Articles By Mitch Light
By Ralph Vacchiano
The disruption the Giants experienced three years ago was planned, but it was a disruption nonetheless. In the middle of the 2007 season, the NFL sent them to London for a midseason game against the Miami Dolphins. It required two extra days on the road, plus a longer-than-usual flight and unfamiliar shift of time zones.
Their routine, really for two weeks, was far from their comfort zone.
But a funny thing happened while they were there, as they endured inconveniences like walking off their trans-Atlantic flight and boarding a bus for practice that ended up getting snarled for more than an hour on London traffic. While stuck together for more time than they wanted — or even expected — a bond was formed.
And some players believed that was the real beginning of their run to Super Bowl XLII.
It’ll be a few more months before anyone knows if the Giants’ recent adventures have a similar effect, but that was certainly their hope after they finally played their game — both moved and rescheduled — against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. They beat the Vikings 21-3 at Ford Field in Detroit.
More important, they think they forged a bond along the very long way.
“I think they handled this in a very professional manner,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. “There wasn’t any complaining. No nothing. We didn’t have any frustration. There was no anger expressed at any time. The guys handled it well.”
“It’s definitely not easy,” added safety Antrel Rolle. “We were waiting around for two-and-a-half days to play a game. It was draining. But at the same time, we were together.”
Their adventure began, simply enough, on Saturday when they boarded a charter flight early in the hopes of arriving in Minneapolis before the snow storm got too bad. But the blizzard arrived faster and was stronger than anticipated, so they diverted to Kansas City, where they were forced to sit at the terminal and wait.
Eventually they decided to stay the night and quickly booked a hotel, but they were still fully expecting to get up early on Sunday and fly straight to Minneapolis for the game. Then the NFL moved the game to Monday. Then the roof of the Metrodome collapsed. And then finally, early on Sunday, the NFL moved the game to Detroit.
“I must have changed the itinerary five times,” Coughlin said. “I’d go from one thing to the next, then find something else out.”
With all that waiting there wasn’t really much for the Giants to do. They couldn’t go home to their families. For a few hours they didn’t have hotel rooms. The coaches tried to schedule extra meetings to keep the players sharp, but eventually even they ran out of things to give their players to do.
“We’re kind of getting tired of each other,” said defensive end Justin Tuck. “All of us are in this, I guess, and it’s like recreating a bad Christmas movie. That’s what we’ve been feeling like.
“Obviously, we weren’t prepared to spend this much time together but I think there are definitely positives with guys in their hotel rooms playing cards or talking with the guys next to them. It really has been a positive bonding experience and you get to know guys that you didn’t know as well. Hopefully that bodes well for us going into this playoff run.”
For one night, it certainly did. The Vikings — whose lives were disrupted too by an unscheduled trip to Detroit on Sunday night — looked like the “jet-lagged” team on Monday night. The Giants held them to just 164 total yards. Adrian Peterson managed 26 yards on 14 carries.
The Giants even overcame a bad game by quarterback Eli Manning that included two early interceptions and fought through their adversity and looked like the much fresher team.
“We’ve got a lot to play for, so for us it should’ve been easy,” said defensive tackle Barry Cofield. “It wasn’t normal, but it wasn’t like it was something that couldn’t be done.”
Now that’s done, what comes next — and whether this trip has any kind of positive effect on the Giants — all depends on what they do next. In ’07, they struggled for nearly two months after returning home from London before rallying in late December and beginning their remarkable Super Bowl run. The effect wasn’t immediate, but players said that trip taught them how to rally together in tough times.
This time, the Giants don’t have any time to waste because times are already tough in the NFC, where the playoff race is remarkably tight and it’s very possible one team won’t get in with 10 wins. The Giants play an all-or-nothing NFC East showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles (9-4) on Sunday. One week later they make a dangerous trip to Green Bay (8-5).
Two losses, and it might be impossible for the Giants to make the playoffs. So if their extended vacation is going to be a positive, they better see immediate results. They’ll find out soon enough, of course. But their wild, Midwestern adventure at least got them off to a good start.
“We had all these planes, trains and automobiles,” said left tackle David Diehl. “This is a story that we’re going to have for a long, long time. But we wanted it done the right way. This was a business trip. And even though all that stuff happened, we kept our eye on the prize.”
By Ken Davis
NEW YORK – There are occasions when Kansas coach Bill Self smiles during a postgame press conference and, at the same time, it seems obvious he could use an entire bottle of Tums to calm his nervous stomach.
Last Tuesday night was one of those times. Self had just watched his Jayhawks commit 22 turnovers while still pulling away for an impressive, 81-68, victory over Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
“We’ve got a fun team, but we’re wild. We’ve got to harness some of that,” Self said.
Enter Josh Selby — super recruit to the rescue. At least that is the popular theory. Selby, a freshman combo guard who was the No. 1 ranked player in the final Rivals.com class of 2010, will make his debut Saturday when Kansas welcomes USC to Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. College basketball’s next whiz kid was ordered by the NCAA to sit out the first nine games of the season for accepting improper benefits as a recruit before he signed with Kansas.
The penalty is almost over. Selby is itching to go. Jayhawk Nation gets an early Christmas present, and all eyes are going to be on No. 32.
“It will be as anticipated a home game as we’ve had in years,” Self said, admitting there is an incredible buzz surrounding the USC game. It’s clear Self and his players are excited too. Selby, 6-2 and 183 pounds, is good enough to step in and be a major contributor. The Jayhawks already lead the nation in field goal percentage (55.8), assists (20 per game) and are fifth in scoring (87.3 ppg).
Self has a good team. Tyshawn Taylor, who has been KU’s primary ball handler to this point, agrees the “dumb turnovers” need to go. If only that careless streak could be eliminated.
“Well, Josh is wild too, so he’s going to fit in great,” Self said. “But if you look at our team, who breaks down pressure? Obviously, you need a second guy that can do that. And Josh is the only guy in our program who can run really bad offense and come away with two or three points. Every team needs that.”
Self has been coy, saying he doesn’t even know if Selby will start against USC. That’s just Self’s way of trying to lower expectations, which will be ridiculous either way. The coaching staff knows Selby is a rare talent but it’s also understood he needs time to find his comfort zone during games.
“We want him to fit in, be one of five,” Self said. “He doesn’t have to be ‘the guy.’ We don’t have ‘the guy.’ “
Self says he isn’t worried about chemistry problems. Since this team has already demonstrated a desire to share the ball, that’s probably an honest answer. Self said Taylor, Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed don’t need to play as many minutes as they have been at the guard spots. Sophomore point guard Elijah Johnson, who has had some productive minutes off the bench, could be squeezed out of the rotation.
“Somebody’s going to be the odd man out,” Self said. “I think that (player) could be different, game-to-game.”
Taylor said the Jayhawks aren’t worried about any disruptions to team chemistry.
“Josh is going to be a big part of this team,” Taylor said. “It might take him a little while. It might not. He might come in and be a big impact right from the beginning. I think he’s capable of doing that. He’s been at practice, he knows our plays, and he’s been around. It’s not like he just came to our team.
“I think it’s going to be the same. He does things like we do.”
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Guard Ramone Moore averaged 18.0 minutes and 7.6 points as a sophomore at Temple last season. Those averages have increased to 31.5 minutes and 14.5 points through the first eight games for the Owls this season. The 6-4 product of Philadelphia put together a career game last Thursday as Temple shocked Georgetown, 68-65, handing the Hoyas their first loss of the season. Moore was 12-for-18 from the field and scored a career-high 30 points. Prior to that game, Moore had scored more than 20 points just once with the Owls. “I try not let the big stage faze me,” Moore told the Associated Press. “I’ve always been calm playing basketball. I’ve been doing it my whole life.” In the previous game, a 64-61 victory over Maryland, Moore scored 16 points.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger was limited to 17 points Sunday in an 85-60 victory over Western Carolina. That’s news because three days earlier Sullinger went off for 40 points and 13 rebounds in a 75-64 victory over IUPUI. The Columbus native hit 12- of-17 shots from the field and 16-of-23 free throws. The last Buckeye to score 40 had been Dennis Hopson in 1986 when he tallied 41 against Dayton. Sullinger had missed Ohio State’s shootaround before the game in order to pay respects to one of his favorite uncles at a funeral home.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Monday, Dec. 13
Longwood at Seton Hall
Hard to find many decent games this week until Saturday. It’s time for semester exams. Longwood, an independent from Farmville, Va., continues its road tour of the country, heading to the Prudential Center with a 3-7 record. The Hall, 4-4 and still without injured Jeremy Hazell, scored 104 points in a win at UMass Saturday.
Tuesday, Dec. 14
Oakland at Tennessee
Oakland is 5-5 but gave Michigan State a 77-76 scare on Saturday. The Vols are coming off that impressive 83-76 victory over Pittsburgh of the Big East on Saturday.
Wednesday, Dec. 15
Auburn at South Florida
Wouldn’t it be fun if Cam Newton showed up in uniform for the Tigers against USF? Doesn’t seem likely does it?
Thursday, Dec. 16
Oral Roberts at Missouri
Golden Eagles coach Scott Sutton knows a thing or two about the Big 12. He should have known better than to schedule Oklahoma and Mizzou back-to-back. Oral Roberts lost to the Sooners 73-60 Saturday and will need more than a miracle to win at Mizzou Arena.
Friday, Dec. 17
Tennessee at Charlotte
Vols coach Bruce Pearl loves taking his team on the road and proving his critics wrong. Here’s another chance.
Arizona State at Nevada
Nevada is 2-7. Arizona State just snapped a three-game losing streak by beating Gardner-Webb. Hey, it’s Friday night!
Saturday, Dec. 18
USC at Kansas
Allen Fieldhouse will be full to welcome Josh Selby to the Kansas lineup. But USC will be hyped to welcome transfer Jio Fontan too.
Texas vs. North Carolina
The Tar Heels have losses to Minnesota, Vanderbilt, and Illinois already this season. Roy’s boys could use a win over Texas. But the Longhorns could use this to build their resume as well.
Kansas State vs. Florida
This game is one of the highlights of the week, since both teams are ranked. Thank the Orange Bowl Classic for this matchup.
South Carolina at Ohio State
The Gamecoks are 7-1 with six consecutive wins since losing to Michigan State. But beating the Buckeyes at Value City Arena is a tall order.
Sunday, Dec. 12
Stony Brook at Notre Dame
Steve Pikiell’s Seawolves are struggling offensively, but gaining valuable experience through a demanding schedule. Notre Dame has sharing the ball well. The Irish rank 15th nationally in assists (17.4 per game).
THEY SAID IT
“We’ve played one of the hardest schedules in the nation this year. I’m pretty sure if other teams played the same schedule, they’d be in the same situation probably right now. ... We’ve got to keep fighting.” — Gonzaga’s Elias Harris, after an 83-79 loss at Notre Dame dropped the Bulldogs to 4-5 overall.
“The aggressive team usually gets the advantage, but we were taking it like a sissy and they took it up like men.” — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, after Syracuse crushed the Spartans, 72-58, in the Jimmy V Classic.
“The future can be this year.” –— Louisville coach Rick Pitino, after his Cardinals improved to 8-0 with a 77-69 victory over UNLV.
“When you come to Duke and play for Coach K, it’s always in the back of your mind — what’s coach about to pass next? He’s always about to pass something.” — Duke’s Nolan Smith, after Mike Krzyzewski posted career victory No. 878 and moved within one of North Carolina’s Dean Smith on the all-time list.
“My assistant said we had four freshmen in and a walk-on. That’s not a good mix to come into this situation.” — Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus, after an 84-47 loss to Duke in Durham, N.C.
Duke’s Kyrie Irving has suddenly gone from the most exciting freshman in college basketball to the most watched injury of the season. With his foot in a cast and Duke saying Irving is out indefinitely, we are left with two big questions. First, have we seen the last of Irving in a Duke uniform? He has logged just eight games, but that might be it. If he can’t play again this season, there’s nothing holding him back from entering the NBA Draft after the season is over. Irving has already proven himself as a lottery pick. There would be plenty of time in the spring for Irving to hold individual workouts for teams. The second question is how does Duke react? The Blue Devils had shown the ability to attack any defense with Irving in the lineup. Irving gave Duke a dimension few teams have with his ability to break down defenses. Don’t feel too bad for Duke. Mike Krzyzewski is still loaded with talent. The Devils may have to resort back to the way they operated last year. That wasn’t a bad formula.
Victory of the week: Fordham improved to 5-4 with an 84-81 victory over St. John’s Saturday night. It was a good win for the Rams, made better by the fact they rallied from 21 down in the second half. Brenton Butler led the way with 22 points and Marvin Dominique hit the big free throws with 1:31 left. On the flip side, that’s not a good result for coach Steve Lavin, who has a senior-laden team in his first season at St. John’s.
It was a strange week for Memphis. The Tigers played aggressive defense against Kansas and hung with the Jayhawks until halftime of the Jimmy V Classic. Later in the week came the news that leading scorer Wesley Witherspoon will miss five weeks after surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. Then on Sunday junior forward Angel Garcia announced he is leaving Memphis at the end of the semester to play professionally in Spain.
There are a lot of November tournaments we could do without, but thumbs up to the new Champions Classic that will feature Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State from 2011-13. Those four prominent programs will play each other at different neutral sites during the agreement on ESPN. The event begins at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15, 2011 with Duke vs. Michigan State and Kentucky vs. Kansas. Atlanta will host in 2012 at the Georgia Dome. The next season the doubleheader moves to the United Center in Chicago.
Syracuse doesn’t have a true star on its 10-0 team but give a lot of credit to senior forward Rick Jackson, who is averaging 14.0 points and 12.5 rebounds in 34.0 minutes per game. Jackson’s averages are up from 9.7 points and 7.0 rebounds last season. “Rick has been good from day one this year,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He is as good as any inside guy you can ask for. He has been a good rebounder. He doesn’t have help out there and he is taking it upon himself to do a better job.”
Tie Talk: Self and Boeheim brought out the big ties from their closet in for the Jimmy V Classic. Self wore a red-and-blue stripped tie against Memphis. Turned out it was the same one he wore when Kansas defeated the Tigers in the 2008 national championship game. “Yeah, it is,” Self said, “but I didn’t know that when I picked it out.” Boeheim was wearing a Jimmy V brand tie for cancer research, designed by Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun. “Rick Pitino paid $10,000 (at the Jimmy V auction) if I would wear this tie,” Boeheim said. “We won, so I’ll probably have to wear it again.”
Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher
(http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken’s web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).
1. You're down two points in the final seconds. You can pick one player in the nation to shoot a wide open three to win the game. Who do you pick?
Mitch Light: Well, there might be better pure shooters out there (Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins and Arkansas’ Rotnei Clarke come to mind), but I will take a seasoned veteran like Jimmer Fredette from BYU. Fredette is shooting a rather ordinary 34.4 percent from three this year, but he shot 44.0 percent as a junior when he averaged 22.1 points per game.
Nathan Rush: It's a toss up between Vanderbilt's John Jenkins and Duke's Seth Curry. I probably would have been 100 percent Jenkins until the sophomore sharpshooter disappeared at the end of Vandy's 85–82 overtime loss at Mizzou — although it's hard to be disappointed by a 23-point night on 5-of-10 shooting from long range. On the other side, Curry was the go-to guy at Liberty before transferring to Duke, so he's used to the pressure. Plus, both his brother, Stephen, and father, Dell, were deadeye shooters with ice water in their veins. Still, when it comes down to an open 3-pointer, I'll go with Jenkins, who I think should take “Reggie Miller fastbreak layup” 3s or any other half-open look he gets from beyond the arc.
Braden Gall: I really wanted to pick Jimmer Fredette from BYU. He has big-game experience, is a veteran and can flat-out shoot the rock. But Vanderbilt's John Jenkins has to be the pick. The Dores’ shooting guard is averaging 19.1 points per game and has made 27 three pointers (on 7.5 attempts per game) already this season. He has a J.J. Reddick-type stroke from the outside that is simply a rare commodity. So pure.
2. What is the best team in the nation that doesn't play in a Big Six power conference?
Mitch: It’s got to be San Diego State. The Aztecs are 9-0 with wins at Gonzaga and at Cal (by 20 points) and home wins over Saint Mary’s and Wichita State. Steve Fisher’s club has a star in sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard and a host of athletic complementary players. SDSU looks to be the best team in a very strong Mountain West Conference.
Nathan: This particular San Diego State squad could probably beat some of Steve Fisher's lesser Michigan teams from the 1990s. Athletic forwards Kawhi Leonard (16.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg), Billy White (12.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and Malcolm Thomas (9.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg) give the Aztecs a powerful frontline — Leonard is 6-7, 225 pounds; White is 6-8, 235 pounds; Thomas is 6-9, 220 pounds. Meanwhile, senior point guard D.J. Gay (11.3 ppg, 3.6 apg), Santa Clara transfer sharpshooter James Rahon (9.1 ppg, 14-of-26 from three) and Chase Tapley (8.4 ppg) have all the bases covered in the backcourt. San Diego State's roster is definitely loaded, but I worry about the team's 63.4 percent shooting from the free throw line. That must improve if the Aztecs hope to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Braden: Losses to Cal and Texas A&M made for a slow start for the Temple Owls, but they have bounced back with a win over Maryland and led for most of the way in a big resume win against Georgetown Thursday night. A school-best 9-0 start for San Diego State makes it a good choice as the Aztecs have wins over Gonzaga, Saint Mary's, Wichita State and Cal. BYU and Memphis are off to good starts with some okay wins, and both have some serious talent around the perimeter. However, a 9-0 UNLV team with wins over Wisconsin and Virginia Tech has been the most impressive. Five players are averaging at least 9.1 points per game and the Runnin' Rebs are winning by an average margin of 19.3 points. A win over Louisville on Saturday should hopefully justify my pick.
3. Which new coach is doing the best job?
Mitch: Donnie Jones has UCF off to a 7-0 start, highlighted by a 65-59 win over South Florida and a 57-54 victory over Florida and his former boss, Billy Donovan. Jones inherited a solid nucleus from Kirk Speraw, but these same players went 15-17 last season. Jones turned Marshall into a winner in three seasons in Huntington and figures to have UCF competing for C-USA titles in the near future.
Nathan: UCF's Donnie Jones could make a solid case that his team is the best in the state of Florida — following statement wins over South Florida (65–59) and Florida (57–54). If UCF takes down Miami on Dec. 18, the Sunshine State will be black and gold. Jones was Billy Donovan's right-hand man at Florida before coaching Marshall for three years. He's off to a great 7–0 start at UCF, thanks in large part to Marcus Jordan, who is averaging a team-high 16.4 points on 53.1 percent shooting from the field, 85 percent from the free throw line and 48.1 percent from downtown. If Jones' Knights keep it up, they'll be a C-USA Cinderella come March.
Braden: I will go with Donnie Jones at UCF and his 7-0 start. Yes, there are a few West Florida wins mixed in, but beating your former mentor and boss — as the Knights did when they topped the Billy-D and the Florida Gators, 57-54, last week — was especially sweet for Coach Jones.
4. Which new coach is doing the worst job?
Mitch: It’s been a rough start at for Tony Barbee at Auburn, where the Tigers are 3-4 with home losses to UNC Asheville, Samford, Campbell and Jacksonville, but he inherited arguably the weakest roster of any Big Six conference team. It’s also been a struggle for Tad Boyle at Colorado, but my answer is Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest (who came from Colorado). The Demon Deacons are 5-3 and have lost three game homes, to Stetson by 10, VCU by 21 and Winthrop by nine.
