Articles By Mitch Light
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
By Mitchell Light
Which teams from a Big Six conference that did not make the NCAA Tournament last season are most likely to make it this season?
Well, North Carolina is the first team that comes to mind. With another strong recruiting class, led by Harrison Barnes, the Tar Heels have more than enough talent to be a top-15 team in 2010-11. Other than UNC, I’d say Virginia Tech is another team that should be in the expanded Field of 68. The Hokies suffered a setback this fall when combo forward J.T. Thompson was lost for the season with a knee injury, but Tech still has three All-ACC-caliber players, led by Player of the Year candidate Malcolm Delaney. The Hokies have a 26–22 record in the ACC over the past three seasons but have nothing but three NIT appearances to show for it. That should change this season.
Arizona — Derrick Williams should have the Cats back to the NCAAs after a one-year hiatus.
Colorado — The Buffs boast two of the best players in the Big 12, Cory Higgins and Alec Burks.
Connecticut — The Huskies will lean heavily on talented point guard Kemba Walker.
Georgia — Trey Thompkins should emerge as one of the better big men in the nation.
Illinois — Bruce Weber’s team features three solid seniors — Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis — and some outstanding young talent.
Mississippi State — The Bulldogs suffered heavy losses, but there’s still plenty of talent in Starkville.
NC State — A banner recruiting class must come through for the Pack to end their four-year NCAA drought.
Northwestern — John Shurna and Juice Thompson are two of the more underrated players in the nation.
St. John’s — Steve Lavin inherited one of the most experienced rosters in the nation.
UCLA — The Bruins will be pleased that the NCAA Tournament has expanded to 68 teams.
Which Big Six conference teams that made the NCAA Tournament last year are in danger of missing the field this season?
Two teams from the ACC headline this list — Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. The Demon Deacons lost their coach (Dino Gaudio) and four key players — most notably Al-Farouq Aminu — from a team that went 9–7 in the ACC. New boss Jeff Bzdelik is known as an outstanding tactician, but his first Deacon team simply doesn’t have enough good players to be much of a threat in the ACC. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech lost its top three frontcourt players, including two draft picks (Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal), after barely making the NCAAs last year with a 7–9 record in the ACC. As usual, the Jackets will have talent, but as usual, they will underachieve.
California — Never count a Mike Montgomery team out, but not many teams can survive the loss of four double-digit scorers.
Clemson — New coach Brad Brownell will do well at Clemson, but the loss of Trevor Booker will be too much to overcome in the short term.
Louisville — Where will the scoring come from for Rick Pitino’s Cardinals?
Oklahoma State — The Pokes were the last team out in the Field of 68 in Athlon Sports’ preseason magazine.
Which current head coach is likely to make a move up the food chain after the 2010-11 season?
Billy Kennedy has taken two programs to the NCAA Tournament, Southeastern Louisiana (’04-05) and Murray State (’09-10). In four years at Murray, he has an overall mark of 84–44 and an OVC record of 56–20. He is a proven winner and his teams play an entertaining brand of basketball.
Rank the top 10 teams from outside the Big Six conferences.
Elias Harris and Robert Sacre form an intimidating frontline. The Zags will need better play at the point to be a top-10 team.
Lavoy Allen and Juan Fernandez should lead the Owls to a fourth straight NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers are painfully young, but very, very talented.
The Cougars outscored MWC foes by an average of 15.4 points per game last season.
The Bulldogs will still be good, but don’t expect another magical ride in March.
Kevin Anderson is a star, but this team needs to hit the boards to be a threat in the NCAA Tournament.
7. San Diego State
Steve Fisher welcomes back four double-digit scorers, including emerging star Kawhi Leonard.
Don’t ever doubt the X-Men, who have won four straight A-10 titles and been to three straight Sweet 16s.
9. Wichita State
It will be a shocker if Gregg Marshall’s fourth WSU team doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament
10. Murray State
All the key pieces are back from a team that beat Vanderbilt in the first round and took Butler to the wire in Round 2.
By Charean Williams
Doctors once doubted him, but Ravens linebacker Sergio Kindle always has believed he will play again.
Kindle is back in Baltimore rehabbing three months after he took a wrong turn during the night at a friend’s house and fell down two flights of stairs. Kindle, who has a hairline fracture in his skull, has yet to regain his balance.
“I’m encouraged every day,” Kindle said. “I might not have gotten this opportunity to come back. It’s a blessing that the team actually brought me back. I’m doing everything I can to get back to 100 percent, if not 150 percent, and be as good as I was before I got injured, if not better.”
Kindle was expected to have an immediate impact as a pass rusher after the Ravens made him the 43rd overall pick. He drew comparisons to former University of Texas teammate Brian Orakpo, who had 11 sacks for the Redskins as a rookie in 2009.
But Kindle never even made it to training camp.
On the night of July 25, he lost his way in an unfamiliar house after going to the bathroom during the night. Kindle doesn’t remember much after that.
“I remember when I was on my way to hitting the stairs,” Kindle said.
Doctors initially were not optimistic that he would ever play football again. He spent two weeks in an Austin, Texas, hospital.
“The doctors threw that out there as a possibility [that he wouldn’t play again],” Kindle said. “I know I have to play it safe, because it’s a head injury. But the way I’ve always felt about it: I felt I’d be able to play again. I just didn’t know how soon. I know for sure that next year I’ll be on the green grass again.”
Kindle signed a one-year contract that will pay him a prorated salary of $282,000. He received no bonus. (Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, drafted one spot before Kindle, signed a four-year, $4.44 million deal with a $1.76 million bonus.)
He is working out, learning the playbook, attending meetings and doing occupational therapy. Kindle attends home games and watches road games on television. For the first fall since he was 4 years old, he is not playing football.
Kindle, though, is taking it one step at a time, one day at a time.
“After falling down, and facing the possibility of not having your dream come true, a dream you’ve had your whole life,” Kindle said, “it made me seem like I was taking it for granted, the opportunity that I had. I’m not saying that I was, but I will just say there were things that I’ve done that weren’t great. Now, with this second chance I have, I’ve got to make the best of it.”
Michigan State (+6.5) at Iowa
We’re just about halfway through the Big Ten season, and Michigan State, picked no higher than fifth by most media outlets, remains as the league’s only undefeated team. The Spartans have been one of the most consistently solid teams in the country through the first eight weeks; they aren’t great in any one area, but they don’t have many weaknesses, either. Iowa is coming off its first Big Ten loss, a 31–30 setback at home to Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes’ defense, considered one of the best in the country, has given up a total of 329 yards rushing the past two weeks. Slowing down MSU’s two-headed tailback monster of Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell will be the focus this Saturday. Iowa is too good to lose two straight at home.
Iowa 24, Michigan State 21
Missouri (+7.5) at Nebraska
These two Big 12 North clubs both responded in big spots Saturday. Missouri proved that its undefeated start and gaudy defensive stats weren’t a fluke by beating Oklahoma 36–27 in Columbia, while Nebraska bounced back from its loss at home to Texas by outlasting Oklahoma State, 51–41, in Stillwater. The key development for the Huskers was the play of quarterback Taylor Martinez. After basically getting shut out vs. Texas, Martinez was sensational against O-State, throwing for 323 yards (by far his career high) and five touchdowns while adding 112 yards on the ground. Nebraska will be very difficult to beat if Martinez can replicate those passing numbers.
