Articles By Steven Lassan
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 9 SEC Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Alabama (8-0) – Let the countdown to Saturday begin. The Crimson Tide had a bye in Week 9 and will be rested and ready to go for Saturday’s matchup against LSU. The No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown is easily the most-anticipated game of 2011. The winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat for the SEC West title and a spot in the national championship game. Alabama has won two out of the last three against LSU, but lost last season’s matchup in Baton Rouge.
2. LSU (8-0) – As mentioned several times in the power rankings this season, there’s really no separation between Alabama and LSU. However, Saturday will finally provide some insight into both teams. The Tigers have steamrolled all of their opponents this season, with the smallest margin of victory being 13 points (Oregon and Mississippi State). LSU defeated Alabama 24-21 in last year’s matchup.
3. Arkansas (7-1) – The Razorbacks escaped Nashville with a hard-fought 31-28 win over Vanderbilt. Arkansas trailed 21-7 in the second quarter, but rallied behind the steady play of quarterback Tyler Wilson and a fumble return for a touchdown by linebacker Jerry Franklin. Arkansas has won four in a row and its only loss this year was to Alabama on Sept. 24. The Razorbacks have a favorable stretch upcoming, as their next three games are at home, starting with Saturday’s matchup against South Carolina.
4. South Carolina (7-1) – Without running back Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks are going to have to win ugly the rest of the year. Saturday’s 14-3 victory over Tennessee is probably a sign of things to come. Freshman Brandon Wilds did an admirable job filling in for Lattimore, rushing for 137 yards on 28 attempts. South Carolina faces a key road test at Arkansas this Saturday. The Gamecocks still own the edge in the SEC East, but a loss to the Razorbacks would put Georgia in the driver’s seat.
5. Georgia (6-2) – Saturday’s 24-20 win over Florida was huge for Georgia’s SEC East title hopes. The Bulldogs got off to a slow start, but the defense stepped up in the second half, while aggressive play calling allowed the offense to score two touchdowns on fourth-down tries. Not only was the win a big one for the SEC East race, it’s huge for coach Mark Richt and should cool the talk of him being on the hot seat. The Bulldogs step out of conference for a matchup against New Mexico State this Saturday.
6. Auburn (6-3) – Thanks to Saturday’s 41-23 victory over Ole Miss, the Tigers are bowl eligible. Considering the personnel losses entering this year, winning seven or eight games is a good season for coach Gene Chizik. Running back Michael Dyer is just 11 yards short of reaching 1,000 for the year, while also recording three 100-yard games in SEC play. The Tigers are off this Saturday, before returning to action on Nov. 12 at Georgia.
7. Florida (4-4) – Will Muschamp is having a rough first season in Gainesville. The 24-20 loss to Georgia on Saturday was Florida’s fourth loss in a row. And the Gators have only two wins in SEC play entering November. Outside of the Nov. 19 date against Furman, there’s not a guaranteed victory on the schedule. A much-improved Vanderbilt team visits the Swamp this Saturday, before traveling to South Carolina and hosting Florida State in the regular season finale. The ankle injury to quarterback John Brantley was costly for the Gators, but they are also struggling to establish their rushing attack in SEC play.
8. Mississippi State (4-4) – The Bulldogs finally broke through in SEC play, winning 28-16 over Kentucky. Quarterback play has been a source of concern Mississippi State this season, and coach Dan Mullen tried out a new strategy against the Wildcats. Chris Relf and Tyler Russell alternated series and the result was a solid statistical outing – 15 of 21 for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Mississippi State steps out of conference this Saturday, taking on FCS foe Tennessee-Martin in Starkville.
9. Tennessee (3-5) – True freshman quarterback Justin Worley was thrown into the fire and the results were predictable. The Volunteers struggled to move the ball on offense, while Worley completed only 10 of 26 throws for 105 yards and two interceptions. The rushing attack continued to struggle, managing only 35 yards on 21 attempts. Tennessee steps out of conference for a matchup against in-state foe MTSU this Saturday. The Volunteers still have bowl hopes, but need to win three out of their last four games.
10. Vanderbilt (4-4) – First-year coach James Franklin isn’t into moral victories, but the Commodores have made solid improvement this season. Vanderbilt outplayed Arkansas last Saturday, but fell short, losing 31-28 to drop its record to 4-4 this year. The Commodores have found a spark on offense recently, as quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy have played well over the last two games. Vanderbilt is in a good position to get to a bowl game in 2011, as it needs two victories and Kentucky and Tennessee are very winnable.
11. Ole Miss (2-6) – The pressure continues to build on coach Houston Nutt, as the Rebels lost 41-23 to Auburn for their third defeat in a row. Ole Miss’ defense has been a sore spot all season and has allowed at least 41 points in two out of its last three games. If the Rebels are going to win a game in SEC play, it has to happen this Saturday at Kentucky. Ole Miss still has bowl hopes, but winning four in a row to finish out 2011 is very unlikely.
12. Kentucky (3-5) – The Wildcats continued to struggle in SEC play, suffering a 28-16 defeat to Mississippi State on Saturday. However, the news wasn’t all bad coming out of the loss. Freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith jumpstarted the offense in the second half, completing 26 of 33 throws for 174 yards. Although Smith performed well, the Wildcats still have a lot of offensive issues going into this week’s game against Ole Miss. If Kentucky doesn’t beat the Rebels in Lexington this Saturday, a victory in conference play appears unlikely.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 9 Big 12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Oklahoma State (8-0) – The stakes are high for the Cowboys and so far, they continue to answer the bell. If Oklahoma State can win out, it will likely play in the national title game. The Cowboys took another step towards an undefeated season, defeating Baylor 59-24 last Saturday. Quarterback Brandon Weeden had another steady performance, throwing for 274 yards and three scores. The rushing attack also shined, getting 152 yards from Joseph Randle and 104 from freshman Herschel Sims. The Cowboys look to improve their record to 9-0 this Saturday, as 7-1 Kansas State travels to Stillwater.
2. Oklahoma (7-1) – Don’t count out the Sooners from the national title race just yet. Oklahoma demolished Kansas State 58-17 on Saturday, moving it back to No. 6 in the BCS standings. Quarterback Landry Jones thrashed the Wildcats’ secondary for 505 yards, while receiver Ryan Broyles posted 14 receptions for 171 yards and one touchdown. The news out of Saturday’s game wasn’t all positive. Running back Dominique Whaley was lost for the year due to an ankle injury, which means Roy Finch, Brandon Williams, and Brennan Clay will need to shoulder the workload in the Oklahoma backfield the rest of the year.
3. Kansas State (7-1) – The Wildcats’ national title hopes are finished, but a 7-1 record entering November is better than most expected. Kansas State was unable to keep its undefeated season alive, losing 58-17 to Oklahoma last Saturday. The Wildcats simply don’t have the athletes or passing attack to keep up with the Sooners right now. Kansas State is still in good shape to finish in the top three of the Big 12, but the schedule is going to be difficult over the next three weeks. The Wildcats are at Oklahoma State this week, then face Texas A&M and Texas.
4. Texas (5-2) – How’s this for a surprising stat: Texas’ win over Kansas on Saturday was its first home Big 12 win since Nov. 21, 2009. The Longhorns easily dispatched the Jayhawks with a powerful rushing attack, getting 136 yards from Joe Bergeron and 119 from Malcolm Brown. Quarterback David Ash turned in an efficient performance, throwing for 145 yards on 14 completions. The Longhorns need just one win to get bowl eligible and that victory could come on Saturday against Texas Tech.
5. Texas A&M (5-3) – The Aggies had their three-game winning streak snapped with a 38-31 overtime loss to Missouri. Texas A&M’s offense had no trouble moving the ball against the Tigers, with quarterback Ryan Tannehill passing for 317 yards, while running back Christine Michael totaled 104 on the ground. However, the Aggies had three turnovers and struggled to contain Missouri quarterback James Franklin. Any outside hopes Texas A&M had of earning an at-large appearance in the BCS went out the window with the loss to the Tigers, and the schedule won’t get any easier this Saturday with a road trip to Oklahoma.
6. Missouri (4-4) – The Tigers evened their record at 4-4 with a big win in overtime against Texas A&M. Missouri quarterback James Franklin bounced back after a disappointing performance in Week 8, totaling 295 yards and four touchdowns against the Aggies. Although the Tigers have four losses, there’s really no shame in any of their defeats. Missouri’s defeats have come at the hands of Arizona State, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Tigers return to Texas this Saturday, as they travel to Waco to take on Baylor.
7. Texas Tech (5-3) – Flat. That’s really the only way to describe the Red Raiders’ performance on Saturday night. After beating Oklahoma last week, it’s pretty clear Texas Tech did not have the same energy level against Iowa State and the results showed. The Red Raiders lost 41-7, and quarterback Seth Doege turned in his worst performance of the year with only 171 passing yards. Texas Tech looks to get back on track against Texas this Saturday. The Red Raiders still need one win to get bowl eligible and the road to getting another victory won’t be easy with Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Baylor remaining on the schedule.
8. Baylor (4-3) – The Bears have been sliding down the power rankings over the last few weeks. Baylor has lost three out of its last four games, including a 59-24 defeat to Oklahoma State last Saturday. The Bears moved the ball throughout the first half, but were unable to convert those opportunities into points. Quarterback Robert Griffin’s Heisman hopes have taken a hit with the losses, but the junior hasn’t been the problem. The Bears are struggling on defense, allowing 36.4 points a game and ranking 108th nationally in total defense. Baylor looks to get back into the win column this Saturday against Missouri.
9. Iowa State (4-4) – The Cyclones posted their first Big 12 victory of 2011, ambushing Texas Tech 41-7 in Lubbock. The Red Raiders were coming off a big win against Oklahoma, so there was certainly a letdown effect involved. However, Iowa State was impressive, getting key performances from quarterback Jared Barnett and running back James White. The Cyclones have won back-to-back games against Texas Tech by a combined score of 93 to 45. Iowa State should have a chance to win its second conference game of the season, as it hosts Kansas this Saturday.
10. Kansas (2-6) – Not much has gone right for the Jayhawks over the last few weeks, and they may have hit rock bottom in Saturday’s 43-0 loss to Texas. Kansas’ offense was atrocious, managing only three first downs and 46 total yards. Although it’s unfair to judge to coach Turner Gill after one-plus season, the losses are taking a toll on the fanbase. Unless the Jayhawks pull off an upset, they appear headed for a 2-10 finish and without a victory in Big 12 play.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 9 Big East Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Cincinnati (6-1) – The Bearcats remain atop the Big East power rankings for the second week in a row. Cincinnati is the only team without a loss in conference play, but return after its bye week for a tough trip to Pittsburgh. The Bearcats are catching the Panthers at a good time, as starting running back Ray Graham was lost for the year with a knee injury in last week's game against Connecticut. Starting with Saturday’s game, the Bearcats are about to embark on a difficult four-game stretch, which also includes matchups against West Virginia, Rutgers and Syracuse. Can Cincinnati maintain its lead and win the Big East title? This conference has been full of ups and downs this year, so the Bearcats can't feel too comfortable with five games remaining.
2. West Virginia (6-2) – The conditions weren’t exactly ideal for the Mountaineers’ pass-first offense, but they found a way to pull out the victory, extending their winning streak over Rutgers to 17 in a row. Quarterback Geno Smith passed for only 219 yards and two touchdowns, but West Virginia’s rushing attack helped pickup the slack on offense, led by 110 yards from Shawne Alston. The Mountaineers also took advantage of three turnovers by the Scarlet Knights, while the defense pitched a shutout in the second half. West Virginia controls its destiny in the Big East race and faces an improving Louisville team this Saturday.
3. Rutgers (5-3) – After a 5-1 start, the Scarlet Knights have taken a step back in the Big East race, losing their last two games. Rutgers led 31-21 at the half over West Virginia, but was unable to hold onto the lead and lost 41-31. The loss continues a recent string of misery in this series for the Scarlet Knights, as they have lost 17 in a row to the Mountaineers. One positive in the loss was the rushing attack, which got 96 yards and two touchdowns from Jawan Jamison. Rutgers hosts South Florida this Saturday, which is a must win if it wants to stay alive in the Big East race.
4. Pittsburgh (4-4) – A 35-20 win over Connecticut on Wednesday night moved the Panthers back to .500 this year. However, the win had a heavy price. Running back Ray Graham suffered a knee injury and is lost for the year. With Graham out, Pittsburgh will have to lean more on running back Zach Brown and quarterback Tino Sunseri. The Panthers need two wins to get bowl eligible, and has a difficult game against current Big East leader Cincinnati this Saturday. Without Graham, contending for the Big East title is very unlikely, but there's a good chance this team can still get to a bowl.
5. South Florida (4-3) – The Bulls had a bye in Week 9 and are back in action on Saturday at Rutgers. The off week came at a good time for South Florida, as it is riding a three-game losing streak and desperately needs to get things going back in the right direction. The Bulls have a tough two-game road stretch coming up, as they play at Rutgers this Saturday, followed by a date at Syracuse on November 11. South Florida still needs two wins to get bowl eligible, but there’s no guaranteed victory on the schedule the rest of the way.
6. Louisville (4-4) – The Cardinals have been making a steady climb up the power rankings the last two weeks. Louisville has won two games in a row, including Saturday’s 27-10 effort over Syracuse. A big reason for the improvement has been quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The true freshman turned in an efficient performance against Syracuse, throwing for 198 yards and two touchdowns. Center Mario Benavides’ return to the lineup has helped the rushing attack the last few games, and that continued against the Orange with Victor Anderson rushing for 93 yards and one score. The Cardinals travel to West Virginia this Saturday.
7. Syracuse (5-3) – One week after a big win against West Virginia, the Orange took a step back with a 27-10 loss at Louisville. Syracuse’s offense struggled to get on track, as quarterback Ryan Nassib threw for only 162 yards on 36 attempts, and running back Antwon Bailey managed only 70 yards. With the Orange trailing all game, Bailey was really never a factor, which snapped his streak of four consecutive 100-yard games. Syracuse still has Big East title hopes, but is in a big hole thanks to the loss to Louisville. The Orange play at Connecticut next Saturday.
8. Connecticut (3-5) – The Huskies were unable to build upon the momentum from their win over South Florida, losing 35-20 on Wednesday night to Pittsburgh. Connecticut’s defense had no answer for the Panthers offense, as quarterback Tino Sunseri threw for 419 yards and added 40 more on the ground. Quarterback play has been an issue for the Huskies all year, and it wasn’t much better on Wednesday night. Johnny McEntee threw for 193 yards and two touchdowns, but completed only 51.5 percent of his throws. Connecticut looks to get back into the win column against Syracuse this Saturday. The game against the Orange will be a homecoming for Huskies' coach Paul Pasqualoni, who posted a 107-59-1 record in 14 years at Syracuse.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the most important things to take away from this weekend.
Boston College – The Eagles kept their slim bowl hopes alive with a 28-17 victory over Maryland on Saturday. The offense has been a source of concern all year, however, running back Rolandan Finch gashed the Terrapins for 243 yards and two touchdowns. The win over Maryland was Boston College’s first victory over a FBS team this year.
Case Keenum, QB, Houston – Thanks to some bad weather, the Cougars got off to a slow start in Thursday’s win over Rice. However, the final stat line was a one-sided affair. Keenum threw for 534 yards and nine touchdown passes, and likely could have thrown a couple more had he played the entire fourth quarter. The Cougars remain unbeaten at 8-0 and with a favorable remaining schedule, has a chance to finish the regular season without a loss.
Georgia – Beating Florida has been a big issue for Mark Richt, but the Bulldogs scored a huge 24-20 victory over the Gators on Saturday. Georgia fell behind early, but the defense puts the clamps on Florida’s offense in the second half. The Bulldogs were aggressive on offense, scoring two touchdowns on fourth-down throws by quarterback Aaron Murray. Georgia still trails South Carolina in the SEC East race, but the Gamecocks face a difficult upcoming schedule playing Arkansas and Florida, while the Bulldogs get Auburn and Kentucky.
Georgia Tech – Having lost back-to-back games, most of the nation didn’t give the Yellow Jackets much of a chance against Clemson. However, Georgia Tech’s offense clicked behind quarterback Tevin Washington's running, and the defense forced four crucial turnovers. The Yellow Jackets still have a shot to win the ACC Coastal, but need to beat Virginia Tech on Nov. 10.
Louisville – Considering the amount of youth stepping into playing time this year, it was expected the Cardinals might need a couple of weeks to get everything figured out. The pieces seem to be falling into place for Louisville, as it has won back-to-back games, and all four losses have been by nine points or less. Saturday’s win over Syracuse puts the Cardinals at 2-1 in conference play, with a difficult upcoming stretch – at West Virginia, Pittsburgh, at Connecticut and at South Florida.
Minnesota – The Gophers have been awful this year, but Saturday’s win over Iowa was a step in the right direction. Minnesota’s rush defense struggled to stop Iowa’s Marcus Coker, but kept quarterback James Vandenberg in check. The Gophers also got a key performance from quarterback MarQueis Gray and a well-timed onside kick in the fourth quarter. Coach Jerry Kill has been feeling a lot of pressure for the slow start, but he’s the right man for the job. Give Kill and his staff another year to rebuild the roster, and Minnesota will be back in a bowl.
Missouri – Thanks to a difficult schedule, the Tigers have a mediocre 4-4 record. However, those losses came to Arizona State, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State – a combined 28-4. Quarterback James Franklin bounced back after a disappointing performance against Oklahoma State, leading Missouri to a 38-31 win over Texas A&M on Saturday. The Tigers still need two wins to get bowl eligible and games remain against Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech and Kansas.
Nebraska - The Cornhuskers jumped back into the mix for the Big Ten Legends title after a convincing win over Michigan State. Quarterback Taylor Martinez struggled to find his rhythm through the air, but the offense was carried by running back Rex Burkhead. Nebraska's defense had been a disappointment in the early part of 2011, but turned in its best effort of the year, holding the Spartans to only three points.
Ohio State – Whether or not Luke Fickell returns to the Ohio State sidelines next year remains to be seen. However, give Fickell and his coaching staff a lot of credit for the last two games. The Buckeyes have molded the offense around the strengths of freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, while relying on a young, but talented defense to keep them in games. Ohio State’s 33-29 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday keeps it alive in the race to win the Big Ten Leaders Division. The Buckeyes need a lot of help to win the division, but after some concern they would not make a bowl, Ohio State is looking at eight or nine wins this year.
Oklahoma – After a disappointing loss to Texas Tech one week ago, the Sooners jumped back into the national title discussion with a 58-17 demolishing of Kansas State. Thanks a loss by Clemson, and the win over the Wildcats, Oklahoma is ranked No. 6 in the BCS standings. Although the loss to the Red Raiders was a blow, the Sooners just need to keep winning and they could still find themselves in position to play for the national title.
Penn State – The Nittany Lions aren’t going to win any style points for their victories, but they survived another close one on Saturday against Illinois to move their record to 8-1. Quarterback play continues to be an issue, but Penn State has been winning with a steady dose of running back Silas Redd, and a defense allowing only 12.4 points a game. The Nittany Lions have a difficult upcoming schedule – Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Wisconsin – but are the only unbeaten team in Big Ten play entering November.
Stanford – The Cardinal kept alive their national title hopes with a 56-48 victory over USC on Saturday night. The Trojans pushed Stanford to the brink, leading by a touchdown with just over three minutes to go. However, thanks to the steady performance of quarterback Andrew Luck, the Cardinal sent the game into overtime. Stanford forced only one USC fumble, but it was a big one, as the turnover sealed the victory and preserved a chance to play for the championship. Stanford still has a big test upcoming, as Oregon will visit the Farm on Nov. 12.