Nathan: The "Big Nasty" Corliss Williamson is off to an ugly start at Central Arkansas. Granted, there isn't must to work with, but Scottie Pippen's alma mater is 2–6 with a 40-point loss to Missouri State and an unsportsmanlike 71-point win over lowly Champion Baptist. Outgoing coach Rand Chappell went 104-104 over seven seasons and, for better or worse, Williamson brought the spotlight to Conway, Ark., due to his local celebrity status as a McDonald's All-American from Russellville (Ark.) High School; an SEC Player of the Year, 1994 national champion and NCAA Tournament MOP at Arkansas; and an 11-year NBA veteran. I fully expect Williamson, who had never had a coaching job until this year, to improve with experience. But he's off to a slow start.
Braden: Can I go with the Illinois equipment manager? If he/she is eligible? However, being neither a coach nor necessarily new, I would say the women's ball fiasco isn't exactly getting to the heart of the question. I know not much was expected of Auburn, but Tony Barbee's start — three straight losses to UNC-Ashville, Samford and Campbell — has to be one of the worst starts to a coaching career at an SEC school. Two narrow wins over Middle Tennessee and Arkansas-Pine Bluff packaged with another bad loss to Jacksonville, and I immediately accepted my scholarship offer to play back-up shooting guard for the Tigers.
5. Will Gonzaga make the NCAA Tournament if it does not win the WCC Tournament?
Mitch: My guess is no, but the Zags (4-4 at this point) still have several opportunities to pick up quality wins, beginning this weekend when they travel to Notre Dame. They still play Baylor in Dallas and host Xavier, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest and Memphis (though I’m not sure beating Wake would be a quality win). Three of Gonzaga’s four losses have come against top-15-type teams in San Diego State, Kansas State and Illinois, but at some point Mark Few’s club will have to start beating good teams. The best win to date is a 66-63 neutral court victory over Marquette.
Nathan: After early season losses to San Diego State (79–76), Kansas State (81–64), Illinois (73–61) and Washington State (81–59), the 4–4 Bulldogs have plenty of ground to make up if they hope to make the Big Dance as an at-large bid. Luckily, the loaded schedule will provide plenty of opportunities, with games against Notre Dame (Dec. 11), Baylor (Dec. 18), Xavier (Dec. 22), Oklahoma State (Dec. 31), Wake Forest (Jan. 2) and Memphis (Feb. 5). Right now, however, I'd say Mark Few's Zags will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 if they don't win the WCC Tournament.
Braden: Certainly 4-4 is not what Zags fans were anticipating for the 2010-11 campaign. But the losses are great — if there is such a thing. They lost a close one to SDSU and were handled with relative ease by elite Kansas State and Illinois squads. The blowout loss at Washington State is concerning. But as usual, an incredibly difficult schedule could help rebuild the resume. Non-conference games against Xavier, Wake Forest, Oklahoma State, Memphis, Baylor and Notre Dame offer plenty of opportunity to prove their tourney stock. I think with a veteran guard in Steven Gray, a dominate post man in Robert Sacre and a rising, versatile superstar in Elias Harris (who is expected back this weekend), the Bulldogs will have enough non-conference clout to earn an automatic bid should they falter in the WCC Tournament.
By Charean Williams
Michael Vick still hears the boos. He knows his critics are out there, and nothing he can do will change their opinion of him. He understands he never again will be completely appreciated for his play on the field, no matter how brilliant.
Still, Vick vows he is not only a better quarterback on the field but a better man off of it.
“I hope people will forgive me [because of] what I do on the field,” Vick said. “But that’s just half of it. I would hope they would forgive me [because of] what I’m trying to do off the field as well.
“You can’t change people’s opinions about you, and you definitely can’t change perception. But I think and hope as time goes on that people would have a different perspective and outlook.”
Less than two years after being released from prison, Vick leads the NFL in Pro Bowl voting. He has come back from a 21-month stay behind bars as a changed passer.
Vick had never completed more than 56.4 percent of his passes or had a passer rating higher than 81.6 in his six seasons as the Atlanta Falcons’ starter. He was better known for the 1,039 yards he ran for in 2006. This season, Vick ranks second in the NFL with a 105.7 passer rating, and he has completed 63.8 percent of his passes.
“I think he’ll be the first to tell you it’s his approach,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “He had some time to think about it when he was incarcerated. He came out and had a plan in mind of what he wanted to do. [Offensive coordinator] Marty Mornhinweg did a phenomenal job with him. James Urban, who is his position coach, did a phenomenal job with him. Unless a player really wants to do it, it’s not going to happen. He wanted to up his game and make it better. And so he was very receptive to coaching and working out and doing all those things.”
Vick admits he hasn’t always put his all into honing his craft. In Atlanta, he got by on his natural playmaking ability.
It wasn’t until Vick got a second chance that he took his job as seriously as it required. He now says he “wasted some years” not being all he could be as a passer.
“I realized all the talents that I have and I’ve been blessed with,” Vick said. “I just wanted to take advantage of every opportunity. I thank God for blessing with a great arm, a strong arm, and I think Him for blessing me with the ability to improvise and move and make plays with my legs. I feel like why not put it all together. Just take advantage of all the opportunities I’m given, because the truth of the matter is I’m 30 years old. Who knows how much time I have left to play but maybe it’s five years, maybe it’s six years, who knows? So why not give it everything I have now.”
Jets fullback has a special friend
Jets fullback Tony Richardson has given 16-year-old Tyler Nelson his friendship, his support and tons of Jets’ gear. That doesn’t mean Nelson, who is awaiting new lungs and a new liver, has changed his NFL loyalty.
“Yeah, he’s a big Cowboys fan,” Richardson said, “but he definitely tries to watch all my games and even if he can’t watch them on television, he looks at them on the computer. He’s definitely — slowly — getting turned into a Jets fan.”
Nelson was born with cystic fibrosis, a diagnosis doctors made two days after his birth. His liver now is cirrhotic, his lungs damaged and his spleen “the size of a football,” according to his mother, Cynthia Nevels.
Nelson, who is from the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie, has been in Houston since Oct. 22 hoping and praying for transplants. He needs them by Christmas.
Friends started a Web site — www.giftstotyler.org — to update Tyler’s condition, to raise funds to help with medical expenses and to encourage organ donor registration. Jets players Mark Sanchez, Nick Mangold and Dustin Keller have shared the link with their Twitter followers.
“I hope my story will reach other young people and help inspire them to think about registering,” Nelson said.
Richardson, who struck up his friendship with Nelson during a Make-a-Wish Foundation event at Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla., in February 2009, has been inspired by Nelson.
“When we had dinner in Dallas, his mom said, ‘Oh, you’ve done so much for Tyler.’ But I think he’s done so much more for me,” Richardson said.
Fourth and short
• Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs might have earned All-Pro honors last week when he had three tackles for losses, 1.5 sacks and five quarterback hits against the Steelers. Suggs, a three-time Pro Bowler, signed a six-year, $62.5 million contract before last season. He then went out and had a career-worst season with only 4.5 sacks. But Suggs has been worth every penny this season, with a team-leading nine sacks, 55 tackles and a forced fumble.
• Falcons receiver Roddy White has 91 catches for 1,140 yards and seven touchdowns. The two-time Pro Bowler is only nine receptions shy of becoming the team’s first receiver to catch 100 balls in a season since Eric Metcalf in 1995.
• Carolina rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen is 0-6 as a starter and has thrown only one touchdown pass.
• Tom Brady, 33, never seems to age. He is playing as well right now as he did in 2007 when he threw a record 50 touchdowns. In the past two games, Brady has thrown four touchdowns and no interceptions. He has gone seven consecutive games without being picked off, while throwing 17 touchdowns in that span. For the season, Brady has 27 touchdowns and four interceptions, with an NFL-best 109.4 rating. His passer rating has been over 117.0 in each of the past four games.
• Jay Cutler has been sacked 41 times, more than any other quarterback in the league despite missing 1½ games with a concussion. Bears quarterbacks have been sacked a league-worst 45 times, five more than the 31st-ranked Cardinals, and three times as many as New England, Chicago’s opponent this week.
• Bengals receiver Terrell Owens likely has talked his way out of Cincinnati and played his way into a decent contract with another team. Owens, who turned 37 on Tuesday, has 71 receptions for 961 yards. He is on pace to finish with 95 receptions for 1,274 yards and 12 touchdowns. That would earn him only three of the six incentives in his contract (each worth $333,333), giving him a salary of $3 million this season.
• The Cardinals’ seven-game losing streak is the longest since the team lost eight consecutive games in 2006. At 3-9, the Cardinals are assured of having their first losing record in four seasons under coach Ken Whisenhunt.
• Money might not be a factor in the Broncos’ coaching search despite owing Mike Shanahan $3.5 million and Josh McDaniels $5.4 million over two seasons. The Broncos don’t seem fazed by the fact that they will be paying three head coaches next season.
• Packers kicker Mason Crosby has been ice cold when the weather turns frigid. He is 13-of-21 on field-goal attempts when the game-time temperature is 32 degrees or below.
• Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has had four personal foul penalties this season, five if the illegal hit on Jake Delhomme in the preseason is counted. He was fined $7,500 for the hit on Delhomme.
• Texans running back Arian Foster leads the NFL with 1,230 rushing yards and 1,709 yards from scrimmage. He also leads the league with 98 first downs. On third down, he has 27 carries and 20 first downs (74.1 percent). Second is Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew at 43.5 percent. Foster is tied with Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis at converting 3rd-and-1 runs, and he leads in 3rd-and-2 runs. Foster also has caught more third-down passes (18) than any back in the league.
• Peyton Manning won his record fourth MVP award last year with 4,500 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. This season, he has 3,709 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Eleven of his picks have come in the past three games.
• The average margin of defeat for Indianapolis this season is 6.8 points.
• Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has compiled five 100-yard games in a row. He had a career-high 186 yards against the Titans, and he has 1,177 yards on 261 carries for the season.
• Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali has a career-high 10 sacks this season. That gives him 37 career sacks. He also has forced three fumbles in 2010, giving him 17 forced fumbles over his career. In nine career starts against San Diego, Hali has 4.5 sacks.
• Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne has five three-interception games in 23 starts, with a 12-11 record. Three of those three-interception games have come in his past eight starts. Henne has thrown 25 interceptions in his past 15 starts.
• Vikings defensive end Jared Allen had only one sack in the first seven games of the season. He has 7.5 the past five games.
• The Patriots have won 14 consecutive regular-season home games. They have not lost a regular-season game in Foxboro since Nov. 30, 2008.
• Saints rookie running back Chris Ivory has two 100-yard rushing games this season. It marks the first time a Saints’ running back has had two 100-yard rushing games in a season since Deuce McAllister did it in 2006. From 2007-09, the Saints had just four players rush for 100 yards in 48 regular-season games.
• Sean Payton has won 10 of his past 11 games against AFC competition, including a victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints lost to the Browns 30-17 on Oct. 24.
• The Giants are 9-1 when Brandon Jacobs runs for at least 100 yards.
• The Jets are 8-0 against teams at or below .500 and 1-3 against teams with winning records.
• Jets kicker Nick Folk has missed six of his past 12 field-goal attempts.
• The Raiders are 4-0 against division opponents. The reason: They are running and not being run over. In four division games this season, Oakland has 160 rushes for 802 yards and nine touchdowns. Their opponents — the Chargers twice, the Chiefs and the Broncos — have 83 carries for 291 yards and one touchdown.
• Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall topped 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season, but his average per carry has dipped to 3.9. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season.
• Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is one win shy of tying Dave Krieg as the team’s all-time winningest quarterback. Krieg won 70 games from 1981-90.
• Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has thrown only two interceptions in his past seven games, or 246 pass attempts. In the past seven games, all other NFL quarterbacks have thrown 219 interceptions.
• The Titans have gone 13 quarters without an offensive touchdown.
• Nose tackle Albert Haynesworth likely has played his last game in Washington. Haynesworth has received all but $9 million of the $41 million he was guaranteed in the seven-year, $100 million deal he signed before last season. In return, the Redskins received 77 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 43 hurries, a fumble recovery and seven passes defensed in 20 games, 12 of those starts. Washington was 7-13 when he was on the field.
Athlon's Mitch Light, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions in college basketball each week.
1. Which league do you think will end up being the best?
Mitch Light: The Big East has been very strong, but I still believe the Big Ten will be the best league in the country. The Big Ten has two Final Four-caliber teams in Michigan State and Ohio State and several other Sweet 16-type teams in Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin. I also think Northwestern will be an NCAA Tournament team. The Big East obviously has a lot of top-25-caliber teams as well, but there are more bad teams in the Big East than the Big Ten, which brings the league down a bit.
Nathan Rush: The Big Ten looks pretty tough right now. Michigan State and Tom Izzo are annual national title contenders. Ohio State is powerful with freshman big man Jared Sullinger and athletic wing William Buford leading the way. Purdue is not as good as it would be with a healthy Robbie Hummel, but the Boilermakers are a solid team with Sweet 16 potential. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin are a well-coached overachievers. The conference is so deep, I almost left out Illinois, a team with plenty of upside.
Braden Gall: Despite its second straight win the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the Big Ten is not the best league in college hoops. The ‘Beast’ conference is simply deeper than any basketball conference ever assembled. But it’s not just a numbers game. UConn beat Michigan State and Kentucky to win Maui. They were picked seventh in the BE. Notre Dame won the underrated Old Spice Classic. They were picked ninth in the preseason. Pitt won the 2K Classic. Georgetown won the Charleston Classic. Villanova and West Virginia were runners-up in the preseason NIT and Puerto Rico Tip-Off, respectively. Louisville, Cincinnati (both picked 10th or worse) and Syracuse are still unbeaten as well.
2. Name a team outside the current AP top 10 that could make the Final Four.
Mitch: I won’t include Georgetown because the Hoyas, currently ranked No. 16, likely will be in the top 10 next after their thrilling OT win at Missouri. How about Illinois? The Illini have a nice blend of experience and youth, and they have a senior point guard in Demetri McCamey who is playing the best ball of his career. This is clearly Bruce Weber’s best team since the 2005 Illini lost in the national title game.
Nathan: Texas is currently ranked No. 19 in the AP poll, but I think the Longhorns have the talent and chemistry to make a run to the Final Four. Rick Barnes’ team will lean heavily on a pair of freshmen in center Tristan Thompson and point guard Cory Joseph. But this is a unique duo. Thompson and Joseph play together on the Canadian Junior National Team and were teammates on a Findlay (Nev.) Prep team that won back-to-back ESPN RISE national titles and ended last year ranked No. 1 in the USA Today poll. The winning track record of Thompson and Joseph — plus the surrounding talent of wing scorer Jordan Hamilton, senior forward Gary Johnson and point guards J’Covan Brown and Jai Lucas — gives this Horns squad a chance to make a surprise run in March.
Braden: I would be willing to bet that at least one from outside the current top 10 will make the trip to Houston. The finalists for me were Villanova, Florida, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Gonzaga and Illinois. I am going with Nova though. I love Maalik Wayns, but he has some growing up to do — the sky is the limit though. Corey Fisher is a veteran guard who can run the team if need be. They have a humble, hard-working (very talented) big man in Mouphtaou Yarou. Sprinkle in names like Stokes, Armwood, Cheek and Pena and you have quite a deep rotation for the well-dressed Jay Wright. To top if off, most of this group was around for the Final Four run in ‘09.
3. Which current AP top 25 team is the most overrated?
Mitch: This might be a bit hypocritical, but I will go with UConn, who we have ranked No. 4 in the Athlon Sports top 25. UConn, ranked No. 7 in the AP, deserves its top-10 ranking based on its strong early season resume (wins over Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky), but I’m not sure the Huskies are one of the 10 best teams in the nation. Kemba Walker has been brilliant, and Alex Oriakhi has been a beast down low, but this is not a roster loaded with talent. They could very well prove me wrong, but I would be surprised if this team remains in the top 10 all season.
Nathan: Just because John Calipari could walk a tightrope with an all freshman lineup at Memphis doesn’t mean that Josh Pastner should follow the same formula. After struggling to beat a one-win Arkansas State team, 78–71 in overtime, on Wednesday night, Pastner’s No. 15-ranked Tigers have a lot of work to do before being considered a lock for the Sweet 16 — as they were when Coach Cal ran the show.
Braden: Minnesota leap into the rankings was way too knee-jerk. They have a nice roster and an excellent coach — and two good wins over North Carolina and West Virginia. But Virginia just went into the Barn and beat them by eight, and watch out come Big Ten play. Their first two games are at Wisconsin and at Michigan State, followed by Indiana at home, at Ohio State and Purdue at home. A 2-3 record to start conference play might be the best they can hope for. My default answer will always be Kansas State, however, until proven otherwise. I am not a Frank Martin believer.
4. Name a team that impressed you during the holiday tournaments.
Mitch: Tennessee looked great against Villanova to win the NIT Season Tip-Off, but the Vols’ road to the finals (Belmont and Missouri State at home, and VCU in New York) wasn’t overly taxing. So I will go with Minnesota, which beat Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia in a four-day period to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Gophers are deep, athletic and have great size. They lost at home to Virginia in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but point guard Al Nolen was out — and this question was about play in a holiday tournament.
Nathan: Duke proved it belongs at No. 1 with a hard-fought 84–79 victory over Michigan State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Freshman point guard Kyrie Irving was particularly impressive with a line of 31 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocked shots, while thriving in the type of leadership role not usually placed on the shoulders of a Coach K rookie. This Duke team could be better than last year’s national title winner — that’s impressive.
Braden: Notre Dame and Tennessee tied. After losing two of the best to ever suit up for the Irish in recent memory, Tory Jackson and Luke Harangody, Mike Brey’s bunch won the Old Spice Classic by beating a disciplined Wisconsin team, an athletic Georgia squad and Cal. Freshman Eric Atkins is contributing 26 minutes per game and distributing the ball well (3.3 apg). Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough offer veteran scoring, and Carleton Scott could emerge very quickly as a star — he leads team in rebounds (7.8) and blocks (2.1). The Vols were very impressive in their NIT tourney win. Melvin Goins played extraordinary defense, Tobias Harris supplies an consistent post threat ,and even Scotty Hopson is showing signs of maturity and growth as a rebounder, defender and leader.
5. Which score was the most surprising this week?
Mitch: Wisconsin 87, NC State 48. It was no surprise that Wisconsin won this game, especially since it was in Madison and the Wolfpack were playing without big man Tracy Smith. But there is no excuse for a team with as much talent as NC State — even if the better players are freshmen — to lose by 39 points. Wisconsin is good — but not that good.
Nathan: Central Florida took down Florida, 57–54, as Marcus Jordan — His Airness’ son — scored 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting. The win moves the Golden Knights to 6–0 and could drop the Gators out of the top 25 after many predicted coach Billy Donovan’s team would bounce back to contend for an SEC title this season. The win was especially sweet for first-year UCF coach Donnie Jones, who won two national titles during his 11 seasons as Donovan’s right-hand man in Gainesville.
Braden: Kansas 77, UCLA 76. Kansas is a top-5 team that is unbeaten, the favorite to win the conference and make a deep tournament run. UCLA has lost three straight, albeit to good teams, but is in more of a rebuilding mode. The Jayhawks needed a mass of confusion and an “interesting” foul with 0.7 seconds left to get the win. It was athletic wing Tyler Honeycutt’s coming out party as he went for 33 points, nine rebounds, four assists and a pair of blocks. If he could take better care of the ball, he could blossom into a Pac-10 P.O.Y candidate.
Auburn (-5.5) vs. South Carolina
The Tigers passed their most difficult test of the season last week — and did so in dramatic fashion. Auburn rallied from 24–0 deficit in the second quarter to stun rival Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Now, Gene Chizik’s club turns its attention to South Carolina in a rematch of a game played in late September won by Auburn, 35–27. The Gamecocks had leads of 20–7 in the second quarter and 27–21 in the third but made too many mistakes in the second half. The key for Auburn was limiting Marcus Lattimore’s effectiveness. South Carolina threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns, but the running game was not a factor. And that has been the theme in South Carolina’s three losses — Lattimore had 33 yards vs. Auburn, did not play in the second half due to injury against Kentucky and had only 30 yards against Arkansas. Auburn isn’t known for its stout defense, but the Tigers held Alabama’s dynamic duo in check last week; Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram combined for 60 yards on 20 carries.