Nebraska 30, Missouri 24
Florida (+2.5) vs. Georgia
It’s the first time the Florida-Georgia showdown hasn’t featured at least one ranked team since 1979. The Bulldogs, however, are playing their best football of the season of late, with consecutive victories over Tennessee (41–14), Vanderbilt (43–0) and Kentucky (44–31). Aaron Murray has been very good at quarterback, and Washaun Ealey is finally emerging as a big-time producer at tailback. Florida, on the other hand, doesn’t have many answers on the offensive side of the ball. The Gators have scored a total of four offensive touchdowns in their last three games — all losses (two at home). Urban Meyer vowed to fix his team’s problems in the bye week, but the Gators just don’t seem to have the right pieces in the right places.
Georgia 27, Florida 17
By Ralph Vacchiano
In at least eight NFL cities right now, if this were any other year, there would be coaches pondering their futures and owners assembling a short list of replacements. There might not necessarily be firings this early, but there’d certainly be a feeling of inevitability in places like San Francisco, Dallas, Jacksonville and San Diego.
But the coaches in all those cities — and in places like Minnesota, Carolina, Cleveland and Cincinnati — might end up getting an unusual, and perhaps undeserved, stay of execution.
Because in the NFL, this is not any other year.
The looming lockout — which so many NFL sources consider to be a lock (pardon the pun) to happen at least in the offseason — could be enough to save the jobs of any of the on-the-hot-seat coaches and anyone else whose teams underachieve this season.
No matter how desperate or impulsive their bosses are, it might not make sense to end the marriage — even if the results are poor.
It’s simple, really. And all you have to do is look at Dallas. Jerry Jones has often said he will not make a coaching change during the season, but this isn’t most seasons. His Cowboys are off to a 1–5 start, and it is becoming more evident that his team will not be playing a home game at the Super Bowl in February.
But what is Jones to do? When you factor in the lockout, it might not make much sense to let Phillips go.
Let’s assume — everyone else is assuming, so it’s hardly a stretch — that the NFL owners will lock out the players beginning on March 1. And if that happens, play the scenario out to where there’s no urgency to sign a new collective bargaining agreement at least until training camp is scheduled to start in July — probably not until late August when the new regular season looms.
Can Jones, while he’s crying poverty and insisting on cutbacks with the rest of the NFL owners, be paying two coaches during the lockout? He’d still owe Phillips more than $3 million for 2011. And unless he simply promotes offensive coordinator Jason Garrett — a possibility since he makes $3 million, too, but not a likelihood given the disaster that is this season — he’d probably spend more than that on a new coach. So he’d be paying more than $10 million total for three coaches — none of whom would be coaching during the lockout.
And he’d have to have a new coach. He couldn’t let the Cowboys go without one, even for the short term, because the draft will still happen in April, and plans have to be made.
But even if Jones bit the financial bullet and endured the criticism of paying two coaches (or more) while trying to argue for a reduction in player costs, is that even a smart move? If there’s a lockout that lasts until August, his new coach won’t be allowed to have practices, workouts or any contact with his players for most of the first six months of his tenure.
He might have to install a new plan, a new offensive and defensive system, new team rules, a new workout program, and whatever else he wants to install in a matter of 2-3 weeks with the regular season closing fast. Even if he made the big move for an established, big-name coach like Bill Cowher, that’s not exactly the formula for success.
Maybe those are all leaps of faith that a lockout is coming, but the owners certainly are preparing as if that’s the case — which means Jones and so many others all have to keep that in mind. So maybe the smart call, even in the days following a disastrous season, will be to just hold on to the status quo.
And that takes some of the intrigue out of the remainder of the season. In Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis’ controversial tenure might continue despite the disappointment they’re suffering through right now. In Cleveland, unless Mike Holmgren wants to coach the team himself, he might end up giving Eric Mangini one more year. As beaten as Jack Del Rio seems in Jacksonville, that small-market franchise certainly won’t want to be paying multiple coaches. And yes, Chargers fans, you may end up with another year of Norv Turner, too.
And Phillips, and Mike Singletary in San Francisco and Brad Childress in Minnesota — they all might also be safe. None of them would’ve been in a very comfortable position in any other year. But the lockout that threatens the future of the NFL might end up being a security blanket for many on-the-bubble coaches around the league.
By Charean Williams
Eli Manning hopes to have his name in the Giants’ Ring of Honor one day in the distant future. His name already is in the visiting locker room at Cowboys Stadium, or was until it was painted over.
Manning reiterated again this week that he meant no disrespect to the Cowboys by leaving his autograph on a wall at the stadium. He said a locker room attendant asked him to sign the wall in the attendants’ private dressing room in the visiting locker room.
“A lot of different teams in opposing locker room, assistants have players sign the wall,” Manning explained. “I’ve done it at a lot of different places around the NFL, and I thought they were starting a new tradition. So it will be interesting to see if anybody else has signed the wall, or if I’m the only one, or if they erased it.”
“It’s not like I was trying to do anything disrespectful to their new stadium by any means.”
After the Giants beat the Cowboys 33–31 in the debut of the $1.2 billion stadium, Manning left the score, his autograph and “First win in the New Stadium” behind on the wall.
The Cowboys quickly painted over the signature.
Cowboys Stadium hosts Super Bowl XLV in February. The NFC team will be the home team, and Manning was asked if he might leave behind his signature in the home team’s locker room if the Giants win the big one.
He didn’t laugh at the question.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’d like to be there, but I wouldn’t want to disrespect the Cowboys or their new stadium.”
Manning led the Giants to a victory in Super Bowl XLII in 2007, winning MVP honors. His 2010 Giants are playing as well as any team in the NFC so far.
“I think we’ve done some good things,” Manning said. “We’ve gotten better as the season has gone on, and that’s what you like to see.”
LSU (+6) at Auburn
The SEC’s only two undefeated teams get together at Jordan-Hare Stadium for an epic battle. Auburn is led by junior quarterback Cam Newton, who has emerged as the top Heisman Trophy candidate in his first season with the Tigers. Newton, the SEC leader in rushing and passing efficiency, has topped the 100-yard passing and rushing mark in the same game four times this season. This week, however, he must solve the LSU defense, which is allowing only 242.1 yards and 14.4 points per game. Les Miles’ club still has issues on offense, but this team did take a big step forward two weeks ago, scoring 33 points and totaling 385 yards in its win at Florida. The Tigers — from LSU — will remain undefeated.
LSU 27, Auburn 24
Wisconsin (+5.5) at Iowa
The Big Ten race is wide open, thanks in large part to Wisconsin’s 31–18 win over then-No. 1 Ohio State last Saturday night. Iowa is one of three league teams without a loss, but the Hawkeyes still have to play Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State and Northwestern — though all but the Northwestern game are at home. The Hawkeyes have been very steady on offense and dominant on defense, limiting opponents to 13.2 points per game. The key in this game will be Iowa’s ability to slow down Wisconsin’s two-headed monster at tailback, John Clay and James White. The Badgers were able to run on Ohio State last weekend, netting 184 yards on 43 carries. The Hawkeyes can’t let happen this weekend.
Iowa 24, Wisconsin 14
Nebraska (-5.5) at Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State is arguably the biggest surprise of the nation’s 10 remaining undefeated teams. The Pokes lost 17 starters from the 2009 team that went 9–4 and were expected to take several steps back this fall. But Mike Gundy’s team is 6–0 overall and 2–0 in league play after last week’s impressive 34–17 win at Texas Tech. Nebraska figured it would also be undefeated at this point, but the Huskers were upset at home by Texas Saturday afternoon. Quarterback Taylor Martinez rushed for only 21 yards — 126 below his season average — and was benched in the third quarter. He will return as the starter this week and should have the Cornhuskers offense back on track.
