Articles By David Fox

Path: /college-football/ohio-state-ready-contend-big-ten-results-are-mixed

After Ohio State arguably lost ground during a bye week, the Buckeyes gained some of it back against Cincinnati.


Where that leaves Ohio State for the Big Ten season, which starts Saturday at Maryland, remains in question.


While Ohio State had last week off, the Buckeyes' lone loss of the season started look more and more embarrassing as Virginia Tech lost to Georgia Tech, its second consecutive loss since the win in Columbus.


As for the Buckeyes, they defeated Cincinnati 50-28 on Saturday, answering some questions about the offense’s ability to win in the Big Ten, but the defense may remain a liability.


First the good:


For a team that couldn’t move the ball consistently against Virginia Tech, the 50 points is a welcome sight.


Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett was magnificent, completing 26-of-36 passes for 330 yards with four touchdowns and no turnovers to go with 79 rushing yards.


That said, the biggest development may have been running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 182 yards and a touchdown in 28 carries. Before that breakout by the sophomore, none of Ohio State’s tailbacks had rushed for more than 171 yards total this season.


Ohio State's 710 total yards also approached a school record.


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Now the bad: Aided by a leaky secondary, Ohio State needed nearly all of that production. 


Ohio State jumped to a 23-7 lead early in the second quarter, but that devolved into a five-point lead in the third.


The pass defense that prevented Ohio State from playing for a national title a year ago made this game more interesting than it needed to be. The Buckeyes allowed touchdown passes or 60, 83 and 78 yards, the last two in the second half.


How many Big Ten teams will be able to challenge Ohio State like Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel did? Perhaps a few.


Maryland passed for 361 yards and three touchdowns against Indiana and has averaged better than 10 yards per attempt in each of the last two games.


To boot, the Terrapins gave up a mere 126 yards through the air against a high-powered Indiana offense.


With that kind of matchup arriving Saturday, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer talked of a “hard conversation” with defensive coaches coming this week.


“You don't give up 200 yards passing and be able to look you in the eye say that's a championship level football team out there,” Meyer told the media. “I see certain units playing at a very, very high level, not nine."

Is Ohio State Ready to Win in the Big Ten? Results are Mixed
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 16:00
Path: /college-football/penn-state-reaches-its-ceiling-behind-troubled-offensive-line

After a month of the season and a few close calls, Penn State learned a little bit about its ceiling.


The Nittany Lions can’t survive an off game by quarterback Christian Hackenberg, and the offensive line continues to be the team’s Achilles' heel.


Starting with a disastrous first quarter, Penn State lost 29-6 at home to Northwestern. On paper, this may be a shocking result with one of the Big Ten’s two undefeated teams losing in a rout to a team that entered the game on a 2-9 skid.


In reality, though, this moment was coming. Penn State had been playing with fire all season, and the flaws brought about in part by injuries and scholarship limitations are finally starting to impact the record. 


Maybe this was a market correction.


Penn State lucked out in the opener when UCF didn’t start the better of its two quarterbacks that day as a field goal from Sam Ficken helped Penn State win 26-24 in Dublin. The Nittany Lions started slow against Akron but won convincingly by a 21-3 margin. And two weeks ago, Penn State got help from five Rutgers interceptions to score 13 unanswered points in the second half of a 13-10 win.


All the while, Penn State’s offensive line couldn’t open holes for the running backs, and Hackenberg was forced into mistakes.


Northwestern was the first team to take advantage when the floodgates opened.


“I actually think you look how we've played all year long and we've started some games slow and we've been able to come back and rally late in games,” Penn State coach James Franklin told the media. “You can only do that so many times. You can only do that so many times before it comes back to haunt you.”


That moment happened Saturday.


Penn State punted on its first five possessions, four of which ending without a first down. That was better than the alternative, which included a blocked field goal, a Hackenberg fumble and the first pick six of Hackenberg’s career.


By the end of the second quarter, Penn State abandoned the run altogether. Hackenberg finished with 45 pass attempts. Tailbacks Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak carried 12 times.


The frustration was palpable.



Hackenberg and Belton put the moment behind them in the postgame interviews and on Twitter, but but the struggles of the offense won’t solve themselves as easily.


Penn State is averaging 3.1 yards per carry this season. Throw out a 226-yard outburst against UMass, and the Nittany Lions are averaging 2.1 yards per rush.


There are no easy solutions here. Penn State entered the season with a top-flight quarterback and established that its defensive front seven will be among the best in the country.


The offensive line, though, returned only one starter. The unit, especially after the spring injury to Miles Dieffenbach, was panned during the preseason.


That Penn State made it to Week 5 without a loss is probably something of a miracle and a sign the Nittany Lions are getting the most they possibly can out of a shorthanded group.


Saturday, though, showed how far resilience alone can go.

Penn State Reaches its Ceiling Behind Troubled Offensive Line
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 15:45
Path: /college-football/brady-hoke-must-answer-handling-injured-shane-morris

Brady Hoke has more serious problems than an inept offense on gameday.


Before Hoke coaches another game at Michigan, he’ll need to provide better answers than ignorance for allowing his potentially concussed player to take two more snaps, including one after he had returned to the sideline to be replaced by a backup.


In the fourth quarter of a 30-14 loss to Minnesota, quarterback Shane Morris — already hobbled with a leg injury — took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Minnesota defensive end Thieren Cockran. 


Morris limped to the sideline to get the next play, but he dropped his head and had to be held up by offensive tackle Ben Braden. Morris, making his first start of the season, waved his arm to stay in the game.


Cockran was called for a roughing the passer penalty, though he could have been ejected for targeting. ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham called the officials’ oversight “appalling.”


That level of ignorance pales compared to what transpired later from Hoke. Morris continued for one more snap, an incomplete pass. Only then, did Morris take himself out of the game, wobbling to the sideline.


Do we know with certainty that Morris suffered a concussion? No. But Michigan and the broadcast team saw enough to warrant having Morris on the bench to determine for sure.


Morris didn’t stay on the bench long. Three plays later, replacement quarterback Devin Gardner lost his helmet on a run toward the sideline. By rule, he had to sit out a play.


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While third-string quarterback Russell Bellomy scrambled for a helmet, Morris ended up back in the game for a handoff before returning to the sideline. Cunningham called the player management “atrocious.” Even before the Cockran hit, Cunningham was critical of Hoke’s handling of an obviously injured Morris, who continued to throw passes from the pocket on an injured left leg.


The entire sequence was textbook negligence for the safety of a player, but Hoke’s explanation was so much worse, it's embarrassing.


“Well, I don't know if he might have had a concussion or not,” Hoke told reporters after the game. “I don't know that. Shane's a pretty competitive tough kid. Shane wanted to be the quarterback. So believe me, if he didn't want to be, he would have come to the sideline or stayed down.”


That statement is unacceptable.


I don’t know if he had a concussion or not.


Did Hoke not see what the ESPN cameras picked up? Did he not see a dazed Morris being held up by a lineman? That’s possible, even if Minnesota was flagged for roughing the passer. Did a member of the staff catch it? Also possible, but Hoke is not wearing a headset, so it's plausible that someone in the booth was unable to effectively communicate with the head coach.


But the lack of certainty is enough to pull Morris. And not only did Morris stay in the game for one play after the hit, he returned. Take a timeout. Take a delay of game. Have a running back take a knee It doesn’t matter. Anything that stops Morris from returning to the game.


Shane wanted to be the quarterback. So believe me, if he didn't want to be, he would have come to the sideline or stayed down.


Hoke is deflecting the responsibility onto his 20-year-old quarterback who may or may not have sustained a head injury, not the man in paid in excess of $4 million to make quick decisions that in part concern the safety of his players.


Blame players for poor execution or poor preparation, that’s fine. But deciding which players should and should not be on the field is part of the job, and Hoke was incompetent for a stretch of four minutes in this regard.


Whether Morris sustained a concussion or not, Hoke whiffed, and he may need to answer for it with his job.


Watch the entire sequence:


UPDATE: Michigan coach Brady Hoke released a statement Sunday evening through the school:


“The safety of our student-athletes is always our top priority. We generally never discuss the specifics of a student-athlete's medical care, but Shane Morris was removed from yesterday's game against Minnesota after further aggravating an injury to his leg that he sustained earlier in the contest. He was evaluated by our experienced athletic trainers and team physicians, and we're confident proper medical decisions were made. The University of Michigan has a distinguished group of Certified Athletic Trainers and team physicians who are responsible for determining whether or not a player is physically able to play. Our coaches have no influence or authority to make determinations if or when an injured player returns to competition. The health and welfare of our student-athletes is and will continue to be a top priority.”

Brady Hoke Must Answer for Handling of Injured Shane Morris
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 11:40
Path: /georgias-todd-gurley-athlon-sports-week-5-national-player-week

After his team lost by 3 to Georgia, Tennessee coach Butch Jones likened defending Georgia’s run game to defending the wishbone.


Don't give Georgia any ideas. It's scary what Todd Gurley might do if he played in that kind of offense. Playing in the Bulldogs pro-style is scary enough.


The Georgia tailback rushed for a career-high 208 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns in a 35-32 win over Tennessee to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.


The Bulldogs needed every bit of Gurley’s production, and despite playing the deepest backfield in the country, Gurley may be the nation's most indispensable player.


Gurley rushed for a 51-yard touchdown to boost a fourth-quarter lead, hurdled over a Tennessee defender and picked up a fourth-and-3 conversion with a gutty four-yard gain.  


"Earlier in the year, I said he is at least one of the best players in the country,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Now, I'm saying he's the best player in America. I can't imagine anyone being more talented, a guy who loves his team more, and a guy who means more to his team than he does to us.”


National Defensive Player of the Week: Ishmael Adams, UCLA

Arizona State may have racked up 626 yards against UCLA but couldn’t stop the Bruins in the big-play department in any phase of the game. Defensive back Ishmael Adams helped changed the momentum twice. First, he recorded a 95-yard pick six as Arizona State was driving for a score to close the first half. Adams then returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown after the Sun Devils cut the lead to two touchdowns in the third quarter.


National Freshman of the Week: Deshaun Watson, Clemson

Deshaun Watson flashed his potential in extended work against Florida State. He delivered against defense-challenged North Carolina in his first career start. Watson completed 27-of-36 passes for 435 yards with six touchdowns and an interception in a 50-35 win over North Carolina. 


National Coordinator of the Week: Brian Stewart, Maryland

Injuries have been mounting for the Maryland defense, and Indiana is fresh off a win at Missouri. All signs would point to a shootout for a Terrapins team that two weeks ago gave up 40 points to West Virginia. The Terrapins, though, keyed the program’s first Big Ten victory, a 37-15 win over Indiana. The high-powered Hoosiers were limited to a season-low 332 total yards. Indiana was 14-of-37 passing with 126 yards and an interception.


Conference players of the week:


ACC: Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya completed 21-of-25 passes for 226 yards with two touchdowns in a 22-10 win over Duke.


Big 12: Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman completed 17-of-31 passes for 370 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in a 45-35 win over Texas Tech on Thursday.


Big Ten: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries in a 45-14 win over Illinois.


Pac-12: UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was 18-of-23 for 355 yards with four touchdowns in a 62-27 win over Arizona State on Thursday. He also rushed for 72 yards on eight carries.


American: Temple quarterback P.J. Walker completed 20-of-29 passes for 231 yards with a touchdown in a 36-10 win over Connecticut. Walker also rushed for a touchdown.


Conference USA: Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky completed 38-of-54 passes for 387 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 36-27 win over Navy. Doughty also rushed for a touchdown.


