Articles By Steven Lassan

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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 5 ACC Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Clemson (5-0) – After Saturday’s convincing win against Virginia Tech, it’s clear the Tigers are the No. 1 team in the ACC. The offense carried Clemson through the first four games, but the defense came up big in the victory against the Hokies. The upcoming schedule is very favorable, with Boston College, Maryland and North Carolina the next three opponents. With a tiebreaker edge over Florida State, Clemson is squarely in the driver’s seat to represent the Atlantic Division in the title game.

2. Georgia Tech (5-0) – The final score indicated only 10-point victory over NC State, but the Yellow Jackets faced little resistance in Saturday’s game. The offense collected 413 yards – including 296 on the ground – and has scored at least 35 points in every game this season. With Virginia Tech’s loss to Clemson, Georgia Tech is the top team from the ACC Coastal in this week’s power rankings. With Maryland and Virginia their next two opponents, Georgia Tech should be 7-0 when they play Miami on Oct. 22

3. Virginia Tech (4-1) – An easy non-conference schedule definitely helped the Hokies get new quarterback Logan Thomas comfortable in his first season as the starter. However, the easy schedule didn’t prepare them for Clemson’s challenge on Saturday night. The Hokies managed only three points, had two turnovers and lost for the first time in ACC play at Lane Stadium since Oct. 29, 2009 against North Carolina. Despite the loss, Virginia Tech still has a chance to make it to the ACC title game. However, Saturday’s matchup against Miami is a must-win situation.

4. Florida State (2-2) – After a bye week, the Seminoles are back in action on Saturday at Wake Forest. Quarterback EJ Manuel did not play in the loss to Clemson in Week 4, but is ready to return to the lineup against the Demon Deacons. If the Seminoles have any hope of making the ACC Championship, they likely need to win all of their remaining conference games.

5. North Carolina (4-1) – After losing in Week 4 to Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels had no trouble getting back into the win column against East Carolina. Quarterback Bryn Renner was solid in the victory, completing 13 of 20 throws for 230 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Giovani Bernard continued his hot start to 2011, rushing for 146 yards and one score against the Pirates. North Carolina faces Louisville on Saturday.

6. Miami (2-2) – The Hurricanes started slow, but eventually pulled away from Bethune-Cookman for a 45-14 victory. Quarterback Jacory Harris was efficient, completing 12 of 17 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Lamar Miller continues to prove he is one of the top backs in the ACC, rushing for 102 yards on 14 attempts. The next three weeks could be critical to Miami’s ACC hopes. With Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia Tech up next, the Hurricanes have to find a way to win all three to have a shot at playing for the conference title in December.

7. Wake Forest (3-1) – The Demon Deacons have already topped last season’s conference win total through the first four games of 2011. Wake Forest finished with one ACC win in 2010, but has two this season – NC State and Boston College. It’s clear the Demon Deacons are one of the most-improved teams in college football, but are they ready to knock off Florida State on Saturday?

8. Maryland (2-2) – One week after an embarrassing showing against Temple, the Terrapins got back into the win column against Towson. Maryland got 123 yards and two touchdown tosses from quarterback Danny O’Brien to post a 28-3 win over the Tigers. The Terrapins return to ACC play this Saturday, traveling to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech.

9. Duke (3-2) – Since opening the year with back-to-back losses, the Blue Devils have righted the ship with three consecutive wins. Now that Duke is over .500, can it find three more wins to get to a bowl? The schedule isn’t too kind, but games against Wake Forest and Virginia are winnable. Needless to say, the loss in the opener to Richmond could come back to haunt Duke at the end of the year.

10. NC State (2-3) – A defense filled with injuries is a bad recipe when matching up with Georgia Tech. The Wolfpack allowed 296 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to the Yellow Jackets and allowed more than 40 points for the second time this season. NC State steps out of conference for a matchup against Central Michigan this Saturday. The Chippewas have struggled to stop the pass this year, which should equal a big game for Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon.

11. Virginia (3-2) – There’s not much to say about the Cavaliers’ performance on Saturday, other than they managed a win. Virginia needed overtime to hold off Idaho’s upset bid and snap a two-game losing streak. With running back Kevin Parks sidelined due to an injury, Perry Jones led the way on the ground with 110 yards and a score. The Cavaliers are off this Saturday, before playing Georgia Tech on Oct. 15.

12. Boston College (1-4) – Three of the Eagles’ losses have come by eight points or less. However, things could get worse over the next seven games. One glance at Boston College’s schedule and it’s pretty clear a miracle is needed to get to a bowl game. Will coach Frank Spaziani survive until next year? He appears to be one of the top coaches on the hot seat going into Week 6.

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the ACC stack up after Week 5?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - 07:41
Path: /news/rashard-mendenhalls-hamstring-another-injury-concern-steelers
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Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall is off to a slow start this year and suffered another setback with a hamstring injury in Sunday’s loss to Houston. Mendenhall’s status for this week’s game against Tennessee is uncertain and no update was provided after the game.

Before exiting the game, Mendenhall rushed for 25 yards on nine attempts and a touchdown.

The Steelers have been struggling to generate offense through the first four weeks of the season, largely due to a suspect offensive line. Injuries have hindered the line’s progress, but the front five has struggled to open up running lanes.

Mendenhall has only 173 yards and two touchdowns this season and is averaging a pedestrian three yards a carry. Although the fourth-year back tends to dance behind the line of scrimmage too much, the holes just aren’t there to run through. The last 100-yard effort by Mendenhall came on Nov. 28 against Buffalo.

Mendenhall was a top 10 fantasy back by most in the preseason, but will struggle to reach that status if the Steelers can’t find a fix for their offensive line.

If you have Mendenhall on your team and need a replacement, take a look at Pittsburgh’s No. 2 back Isaac Redman. He collected 40 yards on six attempts in Sunday’s loss to the Texans and would be in line for most of the work against the Titans if Mendenhall does not play. Mewelde Moore serves as Pittsburgh’s third-down back and would likely see 5-10 carries.

In addition to Pittsburgh’s struggles on the offensive line, Tennessee ranks as one of the NFL’s top 10 rush defenses and have allowed only one score on the ground this year.

Even if Mendenhall plays on Sunday, fantasy owners should be cautious about putting him in your lineup. And if he’s out, Redman seems to be a good RB3 or flex play against the Titans, but don’t expect much more than 70-90 yards and a touchdown.  

Teaser:
<p> Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall suffered a hamstring injury in Sunday's win over Houston.</p>
Post date: Monday, October 3, 2011 - 16:00
Path: /news/steelers-could-be-without-ben-roethlisberger-against-titans
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The Pittsburgh Steelers are dealing with a rash of injuries, but none bigger than the one to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The veteran quarterback left Reliant Stadium on crutches, but a MRI on Monday revealed only a sprain, but his status for Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans is uncertain.

In the final seconds of Sunday’s loss to Houston, Roethlisberger’s leg was twisted awkwardly on a tackle - the second time this season that has happened to the quarterback. Although Roethlisberger stayed in the game for the final plays, it was clear he was not 100 percent.

Although Roethlisberger has played through many injuries in his career, if his mobility is limited in any way, he may have to sit out for Sunday’s game against Tennessee. The Steelers’ offensive line has been awful this season and starters Jonathan Scott and Doug Legursky were sidelined against Houston. Starting right tackle Willie Colon was lost for the year in the season opener due to a triceps injury. Even with Scott and Legursky possibly back in the lineup this Sunday, Pittsburgh’s offensive line is still one of the worst in the NFL.

Through four games, Roethlisberger’s stats aren’t bad – 1,148 yards and three touchdowns, but he has faced constant pressure in the pocket. If the Steelers can’t improve his protection, Roethlisberger is going to be dealing with nagging injuries all season.

One positive for Pittsburgh is the upcoming schedule. The Steelers face a relatively favorable stretch – Tennessee, Jacksonville and Arizona – before playing New England on Oct. 30.

Pittsburgh is still one of the contenders to win the AFC North, but have to play a lot better than they have over the first few weeks of the season. The Steelers have losses to the Ravens and Texans, while defeating the Seahawks and Colts – a combined 1-6.

Even if the Steelers win the division title and make it back to the Super Bowl, it’s clear the front office has to do something about the offensive line. Although Roethlisberger is one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, there’s only so much he can do with his constant pressure in his face. Center Maurkice Pouncey is one of the few guaranteed building blocks up front, with rookie tackle Marcus Gilbert also playing well this season.

Roethlisberger played last season with a painful foot injury and led the Steelers to a Super Bowl appearance. Can the Steelers recreate that same magic in 2011?

At this point, making the playoffs would appear to be a challenge. Pittsburgh should be more concerned about Roethlisberger’s health and status for Sunday’s game against Tennessee, which is suddenly an important game for the Titans at 3-1.

Teaser:
<p> Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is questionable for Sunday's game against Tennessee due to a foot injury.</p>
Post date: Monday, October 3, 2011 - 15:15
Path: /news/floridas-sec-title-hopes-take-hit-john-brantleys-injury
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Not only did Florida’s SEC East title hopes take a hit with the loss to Alabama, but the Gators also suffered a blow on offense with the injury to quarterback John Brantley. The senior suffered a leg injury at the end of the first half and is out indefinitely. Brantley will not play in this Saturday’s matchup against LSU.

Florida coach Will Muschamp declined to give a recovery timetable for Brantley during his Monday press conference. The senior quarterback will at least miss Saturday’s game against LSU and would figure to be a longshot to play on Oct. 15 against Auburn. However, the Gators have a bye week before playing Georgia on Oct. 29, and it’s not out of the question Brantley could return for that game. However, there is no indication on how serious his ankle injury is.

Before his injury against the Crimson Tide, Brantley was having a solid performance. He opened the game with a 65-yard touchdown toss to Andre Debose and completed 11 of 16 throws for 190 yards.

Brantley’s numbers this season weren’t overwhelming – 942 passing yards, five touchdown tosses and three picks – but he has looked like a different quarterback than we saw last season. The senior has looked very comfortable under the direction of coordinator Charlie Weis and is a perfect fit for Florida’s pro-style attack.

Replacing Brantley in the lineup will be Jeff Driskel. The true freshman has played sparingly this year, completing 7 of 16 passes for 73 yards and two interceptions. He also has 26 yards on 12 rushing attempts.

Driskel was rated as the No. 1 quarterback and the No. 17 overall player in the 2011 recruiting class by Athlon Sports. The true freshman will be making his first start in a difficult environment, as Florida takes on LSU this Saturday. The Gators have lost two out of their last three games in Baton Rouge and lost last season’s matchup in Gainesville 33-29.

Although Driskel isn’t short on talent, it’s going to be an uphill battle winning Saturday night’s game in Baton Rouge. The Tigers last lost at home came on Oct. 10, 2009 to Florida. If Driskel struggles, the Gators will turn to redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy or true freshman Jacoby Brissett. 

Expect the Gators to get creative on offense and place this game into the hands of running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Although Driskel will have to hit some throws for the Gators to win, the offense needs huge performances from the rushing attack. Florida also needs a standout game from its defense and could use a score from its special teams.

Even with the uncertainty surrounding Brantley’s long-term availability, Florida still has a chance to win the SEC East. If the Gators can knock off Auburn on Oct. 15 and get Brantley back in time for the game against Georgia, they will be right in the mix for the conference crown.

Teaser:
<p> Florida's SEC Title Hopes Take a Hit With John Brantley's Injury.</p>
Post date: Monday, October 3, 2011 - 14:06
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-big-east-2
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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 5 Big East Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. West Virginia (4-1) – The Mountaineers took out some of their frustration from last week’s loss to LSU in Saturday’s win over Bowling Green. West Virginia tied a season-high with 55 points, rolled up 643 total yards on offense and collected 33 first downs against the Falcons. Quarterback Geno Smith posted another solid outing, throwing for 238 yards and three scores. Another offensive highlight was the play of freshman running back Dustin Garrison, who rushed for 291 yards and two touchdowns. The West Virginia defense was also sharp, limiting a high-scoring Bowling Green offense to 217 yards. The Mountaineers open up Big East play in Week 6, as Connecticut visits Morgantown.

2. Pittsburgh (3-2) – After blowing back-to-back leads in the fourth quarter, the Panthers really needed a win on Thursday against South Florida. Mission accomplished. Pittsburgh finally got its offense going, led by running back Ray Graham’s 226 rushing yards. Quarterback Tino Sunseri had a solid performance, throwing for 216 yards and one touchdown, while adding 35 yards and one score on the ground. The Panthers have another key Big East test this week, as they hit the road for a date in New Jersey against Rutgers.

3. South Florida (4-1) – The Bulls’ hot start was cooled off in Pittsburgh on Thursday night. South Florida’s defense allowed over 500 yards to the Panthers, including 226 to running back Ray Graham. Quarterback B.J. Daniels was held in check, throwing for 223 yards and no scores, while completing only 18 of his 36 attempts. After a disappointing performance, the Bulls have some time to make corrections, as they won’t play again until Oct. 15 against Connecticut.

4. Cincinnati (4-1) – The Bearcats closed out non-conference play with a 27-0 victory over rival Miami (Ohio). The RedHawks did a good job of containing quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead, but Cincinnati’s defense delivered with two turnovers, four sacks and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Bearcats did lose four turnovers in the victory, which is something coach Butch Jones will be sure to work on during the bye week. Cincinnati returns to action on Oct. 15 against Louisville.

5. Rutgers (3-1) – It wasn’t pretty, but the Scarlet Knights found a way to win in two overtimes over Syracuse. Rutgers got a spark from freshman quarterback Gary Nova, completing 14 of 24 throws for 122 yards and one touchdown. The rushing attack struggled once again, with Jawan Jamison collecting 48 yards on 24 carries. After winning only one Big East game last season, Rutgers has already equaled that mark five weeks into the season. The Scarlet Knights host Pittsburgh this Saturday.

6. Syracuse (3-2) – After winning in overtime last week, extra time wasn’t kind to the Orange this Saturday. Syracuse dropped its Big East opener to Rutgers, losing 19-16 in double overtime. Running back Antwon Bailey posted a solid performance, rushing for 124 yards and a score, but his fumble in the second overtime allowed the Scarlet Knights to seal the victory. The Orange step out of conference one more time this season, traveling to New Orleans to play Tulane on Saturday.

7. Louisville (2-2) – Charlie Strong’s second year is off to a rough start. The Cardinals do have a win over rival Kentucky, but did not turn in a great performance in the opener against Murray State and have home losses to Marshall and FIU. The offensive line has struggled all year, and the rushing attack ranks 91st nationally. Louisville looks to build some momentum for Big East play, as they take on North Carolina this Saturday. However, considering the struggles of the offensive line, a very good Tar Heel defensive front is a nightmare matchup.

8. Connecticut (2-3) – The first year of the Paul Pasqualoni era is shaping up to be a major disappointment. The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth battle, but Connecticut lost a fumble on the final drive of the game to seal the loss to Western Michigan. The Huskies are still searching for answers on offense, but quarterback Johnny McEntee posted 300 passing yards and four scores. The Huskies face an uphill battle for Saturday’s game against West Virginia’s passing attack, as they will be without starting cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson.