Nebraska 31, Oklahoma State 17
Washington (-6.5) at Arizona
While most of the nation was tucked away in bed, Washington edged Oregon State in a double-overtime thriller in Seattle late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. Washington and Arizona are both 2–1 in league play and this is a game both teams must win if they want to remain relevant in the Pac-10. The Wildcats will be without quarterback Nick Foles, who dislocated a kneecap in the win over Washington State last weekend. His replacement is Matt Scott, a junior who actually beat Foles out for the starting assignment early last season. Don’t expect the Arizona offense to suffer much.
Arizona 34, Washington 24
By Ralph Vacchiano
The voice of reason came from the unlikeliest of places, from a man who once made his reputation and his living by pushing the outer limits of safety and legality in the NFL. But Rodney Harrison, once a known head-hunter, once considered the dirtiest player in football, had finally seen enough.
Never mind the damage he had inflicted his career. His reform movement was sparked by a weekend of carnage — last weekend, in fact — when a season-long parade of players to MRI machines and CT scans and concussion specialists all erupted in one perfectly hideous storm. For a while it seemed like every game featured a highlight of a player getting laid out in a vicious, violent, helmet-to-helmet hit.
Crowds cheered. Announcers yelled. Players celebrated.
Other players, meanwhile, laid crumpled in a heap on the ground being tended to by trainers. One man’s ticket to SportsCenter is always another man’s ticket for an ambulance ride.
It happened in Philadelphia, where Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson ran full speed at Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson and collided with him head to head, helmet to helmet, leaving both players sprawled on the ground. Jackson later had memory loss and what was described as a “severe” concussion, with no one having any idea when he’d be back.
It happened, too, in Pittsburgh where linebacker James Harrison was remorseless in leveling two Cleveland Browns — receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi — with helmet-to-helmet hits. The NFL has reportedly ruled the hit on Cribbs to be borderline legal, though the one on Massaquoi clearly was not.
And it happened in New England where Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on Ravens tight end Todd Heap so over the line that even New England coach Bill Belichick was furious.
Fines are coming. Probably hefty fines. But it took Harrison — who collected over $200,000 in fines in his 15-year career on the edge — to implore the NFL that fines just aren’t enough.
“You didn’t get my attention when you fined me five grand, 10 grand, 15 grand,” Harrison, now an NBC analyst, said on Sunday Night Football. “You got my attention when I got suspended and I had to get away from my teammates and I disappointed my teammates from not being there. But you have to suspend these guys. These guys are making millions of dollars.”
There should be a chorus of “Amen” from NFL players who by now must be furious about putting their safety at risk thanks to a growing handful of cheap-shot artists who mistake the act of launching themselves like a head-hunting missile for the lost art of making a solid tackle. Sometime, in the Age of SportsCenter, form was lost in favor of getting an opponent “jacked up” and getting on the highlight reel.
The NFL claims it takes blows to the head seriously, and for proof they levy fines — fines in four and five figures for players making seven and eight figures per year. That may be enough to get the attention of an undrafted rookie making the NFL minimum. But will even a $25,000 fine mean anything to a player like Harrison who is in the second year of a six-year, $51 million contract that pays him an average of more than $8 million per year?
Apparently not, and not just because he did it twice on Sunday, but because he was defiant about his actions and unconcerned about the bodies he left in his chaotic wake.
“I don’t want to injure anybody, but I’m not opposed to hurting anybody,” Harrison said. “There’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game.”
There’s also a difference between being dumb and dumber, and it’s about as slim as the difference between being injured and hurt. He smashed two players in the head with his own head and left both with concussions. And for one of the hits, despite the damage, he said it would be “a travesty” if he got fined.
No, the travesty would be if he wasn’t suspended. But that’s coming soon, too — and not just because Rodney Harrison said so. Ray Anderson, the NFL’s VP of operations was apparently so horrified by what he saw on Sunday, he spoke out against the disturbing trend and predicted that the discipline could end being as hard as the hits are — and soon.
“Going forward there are certain hits that occurred that will be more susceptible to suspension,” Anderson said. “There are some that could bring suspensions for what are flagrant and egregious situations.
Again, from the chorus, can I hear an “Amen”?
“(If) the money does not seem to be a deterrent, then it has to be more than that,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. “It is quite frustrating, to be honest with you, if a player is forced to leave a game because of an illegal hit and the other player continues. That doesn’t really seem right.”
No it doesn’t. Nor does it seem safe. What it is, is disturbing on all fronts. And everybody is guilty. Coughlin may not like head-hunting, but his team spent $37 million on safety Antrel Rolle, whom last season as a member of the Arizona Cardinals went head-hunting on unsuspecting Giants tight end Kevin Boss. The Giants were furious with Rolle then. Yet they’re paying him now.
Meanwhile, the Robinson-Jackson hit — which was all over the highlight shows later that night — was shown twice on the four huge scoreboards inside the new, $1.7 million stadium while the Giants were beating the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Each time the crowd offered a cheer.
It was a sobering reminder of how distasteful that was later in the day when Lions linebacker Zack Follet lay motionless on the Meadowlands field after colliding, helmet-to-helmet with Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. That hit didn’t make some of the highlight shows because it was an inadvertent collision while Pierre-Paul was blocking on a kickoff return. It was poor tackling form, but likely won’t be considered illegal.
Plus, Follet was hurt — so badly, in fact, that he never seemed to move while laying on the field. He had to be rolled onto a backboard, carried to a cart, and carefully transported to a local hospital.
The highlight shows don’t want to celebrate results like that. But the hits? They’ll show the hits.
“(Fans) definitely like the big hits,” Boss said. “And guys want to make those big hits so they can get on SportsCenter.”
A few small fines won’t change that mentality. Just ask Harrison. Or Meriweather, who said after leaving Heap in a heap, “Point blank, won’t change my game, period.”
It’s time then, that someone changes the game for players like that.
Before somebody really gets hurt.
By Charean Williams
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was set to select Randy Moss with the eighth overall pick in 1998 when then coach Chan Gailey and others on staff talked him out of it on draft day. Citing character concerns, the Cowboys instead took Greg Ellis.
Moss, who was selected 21st overall by the Vikings, since has forgiven Jones. But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten.
“I always forgive, man. That’s in the Bible,” Moss said. “I always forgive, but I never forget. Mr. Jones, Jerry Jones, I still respect his organization, the accomplishments that he has made over the years, I don’t hold a grudge, and I’m not bitter about the situation. This is my 13th year in the league. I forgive him, but I don’t forget.”
In seven career games against the Cowboys, including the postseason, Moss has 35 receptions for 734 yards and 11 touchdowns. His average of 21 yards per catch is the most against any team. His team has never lost to the Cowboys.
“[Before the draft], I told my mom I might be a Cowboy, so she had her mind set on Dallas just as well as I did, so when they didn’t pick me, I was kind of more depressed because she was depressed,” Moss said. “…Just seeing her facial expression and how she looked, I really took that to heart, man, and I told myself any time I play the Dallas Cowboys I’m never going to forget that look.”
