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All taxonomy terms: daily fantasy, DFS, Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/draftkings-and-fanduel-best-lineups-week-15-nfl-daily-fantasy-football-2017
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Michael Thomas: DraftKings and FanDuel Best Lineups for Week 15

The fantasy playoffs may be winding down, but there’s still Daily Fantasy Football (DFS) and Week 15 offers plenty of matchups to look at and exploit.

 

Once agian, I used some of the tools over on lineups.com/nfl again for my preliminary research. This site is free and offers data that other sites may not have access to or provide. Checking box scores alone isn’t always enough. If a player is getting more touches or targets in the red zone for example they are more appealing than players who had one huge play and outscored others.

 

So, now that my synopsis is out of the way let’s get into my Week 15 DFS Picks shall we? If this is one of your first times playing DFS feel free to check out my "10 Tips to Win at DFS."

 

As always any questions, arguments, or glowing praise can be sent to me via Twitter @fantsychillpony.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

Week 15 Core Plays

 

These will be my top plays of the week. These are players who I will try to have in as many lineups of mine as possible. If I can, I will use three or all four in one lineup. A reminder that for cash games going with an elite quarterback is typically recommended. If you go value at quarterback he MUST meet value for your loaded lineup to be worth it.

 

QB: Cam Newton, Carolina vs. Green Bay ($7,900 FanDuel/$6,400 DraftKings)

Cam was serviceable against the stout Vikings defense, and this week he happens to face the soft Packers defense. Both teams are playing for something now, and Green Bay should have Aaron Rodgers back so the Panthers could find themselves playing catch up or this one could be close throughout and come down to the wire. Newton has been running a little more this season and that combined with decent passing numbers should help him perform him in line with this purchase point this week.

 

RB: Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh vs. New England ($9,400 FanDuel/$9,300 DraftKings)

Bell is a lock for me and no one should have doubts on using this guy, especially in cash contests. Bell has been right near, or exceeded 30 DraftKings points over his past three weeks. The Steelers will be ready to try and slow the Patriots and the only way to stay in the game will be using their top weapons. Bell won’t come cheap, but I trust him. He is averaging 23.6 DraftKings points this season, and has put up nearly 30 over his past three games. Play with confidence.

 

WR: Michael Thomas, New Orleans vs. New York Jets  ($8,100 FanDuel/$7,400 DraftKings)

Thomas was a target hog with 14 in Week 14, and unless he is tired or hurt we should see more of the same this Sunday. The Saints are more of a run-first team with their dynamic RB duo, but when the ball is getting thrown Thomas is the clear-cut No. 1, and he should still see double-digit targets against a Jets defense that has struggled vs. the pass. Thomas also has touchdowns in back-to-back games so let’s see if the streak continues.

 

WR: Adam Thielen, Minnesota vs. Cincinnati ($7,600 FanDuel/$7,600 DraftKings)

Thielen ended up having a nice Week 14 even though he only had six catches on 13 targets. A few drops and an overturned touchdown prevented a huge day for the speedy receiver. He is lined up with another good matchup, so he and Stefon Diggs could put up big numbers once again. Thielen is clearly the No. 1 for Minnesota and the Vikings should be motivated after last week’s loss in Carolina.

 

TE: Tyler Kroft, Cincinnati at Minnesota ($5,500 FanDuel/$2,800 DraftKings)

Tough matchup for sure, and Kroft is not a lock-and-load play by any stretch. In fact he is a dart throw with just seven total targets over his last three games. However this week the Bengals could be trying to target their tight end more in the red zone, especially having to deal with the Vikings’ formidable pass rush. This play is risky, but allows the option of going top-heavy at other positions. 

 

Value Plays of the Week

 

QB: Marcus Mariota, Tennessee at San Francisco ($7,600 FanDuel/$5,900 DraftKings)

This has been my riskiest pick the entire season. Mariota has been a disappointment and I will be using him only in a small percentage of lineups this week. However, if he is going to return to 2016 form this would be the game. If he can stop turning the ball over, he could be sneaky 4X play this week or it could be more of the same and we get a 10-point DraftKings performance. I am thinking he has a good week, but there’s also plenty of risk so consider yourself warned!

 

RB: Carlos Hyde, San Francisco vs. Tennessee ($6,900 FanDuel/$5,500 DraftKings)

Serviceable and affordable are the keys in this pick. Hyde is getting 14-plus carries, and even though the Titans have been effective against the run, he should be a low-owned running back who will get a bunch of carries as well as chances in the red zone. If you simply don’t want to trust Hyde, consider using Dion Lewis, who adds PPR appeal.

 

WR: Will Fuller, Houston at Jacksonville ($5,600 FanDuel/$3,500 DraftKings)

Fuller returned from injury last week and had three catches on five targets. However, he could see his production take a huge step forward if Jacksonville focuses its defensive attention on slowing down DeAndre Hopkins. Fuller is not in a dreamy matchup here, and his price matches that as the Jags are tops in the league against the pass. This is a dart throw that could easily meet value if Fuller finds the end zone.

 

— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.

Teaser:
DraftKings and FanDuel Best Lineups for Week 15 NFL Daily Fantasy Football
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 14:45
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, NFC, NFC North, NFL
Path: /nfl/chicago-bears-vs-detroit-lions-preview-and-prediction-2017
Body:

Detroit is on the edge of playoff contention while Chicago is trying to build momentum for 2018 behind rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears (4-9) are coming off of an impressive win in Cincinnati in which Jordan Howard did some solid work and the defense kept the Bengals in check. For the second straight game, Chicago's offense was turnover-free and managed to rack up more than 200 yards on the ground and through the air. The amazing thing is that the Bears are doing so without a true No. 1 wide receiver that scares anyone (and a rookie QB). Cameron Meredith and Kevin White were lost to injury early on, leading to the trade for former Chargers wideout Dontrelle Inman, who was the fourth or fifth option for Los Angeles.

 

The Lions (7-6) meanwhile, stopped a two-game losing streak with a win over the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. Detroit won 24-21 despite forcing five turnovers. Matthew Stafford looked OK while dealing with his injured hand, but it was Theo Riddick's two touchdowns that were big. The defense has had its problems, especially up front where injuries have taken their toll. Despite this, the Lions remain in the hunt for a wild-card spot part of a three-team logjam currently a game behind Seattle for the final playoff berth. Detroit's Week 17 matchup with Green Bay could determine a playoff spot depending on what happens between now and then.

 

The first meeting between these teams saw the Lions win 27-24 in Chicago in Week 11. The Bears ran for 222 yards, but couldn't make the big stop on defense when they had to. Stafford threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns and Matt Prater hit the game-winning, 52-yard field goal with 1:35 on the clock as Chicago's last-second attempt to tie the game from 46 yards out went wide right.

 

Detroit has won eight of the last nine meetings with Chicago, a series that dates all the way back to 1930. The Bears lead the all-time series 97-73-5.

 

Chicago at Detroit

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec 16 at 4:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NFL Network

Spread: Lions -5.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Will the Lion run game sleep tonight?

Detroit is averaging just 76.3 rushing yards per game and it's putting more pressure on the rest of the offense. Theo Riddick (right) had two rushing touchdowns in last week’s win over Tampa Bay, but managed just 29 yards on 10 carries. Ameer Abdullah was a healthy scratch last week and acknowledged that he's one of the reasons why the rushing attack hasn't been that good. Abdullah isn't exactly an every-down back it seems. Matthew Stafford is capable of winning games on his own, as he has done quite a bit during his career. Chicago clamped down on Cincinnati’s running game last week, but the Bengals also ran it just 13 times. This defense can be run on, but the Lions will have to stick with the run in the first place to find out. In the first meeting with Chicago, Detroit had just 65 rushing yards on 24 carries, the longest gain being an 11-yard run by Abdullah.

 

2. Bear down on their opponent

Chicago head coach John Fox is starting to let his quarterback throw the ball a little bit more and it's helping the offense as a whole. Mitchell Trubisky has had just 10 incompletions over his last 47 pass attempts and it's because teams have to worry about Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen on the ground. Howard ran for 125 yards on 15 carries in Week 11 against Detroit with Cohen adding a touchdown while averaging 4.9 yards per rush himself. Trubisky even got into the act with 53 yards on the ground (six carries). The rookie has shown he has mobility in the pocket and can make plays with his legs when need be. Five straight opponents have finished with more than 100 rushing yards against the Lions. The Bears need to make it six in a row if they want to have a chance at winning this game.

 

3. Intangibles

The obvious factor to consider here is that each team has one less day to prepare with this game taking place on Saturday. The injury report bears watching paying special attention to Eddie Goldman, Pernell McPhee and Adrian Amos for Chicago as well as Rick Wagner for Detroit. The Lions are just 2-4 at home this season, losing at Ford Field to Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Carolina and Atlanta by a combined 19 points. Consistency has been an issue for Chicago, who has played teams like the Vikings (lost by three points) and Saints (lost by eight) tough, but have been blown out by the Eagles while also losing to the Buccaneers and 49ers. You never know what you are going to get from such a young team.

 

Final Analysis

 

One has to think the Lions will win this one although it probably won't be easy. They know that they have to keep winning if they want to have any shot at making the postseason. The Bears will make them work though with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen grinding out yards as well as controlling the clock. Still, I'm not ready to believe that Chicago can win this one on the road. I think Matthew Stafford throws three touchdown passes and Detroit gets a rare easy win.

 

Prediction: Lions 28, Bears 13

 

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.

Teaser:
Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 14:00
Path: /fantasy/flex-rankings-week-15-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

LeSean McCoy: Flex Rankings Week 15

It’s Week 15 and if you are still coming to AthlonSports.com for fantasy positional rankings it’s mean you are one step closer to a championship! If you made it this far you likely aren’t in too much need of lineup help, or with start/sit conundrums, but you never know.

 

You may be in a situation like me where you have had Jordy Nelson on the bench and now suddenly Aaron Rodgers may be back. If that is the case he may need to wiggle into your starting lineup. (See my wide receiver rankings for more on this dilemma.)

 

As for the rest of the Week 15 flex picture, Le’Veon Bell remains the indisputable No. 1, but LeSean McCoy (above, right) hops over Antonio Brown for me this week. McCoy has another fantastic matchup (vs. Miami), and while he may not get the same huge workload (32 carries) compared to last week, he may end up being more productive with fewer touches.

 

The aforementioned Nelson is near the back end of the top 50, but as soon as Rodgers is declared the starter he will jump up significantly. Remember to keep an eye on injuries and their impact on other players/positions. For example, Carson Wentz is done for the season and it’s safe to assume that Nick Foles won’t be able to run Philadelphia’s offense as well. How much does this impact Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz? The good news with Ertz is that he cleared concussion protocol on Wednesday and should be able to return against the Giants.

 

Ertz’s peers like Greg Olsen and Kyle Rudolph are on the early injury reports so their status is something that should be monitored, especially given the volatility at tight end this season.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

— Rankings by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.

Teaser:
Flex Rankings Week 15
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 13:30
Path: /fantasy/kicker-rankings-week-15-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

This is the time of year that fantasy owners need to keep an eye on the weather. While kickers are prepared to kick in all weather, anyone who watched the Indianapolis/Buffalo game knows that the weather can certainly impact a team's game plan. While that snow game was not the norm, fantasy owners should try to play kickers who don't have to deal with the elements whenever possible. Look for teams who play in a dome (such as New Orleans) — or are playing somewhere warm this time of year. The last thing a fantasy owner wants is to lose a game because their kicker wasn't given the opportunity because of weather.

 

Fantasy owners know that Ben Roethlisberger typically plays better at home. What's been an interesting trend this year as well is how Chris Boswell has fared at Heinz Field. Most kickers dislike kicking there because of the surface. However, four of his five double-digit fantasy point games have come at home. His other two home games? Nine and six points. He's home again in Week 15, against the Patriots, and due to the potential for a high-scoring affair, Boswell lands in the top 10 in this week's rankings.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

— Rankings by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

 

(Top photo courtesy of www.steelers.com)

Teaser:
Kicker Rankings Week 15
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 13:30
Path: /fantasy/defense-special-teams-rankings-week-15-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

Telvin Smith/Jacksonville Jaguars: Defense/Special Teams (DST) Rankings Week 15

Surprising no one, the Jacksonville Jaguars are the top-ranked fantasy defense/special teams (DST) for Week 15. They survived against Seattle and now they get to face a Houston team that will likely be on its third quarterback of the year. Even before T.J. Yates took the reins, the Texans were allowing opposing DSTs to score the seventh-most fantasy points in the league (and that stat includes the games where Deshaun Watson was the quarterback). It's a great matchup for the Jags, but fantasy owners were starting them anyway.

 

For those looking to stream DSTs, the New Orleans Saints (about 37 percent owned) are the second-ranked DST this week, facing the New York Jets. The Saints are at home, and the Jets just lost Josh McCown for the year. They have no running game to speak of and Bryce Petty will be the quarterback. Last year in six games, Petty threw for 809 yards with twice as many interceptions (seven) as touchdowns (three). The Saints should be able to put up points on the J-E-T-S.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

— Rankings by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Defense/Special Teams Rankings Week 15
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 13:30
Path: /fantasy/tight-end-rankings-week-15-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

Jimmy Graham: Tight End Rankings Week 15

Let’s just cut to the chase – last week was a terrible one for tight ends, and their fantasy owners. Odds are if you started Jimmy Graham or Cameron Brate, you lost, which is especially rough considering it’s the fantasy playoffs. Hopefully, if you own Rob Gronkowski you were able to survive and you get your big guy back this week.

