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By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)

At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the Big 12.

Coach of the Year — Bill Snyder, Kansas State
This one is easy. Snyder, in his second stint at Kansas State, has guided the Wildcats to a 6–0 start, with each of the last four wins coming as an underdog (and each coming by seven points or less). K-State visits rival Kansas this weekend before embarking on a difficult four-game stretch that includes home games with Oklahoma and Texas A&M and visits to Oklahoma State and Texas.

Freshman of the Year — Malcolm Brown, Texas
A top-five national recruit, Brown has given Texas its most dependable running threat from the tailback position since Jamaal Charles. He has run for over 50 yards in all six games and has topped the 100-yard mark twice, against UCLA (110) and Oklahoma State (135).

Newcomer of the Year — Arthur Brown, Kansas State
A top recruit in the Class of 2008, Brown transferred back home to the state of Kansas after spending two seasons at Miami (Fla.). The 6-1, 223-pound linebacker leads the Cats with 45 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss.

Offensive Player of the Year — Landry Jones, Oklahoma
It’s nearly impossible to pick the best player from a list that includes Jones, Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Broyles. We went with Jones, who leads the Big 12 in passing yardage (362.8 ypg) and has thrown 16 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

Defensive Player of the Year — Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
We no longer have to use the word “potential” when describing Alexander. The defensive end is having a monster senior season, with 9.5 tackles for a loss (tied for the league lead) and 6.5 sacks (second in the league).

Midseason Disappointment — Missouri
The Tigers are 3–3 overall and 1–2 in the Big 12. Their three losses have come against quality competition — Arizona State, Oklahoma and Kansas State, all on the road — but they also don’t have anything close to a good win. Statistically, Missouri has been solid on both sides of the ball, but Gary Pinkel’s club just hasn’t been able to make the big play at the right time.

Midseason Disappointment — Bryce Brown, Kansas State
The Wildcats were hoping that Brown, a transfer from Tennessee who was once considered the top prep running back in the nation, could slide right into the starting job filled so well last season by Daniel Thomas. But Brown, the brother of K-State linebacker Arthur Brown, was a non-factor for the Wildcats — he had three carries for 16 yards in the opener — before leaving the team a few weeks ago.

Midseason Surprise — Kansas State
Just like picking Bill Snyder for midseason Coach of the Year honors, this is the easy choice. The Wildcats have done the seemingly impossible — win four straight games as an underdog. K-State is already 6–0 and has yet to play Kansas and Iowa State. The school’s first 10-win season since 2003 isn’t out of the question.

Midseason Surprise — Henry Josey, Missouri
Josey was part of a tailback-by-committee at Missouri last year as a freshman. This season, he has emerged as the primary ball-carrier and leads the league with 717 yards on only 74 carries for a 9.7-yard average — the best in the country for a player with at least 40 attempts.

What Athlon Sports got right — We thought Oklahoma would be really good (which it is) and thought Kansas would be really bad (which it is). We picked OU No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 2 in the nation and forecasted a perfect 12–0 regular season. We tabbed Kansas last in the Big 12 and predicted an overall mark of 3–9 and a league record of 1–8.

What Athlon Sports got wrong — Kansas State is the only team that really jumps out at this point. We picked the Cats to finish ninth in the league with a record of 2–7.

Second-Half Predictions

 

Athlon projects the wins and losses for each team for the rest of the season. Here’s how we think the final standings will look before bowl season.

1. Oklahoma 12-0 (9-0)
2. Oklahoma State 11-1 (8-1)
3. Texas A&M 9-3 (7-2)
4. Texas 8-4 (5-4)
5. Kansas State 8-4 (5-4)
6. Baylor 7-5 (4-5)
7. Missouri 6-6 (4-5)
8. Texas Tech 5-7 (2-7)
9. Iowa State 4-8 (1-8)
10. Kansas 2-10 (0-9)

Three Things to Watch

The Best Bedlam Ever? - Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were ranked third and fourth, respectively, in the first BCS rankings. Both teams will be favored in every game leading up to the Dec. 3 showdown in Norman. Just think how big this game will be if both the Sooners and Pokes remain undefeated.

The Texas Quarterback Situation - Garrett Gilbert began the season as the starter. He was benched and eventually left the program. David Ash and Case McCoy have each started, as well. Ash, a true freshman, played wire to wire against Oklahoma State, completing 22-of-40 for 139 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. McCoy and Ash both figure to play down the stretch, but you know Mack Brown would like one player to seize the starting assignment. 

Will Kansas win a Big 12 game? - Turner Gill’s first season in Lawrence didn’t go well. His second season has been worse. The Jayhawks are 2–4 overall, with only one win over an FBS opponent (45–42 over Northern Illinois at home). They have given up 42 points or more in each of the past five games, including 66 to Georgia Tech and 70 to Oklahoma State. Will KU go winless in the Big 12 for the first time since 2002, Mark Mangino’s first season? The guess here is yes. The best chance to win a game figures to be on Nov. 5 against Iowa State, but that game is in Ames. It could be a long two months for Gill and the KU program.

Teaser:
<p> At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the Big 12.</p>
Post date: Friday, October 21, 2011 - 09:27
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, Big East
Path: /college-football/college-football-week-8-preview-match-ups-and-upset-picks
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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 8

1. Four teams enter Week 8 with one conference loss in the ACC Coastal. Georgia Tech was thought to be in the driver’s seat for the division title, but was upset by Virginia last week. The Yellow Jackets are still in great shape for the division crown, but Saturday’s game against Miami will be critical to their title hopes. Georgia Tech has lost its last two matchups to the Hurricanes and neither has been close. Stopping the run is going to be critical to Miami’s chance of winning on Saturday. The Hurricanes rank 94th nationally in rush defense, and the defensive line took a hit with the suspension of tackle Micanor Regis earlier this week. Although the Yellow Jackets are averaging 347.9 rushing yards per game, the passing attack has to have success. Quarterback Tevin Washington began the year by tossing seven scores in his first three games. However, the junior has thrown zero touchdowns and three interceptions in his last two games. Quarterback play was expected to be an issue for Miami this year, but Jacory Harris has performed well over the last three games, tossing eight scores and no interceptions. This battle for positioning in the ACC Coastal should be a high-scoring affair.

2. On paper, the Sunflower Showdown between Kansas and Kansas State shouldn’t be much of a game. However, a rivalry can bring out the best in the underdog, and the Wildcats should be on upset alert. The Jayhawks were blown out in last year’s contest (59-7) and enter this matchup with a four-game losing streak. Kansas State has been one of the surprise teams midway through the season, posting a 6-0 record and ranked among the top 15 teams in the nation. Any hope Kansas has of pulling the upset has to rest with its rushing attack, which is averaging 206.8 yards per game. The Wildcats are allowing only 96.8 yards a contest and 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. With a huge showdown against Oklahoma next Saturday, the Wildcats have to be wary of their hungry in-state rival, particularly on the road in Lawrence.

3. Behind quarterback Andrew Luck and a solid defense, Stanford has easily cruised to a 6-0 start. However, the Cardinal will face their biggest test of 2011, as Washington visits Palo Alto. Despite the departure of quarterback Jake Locker, the Huskies haven’t missed a beat on offense. New quarterback Keith Price has been stellar, throwing for 21 touchdowns and 1,466 yards. Price has plenty of help, especially with running back Chris Polk and a deep group of receivers, led by senior Jermaine Kearse. Stanford’s defense suffered a blow this week, when safety Delano Howell was ruled out for Saturday’s game. The Cardinal ranks 81st nationally against the pass, and without Howell, figures to be tested even more by Price and his receivers. Although Washington has the firepower to hang with Stanford, its defense has to play better to win this game. The Huskies own the Pac-12’s worst pass defense and rank eighth in the conference in points allowed. An upset here wouldn’t be surprising, but it’s tough to pick against Stanford at home and with Luck under center.

4. Even though Missouri is 3-3, it’s hard to call it one of college football’s disappointing teams after seven weeks. The Tigers have lost three games by 10 points or less, including a 38-28 game against Oklahoma and an overtime defeat to Arizona State. A couple of plays bounce in Missouri’s favor and this team could be 5-1. The Tigers have a difficult schedule remaining, starting this Saturday against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys will bring one of the nation’s top passing attacks to Columbia, led by Heisman contenders Brandon Weeden (QB) and Justin Blackmon (WR). Missouri’s defense is allowing only 20.3 points a game, and the secondary has given up only seven scores. If the Tigers can get pressure on Weeden and keep the Cowboys from pulling away early, Missouri will have a chance to score the upset. The Tigers also need a big game from running back Henry Josey, who is averaging a ridiculous 9.7 yards per carry. The Tigers can score with Oklahoma State, but their best chance to win this game is if they can control the time of possession and keep this game in the 31-27 range.

5. Could Saturday’s matchup between Wisconsin and Michigan State be a preview of the Big Ten title game? Both teams enter Week 8 undefeated in conference play, with the Spartans coming off a huge win over rival Michigan last Saturday. This matchup features the Big Ten’s top offense (Wisconsin), against the conference’s best defense (Michigan State). And what happens in the trenches will play a key role in deciding the outcome of Saturday’s game. The Spartans have forced 21 sacks this season, but will be without end William Gholston, who was suspended one game due to his actions in last week’s win over Michigan. Losing Gholston is a huge loss for the Spartans, but don’t expect much of a drop-off. The one-two punch of Montee Ball and James White will test the Michigan State run defense, but the difference in this game could be Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. If the senior continues to play mistake-free ball, the Badgers should move to 7-0 and knock the Spartans from the ranks of the unbeaten in Big Ten play. One stat that is worth mentioning: Wisconsin has lost its last three trips to East Lansing.

6. While most conferences are already deep into conference play, no Big East team has played more than two league games so far. South Florida began the season 4-0, but has dropped two in a row. If the Bulls want to keep pace with Rutgers and West Virginia for the conference crown, Saturday’s game against Cincinnati is a must-win. The Bearcats own the Big East’s top scoring offense, averaging 41.7 points a game. However, the big difference in Cincinnati from last year to this season has been the defense. The Bearcats have forced 19 turnovers, registered 20 sacks and rank first in the Big East in rush defense. South Florida’s offense is averaging only 13.5 points in conference play and will need more production in order to win on Saturday. If the Bulls lose on Saturday, it’s going to be very difficult to make up three games in conference play. And a three-game losing streak isn’t what they had in mind after winning in South Bend in the season opener.

7. The Tennessee-Alabama series has produced plenty of memorable moments, but it’s unlikely the matchup on Saturday will be close. The Volunteers are coming off a 38-7 defeat to LSU last week, while Alabama remained unbeaten with a 52-7 win over Ole Miss. Tennessee’s offense posted a season-low of 239 yards against the Tigers, and with quarterback Tyler Bray sidelined once again with a thumb injury, the Volunteers will struggle to move the ball. This game will be Alabama’s final tune-up before a bye and the much-anticipated showdown with LSU on Nov. 5. The Crimson Tide don’t have many weaknesses, but the matchup with Tennessee will allow them one more opportunity to clean up any areas of concern, along with getting more work for quarterback AJ McCarron and his receivers.

8. The LSU-Auburn matchup on Saturday got a little more interesting thanks to the suspension of three LSU players. Cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon, along with running back Spencer Ware will sit out this game. Despite losing three key players, LSU should have no trouble moving to 8-0. Auburn’s offense has been struggling, so head coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn have made the decision to switch to Clint Moseley at quarterback. Making your first start at LSU is never easy, but that’s the task ahead for Moseley this Saturday. Auburn is a dangerous opponent, but even with the suspensions, LSU is still the better team and should win this one by two touchdowns.

9. It’s strength versus strength when Penn State meets Northwestern this week. The Wildcats are averaging 40.3 points a game with quarterback Dan Persa back in the lineup, but the Nittany Lions are allowing only 11.6 per contest. Penn State remains in the hunt for the Leaders Division title, but this is a huge game for Northwestern. The upcoming schedule features matchups with Nebraska and Michigan State, and getting to six wins and a bowl could be difficult. Penn State’s offense has struggled to get consistent quarterback play, but Northwestern’s defense ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten. Will Persa and the Wildcats' offense get the best of a solid Nittany Lion defense?

10. Notre Dame snapped an eight-game losing streak to USC last season, winning 20-16 in Los Angeles. Are the Irish about to go on a run of dominance in this series? Notre Dame is well-positioned under coach Brian Kelly to jump back into the mix as a top 10-15 team. USC has been solid under coach Lane Kiffin, but sanctions from a NCAA investigation are about to hit, including significant scholarship losses. The Irish have cut down on the turnovers in their last couple of games and are riding a four-game winning streak. USC’s secondary is allowing 271.7 yards per game, which will be under attack from Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees and receiver Michael Floyd. 

Saturday’s Picks

Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 8 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.

Stanford 38, Washington 31
Wisconsin 27, Michigan State 20
Notre Dame 31, USC 27
Georgia Tech 34, Miami 31
LSU 31, Auburn 13
Oklahoma State 40, Missouri 37
Kansas State 34, Kansas 20
South Florida 27, Cincinnati 24
Clemson 37, North Carolina 20
Florida State 40, Maryland 17
Virginia 24, NC State 20
Oklahoma 51, Texas Tech 20
Alabama 41, Tennessee 10
California 27, Utah 24
Penn State 23, Northwestern 20
Southern Miss 34, SMU 31

Upset Watch

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

NC State at Virginia (-4)
After last week’s big win over Georgia Tech, will the Cavaliers have a letdown?

Georgia Tech at Miami (-3)
The folks in Vegas have the Yellow Jackets as an underdog, but this one is a coin flip.

Oklahoma State (-7.5) at Missouri
The Tigers have lost three games to three solid teams. The Cowboys need to be on upset alert.

Penn State (-3) at Northwestern
The Wildcats are reeling with a four-game losing streak, but can the Nittany Lions find enough offense to match Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa?

Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 8

Will running back Josh Harris play for Wake Forest this Saturday against Duke?

Cincinnati receiver DJ Woods is looking to break out of a slump this Saturday against South Florida.

Can Northwestern fix its awful pass defense?

NC State will be without running back Mustafa Greene for the rest of the season.

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray had a metal plate inserted into his thumb to help the healing process.

How will the Texas Tech receivers look when Darrin Moore returns from an ankle injury?

What needs to be fixed on Kentucky's offense? A lot of things.

What does Nebraska look for when targeting JUCO players?

A quick release has helped Clemson's Tajh Boyd become one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC.

Will Missouri go to the SEC? Here's a great read on the regional differences within the state.

Mississippi State will be looking for ways to get back on track during its bye week.

Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham is sticking with Tino Sunseri at quarterback.

NC State needs four wins to get bowl eligible. And its quest to get to seven victories starts with a crucial matchup against Virginia this Saturday.

Here are 10 things to watch with the Arizona coaching search.

Teaser:
<p> We give you the 10 most important match-ups and upset picks for Week 8.</p>
Post date: Friday, October 21, 2011 - 09:20
Path: /college-football/big-ten-second-half-predictions-and-midseason-review
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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the Big Ten.

First-Half Awards

Coach of the Year – Brady Hoke, Michigan
It’s a close call between Hoke and Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema. Hoke suffered his first defeat of the season last week against Michigan State, but has made all of the right moves so far during his short time in Ann Arbor. The offense has remained potent behind quarterback Denard Robinson, while the defense has shown big improvement under Hoke and coordinator Greg Mattison. The Wolverines are still in the hunt for the Big Ten Legends Division title, and are setup to return back into the top 10-15 teams in college football with Hoke’s success on the recruiting trail.

Freshman of the Year
There’s really no standout true freshman this year, but let’s give a little credit to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah. Miller hasn’t been asked to do a whole lot in the passing game, but his rushing ability was valuable in the win over Illinois and the 34-27 loss to Nebraska. Abdullah has been one of the conference’s top return men, averaging 10.2 yards per punt return and 31.9 on kickoffs with one score.

Newcomer of the Year – Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
It was uncertain how Wilson would fit into the offense with no spring practice, but the senior has been nearly flawless. Wilson has thrown for 1,557 yards and 14 touchdowns, while tossing only one interception. In his first Big Ten game, he threw for 255 yards and two scores to beat Nebraska 48-17.

Offensive Player of the Year – Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
Even though we pegged Wilson as the top newcomer and like to spread the wealth with the awards, it’s hard not to pick the senior for this category. Wilson has been a big reason why Wisconsin leads the nation in scoring offense and ranks eighth with 523.2 yards per game. The senior has been a perfect fit in Madison and has the Badgers poised for a run at the national title.

Defensive Player of the Year – Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
There are some good candidates for this award, including Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still, but Mercilus gets the nod at the halfway point of the season. Mercilus has lived in the opponent’s backfield in seven games, collecting 13 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles. He also leads all defenders in college football with 10 sacks. Mercilus’ pressure is a big reason why opponents are managing only 17.7 points a game against Illinois' defense.

Midseason Disappointment – Ohio State
Considering the loss of quarterback Terrelle Pryor and head coach Jim Tressel, along with the suspensions of a couple of key players, it’s no surprise the Buckeyes have struggled. However, Ohio State is a school that expects to compete for a Big Ten title every year and 4-3 is not acceptable. Interim coach Luke Fickell has a tough job, but this team has looked flat at times this year. The Buckeyes are young in spots, but still have plenty of talent. With Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan remaining, Ohio State could be looking at a 7-5 or 6-6 record before the bowl.

Midseason Disappointment – Nebraska’s defense
This space is usually reserved for a player, but the Cornhuskers have been surprisingly suspect on defense this season. Injuries to tackle Jared Crick and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard have hurt, however, Nebraska is giving up an uncharacteristic 27.2 points a game and rank eighth in the Big Ten in total defense. Coach Bo Pelini should get improvement from this group over the second half of the season, but this unit was expected to be one of the best in the Big Ten this year.

Midseason Surprise – Illinois
The Fighting Illini is coming off a disappointing loss to Ohio State, but are still 6-1 heading into Saturday’s game against Purdue. The offense has struggled to replace Mikel Leshoure’s production at running back, but quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has picked up the slack and ranks fifth in the Big Ten in total offense per game. A.J. Jenkins has been one of the best receivers in the nation this year, averaging 127.9 yards per game. The defense was a concern coming into 2011, as the Illini had to replace tackle Corey Liuget. However, end Whitney Mercilus has emerged as one of the top defensive ends in the nation, while tackle Akeem Spence has been solid. A favorable schedule certainly helped Illinois jump out to a 6-1 record, but don’t count out this team from pulling off a surprise win or two before the season is over.

Midseason Surprise – James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa
Even though Vandenberg performed well when filling in for Ricky Stanzi during the 2009 season, it’s a surprise he ranks fourth in the Big Ten in total offense after six games. The junior has thrown for 1,488 yards and 12 touchdowns, while completing 60.5 percent of his passes. Vandenberg has six regular season games to build upon a great start to 2011 and should enter 2012 as one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

What Athlon Sports got right – Let’s start at the bottom. Our preseason picks of Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue to be the three worst teams in the Big Ten are looking safe. Another pick that appear to be safe: Wisconsin representing the Leaders Division in the Big Ten title game.