UCLA – One week after an awful showing against Arizona, the Bruins bounced back with a dominating 31-14 win over California. The UCLA defense forced five turnovers, while quarterback Kevin Prince led the offense with 163 yards on the ground. The Bruins still have a shot to win the Pac-12 South, but desperately need a win over Arizona State this Saturday.
Virginia – Not many people expected to see the Cavaliers win on the road at Miami, especially after losing to NC State one week ago. However, Virginia used a balanced attack on offense, some aggressive calls by coach Mike London, while the defense held Miami running back Lamar Miller under 100 yards. The Cavaliers need just one win to get bowl eligible, and they should get to six wins with games against Maryland and Duke remaining.
Western Kentucky – The Hilltoppers have earned a spot in this column over the past couple of weeks. Western Kentucky continued to turn heads in Sun Belt play with a 31-28 victory over UL Monroe. The win over the Warhawks was the Hilltoppers’ fourth in a row and keeps them within range to Arkansas State for the top spot in the conference.
Baylor – There’s no shame in losing to Oklahoma State, but the Bears had plenty of missed opportunities in Saturday’s game and lost 59-24. The loss to the Cowboys was Baylor’s third in four games and has quieted the Heisman buzz surrounding quarterback Robert Griffin. The junior hasn’t been the issue, but the Bears need to do a better job of punching in opportunities on offense and find some consistency on defense. Baylor has allowed at least 55 points in each of its last two games.
California – After a 3-0 start, there was some promise and hope that the Golden Bears were going back in the right direction. Not anymore. California has lost four out of its last five games, and now faces a quarterback controversy after a poor performance by Zach Maynard on Saturday night against UCLA. With games against Washington State and Oregon State upcoming, California should find a way to get bowl eligible. However, the losses have done nothing to quiet the pressure on coach Jeff Tedford.
Clemson – The Tigers suffered their first defeat of the year, losing 31-17 to Georgia Tech. The loss effectively ended any hopes Clemson had of competing for a national title, but it still controls its destiny in the ACC Atlantic. The offense was able to move the ball through the air, but four turnovers were just too much to overcome. Even though national title hopes are over, the Tigers can still finish with an 11-1 record at the end of the regular season. And there’s plenty of returning talent to get excited about the possibilities of 2012.
Iowa – The Hawkeyes were quietly keeping within range of Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska in the Big Ten Legends Division. That was until Saturday afternoon. Iowa suffered a disappointing 22-21 loss to Minnesota, dropping it to 5-3 and 2-2 in Big Ten play. Although it’s too early to count out the Hawkeyes in the division race, losing to a Minnesota team with one win is unacceptable.
Kansas – The Jayhawks turned in one of the worst offensive performances of 2011 in Saturday’s loss to Texas. The Kansas offense managed just 46 total yards, three first downs and committed two turnovers. Yikes. Turner Gill should get another year to turn things around, but these losses are not sitting well in Lawrence.
Maryland – It’s been a disappointing season in College Park and things only got worse with the 28-17 defeat to Boston College on Saturday. The loss to the Eagles was Maryland’s fourth defeat in a row and they have only one win over a FBS team this season (Miami). Also, there’s a quarterback controversy again between Danny O’Brien and C.J. Brown, while the defense ranks last in the ACC in points allowed. Needless to say, coach Randy Edsall’s dream job has not provided a honeymoon in year one.
Michigan State – The Spartans had a chance to claim full control of the Big Ten Legends Division with a win over Nebraska on Saturday. However, Michigan State was unable to get anything going on offense, while the defense was worn down by a relentless Cornhusker rushing attack. The Spartans remain squarely in the mix to win the division, but will need some help in the form of a Nebraska loss in the next few weeks.
Texas Tech – One week after beating Oklahoma, the dreaded letdown bug bit the Red Raiders. Texas Tech looked flat and out of sync, as Iowa State posted a 41-7 win in Lubbock. Although it’s just one loss, a look at the Red Raiders’ schedule shows just how important Saturday’s defeat could be. Texas Tech still has games against Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Baylor remaining. Making a bowl game is going to be no easy task.
Wisconsin – Back-to-back losses have effectively ended any hopes the Badgers’ had of playing for a national title. Wisconsin looked like the No. 1 team in the Big Ten through the first six weeks of the season, but has been sliding down the polls with the recent losses. Although the defense ranks 11th nationally in yardage allowed, this group has not delivered in the final moments of the last two games. The Badgers can still win the Big Ten Leaders Division, but need two losses by Penn State and one by Ohio State.
Looking Ahead to Week 10
A small sample of what’s ahead
Northern Illinois at Toledo (Tuesday)
Two of the best teams in the MAC meet for a Tuesday night shootout.
Temple at Ohio (Wednesday)
Winner of this game should have the inside track to winning the MAC East.
North Carolina at NC State
Tar Heels look to snap a four-game losing streak to Wolfpack.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
Can the Panthers stay alive in Big East race without running back Ray Graham?
Louisville at West Virginia
Cardinals improving, but Mountaineers still in control of Big East title destiny.
Notre Dame at Wake Forest
First meeting between these two teams.
Vanderbilt at Florida
Much-improved Commodores should give Florida all it can handle.
Missouri at Baylor
Bears have lost three out of their last four, while Tigers coming off big win in College Station.
Texas Tech at Texas
Winner of this Texas matchup will get bowl eligible.
Michigan at Iowa
Hawkeyes’ Big Ten Legends Division title hopes took a hit with puzzling loss to Minnesota.
South Carolina at Arkansas
Can Gamecocks’ banged up offense score enough points to beat Razorbacks?
Kansas State at Oklahoma State
Cowboys in good shape to make a run at a national title, but every week is a must-win.
LSU at Alabama
Without question, this is the must-see game of 2011.
Texas A&M at Oklahoma
Sooners aren’t finished in national title race, but they can’t afford another loss.
Oregon at Washington
Can the Ducks get LaMichael James and Darron Thomas back on track?
Injuries from Week 9
Air Force QB Tim Jefferson (broken nose) – probable for Week 10
Georgia RB Isaiah Crowell (shin) – probable for Week 10
Georgia RB Richard Samuel (sprained ankle) – probable for Week 10
Georgia OG Dallas Lee (leg) – out for remainder of 2011
Kentucky QB Morgan Newton (ankle, shoulder) – questionable for Week 10
Miami QB Jacory Harris (arm) – expected to play in Week 10
Oklahoma RB Dominique Whaley (ankle) – out for the remainder of 2011
Pittsburgh RB Ray Graham (knee) – out for the remainder of 2011
Pittsburgh WR Cam Saddler (sternum) - out for the remainder of 2011
Stanford TE Zach Ertz (knee) – questionable for Week 10
Tennessee S Brent Brewer (knee) – questionable for Week 10
Texas WR Jaxon Shipley (knee) – questionable for Week 10
USC RB Marc Tyler (shoulder) – questionable for Week 10
USC LB Dion Bailey (concussion) – questionable for Week 10
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 9
1. Week 9 could go a long ways in determining the SEC East champ. South Carolina shares a 4-1 record with Georgia, but defeated the Bulldogs in the second week of the season. The road to winning the East got a lot tougher for the Gamecocks two weeks ago, as running back Marcus Lattimore was lost for the year due to an ACL tear. With Lattimore sidelined, the Gamecocks will turn to true freshman Brandon Wilds and junior Kenny Miles to carry the workload in Saturday’s game at Tennessee. However, South Carolina also needs quarterback Connor Shaw and the defense to step up, as Wilds and Miles can’t replace Lattimore’s production. The Gamecocks have to be licking their chops on defense, as Tennessee has scored only 25 points in its last three games, and will start true freshman Justin Worley at quarterback on Saturday. Worley will be making his first career start and has yet to throw his first pass in game action. With Arkansas and Florida remaining, South Carolina can’t afford to be upset on Saturday at Tennessee.
2. Penn State has flown under the radar this season and despite suspect quarterback play, enters Week 9 with a solid 7-1 record and control of the Leaders Division. The schedule is going to get tougher over the final few weeks, as the Nittany Lions host Illinois and Nebraska, before hitting the road to Ohio State and Wisconsin in the last two games of the year. Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden have shared time under center, combining to complete 53 percent of passes, eight touchdowns and six interceptions. Neither player has seized the No. 1 spot, but Penn State has been able to lean on running back Silas Redd and one of the Big Ten’s top defenses. The Nittany Lions rank eighth in total defense and fifth in points allowed, despite losing linebacker Michael Mauti to a torn ACL early in the season. Illinois is reeling after two straight losses, but defeated Penn State 33-13 in Happy Valley last year. The Nittany Lions are still largely untested in Big Ten play, but will the Fighting Illini find the winning formula again? Or will Penn State’s defense keep Illinois’ quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase in check, while the Nittany Lions get just enough from Redd to keep the chains moving on offense?
3. It seems all of the talk surrounding the Big East this year has been about realignment. Instead of focusing on all of the off-the-field issues, the conference should be able to turn the focus back to actual games with the West Virginia-Rutgers matchup this Saturday. Both teams lost last Friday, but are still realistic options to win the Big East title. The Mountaineers lead the conference in total offense, but the offensive line and rushing attack have been inconsistent. Also, the defense has struggled to replace some departed players from last year's unit. Rutgers has lost 16 consecutive games to West Virginia, and needs to generate some offense if it wants to end that streak. The Scarlet Knights have been winning with defense and by controlling the turnover battle. However, the offense needs to step up this week, specifically freshman quarterback Gary Nova and running back Jawan Jamison. If West Virginia can jump out to a 14-0 lead, the Scarlet Knights may struggle to generate enough offense to get back into the game.
4. Stanford has cruised to a 7-0 start, but the schedule is going to get more challenging over the next few weeks. The Cardinal travels to USC this Saturday, and takes on Oregon on Nov. 12. The Trojans dominated this series in the early 2000s, but the tide has shifted to Stanford. The Cardinal has won three out of the last four over USC. Expect NFL scouts (and maybe the Dolphins, Colts and Seahawks) to have heavy interest in this game, as Stanford’s Andrew Luck and USC’s Matt Barkley will likely be the first two quarterbacks off the board (provided they both leave school early) in April for the 2012 draft. The Trojans are quietly putting together a solid season, and a much-maligned defense has allowed only 26 points over the last two games. The Cardinal gave up a season-high 430 yards in last week’s win over Washington. And the Trojans have plenty of firepower to hang around in this game. Stanford’s secondary will also be without safety Delano Howell, which is a big loss as it tries to stop USC’s potent combination of Barkley to Woods. Can USC’s defense keep up its recent play? The Trojans are allowing only 91.1 yards per game on the ground, which will certainly be tested by Stanford’s physical offensive line and running back Stepfan Taylor. Considering the losses of Oklahoma and Wisconsin last week, the door is open for Stanford to play its way into the national title game.
5. Can Kansas State continue its magical season? The Wildcats were picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 12, but are 7-0 and ranked No. 8 in the BCS standings. Although Kansas State has been one of college football’s biggest surprises, the competition is going to increase over the next few weeks. The Wildcats host Oklahoma this Saturday, before playing Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas. After last week’s loss to Texas Tech, there’s little doubt the Sooners will be one angry bunch on Saturday. Oklahoma’s national title hopes are on life support and will need a lot of help the rest of the way. A big reason for Kansas State’s success this year has been a much-improved defense. The Wildcats rank 29th nationally in total defense, but are allowing 243.3 yards per game through the air. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones struggled with his accuracy in last week’s loss, but expect him to get back on track this week. The Sooners should have no trouble moving the ball through the air, which means controlling the time of possession which will be critical for Kansas State’s offense. The Wildcats have proved the doubters wrong all year, but Saturday is arguably their toughest task.
6. If you like offense, then Saturday’s Baylor-Oklahoma State game is for you. Both teams are averaging over 40 points a game and feature Heisman Trophy contenders at quarterback – Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State) and Robert Griffin (Baylor). With two dynamic offenses, whichever defense can get key stops and force turnovers will be the difference. The Cowboys rank 103rd nationally in total defense, but are tied for second with 24 forced turnovers. Baylor is slightly better in total defense, ranking 97th nationally. However, the Bears have generated only nine turnovers and opponents are averaging 4.8 yards per carry. With Oklahoma’s loss to Texas Tech last week, Oklahoma State is now in control of the Big 12. However, a loss to Baylor would end any hopes of playing for the national title. The stakes are raised for the Cowboys, and even though Baylor can match score-for-score, expect Oklahoma State to remain unbeaten for another week.
7. Determining the frontrunner in the SEC East could become clearer after this Saturday. South Carolina will be without running back Marcus Lattimore for the rest of the year, which certainly hampers its hopes to repeat as division champs. With the Gamecocks missing their best player, the door is open for Florida and Georgia to make a move in the division. The Bulldogs lost to South Carolina in Week 2, but have a favorable remaining schedule after Saturday’s game against Florida, with only Auburn and Kentucky remaining in conference play. The Gators need a lot of help in order to win the East, but should take a step back in the race with quarterback John Brantley expected to return to the lineup. Florida has dominated this series, winning five out of the last six games, including a 34-31 shootout last year. However, the Gators are reeling after three straight losses. With the Bulldogs sensing a shot to jump back into the East race, there’s a lot of urgency to win on Saturday.
8. Wisconsin’s national title hopes are likely over after last week’s last-second loss to Michigan State. However, there’s still plenty for the Badgers to play for. Wisconsin controls its destiny in the Big Ten Leaders Division and a potential rematch against the Spartans could happen in the conference title game. The Badgers hit the road for an important Big Ten game against Ohio State this Saturday. The Buckeyes snapped a two-game losing streak with a win over Illinois two weeks ago, but this team still has a lot of issues. Ohio State has struggled to establish its passing attack under freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, but the running game has totaled at least 200 yards in three of the last four games. Wisconsin is allowing 121.1 yards a game on the ground, and Ohio State can expect to see eight or nine in the box to try and slow down the rushing attack. Miller doesn’t need to have a big game, but he has to throw better than he has over the last few weeks. Although the Badgers have to be stunned at how last week’s game ended, it’s hard to see Ohio State generating enough offense to win this game.
9. Thanks to back-to-back losses by Georgia Tech, Saturday’s game with Clemson has lost a bit of its luster. These two teams have hooked up for some memorable games in recent memory, with three of the last four matchups decided by five points or less. The Yellow Jackets offense has cooled in recent weeks, largely due to a lack of big plays in the passing game. Quarterback Tevin Washington has not topped 100 passing yards in the last two weeks, after reaching that mark in the first six games. Controlling the clock and getting big plays from Washington is going to be critical for Georgia Tech’s chances at winning this game, as Clemson is averaging 40 points a game and will be difficult to slow down. The Yellow Jackets are allowing only 170.5 passing yards a game, and have allowed only one touchdown through the air in the last three contests. If Tigers’ quarterback Tajh Boyd gets on a roll early, it would be Georgia Tech’s worst nightmare. Clemson has struggled to stop the run, which should allow the Yellow Jackets to keep this one close into the fourth quarter. In a game of contrasting offensive styles, whichever team can impose its will is going to come out on top.
10. Michigan State can take a big step towards claiming the Big Ten Legends Division title on Saturday. If the Spartans knock off Nebraska, they will have wins over Michigan and the Cornhuskers, with a game at Iowa on Nov. 12 the biggest hurdle to an unbeaten record in Big Ten play. After winning such an emotional game last week, can Michigan State follow that up with the same effort this Saturday? The Cornhuskers lead the Big Ten in rushing offense, but will face a Spartan defense allowing only 88.9 yards a game on the ground. With Nebraska unlikely to have much success running against Michigan State, quarterback Taylor Martinez needs to have a big game. The sophomore is completing only 55 percent of his throws and has tossed six picks this year. If the Spartans are able to force Nebraska into throwing 25-30 times, they should be able to exit Lincoln with a victory and a commanding lead in the Legends Division.
Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 9 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.
Florida State 37, NC State 20
Michigan State 24, Nebraska 20
Texas A&M 34, Missouri 24
Arkansas 34, Vanderbilt 20
Penn State 24, Illinois 17
Wake Forest 31, North Carolina 24
West Virginia 33, Rutgers 20
Oklahoma 38, Kansas State 27
Oklahoma State 48, Baylor 34
Notre Dame 38, Navy 23
Georgia 27, Florida 20
South Carolina 24, Tennessee 13
Stanford 38, USC 27
Wisconsin 27, Ohio State 17
Clemson 37, Georgia Tech 27
Looking for a few upsets? Keep a close watch on these games.
Wake Forest at North Carolina (-7)
The Demon Deacons need to keep winning to keep the pressure on Clemson in the ACC Atlantic. The Tar Heels started 5-1, but have lost their last two games. Wake Forest has won the last two in this series, including a 24-17 win in Chapel Hill.
Michigan State at Nebraska (-5.5)
After last week’s win over Wisconsin, can the Spartans recapture the momentum for another week? Michigan State’s defense won’t give up much to Nebraska on the ground, which makes quarterback Taylor Martinez’s passing even more important on Saturday.
SMU at Tulsa (-3)
The Mustangs fell on the road to Southern Miss last week, but still remain the biggest threat to Houston in Conference USA’s West Division.
San Jose State at Louisiana Tech (-9.5)
The Spartans continue to make progress under second-year coach Mike MacIntyre, winning three of their last four games, including a 28-27 thriller of Hawaii on Oct. 14.
Oregon State at Utah (-7)
The Utes are solid on defense, but offense has been an issue. The Beavers have played better recently, winning two out of their last three games.
UL Lafayette at MTSU (-3)
The Ragin’ Cajuns have been a surprise contender in the Sun Belt race, but suffered a setback with a loss to Western Kentucky last week. UL Lafayette owns one of the conference’s top offenses, while MTSU is allowing 32.5 points a game.
Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 9
Despite a painful shoulder injury, Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott continues play well.
Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel suffered a calf injury in the loss to Oregon State and is likely out the rest of the year.
Wake Forest expects to have running back Josh Harris back in the lineup for Saturday's game at North Carolina.
Even though he struggled against Louisville, Rutgers will continue to start freshman Gary Nova at quarterback.
Florida State's defensive line has been living up to the hype this year.
Saturday's game against Florida is a big one for Georgia. Just take a look at the upcoming schedule.
Can anyone figure out the Penn State quarterback situation this year?
Utah's problems on offense aren't centered just on the quarterback position.
It's back to working on the fundamentals for Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington.
Michigan State should expect to see a lot of Nebraska's no-huddle offense this Saturday.
Replacing Marcus Lattimore isn't going to be easy for South Carolina. Brandon Wilds is expected to start this Saturday against Tennessee.
Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa suffered a turf toe injury in last week's loss to Penn State. But is expected to play against Indiana this Saturday.
Since joining the starting lineup, Randall Mackey has given Ole Miss' offense a spark.
Considering the struggles of UCLA's offense, is it time to take the redshirt off and let Brett Hundley play?
Maryland could be looking at another quarterback controversy for this week's game against Boston College.
Colorado could be without quarterback Tyler Hansen for Saturday's game against Arizona State.
With an inexperienced quarterback, Ohio State is going to lean heavily on its rushing attack in the second half of the season.
LaMichael James' status for Saturday's game against Washington State is uncertain.
Arizona's offense found a rushing attack in last Thursday's win over UCLA.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The Big Ten Legends Division has to be one of the most competitive in college football. Michigan State sits atop the division with a 3-0 record in conference play, with Michigan, Nebraska and Iowa tied at 2-1.
