Articles By David Fox
With a 55-3 win over Iowa State, TCU didn’t give the College Football Playoff selection committee any reason to drop the Horned Frogs out of the top four.
Now, the Horned Frogs will wait to find out of that’s enough.
TCU entered the week ranked No. 3 in the selection committee rankings. In theory, a rout of Iowa State, a team that finished winless in conference play, should keep TCU in a playoff scenario.
Yet TCU knows it won’t have the last word.
No. 6 Baylor, which defeated TCU 61-58 and outgained the Horned Frogs by nearly 300 yards on Oct. 11, has an opportunity for a statement win against No. 9 Kansas State.
Patterson: "I don’t know what happens tomorrow, but the bottom line is we’ve done everything we can do …. Now we’ll just wait and watch.”— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) December 6, 2014
TCU will have a share of the Big 12 title and a better non-conference win (Minnesota) compared to Baylor. The word “share” is key. The Big 12 will not declare a champion in the event of a tie and will present co-champions to the committee as TCU and either Baylor or Kansas State will finish with one Big 12 loss apiece.
In nearly every other tiebreaker situation, head-to-head would be the first determining factor. One of the criteria used by the selection committee will be conference championships. By naming co-champions, the Big 12 is putting the onus on the selection committee to pick the team with the better body of work.
In a week in which Baylor hired a public relations firm, TCU coach Gary Patterson said he won’t state his case any more than his team already had.
Gary Patterson on if TCU belongs in: "I don't see why they shouldn't consider us. This team has done everything we asked them to do..."— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) December 6, 2014
TCU could have crossed the 60-point barrier Saturday against Iowa State but elected to take two knees from the Iowa State 25.
In any event, TCU has engineered a remarkable turnaround. The Horned Frogs are 11-1 overall and 8-1 in the Big 12 only a year removed from going 4-8. The Frogs have won two more Big 12 games this season than they did during the first two seasons in the league (6-12).
Quarterback Trevone Boykin, who spent time at receiver last season, may have put the finishing touches on his bid to be a Heisman finalist by going 30-of-41 for 460 yards with four touchdowns and an interception against the Cyclones.
Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon are the favorites for the award with Alabama’s Amari Cooper making a bid for New York.
By the evening, though, all TCU eyes will be on Baylor.
Here’s how the two teams stacked up entering Saturday
|TCU vs. Baylor|
|Head-to-Head||Lost 61-58||Won 61-58|
|Loss||at No. 6 Baylor 61-58||at West Virginia 41-27|
|Best non-Big 12 win||Minnesota 30-7||at Buffalo 63-21|
|Offensive Yards/Play*||6.7 (First)||6.0 (Fifth)|
|Defensive Yards/Play*||5.7 (Sixth)||5.7 (Fifth)|
|Scoring Differential*||Plus-153 (19.1 per game)||Plus-134 (16.8 per game)|
|Yard Differential*||Plus-766 (95.8 per game)||Plus-1,084 (134.5 per game)|
|*Big 12 games only|
Mike Riley has had many opportunities to move during his second stint as Oregon State’s coach. USC took a look at their former coordinator. So did Alabama, where Riley played for Bear Bryant.
After 11 seasons since his return to Corvallis, Riley made the move to Nebraska to replace Bo Pelini.
So what kind of program is awaiting Riley in Lincoln, and what are the prospects for his early tenure?
Here’s a look:
Offense (4): T Zach Sterup, T Alex Lewis, QB Tommy Armstrong, WR Jordan Westerkamp
Defense (7): E Greg McMullen, T Vincent Valentine, T Maliek Collins, E Randy Gregory, LB David Santos, S Nate Gerry, CB Daniel Davie
Riley will have a challenge ahead of him on offense as the Cornhuskers must replace three cornerstones of their offense in running back Ameer Abdullah, wide receiver Kenny Bell and offensive lineman Jake Cotton. Imani Cross should be poised to become the feature back, but he’s never had more than 85 carries in a season. On defense, junior defensive end Randy Gregory will be a candidate to go early to the NFL Draft.
|247Sports Composite Rankings|
|Year||National Rank||Big Ten Rank|
How does a program win nine or 10 games every season without breaking through as a national player? Those recruiting numbers tell part of the story — a top half recruiting class in the Big Ten but rarely cracking the national top 25. Mike Riley was hired in part because of his ability to locate and develop talent from all over the country. Nebraska is in a precarious recruiting position now that it is detached from its traditional Big 12/Big 8 base, and Lincoln is not the easiest place for prospects to reach. Nebraska’s roster features 12 players from Texas and seven from Ohio. One or both of those numbers may need to be higher for the Huskers to compete on a national level.
Oregon State and Nebraska both run what might be termed a pro-style, but both have elements of the spread. Riley’s best teams have generally been balanced with a productive tailback — think of Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers. That system may be ideal for Nebraska, yet Oregon State was in the top three in pass attempts in the Pac-12 in three of the last four seasons. Both teams have run a base 4-3. Oregon State has developed solid defensive linemen over the years, something Nebraska has had in spades. If Riley brings defensive coordinator Mark Banker with him to Lincoln — it’s reasonable to assume he’ll be a contender to succeed Riley — the system may translate nicely to the personnel.
Nebraska’s players were vocal in support of Pelini when he was fired. Even before the change, the Cornhuskers stressed the Pelini they knew was not the same as his gruff public persona. Still, the move from Pelini to the affable Riley is about as dramatic a shift in personality as any.
What does the competition look like?
The Big Ten West should continue to be the weaker of the two divisions. With or without Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin does what it does with the run game and defense year in and year out. Iowa will lose a couple of key players (Brandon Scherff and Carl Davis) but expects to be a veteran team. Minnesota moves on without David Cobb next season. Next season’s schedule features Miami on the road and BYU at home in the non-conference, but its toughest Big Ten games (Wisconsin and Michigan State) are at home. And lucky for Riley, no Oregon or Stanford.
Florida didn’t have a ton of time in the spotlight with its hire of Colorado State coach Jim McElwain as Nebraska announced a hire of Mike Riley just as McElwain was becoming official.
After a few weeks, that won’t matter. Winning the day or winning the press conference isn’t nearly as important as winning over fans in that first season.
Winning early, though, will be tough. After all, Florida wouldn’t have made a coaching change if this program were running at full strength.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the situation McElwain has assumed at Florida for 2015.
Offense (4): T D.J. Humphries, G Trip Thurman, WR Demarcus Robinson, WR Latroy Pittman
Defense (8): T Jon Bullard, E Bryan Cox Jr., LB Neiron Ball, LB Antonio Morrison, S Keanu Neal, S Marcus Maye, CB Vernon Hargreaves III, CB Brian Poole
The tally above counts neither freshman quarterback Treon Harris, who has started the last five games for the Gators, nor five-star freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor, who has started five games total. The eight returning starters — even without end Dante Fowler, who announced he’d enter the NFL Draft — is a clear boon for McElwain in Year One. Florida led the SEC in fewest yards per play last season at 4.45, and only LSU allowed fewer yards per game. The back end of the defense, especially will be a strength. Leading rusher Matt Jones also will leave early for the NFL Draft, according to a report from GatorCountry.com.
This is where McElwain needs to put in some immediate work. A signing class ranked 14th in the SEC and 61st nationally is unheard of for Florida. The Gators are in on a number of highly touted defensive line recruits, but McElwain will need to make quick inroads in the state. For Alabama, McElwain recruited safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Dee Hart (who later transferred to Colorado State) from the Orlando area.
|247 Composite Ranking|
At first glance, trading one Nick Saban guy (Muschamp) for another (McElwain) wouldn’t seem to bring much of a schematic change. On defense, that may be the case, especially if McElwain retains defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, secondary coach Travaris Robinson and/or others from Muschamp’s defensive staff, as reported by FootballScoop.com. McElwain ran a 3-4 at Colorado State, similar to Muschamp, and for what it’s worth, both coaches nicknamed their linebacker/end hybrid a “buck.” The most intriguing scheme shift will be on offense. The mobile Harris entrenched himself in under Kurt Roper while McElwain featured a classic dropback passer.
The SEC loves to tout its full stadiums and raucous game day atmosphere. That hasn’t been the case at Florida. The Gators drew an average of 85,834 fans per game in 2014. It’s tough to sell The Swamp as homefield advantage when it’s filled well below capacity.
What does the competition look like?
The SEC East should continue to lag behind the West in 2015, but that doesn’t mean the division is for the taking. Missouri has won the division two years in a row and will return a talented, if erratic, quarterback. Georgia loses a senior quarterback and a handful of seniors on defense but will return running back Nick Chubb. Tennessee is a young team on the rise that could be a sleeper in the division. Florida’s crossover games will be Ole Miss at home and LSU on the road, and the only challenging non-conference game will be Florida State at home.
Change is a constant in college football, particularly in the coaching profession.
In decades past, a coach could ascend to the top jobs — and some of the mid-level posts — in the sport and stay year after year. Think of Bear Bryant, Vince Dooley, Bo Schembechler or Hayden Fry.
Those days are more or less over. In the last four seasons alone, Texas, USC, Oregon, Auburn and Tennessee have hired new coaches. Penn State has hired two. Florida is on its second coaching search in the last five seasons.
While the names change, some of the best jobs in the sport do not. Florida is as good a job for this new coach as it was for Will Muschamp, Urban Meyer or Ron Zook. Kansas remains a challenge for any coach, an insurmountable one for many.
Which jobs are the best in this year’s version of the coaching carousel? Here’s our take on the potential for each program making a change this season.
Out: Will Muschamp (28-20 in four seasons)
In: Jim McElwain, Colorado State head coach
Pros: With three national championships since 1996 and eight SEC titles since 1991, Florida is one of the nation’s elite-of-the-elite jobs. The Gators are the flagship university and only SEC representative in one of the nation’s big three recruiting states. Moreover, Florida has been able to spot recruit into the Southeast, the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast regularly over the years. Athletic director Jeremy Foley is one of the nation’s top administrators who will give his football coach every opportunity to succeed.
Cons: If we’re going to nitpick at the Florida job, it could be the facilities. The Gators last had a stadium/facility upgrade in 2008 and remain one of the few top programs without an indoor practice facility or standalone football building. Foley shrugs off the perception that Florida lags in facilities. “We’re not into bells and whistles,” he says. Style is also a factor at Florida. The Gators have won three national championships since 1996, but the coaches who have succeeded the most, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, have run innovative offenses.
How good is the Florida job? A-plus
Out: Brady Hoke (31-20 in four seasons)
In: Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers coach
Pros: No team in the history of college football has won more games than Michigan. Along with Ohio State, Michigan is on the short list of programs in the Big Ten with the potential of being a consistent player on a national stage, even that hasn’t occurred for the Wolverines in nearly a decade. The population drain in the Midwest is a concern for many regional programs, but even Hoke was able to secure two top-10 national signing classes.
Cons: Michigan went with the nontraditional hire (for them) in Rich Rodriguez and then the Michigan Man in Hoke. Both were fired in four years or less. The Wolverines are in a crossroads similar to when Notre Dame hired Brian Kelly or when Alabama hired Nick Saban, and the man making the hire holds the interim athletic director tag.
How good is the Michigan job? A-plus
Out: Bo Pelini (66-27 in seven seasons)
In: Mike Riley, Oregon State head coach
Pros: The Cornhuskers are one of the college football’s most legendary programs with 865 wins (fourth all time) and five national championships. Resources, facilities and fan support are all among the best in the country. The new coach also takes over a program that’s in better shape than the typical program that just fired a coach — seven consecutive seasons with at least nine wins indicates a solid foundation.
Cons: We mentioned the seven consecutive seasons of nine or 10 wins. Well, that got the last coach fired. The next coach will be expected to take the next step for Big Ten championships and national title contention. National recruiting is a must. Lincoln isn’t the easiest destination to reach in college football, and Nebraska has been cut off from the state of Texas thanks to conference realignment.
How good is the Nebraska job? A-minus
Out: Gary Andersen (19-7 in two seasons)
In: Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh head coach
Pros: The Badgers have been regular contenders in the Big Ten in the 11-team league, in the Leaders division and now the West division. The Badgers aren’t in the same tier as Ohio State or Michigan in the Big Ten, but they’ve been able to go toe-to-toe with any program in the league. Camp Randall is as raucous atmosphere as any in the conference. Wisconsin has an identity of ground-and-pound football thanks to a local recruiting base that produces plenty of offensive linemen.
Cons: The last two coaches have turned their success at Wisconsin into the Arkansas and Oregon State job. Is that simply a coincident or a red flag? The Big Ten is getting tougher with Urban Meyer and James Franklin becoming entrenched and new coaches at Nebraska and Michigan.
How good is the Wisconsin job? B-plus
Out: Paul Chryst (19-19 in three seasons)
In: Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State defensive coordinator
Pros: Pittsburgh is a program with the potential to be an above-average program in the ACC, but for various reasons, the Panthers have been largely mediocre for more than 30 years. Western Pennsylvania should be good recruiting ground, especially if the coach can dip into Ohio and pick off players in Florida, Texas or New Jersey. Pittsburgh has a Heisman winner and a national championship in its history.
Cons: The glory days of Pittsburgh college football in the 70s and 80s won’t resonate much with recruits in 2014. Although ACC membership is an asset, the recruiting environment for Pitt is as competitive as ever with Urban Meyer at Ohio State and James Franklin at Penn State. This program is also reeling from two head coaches in the last four seasons. That development in part cost athletic director Steve Pederson his job.
How good is the Pittsburgh job? C-plus
6. Oregon State
Out: Mike Riley (93-80 in 14 seasons)
In: Gary Andersen, Wisconsin head coach
Pros: Make no mistake, this is a tough job, but clearly the administration knows this. Riley had his ups and downs with the program, but rarely did the program seem to panic. For a coach looking to take one of the tougher jobs in the Pac-12, that dose of reality will be an asset.
Cons: Why is this a tough job? Just look at the other program in state. Corvallis is an outpost in the college football landscape, which puts Oregon State at a disadvantage compared to most other Pac-12 jobs. While Oregon just moved into a state-of-the-art, eye-catching facility, Oregon State is moving incrementally to complete the first major stadium upgrades since 2005. Riley did an excellent job of unearthing and developing talent that at times could challenge the best in the league. The next coach may find out how tall a task that is.
How good is the Oregon State job? C
Out: Charlie Weis (6-22 in three seasons)
In: David Beatty, Texas A&M wide receivers coach
Pros: Kansas has a clear ceiling in the Big 12, but the Jayhawks have proven they can have a respectable program. Mark Mangino took Kansas to four bowl games during his eight-year tenure with fortunate scheduling helping KU to a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl victory in 2007. Glen Mason led KU to four winning seasons in his final six seasons in the ‘90s.
Cons: The new coach walks into a rough situation with back-to-back disastrous hires. Weis’ reliance on junior college and four-year transfers will leave the new coach plugging holes right away. The Big 12’s only true basketball school, Kansas is the No. 2 football program in a state without a ton of high school prospects.