What Athlon Sports got wrong – With a new coach and schemes on both sides of the ball, it was hard to project where Michigan fit into the Big Ten race in the preseason. We had the Wolverines finishing 8-4 and fourth in the Legends Division, and it appears they will easily outperform that record. We also predicted Nebraska to win the Big Ten title over Wisconsin, which does not look good after the Badgers’ 48-17 victory over the Cornhuskers earlier this year.

Second-Half Predictions

Athlon projects the wins and losses for each team for the rest of the season. Here’s how we think the final standings will look before the Big Ten Championship.

Leaders

1. Wisconsin 12-0, 8-0
2. Penn State 8-4, 5-3
3. Ohio State 7-5, 4-4
4. Illinois 8-4, 4-4
5. Purdue 4-8, 2-6
6. Indiana 1-11, 0-8

Legends

1. Michigan State 10-2, 7-1
2. Michigan 10-2, 6-2
3. Nebraska 9-3, 5-3
4. Iowa 8-4, 5-3
5. Northwestern 5-7, 2-6
6. Minnesota 1-11, 0-8

Big Ten Championship: Michigan State vs. Wisconsin

Three Things to Watch

Ohio State’s next coach – There’s a chance Luke Fickell could return if the Buckeyes run the table in their final five games. However, it’s unlikely Ohio State will finish 9-3 with Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan remaining on the schedule. Expect athletic director Gene Smith to go shopping for a new coach in the offseason and there will be a lot of big names interested. Is Urban Meyer ready to exit the booth and return to the sideline? Can Ohio State lure Bo Pelini to Columbus? How about Toledo coach Tim Beckman – is he a wildcard to watch?

Legends Division battle – Wisconsin clearly looks like the top team in the Leaders Division, but the Legends Division has a lot more uncertainty at the midpoint of 2011. Nebraska, Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa all still have division title hopes, and this battle could go down the final weekend of the season. The Spartans enter Week 8 as the only undefeated team from the Legends Division in conference play, but matchups remain with Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern. Can Nebraska get its defense turned around without tackle Jared Crick? Will Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson stay healthy?

Can Russell Wilson win the Heisman – The last Big Ten player to win the Heisman Trophy was Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006. As long as Wisconsin continues to win, expect Wilson to be in the mix. The senior may not have the eye-popping numbers of Oklahoma’s Landry Jones or Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, but he leads the nation in passing efficiency and is averaging 289.8 total yards per game. None of Wisconsin’s six games have been close this year, which has factored into Wilson’s playing time. It’s going to be difficult for anyone to knock Stanford’s Andrew Luck from the top spot, but Wilson has an excellent chance to win the Heisman if the Badgers finish the year unbeaten.

Other Conference Content:

College Football's Top 30 Games of the Second Half

Picks and Predictions for Every Game, Week 8

Betting Against The Spread: Week 8 Picks


Big 12 First Half Awards and Second Half Predictions

S
EC Midseason Review and Second Half Predictions

B
ig East Midseason Preview and Second Half Predictions

Teaser:
<p> At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the Big Ten.</p>
Post date: Friday, October 21, 2011 - 09:01
Path: /college-football/big-east-second-half-predictions-and-midseason-review
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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the Big East.

First-Half Awards

Coach of the Year – Greg Schiano, Rutgers
With Rutgers coming off a 4-8 season, Schiano was feeling a little heat coming into 2011. However, the Scarlet Knights have rebounded with a 5-1 record through six games. The offense has struggled, but is led by promising freshmen with Gary Nova at quarterback and Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins at running back. Rutgers’ defense has been one of the best in the conference so far this season, ranking first in points allowed and in turnovers gained. Schiano shuffled his coaching staff after last season and those moves appear to have helped spark this team.

Freshman of the Year – Lyle McCombs, RB, Connecticut
This space is usually reserved for a true freshman, but it’s hard to ignore McCombs’ stats through seven weeks. The redshirt freshman has 705 rushing yards (second in the Big East) and four touchdowns, which has carried the Connecticut offense. McCombs has four 100-yard performances this season, including 130 in last week’s win over South Florida. Some top true freshman performers: Louisville WRs Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker, West Virginia RB Dustin Garrison, Rutgers QB Gary Nova, Syracuse LB Dyshawn Davis, South Florida DL Elkino Watson.

Newcomer of the Year – Darrell Scott, RB, South Florida
Scott was one of the nation’s top running back prospects coming out of high school, but never lived up to the hype at Colorado. Scott is off to a good start this year, leading South Florida with 482 rushing yards and five touchdowns. The junior has one 100-yard game, rushing for 146 yards and three touchdowns in the victory over Florida A&M.

Offensive Player of the Year – Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh
Although Pittsburgh is 3-4, Graham has carried the Panthers’ offense through the first seven games of 2011. The junior has rushed for 939 yards (the most by a running back this season) and nine touchdowns, while catching 30 passes for 200 yards. Graham has four games of at least 100 yards, including a monster 226-yard performance in the 44-17 win over South Florida. If the Panthers are going to get bowl eligible or back in the Big East race, it will likely depend on Graham, as the Panthers are struggling to get consistency from the passing attack or offensive line.

Defensive Player of the Year – Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
With a struggling offense, it’s going to be up to the defense to win games for Connecticut this season. Reyes has dominated in the trenches so far, leading the Big East with 11 tackles for a loss, registering four sacks and 26 tackles. The Huskies, thanks in large part to Reyes’ presence, are allowing only 89 yards a game on the ground and opponents have managed only four rushing scores this year.

Midseason Disappointment – Pittsburgh
The Panthers have shown flashes of promise, but have yet to live up to the preseason expectations. Most preseason picks had Pittsburgh in the top three of the Big East, but unless the offense shows big improvement (and soon), it’s unlikely it will finish there. Two of the Panthers’ four losses are by four points or less, but the last two defeats have not been pretty – 34-10 to Rutgers and 26-14 to Utah. New coach Todd Graham wants to bring an up-tempo, high-scoring offense to Pittsburgh, but it’s been a major disappointment so far. Quarterback Tino Sunseri has struggled and the offensive line has allowed 34 sacks. Outside of the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia, all of the remaining games on the schedule are winnable. However, Sunseri needs to play a lot better for Pittsburgh to assure itself of a bowl appearance.

Midseason Disappointment – Jeremy Wright/Victor Anderson, RB, Louisville
The Cardinals owned the Big East’s top rushing attack last season, but it has yet to take off in 2011. Wright and Anderson have combined for only 331 yards and one touchdown, while converted quarterback Dominique Brown leads the team with 211 yards. Anderson and Wright’s struggles are largely due to the offensive line, but both players were expected to keep Louisville’s rushing attack near the top of the Big East this year.

Midseason Surprise – Rutgers
Expectations in Piscataway were low, as Rutgers was coming off a 4-8 season and riding a six-game losing streak entering 2011. The Scarlet Knights enter Week 8 with a solid 5-1 record, with the only loss coming to North Carolina 24-22. Although the offense has struggled, the defense ranks first in the Big East in scoring defense, and the Scarlet Knights have been winning the turnover battle. The schedule sets up favorably for Rutgers, with road trips to Louisville and Connecticut (arguably the two worst teams in the conference), while West Virginia, South Florida and Cincinnati visit High Point Solutions Stadium. 

Midseason Surprise – Cincinnati’s defense
The Bearcats owned one of the worst defenses in the Big East last season, ranking seventh in total defense and last in passing and points allowed. However, after six games, Cincinnati owns the Big East’s top rush defense, ranks 28th nationally in total defense and is allowing only 16.5 points a game. The Bearcats have also generated 19 turnovers and collected 20 sacks. Stopping the pass is still an issue for Cincinnati, but the rest of the unit has been solid through the first half of the year. With a high-scoring offense and an improving defense, the Bearcats will be a dangerous team the rest of the season.

What Athlon Sports got right – The Big East is usually one of the more difficult conferences to predict each preseason. However, our predictions had West Virginia and South Florida as the top two teams in the conference, which is certainly within reach. Also, we picked Louisville to finish last, largely due to the amount of young players stepping into starting lineup this year. 

What Athlon Sports got wrong – West Virginia is clearly the No. 1 team, but after that, things get cloudy. We had Rutgers pegged seventh in the preseason picks, but it looks like the Scarlet Knights will easily out perform that ranking. We liked Pittsburgh as the third-best team in the conference, which looks questionable after its last two performances.

Second-Half Predictions

Athlon projects the wins and losses for each team for the rest of the season. Here's how we think the final standings in the Big East.

1. West Virginia 10-2, 6-1
2. Rutgers 9-3, 5-2
3. South Florida 8-4, 4-3
4. Cincinnati 8-4, 4-3
5. Pittsburgh 6-6, 4-3
6. Syracuse 6-6, 2-5
7. Connecticut 4-8, 2-5
8. Louisville 3-9, 1-6

Big East Champion: West Virginia

Three Things to Watch

Expansion and Realignment – Pittsburgh and Syracuse have announced its intentions to leave the Big East in 2014. The conference expected to have TCU aboard next season, but the Horned Frogs bolted to the Big 12. The Big East has only six teams committed to the conference for 2014. And West Virginia and Louisville have been mentioned as candidates to join the Big 12 if Missouri goes to the SEC. The Big East reportedly has six schools targeted to join, but when will the invitations be extended? Will the Mountaineers and Cardinals jump to the Big 12? The Big East has waited far too long to expand, but there’s still time to save the conference.

Can West Virginia finish unbeaten in conference play? – The Mountaineers cruised in their only Big East game this year, beating Connecticut 43-16. Four road games remain in conference play, including trips to Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida. West Virginia is clearly the No. 1 team in the conference, but it could be difficult to finish the season without a loss in Big East play.

Will the defending Big East champs make a bowl? – Connecticut has a lot of work to do if it wants to get back into the postseason. The Huskies have not missed a bowl since 2006 and made their first BCS appearance last year in the Fiesta Bowl. At 3-4, Connecticut needs to find three more wins the rest of the way. Syracuse and Louisville are winnable at home, but picking up a victory against Pittsburgh, Rutgers or Cincinnati won’t be easy. The Huskies have one of the conference’s best defenses, but the offense needs to step up for Connecticut to make a fifth consecutive bowl trip. 

Teaser:
<p> At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the Big East.</p>
Post date: Friday, October 21, 2011 - 08:25
Path: /college-football/pac-12-second-half-predictions
Body:

By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)

At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the Pac-12.

First-Half Awards

Coach of the Year — Steve Sarkisian, Washington
David Shaw of Stanford should be in the discussion, but Sarkisian is the choice. Washington is off to a 5–1 start with the only loss coming at Nebraska. The Huskies have been consistently strong on offense, scoring 30 points or more in every game, and have improved on defense as the season has progressed. Sark went 12–13 in his first two seasons at UW; barring a late-season collapse, the Huskies should win (at least) eight games for the first time since 2001.

Freshman of the Year — Dion Bailey, USC
A redshirt freshman who spent 2010 on the scout team as a safety, Bailey has started all six games at strong-side linebacker and leads the Trojans with 48 tackles. He had 14 tackles against Arizona two weeks ago and intercepted two passes in USC’s win at California last Thursday night.

Newcomer of the Year — Zach Maynard, California
He’s struggled in recent weeks against quality competition, but Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, has put up solid numbers in his first season running Jeff Tedford’s offense. He is averaging 264.2 yards per game and has thrown for 11 touchdowns with six interceptions.

Offensive Player of the Year — Andrew Luck, Stanford
The No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft has been nearly flawless for a Stanford team that is flying under the radar despite a 6–0 start. The junior is completing over 70 percent of his passes and has thrown 18 touchdowns with only three interceptions. Luck has tossed at least two TD passes in each game this season and has topped the 320-yard mark in three of the last four games.

Defensive Player of the Year — Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
His numbers aren’t great — 36 tackles and 4.5 sacks — but the 6-3, 252 junior is a disruptive force and an intimidating presence from his middle linebacker position. Burfict plays with too much fire far too often, but when he plays under control, he is a true difference-maker for the Sun Devils.

Midseason Disappointment — Oregon State
Mike Riley has the reputation of doing more with less, but his 2011 Oregon State club is failing to live up to even modest expectations. The Beavers opened the season with a shocking 29–28 loss in overtime to Sacramento State (which lost by 21 points to Southern Utah the next week). Oregon State has played better in recent weeks, but this team is still 1–5 overall and 1–2 in the league. The remaining schedule isn’t kind, either — four of the final six games are on the road, and the home games are against Stanford and Washington.

Midseason Disappointment — Ryan Katz, Oregon State
The folks in Corvallis have been raving about Katz’s arm strength since he stepped foot on campus, but a strong arm doesn’t guarantee success on the field. Katz had a solid sophomore season (2,401 yards, 18 TDs, 11 INTs), but struggled out of the gate in 2011. He threw for only 87 yards on 22 attempts in the Week 1 loss to Sacramento State and was benched (for good) following the Beavers’ loss at Wisconsin.

Midseason Surprise — Washington State 
Since we gave Steve Sarkisian the nod for midseason Coach of the Year for his work with Washington, we will go with Washington State as the surprise. The Cougars are only 3–3 overall and 1–2 in the league, but this team is competitive for the first time in the Paul Wulff era. Washington State already has a Pac-12 road win (Colorado) and lost in the final minutes at UCLA. Also, the Cougars played relatively well against Stanford last week; the score was 10–7 at the half before Stanford flexed its muscles in the final two quarters.

Midseason Surprise — Keith Price, Washington 
Andrew Luck will end the season as the first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback, but Price is having a remarkably efficient season — and he’s in his first season as the starter. Despite playing through injuries to both knees, the sophomore has completed 118-of-170 passes for 1,466 yards with 21 touchdowns and only four interceptions. In three Pac-12 games, Price has thrown 10 touchdowns and only one INT.

What Athlon Sports got right — We figured Colorado would struggle in its first year in the Pac-12, and the Buffs are off to an 0–3 start (which doesn’t include a ‘non-league’ loss at home to Cal). We predicted a 1–8 Pac-12 record for Jon Embree’s club.

What Athlon Sports got wrong — We didn’t expect Stanford to be quite as dominant with Jim Harbaugh no longer around. We picked the Cardinal to finish in a tie for second in the Pac-12 North with a 6–3 league record. Stanford is already 4–0, and while it has yet to face the most difficult part of the schedule, it’s tough to envision this team losing more than one game in the league.

Second-Half Predictions

Athlon projects the wins and losses for each team for the rest of the season. Here's how we think the final standings will look before the Pac-12 Championship.

North

1. Oregon 11-1 (9-0)
2. Stanford 11-1 (8-1)
3. Washington 8-4 (6-3)
4. California 6-6 (3-6)
5. Washington State 5-7 (3-6)
6. Oregon State 1-11 (1-8)

South

1. Arizona State 10-2 (8-1)
2. USC 8-4 (6-3)
3. UCLA 5-7 (4-5)
4. Utah 6-6 (3-6)
5. Arizona 5-7 (3-6)
6. Colorado 1-12 (0-9)

Pac-12 Championship: Oregon vs. Arizona State

Three Things to Watch

Can the Cougars make a bowl? Paul Wulff is no longer on the hot seat thanks to his team’s 3–3 start. The Cougars have proven they can now compete in the Pac-12, but can they take the next step and reach bowl-eligibility? It will be tough. Can you find three wins the rest of the way, with Oregon State, Arizona State, Utah and Washington at home and trips to Oregon and Cal? Me neither. Looks like a 5–7 team at best — which is still a huge improvement.

Can Washington win the Pac-12 North? Everyone assumes that the Pac-12 North will come down to either Stanford or Oregon — and with both teams ranked in the top 10, that’s not a bad assumption. But don’t forget about Washington. The Huskies, 3–0 in the league, are dynamic on offense and improving on defense. They travel to Stanford this weekend and should give Stanford its most difficult test to date. Don’t be shocked if the Huskies head back to Seattle in first place in the North.

Can anyone threaten Arizona State in the South? Arizona State has seized control of the Pac-12 South with a 3–1 start that includes a win over USC. And with the Trojans, also 3–1, ineligible to play in the first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game, Arizona State would have to implode not to win the division. UCLA is the only other team in the South with less than three losses, but the Bruins aren’t very good. They are 2–1 in the league, with the wins coming against Oregon State and Washington State. Arizona State does have to travel to UCLA on Nov. 5, but right now you’d have to make the Devils the overwhelming favorite in the South.

Teaser:
<p> At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the Pac-12.</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 20, 2011 - 07:58
Path: /college-football/acc-second-half-predictions-and-midseason-review
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the ACC.

First-Half Awards

Coach of the Year – Dabo Swinney, Clemson
A strong case could be made for Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe, but Swinney gets the nod. Clemson heads into Week 8 at 7-0 and ranked among the top 10 teams in college football. Swinney entered 2011 on the hot seat, posting a 19-15 record in two-plus seasons in Death Valley. However, his decision to hire Chad Morris as offensive coordinator has paid big dividends, as the Tigers are averaging 38 points a game this season. Although Swinney has had his ups and downs at Clemson, he deserves credit for putting the pieces together with the coaching staff and bringing in top prospects on the recruiting trail.

Freshman of the Year – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins has not only been the top freshman in the ACC, he’s arguably been the top first-year player in college football. He has grabbed 46 receptions for 728 yards and seven scores, posted 127 rushing yards and is averaging 30.7 yards per kickoff return. Although Tajh Boyd’s emergence at quarterback has been huge for the Clemson offense, Watkins has brought a much-needed playmaking threat to the passing game.

Newcomer of the Year
This spot is usually reserved for transfers and JUCO players that have stepped up this year, but there’s no standout candidate. Florida State’s Tank Carradine and offensive lineman Jacob Fahrenkrug have been solid contributors this year. Also, North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams is having a productive season in his first since transferring from Coffeyville Community College.

Offensive Player of the Year – David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
A strong case could be made for Miami’s Lamar Miller or Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, but we’ll give the midseason edge to Wilson. He has posted 903 rushing yards and six touchdowns through seven games and caught 12 passes for 80 yards. Wilson’s 903 yards rank third nationally, just behind Pittsburgh’s Ray Graham and Alabama’s Trent Richardson. With quarterback Logan Thomas struggling early in the year, it was up to Wilson to carry the team. Thomas has stepped up the last two weeks, which should take some of the pressure off of Wilson the rest of the way. 