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the Big East stack up after Week 5?</p>
Post date: Monday, October 3, 2011 - 07:50
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-big-12-2
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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 5 Big 12 Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings

1. Oklahoma (4-0) – The final tuneup before Texas was an easy one for the Sooners. The offense posted 655 yards of total offense, led by quarterback Landry Jones and his 425 yards through the air. The defense pitched a shutout in the second half and held the Cardinals to only 214 yards of total offense. Linebacker/safety Tony Jefferson turned in one of the top defensive performances of the week in the Big 12, picking off three Ball State passes. The Sooners appear to be hitting on all cylinders as the Red River Rivalry approaches in Week 6.

2. Oklahoma State (4-0) – Thanks to a bye week, the Cowboys had some extra time to enjoy their 30-29 win against Texas A&M. Oklahoma State is back in action this Saturday, as Kansas visits Stillwater. The Cowboys have won six out of the last seven in this series, including a dominating 48-14 effort last season. Considering the Jayhawks’ struggles on defense, Oklahoma State’s offense should post big numbers on Saturday.

3. Texas (4-0) – After losing 28-21 to Iowa State last year, the Longhorns had revenge on their mind on Saturday. Texas got a solid effort from all three phases of the game to cruise to a 37-14 victory over the Cyclones. Quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash combined to complete 14 of 24 throws for 255 yards and two scores. The defense forced three Iowa State turnovers, while a blocked punt resulted in a special teams’ touchdown. Even though the Longhorns were down last season, they still played Oklahoma tough and will bring a much-improved team to the Cotton Bowl this year.

4. Kansas State (4-0) – The Wildcats are easily the biggest surprise in the Big 12. One week after winning at Miami, Kansas State opened up conference play with a 36-35 win over Baylor. The defense entered the season as a question mark, but has made key stops in back-to-back games to secure victories. Linebacker Arthur Brown is finally living up to the hype surrounding him out of high school. Quarterback Collin Klein isn’t flashy, but continues to make plays. Can Kansas State keep up the momentum? The Wildcats host Missouri in a key Big 12 contest this Saturday.

5. Texas A&M (2-2) – Go ahead and throw out those preseason hopes of making a BCS bowl. The Aggies have tumbled in the power rankings over the last two weeks, after watching big leads slip away in the second half. Texas A&M held a 35-17 advantage at halftime over Arkansas, but was unable to hold on and lost 42-38. The Aggies have had success getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but the secondary has been torched and ranks last nationally in pass defense. Texas A&M’s defensive backfield will be tested once again this Saturday, as the Aggies travel to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech.

6. Baylor (3-1) – Three costly turnovers in Saturday’s 36-35 defeat to Kansas State doomed the Bears’ chances of beginning the year 4-0. Baylor got another stellar effort from quarterback Robert Griffin, throwing for 346 yards and five touchdowns. However, it was Griffin’s first interception of the 2011 season in the fourth quarter that allowed Kansas State to kick the winning field goal. Baylor should have a chance to rebound back into the win column with Iowa State visiting Waco this Saturday.

7. Missouri (2-2) – The Tigers did not play in Week 5 and will return to action this Saturday against Kansas State. Missouri has dominated the recent series, as it has won the last five games against the Wildcats. The Tigers need to pickup wins in the next two weeks, especially with a difficult stretch – Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech – waiting later in the season.

8. Iowa State (3-1) – After beating Texas last season, the Cyclones had hopes of knocking off the Longhorns once again. However, Iowa State’s battle with the turnover bug this year was showcased again, and Texas rolled to an easy 37-14 victory. Quarterback Steele Jantz threw for 251 yards and one touchdown in the loss, but tossed another pick, which gives him four in the last two games. Iowa State has a difficult road trip ahead this week, as they travel to Waco to play Baylor.

9. Texas Tech (4-0) – The Red Raiders are 4-0, but they are still the Big 12’s mystery team. Wins over Texas State, New Mexico, Nevada and Kansas haven’t provided much insight into how good this team is. However, Texas Tech will get a showcase to make a jump in the power rankings the next two weeks, as Texas A&M and Kansas State visit Lubbock. Wide receiver Darrin Moore did not play against Kansas due to leg injuries he suffered against Nevada. Moore’s health will be critical to Texas Tech’s chances of beating Texas A&M this week.

10. Kansas (2-2) – After four weeks, it’s clear the Jayhawks are an improved team. However, they aren’t quite ready to challenge for a bowl game. Kansas jumped out to a 20-0 lead over Texas Tech, but its defense was unable to keep the Red Raiders’ offense silent for the rest of the game. A positive for the Jayhawks offense has been the rushing attack, which ranks 11th nationally after four games. Kansas travels to Oklahoma State this Saturday.

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the Big 12 stack up after five weeks of action?</p>
Post date: Monday, October 3, 2011 - 07:48
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, Big East
Path: /college-football/week-5-college-football-recap
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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.

Winners

Alabama – While LSU has grabbed the national spotlight, the Crimson Tide has quietly thrived out of it. Not anymore. Alabama fell behind early against Florida, but rallied for a 38-10 victory. The Crimson Tide defense held the Gators to 222 yards and scoreless for the final three quarters. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron turned in an efficient start, completing 12 of 25 passes for 140 yards. Running back Trent Richardson was the workhorse for the Crimson Tide offense, gashing Florida’s defense for 181 yards and two scores. Barring a surprise defeat, Alabama should be 8-0 before taking on LSU on Nov. 5.

Arizona State – It wasn’t pretty, but the Sun Devils knocked off Oregon State to move to 4-1. Beating a struggling team isn’t the reason for making this list. Arizona State shook off a slow start - likely due to last week’s win over USC - and should be the favorite to win the Pac-12 South.

Auburn – The Auburn-South Carolina game was not easy on the eyes, but the Tigers found a way to win. Auburn was nearly a double-digit underdog, but rode sophomore running back Michael Dyer for the victory. The Tigers came into Saturday’s matchup allowing 31 points a game, but held the Gamecocks to 13. The schedule won’t get any easier for the Tigers, as a trip to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas is up next.

Clemson – Another week, another big win. The Tigers easily knocked off Virginia Tech 23-3 on Saturday, moving to 5-0 and taking a commanding lead in the ACC Atlantic. Looking at the upcoming schedule, it’s hard to find a guaranteed loss until Oct. 29 against Georgia Tech. Clemson’s offense has been impressive all year, but it was the defense that delivered in the win over the Hokies. After five weeks, it appears the Tigers are the ACC’s best team.

Duke – After starting the year 0-2, the Blue Devils have won three in a row. Wins over Boston College, Tulane and FIU aren’t going to draw much attention on the national level, but it seems Duke is a much-improved team since the Week 1 loss to Richmond. The Blue Devils still have a shot to make a bowl, but need an upset or two along the way.

Dustin Garrison, RB, West Virginia – Have the Mountaineers found their running back? Garrison rushed for 291 yards and two scores in Saturday’s win over Bowling Green.

Georgia – With losses by Florida and South Carolina, combined with the Bulldogs win over Mississippi State on Saturday, the SEC East race is wide open. Georgia has won three in a row after beginning the season with two losses and seems to be finding its rhythm on offense. If the Bulldogs knock off Tennessee this Saturday, it’s likely their biggest obstacle to the SEC East title is the annual matchup with Florida in Jacksonville.

Houston’s offense – UTEP’s defense is nothing special, but it’s noteworthy the Cougars have had back-to-back games of at least 700 yards of total offense.

Illinois – The Fighting Illini are 5-0 and in good shape to make some noise in the Big Ten race. Illinois rallied from a 28-10 deficit for a 38-35 victory over Northwestern on Saturday. Receiver A.J. Jenkins turned in one of the weekend’s top performances, catching 12 passes for 268 yards and three scores.

Kansas State – Considering the loss of running back Daniel Thomas and a shaky defense, just making a bowl game appeared to be the most favorable scenario for the Wildcats in the preseason. However, it’s time to update those predictions. Kansas State knocked off Baylor 36-35 to move to 4-0 this season. The Wildcats have a good chance to be 5-0 with a home game against Missouri this Saturday. Coach Bill Snyder should be in the discussion for coach of the year.

Melvin Ingram, DL, South Carolina – Ingram continued his hot start to the season with another ridiculous effort against Auburn. The senior registered four sacks and 11 tackles in Saturday’s loss to the Tigers.

Michigan’s defense – Sure, Minnesota isn’t exactly the greatest offense, but the Wolverines pitched their first shutout since Sept. 15, 2007. After last season's defensive debacle, this performance is noteworthy.

Pittsburgh – After dropping back-to-back games in the fourth quarter, the Panthers turned in their best effort of the year in a 44-17 whipping of South Florida. Pittsburgh’s offense finally seemed to find its rhythm, while the defense forced two turnovers and held the Bulls scoreless in the second half.

Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh – Even though the Panthers got a team mention, Graham deserves his own category. The junior rushed for a season-high 226 yards against South Florida, which gives him 734 yards and eight touchdowns on the season.

SMU – The Mustangs had to win in overtime after blowing a big second-half lead, but beat TCU for only the second time since 1998.

Washington – Jake who? New quarterback Keith Price continued his impressive start to 2011, completing 22 of 30 throws for 226 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-14 blowout win over Utah. The Huskies are 4-1 with a favorable game against Colorado in Week 7. If the Huskies can get by the Buffaloes, they will setup a huge Pac-12 North game against Stanford on Oct. 22. Washington is flying under the radar, but this is a dangerous team that deserves more credit for its start.

Washington State – Although the Cougars may not make a bowl game, it’s clear coach Paul Wulff has this team playing better. Washington State used a late touchdown pass to knock off Colorado and improve to 3-1 on the year. If the Cougars want to make a bowl, beating UCLA on Saturday is a must.

Wisconsin – Saturday’s game against Nebraska was hyped as one of the top matchups in the Big Ten this year. Not even close. The Badgers easily handled the Cornhuskers, winning 48-17 behind quarterback Russell Wilson’s three touchdowns and nearly 290 yards of total offense. The Badgers are clearly the No. 1 team in the Big Ten.

Losers

Louisville – The Cardinals have a lot of young players getting significant snaps, but this team has home losses to FIU and Marshall. Although both teams are solid non-AQ programs, these are games the Cardinals should win. Louisville was one of the Big East’s biggest surprises last year, but could be headed for a losing record.

Nebraska – The Cornhuskers first Big Ten game was a major disappointment. Nebraska dropped a 48-17 decision to Wisconsin, which was the first loss by the Cornhuskers of 2011. Nebraska’s defense had no answer for Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson or the Badgers’ rushing attack. And the Cornhuskers struggled on offense, particularly quarterback Taylor Martinez, who tossed three picks on Saturday night.

New Mexico – The Lobos are staring at the possibility of a winless season after Saturday’s blowout loss to New Mexico State. New Mexico fired coach Mike Locksley after the loss to Sam Houston State, but this program needs a lot of work before it can become a bowl team in the Mountain West again.

Ohio State – The Buckeyes lost their Big Ten opener in ugly fashion. Ohio State’s offense managed only 178 yards and only a late touchdown prevented a shutout. Luke Fickell is not having the best audition for the fulltime job and with Nebraska, Illinois and Wisconsin coming up, Ohio State could be 3-5 going into the final month of the season.

South Carolina – The defending SEC East champs are in trouble. Yes, the Gamecocks are only 4-1, but quarterback play continues to be a problem and likely won’t get any better this season. Losing to Auburn was a surprise, especially with the way the Tigers were playing on defense entering this game. Sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore has to get more than 17 carries a game if the Gamecocks want to think about a repeat trip to Atlanta.

South Florida – After starting out the year 4-0, the Bulls fell flat in the Big East opener against Pittsburgh. South Florida’s offense didn’t score in the second half, while the defense was gashed for 523 yards. The Bulls can still contend for the conference title, but it appears they have more question marks than anticipated after the first four games.

Texas A&M – The Aggies have been awful in the second half the last two weeks. After blowing a 20-3 lead to Oklahoma State, Texas A&M watched a 35-17 lead slip away against Arkansas on Saturday. The Aggies entered the year with BCS bowl hopes, but it’s going to be a challenge to win all of their remaining games.

Utah – There was a lot of anticipation for Saturday’s Pac-12 home opener in Salt Lake City, but the Utes had a disastrous performance. Utah had been winning the turnover battle this year, but lost five in the 31-14 loss to Washington. Making matters worse is a shoulder injury to quarterback Jordan Wynn. The junior is unlikely to play in Saturday’s game against Arizona State.

Utah State – The Aggies are just a couple of plays from a 4-0 record. Unfortunately for Utah State, it has not had much success in the final moments of games this year, as evidenced by BYU’s wild comeback on Friday night.

Virginia – Yes, the Cavaliers got the victory, but needed overtime to beat…Idaho. The bye week comes at a good time for Virginia, especially with Georgia Tech coming up in Week 7.

Virginia Tech – A favorable non-conference slate had the Hokies at 4-0 and in good shape entering ACC play. However, Virginia Tech wasn’t ready for the challenge on Saturday night. Clemson’s defense kept the Hokies in check, while the offense made just enough plays to win. The good news? Virginia Tech can still win the ACC Coastal, especially with Miami and Georgia Tech remaining on the schedule.

Looking Ahead to Week 6

A small sample of what’s ahead

California at Oregon (Thursday)
Golden Bears nearly upset the Ducks last season, but can they pull out the victory in Eugene?

Boise State at Fresno State (Friday)
Broncos look to continue their quest for an undefeated season and a BCS bowl.

Florida State at Wake Forest
Seminoles desperately need a win to keep their ACC Atlantic title hopes alive.

Miami at Virginia Tech
Loser of this game will see their ACC Coastal title hopes slipping away.

Iowa at Penn State
Hawkeyes have won eight out of the last nine against the Nittany Lions.

Georgia at Tennessee
Are the Bulldogs the favorite to win the SEC East? A win in Knoxville would solidify their case.

Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas)
The Red River Rivalry has renewed energy this season, as both teams enter this matchup undefeated.

Auburn vs. Arkansas
Can the Tigers build off last week’s surprising win against South Carolina?

Ohio State at Nebraska
This game appeared to be one of the key matchups on the Big Ten schedule in the preseason. However, both teams are desperate for a win after disappointing efforts in its conference opener.

Florida at LSU
If the Gators are without quarterback John Brantley, it’s going to be a long night against LSU’s defense.

Injuries from Week 5

Arizona State C Garth Gerhart – sprained ankle – unlikely to play in Week 6
Arkansas DT Robert Thomas – leg – questionable for Week 6
Arkansas CB Darius Winston – leg – questionable for Week 6
Auburn WR Emory Blake – ankle – questionable for Week 6
Connecticut OT Jimmy Bennett – torn ACL – out for remainder of year
Florida QB John Brantley – leg – questionable for Week 6
Iowa State OT Kelechi Osemele – ankle – questionable for Week 6
Iowa State CB Leonard Johnson – head/neck – questionable for Week 6
LSU RB Spencer Ware – hamstring – probable for Week 6
Miami LB Ramon Buchanan – knee – questionable for Week 6
MTSU RB Benjamin Cunningham – foot – questionable for Week 6
North Carolina DT Tydreke Powell – shoulder – questionable for Week 6
Northwestern QB Dan Persa – leg – probable for Week 6
Northwestern RB Mike Trumpy – knee – questionable for Week 6
Notre Dame DE Ethan Johnson – ankle sprain – questionable for Week 6
Ohio State WR Verlon Reed – knee – questionable for Week 6
Oklahoma RB Brennan Clay – shoulder – probable for Week 6
Oklahoma CB Jamell Fleming – undisclosed – probable for Week 6
Penn State CB Stephon Morris – ankle – doubtful for Week 6
Pittsburgh OG Lucas Nix – knee – questionable for Week 6
South Carolina OT Kyle Nunn – knee – doubtful for Week 6
Southern Miss RB Kendrick Hardy – arm – questionable for Week 6
Texas LB Jordan Hicks – hamstring – probable for Week 6
USC RB Marc Tyler – bruised quad – probable for Week 7
Utah QB Jordan Wynn – shoulder – questionable for Week 6
Virginia Tech DT Antoine Hopkins – knee – out for remainder of season
Wisconsin OG Kevin Zeitler – ankle – questionable for Week 7

Teaser:
<p> Athlon recaps Week 5 of the college football season and takes a look ahead to Week 6.</p>
Post date: Monday, October 3, 2011 - 07:47
Path: /news/illinois-lb-jonathan-brown-delivers-dirty-blow-against-northwestern
Body:

Saturday's game between Northwestern and Illinois was one of the best in the Big Ten. 

Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown's dirty play in the first half? Not so good.

Brown decides to deliver a blow to Northwestern lineman Patrick Ward, in an area where no one wants to be hit.

One word: Ouch. 

Teaser:
<p> Jonathan Brown gets flagged for a dirty play against Northwestern.</p>
Post date: Saturday, October 1, 2011 - 15:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-predictions-alabama-vs-florida
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

After last season’s disappointing 8-5 finish, Florida was arguably the SEC’s biggest mystery team coming into 2011. The Gators had the talent to compete for the SEC East crown, but how well they would blend with the new coaching staff was uncertain.

The early results on new Florida coach Will Muschamp have been positive. The Gators are 4-0 and scored a key SEC East victory over Tennessee in Week 3. While Muschamp’s hire has been a success, so has Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator. Florida struggled on offense all of last season, but seems to be a much-improved unit.

Alabama entered the season with high expectations and one of the favorites to claim the national title. So far, the Crimson Tide has done nothing to raise any question marks about their ability to finish the year as the No. 1 team. The offense is beginning to come together, while the defense is one of the best in college football.

The Crimson Tide has won the last two games in this series, including a 31-6 blowout win last season in Tuscaloosa. Florida’s last victory came in 1999, defeating Alabama in the SEC title game 34-7. Since the SEC went to a title game in 1992, these two teams have met seven times in the conference championship.

Another interesting storyline to this game is the familiarity between Muschamp and Alabama coach Nick Saban. Muschamp worked under Saban from 2001 to 2005. Both coaches have a lot of respect for each other, but there’s no doubt friendship will take a back seat to winning on Saturday night.

When Florida Has the Ball

The key to the Gators’ success on offense has been running back Chris Rainey. The senior has rushed for at least 105 yards in each of his last three games. He also has 11 receptions for 214 yards and two scores this year.

Rainey hasn’t been the only Florida back experiencing success this year, as Jeff Demps has been a solid No. 2 option. Demps is averaging 9.4 yards per carry this year and has four touchdown runs.

Containing Demps and Rainey will be critical to Alabama’s chances of winning this game. The Crimson Tide has been one of the nation’s best against the run, allowing only 45.8 yards per game. Additionally, opponents have managed only one score and are averaging 1.8 yards per carry this season.

Quarterback John Brantley struggled in the spread offense last season, but looks very comfortable in the new pro-style attack. The senior has thrown for 752 yards and four scores this year, while tossing two picks – both in the opener against FAU.

Helping Brantley’s cause has been the play of the offensive line. After looking awful at times last year, the line has allowed only two sacks this year. The Alabama pass rush is off to a slow start, registering only five through four games. Although the pass rush has been slow to take off, the Crimson Tide possesses a shutdown secondary. 

Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley suffered an elbow injury against Arkansas last week and is not expected to play. Although Mosley is a big loss, the Crimson Tide has good depth at linebacker.

It’s unlikely Florida will be able to hit many big plays in the passing game against Alabama, so it’s important for Rainey and Demps to keep the offense out of third and long. Brantley has done a good job of spreading the ball around, but the offense could benefit from a receiver emerging as the No. 1 threat.

When Alabama Has the Ball

With this being quarterback AJ McCarron’s first road start in SEC play, the Gators should be prepared for a heavy dose of Trent Richardson. The junior back is off to a hot start this season, rushing for 441 yards and eight scores. Richardson also has nine receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown. 

Eddie Lacy has been a valuable backup to Richardson this year, but suffered a toe injury against Arkansas. Lacy is expected to play, but could be limited. The sophomore has 365 yards and four scores this year and if healthy, will likely spell Richardson for 10-14 attempts.

McCarron began the year locked into a tight battle with Phillip Sims for the starting job, but has won the job over the first four games. McCarron has completed 63 of 95 passes for 779 yards and four scores. He as also been very efficient (66.3 completion percentage) and has not thrown an interception in his last three contests.

The Alabama receiving corps isn’t filled with household names, but there’s no shortage of quality options for McCarron. Marquis Maze leads the team with 20 receptions, while Darius Hanks is back after serving a two-game suspension to start the year. Redshirt freshman DeAndrew White and sophomore Kenny Bell will also be expected to make contributions on Saturday.

Alabama's offensive line was a source of concern going into the season, but has played well so far. The Crimson Tide is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and has done a good job of keeping the quarterbacks upright. 

Alabama’s defense has been getting all of the national recognition, but Florida’s has played pretty well through four games. The Gators are allowing only 231.8 yards per game and have registered nine sacks.

McCarron has four solid starts under his belt, but this will be his biggest challenge. Florida’s front seven is stout and could give Alabama’s line problems. If McCarron gets time to throw, he should be able to hit a few plays in the passing game, especially against a youthful Gator secondary.

Look for the Gators to try to take away Richardson, while forcing McCarron to win this game.

Special Teams

Florida holds the edge on field goals, as kicker Caleb Sturgis is healthy after a back injury. Sturgis has nailed all 11 field goal attempts this year. Alabama’s Jeremy Shelley has been solid, connecting on seven of nine attempts.

Punt returns should be exciting, as both teams boast a threat to take it to the house each time. Florida’s Chris Rainey is averaging 14 yards on punt returns with one score. Marquis Maze is averaging 16.8 yards per punt return on 19 attempts this year. Maze also has one return for a touchdown.

Prediction

LSU has been gaining most of the national attention as the No. 1 team in college football. However, if the Tigers are the top team, Alabama has to be 1b. The Crimson Tide hasn’t faced the top-10 teams that LSU has yet, but this will be their chance to make a statement to the voters.

Although Florida has looked good through the first four weeks, this is easily its toughest matchup. Even though it’s a different team and a new coaching staff, the Gators were easily handled by Alabama last season. Is the gap between the two teams that great or has it closed?

Even in Gainesville, the Crimson Tide should be able to win. Alabama’s defense should be able to limit Rainey and Demps on the ground, while limiting Brantley’s success through the air.

The Gators defense won’t allow Richardson to run wild, but the Crimson Tide will get just enough offense to win this game.

And don't be surprised if this is just the first of two meetings this season between these two teams.

Alabama 27, Florida 20

Teaser:
<p> Alabama-Florida is one of the big games in Week 5. Athlon Sports previews what both sides need to do in order to win.</p>
Post date: Saturday, October 1, 2011 - 12:59
Path: /college-football/college-football-predictions-wisconsin-vs-nebraska
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

How is this for an introduction into the Big Ten? Nebraska’s first game in the conference is in Madison, home of the defending Big Ten champs and one of the top 10 teams in college football.

Sounds easy right?

This matchup was surrounded by a lot of hype in the offseason and should live up to it on Saturday.

The Badgers have steamrolled through their schedule, winning every game by at least 34 points. Although Wisconsin was in good shape exiting spring practice, the offense got a boost with the arrival of quarterback Russell Wilson from NC State. The senior has been a perfect fit for the offense and is one of the top contenders to win the Heisman.

Nebraska also enters undefeated, but hasn’t had it as easy as Wisconsin. The Cornhuskers were pushed by Fresno State and Washington, but found a way to win both games.

This will be the first meeting between these schools since 1974. These two teams have played five times overall, with the Cornhuskers owning a 3-2 series edge. However, the stakes are higher now that these two teams are in the same conference and will be playing each other on a regular basis.

When Nebraska Has the Ball

New coordinator Tim Beck has tweaked the offensive scheme to give Nebraska more flexibility and to take advantage of the athletic ability of quarterback Taylor Martinez. The Cornhuskers will rely on the option, but will also line up out of the shotgun and pistol formation.

When Martinez is healthy, he is one of the Big Ten’s top playmakers. The sophomore is averaging 267 total yards a game this year, with most of his damage coming on the ground. Martinez leads the team with 421 rushing yards and has at least 12 rushing attempts in every game this year.

Martinez is still developing as a passer, as evidenced by his 50.6 completion percentage. The Cornhuskers also have a young group of receivers, led by redshirt freshman Kenny Bell, sophomore Quincy Enunwa and true freshman Jamal Turner. Junior tight end Kyler Reed is also a dangerous threat in the open field.

Keeping Martinez healthy all year is going to be critical for Nebraska’s Big Ten title hopes. After he suffered a leg injury against Missouri last season, the Nebraska offense was never the same.

If it’s not Martinez doing the damage on the ground, then it’s running back Rex Burkhead. The junior is an underrated player nationally, rushing for 420 yards and seven scores so far this season. Burkhead also runs Nebraska’s Wildcat formation and is a threat to throw.

Can Wisconsin find a way to slow down Martinez? The Badgers rank 22nd nationally against the run and are allowing only 8.5 points a game. However, the Nebraska offense is going to be its toughest test so far.

The Badgers struggled to stop Michigan’s Denard Robinson last season, and Martinez is going to bring a similar style to Madison on Saturday. It’s important for the Wisconsin defense to contain the edges and not allow Martinez to get to the outside. If the Cornhuskers are able to get their rushing attack going, they will have opportunities to make plays in the passing game on play action.

Stopping Nebraska’s run and forcing the Huskers to throw is likely going to be the goal for Wisconsin’s defense. Martinez has shown he can be hit or miss as a passer, and the Badgers cannot allow him to get 100 yards on the ground.

The Wisconsin defense has good experience at each level, but is anchored by linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland. Both players are going to be in the spotlight on Saturday night, as they will have to help keep Martinez and Burkhead in check. Nebraska’s offensive line is young, so Wisconsin’s front four has an opportunity to win the battle and gain control at the line of scrimmage.

When Wisconsin Has the Ball

The Badgers enter this matchup ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in total offense with 532.3 yards per game. The competition hasn’t been great, but there’s a lot to like with this group.

Quarterback Russell Wilson quickly picked up the offense after arriving during the summer and has arguably been the Big Ten's top quarterback through the first four weeks. Wilson has thrown for 1,136 yards and 11 scores in four games, while tossing only one pick.

In addition to his success through the air, Wilson is capable of making plays with his feet. In the opener against UNLV, the senior scored on a 46-yard touchdown run.

Despite not having much time to work with the offense in the preseason, the senior has developed a good rapport with receivers Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis, along with tight end Jacob Pederson.

Although Wilson has been one of the top players in college football through the first four games, Wisconsin won’t stray far from its bread and butter. Montee Ball and James White are among the top running back duos in college football and both are off to a fast start. Ball has registered 360 rushing yards and nine scores, while White has 303 yards and three scores.

Despite losing two key starters to the NFL, the offensive line continues to play well. The Badgers are averaging 5.7 yards per attempt, along with posting 16 total rushing scores. Wisconsin quarterbacks have been sacked only five times this year.

The arrival of Wilson has added more balance to the Badgers’ offense, which figures to give Nebraska all it can handle. The Cornhuskers are having an uncharacteristic start on defense, ranking 56th against the run and 63rd nationally against the pass.

The defense will be getting some key reinforcements for this game, as tackle Jared Crick is back after missing last week’s contest against Wyoming, and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is expected to be closer to 100 percent. Dennard sat out the first three games due to a muscle injury, but played some in last week’s victory over Wyoming.

The Cornhuskers have not looked like a shutdown defense through the first four weeks of the season, but could that change on Saturday? Having Crick and Dennard at 100 percent will help and how much was the defense showing in non-conference matchups?

Matching Wisconsin’s physicality in the trenches will be a key for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers need a big game from Crick and fellow tackle Baker Steinkuhler to help slow Wisconsin’s rushing attack. Ends Cameron Meredith and Jason Ankrah can’t allow Wilson to sit back in the pocket all day or it could be a long night for Nebraska’s defense.  Don’t expect Wilson to run a lot, but his ability to extend plays or roll out of the pocket to hit passes will be critical.

The Cornhuskers have a difficult assignment ahead, as this is a very balanced Wisconsin attack. Can the defense slow Ball and White, while limiting Wilson through the air? It’s not going to be an easy task, but Nebraska has the pieces to do it.

Special Teams

Keep an eye on Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah on kick returns. The freshman is averaging 42.5 yards per return and has taken one kickoff for a score.

Brett Maher has been a fine replacement for Alex Henery, connecting on eight of nine attempts for the Cornhuskers this season.

Wisconsin’s Kyle French has connected on two attempts this season, but missed two attempts from 50 yards. Punter Brad Nortman is averaging a solid 43.4 yards per punt.

The Badgers will lean on James White and Jared Abbrederis in the return game.

Prediction

Is this the first of two times Nebraska and Wisconsin will meet on the field? Both teams entered the year as the favorite to win its division in the conference race, so it would not be a shock to see these two teams meet in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game on Dec. 3.

Nebraska’s defense has not yet played up to typical Blackshirt expectations. With Crick and Dennard back in the lineup, the Cornhuskers should have their best performance of the season. However, stopping a balanced Wisconsin attack is not going to be easy.

When the Cornhuskers have the ball, quarterback Taylor Martinez has to have a good game. Running back Rex Burkhead should get to 100 yards, but Martinez has to make smart decisions, especially when passing, while making plays with his legs.

Camp Randall Stadium should be rocking on Saturday. The Badgers look like a national title contender, while Nebraska is making its Big Ten debut. Expect a tight game into the fourth quarter, but the homefield edge will be just enough for Wisconsin to pull out the victory.

Wisconsin 31, Nebraska 27

Braden Gall's Week 5 Picks Against the Spread: Take the Huskers and the Points

Teaser:
<p> Nebraska-Wisconsin is one of the big games in Week 5. Athlon Sports previews what both sides need to do in order to win.</p>
Post date: Saturday, October 1, 2011 - 11:45
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, Big East
Path: /college-football/college-football-week-5-preview-match-ups-and-upset-picks
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 5

1. After spending the first three games on the sideline, Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa is ready to return to action. The senior suffered a torn Achilles in last season’s game against Iowa and finally appears to be near 100 percent. The Wildcats managed a 2-1 start in his absence, but this week’s game takes on even more importance, as Northwestern opens up Big Ten play against Illinois. Persa was one of the top quarterbacks in the conference last season and there’s no guarantee he will return to that form in his first game. However, having the senior back in the lineup should help, especially against an Illinois team that is off to a solid 4-0 start.

2. Auburn and South Carolina are a combined 7-1, but neither has to be happy about where it stands entering Week 5. The Gamecocks entered the year with quarterback issues, and those questions haven’t been answered through four games. Stephen Garcia is coming off a dreadful performance against Vanderbilt, throwing four interceptions on 30 attempts. It’s also clear coach Steve Spurrier doesn’t have much confidence in backup Connor Shaw. Auburn needed last-minute plays to beat Utah State and Mississippi State and after losing to Clemson in Week 3, turned in a lackluster effort against FAU. These two teams met last season, with Auburn winning by eight in the regular season and by 39 in the SEC title game. Considering the Tigers rank last in the SEC in rush defense, expect to see a heavy dose of running back Marcus Lattimore for South Carolina. Although Auburn got the best of South Carolina last season, expect a different outcome this time around.