 

The Week 15 tight end rankings are pretty straightforward. Start your studs if you have them, and just hope for better results from those who disappointed last week. For the tight end streamers, you can use these rankings as a guide to sort through your potential options.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

Rank Player Team Opp
1 Rob Gronkowski NE at PIT
2 Travis Kelce KC vs. LAC (Sat.)
3 Jimmy Graham SEA vs. LAR
4 Hunter Henry LAC  at KC (Sat.)
5 Delanie Walker TEN at SF
6 Kyle Rudolph MIN  vs. CIN
7 Zach Ertz PHI  at NYG
8 Evan Engram NYG vs. PHI
9 Jack Doyle IND vs. DEN (Thurs.)
10 Jason Witten DAL at OAK
11 Jared Cook OAK vs. DAL
12 Greg Olsen CAR vs. GB
13 Eric Ebron DET vs. CHI (Sat.)
14 Vernon Davis WAS vs. ARI
15 Cameron Brate TB vs. ATL (Mon.)
16 Charles Clay BUF vs. MIA
17 Stephen Anderson HOU at JAC
18 Ricky Seals-Jones ARI at WAS
19 O.J. Howard TB vs. ATL (Mon.)
20 Austin Hooper ATL at TB (Mon.)
21 Trey Burton PHI at NYG
22 Benjamin Watson BAL at CLE
23 Adam Shaheen CHI  at DET (Sat.)
24 Jordan Reed WAS  vs. ARI
25 David Njoku CLE vs. BAL
26 Garrett Celek SF vs. TEN
27 Jesse James PIT vs. NE
28 Julius Thomas MIA at BUF
29 Austin Seferian-Jenkins NYJ at NO
30 Tyler Kroft CIN at MIN

 

— Rankings by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.

Teaser:
Tight End Rankings Week 15
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 13:30
Path: /fantasy/wide-receiver-rankings-week-15-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

Jordy Nelson: Wide Receiver Rankings Week 15

Week 15 is here and if you are still in need of fantasy positional rankings, congratulations as it means you are still alive to play another week. It also means you are a win away from playing for a championship.

 

I myself am in the hunt in three leagues and I’m hoping for the best. But as we have seen on multiple occasions, you never know in fantasy football. I know of at least one owner who had the best record, most points but he lost his playoff game (no bye week, I know, long story) because Tom Brady, Alvin Kamara and Jimmy Graham didn’t do their parts.

 

As for the wide receiver landscape for Week 15, the unstoppable DeAndre Hopkins is set to face his toughest matchup (at Jacksonville), although the Seahawks had some success throwing the ball on the Jaguars last week. To add to the challenge for Hopkins is that he may be without his starting quarterback with Tom Savage in concussion protocol. Either way, Hopkins has been the Texans’ offense this season and is a top-five lock.

 

Other situations that bear watching is how Jordy Nelson (above, right) does should Aaron Rodgers return. If Rodgers is back, Nelson will be a top-10 play. If it’s still Brett Hundley, it’s hard to put Nelson I the top 20. For now, I’m splitting the difference (happy medium). And that doesn’t even address the “rust” question for Rodgers or the matchup against a Carolina defense that roughed up Case Keenum last week. So many questions when it comes to Nelson.

 

Other wideouts like Josh Gordon, Dede Westbrook, Cooper Kupp and JuJu Smith-Schuster are all in my top 35 this week and should make solid WR2/flex plays this week. If you made it this far you are likely rolling with what has worked so far, so don’t overthink things and good luck!

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

— Rankings by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.

Teaser:
Wide Receiver Rankings Week 15
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 13:30
Path: /fantasy/running-back-rankings-week-15-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

Kenyan Drake: Running Back Rankings Week 15

For most leagues, Week 15 is fantasy football semifinals week, and hopefully, your team(s) made it. For those strange leagues that play into Week 17, this is week one of the fantasy football playoffs.

 

Either way, hopefully your march towards a fantasy football championship is well on its way, but you still need to make the right decisions. And while every position this time of the season is important, the right (or wrong) decisions at running back could end up being the difference between making a run at a title or coming up painfully short.

 

So in Week 15 should you start an upstart like Kenyan Drake (above, right) or a savvy veteran like Carlos Hyde or DeMarco Murray or maybe Dion Lewis? At least you know what to do if you are fortunate enough to own Le’Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy, Todd Gurley or one of the Saints’ RBs (assuming Alvin Kamara clears the concussion protocol).

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

Rank Player Team Opp
1 Le'Veon Bell PIT vs. NE
2 LeSean McCoy BUF vs. MIA
3 Todd Gurley LAR at SEA
4 Alvin Kamara NO  vs. NYJ
5 Mark Ingram NO vs. NYJ
6 Leonard Fournette JAC vs. HOU
7 Melvin Gordon LAC at KC (Sat.)
8 Jordan Howard CHI at DET (Sat.)
9 Devonta Freeman ATL at TB (Mon.)
10 Kareem Hunt KC vs. LAC (Sat.)
11 Kenyan Drake MIA at BUF
12 Carlos Hyde SF vs. TEN
13 Marshawn Lynch OAK vs. DAL
14 Alex Collins BAL at CLE
15 Jamaal Williams GB at CAR
16 Rex Burkhead NE at PIT
17 Christian McCaffrey CAR vs. GB
18 Jay Ajayi PHI at NYG
19 Lamar Miller HOU at JAC
20 Alfred Morris DAL at OAK
21 Latavius Murray MIN vs. CIN
22 Samaje Perine WAS  vs. ARI
23 Dion Lewis NE at PIT
24 Isaiah Crowell CLE vs. BAL
25 Frank Gore IND  vs. DEN (Thurs.)
26 DeMarco Murray TEN at SF
27 C.J. Anderson DEN at IND (Thurs.)
28 Mike Davis SEA  vs. LAR
29 Theo Riddick DET vs. CHI (Sat.)
30 Joe Mixon CIN  at MIN
31 Jerick McKinnon MIN vs. CIN
32 Kerwynn Williams ARI at WAS
33 Derrick Henry TEN at SF
34 Tevin Coleman ATL  at TB (Mon.)
35 Jonathan Stewart CAR vs. GB
36 Peyton Barber TB vs. ATL (Mon.)
37 Duke Johnson CLE vs. BAL
38 Rod Smith DAL at OAK
39 Bilal Powell NYJ at NO
40 Matt Forte NYJ at NO
41 Giovani Bernard CIN at MIN
42 Orleans Darkwa NYG vs. PHI
43 Doug Martin TB vs. ATL (Mon.)
44 Austin Ekeler LAC at KC (Sat.)
45 Tarik Cohen CHI at DET (Sat.)
46 LeGarrette Blount PHI at NYG
47 Danny Woodhead BAL at CLE
48 Wayne Gallman NYG vs. PHI
49 Devontae Booker DEN at IND (Thurs.)
50 Ameer Abdullah DET vs. CHI (Sat.)

 

— Rankings by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.

Teaser:
Running Back Rankings Week 15
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 13:30
Path: /fantasy/quarterback-rankings-week-15-fantasy-football-2017
Body:

Jimmy Garoppolo: Quarterback Rankings Week 15

After Tom Brady struggled in Week 13, he returned on Monday night to... probably cost many fantasy owners a shot at a league title. Other fantasy owners may have gotten a solid game out of Carson Wentz, only to find out that they need a new quarterback for the rest of the fantasy season. Desperate fantasy owners who were riding Josh McCown likely got eliminated as he was injured early in the game, rewarding fantasy owners with negative points in most formats.

 

Overall, it was a tough Week 14. When Brett Hundley and Jay Cutler are in the top six in fantasy scoring at the position, it was a rough week all the way around. For Week 15, things are looking up for those still playing. The matchups are better for some of the top quarterbacks, and hopefully Brady can turn things around in what should be a shootout against Pittsburgh. Both quarterbacks in that game are in the top five. For Wentz owners, the best option may be Jimmy Garoppolo (above, right), who is just outside the top 10 this week with a decent matchup against Tennessee.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

— Rankings by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Quarterback Rankings Week 15
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 13:30
All taxonomy terms: AFC, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, NFL
Path: /nfl/thursday-night-football-denver-broncos-vs-indianapolis-colts-preview-and-prediction-2017
Body:

“Thursday Night Football” has taken its lumps over the last couple of years. Players hate it. The quality of play is noticeably poorer than that on Sundays. The matchups are typically uninteresting. I wish I could tell you this Thursday night matchup (also the last of the 2017 season) between the Colts (3-10) and Broncos (4-9) will be different — but I’d be lying. But, hey, good news!  Sky Cam is back! Watch the mediocrity from a bird’s-eye view!

 

Thanks to the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants, the Colts aren’t technically the worst team in football. So they got that going for them, which is nice. Head coach Chuck Pagano is undoubtedly out of a job when the season ends as the Colts’ roster continues to be in complete rebuilding mode under new general manager Chris Ballard. With the team out of playoff contention, winning does nothing for the Colts at this point in the season. It’s time for Ballard to see what young talent he has to work with going forward and prepare for the NFL draft — and maybe try to keep Jim Irsay from tweeting. Good luck, Chris!

 

Remember when the Broncos were picked to be a contender in the AFC West at the beginning of the season? Eight straight losses and not having a reliable quarterback can really derail a season, can’t it? Just as the Colts, winning any more games this season only hurts the Broncos’ chances of obtaining a top draft pick next spring. But as Herm Edwards reminds us, “You play to win the game”... unless you want a top-five draft pick.

 

Denver at Indianapolis

 

Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 14, 8:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NBC/NFL Network

Spread: Denver -2.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Trevor Siemian

While winning this game doesn’t really do anything positive for either team’s future, Siemian (above, right) could use the morale boost. After winning the starting quarterback job in Denver a season ago, 2017 was supposed to be his validation year. Instead, he’s been benched twice, played through injury for most of the year, and thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.

 

Last week, it finally clicked for Siemian as he threw for 200 yards and a touchdown (no picks) while completing more than 60 percent of his passes (18-of-31) for the first time since Oct. 22 as the Broncos rolled the Jets, 23-0 for their first win in nine tries.

 

It will be interesting to see what kind of leash head coach Vance Joseph gives to Siemian the rest of the way with 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch rehabbing from an ankle injury. If Siemian can scrape together a couple of more wins and get Denver to a more respectable record, he’ll likely ensure he has a job, somewhere in the NFL, in 2018.

 

2. Indianapolis’ offensive line woes continue

As soon as Andrew Luck was deemed too hurt to play, this was a lost football season in Indianapolis. Of course, general manager Chris Ballard had to make it look like the Colts were still trying, so he acquired quarterback Jacoby Brissett via a trade with New England right before the start of the season. And as hard as Brissett has tried to keep this team competitive, the mess of a roster left behind by former GM Ryan Grigson was just too much for Ballard to turn into anything useful in 2017.

 

Now it’s time for Ballard to take stock of what he does have and go from there. Luck will eventually be healthy sometime next spring, if he ever comes back from Europe — which, do you blame him? I don’t, really. But it would be nice when Luck did return that the offensive line was addressed in an effort to at least protect the franchise’s premier player who could end up with more shoulder surgeries than playoff wins at this rate. Indianapolis has given up more sacks than any other team in the NFL (52), and it’s not close (Arizona is next with 44). And this comes after owner Jim Irsay insisted the offensive line was "fixed" this summer. Mix these issues together with the fact that the Colts face Von Miller (right), one of the best pass rushers in NFL history on Thursday night, along with Brissett still getting a feel for the quarterback position, and it could be a long, long night for the home team.

 

3. What exactly are we playing for here?

NFL players and coaches are a prideful bunch. As they should be. You don’t make it to the top of any profession without a healthy sense of self-worth. And that is exactly why that makes Thursday night’s game so intriguing for both teams.

 

As previously mentioned, a win doesn’t help either team in the long run as both teams were officially eliminated from playoff contention in Week 14. So how do you tell NFL players and coaches their three remaining games are better for their franchises being losses? Now is not the time to win, but the time to take stock of what each team has coming back next season and what holes need to be plugged before 2018.

 

For the Broncos, the quarterback situation is the biggest question mark. Brock Osweiler was never the answer and won’t be back next year, the jury is still out on Siemian, and general manager John Elway still has no idea what he has in Lynch. If the QB play ever stabilizes the Broncos are still just a few minor tune ups away, especially on offense, from completing again in the AFC West.

 

The Colts are a whole other story. Outside of Luck, whose long-term health is still a concern, what exactly do the Colts have going for them heading into next season? Looking at that roster and all its flaws, it’s hard to say much of anything positive. The defensive cupboard is barren, the worst unit in the league with no one currently playing (rookie Malik Hooker is out with a knee injury) that is an absolute must-have player going into 2018. Offensively, it doesn’t look too much more promising. The line is a mess, T.Y. Hilton is inconsistent, and Frank Gore is likely heading toward retirement.