Defensive Player of the Year – Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
Branch edges out Boston College’s Luke Kuechly and Miami’s Sean Spence for this honor at the midpoint of the season. Branch leads the ACC with 12 tackles for a loss and seven sacks this year. The senior was a key reason why Clemson had no trouble beating Virginia Tech on the road, as he registered four sacks against the Hokies. Branch’s performance in Blacksburg was enough for him to earn National Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Midseason Disappointment – Florida State
With 17 returning starters and a favorable schedule, the Seminoles were picked as a darkhorse national title candidate. However, Florida State watched a promising season dissipate with a three-game losing streak. The Seminoles stood tall against Oklahoma, but fell short and lost quarterback EJ Manuel to a shoulder injury. Manuel did not play in the loss to Clemson and did not start in the five-point defeat to Wake Forest. Florida State still has a chance to finish 9-3, but many expected this team to win the ACC Atlantic and compete for a spot among the top five teams in college football.

Midseason Disappointment – Danny O’Brien, QB, Maryland
Most preseason all-conference teams had O’Brien pegged as the No. 1 quarterback in the ACC. After all, he was the ACC’s Rookie of the Year last season. The sophomore began the year by throwing for 348 yards and one score in a 32-24 win over Miami. However, it’s been all downhill since. O’Brien tossed three interceptions in the loss to West Virginia and was benched against Georgia Tech. With C.J. Brown’s impressive showing against Clemson, it’s unlikely O’Brien will regain his starting spot. The sophomore could explore a transfer at the end of the season.

Midseason Surprise – Wake Forest
Coming off a 3-9 season and a depth chart littered with youth, the Demon Deacons were not expected to be in the thick of the ACC Atlantic race. However, after seven weeks, Wake Forest is just a game behind Clemson in the Atlantic and gets a shot at the Tigers on Nov. 12. Even if the Demon Deacons fall short of winning the division crown, it’s been quite a turnaround for coach Jim Grobe and one that should result in a bowl appearance for the first time since 2008.

Midseason Surprise – Bryn Renner/Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
There was no question about the talent regarding either player, it’s just a surprise they have become all-conference candidates in their first year of starting. Renner ranks seventh in the ACC in total offense per game, completing 75.3 percent of his throws and tossing 14 scores on the year. Bernard ranks third in the conference with an average of 109.6 rushing yards per game. The redshirt freshman has posted five straight 100-yard performances going into Saturday’s game against Clemson.

What Athlon Sports got right – There’s a long ways to go in the ACC race, but our preseason picks had Virginia Tech pegged to win the Coastal. The Hokies need to beat Georgia Tech in November, but that prediction looks solid after the last two weeks.

What Athlon Sports got wrong – A lot. And we aren’t afraid to admit it. Our preseason picks had Florida State as the team to beat in the Atlantic, Clemson and Georgia Tech finishing 6-6, and Maryland posting an 8-4 record. There’s a lot of games to be played, but it looks like we will strike out on our ACC picks.

Second-Half Predictions

Athlon projects the wins and losses for each team for the rest of the season. Here's how we think the final standings will look before the ACC Championship.

Atlantic

1. Clemson 11-1 (7-1)
2. Florida State 9-3 (6-2)
3. Wake Forest 7-5 (5-3)
4. NC State 6-6 (3-5)
5. Maryland 4-8 (3-5)
6. Boston College 1-11 (0-8)

Coastal

1. Virginia Tech 11-1 (7-1)
2. Georgia Tech 9-3 (6-2)
3. Miami 7-5 (4-4)
4. North Carolina 7-5, 3-5
5. Virginia 6-6 (3-5)
6. Duke 3-9 (1-7)

ACC Championship: Clemson vs. Virginia Tech

Three Things to Watch

Who will win the ACC Coastal? – Four teams have one loss in ACC play heading into Saturday’s action. Georgia Tech has the most conference wins (3), while Virginia and Duke are tied at one. Miami is 1-2, but it’s too early to write off the Hurricanes in the Coastal. Miami gets a shot at Georgia Tech this Saturday and its only remaining conference road game is on Nov. 12 at Florida State. The Hurricanes need some help, but it’s not out of the question, considering Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech still have to matchup in November.

Coaching changes – NC State and Boston College are the only two teams without a conference win heading into Week 8. And both coaches – Tom O’Brien (NC State) and Frank Spaziani (Boston College) – find themselves on the hot seat. O’Brien has a little more leeway than Spaziani, but the Wolfpack have won more than six games only once during his tenure. The Eagles have been hit by some key injuries, but a tough schedule could mean a 1-11 finish. 

Battle for bowl positioning – Heading into Week 8, the ACC has three teams bowl eligible, but none of the remaining nine schools have been eliminated. The conference has eight bowl tie-ins available for 2011 and should be able to fill all of them. However, can teams like Virginia and Duke end its recent bowl drought? With two wins over FCS’ opponents, NC State needs to get seven victories in order to get bowl eligible. Can the Wolfpack get back into the postseason? Will the ACC get two teams into the BCS?

Teaser:
<p> At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the ACC.</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 20, 2011 - 07:48
Path: /college-football/sec-second-half-predictions-and-midseason-review
Body:

By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)

At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the SEC.

First-Half Review

Coach of the Year — Les Miles, LSU
Miles gets the nod over Nick Saban for two reasons: LSU’s schedule has been a little bit more difficult, and the Tigers have overcome some serious distractions — most notably the arrest of starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson — en route to their 7–0 start. Vanderbilt’s James Franklin deserves some consideration, and might have been the choice had the Commodores been able to score on the blocked punt in the final seconds of the 33–28 loss to Georgia.

Freshman of the Year — Isaiah Crowell, Georgia
He arrived in Athens with a ton of hype, and Crowell has, for the most part, delivered. The Columbus, Ga., native has emerged as the primary ball-carrier for a Bulldog team that has won four straight games. He rushed for 100-plus yards in his first three SEC games but has been held to 58 (Tennessee) and 35 (Vanderbilt) in his last two. For the season, Crowell has rushed for 608 yards on 128 carries for a 4.8-yard average.

Newcomer of the Year — Jarvis Jones, Georgia
A transfer from USC, Jones has started all seven games at outside linebacker for the Bulldogs. He leads the team in both tackles for a loss (10) and sacks (4) and ranks second on the team in total tackles (39).

Offensive Player of the Year — Trent Richardson, Alabama
Richardson is thriving in his first year as the Tide’s primary ball-carrier. He leads the league with 130.3 yards per game on an incredible 6.9-yard average. He has rushed for 100-plus yards in six straight games, highlighted by his 181 yards at Florida and 183 last Saturday at Ole Miss. If Alabama keeps winning, Richardson could be the school’s second Heisman Trophy winner in the last three seasons.

Defensive Player of the Year — Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
Mathieu, a lightly recruited cornerback from New Orleans, has emerged as one of the elite players in the nation — at any position. He is an outstanding cover corner with a nose for the ball; he has three fumble recoveries (two for touchdowns) and four forced fumbles (which ties for the SEC lead). Mathieu is getting some Heisman buzz, but he will have to make some big plays in some key late-season games to become a serious contender.

Midseason Disappointment — Mississippi State
Nobody expected the Bulldogs to win the SEC West, but very few expected this team to be 0–4 at the halfway point of league play. Mississippi State scored a total of 93 points in its first two games, but has had trouble moving the ball since. The Dogs have averaged 9.3 points in their last three SEC games, due in large part to inconsistent play at the quarterback position. Tyler Russell stepped in for Chris Relf last week, but completed only 11-of-29 for 165 yards in a 14–12 loss to South Carolina.

Midseason Disappointment — Stephen Garcia, South Carolina
Garcia had an opportunity to cement his legacy at South Carolina by leading the Gamecocks to their second straight SEC East title. Instead, his career ended prematurely after being kicked off the team in the middle of the season. Even before his dismissal, Garcia was benched for poor play. He threw only four touchdown passes in five starts and was intercepted nine times, including four times in one game.

Midseason Surprise — Auburn
The defending national champs were expected by most — including Athlon Sports — to take several steps back in 2011. And while this team clearly isn’t as good as the Cam Newton-led group from ’10, the Tigers are 3–1 at the halfway mark with wins over Mississippi State, South Carolina and Florida. The defense has been brutal at times, but only allowed 13 points at South Carolina and six points in the win vs. Florida at home last weekend. Don’t expect another trip to Atlanta for Gene Chizik’s club — dates with LSU and Alabama loom — but the Tigers deserve a ton of credit for even being in the conversation at this point of the season.

Midseason Surprise — Jarrett Lee
The oft-ridiculed quarterback who threw 16 interceptions as a freshman in 2008 is enjoying a banner senior season for one of the elite teams in college football. Thrust into the starting role when expected starter Jordan Jefferson was arrested before the season, Lee has run the Tigers’ offense with surprising efficiency. He is completing over 60 percent of his passes and, most important, is taking care of the ball; he has thrown only one interception in 132 attempts. Lee is proving all of his skeptics wrong — and might just pick up a national title ring on his way out the door.

What Athlon Sports got right — It’s far too early to send Georgia to the SEC title game, but we picked the Bulldogs, not South Carolina, to win the East. The Gamecocks are still very much in the hunt — they lead the division with a 4–1 record and own the tiebreaker vs. Georgia — but Steve Spurrier’s club must play the rest of the season without star tailback Marcus Lattimore.

What Athlon Sports got wrong — We pegged Auburn for a fifth- place finish in the West and forecasted the Tigers to win only two SEC games. They’ve won three games already with four league games remaining.

Second-Half Predictions

Athlon projects the wins and losses for each team for the rest of the season. Here's how we think the final standings will look before the SEC Championship.

East

1. Georgia 10-2 (7-1)
2. South Carolina 8-4 (5-3)
3. Florida 7-5 (4-4)
4. Tennessee 6-6 (2-6)
5. Vanderbilt 5-7 (2-6)
6. Kentucky 4-8 (1-7)

West

1. Alabama 12-0 (8-0)
2. LSU 11-1 (7-1)
3. Arkansas 10-2 (6-2)
4. Auburn 7-5 (4-4)
5. Mississippi State 6-6 (2-6)
6. Ole Miss 3-9 (0-8)

SEC Championship: Alabama vs. Georgia

Three Things to Watch

Can James Franklin get Vanderbilt to a bowl?
The Commodores are 3–3 and have a great opportunity to pick up win No. 4 this week against Army. They should be favored against Kentucky on Nov. 12. Is there a sixth win on the schedule? Possibly Tennessee or Wake Forest, but both games are on the road. The guess here is that Vanderbilt ends the first year of the Franklin a with a 5–7record.

How many points will it take to win the Game of the Century on Nov. 5?
LSU and Alabama meet in the de facto SEC title game on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa. These two teams feature arguably the top two defenses in the nation. Both offenses are more than capable, but this game will be dominated by defense. So how many points will the winning team score? The guess here is 21.

Florida’s progress on offense
Florida’s offense went from mediocre to bad when starting quarterback John Brantley went down with an injury just before halftime against Alabama. The Gators have scored a total of 17 points over the last six quarters — hardly what Florida had in mind when Charlie Weis was named offensive coordinator. To be fair, the offense has been operated by a pair of true freshman quarterbacks, but the numbers are still alarmingly bad. When Brantley returns — the Gators hope to have him back for the Georgia game on Oct. 29 — can Weis figure out a way to get this attack moving in the right direction?

Teaser:
<p> At the midpoint of the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the first half and predict how the second half will turn out in the SEC.</p>
Post date: Thursday, October 20, 2011 - 07:46
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-acc-4
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 7 ACC Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Clemson (7-0) – The Tigers fell behind 35-17 to Maryland early in the second half, but rallied for a 56-45 victory to remain unbeaten. Clemson’s 56 points were a season-high, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd’s 270 passing yards and four scores. The Tigers also got a huge performance from running back Andre Ellington, who rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns. Clemson hosts North Carolina on Saturday, before facing a key conference road test at Georgia Tech on Oct. 29.

2. Virginia Tech (6-1) – After suffering a disappointing 23-3 loss to Clemson in Week 5, the Hokies have rallied with impressive back-to-back wins. Virginia Tech defeated Miami 38-35 in Week 6, before knocking off Wake Forest 38-17 in Winston-Salem on Saturday. Quarterback Logan Thomas has been a key reason for success over the last two weeks, as the sophomore has totaled nine touchdowns, thrown for 590 yards and tossed zero interceptions during that span. The Hokies host Boston College this Saturday.

3. Georgia Tech (6-1) – The Yellow Jackets suffered their first loss of the season, dropping a 24-21 game to Virginia on Saturday. After scoring at least 35 points in each of their first five games, Georgia Tech has not managed more than 21 in its last two. Quarterback Tevin Washington rushed for over 100 yards against the Cavaliers, but completed only 2 of 8 passes. The Yellow Jackets head to Miami for a key ACC Coastal game this Saturday.

4. Miami (3-3) – Behind the steady play of quarterback Jacory Harris, the Hurricanes jumped out to a 27-3 lead against North Carolina, but had to hold off a furious second-half rally for a 30-24 win. The victory over the Tar Heels gets Miami back to .500 with six games remaining. It’s too early to count the Hurricanes out of the Coastal race, especially with a game against Georgia Tech this Saturday. Miami needs help in the form of a loss by Virginia Tech, but the Coastal title is still up for grabs.

5. Wake Forest (4-2) – One week after jumping into the ACC title conversation with a win over Florida State, the Demon Deacons were unable to capitalize off that momentum and lost 38-17 to Virginia Tech. Impacting the offense on Saturday was the absence of running back Josh Harris, who missed the game due to a hamstring injury. Wake Forest has back-to-back road trips the next two weeks, as it heads to Duke and North Carolina in the battle for bragging rights in North Carolina.

6. Florida State (3-3) – The Seminoles snapped a three-game losing streak with a 41-16 demolishing of Duke on Saturday. Although Florida State’s chances of winning the ACC Atlantic are slim, it’s important for this team to finish out 2011 on a high note. Quarterback EJ Manuel continues to round back into form after a shoulder injury against Oklahoma, throwing for 239 yards and two scores against Duke. The Seminoles host Maryland this Saturday.

7. North Carolina (5-2) – The Tar Heels two-game winning streak was snapped with a 30-24 loss to Miami. North Carolina fell behind 27-3 in the first half, but rallied to within six and recovered an onside kick with less than a minute remaining. The Tar Heels fell short of reaching the endzone on the final drive, but it was a solid comeback for a team that looked out of sync in the first half. North Carolina has a difficult four-game stretch up next, as they travel to Clemson this Saturday, before a home game against Wake Forest and back on the road at NC State and Virginia Tech. Could interim coach Everett Withers’ shot at the full-time job rest on the next four weeks?

8. Virginia (4-2) – The Cavaliers scored a huge upset in Week 7, knocking Georgia Tech from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 24-21 win. Having a bye in Week 6 certainly helped the Cavaliers prepare for the Yellow Jackets’ option attack. With six games to go, Virginia is two wins away from reaching bowl eligibility. The Cavaliers host NC State this Saturday, in a contest that both teams really need in order to get to six victories.

9. Maryland (2-4) – Looking for a way to spark the offense, coach Randy Edsall turned to backup quarterback C.J. Brown. The results were positive, but Maryland lost 56-45 to drop to 2-4 on the year. The sophomore completed 17 of 35 passes for 177 yards and three scores, but gashed Clemson for 162 yards and one touchdown on the ground. The Terrapins’ defense has battled some injuries, including one to linebacker Kenny Tate, but ranks 104th nationally by allowing 435.3 yards a game. Maryland hopes to snap a two-game losing streak with a trip to Florida State this Saturday.

10. NC State (3-3) – With a long injury report, the bye week came at a good time for the Wolfpack. NC State needs four more wins in order to get to a bowl game, as only one victory over a FCS foe will count towards postseason eligibility. The upcoming schedule is difficult, but there are opportunities for victories. Saturday’s game against Virginia is a must-win for either team, as both are locked into a tight battle in order to get to six victories.

11. Duke (3-3) – The Blue Devils had their three-game winning streak snapped on Saturday, as they lost 41-16 to Florida State. Duke has struggled to be competitive in its matchups against the Seminoles, so Saturday’s result was no surprise. The focus for the rest of the year in Durham has to be on getting bowl eligible. Saturday’s game against Wake Forest is a must-win if the Blue Devils want to get to six wins. And even with a win over the Demon Deacons, Duke still has a difficult road to find two more victories on the schedule.

12. Boston College (1-5) – The Eagles did not play in Week 7 and will return to action this Saturday at Virginia Tech. Boston College is riding a two-game losing streak and its only win this year came against FCS foe Massachusetts. Barring a major turnaround, the Eagles won’t go bowling this year. The schedule is very difficult – at Virginia Tech, at Maryland, Florida State, NC State, at Notre Dame and at Miami. Also, the offense ranks as the worst in the ACC in scoring, while the defense is 95th nationally in points allowed. 

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the ACC stack up after Week 7?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - 07:55
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-sec-4
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 7 SEC Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Alabama (7-0) – The Crimson Tide’s march to an undefeated season and a spot in the national title game continued with a 52-7 blowout win over Ole Miss. The Alabama defense allowed a touchdown on the opening drive to the Rebels, but allowed virtually nothing else the rest of the game. Running back Trent Richardson posted a season-high of 183 yards and four touchdowns against the Rebels, pushing him just 88 yards short of 1,000. The Crimson Tide has one more game (Tennessee) before facing off against LSU in one of college football's most-anticipated matchups this year.

2. LSU (7-0) – Tennessee hung around in the first quarter, but the Tigers simply had too much talent and depth and pulled away for a 38-7 win. The LSU defense has held four opponents to seven or less points this season and no team has scored more than 27. The Tigers host Auburn this Saturday, which is their final test before playing Alabama on Nov. 5. Although LSU can’t look past Auburn, it would be a major surprise if it isn’t 8-0 going into a bye and the Nov. 5 showdown against Alabama.

3. Arkansas (5-1) – The Razorbacks had a bye in Week 6 and will return to action this Saturday at Ole Miss. Arkansas still has a shot to win the SEC West, but it needs a lot of help. Quarterback Tyler Wilson ranks second in the SEC with 297.5 yards per game, while receiver Jarius Wright leads all receivers from the conference with an average of 6.6 catches per game.

4. South Carolina (6-1) – Saturday’s 14-12 win over Mississippi State made the Gamecocks bowl eligible, but it came at a heavy price. Running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Bulldogs, which is a huge loss for South Carolina and their chances to repeat as SEC East champs. The Gamecocks have a bye this Saturday and hits the road for their next game on Oct. 29 at Tennessee.

5. Georgia (5-2) – The Bulldogs nearly let a victory slip against Vanderbilt on Saturday, but held on for a 33-28 win. Georgia had a punt blocked with less than 10 seconds to go and had to survive two Vanderbilt passes to win its fifth straight game this season. The Bulldogs are off this Saturday, before matching up against Florida in the annual battle in Jacksonville. With South Carolina losing running back Marcus Lattimore for the season, the matchup between the Bulldogs and Gators will play a big role in deciding the SEC East champ.