3. Utah lost its Pac-12 road opener to USC, but there’s a lot of excitement over Saturday’s game against Washington. Rice-Eccles Stadium is sold out for the Utes’ first Pac-12 game in Salt Lake City. Despite the departure of quarterback Jake Locker, the Huskies haven’t missed a beat on offense. New quarterback Keith Price has tossed 14 touchdown passes through four games, while running back Chris Polk has three 100-yard performances this season. The Huskies are averaging 34.8 points per game, which figures to be tested by a tough Utah defense. The Utes are allowing only 14.3 points per game and have forced 12 turnovers. While Utah’s defense hasn’t been a problem through the first three games, it’s the offense that is still settling in. Running back John White is one of the nation’s leading rushers, but the team could use more production from quarterback Jordan Wynn. The junior is returning from offseason shoulder surgery, but is completing only 54.5 percent of his throws and ranks last among Pac-12 starting quarterbacks in passing efficiency. With the Huskies this Saturday and Arizona State next week, it’s an important two-game stretch for Utah’s Pac-12 South title hopes.

4. Could Saturday’s Clemson-Virginia Tech matchup be a preview of the ACC title game? The Tigers have been on fire the last two weeks, defeating Auburn 38-24 and knocking off Florida State 35-30 last Saturday. The Hokies have rolled through a favorable non-conference schedule, and the matchup with Clemson should provide a better indication of where they stand in the national picture. The Tigers have scored at least 35 points in every game this year, but face a Virginia Tech defense allowing only 10 points a game. The Hokies probably can’t keep pace if this is a high-scoring affair, so expect junior running back David Wilson to shoulder a heavy workload. If Virginia Tech is able to establish Wilson and control the clock, the Tigers will have a hard time winning in Blacksburg.   

5. This week has been all about the SEC in College Station, so it’s appropriate Texas A&M faces Arkansas this Saturday. Both teams are coming off disappointing losses last week. The Aggies blew a 20-3 lead against Oklahoma State, while the Razorbacks never mounted a challenge against Alabama. With both squads reeling just a bit, this week’s matchup will be an important one. With conference play dominating the schedule the rest of the way, both teams would like to establish some momentum. Texas A&M’s secondary ranks 109th nationally against the pass and starters Coryell Judie (CB) and Steven Campbell (SS) are expected to be sidelined due to injuries. With a banged up secondary, the Aggies need to get pressure on Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson and prevent him from finding one of the many weapons the Razorbacks have in the receiving corps.

6. After starting 0-2, Georgia has won two in a row to get to .500. Coach Mark Richt is still on the hot seat, but has a chance to cool the pressure a bit on Saturday. The Bulldogs host Mississippi State in a key conference matchup. Georgia needs a victory to keep pace with South Carolina and Florida in the East, while Mississippi State already has two losses in SEC play. Mississippi State was a longshot to contend for the division title in the preseason, but a loss to Georgia would make it nearly impossible to beat Alabama or LSU for the West title. Mississippi State needs to get quarterback Chris Relf and running back Vick Ballard on track after two weeks of average production. Georgia’s offense seems to be finding its rhythm, particularly with receivers stepping up for quarterback Aaron Murray and freshman running back Isaiah Crowell rushing for 147 yards against Ole Miss last Saturday. Both teams desperately need a win and the loser is in a big hole in the SEC division title race.

7. Could Saturday’s matchup against Michigan State be the most important game for Ohio State this season? With Nebraska, Illinois and Wisconsin up next on the schedule, it’s essential for the Buckeyes to get off to a good start in Big Ten play – especially after Ohio State’s lethargic performance against Miami in Week 3. True freshman quarterback Braxton Miller made his first start last week, completing 5 of 13 throws for 83 yards and two scores. With Miller still learning the ropes, the Buckeyes need to establish running backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde. The Spartans have also struggled at times on offense, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry behind a banged-up offensive line. Quarterback Kirk Cousins will test a young Ohio State secondary, but the Buckeyes’ defensive line likely won’t give him much time to throw. With both teams still trying to find its rhythm on offense, and two defenses allowing less than 16 points a game, expect a low-scoring matchup on Saturday.

8. The Florida-Alabama matchup has traditionally been one of the best in the SEC. These two teams have met 12 times since 1992, with seven of those games coming in the SEC Championship. However, the Gators had a down year last season and the last two matchups have been won by Alabama with a combined score of 63-19. However, the Gators seem to be a much-improved team this year, led by dynamic running back Chris Rainey and a young, but aggressive defense. Alabama seems to have settled on AJ McCarron as the starting quarterback, but with one of the nation’s best defenses and running back Trent Richardson leading the way on offense, the sophomore passer won’t have to win this one on his own. An added element to this week’s game will be the teacher (Nick Saban) versus the pupil (Will Muschamp). Alabama has not won in Gainesville since 1999 and it wouldn’t be a shock to see these two teams meet again in early December in Atlanta.

9. Nebraska drew an awfully difficult baptism into Big Ten play. The Cornhuskers travel to Madison for their first matchup against Wisconsin since 1974. The Badgers are a big story in their own right this weekend. Russell Wilson has been one of the nation’s top quarterbacks so far, which comes after joining the team during the summer after transferring from NC State. Nebraska’s defense has not played up to its potential yet, but will get a boost with tackle Jared Crick and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard back in the lineup. Wisconsin’s massive offensive line and running backs James White and Montee Ball will present a challenge for the Cornhuskers’ defensive line. However, Nebraska’s offense figures to give the Badgers’ defense all they can handle on Saturday night. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is averaging 267 yards of total offense per game, while Rex Burkhead leads all Big Ten running backs with 420 yards. With the offensive firepower on both sidelines, this one could be a high-scoring affair.

10. Baylor-Kansas State is off the national radar, but is a matchup to keep a close watch on this weekend. Led by Heisman contender Robert Griffin, the Bears are off to their first 3-0 start since 2005. The Wildcats also enter 3-0 and are coming off a surprise 28-24 win over Miami last week. Neither team is expected to win the Big 12, but the winner of this game will be in good position as the heart of conference play approaches. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder always does a good job of getting the most out of his roster and on paper, this should be a Baylor victory. However, with an improved defense and the play of quarterback Collin Klein, the Wildcats could be in for another upset win this Saturday.

Saturday’s Picks

Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 5 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.

Wisconsin 31, Nebraska 27
Alabama 27, Florida 20
Texas A&M 34, Arkansas 31
Virginia Tech 27, Clemson 24
South Carolina 34, Auburn 24
Baylor 38, Kansas State 34
Georgia 31, Mississippi State 27
Illinois 30, Northwestern 27
Michigan State 24, Ohio State 20
Washington 30, Utah 24
Texas 28, Iowa State 20
USC 38, Arizona 27
Stanford 40, UCLA 17
Notre Dame 31, Purdue 13

Upset Watch

Looking for a few upsets? Keep a close watch on these games.

Air Force at Navy (-3)
First matchup in the battle for the Commander in Chief’s Trophy. Navy has won seven out of the last eight in this series, but the Falcons won 14-6 last year. Led by senior quarterback Tim Jefferson, Air Force has a good chance to make it two in a row over the Midshipmen.

Wake Forest at Boston College (-1)
Running back Montel Harris returned to the Boston College offense last week and is expected to see more touches on Saturday. However, the Eagles have a young secondary, which could struggle to contain Wake Forest's passing attack.

Washington State at Colorado (-3)
The Cougars are still without quarterback Jeff Tuel, but Marshall Lobbestael has played well in his absence. The Buffaloes have struggled to establish running back Rodney Stewart and are trying to find the right combination on the offensive line. Neither team has been particularly impressive on defense, which means fans in Boulder could be treated to a shootout. If Paul Wulff wants to return as Washington State's coach next year, Saturday is a must-win game.

Michigan State at Ohio State (-3)
The Buckeyes are at home, but Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins could be the difference. With Braxton Miller only making his second start under center for Ohio State, the Buckeyes need a big performance from the defense and rushing attack. Points could be at a premium in this one.

Washington at Utah (-7)
The Pac-12 home opener for the Utes should give them a boost right out of the gate. However, the Huskies won't be an easy opponent. New quarterback Keith Price has been solid, and Utah's defense will have its hands full trying to slow down running back Chris Polk. The Utes need quarterback Jordan Wynn to have a good performance and play turnover-free ball. 

Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 5

With Michigan State kicking off Big Ten play on Saturday, here's a look at some of the key questions facing the Spartans. 

Super conferences are the future of college football? Well, there was nearly one in 1990.

Arizona's Justin Washington was expected to be one of the top defensive linemen in the Pac-12 this season. However, that has not been the case.

Due to an injury to end Hau'oli Jamora, Washington has been forced to shuffle its defensive line.

What are the SEC's scheduling options with 13 teams?

Colorado's offensive line needs to step it up this weekend.

Auburn expects to get true freshman quarterback Kiehl Frazier more involved with the offense.

Arizona State cornerback Omar Bolden suffered a torn ACL in spring practice, but he could return in October.

Great scheduling: BYU and Boise State have agreed to a 12-year series.

Is the BYU-Utah rivalry in danger of not making the schedule in the future? My take: Bad move for both teams if they don't play every year.

Nebraska is looking for the right combination in the secondary.

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen and quarterback Geno Smith have an interesting way of communicating.

Arkansas will be without two of its top defensive ends for Saturday's game against Texas A&M.

Illinois and Northwestern aren't particularly fond of each other.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo prefers to remain an independent - but will that change if the Big East offers an invite?

Could Missouri be nearing a move to the SEC? Tuesday could be an interesting day for conference realignment and the Tigers.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham have an interesting history.

Teaser:
<p> We give you the 10 most important match-ups and upset picks for Week 5.</p>
Post date: Saturday, October 1, 2011 - 09:01
All taxonomy terms: Florida Gators, Sharrif Floyd, News
Path: /news/floridas-sharrif-floyd-gets-bad-deal-ncaa
Body:

by Josh Kipnis

Time and time again, evidence has indicated that college athletics are a corrupt system.  Coaches are constantly violating the NCAA’s recruiting rules, and players are accepting illegal benefits from booster and alumni programs.  Sharrif Floyd, defensive tackle for the University of Florida, has been the center of the latest controversy.

Recently, Floyd played in his first game of the 2011 college football season.  Unfortunately for him, his first game was not synonymous with his team’s opener.

"The toughest day that I have had as a head football coach at Florida was the day that I had to tell Sharrif that he could not play in our game vs. FAU,” said Will Muschamp.  “He had tears in his eyes and said, 'What have I done wrong?' I told him he did nothing wrong.

Floyd was ruled ineligible for the first two games of the season by NCAA officials for what they deemed was a violation of their “preferential treatment rules.”

While the NCAA makes this case, Muschamp’s attitude remains on the opposite side of the spectrum. “I have recruited kids that did not know where they would sleep that night or what they would eat,” Muschamp commented. “There is nothing preferential about his (Floyd’s) life.”

The reason for this mess? In high school, Floyd received a total of $2,500 throughout his senior year from a non-profit organization called the Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation.

First of all, is it not the goal of non-profit organizations and foundations, like this one, to help those in need?  Floyd’s childhood is the exact reason why people donate their time and money to such causes.  Second, how is Sharrif Floyd’s case any different from any other high school student who receives aid from the foundation, or any other foundation?  So because Floyd possesses a gift to play football, quite possibly the only positive aspect of his life, he should be ruled ineligible to receive these beneficiary funds?  How can the NCAA mess up this badly?

NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, Kevin Lennon, had this to say on the matter: “We examine each situation carefully and consider all elements related to a student-athlete’s individual circumstances and the violation.”  If this is truly the case, I am that much more angered with the NCAA.  Mr. Lennon, you are telling me that you and the rest of the people ruling on this case knew that Floyd may starve, or even sleep on the streets, and that you still went ahead and said it is unfair that he accepted that money?

“In my opinion, Sharrif is getting lumped into what is bad about college athletics…Sharrif is what is good about college athletics—his life is about survival, struggle, disappointment, and adversity,” says coach Will Muschamp.

I could not agree more with Muschamp.  The NCAA has pulled out the chair from under Floyd.  Instead of celebrating Floyd’s success and his incredible determinism in life’s most difficult circumstances, the NCAA has stolen the spotlight.

Teaser:
<p> Sharrif Floyd was suspended for the first two games of the season.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - 14:48
All taxonomy terms: St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, News
Path: /news/rays-and-cardinals-down-last-chance-wild-card-spot
Body:

by Josh Kipnis

“Triple” is not the most common word in baseball.  Any hitter will tell you that a triple is the hardest stat to check off the list.  And for a defensive player, a triple play is just about unheard of.

This year’s wild card race had been a rarity of its own, as the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays each attempt to mount monumental comebacks in their hopes towards a playoff berth.  Which is why it should be no surprise that “triple” was the keyword for success last night.

Ryan Theriot hit a pinch-hit, 2-run triple in the top of the seventh inning to give St. Louis their first lead of the night over the Houston Astros.  The triple was Theriot’s first of the year. 

Leading 6-5 at that point, the Cardinals continued to rely on their bench for runs, leading St. Louis to a 13-6 victory.  Nick Punto started in place of injured shortstop, Rafael Furcal, going 4 for 5 with 2 RBI.  Allen Craig, who replaced Matt Holliday in the third inning, went 2 for 3 with a HR and 4 RBI.   “I think we’re just so focused on the day at hand,” Craig said.  “We focus on our job that day…We’re going to give it our best shot.”

With the Phillies beating the Braves as well, St. Louis is finally tied atop the NL wild-card.

“120 years of baseball and this is one of those historic runs to tie,” St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa said.  “But there’s a different story between tying and finishing it off…We’ll see if we can go take another step.”

In the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays were unable to take another step forward, but at least they were able to avoid stepping backwards Tuesday night.  With the Red Sox finally winning a baseball game, the Rays had to beat the Yankees to stay tied in the AL wild-card race.

The Rays were pushed back against the ropes when New York OF Nick Swisher hit a go-ahead RBI double in the sixth.  With runners on second and third and no one out, Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon elected to intentionally walk the next batter, setting up force outs at every base.

The infield met on the mound to breakdown the ensuing play.  After explaining what to do in every situation, 3B Evan Longoria turned to 2B Ben Zobrist to give him one more “what if.”  Zobrist remembers the exact words Longoria said to him.  “He said, ‘If it comes to me and I’m close enough to the bag, I’m going to step on it, and let’s turn a triple play.”  Yea…right…

So what happens?  Sure enough, the next batter slaps a ground ball, inches away from third base.  From there, Longoria set his plan into action.  He fields the ball and simultaneously steps on third.  One.  He reaches into his glove and slings the side-armed throw over to Zobrist on second.  Two.  Zobrist instantly makes the turn and guns the ball over to his first baseman.  Three.

Care to buy my next lottery ticket, Mr. Longoria?

It was the third triple play in Tampa Bay Rays franchise history.  “What I was hoping for was maybe a double play and giving up one run,” Maddon said.  “But my God, how do you even envision a triple play.  We were very fortunate with that.  The hit was in a perfect spot.”