How good is the Kansas job? C-minus
Out: Tony Levine (21-17 in three seasons)
In: Tom Herman, Ohio State offensive coordinator
Pros: Based on the recruiting base, Houston should be one of the better jobs in the American, along with UCF, Cincinnati or SMU. With a new football stadium in 2014 and a new basketball facility on the way, the program is signaling that it intends to be a consistent player. Houston also has a long-established identity for wide-open offensive football, going to back to the run-and-shoot under Heisman winner Andre Ware and David Klingler through spread offenses under Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin.
Cons: Houston is one of the better jobs outside of the Power Five, but that brings with it a clear ceiling. Firing a coach after back-to-back winning seasons is also a sign that simply being above average won’t cut it for Houston.
How good is the Houston job? C-minus
Out: June Jones (36-43 in seven seasons)
In: Chad Morris, Clemson offensive coordinator
Pros: There’s little reason SMU can’t be the best team in the American Athletic Conference, but we could have said something similar of SMU’s final seasons in Conference USA. The Mustangs will never have first choice of football prospects in the Lone Star State, but getting the second or third crack at Texas guys who want to play college football in Dallas should be the foundation of a winning program.
Cons: With four consecutive bowl bids from 2009-12, Jones ended SMU’s postseason drought that dated back to the death penalty in 1987. Yet it’s tough to say SMU is in better shape than when he arrived. The winless Mustangs are perhaps the worst team in the FBS in 2014. Digging out of this hole won’t be easy.
How good is the SMU job? C-minus
10. Colorado State
Out: Jim McElwain (22-16 in three seasons)
In: Mike Bobo, Georgia offensive coordinator
Pros: This is a spot where a coach can stay and thrive (Sonny Lubick) or use as a stepping stone (McElwain). In general, Colorado State should be one of the better jobs in the Mountain West with room to improve with a new on-campus stadium potentially on the way.
Cons: Recruiting the state of Colorado isn’t enough to sustain even a Mountain West program, especially as Boulder becomes a more desirable destination. The Mountain division of the MWC likely will be the tougher road with Boise State, Nevada and Utah State.
How good is the Colorado State job? C-minus
Out: Bill Blankenship (24-27 in four seasons)
In: Philip Montgomery, Baylor offensive coordinator
Pros: From 2003-12, Tulsa reached eight bowl games and twice won the Conference USA title under three different coaches. That indicates a program with a solid foundation. In conference musical chairs, Tulsa’s move to the American allows the Golden Hurricane to stay ahead of some of its former Conference USA brethren.
Cons: Tulsa slipped to 5-19 in the final two seasons under Blankenship, which is closer to where Tulsa has been for much of its history before Steve Kragthorpe became the coach in 2003. Tulsa also has one of the smallest enrollments of any school in the FBS.
How good is the Tulsa job? C-minus
Out: Larry Blakeney (178-112-1 in 24 seasons)
In: Neal Brown, Kentucky offensive coordinator
Pros: Troy was once the top program in the Sun Belt, winning at least a share of league titles every year from 2006-10. The league has thinned out a bit with programs like North Texas, FAU, FIU and Western Kentucky moving into Conference USA, but Troy can continue to be one of the league’s top programs.
Cons: Following the top coach in program history is always tough, and Blakeney was that for Troy. Serving as coach since 1991, Blakeney successfully led Troy in its transition from the Division II to the FBS. The Troy job also can’t claim to be the only FBS program in the Southern portion of the state with South Alabama joining the Sun Belt in 2012.
How good is the Troy job? D
13. Central Michigan
Out: Dan Enos (26-33 in five seasons)
Pros: Central Michigan can be one of the top programs in the MAC even if it plays in a division with Northern Illinois, Toledo and Ball State. Brian Kelly and Butch Jones used the position to move to Cincinnati and power programs from there.
Cons: The sitting head coach coming off a bowl game left to be a coordinator in the SEC in late January. Perhaps that says more about Enos, who never had a record better than 7-6 and wasn’t likely to follow in the footsteps of Kelly and Jones to a bigger head coaching position. The new coach will be in a precarious situation, taking over this close to National Signing Day. With NIU and Toledo entrenched near the top of the division and Western Michigan on the rise, Central Michigan could soon slip further.
How good is the Central Michigan job: D
Out: Bobby Hauck (15-49 in five seasons)
In: Tony Sanchez, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High coach
Pros: UNLV is only two years removed from a winning season and a rare bowl appearance. Las Vegas has a handful of top college prospects each season, but most of that is at Bishop Gordon and none of it goes to UNLV.
Cons: In the last 30 seasons, UNLV has won two or fewer games 11 times and reached three bowl games. The Mountain West can be a selling point, but this is traditionally one of the bottom 10 or 20 teams in the country in a given year. Facilites and finances are also major concerns.
How good is the UNLV job? D
Out: Jeff Quinn (20-36 in five seasons)
In: Lance Leipold, Wisconsin-Whitewater (Division III) head coach
Pros: The Bulls are only two seasons removed from going 8-5 and reaching the MAC title game behind first-round NFL Draft pick Khalil Mack.
Cons: That 8-5 season in 2013 is one of only two winning seasons for Buffalo since the Bulls joined the MAC in 1999.
How good is the Buffalo job? F
When Ohio State clinched the Big Ten East weeks ago, the Buckeyes probably thought they’d spend a week worrying about how to stop Melvin Gordon or whichever running back the Big Ten West sent to Indianapolis.
If only this week were that easy.
Instead, Ohio State is dealing with a range of emotional and personnel obstacles ranging from tragedy to misfortune.
On Nov. 25, the Big Ten declared defensive end Noah Spence, a one-time five-star prospect, permanently ineligible stemming from his second positive drug test for ecstasy back in September. The conference classifies the drug as a “performance enhancer.” Spence hadn’t played all season.
Then, early in the fourth quarter of Ohio State’s 42-28 win over Michigan, quarterback J.T. Barrett was lost for the remainder of the season when he suffered a broken leg on a tackle during a run. Barrett had gone from an untested backup to Braxton Miller in the preseason to a Heisman contender.
And on Sunday, the Buckeyes learned of the most tragic news. Walk-on defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge, who had gone missing for four days, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Teammates remembered Karageorge’s energy and positivity, though he spoke to his family of his concerns from a history of concussions from his football and wrestling careers.
“We knew he had a lot of concussions, but we didn’t know he was depressed or anything like that,” Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “He was the most positive out of anybody, which goes to show there was no way to notice it until someone speaks up. Kosta was always positive, always thankful, so appreciative of everything football gave him.”
Yet in the face of this, Ohio State remains a College Football Playoff contender. The selection committee ranked the Buckeyes fifth in the most recent top 25, indicating the injury to Barrett was not an automatic eliminator for Ohio State’s national championship aspirations.
While selection committee chair Jeff Long did not say the Big Ten title game was a one-game body for work for this new version of Ohio State, it’s clear the Buckeyes, and specifically new quarterback Cardale Jones, has little room for error if Ohio State has any chance of moving into the top four.
In any other circumstance, room for error would be understandable.
“Every red flag is up, every excuse is out there to not play well, to not win a game, to lose a game,” Meyer said. “You have some really good built-in excuses. To overcome the incredible tragedy that happened last night, this is a real challenge. We're going to watch it very closely. I can tell you this: (this is an) extremely close team that does a lot of things together and cares about each other.”
Championship Week Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin
Kickoff: 8:17 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: Wisconsin -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Cardale Jones
Does Ohio State’s Big Ten championship hopes rest on Jones? That’s not a stretch. The Buckeyes went undefeated in the Big Ten because J.T. Barrett became a Heisman contender through the course of the season. Even if this isn’t a one-player offense — Ezekiel Elliott topped 100 yards and six yards per carry in three of his last four games — Barrett is as close to irreplaceable as any player on a top team. Teammates have raved about Jones’ arm strength and opponents have noted how difficult it will be to corral the 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore. But experience is a factor for a quarterback who hasn’t attempted 20 passes during his career.
2. Wisconsin’s third quarter
How is this for halftime adjustments: Wisconsin averages 9.6 yards per carry in the third quarter. No team in the country averages even eight in any quarter. The Badgers are led in every quarter by the Big Ten single-season rushing leader Melvin Gordon, but especially in the third quarter. Gordon averages 11.3 yards per carry in the third, and 40.5 percent of his rushing yards have come right after halftime. The Badgers have needed these third-quarter bursts thanks to lackluster first quarters. Wisconsin hasn’t scored a first-quarter touchdown in three games. Meanwhile, the third quarter is the worst for the Ohio State rush defense. The Buckeyes are allowing 4.83 yards per carry in the third quarter, their worst for any frame.
Listen to the Championship Week predictions podcast:
3. Joey Bosa vs. Wisconsin’s offensive line
The traditionally great Wisconsin offensive line, with two All-Big Ten performers on the right side, goes up against the Big Ten defensive player of the year from Ohio State. All of Wisconsin’s offensive line weighs more than 310 pounds and all but center Dan Voltz stands 6-5 or taller. The 6-5, 278-pound Bosa will be tough to contain, though. He has 20 tackles for a loss, 13.5 sacks and four forced fumbles this season. If Gordon is going to get to the second level and if Wisconsin’s quarterbacks are to have any prayer, the offensive line must neutralize Bosa.
Through three Big Ten championship games, Wisconsin has won two of them, one of which during Gordon’s breakout game in a 70-31 upset of Nebraska. Ohio State has the most surprising loss in the game’s short history with last year’s 34-24 loss to Michigan State to deny the Buckeyes a trip to the national title game. As far as conference championship games go, the Big Ten has delivered in terms of surprises. What constitutes a surprise in this game, though, remains a question. No. 5 Ohio State is the underdog thanks to the injury to Barrett and a defense that has struggled in the last three games. Wisconsin, though, has a flawed passing game to go with its standout defense and Gordon-led run game.
Big Ten Championship Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Wisconsin (-4) vs. Ohio State||OSU 35-31||Wisc 27-24||Wisc 27-24||Wisc 28-21|
For a challenge between the strongest major conference from top to bottom a year ago (the Big 12) against the most top heavy (the SEC), this year’s event has surprisingly interesting matchups.
The headliner, Texas’ trip to Kentucky, matches two teams with Final Four aspirations and star-studded frontcourts. Arkansas and Iowa State should meet in an entertaining up-and-down affair. The matchup in Morgantown features one overachieving team (West Virginia) with one still struggling to find its way (LSU).
Of course, there are a few clunkers. Missouri-Oklahoma and Baylor-Vanderbilt would be more interesting in other seasons. Perhaps Florida-Kansas could use a Gators team that’s not stumbling into Lawrence.
For the Big 12, the challenge is a chance to establish the kind of depth that allowed the league to send seven of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament. For the SEC, the challenge is an opportunity to undo some of those embarrassing losses from the first three weeks of the season.
Auburn at Texas Tech
9 p.m., SEC Network
Bruce Pearl and Tubby Smith won two games apiece when the former was at Tennessee and the latter was at Kentucky. Both are building from the ground up at their new jobs. Texas Tech is projected to finish last in the Big 12 but took LSU to overtime earlier this season. Auburn hopes to get a boost by the return of Antoine Mason from an ankle injury. Mason, a transfer from Niagara, is the nation’s top returning scorer this season.
LSU at West Virginia
7 p.m., ESPN2
West Virginia is off to a surprising start at 7-0 this season, headlined by a 78-68 win over Connecticut on Nov. 23. The Mountaineers, in the NIT a year ago, lead the nation in forcing turnovers on 32.4 percent of possessions, according to KenPom.com. LSU is one of the nation’s most disappointing teams early in the season. Johnny Jones has an NCAA-caliber roster, but the Tigers have lost to Old Dominion and Clemson.
Baylor at Vanderbilt
7 p.m., ESPNU
Baylor’s chances to win at Memorial Gym will improve if point guard Kenny Chery is healthy. He’s missed the last three games, including a 64-54 loss to Illinois in which Baylor had nine assists and 15 turnovers. Vanderbilt will have a size advantage with 6-10 sophomore Damian Jones against an uncharacteristically small Baylor lineup.
Arkansas at Iowa State
9 p.m., ESPN2
This has potential to be the most entertaining game of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge. The two teams are averaging a combined 170 points per game and both are in the top 25 in tempo, according to KenPom.com. After being on the NCAA fringe for a few years under Mike Anderson, Arkansas will look to pick up a key non-conference win while Iowa State will look to come back from a 72-63 loss to Maryland on Nov. 25.
TCU at Ole Miss
9 p.m., ESPNU
TCU won’t win the Big 12, but it could win the state of Mississippi. The Horned Frogs have defeated Mississippi Valley State and Mississippi State already this season. The Rebels, though, will be the toughest of the three. Ole Miss, like most SEC schools, has taken a bad non-conference loss (Charleston Southern), but came back to defeat Creighton and Cincinnati in a Thanksgiving tournament.
Texas at Kentucky
7 p.m., ESPN
We’ve been burned before saying this, so tread lightly when we say the following: Texas is legit. The Longhorns entered the season with the most experience in the Big 12, and they’re playing like it. Texas defeated Iowa and Cal in Madison Square Garden, and most impressively, the Longhorns defeated Connecticut on the road without point guard Isaiah Taylor. Winning in Lexington against this squad without Taylor (broke wrist) will be a tougher task. With its deep cast of bigs, Kentucky will be a tough matchup in an area that’s usually an advantage for Texas with Jonathan Holmes, Myles Turner and Cameron Ridley.
Florida at Kansas
9 p.m., ESPN
Kansas has rebounded since Kentucky dominated the matchup in Indianapolis. The Jayhawks handled Rhode Island, Tennessee and Michigan State in the Orlando Classic during the Thanksgiving weekend. Worth watching will be the use of the Jayhawks’ freshmen. Cliff Alexander has yet to start, and Kelly Oubre isn’t even cracking 10 minutes per game. Florida didn’t have nearly as much success in its holiday tournament, losing to Georgetown and North Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Injuries and suspensions have shortened Billy Donovan’s bench, but while last year’s Florida team found a way to win shorthanded, this team is struggling.
Missouri at Oklahoma
9:30 p.m., ESPNU
Oklahoma was billed as a sleeper contender in the Big 12, especially after Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas was declared eligible. The Sooners have yet to look the part, especially on the offensive end of the floor by shooting less than 40 percent from the floor in losses to Wisconsin and Creighton. That said, the Sooners should cruise at home against a rebuilding Missouri team that was outclassed by Arizona and Purdue in Maui.
Oklahoma State at South Carolina
Oklahoma State’s Le’Bryan Nash (18.3 points per game) and Phil Forte (17.2) are doing just fine without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, thank you very much. The Cowboys are 6-0 but have yet to play a true road game. Meanwhile, the rebuilding job at South Carolina is still a slow go. The Gamecocks have already lost to Charlotte and Akron.