When the Patriots traded him to the Vikings last week, Moss circled this week’s game on his calendar. Jones quickly offered a public apology to Moss.
“I apologize. I apologize. I apologize,” Jones said. “I don’t believe that’s going to do any good. He’s too much of a competitor. He’s a real competitor, and I’ve known all my life that when people say you can’t do it or when people pass over you saying somebody else can do it, all that does is inspire you. …Certainly, he’s made us pay, and I’m sorry we’ve got to play him.”
Ohio State (-3.5) at Wisconsin
The nation’s new No. 1 team heads to Madison for its most difficult test to date. Wisconsin, as usual, boasts one of the league’s top rushing attacks, but the Badgers can throw the ball around the field, as well. Senior quarterback Scott Tolzein has thrown for 190 yards or more in all but one game and has only been intercepted two times in 132 attempts. This week, however, Tolzein & Co. must solve an Ohio State club that ranks third in the nation in total defense and sixth in scoring. The Buckeyes’ defense has only allowed one team — the mighty Eastern Michigan Eagles — to score more than one offensive touchdown.
Ohio State 20, Wisconsin 10
Arkansas (+4) at Auburn
Auburn improved to 6–0 by winning its third game of the season by exactly three points. Once again, quarterback Cam Newton was the hero, throwing for 210 yards and rushing for 198 and four touchdowns in the Tigers’ 37–34 win over Kentucky. This week, Auburn will face an improved Arkansas defense that held Texas A&M to 324 yards last week (186 below its average) in a 24–17 win in Dallas. The key for Auburn will be Newton’s ability to run the ball and make the big plays in the passing game when the opportunity presents itself. The Tigers’ magical ride continues.
Auburn 34, Arkansas 27
California (+2.5) at USC
USC has lost consecutive Pac-10 games — both on a field goal in the final seconds — for the first time since September 2001. And unless the Trojans can make dramatic improvements on defense in one week, that losing streak figures to hit three games. USC ranks 100th in the nation in total defense and an unthinkable 116th in pass defense, allowing 287.5 yards per game. California, which improved to 3–2 with a 35–7 win over UCLA, does most of its damage on the ground, but the Bears are good enough in the passing game to take advantage of the Trojans’ weaknesses.
California 30, USC 24
Iowa (-3.5) at Michigan
For the first time this season, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson failed to take over a game. Sure, the man they call Shoelace threw for 215 yards and rushed for 86, but he tossed three costly interceptions in the Wolverines’ 34–17 loss to their “little brothers” from East Lansing. Now, Michigan will face one of the premier defenses in the nation. Iowa is allowing only 10.2 points per game (fewest in the country) and has held four of its five opponents to seven points or less. Robinson will find a way to move the football, but Iowa, like Michigan State, will force some turnovers and keep the Wolverines from scoring too many points.
Iowa 30, Michigan 17
By Ralph Vacchiano
The morning after is always the hardest, isn’t it? After an event you’ve been waiting for and building towards for what seems like forever, then it’s everything you expected and you enjoy it just a little too much. It’s never easy to get up and get going the next morning to do it all over again.
So welcome to the New Orleans Saints’ world, dominated by a Super Bowl hangover just eight months after a championship the town had been seeking since the franchise was born.
Past the quarter pole of their defense, they’re just 3–2 — still very much in position to make another run. But after near-miss victories over the Vikings, 49ers and Panthers, a loss to Atlanta, and then a 30–20 setback to the Arizona Cardinals — and undrafted rookie quarterback Max Hall — on Sunday, there’s no denying this: The Saints just don’t look or feel the same as they did last year.
“It’s not a crisis,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “But I told the players, ‘ We have to play better. We’ve faced challenges before, and we’re going to have to handle this one.’”
Maybe they will, but at the moment they’ve lost their aura, if nothing else. Last year their offense was unstoppable. Behind the genius of Payton and the lightning-quick throws of Drew Brees, it looked like the Saints constantly had receivers open everywhere on the field. And their defense, once maligned, had become opportunistic. It was a dangerous 1-2 punch.
Now, that once-dominant offense is averaging just 19.8 points per game — way down from 31.9 a year ago.
The defense is giving up 20.4 points per game, too. And they are sitting in the standings in their own division behind both the Atlanta Falcons (4–1) and the Tampa Bay Bucs (3–1). “We’re just not playing good enough right now,” said tackle Jonathan Stinchcomb. “We’re not hitting the panic button. But we haven’t played up to our standards.”
Unfortunately for the Saints, history suggests things won’t necessarily get better, either. Only six of the last 11 Super Bowl champs even reached the playoffs during their title defense, and three of those were bounced out of the playoffs in Round 1. Most of those teams returned with the same personnel — just like the Saints have, for the most part — and they still managed to fail.
It’s because things change fast in the NFL. Luck changes. Injuries happen. And no matter how hard the Saints try to deny it — like so many others before them — it’s nearly impossible to recapture the magic. It’s far more difficult to remain as motivated for an entire season when every team is gunning for you and you know in the back of your mind that you already have that coveted ring.
At least Payton is right. It’s not really a “crisis” At 3–2 they still have more than enough time to fix their problems, even though it’s highly unlikely they’ll duplicate their 13–3 mark from a year ago. And the odds suggest Brees will get on track, too. His self-described “terrible” three-interception performance against the Cardinals was only his second three-INT game since the beginning of last year.
Life for the reigning champs, though, won’t get any easier. They still have the Steelers on their home schedule and trips to Dallas, Baltimore and Atlanta ahead. The other games aren’t picnics either considering that the Saints are sure to get every opponent’s best effort. That means for the last 11 weeks — and maybe beyond — the Saints need to be at the top of their game, every time.
They’ll never face a game that won’t feel to someone like it’s the playoffs. And as the failures of past champions have proven, that’s a tough thing to have to deal with all season long.
Duke (National champ)
North Carolina (Sweet 16)
Virginia Tech (Two & Out)
NC State (Two & Out)
Florida State (One & Done)
Maryland (One & Done)
America East (1)
Stony Brook (One & Done)
Atlantic 10 (4)
Temple (Sweet 16)
Richmond (Two & Out)
Xavier (Two & Out)
Dayton (First Four)
Atlantic Sun (1)
Lipscomb (One & Done)
Big 12 (6)
Kansas (Final Four)
Kansas State (Final Four)
Baylor (Sweet 16)
Missouri (Sweet 16)
Texas (Two & Out)
Colorado (One & Done)
Big East (9)
Villanova (Elite Eight)
Pittsburgh (Elite Eight)
Syracuse (Elite Eight)
Georgetown (Two & Out)
West Virginia (One & Done)
Marquette (One & Done)
UConn (One & Done)
St. John’s (One & Done)
Notre Dame (One & Done)
Paul Carter, F, Minnesota to Illinois-Chicago
Solid role player in his two years with the Gophers, averaging 5.8 points and 4.0 rebounds in 63 games. Transferred to Illinois-Chicago to be near his sister, who is undergoing cancer treatments.
Malik Cooke, F, Nevada to South Carolina
Swingman should add some punch to a South Carolina lineup that needs proven scorers. Averaged 9.6 points and shot 44.8 percent from 3-point range at Nevada two years ago.
Seth Curry, G, Liberty to Duke
The younger brother of former Davidson All-American Stephen Curry averaged 20.2 points per game in his only season at Liberty. Curry shot .347 from 3-point range as a freshman, but that number should increase as his attempts diminish playing in the ACC. Figures to be a key part of four-guard rotation with freshman Kyrie Irving, sophomore Andre Dawkins and senior Nolan Smith.