Saturday’s game between Michigan State and Nebraska is expected to go a long way in determining the division champ. The Spartans are riding a four-game winning streak, which includes big victories over Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Last week’s win over the Badgers provided one of the best endings to a game this season. However, after an emotional win, there’s usually room for a letdown.
Nebraska began the year as the favorite to win the Big Ten title, but has not performed up to expectations. The Cornhuskers were demolished 48-17 at Wisconsin on Oct. 1 and needed a furious second-half rally to knock off Ohio State on Oct. 8. Although there’s a month of games to be played, a loss by Nebraska would significantly damage its hopes of playing in the first Big Ten title game.
These two teams have matched up only five times, with Nebraska winning every game. The last meeting occurred in the 2003 Alamo Bowl, with the Cornhuskers taking a 17-3 victory.
When Nebraska Has the Ball
Much of Nebraska’s success on offense this season has been on the ground. Running back Rex Burkhead has rushed for 752 yards and 10 scores this season, including 119 in the 34-27 win over Ohio State.
Although Burkhead has been one of the Big Ten’s top running backs this season, he has a lot of help from quarterback Taylor Martinez. The sophomore is just behind Burkhead in rushing yards, posting 636 yards on 110 attempts.
Although Martinez is one of the nation’s top rushing quarterbacks, his passing ability is still a work in progress. Through seven games, the sophomore is completing only 55 percent of his passes and has tossed six interceptions.
One positive for Nebraska’s passing game has been the emergence of young receivers Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner and Quincy Enunwa. Turner leads the team with 15 receptions, while Enunwa is averaging 16.6 yards per catch.
Moving the ball on Michigan State’s defense has been no easy task this year. The Spartans lead the Big Ten in rush, total and pass defense. Also, they have generated 24 sacks and will get defensive end William Gholston back in the mix, after serving a one-game suspension
If Nebraska is to win this game, Martinez has to be able to stretch the field with the passing attack. The Cornhuskers won’t need 300 passing yards from the sophomore, but they need to keep Michigan State’s defense off balance. The Spartans will likely load the box and try to keep Burkhead from getting on track.
When Michigan State Has the Ball
There’s no question the Spartans will attempt to bring more balance than Nebraska to their offense. Michigan State likes to establish its rushing attack and use that to setup the pass.
Running backs Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker have combined for 808 yards and eight rushing scores this season. The offensive line was hit by injuries early in the year, but led the way for the Spartans to post 213 rushing yards against Michigan and 109 against Wisconsin.
Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins is having a solid season, completing 66.7 percent of his throws, 11 touchdowns and 1,607 yards. The senior has not thrown an interception in the last two games, and his experience winning on the road the last few years is going to come in handy in Lincoln.
Helping Cousins’ cause is one of the best groups of receivers in the Big Ten. Seniors Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham and Keith Nichol combine to form a solid trio, while tight ends Dion Sims and Brian Linthicum can attack the middle of the field. Nebraska’s secondary ranks 27th nationally in pass defense, and this group has allowed only one opponent to throw for more than 200 yards in the last three games. Senior Alfonzo Dennard was injured early in the year, but is rounding back to form, and the defense has received a boost from the play of sophomore Stanley Jean-Baptiste at the other corner spot.
Nebraska’s defense was expected to be the best in the Big Ten, but it hasn’t lived up to preseason accolades. The Cornhuskers rank 70th against the run and are allowing 25.3 points a game. The defensive line suffered a big blow when tackle Jared Crick tore a pectoral muscle in the win over Ohio State and was lost for the remainder of the season.
If the Spartans can keep Nebraska’s defense off balance, they should have the inside track to win this game. Even if Bell and Baker won’t get to 100 yards each, it’s important to get three or four yards a carry, allowing Cousins to test the Cornhusker secondary off play-action passes.
The Cornhuskers own a slight edge on special teams. Kicker Brett Maher has connected on 13 of 16 field goals, including 4 of 7 from beyond 50 yards. Ameer Abdullah has been a dynamic returner for Nebraska this season, averaging 10.2 yards on punt returns and 31.9 on kick returns.
Keshawn Martin is capable of scoring every time he touches the ball on special teams for Michigan State, averaging 7.8 yards on 10 punt returns. Kicker Dan Conroy has connected on 6 of 9 field goals this year, including 2 of 3 from 50 yards or more.
Can Michigan State follow up with the same momentum and energy it had last week? After the crazy finish against Wisconsin, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Spartans got off to a slow start.
Although it has only one loss, Nebraska’s back is against the wall. A loss to Michigan State would be damaging for its Big Ten title hopes. With a win over the Cornhuskers, the Spartans would be in full control of the Legends Division.
Winning in Lincoln is never easy, but the Spartans are the better team. Don’t be surprised if this is a low-scoring game, but Michigan State’s defense will prevent Burkhead and Martinez from finding too much room, giving the Spartans another big win in conference play.
Michigan State 24, Nebraska 20
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Ohio State is expected to be one of the top coaching jobs open at the end of the season. Interim coach Luke Fickell has guided the Buckeyes to a 4-3 record, but this program expects to be contending for Big Ten titles. Ohio State has a young roster, along with the black cloud of a NCAA investigation and potential sanctions. Fickell's chances of keeping the full-time job in 2012 likely depend on winning the final five games this season.
If the job comes open as expected, Ohio State will generate a ton of interest from candidates, even with potential sanctions from the NCAA.
Tim Beckman, head coach, Toledo – Beckman is a candidate that is probably off the national radar, but he is quietly building a solid resume at Toledo. Beckman is 18-15 and in two-plus years with the Rockets, has Toledo positioned as the likely favorite to win the MAC title. Also, the Rockets nearly upset Ohio State in Week 2, losing 27-22 after a late stop by the Buckeyes’ defense. Beckman has experience at Ohio State, coaching cornerbacks under Jim Tressel from 2005-06. If for any reason Ohio State can’t lure one of the top coaches to Columbus, Beckman is a rising name in the profession and would accept the job in a heartbeat.
Urban Meyer, ESPN analyst – Meyer stepped away from Florida for health reasons, and has been working as an analyst with Chris Spielman and Dave Pasch for ESPN’s college football coverage. He's had a year off to recharge the batteries and is an Ohio native. If Meyer is serious about getting back into coaching, Ohio State has to be near the top of his destination jobs. And the Buckeyes are likely very interested.
Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State – Mullen could be a hot name on the coaching circuit, as Arizona could be interested in him as a replacement for Mike Stoops. Mullen is just 17-15 (and 0-4 in the SEC this season) in his third year at Mississippi State, but the program has been more competitive under his direction. Although Mullen seems to be happy at Mississippi State, the SEC West has been one of the most difficult divisions in college football. With Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Auburn all likely preseason top 25 teams in 2012, it’s going to be very difficult for the Bulldogs to move up in the division pecking order.
Bo Pelini, head coach, Nebraska – Pelini has a great job at Nebraska, but would he listen to his alma mater? Pelini played at Ohio State from 1987-90 and has recorded a 36-13 record in his fourth year at Nebraska. There’s no doubt about Pelini’s ability to coach a defense (although his 2011 unit is struggling), but his offenses at Nebraska have been inconsistent. Pelini has been a solid recruiter at Nebraska, and could bring in elite classes with a better talent base in Ohio. Pelini and Urban Meyer figure to be near the top of Ohio State’s coaching board when the job officially opens.
Lovie Smith, head coach, Chicago Bears – Is Smith a legitimate candidate? How the Bears finish out 2011 will likely depend on his availability or job status for 2012. Under his direction, Chicago has made the playoffs three times, including a Super Bowl appearance. He coached at Ohio State in 1995, which was his last experience at the college level. Smith would be a good candidate for the job, but how quickly would he adjust to the college game after being in the NFL for the last 15 years?
Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Oklahoma – Venables is one of the top assistants in college football, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a shot at being a head coach. He has coached under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma since 1999, serving as the defensive coordinator since 2004. Pulling Stoops away from Oklahoma isn’t likely, so why not get his best assistant? Venables is a Kansas State alum – could he be more interested in waiting for that job?
Mark Dantonio, head coach, Michigan State – Dantonio worked as an assistant under Jim Tressel at Ohio State from 2001-03, and has been a solid head coach during his tenure at Michigan State (39-20). However, Dantonio recently got a raise at Michigan State, and Ohio State may wish to separate itself from the Tressel era.
Ron English, head coach, Eastern Michigan – English has resurrected Eastern Michigan into a MAC West title contender this year. Through eight games, the Eagles are a respectable 5-3. While five wins may not seem like much, the last time Eastern Michigan had more than four wins was in 1995. English may not be on Ohio State’s radar, but he’s due for a shot at a BCS school.
Luke Fickell, head coach, Ohio State – There’s still a possibility Fickell returns in 2012, but it seems the odds are stacked against him. The Buckeyes are 4-3 entering Week 9, with losses to Miami, Michigan State and Nebraska. Although Ohio State has suffered some tough defeats and has a young team, there’s a lot of doubt about Fickell’s ability to keep this program among the best in the Big Ten.
Pat Fitzgerald, head coach, Northwestern – Although Fitzgerald is a Northwestern alum and has a contract through 2020, he could get restless if facility improvements continue to drag out. Fitzgerald was targeted by Michigan in its search last season, but was not interested in the position. Fitzgerald would be a great fit at Ohio State, but it would be difficult for him to leave behind his alma mater.
Jon Gruden, ESPN analyst – Gruden has been out of coaching since 2008, but his name continues to pop up for open gigs. He recently inked an extension to stay on as an analyst with Monday Night Football, but can’t be ruled out from returning to coaching. Gruden seems more likely to return to the NFL, as he hasn’t coached in college since 1991.
Skip Holtz, head coach, South Florida – With the uncertainty of the Big East and South Florida’s future conference, would Holtz consider leaving? After a 4-0 start, the Bulls have lost their last three games, so some of the appeal of Holtz has cooled.
Gary Patterson, head coach, TCU – With the Horned Frogs moving to the Big 12, Patterson isn’t going anywhere.
Paul Petrino, offensive coordinator, Illinois – Petrino is a darkhorse candidate. In his two years at Illinois, Petrino has made a positive impact on the offense. The Fighting Illini finished fourth in the Big Ten in scoring and total offense last year. Illinois ranks 23rd nationally in rushing offense through eight games and fourth in the Big Ten in total offense.
Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State – Petersen’s name always pops up for any BCS job that comes open, but it would be a major surprise if he left Boise State.
Gary Pinkel, head coach, Missouri – Pinkel has done a nice job of elevating Missouri football during his tenure, but how much higher can this program go, particularly if it joins the SEC? Pinkel does not have any experience in the Big Ten, but is from Ohio and has a solid 150-86-3 record as a head coach, including a solid stint at Toledo. A longshot, but would be a safe hire by Ohio State.
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma, head coach, Oklahoma – Stoops has a great job at Oklahoma and seems more likely to consider leaving for the NFL than another college. Although he was born in Youngstown, expect Stoops to have little interest in leaving Oklahoma this offseason.
Mark Stoops, Florida State – Stoops’ profile has been on the rise over the last two years, as he has helped to improve Florida State’s defense under Jimbo Fisher. Stoops played at Iowa, so he has familiarity with the Big Ten. Although Stoops has done a nice job in Tallahassee, he may need another year or two before he gets a look as a head coach.
Charlie Strong, head coach, Louisville – Barring a major change of heart, Strong can be crossed off the rumor mill for any head coaching spot that comes open. He recently received a contract extension, designed to keep him at Louisville until 2018. No one knows what conference Louisville will be in two years from now, but it would be a surprise if Strong isn’t the coach.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Defections have hit the Big East hard over the last few months and it appears the conference is going to lose another team: West Virginia has decided to leave the Big East for the Big 12. With Missouri all set to become the 14th member of the SEC, the addition of the Mountaineers returns the Big 12 to 10 members.
West Virginia’s arrival date into the Big 12 is uncertain. The Big East plans to make Syracuse and Pittsburgh honor the conference’s 27-month waiting period to leave for the ACC, so it’s likely the Mountaineers will have to follow the same path. In other words, it could be a few years before West Virginia actually plays its first Big 12 game.
Losing West Virginia is a huge blow to the Big East. The Mountaineers were the conference’s top program, finishing in the Associated Press top 25 six out of the last nine seasons.
In addition to losing West Virginia, the Big East has dealt with the departures of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, along with TCU over the last few months.
Had the Mountaineers stayed in the Big East, it’s likely the conference would have survived.
Now, it’s uncertain if the Big East will survive as a football conference or keep its automatic spot into the BCS.
The Big East has only five members committed to the conference: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers and South Florida. And there could be future defections.
The Big 12 has committed to a 10-team conference for the immediate future, but Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida could be targets for future expansion. Connecticut and Rutgers are also interested in joining the ACC.
Although the Big East plans to invite Boise State, Houston, SMU, UCF and a couple of others to get to a 12-team conference, it’s uncertain if that would be able to keep an automatic spot in the BCS. And with West Virginia’s departure, it’s fair to wonder if Boise State, Houston, SMU or UCF are concerned about the long-term viability of the Big East and decline an invitation.
West Virginia will be an odd fit in the Big 12, as it will be the eastern-most member of the conference by a wide margin. All of the Big 12 teams were located in the middle of the country and in four states: Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. However, realignment has eliminated geography as a factor with conferences.
The Mountaineers were the Big 12’s best option when it came time to deciding a replacement for Missouri. West Virginia has recruited Florida well as a member of the Big East, but expect it to try to build pipelines into Texas as a member of the Big 12.
The move to the Big 12 is a homecoming for West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. The first-year coach is from Iowa, and coached under Mike Leach at Texas Tech and Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State.
The move is a win for both sides. The Big 12 gets a program that is a top 25 contender in football and basketball in most seasons. This move helps the Mountaineers exit a conference that is on life support, for one that is surprisingly stable after potential defections in the summer. Although the geographic fit is strange, this move is good for West Virginia and the Big 12.
Distance from Morgantown to Big 12 teams
Baylor: 1,297 miles
Iowa State: 871 miles
Kansas: 901 miles
Kansas State: 982 miles
Oklahoma: 1,138 miles
Oklahoma State: 1,084 miles
TCU: 1,235 miles
Texas: 1,398 miles
Texas Tech: 1,465 miles
West Virginia’s Record Against Current Big 12 Teams
Baylor: Have not played
Iowa State: Have not played
Kansas: Mountaineers lead series 1-0
Kansas State: Series is tied 1-1
Oklahoma: Series is tied 2-2
Oklahoma State: Mountaineers lead series 2-1
TCU: Mountaineers lead series 1-0
Texas: Mountaineers lead series 1-0
Texas Tech: Mountaineers lead series 1-0
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 8 SEC Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Alabama (8-0) – The countdown is officially on to Nov. 5. Alabama had a sluggish first half against Tennessee, but pulled away in the final two quarters for a 37-6 victory. Running back Trent Richardson was held under 100 yards by the Volunteers, but still managed to reach the endzone twice. Alabama’s defense has been stellar all season and has held its last three opponents to less than 200 total yards. Although it was not the Crimson Tide’s best performance, their hold on the No. 1 spot in the SEC power rankings is secure.
2. LSU (8-0) – As mentioned previously in our SEC power rankings, if Alabama is No. 1, LSU is No. 1b. There’s not much separation between these two teams, but the much-anticipated matchup in Tuscaloosa is just around the corner. The Tigers handled Auburn 45-10 on Saturday, which was their third consecutive victory of at least 30 points. LSU is expected to get suspended cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon and running back Spencer Ware reinstated before the Nov. 5 showdown against Alabama.
3. Arkansas (6-1) – The Razorbacks were heavy favorites against Ole Miss, but the Rebels led at halftime and lost by only five points. Quarterback Tyler Wilson led the way with 232 passing yards, while running back Dennis Johnson ran for 160 yards and one score. Outside of the season finale against LSU, the Razorbacks should be favored to win the rest of their games, starting with Saturday’s contest against Vanderbilt. Arkansas still has SEC West title hopes, but needs Alabama to lose twice and has to beat LSU on Nov. 25.
4. South Carolina (6-1) – Life without Marcus Lattimore begins on Saturday. The Gamecocks are in control of the SEC East, but it’s going to be a challenge to win the division without Lattimore. South Carolina will have to lean on freshman back Brandon Wilds to carry the workload, while quarterback Connor Shaw and the defense will have to step up. The Gamecocks are at Tennessee this Saturday, a team they have beaten two out of the last three tries, but have not won in Knoxville since 2005.
5. Georgia (5-2) – If the Bulldogs want to win the SEC East, a victory on Saturday against Florida is a must. Georgia enters Week 9 riding a five-game winning streak, and Saturday’s matchup against the Gators is the toughest remaining conference game on its schedule. The Bulldogs have not had much success against Florida in recent years, winning only two out of the last 13 matchups. One bit of bad news for Georgia during its off week – safety Shawn Williams and nose guard Kwame Geathers were suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game due to their actions in the win over Vanderbilt on Oct. 15.
6. Auburn (5-3) – Even with three key LSU players suspended, it was a tall order for Auburn to win in Baton Rouge. Auburn’s 45-10 loss to LSU was its biggest margin of defeat this year and puts its overall record at 5-3 entering Week 9. Clint Moseley got his first start at quarterback against LSU and completed 12 of 20 passes for 145 yards and one interception. Moseley is expected to start in Auburn’s game against Ole Miss this Saturday. The Tigers have won four out of their last six games against the Rebels.
7. Florida (4-3) – Thanks to a much-needed bye week, the Gators should get quarterback John Brantley back under center for Saturday’s game against Georgia. Brantley has missed the last two contests, after suffering an ankle injury in the 38-10 loss to Alabama. The Gators can still win the SEC East, but any comeback has to start with a win over the Bulldogs on Saturday. Florida also needs to beat South Carolina when the two teams meet on Nov. 12.
8. Tennessee (3-4) – A brutal October schedule, combined with a thumb injury to quarterback Tyler Bray, has made life very difficult for the Volunteers. Tennessee is riding a three-game losing streak entering Saturday’s contest against South Carolina. To help provide a spark, the Volunteers have turned the offense over to true freshman quarterback Justin Worley. Tennessee still has a shot to get to a bowl game, but beating an improving Vanderbilt team on Nov. 19 could decide the SEC’s last team into the postseason.
9. Mississippi State (3-4) – The Bulldogs had a bye in Week 8 and return to action on Saturday at Kentucky. Mississippi State is still searching for its first win in SEC play, and needs three more victories to get bowl eligible. The Bulldogs have a favorable path to six wins, especially with Kentucky, Tennessee-Martin and Ole Miss remaining on the schedule. Saturday’s game against the Wildcats will likely see Tyler Russell make his second start at quarterback for Mississippi State.
10. Vanderbilt (4-3) – Running back Zac Stacy gashed Army for 198 yards and three scores, which was more than enough for Vanderbilt to post a 44-21 victory over the Black Knights. Also helping the cause was Jordan Rodgers’ first start at quarterback. The junior threw for 186 yards, while adding 96 more on the ground. The win over Army snapped a three-game losing streak for Vanderbilt and puts it two wins away from reaching a bowl. The Commodores host Arkansas this Saturday.
11. Ole Miss (2-5) – The Rebels showed some signs of life on Saturday, opening up a 17-7 at the half over Arkansas. However, Ole Miss was unable to keep the Razorbacks’ offense in check the full game, eventually losing 29-24. Quarterback Randall Mackey seems to have provided a spark for the Rebels’ offense, totaling 249 yards and three scores in Saturday’s game. There’s no doubt coach Houston Nutt needs wins in order to save his job for 2012. The Rebels travel to Auburn this Saturday, before making a trip to Lexington to play Kentucky on Nov. 5.