Kansas State at Tennessee
3:15 p.m., ESPN2
Kansas State needs a confidence boost in a major way. Bruce Weber’s squad was projected as an NCAA team, but the Wildcats have already lost to Long Beach State on the road and by 33 to Pittsburgh in the Maui Invitational. Those are not the kinds of things top-half Big 12 teams should be doing. An NCAA investigation stemming from Donnie Tyndall’s days at Southern Miss is looming over the Volunteers as they’re simply struggling to put a competitive team on the court.
Athlon Sports Staff Picks
|Game||David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Nathan Rush|
|Auburn at Texas Tech||Texas Tech||Auburn||Auburn||Auburn|
|LSU at West Virginia||West Virginia||West Virginia||West Virginia||West Virginia|
|Baylor at Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt||Baylor||Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt|
|Arkansas at Iowa State||Iowa State||Arkansas||Iowa State||Iowa State|
|TCU at Ole Miss||Ole Miss||TCU||Ole Miss||Ole Miss|
|Texas at Kentucky||Kentucky||Kentucky||Kentucky||Kentucky|
|Florida at Kansas||Kansas||Kansas||Kansas||Kansas|
|Missouri at Oklahoma||Oklahoma||Oklahoma||Oklahoma||Oklahoma|
|Oklahoma State at South Carolina||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State||South Carolina||Oklahoma State|
|Kansas State at Tennessee||Kansas State||Kansas State||Kansas State||Kansas State|
|Final Tally||Big 12 7-3||Big 12 7-3||Tie 5-5||Big 12 6-4|
In general, the best advice about the weekly playoff rankings is to take a deep breath and move on.
If there’s a time before the final playoff pairings to wonder just what is going on in that committee room in Dallas and wonder if some teams were better off with the BCS, this is that time.
Again, panic is not advised, but if that's your bag, we grant you permission.
TCU and Baylor have identical records in the same conference. Baylor defeated TCU by three points on the field yet TCU is three spots ahead of Baylor in the rankings. TCU is a playoff team this week. Baylor is not.
Meanwhile, Florida State is the only undefeated team in the country, yet the Seminoles are fourth. Florida State is a playoff team this week, but next week...
The selection committee is less than a week from setting the first College Football Playoff matchups in the history of the sport, and we have more questions than answers.
Let’s start with the Big 12, where the irony of the league’s “One True Champion” slogan is not lost.
In the event that No. 6 Baylor defeats No. 9 Kansas State and No. 3 TCU defeats Iowa State in the final week, Baylor and TCU will be tied for the lead of the only Power Five conference that doesn’t have a title game.
The selection committee will not play the role of tiebreaker. Neither will the Big 12, which will declare teams co-champions in case of a tie.
“We will not determine a champion for the Big 12,” said selection committee chairman Jeff Long, the athletic director at Arkansas. “We have not had the discussions on what if there is a co-champion.”
And despite the head-to-head result in Waco, Long says the committee believes TCU to be the better team. TCU has defeated three teams with winning records (No. 20 Oklahoma, Minnesota and West Virginia) while Baylor has defeated two teams with winning records (No. 20 Oklahoma and TCU).
In essence, that makes TCU’s 30-7 win over to four-loss Minnesota one of the most important results of the season.
“I can tell you it is contributing,” Long said. “But I can’t put a value on how much that MInnesota victory is contributing to the difference between the two teams.”
And then there’s Florida State. During the BCS era, the idea of the lone undefeated power conference team slipping out of the championship picture would be unfathomable.
Yet Florida State, thanks to a series of uneven play and close games against the ACC schedule and unusually weak Florida and Notre Dame teams, has put the Seminoles at No. 4.
Long won’t entertain predicting scenarios in which an undefeated FSU fails to make the playoff, but he said the Seminoles are in a “strong position” at No. 4. Florida State plays No. 11 Georgia Tech in Charlotte in the ACC title game.
FSU may be in a strong position. Perhaps TCU is, too. But the selection committee now is facing a situation where all four teams in Week 14 could win and yet one or more could be out of the top four in Week 15. Either that, or the committee could devalue a head-to-head result in the name of “body of work.”
Or they could all hope for the right loss to keep the huffing and puffing to a minimum.
“We’re waiting for results now,” Long said. “We’re waiting for teams to complete their body of work. We work hard not to project out. With that regard, the top four teams to this point are ranked where the committee believes they should be.”
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Dec. 2|
|1. Alabama||10. Mississippi State||18. Clemson|
|2. Oregon||11. Georgia Tech||19. Auburn|
|3. TCU||12. Ole Miss||20. Oklahoma|
|4. Florida State||13. Wisconsin||21. Louisville|
|5. Ohio State||14. Georgia||22. Boise State|
|6. Baylor||15. UCLA||23. Utah|
|7. Arizona||16. Missouri||24. LSU|
|8. Michigan State||17. Arizona State||25. USC|
|9. Kansas State|
Wait and see on Ohio State
The selection committee wasn’t ready to pass judgement on the injury to quarterback J.T. Barrett just yet. The Buckeyes are ranked fifth despite a season-ending injury to their Heisman contender. Long wouldn’t call it a one-game body of work for a Cardale Jones-led Ohio State team, but it sure feels that way. The committee’s directive is to take injuries into account, and few injuries will have much of an impact as Barrett’s at this stage of the season.
“We're going to be watching how he plays and how he leads that team, and that's certainly part of the evaluation that the committee will weigh,” Long said. “But it's a team game.”
Who Should Worry:
A bit of a mea culpa: We’ve had TCU in this spot for two consecutive weeks only to watch the Horned Frogs move to No. 3. Now, Baylor may be the one in trouble. The selection committee has been consistent in ranking TCU ahead of Baylor despite the head-to-head result. Perhaps defeating Kansas State will change that, but a three-spot gulf feels awfully tough to overcome without help.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:
In the event of chaos at the top of the rankings, perhaps no team is better positioned than Arizona at No. 7. The Wildcats moved up from No. 11 after a win over Arizona State to become the highest-ranked two-loss team. Arizona can help its case in the Pac-12 title game against No. 2 Oregon. The three other conference title game participants facing playoff contenders are ranked outside of the to 10 (No. 11 Georgia Tech, No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 16 Missouri).
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Florida State
Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 TCU
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 5 Ohio State
Fiesta: No. 22 Boise State* vs. No. 7 Arizona
Orange: No. 11 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 8 Michigan State
Peach: No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 10 Mississippi State
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
Rivalry week delivered on excitement but only one major alteration in the playoff race.
Mississippi State is out (we assume) after losing the Egg Bowl. Championship week, though, may go a long way to clinching that final spot — or more depending on upsets.
The selection committee has said since Day One that conference championships will factor into their decisions, but to what degree isn’t certain. There’s no rubric that awards points for league champions.
We may find out this week how much a conference championship is worth. Or a share of a conference title. Or none in the event of upsets of Alabama, Oregon or Florida State in a conference title game.
The Week Ahead: Dec. 5-6
All times Eastern
Listen to the Week 14 recap podcast:
Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois
MAC championship in Detroit
When and where: Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... a rematch of last year’s title game wraps up an otherwise quiet year of MACtion. The MAC has lacked star power and hasn’t has a ranked team all year. Still, we should applaud the two teams playing for the title. Drew Hare isn’t Jordan Lynch, but he’s been an efficient dual threat quarterback for an NIU team on the fringes of consideration for a major bowl game. With back-to-back losses entering this week, Bowling Green hasn’t been the overwhelming favorite Athlon projected, but first-year coach Dino Babers has his team in the league title game despite losing his starting quarterback, Matt Johnson, in the first game of the season.
Vegas says: Northern Illinois by 6 1/2
Arizona vs. Oregon
Pac-12 championship in Santa Clara
When and where: Friday, 9 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... Oregon has a Pac-12 title, a playoff spot and a potential Heisman on the line against a team that’s had the Ducks’ number. Oregon is 22-3 the last two seasons and two of those losses are to Arizona, including the Ducks’ only loss this season. In the first meeting this season, Oregon’s offensive line was in shambles, so the Ducks are looking to prove that was the problem back on Oct. 2. Arizona, though, is out to prove its win over Oregon and some of its close calls (Cal, Washington) are no fluke. With games against three ranked teams to round out the season, Arizona could also find itself a playoff contender with the right breaks. And lastly, this game could feature the Heisman winner (Marcus Mariota) vs. the national defensive player of the year (Scooby Wright).
Vegas says: Oregon by 13 1/2
Iowa State at TCU
When and where: Saturday, noon, ABC
We’re watching because... stranger things have happened, but not many. This Iowa State team isn’t the same as the one that spoiled Oklahoma State’s bid at a national title game. The Cyclones are winless in the Big 12, but we’re still keeping one eye on TCU in its finale.
Vegas says: TCU by 33
Louisiana Tech at Marshall
Conference USA championship
When and where: Saturday, noon, ESPN2
We’re watching because... these two teams combined to score 142 points last week. Also, we haven’t taken the time to properly acknowledge the wild season Louisiana Tech has had. Second-year coach Skip Holtz has turned Louisiana Tech from 4-8 to 8-4 with a C-USA West division title yet still found time to lose to Northwestern State and Old Dominion.
Vegas says: Marshall by 12 1/2
Alabama vs. Missouri
SEC championship in Atlanta
When and where: Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... Missouri won’t be a pushover as Alabama tries to seal the No. 1 seed in the playoff. The Tigers pulled away from Texas A&M and Tennessee in the second half and then located their run game just in time to defeat the hottest team in the SEC in Arkansas last week. Worth noting: Missouri leads the SEC in sacks while Alabama allows the fewest sacks in the league thanks in part to Blake Sims’ ability to move around.
Vegas says: Alabama by 14
Kansas State at Baylor
When and where: Saturday, 7:45 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... Baylor is looking for one last statement to get into the playoff. While most of the playoff contenders are simply looking to hold serve, Baylor has a chance to push its way past TCU and into the top four against a top 15 Kansas State team. The Bears will be watching Bryce Petty closely after their start quarterback sustained a “mild concussion” against Texas Tech. Baylor’s defense may be just as much of a concern after giving up four long touchdown drives in the final 16:38 against the Red Raiders.
Vegas says: Baylor by 8 1/2
Florida State vs. Georgia Tech
ACC championship in Charlotte
When and where: Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... Georgia Tech may be the team best-suited to capitalize on Florida State’s uneven play this season. The Seminoles have been pedestrian against the run this season (seventh in the ACC in yards per play) and now prepare for the Georgia Tech option. Jameis Winston has thrown 17 interceptions this season, and now he’ll face a team that is second only to Louisville in the ACC in picks. And if Florida State needs to make yet another second-half comeback, Georgia Tech may be able to limit possessions. The Yellow Jackets are allowing the fifth-fewest plays per game this season (63.6).
Vegas says: Florida State by 3 1/2
Wisconsin vs. Ohio State
Big Ten championship in Indianapolis
When and where: Saturday, 8:17 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... the season-ending injury to quarterback J.T. Barrett has made Ohio State the mystery team in the playoff conversation. If Ohio State beats Wisconsin to win the Big Ten, will the selection committee give the Buckeyes a vote of confidence? Suffice to say, much of Ohio State’s outlook depends on new starting quarterback Cardale Jones. Issue No. 1 for Ohio State, though, is containing Melvin Gordon.
Vegas says: Wisconsin by 4
Fresno State at Boise State
Mountain West championship
When and where: Saturday, 10 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... Boise State is likely one win away from playing in a major bowl game. The Broncos are 10-2, but this is hardly the same Boise State team that challenged for BCS games. Consider this: Two top-10 Boise State teams played in the MAACO Bowl and this unranked, two-loss Broncos team may end up in the Fiesta Bowl if it can dispatch a 6-6 Fresno State team.
Vegas says: Boise State by 19 1/2
College basketball coaches often shrug at the way conference realignment has relegated their sport to an afterthought, but it’s had at least one benefit to the game.
The ACC-Big Ten Challenge already was one of the most interesting events of the basketball year. Now it’s even better.
Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame joined on the ACC side a year ago. Louisville is in this season for the ACC. Maryland has moved over to the Big Ten at the same time Nebraska has become surprisingly relevant on the national stage.
The result is a slew of important on-campus non-conference games this week, a welcome sight after watching Thanksgiving tournaments in empty gyms or hotel ballrooms.
Yet the most important game of the bunch though comes from charter members of each league when Duke faces Wisconsin in Madison in a game that could end up a Final Four or national title rematch.
Michigan State at Notre Dame
7:15 p.m., ESPN2
Michigan State needs more from veteran Branden Dawson, who hasn’t scored in double figures since a Nov. 21 win over Loyola (Ill.). He’s shooting 7-of-22 from the field in his last three games. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is getting exactly what it needs in the return of Jerian Grant. The senior guard has picked up where he left off in last year’s shortened season. Grant is averaging 18.7 points and seven rebounds while shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor.
Virginia Tech at Penn State
7:15 p.m., ESPN2
Buzz Williams is learning just how much of a challenge he has in turning around Virginia Tech, which has already dropped games to Appalachian State and Northern Iowa. The Hokies will have a challenge in stopping Penn State guard D.J. Newbill, who has averaged 28 points in his last five games.
Iowa at North Carolina
7:30 p.m., ESPN
The Tar Heels and Hawkeyes have two of the more challenging non-conference schedules in the country. Iowa has already dropped games to Texas and Syracuse at Madison Square Garden (and faces Iowa State on Dec. 12). North Carolina bounced back from a loss to Butler in the Battle 4 Atlantis to beat UCLA and Florida (the Heels will visit Kentucky and face Ohio State on a neutral court before Christmas). North Carolina’s Marcus Paige will try to bounce back from a 8-of-24 performance from 3-point range in the converted ballroom down in Atlantis. This game, though, could be a battle of the bigs between Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson of North Carolin and Adam Woodbury, Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff of Iowa.
Virginia at Maryland
9:15 p.m., ESPN2
Maryland is off to a 6-0 start, including a win over Iowa State, in a critical year for coach Mark Turgeon. Virginia, though, is as stifling on the defensive end as ever. The Cavaliers are allowing 43.6 points per game and haven’t allowed more than 56 in a game all year. And, yes, we are less than nine months removed from Maryland’s last game against Virginia, the Terrapins’ final game as a member of the ACC.
Georgia Tech at Northwestern
9:15 p.m., ESPNU
Both teams figure to be bottom feeders in their respective conferences. This game won’t do much to counter that opinion.
Duke at Wisconsin
9:30 p.m., ESPN
The headline game of the challenge is a top-four matchup between two teams with national championship aspirations. Duke has been great so far this season, but the young Blue Devils will have a major test against a Final Four-tested Badgers team that can match them at each position. One of the key matchups will be between the two All-America centers in Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky. Both have contrasting styles, Okafor with his post game and Kaminksy with his outside shooting. Also keep an eye on wing Justise Winslow, who has in some ways matched Okafor’s start to the season, against Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker.