MAC: Akron linebacker Jatavis Brown had 11 tackles and a sack in a 21-10 win over Pittsburgh. The Zips are the first team to hold James Conner to fewer than 100 yards this season.


Mountain West: Air Force safety Weston Steelhammer had three interceptions, two tackles for a loss a sack and four tackles in a 28-14 win over Boise State.


Sun Belt: Georgia Southern quarterback Kevin Ellison rushed for 151 yards and a  touchdown on 21 carries in a 34-14 win over Appalachian State. He also completed 6-of-10 passes for 73 yards with a touchdown and an interception.


Independents: Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson completed 31-of-39 passes for 362 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in a 31-15 win over Syracuse. Golson completed 25 consecutive passes at one point.

Georgia's Todd Gurley is Athlon Sports Week 5 National Player of the Week
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/week-5-heisman-movers-everett-golson-and-todd-gurley-shine

If Week 5 reinforced anything, it was the role of clutch play for any Heisman contender.


The big play at the right time covers up a ton of miscues or stretches of ineffective play.


That is the theme for this week’s contenders. Kenny Hill and Everett Golson didn’t have the best games of their careers, but they were in charge when the game mattered most. 


Brett Hundley, after missing almost an entire game two weeks ago, showed why he is so valuable during a lopsided stretch for UCLA against Arizona State.


And Gurley remained one of the biggest gamebreakers of the week as the Georgia offense went from very good to great any time he was on the field.


Here is our look at the last week and who moved up or down in the Heisman race.

Todd Gurley

Gurley may be the best hope to end Heisman dominance by quarterbacks. The Bulldogs junior set a career high with 208 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries in a 35-32 win over Tennessee. Georgia coach Mark Richt revised his statement that Gurley is one of the best in the country to making Gurley the best player in the country.

Kenny Hill

The Aggies quarterback didn’t have the best game of his young career. He threw an interception, completed 21-of-41 passes and received help from Arkansas’ defensive breakdowns. But 386 passing yards and four touchdowns — two in the final 2:08 of regulation and overtime — keeps him in the Heisman race and A&M in the hunt in the SEC.

Christian Hackenberg

Hackenberg couldn’t rescue Penn State in this one. Behind a leaky offensive line, Hackenberg had his worst game of the season, completing 22-of-45 passes for 216 yards with the first pick six of his career in a 29-6 home loss to Northwestern. Hackenberg as four TDs and six INTs this season.

Everett Golson

Golson had his official statline corrected, so he didn’t catch the FBS record of 26 consecutive completions as we once believed. And Golson also had three turnovers (two interceptions, fumble). Still, Golson’s 25 consecutive completions is impressive against anyone, anytime. Golson finished 32-of-39 for 362 yards with four touchdowns in a 31-15 win over Syracuse.

Brett Hundley

This guy was supposed to be hurt, right? Hundley came back from his injury against Texas two weeks ago with his best game of the season, leading a 62-27 rout of Arizona State on Thursday. Hundley completed 18-of-23 passes fro 355 yards with four touchdowns. He also rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.

Melvin Gordon

Gordon has picked up the first two fumbles of his career the last two weeks, but the turnovers only seem to make him stronger. Gordon rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries in the second half against USF a week after rushing for 253 yards and five touchdowns on 12 carries after his fumble against Bowling Green.

Ameer Abdullah

Abdullah made sure Gurley and Gordon didn’t remain the only running backs in Heisman contention. Starting with 127 yards in the first quarter alone, Abdullah rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries in a 45-14 win over Illinois. Abdullah rushed for 437 yards in the last two weeks.

James Conner

Iowa stymied Conner in the second half last week. Akron was able to do it through the course of a whole game. Akron held Conner to season lows in yards (92), touchdowns (none, the first time he failed to reach the end zone) and yards per carry (3.7) in a 21-10 win.

Shaq Thompson

Thompson returned a fumble 32 yards for a touchdown and added seven tackles and a tackle for a loss. The linebacker Thompson has scored four touchdowns this season (two fumbles, an interception, one rushing) but Washington needs to win a marquee game to keep him in the running. Washington lost 20-13 to Stanford.


Week 5 Heisman Movers: Everett Golson and Todd Gurley Shine
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Georgia Bulldogs, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/georgias-todd-gurley-hurdles-tennessee-defender-sets-career-high

The only reason we won’t say Todd Gurley delivered his signature performance of the season against Tennessee is because it’s impossible to put limitations on the Georgia running back.


What can be said is that Gurley delivered a career-high 208 rushing yards on 28 carries in a hotly contested 35-32 win over Tennessee.


Gurley provided plenty of highlights, not least of which this hurdling of a Tennessee defender:





Gurley had plenty of big plays, including a 51-yard touchdown and two other runs of 20-plus yards, but one of his most impressive runs may have been when he fought for extra yards on fourth-and-3 to convert the first down and seal the game with 40 seconds remaining.


For now, let the memes begin:


Georgia's Todd Gurley Hurdles Tennessee Defender, Sets Career High
Post date: Saturday, September 27, 2014 - 16:53
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-ranking-big-ten-coaches-2014-15

The Big Ten has taken its lumps during football season, but all that changes on the hardwood.


Much of that is due to the coaches on the bench, a deep group of some of the nation’s best coaches that’s only getting better.


Tom Izzo, John Beilein, Bo Ryan and Thad Matta make up a solid top four of coaches who have made a combined 10 Final Fours at their current stops, and Beilein and Ryan are leading their programs to new (or rather, renewed) heights.


Meanwhile, Tom Crean has returned Indiana to national prominence, and Tim Miles and Fran McCaffery have rebuilt programs at Nebraska and Iowa.


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. 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.


3. 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?


4. 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.


5. 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. Still, Crean brought Indiana back from 6-25 in his first season.


6. 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.


7. 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.


8. John Groce, Illinois

Record at Illinois: 43-29 (.606)

NCAA Tournament: 4-3

Number to note: Groce has never gone one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the round of 32 in 2010 (at Ohio) and 2013 and the Sweet 16 in 2012 (also at Ohio).

Why he’s ranked here: Illinois has yet to break through under Groce (15-21 in the Big Ten), but he has a top-10 recruiting class for 2015.


9. Matt Painter, Purdue

Record at Purdue: 191-112 (.630)

NCAA Tournament: 8-7

Number to note: Painter was 129-46 overall and 64-26 in the Big Ten with the Robbie Hummel/JaJuan Johnson/E’Twaun Moore signing class. He’s 62-66 overall and 25-43 otherwise.

Why he’s ranked here: Back-to-back losing seasons have diminished Painter’s status as a rising star.


10. Mark Turgeon, Maryland

Record at Maryland: 59-42 (.578)

NCAA Tournament: 5-5

Number to note: What is holding Maryland back under Turgeon? A 6-23 record on the road.

Why he’s ranked here: Maryland has been in the KenPom top 50 in two of three seasons under Turgeon, but he was 23-29 in the ACC with no NCAA appearances.


11. Richard Pitino, Minnesota

Record at Minnesota: 25-13 (.658)

NCAA Tournament: None

Number to note: In two seasons as a coach, Pitino’s teams have ranked 48th in tempo (FIU) and 257th (Minnesota).

Why he’s ranked here: Pitino turned an 8-21 team into a  25-13 team at FIU and won the NIT at Minnesota.


12. Patrick Chambers, Penn State

Record at Penn State: 38-59 (.392)

NCAA Tournament: 0-1

Number to note: In Year 3 under Chambers, Penn State averaged better than 70 points per game for the first time since 2000-01.

Why he’s ranked here: Winning at Penn State isn’t easy, but Chambers has kept the Nittany Lions competitive with two wins over Ohio State and a victory over Nebraska in a 6-12 Big Ten season.


13. Chris Collins, Northwestern

Record at Northwestern: 14-19 (.424)

NCAA Tournament: None

Number to note: A sign for the future? Northwestern was 14th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom last season.

Why he’s ranked here: Along with Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski, Collins represents the next wave of Mike Krzyzewski assistants to get head coaching jobs.


14. Eddie Jordan, Rutgers

Record at Rutgers: 12-21 (.364)

NCAA Tournament: None

Number to note: Rutgers lost by 61 in its American Athletic Conference tournament elimination game to Louisville, not a reflection of a team that teams whose last four AAC losses (Memphis, UCF, UConn, Cincinnati) were decided by 4.3 points.

Why he’s ranked here: Jordan struggled as expected in his first season, but he brings a senior-laden team into the Big Ten.

College Basketball: Ranking the Big Ten Coaches for 2014-15
Post date: Friday, September 26, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Big Ten, News
Path: /college-football/big-ten-2014-week-5-preview-and-predictions

The Big Ten isn’t the best conference in college football this season, but the season has at least been interesting.


By Week 5, we’re still left wondering where Ohio State stands, and a rare in-state matchup with the (distant) No. 2 program in the state will be an interesting barometer.


Perhaps Cincinnati-Ohio State is a mismatch, but we know Tommy Tuberville can beat Urban Meyer. The Bearcats coach is one of four coaches to beat Meyer twice in his career.


In other league action, Maryland and Indiana gained a little bit of intrigue as both teams picked up Power 5 road wins last week.


And the battle for the Little Brown Jug may be a game of chicken between two questionable passing games.

Week 5 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC


Week 5 Big Ten Game Power Rankings

All games Saturday. All times Eastern.


1. Cincinnati at Ohio State

6 p.m., Big Ten Network

This game will be a bigger game for Cincinnati, a program that would like to think of itself as a power program but has not defeated Ohio State since 1897. The two teams didn’t even play between 1931-99. At least for Ohio State, this will be a good opportunity for the Buckeyes to re-establish their Big Ten bona fides. Two of the two areas Virginia Tech exposed for Ohio State two weeks ago — pass defense and the offensive line — will be tested again this week. Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel, a Notre Dame transfer and former LSU commitment, is averaging 9.1 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions against MAC teams. Meanwhile, the Bearcats have picked up 11 sacks in two games, eight of which against a bad Miami (Ohio) team.


Listen to the Week 5 preview podcast:

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2. Maryland at Indiana

1:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Who would have pegged this one as a compelling Big Ten game just a few weeks ago? Thank a pair of road wins by the Terrapins (34-20 over Syracuse) and Hoosiers (31-27 over Missouri). Neither of these teams may make noise in the title race, but they can’t be ignored. Both have names Big Ten fans need to know: Maryland defensive back William Likely has two non-offensive touchdowns this season (a punt return and an interception return), and Indiana running back Tevin Coleman has rushed for 569 yards (8.6 per carry) and six touchdowns this season, giving him 12 games in a row with a TD. The injury bug has already hit Maryland as the Terps lost a starting defensive end (Quinton Jefferson) and a tight end (Andrew Isaacs) for the season.


3. Minnesota at Michigan

6 p.m., Big Ten Network

This game might not be pretty, though it’s not clear for whom. First on the Michigan side: The Wolverines don’t plan on naming either Devin Gardner or Shane Morris quarterback until Saturday (after saying they’d do so Tuesday). The pair has combined for 10 of Michigan’s 12 turnovers this season. Meanwhile, Minnesota is second in the country in takeaways (13 in four games). For the Gophers, their quarterback situation is no more certain. Mitch Leidner has not been ruled out but he missed the last game with turf toe. Leidner’s replacement, Chris Strevener, completed 1-of-7 passes for seven yards and an interception while rushing for 161 yards and a score in a win over San Jose State last week. For all of Michigan’s struggles, run defense has not been one of them. The Wolverines are allowing 2.5 yards per carry and 30.3 yards per game.