12. Kentucky (3-4) – The Wildcats snapped a four-game losing streak on Saturday, defeating Jacksonville State 38-14. Kentucky’s offense has been a sore spot all year, but quarterback Morgan Newton completed 10 of 16 throws for 105 yards and two scores, while running back CoShik Williams ran for 148 yards. While getting a victory is nice, let’s see if Kentucky can build upon that momentum on Saturday against Mississippi State. Neither team has a win in SEC play, but the Wildcats are big underdogs.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 8 ACC Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Clemson (8-0) – The Tigers remained unbeaten with a 59-38 win over North Carolina on Saturday. Clemson’s offense had limited success on the ground against the Tar Heels, due to an injury to running back Andre Ellington. Although Ellington was missed, he really wasn’t needed, as quarterback Tajh Boyd (367 yards, five scores) and receiver Sammy Watkins (8 rec., 91 yards and one touchdown) carried the day for the Clemson offense. Although doubts remain about the Tigers’ defense, it’s going to be very difficult for any of the remaining opponents on Clemson’s schedule to stop its offense. The Tigers travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech this Saturday.
2. Virginia Tech (7-1) – Since posting a lackluster performance against Clemson on Oct. 1, the Hokies have shown signs of life on offense, posting three consecutive games of at least 30 points. Quarterback Logan Thomas appears to be a much-improved player over the last few weeks, throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions in Virginia Tech’s last three games. The Hokies defeated Boston College 30-14 on Saturday, and assumed control of the ACC Coastal with Georgia Tech’s loss to Miami. Virginia Tech plays at Duke this Saturday.
3. Miami (4-3) – The Hurricanes are just above .500, but a look at their resume shows this is a solid team. Miami lost by eight in the opener to Maryland, four to undefeated Kansas State and a narrow three-point defeat to Virginia Tech two weeks ago. The Hurricanes seem to be finding their stride under first-year coach Al Golden, particularly after Saturday’s 24-7 win over Georgia Tech. In the victory, the defense held the Yellow Jackets to 134 rushing yards, while preventing any big plays by quarterback Tevin Washington and receiver Stephen Hill. Miami still has a chance to win the ACC Coastal, but it needs a little help in the form of a Virginia Tech loss. The Hurricanes host Virginia on Thursday night this week.
4. Georgia Tech (6-2) – After a 6-0 start, it looked like Georgia Tech was going to cruise to an ACC Coastal title. Not anymore. The Yellow Jackets have dropped back-to-back games, and their offense has started to sputter the last few weeks. After scoring at least 35 points in the first five games of the year, Georgia Tech has not managed more than 21 in its last three games. The Yellow Jackets will always rely on the run, but the passing attack has to hit a few plays to help take some of the pressure off the rushing game. Can Georgia Tech get back on track this Saturday? It won’t be easy with Clemson coming to Atlanta.
5. Wake Forest (5-2) – The Demon Deacons are probably the only team that has a shot to knock off Clemson from the top spot in the Atlantic, and they kept pace with the Tigers with a 24-23 win over Duke on Saturday. Wake Forest hits the road for a key trip to North Carolina this week. The offense has been without running back Josh Harris due to a hamstring injury the last two weeks, but is expected to return to the lineup. A win over the Tar Heels would give Wake Forest the North Carolina ACC championship, as it already has wins over Duke and NC State.
6. Florida State (4-3) – The Seminoles are going to fall short of lofty preseason expectations, but there’s still plenty to play for. Florida State has won back-to-back games (both by the score of 41-16), and if it wins out, can finish with a 9-3 record. In Saturday’s win over Maryland, running back Devonta Freeman breathed some life into the rushing attack, posting 100 yards and one score. Quarterback EJ Manuel has been solid in his return from a shoulder injury, throwing five touchdowns over his last three games. The Seminoles host NC State this Saturday.
7. North Carolina (5-3) – The Tar Heels hope to snap a two-game losing streak this Saturday, as they host in-state rival Wake Forest. North Carolina has started to slide in the power rankings over the last two weeks, and there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding this team going forward. Interim coach Everett Withers’ future with the program is up in the air and will largely be determined over the next few weeks. After Saturday’s game against Wake Forest, the Tar Heels have back-to-back road games against NC State and Virginia Tech.
8. NC State (4-3) – After a disappointing 2-3 start, the Wolfpack has righted the ship the last few weeks. NC State has posted back-to-back wins, including Saturday’s 28-14 victory over Virginia. Quarterback Mike Glennon was a question mark entering this season, but has proven to be more than adequate, throwing for 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. Injuries have factored heavily into NC State’s record, but it still has a shot to get bowl eligible with five games remaining. The Wolfpack play at Florida State this Saturday.
9. Virginia (4-3) – The Cavaliers were unable to build off the 24-21 upset win over Georgia Tech, losing 28-14 to NC State on Saturday. Virginia has yet to settle on a quarterback this year, and coach Mike London can’t be pleased with his passing attack after watching David Watford and Michael Rocco combine for 11 of 35 for 125 passing yards and three interceptions on Saturday. The Cavaliers travel to Miami to take on the Hurricanes on Thursday night.
10. Maryland (2-5) – Are the Terrapins back to square one with their quarterback situation? In Saturday’s 41-16 loss to Florida State, starter C.J. Brown was knocked out of the game and replaced by former No. 1 passer Danny O’Brien. Brown completed 11 of 19 throws for only 92 yards, while O’Brien threw for 180 yards on nine completions. Coach Randy Edsall has indicated the starter for Saturday’s game against Boston College would be a gametime decision. The Terrapins are a longshot to get bowl eligible, but if they have any hope, beating the Eagles on Saturday is a must.
11. Duke (3-4) – Although the Blue Devils fell short in their bid to beat Wake Forest, they deserve credit for rallying from a 17-3 deficit at halftime. Duke had a chance to drive for the winning score late, but quarterback Sean Renfree’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete with just over a minute to go. The Blue Devils have lost two in a row, putting their bowl hopes on life support with five games remaining. Duke hosts Virginia Tech this Saturday, before hitting the road to play at Miami on Nov. 5.
12. Boston College (1-6) – Coach Frank Spaziani hoped the bye week would help find some answers for his team. Unfortunately for Spaziani and the Eagles, the outcome wasn’t much better than the previous weeks, as Boston College remained winless in conference play with a 30-14 defeat to Virginia Tech. With five games remaining, it’s going to be very difficult for the Eagles to get bowl eligible – especially with a schedule that features games against Florida State, Notre Dame and Miami in November. Barring an upset, Boston College could be looking at a 1-11 record at the end of the year.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 8 Big East Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Cincinnati (6-1) – Thanks to a 37-34 win over South Florida on Saturday, the Bearcats are the new No. 1 team in the Big East power rankings. Quarterback Zach Collaros made several clutch plays in the victory, finishing with 389 passing yards and three touchdowns. The Bearcats struggled to stop South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels, but also forced four turnovers. Cincinnati has won five in a row and is the only Big East team without a loss in conference play. The Bearcats are off this Saturday, before returning to action on Nov. 5 at Pittsburgh.
2. West Virginia (5-2) – Due to a 49-23 loss to Syracuse, the Mountaineers relinquish the No. 1 spot in the power rankings for the first time this season. There weren’t many positives in the loss, as both sides of the ball had issues for West Virginia. Quarterback Geno Smith threw two interceptions, but didn’t get much help from the rushing attack or offensive line. The Mountaineers’ defense also struggled to get stops, allowing Syracuse to collect 443 yards of total offense. West Virginia hits the road for a matchup against Rutgers this Saturday.
3. Rutgers (5-2) – The Scarlet Knights make a slight drop in this week’s power rankings. Rutgers had its four-game winning streak snapped on Friday night, losing 16-14 to Louisville. Winning the turnover battle has been huge for the Scarlet Knights this season, but they were on the losing end of that statistic against the Cardinals. Freshman quarterback Gary Nova threw three interceptions, while Louisville only turned the ball over once. Rutgers is still in good shape in conference play, especially with West Virginia visiting Piscataway this Saturday.
4. Syracuse (5-2) – The Orange were heavy underdogs on Friday night, but pulled off one of Week 8’s big upsets by beating West Virginia 49-23. Quarterback Ryan Nassib posted a solid performance, throwing for 229 yards and three scores. The defense did a good job of pressuring West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, along with forcing him into two interceptions. The win on Friday gives Syracuse its first back-to-back wins over the Mountaineers since 2000-2001. The Orange play at Louisville this Saturday.
5. Pittsburgh (3-4) – The Panthers had a bye in Week 8 and will return to action on Wednesday night against Connecticut. Pittsburgh is reeling just a bit, as it has lost back-to-back games and still needs three wins to get bowl eligible. If the Panthers want to get into the postseason, beating the Huskies are a must. Coach Todd Graham has been frustrated with the production from his offense, but will be sticking with Tino Sunseri as his quarterback. Sunseri has struggled, but hasn’t received much help from his offensive line.
6. South Florida (4-3) – A promising 4-0 start has suddenly been washed away with three straight losses. The Bulls looked like one of the top teams in the Big East early this year, but are likely out of the conference race due to the recent losses. South Florida is coming off a 37-34 loss to Cincinnati on Saturday, which makes it the only team in the Big East without a conference win. The Bulls have a bye this Saturday, which comes at a good time for a team that is desperate for wins just to get bowl eligible.
7. Louisville (3-4) – The Cardinals are starting a handful of young players, and it appears things are starting to come together. Louisville snapped a three-game losing streak, defeating Rutgers 16-14 to earn its first Big East win in 2011. The Cardinals finally got their rushing game on track, getting 108 yards from sophomore back Jeremy Wright, while Dominique Brown and Victor Anderson combined for 78 more. Freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater continues to progress, completing 10 of 18 throws for 122 yards and one score. Louisville still has a lot of work to do in order to get bowl eligible, but a win over Syracuse on Saturday would help postseason hopes.
8. Connecticut (3-4) – The Huskies had a bye in Week 8 and are back in action on Wednesday night at Pittsburgh. Connecticut’s off week came at a good time, as the team upset South Florida to earn its first Big East win of 2011. With the Huskies having some momentum, the bye week allowed them some time to look back and fix some of the mistakes from the first half. The offense is still a concern, particularly at quarterback with Johnny McEntee and Scott McCummings getting snaps each week. Connecticut is unlikely to repeat as Big East champs, but returning to a bowl game is still within reach.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the most important things to take away from this weekend.
Alabama/LSU – As expected, both teams passed their Week 8 tests with flying colors, and the countdown to Nov. 5 can officially begin. The Alabama-LSU matchup has to be the most-anticipated game of 2011 and credit both teams for getting to this point undefeated.
Arizona – The Wildcats have had a brutal schedule to start the year and after coach Mike Stoops was fired, it would have been easy to pack it in. However, Arizona responded with a blowout win over UCLA on Thursday night, which keeps its slim bowl hopes alive for another week.
Cincinnati – Are the Bearcats the new frontrunner in the Big East? Cincinnati defeated South Florida 37-34 on Saturday, which moves the Bearcats to 6-1 overall and 2-0 in Big East play. Coming into this year, there was no question about Cincinnati’s offense, but the defense had to step up and so far, it has answered the bell.
East Carolina QB Dominique Davis – Davis set two NCAA records in Saturday’s win over Navy. The senior completed his first 26 attempts to break the single-game NCAA record, and dating back to East Carolina’s last game, had a streak of 36 completions in a row (also a NCAA record). The Pirates are off to a slow start, but still have a chance to get bowl eligible this year.
Eastern Michigan – The MAC is out of the national spotlight on most Saturdays, but let’s give a little credit to the job coach Ron English has done in Ypsilanti. The Eagles defeated Western Michigan to sweep the Michigan MAC schools and move to 5-3 this season. The five wins in 2011 are the most at Eastern Michigan since a 6-5 finish in 1995. With games against Buffalo and Kent State remaining on the schedule, the Eagles have a shot to get bowl eligible.
Florida State – Sure, the Seminoles might be a disappointment this year after the high expectations placed on them in the preseason, but they didn’t fold after losing three straight. Florida State has rallied with back-to-back 41-16 wins, beating Duke and Maryland to move to 4-3 this season. The Seminoles still have a chance to win out and finish with a solid 9-3 season.
Houston QB Case Keenum – Keenum broke the NCAA’s career record for total offense in a 63-28 blowout win over Marshall. The senior finished with 376 yards and six touchdowns. Keenum isn’t finished breaking records, as he needs just 802 passing yards to break Timmy Chang’s NCAA mark and five touchdown tosses to pass Graham Harrell in the record books.
Michigan State – Sometimes you have to be a little lucky to win a conference title. The Spartans capped off one of the weekend’s best games with a Hail Mary touchdown catch by receiver Keith Nichol to give them a 37-31 win over Wisconsin. So far, Michigan State has survived a difficult stretch (at Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin), but this Saturday’s game against Nebraska is huge for their conference title hopes.
Stanford – The Cardinal expected to get a test from Washington, but easily handled the Huskies for a 65-21 victory. Quarterback Andrew Luck had a solid performance, while the rushing attack wore down the Washington defense. The Cardinal still has some obstacles to clear for an undefeated season, including games against USC and Oregon, but it looks like Stanford will be in good position to play in one of the BCS games this year.
Texas Tech – The Red Raiders were a huge underdog against Oklahoma, but went into Norman and pulled off one of the year’s biggest upsets. Quarterback Seth Doege torched Oklahoma’s secondary, while Texas Tech’s defense kept receiver Ryan Broyles in check. With Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Baylor remaining, the Red Raiders have a difficult schedule, but should have a lot of confidence after their Week 8 upset.
UAB – The attendance at Thursday night’s UAB-UCF was horrendous, but let’s give a tip of the cap to the Blazers. UAB finally broke into the win column with a 26-24 win over the Knights.
USC – The Trojans have been somewhat of an afterthought on the national level this year. Due to the NCAA sanctions, USC can’t play in a bowl and is ineligible to participate in the conference title game. However, that hasn’t stopped the Trojans from figuring into the conversation as one of the best 25 teams in college football. USC posted a 31-17 win over Notre Dame on Saturday, which moves the Trojans to 6-1 this year.
Western Kentucky – The Hilltoppers began the year 0-4 but have rallied with three consecutive wins. Coach Willie Taggart has made noticeable improvement during his tenure at Western Kentucky and will have this team in contention for the Sun Belt title in the next couple of years.
Buffalo – The Bulls scored a touchdown with less than 20 seconds to go to pull within one point of Northern Illinois. However, the extra point was missed, giving the Huskies a 31-30 victory.
Georgia Tech – Three weeks ago, the Yellow Jackets looked like the class of the ACC Coastal. Now, Georgia Tech is on the outside looking in. The Yellow Jackets have back-to-back losses, and their high-powered offense has struggled in both games. Quarterback Tevin Washington has to throw the ball better if the Yellow Jackets want to have a shot at winning all of their remaining games.
Illinois – After jumping out to a 6-0 start, the Fighting Illini has lost two in a row. Losing to Ohio State is one thing, but getting handled on the road by Purdue was a surprise. With Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin the next three weeks, Illinois could have a five-game losing streak going into the season finale against Minnesota.
Kansas – The Jayhawks were easily handled by rival Kansas State on Saturday, opening the door for even more criticism on head coach Turner Gill. Kansas isn’t likely to make a coaching change in the offseason, but Gill needs to show big progress in 2012.
New Mexico offense – It’s no secret the Lobos are bad. However, the offensive numbers in Saturday’s loss to TCU were embarrassing. New Mexico managed only 85 yards and only five first downs against the Horned Frogs, which were both season lows. The Lobos only hope for a win appears to be on Nov. 12 against UNLV.
Notre Dame – The Irish had a four-game winning streak snapped on Saturday, losing 31-17 to USC. While the Trojans are a good team, it’s clear the Irish weren’t ready for the preseason BCS hype placed on them in the preseason. Notre Dame can still salvage a 9-3 season, but beating Wake Forest and Stanford is no sure thing.
Oklahoma – The Sooners watched their national title hopes lk disappear with Saturday’s 41-38 loss to Texas Tech. Oklahoma’s offense did not have running back Dominique Whaley, and quarterback Landry Jones struggled at times with his accuracy, but it was a surprise to see this team have only seven points at halftime. Without cornerback Jamell Fleming, the Sooners’ pass defense was awful, allowing Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege to throw for 441 yards. There’s a chance Oklahoma could work its way back into the national title picture, but it will need a lot of help. Considering the preseason expectations surrounding the Sooners, Saturday night’s loss was a huge disappointment.
Ole Miss – Inserting Randall Mackey as the starting quarterback appears to have jumpstarted the Rebels’ offense, but it wasn’t enough to beat Arkansas. Ole Miss makes this list, thanks to blowing a 17-7 lead at halftime over Arkansas. The Rebels have now lost 10 consecutive SEC games.
South Florida – After a 4-0 start, the Bulls looked like they were ready to emerge as one of the top contenders in the Big East. However, the last three weeks have been a disaster. South Florida lost a 37-34 shootout to Cincinnati, leaves it as the only winless team in Big East play. The Bulls’ look to snap their three-game losing streak on Nov. 5 at Rutgers.
Tulane – It’s an automatic mention in this section when you lose to Memphis.
West Virginia – Just when you think you have the Big East figured out, it all changes and its back to the drawing board. The Mountaineers seemed to be the clear No. 1 team in the conference going into Week 8, but was defeated handily 49-23 by Syracuse. West Virginia can still win the conference, but this team has more concerns than expected.
Wisconsin – There’s really no shame in losing at East Lansing, but Saturday night’s defeat could cost Wisconsin a shot at the national title. With Oklahoma’s loss to Texas Tech, the door would have been open for the Badgers, provided they were able to finish the season unbeaten. Wisconsin can still claim the Big Ten title, but playing for a national championship is unlikely.
Looking Ahead to Week 9
A small sample of what’s ahead
Connecticut at Pittsburgh (Wednesday)
It might not be a matchup between top 25 teams, but hey, it’s midweek football.
Virginia at Miami (Thursday)
Canes look to get revenge for last season’s upset loss at Virginia.
BYU at TCU (Friday)
Cougars have won five in a row, but TCU will be a step up in competition.
South Carolina at Tennessee
Can the Gamecocks generate a rushing attack without Marcus Lattimore?
Clemson at Georgia Tech
Is this the final hurdle for Clemson to clear for an undefeated regular season?
Illinois at Penn State
Nittany Lions quietly putting together a solid season.
West Virginia at Rutgers
Winner of this game keeps the pressure on Cincinnati in the Big East race.
NC State at Florida State
Wolfpack need three wins to get bowl eligible – can they pull off the upset?
Wake Forest at North Carolina
Demon Deacons need a win to keep the pressure on Clemson in the ACC Atlantic race.
Oklahoma at Kansas State
Sooners looking to get back on track with a win and keep slim national title hopes alive.
Baylor at Oklahoma State
With Oklahoma’s loss, the Cowboys are now the frontrunner in the Big 12.
Michigan State at Nebraska
Another week, another key Big Ten matchup for the Spartans.
Missouri at Texas A&M
Future SEC matchup?
Florida at Georgia
Bulldogs remain in the mix for SEC East title, but need a win over Gators.
Wisconsin at Ohio State
Can the Badgers bounce back after last week’s last-second loss to Michigan State?
Stanford at USC
Trojans’ defense will be tested by physical Stanford offense.