The perfect spot, at the perfect time.

Teaser:
<p> Tuesday night's performances keep Rays and Cardinals alive.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - 12:17
Path: /news/sec-big-ten
Body:

The Beauty of the Beast

by Sam Bernstein

There are two football games that stand above the others this weekend; Nebraska at Wisconsin, and Alabama at Florida. Both feature Top 25 teams. Both will be played under the lights. Both will be broadcasted on national television. However, the list of similarities end there for one reason - conference power.

Nick Saban and Will Muschamp know they still can reach the BCS Championship Game with a loss. However, Bo Pelini and Bret Bielema do not have this same luxury. Defeat for either Alabama or Florida would be viewed as “just another day in the SEC,” while a loss in the Big Ten opener for Nebraska or Wisconsin would not be granted the same leniency by the BCS computers and pollsters.

The SEC’s success in National Championship games has been no secret. Since the Bowl Championship Series was introduced in 1998, the SEC has displayed a remarkable (7-0) record in National Championship games. In fact, the SEC has more BCS wins than all other conferences combined. So what has been the reason behind the SEC’s dominance in both appearances and wins? The answer is not necessarily having a perfect football team. It is instead having a perfect sum of parts.

The SEC is a better conference than the Big Ten top to bottom. The SEC has produced the last five national champions. However, only two of these teams have finished the season undefeated. SEC teams reach the national championship game with one loss (and even two losses in LSU’s case) due to the depth of talented teams in the conference.  Since the conference’s streak began in 2006, SEC teams have finished the season a combined 25 times in the AP Top 25. The Big Ten teams on the other hand, have finished with a combined 18 teams in the same poll.

The avid Big Ten supporters make the argument that the polls are biased because of the mystique and aura that surrounds the SEC. However, statistics show that this is hardly the case. From 2006 to 2010, Big Ten teams have displayed a very respectable non-conference winning percentage (bowl games included) of .694. However, the SEC’s non-conference winning percentage is an entire tenth of a point higher at .791. This shows that despite the fact that SEC teams beat up on each other in conference games, they are rather dominant against non-conference foes. Therefore, a SEC loss should not be weighed as heavily as a Big Ten loss. The cellar dwellers have played just as large a role in this proving this point as the SEC champions have, meaning that reaching the national championship game is not just the effort of one team, but also the performance of an entire conference.

So will the Cornhuskers or Badgers reach this year’s BCS National Championship game if they lose on Saturday? So far, it does not look promising. There are currently four Big Ten teams in the AP Top 25, but they have only combined for a winning percentage of .706 outside the conference. On the contrary, both Alabama and Florida realize their season does not depend on this one game. The SEC has five teams in the AP Top 25, and a combined non-conference winning percentage of .794. Therefore, they can lose this game, reach and win the SEC championship, and make it to New Orleans.

Members of other conferences cry foul. However, fans and coaches of teams in the SEC believe the system is justified because of the demanding challenges their teams must overcome each year. Quite simply, the BCS standings at the end of the regular season usually demonstrate the beauty of the beast for SEC teams.

Teaser:
<p> How an early regular season game differs based on conference strength.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 - 15:48
All taxonomy terms: Missouri Tigers, College Football, Big 12, SEC
Path: /college-football/missouri-sec-or-big-12
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Even though the Big 12 appears to have survived for now, all of the previous uncertainty and rumors in the conference have shifted to Missouri. Texas A&M has already joined the SEC, leaving the conference with 13 members for 2012. The SEC can certainly stick with 13 members for a year, but at some point, the league would like to go to 14 to even out the divisions and for scheduling purposes.

Missouri was rumored to have an invitation on the table from the SEC last week. Whether that’s true or not, it’s clear the Tigers are a very attractive candidate for SEC expansion.

Missouri has not experienced a tremendous amount of success on the field over the last 20 years, but did claim three Big 12 North co-division titles in the 2000s. The Tigers also played in the Big 12 title game in 2008 and 2009.

As we have learned throughout the realignment crisis, success on the field isn’t always the driving force behind the moves. Texas A&M hasn’t posted a season of double-digit victories since 1998, but was still an attractive candidate for SEC expansion. Why? Take a look at the geographic and market impact. The SEC now has a team in Texas with large television markets like Dallas and Houston. Sure, the conference now has to split the pie 13 ways instead of 12, but getting into Texas only adds to the value of the SEC’s television deal.

Even though Missouri is not competing for a national title every year, it still has a lot to offer a conference like the SEC. Columbia, Mo. is located almost halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis. Missouri would help boost the academic reputation of the SEC and is a very good geographic fit.

Although Missouri joining the SEC makes sense, let’s not forget the school is also interested in the Big Ten. Could Missouri show some interest in the SEC to get the Big Ten’s attention? Needless to say, Missouri is a team that won’t be without a home when more dominoes fall in conference realignment.

Last week, Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton did not give a glowing endorsement for the school’s future in the Big 12. The Tigers may not be going anywhere for a couple of years, but it’s fair to wonder if the school is fed up with all of the instability and fighting within the Big 12. If the conference stabilizes, then those feelings could change. However, it’s clear Missouri isn’t 100 percent convinced the Big 12 is the right home.

With Deaton’s comments in mind from last week, should Missouri stay in the Big 12 or go to the SEC?

Let’s say Missouri does leave for the SEC, this is how the divisions could look –

East

Auburn
Florida
Georgia
Kentucky
South Carolina
Tennessee
Vanderbilt

West

Alabama
Arkansas
LSU
Mississippi State
Missouri
Ole Miss
Texas A&M

Here’s a guess at how the Big 12 could look after expansion –

Baylor
BYU
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State
Missouri
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
Texas
Texas Tech

The SEC is already the toughest conference in college football and adding Texas A&M and potentially Missouri makes it even more challenging.

Although Missouri football has improved under Gary Pinkel, winning in the SEC is going to be very difficult. If the Tigers stay in the Big 12, they have a much better chance of competing for a conference title.

Missouri has developed recruiting pipelines in Texas, which could be threatened if the Tigers move to the SEC. However, jumping to the SEC would create more revenue and a greater visibility for the Tigers.  

Is it worth taking a step back on the field for a conference that has more stability? That’s something Missouri is going to have to decide. Is the school willing to make a jump to the SEC or wait to see if the Big Ten wants to expand to 14 teams?

The ball is in Missouri’s court. The SEC appears to have some interest in the school and if the Tigers remain unhappy with the Big 12, Missouri could become the 14th member of the nation’s most difficult conference.

This decision may not take place anytime soon, but if it does, it’s going to be a defining moment in Missouri’s athletic history. 

Teaser:
<p> Could Missouri become the 14th member of the SEC?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 - 13:38
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-sec-1
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 4 SEC Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Alabama (4-0) – If Alabama and LSU continue to play like it has through the first four weeks of the season, both teams should enter the Nov. 5 matchup undefeated. The Crimson Tide easily handled Arkansas on Saturday, defeating the Razorbacks 38-14. Alabama’s defense turned in a top-notch effort, holding Arkansas to only 226 total yards on offense. AJ McCarron seems to have wrestled control of the No. 1 quarterback spot, completing 15 of 20 throws for 200 yards against the Razorbacks. The Crimson Tide travel to Gainesville to take on Florida this Saturday.

2. LSU (4-0) – The gap between LSU and Alabama is virtually zero. The Crimson Tide is ranked No. 1 in Athlon’s weekly 120 rankings, while LSU is No. 2. The Tigers gave up 463 passing yards to West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, but forced four turnovers and never allowed the Mountaineers to establish a rushing attack. LSU should have no trouble moving to 5-0, as they host Kentucky this Saturday.

3. Florida (4-0) – The competition steps up this week against Alabama, but so far, the Gators have looked like the best team in the SEC East. The defense has suffocated opponents, allowing only 231.8 yards and nine points per game. Quarterback John Brantley hasn’t been flashy, but has 752 passing yards through four weeks and looks very comfortable in the new offense. Florida will be looking to snap a two-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide on Saturday night.

4. Arkansas (3-1) – The Razorbacks’ high-powered offense never found its rhythm in Saturday’s loss to Alabama. Quarterback Tyler Wilson completed 22 of 35 passes for 185 yards and two scores, but the rushing attack managed only 17 net yards. Arkansas’ defense also suffered a couple of key injuries, including end Tenarius Wright, cornerback Isaac Madison and safety Tramain Thomas. Arkansas takes on future SEC rival Texas A&M this Saturday in Arlington.

5. South Carolina (4-0) – Quarterback play is going to drive coach Steve Spurrier crazy all year. Stephen Garcia had an awful performance against Vanderbilt on Saturday, throwing four interceptions on 30 attempts. With the question marks about quarterback play, running back Marcus Lattimore will have to carry this team to the SEC East title. The Gamecocks host Auburn and Kentucky in their next two matchups, before a three-game road stretch – at Mississippi State, Tennessee and Arkansas.

6. Auburn (3-1) – It was a rather pedestrian performance, but the Tigers defeated FAU 30-14 on Saturday night. The Owls are one of the worst teams in the FBS, so it was a surprise Auburn only won by 16 points. Running back Michael Dyer managed only 68 yards on 14 attempts, while quarterback Barrett Trotter threw for 178 yards and two scores. The Tigers are about to embark on a very difficult four-game stretch – South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and LSU – that could define their season.

7. Mississippi State (2-2) – Saturday’s game against Louisiana Tech was expected to be an easy victory for Mississippi State. However, Louisiana Tech pushed Mississippi State into overtime, but was unable to push for the upset. Quarterback Chris Relf has struggled in his last two games, throwing for only 260 yards and one touchdown. Getting Relf and running back Vick Ballard on track will be two keys to watch in Saturday’s game against Georgia.

8. Georgia (2-2) – Don’t write the Bulldogs off in the SEC race just yet. Georgia got off to an 0-2 start, but has rebounded with wins over Coastal Carolina and Ole Miss to even the record at 2-2. The next four games will decide whether this team is a factor in the conference title race or if the pressure continues to build on coach Mark Richt. The Bulldogs host Mississippi State this Saturday, before road trips against Tennessee and Vanderbilt. If Georgia can get by its next three games, the Oct. 29 showdown against Florida will have a huge impact on the SEC East title race.

9. Tennessee (2-1) – The Volunteers had their only bye week of the season on Saturday. Tennessee will host Buffalo in a non-conference matchup this week, in a game the Volunteers should have no trouble winning. The Bulls are improved from last season, but should still pose little threat to Tennessee. Expect quarterback Tyler Bray to have another big game on Saturday night.

10. Vanderbilt (3-1) – Finding an offense was a challenge for Vanderbilt last season and so far, it appears the Commodores have found few answers. Vanderbilt had opportunities against South Carolina, but was unable to take advantage of four turnovers. The Commodores have a bye week to find some answers on offense, before traveling to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama on Oct. 8.

11. Kentucky (2-2) – The Wildcats kicked off a difficult three-game stretch with a 48-10 loss to Florida. Once again, Kentucky’s offense was non-existent. Quarterback Morgan Newton had another so-so performance, completing 16 of 33 throws for 124 yards and two picks. The Wildcats also turned the ball over four times. Kentucky begins a two-game road trip with a date in Baton Rouge against LSU this Saturday. If the Wildcats want to make a bowl, finding some offense over the next couple of games will be critical.

12. Ole Miss (1-3) – The Rebels pulled out a few tricks in an effort to upset Georgia, but it wasn’t enough. The Bulldogs easily took care of the Rebels, winning 27-13 to drop Ole Miss to 1-3. For a team desperate for a victory, the schedule isn’t easy over the next three weeks. The Rebels travel to Fresno State this week and take on Alabama and Arkansas in conference matchups. Coach Houston Nutt is on the hot seat and a loss against Fresno State may not be the final nail in the coffin, but it’s certainly going to add even more pressure on him to produce. 

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the SEC stack up after the fourth week of action?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 - 07:57
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-acc-1
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 4 ACC Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Virginia Tech (4-0) – With Florida State falling to Clemson, the Hokies move up from No. 2 into the top spot. Virginia Tech is coming off a solid 30-10 win over Marshall, but the schedule difficulty is getting ready to pickup. The Hokies host Clemson and Miami over the next two weeks, which will play a role in establishing a pecking order in the ACC. Virginia Tech is still the favorite to win the Coastal Division, but Georgia Tech looks like a bigger threat as each week passes.

2. Clemson (4-0) – Thanks to wins over Auburn and Florida State, the Tigers have made a significant jump in the power rankings over the last two weeks. Clemson’s 35-30 win over Florida State was huge in the ACC Atlantic race and should give coach Dabo Swinney a little boost in job security. However, the schedule doesn’t get any easier with a trip to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech on tap this Saturday. After four games at home to begin the season, it’s time to see what the Tigers are made of on the road.

3. Georgia Tech (4-0) – The Yellow Jackets continued their hot start to 2011, defeating North Carolina 35-28 on Saturday. Georgia Tech is 4-0 for the first time since 1990 and the upcoming slate is favorable – at NC State, Maryland and at Virginia. Yes, some of the competition faced hasn’t been great, but the Yellow Jackets rank first nationally in scoring and total offense.

4. Florida State (2-2) – Even with quarterback EJ Manuel sidelined with a shoulder injury, the Seminoles had a chance to win against Clemson. However, Florida State could not overcome 11 costly penalties and struggled to establish the rushing attack once again. The Seminoles have a bye this Saturday, which should allow for Manuel’s return to the lineup on Oct. 8 at Wake Forest. Losing to Clemson is a setback in the ACC Atlantic race, but Florida State has plenty of time to dig out of this early hole.

5. North Carolina (3-1) – The Tar Heels suffered their first defeat of 2011, dropping a 35-28 decision to Georgia Tech. Like the Yellow Jackets’ first three opponents, North Carolina struggled to find an answer on defense for the option attack. The Tar Heels allowed 312 rushing yards and three scores to Georgia Tech. North Carolina steps out of conference for a trip to East Carolina this Saturday.

6. Miami (1-2) – One of the most surprising scores from Week 4 was Miami’s defeat to Kansas State. The Hurricanes were coming off an impressive victory over Ohio State one week prior, while the Wildcats had started the year with an awful performance against Eastern Kentucky. Miami’s defense struggled to stop Kansas State’s rushing attack, allowing 265 yards and two scores on the ground to the Wildcats. The Hurricanes should have an easy victory over Bethune-Cookman this Saturday.

7. Wake Forest (2-1) – The Demon Deacons had a bye in Week 4 and return to the heart of ACC play with a trip to Boston College on Saturday. Wake Forest needs just one victory to equal its win total from 2010. There’s a lot of football to be played, but the Demon Deacons are one of the most-improved teams in the ACC.

8. Maryland (1-2) – The Terrapins started of 2011 on the right foot by defeating Miami in the season opener. However, there have been few positives over the last two games. Maryland needed a furious rally in the second half to have a chance to beat West Virginia, and was thoroughly handled by Temple on Saturday. Expect the Terrapins to bounce back into the win column this week, as Towson visits College Park.

9. NC State (2-2) – The Wolfpack have yet to record a win over a FBS team this season. NC State defeated Liberty in Week 1 and South Alabama in Week 3, which means this team will have to earn seven wins to get bowl eligible. New quarterback Mike Glennon has been fine, but the offensive line and rushing attack haven’t provided much help. The Wolfpack host Georgia Tech this Saturday.