6. Auburn (5-2) – It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Tigers posted a 17-6 victory over Florida to move to 5-2 on the season. Auburn’s offense has not scored more than 17 points in each of its last three games. Quarterback play has been a question mark for head coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, as three players saw snaps against Florida. Clint Moseley came off the bench and completed 4 of 7 throws for 90 yards, while Kiehl Frazier gave Auburn a boost on the ground, rushing for 41 yards on eight attempts. Barrett Trotter has started every game this year, but could soon find his way out of the lineup with Moseley and Frazier providing a spark.

7. Florida (4-3) – After three consecutive losses, the Gators are reeling going into a bye week. There’s no shame in any of the losses (Alabama, LSU and Auburn), but Florida expected to compete for a SEC East title this season. An injury to quarterback John Brantley has certainly been a setback for the offense, especially with two true freshman getting snaps in his place. The schedule isn’t going to get any easier, as Florida is on bye this week, before playing Georgia in Jacksonville on Oct. 29.

8. Mississippi State (3-4) – The Bulldogs are still searching for their first win in SEC play after Saturday’s 14-12 loss to South Carolina. Tyler Russell made his first start at quarterback and completed 11 of 29 throws for 165 yards, one touchdown and two picks. Although coach Dan Mullen likely won’t name a starter for the Oct. 29 game against Kentucky, expect Russell to get the call under center. The Bulldogs need three wins to get bowl eligible, but with Kentucky, Ole Miss and Tennessee-Martin, they should be able to finish with at least six victories.

9. Tennessee (3-3) – As expected, life without quarterback Tyler Bray is going to be very difficult for the Volunteers. Matt Simms filled in for Bray in Saturday’s loss to LSU and completed only 6 of 20 throws. The rushing attack did show some signs of life, with Tauren Poole posting 70 yards on 19 attempts. Tennessee won’t get any breaks in the schedule the next two weeks, as it travels to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama this Saturday, followed by a home date against South Carolina in Week 9.

10. Vanderbilt (3-3) – The record sits at 3-3, but it’s clear the Commodores are a much-improved team in coach James Franklin’s first season. Vanderbilt had a chance to win late, but two pass attempts with less than 10 seconds remaining deep in Georgia territory fell incomplete. The Commodores step out of conference for a difficult matchup against Army this Saturday. If Vanderbilt wants to make a bowl game, beating the Black Knights is a must.

11. Ole Miss (2-4) – The Rebels showed some signs of life in the opening drive of Saturday’s game against Alabama, but it was all downhill from there. Ole Miss jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but the Crimson Tide scored 52 unanswered and dropped the Rebels’ record to 2-4. If Ole Miss wants to make a bowl, its backs are against the wall the next few weeks. The Rebels host Arkansas this Saturday, before playing at Auburn on Oct. 29.

12. Kentucky (2-4) – The Kentucky coaching staff hopes a bye week is the perfect medicine for an awful start to the season. The Wildcats are dealing with a four-game losing streak and have yet to earn their first win in SEC play. Kentucky hosts FCS foe Jacksonville State this Saturday. The Gamecocks are 5-1, averaging 31.3 points a game on offense and defeated Ole Miss in the season opener last year. Former Georgia running back Washaun Ealey is one of Jacksonville State's key offensive weapons. The Wildcats should win, but the as past history has shown, the Gamecocks are a dangerous team and shouldn't be taken lightly. 

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the SEC stack up after Week 7?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - 07:50
Path: /college-football/college-football-realignment-update
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

As we hit the midpoint of the college football season, it's time to take a conference-by-conference look at where things stand in realignment/expansion. 

ACC

Added: Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Lost: None

The addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse came as a surprise, and moves the ACC to a 14-team conference. Both teams are slated to leave the Big East in 2014, but an early buyout could be negotiated. The ACC’s moves were due in part to the potential of Texas and Oklahoma joining the Pac-12, creating college football’s first BCS super conference. With those moves by the Pac-12 on the table, the ACC didn’t want to be left behind in the race to get to 16.

What’s next: Barring any changes across the landscape, the ACC is likely to stay at 14 teams for now. Connecticut and Rutgers have been mentioned as possible future candidates, and the conference would definitely be interested in Notre Dame, should it want to give up independence. The ACC isn’t likely to lose members, but the SEC could have interest in Virginia Tech or Florida State as its 14th team.

Big East

Added: ?
Lost: TCU, Pittsburgh and Syracuse

In this round of realignment, the Big East has been one of the biggest losers. The conference lost three teams and faces an uncertain future. West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida and Rutgers are locked into the conference for 2011, and the Big East intends on keeping Pittsburgh and Syracuse around until the 2014 season. However, could a buyout occur if the Big East expands?

What's next: The Big East is looking to expand to a 12-team conference, with Boise State, Air Force, Navy, SMU, Houston and UCF on the radar. Will the news of the Mountain West-Conference USA alliance prevent those teams from joining the Big East? Also, if Missouri leaves for the SEC, Louisville or West Virginia could be on the radar to be the Big 12’s 10th team. If the Big East is able to pull Boise State, Air Force, Navy, SMU, Houston and UCF into the mix, the new 12-team conference should provide a little stability, but this conference will always be under fire as long as the buyout remains low (currently $5 million).

Big Ten

Added: None
Lost: None

The Big Ten is one of the most stable conferences in college football. Unless Notre Dame is interested in joining, it’s hard to imagine the conference expanding in the near future. Rutgers and Missouri are two candidates on the radar, but the Big Ten will be very selective and work on its own timetable whenever it’s interested in expanding again.

Big 12

Added: TCU (2012)
Lost: Texas A&M

Once thought to be on its deathbed, the Big 12 looks to be a viable conference for the next 7-10 years. Despite the loss of three teams over the last year, the Big 12 is in good shape going into 2012. TCU was a great addition as the conference’s 10th team and can be a top 25 team under coach Gary Patterson. The schools (other than Missouri) have granted their television rights to the Big 12, which should prevent future defections.

What's next: Missouri has decided to explore its conference options and could bolt for the SEC. Even if Missouri leaves for the SEC, the Big 12 will have options to add, including West Virginia and Louisville from the Big East. The conference will stick with 10 teams for 2012, but could move to 12 in the future.

Conference USA

Added: Formed alliance with Mountain West
Lost: ?

The decision to form an alliance with the Mountain West is an interesting idea, but there are a lot of question marks that still must be answered. UCF, SMU and Houston could depart for the Big East. If those three teams, will Conference USA look to add Temple and Louisiana Tech to help bolster their division? Although the alliance with the Mountain West is intriguing, let’s see how it works out before calling it a success or something that helps the conference champion earn an automatic spot into the BCS.

Independents

Army: The Black Knights received some interest from the Big East, but decided to remain an independent. Considering Army’s lack of success when it joined Conference USA, independence is the best option for the Black Knights to be competitive.

BYU: The Cougars were in the mix for the Big 12, but the conference’s invite went to TCU. BYU is supposedly very happy with independent status, but would have to seriously consider a BCS invite from the Big 12 if that happens in the future. However, some reports indicated that may require some concessions from BYU for the Big 12 to extend an invite.

Navy: The Midshipmen are interested in joining the Big East, but want to see the buyout increased to provide stability. Air Force and Navy aren’t necessarily a package deal, but if the Falcons choose to stay in the Mountain West, it could have an impact on the decision of the Midshipmen. If Navy turn down the Big East, all signs point to remaining an independent.

Notre Dame: Anytime a BCS conference is looking to expand, it’s a safe bet the Irish will be mentioned as a candidate. However, Notre Dame is secure as an independent and barring a drastic shift across college football’s landscape, it seems unlikely the Irish will be joining a conference anytime soon.

MAC

Added: UMass (2013)
Lost: None

Temple was on the radar for Big East expansion, but some reports indicated Villanova did not want another school from Philadelphia in the conference. Could the Owls be on the radar for any Conference USA/Mountain West expansion? UMass is scheduled to join the MAC in 2013, which would bring the conference to 14 teams, provided there are no defections.

Mountain West

Added: Formed alliance with Conference USA
Lost: ?

The football-only alliance with Conference USA is intriguing, but what does it really mean? There’s no guarantee of an automatic BCS bid, but this does give both conferences some stability, especially if Boise State, Air Force, UCF, Houston and SMU depart for the Big East. The Mountain West and Conference USA is trying to get this alliance in place for 2012, but more likely for 2013. If the Mountain West’s division loses Boise State and Air Force, don’t be surprised if Utah State and San Jose State are invited to join. Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii decided to join the Mountain West in time for 2012 from the WAC last season.

Pac-12

Added: None
Lost: None

The Pac-12 nearly became the Pac-16 earlier this fall. Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech were on the verge of leaving the Big 12, but the Pac-12 decided not to expand. The conference scored a huge television deal and none of its members are interested in leaving. The Pac-12 is near the top of college football in terms of conference stability.

SEC

Added: Texas A&M (2012)
Lost: None

The SEC didn’t need to expand to remain the best conference in college football, but it was too hard to pass on adding Texas A&M. The Aggies won only one Big 12 title, but bolsters the SEC’s presence in Texas, particularly in the Houston market.

What's next: Although the SEC is committed to a 13-team setup in 2011, it’s unlikely that will continue for very long. Missouri has announced its intentions to explore a new conference, and the SEC is squarely on its radar. With Columbia, Mo. halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, the SEC is very interested in adding the Tigers for television sets and their academic value. If Missouri isn’t the SEC’s 14th team, keep an eye on West Virginia or Virginia Tech.

Sun Belt

Added: None
Lost: None

The Sun Belt seems to be a secure conference. However, keep an eye on FIU, Troy, FAU and North Texas in any Mountain West/Conference USA expansion. South Alabama is slated to join the Sun Belt in 2013.

WAC

Added: Texas State, UTSA (2012)
Lost: None (since the start of 2011 season)

The WAC was hit hard by expansion last season, losing Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii to the Mountain West. The conference responded by inviting Texas State and UTSA to join in 2012. The conference is still in a fight for survival, as Louisiana Tech, Utah State and San Jose State could be potential expansion candidates for the new Mountain West/C-USA conference. If the WAC is raided once again, it’s uncertain if the conference could survive, especially if no FCS teams are willing to jump to the FBS level. 

Teaser:
<p> Realignment and expansion has dominated the headlines this season. Where do things stand for each conference?</p>
Post date: Monday, October 17, 2011 - 07:57
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-big-12-4
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 7 Big 12 Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings

1. Oklahoma (6-0) – After last week’s big victory over Texas, the Sooners may have had a slight letdown against Kansas. However, Oklahoma eventually pulled away in the second half, finishing with a 47-17 victory. Quarterback Landry Jones threw for 363 yards and three scores, with receiver Ryan Broyles his favorite target, catching 13 passes for 217 yards and two scores. Broyles became the NCAA’s career leader in receptions in Saturday’s win over Kansas. The Sooners host Texas Tech this Saturday, before a key Big 12 game at Kansas State on Oct. 29.

2. Oklahoma State (6-0) – The Texas defense held Cowboys’ quarterback Brandon Weeden to his lowest passing total of 2011, but it wasn’t enough. Oklahoma State used solid efforts from running backs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, along with a key kickoff return for a touchdown by Justin Gilbert to earn the 38-26 victory. Thanks to Saturday’s win, the Cowboys have now won back-to-back games against Texas for the first time in school history. Oklahoma State looks to remain unbeaten this Saturday, as it hits the road for a trip to Missouri.

3. Kansas State (6-0) – The Wildcats continued their surprising run with a 41-34 win over Texas Tech on Saturday. Kansas State has had plenty of doubters this year and entered the matchup as an underdog. However, the Wildcats used a steady diet of quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert on the ground, which helped to control time of possession. Kansas State’s defense also came up big, picking off Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege three times. The Wildcats travel to Lawrence to take on in-state rival Kansas.

4. Texas A&M (4-2) – After losing back-to-back games in early October, the Aggies have bounced back with two wins in a row. Texas A&M’s defense gave up some yards to Baylor in Saturday’s win, but also did a good job of getting pressure on quarterback Robert Griffin. The Aggies rushing attack gashed the Bears for 266 yards, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the player of the game, throwing for 415 yards and six touchdowns. Receiver Ryan Swope also had a huge performance, catching 11 passes for 206 yards and four scores. The Aggies hit the road to play Iowa State this Saturday.

5. Texas (4-2) – The state of Oklahoma completed the sweep over the Longhorns this season, as Oklahoma State beat Texas 38-26 on Saturday. After trading snaps with Case McCoy, David Ash started and went the full distance at quarterback. The freshman completed 22 of 40 throws for 139 yards and threw two interceptions. One bright spot was the play of running back Malcolm Brown, who registered 135 yards and two touchdowns. Texas is off this Saturday and its next game will be on Oct. 29 against Kansas.

6. Baylor (4-2) – The Bears can score with anyone in the Big 12, but in order to compete for a conference title, the defense has to get better. New coordinator Phil Bennett will get the defense turned around eventually, but it’s going to cost Baylor a few games this season. In Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M, the Bears allowed a season-high 55 points and 681 yards. Baylor is off this Saturday and returns to action on Oct. 29 at Oklahoma State.

7. Missouri (3-3) – Saturday’s 52-17 win over Iowa State snapped a two-game losing streak and moved the Tigers back to .500 on the season. Quarterback James Franklin had a huge performance against the Cyclones, throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 84 yards and two scores on the ground. Although Missouri has three losses, all of the defeats have been by 10 points or less and there’s no shame in losing to Oklahoma, Kansas State and Arizona State. The Tigers host Oklahoma State this Saturday.

8. Texas Tech (4-2) – The Red Raiders dropped their second consecutive game, losing 41-34 to Kansas State on Saturday. Quarterback Seth Doege ranks second nationally in total offense, but threw three costly interceptions against the Wildcats. Aaron Crawford stepped in as the No. 1 running back for Eric Stephens (out for year with knee injury) and rushed for 91 yards and one score on 21 carries. Texas Tech is unlikely to snap its losing streak this week, as a date with Oklahoma awaits this Saturday.

9. Iowa State (3-3) – The Cyclones had a promising start to 2011, but have dropped three consecutive games. Iowa State lost 52-17 to Missouri on Saturday and was never really close to making it a game. Reaching a bowl is going to be an uphill battle for Iowa State, as Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State remain on the schedule.

10. Kansas (2-4) – The Jayhawks hung tough in the first half against Oklahoma, but didn’t have the firepower to make a run at the upset in the final two quarters. A bright spot for Kansas this year has been the rushing attack, which compiled 144 yards and two touchdowns against the Sooners. The Jayhawks are unlikely to make a bowl game this season, but will look to spoil rival Kansas State’s undefeated run this Saturday.

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the Big 12 stack up after seven weeks of action?</p>
Post date: Monday, October 17, 2011 - 07:54
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-big-east-4
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 7 Big East Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. West Virginia (5-1) – The Mountaineers did not play in Week 7 and will return to action this Friday at Syracuse. The Orange upset West Virginia 19-14 in Morgantown last season. The Mountaineers struggled to get their offense on track in last year’s matchup, but that shouldn’t be an issue on Friday. Syracuse has struggled to stop the pass and is allowing nearly 30 points a game. The Mountaineers remain the favorite to win the Big East title.

2. Rutgers (5-1) – A blocked field goal with less than five minutes remaining kept the Scarlet Knights ahead and proved to be just enough for the victory. With five victories this year, Rutgers has surpassed its win total from last season. True freshman quarterback Gary Nova tossed two interceptions in the win over Navy, but also threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Jawan Jamison earned his first 100-yard effort of his career, while also posting a touchdown. Rutgers returns to Big East play with a trip to Louisville on Friday.

3. Cincinnati (5-1) – It wasn’t the dominant performance some expected from the Bearcats, but they defeated Louisville 25-16 to move to 5-1 this season. After winning only four games last season, Cincinnati has already surpassed that victory total in 2011 and stands one win away from bowl eligibility. The Bearcats hit the road for their next two games, as they travel to take on South Florida and then Pittsburgh on Nov. 5.  

4. Pittsburgh (3-4) – After pummeling South Florida 44-17 on Thursday night in late September, it appeared the Panthers were ready to emerge as contenders in the Big East. Not so fast. The last two weeks were a step back in coach Todd Graham’s first season, featuring a 34-10 loss to Rutgers and a 26-14 defeat to Utah on Saturday. The Panthers’ offense went dormant against the Utes, posting only 120 yards and turning the ball over three times. Pittsburgh is off next Saturday, before returning to action on Oct. 26 against Connecticut.

5. South Florida (4-2) – After a 4-0 start, the Bulls have slipped in the Big East power rankings due to back-to-back losses. South Florida dropped a 44-17 game at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, but Saturday’s 16-10 defeat to Connecticut was a huge surprise. The Huskies did not score an offensive touchdown, but won the turnover battle and limited quarterback B.J. Daniels to only 164 passing yards. With back-to-back conference losses, the Bulls have some work to do in the Big East race. And their quest to get back into the mix starts on Saturday against Cincinnati.

6. Syracuse (4-2) – The Orange did not play on Saturday and will return to action on Friday against West Virginia. Syracuse defeated the Mountaineers last season, but will likely be heavy underdogs for this season’s matchup. The Orange have struggled to stop the pass all year, which will be under fire from West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. Syracuse needs two wins to get bowl eligible, which won’t be easy with games at Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh, along with South Florida, Cincinnati and West Virginia visiting the Carrier Dome.

7. Connecticut (3-4) – Without question, the most surprising score from Week 7’s Big East action was the Huskies’ victory over South Florida. Connecticut’s offense has sputtered all year, but it didn’t matter on Saturday. The Huskies scored a defensive touchdown and forced four South Florida turnovers. This victory was a big one for Connecticut, as it snapped a two-game losing streak and keeps the bowl hopes alive. The Huskies are off on Saturday and return to action on Oct. 26 at Pittsburgh.

8. Louisville (2-4) – The Cardinals held a 16-7 lead at halftime, but was unable to keep that lead in the second half, as Cincinnati pulled away for a 25-16 victory. Freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater continues to gain valuable experience, completing 17 of 28 throws for 195 yards and one interception. However, the rushing attack continues to struggle for Louisville, as it managed only 70 yards and averaged 2.1 yards per carry. The Cardinals host Rutgers this Friday.

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the Big East stack up after Week 7?</p>
Post date: Monday, October 17, 2011 - 07:52
Path: /college-football/marcus-lattimore-out-year-south-carolinas-sec-title-hopes-finished
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

South Carolina’s SEC title hopes suffered a significant setback, as running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury in Saturday’s game against Mississippi State. The Gamecocks managed to hold on for a 14-12 win, but it came at a major price.

Following Saturday’s action, Georgia and South Carolina were the only teams with one defeat in the SEC East. Thanks to a loss to Auburn, Florida slipped to 2-3 and needs a lot of help to win the division.