Injuries from Week 8
Army QB Trent Steelman – leg – questionable for Week 9
Cincinnati CB Dominique Battle – sprained knee – questionable for Week 9
Clemson RB Andre Ellington – foot – probable for Week 9
Colorado QB Tyler Hansen – concussion – questionable for Week 9
Georgia Tech C Jay Finch – knee – questionable for Week 9
Iowa WR Keenan Davis – sprained ankle – questionable for Week 9
Kentucky RB Raymond Sanders – high ankle sprain – out for Week 9
Miami OT Jonathan Feliciano – leg – unlikely to play in Week 9
Navy QB Kriss Proctor – elbow – questionable for Week 9
Northwestern QB Dan Persa – ankle – probable for Week 9
Oklahoma State WR Hubert Anyiam – foot – out for remainder of 2011
Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon – concussion – probable for Week 9
South Florida WR Sterling Griffin – ankle – questionable for Week 10
USC K Andre Heidari – sprained ankle – questionable for Week 9
Virginia Tech LB Bruce Taylor – sprained foot – questionable for Week 9
Washington State QB Jeff Tuel – shoulder – questionable for Week 9
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 8 Big 12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Oklahoma State (7-0) – Thanks to the loss by rival Oklahoma, the Pokes rise to the No. 1 spot in the power rankings for the first time this year. Many expected Saturday’s contest against Missouri to be a trap game, but Oklahoma State won easily 45-24. The Cowboys are in control of their destiny in the BCS with the Big 12 title, but there are a lot of games to be played. Oklahoma State hosts Baylor this Saturday.
2. Kansas State (7-0) – The Wildcats remained unbeaten with a 59-21 blowout win over rival Kansas on Saturday. Kansas State is 7-0 for the first time since 1999, but the competition gets a lot tougher the next few weeks. The Wildcats host Oklahoma this Saturday, before playing Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas the next three weeks. Even if Kansas State loses its next four games, Bill Snyder should still earn national coach of the year honors for the job he has done with this team in 2011.
3. Oklahoma (6-1) – Most wrote off the Sooners’ sluggish performance against Kansas as a post-Texas hangover. Apparently, that wasn’t the case. Oklahoma watched its national title hopes take a big hit, as it was upset 41-38 by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have had success beating the Sooners in Lubbock, but the victory in Norman snapped Oklahoma’s 39-game home winning streak. The Sooners can still win the Big 12 title, but have to quickly regroup with Kansas State ahead this Saturday. Cornerback Jamell Fleming was a key absence in the loss to Texas Tech and is unlikely to play this week against the Wildcats.
4. Texas A&M (5-2) – After back-to-back disappointing losses to Arkansas and Oklahoma State in early October, the Aggies have quietly put together a solid three-game winning streak. Texas A&M defeated Iowa State 33-17 on Saturday, which moved the Aggies to 5-2 overall. The one-two punch of running backs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray has been difficult to stop, as Texas A&M has at least 200 rushing yards in each of its last four contests. The Aggies host Missouri this Saturday.
5. Texas Tech (5-2) – The Red Raiders scored one of the biggest upsets of 2011, defeating Oklahoma 41-38 in Norman. Quarterback Seth Doege had a huge game, throwing for 441 yards and four scores, while the defense held Oklahoma to only seven points in the first half. With a difficult upcoming schedule, it was important for Texas Tech to pickup a little bit of momentum. The victory over Oklahoma was also a key notch in coach Tommy Tuberville's coaching tenure at Texas Tech. How close are the Red Raiders’ from being undefeated? Their two losses this year have been by a combined 12 points (Kansas State and Texas A&M). Texas Tech hosts Iowa State on Saturday.
6. Texas (4-2) – With the season halfway finished, the bye week came at a good time for the Longhorns. The coaching staff should be able to correct some of the mistakes, particularly on offense, that the young players are making. Co-offensive coordinators Major Applewhite and Bryan Harsin would like to get quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy off to a good start this week and figure out whether both will play each game or if one can assume the job full-time. Texas looks to snap a two-game losing streak this Saturday, as it hosts Kansas. Although the Jayhawks are unlikely to pose much of a threat to Texas, a solid performance would help boost the confidence of the young players before a difficult stretch of upcoming games – Texas Tech, at Missouri, Kansas State, at Texas A&M and at Baylor.
7. Baylor (5-2) – The Bears had a bye in Week 8 and will return to action on Saturday at Oklahoma State. Baylor has had very little success against the Cowboys in recent years, with its last win in this series coming in 2005. The Bears last victory in Stillwater was in 1939. Expect plenty of points in Saturday’s game, as neither team has been very good at stopping the pass.
8. Missouri (3-4) – The Tigers were a trendy upset pick going into Week 8, but Oklahoma State left Columbia with an easy win. Missouri didn’t have an answer for Cowboys’ quarterback Brandon Weeden and a deep group of receivers. Tigers’ quarterback James Franklin didn’t have his best game, tossing three picks and completing 14 of 27 throws. Missouri’s bowl hopes are hanging in the balance with five games remaining. The Tigers travel to College Station to play Texas A&M this Saturday, and the schedule won’t get any easier with Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech its next three opponents.
9. Iowa State (3-4) – The Cyclones dropped their fourth game in a row, losing 33-17 to Texas A&M in Ames. Quarterback Steele Jantz hasn’t been 100 percent since suffering a foot injury against Connecticut in Week 3, and his play has suffered. After an early interception against the Aggies, Iowa State turned to Jared Barnett under center. The redshirt freshman finished with 180 passing yards and 66 on the ground, and is expected to start in Iowa State’s Week 9 game at Texas Tech.
10. Kansas (2-5) – The Jayhawks’ 2011 season took another ugly turn with Saturday’s 59-21 loss to rival Kansas State. Kansas appeared to be on the right track after starting 2-0, but has lost five in a row and weren't competitive in four of those losses. Coach Turner Gill turned around an awful Buffalo team, and knew he had a lot of work to do when he came to Lawrence. However, Gill didn’t exactly get a ringing endorsement from the athletic director after Saturday’s game, and the pressure is on Kansas’ coaching staff to find some answers over the next couple of weeks.
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)
At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the Big 12.
Coach of the Year — Bill Snyder, Kansas State
This one is easy. Snyder, in his second stint at Kansas State, has guided the Wildcats to a 6–0 start, with each of the last four wins coming as an underdog (and each coming by seven points or less). K-State visits rival Kansas this weekend before embarking on a difficult four-game stretch that includes home games with Oklahoma and Texas A&M and visits to Oklahoma State and Texas.
Freshman of the Year — Malcolm Brown, Texas
A top-five national recruit, Brown has given Texas its most dependable running threat from the tailback position since Jamaal Charles. He has run for over 50 yards in all six games and has topped the 100-yard mark twice, against UCLA (110) and Oklahoma State (135).
Newcomer of the Year — Arthur Brown, Kansas State
A top recruit in the Class of 2008, Brown transferred back home to the state of Kansas after spending two seasons at Miami (Fla.). The 6-1, 223-pound linebacker leads the Cats with 45 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss.
Offensive Player of the Year — Landry Jones, Oklahoma
It’s nearly impossible to pick the best player from a list that includes Jones, Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Broyles. We went with Jones, who leads the Big 12 in passing yardage (362.8 ypg) and has thrown 16 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Defensive Player of the Year — Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
We no longer have to use the word “potential” when describing Alexander. The defensive end is having a monster senior season, with 9.5 tackles for a loss (tied for the league lead) and 6.5 sacks (second in the league).
Midseason Disappointment — Missouri
The Tigers are 3–3 overall and 1–2 in the Big 12. Their three losses have come against quality competition — Arizona State, Oklahoma and Kansas State, all on the road — but they also don’t have anything close to a good win. Statistically, Missouri has been solid on both sides of the ball, but Gary Pinkel’s club just hasn’t been able to make the big play at the right time.
Midseason Disappointment — Bryce Brown, Kansas State
The Wildcats were hoping that Brown, a transfer from Tennessee who was once considered the top prep running back in the nation, could slide right into the starting job filled so well last season by Daniel Thomas. But Brown, the brother of K-State linebacker Arthur Brown, was a non-factor for the Wildcats — he had three carries for 16 yards in the opener — before leaving the team a few weeks ago.
Midseason Surprise — Kansas State
Just like picking Bill Snyder for midseason Coach of the Year honors, this is the easy choice. The Wildcats have done the seemingly impossible — win four straight games as an underdog. K-State is already 6–0 and has yet to play Kansas and Iowa State. The school’s first 10-win season since 2003 isn’t out of the question.
Midseason Surprise — Henry Josey, Missouri
Josey was part of a tailback-by-committee at Missouri last year as a freshman. This season, he has emerged as the primary ball-carrier and leads the league with 717 yards on only 74 carries for a 9.7-yard average — the best in the country for a player with at least 40 attempts.
What Athlon Sports got right — We thought Oklahoma would be really good (which it is) and thought Kansas would be really bad (which it is). We picked OU No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 2 in the nation and forecasted a perfect 12–0 regular season. We tabbed Kansas last in the Big 12 and predicted an overall mark of 3–9 and a league record of 1–8.
What Athlon Sports got wrong — Kansas State is the only team that really jumps out at this point. We picked the Cats to finish ninth in the league with a record of 2–7.
Athlon projects the wins and losses for each team for the rest of the season. Here’s how we think the final standings will look before bowl season.
1. Oklahoma 12-0 (9-0)
2. Oklahoma State 11-1 (8-1)
3. Texas A&M 9-3 (7-2)
4. Texas 8-4 (5-4)
5. Kansas State 8-4 (5-4)
6. Baylor 7-5 (4-5)
7. Missouri 6-6 (4-5)
8. Texas Tech 5-7 (2-7)
9. Iowa State 4-8 (1-8)
10. Kansas 2-10 (0-9)
Three Things to Watch
The Best Bedlam Ever? - Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were ranked third and fourth, respectively, in the first BCS rankings. Both teams will be favored in every game leading up to the Dec. 3 showdown in Norman. Just think how big this game will be if both the Sooners and Pokes remain undefeated.
The Texas Quarterback Situation - Garrett Gilbert began the season as the starter. He was benched and eventually left the program. David Ash and Case McCoy have each started, as well. Ash, a true freshman, played wire to wire against Oklahoma State, completing 22-of-40 for 139 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. McCoy and Ash both figure to play down the stretch, but you know Mack Brown would like one player to seize the starting assignment.
Will Kansas win a Big 12 game? - Turner Gill’s first season in Lawrence didn’t go well. His second season has been worse. The Jayhawks are 2–4 overall, with only one win over an FBS opponent (45–42 over Northern Illinois at home). They have given up 42 points or more in each of the past five games, including 66 to Georgia Tech and 70 to Oklahoma State. Will KU go winless in the Big 12 for the first time since 2002, Mark Mangino’s first season? The guess here is yes. The best chance to win a game figures to be on Nov. 5 against Iowa State, but that game is in Ames. It could be a long two months for Gill and the KU program.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 8
1. Four teams enter Week 8 with one conference loss in the ACC Coastal. Georgia Tech was thought to be in the driver’s seat for the division title, but was upset by Virginia last week. The Yellow Jackets are still in great shape for the division crown, but Saturday’s game against Miami will be critical to their title hopes. Georgia Tech has lost its last two matchups to the Hurricanes and neither has been close. Stopping the run is going to be critical to Miami’s chance of winning on Saturday. The Hurricanes rank 94th nationally in rush defense, and the defensive line took a hit with the suspension of tackle Micanor Regis earlier this week. Although the Yellow Jackets are averaging 347.9 rushing yards per game, the passing attack has to have success. Quarterback Tevin Washington began the year by tossing seven scores in his first three games. However, the junior has thrown zero touchdowns and three interceptions in his last two games. Quarterback play was expected to be an issue for Miami this year, but Jacory Harris has performed well over the last three games, tossing eight scores and no interceptions. This battle for positioning in the ACC Coastal should be a high-scoring affair.
2. On paper, the Sunflower Showdown between Kansas and Kansas State shouldn’t be much of a game. However, a rivalry can bring out the best in the underdog, and the Wildcats should be on upset alert. The Jayhawks were blown out in last year’s contest (59-7) and enter this matchup with a four-game losing streak. Kansas State has been one of the surprise teams midway through the season, posting a 6-0 record and ranked among the top 15 teams in the nation. Any hope Kansas has of pulling the upset has to rest with its rushing attack, which is averaging 206.8 yards per game. The Wildcats are allowing only 96.8 yards a contest and 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. With a huge showdown against Oklahoma next Saturday, the Wildcats have to be wary of their hungry in-state rival, particularly on the road in Lawrence.
3. Behind quarterback Andrew Luck and a solid defense, Stanford has easily cruised to a 6-0 start. However, the Cardinal will face their biggest test of 2011, as Washington visits Palo Alto. Despite the departure of quarterback Jake Locker, the Huskies haven’t missed a beat on offense. New quarterback Keith Price has been stellar, throwing for 21 touchdowns and 1,466 yards. Price has plenty of help, especially with running back Chris Polk and a deep group of receivers, led by senior Jermaine Kearse. Stanford’s defense suffered a blow this week, when safety Delano Howell was ruled out for Saturday’s game. The Cardinal ranks 81st nationally against the pass, and without Howell, figures to be tested even more by Price and his receivers. Although Washington has the firepower to hang with Stanford, its defense has to play better to win this game. The Huskies own the Pac-12’s worst pass defense and rank eighth in the conference in points allowed. An upset here wouldn’t be surprising, but it’s tough to pick against Stanford at home and with Luck under center.
4. Even though Missouri is 3-3, it’s hard to call it one of college football’s disappointing teams after seven weeks. The Tigers have lost three games by 10 points or less, including a 38-28 game against Oklahoma and an overtime defeat to Arizona State. A couple of plays bounce in Missouri’s favor and this team could be 5-1. The Tigers have a difficult schedule remaining, starting this Saturday against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys will bring one of the nation’s top passing attacks to Columbia, led by Heisman contenders Brandon Weeden (QB) and Justin Blackmon (WR). Missouri’s defense is allowing only 20.3 points a game, and the secondary has given up only seven scores. If the Tigers can get pressure on Weeden and keep the Cowboys from pulling away early, Missouri will have a chance to score the upset. The Tigers also need a big game from running back Henry Josey, who is averaging a ridiculous 9.7 yards per carry. The Tigers can score with Oklahoma State, but their best chance to win this game is if they can control the time of possession and keep this game in the 31-27 range.
5. Could Saturday’s matchup between Wisconsin and Michigan State be a preview of the Big Ten title game? Both teams enter Week 8 undefeated in conference play, with the Spartans coming off a huge win over rival Michigan last Saturday. This matchup features the Big Ten’s top offense (Wisconsin), against the conference’s best defense (Michigan State). And what happens in the trenches will play a key role in deciding the outcome of Saturday’s game. The Spartans have forced 21 sacks this season, but will be without end William Gholston, who was suspended one game due to his actions in last week’s win over Michigan. Losing Gholston is a huge loss for the Spartans, but don’t expect much of a drop-off. The one-two punch of Montee Ball and James White will test the Michigan State run defense, but the difference in this game could be Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. If the senior continues to play mistake-free ball, the Badgers should move to 7-0 and knock the Spartans from the ranks of the unbeaten in Big Ten play. One stat that is worth mentioning: Wisconsin has lost its last three trips to East Lansing.
6. While most conferences are already deep into conference play, no Big East team has played more than two league games so far. South Florida began the season 4-0, but has dropped two in a row. If the Bulls want to keep pace with Rutgers and West Virginia for the conference crown, Saturday’s game against Cincinnati is a must-win. The Bearcats own the Big East’s top scoring offense, averaging 41.7 points a game. However, the big difference in Cincinnati from last year to this season has been the defense. The Bearcats have forced 19 turnovers, registered 20 sacks and rank first in the Big East in rush defense. South Florida’s offense is averaging only 13.5 points in conference play and will need more production in order to win on Saturday. If the Bulls lose on Saturday, it’s going to be very difficult to make up three games in conference play. And a three-game losing streak isn’t what they had in mind after winning in South Bend in the season opener.
7. The Tennessee-Alabama series has produced plenty of memorable moments, but it’s unlikely the matchup on Saturday will be close. The Volunteers are coming off a 38-7 defeat to LSU last week, while Alabama remained unbeaten with a 52-7 win over Ole Miss. Tennessee’s offense posted a season-low of 239 yards against the Tigers, and with quarterback Tyler Bray sidelined once again with a thumb injury, the Volunteers will struggle to move the ball. This game will be Alabama’s final tune-up before a bye and the much-anticipated showdown with LSU on Nov. 5. The Crimson Tide don’t have many weaknesses, but the matchup with Tennessee will allow them one more opportunity to clean up any areas of concern, along with getting more work for quarterback AJ McCarron and his receivers.
8. The LSU-Auburn matchup on Saturday got a little more interesting thanks to the suspension of three LSU players. Cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon, along with running back Spencer Ware will sit out this game. Despite losing three key players, LSU should have no trouble moving to 8-0. Auburn’s offense has been struggling, so head coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn have made the decision to switch to Clint Moseley at quarterback. Making your first start at LSU is never easy, but that’s the task ahead for Moseley this Saturday. Auburn is a dangerous opponent, but even with the suspensions, LSU is still the better team and should win this one by two touchdowns.
9. It’s strength versus strength when Penn State meets Northwestern this week. The Wildcats are averaging 40.3 points a game with quarterback Dan Persa back in the lineup, but the Nittany Lions are allowing only 11.6 per contest. Penn State remains in the hunt for the Leaders Division title, but this is a huge game for Northwestern. The upcoming schedule features matchups with Nebraska and Michigan State, and getting to six wins and a bowl could be difficult. Penn State’s offense has struggled to get consistent quarterback play, but Northwestern’s defense ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten. Will Persa and the Wildcats' offense get the best of a solid Nittany Lion defense?
10. Notre Dame snapped an eight-game losing streak to USC last season, winning 20-16 in Los Angeles. Are the Irish about to go on a run of dominance in this series? Notre Dame is well-positioned under coach Brian Kelly to jump back into the mix as a top 10-15 team. USC has been solid under coach Lane Kiffin, but sanctions from a NCAA investigation are about to hit, including significant scholarship losses. The Irish have cut down on the turnovers in their last couple of games and are riding a four-game winning streak. USC’s secondary is allowing 271.7 yards per game, which will be under attack from Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees and receiver Michael Floyd.
Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 8 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.
Stanford 38, Washington 31
Wisconsin 27, Michigan State 20
Notre Dame 31, USC 27
Georgia Tech 34, Miami 31
LSU 31, Auburn 13
Oklahoma State 40, Missouri 37
Kansas State 34, Kansas 20
South Florida 27, Cincinnati 24
Clemson 37, North Carolina 20
Florida State 40, Maryland 17
Virginia 24, NC State 20
Oklahoma 51, Texas Tech 20
Alabama 41, Tennessee 10
California 27, Utah 24
Penn State 23, Northwestern 20
Southern Miss 34, SMU 31
Looking for a few upsets? Keep a close watch on these games.
NC State at Virginia (-4)
After last week’s big win over Georgia Tech, will the Cavaliers have a letdown?
Georgia Tech at Miami (-3)
The folks in Vegas have the Yellow Jackets as an underdog, but this one is a coin flip.
Oklahoma State (-7.5) at Missouri
The Tigers have lost three games to three solid teams. The Cowboys need to be on upset alert.
Penn State (-3) at Northwestern
The Wildcats are reeling with a four-game losing streak, but can the Nittany Lions find enough offense to match Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa?
Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 8
Will running back Josh Harris play for Wake Forest this Saturday against Duke?
