigan State has upperclassmen Branden Dawson, Travis Trice, Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine, but all but Dawson were role players on last year’s Elite Eight team. Beyond its three starting freshmen, Duke has plenty of experience as well. The key veteran will be Dawson, whom Izzo said needs to be Superman in this game with his versatility.
David Fox: Duke 68-58
Mitch Light: Duke 81-69
Nathan Rush: Duke 64-58
Time for a bit of a breather for a handful of teams.
Last week was plenty eventful with Alabama’s win over No. 1 Mississippi State, another Florida State comeback, a TCU scare, a Georgia rout of Auburn and an Arizona State flop in Corvallis.
This week may not be nearly as dramatic.
For starters, this week is the annual SEC-FCS challenge. SEC teams will face Eastern Kentucky, Charleston Southern, Western Carolina and Samford this week.
Even though we’re a little light on on games this week, there are a few highlights, chiefly the hotly contested Pac-12 South. UCLA faces USC this week, but Arizona State’s loss to Oregon State has opened the door for Arizona, provided the Wildcats beat Utah and catch some breaks.
The SEC has two key games, one in each division. Arkansas and Tennessee are more competitive this season, and they’ll look to keep up momentum against Ole Miss and Missouri, respectively.
The Week Ahead: Nov. 22
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
Listen to the Week 12 recap podcast:
Arizona at Utah
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... Arizona is clinging to life in the Pac-12 South. The Wildcats, who defeated Cal on a Hail Mary earlier this season, capitalized on a Washington turnover to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired against the Huskies. Arizona must solve Utah’s stifling defense on the road and defeat rival Arizona State for a chance at the South — while getting help from USC and UCLA (with a win over USC and a loss to Stanford).
Vegas says: Utah by 3 1/2
Ole Miss at Arkansas
When and where: 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... one team in this game has an SEC losing streak, and it’s not Arkansas. Despite back-to-back conferences losses to LSU and Auburn, Ole Miss still has a shot at the SEC West and, thus, the playoff. The Rebels have a win over Alabama in hand and a shot at Mississippi State at home, but they’ll need to handle a rejuvenated Arkansas first. Ole Miss’ offense regrouped in the loss to Auburn, but the Rebels are working through injuries, chiefly to receiver Laquon Treadwell. Arkansas picked up its first SEC win under Bret Bielema, but it’s a debate what made this win more unlikely: A shutout against a ranked LSU team or that ground-and-pound Arkansas needed only 95 rushing yards to win.
Vegas says: Ole Miss by 3
Wisconsin at Iowa
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
We’re watching because... Melvin Gordon is can’t miss-viewing. The Wisconsin tailback was appointment viewing before last week’s record 408 rushing yards, but do you want to miss a single carry from now on? Not only did Gordon break LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-game rushing record, he’s within reach of Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record that has stood since 1988. Gordon needs 719 yards to catch Sanders’ 2,628 yards. Including a potential Big Ten title game and a bowl, Gordon has to average 180 yards per game to pass Sanders. Gordon averages 191.
Vegas says: Wisconsin by 9 1/2
Missouri at Tennessee
When and where: 7:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... Missouri’s bizarre season always deserves attention. The Tigers lost at home to an Indiana team that’s now winless in the Big Ten, beat Florida on the road with 119 yards of offense and four return touchdowns and now sits at 8-2 after a 34-27 win at a Texas A&M that just upset Auburn on the road. A team that lost to the Hoosiers at home could win 10 games during the regular season. To do so, Missouri will have to defeat Tennessee in Oxford as the Volunteers are seeking their first bowl bid since 2010.
Vegas says: Tennessee by 3 1/2
USC at UCLA
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... this game has potential for some late-night Pac-12 unpredictability, and we don’t have to stay up after midnight Eastern to see it. With a win in hand against Arizona State, UCLA can take one step closer to a third consecutive trip to the Pac-12 title game with a win over rival USC. The game points to a quarterback showdown. Brett Hundley has completed 72 percent of his passes with 1,374 total yards and nine total touchdowns during UCLA’s four-game win streak. USC quarterback Cody Kessler’s season has been under the radar, but he’s completing 70.2 percent of his passes with 29 touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s doing most his heavy lifting against weaker teams, so this is a chance to remedy that reputation.
Vegas says: UCLA by 3
ATLANTA — To the outside, Ron Hunter shouldn’t feel queasy when he sees the leading figures of his Georgia State basketball team.
On a team that went 17-1 in the Sun Belt last season, Hunter has a five-star, top-20 recruit at point guard. He has guard who played on a national championship team. He has an NBA Draft prospect at shooting guard.
For a program that’s had two winning seasons in the last decade and one NCAA Tournament berth since 2001, Georgia State should like its odds with that lot.
A team that rolled through its conference last year should do so again with that kind of team. At the same time, the foundation of that team knows nothing is certain, nothing is easy.
Another way to describe those three is the following: A washout who was the point guard of the worst Kentucky team the last five years, a guard recovering from the most publicly horrific college basketball injury in recent memory and, not least of which, the coach’s son.
Georgia State has talent and experience in Ryan Harrow, Kevin Ware and R.J. Hunter but also a group that’s taken the long road to find a spot it can thrive.
“My first year here, I wasn’t stressed,” Hunter told Athlon Sports. “I’m stressed now. I saw Ryan Harrow, R.J. and Kevin Ware on campus the other day, and my stomach started turning. I can’t mess this thing up.”
Georgia State is not only one of the best mid-majors in the country but also one of the most compelling teams of the 351 playing Division I basketball.
The Panthers start their season tonight at Iowa State, a program known in recent years for its open doors for wayward souls. The Cyclones have nothing on this group.
Let’s start with the newest arrival.
When Kevin Ware returned to Atlanta, he and Hunter didn’t talk much about why he landed at Georgia State after coming off the bench as a sophomore for an eventual national champion at Louisville.
This is a new Kevin Ware, his coach told him. Not the Kevin Ware from Louisville. Not the Kevin Ware whose worst moment was broadcast on television on the largest stage.
Then Paul George happened.
In an August Team USA exhibition, the Indiana Pacers wing chased down James Harden in transition, his right leg landing in the wrong spot in the support beneath the basket. On camera, a break was evident. A hinge where there shouldn’t be one. Bone touching air.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of college basketball could summon two words — Kevin Ware.
Too fresh in our minds was Ware in the 2013 Elite Eight against Duke. Taking a jump shot, Ware landed in a way that produced the same injury, also on national television.
Ware tweeted support for George, but at the same time, he was reliving his own injury. With all the public weight of his injury at Louisville behind him, Ware progressed in his first two months at Georgia State after a year in limbo.
Ware rushed back to play for Louisville the following season, but getting kicked in the leg against Missouri State essentially ended his comeback season. He played 53 minutes in nine games before shutting down and transferring to Georgia State. The parting with Louisville was easy, Ware said.
Louisville regrouped around Ware in 2013 and won a national championship. He’s still close with many of the players on this year’s team, but continuing at Louisville and Rick Pitino in 2013-14 was impossible.
“It was hard for him to coach,” Ware told Athlon Sports. “I honestly felt he couldn’t coach me at that point because he was so concerned about my leg.”
So was the media. Ware not only watched George sustain a similarly gruesome injury, Ware felt an obligation to take media requests to share his own recovery.
Between his injury and the George incident, Ware had connected on Twitter and Instagram with many younger basketball players suffering traumatic injuries since his own, but never this public and never in such a similar situation.
Reliving his experience came at the expense of his own progress.
Georgia State was in a practice period at the same time as George’s injury. Ware, described by his high school friend Harrow as fearless, suddenly was playing free throw line to free throw line.
Ware was in the same frame of mind when Georgia State took an eight-day trip to Costa Rica for four exhibition games.
In the third possession of the first game, Ware had his leg clipped by a Costa Rican player. He fell into a wall. Ron Hunter held back a trainer. The game was still in live play, and Ware sprung back onto the court. From there, Ware was back.