Olek Czyz, F, Duke to Nevada
Polish power forward played sparingly as a freshman in 2008-09 and then left school at the conclusion of the fall semester of his sophomore season. Czyz, a former top-100 national recruit who played high school basketball in Reno, will have an opportunity to shine on a Nevada club that must replace its top four scorers.
Gregory Echenique, C, Rutgers to Creighton
Center from Venezuela should be a force in the Missouri Valley for new coach Greg McDermott after averaging 9.2 points and 8.3 rebounds in a 39 games at Rutgers. Will become eligible at the end of the fall semester.
John Fields, F, UNC Wilmington to Tennessee
Tennessee will be the third stop for the well-traveled big man who played two seasons at East Carolina and one at UNC Wilmington. After averaging 10.2 points and 8.7 rebounds for the Seahawks last season, Fields (granted immediate eligibility because he has graduated) will help provide some muscle up front for Bruce Pearl’s Vols.
Jio Fontan, G, Fordham to USC
Combo guard played for Bob Hurley at St. Anthony in Jersey City before taking his game across the river to Fordham. Fontan attempted to transfer after averaging 15.3 points and 4.7 assists en route to A-10 All-Rookie Team honors in ’08-09, but the school would not give him his release. Returned for his sophomore season, but left school after five games. Should start at the point for the Trojans, though he can play the 2.
Drew Gordon, F/C, UCLA to New Mexico
Former top-50 national recruit had a “mutual parting” with UCLA last December. The forward/center from San Jose was averaging 11.2 points and 5.3 boards while shooting .569 from the floor for the Bruins as a sophomore. With Darington Hobson off to the NBA, Gordon will have a chance to be a primary scorer up front for the Lobos when he becomes eligible in December.
Mike Holmes, F, South Carolina to Coastal Carolina
Burly power forward couldn’t stay out of trouble in Columbia, but he should be a force in the Big South when he becomes eligible in December. Averaged 10.8 points and 7.7 boards as a sophomore in ’08-09. Don’t be surprised if he is the Big?South Player of the Year.
Justin Knox, F, Alabama to North Carolina
Knox didn’t produce big numbers as a junior at Alabama (6.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg), but he will be a
welcome addition for North Carolina, which lost Deon Thompson to graduation, Ed Davis to the NBA and the Wear twins, David and Travis, to UCLA.
Jeronne Maymon, F, Marquette to Tennessee
Bulky swingman from Madison, Wisc., lasted only one semester at Marquette, even though he was averaging 16.3 minutes per game for Buzz Williams’ club. The 6'6", 240-pound Maymon was forced to play center for the undersized Golden Eagles, but he should be used as an inside-out combo forward for the Volunteers.
Emmanuel Negedu, F, Tennessee to New Mexico
Former top-50 national recruit played only one season with the Vols (’08-09) before being sidelined with a heart condition. The Tennessee medical staff would not clear him to play, so he left school and landed at New Mexico. Barring any setbacks, he will be a Lobo this season.
Josh Parker, G, Drake to Dayton
Sweet-shooting guard averaged 10.7 points while hitting 43.2 percent from three as a sophomore at Drake in ’08-09. Parker can handle the ball but will likely start at shooting guard with highly regarded freshman Juwan Staten expected to take over at the point.
Juan Pattillo, F, Oklahoma to Western Kentucky
Highly regarded forward signed with Oklahoma out of junior college but was dismissed from the team following his only season in Norman. Averaged 6.2 points and 3.6 rebounds for OU in ’08-09 playing with eventual No. 1 draft pick Blake Griffin. Will only have one season of eligibility at Western Kentucky.
Jeff Peterson, G, Iowa to Arkansas
Point guard averaged 10.6 points per game while shooting 39.7 percent from 3-point range as a starter at Iowa two years ago. Peterson and 2-guard Rotnei Clarke should form one of the most prolific shooting backcourts in the SEC in ’10-11.
Eniel Polynice, G, Ole Miss to Seton Hall
Only has one season remaining — assuming the NCAA grants him immediate eligibility — but the versatile swingman will help Kevin Williard’s first Seton Hall club. Florida native can score (8.8 ppg at Ole Miss last year), rebound (4.1 rpg) and distribute (3.9 apg).
James Rahon, G, Santa Clara to San Diego State
San Diego native returns home to give the Aztecs some much-needed help on the perimeter. He averaged 11.3 points and shot 40.7 percent from three in his only season at Santa Clara.
Gerald Robinson Jr., G, Tennessee State to Georgia
Big-time scorer in the OVC — he averaged 17.8 points as a sophomore at Tennessee State — joins a Georgia club on the rise in the SEC East. Will team with Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie to give the Bulldogs three potent scorers.
Chris Smith, G, Manhattan to Louisville
Shooting guard averaged 13.4 points and 5.7 rebounds as a sophomore for the Jaspers but shot only .362 from the field and .288 from three. His shot selection will have to improve at Louisville.
Malik Story, G, Indiana to Nevada
Swingman spent one season at IU, where he averaged 5.9 points in 17.9 minutes on Tom Crean’s first Hoosier club. Will play major minutes for a Nevada team with many holes to fill.
Hank Thorns, G, Virginia Tech to TCU
Diminutive point guard didn’t put up big numbers but averaged over 20 minutes per game in his two seasons with the Hokies. Will be expected to slide into the starting lineup for Jim Christian’s Horned Frogs.
Malcolm White, F, Ole Miss to LSU
Baton Rouge native returns home after two seasons at SEC West rival Ole Miss. Played a key role on the ’08-09 Rebs, averaging 7.2 points and 5.7 boards in 24.7 minutes of action. Should fit in nicely on an LSU team looking for big bodies.
Nick Williams, G, Indiana to Ole Miss
With Terrico White off to the NBA, Williams, a shooting guard from Mobile, Ala., will have an opportunity to play meaningful minutes in the Rebels’ backcourt. He averaged 8.9 points and 4.5 rebounds in his only season at IU.
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
He inherited a tough situation, but the numbers aren’t good for Cronin, a UC alum and former Bearcat assistant in the Bob Huggins era. In four seasons, UC is 25–45 in the Big East without an NCAA Tournament appearance. His ’09-10 club, featuring Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stephenson in the backcourt, finished with a disappointing 7–11 mark in league play.
Ed DeChellis, Penn State
Penn State is among the most difficult jobs in a Big Six conference, but at some point you have to break through and make the NCAA Tournament. Hasn’t happened yet for DeChellis, who is 32–86 in the Big Ten in seven seasons with the Nittany Lions. His ’08-09 team came painfully close (10–8 in the league), but last season Penn State finished last in the Big Ten with a 3–16 record.
Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech
Despite having a front line with two 2010 NBA Draft picks (Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal), a former McDonald’s All-American starting at point guard (Iman Shumpert) and two freshman guards ranked among the top 50 recruits in the nation, Hewitt still failed to coax a winning ACC record from the ’09-10 Yellow Jackets. He now has had one winning league record (9–7 in ’03-04) in 10 seasons at Georgia Tech.
Karl Hobbs, George Washington
Hobbs guided the Colonials to three straight NCAA Tournaments (’05-07), but George Washington is 15–33 in the Atlantic 10 over the past three seasons. Hobbs survived an academic scandal at GW — he recruited several players from “diploma mills” — but will have a difficult time surviving another losing record in league play.