 

Life in the NFL is never guaranteed, not for any player or coach. It’s a dangerous game with serious consequences, as lives can change in an instant for better or worse, especially for the players. So no matter what a team’s record is, a majority of players are always working towards that next paycheck to take care of themselves and their families. That’s good enough for me to watch, no matter how little the game may mean for either team in the big picture.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Colts simply don’t have the horses on either side of the ball to compete. Despite the Broncos’ myriad of issues, they are still stout against the run (tied for third), which will make it tough on 34-year old Frank Gore, who is coming off of a 36-carry effort in the blizzard in Buffalo this past Sunday. That leaves Jacoby Brissett and his 35.7 QBR matching up against Von Miller and a Denver defense that’s coming off of its best effort of the season (shutout of the Jets).

 

Prediction: Broncos 21, Colts 13

 

— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.

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Thursday Night Football TonightThe NFL has a full slate of Thursday Night Football games in 2017, on TV and online. These games will be aired (all times ET) on the following channels/networks: CBS, NBC and NFL Network.

 

In addition, this season Amazon will be streaming several games live on Thursday nights. Check the list below to see when your favorite team is playing and how you can watch the game so you never have to ask, "Who plays on Thursday Night Football tonight?" the rest of this season.  

 

Thursday Night Football Schedule: 

 

Week 1

September 7, 8:30 PM, Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots (NBC) 

Final Score: Chiefs 42, Pats 27

 

Week 2

September 14, 8:25 PM, Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals (NFL Network)

Final Score: Texans 13, Bengals 9

 

Week 3

September 21, 8:25 PM, Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers (NFL Network)

Final Score: Rams 41, 49ers 39

 

Week 4

September 28, 8:25 PM, Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (NFL Network/CBS/Amazon)

Final Score: Packers 35, Bears 14

 

Week 5

October 5, 8:25 PM, New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL Network/CBS/Amazon)

Final Score: Patriots 19, Buccaneers 14

 

Week 6

October 12, 8:25 PM, Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers (NFL Network/CBS/Amazon)

Final Score: Eagles 28, Panthers 23

 

Week 7

October 19, 8:25 PM, Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders (NFL Network/CBS/Amazon)

Final Score: Raiders 31, Chiefs 30

 

Week 8

October 26, 8:25 PM, Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens (NFL Network/CBS/Amazon)

Final Score: Ravens 40, Dolphins 0

 

Week 9

November 2, 8:25 PM, Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (NFL Network)

Final Score: Jets 34, Bills 21

 

Week 10

November 9, 8:25 PM, Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (NBC/NFL Network/Amazon)

Final Score: Seahawks 22, Cardinals 16

 

Week 11

November 16, 8:25 PM, Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers (NBC/NFL Network/Amazon)

Final Score: Steelers 40, Titans 17

 

Week 12 (Thanksgiving)

November 23, 8:30 PM, New York Giants at Washington Redskins (NBC/NFL Network/Amazon)

Final Score: Redskins 20, Giants 10

 

Week 13

November 30, 8:25 PM, Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys (NBC/NFL Network/Amazon)

Final Score: Cowboys 38, Redskins 14

 

Week 14

December 7, 8:25 PM, New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (NBC/NFL Network/Amazon)

Final Score: Falcons 20, Saints 17

 

Week 15

December 14, 8:25 PM, Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts (NBC/NFL Network/Amazon)

Broncos-Colts preview

 

 

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The 2017-18 college football bowl season officially kicks off on Dec. 16 in the Big Easy, as Troy and North Texas meet in the New Orleans Bowl. The first matchup of the bowl season features two teams with rising star head coaches and plenty of offensive firepower on both sidelines. The Mean Green and Trojans each average at least 30 points a game and over six yards a play. There should be no shortage of offensive highlights on Saturday. 

 

Seth Littrell inherited a North Texas team that won just one game in 2015. But the Mean Green showed immediate improvement in his first season, finishing 5-8 overall and earning an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl due to APR score. The encore was even better than the first act in Denton for Littrell. North Texas finished 9-4 and claimed Conference USA’s West Division title. The Mean Green lost 41-17 to FAU in the C-USA title game, but this program is clearly trending up under Littrell’s direction. Quarterback Mason Fine has been the catalyst behind North Texas’ high-powered offense and earned first-team All-Conference USA honors after throwing for 3,749 yards and 28 touchdowns this year.  

 

After a two-year stint as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator from 2013-14, Neal Brown had the tough task of replacing Larry Blakeney at Troy. After a 4-8 debut in 2015, Brown has guided the Trojans to back-to-back 10-win seasons and claimed a share of the Sun Belt title in 2017. Troy only lost two games this fall, as it fell in the opener against Boise State and dropped a five-point game to South Alabama in October. The highlight of the 2017 campaign for the Trojans took place on Sept. 30 in Baton Rouge. Troy knocked off LSU 24-21, which was the second victory over a ranked team in program history.

 

Troy leads 8-2 in the all-time series against North Texas. These two teams have not played since 2012. The Mean Green are 1-3 in four previous trips to the New Orleans Bowl. The Trojans are 2-1 in three appearances in this bowl. 

 

New Orleans Bowl: North Texas (9-4) vs. Troy (10-2)

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Troy -6.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. QB Mason Fine Against Troy’s Secondary

North Texas’ hopes of winning this game rest on the right arm of quarterback Mason Fine. The sophomore had a standout 2017 campaign, earning first-team All-Conference USA honors after throwing for 3,749 yards and 28 touchdowns and completing 64.3 percent of his passes. In addition to the overall accuracy, Fine delivered big plays for the offense with 18 completions of 40 yards or more.

 

When Fine looks to throw, he’s got one of Conference USA’s top receiving corps at his disposal. The Mean Green have six players with at least 24 receptions, including No. 1 target Jalen Guyton (48 grabs) and Michael Lawrence (56). Guyton leads the team with nine touchdown catches and an average of 15.9 yards per reception. Pass protection has been an issue at times for North Texas, as the offensive line has surrendered 33 sacks through 13 games. However, if Fine has time to throw, the Trojans rank fourth in the Sun Belt in pass efficiency defense and allowed opposing quarterbacks to connect on 60.6 percent of their throws.

 

While the Trojans may bend and allow up some yards through the air, this defense doesn’t give up much in the way of big plays. Coordinator Vic Koenning’s group has allowed just seven passes of 40 yards or more and surrendered just 17 passing touchdowns through 12 games. Cornerback Blace Brown is the headliner for Koenning, earning first-team All-Sun Belt honors after picking off five passes and taking one back for a touchdown in the regular season. Brown’s status for the New Orleans Bowl is in doubt after an injury suffered in the finale against Arkansas State. Safety Cedarius Rookard picked up third-team All-Sun Belt honors after finishing second on the team with 65 tackles, and freshman Marcus Jones is a rising star to watch in the secondary.

 

Overall, Troy is only giving up 4.88 yards a play and 17.5 points a game. In addition to being stingy in points allowed, the Trojans have generated 36 sacks and forced 21 takeaways.

 

Can Fine find room to throw against a standout secondary? And if Troy gives up some yardage, how many takeaways can this unit produce?

 

Related: Predictions for Every College Football 2017-18 Bowl Game

 

2. The Rushing Attacks

North Texas ranks sixth in Conference USA in rushing offense, but senior running back Jeffery Wilson is unlikely to play due to a foot injury suffered against Army on Nov. 18. Prior to the injury, Wilson rushed for 1,215 yards and 16 scores. It’s no secret Wilson is going to be missed, but the cupboard isn’t totally bare for Littrell. Freshman Nic Smith flashed potential in limited snaps, rushing for 665 yards and six touchdowns on 132 carries. The true freshman rushed for 50 yards on 14 attempts against FAU in the C-USA Championship but gashed Rice for 178 yards and a touchdown on Nov. 25. He will be backed up by fellow freshman Evan Johnson (213 yards this season) and senior Andrew Tucker (78).

 

Wilson’s absence is going to be a storyline to watch against a Troy defense holding opponents to just 114.8 rushing yards a game. The Trojans have allowed just seven rushing scores all year and limit offenses to only 3.03 yards a carry. Linebacker/end Hunter Reese (11.5 TFL) leads the way in havoc plays behind the line of scrimmage, with tackle Jamal Stadom (9.5 TFL) and linebacker Tron Folsom (9.0) also expected to play a key role in stopping the run.

 

Troy’s rushing attack hasn’t been as prolific as the one from North Texas, but the Trojans are still averaging 150.1 yards a game and 4.8 per carry. Senior Jordan Chunn missed two games due to injury and finished the season with 774 yards and 10 touchdowns. Fellow senior Josh Anderson (331) and Jamarius Henderson (330) are capable options to spell Chunn as needed. Additionally, all three are prominently featured in the passing game.

 

Chunn, Anderson and Henderson could be primed for a huge performance in the New Orleans Bowl. North Texas ranks 13th in Conference USA against the run, allowing 208.1 yards per game. Those numbers are slightly skewed due to giving up 534 yards to Army and 447 to FAU in the regular season. However, this group has still been generous in giving up yards to opposing ground attacks. Will North Texas have better success against the run this Saturday? Or will Chunn eclipse 100 yards for the fourth time this season and continue the trend of the Mean Green struggling to stop the run?

 

Related: Ranking All 39 Bowl Games: Must-See to Must Miss

 

3. Troy QB Brandon Silvers

Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers probably hasn’t had the statistical season most envisioned entering 2017, but the senior has been a steady hand in leading one of the Sun Belt’s top offenses. Silvers – a four-year starter – has passed for 2,985 yards and 13 touchdowns to just six interceptions. The senior threw 43 combined scores from 2015-16 but hasn’t found the end zone as often in 2017. When Silvers throws, his favorite receiver has been Deondre Douglas (48 catches), with Damion Willis (31), Tevaris McCormick (32), Tray Eafford (17) and Emanuel Thompson (38) filling in secondary roles. Injuries could sideline a couple of targets here, but Silvers still has enough weapons to take advantage of a secondary that has allowed 27 passing plays of 30 yards or more.

 

Will Silvers close out his career with a big performance? Or can North Texas’ defense limit Chunn and the Troy ground attack on early downs, forcing Silvers to win this one through the air? Through 13 games, the Mean Green are allowing 33.8 points a game. That’s a bad recipe against an offense that has proven it can win via the ground game or by asking Silvers to throw 35-40 times.

 

Final Analysis

 

This game won’t be short on offensive fireworks. With running back Jeffery Wilson sidelined, North Texas is going to ask even more of quarterback Mason Fine. The sophomore is certainly up for the job, but Troy’s secondary has been opportunistic, and the defense has been holding opponents to less than 20 points a game. The Trojans also have their share of firepower, starting with running back Jordan Chunn and continuing with senior quarterback Brandon Silvers. With both teams possessing their share of talent on offense, the team with the better defense is going to come out on top. Look for Troy’s defense to be the difference, as the Trojans win 11 games for the first time since moving to the FBS level.

 

Prediction: Troy 34, North Texas 31
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NFL Picks: Aaron Rodgers

It’s Week 15 of the NFL regular season and the playoff picture is starting to come into focus. Philadelphia (NFC East) and Pittsburgh (AFC North) have already clinched division titles and two others can be sewn up with victories on Sunday. In addition, two other playoff berths can be claimed via a victory and/or a little bit of help.

 

The game that everyone has circled in Week 15 is New England headed to Pittsburgh to take on the red-hot Steelers. Pittsburgh sewed up the AFC North with a thrilling, come-from-behind victory over Baltimore this past Sunday night and has been waiting for its shot at the defending Super Bowl champions all season. The Patriots missed an opportunity to wrap up a ninth straight AFC East crown on Monday night with a lackluster performance on the road against Miami. Can New England turn things around the league’s hottest team (eight wins in a row)?

 

Elsewhere, Minnesota can clinch the NFC North with a win over the reeling Bengals. The Vikings lost at Carolina last week and now trail the Eagles by a game for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Philadelphia is in the postseason but will be without quarterback and MVP candidate Carson Wentz, who tore his ACL in last week’s win against the Rams. Nick Foles will take over as the Eagles look to maintain their lead for the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a season sweep of the Giants.

 

Los Angeles can sew up a playoff spot with a win and some help, but the Rams’ focus will be on getting even against NFC West rival Seattle, who is coming off of an emotional loss at Jacksonville. The Jaguars also can secure their spot in the postseason and maintain their lead in the AFC South with a win over Houston.

 

Week 15 kicks off with Denver traveling to Indianapolis for a game that only matters as it relates to draft order, and also features two Saturday games. The most important is the matchup between Los Angeles and Kansas City with first place in the AFC West at stake.

 

Aaron Rodgers (above, right) may make his return from a broken collarbone for Green Bay, as the Packers head to Carolina to take on a Panthers team that may be peaking at the right time. And the action concludes on Monday night with Atlanta trying to improve its playoff chances by beating Tampa Bay for the second time in three weeks.

 

So which teams will come out on top in every NFL game in Week 15? Athlon's own Rob Doster (AthlonDoster) and John Gworek (JohnGworek), along with AthlonSports.com contributor Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer), predict the winners for every game this week:

 

NFL Week 15 Predictions

 

 

Rob

Doster

Bryan
Fischer

John

Gworek

Denver at

Indianapolis (TNF)

NFL Picks: Colts NFL Picks: Broncos NFL Picks: Colts

Chicago at

Detroit (Sat.)

Los Angeles Chargers at

Kansas City (Sat.)