Cincinnati receiver DJ Woods is looking to break out of a slump this Saturday against South Florida.
Can Northwestern fix its awful pass defense?
NC State will be without running back Mustafa Greene for the rest of the season.
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray had a metal plate inserted into his thumb to help the healing process.
How will the Texas Tech receivers look when Darrin Moore returns from an ankle injury?
What needs to be fixed on Kentucky's offense? A lot of things.
What does Nebraska look for when targeting JUCO players?
A quick release has helped Clemson's Tajh Boyd become one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC.
Will Missouri go to the SEC? Here's a great read on the regional differences within the state.
Mississippi State will be looking for ways to get back on track during its bye week.
Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham is sticking with Tino Sunseri at quarterback.
NC State needs four wins to get bowl eligible. And its quest to get to seven victories starts with a crucial matchup against Virginia this Saturday.
Here are 10 things to watch with the Arizona coaching search.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the Big Ten.
Coach of the Year – Brady Hoke, Michigan
It’s a close call between Hoke and Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema. Hoke suffered his first defeat of the season last week against Michigan State, but has made all of the right moves so far during his short time in Ann Arbor. The offense has remained potent behind quarterback Denard Robinson, while the defense has shown big improvement under Hoke and coordinator Greg Mattison. The Wolverines are still in the hunt for the Big Ten Legends Division title, and are setup to return back into the top 10-15 teams in college football with Hoke’s success on the recruiting trail.
Freshman of the Year
There’s really no standout true freshman this year, but let’s give a little credit to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah. Miller hasn’t been asked to do a whole lot in the passing game, but his rushing ability was valuable in the win over Illinois and the 34-27 loss to Nebraska. Abdullah has been one of the conference’s top return men, averaging 10.2 yards per punt return and 31.9 on kickoffs with one score.
Newcomer of the Year – Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
It was uncertain how Wilson would fit into the offense with no spring practice, but the senior has been nearly flawless. Wilson has thrown for 1,557 yards and 14 touchdowns, while tossing only one interception. In his first Big Ten game, he threw for 255 yards and two scores to beat Nebraska 48-17.
Offensive Player of the Year – Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
Even though we pegged Wilson as the top newcomer and like to spread the wealth with the awards, it’s hard not to pick the senior for this category. Wilson has been a big reason why Wisconsin leads the nation in scoring offense and ranks eighth with 523.2 yards per game. The senior has been a perfect fit in Madison and has the Badgers poised for a run at the national title.
Defensive Player of the Year – Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
There are some good candidates for this award, including Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still, but Mercilus gets the nod at the halfway point of the season. Mercilus has lived in the opponent’s backfield in seven games, collecting 13 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles. He also leads all defenders in college football with 10 sacks. Mercilus’ pressure is a big reason why opponents are managing only 17.7 points a game against Illinois' defense.
Midseason Disappointment – Ohio State
Considering the loss of quarterback Terrelle Pryor and head coach Jim Tressel, along with the suspensions of a couple of key players, it’s no surprise the Buckeyes have struggled. However, Ohio State is a school that expects to compete for a Big Ten title every year and 4-3 is not acceptable. Interim coach Luke Fickell has a tough job, but this team has looked flat at times this year. The Buckeyes are young in spots, but still have plenty of talent. With Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan remaining, Ohio State could be looking at a 7-5 or 6-6 record before the bowl.
Midseason Disappointment – Nebraska’s defense
This space is usually reserved for a player, but the Cornhuskers have been surprisingly suspect on defense this season. Injuries to tackle Jared Crick and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard have hurt, however, Nebraska is giving up an uncharacteristic 27.2 points a game and rank eighth in the Big Ten in total defense. Coach Bo Pelini should get improvement from this group over the second half of the season, but this unit was expected to be one of the best in the Big Ten this year.
Midseason Surprise – Illinois
The Fighting Illini is coming off a disappointing loss to Ohio State, but are still 6-1 heading into Saturday’s game against Purdue. The offense has struggled to replace Mikel Leshoure’s production at running back, but quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has picked up the slack and ranks fifth in the Big Ten in total offense per game. A.J. Jenkins has been one of the best receivers in the nation this year, averaging 127.9 yards per game. The defense was a concern coming into 2011, as the Illini had to replace tackle Corey Liuget. However, end Whitney Mercilus has emerged as one of the top defensive ends in the nation, while tackle Akeem Spence has been solid. A favorable schedule certainly helped Illinois jump out to a 6-1 record, but don’t count out this team from pulling off a surprise win or two before the season is over.
Midseason Surprise – James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa
Even though Vandenberg performed well when filling in for Ricky Stanzi during the 2009 season, it’s a surprise he ranks fourth in the Big Ten in total offense after six games. The junior has thrown for 1,488 yards and 12 touchdowns, while completing 60.5 percent of his passes. Vandenberg has six regular season games to build upon a great start to 2011 and should enter 2012 as one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten.
What Athlon Sports got right – Let’s start at the bottom. Our preseason picks of Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue to be the three worst teams in the Big Ten are looking safe. Another pick that appear to be safe: Wisconsin representing the Leaders Division in the Big Ten title game.
What Athlon Sports got wrong – With a new coach and schemes on both sides of the ball, it was hard to project where Michigan fit into the Big Ten race in the preseason. We had the Wolverines finishing 8-4 and fourth in the Legends Division, and it appears they will easily outperform that record. We also predicted Nebraska to win the Big Ten title over Wisconsin, which does not look good after the Badgers’ 48-17 victory over the Cornhuskers earlier this year.
Athlon projects the wins and losses for each team for the rest of the season. Here’s how we think the final standings will look before the Big Ten Championship.
1. Wisconsin 12-0, 8-0
2. Penn State 8-4, 5-3
3. Ohio State 7-5, 4-4
4. Illinois 8-4, 4-4
5. Purdue 4-8, 2-6
6. Indiana 1-11, 0-8
1. Michigan State 10-2, 7-1
2. Michigan 10-2, 6-2
3. Nebraska 9-3, 5-3
4. Iowa 8-4, 5-3
5. Northwestern 5-7, 2-6
6. Minnesota 1-11, 0-8
Big Ten Championship: Michigan State vs. Wisconsin
Three Things to Watch
Ohio State’s next coach – There’s a chance Luke Fickell could return if the Buckeyes run the table in their final five games. However, it’s unlikely Ohio State will finish 9-3 with Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan remaining on the schedule. Expect athletic director Gene Smith to go shopping for a new coach in the offseason and there will be a lot of big names interested. Is Urban Meyer ready to exit the booth and return to the sideline? Can Ohio State lure Bo Pelini to Columbus? How about Toledo coach Tim Beckman – is he a wildcard to watch?
Legends Division battle – Wisconsin clearly looks like the top team in the Leaders Division, but the Legends Division has a lot more uncertainty at the midpoint of 2011. Nebraska, Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa all still have division title hopes, and this battle could go down the final weekend of the season. The Spartans enter Week 8 as the only undefeated team from the Legends Division in conference play, but matchups remain with Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern. Can Nebraska get its defense turned around without tackle Jared Crick? Will Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson stay healthy?
Can Russell Wilson win the Heisman – The last Big Ten player to win the Heisman Trophy was Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006. As long as Wisconsin continues to win, expect Wilson to be in the mix. The senior may not have the eye-popping numbers of Oklahoma’s Landry Jones or Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, but he leads the nation in passing efficiency and is averaging 289.8 total yards per game. None of Wisconsin’s six games have been close this year, which has factored into Wilson’s playing time. It’s going to be difficult for anyone to knock Stanford’s Andrew Luck from the top spot, but Wilson has an excellent chance to win the Heisman if the Badgers finish the year unbeaten.
Other Conference Content:
Picks and Predictions for Every Game, Week 8
Betting Against The Spread: Week 8 Picks
Big 12 First Half Awards and Second Half Predictions
SEC Midseason Review and Second Half Predictions
Big East Midseason Preview and Second Half Predictions
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the Big East.
Coach of the Year – Greg Schiano, Rutgers
With Rutgers coming off a 4-8 season, Schiano was feeling a little heat coming into 2011. However, the Scarlet Knights have rebounded with a 5-1 record through six games. The offense has struggled, but is led by promising freshmen with Gary Nova at quarterback and Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins at running back. Rutgers’ defense has been one of the best in the conference so far this season, ranking first in points allowed and in turnovers gained. Schiano shuffled his coaching staff after last season and those moves appear to have helped spark this team.
Freshman of the Year – Lyle McCombs, RB, Connecticut
This space is usually reserved for a true freshman, but it’s hard to ignore McCombs’ stats through seven weeks. The redshirt freshman has 705 rushing yards (second in the Big East) and four touchdowns, which has carried the Connecticut offense. McCombs has four 100-yard performances this season, including 130 in last week’s win over South Florida. Some top true freshman performers: Louisville WRs Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker, West Virginia RB Dustin Garrison, Rutgers QB Gary Nova, Syracuse LB Dyshawn Davis, South Florida DL Elkino Watson.
Newcomer of the Year – Darrell Scott, RB, South Florida
Scott was one of the nation’s top running back prospects coming out of high school, but never lived up to the hype at Colorado. Scott is off to a good start this year, leading South Florida with 482 rushing yards and five touchdowns. The junior has one 100-yard game, rushing for 146 yards and three touchdowns in the victory over Florida A&M.
Offensive Player of the Year – Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh
Although Pittsburgh is 3-4, Graham has carried the Panthers’ offense through the first seven games of 2011. The junior has rushed for 939 yards (the most by a running back this season) and nine touchdowns, while catching 30 passes for 200 yards. Graham has four games of at least 100 yards, including a monster 226-yard performance in the 44-17 win over South Florida. If the Panthers are going to get bowl eligible or back in the Big East race, it will likely depend on Graham, as the Panthers are struggling to get consistency from the passing attack or offensive line.
Defensive Player of the Year – Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
With a struggling offense, it’s going to be up to the defense to win games for Connecticut this season. Reyes has dominated in the trenches so far, leading the Big East with 11 tackles for a loss, registering four sacks and 26 tackles. The Huskies, thanks in large part to Reyes’ presence, are allowing only 89 yards a game on the ground and opponents have managed only four rushing scores this year.
Midseason Disappointment – Pittsburgh
The Panthers have shown flashes of promise, but have yet to live up to the preseason expectations. Most preseason picks had Pittsburgh in the top three of the Big East, but unless the offense shows big improvement (and soon), it’s unlikely it will finish there. Two of the Panthers’ four losses are by four points or less, but the last two defeats have not been pretty – 34-10 to Rutgers and 26-14 to Utah. New coach Todd Graham wants to bring an up-tempo, high-scoring offense to Pittsburgh, but it’s been a major disappointment so far. Quarterback Tino Sunseri has struggled and the offensive line has allowed 34 sacks. Outside of the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia, all of the remaining games on the schedule are winnable. However, Sunseri needs to play a lot better for Pittsburgh to assure itself of a bowl appearance.
Midseason Disappointment – Jeremy Wright/Victor Anderson, RB, Louisville
The Cardinals owned the Big East’s top rushing attack last season, but it has yet to take off in 2011. Wright and Anderson have combined for only 331 yards and one touchdown, while converted quarterback Dominique Brown leads the team with 211 yards. Anderson and Wright’s struggles are largely due to the offensive line, but both players were expected to keep Louisville’s rushing attack near the top of the Big East this year.
Midseason Surprise – Rutgers
Expectations in Piscataway were low, as Rutgers was coming off a 4-8 season and riding a six-game losing streak entering 2011. The Scarlet Knights enter Week 8 with a solid 5-1 record, with the only loss coming to North Carolina 24-22. Although the offense has struggled, the defense ranks first in the Big East in scoring defense, and the Scarlet Knights have been winning the turnover battle. The schedule sets up favorably for Rutgers, with road trips to Louisville and Connecticut (arguably the two worst teams in the conference), while West Virginia, South Florida and Cincinnati visit High Point Solutions Stadium.
Midseason Surprise – Cincinnati’s defense
The Bearcats owned one of the worst defenses in the Big East last season, ranking seventh in total defense and last in passing and points allowed. However, after six games, Cincinnati owns the Big East’s top rush defense, ranks 28th nationally in total defense and is allowing only 16.5 points a game. The Bearcats have also generated 19 turnovers and collected 20 sacks. Stopping the pass is still an issue for Cincinnati, but the rest of the unit has been solid through the first half of the year. With a high-scoring offense and an improving defense, the Bearcats will be a dangerous team the rest of the season.
What Athlon Sports got right – The Big East is usually one of the more difficult conferences to predict each preseason. However, our predictions had West Virginia and South Florida as the top two teams in the conference, which is certainly within reach. Also, we picked Louisville to finish last, largely due to the amount of young players stepping into starting lineup this year.
What Athlon Sports got wrong – West Virginia is clearly the No. 1 team, but after that, things get cloudy. We had Rutgers pegged seventh in the preseason picks, but it looks like the Scarlet Knights will easily out perform that ranking. We liked Pittsburgh as the third-best team in the conference, which looks questionable after its last two performances.
Athlon projects the wins and losses for each team for the rest of the season. Here's how we think the final standings in the Big East.
1. West Virginia 10-2, 6-1
2. Rutgers 9-3, 5-2
3. South Florida 8-4, 4-3
4. Cincinnati 8-4, 4-3
5. Pittsburgh 6-6, 4-3
6. Syracuse 6-6, 2-5
7. Connecticut 4-8, 2-5
8. Louisville 3-9, 1-6
Big East Champion: West Virginia
Three Things to Watch
Expansion and Realignment – Pittsburgh and Syracuse have announced its intentions to leave the Big East in 2014. The conference expected to have TCU aboard next season, but the Horned Frogs bolted to the Big 12. The Big East has only six teams committed to the conference for 2014. And West Virginia and Louisville have been mentioned as candidates to join the Big 12 if Missouri goes to the SEC. The Big East reportedly has six schools targeted to join, but when will the invitations be extended? Will the Mountaineers and Cardinals jump to the Big 12? The Big East has waited far too long to expand, but there’s still time to save the conference.
Can West Virginia finish unbeaten in conference play? – The Mountaineers cruised in their only Big East game this year, beating Connecticut 43-16. Four road games remain in conference play, including trips to Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida. West Virginia is clearly the No. 1 team in the conference, but it could be difficult to finish the season without a loss in Big East play.
Will the defending Big East champs make a bowl? – Connecticut has a lot of work to do if it wants to get back into the postseason. The Huskies have not missed a bowl since 2006 and made their first BCS appearance last year in the Fiesta Bowl. At 3-4, Connecticut needs to find three more wins the rest of the way. Syracuse and Louisville are winnable at home, but picking up a victory against Pittsburgh, Rutgers or Cincinnati won’t be easy. The Huskies have one of the conference’s best defenses, but the offense needs to step up for Connecticut to make a fifth consecutive bowl trip.
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)
At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the Pac-12.
Coach of the Year — Steve Sarkisian, Washington
David Shaw of Stanford should be in the discussion, but Sarkisian is the choice. Washington is off to a 5–1 start with the only loss coming at Nebraska. The Huskies have been consistently strong on offense, scoring 30 points or more in every game, and have improved on defense as the season has progressed. Sark went 12–13 in his first two seasons at UW; barring a late-season collapse, the Huskies should win (at least) eight games for the first time since 2001.
Freshman of the Year — Dion Bailey, USC
A redshirt freshman who spent 2010 on the scout team as a safety, Bailey has started all six games at strong-side linebacker and leads the Trojans with 48 tackles. He had 14 tackles against Arizona two weeks ago and intercepted two passes in USC’s win at California last Thursday night.
Newcomer of the Year — Zach Maynard, California
He’s struggled in recent weeks against quality competition, but Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, has put up solid numbers in his first season running Jeff Tedford’s offense. He is averaging 264.2 yards per game and has thrown for 11 touchdowns with six interceptions.
Offensive Player of the Year — Andrew Luck, Stanford
The No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft has been nearly flawless for a Stanford team that is flying under the radar despite a 6–0 start. The junior is completing over 70 percent of his passes and has thrown 18 touchdowns with only three interceptions. Luck has tossed at least two TD passes in each game this season and has topped the 320-yard mark in three of the last four games.
Defensive Player of the Year — Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
His numbers aren’t great — 36 tackles and 4.5 sacks — but the 6-3, 252 junior is a disruptive force and an intimidating presence from his middle linebacker position. Burfict plays with too much fire far too often, but when he plays under control, he is a true difference-maker for the Sun Devils.
Midseason Disappointment — Oregon State
Mike Riley has the reputation of doing more with less, but his 2011 Oregon State club is failing to live up to even modest expectations. The Beavers opened the season with a shocking 29–28 loss in overtime to Sacramento State (which lost by 21 points to Southern Utah the next week). Oregon State has played better in recent weeks, but this team is still 1–5 overall and 1–2 in the league. The remaining schedule isn’t kind, either — four of the final six games are on the road, and the home games are against Stanford and Washington.
Midseason Disappointment — Ryan Katz, Oregon State
The folks in Corvallis have been raving about Katz’s arm strength since he stepped foot on campus, but a strong arm doesn’t guarantee success on the field. Katz had a solid sophomore season (2,401 yards, 18 TDs, 11 INTs), but struggled out of the gate in 2011. He threw for only 87 yards on 22 attempts in the Week 1 loss to Sacramento State and was benched (for good) following the Beavers’ loss at Wisconsin.
Midseason Surprise — Washington State
Since we gave Steve Sarkisian the nod for midseason Coach of the Year for his work with Washington, we will go with Washington State as the surprise. The Cougars are only 3–3 overall and 1–2 in the league, but this team is competitive for the first time in the Paul Wulff era. Washington State already has a Pac-12 road win (Colorado) and lost in the final minutes at UCLA. Also, the Cougars played relatively well against Stanford last week; the score was 10–7 at the half before Stanford flexed its muscles in the final two quarters.
Midseason Surprise — Keith Price, Washington
Andrew Luck will end the season as the first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback, but Price is having a remarkably efficient season — and he’s in his first season as the starter. Despite playing through injuries to both knees, the sophomore has completed 118-of-170 passes for 1,466 yards with 21 touchdowns and only four interceptions. In three Pac-12 games, Price has thrown 10 touchdowns and only one INT.
What Athlon Sports got right — We figured Colorado would struggle in its first year in the Pac-12, and the Buffs are off to an 0–3 start (which doesn’t include a ‘non-league’ loss at home to Cal). We predicted a 1–8 Pac-12 record for Jon Embree’s club.
What Athlon Sports got wrong — We didn’t expect Stanford to be quite as dominant with Jim Harbaugh no longer around. We picked the Cardinal to finish in a tie for second in the Pac-12 North with a 6–3 league record. Stanford is already 4–0, and while it has yet to face the most difficult part of the schedule, it’s tough to envision this team losing more than one game in the league.
Athlon projects the wins and losses for each team for the rest of the season. Here's how we think the final standings will look before the Pac-12 Championship.
1. Oregon 11-1 (9-0)
2. Stanford 11-1 (8-1)
3. Washington 8-4 (6-3)
4. California 6-6 (3-6)
5. Washington State 5-7 (3-6)
6. Oregon State 1-11 (1-8)
1. Arizona State 10-2 (8-1)
2. USC 8-4 (6-3)
3. UCLA 5-7 (4-5)
4. Utah 6-6 (3-6)
5. Arizona 5-7 (3-6)
6. Colorado 1-12 (0-9)
Pac-12 Championship: Oregon vs. Arizona State
Three Things to Watch
Can the Cougars make a bowl? Paul Wulff is no longer on the hot seat thanks to his team’s 3–3 start. The Cougars have proven they can now compete in the Pac-12, but can they take the next step and reach bowl-eligibility? It will be tough. Can you find three wins the rest of the way, with Oregon State, Arizona State, Utah and Washington at home and trips to Oregon and Cal? Me neither. Looks like a 5–7 team at best — which is still a huge improvement.