Pat Knight, Texas Tech
Knight’s numbers aren’t good — the Raiders are 7–25 in the Big 12 in his two full seasons — but his ’10-11 club is well-positioned for more success. Five of Texas Tech’s top six scorers are back, including guard John Roberson (14.5 ppg) and swingman Mike Singletary (15.0 ppg). The pressure will be on Knight to make this team relevant in the Big 12.
Sidney Lowe, NC State
The struggles on the court continued — the Pack went 5–11 in ACC play to drop Lowe’s record to 20–44 in four seasons — but a highly regarded recruiting class played a key role in the school’s decision not to make a change. Lowe signed two top 25 national recruits (forward C.J. Leslie and guard Ryan Harrow) and re-signed ’09 recruit Lorenzo Brown, a guard who failed to meet academic requirements last season.
John Pelphrey, Arkansas
Pelphrey reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season at Arkansas (‘07-08), but in the last two years the former Kentucky guard is 28–34 overall and 9–23 in the SEC at a school where it is difficult not to enjoy success. The program has also come under fire for several off-the-court issues, most notably an incident at a campus fraternity last August that led to the suspension of five players. Pelphrey is on the verge of signing a top-five recruiting class, which should be buy him some time, but the folks in Arkansas expect to win at a high level.
Doc Sadler, Nebraska
Sadler is well-liked and highly respected, but the Cornhuskers are 23–41 in the Big 12 in his four seasons in Lincoln. Last year’s club slumped to 2–14 in the league, the worst at the school since the ’62-63 Huskers went 1–13 in the Big Eight.
Tad Boyle, Colorado
Boyle’s four-year run at Northern Colorado culminated with a 25–8 record in 2009-10 that featured a 12–4 mark in the Big Sky. UNC joined the Big Sky in ’06-07, Boyle’s first season, and improved its league record from 2–14 to 6–10 to 8–8 to 12–4. With Cory Higgins and Alec Burks, the Big 12 Freshman of the Year last season, back in Boulder, Boyle and the Buffs could surprise in ’10-11.
Tony Barbee, Auburn
The former John Calipari aide did an outstanding job in four years at UTEP, guiding the Miners to an overall mark of 82–52 and a 39–25 record in Conference USA. His final UTEP club went 26–7 and won the league with a 15–1 record. Barbee is known as an outstanding recruiter, and he made a big splash at Auburn in the spring, signing Luke Cothron, a top-50 national recruit who also had offers from Kentucky, Tennessee and UConn.
Brad Brownell, Clemson
Brownell is far from a household name, but he has been a very successful — and highly respected — head coach for the past eight seasons, four at UNC Wilmington and four at Wright State. In those eight seasons, he has never had a losing conference record and has taken three teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Donnie Jones, UCF
Jones, a Billy Donovan disciple, is returning to the Sunshine State after three seasons as the head coach at Marshall, a C-USA rival of UCF. He went 55–41 overall and 26–22 in league play at Marshall. The Thundering Herd’s 11–5 C-USA mark in ’09-10 was the school’s first winning conference record since its days in the MAC in 2000-01.
Oliver Purnell, DePaul
Purnell has never been known for his Xs and Os, but the guy has won a lot of games in his 22 years as a head coach. And there has been a consistent theme during his stops at Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson: His program improves each season. He went 12–2 in the Big South in his final season at Radford; 21–7 in the CAA over his last two years at ODU; 24–8 in the A-10 in his last two seasons at Dayton; and his final three Clemson teams went a combined 28–20 in the difficult ACC.
Perception is reality. Over the last 10 years, these eight are the nation’s biggest ...
The Data: Boston College’s record over the past 10 years might surprise even the most knowledgeable college basketball observers. The Eagles have made the NCAA Tournament seven times and have a record of 94–66 in league games playing in arguably the two toughest conferences in the nation. They went 54–26 in the Big East (’01-05) and are 40–40 since joining the ACC prior to the ’05-06 season.
Reasonable Expectations: BC has a decent basketball tradition, but the Eagles made the NCAA Tournament only three times from 1986-2000. The school has a nice on-campus facility, but the 8,606-seat Conte Forum is rarely filled to capacity and lacks a big-time atmosphere when the opponent is not named Duke or North Carolina. Don’t expect more than three or four NCAA Tournaments out of Boston College over the next 10 years.
The Data: Mississippi State has been the top program in the SEC West over the last 10 years, compiling a 92–68 record in league play with five division titles. Alabama is next on the list with an 82–78 record. The Bulldogs have been to the NCAA Tournament six times since 2001 but have not advanced past the second round, despite being a No. 2 seed in 2004 and a No. 3 seed in ’02.
Reasonable Expectations: Mississippi State had a good run in the late 1950s and early ’60s under Babe McCarthy, but the program was a non-factor in the SEC from the late ’60s through the early ’90s. State has solid support when the team is winning and a decent in-state recruiting base, but conventional wisdom suggests that both Arkansas and LSU, and probably even Alabama, should be winning at a higher level than MSU in the SEC West.
The Data: Pittsburgh has been to the NCAA Tournament nine straight seasons after making it only six times in the first 16 years after the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Panthers have been a top-4 seed seven times during this span, including the school’s first-ever No. 1 seed in 2009. Over the past 10 seasons, Pitt’s record in Big East play is an astounding 116–50 with only one losing record — 7–9 in 2001.
Reasonable Expectations: Pittsburgh had a solid basketball program prior to Ben Howland’s arrival in 1999, but even the most optimistic Panther fan could not have expected so much success over the past decade. This is a program that should be a regular NCAA Tournament participant and in the hunt for an occasional Big East crown, but there is no doubt that 116 Big East wins and nine NCAA Tournament appearances in a 10-year stand constitutes overachievement.
The Data: The numbers that Stew Morrill has compiled over the past 10 years are staggering: 251–80 overall and 128–40 in league play (Big West, ’01-05; WAC, ’06-10). Over the last decade, his teams have averaged over 25 wins per season, and only one time, in ’07, have the Aggies won fewer than 11 conference games. They have played in the NCAA Tournament six times (with only one win) and the NIT four times.
Reasonable Expectations: Utah State has a solid tradition in basketball, but the record over the past 10 years is extremely impressive. Keep in mind that this school is a distant third behind Utah and BYU on the food chain in its own state. Granted, the competition isn’t always fierce, but 25 wins per seasons is quite an accomplishment.
The Data: The early part of the decade wasn’t kind to Virginia Tech (17–47 record from ’01-04 in the Big East), but the Hokies have been consistently strong since moving to the ACC prior to the 2004-05 season. Over that span, only three teams in the conference have had a better record in league play — North Carolina, Duke and Maryland. Virginia Tech, perpetually on the bubble, has made it to only one NCAA Tournament despite winning at least eight ACC games four times.
Reasonable Expectations: Let’s be honest: There were no expectations for Virginia Tech basketball when the school made the move to the ACC. This was all about football. But the basketball program has more than held its own in the mighty ACC, with a 48–48 record in league games over that span. And as long as Seth Greenberg is in charge, Hokie basketball should remain relevant in the nation’s most prestigious league.