NFL Picks: Chiefs NFL Picks: Chargers NFL Picks: Chargers

Miami at

Buffalo

NFL Picks: Bills NFL Picks: Bills NFL Picks: Bills

Baltimore at

Cleveland

NFL Picks: Ravens NFL Picks: Ravens NFL Picks: Ravens

Cincinnati at

Minnesota

NFL Picks: Vikings NFL Picks: Vikings NFL Picks: Vikings

New York Jets at

New Orleans

NFL Picks: Saints NFL Picks: Saints NFL Picks: Saints

Philadelphia at

New York Giants

NFL Picks: Eagles NFL Picks: Eagles NFL Picks: Eagles

Arizona at

Washington

NFL Picks: Cardinals

Green Bay at

Carolina

NFL Picks: Panthers NFL Picks: Panthers NFL Picks: Panthers

Houston at

Jacksonville

NFL Picks: Jaguars NFL Picks: Jaguars NFL Picks: Jaguars

Los Angeles Rams at

Seattle

NFL Picks: Seahawks NFL Picks: Rams NFL Picks: Rams

New England at

Pittsburgh

NFL Picks: Steelers NFL Picks: Steelers NFL Picks: Patriots

Tennessee at

San Francisco

NFL Picks: Titans NFL Picks: Titans NFL Picks: 49ers

Dallas at

Oakland (SNF)

NFL Picks: Cowboys NFL Picks: Cowboys NFL Picks: Cowboys

Atlanta at

Tampa Bay (MNF)

NFL Picks: Buccaneers NFL Picks: Falcons NFL Picks: Falcons
Week 14 7-9 10-6 7-9
Season 131-77 131-77 130-78

 

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Predictions for Every NFL Game in Week 15
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Nine Pac-12 teams will continue their seasons with a bowl game in December. The league offered remarkable balance in the 2017 season, with seven teams winning at least seven games.

 

Such parity ultimately cost Pac-12 champion USC a shot at playing for a national title. No Pac-12 teams made the four-team College Football Playoff for the second time in four seasons. Fans will have to settle for bowl games that offer several intriguing matchups against intersectional opponents.

 

Oregon gets things started when the Ducks go up against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 16. Washington caps it off when the Huskies take on Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 30

 

Here is your guide on which Pac-12 bowl games are must-see TV and which ones will make you change the channel.

 

Note: All times are ET.

 

1. Cotton Bowl Classic — USC (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-2)

Dec. 29 — 8:30 p.m., ESPN

This is a classic Rose Bowl pairing transplanted to Texas. It is essentially a de facto Rose Bowl, since USC won the Pac-12 crown and Ohio State claimed the Big Ten title. Trojan QB Sam Darnold will face a stiff test from the Buckeyes' defensive line. Ohio State DE Nick Bosa is one of the nation's best pass rushers and is guaranteed to make Darnold feel the heat for four quarters. Fans will get treated to a nice running back duel between USC's Ronald Jones and Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins. Both are effective runners. Dobbins averages 7.5 yards per carry while Jones averages 6.1 yards per attempt.

 

2. Fiesta Bowl — Washington (10-2) vs. Penn State (10-2)

Dec. 30 — 4 p.m., ESPN

Can the Huskies stop Saquon Barkley? The junior running back does a little bit of everything for Penn State. He ranks second nationally with 2,154 all-purpose yards. Washington's secret weapon could be Vita Vea. He's a defensive lineman who has the tools to make big plays outside the tackle box and should make it harder for Barkley to find open space. Washington has a three-head offensive monster in QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin and WR Dante Pettis that's sure to give the Nittany Lions fits. The trio ranked in the top 10 among Pac-12 players in passing, rushing and receiving respectively.

 

3. Holiday Bowl — Washington State (9-3) vs. Michigan State (9-3)

Dec. 28 — 9 p.m., FOX

Luke Falk will wrap up an amazing career that saw him progress from a walk-on quarterback to the Pac-12's career passing leader. The Cougars' fortunes rise and fall with Falk. In their three losses, Falk totaled eight interceptions. In Washington State's nine wins, he threw a total of 28 touchdown passes. Michigan State is a tough defensive team who is well equipped to slow down the Air Raid offense. Kenny Willekes ranked in the top five among Big Ten players in tackles for a loss (14.5) and sacks (7.0). Joe Bachie ranked in the top 10 in the league in tackles (94).

 

4. Alamo Bowl — Stanford (9-4) vs. TCU (10-3)

Dec. 28 — 9 p.m., ESPN

What can Bryce Love do when he's facing one of the nation's top run defenses? Love ran for 1,973 yards in 12 games and repeatedly burned opponents with runs of 50 yards or longer throughout the season. Duplicating a similar performance against TCU will be no simple task. The Horned Frogs allow just 99.9 rushing yards per game, which ranks fourth among FBS teams in that defensive category. Mat Boesen and Ben Banogu key that attack up front. The duo have combined for 20 sacks and 30 tackles for a loss this season.

 

5. Las Vegas Bowl — Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)

Dec. 16 — 3:30 p.m., ABC

Boise State is playing in its 16th consecutive bowl game, the sixth-longest active streak among FBS teams and is in the Las Vegas Bowl for the first time since 2012. Oregon will provide a suitable challenge to the Broncos now that Justin Herbert is healthy again. Herbert is 6-1 as a starter this season and the Ducks average 52.1 points per game when he is at the controls on offense. Boise State has a solid defense led by Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year Leighton Vander Esch. The Broncos are allowing just 22.5 points per game and have forced 26 turnovers this season.

 

6. Heart of Dallas Bowl — Utah (6-6) vs. West Virginia (7-5)

Dec. 26 — 1:30 p.m., ESPN

Winning bowl games is almost automatic for the Utes under Kyle Whittingham. He is 10-1 in bowl games as Utah's head coach, the best winning percentage for any coach in NCAA history. The starting quarterbacks for both teams are a question mark heading into the game. West Virginia junior Will Grier broke a middle finger on his throwing hand in mid-November against Texas. Grier totaled 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns this season. Utah sophomore Tyler Huntley did not play in the regular season finale against Colorado after suffering an undisclosed injury. Huntley ranked second in the Pac-12 in total offense with 2,726 yards despite playing in only nine games.

 

7. Foster Farms Bowl — Arizona (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)

Dec. 27 — 8:30 p.m., FOX

Khalil Tate's emergence helped Arizona rise from the Pac-12 cellar this season. Tate, a sophomore quarterback, is an electric runner who totaled 1,267 yards on 123 carries over Arizona's final eight games of the regular season. He suffered a shoulder sprain against Arizona State, but is ready to go in the Foster Farms Bowl. Purdue became bowl eligible after sophomore quarterback Elijah Sindelar led the Boilermakers to wins over Iowa and Indiana late in the season. Sindelar totaled 388 yards and five touchdown passes over those two games.

 

8. Sun Bowl — NC State (8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5)

Dec. 28 — 3 p.m., CBS

Arizona State got back to a bowl game on the shoulders of an explosive offense. Manny Wilkins is an excellent passer. Demario Richard has been steady in the backfield. Wilkins is closing in on 3,000 passing yards and Richard is a whisker away from 1,000 rushing yards. NC State has a good enough defense to slow the duo down. Bradly Chubb is a sack machine, leading the ACC in that category with 10 sacks. The Wolfpack offense is strong in the passing game. Ryan Finley is one of the league's top passers with 3,200 yards and 16 touchdowns so far this season.

 

9. Cactus Bowl — Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6)

Dec. 26 — 9 p.m., ESPN

UCLA's fortunes will rest squarely on the arm of Josh Rosen as they have done all season. When Rosen is playing well, the Bruins' offense keeps them in any game. If he struggles, UCLA's defense will doom the Bruins. UCLA ranks last in the Pac-12 in total defense (488.8 ypg) and 11th in scoring offense (36.8 ppg). Kansas State is rather mediocre on defense, but dual-threat quarterback Skylar Thompson has infused a dangerous element into the offense since taking over the starting job in November. Thompson completed 73.5 percent of his passes during a two-game winning streak that helped the Wildcats get bowl eligible.  

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

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The Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, has long been synonymous with college football. From once hosting the annual Blue-Gray All-Star game to serving as host site for the Alabama Crimson Tide, it resurfaced again in 2014 with the inaugural Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.

 

Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State will play in the fourth edition of this bowl, and both teams enter with a combined 13-10 record.

 

Middle Tennessee (6-6, 4-4) finished fifth in the Conference USA East Division and concluded its regular season with a 41-10 home win against Old Dominion to cap a November run that saw the Blue Raiders go 3-1. Saturday's Camellia Bowl marks the 11th bowl appearance for Middle Tennessee in school history and its third in a row. But the Blue Raiders haven't won a bowl game since 2009 when they defeated Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl.

 

Arkansas State (7-4, 6-2) failed to capture a share of the Sun Belt Conference crown with its 32-25 loss to Troy on Dec. 2, but was one of its conference's hottest and most consistent teams during the regular season. The Red Wolves strung together a four-game winning streak in October and have won two of their last three games entering this contest. Arkansas is appearing in its seventh consecutive bowl game. Last year, the Red Wolves defeated UCF 31-13 in the AutoNation Cure Bowl.

 

Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee have met 14 times since 1948, and Middle Tennessee holds a 9-5 series advantage. The Red Wolves earned a 45-0 victory in their last meeting in 2012 and have won their last three games against the Blue Raiders. Both teams were members of the Sun Belt from 2001-12.

 

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Arkansas State

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Cramton Bowl (Montgomery, Ala.)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Arkansas State -3.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill

Stockstill, the son of Blue Raiders' head coach Rick Stockstill, was one of Conference USA's best stories in 2016 when he threw  for 3,233 yards and 31 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.

 

This season has been one plagued by injuries, starting when he suffered a cracked sternum and hurt his collarbone injury against Syracuse in the second game back on Sept. 9. Stockstill finally returned against UTEP on Nov. 4 with a three-touchdown game and he has been making plays for Middle Tennessee since. Over his last three games, Stockstill has averaged 271.7 yards per contest with a total of seven touchdowns and just two picks. Not surprisingly, the Blue Raiders are 4-2 when Stockstill starts and 2-4 when he hasn't played.

 

Even with the missed time, Stockstill already holds school records for touchdown passes (75), completions (710) and passing yards per game (290.6), and he's just a junior. Arkansas State's pass defense finished seventh in the Sun Belt, giving up 242.3 yards per game, although the Red Wolves limited opposing quarterbacks to a completion rate of 51.1 percent.

 

If Stockstill is able to settle in the pocket and find his rhythm early it could be a long night for Arkansas State's defense.

 

2. Arkansas State defensive end Ja'Von Rolland-Jones

The key to the Red Wolves' efforts in slowing down Stockstill and Middle Tennessee's offense start and end with Rolland-Jones. For the second straight season, Rolland-Jones (above, right) was named the Sun Belt's Player of the Year after tallying 51 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks and three forced fumbles in 11 games. Even though, Arkansas State had one game canceled due to Hurricane Irma, Rolland-Jones is second in the country in sacks and tied for ninth in tackles for a loss.

 

The senior has made a habit of menacing opposing offenses, and he no doubt would love to wrap up his collegiate career with another big game. He needs just one sack to become the FBS' career leader, a record that currently belongs to former Arizona State standout and current Baltimore Raven Terrell Suggs (44 sacks). Rolland-Jones also is 1.5 sacks away from setting the school's single-season mark.

 

With Rolland-Jones leading the way, the Red Wolves are 10th in the nation in sacks per game (3.09), while Middle Tennessee is giving up just two per contest. For the Blue Raiders' offense to be effective, Stockstill must have time to throw. Will Rolland-Jones make history on Saturday night?

 

3. Middle Tennessee running back Terelle West

Making his first career start against Old Dominion in the Blue Raiders' last outing, West, a sophomore, showcased why he was Middle Tennessee's No. 1 running back to enter the season. West shredded the Monarchs for 170 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. He also hauled in three catches for 25 yards. He'll look to replicate that performance Saturday.

 

West's hopes of entering the season as the starter were dashed when he was injured in preseason camp and had arthroscopic knee surgery in August. West returned against FIU on Oct. 7 and had five carries for 11 yards. He had four carries during Middle Tennessee's next three games, but didn't play at Charlotte.

 

West's workload increased against Western Kentucky, a game in which he ran for 47 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, resulting in him being named the starter the following week against Old Dominion.

 

West finally appears to be healthy and his production out of the backfield will help make Stockstill's job easier. Arkansas State has done a good job against the run (137.6 ypg, 3.5 ypc) all season, so if West is able to find running room early that would be a great sign as it relates to the Blue Raiders' chances.

 

Final Analysis

 

On paper, Arkansas State boasts a better overall and conference record. And with talented quarterback Justice Hansen, the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, and running back Warren Wand on one side of the ball and Ja'Von Rolland-Jones on the other, it's easy to see how the Red Wolves were one win away from claiming a share of the conference title.

 

Middle Tennessee, however, is a different team with a fully healthy Brent Stockstill at quarterback, as his numbers and the Blue Raiders' record since his return indicates. Add a healthy Terelle West to the mix, and fans and viewers are in for a treat for the nightcap to the bowl season's opening day of action.

 

Middle Tennessee gets the better of its former conference rival, winning its first bowl game since 2009 in the process.

 

Prediction: Middle Tennessee 28, Arkansas State 24 

 

— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

Teaser:
Camellia Bowl Preview and Prediction: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/15-best-big-ten-college-football-games-2017
Body:

The 2017 Big Ten football season ran the full gamut from traditional, defense-oriented slugfests to high-scoring shootouts. The conference has maintained its longstanding identity of physical, smash-mouth football while at the same time integrating more modern concepts, thus cultivating an entertaining style.