Now, Ron Hunter says Ware is a better athlete than he was in high school at Rockdale County southeast of Atlanta.
“It seemed like he wasn’t thinking; he was just reacting,” teammate R.J. Hunter told Athlon Sports. “I’m sure that dude had 40 steals in those games. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Ware wouldn’t have landed at Georgia State if not for his Atlanta AAU buddy, Ryan Harrow.
That’s a statement in itself. When Harrow landed at NC State as a top-20 recruit for coach Sidney Lowe in 2010, he couldn’t imagine being at his third school. Other point guards in his class included No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving at Duke and NBA Draft lottery picks Kendall Marshall at North Carolina and Brandon Knight at Kentucky.
“I didn’t think I’d be in college this long,” Harrow told Athlon Sports.
After Lowe was fired at NC State, Harrow transferred to Kentucky where he sat out for a season due to NCAA rules. The Wildcats won the 2012 national championship with Harrow on the bench.
When Harrow took over at point guard, Calipari was enjoying an unbroken record of standout point guards from Derrick Rose to Tyreke Evans to John Wall to Brandon Knight to Marquis Teague.
Harrow may have had trouble filling those shoes under ideal circumstances, but outside factors made it impossible. In Georgia, Harrow’s father, Mark Harrow, suffered a stroke in the June before the point guard’s lone season at Kentucky.
The mental toll of his father’s ill health and his struggles on the court were only magnified by the scope of attention at Kentucky. He went scoreless in February home games against Florida and Tennessee. He shot 2-of-14 in a loss to Vanderbilt in an SEC tournament loss that banished Kentucky to the NIT. He scored five points in a loss to Robert Morris.
A season that started in the top three of the AP poll ended with a one-and-done in the NIT against a team from the Northeast Conference.
“It wasn’t as if Ryan came in here and it just worked,” Ron Hunter said. “When you get a kid who was at Kentucky and comes to Georgia State, you’ve got a lot you’ve got work through.
“What Ryan Harrow went through wasn’t injury, but he was beat down at Kentucky. I don’t know if you can be beat down any more.”
Beyond repairing his confidence, Harrow also began to encounter his father’s recovery head on. The stress of being helpless to aid his father was replaced by watching his father’s day-to-day challenges.
Harrow was eligible immediately to play at Georgia State last season, but he wasn’t ready to play at a high level. The Panthers started 3-6, only one win over a Division I team.
Eventually, Harrow returned to the form that was familiar to Ware, his teammate with the Atlanta Celtics. Georgia State won 22 of 23 games, and Harrow averaged 17.8 points per game and earned All-Sun Belt honors.
“When he came home, he came back to life,” Ware said. “I’m not used to seeing the Ryan that was at NC State or at UK. That wasn’t Ryan at all. When he came to Georgia State, coach let him play.”
The toughest challenge for Hunter, though, hasn’t been working to repair the confidence of Harrow and Ware.
“The hardest part of this has been as a father,” Hunter said. “I hope when this is all said and done, I don’t say, ‘Man, what happened with my son?’ That’s what I’m trying to balance a little better.”
With National Player of the Year Doug McDermott gone from his father’s program at Creighton, the Hunters are the most notable father-son duo in college basketball.
Of Georgia State’s top three players this season, R.J. Hunter was the first to arrive in Atlanta. R.J. was a three-star recruit with offers from a handful of mid-tier major conference programs, but he elected to follow his father to Georgia State where he was the Sun Belt player of the year last season.
Ron Hunter never coached his son in a game until Georgia State’s 2012-13 opener at Duke. Growing up, Ron always gave R.J. a choice of getting “coach” or getting “dad.” Most of the time, R.J. chose “dad.” Now, he doesn’t get a say in the matter.
Neither party, though, could say they were unprepared for the father-son/coach-player experience.
Ray McCallum, who coached his son a Detroit, is R.J. Hunter’s godfather. R.J. also spent time talking to Bryce Drew, who played for his father at Valparaiso.
“At one AAU tournament, he pulled me aside and said, ‘look, it’s going to be tough, but it was the best four years of my life playing for my dad,’” R.J. Hunter said. “‘If you can make it work, you can make magic.’”
Magic at Georgia State will take work, though.
Georgia State enjoyed a banner season a year ago before losing to UL Lafayette in the Sun Belt tournament. The Panthers lost their NIT opener to Clemson. The margin of error for a Sun Belt team is slim.
The Panthers are replacing two starters who averaged double figures last season. One new starter, forward Curtis Washington, is a transfer from USC, who also came as a project with “two bad shoulders.” A freshman may end up taking the final spot in the starting lineup.
And Hunter isn’t ruling out another round of Ware reliving his trauma from Louisville as more attention comes to Ware’s season.
The pieces, they hope, are in place — a lights out shooter in Hunter, a floor general in Harrow, a defensive game-changer in Ware.
“I feel like we’ve got the best 1-2-3 punch in the country,” Ware said. “We all have a different game but we all complement each other so well.”
Images courtesy of Georgia State athletics
Welcome to the spotlight, Ohio State and Nebraska.
Just as Michigan State bows out of the playoff race and the national top 10, Ohio State and Nebraska takes the Spartans’ place at least in terms of being the face of the Big Ten down the stretch.
Certainly, both teams have work to do to be considered legitimate playoff contenders, and both probably need help from teams in the top seven of Tuesday’s rankings.
Saturday will be a chance for both to continue to build their case as factors on the national scene.
Nebraska faces perhaps its top challenger for the Big Ten West division when it visits Wisconsin while Ohio State tries to follow its landmark win over Michigan State with a road win over a newly ranked Minnesota team.
The Big Ten needs Nebraska and Ohio State to reach the league title game as one-loss squads for its playoff hopes to remain alive. This will be one of the key weeks for the Cornhuskers and Buckeyes to achieve that goal.
Week 12 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Big Ten Week 12 Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
1. Nebraska at Wisconsin
3:30 p.m., ABC
The Big Ten West won’t necessarily be won Saturday, but the winner will be the clear frontrunner. Both Nebraska and Wisconsin finish with Minnesota and Iowa. Those stakes, though, seems secondary compared to the showdown between Heisman-contending tailbacks — and friends — Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah. Combined, they’ve rushed for 2,751 yards and 36 touchdowns. Both Nebraska and Wisconsin, though, have emerging stars in the front seven. Cornhuskers defensive end Randy Gregory is one of the nation’s stop pass rushers, and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has compared his rising star defensive tackle Maliek Collins to LSU’s Glenn Dorsey. At the same time, Wisconsin outside linebacker Vince Biegel has recorded 10 tackles for a loss in the last five games.
Listen to the Week 12 predictions podcast:
2. Ohio State at Minnesota
What should we make of Minnesota? The Gophers needed a second-half comeback to beat Purdue 39-38 at home and a week later lost 28-24 to an Illinois team down to its second-string quarterback. So, naturally, Minnesota went on to beat Iowa 51-14 with an uncharacteristically effective passing attack. Minnesota may need that kind of balance from Mitch Leidner for any shot of an upset of the Buckeyes, but the run game could help neutralize the impact of Big Ten sack leader Joey Bosa. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is an emerging star, but Minnesota has done a good job of limiting explosive pass plays. The Gophers lead the Big Ten in fewest yards per pass attempt (5.5) and fewest passing plays of 30 yards or more (four).
3. Michigan State at Maryland
8 p.m., Big Ten Network
Michigan State is in a rare spot compared to the last two seasons — the Spartans don’t have a clear carrot in front of them. The Spartans are coming off their first Big Ten loss since 2012 and have seen their playoff hopes evaporate with the 49-37 loss to Ohio State. Maryland is a solid team, but Oregon and Ohio State needed at least 490 total yards and 46 points to beat Michigan State this season. Maryland hasn’t hit either of those marks against an FBS team this season. Making matters worse, the Terrapins will be without receiver Stefon Diggs, who is out with a lacerated kidney.