The Data: West Virginia has been a consistent winner in the Big East over the past 10 years (83–83 in league play including a 1–15 mark in ’02), but where the Mountaineers have made their mark is in the NCAA Tournament. WVU has earned five NCAA invites (all in the last six seasons) with four trips to the Sweet 16 or beyond. In ’05, under John Beilein, the Mountaineers lost to Louisville in the Regional Finals, and last season, with WVU alum Bob Huggins in charge, they broke through with a trip to the Final Four.
Reasonable Expectations: West Virginia has enjoyed pockets of big-time success in basketball over the years, but the school was not expected to be a major player when it joined the Big East for basketball in the mid-1990s. Any time the Mountaineers are competing with the likes of UConn, Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, etc., for supremacy in league play, it’s fair to say that the program is overachieving.
The Data: The Badgers won the national title in 1941 but proceeded to make the NCAA Tournament only one time over the next five-plus decades. But since the late 1990s, Wisconsin has been a fixture in the field, with 12 straight appearances dating back to 1999. The Badgers’ run of success in the Big Ten has been quite impressive: Their 116–50 mark is the best over the past 10 years (one win better than Michigan State), and they have won at least 10 league games eight times over that span.
Reasonable Expectations: Wisconsin was arguably the biggest overachiever of the past 10 years, but the program has reached the point where we need to reassess the expectations. The Badgers have a tremendous home court advantage — they are 170–18 at the 12-year-old Kohl Center — and boast one of the game’s finest coaches in Bo Ryan. They might not recruit at an elite level — UW has signed one McDonald’s All-American (Brian Butch) since 1993 — but the program is hardly lacking in top-flight talent. As long as Ryan is in charge, Wisconsin should remain among the top programs in the Big Ten.
The Data: Xavier leads all non-Big 6 teams not named Gonzaga with nine NCAA Tournament appearances over the last 10 years. In seven of those seasons, the Musketeers have earned a single-digit seed, including two No. 3s (’03, ’08) and a No. 4 (’09). And unlike Gonzaga, they have enjoyed tremendous success in March, with four trips to the Sweet 16 and two trips to the Elite Eight. The X-Men have dominated the A-10 as well, with a staggering 122–38 (.763) record dating back to the ’01 season.
Reasonable Expectations: Xavier has everything in place — tradition, support, facilities — to win at a high level, but it is still very difficult for any school, let alone a team from outside the Big 6, to win with such consistency. This program has clearly overachieved over the past 10 years.
The Data: Arkansas was one of the most consistent programs in the nation throughout the 1980s and ’90s, advancing to the NCAA Tournament an amazing 22 times in 25 years from 1977–2001, but the Razorbacks have been quite ordinary — and that is being kind — over the past 10 years. The Hogs are 30 games under .500 in the SEC (65–95) and have made the NCAA Tournament four times, with the high-water mark being a No. 7 seed in 2001.
Reasonable Expectations: Arkansas should be the top program in the SEC West and play in the NCAA Tournament on an annual basis. The Razorbacks have everything in place to be a consistent power — a tremendous home court environment (when the team is playing well), outstanding facilities, tradition (1994 national champions, runners-up in ’95), a national brand and the necessary commitment from the University.
The Data: Paul Hewitt has been the boss at Georgia Tech since the 2000-01 season, and the numbers aren’t pretty — an ACC record of 67–93 with only one winning league record (9–7 in ’03-04). The Jackets have made the NCAA Tournament five times but advanced past the first weekend only one time, in ’04 en route to the national title game. Georgia Tech has not had much trouble attracting elite talent; the school has signed six McDonald’s All-Americans over the past 10 seasons, trailing only Duke and North Carolina among ACC schools. Still, the Yellow Jackets have not been able to win on a consistent basis.
Reasonable Expectations: There is a reason Hewitt has come under fire from Georgia Tech fans in recent years. For a school located in the heart of Atlanta — one of the top talent-producing metro areas in the nation — the Yellow Jackets’ record over the past decade simply is not good enough. Georgia Tech should be in the NCAA Tournament almost every season, and a winning record in league play should not be a once-in-a-decade occurrence.
The Data: Michigan has played in the NCAA Tournament only one time in the past 10 years, and that was as a No. 10 seed in 2009. That is shocking for a school that won a national championship in 1989 and played in the national title game in both ’92 and ’93. The Wolverines’ 68–98 record in the Big Ten from 2001-10 ranks ninth in the league, ahead of only Penn State and Northwestern.
Reasonable Expectations: There are some issues with Michigan basketball — the facilities are sub-par and support is not great — but this is still one of only 16 programs that can claim a national title in the past 25 years. The school has a strong national brand and can attract top-flight talent from around the country. Michigan should be an NCAA team at least three out of every five years and be a team that is in the top half of the Big Ten standings more times than not.
The Data: Nebraska is the only school in the Big 12 that has not played in the NCAA Tournament in the past 10 years, and it’s also the only school that has failed to have at least one winning league season over that span. (Colorado has three, Iowa State and Baylor two each.) The Cornhuskers have been competitive at times — they went 7–9 four times and 8–8 once — but have been unable to break through.
Reasonable Expectations: In a classic example of “Be careful what you wish for,” Nebraska fired Danny Nee after the 1999-2000 season ended with an 11–19 overall record and a 4–12 mark in the Big 12. But Nee had guided the Huskers to five NCAA Tournament appearances during an eight-year span in the ’90s, and the school’s record during the first three seasons of Big 12 play was 27–21. Since Nee’s departure, NU is 59–101 in the Big 12 with zero trips to the NCAAs. So what’s reasonable for this program as it moves to the Big Ten? Tough to expect too much success out of a football school with such a weak local recruiting base, but an NCAA Tournament berth every four or five years seems to be a decent goal.
The Data: Northwestern is the only school in a Big 6 conference that has never appeared in the NCAA Tournament, so the Wildcats have obviously missed the Field of 64/65 in each of the past 10 years. Their Big Ten record since 2001 is 51–115 with only one non-losing season — an 8–8 mark in 2004.
Reasonable Expectations: We’re not asking for much here — one NCAA Tournament appearance every five or 10 years. Maybe a winning record in the Big Ten every once in a while. Is that really too much to ask? Yes, the school has almost no tradition, very little support and faces some academic hurdles, but other prestigious private schools — Duke, Notre Dame, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest — have managed to enjoy varying levels of success.
The Data: Rutgers has been the worst program in the Big East over the past 10 years, with a record of 44–122 in league games and no appearances in the NCAA Tournament. During this span, the Scarlet Knights have won four or fewer Big East games six times, including two in both ’05 and ’09.
Reasonable Expectations: Rutgers lacks basketball tradition and faces an uphill battle in the brutal Big East, but the school has a tremendous recruiting base in the metropolitan New York area. And unlike Big East brethren St. John’s and Seton Hall, Rutgers has an on-campus facility, the 8,000-seat RAC. So does this mean RU should be an emerging power on the East Coast? No, but the school should at least be relevant in the Big East.
The Data: It’s been a forgettable past 10 years for South Carolina basketball. The Gamecocks have made one trip to the NCAA Tournament, as a No. 10 seed in 2004 — when they scored a total of 43 points in a 16-point loss to Memphis — and have had only one winning season in the SEC, 10–6 in ’09. Their record in the league was 63–97, the worst among Eastern Division schools.
Reasonable Expectations: South Carolina is far from basketball royalty — after all, the school hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1973 — but it’s reasonable to expect a major state university that plays in an 18,000-seat arena to: a) make the NCAAs more than one time every 10 years and b) average more than 6.3 conference wins per season.