Athlon Staff Picks
|Game||David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Nathan Rush|
|Nebraska at Florida State||Nebraska||Florida State||Nebraska||Florida State|
|Rutgers at Clemson||Clemson||Clemson||Clemson||Rutgers|
|Pittsburgh at Indiana||Pitt||Pitt||Pitt||Pitt|
|Minnesota at Wake Forest||Minnesota||Minnesota||Minnesota||Minnesota|
|Syracuse at Michigan||Michigan||Michigan||Michigan||Michigan|
|Illinois at Miami||Miami||Miami||Miami||Miami|
|NC State at Purdue||NC State||Purdue||Purdue||NC State|
|Ohio State at Louisville||Louisville||Ohio State||Louisville||Louisville|
|Michigan State at Notre Dame||Notre Dame||Michigan State||Michigan State||Michigan State|
|Virginia Tech at Penn State||Penn State||Penn State||Penn State||Penn State|
|Iowa at North Carolina||North Carolina||North Carolina||North Carolina||North Carolina|
|Virginia at Maryland||Virginia||Virginia||Virginia||Virginia|
|Georgia Tech at Northwestern||Northwestern||Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech||Northwestern|
|Duke at Wisconsin||Wisconsin||Wisconsin||Wisconsin||Duke|
|Final tally||ACC 9-5||Tie 7-7||Tie 7-7||ACC 8-6|
One rivalry will determine a piece of the Big Ten championship, and unless you’ve been living under a rock this season, you know it’s not the usual game.
Michigan-Ohio State is the undercard in the Big Ten this week to Minnesota and Wisconsin. The longest-lived rivalry in major college football has been for the Slab of Bacon and Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but for the first time it’s for a trip to the Big Ten title game.
For all of the rivalry’s longevity, the two teams have been both ranked at kickoff only twice since 1962, the last time the rivalry was played with both teams in Big Ten championship contention.
It’s the most important game in the Big Ten this week — and not just for the Big Ten, TCU is pulling for the Gophers, too — but it’s not the only one with major implications.
Ohio State still has a playoff spot it would like to claim. Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern are all looking to be bowl eligible. And Nebraska and Iowa are looking for a win that will keep fans of their coaches’ backs.
Week 14 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Big Ten Week 14 Game Power Rankings
All times Eastern
1. Minnesota at Wisconsin
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
The contest for Paul Bunyan’s Axe has rarely been this important on the Big Ten stage. The winner will claim the Big Ten West and face Ohio State in the conference title game, making this the most important Minnesota-Wisconsin game since 1962. That season, both teams were ranked in the top five, and Wisconsin claimed the Big Ten title with a 14-9 win in the season finale. In this year’s meeting, what should be a showdown of two great running backs has diminished a bit. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is coming off a 200-yard game against Iowa, tying him with Badgers great Ron Dayne for the Big Ten single-season record last week. Gordon is 519 yards short of Barry Sanders’ national record from 1988. On the other side, though, Minnesota running back David Cobb is “very questionable,” coach Jerry Kill says. Cobb has rushed for 1,430 yards and 12 touchdowns this season in Minnesota’s tricky ground game. Quarterback Mitch Leidner rushed for 110 yards while passing for 135 to fill some of the void left by Cobb late in last week’s win over Nebraska.
2. Michigan at Ohio State
Saturday, noon, ABC
That Virginia Tech loss in Week 2 continues to be an anchor for Ohio State’s playoff hopes even though the Buckeyes were ranked sixth in the most recent release from the selection committee. The Buckeyes haven’t helped their case, either, in the last two games. Ohio State allowed Minnesota to rush for 218 yards and Indiana to run for 281, plus three touchdowns apiece. Both the Gophers and Hoosiers have effective running games, but the production (6.2 yards allowed per carry) is cause for concern. The Buckeyes have also turned the ball over eight times in the last three games, finishing on the wrong side of the turnover margin in each game. Michigan is a wounded team, but the Wolverines have been effective on the ground in the last three games (207.7 yards per game, 5.4 yards per carry). The Wolverines have high stakes in this game, too. A loss means no postseason for Michigan. The same program that reached a bowl game every year from 1975-2007 (and would have made more in the 70s if not for Big Ten rules) is in danger of missing the postseason for the third time in seven seasons.
3. Michigan State at Penn State
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
Michigan State’s Big Ten and playoff hopes evaporated several weeks ago, but the Spartans still have plenty of goals for the final game of the regular season. A spot in a major New Year’s Bowl (the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange or Peach) remains at stake as well as a fourth 10-win season in the last five years. Penn State is still looking to clinch a winning season after missing an opportunity against Illinois in a 16-14 loss last week. The Nittany Lions’ offensive line has been able to patch together a run game during the last three weeks, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg is still running for his life. This week, he’ll face a Michigan State defense that is tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks. Also of note: Spartans senior Tony Lippett is slated to be Michigan State’s first two-way starter since 1968 when he opens the game at receiver and cornerback.
4. Nebraska at Iowa
Friday, noon, ABC
The enthusiasm game for this game probably isn’t very high. Nebraska’s deflating loss to Minnesota last week puts the Cornhuskers a game away from Bo Pelini’s traditional four losses. A season that started 8-1 for Nebraska is in danger of ending on a three-game losing streak before the bowl game. Iowa’s season has been even more of a letdown with three losses in the last five games. What the future holds for either of these coaches — Pelini and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz — isn’t clear, but certainly one fanbase will be howling by Friday afternoon. On the field, though, this game will feature one intriguing matchup in the trenches between Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory and Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. NFL scouts will be closely attuned to that pairing.
5. Illinois at Northwestern
Saturday, noon, ESPNU
This seemed unthinkable at one point this season, but the winner of this game goes to a bowl game. Illinois stole wins over Penn State and Minnesota to put the Illini into bowl contention. Northwestern defeated Wisconsin on Oct. 4 and defeated Notre Dame in double overtime two weeks ago. The Wildcats, though, might be in dire straits as quarterback Trevor Siemian left last week’s game against Purdue with a torn ACL. Junior Zach Oliver will start against Illinois, but freshman Matt Alviti is expected to play, too.
6. Rutgers at Maryland
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
This isn’t a good game in a weekend of great games, but let’s stop to note that both of the Big Ten newcomers are enjoying successful seasons. Both are bowl eligible. Maryland (7-4) is 5-1 on the road and scored Big Ten wins over Iowa, Penn State and Michigan. Rutgers has been outclassed by the better Big Ten teams it has faced this season, but the Scarlet Knights are at least bowl eligible. Both teams will enjoy at least one beneficial matchup: Maryland and Rutgers are among the worst teams in the league in both sides of the run game.
7. Purdue at Indiana
Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network
The Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket will have to take the place for a bowl game for Purdue and Indiana ... again. Purdue will look to get its offense back on track. The Boilermakers looked like they had their quarterback of the future in Austin Appleby back in early October, but he’s throw six interception in his last four games. On the other sideline, Indiana running back Tevin Coleman is putting the finishing touches of a fantastic season — one that could be his last with the Hoosiers. Coleman is 94 yards of 2,000. If he’s able to hit that threshold, it will mark only the third time a conference has had two 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. UCF’s Kevin Smith and Tulane’s Matt Forte did it Conference USA in 2007. Iowa State’s Troy Davis and Texas Tech’s Byron Harnspard did it in the Big 12 in 1996.
Big Ten Week 14 Athlon Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Nebraska at Iowa (-1)||Iowa 24-21||Neb 30-27||Iowa 27-24||Iowa 24-20|
|Illinois at Northwestern (-8)||Ill. 21-14||NW 30-21||NW 27-20||NW 17-14|
|Purdue at Indiana (-2 1/2)||Purdue 34-31||IU 34-31||IU 34-31||IU 34-30|
|Michigan at Ohio State (-20)||OSU 42-21||OSU 27-14||OSU 38-17||OSU 34-20|
|Michigan St (-13 1/2) at Penn St||MSU 21-14||MSU 34-3||MSU 27-10||MSU 20-10|
|Minnesota at Wisconsin (-13 1/2)||Wisc 31-14||Wisc 40-27||Wisc 30-20||Wisc 30-15|
|Rutgers at Maryland (-8 1/2)||Md 31-13||Md 34-27||Md 34-17||Md 27-13|
The early season basketball tournaments have in some ways become bowl season.
There are the — let’s say — lower profile events with obscure teams and sparse crowds.
The Battle 4 Atlantis, though, has risen to the Orange Bowl or Fiesta Bowl of the non-conference basketball season.
Louisville, Duke and Memphis played here two years ago, Kansas, Villanova and Iowa a year ago.
This season’s even includes four teams ranked in this week’s Associated Press top 25 — No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 5 North Carolina, No. 18 Florida and No. 22 UCLA — plus Big East power Georgetown and Big 12 contender Oklahoma.
Those top five teams can solidify their bona fides while the other teams in the field can start to make moves into the national picture.
Wednesday’s First Round Games
All times Eastern
Butler vs. North Carolina (noon, ESPN2)
UCLA vs. Oklahoma (2:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Wisconsin vs. UAB (7 p.m., AXStv)
Florida vs. Georgetown (9:30 p.m., AXStv)
Championship Game: Friday, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Best potential game: Wisconsin vs. North Carolina in the final
The Badgers and Tar Heels opened the season in the Athlon top 10 and have done nothing to damage those projections through the first weeks of the season. The game could feature a handful of All-America candidates, including Marcus Paige, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker.
Player to watch: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Paige isn’t off to a blistering start (12 points per game), but North Carolina has hardly needed him to be an All-American in the first three games of the season. That changes as North Carolina advances through Atlantis. The second round brings a matchup against Oklahoma or UCLA and then probably Wisconsin, Florida or Georgetown.
Freshman to watch: Kevon Looney, UCLA
Atlantis features a handful of veteran teams or at least team’s that aren’t expecting freshmen to be the primary contributors. One of the exceptions is UCLA with five-star prospect Kevon Looney, who is averaging 14.8 points and 12 rebounds per game.
Breakout player: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Wisconsin lost one major contributor to last year’s team in Ben Brust. Filling the spot is sophomore forward Nigel Hayes, an outstanding athlete who is averaging nearly a double-double per game.
Storylines to watch
The Badgers are playing like a team that returns nearly every player from a Final Four squad. In fact, they’re playing better than last year’s squad. Frank Kaminsky is playing better than he did a year ago, raising his shooting percentage by more than 10 points while taking more shots from the outside. Sam Dekker is also a more efficient player than he was last season, and Nigel Hayes is amid a breakout campaign.
North Carolina’s post presence
The Tar Heels may have a breakout frontcourt this season with the performance of sophomore Kennedy Meeks, junior Brice Johnson and freshman Justin Jackson. Together, they’ve averaged 44 points per game through the first three.
Florida, Oklahoma try to bounce back
Florida and Oklahoma both had hopes of challenging Kentucky and Kansas in their respective conferences, but neither team looks anything like a conference contender. Florida lost at home to Miami and needed overtime to beat ULM. Oklahoma led Creighton by 18 in the second half only to lose 65-63 to a team rebuilding with Bluejays. Avoiding the losers’ bracket would be signs of progress.
Where does UCLA stand?
Arizona is the prohibitive favorite in the Pac-12. UCLA would have trouble challenging the Wildcats even in a best-case scenario this season, but the Bruins still have a shot to be No. 2 in the conference. Matchups against Oklahoma and potentially North Carolina, both contenders in their respective conferences, will be a good gauge of UCLA’s ceiling right now.
Butler’s coaching situation
Brandon Miller remains on medical leave due to an undisclosed issue, and the prospects of his return don’t appear optimistic. Under federal law, Miller can take 12 weeks of leave, but that will expire near the end of December. For now, Chris Holtmann is leading the program in place of the coach hired to replace Brad Stevens two years ago.
Battle 4 Atlantis Staff Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light|
|Prediction||Wisconsin over North Carolina||North Carolina over Wisconsin||Wisconsin over UCLA|
|Player to Watch||Buddy Hield, Oklahoma||Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina||Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin|
One of the great Thanksgiving traditions is snickering at who is playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions.
The list of Lions quarterbacks starting on Thanksgiving is a list of draft busts, journeymen, career backups and former stars whose best days had gone by.
Giggling at Lions quarterbacks on Thanksgiving, though, is getting tougher. Thank you, Matthew Stafford.
To fill that void is our (somewhat arbitrary) ranking of the quarterbacks who have started on Thanksgiving for the Lions since the NFL merger (1970).
To be clear, we’re looking at their entire career, not just their starts on Thanksgiving nor their tenures with the Lions. You’re welcome, Daunte Culpepper.
1. Matthew Stafford (2009, 2011-13)
Stafford has made the most starts for the Lions on Thanksgiving since Joey Harrington and delivered the first win in a decade with a 40-10 win over the Packers last season. Give the Lions' all-time leading passer a keg (to carry).
2. Dave Krieg (1994)
The longtime Seahawks quarterback made one Thanksgiving start for Detroit, and it was one of the Lions’ best. Subbing for Scott Mitchell, Krieg went 20-of-25 for 351 yards with three touchdowns in a win over the Bills. By then, Kreig was a 36-year-old QB with three Pro Bowl selections and an NFC Championship Game behind him.
3. Daunte Culpepper (2008)
Remember the Culpepper era in Detroit? We didn’t, either. From 2000-04, Culpepper was a rival to Peyton Manning. After that? Not so much. By 2008, the three-time Pro Bowler made five starts during the Lions’ winless season in 2008. Culpepper was 0-10 as a starter in two seasons for the Lions.
4. Jon Kitna (2006-07)
Kitna entered the league in 1997, and he was still on an NFL roster at age 41 in 2013. The Cowboys signed him away from being a high school math teacher and coach at Lincoln High in Tacoma, Wash. — during winter break, of course. Kitna then donated his $53,000 Cowboys salary to the high school. Oh, and he started on Thanksgiving for both the Lions and Cowboys during his career. You’re a cool teacher, Mr. Kitna.
5. Joe Ferguson (1986)
Ferguson made five career starts for the Lions in his mid-30s, well after he played for the Bills from 1973-84. He led the league in passing in 1977 and touchdowns in '75 and pulled the Bills out of the doldrums. But he also had a knack for throwing interceptions in the playoffs and also during the 1982 regular season when he threw 16 picks.
6. Scott Mitchell (1995-97)
Mitchell enjoyed his best season in 1995 with 4,338 yards and 32 touchdowns, including a win over Minnesota on Thanksgiving. He started three full seasons for Detroit and hung around the NFL for five more years until 2001. He resurfaced as a 366-pound contestant on "The Biggest Loser" in 2014.
7. Greg Landry (1970-72, 1974, 1976-77)
Landry spent 10 seasons with the Lions, only four as their primary quarterback. After spending 1968-84 in the NFL, he was an assistant in the pros and in college until 1986. Bet you didn’t know there’s a National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, and Landry’s in it. Now you know.