4. Temple at Penn State
Penn State is 37-0-1 against Temple since the Owls’ last win in the series in 1941, but the margin is getting closer. The last three Penn State wins have come by an average margin of eight points. The average Penn State win from 1977-2009 was by more than four touchdowns. The book on Penn State this season remains unchanged from September — the defense plays lights out, the offensive line and run game are a mess, and quarterback Christian Hackenberg is frustrated. Get ready for another low-scoring slog for Penn State: Temple is seventh in the American in yards per play and fifth in yards allowed per play.
5. Iowa at Illinois
Noon, Big Ten Network
How much worse could it get for Iowa this season? The Hawkeyes have already lost to Iowa State (winless in the Big 12), Maryland and Minnesota in a rout. Just a reminder: Illinois beat Minnesota, a team that drubbed Iowa by 37 last week. Illinois returns quarterback Wes Lunt this week after the Oklahoma State transfer missed the last three games with a broke bone in his leg. Lunt has completed 66.5 percent of his passes this season with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
6. Northwestern at Notre Dame
3:30 p.m., NBC
Northwestern likes to claim it is Chicago’s Big Ten team while Notre Dame may be the most popular team in the area. Chicago may want to disown both after recent games. Northwestern is coming off its fourth consecutive loss, the latest an avert-your-eyes 10-9 effort against Michigan. Only Penn State has given up more sacks in the Big Ten than Northwestern’s 3.2 per game. Notre Dame, meanwhile, continues to be turnover-prone as quarterback Everett Golson coughed up the ball five times in a 55-31 loss to Arizona State.
7. Indiana at Rutgers
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
After a run of three ranked teams — at Ohio State, at Nebraska and Wisconsin — Rutgers has a more manageable opponent this week against Indiana. And it’s an important one for the Scarlet Knights, looking to become bowl eligible in their final home game before visiting Michigan State and Maryland. Indiana’s offense has fallen apart since the season-ending injury to Nate Sudfeld. The Hoosiers have passed for 103 yards — total — in the last three games.
Big Ten Week 12 Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Temple at Penn State (-11)
|Temple 13-10||PSU 27-10||PSU 24-17||PSU 20-13|
Iowa (-5 1/2) at Illinois
|Ill 21-14||Iowa 27-20||Iowa 31-20||Iowa 27-20|
Ohio State (-12) at Minnesota
|OSU 38-21||OSU 40-20||OSU 34-17||OSU 41-17|
Nebraska at Wisconsin (-6)
|Neb 28-14||Wisc 29-28||Wisc 27-24||Wisc 31-20|
Northwestern at Notre Dame (-18)
|ND 35-10||ND 40-21||ND 38-17||ND 28-14|
Indiana at Rutgers (-7 1/2)
|Rut 21-7||Rut 27-17||Rut 30-20||Rut 30-20|
Michigan St (-12) at Maryland
|MSU 42-14||MSU 41-17||MSU 34-20||MSU 31-23|
Believe us, we don’t like repeating ourselves. Naming the same coach as No. 1 in the country for a third consecutive season is a little boring.
We tried to justify a new coach at the No. 1 spot if only to freshen things up a bit.
But each of the candidates for the top spot had a flaw. The last time we saw Mike Krzyzewski, he was walking off the court after a loss to Mercer.
The coach of our preseason No. 1 team ended last year in the title game but only after limping to a No. 8 seed during the regular season. And a coach with three Elite Eights and a Final Four in the last four seasons (Billy Donovan) has a 5-8 record against the coach we just mentioned (John Calipari).
Given all that, we saw no reason to move our No. 1 coach from a year ago. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is our pick again. His team won 29 games for the second time in three seasons and won the Big Ten Tournament.
The Spartans reached the Elite Eight, upsetting No. 1 seed and ACC champion Virginia along the way. Only the eventual national champion kept Michigan State from reaching Izzo’s seventh Final Four.
And all of this occurred despite a team that was snakebit by injuries all season.
Now, just because our No. 1 coach is the same as it was a year ago doesn’t mean we resisted change elsewhere.
Tony Bennett, an overachiever at Washington State and Virginia, moved onto the fringe of the top 10. National champion Kevin Ollie makes his debut in our rankings at No. 30 in only his second season as a head coach. And we also welcome back Bruce Pearl, who slides back into our top 20 coaches.
As usual, a handful of factors go into ranking the coaches — career accomplishments, career momentum, gameday acumen, player development, recruiting, conference records and postseason success.
Want to tell us how wrong we are? Tweet us at @AthlonSports or talk to us on Facebook.
1. Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Record at Michigan State: 468-187 (.715)
NCAA Tournament: 42-16, six Final Fours, one national title
Number to note: Consistency is the name of the game here. Izzo’s teams have ranked in the top 32 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings in 10 of the last 12 seasons. Michigan State has been in the top 30 of the offensive efficiency ratings in eight of the last 10 seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: An injury-plagued season cut into Michigan State’s ability to reach the Final Four, leaving Izzo with the longest Final Four drought of his career (four consecutive years). The Spartans still won 29 games and the Big Ten Tournament and reached the Elite Eight, losing to eventual national champion UConn.
2. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
Record at Duke: 910-247 (.787)
NCAA Tournament: 82-26, 11 Final Fours, four championships
Number to note: The Blue Devils ended a streak of 121 consecutive weeks in the AP top 10 last season.
Why he’s ranked here: Forget about a loss to Mercer in the NCAA Tournament, Krzyzewski will reach 1,000 career wins this season.
3. John Calipari, Kentucky
Record at Kentucky: 152-37 (.804)
NCAA Tournament: 43-14, five Final Fours, one national championship
Number to note: Despite missing the 2013 Tournament, Calipari has 15 NCAA wins since 2010, most in the country during that span.
Why he’s ranked here: The disappointing 2013-14 regular season may not have been one of Cal’s shining moments, especially on the heels of an NIT exit a year earlier. The disappointment subsided with a run to the Final Four for the third time in four seasons.
4. Billy Donovan, Florida
Record at Florida: 451-169 (.727)
NCAA Tournament: 35-12, four Final Fours, two national championships
Number to note: Donovan has the second-most NCAA wins (13) since 2010 behind Calipari. The figure that doesn’t include two championships in 2006 and 2007.
Why he’s ranked here: Donovan will reach the 500-win mark next season and will be one of the top 25 fastest coaches to do so. His name will land somewhere around Lute Olson and Nolan Richardson in the record books in that category.
5. Rick Pitino, Louisville
Record at Louisville: 341-117 (.745)
NCAA Tournament: 50-17, seven Final Fours, two championships
Number to note: The Cardinals are 22-2 in conference and NCAA Tournament games the last three years.
Why he’s ranked here: Pitino’s teams are consistently among the toughest defensive squads in the country.
6. Bill Self, Kansas
Record at Kansas: 325-69 (.825)
NCAA Tournament: 36-15, two Final Fours, one national championship
Number to note: Last season was the first time since 2005 that Kansas ranked outside of the top 11 in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.
Why he’s ranked here: Kansas lost 10 games last season, most for Self since 1998-99 at Tulsa. The Jayhawks still won (or shared) its 10th consecutive Big 12 title by two games.
7. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Record at Syracuse: 948-320 (.748)
NCAA Tournament: 53-30, four Final Fours, one championship
Number to note: Syracuse has declined in adjusted tempo in each of the last seven seasons. The Orange were the ninth-slowest team in the country in KenPom last season.
Why he’s ranked here: Syracuse has six 30-win seasons all time. Half have come in the last five seasons.
8. John Beilein, Michigan
Record at Michigan: 104-60 (.615)
NCAA Tournament: 16-9, one Final Four
Number to note: Michigan is 40-14 in the Big Ten the last three seasons. The Wolverines posted one winning conference record during the previous 13 seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: Since arriving at Michigan, Beilein is 15-35 against Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan and Thad Matta, but he’s caught up to the pack. He’s 6-3 in the last nine vs. Izzo, 2-3 vs. Ryan after losing his first 10 and 4-2 in his last six vs. Matta.
9. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
Record at Wisconsin: 321-121 (.726)
NCAA Tournament: 20-13, one Final Four
Number to note: The Big Ten has been the best basketball conference the last few years, and Wisconsin has thrived. The Badgers have never finished lower than fourth in the league in 13 seasons under Ryan.
Why he’s ranked here: After 2014, no one can say Ryan is the best coach never to reach the Final Four. He’s now in the discussion for best coach to never win a national title. Could that change in 2015?
10. Sean Miller, Arizona
Record at Arizona: 129-48 (.729)
NCAA Tournament: 14-7
Number to note: Miller has reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in each of his last five trips at Arizona and Xavier. The only two times he’s failed to reach the Sweet 16 were his first two NCAA appearances with Musketeers.
Why he’s ranked here: Miller has restored Arizona to national prominence and has the No. 4 signing class this year and the No. 1 class for 2015. The best coach without a Final Four appearance won’t carry that title for much longer.
11. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Record at Virginia: 106-60 (.639)
NCAA Tournament: 5-4
Number to note: Bennett led Virginia to its first sweep of the ACC regular season and tournament titles in 2013-14.
Why he’s ranked here: In eight seasons as a head coach, Bennett ended a 19-year Sweet 16 drought at Virginia and gave Washington State its deepest Tourney run in 67 years.
12. Roy Williams, North Carolina
Record at North Carolina: 306-89 (.775)
NCAA Tournament: 63-22, seven Final Fours, two championships
Number to note: The Tar Heels are 25-11 in the ACC, 12-11 on the road and 1-3 against Duke in the last two seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: The career achievements may demand a higher ranking, but schools like Virginia and Miami have been closer to Carolina territory than Carolina during the last two seasons.
13. Thad Matta, Ohio State
Record at Ohio State: 275-83 (.786)
NCAA Tournament: 23-12, two Final Fours
Number to note: At Butler, Xavier and Ohio State, Matta has never had a losing season in conference play. The lone .500 season conference season of his career came in his debut at Ohio State.
Why he’s ranked here: Matta could make the case for being the nation’s most underrated coach. Before a round of 64 loss to Dayton last year, Ohio State’s last four Tournament appearances yielded a Final Four, an Elite Eight and two Sweet 16s.
14. Shaka Smart, VCU
Record at VCU: 137-46 (.749)
NCAA Tournament: 7-4, one Final Four
Number to note: Smart has won 72 percent of conference games in his career but, oddly, has never won a regular season conference title in the Colonial or Atlantic 10.
Why he’s ranked here: The 37-year-old Smart has carved out an identity at VCU. Hard to believe even better days may be ahead of him.
15. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Record at Wichita State: 174-71 (.710)
NCAA Tournament: 6-10, one Final Four
Number to note: Marshall’s last four teams at Wichita have ranked in the top 40 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom.com.
Why he’s ranked here: Since March 1, 2013, three teams have defeated Marshall’s Wichita State teams — one won a national title (Louisville), one reached the title game (Kentucky) and one had Doug McDemott (Creighton, twice).
16. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Record at Iowa State: 90-47 (.657)
NCAA Tournament: 4-3
Number to note: Iowa State’s 34 Big 12 wins during the last three seasons are one more than the Cyclones won during the previous seven seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: The Mayor has a formula that has returned Iowa State to national prominence: Owning the transfer market, high-powered offense and analytical savvy.
17. Bruce Pearl, Auburn
Record at Auburn: First season
NCAA Tournament: 10-8
Number to note: Pearl has missed the NCAA Tournament only twice as a Division I head coach, both in his first three seasons at Milwaukee.
Why he’s ranked here: Pearl already pulled three four-star recruits (one junior college) for the 2015 class. Auburn will be competitive soon enough.
18. Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Record at San Diego State: 312-176 (.639)
NCAA Tournament: 25-13, three Final Fours, one national championship
Number to note: A program that never won an NCAA Tournament game until 2011 has won five with two Sweet 16 appearances in the last four years.
Why he’s ranked here: Fisher has turned San Diego State into one of the best programs out West. His ability to build a foundation and restock a once-dormant program has been astounding.
19. Jay Wright, Villanova
Record at Villanova: 286-149 (.657)
NCAA Tournament: 13-11, one Final Four
Number to note: Villanova’s Big East title in 2014 was the Wildcats’ first outright conference title since 1982. Nova hasn’t won a conference tournament since 1995.
Why he’s ranked here: After a brief dip in 2011-12, Villanova has returned to where Wright has had the program for most of his tenure. Villanova went 16-0 vs. Big East opponents not named Creighton during the 2013-14 regular season.
20. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
Record at Pittsburgh: 288-96 (.750)
NCAA Tournament: 12-10
Number to note: Pitt has never ranked lower than 45th in adjusted offensive efficeincy on KenPom in 11 seasons under Dixon. The Panthers have been ranked in the top 20 in that category six times in the last eight years.
Why he’s ranked here: The 2011-12 season marked the only time in Dixon’s career he failed to reach the NCAA Tournament or win 10 conference games.
21. Tim Miles, Nebraska
Record at Nebraska: 34-31 (.525)
NCAA Tournament: 0-2
Number to note: Miles ended combined NCAA Tournament droughts of 25 seasons at Nebraska (16) and Colorado State (nine) in addition to laying the groundwork for Division I newcomer North Dakota State.
Why he’s ranked here: The Big Ten is as good as ever, and Nebraska is a relevant program here. The next step is to pick up the Cornhuskers first NCAA Tournament win.
22. Tad Boyle, Colorado
Record at Colorado: 92-50 (.648)
NCAA Tournament: 1-3
Number to note: The Buffaloes have ranked in the top 50 of adjusted defensive efficiency in each of the last three seasons, according to KenPom.
Why he’s ranked here: This is the golden age of Colorado basketball. Colorado has as many NCAA appearances under Boyle in the last three seasons as it did from 1969-2011.
23. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma
Record at Oklahoma: 58-38 (.604)
NCAA Tournament: 14-15, one Final Four
Number to note: Oklahoma ranked 17th in tempo last season. Kruger didn’t have a top-100 team in that category since 2005.
Why he’s ranked here: Got a problem? Lon Kruger will solve it. He’s led clean-up jobs at Florida, UNLV, Kansas State and now Oklahoma and taken all of them (plus Illinois) to multiple NCAA Tournaments.
24. Mark Few, Gonzaga
Record at Gonzaga: 403-100 (.801)
NCAA Tournament: 16-15
Number to note: Few is the active leader in career win percentage (.801), pulling ahead of Roy Williams last season.
Why he’s ranked here: He’s reached the NCAA Tournament all 15 seasons as a head coach but he’s reached the Sweet 16 just once since 2006.
25. Rick Barnes, Texas
Record at Texas: 382-166 (.697)
NCAA Tournament: 21-21, one Final Four
Number to note: Since 1993-94, Barnes has missed the NCAA Tournament only twice.
Why he’s ranked here: Barnes reversed the slide of his tenure with a surprising 24-11 season and 11-7 finish in the Big 12. The Myles Turner arrival signaled he still has some Lone Star State recruiting clout.
26. Bob Huggins, West Virginia
Record at West Virginia: 150-91 (.622)
NCAA Tournament: 27-20, one Final Four
Number to note: Huggins averaged 8.3 losses per season in 21 years at Akron and Cincinnati. He’s averaged 12.9 since his return at Kansas State and West Virginia.
Why he’s ranked here: Though West Virginia missed the NCAA Tournament, the Mountaineers improved offensively by 11 points per game thanks to Huggins’ most up-tempo team in nearly a decade.
27. Jim Larranaga, Miami
Record at Miami: 66-36 (.647)
NCAA Tournament: 7-6, one Final Four
Number to note: Masterful coaching job in 2013-14 preserved a streak of 16 consecutive winning seasons. At Bowling Green, George Mason and Miami, he’s had one losing season since 1993.
Why he’s ranked here: Larranaga had a nice career by the time he was 55. Then he took George Mason to the Final Four and swept the ACC regular season and tournament titles at Miami.
28. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Record at Virginia Tech: First season
NCAA Tournament: 8-5
Number to note: From 2011-13, Marquette reached the Sweet 16 twice and the Elite Eight once.
Why he’s ranked here: Williams proved he could go toe to toe with Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh. Can he compete against those three, plus Duke and North Carolina, at Virginia Tech?
29. Larry Brown, SMU
Record at SMU: 42-27 (.609)
NCAA Tournament: 19-6, three Final Fours, one championship
Number to note: The Mustangs missed the NCAA Tournament but went 2-0 against eventual national champion Connecticut.
Why he’s ranked here: After only two seasons, the 73-year-old Brown has done what no SMU coach has done since Doc Hayes — make the Mustangs relevant.
30. Kevin Ollie, UConn
Record at UConn: 52-18 (.743)
NCAA Tournament: 6-0, one Final Four, one championship
Number to note: Ollie won a national title only four years into coaching career — two seasons as an assistant and two seasons as a head coach.
Why he’s ranked here: The future is limitless for a 42-year-old who took over for a legendary coach (Jim Calhoun) and recovered from NCAA sanctions a year earlier to win a title.
31. Scott Drew, Baylor
Record at Baylor: 206-150 (.579)
NCAA Tournament: 8-4
Number to note: Drew is 17-5 combined in the NCAA Tournament and NIT, claiming two Elite Eights, a Sweet 16 and an NIT title.
Why he’s ranked here: The even-year, odd-year trend for Baylor predicts a down year in 2014-15.
32. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Record at Cincinnati: 162-107 (.602)
NCAA Tournament: 3-6
Number to note: Cincinnati has ranked in the top 25 in adjusted defense on KenPom in each of the last four seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: With 101 wins and four NCAA Tournament appearances in the last four seasons, Cronin brought Cincinnati back from hitting the reset button 10 years ago.
33. John Thompson III, Georgetown
Record at Georgetown: 227-104 (.686)
NCAA Tournament: 8-9, one Final Four
Number to note: Before last season, Georgetown ranked in the top 100 in defensive efficiency in KenPom's rankings every year of Thompson’s tenure, including three times in the top 10.
Why he’s ranked here: Thompson may get dinged for early NCAA losses, but the Hoyas are a year removed from a Big East title. Besides, Georgetown’s NCAA draws have included Florida Gulf Coast, Final Four-bound VCU and Stephen Curry-led Davidson.
34. Fran McCaffery, Iowa
Record at Iowa: 74-63 (.540)
NCAA Tournament: 2-6
Number to note: McCaffery ended a seven-year drought of 20-win seasons at Iowa and an eight-year NCAA Tournament drought for the Hawkeyes.
Why he’s ranked here: McCaffery’s turnaround at Iowa has been remarkable but Iowa hasn’t posted a winning Big Ten record since 2006-07.
35. Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Record at Notre Dame: 300-159 (.654)
NCAA Tournament: 6-11
Number to note: Notre Dame has one NCAA win since 2008.
Why he's ranked here: Notre Dame averaged 11.6 conference wins from 2006 through 2013 before falling to 6-12 in its first season in the ACC.
36. Steve Alford, UCLA
Record at UCLA: 28-9 (.757)
NCAA Tournament: 7-8
Number to note: In Alford’s first season, UCLA reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008 ... with the help of a No. 13 seed (Tulsa) and No. 12 seed (Stephen F. Austin). That shouldn’t be ignored — two of Alford’s New Mexico teams were eliminated by double-digit seeds.
Why he’s ranked here: Alford’s hire wasn’t met with much excitement, but the jolt of energy seems to be working. UCLA had arguably its best team since the 2008 Final Four squad.
37. Dana Altman, Oregon
Record at Oregon: 97-47 (.674)
NCAA Tournament: 5-10
Number to note: A streaky program has stability. Oregon has winning conference seasons in three consecutive years for the first time in school history.
Why he’s ranked here: An offseason scandal casts a shadow over his tenure at Oregon. His career, though, has been marked by building consistent winners at Creighton and now Oregon.
38. Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Record at Florida State: 241-157 (.606)
NCAA Tournament: 6-7
Number to note: Florida State hasn’t had a losing ACC record since 2006-07, though the Seminoles went 9-9 the last two years.
Why he’s ranked here: The Seminoles have reached the NCAA Tournament four times and the NIT five times in the last nine seasons. Not a bad stretch for FSU.
39. Tom Crean, Indiana
Record at Indiana: 101-97 (.510)
NCAA Tournament: 8-7, one Final Four
Number to note: Indiana won one road game in Crean’s first three seasons. The Hoosiers have won 14 in three seasons since.
Why he’s ranked here: Indiana’s collapse from spending most of 2012-13 at No. 1 to missing/declining the postseason altogether is a major concern. The same can be said of the alarming rate of off-court issues. Still, Crean brought Indiana back from 6-25 in his first season.
41. Kelvin Sampson, Houston
Record at Houston: First season
NCAA Tournament: 12-14, one Final Four
Number to note: Sampson’s teams have reached the NCAA Tournament in 14 of his last 15 seasons in college coaching at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana.
Why he’s ranked here: He may be a risk to ignore NCAA rules, but he’s proven he can thrive in adverse situations at OU and Wazzu.
41. Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
Record at Utah: 42-55 (.433)
NCAA Tournament: 1-2
Number to note: Utah won more Pac-12 games in his third season (nine) than the Utes won total games in his first year (six).
Why he’s ranked here: Krystkowiak brought Utah back from irrelevance, and now the Utes will contend for their first NCAA spot since 2009.
42. Dave Rose, BYU
Record at BYU: 232-78 (.748)
NCAA Tournament: 4-7
Number to note: Rose had never lost more than nine games in a season in his career until he lost 12 in each of the last two seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: The departure of Jimmer Fredette and the move to the West Coast Conference has slowed BYU’s momentum, but Rose still has seven NCAA appearances in nine years as a coach.
43. Archie Miller, Dayton
Record at Dayton: 63-38 (.624)
NCAA Tournament: 3-1
Number to note: Dayton improved its road record from 5-16 in Miller’s first two seasons to 7-4 last season.
Why he’s ranked here: Sean’s younger brother has made himself a hot coaching candidate in his own right wins over Ohio State and Syracuse on the way to the Elite Eight last season.
44. Fran Dunphy, Temple
Record at Temple: 167-97 (.633)
NCAA Tournament: 3-15
Number to note: Before the bottom fell out in Temple’s first season (9-22) in the AAC, the Owls averaged 24.3 overall wins and 12.3 wins in the Atlantic 10 the previous six seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: Only Temple predecessor John Chaney (516) has more wins in Philadelphia Big 5 history than Dunphy at Temple and Penn (477).
45. Tubby Smith, Texas Tech
Record at Texas Tech: 14-18 (.438)
NCAA Tournament: 30-16, one Final Four, one national championship
Number to note: Smith hasn’t led a team to a winning conference record since his final season at Kentucky.
Why he’s ranked here: In what seemed like questionable hire at first, Smith led Texas Tech to its best Big 12 record since 2007-08 with wins over Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas.
46. Josh Pastner, Memphis
Record at Memphis: 130-44 (.747)
NCAA Tournament: 2-4
Number to note: Pastner ended a 12-game losing streak against ranked teams last season by going 5-5 against top 25 teams after an Oklahoma State loss in November.
Why he’s ranked here: Pastner’s not John Calipari, but he’s come into his own as a head coach the last two seasons.
47. Tommy Amaker, Harvard
Record at Harvard: 139-71 (.662)
NCAA Tournament: 4-4
Number to note: With wins over New Mexico and Cincinnati the last two seasons, Harvard is the first Ivy team since the field expanded to 64 to win games in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.
Why he’s ranked here: After a mediocre tenure at Michigan, Amaker has found a home at Harvard, where he’s won four consecutive league titles.