Auburn 28, South Carolina 20
Oklahoma (-4.5) vs. Nebraska
Nebraska fell a bit short of its ultimate goal (a shot at the national title), but the Huskers would love nothing more than to win the Big 12 title in their final season in the league. There is no doubt Bo Pelini will have his team ready to play. Nebraska should have Taylor Martinez back at quarterback after he sat out the Colorado game with various injuries. The Huskers survived without him, but this team needs a healthy Martinez running the show to beat a team as good as Oklahoma. The Sooners are playing their best football at the right time of the year. They have won three straight games, topping Texas Tech, 45–7, Baylor, 53–23, and outlasting Oklahoma State, 47–41, in a classic Bedlam Series Showdown. The key matchup in this game will be OU’s offense vs. the stout Nebraska defense. Oklahoma is scoring a ton of points, but the Huskers are allowing only 16.8 points per game.
Oklahoma 27, Nebraska 20
Virginia Tech (-4) vs. Florida State
It might not be the title game the ACC had hoped for (NC State playing in Charlotte would have been a huge draw), but this is still a solid matchup between two very good teams. Virginia Tech has won 10 straight games since its inexplicable loss to James Madison in Week 2. The Hokies are getting very good play from quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and the defense, as usual, has been outstanding. Florida State lost two league games by a total of six points and had the ball in the red zone in the closing minutes in each game. The Seminoles are two plays away from being 11–1 overall and 8–0 in the league. Florida State will be the best offense Virginia Tech has faced since its Week 1 showdown with Boise State. The Noles are balanced and have a savvy senior running the show in quarterback Christian Ponder. This game is taking a backseat to the marquee showdowns in the Big 12 and SEC, but the ACC title game should be very interesting.
Virginia Tech 27, Florida State 24
SMU (+9) at UCF
SMU secured its first trip to the Conference USA title game by beating East Carolina on the road, 45–38, in overtime last weekend. The Mustangs have made a rapid ascent under June Jones, who went 1–11 in 2008 and 8–5 in ’09, his first two seasons on the job. UCF is making its third trip to the conference title game under George O’Leary. The Knights have been explosive on offense in 2010, especially in the last two months of the season. Led by true freshman quarterback Jeffrey Godrey, UCF has scored 35 points or more in seven of its last eight games. This team is 9–3 overall, with two of its losses against BCS conference teams (Kansas State and NC State) by an average of 6.5 points. SMU is good, but UCF is better — and at home.
UCF 38, SMU 30
Miami (Ohio) (+17.5) vs. Northern Illinois
They’ve been flying under the radar in the MAC, but Miami is arguably the most improved team in the nation in 2010. After stumbling through a 1–11 record in Mike Haywood’s first season, the RedHawks have increased their win total by seven games and captured the MAC East title with a 7–1 record in league play. Northern Illinois, on the other hand, was expected to be good — and the Huskies have more than lived up to the hype. Jerry Kill’s club is 10–2 overall and a perfect 8–0 in the MAC. The Huskies won at Minnesota and lost by six at Illinois and 17 at Iowa State. This is an explosive club that has outgained its opponents in league play by an average of 200 yards per game. Miami is a nice story, but Northern Illinois is a dominant team.
Northern Illinois 40, Miami (Ohio) 14
Nevada (+9) at Louisiana Tech
The Wolf Pack, fresh off their monumental win over Boise State, need one more win to wrap up a share of their first WAC title since 2005. There is potential for a letdown, but with so much at stake, veteran coach Chris Ault will have his team ready to play. Louisiana Tech has proven it can move the football and score some points; the Bulldogs have scored at least 34 points in four of their past five games. But this team really struggles on defense. Louisiana Tech ranks 114th in the nation in yards allowed (456.9) and has been torched by every decent team on its schedule — Texas A&M (48 points), Navy (37), Hawaii (41), Boise State (49) and Fresno State (40).
Nevada 44, Louisiana Tech 20
Oregon (-16.5) at Oregon State
In each of the past two seasons, Oregon State needed to beat Oregon in the Civil War to advance to the Rose Bowl. Didn’t happen. The Ducks won 65–38 in Corvallis in 2008 and 37–33 in Eugene in ’09. So can Oregon State return the favor and crush Oregon’s national title hopes? Not likely. The Ducks are simply too good, and the Beavers are simply too mediocre. Oregon State is 5-6 overall and 4-4 in the Pac-10. The Beavers have lost three of their past four games, including a stunning 31-14 setback at home to Washington State and a 38-0 shutout at Stanford last week. There is nothing on this team’s resume that suggests they can hang with the powerful Ducks.
Oregon 41, Oregon State 20
Connecticut (+1.5) at South Florida
The Huskies are one win away from securing a spot in the first BCS bowl game in school history. This team has come along way since mid-September, when it dropped to 1–2 after a troubling 30–16 loss at Temple. UConn has since won six of eight games, with one of the losses by one point (at Rutgers). South Florida, too, is playing its best ball in the latter half of the season. The Bulls have won four of five, though all four wins have come by eight points or less, including three by three points or less. South Florida is having issues at quarterback. Sophomore B.J. Daniels is questionable; he returned to practice this week, but his availability is not known. If he can’t go, true freshman Bobby Eveld (8-of-15, 120 yards vs. Miami) will get the call. The uncertainty at quarterback is a concern, but I like USF.
South Florida 24, UConn 14
USC (-6.5) at UCLA
Has a UCLA-USC game been less intriguing? Not since I’ve been following college football. But the game is on the schedule, so I figured I’d go ahead and add it to the list. USC seemed to gain some momentum in the middle the season, but that was lost with consecutive losses to Oregon State and Notre Dame. The Trojans do expect to get quarterback Matt Barkley back this week, which should help. UCLA has been struggling in the last half of the season, losing five of six games — and looking bad doing so. The Bruins have been dreadful on offense, ranking 101st in total offense and 103rd in scoring offense. It will be difficult for UCLA to score enough to win this game.
USC 24, UCLA 10
Washington (-6) at Washington State
Washington State is an improved team, but it’s an indictment on Washington that the Huskies are only a six-point favorite against the Cougars. Wazzu did win its last game — a stunning 31–14 victory at Oregon State — but this has been the worst BCS conference program in the nation over the last three years (and it hasn’t been close). Washington is 4–4 in the league, but due to a tough non-conference schedule (BYU, Nebraska, Syracuse) the Huskies are only 5-6 overall and need to beat Wazzu to return to a bowl game for the first time since 2002. Think about that: A program that won a national title as recently as 1991 is in the midst of a seven-year bowl drought.
Washington 30, Washington State 14
Last week: 7–3 overall (7–3 against the spread)
Season: 89–41 overall (68–57–5 against the spread)
By Charean Williams
Peyton Manning hasn’t been Peyton Manning the past two games, but the Indianapolis Colts haven’t been the Indianapolis Colts.
Manning has thrown seven interceptions the past two games, the most interceptions he has thrown in back-to-back games in his 13-year career.
The Colts lost both games — to the Patriots and to the Chargers — and sit 6-5. They aren’t used to being here. They started 14-0 last season, had a nine-game winning streak to close out the 2008 season, started 7-0 in 2007, started 9-0 in 2006 and started 13-0 in 2005.
“It’s certainly not fun coming in on Monday after a loss,” Manning said. “We’ve had many a season where we haven’t had many of those at all. It’s not surprising if you aren’t playing as well, executing as well, as you have in the past or as you should be doing. It ends up costing you ball games. It’s a hole that we put ourselves in. It’s a tremendous challenge, but it’s a tremendous opportunity. We have five games left. … We’ve got to find a way to dig our way out of this hole. As an old coach used to say: ‘Keep sawing wood.’ That’s all we know how to do.”
Manning remains a candidate for league MVP, an award he’s won an NFL-record four times. Manning has been the Colts’ offense, which ranks first in the NFL, and he is one of three passers with more than 3,300 passing yards this season. But he has fallen to 15th in passer rating at 90.8.
He hasn’t gotten much help.
The Colts have 13 players on injured reserve, including two of Manning’s favorite weapons in tight end Dallas Clark and receiver Anthony Gonzalez. Manning has completed passes to 14 different players.
Running back Joseph Addai has played in only six games as has running back Mike Hart, and the Colts rank 29th in rushing offense.
The Colts’ patchwork offensive line is getting Manning hit at an alarming rate, though he has been sacked only 13 times.
“I do think that, without question, he can’t do it all by himself,” Colts Coach Jim Caldwell said. “That’s why it’s a team game. So we just got to keep trying to win and get better, and you’ll see things improve.”
Manning admits all the moving parts have made it more difficult for him this season. But all is not lost: The Colts are tied for first place in the AFC South.
“Certainly, it has been a challenge from that standpoint, because of the different players playing,” Manning said. “It’s also different players practicing. Even some of the guys who are healthy aren’t always able to practice, which can affect your continuity and flow. But it’s something we have to deal with. All teams deal with it at different times. It’s something you have to work through.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity for some young guys, some different guys.”
Goodson makes good
The Panthers have DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who last season became the first teammates to have 1,100-yard rushing seasons in the same season. There weren’t many carries left for Mike Goodson, the team’s fourth-round draft pick in 2009.
Injuries to Williams, Stewart and Tyrell Sutton gave Goodson his first start and his first extended action.
“We just wait on the next guy, and whoever is up, goes,” Goodson said.
Goodson played in only eight games and had only 22 carries for 49 yards as a rookie. He had only 16 carries for 50 yards in the first eight games this season. All he needed, apparently, was a chance.
Goodson has made good the past three games as the Panthers’ feature back. He had 23 carries for 100 yards against the Bucs and 22 carries for 120 yards against the Ravens. Against the Browns, Goodson scored his first career touchdown and had 81 yards receiving.
In the past three games, Goodson has 59 carries for 275 yards and a touchdown and 16 receptions for 125 yards.
“I was ready,” said Goodson, who played at Texas A&M. “I got ready in my mind. I knew I had to take on the load. I just put it in my mind that I was going to do it, and I think I did pretty well for the first two games.”
Goodson, who has bulked up to 215 pounds after arriving at 190, still has work to do. He has fumbled three times, losing one.
But Goodson might not be long for the job, even with what he’s done. Stewart returned last week and had 12 carries for 98 yards.
“I leave those decisions to them,” Goodson said. “I’m just going to take what they give me and run with it. The opportunities I get, I can only try to do my best, so that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Fourth and short
• Seven NFC teams already have seven victories. Those seven teams are fighting for five playoff berths. The Bears and the Saints have tough roads ahead, with their remaining opponents having a combined record of 31-24.
• Bengals running back Cedric Benson has grown increasingly frustrated. He had 18 carries for 41 yards last week, and with only two 100-yard games this season, he has only 788 yards. Benson had six 100-yard games last season in rushing for 1,251 yards in 13 games. With his contract up after this season, Benson is playing for his future.
• The Cardinals’ six-game losing streak is the longest since the team lost eight consecutive games in 2006. At 3-8, the Cardinals are assured of having their first non-winning season since 2007.
• Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has 12 career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.
• Since 2006, the Ravens are 4-1 against the Steelers when they allow two or fewer sacks.
• Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a perfect single-game passer rating of 158.3 against the Lions on Thanksgiving, becoming just the sixth quarterback in NFL history to post multiple perfect passer rating games in a career.
• Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell has a completion percentage of 54.7 through eight games — seven starts — after being a 62.4 percent passer in 1,430 attempts in 45 starts with Washington from 2007-09.
• Steelers linebacker James Harrison has been fined $125,000 for four illegal hits this season.
• Running back Tashard Choice will get more carries this week in place of an injured Marion Barber. But it’s clear the Cowboys view him as the No. 3 back behind Barber and Felix Jones. He will only get opportunities because of injury and or situation. He has only 38 yards on 14 carries this season, and 45 yards receiving on nine catches. Choice has said the Cowboys assured him that his fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall in the season opener did not play a part in his lack of touches.
• Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has had four consecutive 100-yard games for the first time in his career. He is nearing the 1,000-yard mark, having gained 991 yards on 230 carries.
• Dwayne Bowe finally is living up to the expectations the Chiefs had for him when they made him a first-round draft pick in 2007. Bowe spent last season in Todd Haley’s dog house. This season, Haley has nothing but praise for Bowe, who has 58 catches for 885 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns. Bowe had only 16 touchdowns in his first three seasons combined.
• Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown 17 touchdowns and three interceptions since Week 3.
• The Bears were undefeated in November for the first time since the 2005 team also went 4-0 en route to an 11-5 season.
• Peyton Hillis has 905 yards and 11 touchdowns, joining Hall of Famers Leroy Kelly and Jim Brown as the only Browns backs to score 11 touchdowns in a season.
• Oakland has fallen from second in the NFL in rushing at over 162 yards per game to fifth at 139.7. Darren McFadden has only 16 yards on 18 carries in his past two games.
By Ralph Vacchiano
When Spygate first broke in 2007, the NFL came down hard on New England’s Evil Empire. They hammered the Patriots and Bill Belichick for illegally filming the signals of Jets coaches, and the punishment was deservedly harsh.
The Pats were fined $250,000. Belichick was fined $500,000. And the Patriots were stripped of their first-round draft pick in 2008.
So how did the Denver Broncos get off with not much more than a slap on the wrist for Spygate II?
The league sent a terrible and maddeningly inconsistent message last week when it fined the Broncos $50,000 and coach Josh McDaniels $50,000 for illegally taping the San Francisco 49ers’ walkthrough practice before a game in London four weeks ago.
How much that tape would actually help a team the day before the game might be up for debate. What’s not up for debate is that the Broncos had it, thanks to the team’s director of video operations Steve Scarnecchia. By the way, Scarnecchia worked for Belichick and the Patriots before Spygate I, and was working for the Jets when that scandal erupted. In fact, he’s reportedly the Jets employee who tipped off the league.
And in case you’re noticing a pattern, McDaniels was on Belichick’s Spygate staff, so the apples in this case haven’t fallen far from the tree. It’s a dangerous pattern, too, one that is going to envelop all former Belichick employees in a cloud of suspicion. It’s a direct assault on the integrity of the league.
So why the wrist slap? It seems that the Broncos avoided a major punishment because McDaniels never looked at the tape and turned Scarnecchia into the league. According to the letter that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, the NFL concluded that “the coach had no interest in the material and did not in fact watch the tape (and) did not show the tape to any other member of the coaching staff.”
Fine. And good for McDaniels. But why wasn’t Scarnecchia fired on the spot, instead of three weeks later? And why did it take McDaniels nine days to inform his bosses? And then why did it take the Broncos another four days to inform the league?
If nothing else, they sure did a wonderful job of making it look like they were covering something up.
“I made a mistake,” McDaniels said. “I made a mistake, and I should have done that right away. We felt we handled it the right way by not doing anything with that, but I did not follow through with it.”
Even if McDaniels is to be believed, that he never looked at the tape and it was simply an oversight that he kept the secret for more than a week, the punishment still should have been harsher — especially since he and Scarnecchia are repeat offenders, at least by association. It’s an “integrity of the game” issue, as the NFL made clear, and they can’t play games with that. Fining an ultra-rich team owner $50,000 while he’s running a franchise in an $8 billion per year industry is like a mosquito biting an elephant. It’s hardly an annoyance at all.
It shouldn’t be surprising, though, because this is a league that is insanely inconsistent with what it chooses to get upset about and who it slaps with financial penalties. It has admirably begun cracking down on dangerous helmet-to-helmet hits, doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. But the players say it’s almost impossible to tell what warrants a fine and what doesn’t. The consistency — either with the hits or the amounts — just isn’t there.
And then there are fines like the $25,000 Chad Ochocinco received for using Twitter during a preseason game — a violation of the NFL’s social media policy. That’s the same fine Randy Moss got for not talking to the media — though why the NFL chose to fine him, instead of the dozens of other players violating the media policy, was never made clear.
Were those violations as fine-worthy as the ugly fight last weekend between Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan and Houston receiver Andre Johnson? Both of them got $25,000 fines, too. Come to think of it, Giants running back Brandon Jacobs didn’t even get half that amount when he threw his helmet like a missile into the stands in Indianapolis in Week 2 ($10,000). But he came close, getting a $20,000 fine, when he cursed and made obscene gestures at the fans in Philadelphia in Week 11.
In other words, he got twice as much for hurling insults towards fans as he did for hurling a dangerous object.
It makes no sense. Just like it makes no sense that the Broncos — the entire organization — got only double the fines that players got for fighting, Tweeting or not talking, despite what sure looked like an organizational attempt to conceal a scandal. And McDaniels, the man behind it, got one-tenth the fine that Belichick got for essentially the same offense (though, to be fair, he may end up paying for it with his job).
So what’s to stop another team from doing what the Broncos did? They could tape a walkthrough, watch it, then insist they didn’t and turn themselves in. If it helps them win and get into the playoffs, wouldn’t it be worth $50,000? Would it be worth it for a coach to write a $50,000 check if it helped him keep his job?
None of that is to say that McDaniels was guilty of anything other than bad judgment in not immediately reporting an illegal act. This whole, sordid, ugly incident might have happened exactly the way he said. But his guilt isn’t really the point. It’s about the appearance of his guilt and the message a harsh punishment would sent.
The NFL had a responsibility to protect both the integrity and the image of its sport. They didn’t because their punishment didn’t go nearly far enough.
By Ken Davis
It’s relatively safe to predict at least one lull by the Connecticut Huskies Tuesday night against New Hampshire at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. It might be caused by the final remnants of jet lag. Or it could be the overconfidence that results from coming out of nowhere (almost) to win the Maui Invitational.
But it will happen.
Carrying a championship trophy home from an exotic location like the Hawaiian islands can lead to a strain of complacency — even in this reality-based age of TSA pat-downs. But coach Jim Calhoun has been around the block a time or two. And he can be more imposing than any TSA agent. At the first sign of difficulty, he will call timeout and bring Kemba Walker and the Huskies back to the mainland with a verbal assault worse than any body scan ever invented.
It’s a good problem for the Huskies. Returning as Maui champions is a much better alternative than anything offered by the loser’s bracket. Depending on what happens the rest of the season, the Huskies should look back at their first-round victory over Wichita State and call it the turning point. We weren’t kidding last week when we wrote the Maui opener could set the tone for UConn’s season. The Huskies were fortunate (not lucky, but fortunate) to get past Wichita State, especially after Walker got into first-half foul trouble.
Instead of dropping into the wrong side of the bracket and facing Chaminade, UConn got a shot at No. 2 Michigan State and made the most of it. In fact, the Huskies literally grew up overnight. UConn outcoached and outplayed the Spartans. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish against Tom Izzo’s program. But UConn was not the same team that observers — or coaches — had seen in preseason drills or the early portion of the regular season.
The Huskies, led by the scoring of Walker and the rebounding of Alex Oriakhi, then handled Kentucky impressively in the championship game. The team picked to finish 10th in the Big East won the most prestigious Thanksgiving week tournament.
The main topic of conversation has been Walker, who was unstoppable in Maui and now has scored 150 points in five games. Walker has been remarkable. Around the state of Connecticut, where expectations were low coming off an NIT season and a summer dominated by talk of NCAA allegations, the reaction was pure joy. That was based on UConn’s approach to playing more than anything else.