 

This 21st Century Big Ten provided some of the most spectacular finishes of the college football season, headlined by some of the best individual performances of the campaign.

 

15 Best Big Ten Games of 2017 Regular Season

 

15. Michigan State 17, Iowa 10 — Sept. 30 

Like rock hitting rock, the cross-divisional showdown between Iowa and Michigan State was a ground-and-pound affair with hard hits and physical play on the line defining the pace. Michigan State's defense stood strong against Iowa running back Akrum Wadley, allowing him just 30 yards and holding the Hawkeyes below a yard per carry as a team. The Hawkeyes' defense was just as tough against the Michigan State rushing attack, but quarterback Brian Lewerke's two touchdown passes made the difference.

 

Remarkably, all three touchdowns came in the game's first 16:45. 

 

14. Purdue 31, Indiana 24 — Nov. 25 

Purdue clinched its first bowl bid in a half-decade and won the Old Oaken Bucket at the same time, but it wasn't easy. The Boilermakers built a 31-10 lead over rival Indiana early into the fourth quarter, but had to weather a late Hoosiers rally.

 

Richard Lagow's two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter gave Indiana hope, but Markell Jones' 217 rushing yards and Elijah Sindelar's two touchdown passes proved too much for Indiana to overcome.

 

13. Rutgers 14, Purdue 12 — Oct. 21

Rutgers' narrow escape against Purdue was not an exciting game in the traditional sense. It certainly wasn't pretty for the Scarlet Knights, mounting just 217 yards of total offense. But with stout defense when it was most needed, Rutgers scored a huge win for the trajectory of the program under second-year head coach Chris Ash.

 

The victory marked Rutgers' first conference winning streak since joining the Big Ten, and was the second in a three-out-of-four span for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers rose to the occasion late when Purdue scored its only touchdown of the game in the final minute, and head coach Jeff Brohm opted to go for the two-point conversion and win. The attempt was stymied to preserve the victory.

 

12. Michigan 27, Indiana 20 — Oct. 14

Indiana football has won against Michigan just nine times ever, and the Hoosiers are winless against the Wolverines since 1987. Michigan appeared headed for another easy win in 2017, building a 13-0 lead in the first half of a sluggish game.

 

Indiana kept pace, but never seemed like it was really threatening — until a Peyton Ramsey touchdown pass to Whop Philyor late in the fourth quarter and a quick, forced punt gave the Hoosiers possession with a drive to force overtime. Indiana got overtime, but no more. For a few minutes, however, 30 years of bad luck nearly came to an end.

 

11. Wisconsin 33, Northwestern 24 — Sept. 30 

The top two finishers in the Big Ten West met early in the season, before Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor had established himself as one of the premier ball carriers in the nation. His two-touchdown performance against a solid Northwestern defense helped establish his reputation, but this game is more noteworthy for a stretch in which the Badgers did not score.

 

Wisconsin got a field goal early in the fourth quarter, followed shortly thereafter by a Natrell Jamerson pick-six that put the Badgers ahead, 31-10. It looked like smooth sailing from them, with Northwestern's offense rendered ineffective all game. But two Clayton Thorson touchdown passes over less than two minutes of game time set up an onside kick opportunity for the Wildcats. Paul Chryst made the decision to punt from the Northwestern 35-yard line on the ensuing possession — and on this day, punting was winning. A sack for a safety staved off the rally bid for the Badgers.

 

10. Ohio State 31, Michigan 20 — Nov. 25

The Game has provided countless unforgettable moments, upsets and assorted other entries into college football lore. Michigan building a 14-0 lead early against a heavily favored Ohio State gave this year's edition the look of one more such entry. But this game became memorable for the introduction it provided Dwayne Haskins to the nation.

 

Haskins threw just one incompletion in relief of an injured J.T. Barrett, giving Ohio State enough of a passing attack to supplement a potent ground attack. The Buckeyes' defense strapped in after the initial slow start and shut the Wolverines down. Ohio State's win was its 13th in the last 14 against its bitter rival.

 

9. Iowa 55, Ohio State 24 — Nov. 4 

This one wasn't a great game in the traditional sense; one typically hears or reads that terminology and associates it with wildly competitive contests that feature dramatic finishes. Iowa thoroughly dominated Ohio State from start to finish, dominating the Buckeyes in all facets.

 

However, this was a top Big Ten game both for the oddity of it, and the implications it had on the national landscape. Iowa's defense got to J.T. Barrett for four interceptions, while Nathan Stanley erupted for five touchdown passes. J.K. Dobbins was held in check, but Akrum Wadley had a huge day. This was certainly one of the most memorable games of 2017, and most important, as the loss effectively denied the Buckeyes a berth in the College Football Playoff.

 

8. Maryland 51, Texas 41 — Sept. 2

Maryland suffered through a tough 2017 season, finishing just 4-8. Quarterback injuries piled up for the Terrapins — an unfortunate, recurring problem for the program in recent years — and the epidemic proved especially frustrating this season. That's because in the opening weekend, with Tyrrell Pigrome behind center and healthy, the Maryland offense looked downright explosive.

 

The Terrapins piled up 482 yards of offense, including 263 on the ground, tarnishing the debut of Longhorns head coach Tom Herman.

 

7. Michigan State 14, Michigan 10 — Oct. 7 

Ever since Michigan running back Mike Hart's "little brother" comment about rival Michigan State in 2007, Michigan State has won eight of the last 10 meetings. This year's encounter marked the eighth victory in the Spartans' decade of dominance, and was the quintessential Mark Dantonio-era game.

 

Michigan State stifled Michigan's offense, limiting the Wolverines to 2.6 yards per rush, then capitalized with three interceptions as Michigan attempted to pass. That was all the opening Brian Lewerke needed, as his two touchdowns made the difference in this "sibling" rivalry.

 

6. Northwestern 39, Michigan State 31 (3OT) — Oct. 28 

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson delivered on a pair of big scoring strikes in the third overtime — a 22-yarder to Flynn Nagel and a two-point conversion to Cameron Green — to give the Wildcats their third win over the Spartans in their last four tries.

 

Thorson came out on top of a surprising quarterback battle, though Michigan State's Brian Lewerke went off for a remarkable 445 yards and four scores , including a TD pass to Felton Davis III with just 25 seconds remaining that forced overtime.

 

5. Nebraska 25, Purdue 24 — Oct. 28 

In what was an otherwise forgettable 2017 season for Nebraska football, quarterback Tanner Lee delivered at least one memorable moment. Lee's two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Tyler Hoppes and Stanley Morgan Jr. — the latter of which came with just 14 seconds left — rallied the Cornhuskers from down 12 points early in the period.

 

Lee put up 431 yards in the win, carrying the load on a day that the Nebraska rushing attack was ineffective.

 

4. Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 21 — Dec. 2 

The two benchmarks for consistency in the Big Ten over recent years met in the conference championship game just once since its inception in 2011. That 2014 encounter was a one-sided romp for Ohio State, which became a crucial stepping stone to the first College Football Playoff championship. The Buckeyes again hoped to step over a few teams back into the playoff at the Badgers' expense again — but undefeated Wisconsin wasn't ready to let it happen.

 

Despite falling behind 21-7 in the second quarter, Wisconsin battled and chipped away, making it just a three-point game after scoring a touchdown in the early part of the fourth quarter. That final period was old-school Big Ten football, with big and physical defenses setting the tone and not sparing an inch. Ohio State ultimately came out ahead, holding Wisconsin out of the end zone in a slugfest.

 

3. Iowa 44, Iowa State 41 — Sept. 9

The rivalry matchup for the CyHawk Trophy has a... let's say less-than-favorable reputation among outsiders. Low scores in recent years have shaped perception about this early-season series, but the 2017 edition defied preconceptions.

 

Hakeem Butler's 74-yard touchdown reception looked like a game-winner for Iowa State — until Akrum Wadley went 46 yards on a reception to force overtime. Ihmir Smith-Marsette's reception in overtime sealed the win in an exciting shootout.

 

2. Penn State 21, Iowa 19 — Sept. 23

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley might have stolen the show in this prime-time encounter, had it not been for Saquon Barkley (above, right). The Penn State running back's 211 rushing yards outshined Wadley's 150 yards of total offense, but it was quarterback Trace McSorley who stepped into the spotlight at game's end.

 

McSorley led the Nittany Lions on a 65-yard drive in 1:42 and found Juwan Johnson with zeroes on the clock to deliver one of the season's most dramatic finishes.

 

1. Ohio State 39, Penn State 38 — Oct. 28

From start — Saquon Barkley running the opening kickoff back for a touchdown — to finish — J.T. Barrett going Hero Mode to lead an Ohio State comeback — the de facto Big Ten East championship game had it all.

 

Penn State took control early on the road, but the Nittany Lions were locked into a chess match with a Buckeyes defense that dared Trace McSorley to beat it. With Barkley limited, Ohio State chipped away. Barrett's fourth quarter was one for the ages, as he threw for three touchdowns, including the game-winner to Marcus Baugh with less than two minutes remaining.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of TheOpenMan.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Teaser:
15 Best Big Ten College Football Games of 2017
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/nebraska-cornhuskers-2017-team-awards
Body:

The 2017 season may not have gone exactly according to plan for Nebraska. Missing out on the bowl season for the first time since joining the Big Ten has led to a coaching change that gives Cornhuskers fans reason to be optimistic about the future of the program. While the highlights of the 2017 season may have been few and far between, there were still some things worth remembering and recognizing.

 

Offensive MVP: Stanley Morgan Jr., WR

Nobody had a better year in Nebraska’s offense than Morgan. The junior had a team-high 61 receptions for 986 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 89.6 receiving yards per game led the Big Ten and he tied for the conference lead with most touchdowns with Iowa’s Noah Fant. Only one receiver in the Big Ten had more receiving yards (Maryland’s D.J. Moore).

 

Defensive MVP: Chris Weber, LB

The Nebraska defense rarely had a reason to smile during the 2017 season, but Weber was always out there trying to clamp down on opposing offenses. Weber led the team with 87 tackles, including 39 solo tackles and an average of 7.25 tackles per game. The loss of the senior in the middle of the field will be one that must be addressed in the spring.

 

Best Freshman: JD Spielman, WR

The freshman out of Minnesota certainly did not take long to have an impact on the Nebraska offense. In 11 games, Spielman hauled in 55 receptions for 830 yards with a pair of touchdowns, and his ability to return kickoffs (669 yards, TD) made him a versatile threat. Expect to see more of that in 2018.

 

Best Play of the Season: Stanley Morgan Jr.’s game-winning TD vs. Purdue

With 18 seconds to play staring at third down inside the red zone, time was running out for Nebraska on the road against the Boilermakers. But Tanner Lee was having a career day and was feeling confident. A pass over the middle to Morgan was caught by the leading receiver, and he made a slight move to make sure he got the ball across the goal line to give the Cornhuskers a one-point advantage with 14 seconds remaining. Nebraska would hold on to keep its bowl hopes alive for a little longer.

 

 

Best Performance by a Player in 2017: Tanner Lee vs. Purdue

A week after throwing for 303 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State, Lee had his best game of the season against Purdue. In a 25-24 victory against the improved Boilermakers, Lee passed for a season-high 431 yards and two touchdowns while completing 64 percent of his pass attempts. The win also helped keep Nebraska’s bowl hopes alive at the time, so Lee came through at the best possible time in late October.

 

Best Game (Team Performance): 28-6 win at Illinois

When the best team performance you had of the season came against Illinois, you know just how rough a year it was for Nebraska’s football program. But credit the Huskers for their showing against the Illini. Nebraska recorded 411 yards of total offense and held Illinois to just 199 yards. The Huskers were 7-for-11 on third down, Tanner Lee had three touchdowns and Devine Ozigbo had 106 rushing yards.

 

Defining Moment: Hiring Scott Frost as head coach

The 2017 season was not kind to the Husker faithful on the field, but the hiring of Nebraska’s favorite son to be the next head coach offered more than a glimmer of hope as the program moves forward. After coaching UCF to a 12-0 record and an AAC championship, Frost is coming home with the intention of turning things around at Nebraska.

 

Biggest Surprise: Losing at home to Northern Illinois

True, the Huskies ended up having a nice season, but it’s not as though the Huskers took a loss at home against an NIU team led by Jordan Lynch or anything. Nebraska’s first loss to a team from the MAC came in unforgivable fashion in Week 3 with Tanner Lee having two interceptions in the first quarter returned for touchdowns and the Huskies finding a way to hold on for a close win.

 

Biggest Disappointment: Bob Diaco’s failure as a defensive coordinator

When Nebraska added former UConn head coach Bob Diaco to the coaching staff as a defensive coordinator, some may have gone so far as to call it a home-run hire for Nebraska. Well, swing and a miss. The Huskers' defense was a train wreck all season long under Diaco's leadership.

 

Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: De’Mornay Pierson-El, WR

One of the top offensive players for Nebraska was wide receiver Pierson-El (above, right). In 12 games, the senior finished the season with 45 receptions for 623 yards and five touchdowns as a nice consistent piece on offense.

 

Player to Watch in 2018: Patrick O’Brien, QB

O’Brien got minimal playing time in his redshirt freshman year in Lincoln by appearing in just four games. Expect O’Brien to be given a good chance to compete for the starting job in the spring under new head coach Scott Frost. The former four-star recruit under Mike Riley may be the most likely option to take the reins of the Nebraska offense for Frost in 2018.