4. Illinois at Nebraska

9 p.m., Big Ten

Two teams are at a bit of a crossroads. Nebraska may be the Big Ten’s only hope for the College Football Playoff, but the Cornhuskers have to tighten up in a few spots. Miami freshman Brad Kaaya was able to pass for 359 yards, 8.5 yards per attempt and three touchdowns against a Nebraska team whose pass defense numbers have gotten worse each game. The passing game is Illinois’ top strength with Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt completing 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,237 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. Illinois also started last season 3-1 before a 1-7 collapse. Illinois might not be able to win in Lincoln, but this could be a key game to set the tone for the remainder of the year under embattled coach Tim Beckman.


5. Northwestern at Penn State

3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2

The question is if Northwestern will be able to crack Penn State’s defense. The Nittany Lions are allowing only 1.8 yards per carry and 49.5 rush yards per game. Every other Big Ten allows at least 2.5 yards per carry and 71 yards per game. Meanwhile, Northwestern has managed just better than three yards per carry against Cal, Northern Illinois and Western Illinois. If that puts pressure on Northwestern’s ineffective passing game, the Wildcats are in trouble.


6. Wyoming at Michigan State

Noon, ESPN2

When Mark Dantonio looks at Wyoming under first-year coach Craig Bohl, he sees a mirror image. “They are probably more like us than anybody we play,” Dantonio said. Wyoming is a run-first team that has allowed more than 20 points just once this season (to Oregon). Michigan State shouldn’t have too much trouble but Wyoming can be pesky — two of the Cowboys' three wins have come in the fourth quarter.


7. Iowa at Purdue

Noon, Big Ten Network

Will Kirk Ferentz make the call at quarterback? Will he even need to make a decision at all? Backup C.J. Beathard stepped in for injured quarterback Jake Rudock to lead a comeback against Pittsburgh last week, leading Hawkeyes to one of the few offensive bright spots this season. Rudock’s injury status isn’t clear, and even if he’s healthy, Ferentz hasn’t committed either way on his quarterback. Purdue will find out.


8. Tulane at Rutgers

Noon, ESPNews

Rutgers poised itself to exceed its modest expectations this season when Paul James rushed for 173 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries in the win over Washington State. Now, James is out for the season with a torn ACL. The Scarlet Knights will move on with Desmon Peoples (205 yards this season) and Justin Goodwin (104 yards).


9. USF at Wisconsin


Melvin Gordon is healthy and as productive as ever after rushing for 253 yards and five touchdowns against Bowling Green. Now, he’ll face a USF team two weeks removed from giving up 315 rushing yards to NC State.


Week 5 Big Ten Staff Picks

 David FoxBraden GallSteven LassanMitch Light

USF at Wisconsin (-34)

Wisc 56-10Wisc 41-14Wisc 45-17Wisc 41-10

Tulane at Rutgers (-12)

Rut 14-10Rut 30-18Rut 34-17Rut 30-13

Iowa (-10) at Purdue

Iowa 21-10Iowa 34-13Iowa 30-13Iowa 27-13

Wyoming at Michigan St (-31)

MSU 35-7MSU 45-10MSU 45-7MSU 34-14

Northwestern at Penn St (-11)

PSU 24-14PSU 27-17PSU 31-17PSU 20-10

Maryland at Indiana (-5)

IU 35-28Md 44-38Md 38-34Md 34-28

Minnesota at Michigan (-12)

Minn 21-14Mich 19-15Mich 24-17Mich 17-10

Cincinnati at Ohio State (-15)

OSU 35-21OSU 38-28OSU 34-20OSU 31-10

Illinois at Nebraska (-20)

Neb 42-28Neb 40-20Neb 45-20Neb 41-14
Last Week9-48-59-410-3


Big Ten 2014 Week 5 Preview and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, September 25, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/can-first-class-offensive-line-lead-turnaround-arkansas

Arkansas’ linemen know the deal when it comes to a football team and who tends to get most of the credit and public accolades.


The pecking order starts with the quarterback, the running backs, receivers. Probably a coach or a coordinator next.


The linemen are a footnote everywhere except for on Arkansas team flights.


The big guys get the big seats. By coach Bret Bielema’s policy, Arkansas’ starting offensive and defensive lines fly first class on team flights to road games. Sorry, quarterbacks and running backs, you’re sitting in coach.


“They get their names in the paper, and I couldn’t be any more excited for them,” Arkansas right tackle Brey Cook told Athlon Sports. “But it’s nice to know in-house that we have a big part in that.”


So far in 2014, the line has been part of headline-worthy play.


Bielema’s goal to turn Arkansas into Wisconsin in terms of offensive philosophy hasn’t been smooth. The Razorbacks head to Arlington to face Texas A&M seeking their first SEC victory since Oct. 13, 2012, against a top-10 Aggies team favored by 8 1/2 points.


Still, Arkansas’ outlook is looking as promising as anytime since before Bobby Petrino’s abrupt and embarrassing exit from Fayetteville.


The Razorbacks are the SEC West’s only unranked team in this week’s AP and coaches polls, though Arkansas is receiving votes in both. For a team that was outscored by more than 15 points per game in an 0-8 SEC season a year ago, this is a remarkable turnaround.


And for that, Arkansas can thank leg room for their linemen, including on the team flight to DFW this weekend.


“Our linemen are treated like most teams treat their quarterback,” Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman told Athlon Sports. “Most teams look at it as there’s only one quarterback. On our team there’s only one center. He’s not on the extra point team. Linemen we look at as skill players, and they tend to like it.”


This season, Arkansas’ linemen have been the stars similar to any skill player.


Of 27 scoring drives this season, nine have gone for 10 plays or more. Arkansas has already rushed for more touchdowns this season (17) than all of last year (14).


Beyond the season numbers, the 49-24 win over Texas Tech in Lubbock two weeks ago demonstrated the Bielema offensive line and run game philosophy in the extreme.


In a tie game in the first quarter on the road, Arkansas called a series like a team trying to milk the clock in the fourth quarter. The Hogs ran on a dozen consecutive plays to march 68 yards down the field to take a lead.


In the third quarter, Arkansas called 10 consecutive run plays in a 13-play touchdown drive, and 13-of-13 plays on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive were on the ground.


“It’s something we always wanted to do with our offense and our philosophy,” Cook said. “For us it was that nail in the coffin. Everyone knows what’s going to happen, and we’re still going to make it work. Those are the drives you dream about.”


That’s still a long way from where Arkansas started.


When Bielema arrived, the offensive linemen were surprised to learn of the workload expected in practice.


After running two or three periods of inside run drills in practice, for example, Pittman sent them back out for a fourth, fifth or sixth.


“It took a while for them to start enjoying our type of schemes,” Pittman said. “Once they did, we weren’t a bad offensive line a year ago.”


Center Travis Swanson was a quick study and a key cog in that last season, and his experience was instrumental in delivering on-field instruction to freshman starters Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper.


With Swanson and right tackle David Hurd gone in spring this season, Arkansas started over in a few ways. First, Swanson’s athleticism allowed Arkansas to run outside behind his lead.


That deparure has led to more runs up the gut.


“Because we’re big and physical, we put some more inside plays that could showcase our talents that way,” Pittman said.


Not that it’s been seamless. Kirkland needed to lose 25 pounds during the offseason, and Skipper's adjustment from guard to tackle was a bit rocky at first.


Pittman has praised both sophomores as two of the most improved on the line.


Meanwhile, Arkansas has had to look from coast-to-coast to build the front. 


Cook and center Mitch Smothers are from different high schools in Springdale, Ark. Left guard Sebastian Tretola is a transfer from Nevada who is originally from California. Kirkland is from Miami, and Skipper is from Colorado. Guard Luke Charpentier, who started the first two games, is from Louisiana.


“Everyone brings their own flair,” Cook said. “We’re about as different as you can get.”


What that means for the remainder of the season remains to be seen. Arkansas’ best moment of the season have come against Texas Tech, a team that has has allowed nearly 300 rushing yards per game going back to midway last season.


Texas A&M’s defense remains a rebuilding project. But if Arkansas can run effectively in each of its first five games of the season (that includes a 45-21 loss at Auburn), the Razorbacks will be poised to complete a critical turnaround season.


“As far as where we are in the process, we’re still a recruiting class away, offensive-line wise, depth at fullback and tight end and receiver,” Bielema said.


Granted, a policy of first-class seating for the big guys may be a key recruiting point to help Bielema further mold his ground-and-pound run game.


“He believed the big guys should sit up front,” Cook said. “His philosophies on the field match up.”

Can First-Class Offensive Line Lead Turnaround At Arkansas?
Post date: Wednesday, September 24, 2014 - 16:15
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-ranking-big-east-coaches-2014-15

The Big East coaching roster — back in its classic lineup — was notable for its firebrands on the bench with Jim Boeheim, John Thompson, Rollie Massimino and Lou Carnesecca.


The lineup in the second year of this version of the Big East may have personality but it is more notable for its familiarity.


Jay Wright and John Thompson III are as identifiable with their programs as anybody in college basketball in 2014-15, Chris Mack and Brandon Miller are alums for their respective schools, and Ed Cooley is a Rhode Island and Providence hometowner.


That will have to do for the Big East for now. The league that once boasted multiple Hall of Famers has only two coaches that have reached the Final Four in Wright and Thompson.


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. 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.


2. 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.


3. Chris Mack, Xavier

Record at Xavier: 111-57 (.661)

NCAA Tournament: 4-4

Number to note: Since starting 29-3 in his first two season in the Atlantic 10, Mack is 29-21 in the A-10/Big East.

Why he’s ranked here: Xavier’s pace has slowed since Mack’s first two seasons, but he’s reached the NCAA Tournament in four of five seasons and reached the Sweet 16 in 2012.


4. Greg McDermott, Creighton

Record at Creighton: 107-38 (.738)

NCAA Tournament: 3-6

Number to note: McDermott is 149-131 without his son on the roster and 107-38 with Doug McDermott.

Why he’s ranked here: No question, Greg McDermott is thankful his son turned out to be a three-time All-American, but don’t forget the elder McDermott was the first coach to win consistently at Northern Iowa.


5. Ed Cooley, Providence

Record at Providence: 57-44 (.564)

NCAA Tournament: 0-1

Number to note: Cooley’s 42 wins in the last two seasons are the best for Providence since 1995-97, and the Friars’ NCAA appearance last year was their first since 2004.

Why he’s ranked here: Cooley has improved Providence enough to raise the possibility of doing what Rick Barnes or Rick Pitino never did: post winning Big East records in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.


6. Steve Lavin, St. John’s

Record at St. John’s: 71-60 (.542)

NCAA Tournament: 11-7

Number to note: St. John’s is 32-30 in the Big East with two NIT appearances in three seasons since the Red Storm went 12-6 in Lavin’s first year.

Why he’s ranked here: Treatment for prostate cancer in 2011-12 stalled Lavin’s ability to build upon his first season, but he’s recruited well enough by now to reach the NCAA Tournament again.


7. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall

Record at Seton Hall: 66-66 (.500)

NCAA Tournament: No appearances

Number to note: Seton Hall went 15-21 in the Big East in Willard’s first two seasons before dropping to 9-27 in the past two.

Why he’s ranked here: Willard appeared to have Seton Hall on the right track before a 3-15 collapse two years ago. Year 5 will be a big one for Willard.


8. Oliver Purnell, DePaul

Record at DePaul: 42-85 (.331)

NCAA Tournament: 0-6

Number to note: Purnell has one of the most unique coaching experiences in college basketball. He’s coached at five spots since 1988, he’s never won an NCAA game and has never been fired.