The Huskies proved they will be fun to watch again. Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards were not leaders, and as last season progressed the fan base was turned off by their lack of aggression and intensity. Walker and co-captain Donnell Beverly have set a different tone, whether it has been in workouts or gathering for team meals prepared by Walker. This is a young squad that appreciates the leadership and direction. The desire to learn was evident early. Now the desire to win has returned to the program after a brief but disturbing absence.
Walker and Oriakhi, averaging 13.4 points and 12 rebounds, have responded to the heavy demands place on them. But they didn’t win Maui alone.
Freshman guard Shabazz Napier is playing outstanding on-ball defense. His shot selection needs improvement, but Calhoun has already learned that Napier can run the offense, while Walker stays on the floor and gets a rest from handling the ball every minute. German import Niels Giffey seems to have a high basketball IQ and made backdoor cuts that haven’t been part of UConn’s offense in recent years — if ever. Jeremy Lamb looks solid and steady at guard. Roscoe Smith is teasing with his raw potential and athletic ability.
One lingering concern is finding help up front for Oriakhi. What happens if Oriakhi gets into foul trouble or has an off night? Charles Okwandu is not the answer and never will be. Freshman Tyler Olander, a big surprise the first three weeks of practice, has a lot to learn and could be physically overmatched once Big East play begins.
Suddenly the challenges of a Big East schedule aren’t too far away. UConn opens at Pittsburgh on Dec. 27 — a showdown that will dominate Calhoun’s thoughts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
But after Maui, the holidays seem much brighter for the Huskies.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
If you were watching college basketball during your Thanksgiving break, you may have heard more than one TV analyst say that Connecticut point guard Kemba Walker has been the best player in the nation at this stage of the season. No argument here. We were impressed by his 42 point performance against Vermont on Nov. 17 and named him POW in last week’s notebook. Then he went to the Maui Invitational and really shook things up. Walker scored 90 points in three games as the Huskies shocked the field and won the Maui championship with impressive victories over Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky. Don’t forget his 12 assists and eight steals. During the tournament, an earthquake centered on the Big Island could be felt in the Lahaina Civic Center. We’re still awaiting confirmation that Walker caused the Earth to move.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
With so much attention given to the ineligibility of freshman center Enes Kanter and the debut of point guard Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones was under the radar as he began his career at Kentucky. Jones changed that last week in Maui. Walker overshadowed the 6-9 Wildcat forward, but Jones was sensational in all three games — 29 points, 13 rebounds vs. Oklahoma; 16 points, 17 rebounds vs. Washington; and 24 points, four rebounds vs. UConn. Jones leads Kentucky in scoring (21.2 ppg) and rebounding (10.2 rpg) through five games, is shooting 50 percent from the floor and 46.2 percent on threes.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Monday, Nov. 29
Virginia at Minnesota
The Golden Gophers, led by guard Blake Hoffarber, are 6-0 heading into the start of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Virginia is 3-3 with losses to Stanford, Washington and Wichita State.
Tuesday, Nov. 30
Georgetown vs. Missouri
The Hoyas of the Big East visit the Tigers of the Big 12 in Kansas City. Austin Freeman is averaging 20.2 points to lead Georgetown. Marcus Denmon, Ricardo Ratliffe and Laurence Bowers share the scoring load for MU.
North Carolina at Illinois
Not exactly the 2005 national championship game, but this should be an interesting offering from the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Carolina is searching for some offense.
Wednesday, Dec. 1
Purdue at Virginia Tech
The Boilermakers suffered a surprising setback against Richmond and will have a tough time bouncing back at Tech.
Michigan State at Duke
Could this be a preview of the national championship game? Both teams are capable of going that far. Only time will tell. Sneak preview or not, this should be fun.
Thursday, Dec. 2
Arizona State at Baylor
Baylor has LaceDarius Dunn back from his suspension. He scored 24 points with seven 3-pointers in his return against Lipscomb. Now it is time for the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.
UCLA at Kansas
The Jayhawks are entering the Pac-10 portion of their schedule. Kansas is coming off a victory over Arizona and welcome the Bruins to Allen Fieldhouse next. Bill Self’s team plays USC on Dec. 18 and at Cal on Dec. 22.
Friday, Dec. 3
Saint Joseph’s at Villanova
Bad timing for Saint Joseph’s to open Big Five play with Villanova. The Wildcats are coming of their first loss to Tennessee on Friday night.
Saturday, Dec. 4
Kentucky at North Carolina
Two historic programs, two successful coaches, and two of the top recruiting classes for 2010 — all in one big game.
Butler vs. Duke
They gave us a great national championship game in Indy. Now the site will be East Rutherford, N.J. Duke might be significantly better than the 2010 national championship team. Butler is struggling out of the gates.
Sunday, Dec. 5
Temple at Maryland
Temple is struggling in every aspect of the game. The Owls lost to Cal and Texas A&M over Thanksgiving weekend and playing the Terps in College Park is never easy.
THEY SAID IT:
“I was trailing the play, so I knew [Tyshawn Taylor] was going to throw it. It was a good pass, but it was an even better catch. Coach [Bill] Self always says to put it in with two hands, but there was no way he could do it on that one.” — Kansas guard Tyrel Reed, commenting on a powerful one-handed catch and slam dunk by teammate Thomas Robinson during an 87-79 victory over Arizona.
“I don’t know how he caught that. It wasn’t a great pass, but that was a big-time play.” — Bill Self, talking about the same play.
“It was like the bully at lunchtime out on the playground.” — Cal coach Mike Montgomery, describing his halftime scolding to his team Friday when the Golden Bears trailed Notre Dame 21-5.
“I was trying to do the math. I’ve never had 21 points at halftime and been up 16.” — Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, commenting on that first half against Cal.
“I have a lot of respect for him. I know he’s a good guy. I do know it. I know he has integrity. This business is tough. It can get to you. He might have skipped, but I admire the way he’s handling all of it. His team, man, he’s doing a great job coaching.” — Villanova coach Jay Wright, on embattled Tennessee coach Bruce Peal.
• How many Mountain West teams can command our attention? BYU, San Diego State and UNLV are all 6-0 and New Mexico has started 4-1. Steve Fisher’s Aztecs are receiving the most national love in the rankings but Lon Kruger’s Runnin’ Rebels turned a few heads while winning the 76 Classic at Anaheim, Calif. Kruger has brought together a band of transfers from major programs and kept his philosophy of emphasizing defense first. Chace Stanback (UCLA transfer) had 17 points and eight rebounds and was named most outstanding player as UNVL topped Virginia Tech 71-59 in the tourney’s title game. Quintrell Thomas (Kansas), Tre’Von Willis (Memphis) and Anthony Marshall were big contributors. Against Tech, the Rebels forced 18 turnovers, scored 24 points off them and won the battle inside 34-14. “Our guys have been able to be disruptive,” Kruger said. No argument from Tech on that point.
• Arizona coach Sean Miller had to be pleased with his team’s performance in Las Vegas. The young Wildcats (5-1) lost to Kansas, 87-79, primarily because they fell behind 31-15 early. There’s no doubt Arizona’s Derrick Williams will be a candidate for Pac-10 Player of the Year. Williams had 27 points and eight rebounds against the Jayhawks. Kansas coach Bill Self called him “the best player on the court.” New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies recently said of Williams: “He’s an NBA player. What can I say?” That sums it up pretty well.
• Kansas returns to action Thursday at home against UCLA. The Jayhawks will be in quest of their 64th consecutive victory at Allen Fieldhouse. KU made school history with No. 63, an 82-41 rout of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Jayhawks still have three more games before the Dec. 18 debut of freshman sensation Josh Selby. It will be interesting to watch Self juggle playing time when Selby starts dominating minutes at point guard. The KU offense has been functioning at a high level without Selby. Kansas leads the nation in assists per game (22.0) and field goal percentage (57.8). The Jayhawks are second nationally in points per game (92.0). And they’re about to get better? Well, yes. Selby will provide the backcourt leadership KU is missing. Right now the Jayhawk bigs are carrying the load.
• By defeating Wisconsin in the Old Spice Classic championship game, Notre Dame won its third in-season tournament title in 11 seasons under coach Mike Brey. And the Irish are 7-0 for the second time ever during Mike Brey’s tenure at Notre Dame. The other time was 2001-02.
• By the way, that five-point half by Cal against the Irish wasn’t even a record low for a half. Kansas State outscored Savannah State 48-4 in the second half back on Jan. 7, 2008. K-State won 85-25.
A• stomach virus that bothered Stanford guard Jeremy Green all last week appears to be the reason why he collapsed following Sunday’s 81-74 victory over DePaul. “As Jeremy was leaving the court following the game, he began to experience some dizziness and stomach pain due to exhaustion," Stanford’s sports information department said in a statement. "After receiving treatment at the arena, Jeremy was then transported to a local hospital for further treatment.” Green had played 39 minutes and scored 19 points.
Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher
(http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken’s web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).
By Charean Williams
Once the Hail Mary landed in his hands, and he crossed the goal line, Mike Thomas knew his career had changed forever. Only two seasons into his NFL career, the Jaguars receiver already is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Thomas’ jersey and gloves were sent to Canton, Ohio, for display after he caught a 50-yard touchdown pass on the final play to give Jacksonville a miraculous, 31-24, victory over the Texans two weeks ago.
“I’m just blessed and honored that things are happening for me and happening to me,” Thomas said. “I’m grateful for them. It’s definitely been a lot going on these last couple of weeks.”
It was the start of the best eight days of Thomas’ life.
He caught the Hail Mary on Nov. 14; he traveled to Bristol, Conn., the next day to appear on ESPN; his girlfriend Angelica delivered his second child, Audrina Jervae Thomas, on Sunday; and, later Sunday, he caught a touchdown pass in the Jaguars’ 24-20 victory over the Browns.
“It’s been fun,” Thomas said, “and tiring.”
Thomas always will be linked to the Hail Mary, but he isn’t a one-catch wonder. He is the team’s leading receiver with 46 catches for 572 yards and three touchdowns. In the past three games, he has 17 receptions for 226 yards and three touchdowns.
“Honestly, I believe in my abilities,” Thomas said. “I’ve always believed in my abilities. I’m a very confident player if you don’t know anything about me. People that know me know that I’m not cocky; I’m real down to earth, but I just believe in myself. This kind of thing, the season that I’m having, it’s expected of me, just because I’ve put in so much work, and I’m real dedicated to what I do. A lot of people try to look down on me because of my height. It is what it is. I go to work every day and try to get better. I definitely believe in myself and I believe this season is well deserved for me. I just keep working and hope things will get better.”
Thomas, who is only 5-8, 198 pounds, produced one of the biggest plays in NFL history. Texans defensive back Glover Quin knocked down David Garrard’s pass in the end zone, but Quin inadvertently batted it right to Thomas. Thomas caught the ball at the 1-yard line and stepped into the end zone as the Texans watched in disbelief.
“It was just a reaction,” Thomas said. “It was unconditioned. You can’t control it. There’s a reaction. I reacted to the ball and caught it. The next thing you know, it was a touchdown.”
Now, he’s a hero.
“Some people recognized me before the play,” Thomas said. “Now that I’ve been on ESPN quite a bit, people are starting to recognize me a lot more.”
Defending a championship
It took the Saints 43 years to win their first championship. They are figuring out why it’s harder the second time.
Only seven of the 43 previous Super Bowl champions repeated.
“There’s always challenges with a new season anyway, but especially coming off a championship year, it’s even harder to win, because every time you step on the field, people are gunning for you,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “You have what they want.”
Brees said before the season he sought advice on winning multiple titles. The Saints are not satisfied with just one Lombardi Trophy.
“It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another thing to actually go out and experience it for yourself,” Brees said. “There’s always going to be those times where you just have to work through it, as a team, on your own. There’s going to be adversity, you know there is, for every team no matter what the circumstances were the year before. I feel like we’re a pretty battle-tested team for what we went through in the early part of the season. Now is the time to be playing our best football.”
Mr. Smith goes to St. Louis
As the No. 2 overall pick last year, Jason Smith received a six-year deal with $33 million in guarantees from the Rams. He immediately was tabbed “the next Orlando Pace.”
But Smith has yet to play left tackle, and he has been slowed by three injuries in two seasons. He has missed nine of a possible 25 games with a knee injury and two concussions.
Smith’s first head injury came in a Nov. 22 game against the Cardinals. He missed the rest of the 2009 season. His second came in practice this season before the Oct. 31 game against Carolina. He missed one game.
He also had one documented concussion at Baylor.
“It’s one of those deals where they happen,” Smith said. “In the NFL, guys are hitting hard every day. You’ve got to just deal with. With my belief being in God and knowing that he does everything to us for a reason, I just pray about it and seek to find out what it is he has in store for me and not basically worry about what happened to me.”
Smith has allowed two sacks this season, according to STATS, Inc., and he has been called for two holds. The Rams starting right tackle has been a solid run blocker and is working on becoming a better pass blocker.
“I feel like I’ve got room for improvement,” Smith said. “There are things I’ve got to keep working on until the last game is played, and then we’ll go back and evaluate and hear how I did and basically just judge myself and see what can I do better, what can I focus on for the future.”
• Vince Young may have played his last game in Tennessee. He needs season-ending surgery on his right thumb, but his relationship with coach Jeff Fisher might be beyond repair. Young and Fisher both have a year remaining on their current contracts, which could force the Titans to make a decision on whether to go forward with Fisher or with Young.
• The Redskins have a plus-6 turnover ratio. Through 10 games last year, they were minus-8. Washington has 21 takeaways this season, putting them on pace for 34. They haven’t had more than 34 takeaways since 1999 when they had 37.
• Rams quarterback Sam Bradford isn’t far off the pace of several rookie passing records. Bradford has completed 228-of-276 passes for 2,158 yards with 14 touchdowns. Peyton Manning was 326-of-575 for 3,739 yards and 26 touchdowns as a rookie in 1998.
• Since head coach Raheem Morris took over the defense, the Bucs are 9-7. Their 21-0 victory over the 49ers last week was their first shutout on the road since 2003. The Bucs have allowed 16 points in their past two games and now rank 16th in overall defense.
• Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a 138.6 passer rating the past two games, having completed 49-of-65 passes for 590 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. …
• The Eagles lead the NFL in takeaways with 26, including 19 interceptions. Cornerback Asante Samuel leads the league in interceptions with seven. He has 36 picks since 2006, the most by any player in the league.
• The Steelers will put new sod in Heinz Field on Sunday. The field first came under scrutiny after former kicker Jeff Reed criticized it. The Patriots and the Raiders also reportedly have filed complaints with the league. The field will host the Pitt-West Virginia game Friday and then four high school championship games on Saturday before the new sod goes down.
• The Texans rank 32nd in pass defense and 31st in total defense. They are on pace to become one of the worst passing defenses in NFL history. The 1995 Falcons are the worst in history, allowing 4,541 passing yards. Defensive coordinator Frank Bush has come under fire, but coach Gary Kubiak said Bush will continue to call the defense.
• Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has three consecutive 100-yard games and four for the season. For the season, he has 878 yards on 209 carries.
• Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman is 9-4 in his past 13 starts and has won six of his past seven games.
• Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles continues to lead the NFL in yards per carry, as he averages 6.1 yards. Charles has 1,204 offensive yards, fourth in the league. His 28 runs of 10-plus yards is tops in the NFL.
• Eagles tight end Brent Celek had no receptions last week, the second time in three games he’s gone without a catch. Celek, who led the team in receiving last season, has been used more as a blocker this season because of the Eagles’ issues with their offensive line.
• Dolphins quarterback Tyler Thigpen is 1-11 as an NFL starter. His only NFL victory came in a 20-13 decision over Oakland on Nov. 30, 2008.
• Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw has lost his starting job after losing five of six fumbles. In his career, Bradshaw has lost eight of 14 fumbles.
• Raiders safety Michael Huff has 62 tackles, surpassing last season’s total of 59.
• Ravens receiver Donte’ Stallworth, who is back from a year-long suspension and a broken bone in his left foot, had a 15-yard catch last week. It was his first catch in almost two years.
• The Bills owe Shawne Merriman the remaining $1.7 million on his 2010 contract. They may get nothing for their money. Merriman, who the Bills claimed off waivers, re-injured his Achilles’ tendon 10 minutes into his first practice with his new team. The Bills have doubts that Merriman will play this year, and he becomes a free agent after the season.
• Bears rookie right tackle J’Marcus Webb had three holding penalties last week against the Dolphins. The team’s seventh-round pick now has four holding penalties and has allowed seven sacks, according to STATS, Inc.
• San Diego is 23-5 in November and December under Norv Turner.
By Mitch Light
Auburn (+4.5) at Alabama (Fri)
For only the second time in 35 years, the Iron Bowl features a matchup of top-10 teams. Alabama, the defending national champs, has an opportunity to play spoiler against its hated rivals from Auburn, ranked No. 2 in the latest BCS Standings. Alabama is one of the top defensive teams in the nation — ranked No. 7 (293.5 ypg) — but the Tide have yet to face an offense as explosive as Auburn’s. Usually, a good defense can stop a good offense, but consider the following: Auburn has averaged 471 yards of offense in its three games against top-25 defenses (Clemson, LSU, Georgia).
Auburn 28, Alabama 20
Boise State (-14.5) at Nevada (Fri)
Boise State is two wins away from completing its third straight undefeated regular season. The Broncos have been on cruise control the past two months, but this weekend’s trip to Reno could end up being their toughest test of the season. Nevada is 10–1 overall and features one of the most potent offensive attacks in the nation. The Wolf Pack have not beaten Boise since 1998 but have been able to score some points in this series, averaging 37.0 points in regulation in the last three meetings. Nevada will need to put a big number on the board to keep this interesting. Boise is averaging 48.0 points per game and has scored at least 33 in all 10 games.
Boise State 48, Nevada 24
Texas A&M (-3.5) at Texas (Thu)
Texas A&M, which improved to 8–3 overall and 5–2 in the Big 12 with a 9–6 win over Nebraska last week, has now won five straight conference games for the first time since 1998. Texas, meanwhile, has lost four straight Big 12 games — its longest conference losing streak since 1997. The Longhorns did win a game last weekend for the first time in over a month, but beating Florida Atlantic isn’t exactly what gets the folks in Austin fired up. A win over A&M? Now that would do the trick. But beating this Aggie team won’t be easy. Texas A&M is balanced on offense and much-improved on defense.
Texas A&M 27, Texas 17
LSU (+3.5) at Arkansas
The SEC West title has been decided (Auburn is heading to Atlanta), but there is still plenty at stake in this underrated rivalry. LSU can wrap up an at-large invitation to a BCS Bowl with a win, while Arkansas is trying to play its way into consideration for a coveted BCS invite. Keep in mind that Arkansas, with a win, would have victories over LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M, and its only two losses would be against Alabama and Auburn. But first things first: Arkansas must beat a talented LSU team that is playing much better offensively in the latter half of the season. The Tigers rolled up 433 yards against Alabama two weeks ago and had 470 in the win over Ole Miss on Saturday. The Razorbacks might give up some points, but they know how to score, as well. They rank second in the SEC in both total offense and scoring offense behind Auburn. Arkansas is 4–2 in its last six vs. LSU in Little Rock. Make it 5–2.
Arkansas 31, LSU 24
Oklahoma (+3) at Oklahoma State
It’s the biggest Bedlam Series showdown in recent memory. Oklahoma State, one of the nation’s biggest surprises, can secure its first-ever trip to the Big 12 title game with a win; Oklahoma will head to Arlington, Texas, with a win as long as Texas A&M doesn’t beat Texas and pass OU in the BCS Standings. The Sooners have played well the past two weeks, beating Texas Tech and Baylor by a combined score of 98–31, but this is far from a vintage Oklahoma team. The defense has been very un-Sooner like, ranking 62nd in the nation overall and a very surprising 64th against the run. O-State leads the nation in total offense, thanks in large part to the terrific trio of quarterback Brandon Weeden, tailback Kendall Hunter and wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Only once this season have the Pokes been held to under 33 points.