8. Erik Kramer (1991-92)
He started 15 games in three seasons for the Lions, including twice on Thanksgiving and three times in the playoffs. He didn’t become a full-time starter until age 31 for the Bears.
9. Gus Frerotte (1999)
The journeyman Frerotte is one of 14 quarterbacks to throw a 99-yard pass. In that way, he’s just like Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Jim Plunkett and Otto Graham.
10. Rodney Peete (1993)
Peete bounced around the league as a backup for most of his 15 seasons. He finished with a 45-42 career record, which for this list is pretty good.
11. Eric Hipple (1981-83, 1985)
Hipple played his entire career for the Lions, going 3-1 on Thanksgiving and 25-29 otherwise.
12. Gary Danielson (1978, 1980, 1984)
The CBS college football commentator started three non-consecutive Thanksgivings for the Lions and had a couple of nice seasons in 1978-80.
13. Bill Munson (1973)
Munson played for the Lions from 1968-75, started 48 games and yet only one of them came on Thanksgiving. In his first two seasons in the NFL in 1964-65 for the Rams, Munson threw 29 total interceptions. A decade later, he led three game-winning drives for the Lions in 1974 alone.
14. Charlie Batch (1998, 2000-01)
We could have sworn Charlie Batch was still a backup somewhere. He’s not.
15. Joey Harrington (2002-05)
Harrington started four Thanksgiving games for the Lions. He finished two of them. He’s on TV now.
16. Bob Gagliano (1989-90)
For Detroit in two years: 11 starts, 16 touchdown passes. For three other NFL teams in five years: Two starts and one touchdown pass Also played two years in the USFL.
17. Shaun Hill (2010)
Hill started one season while Stafford was hurt, threw 12 interceptions, including two against the Patriots on Thanksgiving.
18. Chuck Long (1987-88)
He started twice on Thanksgiving and went a combined 8-of-20. His 2.8 passer rating in 1988 is the worst for any Lions QB on Thanksgiving since 1970. Led the NFL with 20 interceptions in 1987.
19. Joe Reed (1975)
Enjoyed one extended look as a starter in 1975 and threw nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
20. Jeff Komlo (1979)
A ninth-round pick, Komlo threw 23 interceptions and went 2-12 in his lone season as a starter in the NFL as a rookie. His story didn’t end well.
If the weekly exercise of explaining the College Football Playoff rankings has taught us anything, it’s that coming up with perfect answers is impossible.
A week after “game control” became the talking point of the week, selection committee chair Jeff Long indicated previous rankings remain in the back of the minds of the committee members’ minds even on Nov. 25.
That’s partly why Mississippi State remains at No. 4 and in the playoff with only one win against a team in the current top 25.
The Bulldogs have wins over three teams that were at some point in the playoff rankings that started since Week 10 — Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M. Only No. 15 Auburn remains and that’s a long way from the top three where the Tigers started.
“It’s just something the committee discusses,” Long said. “We know if we team was ranked 14-15-16 and teams play differently at different parts of the year. A team that may have been playing very well early in the season whether through injuries or level of competition, they’re not playing as well (now).
“It’s not a criteria but we certainly discuss or know when a team was previously ranked in the top 25.”
Long clarified he means the playoff’s top 25 and not the polls, but the distinction may be lost on fans who want to know why those games and rankings still count up to five weeks later.
Let’s attempt to translate just a bit: Teams previously ranked in the top 25 are probably in the top 30 or 40 now, even if the committee doesn’t go that deep into the rankings. The committee knows LSU is not Tulane. Texas A&M is not Texas State. And West Virginia is not Washington State.
In trying to explain something that already makes sense to the common fan, the weekly rankings release force the committee to dress up the movements in a way that seems smarter and more ironclad than it actually is.
So before you start sifting through old polls and top 25s, take a deep breath and wait until next week. Surely, we'll have somethign new to discuss then.
Here’s how the most recent top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Nov. 25|
|1. Alabama||10. Michigan State||18. Minnesota|
|2. Oregon||11. Arizona||19. Ole Miss|
|3. Florida State||12. Kansas State||20. Oklahoma|
|4. Mississippi State||13. Arizona State||21. Clemson|
|5. TCU||14. Wisconsin||22. Louisville|
|6. Ohio State||15. Auburn||23. Boise State|
|7. Baylor||16. Georgia Tech||24. Marshall|
|8. UCLA||17. Missouri||25. Utah|
The Group of Five makes an appearance
Boise State and Marshall are your official leaders for a spot in the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange or Peach bowls. Boise State (9-2) checked in at No. 23, and Marshall (11-0) at No. 24. Those rankings carry important distinctions: First, Boise State is head of Mountain West foe Colorado State. Boise defeated Colorado State 37-24 in Week 2, but the Rams have two wins over Power 5 teams (Colorado on a neutral field and Boston College on the road). Marshall is one of two undefeated teams, but the Thundering Herd have the 136th-ranked schedule in the Sagarin ratings.
Rivalry games will be noted
This will be of note this week: Long said the unexpected nature of rivalry games may be a topic among the committee. “We certainly discuss if it’s a rivalry game, and we do know that (there are) a number of unanticipated outcomes in rivalry games,” Long said. That may be good news for teams like Ohio State and Florida State that face rivals that they should defeat comfortably on paper.
Division on Florida State
Is Florida State a good team because it finds a way to win each week or should the Seminoles be downgraded for letting lesser teams hang around? The committee is as divided as anyone. “There are some who believe a team coming from behind and winning is a sign of a strong team,” Long said. “There are others who believe that they are a good enough team and they should have been in front or in control of the game. It’s a debate in the room.”
The committee was down to 11
Archie Manning hasn’t participated all year as he recovered from knee replacement surgery, but the committee was down a second member in Mike Tranghese. The former Big East commissioner was ill but is expected back next week.
Who Should Worry:
The Horned Frogs still have a nice ace in the hole when it comes to its non-conference schedule compared to Mississippi State, Baylor and Ohio State. The Frogs defeated No. 18 Minnesota 30-7 in September when the Bulldogs and Bears were playing lackluster non-conference schedules and the Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech. TCU has a road game Thursday against an improving Texas, but Baylor (No. 12 Kansas State), Mississippi State (No. 19 Ole Miss) and Ohio State (either No. 14 Wisconsin or No. 18 Minnesota) all finish their seasons with tougher games. TCU is already out of the top four with few ways to make up ground without help.
The Thundering Herd entered the top 25, but Marshall shouldn’t get too excited. Marshall is behind Boise, a team Long said was ahead because its strength of schedule is “far and away” better. If both continue to win, that leaves little room even for an undefeated Marshall to move up. The Herd face Western Kentucky (6-5) and either Louisiana Tech and Rice (7-4) in the league title game. Even if Boise State loses to Utah State (9-3) and falls out of Mountain West contention, one-loss Colorado State would swoop in for the MWC championship game.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:
The Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech may not be as damming as we think. The Hokies are 5-6 after a 6-3 double-overtime loss to Wake Forest on Saturday and haven’t come close to duplicating their high-water mark of defeating Ohio State 35-21 in Columbus in Week 2. In response to a question about losses to teams whose stature as fallen regarding Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss and Ohio State’s loss to Virginia Tech, Long said: “We certainly talk about bad losses, but I’m not sure I would agree with the ones you listed there.”
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 5 TCU vs. No. 11 Arizona
Fiesta: No. 23 Boise State* vs. No. 6 Ohio State
Orange: No. 16 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 10 Michigan State
Peach: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Georgia
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
Thanksgiving is a great time to get gorged on turkey, pie and college football rivalry games.
The traditional fare of the Iron Bowl, Florida-Florida State and Ohio State-Michigan is worth watching, but this week is also time for some surprising traditional and non-traditional matchups.
Even if the Egg Bowl isn’t the SEC West play-in game that seemed a possibility a month ago, Mississippi State-Ole Miss features a team hoping to play for a national title.
Wisconsin-Minnesota is a long-lived traditional rivalry that has rarely packed so much meaning with the Big Ten West title and perhaps a Heisman Trophy on the line.
And even though Missouri and Texas aren’t playing their traditional rivals this week, their matchups with Arkansas and TCU, respectively, are loaded with significance on the national and conference championship stage.
The Week Ahead: Nov. 25-27
All Times Eastern.
Listen to the Week 13 recap and analysis podcast:
TCU at Texas
When and where: Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... we miss Texas-Texas A&M as much as anyone, but this is still a darn good game. This is TCU’s last chance to make a statement to the playoff selection committee, and the Horned Frogs will have to do it on offense. Texas is only 6-5, but the Longhorns have had the best defense in the Big 12 since conference play began.
Vegas says: TCU by 6 1/2
Arkansas at Missouri
When and where: Friday, 2:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this is perhaps the most unlikely game playing a role in the SEC championship. Missouri lost at home to Indiana and to Georgia by 34 but can clinch the East with a win over the Hogs. Missouri can win the SEC East for the second consecutive season but has to go through the hottest team in the league to do it. Arkansas has ended a 17-game SEC win streak by outscoring LSU and Ole Miss 47-0.
Vegas says: Arkansas by 1 1/2
Arizona at Arizona State
When and where: Friday, 3:30 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... few games have more potential for a bonkers finish. Both teams have won on Hail Marys this season — Arizona over Cal and Arizona State over USC — not to mention the regular late-night craziness that follows Pac-12 teams. Fans will be doing their share of scoreboard watching, too. If UCLA loses to Stanford, the winner of the Territorial Cup wins the Pac-12 South outright. One question will be the status of Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon, who left the win over Utah on Saturday with a right foot injury.
Vegas says: Pick ‘em
Stanford at UCLA
When and where: Friday, 3:30 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... UCLA still has the Pac-12 South, a Pac-12 title and potentially a playoff spot on the line against a team that has the Bruins’ number. This is not the Stanford team we’re used to seeing, but the Bruins have reason to be worried even against a below-average Cardinal team. Stanford has won the last six in the series, four by two touchdowns or more.
Vegas says: UCLA by 4 1/2
Michigan at Ohio State
When and where: Saturday, noon, ABC/ESPN
We’re watching because... Ohio State may be primed for an upset. The Buckeyes let Indiana hang around for three quarters last week and has had a negative turnover margin for three consecutive games. Is that a case of looking ahead to Michigan or a real reason for Urban Meyer to worry? A year ago, another lackluster Michigan team challenged a then-undefeated Ohio State in a 42-41 loss.
Vegas says: Ohio State by 20
Georgia Tech at Georgia
When and where: Saturday, noon, SEC Network
We’re watching because... this game may mean everything to Georgia or nothing. The Bulldogs will know Friday afternoon if they’re going to the SEC Championship Game. An Arkansas win keeps Georgia in playoff contention. A Missouri win, and Georgia can start planning for a bowl. Georgia Tech has its division title wrapped up, but the Yellow Jackets have plenty of motivation after winning just one meeting in the series since 2001.
Vegas says: Georgia by 13
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this is an Egg Bowl with national significance, who knew? Ole Miss collapsed in last year’s Egg Bowl, a win that shifted the momentum for Dan Mullen’s program in 2014. The Bulldogs still have a chance at the SEC West if Alabama loses the Iron Bowl and may be a playoff contender even if they don’t reach Atlanta. Ole Miss, which has gone from No. 3 in the AP poll to 8-3, can ruin it all for Mississippi State.
Vegas says: Mississippi State by 2
Florida at Florida State
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... the last time a lame duck coach for Florida went to Tallahassee, the Gators spoiled a special day for Florida State. The Seminoles christened Bobby Bowden Field on Nov. 20, 2004 only to watch Florida players carry fired coach Ron Zook off of it after a 20-13 win over the 10th-ranked Seminoles.
Vegas says: Florida State by 7 1/2
Minnesota at Wisconsin
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
We’re watching because... the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe doesn’t usually figure into the Big Ten title race, and that’s pretty cool. Minnesota keeps plugging along and filling its trophy case — the Gophers already have the Floyd of Rosedale (Iowa) and Little Brown Jug (Michigan) this season and could add the Axe and a Big Ten West title. The coaches don’t need this advice, but just let us sit back and watch Melvin Gordon and David Cobb do their thing.
Vegas says: Wisconsin by 13 1/2
Auburn at Alabama
When and where: Saturday, 7:45 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... the last Iron Bowl ended like this.
Vegas says: Alabama by 9 1/2
Oregon at Oregon State
When and where: Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... one of the nation’s more underrated rivalries again factors in the national title race, if only for one team. The Civil War was once a balanced rivalry before Oregon began its current six-game win streak (two of those Oregon wins were decided by less than a touchdown, however). Oregon State has a losing record while Oregon is looking to stay in the title race. If that situation in a rivalry game doesn’t sound familiar, ask a West Virginia fan.
Vegas says: Oregon by 20
Winning in the Maui Invitational is generally a sign of good things to come.
The Maui Invitational was a kingmaker three times between 2005-11 as the eventual national champion also won in Maui. Last year’s winner, Syracuse, won Maui on the way to 25 consecutive wins to start the season.
National championship contender Arizona may be poised to make a similar run, using Maui as a springboard. At the very least, a team could emerge from Maui as arguably the top team in the West this season with the Pac-12 favorite (Arizona), Mountain West favorite (San Diego State) and No. 2 team in the West Coast Conference (BYU) all making appearances.
Monday’s First Round Games
All Times Eastern
Purdue vs. Kansas State (2:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Missouri vs. Arizona (5 p.m., ESPN2)
Pittsburgh vs. Chaminade (9 p.m., ESPNU)
BYU vs. San Diego State (11:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Championship Game: Wednesday, 10 p.m., ESPN
Best potential game: Arizona vs. San Diego State in the final
Arguably the top two teams out West could meet in the Maui Invitational championship game. San Diego State continues to rebuild year after year under Steve Fisher with Dwayne Polee, J.J. O’Brien and Winston Shepard growing into lead roles this season. Arizona has plenty of veterans, too, and a team that should contend for the Final Four.
Player to watch: Tyler Haws, BYU
Haws is the second-leading scorer returning in 2014-15 after averaging 23.2 points per game last season. He had his chances on the big stage early last season, scoring 31 points against Stanford, 20 against Iowa State, 25 against Texas and 17 against Wichita State.
Freshman to watch: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Another season and another star freshman at Arizona. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard Johnson steps into Aaron Gordon’s shoes with the Wildcats, but where Gordon was a defensive presence, Johnson is a diverse scoring threat. Arizona lacked an offensive lynchpin last season. That may change with Johnson.
Breakout player: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
Here’s an easy way to get noticed on a star-studded team: The sophomore Hollis-Jefferson dunked on UC Irvine’s Mamsdou N’Diaye, who is college basketball’s tallest player this season at 7-foot-6. Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 16 points per game this season after averaging 9.1 a year ago.
Storylines to watch:
We’ve seen what teams like Duke, Kentucky and Wisconsin can do against solid competition so far this season. This field won’t give Arizona a top-10 win — Wisconsin and North Carolina, for example, are playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis — but Arizona can start racking up wins against NCAA contenders Kansas State, San Diego State or Pittsburgh.