10. Virginia (2-2) – After opening the year 2-0, the Cavaliers have lost back-to-back games. Although Southern Miss is one of the top contenders in the Conference USA race, it’s a game Virginia should not lose. Freshman quarterback David Watford saw his playing time increase on Saturday, throwing for 81 yards and one touchdown, while adding 22 yards on the ground. Look for Virginia to get back into the win column against Idaho this Saturday.

11. Duke (2-2) – After defeating Tulane 48-27 on Saturday, the Blue Devils are riding a two-game winning streak. Quarterback Sean Renfree was solid in the victory over the Green Wave, completing 21 of 30 passes for 278 yards and a score. Duke hits the road for a difficult non-conference matchup against FIU this Saturday. The Blue Devils still have hopes of making a bowl, but they have to win against the Golden Panthers to keep those dreams alive.

12. Boston College (1-3) – The Eagles are the last team in the ACC to earn their first win of 2011. In Saturday’s victory over Massachusetts, senior running back Montel Harris made his return to the lineup. Harris rushed for 27 yards on nine carries. Boston College still has hopes of going to a bowl, but Saturday’s game against Wake Forest is a must-win.

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the ACC stack up after the fourth week of action?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 - 07:55
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-big-12-1
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 4 Big 12 Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Oklahoma (3-0) – Coming off a huge win over Florida State, all eyes were on the Sooners to see if they could avoid a letdown against Missouri. Oklahoma fell behind early, but rallied for a 38-28 win over the Tigers. Despite missing receivers Kenny Stills and Trey Franks, quarterback Landry Jones managed to throw for 448 yards and three scores. The Sooners host Ball State this Saturday, but a date against Texas looms large on Oct. 8.

2. Oklahoma State (4-0) – The Cowboys rallied from a 20-3 halftime deficit to score a key conference win over Texas A&M. Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden was huge in Saturday’s victory, throwing for 438 yards and two scores. Receiver Justin Blackmon also came up big, catching 11 passes for 121 yards and one touchdown. The Cowboys are off in Week 5 and return back to the field on Oct. 8 against Kansas.

3. Texas (3-0) – The Longhorns were off on Saturday, but remained in the spotlight due to conference realignment. Although Texas discussed heading to the Pac-12, it will stay in the Big 12 – for now. Texas hits the road to open up conference play against Iowa State this week. The Cyclones defeated the Longhorns 28-21 in Austin last season, so Texas will out for revenge, but has to be careful not to overlook Iowa State with Oklahoma ahead in Week 6.

4. Texas A&M (2-1) – For the third year in a row, the Aggies blew a halftime lead against Oklahoma State. Texas A&M held a commanding 20-3 lead after the first two quarters, but turnovers allowed Oklahoma State to jump back into the game. The Aggies also struggled to find an answer for Cowboys’ quarterback Brandon Weeden. There are several weeks remaining to sort out the Big 12 race, but this is a slight setback for a team that had hoped to make a BCS bowl trip this year.

5. Baylor (3-0) – The Bears completed the non-conference portion of their 2011 schedule with a 56-31 win over Rice. Quarterback Robert Griffin was stellar once again, throwing for 338 yards and five touchdowns. Griffin has thrown more touchdowns (13) than incompletions (12) through three games and has emerged as one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman. The Bears open Big 12 play with a road date at Kansas State. Baylor has never beat Kansas State in Manhattan.

6. Missouri (2-2) – The Tigers jumped out to an early lead, but couldn’t keep Oklahoma’s powerful offense down for long. Missouri quarterback James Franklin turned in a solid performance, completing 16 of 33 throws for 291 yards and one touchdown. He also notched 103 yards and two scores on the ground. The Tigers have two respectable losses (Arizona State and Oklahoma) and head into the bye week with plenty to build upon. Missouri will return to the Big 12 play on Oct. 8 at Kansas State.

7. Kansas State (3-0) – Thanks to a surprising victory in Miami, the Wildcats make the biggest jump in the power rankings, moving from last to seventh. After a sluggish performance in the opener against Eastern Kentucky, it appears Kansas State has made big progress over the last three weeks. Coach Bill Snyder continues to work miracles in Manhattan, and Saturday’s victory was one of the most surprising scores from Week 4. However, the schedule doesn’t get any easier for Kansas State, as Baylor and Missouri visit Manhattan the next two weeks.

8. Iowa State (3-0) – The Cyclones did not play in Week 4. Iowa State will be back on the gridiron this Saturday, hosting Texas in a battle of undefeated teams. The bye week came at a good time for Iowa State, as quarterback Steele Jantz was banged up in the victory over Connecticut. The Cyclones need Jantz at 100 percent if they want to make it two in a row over the Longhorns.

9. Texas Tech (3-0) – The Red Raiders take a bit of a dive in the power rankings this week, thanks to a 35-34 win over Nevada. Texas Tech needed a last-minute touchdown pass on fourth and goal from quarterback Seth Doege to beat the Wolf Pack. The good news is the Raiders are undefeated entering Big 12 play. However, receiver Darrin Moore suffered an ankle injury against Nevada and his status for Saturday’s game against Kansas is uncertain.

10. Kansas (2-1) – The Jayhawks had their only bye week of the season on Saturday and will be back in action against Texas Tech this week. The Kansas defense needs to find some answers, especially after allowing 66 points to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets are rolling on offense, the Jayhawks still need to be better on this side of the ball in conference play.

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the Big 12 stack up after four weeks of action?</p>
Post date: Monday, September 26, 2011 - 10:33
Path: /college-football/sec-expansion-candidates
Body:

By Steven Lassan and Mitch Light

Texas A&M has announced its intentions to apply for membership in the SEC. The Aggies intend to join the SEC in time for the 2012 season. However, the conference can't stay at 13 teams forever. Which teams could be on Mike Slive's wish list to be team No. 14?

SEC Expansion Candidates

Louisville

Pros: If the SEC doesn’t want to be viewed as a “conference killer”, Louisville could be an easy and safe choice as the 14th team. The program draws well when it wins and has proven it can compete at a high level nationally. Great fit geographically. Puts SEC into a large pseudo-Southern city. Great basketball team with sparkling new arena. Football stadium is relatively new and in great shape.

Cons: The SEC is unlikely to expand within its current footprint for a 14th team. Kentucky would likely object to an in-state rival joining the conference. Program draws well but doesn’t have a lot of fans outside of the city of Louisville. A longshot to join the SEC.

Maryland

Pros: The SEC would like to expand to new markets, and Maryland definitely fits that criteria. The Terrapins could help attract the Washington, D.C. market – a potentially lucrative area for the SEC.

Cons: Program has struggled to keep its head above water in the ACC, which has been considerably weaker than the SEC in recent seasons. Would not be the best fit geographically.

Missouri

Pros: Would attract new large metro areas for the SEC with St. Louis and Kansas City. Seems like an odd match at first, but actually a good geographic fit. Football program has raised its profile in recent seasons; should be able to compete in the SEC. Would give Arkansas a geographic rival.

Cons: Very few. The Tigers seem committed to the Big 12, but will that change in the coming weeks? Depending on how expansion plays out with the other conferences, Missouri could be courted by the Big Ten.

NC State

Pros: If the SEC can’t land North Carolina, then why not target its in-state rival? The Wolfpack could be the wildcard in terms of SEC expansion. Seems to be a good fit culturally for the SEC and would bring the conference into North Carolina, a state SEC schools like to recruit in. Program has a ton of potential and could be very competitive, with the right coach in the SEC.

Cons: Very few. The Wolfpack are a charter member of the ACC – would they be willing to leave that conference behind? Would they want to separate from North Carolina?

North Carolina

Pros: If the SEC wants to get into North Carolina, the Tar Heels would be atop the wish list. SEC schools like to recruit in North Carolina and this would open the door for the conference to expand its footprint. With the right coach, North Carolina can be very competitive in the SEC. The resources are there to compete for conference championships.

Cons: Expansion seems to be all about football – would North Carolina basketball want to leave the ACC? The Tar Heels are also a charter member of the ACC, which could make it more difficult to leave. Would North Carolina want to leave behind in-state rival NC State in conference expansion?

Virginia Tech

Pros: Adding the Hokies would be a huge catch for the SEC. This would bring the conference into Virginia, one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country. Great fit culturally and geographically. Program recruits well and draws well. When the SEC adds a 14th team, it’s about new markets and expanding its reach. Virginia Tech fits both criteria and is a perfect fit for the conference.

Cons: None.

West Virginia

The SEC reportedly rejected West Virginia's application for membership last week. However, don't write off the Mountaineers just yet.

Pros: Very competitive in the Big East in football and basketball. A new area for the SEC to expand its footprint. The SEC doesn’t want to be viewed as a “conference killer,” and West Virginia could be an easy target from the Big East. The Mountaineers have SEC-like support and wouldn’t be too much of a stretch geographically. Could help the SEC expand its recruiting into Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Cons: The Mountaineers won’t bring in a huge television market, but that’s the only drawback for the SEC.

Rumored candidates, but slim chance they join the SEC

Clemson – Has a great rivalry with South Carolina, but would not bring the SEC any new markets. The Gamecocks probably wouldn’t want another school from the same state in the conference.

Florida State – Although Florida State might be the best addition in terms of a football powerhouse, the Seminoles remain an unrealistic target. Could Florida block any potential application for Florida State into the SEC? Just like Clemson and Georgia Tech, the Seminoles wouldn’t add anything to the footprint of the SEC.

Georgia Tech – Any negatives for Georgia Tech are largely the same as Clemson and Florida State – the Yellow Jackets don’t bring the SEC any new markets.

Oklahoma – All signs point to Oklahoma being more interested in the Pac-12 than the SEC.

Texas – Getting two teams into Texas would be a nice addition for the SEC, but it’s unlikely the Longhorns would be ready to give up their television network and go for equal revenue sharing.

Also Read: Should Missouri Join the SEC?

Teaser:
<p> With Texas A&amp;M joining the SEC for 2012, the conference will have 13 teams. Which teams could the SEC be eyeing to get to 14?</p>
Post date: Monday, September 26, 2011 - 08:05
Path: /college-football/texas-am-leaves-big-12-join-sec
Body:

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

After a lengthy process, Texas A&M has officially said goodbye to the Big 12 and is off to the SEC. The Aggies nearly made the move in the summer of 2010, after Texas and a couple of other Big 12 teams nearly left to create a Pac-16 conference. However, there’s no turning back now: Texas A&M is the 13th member into the SEC.

Although the Big 12 was patched together last summer, the hard feelings from the 2010 realignment phase couldn’t be completely mended. Texas A&M was still unhappy over Texas’ Longhorn Network and even though it can’t show high school games, the divide was simply too deep.

The Aggies will join the SEC in time for the 2012 season, but will have to pay an exit fee to the Big 12. With the Big 12 surviving after a potential breakup last week, the buyout for Texas A&M is still being negotiated.

Texas A&M is the third school to depart the Big 12 since the end of the 2009 season, with Nebraska joining the Big Ten and Colorado joining the Pac-12.

What It Means for the SEC

The SEC didn’t need to expand, but acquiring Texas A&M is a solid acquisition for commissioner Mike Slive. The Aggies are a good geographic fit in the SEC West and getting into Texas will only help expand the reach of the conference.

Although SEC teams already dipping into Texas for prospects, expect this move to help open more doors on the recruiting trail.

The Aggies decision to join the SEC sets up an interesting 2012 season. Texas A&M is the conference’s 13th member and some scheduling issues will have to be worked out.

Also, what does the SEC plan to do about team No. 14? Although reports have indicated the SEC would be fine playing with 13 teams for a year, it’s unlikely the conference would continue with that model for long.

Expect North Carolina, NC State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and Missouri to be on the wish list for the SEC.

What it means for the Big 12

The long-term viability of the Big 12 is unknown. Although the conference was held together last week, it's uncertain if the Big 12 will exist in 10 years. After losing three schools, the conference has taken a hit in reputation and needs to make a splash in expansion. As long as Texas and Oklahoma want to stick together, the Big 12 will likely exist. However, it cannot continue to lose teams and expect to remain one of the top BCS conferences.

The Big 12 has already discussed potential replacements, which include Arkansas, BYU and Notre Dame. Arkansas and Notre Dame? Forget about it. BYU makes a lot of sense, especially since it seems to be the most competitive option in terms of available teams for football.

If BYU doesn’t go to the Big 12, the conference could look at Air Force, Houston, SMU, TCU or West Virginia or Louisville from the Big East. Although the Big 12 was expected to stay at 10 teams last season, the conference is expected to consider expanding to 12 teams.

Good or Bad Move for Texas A&M?

Many people are not sold this is a good move for Texas A&M, but this decision does make sense on a couple of levels. The Aggies can move a little out of Texas’ shadow and are in a conference with more stability. Also, the SEC has an equal revenue sharing model and should be able to bring in another huge television contract with its next deal. The Aggies fit the geographic model of the conference and should become rivals with Arkansas and LSU.

Although Texas A&M is joining a conference with more stability, the downside is the overall competition. The Aggies are moving into the toughest conference in college football. And the path to a national and conference title was easier in the Big 12.

Texas A&M’s All-time Record Against SEC Schools

Alabama – Crimson Tide lead overall series 3-1

Arkansas – Razorbacks lead overall series 40-24-3

Auburn – Aggies lead overall series 2-0

Florida – Series is tied 1-1

Georgia – Aggies lead overall series 3-2

Kentucky – Series is tied 1-1

LSU – Tigers lead overall series 27-20-3

Ole Miss – Aggies lead overall series 4-0

Mississippi State – Bulldogs lead overall series 3-2

South Carolina – Never played

Tennessee – Volunteers lead overall series 2-0

Vanderbilt – Never played

History of Teams Joining the SEC

Alabama - 1932
Arkansas - 1991
Auburn - 1932
Florida - 1932
Georgia - 1932
Kentucky - 1932
LSU - 1932
Mississippi State - 1932
Ole Miss - 1932
South Carolina - 1991
Tennessee - 1932
Vanderbilt - 1932

Distance from College Station to SEC Schools

Alabama (Tuscaloosa) - 629 miles
Arkansas (Fayetteville) - 503 miles
Auburn - 756 miles
Florida (Gainesville) - 925 miles
Georgia (Athens) - 896 miles
Kentucky (Lexington) - 981 miles
LSU (Baton Rouge) - 340 miles
Mississippi State (Starkville) - 571 miles
Ole Miss (Oxford) - 615 miles
South Carolina (Columbia) - 1,035 miles
Tennessee (Knoxville) - 936 miles
Vanderbilt (Nashville) - 770 miles

Teaser:
<p> Texas A&amp;M is leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. What does this mean for the Aggies, the Big 12, SEC and college football?</p>
Post date: Monday, September 26, 2011 - 08:03
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-big-east-1
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 4 Big East Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. West Virginia (3-1) – The Mountaineers gave one of the best teams in college football their best punch, but came up short. West Virginia’s passing attack shredded LSU for 463 yards and two scores, but quarterback Geno Smith also threw two picks. The Mountaineers’ offensive line came into this game under fire, but played well and did not allow a sack. West Virginia is home against Bowling Green this Saturday.

2. South Florida (4-0) – The gap between No. 1 and No. 2 closed a bit this week. However, the Mountaineers will hold onto the top spot for now. The Bulls easily dispatched UTEP on Saturday, defeating the Miners 52-24. Quarterback B.J. Daniels is off to a great start this season, throwing for 1,071 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception. South Florida opens up Big East play this week, as they travel to Heinz Field to take on Pittsburgh.