Why he’s ranked here: Purnell has turned around Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson. Purnell (9-57 in the Big East) may have met his match at DePaul.


9. Brandon Miller, Butler

Record at Butler: 14-17 (.452)

NCAA Tournament: None

Number to note: Miller’s first season was Butler’s second losing campaign since 1992-93.

Why he’s ranked here: Miller faced an exodus of five players from November through April last season in his first season, but the former Brad Stevens and Thad Matta assistant knows the terrain here.


10. Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette

Record at Marquette: First season

NCAA Tournament: None

Number to note: Wojo is 38 years old, and he has spent 19 of those years as a player or assistant for Mike Krzyzewski.

Why he’s ranked here: Wojciechowski’s predecessor Buzz Williams was ranked No. 1 in the Big East a year ago, but Marquette has been a spot where Williams and Tom Crean were able to build names for themselves.

College Basketball: Ranking the Big East Coaches for 2014-15
Post date: Tuesday, September 23, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/previewing-best-5-college-football-games-week-5

Most schedules are starting to move into conference play, but don’t tell the teams in some of the biggest games this week.


Teams like South Carolina, UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford and Washington all could look like they use another week or two to get into shape before critical games.


UCLA and Arizona State both have health concerns for the quarterback position. Washington and UCLA have played down to lesser teams. Stanford can’t find its way to the end zone. And South Carolina is just embarrassing (says Steve Spurrier).


There’s no more time shake off the offseason cobwebs, so someone’s going to have to figure things out before Saturday.


Week 5’s Top Five Games

All Times Eastern


UCLA at Arizona State

When and where: Thursday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1

We’re watching because... the Pac-12 South is becoming increasingly unpredictable thanks to the emergence of Arizona and Utah plus USC’s egg-laying at Boston College. UCLA’s had its share of close calls with and without quarterback Brett Hundley, who may be ready to return after he missed most of the Texas win a week ago. Arizona State isn’t so lucky with Taylor Kelly out with a foot injury. Arizona State will replace him with Mike Bercovici, who has been on campus long enough to back up Brock Osweiler.

Vegas says: UCLA by 6


Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (Arlington)

When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS

We’re watching because... we like surprises, and Arkansas and Texas A&M being relevant in the powerhouse SEC West counts. Picked to finish sixth and seventh in the West, the Aggies and Razorbacks are a combined 7-1. Arkansas will try to control the clock with the run game as it did against former A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech. The Aggies have yet to face a high-level, full-strength offense all season.

Vegas says: Texas A&M by 10


Stanford at Washington

When and where: Saturday, 4:15 p.m., FOX

We’re watching because... one of these teams has to start looking like a Pac-12 North contender, right? Stanford has been inept in the red zone, and Washington is letting bad teams hang around. Even after converting all three red zone chances for touchdowns against Army, Stanford’s red zone touchdown rate (six TDs in 14 red zone trips) is last in the Pac-12. And a week after Washington made easy work of Illinois, the Huskies let Georgia State jump to a two-touchdown halftime lead in a 45-14 win. Oregon is vulnerable, but neither of these teams looks ready to take advantage.

Vegas says: Stanford by 7


Missouri at South Carolina

When and where: Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN

We’re watching because... at this rate the game between two SEC East contenders may devolve into a comedy of errors. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said the way his team plays is “embarrassing” and took over kickoff coverage coaching duties after giving up two returns for touchdowns against Vanderbilt. His team won by two touchdowns. Wonder what Spurrier would say if his team lost at home to Indiana as Missouri just did.

Vegas says: South Carolina by 6


Tennessee at Georgia

When and where: Saturday, noon, ESPN

We’re watching because... Tennessee is an improved team. Improved enough to further spoil Georgia’s season, though, we’re not sure. Either way, Todd Gurley facing linebacker A.J. Johnson promises to be an interesting matchup. Gurley missed the matchup last season, a 34-31 Georgia win in Knoxville.

Vegas says: Georgia by 18

Previewing the Best 5 College Football Games of Week 5
Post date: Monday, September 22, 2014 - 17:33
Path: /college-football/which-conference-has-had-best-2014-so-far

Conference bragging rights didn’t start with the College Football Playoff or even the BCS.


That said, fighting for championship postseason games has only magnified the “my conference is better than your conference” debate.


In some ways the selection committee may make those determinations, certainly in leaving out on conference (four spots for the Power 5) and potentially rewarding one league with two spots in the Playoff.


In 2014, the SEC looks to be on top again while the ACC and especially the Big Ten are licking their wounds.


Now that non-conference play is for the most part finished — the exception being Notre Dame games vs. the ACC and the SEC-ACC rivalry games — this is a good time to see how all the leagues rank.


To clarify: The Power 5 includes the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Notre Dame and BYU. The Non-Power 5 includes the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Army and Navy.


1. SEC


Vs. Power 5: 5-2

Vs. Non-Power 5: 13-1


Best wins:

Georgia 35, Clemson 21

Alabama 33, West Virginia 23

LSU 28, Wisconsin 24

South Carolina 33, East Carolina 23

Arkansas 49, Texas Tech 28

Auburn 20, Kansas State 14


Key losses:

Indiana 31, Missouri 27

Oklahoma 34, Tennessee 10



The SEC set the tone for its season with Week 1 wins over Clemson, West Virginia and Wisconsin. As non-conference play started to wind down, Auburn delivered an important, if sloppy, win over Kansas State on the road. The only head-scratcher is Missouri’s home loss to Indiana. If anything, the non-conference season re-established that the power in the SEC lies in the West, which is 24-2 overall with the only two losses coming in the division. The SEC West alone is 3-0 against the Big 12.


Key remaining games:

South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29

Florida at Florida State, Nov. 29

Georgia Tech at Georgia, Nov. 29


2. Pac-12


Vs. Power 5: 6-2

Vs. Non-Power 5: 15-2


Best wins:

Oregon 46, Michigan State 27

UCLA 28, Virginia 20

UCLA 20, Texas 17

Utah 26, Michigan 10


Key losses:

Rutgers 41, Washington State 38

Colorado State 31, Colorado 17

Nevada 24, Washington State 13

Boston College 37, USC 31



Pac-12 teams, most notably Washington and UCLA, have played in unexpectedly tight games against teams like Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Memphis and Virginia. For the most part, they’ve all be able to escape with a win — except for USC’s loss to Boston College. The wins may not look overwhelming, other than Oregon’s over Michigan State, but credit UCLA, Cal and Utah for winning games on the road or at least out of state. Against the non-Power 5, the Pac-12 has gone 10-2 against the Mountain West alone.


Key remaining games:

Stanford at Notre Dame, Oct. 4

Notre Dame at Arizona State, Nov. 8

Notre Dame at USC, Nov. 29

BYU at Cal, Nov. 29


3. Big 12


Vs. Power 5: 4-7

Vs. Non-Power 5: 8-0


Best wins:

Oklahoma 34, Tennessee 10

Iowa State 20, Iowa 17

West Virginia 40, Maryland 37

TCU 30, Minnesota 7


Key losses:

Florida State 37, Oklahoma State 31

Alabama 33, West Virginia 33

Arkansas 49, Texas Tech 28

UCLA 20, Texas 17

Auburn 20, Kansas State 14



The Big 12 can thank the Big Ten for helping the league pad its record. The Big 12 went 3-0 against the Big Ten while going 1-7 against the ACC, Pac-12, SEC and BYU. At least Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State were competitive with national title title contenders Florida State, Alabama and Auburn. The league has had few slip ups, a perfect record spoiled by Iowa State’s loss to North Dakota State of the FCS.


Key remaining games:



4. ACC


Vs. Power 5: 4-6

Vs. Non-Power 5: 14-4


Best wins:

Florida State 37, Oklahoma State 31

Virginia Tech 35, Ohio State 21

Boston College 37, USC 31


Key losses:

Georgia 45, Clemson 21

East Carolina 28, Virginia Tech 21

East Carolina 70, North Carolina 41

Iowa 24, Pittsburgh 20

Nebraska 41, Miami 31



The ACC hasn’t changed much about the perception that the league is one powerhouse and little else. No. 1 Florida State is the league’s only ranked team. Any strides made from Virginia Tech’s win in Columbus have been undone: Since then, ACC Coastal contenders Virginia Tech and North Carolina lost to East Carolina, and three ACC teams lost to Big Ten teams, two at home.


Key remaining games:

Notre Dame at Florida State, Oct. 18

South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 29

Florida at Florida State, Nov. 29

Georgia Tech at Georgia, Nov. 29


5. Big Ten


Vs. Power 5: 5-11

Vs. Non-Power 5: 18-3


Best wins:

Rutgers 41, Washington State 38

Iowa 24, Pittsburgh 20

Nebraska 41, Miami 31

Indiana 21, Missouri 21


Key losses:

LSU 28, Wisconsin 24

Oregon 46, Michigan State 27

Virginia Tech 35, Ohio State 21

Iowa State 20, Iowa 17

Utah 26, Michigan 10



The outlook improved dramatically in Week 4, as three Big Ten teams (Iowa, Maryland and Nebraska) defeated three teams from the ACC. Indiana also picked up an unlikely win at defending SEC East champion Missouri. Nebraska and Penn State may still be the Big Ten’s only viable Playoff teams, but the sky isn’t falling at the same rate it was a week ago when the Big Ten was 1-10 against Power 5 teams. Of the Big Ten’s three losses to non-Power 5 teams, all were against programs from the MAC.


Key remaining games:



6. American


Vs. Power 5: 3-13

Vs. Non-Power 5: 2-5


Best wins:

East Carolina 28, Virginia Tech 21

East Carolina 70, North Carolina 31



East Carolina has the inside track for a New Year’s Six bowl, and it may stay that way unless Cincinnati makes a statement against Ohio State or Miami.


Key remaining games:

Cincinnati at Ohio State, Sept. 27

BYU at Houston, Oct. 9

Miami at Cincinnati, Oct. 11


7. Mountain West


Vs. Power 5: 3-16

Vs. Non-Power 5: 6-4


Best wins:

Colorado State 31, Colorado 17

Nevada 24, Washington State 13

Boise State 34, UL Lafayette 9



This is not the Mountain West you remember. The three Power 5 wins are over Colorado, Washington State and Wake Forest



8. Conference USA


Vs. Power 5: 0-15

Vs. Non-Power 5: 12-2


Best wins:

UTSA 24, Houston 7

Western Kentucky 59, Bowling Green 31

Louisiana Tech 48, UL Lafayette 20

Marshall 44, Ohio 14



Conference USA had better hope its perfect mark against the MAC and Sun Belt and 3-1 record against the American is enough to put its league champion (read: Marshall) into a New Year’s Six game. It sure isn’t C-USA’s goose egg against the Power 5 and pair of FCS losses (FIU to Bethune-Cookman and Louisiana Tech to Northwestern State).


9. MAC


Vs. Power 5: 3-16 

Vs. Non-Power 5: 3-8


Best wins:

Bowling Green 45, Indiana 42

Northern Illinois 23, Northwestern 15

Central Michigan 38, Purdue 17



The MAC has more wins against the Big Ten (three) than it does against the American, Conference USA, Mountain West and Sun Belt combined (two, that third non-Power 5 win was over Army).


10. Sun Belt


Vs. Power 5: 1-7

Vs. Non-Power 5: 2-9


Key wins:

Arkansas State 21, Utah State 14

ULM 17, Wake Forest 10



League favorite UL Lafayette’s losses to Louisiana Tech and Boise State put a damper on the conference, but Arkansas State has proven to by pesky once again. 