Oklahoma State 35, Oklahoma 30
Florida (+2.5) at Florida State
Florida State is favored in this Sunshine State showdown for the first time since 2004, the final year of the Ron Zook era in Gainesville. The Seminoles are 8–3 overall, with a blowout loss at Oklahoma in Week 3 and a pair of late-season ACC losses to NC State and North Carolina by a combined six points. This is a very good team that could be ranked in the top 10 had the ball bounced a bit differently. Florida, on the other hand, isn’t much better than its record. The Gators are 7–4 overall and 4–4 in the SEC and have looked rather mediocre throughout much of the season. Florida State is the better team for the first time in several years. Now, the Seminoles need to play like it.
Florida State 27, Florida 17
NC State (-2.5) at Maryland
NC State is one win away from its first trip to the ACC Championship Game. It’s quite an accomplishment for a team that went 2–6 in the league last season and lost four of those six games by 20 points or more. Nothing really jumps out at you statistically about this team, but NC State has been receiving tremendous play from junior quarterback Russell Wilson. Maryland has also been a surprise this season, carrying a 7–4 record into the finale this weekend vs. the Pack. The Terps have improved on both sides of the ball — averaging about 10 more points per game while allowing about 10 fewer points. Here’s one statistical oddity about the Terps: They rank 119th in the nation in kickoff returns yet third in punt returns. Strange.
NC State 27, Maryland 21
West Virginia (+2.5) at Pittsburgh (Fri)
There’s plenty on the line in the latest edition of the Backyard Brawl (maybe my favorite rivalry name). Pittsburgh, leading the Big East with a 4–1 record, is two wins away from its second-ever BCS bowl; West Virginia is also in the mix, but the Mountaineers do not control their destiny. Pitt was the clear favorite in the preseason, and the Panthers have been the best team in the league throughout the year. As expected, this team has been stout on defense and has leaned on its running game, with Ray Graham and Dion Lewis taking turns as the featured back. West Virginia’s defensive numbers look good (No. 4 overall; No. 4 scoring), but the Mountaineers have only played one team (Cincinnati) that is ranked in the top 65 in the nation in total offense.
Pittsburgh 27, West Virginia 17
Michigan (+17) at Ohio State
Ohio State has won six straight and eight of nine in this classic rivalry. The Buckeyes have been especially potent in Columbus of late, averaging 40.3 points in the last three games vs. Michigan at the Horseshoe. And with the current state of the Wolverines’ defense — No. 112 in the nation — it won’t be a surprise if the Buckeyes top the 40-point mark once again. Ohio State has won four straight since its loss at Madison, none more impressive than last week’s 20–17 victory at Iowa. Ohio State is simply too good on both sides of the ball to lose this game.
Ohio State 44, Michigan 21
Cincinnati (+1.5) at Connecticut
It’s been a strange season at UConn, but the Huskies have persevered and remain in the hunt for a Big East title. Randy Edsall’s team is 3–2 in the league and already has wins over Pittsburgh and West Virginia. If WVU wins the Backyard Brawl on Friday, and UConn wins its final two games (Cincinnati, at South Forida), the Huskies — a team that lost by 14 points to Temple this season — will be heading to a BCS bowl. Cincinnati busted out with a stunningly easy, 69–38, win over Rutgers last week, but this has been a disappointing season for the Bearcats under first-year coach Butch Jones. UC can still become bowl-eligible, but it must beat UConn and Pitt to do so. Not going to happen.
Connecticut 28, Cincinnati 20
Last week: 8-2 overall (6–3–1 against the spread)
Season: 82–38 overall (61–54–5 against the spread)
By Ralph Vacchiano
It was a marriage that was doomed to fail, right from the very beginning. And Bud Adams probably should’ve known better. Saddling a coach with a player he doesn’t want is never a good idea.
And when that player is a quarterback, it can only be a disaster.
That’s what the relationship between Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher and his quarterback, Vince Young, has become after they reportedly had a confrontation after the Titans’ overtime loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday. Fisher was incensed that his moody quarterback tossed his shoulder pads into the stands after the game and then stormed out of the team’s locker room.
He responded by immediately and publicly stripping Young of his starting job.
Young ended up on season-ending injured reserve with an injured thumb that didn’t really seem to concern Fisher much. The coach’s frustration with his erratic team leader was painfully obvious. He wasn’t trying to hide it at all.
And why, at this point, would anyone be surprised? The icon coach and the petulant quarterback have been headed in that direction since 2006, when Titans owner Adams — and his then-general manager Floyd Reese — made Young the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL Draft, apparently over Fisher’s objection.
It’s been mostly rocky sailing ever since.
“They are going to have to work together,” Adams told the Tennessean on Monday. “I haven’t given up on Vince, and I am sure Fisher hasn’t either. Vince was upset and said some things he regretted after doing it, but you have to get to the bottom of it, straighten it out and move on.
“It is one of those things that happened. It has happened, it is all over with and we want to get Vince back and playing again for us.”
Adams may feel that way for obvious reasons, especially since Young is scheduled to make $8.5 million next season. The fifth-year pro is also loaded with tantalizing talent and potential. Through eight starts this season he had completed 59.6 percent of his passes for 1,255 yards with 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He had also run 25 times for 125 yards.
The feeling among many was that, starting with a strong finish to the 2009 season, he was just beginning to tap into that potential. And for that, he has Adams to thank, at least in part. A year ago the Titans were 0-6 and coming off a horrible, 59-0, loss to the New England Patriots. Adams stepped in then and reportedly ordered Fisher to bench quarterback Kerry Collins and replace him with Young.
Young thrived, and the Titans made an unlikely playoff push, and Fisher even seemed to get behind his revived leader. But his faith seems to be continually tested. On Sunday it was challenged again when Fisher declined to put Young back in the game after he injured his thumb.
That sent Young reeling over the edge, but it also put the spotlight on the festering issue: What good is a promising franchise quarterback if the coach doesn’t believe in him?
And why, in hind sight, would an owner ever think that forcing a coach to live with a quarterback he didn’t want would be a good idea?
“I just want them to get over it,” Adams said after this latest blow-up. “It is like you made the wrong turn and went down the wrong highway and you were upset because someone caused you to do it, but when it is all over with you didn’t have a wreck. You just have to sleep on it and do better the next day.’’
Oh, if only it were that easy.
For the short term, Fisher doesn’t have to deal with the issue. With Young now on IR, the coach can deflect all questions about their fraying relationship by saying, “We can deal with all that when the season is over.”
When the season is over, though, both Fisher and Young will only have one season left on their respective contracts, which Adams will clearly have to address. If Fisher doesn’t want Young, he’ll likely want a quarterback in the April NFL Draft. But if Adams wants Young, will he let his coach choose his own man?
It sure seems like the 87-year-old Adams is more in the Young camp than the Fisher camp, which could lead to a messy ending for the longest-tenured coach in the NFL (16 seasons).
“(Young) is a young guy and he is learning and he has done a good job with us,” Adams said. “I talked to all of them and told them to get this thing settled down and get back to work.”
That sounds like such a simple solution to a messy situation that’s been simmering for four years. But Adams may have to come to grip with the reality that it just might not be possible anymore.
By Ken Davis
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – We now know freshman guard Josh Selby will play for Kansas this season. The NCAA has ruled that Selby must sit out nine regular season games for accepting “impermissible benefits” prior to his signing with the Jayhawks. That means Selby, the player who might make the difference for Kansas in its quest for a return to the Final Four, will make his debut Dec. 18.
The lucky opponent to share the stage with Selby that day will be … (drum roll) … USC.
“Welcome back, right?” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said Sunday with a chuckle. “That doesn’t bother me at all. I’m one of those guys like, I don’t care who they have, we’ve just got to go and do our job.”
The Trojans will have a player debuting for them that day as well, and O’Neill thinks junior Jio Fontan can be a difference-maker for USC. Fontan is a transfer from Fordham who averaged 15.3 points and 4.7 assists as the Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year in 2008-09.
“They’ll probably both have a few jitters,” O’Neill said of Selby and Fontan.
Fontan, a product of St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, N.J., has a fascinating background. He was featured in the PBS documentary “The Street Stops Here” that focused on Bob Hurley Sr., the Hall of Fame coach at St. Anthony. Fontan’s father, Jorge, was described as someone who spent his youth in prison and then dedicated his life to helping his son avoid a life of “crime, drugs and poverty.”
O’Neill is excited about the skills and leadership Fontan will bring to his young USC squad. Fontan, a 6-footer who is a true point guard, has trimmed down from 198 to 172 pounds as he prepares for his debut with the Trojans.
“Jio can guard 1 through 3, which is great,” O’Neill said. “And Jio has experience, toughness and leadership. He was Bob Hurley’s only captain ever, so that tells you a little bit about him as a leader. He’s in fantastic shape and I know it’s killing him not to play. I can’t wait for him to be back.”
When Fontan joins the lineup, O’Neill plans to use him alongside freshman guard Maurice Jones, who ran the show and controlled tempo Sunday as the Trojans defeated New Mexico State 80-61 and improved to 3-2. Jones is listed at 5-7 but actually stands about 5-5. He has tremendous quickness and is already a catalyst to the USC defense. O’Neill says his team will hang its hat on defense until it gets more mature, and that was obvious Sunday in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off when USC had 11 steals and scored 17 points off 18 turnovers by the Aggies.
“He isn’t really going to change my role,” Jones said of Fontan. “I won’t have to do as much when Jio starts playing. He’s going to come in and be a leader.”
This is a year for patience at USC. O’Neill knows that will be hard on the loyal fans, but it is necessary after the self-imposed sanctions that resulted from an NCAA investigation into the Tim Floyd/O.J. Mayo era at USC. O’Neill is the coach who came in last season and has to deal with the pain, including being down one scholarship again this season. The Trojans are eligible for postseason play, but that’s going to be difficult to accomplish — especially with a schedule that includes games at Nebraska, at TCU, at Kansas, at Tennessee, and Texas at home before the end of the month.
“We want to challenge ourselves,” O’Neill said. “They’re going to learn the hard way. When it gets right down to it, if you don’t play a great schedule it comes back to bite you. Coming to play in this tournament and playing Bradley and New Mexico State, I know they’re not Kansas, but they’re good teams.”
O’Neill’s easy going personality is suited for situations like this. Don’t forget he made it through a 19-15 season at Arizona in 2007-08. And those 19 wins were later vacated because of NCAA penalties tied to Lute Olson.
“I never knew the entire year what was going on,” O’Neill said. “It was great. I was an assistant coach, then I was the interim coach, then I was named the next coach — and then I was fired. All in four months.”
O’Neill just laughs. And he knows it will take more good humor in the months ahead as USC rebounds from a drastic change in personnel brought on by the NCAA investigation into football and basketball at the school. Last Wednesday, the Trojans lost a home game to Rider by 20 points. 77-57.
It’s going to be a season full of potholes.
“They were booing and they should have been,” O’Neill said of the fans at the Rider game. “I would have booed us too.
“I think next year is our first year to really start moving in a positive direction — which is a year earlier than happens in most of these situations. And by the fourth year, we could be a very good basketball team.”
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
There will be times this season when Connecticut needs point guard Kemba Walker to rescue the Huskies. Last Wednesday was one of those times. UConn defeated Vermont 89-73 behind Walker’s 42 points, eight rebound and three assists. Walker, who saved the Huskies a lot of embarrassment before they left for the Maui Invitational, was 15-of-24 from the field and 4-for-9 from 3-point range. “I’ve been fortunate enough to witness some pretty good performances over the years, but Kemba’s performance was pretty special,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “Every time we needed something, he got it.”
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
Look who leads the Ohio State Buckeyes in scoring (18.7 ppg) and rebounding (10.7). It’s freshman power forward Jared Sullinger. The big guy is making a big impact with the Buckeyes — as expected. His best game so far? Last week against Florida he had 26 points (on 13-of-17 shooting) and 10 rebounds. He followed that with 11 points and eight rebounds against UNC-Wilmington as Ohio State improved to 3-0. The Buckeyes might be better than they were last season.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Monday, Nov. 22
Wichita State vs. Connecticut
It’s only a first-round game in the Maui Invitational, but it could set the tone for UConn’s season. The Shockers may not be the glamour team in the field, but they have the height and the strength to overpower UConn inside. A loss to Wichita State would likely mean a second-round game against Chaminade for the Huskies — something they want to avoid.
Kansas State vs. Gonzaga
Kansas State vs. Gonzaga in the CBE Classic in Kansas City, Mo. This is a great early season test for both teams, a chance to prove they deserve their high rankings in the polls.
Tuesday, Nov. 23
CBE Classic Championship
This should be Kansas State vs. Duke. The Blue Devils play Marquette in Monday’s other semifinal.
North Dakota State at Minnesota
The Gophers are 5-0 after winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Minnesota must avoid a letdown against the Bison.
Maui Invitational Championship
The brackets are lined up to produce Michigan State vs. Kentucky. But Oklahoma, Washington, Virginia, Wichita State or UConn could change that.
Thursday, Nov. 25
Boston College vs. Texas A&M
It’s an intriguing matchup between the ACC and Big 12 in the Old Spice Classic. One of these teams might catch fire after winning a game like this.
Friday, Nov. 26
NIT Season Tip-Off Championship
The winners from Wednesday’s semifinals — Villanova vs. UCLA, VCU vs. Tennessee — meet for the championship at Madison Square Garden.
Saturday, Nov. 27
Arizona vs. Kansas
This is the showcase of the Las Vegas Invitational, where Arizona should have lots of fan support.
Sunday, Nov. 28
Old Spice Classic Championship from Orlando
Look out for Wisconsin in this tournament.
76 Classic Championship from Anaheim
Virginia Tech and Temple should be the favorites here.
THEY SAID IT:
“I’m exhausted. In the first half, our offense wasn’t really running smoothly, so I just had to take matters into my own hands a little bit. Guys didn’t want to shoot tonight — that’s what it looked like in the first half — but I was fortunate enough to pick up the slack, fortunate enough to make baskets.” — UConn point guard Kemba Walker, after scoring 42 points in an 89-73 victory over Vermont.
“We just got to get better as a team. I give William & Mary a lot of credit. They made shots. We have to grow up fast. We’re young. We’re still immature in some ways.” — Syracuse point guard Scoop Jardine (11 points, nine assists), after a 63-60 victory over William & Mary.
“If you think our guys are thinking that far in advance ... they're wondering if they’re going to get food or post-game meal money. That’s what they’re wondering. Our guys can’t think that far ahead.” — Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, after a 92-70 win over North Carolina-Greensboro, at Greenboro Coliseum, the site of the ACC tournament in March.
“It sounds like a good idea in June.” – Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell, commenting on the scheduling of a 6 a.m. game at Monmouth as part of ESPN’s College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. The Seawolves needed a late rally to 51-49.
Kevin Willard’s first season as coach at Seton Hall has already hit an injury speed bump. Senior guard Jeremy Hazell, the prolific scorer from Harlem, broke the scaphoid bone in his left wrist while trying to brace himself on a fall in the second half against Alabama in the Paradise Jam Friday. Hazell had scored 27 points in the game and was averaging 24 points before the injury. Matt Sweeney, Seton Hall’s assistant athletics director for communications, said Monday the Pirates are hopeful Hazell can return within four weeks if all goes well during his rehab. Jamel Jackson replaced Hazell in the starting lineup and scored just three points as the Pirates lost to Xavier, 57-52, Sunday night.
Coach Greg McDermott continues to suffer disappointment at the hands of the Iowa State Cyclones. McDermott moved to Creighton last spring after four seasons at Iowa State that came up short of expectations. Before he left, he put Creighton on the Cyclones schedule, so he had to face his old team Sunday in Des Moines. Creighton lost for the first time, and Iowa State improved to 4-0 when Jamie Vanderbeken hit a turnaround 3-pointer as time expired, giving the Cyclones a 91-88 victory. Just one problem: Photos showed the ball still in Vanderbeken’s hand with the red light on the backboard indicating time had already expired. With no TV, there was no opportunity for officials to review the play. “We’ll never know,” McDermott said. “Actually we will know, because they counted it.”
Tubby Smith is back in the national spotlight with his Minnesota team that is 5-0 after consecutive victories over North Carolina and West Virginia that gave the Golden Gophers the championship trophy in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Big Ten race is already crowded with Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin. Now Minnesota has thrown its hat in the ring, and Smith seems to have a strong nucleus built around Al Nolen, Blake Hoffarber and Trevor Mbakwe, who was MVP of the tournament. It might be Mbakwe who makes the difference for Minnesota. He played 11 games at Marquette before transferring to Miami-Dade Junior College, then sat out last season after he was charged with felony assault. “It’s been four years, and I finally get the chance to go out there and show what I can do,” Mbakwe told reporters in Puerto Rico.
The justice system in college athletics is so slow — and then it’s hard to understand. Coach Bruce Pearl shouldn’t have his job after all the lies and deception under his watch at Tennessee. He gets an eight-game SEC suspension from commissioner Mike Slive. Pearl calls that sanction unprecedented, then says it won’t impact the team because he can still coach in practice and travel with the team. The Tennessee case won’t go before the NCAA committee on infractions until February at the earliest. In the middle of his SEC suspension, Pearl says he will coach when the Vols play a non-conference at Connecticut on Jan. 22. Again, where is the penalty in all this?
Congratulations to the Class of 2010 inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Sunday in Kansas City, Mo. The class members are: Jerry West (West Virginia), Tex Winter (Kansas State), Sidney Wicks (UCLA), Tom Jernstedt (NCAA), David Thompson (North Carolina State), Dave Whitney (Alcorn State), Christian Laettner (Duke), and Wayne Duke (Big 8, Big Ten). Perhaps no one has been a greater friend to college basketball than Wayne Duke.
Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher
(http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken's web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).
Athlon's Mitch Light, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions in college basketball each week.
1. What result from the first week-and-a-half of the season has surprised you the most?
Mitch Light: Kennesaw State’s 80-63 win over Georgia Tech has to be at the top of the list. The Owls jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first half and were never really threatened. I applaud the Yellow Jackets for a playing an Atlantic Sun team on the road, but you have to win that game if you are Georgia Tech.
Nathan Rush: Butler’s miserable showing during an 88–73 loss at Louisville was a shocker. With Gordon Hayward off to the NBA, I didn’t expect the Bulldogs to make another run to the title game this year. But I didn’t expect Brad Stevens’ club to look so sloppy and overwhelmed by a talented but unproven U of L squad. Scrappy center Matt Howard and veteran guard Shelvin Mack combined to score 48 of the team’s 73 points, but no one else showed up. Coach Stevens emptied his bench to give 14 different players floor time. Butler did not look “G-double-O-D, Good” at the new KFC Yum Center. The Bulldogs looked surprisingly bad.
Braden Gall: Georgia Tech’s 17-point loss to a Kennesaw State team that was seven games under .500 last season. Wait, did you say biggest surprise? Never mind, that is actually not a surprise at all.
2. What has been the most impressive win this season?
Mitch: The easy answer is Ohio State’s big win over Florida in Gainesville. That was very impressive. But I will throw another one out there — Western Kentucky 98, Saint Joseph’s 70. The Hawks are very young and will struggle to win games this season, but WKU made a strong statement by winning on the road by 28 points. Oklahoma transfer Juan Patillo scored 17 points in his debut for the Hilltoppers, but the real story was the play of Sergio Kerusch, who poured in a game-high 31 on 6-of-8 shooting from the 3-point stripe.