San Diego State’s defense vs. BYU’s Tyler Haws
The competition hasn’t been great, but San Diego State has been stifling on the defensive end this season so far. The Aztecs have allowed 44.7 points per game and 17.6 percent shooting from 3-point range. Steve Fisher has had a top-10 defensive team in two of the last three seasons, but BYU and Haws will be San Diego State’s first true test this season.
Signs of life for Pittsburgh and Kansas State
The long trip to Hawaii is not off to a great start for Pittsburgh. The Panthers lost 74-70 to Hawaii on Friday, only a week after announcing forward Durand Johnson would be suspended for the season. Johnson suffered a torn ACL last season but averaged 8.8 points in 19.8 minutes per game through the first 16 games. Kansas State is faring better but not by much. The Wildcats lost 69-60 at Long Beach State on Friday before heading to Maui. These are teams with NCAA Tournament potential that have already picked up bad losses before Thanksgiving.
Athlon Staff Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light|
|Prediction||Arizona over San Diego State||Arizona over San Diego State||Arizona over San Diego State|
|Player to Watch||Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona||Stanley Johnson, Arizona||Stanley Johnson, Arizona|
The selection committee made clear at least one point Tuesday: Winning a game isn’t always enough.
How a team wins or — in the words committee chair Jeff Long — how a team controls the game is just as important.
However the committee wants to explain its weekly rankings, Ohio State should be concerned with one word: Doubt.
Ohio State defeated Indiana 42-27 and led by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but the game wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the final score indicates.
Only a week after a 31-24 win over Minnesota, Ohio State spent three quarters tussling with a team that hadn’t won a Big Ten game. Perhaps the best news of the day for Ohio State occurred in Lincoln as Minnesota remaind in the Big Ten title hunt with a win over Nebraska. A road victory over Minnesota remains the second-best win of the season for Ohio State.
Back in Columbus, though, Indiana had scored 20 consecutive points for a six-point lead before freshman Jalin Marshall returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
Ohio State regrouped to overwhelm Indiana in the fourth quarter, but not until after giving the selection committee reason to second guess the Buckeyes. And even though Ohio State moved up to No. 6 last week, the Buckeyes surely don’t want to make the selection committee think too much.
In some ways, perhaps these two weeks should be a zero sum game. Ohio State did the same thing TCU did a week ago when the Horned Frogs let Kansas lead before claiming a 34-30 win. Ohio State’s sputtering performance against Indiana, a team that defeated a ranked Missouri team on the road this season, ended in a more lopsided victory.
But TCU, Baylor and any other one-loss team doesn’t have the albatross of a home loss to 5-6 Virginia Tech. The Hokies, by the way, lost 6-3 in double overtime to Wake Forest, a team that started Saturday ranked 149th in the Sagarin ratings.
While Ohio State has won five Big Ten games by at least 12 points, the Buckeyes aren’t making things easy. If the selection committee starts to see Ohio State’s first three quarters against Indiana as part of a trend, the Buckeyes may be in trouble.
And for that, there’s a fair amount of data: Ohio State has been on the negative side of the turnover margin in three consecutive games thanks to three giveaways against Indiana.
The run defense that gave up 178 yards to Michigan State and 218 to Minnesota gave up 281 to the Hoosiers.
Ohio State couldn’t control Tevin Coleman. The Buckeyes didn’t control the game. And, now, they may lose control of their momentum toward the playoff.
A running back setting himself apart from others in Wisconsin history takes a monumental feat.
The Badgers have the all-time leading rusher (Ron Dayne), career rushing touchdown leader (Montee Ball, who is also tied for the single-season record) and now the single-game rushing leader (Melvin Gordon).
Gordon’s 408 rushing yards against Nebraska last week, though, puts him in reach of the biggest prize for any running back, much less a Wisconsin running back — Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record.
Sanders rushed for 2,628 yards in 11 games in 1988 for Oklahoma State, a mark that’s been seriously challenged only once since then. UCF’s Kevin Smith came 61 yards short of tying Sanders in 2007.
To put Gordon’s season in perspective, only four running backs have come within 500 yards of Sanders’ record: Smith in 2007, Iowa State’s Troy Davis by 443 yards in 1986, Boston College’s Andre Williams by 451 yards last season, and TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson by 470 yards in 2000.
Before we delve deeper into Gordon’s shot at Sanders’ record, consider this: In 1988, the record for single-season passing in 1988 belonged to BYU’s Jim McMahon (4,571 yards in 1980). That mark has been exceeded 22 times since.
Back to Gordon: The Badgers running back sits at 1,909 rushing yards through 10 games and could play as many as 14 games if the Badgers clinch a trip to the Big Ten title game Saturday.
While Gordon won’t match Sanders’ mark of 238.9 rushing yards per game, he does have a chance to catch Sanders in a couple of other ways. And perhaps what’s most remarkable, Gordon could do it by rushing below his own season average.
Here’s a look at the records in Gordon’s sights in the final three or four games:
• Counting a Big Ten title game and a bowl, Gordon would need to rush for 720 yards in the final four games to pass Sanders. That’s an average of 180 yards per game. Gordon averages 190.9.
• Let’s say Wisconsin loses each of its last two games and misses the Big Ten title game. Gordon would need to average 240 yards in games against Minnesota and Iowa and in the bowl game. He’s exceeded that total three times this season.
• But if we’re going to say it's possible Gordon could average 240 yards in three games, what if those three games include the Big Ten title game? That would mean Gordon has a chance to break Sanders’ record before the bowl game — and before the Heisman voting. Since Ron Dayne in 1999, only two running backs have won the Heisman (Mark Ingram in 2009 and Reggie Bush in 2005).
• While Sanders’ rushing yards per game average is out of reach, Gordon can better Sanders in the per-play department. Sanders holds the record for backs with more than 280 carries with 7.64 yards per attempt. Gordon averages 8.56 yards per carry on 223 attempts. That would surpass Nebraska running back Mike Rozier’s record of 7.81 yards per carry for backs with at least 215 attempts.
• And as ESPN’s Brett Edgerton notes, Gordon could beat Sanders to the 2,000-yard mark.
If @Melvingordon25 can rush for his next 91 yards in fewer than 28 carries, he'll be the quickest ever to reach 2,000 yards.— Brett Edgerton (@EditorEdge) November 20, 2014
• So what about those Big Ten marks? Dayne holds the Big Ten record for single-season rushing with 2,109 yards in 1996. If Gordon’s season averages hold up, he’ll break that record sometime in the first half of the regular-season finale against Minnesota.
• Moreover, Gordon might have the Big Ten’s single-season rushing yards per game record all but wrapped up. Gordon, at 190.9 yards per game, is already well ahead of the record set by Michigan State’s Lorenzo White in 1985 (173.5).
One of the few places Scooby Wright will find his given name is on his high school diploma.
So ingrained is the nickname Scooby that when he was announced at his graduation ceremony at Cardinal Newman in Santa Rosa, Calif., many of his friends were taken aback to see him rise when “Phillip Wright III” was called to receive his diploma.
“And these were friends from fourth or fifth grade,” Wright told Athlon Sports.
Wright almost never goes by the name Phillip. Not even his parents — even when frustrated or trying to get his attention — use his full name.
He’s had his nickname since he was a baby when his father called his son his “little Scooby Doo.”
By season’s end, he’ll be the first Scooby to earn All-Pac-12 honors and perhaps other awards. Earlier this week, Wright was named a finalist for the Nagurski and Lombardi awards.
Wright ranks first nationally in tackles for a loss per game (2.2), third in sacks per game (1.2), fourth in tackles per game (11.8) and tied for first in forced fumbles (five).
With numbers like that, Wright may be on the verge of rare rise from recruiting obscurity to national prominence.
If Wright is a consensus All-American this season, he’ll be the sixth defensive freshman or sophomore since 2009 to earn that honor.
The others on the list are a who’s who of college and NFL stars: South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, Boston College’s Luke Kuechly and Texas’ Earl Thomas.
If Wright joins that group, he’ll complete a meteoric two-year rise. He wears the Scooby nickname with pride but also his recruiting rating. On Twitter, Wright is @TwoStarScoob.
Though he’ll be decorated at the end of his sophomore college season, Wright nearly finished his junior high school season without a scholarship offer. He participated in camps but received only the cursory two-star rating by the recruiting services.
“He kind of was baffled why he wasn’t being recruited more,” Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin said. “There was one coach who said, ‘Hey, go check out Sacramento State or check out UC Davis.’ Those are good schools, but it was an insult to him because he thought he was better than the guys they were recruiting.”
The longtime coach at Cardinal Newman, Cronin remembers Wright around the school for several years before he was a freshman. Wright’s father is the softball coach at Santa Rosa Junior College, and his sister, six years older, played college softball at Illinois.
Confidence was never an issue for Wright, as he promised as a freshman that he’d be a Division I linebacker.
That was tested, though, in his junior year. His classmates in other sports were starting to receive scholarship offers, but Wright was not among them.
Cardinal Newman was not a football hotbed, so recruiters weren’t in the area consistently. Before Wright, the last alum to play high school football at a high level was offensive lineman Al Netter, who went to Northwestern and now plays for the San Francisco 49ers.
Though he was a productive high school player, Wright didn’t exactly look the part. Cronin estimates Wright weighed about 195-205 pounds at the time. His recruiting profiles listed him at 6-1, 225 pounds. As a junior, he barely had a 30-inch vertical. By the time he was a senior, that improved to 38 inches.
His Arizona profile lists him now at 246 pounds.
“Everyone always questioned my athleticism,” Wright said. “(But) I went to the Nike training camp with supposedly the best guys in the West Coast. I went and competed with the best of them and stood out but never really heard anything back.”
Wright was so far removed from recruiting that when the first offer came, he was nowhere to be found. While Wright was “probably at the beach that day,” Cronin was the first to learn that Arizona stumbled upon his highlights and couldn’t let him slip away.
The first contact came at the end of his junior year when he spoke to then-Arizona assistant Tony Gibson, who is now defensive coordinator at West Virginia.
“The first time I talked to them was when coach Gibson said, ‘we’re going to offer you,’” Wright said.
The scholarship offer wasn’t without risk, though. As happens in recruiting, secrets don’t stay secret for long. Once reports of an Arizona offer hit recruiting news sites, other schools might have taken a closer look — and not just Sacramento State and UC Davis.
“I thought this guy looks like a really good player,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “We thought, if we offer him, it’s going to bring attention to him and we’re going to have to fight a bunch of folks.”
Other schools started to pay attention, but Arizona made sure Wright didn’t feel forgotten. And Wright didn’t forget that out of the hundreds of highlights he sent, Arizona was one of the few to respond and the only one that didn’t hedge.
“Other schools said we’ll get back to you or send us film from your senior year,” Wright said. “But there was none of that with Arizona. They said we’re going to offer you now. We want you.”
The flyer on Wright paid quick dividends for Arizona. He started as freshman, picking up 83 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss and earning Athlon Sports second-team Freshman All-America honors.
If any school wishes it would have pounced on Wright early, it’s probably Oregon. Anything that would have kept Wright out of an Arizona uniform.
In Oregon’s two losses to Arizona in the last two seasons, Wright has been the pivotal player. Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota has been one of the most sure-handed quarterbacks in the country the last two seasons, but Wright has plucked two turnovers in two seasons from the Heisman contender.
Last season, Wright intercepted a Mariota pass, plucking the ball out of the air after teammate Shaq Richardson, falling out of bounds, deflected the ball to keep it in play. The first-quarter interception set the tone as Arizona upset the fifth-ranked Ducks 42-16.
In a Thursday night game on Oct. 2, Wright sacked Mariota, stripped the ball and recovered the fumble as Oregon drove down the field for the game-tying score. Arizona upset the No. 2 Ducks 31-24.
Wright, who two years earlier had gone ignored by colleges, couldn’t go to the student rec center the following Saturday without being noticed by other students.
“Once he got on campus, we found that he could handle a lot physically and mentally,” Rodriguez said. “He’s just a football player whether you put him at defensive end or linebacker. We could put him at fullback because he’s great there, too.”
The B storylines of the Big Ten are just starting to heat up.
The A storyline seems to be the same since the second week of the season: This is a league whose College Football Playoff hopes are continually hanging by the thread.
The other stories, though, may be more interesting. Chief among them Melvin Gordon’s chase for history, both as a realistic candidate to break Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record and a running back who could win the Heisman.
The other story is the November round robin to determine the Big Ten West. Ohio State should wrap up the East official this week against Indiana even if the Buckeyes’ division title seemed inevitable after a win over Michigan State on Nov. 8.
After the win over Nebraska last week, Wisconsin can clinch the West with a win over Iowa and a Minnesota loss, but the possibility remains that Wisconsin and Minnesota will face each other in the finale with the division on the line.
Week 13 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Big Ten Week 13 Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
1. Wisconsin at Iowa
3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
All eyes are on the Melvin Gordon show as the Wisconsin running back makes a run at the Heisman and Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record. Thanks to last week’s record-breaking 408-yard rushing effort, Gordon can pass Sanders even if he falls below his season average of 191 yards per game. Of course, that’s assuming Wisconsin reaches the Big Ten title game. The Badgers can clinch the West division with a win over Iowa and a Minnesota loss to Nebraska. Perhaps lost watching Gordon is the play of the Wisconsin defense. In the last four games, the Badgers have allowed 181 yards per game and three yards per play. Two opponents in that span (Rutgers and Nebraska) have passed for fewer than 100 yards and three (Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue) have rushed for fewer than 100 yards. Iowa will find out which version of its offense will show up — the balanced efforts against Northwestern and Illinois or the inept passing game against Minnesota.
Listen to the Week 13 preview podcast:
2. Minnesota at Nebraska
Nebraska is in an interesting spot. One week has unraveled many of the goals this season. This time last week, Nebraska still had a chance the Big Ten title game, and if the one-loss Cornhuskers could beat Wisconsin and potentially Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, Nebraska could at least make a case for the playoff. Melvin Gordon ended those plans in a 59-24 loss. The division is gone and probably a major bowl game. Nebraska hopes to have running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory, who were both injured during the course of the Wisconsin loss, back healthy this week. Even so, facing the run-oriented Gophers might not be a welcome sight after the Cornhuskers gave up 581 total rushing yards a week ago. Despite a loss to Ohio State, Minnesota has a chance to win the Big Ten West with a win in Lincoln setting up a winner-take-all game against Wisconsin next week.
3. Maryland at Michigan
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
For all the tumult this season, Michigan is still hoping for a bowl game. The Wolverines are 5-5 with a finale against Ohio State, meaning Michigan may need to win this one play in the postseason. Meanwhile, the problems continue for Brady Hoke, who may be coaching in his final home game in Ann Arbor. Defensive end Frank Clark, a player chosen in the preseason to represent Michigan at media day, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and was dismissed. Michigan will have to hope an off week and Maryland’s lackluster defense will put the Wolverines into a good position Saturday. Maryland, meanwhile, has been a better team away from College Park. The Terrapins are 4-1 on the road compared to 2-3 at home.