Which Conference Has Had the Best 2014 So Far?
Post date: Monday, September 22, 2014 - 13:54
Path: /college-football/nebraska-leans-ameer-abdullah-new-identity-win-over-miami

If this season is going to be different for Nebraska, how the Cornhuskers defeated Miami will be a good example why.


A Nebraska team the last few years that found it way to four losses or found itself combusting on the sideline on Saturday found itself settling into an identity and a 41-31 win.


At the same time, Miami gave Nebraska every excuse to lose its cool. Chippy play and personal foul penalties kept the game teetering on the very of a brawl.


“I thought it got a little out of control,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini told the media. “I thought it could have been managed better. At the end of the day, there's going to be some of that. Two teams playing hard going after each other. But it got a little out of control there for a while."


Instead, Nebraska was in full control of its faculties.


In a key sequence in the fourth quarter, Miami, trailing by 10, was intercepted in Nebraska territory, picked up two personal fouls at the end of the play. With Nebraska on offense, Miami was called for a face mask penalty on a vicious takedown of running back Ameer Abdullah by the neck.


Abdullah finished the drive with 24 yards to set up the field goal to put it away.


Perhaps the only strange part of the game-sealing drives in the fourth quarter for Nebraska was their brevity.


The Cornhuskers looked like an old Nebraska team on the ground, at least as far as production.


By feeding Abdullah, Nebraska put together consecutive scoring drives of 14 plays for a touchdown, 11 plays for a field goal and another 11 for a touchdown.


Along the way Nebraska racked up 343 rushing yards, including 229 from the Heisman contender Abdullah.


The methodical and cool-headed approach means Nebraska will do something it hasn’t the last two seasons: Enter Big Ten play without a loss. 


The last two seasons, Nebraska lost in September for UCLA, helping to set the tone for rocky years that both ended with four losses.


This season is starting to look like it might be different.


“I thought our guys handled themselves well in those times,” Pelini said. “There were a couple times where we had a chance. We didn't retaliate. We were basically pulling guys off. There was a chance it could have gotten out of control.”

Nebraska Leans on Ameer Abdullah, New Identity in Win over Miami
Post date: Sunday, September 21, 2014 - 16:15
Path: /college-football/hope-shorty-supply-michigan-coach-brady-hoke

The sample size is limited, but home losses to Utah is not a good omen for Michigan coaches.


The only other coach to lose to the Utes at the Big House was Rich Rodriguez in his debut. He was fired three years later.


Brady Hoke added is name to that list with a 26-10 loss to Utah, but he’ll have far less leeway to atone for this loss than Rodriguez did in 2008.


The question now is what Michigan and Hoke will have to do undo the damage of the last three weeks, which included a 31-0 loss to Notre Dame. 


On Saturday, the fans in Ann Arbor booed until they gave up and left before and after a lengthy weather delay. 


Through four games, Michigan has shown little that could make the boos stop.


In the postgame news conference, Hoke referenced Michigan’s 1998 team. He was an assistant that year when the Wolverines opened the season with losses to Notre Dame and Syracuse but won a share of the Big Ten title (despite a 31-16 loss to Ohio State).


Hope, though, would seem to be thin for the Michigan team that’s shown up this season.


The offense has regressed under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, failing to even reach the red zone against Notre Dame and Utah. Michigan outgained Utah 308 yards to 286, spoiling a defensive effort that included an interception returned for a touchdown for Michigan’s only trip to the end zone against a Power 5 team.


The Wolverines are last in the nation in turnover margin at minus-10, and a quarterback change made things worse. Devin Gardner threw two interceptions for six this season. Shane Morris, a four-star quarterback in 2013, threw an interception, lost a fumble and finished 4-of-13 passing.


Hoke was cagey about what that change means for Michigan’s future, starting next week.


“We will have a starting quarterback against Minnesota,” Hoke said.


While factual, that’s not an encouraging statement for a coach who may be fighting for his job during the final months of the season.


The fourth-year coach is 4-8 since a 5-0 start in 2013. Keep in mind, that undefeated start last year included close calls with Akron and Connecticut.


That kind of sustained struggles is enough for a chorus of boos, which Hoke says he hopes aren’t for his players.


“If they’re all for me, good,” Hoke said. “I don’t have a problem with that at all.”


Good news: They probably are.


Hope is in Short Supply for Michigan Coach Brady Hoke
Post date: Sunday, September 21, 2014 - 15:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten, News
Path: /college-football/will-iowa-ride-hot-hand-cj-beathard-quarterback

For a coach who got a sorely needed spark on offense, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz doesn’t seem excited.


After a 24-20 win over Pittsburgh, Ferentz will head back to Iowa where fans likely will expect him to make a permanent quarterback change after C.J. Beathard led three scoring drives in the comeback win.


Ferentz, it seems, is greeting such expectations with an eye roll.


Iowa showed a more aggressive offensive approach in the first half against Pitt, but starter Jake Rudock was able to capitalize on the scoreboard just once. An injury at the end of the first half gave Beathard to lead the best version of the Iowa offense so far this season.


Rudock, who sustained an injury to what was termed the hip area, may be able to practice, putting Iowa in position for a rare in-season quarterback competition.


The last time Iowa made a quarterback change midseason was in 2008 when Ricky Stanzi beat out Jake Christensen.


Given the way Iowa moved the ball under Beathard in a game that re-energized Iowa’s season, the sophomore from Franklin, Tenn., will be the people’s favorite after he was able to take advantage of a more aggressive approach by coordinator Greg Davis.


Under Rudock, Iowa took shots down the field but converted on just one long pass play. And on fourth-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 13, the Hawkeyes shed their trademark conservatism and went for the first down. They got a touchdown.


But the offense truly flourished in the second half under Beathard. A 62-yard one-handed over-the-shoulder catch by Damond Powell for the rare explosive passing play for the Hawkeyes this season.


Iowa entered the game with two plays from scrimmage for 40 or more yards. The Hawkeyes doubled it in this game with the Powell catch and a Rudock pass for 44 yards in the first quarter.


That one long play, though, wasn’t enough. Rudock finished 5-of-10 for 80 yards with an interception. Beathard came in to finish 7-of-8 for 98 yards, not overwhelming numbers, but plenty efficient for the win.


The question is if it’s enough for Ferentz to continue with the hot hand.


First Half (Jake Rudock)Second Half (C.J. Beathard)
520Punt4.0839Field Goal4.9


Will Iowa Ride the Hot Hand with C.J. Beathard at Quarterback?
Post date: Sunday, September 21, 2014 - 15:15
Path: /college-football/week-4-heisman-movers-marcus-mariota-dak-prescott-amari-cooper-rise

Showing up in a highlight package is usually a good thing for Heisman contenders. Not necessarily when that contender is out of pads on the sideline for poor decision-making.


That’s where Jameis Winston found himself as backup Sean Maguire led Florida State to a come-from-behind 23-17 win in overtime over Clemson. Winston found his way to the highlight package as an onlooker, reinforcing his difficulty in becoming the second two-time Heisman winner.


Other contenders found ways to fill the void as we take a weekly look at who is moving up and down in the Heisman race.


Marcus Mariota

Mariota wins the winning-under-duress award this week. With an offensive line beset by injuries, Mariota completed 21-of-25 passes for 329 yards with five touchdowns in a 38-31 win at Washington State. Mariota managed to finish with 58 rushing yards on 13 carries despite seven sacks.

Amari Cooper

Even for a receiver who hadn’t caught fewer than eight passes in a game this season, Cooper put on a show against Florida. Cooper caught 10 passes for a career-high 201 yards with three touchdowns against the Gators. If a receiver is going to make a bid for the Heisman, Cooper may be it. He’s on pace for 2,620 yards during the regular season. 

Dak Prescott

A big-time quarterback at Mississippi State? Believe it. Prescott led the best offense against a Les Miles-coached LSU team with 570 yards. Prescott himself finished with 268 passing yards and 105 rushing with three total touchdowns.

Ameer Abdullah

Miami’s defense tried to rattle Nebraska with physical play — some of it drawing personal foul flags — but Abdullah kept his composure. The senior rushed for 229 yards with three total touchdowns agains the Hurricanes, giving him seven TDs in two games.

Jameis Winston

Winston already had history against him as only one Heisman winner has returned to win the award again. As his suspension doubled from a half to a full game in perhaps the most important division game of the season, Winston probably won’t be a viable candidate no matter what happens the rest of the way.

James Conner

Pittsburgh lost 24-20 to Iowa, but Conner was the story early with 100 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries in the first half. With 544 yards in four games, Conner is on pace to eclipse Heisman winner Tony Dorsett’s school record (2,150 in 1976) in 12 games.

Maty Mauk

Mauk didn’t have an awful game with 28-of-47 passing for 326 yards and two touchdowns, but home losses to Indiana don’t yield many Heisman candidacies. Mauk has four total interceptions against Toledo, UCF and Indiana.

Melvin Gordon

Gordon’s hip is doing just fine, thank you. Gordon rushed for 253 yards and five touchdowns on 13 carries in a 68-17 rout of Bowling Green. Keep in mind, all of his yardage and TD came after he fumbled on his first carry, the only time he’s coughed up the ball in 334 career attempts.

Shane Carden

Can an East Carolina player win the Heisman, probably not? And even a QB as good as UCF’s Blake Bortles wasn’t a Heisman finalist. Still, Carden is a mighty fine ACC quarterback without playing in the ACC. After a 70-point effort against North Carolina, Carden is 53-of-85 for 856 yards with seven touchdowns and an interception in wins over UNC and Virginia Tech.


Week 4 Heisman Movers: Marcus Mariota, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper on the Rise
Post date: Sunday, September 21, 2014 - 11:50
Path: /college-football/mississippi-states-dak-prescott-athlon-sports-player-week

The possibility of Dak Prescott was interesting enough: A dynamic run-pass threat who could become the top quarterback in Mississippi State’s limited history at the position.


On Saturday, he made that — and more — a reality.


Prescott redefined Mississippi State’s recent history with a 34-29 win over LSU, ending a 15-game losing streak to ranked teams and 11-game losing streak in Baton Rouge.


Prescott completed 15-of-24 passes for 268 yards with two touchdowns against LSU to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors. The Louisiana native also rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.


Behind Prescott, Mississippi State put up 570 yards on LSU, the most of the Les Miles era for the Tigers.


National Defensive Player of the Week: Gionni Paul, Utah

Patience paid off in a few of ways for Utah linebacker Gionni Paul. First, Paul sat out all of 2013 after his transfer after two seasons for Miami. Then, he missed Utah’s first two games with a broken foot sustained in spring. By the end of the day Saturday, he needed a lengthy rain delay to make his return official. Paul finished with 14 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in a 26-10 win over Michigan.


National Freshman and Big 12 Player of the Week: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma

Before Saturday, Oklahoma’s running back position the subject of questions. Not anymore. Five-star freshman Joe Mixon is suspended for the entire season.  Keith Ford is out with a hairline fracture in his right fibula. With Oklahoma low on numbers, Perine only put up one of the best rushing performances for Oklahoma in several years.


Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries in a 45-33 win over West Virginia. Perine had the first 200-yard rushing game for the Sooners since DeMarco Murray in 2010 and the fourth-best rushing total for a freshman in OU history. Perine was a fringe top-250 prospect and the No. 30 recruit in Texas out of Pflugerville Hendrickson in the class of 2014.