Nathan: In a bizarro BCS bowl on the hardwood, Ohio State crushed Florida, 93-75. Bruising freshman big man Jared Sullinger had 26 points, on 13-of-17 shooting, and 10 rebounds against the Gators’ formidable frontline. The overwhelming strength of “Big Sully” turned a battle of top-10 teams into a lopsided mismatch. The Buckeyes, especially Sullinger, appear to be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Braden: Easily the Ohio State Buckeyes going into the O-Dome and rolling over a much bigger Florida team. The Buckeye guards might be the most athletic and versatile set in the nation — and they also might have the best post player in the nation in Sullinger. Ohio State, picked third in the Big Ten, ran away with the second half against a team that was picked to win the SEC.
3. What has been the worst loss? .
Mitch: Richmond should be a factor in the very competitive A-10 this season, but the Spiders suffered a bad loss Thursday night, losing 81-77 in double-overtime on the road to an Iona team that was 0-3 with losses to Kent State, Cleveland State and Bryant. If the Spiders are on the bubble in March, this game could come back to haunt them.
Nathan: Midterm election season trends continued when the President’s brother-in-law, Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, fell to regional “rival” Seattle University, 83–80. The Redhawks were winless — losing to Maryland, San Francisco and Cal Poly by an average margin of 22 points — heading into their matchup with the Beavers. But former UCLA point guard and current Seattle coach Cameron Dollar was able to guide Elgin Baylor’s alma mater to a 12-point second-half come-from-behind upset at Key Arena. As a result, Robinson’s approval rating is falling fast in Corvallis.
Braden: LSU, Auburn, Texas Tech, Colorado, DePaul, Wake Forest, Iowa, Rutgers, and South Florida have all lost games that they maybe should have won — but not much is expected from most of those teams. I go back to the 13-20 (last year) Owls of Kennesaw State drubbing the Yellow Jackets. I know not a lot is expected of Paul Hewitt’s bunch, but no one does less with more than Georgia Tech.
4. What under-the-radar freshman are you most interested in watching this season?
Light: Since I have a feeling my colleague Nathan is going to pick South Carolina guard Bruce Ellington, I will go with Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. The Buckeyes will be in great shape if Craft, a true point guard, can step in and run the team (like he did in the win against Florida) and allow William Buford to play off the ball. The Buckeyes don’t need much scoring from Craft, though he is capable; they simply need him to run the show and get the ball to the right people in the right places.
Nathan: South Carolina point guard Bruce Ellington has already made a splash with 22 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals while holding his own against Michigan State star Kalin Lucas. Although Ellington is still a raw talent, the AAAA state championship winning quarterback and South Carolina Mr. Football finalist — who lost to all-world tailback Marcus Lattimore last year — should continue to improve now that he is focusing solely on basketball. I think Ellington will contend for SEC Freshman of the Year, as the Gamecocks are counting on him to help replace Devan Downey’s leadership, playmaking and scoring.
Braden: There are almost too many to name. I am very interested to see key point guards contributing serious minutes on potential NCAA teams. Phil Pressey at Missouri debuted last night with nine points in 22 minutes against Western Illinois and could be asked to play a key role with Big 12 title hopes. Trae Golden is Bruce Pearl’s back-up at a serious position of concern for the Vols. The youngster already came through with two clutch free throws late in the Missouri State game this week. Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser is starting at shooting guard for the injured Rob Wilson and debuted with 21 points, nine boards and three assists on Sunday. Both Tennessee and the Badgers have conference title hopes and backcourt concerns. With Kevin Pittsnogle comparisons running rampant in Ann Arbor, it should be fun to see what type of impact the smooth shooting 6-9 Evan Smotrycz will have. Big man Josh Smith at UCLA will be intriguing to watch as well. However, all pale in comparison to Jared Sullinger at Ohio State — who is simply a beast!
5. Give me a sophomore you think might emerge as a star this season?
Mitch: I’ll go with Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins, who is off to a strong start despite his surprising struggles from the 3-point line. Jenkins, who shot 48.3 percent from three as a freshman, is 1-of-11 from the arc after two games. But he is averaging 16.0 points per game thanks to his strong shooting from 2-point range (11-of-16) and the foul line (7-of-8). Don’t be surprised if Jenkins averages around 17 or 18 points per game.
Nathan: Miami combo guard Durand Scott averaged 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals in 33 games as a freshman out of New York City powerhouse Rice High School. Scott showed flashes of greatness late in the year, scoring 29 points at North Carolina and leading the Hurricanes to the ACC Tournament title game, where they lost to eventual national champion Duke, 77–74. This year, Scott should establish himself as one of the top all-around guards in the ACC.
Braden: Maryland’s Jordan Williams. Texas’ Jordan Hamilton. Northwestern's Drew Crawford. Duke’s Mason Plumlee. UCLA’s Tyler Honeycutt. Any sophomore from Indiana. But I will go a little off the beaten path and tab Villanova point guard Maalik Wayns to turn in an NBA Lottery-pick type season. Jay Wright has this team poised for another deep tourney run with Wayns being the difference between the Sweet 16 and the Final Four. After averaging 6.8 points and 1.3 assists as a freshman, he is off to a great start in 2010. Through three games, he is averaging 14.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game — including a 12-assist performance Wednesday night against Boston U.
By Charean Williams
It is the best rivalry the NFL has these days. New England and Indianapolis no longer are in the same division, but they play every year.
The Colts and Patriots meet Sunday for the eighth consecutive season, the league’s longest streak between non-division opponents since realignment in 2002.
The Patriots own a 7-5 advantage, including 2-1 in the playoffs.
Tom Brady won his first six starts against the Colts, but Peyton Manning has won five of the past six.
“It’s a great matchup, and I think both our team and the Colts have been winning a lot of games over the last 10 years,” Brady said. “We’ve had some great games between the two teams, and I’m expecting this game to be the same.”
Brady and Manning remain the standard for all quarterbacks in the league. They are friendly, if not friends, and each professes respect for the other.
“He’s an incredible player,” Brady said. “The thing that I love [in] watching him is his consistency. He’s such a competitive player and being around him, in the experience that I’ve had around him, it’s no surprise why he’s such a great player. He loves the game. He loves studying it. He loves talking about it. I think we definitely have that in common.”
Bucs hope not to leave their hearts in SF
The Buccaneers have been California Screamin’ since they entered the league. They are 2-23 in the regular season in California. (Their only Super Bowl championship happened in San Diego.)
“It hasn’t been a big deal up until right now when you brought it up,” Bucs coach Raheem Morris said, chuckling. “Nah, I was well aware of that. I’ve got some personal losses myself. Going out there hasn’t been kind. It’s a long trip. It’s a hard trip. … There’s no excuses. You have to go out there and try to get a win on the West Coast.”
The Bucs have set all kinds of records for futility since they entered the league in 1976, including the most consecutive losses and the most consecutive double-digit loss seasons. Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden changed the team’s fortunes and its history.
Morris will now try to do something neither of those coaches did. The Bucs are 1-11 in San Francisco, with their only victory coming in 1980 on a Garo Yepremian field goal for a 24-23 win over the 49ers.
The Bucs will travel out to California a day early, leaving on Friday to try to get acclimated. Tampa Bay left for Arizona a day early and beat the Cardinals, 38-35, earlier this season. They also won at Seattle last December.
“This is a different team. They’ve got a different team,” quarterback Josh Freeman said. “Anytime you go to the West Coast, it’s a long trip, and you’ve got to get mentally prepared.
“We’re leaving on Friday. It’s going to give us the opportunity to get there and get settled in for a day. It’s going to definitely be a challenge.”
Lions’ road victory a long time coming
The Lions set the NFL record for road futility last week in a loss to the Bills, their 25th consecutive away from home. How long has it been?
When the Lions last won a road game — Oct. 28, 2007 — Jon Kitna was their quarterback and Roy Williams was a starting receiver. Williams caught eight passes for 77 yards in the Lions’ victory over the Bears, and Kitna was 24-of-35 for 268 yards.
Kitna and Williams will play against the Lions on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium.
“Wow! Yeah, that makes me seem old,” Williams said of the Lions’ road losing streak. “Yeah, I’m surprised. I’m surprised about that, because we’re all professionals. You should be able to win on the road; you should be able to win at home. But it’s unfortunate. They have had things that have happened to them, and I can testify they have had things that have happened that shouldn't happen, that don't happen to other teams.”
Fourth and short
Jaguars receiver Mike Thomas is not a one-catch wonder. Thomas, who caught the Hail Mary pass that beat the Texans on the last play Sunday, leads his team with 41 catches for 536 yards and two touchdowns.
• The Chiefs offense has struggled since they lost Dexter McCluster to a high ankle sprain Oct. 24. While his offensive numbers aren’t impressive — 26 touches for 207 yards and a touchdown — his speed makes defenses play the Chiefs differently. Kansas City is 1-2 without him, with its lone victory an overtime win against the Bills. The Chiefs averaged 36.5 points per game in the last two games McCluster played. They are averaging 20.7 points in the three games he has missed. Their rushing average has gone down from 190.4 in the first seven games to 77.5 the past three.
• The Panthers’ third-string running back became their first to rush for 100 yards this season as Mike Goodson gained 100 against the Bucs.
• Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 18-1 (.947) at home. It is the most home victories for any quarterback over the past three seasons. Ryan has won 14 consecutive starts at home.
• The Colts are 14-12 when Peyton Manning doesn’t throw a touchdown pass. They are 69-13 when he isn’t intercepted.
• The Panthers have allowed 59 first quarter points and have given up a touchdown in the first quarter in seven of nine games.
• Jason Campbell has a passer rating of 104.3 in the Raiders’ three-game winning streak. He is 46-of-80 for 743 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.
• Rams rookie Sam Bradford hasn’t thrown an interception since late in the Oct. 10 game against Detroit. That’s four full games and 138 consecutive passes. It’s the longest streak for a rookie since Tampa Bay’s Bruce Gradkowski had a streak of 147 consecutive passes without an interception in 2006. Chris Miller holds the Rams’ club record with 146 consecutive passes without an interception.
• Bucs receiver Mike Williams is two touchdowns shy of tying Michael Clayton’s single-season rookie receiving touchdown record of seven. Williams has 40 catches for 627 yards this season. It is the most receiving yards for a rookie receiver.
• Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer has had 13 interceptions returned for touchdowns since becoming the starter in 2004. That is the second-most in the league, trailing Brett Favre, who has had 14.
• When the Broncos last traveled to San Diego, they beat the Chargers, 34-23, to improve their 2009 record to 6-0. They have gone 5-14 since.
• The Packers have a league-high 11 players on injured reserve, including six starters.
• Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles has 1,078 yards from scrimmage on 153 touches. He is averaging 17 touches and 119.7 yards per game. But Charles has scored only three touchdowns.
• Since Week 3, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.
• Marshawn Lynch has rushed for 217 yards on 74 carries in five games for the Seahawks, a career-low 2.9 yards per carry.
• Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has accounted for four total touchdowns (three rushing, one passing) on just 13 offensive touches to lead the NFL in touchdown percentage.
• Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins has made a seamless switch from cornerback and ranks second on the team with 67 tackles. He has one sack, a forced fumble and has broken up a team-high nine passes.
• The Giants have had at least one turnover in every game this season. Even during their five-game winning streak, which ended with the loss to Dallas last week, the Giants had 12 turnovers (seven lost fumbles and five interceptions). They added another lost fumble and two more interceptions against the Cowboys.
• The Steelers have failed to score a touchdown in the first half of three games and have scored only three points in the first half in three games.
• Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff took over the NFL lead on touchbacks this week. Cundiff’s 25 touchbacks put him one ahead of Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski. He has produced touchbacks on 58.1 percent of his kickoffs.
Florida State (-4) at Maryland
Maryland remained in the hunt for an ACC Atlantic Division title by beating Virginia, 42–23, in Charlottesville on Saturday. The Terps, who went 1–7 in the ACC last year, are 4–2 in league play, tied with NC State and Florida State (in the loss column) for first place. The Seminoles improved to 5–2 in the league when Dustin Hopkins drilled a 55-yard field as time expired to beat Clemson, 16–13. FSU is expected to have quarterback Christian Ponder back after missing last week with an elbow injury. The Noles will need a healthy and effective Ponder to beat the Terps in College Park. The Maryland defense is allowing only 20.7 points per game, down by almost 10 points per game from last year.
Florida State 28, Maryland 17
Fresno State (+30.5) at Boise State (Fri)
Boise State has cruised to a 5–0 start in the WAC, but the Broncos’ two biggest tests remain, beginning with this Friday’s date with Fresno State. The Bulldogs are 6–3 overall and 4–2 in league play, with losses to Ole Miss (non-conference), Hawaii and Nevada. Fresno led Nevada four separate times last Saturday night but couldn’t get a stop late in the fourth quarter and lost a heartbreaker, 35–34. Boise State has been on an absolute tear on the offensive end, scoring 42 points or more in six straight games. The Broncs might have to break a sweat, but this one won’t be close in the fourth quarter.
Boise State 44, Fresno State 21
Ohio State (-3) at Iowa
This was supposed to be the game of the year in the Big Ten … until Iowa lost at Northwestern last week. Now, the Hawkeyes are 4–2 in league play, one game behind Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. While Iowa is struggling, Ohio State appears to be playing its best football of the season. Since losing at Wisconsin, the Buckeyes are 3–0 with wins over Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State by a combined score of 139–24. This team is playing extremely well on both sides of the ball. It won’t be easy, but Jim Tressel’s club will keep its Rose Bowl hopes alive.
Ohio State 24, Iowa 17
Virginia Tech (-2.5) at Miami
Much to the delight of Boise State and its fans, Virginia Tech has all but wrapped up the ACC Coastal Division title. The Hokies have a two-game lead (in the loss column) over Miami with two games to play — at Miami, vs. Virginia. The Hurricanes have won two straight after their shocking loss at Virginia in late October. True freshman quarterback Stephen Morris (2–0 as a starter) has played well in relief of the injured Jacory Harris, but he has yet to face a defense as strong as Virginia Tech’s. The Hokies have held each of their last five opponents to 21 points or less.
Virginia Tech 21, Miami 14
Nebraska (-2.5) at Texas A&M
Texas A&M continued its late-season surge, rallying past Baylor, 42–30, for an impressive win in Waco. The Aggies, who lost three straight earlier this season, have won four in a row, all in league play. Junior Ryan Tannehill, who took over for Jerrod Johnson midway through the Kansas game, has thrown for at least 225 yards in each of his three starts (all wins). Nebraska is still in command of the Big 12 North, holding a one-game lead (and the tie-breaker) over Missouri. The Cornhuskers were a bit sluggish on offense in a 20–3 win over Kansas last week, but the defense was dominant. KU managed only 87 total yards of offense on 47 snaps.
Nebraska 28, Texas A&M 17
Wisconsin (-4) at Michigan
Wisconsin exploded for 83 points last week against Indiana, scoring 10 offensive touchdowns, one defensive TD and two field goals. This week, the Badgers face a defense as bad (statistically) as the IU unit they faced last Saturday. The Wolverines held Purdue to 16 points last week, but the Boilermakers have been decimated by injuries on offense, most notably at the quarterback position. Prior to Saturday’s game, Michigan had given up 34 points or more to each of its previous five opponents. Wisconsin is clearly the better team, but the Badgers are 1–17 in their last 18 trips to Ann Arbor. They’ll make it 2–17 in their last 19.
Wisconsin 38, Michigan 30
Stanford (-6.5) at California
Jim Harbaugh has done a tremendous job in his short tenure as the boss on the Farm, but he does have a losing record in the Big Game. The Cardinal beat Cal in 2007 but have since lost two straight to the Golden Bears. That trend is very likely to end, however. Yes, Cal plays very well at home, and the Bears are fresh off a near-upset of No. 1 Oregon. But Stanford is simply too good on both sides of the ball to stub its toe this late in the season. Harbaugh will have his team ready to play.
Stanford 28, Cal 17
Arkansas (-3) at Mississippi State
Mississippi State is having a very solid season, and Dan Mullen no doubt has done an outstanding job in his second year in Starkville. But Arkansas is the much better team. The Hogs fell off the national radar with two midseason losses, but those losses were to then-No. 1 Alabama and Auburn, currently ranked No. 2 in the BCS Standings. Since the Auburn loss (and don’t forget Ryan Mallett went down with an injury in that game), the Razorbacks have won four straight, by an average of 26.8 points. This team is very, very dangerous on offense (both passing and running), and the defense is just good enough.
Arkansas 30, Mississippi State 17
Pittsburgh (-2.5) at South Florida
Pittsburgh still sits atop the Big East standings at 3–1, but four teams, including South Florida, are only one game back in the loss column. The Bulls have recovered from an 0–2 start (in which they scored an average of 7.5 points) by winning three straight (scoring an average of 26.7 points). The key to the turnaround has been the improved play of quarterback B.J. Daniels. In the Bulls’ two Big East losses, Daniels threw no touchdowns with five interceptions; in the three recent wins, his ratio is five touchdowns to one interception. Pittsburgh has had a very Pittsburgh-like season — at times it looks as though the Panthers are ready to emerge as the best team in the league; other times they look very average.
South Florida 24, Pittsburgh 20
Connecticut (+4) at Syracuse
It’s a battle of two of the four Big East teams with two losses. Syracuse is 4–2, with all four wins coming on the road and both losses coming at home. Connecticut has been far more conventional; the Huskies are 5–4 overall with a 5–0 mark at home and 0–4 on the road. Connecticut’s defense has been solid — no team has scored more than 30 points against the Huskies (though all but one FBS team has scored at least 21). Meanwhile, Syracuse’s offense has struggled in league play, averaging only 280.7 yards per game, with a high of 307 vs. South Florida back in early October.
Connecticut 20, Syracuse 17
Last week: 7–3 overall (3–7 against the spread)
Season: 74–36 overall (53–51–4 against the spread)
By Ralph Vacchiano
For years, Michael Vick had been mostly about an unfulfilled promise, and not just because of the time he spent in jail. He was a $130 million quarterback in his six years with the Atlanta Falcons, but many of those who watched him thought he was badly overpriced.
After Monday night, though, and after what he’s done this season, Vick — who is earning $5.2 million in the last year of his contract — is suddenly a bargain. For the first time in his long career, he really does look like the best and most dominant and dynamic player in football.
He might even turn out to be the NFL’s MVP.
“I could have never envisioned this,” Vick said in the early hours of Tuesday morning, after his stunning, nationally televised performance against the Washington Redskins in a remarkable 59-28 win. “All this is paramount for me, but at the same time it’s somewhat surprising.”
What Vick did against the Redskins, for everyone to see, sent shivers down the spines of players, coaches and especially fans across the country. He completed 20-of-28 passes for 333 yards, threw for four touchdowns and no interceptions and had a near-perfect passer rating of 150.7. He also ran eight times for 80 yards and two scores.
He was the first player in the history of the NFL to pass for 300 yards, run for 50, throw four touchdowns and run for two more in a single game.
In all, Vick produced 413 yards of offense and six touchdowns on his own. And he started fast. His first pass of the game was an 88-yard bomb of a touchdown to DeSean Jackson that traveled almost 65 yards in the air.
“Not too many guys can throw that ball,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “He made some plays today that I haven’t seen a quarterback make in a long time.”
Vick had already produced four touchdowns by the end of the first quarter giving the Eagles a 28-0 lead — the most points for a road team in the first quarter in the history of the NFL. The Eagles, who would rack up a franchise-record 592 yards of offense, had 280 of those in the first quarter alone.
He took big hits at the end of runs. He scrambled out of trouble and completed remarkable touchdown passes. He stood in the pocket and let the ball go at the last minutes. Vick absolutely did it all.
“I’ve had some great games in my day,” Vick said. “I don’t think I’ve had one quite like this one.”
“That was incredible,” Eagles strong safety Quintin Mikell added. “I’ve never seen anything like it, especially at the pro level.”