 

Biggest Offseason Question Mark: How quickly can Scott Frost turn things around?

Asked at his introductory press conference how he intends to adjust his offensive mindset in the Big Ten, Frost confidently responded he hopes it is the Big Ten that has to adjust to him. It’s a line that plays well to fans, but just how much can Frost change with the offense before the 2018 season? Look for the work to spruce up the offense to begin in the spring, but it may take a recruiting cycle or two to start getting the players Frost needs to get Nebraska back up to full speed.

 

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.

Teaser:
Nebraska Cornhuskers 2017 Team Awards
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-fighting-irish-2017-team-awards
Body:

There was a definite bright side to the 2017 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. After a 4-8 debacle last season, Notre Dame reached No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings. But there also was a downside, as the Irish lost two of their last three games, not only missing the playoff, but falling out of the New Year’s Six bowl consideration as well.

 

Here are some awards — both good and bad — for this year’s Fighting Irish.

 

Offensive MVP: Quenton Nelson, OG

Nelson and line mate Mike McGlinchey have been thought of in tandem every step of the way and both were named first-team All-American for their work opening holes for running back Josh Adams. As a tackle, McGlinchey will more than likely be picked higher in next year's NFL draft. But Nelson was a more consistent performer this year, especially over the second half of the season.

 

Defensive MVP: Julian Love, CB

Along with Notre Dame’s two offensive linemen, the sophomore from the Chicagoland area was named first-team All-America by the College Football News. Love (above, right) had three interceptions on the season, two of which he returned for touchdowns. He also was second nationally with 20 passes defended and fourth with 17 passes broken up. A solid tackler, Love will be a leader in the 2018 Irish secondary.

 

Best Freshman: Robert Hainsey, OT

He split time with Tommy Kraemer at tackle this season and since Notre Dame classifies Kraemer as a sophomore, and not the redshirt freshman he’d be at any other school, Hainsey gets the nod. The 6-foot-5, 290-pounder will probably remain at right tackle next year with Kraemer moving inside to take an open guard spot.

 

Best Play of the Season: Consecutive Toe-Tapping Catches Against NC State

With the game tied at 14 late in the second quarter, Notre Dame was facing 3rd-and-6 at the Wolfpack 22-yard line. Brandon Wimbush threw a pass on the sideline that Durham Smythe grabbed while somehow managing to get his feet down for an incredible first down reception. On the very next play, Kevin Stepherson caught a ball in the corner of the end zone that was originally ruled incomplete. But upon review, it was ruled a catch, as Stepherson was able to barely get a toe inside the end zone for the go-ahead score.

 

 

Best Performance (Player): Josh Adams vs. USC

Adams had more yards on fewer carries against Boston College. But considering the competition, his 19-carry, 191-yard, three-touchdown performance versus the Trojans takes the cake. In the third quarter, after USC finally established some offensive rhythm with touchdowns on consecutive possessions, Adams’ 84-yard touchdown run slammed the door shut.

 

Best Game (Team): 49-14 Win vs. USC

It was a total dismantling from start to finish of the team that would wind up eighth in the final College Football Playoff rankings. The Irish ran for a staggering 377 yards against the Trojans and kept star USC quarterback Sam Darnold in check, sacking him four times, forcing a fumble, and picking him off once. At that moment, everyone considered Notre Dame a legitimate contender for a playoff berth.

 

Defining Moment: Stanford Game

For the first three quarters of the game, Notre Dame played at a high level. Though still inconsistent, quarterback Brandon Wimbush teamed up with Kevin Stepherson and Equanimeous St. Brown on some big plays and the defense did their part containing Bryce Love. And in an instant, it was gone. The Irish led 20-17 entering the fourth quarter. Less than five minutes later, it was 38-20 Stanford. The strong start — and subsequent breakdown — epitomized the entire 2017 season.

 

Biggest Surprise: Te'von Coney, LB

It’s not as though Coney did nothing before 2017. He did have 62 tackles as a sophomore in 2016. But the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder became a different player this fall. Coney leads the team with 99 total tackles and the player that had just two tackles for lost yardage in his career has 13 this season. With Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, and Drue Tranquill roaming the second level, Coney came into the year fighting for playing time and has emerged as one of the team’s most important contributors.

 

Biggest Disappointment: November

The Irish were flying after disposing of NC State to get to 7-1. But something changed as October departed. Even as the Irish were building a 31-10 lead over Wake Forest, the Deacons seemed to be moving the ball too easily and the Wake comeback in the second half should have been a sign. The following week, Notre Dame was ripped apart by Miami. The Irish then struggled to get by Navy and lost the finale at Stanford. In prime position heading into the home stretch, Notre Dame played its worst football of the season when it mattered most.

 

Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Quenton Nelson/Mike McGlinchey, OL

In this case, the two have to be linked. McGlinchey completing his time leaves a hole at the all-important left tackle position and Nelson moving on means that there will be some shifting of personnel along the offensive line. Notre Dame has recruited well in this area, but Nelson and McGlinchey were special players for the Irish

 

Player to Watch in 2018: Liam Eichenberg, OL

While Quenton Nelson may have had a better season for Notre Dame, filling Mike McGlinchey’s spot on Brandon Wimbush’s blind side is of utmost importance. Eichenberg was a top-100 recruit who had offers from schools like Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State and Penn State. He’s been projected as a left tackle since arriving in South Bend and he will get his chance to run with the ones starting in the spring.

 

Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Development of Brandon Wimbush

The Irish quarterback did not seem to develop as the season went along. As a matter of fact, he may have regressed. Wimbush is a dynamic runner that needs to markedly improve his accuracy and decision-making as a passer. With a new-look offensive line and a still developing receiving corps, Wimbush’s progression is paramount to Irish success in 2018. 

 

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.

Teaser:
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2017 Team Awards
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 09:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Georgia Bulldogs, SEC
Path: /college-football/georgia-bulldogs-2017-team-awards
Body:

Year 1 of the Kirby Smart era of Georgia football was a letdown, but the Bulldogs made a huge jump in Year 2. Smart led the Bulldogs to an SEC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff after capping off a 12-1 season with a 28-7 victory over Auburn in the SEC Championship Game — revenge for the ugly 40-17 loss to the Tigers in the regular season. Now, as Georgia prepares for its Rose Bowl showdown with Oklahoma with a shot at a national title on the line, we make our picks for the Georgia 2017 team awards.

 

Offensive MVP: Nick Chubb, RB

There is no shortage of candidates for Georgia’s Offensive MVP in 2017. The Bulldogs boast a deep, well-rounded and efficient offense stocked with talented players. In a tight race, the best of the bunch during the regular season was Chubb, who gained 1,175 rushing yards and scored 13 touchdowns as a senior — pushing his career totals to 4,599 and 42, respectively, with at least one game left to play.

 

Defensive MVP: Roquan Smith, LB

Though the Bulldogs have just as many talented defenders, this honor is more clear-cut. Smith earned All-American honors in 2017, was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and also took home the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. Smith leads the team and is fourth in the SEC with 113 total tackles. He also has a team-high 5.5 sacks and is second with 10.5 tackles for a loss. The only real question is will he be back next year or is he off to the NFL?

 

Best Freshman: Jake Fromm, QB

There was chatter over the summer that Fromm (above, right) would push incumbent starter Jacob Eason for the starting quarterback job, and an injury to Eason in the season opener against Appalachian State opened the door for the true freshman, who capitalized. Fromm started the next 12 games, and completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,173 yards and a solid 21:5 touchdowns-to-interception ratio along the way.

 

Best Play of the Season: Davin Bellamy Strip Sack vs. Notre Dame

Leading 20-19 on the road against No. 24 Notre Dame, with 1:37 left to play, the Georgia defense lined up for a 1st-and-10 from the Fighting Irish 36-yard line. As quarterback Brandon Wimbush dropped back to pass, Davin Bellamy came off of the edge, blew past left tackle Mike McGlinchey (a likely first-round draft pick), offered a quick swim move and hit Wimbush from behind for a sack. The hit jarred the ball loose, and Lorenzo Carter recovered for the Bulldogs to secure the victory.

 

 

Best Performance by a Player in 2017: Fromm vs. Mississippi State

Other than a 696-yard performance against Missouri, the Georgia offense didn’t often put up huge numbers in 2017. Instead, the Bulldogs relied on efficiency, and executed on good play-calling. Fromm’s performance against Mississippi State was the perfect example.

 

Ranked No. 17 entering the contest, State was a trendy upset pick. Instead, Fromm completed a perfectly thrown 59-yard pass to Terry Godwin on a flea-flicker on Georgia’s first play from scrimmage, and the outcome was never in doubt as the Bulldogs romped 31-3. Fromm finished 9-for-12 for 201 yards and two TDs (the second a 41-yard catch-and-run to Isaac Nauta) without an interception.

 

Best Game (Team Performance): SEC Championship Game

Simply put, Auburn dominated Georgia when the two met at Jordan-Hare Stadium in November. The Tigers imposed their will on both sides of the football, and the Bulldogs didn’t help matters by making several silly mistakes, including poorly timed penalties and a key special teams turnover.

 

Given the lopsided nature of the regular season loss, the 28-7 victory in the SEC Championship Game rematch was even sweeter. Georgia improved its offensive performance from 230 total yards and 46 rushing yards in the first meeting to 421 total yards, including 238 on the ground, in Atlanta. The Bulldogs also regained their rhythm on defense, holding Auburn to 259 total yards after surrendering a season-worst 488 (176 more than any other opponent gained all season) in the first game.

 

Defining Moment: 42-13 Win Over Kentucky

Perhaps a curveball since Georgia picked up a huge non-conference victory over Notre Dame and notched huge wins over a ranked Mississippi State squad, as well as lopsided victories over rivals Tennessee, Florida and Georgia Tech by a combined score of 121-14. And, it’s certainly worth noting the rematch victory over Auburn was the most important win of the season given the fact it secured the Bulldogs a place in the College Football Playoff.

 

Nevertheless, the defining moment of the season came the week after Georgia was drubbed by Auburn. Having been physically dominated by the Tigers while ranked No. 1 in the nation could have been a death knell for the Bulldogs. It’s common given the emotion in college football for one week’s disappointment to spill over into the next, and one loss quickly turns into two. However, instead of wallowing in defeat, Georgia responded with a dominant performance over a seven-win Kentucky squad to secure the SEC East and set the stage for revenge in Atlanta.

 

Biggest Surprise: Javon Wims, WR

Wims didn’t get a ton of action as a junior in 2016, catching just 17 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown. The junior college signee with good size (6-4, 215) was largely an afterthought as the team’s fifth-leading receiver in his first season in Athens. However, Wims forged a strong on-field bond with true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, and emerged as the go-to wideout for Georgia in 2017. He led the team with 38 receptions and 631 yards and tied for the team lead with six TD grabs.

 

Biggest Disappointment: Loss at Auburn

There’s just one blemish on the schedule to date, which makes the loss to Auburn easily the biggest disappointment of the regular season. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, the performance was a complete outlier on both sides of the football, and Georgia rebounded to win the rematch in the SEC Championship Game.

 

Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Lorenzo Carter, LB

Georgia must replace quite a few important seniors from the 2017 squad, including offensive playmakers Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Javon Wims, All-SEC defensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, and other defenders like Davin Bellamy, Dominick Sanders, Aaron Davis, and John Atkins, among others. However, Carter may be the most difficult player to replace.

 

Carter came to Georgia as a five-star recruit, and though he showed flashes of brilliance during the first three years of his college career, didn’t rise to the sky-high expectations that come with being such a ballyhooed prospect. But Carter was a consistent threat on the outside as a senior and put constant pressure on opposing offenses during the regular season, leading the squad with nine QB hurries and ranking third with 47 total tackles, 4.0 sacks and 7.0 tackles for a loss. He also came up big in big games. Carter recorded sacks against Notre Dame and Florida, as well as a combined 4.5 TFLs against the Fighting Irish, Mississippi State, Florida and Auburn.

 

Player to Watch in 2018: D’Andre Swift, RB

Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will be out of eligibility in 2018, which leaves the dynamic Swift as the top returning rusher. Swift, a true freshman, gained 597 yards and scored three touchdowns on just 73 carries — an eye-popping 8.2 yards per carry. Swift also has been a reliable receiver out of the backfield with 15 catches for 146 yards and a TD. His talent was on full display in the 64-yard touchdown run that iced the SEC Championship Game. Expect much bigger numbers next year.

 

 

Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Can Georgia Rebuild its Defense?

Georgia finished the regular season ranked third nationally in scoring defense (13.2 points allowed per game) and fourth in total defense (270.9 total yards allowed per game), while limiting opponents to 4.45 yards per play, which ranked sixth in the FBS. Only one opponent gained more than 312 yards of offense in a single game during the regular season, and only two reached 20 points.

 

However, the Bulldogs must replace at least seven key senior contributors from the unit, and are also likely to lose linebacker Roquan Smith as an early entrant to the NFL draft — and one or two others could follow. That means quite a few new faces for 2018. Head coach Kirby Smart has recruited very well, but time will tell if the loss of experience would necessitate a rebuilding year.

 

— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.