3. Cincinnati (3-1) – What a difference a year makes. After finishing near the bottom of college football in turnover margin, the Bearcats are ranked No. 1 in the nation through four weeks. It’s no secret Cincinnati is back in contention for the Big East title, as eliminating turnovers was a huge step in the right direction for this team. The Bearcats hit the road for a tricky non-conference matchup against Miami (OH). The RedHawks are off to an 0-3 start, but were picked as one of the MAC’s top teams in the preseason.

4. Pittsburgh (2-2) – The fourth quarter has not been kind to the Panthers over the last two weeks. Pittsburgh blew a 24-10 lead over Iowa in Week 3 and lost a 12-7 lead to Notre Dame on Saturday. The offense continues to sputter, as quarterback Tino Sunseri continues to struggle with his deep ball and the offensive line has allowed 19 sacks through four games. Pittsburgh is back at home this week, as they host South Florida in a Thursday night showdown at Heinz Field.

5. Syracuse (3-1) – Sometimes you need a little luck to win games. Syracuse was the benefactor of a horrible call in Saturday's game against Toledo, which improved the Orange to 3-1 on the year. The officiating crew incorrectly ruled an extra point was good, even though replays seem to clearly show it was off to the left. Although there's no guarantee it would have changed the outcome of the game, it's still a careless mistake that officials can't afford to make. Syracuse hosts Rutgers in the Big East opener for both teams this Saturday.

6. Rutgers (2-1) – The Scarlet Knights were a trendy upset pick in Week 4, but took care of business against Ohio. The offense has been under scrutiny all year, but collected 410 yards against the Bobcats. Receiver Mohamed Sanu delivered with a big performance, catching 16 passes for 176 yards and two scores. The Scarlet Knights hit the road for the Big East opener against Syracuse this Saturday.

7. Louisville (2-1) – The Cardinals had a bye last Saturday. The off week came at a good time for this team, as quarterback Will Stein suffered an injury against Kentucky, but the bye will give him time to return to full health for Saturday. The offensive line could get a boost with the return of center Mario Benavides. The junior has returned to workouts, but will likely be a gametime decision for Week 5. The Cardinals host Marshall this Saturday.

8. Connecticut (2-2) – The Huskies snapped a two-game losing streak with a 17-3 win over Buffalo. It was another lethargic performance on offense, as Connecticut managed only 293 yards. Quarterback Johnny McEntee completed 12 of 21 passes for 213 yards and two scores and did not throw an interception for the first time in two games. The offense may have found a new weapon in receiver Nick Williams, who caught two passes for 113 yards and one touchdown. Connecticut hosts Western Michigan this Saturday.

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the Big East stack up after the fourth week of action?</p>
Post date: Monday, September 26, 2011 - 07:59
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, Big East
Path: /college-football/week-4-college-football-recap
Body:

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.

Winners

Alabama defense – Arkansas entered Week 4 averaging 517.3 yards and 47 points per game. The Crimson Tide limited the Razorbacks to 226 yards and just 14 points. Without a doubt, Alabama owns one of the top defenses in college football.

Arizona State – The Sun Devils entered the year as one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 South crown, but fulfilling expectations never seems to be easy in Tempe. However, Arizona State came through with a big win over USC on Saturday, which puts it in the driver’s seat to win the South.

Ball State – A win over Army isn’t going to register on the national radar, but let’s give some credit to new coach Pete Lembo. The Cardinals won the season opener against Indiana and demolished the Black Knights on Saturday.

Bryant Moniz, QB, Hawaii – The Warriors finally got their passing game on track against UC Davis. Moniz tossed seven touchdowns in the first half and finished with 424 passing yards.

Cincinnati’s turnover margin – After finishing 2010 119th nationally in turnover margin, the Bearcats are ranked No. 1 in college football through four weeks. As long as Cincinnati keeps the turnovers in check, it should be a factor in the Big East race.

Clemson – Despite two lackluster showings to start the year, the Tigers have arrived as a threat to win the ACC. The Tigers took care of Auburn in Week 3 and knocked off Florida State on Saturday. Clemson has defeated the Seminoles five consecutive times in Death Valley, which is a huge victory considering the race in the Atlantic Division. The schedule doesn’t lighten up for the Tigers, as they head to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech this Saturday.

College football – Now that the realignment news seems to be dying down, can we please focus the attention back to the field?

Georgia Tech – Not much was expected of the Yellow Jackets in the preseason, but it’s time to take this team seriously as a threat to win the ACC Coastal. Georgia Tech beat North Carolina to move to 4-0 and has a favorable upcoming stretch – NC State, Maryland and Virginia.

LSU – The secondary was torched by West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, but the Tigers still came out on top. LSU won the turnover battle, once again got timely throws from quarterback Jarrett Lee, and a momentum-changing kickoff return by Morris Claiborne for a score in the third quarter. The Tigers should easily handle Kentucky this Saturday, setting up a key SEC showdown on Oct. 8 against Florida.

Melvin Ingram, DL, South Carolina – The 6-foot-2, 276-pound lineman has scored three touchdowns this year, which equals how many passing scores South Carolina has this season.

Michigan defense – The Wolverines aren’t an elite defense, but they are much better than the 2010 version. Michigan is allowing only 13.7 points per game and ranks 41st nationally against the pass. Coordinator Greg Mattison and coach Brady Hoke still need to upgrade the overall talent on defense, but it’s clear those two are making a difference.

Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers - Has been nearly unstoppable through the first four weeks of the season, catching 36 passes for 363 yards. Sanu grabbed 16 receptions for 176 yards and two scores in the win over Ohio on Saturday.

Oklahoma State – Behind the arm of quarterback Brandon Weeden, the Cowboys rallied from a 20-3 halftime deficit to win for the third time in a row over Texas A&M. Oklahoma State has two tricky road dates ahead – Missouri and Texas – but should it get past those two games, the season finale against Oklahoma could decide the Big 12 champ.

Oregon – After losing the season-opener against LSU, the Ducks have remained off the national radar. However, Oregon has quietly handled its business, scoring at least 56 points in its last three games. The Ducks still look like the best team in the Pac-12.

Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor – Griffin is off to a ridiculous start, throwing more touchdowns (13) than incompletions (12) through three games.

Temple – One week after losing a close battle to Penn State, the Owls went on the road to College Park and embarrassed Maryland. New coach Steve Addazio has done a good job of picking up where Al Golden left off and continuing to push Temple to be a contender in the MAC and relevant on the national scene.

Losers

ACC – Week 4 was not a banner weekend for the ACC. Miami lost to Kansas State, NC State was blown out by Cincinnati, Virginia lost to Southern Miss, and Temple easily dispatched Maryland. For a conference searching for national respect, this was a weekend to forget.

Big Ten – When Indiana loses to North Texas and Minnesota loses to North Dakota State, it’s a bad weekend for your conference. The overall slate of games in the Big Ten was awful, but the action in the conference will pickup with Nebraska visiting Wisconsin next Saturday.

BYU's offense – The Cougars seemed to find their offensive rhythm at the end of last season, but are off to a sluggish start. BYU ranks 116th nationally in rushing, 111th in total offense and 109th in scoring. With quarterback Jake Heaps, a solid group of receivers and a good offensive line, it’s been very surprising to see the struggles of this unit.

Big East officiating – The call on the extra point in the Toledo-Syracuse game was awful. The replays seemed to clearly show the kick was no good. There’s no guarantee the Rockets would have won, but it’s a mistake that should not happen.

Mike Locksley, New Mexico – There are many adjectives to describe how bad Locksley has been in his short tenure in Albuquerque. And finally, the administration pulled the plug on his hire on Sunday. After losing to Sam Houston State on Saturday, it will be a surprise if the Lobos win more than two games this season.

NC State – New quarterback Mike Glennon’s numbers aren’t awful (10 TDs, 3 INTs), but it’s fair to wonder if this team would have a better record with Russell Wilson under center. The defense is dealing with several injuries and with two wins over FCS teams, the Wolfpack could be left without a bowl trip this season.

South Carolina quarterbacks – If the Gamecocks want to win the SEC East, getting consistent quarterback play is going to be a must. Stephen Garcia was awful against Vanderbilt, throwing four interceptions and completing 16 of 30 throws. Connor Shaw doesn’t look like the answer, so it’s up to Garcia to pickup his play or defenses will start crowding the box even more to stop Marcus Lattimore.

Texas A&M’s second-half performance – The Aggies led 20-3 at halftime, but fell apart in the final two quarters. Oklahoma State used a couple of turnovers in the second half to rally for its third-straight win over Texas A&M.

USC – The Trojans outgained Arizona State (402 to 392), but lost the turnover battle (4 to 0). USC has the talent to be the best team in the Pac-12 South, but not when it loses the turnover battle and collapses in the second half.

Vanderbilt offense – The Commodores played a stout defensive line in South Carolina, but managed only 77 yards of offense in Saturday’s loss. Vanderbilt also tallied only five first downs and had three turnovers.

Looking Ahead to Week 5

A small sample of what’s ahead

South Florida at Pittsburgh (Thursday)
A chance for the Bulls to make an early statement in the Big East title race.

Georgia Tech vs. NC State
The Yellow Jackets are rolling and a Wolfpack defense bothered by injuries has a tough task ahead.

Auburn at South Carolina
A rematch of last season’s SEC title game, but the outcome is expected to be a lot different this time around.

Mississippi State at Georgia
Georgia isn’t out of the SEC East race, but this is a must-win to keep pace with South Carolina and Florida.

Clemson vs. Virginia Tech
A preview of the ACC title game? Or is this the game where Clemson’s offense cools off?

Northwestern at Illinois
Wildcats’ quarterback Dan Persa makes his return to the starting lineup.

Michigan State at Ohio State
A key game in the Big Ten race. Buckeyes need a win, especially with a trip to Nebraska next week.

Air Force vs. Navy
Future Big East conference game? A matchup between the service academies is always a must-see game.

Baylor at Kansas State
Are the Wildcats for real? Let’s see if they can back up their win over Miami with a victory over Robert Griffin and Baylor.

Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (Arlington)
Both teams looking to get back into the win column after disappointing Week 4 losses.

Washington at Utah
Intriguing Pac-12 matchup, with the Utes needing to win this one to keep pace with Arizona State in the South.

Nebraska at Wisconsin
The first Big Ten game for Nebraska isn’t easy – a road trip to Madison to take on Wisconsin.

Alabama at Florida
Are the Gators a SEC title threat? This should be a good test for how much they have come along in Will Muschamp’s first year.

Injuries from Week 4

Alabama LB C.J. Mosley – elbow – questionable for Week 5
Arkansas DE Tenarius Wright – arm – questionable for Week 5
Arkansas CB Isaac Madison – arm – questionable for Week 5
Arkansas S Tramain Thomas – undisclosed – questionable for Week 5
BYU WR Ross Apo – concussion – questionable for Week 5
FIU QB Wesley Carroll – ankle – questionable for Week 5
Florida State DE Brandon Jenkins – ankle – expected to play in Week 6
Maryland DT Andre Monroe – sprained ankle – likely out for Week 5
Maryland S Matt Robinson – shoulder – out for the remainder of 2011
Miami, Fla. RB Lamar Miller – shoulder – expected to play in Week 5
Michigan CB Troy Woolfolk – ankle – questionable for Week 5
Oklahoma C Ben Habern – broken arm – likely out six to eight weeks
Oklahoma State OL Jonathan Rush – knee – out for remainder of 2011
Oklahoma State CB Devin Hedgepeth – Achilles – out for remainder of 2011
Penn State LB Michael Mauti – torn ACL – out for the remainder of 2011
Penn State CB D’Anton Lynn – neck/head – questionable for Week 5
Texas Tech WR Darrin Moore – ankle – questionable for Week 5
Toledo RB Adonis Thomas – broken arm – out three to four weeks
UAB QB Bryan Ellis – concussion – questionable for Week 5
USC CB Torin Harris – shoulder – questionable for Week 5
Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas – shoulder – expected to play in Week 5
Virginia Tech CB Jayron Hosley – foot – expected to play in Week 5
Washington DE Hau’oli Jamora – knee – questionable for Week 5

Teaser:
<p> Athlon recaps Week 4 of the college football season and takes a look ahead to Week 5.</p>
Post date: Monday, September 26, 2011 - 07:57
Path: /college-football/college-football-week-4-preview-match-ups-and-upset-picks
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 4

1. After struggling the first two weeks of the season, Clemson looked like a different team in Saturday’s win over Auburn. Quarterback Tajh Boyd completed 30 of 42 passes for 386 yards and four scores, while freshman receiver Sammy Watkins caught 10 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns. The Tigers have a chance to take control of the ACC Atlantic with Florida State visiting Death Valley. The Seminoles have lost their last four trips to Clemson, and quarterback EJ Manuel is expected to miss Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman Clint Trickett will start, and he gained valuable experience in last week’s game against Oklahoma. With the offense struggling to establish the rushing attack and a new quarterback under center, Florida State will lean on its defense, which is one of the best in the nation. Clemson’s offense is averaging 38.7 points per game and if it can repeat last week’s success, the Tigers can defeat the Seminoles for the fifth time in a row in Death Valley.

2. USC and Arizona State were the preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 South, but both teams have been up and down through the first three weeks. The Trojans finally put together a complete performance in Saturday’s win over Syracuse, while the Sun Devils lost on the road at Illinois. Both teams are riding the play of its quarterbacks. USC’s Matt Barkley has thrown for 892 yards and nine scores, while Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler is completing 66 percent of his throws with six passing scores. With two high-scoring offenses, whichever defense can step up will be the difference. USC’s defense has shown improvement from last season, allowing 16 points and 317.3 yards per game through three weeks. Arizona State’s defense has dealt with a couple of key injuries this season, including cornerback Omar Bolden, linebacker Brandon Magee and end Junior Onyeali. Considering the key losses for the Sun Devils, stopping Barkley and receiver Robert Woods could be a challenge.

3. Coming off last week’s win against Florida State, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops should be concerned about a letdown against Missouri. Then again, all Stoops needs to do is put on the tape from the Sooners’ loss in Columbia last season, and there should be plenty of motivation for Oklahoma to come out firing on all cylinders. Missouri quarterback James Franklin has made progress through each of his first three starts and will test a Sooners’ secondary allowing 245 yards a game. However, the Tigers have to be concerned about stopping Oklahoma’s offense, after allowing 353 passing yards to Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler. If Missouri can’t find an answer for the Sooners’ passing attack, asking Franklin in his fourth career start to outscore them is probably too much.

4. Much of the talk in Morgantown this week hasn’t been focused on the West Virginia-LSU matchup this Saturday. Conference realignment dominated the headlines in the Big East, but for at least a couple of hours this weekend, the focus shifts back to the field. New West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has brought some much-needed life to the offense, but will have his hands full against LSU. The Tigers own one of the top defenses in college football, which includes a shutdown secondary and a deep, athletic line. The Mountaineers have started to get more comfortable with Holgorsen’s scheme, but the offensive line remains a concern. If the Mountaineers struggle to protect Smith, the Tigers should be able to exit Morgantown with an easy win. LSU’s offense isn’t built to come from behind, so forcing turnovers and getting quarterback Jarrett Lee in third and long situations are two keys for West Virginia’s defense.