The Gamecocks defeated Georgia earlier this season, but with Lattimore’s injury, can they hold onto the SEC East title? Don’t bet on it.

South Carolina is off this Saturday, but faces a tough two-game road stretch at Tennessee and Arkansas. The Gamecocks should be able to beat the Volunteers, but winning against the Razorbacks – one of the best offenses in the SEC – is an uphill battle. Also, South Carolina still has to face Florida in its final conference game and hosts rival Clemson on Nov. 26. Only a date with Citadel on Nov. 19 is a sure bet on the schedule.

While it’s possible the Gamecocks could rally around quarterback Connor Shaw, Lattimore was one of the best players in college football and won’t easily be replaced. For a team that has dealt with bouts of inconsistency on offense all year, losing your best player isn’t an ideal situation.

With all of the uncertainty surrounding South Carolina’s quarterbacks this year, there was no doubt Lattimore was going to carry the offense. Through seven games, the sophomore led the team with 818 rushing yards and 10 scores. Lattimore ranked 13th nationally with 116.9 rushing yards per game, which was second in the SEC behind Alabama’s Trent Richardson.

Lattimore’s emergence last season carried South Carolina to a SEC East title. In his freshman year, Lattimore collected 1,197 yards and 17 scores, while catching 29 passes for 412 yards and two touchdowns.

South Carolina expected Lattimore to easily build on last season’s statistics, and the sophomore garnered a ton of preseason hype, including a spot on Athlon’s first-team All-American team.

Although Lattimore is out for the rest of the season, the good news is that he is expected to return in 2012 at full strength. Lattimore will be a junior next season, and considering he is likely a first-round pick, 2012 should be his last in Columbia. 

Where South Carolina goes from here at running back remains to be seen.

With Lattimore’s injury and the dismissal of quarterback Stephen Garcia, the Gamecocks have lost their top two leading rushers this year. Starting quarterback Connor Shaw is third on the team with 110 yards and no scores.

It’s very likely a committee approach will be used at running back. True freshman Brandon Wilds was listed as the top backup to Lattimore for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State. Wilds has rushed for 75 yards on 13 attempts this year. Bruce Ellington has spent most of the year at receiver, but could be called upon to help in the rushing attack. Eric Baker and Kenny Miles have a lot of experience, but both have been banged up this season.

Although the Gamecocks may be able to patch together a rushing attack, it’s not going to equal anything close to what Lattimore brought to the table.

If South Carolina wants to get back to Atlanta for the SEC title, Shaw to continue to develop at quarterback. With the rushing game taking a step back, the offense will have to lean a little more on Shaw and receiver Alshon Jeffery.

The Gamecocks will also need the defense to continue their recent play. South Carolina’s last four opponents have not managed more than 16 points. Also, the defense ranks 19th nationally in points allowed and ninth in total defense. The Gamecocks own the SEC’s best secondary, allowing only 133.7 yards per game, but that total is skewed by the recent run of opponents with shaky quarterback play – Vanderbilt, Auburn, Kentucky and Mississippi State.

It’s not out of the question for South Carolina to rally and claim the SEC East title. After all, three losses won the division last year.

With a win over Georgia, the Gamecocks still control their own destiny. However, Lattimore is a huge loss and one that won’t be replaced.

Although Georgia still has a tough game remaining against Florida, the path to Atlanta is there for the Bulldogs. And without Lattimore in the lineup for South Carolina, Georgia will represent the East in the SEC title game in December.

Teaser:
<p> Without running back Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina's SEC East title hopes are likely finished.</p>
Post date: Monday, October 17, 2011 - 04:46
All taxonomy terms: bowl projections, College Football
Path: /college-football/bowl-projections-6
Body:

With seven weeks in the book, it's time to take a look at how teams project to the postseason. There's going to be a lot of changes over the next couple of weeks, especially as teams battle just to get to six wins. 

Bowl Date Tie-Ins Projected Matchup
New Mexico Dec. 17 MWC vs. Pac-12 Colorado State vs. Northwestern*
Idaho Potato Dec. 17 MAC vs. WAC Toledo vs. Nevada
New Orleans Dec. 17 C-USA vs. Sun Belt Marshall vs. UL Lafayette
St. Petersburg Dec. 20 Big East vs. C-USA UCF vs. Pittsburgh
Poinsettia Dec. 21 MWC vs. WAC Air Force vs. Fresno State
Las Vegas Dec. 22 MWC vs. Pac-12 TCU vs. UCLA
Hawaii Dec. 24 C-USA vs. WAC Hawaii vs. Southern Miss
Independence Dec. 26 ACC vs. MWC San Diego State vs. Wake Forest
Little Caesars Dec. 27 Big Ten vs. MAC Northern Illinois vs. Ohio State
Belk Dec. 27 ACC vs. Big East Cincinnati vs. North Carolina
Military Dec. 28 ACC vs. Navy Navy vs. Virginia
Holiday Dec. 28 Big 12 vs. Pac-12 Baylor vs. Arizona State
Champs Sports Dec. 29 ACC vs. Big East Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech
Alamo Dec. 29 Big 12 vs. Pac-12 Texas A&M vs. Washington
Armed Forces Dec. 30 BYU vs. C-USA BYU vs. Tulsa
Pinstripe Dec. 30 Big 12 vs. Big East Rutgers vs. Missouri
Music City Dec. 30 ACC vs. SEC Miami vs. Tennessee
Insight Dec. 30 Big Ten vs. Big 12 Michigan vs. Texas
Car Care Dec. 31 Big Ten vs. Big 12 Texas Tech vs. Penn State
Sun Dec. 31 ACC vs. Pac-12 Florida State vs. California
Liberty Dec. 31 C-USA vs. SEC Mississippi State vs. Houston
Fight Hunger Dec. 31 Army vs. Pac-12 Utah vs. Syracuse*
Chick-fil-A Dec. 31 ACC vs. SEC Virginia Tech vs. Auburn
TicketCity Jan. 2 Big Ten vs. C-USA SMU vs. Iowa
Outback Jan. 2 Big Ten vs. SEC South Carolina vs. Michigan State
Capital One Jan. 2 Big Ten vs. SEC Georgia vs. Nebraska
Gator Jan. 2 Big Ten vs. SEC Florida vs. Illinois
Rose Jan. 2 BCS vs. BCS Wisconsin vs. Stanford
Fiesta Jan. 2 BCS vs. BCS Oklahoma State vs. Oregon
Sugar Jan. 3 BCS vs. BCS LSU vs. Boise State
Orange Jan. 4 BCS vs. BCS Clemson vs. West Virginia
Cotton Jan. 6 Big 12 vs. SEC Arkansas vs. Kansas State
BBVA Compass Jan. 7 Big East vs. SEC South Florida vs. Vanderbilt
GoDaddy.com Jan. 8 MAC vs. Sun Belt Temple vs. FIU
National Title Jan. 9 BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2 Alabama vs. Oklahoma

* Current standings and projections indicate some conferences may fail to fulfill their tie-ins for 2011.

Teaser:
<p> With seven weeks down, here's a look at how teams stack up for the postseason.</p>
Post date: Sunday, October 16, 2011 - 19:39
Path: /college-football/college-football-predictions-michigan-vs-michigan-state
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The annual Michigan-Michigan State matchup always has plenty of intrigue, but the stakes are even higher this season. Both teams are ranked inside of the top 25 and are in the mix to win the Legends Division.

Nebraska entered the season as the favorite to win the Legends Division, but the Cornhuskers have not looked like a dominant team and suffered a huge loss on the injury front this week, as defensive tackle Jared Crick is out for the rest of the year.

New Michigan coach Brady Hoke is enjoying a 6-0 start to the season, which includes a thrilling 35-31 victory over Notre Dame and a 2-0 start in Big Ten play. The defensive lapses of 2010 are gone, with the Wolverines ranking ninth nationally in scoring defense.

Michigan State’s only loss of 2011 came in Week 3 against Notre Dame. The Spartans opened Big Ten play with a 10-7 victory over Ohio State.

Considering Nebraska’s issues, this matchup has taken on added importance. The winner of Saturday’s game between the Wolverines and Spartans won’t be guaranteed a division title, but a victory would certainly help build their case with nearly half of the season to go.

When Michigan State Has the Ball

Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins is the steady hand that guides the Michigan State offense. Cousins has thrown for 1,197 yards and six touchdowns through five games, but also has tossed four picks.

Stopping the pass was a major issue for Michigan’s defense last season, but has been solid through six games. The Wolverines rank 39th nationally against the pass and have not allowed a touchdown through the air in the last two games.

Although the Wolverines’ secondary has shown improvement, Michigan State will provide a tough test. Receiver B.J. Cunningham is one of the Big Ten’s top big-play threats, averaging 15.3 yards per catch. Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol will also factor into the mix at wide receiver, while athletic tight end Dion Sims has scored three touchdowns on 10 receptions this year.

Can the Spartans ignite their rushing attack against the Wolverines? The offensive line has struggled to jell this season, but has allowed only five sacks and rushers are averaging 3.4 yards per carry.

The Michigan defense has shown big improvement in nearly all areas, but is allowing 141.6 yards per game on the ground. Tackle Mike Martin is a key cog in the Wolverines' run defense and will be counted upon to create havoc in the Spartan backfield.

Michigan State needs running backs Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell to get on track on Saturday. Establishing some balance will help take the pressure off of Cousins. With the Spartans struggling to get the rushing game on track, the senior quarterback had a lot of pressure on his shoulders to win the game against Ohio State.

The Wolverines have played well in the trenches this year, and their defensive line needs to deliver once again this Saturday. Cousins is capable of winning this game without a ground attack, but Michigan State would like to establish balance. 

When Michigan Has the Ball

Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges went into this season hoping to lessen the workload on quarterback Denard Robinson. Although the junior has avoided the injuries that bothered him throughout 2010, he still leads the team with 94 carries and 674 rushing attempts.

Helping Robinson in the backfield is a plethora of backs, led by Fitzgerald Toussaint and Vincent Smith. Senior Michael Shaw will also factor into the mix.

Junior Hemingway and Jeremy Gallon have been Robinson’s favorite targets in the passing game. Big things were expected of Roy Roundtree this year, but he has been a disappointment, catching only six passes for 114 yards and one touchdown through six games.

The Michigan State defense has quietly been one of the best in college football this year. The Spartans enter Saturday’s game ranked No. 1 in total defense and tied for third in points allowed.

Much of the charge on defense has been led by underclassmen. The Spartans have only two seniors listed as starters for Saturday’s game. The success starts up front, with junior tackle Jerel Worthy anchoring the line. Worthy has only 10 tackles this year, but his presence goes beyond the box score. Sophomore linebacker Max Bullough has been another stellar performer, collecting 33 stops through five games.

It may seem simple, but Michigan State’s best chance at winning this game will rely on its ability to contain Robinson. Although he has continued to shoulder a heavy workload on the ground, Robinson has tossed nine picks and is still finding his rhythm in the passing game this season.

Robinson and the Wolverines have to be careful with the ball, as they are tied for the Big Ten lead with 11 lost turnovers. In a tight game like this, holding onto the ball is going to be especially important.

Stopping Robinson won’t be easy. However, if Michigan State can’t find the answer to stopping him, forcing a couple of turnovers isn’t a bad alternative. 

Special Teams

This unit was a weakness for Michigan last season, but has improved under the direction of coach Dan Ferrigno. Kicker Brendan Gibbons has connected on four of six field goal attempts, while punts will be handled by Matt Wile (41.1 average) or Will Hagerup (37.7 average).

Michigan has not produced many big returns this season, with Vincent Smith and Jeremy Gallon serving as the team’s top two options.

Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy has connected on 6 of 9 attempts this year, including a season-long of 50 yards.

The Spartans have the edge on returns, as Keshawn Martin and Nick Hill are the team’s top options. 

Prediction

After three wins in a row over Michigan, has the balance of power in the state shifted to East Lansing? Perhaps it has for 2011, but Michigan coach Brady Hoke is bringing in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes and it seems like only a matter of time before the Wolverines are back in the top 10.

Neither team is without flaws, but it’s hard to pick against Michigan State with this game at home. If the offensive line can give him ample time to throw, quarterback Kirk Cousins should be able to find open receivers against the Wolverines’ secondary. However, the Spartans need to get their struggling rushing game on track to create balance.

Michigan State’s defense hasn’t gotten enough credit, but is ranked as one of the best in college football. If the Spartans can find a way to keep Denard Robinson in check, and make the other Michigan offensive weapons win this game, Michigan State should extend its streak to four over the Wolverines.

Michigan State 26, Michigan 23

Teaser:
<p> Michigan-Michigan State is one of the big games in Week 7. Athlon Sports previews what both sides need to do in order to win.</p>
Post date: Friday, October 14, 2011 - 07:55
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, Big East
Path: /college-football/college-football-week-7-preview-match-ups-and-upset-picks
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

10 Key Storylines to Watch for Week 7

1. Illinois’ schedule hasn’t been one of the most difficult in the nation this year. However, the Illini are 6-0 and setup for a run at the Big Ten title, provided they knock off Ohio State on Saturday. The Fighting Illini are led by sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, and a stingy defense that is allowing only 17.8 points per game. The Buckeyes dropped to 3-3 with a 34-27 defeat at Nebraska last Saturday. Ohio State held a 27-6 lead early in the fourth quarter, but an injury to quarterback Braxton Miller limited the offense the rest of the game. Miller is expected to start, and the offense will get a boost with the return of running back Daniel Herron, after a six-game suspension for violating NCAA rules. Illinois’ last win over Ohio State in Champaign came in 1991, but the Illini defeated the Buckeyes in 2007 in Columbus. This is a big game for Illinois, considering they host Michigan and Wisconsin in November. While the Fighting Illini is positioning for a run at the conference title, Ohio State just needs a win. At 3-3, the Buckeyes could be in danger of a losing season with a loss on Saturday, while interim coach Luke Fickell needs a big win to keep his name in the mix for the full-time job in 2012.

2. Could Saturday’s Oregon-Arizona State matchup be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship? After wins over USC and Utah, the Sun Devils are firmly in control of the South. Oregon is no lock to win the North, especially with a Nov. 12 date at Stanford. The Sun Devils’ last victory over the Ducks was in 2004. Winning in Eugene won’t be easy, but Arizona State catches a break with Oregon running back LaMichael James likely sidelined with an elbow injury. With James sidelined, Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas and Tra Carson are expected to shoulder the workload in the backfield. Quarterback Brock Osweiler needs to have a big game for the Sun Devils to pull the upset. Also, Arizona State’s defense will have to contain Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, who has accounted for 17 touchdowns this year. Even if the Sun Devils don’t pull off the upset, this is a good opportunity to build experience for a potential repeat trip to Eugene in December.

3. One week after getting torched by Oklahoma, Texas’ defense is under the spotlight once again. Oklahoma State travels to Austin on Saturday, looking to earn back-to-back wins over the Longhorns for the first time in school history. In last season’s matchup, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden threw for 409 yards and one score, while receiver Justin Blackmon caught nine passes for 145 yards and one touchdown. In last week’s game against Oklahoma, Texas got very little pressure on quarterback Landry Jones and recorded only one sack. If the Longhorns want to win this one, they need the defense to get after Weeden and force some turnovers. The offense also has to pick it up, especially after last week’s statline – 259 total yards and five turnovers.

4. Without quarterback John Brantley, Florida knew it faced an uphill battle going into last week’s game against LSU. The Gators were very conservative with true freshman Jacoby Brissett guiding the offense and managed only 11 points. With Brantley sidelined one more week, it’s important for Brissett or fellow true freshman Jeff Driskel to spark the offense in Saturday’s game against Auburn. The Gators are still in the mix for the SEC East title, but cannot afford another conference loss. The Tigers aren’t without questions either, as starting quarterback Barrett Trotter has struggled and the defense has allowed at least 34 points four times this year. The Gators allowed only 46 points through their first four games, but have allowed 79 in their last two contests. With two struggling offenses, this game could be decided by whichever defense is able to create the most turnovers and stop the run. Neither team will be too aggressive throwing the ball, which forces a lot of pressure on running backs Michael Dyer (Auburn) and Chris Rainey (Florida).

5. Don’t expect many pleasantries to be exchanged in Saturday’s game between Baylor and Texas A&M. Baylor threatened to sue Texas A&M for leaving the Big 12, which has caused plenty of hard feelings between the two fanbases. On the field, this should be one of Week 7’s most entertaining matchups. Texas A&M’s secondary ranks last in the nation, and will be under fire from Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin and a deep group of receivers. The Aggies’ defense likely won’t be able to slow down the Bears’ passing attack, but can get help from their offense's solid rushing game to control the clock and keep the ball away from Griffin. Backs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael are averaging 188 yards a game on the ground, which will test a Baylor defense that ranks 83rd against the run. Considering the hard feelings between these two schools, who knows when they will play again? These two teams have met every year since 1945, but with A&M moving to the SEC, it’s unlikely this rivalry will be picked up again anytime soon. However, considering the firepower on both sidelines, this matchup could be a memorable one.

6. Another week, just another tune-up for Alabama and LSU in the collision course for its Nov. 5 matchup. The Crimson Tide is a big favorite on the road against Ole Miss, while the Tigers head to Knoxville to take on Tennessee. Without quarterback Tyler Bray, the Volunteers face an uphill battle to knock off the Tigers. Filling in for Bray will be senior Matt Simms, who started eight games last season. The countdown is on for both Alabama and LSU, as 2011’s most-anticipated game inches closer. With each team having two more games before the matchup, both will be looking to fine tune every area before Nov. 5.

7. Last week’s win over Florida State pushed Wake Forest squarely into contention for the ACC Atlantic crown. The Demon Deacons are 3-0 in conference play, with a key Nov. 12 date at Clemson. However, Wake Forest must first survive a visit from Virginia Tech this Saturday. The Demon Deacons have lost their last four games to the Hokies, with the last home victory coming in 1970. Virginia Tech rebounded from a disappointing 23-3 loss to Clemson by rallying in the fourth quarter to beat Miami last Saturday. Quarterback Logan Thomas took a step forward in his development in the win over the Hurricanes, totaling five touchdowns and misfiring on only two passes. The Demon Deacons have been solid on defense, particularly against the run. Considering the Hokies already have one conference loss, this is a must-win game, especially with Georgia Tech undefeated in the ACC Coastal race.

8. There’s not a ton of marquee matchups this Saturday, but Michigan-Michigan State should be the headliner. The Spartans have won three in a row over the Wolverines and will be looking to take advantage of a raucous crowd at home in East Lansing. Michigan is off to a 6-0 start under new coach Brady Hoke. Quarterback Denard Robinson continues to make plays, while the defense has shown big improvement under new coordinator Greg Mattison. Robinson faces a stiff test on Saturday, as Michigan State ranks first nationally in total defense and third in scoring. The Spartans have struggled to get their rushing attack on track, and the offensive line has not performed well. Considering Nebraska’s struggles and the loss of tackle Jared Crick, the winner of this game will take a step forward to contending for the Big Ten Legends Division title.