National Coordinator of the Week: Lane Kiffin, Alabama

Kiffin’s impact on the Alabama offense came to full fruition in the second half of a 42-21 win over Florida. Despite early turnover woes, Alabama finished with 645 total yards against one of the SEC’s best defenses. Quarterback Blake Sims had the second-best passing day in school history with 445 yards, and for the first time in school history, Alabama had a 400-yard passer, 200-yard receiver (Amari Cooper) and 100-yard rusher (Derrick Henry). Alabama has eclipsed 500 total yards in every game of Kiffin’s tenure.


Conference Players of the Week

ACC: Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas completed 7-of-18 passes for 125 yards with a touchdown in a 27-24 win over Virginia Tech. Thomas also rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.


Big Ten: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah rushed for 229 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries and caught a touchdown pass in a 41-31 win over Miami.


Pac-12: Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon was 47-of-73 for 520 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in a 49-45 win over Cal. Solomon completed a 47-yard Hail Mary to cap a 36-point fourth quarter to beat the Bears.


American: East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden was 30-of-48 for 438 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in a 70-31 win over North Carolina.


Conference USA: Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke completed 27-of-43 passes for 430 yards with five touchdowns in a 45-42 win over defending C-USA champion Rice.


MAC: Toledo running back Kareem Hunt rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in a 34-23 win over Ball State.


Mountain West: Boise State running back Jay Ajayi rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries in a 34-9 win over UL Lafayette.


Sun Belt: Georgia Southern running back Matt Breida rushed for 187 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries in a 28-6 win over South Alabama.


Independents: BYU quarterback Taysom Hill completed 13-of-23 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns in a 41-33 win over Virginia. He also rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

Mississippi State's Dak Prescott is Athlon Sports' Player of the Week
Post date: Sunday, September 21, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/east-carolina-states-early-case-new-years-six-bowl

The College Football Playoff era has plenty of uncertainties, but here is one thing we can say for sure: East Carolina has the inside track on claiming a major bowl game.


The BCS busters are a thing of the past, which is just fine for East Carolina.


In the past, a team outside of the power conference would have to go undefeated to find its way to a major bowl game. Not anymore.


The Pirates just have to be the best-looking team outside of the Power 5, and East Carolina is putting on a convincing show.


The Pirates of the American Athletic Conference demolished North Carolina 70-41 for their second consecutive win over an ACC team. East Carolina defeated Virginia Tech 28-21 a week ago and suffered its only loss by 10 at South Carolina on Sept. 6.


The Playoff selection committee’s top-ranked team from the Group of 5 is guaranteed a berth in the Orange, Cotton, Peach or Fiesta Bowl.


East Carolina is the only team from the so-called Group of 5 (the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt) with a pair of wins over teams from power conferences.


These weren’t gimmes, either. Other teams in contention for the New Year's Six bowl slot will have trouble matching East Carolina's pair of wins against ACC Coastal contenders, one of which is two weeks removed from a win at Ohio State.


Against North Carolina, East Carolina put on offensive showcase. Former Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil has brought the Air Raid to his alma mater with help from 31-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, another Lubbock import.


The offense was at its best Saturday as veteran Shane Carden completed 30-of-48 passes for 438 yards for four touchdowns and an interception against the Tar Heels. Only one scoring drive — a fourth-quarter TD drive in 4:14 — exceeded three minutes.


Mind you, East Carolina’s quick strike offense was missing leading receiver Cam Worthy, who was suspended for two games for violating the school’s code of student conduct.


This comes a week after East Carolina had a rare 400-yard passing game against Virginia Tech as Carden went 23-of-47 for 427 yards with three touchdowns against the Hokies.


Numbers like that may make a decision easy on the committee determining the New Year’s Six games. Not only does East Carolina have the best case for one of those big-time bowls, the Pirates don’t have many true rivals for the spot.


BYU is ranked and outside of the Power 5 structure, but independence means the Cougars have no such guarantees in the postseason outside of the Miami Beach Bowl.

At the end of the day Saturday, only Marshall and Cincinnati likely will be the only undefeated teams in the Group of 5. East Carolina will face Cincinnati on Nov. 13. Marshall could flirt with an undefeated season given a weaker schedule and no games against the Power 5. It’s also worth noting Conference USA is 11-1 against the American, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt.


Perhaps East Carolina will be tripped up in a conference schedule that includes Cincinnati and UCF (but not Houston). A year ago, East Carolina lost in an upset to Tulane and then to Marshall to lose a spot in the C-USA title game.


For now, though, East Carolina is poised for its best season in school history.


Group of 5 wins over Power 5


East Carolina 28, Virginia Tech 21

East Carolina 70, North Carolina 41

Temple 37, Vanderbilt 7




Bowling Green 45, Indiana 42

Northern Illinois 23, Northwestern 15

Central Michigan 38, Purdue 17


Utah State 36, Wake Forest 34

Colorado State 31, Colorado 17

Nevada 24, Washington State 13


ULM 17, Wake Forest 10


East Carolina States Early Case For New Year's Six Bowl
Post date: Saturday, September 20, 2014 - 20:59
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Pittsburgh Panthers, News
Path: /college-football/pittsburghs-james-conner-continues-run-history

Cracking any list of prolific Pittsburgh running backs deserves note, and James Conner is on his way to putting his name with a few greats.


Pittsburgh's sophomore back continued a hot start to surpass Heisman winner Tony Dorsett’s start in 1973 and Craig “Ironhead” Heyward for the best starts for a tailback in Pitt history. Conner rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries in the first half against Iowa.


His 643 rushing yards through four games is the hottest start in four games in Pittsburgh history. Entering Saturday, Conner already shattered the school record for the best three-game start in school history, outpacing Tony Dorsett’s 487 yards through three games as a freshman in 1973.


Through 3.5 games, Conner is averaging 183 rushing yards per game. Stretch that over 13 games (12 games, plus a bowl) and Conner would outpace Dorsett’s 2,150 yards from his Heisman-winning season in 1976.


Conner’s start to 2014 goes back to his career-best performance against Bowling Green in the bowl game last season. 


James Conner: Last Five Games
Dec. 26Bowling Green262291
Aug. 30Delaware141534
Sept. 5Boston College352131
Sept. 13FIU311773
Sept. 20Iowa*171001

*through first half

Pittsburgh's James Conner Continues Run For History
Post date: Saturday, September 20, 2014 - 14:26
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/big-answers-auburn-nick-marshall-will-have-wait

Resounding answers about Auburn’s ability to defend its SEC title will have to wait.


Perhaps that’s a strange statement given a 20-14 win on the road against a ranked Kansas State team, but the Tigers didn’t need to show a mastery of the passing game or overwhelming defense for this win.


Auburn did to Kansas State what it proved it could do a year ago — Gus Malzhan’s team won’t squander opportunities. And Kansas State gave Auburn plenty of time to atone for early third-down issues, a slow start in the passing game and an uncharacteristically quiet day on the ground.


Kansas State’s three missed field goals and three turnovers sealed Auburn’s win as much as Nick Marshall’s arm.


"We should have won that," Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters told the media. "There is no excuse. It almost hurts worse. It is frustrating because you work so hard to get in those situations and to play a great team like that."


The Wildcats followed a plan most SEC teams are sure to follow this season — shut down the run game and make Nick Marshall prove he’s improved as a passer. A year ago, Auburn backed off the passing attack and allowed Marshall’s legs and Tre Mason to carry the way.


Kansas State held Auburn to 128 rushing yards on 45 carries. Auburn accounted for more yards through the air (231) than on the ground for only the second time under Malzahn and the first time since a loss to Mississippi State on Sept. 14, 2013.


The Auburn passing game was far from consistent as drops from D’haquille Williams and Sammie Coates and tipped passes at the line prevented Auburn from extending drives and cost one probable touchdown. Marshall and his receivers eventually settled in, converting 10 of their final 13 third down attempts and delivering on a 39-yard pass on third-and-9 to seal the game.


"Nick is always level headed, and he keeps his spirits up no matter what," Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne told the media after the game. "Whether he completes three passes in a row or whether he gets ten drops in a row, he is our leader so we look to him."


And the Auburn defense? Holding Kansas State to 285 yards and 4.1 yards per play should be noted. Kansas State managed only 40 rushing yards.


At the same time, Kansas State managed fair amount of self-sabotage with missed field goals of 34, 42 and 22 yards and an interception from the 1-yard line. On its first six trips inside Auburn’s 40-yard line, Kansas State scored 7 points. An extra 13 points, certainly would make those yardage figures seem awfully hollow.


In other words, not a very Bill Snyder-like performance in terms of turnovers and efficiency.


For that, Auburn has to be thankful. The Tigers leave Manhattan with all playoff dreams intact even if the team remains a work in progress.

Big Answers for Auburn, Nick Marshall Will Have to Wait
Post date: Friday, September 19, 2014 - 08:30
Path: /free-hugs-angry-tweets-and-kicker-swag-week-kicking

In just another example of the madness of a college football season, much of the most dramatic swings come down to players who weren’t recruited and may or may not be on scholarship.


As we learned this week, the coach might not even speak to such a pivotal piece of the puzzle.


The last week proved again how college kickers can surprise and infuriate — and also why they go through a different experience than the rest of college football players.


“No one really knows what a specialist goes through unless you’re another specialist at this level,” said Kentucky’s Austin MacGinnis, whose 51-yard attempt in the fourth quarter tied a game with Florida. “It’s such a different sport within itself.”


Let’s give that a try in a look back at what life’s like for a college kicker.




Adam Butler’s teammates saw the moment happen in real time. His coach, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, didn’t see it until he started breaking down film. His aunt saw it on TV.


Millions of others saw the moment on TV or on social media.


Pretty much everyone Adam Butler knows had one question after Vanderbilt escaped with a 34-31 win over UMass on Saturday:


Why did the Vanderbilt defensive lineman hug that kicker?

“I didn’t realize that we had two seconds left,” Butler told Athlon Sports. “I thought the game was over. I thought he was the first person I’d say ‘Good game’ to. I said good game and get us next time.”


It was also a sweet moment. The UMass kicker, Blake Lucas, had just missed a 22-yard chip shot that would have tied the game with two seconds to go. UMass had led the game by 11 in the second half and had a real chance to put together a signature win for the program.


Understandably, Lucas didn’t take the gesture the same way.


“He said ‘get off me,’” Butler told Athlon Sports. “That’s normal, though. He might have taken it as me being a jerk.


“It was our first win. I was excited. I didn’t know what I was doing in the moment. I felt for the guy.”




For the second time in two seasons, South Carolina kicker Elliott Fry was on the other side of an opponents’ missed kick that led to vitriol on Twitter.


A year ago, South Carolina defeated Missouri 27-24 in double overtime. The Tigers still won the SEC East but the loss at the time seemed to be a major blow.


And who was to blame? According to some Missouri fans, Andrew Baggett, who missed a 46-yarder in the fourth quarter and a 22-yarder in overtime. Some Missouri fans filled Baggett’s mentions with angry, profane tweets.


Proving that no one is immune from such reaction, Georgia’s Marshall Morgan took the brunt of frothing fans on social media. Never mind that Morgan set an SEC record with 20 consecutive made field goals thanks to two makes in the first half against South Carolina.


A missed 28-yarder that would have tied the game in the fourth, though, was enough to make a vocal segment of fans forget the 20 consecutive field goals.


Georgia lost 38-35, and Morgan’s Twitter mentions were filled with taunts of “You had one job” and blame for the Bulldogs’ defeat.


By now, most of Morgan’s mentions are those of support, starting with the kicker on the other sideline.



Fry doesn’t know Morgan that well personally, but they’ve attended the same kicking camps and are part of an unofficial fraternity of specialists.