Can Washington win the Pac-12 North? Everyone assumes that the Pac-12 North will come down to either Stanford or Oregon — and with both teams ranked in the top 10, that’s not a bad assumption. But don’t forget about Washington. The Huskies, 3–0 in the league, are dynamic on offense and improving on defense. They travel to Stanford this weekend and should give Stanford its most difficult test to date. Don’t be shocked if the Huskies head back to Seattle in first place in the North.
Can anyone threaten Arizona State in the South? Arizona State has seized control of the Pac-12 South with a 3–1 start that includes a win over USC. And with the Trojans, also 3–1, ineligible to play in the first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game, Arizona State would have to implode not to win the division. UCLA is the only other team in the South with less than three losses, but the Bruins aren’t very good. They are 2–1 in the league, with the wins coming against Oregon State and Washington State. Arizona State does have to travel to UCLA on Nov. 5, but right now you’d have to make the Devils the overwhelming favorite in the South.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the ACC.
Coach of the Year – Dabo Swinney, Clemson
A strong case could be made for Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe, but Swinney gets the nod. Clemson heads into Week 8 at 7-0 and ranked among the top 10 teams in college football. Swinney entered 2011 on the hot seat, posting a 19-15 record in two-plus seasons in Death Valley. However, his decision to hire Chad Morris as offensive coordinator has paid big dividends, as the Tigers are averaging 38 points a game this season. Although Swinney has had his ups and downs at Clemson, he deserves credit for putting the pieces together with the coaching staff and bringing in top prospects on the recruiting trail.
Freshman of the Year – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins has not only been the top freshman in the ACC, he’s arguably been the top first-year player in college football. He has grabbed 46 receptions for 728 yards and seven scores, posted 127 rushing yards and is averaging 30.7 yards per kickoff return. Although Tajh Boyd’s emergence at quarterback has been huge for the Clemson offense, Watkins has brought a much-needed playmaking threat to the passing game.
Newcomer of the Year
This spot is usually reserved for transfers and JUCO players that have stepped up this year, but there’s no standout candidate. Florida State’s Tank Carradine and offensive lineman Jacob Fahrenkrug have been solid contributors this year. Also, North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams is having a productive season in his first since transferring from Coffeyville Community College.
Offensive Player of the Year – David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
A strong case could be made for Miami’s Lamar Miller or Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, but we’ll give the midseason edge to Wilson. He has posted 903 rushing yards and six touchdowns through seven games and caught 12 passes for 80 yards. Wilson’s 903 yards rank third nationally, just behind Pittsburgh’s Ray Graham and Alabama’s Trent Richardson. With quarterback Logan Thomas struggling early in the year, it was up to Wilson to carry the team. Thomas has stepped up the last two weeks, which should take some of the pressure off of Wilson the rest of the way.
Defensive Player of the Year – Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
Branch edges out Boston College’s Luke Kuechly and Miami’s Sean Spence for this honor at the midpoint of the season. Branch leads the ACC with 12 tackles for a loss and seven sacks this year. The senior was a key reason why Clemson had no trouble beating Virginia Tech on the road, as he registered four sacks against the Hokies. Branch’s performance in Blacksburg was enough for him to earn National Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Midseason Disappointment – Florida State
With 17 returning starters and a favorable schedule, the Seminoles were picked as a darkhorse national title candidate. However, Florida State watched a promising season dissipate with a three-game losing streak. The Seminoles stood tall against Oklahoma, but fell short and lost quarterback EJ Manuel to a shoulder injury. Manuel did not play in the loss to Clemson and did not start in the five-point defeat to Wake Forest. Florida State still has a chance to finish 9-3, but many expected this team to win the ACC Atlantic and compete for a spot among the top five teams in college football.
Midseason Disappointment – Danny O’Brien, QB, Maryland
Most preseason all-conference teams had O’Brien pegged as the No. 1 quarterback in the ACC. After all, he was the ACC’s Rookie of the Year last season. The sophomore began the year by throwing for 348 yards and one score in a 32-24 win over Miami. However, it’s been all downhill since. O’Brien tossed three interceptions in the loss to West Virginia and was benched against Georgia Tech. With C.J. Brown’s impressive showing against Clemson, it’s unlikely O’Brien will regain his starting spot. The sophomore could explore a transfer at the end of the season.
Midseason Surprise – Wake Forest
Coming off a 3-9 season and a depth chart littered with youth, the Demon Deacons were not expected to be in the thick of the ACC Atlantic race. However, after seven weeks, Wake Forest is just a game behind Clemson in the Atlantic and gets a shot at the Tigers on Nov. 12. Even if the Demon Deacons fall short of winning the division crown, it’s been quite a turnaround for coach Jim Grobe and one that should result in a bowl appearance for the first time since 2008.
Midseason Surprise – Bryn Renner/Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
There was no question about the talent regarding either player, it’s just a surprise they have become all-conference candidates in their first year of starting. Renner ranks seventh in the ACC in total offense per game, completing 75.3 percent of his throws and tossing 14 scores on the year. Bernard ranks third in the conference with an average of 109.6 rushing yards per game. The redshirt freshman has posted five straight 100-yard performances going into Saturday’s game against Clemson.
What Athlon Sports got right – There’s a long ways to go in the ACC race, but our preseason picks had Virginia Tech pegged to win the Coastal. The Hokies need to beat Georgia Tech in November, but that prediction looks solid after the last two weeks.
What Athlon Sports got wrong – A lot. And we aren’t afraid to admit it. Our preseason picks had Florida State as the team to beat in the Atlantic, Clemson and Georgia Tech finishing 6-6, and Maryland posting an 8-4 record. There’s a lot of games to be played, but it looks like we will strike out on our ACC picks.
Athlon projects the wins and losses for each team for the rest of the season. Here's how we think the final standings will look before the ACC Championship.
1. Clemson 11-1 (7-1)
2. Florida State 9-3 (6-2)
3. Wake Forest 7-5 (5-3)
4. NC State 6-6 (3-5)
5. Maryland 4-8 (3-5)
6. Boston College 1-11 (0-8)
1. Virginia Tech 11-1 (7-1)
2. Georgia Tech 9-3 (6-2)
3. Miami 7-5 (4-4)
4. North Carolina 7-5, 3-5
5. Virginia 6-6 (3-5)
6. Duke 3-9 (1-7)
ACC Championship: Clemson vs. Virginia Tech
Three Things to Watch
Who will win the ACC Coastal? – Four teams have one loss in ACC play heading into Saturday’s action. Georgia Tech has the most conference wins (3), while Virginia and Duke are tied at one. Miami is 1-2, but it’s too early to write off the Hurricanes in the Coastal. Miami gets a shot at Georgia Tech this Saturday and its only remaining conference road game is on Nov. 12 at Florida State. The Hurricanes need some help, but it’s not out of the question, considering Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech still have to matchup in November.
Coaching changes – NC State and Boston College are the only two teams without a conference win heading into Week 8. And both coaches – Tom O’Brien (NC State) and Frank Spaziani (Boston College) – find themselves on the hot seat. O’Brien has a little more leeway than Spaziani, but the Wolfpack have won more than six games only once during his tenure. The Eagles have been hit by some key injuries, but a tough schedule could mean a 1-11 finish.
Battle for bowl positioning – Heading into Week 8, the ACC has three teams bowl eligible, but none of the remaining nine schools have been eliminated. The conference has eight bowl tie-ins available for 2011 and should be able to fill all of them. However, can teams like Virginia and Duke end its recent bowl drought? With two wins over FCS’ opponents, NC State needs to get seven victories in order to get bowl eligible. Can the Wolfpack get back into the postseason? Will the ACC get two teams into the BCS?
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)
At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the SEC.
Coach of the Year — Les Miles, LSU
Miles gets the nod over Nick Saban for two reasons: LSU’s schedule has been a little bit more difficult, and the Tigers have overcome some serious distractions — most notably the arrest of starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson — en route to their 7–0 start. Vanderbilt’s James Franklin deserves some consideration, and might have been the choice had the Commodores been able to score on the blocked punt in the final seconds of the 33–28 loss to Georgia.
Freshman of the Year — Isaiah Crowell, Georgia
He arrived in Athens with a ton of hype, and Crowell has, for the most part, delivered. The Columbus, Ga., native has emerged as the primary ball-carrier for a Bulldog team that has won four straight games. He rushed for 100-plus yards in his first three SEC games but has been held to 58 (Tennessee) and 35 (Vanderbilt) in his last two. For the season, Crowell has rushed for 608 yards on 128 carries for a 4.8-yard average.
Newcomer of the Year — Jarvis Jones, Georgia
A transfer from USC, Jones has started all seven games at outside linebacker for the Bulldogs. He leads the team in both tackles for a loss (10) and sacks (4) and ranks second on the team in total tackles (39).
Offensive Player of the Year — Trent Richardson, Alabama
Richardson is thriving in his first year as the Tide’s primary ball-carrier. He leads the league with 130.3 yards per game on an incredible 6.9-yard average. He has rushed for 100-plus yards in six straight games, highlighted by his 181 yards at Florida and 183 last Saturday at Ole Miss. If Alabama keeps winning, Richardson could be the school’s second Heisman Trophy winner in the last three seasons.
Defensive Player of the Year — Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
Mathieu, a lightly recruited cornerback from New Orleans, has emerged as one of the elite players in the nation — at any position. He is an outstanding cover corner with a nose for the ball; he has three fumble recoveries (two for touchdowns) and four forced fumbles (which ties for the SEC lead). Mathieu is getting some Heisman buzz, but he will have to make some big plays in some key late-season games to become a serious contender.
Midseason Disappointment — Mississippi State
Nobody expected the Bulldogs to win the SEC West, but very few expected this team to be 0–4 at the halfway point of league play. Mississippi State scored a total of 93 points in its first two games, but has had trouble moving the ball since. The Dogs have averaged 9.3 points in their last three SEC games, due in large part to inconsistent play at the quarterback position. Tyler Russell stepped in for Chris Relf last week, but completed only 11-of-29 for 165 yards in a 14–12 loss to South Carolina.
Midseason Disappointment — Stephen Garcia, South Carolina
Garcia had an opportunity to cement his legacy at South Carolina by leading the Gamecocks to their second straight SEC East title. Instead, his career ended prematurely after being kicked off the team in the middle of the season. Even before his dismissal, Garcia was benched for poor play. He threw only four touchdown passes in five starts and was intercepted nine times, including four times in one game.
Midseason Surprise — Auburn
The defending national champs were expected by most — including Athlon Sports — to take several steps back in 2011. And while this team clearly isn’t as good as the Cam Newton-led group from ’10, the Tigers are 3–1 at the halfway mark with wins over Mississippi State, South Carolina and Florida. The defense has been brutal at times, but only allowed 13 points at South Carolina and six points in the win vs. Florida at home last weekend. Don’t expect another trip to Atlanta for Gene Chizik’s club — dates with LSU and Alabama loom — but the Tigers deserve a ton of credit for even being in the conversation at this point of the season.
Midseason Surprise — Jarrett Lee
The oft-ridiculed quarterback who threw 16 interceptions as a freshman in 2008 is enjoying a banner senior season for one of the elite teams in college football. Thrust into the starting role when expected starter Jordan Jefferson was arrested before the season, Lee has run the Tigers’ offense with surprising efficiency. He is completing over 60 percent of his passes and, most important, is taking care of the ball; he has thrown only one interception in 132 attempts. Lee is proving all of his skeptics wrong — and might just pick up a national title ring on his way out the door.
What Athlon Sports got right — It’s far too early to send Georgia to the SEC title game, but we picked the Bulldogs, not South Carolina, to win the East. The Gamecocks are still very much in the hunt — they lead the division with a 4–1 record and own the tiebreaker vs. Georgia — but Steve Spurrier’s club must play the rest of the season without star tailback Marcus Lattimore.
What Athlon Sports got wrong — We pegged Auburn for a fifth- place finish in the West and forecasted the Tigers to win only two SEC games. They’ve won three games already with four league games remaining.
Athlon projects the wins and losses for each team for the rest of the season. Here's how we think the final standings will look before the SEC Championship.
1. Georgia 10-2 (7-1)
2. South Carolina 8-4 (5-3)
3. Florida 7-5 (4-4)
4. Tennessee 6-6 (2-6)
5. Vanderbilt 5-7 (2-6)
6. Kentucky 4-8 (1-7)
1. Alabama 12-0 (8-0)
2. LSU 11-1 (7-1)
3. Arkansas 10-2 (6-2)
4. Auburn 7-5 (4-4)
5. Mississippi State 6-6 (2-6)
6. Ole Miss 3-9 (0-8)
SEC Championship: Alabama vs. Georgia
Three Things to Watch
Can James Franklin get Vanderbilt to a bowl?
The Commodores are 3–3 and have a great opportunity to pick up win No. 4 this week against Army. They should be favored against Kentucky on Nov. 12. Is there a sixth win on the schedule? Possibly Tennessee or Wake Forest, but both games are on the road. The guess here is that Vanderbilt ends the first year of the Franklin a with a 5–7record.
How many points will it take to win the Game of the Century on Nov. 5?
LSU and Alabama meet in the de facto SEC title game on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa. These two teams feature arguably the top two defenses in the nation. Both offenses are more than capable, but this game will be dominated by defense. So how many points will the winning team score? The guess here is 21.
Florida’s progress on offense
Florida’s offense went from mediocre to bad when starting quarterback John Brantley went down with an injury just before halftime against Alabama. The Gators have scored a total of 17 points over the last six quarters — hardly what Florida had in mind when Charlie Weis was named offensive coordinator. To be fair, the offense has been operated by a pair of true freshman quarterbacks, but the numbers are still alarmingly bad. When Brantley returns — the Gators hope to have him back for the Georgia game on Oct. 29 — can Weis figure out a way to get this attack moving in the right direction?
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 7 ACC Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Clemson (7-0) – The Tigers fell behind 35-17 to Maryland early in the second half, but rallied for a 56-45 victory to remain unbeaten. Clemson’s 56 points were a season-high, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd’s 270 passing yards and four scores. The Tigers also got a huge performance from running back Andre Ellington, who rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns. Clemson hosts North Carolina on Saturday, before facing a key conference road test at Georgia Tech on Oct. 29.
2. Virginia Tech (6-1) – After suffering a disappointing 23-3 loss to Clemson in Week 5, the Hokies have rallied with impressive back-to-back wins. Virginia Tech defeated Miami 38-35 in Week 6, before knocking off Wake Forest 38-17 in Winston-Salem on Saturday. Quarterback Logan Thomas has been a key reason for success over the last two weeks, as the sophomore has totaled nine touchdowns, thrown for 590 yards and tossed zero interceptions during that span. The Hokies host Boston College this Saturday.
3. Georgia Tech (6-1) – The Yellow Jackets suffered their first loss of the season, dropping a 24-21 game to Virginia on Saturday. After scoring at least 35 points in each of their first five games, Georgia Tech has not managed more than 21 in its last two. Quarterback Tevin Washington rushed for over 100 yards against the Cavaliers, but completed only 2 of 8 passes. The Yellow Jackets head to Miami for a key ACC Coastal game this Saturday.
4. Miami (3-3) – Behind the steady play of quarterback Jacory Harris, the Hurricanes jumped out to a 27-3 lead against North Carolina, but had to hold off a furious second-half rally for a 30-24 win. The victory over the Tar Heels gets Miami back to .500 with six games remaining. It’s too early to count the Hurricanes out of the Coastal race, especially with a game against Georgia Tech this Saturday. Miami needs help in the form of a loss by Virginia Tech, but the Coastal title is still up for grabs.
5. Wake Forest (4-2) – One week after jumping into the ACC title conversation with a win over Florida State, the Demon Deacons were unable to capitalize off that momentum and lost 38-17 to Virginia Tech. Impacting the offense on Saturday was the absence of running back Josh Harris, who missed the game due to a hamstring injury. Wake Forest has back-to-back road trips the next two weeks, as it heads to Duke and North Carolina in the battle for bragging rights in North Carolina.
6. Florida State (3-3) – The Seminoles snapped a three-game losing streak with a 41-16 demolishing of Duke on Saturday. Although Florida State’s chances of winning the ACC Atlantic are slim, it’s important for this team to finish out 2011 on a high note. Quarterback EJ Manuel continues to round back into form after a shoulder injury against Oklahoma, throwing for 239 yards and two scores against Duke. The Seminoles host Maryland this Saturday.
7. North Carolina (5-2) – The Tar Heels two-game winning streak was snapped with a 30-24 loss to Miami. North Carolina fell behind 27-3 in the first half, but rallied to within six and recovered an onside kick with less than a minute remaining. The Tar Heels fell short of reaching the endzone on the final drive, but it was a solid comeback for a team that looked out of sync in the first half. North Carolina has a difficult four-game stretch up next, as they travel to Clemson this Saturday, before a home game against Wake Forest and back on the road at NC State and Virginia Tech. Could interim coach Everett Withers’ shot at the full-time job rest on the next four weeks?
8. Virginia (4-2) – The Cavaliers scored a huge upset in Week 7, knocking Georgia Tech from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 24-21 win. Having a bye in Week 6 certainly helped the Cavaliers prepare for the Yellow Jackets’ option attack. With six games to go, Virginia is two wins away from reaching bowl eligibility. The Cavaliers host NC State this Saturday, in a contest that both teams really need in order to get to six victories.
9. Maryland (2-4) – Looking for a way to spark the offense, coach Randy Edsall turned to backup quarterback C.J. Brown. The results were positive, but Maryland lost 56-45 to drop to 2-4 on the year. The sophomore completed 17 of 35 passes for 177 yards and three scores, but gashed Clemson for 162 yards and one touchdown on the ground. The Terrapins’ defense has battled some injuries, including one to linebacker Kenny Tate, but ranks 104th nationally by allowing 435.3 yards a game. Maryland hopes to snap a two-game losing streak with a trip to Florida State this Saturday.
10. NC State (3-3) – With a long injury report, the bye week came at a good time for the Wolfpack. NC State needs four more wins in order to get to a bowl game, as only one victory over a FCS foe will count towards postseason eligibility. The upcoming schedule is difficult, but there are opportunities for victories. Saturday’s game against Virginia is a must-win for either team, as both are locked into a tight battle in order to get to six victories.
11. Duke (3-3) – The Blue Devils had their three-game winning streak snapped on Saturday, as they lost 41-16 to Florida State. Duke has struggled to be competitive in its matchups against the Seminoles, so Saturday’s result was no surprise. The focus for the rest of the year in Durham has to be on getting bowl eligible. Saturday’s game against Wake Forest is a must-win if the Blue Devils want to get to six wins. And even with a win over the Demon Deacons, Duke still has a difficult road to find two more victories on the schedule.
12. Boston College (1-5) – The Eagles did not play in Week 7 and will return to action this Saturday at Virginia Tech. Boston College is riding a two-game losing streak and its only win this year came against FCS foe Massachusetts. Barring a major turnaround, the Eagles won’t go bowling this year. The schedule is very difficult – at Virginia Tech, at Maryland, Florida State, NC State, at Notre Dame and at Miami. Also, the offense ranks as the worst in the ACC in scoring, while the defense is 95th nationally in points allowed.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 7 SEC Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Alabama (7-0) – The Crimson Tide’s march to an undefeated season and a spot in the national title game continued with a 52-7 blowout win over Ole Miss. The Alabama defense allowed a touchdown on the opening drive to the Rebels, but allowed virtually nothing else the rest of the game. Running back Trent Richardson posted a season-high of 183 yards and four touchdowns against the Rebels, pushing him just 88 yards short of 1,000. The Crimson Tide has one more game (Tennessee) before facing off against LSU in one of college football's most-anticipated matchups this year.