9. The South Carolina-Mississippi State matchup isn’t going to register on the national radar, but there’s a lot of intrigue surrounding this game. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier made the switch at quarterback from Stephen Garcia (now dismissed) to Connor Shaw against Kentucky, which sparked the offense for 54 points in Saturday’s victory. However, Mississippi State’s defense will present a tougher challenge, particularly against the pass, where the Bulldogs rank 20th nationally. Mississippi State’s offense is also under fire, as quarterback Chris Relf has struggled and sophomore Tyler Russell is expected to see more playing time. The Bulldogs and Gamecocks have not played since 2007. Mississippi State has lost the last five games in this series, and a win over South Carolina would be huge, especially with all three victories coming against teams from outside a BCS conference.

10. Kansas State continued its surprising start, defeating Missouri 24-17 to move to 5-0. Leading the charge for the much-improved Wildcats have been linebacker Arthur Brown and quarterback Collin Klein. Both players will be crucial to Kansas State’s hopes of moving to 6-0 Saturday, as the Wildcats travel to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech. The Red Raiders will test a Kansas State secondary ranked third in the Big 12 in pass defense. However, Texas Tech’s offense suffered a setback with the loss of running back Eric Stephens to a season-ending knee injury. Without Stephens, more of the focus is going to be on quarterback Seth Doege. The Wildcats would prefer not to get in a shootout with the Red Raiders, which is why Klein and running back John Hubert have to control the clock and keep Doege and his receivers on the sidelines. 

Saturday’s Picks

Athlon editor Mitch Light predicts the 10 biggest games for Week 7 – here’s my take on how some of the top games will play out.

Michigan State 26, Michigan 23
Oregon 44, Arizona State 30
Oklahoma State 41, Texas 27
Virginia Tech 27, Wake Forest 24
Texas A&M 41, Baylor 38
Ohio State 24, Illinois 20
Florida 23, Auburn 20
LSU 31, Tennessee 10
Florida State 38, Duke 20
Kansas State 34, Texas Tech 30
Pittsburgh 28, Utah 17
Miami 27, North Carolina 24
South Carolina 24, Mississippi State 20

Upset Watch

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

Miami at North Carolina (-2)
This game is a tossup. The Hurricanes have struggled on defense, but the Tar Heels haven’t exactly been a shutdown unit either.

South Carolina (-5) at Mississippi State
Just like Miami-North Carolina, this one has tossup written all over it. The Gamecocks had a good showing last week, but it’s hard to read much into beating Kentucky.

Kansas State at Texas Tech (-3.5)
The Wildcats aren't getting much respect from the folks in Vegas. Without Eric Stephens, the Red Raiders will have to lean even more on quarterback Seth Doege. 

Northwestern at Iowa (-7)
Wildcats’ quarterback Dan Persa tore his Achilles in last season’s matchup against the Hawkeyes. Now that he’s back, Northwestern is a dangerous team in Big Ten play.

Western Kentucky at FAU (-3)
The Hilltoppers are coming off a solid road win at MTSU, while this is FAU’s opener in its new stadium. In a matchup with two sluggish offenses, I like Western Kentucky with running back Bobby Rainey leading the way.

Around the Web: College Football’s Must Read Articles to Prepare for Week 7

An injury to starter Larry Smith has opened the door for Jordan Rodgers to compete for the starting quarterback spot at Vanderbilt.

Quarterback Jeff Tuel has been cleared to return for Washinton State. Will Marshall Lobbestael get the start once again?

Depth has helped Wisconsin overcome some key injuries this year.

How do the Big East expansion candidates stack up? Here's an in-depth look at the numbers.

College Football Matrix breaks down the expansion candidates from Non-AQ conferences.

Injuries continue to add up for Florida State, as receiver Rashad Greene is likely out for Saturday's game against Duke.

Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa won't forget last season's game against Iowa.

Will it be Danny O'Brien or C.J. Brown under center for Maryland on Saturday?

Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn is out for the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury suffered in the loss against Washington.

Auburn's offense is struggling, but coordinator Gus Malzahn believes Barrett Trotter is still the best quarterback to lead the offense.

Illinois' receiver A.J. Jenkins is off to a great start this season. Is he the Big Ten's best receiver after six weeks?

What if Russell Wilson chose Auburn over Wisconsin?

An Alabama offensive lineman could miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury.

The value for Missouri to join the SEC is uncertain.

Penn State receiver Derek Moye suffered a foot injury and is out for Saturday's game against Purdue. 

San Diego State is interested in joining the Big 12. 

Are there any quick fixes for Louisville after a slow start?

Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree has been out since the season opener against Boise State, but is getting closer to a return.

Teaser:
<p> We give you the 10 most important match-ups and upset picks for Week 7.</p>
Post date: Friday, October 14, 2011 - 07:26
All taxonomy terms: Jared Crick, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Big Ten, News
Path: /news/jared-crick-out-year-are-nebraska-big-ten-chances-done
Body:

Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick has been ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Crick suffered the injury during Saturday’s 34-27 win over Ohio State.

The senior entered the year with high expectations. Crick was selected as a preseason first-team Athlon All-American and was widely-regarded as the top defensive tackle in college football.

Through five games, Crick had collected 22 stops, three tackles for a loss and one sack. An injury held the senior out against Wyoming, but was a key cog in the Nebraska defense the rest of the way.

Crick is definitely going to be missed by the Cornhuskers. Even with him in the lineup, Nebraska ranked 80th nationally against the run and tied for 65th nationally in scoring defense. After ranking as one of the best defenses in college football last season, Nebraska has not lived up to the hype and has been one of the biggest disappointments in the Big Ten.

Crick’s absence will add more pressure to the defensive line. Junior Baker Steinkuhler will have to emerge as the leader on the interior. He has 19 stops through six contests. On the edge, Jason Ankrah and Cameron Meredith will also see more attention. Crick’s presence wasn’t always felt through the box score, but rather the double teams he drew from opposing offensive lines.

Senior Terrence Moore and redshirt freshman Chase Rome were listed behind Crick on the depth chart for Ohio State. Both players will see their snaps increase, along with sophomore Thaddeus Randle, who is listed as a backup to Steinkuhler.

Nebraska does catch a break in the schedule, as Minnesota is up after the bye this Satudray. The Golden Gophers have struggled on offense all year and would pose little threat to the Cornhuskers’ defense. After Minnesota, the offenses on the schedule get a little more difficult. Nebraska finishes the year with Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan and Iowa. Northwestern and Michigan would figure to be the most challenging offenses to stop out of that mix.

Despite Nebraska’s loss to Wisconsin in Week 5, it was still considered the frontrunner to win the Big Ten Legends Division. However, Crick’s injury will help Michigan and Michigan State to close the gap.

Nebraska's Big Ten title hopes aren't finished, but it certainly takes a hit with Crick's injury. Even if the Cornhuskers win the Legends Division, a matchup against Wisconsin would be a nightmare in the Big Ten title game. 

Although the defense has had its issues and is losing Crick for the year, Bo Pelini is one of the top defensive minds in college football. And he will need to come up with some answers or different looks over the second half of the season.

Crick is regarded as one of the top defensive line prospects in the NFL Draft. It’s unclear how this injury will affect his preparation for the 2012 draft. 

Even though Nebraska's defense has underachieved this season, there's no doubt Crick's injury makes this unit an even bigger concern going forward.

Teaser:
<p> Nebraska's defense suffered a big loss with defensive tackle Jared Crick out for the year due to an arm injury.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 16:03
Path: /college-football/bill-snyder-returns-kansas-state
Body:

This article about Bill Snyder's return to Kansas State appeared in Athlon's 2009 Big 12 regional edition. With the Wildcats sitting at 5-0, it's a good time to look back at Snyder's return to Kansas State, after a brief retirement. 

There are days when that rocking chair looks pretty good to Bill Snyder. A quiet moment alone or a little mayhem with the grandchildren would be nice. Catch a nap. Devote a few hours to a good cause. Visit the old stomping grounds and enjoy the royal treatment. Ah, memories.

Then comes the shock of reality. That is not Bill Snyder’s life anymore. He chose retirement three-plus years ago and found it somewhat unfulfilling. Boring, even. And even though he says it took him “three weeks to a month” to make the final decision to return to Kansas State, something tells you his part of the process took far less time than that. Getting his family on board might have been the tough part. Bill Snyder is a coach, not a spectator. He needs a classroom in which to teach and a practice field over which he can preside.

“The fire in his belly to get back into coaching is phenomenal,” says KSU athletic director Bob Krause.

So, he came back to rescue a program that sagged to 5–7 last year. But there are times when the three years away from the maelstrom look pretty darn good.

The primary difficulty facing Snyder these days is a Kansas State program that has reversed the Manhattan Miracle. Over the past five seasons, two of which were on Snyder’s watch, the Wildcats have slid into the Big 12’s discount rack and are easy pickings for the conference’s powers — and some who are not so powerful. The trademark ruthless defense seems devoted to philanthropy. The offense, which helped pioneer spread fields and the 21st century running quarterback, was butter-knife dull, not cutting-edge. These days, some people think it’s a miracle if KSU goes to a bowl. Snyder has been brought back at the behest of school president Dr. Jon Wefald, who has been at K-State since 1986. Wefald figured that it made more sense to recycle a proven commodity who could energize the fan base and stimulate the bottom line than to try out some young colt who might be all sizzle and no wins. Snyder’s return is being sold as the homecoming of a legend who couldn’t bear to see the once-proud program he built sink into the mire.

“Because the Hall of Fame can wait.

“Because family matters most.

“Because hometown heroes become legends.

“Because ‘Wildcat Victory’ is more than a song…

“The Tradition Continues”

That’s the pitch, and it’s accompanied by the requisite dramatic music and compelling imagery. Snyder created the Miracle, and only he can conjure its revival. The good news is that things aren’t anywhere near as forlorn as they were back in ’89, when KSU was the most popular homecoming opponent on the planet. From 1955-88, Kansas State had a total of two winning seasons, both of the six-win variety. The good news is that the climb won’t be so long this time.

“At that time, it wasn’t a matter of trying to redirect things; it was a matter of virtually beginning over,” Snyder says.

That doesn’t mean a rebuilding job doesn’t lie ahead, and that Snyder isn’t partly responsible for creating the need for it. He understands that his final two seasons in Manhattan weren’t successful and that his “retirement” after a 4–7 2004 season and 5–6 ’05 performance wasn’t necessarily mourned. Some thought the venerable then-66-year old coach had lost it. Then came Ron Prince, and things were so bad that critics thought that perhaps Snyder was right when he spoke of his troubles simply being part of a cycle.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with being outdated,” Snyder says. “We were always pioneers.” But while other programs were emerging within the Big 12, the Wildcats were sagging. Granted, it’s harder to keep a program like Kansas State at the top every year, but the numbers spoke loudly against Snyder. “It was part of the normal happenstance,” he says. “You have to continue the climb. Whether we would have had I stayed, I don’t know. But (the losing seasons) were part of the process.”

Old Dog, New Tricks

You may have trouble getting parents or grandparents to enter the digital age, but Snyder has jumped right in. Truth be told, he probably wouldn’t be texting and sending out group e-mails if he hadn’t returned to the coaching ranks, but give him credit for understanding the necessity of communicating with his constituents on platforms they prefer.

“I get probably 150-200 e-mails and text messages a day,” he says. “I can communicate with the players on a very simple basis by using a mass e-mail or text. I can stay in touch with the faculty and past players. You name a group, and I’ve got them on this phone of mine. It took some learning, but I had some good teachers.”

Snyder has made some concessions to the 21st century, but the vast majority of his methods are decidedly from decades past. He remains devoted to the double shift at work. He is still a taciturn authority figure, more veteran leader than cuddly grandfather. And he still insists on strong control of the program. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of on-field modernity and off-field retroactivity. He’ll spread it out with four wides and blitz from all angles, while decrying the commercial personality of the sport.

“There are a number of things I’m concerned about,” he says. “First, college athletics, particularly football and (men’s) basketball, have become a business. I don’t think that’s how it was intended to be. There are certain things that are good and right as they are, and amateur athletics are one of them. I have seen young people grow and prosper and become men and become successful in all facets of their lives because they were in athletic programs with good values.”

Snyder stayed at Kansas State because he believed in the school and his mission there. He’s selling his players on a responsibility to something bigger than them.

“I know I’m going to be part of a rebuilding project, but I’m not doing this for me,” says fifth-year senior offensive tackle Nick Stringer, a Snyder Phase I recruit. “I’m doing it for every other Wildcat who comes here and puts the Purple on.

“People will look at the 2009 team as the group that put the work in that allowed the younger guys to be in the top 25 and compete for championships.”

Because Snyder is a returning hero, he will get the benefit of the doubt should things start slowly. He’ll have an experienced team, thanks to last year’s transfers, although few of them were particularly overwhelming, as the Wildcats’ final record proved. And since quarterback Josh Freeman headed to the NFL a year early, Snyder will have to find someone capable of running the team. It’s a challenge, all right, but it’s certainly not as bad as what he encountered the first time around, when KSU had only 47 scholarship players. And Krause is content to be patient with his old friend, whom he hired 20 years ago.

Snyder may well get five years, but if things are shaky beyond next season, he’ll be regarded by younger alums as an anachronism. At that point, it won’t matter whether Snyder received a standing ovation simply for being shown on the Jumbotron during a men’s basketball game or, as Krause puts it, “the dollars and cents are supporting the decision (to bring him back).” Ultimately, it will be wins and losses that determine whether this is the right move, and not the past.

Snyder is fine with that, because no matter how many newfangled ways he learns to communicate and how cutting-edge his strategies on the field may be, his tested way of working is the only method he knows. If that doesn’t work, chances are he’ll consider the climate more responsible for failure than what he did and how he did it. That’s not a stubborn approach, just a confident one.

“The people that surround the Kansas State program — alumni, fans, students, faculty — they believe that, yes, it can be done again,” Snyder says. “We’d all like to believe that. But you have to do the things that make it happen.”

Sounds tough, but it sure beats a life of leisure.

Most of the time.

Teaser:
<p> From the Athlon Archives: Can Bill Snyder recreate the magic in Manhattan?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 12:56
Path: /college-football/big-east-expansion
Body:

- By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

With the defections of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC, along with TCU’s decision to join the Big 12, the Big East is in desperation mode when it comes to expansion. Only six teams are locked into the league for 2012: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida and West Virginia. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are scheduled to remain in the league until 2014, but both teams could explore a buyout agreement to get out of the league earlier.

Believe it or not, it could get worse for the Big East. Louisville and West Virginia are both rumored targets for the Big 12 if Missouri decides to depart for the SEC. The Mountaineers are also believed to be a candidate to be the SEC’s 14th team.

Although the conference is in trouble, the six remaining teams – Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida and West Virginia – isn’t a bad place to start rebuilding. And this assumes West Virginia or Louisville won’t bolt to the Big 12 or SEC anytime soon.

In order to secure the future of the league, the remaining six schools have to agree to up the buyout. A payment of $5 million to leave a league simply isn’t enough.

Once the buyout is increased, potential expansion candidates will be interested in joining a league that has some stability. If the buyout is not increased, the Big East could have trouble attracting some members.

Considering what the Big East is working with in terms of available options, it may have to get creative in order to rebuild the conference. And there’s not much time to waste. Since losing Pittsburgh, Syracuse and TCU, the Big East seems to be moving at ridiculously slow rate when it comes to making decisions.

Forget what has made conferences in the past. Geography is out the window.

In order for the Big East to survive as a long-term, viable BCS league, it needs to land the best possible candidates and move to a 12-team setup. With the available candidates on the board, an East/West split is probably the most likely scenario.

Which team should get the first expansion invite? Boise State. Yes, the Broncos are a strange fit in terms of geography, but again, the Big East can’t think about that. Adding Boise State would give the conference an instant boost and a team that’s capable of competing for a spot among the top 10-15 every season. Academics have been a concern for conferences interested in Boise State, but rebuilding the football image of the Big East is important.

After Boise State is locked into the Big East as the seventh member, it’s time to add to the western edge.

Houston and SMU are logical targets from Conference USA and would get the Big East into two key television markets. While neither is going to outdraw the Big 12, it’s important to have a presence in Dallas and Houston.

The other question with the teams from the west is the service academies. Navy was prepared to join the conference, but the defections of Syracuse and Pittsburgh have slowed that possibility. Air Force seems prepared to leave the Mountain West, which makes the Falcons a logical target for the Big East. Air Force may not win a national title, but they can compete in the Big East and helps to bolster the conference’s national appeal.

In Athlon’s plan for the Big East, we are going to project Navy will decide to remain an independent. The Falcons may choose to turn down an invitation if Navy and Army don’t join. However, we will guess they accept a bid and join the remodeled Big East, which still leaves plenty of flexibility to schedule Army and Navy in non-conference games every year.

Choosing teams to build the east division was pretty easy. Temple and UCF are right in the Big East’s footprint and get the conference into the Philadelphia and Orlando television markets. If Temple or UCF say no, East Carolina is a strong fallback option.

South Florida may have some second thoughts about allowing another school from its state into the conference. However, the Big East can’t be choosy at this point. And there’s plenty of room for both schools in the conference.

Although Villanova is a member of the Big East’s basketball conference and is located in Philadelphia, the football team would need a couple of years to transition and sort out the stadium issues to move to the FBS level. Temple was kicked out of the Big East, but is a logical fit for the conference. Making a play for the Philadelphia market is key for the Big East, but Temple has a better shot at doing that right now, as opposed to waiting a couple of years for Villanova to move up and get ready to play at the FBS level. Additionally, the Owls are no longer a doormat and would be competitive in their first season.

There have been a lot of rumors and ideas thrown out on how to rebuild the conference, but here’s Athlon’s proposed Big East divisions for 2012:

East

Connecticut
Rutgers
South Florida
Temple
UCF
West Virginia

West

Air Force
Boise State
Cincinnati
Houston
Louisville
SMU

There you have it. The new Big East Conference and a title game played on the campus of the team with the best record or ranked the highest in the BCS if a tie occurs.

The divisions are fairly balanced, with West Virginia and Boise State as the anchors in each. 

It’s not going to win the award for the most difficult conference, but at least it keeps the Big East relevant. Adding Boise State is the key. With the Broncos in the mix, it gives the conference a team that already has credibility on the national level.

Time is running out for the Big East to stay relevant on the college football landscape. But this is a reasonable plan that makes sense for the conference in many ways.