Teaser:
Georgia Bulldogs 2017 Team Awards
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/fcs-semifinal-preview-and-prediction-south-dakota-state-jackrabbits-vs-james-madison-dukes-2017
Body:

Many FCS fans have been anticipating a rematch between James Madison and North Dakota State ever since the Dukes ended the Bison’s five-year run as the national champion in last year’s semifinals.

 

Wins in semis this weekend by the two programs that have won the last six titles — JMU (2016) and NDSU (2011-15) — means the battle of the titans will come to fruition in the FCS championship game on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas.

 

But hold on a minute, surging South Dakota State says. The Jackrabbits took down North Dakota State in October and are talented enough — especially on the offensive end — to beat James Madison as well on Saturday.

 

FCS Semifinal: No. 5 South Dakota State (11-2) at No. 1 James Madison (13-0)

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 4:30 p.m. ET

Where: Bridgeforth Stadium/Zane Showker Field (Harrisonburg, Va.)

TV Channel: ESPN2

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Dukes need the right offense

James Madison doesn’t have an offense that rolls up 50-point games left and right. Maybe if No. 1 tailback Cardon Johnson hadn’t suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game, but this year’s team has been more defensive-oriented.

 

The CAA Football champion Dukes should be able to run the ball effectively with Trai Sharp, who’s slumped in the playoffs, and Marcus Marshall, who picked up the slack against Weber State in the quarterfinals, and quarterback Bryan Schor on scrambles. But the offense has to motor at a high level in case it has to match touchdowns with South Dakota State — the No. 3 scoring team (38.8 ppg) in the FCS.

 

2. Jackrabbits on the run make for a balanced offense

South Dakota State is known for its three-pronged passing attack of quarterback Taryn Christion and NFL-bound pass catchers Dallas Goedert (tight end) and Jake Wieneke (wide receiver). But the Jackrabbits have averaged more than 203 rushing yards in their school-record 11 wins and only 58.5 in their two losses, so they need balance — perhaps using efficient passing to set up the run.

 

While Christion and running backs Brady Mengarelli, Mikey Daniel and Isaac Wallace give SDSU a number of options, what’s working against them is a James Madison defense that ranks No. 6 in the FCS against the run, allowing fewer than 85 rushing yards a game. With Goedert coming off a lower-leg injury in the Jackrabbits’ quarterfinal-round rout of New Hampshire, having a diverse attack is even more important.

 

3. All the pressure is on the defending champs

With James Madison, there’s no escaping this season has been “national title repeat or bust.” Having dominated in the regular season — the Dukes didn’t trail in the fourth quarter of a game — they were fortunate in the quarterfinals to overcome two late deficits before edging Weber State, 31-28, on Ethan Ratke’s game-ending, 46-yard field goal.

 

The farther South Dakota State pushes into this first-ever meeting with the threat of an upset, the more the Dukes will feel the pressure of the moment. They played to win when challenged by Weber State and will need the same mentality against a Jackrabbits team that some have considered the third-strongest in the FCS despite two slips in their Missouri Valley Football  Conference schedule.

 

Final Analysis

 

James Madison has won 25 straight games under second-year head coach Mike Houston for the second-longest streak in FCS history behind North Dakota State’s 33 in a row from 2012-14. While the Dukes showed vulnerability in the quarterfinals, they’re at home, they’ve been more consistent than South Dakota State and their defense has been extraordinary almost all season.

 

Head coach John Stiegelmeier and the Jackrabbits have to take the game to the Dukes the way they did in beating North Dakota State, 33-21, earlier this season. SDSU's passing attack just might keep the Dukes’ superb secondary on its heels. During a seven-game winning streak, the Jackrabbit have scored on 30 of 31 possessions that have reached their opponent’s red zone, although it’s an area James Madison has defended well this year.

 

Prediction: James Madison 27, South Dakota State 21

 

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

 

(Top photo courtesy of James Madison University Athletics; Jake Wieneke photo courtesy of SDSU Athletics)

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FCS Semifinal Preview and Prediction: South Dakota State Jackrabbits vs. James Madison Dukes
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Sam Houston State and North Dakota State have built quite the long-distance rivalry, especially in the FCS playoffs.

 

North Dakota State holds a 4-1 all-time lead. The series has especially heated up this decade, with their meeting in the national semifinals Friday night their fourth in the final four in the last seven seasons. The Bison beat Sam Houston in the 2011 (17-6) and '12 (39-13) championship games and in a '14 (35-3) semifinal.

 

The semis are the round that North Dakota State’s run of five straight FCS titles ended in against James Madison last season. Friday night’s winner will play either the defending national champion Dukes or South Dakota State in the title game on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas.

 

FCS Semifinal: No. 6 Sam Houston State (12-1) at No. 2 North Dakota State (12-1)

 

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Fargodome/Gate City Bank Field (Fargo, N.D.)

TV Channel: ESPN2

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Briscoe’s headed to Frisco — who else is going along?

Sam Houston State senior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe (above, right) will be in Frisco, Texas, in three weeks for the announcement of the 2017 Walter Payton Award, which he claimed last year as the FCS offensive player of the year. He hopes the other Bearkats will be there as well to prepare for the title game.

 

The visitors won’t sneak out of the Fargodome with an upset unless Briscoe, who leads the FCS in passing yards (4,714) and touchdown passes (44), has a strong game. He’s thrown for at least 300 yards 11 times this season, but the Bison have allowed that many in only 11 games since 2004. In Davion Davis, Nathan Stewart and Yedidiah Louis, Briscoe has the wide receivers trio to spread out the Bison’s swarming defense.

 

2. The run of the Bison

North Dakota State’s power run game is one of the best in the FCS, ranking fifth with 267.5 rushing yards per game, behind backs Bruce Anderson and Ty Brooks. Conversely, Sam Houston’s strength is not stopping the run, indicative in the Bearkats surrendering 180.2 yards per game on 4.5 yards per carry.

 

While Sam Houston survived in the quarterfinals despite Kennesaw State’s triple-option offense gaining 379 rushing yards, the Bearkats need to make a dent against the Bison’s offensive bread and butter. With the likes of rush end Chris Stewart (6-2, 270) and nose tackle P.J. Hall (6-1, 310), the Bearkats have the size up front to avoid getting run over... maybe.

 

3. Bearkats can’t turn the game over to NDSU’s closers

Sure, Briscoe and the No. 1 passing attack in the FCS would seem to be explosive enough to pass their way back from a deficit, but North Dakota State has long been adept at taking a lead and putting away a victory. This season, the Bison have outscored opponents 156-20 in the third quarter.

 

If the Bearkats play with a lead, it will put the favored Bison and the Fargodome crowd on edge, and temper the raucous environment that always favors the seven-time reigning Missouri Valley Football Conference champ. At the least, the perennial Southland Conference power has to stay within one score of the lead because with the way Sam Houston has a quick-strike offense and NDSU’s offense relies on ball control, the Bearkats’ defense could tire in the fourth quarter.

 

Final Analysis

 

Both head coaches — Sam Houston’s K.C. Keeler and North Dakota State’s Chris Klieman — have guided teams in many big playoff games. This one is a matchup of offense versus defense. Sam Houston leads the FCS in yards and (552.4) and points per game (45.6), while North Dakota State has allowed the fewest yards per game (228.3) and the second-fewest points per game (11.4).

 

In the last two weeks, North Dakota State has decisive playoff wins over San Diego and Wofford, while Sam Houston has built big leads and then held on in the end against South Dakota and Kennesaw State. It’s shown the Bison are the better team.

 

Prediction: North Dakota State 40, Sam Houston State 24

 

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

 

(Top photo courtesy of NDSU Athletics; Jeremiah Briscoe photo courtesy of Sam Houston State Athletics)

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FCS Semifinal Preview and Prediction: Sam Houston State Bearkats vs. North Dakota State Bison
Post date: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 09:00
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Thursday Night Football Tonight

The 2017 NFL season marks the 48th for “Monday Night Football.” ESPN will air 17 games in prime time during the coveted Monday night time slot, kicking things off with a Week 1 doubleheader.

 

The games (other than the second Week 1 matchup) will be called by the team of Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Jon Gruden (analyst) and Lisa Salters (reporter) with Suzy Kolber hosting “Monday Night Countdown” before the game as well as halftime and postgame coverage from the stadium of that week’s contest.

 

This season’s MNF slate features appearances by all 12 playoff teams from 2016 and nine divisional matchups sprinkled throughout. In total, 26 teams will play on MNF including two appearances each by the Broncos, Chiefs, Dolphins, Eagles, Falcons, Lions, Redskins and Vikings.

 

Monday Night Football Schedule: 

 

(all times ET)

 

Week 1

September 11, 7:10 PM, New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (ESPN)

Final Score: Vikings 29, Saints 19

September 11, 10:20 PM, Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos (ESPN)

Final Score: Broncos 24, Chargers 21

 

Week 2

September 18, 8:30 PM, Detroit Lions at New York Giants (ESPN)

Final Score: Lions 24, Giants 10

 

Week 3

September 25, 8:30 PM, Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals (ESPN)

Final Score: Cowboys 28, Cardinals 17

 

Week 4

October 2, 8:30 PM, Washington Redskins at Kansas City Chiefs (ESPN)

Final Score: Chiefs 29, Redskins 20

 

Week 5

October 9, 8:30 PM, Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears (ESPN)

Final Score: Vikings 20, Bears 17

 

Week 6

October 16, 8:30 PM, Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans (ESPN)

Final Score: Titans 36, Colts 22

 

Week 7

October 23, 8:30 PM, Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (ESPN)

Final Score: Eagles 34, Redskins 24

 

Week 8

October 30, 8:30 PM, Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (ESPN)

Final Score: Chiefs 29, Broncos 19

 

Week 9

November 6, 8:30 PM, Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers (ESPN)

Final Score: Lions 30, Packers 17

 

Week 10

November 13, 8:30 PM, Miami Dolphins at Carolina Panthers (ESPN)

Final Score: Panthers 45, Dolphins 21

 

Week 11

November 20, 8:30 PM, Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks (ESPN)

Final Score: Falcons 34, Seahawks 31

 

Week 12

November 27, 8:30 PM, Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (ESPN)

Final Score: Ravens 23, Texans 16

 

Week 13

December 4, 8:30 PM, Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (ESPN)

Final Score: Steelers 23, Bengals 20

 

Week 14

December 11, 8:30 PM, New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins (ESPN)

Final Score: Dolphins 27, Patriots 20

 

Week 15

December 18, 8:30 PM, Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ESPN)

 

Week 16

December 25, 8:30 PM, Oakland Raiders at Philadelphia Eagles (ESPN)

Teaser:
NFL Monday Night Football Schedule 2017
Post date: Tuesday, December 12, 2017 - 23:50
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This is the matchup the Las Vegas Bowl wanted. Boise State and Oregon will tangle in Sam Boyd Stadium on the opening day of the 2017 college football bowl season. It's sure to produce plenty of fireworks on the field and, maybe, some off the field as well.

 

Boise State is 2-0 all-time against Oregon after sweeping a home-and-home series in 2008 and '09. Both games are memorable for contentious moments. The second one featured Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount punching Boise State tight end Byron Hout in the jaw after the final whistle.

 

Oregon is making its third Las Vegas Bowl appearance. The Ducks (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) played in the 1997 Las Vegas Bowl and defeated Air Force 41-13. They returned a decade later to face BYU in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl. That turned out to be a disaster for Oregon, who lost to the Cougars 38-8 after being shut out until the fourth quarter.

 

Boise State (10-3, 7-1 Mountain West) returns to the Las Vegas Bowl for a fourth time. This is the first time in the bowl game for the Broncos since they played in Las Vegas three straight years from 2010-12. Boise State won all three previous games, beating Utah 26-3 in 2010, Arizona State 56-24 in '11 and Washington 28-26 in '12.

 

Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Oregon

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium (Las Vegas)

TV Channel: ABC

Spread: Oregon –7.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Can Boise State's defense slow down Oregon's offense?

Defense is a major reason why the Broncos won another Mountain West Conference championship. Boise State knows how to make life tough for opponents. The Broncos are allowing just 22.5 points per game and have forced 26 turnovers this season. Against fellow Mountain West teams, they allowed just 4.9 yards per play.

 

Leighton Vander Esch is the heart and soul of this stout defense. Vander Esch earned Mountain West defensive player of the year honors after registering a team-high 129 tackles. The junior linebacker's 6.2 solo tackles per game ranks him in the top 10 in that category among FBS players.

 

Boise State will need its defense to rise to the occasion against a powerful Oregon offense. The Ducks are 6-1 with quarterback Justin Herbert at the controls this season. Herbert has thrown for 1,750 yards and 13 touchdowns while completing 66.5 percent of his passes. In Herbert's seven games, Oregon has averaged 52.1 points per contest.

 

The good news is that the Broncos can limit the damage Oregon does on the ground. Boise State has allowed more than 200 rushing yards just once this season and yields just 125.8 yards per game on the ground — ranking in the top 20 nationally in that category.

 

2. Running back duel on hold?

Oregon and Boise State feature two of the nation's top running backs. Both Royce Freeman and Alexander Mattison can claim a spot among the nation's top rushers. Watching them tear up the backfield for their respective offenses would alone make this one of the better December bowl games.

 

Unfortunately, there's a good chance neither Freeman nor Mattison will take the field in Las Vegas on Saturday.