“Those situations, they can be tough,” Fry told Athlon Sports. “After that happens, a late field missed in a game, I’ve seen the tweets people say terrible things, talking about killing the guy.”


As Morgan may learn, fans can be fickle with kickers. Fry, for example, missed early field goals in games against Missouri and Florida only for South Carolina to win the game later in part due to Fry’s field goals.


“You look at your phone after and you can see how quickly fans change on you. You open twitter and it’s fun . You see ‘Fry sucks’ and other worse things. You see it go from complete hatred to praise.”




Then again, maybe it’s just nice to be acknowledged.


West Virginia picked up a key win with a 40-37 win over Maryland. And what did Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen say to Josh Lambert before his game-winning 47-yard kick on the road?


Nothing. Not then, not ever, apparently.


“I haven’t talked to Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we’re going to keep in that way,” Holgorsen told the media after the game.


“He’s a guy we have complete confidence in when it comes to make that shot. I know his name and who he is, but other than that, I’d doing the hands-off approach.”


Lambert is a redshirt sophomore and has been West Virginia’s primary kicker for two years.




Kentucky fans might not have too much trouble remembering the name Austin MacGinnis after last week.


MacGinnis got both the highs and lows of the kicking experience in only his third game at Kentucky.


A redshirt freshman, MacGinnis kicked a 51-yard field goal with 3:26 remaining to tie the Gators at 20. Kentucky hasn't defeated Florida since 1986 and not at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium since 1979.


In other words, quite the pressure situation for a kid whose last field goal came two years ago in high school in Wedowee, Ala.


“It was loud there for sure, but you try to block it out as a soothing noise rather than a bad noise,” MacGinnis said.


MacGinnis missed a 41-yard attempt in the third OT, but even a make may not have stopped the Gators — they scored a touchdown on their possession to win 36-30.


MacGinnis said he didn’t any grief on Twitter for his overtime miss — not that it would have mattered given the final score — but he did see Fry backing up Morgan on Twitter from earlier in the evening.


The SEC kicking fraternity has one more member, and another one with a sense of humor at that.


MacGinnis’ bio for Kentucky says he picked No. 99 because — and this is not a lie — “it is the definition of kicker swag.”


“I don’t know really why I put that down, but everyone thinks of a kicker as the last number you can have, like the last guy on the team,” MacGinnis said. “Kickers always look like the little kid that doesn’t belong, so the number kind of matches.”




When a kick goes wrong, a fellow kicker may be the only ones with a sense of empathy — even moreso than defensive linemen offering free hugs after a shanked kick.


When UMass’ Lucas missed his 22-yarder, former Vanderbilt kicker Carey Spear watched from the sideline and winced.


He wanted his former team to win, for sure, but not like this. Not at the expense of another kicker.


The missed field goal was salt in the wound for Spear, who missed a 27-yard attempt in 2011 that would have tied a game against a top-10 Arkansas team. Spear didn’t attempt another field goal the rest of the season.


Spear returned for the next two seasons to go 35-of-43 on field goals the rest of his career.


“I definitely felt more for him,” Spear said. “I think it will make him a better kicker if he learns how to handle it. It’s a defining moment in some guys’ careers.”

Free hugs, angry tweets and that kicker swag: A week in kicking
Post date: Thursday, September 18, 2014 - 16:20
Path: /college-football/big-ten-2014-week-4-preview-and-predictions

Turn back the clock to the the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s. In fact, Nebraska and Miami might prefer that you do.


Nebraska and Miami will play the rare in-season matchup, but the two teams played in five bowl games that helped define the era. The Cornhuskers and Hurricanes met in six bowl games from 1983-2001 with four of those meetings resulting in a national championship.


The Cornhuskers, despite the Big Ten’s struggles, still have all of their goals in play this season, but not if they can’t defeat Miami.


As non-conference play starts to wind down, here’s a look at the week ahead in the Big Ten.

Week 4 Previews and Predictions
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC


Big Ten Week 4 Game Power Rankings

All games Saturday, all times Eastern.


1. Miami at Nebraska

8 p.m., ESPN2

Hard to believe, but these two storied programs haven’t met since Miami’s 37-14 rout of an Eric Crouch-led Nebraska team for the 2001 national title. Moreover, this pair of teams that met in four classic Orange Bowl matchups hasn’t played during the regular season since 1976. This meeting will lack the luster of any of those bowl games, with Miami already 0-1 in the ACC and Nebraska carrying the flag for an otherwise embarrassed Big Ten. The Cornhuskers have defeated FBS opponents 110-26 this season with a 31-24 escape against McNeese State of the FCS the only real cause for concern for Nebraska’s outlook.


Nebraska’s defense is at full strength with the return of end Randy Gregory this week, who leads a rejuvenated Huskers pass rush (four sacks vs. Fresno State last week). Still, all eyes should be on running back Ameer Abdullah. This may be his opportunity to vault into the Heisman race. He has the numbers (second in the Big Ten in all-purpose and rushing yards, both to Indiana’s Tevin Coleman), he has the highlight against McNeese State and he has the creative award campaign. All he needs is a big game against a major opponent on a national stage.


Listen to the Week 4 preview podcast:

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2. Utah at Michigan

3:30, ABC/ESPN2

Michigan’s tour of past embarrassing losses continues. After dispatching of Appalachian State 52-14 in a rematch of the 2007 loss, Michigan faces Utah. The Utes handed the Wolverines a 25-23 loss in Ann Arbor in the debut for Rich Rodriguez in 2008. Michigan, however, has more recent losses for which to atone — the 31-0 defeat to Notre Dame two weeks ago, for example. Michigan’s 34-10 win over Miami (Ohio) was a nice rebound from the Notre Dame loss, especially with the return of cornerback Jabrill Peppers and tight end Jake Butt. But Michigan is still a team with clear flaws. The Wolverines have recorded one takeaway and four sacks on defense and remains capable of turnovers in bunches on offense.


3. Iowa at Pittsburgh


Northern Iowa and Ball State couldn’t make Iowa pay for playing a subpar game.  Iowa State finally did. Now, the Hawkeyes play their toughest opponent of the season in Pittsburgh. If there’s any consolation in this matchup, Iowa has yet to allow 100 yards rushing in a game this season. Iowa is one of eight teams not to allow a rushing touchdown this season and ranks eighth at 2.26 yards allowed per carry. The run game — specifically national rushing leader James Conner — is the cornerstone of the Pittsburgh offense. Iowa’s offense has no such identity after averaging a season-low 4.04 yards per play against Iowa State.


4. Maryland at Syracuse

12:30, ACC Network

Maryland continues its start to the Big Ten era with its third consecutive game against the old Big East (USF, West Virginia at Syracuse). The Terrapins will need to recover from allowing more yards against West Virginia (694) than they did in its first two games combined (559). Syracuse doesn’t run the Air Raid like WVU, but quarterback Terrel Hunt will be tough to contain. Meanwhile, Maryland’s offense continues its identity crisis. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs finally had his breakout game of the season in the shootout against West Virginia, but the tailbacks were virtually non-existent. Quarterback C.J. Brown ran the ball 18 times on a variety of scrambles, designed runs and read options. No one else on the Maryland offense had more than four carries.


5. Indiana at Missouri

4 p.m., SEC Network

A game with two high-powered spread offenses from the Big 12 school of thinking always has shootout potential. Perhaps Indiana will have the key player to neutralize Missouri’s once-again formidable pass rush led by ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray. Indiana running back Tevin Coleman has rushed for a touchdown in 11 consecutive games he’s played for 17 total. Coleman leads the nation with 437 rushing yards this year.


6. Bowling Green at Wisconsin

Noon, ESPN2

Wisconsin will find out if its off week came at a good time, especially Melvin Gordon. The bread-and-butter of the Wisconsin offense has been hobbled with a hip injury since the second half of the opener against LSU, contributing to 38 rushing yards on 17 carries against Western Illinois two weeks ago. Wisconsin’s defense also will be tested against a team that ran 113 plays in a 45-42 win over Indiana despite being down to a second-string quarterback.


7. Rutgers at Navy

3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network

A road trip against Navy doesn’t set up well for a team that just suffered a 13-10 home loss to Penn State. Navy’s option already has proved plenty effective against one Big Ten team (370 yards, two touchdowns against Ohio State). Rutgers’ athletic defensive line will be on the spot.


8. UMass at Penn State

4 p.m., Big Ten Network

UMass may be the weakest opponent Penn State has faced so far, but even the 0-3 Minutemen might not be a pushover. UMass took both Colorado and Vanderbilt to the wire in losses by a combined a field goal each. Perhaps overlooked in Penn State’s season — which has included the debut of James Franklin, the lifting of NCAA sanctions and heroics from Christian Hackenberg and Sam Ficken — has been the play of the front seven. Penn State has picked up seven tackles for a loss in each game this season, led by defensive tackle Anthony Zettel’s seven.


9. San Jose State at Minnesota

4 p.m., Big Ten Network

Injuries are already starting to cut into the Minnesota offense with quarterback Mitch Leidner playing through turf toe. Left tackle Zac Epping and running back David Cobb are also battling ankle injuries. All of it — plus Minnesota’s limitations in the passing game — caught up with the Gophers in a 30-7 loss at TCU last week. Minnesota should be able to run the ball on a San Jose State team that has allowed 5.8 yards per carry and seven touchdowns in two games. What that means for Big Ten play is up for discussion.


10. Texas State at Illinois

4 p.m., ESPNews

Illinois got a wake-up call when it lost 44-19 to Washington, a score that’s not too surprising. Illinois will need to bounce back against Texas State, a program three years removed from FCS status, if the Illini are to have any shot at a bowl game.


11. Eastern Michigan at Michigan State

Noon, Big Ten Network

Michigan State is 21-3 all-time against the directional Michigans, with all three losses coming to Central Michigan. No reason for that trend to change.


12. Western Illinois at Northwestern

Noon, ESPNews

This would be a good time for Northwestern to end its 1-9 skid. Northwestern’s next seven games are: at Penn State, Wisconsin, at Minnesota, Nebraska, at Iowa, Michigan and at Notre Dame.


13. Southern Illinois at Purdue

Noon, Big Ten Network

Purdue played well in a 30-14 loss to Notre Dame, leading the game until the final 13 seconds of the first half. The Boilermakers can’t let that encouraging moment slip away against an FCS opponent.


Week 4 Big Ten Staff Picks

 David FoxBraden GallSteven LassanMitch Light

Iowa at Pitt (-7)

Pitt 27-10Pitt 27-20Pitt 27-20Pitt 27-17

Eastern Mich. at Michigan State (-45)

MSU 52-7MSU 45-0MSU 48-3MSU 41-0

Western Ill. at Northwestern

NW 35-21NW 30-13NW 40-10NW 33-10

Southern Ill. at Purdue

Pur 28-10Pur 34-17Pur 34-20Pur 27-7

Bowling Green at Wisconsin (-27)

Wisc 42-24Wisc 42-24Wisc 41-20Wisc 44-20

Maryland at Syracuse (-1)

Cuse 27-24Cuse 34-30Md 27-24Md 24-20

Utah at Michigan (-5)

Utah 27-21Mich 28-27Mich 27-24Utah 30-27

Rutgers at Navy (-6)

Navy 31-28Navy 34-30Navy 31-27Navy 27-20

UMass at Penn State (-27)

PSU 31-13PSU 34-13PSU 38-10PSU 34-14

San Jose St. at Minnesota (-9)

Minn 35-17Minn 35-27Minn 31-20Minn 28-14

Texas State at Illinois (-14)

Illinois 38-14Illinois 38-30Illinois 38-20Illinois 34-10

Indiana at Missouri (-14)

Mizzou 48-28Mizzou 42-17Mizzou 35-24Mizzou 40-17

Miami at Nebraska (-8)

Neb 38-14Neb 41-31Neb 31-24Neb 27-21
Last Week8-27-38-26-4
This Season29-828-929-825-12


Big Ten 2014 Week 4 Preview and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, September 18, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-ranking-big-12-coaches-2014-15

For the third year in a row, some of the top Big 12 coaches represent the best the University of Illinois has to offer.