Teaser:
<p> The Big East desperately needs to expand to stay relevant in college football. Here's Athlon's take on what the conference can do for a new 12-team league.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 07:29
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Wildcats, College Football, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/arizona-2012-coaching-search-15-names-watch
Body:

- By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Arizona is the second school to make a coaching change this year, with coach Mike Stoops getting the ax after a 1-5 start. Stoops went 41-49 in seven seasons, but the slow start this season was the final blow. Stoops inherited a program that was a disaster under John Mackovic, and led the Wildcats to three straight bowl trips from 2008 to 20010. However, Stoops’ sideline antics, an in-your-face demeanor, and the program failing to get any higher than eight wins under his watch was enough for the Arizona administration to make a switch.

The Wildcats will have a new head coach in 2012 and this will be an important hire for a program looking to climb the ladder in the Pac-12 South. With USC’s probation, UCLA struggling and Utah adapting to the Pac-12, the division is wide-open for Arizona to contend with the right pieces in place.

Athletic director Greg Byrne has been on the job for just over a year and was successful during his tenure at Mississippi State. His last football hire was Dan Mullen - a young, energetic coach who could recruit. Will Arizona follow a similar path?

Who could be the next coach at Arizona? Here are 15 names to watch:

Gary Andersen, head coach, Utah State – Andersen has a losing record in his tenure at Utah State, but there’s little doubt the program is headed in the right direction. The Aggies are 2-3, but have lost all three games by a combined eight points. Andersen has head coaching experience at two stops – Southern Utah and Utah State – but has not coached in a BCS league. 

Major Applewhite, co-offensive coordinator, Texas – An up-and-coming assistant, who currently serves as Texas’ co-offensive coordinator with Bryan Harsin. Applewhite is only 33 and has never been a head coach. However, he is similar to Byrne’s hire of Mullen – young and a bright offensive mind.

Mike Bellotti, former Oregon coach – Bellotti was very successful during his time at Oregon, posting a 116-55 record. Bellotti resigned as Oregon’s head coach in 2009 and became the school’s athletic director. After a short stint in that position, Bellotti moved to the television booth with ESPN. Byrne was at Oregon during Bellotti’s tenure, so there is some familiarity. Bellotti is 60 years old, but being out of coaching for a few years likely has recharged the batteries.

Art Briles, head coach, Baylor - It would be somewhat of a surprise if Briles left Baylor, but Arizona is a better job. Briles has spent all of his coaching career in Texas, and his recruiting ties would probably allow him to establish a pipeline of recruits to the Pac-12. Briles has done a good job of elevating Baylor's program during his tenure there. However, how high can that program go? With Texas A&M departing, there is a possibility for moving up in the Big 12 pecking order every year. Coaching at Arizona would be an easier path to a conference title. 

Troy Calhoun, head coach, Air Force – Calhoun is very happy at Air Force, and the Falcons could be moving to the Big East, which would help the school’s ability to get into the BCS. Calhoun has been successful at Air Force, posting a 37-19 record in five-plus seasons. Although he played at Air Force, could Calhoun be ready for another challenge?

Paul Chryst, offensive coordinator, Wisconsin – Chryst has done an excellent job during his tenure at Wisconsin, currently coordinating the Badgers to a No. 3 national ranking in scoring offense. Chryst has NFL experience, coaching with the Chargers from 1999 to 2001. His experience in college isn’t limited to Wisconsin, as he coached at Oregon State for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Chryst does not have any head coaching experience, but is regarded as one of the top offensive coordinators in college football.

Manny Diaz, defensive coordinator, Texas – Diaz is definitely on Byrne’s radar, considering the two worked at Mississippi State for a short period of time last season. Diaz did a good job with the Bulldogs’ defense last year, as they allowed only 19.9 points a game. Texas gave up 55 points in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma, but the defense has not been a problem. Diaz is young and energetic, but does not have any head coaching experience.

Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech – Dykes previously coached at Arizona from 2007 to 2009. However, his tenure at Louisiana Tech has produced only a 7-11 record. Dykes is a longshot, but is a name to watch considering his past experience.

Bryan Harsin, co-offensive coordinator, Texas – Harsin and fellow co-coordinator Major Applewhite definitely fit the mold of Byrne’s last football hire at Mississippi State. Harsin is considered one of the nation’s top offensive minds, serving as Boise State’s coordinator from 2006-2010 and Texas in 2011. Harsin does not have any head coaching experience, but is regarded as one of the top assistants in the nation. 

Mike Leach, former Texas Tech coach – There’s no doubt Leach has some baggage from what transpired at Texas Tech. However, his record was 84-43 and his pass-first offense would generate excitement from the Arizona fanbase and likely help boost season-ticket sales. The Wildcats went the defensive route last time, but expect an offensive hire to be the selection his time around. Leach should be near the top of Arizona’s list.

Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State – Mullen is a longshot, but deserves a mention with his familiarity with Byrne. Highly unlikely Mullen would depart for Tucson, but winning at Arizona and competing for a division title is probably easier at Arizona than Mississippi State. 

Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State – Another longshot. Petersen’s name turns up every time a BCS job opens, but he is very happy in Boise. Byrne is supposedly good friends with Petersen, but it’s unlikely that relationship will factor into leaving Boise State. 

Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – A sleeper candidate. Roman has 14 years of NFL experience and worked under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. He doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but helped to develop Andrew Luck and was in the mix to get the Vanderbilt job last year.

Kevin Sumlin, head coach, Houston – Sumlin is a Bob Stoops disciple, coaching at Oklahoma from 2003 to 2007. Sumlin has been the head coach at Houston since 2008, leading the Cougars to a 29-16 record. He has hired some top-notch coordinators to run the offenses at Houston, including Dana Holgorsen (head coach at West Virginia) and current co-coordinators Kliff Kingsbury and Jason Phillips. Sumlin is a proven commodity and would bring a high-scoring offense to Tucson. Considering Houston's 6-0 start this year, Sumlin will be a hot name in coaching circles this offseason.

Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Oklahoma – Stoops came to Arizona as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator, so it would be a surprise if the school went in the same direction. However, Venables is considered one of the top assistants in college football and Oklahoma’s defense has solid during his watch. If Venables doesn't land this job, it won't be long before he gets his first head-coaching gig.

Teaser:
<p> Who will replace Mike Stoops at Arizona next season? Here are 15 candidates to watch.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - 13:45
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-sec-3
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 6 SEC Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Alabama (6-0) – Vanderbilt put up a valiant effort in the first half, but the Crimson Tide eventually pulled away for a 34-0 victory. Quarterback AJ McCarron tossed a career-high four touchdown tosses in the win, while completing 23 of 30 throws for 237 yards. Running back Trent Richardson posted another solid performance, rushing for 107 yards and one score. The Crimson Tide hits the road for a matchup against Ole Miss this Saturday, before returning home to face Tennessee on Oct. 22.

2. LSU (6-0) – After Saturday’s 41-11 victory over Florida, LSU stands only two games away from its huge showdown against Alabama on Nov. 5. The Tigers hit the road for a date against Tennessee this week, but the Volunteers are without quarterback Tyler Bray due to a thumb injury. The two-quarterback system of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson has been a success so far, while LSU’s defense has allowed only two touchdowns over the last two games.   

3. Arkansas (5-1) – The Razorbacks trailed 14-7 exiting the first quarter in Saturday's game against Auburn, but pulled away for a 38-14 victory. Quarterback Tyler Wilson posted another solid outing, throwing for 262 yards and two scores. Arkansas has an uphill battle to knock off Alabama or LSU in the SEC West race, but barring an upset, the Razorbacks seem locked into the No. 3 spot in that division. Arkansas is off this Saturday, before returning to action on Oct. 22 against Ole Miss.

4. South Carolina (5-1) – Coach Steve Spurrier finally had enough of Stephen Garcia’s inconsistency and inserted sophomore Connor Shaw into the starting lineup against Kentucky. So far, so good. Shaw torched the Wildcats for 311 yards and four scores, including 42 yards on the ground. Although the offense showed signs of life, Kentucky isn’t exactly the best measuring stick this season. The Gamecocks hit the road for a matchup against Mississippi State this Saturday.

5. Georgia (4-2) – The Bulldogs have been on a roll since losing the first two games of the season. Georgia has won its last four contests, led by a defense that has allowed no opponent to score more than 13 points over that span. The victory over Tennessee on Saturday was huge for the Bulldogs’ SEC East title hopes. Georgia has only one loss in conference play, and the schedule is favorable the rest of the way, with a date against Florida in Jacksonville the biggest hurdle. There’s a lot to be sorted out in the SEC race, but Georgia looks like the best team in the East.

6. Florida (4-2) – Winning in Baton Rouge with your starting quarterback is tough enough. However, winning with your third quarterback is nearly impossible. With John Brantley and Jeff Driskel out, Florida was forced to turn to Jacoby Brissett under center against the Tigers. The true freshman completed 8 of 14 throws for 94 yards and one touchdown, but also threw two picks. The Gators could get Driskel back for Saturday’s game against Auburn, but Brissett may also play. The Gators are reeling a bit with two consecutive losses. However, a win on Saturday night would keep Florida in the race to win the SEC East.

7. Auburn (4-2) – After boasting one of the top offenses in college football last season, the Tigers are struggling to find the answer at quarterback. Barrett Trotter completed only 6 of 19 throws for 81 yards in Saturday’s loss to Arkansas. True freshman Kiehl Frazier has been getting more snaps as the season progresses and could see his role increase this Saturday against Florida. The Tigers’ defense will catch a break this week, as Gators’ quarterback John Brantley will be out due to an ankle injury.

8. Mississippi State (3-3) – Most expected the Bulldogs to have an easy victory on Saturday, but that wasn’t the case. UAB led 3-0 at halftime and was down by only four points going into the final quarter. However, Mississippi State’s offense got a spark from backup quarterback Tyler Russell, who completed 11 of 13 throws for 166 yards and three touchdowns. Considering starter Chris Relf has been struggling, coach Dan Mullen may turn to Russell more in this week’s game against South Carolina.   

9. Tennessee (3-2) – The Volunteers had a shot for a key SEC win on Saturday, but fell short, losing 20-12 to Georgia. The defeat was not only costly in the standings, but also on the depth chart. Quarterback Tyler Bray suffered a thumb injury and will likely miss six weeks of action. With Bray sidelined, Matt Simms will move back into the No. 1 role. The Volunteers have a brutal two-game stretch the next two weeks, as they host LSU this Saturday, before playing at Alabama on Oct. 22.

10. Vanderbilt (3-2) – The Commodores have lost their last two games, but still deserve to be ranked over Kentucky and Ole Miss. Vanderbilt played well in the first half against Alabama, but two missed field goals and a struggling offense prevented the Commodores from making things interesting in the final two quarters. After two road games, Vanderbilt is back home for a matchup against Georgia this Saturday.

11. Ole Miss (2-3) – The Rebels had a bye in Week 6 and return to action on Saturday against Alabama. Ole Miss hasn’t had much success against the Crimson Tide, with its last victory in the series in 1993. Quarterback Randall Mackey showed promise in the win over Fresno State and will remain the No. 1 passer for now. The Rebels still have an outside shot to get to a bowl, but it’s not going to be an easy road with Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Auburn and Mississippi State remaining on the schedule.

12. Kentucky (2-4) – Another week, another disastrous performance by the Wildcats’ offense. Kentucky’s only points (three) were setup by a South Carolina turnover on the opening kickoff. Quarterback Morgan Newton continued to struggle, completing only 4 of 21 passes for 17 yards. Backup Maxwell Smith wasn’t any better, misfiring on all three attempts, with two of them picked off. The Wildcats have a bye this Saturday, before hosting Jacksonville State on Oct. 22.

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the SEC stack up after Week 6?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - 07:50
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-acc-3
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 6 ACC Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. Clemson (6-0) – As expected, the Tigers had little trouble knocking off Boston College. However, the win came at a price, as quarterback Tajh Boyd suffered a hip injury in the second half. The injury initially appeared to be serious, but Boyd is listed as probable for Saturday’s game against Maryland. Freshman receiver Sammy Watkins turned in another big performance against the Eagles, catching seven passes for 152 yards. Watkins has three games of at least 100 receiving yards and is averaging 16.4 yards per catch.

2. Georgia Tech (6-0) – The Yellow Jackets posted a season-low 21 points against Maryland, but still found a way to get the victory. Quarterback Tevin Washington led the way with 234 total yards and two rushing touchdowns. The Yellow Jackets’ defense allowed 13 points in the second half, but delivered a big stop late in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory. Georgia Tech is off to its first 6-0 start since 1966. The Yellow Jackets control their destiny in the ACC Coastal race and hit the road the next two weeks for games against Virginia and Miami.

3. Virginia Tech (5-1) – One week after a disappointing 23-3 loss in Blacksburg to Clemson, the Hokies responded with a 38-35 win over Miami. Quarterback Logan Thomas was heavily criticized for his performance against Clemson, but turned in the best start of his career on Saturday, throwing for 310 yards and two touchdowns. The sophomore also posted two rushing touchdowns, including the game-winner with less than a minute remaining. The Hokies have another tough conference game this Saturday, as they travel to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest.

4. Wake Forest (4-1) – Most preseason predictions did not have the Demon Deacons even earning four wins all year. As the midpoint of the 2011 season approaches, it’s clear Wake Forest is a much-improved team and will be a factor in the ACC title race. The Demon Deacons knocked off Florida State 35-30 on Saturday, which was their fourth win in six games against the Seminoles. Wake Forest has another tough conference game this week, as Virginia Tech visits Winston-Salem this Saturday.

5. North Carolina (5-1) – The Tar Heels aren’t getting much national attention, but they are quietly off to a good start. Saturday’s 14-7 win over Louisville moves North Carolina one step closer to bowl eligibility, while the team still has a shot to win the ACC Coastal. Quarterback Bryn Renner threw for only 178 yards and one touchdown against Louisville, but has not thrown an interception in his last two games. Running back Giovani Bernard has also been impressive, rushing for at least 100 yards in each of his last four games. If the Tar Heels keep winning, will interim coach Everett Withers get the full-time job?

6. Florida State (2-3) – After entering this season with aspirations of winning a national title, the Seminoles have to consider 2011 a major disappointment. Florida State has lost three straight, which includes Saturday’s 35-30 defeat to Wake Forest. The Seminoles have struggled with turnovers and penalties, while the rushing attack has been invisible most of the year. Winning the ACC Atlantic is probably out of reach, but Florida State can still win out and finish with a solid 9-3 record.

7. Miami (2-3) – The Hurricanes played well, but dropped a 38-35 decision to Virginia Tech in Week 6. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris has struggled with interceptions throughout his career, but has not thrown a pick in his last two games. Running back Lamar Miller has been one of the top offensive players in the ACC so far this year, rushing for 677 yards and five scores. With a struggling defense, Miami needs Harris and Miller to carry the team right now. The Hurricanes hit the road for a matchup against North Carolina this Saturday.

8. Maryland (2-3) – After the 32-24 victory over Miami in the season opener, the Terrapins looked like a contender in the ACC Atlantic. Fast forward to Week 7 and it looks like Maryland is going to struggle just to get bowl eligible. Saturday’s 21-16 loss to Georgia Tech was the third defeat in four games for the Terrapins and it won’t get any easier this week. Maryland hosts Clemson and travels to Florida State next Saturday. Another alarming issue for the Terrapins is the play of quarterback Danny O’Brien. The sophomore completed only 1 of 6 throws for 17 yards and one interception against Georgia Tech and could lose time to backup C.J. Brown this week.

9. Duke (3-2) – The Blue Devils had a bye in Week 6 and return to action this Saturday against Florida State. Duke has never defeated the Seminoles, losing all 16 matchups between these two teams. Making matters worse for the Blue Devils is they have struggled just to be competitive against Florida State. Adding a glimmer of hope for Saturday’s game is the fact Duke is riding a three-game winning streak, while the Seminoles have lost three in a row.

10. NC State (3-3) – Saturday’s 38-24 win over Central Michigan was NC State’s first victory over a FBS team this season. Quarterback Mike Glennon posted a solid performance against the Chippewas, throwing for 244 yards and four touchdowns. NC State needs to get to seven victories to get bowl eligible, which is no sure thing considering the upcoming slate – at Virginia, at Florida State, North Carolina, at Boston College, Clemson and Maryland.

11. Virginia (3-2) – The Cavaliers had a bye in Week 6 and return to action on Saturday against Georgia Tech. Virginia has lost its last two in this series, including a 33-21 defeat last season in Atlanta. The Cavaliers have a realistic shot to get bowl eligible, but they may need an upset or two along the way.

12. Boston College (1-5) – The miserable 2011 season in Chestnut Hill continued on Saturday with a 36-14 loss to Clemson. The Eagles got more bad news off the field this week, as running back Montel Harris and defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey are done for the year due to injuries. Boston College is expected to pursue a medical redshirt for both players. The Eagles have a much-needed bye this week, before returning to action on Oct. 22 at Virginia Tech.

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the ACC stack up after Week 6?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - 07:46
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-big-east-3
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 6 Big East Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings.

1. West Virginia (5-1) – It took a half for the Mountaineers’ offense to wake up, but when they did, the onslaught of points was on. West Virginia scored 33 points in the second half to defeat Connecticut 43-16. Quarterback Geno Smith led the way for the Mountaineers once again, throwing for 449 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Dustin Garrison continues to emerge as the No. 1 ball carrier, rushing for 78 yards and a score. Another positive for West Virginia was defensive end Bruce Irvin, who registered 1.5 sacks against Connecticut. The Mountaineers have a bye in Week 7 and return to action on Oct. 21 at Syracuse.

2. South Florida (4-1) – The Bulls’ first bye week of the season came at a good time. After losing 44-17 to Pittsburgh, South Florida had two weeks to figure out what went wrong and make the needed adjustments. Saturday’s game at Connecticut will only be the Bulls’ second Big East contest of the year, and there’s plenty of time to make up ground on West Virginia, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati for the battle to win the conference title.

3. Rutgers (4-1) – The Scarlet Knights are still struggling on offense, but continue to find ways to win. Saturday’s 34-10 victory over Pittsburgh was huge, as Rutgers has already equaled last season’s win total. True freshman Gary Nova started at quarterback and completed 11 of 24 throws for 173 yards and two scores. The Scarlet Knights step out of conference for a difficult matchup against Navy this Saturday. Rutgers has some question marks, but is the only Big East team with a 2-0 record in conference play through six weeks.

4. Pittsburgh (3-3) – One week after demolishing South Florida 44-17, the Panthers were unable to build upon that momentum in Big East play in a 34-10 loss to Rutgers. Contributing to the disappointing outcome was four turnovers, suspect quarterback play from Tino Sunseri and six sacks allowed by the offensive line. Running back Ray Graham continues to be one of the top players in the Big East this season, rushing for 162 yards and one touchdown against the Scarlet Knights. The Panthers step out of conference for a matchup against Utah in Week 7.