 

Freeman, who ranks sixth all-time among FBS players in career rushing yardage with 5,621 yards, may elect to sit out to avoid suffering potential serious injuries ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft. The Oregon senior seems to be a lock to be an early-round selection after posting his third 1,000-yard season in four years. Freeman rushed for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns during the regular season. Without him, the Ducks will lose some punch from a rushing attack that ranks in the top 10 nationally in yards (268.0) and touchdowns (40).

 

Mattison also may be unavailable after suffering a lower leg injury in Boise State's Mountain West Championship Game win over Fresno State. If he is unable to go, it would be a huge blow to the Bronco offense. Mattison is averaging a team-high 82.6 yards per game. The sophomore totaled 1,074 yards and 12 touchdowns before getting injured.

 

3. How will head coaching change impact Oregon?

Mario Cristobal will make his debut as Oregon's new head coach in the Las Vegas Bowl. Cristobal moved up from offensive coordinator when Willie Taggart departed from the program after just 12 games to become Florida State's new head coach. The Ducks also will replace defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who elected to join Taggart on the Seminoles' staff.

 

This is not Cristobal's first rodeo by any means. He had a previous stint as a head coach at Florida International from 2007-12. Cristobal posted a 27-47 record with FIU and he led the Panthers to a share of the Sun Belt Conference title in 2010.

 

Still, making a debut against a team as talented as Boise State will not be easy. The last coach to make his debut at Oregon against the Broncos was Chip Kelly. It did not end well for Kelly. He kicked off an otherwise highly successful tenure with a 19-8 loss to Boise State.

 

Final Analysis

 

Boise State has a good track record against Pac-12 teams in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Broncos are 3-0 all-time in previous trips to this bowl game and all three wins came over current Pac-12 opponents. Oregon offers a stiff challenge with Justin Herbert at quarterback. The Ducks may not have running back Royce Freeman, but they have more than enough weapons elsewhere to compensate for his absence. The same can't be said for the Broncos. If running back Alexander Mattison is unable to go, it may be too much to expect Brett Rypien (above, right) and crew to keep up with Oregon for four quarters.

 

Prediction: Oregon 42, Boise State 28

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

Teaser:
Las Vegas Bowl Preview and Prediction: Boise State vs. Oregon
Post date: Tuesday, December 12, 2017 - 12:20
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It was a year of streaks for both Western Kentucky (6-6) and Georgia State (6-5).

 

After a 1-2 start to the regular season, the Hilltoppers got on a roll, rattling off four consecutive wins and were looking like the class of Conference USA once again. That did not materialize, however, as WKU lost four out of its last five games to close the season, including a 41-17 blowout loss to FIU in the finale.

 

For the Panthers, a pair of two-game losing streaks bookended their 2017 campaign, but those were sandwiched around two separate three-game winning streaks that catapulted the Panthers to bowl eligibility and a fourth-place finish in the Sun Belt  despite having one game (vs. Memphis) cancelled because of schedule disruptions related to Hurricane Irma.

 

Both teams ended the regular season on sour notes, but will look to rebound to secure a winning 2017 season on Saturday.

 

AutoNation Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Fla.)
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Georgia State -6

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Ditch the run
Of course the goal of nearly every offense is to be as balanced as possible, mixing in both the run and the pass. That did not pan out in 2017 for Western Kentucky. After finishing 52nd in the country last season, averaging well over five yards per carry, the Hilltoppers ranked dead last (129th) this season in rushing, averaging a pitiful 2.14 yards per carry and just 66 yards per game on the ground. After repeated failures to begin the season, WKU has nearly ditched that part of the offense — probably why quarterback Mike White is second in the nation in pass attempts this season with 521. Georgia State was middle of the road in 2017 at defending the run, but the Panthers should be just fine in limiting any big rushing plays even with minimal defenders in the box.

 

2. Money Penny

After catching 71 passes for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns for Georgia State as a true freshman back in 2015, Penny Hart (above, right) played in just two games last year due to injury. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound wide receiver has enjoyed a bounce-back season in 2017, basically matching his totals from two years ago with 71 catches for 1,099 yards and eight scores. Maybe the most impressive part — Hart barely had any help on the outside, allowing defenses to solely focus on stopping him. For reference, GSU’s second-leading receiver this year was running back Glenn Smith, who has 342 yards. For the Panthers' offense to find success Saturday, Hart will need to find the end zone, something he hasn’t done in the last three games.

 

3. Springboard to year two

Both Shawn Elliot and Mike Sanford were first-year head coaches in 2017 and both would probably tell you the results were a mixed bag. For Sanford, it was always going to be tough living up to his predecessor, Jeff Brohm, who led the Hilltoppers to consecutive Conference USA titles. The passing game put up similar numbers, but the offense was far less dynamic than in previous years because of the severe issues up front on the offensive line. Elliot arguably did more with less this year, leading the Panthers to the conference’s fourth-best passing offense and scoring defense, but GSU struggled mightily in areas as well, including averaging just 20 points per game (118th in the FBS). Each head coach will look to this bowl game as a springboard towards 2018.

 

Final Analysis

 

Which Western Kentucky team will show up? The one that won four straight during the middle of the season? Or the one that lost four out of the last five games, including the blowout loss to close the regular season. Conversely, we know Georgia State can move the ball up and down the field, but can the Panthers actually put enough points on the scoreboard to keep up with the Hilltoppers' offense? Georgia State is favored here, but look for Mike White and the WKU passing game to be the best group on the field and notch a victory on Saturday. 

 

Prediction: Western Kentucky 27, Georgia State 23

 

— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.

Teaser:
Cure Bowl Preview and Prediction: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State
Post date: Tuesday, December 12, 2017 - 11:10
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Colorado State and Marshall both ended the regular season on a down note, but the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 16 is an opportunity to end the year with a little momentum. The Thundering Herd started 6-1 but won just one of their final five matchups. The Rams got off to a 6-2 start and finished just 1-3 over their final four games. While bowl games are just a one-game exhibition, Marshall and Colorado State would at least like to end the year with some hardware and erase the disappointment from November.

 

Colorado State was mentioned as a Mountain West title contender in the preseason and appeared be on track to play for the division title in November after the 6-2 start. But the Rams stumbled in late October with a loss to Air Force (45-28), followed by defeats to Wyoming (16-13) and Boise State (59-52 in overtime). In addition to the three conference losses, Colorado State suffered defeats to Alabama (41-23) and Colorado (17-3). Under coach Mike Bobo’s direction, the Rams have won seven games in each of the last three years. A win over Marshall would snap that streak and push Colorado State to eight victories – the highest mark since winning 10 in 2014.   

 

Marshall is back in the bowl season after a one-year absence. The Thundering Herd won 33 games from 2013-15 but slipped to 3-9 last fall. Coach Doc Holliday’s team started the season by beating Miami (Ohio) in a 31-26 thriller and went into late October as one of Conference USA’s top teams at 6-1. However, Marshall lost back-to-back games to FIU and FAU, and after beating WKU 30-23 on Nov. 11, finished the season with defeats to UTSA and Southern Miss. The Thundering Herd had some bad luck on their side, as this team lost all four of their conference games by 11 points or less. This team also gave C-USA champion FAU (30-25) its toughest battle in league play.

 

Colorado State and Marshall have never met on the gridiron. The Rams have lost their last three bowl trips. On the flipside, the Thundering Herd are 4-0 in their four bowl appearances under Holliday.

 

New Mexico Bowl: Marshall (7-5) vs. Colorado State (7-5)

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 4:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Colorado State -5.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Colorado State’s Passing Attack

Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Colorado State this season. The Rams lead the Mountain West by averaging 33.8 points a game and yards per play at 6.7 a snap. In addition to the overall effectiveness on the scoreboard, Bobo’s offense was the best in the Mountain West at balance. Colorado State averaged 289.9 yards a game through the air and 211.1 per contest on the ground. Offensive coordinator Will Friend is set to join Jeremy Pruitt’s staff at Tennessee, but this unit won’t miss a beat with Bobo continuing as the unit’s play-caller.

 

Quarterback Nick Stevens earned first-team All-Mountain West honors after throwing for 3,479 yards and 27 touchdowns, but the star of the offense is receiver Michael Gallup. The senior was a finalist for the Biletnikoff after catching 94 passes for 1,345 yards and seven touchdowns. In addition to Gallup, Stevens has a couple of other reliable targets in Olabisi Johnson (35 catches), Detrich Clark (37) and tight end Dalton Fackrell (20). On the ground, Dalyn Dawkins (1,349 yards) and Izzy Matthews (583) were the leading rushers for Bobo’s offense. Matthews suffered a collarbone injury in early November and missed the final two games of 2017. However, he was cleared to play in Saturday's game. If Matthews is held out as a precaution or is limited, Rashaad Boddie (254 yards) is an effective No. 2 option. Led by first-team All-Mountain West selections in Jake Bennett and Zack Golditch, Colorado State’s offensive line allowed only eight sacks in 2017 and is one of the best at the Group of 5 level.

 

Considering the overall firepower, talent and balance Colorado State has on offense, this will be one of the toughest tests Marshall’s defense has faced in 2017. The Thundering Herd ranked second in Conference USA by limiting opponents to 19.3 points a game. Under the direction of veteran play-caller Chuck Heater, Marshall also led C-USA in rush defense, limited opponents to 4.98 yards a play, ranked first in red zone defense and third in the conference in third-down stops.

 

Can Marshall’s defense contain or find a way to slow down Stevens and Gallup on Saturday afternoon? The Thundering Herd have allowed 16 passing scores this season and rank 48th nationally in pass efficiency defense. However, when Marshall played NC State and WKU – arguably the top two passing offenses it faced this season – the defense gave up over 300 passing yards. In order to slow down Stevens and this offense, the Thundering Herd needs to generate pressure against a stalwart line, force a couple of takeaways and limit the big plays allowed.  

 

Related: Predictions for Every College Football 2017-18 Bowl Game

 

2. Colorado State’s Defense Against Marshall’s Offense

The battle between Colorado State’s offense against Marshall’s defense is a matchup of strengths. But on the flipside of this battle, the Thundering Herd’s offense and the Rams’ defense both enter this matchup with something to prove.

 

Marshall’s offense averaged 26.3 points a game in 2017 but generated only nine plays of 40 or more yards. Also, the Thundering Herd ranked 10th among Conference USA offenses by averaging 5.3 yards per play, finished 12th in rush offense and 10th in red zone conversions. Quarterback Chase Litton eclipsed the 20-touchdown (23) mark for the third consecutive season, and the ground game showed some promise behind freshman Tyler King (714 yards) and junior Keion Davis (671). Junior Tyre Brady (56 catches) was Litton’s go-to target in the regular season but missed the final two games due to injury. He’s expected back for the bowl game, bolstering a receiving corps that also features Marcel Williams (41 catches), Willie Johnson (36) and tight end Ryan Yurachek (47).

 

Colorado State’s defense has yet to take the next step in Bobo’s three seasons in Fort Collins. The Rams have finished sixth in the Mountain West in scoring defense in each of the last three years. The outlook doesn’t get much better from a per-play basis. Colorado State gave up 5.8 a snap in 2015 but slipped to 6.1 in 2016 and 6.2 this fall. This unit has struggled to stop the run (182.8 per game), allowed 19 plays of 40 yards or more and ranks 10th in the Mountain West in third-down defense. Veteran play-caller Marty English is set to retire following this game, and the defense would like nothing more than to send him out on a high note.

 

In order to win this game, Marshall’s offense will have to be an extension of the defense. The Thundering Herd need to establish the line of scrimmage with Davis and King and control the clock to keep Colorado State’s high-powered offense on the sidelines. In three out of their last five games, the Rams surrendered at least 300 rushing yards. Needless to say, if Marshall eclipses 250 rushing yards on Saturday, Holliday’s team is likely to be taking the bowl trophy back to Huntington. 

 

Related: Ranking All 39 College Football Bowl Games: Must-Miss to Must-See 

 

3. Turnovers

This stat is likely to determine just how close this matchup is on Saturday afternoon.

 

Marshall enters the New Mexico Bowl with a minus-six turnover margin and ranks 12th in Conference USA with 21 turnovers lost. Over the last five games, the Thundering Herd lost 13 turnovers. That’s a big reason why this team finished just 1-4 over their last five matchups. Colorado State is better in this department, as Bobo’s team is even in margin coming into Saturday’s game. However, of the Rams’ 16 lost turnovers, 10 of those took place in losses. In Colorado State’s seven victories, the turnover margin was plus-four. In the five losses, the Rams’ margin slipped to minus-four.

 

With Colorado State holding an edge on offense and overall big-play ability, a couple of mistakes by Marshall could be too much for Holliday’s team to overcome. But if the Thundering Herd can force a couple of takeaways and convert those into points, that’s one way to help counter the Stevens to Gallup connection, as well as the balanced attack coming to Albuquerque from Fort Collins.

 

Final Analysis

 

Bowl games are all about motivation. Which team will be hungrier to end their late-season slide and take some hardware back to campus? Look for both teams to land their share of punches. Marshall will establish the run early, allowing Litton to connect on a few big passes to his receivers. However, Colorado State’s offensive firepower is just too much in the end. Stevens and Gallup connect on a couple of big plays in both halves, with the Rams using their ground attack to put this one way in the fourth quarter.

 

Prediction: Colorado State 34, Marshall 27
Teaser:
New Mexico Bowl Preview and Prediction: Marshall vs. Colorado State 2017
Post date: Tuesday, December 12, 2017 - 11:00

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