4. Indiana at Ohio State
Big Ten, Big Ten Network
Before Ohio State improved its stock to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday, Urban Meyer was already touting his team’s improvement from the Virginia Tech loss in Columbus to a team that has won back-to-back conference games over ranked teams on the road (Michigan State and Minnesota). “There’s no question this is the most improved team from Game 1 to Game 10 that I’ve ever been around,” Meyer said. That improvement has made the College Football Playoff a possibility and has made redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett a viable candidate to go to New York has a Heisman finalist. This week, Ohio State need only to flex its muscles like it can against Indiana. The Buckeyes need only look at TCU, which beat its conference bottom-feeder Kansas by 4, to learn that wins alone aren’t enough for the selection committee. Ohio State can clinch the Big Ten East with a win or a Michigan State loss.
5. Rutgers at Michigan State
Noon, Big Ten Network
With two games left against Rutgers and at Penn State, Michigan State is looking to secure a spot in a major bowl — i.e., the Cotton, Fiesta, Peach or Orange. Rutgers is a bowl team but has been outclasssed by the upper tier of the Big Ten, losing by a combined score of 135-41 to Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Most important for Michigan State is to get Connor Cook into a groove before he faces Penn State’s defense in the finale. Throw out a start against Indiana, and Cook is completing only 49.4 percent of his passes in October and November.
6. Penn State at Illinois
Penn State has corrected its course after a four-game losing streak and gained bowl eligibility thanks to back-to-back wins over Indiana and Temple. A win over Illinois would clinch not only a winning season for James Franklin in his first year at Penn State but also a winning regular season in all three years under NCAA sanctions (Penn State finishes the season at Michigan State). In the modeset two-game win streak, Penn State has enjoyed a revival of its run game. After failing to run for 100 yards in six of the first eight games, Penn State ran for 162 against Indiana and 254 against Temple. The Nittany Lions also didn’t allow a sack against the Owls. Time may be ticking on Illinois coach Tim Beckman, but his rosy evaluations of the season are true on one front: Illinois still has a shot at a bowl game. Illinois (4-6) finishes with Penn State and Northwestern but hasn’t won back-to-back Big Ten games since 2011.
7. Northwestern at Purdue
Northwestern will find out in a hurry how much the comeback win at Notre Dame helped turn the season. The Wildcats ended a four-game losing streak and scored only seven points fewer in a single game (43 points against Notre Dame) than they had in the previous four games combined (50). The upset in South Bend puts Northwestern (4-6) in bowl contention with its final two games against Purdue and Illinois. The Wildcats were an improved team against Notre Dame — Justin Jackson returned to form at running back, and Trevor Siemian passed for 284 yards and was sacked only twice. But Northwestern also got gifts from Notre Dame in the form of three second-half fumbles. Earlier in the season, Purdue started to look like a tougher out than the Boilermakers were a year ago, but Darrell Hazell’s team is exiting a brutal stretch of losses against Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Week 13 Big Ten Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Northwestern (-1.5) at Purdue
|NW 31-21||NW 14-13||NW 27-24||NW 34-20|
Penn State at Illinois (-6.5)
|PSU 24-14||PSU 24-21||PSU 27-20||PSU 20-10|
Indiana at Ohio State (-34.5)
|OSU 49-17||OSU 49-13||OSU 45-13||OSU 41-10|
Minnesota at Nebraska (-10.5)
|Neb 24-17||Neb 34-27||Neb 31-20||Neb 23-20|
Rutgers at Michigan State (-22.5)
|MSU 35-14||MSU 40-20||MSU 38-13||MSU 27-13|
Wisconsin (-10) at Iowa
|Wisc 41-21||Wisc 31-27||Wisc 30-20||Wisc 27-13|
Maryland at Michigan (-5)
|Mich 17-14||Mich 21-17||Mich 23-20||Md 17-10|
Here’s the terrifying part of Tuesday night: This is only the early season form for Kentucky and Duke.
November is supposed to be a time when teams are working through lineups and combinations, when freshmen are figuring out their place in the college game.
On Tuesday, Kentucky delivered a dominant team against another top five team, and Duke delivered three freshmen who look ready to roll through the ACC. If what we saw out of Kentucky two lineups and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor on Tuesday is a sign of things to come, we may see both of them again, this time in the same game on another neutral court.
These early games may end up as notches on NCAA Tournament profiles, but they do have a way of setting a tone for the season.
Here’s what we learned from the Champions Classic:
1. Kentucky is perhaps better than we expected
The Wildcats were Athlon’s No. 1 team in the preseason and a near-unanimous No. 1 pick just about everywhere else. On Tuesday, the same people who picked Kentucky No. 1 had their jaws on the ground. Kentucky defeated Kansas, a Big 12 favorite and a top-five team, 72-40. A 32-point win over a team with talent, experience and a shot at the Final Four. We can laugh at the platoon plans for a team that runs 11 and 12 deep, but when it works like it did Tuesday, Kentucky can’t be stopped. All 10 players on the Blue and White platoons scored in each of the first and second half. Think about how wild this is: Kentucky clobbered Kansas with only two players scoring in double figures and none more than 11 points.
2. Kentucky can be a ridiculous defensive team
The absurd stat of the night, of course, goes to Kentucky. The Wildcats had 11 blocks. Kansas had 11 field goals. Kentucky’s length was impenetrable Tuesday as Karl-Anthony Towns and Marcus Lee had four blocks apiece. Not that Kansas was much better on the perimeter. Starting point guard Frank Mason went 1-of-10 from the field, and the Jayhawks shot 3-of-15 from 3-point range. If Kentucky can do this to Kansas, what will it do to the SEC?
3. Jahlil Okafor is living up to his Player of the Year potential
Okafor’s first test against a quality opponent couldn’t have gone much better. Duke’s freshman center did the same to Michigan State has he did to Presbyterian and Fairfield. Okafor was 8-of-10 with 17 points against the Spartans. Michigan State had no answer for Okafor’s rare and elite talent as a low-post big man, not that there’s any shame there. Okafor is an 85-percent shooter this season.
4. Okafor is not alone
Besides Okafor’s 17 points, Duke freshmen Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones combined for 32 points against Michigan State. Winslow was all over the place on the way to 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and a three-pointer. Perhaps more important, Jones at point guard allowed veteran Quinn Cook to play at the two. The pair was expected to compete for time to a degree, so seeing them play together was a good sight for Mike Krzyzewski. Jones and Cook combined for no turnovers and 10 assists.
5. Michigan State has a long way to go
This isn’t a typical Michigan State team. With this roster, the Spartans appeared headed to short-lived NCAA Tournament appearance and a middling finish in the Big Ten. Tuesday only reinforced this. Michigan State got an outstanding effort from Branden Dawson (18 points, 8-of-10 shooting). The Spartans shot 50 percent from the field and got 13 offensive rebounds. And yet, Michigan State never really challenged Duke in a 10-point loss.
The college football playoff selection committee gave us a new catch phrase Tuesday: Game control
That’s why Alabama moved to No. 1 from No. 5. That’s why undefeated Florida State is No. 3. And that’s why TCU won a game and fell from in the bracket to out.
“Game control” is taking the place of what we once would have called style points or margin of victory.
Let committee chair Jeff Long explain:
"It might be considered somewhat subjective," he said. "The committee looks at the game, how the game was played, how close the game was played, whether there were lead changes back and forth, or whether a team was in control from the opening kickoff, or whether they gained control say in the second half and finished out the game.
"It's an evaluation of how the game was played between two teams."
Perhaps this phrase should lend credibility to the selection process even if it can be too much in the eye of the beholder and selectively applied.
Margin of victory can be deceiving. Alabama beat Mississippi State by five Saturday but led 19-0 in the second quarter and by 12 until the final 15 seconds.
Florida State is No. 3 in part because, presumably, it lacks game control. The Seminoles trailed Miami 23-10 at halftime, the fifth time this season FSU needed a second-half comeback to win this season.
TCU, also, lacked game control in a 34-30 win over a three-win Kansas team. The Horned Frogs trailed until late in the third quarter.
In a 12- or 13-game schedule, how a team asserts its dominance matters. Slip ups in what should be easy wins matter.
Yet here’s the problem with a subjective measure described on a weekly basis: While we learned about the concept of game control, Long also cited Mississippi State’s close loss to Alabama and never being out of the game as to why the Bulldogs fell to No. 4 and knocking TCU out of a playoff scenario.
Of course, Week 12 of the season didn’t occur in a vacuum. Mississippi State controlled enough games to be ranked No. 1 last week, and TCU lost game control in the fourth quarter against Baylor for its only loss of the season.
Alabama’s game control for most of the season — save for a 14-13 win over Arkansas and the loss to Ole Miss — is why the Crimson Tide are No. 1.
“While we would say that Alabama controlled that game, it did end up a 5-point game,” selection committe chari Jeff Long said during the ESPN broadcast. “While Alabama controlled it, Mississippi State was in striking distance.”
Despite its close games, Florida State has a flawless record of game control. Couldn’t Ohio State claim game control as it has defeated nearly every Big Ten team on its schedule comfortably? What about Baylor, which exhibited the most game control of any opponent this season against Oklahoma and snatched it away from TCU?
The selection committee is not supposed to reward running up a score, notable because TCU started taking knees on first down from the Kansas 12 rather than adding a second score to a four-point game against a three-win team.
"We don't think controlling the game means adding touchdowns," Long said.
While the idea of game control may make sense on a small scale, the selection committee has stumbled into an area it may have difficulty explaining by the first week of December.
Here’s how the second top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Nov. 18|
|1. Alabama||10. Georgia||18. Georgia Tech|
|2. Oregon||11. Michigan State||19. USC|
|3. Florida State||12. Kansas State||20. Missouri|
|4. Mississippi State||13. Arizona State||21. Oklahoma|
|5. TCU||14. Auburn||22. Clemson|
|6. Ohio State||15. Arizona||23. Nebraska|
|7. Baylor||16. Wisconsin||24. Louisville|
|8. Ole Miss||17. Utah||25. Minnesota|
Alabama moves from No. 5 to No. 1
The Crimson Tide made quite the leap from outside of a potential bracket to the top seed. Long said Alabama was the most complete team on offense, defense and special teams and cracked the top four after “what we consider to be a decisive win over Mississippi State.” The metrics must be especially impressive to the committee: With LSU falling out of the rankings with a loss to Arkansas, Alabama has only one top 25 win (Mississippi State).
Ohio State over Baylor
Ohio State defeated Minnesota 31-24 on the road to move from No. 8 to No. 6 (the Gophers remained at No. 25). Can Ohio State get into the playoff? That remains to be seen. The Buckeyes face Indiana and Michigan and would draw no better than Wisconsin, ranked 16th this week, in the Big Ten title game. What’s notable is Ohio State’s move ahead of stationary No. 7 Baylor.
Who Should Worry:
Long described the margin between Nos. 4-7 (Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State and Baylor) as “narrow, very narrow.” That’s not great news for the only team in that group without a ranked opponent left on it schedule, assuming Ohio State faces Wisconsin. Baylor, the only team to beat TCU this season, also has played one fewer game than the Horned Frogs.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:
The Bulldogs’ loss to Alabama, game control or not, wasn’t the end of the Mississippi State. The optimist for Mississippi State is that if the Bulldogs beat No. 8 Ole Miss, they stay in the playoff even if Alabama goes to the SEC title game. Yet the committee has repeatedly indicated that conference championships would play a role. That gives hope to the Big Ten and Big 12 teams on the outside looking in.
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Ole Miss
Fiesta: No. 9 UCLA vs. No. 11 Michigan State
Orange: No. 18 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 6 Ohio State
Peach: Marshall* vs. No. 10 Georgia
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
The Champions Classic finale between Kentucky and Kansas is sure to be a scouting bonanza even if John Calipari and Bill Self are trying to figure out how the pieces fit together.
Dozens of NBA scouts are expected to be Indianapolis for a game that may contain the most pro prospects on one floor this season — Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and the Harrison twins for Kentucky, Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Wayne Selden for Kansas.
Many of them will end up draft picks, including a handful in the lottery, but their ceiling as teams in college, expectedly, remains a work in progress.
During the weekend, Self had plenty of criticisms of a team that beat UC Santa Barbara, a solid mid-major, 69-59 in the opener. Calipari could say the same of watching his talented team needing a second-half rally to beat Buffalo.
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Site: Indianapolis, Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Time: 9 p.m., Eastern
What’s on the line for Kansas
Freshmen making their mark. Kansas’ top two freshmen — Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre — are as highly regarded as any group of rookies in the country. Both can further establish themselves with strong performances against the No.1 team in the country. In Chicago a year ago, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins outdueled Duke’s Jabari Parker late in a 94-83 win. Joel Embiid came off the bench for only two points (with seven rebounds and five assists). Wiggins and Embiid were top three picks in the NBA draft — while Parker was No. 2.
What’s on the line for Kentucky
A break from last season. Kentucky fans must have had a fair amount of trepidation watching the Wildcats trail Buffalo by five at halftime. The Wildcats came back to win 71-52, but there has to be a sense of “here we go again” with a team that struggles to play like a team loaded with talent. Kentucky lost to Michigan State in this event last season, a harbinger for a non-conference season that included losses to Baylor and North Carolina. A win over a fellow top-five team would ease some of the nerves for Big Blue Nation.
You’ll tune in to watch: Kentucky’s front line
Calipari’s plans to rotate his forwards like a hockey line change will be put to the test. Against Buffalo, Karl-Anthony Towns started but played 10 minutes. Trey Lyles (20 minutes) and Dakari Johnson (26) came off the bench to play more than twice that. Kansas, meanwhile, is coming of a game in which it picked up 13 offensive rebounds against UCSB, six from Perry Ellis alone.
Pivotal player: Frank Mason, Kansas
Kansas’ backcourt has thinned with the departures of Naadir Tharpe and Conner Frankamp, leaving Mason as one of the only point guards on the roster. That said, freshman Devonte Graham came off the bench for 14 points against UCSB. For a program that’s enjoyed so much success as Kansas, it’s a surprise to see point guard not be a dominant position for several seasons.
Biggest question: Who hits the big shots on the perimeter?
Self was displeased with Kansas’ play on the perimeter against UCSB, and who can blame him at 2-of-10 from 3-point range. Wayne Selden alone was 2-of-8 from the field. Kansas will need balance if Kentucky’s frontline is balanced as expected. Kentucky’s Harrisons, of course, know a bit about hitting big long-range shots.
David Fox: Kentucky 78-71
Mitch Light: Kansas 74-72
Nathan Rush: Kentucky 76-72
Duke and Michigan State may look familiar to the untrained eye when the two teams meet Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
Mike Krzyzewski is here. So is Tom Izzo. Duke has talent. Michigan State has plenty of upperclassmen.
A deeper look, though, reveals just how strange these teams are for Krzyzewski and Izzo.