5. Cincinnati (4-1) – The Bearcats had a bye on Saturday and return to action this Saturday against Louisville. Cincinnati has won its last three games over the Cardinals. This matchup was moved from Nippert Stadium to Paul Brown Stadium (the home of the Cincinnati Bengals). The Bearcats have already matched last season’s win total and will move one step closer to bowl eligibility with a victory over Louisville.

6. Syracuse (4-2) – It wasn’t pretty, but the Orange posted a 37-34 win over Tulane to earn their fourth victory of the season. Syracuse was outgained, but won the turnover battle and outside of one 40-yard touchdown run, kept Green Wave running back Orleans Darkwa in check. The Orange has been living on the edge all year, barely beating Rhode Island and three games going into overtime. Syracuse is off this Saturday and returns to action with a date against West Virginia on Oct. 21.  

7. Louisville (2-3) – The 14-7 loss to North Carolina capped an interesting week in Louisville. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford did not make the trip to Chapel Hill, with rumors about his future with the team swirled late in the week. However, coach Charlie Strong indicated Sanford would return for the Oct. 15 game against Cincinnati. However, it’s unclear if Sanford will call plays or if Shawn Watson continues as offensive coordinator. One bright spot in the loss to the Tar Heels was the play of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The freshman completed 19 of 30 throws for 173 yards and one touchdown. Louisville takes on rival Cincinnati this Saturday.

8. Connecticut (2-4) – The Huskies hung tough for a half against West Virginia, but didn’t have enough offense to make it interesting in the final two quarters. Quarterback Johnny McEntee seems to have a firm grasp on the starting job, completing 21 of 37 for 192 yards against the Mountaineers. Although McEntee has settled as the No. 1 quarterback, the Huskies still need more production from him. Repeating as Big East champions is very unlikely. However, are there enough wins on the schedule to get bowl eligible?

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the Big East stack up after Week 6?</p>
Post date: Monday, October 10, 2011 - 07:33
Path: /college-football/college-football-power-rankings-big-12-3
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Post-Week 6 Big 12 Power Rankings

Check out all of our college football rankings

1. Oklahoma (5-0) – The Red River Rivalry was a one-sided affair on Saturday afternoon. The Sooners jumped out to a 34-10 lead at halftime and cruised to a 55-17 victory. The defense posted three scores, while quarterback Landry Jones threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns. Oklahoma is clearly one of the best teams in the nation and is on track for a showdown against rival Oklahoma State in the season finale. The Sooners and Cowboys still have a few landmines to clear, but the winner of Bedlam could be in prime position for a spot in the national title game.

2. Oklahoma State (5-0) – The Cowboys gave up an opening drive touchdown to Kansas, but that was about the only time Saturday’s game was in doubt. Oklahoma State cruised to a 70-28 victory over the Jayhawks, led by quarterback Brandon Weeden’s five touchdown tosses. Weeden’s day was done just before halftime, allowing backup Clint Chelf to get some valuable reps. The Cowboys have a tough two-game road trip up next, as they visit Texas this Saturday, followed by a date at Missouri on Oct. 22.

3. Kansas State (5-0) – It’s time to stop doubting the Wildcats. Kansas State was a home underdog going into Saturday’s matchup against Missouri, but emerged with a 24-17 victory. The Wildcats continue to be one of the top surprises in college football this season, with coach Bill Snyder deserving serious consideration for coach of the year. With the win over Missouri, Kansas State is 5-0 for the first time since 2000. The Wildcats travel to Lubbock for an intriguing matchup against Texas Tech this week.

4. Texas A&M (3-2) – After watching back-to-back leads evaporate in the second half the last two weeks, it was important for the Aggies to seize control of this game in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t easy, but Texas A&M snapped a two-game losing streak and defeated Texas Tech 45-40. It’s a longshot, but the Aggies could still win 10 games this year. The task starts on Saturday, as Baylor makes the short trip from Waco to College Station.

5. Baylor (4-1) – The Bears went scoreless in the first quarter, but eventually rallied for a 49-26 win over Iowa State. Coming off its first loss of 2011, it was important for Baylor to get back in the win column and rebuild the confidence before a tough stretch of games. Quarterback Robert Griffin remained squarely in the Heisman mix, posting 319 yards and two scores against the Cyclones. The Bears travel to College Station for a matchup against Texas A&M this Saturday.

6. Texas (4-1) – The Longhorns are better than they were last season, but still not anywhere close to the class that Oklahoma is in right now. Texas suffered its first defeat of 2011 with Saturday’s 55-17 loss to the Sooners. The quarterback combination of Case McCoy and David Ash struggled to generate much production against the Sooners’ defense, while the Longhorns had three turnovers returned for touchdowns. Texas’ young secondary also took a beating, with Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones throwing for 367 yards. The Longhorns won’t have much time to regroup, as Oklahoma State visits Austin on Saturday.

7. Missouri (2-3) – It’s been a season of close calls for the Tigers. All three of Missouri’s losses have been decided by 10 points or less, including a 38-28 defeat to Oklahoma. After Saturday’s 24-17 loss to Kansas State, it’s fair to wonder whether this team will be able to get bowl eligible. The Tigers host Iowa State this Saturday, but still have games against Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech remaining.

8. Texas Tech (4-1) – The Red Raiders fell short against Texas A&M, losing 45-40 for their first defeat of 2011. In addition to the loss, running back Eric Stephens is expected to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Stephens was off to a solid start, rushing for 570 yards and eight touchdowns in five games. The offense should get a boost with the return of receiver Darrin Moore, who suffered an ankle injury in the 35-34 win over Nevada. The Red Raiders host 5-0 Kansas State this Saturday.

9. Iowa State (3-2) – After a hot 3-0 start, the Cyclones have cooled off with back-to-back losses. Quarterback Steele Jantz kept Iowa State within striking distance against Baylor, throwing for 244 yards and three touchdowns. However, the Cyclones had no answer on defense for Bears’ quarterback Robert Griffin and running back Terrance Ganaway. The schedule won’t get any easier for Iowa State this week, as they travel to Columbia to take on Missouri.

10. Kansas (2-3) – The Jayhawks began the year 2-0, but are trending in the wrong direction over the last three games. The defense has been awful, allowing 40 points in four contests this season. Additionally, the Jayhawks rank last nationally in total and scoring defense. Don’t expect those numbers to get any better this Saturday, as Kansas hosts Oklahoma.

Teaser:
<p> How do the teams in the Big 12 stack up after six weeks of action?</p>
Post date: Monday, October 10, 2011 - 07:31
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, Big East
Path: /college-football/week-6-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

Arkansas – After getting throttled by Alabama in Week 4, the Razorbacks have bounced back with two solid wins. Arkansas had to stage a furious rally to beat Texas A&M, but easily defeated Auburn 38-14 on Saturday. Outside of the season finale against LSU, the Razorbacks should be favored the rest of the way.

Arizona State – It’s still too early to declare the Sun Devils the runaway Pac-12 South champ, but their remaining schedule is favorable. Outside of a date at Oregon this Saturday, Arizona State hosts Colorado, Arizona and California, while making road trips to UCLA and Washington State. The Sun Devils will be underdogs against Oregon, but there is not another sure loss on the schedule.

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina – Steve Spurrier’s decision to go with Shaw appears to have sparked the offense - at least for now. The sophomore blistered the Kentucky secondary for 311 yards and four touchdowns, while adding 42 yards on the ground. Shaw’s four touchdown tosses against the Wildcats equaled Stephen Garcia’s total so far this year. Considering the opponent was Kentucky, it’s hard to put a whole lot of stock in Shaw’s performance, but he looked comfortable and the offense turned in its best performance of 2011.

Georgia – After losing the first two games of the year, the Bulldogs have fought back with four consecutive victories. The defense has not allowed more than 13 points in its last four games. Running back Isaiah Crowell rushed for only 58 yards against Tennessee, but has brought a spark to the offense. Georgia has a key test coming on Oct. 29 against Florida, but the Bulldogs look like the best team in the SEC East.

Houston – The Cougars lack a marquee non-conference win, but they have cruised to a 6-0 start. Considering the upcoming schedule – Marshall, Rice, UAB, Tulane – Houston should be 10-0 before the final two games of the year against SMU and Tulsa. It’s a longshot for the Cougars to make a BCS bowl, but there’s a strong possibility they could finish the season undefeated.

Kansas State – Once again, the Wildcats continue to prove the doubters wrong. Kansas State was a home underdog to Missouri, but posted a 24-17 victory to move to 5-0. There’s nothing flashy about this team, but the Wildcats simply continue to find ways to win. Quarterback Collin Klein is having a good season, while linebacker Arthur Brown has been a difference-maker on defense.

Illinois – The Fighting Illini is 6-0 and in the thick of the Big Ten Leaders Division title chase. Receiver A.J. Jenkins has been on fire this season, posting four games of at least 100 yards receiving and scoring five times in his last two contests. Although Illinois is off to a great start, Saturday’s test against Ohio State could be its toughest of the season.

Michigan – The Wolverines trailed Northwestern 24-14 at halftime, but there was no panic in this team as they rallied for a 42-24 victory. Michigan continues to make good adjustments on defense in the second half, while quarterback Denard Robinson overcame three picks to help lead the comeback. The Wolverines are off to their first 6-0 start since 2006 and face rival Michigan State this Saturday.

Nebraska – A week after getting blown out against Wisconsin, it looked like the Cornhuskers were headed for another loss midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s game against Ohio State. However, Nebraska rallied for a 34-27 victory, led by the one-two punch of quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead. The Cornhuskers still have question marks on defense, but remain the favorite to win the Legends Division.

Notre Dame – With Saturday’s 59-33 victory over Air Force, the Fighting Irish has quietly totaled four wins in a row. Notre Dame is off this Saturday and is back in action on Oct. 22 against USC. If the Fighting Irish can knock off the Trojans, they should be 9-2 going into the season finale against Stanford.

Oklahoma – The Red River Rivalry wasn’t much of a contest. The Sooners used a big game from quarterback Landry Jones (31 of 50, 367 yards) and three defensive touchdowns to blow out Texas 55-17. Oklahoma still has a few tests remaining – at Kansas State, Texas A&M and at Baylor – but is headed for a Dec. 3 showdown against Oklahoma State. If both teams are undefeated, a spot in the national title game could be on the line.

Oregon State – It’s been a difficult year in Corvallis, but Saturday’s victory over Arizona erases the goose egg from the win column. The Beavers have shown improvement each week, and will get a boost when running back Malcolm Agnew returns to the lineup. Coach Mike Riley is taking a lot of criticism for Oregon State’s slow start, but the talk of him being on the hot seat needs to end.

Penn State – The offense is going to be an issue all year, but the Nittany Lions have a solid defense to lean on. Penn State defeated Iowa 13-3 on Saturday to move to 5-1 this season. The Nittany Lions should earn their sixth victory with Purdue coming to Happy Valley on Saturday. If the offense can settle on a quarterback and get consistent production, Penn State should be in good shape to get to eight or nine wins.

Rutgers – It wasn’t exactly a pretty victory, but the Scarlet Knights defeated Pittsburgh to move to 4-1. How important was Saturday’s win? Rutgers won only four games all of last season. The offense is still searching for the right pieces, but after a disappointing 2010 season, the Scarlet Knights should be in the mix for a bowl bid.

UL Lafayette – The Ragin’ Cajuns haven’t beat any team in the top 25, but they are off to an impressive 5-1 start and own victories over Troy and FIU. New coach Mark Hudspeth has been one of the top hires for 2011 and the Ragin’ Cajuns are poised to earn their first season of more than six wins since 1993.

Virginia Tech – One week after a disappointing 23-3 loss to Clemson, the Hokies delivered in the clutch for a 38-35 victory over Miami. Quarterback Logan Thomas had the best performance of his career, completing 23 of 25 throws for 310 yards and three scores. The sophomore also added 28 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. With Thomas settling in, don’t write off Virginia Tech from winning the ACC title.

Wake Forest – After finishing 3-9 last season, there were some calling for Demon Deacons’ coach Jim Grobe to be placed on the hot seat. How quickly things have changed. Wake Forest is off to a solid 4-1 start, which includes Saturday’s big win over Florida State. The Demon Deacons still have a chance to win the ACC Atlantic, but Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech and the Nov. 12 date at Clemson will be huge. Even if Wake Forest doesn’t win the Atlantic, it should make a bowl game.

Losers

Arizona – The Wildcats dropped to 1-5 with a 37-27 defeat to Oregon State on Saturday. Arizona’s only win in 2011 came in the opener against Northern Arizona and its last victory over a FBS team was against UCLA on Oct. 30, 2010. Although the Wildcats had a lot of holes to fill this season, the dismal start has put coach Mike Stoops squarely on the hot seat. Whether or not he keeps his job will depend on how Arizona performs over the final six games of 2011.

Boston College – The Eagles have struggled all year and dropped to 1-5 with Saturday’s 36-14 loss to Clemson. Unfortunately, the bad news didn’t stop on the field, as running back Montel Harris and defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsay are both done for the year due to injuries. Boston College hopes to get both players a medical redshirt for a return in 2012.

Florida State – Saturday’s 35-30 loss to Wake Forest was the Seminoles’ third straight loss. Florida State began the year with national title expectations, but has struggled with turnovers, penalties and dropped passes by the receivers. EJ Manuel’s injury against Oklahoma was a setback for the offense, despite Clint Trickett’s play in the loss against Clemson. The Seminoles have a good shot to win all of their remaining games, but the mental errors that have plagued this team must be fixed.

Kentucky offense – If the Wildcats’ offense wasn’t at rock bottom already, Saturday’s performance probably pushed it there. Kentucky managed only 96 yards of offense against South Carolina and struggled just to move the ball past midfield. The Wildcats also turned the ball over six times. Kentucky was expected to have one of the top offensive lines in the SEC this season, but that group has been hit by injuries, while quarterback Morgan Newton has struggled mightily.

Maryland offense – Whether it’s a new scheme, coaching or different personnel stepping into starting roles, the Terrapins just haven’t been able to find their rhythm on offense this year. Quarterback Danny O’Brien entered 2011 as one of the contenders for ACC Offensive Player of the Year, but was awful in Saturday’s loss to Georgia Tech, completing 1 of 6 passes for 17 yards and one interception. Backup C.J. Brown did not fare much better, throwing four completions on 17 attempts for 36 yards. Brown did give the team a spark with his legs, but Maryland has to find its passing offense with a high-scoring Clemson team coming to College Park.

Minnesota – I still think Jerry Kill is the right coach to get Minnesota back into bowl contention every year, but there’s apparently more work than expected. The Golden Gophers lost 45-17 to Purdue on Saturday. And yes, that’s the same Boilermaker team that lost to Rice and barely beat MTSU in the season opener. An upset or two isn’t out of the question, but a 1-11 final record is probably the most likely outcome.

Pittsburgh – A week after blowing out South Florida, the Panthers fell flat against Rutgers. The problems on offense resurfaced, as quarterback Tino Sunseri threw three picks and was sacked six times. Running back Ray Graham continues to have a monster season, but the Panthers need the offensive line and passing attack to improve to contend for the Big East title.

UNLV offense – The Rebels are battling New Mexico to finish in the cellar of the Mountain West, but Saturday’s offensive performance against Nevada was horrendous. UNLV managed only 110 yards and seven first downs, while quarterback Caleb Herring completed only one of 14 attempts. Yikes.

Looking Ahead to Week 7

A small sample of what’s ahead

USC (4-1) at California (3-2) (Thursday)
Can the Golden Bears bounce back after Thursday’s loss in Eugene? Trojans have won seven in a row over California.

Michigan (6-0) at Michigan State (4-1)
Key game in the Legends Division. Spartans have won the last three matchups in this series.

LSU (6-0) at Tennessee (3-2)
Volunteers improving, but unlikely to derail LSU’s undefeated season.

Virginia Tech (5-1) at Wake Forest (4-1)
It’s time to take the Demon Deacons as a serious contender for the ACC Atlantic title, and a win over the Hokies would help keep pace with Clemson.

Florida State (2-3) at Duke (3-2)
No one predicted Seminoles would have no ACC wins entering Week 7.

Miami (2-3) at North Carolina (5-1)
If either of these teams wants to contend for the Coastal title, this is a must-win matchup.

Utah (2-3) at Pittsburgh (3-3)
After watching both teams struggle on offense last week, expect a low-scoring game next Saturday.

South Carolina (5-1) at Mississippi State (3-3)
Is Connor Shaw the answer at quarterback for South Carolina? Bulldogs still looking for first SEC win this year.

Oklahoma State (5-0) at Texas (4-1)
Longhorns’ young secondary will be under fire once again this week, this time from Heisman contenders Brandon Weeden (QB) and Justin Blackmon (WR).

Florida (4-2) at Auburn (4-2)
With quarterback John Brantley likely out for the Gators, it’s up to the defense to get the victory against the Tigers.

Ohio State (3-3) at Illinois (6-0)
Illini off to hot start, but Buckeyes showed some signs of life in last week’s loss to Nebraska.

Kansas State (5-0) at Texas Tech (4-1)
Wildcats continue to surprise, while Red Raiders should get a boost with the return of receiver Darrin Moore back in the lineup.

Arizona State (5-1) at Oregon (4-1)
Is this an early preview of the Pac-12 title game?

Baylor (4-1) at Texas A&M (3-2)
Bears’ quarterback Robert Griffin has a chance to bolster his Heisman campaign, as he takes on Texas A&M’s suspect secondary.

Injuries from Week 6

Arizona WR Juron Criner – sprained knee – questionable for Week 8
California DB Marc Anthony – shoulder – questionable for Week 7
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd – hip – probable for Week 7
Colorado WR Paul Richardson – knee sprain – out at least three weeks
Florida DE Ronald Powell – undisclosed – questionable for Week 7
Florida S Josh Evans – arm – questionable for Week 7
Florida State RB Chris Thompson – back – out for remainder of 2011
Georgia WR Malcolm Mitchell – hamstring – out for Week 7
Maryland OG Andrew Gonnella – leg – out for remainder of 2011
Ohio State QB Braxton Miller – ankle – questionable for Week 7
Oregon RB LaMichael James – dislocated elbow – questionable for Week 7
Tennessee QB Tyler Bray – thumb – likely out six weeks
Tennessee RB Tauren Poole – hamstring – questionable for Week 7
Texas A&M WR Jeff Fuller – concussion – questionable for Week 7
Texas Tech RB Eric Stephens – knee – likely out the remainder of 2011
UCLA QB Richard Brehaut – leg fracture – out indefinitely
UL Lafayette QB Blaine Gautier – ankle – questionable for Week 7
Vanderbilt QB Larry Smith – foot – probable for Week 7
Virginia Tech DE James Gayle – sprained ankle – questionable for Week 7

Teaser:
<p> Athlon recaps Week 6 of the college football season and takes a look ahead to Week 7.</p>
Post date: Monday, October 10, 2011 - 07:30

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