No one has seen anything like what the 30-year-old Vick is doing this season, in his second year since serving 19 months in prison for his role in an illegal dog-fighting ring. He wasn’t even supposed to be the starting quarterback for the Eagles this year. That was supposed to be Kevin Kolb.
But when Kolb sustained a concussion in the season opener, Vick took over and played so well that Eagles coach Andy Reid had no choice but to let him continue. Vick missed three games himself with injured ribs. But the Eagles are now 2-0, including a 26-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts, since his return.
He’s completed 62.7 percent of his passes this season for 1,350 yards, 11 touchdowns and — incredibly — no interceptions in his six starts. He’s also run 44 times for 344 yards and four touchdowns.
During his six seasons in Atlanta, when he was supposed to be the prototype for a new kind of all-purpose NFL quarterback, he was never this good. His completion percentage always hovered in the mid-50s. He had only one season in which he threw for more than 2,500 yards, and he never topped 3,000 — the bare minimum benchmark for a good NFL quarterback. Oh he could run; in fact he ran for 1,039 yards in 2006. But there were skeptics who thought that was all he could really do.
Now? People seem to be in awe, the way everyone thought they would be when he came out of Virginia Tech in 2001 as the first-overall pick in the NFL Draft. It’s taken nearly a decade, two teams, and one long trip to prison. But jaws are finally falling to the floor.
So what’s he worth these days? That could be the biggest question of the offseason, especially if the Eagles allow Vick to become a free agent. If the old Vick was worth $130 million over 10 years, how high will Vick’s new price tag go? His shocking performance on Monday night came hours after Donovan McNabb — the man he essentially replaced in Philadelphia — reportedly agreed to a five-year, $78 million contract with the Redskins. If the 33-year-old McNabb is worth that, how much higher will the Eagles have to go to keep Vick in 2011?
“Thirty-one teams need to save their money and try to make a bid on him,” said Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
After what he’s done through the first half of this season, it’s a good bet that they will. And if he keeps playing like the Vick he was always supposed to be, all that money will turn out to be very well-spent.
By Ken Davis
The fall signing period in college basketball gives us a glimpse into the future.
Our first conclusion: Kentucky isn’t going away any time soon. No big surprise there. According to the ESPN.com and the Rivals.com rankings, it’s the third straight year that John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats have delivered the top recruiting class in the nation.
Second conclusion: Steve Lavin is serious about turning things around at St. John’s. That’s not really a surprise either. But the enormous statement Lavin has made with his first recruiting class as coach of the Red Storm is something to take notice of.
It makes little difference which recruiting rankings you prefer. Rivals has Lavin’s class ranked No. 2 in the nation. The ESPN list puts St. John’s at No. 3, behind Kentucky and Duke. Either way, that’s fast company. Either way, that’s making a quick impression and reeling in some big catches. And St. John’s hasn’t been able to do that in a long, long time.
Lavin replaced Norm Roberts at St. John’s. Roberts is a good coach, a high quality man, a person who was respected throughout the Big East, and someone who ran a clean program. It’s easy to feel sorry for Roberts because he had built his program and geared it for this season. Lavin inherits 10 seniors, giving the Red Storm one of the most experienced teams in the nation. St. John’s could be headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002. If that happens, Roberts deserves some credit.
Roberts was shown the door because he couldn’t recruit to the expectations of St. John’s administrators. Even though he cleaned up a program that had been dragged through the gutter by Mike Jarvis, Roberts didn’t want to do the things that were necessary to win over the grassroots program in the New York City area. So some of the most talented players in the nation went elsewhere.
Enter Lavin, the former UCLA coach who spent the past seven years at ESPN as an analyst. The first thing he did was hire a coaching staff that had the contacts and the experience in the metropolitan New York area. Lavin brags constantly about his assistants — Mike Dunlap, Tony Chiles and Rico Hines — and he hired Moe Hicks as director of operations and Derrick Wrobel as special assistant to the head coach.
“It’s like a school principal coming in and the first thing is hiring some really good teachers,” Lavin said this summer as the recruiting class was starting to take shape. “They will implement the curriculum and then go out and recruit students to come to your school. Then it’s a matter of delivering, so that those kids have a good experience.”
But the principal wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty too. In a 36-hour period in October, Lavin traveled from New York to Houston to Oklahoma City to Las Vegas to Los Angeles and back to New York, putting together the pieces of what he calls “an historic class” for the Red Storm.
Lavin says it will be an “arduous task” to get St. John’s back to position of being competitive nationally every season. He knows it begins with the potential recruiting base of New York and New Jersey, but he has no intention of drawing boundaries.
“You also have to have the ability to recruit nationally and overseas to sustain success,” Lavin said. “Programs like UConn and Syracuse have been able to do that. We want to use the same blueprint.”
Remember the names Norvel Pelle, D’Angelo Harrison, Jakarr Sampson, Maurice Harkless, Dominique Pointer and Nurideen Lindsey. They are the six pioneers who have signed with St. John’s and formed this inaugural recruiting class for Lavin. St. John’s has more scholarships available and Lavin wants an even bigger class.
But for now, just be aware of the way he has started. It’s very impressive.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
The results of early season games make it difficult to weigh one performance against another. But we know an impressive line when we see it. Kansas junior Markieff Morris opened the season with 14 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks as the Jayhawks crushed Longwood University 113–75. By all accounts, this line was legitimate and Markieff didn’t get credit for anything accomplished by his twin brother Marcus. (It can be confusing when they are on the floor at the same time.) Kansas coach Bill Self called it a “pretty good statistical game, especially when you play only 26 minutes.” Agreed.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
Two highly touted rookies, neighbors on Tobacco Road, made impressive debuts last week. So we are going to split the award and honor both Harrison Barnes of North Carolina and Kyrie Irving of Duke. Barnes, the first freshman ever named to the Associated Press preseason All-America team, had 14 points (6-for-12 from the field), four rebounds, two assists and one block in 27 minutes against Lipscomb. Irving had 17 points, four rebounds, nine assists, two steals and one block in 25 minutes against Princeton. Irving is the first freshman to start the season at point guard for Duke since Jason Williams in 1999.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Monday, Nov. 15
Valparaiso at Kansas
The Jayhawks had plenty of offense in their opening victory over Longwood. Now coach Bill Self would like to see some more D from his squad.
Tuesday, Nov. 16
Virginia Tech at Kansas State
Two ranked teams. Malcolm Delaney for the Hokies. Jacob Pullen for K-State. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.
Ohio State at Florida
Here’s a good chance to check out Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger. Billy Donovan has some experienced Gators who are ready to rule the SEC again.
Thursday, Nov. 18
Pittsburgh vs. Maryland; Illinois vs. Texas
Two great semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches Vs. Cancer, from Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Friday, Nov. 19
Coaches vs. Cancer championship game
Prediction: Pitt and Illinois will win Thursday’s games and meet for the title.
Saturday, Nov. 20
Wisconsin at UNLV
Great contrast in styles between Bo Ryan’s Badgers and Lon Kruger’s Runnin’ Rebels.
Sunday, Nov. 21
Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship
Play begins Thursday with Davidson, West Virginia, Nebraska, Vanderbilt, Hofstra, North Carolina, Western Kentucky and Minnesota.
THEY SAID IT:
“I don't know how many teams are going to be able to play with Duke. There might be 10 teams in the country that can handle all the things that they throw at you. So, good luck to those guys, because Duke's pretty good.” — Princeton coach Sydney Johnson, after his team lost to the Blue Devils 97-60.
“It was complete breakdown after complete breakdown defensively. Those are things we're going to have to grow up with and overcome.” — Kansas State coach Frank Martin, after the No. 3 Wildcats were sluggish in a 75-61 opening victory over James Madison.
“I think we’re the best team that can shoot threes, that’s what coach said, in the country.” — Kentucky freshman Doron Lamb (20 points) after the Wildcats made 13-of-26 3-pointers in an 88-65 victory over East Tennessee State.
“I think people are going to be surprised. They’re a good passing team with a lot of shooting weapons. I didn’t know much about them before this game. They have so many new faces.” — Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell after losing to UConn, his alma mater, 79-52 in the season opener for both teams.
• Maryland sophomore Jordan Williams had 20 points and 11 rebounds Sunday as the Terps (3-0) defeated Maine 89-59. Williams now has five straight double-double performances, dating back to the NCAA Tournament last season. Next up for Maryland and Williams: Big East-favorite Pittsburgh on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in the semifinal round of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
• Freshman big man Enes Kanter can continue to practice with Kentucky while the school appeals an NCAA ruling Thursday declaring him permanently ineligible. The ruling is based on the NCAA discovery that Kanter received more than the necessary benefits while playing for a club team in Turkey two years ago.
• Baylor guard LaceDarius Dunn will not make his season debut until Nov. 22 against Lipscomb. The Bears’ leading scorer last season was suspended from the first three games of the season after he was arrested last month and accused of breaking his girlfriend’s jaw in a domestic dispute. The woman has asked that all charges be dropped. The school said the three-game suspension is for “a team rules violation.”
• Villanova is playing without freshman forward JayVaughn Pinkston, charged last week with two counts of simple assault and harassment after a weekend altercation. The Wildcats will hold him out of games until a university review is complete. Pinkston can practice but he wasn’t on the bench for the opener against Bucknell.
• Connecticut assistant coach Kevin Ollie suffered an eye injury in practice last week and missed the Huskies’ opener against Stony Brook Friday night. Ollie likely won’t be able to make the trip to Hawaii later this week when they head to the Maui Invitational. Ollie, the 13-year NBA veteran who played under Jim Calhoun at UConn, was doing stretching exercises with the players when an elastic band slipped off his foot and struck him in the right eye. Doctors prescribed bed rest and they are concerned about pressure issues in the cabin of an airplane. In response to an e-mail message, Ollie said, “God always has a purpose for our storms. The eye doctor said I will regain my full range of vision over time!”
• Duke by the numbers: Coach Mike Krzyzewski is now four victories shy of 800 wins at Duke. His record in home openers at Duke is 30-1. With their victory over Princeton at Cameron Indoor Stadium the Blue Devils have won 78 consecutive home games and non-conference opponents and 43 consecutive against unranked opponents.
• To the family and friends of Joe Soltys, my deepest condolences. Joe, who was sports information director at UConn from 1959 to 1984, died Thursday at age 89. Joe was an old school SID; he worked with a typewriter and a telecopier. He enjoyed people and loved UConn sports. His son, Mike, is vice president for communications at ESPN and another friend of sports journalists everywhere. Joe will be dearly missed.
Nice touch of the week, as reported by the Los Angeles Times: “In memory of legendary former basketball coach John Wooden, UCLA will keep empty the seat where the “Wizard of Westwood” regularly sat up until last season. Wooden, who died June 4 at age 99, almost never missed a game at Pauley Pavilion, always sitting in section 103B, Row 2, Seat 1.”
Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher
(http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken's web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).
By Charean Williams
Jason Garrett has never been a head coach, but he’s been in this position previously. Garrett made only nine starts in his 12 NFL seasons as a backup quarterback. But he always was ready when his number was called, going 6-3 as a starter for the Dallas Cowboys in place of Troy Aikman.
Garrett, 44, was promoted from assistant head coach/offensive coordinator to interim head coach Monday when the Cowboys fired Wade Phillips.
“When I was a player, I was No. 3 for a while, and I was No. 2 for a while,” Garrett said, “so there’s a little bit of an analogy there for me when you have to step in and assume someone’s role. I’ve leaned on those experiences.”
Garrett has been given the rest of the season to prove he’s worthy of the job. He is in the last year of his contract.
He once was the hottest assistant coach in the NFL. The Ravens offered him their head coaching job in 2008, but Garrett turned it down and informed the Falcons, too, that he was staying in Dallas after owner Jerry Jones gave Garrett a raise to more than $3 million per season. Garrett interviewed for the Rams job in 2009, but they hired Steve Spagnuolo instead.
Garrett’s star has been falling since.
Some defensive players in the league have called his play-calling predictable, though the Cowboys have averaged 268.8 yards and 24.9 points in his 3-plus seasons as their offensive coordinator. His offensive players have earned 20 Pro Bowl berths.
In his first week as the interim head coach, Garrett has put his stamp on the Cowboys. They have a new, earlier schedule, a new practice tempo and a new philosophy. They were in full pads for practice Wednesday, something they rarely did under Phillips. Their practices are faster and more intense, with players are required to run even when they are leaving the field. They no longer are allowed to sit on coolers on the sideline.
“Regardless of who is leading us, you have to come to work each day with that lunch-pail mentality every day,” Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking said. “I believe in Jason Garrett. Obviously, his experience as a player, a coach, the stuff he’s had in both of those areas, it’s very evident when he stands up in front of us and talks and delivers his message.
“There is zero gray area there. It is black and white, very direct and to the point, concise, no misunderstanding. I’ve been hit in the head a lot, but I could understand what he is saying when he stood up there and communicated to our football team. I believe in anybody like that.”
The question is whether all their changes will pay off in victories. The Cowboys are 1-7, their worst start since the 1989 season when they went 1-15.
By Mitch Light
South Carolina (+6.5) at Florida
It’s winner take all in the SEC East this Saturday in Gainesville. South Carolina, seeking its first-ever trip to the league title game, is only 2–2 since knocking off No. 1 Alabama in early October. The Gamecocks struggled in every phase of the game in a 41–20 loss at home to Arkansas last Saturday night. Stephen Garcia completed less than 50 percent of his passes (for the first time this season), Marcus Lattimore was held to a season-low 30 yards, and the defense was torched for 443 yards. Florida, meanwhile, has hit its stride offensively. Using a nifty three-quarterback rotation, the Gators have scored 89 points the past two weeks in wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt. Their winning streak should be at three very soon.
Florida 34, South Carolina 21
Penn State (+18) at Ohio State
Joe Paterno picked his 400th win last weekend, as Penn State overcame a 21–0 deficit in the second quarter en route to a 35–21 win over Northwestern. Getting win No. 401 will be a bit more difficult. Ohio State dropped off the radar a bit with its loss at Wisconsin last month, but this is still a very good team. Since that loss in Madison, the Buckeyes beat Purdue and Minnesota by a combined score of 101–10. Also, they’ve had a week off to prepare for Penn State. The Nittany Lions seem to be energized with Matt McGloin taking the majority of the snaps at quarterback, but Ohio State is simply too good on both sides of the ball.
Ohio State 30, Penn State 14
USC (+4) at Arizona
Arizona’s Pac-10 title hopes took a big hit last weekend with a 42–17 loss at Stanford, but this is still a big game for the Wildcats. With a trip to No. 1 Oregon and a rivalry game with Arizona State looming, they need to take care of business this weekend. A victory over USC will clinch a third-straight winning season in Pac-10 play — something that hasn’t happened at Arizona since the early 1990s. USC, on the other hand, is hoping to avoid its first losing conference season since 2000, the final year of the Paul Hackett era. The Trojans (and their 97th-ranked defense) play their final three league games on the road — at Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA.
Arizona 34, USC 27
Clemson (+7) at Florida State
Good luck trying to get a read on the ACC. Virginia Tech has separated itself with a 5–0 league record, but there are five teams with two losses and two others with three. Florida State had a golden opportunity to seize control of the Atlantic Division but lost at NC State and at home to North Carolina in consecutive weeks. The Noles have shown signs of being an elite team but can’t find the consistency necessary to take that next step. Clemson has recovered from an 0–2 start in league play to win three of its past four. Now at 3–3, the Tigers will be in great shape in the division race with a win at Florida State. That, however, will be difficult. The Tigers are 0–4 on the road this season and have struggled to score against solid competition.
Florida State 24, Clemson 14
By Ralph Vacchiano
Halfway through the season, who among us would’ve guessed the Kansas City Chiefs would be 5-3 while the Dallas Cowboys would be 1-7? Who had the Eagles in contention in the NFC with Michael Vick at the helm? How about Darren McFadden and Jason Campbell resurrecting their careers while reviving a franchise in Oakland?
It has, without a doubt, been a season of surprises. New stars (Sam Bradford, Dez Bryant, Ndamukong Suh) are emerging. A few old ones (Brett Favre, Randy Moss) look ready to bow out.
Here’s a look back at the wild first-half, and a sneak preview at what might happen the rest of the season:
Best team: The New York Giants
It’s hard to argue with the stats that say they are No. 1 in defense and No. 2 in offense. And to show their physical nature, the Giants (6-2) are No. 3 in rushing and No. 2 stopping the run. They’ve got one of the NFL’s most feared pass rushes (they’ve already knocked out five quarterbacks this season), and they have a seemingly unstoppable passing attack. Yes, the Steelers are close, and they might end up having the better defense. But the Giants’ offense is way ahead of Pittsburgh’s. They’ve won five straight and it doesn’t look like they’re stopping any time soon.
Worst team: The Carolina Panthers
Yeah, the Cowboys are getting blown out lately, and the Buffalo Bills are 0-8, but the Panthers (1-7) have scored only 88 points this season. That’s 11 points per game. That’s not an NFL offense. The San Francisco 49ers should be ashamed for losing to them and allowing quarterback Matt Moore to throw for more than 300 yards. This is a dismal group with no quarterback, little hope, and likely facing a coaching change after the season.
Half-season MVP: QB Philip Rivers, Chargers
His team is 4-5, so he may need to win a few more games to make a real push for this award. But if he does get the Chargers to the playoffs, it’s going to be hard to overlook his eye-popping numbers. Despite the holdout of his best weapon, receiver Vincent Jackson, and the loss of running back LaDainian Tomlinson from his offense, Rivers has a completion percentage of 65.3, and he’s thrown for 2,944 yards and 19 touchdowns. That’s a ridiculous pace for an NFL record 5,233 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Coach of the Half Year: Mike Tomlin, Steelers
So many coaches are doing nearly as much with less — like Raheem Morris in Tampa and Todd Haley in Kansas City, but try this experiment: Take any other starting quarterback away from any other team for the first four games of the season and see what happen. The odds are that team wouldn’t still be 6-2. And when you consider that Tomlin was down to his fourth quarterback for a time and had to navigate his team through the entire Ben Roethlisberger mess all offseason, too, it’s mighty impressive that the Steelers haven’t come apart at the seams.
Defensive Player of the Half Year: LB Clay Matthews, Packers
His 10.5 sacks not only make him clearly the league leader, but it’s a half-sack more than he had all of last season. He’s spread out the sacks, too. He’s only gone sackless twice in eight games. He’s clearly the best player on his own defense, and his 62-yard interception return against the Cowboys last Sunday night sealed this deal.
Rookie of the Half Year: QB Sam Bradford, Rams
With all due respect to Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Dez Bryant, the Cowboys dangerous receiver/returner, there is no harder position for a rookie to play than quarterback. And it’s not even close. Yet Bradford, with a team that won one game a year ago, has already won four times and has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,674 yards and 11 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. Those would be good numbers for any quarterback. They’re remarkable for a rookie. And they’re a miracle for a rookie on a bad team. Of course, thanks to him, the Rams are now pretty good.
Biggest surprise: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Several experts looked at the Bucs in the offseason and saw the worst roster in the NFL. Morris, their coach, saw a contender. He may not be right in the end, but he’s been right so far. They’re 5-3 thanks to their Comeback Kid at quarterback, Josh Freeman. Morris has patched together a running game, too, and engineered some pretty impressive wins. It’s hard to imagine they have staying power this season, but the future is brighter than it seemed.
Biggest disappointment: The Dallas Cowboys
Remember when Jerry Jones was thinking they’d be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their own building this February? Now they’re 1-7 and Jones was the first owner to fire his coach, axing Wade Phillips and promoting offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. They’ve lost quarterback Tony Romo and, from the way it looked the last two games, they’ve lost their heart, too.
Coach on the Hot Seat: John Fox, Panthers
See the “Worst team” category for why. The good news for him is he’s extremely well-respected, and it’s doubtful he’ll be unemployed for long.