2. LSU (7-0) – Tennessee hung around in the first quarter, but the Tigers simply had too much talent and depth and pulled away for a 38-7 win. The LSU defense has held four opponents to seven or less points this season and no team has scored more than 27. The Tigers host Auburn this Saturday, which is their final test before playing Alabama on Nov. 5. Although LSU can’t look past Auburn, it would be a major surprise if it isn’t 8-0 going into a bye and the Nov. 5 showdown against Alabama.
3. Arkansas (5-1) – The Razorbacks had a bye in Week 6 and will return to action this Saturday at Ole Miss. Arkansas still has a shot to win the SEC West, but it needs a lot of help. Quarterback Tyler Wilson ranks second in the SEC with 297.5 yards per game, while receiver Jarius Wright leads all receivers from the conference with an average of 6.6 catches per game.
4. South Carolina (6-1) – Saturday’s 14-12 win over Mississippi State made the Gamecocks bowl eligible, but it came at a heavy price. Running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Bulldogs, which is a huge loss for South Carolina and their chances to repeat as SEC East champs. The Gamecocks have a bye this Saturday and hits the road for their next game on Oct. 29 at Tennessee.
5. Georgia (5-2) – The Bulldogs nearly let a victory slip against Vanderbilt on Saturday, but held on for a 33-28 win. Georgia had a punt blocked with less than 10 seconds to go and had to survive two Vanderbilt passes to win its fifth straight game this season. The Bulldogs are off this Saturday, before matching up against Florida in the annual battle in Jacksonville. With South Carolina losing running back Marcus Lattimore for the season, the matchup between the Bulldogs and Gators will play a big role in deciding the SEC East champ.
6. Auburn (5-2) – It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Tigers posted a 17-6 victory over Florida to move to 5-2 on the season. Auburn’s offense has not scored more than 17 points in each of its last three games. Quarterback play has been a question mark for head coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, as three players saw snaps against Florida. Clint Moseley came off the bench and completed 4 of 7 throws for 90 yards, while Kiehl Frazier gave Auburn a boost on the ground, rushing for 41 yards on eight attempts. Barrett Trotter has started every game this year, but could soon find his way out of the lineup with Moseley and Frazier providing a spark.
7. Florida (4-3) – After three consecutive losses, the Gators are reeling going into a bye week. There’s no shame in any of the losses (Alabama, LSU and Auburn), but Florida expected to compete for a SEC East title this season. An injury to quarterback John Brantley has certainly been a setback for the offense, especially with two true freshman getting snaps in his place. The schedule isn’t going to get any easier, as Florida is on bye this week, before playing Georgia in Jacksonville on Oct. 29.
8. Mississippi State (3-4) – The Bulldogs are still searching for their first win in SEC play after Saturday’s 14-12 loss to South Carolina. Tyler Russell made his first start at quarterback and completed 11 of 29 throws for 165 yards, one touchdown and two picks. Although coach Dan Mullen likely won’t name a starter for the Oct. 29 game against Kentucky, expect Russell to get the call under center. The Bulldogs need three wins to get bowl eligible, but with Kentucky, Ole Miss and Tennessee-Martin, they should be able to finish with at least six victories.
9. Tennessee (3-3) – As expected, life without quarterback Tyler Bray is going to be very difficult for the Volunteers. Matt Simms filled in for Bray in Saturday’s loss to LSU and completed only 6 of 20 throws. The rushing attack did show some signs of life, with Tauren Poole posting 70 yards on 19 attempts. Tennessee won’t get any breaks in the schedule the next two weeks, as it travels to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama this Saturday, followed by a home date against South Carolina in Week 9.
10. Vanderbilt (3-3) – The record sits at 3-3, but it’s clear the Commodores are a much-improved team in coach James Franklin’s first season. Vanderbilt had a chance to win late, but two pass attempts with less than 10 seconds remaining deep in Georgia territory fell incomplete. The Commodores step out of conference for a difficult matchup against Army this Saturday. If Vanderbilt wants to make a bowl game, beating the Black Knights is a must.
11. Ole Miss (2-4) – The Rebels showed some signs of life in the opening drive of Saturday’s game against Alabama, but it was all downhill from there. Ole Miss jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but the Crimson Tide scored 52 unanswered and dropped the Rebels’ record to 2-4. If Ole Miss wants to make a bowl, its backs are against the wall the next few weeks. The Rebels host Arkansas this Saturday, before playing at Auburn on Oct. 29.
12. Kentucky (2-4) – The Kentucky coaching staff hopes a bye week is the perfect medicine for an awful start to the season. The Wildcats are dealing with a four-game losing streak and have yet to earn their first win in SEC play. Kentucky hosts FCS foe Jacksonville State this Saturday. The Gamecocks are 5-1, averaging 31.3 points a game on offense and defeated Ole Miss in the season opener last year. Former Georgia running back Washaun Ealey is one of Jacksonville State's key offensive weapons. The Wildcats should win, but the as past history has shown, the Gamecocks are a dangerous team and shouldn't be taken lightly.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
As we hit the midpoint of the college football season, it's time to take a conference-by-conference look at where things stand in realignment/expansion.
Added: Pittsburgh, Syracuse
The addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse came as a surprise, and moves the ACC to a 14-team conference. Both teams are slated to leave the Big East in 2014, but an early buyout could be negotiated. The ACC’s moves were due in part to the potential of Texas and Oklahoma joining the Pac-12, creating college football’s first BCS super conference. With those moves by the Pac-12 on the table, the ACC didn’t want to be left behind in the race to get to 16.
What’s next: Barring any changes across the landscape, the ACC is likely to stay at 14 teams for now. Connecticut and Rutgers have been mentioned as possible future candidates, and the conference would definitely be interested in Notre Dame, should it want to give up independence. The ACC isn’t likely to lose members, but the SEC could have interest in Virginia Tech or Florida State as its 14th team.
Lost: TCU, Pittsburgh and Syracuse
In this round of realignment, the Big East has been one of the biggest losers. The conference lost three teams and faces an uncertain future. West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida and Rutgers are locked into the conference for 2011, and the Big East intends on keeping Pittsburgh and Syracuse around until the 2014 season. However, could a buyout occur if the Big East expands?
What's next: The Big East is looking to expand to a 12-team conference, with Boise State, Air Force, Navy, SMU, Houston and UCF on the radar. Will the news of the Mountain West-Conference USA alliance prevent those teams from joining the Big East? Also, if Missouri leaves for the SEC, Louisville or West Virginia could be on the radar to be the Big 12’s 10th team. If the Big East is able to pull Boise State, Air Force, Navy, SMU, Houston and UCF into the mix, the new 12-team conference should provide a little stability, but this conference will always be under fire as long as the buyout remains low (currently $5 million).
The Big Ten is one of the most stable conferences in college football. Unless Notre Dame is interested in joining, it’s hard to imagine the conference expanding in the near future. Rutgers and Missouri are two candidates on the radar, but the Big Ten will be very selective and work on its own timetable whenever it’s interested in expanding again.
Added: TCU (2012)
Lost: Texas A&M
Once thought to be on its deathbed, the Big 12 looks to be a viable conference for the next 7-10 years. Despite the loss of three teams over the last year, the Big 12 is in good shape going into 2012. TCU was a great addition as the conference’s 10th team and can be a top 25 team under coach Gary Patterson. The schools (other than Missouri) have granted their television rights to the Big 12, which should prevent future defections.
What's next: Missouri has decided to explore its conference options and could bolt for the SEC. Even if Missouri leaves for the SEC, the Big 12 will have options to add, including West Virginia and Louisville from the Big East. The conference will stick with 10 teams for 2012, but could move to 12 in the future.
Added: Formed alliance with Mountain West
The decision to form an alliance with the Mountain West is an interesting idea, but there are a lot of question marks that still must be answered. UCF, SMU and Houston could depart for the Big East. If those three teams, will Conference USA look to add Temple and Louisiana Tech to help bolster their division? Although the alliance with the Mountain West is intriguing, let’s see how it works out before calling it a success or something that helps the conference champion earn an automatic spot into the BCS.
Army: The Black Knights received some interest from the Big East, but decided to remain an independent. Considering Army’s lack of success when it joined Conference USA, independence is the best option for the Black Knights to be competitive.
BYU: The Cougars were in the mix for the Big 12, but the conference’s invite went to TCU. BYU is supposedly very happy with independent status, but would have to seriously consider a BCS invite from the Big 12 if that happens in the future. However, some reports indicated that may require some concessions from BYU for the Big 12 to extend an invite.
Navy: The Midshipmen are interested in joining the Big East, but want to see the buyout increased to provide stability. Air Force and Navy aren’t necessarily a package deal, but if the Falcons choose to stay in the Mountain West, it could have an impact on the decision of the Midshipmen. If Navy turn down the Big East, all signs point to remaining an independent.
Notre Dame: Anytime a BCS conference is looking to expand, it’s a safe bet the Irish will be mentioned as a candidate. However, Notre Dame is secure as an independent and barring a drastic shift across college football’s landscape, it seems unlikely the Irish will be joining a conference anytime soon.
Added: UMass (2013)
Temple was on the radar for Big East expansion, but some reports indicated Villanova did not want another school from Philadelphia in the conference. Could the Owls be on the radar for any Conference USA/Mountain West expansion? UMass is scheduled to join the MAC in 2013, which would bring the conference to 14 teams, provided there are no defections.
Added: Formed alliance with Conference USA
The football-only alliance with Conference USA is intriguing, but what does it really mean? There’s no guarantee of an automatic BCS bid, but this does give both conferences some stability, especially if Boise State, Air Force, UCF, Houston and SMU depart for the Big East. The Mountain West and Conference USA is trying to get this alliance in place for 2012, but more likely for 2013. If the Mountain West’s division loses Boise State and Air Force, don’t be surprised if Utah State and San Jose State are invited to join. Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii decided to join the Mountain West in time for 2012 from the WAC last season.
The Pac-12 nearly became the Pac-16 earlier this fall. Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech were on the verge of leaving the Big 12, but the Pac-12 decided not to expand. The conference scored a huge television deal and none of its members are interested in leaving. The Pac-12 is near the top of college football in terms of conference stability.
Added: Texas A&M (2012)
The SEC didn’t need to expand to remain the best conference in college football, but it was too hard to pass on adding Texas A&M. The Aggies won only one Big 12 title, but bolsters the SEC’s presence in Texas, particularly in the Houston market.
What's next: Although the SEC is committed to a 13-team setup in 2011, it’s unlikely that will continue for very long. Missouri has announced its intentions to explore a new conference, and the SEC is squarely on its radar. With Columbia, Mo. halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, the SEC is very interested in adding the Tigers for television sets and their academic value. If Missouri isn’t the SEC’s 14th team, keep an eye on West Virginia or Virginia Tech.
The Sun Belt seems to be a secure conference. However, keep an eye on FIU, Troy, FAU and North Texas in any Mountain West/Conference USA expansion. South Alabama is slated to join the Sun Belt in 2013.
Added: Texas State, UTSA (2012)
Lost: None (since the start of 2011 season)
The WAC was hit hard by expansion last season, losing Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii to the Mountain West. The conference responded by inviting Texas State and UTSA to join in 2012. The conference is still in a fight for survival, as Louisiana Tech, Utah State and San Jose State could be potential expansion candidates for the new Mountain West/C-USA conference. If the WAC is raided once again, it’s uncertain if the conference could survive, especially if no FCS teams are willing to jump to the FBS level.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 7 Big 12 Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. Oklahoma (6-0) – After last week’s big victory over Texas, the Sooners may have had a slight letdown against Kansas. However, Oklahoma eventually pulled away in the second half, finishing with a 47-17 victory. Quarterback Landry Jones threw for 363 yards and three scores, with receiver Ryan Broyles his favorite target, catching 13 passes for 217 yards and two scores. Broyles became the NCAA’s career leader in receptions in Saturday’s win over Kansas. The Sooners host Texas Tech this Saturday, before a key Big 12 game at Kansas State on Oct. 29.
2. Oklahoma State (6-0) – The Texas defense held Cowboys’ quarterback Brandon Weeden to his lowest passing total of 2011, but it wasn’t enough. Oklahoma State used solid efforts from running backs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, along with a key kickoff return for a touchdown by Justin Gilbert to earn the 38-26 victory. Thanks to Saturday’s win, the Cowboys have now won back-to-back games against Texas for the first time in school history. Oklahoma State looks to remain unbeaten this Saturday, as it hits the road for a trip to Missouri.
3. Kansas State (6-0) – The Wildcats continued their surprising run with a 41-34 win over Texas Tech on Saturday. Kansas State has had plenty of doubters this year and entered the matchup as an underdog. However, the Wildcats used a steady diet of quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert on the ground, which helped to control time of possession. Kansas State’s defense also came up big, picking off Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege three times. The Wildcats travel to Lawrence to take on in-state rival Kansas.
4. Texas A&M (4-2) – After losing back-to-back games in early October, the Aggies have bounced back with two wins in a row. Texas A&M’s defense gave up some yards to Baylor in Saturday’s win, but also did a good job of getting pressure on quarterback Robert Griffin. The Aggies rushing attack gashed the Bears for 266 yards, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the player of the game, throwing for 415 yards and six touchdowns. Receiver Ryan Swope also had a huge performance, catching 11 passes for 206 yards and four scores. The Aggies hit the road to play Iowa State this Saturday.
5. Texas (4-2) – The state of Oklahoma completed the sweep over the Longhorns this season, as Oklahoma State beat Texas 38-26 on Saturday. After trading snaps with Case McCoy, David Ash started and went the full distance at quarterback. The freshman completed 22 of 40 throws for 139 yards and threw two interceptions. One bright spot was the play of running back Malcolm Brown, who registered 135 yards and two touchdowns. Texas is off this Saturday and its next game will be on Oct. 29 against Kansas.
6. Baylor (4-2) – The Bears can score with anyone in the Big 12, but in order to compete for a conference title, the defense has to get better. New coordinator Phil Bennett will get the defense turned around eventually, but it’s going to cost Baylor a few games this season. In Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M, the Bears allowed a season-high 55 points and 681 yards. Baylor is off this Saturday and returns to action on Oct. 29 at Oklahoma State.
7. Missouri (3-3) – Saturday’s 52-17 win over Iowa State snapped a two-game losing streak and moved the Tigers back to .500 on the season. Quarterback James Franklin had a huge performance against the Cyclones, throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 84 yards and two scores on the ground. Although Missouri has three losses, all of the defeats have been by 10 points or less and there’s no shame in losing to Oklahoma, Kansas State and Arizona State. The Tigers host Oklahoma State this Saturday.
8. Texas Tech (4-2) – The Red Raiders dropped their second consecutive game, losing 41-34 to Kansas State on Saturday. Quarterback Seth Doege ranks second nationally in total offense, but threw three costly interceptions against the Wildcats. Aaron Crawford stepped in as the No. 1 running back for Eric Stephens (out for year with knee injury) and rushed for 91 yards and one score on 21 carries. Texas Tech is unlikely to snap its losing streak this week, as a date with Oklahoma awaits this Saturday.
9. Iowa State (3-3) – The Cyclones had a promising start to 2011, but have dropped three consecutive games. Iowa State lost 52-17 to Missouri on Saturday and was never really close to making it a game. Reaching a bowl is going to be an uphill battle for Iowa State, as Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State remain on the schedule.
10. Kansas (2-4) – The Jayhawks hung tough in the first half against Oklahoma, but didn’t have the firepower to make a run at the upset in the final two quarters. A bright spot for Kansas this year has been the rushing attack, which compiled 144 yards and two touchdowns against the Sooners. The Jayhawks are unlikely to make a bowl game this season, but will look to spoil rival Kansas State’s undefeated run this Saturday.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Post-Week 7 Big East Power Rankings
Check out all of our college football rankings.
1. West Virginia (5-1) – The Mountaineers did not play in Week 7 and will return to action this Friday at Syracuse. The Orange upset West Virginia 19-14 in Morgantown last season. The Mountaineers struggled to get their offense on track in last year’s matchup, but that shouldn’t be an issue on Friday. Syracuse has struggled to stop the pass and is allowing nearly 30 points a game. The Mountaineers remain the favorite to win the Big East title.
2. Rutgers (5-1) – A blocked field goal with less than five minutes remaining kept the Scarlet Knights ahead and proved to be just enough for the victory. With five victories this year, Rutgers has surpassed its win total from last season. True freshman quarterback Gary Nova tossed two interceptions in the win over Navy, but also threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Jawan Jamison earned his first 100-yard effort of his career, while also posting a touchdown. Rutgers returns to Big East play with a trip to Louisville on Friday.
3. Cincinnati (5-1) – It wasn’t the dominant performance some expected from the Bearcats, but they defeated Louisville 25-16 to move to 5-1 this season. After winning only four games last season, Cincinnati has already surpassed that victory total in 2011 and stands one win away from bowl eligibility. The Bearcats hit the road for their next two games, as they travel to take on South Florida and then Pittsburgh on Nov. 5.
4. Pittsburgh (3-4) – After pummeling South Florida 44-17 on Thursday night in late September, it appeared the Panthers were ready to emerge as contenders in the Big East. Not so fast. The last two weeks were a step back in coach Todd Graham’s first season, featuring a 34-10 loss to Rutgers and a 26-14 defeat to Utah on Saturday. The Panthers’ offense went dormant against the Utes, posting only 120 yards and turning the ball over three times. Pittsburgh is off next Saturday, before returning to action on Oct. 26 against Connecticut.
5. South Florida (4-2) – After a 4-0 start, the Bulls have slipped in the Big East power rankings due to back-to-back losses. South Florida dropped a 44-17 game at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, but Saturday’s 16-10 defeat to Connecticut was a huge surprise. The Huskies did not score an offensive touchdown, but won the turnover battle and limited quarterback B.J. Daniels to only 164 passing yards. With back-to-back conference losses, the Bulls have some work to do in the Big East race. And their quest to get back into the mix starts on Saturday against Cincinnati.
6. Syracuse (4-2) – The Orange did not play on Saturday and will return to action on Friday against West Virginia. Syracuse defeated the Mountaineers last season, but will likely be heavy underdogs for this season’s matchup. The Orange have struggled to stop the pass all year, which will be under fire from West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. Syracuse needs two wins to get bowl eligible, which won’t be easy with games at Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh, along with South Florida, Cincinnati and West Virginia visiting the Carrier Dome.
7. Connecticut (3-4) – Without question, the most surprising score from Week 7’s Big East action was the Huskies’ victory over South Florida. Connecticut’s offense has sputtered all year, but it didn’t matter on Saturday. The Huskies scored a defensive touchdown and forced four South Florida turnovers. This victory was a big one for Connecticut, as it snapped a two-game losing streak and keeps the bowl hopes alive. The Huskies are off on Saturday and return to action on Oct. 26 at Pittsburgh.
8. Louisville (2-4) – The Cardinals held a 16-7 lead at halftime, but was unable to keep that lead in the second half, as Cincinnati pulled away for a 25-16 victory. Freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater continues to gain valuable experience, completing 17 of 28 throws for 195 yards and one interception. However, the rushing attack continues to struggle for Louisville, as it managed only 70 yards and averaged 2.1 yards per carry. The Cardinals host Rutgers this Friday.