The Data: The Cavaliers reached the NCAA Tournament 13 times in a 17-year span from 1981-1997 but have basically been irrelevant in the ACC over the past decade. They have made the tournament only two times (’01, ’07) — fewest among the pre-expansion ACC teams — and have a 64–96 record in league games. And here’s a stat that won’t sit well with Virginia faithful: Since joining the ACC six years ago, Virginia Tech has averaged eight league wins per season, while Virginia, with far more tradition, has averaged six.
Reasonable Expectations: Duke and North Carolina are obviously the top two programs in the ACC, but there is no reason Virginia should not be in that second tier of teams that is consistently winning 9-to-11 ACC games per season and advancing to the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis. With a sparkling new facility — which opened for the 2006-07 season — and an outstanding young coach (Tony Bennett), Cavalier basketball should be a factor in the ACC throughout the 2010s.
By Charean Williams
He has thrown more interceptions (41) than touchdowns (36). He has completed only 58.2 percent of his passes. He has a career passer rating of 73.7.
But for everything he supposedly hasn’t done, can’t do or will never do as a passer, Vince Young has done one thing right: He has won.
The Tennessee Titans quarterback is 28–15 in his career as a starter. His .651 winning percentage is one of the best among active NFL quarterbacks, right up there with Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.
It’s the same thing he did at the University of Texas, where he went 30–2 in three years as the starter.
“There are so many doubters, and they’re still doubting now,” Young said. “A lot of people don’t even mention that [winning percentage]. They always mention all the other stuff. That’s why I’ve continued to stay focused and use that type of things as motivation to keep us going on with success for my teammates.”
Still, there remain questions about his commitment, his leadership and his maturity.
This summer, Young was involved in a fight at a Dallas strip club and was issued a Class C Assault citation.
“I was disappointed, but I’ve moved on from that,” Young said. “Things happen, and it happened.”
Against the Steelers in Week 2, Young was benched in the fourth quarter of a 19–11 loss. He threw two interceptions and fumbled twice before being replaced by Kerry Collins.
The Tennessean later reported that Young missed or arrived late for at least two meetings the week of that game.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher, though, said this week that Young’s preparation has improved since he entered the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick in 2006.
“He’s improved over the last couple of years, certainly,” Fisher said. “I think it started with his opportunity to watch Kerry win 10 straight [in 2008] and having to prepare himself to play at a moment’s notice as a backup. Through that experience, I think he’s really improved. He works hard at what he’s doing.
“He just had a moment. It’s one of those things. I’ve said this numerous times, I made a decision just as I would to make a decision to go for it on 4th-and-two.”
Young, 27, is a better quarterback now, facing the Cowboys, than he was when he made his first start, also against the Cowboys, in 2006. He is completing 66.2 percent of his passes, though he has had only 71 attempts, and for the first time, he could have more touchdowns than interceptions in a season.
“Whatever it takes to win a ball game,” Young said.
That’s the one thing he’s always been good at.
Clayton Having a Blast
It didn’t take long for Mark Clayton to become Sam Bradford’s new best friend. They both went to Oklahoma, after all, though at different times.
Clayton, the 22nd overall pick in 2005, was traded by the Ravens to the Rams only six days before the season opener. He became Bradford’s favorite target overnight.
“I was actually talking to Sam about [being traded to St. Louis] in the offseason,” Clayton said. “We clowned around about it. Man, for it to actually happen was surprising and very exciting.”
Clayton was the target on 14 of Bradford’s passes last week and had five catches for 72 yards. He leads the team with 22 receptions for 300 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s good to be in a position where an organization trusts you,” Clayton said. “Just knowing what you’re capable of using your God-given talents, to be able to go out week in and week out and demonstrate the work and diligence and everything you put into it on the field.”
The Rams are one of the league’s most surprising teams, with their 2-2 record tied for the lead atop the NFC West with the Cardinals and the Seahawks.
Clayton, a free agent after this season, hopes to stay in St. Louis long enough to help the Rams completely turn things around.
“I love it here. Hopefully, they like me enough to stay here,” he said.
Seahawks rookie safety Earl Thomas is all hands. He has three interceptions in four games, tying him for the league lead with another rookie, Eagles safety Nate Allen, and Panthers safety Charles Godfrey.
Thomas also is third on the team with 23 tackles.
“As a rookie, I didn’t want to be the weakest link on the team,” Thomas said. “I’ve just been working hard to correct my mistakes and try to get better.”
ª Eagles left tackle Jason Peters was called for two of the team’s four holding penalties last week. That makes three holding penalties and a false start on Peters in four games. In 20 games with the Eagles since signing a six-year, $60 million contract last year, Peters has been called for 14 penalties.
• Redskins nosetackle Albert Haynesworth looked more like an All-Pro than Just a Guy last week as he had four tackles, one for a loss, and a pass defensed against the Eagles. He also drew a couple of holding penalties in roughly 30 snaps.
• Running back Cadillac Williams acknowledged the Bucs may be readying to move on without him. He is splitting carries with rookie LeGarrette Blount and Kareem Huggins. Williams, who has undergone two major knee surgeries, is off to one of his worst starts in his six seasons with 139 yards on 55 carries, a 2.5-yard average. Williams will become a free agent after the season.
• Mike Tolbert has become the Chargers’ lead back, though coach Norv Turner insists on calling rookie Ryan Mathews by that title. Tolbert is producing like a No. 1 back going for 100 yards on 16 carries last week.
• The Seahawks love what Justin Forsett has brought to their running game with 215 yards on 51 carries, a 4.2 yard average. But Forsett is only 5-8, 194 pounds, which is why they traded for Marshawn Lynch, who is 5-11 and 214 pounds. Forsett, who played with Lynch at Cal and had him as a groomsman in his wedding last summer, will remain the starter at least in the short term.
• Ken Whisenhunt probably figures he has nothing to lose by starting an undrafted free agent this week. The Cardinals had only 124 yards on offense last week, including only 23 in the second half. The Cardinals can see what they have in Max Hall and another rookie, John Skelton, before the 2011 draft.
• The Ravens are 1–3 in the next game following a win over Pittsburgh. When the Ravens beat the Steelers in overtime last season, they lost at Green Bay by 13 points.
• The Titans have had a league-high six personal fouls called on them this year.
• Denver quarterback Kyle Orton has thrown for 1,419 yards, the second-most passing yards through the first four games of the regular season in NFL history. Only Kurt Warner (1,557 in 2000) had more.
• The Lions have allowed 24 points off turnovers in four games. They have been outscored by a total of 24 points in the four losses.
• The Texans never had a winning record on the road until last season when they were 5–3. Now they have a four-game winning streak away from home. Since the start of last season, they are 7–3 on the road. They are 9-4 over their past 13 games.
• Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and receiver Reggie Wayne have combined for 9,703 career yards, moving past Buffalo’s Jim Kelly and Andre Reed (9,538) into second place on the NFL’s all-time list for yards by a quarterback-receiver duo. Manning and Wayne now trail Manning and former Colts receiver Marvin Harrison (12,766).
• The Dolphins have had four punts blocked since the start of the preseason.
• Last season, the Saints won their first six games by double-digit margins and outscored those six opponents by a total of 111 points. They have won three games this season by a total of 10 points.
• Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb leads the league with four completions of at least 50 yards. They have gone to four targets — Santana Moss, Joey Galloway, Fred Davis and Anthony Armstrong.