48. Rick Byrd, Belmont
Record at Belmont: 299-175 (.631)
NCAA Tournament: 0-6
Number to note: Byrd has 689 career wins in the NCAA record book, counting Belmont’s time in the NAIA.
Why he’s ranked here: Belmont has won regular season conference titles in each of the last five seasons in the Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley.
49. Mike Anderson, Arkansas
Record at Arkansas: 59-39 (.602)
NCAA Tournament: 7-6
Number to note: Mike Anderson is 4-1 against Calipari-coached Kentucky teams. While at UAB, Anderson went 1-1 against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
Why he’s ranked here: Once considered a home run hire when the Razorbacks hired Nolan Richardson’s right-hand man, Anderson will need to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time at Arkansas to truly shift the momentum of his program.
50. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt
Record at Vanderbilt: 292-192 (.603)
NCAA Tournament: 6-8
Number to note: During the last two years, Vanderbilt endured back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in 13 seasons under Stallings.
Why he’s ranked here: Vanderbilt is still searching for answers since the John Jenkins/Festus Ezeli/Jeff Taylor class left school two years ago.
The first major dilemmas for the College Football Playoff selection committee may be on the way.
Baylor’s trouncing of Oklahoma in Norman vaulted the Bears into the top 10 of the weekly rankings, but it wasn't enough to push Baylor ahead of TCU, raising questions about head-to-head wins and non-conference scheduling.
Indeed, Baylor may force the selection committee some interesting explanations if the Bears continue to win.
• The question of head-to-head wins: Baylor defeated TCU 61-58 on Oct. 11, but four spots in the rankings separated the two Tuesday. Selection committee chair Jeff Long said head-to-head weighs more as the teams are considered closer in the rankings. Essentially, the committee views TCU’s body of work strong enough at this point to override Baylor's head-to-head win.
TCU has wins over two top 25 teams (No. 13 Kansas State and No. 25 Minnesota) and a loss to No. 7 Baylor. Meanwhile, the Bears have one top-25 win (TCU), and their loss is more lopsided to an unranked West Virginia.
• One theme in the run up to the playoff was that the system would encourage teams to take on more challenging non-conference schedules. That wouldn’t seem to be valid if Baylor makes the playoff with a non-conference schedule of SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo.
• As much as Long wants to say the committee is starting each week with a “clean sheet” evaluating each team’s body of work, that won’t ease the feelings of fans who watch their teams climb into a playoff scenario and then out without ever losing a game.
With Kansas, Texas and Iowa State remaining, TCU has completed the toughest part of its schedule. Meanwhile, teams like Alabama, Arizona State and Baylor all have opportunities for major wins down the stretch. By the end of the season, Long may have to explain TCU's plight to a horde of angry fans.
Here’s how the second top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Nov. 11|
|1. Mississippi State||10. Ole Miss||18. Notre Dame|
|2. Oregon||11. UCLA||19. Clemson|
|3. Florida State||12. Michigan State||20. Wisconsin|
|4. TCU||13. Kansas State||21. Duke|
|5. Alabama||14. Arizona||22. Georgia Tech|
|6. Arizona State||15. Georgia||23. Utah|
|7. Baylor||16. Nebraska||24. Texas A&M|
|8. Ohio State||17. LSU||25. Minnesota|
Oregon at No. 2
In reality, Oregon’s move from No. 3 to No. 2 ahead of undefeated Florida State probably doesn’t mean too much. If the season ended today, the two teams would play in the semifinal at the same site, the Rose Bowl. But it does signal that the selection committee won’t necessarily honor the zero in the loss column for the sake of doing so. Selection committee chair Jeff Long explained that Oregon has three top-25 wins (at No. 11 UCLA, No. 12 Michigan State, at No. 23 Utah) whereas Florida State has two (No. 18 Notre Dame, No. 19 Clemson). FSU’s signature win of the season over Notre Dame was devalued by a 55-31 loss at Arizona State by the Irish.
Naming the “Group of Five” contenders
For the second week, the top 25 lacked a team from the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt. The highest ranked champion of one of those leagues is guaranteed a berth in the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange or Peach Bowl this season, and now it seems we have a field to consider. Long identified Marshall, Colorado State, Boise State, Northern Illinois and East Carolina as teams in the discussion for the top 25. Only “a little” of that discussion was about ECU, a bad sign for a Pirates team that was the clubhouse leader before a loss to Temple two weeks ago.
Who Shouldn’t Worry:
The Crimson Tide is sitting at No. 5 with games against Mississippi State and Auburn at home, plus a potential SEC championship game. Win, and the Tide are in the playoff, perhaps as a top seed in the Sugar Bowl.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised
The Sun Devils continue their rise up the rankings, though the committee is reticent to describe it as such. Arizona State was ranked No. 14 two weeks ago, but wins over Utah and Notre Dame put the Sun Devils at No. 6. Arizona State has the opportunity for two more landmark wins — at No. 14 Arizona to finish the season and potentially No. 2 Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. Long said the committee considered that Arizona State’s only loss to UCLA occurred when the Sun Devils were missing starting quarterback Taylor Kelly, another good sign for Todd Graham's team. Arizona State lost 62-27 at home to UCLA, but the committee holds the Bruins in some high regard. UCLA is No. 11 despite one-score wins over Virginia, Memphis, Texas, Cal and Colorado and a loss at home to Utah.
Who Should Worry:
Certainly, the Horned Frogs would rather be at No. 4 than behind an Alabama team that will face perhaps two more top 10 teams. TCU helped its resume with a 41-20 win over Kansas State, but the Horned Frogs have reason for concern. First, Alabama is at No. 5 with a chance to move up if the Tide are able to beat No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 9 Auburn. Long described the margin between the Frogs and Tide as “extremely thin.” Second, Long indicated that this was the first week that TCU and Baylor were in the same group of six evaluated at a given time by the selection committee.
In other words, the discussion between TCU and Baylor is getting closer. Should TCU and Baylor be more comparable teams in the committee’s eyes, Baylor’s head-to-head win over TCU may loom large. The Horned Frogs going from No. 4 in the rankings to outside of the playoff even if they don’t lose a game is a possibility.
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar: No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 4 TCU
Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Ohio State
Fiesta: No. 6 Arizona State vs. No. 10 Ole Miss
Orange: No. 19 Clemson^ vs. No. 5 Alabama
Peach: Marshall* vs. No. 9 Auburn
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
Change in college football is all around us, especially in this first season leading to the playoff.
One truism remains the case in the changing landscape, though: It’s darn tough to win a conference road game.
The top two teams in the country may learn that this week when Mississippi State visits Alabama and Florida State visits rival Miami.
Beyond the top two teams, the current cream of the crop in the Big Ten, Ohio State and Nebraska, will defend that status on the road. At the same time, Auburn attempts to recover from a damaging loss to Texas A&M by facing Georgia in Athens.
The Week Ahead: Nov. 15
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
Ohio State at Minnesota
When and where: Noon, ABC
We’re watching because... this is suddenly an important game in the Big Ten. After convincing divisional wins last week, Ohio State and Minnesota are a combined 9-1 in the Big Ten. The only conference loss among them, remarkably, is to an Illinois team with a backup quarterback. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett is on the fast track to stardom after 386 yards of total offense and four touchdowns against Michigan State. Meanwhile, Minnesota showed rare balance on offense as Mitch Leidner threw four touchdown passes in a 51-14 rout of Iowa.
Vegas says: Ohio State by 12
Mississippi State at Alabama
When and where: 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this week’s powerhouse matchup in the SEC West may be the most important of the year. The enthusiasm on the Mississippi State bandwagon has dimmed a bit as the Bulldogs have been pressed by Kentucky and Arkansas. Mississippi State can solidify its hold on No. 1, and Dak Prescott can push Marcus Mariota for the Heisman with a win in Tuscaloosa. The Bulldogs’ defense may be just what Alabama wants to see, however, after putting up 4.2 yards per play in the overtime win over LSU.