It’s true: All three Illinois coaches from 1996-2012 have a home in the Big 12. In the combined 16 seasons from the three former Illini, only one didn’t end in the NCAA Tournament.


Of course, none has been more successful than Bill Self, who has won or shared a conference title every year since taking over at Kansas, but let’s not overlook the jobs Lon Kruger and Bruce Weber have done at Oklahoma and Kansas State, respectively.


Self gets the No. 1 spot in our Big 12 coach rankings, but Kruger isn’t far behind. Only Fred Hoiberg, who has turned around his alma mater in the last three seasons, stands in between Self and Kruger.


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. 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.


2. 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.


3. 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.


4. 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.


5. 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.


6. 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.


7. 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.


8. Bruce Weber, Kansas State

Record at Kansas State: 47-21 (.691)

NCAA Tournament: 11-10, one Final Four

Number to note: Weber is 2-6 in the NCAA Tournament since taking Illinois to the national title game in 2005.

Why he’s ranked here: Weber’s best seasons as a coach have come in Years 1-2 at Illinois and Kansas State. He’s entering Year 3 in Manhattan.


9. Travis Ford, Oklahoma State

Record at Oklahoma State: 125-77 (.619)

NCAA Tournament: 1-5

Number to note: Oklahoma State is 34-36 in the Big 12 the last four seasons. Ford was 18-14 in his first two seasons.

Why he’s ranked here: Ford’s burdensome contract will outlast Marcus Smart in Stillwater.


10. Trent Johnson, TCU

Record at TCU: 20-43 (.317)

NCAA Tournament: 5-5

Number to note: Since leading LSU to a 27-8 in his first season in Baton Rogue, Johnson is 60-99 since.

Why he’s ranked here: Perhaps no coach could lead TCU to relevance in the Big 12. At 2-34 in conference play, TCU hasn’t even been competitive.

College Basketball: Ranking the Big 12 Coaches for 2014-15
Post date: Tuesday, September 16, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oklahoma Sooners, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/big-12-takeaways-oklahomas-nasty-d-trickett-stars-texas-blunders

So much of the early portion of the schedule has to do with league’s jockeying for position. The Big Ten is down. The Pac-12 scored a key win. And no league seems to scream that it’s in charge.


Maybe the Big 12 should take that spot.


No non-conference win stands out from Week 3, but the Big 12 quietly picked up some key victories — Oklahoma over Tennessee, West Virginia over Maryland, TCU over Minnesota and Iowa State over Iowa.


If Texas finished the job against a weakened UCLA, maybe the Big 12 would be thumping its chest. Either way, the league has a chance to do so Thursday when Kansas State faces Auburn.


Before that, here’s what we learned out of the Big 12 in Week 3.


Key Takeaways from the Big 12 in Week 3


Oklahoma’s defense is championship-ready

Even if Tennessee has its flaws up front on offense, Oklahoma turned in an impressive performance against the Volunteers. The Sooners were relentless in the front seven, sacking Vols quarterback Justin Worley five times and intercepting him twice. Eight Oklahoma players recorded at least one tackle for a loss, and other than one 43-yard run after the game had been decided, the Sooners overwhelmed Tennessee up front. The Sooners haven’t faced a Playoff contender this season, but Oklahoma has a defense that looks ready to contend for a Big 12 title.


Listen to the Week 3 recap podcast:

Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher


Texas missed an opportunity for a name win

The game started with a blunder when a Texas captain elected to defend after UCLA won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, meaning UCLA started both halves on offense. That was only the start of Texas whiffing at an opportunity. UCLA star quarterback Brett Hundley left the game in the first quarter with an elbow injury, leaving the Bruins with untested backup Jerry Neuheisel. Texas is also down to a backup QB but one who has two games under his belt. The Longhorns led at half and led with with 5:45 to go. Texas didn’t have a turnover but a defensive breakdown gave Neuheisel the 33-yard game-winning TD. Texas could have used an extra offensive possession in a 20-17 loss.


West Virginia has turned a corner

The Mountaineers hinted at in a 33-23 loss to Alabama in Week 1. A 40-37 win at Maryland proved that West Virginia is a different team in 2014. A healthy Clint Trickett with a year in the system is only a piece of the transformation — a piece that completed 37-of-49 passes fro 511 yards with four touchdowns. After struggling in his first season from junior college, Kevin White has become an all-conference type receiver with 13 catches for 216 yards and a touchdown. Mario Alford added 11 catches for 131 yards and two scores. But most important, West Virginia learned to take a punch. The Mountaineers lost three games last season in which the led in the fourth quarter. This year’s team allowed Maryland to tie in the fourth but held for a game winning field goal in the final four seconds.


Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham Have transformed the TCU offense

Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson looked toward Texas Tech and Houston to add a spark to the TCU offense that had been lacking since Justin Fuente took a head coaching job at Memphis. Cumbie (from Texas Tech) and Meacham (from Houston) are making an impact. Nowhere is that more evident than with Trevone Boykin, who was moved to receiver at the end of last year and faced a challenge from Texas A&M quarterback Matt Joeckel before the season. Boykin completed 27-of-46 for 258 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 30-7 win over Minnesota. He also rushed for 92 yards on 12 carries. If TCU can put him numbers like that in Big 12 play the Horned Frogs will be poised for a turnaround year.


Coach Cool can’t stop the run

Bret Bielema has had few easy answers as coach at Arkansas. A game against Texas Tech, though, presented an easy gameplan. Run the ball because Texas Tech can’t stop it. Arkansas rushed for 438 yards and attempted only 12 passes in a 49-28 win. It was the most rushing yards allowed by Texas Tech since 2011 but part of an alarming trend. Opponents have rushed for 293.7 yards and four touchdowns per game in the last nine contests. Tech’s defense can’t get off the field, and the offense hasn’t helped. Texas Tech has been on the wrong side of the turnover margin for 11 consecutive games for a total of minus-18 since Oct. 12.


Big 12 Week 4 Power Rankings

RkTeamPvsRecordLast WeekThis Week
113-0W, Tennessee 34-10at West Virginia
223-0W, Buffalo 63-21Off
442-1W, UTSA 43-13Off
552-1W, Maryland 40-37Oklahoma
662-0W, Minnesota 30-7Off
771-2L, UCLA 20-17Off
891-2W, Iowa 20-17Off
982-1L, Arkansas 49-28Off
10101-1L, Duke 41-3Central Michigan


Big 12 Takeaways: Oklahoma's Nasty D, Trickett stars, Texas blunders
Post date: Monday, September 15, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Big Ten, News
Path: /college-football/big-ten-takeaways-nebraska-penn-state-still-standing

Congratulations, Nebraska and Penn State, you represent the Big Ten’s last hope.


A week after the Big Ten’s top Playoff contenders dropped key games, the league’s underbelly proved to be just as soft.


Minnesota, Maryland, Iowa and Indiana all took their turns with out-of-conference losses, leaving Nebraska and Penn State as the league’s last two unblemished team.


As Nebraska returned to form, Penn State had another close call that resulted in a win at Rutgers, the team that claims the Big Ten’s only win against a Power 5 program.


No, it wasn’t a pretty week in the Big Ten. Here’s what we learned: 


The embarrassment continues

Entering Week 3, the Big Ten had no way to atone for a Week 2 that all but seemed to take the league out of the Playoff. All this week — with Maryland hosting West Virginia, Iowa State hosting Iowa and Minnesota visiting TCU — could do was keep the bottom from falling out. The Big Ten couldn’t even manage that. Big Ten teams lost to three Big 12 teams, lost in a rout in the Pacific Northwest and added a third loss this season to a MAC team. The Big Ten is 1-11 against the other Power 5 conferences and Notre Dame this season. The lone win, Rutgers over Washington State in Seattle — came from a team that lost a league game Saturday. Only Penn State and Nebraska, which hosts Miami next week, remain unscathed.


Listen to the Week 3 recap podcast:

Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher


Hackenberg’s two-minute magic strikes again

Penn State’s offense isn’t pretty to watch. The run game, again, was a liability at 1.9 yards per carry against Rutgers. Even quarterback Christian Hackenberg had  a spotty game thanks to five sacks. The sophomore has a knack for pressure situations, though, as he spoiled what Rutgers hoped would be a signature win in its Big Ten debut. Hackenberg was 3-for-4 for 84 yards on the game-winning drive of a 13-10 win, the second time he’s marched Penn State down the field in the fourth quarter for a victory. These things are becoming commonplace for a quarterback who has played only 15 games.


Michigan, Ohio State bounced back

Let’s not say this is anything other than it is — which is Big Ten name teams beating up on MAC teams on hard times. And apparently in this league in 2014, MAC wins aren’t automatic. Michigan got a key contributor back at full strength in tight end Jake Butt, who caught three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in the absence of Devin Funchess. Meanwhile, Ohio State got production out of its tailbacks after they were absent last week. Curtis Samuel, Ezekiel Elliott and Warren Ball combined for 206 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. Meanwhile, J.T. Barrett came back from his rough start against the Virginia Tech secondary to complete 23-of-30 passes with six touchdowns.


Iowa has gone from sleeper team to major disappointment

The schedule set up so nicely for Iowa. No Ohio State. No Michigan State. No Michigan. Wisconsin and Nebraska at home. That was enough to make Iowa a sneaky pick in the Big Ten West. No one really accounted for this Iowa team being lousy. A week after dodging a loss to Ball State (which turned around and lost to Indiana State), the Hawkeyes lost 20-17. All-America offensive tackle Brandon Scherff is playing hurt. The run game is dismal (3.6 yards per carry). And the offense is so conservative that a winless opponent needed only 337 total yards to win on the road. At this rate, the easy schedule may be what Iowa needs just to get to a bowl.


The McNeese State game was an aberration for Nebraska

That’s what the Big Ten has to hope, right? The league will grasp at all it can get, and a 55-19 rout at Fresno State has to count for something. Nebraska’s offense was back in its Week 1 form with 280 rushing, 282 passing and 8.5 yards per play. End Randy Gregory returned to the lineup, and although he didn’t record a sack, Nebraska doubled its season total with four sacks against the Bulldogs.


Big Ten Week 4 Power Rankings

RkTeamPvsRecordLast WeekThis Week
111-1OffEastern Michigan
233-0W, Fresno State 55-19Miami
323-0W, Rutgers 13-10UMass
462-1W, Kent State 66-0Off
551-1OffBowling Green
672-1W, Miami (Ohio) 34-10Utah
792-1L, Penn State 13-10at Navy
842-1L, Iowa State 20-17at Pittsburgh
982-1L, West Virginia 40-37at Syracuse
1082-1L, TCU 30-7San Jose State
11122-1L, Washington 44-19Texas State
12111-1L, Bowling Green 45-42at Missouri
13130-2OffWestern Illinois
14141-2L, Notre Dame 30-14Southern Illinois


Big Ten Takeaways: Nebraska, Penn State Still Standing
Post date: Monday, September 15, 2014 - 09:00