Duke is likely to start three freshmen. Perhaps that’s not odd for many teams, especially top teams that gobble up McDonald’s All-Americans. Duke's not always one of them. Consider this: Krzyzewski has coached 1,159 games at Duke. Only 37 times including this season has he started three freshmen and 27 of those lineups came during the 1982-83 season.
Meanwhile, the steady national contender Michigan State enters the season without any major expectations for a Big Ten title or Final Four run. The departures of Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling have left the Spartans with a changing of the guard.
Duke vs. Michigan State
Site: Indianapolis, Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Time: 7 p.m. Eastern
What’s on the line for Duke
The Blue Devils handled Presbyterian and Fairfield by a combined score of 222-103 in the first two games, but this could be a key moment for Duke to establish itself as one of the nation’s dominant teams early in the season. The Blue Devils also face Wisconsin at Madison and defending national champion Connecticut on a neutral court before Dec. 18 for an interesting first five weeks of the season.
What’s on the line for Michigan State
The Spartans will see where they stand against a national contender. The Big Ten may have only one elite team this season (Wisconsin), but the Spartans figure to be right in the mix. A lopsided loss in Indianapolis combined with the Spartans’ sloppy 64-59 win over Navy on Friday will allow some doubt to creep in.
You’ll tune in to watch: Jahlil Okafor
Duke’s freshman center is the projected No. 1 overall pick and an All-America contender. So far, Okafor has done nothing to counter that reputation. He’s shot 17-of-20 from the field overall this season with 17 points and 19 points in his first two games. If there’s any nitpicking to do, Okafor had five turnovers against Fairfield.
Pivotal player: Justise Winslow
Duke’s freshmen include Okafor, whose credentials have been established, and Tyus Jones, a freshman expected to challenge veteran Quinn Cook for the point guard job. Winslow is “simply” the other great freshman in this class. Winslow has been nearly as effective as Okafor, shooting 12-of-22 from the floor in two games and countering the argument that he’s everything but a shooter.
Biggest question: Does Michigan State’s experience help keep this close?
A veteran Michigan State team beat preseason No. 1 Kentucky in last year’s Champions Classic, but this game doesn’t have the same cliche of youth vs. experience. True, Michigan State has upperclassmen Branden Dawson, Travis Trice, Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine, but all but Dawson were role players on last year’s Elite Eight team. Beyond its three starting freshmen, Duke has plenty of experience as well. The key veteran will be Dawson, whom Izzo said needs to be Superman in this game with his versatility.
David Fox: Duke 68-58
Mitch Light: Duke 81-69
Nathan Rush: Duke 64-58
Time for a bit of a breather for a handful of teams.
Last week was plenty eventful with Alabama’s win over No. 1 Mississippi State, another Florida State comeback, a TCU scare, a Georgia rout of Auburn and an Arizona State flop in Corvallis.
This week may not be nearly as dramatic.
For starters, this week is the annual SEC-FCS challenge. SEC teams will face Eastern Kentucky, Charleston Southern, Western Carolina and Samford this week.
Even though we’re a little light on on games this week, there are a few highlights, chiefly the hotly contested Pac-12 South. UCLA faces USC this week, but Arizona State’s loss to Oregon State has opened the door for Arizona, provided the Wildcats beat Utah and catch some breaks.
The SEC has two key games, one in each division. Arkansas and Tennessee are more competitive this season, and they’ll look to keep up momentum against Ole Miss and Missouri, respectively.
The Week Ahead: Nov. 22
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
Listen to the Week 12 recap podcast:
Arizona at Utah
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... Arizona is clinging to life in the Pac-12 South. The Wildcats, who defeated Cal on a Hail Mary earlier this season, capitalized on a Washington turnover to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired against the Huskies. Arizona must solve Utah’s stifling defense on the road and defeat rival Arizona State for a chance at the South — while getting help from USC and UCLA (with a win over USC and a loss to Stanford).
Vegas says: Utah by 3 1/2
Ole Miss at Arkansas
When and where: 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... one team in this game has an SEC losing streak, and it’s not Arkansas. Despite back-to-back conferences losses to LSU and Auburn, Ole Miss still has a shot at the SEC West and, thus, the playoff. The Rebels have a win over Alabama in hand and a shot at Mississippi State at home, but they’ll need to handle a rejuvenated Arkansas first. Ole Miss’ offense regrouped in the loss to Auburn, but the Rebels are working through injuries, chiefly to receiver Laquon Treadwell. Arkansas picked up its first SEC win under Bret Bielema, but it’s a debate what made this win more unlikely: A shutout against a ranked LSU team or that ground-and-pound Arkansas needed only 95 rushing yards to win.
Vegas says: Ole Miss by 3
Wisconsin at Iowa
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
We’re watching because... Melvin Gordon is can’t miss-viewing. The Wisconsin tailback was appointment viewing before last week’s record 408 rushing yards, but do you want to miss a single carry from now on? Not only did Gordon break LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-game rushing record, he’s within reach of Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record that has stood since 1988. Gordon needs 719 yards to catch Sanders’ 2,628 yards. Including a potential Big Ten title game and a bowl, Gordon has to average 180 yards per game to pass Sanders. Gordon averages 191.
Vegas says: Wisconsin by 9 1/2
Missouri at Tennessee
When and where: 7:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... Missouri’s bizarre season always deserves attention. The Tigers lost at home to an Indiana team that’s now winless in the Big Ten, beat Florida on the road with 119 yards of offense and four return touchdowns and now sits at 8-2 after a 34-27 win at a Texas A&M that just upset Auburn on the road. A team that lost to the Hoosiers at home could win 10 games during the regular season. To do so, Missouri will have to defeat Tennessee in Oxford as the Volunteers are seeking their first bowl bid since 2010.
Vegas says: Tennessee by 3 1/2
USC at UCLA
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... this game has potential for some late-night Pac-12 unpredictability, and we don’t have to stay up after midnight Eastern to see it. With a win in hand against Arizona State, UCLA can take one step closer to a third consecutive trip to the Pac-12 title game with a win over rival USC. The game points to a quarterback showdown. Brett Hundley has completed 72 percent of his passes with 1,374 total yards and nine total touchdowns during UCLA’s four-game win streak. USC quarterback Cody Kessler’s season has been under the radar, but he’s completing 70.2 percent of his passes with 29 touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s doing most his heavy lifting against weaker teams, so this is a chance to remedy that reputation.
Vegas says: UCLA by 3
ATLANTA — To the outside, Ron Hunter shouldn’t feel queasy when he sees the leading figures of his Georgia State basketball team.
On a team that went 17-1 in the Sun Belt last season, Hunter has a five-star, top-20 recruit at point guard. He has guard who played on a national championship team. He has an NBA Draft prospect at shooting guard.
For a program that’s had two winning seasons in the last decade and one NCAA Tournament berth since 2001, Georgia State should like its odds with that lot.
A team that rolled through its conference last year should do so again with that kind of team. At the same time, the foundation of that team knows nothing is certain, nothing is easy.
Another way to describe those three is the following: A washout who was the point guard of the worst Kentucky team the last five years, a guard recovering from the most publicly horrific college basketball injury in recent memory and, not least of which, the coach’s son.
Georgia State has talent and experience in Ryan Harrow, Kevin Ware and R.J. Hunter but also a group that’s taken the long road to find a spot it can thrive.
“My first year here, I wasn’t stressed,” Hunter told Athlon Sports. “I’m stressed now. I saw Ryan Harrow, R.J. and Kevin Ware on campus the other day, and my stomach started turning. I can’t mess this thing up.”
Georgia State is not only one of the best mid-majors in the country but also one of the most compelling teams of the 351 playing Division I basketball.
The Panthers start their season tonight at Iowa State, a program known in recent years for its open doors for wayward souls. The Cyclones have nothing on this group.
Let’s start with the newest arrival.
When Kevin Ware returned to Atlanta, he and Hunter didn’t talk much about why he landed at Georgia State after coming off the bench as a sophomore for an eventual national champion at Louisville.
This is a new Kevin Ware, his coach told him. Not the Kevin Ware from Louisville. Not the Kevin Ware whose worst moment was broadcast on television on the largest stage.
Then Paul George happened.
In an August Team USA exhibition, the Indiana Pacers wing chased down James Harden in transition, his right leg landing in the wrong spot in the support beneath the basket. On camera, a break was evident. A hinge where there shouldn’t be one. Bone touching air.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of college basketball could summon two words — Kevin Ware.
Too fresh in our minds was Ware in the 2013 Elite Eight against Duke. Taking a jump shot, Ware landed in a way that produced the same injury, also on national television.
Ware tweeted support for George, but at the same time, he was reliving his own injury. With all the public weight of his injury at Louisville behind him, Ware progressed in his first two months at Georgia State after a year in limbo.
Ware rushed back to play for Louisville the following season, but getting kicked in the leg against Missouri State essentially ended his comeback season. He played 53 minutes in nine games before shutting down and transferring to Georgia State. The parting with Louisville was easy, Ware said.
Louisville regrouped around Ware in 2013 and won a national championship. He’s still close with many of the players on this year’s team, but continuing at Louisville and Rick Pitino in 2013-14 was impossible.
“It was hard for him to coach,” Ware told Athlon Sports. “I honestly felt he couldn’t coach me at that point because he was so concerned about my leg.”
So was the media. Ware not only watched George sustain a similarly gruesome injury, Ware felt an obligation to take media requests to share his own recovery.
Between his injury and the George incident, Ware had connected on Twitter and Instagram with many younger basketball players suffering traumatic injuries since his own, but never this public and never in such a similar situation.
Reliving his experience came at the expense of his own progress.
Georgia State was in a practice period at the same time as George’s injury. Ware, described by his high school friend Harrow as fearless, suddenly was playing free throw line to free throw line.
Ware was in the same frame of mind when Georgia State took an eight-day trip to Costa Rica for four exhibition games.
In the third possession of the first game, Ware had his leg clipped by a Costa Rican player. He fell into a wall. Ron Hunter held back a trainer. The game was still in live play, and Ware sprung back onto the court. From there, Ware was back.
Now, Ron Hunter says Ware is a better athlete than he was in high school at Rockdale County southeast of Atlanta.
“It seemed like he wasn’t thinking; he was just reacting,” teammate R.J. Hunter told Athlon Sports. “I’m sure that dude had 40 steals in those games. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Ware wouldn’t have landed at Georgia State if not for his Atlanta AAU buddy, Ryan Harrow.
That’s a statement in itself. When Harrow landed at NC State as a top-20 recruit for coach Sidney Lowe in 2010, he couldn’t imagine being at his third school. Other point guards in his class included No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving at Duke and NBA Draft lottery picks Kendall Marshall at North Carolina and Brandon Knight at Kentucky.
“I didn’t think I’d be in college this long,” Harrow told Athlon Sports.
After Lowe was fired at NC State, Harrow transferred to Kentucky where he sat out for a season due to NCAA rules. The Wildcats won the 2012 national championship with Harrow on the bench.
When Harrow took over at point guard, Calipari was enjoying an unbroken record of standout point guards from Derrick Rose to Tyreke Evans to John Wall to Brandon Knight to Marquis Teague.
Harrow may have had trouble filling those shoes under ideal circumstances, but outside factors made it impossible. In Georgia, Harrow’s father, Mark Harrow, suffered a stroke in the June before the point guard’s lone season at Kentucky.
The mental toll of his father’s ill health and his struggles on the court were only magnified by the scope of attention at Kentucky. He went scoreless in February home games against Florida and Tennessee. He shot 2-of-14 in a loss to Vanderbilt in an SEC tournament loss that banished Kentucky to the NIT. He scored five points in a loss to Robert Morris.
A season that started in the top three of the AP poll ended with a one-and-done in the NIT against a team from the Northeast Conference.
“It wasn’t as if Ryan came in here and it just worked,” Ron Hunter said. “When you get a kid who was at Kentucky and comes to Georgia State, you’ve got a lot you’ve got work through.
“What Ryan Harrow went through wasn’t injury, but he was beat down at Kentucky. I don’t know if you can be beat down any more.”
Beyond repairing his confidence, Harrow also began to encounter his father’s recovery head on. The stress of being helpless to aid his father was replaced by watching his father’s day-to-day challenges.
Harrow was eligible immediately to play at Georgia State last season, but he wasn’t ready to play at a high level. The Panthers started 3-6, only one win over a Division I team.
Eventually, Harrow returned to the form that was familiar to Ware, his teammate with the Atlanta Celtics. Georgia State won 22 of 23 games, and Harrow averaged 17.8 points per game and earned All-Sun Belt honors.
“When he came home, he came back to life,” Ware said. “I’m not used to seeing the Ryan that was at NC State or at UK. That wasn’t Ryan at all. When he came to Georgia State, coach let him play.”
The toughest challenge for Hunter, though, hasn’t been working to repair the confidence of Harrow and Ware.
“The hardest part of this has been as a father,” Hunter said. “I hope when this is all said and done, I don’t say, ‘Man, what happened with my son?’ That’s what I’m trying to balance a little better.”
With National Player of the Year Doug McDermott gone from his father’s program at Creighton, the Hunters are the most notable father-son duo in college basketball.
Of Georgia State’s top three players this season, R.J. Hunter was the first to arrive in Atlanta. R.J. was a three-star recruit with offers from a handful of mid-tier major conference programs, but he elected to follow his father to Georgia State where he was the Sun Belt player of the year last season.
Ron Hunter never coached his son in a game until Georgia State’s 2012-13 opener at Duke. Growing up, Ron always gave R.J. a choice of getting “coach” or getting “dad.” Most of the time, R.J. chose “dad.” Now, he doesn’t get a say in the matter.
Neither party, though, could say they were unprepared for the father-son/coach-player experience.
Ray McCallum, who coached his son a Detroit, is R.J. Hunter’s godfather. R.J. also spent time talking to Bryce Drew, who played for his father at Valparaiso.
“At one AAU tournament, he pulled me aside and said, ‘look, it’s going to be tough, but it was the best four years of my life playing for my dad,’” R.J. Hunter said. “‘If you can make it work, you can make magic.’”
Magic at Georgia State will take work, though.
Georgia State enjoyed a banner season a year ago before losing to UL Lafayette in the Sun Belt tournament. The Panthers lost their NIT opener to Clemson. The margin of error for a Sun Belt team is slim.
The Panthers are replacing two starters who averaged double figures last season. One new starter, forward Curtis Washington, is a transfer from USC, who also came as a project with “two bad shoulders.” A freshman may end up taking the final spot in the starting lineup.
And Hunter isn’t ruling out another round of Ware reliving his trauma from Louisville as more attention comes to Ware’s season.
The pieces, they hope, are in place — a lights out shooter in Hunter, a floor general in Harrow, a defensive game-changer in Ware.
“I feel like we’ve got the best 1-2-3 punch in the country,” Ware said. “We all have a different game but we all complement each other so well.”
Images courtesy of Georgia State athletics