Vegas says: Alabama by 7
Nebraska at Wisconsin
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... the two best running backs in the country (arguably) meet in a critical Big Ten West matchup. Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah have been friends since the recruiting process, and now they follow each other’s box scores every week. Gordon, the nation’s rushing leader, has the edge now, but Abdullah at No. 6 in the country isn’t far behind. The winner may be the favorite in the Big Ten West.
Vegas says: Wisconsin by 6
Auburn at Georgia
When and where: 7:15 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... one of the teams will salvage their hopes for the season after a devastating loss. Auburn is coming off a loss to Texas A&M while Georgia is two weeks removed from a loss to Florida. Both shocking defeats damaged college football playoff hopes. Georgia, at least, will get a jolt of energy with the return of Todd Gurley.
Vegas says: Georgia by 2 1/2
Florida State at Miami
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... Florida State is on upset alert again. The Seminoles are invincible in the second half, which is good news for a team that has struggled early. Florida State has trailed in the first half in six of the last seven games, including 21-0 at Louisville two weeks ago. Miami is one of the nation’s most improved teams during the last month. Duke Johnson is averaging 10.1 yards per carry in the last three wins while the defense has rebounding to allow 2.1 yards per carry in the last three games.
Vegas says: Florida State by 2
For stretches of this season, Baylor didn’t look much like Baylor teams of recent vintage, and Bryce Petty didn’t resemble Bryce Petty.
This version of Art Briles’ squad was 7-1 but easy to dismiss in the College Football Playoff race.
On Saturday, Baylor achieved the most un-Baylor-like feat it could muster to put the Bears back into the playoff mix.
The Bears not only won a road game against a ranked team for the first time since 1991, they won in Norman for the first time in school history.
Baylor started Saturday ranked No. 12 but likely will be in striking distance of the playoff when the new rankings are released Tuesday after a 48-14 win over Oklahoma.
“This game, for me, was circled on the calendar,” Petty told the media. “I don't like to make that public, just because every game is a big game. At the same time, I really wanted to win this game, being at Norman. I didn't even know 37 straight losses to top 25 teams. All the stuff that we unraveled, that's big.”
The Bears needed this kind of feat to build legitimacy for the season. True, Baylor defeated TCU 61-58 thanks to a fourth quarter comeback Oct. 11. Otherwise, the Bears’ record entering Saturday didn’t have much meat to it.
Baylor’s non-conference schedule of SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo is forgettable at best, and its loss came by two touchdowns at West Virginia.
More than that, Petty was hardly himself in October and into the first weekend of November. The Big 12 leader in passing efficiency in 2013 completed 47 percent of his passes during the four-game stretch entering Saturday.
That changed in the second quarter in Norman when Petty started to look like the quarterback who led Baylor to a conference title last season.
In the second and third quarters, Petty was 27-of-32 for 322 yards with a touchdown. He picked apart the Oklahoma defense with short completions for the most part, completing 18 consecutive passes at one point.
“It is sometimes good for people to be doubted,” Baylor coach Art Briles told the media. “He has gone through a little bit of that.”
A run game that struggled for most of the game was at least effective in short-yardage situations around the goal line for four scores inside the five-yard line. The hot streak gave Baylor 45 unanswered points to end the game.
How the selection committee views this potential turn in Baylor’s season is a mystery. The non-conference schedule could continue to be an anchor.
And even though Baylor’s first win in Norman is a landmark moment, the victory might not be resume-builder it would be in any other season. Oklahoma picked up its third loss of the season to fall to 3-3 in the Big 12.
Yet if the selection committee likes common opponents, consider that Baylor beat the Sooners by 34 on the road. Kansas State won in Norman, too, by 1. TCU beat Oklahoma by 4 in Fort Worth.
The most important victory, though, may have been a fourth quarter comeback against TCU. The Horned Frogs handed Kansas State its first loss in Big 12 play Saturday, putting Baylor, TCU and the Wildcats into a three-way tie for the conference lead.
Baylor will wrap up the season in Waco against Kansas State, and by then, the Bears could be in position to do the most un-Baylor-like thing of all: Compete for a national championship.
Entering Saturday, one of the themes for Michigan State and Ohio State will be the differing character of the two programs.
One program features a classic dropback quarterback while the other runs the spread through a pass-run threat. One program gobbles up five-star recruits while the other finds ways to unearth gems for similar results.
Yet when Michigan State looks across the sideline, the Spartans may see a window into their own recent past.
Ohio State started the 2014 season scrambling for answers on offense due to an August a suspect offensive line and a season-ending injury to Heisman contender Braxton Miller.
In a case of playing the wrong opponent at the wrong time, Ohio State lost 35-21 at home in the second week of the season to a Virginia Tech team that has gone 2-3 since. The Hokies’ pass rush rattled redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett into six sacks and three interceptions.
A year ago, Michigan State was the team with an overwhelmed offense early in the season, losing 17-13 to Notre Dame in Week 4.
If Ohio State can defeat Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday, the Buckeyes could have a chance to do something the Spartans never could — play for a national championship.
One way or another, the winner of Ohio State-Michigan State will present an interesting case for the college football selection committee, an opportunity to show a break for the old system and the flexibility of a more nuanced view of the season.
With the Buckeyes ranked at No. 14, there’s no guarantee this win alone could vault Ohio State into the playoff conversation.
For starters, strength of schedule would not be a winning argument for Ohio State even if the Buckeyes win in East Lansing. Michigan State is the only ranked opponent Ohio State will play until at least the Big Ten championship game.
The counterpoint would be that Ohio State, despite a loss to Virginia Tech that looks worse and worse each week, has improved to one of the top four teams in the country from the start of September to season’s end.
“What we did in August is much different than what we did in November,” Ohio State coach Meyer said. “(Barrett)’s got the full capacity of the entire offense. The first game of the year was nothing close to this.”
That’s where Ohio State is similar to Michigan State. The Spartans broke last season with Andrew Maxwell at quarterback, and Jeremy Langford was settling into the running back position after playing cornerback and wide receiver a spring earlier.
A team still finding its way on offense lost to Notre Dame, but by November, Michigan State was unstoppable in the Big Ten.
“The quarterback position has taken off,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “He’s become much more experienced and proficient, and I think our supporting cast has done the exact same thing. At that time, we had no identity at tailback, wide receiver, quarterback and tight end. Now we have an identity at all those positions. That’s the difference maker.”
In the BCS system, Michigan State last season was never able to generate any buzz as a championship contender despite winning eight games in a row by comfortable margins on the way to a division title.
At this point last season, Michigan State was ranked 17th in the BCS standings. Though the Spartans finished the regular season ranked fourth, they needed an upset of then-undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten title game just to move up from No. 10.
The 2014 Spartans, ranked eighth this week, have a better case than last year’s team or this year’s Ohio State.
Michigan State visited No. 4 Oregon, losing 46-27 in a game that remained competitive until the fourth quarter. Michigan State also defeated No. 13 Nebraska 27-22, again with a bad Spartans fourth quarter denting the final margin.
The Oregon matchup, though, will be key.
The conventional wisdom entering the season is that tougher schedules are supposed to be a factor for the selection committee. Few matchups are more challenging that a true road game to Autzen Stadium against a top-five team.
The question is if Michigan State will be rewarded for such a game even if the Spartans didn’t win. There’s reason for skepticism. Mississippi State has wins over Auburn and LSU on the resume, but the Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule of Southern Miss, UAB and South Alabama offered few tests.
Truth: "Michigan State would be in the top four right now if it had played Central Michigan instead of Oregon." - @slmandel— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) November 5, 2014
And then there’s the conference championship question. The winner of this game will be the frontrunner in the Big Ten East and a likely favorite in the conference championship game.
One of the stated criteria for the selection committee is conference championships.
Yet with the Big Ten’s paltry record against the Power 5 and Notre Dame (5-11), the league may be on the outs with undefeated or one-loss champions in the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.
But what if that doesn’t happen and the committee has to pick between a one-loss Big Ten champion over a one-loss SEC West runner-up?
The selection committee has met to issue rankings twice so far this season only to give us as many questions as answers.