Biggest gamble: Titans claiming WR Randy Moss
Well, they do have experience with Pacman Jones, so they know a little about how to deal with bad guys and chemistry problems. But boy, what a risk! The Titans are 5-3, sitting atop the NFC South, seemingly building something, and now they bring in a guy who’s clearly still in his “angry man” mode. Moss was discarded by New England and Bill Belichick, who is supposedly better than any coach in the NFL at handling problems. And he was drop-kicked by Minnesota and their coach, Brad Childress, who is desperately trying to hang on to his job. If they didn’t want him, don’t you have to ask yourself if he’s really worth a third chance? Really, best of luck to you, Jeff Fisher. And to your team.
Revised Super Bowl prediction: Ravens over Packers
No reason to revise it, actually, since that’s what I predicted in the summer. Yes, I think the Steelers and Giants are the best teams in the NFL right now. But the Ravens (6-2) and the Packers (5-3) are right behind them. I’m still confident that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will get on a roll, and I love what I’ve seen out of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers so far. I won’t back down from my pick now.
By Ken Davis
Wake up people. A new college basketball season is upon us.
This is what you’ve been waiting for since Gordon Hayward’s desperation heave barely missed at the buzzer and Duke won the national championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. This week, the games start counting in the standings again and the race for the 2011 Final Four in Houston officially begins.
That gives us one final chance to review some of the top storylines heading into the 2010-2011 season.
Can Duke repeat?
Yes, the Blue Devils can. Most programs don’t understand just how difficult a task that can be, but Duke knows what it takes. Here are four good reasons why Duke can pull it off: Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, freshman Kyrie Irving, and coach Mike Krzyzewski. Duke won back-to-back in 1991 and 1992. The Blue Devils missed another shot in 2002, when they lost in the Sweet 16. But no one expected Duke to win the championship last season. It was supposed to be Kentucky or Kansas standing on the victory podium, watching the “One Shining Moment” video. Now Coach K has a deeper, more talented squad this season. There will probably be a night or two where the Blue Devils can’t hit a three, but the fact remains this is a talented offensive team. Depth will ultimately make Duke a better defensive unit. There are other worthy challengers to the crown, but the Devils are the clear favorites as we begin.
Which conference will be the toughest?
The edge has to go to the Big Ten with Michigan State and Purdue candidates for the Final Four and Ohio State not far behind. Add Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota to the mix and the upper crust looks pretty tough this season. Beyond that, everyone will be watching to see if Northwestern can finally reach the NCAA Tournament — without Kevin Coble. Yes, I still give Purdue a shot at the Final Four, despite the injury that will keep Robbie Hummel out for the entire season. Coach Matt Painter still has JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, and the Boilermakers have had the entire preseason to make adjustments. Michigan State has been to the last two Final Fours. Would a third time be the charm? Coach Tom Izzo decided to stick around and see if he can win another championship. If you are looking for another contender for conference bragging rights, the Big 12 would be next. Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Missouri should go deep into the NCAA tournament with Texas and Colorado making their share of noise too.
Is the Big East down this season?
Compared to the last two seasons? Absolutely. A lot of talent has been lost. Guards will dominate the league, not big men. The teams at the top aren’t as powerful. But Pittsburgh, Villanova and Syracuse are talented squads that should get better as the season goes along. Jim Boeheim has shuffled his Orange lineup but don’t be surprised if Syracuse takes a serious run at the Final Four. West Virginia and Georgetown complete the top five teams — at least on paper. After that it should be a mad scramble for the next eight spots in this 16-team league. It will still be very entertaining.
What about Josh Selby and Enes Kanter?
Good question. No answer yet from the NCAA. So Kansas and Kentucky are in limbo, awaiting decisions from the NCAA regarding these talented recruits. The NCAA is investigating whether Selby had an improper relationship, while in high school, with Carmelo Anthony’s business manager. Robert Frazier served as adviser to Selby and his mother during the recruiting process. Kanter, a center who might be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft next summer, has ties to a pro team in his native Turkey. The NCAA is looking at the amount of his expenses that were paid by the team. Both are in school, waiting for the NCAA to hand down decisions. But they can’t play yet. When will Bill Self and John Calipari learn the fate of these talented players? Wouldn’t they like to know? No problem here with the NCAA checking out the facts. But couldn’t justice be a little swifter?
Where is the drama?
You could start in Tennessee and Connecticut. No, we are not talking women’s basketball and the feud between Pat and Geno. This time the focus is on Bruce and Jim. Bruce Pearl is on the hot seat after firing up the barbecue grill and telling his recruiting guests and their families that it was a violation of NCAA rules. It remains to be seen if Pearl can hold on to his job after a chain of lies. At UConn, the NCAA has already accused the Huskies of breaking recruiting rules with improper cell phone calls — and more. UConn officials, including coach Jim Calhoun, appeared before the Committee on Infractions on Oct. 15. Penalties should be announced within the next month. Both coaches are trying to keep their teams focused on playing. That might be tough when the Vols visit the Huskies on Jan. 22 for a nationally televised game.
The 68-team format for the NCAA Tournament is new. It includes the “First Four” round, to be played two or three days after Selection Sunday. Don’t forget CBS will be sharing the tournament with TBS, TNT and truTV, divisions of Turner Broadcasting. It’s different, but relatively painless. Imagine your angst level right now if the NCAA had gone to a 96-team format.
Our Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week awards will begin next week. For now, we give you our preseason award selections.
PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR
You’ve seen his face on the cover of several preseason publications. This is the safe pick, there’s no doubt about it. Kyle Singler of Duke is the best player on the best team in the country — at least as the season begins. That could change. Things can change in an instant. In fact, Purdue’s Robbie Hummel might have been the choice here if he hadn’t been injured and lost for the season during the first few hours of official workouts. Duke is loaded with talent and has a balanced attack. But as a senior, and a versatile talent who can play multiple positions, Singler will likely be the star for the Blue Devils again. He didn’t return to school just for his Duke diploma. Singler wants another national championship and all the POY trophies that could come with it.
PRESEASON FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Again, there’s no reason to gamble here. Harrison Barnes was the coveted prize in last year’s recruiting class and he made Ol’ Roy Williams a happy man when Barnes selected North Carolina for his pit stop before the NBA. Williams has had a lot of success recruiting players from Iowa, and this Ames product might be the best of the bunch. Tar Heel fans are counting on the 6-8 freshman forward to lead UNC back to the NCAA Tournament. Just getting there probably won’t be enough for Barnes. After all, how many chances will he get to win a NCAA title? Maybe just one.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Monday, Nov. 8
Rhode Island at Pittsburgh
The exhibition games are over. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon might have the recipe for a Big East Conference championship. This is the first game of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
Wednesday, Nov. 10
Louisiana Tech at Texas
Expectations are lower for the Longhorns after they plummeted from No. 1 in the nation to a first-round exit in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Coach Rick Barnes hopes to build some momentum on the way to New York City in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament.
Friday, Nov. 12
Northern Iowa at Syracuse
Coach Jim Boeheim just keeps reloading with tremendous recruiting classes. Goodbye to Wes Johnson. Hello to Fab Melo. Boeheim doesn’t have to apologize for scheduling the Panthers in the season opener. Northern Iowa shocked Kansas in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Seton Hall at Temple
Coach Kevin Willard worked magic at Iona and now will try to do the same thing at Seton Hall. But the Pirates have a tough opening assignment against No. 22 Temple, the top team in the Atlantic-10.
Stony Brook at Connecticut
Former UConn captain Steve Pikiell returns to Gampel Pavilion with his talented Seawolves, a favorite in the America East. UConn coach Jim Calhoun has a work in progress with his young team. Could this be one of those November scores that will have fans rubbing their eyes in disbelief?
Saturday, Nov. 13
Marian at Butler
Can’t wait to see how the Bulldogs of Butler follow up on their Final Four season. Coach Brad Stevens will continue to see his stock rise, that is certain.
Princeton at Duke
Sure, No. 1 Duke will win this opener. But coach Mike Krzyzewski does everything for a reason. The Blue Devils will get something out of this, something they can use later in the season.
THEY SAID IT:
“Anybody can come in any time and take your spot, so you have to make sure you’re as near-perfect as you can be. I was kind of upset with myself that I missed a free throw [in an exhibition game against American International]. Coach [Kevin] Ollie told me, ‘Point guards don’t miss free throws.’” — Connecticut freshman guard Shabazz Napier, on the adjustment from high school to college ball. Ollie, a former UConn point guard, is in his first season as an assistant to coach Jim Calhoun.
“It’s a shame, because he was on target. … Moving better and shooting well. Don’t write him off just yet.” —Glenn Hummel, father of injured Purdue star Robbie Hummel, speaking to USA Today about his son’s torn ACL.
“We definitely have a legit seven, but I think the eighth, ninth and 10th guys are just as good. I think they’ll definitely play a big part on this team this year.” — Syracuse’s Kris Joseph, commenting in the Syracuse Post-Standard, on the depth of this year’s Orange team.
During the numerous early season tournaments that now dot the landscape, be aware that most will be utilizing a “restricted area” arc located two feet from the center of the basket inside the lane. This is the next step following up on last season’s rules change that made it illegal for a secondary defender to take a charge underneath the basket. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, chair of the NCAA men’s basketball rules committee, said the visual aid will help coaches, players and officials determine proper positioning. “We want to take an aggressive look at this,” Brey told NCAA.org. “The biggest question is where the arc should be placed that is right for our game. That is the data and feedback we need.” The arc could be permanently adopted by the 2011-12 season.
Duke’s Cameron Crazies were probably stunned by the news that Cameron Indoor Stadium ranks as the second “most boisterous arena” in college basketball. But the Kansas sports information office was so delighted that Allen Fieldhouse had been ranked No.1, it sent out a news release on the top 10 list published by ESPN The Magazine. Penn State University’s acoustic program researched the facilities and submitted its results to ESPN The Magazine. The story described Allen Fieldhouse as “the perfect combo of dimension, students-to-court proximity and low absorption materials.” Kentucky’s Rupp Arena was third. Perhaps the most surprising fact from the top 10 was that three Big 12 schools made the cut. In addition to Kansas, there was Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum at No. 7 and Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena was No. 9.
Freedom Hall is history. Louisville opened the new KFC Yumi Center with an 83-66 exhibition win over Northern Kentucky on Oct. 31. Another exhibition game is scheduled for Nov. 11 and the regular-season opener comes Nov. 16 against 2010 NCAA runner-up Butler. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino loves the new building, calling it the best basketball facility in the country. “We've had the opportunity to practice here, unlike at Freedom Hall,” he said after the Northern Kentucky game. “This building has a totally different feeling. When you walk out, it feels like a NCAA Tournament. When you go and play in tournaments, it’s always large arenas. It feels that way. It doesn’t have the Freedom Hall feeling — that’s neither good nor bad. It’s an overpowering place. Our guys are doing a good job with it. They’ve shot well in here.”
Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher (http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken's web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).
By Charean Williams
Aaron Rodgers isn’t about to sugar-coat it. Even though the Packers’ 5-3 record has them in first place in the NFC North, Rodgers admits he and his offensive mates haven’t been good enough.
“[I have] not [played] as well as I would have liked,” Rodgers said. “I was happy that I didn’t turn the ball over [against the Jets]. But as an offense, I think we’ve all underachieved as far as the high standards we’ve set for ourselves.
“We’re happy we’re 5-3 and a half-game up on the division. That’s important. Winning the division is our No. 1 goal. But I think individually, we’d all like to be playing a little bit better.”
The Packers were a preseason favorite to reach the Super Bowl because of Rodgers, who was considered an MVP candidate going into the year. But Green Bay ranks only 16th in total offense as Rodgers ranks only 17th in passer rating (85.3). He has 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“He’s played good solid football,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think it makes you appreciate how well he played last year, because he played at such a high level for pretty much the whole season. It’s something that we can definitely look back on and appreciate. He needs to step up a little bit. He knows that.”
The Packers are coming off a 9-0 victory over the Jets. While the win got them back into the Super Bowl talk, the Packers had a season-low 237 yards and converted only 2-of-14 third downs. Rodgers was 15-of-34 for 170 yards with a passer rating of 59.7, the third-lowest of his career as a starter.
McCarthy blamed his offense’s problems on fundamental mistakes.
“There are a couple of things we need to do as better as an offense, particularly on third down,” McCarthy said. “Our third down production has really been the key to our offense. Aaron was off the charts last year in third downs. I think he had a 130-plus quarterback rating on third down. We’ve just got to get back to some of the basic things that we had successes at in the past. It’s just being a little bit more fundamentally strong.”
TCU (-4.5) at Utah
For the first time in the 13-year history of the BCS, there are three teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences ranked in the top five of the BCS standings. Two of those three teams get together this weekend in Salt Lake City in a game that almost assuredly will determine the champion of the Mountain West Conference. Utah and TCU have been dominant on both sides of the ball all season long; both schools rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense and scoring defense. So which team is more dominant? The guess here is TCU, which has a few more quality wins by more decisive margins. The Horned Frogs own wins over Oregon State (by nine), Baylor (by 35) and Air Force (by 31).
TCU 30, Utah 17
Alabama (-6.5) at LSU
Auburn is the only undefeated team in the SEC and is ranked No. 2 in the BCS Standings, but Alabama is still very much in the national title chase. The Tide, No. 6 in the BCS, will likely climb to at least No. 2 if they run the table, which would of course include a win over Auburn. First things first, however. A talented but enigmatic LSU team awaits Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge. The Tigers have been consistently strong on defense but remain a work-in-progress (to put it kindly) on offense. The quarterback situation is a mess, with neither Jordan Jefferson nor Jarrert Lee showing the ability to seize the job on a full-time basis. You can never count out LSU at Tiger Stadium, but Nick Saban should improve to 3–0 against his former team.
Alabama 20, LSU 10
Baylor (+7) at Oklahoma State
First place is on the line in the Big 12 South when Baylor visits Oklahoma State. The Bears have been arguably the biggest surprise in college football this season. They improved to 7–2 overall and 4–1 in the Big 12 with a 30–22 win in Texas — their first in Austin since 1987. Art Briles’ teams are known for their pass-happy attack, but the Bears have nice offensive balance and have been better than expected on defense. Oklahoma State has also surprised this season. With 17 starters gone from last year’s nine-win team, the Pokes were picked to finish no higher than fifth in the South by most. There is still plenty of heavy lifting, but a win over Baylor would be a big step toward their first-ever division title.
Oklahoma State 30, Baylor 27
There were a line of teams forming to take their shot at Randy Moss after it was clear he had sabotaged his future in Minnesota (again). Of course there was a line. There’s always a line. No team is immune to the sirens of a talented player, no matter what other sirens may come along, too.
Every coach, every general manager, in the win-at-all-costs world of professional sports always thinks: I can be the one to control this guy. He won’t pull that garbage here.
And enough is almost never, ever enough.
So Randy Moss, one of the most talented receivers in NFL history, will play again and get millions of dollars to do it despite wearing out his welcome now with three different teams, including one team — the Minnesota Vikings — twice. It won’t matter to his next coach that the Vikings once jettisoned him in his prime, despite having 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in six of his seven seasons. It won’t matter that the Oakland Raiders, a traditional home to some of the NFL’s problem children, couldn’t make it work with Moss. It won’t matter that Bill Belichick, the walking legend, and his Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady, couldn’t co-exist with Moss in the midst of what might be another Super Bowl season.
And it won’t matter that, on Monday morning, Vikings coach Brad Childress reportedly stood in front of his players one day after Moss added yet another definition to “crazy” in a bizarre, postgame press conference/rant, and announced the Vikings were cutting their best receiver, reportedly telling his players “We want good people that are good football players and this just doesn’t fit.”
Why won’t it matter? Because Childress, on behalf of NFL coaches everywhere, is lying.
The idea that anyone involved in sports — and that sadly includes non-professional leagues, too — wants “good people that are good players” is outdated and naïve and insulting to anyone who can read the sports pages or the police blotter in the newspaper. Coaches — and, to be fair, teammates, fans, and everyone else associated with sports — don’t care so much about “good people” as they do “good players.” No one is measured by how few arrests their team has or how much money they raise for charity.
Everyone in sports is measured by wins.
So by “good people” what Childress really meant is this: A person who doesn’t cause any trouble that the team can’t handle while it’s still able to win.
Where’s the line? It’s in the eye of the beholder. Last Friday, according to a report in Yahoo! Sports, Moss apparently went a little crazy on the poor people who dared to serve him a free, post-practice meal that he didn’t like. He reportedly berated the servers and the owners of the small restaurant in what one witness described as a “brutal” display. Supposedly he yelled “What the [expletive]? Who ordered this crap? I wouldn’t feed this to my dog!”
That, by the way, was the same day on which the NFL did something it almost never does — it fined Moss $25,000 for not talking to reporters, which is a violation of the league’s media policy. Players all around the league routinely violate the policy, yet the NFL almost never gets involved. That’s how fed up the league must have been with Moss to finally step in.
None of that is the behavior of a “good” person. And that was just the latest example. It doesn’t even take into account all the previous bad things Moss has done. He served three days in jail for a fight in high school. He blew his scholarship to Notre Dame after getting into another fight. He blew his second chance at Florida State for smoking pot while on work release from jail. As a “professional” he knocked over a female traffic cop with his car. He walked off the field during a game. He fake-mooned the crowd in Green Bay as part of a touchdown celebration.
After Sunday’s game, of course, Childress — though not necessarily the entire Vikings organization — had seen enough. Of course he did, because Childress’ job is in jeopardy, the Vikings keep losing, and now they’re in danger of becoming a nationwide joke. So he drew the line when Moss defiantly met the media after the game, but refused to take questions that didn’t come from himself (Moss is 33 years old, by the way, and this seems like a good time to point that out). The troubled receiver used his “interview” to express his love for his former team and coach, while criticizing Childress and his staff. That, most definitely, was not “good.” It was insubordinate. Add a laugh track and it was insubordinate comedy. All that was missing was a picture of Childress wearing a clown nose.
Sure, that was discussed around the NFL even before the Vikings announced that Moss would be waived. But the most important thing that Moss’ new suitors will focus on is this: He’s 6-4, gifted, and last year he caught 83 passes for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns. You don’t think Pete Carroll would love to have that kind of production in Seattle? Wouldn’t he look great next to Brandon Marshall in Miami? Could he help Donovan McNabb in Washington?
Hey, Terrell Owens once helped the Eagles get to the Super Bowl despite his reputation for ripping his own quarterbacks and becoming a locker-room cancer. Sure he melted down the following year and did all the things everyone expected. But they did get to the Super Bowl.
Plaxico Burress was a key part of the Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl run despite a checkered past of minor run-ins with the law and some insubordinate behavior in Pittsburgh, including skipping out on a mini-camp against his coaches’ orders. Yeah, OK, one year later the Giants suspended Burress for not showing up to work — supposedly because he had to take his infant son to school — and then he later shot himself (literally) and submarined the team’s season. But hey, they did win a Super Bowl.
The examples go on and on. Christian Peter, a notorious lout with a history of violence towards women, was once given a new lease on life by the Giants. Pacman Jones got a second chance from the Cowboys and a third chance from the Bengals despite his remarkable criminal past. Ray Lewis was once caught up in a murder investigation, yet now he’s one of the NFL’s most marketable players.
The examples — criminal and otherwise — go on, and on, and on ….
But don’t worry if your team is the one to land Moss, who for all his issues this season, has caught 22 passes for 313 yards and five touchdowns through eight games with two teams. The numbers may not be worth the trouble or the prorated portion of his $6.4 million salary, but he’s talented. And there’s no doubt that his next coach will be the one to finally tame him, for the good of the team.
And if not? Well, there’s always next time.
There’s always a next time.
— Ralph Vacchiano