5. Alabama opens up SEC play with Arkansas visiting Tuscaloosa. These two teams hooked up for a memorable 24-20 game last year, with the Crimson Tide rallying from a 20-7 deficit to win. Despite the departure of quarterback Ryan Mallett and a season-ending injury to running back Knile Davis, Arkansas remains one of the SEC’s top offenses. Although the Razorbacks are set at quarterback with Tyler Wilson and a deep group of playmakers at receiver, the offensive line is a concern. Freshman Mitch Smothers will start at tackle and the entire group will be tested by Alabama’s front seven. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw needs to step up his production and against a line that is still trying to jell, he could be a key factor in the outcome. Alabama’s quarterback situation is still uncertain, but sophomore AJ McCarron should see the majority of the snaps. The Crimson Tide is not built to overcome a big margin, which makes it important for the Razorbacks to create a couple of turnovers and jump to an early lead.

6. With Texas A&M headed to the SEC in 2012, who knows when it will play Oklahoma State again. The Aggies have lost their last three matchups against the Cowboys, including an entertaining 38-35 shootout in Stillwater last season. This game boasts a collection of elite offensive players, including Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon and Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray and receiver Jeff Fuller. Considering the firepower on both sidelines, whichever defense can step up will be the difference. The competition hasn’t been great, but the Aggies have picked up 11 sacks and allowed only 21 points in two games. With last season’s loss to Oklahoma State providing motivation and a raucous home crowd at Kyle Field, the Aggies would seem to have a slight edge on Saturday.

7. The competition hasn’t been the toughest, but Georgia Tech has been very impressive through three games. The Yellow Jackets rank first nationally in rushing, total and scoring offense and are averaging a ridiculous 10.3 yards per play. The competition gets tougher this Saturday, as Georgia Tech hosts North Carolina in a key ACC Coastal game. The Tar Heels own one of the top defensive lines in college football and have allowed only 76.7 rushing yards per game. Georgia Tech was a mystery team entering the season, but a win over North Carolina could vault them into a contender in the Coastal Division. 

8. Vanderbilt has been one of the early surprises this season, jumping out to 3-0 record with wins over Elon, Connecticut and Ole Miss. While the schedule hasn’t been overwhelmingly difficult, the Commodores are making progress under first-year coach James Franklin. However, the stakes get higher on Saturday, as Vanderbilt hits the road to take on South Carolina. The Gamecocks were picked as a preseason SEC East favorite by some, but have not played up to that potential so far. Quarterback Stephen Garcia has been inconsistent and the secondary has not played well. With Garcia’s play a concern, South Carolina needs to continue to lean on sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore. Despite their 3-0 start, Vanderbilt is a longshot to win this game. However, a couple of turnovers from the Gamecocks could keep this one close in the fourth quarter.

9. Michigan coach Brady Hoke isn’t crazy about playing his former team, especially when it’s a dangerous San Diego State squad coming to Ann Arbor. One of the nation’s most underrated players will get a chance in the spotlight on Saturday afternoon. San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman has 497 yards and eight scores through three games and faces a Michigan defense ranked 103rd nationally against the run. Quarterback Ryan Lindley is throwing to a completely revamped group of receivers, but has yet to impact his play, totaling 622 passing yards, seven touchdowns and only one pick. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is still trying to find his rhythm in coordinator Al Borges’ offense, but remains one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in college football. The Brady Hoke Bowl features a lot of intrigue, especially since the Aztecs are a dangerous team capable of pulling the upset.

10. After outplaying its first two opponents and losing, Notre Dame finally broke into the win column with a 31-13 win over Michigan State last Saturday. Can the Irish continue the momentum? Pittsburgh has won two out of the last three against Notre Dame, and coach Todd Graham was at Tulsa in the Golden Hurricane’s upset win in South Bend last year. The Panthers have struggled to achieve Graham’s plan of a high-octane offense so far this season. Quarterback Tino Sunseri has struggled at times and thrown four picks to three scores. Running back Ray Graham has been Pittsburgh’s best weapon, but faces a Notre Dame defense that is allowing only 90 yards a game on the ground. Turnovers have been a big problem for Notre Dame through three weeks, and it cannot afford the same issue to appear once again this Saturday against a Pittsburgh offense that is capable of breaking out.

Saturday’s Picks

Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 4 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.

Texas A&M 34, Oklahoma State 31
LSU 27, West Virginia 20
Alabama 30, Arkansas 20
Michigan 34, San Diego State 27
Florida State 24, Clemson 20
Arizona State 34, USC 31
Georgia Tech 27, North Carolina 24
Notre Dame 34, Pittsburgh 24
South Carolina 31, Vanderbilt 17
Washington 34, California 30
Ohio State 34, Colorado 13
Oklahoma 38, Missouri 23
Oregon 45, Arizona 20

Upset Watch

Looking for a few upsets? Keep a close watch on these games.

Toledo at Syracuse (-2.5)
The Rockets put a scare into Ohio State and trailed only 20-9 at halftime against Boise State. Syracuse has struggled to stop the pass, which is a concern against Toledo receiver Eric Page.

Ohio at Rutgers (-4)
The competition hasn’t been great, but Ohio has been impressive in its first three games. The Scarlet Knights had a blowout win over North Carolina Central in the opener, but lost a close game to North Carolina in Week 2. If Rutgers struggles to get its offense on track, the Bobcats can pull the upset.  

Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 4

Arkansas will be without top defensive end Jake Bequette for Saturday's game against Alabama. Big loss for the Razorbacks.

Ohio State will turn to true freshman Braxton Miller at quarterback.

Virginia Tech receiver Jarrett Boykin will miss Saturday's game against Marshall with a hamstring injury.

Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard should return to the lineup for Saturday's game against Wyoming. However, defensive tackle Jared Crick could be out

Syracuse's offensive line got off to a slow start this year, but could be turning a corner.

Saturday's matchup between Georgia Tech and North Carolina is a big one in the ACC Coastal race. Possessions will be key for the Yellow Jackets' chances at victory.

Boston College could get some good news on Saturday, as running back Montel Harris could return to action.

New Mexico State quarterback Andrew Manley will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

Penn State is still searching for the right answer at quarterback.

Injuries are becoming a major concern on Michigan State's offensive line.

UCLA will turn to Richard Brehaut under center against Oregon State.

Florida coach Will Muschamp thinks running back Chris Rainey should be in the Heisman discussion.

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith still has some work to do this season.

What's going on with Kansas State running back Bryce Brown?

USC plans on redshirting freshman receiver George Farmer.

Is Barry Brunetti going to get back in the quarterback mix at Ole Miss?

Rutgers is continuing to search for the right mix on the offensive line.

Oregon State running back Malcolm Agnew won't play against UCLA.

Nevada could be making a change at quarterback.

Indiana running back Darius Willis won't play this season due to a knee injury.

Teaser:
<p> We give you the 10 most important match-ups and upset picks for Week 4.</p>
Post date: Friday, September 23, 2011 - 07:57
Path: /college-football/college-football-predictions-lsu-vs-west-virginia
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Big East, this game is a chance for the conference to make a statement. West Virginia is the Big East’s top-ranked team and the preseason favorite to win the conference title. What better way to make a splash on the national scene than by beating a top five team?

These two teams played last season, with LSU edging West Virginia 20-14 in Baton Rouge. The Mountaineers held the Tigers to only 80 passing yards, but Patrick Peterson’s 60-yard punt return helped propel LSU to the victory. Last season’s matchup is the only one between these two teams.

The Mountaineers are off to a 3-0 start, with wins over Marshall, Norfolk State and Maryland. New coach Dana Holgorsen was hired to spice up the offense, and the Mountaineers rank seventh in the nation in passing yards per game.

LSU is more battled tested than West Virginia. The Tigers knocked off Oregon 40-27 in the season opener, defeated FCS foe Northwestern State 49-3 in Week 2, and defeated Mississippi State 19-6 last Thursday. The Tigers are a national title contender and enter this matchup ranked No. 3 in Athlon’s Top 120.

When LSU Has the Ball

The Tigers certainly aren’t going to win any awards for being flashy on offense. However, its effective and exactly what LSU needs to do in order to win a national title.

Jarrett Lee was elevated to the No. 1 quarterback role when Jordan Jefferson was suspended due to an off-the-field incident. The senior is averaging 19.7 attempts per game, which is a credit to LSU’s strong rushing attack and defense.

Lee has been prone to interceptions throughout his career, but has tossed only one so far this season. The Tigers won’t ask Lee to win games, just don’t lose them.

The passing attack will get a key weapon back this Saturday, as receiver Russell Shepard returns from a suspension. He was the team’s second-leading receiver last year, catching 33 passes for 544 yards and three scores. Shepard’s return should help Lee stretch the field, while taking some pressure of No. 1 receiver Rueben Randle.

Leading the way on the ground for LSU will be sophomores Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. This duo has been one of the best in the SEC through three weeks, rushing for 444 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Mountaineers rank 45th nationally against the run and allowed Maryland running back Davin Meggett to rush for 113 yards and a score last week. The LSU offensive line has been a big part of the success for the offense and will look to push around the Mountaineers’ defensive line.

West Virginia’s Jeff Casteel is one of the nation’s most underrated defensive coordinators and will likely stack the box and force Lee to win this game for LSU. If the Mountaineers want to win this game, they need to find a way to slow down the Michael Ford-Spencer Ware duo, while forcing Lee into several third and long situations.

West Virginia’s pass rush, particularly end Bruce Irvin, has been quiet this year. Although LSU’s offensive line is playing well, the Mountaineers have to be able to generate some pressure on Lee when he drops back to pass.

When West Virginia Has the Ball

New West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is one of the top offensive minds in college football. Consider the Mountaineers’ offense a work in progress so far.

Big things were expected out of quarterback Geno Smith this year and so far he has delivered, throwing for 1,008 yards and seven scores through three games.

Helping Smith’s cause is one of the Big East’s top receiving corps. Tavon Austin leads the team with 20 receptions, while Stedman Bailey, Ivan McCartney and Devon Brown have all factored prominently into the passing attack.

The Mountaineers’ have a tough task ahead on Saturday night, as LSU’s secondary is one of the best in college football. Cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu are strong candidates to earn All-SEC honors at the end of the year, and sophomore safety Eric Reid ranks fourth on the team with 15 tackles.

Helping LSU’s secondary is a deep and talented defensive line. The Tigers are averaging 10 tackles for a loss per game and a scary thought for the future – the depth chart for this week’s game indicates only one senior starter.

Although Smith has been solid for West Virginia, there has been a lot of concern about the offensive line. The front five has struggled to open running lanes for the backs, averaging only 2.6 yards per carry. Smith has been sacked only four times, but has been hurried or pressured often. Although the junior doesn’t like to run, he may have to make a few plays with his legs if things break down in the pocket.

For West Virginia to have any shot at winning this game, Smith has to have time to throw and he has to make smart decisions. LSU has picked off four passes and isn’t afraid to take risks to create turnovers.

If LSU’s defensive line wins the battle at the line of scrimmage, West Virginia’s offense won’t have a chance to take off. If the Mountaineers can protect Smith and give him passing lanes to throw, West Virginia will have a chance to win.

Special Teams

LSU kicker Drew Alleman has been solid this season, connecting on six of seven attempts. West Virginia hasn’t been bad either on field goals, as Tyler Bitancurt has connected on seven of eight kicks.

Both teams boast capable options on return. West Virginia’s Tavon Austin has been dynamic so far this season, averaging 29.4 yards per return. Austin also returned a kickoff for a score against Marshall. He is also averaging 22 yards per punt return. LSU will lean on cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu for kick and punt returns.

Prediction

There’s a lot on the line for West Virginia in this matchup. If the Mountaineers can get past LSU, it would be a huge victory for the program and the Big East. However, it’s not going to be an easy task on Saturday night and without a doubt, West Virginia's toughest game this year.

LSU’s defense has been one of the best in the nation so far this season, which will make life difficult for West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and his receivers. The Mountaineers need to do a better job of protecting Smith and establishing a rushing attack.

West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen (offense) and LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis are two of the best coaches on their side of the ball. The chess match between these two should be entertaining to watch.

If West Virginia wants to win this game, the defense has to force a few turnovers and put LSU in several third and long situations.

Although this is a huge game for the Mountaineers and an opportunity to make a statement, the breakdown points in LSU’s favor.

LSU 27, West Virginia 20

Teaser:
<p> West Virginia-LSU is one of the big games in Week 4. Athlon Sports previews what both sides need to do in order to win.</p>
Post date: Friday, September 23, 2011 - 07:55
All taxonomy terms: Georgia Bulldogs, Ole Miss Rebels, SEC, News
Path: /news/mark-richt-vs-houston-nutt-biggest-game-their-career
Body:

by Sam Bernstein

Two coaches with more than 225 combined wins find themselves fighting for their jobs this weekend. It is not because they ignored the fact that their players gave away merchandise for tattoos, or that they slipped their players cash when nobody was looking. Mark Richt and Houston Nutt find their jobs in jeopardy for one reason; not winning enough football games.

Mark Richt began his tenure as Georgia’s head coach with a bang. In his second season (2002), the Bulldogs finished as SEC champs with an overall record of 13-1. After several successful seasons and another SEC Championship to his name, Richt was hailed by many as the next Vince Dooley. So why has he found himself under the gun recently? Georgia has seen its win total decline for three consecutive seasons, and a 10-6 defeat to the University of Central Florida in last years’ Liberty Bowl did little to stop the criticism from mounting in Athens.

 Despite the program’s struggles, Richt was given the full support of the University and returned to coach the Bulldogs this year. However, Georgia’s schedule has not made Richt’s job any easier. After getting beaten by national title contender Boise State in their opening game, Georgia had to turn around and face SEC East favorites South Carolina. Georgia displayed a much livelier brand of football against the Gamecocks, but still found themselves on the losing end of a 45-42 score. Richt was able to buy himself a week’s grace with a 59-0 win over Coastal Carolina last weekend, but his real judgment day comes this Saturday when he takes his Bulldogs to Oxford.

Similarly to Richt at Georgia, Houston Nutt experienced early success at Ole Miss after taking over for Ed Orgeron in 2008. The Rebels posted matching 9-4 records in Nutt’s first two seasons, and brought two Cotton Bowl trophies back to campus. However, experts did not have to wait very long to realize Nutt’s luck at Ole Miss was ephemeral. In the opening game of the 2010 season, the Rebels suffered a shocking home loss to Division I-AA Jacksonville State. Ole Miss never fully recovered from this game, and went on to finish the season with an ugly 4-8 record.

Nutt faced rumors about his job security in the off-season, but he retained his position for the 2011 season. When Ole Miss lost their season opener to BYU, Nutt began hearing the boo-birds. However, the game that drew the ire of the Ole Miss fans was last weekend’s drubbing at Vanderbilt. The Rebels had won the previous week against Southern Illinois, but failed to bring both their playbooks and effort with them to Nashville. Ole Miss didn’t just lose to James Franklin’s squad, they were thrashed. Vanderbilt, long thought of as the joke of the SEC, intercepted five Ole Miss passes, and dominated the Rebels in every facet of the game. Following the defeat, Nutt said “There hasn't been much sleep lately.” If Ole Miss loses again this weekend, you can bet that Nutt will be having plenty more nights of tossing and turning.'

Despite their recent struggles, both Bulldog and Rebel fans must remember that their teams only have one conference loss. A win for Richt and Nutt will have them dreaming again about titles in their respective divisions. However, a loss will leave both coaches with a far darker thought; unemployment.  

Teaser:
<p> Mark Richt and Houston Nutt are on the hot seat.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 22, 2011 - 14:41

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