The result of the matchup in East Lansing has enough baggage to keep the questions coming.
Finally. A Big Ten game with national import.
For weeks, the season has been pointing toward Ohio State-Michigan State as the game of the year in the Big Ten, perhaps overshadowing the conference title game.
Indeed, the stakes have been building after both teams have been able to rebuild their reputations despite Week 2 losses.
The showdown in East Lansing will play a major role in deciding the Big Ten East division, but the battle for the West is just starting when Iowa and Minnesota meet for the Floyd of Rosedale.
Big Ten Week 11 Power Rankings
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
1. Ohio State at Michigan State
8 p.m., ABC
In the short term, this game will determine a leader in the Big Ten East and end the College Football Playoff hopes for the winner. For the long term, either team could stake a claim to being the Big Ten’s dominant program, a title Michigan State has by virtue of a 34-24 win over the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game a year ago. Before last season, Ohio State had won eight of the previous nine meetings. Including the playoff and Big Ten implications and the backstory, everything about this game indicates a powerhouse matchup. These are the top two offenses in the Big Ten and two of the top four defenses. Not surprisingly, the game may be decided by the quarterbacks. Against two solid defenses in Virginia Tech and Penn State, Ohio State redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has completed 21-of-48 passes with two touchdowns and five interceptions. Meanwhile, last year’s game against Ohio State was a turning point for Michigan State’s Connor Cook, who has completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 9.14 yards per attempt with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 10 games since the first meeting.
Listen to the Week 11 predictions podcast:
2. Iowa at Minnesota
The Big Ten West will be decided in November, starting with this matchup for the Floyd of Rosedale. Both teams still have fellow West contenders Wisconsin and Nebraska during the next four weeks, and Nebraska visits Wisconsin next week. Minnesota’s hopes of sneaking into the Big Ten title game were dented when the Gophers lost at Illinois two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Iowa had the look of a division champion a week ago with a 48-7 win over Northwestern. Jake Rudock had his best game of the season, completing 12-of-19 passes for 239 yards with a touchdown. That said, Iowa isn’t that far removed from giving up 316 rushing yards to Indiana and 212 to Maryland. Run-oriented Minnesota will try to replicate that success against the Hawkeyes’ defense.
3. Wisconsin at Purdue
Wisconsin will have one more game against the lower tier of the Big Ten before the pivotal stretch of the season against Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota in the final three games. The Wisconsin offense continues to be Melvin Gordon first and Corey Clement second, but the Badgers’ defense has been solid in the last two games. Wisconsin has held opponents to 2.7 yards per carry and 35.7 percent passing. Granted, that was against Maryland and Rutgers. Purdue will try to regroup at home after its progress was stalled in a 35-14 loss at Nebraska.
4. Penn State at Indiana
Noon, Big Ten Network
Penn State still has a good chance to be bowl eligible despite a four-game losing streak. The Nittany Lions have Indiana, Temple and Illinois in the next three games, but only Temple plays in Happy Valley. As for this week, the Indiana defense will be a welcome sight. The Hoosiers are 12th in the Big Ten in yards allowed per play and 12th in sacks. If Penn State can’t move the ball against Indiana the outlook might not be promising. Penn State is averaging 3.1 yards per play and 1.2 yards per carry during its losing streak. The Hoosiers aren't faring much better. Indiana’s prolific offense has come to a halt without starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld. The Hoosiers averaged 77.5 plays and 500 yards per game in the first six games and 51 plays and 207.5 yards in the last two. The move to a third-string quarterback couldn’t come at a worse time as IU faces three of the best defenses in the Big Ten (Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State).
5. Michigan at Northwestern
3:30 p.m., ESPN2
It’s the Make-it-Stop Bowl. As recently as Oct. 6, 2013, both of these teams were ranked in the AP poll. Now, Michigan is 6-11 in its last 17, and Northwestern is 4-12 in its last 16. The latter may be in bigger trouble. Northwestern has lost three in a row since an increasingly shocking win over Wisconsin. Michigan will need to win this game and defeat Maryland to reach bowl eligibility unless the Wolverines have something truly shocking in store for Ohio State to finish the season.
Big Ten Week 11 Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Penn State (-7) at Indiana
|PSU 17-10||PSU 27-24||PSU 27-13||IU 24-20|
Iowa (-1 1/2) at Minnesota
|Iowa 21-14||Iowa 30-27||Iowa 27-24||Iowa 27-20|
Wisconsin (-17) at Purdue
|Wisc 31-13||Wisc 40-17||Wisc 34-17||Wisc 41-17|
Michigan (-1 1/2) at Northwestern
|Mich 27-21||NW 23-21||Mich 24-20||Mich 21-14|
Ohio State at Michigan State (-3 1/2)
|MSU 28-24||MSU 38-31||MSU 31-24||MSU 30-20|
The last time Arizona State was on this kind of stage, coach Todd Graham exited Sun Devil Stadium using words like “atrocious” and “pathetic.”
More than a month after the 62-27 loss to UCLA, Graham still calls that defeat a “disastrous game.”
Perhaps the game was disastrous on the field but not disastrous for Arizona State’s 2014 goals.
Arizona State moved to No. 9 in the selection committee’s rankings Tuesday evening, giving the Sun Devils a five-spot jump from last week. The leap puts more attention onto an already-critical game against No. 10 Notre Dame in Tempe on Saturday.
Of any team in the top 10, Arizona State may be the biggest question mark, but College Football Playoff’s mystery team won’t be a mystery much longer.
The Sun Devils are 7-1, riding a four-game winning streak since the loss to UCLA. They’ve held their last three Pac-12 opponents to one offensive touchdown apiece. They’ve won despite a three-game absence by veteran quarterback Taylor Kelly.
Yet the lingering question is how much faith should anyone have in Arizona State as a true playoff contender?
During its worst moment of the season, Arizona State allowed UCLA free reign in the end zone. The Sun Devils gave up 35 points in 8:46 of game time thanks to two passing touchdowns, a rushing touchdown, a pick six and a kickoff return.
Since then, Arizona State has allowed 328 yards per game and 4.0 yards per play, both the best averages in the Pac-12 since Oct. 1.
Graham has good reason to see this as a trend. His defense replaced nine starters from last season, broke in a new defensive coordinator (Keith Patterson from West Virginia) and fielded four junior college or Division I transfers among the top six tacklers.
In other words, this should be a defense that gets better as the season goes along.
“Early on it was tough because what we do defensively is complex,” Graham said. “It wasn’t a whole bunch of errors it was just critical errors that were being made. Once they’ve got the system and got to where we can execute, we’re able to execute at a high level.”
The question here, though, is if the defensive numbers is as much a product of playing lackluster offense more than anything. Stanford, Washington and Utah combined for a total of 36 points against Arizona State in the last three weeks.
Those three teams are in the bottom five in the Pac-12 in yards per play. Two of them (Washington and Utah) rank 100th or worse nationally in that category.
Notre Dame isn’t Oregon, but the Irish rank 36th in yards per play for the most prolific offense Arizona State has faced since UCLA.
Arizona State has needed its defense to stifle opponents during the last three games because its offense has sputtered despite the return of Kelly, who is working himself into game shape after suffering a broken right foot Sept. 13.
Kelly is completing 57.7 percent of his passes for 7.4 yards per attempt in three games since his return, both figures are lower than his numbers from the first two games for 2014 and his season-long numbers from 2013 and 2012.
“When you think of a guy who broke his foot, had surgery, had a pin put in his foot, didn’t do anything for six weeks and then came back and then got put into the Washington game,” Graham said. “He played against two of the best defenses getting after you in attacking and blitzing in the Pac-12.”
Now, Arizona State will find out if its quarterback and defense are ready for what could be the defining moment of the season against Notre Dame.
Graham knows his team has received a reprieve from its loss to UCLA and still has an outside shot at the playoff.
“We talk about it differently than we had in the past,” Graham said. “Once we lost a game, we said it’s a single-elimination tournament from here on out. You can’t expect to lose another game and reach our goals.”